Violence : The Need for a Scapegoat Returns

Over the past few days, Sarah Palin’s rhetoric has constantly been brought up as the overarching scapegoat for the tragic casualties of an assassination attempt in Tuscon, AZ. And as ridiculous and thoughtless Palin’s comments were, as well as how clueless her reaction to people telling her to tone down the rhetoric have been, we need to step back and consider something for a moment.

Millions of people went to Palin’s Facebook and Twitter sites and read the comments she made, and glanced over the crosshair graphics she posted. Millions of people did not march to Palin’s targets and attempt to carry out Palin’s metaphor to its most literal and extreme degree. Millions of people have been indoctrinated to the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, and countless other people who have used fear and violence as a means to push their ideology, and yet millions of people are not laying strewn across a battlefield of Fox News idolators versus the rest of the world. For all the snuffed-out matches tossed into the garbage can that is our media system over the past few years, we have not seen a fire erupt and burn our home to the ground. Most followers, even if they had the gaul to threaten harm against our government (a practice as old as time), did not take the final plunge into becoming a murdering psychopath.

According to his testimony, this guy had been “aggravated” by what he felt was poor treatment at the hands of Ms. Giffords long before Palin was talking about reloading or putting crosshairs over election districts, and both his testimony and evidence would suggest this aggravation soon turned into an obsession. According to those who knew him, over the past few years his behavior had become increasingly erratic, troublesome, and focused on death, due to a “mental downfall” that, based on his behavior, started to spiral out of control. It is not difficult to put two and two together, and to understand that this is bigger than Palin, and ought to be bigger than the partisan bickering that has resulted from the tragedy. An unstable young man used an obsession to reach the bottom of his fall, and the lesson here is not that gun rhetoric is the root of all evil, or that Sarah Palin is capable of inciting people to slaughter the innocent, or even that gun control is now more important than ever before.

It is that we, as a society, need to finally stop blaming this and that for every tragedy that arises, stop attempting to politicize every tragedy with rhetoric about how video games are destroying our country, or how conservative rhetoric is breeding a country of insanity, and take some personal responsibility. This young man’s behavior screamed for attention for years, and we ought to have given it to him. We should not have needed to wait until he was a threat to “others” before we intervened; as a civilized society, we ought to have had the compassion to witness the threat to himself and want to help him in whatever ways necessary (whether that be simply talking to him, or, in extreme cases, seeking professional help for him). We must stop living with the illusion that everyone else is to blame, and embrace the reality that we as a society are to blame for conditions that allow for a man like this to fall through the cracks, and to only get the attention he requires after committing a travesty such as this. Only once we have accepted our responsibility as members of a civilized society, can we truly begin to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.

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CES 2011 : The Revolution Begins

3DS PREMIERE!!

So a lot of interesting things seem to have been revealed so far at CES; Intel’s debut of a new chip that will handle graphics better than a lot of graphics cards currently on the market, Microsoft has developed a sleeker version of its tabletop computer, the Surface, a bunch of glasses-free 3D TVs, new electric cars, and even a Polaroid revival presentation by Lady Gaga. Even though 90% of this stuff will be too expensive for me to purchase and test out for myself, I can’t help but be proud of how sophisticated and exciting technology’s becoming.

There are a few things I could realistically see myself getting in the next few years, though, so let’s take a look at those.

 

3DS

By Shuichi Aizawa

First up is the Nintendo 3DS; for those who don’t know what this is, it’s the next evolution of the Nintendo DS, and features 3D graphics without the use of glasses, the ability to take 3D pictures, and the ability to have your interact with other people’s devices, without the need for friend codes or all that. Coupled with the awesomeness of 3D gaming (which in and of itself will revolutionize handheld gaming) is a RIDICULOUS lineup of games, including a new Paper Mario game, a Metal Gear Solid game, a Professor Layton/Phoenix Wright crossover, and 3D remakes of classics like Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart, and StarFox64. Even if I didn’t want to deal with the 3D (which can be turned off if you really can’t stand it), how could I NOT want this thing, given how many exciting games are going to come out for it? The device is also sleek and shiny to boot, and everyone who’s been lucky to get their hands on it has had great things to say about it.

If only the Wii could get this kind of attention…the latest release of games (DKC and Kirby’s Epic Yarn) were good, but the console’s still caught in a 3rd-party game Depression.

Next up:

 

Intel's Sandy Bridge

By chang_sen, on Flickr

The new Intel Chip. Or, I should say, an impressive CPU that can handle graphics better than my current graphics card, because knowing Intel there’s no way I’m going to be able to afford one of these. AMD’s been working on the same thing, and from the sound of things it certainly rival’s Intel’s version, so I may very well get one of AMD’s APUs, once they start being commercially sold for custom PCs. I’d be kinda bummed if the second most expensive part of my build were to suddenly become obsolete (I don’t yet know whether these chips work better than my current graphics card – a NVIDIA 9800GT), but if buying one of these meant an automatic graphical upgrade, then…well, that would be awesome.

 

Kinect

By James Pfaff

Kinect for the PC? You mean I’m getting even closer to controlling my computer like this? Yes plz. Just think of all the things this thing could let you do: besides being a glorified webcam, you could use this to create a 3D interface, you could use it to try out new outfits you find online, you could get a touchscreen-like experience with any monitor, you could use this to Kinect yourself into movies…Ahhh, this would be fun to play with.

The conference isn’t over yet, so there are still plenty of surprises in store for us. It’ll be interesting to see what the most popular revelations will be, and what people think about what’s been shown to us.

Post a Week 2011

Okay, so my update schedule is far from ideal. But NOT TO WORRY; I aim to fix that by officially taking up the Post a Week 2011 challenge.

Next post will be tomorrow!

Through the Wardrobe, and What Meena Found There

I just finished The Chronicles of Narnia, and feel the need to express my opinion of it, hence this rant (which I bet will be super-long by the time I’m done). Most of this can be taken as a “first impression”; that is to say, I read through the whole thing once, thinking of these things as I read each book, and write them down as-is. It may not be a real first impression, as some opinions inevitably changed the further into the series I got, but it’s a dump of all my thoughts right after reading the series.

My Reading Order:

The Magician’s Nephew

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Prince Caspian

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

The Silver Chair

The Horse and His Boy

The Last Battle

SPOILER ALERT: 80% of what follows will draw upon direct quotes and/or material found specifically in these books, and will serve as a gigantic spoiler to anyone who hasn’t read the book. Reader’s discretion is advised.

Before starting my rant, let me just give a synopsis of each, so people who have read the books can be reminded of what happened, and so those who haven’t can get enough of an idea of what each deals with. These won’t be comprehensive, but will explain enough such that anyone can follow the basic points I make about the series:

SUMMARY START

The Magician’s Nephew: Protagonists Polly an Digory are tricked into traveling to other worlds by Digory’s old and shrewd uncle, who has been studying the secrets of the outer worlds for years. He tricks Polly into taking a Ring that teleports her away, and Digory’s uncle blackmails him into saving her, so that he may learn more about the other world. He explains that they are able to travel via two rings, and the children soon find that the yellow one takes the wearer to a place akin to an airport terminal, and the green ring acts as the ticket to allow the wearer to enter a terminal and travel to the destination its plane leads to. Digory is constantly impatient, while Polly is the responsible party, which is evidenced by Digory getting ready to run off and explore new worlds without making sure he knew how to get back to his own (only pausing to contemplate this after Polly reminds him of it), and when he releases a giant, pale-skinned witch (known as the White Witch in later stories) from her sleeping spell because he is too impulsive, even with Polly warning him that he ought to be more cautious.

Trying to free themselves from the witch, the children eventually reach a world of nothing, where they find a Lion, who seems to be able to create life by walking on the barren land and by singing. Soon the world looks breathtaking, and the Lion creates animals, some of which he gifts the ability to speak (called Talking Animals thereafter), some of which he leaves “dumb” and unintelligent. The Witch runs off, scared of the Lion, the children are sent home with a magic apple from the land, which grows into a tree that eventually is used to create a wardrobe for Digory’s house. Neither Digory nor Polly ever marry.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: Four children (Lucy, Susan, Edmund, and Peter) visit Uncle Digory’s house. Lucy hides in a wardrobe during a game of hide-and-seek, and in trying to find the back of it ends up standing in snow, in another world. After exploring it for a bit she goes back to her world, to find literally no time has passed on Earth, and that no one believes her about the other world (when she leads them to the wardrobe, it appears as a normal wardrobe). Later Edmund checks it out and also falls into Narnia, where he meets the White Witch, who is pretty and gives him enchanted treats in exchange for promising to bring his siblings with him next time. Eventually they all do end up in Narnia, where Edmund sneaks off to the White Witch, and the others befriend some Talking Animals, who help them run from the White Witch, who wants to kill them because they are part of a prophecy that spells her ruin. Eventually they meet the Lion (Aslan), who gives Peter a sword and shield, Lucy a vial of healing potion, and Susan a bow and quiver, and tells them a battle is approaching.

The White Witch catches up to them, but cannot kill the children because they are under the protection of Aslan, and she cannot hope to stand against him. She takes Edmund as one of her servants (because he willingly did her bidding), and requires something in exchange for his life, which is forfeited to her. It is made clear that Aslan will allow himself to be slain in return for Edmund’s life, and he indeed is stabbed by the Witch. However, he is resurrected, and with the children, he and his army is able to defeat the Witch and her minions. Peace returns to Narnia, and for years the children reign as Kings and Queens, until they stumble back into the wardrobe (no time has passed since they left for Narnia) and find they cannot get back out.

Prince Caspian: The four children return to find that centuries have passed in Narnia since their last visit, and that their castle lay in ruin, since some foreign peoples have taken the throne (after killing Caspian’s father and sending his father’s most trusted friends far into the corners of the world) and are about to kill the last legitimate heir to the throne, Prince Caspian. The story mainly focuses on Caspian’s journey through Narnia as he gains allies in the Talking Animals who hate the new rule and who agree to fight with him to secure his place back in his realm. With the children’s help he is able to get his throne back and serve as the rightful king. Before returning to their world, Aslan mentions that Peter and Susan will not return to Narnia, as they are becoming too old.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Caspian seeks to find his father’s friends and invite them back to the kingdom. Lucy and Edmund are sent to Narnia, along with their cousin Eustance, who is bratty and complains almost the entire way through. Eventually he grows to be brave and tolerable, and Caspian either finds all his father’s friends or finds what fate befell them. Eventually he reaches the end of their world (further yonder is Aslan’s world, into which none idly travel), finds a wife, and marries. The three children are sent back; this time it is Lucy and Edmund who are told they are getting too old to come back.

The Silver Chair: Eustance and one of his schoolmates, Jill, are sent to Narnia, at a time when Caspian is an old man, and his son, Rilian, has been missing for ten years. Aslan meets Jill and tells her she and Eustance must find Rilian, and that if she pays attention to four signs, they will succeed. Eventually they find that an enchantress has enslaved the young prince, with the object of using him to wage war against Narnia and the rest of the world. Jill and Eustance save Rilian and bring him to Caspian just as Caspian dies of old age.

The Horse and His Boy: The story of Shasta, a young boy of fair skin who lives in Calormen, a land south of Narnia which is inhabited by cruel dark-skinned people who wear turbans, wield scmitars, and worship something other than Aslan (a being they call Tash). Set during the time when Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are rulers of Narnia, it tells of how he tries to escape to Narnia because his father is trying to sell him into slavery, and how he escapes with a Talking Horse, Bree, who was born in Narnia and wishes to go back. Along the way he meets Aravis, a nine-year old princess who is to be married to a 60-something-year old Vzier and is running away to escape it, and her own Talking Horse, Hwin, who was also born in Narnia and longs to go back.

They end up in Calormen’s capital, where their ruler, the Tisroc, lives. Aravis is recognized by a friend of the nobility, who is being married soon, and follows her so she may convince her friend to keep quiet about here whereabouts, and to help her both hide from her father and get out of the city. Aravis is constantly annoyed by her friend’s obsession with her wedding apparel and how much she cares about marrying into wealth and status. Eventually they do find a way for Aravis to escape; meanwhile Shasta has found that the Tisroc’s prince wants to wage war on Narnia, since Queen Susan won’t marry him, and when he finds Aravis again the two set out to warn Narnia and its neighboring kingdoms that war is upon them. Because of Shasta, the prince’s plan is foiled, and Shasta comes to learn that he is actually the son of the king of Archenland, Narnia’s closest neighbor, stolen as a child because it was fortold that he would save Narnia. He invites Aravis to live with his family at Archenland, which she agrees to, and the two quarrel constantly until they grow older and marry, so that they could do it “more conveniently.”

The Last Battle: A Talking Ape named Shift tricks a Talking Donkey named Puzzle into dressing up like a lion, so that he may pretend he is the Voice of Aslan, and force his fellow Narnians to do his bidding. The current King of Narnia, King Tirian, rides from his castle with his Unicorn friend Jewel to investigate why the Narnians are starting to do crazy things like sell themselves into Calormen slavery and chop down living trees, finds out that the Ape is working with Calormen to get control of Narnia, and is captured before he can stop anything. Eustance and Jill are returned to Narnia after a jolt on the train they were riding, and after freeing the King they try and hatch a plan to save Narnia from its usurpers.

Meanwhile the Ape explains to the Narnians that he is working with the Calormen because Aslan has told him that Aslan and Tash are the same, and that “Tashlan” wants them both to work together to do his bidding. When asked why, after being nothing but kind to them before, Aslan wants them to do horrible things like work in Calormen mines and kill Trees, the Ape merely says that Aslan is not a tame Lion and is thus unpredictable. Meanwhile the children find Puzzle, dressed up as a lion, and mean to use him as proof that the Ape is lying; however, the Ape tells the Narnians that an imposter is walking around in a lion’s skin trying to act as Tashlan and deceive them, before the children have time to expose the Ape as a liar. Another depressing development comes when the children come across the real Tash, who is a four-armed, eagle-beaked creature that kills the earth it floats over, and who is now in Narnia because the Ape and Calormen’s talk have summoned it.

Believing the end of Narnia to be nigh, the children and the King stage a last resistance against the Ape and Calormen, in which some of the Narnians catch onto the deceit and join with the King, and others, too afraid of Tashlan’s wrath to see the truth, fight alongside the Calormen. The King’s side loses the battle, and as the King is about to die he sees the Seven Rulers of Narnia: (old) Digory, (old) Polly, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Eustance, and Jill. Susan is not among them, for she chose to act grown-up and wear lipstick and nylon, and is thus not allowed to return to Narnia. The eight watch as Aslan sends Calormen and Narnians through one of two doors (one where those who eye him with hatred go, and one where those who eye him with shame or love go). The children ask why Calormen, who worship Tash, are allowed into the good door, and it is explained that so long as people does good, then regardless of which deity they do good for (whether it be for Tash or Aslan), it is counted as a deed for Aslan; in contrast, all evil, even if in the name of Aslan, is counted as a deed for Tash. Then they watch as Narnia is reduced to a barren wasteland, and they are allowed to venture into Aslan’s realm, where they never tire, and where more vibrant versions of the places they loved exist (for example, part of the realm is Narnia, but even more beautiful than the Narnia they knew). It is a wonderful place, and the children see their parents there, as well as a lot of their other friends. At last they reach a point where they ask Aslan if they must leave this beautiful place for their world, to which he says that this is their home from now on; for the jolt that they had felt on the train had indeed been the result of a train accident, and they were no longer alive in their world. Happy that they can remain in paradise, they went off to start new adventures that we could only dare to imagine.

SUMMARY END

TL;DR: Magic Lion, stuff happens, kids die, live happily ever after

And so at the end of all this is a tale that, at first, I did not quite know how to interpret. Well, the religiousness of it was easy enough to catch, but as for how to take this series, how to treat it…it was only after examining a few key concepts in the book that I could come to some sort of conclusion about it. I break these up by book (though some concepts will inevitably draw from the plots of other novels in the series).

The Magician’s Nephew

It was easy this time around to catch on to the disdain for scientists at the beginning of this book:

…You don’t understand. I am the great scholar, the magician, the adept, who is doing the experiment. Of course I need subjects to do it on. Bless my soul, you’ll be telling me next that I ought to have asked the guinea-pigs’ permission before I used them! No great wisdom can be reached without sacrifice. But the idea of my going myself is ridiculous. It’s like asking a general to fight as a common soldier. Supposing I got killed, what would become of my life’s work?

While some part of me agreed with the criticism, I found it ironic how it is immoral for the scientist to use the animals for experiments, when in Christianity (and, indeed, in the entire series), it is all well and good to kill “dumb” animals (to be defined later) for food or whatever else is deemed necessary. The hypocritical description of the scientist, however, did not bother me too much at the time, and as commentary like this never came up again throughout the rest of the series, it elicited more of a “Oh, C.S. Lewis” reaction than anything else.

It was also ironic how, without the evil experiments of the misguided scientists, the mechanisms that set the whole story in motion would not have occurred. In this book, it is the scientist’s magic rings (that are able to pull people in and out of other worlds) that allow the protagonists, Digory and Polly, to leave Earth and eventually find Narnia, and to witness the allegorical Genesis that befalls it. Science experiments are evil, but it is with the results of those experiments that we come to understand the breadth of Aslan’s power and the wonders he is capable of performing. Was this side of it intentional? Doubtful; by my interpretation of how the “Magician” is portrayed, Lewis was too focused on making Digory’s uncle look like a brute to recognize that the very brute he demonizes is critical for our understanding of who (or what) Aslan is. The parallels to real-life science and God are clear and not worth spelling out (I will say, even though I bring them up, I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with them).

Next comes Digory and Polly themselves; having expected to find that all the women would be flighty, subservient idiots in the face of more reasonable men due to some annoying passages about how girls always do this and boys always like that, it was refreshing to come to realize that Polly was not only the smarter of the two, but had Digory always listened to her, would have saved them and Narnia from whole hosts of problems it must face in the future. While her taking the yellow ring from Digory’s uncle can be considered similar to Eve taking the apple from the tree, following the clever trickery of the Snake, this does not cast Polly and Digory out of paradise, but rather sends them to it. Therefore I could let it slide, and felt a satisfactory “Hah!” when it was Digory’s stupidity, rather than a woman’s folly, that ruined Narnia for years to come.

The White Witch was a character that, at first, made me feel better about the series as a whole due to an article I read about the series prior to starting this book. The article had claimed that Lewis was racist, and the fact that the very first villain is a very fair-skinned woman made me question this assertion. In some sense it still complicates this assertion, but more on that later. It wasn’t until The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Silver Chair that I began to take issue with Witches in Narnia. Which is good timing, because it is about time to move on to

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a beautiful woman who uses her beauty to try and rule as a tyrant; in The Silver Chair there is yet another beautiful woman who once again uses her beauty and other enchantments to get (whom we are led to believe are “good”) men to do stupid things, driving up the tally of villains who use their looks to to bad things. This in itself is not awful (because it happens in real life, and because it is not as though every villain is a pretty woman trying to get valiant men to destroy themselves), and if these were the only instances where beauty becomes a vice, it would not have perked my interest. As you may have guessed, it was not; two other female characters (not cast as demons, but still demonized) have their looks mentioned in the series, and ultimately both of them are portrayed as being awful, awful people.

The first is Susan, the older sister of the four children in this book. She is constantly referred to as the pretty one, and is also the one who is trying the hardest to act “grown-up,” with her wanting to hang out with boys and wear makeup and stuff. And it is only through the questions of King Tirian (none of Susan’s siblings bother to ask) that we find that it is because she wanted to wear lipstick and date boys that she will never be allowed in Aslan’s paradise. Her siblings, having either completely forgotten about her or decided that it just makes so much sense that wearing lipstick means one has lost their right to heaven, do not bother to make an appeal for her, and run off and play with unicorns. Aravis’ friend is another example of a girl so focused on how she looks and about pointless grown-up things like status and wealth that we are led to darn near despise her by the end of her time in the series.

But wait, one may argue: Lucy is described as being beautiful but is not thrown under the bus for it. Then it would appear beauty in and of itself is not the problem. It is almost as though the very act of changing from a girl to a woman is the real issue; that once a girl grows old and naturally comes to understand why she’s pretty in the first place, she has no choice but to either suppress her pubescent self, or to become an awful person (either by being incredibly vapid and annoying, or by being a manipulative Witch). Lucy never seems to reach puberty (mentally or physically), and Lucy’s beauty is not depicted as heinous. Polly, who must reach it at some point because she becomes an old woman, remains unmarried throughout the entire series, and it is implied that she and Digory have a sexless and yet possibly romantic relationship throughout their years; while she hit puberty, it would appear she resisted the urge—temptation?– to care about boys and looking good for boys, and thus she is exonerated for being old. She also is not mentioned as either being pretty or caring about being pretty, and for that reason also may not fall into this category of women doomed for eternity. Is this to say that any girl who tries to look pretty for a guy is just a snake waiting to ruin men, or is such a silly person that she is not worth a second thought about?

Now one can also argue that Susan’s inability to get back into Narnia is just a metaphor for losing one’s imagination (rather than the other implication, which would be “becoming a whore”). Based on this, the issue isn’t the makeup and everything, but actually just the fact that doing grown-up things makes one less able to imagine stuff, and therefore less able to accept things like Narnia. But even so, why are only feminine indications of “acting too grown-up” under attack? When the boys want to fight in battles as though they are hardened soldiers, where is Aslan saying that the boys can’t come to his realm because they tried to grow up too fast? When the boys are falling for girls and slobbering over themselves to get the women’s favor, where is Aslan telling the boys they are acting too grown, and that they ought to stop caring about girls and care more about…whatever it is they are supposed to care about? Why does lusting for women and swinging a sword about lead to valiant and intelligent men whose imaginations are still active enough to bring them to Aslan’s country, but lusting for men and wearing makeup lead to insignificant and dangerous women who have no place in Paradise? Also, were this the case, Lewis would be implying that Aslan and his realm are imaginary and can only be experienced by people who make this stuff up in their heads, which would not make much sense based on the nature of the series. Unless Lewis is fooling us all…? o.O

Prince Caspian

This book introduces the Telmarines, which may be the closest thing to atheists in the series (they do not believe in Aslan, and consider old Narnian stories to be “fairy tales.” Besides taking over the Narnian throne and plotting to kill Caspian once a Telmarine heir is born, they do not really do all that much in the series. This book was sort of a “meh,” for me.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and The Silver Chair

This is when ages start being brought into play, and suddenly people are becoming too old to come back and help in subsequent Narnian adventures (though, as stated earlier, age only seems to be an overall issue if age causes one to lust for dudes and act like a typical teenage girl). Other than that, I had no opinions (good or bad) about these, except for the fact that I found them to be boring at times, and the Aslan/Jesus/God=THE BEST THING EVAR stuff was starting to wear a little thin. But considering this is a series for children, the fact that I was getting this mercilessly drilled into my head was to be expected, and given the intent, not necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, most of it was benign and/or would encourage good behavior, so I could find no problem with it on those grounds.

The Horse and His Boy

This would also have fit in the category with the two books above, if not for a few things I noticed in this novel. I have already mentioned one of them (namely, the double standard of how to treat people who “grow up”), but another thing I found unsettling was the juxtaposition between the dark-skinned Calormen (Calormen => Colormen => uncool non-white guys, probably Arab or Indian) and the fair-skinned Narnians. With the exception of two (literally two) characters of Calormen descent, every Calormen character is either corrupt, violent, greedy, selfish, superficial, sneaky, stupid, or some combination of these plus various other vices. The Tisroc (who is their ruler) is depicted as being a fat, ugly tyrant who rules a bunch of people who are utterly awful because they do not know what being “noble or free” means. This is obviously compared to the happy, kind, generous, lovable people one finds in Narnia, whose rulers are always kind, just, liberal, and wish nothing but the best for their subjects. On top of this is the fact that while the wonderful Narnians worship the beautiful Lion, the Calormen worship the Tash, who is depicted as a demon, or possibly Satan himself. To give a few examples:

This usually happened because a loud voice shouted out “Way, way, way, for the Tarkaan”, or “for the Tarkheena”, or “for the fifteenth Vizier”, “or for the Ambassador”, and everyone in the crowd would crush back against the walls; and above their heads Shasta would sometimes see the great lord or lady for whom all the fuss was being made, lolling upon a litter which four or even six gigantic slaves carried on their bare shoulders. For in Tashbaan there is only one traffic regulation, which is that everyone who is less important has to get out of the way for everyone who is more important; unless you want a cut from a whip or punch from the butt end of a spear.

It was quite unlike any other party they had seen that day. The crier who went before it shouting “Way, way!” was the only Calormene in it. And there was no litter; everyone was on foot. There were about half a dozen men and Shasta had never seen anyone like them before. For one thing, they were all as fair-skinned as himself, and most of them had fair hair. And they were not dressed like men of Calormen. Most of them had legs bare to the kneee. Their tunics were of fine, bright, hardy colours – woodland green, or gay yellow, or fresh blue. Instead of turbans they wore steel or silver caps, some of them set with jewels, and one with little wings on each side of it. A few were bare-headed. The swords at their sides were long and straight, not curved like Calormene scimitars. And instead of being grave and mysterious like most Calormenes, they walked with a swing and let their arms and shoulders free, and chatted and laughed. One was whistling. You could see that they were ready to be friends with anyone who was friendly and didn’t give a fig for anyone who wasn’t. Shasta thought he had never seen anything so lovely in his life.

‘This is perfectly dreadful,’ thought Shasta. It never came into his head to tell these Narnians the whole truth and ask for their help. Having been brought up by a hard, closefisted man like Arsheesh, he had a fixed habit of never telling grown-ups anything if he could help it: he thought they would always spoil or stop whatever you were trying to do. And he thought that even if the Narnian King might be friendly to the two horses, because they were Talking Beasts of Narnia, he would hate Aravis, because she was a Calormene, and either sell her for a slave or send her back to her father. As for himself, ‘I simply can’t tell them I’m not Prince Corin now,’ thought Shasta. ‘I’ve heard all their plans. If they knew I wasn’t one of themselves, they’d never let me out of this house alive. They’d be afraid I’d betray them to the Tisroc. They’d kill me. And if the real Corin turns up, it’ll all come out, and they will!’ He had, you see, no idea of how noble and free-born people behave.

The last one in particular was particularly ironic, considering just how many times “noble” Narnians had drawn swords to kill people for things such as lying about something.

To say there are not countries in the Middle East or elsewhere who (at Lewis’ time, or even now) have aspects similar to what is depicted in this book (such as unfair arranged marriages and authoritarian monarchies), or to say that India was always a free paradise of compassion and upward mobility, would be foolish. Regardless, one cannot help but feel he relishes a little too much in painting the Calormen as horrid savages, while their fair-skinned counterparts serve as the model to which all civilization must emulate. The degree to which the bad in the Calormen and the good in the Narnians is exaggerated is more than a little troubling, and at least borders on racism, if it does not outright cross the line.

It is not as though the medieval Europe that Narnia embodies did not have its own corruption or deal with its own share of greedy, heartless citizens. And even if this is just a comparison between modern forms of government, why feel the need to explicitly make the Calormen dark-skinned, turban-wearing jerks in the first place? Considering all the humans who came to Narnia seemed to have come from England, it does not really even make sense that there’s such a gigantic population of them, anyway. Therefore, could he not just have created a sect of the normal Narnians that did some uncool things and left it at that? Is the fact that he did not evidence of deeply—rooted prejudices? Considering he was a Caucasian Englishman writing this series at about the same time India was just getting its independence, it does not seem all that far off.

The Last Battle

Being the most overtly religious of all the novels, in my opinion, this was both the most intriguing and over-the-top of them all. Besides what has previously been stated about Aslan’s realm, and besides a king’s possible desire to romance a Unicorn:

‘Kiss me, Jewel [the male Unicorn],’ [King Tirian] said. ‘For certainly this is our last night on earth…’

The only things that really stuck out were how compelling the false prophets were (for certainly, any Christian could probably point to a number of people in the media and say that they feel just as frustrated as the children who must fight deceit so that they can help people find salvation), and how little the children seem to care about the fact that they DIED IN A TRAIN WRECK, and that since Aslan said Susan is not going to come to his land, he is effectively banishing her to Narnian Hell. While I personally would have paused for at least a few minutes after hearing that I was brutally killed in my world and what I was now experiencing was the ever-eternal afterlife, these children just seem to be happy that they get to stay in the shiny happy world forever, and go off to play and whatnot. Which I guess makes sense because they are children, but it is still a bit jarring that none of them even seem to care that they are basically dead. Or that their sister will not join them in paradise, and therefore either gets stuck in the awful world below, or gets sent to wherever it is the bad Animals got sent to (or maybe both; maybe the former is the latter).

At some point, there are also some Dwarves who do not believe in Tash or Aslan, and fight for themselves. These could represent atheists or humanists, and are depicted as treacherous and out for themselves; whether this is an actual commentary on either group, or whether they just happened to sort of fill that role, I am not yet sure.

…also, now that I think of it, what is the significance of an Ape being the false prophet, if there is any? Is this another racial thing, or is it just because apes are considered smarter than other animals?

So what I’m left with is:

  • Series appears misogynistic
  • Series appears racist
  • Series seems hypocritical and these and other respects

I did appreciate the bit about good deeds being valid in Aslan’s eyes, regardless of what deity they were done for, and the fact that atheists may or may not be depicted as the basest of people, depending on which peoples are supposed to serve as a metaphor for atheists (if any are). And while I may not agree with the Love Jesus/God stuff, I cannot say it was a particular issue, especially when Aslan was not telling the Narnians to hate homosexuality or that slavery was cool. Despite this, I found some eerie stuff in these pages, and I suppose I will have to wait until next I read them before coming to a final conclusion about the series.

Grace Hopper Celebration 2010 : Day 4 (1 October)

The last day of the conference!

I spent the morning filling out job applications and reading through the immense stacks of pamphlets I had collected over the past three days. Lunch was mostly spent with a friend who showed me a game called Minecraft, which looked like a lot of fun. Too bad my laptop was not fancy enough to run it very well!

After lunch was Cloud Computing – Architecting the Warehouse Behind the Cloud. It seemed mostly geared towards people who already were somewhat familiar with cloud computing (which I was not), but it sounds like cloud computing is essentially when one company or organization creates electronic storage space that multiple people can access and utilize for applications, or for whatever else they’d want a server for. Clouds are useful in that consumers can develop applications that rely on servers without having to shell out the money to buy their own server system; this, along with the time saved from being able to use someone else’s servers for one’s purpose, allow for faster development and faster innovation in various industries. For example, it is because of the cloud that Norton was able to win an award for technological innovation; Norton uses cloud computing to patch and update virus definitions on their users’ computers, so that the user’s computer neither has to save all that information physically on their machine (either in memory or on the hard-drive), and so that the software has a central location to check for definitions, rather than having to rely on local copies on the user’s machine.

But with all these benefits do come some drawbacks; some enterprises have been hesitant to fully shift to clouds because there are close to no standards about how a cloud may be used, and thus no guarantees about a number of different issues, such as how secure the information may be and how the cloud company is allowed to use the information. For example, whether or not a cloud provider would be forced to release data in their cloud in the event of a lawsuit, or whether the cloud provider holds the right to choose to present data in the cloud as evidence in a court of law, are both heavy concerns that are keeping some businesses from putting vast quantities of data into clouds. Other issues to consider are the fact that not all information even needs to be on a cloud, whether or not information should be put in public or private cloud (and how to make transitioning from either seamless and painless), and whether foreign enterprises that use a domestic cloud are privy to U.S. privacy or copyright laws (or vice-versa).

For more information on cloud computing and on how to choose a cloud for a particular project, we were advised to check out Amazon, who has a lot of information on their cloud and about cloud computing in general. While cloud computing is not something I’ve been particularly interested in, I think it was still a useful panel, that answered a lot of questions I had about the field and about where it’s headed.

Cloud Computing - Architecting the Warehouse Behind the Cloud

Cloud Computing - Architecting the Warehouse Behind the Cloud

Soon after was Imagine Cup Workshop, where we talked about some of the rules for Imagine Cup and got into groups to brainstorm. Imagine Cup was described as “The Olympics,” where the event has several sub-events of varying fame and glory. The game and software design events were the “swimming and gymnastics” of the event, and typically garnered the most interest and attention (though there are other subdivisions that have seen equally impressive contributions). The goal of all Imagine Cup events is to create something that works to solve some large global problem, such as hunger, gender inequality, and widespread disease. Participants only need to be over the age of 16 and students; one does not have to necessarily be a Computer Scientist in order to participate (in fact it would probably be in one’s best interest to have some variety, especially for the games division). Teams can have up to four people on them, and only one needs to be a citizen of the country that the team is entering in; all the team members can be from different schools, so even if no one else at one’s school wants to participate, one could still find a way to get involved. Teams that make it to the finals get free trips to the location of the final competition!

The first round ends in late October; by this time every team has to have submitted a proposal for what they plan on working on. No one is eliminated at this point, and no one is expected to have anything fully completed, so it is more of a commitment to participate and evidence that the team’s thinking about their submission. By November teams should have a prototype of their submission (but nothing has to be finished, per se, until the finals next year).

I’ve already jumped aboard a team; we hope to make some sort of game centered around promoting gender equality by detailing the lives of various female icons who faced adversity in their lives. Can’t release any more details yet!

Afterwards my friends and I hoped to check out World of Coca-Cola, but unfortunately the cut-off for getting into the museum was three minutes before we got directions to it. So instead we checked out the Activities That Attract 4th-12th Grade Girls and Women to Computing workshop, which had some open slots. The workshop was teaching participants about Alice and Scratch, along with Pleo robots and PicoCricket sets. Since education’s not really my thing, and since I already had experience with a lot of what was being taught, I did not find the workshop very interesting (though I’m sure it was helpful to those who actually planned on using some of these tools in classroom settings).

The night ended with Sponsor Night, which was held in the Aquarium. Google passed out flashing glasses and t-shirts, and Microsoft set up shop on the other side of the room with t-shirts of their own. I have to say, I think Microsoft won the t-shirt war…

My friends and I were somewhat disappointed that we couldn’t explore the entire aquarium, but there was a giant tank in the ballroom that offered us plenty of opportunities for pictures, so it wasn’t all bad. The marine biologist in me resurfaced once I got a picture of some sharks and manta rays, and I was giddy like a first-grader for a good half hour as I frantically snapped some pictures on my cell phone.

Manta Ray!

Manta Ray!

Mystery Shark (Can you tell me what species it is?)

Mystery Shark (Can you tell me what species it is?)

Whale Shark!

Whale Shark!

The food was great, and it was a very relaxed end to a life-changing conference. I met so many new and interesting people, and interacted with so many companies that I had never thought of working for, and I feel it was completely worth missing classes and work for a week, if only to have the chance to learn more about what my field offers me, and to join other women in celebration of our gender and our presence in a male-dominated field. It was an experience I will keep with me forever, and I will be sure to convince as many lower-classmen as possible to go next year.

Thank you Grace Hopper Celebration 2010; it’s been a blast!

P.S. I think I earned the title of Longest Ribbon Chain.

 

15 Total Ribbons

15 Total Ribbons

 

Even the ones that don't apply to me still apply to me.

Even the ones that don't apply to me still apply to me.

Grace Hopper Celebration 2010 : Day 3 (30 September)

Today was more or less a day to regroup, to make sure I’d gotten all the free stuff I had wanted, to make sure I had talked to every company and grad school I had interest in, and do some of the homework I was supposed to have done by the end of the day.

In the morning I went to the 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Career, where a panel of professional women gave us all advice on what not to do while we figured out what we wanted to do with our lives. The take-home messages were:

  • Go to informational interviews before deciding to accept an offer; ask about the company culture, etc
  • Don’t choose your first offer out of fear that it will be your only one — this is likely to end in misery
  • Follow up with contacts with various companies, and don’t forget to use your network!
  • Try to get a mentor/someone who will help you out and teach you the ropes early in your career
  • Take a vacation before starting! It will probably be the last chance you get to take a long holiday.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary
  • Think about how much you’d be willing to travel (some jobs will have you traveling every day)
  • Make sure that both you and your significant other are happy with your career choice — discuss things such as salary differences, whether they are comfortable with you having a high-security job, etc

It was very interesting to hear each of the panelists talk a bit about their lives, and I definitely learned a bit about how to handle my own job search.

After that I explored the world outside the hotel for a bit with one of my friends in order to enter the Geocache raffle hosted by the USAA. It was the first time I’d left the hotel in awhile, so it was a nice change to get out and explore some of Atlanta.

 

One of the USAA challenge clues

One of the USAA challenge clues

Next, we went to a lunch sponsored by CRA-W for all the DREU students who worked this past summer. It was at Il Mulino, a very fancy Italian restaurant which was happy to make some vegan alternatives to their usual menu. The food was delicious; this was easily one of the best meals of the conference!

Later came Codeathon for Humanity; being largely unfamiliar with the particular project, I decided to try and contribute by helping with documentation; unfortunately it was rather unclear as to what we needed to help document, and by the time the general reception rolled along the inhabitants of the Documentation table decided that a food break would serve us best.

After dinner was a very fun and spirited keynote speech by Carol Bartz, who spoke about what Computer Science had been like when she had started out, and how different the field is now, and how different it is likely to be in the future. The CEO of Yahoo! did not disappoint!

Then came the DJ Dance Party, which I attended for about ten minutes before deciding I was too tired to dance, and instead I hung out with a few friends who were mutually uninterested in dancing.

 

DJ Dance Partay

DJ Dance Partay

All in all another action-packed day. :]

Grace Hopper Celebration 2010 : Day 2 (29 September)

This morning I obtained a Poken (this little USB device that acts as an electronic business card when you match it with another Poken) and filled out my profile a bit.

My Vampire Poken

My Vampire Poken

I also went to the New Investigations #1 presentations, which were on a lot of interesting subjects (music, collaborative learning, games, and nursing). The first presentation was about using computers to generate song accompaniment, in the same vein as Microsoft Songsmith. The presentation began with an overview of the difficulties in doing this (for example, trying to figure out the correct chord progressions to use and figuring out the tone of the song and the genre of the song through analysis of the vocals), and the presenter showed a humorous comparison of an original song clip and a Microsoft Songmith rendition of the same song based solely on a vocal track to demonstrate how this is not a trivial task. She then explained how her work involved analyzing the chords that a particular artist tends to use, generating all the possible chord types, and teaching her system about how to choose the best chords to use at particular parts of the song, by training it with other songs that the artist has produced. She was actually able to test this system by choosing a song off an artist’s album, training the system with the other songs on the album, and generating accompaniment that, while being different from the original, fit the vocals just as well as the original accompaniment. It was really impressive!

The second was a presentation on some ongoing research involving collaborative learning through the use of computers, with the intent of facilitating collaboration between students from different schools, states, countries, etc, and of demonstrating the value of collaborative learning (versus typical solitary computer science learning experiences). In order to do all this they are developing a game based on the regional education requirements in which elementary school students would have tasks which would require them to complete quests and learn about ecosystems and landforms through collaborate both with other students and with non-player characters (NPCs). The NPCs would hopefully, through working with the students in the game, both inspire the students’ curiosity and give them motivation to learn more about the science, while working with other students (by dividing up responsibilities for particular quests) would hopefully also improve the learning experiences of all students involved. I’m very curious to see the results of this study.

The third project was on studying trends among different groups of people and why they enjoy the games they play; participants were given a game where they could customize levels, avatars, and could play the levels they created, and the researchers documented what participants spent more time on based on a number of factors, such as their gender and their gaming experiences. For example, female participants were the most likely to do any sort of customization and the least likely to actually play the levels (a trend that, though slightly diminished, still stood with female gamers). 44% of female participants and 52% of male participants were described as “strategic” designers (in other words, they actively tried to create a story with their level, and had specific reasons for designing the levels they created. There were also differences between participants who had experience playing more involved games such as RPGs and participants who had experience with less involved games such as online social games, or participants who played board games. RPG gamers tended to revise their levels more often but tended to use less items in the levels themselves; other gamers and non-gamers tended to revise their levels less frequently, but tended to stick more into their levels.

The last presentation was made by a graduate student who had been creating ways of making the lives of nurses easier by consolidating the information they have to know throughout the day, giving them newer technology such as Smart boards and voice communication systems, and by allowing for remote access of patient information. She had received a lot of positive feedback about how having one program that nurses could access data from was extremely helpful for their jobs. The research was more straight-forward than some of the other presentations, and was a great end to the session.

After NI#1, I visited all the companies I did not have a chance to chat with last night, visited some graduate school tables, and then went to lunch. Lunch was interesting; as a vegan I was given tofu seasoned with paprika, salt, and oregano, what tasted like sweet and sour soba noodles, and fresh spinach. There were waiters carrying plates to and from the tables, and it felt like I was in a fancy restaurant. After this did an interview, and overwhelmed myself with the amount of free stuff I had come across. I definitely should have brought a suitcase with me, rather than just a backpack and laptop bag…I have also attempted to collect as many ribbons as possible during my stay at the conference. I have eleven so far! Soon came the Job Search Part 1 Panel and the Defense Career Panels, which gave me a lot of good insight on how to apply for jobs and what Defense jobs are available and what they involve.

Soon came dinner and the poster presentations, which were rather interesting; many were about getting more girls interested in computer science early and many were about educational games, but there were also quite a few about more mathematical and theoretical concepts. After this I hung out with a few of my friends, did some homework, and got ready for another exciting day of Grace Hopper.

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