Thursday, December 31, 2009

Infinite Jest: The Film

Infinite Jest is clearly influenced heavily by film. Many of the sequences are highly filmic in nature. Some of the surreal elements of the novel are reminiscent of David Lynch's work. And of course, the central driving plot element around which everything revolves is a film. Much of the content of Infinite Jest deals with films and directing, specifically everything involving James Incandenza. Him directing films, people watching and interpreting those films, etc. Certainly one of the central themes of the novel is entertainment and why we watch what we do, what it says about us, etc.

With all that said, an adaptation of Infinite Jest for the screen would seem inevitable, right? Well, not really. Much of IJ is so overtly literary in nature that it just couldn't be made into a film and retain all of it's structure, power, meaning, etc. However, I do think you could make a film of the central narrative threads of IJ. It just couldn't really be what IJ the novel is. But it could be something very cool, unique, intelligent and entertaining.

Some of the most filmic elements of IJ (mild spoilers):
* The opening chapter. Use of perspective so that Hal's seeming external dialogue is revealed to really be internal dialogue, and the 'switch-over' that comes at that moment. Would be tricky but could definitely be done.
* Eschaton. Like a microcosmic Lord of the Flies meets War Games. It would be awesome.
* Gately destroying the 'Nucks. This is a no-brainer. Gately could be played by Mickey Rourke. Think of a less-cartoonish version of his character from Sin City. Big, sensitive oaf, who is capable of mass destruction out of loyalty, duty or in defense of others.
* James Incandenza's visiting Gately's hospital bedside.
* Hal at the 12-step meeting near the end. It's kind of a Fight Club-esque scene (beginning of Fight Club), but more surreal and absurd than those in FC. And of course it would be hilarious.
* The mildly futuristic elements, i.e. IWD dumpsters being launched into the convexity, ATHSCME fans in background etc.
* All of the wheelchair assassins movements and activities

And many other parts, but with these sticking out particularly in my mind.

There are some things that could be omitted without losing too much. Such as long chapters about ancillary characters/events. These are necessary in the novel and don't feel like excess at all, but for length purposes chapters about Ederdy, Kate Gompert, the psychological reasons behind the failure of videophony, obsessive technical detail about everything, a shortened meeting between Marathe and Steeply etc. Much of this stuff is extremely well done and adds depth and texture to the novel, but would be simply untenable in a film.

I Survived Infinite Jest!

The ending of the novel is pretty spectacular, almost as much for what isn't there as for what is. So many questions in terms of the narrative and what happens, exactly, are left open ended. Questions drive the intrigue in the narrative throughout the book. Elements, characters, places, events are introduced abruptly and without much background, which immediately leads to questions. Infinite Jest is continually hitting us with questions and shrouding the answers in mystery. Why is Hal the way he is in the opening chapter? Who is Joelle van Dyne? Why does she wear a veil? Why do members of AFR have no legs? Who are John Wayne and Don Gately, and why do they go with Hal to dig up Hal's father's head? Some of these questions are introduced early in the narrative and most of them get answered, either fully or partially, as the book moves along. These questions are always lurking in our mind, and as we get answers, more mystery is injected. But the pacing, and structure of the question/answer ratio keeps your senses fully alert at all times. The narrative is wonderfully structured.

Yet, even after the last page is read, many other questions that have since been introduced, have gone 'unanswered', at least directly. Certainly this is for a reason, and with explicit purpose. I'd like to list some of the questions that are foremost in my mind right now, just so as not to lose them. Many are very fresh in my mind, and I don't want distance to get between me and my memory of events, though the events of this book will be very difficult to forget. What a haunting, profound piece of work this is.

Questions (and therefore perhaps some spoilers):

-Did Joelle really think JOI was joking about making a 'perfect, terminal' entertainment? If not, why lie to Steeply about it? If she's not lying, how come his film really DOES have that affect? Or is she just confused?

-Is there some supernatural, or meta- connection between Hal and Gately? Or any other type of connection? They're effectively the 2 central characters, yet they never meet within the events of the book. Hal mentions digging up JOI's head w/ Gately at beginning of novel, presumably looking backwards. Gately envisions that same scene near the end of the novel, presumably in a premonition, looking forwards (see: 'annular' nature of book, below). Also, Gately, when feverish from pain, has ghostwords come to his mind which only Hal would know and use. Or perhaps they're just JOI injecting the ghostwords.

-Why does JOI's ghost have interest in Gately? Just because Joelle does? As a wraith he had to wait a long time to interface w/ Gately. Why does he care about Gately? Gately killed DuPlessis, then later beat up some other separatist 'nucks (both accidentally), so perhaps JOI sees him as some important player in the intercontinental struggle, or whatever it is. JOI himself also seems to be a key political player, and also in an incidental, indirect way.

-Hal seems to have near out of body experiences. Is this JOI's ghost pulling him out of his body, like, by force? As JOI attempted to do in life with the samizdat? That is; JOI feels Hal is an empty shell of a person, which mirrors Himself. That's what drove him to suicide; Hals anhedonia, and soberly seeing a reflection of himself in Hal. He wanted to bring him out of the shell w/ the sazmidat and failed and now wants to bring him out so he haunts ETA and Hal?

-Did Hal end up dropping DMZ w/ Pemulis? He didn't seem very interested in the idea in his last interface w/ Pemulis. If not, what caused his condition? His condition goes far beyond simple marijuana withdrawal (animal noises, seizures, disconnect between his outward actions and what takes place in his mind i.e. not realizing he's hysterically laughing when he is, thinking he's answering a question eloquently when he's making animal noises and flailing about). Possibly a delayed effect of the samizdat? Why is Hal immune to the samizdat? JOI's ghost claims he showed it to him. Perhaps Hal's being possessed by JOI? Some of the 'symptoms' that Hal exhibits are starting to show before the chronologically later events of chapter 1. That is; Hal is already experiencing disconnect between his inner and outer self (laughing hysterically, not realizing he is). So at least THAT aspect of how he's behaving in chapter 1 can't be explained by him possibly dropping DMZ, but rather by something that has already happened or is happening. Though the seizures/noises could still be attributed dropping DMZ, which I think is most likely (Hal: "Call it something I ate").

-Orin and Avril?

-Is the adult 'Mikey' at the end of novel at AA an adult Pemulis? A flash-forward? I assumed so. Though the adult Mikey is such a dullard, and Pemulis was pretty sharp.. but perhaps that fact is supposed to illustrate the degenerative effects of the drug use.

-Why is AFR (and everyone else) so concerned about a master copy of the samizdat? They already have copies to use to kill people with. It's unlikely, and there's no reason to believe there is, any 'antidote' to be found.

-Who does Hal see outside sitting in the snow on exhibition day? It seemed as though it was a person of importance, but nothing comes of it.


-Annular fusion ('annular' means having to do with rings) is a theme throughout the novel (the way ONAN is seemingly energy dependent through this process of waste-energy recycling, that JOI invented). Cycles and circles recur throughout the novel as well. This all seems to be a metaphor for the structure of the novel itself, which also seems to be circular in nature. As soon as the novel is completed you feel a very compelling need to go back and read Ch. 1, and when Ch.1 is done you feel like just going on to Ch. 2 again etc. Even though you just took multiple months and countless hours to read this novel once to begin with. Clearly Wallace has structured the novel to be 'annular', intentionally, as a kind of literary samizdat in structure. This isn't much of a revelation; the title of the book is the same as the title of the samizdat. Clearly the novel functions as a meta-novel in various ways, and this is one of them.

- JOI didn't like AA because AA didn't tolerate his abstraction. Hal goes to check out AA, but his nature is that of JOI's, and he has a similar aversion to it. Parent-child cycles, and more allusions to the 'annular' themes within the novel. The 12-step meeting that Hal attends is so bizarre and surreal I'm tempted to think that JOI's ghost is attempting to steer Hal away from it, encouraging Hal to use so that he can go on 'functioning', and making him see the meeting as more bizarre than it actually is. JOI's quitting alcohol, combined with a sober view of his son and himself, is what drove him to suicide. So now he is trying to 'save Hal', and he knows, or believes, that Hal needs substances to function. And Hal does, seemingly, need them to function competitively, and possibly just in general.

-Connected with this, after Gately comes into contact with JOI's ghost, at the very end of the novel he starts reliving past memories of drug use. He says he's doing this to 'Abide', and I don't know much about recovery personally, but it seems to me that dwelling on past drug use is not a healthy, normal part of recovery. JOI could be functioning as an agent of 'the Disease' to Gately.

-Wallace has referred to 'Infinite Jest' as a 'failed entertainment'. In the novel James Incandenza moves from area to area in life, after he 'masters' something he takes up a new challenge. He ended his life still directing films because he never became a successful filmmaker, Hal says. 'Infinite Jest' the novel was intended to be the "perfect entertainment", but Joelle says this was tongue-in-cheek.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On Eschaton

I'm 91% done with Infinite Jest and I'd like to make a rough theory about the end of the novel before I get there and see if my theory has any predictive power. My theory is basically this: that the Eschaton game, somewhere in the middle of the novel, is an allegory for the structure of the novel Infinite Jest, specifically w/r/t the ending. It just so happens that I read Surprised by Hope concurrently with IJ, and in Surprised by Hope the subject of 'eschatology' is addressed. 'Eschatology' is the study of the end of things, finality, death, judgement etc. I was unfamiliar with the term until I read Surprised by Hope, and shortly thereafter I read the 'Eschaton' chapter of IJ. I don't recall whether within the Eschaton chapter there are any references to the root of the word 'Eschaton' or whether the game itself is said to have anything to do with endings, but it's my stance that it likely does. Not just endings in general, but with the end of Infinite Jest

So given this, what can I predict about the end of the novel? Only some rather vague things. But within 'the map' of Eschaton, in this particular run of the game, it doesn't reach a logical conclusion. Presumably previous years of Eschaton games did end orderly, and logically, within the map of the game. But in this run, the end game is approaching within the map of the game, elements are aligning, the end is approaching, and before we get there chaos erupts outside of the map, and prevents the game from ending within the map. The game does abruptly end, but not due to the rules and the parameters of the game. Thus the real elements of the game are left in limbo. All the while Hal is observing this and is dumbstruck, frozen, watching the events occur as though there is something profound about them that he can't pinpoint.

All this leads me to believe that certain narrative elements will be drawing to what seems to be a conclusion within the novel (i.e. within 'the map'), and that Hal will likely transcend the narrative in some meta- way and observe them from 'outside' the parameters of the novel itself. That the narrative elements won't reach what seems to be their inevitable, logical conclusion, but will rather abruptly end due to 'external' forces (i.e. some meta- consideration).

Recall that the beginning of the unraveling of this game of 'Eschaton' was snow falling in real life onto 'the map'. 90% through the novel and snow has just begun to fall on E.T.A. Insane amounts of snow. I had already suspected 'Eschaton' was an allegory for the end of the novel, but the snowfall just triggered that suspicion.

As to Hal transcending and being, or becoming, external to the events of the novel, there are some hints that something along these lines is occuring already. Feverish Don Gately (within 'the map'), is becoming conscious of words that only Hal (or maybe Avril) would know and use. Is Hal the author of the novel Infinite Jest that we are reading, perhaps as a tribute to his father, attempting to create a literary sazmidat? And inserting himself as a God like figure into the narrative? Clearly the language used by the author of Infinite Jest is language that Hal, and perhaps only Hal, would use. Note that the author of the novel we are reading uses phrases that the characters themself use. The author refers to people 'eliminating their map' when referring to suicide or homicide. He uses 'interface' colloquially, as do the characters within the novel. As well as various other phrases and words that only people within the world of Infinite Jest use. And, of course, the author has a massive vocabulary, as does Hal. Also, single, rather than double, quotation marks are used throughout the novel, perhaps to indicate that the entire novel is in double quotes, i.e. DFW quoting Hal, Hal the author of the largely autobiographical Infinite Jest. Recall the end of chapter one, where someone asks Hal "What's your story?" I don't know about any of this exactly; it's all very highly speculative, especially since I'm not done with the novel, but it does seem to make a lot of sense.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Infinite Jest's Structure/Length as Metaphor for Life/Addiction

I found a funny old 'review' of the book, that is highly ironic in light of the chapter I just read. Here's an excerpt from the non-review review:

"It sits there like a dare, like a reproach, like a doorstop. It is 1,079 pages long. It's a terrific book, I'm sure -- all the other reviewers tell me so. But right now INFINITE JEST (Little, Brown, $29.95), the defiantly dense new novel by the intriguing young writer David Foster Wallace, sits on my desk like an infinite burden. I cannot lift the thing to crack its wonders, and I'm beginning to despair.

Carrying the 3-pound, 2.7-ounce book to read while commuting is out of the question; I might as well heft dumbbells in my backpack. Propping it on my knees to read in bed or in the bathtub is tricky: Too much concentration and left-hand grip strength is needed to prevent the tome from toppling over while turning the pages. It is occasionally possible to read 20 or 30 pages at a clip while sitting at home in a special chair, but then I look up, realize there are 900 or 600 or even 400 pages to go, and fall into profound dyspepsia, longing for an unedited Joan Collins manuscript. Skimming isn't possible. Reading the last page first reveals nothing."

I definitely sympathize with the reviewer's sentiments (though, thanks to Kindle, my version isn't as impenetrable, physically). I'm about 89% through the book now, months after I started it, and interestingly just as I read this review Infinite Jest responds to the criticism within it's own narrative, metaphorically. Don Gately, a recovering alcoholic, talks about a time when he had to do jail time and was forced into white-knuckle withdrawal, and the only way he could endure it was to live inside of every second. In this section he's looking back on the experience from a hospital bed where he has to endure intense pain, and again can only get through it one second at a time. If he thinks about the millions of seconds that lie ahead of him lined up, each second filled with pain, the idea of that pain, for that amount of time, becomes almost unendurable. But each second in and of itself is not unendurable. And he talks about times that he or others had relapsed, or people that he know committed suicide, and how those things happen because that person was not living in the now, but was getting too far ahead of themselves. Another character talks with Gately about this and says how she used to count her days of sobriety, and after she got to a certain number of days, say 14, the idea of 100 more days, or 800 more became too frightening, and caused her to relapse. [note the structural similarity of the sentence I just wrote to the bolded sentence of the review]. Which is why, for the addict, and properly understood, the AA slogan 'One Day At a Time' isn't a trite cliche, but is actually kind of profound. You do have to take it one day at a time, literally. Or one page at a time, as it were.

I can't really do justice to the chapter in summary, but the advice it gives for dealing with the daunting task of life and/or addiction can be translated to dealing with the daunting task of reading Infinite Jest. I don't know if the intention was to anticipate and preemptively respond to critics of the novel's length in some meta- fasion, but it does function on that level whether it was intended to or not, which I found interesting.

Friday, December 25, 2009

David Foster Wallace on Cormac McCarthy

Just stumbled across this conversation between the two and found this part of the interview interesting since Cormac McCarthy is my favorite living American author, Blood Meridian is my favorite book of his, and Wallace is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern writers.


GVS: Who are some of your favorite writers?

DFW: You're really wielding the old baton on this aren't you? To be honest... my faves?

GVS: Yeah.

DFW: Ones that people don't know all that well? Oh, that's right this is a British magazine so they won't have heard of a lot of these. Cormac McCarthy, have you read "Blood Meridian"? It's literally the western to end all westerns. Probably the most horrifying book of this century, at least fiction. But it is also, this guy, I can't figure out he gets away with it, he basically writes King James English, I mean, he practically uses Old English thou's and thine's and it comes off absolutely beautifully and unmannered and ungratuitous. He's got another one called "Suttree," God that one, God that would make a fantastic movie.

GVS: (perks up) What's it called?

DFW: It's called "Suttree."

GVS: How do you spell that?

DFW: S-u-t-t-r-e-e. It came out, oh golly, mid 70s. But it's about a down and out college educated man named Cornelius Suttree who has kind of abandoned everything to live in a houseboat in Knoxville, Tennessee in the late 40s and early 50s and all of his friends in his entire world are derelicts and retards and twisted people. It's about four hundred pages of the most dense lapidary prose you can imagine about characters who are at the level of functional idiots and are drinking rot-gut. "Suttree" is the book that got him a MacArthur grant and he used the MacArthur to go to Mexico and do the research for "Blood Meridian."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Infinite Jest excerpt

I'm 72% through Infinite Jest. So far it's been a thoroughly entertaining and engaging read. Wildly different than any other novel I've read, and experimental in a way that works incredibly well. The structure is somewhat similar to other pieces of literature and film we're all familiar with. With a sprawling cast of characters with seemingly disconnected lives and plot lines that come to intersect and intertwine in various ways. What is wholly original is Wallace's dense, intelligent writing style, narrative gear shifts, the complex characters, and the genius ways in which the characters stories intersect.

Anyway, came across a passage today that I thought I'd share:

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by world-weary and sophisticated older people and then consumed by younger people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip—and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naїveté on this continent (at least since the Reconfiguration). One of the things sophisticated viewers have liked about J.O. Incandenza’s The American Century as Seen Through a Brick is its unsubtle thesis that naїveté is the last true terrible sin in the theology of millennial America. And since sin is the sort of thing that can be talked about only figuratively, it’s natural that Himself’s dark little cartridge was mostly about a myth, viz. that queerly consistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naїveté are mutually exclusive. Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naїve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool. One of the really American things about Hal, probably, is the way he despises what it is he’s lonely for: this hideous internal self, incontinent of sentiment and need, that pules and writes just under the hip empty mask, anhedonia.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Surprised by Hope review/response (long)

I'm a little late on this. I just got around to reading Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright, which some people recommended to me a few years ago. I thought it was a good book, with some very good observations on our apparent misconceptions (as both Christians and non-believers) about death, resurrection, and the afterlife. I agree with Wright's interpretation of bodily resurrection, and the hope of a new Earth and a new heaven. I take no issue with the content presented in the book, or the case presented for this interpretation of resurrection and the afterlife. Wright makes an extremely strong case for his perspective, and I believe this perspective corresponds most closely with the truth. Although the bulk of this article will be negative my overall response to the vast majority of the book was positive. I just don't have a lot to add to the stuff I agreed with other than saying that I do in fact agree.

All that being said, I do take issue with one of the central themes of the book. Specifically the issue of 'Does this matter?', and/or 'Is this significant, and if so, how significant?' Wright explicitly answers these two questions in part 3 of the book with a definitive 'Yes', and 'Yes, very', respectively. But I'm not convinced that it is AS significant as Wright claims that it is. It is significant in that it reveals a truth, and that's important enough in itself to justify writing the book and clarifying the issue for people who are obviously confused or uneducated on the subject. However, Wright claims that the significance extends beyond simply knowing what is true. He claims that understanding these truths will, or should, drastically transform how we live our Christian lives. Which I don't necessarily buy, though I understand and appreciate the case that he makes.

To illustrate what I'm getting at, let us take two Christians. Both of these Christians are crystal clear about what the Bible says about who Jesus is, about what his commands are, about how we as Christians are to live and treat each other, about the fact that Jesus died in our place and rose for our sins, conquering death etc. Also, both are at a similar place in their walk with Christ. That is, the 'strength' of their faith at this point in life is similar. The only place where these two Christians differ is that one (we'll call him #1) understands the afterlife correctly, the promise of bodily resurrection, Christ literally defeating death in a physical sense, a new heaven and new Earth joined together etc. while the other (#2) holds some common Platonic misconceptions about the afterlife, such as that of a disembodied soul leaving the body at death, ascending to heaven, leaving behind this doomed Earth forever etc.

Given this, what should we expect to see in the way of 'fruits' from these two Christians? It's my contention that their fruits, the degree to which they live a Christian life, should be roughly exactly the same, with neither bearing any more significant fruit than the other on average. But Wright argues (implicitly) that the latter Christian will most often bear significantly less fruit. That holding the beliefs that the 2nd Christian does will, in most cases, result in the Christian not caring enough about this life, not trying to change this world for the better, and just patiently awaiting the next, completely separate, disconnected and better life. Despite the fact that Jesus directly commands his followers to be concerned with this present world, and clearly lays out the ways to go about doing that. Regardless of the Christian's depth of understanding about the way in which afterlife and resurrection function.

If Christian #2, despite not correctly understanding the promise of bodily resurrection, understands and puts into practice Christ's commands, and follows his example, then his lack of understanding on that issue shouldn't affect his actions. Jesus said to help and care for the poor, so Christian #2 tries to do it as best as he can, end of story. Jesus said to follow him, to spread the good news of him and the salvation that he offers, and to love others, so that's what Christian #2 tries to do. Christian #1 does the same. If both Christians understand the example of Christ, and His words, to the same degree (and they find themselves at a similar node in life, with similar backgrounds, life experiences, etc.) then their actions should be approximately identical. We wouldn't expect to see any more from #1 than we do from #2.

Why then is it of utmost importance that a Christian fully comprehend these truths about the afterlife and resurrection (other than truth for truth's own sake)? If a Christian can live a dedicated, full Christian life under the misapprehensions of a disembodied soul ascending to heaven (which they can, and probably tens-to-hundreds of thousands do), then why is it so crucial? The elevation of the issue to such a level seems like a kind of intellectual elitism. The idea that only those of us privy to specific scholarly interpretations of the Bible can lead a fully realized Christian life. Christ is Lord of all, including the largely dull-witted masses incapable of parsing this issue effectively for themselves. Christ is even Lord of illiterates, for that matter. Which is not to say that rigorous study of the Bible shouldn't be done, of course it should be. But if it requires a working knowledge of multiple languages, historical cultural traditions, cultural differences, rigorous cross referencing of scripture given knowledge of the original language and what various phrases/words meant in different contexts, etc. to divine a particular truth then I can't very well believe God would intentionally make an essential truth relatively esoteric. And when I say 'essential' I mean that it's essential to understand the truth in order to live a full, Christian life. While the truth of the resurrection itself is certainly essential, I don't think it's essential to understand the exact machinations of that truth in order to lead a Christian life.

Let's be clear, Christian #2 still believes in the resurrection, still believes Christ died and rose (literally, bodily) for our sins, still believes that it is only through his work on the cross that we are saved from death and reconciled with God, still believes in and understands the importance of helping the poor and downtrodden, still believes that what he does or doesn't do in this world will have eternal consequences for himself and those around him (thus that this world is very important, and not wholly distinct and separate from heaven) etc. etc. Even if he is not fully cognizant of the machinations of hope, so to speak, even if he is mistaken as to the metaphysics of body-soul duality, even if he doesn't realize that Jesus 'conquering the grave' is not only Christ's literal defeating of death, but also a defeating of literal death for humanity etc. Even if he doesn't understand these things he can still lead a fully realized Christian life and do so just as easily as someone who does understand them.

A second, though not entirely separate, bone I have to pick also occurs in the third part of the book and also has to do with the implications of fully understanding these issues. Wright takes aim at Christian conservatism primarily in the US, and declares that a proper view of the resurrection and the Christian hope necessarily leads to the conclusion that global debt remission is the greatest moral crisis in the world today. Which I find to be a non-sequitur, though, to be fair, he states that he doesn't have space in this book to make that argument fully.

He goes on to straw man Christian conservatives by stating that they are happy about things such as acid rain, pollution and ecological damage. Or at least that they are not worried about them because of the temporary nature of this world. As well as stating that they believe that God must be happy about these things as well.

First of all, the Christian is commissioned to be a good steward of the Earth and all that is in within it even if they hold the false belief that the Earth is temporary and soon to perish. So whether or not they understand the reason why they should be a good steward, if they aren't being good stewards then they simply are not obeying God's commands. So I don't buy the argument that "If only they understood the 'WHY' then they would obey". No, they disobey because they are sinful, fallen humans, and they would disobey whether they understood the 'why' or not. You can be obedient without understanding and you can understand without being obedient. Comprehension is not a prerequisite for obedience.

Secondly it simply is not true that Western Christian conservatives like acid rain, or are ambivalent about pollution in the first place. Our perspective on the issue (if I can be so bold as to speak for us) is that it's an unfortunate byproduct of human progress, innovation, and increased standards of living for all people. And that God has created the Earth in specific preparation for us, fully capable of handling our pollution. Which is not to say that we shouldn't be good stewards and attempt to reduce our polluting activities as much as possible, clearly we are commanded to do just that. Only not at the expense of technological advancements that are, all factors accounted for, good for humans. Even if we could eliminate every trace of pollution from the planet along with every technology that created it, and therefore revert the human condition that has been dramatically improved through such technologies, we emphatically SHOULD NOT do it. It would be an act of supreme wickedness and an infliction of massive death and disease upon the human race if we were to do that. This is the argument that Christian conservatives make regarding pollution, yet Wright acts as though he's never heard the argument or at least hasn't understood it as he interprets the argument to be pro-pollution, or anti-responsibility-for-the-environment when it simply is neither.

Wright also states that, in light of the truth of bodily resurrection and all that goes along with it, somehow the economic policies of the right are also misguided in some way, though, again, this is more or less asserted and not at all supported by any argumentation that he provides. As far as I could see.

I am undoubtedly giving off the impression that I dislike the book or that I disagree with it's fundamental arguments, but I don't really. I very much appreciate the scholarship of Wright and the manner in which he organizes his arguments. I think the truths he reveals have the potential to be powerful apologetic tools as well. Many secularists, or just seeking non-believers, have complaints about Christianity that simply dissolve in the light of many of these truths, so that was also an invigorating aspect of the book, I found. I don't want to downplay the importance of what the book gets right, which, when it comes to the substance, is pretty much everything. I only take issue with some of the supposed implications of the various truths.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

More Poker - Up ~$26,000 in 4 days

So sick. So so sick. I'm running absurdly good. Playing well also but especially running soooo good. So after my $11k 1st on Saturday i didn't play at all on big tourney Sunday because of prior responsibilities.

On Monday I had a brutal day at tourneys down somewhere around $600 w only 1 small cash out of like 10 tournies. However i was up $1200 at pot limit Omaha cash games on the day for a net of +$600. Then tonight. I only played 3 tournaments tonight; a $109 turbo, the nightly $162 and the nightly $55. I busted out of the $55 pretty early on. In the $109 I got 7th out of 500 people for $1600. That was slightly disappointing. And in the $162 I got 3rd out of 800 people for $12,000! Which wasn't disappointing except that the hand i went out on was my AK losing to A6, where i was a big favorite to win and be heads up and win at least $16k with a shot at $22k. However I was satisfied.

The last 4 days have been amazing, as have the last 4 months of poker or so. I'm very focused, playing excellent and running insanely well. I love poker.

An updated look at my sharkscope:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Another Big Tourney Score - This Time a WIN!

I just won a poker tournament! I got first out of a field of 570 players.

It was exciting. When it was down to two the guy i was playing against was a total spaz. He sucked out on me in two big pots, if I won either I would have won, but I had to fight some more. Finally he went all-in w/ KJ when I had AA and I held up. My game really feels on right now. Feel like I'm in the zone and the results just keep coming to verify it.

Here's a picture of my lifetime Pokerstars tournament graph (though it only tracks sit-n-gos and not MTTs before a certain point, a point that's pretty visible in the graph).

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Specter of Race

In conversations that I have had with friends regarding race I have asserted often that in modern America race plays no significant factor in any facet of public life, be it within the criminal justice system, politics, business, or education. Read any of Larry Elder's books to get the gist of my stance on the issue. The more liberal among them respond to the assertion with shock and horror, while reflexively spouting off facts and statistics rapid fire that they believe show otherwise. I'm well aware of the inequities that exist along racial boundaries in our society, I just reject the notions that A) racial distinctions are necessary, meaningful distinctions to make and B) that the inequities that do exist can be linked to any current racism (rather than to residual effects of racism from the past.) Given this I believe the appropriate action to take with regard to these inequities is to do precisely nothing, because doing anything requires regression into a mode of treating race as though it were in any way relevant or meaningful, when it is not.

We have long since eliminated all traces of officially sanctioned racism from our Constitution and laws, as well as from every aspect of public life. In the eyes of the law we are all equal. And that is all that anyone is owed; equal rights and equal protection under the law. Our job as citizens on the issue of race is completed. That doesn't mean we don't need to be vigilant against any racism that rears it's ugly head within the system. But that is a matter of simply holding individuals responsible for their racist actions or words, especially when they intrude into the public sector. And that's a fight that has no conceivable end game. But our job as it relates to public policy and law is complete. To go a step even further, even in our application of the law our job is very near to being as complete as can be achieved (other than, as I said, remaining vigilant in calling out individual acts of racism). Of course, when you have fallible humans in positions of power and responsibility who have to make judgement calls (such as judges and police officers), there is no way to foolproof the system. But the evidence that exists (viewed in the proper context) with regard to sentencing and arrests, for example, shows a highly color blind justice system. A justice system with a rigorous set of checks and balances on itself in place.

In response to this people will often bring up cases of various laws that 'target' minorities, and use this as evidence of racism within the system. Such as mandatory, harsher penalties for certain types of drugs (drugs that are more often associated with other types of crime, and therefore more prevalent in inner cities, therefor more prevalent amongst the poor, therefore more prevalent amongst minorities), or harsher penalties for selling drugs within certain proximity to schools (when schools more densely populate urban areas where there are more minorities). But this is not racism. The socioeconomic and geographic maldistribution of races is a product of past racism. This is the specter of institutionalized racism. And as a society we have no duty, responsibility or capability to fight against specters.

You might correctly state that whites have a greater share of the resources (due to past racism) and thus an 'unfair advantage'. Such a statement makes a few faulty assumptions. First that blacks and whites have monolithic goals and interests, which they don't. And second that it is even a good idea to inspect who holds a greater percentage of resources along racial lines, which it is not. We should no sooner inspect whether or not there's a "maldistribution of resources" along the lines of skin color than we should inspect the issue along the lines of eye or hair color. Even if an 'inequity' exists there is nothing that can or should be done about it. It's impossible to delineate precisely between resources that were justly earned and ones that were inherited from some type of privelege that is tied to unjust acts of our ancestors. America makes no promises, nor should it, about granting equal access to resources, equal social status at birth or anything of the sort. Only equal rights, equal treatment under the law, and equal opportunity. All of which has been achieved.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Infinite Jest - Half Way review

I'm about half way through Infinite Jest and considering what a behemoth the thing is I figure I should review the first half, because by the time I finish this thing I may well have forgotten a lot of the first half. In fact, the fact that I haven't forgotten the stuff I started reading a month+ ago (i.e. the beginning of the book) is a testimony to the solid plotting and structure of the narrative. Despite the dense and complex prose the narrative builds well. And takes us into a near-future world quite like our own, but slightly different.

I was worried that, being such a notoriously difficult piece to get through, specifically the narrative would be just as dense and complex as the language that's used to deliver it, but it really isn't. Given the avant-garde reputation of the novel, again, I was worried that disparate story pieces might remain separate, but again, so far they haven't. Each narrative piece that is introduced does seem to be, initially, completely isolated from each other piece. We have the story of a tennis player named Hal, who is also a language-savant, applying for admission to a university; the story of his family (the Incandenzas) who own and run a Tennis academy; the story of a heroin fiend on the streets of Boston; the story of a Muslim man watching a mysterious video cartridge (which is really more about the cartridge than about the man) and dying; the story of a wheelchair-bound Quebecois separatist (to the North American union that has been formed between Canada-USA-Mexico), and the cross-dressing spy undercover 'reporter'; the story of Madame Psychosis; and, introduced pretty late in the first 50%, AA member Don Gately. Just to name a few of the major ones. And as each storyline is introduced you kind of feel like you're starting all over, fresh, without any back story because they seem so unrelated at first. If you stick with it you will be rewarded. Every story I've mentioned has intersected with every other one in various important, interesting ways, though it did take a while before the inter-relatedness took full shape. And when they do there is clarification as to the purpose of the story thread in the first place. Now, I'm only half way through the book, so just because the stories intertwine and cross each other doesn't necessarily mean there will be a traditional pay off or resolution of these various story elements. All I'm saying is that it's not so abstract and arty that the story lines don't even relate at all, or that they relate in some obtuse, uninteresting way. The narrative, thus far, has a structure that is not unfamiliar.

All that being said the composition of the sentences and paragraphs themselves is almost wholly alien. Wallace has a style all to himself. He floods you with massive amounts of information, details, history, technical jargon (some real, some fictional), foreign acronyms, made-up words, fictional colloquiallisms and slang, real slang etc. and delivers them in run-on sentences with really unconventional structure and phrasing. Often before you even have a basis for understanding much of any of it. Not to mention the POV from which the story gets told often switches from one person to another, and thus the style changes with it.

Another unconventional technique he uses are footnotes. Of course nonfiction employs the use of footnotes all the time, but Wallace uses it not only as a fictional use of a nonfiction device, but also embeds lengthy narrative elements, often deserving of chapters unto themselves, into the footnotes. This adds to the disconnected, nonlinear nature of the story. Reading this book on my Kindle makes the footnotes easier to deal with though, as whenever you come to one you just click it and it whips you to the spot in the 'back' of the book, and brings you right back when you're done.

I have been finding the book exceedingly interesting because many of the details, and subplots relate to interests of mine. It deals with, among many other things, applied game-theory mathematics to geopolitical situations (in a hilarious way), philosophy, economics, politics in general, film theory, language etc.

The last thing I will mention is that the style the story is written in, though at times maddening, does serve a purpose. When you read it you can almost feel your brain tingling. And in order to get through the book at all you have to have certain obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and the way the book is written and structured brings these tendencies out. And since the book is mostly about human nature specifically as it relates to things such as addiction and compulsion, then if you get through the book, you get an idea of what exactly the book is talking about. Obsessive-compulsive content, written in an obsessive-compulsive manner, by an obsessive-compulsive mind requiring obsessive-compulsive tendencies to read and relate.

An extra word about the first chapter. In reading it the first time I was pretty blown away. It's a really awesome chapter even though the first time you're reading it you're not exactly sure what's going on. It features a brilliant switch-over moment that is one of the best I've ever encountered in fiction. And the moment is intense and awesome even the first time through. But looking back on the chapter in retrospect you see it in different light as the story progresses (as you do of most of the material that is presented early on), and when you realize what was going on there, that is awesome also.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Amazon Kindle

With Christmas gift-buying season approaching I thought I'd share my love of this product. I feel like an Amazon spokesperson, but I got Kindle as a gift (thank you, dear) and it's awesome. I was always a big reader, but Kindle simplified reading and ignited a flame turning me to a reading nut.

Amazon has a wireless network (no monthly fee or anything to access), which enables you to shop for books on the Kindle from wherever. Buying and downloading content is a near-instant process, extremely easy. You can also shop online normally and with 1-click buy a book and it will send it to your Kindle the next time you turn it on. Navigating your library, or navigating within a book, is pretty simple. There's an internal dictionary so that if you come across a word you don't know, just scroll to it and it will define it. Highlighting passages and making notes is simple as well. When you do make a note in a book it adds all notes/highlights to a separate file called 'my clippings' (highly useful, I'll often highlight things in a real book then just never pick it up again). Of course the 'digital paper' non-backlit screen is easy on the eyes. It has a text-to-speech feature available for a lot of releases (though I don't use it). There's a bunch of free-to-super cheap content available, mostly public domain type stuff (i.e. all the works of Mark Twain, all of Dostoyevsky, all of Dickens, the Constitution, all the works of Thomas Paine etc.) Battery life is good with the wireless turned on, but insane nutty AWESOME w/ the wireless function off (which most of the time you don't need on).

Few drawbacks:

* Not all books are currently available. Virtually all new releases seem to be (from my experience). And they're constantly getting more stuff converted for the format. But they only have 2 books by Cormac McCarthy, nothing by Saul Bellow, nothing by Pynchon etc. But the majority of books I've ever wanted or looked for have been available in the format.

* It has a 'sync to furthest page read' feature which is sometimes useful. But the feature only works when wireless is turned on and I don't see why they can't just have that feature work through the software w/o connecting wirelessly. Small issue though

* Pricing for new books is kind of steep... they're always cheaper than the paperback real versions, but I think they should be even cheaper. 99% of new releases (or anything contemporary) are $9.99.

Also, my Kindle love COULD simply be a digital-reader love that applies just as much to the Sony one or the Barnes and Noble one, which i haven't really been able to test drive.

Anyway, if you like reading already or think you might like reading were it not for those darn bulky books with all their pages that require turning, and cause paper cuts, then buy one.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christian Cynic - Oxymoron?

Is it possible to be both a Christian and a cynic? I find my natural disposition to be rather cynical, though with the future hope offered by Christianity, and the fact that the Christian message is one of GOOD news, it doesn't seem to lend itself to a cynical worldview. But let's clarify what we mean by cynic.

cyn·ic (sĭn'ĭk)
1. A person who believes all people are motivated by selfishness.
2. A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.

If we are using the first definition then there is no apparent contradiction. Indeed, this definition congeals nicely with a Christian worldview. Selfishness is the sin underlying all sin, and as fallen, sinful humanity, it is inherent to our nature. Interesting to note that this point of view on the nature of man is more or less shared by most naturalists and atheists. One of the main driving forces behind evolution being self-interest and self-preservation (i.e. 'The Selfish Gene'). Anyhow, selfishness being a central motivator of people generally is not incompatible with a Christian worldview. Of course, if the definition is taken as an absolute i.e. all people are motivated by selfishness at all times and in every action they take, then that is, I think, incompatible with a Christian worldview, and this extremism gives way to the second definition.

The second definition is the one that is more difficult to reconcile with a Christian worldview. Negativity as a default disposition or outlook is not what I mean by cynicism. The sense of the word that I'm using is more the first definition, with a hint of the second. Though I think this might be the more commonly used sense of the word, and thus, the reason that the idea of being a Christian cynic seems to be an inherent contradiction, on it's face.

What I meant by cynicism, prior to looking at the definition, was: a default disposition of suspicion w/r/t people's motives in whatever actions they take or words that they say, not accepting things at face value, due to the selfish nature of humanity. Given this definition I think it's pretty reasonable to be a cynic, indeed, nearly imperative to be one, Christian or not.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Top 10 Films of the Decade

1. There Will be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson
2. No Country for Old Men - The Coen Brothers
3. Children of Men - Alfonso Cuaron
4. City of God - Fernando Mierelles
5. Matrix Reloaded - The Wachowski Brothers
6. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - Michel Gondry
7. Memento - Christopher Nolan
8. Requiem for a Dream - Darren Aronofsky
9. The Fountain - Darren Aronofsky
10. Old Boy - Chan-wook Park

Approximately in that order

honorable mention: The Dark Knight, WALL-E, Snatch, LOTR trilogy, Inglourious Basterds, 40 Y.O. Virgin, The Departed, Once, Royal Tenenbaums, Adaptation, Watchmen and probably some I'm forgetting

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Year of Evolution

I'm most of the way through Dawkins' Greatest Show on Earth, and while I don't take issue with most of the content that's presented, the way in which it's presented is often disingenuous and misleading.

First Dawkins' opening chapter declares evolution as a fact. And to the extent that biological evolution factually occurs, that it has occured, evolution as process, is a fact. Dawkins goes on throughout the book to conflate (or intentionally obfuscate) the fact of evolution-as-process with the non-fact of the entire evolutionary paradigm. The key point where I diverge from the evolutionary paradigm is on common descent, and the evidence presented for it is paltry and utilizes complete non-sequiturs. The argument is made (inferentially) in this form:

1. Evolution occurs
2. We can trace the lineage of various animals to various common ancestors
3. We all share a single common ancestor

Clearly this conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises, and is only arrived at via assumption of metaphysical naturalism. The actual evidence is at least as compatible (if not more compatible) with the creation paradigm. That is, multiple common ancestors are at least just as likely, if not more likely. In response to evidence for this (i.e. Cambrian explosion), he simply postulates that pre-Cambrian animals didn't yet have hard skeletons, thus didn't fossilize. Which is fine to postulate, but the sudden appearance of diverse life during the Cambrian features the instant (in terms of geological time) appearance of not only hard-skeleton creatures, but the instant indepedent appearances of them along different evolutionary lines, at vastly different sizes, with already-intact predation relationships etc. No possible widespread environmental or predation stress can explain the sudden appearance of such hard skeletons and such relationships in such a short period of time. Indeed, he doesn't even postulate a possible pressure that could have resulted in hard skeletons appearing everywhere at once (again 'at once' in geological time, over 10s of thousands of years, but relatively very short).

The remaining evidence for common descent is relegated to homology in genetics. And specifically homology extending beyond the apparent functional parts of the genome, to the apparently useless parts. The argument (again, inferentially) being 'why would a creator create junk DNA AND make that useless DNA similar in different species?' The same main argument that theistic evolutionists make. Homology in genetics itself is easily explained by a creator using a certain design template that is similar from species to species. And the similarity of junk DNA can be explained in that it's only seemingly junk, and indeed, the more we discover, the more apparent junk is revealed as functional. Not only in DNA itself, but also in our own morphological features. In humans the adenoids, tonsils, S-shaped backbone, appendix etc. were all once thought to be useless evolutionary byproduct, and have all since been revealed to have specific, necessary functions.

Now the vast majority of the book doesn't even purport to defend common descent, but merely 'evolution'. Thus I don't take issue with the vast majority of the book, more with what it doesn't contain, and what the evidence doesn't actually support.

I enjoyed the section on the Lenski team experiment, which is fascinating stuff. Dawkins' tone during that section is that of a giddy fanboy. Which is fine, I suppose passion about your field is a good thing. Though, again, the evidence as it relates to the evolutionary paradigm, only supports much of which we already knew to be true. And the new information that the experiment DOES provide strongly suggests that evolution occurs and is highly historically contingent, which is a problem for the evolutionary paradigm on the whole, not a support for it.

The following is more of a stylistic issue, but it's funny how Dawkins can not help himself. At the beginning of the book he says that the book isn't about God, religion, evolution-vs-religion etc., but simply the evidence for evolution. Then throughout the book he brings up creationists (almost exclusively young-Earth creationists specifically without ever making that distinction explicitly) often, and in so doing, never adds anything to his evidence for evolution. Seemingly just pandering to his anti-God audience, tossing red meat to his followers for no other reason than to sell books. Or possibly to keep lay people interested in the potentially complicated and/or dull material.

Another stylistic thing, but his conscious attempt to create memes is hilarious. He's just so bad at it. I believe in one of his earlier books he created the useless term 'quote-mining', which is just another name for taking a quote out of context, really. In this one he attempts to encapsulate anti-evolutionists in the most catchy, derisive way possible and this is the 6-syllable term he came up with: 'history-deniers'. LOL.

Top 10 Albums of the Decade

(For all intents and purposes read as 'Top 10 RAP Albums of the Decade', as I know nothing else)

1. Float - Aesop Rock
2. The Cold Vein - Cannibal Ox
3. Labor Days - Aesop Rock
4. Shadows on the Sun - Brother Ali
5. Supreme Clientele - Ghostface Killah
6. The Lost Tapes - Nas
7. Madvillainy - Madvillain (MF Doom + Madlib)
8. Stillmatic - Nas
9. Lucy Ford - Atmosphere
10. The Blueprint - Jay-z

Honorable Mention: I Phantom - Mr. Lif, Fantastic Damage - El-p, ISWYD - El-p, MM FOOD - MF Doom, Marshal Mathers LP - Eminem, MOP - Warriorz, Common - Be, Clipse - Lord Willin, The Black Album - Jay-z, APOS - Cunninlynguists, The Offering - Killah Priest, Stankonia - Outkast, Saul Williams - Amethyst Rockstar, None Shall Pass - Aesop Rock, and probably some I'm forgetting

Monday, November 16, 2009

"God of the Gaps"

If you've ever been involved in, or witnessed a debate between a theist and an atheist on the issue of God's existence, you may have encountered the 'God of the Gaps' argument. The argument usually takes the form of this:

1. Ancient peoples often attributed explanations of physical phenomena to direct interactions by God or gods. i.e. Rainbows occur because the god of rainbows shoot them out of his belly
2. As scientific knowledge increases explanations for the mechanisms behind these physical phenomena are discovered. i.e. rainbows occur due to refraction of the light spectrum when passing through water molecules (or something like that)
3. God's explanatory role is diminished, and his existence becomes progressively less likely. God retreats into gaps of understanding, once the gaps are filled, he is forced to retreat further and further.

Sam Harris is a popular atheist who often make this argument (his professional atheist contemporaries don't make it nearly as often as he does). Stressing the strengths of modernity, and the idea that religion is a 'failed science'.

The key problem with this argument is right in the title. "God of the gaps". Clearly, if we look at the argument in the form presented God himself does not have a diminished role, God himself is not forced to retreat, God himself is completely unaffected by the increase in information. If God exists, then he exists in exactly the same form that he did prior to the increase in information. If God does not exist, then he didn't exist prior to the increase in information and still doesn't.

The only thing that is affected by the increased information is people's perception of God (or gods) and how He interacts with his creation. Clearly these advances in knowledge and understanding have the capacity to falsify a particular belief about the specific manner in which God behaves. Clearly God doesn't shoot Rainbows out of his belly. Clearly God doesn't physically grasp the 'edge' of the Earth and shake it to cause an Earthquake. So any person who believed these things, was wrong, and their false conception of God's nature is forced to retreat.

Also notice that the argument does nothing to decrease the likelihood that God is ultimately behind, and ultimately responsible for any particular physical phenomena. If the ancient person said 'God created rainbows' rather than 'God makes rainbows BY shooting them out of his belly', then the ancient person is just as likely to be correct once we understand the physical mechanisms involved in making rainbows as he was before we did. God is still just as likely to have created rainbows (or created the mechanisms that cause rainbows) before and after our increase in understanding. The likelihood that he exists, and the likelihood that he created rainbows, is exactly the same before and after. The only thing that is falsified are claims that God created rainbows using some specific methodology that has been shown to be false.

That pretty much completely neutralizes the argument. The argument is more appropriately titled "people's-conception-of-God-of-the-gaps". And yes, admittedly, as the limited beings that we are, our conception of God and how he works is always changing, always incomplete, and often flat out wrong. This is not evidence against his existence, however. Merely evidence of our own shortcomings.

Back to Back Deep Sunday Million Runs

Tournament Poker is such a beast. I love tournaments and I've worked on my game quite a bit, and I think I'm playing extremely well currently and making very few mistakes. My confidence was already high but then I won a tournament. I got first (out of 1450 entrants) in a $109 tourney for $25,000. I had won tournaments before but always at lower buy-ins, or in smaller fields, and never for more than $8000.

But tournaments can be frustrating and discouraging. By their nature you will play many in a row where you bust out, or win a very small amount, even if you're playing very well, and have no big scores for very long periods of time. Here's where things get odd though. Those periods don't bother me at all. I can weather them fine, know that I'm playing well, and not think much of it. Tournament poker is the most frustrating when you DO get pretty large scores, but fall short of the epic score.

The last 2 weeks that I played the Sunday Million I made deep runs both times. The Sunday million always features a first place of over $200,000, and the final table always makes at least $10,000. The first time I got 41st out of ~8000 players for about $3000. This wasn't too hard for me to swallow. But it was discouraging to think that you don't get that far in that big of a field very often, so it probably would be a while before I had another chance like that. Well, I was wrong, I got another shot the very next week.

And this time it was the largest Sunday Million field OF ALL-TIME. Pokerstars added $1 million to the guarantee of the prizepool, and in so doing attracted 10,000 more players than their usual 7500-8000. Resulting in a MASSIVE field of 18,000 with a total prize pool of $3.6 million. With a first place of $360,000, 2nd place being $292,000, everyone in the top 5 making at least $125,000, and making at least $20,000 if you make the final table, it was an exciting tournament. But at the start very daunting. With that big of a field the odds are stacked against anyone making it deep, even when they're playing well.

Well I managed to make it deep, somehow. I was rather fortunate in a lot of spots to pick up pair over pair where I had the bigger pair late in the tournament, or to win some coinflips. However it wasn't all smooth sailing; i flopped a set late in the tournament and lost a big pot to a gut shot, my AKs lost to JTo all in preflop, and my AQs lost a big coinflip early on. Overall though, my luck was definitely above average. And I was playing very well, making very good decisions.

As we were getting down to around 100 left, and the large prize money getting tantalizingly close, I began to look at some of my opponents results on As might be expected in a field this large most of them were very inexperienced, most were losing players, and very few were tournament regulars who played often. Watching how they played confirmed that this was the case. With me having a very healthy stack for the majority of the tournament, I really loved my chances of making a really big score.

Down to 42 and I had an average stack of 3.3 million with blinds at 80k/160k. I find pocket tens in early position and raise to 2.5 times the big blind to 400k from early position. My standard raise. A player who I had searched earlier, who was a losing player, and pretty inexperienced as far as number of tournies played, had been playing extremely loose and aggressive the last few rounds. Either he was getting hit by the deck, or he was doing a lot of bluffing. Anyways, it folds to this player who re-raises me small. I found the size of the re-raise troubling; weak and/or inexperienced players often re-raise small when they have a monster hand. Better players will re-raise small with both big hands, AND bluffs, making them less scary from good players. But since I knew this guy wasn't good, I was troubled. However, with him playing SO many hands, and with me only having 20 big blinds, I believe the correct play is to shove all-in. So that's what i did and unfortunately he had QQ making me a 4-1 underdog. Sigh.

Wait! The flop is Td 8c 7d! I am now a monster favorite to win a 7 million chip pot, and be one of the chipleaders with 42 left, with an extremely good chance to make $100,000! Turn is 2d. YIKES! He can now catch any diamond or any Queen to beat me. NO DIAMOND PLEASE! The river... is a diamond.

Now this is not a bad beat. My opponent had the best hand when the money went in, which is all that counts, and he won. It was a brutal psychological hit though. This hand combined with the fact that this was the largest Sunday million prize pool ever and it was pretty devastating to be one card away from a huge stack and very solid chance at a huge score only to see the diamond peel off. I have no regrets with the decisions I made in the hand. And I did make $4500. But it was one of the more painful bustouts I've ever had to deal with. Much, MUCH worse than when I busted the previous week. And although I had an extremely profitable two weeks at poker (not just in tournaments but in cash games also), I can't help but feel more like I lost $20,000-$100,000, rather than like I won ~$8000.

Abortion - From a Materialist/Secularist Perspective

As a Christian I find it rarely makes sense to try to convince a non-believer of some religious, spiritual principle, if they do not share the same foundation for establishing truth. However, when it comes to extremely important issues, issues that effect life and death, issues that effect public policy and legislation, which in turn affect us all, Christians understandably want to reach non-believers with their message. When this is the case Christians need to resist the urge to say that 'The Bible says ____', because, as it relates to public policy, and as it relates to convincing non-believers, what it says is not going to be relevant from their perspective.

Thankfully God has made many truths accessible even to those who do not believe. The most obvious way is through authoring the human conscience. However some issues are murky even to those of us who possess a conscience. Our conscience can tell us that ending a human life is wrong, for example, but our conscience can't tell us whether or not a just-conceived embryo constitutes a 'human life'. Luckily, modern science (i.e. embryology) can.

Since the pro-choice position is more prevalent among non-religious people, one would expect that the argument against abortion to be at least partially grounded in supernatural, religious presupposition and dogma. This turns out to not be the case. What we actually find is that the Christian argument against abortion is not contingent upon any specific scriptures (though it is often supplemented by them), or commands from God, and is an argument that can be made completely independent of any belief in any particular God. Though the Christian argument is often made with reference to the soul, and to various scriptures suggesting the soul is present at conception, it is not necessary to posit a soul at any point in order to show that abortion is wrong.
You need only to assert that the wanton destruction of a unique, innocent, human life is wrong (a point virtually all secularists and humanists will grant you), and that a just-conceived embryo is all of these things (which is almost just as obvious, but will take a little more to convince them of). Which, per the definition of each adjective, it factually is.

Thanks to modern science we know that conception is the point at which we become 'unique' (that is, when our own DNA is formed). Just before conception the unfertilized egg and the sperm are still parts of the person they came from, and, as such, the destruction of either the unfertilized egg or the acting sperm would not represent the destruction of a unique, individual entity. The secularist should grant 'unique' without any difficulty, I only mention this to preemptively counter slippery slope arguments such as 'well then is contraception/masturbation murder also?' No, they aren't, for the reasons stated.

'Innocent' should be no problem for the secularist to concede. That one is actually a more interesting debate among and between believers, rather than when dealing with non-believers.

'Human' should be fairly intuitive. The embryo has human DNA, not duck DNA, or platypus DNA, or pterodactyl DNA. This also should be granted readily, and if it isn't then whoever you are trying to convince is probably conflating 'Human' with the philosophical issue of 'personhood', which is not what this is about, because we are arguing the issue from a strictly materialist perspective. It's simply about which particular mammalian species we are discussing.

'Life' might be the only slight sticking point, though it simply is biologically, factually, just that. Biology recognizes single-celled organisms as life, and an embryo consists of many thousands (possibly millions? Biology experts help me out) times more than a single cell.

Thus, if you are against the wanton destruction of unique, innocent, human life, you must be against abortion.

Also, as an addendum, the secularist will often appeal to the social benefits of abortion in arguments that they make, however, even if there are many, I submit that IF we know that an embryo is a human life with rights, then whatever social ills (or benefits) that come from it existing are moot. There are many social benefits to be derived from euthanasia and genocide as well, but few would make the argument that those benefits make euthanasia or genocide justifiable.

Lastly the secularist will appeal to the rights of the mother. And in situations where the life of the mother is in danger, then this becomes relevant. Other than that though, your rights end where the rights of another begin, and the right to life trumps the right to choose.

I've always found it peculiar that the abortion issue is often fought along religious lines, or is at least perceived to be. Pro-life, anti-abortionists should be able to find allies in all walks of life, and across spiritual divides. I think this fact is illustrated well in Christopher Hitchens. He is of course a militant atheist, fervently anti- all things God, but he believes that abortion is wrong on materialist grounds (presumably arriving at that conclusion using some line of reasoning similar to what I have presented).

Naturalism: Self-refuting - Nihilism: At least it's coherent

If you have witnessed (or taken part in) a debate between a religious person and an atheist the religious person will often make the assertion that atheism is a belief system as well, or that atheism is a 'faith'. The atheist will usually reject this notion and assert that atheism is merely a singular disbelief in God, not a belief system. The atheist is technically right; atheism in and of itself is not a worldview just as theism is not. However every atheist HAS a belief system or worldview or 'faith', of which atheism is one of the tenets of that worldview. For example there are nihilists and secular humanists. Both are worldviews that have atheism as a fundamental principle.

This being the case, while one can't rightly say that atheism is a belief system, one can say that atheists HAVE belief systems, and it can then be examined which of these belief systems is the most internally consistent, given atheism as the fundamental premise. That is, starting with the assumption that atheists (specifically naturalists) make which is 'the natural world is all that exists', we can determine which worldview best conforms with this assumption. And if an atheist's worldview is not consistent with the consequences of this assumption, the atheist will be forced to either reject his current worldview in favor of either a coherent atheistic worldview, or for a theistic worldview.

"You can not get an 'ought' from an 'is'"

David Hume expressed this notion that one can not derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. Essentially that you can not derive morality from facts and data. Since then some have tried to refute this argument (Searle), but unsuccessfully. You indeed can not derive an 'ought' from an 'is'. This is problematic for any naturalist who also claims to have a belief in morality. If the natural world is all that exists, then all that exists are 'is's. The naturalist claims that empirical observation of the natural world is the only method of determining truth. If this is the case, then a naturalist can not affirm any belief in morality (as anything other than arbitrary human delusion) without being inconsistent with his own beleifs. We know what the physical world IS and we have broken in down to it's most basic elements. If atomic particles and energy are all that there IS, then it is of course to absurd to state that atomic particles 'ought' to go left, or they 'ought' to go right. That electrical currents 'ought' to go up or 'ought' to go down. And humans, in the eyes of the naturalist, at our most basic level, are nothing other than atomic particles and electrical currents going up or down, left or right.

If the universe is a chain of undirected causal events, then 'oughts' can have no meaning. The nihilist recognizes this, and therefore rejects all notions of morality. While I disagree with the nihilist that the natural world is all that exists, if we grant him this premise, then his worldview is AT LEAST internally consistent. Just as if you grant the Christian the premise that Jesus Christ is God's only son, then pretty much all the rest of the Christian's beliefs will be internally consistent. The vast majority of atheists however are not nihilists, they are mostly affirmed secular humanists, secular humanists who don't self-describe at such but who hold the same beliefs, or some third worldview that is often very similar to secular humanism in the most relevant ways. And, unlike nihilism or Christianity, even if we grant the secular humanist his fundamental assumption (the natural world is all that exists), we find that this system of beliefs is NOT internally coherent or consistent. Because secular humanism also affirms the existence of things such as justice, morality, goodness, evil etc. Despite having no foundation from which to derive such concepts.

Therefore the naturalist must reject notions of justice, good, morality etc. as nothing more than human abstractions with no real use or purpose, if he is to be consistent, and adopt a nihilistic world view. Or reject metaphysical naturalism altogether. Now, the naturalist will likely respond that what we call morality is important biologically because it's based on self-preservation and survival. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that self-preservation, survival, propagation of the species etc. are inherently good, desirable goals. Which is a reasonable assumption, but not one that can be shown to be true through empirical observation, which they claim is the only way to know anything. Thus the naturalist who affirms belief in morality (as something other than arbitrary delusion), has a self-refuting world view.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A few recent issues (Obama at Notre Dame, Supreme court nominee, prop 8 upheld, etc.) have converged and got me thinking about some issues, so i thought I'd let a few of them out.

What's in a name? In this case, there is a lot in a name. Both advocacy groups obviously carefully chose their titles for PR purposes, and as it turns out, there is something revealing in what they came up with. The first thing that needs to be noted is that neither title is an absolute. Not all pro-lifers are always truly pro-life, and not all pro-choicers are always truly pro-choice.

Many people who are pro-life are in favor of the death penalty, in favor of killing terrorists, or minimally in favor of killing in self defense. So in that sense many pro-lifers are not absolutely 'pro-life'. If you are pro-life I'm sure you've heard this comment from someone in the pro-choice camps in various forms, and though it's a legitimate point, it's not really significant. Pro-lifers are largely, and generally 'pro-life' in almost all situations, so the title is still appropriate. Titles are not meant to encapsulate every subtlety and nuance of a particular belief or movement.

I imagine the pro-choice camp had to work a lot harder to come up with a palatable title for the pro-baby-killing movement, and considering the difficult task that they had, they did a reasonably good job. I mean, who is against the freedom of choice, right? Well, as it turns out, pro-choicers are. First and foremost they are not pro-choice when it comes to the right of unborn children to choose life over death. They would argue that a fetus is incapable of making that decision, to which i would respond, that that is all the more reason we need to error on the side of life until they are capable of making that decision for themselves. Secondly pro-choicers are not pro-choice when it comes to the rights of fathers. A father has an implicit right to defend the life of that which he is 50% responsible for creating, despite the fact that the mother is the carrier. Pro-choicers deny this fact and believe that the mother's rights absolves those of all other parties involved in the situation. Lastly, and in a legal sense, most importantly, pro-choicers (or at least pro Roe-v-Waders) are not pro-choice when it comes to states deciding how to govern themselves on the issue of abortion, an issue that is within the states jurisdiction. The 10th amendment to the Constitution reserves all powers not explicitly granted to the federal governement for the states, and the supposed 'right to privacy' that Roe is based upon is not actually in the Constitution. And therefore the issue of abortion is to be reserved for the states to choose or decide upon. And yet pro-choicers (at least those who defend Roe) would deny people in all 50 states the right to choose how to govern themselves on such an important issue. So the the fundamental basis upon which the pro-choice camp builds, is a decidedly anti choice judicial decision that affects the entire nation. As it turns out pro-choicers are ONLY pro-choice when it comes specifically to the rights of a small, specific group (pregnant mothers) and decidedly anti-choice when it comes to every other party involved in the equation.

So while the pro-life title is at least generally true, the pro-choice title is decidedly untrue, even in a general sense.

One final important thing we can learn from the titles of the two groups. Take out 'pro-' in both and you're left with 'life' and 'choice'. Whenever the right to life bumps head with the right to choose in ANY other arena in civil society, life trumps choice. So even if we accept the titles as generally good for both camps, life still takes precedence over choice. And that is the core issue at the heart of the debate. The right to life of unborn children versus the right for mothers to choose what to do with their bodies (even if that includes destroying a human life). Which is why i find it odd to even debate this issue... murder is never framed as the right to life of an individual versus another individual's right to choose to plunge a knife into their chest. And even if it were, we all answer that question unanimously that right to life trumps the right to choose.

And so it should be.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Tournament Poker Frustrations - Finally Relieved!

I finally made a big score in a tournament. Tied for my biggest score ever. In a $100 tournament I got 1st out of 414 people, for $7200. It's funny because I don't play $100 tournaments, or any big field tournaments, during the week because they take too long, and I have to sleep. I found this one that starts at 9 at night, and is a turbo. I played it once, and it only takes about 3-3.5 hours to finish the whole thing (if you last that long). And, I'm very experienced at playing turbo structures from playing turbo MTT SNGs, and I noticed that the vast majority of this field were making large fundamental errors for a turbo format, so I tried to play it every night. Because i felt I had a solid advantage over the field. And on just my 4th night playing it I took it down. These moments come so rarely in tournament poker (even when you're playing well), gotta cherish them. Also, Dennis Phillips was in the same tournament and got 6th. He's not that well known, but he made the 2008 WSOP final table as the chip leader, and ended up getting 3rd for probably 3 million ish (i don't remember).

Best part about it is I feel like i'm consistently playing really well in tournaments right now, and making very few mistakes. Now I just need to final table the sunday million, or any big sunday tournament and I'll be happy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tournament Poker Frustrations

Even though you can make more consistent money at cash games, I've been starting to play more tournaments again recently just because I think they're more fun and more competitive. That is they have a beginning, and an end and a winner. Whereas cash games you just come and go as you please, win some, lose some (and if you're good, consistently win over time). But they don't really satisfy the competitive drive as much, plus don't have that possibility of the huge one time score like tournaments do. The only downside to tournaments is that you have to block out large chunks of time where you're going to be at home and not have to do anything else.

Anyways, anyone who plays tournament poker knows how frustrating it can be. Not just the individual hands where you may get unlucky. But the times when you play well, make good decisions, and DO have decent luck (that is don't get UN-lucky) for a long time, and you get close to that big score and then get unlucky just one time at a vey crucial point. I don't even mind getting knocked out early in a tournament by someone drawing out against me, because I know that I would have still had to go through a whole lot more before it even became significant. But when you play an online tournament for 5+ hours and you're down to the last 1% of the field, and you've already made some decent money, but are inching closer to HUGE money and THEN you get unlucky, it's just painful.

In 4 of my last 5 tournaments I made it to the top 1% of the field, which is very rare. And every time I made somewhere between 7-30 times whatever the buy in for the tournament was, which is a great Return on Investment. And despite what should be considered a very successful little run, I was way, WAY more frustrated than if I had played 5 straight tournaments and busted out of all of them and cashed for nothing. Just because the mega scored loomed so close, but didn't come. And every time it was definitely within reach. Not to mention the 1 tourney I busted out of was a big buy-in, and all the ones I cashed in were medium to low buy ins.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

You Get What You Vote For

I've noticed since the election of this man there has been an outcry against the direction he is taking the country in by a lot of people. That outcry is just and warranted of course, as he is in fact making atrocious decisions, based on unsound policy, and leading the country down a path toward destruction and ruin. However, it is nothing other than precisely what he said he would do during the campaign. And we as a nation elected him by a decently wide margin. Therefore this outcry must becoming from one of a few different places. 1) People who didn't vote for him in the first place. 2) People who didn't vote or pay attention much during the campaign, but are now. 3) People who voted for him, were aware of his ideology and proposed policies, and now are surprised that he's doing.. exactly what he said he would do? There's not much to say about groups one and two. I'm in group one, I knew what his policies were, I didn't like then, and I don't like them now, but they certainly aren't taking me by surprise. Group 2 was just ignorant, and when you don't pay attention, bad things can happen. Again, not much to say about that. Just pay attention.

Group 3 is the group that I'm interested in. They may not even be a large group, but I know they do exist because I've heard a lot of people on talk radio, or posting online say things like "Obama, I voted for you, but this is crazy!" or other similar notions. How could you have sat through the campaign, listened to everything the man said, understood it, and now feel bamboozled? How is that possible? He is the quintessential big government, tax-and-spend liberal, and he told you as much during the campaign. If you didn't know what that means, especially given the conditions he was coming into where a REPUBLICAN president was already nationalizing private industries, then you're just not very bright. Yes he's going to nationalize everything within arms reach. Yes he is going to spend 10x what Bush did, which is tough to do when Bush himself was a pretty massive spender. Yes he is going to raise taxes. Yes his policies will cripple the economy and bankrupt your children. Yes he will expand government's role in your life and infringe on your liberties whenever possible. Yes, yes, yes. Of course. What did you think was going to happen? That you'd elect a quasi-marxist ideologue and he'd govern like someone who loves the country's founding principles and be a defender of capitalism?

That's why none of this, nothing that has happened to date in this administration, has so much as made me raise an eyebrow. He's doing what he said he would do, and we elected him, and so you get what you vote for. It's that simple. Now, the majority of people who voted for him probably don't have a problem with what he's doing. Not yet anyway, until they see the consequences. And the majority of people who voted against him don't like what he's doing, but they never did. It's that small middle segment that really boggles my mind, who both voted for him, and now express discontent and frustration. It is YOUR fault that this is happening. If you want someone to blame, look in the mirror and blame that person. Blame yourself. I'll blame you too.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some Watchmen / Rorschach thoughts

I still haven't had a chance to see the film, but I've been reading the novel for a second time and just has some thoughts I'd like to share.

Rorschach is such a brilliant and amazing character, and really the heart of the story. And I love that he's a right-wing ideologue, and that the author of the story is about as nutty left as you can get, and although the portrayal of the character isn't favorable, it isn't complete disdain that the author has for the character either. Which is admirable.

The defining moment in the novel for me is when, after Veidt has revealed his plan, the 'camera' so-to-speak, zooms past every other character's reaction to the plan, with Rorschach in the center of the frame in the background getting closer, and then his subsequent reaction. Within the context of the story, and being aware of the author's philosophical and political leanings, this seems to be a shot at the Rand-ian ideology that Rorschach represents. And yet as a reader, you seem to identify more with Rorschach and sympathize more with his motivations. At least I did. Despite the fact that he would rather see the world literally destroy itself, and every human on Earth die, than let peace be built upon a lie. This is a character who puts principal and truth over the importance of life itself. That was the moment I knew this novel was a great piece of art because I can look at this moment which is supposed to be critical of this character, and how his 'black and white' ideology doesn't conform to the real world, and I can take something else entirely away from it. Exactly the opposite of what I believe the author intended.

But then the character is named Rorschach for a reason. That is; I suspect Moore knows that when you view this character and his motivations, how you interpret them largely depends on who you are and what you believe to begin with. A la a Rorschach test.

Also, as a footnote, I haven't seen the film, but I'm curious to see if Snyder included any dialogue that mentions what a big fan of Harry Truman Rorschach is. That mostly shows up in the non-panel supplemental materials in the novel, so unless Snyder shoehorned it in somehow, I'm guessing it's not in the film. But I always found that interesting, that Rorschach defended Truman for 'killing thousands to save millions' (and doing so openly), but yet opposes Veidt who 'killed millions to save billions' (but did so deceptively). Which again I believe was meant to show the hypocrisy / duality of the character, but doesn't really.
Anyway, read the graphic novel. Phenomenal stuff.