15 July 2008

Hector the Vector

For Caroline, because she remembered it. And for Mrs. Gray, because she made math, which = hell, fun and understandable.

The Lay of Pre-Calculus

By Corinne Dyer

© 2006

Hector the Vector was walking one day
In the land of Arctan where factorials play;

A jester he was, in the court of Pythagoras

Whose son, called Arccos, in peril great was

For Arccos the brave and courageous prince

Had gone on a quest and been captured since;

‘Twas the troll called Orthogonal who did this cruel deed

Now a friendly deliverer Arccos did need

Arccos had gone to rescue a maiden

Who with great troubles was heavily laden

Princess Cartesian was the prisoner of Scalar,

An evil math teacher who said he would fail her.

Hector marched in reduced row-echelon form

Rather than row-echelon more commonly worn

But not even a determinant could help him that day

If nefarious Orthogonal he was to make pay.

When he reached the troll’s lair under the Bridge of the Sine

A way to Arccos he just couldn’t find

He cried to the oblique, acute, and obtuse

“Hey, a little help here could I use!”

A shower of radians burst from the sky

And a lady descended as if from on high

Her raiment was golden, her marker dry-erase

Of evil in her there was not a trace

“Behold,” she said, “it is I and no other,

Please have no fear, I am your Fairy Mathmother.”

Her marker she waved and caused great permutations

That shook the rocks in the lair’s foundations

Coefficients collapsed, opened dungeons dark

Hector was so happy he could factor like a lark

For he found Arccos, whom he instantly freed

So that he could complete his most noble deed.

The Fairy Mathmother bestowed on the prince

An integer of gifts of arithmetic sequence

“Arccos,” she said, “These gifts you must use

To rescue Cartestian and Scalar’s power reduce,”

A poison she gave him, from the extract of square root

And a bow from which cofactors would shoot.

To the Castle of Cosine the three of them went

And Arccos into the fortress they sent.

He wet a cofactor with poison and killed

Nefarious Scalar, a villain skilled

He rescued the princess, his Cartesian sweet;

Outside the castle the two did greet

With Hector the Vector who stood there alone

“My lovely Fairy Mathmother has gone,”

He said with a sigh but with joy in his heart

For Arccos and Cartesian never would part

And Hector the Vector, a component man

Loved happy endings, parallelogram.

07 July 2008

What action flicks and Ayn Rand have in common

I saw Wanted on Sunday. It was the ultimate guy flick. Explosions, guns, cars, blood, and Angelina Jolie. Reality was definitely suspended, with a literal Loom of Fate and a clan of almost superhuman assassins acting surreptitiously in the gritty world of what I would assume to be Chicago. There were “cool” moments that were completely laughable and most of the movie was an attack on the senses. Oh, and I forgot to mention the F-word, which made up half the dialogue. And yet…should I even admit it?...I think I liked it. I think I know why I liked it, which turns out to be a relief, because otherwise I have the taste in movies of a fifteen-year-old boy. The plot twist was almost surprising, which was nice. But that’s not the real reason I don’t feel my six bucks were wasted. You see, as shallow and sensory-catering as Wanted seems (and somewhat is), it actually relates to Atlas Shrugged, my current obsession and albatross. Let’s take our little hero, cowardly, nervous, miserable Wesley Gibson (played by James McAvoy, minus the lovely Scottish accent. The accent would have made him at least a little cool. Removing it was a good idea.). He’s a nothing, and he knows it. He’s an accountant who suffers from acute anxiety attacks, apologizes too much, and lets everybody and their mom walk all over him. He hates his life – although not quite as much as he thinks, as he screams “I kind of care about my life” while Jolie’s character is dragging him through a car-chase shootout near the beginning of the movie. To be brief, he learns he is the son of a fabulous assassin and has the very same skills as his father. I.e., he is destined to be a great assassin. I.e. “the blood of a killer runs in your veins,” wooooOOooo (direct quote from the movie, if I remember correctly, wooos added at my discretion). “The Fraternity” (how creative), the group of assassins his father belonged to, trains him. And at first he’s still weak, sniveling little Wesley, but by the end of the movie, after a lot of blood and guns and treachery, Wesley fuflills his destiny as one of the best darn killers out there. He knows he can never go back to being an accountant, because that life is a failure to live up to his potential, and is an insult to his ability. We don’t know what Wesley does after the end of the movie (I really do wonder, and I’d kind of like to know), but at the end of the movie he takes complete control of his life and his abilities. Nobody is telling him what to do, he does what he does best, and because of this, you can tell by the smug look on his face that he’s happy with that. So what does this have to do with Atlas Shrugged?

Atlas Shrugged, Part III, Chapter VII

Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live – that productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values – that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative work if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others – that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing is more possible to you and nothing less is human – that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear-corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay – that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambitions for values is to lose your ambition to live – that your body is a machine, but your mind is its driver, and you must drive as far as your mind will take you, with achievement as the goal of your road…the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap…your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you…as a man must produce the physical values he needs to sustain his life, so he must acquire the values of character that make his life worth sustaining – that as man is a being of self-made wealth, so he is a being of self-made soul – that to live requires a sense of self-value, but man…has no automatic sense of self-esteem and must earn it by shaping his soul in the image of his moral ideal, in the image of Man.

I know. AS is hard as crap. The whole book is like that – and I even cut parts out of that passage to make it simpler and bolded the most relevant parts. But it is so, so good, and it’s almost as if the makers of Wanted read Ayn Rand when they were making the movie (I dunno, maybe they did!). Wesley, at the beginning, is not fulfilling his abilities. He’s stuck in a cubicle, filling out billing reports for his overbearing, bitchy boss. He’s miserable, he’s wasting away. To settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay – that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambitions for values is to lose your ambition to live” But the Fraternity teaches him that he has the ability to be so much more, and (as Ayn said) not to embrace and fulfill one’s abilities is a pathetic waste. Wesley learns how much better life is, and how much happier he is with himself and the world, when he embraces his abilities. However, it goes beyond that. Wesley’s ambitions should be his, and not the Fraternity’s; when they are not his ambitions, when he uses his talents at the whim of others and not for his own goals, heartbreak ensues (you’ll have to watch it to find out). Wesley at the end of the movie is confident, self-assured, and purposeful in his actions. He’s Wesley Succeeding In His Abilities, Wesley Serving His Purpose, Wesley Satisfied With Himself.

This is probably the longest and most overly philosophical movie review ever. Is it necessary? Not really. Can you enjoy Wanted without considering its philosophical commentary on life? Yeah, if you like blood and guts and bangs, and Angelina Jolie’s heinie.

I particularly loved the last line, though the overuse of the f-word throughout the movie diminished the kinetic ability of this line to be completely awesome. Summing up the whole theme of destiny-fulfilling, daring to escape the senseless drudge of a purposeless life, and becoming completely badass at whatever it is you’re meant to be best at, Wesley looks straight at the camera and says,

“What the F*** have you done lately?”

July 01, 2008

The world is small. It's a small world after all. You get the point. In the last century, earth has gone from massive planet with numerous, isolated civilizations to one big (un?)happy family. Blame radio, TV, telephones, and especially, most importantly, humongouslyvastly, the internet. It's all great, it really is. Don't you think it's fantastic that we can know what's happening across the world in a matter of seconds? Isn't it fabulous that now we have the opportunity to fight evils we wouldn't know about if it weren't for the knowledge of it provided by our excellent system of communication? Yes! And no... The US used to have a strict policy of isolationism. We broke it for World War I. Then we tried to reclaim it...and broke it again in World War II. Ever since then, we've been protectively sticking our noses everywhere that the business of evil might be lurking. Korea and Vietnam were in the name of Containment (containment of Communism). Desert Storm was to deliver wee little Kuwait from the hands of Sodamn Insane - I mean Saddam Hussein. Our involvement in Iraq was/is also due to Hussein and the WMDs he used on his own people (don't say there weren't any, that's a stupid argument and you know better. Don't you think after a few months of us saying "Hey, we're gonna come in there if you don't shape up!", they had the brains to destroy and/or hide what WMDs they hadn't already used? But that is not the purpose of this little spiel.). People have called us meddlers. We're like Big Brother, they say, forcing our way of life and our opinions on others. We think we're so hot, but we're just loud, annoying Americans who think we know best. Well, that comes from being the best. Just kidding! Or am I? We are, arguably, the most powerful country in the world. And, we would be completely independent and that much more powerful if we didn't rely on other countries for our fuel (Anwar, I say!). Furthermore, despite the complaints of Big Brother-ism, the impression is that we should step in for every problem, since we've "got the power." It's our duty. But we can't. We're already spread too thin. So where do we draw the line? While we struggle to keep the Middle East from blowing itself up, Africa suffers from genocide, revolutions, and corrupt governments. Rigged elections occur around the world. Communism thrives just a few hundred miles off our southern coast. Thousands of Burmese perish because their military government refuses to accept outside aid. The U.N. thinks we should comply the wishes of everybody and the "greater good," but wets themselves with anger when our president bypasses them to deliver oppressed Middle Easterners from evil governments.

Where do we draw the line, indeed? We can't help everyone. We're also too invested in this global community to retreat to our old ways of isolationism. Why the M.E. and not Africa? Maybe it's the oil - not to say that the Irag War is a war of oil acquisition, b/c if it was I doubt we'd be paying so much for gas. But we are certainly more reliant on the stability of the fuel-rich M.E. than on the stability of far-off, impoverished, even backwoods, Africa. Perhaps we should bring our roots back to our own country before we try to start fixing the problems of others. Yet, becoming energy independent - whether through drilling on our own soil or developing alternate fuels, or both - is not going to fix the world. It's just going to give us a better foundation where we are. So then who do we choose to help? Should we even help at all? Do we have a military for our own protection, or are our military the police who enforce justice and human rights where there nobody else will? Did our soldiers sign up to protect America, or to protect humanity?

06 July 2008

Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is backed like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale?
Polonius: Very like a whale.