‘Ethics in Science’

November 14th, 2017 – After an hour of frank discussion, the low lighting in UC 217 did well to capture the mood of the audience as Dr. Walter Casey’s PowerPoint ended on a slide with the phrase ‘I AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS’. They, myself included, had just reached the end of an open lecture on Ethics in Science as part of the Science and Technology theme of this year’s PLACE lectures/events. Where the ethics of the subject lay, none could say.

The two main elements of the lecture – Ethics and Science – got covered in sequence. Ethics, the enforcement of a moral standard or system, are something we know a lot about, even if we don’t think of them as such. You can think of them – broadly – as actions taken because they serve a greater purpose – they are what’s ‘right’. This isn’t to say that this line of logic is wrong – only that Ethics and the morals they stand for are muddy at times. Is a bribe, for example, always unethical to accept?

It’s even muddier in the realm of Science. More specifically, Engineering. Consider whether or not a building code is enforced, or safety rules are met at a chemical plant. Do you think it’s unethical not to keep things up to code? There are those that don’t – catastrophe after catastrophe can me attributed to a lack of ethical standard. Just look into the Bhopal Disaster, for example.

Dr. Casey argues we’re guilty of this in our own lives, too, even if we’re not given great and obvious responsibilities like the upkeep of a chemical plant. We worship technology as a people and give it far more power than we realize. Ethics can quickly turn into a matter of security and we are not safe. As Dr. Casey says, “Read your End User License Agreement.”

Thor Ragnarok: Calm Before the Storm

Rated PG-13 for Intense Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action, and Brief Suggestive Material

Thor Ragnarok represents the calm before the storm – the latest in the ever progressing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it works to answer lingering questions while setting the stage for the highly anticipated Infinity War films. Unfortunately, it isn’t much aside from that – Ragnarok tries to be some sort of 80’s film homage and succeeds, much to its detriment.

Underneath the highly appealing aesthetic, Ragnarok is chiefly concerned with Thor saving Asgard from, well, Ragnarok – the prophesied apocalypse he’s been receiving visions of since prior MCU films. The film moves full speed ahead to resolve this plot, quickly tossing aside plot points from The Dark World to make way for new dilemmas, such as whatever happened to the Hulk or to throw out there that the antagonist of Ragnarok is Thor’s heretofore unmentioned sister.

It isn’t as though the film is inherently bad – the fight scenes are nice to look at, the music adds to the energy of the film and the chemistry between characters (such as Thor and the Hulk, who can now speak) makes for great laughs. It’s more so that the only aspects of the plot that feel like they were thoughtfully done are those related to Infinity War and unfortunately, they’re the sort of things that make Ragnarok a required view for those fans of the MCU that want to keep up to date for it. But that Ragnarok seems so keen on doing away with old plot points for the sake of progressing the MCU makes me a little concerned that these portions of the movie will be just as simply discarded for the sake of Infinity War.

Thor Ragnarok – come for the Hulk, stay for the post-credits scene!

Assassins Creed: Origins — First Impressions

Rated M (17+) for Blood and Gore, Drug References, Intense Violence, Nudity, Sexual Content, Strong Language and Use of Alcohol

Assassins Creed Origins is the newest installment in an ongoing series of historical action-stealth games developed by Ubisoft. For the uninitiated, the series has focused on a fictional conflict between two groups, the Assassins (generally embodying freedom and equality) and the Templars (generally embodying order and security), whose ideologies clash in various historical periods revisited under the context of this conflict carrying on into the modern-day, with descendants of major figures from both groups (usually the Assassins, hence the title) reliving the lives of their ancestors through technologies originally developed by or reverse-engineered from the products of the Templar’s modern-day iteration, Abstergo Industries. The recent release of Assassins Creed Origins is notable for its setting being Ancient Egypt, a time period long requested by fans of the series, and that this game was developed in twice the time Ubisoft has usually taken to develop and release its games – normally a yearly affair, the added time to develop Origins sees the series return under a massively reworked system. As a longtime fan of the series, this is written to offer some first impressions of the game with a full review planned to release before the holidays.

As mentioned before, the game is both old and new – new in that the foundations of Origins are built on an open-world role-playing game (RPG) system and old in that Origins is intended to depict the ‘origins’ of the Assassin Brotherhood, an heretofore uncovered subject now playing out in a highly requested era of history. It’s clear that the new system works incredibly well to redefine the series’ gameplay – Origins introduces RPG elements such as a levelling system and gear system to better embody a sense of progression, pacing it out over a vast and sprawling landscape. Quests within Origins are thoughtfully designed, with each that I’ve completed at the time of this writing feeling engaging and distinct. They often use traversal methods that are a staple of the Assassins Creed series, scaling large structures and navigating spaces in a style reminiscent of parkour, to better sell the idea that you can approach scenarios you find yourself from varied angles – which is better fleshed out by the gear you acquire, your animal companion who can soar above and scout out these locations and that Origins vastly widens the scope of what is traversable in-game to include almost any surface – whereas methods to scale a building or structure were once clearly defined, Origins contextualizes it within common logic – structures with texture are climbable, whereas a completely smooth fortress wall isn’t. As a game, Origins has an impressive set of lungs, allowing Egypt to be depicted as a living space that is a joy to explore.

Yet as an Assassins Creed game, Origins seems to falter – or at least, it isn’t inclined in the slightest to allude to the beginnings of the meta-conflict present within the series like you’d think it would. While this is only a first impressions piece and I won’t fault the game completely for this as I’ve not completed the story, it seems a bit odd to only receive the iconic item of the Assassins, the Hidden Blade (a wrist-mounted blade that springs forward from your wrist as an assassination tool), about 6 hours into the game with no real explanation of what it is or why it exists as of yet, leaving certain questions about its design that an Assassins Creed fan would want to have answered still lingering.

For the moment I can only give Origins the benefit of a doubt that all will be answered in due time and enjoy what I can get out of it now in its engrossing open-world gameplay. Expect a full review out in time for the holidays.

Fright Night: Games for Halloween

Looking for a way to celebrate Halloween from the comfort of your own home? Here are two games (neither for the faint of heart) you might consider picking up to play – The Evil Within and Friday the 13th the Game!

The Evil Within (Released in 2014)

Rated Mature (17+) for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Strong Language

The Evil Within is a 2014 Third Person Survival Horror game developed by Tango Gameworks and Published by Bethesda Softworks.

You play as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who has been separated from his team and transported to a nightmarish mindscape after arriving on the scene of an apparent mass murder at Beacon Mental Hospital. The game takes place over several Chapters, wherein you’ll attempt to sneak and survive as you progress through various areas populated by all manner of hostile monster. The Evil Within takes this a step further by introducing you to various special monsters who act as a sort of flavor-of-the-week for a time, impeding your progress until you eventually face it in a straight on fight and defeat it.

If you’re in the mood for something you can play on your own, consider giving The Evil Within a try! If you’re not able to pick it up, there’s a wealth of footage of it on YouTube and surely no shortage of streamers on Twitch that will be playing it for the evening. However, if you have already played it, they just released the games sequel, The Evil Within 2!

Friday the 13th the Game

Rated Mature (17+) for Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Suggestive Themes and Strong Language

Friday the 13th the Game is an Asymmetrical Multiplayer Survival Horror game developed by IllFonic and published by Gun Media. Seven survivors must work together to secure various means of escape from a player controlling the iconic Jason Voorhees, who must systematically hunt down and kill  the seven survivors. The game uses a unique audio system wherein survivors may communicate over long distances using radios but they must be mindful of what they say, as the player controlling Jason can hear both ends of the conversation if he is near one of the two.

The games tense and often frantic atmosphere makes it a great game to play with friends and perfect for the Halloween festivities. It is not, however, a game you may enjoy for long periods simply watching.

This Weekend in Theatres

As one weekend draws to a close and we all begin to expect the next, let’s take a moment to consider any weekend plans that need to be made for a trip to the box office. Here’s three movies releasing this Friday you may consider seeing – Only the BraveThe Snowman and Geostorm – and two that you may have missed, The Foreigner and American Made.

Only the Brave – 2hrs, 13 min

Rated PG-13 (for thematic content, language, some sexual references and drug use).

Only the Brave is a biographical action drama film directed by Joseph Kosinski. It tells the story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, a team of firefighters who fought the historic Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. Fans of Jeff Bridges might consider giving this movie a go – but it must be said that this does cover real events from less than 5 years back. Emotional investment may vary.

“All men are created equal… then, a few become firefighters. Only the Brave […] is the heroic story of one unit of local firefighters that through hope, determination, sacrifice, and the drive to protect families, communities, and our country become one of the most elite firefighting teams in the country.” – Rotten Tomatoes’  Movie Info

The Snowman – 1hr, 59min

Rated R (for grisly images, violence, sexuality, some language and brief nudity)

The Snowman is a British crime thriller directed by Tomas Alfredson, based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø. The film sees detective Harry Hole in a race against time to find and catch the serial killer “The Snowman” before the next winter sets in completely. The movie stars Michael Fassbender – you may want to resist finding the book to avoid spoilers.

“When [detective harry Hole] investigates the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter, he fears an elusive serial killer may be active again. [Harry] must connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new one if he hopes to outwit this unthinkable evil before the next snowfall.” – Rotten Tomatoes’ Movie Info

Geostorm – 1hr, 49min

Rated PG-13 (for destruction, violence and action)

Geostorm is a disaster sci-fi film directed by Dean Devlin as his directorial début. It starts Gerard Butler as he races to avert a catastrophe being caused by manipulation of the Earth’s weather. Not much to get spoiled on here – it’s a disaster film, which by nature tend to put their weight behind impressive special effects – so sit back, relax and enjoy the fireworks!

“A satellite designer (Gerard Butler) must race to avert a catastrophe when the planet’s climate control satellites begin to malfunction.” – Rotten Tomatoes’ Movie Info

All three movies are playing at your local Cinemark, along with two movies you may have missed – The Foreigner and American Made. Below you’ll find information on both – if either sound like your kind of movie, see them now and not later!

The Foreigner – 1hr, 54min

Rated R (for language, violence and some sexual material)

The Foreigner is an action thriller film directed by Martin Campbell. It starts Jackie Chan as Quan, a business person whose daughter is killed in a political terrorist attack that prompts him to hunt down the men responsible. Nothing that the trailers tell us about The Foreigner show that this is your average Jackie Chan movie with a large amount of martial arts involved but it’s probably safe to assume that if you’re a fan of the man himself, you won’t be disappointed.

“The Foreigner […] tells the story of humble London businessman Quan, whose long-buried past erupts in a revenge-fueled vendetta when the only person left for him to love [is taken from him in an act of political terrorism]. […] Quan is forced into a cat-and-mouse conflict with a British government official whose own past may hold clues to the identities of the elusive killers.” – Rotten Tomatoes Movie Info

American Made – 1hr, 55min

Rated R( for some sexuality/nudity and language throughout)

American Made is a biographical crime film directed by Doug Liman. Starring Tom Cruise, it tells the story of American pilot turned CIA drug-runner Barry Seal, who worked secret operations during the 1980’s which would eventually be publicized as the Iran-Contra Affair. A biopic like Only the BraveAmerican Made tells its story in a high-energy and entertaining way, making this a great choice for Tom Cruise Fans.

“Barry Seal, a TWA pilot, is recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America and soon finds himself in charge of one of the biggest covert CIA operations in the history of the United States that spawned the birth of the Medellin cartel and eventually almost brought down the Reagan White House with the Iran Contra scandal.” – Rotten Tomatoes Movie Info

If any of the above films piqué your interest, make plans sooner rather than later – in particular, American Made has been at your local Cinemark since around the last week of September so it may likely leave very soon, while Only the BraveThe Snowman and Geostorm will likely be around for a couple of weeks yet, having just released. Sit back, relax and enjoy!

‘The Parable of the Madman’

October 11th, 2017 – Students and Faculty alike packed into UC 217 to attend a PLACE lecture held by Dr. Doug Julien on Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘The Parable of the Madman‘. As was written on the whiteboard and as Dr. Julien affirmed, “It’s a lot for 50 minutes.”

He wasn’t wrong. In that short timeframe, Dr. Julien guided the audience through this segment of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science, wherein a raving madman claims that ‘God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.’. Dr. Julien spoke of the piece as a thought experiment, centered around two questions: Did we kill God and, if so, how did we do it?

As this piece is considered a thought experiment, a large part of the lecture focused on a thought experiment all its own – Time, illustrated best by a simple question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Dr. Julien points out that on the one hand, at a point in our history when Religion was the driving force of society and not Science, this question would be simple to answer. In the mind of Religion, God created the chicken and thus the chicken created the egg. In more modern times, however, there is the scientific concept of mutation and the proto-chicken. In the mind of Science, then, the egg was created first through some mutation in the ‘proto-chicken’, creating the chicken.

This age-old question, which of the two came first, illustrates how Time is a subjective concept. Think of Past, Present and Future. The Present is the ‘now’, the Past is everything before ‘now’ and the Future is everything to come. The point being, our perception of the world around us is constantly changing – in particular, to Religion or Science. “We believe Science but we do not trust Science.” Dr. Julien argued. “When everyone both believes and trusts Science, change occurs.”

Back to those two questions: Did we kill God? How did we kill him? The truth, much like whether you believe the chicken or the egg came first, is largely up to the observer – the individual. Do you believe God is dead? If so, how do you believe we killed him?

It bears repeating – “It’s a lot for 50 minutes.” Every member of the audience, myself included, very well got something different out of Dr. Julien’s lecture. In talking to him afterward, I believe this was the point. “Everyone will arrive to their own, individual Truth – and this Truth will, by nature, be flawed. Only by talking with one another can we arrive at the same conclusion.”, he told me.

It’s a dialectic – an integral process of any proper discourse – that answers these questions. Perhaps whatever time Dr. Julien didn’t have for this discussion, we now have in spades.

Blade Runner 2049: The Perfect Successor

Blade Runner 2049 is rated R for Violence, some Sexuality, Nudity and Language.

Sitting in a theatre for an extended period to watch a film, no matter which it is, is becoming something of a miracle for me. Whether I’m excited for it or not, it just doesn’t seem to influence me buying the ticket, setting the time aside and going. Blade Runner 2049 started as that kind of movie – I was more aware of its lengthy runtime than I was its source material, more aware of the cost of the ticket than I was that Harrison Ford or Ryan Gosling starred in it. I was also aware of the praise being given to it and of a particular term – ‘The Perfect Sequel’. Happy as critics were to label 2049 as such, I don’t know if I could say the same. What I can tell you is that this movie is, in every sense, a must watch – Blade Runner 2049 an example of what a film can truly be when free of its obligations.

Yet let us not throw away the term of ‘Perfect Sequel’ too quickly, as I agree that on its face, once could see Blade Runner as such. One main reason for its labelling is that 2049 doesn’t attach itself to its official predecessor, the Final Cut of the original Blade Runner. Another is that 2049 does not franchise Blade Runner – over the course of its 2 hour, 40 minute runtime, 2049 tells its own, unique story. This is correct – there are no deliberate omissions of closure to help anticipation for another film. However, to say that 2049 lacks attachment to its predecessor is an understatement – frankly, 2049 acknowledges the age of its source material and almost expects you to have never watched the first film. In fact, 2049 is perhaps best viewed without a refresher of the original. What it does with that material works best when seen from the perspective of Ryan Gosling’s character, K. 2049‘s inciting action, a chance discovery of a secret long-buried, sets the Blade Runner on a journey to unravel a mystery of identity and a collision course with original Blade Runner protagonist Rick Deckard. Deckard’s inclusion in the film, along with any mention of earlier events, are pieces of the puzzle as opposed to things you would’ve known before watching 2049. You’ll learn what you need to from them and move on.

In watching the performances of the film’s main cast, it struck me that every character in some way felt important. 2049 is, much like its stance on the original material, not content to weigh itself down in traditional methods. Its runtime certainly lends itself to this – every character has ample time to sell their performances and be fleshed out. You come for Ryan Gosling’s K, you stay for Sylvia Hoeks’ Luv – a powerhouse in her own right, much like Harrison Ford and Jared Leto are. Considering Ryan Gosling’s ability as a silent actor and the brief screen time of Ford and Leto, it’s clear 2049 wanted to play as much with audience’s expectations of actors as possible – the result is tasteful and not necessarily disrespectful, although I would’ve loved for Leto’s character, Niander Wallace, to have been given more time to keep doing his thing.

Lending itself to the stellar performances is the visual treasure trove and cinematography. Everything in 2049, from sweeping cityscapes to intimate imagery can only be described as worthy of pause. More than once, or twice, or a dozen times even, 2049 tells a story and sells you a lifestyle on its imagery alone. The protein farm of Sapper Morton; the downpour of an overcrowded and despondent Los Angeles; the vibrant yet lifeless Las Vegas – each place speaks to a facet of this world never explicitly stated. It never needed to – director Denis Villeneuve shows incredible skill with the camera throughout, almost never using the same trick twice to keep the film as much about the film as possible.

Blade Runner 2049 is perhaps not the Perfect Sequel it’s lauded as. 2049 doesn’t want to be held back by such terms. It would be accurate to call it the Perfect Successor to Blade Runner – it’s stood on its own two feet, unconcerned with merely elevating the original or placing the franchise on some pedestal for the future. It’s an investment for the present – no long-term contract required.