Friday, February 29, 2008

Vote or Die

“Such adult human cloning of embryonic tissue could also be used to create a body double for organ transplants. Even brain transplantation would be possible if neuroregeneration of severed spinal columns are successful in humans, as they have been in laboratory rats.”

Cool! This study popped up first when I searched for the quote on page 356 during the opera, “primate cephalic transplantation: neurogenic separation, vascular association.”

This seemed to be the final act. After reading more about the stages of this experiment, the opera made a lot more sense.

So we seem to have the power to switch the heads of monkeys while keeping them alive, growing brains, and cloning each other. We have the power to do heart transplants, discover antibiotics, and make vaccinations. We have the compassion to research for new cures. We have the power to create nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and bacterial weapons. We have the greed and the hatred to use these to wipe out entire populations. So, no wonder we are so skeptical when faced with the possibilities to manipulate our own bodies and other forms of life genetically. There is no way to see the long-term effects short of doing it and observing it. If it is a mistake – too late! And, what are the exact intentions of those with the ultimate power?

Mr. Jones pointed out that the ending of the book could reflect the fact that those with money have more power than those with the expertise. With the capability we have today, the stakes are high.

Hey guys, don’t forget to vote!

The "Artsyness" in VAS

I want to try to address the point I was attempting to make in class about VAS being overly artsy. At the same time, I want to justify it so I could at least look like I'm being somewhat objective in my criticism. The truth is I think that Tomasula is in some sense a frustrated artist. He is writing this story about square and circle and their marital issues with the the vasectomy but he's making social commentary throughout the entire text and trying to convey it in a way that maybe he feels might stick more.

He dedicated a good portion of the book to languages. Some languages communicate certain information more efficiently than others and some of them are naturally selected over others (per say) since about 95% of languages have expired throughout history. I think that his book is so random and strange because he's precisely lacking a particular language that will help him communicate all of his thoughts coherently. We mentioned in class that he used music, machine language, English, Spanish, Latin, Greek and a lot of different languages throughout the text. Why is that? The only reason I can think of is precisely to convey as much as possible. His entire approach to the way the story is written is a language in a sense. It's written in English (mostly) but it's a style of communicating that is different from what we would consider the English language - I don't think anyone in this class thinks this is the typical English Literature text. That's definitely interesting to me, because I think it kind of works. Even though it is hard to connect all of his thoughts to the main story line, trying to connect all of these concepts helps us remember them better, (at least me) and in the end I think that's what Tomasula wanted. I think this was his way of writing information about social commentary that he believes in and getting it to stick in the reader's heads in an interesting way. It also gives you a new perspective on things when you have Hitler, genetic engineering and beauty pageants and you're trying to find the connection between the three. I personally think of Hitler in a bikini answering why genetic engineering is the answer to world peace, but I'm sure there are better ways to interpret this information.

Relativity, Statistics

Square time after time comes back to ‘the nature of truth’. All of the quotes included in Vas hint at a key characteristic of such ‘truth’; that it must be acknowledged by trustworthy authority in order to garner any importance. If consensus is the key to discerning truth, or fact, statistics could be viewed as the Great Authority in the Information Age. Statistics is the basis of so many social sciences (and in a more esoteric way, hard science as well). The scientific method, case studies, experiments etc. all rely on repeatability. Of course man eventually turned these amazing tools of technological inquiry to manipulating himself along with the world around him. Such is the basis of medicine, and its strange younger sibling, psychology. We use statistics to describe and understand how we may best protect ourselves, remain healthy and achieve what we desire. Square’s fascination with the bell curve hits on this. My first association is with the false authority given to polls (*cough*political) as if their statistical nature presupposes their gravity.


Today, the conditioning we receive -- from our parents, from society, etc. has more impact on the success we have in finding a mate and replicating our genes than ever before. When our species was just starting out and we lived in tribes and what not, everyone in our tribe of 100-200 people would have received pretty much the same conditioning because everybody would know everybody and any information one person had would quickly travel to the rest of the tribe. Back then, the success we had of finding a mate would have had more to do with our physical strength (at least for men), which led to higher status in the tribe (the higher the status the more mates you would have). Today, however, there are many different facets of society in which our children are taught different values, facts about life, and beliefs depending on how and where they grew up. This is detrimental to those who grow up in poor urban areas and extremely beneficial to those who grow up in rich neighborhoods because rich kids are given values by their parents that encourage success and poor kids are given values from their family and neighborhood that encourage failure (Read Rich Dad Poor Dad). However, because status no longer has as much to do with physical strength as it does with the strength one has within himself and his ability to lead and learn, pretty much anybody can cultivate status (one's inner strength and ability to lead can be learned and developed) and thus cultivate their probability of mating. In other words, in today's society we have more control over our evolution than ever before and I wonder how this is going to pan out.

The Culture of Beauty

I've been wanting to talk about this since I first read it in the text, but I went to Dallas last weekend and didn't get to post a blog, so this will be my late blog.
"Gal has plastic surgery 18 times - to become a real-life Barbie" (p. 260)
I know this sounds ridiculous to some of you and it's absurd to think that people can actually do this to their bodies, but the interesting part to me was how common plastic surgery has become in other parts of the world. Particularly, it is absurd how plastic surgery has taken over the people of Venezuela. I found some interesting facts about Venezuela that I thought were worth mentioning:

  • There are more beauty salons and spas than drugstores in Caracas.
  • A popular cosmetic surgery gift for “quinceanera” is a boob job.
  • Women in Venezuela beat every other Latina when it comes to cosmetics.
  • It seems that Venezuela dominates the world in beauty pageant contestants. The country can claim to have as many as four Miss Universe, five Miss World and four Miss International titles. Plus, many contestants reach very close to winning the title.
  • Former Miss Universe Irene Saez became a mayor and almost the president of the country in 1998 (many analysts believe that if she was not contesting against Hugo Chavez, she would have won).
I personally don't believe that last part, but whatever the case is, it's a fact that Venezuelans are obsessed with plastic surgery! And it's a very interesting point that plastic surgery and beauty pageants were both mentioned within a couple of pages of each other in VAS, and in Venezuela there is obviously a direct correlation between the two.

Beauty has evolved from the ideal of big heavy women that clearly look like they can feed themselves to the ideal of scrawny plastic women. Women (and men) are willing to sacrifice their own familiar faces and bodies and put themselves in a vulnerable position (i.e. an operating room) to look like what society believes is beautiful TODAY. In the past 50 years alone, we have changed our ideas of beauty, so what is to say that in ten years we won't be going for a different look. The more available that surgery becomes and the more people start to look "ideal" the more quickly that our new concept of "ideal" will arise, and then people will have wasted thousands of dollars to look like something that is past its prime.

Plus it brings about a million questions of morality and issues like "is this really beautiful?" Some people like to believe that they're not attracted to women that get plastic surgery because it looks fake, but clearly it works right? I don't know. In a sense I think it's twisted and perverse but in another sense it's science and evolution and... it's interesting. Also, people are free to do what they want to themselves so who am I to judge?

genitalia-less species - our future?

Ok. I need to preface what I am about to say. You need to understand that I spent a lot of time alone as a child…maybe too much time alone. But when I was alone, lying there on my bed at night, I would think about spaceships and alien beings. I would think about time machines. In my mind I would time travel to the past and to the future. I used to think about those aliens a lot. At that time people would talk about their experiences with aliens. When people were asked to describe the aliens they saw, they would describe aliens similar to the ones in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I used to wonder where these aliens really came from. I used to think about what planet they come from and how far they have to travel.

They look just like us. They have the same body shape. They have eyes and noses. They have hands and fingers. They are hairless and pale. Also, we never hear descriptions of these aliens having genitalia. And then, as I got older and started to learn about evolution, I had a new thought about these aliens that supposedly came from another planet. Maybe these aliens are not from another planet at all. Maybe they are future humans who are travelling to visit us from the future. I know it sounds way out there. But it kind of makes sense with how things are going these days. We are using genetic engineering to make us into a perfect human being. And the trend seems to be that being hairless is preferred. Being pale is preferred. It makes sense that we humans would evolve into a genitalia-less species because in the future we will create all of our babies in test tubes. So this is my theory: “Aliens” are just genetically modified future humans.

Happily Ever After?

I don't think I'm alone in saying that the conclusion to Vas is less than climactic. The story revolves around Square's decision to get a vasectomy and then ends...with him getting one. Interesting...huh? The interwoven texts, figures, charts, etc. bring about a different style to thinking about genetic engineering and are very intriguing but they leave me asking questions as to what purpose and relevance they serve to the story itself.

If the story was simply based around Square's decision, what need was there to include eugenics and genetic manipulation? Does the story about the woman who turned herself into a Barbie on p.260 really have any significance?

This story has definitely enlightened me as to where eugenics has started and the path it seems to be going down. It's kind of scary to think about the future of genetic modification and lengths people will go to to achieve "perfection". Maybe this is what Tomasula planned all along and I'm looking too far into it. But what does any of the information presented have to do with Square's dilemma?

Overall, I somewhat enjoyed reading Vas. I feel extremely knowledgeable in the area of eugenics since this is the third class I've had that has covered this controversial topic. I also loved how different and confusing the text was to read. The challenge to look beyond the text to decipher the author's true intent was never-ending. However, the fact that there are so many questions left unanswered makes me wonder why this book was written in the first place. Will we ever really know what to make of the novel as a whole? Maybe... maybe not. Will I ever truly understand the meaning of Vas? No way, Jose!

Comfort in Average

In Vas, Square claims that by screening for birth defects, we are in fact making a decision as to what is good and what is bad. These sorts of screenings happen all the time. When children visit their pediatricians, their heights and weights are taken and plotted against the rest of the population of children of similar age and gender. I personally was always a small child and my height and weight were never anywhere near the measurements expected for a kid my age. I understand that to many parents it is important to see how their child is developing as compared to his or her peers, but by telling me I was shorter and skinnier than most, I always felt that these were negative qualities even though I had no real control over them. Any time we model anything with a normal distribution, we are suggesting that certain qualities are uncommon and sometimes undesirable. So why are we so comfortable being average? Why do we find comfort in the mean? Sure, being tall or having an above average IQ are enviable qualities to many, but being an equal distance away from the mean on the opposite side of the curve is rather undesirable. How is comparing yourself to everyone else a good indication of the quality of person you are? Every time we judge ourselves against the rest of the population, we are acknowledging that average is fine, and a divergence to one side is admirable and to the other is unsatisfactory.


When I first read George Orwell's 1984 (I think I was in 8th grade), I didn't fully understand why it was such a big deal that the citizens of Oceania were forced to use a very restricted language called Newspeak.

Now of course I know that because language influences thought so heavily, a language which lacked the ability to express extreme emotion or revolutionary thought was the perfect tool of oppression. Without diversity in language, thought dies out.

VAS contains a similar argument: without genetic diversity within a species, that species is extremely vulnerable to destruction. If all humans were identical to some genetic ideal, then the first virus to come along capable of exploiting some genetic weakness would take out the entire human race.

That's an extreme example, but hopefully the message is clear. Genetic diversity makes the species stronger as a whole, even if certain individuals might seem weak.

Our Bodies: Possessions or Vessels?

Recently, I was watching PBS with my girlfriend when the story of Dick Proenneke came on. It is a documentary called "Alone in the Wilderness," I am not sure if any of you are familiar with it. Anyway, Dick lived a life of hard work as a carpenter in the Navy, rancher, mechanic and handyman type positions. At the age of 51, he was injured while working as a diesel mechanic in Alaska and ended up deciding to retire in the wilderness and built a cabin by hand in the Alaskan wilderness over the course of two years. After he built the cabin, he lived there for the next 30 years of his life until he was 82 and decided he was too old to handle Alaskan winters.

What I'm getting at is Dick lived a life pursuing different careers to make a living, but all the while he probably dreamed of getting away from it all and just "being," much like Square's thoughts about most all people now "having" a body rather than just "being" their body. It's the difference between possession and existence in some sense. Dick pursued his retirement life in the wildlife in the best of both his and his body's interests. He was strong, healthy, and active well into his 70s, something that cannot be often said of many people in common society today, and I would bet he outlived many, many of his peers.

Similarly, back in January of 1967, between 20 and 30 thousand people convened on San Francisco's Golden Gate Park for the Human Be-In. The event was provoked by the banning of LSD by the state of California and the announcers of the event at the San Francisco Oracle hoped to bring together the somewhat clashing societies of the New Left (Centered much around the political activists at Berkeley) and the Counterculture (Hippies
based out of the Haight-Ashbury district who created their own society as a protest of the mainstream). But, rather than holding a protest or rally, the focus of the gathering was simply to exist (and drop a great deal of LSD) and that is what they did. There were a few speakers and some musical acts, and even an open mic, but mostly people sat around the park all day, just "being".

So, this seems to be a rather common theme throughout American society and one I have thought about a lot, and I'm glad that it was brought up in Vas and given some thought, because it is something fun to wrap your mind around. With all the technology, entertainment, and other distractions in our daily lives, how many of us ever take the time to just exist. I know the times I have done it, it has felt great. This summer, I was a member of the Texas 4000 for Cancer and spent 70 days riding my bike from Austin to Anchorage, AK, and probably the best part of that experience was having so much time each day to just enjoy the scenery and what I was doing, rather than being preoccupied with worries about tomorrow or next week because I knew I would be riding 80 miles again, just as I was doing that day. I would have to say it was the closest thing to complete freedom I have ever felt.

Are you existing, or just using your body as a means to survive?

Pretty Pictures from P. 188-292

I really liked two pictures from last week's reading.

On p.194, the poster publicizing the play "The Black Stork" is really attractive. I would love to see a play like that if they were showing that today. There was a Dr. Harry Haiselden who helped kill defective newborns. When I read the text, I was really surprised eugenics was discussed at that time and so publicly because I feel it is a serious matter. The picture seems humorous yet sad at the same time. Humorous because it is a cartoon figure and I get the feeling it may be a satire. Sad because of the despairing look in the stork's eyes...the desperate baby's face...and the hurtful sign on the door "Black Stork Babies Not Treated!"

On p. 228, the family tree with the beans is really sweet. I'm not sure I really understand how the round gene is passed on to create a round offspring from the family tree but I can see this is probably Oval's work. The expressions on the beans are really funny.

If anyone can point out any other appealing pictures in the novel that'll be great.

Vas Rant

So I never really got into this book. I don’t think the storyline was interesting enough to draw a reader into the novel. I understand it wasn’t about the storyline so much as it was a social critique of sorts and the storyline allowed for that expansion in the book. However, I thought the plot was weak and the characters not very well developed. The book may be enlightening but I wished it were more interesting. Also even the streams of thought took it a bit too far. Everything is open to interpretation but some of the asides seemed unable to be interpreted. Sometimes while reading Vas I felt like I was looking at a red circle on a canvas, the modern art masterpiece. I enjoy lots of aspects of modern art but there are definitely pieces in my opinion that evoke more emotion.

One aspect of the book that I did enjoy was the word lineage and language evolution that occurred again and again in the book. I found all of those facts interesting. Maybe the intent of the author was to pull in as much information as possible so that there would be a section that interested everyone. Which I guess brings me to the question of what was your favorite info in the book? Did it draw you into the story more, or did you also just find yourself skipping pages to get to the end?

small talk

my roommate (i'll call her k) and i were talking about one of her professors, who is a sexist pig and believes women are made to serve men and he believes in the theory of evolution and survival of the fittest. he claims that adam and eve were not the first human beings and that adam even had a wife previous to eve named lillith. this leads into a discussion about religion and i realized that all my classes are connected to each other. in this class, we're reading vas and, well, you all know what that's about. in my astronomy class, we've learned about the big bang theory and how earth was created and that there's probably life on other planets in the universe. my women's gender studies class is taking us through history and showing the places where women had a big impact. i'm learning about the evolution of women and the role they play in or according to society, which has tremendously changed and evolved over the last hundred years. i'm also taking a religious studies class where my professor is basically doing her best to convert the class to her religion (this is all still part of the conversation with my roommate). k and i have different religious backgrounds and we both realized that even though we heard all the big bang theory and evolution talk when we were younger, our family's religious practices and beliefs never really allowed us to take these other views into consideration. i don't feel like i had a choice between believing in god or accepting Darwin's theory. i was placed into this family who instilled their beliefs in me from the moment i was born. i was baptized when i was only a couple months old, and i wonder, how did my parents make that decision for me before i could even speak? i'm not saying that i want to change my beliefs, but would these still be the beliefs i would choose if i had the option of any beliefs that are available today? obviously i'll never know but i thought this tied in nicely to the concept in vas of genetic screening. if you can be given information that will help you understand what kind of life you and your child might lead, i think you should take advantage of that. you're going to know eventually, so why not start preparing yourself as soon as possible. sorry if this blog is all over the place.

Slippery Slope of Eugenics

Sir Francis Galton was a cousin of Charles Darwin and a supporter of eugenics. He believed that society, by protecting the weak, was hindering the process of natural selection and, as a result, hindering the progress of the human race. He believed eugenics was the remedy. This is what Galton had to say about eugenics:

I propose to show in this book that a man's natural abilities are derived by inheritance, under exactly the same limitations as are the form and physical features of the whole organic world. Consequently, as it is easy, notwithstanding those limitations, to obtain by careful selection a permanent breed of dogs or horses gifted with peculiar powers of running, or of doing anything else, so it would be quite practicable to produce a highly-gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations.

If you have read my previous posts, then it is quite obvious what I believe about eugenics. I mean, does it bother anyone else that humans are compared to dogs and horses? Suppose that humans are animals and nothing more. Then free will is an illusion and you never really chose to read this blog. Morality is an illusion and Hitler wasn't necessarily "wrong" because wrong doesn't exist. In fact the only thing that can be said about Hitler's actions is that they were harmful. And since there are no Shoulds and Oughts then humans can act however they want. Why should I care about the human race. I am temporary and so is the human race. So forget eugenics, I will take care of myself. And I won't be "wrong" in doing so.
I believe that we have free will and I believe that morality exists. So there must be something else about humans. We are more than some long string of genetic code, don't you think?
Back to eugenics. Who would be doing the selecting? What criterion would be used to determine if I am eligible to make babies? It seems like a slippery slope. At the start only major genetic defects are targeted for elimination from the gene pool by the eugenics program. Then less severe defects like ADHD and scoliosis. Then things like learning disabilities are targeted... Then things like albinism. Then fair skin in general. Then light colored hair. Then curly hair. Then left-handedness. Then ...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Lack of Math

The question has come up several times about the lack of Math relation in some of the work that we study. There was a time when I was looking all around to find math in literature and in movies or television. Obviously, I was quite unsuccessful in this search. I think everyone in this class is going to have to face the fact that the jury is pretty much out on how the general population feels about math. The reason that there is no math in pop culture is that it would never sell. A friend of mine who graduated as a math major a while back told me that she was really upset to see someone walking around with a shirt that said "I Hate Math". She noted that it is not as acceptable to "hate" other areas of understanding and she felt it was unfair. While I agree with her, I understand where the general population gets off thinking so harshly about math. Would ANY of you EVER want to take an intermediate algebra class even knowing what you know? That has got to be the most tedious think in the world. That is unfortunately the norm of math education though, mind numbing repetition. If (and I stress "if") you make it through the calculus sequence, you may gain an appreciation for the concepts and ideas that make math attractive and sexy, but you really have to endure a lot in order to get to this place. I think it might be better to invert the triangle so to speak and teach math conceptually first, and I guess that is one of the ideas of the "new math" but I think the consequence of that could be more math retards than ever before.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wrdos, Wrods, and more Words

The same thoughts and ideas just keep popping into my head or coming up in what ever i do. During yesterday's class we talked about words and languages in VAS. All the things we talked about just overlapped with more ideas that have been following me for a while, for example when i was preparing to write my History paper i read a quote from a Cheyenne Native American which said

" We need our land and we need our language. The two are inseparable".

This gives a lot of power to language, which is often very faulty. Take for example this conversation i had with my girlfriend about love. "Love" is such a restricting word. there is only one word and yet it is supposed to be used many different ways(i.e. for you friends, family, dog, house, significant other...). All of these are very different forms of love and yet we have only one word. When i do think of this i refer to the bible often, not because i am super religious or anything, but because of the language it was originally written in ( some sort of Greek). So in this form of Greek there are four words for love: Storge, eros, phylios, and agape. I also thought of this in class when someone referred to that Native tribe that just had two words for color opposed to the more advanced peoples nine ( just for an example). It just leads me to think the more advanced a people and their understanding is then the more advanced or more wordy their language is. So i assume the Greeks are just better than us at certain things, like love.

What also caught my ear during class is the way that we are capable of comprehending things and how that affects how we then see those things.

Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer inwaht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are... the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm.

Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

Whether this is really true or not, i can still read it so it means something to me. When ideas or letters or numbers are all scrambled up people have a hard time making it have a meaning. Being a cartoon nerd i always think of Bender from Futurama when something is a bit confusing until i flip it around. In one episode Bender, being a robot, reads a line a binary and declares it jibberish, but when he turns around and reads it in a mirror then he becomes afraid of the message. It also happens in math. there are certain sequences that you just have to know the trick to understand, like the fibonacci sequence ( 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 ...). Most of VAS is like this, or at least i think it is. On the first read through i was really confused on why certain parts were there and how they would fit into the book. Now that we are done some of these are making more sense, while others may need another read through. Now that we know where everything is going we can figure out how we got there.

So language can be anything that has some meaning behind it ( or at least that is what we said in class) therefore silence can be a language...

... i wonder what that meant to you.

Oh, and if futurama can teach you anything it is that God speaks in binary so make sure and brush up on it before you decide to kick the can.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Super Natural Selection

I dont know if that is such a thing or if it is refered to as something else but it seems to me that when we select mates based on anything but raw desire or when we choose to abort children, that we engage in something beyond "natural selection" or as the title sugests, supernatural selection. Of course to say this is to say that there is something about human intelligence that is not natural (another blog post all together). I write this to direct your attention to an article that I caught in Slate that sort of describes the decay of our taboo in dealing with abortion for the sake of gender selection. I have to admit, there are some examples in which I would agree that "gender selection" is appropriate. What do you think?

“The Internet is a copy machine”

From VAS:

Though your body is constantly
plagiarizing itself, it never gets it right.
It’s like making a copy of a copy
Copies of copies proliferating (306–307)

Kevin Kelly – “Better than Free

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Your Genome

Monday, February 25, 2008

Friday, February 22, 2008

Latinate terms with their connotations of classical wisdom

vās, vāsis or vās·um -ī (pl: vās·a -ōrum) [1]
n vessel, dish; utensil, implement

The "vessel" part of the definition is where we get the word vas deferens, which is one of the coiled tubes that carry the sperm out of the testes [2]. It's also the root of "vasectomy", which I think we're all familiar with.

The second part of the definition, "utensil, implement," is far more interesting when viewed in light of the first quote in the book. I think that the title implies that we (or at least, our genes) are the primary implement for bringing about change. We directly influence the future of the human race by choosing which genes are passed on to future generations, and which are unapologetically weeded out of existence.

1) The New College Latin and English Dictionary by John C. Traupman

Mathematical Themes

Now that I've finished VAS, I'm looking back and trying to integrate my understanding of the book as a whole. Something I've realized is that I didn't see many explicit mathematical references in the book. In We, there were plenty of mentions of specific mathematical concepts, such as the root of -1, integration, Taylor series, etc. I decided to dig a little deeper to flesh out the math allusions in VAS.

Math mainly seems to appear in the asides and illustrative figures that accompany the text. The examples shown often seem to suggest that an over reliance on math and logic remove emotion and morals from our decisions, and result in immoral and harmful behavior, the sort of thing the Goethe quote on the first page alludes to.

For example, there are many tables of mathematical data(64, 92) in the form of measurements of the human skull. This data was used historically to assert the superiority of one race over another. I think the implication that the author(s) are making here is that the tables can only show numbers and data, which removes the influence of our humanity and compassion from the equation.

There are many other examples of this theme in the book, but this post would turn into an analysis paper if I went through them all. If you find a particularly interesting example, post it in the comments.

Illusion of Control

I have to run to the post-office to get a package out...and will edit/finish this when I get back

But in preface: Has anyone read Daniel Quinn's Ishmael or seen the 1999 movie Instinct with Anthony Hopkins?

The distinction between the Cro-Mag’s and Neanderthals in Square’s story seems to be Cro-Mag’s realization of superiority. On page 174 Square talks about belief in superiority, specifically of the Cro-Mag’s over Neanderthals. If the Neanderthals were taken to symbolize all ‘uncivilized’ organisms, this realization reflects the human faith in ownership and control the protagonist of Ishmael is taught to recognize.

A little background: Ishmael tackles the ethics of humanity being out of touch with ‘natural evolution’. Sustainability is stressed as the main victim of a society in which individuals claim ownership to more resources than they require at once. And the solution is outlined as returning to a more ‘primitive’ way of life.

Square touches on the interconnectedness of all life in his description of Darwin’s moth and an orchid as “having developed because each made the other possible.” I think Square’s fear of the genetic-modification trend stems from a similar fear of unsustainability. That somehow by choosing genes for oneself without god-like knowledge of interconnectedness we are waging “pogrom” (in Square’s words) against inhuman organisms that are subject to our culture, our evolution. Furthermore choosing phenotypes or genes for ourselves or our children is so full of unforeseeable variables that it is no less a game of chance than Plinko.

But then again as we live in a human-created environment all our lives, it would seem that this trend of modification embraces Darwin’s ideas of fitness and natural selection to enhance our chances of natural selection through fitness to our formed environment.

I personally consider myself a futurist and don’t fear the destruction of the natural as we know it.

My boobs are fine...and so are yours

There are women who are born with the “perfect” Miss America body and the “perfect” Colgate smile and the most beautiful “Pantene” hair and they still think something is wrong with them. They will look in the mirror and think, “Gosh I wish my hair were lighter, or longer, or curlier, or whatever. Anything but me. Anything but what I look like.” Why are we like this? Why do we as humans hate ourselves so much? Why can’t we just love our big butt and our small breasts and our hairy back and our yellow teeth? Where does all of this self hatred come from?

Yes we can utilize all this genetic stuff so we can make our babies look a certain way, but can we genetically make people love themselves? This baby menu thing really disturbs me. “Yes waiter, I’ll take the fair skin, blond genius type. Oh, and easy on the alcoholic tendencies.” Ok. So then we pick out the perfect baby on paper, and then what? You get a kid who wishes they had brown hair and dark skin because that is what is in style. Will we ever be able to win this game? Will we ever be able just accept ourselves?

Is this tendency towards non acceptance a genetic disorder? Can we use genetic engineering to week this tendency out? Maybe we should. But then accepting ourselves will be out of style so then we will need to manipulate our genes again.

Will we ever get it right?

sperm wars and survival of the fittest

The book Sperm Wars talks about how not all of men's sperm has reproductive capabilities. 99% of the sperm involved in reproduction are warrior sperm whose only function is to fight off sperm from other males. Also, the crazy thing is, A WOMAN HAS A BETTER CHANCE OF BECOMING PREGNANT WITH THE GUY SHE IS CHEATING WITH THAN HER ACTUAL HUSBAND! This is because a woman is more likely to reach orgasm with a guy who is not her partner and the man who's sperm is associated with an orgasm will have the best chance of fertilizing the egg. 10% of people are fathered by men who are not genetically their fathers, many i'm sure do not even know it. Survival of the fittest governs our lives more than we think. Sure we're not so cruel as other animals with the weak members of our society, but nature knows how to get the job done. No woman wants a weak, low status man and no man wants a woman considered a low status woman. Though in today's society we may be more inclined to help the weak and helpless, our genes really are the instruments that govern the future of our society, not our morals or ideals.

Total Happyness

I am starting to see some parallels between We and Vas. Especially in the aspect of creating the perfect society, a utopia. All the eugenic issues Vas deals with seems like the flatland society is moving toward perfecting themselves. They are genetically engineering themselves to be the best they can be. They are taking evolution out of it, and trying to evolve themselves the way they think is best by eugenics, plastic surgery and natural selection. We was much like this trying to evolve their society into a society with total happiness. These are two ways of trying to create an impossible utopia, one through a dictator the Benefactor, and another through genetics and science. Both ways seem like they will not work. No matter how perfect you try to make people, there is always room for improvement. Where does it stop. The more and more perfect you make things, the closer you look at them to find flaws. There will never be a "final one," evolving is infinite (Zamyatin 174). There is always room for improvement, because it is all preference. The benefactor thought his way was the ideal way, while the flatland society thinks their way of child rearing and plastic surgery is the ideal way.

Can pretty girls pass IQ tests??

Ok. So what we mainly discussed yesterday was the subjectiveness of the IQ test and how it relates to being "mentally handicapped", and also how culture affects beauty. First off, I was pretty surprised to find out that the IQ test has been made to be more difficult over the years. What gives? Is the human race becoming so evolved that we need new, higher standards? Is this a way of the "elite" trying to maintain their status as "geniuses"? These are some of the questions I pondered. And I also agreed with Jones that this test would be harmful to children, given that they don't score high enough. This test would, in a way, label them, whether they want it to or not. If a kid doesn't pass the test, many of his/her peers would definitely see them in a different way. This raises another question; should IQ tests be given in primary schools?

Moving on. One thing I wasn't surprised about was that mainly all the Miss Americas were "bell- curved". Being that these women are supposed to be the "model women for our society", are they setting the standard like the IQ test? Isn't beauty subjective as well? I mean, after all, we all have different taste in what beauty really is. Some guys like blond girls. Some girls like guys that look 12(Jonas Brothers). Anyways. Point being, does society determine what we think is attractive, or are we able to think for ourselves? Think about it. Many of the things we find attractive come from the media to begin with. Is our perception of beauty the result of hegemony?

Nature - The Ultimate Machine

I found the quote on page 259, “Living bodies are in the smallest of their parts machines, ad infinitum,” by Gottfried Von Liebniz to be very interesting. Firstly, aside from the main characters being named after geometric shapes, this is one of the only mathematical references I have noticed. Liebniz developed Calculus simultaneously with (or before) Newton, but he is far less famous. During his lifetime, Lieniz wrote a paper called New Essays on Human Understanding to counter Locke’s argument in Essay on Human Understanding. In fact, this quote comes from his written work. Secondly, the people of Leibniz’s time and even people in the present day tend to think that “the machines constructed by engineers were considered imperfect realizations of these biological “machines,” which the body and the universe personified.”

When I first read the description of “cyborg,” I thought about a robot or a machine. This book, through descriptions of operations and the graphics involving genetic engineering patents, seems to be making a statement on humans meddling with nature. If nature is the perfect machine, than is this habit of ours dangerous? Or, is it possible to improve on perfection? Initially, one would think perfection implies the ultimate, flawless state and thus, cannot be surpassed. But, what does infinity mean? There are different sizes of infinity, and that seems to be counterintuitive.

I personally think that nature cannot be improved upon.

Differently Abled

After class on Thursday I had to question myself and try to put myself in the position of someone who has been told that their child has a possibility of having bad genes. Would I abort a child purely based on some screening test that shows a percent chance of some sort of disability? Children who suffer from serious disabilities do create money problems for a lot of parents as well as putting mental strain on the parents, and in extreme cases taking care of a disabled child becomes a parent’s full time job. My 9 year old cousin has Asperger’s Syndrome which is a variation of autism that most noticeably affects social interactions. Asperger’s is believed to be a genetic disorder, so is an example of a disease that might show up on a fetal genetic screen. Already at the age of 9 my cousin can name almost all of the countries on a world map. He can see any type of plane or boat and tell you what sort it is and the history of it and what wars they used it in and what type of weapons it carried on and on. He excels far ahead of the rest of the kids in his math class. He’s brilliant. If my aunt and uncle had been told during my aunt’s pregnancy that her child would have a genetic disorder and decided to terminate the pregnancy… my world would be a dimmer place. I like the term differently abled that someone brought up in class. Just because my cousin has difficulties that have caused my aunt and uncle strain and money doesn’t mean he doesn’t possess a million other amazing qualities.

I took these thoughts a step further and looked to history. If genetic testing had always existed there would be a lot of gaps in history where we would be missing amazing historical figures. Here are just a couple of the big ones:

Abe Lincoln: thought to have Asperger’s. Struggled with depression and bi-polar tendencies which are both common effects of Asperger’s.

Einstein: also thought to have Asperger’s. He had late speech development and difficulty keeping up in school.

Stephen Hawking and Lou Gehrig: Lou Gehrig’s Disease or ALS

Lord Byron: club foot or talipes

Henry Ford: dyslexic

The list is endless. Tons of famous influential people were born with genetic disabilities. Tons of people who wouldn’t be here today had their parents decided they didn’t want to have a child with a disability.

It’s important for people to be different.

Technology and Decision Making

Are we products of our time or do we determine what is tolerable in our time? Do we make decisions based on what is socially acceptable, or do we define what is socially acceptable at a given time by the decisions we make?

In Vas, Square seems to believe that he is forced to make decisions he wouldn’t have to make if he lived in a less technologically advanced society or era. He gives us the sense that he almost wishes he lived in the simpler time of Mother’s youth. But are the decisions that Square has to make necessarily bad? He never asserts whether he would rather take the chance of having a child with birth defects or have the opportunity to screen for such defects and then make a decision with regard to abortion. Yet he laments over having to make such a decision. He never suggests that vasectomy is immoral, but he desires not to have to make the decision whether or not to go through “the procedure.”

It is unfair to complain about the choices technology brings forth if you are unwilling to live without the advantages advancement presents. Civilizations will evolve, languages will die out, physical ideals will transform, but humans will always have the ability to make choices, though these choices may become more ethically blurry.

The Eye of The Beholder

The concept of beauty is ultimately decided by each individual...

With this is mind, I think it's fascinating how the perception of beauty has changed over time. Here are some examples:

In the 15th century, women would pluck their hairlines to make their foreheads seem higher. Also, men and women would die their hair blonde because it was a symbol of high class.

In the 18th century, men wore white-powdered wigs and women wore elaborate coiffures. Pasty skin was viewed as very attractive.

The turn of the 20th century brought about a new sense of freedom for women. They fashioned a bobbed hairstyle and wore a great deal of makeup. Men wore suits and parted their hair in the center.

And finally, the 1980's! From jheri curls to mullets to big hair, anything in excess was hip.

Just with these few eras mentioned, most of you will agree with me that the perception of beauty will never be stagnant. Styles and fashions that we think are cool now will certainly be laughable will looked back upon years from now.

So I kind of want this blog to be an open forum for all of us to share our views on what we think beauty is or is not.

Is this what beauty is?

Is Kate Moss beautiful?

I think this could lead to a rather interesting discussion.


My own crazy thought process

I thought that if these writers, and others, could use stream of consciousness to write all, or in this case most, of a book; then i should be able to do the same for a blog post. Lets see what happens.

This book talks a lot about genes, from Circle aborting her child because of a 75% chance of bad alleles, not any known problem just a chance, to all the talk about creating the perfect Barbie doll human. It all reminded me of this special i watched on the discovery channel about the possibility of bringing dinosaurs back to life. It went through early theories, like the one that brought about Jurassic Park, and concluded that these were all impossible. The focus then shifted to some newer accidental findings. Many researchers trying to learn about the genome use easy to find embryos to study, chickens. While looking at many of theses embryos the researchers would occasionally find anomalies in them, such as tails that were to long of the beginnings of teeth. This prompted research into the possibility of actually creating birds with teeth or really long tails, just like their supposed ancestors the dinosaurs. Which is all a bit cool. The research found that all the ancient genes from our ancestors are still in our DNA, they just need the right triggers to turn on. This made me think of all the crazy mixed creatures that have been created. The two i immediately think of are the liger and the tigon ( both actual creatures). These two are obviously both combinations of lions and tigers. The cool thing is the very large discrepancy in size. the genes controlling growth are inhibited in each case: for the liger the gene to stop growth is basically destroyed and so these cats grow to enormous sizes, while the tigon has the exact opposite problem and causes a smaller cat.

Why is any of this related to Vas? Because the shear size of our DNA, i would like to review you all to pages 202-225ish to see just one chromosome, any forceful change would just be stupidly hard. It just makes more sense to allow things to progress and see what happens.

Also the idea of evolution of not only body, but also morality. This is of course true and obvious. The tribesmen talked about in class thought of just one thing and that is survival. Like most animals in the world survival is of the utmost importance, or at least it was then. As people evolved, in body and mind, their ability to survive increased and so more ideas would develop,such as protecting the weak.. Altruism seems to be a very new idea in human history, probably from only a few thousand years ago. The earliest evidence of this i can think of is with the Ancient Egyptians. There is evidence that this great and powerful civilization took great care of its disabled. it could do this because of its power and ability to survive and protect itself. The idea of looking out for the week can also be seen in more primitive creatures. Elephants for example take great care of their young. this is most probably because of the very few offspring that can be produced at once and the time it takes for the young one to reach a point when it can protect itself. One of the most obvious depictions of this is shown in any good elephant documentary and that is the baby elephant getting stuck in a mud hole. Unlike many other herd animals of Africa, Elephants will all band together and attempt to save the youngster. if they succeed they are all visibly happy and if they fail then there is visible sadness as the herd tends to stand around in what looks like a moment of silence before somberly continuing on.

Sorry i really don't know where i was going with that at all. and oh year follow this link to a fun little Intelligence test.

pro-choice in action

i want to talk about a discussion we had in class. someone said something along the lines of square supporting the abortion because he agreed with circle that it was for the best. i don't believe this at all. i definitely don't think that square wanted her to have an abortion but i do believe he's pro-choice and it's part of the reason he didn't try to stop circle from the procedure. i think circle took complete control of the situation and he didn't object. even if he had, she probably wouldn't have taken it into account. she seems like she might be the one to wear the pants in this relationship. i support this with random things throughout the book, for example...when mother is telling them to have another baby and square doesn't disagree with her at all. circle is the one who says no. he probably does want another baby because he was prepared for one that never came and there's a void that needs to be filled and i'm sure he thinks another baby would do that. another time, when he went off on one of his rambling sessions and he was imagining that oval was picking out traits for her baby, i think that showed that he is excited to someday be a grandfather because he probably really likes babies and children. someone else in class said that square's a romantic and i definitely agree with that. he married a realist who tells it like it is and she probably keeps him grounded.

random question: is the title of this book, Vas, just short for vasectomy?

side-note: it took 25 pages to write out the code for the SHGC-110205 gene. human beings have 20,000-25,000 genes. it would take 500,000-625,000 pages to decode all our genes. just sayin.

Philosophical questions brought about by Vas

Several things were talked about today (or yesterday since it is 2:30am) during the discussion on Vas that I wanted to open up conversation on.
We talked very briefly about determinism v. choice. This is the subject of the Blog post "Are we robots?" that I posted two weeks ago. Basically, I was pointing out that determinism (choice is an illusion, everything is determined) seems to be the logical result if humans are purely matterial beings. I would love to continue the discussion that was sparked from this.
We also talked a little about altruism, selfless acts. Many people, not including myself, believe that altruism is impossible for human beings. Everything we do, we do for our own interests, some people think. This is a philosophical stance called egoism. People like Freud and Hobbes are convinced that humans are incapable of altruism. It was brought up in class that people act altruistically but they are really just after the good feeling associated with it. I find this to be a sort of jump in logic. Suppose that it is proven that there is some positive chemical effect in the brain associated with selfless actions. Association does not imply causation. How can one say the good feeling causes us to act selflessly? To assume that this is the only possible motive is begging the question, assuming the conclusion that someone can't have selfless motives.
Morality was also mentioned. This must have evolved along with conciousness and free will. This doesn't seem natural to me. How can right and wrong, good and evil exist if everything is simply material? If everything is determined by genes and neurons, then how can we say that any action is wrong or right. Choice must exist for morality to exist. And something beyond matter and energy must exist for choice to exist.
I would love to hear some of your thoughts on these things that I have been thinking about.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Careful With That Axe, Eugene

A bit of continuation of today's in-class discussion of eugenics and forced evolution as a result of human intervention: As Ana noted in class, standards are constantly changing and it is very dangerous to eliminate human traits based on current trends. Furthermore, it is such a new topic and there is so little we know in comparison to what there is to know and the complex structure of our bodies. The Human Genome Project took 13 years to complete and is still under careful analysis. We still know very little about the actual details of our composition, and as is often seen in science, opinions and "facts" change with time as new evidence is revealed. Instead of using studies such as this to begin slicing and dicing our DNA, it should be used as a resource to gain a better understanding of who we are at the microscopic level.

As far as natural selection goes, I'm not so sure that picking out certain genes and eliminating them really falls under the title. With all the technology and other aspects of our life in the US and other developed countries, there is no reason to be killing off part of a person's personality just because it is viewed as a weakness. In many cases, being born at a disadvantage causes people to work harder and fight to achieve their goals, often more successfully than a person like me who has not had to fight for too much in my life.

Also, if you think about many of the influential people in history, there was usually something "a little off" with them that arguably could be credited with their success and influence. The hardship of a disability can be turned into drive and motivation to fight for what they believe in and really make a change while many people are content with what they have and apathetic to the world around. And, while apathy is essential to our democratic system, we only need a certain amount.

In a nutshell: Individuality good

No Money, Mo Problems

A post to make up for that one I missed (oops):

Recently, thoughts of We crept into my head as the next diversion to keep me from getting a full night's sleep as seems to be routine these days. And, something struck me. I could not and still cannot recall an instant in We where there was any mention of money or currency. The only related icident I could remember was D-503 talking about how they were all given special unifs for the Day of Unanimitiy holiday/celebration/election, whatever you wish to call it. But again, he said they were all given the unifs, nothing about having to purchase them. Also, they all seem to live in identical buildings with identicle rooms, all made of glass. So, as we have all noted, it is the ideal realization of socialism, and the only motivating factor is to work for the benefit of the One State and the overall happiness of the population.

As far as Vas, there seems to be currency involved, but it makes me wonder about the nature of the classes, if they exist, in Flatland. Are vasectomies available to everyone, or only the middle and upper class, and are the lower classes even concerned with eugenics or simply survival?

Ok, so maybe I'm not saying anything groundbreaking or even remotely interesting for anyone, but to me it is a big realization because the whole time I was reading the book, I felt like it was a possible future for mankind, even if only slightly. But now, I realize that the One State is nearly impossible. I do not think there will ever be a society that operates without currency. Unfortunate in ways, but also fortunate as is the nature of the beast. I can only imagine how bad apathy and laziness would be if there were no money, but at the same time it would enable many people to do so many things they could not have previously if executed properly. Of course, all of this is incredibly hypothetical and when you throw human nature into the caldron, it will never work. And, as always, Socialism looks great on paper, so let's just leave it at that.

An argument for a failing grade

I may get in trouble for this, but did anyone else think it was funny that the most random thing that J. Jones could think to compare the story to was season six of American Idol? It was as if we all got a glimpse into his mind and there, staring back at us was... season six of American Idol.
But on to Vas. As far as I can tell, one goal of this book is to make readers think about eugenics in a different way. It seems that they first talk about the eugenics theories of the past in a grimy and barbaric sounding way, and then pepper in some examples of these theories in practice today, i.e. the Miss America Pageant. It certainly is a good way to bring these ideas to light. I find myself feeling quite disturbed while reading pieces of this book. It’s funny how there is a bit of a pro-life, anti science sense to this book. But on the same hand it seems to be written from a leftist point of view, which is by far and away pro-science and pro-choice.
Another Funny thing about the book. I told my girlfriend that I had to read 100 pages last evening and she was like “Jesus!!” And I had to be like , “No, it’s not that bad!”

The illusion of color

From VAS (271–272):

It’s sort of like whether or not you believe a flower changes color when you put out the lights. If by “color” you mean appearance (an artist’s conception), the answer is yes. If by “color” you mean chlorophyll (a biologist’s understanding), the answer is no.

shaded tile optical illusion

You might have seen this shaded gray squares illusion before. Squares A and B are the same shade of gray.

See more color illusions here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Juxtaposition and hypertext: Some additional readings

• “Rhetorical Models for non-printable discourse.” Describes models for non-linear texts; that is, texts that aren’t necessarily organized in a logical or rational fashion. While most of the examples refer to multimedia texts, the descriptions here might help you gain a little more understanding of what Tomasula and Farrell are up to.

• Defining Hypertext. Lists definitions for hypertext, a non-linear theory of textual organization.

• “As We May Think. Influential essay from 1945 that defined the “memex,” an early hypertext reading and filing machine.

Getting in tune with Vas

In class today we spoke about how Vas did not “make sense”. To me Vas is a piece of art. One of my favorite places to go is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. I love to stare at the paintings and to see what happens inside of me. I notice the feelings and thoughts I have as I give myself over to each painting. I notice any sensations I may feel in my body. I take in the colors, the motions, the patterns, the textures…and I allow the painting to speak to me and to speak through me. I have a similar experience as I read Vas. It is not just the text itself which is speaks to me, but the space in between the text which speaks to me. The dangling and patterned words, the symbols, the images…all make up the experience of Vas. In music there are notes and there are the rests in between the notes. The rests are just as important as the notes. The spaces in between the text are just as important as the text. As I read Vas I find there is a certain mindset or rhythm that I need to get into in order for Vas to “make sense.” It is the same mindset I put myself in as I gaze at an abstract painting. It is in this space that I “get in tune" with Vas.

VAS-related readings

One of the great things about VAS is the way it encourages associative thinking. So, in honor of Tomasula and Farrell’s associative method, here are some texts that our last reading brought to mind:

• Malcolm Gladwell on the fallacies of IQ testing: “If what I.Q. tests measure is immutable and innate, what explains the Flynn effect—the steady rise in scores across generations?”

• A review of Stephen Wolfram’s attempt to displace mathematics as the foundation of all sciences


A Pedestrian Story

For some reason I was immediately drawn to this small snippet of the story. I actually enjoyed it more the second time, re-reading it without the semi-random filler pages in between. As a quick reminder for those who are curious, the Pedestrian Story runs from pages 149 – 159 and recounts Square’s journey from leaving the world of drivers and becoming a pedestrian full-time, or at least that how it seems.

I guess what drew me to the story was that it made me think about the way I see the world. Here in 2008, it seems like the world only has one speed – very fast. Rarely do people, especially students, take the time to slow down and see things differently. At one point in the story, Square climbs the stairs to the top of a sky scraper and looks down on the world he is a part of and it put things in a different light for him and helps him to understand this new aspect of his life. When he first started his new pedestrian lifestyle he was constantly shoved and bumped around by random people on sidewalk. We all seem to struggle when we first try new things, but as he developed as a walker he began to mesh with the masses and discovered a new way to do things.

I’m not sure I’m making much of a point but I just really enjoyed the idea of changing the pace and state of one’s life and being able to view things in a different way, which I think what was meant by the phrase, “he reflected upon his new life, and the fact that what he had once understood to be the world, had only been a world of drivers (p. 157).” During this story, Square discovers a few things about himself and his life, and it makes me wonder what I’ve missed out on by being a “driver” the past few years of my life.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

squares cro-mag body

i feel like a jerk for posting this late, i forget on fridays because i get so excited that it's finally the weekend.

i want to talk about square being cro-mag. page 180: "his own cro-mag face masking a brain that remembered what it had been to be neanderthal." cro-mags didn't survive. square is freaking out because he thinks his 'own kind' won't survive. his family name will end when he dies. he doesn't have anyone to carry on his name. what if oval gets married and changes her name? i remember hearing something about men needing to spread their seed, it's their natural instinct. he has to snip his vessels that provide these seeds.

this leads into squares feelings about his body. page 181: "all he wanted: for someone to acknowledge that it was okay to feel like you owed your body a fond farewell." i think the 'someone' in this sentence is circle. square understands why she wants him to get a vasectomy, but perhaps he needs her to understand why he doesn't want to. she might think he's just being stubborn and immature (i think you'd be hard-pressed to find a dude who would jump at the opportunity to get this procedure done) but she might not be taking the time to truly understand what's going on in his mind. i don't think she's in the wrong for this, she's just trying to take care of herself and her body. her baby-having days might be over, but it doesn't seem as though square's baby-making days are anywhere near their end.

on 179: "What would she see looking at her child with its five parents, four of whom would be unknown to her?" this is the part where his imagination is running wild and oval is picking out traits for the child she wants. so maybe squares also freaking out about the extinction of a tradition that is a huge part of our lives-baby production. he's starting to think that his body will be useless no matter what because soon enough, women won't even want to have sex with men to make babies, they'll just pick and choose what they want from a catalog.

basically, i think he's just freaking out, which is completely understandable. circle isn't giving him enough attention and she's not being very sympathetic, but she's got a lot of stuff going on too. it'll be interesting to see how the rest of the story plays out.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ugly people shouldn't reproduce.

Throughout much of the reading for this week, VAS covers the idea of specific genetic reproduction, only certain people should be able to procreate. It talks about how homeless, alcoholics, prostitutes, criminals, antisocial, and those with other "hereditary diseases", should be "snipped in the bud". (122) Along with this Herman Muller, geneticist and 1962 Nobel Laureate said:

"Probably close to 20 percent of the population. . . have inherited a genetic defect. . .To avoid genetic degeneration, then, that 20 percent should not be allowed to reach sexual maturity."(119)

However, when two people have a kid, isn't there always a heterogeneous trait?

I'm going to use my niece as an example. She has blond hair and blue eyes. My sister and her husband are both Hispanic, with brown hair and eyes. Now either the milkman played a role, or it was this heterogeneous trait.; probably the latter. Point being, even if two perfectly normal people had a child, isn't there still the chance the child will have a genetic defect?

And another thing that caught my eye. I was really shocked to find out that not only Muller, but other noble laureates, and even Mensa advocated the extermination of the genetically inferior. I figured since these were the smartest people in the world, they would be able to come up with better solution, because the idea they pose seems a bit barbaric.


The flatland society in Vas is very similar to that in the 1997 film, GATTACA. In the film, designer babies are the norm, and Vincent, the last remaining naturally born child, sees himself at a disadvantage. He has no chance at his dream career or love. A new form of discrimination has arisen: genetic discrimination. The people are very similar, all beautiful, intelligent and healthy.

Genetic engineering has obviously not taken over as much in Square’s world as it has in Vincent’s , but it is still a part of his life. Square speaks of designer children as not out of the ordinary, though perhaps not something he wants for his own family. However, he and Circle had no problem aborting their imperfect fetus, something that is ethically questionable in our society and in the flatland that Mother grew up in.

Mother would never morally agree with the genetic engineering that goes on just before her death. She constantly reminisces about life when she was younger and how much better and simpler is was. I believe the society of Mother’s youth is very similar to our contemporary society which makes me wonder what life will be like when we’re 70 plus. Will the designer children of GATTACA be soon to come?

Mollusks and Mensa

The British Mensa was founded in 1946 by a lawyer and a scientist. It isn’t surprising that this “high society” was initiated by affluent intellectuals. The main objectives were and are to “to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity, to encourage research in the nature, characteristics, and uses of intelligence, and to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members.” Those who wish to join must take a Mensa IQ test and must be in the top 2% of the population. An example of a Mensa puzzle questions is:

What is the connection between the following words?


I won’t give the answer away, but in any case, it seems like an odd way to calculate and justify mental superiority. One of the original goals was to eliminate distinctions made from political, racial, or religious affiliation. Does one have more control over mental capability than race?

Much of the Mensa thinks that it is beneficial to society to kill off the shell-less mollusks or “sufficiently unhealthy or subnormal infants.” The parallel between the behavior of mollusks and the cost-benefit analysis of how society treats its most vulnerable members is interesting. The Mensa obviously does not share the Puritan view that a society is as strong as its weakest link. I haven’t quite figured out why the author mentions mollusks living in the shells of dead mollusks. Anyone?

The Land of 1001 Salad Dressings

It is pretty disturbing when you think about it. You don't want to believe it. You can't believe it. To think that the United States has engaged in genetic cleansing for nearly a century would be absurd...right? Wrong!

The Lynchburg Colony for the Epileptic and Feebleminded was founded in Lynchburg, Virginia in 1927. Over the course of nearly 50 years roughly 8,000 men and women were sterilized because they were deemed "unfit" to reproduce. The majority of these men and women weren't feebleminded but were poor, white, uneducated and viewed as a threat to the betterment of the human race. The theory behind the sterilizations was that these less than desirable traits were hereditary and could be weeded out if appropriate measures were taken place. What's really sad about this case is these sterilizations were performed without informed consent...yet a sterilization law that supported this was declared constitutional in the case of Buck v. Bell in 1927.

Shockingly, this law became the basis of Hitler's eugenics program in Nazi Germany...which eventually led to the Holocaust. Although eugenics is deeply rooted in Darwin's view of "survival of the fittest", these actions seem to manipulate this to such an extent that social worth takes precedence over individual rights. Who are we to determine one's social worth?

The parallels between Vas and The Lynchburg Colony really make me wonder about how Square's decision will be resolved. Luckily, he knows about the consequences of getting his own "sterilization" and what might result from it.

It's purely coincidental that my sociology class is covering the eugenics movement right now but I think it really helps but Vas into perspective. Being forced to lose your ability to reproduce is not something that can be taken with ease. The Lynchburg Colony case was a definite low point in the history of the United States but it could be a precursor as to what might happen in the not to distant future as technology continues to improve.

Dynamics in Diction

In class on Tuesday, we discussed the possible motives of the author and designer to include the musical graphics throughout the novel. I find it interesting that on pages 165, 168, 171, 173, and 175 the dynamics (found on either the top right or top left of the pages) intensify with the story. There is a ppp on the page where the anatomy of the human corpse is being described as square is performing an autopsy. This passage describes humans through their most common, physical components: muscle, bone, flesh, meat. Then he begins talking about the evolution of the Cro-Mags and Neanderthals and how their interactions turn violent. In one specific account, the Neanderthals throw rocks and act as beasts to try to frighten the dominant and more intelligent Cro-Mags. The violence escalates, and the dynamics, which are fff in this section, reflect the action and conflict of the episode.

One of the innovative qualities of this book is the integration of graphics into the pages. They become part of the story, appealing to the visual, aesthetic quality of the reading experience. Adding the musical notes, and especially dynamics, is perhaps an attempt to tap into the auditory sense. The story that comes to life in our minds as we read is enhanced by the graphics, and these visual elements further extend the interpretation, alluding to a melody or a level of noise. The author and designer are very brave, but I am not entirely convinced that these added elements enhance the experience rather than just distract from the story. It seems as though a lot of people have been commenting on the latter effect. Maybe this is just a style that takes reading the entire book to get used too. It is definitely a new way of reading, and although I rather enjoy the challenge, I haven't had much success trying to decipher the rather cryptic illustrations.

Interesting + Bizarre = VAS

From, Mensa's mission is to:
1. "to identify and foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity;"
2. "to encourage research into the nature, characteristics, and uses of intelligence;"
3. "and to provide a stimulating intellectual and social environment for its members."

After reading what Mensa is about, I grew to have a positive attitude towards this organization. It supports people who have high IQ's. It's a society which would have similar ideals to magnet schools, gifted student programs, and the like. And those institutions are very normal and a part of American and European society. They're for the smart kids...

The book, VAS, points out something criminal about Mensa members. British Mensa members, being so intelligent, are asked how to improve society (129). In 1962, 47% of them say it's a good idea to kill "sufficiently unhealthy or subnormal infants"(130). Further, in 1994, Mensa members want to get rid of "homeless, retarded and elderly" (130). How absurd is that?

So now I'm confused. If people this intelligent can think such evil things, where is society headed? I'm coming to really dislike this idea of eugenics because it says if you're not one of the smart ones you should be "dead" (sterilized).

How do Square and Circle fit in? Is he stupid and insignificant in society, as seen by Circle? Or is it another matter altogether?

Wrapped Up in Plastic... Surgery

Angolina Jolie's lips or Katy Holmes' nose? Brad Pitt's cheeks or Justin Timberlake's eyebrows? Tough decisions like these are made all of the time in waiting rooms of plastic surgeons. We keep seeing more and more people that have the desire to get plastic surgery. Shows like "Doctor 90210" and "Nip Tuck" are becoming increasingly popular.
Don't all of these modifications to the body seem so pointless, when in the long run the boobs will eventually sag, the chin will eventually wrinkle, and the body will eventually die?
In VAS, eugenics is a recurring theme. It is the idea that improving the gene pool will improve the future for the human race. Less genetic defects, less undesirable traits, less inherited health issues.
Like plastic surgery, eugenics looks to alter what nature has put forth. It is about making modifications to a body. In the case of eugenics, the body is the human race as a whole.
Similar to the way the human body dies, the human race will eventually die off. And like plastic surgery, eugenics seems pointless.
Besides, to be perfect seems unhuman. Who wants to live in a world of Barbies and Kens. Everything "perfect", everything unoriginal, everything engineered, everything wrapped in plastic.
Many times, the most enjoyable things in life are the unexpected and imperfect things. Like a cool rain in the summer.

picture words

In the recent reading the images interspersed between the pages seem to be more disconnected with text. I have yet to decide what importance to give to these images, whether they represent the idiosyncratic mind of the author(s) or Square. The scalpels on page 163 surely display a focus of Square’s, but the protractor seems out of place. The image on the adjacent page is more or less unintelligible to an untrained eye. Does this mean Square understands these sketches and thinks symbolically through these images? Or are they a symbol of his confusion and inability to articulate his thoughts and emotions?

A Mollusk Named Eugene

I must agree with the post before me that following the logical progression of this book is seemingly impossible. I mean, I know our minds jump from thought to thought, but if we are reading Square's thoughts, how does he hold all of these statistics of cultures and languages and different species? The only explanation I can think of is that he is doing research for his story and as he is reading all of this information his mind naturally wanders as most do after a while of staring at endless charts and graphs of numbers and figures, his eyes eventually glazing over.

Of course, I can only speculate what he is writing about, though I would guess it is a blend of fiction and non-fiction, similar to Vas about mutation being characteristic of all life forms, a tool of the universe to keep the endless cycles running relatively smoothly. I could be way off, of course. We see many examples of languages mutating and even dying off, like species. They are compared rather well to Darwin's survival of the fittest through clues and direct statements in the text. Also, we see plentiful discussion of the evolution of apes into men and the like.

I found particularly interesting the mutation of the word ape into man, through eight generations as though it somehow relates to the actual evolution, which would be impossible though because it is a mutation of a language we created. Evolution has largely been out of the control of humans, until recently at least with mandatory sterilizations. Also, the discussion of homosexual behavior observed in 437 species caught my eye as it seemed rather unrelated to the rest of the more than 55 pages of seemingly nonsensical rambling. Perhaps that fact was only included to prove the superiority of mollusks as they do not exhibit homosexual behavior, and thus explain the love affair we see with mollusks and Square (or whoever it isthinking what we read).

As always, not sure if this made a whole lot of sense. This time I do have an explanation though, as I was busy and my blog was posted by typing monkeys.

Train Wreck of Thoughts

So I think I should start writing my posts earlier because there's always someone else that writes about what I wanted to write about and always does it first. But anyway... here we go. We can call it WTF part II.

So I'm also extremely confused with the book. At first I thought it was really interesting how we have the storyline intertwined with scientific facts or anecdotes about our species or other species. But now I'm getting kind of irritated with how the side notes don't seem to make sense half the time. For example, what do all these Hitler quotes have to do with the story? They try to tie it in by putting words like "goose-stepping formations" (p. 117) in the storyline, but they use it to describe Circle's attitude towards an abortion rally. I just really don't understand the correlation between the two. I feel like the book is reaching to make these connections but they seem so contrived.

I think the genetic engineering part is a little more sound. For instance when they start talking about cleansing the gene pool (even though this is a very Nazi - supremacist point of view) it does tie into the fact that abortions are now common legal procedures and that we are giving people the legal choice to decide who gets to live and who doesn't even get to be born based on their own judgment. So I guess it does show how abortion in some ways is a supremacist point of view. (Just to make it clear, I'm pro-choice... I'm just trying to make sense out of the book.)

The language... I don't get this relationship at all. It would be great if someone could guide me in the general direction as to where these things are going, because I'm just missing the boat. But what does the language thing have to do with anything? For example they say 95% of languages that have at one point started have disappeared... not that that isn't interesting, because it is, but I'm just reading this book by reading the story line as one set, and then the interesting facts as a separate completely disjoint set. Some of you seem to find meaning in how the two are related... a little help?

So the last thing I would like to mention is the salad dressing. I really like the salad dressing theme. I guess I like it because when I first moved here I had that exact sensation. I went to a grocery store with my parents and we were going to buy toilet paper, and I remember distinctly thinking it would take us forever to figure out which one to get. There were SO many options and it seemed overwhelming. But I agree with the idea that is partly the essence of America.

no joke WTF?? i want to know

I have been wondering this for a long time, and i hope that i am not the only one, but where exactly do the random parts of the book come from. These parts just appear in between major events and the actual story itself and just disrupts my whole pattern of reading. I can't help but be confused when there is a transition from a parade scene to deformed mollusks. Obviously the mollusks were being compared to people, but why is that part even there. It goes from a nice little story about a scythe wielding crazy and a candy chunking mob into a hardly connected ramblings on genetics and the rights of mollusks.
I know one of the big parts of this book is the whole "stream of consciousness" thing, but who's stream are we following. Is it of one of the authors just trying to fill up space in the book? Or is it used to show different parts and pieces of flatland that wouldn't fit easily or interestingly into the story? Or is it Square who is thinking all of these things? is he often lost in his own mind pretending to be thinking about his book ( or really thinking about the book) and we just get to see a conglomeration of his thoughts? Personally that is what i think. i believe these interruptions are just Square's thoughts about things. They are in places in some way connected to what he had been saying in his little side notes during the actual story. like on page 112, the side bar comments on how the language of the bankers is more important than the messages of previous civilizations. this correlates to the discussion of the randomness about the dying of languages.
Does that sound right at all??

PS if this sounds rushed or doesn't make sense it is because i have to run off to work and don't really have time to proof read. Sorry

George Washington

"...No man appreciated family stock values more highly than did George Washington. This is exemplified by his prizing and utilizing superior seeds and plant stock for his fields and orchards and by his acquiring and increasing the best bred livestock which he could secure in America and Europe. He valued in his fellow men the qualities of fortitude, honesty, courage, common sense, good business ability, initiative, faith, sacrifice, patriotism, love of nature, the manly sport of physical prowess and skill, and elegant living -- in short character and intelligence. These qualities come basically from sound and superior human stocks, -- regardless of present fortunes. These are the inborn traits upon which education and opportunity must build in order to make elective(?) men. Eugenics is concerned with the increase of such inborn capacities in the family stocks of future generations." (page 111)
I'm not sure exactly where or what time period this came from, but I find it interesting that these are the traits seen as "superior". It is absurd. I mean "prizing and utilizing superior seeds and plant stock" and "increasing the best bred livestock he could secure in America and Europe"? These things don't exactly require much skill or higher level thinking. Also, just because someone has good genes does not mean they are honest, courageous, faithful, patriotic, love nature, etc. The whole paragraph talks about how George Washington has such great genes but what kind of patriot was he? He led a freaking revolution against his own country -- not exactly the most patriotic thing you can do. Most of the things that are valued in any culture can be taught and modeled. If one person can learn to do something, anybody can learn to do it. This is why the whole idea of eugenics is so ridiculous. I mean to stop people from breeding just because they're poor? They're poor because no one ever taught them the values and beliefs it takes to be rich.

The Perfect Gene

Vas presents a question to modern day society as to given the choice whether or not we would choose to genetically engineer our children. Parents always claim to want what’s best for their children but to what extent? I try to imagine a world where all children don’t have physical or mental imperfections, where everyone makes straight A’s, so that life would be easier for the children. The problem with this is that there would still be competition. There would still be one sports team that beat all of the other sports teams. There would still be someone picked last in sides. There would still be kids who get picked on, and someone who makes the best grades. What problems then would have been solved by engineering genetics?

Another obvious problem as was mentioned in blogs about We would be the creation of a stagnant society. If everyone is generally the same generally happy there would be no progression. The concept of brainstorming requires a group to think up different ideas and to play off other ideas to find the best idea. If everyone is thinking about the same there wouldn't be the diversity, the key ingredient, to coming up with good ideas. Also advances in society generally stem from some type of problem or disadvantage in society, and without these in existence, society would not progress.

One could argue also that society needs people to do construction and clean the streets and work the drive through at McDonalds. If everyone is one the same level no one would want to do these jobs. All in all it seems apparent that society needs diversity. It sounds weird to say but society needs genetically handicap people as much as it needs “perfect people”.