Myth of the “Ultimate Warrior”

Hey there every peoples!

Ok, it’s time for another rant. But I swear that this is the last one for a while. It’s that recently there’s been a bunch of stuff rubbing me the wrong way. It looks like things have settled down, so after this we will return to your regularly schedule program.

Last week History Channel aired a two hour program called “Samurai” in which one guy traveled to Japan to “find the ultimate warrior”. Now if you’re a warrior junkie like me you have surely heard people refer to samurai as the “ultimate warriors”. This program was no different. It talked about samurai here and there but mostly it sounded like a dry biography of Miomoto Musashi interspersed with Kill Bill style animations. Then at the end the host declared Musashi the “ultimate warrior”. Needless to say it was an easily forgettable program.

I find the notion of an “ultimate warrior” asinine. And what’s more, the warriors often declared to be the greatest always come from Japan (samurai and ninja). If the notion of an “ultimate warrior” wasn’t laughable enough, I find it even more so when the warrior crowned with such a title is a warrior from an isolationist island nation who mostly fought themselves and few outside cultures.

When it comes to warriors, they must be viewed in their context. Warriors are specific and unique to their time and place. Sure it’s easy to think of many as inferior when compared to other cultures, but look at them in their proper setting. Take the Maori (the native people of New Zealand) for example. In the Deadliest Warrior forums (the show’s premise is outlandish, but I like watching them use the weapons and it’s also fun to watch all the idiots this show attracts) people were really harsh towards the Maori because he lost to a Shaolin Monk wielding steel weapons, compared to the Maoris’ wood, stone, and bone weapons. In fact, many were calling the Maori the worst warrior of the season’s line up. Again, he may seem inferior compared to the knight or the Spartan, but look at where he comes from. His weapons and fighting style were ideal for where he lived, where he fought other Maori. He had to make due with what he had and he made it work. In my opinion the Maori had some of the coolest weapons of the season!

Now if context is vital to gauging a warrior’s true prowess, why are samurai (and to an equal extent ninjas) regarded as the greatest? The simple answer is: I have no freaking idea. I have attempted to read and watch stuff on samurai in order to find out why people put them up on pedestals and time and time again I can’t see why. All I hear is senseless fawning over how great they are. They don’t sound like the”ultimate warrior” to me. For one reason, look at who they fought. Samurai fought mostly other samurai and ninjas; how can you be the “ultimate warrior” when you only fight your own people. Sure samurai fought against Mongols and Koreans, but how much does that demonstrate their battle prowess? Not very much, it turns out. When the Mongols launched their first invasion of Japan, the samurai got their asses handed to them. Before the Mongols invaded, samurai combat was all about personal glory and consisted of a series of duals. So when the Mongols showed up, the samurai expected to have a bunch of one-on-one fights. But this kind of fighting was unknown to the Mongols and they crushed the samurai. But then the samurai got lucky when the Mongols ships were smashed by a typhoon.

If samurai were truly the “ultimate warrior” they would have been able to fight back the invaders. But they didn’t. They were saved by a nasty storm. That’s because Japanese warriors spent most of their history fighting each other. The “ultimate warrior” would be expected to defeat a whole range of different warriors. But that almost never happened. Why? It is because warriors can only fight those around them. They can only fight those who they mean to attack or are trying to fight off. This often led to greatly different warriors clashing head to head and they were either defeated or learned how to fight back. But the truth is that there are too many different kinds of warriors across history, each with their own unique weapons, armor and fighting styles, to decide which one is the “ultimate warrior”. This is why I simple shook my head and laughed when the host of “Samurai” called Musashi the “ultimate warrior”. Musashi, to the extent of my knowledge, fought in only one major battle, and then spent the rest of his life as a duelist. Sure, he never lost and only once fought to a draw, but he was fighting other duelists. How does that make him the “ultimate warrior”? It doesn’t. To be the “ultimate warrior” he would have to have fought and defeated just about every other warrior out there. And we all know that never could have happed because of gaps in time, geography, and technology.

So as you can see, the idea of the “ultimate warrior” is a hollow and foolish concept. There seems to be no rational criteria for judging the “ultimate warrior” because it means taking the warriors out of their context. Take them out of their time and place and all bets are off. You’re in murky waters then. Unlike most other people I’ve encountered, I find all warriors fascinating and honorable. They fought and died all the same and saying “well this warrior would win against that warrior” doesn’t change that. Looking down on a weapon you think is inferior doesn’t change the fact that people still died at its point. Each warrior lived, fought, and died for their reasons with whatever materials were at hand. To call one “the ultimate warrior” over all others in an insult to every other warrior who fought bravely in the face of death.

If you’ve made it this far then thanks for sticking with me. This will be the last of my irrelevant ramblings for now. So here’s what’s coming up next: a trip into the desert to visit an ice age lake plus a look at a far flung dinosaur.

Till next time!

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Local Geology: Estero Bluff

Hey there every peoples!

Sorry for being a little off topic lately (and will be again very very soon) but I promise I will keep things relevant. So here’s some geology. Last week my Geology class went on its first field trip. Mr. Grover took us to a piece of land up in north county, north of the town of Cayucos. It’s a place called Estero Bluff, and while it has a very nice beach, it sports some interesting geology (I may be a little spotty; I tried to remember as much as I can).

Mr. Grover ain’t lying when he says we have such wonderful geology in this area. He demonstrated this by bringing us to Estero Bluff. He brought us here because Estero Bluff demonstrates many geological processes. For example, notice the terrain:

Estero Bluff

It’s a flat open terrace. But sitting on the terrace is this hill:

A hill sticking out like a sore thumb on the Continetal Terrace

So how did this happen? It’s a combination of things. The first is a change of sea level. Sea levels have changed so much throughout the earth’s history. It rises and drops with the growth and waning of glaciers and other factors. But a drop in sea level doesn’t explain the terrace alone (as we’ll later see, uplift also had a hand in it). Erosion is always at work, whether we see it or not. And what went on here at the bluff was a process called differential erosion. Everything erodes at different rates for various reasons and in the case of Estero Bluff, it’s the hardness of the rock. The hill here is made up of layers of chert:

Layers of chert that make up the hill

When you have a blob of chert in a site that’s mainly made of soft soil, the soil will erode away while the chert stays relatively intact since it’s much harder. And that’s how that’s how this hill came to stick out of a flat terrace.

Now, the other reason for the terrace is uplift. Did you notice the chert layers were at a slant? That is due to the process of geological uplift. This is where the earth pushes up (that’s often how mountains are formed). And Estero Bluff is unique because it sits on the edge of two continental plates. Currently the Pacific Plate is being subducted (pushed under) the North American Plate. And this subduction has caused the layers of the earth here to scrunch up and tilt on their sides. It’s wholly possible that the chert layers could be vertical in a few million years.

This uplift is the reason why Estero Bluff is unique. It represents an Ophiolite, which Wikipedia describes as “a section of the Earth’s oceanic crust and the underlying upper mantle that has been uplifted or emplaced to be exposed within continental crustal rock.” The chert represents old ocean sediments. It rests near the top of the Ophiolite because it was among the top layers when the crust began to scrunch up. Usually below sea floor layers we get basalt lava with what are known as “pillow” structures:

Pillow lava basalts (not the best example though)

Pillow lava is formed under water, but they will get their own post eventually. Estero Bluff illustrates the top of the Ophiolite in this pocket beach, where we can see the layers of basalt, chert, and younger conglomerates:

Mr. Grover expalining the different layers

Finally, Estero Bluff has one last goody for us:

A bluse schist enjoying the California sun

It’s called schist. It’s a form of metamorphic rock formed from basalt. It is formed at high pressure but low temperatures. Generally it cooks at temperatures of 200-500 degrees Celsius at depths of 15 to 30 kilometers. So how did it get here? Let’s review: Estero Bluff exhibits layers of rock uplifted from the crust and upper mantle and schist is formed from basalt. I think what happened is some of those pillow lavas got sucked down into the subduction zone and formed schist. Then through uplifting they were brought to the surface, where they came to rest on the beach and get polished by the ocean.

Whoa man, that was a mouthful! How’d I do? Because I’m better with paleontology than geology. Anyway, I might feel another rant coming on, but after that, back to the good stuff.

Till next time!

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Hey there every peoples!

I just wanted to take a moment to tell you all that my quasi-girlfriend (it’s complicated) has her own corner of the interwebs now: Orca Press It’s a blog about orcas in captivity. Now let me tell you that this gal knows her stuff! You show her a picture of any orca in captivity, and she can tell you which one it is. So anyway, i just wanted to run that by you all. Stay tuned for next week when i blog about some geology up north.

Till next time!

They’re Just Movies…

(Before you read, let it be known that this is simply my opinion. Let it also be known that I suck at debating but feel the need to vent. Meh)

Hey there every peoples!

Good god, it’s only been 3 posts and we are already at one of those rants mentioned in the header!  As you may or may not know, the Academy Awards were this weekend. Yeah I watched them but not for the awards (like the girlfriend, I watch it for the stuff in-between). The awards, in my opinion, are meaningless and irrelevant. When it comes to movies, there aren’t any facts, just opinions. Everyone has their own opinions about what constitutes a good movie. I’ve heard people say Casablanca sucked and others say that The Thing was the best movie ever. It’s all opinion. So naturally I would disregard an event in which a bunch of self-proclaimed “experts” get together and decide what movies were good (best picture is the biggest farce of it all. There can’t be a single “best picture”. Everything has its gems and its flaws. There are no exceptions).

Movies are great, but we have to remember that they are just movies. They are made for our entertainment. So I don’t get why people get so worked up over them. I have seen movies spark some of the greatest flights of idiocy in people. Avatar is a wonderful, recent example. I have never seen a movie so popular and yet so hated (or maybe internet forums just have a way of attracting people like that). One thing that I have seen people get worked up over is the plausibility of it all. They gripe about how human-like the Na’vi are and other such stuff. So? It’s a movie! Does it really have to conform 100% to reality? Last I checked, the title of the genre was science fiction! It seems like that while creationists are trying to inject fiction into science, these people are trying to inject science into fiction.

And another thing that grinds my gears is when people think less of others because of their taste in movies. I mean really, you can’t think of anything better in which to gauge someone’s character? I say if you are really going to stand there and judge me based on my taste in movies, then I say you are a pompous ass with delusions of intellectual ascension!

Till next time!

A Paleo Art Gallery?

Hey there every peoples!

Now if you’ve read my “Grand Vision” page you’ll know that I have a pretty grandiose dream for the future. I am always thinking up new ideas, no matter how implausible. My mind just comes up with stuff, usually influenced by something I recently read and, as in this case, where I have been.

This weekend I visited my sister in Pasadena (she just moved back from Virginia). We went to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens in San Marino. The place is very expansive, with exquisite gardens recreating different environments. My favorite was the jungle garden, which felt like the real thing; it felt more realistic given the rainy weather:

The Jungle Garden at the Huntington Library

The place also has a couple buildings full of art. They are very big! We spent an hour and a half in the European art house and didn’t see everything! Now I’m not much for art, but even this place managed to keep me busy. The most time I spent in one area was the Thornton Gallery, which is where this post’s topic comes from. The Thornton Gallery is a large space featuring 17th-18th century portraits and busts. It features hardwood floors and a glass ceiling, seamlessly blending old style galleries with modern flare:

The Thornton Gallery (from Flickr user penn2009)

I sat there on the bench thinking about not the art on display but the space it occupied. My mind was abuzz with what this gallery could be like in a paleontological context (as that’s how my mind works). As usual it started with skeletons down the center with individual fossils on the pedestals. But this thought quickly faded as that would look just like the fossil hall at the natural history museum in Paris. And then something else popped in there: paleo art…

Paleo art mixes science with art. It is an exercise in informed speculation and serves to bring lost worlds to life. Paleo art is greatly different than other art in the respect that paleo artists (at least to the extent of my knowledge) occupy a niche market. They are usually hired by museums to do murals or for artwork in publications such as books and magazines. But I thought about what a gallery like the Thornton would be like with paleo art. And suddenly I could see that vision with clarity. The walls are lined with beautifully painted portraits. But instead of European nobility, the frames are occupied by mighty dinosaurs and noble mammals. Between the portraits, pedestals are topped not by plaster busts but by bronze statues of beasts long gone.

Paleo art, for the most part, seems to be about creating murals that try to cram as many species into it as possible. Other times they depict dynamic interactions between different animals. Hardly do we see portraits of individuals like those in the Thornton Gallery. The closest I can think of coming to that is the work of Charles R. Knight. Perhaps this new fangled gallery could display some of his portraits.

So why not a gallery of paleo art in the manner of the Thornton? It does seem like a weird idea. But think about it. Close your eyes and envision a gallery like the Thornton with old style paintings of Albertosaurus, Smilodon, Brachiosaurus, and others. Wander over to the edge and gaze upon bronze statues of Amebelodon and Pachyrhinosaurus atop alabaster pedestals. Wouldn’t that be a unique and interesting exhibit? Would it not add a splash of life and culture to the usual bones and skeletons? I think so. If I ever erect that museum, I may try to include such a gallery, stocked with some of the finest paleo portraits out there. Who knows, I may even commission a few pieces for it. But for now, it remains a dream, a fleeting specter occupying a tiny corner of the vast marketplace of ideas.

Till next time.