So good, so good.
I have a lot to say on this, I might come back to it later, I'm not sure. On the "surface" level, it's an entertaining, clever story that is continually working to keep the audience entertained - something I find lacking in so many good movies, which demand one approach them as they are (think 2001 A Space Odyssey) they stretch out scenes and abuse audience patience because that's somehow artistic. Now, in the case of 2001, that can be a good thing, but in the case of so many bad imitators, who don't have the brilliance with which to punctuate patience Kubrick does, it can be terrible and boring. Walle doesn't have that problem at all. and, if anything has the opposite problem - except not, because it does make you deal with what's really there.
I was constantly pleasantly surprised by the intermittent violence of the script - from squished emotive bugs to a spaceship takeoff and landing which seems almost terrible in its thunder and smoke - one of the best representations of rocketry in a kid's movie, which would seem almost constantly and horribly violent if the characters were only slightly more human-like. Pixar, come of think of it, always seems to carefully, thoughtfully, run that line between just enough violence and too much, and much of that seems to depend upon the human-ness of the characters. They wern't afraid to pull arms off in Toy Story, but in Monsters Inc, where the the characters seem like they would bleed, they instead suck screams out of little girls. Here, with the characters as robots, they engage in a violent slapstick worthy of Kung Fu Hustle.
Which brings me to another point - Pixar, to my personal fascination, seems to be moving farther and farther away from things directly human. They started with Toy Story, with two rather human characters, adding in a bit of Mr. Potato Head and company. They then overstepped themselves with A Bug's Life (in this writer's opinion) jumping too far into the deep end. If you doubt this, watch Bug's Life with a careful eye for whether or not the faces can emote - and watch how many close-ups the director feels he can indulge in, then compare that to Toy Story, Nemo, or Walle. Toy Story 2 brought them back on track, added more verbal repartee and referentialism, and Monster's inc made things a fair bit less human - with two humanoid leads, and a little girl for safety. Finding Nemo moved further from humanity, the faces weird and elongated, but brilliantly emotive all the same. The Incredibles could be treated as a step back to the human (and may have given them a return to the grounding to proceed) or may be seen as a step forward. In many ways, I would say fish could be easier to emote than super-humans and super-villains, with all their cartoon fix and cliche nature. In terms of humanity, there might be a good argument that superheroes are not humans with extra abilities, but almost the opposite of humans in a deep way - they are not vunerable where most humans feel vunerable - of course, the Incredibles (as with Nemo, and all the rest for that matter) made us feel the characters were vunerable in the way most humans feel vunerable - in relationships. Cars may have overstepped the bounds again (too far into machines) but still, a step forward. Ratatouille took things farther into the animal side, and did well, but not wonderfully, and now, with Walle, they have managed to create a character that emotes partially through a face without really having a face - no mouth, so important to so many former Pixar characters, but the great thing about Walle is the way he emotes with his whole body - much like a robot variant on Chaplin's tramp, with the same pretensions, the same imitations of "high life" and hat-tricks. Walle's silence, of course, also reminds of Chaplin.
Other things to watch for:
Heavy 2001 references.
Heavy sexual/pregnancy references (Eva being wheeled into the ship, strapped to the cart, with the plant growing in her "womb")
The almost Freudian nature (also very 2001) of the story.
Heavy religious influences - there's the obvious Adam and Eve/ Walle and Eva parallelism, (I believe the last shot of the credit sequence is a direct reference to a painting (Sorel? A Mixture?) of Adam and Eve before the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil, but I need to find it.) Also, in this sense, Walle is a Adam which is also a sacrificial Christ - a blending of the two myths, with a good return-to-earth-as-resurrection myth (seed myth, perhaps?)
In any case, fully worth watching, and quite thought provoking.
I just watched the documentary “F**K” (or F*ck) and I was surprised at how even-handed it was, especially for something that seemed quietly for the use of the word. It gave just about equal time to each side, and while certainly not presenting either side’s very rational or empirical arguments (probably because they don’t have any) it was an interesting film. I recommend watching it – for the strong of ear.
Swearing is an interesting thing, and I would like to comment on one point – a lot of the rational for censorship I’ve heard from the right wing, certainly a lot from the other side is that swearing degrades our culture. Whether that is true or not, I don’t think one can make an argument that any culture was un-degraded, or kept from degradation by a large part of its population making sure people who use swear words are fined or imprisoned for it.
I think we are more defined by how much debate is struck up over these issues than by the issues themselves: do we really want to spend this much time and this much money debating some people’s use of a word? Aren’t there better things we can do with our time? What sort of wonderful, art-filled culture do the censors live in, that they want to preserve it, rather than advancing culture. It’s like the debate over Evolution – Ken Miller, P.Z. Meyers and Richard Dawkins have all said at one point or another that what the Intelligent Design people need to do is research and experimentation, and I think that’s fair – neither evolutionism nor intelligent design should be regarded as in such a wonderful place that more work, more research is not needed, and that’s really what the energy should go to – likewise, neither those who swear nor those who want to imprison those who do are in a right place, so long as they are not working to advance a culture, which is not advanced or degraded by its use of words, but by how hard it works to create a valuable, strong, and flexible culture.
But then again, maybe I’m wrong. Who knows. I need to do more research….
Some time ago, I traveled in one of those little countries where government, being too weak to restrict the local gangs, was also too weak for politics to be a career choice of warlords. This lack of power, however, allowed the local government to retain some democracy. The elected leader was loved by the people, and they had great hope in him. He was friends with western powers, and managed to keep some semblance of order without seeming tyrannical. This was uninteresting to the normal reporters, and so the country of which I speak was generally ignored in the news. It is surprising, when one looks at a map, to find so many places so rarely in the news, perhaps it is even hopeful.
In any case, one day, the president of that nation displayed himself before his people, as presidents so often do. He clothed himself as best as he could with all the best histories of democracy, with all its hope and faith. Which is to say, he went out before the crowd naked, like that fictitious emperor of a bad fable. Of course, all the people believed he was clothed. They hoped he was clothed, in power and ability. They hoped he was clothed in the power to make things better, and without enough power to make things worse.
A child, somewhere in the crowd, laughed, as children do. Her mother hushed her, as mothers do. “But Mommy," the child said, "the president is naked!” The crowd turned on the child with such fierce looks and disapproved so loudly that the child, wisely, never spoke of the nakedness of the president again.
I think it would be very interesting to do this test in "focus groups" - I wonder what they would have shown on, say, Blade Runner, back when it was released.
Of course, we must remember that this can never be a measure of greatness - not unless we have decided greatness means that films move us, rather than demand we move to them.
Yimou Zhang, with his eye for color, could have an interesting time on the sea - I have the feeling he'd work with a lot of sunsets - but it could certainly be the setting for a wonderful exploration of the returning nation/love theme.
It's a better book than anything Clancy, Grisham, or that idiot Brown have ever written. It's more compact, more insightful, and more powerful. Harris' cold steel eyes see enough of his characters to so often describe them in a single, concrete, potent metaphor. Just look at the introduction for the sleazy Dr. Chilton:
"Starling knew without thinking about it that the shine on his extended hand was lanolin from patting his hair."
Now if that isn't a great use of a being verb in a novel, I don't know what is. Starling knew. "without thinking about it" zipping us along with her thought, then "shine" a wonderful, descriptive word. We can almost see it. It also tells us the room is somewhat bright, as a hospital should be, and, just perhaps, our imaginations adjust the mind's eye to the light, so that in the "world without mingling" below, Hannibal's lair may seem darker. Then we know what she was thinking - lanolin from patting his hair. Without saying it, Harris has given us a word for Chilton - greasy. Greasy and image-obsessed.
The first two paragraphs of the novel, even, are rich with death and burial metaphors (echoing the quotes that begin the book) and the urgency at the end of the second paragraph "now" makes us rush to the next chapters, through which the timing is astounding. Chapter 1: Meet Clarice, basic introduction and background, meet Crawford, brief image of Hannibal. Chapter 2: Meet Chilton, brief intro to Hannibal, and the world in which he now lives. Chapter 3: Meet Hannibal. And, may I remdind you, these are not long chapters. Fourteen pages in the first two chapters.
It is a modern and unrecognized classic.
I think it is something of an interesting example of the problems that happen with governments - when governments create large systems, one thing going wrong can cause a lot of problems (isn't that part of the reason for checks and balances)? Likewise, if terrorists were to try to put a large, complex problem into effect, they face the same difficulty as governments - they can be stopped by one or two small problems. Small problems like Bruce Willis.
That would be a central irony of his character - a lethal weapon or loose cannon in a system faced with small, isolated problems, he becomes the only solution (and therefore hope) in a system faced with an enemy creating a single, large, complex problem.
I'll try to post one tomorrow.
Being married is wonderful, by the way, I do recommend it. It is an interesting form of freedom. I'll post more about interesting forms of freedom later.
Unlike the middlemen of yesteryear, the middlemen of today can not adjust prices by working long hours, they cannot, by diligence or intelligence, move either buyer or manufacturer. They are stuck in a middle position which simply explains the manufacturer or retailer to the buyer, and, very occasionally (very indeed) explains the retailer to the buyer. They are paid to keep us out of the hair of the people who are really our problem, and not given the power to solve our problems.
Thus: Don't get mad at the tech-support person in India. They're just trying to make a living, like you. Get mad at the CEO who decided he doesn't actually care about customer feedback.
"Had no invasion of Australia ever occured, and this white Australian woman had been born in the land of her ancestors--probably England-- would she not have awakened each morning to better circumstances and prospects than aborigines in a distant and undisturbed Australia?"
My answer would, at the moment, have to be, probably not. First, the resources used by he aborigines, especially the land, are exactly the resources that the woman needs to survive - if she were born into an England from which there had been no emigration, she would most likely have been born into an England where human life was so plentiful as to become made-in-Taiwan cheap.
I think this itself is indicative of one of the great struggles of our age, one we must approach with more dedication, skill and hard work, to which Sowell, through the rest of his book encourages us - what will we do with dwindling resources? We have replaced human power with fossil power, but what will we do as fossil power dies - will we revert to human power? I think it more than possible. What will we do when the land runs out, will we invent new ways of using it, new ways of generating power, or harvesting existing power, or will we revert to our old ways? This is a bigger question, and it is my suspicion that if we do not learn from the past- from all these cultures which did not adjust, through Pride or laziness, to a new world - we will become them again. Perhaps we are already becoming them, perhaps we always were those cultures and just for a moment have deluded ourselves that we are more just or good. But I have more to say on that later. For now, I will say, that's my one problem with Sowell - he doesn't seem to address the difficulty of the conquering nation. I can certainly forgive him for that, it was not the focus of his research - and to speak better of it, I would have to research as well as he did.
Of course, to do that, a position at Stanford would certainly help....
What I appreciate about: Sugarland express and Omoto’s Memories
Each week, I’ll try to post a movie discussion on Fridays – this Friday, I want to mention Katsuhiro Otomo's series “Memory”, and Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut: Sugarland Express.
Otomo’s series of three stories (each directed by a different, honored anime director) deals variously with questions of happiness and memory. They aren’t quite as cohesive as I expected them to be, but they still were very interesting, very worth watching. The first seemed a blend between Paranoia Agent and Sunset Boulevard – which is interesting, because I only later found out that Satoshi Kon (the genius behind Paranoia Agent, which will I talk more about later, but now merely say – watch it.) actually got writing credits for the first episode.
The third episode, while perhaps not as entertaining as the other two, is fascinating to think about. It is a presentation of an Orwellian world where the entire society exists in a moving city to create and fire giant cannons at “the enemies” moving city. What sets this portrayal apart from most other writing about dystopia is that no one questions the society. In Brave New World, Animal Farm, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, a character exists who questions the dystopia in which he or she exists. In “Cannon Fodder” no such character exists, and all the characters are, comparatively, happy, and in the case of the child, even ambitious and fulfilled. As with the previous two episodes, part of the joy of this episode is in how well the characters are developed – even the chief who fires the gun is well developed, despite having only one word – it seems clear that he enjoys his work and relishes in it, despite the repetitive nature of his same march every day.
Wonderful way of showing a driver’s face in the rearview mirror, and faces in the car ahead, so that the whole shot is a crowd of faces. The clever use of reflections show up at several points in the movie – especially where Clovis foresees his own death in the roadrunner cartoon, with the eerie sounds of a cartoon they shouldn’t be hearing playing along. It’s a sort of interesting montage, a direct metaphor of movie to life within a movie.
Sugarland express makes for an interesting meeting between the entertaining and the educational – it’s an early display of Spielberg’s interest in non-fiction, long before Munich or Schindler’s List. Honestly, I think Spielberg could teach many about making a real-life story interesting, without wholly converting it to fiction… well… sort of…
On How Education is like a pyramid scheme
I’ve been thinking recently about how education is rather like a pyramid scheme. In a pyramid scheme, the people at the bottom always need to try to get more people to join below them, so that the people at the bottom can get the benefits of the pyramid (in most cases money.)
Education seems to function in much the same way. In the modern educational system, undergraduate students write papers, and in order to research these papers, the undergraduate students cite graduate sources and up. Graduate students write papers, and usually cite professors and up, and professors write papers, and cite each other and up. The problem is, of course, that you always need more people coming in at the bottom. So, essentially, it’s a pyramid scheme of information and of “kudos” in the form of citations.
Though it’s not as obvious in money, doesn’t it seem that educational money works largely the same way – undergraduate students give money (indirectly) to graduate students, through colleges. The undergraduate students give money to professors, who give money to graduate professors. Notice also that, usually, the people higher on the pyramid are required to do less work – in some wonderful cases they do more, but I wonder if that’s really the tendency.
Now, I know this is a simplification of a complex issue, and that it is really only part of the issue, but I think it’s an interesting question, and it raises (to me, a couple of other questions, such as):
Is this the reason that there always seem to be more graduates than positions?
Could this model be made to work? The best way I can think of is introduce a way of bringing in money at the bottom – essentially make homework some sort of profit-making industry. Think about it – math classes can work together to solve complex budgets, learning elements of both business and math along the way. Math classes could also work with computer classes to come up with algorithmic solutions to problems. Communications classes can make advertisements, write copy, research papers can become business and stock analyses.
I wonder if it would work... I hope so, because it’s essentially my idea for a better school system.
Boy, have I heard that a lot - and it works rather well with someone who is childish - but on a global scale, can we really expect those who created messes to be able to clean them up?
Very Short List (VSL) www.veryshortlist.com
One of the better email-lists on the internet, highlighting one interesting piece of the web each day.
Of course, that raises a question of identity... how does one have a piece of a web... where does a part of a web end... how interesting.
Anywho, I was reminded to post about VSL by their excellent re-direct today, to art of the title.
When I was young, my parents used to like to fast forward through titles to save time. Even then, I understood that the emotional set-up of the title, if done right, could be very important.
For an interesting, and less competitive film career, you could become a titles designer.
Interesting title sequences I didn't see listed:
One Hour Photo
And others I don't really want to take the time to remember.
“but, its not in your heart. loves on your tongue, its a word thats all”
It’s a great display of a question of identity – what is love? Is it even a cohesive whole – could we have parts of love, but not a whole love, and how might that work itself out socially? How would we even know? – Is it a word because it’s a whole? But the inherent question behind that is where is it? If it is on the tongue, surely we can do some experiments with that. But is there any way to experiment with location?
"The man with a toothache thinks everyone happy whose teeth are sound." -George Bernard Shaw
"An aching tooth is better out than in.
To lose a rotting member is a gain." - Richard Baxter, Poetical Fragments
"Some tortures are physical
And some are mental,
But the one that is both
Is dental." - Ogden Nash
Of course, dentists remind me of medieval torture, with the small, bent instruments.
Information is, ultimately, bipartisan.
It certainly works better on TV, or on a blog.
If I'm going to be concrete and empirical, I'm going to have to spread things out.
So, as a warning, arguments may be developed over many, many posts.
This is a sort of response to Mark Strand’s comment, “how can one have lunch after Auschwitz?” which was an ironic response to Adorno’s statement “how can one write poetry after Auschwitz.” The comment brought to my mind all the pleasures of eating, and all the shame, horror, and collective guilt of being human simultaneously into my mind.
Lunch after Aushwitz:
We go on, and it is there.
It is there, my lunch, defiant lunch.
fittingly, a hamburger.
(They were always rebels)
It is there, in my mouth, oh, lunch!
the soft, chewy morsel,
(delightful, though guilty.)
I can taste-no-feel-no-wrap,
wrap myself around this thing,
this cataclysm of meat-juice and ketchup,
crisp lettuce and sunny, moist tomato.
With hints of melting avocado and sharp cheese.
But it is also there.
But it is also there, when we go back.
It is not defiant, it is pitiful.
It is not solid
(which is stronger, pity or defiance?)
It is so solid, so heavy, this memory,
imagined, but still solid.
(oh God, oh God, oh God)
It is night and Schindler, Maus,
Corrie Ten-Boom, A thousand
thousand horrors imagined,
unimagined, imaginatively unimagined
gas, nakedness, starvation,
mass murder on a scale that boggles,
spread across the world
It is no longer just Germany, china, Nanking, Bosnia,
Serbia, India, Pakistan, America, Indians, and New York, and my front door.
cattle everywhere. Everywhere starving children,
beaten mothers, weeping fathers,
and smiling cannibals.
We are all there
We are all there, and here, at once.
Sure, now and again, we may casually
fall to one or the other,
(like time travelers, hopping dimensions,)
For now, we are two places at once.
We are eating a hamburger, in Auschwitz.
And the hamburger is good, so good,
and the sunset is beautiful,
even against the barbed wire, especially against it,
as through it, the sunset travels, to happy skeleton eyes
in a broken, joyous world.
There are tears, everywhere.
I wish I had the time and the help to write a book where each sentence would be a link to proofs.
If you agreed with a sentence, you could keep reading.
If you disagreed, or were just curious, you could click, and there would be layer upon layer of proof.
As it is, I don't have time to prove everything, I have to rely upon all of you to decide whether my statements line up with your minds.
Not that I mind.
Still, that book would be so much more efficient.
This weekend I've been reading Black Rednecks and White Liberals by Thomas Sowell. So far, I have found it fantastic, thought provoking, and, best of all, fabulously well-researched. We need more authors like this, who will do years and years of research. We need more people who will fund that much research.
I add myself only to praise already lauded upon him, he is a jewel and a warrior.
And a quote from Mr. Chesterton:
"Moderate strength is shown in violence, supreme strength is shown in levity." - From The Man who was Thursday.
“Why invest so many programs in things that are crap?” – Steven Fry, speaking of TV
How true, Mr. Fry, how true.
For a TV program that isn't crap, find QI, or look up "The Book of Common Ignorance." Either way, fascinating information with which you, too, can alienate your friends.
Over the next week, I'll be posting a lot , just to get things started, and to create a sense of false history.
Today, I'd like to talk about how we think, in the broad philosophical categories of Rationalism and Empiricism, and what we can learn about this when we argue with people, which people like me do all the time.
Why is it that so often, I agree with people only long after I talk to them? Why is it that so many people I talk to end up coming around to my point of view only long after we talk? I think it has something to do with the way our minds work.
As an introduction, Rationalism is taking two or more things you know and drawing a conclusion from them, e.g. I know that all bachelors are unmarried, and I know that Jim is a bachelor, therefore Jim is unmarried.
Empiricism, on the other hand, is most simply the extrapolation of knowledge from two or more pre-existing pieces of knowledge, e.g. This bachelor is unmarried, that bachelor is unmarried, and that bachelor is unmarried, therefore all bachelors are unmarried, or at least, most bachelors are unmarried.
These two categories have been debated time and time again by philosophers, and have been brought into some agreement by science, which forms hypotheses with rationality and empiricism, and tests them with empiricism, e.g. this bachelor I know is unmarried, that bachelor I know is unmarried, could it be that all bachelors are unmarried, Jim is a bachelor, let's ask him if he's unmarried, and make ourselves look like social idiots.
As an interesting aside, the difference between scientists and normal people is extremely well expressed in this XKCD comic:
But anywho, back to what I was saying. What I think is that, by nature, we have always been scientists. We watch things happen, we form hypothesis, and we test those hypothesis out (that seems like the most logical explanation of how we each learn to call unmarried men bachelors.)
So, basically, we've been doing science since we first started thinking, and thinking is in many ways a scientific process.
Now, you may be reading this, and think, "that makes sense!" or you may be reading this and think "that's poppycock!" either way, you're probably comparing it to your own experience (empiricism) and comparing it to your own hypothesis (rationalism) of how we came to speak/think. So, if I'm correct (which I'm not sure of, but hey, I think it's and interesting hypothesis) what does it mean?
And by asking what does it mean, I'm actually asking for a social experiment (again, with the thinking scientifically semiautomaticlly) Anyway, it means that, if we are already operating this way, to be convinced of something, we need both evidence for it, and a way it can become a hypothesis within our minds, or integrate into our pre-existing rational explanations for things. This would be why debates often aren't immediately convincing, and both parties tend to leave debates annoyed. Because they both need more time to find evidences for and think through what they're arguing about.
The best research I can find (both Steven Pinker and Antonio Damasio) seem to talk about the memory not as storing everything we experience, but as categorizing everything we experience. When we debate, is it possible that we help to strengthen or create a category within our opponent's mind that was either not there, or not strong before, and this category then needs time to accumulate evidence and thought before the person's mind can change - and this sort of categorization happens, for the most part, automatically. We don't think "blue" when we see blue, we simply categorize that with our other experiences of blue. Likewise, when we see evidence for different things, be they evolution, creationism, capitalism, communism, idealism, realism, pessimism, or rambling philosophers, we may not think about that evidence, but our minds may still categorize it as evidence for that thing.
All this is really only a theory, and much more research should be done on it before drawing any firm conclusions (hurray for work I don't have the time or money to do...) but for now, I think we can perhaps be of good cheer after arguing with someone, because we may not have convince them yet, but we may have planted seeds.
Speaking of seeds, all this reminds me of the parable Christians use for the spread of their ideas- as seeds, which don't bear fruit right away. Hmmmm... how odd....
Where cognitive science meets ancient religious text. Only in a kingdom of information.