Worth seeing: This.

Talk about your Baudrilliardian conceptions of reality.

Probably my new favorite video on the internet. Philosphically interesting (for the reality-layerings) visually complex and interesting, strangely rhythmic.



Something to look forward to

I've often thought that getting old is underrated.

It's a vicious cycle - people think getting old makes one boring, so they don't prepare for it, so when they are old they are boring.

Me? I think one of the things to look forward to when I get old is looking even more badass.

As evidence, I submit this photo shoot from empire magazine.

Who would you rather have holding that gun on you? Edward the emopire, or Clint Eastwood?

I'd be more scared of Morgan Freeman holding that axe than Christian Bale.

Mel Gibson looks crazier now than he did when he played Wallace.

Also, for anyone interested in older people being badass, I suggest the film "Bad Day at Black Rock"


Guidelines for any writer

So, I was reading a story sent to me by a friend, in strange horizons magazine. Browsing for a place to submit my own fiction to the fairly impressive magazine, I happened across this list, and thought that you might want to pass it to your friends who think they can write stories, and/or use it for your own reference:




World Cinema and Framing Narrative

Toward a Neuroscientific Literary Criticism

I have always felt somewhat ill at ease with the films of Joel and Ethan Cohen. While they have been lauded with accolades from literally every court, I have found myself, with a few friends, consistently feeling that their movies ring false. While there were always elements I recognized as false in their scripts, these elements never did fully explained the way their films unnerved me. It was only recently, as their short “World Cinema” (available here) made its rounds of the internet, that I came to realize one of the major failings of their storytelling.
(begin traditional plot rehash, skip this part if you’ve seen it)
In World Cinema we are presented, at first, with two men, standing in a small theater, in what could really be anytown, USA. The two men are the classic dichotomy of America – one, the intellectual, the anglophile, the goateed, the small man, who is showing only two films in what is probably his theater, both in a foreign language, and both on the, well, artistic side of film making, shall we say. The other man, standing across the counter, is the classic American cowboy. Tan straw cowboy hat, plaid cowboy shirt, mustache, the works. We are obviously witnessing the meeting of two stereotypes.
After some deliberation and descriptions, the “cowboy” chooses Climates, the complex, difficult Hungarian film, presented in Turkic. When the cowboy emerges from the theater, he surprises the audience by leaving a message with the person at the desk (our short man has left) to tell the original man that he really enjoyed Climates. The “cowboy” comments that “there’s a hell of a lot of truth in that movie, in my opinion.”
(end traditional plot rehash, pick up here.)
On the surface level, the characters play out well – as wary of each other as they should be, their language and knowledge appropriate to their situations. The point that rings false is the cowboy’s acceptance of Climates. Now, of course, one could critique my criticism at this point by saying that it only rings false to me because I have my own expectations which I approach the people with – that I am too easily drawn into stereotypes. Yet, there is a good, academic reason for my finding this falsehood. To put a lot of deep, complex academic work simply: Neuroscience has discovered that we interpret our experiences, especially our experiences of art, through formerly constructed framing narratives. In short, then, the cowboy would not have the framing structure present to recognize and accept the truth in Climates. In essence, the cowboy has lived out the enlightenment, rationalist thinking George Lakoff tells of, as the attitude, “if we present the truth, people will think themselves to the right conclusion.”
Now, could this simply be a surprising cowboy? Could he have been pondering these things in his inevitable pickup? Could his latent sexual desire for the short man have opened his framing? It is possible, certainly, but let us now think of the Cohen brother’s films as a whole. Each of them seems to have the same basic elements on some level – someone lacking the framing narrative necessary to deal with some philosophical issue enters into that issue experientially, and emerges with a changed perspective, with no clear change of the framing narrative. This is most clearly present in No Country for Old Men where the “Old Man” makes his clear, even philosophical change despite the fact that his framing clearly has no way of assimilating these philosophical thoughts.
Perhaps I am tainted by the time I spent living in Montana. It is true that there are some people who do have more beneath their surfaces than meets the eye. These people, however, seem all too common to me in Cohen brothers films. I have the feeling the Cohen brothers write about these people without ever having really met them, and I likewise have the feeling that, someday, when the two haves of this country meet, their bitter battle will only be exacerbated by a misunderstanding on the “intellectual” side of the ability and the conditions of the change of the other party. To some extent, this is already happening, and my own framing makes me quite likely to grow tired of it.


Thoughts on two films

Excuse the long absence - other projects have taken much of my time. Hopefully, I will be able to link to them here sometime...

In any case, I just finished watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button - I watched Slumdog Millionaire a couple weeks ago (for the record, I very much preferred Button, for reasons I will not go into now).

What I did want to mention, though, is the interesting theme of time - and film - running backwards in both, and the opposite way in which this motif is handled by the movies - in one, it is the successful private reversal of past pain, gained at the end of a long journey, the other is the hope for a reversal of a very public and shared pain, at the beginning of the film's journey, and treated with a very public reverence.

It is a curious exercise to relate these moments, and why we are drawn to them in film - perhaps they are simply an expression of our hopes for a more innocent time, or for the work of mercy, forgiveness, and an ultimate redemption. Perhaps they are a misunderstanding of redemption, which must come, rather than against time, through time - which reminds me of something in Eliot's Four Quartets. It does seem, whatever the case, that two major movies coming out with such scenes in the same year may be a little more than coincidence.

In any case, I hope this has given you food for thought.


Common Discourse

"Life is a dreary monotonous scheme
I do not enjoy it except when I dream."

My wife said that to me the other day. She is not a professional or, really, an amatuer poet. It reinforces to me the joys that can often be found in common discourse. I suppose I should call it normal talking.


Notes on Learning, part 6 (beta version ./appendix -[burst])

As an appendix (there's a lovely English metaphorical word) to yesterday's post, I present a couple of the synonyms I'm studying now:

Who needs two words for:

Oneself: can be Jibun or Watashi

to close: Shimeru (to close a book) Tojiru (to close a door) and no, they don't include the idea of "door" or "book" you just have to use the different ones in different contexts.

Rice: Kome is raw, uncooked rice. Gohan is cooked rice, or, by extension, a meal.

I love you, Japan, but seriously, WTF?


Notes on Learning, part 5 (beta version .0001)

I've read several places (most notably in the wonderful "Book of Common Ignorance") that the longer a language is around, the more it looses grammatical complexity and gains vocabulary size and density.

One good measure of this is the number and complexity of synonyms, since many of our words focus around the same thoughts (side-note, if any of you tell me the popular lie about certain Eskimos having many words for snow, I'll hit you over the head with a dictionary).

Japanese is a good example, it's been around a long, long time, and I wouldn't say it's a grammatically complex language at all, however, its vocabulary is pretty big, and it has lots and lots of synonyms, enough to garner its own wiki, here: Japanese Synonym Wiki

Some shining examples include:

The fact that there is actually a specific word (maitsuda) that one would only use to verbally tell an uncle something is not good, and this is only one note of aggravation in a symphony. Self-disappointed missing out gets its own word, as in "I slept late and missed out on ______" as does a word (haibaku) specifically for loosing a game or war.

other good examples from the website:

Many words for annoying.

Many words for investigating.

I am also fascinated by the fact that "image" has several different words, moving image (reflection, mirror, tv screen,cartoon), still image (picture), painted still image, and a sculpture. This would make art criticism rather interesting in some ways, and could make parts of the philosophy of semiotics very different. Please note that these aren't just equivalent to our words "painting" and "drawing" as these refer specifically to their operation as images, not just as their presence as works of art.

Also interesting from this philosophical perspective is a difference of borders.

Notes on learning, part 4 (1001 apologies, or not)

Yea, so coming up with insightful, non-generalized, researched things to say about a whole language is difficult. Who knew?


For those of you politically minded...

Through my subscription to the often enjoyable very short list service (veryshortlist.com) I found http://www.nixontapes.org/ this morning. It's certainly an interesting resource for those of us that like to peek behind the curtain of political history, and see just how political our history is.

One particular moment of note, for example, is a tape of Nixon, Kissinger and Reagan. The highlight of the tape is really the awkwardness that comes of Regan inquiring into the Vietnam war, but listening to them plan the shipyards in San Diego smells highly of guilt by association, and makes one suspect that the true evil of pork-barrel projects is the way they serve the ends of whoever is in power.


Video Game Gets Banking License! Eruptions in the Blogosphere!

Some are frightened, some are angry. Some, like me, are just amused.

BBC story here


Thinking about the Auto Companies

It seems like every time I turn around someone is saying that the problem with car companies is that they haven't been building cars people want to buy. Has it occurred to anyone that they're maybe just pumping out too many cars - that we may have reached and even exceeded the saturation point. I speak as someone who lives near LA, doesn't have a car, and doesn't want to have a car. If I had my way, I'd never own a car. If I was wealthy enough, I might, however, buy into a car pool, because cars can be a lot of fun, but not every day, and not the sort you (probably) drive to work.


Notes on Learning, part 3 (beta version .0101)

A less happy thought on Japanese:

What mad, topsy-turvy people come up with three different systems of writing, and then use them all? For that matter, what sort of mad exclusivists create a whole system of writing just for foreign words - who needs to know every time they use a foreign word in writing? At that, why do that when so much of their "original" language is "borrowed" from Chinese to begin with?

I like learning Japanese, but honestly...

Notes on Learning, part 2 (beta version .011)

The Japanese word for "good" or "pleasure" is literally just "ii."

This reminds me of the Kiki and Bouba experiements, and makes me think about the possibilities of vocal representation and automatic exclamation at the roots of language.

Notes on Learning, part 1 (beta version .001)

Okay, to try to give this dying blog a shot of whatever it is they give those people who are dying with a whimper, I'm going to try out a new series. As some of you may know I've been working on learning Japanese. Sometimes, learning Japanese allows some interesting insights into a completely foreign culture and language, some wonderful, some strangely familiar, and some incredibly distant. A friend suggested I write about them. So, without further ado, two ponderings on learning Japanese for today follow above, and hopefully, there are more to come.


Thoughts on Lars and the Real Girl

Sometimes, the uncanny valley is more like the uncanny catacombs.

Sometimes we forget that mountaintops with snow, and sun, and vast backgrounds can be uncanny too.


Red, color perception, and amorism: a random thought

It is said that red is an aphrodisiac.

It is rarely observed that a fat woman in red rarely is.


Odysseus at the dentist: A freeform outline

I went to the dentist this morning. It wasn't a terrible visit, but it did put certain things to mind about heroism and bravery. I wanted to get these thoughts down before they were lost in the muddle that is a modern life. Hopefully, they will be refined later, and possibly even submitted, in refined form, to Literary Latte, but I wanted to invite any comments now, and get something out, so that there is record of the growth of the essay.

Odysseus never went to the Dentist
Meditations from the Chair
1. Odysseus never went to the Dentist. It is certain he faced horrors, but never the horrors which the modern man is forced to daily face, the horrors of science, the horrors of authority, the horrors of art, and the horrors of time. Odysseus never suffered quietly the million small indignities forced upon the modern, so called, man.
2. Odysseus never went to the dentist. He never felt the splatter of paste with a badly imitated grape flavor upon his gums. He never submitted himself to the teachings of the school of dentists. It is odd to me, perhaps, that we suffer dentists – that we have so long suffered dentists, and react so strongly against other teachings of so-called science. There are studies, even, some might say, scientific studies, which would indicate that dentists are unnecessary to those who live properly, but we suffer their prices, indignities, and pains – demonstratible and obvious pains – pains with which no one could argue – yet will not suffer the distant and uncertain mythos of evolution, and argue against by saying it drives the young to atheism and adultery, and yet, still, we will not consider that more teenagers may have been driven to atheism and even adultery by the dentist than ever by the teacher.
3. Odyesseus never trusted himself into the hands of a remote and uncertain science, merely to maintain what his culture called a normal life. Each of these modern indignities has its twin in other fields. From what we can tell, there never was much distant from Odysseus’ life – his religion was a close one, even a local one, and he never seems to have worshiped another land’s god through a strange expert priest or pastor. What Gods he did worship were close and local, or he was passing through their lands and seas. In each of these cases, too, he did not worship them so much as they touched him, and he was not interested so much in learning the particulars of their theology as how to play their game, or at least to survive. He did not worship Gods who had made some questionable sacrifice two thousand years ago. From what we can know too, Odysseus’ science was not far from his life, nor were his authorities, nor even the makers of his cheese. He probably made his cheese himself more than once or twice, and when his cheese was made ill, he could likely reach out and touch the one who made it. He could likely reach out and kill the one who made it, if he so desired. When his cheese was expensive, he could ask why, and when it was delicious, he could praise the cheesemaker to his face.
4. We must also remember that Odysseus was born into power, as were so many of the heroes of Western literature. They were not set apart by their skill, at least, if they were, that was a post-mortem evaluation. Let us not forget that while the vast majorities of humanities have toiled away quietly, their leaders have waged wars, upon which they had a part in deciding. Today, the modern man, as he is pictured here, toils away under the authority of powers he does not understand, and over which he has the minimal amount of control afforded by democracy, even by republic. Distance has something to do with this too – the closeness of the cheesemaker, along with Odysseus’ priority of birth, allowed him to move against the cheesemaker. The closeness of the God even allowed Odysseus to strike out against him, if he so choose.
5. You will rarely hear, I think, a lit-head admit that the heroes of literature are indeed, in Churchill’s phrase, “not only distant, but prosaic;” Though the sentiment is respected from one so eminent as that great speaker and leader of men, speaking at so momentous a time, it is so often despised reflected, in even truer form, in the mouths of the teenagers who can barely tell you what they mean, but who have no interest in reading the Odyssey. They complain that these things share no relationship to modern life, and I think they are quite right. The courage Odysseus had is quite a different sort than the modern man must have. I am not attempting to argue against any of the distances we face today – save this one. In some cases, the distances must be argued against, in some cases defended. In some cases they are incredibly good, in some cases, terribly dangerous. There can be arguments for each. But it seems to me, perhaps our most strange distance today is our distance from our heroes. Odysseus never was told by his culture that his heroes were, or should be, men who lived in strange histories and myths so distant from him. His literature was often songs of his friends. Even Hamlet, who displays some of the suffering of indignities, some of the arrogance, the academia, and the impotence of the modern man, was still born into power, and could still compare himself, however sadly, to Hercules. But now that comparison is meaningless to most who can read – it is not that either falls short, it is that the comparison is so distant, and so different. We are, no doubt, in need of heroes today, of examples every day, and we cannot afford to continue to produce and revere heroes with whom we share so little relationship, be they Odysseus, Arthur, Hamlet, or any one of the myriad of action heroes who, while closer, face adrenaline we do not in our moments most needful of heroism. The dentists’ chair does not allow for adrenaline. The absence of God does not allow for action. We are in desperate need of heroes who live modern life, and do so with modern heroism, facing the distances of science, of power, of art, and of time, with dignity, with creativity, and with good will. Come to think of it, we need Chaplin. His little tramp is often exactly the man who I speak of, and who we need to replicate again.