sábado, fevereiro 25, 2017

Why Do Bad Films Happen to Good People: "Arrival" by Denis Villeneuve

Fitting with the idea of a language shaping our thinking/neurological processes, I think they were going for the idea that we had to learn the language from scratch rather than merely be provided a translation--and at any rate our own Earthly languages often don't translate in a clean A=B fashion in many areas (cultural nuances, and yes different ways of thinking make these translations less than clear), and so I imagine this is very true with translations between any human language and the heptodes' (where a "sentence" is a single holistic circle that can be written or read in any order--I know of no human language that evolved in that fashion).

They mentioned at one point the idea that people learn other languages most effectively when they are immersed (where they have to listen very hard and pick up on whatever cues they can from native speakers, with no help in their own language), and indeed forced to "figure it out on their own" to a large extent (they might still supplement that with classroom learning in the host country, but ideally that is conducted solely in the target language too--just with effective techniques of visuals, demonstration, and directed exercises given the students). The heptodes were providing as much of an immersive experience as they could with the on-board visits.

So for all we know (and it's plausible for sure), they may have already figured out at least the rudiments of our languages from monitoring our broadcasts (though still lacking cultural contexts and "immersion" themselves), at least enough to be capable of communicating with us in our languages. But using our language in their "classroom" would not have taught us as effectively--and probably wouldn't have succeeded in teaching us to "think in their language", which was the goal of imparting the thought process changes that came with really knowing it (i.e. being able to think in it as second nature). They forced us to stretch our minds to figure out their language in its own terms, and the very fact of their sudden and dramatic visit to our planet motivated us to do exactly that to figure out what the heck was going on--with an extreme curiosity and urgency.

Given their goal to teach us to think in their language (so we could supposedly also perceive time holistically as they did), all the things they did actually make a lot of sense toward that purpose. The "why" of "so you can help us in the future"? We're not given any more than that. It could be that we simply join in some galactic enlightenment movement down the line, that ends up helping everyone (particularly at some critical juncture in galactic history 3000 years from now, when we ourselves may be an emerging interstellar civilization joining the galactic community)--it may not be technological or other strictly material help at all. They may be "uplifting" us (akin to the concept in the Brin novels) for purposes that will benefit them, and hopefully be of mutual benefit. We have no idea, except that fostering in us the ability to see time the way they do is apparently key to it.
But “understanding” is a three-edged sword.

Who cares about seeing the future? All the fun stuff in life (sex, skiing, driving a fast car, reading a great mystery novel, eating a great steak, drinking a great red wine, falling in love, hearing a song) has absolutely no connection with time, unless it's the gradual unfolding of an event (skiing down a trail, tasting a steak, etc.).

Why is "overcoming" the distinctions between present, past, and future seen as so desirable and so advanced? It doesn't cure cancer or stop aging or prevent death. It's just a weapon. It's not skiing.
If I know English, then I can enjoy Shakespeare or Wordsworth or Keats. English has rhyme, assonance, and meter. You can't write a sonnet in Alien.

If language exists ONLY to convey information (maybe like a programming language), then I can see how Alien would be a superior language, but I prefer "shuffle off this mortal coil" to "death process." The aliens talk like robots talk. Can they write poetry or have slang or come up with a Cole Porter song? They can see the future, but can they craft a pun?

It's not mind blowing...unless you are simple.

It's not smart...unless you have a learning disability.

It's not one of the best sci-fi films in our recent history...unless the recent history you speak of is limited to the last two months of 2016.

It's a bad film. Badly written, badly acted, badly directed, badly scored, badly edited, and badly designed. Its lack of originality is matched only by its pretentiousness. I can often find something redeeming, however small, in many of the most mediocre films of all time, and yet I can't find anything good to say about this one.

Wait...it wasn't 3 hours long! That's good, right?

Oh, and also, it provided plentiful entertainment for those wonderful folks who like to think they enjoy "smart" films, so they can come up to me and say the same comical, tired, and pathetic lines over and over again:

"You just didn't get it"


"You're not smart enough to appreciate the concepts"


"You should watch Transformers instead"

LOL! Every time. After all, being a stereotype, means being unable to even consider you might be a stereotype. It's sort of in the job description, right?

(Wait, I've used that Transformers line myself in the past. Oh snap! Guess I might be a stereotype. That's depressing, now that I think about it. Bummer.)

NB: If you like SF, read the short-story it was based on.

sexta-feira, fevereiro 24, 2017

Micro-Fiction, Text 003: "The Lift" by Myselfie

I met her in a lift, just like the one that you are in now. In fact if you were to push me further I might tell you that it was the lift that you are in now. I stood, just as you are now, watching the sequence of lights as the lift gently eased its way between floors. This smooth, vertical journey a gentle distraction from the day’s events. Music played quietly, yet loudly enough to make me hum its variations of tunes for the rest of the evening. We came to a gentle halt and a tired sounding bell accompanied the gentle easing open of the doors. And there she stood, in such a way that an actress might stand, stage curtains parted, presenting herself to me. She had to be the one. She didn’t notice me at first; she was texting on her mobile. I stood to one side allowing her more room than she needed to enter the lift, my courtesy hoping to impress. She stepped in, found her place and, hardly looking up from her business she confidently stabbed at a button on the wall, which obediently lit for her. As the lights flickered and the floors fell away the lift became filled with her pleasant, floral perfume. A scent that I was not familiar with but knew that I could grow to like. My head now fixed on the directional arrow shaped lights above the door, I strained my eyes to my right to see her finish with her mobile and put it into her bag, from where she immediately took out a lipstick and began applying it. By now I had been in this lift for some time and earlier in the day I had been in another lift in another building so I was aware of a tackiness under my shirt sleeves. She finished with the lipstick put it back into her bag and glanced in my direction. I could feel her quick assessment of me. I have been told that I have an open, gentle face, a face that one might trust. I turned that face toward her and she obviously agreed, as she gave me a smile. I returned the compliment and we had a brief exchange concerning the reliability of the device in which we were then enclosed. It did not feel appropriate for me to push the conversation too much at this time, there would be plenty of time for that and this one seemed feisty, a little more of a challenge than of late. The lift finally arrived at the ground floor with a gentle bump and the doors opened to present us with the foyer of the hotel. I felt a slight wooziness as I followed her through the exit door, this is usual, it would take a few moments to once more get accustomed to being on solid ground. And then, it was just a case of trailing her, and picking the right time.

Microfiction. Text 002: "An Orange-white Umbrella of Fire Bent From the Pod's Surface" by Myselfie
Microfiction. Text 001: "Jagged Pieces of Light Inspired by Rajaniemi's Fiction" by Myselfie

quinta-feira, fevereiro 23, 2017

Reading the Bible: “Who Wrote the Bible” by Richard Elliott Friedman

“The question, after all, is not only who wrote the bible, but who reads it.”

In “Who Wrote the Bible” by Richard Elliott Friedman

Some of the texts date to 400 AD or later, such as the second half of Matthew, the whole of John and the whole of Revelation. I would consider a "complete, unabridged Bible" to consist of all texts either used by, or referenced by, any Abrahamic sect whatsoever from 2,200 B.C. through to 1,400 A.D., plus the Book of Mormon (it is as legitimate as any other sect, which isn't saying much). In other words, a document from which you could reconstruct the actual founding of the original sect by Babylonian or Sumerian priests amongst the Canaanite animists and magi, all travels by all the differing groups, and the root causes of every schism, through to the present day. No such book has ever been compiled, but the word "Bible" means "The Book". Singular. The only true singular book you could ever have that can be true to every Abrahamic group (and if it can't be, it's not singular) is a book that includes everything that has ever been relevant to any of them. This is the same way the Saxon Chronicles are treated. There are (ok, were) many versions (a fire destroyed a great number of them), but the Saxon Chronicles as a unified concept refers to the compilation of this material. The abstract concept of the "complete" Saxon Chronicles refers to all of the versions, whether they survive or not, as an entity. Not a physical entity but what a computer scientist or mathematician would call a logical entity. A set is a logical entity, it exists but it doesn't exist in any physical sense. In this aspect I’m siding with Friedman. I can't quite accept that all Bibles are equal, as we can identify authors and therefore can identify later forgeries, material that doesn't belong in a unified collection, etc. We can define a logical entity that truly is The Book, the superset of all material that has ever existed, organized into logical subsets by some means. The Old Testament is a logical subset. It's a collection of material that has enough commonality to be a distinct grouping. But it does not exist, in any sense. Different Old Testaments use different books, so the Old Testament is the superset of all the different books that fit in this grouping. All of the real Old Testaments are subsets of this master set. The universal set, the set that contains all the material ever used in any Bible by ANY Abrahamic sect, contains a great deal of material that no longer exists. So what? The universal set still exists, the fact that we can't establish what's in it would still be true even if all the material survived and all records preserved. It's a limitation of logic. But there has been only one history. At time “t”, person “p” only held specific things to be true. If they had held any other beliefs, we would have a different history. The infinity of possibilities doesn't apply because only one of them happened. Time is sequential, so only a finite number of intervals have ever existed. These produced a finite number of different belief systems. Even if everyone had their own, it was still finite. If you imagine everything ever thought or said by these people as being written down (with duplication removed), you'd have a lot of writing but it would be finite.

A lot of these events are of no consequence, so we can imagine those removed as well. For similar beliefs, you only need the common bit once and the differences noted. Keep going and you end up with a stupendous theoretical book, but one which is not only finite but well within human capacity to both imagine and, indeed, record. Bigger volumes of data are handled all the time.

The information is lost to humanity, but so what? In order to understand why the Iraqi followers of John the Baptist regard Jesus as a Satanist, you have to have knowledge that doesn't exist. But we still know that we need that information to understand the big picture and therefore we still know we need to have place markers for where the information would have been. The need doesn't vanish because some scroll got burned.

Circumstantial evidence cannot scientifically prove that an unobserved phenomenon is true. How did life on earth form? Living cells consist of a number of molecules including proteins and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA). Proteins are chains of amino acids which are linked together with the aid of RNA. There are 20 amino acids which can be linked together to form any number of combinations which in turn determines the type and function of the protein.  How were the first amino acids created in the primordial seas without the assistance of RNA? Or maybe RNA was created first? As you can see, a single protein is outrageously complicated (just look up the structure of a protein molecule if you still don't believe me), but nucleic acids, DNA and RNA are even more complicated. DNA, RNA, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates are not molecules that randomly come into existence in a chaotic, torrential environment (this is called spontaneous generation, proven wrong by Louis Pasteur), they are the products of an omniscient/omnipresent being. A single prokaryotic cell (bacteria) is more complicated than a space shuttle yet are we to believe the space shuttle was designed but not life? Science tells me that spontaneous generation is impossible. If you want to know how a cult that practiced snake-charming in tombs with saucers of milk acquired a belief that handling snakes was the way to Heaven or that the dead would rise from their graves, you’ll have to read this. Nevertheless, relativism is only true if an objective observer is capable of absolutism.

domingo, fevereiro 19, 2017

Shape-shifting Music: "Blackstar" by David Bowie, "Bowie 70" by David Fonseca

After more than a year, I'm finally able to write about this. I've also just listened to his latest album for the first time, or shall I call it a work of art, for it surely is; 'ladies and gentlemen', "Blackstar". An eclectic heady mix of Bowie, passing through the ages, a collage of art, music and sound, all for your delectation.

In the early 1980's during school holidays, I used to go to a classical music record shop in Rossio in Lisbon. I was able to get a discount on any records I ordered (they didn't mind if I ordered pop records), and frequently utilized this discount by purchasing for my friends. One day, one of them asked me to order a single called 'Starman' by David Bowie. I had never heard of him before this, but found the song to be wonderful and different to anything I'd heard up to then. I can't say that Bowie ever became my top favourite artist, but in the following two years got to know his music extremely well. Another friend of mine invited a group of us to his home on a regular basis, and we used to smoke hash and play table football. The only music played on the turntable was Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and Diamond Dogs - over and over again.
Bowie's career has been unique and right for the time, but there doesn't seem to be anyone else today who will come anywhere near filling the space he has left. In today's world it doesn't seem as though his kind of creativity can be repeated.

Well, he grew on me, becoming a revelation and the unwrapping of an enigma. Bowie is a celebration of the times and a reminder that our Millenium is in itself a memorial of the amazing development of music and art from the last Century. The Hindu Gurus say that this age is about the dissolution of our material plane into a spiritual existence, a time of reflection after the transmutation Bowies age represents. All we have is Pulp POP.

David Bowie was the shape-shifting, avant-garde recording and performing artiste who orchestrated and dominated guitar-laden rock of the 1970s, much as the Beatles had done the previous decade. He will be remembered for a lot of things - sexual androgyny, fashion, acting, writing and singing often brilliant songs, producing frequently groundbreaking albums - but it is his penchant for musical experimentation and innovation, for sonic and instrumental improvisations - that constant reaching after artistic perfection - that may come to be seen as his legacy, his lasting contribution to music within and beyond Britain.

Two other British voices of the 1970s, Nick Drake and Kate Bush, share/shared with Bowie a palpable sense of the atmospheric, the ethereal, the otherworldly, but in ways both tonally and temperamentally dissimilar to one another. Yet they are/were all distinctive in their individual ways.

From 1969, when he released "Space Oddity", to his death from cancer a mere couple of days after marking his 69th birthday, on 8 January 2016, with the release of his 25th (studio) and, poignantly, final album "Blackstar", Bowie constantly invented and re-invented himself and his music. However, it is for the extraordinary work he produced throughout the 1970s, during which he made album after brilliant album, each a distinctive achievement in its own right, that he would ultimately come to be remembered. Nevertheless, for all his cheerful indulgence in colour and choreography, mime and the theatrical, Bowie wasn't altogether addicted to art-for-art's-sake. In fact, he wrote some of the most profoundly heartbreaking lyrics of the modern age, dealing with such subjects like death, mortality, mystery, anxiety, alienation, transformation....
Could it not be claimed that David Bowie was as much an icon/iconoclast of the counterculture, especially during the 1970s, as Bob Dylan had been from the 1960s onward, even if they traveled radically different paths in their quest for lyrical and musical adventure? Do any other musicians compare with Dylan and Bowie in terms of real sui generis singularity?

My greatest compliment to someone is to wish to them that their road be true. I know what it’s like when your road is not that and it requires a lot of alcohol. And so if Bowie, by being a standard bearer for the outsider by just being himself helped people to feel more comfortable about being themselves then he brought them love, happiness and peace. He was on their side. With his passing, that person, that supporter has gone because he had that rare gift of making it feel as if he was talking to you, just you. It doesn’t matter that he wasn’t as present in the world in recent years as he once was, he was there, and that was good, that’s all we needed. Now he isn’t and such was his involvement in my life that I'm now stunned because I've lost someone that was in some way part of “our” tribe, even if your tribe was a tribe of 2, just David and me.

He was a reference point in life, a way-point by which we navigated the sometime stormy seas. To many he was the North Star, which has now died to become what David knew he would become, a “Blackstar“.

And we’re all a little lost, ironically the world seems weirder without him. It is a reminder of course that things continually change, and of course he knew that and even wrote some lyrics about it. I have had “Changes” running around in my head all week. I find myself talking to him saying, “Thanks for the song and I know we can be philosophical about it David but seriously man, just look it!” Now we have to re-orientate and that’s not always easy. Suddenly without that anchor the world seems even more fucked up than it did before, and he’s not there anymore

And that is why is feels this way, it’s not sadness I’m feeling, it’s loneliness.

NB: Last Friday, 17/02, came out the Bowie cover album by David Fonseca. Of all the tracks on the album the one closest to my heart is the one by Rita Redshoes ("Heroes"). Bowie would have been proud. The whole album is on repeat since last Friday, but this particular track...Oh my!