In the early days of Internet e-mail and Usenet, responding to messages one paragraph, one sentence at a time has become fashionable. For instance, if King Arthur were to have received an e-mail from the silly Frenchmen occupying a castle, accusing the good King of being the son of a hamster mother and a father who smelled of elderberries, he might have responded thusly:
> your mother was a hamster
Are you accusing my Mother of sexual infidelity?
> your father smelled of elderberries
Who're you calling a drunkard, you hopeless retards?
In my experience, electronic conversations using this format often very quickly deteriorated into name-calling, or worse. And I think I can even tell why. Picking and choosing which words to quote and them quoting them out of context is a perfect method to manufacture outrage. So in my personal conversations, with very rare exceptions, I now avoid the quote-reply format altogether. Isn’t it much more pleasant to read a polite, fully formed message?
Thank you for your concerns regarding my parents. I assure you, good Sirs, that my mother was not a member of the rodent family. She bore no resemblance whatsoever to the rodents you mention, either in appearance or behavior. Concerning my father, I clearly recall that he never enjoyed elderberry-flavored beverages. He preferred to enjoy tea, mildly flavored with honey.
The quote-reply format is still okay when it comes to technical discussions, which may readily lend themselves to being presented in the form of individual points, each of which may have a specific technical solution. But in a personal conversation, I think that a fully formed response shows a degree of respect towards the other party and also helps avoid letting the discussion deteriorate into a string of accusations, a bitter argument with ad hominem insults.
In 1973, my Mom and I visited my aunt here in Ottawa. It was a remarkable journey for 10-year old me. The differences between Hungary, then firmly behind the former Iron Curtain, and Canada were… astonishing. (Let’s just say that this experience firmly inoculated me against any communist claims about building a better society.) The trip was equally impactful on my Mom, though of course she experienced it quite differently as an adult.
At the time, my Mom spoke very little English. So when my aunt and her husband decided to take her to a movie theatre to see the latest James Bond movie, the first one with Roger Moore in the title role, they assured her that they will provide a running translation.
Then the film began and they quickly found out that translation was not necessary after all. At least insofar as these opening shots were concerned.
To this day, we cannot stop laughing when we think back of this moment.
Thanks to streaming services, I occasionally stumble upon films and television series from foreign lands that otherwise I’d not even know about. And no, I don’t mean Squid Game, that explosively popular Korean series: I only watched the opening few minutes of the first episode so far, and I don’t yet know if it is my cup of tea. Rather, this time around it is a Russian movie that I came across on Amazon Prime: a 2017 film titled Salyut-7.
Salyut-7 was a Soviet space station. In 1985, the space station was dead, without power. The Russians launched a daring rescue mission, Soyuz-T13, which was not only able to dock with the derelict station but also able to revive and repair it.
Consistent with Soviet era secrecy, we knew very little about this mission and didn’t appreciate its significance back then.
The movie itself combined the actual story of the Soyuz-T13 mission with other events, such as the fire on board the Mir space station 12 years later or a nonsensical fictitious mission by the space shuttle Challenger to “steal” the station, for dramatic effect. In that, I think they did a disservice to the cosmonauts who pulled off this repair: perhaps less spectacular in terms of visual effects, what they accomplished was no less significant.
But otherwise, I found the movie fun to watch, very well done, with top notch special effects and (insofar as my inexpert eye can tell) excellent acting and directing. I enjoyed the movie. And its faults notwithstanding, I think it offers a worthy reminder that the USSR’s space program brought enormous value to all of humanity. It saddens me deeply when I think of how much of it went to waste in the turbulent years following the breakup of the USSR.
My all time favorite movie is Cloud Atlas. I know, others have not reacted to this movie quite as powerfully as I have, but for whatever reason, the movie “got me”. (The fact that I first saw it during my first ever visit to the Middle East, in an Abu Dhabi hotel room, just a few days after flying over the war-torn Iraq-Iran border region while enjoying British Airways’ business class hospitality, may have had something to do with it.)
The movie has many memorable quotes. Banal, you might say, but even banalities sometimes reflect profoundly on our reality.
On particular quote echoes in my mind today as I witness, day after day, even in my relatively close circle of friends, the “relativization” of facts in our post-truth era. A key character in the movie is interviewed by an archivist just before her scheduled execution. To put her at ease, the archivist reassures her: “Remember, this isn’t an interrogation or trial. Your version of the truth is all that matters.” The protagonist, looking deeply in the eyes of the archivist, responds: “Truth is singular. Its versions are mis-truths.”
Yes, it should be that self-evident. Truth is singular. A and ¬A cannot simultaneously be true: A ∧ ¬A = 0 always. It is elementary formal logic.
But in our increasingly Göbbelsian 21st century, formal logic no longer matters. Instead, we have “alternative facts”. Instead, everyone feels entitled to question, even deny, facts that conflict with their Weltanschauung.
Yes, I said Göbbelsian. No, I am not trying to serve as an example of Godwin’s law by needless comparisons to Nazis. Rather, it is a recognition that the legacy of Göbbels, the evil genius of modern communication, continues to reverberate nearly a century later, as various actors push their versions of the truth. Göbbels taught us how to “sell” alternative facts: blatant lies are easy to falsify, lies by omission are much harder to catch.
A pluralistic society thrives on differences of opinion. Good people whose priorities differ may come to different conclusions based on the same set of facts. But when there is disagreement over the facts themselves, society breaks down. And that’s what we face today. The facts have now become matters of opinion.
I could name a number of issues from climate change to gender roles where the facts should be indisputable but they aren’t. But my concern transcends any specific topic. I simply worry that if we all retreat into our alternative facts bubbles, consensus or compromise become impossible. Where that leads, I don’t know but it is deeply worrying.
Rutger Hauer was a Dutch actor. He is best known perhaps for his role in the science-fiction cult classic Blade Runner, in particular for his improvised tears in rain soliloquy, spoken by the character Roy Batty just before his death:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
I just learned that Hauer himself died a few days ago, after a brief illness, at age 75.
So on the one hand… here I am, praising Canada for being true to its values, only to learn yesterday that Quebec’s provincial legislature approved a ban on “religious symbols”. Not once in my life did I worry when I was being served by a person wearing a kippa, a cross, a turban or a headscarf that nature that they might discriminate against me. Should I have been? Perhaps naively, I always felt privileged to live in a society in which persons wearing kippas, crosses, turbans or headscarves were welcome, even into positions of authority. But now I am worried that a person whose religion demands wearing a kippa, a cross, a turban or a headscarf will not be allowed to serve me anymore. And that’s even before I look at the more hypocritical aspects of the bill.
But then, I learn that south of the border, social justice warriors scored another “victory”: at Bowling Green State University, Ohio, they managed to get the name of silent era film star Lillian Gish stripped from the university’s Gish Film Theater because a student union protested on account of her role in the rather racist 1915 silent classic Birth of a Nation.
I fundamentally disagree with the idea of judging the past by the standards of the present. I dare hope that our societies are becoming better over time, and thus our standards are higher, but it is grossly unfair to the memory of those from generations ago when they are judged by standards that did not even exist at the time. But putting all that aside… isn’t it obvious that such acts of cultural intolerance (committed, ironically, in the name of tolerance) are just oil on the fire? That those who are behind the rise of xenophobia, nationalism, racism and intolerance will see such acts as proof that their grievances of valid, that it is truly they (and by “they”, I mean mostly middle-aged or older white men) who are being prosecuted here?
Are these truly the only choices out there? Xenophobic nationalism and Islamophobia vs. social justice militants? Where have all the sane people gone? Please come back wherever you are and help put an end to this madness.
Today was a most unpleasant day for a whole host of reasons, so by the time I finished my dinner, I needed a distraction.
And then I recalled: Just the other day, I read that China’s most successful sci-fi blockbuster to date, The Wandering Earth, is now on Netflix.
So it was time for movie night. I watched it. And it was… fun.
It is not a flawless movie by any means. And the so-called “science” is as warped, as bogus as the science behind any Hollywood blockbuster.
But it was fast-paced, visually stunning, engaging, and occasionally even had sparks of genuine humor, just in the right quantities.
In short, it is on par with any A-rated sci-fi blockbuster from Hollywood.
One suggestion: Watch it with subtitles in the original Mandarin. This is not meant to be a criticism of the voice actors of the English-language dubbed version. It just… didn’t feel authentic. And you might miss out on subtleties, such as (ok, this is one of the less subtle subtleties, I admit) when one character: a blonde, mixed-race Chinese-Australian man from Beijing who speaks Mandarin as a native throughout the film, suddenly shouts “Fuck this shit! No fucking way!” in unaccented English when he makes an uncharacteristically self-sacrificing move, risking his own life.
This editorial cartoon from the New York Daily News is not new; it seems to be from 2016, drawn by Bill Bramhall. I only just saw it though, in the feed of a Facebook friend.
Yet I think it is even more appropriate today, now that we have seen two years of the Trump presidency.
It of course is a reference to one of the scariest scenes from the 1979 movie Alien. I don’t know if the caption (those words were uttered by Ash, the film’s robot antagonist who is willing to sacrifice the spacecraft’s human crew in order to return the alien to his corporate masters ) was part of the original version of the cartoon, but it is this caption that makes the cartoon especially poignant these days.
When I first saw the movie, Never Let Me Go, a few years back, it left me breathless. I mean, it left me gaping, with my best “what the fuck was that?” expression frozen on my face. It was, to put it mildly, a shocking film.
We took away your art because we thought it would reveal your souls. Or to put it more finely, we did it to prove you had souls at all.
I quickly grabbed the book and read it, too. Its impact, if possible, was even greater. An amazing “cautionary tale”, to use Larry Niven’s expression: a piece of science-fiction that holds up a mirror to let us see the darkest corners of our collective soul.
And now the author, Kazuo Ishiguro, won the Nobel prize for literature. Well deserved. Very well deserved.
It is well known that the despicable Biff Tannen character from the Back to the Future movies was based on a certain real-life despicable mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump. In particular, the “rich Biff” of 1985, having established a casino and real estate empire after receiving a sports almanac from the future back in 1955, was modeled after everyone’s favorite Trump.
In light of this and today’s historic events, it is only appropriate to imagine how the real-life Biff, I mean Trump, would have fared in one of the movies’ iconic scenes:
I hate manure…
Yes, I know it is more than a little crass to share this tweet. Even so, it is far less distasteful than the many racist caricatures that followed Obama’s inauguration and frankly, it makes it a lot easier to deal with this historic day.
Today, I was trying to explain to someone the difference between entering a Web site’s address in the address field of a Web browser, vs. entering a search term in Google. I was not very successful. In the end, it doesn’t really matter… Google happily accepts a Web site address in its search field, and all modern browsers accept search terms in the address field, passing it on to the preconfigured search provider.
But this experience reminded me of a clip from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It’s when Scotty and McCoy talk to a factory manager and Scotty tries to show the chemical formula for “transparent aluminum”. When McCoy suggests the use of a computer, on old Mac sitting on a desk nearby, Scotty first tries to talk to it; and when McCoy helpfully points at the mouse, Scotty picks it up as though it was a microphone tries talking into it.
What I realized is that thirty years later, we basically gave up on the idea of trying to educate users. If that computer was built today, with users like Scotty in mind, we’d just put a damn microphone into the bleeping mouse. It’s just easier that way.
Last night, after I watched the final episode of an amazing Brazilian television series, 3% (yes, that’s the title) on Netflix, I felt compelled to listen to the immortal song Aquarela do Brasil, especially the Geoff Muldaur version that was the title song for Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil.
As I was listening to the song, I realized that along with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, it’s one of the songs I’d like to listen to when the world comes to an end.
Today is the day when Marty McFly and the Doc find themselves in futuristic Hill Valley, trying to fix the future while accidentally messing up the past.
Too bad things are not quite as the film predicted. No flying cars powered by portable fusion generators running on garbage. No hoverboards either, nor free-floating holograms. No self-tying shoes, no self-adjusting, self-drying jackets either. And no weather service that can control the rain.
On the other hand… a Pepsi doesn’t cost $50. USA Today is still around and a newsstand copy costs “only” $2, not 6 dollars.
And while there is no Queen Diana, there may yet be a female President in the White House 15 months from now.
Oh, and while we don’t have a Scenery Channel on cable, we have three others in its place: a Fireplace Channel, a Sunset Channel, and an Aquarium Channel. All in glorious digital HD. Yay! Welcome to the future!
In an interview with Radio Free Europe, a former employee reveals what is a de facto Orwellian Ministry of Truth operated by Putin’s regime in Russia.
In St. Petersburg’s Internet Research center, professional Internet trolls are employed who post comments on various social media sites. The operation is sophisticated: employees play different roles, creating an impression of genuine debate in which, of course, the government line always prevails. Their activities sometimes become surreal, described as a parody of Orwell’s novel. But wait a cotton-picking minute… wasn’t it Orwell’s novel that was supposed to be the parody? What a strange world we live in.
One of my all-time favorite movies is the 2012 film Cloud Atlas. I love this film so much, I watched it at least 5-6 times already. Indeed, I went beyond merely watching it: for the first time, I actually contributed to IMDB, by describing some obscure goofs and anachronisms that I discovered in the film by accident.
I find it especially interesting how a high-budget movie can recreate a scene from the past. The movie features a storyline that takes place in 1973 San Francisco. However, it was not filmed in San Francisco, but rather, Glasgow, Scotland. Here is one example of a scene from the film vs. the actual street as seen on Google Street View (the overlap is not exact, but close enough I think):
Some of the changes were physical decorations no doubt; other changes were likely just clever use of CGI. Either way, I am impressed. Of course I loved the old cars, too.
I was somewhat less impressed by the fact that the film’s version of Van Ness Ave was a rather narrow, one-way street. That’s not the Van Ness Ave that I know! Nonetheless, it didn’t take anything away from the film, which for now, and for the foreseeable future, remains on the top of my list. Why? To quote a character from the film, it’s about “just trying to understand why we keep making the same mistakes… over and over.”
Epic tales tend to be one sided. Hobbits: good, orcs: evil. Rebel Alliance: good, Galactic Empire: evil. And so on.
Except that sometimes, we do get a glimpse of the story from the perspective of the other side.
The conversations between orcs that we witnessed in later chapters of the Lord of the Rings kind of humanized them: they were not necessarily nice guys, but they were, well, foot soldiers in an army like foot soldiers in any other army. Russian novelist Kirill Neskov must have been thinking the same thing when he wrote The Last Ringbearer, a novel in which we learn that Mordor is a peaceful country undergoing an industrial revolution, which is threatened by backward, war-mongering imperialists led by Gandalf, who is seeking “a final solution to the Mordorian problem”. Wow.
As for Star Wars, I always wondered: When the Death Star was destroyed, for instance, how many innocent people: children, civilian employees, family members, cooks, nurses, doctors, and so on, were destroyed along with the artifact? More than that, what if the canonical account is really a one-sided, distorted version of the real story, and the Rebel Alliance is just a bunch of terrorists while the Galactic Empire is really a peaceful, progressive civilization representing law and order?
Apparently, I am not the only one with these thoughts. Here is an amazing short animation of a battle between the Empire and the rebels… from the Imperial perspective:
What can I say? Let’s hope the good guys win… whoever they are.
I am still digesting the news, which I received while in Hungary, that Leonard Nimoy, aka. Mr. Spock, is no longer with us.
And now there is breaking news that Harrison Ford, aka. Han Solo, aka. Indiana Jones, crashed while flying solo in a vintage WW2 aircraft in California. The good news: according to the LA Fire Department, his injuries were moderate and he was alert as he was transported to hospital.