Can You Hear Me Now?

Aliens plop down on earth. Humans wonder what the aliens want. What do they want? How do humans know?  This is the conundrum created by many a science fiction movie and at the heart of the excellent new film that’s generating Oscar buzz, though little attention otherwise, Arrival.

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There are a set number of possible options for an Alien Landing plot, many of which have formed the core famous and infamous science fiction premises. Often, the aliens mean harm or pretend to be nice but then mean harm OR some are nice but are fighting with others who mean harm. So getting eaten/enslaved/destroyed is a fairly likely occurrence. But then, how do humans know? Someone has to ask, and how do you speak to an alien?

As most movies are aimed at the lucrative 13-15 year old boy market, many Alien Landing plots involve the shoot first variety. If you google “Alien Invasion,” you can even see the top twenty or thirty of these movie types.  But Arrival is about the communication process itself. Since there is such a huge possibility that the aliens still might have nefarious intent, the armies surround the aliens and point guns at them. You can’t help but marvel at the stupid efficiency of the American army as it erects tents and hazmat facilities and communication centers without the slightest clue of whether any of that will be helpful. (Turns out most of it is not). They at least have the sense to bring in Amy Adams, who plays linguist Dr. Louise Banks, to bridge the communication gap.

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Aliens Land Now What flowchart (kajmeister)

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Against the Notion of Takers

In fact, most people give to others on Christmas merely because they expect to receive gifts themselves!—realtruth.org

 I protest. I dispute the notion that we as a society are a tsunami of greedy grabbers. At this time of year, it is customary to focus a lot around giving and it is also customary to characterize all of us as taking. But are we really all Takers?

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–Danny Thomas

Givers, Takers, and Matchers
Adam Grant, a Wharton professor, did a study published back in 2013 about Givers, Takers and Matchers in industry. He found an interesting phenomenon – Givers were on the bottom of the success ladder across most disciplines. Givers were “over-represented at the bottom” because they were more focused on other people and risked getting exploited. However, Givers were also over-represented at the top. The most successful leaders were the ones who were focused on helping other people up the ladder and on building a strong team to support their structure and cement their legacy. Continue reading “Against the Notion of Takers”

Faded Philosopher Cage Match: Plato v. Aristotle

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Do you prefer dogs? Do you own a cat? Do you drive a Prius or an SUV? Do you prefer baseball or football? In theory, these preferences could be an indicator whether you are more influenced by the Greek philosopher Plato or his equally famous student Aristotle. I came across an interesting little quiz that you can all try:  http://www.signature-reads.com/2013/11/the-personality-divide-are-you-more-like-plato-or-aristotle/

I am taking a Philosophy mini-course, so I will share the benefit of my quick-learned wisdom. The subject is philosophy and once you dip your toe into Metaphysics – that is, What’s the universe made of – you’re not far from delving into Epistemology – How can I know what I know – and then it’s a slippery slope to Existentialism and Deconstructionism and Miley Cyrus.

But let’s start much simpler.

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant who was very rarely stable
Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozin’ beggar who could drink you under the table
Dave Hume could outconsume Schopenhauer and Hegel
And Wittgenstein was a beery swine who was just as schlossed as Schlegel
–Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Drinking Song

The origins of philosophy came from a guy called Thales of Miletus (now southern Turkey) who thought that the ultimate nature of reality was water. Our bodies have a lot of water in them, the area near where he lived had a lot of water, if you dig deep down you get water, and voila! All is water.  Perhaps that explains why philosophers like to drink so much. Continue reading “Faded Philosopher Cage Match: Plato v. Aristotle”

Spatchcock! Gesundheit…

The turkey is a truly noble bird. Native american, a source of sustenance to our original settlers, and an incredibly brave fellow who wouldn’t flinch from attacking a whole regiment of Englishmen single-handedly! Therefore, the national bird of America is going to be…
–Ben Franklin from the musical, 1776

Are turkeys noble? Or are they silly, vain and colossally stupid? Is their meat sleep-inducing?  Do they come from Turkey? And did the pilgrims really eat them on the First Thanksgiving?

Let’s sort myth from facts as we look forward with Great Anticipation to the big Eats and Dysfunctional Family Show, the Slidin’ into the Holidays, the Day before Black Friday, known in these United States as Thanksgiving.

First of all, Ben Franklin’s line from the musical 1776 is a mishmosh of truth and exaggeration. Franklin did write that the new nation might be better represented by a turkey than an eagle, which he did describe as a thief and a coward, a bird of mischief rather than nobility. In looking at early artwork of the national seal, he said the drawing looked more like a turkey than an eagle. He went on to laud the bravery of our native birds in facing down the British, though he called them “silly and vain” rather than noble. Whether they were brave, near-sighted, kamikaze, or just plain stupid is something history will never know. Continue reading “Spatchcock! Gesundheit…”

Baryshnikov reads the phone book

I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov dance last week in Berkeley because art is a balm to the soul in troubled times, and last week was some troubled times. Baryshnikov is 68, though he doesn’t look a day over 59. Actually, he looks darn good and can still cause a swoon with a flick of the wrist.

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Baryshnikov in Wilson’s Letter to a Man

The performance was a collaboration he did with Robert Wilson, who created works with Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson. You can tell by those names that Wilson likes it modern and likes it surreal.  Which is fine except that surrealism turns out to be better if you have context.

Modern art has that feature. For example, I have always found cubism more interesting if I can discern the original model – a woman’s face, a guitar, a mountain. When the shapes become completely random, I lose the ability to appreciate what the artist was trying to achieve. The Salvador Dali with the melting clock is easier to think about than the Salvador Dali with the melting oblong blob. Labelled Untitled #4.  My reaction becomes Untitled #5.

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