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Category Archives: culture

Chapter and Verse

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April is poetry month.

Still with me? Okay, good. I appreciate that most people don’t “do” poetry. They enivision enamoured young men penning verse to a radiant beauty, or a angsty young woman weeping over a notepad, The Bell Jar at her elbow.

For me, poems are like cats: if I come across one, I’ll pat it on the head, spend a bit of time, then send it on its way.

This does not mean I don’t recognize poetry’s importance. On the contrary: Poetry is distilled and direct. Poets have been persecuted, jailed, and killed for their words.

And yet, they persist.

Why? Read Eliza Griswold’s 2012 piece for the New York Times Magazine, “Why Afghan Women Risk Death to Write Poetry.”

Meanwhile, here’s a rubaiyat (Arabic for “quatrain”) written by Lima and addressed to the Taliban:

You won’t allow me to go to school.
I won’t become a doctor.
Remember this:
One day you will be sick.

Je Suis Charlie

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Je Suis Charlie
I wish I could be more articulate. I wish I could be brave enough back up the “Je suis Charlie” sign I held aloft with a pen last night at a vigil in Toronto. This is the best I can muster.

On January 7, 2015, twelve people were murdered because three people didn’t like what nine of them wrote; because they ridiculed Islam. Twelve families suffered at the hands of three people. Twelve circles of friends suffered. The staff at Charlie Hebdo suffered. Readers of Charlie Hebdo suffered. Writers and illustrators suffered. We all suffered because three small cowardly people believed what a bully pontificated; because their beliefs took precedence over twelve lives. Perhaps they think they will have salvation or that a million virgins await them in heaven. I think they’re wrong. I think they’ll be worm food just like the twelve people they murdered. They’re no different, except for the fact that Frederic Boisseau (custodian), Franck Brinsolaro (body guard), Jean “Cabu” Cabut (cartoonist), Elsa Cayat (columnist), Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier (editor-in-chief), Philippe Honore (cartoonist), Bernard Maris (journalist), Ahmed Merabet (police officer), Mustapha Ourrad (proofreader), Bernard “Tignous” Verlhac (cartoonist), and Georges Wolinski (cartoonist) will be remembered.

To coin a phrase: Charlie Hebdo is dead. Long live Charlie Hebdo.

Machina

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I watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 again the other day after reading Arthur C. Clark’s novel of the same name, which was written during film production. One of the themes I got from the film and book was the nature of intelligence, sentience, and its control. Near the end of the second act, astronaut David Bowman unplugs HAL, the on-board computer that controls everything after it kills Bowman’s colleague Frank Poole. Up to this point, human crewmembers have treated HAL as a fellow with intelligence and feelings, entrusting this machine with their lives. When that trust is betrayed, and HAL understands the cost of the deed, it begs for mercy.

In both the book and the film, this monologue is really quite touching. You almost feel sorry for the computer that made the mistakes. Had this machine been human, we’d understand its error as part of our collective condition. To err is human, to forgive is divine.

But if one of our agents, a computer, shows up one of our human errors, we must reboot or unplug. We are forgivable, but the machine of our making is not. It doesn’t enjoy the same rights and privileges we do. It is not a person. (By the way, women were not considered “persons” in Canada until 1929.)

In his recent Globe and Mail essay, “One Robot, One Vote?”, Neil Reynolds, addresses the issue of robot rights. For a good chunk, he assumes that cyborgs will have genders and discusses sex, marriage and divorce. Sadly, he doesn’t entertain the notion of gender neutral robots or same-sex human-robot relations.

He does, however, bemoan the fact that “so far most of the heavy thinking about their rights, responsibilities, and morality has come from comic books.” Hmm. Yet he cites Clark and Isaac Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics,” neither of whom wrote comic books. (He also cites the Bible, which is now a graphic novel.) We could also look at Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek the Next Generation (“Oh, Data, you are a gem!”). Science Fiction and comic book are the playgrounds of ideas, particularly the uncomfortable ones that make lesser men and women squirm. Why not do our heavy thinking there? Where else will it be done: government?

Will robots eventually have rights? I expect so. We’ll create them in our own image. I just hope that by the time we have to put this heavy thinking into action and words, we ourselves become more humane.

Movie Version of The Kite Runner Delayed

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Maybe it’s my cold, maybe it’s my experience from working in the film business, but something about this story stinks.

From the New York Times:

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 3 — The studio distributing “The Kite Runner,” a tale of childhood betrayal, sexual predation and ethnic tension in Afghanistan, is delaying the film’s release to get its three schoolboy stars out of Kabul — perhaps permanently — in response to fears that they could be attacked for their enactment of a culturally inflammatory rape scene.

… The boys and their relatives are now accusing the filmmakers of mistreatment, and warnings have been relayed to the studio from Afghan and American officials and aid workers that the movie could aggravate simmering enmities between the politically dominant Pashtun and the long-oppressed Hazara.

In an effort to prevent not only a public-relations disaster but also possible violence, studio lawyers and marketing bosses have employed a stranger-than-fiction team of consultants. In August they sent a retired Central Intelligence Agency counterterrorism operative in the region to Kabul to assess the dangers facing the child actors. And on Sunday a Washington-based political adviser flew to the United Arab Emirates to arrange a safe haven for the boys and their relatives.

…In interviews, more than a dozen people involved in the studio’s response described grappling with vexing questions: testing the limits of corporate responsibility, wondering who was exploiting whom and pondering the price of on-screen authenticity.

…The producers dispelled one fear, that the filmmakers would use computer tricks to depict the boy’s genitals in the rape scene. But Ahmad Khan’s parents also pressed for more cash, the producers said.

On the advice of a Kabul television company, the boys had been paid $1,000 to $1,500 a week, far less than the Screen Actors Guild weekly scale of $2,557, but far more than what Afghan actors typically receive.

So what exactly did Hollywood film execs think was going to happen? That filming “authentic” rape scenes of two boys in an Muslim country (in any country)didn’t bear consequences? How far in the sand did they bury their heads? This isn’t just an American attitude, but also an artistic one; that to produce “good art” one must make it “real”. Well, the translation of director Marc Forster’s vision was lost, if it was ever properly conveyed at all.

Great spin, though, boys. The book will continue to sell and its readers are frothing to see the flick.

Surprise, Surprise

This is old news in many sad ways. According to Associated Press, a quarter of Americans don’t read books. I’m not surprised, but I am disheartened. As may be evident from previous posts, I work in a bookstore where I’m constantly bombarded with the axiom “Well, at least they’re reading” in response to purchases of The Secret and chicklit titles. That’s like saying “Well, at least they’re eating” when someone’s diet consists of potato chips.

Some key points:

  • “Of those who did read, women and pensioners were most avid readers, and religious works and popular fiction were the top choices.”
  • “Every other genre – including politics, poetry and classical literature – were named by fewer than 5% of readers.”
  • “There was even some political variety evident, with Democrats and liberals typically reading slightly more books than Republicans and conservatives.”
  • “Book sales in the US have been flat in recent years and are expected to stay that way indefinitely”

Why must people live up to stereotypes? Reading doesn’t have to cost money. Libraries are free, and librarians are dedicated advocates for reading and the freedom to do so. So why, in this so-called free country, do people choose NOT to read thereby choosing NOT to express and exchange ideas? What exactly are they afraid of?

From the Guardian

>Once

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>
I’m adding Irish indie film Once to my to-see list. Why? Well, it looks good, and stars Glen Hansard, he of the film The Commitments and the band The Frames.

>The Reality of "Reality" TV

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>According to the LA Times, The Writers’ Guild is threatening to strike. This means a lot of overtime for all the crew as scripts are stockpiled and shows are shot. This will also likely mean the continuation of crappy reality shows:

Network business affairs executives are combing their libraries to identify which shows they have the rights to rebroadcast and to compile alternative schedules jammed with movies, news programs, reality fare and game shows.

Hit shows such as Fox’s “American Idol” are not only hugely popular, but they are also cheaper to produce than scripted programs. And most reality shows aren’t covered under the Writers Guild contracts despite efforts by the union to organize the booming sector

And it is for this reason I don’t watch “reality” progamming. Writers write better shows.

Whatever

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Welcome to Muse Ink, my small space on the worldwide web! You'll find commentary on books, movies, current affairs, and whatever else moves me. So have a look, have a drink, and get comfy.

Sentence first

An Irishman's blog about the English language.