Saturday, April 25, 2015

Top Colleges Bypass Old White Male Shakespeare

The most prestigious colleges in the US no longer require English majors to take a course focusing on Shakespeare, considered the greatest writer the language has ever known.

The news is contained in a report, "The Unkindest Cut: Shakespeare in Exile 2015."

English chairs at several top universities responded to the Washington Post by rationalizing the slight to the old white bard. A requirement wasn't needed since many students take a Shakespeare course anyway.
Yale and others are also obliged to cover the full diversity of English literature, including writers with origins in Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia.
The report's lead author answered:
“If you’re serious about something and find it of great importance, then you require it,” he said. “You don’t leave it to chance. You don’t leave it to whim.”
Said the Chairman at Yale's English Department:
“I don’t think you want to fetishize Shakespeare, or anyone else,” he said.
An interesting choice of words, since much has been made of the kind of English courses students may take instead of Shakespeare, such as Penn's "Gender, Sexuality, and Literature: Our Cyborgs, Ourselves." Or Swarthmore's "Renaissance Sexualities." Or Cornell's "Love and Ecstasy: Forms of Devotion in Medieval English Literature."

From the National Review:
Another part is political, involving academia's devaluing of Western classics and its hostility to anything white, male, or old, adjectives that supposedly mean irrelevant and ethnocentric.
Head-scratching decisions like this one can only cause rational bystanders to question the judgment and motivation of those running universities these days. If all the cars of the US College Train derail, who will set them right?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Killer Robots And How To Protect Yourself

The United Nations has just held a conference to determine if killer robots violate the laws of war and should perhaps be banned.

The organization behind the anti-robot initiative is the Campaign To Stop Killer Robots. Among their supporters are Human Rights Watch and Code Pink--Left and Way Left of the political center.

I must confess I was unaware the technology behind killer robots had progressed to the point that the United Nations feels it must decide if android assassins should be banned.

The crucial issue seems to be that a killer robot "pulls the trigger" and decides for itself who should die without human assistance, while a killer drone, for example, kills by way of a remote pilot "pulling the trigger" for the drone. It seems arguable that a robot can never kill without human intervention, as its killer programming was created by a human. Who's to blame if a robot kills an innocent person? The incompetent programmer, obviously!

You can no more ban killer robots than you can keep guns out of the hands of criminals. They are marching forward and there is no stopping them.

I can provide much-needed assistance to the United Nations by listing those who should be prevented from acquiring and using killer robots:

  • The United Nations (reference: UN killer "peacekeepers")
  • Rogue regimes
  • Terrorists
  • Criminals

We need to keep the killer robots out of the hands of terrorists. ISIS is popular among the world's Muslims. Many thousands travel to places like Syria from all over the world to join. And millions more give them moral/financial support. Imagine ISIS with a million killer robots. Or Kim Jong-un with an army of android assassins.

Prominent actors on the world stage like to claim "global warming" is the biggest threat the world faces. Politics aside, no one knows what is the "biggest" threat to the world but we are aware of many of the contenders:

  • Terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda
  • Rogue regimes with nuclear bombs
  • Plagues/Viruses
  • Killer Asteroids possibly striking the earth (climate change indeed!)
  • An invasion by aliens from outer space
  • Incompetent politicians
  • Killer Ideologies (100M+ killed by 20th Century Socialism--Soviet, Mao, Nazi)

Killer robots didn't make the list but may be added within the next decade.

A Citizen's Guide To Protecting Yourself From Killer Robots

How can you protect yourself from a killer robot? You are an innocent person but perhaps you are in danger of assassination by a robot anyway. Here is some good advice (Keep this list in a handy place so you can refer to it when necessary):

  • Flee
  • Hide so the robot can't find you or even get at you
  • Hack/jam his programming so it is left unable to do anything 
  • Acquire your own robot bodyguard to protect you from killer robots (advice primarily for the wealthy) 
  • Shoot the robot with whatever will kill him--bullets, RPG, IED
  • Set a trap for the robot, perhaps a hidden pit, where he is caught and can't get out
  • Change your appearance so the robot doesn't recognize you

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short On Female Players

Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short of England has spoken dubiously again, this time giving his explanation of why there are so few women at the top of the game of chess.

The answer? Women aren't "hardwired" to be as good at the game as men. His evidence? Short pointed out that of the top 100 chessplayers in the world, 98 of them are men. And the brains of men and women are different. Therefore, women are weaker at chess.

It doesn't follow from Short's evidence that biological differences in brains between the sexes is the reason women are weaker at chess. That's merely an observation, not proof. The often-cited reason for women's absence in the game is cultural:

Sabrina Chevannes, a British International Master said:
“Unfortunately, I do think there is a lot of sexism at every level of chess, from beginners right the way up to the top. We have to admit that it’s there. It has been been present throughout my entire chess career and will be present for years to come. Nigel’s views are pretty representative of most of the men who are competing in chess.

Certainly it's easier to make a case for sexism as the reason women stay away, rather than differences in the brain.

The odd thing about Short is he believes he's proved something rather than making an observation that may or may not have anything at all to do with the differences in skill levels of men and women in chess.

School textbooks post-Short: "Women are inferior to men in chess because they aren't hardwired for the game as men are." It's a joke, but Short is serious.

For a few more examples of Short spouting silly things, check the "Controversies" section of his Wikipedia page.

So-Called Fact Checks Are Political Commentary

See how often something in today’s world is labeled “fact” or “science” but is another thing entirely. We are led to believe something is the truth when it is nothing more than an opinion, and a dubious one at that.

News media fact checks are often little more than partisan political commentaries. Here is a humorous "Fact Check" from the AP:

Here is the first claim the that AP's Steve Peoples decided to "fact check":
RUBIO: "Too many of our leaders and their ideas are stuck in the 20th century."
THE FACTS: On foreign policy, taxes and government spending, many of Rubio's policies are rooted in Republican positions from the 1990s or even earlier.

What motivated the AP to publish this? Rubio just announced he is a Republican candidate for president, and the AP is aligned with the Democrat Party. Nothing to do with facts but everything to do with partisan politics.

Why do we need to be convinced that opinions are facts? Because today, the news media and politicians promote scenarios they know are fantasies but if they are adopted, they will benefit them in some significant way. For example, the money trail that leads to “man-made global warming.”

Falsehoods are labeled as the truth. And the truth is ignored when it doesn't serve the agenda of those in power—and that's extremely often.

I’m sure every person can easily think of an instance where s/he was suckered into believing a deliberate lie but accepted it as the truth.

The truth has little value in our society. It's the partisan agenda that has assumed primacy, regardless of its factualness. The agenda reigns supreme. Facts and opinions are assembled or dismissed with that objective in mind.

Did Stephen King's Drug Use Shape His Radical Political Views?

Stephen King, the horror writer, often states his far left political views on twitter. I assume like many who grew up in the 60s, his opinions were formed back then half a century ago and haven't changed since.

A couple examples: he has issues with several Republican presidential candidates, ignoring the necessity of mentioning how on earth any of them could be worse than either Obama or Hillary:

Cruz, Paul and Rubio, all running for President. Hey, I thought I was supposed to write the horror stories.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Valentina Lisitsa and Free Speech in Music

Valentina Lisitsa is a concert pianist in the news primarily because the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) canceled her appearance due to political comments she made on Twitter. The American-Ukrainian pianist tweets often about the Ukraine-Russian conflict. She's also a good pianist as you can hear in these videos.

Jeff Melanson, the CEO of TSO, received complaints about her tweets (!) and decided her opinions were not consistent with those that the orchestra feels nice and comfy with, so another pianist was brought in.

Anyone with any respect at all for free speech has been aghast at Melanson's decision, despite what anyone believes about world affairs in eastern Europe. I don't agree with many of Lisitsa's opinions, but I don't want her prevented from playing the piano!

Some rock musicians certainly do annoy me with their outspoken politics (incubated with decades of drug use, I'm convinced), but remove them from stages and recording studios over politics?

Melanson himself has raised eyebrows for his own behavior. He has been TSO president for less than a year, having unexpectedly quit his previous post as head of Canada's Banff Centre. His short tenure sounded something like a bull in a china shop--firing people left and right, and grandiose plans requiring massive investments that he abandoned, leaving the Centre high and dry. All the while he divorced his wife and became engaged to a singer.

His supporters admire his "energy, vision, and charisma." I don't see evidence that his "vision" includes the right of artists to speak as they see fit on politics. I'm skeptical those free speech rights inhibit their ability to play the piano, violin, or whatnot.

Melanson's comments since the Lisitsa controversy broke suggest to me he is the last person anyone should want in an artistic management position. Someone criticizes a tweet and his finger is immediately on the trigger to cancel her appearance? What's the dubious mentality behind that? Perhaps this is Melanson's "charisma" at work? I read his words and wonder what is someone like him doing in the arts, and will his tenure at TSO be as short-lived as it was at the Banff Centre?

I'll note here that the biggest problem in today's world is the wrong people worming their way into positions of power and authority all over the world--and it doesn't matter if we're talking about the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the White House, or the Russian Presidency. And meanwhile the best people are nowhere near those levers of power.

Melanson, I hate to say, is typical of so many in the world today. If you don't like what someone believes, they have a choice: either turn around and say what you want, or be blacklisted and prevented from working or earning a living. The only opinion is mine, and anyone else must be quieted. Do most people in western civilization still believe in free speech, or only when it is convenient ("Je Suis Charlie," for example)? We hear it in the US news media every day. Anyone with an opposing opinion is vilified.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Shakespeare's Double Falsehood

New research suggests the play "Double Falsehood" was primarily authored by William Shakespeare, not Lewis Theobald, as had been thought.

Theobald's 1727 version claimed that it had been originally authored by Shakespeare, but he produced his own version from 3 Shakespeare manuscripts that had subsequently been lost in a library fire. But it appears he overstated his own contribution, which according to the latest research, was minimal.

In The Daily Beast, Malcolm Jones calls it "the Bard's uncomfortable new rape play" and muses that Elizabethan audiences were not likely "easy" with rape in a purported comedy play.

It's an odd thing to say, given the Elizabethans' well-known propensity for blood, gore, and scandal. Shakespeare's violent plays were his most popular, according to shakespeare-online:
While patrons liked a good comedy, they consistently packed the theatres to see the newest foray into treachery, debauchery, and murder. Scenes of bloodshed were staged with maximum realism
"Double Falsehood," despite the alluded-to rape (the two parties eventually married), is extremely tame in comparison with many of Shakespeare's famous plays, such as Macbeth and Julius Caesar. And violence isn't unknown in Shakespeare's comedies--"The Comedy of Errors" and "The Tempest," for example.

Strange that we are only discovering basic facts about Shakespeare's oeuvre only now, several hundred years after the fact--such as which plays he wrote and which he didn't, and who he really was anyway.

How To Quickly Brainstorm Plot Ideas For Your Book

Pace back and forth.

That’s it.

If you need to work out elements in your plot so it all makes sense, I recommend pacing (walking) back and forth.

I recommend this because it always works wonders for me. I think of a plot and what it needs, what it's lacking; maybe something about a character, or what is the proper chronology of events so plot elements happen in the correct order, and I pace back and forth thinking of the problem and every single time I come up with great ideas in just a few minutes that I hadn't thought of before.

Pacing is like a magical ritual that always produces results. Somehow the act of physically walking back and forth in the same limited space triggers the imaginative powers of the mind and great ideas rush to the surface.

I’m sure the biological scientists will figure out why it happens--the technical details, but for now, I just know it works, therefore I recommend it if you need some great plot ideas for your narrative or have a problem with the plot you haven’t been able to solve.

Try pacing back ands forth like I do.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hyperrealism and Photorealism: Technique, Not Artistry

Photorealism is a genre of art in which the artist attempts to reproduce a photograph as realistically as possible. The final painting would leave the viewer wondering if it is a painting or a photograph.

Hyperrealism is related to Photorealism. It is a newer genre of painting resembling a high-definition photograph, and is considered an advancement over Photorealism.

To me, if Photorealism is a branch of art, it is an extremely minor one. It is all technique without artistic vision. The skill of reproducing a photograph with paints is remarkable. I daresay not many artists can boast that level of technical virtuosity. But where is the artistic vision? The personal stamp of the artist is well-hidden, if it exists at all somewhere in the painting. Photorealism and Hyperrealism seem a way to substitute technique for a lack of vision, which is apparently a rare commodity.

Do most artists possess a unique vision no one else can claim? Or is the modern artist satisfied with reproducing nature to the extent that any viewer notices the resemblance to the real world yet is still well aware that he is looking at a painting, not a photograph? On the other hand, think of a painting by Picasso or Van Gogh or Renoir. There is a vision behind it.

Should a painting appear as something else, like a photograph? In a museum, the viewer approaches the painting, thinks possibly it's a photograph, and must read the accompanying explanatory card to see that it is in fact oil on canvas, and not a photographic image. Fascinating that anyone could have such a technique.

Maybe I’m too severe a critic and expect too much. Are most painters satisfied to approximate the real world with a superior level of technical expertise and leave it at that? I've become skeptical of art that mimics the world to an extreme, because I'm seeing technique, not vision.

Hyperrealism seems a minor improvement over Photorealism, in that supposedly the artist doesn't slavishly imitate the photograph, but instead incorporates subtle changes, such as more distinct textures, surfaces, and lighting than seen in the original photograph on which the new piece is based. But still, Hyperrealism is dependent on photography. What art there is in reproducing reality to such an exact degree is debatable.

I suppose the next step would be a genre of Hyperrealism in which the painting isn't based on any photograph but nothing more than the painter's imagination. Moving beyond mere technique to a singular vision of the artist seems the logical next step.

Doesn't it make sense to include the original photographs alongside the paintings when they are displayed in museums and such? As a museum patron, I would certainly like to see those photographs. It seems they would be necessary and the two of them shouldn't be separated.

What is the artist trying to say? Isn't that a standard question when admiring a painting? Reproducing a photograph will mean the artist has nothing to say beyond the photograph and his own envious technique, and he perhaps rebels against the idea of “saying something” with his painting. I suspect the goals of the Hyperrealism artists are not congruent with my expectations as an art lover. I anticipate different goods than those they intend to deliver? An artist reimagines the world and presents his unique vision that he and only he possesses, or am I mistaken?

Show me something I can’t see walking down the street or in a forest or at the lake. Or in a photograph. I don’t expect something revolutionary--a new style, like Cubism or Impressionism. But a photograph made with paint? I want something by someone with his own voice. Something more than just brush skills. Show me the world you and you alone see.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Private Coffee Clubs Are The Future

A cafe called SL28 is London’s—and maybe the world’s—first members-only coffee club.

I say private coffee clubs hold a great future in the United States. If I were more of an entrepreneur, I just might start one myself. Coffeehouses aren't going away, more are coming, and customers will demand special perks that private membership can offer.

SL28 caters to “self-employed millennials who just need reliable wi-fi.”

I don’t know about London and what sort of undesirables are permitted to habituate their coffee shops, but the thought of a private club that turns away unwanted riffraff—crazies, vagrants, homeless and the full gamut of criminal types—holds immense appeal to me. I visualize all the repellant people outside the cafĂ© peering through the windows, unable to get near me, while I am inside enjoying coffee and writing my novel surrounded by well-mannered beautiful people.

It’s a wonderful thought. Except I've noticed here in the Washington DC area that money doesn't buy manners, and people with money are as graceless and foul as anyone raised in a trailer park or ghetto. No one but no one has any manners in the old sense. Everyone acts as if they were raised in a slum. So then, will a private club really separate me from disagreeable folks?

I envision a private cafe with attentive and pleasant baristas whose first thought isn't—is that customer of my race and ethnic background and if not, how should I treat him, good or bad?

A good cup of coffee every time. Milk containers always full, napkin dispensers the same. Tables wiped clean. Chairs with all four legs touching the floor evenly.

And house rules that are followed to the letter or you are thrown out the door and your membership revoked:

  • don’t tell other people how to sit, where to sit, to open or close the blinders next to them for your convenience while you sit elsewhere, etc.
  • don’t compete with the house music with your own blaster
  • don’t position your chair so you are too close to others who are not with you
  • don’t ask others who are doing their own thing to drop what they are doing and take your picture or engage in your conversation, or attempt to control strangers in any way

But I'm convinced somehow the sort of people I want to escape from would find a way to finagle a club membership—coffee welfare for the oppressed.