Ever feel like you’re stuck in an inescapable loop. That no matter what you do you’re trapped to repeat the same patterns over and over again? That you’re doomed to wake up to Sonny and Cher every day for the rest of your life? Well you’re not alone. And if you think you are it’s because you’ve not seen the subject of this month’s installment of How Have You Not Seen That?: Groundhog Day. Long before Bill Murray was a t-shirt he was a genuine movie star. And in 1993 he was at the height of his powers, somewhere between Ghostbusters and Space Jam. Teaming up with his good friend and fellow comedy genius Harold Ramis and the wonderful, also at the height of her powers Andie MacDowell they created one of the greatest comedies of the modern era. Of any era really. That may seem like an exaggeration even to those who love Groundhog Day but I’m not the only one to make such a bold claim. The film frequently graces many of the American Film Institute’s top lists as well as being selected for the National Film Registry in 2006. The film has a 96% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been singled out as one of the Great American films by everyone from the Writer’s Guild of America to Stanley Fish. With a pedigree like that Groundhog Day should be on anyone’s must see list. In fact if you haven’t seen it by the time you’re out of high school I’d say you’re doing yourself a major disservice. So assuming you’ve advanced in life beyond senior year what possible excuse could you have for not having seen it? You don’t like Rom-coms? Groundhog Day isn’t a room-com it’s an existential meditation on life, death, despair, and joy. Not into those? Well that’s okay because Groundhog Day is a Rom-com. It’s a comedy chameleon with a humanity that resonates deeply with its audience. This is a film that gets better with each viewing and the way you enjoy it can be radically different from viewing to viewing depending on where you are at in your life at the time. This is a movie that spawned its own trope! And while being stuck in the same day over and over again might seem tired when you’re stuck watching made for TV movies on ABC Family you’ve got to be at least a little bit curious about the film that originated the concept. So do you ever feel like you’re stuck in an inescapable loop? That no matter what you do you’re trapped to repeat the same patterns over and over again? That you’re doomed to wake up to Sonny and Cher every day for the rest of your life? Well you’re not alone. And if you think you are it’s because you’ve not seen the subject of this month’s installment of How Have You Not Seen That?: Groundhog Day.
Can Harry Potter pull off an American accent? If you play David Bowie backwards can you hear the Devil speak to you? Is being friend-zoned a special kind of hell? These questions and more will be answered in this edition of Worth It? when we check out the trippy 2014 horror/crime film Horns staring Daniel Radcliffe.
Radcliffe plays Ig, a radio DJ who has been accused of raping then murdering his longtime girlfriend. The movie begins with a shot of the couple happy together in the woods than transitions to Ig waking up on his kitchen floor from a bender. Outside is the requisite media circus that goes along with a beautiful, young, white girl getting murdered.
We get a few scenes introducing the players in this drama (his family, her family, their circle of friends) before we get to the real premise. After pissing (literally) on God, Ig wakes up with horns sprouting from his head. And the horns give him powers such as getting people to confess their secrets, letting Ig command them to do things, and basically making people give in to their basest desires. Ig decides to use these powers to help him catch his girlfriend’s killer.
The central premise of this movie was intriguing enough to get me to watch and it was used fairly well throughout the film. The best part of the movie is Radcliffe’s performance which carries a weaker script. His reaction to his new powers and to the disdain his community feels towards him are both completely believable.
The movie has two major problems. The first is that it can’t decide if it’s supposed to be a mystery or a horror film. If it’s a mystery make the audience and the characters work a bit more to get answers. If horror embrace the darkness (or the camp gore either works). The second problem is that the thing is stuffed full of flashbacks that either don’t add a whole lot or blatantly telegraph the who did it part of the who done it. I would have happily done away with a lot of those scenes to spend more time in the present exploring the devil within us all.
Final verdict? Though Horns is far from perfect I liked it. I’d definitely recommend it to any fans of the Horror genre out there or people who like to see something original regardless of whether or not it totally works. I’m pretty on the fence about giving this a recommendation but I think in the end Radcliffe’s performance pushes me over the top and I’m gonna go ahead and say yes Horns was worth it.
Quick show of hands who here knows anything about cricket? Anybody? What about you in the back? Well whether you raised a hand or not you probably could handle a cricket bat as well as the subject of today’s A Writer’s Tale. I’m sure many of you are familiar with J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (or at least are familiar with Johnny Deep playing Barrie creating Peter Pan in Finding Neverland). What you are most likely not familiar with is Barrie’s lifelong obsession with the sport of cricket and the story of his amateur cricket team the Allahakbarries.
Now if that name looks like a bad pun that’s because it is. Barrie mistakenly believed that the phrase “Allah Akbar” meant “Heaven help us” rather than “God is great”. You have to give him points for effort at least. The name though is not the most interesting part of the Allahakbarries. What is far more interesting is the list of names that played for the side. Some of the greatest writers of the Edwardian era played for the squad including Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, P. G. Wodehouse, A. A. Milne, Walter Raleigh, Arthur Conan Doyle (who by all accounts was quite the cricketer), and many more names of note.
Just think of that! The creators of Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Sherlock Holmes, Mowgli, Jeeves, and the Invisible Man used to get together, hang out and play cricket. And not just a backyard game they played competitively. The Allahakbarries were active from 1887 to 1913 when World War I put an end to the team.
Barrie never let his small stature (he was only 5’3”) or complete lack of ability get in the way of his love of the sport. In fact many of the Allahakbarries came up short in the talent department but the team had fun and that’s really the point isn’t it? Barrie wrote about the team in the short 40 page Allahakbarries C.C. that he privately published in 1890. The book was revised in 1899 and reprinted in 1950.
For more about the Allahakbarries you should check out the book Peter Pan’s First XI: the extraordinary story of JM Barrie’s cricket team by Kevin Telfer.
Until next time this has been A Writer’s Tale.
One my goals with this Subtitles Subversives series is to examine films that are not only excellent but give insight into a culture that you and I might not otherwise have. Something powerful that takes us far away from Hollywood and its studios. Okuribito is just such a film. Titled “Departures” for western audiences Okuribito is a film about life disguising itself as a film about death.
The movie follows Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) as he gives up his dream of being cellist and returns to his hometown with his wife. Needing to find work Daigo answers an ad for NK Agent thinking it to be a travel agency of some kind. Instead he discovers that they work with departures of a more solemn nature. In many cultures working with the dead is an honored position but in Japanese culture there are deeply engrained taboos concerning the dead and those who deal with them. The film’s conflicts arise from Daigo and those around him coming to grips with those taboos and his new profession.
Okuribito is beautifully filmed and the actors’ performances are subdued but powerful. The subject matter is treated with the appropriate amount of respect and reverence. As you would expect from a film featuring a cellist as the main character the soundtrack is both beautiful and classical naturally weaving itself into the body of the film. I do wonder if something might be lost in translation however. Since western audiences do not have some of the same taboos concerning the dead the edginess that comes from tackling those taboos head on is not a part of the western audience’s experience. For example in America “Departures” was seen as a simple low burn indie drama that was very nice while in Japan movie theaters almost didn’t show Okuribito because of its subject matter.
One of the critical complaints upon Okuribito’s release was its over-sentimentality and its predictability. Perhaps for critics and hardened cinephiles this is a problem but personally I don’t believe that all movies need to surprise us nor do I necessarily agree that all sentimentality is over-sentimentality. Some times a simple story is the more elegant way to handle material of such raw emotional depth. This film does what it set out to do and when it is over you cannot help but reflect on the nature of life and death and those of your own loved ones who have passed on.
In the end Okuribito is a Japanese movie about Japanese culture made by a Japanese director that speaks to universal themes that move us all. This is a film that will never enter the conversation of the greatest ever but it can be enjoyed by all. And that is quite an accomplishment.
The world is a big place. With over 7 billion people divided among nearly 200 nations it’s easy to see how even the most well informed of individuals may not be aware of everything that is currently happening in our world. One of the goals of Meanwhile in Countries Not Named America is to select issues of importance and brief my readers in such a way that they are at least generally aware of the players and principles involved. With global attention tied up in the future of the EU, tensions in the Ukraine, President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Trade agreement, and the tragedy of yet another massive earthquake in Nepal I felt that one story with the potential for major ramifications may have escaped your notice. That story is the current Civil War in Yemen.
The origins in of this conflict date back to 2011 and the events of the Arab Spring. The immense pressure of that movement manifested itself in Yemen with the removal of Ali Abdullah Saleh from office. Saleh had been president of North Yemen from 1978 to 1990 and following the reunification of North and South Yemen in 1990 held the position of President of Yemen until his resignation in February 2012. A resignation that came more as a result of people continually trying to kill him and less as result of a sincere desire for democratic reform.
Saleh’s deputy Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi succeeded him having won the 2012 Yemeni election after running unopposed. On September 21, 2014 Houthi insurgents (who take their name from their leader Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi) seized the Yemeni capital of Sana’a and eventually forced the resignations of President Hadi and Prime Minister Basindawa in a textbook coup d’état. The conflict also has a religious tint (because it’s the Middle East so why wouldn’t it) as the Houthi are Shia and have close ties with Iran whereas the rest of Yemen is Sunni with historical ties to Saudi Arabia.
Hadi was held under house arrest by the Houthis until he managed to escape to the Southern Yemini city of Aden in February 2015. Hadi reclaimed the title of president with international support and proclaimed Aden the new, temporary capital. By the end of March however the Houthis were marching on Aden and Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia.
As convoluted as that may seem that is actually the simplest recounting of events that I could manage. All of which lead us to where we are now a full blown civil war in Yemen with a Saudi led coalition force seeking to end the Houthi rebellion and return Hadi to power. To complicate matters further it appears that both Iran and former president Saleh may be assisting the Houthi.
Saudi Arabia has attacked Houthi strongholds to such devastating effect that a five day humanitarian cease fire has been called for. Many international organizations have accused the Saudi’s of indiscriminate bombings attacking not only military targets but refugee camps, humanitarian aid warehouses, and residential neighborhoods resulting in a massive humanitarian crisis for the civilian population of Yemen.
The implications of this conflict have the potential to be far ranging. While there has always been a great deal of enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia the idea that these two sides of the Yemini Civil War might simply be fighting a proxy war sets a disturbing precedent and is more than a little unsettling. Combined with the fact that a massive humanitarian crisis now seems inevitable in a region of the world that has always been a prime recruiting ground for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and this war could create multiple threats to regional stability and global security. So Meanwhile in Countries Not Called America there is a civil war in Yemen and you should really be paying attention.
Hey there! Welcome back to World Building 101 where I take a look at the steps and layers needed to create a successful fantasy or science fiction universe. Previously I talked about Mythology and the importance it plays in laying out the groundwork for your society. Today I’d like to take a look at an element that is tightly connected to mythology and is just if not more important to the shaping of your fledgling world: Religion.
As I stated last time it’s easy for many people to get these two things confused. Some people think that mythologies are just religions that have gone out of style or are any belief system that doesn’t match their own. I want to reiterate here that this is not the case. Creating a mythology is about creating the stories that explain your world (or at least how your characters explain their world to each other). Religion is different. Religion is about organization, control, bureaucracy. Let’s look at our own world for a second.
Let me start with a disclaimer that this is not to offend, diminish, or mock but rather simply a teaching tool used to illustrate a point. The Catholic Church has been a monolith of western society for nearly two thousand years and it is the perfect example of the way a religion can influence the events of your world. First dismiss the mythology (right or wrong, truth or fiction) of the church. By this I mean Genesis, the Gospels, and Revelations along with any stories about the saints. Now look at the structure of the church.
First you notice that there is a hierarchy, a chain of command if you will, that runs from the newly assigned parish priest all the way up to the pope himself. Members of the church are assigned roles and jobs according to their skills, some participate in society while some do not. Those assignments are usually out of the hands of the members themselves as (at least for a large part of history) they must do as they are told. Structure is important. Is your religion a monolith of bureaucracy? Or is it an ad-hoc collection of denominations and sects? Perhaps it is intertwined with politics in a system where the head of state is also the head of government.
After you have decided on the structure of your religion you need to decide how it’s funded. Even silent monks need to eat. Does it rely on the donations of the masses or perhaps it is funded by the crown through taxes or patrons. Do your nuns sell gin on the side to pay their rent? Money is traditionally a corrupting influence. How the faithful provide for themselves is a crucial component that will inform their effect on your society. A religion whose leaders are mired in poverty will be overlooked by the powerful but have resonance with the downtrodden. If affluence and decadence has seeped into your religion it may wield political power but be seen as an oppressive force by the people.
Now that you have decided how your religion is structured and you know how it is funded there is one more important element that you must invent, your religion’s ritual. Ritual is the umbrella term that covers all the traditions and ceremonies that give a religion its power. Let’s go back to Catholicism. Mass, confession, the rosary, crossing yourself. These all types of rituals. Even the Protestants who claim to have striped the ritual out of Christianity bow their heads and close their eyes when they pray a simple but pervasive ritual. Also included in ritual are the religions holy days. What they celebrate and the traditions a religions followers are expected to adhere to on those days (fasting, gift giving, asking for forgiveness, etc.) Ritual is the texture that incorporates religion into the daily lives of your characters.
So there you have it. If you want to incorporate religion into your world building you’ll need to make sure you’ve decided on your religion or religions structure, funding, and ritual. And if you are not incorporating religion into your world than I would make sure you have a very good in-universe explanation for it not being around.
Next Time we take a look at the people you want to fill your world with. Until then best of luck you aspiring L. Ron Hubbards.
Ever been on a date and wanted to bust out the double whammy of impressing your dinner companion with your cooking skills and your science knowledge? Then you’re in luck because today’s Science! For Parties! is going to teach you how to do just that. As always don’t try this at home without a sober adult present.
Take whatever pan you feel like it and place it on you stove. Turn the stove on high and let the pan heat up. You’ll want to give it at least a few minutes as the cooking surface of the pan will need to be at a minimum of 212 Degrees Fahrenheit (100 Degrees Celsius). When it’s ready fill up a cup or baster with water. A baster is better but not necessary. Take the water and pour a little bit into the pan. If the pan is hot enough then instead of sizzling and evaporating the water will bead together and float on the skillet like a disc on an air hockey table.
It’s a pretty cool effect but it’s even more impressive when you marvel your guest with the scientific principle behind it. When a surface area has been heated at a certain point well beyond a liquid’s boiling point when that liquid is poured onto the surface the liquid will evaporate so fast that it creates a layer of vapor that cushions the remaining liquid and keeps it from coming into direct contact with the surface. This is called the Leidenfrost Effect, named after Johann Gottlob Leidenfrost who first wrote about it in his 1756 work A Tract About Some Qualities of Common Water.
The point needed to achieve the Leidenfrost Effect varies from liquid to liquid according to each of their respective boiling points. If you’re a math nerd there are some cool equations to get into here with the heat coefficient and the pressure field created by the vapor layer but let’s be real I’m not gonna get into all that in a blog post about neat science tricks. What I will tell you however is that this same principle has allowed people to (briefly) stick their wet hand into molten lead without harm and burp out liquid nitrogen. Both of which are cool but you should not even consider trying unless you’ve got a PhD in one of the physical sciences and even then don’t be an idiot dude.
Anyway that wraps it up here at Science! For Parties! Below are some YouTube clips demonstrating the Leidenfrost effect. Hopefully your dinner date will be so impressed with your big brain they ask you if they can have desert before you cook dinner. If you know what I’m saying… ahuminahumina… Science is Sexy.
It’s Monday here at the Eclectic Eccentric and the start of the work week for most of you out in the world so I thought as a little bit of extra motivation for both you and for me I would share some of my favorite opening lines in all of literature in this month’s edition of Wily Wordplay. As always the quotes are in no particular order. Enjoy!
- “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
- “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
- “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson
- “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”- The Princess Bride, William Goldman
- “All this happened, more or less.” -Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
- “All children, except one, grow up.”- J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan (1911)
- “Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”- Albert Camus: The Stranger (1946)
- “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” —Paul Auster, City of Glass
- “I am an invisible man.” —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
- “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Did I leave out one of your favorites? Feel free to leave it in the comments section below.
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with the world of Science! here at the Eclectic Eccentric and a recent conversation got me jazzed to jump back into it with a new installment of We Can Do That Now! Where I discuss something incredibly cool: Neurogaming. Something so cutting edge spellcheck is telling me it’s not a word.
I’m gonna go ahead and interpret that as a sign that I should start with a definition. What is Neurogaming? Well it’s a cutting edge branch of the videogame industry that seeks to use Brain Control Interfaces (BCIs) to create comprehensive and immersive gaming experiences. Still a little vague? Don’t worry so is the industry. Neurogaming is still in its infancy and the term has pretty broad coverage. Neurogaming sensors collect a wide range of data about you including measuring things like your heart rate, brain waves, and emotional state. Sensors can also pick up on physical cues such as gestures and pupil dilation. All of this data is then processed and integrated into the game making for a highly adaptive and personalized gaming experience.
The technologies have a wide range of applications. Medical professionals see opportunities to treat PTSD, ADHD as well as monitor overall brain health and improve attention and cognitive performance. Military officials at DARPA have used Neurogaming to increase sniper accuracy, simulate combat experience, and believe that they might be able to monitor for PTSD symptoms in real time. Even professional sports teams are getting in the action using recently developed technologies to simulate actual game play allowing athletes to get additional mental reps and avoid unnecessary wear and tear on their bodies. These are just some examples of potential uses in reality no one is quite sure just how far these technologies might take us.
We’ve heard about revolutionary virtual reality tech before going all the way back to the 80’s so why would this time be any different? Well it’s the convergence of multiple factors really. The first being the immense processing power we have at our disposal now. Every year sees an exponential increase in what our computers can do and we’ve finally gotten to a point where they can handle processing immense amounts of data while simultaneously rendering these complex environments. Coupled with the increase in computing power is the availability of a myriad of far more sensitive sensors at a far lower price. Making technologies formerly available only to deep pockets now (somewhat) easily purchased by emerging startups and consumers. Throw in some recent breakthroughs in haptic technology that make the rumble pack look positively antiquated and you have a confluence of events that will revolutionize not only how we play games in the next decade but also the role those games play in our society.
While right now these games might be limited to simple tasks such as baking cakes or throwing trucks with your mind over the long run these technologies are the key to giving us completely immersive environments such as what you might see in one of Star Trek’s Holodecks. So Neurogaming We Can Do That Now!
Late last night I ended up in three simultaneous text message exchanges with friends who were struggling with both their literal and figurative places in this world. This convergence was a rather rare occurrence for me. While I’m always available to my friends I’m not much of a texter so when three separate 4am conversations occur on the same night I tend to sit up and take notice. Which is why today I’m going to forego my typical type of post and instead reflect a bit about life and our relationship to the world around us. After all knowledge without wisdom is like buying a brand new car without knowing how to drive, it might look good but it’s not going to get you anywhere.
I suppose I should start with the simple fact that life is hard, even when it should be easy. While it is true the life of a refugee and a Starbuck’s barista are not remotely comparable in their hardships it doesn’t change the fact that human beings everywhere struggle with issues of identity and community. Put more simply we all wonder who we are and where we belong. Without an answer to those questions we will be in pain no matter how good our lives might look to be from the outside.
To make matters even more difficult the answers to those questions are not fixed points that can be discovered once then known forever. Who we are is constantly evolving and where we need to be can change at any moment. I could wax philosophical about how we are all unfinished poems or flowers waiting to bloom but that would all be bullshit because we are so much more than that. We are who we are, who we were, and who we will be.
I cannot tell you who you are or where you belong, no one can. Those are answers you have to find for yourself. What I can do is point you in the right direction and be a sounding board for your own journey of self-discovery. My first advice is that before you can know where you belong you need to gain some insight into who you are. Which is easier said than done.
Many people when trying to find themselves use labels to define who they are. This is a horrible idea. When you use labels to identify parts of your personality you end up boxing those parts of yourself off until you’re just a collection of words made up by other people. You sever those unique areas that lay in the in-between those are the connections and juxtapositions that make us unique. There is a reason mystics have always put an emphasis on names. Names capture an identity in a way that adjectives never will. Names allow us to see the whole of a thing.
The journey to understand your own name is a lonely one. It has to be. Because no one else can tell you who you are. But more than that it is lonely because it’s impossible for someone else to understand us if we do not understand ourselves. It doesn’t matter how much love is showered upon us by others we we’ll always deflect it away because it is not the love we seek. We ignore the love of our friends because we miss a lover’s embrace. We reject a partner’s love because we wish it to be our parents approval. We dismiss the friends who give of themselves for those who withhold themselves from us. We do all of these things because no matter how great the love we receive from others is without a knowing ourselves, without loving ourselves, we cannot fill the void within and as such we will always feel alone. Even in a room full of people who would willingly lay down their lives for ours.
All of this is to say you are not alone in your loneliness. That feeling like you don’t fit in is a universal experience. And it can really suck. But when you’re stuck in a situation where you think you don’t have any other options remember that that’s a load of horseshit. Good people tell themselves they don’t have a choice when they pick up a burden that no one else is willing to bear. That’s not true at all they could be selfish and walk away like everyone else did. But that though never even occurs to them. But it should. If just to acknowledge and accept that part of themselves that has to do the right thing. Bad people do the same thing but in reverse in order to avoid responsibility for the wrong choices they’ve already made.
When you examine your motivations and the decisions they’ve led you to you begin to see who you are and why you are where you are. Then perhaps you can be content with the fact where you are at that moment is where you are meant to be at that moment or perhaps self-examination can give you the power to make a change.
In any event I hope this helps you remember that no matter how trapped you may feel or how lonely the world may get there is always a new dawn on the horizon and always someone who cares.