Two great artists passed away in the last week — Sinéad O’Connor and Paul Reubens. Both were taken before their time.
On the surface, they appear to be polar opposites. One was intensely serious, focusing her art on sorrow and heartbreak and fighting injustice, and the other was a wellspring of joy — a brilliant adult mind channeling the unfettered imagination of a child.
But both of them, by their very nature, were a challenge to the patriarchy. Because there are unspoken rules in our society about power and how it works.
People don’t generally talk about those rules, and may not even be consciously aware of them. But people obey the unspoken rules of power — because if they don’t, there will be trouble.
Yet neither of these two artists bowed to the unspoken authority of heterosexual male privilege. As different as they were from each other, they were defiantly unafraid to challenge its orthodoxies, and to stand up for its victims.
And for that, they were both punished. Only years later did people realize the true nature of the battle, and the power that Sinéad and Paul were up against.
So let’s celebrate them both, and raise a glass in their honor. Unearned privilege needs to be challenged, and its victims need to be acknowledged. In every generation there are too few heroes willing to take up that challenge.
Earlier this evening I fell asleep and had a long an elaborate dream about writing a post to this blog. Then I woke up, and realized that it was all only a dream, and that I had not actually written a blog post.
So now I am writing a blog post about having a dream about writing a blog post. Which means that this is an actual blog post.
Or perhaps this is the modern version of Chuang Tzu’s famous philosophical question: Was I a blogger dreaming that I was a blogger, or am I now really a blogger dreaming that I am a blogger?
Eventually it will be possible to use A.I. to automatically remake any movie, replacing the original actors with the actors of your choice. For example, you might one day choose to watch “Gone with the Wind” with Rhett Butler played by Brad Pitt and Scarlett O’Hara played by Winona Ryder.
At first there will be objections, since such an act will be seen as a violation of copyright laws. But sooner or later, given the fact that it will become easy to do this, the laws will catch up.
A system will be worked out that will allow proper royalties to be attached to any recast screening. After that, creators will start to be properly compensated both for their work and for the use of their likeness.
It will become so common to recast movies, that future generations might forget it was ever any other way. Except that every once in a while somebody will put on an “old school” film festival, in which every movie features its original cast.
Some younger people might be puzzled by such an oddly retro festival. “Why,” they might ask “would anybody ever want to do that?”
A small creature, a nematode, was recently found frozen in the Siberian permafrost. Scientists managed to bring it back to life, and it has in fact now started having babies in the lab.
The nematode in question had been in suspended animation for 46,000 years. Does this make it the world’s oldest known living critter?
Norman Lear turns 101 today. For all of the wonderful things that he has done (so far), I am delighted that he is here with us on this planet.
I am looking forward to his next 101 years.
Sometimes you see things in pop culture that seem wildly different, yet are exactly the same. Here is one example of many.
In season 1, episode 13 of The Simpsons — “Some Enchanted Evening” — first aired in 1990, Homer and Marge go out on a date. In preparation for their night out, Homer shaves off his ever-present stubble. He rubs his chin approvingly and says “Smooth as a baby’s behind.”
But in the very next instant his stubble is right back, as though he had never shaved. It doesn’t grow back — it just instantly reverts to the way it was. The joke here, of course, is that whatever he does, he is still Homer Simpson. It is his destiny to forever remain the unkempt doofus that he is — in his own way, a kind of magical being.
Cut to 1994, to Neil Jordan’s lushly romantic gothic film version of Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia rebels against being forever trapped in a little girl’s body, part of her fate as an undead immortal.
She shows her rebellion by cutting off her beautiful golden curls. Yet, to her horror, the very next moment her long curly hair is back. It doesn’t just grow back — it just instantly reverts to the way it was.
The tone and intent of the two works could not be more different, yet these moments are exactly the same. They even share a highly specific visual trope — the use of hair to symbolize the immutable identity of a magical being.
I wonder how many other such parallels are out there in popular culture.
When we last left off this topic, we were looking at the sequence “Four”, “Twelve”, “Thirty three”, “Thirty six”. The pattern here comes from the number of letters in each entry: 4, 6, 11 and 9, respectively.
And that gives us a pattern: 4/4 = 1, 12/6 = 2, 33/11 = 3, 36/9 = 4.
So what might come next in the sequence? I managed to find two answers:
In the first case, 30/6 = 5. In the second case, 45/9 = 5.
I wonder whether it is possible to prove whether these are the only two possible answers. Also, I wonder whether it is possible to prove anything about the sequence in general.
It is difficult to know what the impact would be of AI combined with neural implants, as a universally available capability. But as a mental exercise, suppose we were all augmented by AI so that every bit of trivia that we can find in the Wikipedia were instantly accessible in our thoughts.
In such a world, you would not need to look up the time, place, or other details of any event in human history. You would already know those things, right off the top of your head.
Would such a capability have any meaningful impact on human existence, other than completely ruining games of Trivial Pursuit? In other words, would we be more effective as humans if we already knew everything, or would that skill by itself amount to nothing truly important?
My guess is that such a capability would not have the transformative effect that some might imagine. I suspect that all the facts in the world at our fingertips are worth less than even a little bit of old fashioned wisdom.
If you know just a little bit of programming, it is amazing how much power is at your fingertips. This is because many talented people have written incredibly useful and brilliant things for the computer, and have put them out there into the world under an open-source license.
If you do a bit of searching, you can find many of these wonderful pearls of capability, usually in a github repository. And then you can download them and make use of them.
But here’s the rub: You can’t do any of this if you don’t know how to program. To be clear, you don’t need to understand how everybody’s code works. But you do need to know enough to at least put different pieces together.
I wonder whether there should be a computer science course just on this topic — learning how to mix and match code from different sources and make it all work. If there were, I would encourage all of my students to take it.
In Florida, newly updated guidelines for teaching history include a requirement that students learn how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.
In Florida, newly updated guidelines for teaching history include a requirement that students learn how the thousands of Cherokees brutally slaughtered in the “trail of tears” of the 1830s developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.
In Florida, newly updated guidelines for teaching history include a requirement that students learn how the many thirteen year old Korean girls (euphemistically called “comfort women”) who were raped by Japanese soldiers in WWII developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.
In Florida, newly updated guidelines for teaching history include a requirement that students learn how the the millions of Jews exterminated by Zyklon B gas in German concentration camps developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.