The Death of Symbolism


Almost everyone in America has a general idea of what the character Death is supposed to look like. Skeletal figure, long black cape, terrifying scythe. You know, this guy.

Death of Symbolism
He’s all scary and ghostly. Death is the manifestation of one of the most primal forces on the planet. He is the end of all things and we all just fully accept that he looks like this. Skeletal – makes sense. Robed in black – it’s sinister, so guess that works. Carrying a scythe – scythes are scary and frightening, okay.

Continue reading The Death of Symbolism

Word Length Pain


Everyone’s been there. A paper with a completely arbitrarily page or word  length was due in a class. And, of course, you’ve managed to write a coherent and strong argument in 5 pages instead of 7, or 11 pages instead of 15. So, here comes the fudging.

I’ve had friends try to overcome length minimums through all manner of creative workarounds: instead of single spacing after a period, double space; instead of using 12 point font, try to use 12.3 point font. You could always manually change the margins of the paper so that they are invisibly more narrow, adding in another few lines of text. My personal favorite was using footnotes in a paper instead of endnotes or internal citation. It’s both an approved method, and with enough footnotes a page can easily be added to the length of a paper.

All creative solutions aside, the best way to increase the length of a paper in situations like this was just through useless padding. An introduction that could be 4 or 5 sentences would suddenly become half a page. A clear sentence would become reworded into something longer, more along the lines of “The sentence, which was clear, could be rearranged in such a way as to increase its absolute length.”

Ultimately, all page minimums would really do was increase someone’s ability to bullshit while also leading to bad writing habits and overly long, complex sentences.

I just started a job writing at Business Insider for their Military and Defense section. Adapting to the more conversational, though still journalistic, style of BI has been difficult for me. The main problem I face is that I feel almost preconditioned to write in a flowery, bullshit padded academic style. This style just happens to be the enemy of journalistic writing.

Most writing generally deemed to be stronger and better when the author can present the argument clearly and concisely. If that can be done in 5 pages instead of 10, then why insist on the length?

The Mother We Share


The electro-pop of Scottish Chvrches is just too catchy to pass up. Ever since learning that they might be playing at Bonnaroo this coming year I’ve become addicted to their stylized hooks and melodies. They’ve gone from being a band that I always passed over – I have a thing against bands that try to seem cool by swapping letters around – to being one of the acts I’m most looking forward to.

Just shows that you can’t judge a band by its… cover?

Rote Memorization


Some people memorize poetry, and some people memorize song lyrics or rap lines (which is really just a kind of poetry anyway); some people memorize movie or TV show lines and some people memorize jokes and one liners. Overall, in the end, everyone either knows someone who has an extensive listing or memorized content – or, they even do it themselves.

But why? Why do people feel such a drive to memorize and recite content? After all, who doesn’t get a thrill learning and singing along to a favorite song? Or who doesn’t have a flush of happiness at being able to drop a line from a favorite TV show at the appropriate point in a conversation? Why are people almost seemingly programmed to love memorizing and reciting content? Continue reading Rote Memorization

Space Oddity


There’s not much more to be said about David Bowie and “Space Oddity” that hasn’t been said already. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy seeing the original 1969 video to the smash hit. It’s amazing to look at it, in all its vintage glory, and then compare that to modern music videos. It is remarkable how far the genre of music videos has come.

This video also provides a great insight into the creative process that goes behind making singles. If this version doesn’t sound familiar to you, it is because the song would later undergo multiple revisions to eventually become the “Space Oddity” that most people know and love today.

For reference, here is the better known 1972 “Space Oddity.”

The Fervent Kurd


It was getting to be time to grab dinner, and a dusky glow was already starting to illuminate the narrow stone streets of the old city of Urfa. Danielle, Fabio and I were hungry from a long day of exploring the city, in all it’s ancient glory, so we decided to grab a quick dinner of pide and lahmacun at a cheap restaurant we passed the day before not far from our pensiyon.

View of Urfa

The night was still early, and few Turks were out eating at all when we slowly approached the glass fronted restaurant with a grill that spilled out onto the street in front. As soon the restaurant owner saw us, he passionately herded us down to sit at a table on the sidewalk in front of his small establishment. Business must have been slow that night, for, except to shepherd a few other customers into the restaurant or to give instructions, he spent the entire night by our table, earnestly explaining his situation.

“This is our soil, our soil, you understand?” He fervently expounded to us, over tea. “This is Mesopotamia, we’ve always been here. This land belongs to the Kurds, you know? If we have to, we should fight for it! The PKK,” he was shouting, but quickly took stock of the fact that he was in the street.

Continue reading The Fervent Kurd

The Stars Above Us


This past weekend I went skiing for the first time, and for some reason it made me start thinking a lot about how language works and how it shapes our general understanding of the world around us. What really got me was the general idea of how you slow down while skiing – by digging the metal sides of the skies into the ground, making sure it catches against the snow and ice beneath you.

Language at work

Of course, a more scientific explanation for why turning your skis sideways – ‘snowplowing’ or ‘pizzaing’ – and digging them into the ground slows you down would probably take into account things like how you increase the surface area of the skis against the ground, increasing friction, drag, etc, thus slowing you down. And, while this is all a very good explanation, I want to know, how did people describe these phenomenons before concepts like friction and drag were ‘discovered’ and explained.

Skiing, for example, as an activity is believed to date all the way back to 5,000 BC in Scandinavia. How then, in that case, did they explain how the concept of snowplowing would slow you down while skiing? Surely, they could describe casually that doing this one movement would slow you down greatly, but could they describe why that happened? Would those early people have the necessary language and knowledge to even discuss matters like drag, or friction?

Likely, this matter goes beyond skiing to all manners of thought. Before humans learned how fast speed travels, could we ever really imagine going the speed of light? Or intergalactic travel? Or time travel? If not, then it is amazing to think how much more we can now discuss and think about due to linguistic evolution due to scientific discovery.

Following, imagine how much more people will be able to discuss in even just fifty years, at the current pace of human discovery. Languages very rarely create new words, so old words will be re-purposed at incredible speeds and given meanings that before would have been baffling. It’s amazing how much knowledge can change language, which in turn influences what we can truly imagine and think of.

Langauge and the firmament

I remember taking a philosophy class – that I hated. One point from that class always stood with me, though. The professor mentioned how some philosophers believe that new knowledge fundamentally changes the way we see and understand the world before us. So, these philosophers believe, thousands of years ago when people knew that the stars above them were gods, they actually did see gods above them.

Their language, and knowledge of the world, wouldn’t allow otherwise.

Eminem Is a “Rap God”


The second single from Eminem’s recent album, MMLP2, “Rap God” hit YouTube around a month ago at this point. Living up to its name, the song proves that Eminem is a “Rap God.” Old school fans of Eminem approaching this, hoping for another “Lose Yourself,” may well be disappointed; however, anyone wanting to see a new Eminem at the top of his game needs to look no further.

“Rap God” brings a mix of everything that made Eminem a sensation in the first place, with a new sense of maturity and energy. Tied to all of this is a very real knowledge of the need for Eminem to solidify his legacy, as well as pointing out the failures of rap today. Whereas Eminem was  “a product of Rakim/Lakim Shabazz, 2Pac, N-W-A., Cube, hey, Doc, Ren/Yella, Eazy, thank you, they got Slim,” modern rappers appear as being as “pointless as Rapunzel/With fucking cornrows/You’re write normal, fuck being normal.” Then, in classic Eminem fashion, he goes on to mention how he brought a ray gun from the future.

Eminem was never a rapper to shy away from controversy, or unique rhymes and themes. “Rap God” shows him at the top of his game in terms of this. Whether he’s playing with the puns of slap boxing not being that hard in the bridge, or talking about his blueprint for success from his younger years, Eminem is all action in this song. It shows, too. At over six minutes in length, “Rap God” is an opus from Eminem, it is a legacy builder.

Aside from the content of the verses, the real standout from the track is Eminem’s impressive mastering of different speeds, timing, and flow. Effortlessly he seems to transition from one time signature to another, resembling more the mastery of rappers like Gift of Gab, than any mainstream rappers you see today. And there you have the crux of Eminem’s piece.

He seemingly laments the state of the music and art he loves, and so, through “Rap God,” he’s hoping to set the bar high and challenge other rappers to even come close to challenging his stature.

“Her” Makes Sci-Fi Heartfelt


Someone once read that the key to writing good Sci-Fi was creating a future where the major difference from our current world isn’t the technology, but the culture that surrounds it. Well, if that is the key to an amazing work of Science-Fiction, director Spike Jonze nails it on the head with “Her.” Dismissing the doom and gloom of recent science-fiction, Jonze instead focuses on how relationships could flower and grow between humans and AI. The result is that “Her” makes Sci-Fi heartfelt, and all the more haunting. (Some slight spoilers ahead)

“Her” follows recently divorced Theodore Twombly – played amazingly by Joaquin Phoenix – an introverted, awkward, and miserable man. Theodore’s life consists mainly of writing personalized messages at a card company and playing video games in his apartment in slightly chromified and glassy future LA. An emotional mess, Theodore on a whim decides to try out the world’s first AI operating system.
Once set up, Theodore and his AI, Samantha – voiced flawlessly by Scarlett Johansson – develop a strong relationship that eventually blossoms into a complete romance. While this concept had the chance to be highly flawed and flat out ridiculous, Jonze  masterfully built an entire universe and culture that allowed such a concept to flower. So, while Theodore becomes intimately connected to Samantha, other characters drop hints of the friendships they are simultaneously developing with their own respective operating systems or gossip about how rare this type of relationship actually is.

A movie like “Her” would never have worked fifteen, or even ten, years ago. But now, as we are already all but inseparable from our phones, “Her” doesn’t feel like such a leap. Who hasn’t had a friend, or acquaintance, become genuinely emotional about breaking a laptop or losing a phone? Now how would we all actually respond if our devices could actually learn, connect, and talk to us with their own unique personalities and view points?

“Her”‘s greatest strength most certainly lies in the casting choices. Joaquin Phoenix manages to convey genuine remorse, doubt, and joy. At every step of the story, you can understand exactly how Theodore must feel and, more masterfully, you can empathize with how someone in his situation would eventually seek a relationship through Samantha, who does seem to truly love him – thanks to Johansson’s amazing work.

Whereas many films may fall into general sappiness or reach for some deus ex machina solution to the underpinning question of how a human and a disembodied machine may ever truly achieve a true relationship, “Her” suffers no such pitfall. The ending is masterful, and drives home the general thrust of the film – What are relationships truly? How tenable are they ever really?

All in all, “Her” is the first must see movie of 2014 (or, technically, the last ‘must see’ of 2013).

Sufjan Stevens – Chicago


Some days you just have to sit back and listen to some Sufjan Stevens. As the Polar Vortex in the North East is finally starting to subside, and the weather is getting warmer – even if almost imperceptibly slowly – Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago fits the mood perfectly. Perhaps it’s partially because of the viral photos circulating of Chicago covered in ice earlier this week that this song has been on my mind. In any case, when the weather is this cold, it’s good to remember that “all things go, all things grow.”

Chicago in Ice

For more incredibly images of Chicago frozen over, head on over to this Huffington Post article.

Photo Credit: Akasped

The Rise of Self-Learning Machines


What if computers could learn from their mistakes? Not long ago, this question would seem like nothing but far off Sci-Fi. Even currently, almost everyone would just scratch their heads and say it has to be a few years away, at the most. After all, there is something about learning that seems to necessitate, deep down, a kind of realistic and organic intelligence – almost something soul-like.

Recently, the New York Times published an article detailing how brain-like computers will be available for commercial use starting this year. 2014. These new computer processors, instead of  being based on the binary algorithms that have underscored computing for its entire history, will now have processor systems modeled on the neural connections found in the human brain.

Continue reading The Rise of Self-Learning Machines

The Bucharest Express


The Bucharest express from Vienna was a clunker; perhaps once a grandiose train in the ’70s USSR, the express now stood rusting, with interior compartments lined more with crumbs and grime than pleasant memories. It was the only train that night via Budapest, our destination, so without any second thoughts we jumped on and easily found ourselves a private cabin, for the train was all but deserted.

Seemingly so, at least. The conductors, speaking no English and barely any German, left the three of us alone as we settled into our cabin and closed the glass door separating us from the hallway. The heat was turned up – although it was summer, the nights were cool and damp as Central Europe was still recovering from the massive flooding that had just burst river banks from Germany to Hungary, and possibly beyond. Soon enough, the three of us nodding with sleep, a family raucously ambled through the narrow corridor yelling at each other. Curiously, they peered into our cabin as we gazed tiredly back at them.

A large family – father, mother, at least two children, possible an aunt, a boyfriend, it goes on – wearing tattered clothing, they soon deemed we weren’t actually all that interesting as they settled into a cabin next to ours. Now and then the children would dash out of their compartment, past our door, apparently not entertained enough by the brown upholstery of the chairs that were slowly coming apart.

As they would dash along, I would keep a checklist of their features to pass the time – matted blond hair, fairish but burnt skin, mullets, a language that seemed to sound like something I vaguely had heard before. “They must be Roma,” Maggie said to me as we both gazed at them. “Are they speaking Romanian?” I asked. She merely shrugged, as we both guessed they were taking the train the entire way to Bucharest – about 12 hours all in all.

The flooding slowed our train journey too, as what would normally have been a three hour ride slid more and more towards the five hour mark. Due to impassable terrain, we were rerouted through Bratislava – our train sat, seemingly in the middle of pitch black fields, for an endless amount of time as freight trains passed roaring by us in either direction. Suddenly, the train’s door opened, and a man with a massive backpack – at random – opened our compartment and sat down with the three of us.

“So, where are the three of you from,” he asked us smilingly as he sat down. His English was nearly impeccable, except for his Hungarian accent.

“We’re American.”

“Ah, just backpackers then, yes? Where are you going? To Bucharest?”

“Actually, we were English teachers,” Maggie said. “We’re going to Budapest.”

“Ah, Budapest, fucking Budapest,” he smiled. “That is where I’m going too. I fucking hate Budapest. I grew up there, lived there, work there, but I fucking hate it.”


“Well, really, Budapest is a good city, but Hungary is a fucking mess, you know? I love Transylvania – you know Transylvania? Dracula and everything. I love it there, it’s beautiful, the people are friendly, lots of Hungarians but they aren’t so fucking annoying as the ones in Hungary.” He laughed as he said this, and brushed aside his extremely thick brown hair.

“What’s wrong with Hungarians,” I asked him, “they all seem friendly enough to me.”

“We’re lazy people. Fucking lazy, but we never take responsibility for it. Oh, we say it was the fucking Russians, or the Germans, or the Turks, or even the fucking Romanians who took away our power, but really we just complain all the time. Look at Hungary now – Budapest is growing, but the rest of the country is fucking awful, and everyone complains but no one is willing to work. So, people are unhappy about it. They blame the rich in the country – the Jews – and the extremely poor – the gypsies – but no one is willing to actually work to make it better. You know back in the USSR times, they would call us goulash communism, because instead of focusing on infrastructure products we just sat around eating goulash and drinking beer the whole time.

“Fucking Hungarians, you know.” He gave a hearty laugh.

We all sat in silence for a bit. The train continued to bump its way along Central Europe. The man laughed, and smiled, and continued to talk. “So, where were you all teaching?”


“Oh, Turkey. I love Turkey, I was just there visiting friends in Istanbul. It’s funny, you know. Whenever I visit Turkey, Turks always go ‘oooh! You are Hungarian? Macarıstan, Macarıstan!’ – Hungary in Turkish, you know. ‘We are brothers from Asia!’ they would say, and I would just smile and laugh, because in Hungary we always talk about how much we fucking hate the Turks. Although they did give us fucking good coffee.”

“You guys have Turkish coffee too?”

“Kind of, although a little different. Of course, sometimes people fucking call it things like Serbian coffee, or Hungarian coffee. Of course we all fucking know it is Turkish. Actually, no, most people in Hungary are too uneducated to know anything. Like the EU, they have no fucking ideas about it.”

“What about you,” I asked. “Do you have any ideas about it?”

“Me? Of course I fucking do,” he laughed. “I think it’s fucking bad. Sure, it helps build Hungarian infrastructure slowly, but where does all the work come from? Where do all the train systems, and mechanical engineers come from? Fucking France and Germany – so it’s really fucking good for them, of course our infrastructure very very slowly gets better. Lazy fucking Hungarians. But who would build our infrastructure, you know?”

We didn’t, but we nodded along with what he was saying.

“So,” Maggie asked him after a brief pause, “what do you do in Budapest?”

“Oh, me?” He smiled, “Well, I’m a civilian engineer.”

I never said this was worthwhile

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