Category Archives: Thunked

The Death of Symbolism

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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.

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Word Length Pain

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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?

Rote Memorization

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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

The Stars Above Us

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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.

The Pull of Mevlana

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As I wandered through the Mevlana mosque complex, caught up in my own thoughts and the beauty of the area, I didn’t notice the two covered young teenage girls shyly making their way towards me. Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. I almost certainly bumped into one of them when taking a step back to frame a picture properly.

The Pull of Mevlana
Seeing Rumi’s tomb from afar may have been one of the most exciting moments in my life.

The Pull of Mevlana

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Come Sit On The Grass

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My morning class ended early today. The students were supposed to give presentations, but half the class didn’t show up because they took the National Collegiate Exam yesterday. The students who did come, though, were the creme de la creme. So, to reward them – and also because I had apparently promised them – I found myself ushering them all as quietly as possible past the directors office, out of the building, and onto the lawn outside.

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Possible Peace With the PKK

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[quote style=”1″]”Let guns be silenced and politics dominate. The stage has been reached where our armed forces should withdraw beyond the borders … It’s not the end. It’s the start of a new era.” – Abdullah Ocalan, jailed leader of the PKK[/quote]

Thursday was Nevruz, the traditional Kurdish New Years. In the past few decades the holiday has taken on extra meaning, as Kurdish rebel groups would use the celebration as a time to make announcements or enumerate their goals. This past Nevruz announcements were again made; however, this time Members of Parliament read out the message to tens of thousands in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. It was a hopeful message of a possible peace with the PKK.

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A Turk’s View of Nevruz

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The ancient holiday of Nevruz/Nowruz (نوروز  in Farsi) is coming up either this weekend or next, depending upon who you ask. Being very curious about holidays and the like – as well as being super excited to jump over some bonfires –  I asked a Turk I knew about the celebration of Nevruz in Malatya. I ended up with this Turk’s view of Nevruz:

I don’t personally believe this story, but some Turkish people do. A long time ago, I don’t know when, the Turkish people were actually stuck in a valley surrounded on all four sides by tall mountains. The Turks couldn’t pass over the mountains for a long time. They were stuck there, in this mountain valley. 

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A Blank Canvas

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I am not the most creative person when it comes to creating lesson plans; when I do try to flex my creative muscles, often times the results are sub-par (read, Ke$ha). Last week, partially inspired by a discussion with Danielle, I decided to try something different with my conversation classes. So, without giving them any background, I presented them with this painting, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper:

Teaching Prompts

As far as I can tell, the concept of a diner is completely unheard of in Turkey, which prompted lively discussion from my classes.

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Turkish Sayings (Part 3)

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Adages, sayings, idioms and proverbs really offer an insight into another language and culture. In some languages – possible in English, for example – sayings don’t really play that large a role. In Turkish, however, there seems to be a saying for essentially every minor interaction you might encounter. Some of the more common ones have already been discussed in Parts 1 and 2.

So, without further ado, here is the next installment of some of my favorite Turkish sayings:

Ayran içtik ayrı düştük

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Birth of a Dialect

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The recent, and as of yet still unexplained, cancellation of internet to my apartment has left me, Danielle and Fabio all connecting wirelessly to the router of a friend living above me. Since the connection in my apartment is strongest, our living situation has taken on a dorm-like feeling as we all huddle around the hot spot with our electronics trying to check our email and be productive; or, as is the case with Danielle and myself, be helplessly distracted by Facebook.

“Do you know her?” Danielle asked me, having just received yet another friend request from an unknown Turk.

“Nah, I don’t. Maybe she’s one of your students?”

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Jewish Turkish Cultural Similarities

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The other day I was having tea with one of my good friends, when for some reason I decided to tell her the following joke about Jewish mothers:

One Hannukah a mother gives to her son two sweaters – a red one and a blue one. The son is very happy, so the next day he decides to wear the blue sweater to show his mother how much he loved the gifts. As soon as he walks downstairs the mother looks him over and says, “So, you didn’t like the red one?” 

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