Tag Archives: humanity

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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“Her” Makes Sci-Fi Heartfelt

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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).

The Rise of Self-Learning Machines

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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.

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Third Death Linked to New Teen Trend

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The recent death of sixteen year old Sarah Hayali, a resident of Marlboro, NJ, has been confirmed by coroners to be related to the use of the popular new cellphone application Snapchat, AP reports. The application, designed and released by publisher Snapchat Inc, is the latest in a long line of new teen trends that allow users to send photos of themselves to other users.

While the majority of photo applications on the market are for personal use or necessitate a following or being followed by a group of friends of celebrities,  Snapchat aimed to move beyond the norms.

 

New Teen Trend
Truly bringing people together

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The Fatalistic Bosnian

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“How was your flight coming in?” Dzemal asked me, as he grabbed my suitcase and loaded it into the back of his ’80s hatchback. “God willing it was a good flight. Did you come all the way from America?”

“No,” I replied, “I came from Turkey. I’ve been teaching English there.”

“Oh, Turkey! Very nice, I know a lot of people from Turkey. Some Turks are staying in the inn tonight. Maybe you can meet them. But I don’t know, maybe you won’t see them. It’s hard to know what will happen, you know?”

Fatalistic Bosnian
The street outside of Dzemal’s house.

Here we go, I thought to myself. It was nice of Dzemal to pick me up from the Sarajevo airport, but I can’t stand the idea of making small talk about possibly seeing some Turks who may or may not be staying in the hotel. 

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Polar Opposites

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“So, how did you meet each other?” I asked the two girls sitting across from me, seemingly polar opposites. One was a fast talking bubbly girl, with long hair and designer clothes. Her friend, on the other hand, was much less energetic and spoke softly. A scarf covered her hair and a dull red overcoat covered her clothes.

“Us?” the bubbly girl asked. “Well, we went to the same dershane (basically extra prep-classes for the college exam) together and we had a mutual friend who introduced us.”

“We didn’t like each other at all, at first,” the other girl pipped in.

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An Ottoman Warrior

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“I have a lot of problems with the Turkish Republic,” he said with a big smile on his face. “I do not like the Turkish Republic. I like Ottoman. I am an Ottoman warrior,” he continued as he munched on an egg and sipped some tea.

“Why is that?” I asked inquisitively. Usually, the answer has to do with politics and how ethnic minorities feel as if they are being assimilated into the overall Turkish sphere.

“Religion!” he put in triumphantly. “Turkey ignores religion. It says Islam is not important, but we are Muslim. We are a Muslim country. It is important that we follow our religion. For this reason, I like Iran. I want Turkey to be like Iran.”

I was amazed. This was the first I had ever heard of anyone in Turkey, no matter how religious they were, openly saying that they wanted a system in Turkey like that of Iran – people always insisted on the opposite.

“You like Iran then,” I said cautiously, unsure of how to proceed.

“Yes, definitely,” he continued as he poured us more tea. “Iran is very good, except for violence towards women. They throw stones at women, kill women. This is bad. You know, I read the Qur’an and it does not say these things. So that violence is very bad.”

“Right, it says be merciful to people, right?”

“Yes, yes, exactly.”

We sat in a short lived silence, as we continued working on our breakfast. “But I do like Iran, you know. I think all women should be covered. You see some women and you think what are they doing. It’s very bad.”

“Yeah… What about alcohol, though? Should that be banned?”

“Absolutely. I never drank alcohol, it is forbidden.”

“Right, but what about for Christian or Jewish people? They need alcohol for their religion. Can they drink it?”

For a second here my friend, the Ottoman warrior, faltered. Although he continued to have his big welcoming smile, you can tell he was trying to work out a conundrum in his head. Within a second though he had recovered.

“Yes, yes, of course they can. You know, I read a lot of Nietzsche. You know Nietzsche? My family always asks me why I have these books. ‘God is dead!’ But for me, no problem. I like reading, I like new ideas. People are people, you know. So for Christians if you need to drink, you can drink. No problem.”

“The Ottomans were like that, right? Every group had their own laws, it was very tolerant.”

“Yes, yes. You know, I am a soft Islamist. Every person is special, so you should not hurt or kill anyone. If I cut you or  I cut myself, it is the same blood, yes? We hurt the same.”

“People are people,” I murmured in agreement.

We sipped our tea and sat for a few moments, admiring the beauty of the traditional Mardin courtyard we found ourselves in.

“So tell me, friend” he said slapping me on the back. “What do you do?”

“I am a teacher,” I replied smiling, expecting the normal positive response that I get from Turks.

“Teachers? I hate teachers,” he said with a big smile. “You know, I was a teacher for a while. Then they arrested me. I was in prison for two months.”

“Why, what happened?”

“In class I told them all how I hated the Turkish Republic, and I was an Ottoman warrior,” he said laughing. “They were not happy.”

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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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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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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The Eager Alawi

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Taking the overnight bus from Malatya to Hatay with Danielle and Fabio, I immediately cursed my bad luck as I was forced to sit next to a wide squat Turk who was expanding into my seat. No sleep for me, I thought to myself; of course, I was wrong. I fell asleep almost immediately and did not truly stir until we arrived in Hatay province.

Still with a half hour to go until we reached our final destination – the city of Hatay, formerly known as Antakya, the old city of Antioch – my seat mate and I made eye contact and started to chit-chat.

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A Modern Muslim

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“Do you drink?” Füsun asked me as I got in her car.

“Yeah, sometimes I guess,” I tried to respond coyly.

“Oh, wonderful! You’ll come over for dinner next week and meet my husband. Make sure to bring wine, though! We both drink.”

“Really?”

“Yes, yes! I am a modern Muslim! I don’t cover – I think covered women look so ugly – and I drink. A modern Muslim, I am a modern Muslim woman!” Füsun continued to rant like this switching between broken English and Turkish on the ten minute ride she gave me from the campus shopping market to my apartment.

“Really!” she insisted, bright red dyed hair glinting in the street lights in front of the apartment, “We would love to have you over for dinner next Wednesday. Okay?”

“Uh, yeah, sure” I smiled back at her.

“Wonderful! See you then, iyi akşamlar!” hung in the air as she sped away back to her own apartment.

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