Category Archives: culture

Eve no Jikan

"What do you think of me?"

A friend of mine’s always sending me information about new animes, from the start of this year he’s been up to the day on all the new tv series coming out in Japan. It appears there’s some very cool stuff coming out.

This week he told me about Eve no Jikan which is a web original series that just started coming out in Japan and is currently doing the fansub rounds. (Really hoping to see this hit DVD eventually.)

What catches my attention about this series is that it’s specifically about the relationship between human and machine. Like other personal favorites (Battlestar Galactica, Denno Coil), it contemplates what it means to be human and the nature of consciousness as it relates to man and machine. If machines become self aware, can we really consider them property any more? Can we say we have souls and they don’t when they show the same signs of self-reflection as we do?

What I like most about these kinds of stories is that in contrast to stories like The Matrix, there isn’t an instant supposition that the machines are out to destroy or subjugate us. It’s not just about man and machine coexisting either, but about whether we can benefit one another at a social and (for those that believe in the soul) perhaps spiritual level.

I’m interested to see where they co with Eve no Jikan. It appears that the Japanese tend to provide more space in their popular stories for machines to have a social and spiritual aspect. I’ve heard it suggested that this comes out of shinto belief, where all things have spirits tied to them. In such an environment, it’s only natural that everything from hearth to home to automobile to computer have a spirit of some kind. And if they have spirits, why should they not love, trust, hate, doubt, fear, and overcome the same as us?

In the end the machine is another expression of the other, of anything that isn’t us or isn’t like us. It strikes me as interesting that in American culture, where supposedly we welcome all (or we claimed to as a culture in times past) we have a tendency to write stories where the other is just evil, no discussion needed. Then we look at Japanese culture which is supposedly so strongly conformist and see a tendency to write stories where the other as good or ambivalent as we are and wants to be understood for what it is.

The other is asking us, “what do you think of me?”

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Other people’s words: Plástico

Been thinking a lot lately about the key refrain in Rubén Blades and Willie Colón’s song Plástico. In salsa music, there’s a section of the lyric voiced by the singer then repeated by band members that (as I’ve heard) drives home the key lyric of a song.

In the case of Plástico

Se ven las caras, pero nunca el corazón.
You see the faces, but never the heart.

The song uses it a couple different ways, but what struck me is how this illustrates the necessity of communication and action in order for people to know you–people see your face but not your heart when they look at you. Your heart can’t be seen unless you make it visible through your actions or your efforts to connect with other people (verbally, bloglike, ims, whatever).

When I was a teenager, I naively thought that people just saw quality when it was there. I still think that’s possible, but I don’t think it happens nearly as often as we’d like. Life’s busy and we don’t have time to examine people that aren’t talking to us or interacting with us or others closeby. You can have a great heart, but if you don’t let the world see it through your action, people will only ever see your face.

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Machine souls

Digging through old blog posts I’ve got elsewhere, I found this little tidbit…

Chief Tyrol and Lieutenant Valeri shara a dramatic momentThough I didn’t make it a priority when it first hit, the new Battlestar Galactica series has had my attention since last spring. Being a latecomer to Firefly, and having decided to try and catch some of the Buffy episodes I’d missed on DVD, I already had plenty of tv to fill any time I felt like devoting.

I enjoy BSG at a general level, but one very specific thing impressed me from the start: the series’ narrative allows the Cylons (the androids that looked like chrome toasters in the original series) their reasons for fighting against the Colonials (the humans looking for earth) and allows them their beliefs about what they’re doing. The structure More and Eick have chosen for conveying the story gives viewers a look at the Cylons’ “side” of things, and their activities when “unobserved” by the Colonials suggests that their belief that they’re doing the work of god is sincere.
[At the time I wrote this, 6 was the primary speaker for the Cylons, Leobon was the only other self-aware (non sleeper) Cylon that had really spoken. Since finishing Season 2, I’d only qualify it with a “some Cylons’ belief is sincere.”]

I find this refreshing in contrast to the treatment of the machines in the earlier parts of the Matrix series. [Early because I never watched Matrix Revolutions, so I can’t speak to later revelations on the machines. So I’m specifically speaking from having seen The Matrix, The Animatrix, and Matrix Reloaded.] To be fair, it’s a question of where the viewer’s placed as the story’s told. The audience is led to identify with the humans and in the original Matrix film, never leaves the psychological perspective of the human characters, where BSG allows the viewer to experience both subjectivities, if only briefly on the Cylon side.
[Since I wrote this we got to stretch around in 6’s head for a bit, so a little less on the “if only briefly.” Excellent television.]

The Animatrix provides further insight into what led to The Matrix continuity’s human-machine war in the history segments (The Second Renaissance). These sections aren’t entirely unsympathetic to the raw deal the machines got from humanity, but even with its sympathies, the story is again told from the human’s side. Matriculation‘s “machine rescue” story provides the best look into machine subjectivity, but again we run into subjectivity problems in the final depiction. We see problems with humanity in the way the “rescuers” are happy to use human friendship, romance, and sexuality to coax the machines into switching sides, but unwilling to extend actual friendship, love, or sexual contact. Problem is, in the end the depiction leads us to sympathize with the rescuing woman’s horror at a machine wanting to be romantically involved with her. The machine is depicted in a form that’s just too alien for viewers to fully empathize.

So I find the BSG approach a refreshing change. The machines may be at least partly right. Right or wrong, it recognizes to some degree that “you can’t play god and then wash your hands of the things you’ve created.” It also doesn’t make the too frequent assumption in sci fi that machines can’t possibly have any claim to spirituality because they’re not biological creatures like us, as if biology were the key to the soul.

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Second shift

Another blog comment run long.

A friend of mine recently posted about one of the benefits she sees in not being married yet. (She wants very much to be married, making this an especially interesting post.) Summary version: Working her office job and coming home tired and not wanting to cook, clean, or do other household stuff, and just wanting to unwind is providing her with experiences that will help her empathize with her husband in the future. When he gets home from work not wanting to do anything but unwind, she’ll know how he feels.

One of the comments says she’s being sexist. To quickly address this (because I can’t help myself)…

  • I didn’t see anything there that said that all women should be homemakers and all men should work in an office, it’s just how she sees her future.
  • If she’s decided she wants to find a guy that works an office job and she wants to stay at home, keep a house and raise children, that’s her choice.
  • It’s just as sexist to assume that a woman shouldn’t aspire to being a stay at home mom as it is to just assume that women should all be stay at home moms. Each woman can decide for herself and y’all can just step off!

Ahora… after noting that being able to empathize with your partner is always helpful (as I see it anyway), I started flashing back to conversations with friends studying to be marriage and family counselors….

Though from what I hear, taking care of kids all day, cooking, cleaning, and maintaining a house isn’t as easy as we sometimes like to think, and whoever stays at home with the kids is probably just as burned out as whoever’s getting home from the office.

I remember talking a lot with friends in marriage counseling about this “second shift.” It’s a time that can really set (or show) the tone of your relationship. When you’re tired and you know your spouse is tired, how do you divide up the work that needs to be done?

How much do you give, how much do you take, and how do you balance it so you don’t drive each other (or yourself) crazy? (Giving all the time doesn’t work nearly as well as we sometimes think.)

Love will make a way, and love certainly helps when you’re working this out in a marriage, but there’s probably things we can do now to make this easier down the road. (Principle still holds for living together, but this was originally written for a marriage minded crowd.)

Whether alone or with roommates, we can learn to do more in the sometimes unfun after work time. Some extra clean up so nobody has to worry about it later, a nice meal without there being a fancy occasion, even if it’s just for one (the process will be roughly the same when it’s 2 or more).

We’re building capacity to do these things when we’re tired (though I’m banking on the exercise leading to less tired). The holy grail here: enjoying the doing. We may never get that far, but even if we “only” develop an attitude of “somebody’s gotta do it sometime, so I’m gonna do it now” that puts us in a good place.

There will be some adjustments to make bringing that into a marriage, since there are hopefully two people with that attitude giving and taking on it.

Now if only I did all these nice idealistic things as well as I idealize about them. Always more work to do.

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racism, coming to a continent near you


angry little skinhead
Originally uploaded by zepplin.

European racism is something I’m largely ignorant about, and was the last thing on my mind as I rode the FIFA 2006 goodwill wave.

Some Finnish skinheads knocked me off that groove an hour ago when they decided to chase down an Indian friend of mine who’s visiting there for an academic conference.

Which is an entirely self centered way of putting the following: my friend Nina and her friends were accosted at a nightclub tonight for having the nerve to be brown skinned and breathing in Scandinavia. Some young skinheads wanted to feel big. Bald ponces!

She’s alright, they’re checking into the whereabouts of another friend that was traveling separately, hoping that he didn’t run into similar trouble.

UPDATE: They’re on their way to Helsinki now, which will supposedly be safer for them. More cosmopolitan and open minded about foreigners. Didn’t have a chance to ask her about the friend traveling on his own.

Since a friend of mine was made to fear for her life and is now afraid to leave her hotel until she can return to the states, and because I can’t do anything to help her or her friends from across the pond, it appears I’ll rant for a bit, try and find some lesson to learn.

This incident points out to me that I need to be more aware of the racist fog that seems to be rolling over Europe. I’ve hard tell of a rise in antisemitism, anti-muslim hate crimes, race riots in France, and a rise in white supremacist activities, but I tend to think of racism as a white American problem. It seemed like an illusory sort of thing, and despite my midwest centrist stereotypes of racism as an old problem, the face of european racism is young and it’s violent. Much as I fear it is here. (You may notice that the skinheads in the photo above are from Californa, photographed trying to interrupt an antiwar vigil.)

We all have to be on our guard. Like any other weed, racism can (and likely will) grow everywhere if we aren’t careful to stop it. It’s as true in Europe as it is here in the states. Many Germans, Poles, Czechs, Bosnians, and Serbs understand too well the dire consequences of being on either side of racist action.

While I’m concerned about European trends right now, it’s in the states that I’ll have the most influence. I can rage all I want about racism somewhere else, but it’s here that I’ll be able to see the shoots rise from the ground and stamp them out before they choke people’s natural affection.

I just hope that as I see the shoots peer out I’ll do enough to help people keep the weed from taking root. I hope even more that I’ll keep myself free of its canker.

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a sunrise, a mountaintop, a high speed wireless connection

Yvonne posted yesterday on the tension between technology and nature/the simple life. Or er…. Think of The Gods Must be Crazy… or just read the post.

The technology talk reminds me of Neil Postman.

Postman starts off his book Technopoly by quoting an Egyptian tale on the invention of writing and the gods’ warnings against adopting this new technology. “It will destroy knowledge,” they said. “People will stop remembering things.” (Kinda like the issue of remembering phone numbers after you got that first cell phone with speed dial.) Every technology has its ripple effects, intentional and unintentional. Even writing. (Which brings us to Burke.)

So we find ourselves in a place where we have to balance the technologies we adopt with the effects those technologies will have. The more of us that rely on electric toothbrushes, the quicker we’ll run through batteries. Which is more important to me, an electric smile or a less crowded landfill?

I’ve been thinking a lot about energy footprint lately. I drive a lot, generally 30-40 minutes going to work and sometimes over 1 hour coming back. I use a lot of gas, and beside burning up money, I’m polluting more than I’d like. I also have this cool little laptop that I use much more than I ever used my desktop computer. Generally if I’m at home, I’m on the couch with my laptop reading, blogging, or IMing. So about the only times I’m not burning electricity or gas is when I’m at church. (Since any other time spent with friends is again driving, movie, tv, game, or something else electrical.) So I’m putting pollutants into the air as I drive back and forth, and most likely my electricity’s coming from a coal furnace somewhere. And that’s just the big stuff.

Social effects of technologies are another bit of fun. Because, folks, I’m addicted to the Internet, and if you’re reading this, you probably are too.

A poll by Harris Interactive presented at this year’s South by Southwest Interactive conference showed 70% of respondents saying that they go online 7 days a week. Of that sample, 40% said they felt out of touch if they didn’t have an internet connection.

(I think these are data from the conference attendee group, though the blog numbers for this sample seem low for SxSW goers.)

I have to admit, I get pretty testy if my wireless connection goes out at home. (Just ask the customer service people at Comcast.) Between email, blogging, IM, and my now waning days of online gaming (my poor WoW toons), I feel like someone’s lopped off my knees if I don’t have a net connection or someone in front of me distracting me from my not-jacked-in-ness. (‘Course, I can’t do personal mail, blog, or IM at work, so I tend to come home with all kinds of pent up cyberneeds.)

I know some people deliberately unwire themselves every year or so. Take an unplugged vacation. No email, no internet, no computers allowed. Cut the cord and get out to nature is the typical approach. Could be fun once the DTs end.

I miss the Rocky Mountains after the snow’s melted, the southern Illinois cicadas, humid Missouri afternoons, and the mild New Hampshire summer. That’s where I used to unplug. Me and Lucille runnin’ along with the top down and Van playin’. Taking our time to get… wherever we got to. It was never really as much about where we were headed as the going. Haven’t had that in ages.

Right… writing. Need to mop this up. How about an ill explained metaphor for the win.

So with all the technologies at hand and everything I could put time into, what will I pick today? The sunrise, the mountaintop, or the high speed wireless connection? And how well am I balancing between the three?

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