Thursday, April 28, 2011

Combatting Culture Shock

I've given up on trying to remember what the stages of culture shock are. It's like the seven stages of grief - what are those again? Denial, Bargaining, Sleepiness, Wrath, Avarice, Bashful, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon...

The way it basically goes is you show up, you like a place. I recall that this is called the 'honeymoon' stage. Everything is swell and whatnot. I also remember that this is the shortest of the stages, not just in general, but for me particularly.

For this is take two of culture shock for me. The first round was in Leeds which was totally not coincidentally when this blog began. As Marilyn Manson will be paraphrased "When you are misunderstood and popular you form a band. When you're feeling misunderstood and unpopular you write." He was referring to adolescence. But as someone who started seriously putting thoughts on paper in that age, what can I say?

(This has been the biggest gripe of the island - there is far too much Mandarin-specific writing and information. When a guest speaker came to our school he began to speak in Mandarin, which must have been very comforting to the 20% of our students who speak Tamil or Malay. It's not isolated, and my reactions to it would fall into the classic 'withdrawal' stage.)

Not at the time really knowing what to do or expect in Leeds I had a sore time of it. Like an obstacle course of despondency I fell into each culture shock trap on cue. The problem is that the nasty stages of shock all happen in the first few months, and around month six or so you start to 'reintegrate'. I was in Leeds for five months.

My last weeks in England, I recall, were quite nice. I felt more at peace, had regrouped with the people I'd initially hung out with, and for the first time that year the sun was out. So getting on the plane back to the States I can't say I was glad it was all over - indeed, it seemed to only then be beginning.

Round Two: Asian Boogaloo (which sounds like a disease) has required all manner of precautions to ensure that the shock doesn't happen again. I'm at my most sociable since college. I'm trying to ensure that I'm pacing myself in my explorations and being adventurous.

Adventure isn't usually a top priority. In a freak of non-inductive stubbornness I'm still always surprised when I hear someone say they are drawn to adventure. Adventures are just accidents with happy endings. A description I can't imagine catching on, due to it's dual-fluid imagery.

Yet...for someone who isn't adventurous oftentimes I voluntarily find myself in adventures. Reading a New Yorker article I ran across this image of the author:

Jonathan Franzen on a Chilean isle. All copyrights, etc.

It reminded me of the time I was scrambling up a cliff in Belfast in a rainstorm, knowing full well from years of rock climbing that if I turned around I would plummet rather than descend. Muddy and exhausted I made it to the top as the rain lifted and the plateau was shrouded in high elevation fog. It was extraordinary.

Or the time when I decided with some of my companions that switchbacks would take too long, and so we abandoned the path and began a guided free fall down the side of canyon in Utah. In those aerial seconds between landings you had to make amazing split-second footing decisions. I nearly wiped out with remarkable consequence due to a lizard darting onto the rock I'd targeted for my feet. Doing a pirouette in the razor blue Utah sky - that I'll never forget.

Not forgetting the incident when time stood still because I was submerged in a rushing river, unable to swim as a small child, and moments from calm expiration. Straying from the shallows I had intentionally wanted to explore the more interesting bend of the river.

The point is, I'm a cautious person.

The other point is I'm drawn to exploring. Which brings me to the most important memory of my childhood. (Besides the one with the spider which, unfortunately, was the moment mortality 'clicked' for me.)

Preschool. 1989, San Francisco, a private backyard of terraced gravel with play sets and activity sets of all description, and lots of little kids running around. A big natural wood fence. At the corner of the yard and the plot next door was a telephone pole. Straying toward the back corner of the enclosure I discovered a notch allowing me to look into the neighbor's yard.

It was overgrown with Californian flora. No paths, no children, it could easily have been an abandoned lot. But I couldn't, due to my height and the height of the grasses, see the end of this wondrous meadow that wanted exploring. A butterfly flew by, and I looked up to the clouds, wanting to go into that yard, and then the next, and the next and keep going.

This experience can't be unique to me. My Neighbor Totoro wouldn't be nearly as popular if it was.

Now, statistically a third of the way through my life, two things I recall from that moment. Whether they've been adapted or invented who knows. One was a moment of conscience awareness - the decision that I wanted to remember this for when I was older. (Undoubtedly tried other times afterwards with less success.) Second was a deep-seated desire to explore horizons, and forge ahead towards the next rise, or through the next field.

Every place I've lived in or visited has a meadow moment. At some point my restlessness drives me, usually at night, to plunge out into the unknown and aim for the horizon. Just a few days ago it happened in Singapore. Finding myself miles from home, in a part of the island I'd never seen I ran across a vast green space, and on the edge a rise lined with trees - so I struck out and navigated blindly towards - whatever it was.

Vermont, Colorado, California, the UK, over and again this scene has played out. Even in cityscapes like Boston or Seattle. Somehow I always end up back at home, late at night, and tired. Having gone out walking not for leisure, but for the sake of striking out on one's own.

Culture shock hasn't gotten the best of me, yet. Singapore has kept me sort of sane. Undoubtedly I retreated, and criticized and felt isolated. But that's normal. Besides, how bad can feelings of isolation get for someone compelled to wanderlust into the meadows of the night?

Whatever the stages are, they should be clearing up soon, and around June, if all goes well, the emotions and exasperations will sort themselves out. That's the final stage: Acceptance.

Or was it 'Remission'?

Monday, April 11, 2011

These Are the Things I Think About

Recent thoughts of what’s going on in the world:

Last year, a life ago in Reno, I wrote up a list of things that Discover magazine had cited as possible ways the human species was going to be wiped out.

Asteroid impact
Solar flares/Core ejection/Supernova
Collapse of the spatial vacuum
Particle accelerator mishap
Atomic weapons and war
Gamma ray bursts
Rogue black holes
Global warming
Environmental collapse
Reversal of magnetic poles
Environmental toxicity
Superbugs/Epidemic disease
Nanotechnology grey matter
Biochemical disaster
Mass insanity/Pharmaceutical mishap
Alien invasion
Divine intervention

It was on the blackboard for about a month.

Basically, I’m a technological pessimist. I feel no security in the internet. In my charter design it was only after about two weeks that I realized I’d no computer courses or IT support designed. Fundamentally I don’t think the internet will be around when I die. Not that it will have gotten better – it won’t make it.

Burke suggests that there are four technological options.

Option one: Stop everything, go rural. The problem here is who would want to, and logistically how can we? Most humans, now, live in cities, not farms. And whoever has the cities has manufacturing – and arms. Can any political entity afford to go rural? And if they do, what’s keeping them safe? There’d be no U.N.

Option two: Limited research. If we throw all of our effort into certain areas of research we can vastly improve our output and production. But as Burke’s Connections program shows oftentimes it is two people working on ideas in totally separate fields that come together for a show-stopping, paradigm shifting invention or development. By limiting research we limit our potential, and inevitably will miss opportunities that could be the very thing we need.

Option three: Share it out. “We have the technology to build a car that’ll last for fifty years, so why don’t we do it?” Only if you want a collapse of capitalism. With no manufacturing what would the city and suburban populations do? There’d be almost no need for consumption, and a severe scaling back of production. Even if only 10% of all people are in factories now, the whole system built around them would also be at a loss of what to do: how would these people occupy their time? More time would mean more population, and that would only aggravate the problem.

Option four: Keep on the way we’re going. But who can admire our current track record? Technology is faltering, health is abysmal in most parts of the world, the environment is being ravaged and the population keeps swelling. AIDS, dementia, malaria, starvation, genocide, war, famine, depletion of the ozone layer – this is not a healthy system. As Carlin put it: “War, disease, death, destruction, hunger, filth, poverty, torture, crime, corruption, and the Ice Capades. Something is definitely wrong.”

Now Libya is no longer headlines as the world turns its attention to the Japanese nuclear reactor until they get distracted by the war in the Ivory Coast. Before Libya it was the New Zealand earthquake. Shitty year, so far.

And really, for any of the big disasters, or happenings, listed above, can you say that in 2011 anyone is really giving a shit? I mean, no one is really preparing for the inevitable massive volcanic eruption from Yellowstone that is going to practically wipe out the continental U.S. No one is spending any serious tax money on a system to prevent asteroid impacts. No one cares, and we’re all going to die. The question is just when.

A fellow named Costanza came up with four models as well, that I like. Basically the future might look like:

Mad Max: a ruralist dystopian anarchy

Star Trek: a technological utopia

Ecotopia: a ruralist utopia

Big Brother: a technological dystopian police state

To correlate with Burke I guess it’d be: Go Rural/Ecotopia, Limited Research/Star Trek, Share it Out/Big Brother, and Keep Going/Mad Max. (For the third I guess my reasoning is that the three states are equally powerful, and bureaucracy has overtaken manufacturing as the main means of survival in the cities with artificial constructs and conflicts to keep people busy since capitalism is top-down.)

But, really, it’s all a lot more simple than this. There are only two primary futures: on this planet and off it. We either throw in our lot with Earth and start to take care of it, invest in a sustainable future and decrease our population and energy consumption; or we go all out, send out the colonies to begin terraforming Mars and allow nukes in space that we may have rockets powerful enough to escape our wrathful sun.

Either way, in the long run, we’re going to die.

Isaac Asimov put it best in his short story, ‘The Last Question’ about the Multivac super computer:

"It's amazing when you think of it," said Adell. His broad face had lines of weariness in it, and he stirred his drink slowly with a glass rod, watching the cubes of ice slur clumsily about. "All the energy we can possibly ever use for free. Enough energy, if we wanted to draw on it, to melt all Earth into a big drop of impure liquid iron, and still never miss the energy so used. All the energy we could ever use, forever and forever and forever."

Lupov cocked his head sideways. He had a trick of doing that when he wanted to be contrary, and he wanted to be contrary now, partly because he had had to carry the ice and glassware. "Not forever," he said.

"Oh, hell, just about forever. Till the sun runs down, Bert."

"That's not forever."

"All right, then. Billions and billions of years. Twenty billion, maybe. Are you satisfied?"

Lupov put his fingers through his thinning hair as though to reassure himself that some was still left and sipped gently at his own drink. "Twenty billion years isn't forever."

"Will, it will last our time, won't it?"

"So would the coal and uranium."

"All right, but now we can hook up each individual spaceship to the Solar Station, and it can go to Pluto and back a million times without ever worrying about fuel. You can't do THAT on coal and uranium. Ask Multivac, if you don't believe me."

"I don't have to ask Multivac. I know that."

"Then stop running down what Multivac's done for us," said Adell, blazing up. "It did all right."

"Who says it didn't? What I say is that a sun won't last forever. That's all I'm saying. We're safe for twenty billion years, but then what?" Lupov pointed a slightly shaky finger at the other. "And don't say we'll switch to another sun."

There was silence for a while. Adell put his glass to his lips only occasionally, and Lupov's eyes slowly closed. They rested.
Then Lupov's eyes snapped open. "You're thinking we'll switch to another sun when ours is done, aren't you?"

"I'm not thinking."

"Sure you are. You're weak on logic, that's the trouble with you. You're like the guy in the story who was caught in a sudden shower and who ran to a grove of trees and got under one. He wasn't worried, you see, because he figured when one tree got wet through, he would just get under another one."

"I get it," said Adell. "Don't shout. When the sun is done, the other stars will be gone, too."

"Darn right they will," muttered Lupov. "It all had a beginning in the original cosmic explosion, whatever that was, and it'll all have an end when all the stars run down. Some run down faster than others. Hell, the giants won't last a hundred million years. The sun will last twenty billion years and maybe the dwarfs will last a hundred billion for all the good they are. But just give us a trillion years and everything will be dark. Entropy has to increase to maximum, that's all."

"I know all about entropy," said Adell, standing on his dignity.

"The hell you do."

"I know as much as you do."

"Then you know everything's got to run down someday."

"All right. Who says they won't?"

"You did, you poor sap. You said we had all the energy we needed, forever. You said 'forever.'"

"It was Adell's turn to be contrary. "Maybe we can build things up again someday," he said.


"Why not? Someday."


* * *

But we don’t have 20 billion years. Not by a long shot. “Earth's fate is precarious. As a red giant, the Sun will have a maximum radius beyond the Earth's current orbit, 1 AU (1.5×1011 m), 250 times the present radius of the Sun. However, by the time it is an asymptotic giant branch star, the Sun will have lost roughly 30% of its present mass due to a stellar wind, so the orbits of the planets will move outward. If it were only for this, Earth would probably be spared, but new research suggests that Earth will be swallowed by the Sun owing to tidal interactions. Even if Earth would escape incineration in the Sun, still all its water will be boiled away and most of its atmosphere would escape into space. Even during its current life in the main sequence, the Sun is gradually becoming more luminous (about 10% every 1 billion years), and its surface temperature is slowly rising. The Sun used to be fainter in the past, which is possibly the reason life on Earth has only existed for about 1 billion years on land. The increase in solar temperatures is such that in about another billion years the surface of the Earth will likely become too hot for liquid water to exist, ending all terrestrial life.”

And all I can think of is the Rolling Stones: “Gooooodbye Ruby Tuesday…”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Movie Hodge Podge

My personal movie list, found in an early post, rarely changes by too much any more. Indeed, from the blog post version only two films have shifted (F for Fake overtook The Dark Crystal and The Tree of Wooden Clogs booted The Nightmare Before Christmas). But there are other lists out there, besides mine, so I wanted to see how they stack up, and how I stack up, in general.

List One: Time Magazine's Top 100. First, those which I share:

Sherlock Jr.
Man with a Movie Camera
Last Command
Godfather Pt I and II
Star Wars
Umberto D.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Once Upon a Time in the West
Smiles of a Summer Night
Mon Oncle D’Amerique
Day for Night
Blade Runner
Barry Lyndon
Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
A Touch of Zen
Kandahar – Battle for Algiers
Farewell My Concubine
Chungking Express
Talk to Her
City of God
400 Blows
8 ½
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Wings of Desire
Ulysses’ Gaze
Citizen Kane
Pulp Fiction
Apu Trilogy
Taxi Driver
White Heat
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
The Sweet Smell of Success
King Kong
His Girl Friday
Children of Paradise
A Hard Day’s Night
Lawrence of Arabia
The Manchurian Candidate

Some of mine are rather similar though. Consider the following replacements, with my pick as the latter:

City Lights – Modern Times
It’s a Gift – Duck Soup
Pinocchio – Fantasia
Finding Nemo – The Incredibles
Metropolis – M (Better Lang)
Aguirre: The Wrath of God – Apocalypse Now
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial – Jurassic Park
Singin’ in the Rain – An American in Paris
Out of the Past – The Third Man
Miller’s Crossing – The Big Lebowski (Better Cohen Bros.)
The Shop Around the Corner – Vertigo (Better Jimmy Stewart)
The Crowd – Passion of Joan of Arc
Meet Me in St. Louis – The Wizard of Oz

Others... not so much. Especially in ()s.

Baby Face – Jules and Jim
Lord of the Rings – Twice Upon a Time
The Awful Truth – A Fish Called Wanda
The Lady Eve – The Princess Bride
The Searchers – The Seven Samurai
Bande a Part – Hiroshima Mon Amour
The Singing Detective – Triplets of Belleville
Berlin Alexanderplatz – (2001: A Space Odyssey?)
Dekalog – (Clerks?)
Schindler’s List – Bridge on the River Kwai
Bonnie and Clyde – The Fifth Element
Drunken Master II – (The Rocky Horror Picture Show?)
Swing Time – Fiddler on the Roof
Raging Bull – (Grand Hotel?)
Some Like It Hot – Blazing Saddles
Double Indemnity – Network
The Detour – Groundhog Day
In a Lonely Place – The Truman Show
It’s a Wonderful Life – The Shawshank Redemption
The Crime of Monsieur Lange – Grand Illusion
Nayakan – (Paprika?)
Pyaasa – Cinema Paradiso
The Fly – (Solaris?)
Charade – F for Fake
The Bride of Frankenstein – Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Closely Watched Trains – Mirrormask
Kind Hearts and Coronets – Snatch
Leolo – To Kill a Mockingbird
On the Waterfront – (12 Angry Men?)
A Streetcar Named Desire – (La Dolce Vita?)
Tokyo Story – Tree of Wooden Clogs
Unforgiven – Zatoichi

Plus my list has 101, so: Koyaanisqatsi

Then you have the Criterion Collection. Out of the current 495: 83 I've seen. Of those 550 to ever be on the list: 92.

Current List that I've seen (bold if on my list):

Seven Samurai
The Lady Vanishes
400 Blows
Beauty and the Beast
A Night to Remember
The Seventh Seal
High and Low
Great Expectations
Time Bandits
Taste of Cherry
Black Orpheus

The 39 Steps
Monty Python’s Life of Brian
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Chasing Amy
Do the Right Thing
The Lady Eve
The Rock
M. Hulot’s Holiday
Mon Oncle
My Man Godfrey
Sullivan’s Travels
Closely Watched Trains
Wild Strawberries
8 ½
Children of Paradise

In the Mood for Love
Juliet of the Spirits
Hearts and Minds
The Royal Tenenbaums
Bande a Part
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hiroshima Mon Amour
Night and Fog
Umberto D.
Rules of the Game
Tokyo Story
La Strada
Smiles of a Summer Night

Battle of Algiers
Jules and Jim

Ashes and Diamonds
F for Fake
Heaven Can Wait
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Seduced and Abandoned
Bicycle Thieves
Green for Danger
La Jetee / Sans Soleil
Berlin Alexanderplatz
The Last Emperor
The Thief of Bagdad
The Earrings of Madame de…
Chungking Express
El Norte
Science is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painleve
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Wings of Desire
Rome, Open City
The Last Command
Paths of Glory
The Night of the Hunter
Modern Times
Broadcast News
The Sweet Smell of Success

Now defunct selections (again with mine in bold):

Grand Illusion
This Is Spinal Tap
Silence of the Lambs
Nights of Cabiria
The Third Man
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Forbidden Games
Kind Hearts and Coronets

But there are still more lists. One of interest I've seen recently was the Moving Arts Film Journal Top 100. Of the list there are some 22 I have yet to see:

Andrei Rublev
Birth of a Nation
Curse of the Cat People
Brief Encounter
Bashu, The Little Stranger
The Asphalt Jungle
Touch of Evil
The Apartment
Pierrot Le Fou
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
The Leopard
Yi Yi
Mulholland Dr.
Synecdoche, New York
Days of Heaven
The Wind Will Carry Us
Rio Bravo
There Will Be Blood

Those I have seen are below, bold if they are, again, on my list:

2001: A Space Odyssey
Citizen Kane
The Godfather

The Rules of the Game
La Dolce Vita
Seven Samurai
The Godfather pt. II
The Third Man
The Wizard of Oz
Dr. Strangelove

Aguirre: The Wrath of God
8 ½
Singin' in the Rain
Raging Bull
Lawrence of Arabia

The Night of the Hunter
On the Waterfront
Apocalypse Now
Battleship Potemkin
Taxi Driver

The Searchers
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Nights of Cabiria
Annie Hall
Tokyo Story
Rear Window
Barry Lyndon

A Clockwork Orange
City Lights
A Streetcar Named Desire
Pather Panchali (of the Apu Trilogy)
The 400 Blows
The Passion of Joan of Arc
King Kong

The Empire Strikes Back
The General
The Seventh Seal
Talk to Her
Do the Right Thing
Pulp Fiction

Star Wars
F for Fake

Blue Velvet
Modern Times
Sweet Smell of Success
Grand Illusion

Out of the Past
Wild Strawberries
Wings of Desire
The Big Sleep
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Ulysses' Gaze

The Maltese Falcon
The Bicycle Thief
A Touch of Zen
Children of Paradise

So from these lists we can determine that the films you absolutely, positively must see (in my opinion I guess) are:

The Sweet Smell of Success
Wings of Desire
8 ½
Children of Paradise
The 400 Blows

There you go. Nine movies everyone likes. Definitely not my top 9, but, after all, this is all quite subjective. (Except for the fact that most movies presented are on at least two lists, suggesting objective standards of greatness. And everyone else likes Tokyo Story but me, if you want a 10th.)