A rarely acknowledged transgression ...

Added on by Vivian Wong.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin,” though it evokes real-life atrocities like the 1999 Columbine school shootings, is less a psychological or sociological case study than a horror movie, a variant on the bad-seed narrative that feeds on a primal (and seldom acknowledged) fear of children. What if they turn out wrong? What if we can’t love them? What if they refuse to love us? These worries are rarely dealt with in the child-rearing manuals, but they hover over modern nurseries like the ghosts of ancient fairy-tale curses."

–NY Times review of "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (2011) by A.O. Scott

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" (dir. Lynne Ramsay) was one of my favorite movies in 2011 because the film explores a topic that people rarely want to acknowledge: what if you hate your child? What if your child is completely alien and foreign to you? Not a lot of people talk about ambivalence toward motherhood, that gray area where a woman doesn't really know whether she wants a child or not but is expected to. The nature vs. nurture debate plays out in complex ways throughout the movie, and darker more hidden family dynamics are explored. 

Public and Private: Empty Space

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"HORROR vacui – fear of emptiness – is the driving force in contemporary American taste. Along with the commercial interests that exploit this fear, it is the major factor now shaping attitudes toward public spaces, urban centers and even suburban sprawl.

Every public space must be packed with distractions. Food and flower vendors, musicians, banners, fountains, benches and plants must fill every mid-block plaza. They must be packed with young urban professionals, picturesquely enjoying wrap sandwiches and bottles of Evian water. Otherwise, it is a failure. Periodically, photographs of empty spaces will be published. Captions will say: these are failures … 

Existential film noirs, these movies portray a kind of space that remains useful in the present moment of urban transformation: space noir. Emptiness is its essential quality … 

… The emptiness is ideal for sorting out inner and outer worlds. It's a democratic space, too. Democratic and popular are not, after all, synonyms. There are moments, in fact, when the two concepts are at odds. A city that offers the alternative of unpopular spaces is more accessible than a city that only tolerates popular success.

AND I wonder if failed space isn't more conducive to creativity. This may be a romantic notion, but it's also a classical idea. Think of Goethe pondering Roman ruins. Postindustrial cities that are seeking to remake themselves as cultural centers might also benefit from pondering the success of failure: the glamour of their own collapse.

Emptiness, obscurity, failure, bleakness, pallor – such noir terms are not found in the vocabulary of civic success with which urban revitalization programs are typically promoted. But these terms should be permissible wherever culture comes up. Even an artist like Warhol, with all that diamond dust in his eyes, knew that too much glitter is unhealthy for art."

–ART/ARCHITECTURE; Public Space or Private, a Compulsion to Fill It

I am always interested in how architecture/urban design separates interior and exterior spaces and how it defines social and interpersonal relationships (socio, political, economic, access, etc). Emptiness and "failed" spaces allow public and private domains to collide, inner and outer boundaries to be redefined.

Public and Private: John Hawkes

Added on by Vivian Wong.

Q: You've been acting for quite a few years now, do you feel in the past couple of years you've been getting more and more recognition especially with the awards nominations you've gotten for things like, "Winter's Bone" and "The Sessions"?

A: It's been really cool. It has led to more man-on-the-street recognition, which is not as pleasant. I don't mean to be a stick in the mud but I'm private and kind of shy. I also want to be a mystery to the world. There are so many actors I think who are terrific but I know so much about their personal lives that I can't buy into them playing characters always. I'll be watching a film and be thinking, wow, that movie star is doing a really incredible job pretending to be a cab driver. When I come on-screen, in a yellow car, I want people to go, "There's a cab driver," instead of, "That guy's got three chihuahuas and fights against hunger in Tahiti or something." Those are great things, both are not describing me personally by the way, but the less people know about me the better. Along with the recognition is kind of a trepidation or a nervousness about people knowing too much about me, and in the digital age it's getting harder and harder to maintain some sort of mystery about yourself so I try to avoid talk shows, as much as I like watching them, I don't want someone to rent a movie after seeing me on watching Jimmy Kimmel and have a different experience. It's always best when someone is like, "I think I know who that person is but I'm not really sure," and then they just forget and hopefully just believe you in the character.

–"Why You Shouldn't Say Hi to John Hawkes on the Street", Indiewire (October 24, 2014)

The ability to hide and to get lost and explore has been taken away a little bit in the digital social media age. 

Dividing Infinity

Added on by Vivian Wong.

The International System of Units (SI) (NIST Special Publication 330, 2008 edition) defines the unit of time, the second as: 

"The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom." 

"It follows that the hyperfine splitting in the ground state of the cesium 133 atom is exactly 9 192 631 770 hertz, ν(133Cs)hfs = 9 192 631 770 Hz."

At one point, the second was "considered to be the fraction 1/86 400 of the mean solar day. The exact definition of “mean solar day” was left to the astronomers. However measurements showed that irregularities in the rotation of the Earth made this an unsatisfactory definition."

http://physics.nist.gov/Pubs/SP330/sp330.pdf

And by "irregularities" they mean that because earth's rotation is off by a thousandth of a second in some years, this unit is no longer adequate by modernity's exacting standards.

The arbitrary division and subdivision of time (an infinite entity) have been an obsession since the industrial revolution, as scientists continue to divide time into milliseconds, nanoseconds, picoseconds, femtoseconds ... 

When failure is only existential

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.

Let’s not kid ourselves: The college admissions game is not primarily about the lower and middle classes seeking to rise, or even about the upper-middle class attempting to maintain its position. It is about determining the exact hierarchy of status within the upper-middle class itself. In the affluent suburbs and well-heeled urban enclaves where this game is principally played, it is not about whether you go to an elite school. It’s about which one you go to. It is Penn versus Tufts, not Penn versus Penn State. It doesn’t matter that a bright young person can go to Ohio State, become a doctor, settle in Dayton, and make a very good living. Such an outcome is simply too horrible to contemplate."

"Look beneath the façade of affable confidence and seamless well-adjustment that today’s elite students have learned to project, and what you often find are toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation. We all know about the stressed-out, overpressured high school student; why do we assume that things get better once she gets to college?"

–Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation's top colleges are turning our kids into zombies by William Deresiewicz

This essay can't be applied to everybody but I went to high school in the affluent suburbs of Washington D.C. where this mentality was endemic. A lot of the issues he raises in the essay are observations I've been trying to articulate for years. Currently I am reading the book he wrote on this topic called "Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life." 

College "essay-ready" summers??

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"Experience itself has been reduced to instrumental function, via the college essay. From learning to commodify your experiences for the application, the next step has been to seek out experiences in order to have them to commodify. The New York Times reports that there is now a thriving sector devoted to producing essay-ready summers, but what strikes one is the superficiality of the activities involved: a month traveling around Italy studying the Renaissance, “a whole day” with a band of renegade artists. A whole day!

I’ve noticed something similar when it comes to service. Why is it that people feel the need to go to places like Guatemala to do their projects of rescue or documentation, instead of Milwaukee or Arkansas? When students do stay in the States, why is it that so many head for New Orleans? Perhaps it’s no surprise, when kids are trained to think of service as something they are ultimately doing for themselves—that is, for their résumés. “Do well by doing good,” goes the slogan. How about just doing good?"

–Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation's top colleges are turning our kids into zombies

"Essay-ready" summers?? Wow, has the upper middle class rat race to gain entry into "elite colleges" deteriorated to this? 

White Holes

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"Sailors have their krakens and their sea serpents. Physicists have white holes: cosmic creatures that straddle the line between tall tale and reality. Yet to be seen in the wild, white holes may be only mathematical monsters. But new research suggests that, if a speculative theory called loop quantum gravity is right, white holes could be real—and we might have already observed them.

A white hole is, roughly speaking, the opposite of a black hole. “A black hole is a place where you can go in but you can never escape; a white hole is a place where you can leave but you can never go back,” says Caltech physicist Sean Carroll. Otherwise, [both share] exactly the same mathematics, exactly the same geometry.” That boils down to a few essential features: a singularity, where mass is squeezed into a point of infinite density, and an event horizon, the invisible “point of no return” first described mathematically by the German physicist Karl Schwarzschild in 1916. For a black hole, the event horizon represents a one-way entrance; for a white hole, it’s exit-only."

–"Are White Holes Real?"

Preventing time travel: Time Paradoxes

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"Traditionally, another reason physicists dismissed the idea of time travel was because of time paradoxes ... This is important, because science is based on logically consistent ideas; a genuine time paradox would be enough to completely rule out time travel. These time paradoxes can be grouped into several categories: 

Grandfather paradox. In this paradox, you alter the past in a way that makes the present impossible. For example, by going back into the distant past to meet the dinosaurs, you accidentally step on a small, furry mammal that is the original ancestor of humanity. By destroying your ancestor, you cannot logically exist. 

Information paradox. In this paradox, information comes from the future, which means that it may have no origin. For example, let’s say a scientist creates a time machine and then goes back in time to give the secret of time travel to himself as a youth. The secret of time travel would have no origin, since the time machine the youthful scientist possesses was not created by him but was handed to him by his older self. 

Bilker’s paradox. In this kind of paradox, a person knows what the future will be and does something that makes the future impossible. For example, you make a time machine to take you to the future, and you see that you are destined to marry a woman named Jane. However, on a lark, you decide to marry Helen instead, thereby making your own future impossible. 

The sexual paradox. In this kind of paradox, you father yourself, which is a biological impossibility. In a tale written by the British philosopher Jonathan Harrison, the hero of the story not only fathers himself, but he also cannibalizes himself. In Robert Heinlein’s classic tale “All You Zombies,” the hero is simultaneously his mother, father, daughter, and son—that is, a family tree unto himself. (See the notes for details. Unraveling the sexual paradox is actually rather delicate, requiring knowledge of both time travel and the mechanics of DNA.)"

–Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku

Day Job: Franz Kafka

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"In 1908, Kafka landed a position at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, where he was fortunate to be on the coveted “single shift” system, which meant office hours from 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning until 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Although this was a distinct improvement over his previous job at a different insurance firm, which required long hours and frequent overtime, Kafka still felt stymied; he was living with his family in a cramped apartment, where he could muster the concentration to write only late at night, when everyone else was asleep. As Kafka wrote to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.'"

–Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Mason Currey. 

"Hong Konger"

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"Polls have steadily shown that larger and larger percentages of Hong Kong citizens identify as “Hong Konger” rather than “Chinese” even as the government seeks greater conformity.

To many in Hong Kong, then, “Chinese” may primarily mean a cultural, ethnic, or racial marker of identity rather than of political nationality. There are “Chinese” of various types who make up the majority population in Taiwan and Singapore, a significant percentage in Malaysia and Thailand, and large numbers around the world.

So when the demonstrators chant “Hong Kong People!” they are asserting that to be a citizen of Hong Kong is emphatically not the same as being Chinese. For the authorities in Beijing, this may send shivers down their spines. Because there is nothing they hate and fear more than the center not holding, torn apart by rough beasts. They are unable to see that it is China’s own political shortcomings that encourage this fundamental debate and resulting protest."

–Are ‘Hong Kong people’ still Chinese? Depends on how you define ‘Chinese’

The professionalization of art

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"... And this is something I feel to be increasingly difficult to develop and maintain both in art and other areas of life, when there are so many pressures in the market-driven economy to divide labor, to professionalize. As artists, curators, and writers, we are increasingly forced to market ourselves by developing a consistent product, a concise presentation, a statement that can be communicated in thirty seconds or less—and oftentimes this alone passes for professionalism. For emerging artists and curators there is an ever-increasing number of well-intentioned programs that essentially indoctrinate them into becoming content providers for an art system whose values and welfare are wholly defined by its own logic of supply and demand.

Being a professional should not be the only acceptable way for us to maintain our households, particularly when most interesting artists are perfectly capable of functioning in at least two or three fields that are, unlike art, respected by society in terms of compensation and general usefulness. I feel that we have cornered ourselves by denying the full range of possibilities for developing our economies ... Unless hard-pressed by circumstances, we still think that the proper thing to do is to wait for a sponsor or a patron to solve our household problems and to legitimize our work. In fact, we don’t need their legitimacy. We are perfectly capable of being our own sponsors, which in most cases we already are when we do other kinds of work to support our art-work. This is something that should not be disavowed, but acknowledged openly. We must find the terms for articulating what kind of economy artists really want. This can be quite complicated, since not addressing this question implicitly reinforces the simplistic myth of the artist as an isolated and alienated genius. Without a captivating alternative, artists will always defer to this myth out of habit, in spite of how complex and interesting their real household economy may be."

–"Art without Market, Art without Education: Political Economy of Art" by Anton Vidokle, editor of e-flux

I agree and disagree. 

Shonda Rhimes

Added on by Vivian Wong.

My favorite bullet points from the Hollywood Reporter interview: #7, #9, and #16

7. No tortured artist here. “I have all these friends who just love therapy, and I always say the reason that I’m absolutely not in therapy is because then I wouldn’t have anything to write,” she says, noting that she was a “much more antsy, dark person” when she started in this industry than she is now. Those who work with her say she is far happier with both her work and her results than many in the field. “You waste a lot of time being miserable," Rhimes adds, "and I’m not really interested.”

9. Rhimes was thrilled by the decision to house all of her shows on Thursday night as well as the network’s multi-cultural push, but she could have done without network chief Paul Lee standing on the Lincoln Center stage in May and referring to her as “the Charles Dickens of the 21st century, if Charles Dickens was black and a woman.” Fortunately, the pair has a strong enough relationship where she could tell him that the latter part of that comment which signifies that somehow her race and gender are relevant — “bugged” her, and then move on

16. Even in the early days at Grey's Anatomy, Rhimes says she had little trouble being decisive or dispensing her opinions. The bigger challenge, as she remembers it, was having to work with a staff of some 300, a culture shock for someone who had previously written screenplays alone in her pajamas. “Somebody would say to me, ‘What color shoes should Meredith be wearing?’ And I knew that answer. I could tell you why the interns should be doing this activity. That stuff was in my head because I had really spent time to measure who those characters were,” she says. “What was not easy was the having to interact with all of those people. I am, by nature, an introvert, and I was much more of an introvert when this whole process started. So I found it all fairly painful."

–25 Things You Learn Writing About 'Scandal' Creator Shonda Rhimes

The disappearance of Bohemia

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"It interesting to note that this emphasis on professionalization emerged simultaneously with the disappearance of bohemia, which is usually described as a shared creative space that allowed for fluid communication between poets, artists, dancers, writers, musicians, and so forth. The notion of bohemia as something to aspire to went out the window a few decades ago; it vanished at the same time as the visual art sphere was becoming more segregated from other fields of art. “Bohemian” has become a primarily derogatory term that seems to imply a kind of uncommitted, naive dilettantism, but within the history of art it has a greater significance.

According to T.J. Clark, bohemia refers to a movement by a group of artists, writers, and poets who apparently renounced the normative bourgeois society, a move that, unlike the gestures of the avant-garde, was not a calculated temporary tactic intended only so that one could return to the salon of art in a more advantageous position, but a more permanent departure. The bohemian artist would absolutely reject the notion of professionalism in the arts—this was something for lawyers, accountants, and bankers, not artists."

–"Art without Market, Art without Education: Political Economy of Art" by Anton Vidokle, editor of e-flux

The 1st global export: Time – British "Greenwich Mean Time" GMT

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"Britain “ruled the waves” in the days of empire and through the oceans had power over vast parts of the world. How? Through clocks. In 1714, a petition was offered to parliament, proposing a prize for the solution of the longitude problem. “The discovery of longitude is of such consequence to Great Britain for the improvement of Trade . . . the lasting honor of the British nation is at stake.” Through mastering, with chronometers, the mystery of longitude, thus rendering seas navigable, the British paved the pathless oceans and paved them in the pursuit of power, prestige and profit. The chronometer became a tool of political power, a weapon of empire and the handcuffs of slavery.

The most accurate clocks were kept at the Greenwich Royal Observatory, the center of this maritime nation and the center of empire. Reeking with the language of imperialism and smug with the knowledge that time is power, the chief clock at Greenwich in 1852 was called the “master” clock; it sent out signals to “slave” clocks in Greenwich which sent further signals to other “slave” clocks at London Bridge. Today, at Greenwich, there is a plaque (in a dismally unprominent position on a run-down housing estate) which quietly commemorates the slave trade in African people which “was to enrich England for centuries and correspondingly destabilise and impoverish Africa” ...  

... Suitably for a nation of shopkeepers, who had long linked commerce and clocks, the first global export was time itself, GMT ... As this became the universal time measurement, it signaled the destruction of other ways of counting times and marked the hegemony of the one, Western— specifically British— way, dictated by British imperial power, as seventy-five percent of merchant ships already followed GMT."

–"A Sideways Look at Time" by Jay Griffiths

Inner Space 6: Colonialism and Time

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"To choose your calendar is to choose your politics ... "

"To teach someone a different clock and calendar is one of the most subtle but most profound aspects of imperialist power— colonialism of the mind. When ancient China had colonized some new region, the phrase they used to describe this act was at once sinister and telling— the people of the new territory had “received the calendar.” For Chinese emperors, the Mandate of Heaven involved a “stewardship” of time; the ruler, identified as a paramount sign of the times, was responsible for time. When a new dynasty came to power it altered the calendar of the previous dynasty and the start of a new reign was dated as the first day of the following new year, thus the new emperor ritually regenerated time itself. In our age, “President” George W. Bush’s regime launched the “Project for the New American Century” and revealed a similarly stealthy and nasty will to power. Insisting that a new time (be it date, year or century) belongs to you is an act of invisible colonialism: the Bush coterie deliberately linked its empire-building foreign policy with the power of time. In Turkemenistan, meanwhile, President Saparmurat Niyazov, who names himself Turkmenbashi, is nothing if not an arrogant despot, and as other power-wielders do, he has welded time to his rule. January is now called “Turkmenbashi,” after himself, and April is called Gurbansoltan, after his mother."

–"A Sideways Look at Time" by Jay Griffiths.

Where are all the tourists from the future?

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"In 1992, Stephen Hawking tried to resolve this question about time travel once and for all. Instinctively, he was against time travel; if journeys through time were as common as Sunday picnics, then we should see tourists from the future gawking at us and taking pictures.

But physicists often quote from T. H. White’s epic novel The Once and Future King, where a society of ants declares, “Everything not forbidden is compulsory.” In other words, if there isn’t a basic principle of physics forbidding time travel, then time travel is necessarily a physical possibility. (The reason for this is the uncertainty principle. Unless something is forbidden, quantum effects and fluctuations will eventually make it possible if we wait long enough. Thus, unless there is a law forbidding it, it will eventually occur.) In response, Stephen Hawking proposed a “chronology protection hypothesis” that would prevent time travel and hence “make history safe for historians.” According to this hypothesis, time travel is not possible because it violates specific physical principles ... 

Today, Hawking no longer says that time travel is absolutely impossible, only that it is highly unlikely and impractical. The odds are overwhelmingly against time travel. But one cannot rule it out entirely. If one can somehow harness large quantities of positive and negative energy and solve the stability problem, time travel may indeed be possible. (And perhaps the reason we are not flooded by tourists from the future is that the earliest time they can go back to is when the time machine was created, and perhaps time machines haven’t been created yet.)"

–"Parallel Worlds: A Journey Through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos" by Michio Kaku

The Anthropological "Other"

Added on by Vivian Wong.

The Conquest of America stands as Europe's model for the constitution of the Other. 

Colonization became a mission, and the savage became absence and negation. 

(The "noble savage") In defense of a particular vision of order, the savage became evidence for a particular type of utopia. 

Just as utopia itself can be offered as a promise or as a dangerous illusion, the savage can be noble, wise, barbarian, victim, or aggressor, depending on the debate and the aims of the interlocutors. 

(Postmodern "savages") The primitive has become terrorist, refugee, freedom fighter, opium and coca grower, or parasite. He can even play anthropologist at times. Televised documentaries show his "real" conditions of existence: underground newspapers expose his dreams of modernity. Thanks to modernity, the savage has changed, the West has changed, and the West knows that both have changed empirically. 

–select passages from "Anthropology and the Savage Slot: The Poetics and Politics of Otherness", Michel-Rolph Trouillot.

Abolish "Columbus Day" and decolonize. 

The beginnings of the universe confirmed

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"Surprisingly strong gravitational waves rippled through the fiery aftermath of the Big Bang ... a finding that confirms the cosmos grew to a stunningly vast size in its very first moments.

The long-sought observations, taken from Antarctica, strongly support the cosmological theory of "inflation," which explains how the early universe smoothly expanded to unimaginable vastness in the first fractional second of its existence ... 

The finding means that in little more than a century, humanity has figured out not only the age of the universe—it was born about 13.82 billion years ago in the Big Bang—but also how its birth unfolded ... 

To make the gravitational wave discovery, the team studied the cosmic microwave background, leftover heat from the origin of the universe

Imprinted across the entire sky, this relic heat reveals in minute temperature differences where matter condensed about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. Those patterns also serve as a frozen snapshot of the conditions inside the moment of creation that spawned it ... 

Pryke said the finding was so surprising that the discovery team spent three years checking the result. Statistics suggest that they have a 99.9997 percent certainty of being correct.

That means that in its very first moments, the entire universe reached a size far, far larger than what is observable or will ever be observable to humanity (the "observable" universe is about 92 billion light-years across).

–Big Bang's "Smoking Gun" Confirms Early Universe's Exponential Growth. March 17, 2014.

The "inflation" theory of early universe has been confirmed. Obviously this was old news, but I forgot to post a couple months ago. 

The debilitating fear of failure

Added on by Vivian Wong.

"... Cao has argued that this stigma is one reason why China—despite its increasingly high-tech society—has had few homegrown scientific breakthroughs. The country’s lack of scientific Nobel Prizes has been a continual source of irritation for the government. A number of Chinese-born scientists have won the award, but all were based outside China at the time.

Cao pinpoints the Chinese education system as the major source of the failure-to-fail problem. “The way Chinese students are educated, they are not encouraged to take a critical attitude toward mentors,” he says. Institutions like the gao kao, the nationwide, high-pressure, nine-hour exam that is the sole determinant of admission to nearly all Chinese universities, doesn’t exactly foster a relaxed attitude toward academic setbacks and experimentation.

Any discussion of a problem like this risks veering quickly into lazy stereotypes about Confucian values and filial piety, with the worst perpetrators sometimes being Chinese authorities themselves. For instance, as the nationalist, Communist Party-controlled Global Times editorialized in 2012, 'The social atmosphere in China has too much respect for authority. Chinese people prefer to obey orders. They care a lot about face and fear failure.'"

–Learning to Move Fast and Break Things: Is fear of failure holding back innovation in China?