The hippies would have us believe the answer is ‘absolutely nothing,’ and that it is a characteristic of primitive cultures which have not progressed beyond the need for violent conflict. But then some people believe hippies should be kept away from the public in bong-equipped zoos and drum for our amusement. Let us pretend that I am one of them. I will attempt to make a positive case for war in both the past and future.

Historically war has been an agent of change and there are numerous instances of that change being for the better as a direct result of the war. Wars for independence are an undeniable example; non-violent resistance rarely works against an autocrat. Wars to defend a people from an aggressor are justified. Offensive wars to eliminate repressive regimes can have a beneficial impact on a nation’s inhabitants far outweighing the damage caused by the war. We can agree that war has been useful and necessary in the past. The case for war in the future is more difficult to make because one must argue that there will be problems not possible to solve in a different way. To form this argument I will go further into the past to the time of proto-human evolution.

Hominid evolution developed in 2 million years a species the intelligence of which far exceeds any other. Not only this, it far exceeds what is necessary for its survival. Seemingly necessary. Our bodies are not so different from chimpanzees that we could not survive in approximately their mode of living which requires only chimpanzee level intelligence. The human brain is immensely expensive in oxygen and calories. It is also highly dangerous as can be seen by the number of women who died of childbirth prior to the 20th century. This does not happen in other species. There must be an evolutionary benefit to something so costly. What in this world could a proto-human need such intelligence for unless it were to outsmart other proto-humans? There are a multiplicity of side branches in hominid evolution, none of them still exist. What are the chances that they died out of natural causes?

The following is pure supposition: I posit that humans evolved intelligence to compete with other humans and that the ultimate competition is war. Any increase in intelligence, any product of that intelligence contributes to the military capability of the population that has it. When this war-born intelligence has no conflict to spend itself on, it creates an internal conflict manifesting in a desire to create art, pursue science, build, invent, produce; all the things which make humans recognizable from other species. The hunting instinct that became the war instinct is what drove our evolution towards intelligence and still drives us to be unsatisfied with our current achievements. Even if this feeling does not culminate in war, it is important that it could. To take away the possibility of war it would be necessary to take away the willingness to die or kill. It is a cheap existence which contains in it nothing worth more than life itself. But I’ll let Steinbeck say it: ”fear the time when the bombs stop falling while the bombers live, for every bomb is proof that the spirit has not died . . . fear the time when manself will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one property is the foundation of manself, and this one property is man, distinctive in the universe.” War is the result of a fundamental piece of our character. War is a result of this property in our species. To remove war we would need to remove the cause. Again, Steinbeck: ”Results, not causes; results, not causes.” (Ch.14 Grapes of Wrath)

However, war is quite destructive and while we should retain the will to war, we should restrain ourselves in most circumstances. We can keep the war-like character alive without a full war by engaging in mock-battles, that is, sports. It is in competitive sports that we exercise and hone and learn to control our desire to fight.

In a collection of similar species, the predatory ones tend to be most intelligent. As Larry Niven writes of herbivores, “how much intelligence does it take to sneak up on a leaf?” Alien species that contact our world are often portrayed as war-like for the sake of entertainment. If we assume evolution works similarly on all planets, it is quite likely that this will be true.

#Linsanity. You’ve seen it all over the social networks for weeks now, but what is the key story in Jeremy Lin’s meteoric rise on the Knicks? Sure, he’s phenomenal to watch on the court. No one can deny that he works hard.

Looking purely at the numbers, Lin’s performance has been spectacular. He has set records for scoring the most in his third and fourth career starts since the ABA-NBA merger in 1977. I’m sure that meant something to someone; I could barely figure out what that means. But just catch any game and you can sense his undeniable tenacity and instincts. So let’s accept for the moment that Lin would be a standout player no matter his race or career history.

But the story isn’t that simple. Lin is not just a great player, he’s the greatest (and first) Taiwanese-American player in the history of the NBA. While in an ideal world, his race shouldn’t even be an issue, we’re not at that point yet. He’s being recognized for standing out and breaking stereotypes. As Eric Adelson writes in his report on Floyd Mayweather’s tweet, the hype is equivalent to if “a black golfer came out of Stanford and started winning golf majors…[or] two black sisters from Compton dominated the world of tennis.” For Asian-American men, who are too often emasculated by American media and culture, Lin represents something much more than a star basketball player. He expands the public consciousness of what an Asian man can do, especially athletically. Undaunted by bigger foes, he fearlessly drives towards the net. As point-guard, he demonstrates great leadership in leading the team. Courage and leadership, two traits that aren’t commonly attributed to Asians are now generously lavished on Lin.

I’m not going to write about how Lin was overlooked likely because he is Asian. That topic is covered extensively in the media and especially well sexplicated by Timothy Dalrymple in his post on “Jeremy Lin and the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations.”  Instead, my focus is on supporting Lin despite whatever basketball allegiance you might have. No doubt if you have Asian friends, you’ve seen them eagerly jump on the Linsanity bandwagon. People who had previously never watched a basketball game in their lives were buying #17 Knicks jerseys and crowding into bars to watch the games. Being an Asian-American, originally from the Bay Area and now living in New York, I am exactly that demographic that should be fawning over Lin. I’m not a sports fan. I have no qualms about cheering on the teams that my friends care about. In short, I have no team loyalty.

Bandwagoning has such negative connotations in the world of sports fanaticism. Supporting a team only when it’s doing well or because it’s getting more media coverage seems anathema to what real sports fans do. Indeed, there is truth to that. Teams rely on their core fans through the good times and the bad. All I’m saying is that no matter your loyalty to your own team, there’s no reason not to support the rise of diversity in sports. In other words, don’t be a hater. Lin is bigger than basketball. While he’s no Jackie Robinson, he is hopefully just the start of shifting public perceptions of Asian-Americans. You don’t need to support the Knicks if you’re really desperate to hold onto your own team, but that does not mean you can’t support Lin’s personal success. Linsanity is hopefully not just a fad, and treating it like one will ensure that Asian-American basketball players will remain that way.

It still surprises me when I’m trying to get past a crowd on an escalator and the pedestrians don’t know to keep right if they’re not moving. Fine, you don’t need a license to walk so maybe they just have never learned to stay to the right and they’re too oblivious to realize that’s what everyone else is doing. But driving a car is completely different. There are rules of the road, rather important rules if you want to survive, or have the barest of courtesy towards your fellow drivers.

Having driven too many times along that God forsaken stretch of highway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, I’ve had my share of frustration of slow drivers blocking the fast lane. I don’t care how fast you’re going, if someone is behind you, move to the right and let them pass. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re going fast enough; you’re not the speed arbiter of the road. All it does is enrage the people behind you. I can only assume that you are intentionally holding people behind you because if you’re too oblivious to realize a line of frustrated motorists tailing you, you’re not observant enough to be driving in the first place. For two-lane highways there is not much choice. Trucks dictate the speed of the right lane. The slowest motorist dictates the speed of the left lane. You should never be the car that sets the speed. As long as someone wants to go faster than you, get out of the way.

I don’t speed excessively on highways, even through long stretches of nothing.  I tend to speed up and try to pass cars in front of me; however, I respect the rules of the road. If I am being tailed and I’m uncomfortable driving any faster, I pull to the right. There’s very little diversion out on this highway and passing cars breaks up the monotony. Besides the In-n-Out oasis in Kettleman City, is there nothing else on the 5 interstate besides Jack in the Boxes and Carl’s Jrs.? That’s not completely fair. There are a few major landmarks. When it starts smelling like manure, you know you’re passing by Harris Ranch. When you see windmills, that’s Andersen’s Pea Soup. And when you pass Buttonwillow, look out for the only Indian restaurant between LA and SF. So if you’re not the speedy type and want to take it easy in life, those are three places to pull off the road instead of slowing down the fast lane.

Photo credit: asterix611

The time has come to celebrate the Winter Solstice and the New (calendar) Year as it passes the same point in the orbit of the Earth around the Sun. Well can we understand and accept that days tied to orbit-specific events should be recognized annually, but what about other events, in particular birthdays and anniversaries? Astrology aside, the date of one’s birth has no meaning and taken literally will never happen again, so that a birthday is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Certain popular birthdays could stand to be ignored altogether. The bias in the preceding statement may be due to being stranded in Tuscon on December 24th hungry, with no food, and a disturbing paucity of Chinese restaurants. The point is not that we should have done with birthdays for imaginary people only, but real ones as well.

Similarly, historical events do not recur annually yet holidays based on them do. For a society of a few hundred years this is no impediment, but consider a society spanning millenia. I believe the chief downfall of the Roman Empire was that by 476 AD every third day remembered some important battle or popular religion from a thousand years previous and no one could get any work done. When should a holiday be retired? For battles and such like things with no further significance the lifespan of those who lived through them will suffice. Certain things like wars for independence, especially those that end by founding a country, are more enduring in their impact and deserve a longer remembrance; they should be retired when the country or people established by them have become unrecognizable by the original patriots. The Thanksgiving holiday, which sole purpose is to skip two days of work and eat good food, could be celebrated monthly without protest.

There are precedents for events observed every four years like the Olympics or the World Cup. If the Olympics were held every year they would lose their significance. Leap years also occur approximately every four years and half the population would not object to moving Valentine’s Day to February 29th in recognition of Pope Gregory’s revised Julian calendar. Or buying chocolate or pretending not to hate dancing awkwardly or whatever that holiday’s supposed to be about. Point is, making every holiday annual by default makes no sense.

Upon first meeting someone and after exchanging monikers, his question turns to my occupation. When I say “mathematician” the response is invariably either, “wow, that must be hard” or “I’ve always hated math.” Not surprisingly this was also the case when I was studying English and my friends in the fields of physics and chemistry have confirmed similar experiences. This effect drops off towards the fields that are perceived as less intellectual (Sociology major? Don’t hurt yourself now . . .) which is to be expected; however, I would like to delve a little deeper into why the reaction is so strong, in particular, so strongly negative.

We begin with a related phenomenon, that of educated people who admit they don’t like to read. Actually, they won’t admit it outright; they try to phrase it as not having time to read. It would be easy to say that most people are lazy and reading requires mental activity as opposed to watching television or playing video games. This is simply not true, especially as video games become increasingly involved and are not less intellectually challenging and engaging than books. Couple these facts with the backlash against science and academics and the pattern emerges that it is not thinking folks are averse to–it is learning. Especially the kind of learning that seems like school. Blame rests entirely with our current education system.

Preschool and kindergarten are intended to engender a desire for education, but they clearly fail. The why of their failure rests on two foundations of the current system: patronization and boring instruction. How can learning be boring when humans are naturally curious? To avoid children ever feeling disappointed for not understanding immediately, the curriculum has all challenging material removed to be replaced with repetition so that we are left with a single cause: patronization. Even young children can tell when they are being talked down to and the condescension continues through to high school where it is met with resentment and hostility. This is aggravated by the policy of promoting self-esteem over achievement leaving students emotionally unable to deal with criticism or failure and disgruntled because they feel they have been short-changed. Condescension would be accepted if the teachers demonstrated an expertize in their subject which deserved respect. Unfortunately even when the teacher is well-qualified, the material and its presentation earn contempt for banality, irrelevance, and unnecessary complications caused by dumbing-down the truth. Unlike a fit, disciplined drill instructor who can motivate through abusive language, ill-informed teachers delivering repetitious lessons in their best intoned Mr. Mackey mmm-kay? cannot hope to succeed with condescension.

We may now conclude that people avoid scholars and academic pursuits because they have an emotional memory of being patronized instead of informed. Or, in other words, schools have killed any interest in reading.

Race relations is a sensitive subject for obvious reasons. It’s difficult to speak about the issues without running into walls of political correctness on one end or accusations of racism on the other. Being a minority, I’ve weathered charges of racism pretty easily. It seems that calling a white person racist is one of the worst insults imaginable to that person. Given the history of Caucasian discrimination in this country, I can see how whites would be especially offended by any sort of inferences of racism. However, as a child of immigrants from a country where racism is not a forefront issue like it is here, it’s just never seemed like a big deal. As I’ve gotten older however, I’ve become even more sensitive to subtle racism when the effect is too easily downplayed.

Whatever my feelings about racism, I hate the term “person of color.” At its simplest level, it splits people into a dichotomy–either you’re white or you’re not, as if that distillation is all that’s required for intelligent discussion of race. At least when you use the word “minority,” there could be instances where that minority, within a given population, could be white. But with “person of color” that can only mean that they are nonwhite. I don’t believe the charges that “minority” has connotations of subjugation. Not only that, but the idea of categorizing based on skin color is archaic and should not be perpetuated in use.

I suppose that this is a necessary term when you’re talking about diversity programs, but that overlooks the problem that diversity programs that only seek to ensure a significant “person of color” population is inherently flawed. It is easy, living in a diverse city, to forget that most of the country is predominantly white and in many communities, minorities are so few and far between that they might as well be grouped together for a coherent antimajoritarian agenda. However, this parochial outlook should not represent the country any longer. Sure, there are still parts of the country where being Asian means you’re conceived of as either Chinese or Japanese, but the country as a whole is a pluralistic society.

As alluded to, the cloud hanging over this whole discussion is affirmative action. My stance is that affirmative action programs that simply seek to achieve non-white diversity would not be respectful of the diversity within the nonwhite community. These days, most affirmative action programs likely will group minorities into broad categories and seek adequate representation of those groups. Yet any time you set an arbitrary group, there will always be underrepresented subgroups. This has been a big problem with Asians and Pacific Islanders, commonly grouped together as one, but actually representing very diverse cultures. When the public perceives too many overachieving East Asians and proceeds to pass judgment on the achievement of South East Asians, it unfairly discriminates against that group that actually should benefit from affirmative action.

The elevator doors opened, and the crowd, anonymous in white Venetian masks, sputtered out into a dark hallway. I raced past the uninitiated, who stumbled around getting their bearings and held in place either by their uncertainty or fear. Like the opening of the gates in the morning at an amusement park, I was determined to reach the most popular rides before my peers. In this dimly lit 1930s hotel, my goal was to explore alone, find the candy shop, and see how far my courage would take me.

Sleep No More is difficult to describe, mostly because there is nothing quite like it. Most commonly, I’ve heard “interactive theater,” though that isn’t quite accurate. For the most part, you don’t interact with the actors or the other audience members. It’s interactive in so far as your (mostly) unbridled access to the sets and props. The show is intense, carnal, scary, claustrophobic, voyeuristic, but utmost–gratifying. My impression was the feeling of being inside a video game. I could walk around the rooms, observing the interactions with the characters, getting as close as decency allowed (there is plenty of indecency). The actors act, even when no one is there. I could watch the action or go rifling through the drawers and cabinets. The Punchdrunk theater group converted an old warehouse into a 1930s hotel. I couldn’t confirm whether the McKittrick Hotel actually existed at some point, but besides a lounge and a lobby, very little of the set resembles a hotel. The intricate set dressing allows a whole experience in just going through the props and finding passageways through the five floors. I randomly pulled out books from the shelves and found Sixteenth Century Poems and Greek Tragedies.

The actors engage in reinterpreted scenes from Macbeth on one-hour cycles. They disperse throughout the hotel, going about their business, occasionally coming together for scenes. They’re mostly silent, and much of the action is interpretive dance. You’re welcome to follow the actors, but part of the fun is abandoning the action and exploring the intricate set on your own. Since the scenes repeat every hour, you can choose to follow different actors and see different perspectives for the same events. This is also why you should arrive at buy tickets for the 7:00 check-in for a full three hours to explore. Towards the end of the show, the rooms are so packed with white-faced spectators that much of the chilling magic of exploring an adult haunted house is gone. The mask, which ostensibly keeps the audience from confusing the cast from spectators, also allowed me certain freedom in anonymity. I had no fear going up close to the actors or wandering in between the characters during scenes. The mask was empowering in its dual functionality. Sleep No More is named after scene 2, Act II of Macbeth, but my own experience was not being able to sleep that night as my mind replayed all the events of the night.

I had heard rave reviews of Sleep No More for months before I finally bought tickets. The thing that kept me away for so long was fear. In my mind, I pictured Macbeth meets the Shining, a not altogether inaccurate picture. I had to spur myself forward in the beginning to explore alone, my heart bursting out my chest because of the anxiety and running up and down sets of stairs. But what eventually got me over my fear was the odd sensation of being invisible to the actors. Nothing could hurt me, no one is out to scare me. Also, once I joined up with other audience members, the fear (and most of the thrill) was eliminated through shared experience. But for the first twenty minutes of the night, it was just me, alone in utter silence exploring the fourth floor of the hotel. While going through the empty barbershop, I heard exaggerated coughing. I initially avoided the sound, thinking it was an asthmatic audience member who couldn’t get up the stairs. Instead I ran head on into a young man crashing into the walls. It occurred to me that this was my first actor. I followed him into a photography dark room with hanging pictures of corpses. Outside, a woman had appeared at a desk. They joined together, fought, and embraced. The entire scene happened with just me and these two actors, and it was one of my most cherished memories because of that intimacy. Hence, I highly recommend exploring early on your own in the beginning and getting away from the crowds while getting a lay of the land.

The following contains some spoilers, but is intended for those looking for the fullest experience

Here’s some advice for people attending the show:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and contacts if you require glasses. This is stressed to you in emails from the show, but it cannot be more important. You will be standing, walking (and running) for three hours.
  • You can leave early, but there’s enough to keep you engaged for the entire time. The last cycle ends differently than the previous two and you’ll be gently guided towards the climax scene.
  • You can easily miss scenes so look for crowds and follow actors if you want to be entirely engaged. There are a few scenes I witnessed and would recommend checking out. First, towards the beginning of the cycle, follow the rave music into the bar on the fourth floor. Second, somewhere in the middle of the cycle, find the Macbeths’ bedroom next to the cemetery on the third floor. Third, the ballroom will host several large cast events throughout the cycle so make sure to check back from time to time.
  • Come to the event with friends but don’t try to stick together. Everyone will be led by their own curiosity and sticking together is not fruitful or that practical. You’ll have a fuller experience once you reunite later and talk about the differences you all witnessed.
  • Don’t look too deeply into the props. They are all highly detailed, but sometimes there is no significance. Also, as much as the experience is similar to being inside a game, it is not a game and there are no quests. Don’t try to take the keys and open locked doors. Don’t search for secret messages to give the actors. That said, the props will help you figure out which characters the actors are playing.
  • If you’re hungry, look for the candy shop on the fourth floor. If you’re tired, you can retire to the lounge that exists outside of the hotel events on the second floor. If you need a quick refresher, look for one of the individual stalled restrooms on the fifth floor.
  • Most of all, be brave. Although you’re generally a passive observer, the actors do sometimes pull one audience member away for a private scene. Stand close, show interest, and you may be picked. You’ll be the lucky one if you keep an open mind. Specifically, I heard there are private scenes that happen in a) the shack in the woods on the fifth floor, and b) the black tiled bathroom on the third floor. You just have to be there at the right time.

The show runs until November 5th. I urge you to buy tickets and experience this sensation for yourself. A Monday through Wednesday show is $80, while Thursday through Saturday is $100. The weekend shows also offer the late night check-ins, which go from 11pm to 2am, instead of the usual 7-10.

Sleep No More
http://sleepnomorenyc.com/
530 West 27th St.

Back in July, Netflix announced that it was changing its plans to offer “the lowest prices ever.” They did this by raising my membership price by 60% per month. How did this make sense? By unbundling the streaming from the DVD services, Netflix could charge $7.99 for each service separately. While I used to get both for $9.99, now I would need to pay $15.98 for the same services I used to receive.

Had Netflix PR not try to spin this price increase as their “lowest prices ever” and characterized it more properly as an increase in the cost of streaming services, I would’ve likely coughed up the extra $6 per month. Instead, somewhat out of spite because Netflix’s bumbling marketing move, I actually evaluated what I was getting for my money. Netflix used to have a sweet spot–direct billing on a recurring basis to my credit card. I never questioned the value of my Netflix account. But  instead of confronting the issue on its face and regretfully needing to pass the increased costs to its customers, Netflix was trying to pull one over on me (and the rest of the disgruntled customer base).

Netflix officially denied that the price increases had anything to do with increased costs of streaming rights. I hardly believe that considering a few months later, Netflix streaming’s main content provider Starz Play backed out of its contract, depriving Netflix of the Sony and Disney catalogs. People seem to think that streaming is almost costless to Netflix because it doesn’t have to mail out DVDs. What people usually don’t realize is that copyright laws are different for streaming content and those rights can actually be much more expensive.

As I said, had Netflix just been upfront about the price increase instead of trying to disguise it as a price drop, I probably would’ve just swallowed it whole. But because of the path it took, I had to think critically about what I was getting for my money. The results weren’t good. Netflix streaming had little content that I valued. I couldn’t get any new releases on popular titles, the main purpose for my Netflix account. Come to think of it, I usually get no more than two DVDs per money anyway. So I downgraded my plan to the cheapest option, the limited DVD-only plan for $4.99 per month. I can only get two DVDs per month and have no streaming services.

Netflix has done much to revolutionize the industry. It generated so much consumer loyalty and goodwill. But when it wants to play chicken with its customers and lay down “the only game in town” card, it better be ready for the mass exodus. Netflix is now losing $5 per month from me and I suspect many more former satisfied customers.

 

Image credit: http://vitaminsea.typepad.com

What’s the point in applauding after watching a movie? If it were a live performance, I can understand showing your appreciation to the performers. But when a movie is over, no one involved in the production will have any idea of your applause so it’s clearly not directly at them. The possible exception is a movie screening with cast and crew in attendance. Applause was appropriate when performances were in person, otherwise, they’re unnecessary.

So then, who is the applause for? It seems to me that people clap after movies they like to signify to the other people sitting in the theater that they collectively witnessed a triumphant film. To those people, I ask if it’s necessary to project your opinion. Do we need validation from you that it was a good movie? I wasn’t quite sure I could express my satisfaction until my personal opinion of the movie was validated. Thank you for telling me that I’m allowed to like this movie.

If the applause isn’t for the benefit of everyone else in the theater, perhaps it’s some sort of spontaneous reaction to watching something entertaining? I loved it so much that I just had to clap! I fail to believe that applause is as involuntary as laughing at a pratfall or tearing up during an emotional farewell. Perhaps people clap because they think that’s an appropriate response no matter the number in the audience. But then I ask, how many of you clap when you watch television by yourself?