Trip to India

Day 62: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

You may be immediately suspicious of my title — and rightfully so, as I didn’t actually take a trip to India. That said, it’s a little less dubious than when I tried to pass off a visit to Cologne

I did, however, visit Devon street, which was much closer to experiencing India than I ever had before. I went with a friend who took us to what he called a cabbie restaurant – nothing fancy, just very authentic. We had food from Hyderabad, what he described as the southernmost northern tasting – and in being so, took some spicy queues from the south. My friend ordered in what I believe was Hindi. We ate mutton biryani, chicken 65, and paratha. We ate with our hands as my friend told me about chicken 65 being a leaked recipe from the ever popular 65th item from the Buhari hotel restaurant.

It was an interesting experience. Unique. Growing up in a very rural, very small town in midwest America I didn’t encounter different cultures. I don’t say ‘often’ there because that wouldn’t be true – we simply didn’t encounter them at all. In college I wasn’t really faced with them either. It’s interesting to see how gigantic the world is, and wonder how anyone could act as though they’ve figured it out.

It’s eye opening – starting to see how much you don’t know. And ever more realize there is so much you don’t know that you don’t know.

It seems important to interact with things different than what we know. The unknown can be terrifying – the downside risk seems overwhelming at times, so fearing embarrassment for a cultural misstep, a violent act for reasons we can’t really explain, or perhaps even a bad case of diarrhea, we sometimes find ourselves closed off to new experiences and unknowns.

I’ve hated the city for quite some time. Growing up in my farm town I had space, I had nature with beauty abounding. I could see stars, breath fresh air, get a moment without smelling the sewers, hearing the whizzing of machines or the honking of car horns. Yet getting a taste of India helped me appreciate what the city has to offer.

Diversity isn’t a pillar, Tim. It’s no end in its own. But it’s remarkable how it helps provide perspective.

The world is too big for us to ever stop learning. We at times act like we learn what we like – growing up experiencing some positively and decide ‘yes’ and others negatively, deciding ‘no’. But the world is far too big – something completely unknown might be good. While we fear the downside of it being bad, we also must realize that all the good was once unknown to us as well, was once foreign. We have to continue to learn, continue to grow and develop, continue to take share ideas and life together…

…and food. Because that was good stuff.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Oh! Almost forgot. Though I regrettably didn’t take pictures of my food (because that’s a thing now-a-days), I also had Thums Up, what my friend described as ‘Indian Coke’. Owned by the Coca Cola company, it was less carbonated and less sweet, and the sweetness almost had more of a molasses quality to it. It was pretty good!IMG_1110.JPG

It’s All a Jumble…

Day 57: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

“When man wanted to make a machine that would walk he created the wheel, which does not resemble a leg.”

-Guillaume Apollinaire

Descending melody is a universal in world music.  Every culture that we know of has some examples of melodies that generally start high in pitch and end low.  Ethnomusicologists think this is simply due to the nature of our physiology: whenever someone breathes out to sing a melody, they start with a lot of breath and end with very little.  This makes it natural to descend in pitch toward the end of a melodic line.

If I were to indulge myself in speculation about this, I might even take the explanation a step further.  It seems like downward motion is a pretty universal part not only of our physiology, but of all of nature in general.  I mean, here on earth, things pretty much always move downward if nothing stops them.  Water, tree branches, trees themselves…  I guess in that way descending melody is a lot like Cage’s 4’33’’; it’s the sound of nature when people don’t interfere that much.

The so-called “lament meter” in ancient Hebrew poetry is probably an example of this.  Although we don’t have direct evidence of the original melodies, the lopsidedness of the poetic meter itself seems to evoke a diminishing energy toward the end of the verse.  The first part of the verse (the first “colon”) is generally longer then the second.

I feel like there’s something inherently lament-ful about this kind of verse structure.  Isn’t it kind of sad how everything on earth eventually falls back to the ground and dies?  Everything except for some small amount of helium, which, I understand, escapes the atmosphere because it’s so light.

But the really strange thing is how relatively rare this melodic typology is within Western concert music.  Our melodies tend to climax about two-thirds of the way in.  In a sense, you could maybe say our musical tradition is about contrasting the entropy the natural world with the creative energy of human life.

“Right, well, I mean… this piece behind me, I call it ‘The Afous II.’  And, I mean, it’s really about how confusing, you know, society is.  Because, you know, it’s all a jumble, isn’t it.”

-Adam Savage

schermata-2017-02-07-alle-12-39-25

A river or a waterfall might tend to flow downward, but human discourse generally moves the opposite way: I say something, you say something, and eventually we reach some kind of logical consequence… an agreement or a main point or something like that.  Contrary to the entropy of the natural universe, human conversations, or “language games,” tend to snowball, accumulating more energy as logical discourse progresses.

Here’s a a very famous lament, which climaxes, no less, toward the end of each strophe.

God, who created all that comes and goes
and shaped this faraway love,
give me strength, since I already have the intention,
so that I see this love far away
in reality and in a fitting place
so that rooms and gardens
shall seem to me to be new palaces.

-Jaufre Rudel, source

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Five Humans

Day 41: Monday

Good morning Zak,

Zak, there’s something I wrote in one of these posts one time that I think was particularly insightful:

“My fishes have rights.”

I do in fact believe this.  If my dentist stopped by one day and asked for one of my fishes to help feed his family, I think I would turn him down.  That’s because my fishes have rights.  I’m quite fond of my fishes.  They are entitled to live a peaceful life in my aquarium; I shouldn’t have to mourn their loss just because my dentist didn’t have dinner planed for his family one night.

That being said, white wine does go nicely with salmon.  It’s my understanding that wine experts in the US award gold metals to wines almost at random.  Most people who aren’t trained in wine tasting tend to prefer cheep wine to expensive wine.  There is only a very small subset of the population that enjoys more expensive wine.

But why am I telling you this?

There’s also only a small group of people in the world who enjoy modernist concert music.  They like composers like Webern, Schoenberg, Boulez, Xenakis… I’m willing to bet those dudes are all complete strangers to most of our readers.  There’s also a pretty good chance that most of our readers wouldn’t care for modernist music if they did hear it.

It would make a lot of people happier if we reallocated the resources we’re spending on “fine wine” and modernist “art music” toward making popular wine and music cheeper and more abundant.  If people acted rationally, we would outlaw fancy wine and pretentious music in order to please the masses.  Taylor Swift could perform an extra concert with free wine for everyone.

Business runs on efficiency, but people don’t.  We could increase total overall human happiness by sacrificing just one of my pet fishes to feed my dentist’s family of five.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Airport Romance

Day 37: Tuesday

Good morning Zak,

Sorry this letter comes to you later than usual.  I’m still jet-lagged from my flight over.

Zak, I’m sure I’m not the first person to notice this, but my recent flight has reinforced for me how much airports are different in different countries.  As a case in point, when I was going through security in Italy, there was a girl in her twenties playing with her hair, leaning casually against the conveyor belt:

“dove vai di bella questo pomeriggio?”

“USA”

“he he he, ‘USA’. che bello!  USA, cio è USA dove?”

“Chicago.  Ha ha… I guess that is pretty funny.”

It’s very strange.  The security officials in the US are completely different.  Despite using fancy technology to look at you in the nude, they don’t seem as interested.  Maybe that’s not as paradoxical as I think:

“Sir, you are required by national United States law to accurately disclose your destination to me.”

“Dis year, to keep me from tears…

Am I allowed to find this amusing?  I mean, Italians find my accent amusing all the time…

In Italy, one of the things employees often look for in a job candidate is presenza.  They will declare this in the advertisement:

Wanted: airline security person. Experience with international law enforcement, competence with standard policing weaponry, and presenza.  Please be sure to wear a nice outfit to the interview.  You know, try to show a little skin.  Giggly coquetry preferred.

Sorry everyone.  I’m just telling you the way things are.

I know in recent months many of us in the US are bemoaning a massive step backward for gender equality

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Ugh. I hate lines (but…what to do without them?)

Day 22: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

If my recollection of English is correct, your use of ‘literal’ is mostly a  taunt, valiantly attempting to have me tirade about unusual incorrect usage and usages. I won’t take the bait – just know I’m watching you closely. That said, I’m watching you closely mostly because you got a haircut from a stylist not named Monique, not because of your taunts. Italy is really changing you…

A couple weeks ago I touched a bit on automation, attempting to detail some thoughts on the tech industry’s moral obligation to bring others along with them. Rather than simply displace workers from jobs, the industry as a whole should help think carefully about the society being created when these jobs are gone and how people can not only make a living but also live meaningful lives contributing to societal flourishing.

Amazon announced the soon to be public launch of their Amazon Go store concept. Watch the video below – it’s worth the couple of minutes.

Now to be clear, this is one store that isn’t yet open to the public. But the implications are glaring. There are 3.5 million people working in cashier jobs in the US alone. I’m not sure how it’s counted, but you also have people managing those cashiers and in the case of grocery stores those bagging the purchases. That’s a lot of people to displace.

And to be sure the technology will have some kinks to work out and some frustrations of it’s own. There will need to be a clear way to get assistance if something isn’t coming “off the cart” if you put it back (consumer frustration) or ensure everything is being charged (retailer frustration). But in the long run, if it really is using self-enforcing and learning tech as described, the thousands of data points gleaned every day add up and the experience improves, driving more people to use the service. Moreover, if their massive scale and logistical distribution advantages weren’t enough, the real advantage here comes when looking at costs – investing in the (essentially) fixed costs of running the tech allows Amazon to out-compete others who have to use labor. And as hinted at above, it’s not just grocery that gets impacted – there’s no reason to believe similar technology couldn’t be put into clothing retail, gas stations, convenience stores, etc.

I write this thoroughly torn about how to feel. From a tech innovation perspective, I’m all for it. People unproductively standing in lines is a real problem to be solved – time that could be spent building relationships over tea or writing comics about math (this is the kind of friendship we have, Tim!) or observing the beauty in nature. But there are other real-world implications, meaning people may not have jobs to work to pay their way through school or to support their families or to simply make a few extra bucks so they can go hang out with their friends on the weekends.

And I don’t have any answers. I don’t even have thoughts in the right direction, yet. But being attentive to what is happening and having it sit on the mind, discussing it with friends – that I can do. Let me know when you’ve figured it out, Tim…

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I really liked your pigeons rummaging.

p.p.s. If the Amazon Go thing comes to fruition, I have serious angst about having to travel back through stores to put groceries back rather than simply placing my unwanted rice bag on top of the canned soup section. And before you say “aww you’re that guy! Put it back yourself” I’ll pe-empt with a “Hey I’m giving someone a job!”…

Plagiarizing Pick Up Lines

Day 19: Thursday

Good morning Zak,

As you know, I have a bird back home named Jerry.  Jerry is able to speak basic American English, but he has a heavy conure accent.  So far he has learned how to say “hi Jerry” and “hi there,” and he spends a lot of time repeating these phrases.  It seems like, for Jerry, these two greetings contain most of what he wants to express in life.

But let me ask you a question, Zak: what if this weren’t the case?  What if Jerry suddenly decided he wanted to learn more phrases?  For example, what if he learned how to say “I love you” or “I am a self-aware moral agent capable human-like empathy.”  This second phrase might be very cute to show people at parties, but should we believe what he’s saying?  Does the fact that English is Jerry’s second language effect the credibility of the things he asserts in it?

By the way, Zak, I just found this hilarious cat picture online:

Speaking of second languages, when I learned ancient Greek, I spent a lot more time than I normally would writing about “the boy leading the oxen through the field.”  This is a fairly interesting topic.  I could maybe justify writing a page or two about it; as I remember it, though, my Greek writing for the first couple months expressed an almost obsessive fixation with boys, fields, and oxen.  It was all I ever talked about.  “The boy leads the oxen through the field.”  “The boy plows the field leading the oxen.”  “The field would about to have been plowed if the boy were to lead the oxen through the field in order to plow it.”

Zak, while these sentences were all great works of literature, do you really think readers should have believed that they expressed my genuine sentiments about boys plowing fields with oxen?  Of course, in normal life, language is clearly not about parroting back phrases you’ve heard somewhere else.  If that were the case, every online blog would be fixated on the same things—like cats or inspirational catch-phrases or Fw: Fw: Fw: How I Made a Fortune Blogging and Hilarious Prank Gone Wrong!!!!

For some people love and dating is a fixation like this.  I am given to understand that boys, when they’re not plowing fields, sometimes speak a second language to pick up girls.  (On which, see bizarrelovetriangleblog)

When I first came to Italy I sometimes would accidentally use words or phrases that were either archaic or very formal.  This was because most of my Italian up to that point had come from books and literature I had read, some of which was very old.

This made for some awkward conversations…

I’d meet people and they’d ask, “so what’s your story?” but then they wouldn’t believe me when I started to answer, “midway through the journey of our life, I found myself in a dark wood…”  I didn’t understand the problem; it seemed to me like a perfectly reasonable answer. If an inspirational blogger ever tells you to be true to thine own self… I won’t say they’re being inauthentic, but it is possible they’ve learned English from reading Shakespeare.

For some English speakers, when they think of Italy the first thing that comes to mind is Dante, for others it’s more or less spaghetti ? I think that’s what that is.

Maybe Jerry should start a blog.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Cat puns; Reasoning in foreign languages

Day 18: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

Thank you for acknowledging my curation of cats. To be honest, I didn’t realize I was playing into the rampant trope of cat photos on the internet at the time, and so it was your work that really provided the curation.

As luck would have it, I recently got in an email chain spouting off cat puns. I’ve tried to curate the best of these below:

  • The first pun lobbed being less than purrfect, with a response to stop kittening around
  • Gratitude for fur-ends that would engage in such nonsense, tailented and hissterical as they may be
  • An acknowledgement that most of the cat puns weren’t very Clawver
  • And finally, from someone who had not been involved in the conversation, the suggestion that the laughter was going to cause them to “Puma pants — and that would be a catastrophe

animals-spay-pun-neutered-cats-persian-masn9_low.jpg

Tim you may have noticed in my last post my tendency to delve far too deeply into wordplay and puns. This is likely due to my fascination with language, albeit typically taking a different angle than your interest as a philologist. I recently came across some research suggesting that people make decisions differently when reasoning in a foreign language. Namely, when reasoning in a foreign language, people may be more willing to take on risk because they perceive risks to be lower. Additionally, when making moral decisions, reasoning in a foreign language also makes people more likely to espouse a utilitarian perspective (i.e., sacrifice one life to save five) than they otherwise would.

As you know, Tim, I work in the healthcare space. While I had been made aware of the risk-taking bias when reasoning in a foreign language, I had not made the connection to utilitarian action or to the suggestion outlined in the linked research above around the impact this may have on physicians reasoning in another language. Not having any conclusion yet, having just come across the research yesterday, I simply wanted to pass on the information to you, knowing it may be interesting from a philosophical perspective ala normative morality over utilitarian ethics as well as ongoing interest in impact on how languages impact thinking generally and what that may look like when extrapolating to a second language rather than an original, primary one.

Until tomorrow,

Zak