7 Quick Takes (9/28/13)

— 1 —

Sometimes it’s really hard to remember quite how far in the future we live.  Or how much fun it is to take advantage of our ability to ethically take advantage of our hardwired capacity to recognize patterns and intuit things about our surroundings.  Nothing in the video is CGI, it’s just your brain applying the rules it knows to art designed to exploit it.  Wheee!


— 2 —

And for a much older kind of art, that’s still fun to pick apart to see how it’s done, comes this The Way Things Work type video on the making of Matryoshkas.  Even with a term of experience with a lathe, I still guessed wrong about the order of how some bits were done.  You might want to take a few minutes to guess before you watch.  (h/t Tristyn, by which I mean the video is in Russian, not English).

— 3 —

My parents had a number of matryoshkas, one set of which closely resembled the one below.  As a child, I was prone to carry around the very smallest, who I referred to as “Baby Leonard,” and greatly amused my mother, when she saw poor, tiny Lenin being dragged about for games of make-believe grocery shopping.  What an indignity!

— 4 —

And now, for a fusion of art forms old and new: People are putting on a performance of the plot of Terminator 2 in which all the lines are cribbed from Shakespeare’s corpus.  I kid you not.  You can see their promo video below.

— 5 —

The next video is also an updating of Shakespeare.  In fact, if this project were a science fiction film franchise, it would be… Back to the Future.

By which I mean that it’s actors working on using the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s own time instead of modern British English.   Apparently the Globe Theatre did a Romeo and Juliet both in Original Pronunciation and the normal style.  In the video below, two actors give some examples of what Original Pronunciation sounds like, and how it helps them hit some rhymes and puns better.

— 6 —

And while we’re on a Shakespeare run, I had the pleasure of being invited to a reading-Othello-aloud party this week.  We ended up rotating principles a bit, so I got to be Desdemona for Acts I and II, Iago for III and IV, and Emilia at the end.  As usual though, I ended up angry at Othello for most of the reading for being so gosh-darn easy to fool.  (I didn’t think of working that blame-for-his-weakness into my Iago; it might have been interesting).

So I wanted to link you all to Noah Millman’s review of a production at the Stratford Festival, which was one of the first moments where Othello made sense to me as tragic, not just hopeless.  Here’s part of the key section:

So why can Iago turn him so easily? Because it had never occurred to Othello that anyone he loved and trusted truly could – or would – deceive him. Iago plants the possibility, and once planted the weed quickly overruns the garden. Iago preaches mistrust; to mistrust him, and reject his counsel, is actually to trust him and his counsel, because it is to accept that Othello may be deceived by one he loves. And once that possibility is admitted, then how can he in quiet see his wife feed well, love company, sing and dance and, in general, manifest the free and open manners that are Desdemona’s hallmark?

— 7 —

I remember having a teacher who, when ze taught Othello, spoke about Iago as an enigma at the heart of the play.  He gives several contradictory reasons for his malice, and ultimately refuses to speak at all.  Is he also jealous, and that informs his choice of weapon?  Is he angry at being passed over, and relentless in revenge?  Or is he just evil personified, with as little reason for it as Don John in Much Ado?

But better to not know than to have his ill-will vivisected and studied in the style of this study.  Here’s a pull-quote from the Times writeup:

Students who chose to be bug-killers were presented with three cups, each holding a live pill bug. To anthropomorphize the bugs, each was given a name: Muffin, Ike, or Tootsie. Bug-killers had to drop a bug into a modified coffee grinder, force the top down, and grind the bug up.

(Note to cringing readers: a secret barrier spared the tiny troika. Though the machines emitted crunching sounds, the researchers said, “no bugs were harmed in the experiment.”)

During the execution of the assignment, some bug-killers quit after one or two. But some asked for more bugs.

Is it a bad sign that I laughed when they assured us that no pill-bugs were actually in danger?  Ah well, I must laugh when I am merry and claw no man in his humor.


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  • Martha O’Keeffe

    Well, Othello is easy to fool, that’s true. But I wonder how much of his suspicion that Iago plays upon is an unconscious fear, and even an unconscious desire to see that fear come true?

    I think Othello, deep down, doesn’t trust Desdemona’s love for him for several reasons. First, he’s an outsider in Venetian society and no matter how loyally he serves the state, how successful in his career, he will always be an outsider, as he is forcefully reminded by Desdemona’s father who accuses him of witchcraft and all kinds of skulduggery when Desdemona falls in love with him. You can’t get much more blunt about it than “An old black ram is tupping your white ewe”!

    And Othello’s defence against this charge of undue influence? When you pick it apart, it actually boils down to Desdemona has fallen in love with a fantasy version of him – the hero of a romantic tale:

    “She loved me for the dangers I had pass’d,
    And I loved her that she did pity them.”

    Brabantio, who Othello says “loved him” and often invited him to his house, has a fit of anger and outrage when Othello weds his daughter and accuses him of using drugs and sorcery because it’s impossible that she should honestly love him:

    ” Whether a maid so tender, fair and happy,
    So opposite to marriage that she shunned
    The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,
    Would ever have, to incur a general mock,
    Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom
    Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight.”

    So I don’t think it’s too far out to suppose that Othello does have a lurking fear that Desdemona’s love is really just a vagary, that she’ll regret her marriage, that she will want someone younger and handsomer and more charming, of her own background and station, and that if she doesn’t leave him openly, she will still be open to an affair; indeed, if Othello (with all his disadvantages) could win her heart so that she deceived her father, why couldn’t a plausible young Venetian beguile her to deceive Othello in turn?

    So Iago, who presents himself as what Chesterton called the candid friend*, plays upon Othello’s fears (they’re fairly rational fears too: sure, he shouldn’t doubt Desdemona or believe Iago so easily, but his anxiety doesn’t come from nowhere) and put that with Othello’s flaw being his jealousy, and we get tragedy.

    *”I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back — his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens. I do not speak (of course) of the anti-patriotism which only irritates feverish stockbrokers and gushing actresses; that is only patriotism speaking plainly. A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother off a cliff until she has fallen over it. But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says, “I am sorry to say we are ruined,” and is not sorry at all. And he may be said, without rhetoric, to be a traitor; for he is using that ugly knowledge which was allowed him to strengthen the army, to discourage people from joining it. Because he is allowed to be pessimistic as a military adviser he is being pessimistic as a recruiting sergeant. Just in the same way the pessimist (who is the cosmic anti-patriot) uses the freedom that life allows to her counsellors to lure away the people from her flag. Granted that he states only facts, it is still essential to know what are his emotions, what is his motive. It may be that twelve hundred men in Tottenham are down with smallpox; but we want to know whether this is stated by some great philosopher who wants to curse the gods, or only by some common clergyman who wants to help the men.”

  • grok87

    #7: “Studies also indicate that sadists will choose to hurt people without provocation, even if the act takes time and effort — the only reward being the pleasure of inflicting cruelty… a question that has long haunted researchers. ‘We don’t still know why some people are chronically mean,’ he said.”

    I’m not sure using bugs was the most fair-minded way for the researchers to test their thesis! There seems to be something hard-wired into us as a species to view bugs as our enemies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y07I_KER5fE

    From Wed. Morning Prayer: http://divineoffice.org/?date=20130925 Psalm 36: “Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart. There is no fear of God before his eyes. He so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit. All wisdom is gone. He plots the defeat of goodness as he lies on his bed. He has set his foot on evil ways, he clings to what is evil.”

    I think a fundamental point of disagreement between the Enlightenment and the Judeo-Christian tradition is that former (Rosseau etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Jacques_Rousseau) thinks of people as being fundamentally good, whereas the latter views people as sinful and prone to evil in the absence of a proper relationship with God (“fear of God”).

    Chesterton, is as always, a propos: “If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.”

    • Martha O’Keeffe

      I wouldn’t grind up bugs because that would be too cruel, but neither would I be inclined to be more merciful to them just because I was told “They have names – that’s Creepy, that’s Crawly, and that’s Joe.”
      I’d spray them with poison if they were infesting my house, but if they were outside in the grass, I’d let them be.

    • tom_ttac

      “There seems to be something hard-wired into us as a species to view bugs as our enemies.”

      Actually, while I don’t have any hard data on the subject, I’m not sure that this is true. I’m an entomologist by trade (or, well, at least a grad student working in an entomology department), and often do public outreach to young kids and school groups. One thing I’ve found is that most kids are really not afraid of insects when the kids are young; usually preschoolers through second graders (of whatever gender, I might add) are really excited to touch and hold the insects. It’s the adult teachers and chaperones that are usually more scared.

      So, I am more inclined to think that young kids are often not actually afraid of insects, but rather are taught to be afraid of them as they get older by adults who cannot distinguish between harmful and benign insects and instead instill a blanket fear of insects to the kids.

      Also, once you work with insects for a while, you usually lost your fear of them pretty quickly. I think our general fear of insects is more a societal result of most people knowing that some arthropods (insects, spiders, and the like) are harmful (bees and wasps and those spiders that will bite and the like), but not being able to be sure if any particular insects is harmful.

      Anyway, your point about the use of the pillbugs in the study is still apt, since many people will have acquired a fear or dislike of arthropods by that point. But, I think more people would like insects if given the chance to get to know them better. =)

      Also, pillbugs are quite cute little arthropods, in my opinion at least. And completely benign and even helpful as scavengers and detritivores. =)

      Edit: Also, yeah this is probably a completely off-topic digression, sorry. Just had to stick up for my arthropod homies.

      • Randy Gritter

        I have twin girls who are 8 and they love every bug they can find. It is amazing how many different ones they do find. I do wonder if part of our fear is sexual. When we reach puberty we associate some touching with being violated. Insects, of course, do not respect this. So an insect crawling on an adult might freak them out because it sets off some sexual alarm bells. I could be wrong but I don’t remember ever being hurt by a bug. I do remember bugs crawling on me and really hating it in a way my 8 year olds don’t seem to mind.

        • tom_ttac

          Hm, I’ve never considered thinking about it that way. I suppose maybe the increased awareness of personal space that comes with puberty might play a role in that? Also, I don’t mean to overgeneralize; there are some kids who don’t like touching the insects at all, and some are OK with it until the insect starts crawling off their hand and up their arm and stuff (which makes sense; it does become scarier when the situation looks like it might be getting out of one’s control). So, there might be temperamental differences too.

          I personally got hurt by bugs a lot; or rather, got stung by bees and wasps a lot when I was young. It was probably because I was a somewhat spacy kid (and, well, teenager. And, well, adult) who wandered too close to bees nests or almost stepped on them and such too often.

          Anyway, I hope your daughters continue to have a sense of interest and curiosity about the world! Just maybe help them learn that the brightly colored yellow and black insects are brightly colored because they are warning you to stay away, haha. (note: that was a joke, rather than implying that I think you’d fail to do this as a parent otherwise)