I just read an interesting article that made me say, “OK. I think that’s enough.”
The article was a breathless description of how technicians at the Stuttgart University Institute for Computational Design are at the leading edge of “the rapidly evolving field of robotic architecture.”
Apparently these guys have designed robots that “make not only the components of building but also assemble the buildings themselves.” They claim that using the robots “could reduce the construction time and manpower by as much as 90%”
How cool is that?
Or not? The pace at which human jobs are being eliminated, or are about to be eliminated by robots and machines is increasing. No one is safe. Excited technocrats talk about doctors, lawyers and even policemen being replaced by robots. Even airline pilots may go the way of taxi and truck drivers. If a robot doesn’t take your job, Big Data will.
What are all those people going to do? is a legitimate question to ask. And if you are comfortably confident that your job it safe, it’s easy to shrug your shoulders and say that they should go back to school or upskill. Or worse, you may think that technology really will solve all our problems and come up with some new and exciting solution we haven’t been smart enough to foresee. But that has a sort of “I’m not in Aleppo, why should I care?” attitude to it.
The fact that there are tons of jobs for new IT graduates does not solve the social problem of millions of unemployed and possibly unemployable people.
And that’s the other point. This is a social issue, not a technical issue. We can’t rely on the technocrats to solve it. We can’t expect people who are comfortable and excited by technology to understand the two cultures that we are creating.
I know that arguing against technological advance is like peeing in the swimming pool. Totally unacceptable and a sign of deep seated problems. But is it so unreasonable to ask what people are going to do if machines are doing everything?
If all humans are equal and have human rights, it seems to me that when one group benefits at the expense of another, there should be some way to equalize things. We aren’t barbarians who raid rival villages and kill and enslave our neighbors any more. Are we?
The best solution I’ve heard is one that is both fair and makes sense. If the people rolling out the technology are making the money on it at the expense of others, why not make it fair by taxing those gains and using the money for training or support to people who are adversely affected by the technology? After all, if a person were doing the job, they’d be earning income and paying tax. So a robot doing an equivalent job should pay tax. But since robots can do just about anything but pay taxes, the check would be written by the person employing or manufacturing the robot.
I can hear the weeping and gnashing of teeth already. Another tax to transfer money from hard working innovators to the lazy. Companies will tell us that it will make robots too expensive. They will have to pass the cost onto us the customer. And that will make the technology too expensive.
I doubt if taxing technology will slow down the pace of change, but I’m not as concerned about that as I am about the social cost. Remember, the economy is driven by consumption and robots don’t consume. People do. If they don’t have any money, that’s not going to happen.
Not only that–and here’s something to think about,–your pension gets funded by the contributions of current workers and I don’t think there are going to be enough programmers and server-farm tenders to keep Social Security running forever! So maybe it’s not such a bad idea to have robots help out with that.
It may sound like heresy, but I think that some of the best live theater I’ve ever seen has been in Auckland. I think it’s a combination of the English tradition combined with Polynesian humor and creativity combined with a willingness to take chances and be innovative.
All that continued last night at the Pop Up Globe where we saw Much Ado About Nothing.
Let me answer your first question, which I’m sure is “What is the Pop Up Globe.” It’s a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre made of metal and wood scaffolding with corrugated iron walls. They call it “the world’s first full scale temporary working replica of the second Globe.” The term pop up comes from the fact that it can be taken down, moved and reassembled. Last season it was downtown but this year it’s moved out to the suburbs where there’s more room. And free parking!
We got to the theater and had a walk around. It really does look like the Globe Theater.
And of course, it wouldn’t be the Globe Theatre without . . .
This year they are doing Henry V, Othello, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing. The company includes some well known NZ actors and the entire company performs in all of the plays.
The atmosphere was more like a rock concert than a Shakespeare play—the venue and the theatre helped to create a party atmosphere and the audience was definitely there to have fun. The demographic was definitely not what we are used to when we go to the more mainstream theatre. For once we were above the average age of the audience!
To be honest, the venue is suboptimal for sound and viewing. But that didn’t matter. It was more about the event.
To add to the fun, when local NZ companies do Shakespeare, they take huge liberties. One time we saw an outdoor Macbeth in which the final sword fight took place in the seats among the audience. Another time we saw a Taming of the Shrew which started outside in a field. A pickup truck drove up hauling a trailer with a boxing ring. Kate’s suitors all took her on in the ring and she knocked them all out until Petruchio showed up in a 60s surfmobile. The play then went inside, but for the wedding scene moved into an auditorium and the audience were the wedding guests with the cast circulating among us.
It was no different for Much Ado About Nothing. Ancient Messina became Samoa and the costumes were sort of a mix of Samoan and Renaissance. For the wedding scene at the end they did this wild Polynesian dance complete with fireworks—which of course got everyone remembering that the first Globe theatre burned down because of sparks from cannon fire!
The character Dogberry, who is the constable, for some reason is portrayed as an airport customs officer with a (real) sniffer dog. (For most of the play, the dog is “lost” and spends its time wandering among the groundlings getting petted.) Anyway, at the beginning of the play, Dogberry pretends to confiscate a cell phone off someone in the audience and starts on what sounds like the usual make sure your cell phone is off reminder. Instead he encourages everyone to leave their phones on to take pictures but to make sure they are on silent. Then he says if you don’t put it on silent this is what will happen and throws the phone to the dog who destroys it.
Here are some of the authorized pictures I took.
This is the view from our seats—you can see the scaffolding the theater is built with. And yes, they used all of the doors and windows and top balcony on the stage in the course of the performance.
This is the scene where Benedik is supposed to be hiding in the arbor and overhears the guys talking about Beatrice. He’s really hanging from a swing which came down from above and which he has to tell the operator when to raise and lower it. For some reason, Friar Francis is playing the saxophone to the right.
This is the final scene with the wedding dance. The fireworks are just starting on the sides of the balcony.
I’m sure some Shakespeare purists were offended but it was a lot of fun. They use the same cast for all of the plays and it will be interesting to see how they do the history and tragedy plays because the comedy we saw was so irreverent. There were references to contemporary events, digressions as the actors addressed the audience or consulted the crew on points of staging and of course a lot of audience interaction.
We took our nephews, ages 14 and 16. Before we went the younger one asked “It is a comedy comedy or a Shakespeare comedy?” They both had a really good time and absolutely loved it and now actually want to read the actual play and see more live theatre. Mission accomplished!
Congratulations and best wishes to the Pop Up Globe company for their rich addition to Auckland’s artistic life—a great way to get people interested in Shakespeare and live theatre!
My recent novel, I Too, has been reviewed by Flaxflower, a New Zealand literary magazine and I’m happy to share it with you. It also includes a nice synopsis of the book to give you an idea of what it’s about if you haven’t read it.
There have also been a couple of reviews posted on the Amazon and Book Depository web sites but I’ve gotten a lot of reviews privately via e-mail. Many people seem to be too shy to put their thoughts out on the web, but if you’ve read the book, do please write a review on the web where you obtain the book.
I’m the first one to admit that I’m out of the loop on social trends.
So it should come as no surprise that I was oblivious to the fact that one of the defining items in anyone’s wardrobe these days is a pair of Kanye West shoes. Did you know he had a shoe brand?
I didn’t until I read an article titled “’Sneakerheads Camp in Nottingham for Kanye’s Latest Shoe.”
Before we continue, you should know, as I just learned, that “Sneakerhead” is a real term. Apparently there are people so into shoes that they have evolved a specialized language and everything. Carnegie Mellon University in the US has a course on the phenomenon called “Sneakerology 101.”
Anyway, last month these new shoes came out and the asking price was £150, which is about $260. In order to part with that kind of money for a pair of shoes, “devoted fans” were lining up for “several days” in order to access the limited number of shoes that would go on sale. According to someone who was waiting in line, “As you get close to release time you get a real buzz around and people get real excited.”
The shop selling the shoes explained demand as being due to “. . . the power of the brand. Kanye is a giant of popular culture – and he is married to Kim Kardashian – so the hype around his brand is huge.”
The article didn’t delve into the demographic of the assembled crowd but it’s fairly clear there were two classes of people. One were those who could afford to pay that kind of money for a pair of shoes and had nothing better to do than camp out on the sidewalk in winter weather for a few days. The other group were people who were probably used to camping out on the sidewalk in winter weather but generate their income by buying Kanye shoes and turning around and selling them. Apparently these things are such a hot commodity that they can be resold for a more than 100% profit on the same day. Not a bad day’s work! I don’t know all the details of how the aftermarket works but Kanye shoes have been known to sell for “thousands of pounds.”
Some retailers, and Adidas, who make the shoes, in particular discourage this. They will only let you buy one pair at a time.
In case you are wondering why the shoes have such value, here is the explanation from an 18-year-old aficionado: “You need style if you are an 18-year-old boy – you look at people nowadays and everything is about what you look like.”
I do remember various “must have” things over the years, but reality has gradually made me immune to the exhortations of advertisers.
However, while I’ve been quietly living my life, a whole alternative culture of brand identity has grown up. Around clothes in general, but definitely with shoes. There are whole websites (and apps) devoted to notifying people of product “drops.” A “drop” is a product release. Times were, bad, underperforming product lines were dropped by manufacturers but now hot new stuff is dropped, as if from heaven.
And once you get your hands on a coveted new drop, life really gets complicated. I saw an article entitled “Sneakerheads: Stop Wearing Good Shoes With Trash Outfits.” Why should you do that? “Because the virtues of a good sneaker are endless,” and “. . . your shoes deserve so much more than the stylish equivalent of stepping in dog shit.”
This pretty much sums it up: “And you want your sneakers to be happy, right? You didn’t shell out a whole month’s paycheck on them to make them neglected, right? If you truly want to show your appreciation for your footwear game, pay them a compliment: Style them correctly.“
The article closes with the warning: “Because even though the clothes don’t make the man, the clothes and a good pair of sneakers might.”
This is serious business. I found out that there is even a hashtag #NTDenim where people who wear the wrong kind of jeans with their sneakers are photographed and shamed. To help others from making “the same regrettable mistake.” To help you, there are also websites and apps that “curate” all these must have things. Incidentally, however, another website urged people not to use that hashtag because people were purposely assembling hideous insults to their sneakers and posting them “in order to be famous on the Internet.” Another thing I missed.
In a radio interview, after being asked about his priorities, a young man said, “Don’t judge me. I can spend my money however I like. These shoes define who I am.”
One can only wonder, who these people are and where they go to see and be seen and what they value other than their shoes.
Two days ago, I saw an amazing play by a talented young New Zealand playwright, Eli Kent. It was called Peer Gynt (Recycled).
I make it a habit of not researching plays before I see them because I like to be surprised, and anyway, it would have been pretty hard in this case because the play is new. I had a vague familiarity with the Peer Gynt story by Henrik Ibsen and remember hearing the music by Grieg. So I figured the play was going to be a modernized version of Ibsen.
The first hint that we were in for something different came when we parked the car and the attendant told us that he had seen a rehearsal and “it’s not for everyone.” That was a pretty promising endorsement.
He wasn’t wrong. The theatre was noticeably emptier when the curtain came up for the second act. The triggering mechanism for the exodus may have been the closing scene of the first act in which the playwright, who is a major character in the play, is stripped and secured to a table by a group of enraged Ibsen academics for desecrating the master’s work. The first act closes with the academics performing an impromptu caesarian on the playwright and the result is a mature but baby-sized Henrik Ibsen (complete with the cool facial hair) who, with the academics, embarks on an orgy of cannibalism.
(Incidentally, the academics aren’t the only outraged people in the play. In the second act, a full grown Henrik Ibsen himself appears and confronts the playwright and accuses him of “shitting on my work.” The playwright says he has done nothing of the sort, “I’ll show you what shitting on your work looks like,” he says as he drops his pants, moons the audience, and squats over a copy of the original play).
If all of this sounds like gratuitous shock theatre, I’ve given you the wrong idea. I thought it was one of the most creative, innovative, timely and challenging plays I’ve seen in a long time and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It had a really important message and spent three plus hours reiterating it to make sure you got it.
I did my research after the fact and found out that although today the original Peer Gynt is considered pretty much a classic and national treasure, original audiences were almost as baffled as we were. The play is considered to be one of the first examples of Modernism and surrealism in theatre and Ibsen ignored a lot of conventions, like limitations of space and time and chronology.
Not only that, and this is what made Peer Gynt (Recycled) so interesting to me, is that the original Peer Gynt character is what we would call a narcissist today and the original play was considered to be, in part, a satire on that kind of behavior.
Eli Kent has “recycled” the story into the 21st century and created a thought provoking critique of how we approach life today. In some respects, there are two plays in one. One, the weird one, is about Peer Gynt and his adventures, each of which is a surrealistic mini story on self-importance and ego. In one scene, the mature Peer is a successful porn producer and is meeting with his publicist and biographers in a Dubai penthouse. A disgruntled former employee, who is now, somehow appropriately, a Starbucks employee, bursts in and holds them at gunpoint. Peer lives, of course, but when she kills everyone else Peer laments, “You can’t kill him, he was going to write my biography.”
Lack of empathy and egotism show up everywhere. After a shipwreck, Peer is floating on a door and a famous Hollywood director, clutching an Oscar, demands to be saved because “I’m James Fucking Cameron.”
But the real story to me was the one involving the character of the playwright. He’s a twenty something loser who has decided to write the play in his own image and likeness. He has no frame of reference beyond himself. In other words, he’s a modern Peer Gynt. Any reference to classical literature or history is mediated through himself and the play is only important in terms of how he sees it and how he feels about it. He spends a lot of time talking to—make that lecturing—the audience about his deep ideas.
We learn that he is so addicted to internet porn that he can’t function normally and he tries to get an old girlfriend to help him with the play only if she agrees not to take any credit. He also spends a lot of time talking about the play to his mother who has a hard time figuring out what’s going on. Like Peer Gynt, he’s a classic narcissist with no empathy for anyone, a huge ego and an exaggerated sense of his importance and talent.
Near the end of the play, Peer and the playwright, Eli, become essentially the same person and Eli is forced, on pain of death, to prove that he is special. He goes in search of some of the characters Peer has met during the play but no one can find anything special about him.
Throughout the play there have been numerous references to getting to the heart of something by “peeling the layers of the onion.” Ibsen appears and gives Eli an onion to peel and when he does it, there is nothing inside. Eli can’t accept that he’s just some guy rather than the special creation he has come to consider himself. He’s also desperate to find a way to end the play in a meaningful way and he and his mother start to read from the original to get some ideas. The play ends with Eli asking his mother (appropriately because she is complicit in having made him the narcissistic millennial that he is) “If we all believe in the lie together, isn’t that as good as the truth?”
Sort of a timely warning for everyone around the world, isn’t it?
For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a novel which has come to be called I Too.
The book grew out of feedback I got on my last book, Identities. Younger people who read Identities told me they really liked its message of making the world a better place, starting with the work place. But they felt they had limited opportunities because, for example, they were new in their careers or had a new family or mortgage and felt that they were too busy or weren’t in a position to make changes.
At the same time, like everyone else, I saw the further polarization of society along all sorts of fault lines—political, ideological, religious, racial, and also read daily headlines about growing inequality and its negative effects on society.
I Too is an attempt pull these issues together and to make people think about these issues and how they can do something to make the world a better place and a micro level.
I Too is now available from Amazon both as a paperback and in a Kindle version.
Here is the back cover blurb:
Ben, Paul, and Ridge were best friends growing up, but after they went off to college, their lives began to diverge. When they reunite at Ridge’s twenty-eighth birthday party, they find that if they want to remain friends, they must confront some major differences.
Ridge is materialistic and career focused, and he has a glamorous and rich girlfriend, Julia. But he’s discovering Julia’s values and priorities don’t mesh with those of his friends, and she wants him to choose between his past and a future with her.
Ben’s life is completely different from Ridge’s. He teaches history at a community college but longs for an academic career at a more prestigious university. What will Ben have to give up for success?
Paul always feels like he is caught between Ridge and Ben. He shares some of Ben’s ideals but also has some of Ridge’s desire for material success. Will a mentor and a new love interest help him find the balance he craves?
Through Ridge, Ben, and Paul, author T. E. Stazyk encourages readers to challenge accepted norms and values and think about how they too can make a difference and change the world.
I hope you enjoy I Too and share it with your family and friends. Let me know what you think.
We haven’t talked about words for a while. But that doesn’t mean that the language is in any better shape than the last time we looked. Partly because awesome continues to be the word of choice to describe anything and everything.
Anyway, language has been in the news recently because the Oxford English Dictionary has taken to announcing its new additions to the dictionary each quarter. I finally got around to having a look at the most recent additions and I found a lot of interesting items.
Sociologists tell us that narrative is important because how we say things reflects our underlying thinking. That’s why we have political correctness.
And speaking of narrative, did you know that “narrative” has taken on a new meaning? It used to only mean a story or account of events. But now it is used to describe the events themselves. “Aesthetic” is another word that has been co-opted. Instead of just meaning appreciation of beauty or describing an artistic style, it too, now means moods, feelings or things. As in “Chloe and Tyler got into a big fight at the restaurant because she didn’t like the aesthetic. I didn’t want to be part of that narrative so I left.”
But that’s not the important narrative woven into the list of new words. A good example of new words reflecting who we are is the large number of words on the list that are from foreign languages. Globalization means we are more widely exposed to other cultures and words that work well get readily adopted.
But if the words we use are an expression of who we are, we might be concerned that of the almost 200 words on the list, over 10% refer to food or cooking. And a lot refer to shopping or consuming. More on that later.
There are some interesting surprises as well. For one thing, there aren’t as many technology neologisms as there have been on past lists. And there are some totally legitimate made up words such as Flerovium and Livermorium. They are new elements that have been discovered. Now you know.
Another interesting thing is the words on the list that I thought would already be in the dictionary—like fine tuned and shoplifting. And what took jagoff so long to make the list?
There are some words that I don’t think are going to last into future editions of the dictionary. One example is Yoda, which means a smart person, expert or guru. Another is fuhgeddaboudit, which most people think was Tony Soprano’s go to word, but it was actually properly explained by Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco which predates The Sopranos. Check it out here!
I’ve selected a few of the words on the list to share with you and to explore the narrative and aesthetic around them. So you too can get a feel of the state of English.
Biatch–n. This is supposedly used by people too polite to say “bitch.” I don’t understand the distinction, especially because the origin is rap music. For those of you who want to use it and its nuances, the Urban Dictionary informs us that the state of being a biatch is biatchitude. And exemplary biatchitude is known as biatchitudestein.
Balut–n. You don’t want to know. This word is both from a foreign language (Tagalog) and technically about food, although you might not agree. It’s a duck egg that is just about to hatch that is cooked and, er, eaten. Basically, its part egg, part duck. Use your imagination. It made the list because it’s a popular gross out food on reality TV shows like Fear Factor.
Bodoh–adj. Another foreign word (Malay) and one you will definitely want to use. It means stupid. Sian bodoh is a wonderful multilingual insult which has the huge advantage of probably not being understood by the person it’s directed at. Sian means boring in Hokkien so combined with bodoh it packs a nice one two punch. It also has a nice ring to it. Use it wisely.
Chefdom–n. A truly frightening cooking word. Or maybe it’s just bodoh. It means being a chef. If, like me, you think there are too many chefs and chef programs on TV, you are probably worried about all of chefdom banding together. Remember, they have knives. Lots of them.
Kindsa–? You know how you cringe when someone writes “I could of . . .” instead of “I could have?” Kindsa represents the elevation of that sort of thing as a word in the OED. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it means “kinds of” as in “Like, I’m so into all kindsa words.”
Non-apology–n. If the words we use reflect the way we think, be afraid, be very afraid. Meaningless apologies are now so de rigueur, that we need a word for them.
Shopaholism–n. See non-apology.
Shoppertainment–n. Times were, shopping was something you just did in order to acquire things. Now our attention spans are so short and we’re so bored that retailers have come to believe that we need “an entertaining in-store shopping experience” and there are consultants who specialize in helping stores with “experiential retailing.” I wonder if Black Friday shootings in the US qualify.
Skronk–adj. A term to describe music that is dissonant, grating or irritating. Why has it taken this word so long to find respectability in the dictionary considering how often it can and should be used? Also applies to some news reporters and radio announcers. Also an integral part of shoppertainment.
Squee–n, v. Essentially a squeal, usually of delight. I don’t know if this word came about as a result of text language because it’s easier to type than squeal or what.
Upcharge–n. A euphemism for paying more for something. Also known as “accessorial charges.” It’s a fancy way of saying you pay more for extra cheese on your pizza.
Vom–n, v. Like bodoh, I’m going to be using this one! Take a guess. It is short for vomit and is a wonderfully versatile word. As in, “there was vom on the floor after the party.” Or “I vommed when I saw that guy eating balut.” I like it because there was no need for yet another word for vom, but it’s always nice to have one.
This is but a small sampling of the new words in the dictionary. Have them ready when you do your Christmas shopping and buy all kindsa stuff. Watch out for the shopaholics who might be squeeing over the shoppertainment and don’t get upset by the skronking PA system or the biatch behind the counter who gives you a non-apology when you question the latest upcharge. Don’t buy any bodoh gifts and whatever you do, don’t vom if a chefdom tries to get you to sample some balut.