Saying Nothing: “Lethal Aid”

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Political leaders are perhaps experts not at making policies or making important decisions but in abusing language. President Obama’s white house spokesperson used the odd phrase “lethal aid” in a press briefing today. The entire quotation, “We’re not actively considering lethal aid” came in response to a question regarding the United States assistance to Ukraine. Certainly an odd phrase, “lethal aid”, but what does it mean?

What is “lethal aid”? Rearrange the words to read “aid that is lethal”. Of course the “lethal” nature of this aid means that it’s not lethal to it user. The lethal features of such aid stem from its application to another. In this case the lethality of the aid would only be experienced by Ukrainian protestors who would likely not consider it aid. This “lethal aid” term is a perfect creation of two opposed ideas. It is the paradox perfected as it works to both convey a gentle act of strength and the violent act of killing. It is both cold and warm, boiling and frozen.

The art of politics: saying something that says nothing.

Evaluating Value

April 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Is it fair if we compare? Would a Warhol viewed in Rembrandt’s time be greeted with respect? One can wonder how Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address would have been received if, instead of that famous text he gave, he used instead the movie speech from Independence Day. Context is essential in these situations.

A work of art is reflective of its age and viewing it outside of or in disregard of these facts fails to consider essential details of the art. A painting is far more than just its ink and canvas. Contained within that painting are the background details of both its own time and ours. View a painting in 2014 and its interpretation is not the same our viewing of it in 2013. Art, just the humans who create it, are constantly in flux.

“We cannot step into the same river twice” is a statement that connects here. Linked to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus it reminds us of the constant flux of life. Wary we must be when considering our own interpretations and the objects of our thinking. Never will we reach a point of certainty.

With every day our experiences and knowledge expand and change and from these “evolutions” come a new and different person. Perhaps our age is less a measure of our time alive and more a measure of the days in which we have been adjusted. Life affects us all, but for those who seek to truly apply their thinking and experience a work of art is a prime tool of consideration.

In a painting we have a constant object on which to ponder. Generation after generation can cast its gaze on the object and engage in the work to draw conclusion. Each individual will conduct this work in different ways and reflect the society from which he or she exists. By the questions we ask and the conclusions we draw much can be learned about the times from which we stem. Art is perfect for these experiments: thinking on our thinking reveals who we are. What can be said for a culture who made popular the work of a man whose sold process was printing soup cans? Does it suggest a commercially obsessed cultural or a culture reveling in a post-war glut of capital and power. All interpretations will vary, but what matters most of all is that work is being done.

The greatest art inspires thinking and while all art makes a statement it is the audience and critic’s job to evaluate the statements. Everyone can make an artistic statement but the value of these statements is a conclusion draw by the culture. These will vary over time and herein lies the glory of great art. Shakespeare persists not because of viral marketing but because his work continues to connect with generations.

Our sense of humor may change but what often remains constant is our sense of sincerity. If the art conveys a truth and speaks to us we continue to preserve it. Passing it on and suggesting others consider it becomes both a benefit for the future audience and the artist who created the work.

Valuable art is never about money: true value lies in immortality. No dollar amount can measure that power and no leader will ever hold the strength of a great painting. Biceps be damned: true power lies in great. Immortality is real: great art will live forever and though the hands and souls who created these works will perish the works themselves continue forward for as long as their message continues to be true. In truth beauty and in beauty truth.

Locks and Maturation

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

One model of maturation is the lock system for boat travel. Via the system, a boat moves through a series of water chambers that allow it to move directly over land despite a lack of level surface. No longer dependent on a flowing current, the boat can move quickly by flowing through the system of locks.

slowly, the boat moves further in its journey by progressing through each channel. In each chamber the boat starts near the bottom but the rises higher and makes its way forward.

Applying this model to maturation, consider the young person working through stages of experience. A child learning to drive will begin with basic steps of adjusting mirrors and the interior of the vehicle. Gradually more advanced skills are explored and conquered so that in time the individual who begins without any experience becomes capable of moving the vehicle at an incredibly rapid rate of speed.

As the boat moves through each channel its progress is individually tied to status. Likewise the child’s development is tied to personal progress. Difficulty at a certain level means the student does not progress.

This model of maturation is helpful in understanding the ideal progress of education. Learning is inherently an individual process and any system that presumes progress disregards reality. No reason exists for a student to be considered below or above grade level.

On the boat it is the sailor who is in charge of moving the boat towards its destination. For the student this guiding force begins as the parent but gradually becomes the individual. With maturation comes both the capability and responsibility to direct one’s progress.

Impersonal The Person

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

In her interview with Brian Lehrer, Danah Boyd discusses contemporary challenges in child maturation. Well-versed in technologies complicated relationship with parents and their children, her work bases its conclusions on anecdotal evidence with young people. Her arguments are cogent and well-researched, and present a slew of new ideas about technology. From Boyd it becomes clear that a new perspective about technology must be developed to educate both parents and children. How has the internet changed the way we mature? Clearly, the relationship between peers has been altered drastically by technology. In Boyd we hear the complicated levels of these changes: alterations both for peers in similar age groups and between peers of different groups.

Each generation relates to technology differently. The ways in which an older generation uses Facebook is drastically different from a younger generation. Despite a common platform the two groups both utilize and understand the technology differently. From this great void of understanding comes significant confusion. How do children relate to their parents posting on Facebook? What do children do when their parents refuse them Facebook access or insist they function as a gate-keeper?

As our relationship with technology develops so to will our relationship with those who use technology. Just as users of Facebook come to understand the platform, the means of understanding others who use the platform will develop. Will a sense of someone’s “Facebook-self” become more common? Are we capable of allowing someone to exist as someone else on the internet? The online world is rich with opportunities to be someone else. In these new identities an amazing wealth of power can be seized. Where confusion enters the picture is when these distinct personalities are blurred. With the use of alternative identities it becomes critical that distinctions remain intact. How do parents keep their children safe? Ultimately each family must reach their own conclusion; though, a recognition of the multiple identities of online life is essential. Disregarding this is to disregard the rules of the internet and the very reality in which we live.

 

Narrative Nets

March 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given unknown circumstances there is often a need to create details. Observe an individual standing by the side of the road with a sign requesting help. What are the details of this person’s story? Why are we not in this sad position, asking the anonymous public for assistance. One might wonder why its this person and not himself in this position? What actions or factors of my existence have delivered me to a place where such humiliations are avoidable?

To fill in missing details strings both from curiosity and panic. Charged with the countless questions born from these observations, one must wonder both why it exists and what protects himself from this existence. We are fearful of such calamities and seek out reasons to justify our sense of security. How close are we to such a life? Are we so secure that begging for money by the side of the road is above us? Who am I to feel its tragic? Could I handle such a deed if my children were in need?

One calming source of answers is delusion. Create the details for the person: make a back story and justify the differences. Did the person commit a crime? Is it a scam that they are playing? Creating these lies is less about the individual observed and more about us as the observer. A certain sense of safety comes from thinking their plight comes from action. If they’ve done something wrong we can feel that by acting correctly and protecting ourselves we’ll never live their life. Of course these are just lies and we cannot know what protects us from the tragedy. From what source do our privileges stem? Mere resources that can disappear by whims. Nothing is for certain and the resources from which we build a life are profoundly vulnerable. Are we merely our paycheck? Does our life come less from who we are and more from what our income does allow? Are our dreams framed in income brackets? For many the difference between luxury and destitution are but weeks without a paycheck.

Cashing Out

March 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A fascinating discussion on transactions takes place in this EconTalk podcast from 2007. In it Viviana Zelizer discusses the confounded relationship we have with ‘intimacy’ and ‘money’. She observes that society sees these as distinct cultural norms and strives to keep them separate.

How does money taint experience? Are there moments when a cash equivalent is simply rude?  Attend a dinner party and choose to give your host a $20 bill “I know you wanted wine, but this is so much better.” Say a neighbor learns of another community member being ill. Coming to her door, she offers chicken soup and says, “I hope this kills the sickness.” Does the neighbor offer cash?” When does rudeness make its entrance? 

Money makes things murky. We pay for food from the grocery but never at family holidays. Is the fastest way to ruin Thanksgiving the act of leaving $10 on the table. “This isn’t a restaurant”, this hose might say. And yet both restaurant and family meals involve the consumption of food. In both situations another space is used. Wherein lies the difference?

Relationships are key. In family dinners the introduction of money symbolizes a misunderstanding of the transaction. Money is not working here: the family meal is one in which emotion is transacted. “I care for you so this is free.” Our grocer does not “care for us” in this sense: their business is dependent on our money to continue in its function.

What role does money play in human life? With currency we exchange one thing for another. The bottle of water is a dollar. Exchange your dollar for the water and the transaction takes place. Economies function on these most basic actions. And yet, despite this seemingly simplistic action we manage to complicate the issue. Perhaps it is because these transactions are so cold and simple that introducing them into intimate relationships spell trouble. The payment of cash is one without emotion. I want it so I give it. What function does money play? Often its a symbol of indifference that, divorced of our emotion, works to get to what we want without the murky work of feelings.

Crust Cuts

February 21, 2014 Leave a comment

In contemporary media, it is possible for a same-day hired employee to commit acts of such depravity that decades of reputation can be lost. Video of an employee urinating in a sink at a West Virgina Pizza Hut recently emerged. Once broadcast on local media the story “had legs” and made its way to popular “click-bait” sites where rapidly it spread. More viral than the bacteria splashed inside the sink, the story became less about the employee or his actions and more about the brand and the response from those in charge. From Twitter came their comments of “disappointment” and “regret”.

Is a corporation responsible for the actions of every employee? Surely a company as large as Pizza Hut can’t be held accountable for the habits of the few? One lesson that can be learned from this story is the peril of expansion. With greater size comes cost. As the network expands the distances between the components becomes greater. Corporate Pizza Hut (based in Plano, Texas; owned by Pepsi and Yum! brands) must respond for each of its 160, 000+ employees.

With immensity comes more hazard. What is lost as one expands? Communication and awareness. I highly doubt the employee caught on camera concerned himself with the reputation of Pizza Hut. One wonders just how close he was to his own supervisor. Certainly a pizza shop where that type or behavior occurs is one lacking in supervision.

Unfortunately the costs of this expansion become massive in contemporary society. One rogue employee’s act becomes a global reflection on the brand. The internet is a highway of sharing and its streets are filled by cobblestones of rumor. Do we benefit from such revelations? Are these bad actors at the sinks now open to… exposure? Is there really no such thing as “bad press”? One wonders just how busy that Pizza Hut remains tonight? Are employees busy slicing pizzas or bored in their bewilderment. One wonders if they’ve gathered round that sink to ask themselves just why he did it and how quickly things can change.

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