Waxing [cinematically]: The One I Love

The billing sold me first. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.

And then I read it was really only those two. Ted Danson is in there. For, what, a minute? Two?

So we have two favorites. 90 minutes. With just them.

And what a ride it was. It’s not just them two, it’s them two times two. That’s the trick. The trailer won’t tell you that and (SPOILERS) that’s what the movie hinges on. Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) meet each other’s nearly-Platonic form in a guest house that plays as an alternate world (and as the movie tongue-in-cheeks itself “some weird version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

The two actors (playing themselves and then their other “forms”) are really in sync here. You can see them play both sides of the coin — coy and new love, and disrupted, stretched-out romance. In this, we see how easily these sides are divisible from each other in life, through the lenses of these characters. They can be happy together, it would just take some kind of drastic change on their parts (and, then, even, who gets the person they want to be with? Who doesn’t?)

There’s a lot of compelling reasons to see this movie. It’s unique. It’s well acted. It’s got lessons on love, relationships, and, I think, most of all, communication.

That’s what really struck me here. Both characters knew something strange was happening, and there’s some base level communication about what’s happening there. But after that? Nothing.

The Ethan and Sophie that are on rocky terms do almost nothing to describe to each other how the other acted in the guest house. Sophie has a chance and, in what becomes a terse moment for any onlooker, kind of lets it go. My guess is that her character doesn’t think she owes Ethan anything (and for good reason).

Communication is so disruptive in its absence here. Both characters choose to stay silent (Sophie more than Ethan) and turn the widening gyre of their reality into what’s happening in the guest house. Without communication, and with this distance expanding, Ethan panics and loses his cool. And, yet, still, NO communication. He can’t even explain to Sophie why he’s upset. He can’t bring himself to that vulnerable of a place (which is necessary). It’s not in his character, and a wall of history stands between that.

Not all couples are built to last, one supposes. But there was something, some golden bowl you saw once. What was that? And what if that came back? The movie asks these questions and more.

Worth the watch.

Emma Watson’s UN Speech on Gender Equality

“I want men to take up this mantel. So that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice. But, also, so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too. Reclaim those parts of themselves that they abandoned. And, in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

I don’t know much about Emma Watson, and that’s probably okay. But the young lady gave one great speech recently at the UN on gender equality.

What set Watson’s speech apart, and indeed what is guiding the efforts of the group she is representing, is there inclusion of men in the struggle for equal rights for women. The HeForShe group and movement is certainly going to see some momentum from Ms. Watson’s speech and I have to say I’m thrilled to see it.

As she points out in her speech, feminism, by definition, is the equaling of rights for women that men enjoy. To do this, to really truly do this, it’s going to take some buy-in from that other group (men), focusing on that equality for their counterparts. If there is no buy-in, there is a power struggle and men have been historically (and, sadly, currently) very good at keeping this imbalance in part.

For all the pro-women groups that have popped up, there have been equal movements within men’s groups to deny the want for equality. Why? Because men often see the world as a power game. It’s biologically programmed into us, if you believe in evolutionary theory and psychology. That’s how we act. When we see a threat to the power we hold, our reactions are either of violence, or of oppression. This has played out WAY too many times in history.

(Side note: I know that Republicans very recently denied a bill on Capital hill that would guarantee equal pay for women in the same jobs as men. They voted it down because, they claimed, it was just a ploy from Democrats to win votes for November. It was a politics show, they said. That’s fine and all — I know that election-year politics can get kind of silly — but what baffles me is the assurance on their part that an equal-pay bill would NOT help (the Repubs) in their own districts. Are they catering to such a specific crowd that this is bad. Do they not want the vote of what should be a large majority of an already existing majority of American people???)

Watson, in the quote above, is so spot on though. Men need to join in this initiative not just because it will help the women around them, but it will also help the next generation of men to see that and not to have equality be a fleeting thing.

I’m excited to see where this goes and have signed me name up for the initiative. Let’s equal this thing out and live in harmony. There isn’t one single compelling reason I’ve heard for the way things are.

Is ‘A Cambrian Explosion in AI’ Coming? And What Does That Mean?

Wow, that was a great read.

I saw him speak in Chicago a few months back. Really intelligent guy and a good speaker. Had a lot of interesting points about the future of technologies and how disruptive they’ll be across so many industries. (He was also the one that encouraged Chicagoans in the startup scene to “focus on technology, not coupons” which was a great knock at Groupon).

I think he’s right. It’s coming. His points are too hard not to imagine happening.

It’s interesting to even use the language of “assistant” when dealing with AI like that. It’s not really an assistant, but an assist-or. It’s non-human, so there’s no need to classify it as an assistant (a singular being that assists) — and it will really be able to do anything you want. I wonder if “assistant” will continue to exist with robots.

the other thing that this made me wonder about is my own preferences. My own preferences are built so around convenience I’ve experienced before. I like shoe shopping on Zappos because it’s seamless and I can return things if I don’t like them. One way brands are able to grow is by offering new routes on these conveniences which build loyalty. If AI is making that all seamless (in which it stores certain preferences), do we even differentiate with preference anymore? How does a robot take marketing into account?

Communication is going to be so interesting later on. Like right now, ZAs can have TONS of info on their client. A lot of actions can be executed by the ZA on behalf of their client. BUT, sometimes things arent communicating effectively enough (which can happen to the fault of either side) and an action is not executed properly, or executed at all. With AI, we’ll face the same challenge. You’ll have to communicate quite precisely. People will need training in that. It’ll change our lexicon forever.

Lots of thoughts on this one. I think a “cambrian” explosion is certainly possibly, especially as robots can learn from each other. Where does that first start to take hold? Consumers? Big business? Public safety? What’s going to be the big project that uses robots (not robotics, but actually tangible robots that act, or can act with the ability to learn) and breaks through the mold?

So many exciting unsolved problems about the future. What’s our place in that future? I have no idea.

Thiel (& friend) on Education

I caught Peter Thiel’s interview on Tim Ferriss podcast last night. It was, as expected, a thought-provoking Q & A from one of the more intelligent and experienced names in Silicon Valley.

And while the whole 23 minutes is worthwhile, I wanted to blog on one part of it. Thiel is asked about education, a subject he’s familiar with as he’s invested in university-busting startups and talked long and passionately about disturbing the one-size-fits-all trend in higher Ed.

The comment stemmed from something Thiel’s friend said to him — that Higher Education right now in the US is akin to the Catholic Church in the 16th century in the years leading to the Reformation.

And how it true it seems. The Church, at that point, was greedily taking money for repentence, convincing people that it could only be saved by going through its doors. It was a ‘too big to fail’ type deal, and too big, really, to even disrupt.

Until Martin Luther did something bold and changed people’s minds around him and elsewhere and changed the history of the world in doing so.

Education could use its Luther, that’s for sure. But that’s not the important part. The important part is whether our society is ready to take the leap to get behind a bold action that takes a system down. The University system has become, in modern nations and especially the US, a seemingly untackle-able beast.

Businesses consider it necessary and base salary and financial offerings on accreditation from these places.

Adults think their kids need it. (In one study, parents were asked if they thought US students needed to go college. 54% said yes. Then they were asked if their kids needed to go to college. 89% said yes.)

And, we’re defining childhood success based on this system which ultimately is made to get you into a college.

We need something to pull the fabric away and offer a (what will seem radical but will soon cease to be) alternative. There have been some intriguing ones offered, but none that have convinced a skeptical (and compliant) public that its viable.

Investors like Thiel have helped carve some spots in adult and continuing education. To be blunt, that’s cute, but it’s a far cry from taken down the bloated beast that is tuition-starved institutions.

So what’ll be? Well, I hope to see it soon. My inkling is that it will. And then we’ll be the fun part — the slow dismantle and reformation of another great institutional titan. And then all the cards are in the air.

Data Correlation, Education, and Cannabis

I can’t imagine this is the last time I’m going to see the contents of this article brought into discussion.

I’ll sum it briefly: a study found that kids who smoked marijuana were significantly less likely to graduate high school and even less likely to graduate from college. The likelihood decreased with more consistent use of the drug.

The study implies correlation and causation. The journalist in the linked article does a good job of at least addressing why this might be a misconception and, more importantly, how easy it’s going to be for this data to be misinterpreted. His sentence, “You can expect these findings to be highly cited by opponents of liberalized marijuana laws, like the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Smart Approaches to Marijuana project. But it’s important to put them in proper context.” is spot on.

I hope the causality idea is at least questioned. Is it the marijuana smoking that makes a student less likely to graduate? Or are students that might, for one reason or another, be destined not to graduate drawn more to using the drug? It’s worth asking as a qualifier to this.

A few more things come into play here. Education is used as a hallmark here of accomplishment in a completely one-size-fits-all manner. I don’t have to list the accomplished people we know that didn’t graduate from school (or *cough* the famous folks who have admitted to smoking marijuana). (In this way, the finding that smokers were 7x more likely to be depressed is much more important — but, again, what’s the causation here?).

If we can continue to look at educational achievement as the only standard idea of success, we’re not going to do any favors for our youth. The education system already does a disservice to rebellious minds. It clenches these students in its fists and attempts to squeeze out the creativity in them ( to be so emphatic about it) — so it’s no wonder that the lost souls look for other avenues for that creativity. This where the study comes back to. What sustains these kids? And how are we so damn sure that they won’t be successful — so much so that adults are telling other adults to look at marijuana smoking as a sign of some kind of failure.

But this is a system-based assessment. In the pantheon of American life, education still remains king. Learning does not. No one seems to care if one discovers something wonderful outside of school. Or learns a skill late one night while doing something that might be considered mischievous. Why can we not look at learning as something outside of education? What hurts most about this study isn’t the correlation problem, it’s this idea. Personal success can be had outside of our precious system, can it not?

So we continue on (like boats against the current) thinking that the only judge of a successful kid is his/her success in this system we went through ourselves. We see it as a future-looking prism to cast life success (and we won’t get into what the hell that means).

I suppose it’s summed up like this: we label some students as “underachievers” without considering that the system has failed them. The system, rarely, is called out for its own under achieving, but that weight is put constantly on students and faculty alike.

The kicker is that this actually relates to the study aside from just illuminating our ability to separate a system from a reality. It also shows what damage that system can have. Now we have a somewhat demonized group of kids, who are experimenting with drug use — and I’m certainly not condoning that here — but are further being ostracized and pushed away because they aren’t doing well in schools. The system isn’t going to enhance those that are failing at it. It’s not built that way. It merely sustains the class system it’s rooted in and meant to continue on.

My worry is that all of this is combined into one big misunderstanding. There are the “underachievers” and the “potheads” and this study makes it too easy to loop those together — with one big group that the system can reject. And with the large majority of us complacently buying into that system, we’ll leave them behind. My hope, then, is that this group — rejected at such a young age — can figure out not to define its own success of these silly metrics.