Archive for December, 2008
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, is now in stores! (Click here to order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on Gary Kasparov is from the “Personalities” section.
In 1997, Chess Grandmaster and World Champion Garry Kasparov famously lost to the IBM super-computer Deep Blue. (The details of the match are included in today’s entry of The Intellectual Devotional: Modern Culture Edition.) But while fans of the Terminator films started getting skittish and looking around for a John Conner, Kasparov decided to participate in another spectacular match only two years later. This time, between June 21 and October 22 1999, Garry Kasparov took on the world.
Unlike the World Series of baseball (which, in fairness, includes a couple of Canadian teams) Kasparov’s challenge to the world was pretty comprehensive: he would play a game online against a group of over 50,000 players who voted on every move and went with the plurality. This time, Kasparov won, but it was nothing like the blow-out Deep Blue had when it won their sixth game in 19 moves. It was a pretty close game, and you can watch the whole thing replayed here. This is what the board looked like at the end:
What Do You Think? »
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, is now in stores! (Click here to order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on O. J. Simpson is from the “Pop” section.
The Turkish Culture edition of the The Intellectual Devotional hasn’t been released (or, well, slated) yet, but here’s a story worth knowing. A standard character in Turkish folk stories is the preacher Nasreddin. One story has Nasreddin going to the Turkish baths and receiving horrible service: dirty towels, cold water, inattentive attendants. As he left, Nasreddin gave a huge tip. The next time he showed up, he (predictably) received top notch service: the attendants were quite attentive this time around. Expecting an even bigger tip, they got a paltry sum this time. They protested, and Nasreddin explained: “Ah, you see, the big tip was for the service today; this tip is for the last time I was here.”
Today’s topic in the Modern Culture edition is O. J. Simpson. The details of Simpson’s last trial are well known, and many were dissatisfied when he was let free. Recently, Simpson was involved in a bizarre robbery in Las Vegas. This time, and just yesterday, he was sentenced to between 9 and 33 years in prison; it’s likely that he’ll serve the full term. Is the jury following Nasreddin’s lead? This sentence seems to be for the last time he was in court.
What Do You Think? »
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, is now in stores! (Click here to order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on The Internet is from the “Ideas and Trends” section.
On March 9, 1999, during his the Democratic primary for the presidency of the United States, then-Vice President Al Gore appeared on CNN’s “Late Edition” with Wolf Blitzer and was asked why voters should prefer him to his rival, Senator Bill Bradley. Here is part of what he said:
I’ve traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.
Nobody paid much attention to this interview at the time, but the remark about having taken “the initiative in creating the Internet” was seized by the Bush campaign during the general election and recast into a now-familiar sound-bite: Al Gore claimed that he invented the Internet. He didn’t claim that: his remarks are a bit muddled, but don’t claim that he played any role in the technical evolution of the Internet (a process described in today’s entry of The Intellectual Devotional: Modern Culture Edition). He claimed to be a significant part of the legislative process. Was he?
Another person who’s been credited with the early development of the Internet is Vint Cerf, who is known by many as “The Father of the Internet” and who has been the “Internet Evangelist” at Google since 2005. He knows the history well enough to understand that much of the work on The Internet and its predecessor — ARPANET — began well before Al Gore joined the Senate in 1977. Nonetheless, he claims that Gore deserves quite a bit of credit anyway:
VP Gore was the first or surely among the first of the members of Congress to become a strong supporter of advanced networking while he served as Senator. As far back as 1986, he was holding hearings on this subject … and asking about their promise and what could be done to realize them. … As Senator, VP Gore was highly supportive of the research community’s efforts to explore new networking capabilities … and as Vice President, he has been very responsive to recommendations made for … additional research funding for next generation fundamental research in software and related topics. …
While it is not accurate to say that VP Gore invented Internet, he has played a powerful role in policy terms that has supported its continued growth and application, for which we should be thankful.
High praise from a respectable source, and worth remembering as Gore continues in his new role as Chief Environmental Evangelist.
What Do You Think? »
A new edition of The Intellectual Devotional, this time with a focus on Modern Culture, is now in stores! (Click here to order your copy.) As well as continuing to expand on posts from the General Edition, “The Devoted Intellect” blog will introduce and expand on material from the Modern Culture devotional. Today’s entry on Star Wars is from the “Film” section.
When George Lucas set out to make Star Wars, he wanted to make the ideal heroic epic. He had many sources of inspiration, including the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s film Yojimbo, but perhaps the most important was a work that purported to lay bare the basic story from which every heroic epic is drawn: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.
What Campbell did was compare hero myths from around the world, most of which were developed independently of each other, and found striking consistencies among them. In fact, he found a format so universal and simple, that he was able to summarize it in a single sentence:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
This sound familiar to fans of the Star Wars saga, but if Campbell is write, it should apply to thousands of other stories as well.
1 Comment »
After the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci and The Scream by Edvard Munch, Grant Wood’s American Gothic may be the most parodied portrait in the world. The portrait was seen as, on the one hand, a satire of grim, staid rural America, and, on the other, as a celebration of American spirit and steadfastness. The reason for the variety of interpretations is clear enough: the simplicity of the image—an old man with a pitchfork and a younger woman in front of a house. That’s it—an opportunity for endless interpretations, and endless fun.
The first major parody of American Gothic was a 1942 photograph by Gordon Parks. It depicted a cleaning lady with a pinched face like the farmer in Wood’s painting, holding a broom in place of the pitchfork, and a mop standing in for the woman.
As well as photography, parodies of American Gothic have made there way into film, most famously in the 1975 cult-classic musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show:
Even that parody seems a little high-minded though. Silliest use of American Gothic? It would be hard to beat the poster for the now-cancelled T.V. show The Simple Life, with Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie:
What Do You Think? »
One of the most controversial questions in any branch of history is whether it was necessary to use the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in order to force the Japanese Army to surrender in 1945. Some argue that the Japanese were on the verge of surrender already; other argue that, were it not for the bomb, the Japanese would only have surrendered after an unimaginably costly battle for the main island of Honshu that could have cost millions of lives; still others say that atomic bomb may have hastened the Japanese surrender, but that it was a war crime nonetheless.
One of the most interesting contributions to this debate is hidden away in a back issue of an imposing historical journal called The Pacific Historical Review. In the November 1998 issue, a scholar named Sadao Asada contributed something that had been missing from the debate (on the Western side at least): a detailed description of the debates that went on within the Japanese war cabinet immediately before the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and during the days between that event and the dropping of a second bomb on Nagasaki three days later. It’s a fascinating record.
Asada’s thesis is that the Japanese cabinet was divided at the time between two factions: a “Peace Party” that recognized the futility of the Japanese imperialist cause and wanted to hasten a speedy end to the war, and a “War Party” that wished to fight to the last man. The Allies had given the “Peace Party” an opening with the Potsdam Declaration of July 26, 1945. At its simplest, the declaration simply said that if the Japanese didn’t surrender, they would face “prompt and utter destruction.” (This was no idle threat: the Japanese may not have known about the atomic bomb, but they did know that the Russian Army, having assisted in the defeat of Nazi Germany, would soon join the war against them.) The fourth point of the declaration made nearly direct reference to the “Peace” and “War” parties in Japan:
The time has come for Japan to decide whether she will continue to be controlled by those self-willed militaristic advisers whose unintelligent calculations have brought the Empire of Japan to the threshold of annihilation, or whether she will follow the path of reason.
Many in the “Peace Party” saw this, and tried pushing it to their advantage. On August 10, they prevailed, and the Emperor of Japan surrendered. Some believe this was caused by the Russian invasion of Chinese Manchuria on that day, while Asada is among those who believe the impetus was provided by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by weaponry that the Japanese could not hope to match. The debate continues.
What Do You Think? »