I Just Watched “Kung Fu Yoga”

There are a ton of movie review/first viewing youtube channels, blogs and websites so this will probably only be a one-off thing, but I just watched Kung Fu Yoga (2017) because my new friends and I spent 20 minutes arguing what to watch on Netflix. I canceled my Netflix streaming a while back because it started to feel more like the $5 bargain bin. But I digress…

Kung Fu Yoga is the unholy fusion of Hong Kung film, meets Bollywood, meets Indiana Jones with questionable CGI effects. I enjoyed it immensely. This is a terrible, terrible movie, but my friends and I had a lot of fun watching it. From this point on there will be spoilers:

The opening to the film looks like an executive producer saw the LoTR battle with the giant elephants and said, “I want that!” but only had a quarter of the budget. If it were a video game, the CGI would have been passable, but alas…

It’s also Jackie Chan’s highest grossing film in China apparently.

The subtitles for the CGI opening were two fast for me to read so my brain short-cut it to “Journey to the West reference, lost treasure, this movie is Chinese/Indian collaboration, and our bad-guy is Hindi.”  That’s pretty much all you need to know.

It turns out that the opening narration over CGI opening was our main character, Professor Jack Chan (played by Jackie Chan), giving a history lecture to his students, most of whom are a sleep in the lecture hall because that’s just what millennials do, even though your professor is the “greatest archaeologist in China”.

Drawn by his fame the young and very very pretty Professor Ashmita from India approaches Professor Chan with a map to a lost treasure. Professor Chan gathers his team of also really pretty side-kicks and goes off to find the lost treasure. When they reach their first goal the villain appears, steals the macguffin that’ll lead them to the real treasure, and leaves Professor Chan and company to die in a frozen underground cave.

Actually, it’s one of Professor Chan’s side-kicks who manages to steal the macguffin and escape. Instead of calling for help for the rest of the team, he takes the macguffin for himself to sell in an auction. Fortunately Professor Chan and company manage to escape the cave, track down their turncoat, and get the macguffin back, but the villain appears again and this time manages to successfully steal the macguffin. Action movie car chase ensues and the turncoat is forgiven without so much as a lecture.

The villain manages to get away with the macguffin. Professor Chan goes to India where he learns that Professor Ashmita was an imposter! She’s really a pretty, pretty princess who disguised herself so she could safely enlist Professor Chan’s help.

Villain shows up after realizing he needs Professor Chan’s help to lead him to the treasure and takes two of the side-kicks hostage. The movie then blatantly copies Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Seriously, why does everybody hate snakes?

The side-kicks manage to rescue themselves and show up just in time for the climatic fight. Climatic fight ensues and then the movie just sort of ends? It’s like the plot just gave up so everyone calls a truce and breaks out into a Bollywood dance. Whatever man, tying up loose ends and having a story resolution is sooo last century, man.

Overall there was nothing original or new about the plot, the characters weren’t interesting or fleshed out, but apparently the movie didn’t need all that fluff. The audience was successfully distracted by the pretties (including me and I’m asexual), the fight scenes were really good, there were still moments of comic gold (because Jackie Chan), and at the end of it all we got to see Jackie Chan dance Bollywood.

Not my favorite film, but it’s not a film’s job to be “good”. It’s a film’s job to entertain and entertained I most certainly was.



Linguistic Relativity (aka My Personal Pet-peeve)

This article about how a language’s future tense structure affects its speaker’s savings practices popped up on my twitter feed and sent me into a right tizzy. “Hate” is a strong word, but if there’s one thing I hate it’s Lingistic Relativity theory, aka Sapir–Whorf Hypothesis. I am obviously bias when it comes to lingsuistic relativity, so I’m going to review my virtue epistemology cheat-sheet before I start ranting.

My first objection is Mr. Chen isn’t a linguist or psychologist; Mr. Chen is an economist and therefore he would have needed to do his due diligence by consulting language experts for his study. My second objection is that the TED article is nearly five years old and does not include any rebuttals to Mr. Chen’s findings by psychologists or linguists.

It just so happens I have one rebuttal on hand because reading (or rather listening on audible) to my favorite linguist rip neo-Whorfianism a new one gives me such joy.

In his book, The Language Hoax: Why the World Looks the Same in Any Language, American Linguist Professor John H. McWhorter has a short section dedicated to Mr. Chen’s study and includes a graph from the study:


There’s a visibly huge difference between Luxembourg and Greece, but if you exclude those two extremes it looks to me like there’s not really a significantly huge difference between savings rates. If you exclude Luxembourg, then the next two countries with the highest savings rates are South Korea and Russia, both of which Chen marks as languages with future tense markers. This is a problem according to Professor McWhorter

Chen, although making a diligent effort to consult the grammars, was misled by the fact that ultimately, grammars can be unreliable when it comes to explaining whether or not a language “marks the future” as regularly as English does. For example, Chen has Russian as a future-marking language. And indeed, you can get that impression from a grammar of Russian that devotes itself to telling an English speaker that you express the future by doing x, y, and z. However, Russian does not have anything you could call a future marker in the sense of English will or the future tense conjugations you might recall in French and Spanish.

It is part of learning Russian, in fact, to wrap your head around expressing the future by implying it, through bits of stuff that mean other things…In Russian, the future usually piggybacks this way on something else. The details are oppressive and, here, unnecessary, but suffice it to say that while in English the big distinction is between now, then, and later, in Russian the big distinction is between “flowing along” and “bang, right then,” whether in the past, present, or future. The future, in Russian, is largely expressed as one of various takes on “bang, right then.” So, ja pisal means “I was writing,” that is, flowing along writing. But add na– and say ja na-pisal and it means “I wrote”—right then. Tell someone to write something (right now) and you say Na-pishi! In the same way, to say “I will write” you use that same na– bit and say Na-pishu. The idea is that you are not talking about just writing along, over a period of time—rather, you mean you will start some writing. Right now, writing will start.

But this means that in Russian, there is no marker you can think of as being specifically for expressing the future. Russian offers no table of future tense endings to learn. A Russian struggles to explain to an English speaker what “the future in Russian” is, typically resorting to just giving examples like na-pishu whose endings, in terms of conjugation, are in the present tense. True, you can use the be verb to say “I’ll be writing”—ja budu pisat’. This is the kind of thing Chen likely came across…Overall, to learn Russian as an English speaker is to ask, at some point, “How, exactly, do you put a verb in the future?”

So that means that on Chen’s chart, the Russian bar should be white. Now, as it happens, if it were white, that would be good for Chen, because Russians are actually good savers. For him, Russian as a future-marking language is something he has to classify as “noise,” because his idea is that languages that mark the future make their speakers save less money. But this actually creates more, not fewer problems.

Russian is part of a family of languages, the Slavic brood, that largely all work the same way. The facts on the future are the same for Czech, Slovak, and Polish. Predictably from his take on Russian, Chen codes all of them as future marking. Yet on his chart, Czechs are good savers (another problem even under his analysis), while Poles are bad ones, and Slovaks are somewhere in between.

This leaves Chen in a muddle no matter how we parse the data. We might say that even if Russian and friends don’t have a word or prefix like will that is only for future, they do require a speaker to do something to make the future, even if that something can also be used for other things. So, we could say that calling them nonfuture languages is splitting hairs. But then, why are Russian, Czech, Slovak, and Polish spread all the way across the grid? Shouldn’t they, if grammar shapes thrift, cluster?

But then if we accept that these four languages are not future marking and should all be white, then that distribution is still a fatal flaw. What is Polish, in particular, doing way over on the right with the bad savers, when Poles (as I have confirmed in exchanges with a Polish speaker while writing this) have the same hard time telling an English speaker how to “make a verb future” as Russians, and for the same reason? We might add that Czech and Slovak are essentially the same language—why would their speakers be so many bars apart if we are really seeing a meaningful correlation between grammar and having the discipline to save?

Meanwhile, Slovenian is also a Slavic language and, as it happens, it does have an actual future-marking construction. But on Chen’s chart, aren’t Slovenians a little too far leftward in the thrifty realm for people with a future-marker that supposedly should be discouraging them from socking funds away for a rainy day?

And there’s some more. For example, Korean, too, requires an English speaker to give up the idea of a “future marker.” Nothing in Korean corresponds to will—Chen may have gotten an impression otherwise from a suffix that is translatable as roughly “could” or “might.” But that’s not will.

Whether we keep the four Slavic bars black or white, their spreading all the way across the thriftiness grid, in combination with the Korean problem, renders Chen’s chart a randomness. Ultimately, it comes down to this. Given how Chen’s chart actually corresponds with the grammars in question—such as that future-marking Slovenian is right next to Anglophone Australia but twenty-one bars leftward of the Anglophone United States—how plausible is it that the reason savings rates in the United States have been so low has anything at all to do with the word will?

I also noted that Ireland is not clustered with Australia, US, or UK. Another thing that bothers me is that language doesn’t obey country boarders. Languages will have different “shades” depending on how close they are to other languages. A country may have an official language for business, but citizens will speak their native language in the home. The whole Chen study just does not make sense to me.  I think it’s a case of saying it’s the buggy pushing the horse.

Your language doesn’t shape your world view; It’s your world view, i.e. your culture, that shapes your language.


Carnival of Aces January 2018: Identity and Control

[Hi folks! This is my submission for the Carnival of Aces for January 2018 hosted this month by Ace Film Reviews with the topic of “Identity“]

Aromantic, Asexual, Agender, Wants Tea. “Describe yourself in five words” is probably my least favorite ice-breaker question. Five words isn’t enough to describe millions of years of genetic mutation and evolution. Five words doesn’t describe my culture, my beliefs, my experiences, or my habitual actions. Five words doesn’t tell you that my family has a history of depression, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure. Five words isn’t enough to describe how little control we actually have when it comes to our “identity”.

The question of identity is really three questions:

The first is, “Who am I?” Are we the sum of our experiences or are we defined by our actions? How much of “me” includes physical traits, beliefs, personality, attributes, culture, ability, and virtues?

The second question is “What defines personhood?” Are we a person the moment of conception? First breath? First coherent thought? Are we still considered a “person” after physical death? What about after brain death or ailments like dementia? Is there a crime or action so terrible that it invalidates what it means to be a person?

The third question is about continuity. If a wooden ship is slowly replaced piece by piece overtime until none of the original parts remain, is it the same ship? Well, yes, because the “old” ship and the “new” ship share a continuity. We’re not the same person we were ten years ago, but our past self and current self share a continuity. That continuity is also part of the identity.

So, how much of our identity is actually under our control? Well if neurologist Robert Sapolsky is to be believed, and I highly recommend listening the podcast, we don’t actually have agency. Our actions, our identity, is determined by context, both biological and environmental, but if you’re looking for the one gene, the one hormone, the one region of the brain, the one childhood trauma that makes us who we are, you’re not going to find it. We are the result of an extremely complex symphony of causality.

Try to describe yourself in five words; How many pieces of that description was a result of your agency, the direct result of actions you took to produce that particular result?

For my five words, none at all. My first three words -aromantic, asexual, agender- are beyond my control. I’m aromantic because I don’t feel the pull that others do to form romantic attachments. I can’t order my body to feel romantic attraction and expect it to obey. The same is true for asexuality. I can’t force my body to feel attraction towards another person.

When it comes to gender I understand intellectually (now anyway) that many people self identify and feel that they have a gender. I don’t have that feeling and I can’t magically make it appear out of no where. There’s no corner pocket in my mind where my gender is hiding, waiting to pop out and surprise me. It actually took me a long time to even intellectually understand what gender is because I have no personal context for it.

As for wanting tea- Tea is the 2nd most consumed beverage after water. It has a rich history, is a key elements in many cultures, and it feeds my caffeine addiction as a healthier alternative to soda which is something I need to consider given my family’s history of health problems. So, there’s not really a whole lot of agency there either.

As I get older I realize that I’m less my own person and becoming more and more like my parents. I’ll do something or say something and realize in that moment I’ve become like my mom or dad. I could try to fight it, but it would be a losing battle. My race, my religious beliefs, and my cultural quirks all came from them. The American Dream preaches “pulling yourself up by your boot straps”, but a lot of financial success (or lack there of in my case) boils down to good, old fashioned luck. My all four of grandparents were working class, so it’s no surprise that I’m a member of the working class.

My identity is beyond my control, but I’m not worried about it. I can’t control how people perceive me, but worrying about it just makes it ten times worse. I can’t control my body, but I can keep up proper hygiene practices and eat healthy when I can. Since I’m pretty much doomed to be like my parents I can at least be self-aware; I can celebrate the traits I love and ask for help (possibly even professional help) on managing traits and habits that are less desirable. It’s pretty miraculous actually that with the infinite amount variables that “I” even exist. I think I can be happy with that.

A Stoic Course: What is ‘Good’?

[This is part of my notes/reflections on a free class on stoicism I’m currently taking. One of the objectives is to teach/explain some of the principles we’re learning to someone not taking the course, so I decided I was most comfortable writing about it in blog form. I’ll post the link to the class when I’m done with the class for anyone who is interested.]

The topic of the first lesson is answering the question “How do we live well and have a good life?”  To help understand the question and possible answers the first assigned reading was segments of Euthydemus, by Plato (the Jowett translation). In the segments the narrator (Socrates) is conversing with Clinias, son of Axiochus on the nature of happiness,

…for what human being is there who does not desire happiness?…since we all of us desire happiness, how can we be happy?

Continue reading “A Stoic Course: What is ‘Good’?”