Time Travel in “Dark”: Embrace the Paradox

Promotional poster for the Netflix series “Dark” [1].

German Netflix series simply called “Dark” has been around since June 2017 (seasons 1 and 2) . The new season 3 has only recently become available. Watch out for the first scene in the first episode: a gruesome suicide by hanging which you might want to hit fast forward through. Very dark indeed. If you do fast forward don’t miss the short sequence in which the victim’s mother grabs the suicide note before anyone else can read it. The victim here is Michael Kahnwald and his mother is Ines. This whole scene, and the names of the characters, are pivotal to the whole story. We’ll return to the intrigue, setup by the first scene, after discussing some general comments about the time travel genre. Take the opportunity for a pause because “Dark” is a bumpy, head-spinning journey. (Edit: postponed to the continuation in Part 2).

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Is “Unprecedented Times” the Most Annoying New Cliché?

It was sometime in mid-March that I started to become aware of the phrase “unprecedented times” being used as a descriptive term for the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s only a few weeks ago but since the pandemic was announced by WHO (12th March), we seem to be living in a time-frame where one week feels like one-month pre-pandemic time.

I started to take notice of the phrase “unprecedented times” during the announcements by our Prime Minister Scott Morrison concerning the Job Keeper pandemic relief scheme on the 30th March. At the time I was impressed that the leadership of Australia was stepping up to the mark in making appropriate and well-timed responses to the pandemic  (see the YouTube video below).

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Herd Immunity and COVID-19

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By Snapwire from Pexels (free to use)

This morning I was watching TV, the Today show. as Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon were discussing the concept of “herd immunity” which had been considered by the UK Government early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Their casual conversion considered whether it might be a good idea to deliberately infect younger Australians with the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) [1] whilst isolating and protecting older and more susceptible members of the community. This apparently casual conversation raised alarms for me as I’ll explain below (see after the jump). The infographic video that Allie used to explain the concept of “herd immunity,” seemingly made a compelling argument for it. Fortunately, they brought in sensible expert advice in the form of Dr Sanjaya Senanayake an Infectious Diseases physician and Associate Professor from the Medical School at the Australian National University (ANU) (see the YouTube video below).

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My Trip Down Memory Lane

Thinking about updating my curriculum vitae today, I was triggered to reminisce about my senior high-school experiences back in 1974-5. Amazing how sharply some memories came flooding back through the eyes of a 17-year-old. I remember about being part of the Science, Mathematics and Technology group of 4 that all shared dreams of becoming scientists, technologists or engineers: Wayne, Geoffery B,, Jon and myself. At the beginning of senior high, one of the Industrial Arts teachers had suggested that the 4 of us take a lower level of English so we could concentrate on Maths, Science and Industrial Arts. As you can imagine, the English Department was not at all impressed that some of their students were taking a level of English that demanded less than their full capabilities. What happened next is far from what you might expect (read the full story after the jump).

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Bags packed ready for my trip down memory lane [1].
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The Game of Thrones Finale!

There are spoilers ahead if you haven’t caught up with GOT season 8 episode 5 as yet.

I speculated about the (then) upcoming HBO Game of Thrones final season in a previous article. Turns out that I was right that episode 3 would contain the epic Battle for Winterfell against the Army of the Dead. I was wrong in that I didn’t predict that the Night King would be defeated and the threat from the north tied up in that same episode.

From my speculation, the other thing I did get right was that there would be treachery and betrayal from Varys and Tyrion. As Tyrion says: “thoughts aren’t treason” so he hasn’t, in his view, crossed the line yet. Though, after the apocalyptic-scale destruction of King’s Landing that Daenerys instigated in episode 5, it remains to be seen if Tyrion will continue to side with her.

Paiting, Death on a Pale Horse
Benjamin West, Death on the Pale Horse, 1796, from the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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Speculation About Game of Thrones Season 8

In my former life as an academic, I used to joke to my colleagues that Game of Thrones was essential reading as a standard operations manual for working in universities nowadays.

GOT as a manual for negotiating the world of research grants, where, figuratively, you either win the game or die and of navigating a path between the wheeling and dealing of the big-time professors, administrators, bean-counters, health and safety officers (hey, don’t underestimate their power). On many occasions, the internal and external politics between all of the players seemed to operate on a GOT-like scale. There were times I must admit that I felt no better than a denizen of the “Flea Bottom” in King’s Landing.

Given that internal politics in most organisations of more than a handful of people can feel a bit like GOT, from time-to-time, why not distract yourself with a little idle speculation about the upcoming Game of Thrones Season 8? I’m hoping to speculate on enough topics that I’ll be able to make a random hit and be able to say “I told you so!” The truth is that my speculation is unlikely to be any better than anyone else. But its fun isn’t it? [March 7: I’ve added new updates in notes at the end]

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Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as a Christmas Song

Well, maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
Leonard Cohen from Hallelujah

 

Leonard Cohen performing in 2013.
Cohen performing at King’s Garden, Odense, Denmark, 2013.


I was with my wife, Linda, at the Coffee Depot Kapsali, Charlotte St, Brisbane CBD [1], yesterday enjoying lunch and drinking coffee. The music playing was pleasantly Christmas themed until Hallelujah by the late Leonard Cohen started playing. Up until then, I’d only been peripherally aware of the background music. However, when Hallelujah started playing I was jolted back to reality, and quite frankly, deeply offended to hear the words quoted above presented as Christmas-themed music.

I must make it clear that I’m not offended by the late Leonard Cohen, his lyrics or music. I respect his memory as a master craftsman and artisan of words in song and literature. I’m not offended per se by the lyrics of Hallelujah [2]. Hallelujah manages to be both haunting and joyous at the same time. Continue reading “Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” as a Christmas Song”

Storms Around Brisbane

There have been several bad storms around Brisbane and the Gold Coast recently but where we’re located north of Brisbane,we had ducked the worst of them. However, today the centre of  rather bad one hit us pretty much head on. In the Rain Radar map below the black and dark red regions represent intense storm cells.

Rain radar map
Rain radar map of storm, the dark red and black areas are intense cells.

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Job Loss and Sense of Purpose

Me-1I write this in response to an article in the Brisbane Times online today: “Losing my job helped me find a sense of purpose” by Jo Stanley. Having lost my job* in the last 18 months I can sympathize. Losing a long-term job or a breakup after a long-term relationship are two of the most dispiriting experiences that you are likely to go through. You lose an anchor in your life and the knock to your confidence can easily lead you into depression and a downward spiral – no matter how much you thought you were ready for it. Particularly, in my case where I had been working in the same university teaching-research position for 28 years. Loyalty is no longer an asset, indeed it can paint a target on your back, as many people will attest to. Universities are no longer an ivory tower (if they ever were) and are rapidly catching up to being as cutthroat a working environment as anywhere in the private sector.

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The Unfairness of Measuring Teaching Performance

I write this in response to an article in the Brisbane Times online today: “‘This woman is so old’: Insults hurled at academics spur survey rethink” by Henrietta Cook. This comment posted in anonymous student feedback to Sydney academic Dr. Teena Clerke. These surveys are used by universities to measure the quality of teaching in its programs.

There is no question that universities need to maintain quality teaching but there is a problem with teachers being subjected to abuse under any guise as pointed out in the cited article above. What’s more, such measures are increasingly being used to judge not only the quality of university teaching programs but also the performance of teachers and to help decide questions of whether a given academic should be re-hired, promoted or fired.

While most institutions try to take a balanced view of survey data, in regard to staff management, it potentially opens a pandora’s box of for abusive behavior, gender and racial discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment to be perpetrated by pernicious managers and supervisors (or even students against teachers). So we need assurances that the benefits of such schemes outweigh the potential risks for abuse, however isolated and infrequent such instances might be.

The recent book “The Tyranny of Metrics” by academic Jerry Muller (2018) handles these issues in a more comprehensive manner than I can do here. What I have seen over my 28 years in academia is that teaching evaluation started out as a survey consisting of 10, or so, questions plus room for comments. They were handled by teachers on a class-by-class basis and returned in a sealed envelope to the university by an appointed student.

Typically, the academic could select one or more of the survey questions from a suite of optional questions, in addition, to standardized questions. I illustrate this with my own SET (student evaluation of teaching) results from October 1998 and the Insight evaluation report from June 2015, from the same institution and from the same unit of teaching, Instrumental Analysis:

The evaluation instrument on the LHS above is for October 1998 and on the RHS for June 2015. Click on the thumbnail to enlarge the image.

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