What we've been reading: Aliens, Tobies, and normalisation

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Welcome to What We've Been Reading, the AccountingWEB editors’ weekly roundup of the stories that have caught their attention.

This week’s reading list includes the search for aliens, the reasons behind Hollywood’s twin film habit, and how horrific things become normalised. Without further ado, let's see what the editorial team have been reading this week. And if you've found anything worth reading this week, let us know below.


Fran: Why haven’t we found aliens yet?

francois badenhorst

The Chinese sci-fi author Cixin Liu - whose brilliant works I’ve recommended in a previous WWBR - compares the universe to a dark forest, filled with countless deadly beasts.

Giving away your position in this dark forest is certain death. And human beings, rather naively, have been giving away their position for years. We’ve been looking for other life, loudly calling out into the infinite night.

According to Liu - and numerous others including myself - this is a bad idea. Luckily for us, the universe is a big place and it seems pretty damn empty. This emptiness is surprising. The statistical odds are that we’re not the only intelligent life in our galaxy, let alone the universe.

It’s what led the physicist Enrico Fermi to ask “Where is everybody?”. The so-called Fermi’s Paradox: If there are other civilisations out there, why haven’t we heard from them? Well, according to this new research from the University of Oxford it’s a problem of scale.

The universe is too damn big and we earthlings are probably alone in the observable universe. Or, maybe, the other civilisations just instinctively understand the logic of the dark forest. Perhaps they know that silence means survival.


Tom: Hollywood’s ‘twin film’ habit

tom herbert

Twin films or “Tobies” have become a staple of cinematic blockbusters. There are dozens of them littered throughout film history: Top Gun and Iron Eagle; Dante’s Peak and Volcano; Deep Impact and Armageddon; The Prestige and The Illusionist; and most recently Darkest Hour and Dunkirk.

This piece on blogging site Medium looks at prominent examples of the genre and examines the factors behind the phenomenon.

Sometimes that’s simply an anniversary (like Steve Jobs’ death leading to both Jobs and Steve Jobs in 2013 and 2015, respectively), sometimes it can be that a cultural shift such as the popularity of comic book adaptations; and often it can simply be that one studio hears that another is making a movie, presumes it will be fairly popular, and rushes a similar one through production, hoping to beat them to the punch.


Valme: How horrific things come to seem normal

valme claro

All first visits to Berlin have something in common: an endless concatenation of visits to memorials and museums about the Holocaust. If there is anything that grabbed my attention, and that I wasn’t quite expecting before I went there, was the reflection on the normalisation of the events that lead to it.

As in the boiling frog fable, it is scary to look back and see how small and unrelated events kept on scaling up while still being regarded as normal. That is why films like Haneke’s The White Ribbon, The Wave or even the flashbacks of The Handmaid’s Tale are so unsettling: they make us realise how easily we can become monsters or conform to new (and horrible) standards.

In this article, Current Affairs analyses the phenomenon from a journalistic perspective, analysing how various newspapers ignored the issue, because of misinformation problems but also, ironically, for the sake of impartiality.

“We are not in a time resembling 1920s Germany just yet. Hopefully, we will never be again,” concludes Nathan J. Robinson in the article. But I wonder whether it doesn’t just take a closer look, for instance, at the current state of affairs in North Korea to see that we can’t lower our guard just yet.

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