Friday, July 11, 2014

The Trankey Do Transformation: How Hard Could It Be to Redub a Two-Minute Dance Video?

This is a long and detailed explanation of the process by which I re-dubbed and extended the Spirit Moves Trankey Do video. As with the video itself, it is possible that this is interesting to no one except me. The video can be viewed here.

Context: An Overview of Spirit Moves

In the 1930s, a German Immigrant dancer named Mura Dehn discovered the Savoy Ballroom, inspiring her to spend decades documenting Jazz Dance. The result is the five-hour documentary Spirit Moves.

If you watch the chunks of Spirit Moves on youtube, you'll notice that the music never quite matches the movement. Recording sound and video was not as simple as it is now, and it appears Dehn simply recorded the dance and dubbed the music in later.

One of the things Dehn captured was the Trankey Do (referred to as the "Trunky Doo" in a Spirit Moves title card, one of many alternate spellings; Wikipedia says it's Tranky Doo, for what that's worth.)

The Beginnings: Learning a Dance from Videos, and a Bright Idea

A few weeks ago, I decided I would teach myself the Trankey Do. There are a number of youtube videos where the steps are broken down and other videos that show it performed. The steps themselves are listed on Wikipedia and LindyWiki.

Everyone seems to do the routine a little differently, so I figured I'd go to the earliest recorded version in Spirit Moves, featuring Al Minns, Leon James, and Pepsi Bethel. (Pepsi is generally described as the routine's choreographer, although Frankie Manning's long-time girlfriend Judy Pritchett - who spells it Trankey Do - says it was Frankie's creation.)

Unfortunately, I couldn't dance along to the Pepsi video because the song dubbed in - The Dipsy Doodle - was one beat off. The first move, Fall off the log, traditionally starts on 8, but it was dubbed to start on 1. It felt wrong when I tried to dance along.

I decided to redub the sound to match the dance. I figured it would be easy.

A Simple Tweak: The Right Music on the Right Beat

Because of the Spirit Moves video, dancers nowadays usually do the routine to the Dipsy Doodle, but according to wikipedia and other sources it was originally danced to Erskine Hawkins' Tuxedo Junction. I figured as long as I was changing the soundtrack, I might as well be authentic.

Tuxedo Junction is too slow for the  video, so I edited them together with Vegas Pro 12, which allowed me to speed up the music. I got the speed so it matched the first few eights fairly perfectly and got the opening kick on the 8 where it belonged. I called it a success and uploaded it to youtube.

There was something strange though. While the first part of the video was close to other versions, I found that there were places where the dancers were not doing what was done in the instructional videos; for example, they were doing the knee slap on 7 instead of 8. I assumed that over the years the routine had been altered somewhat, but eventually I realized what the real issue was.

Getting Ambitious: Completing the Routine

The Spirit Moves video does not show the complete Trankey Do, fading out around the Paddles. I found a couple more old Trankey Do videos on youtube. One has only the first third of the routine, but the other, which was danced over the end credits of some old TV show, has Al Minns and Leon James doing the whole thing very fast. The quality is terrible and a big chunk shows Al and Leon in the distance behind the band, but the part missing from the Spirit Moves video is clearly filmed in spite of the credit text. I took that video and slowed it down to match the music. Then I synced it up so the Droop Boogies matched between the two videos and I dissolved there from one to the other.

When I danced along, I realized there was a bit missing from the end - there were only two shouts, instead of four, so I repeated the first shout a couple of times to fill out that section. Then I put it up on youtube, and since you can't replace youtube videos with new versions, I put a link in the first video pointing to this "better" one.

The Realization: This Isn't Right. At All.

I could now dance along to an authentic old school video of the entire Trankey Do routine. But as I did, I found there were some places where the second half seemed out of sync. I edited it again. I felt like there might be a difference between the Spirit Moves and TV Credits versions regarding where the Boogie Drops fell, and put them a couple of 8s apart. I uploaded that version, then realized that if I compared the TV credits version with what I'd done, Al and Leon were on different beats entirely. I needed to start again.

At this point I decided to make a basic assumption; regardless of how the routine might have changed over the years, Al Minns and Leon James would be doing the same routine on TV that they did for Mura Dehn. Therefore, both routines should have the Eagle Slide happen on the same count in the same place in the music, and my goal was to make that happen in my video.

But while Al and Leon kicked on 8, Pepsi was kicking on 2, even though he synced up beautifully in the beginning of the video. So I began to look very carefully at where things went off.

First, there's a cutaway during the second of the Apple Jacks, and I realized that when the video goes back to a long shot, things are no longer in sync. I cut the video there and slid it forward a few tenths of a second until it matched, then stretched the cutaway, which doesn't really sync up well anyway, so it looked fairly seamless.

But that wasn't enough. It seemed as though the dancers were no longer dancing at the same speed. Did the cutaway represent a transition between two different takes?

I tried changing the speed of the dancers, and it got better, but it was still off.

The Realization: I Have Embarked on a Fool's Errand

Then I began to think about the music, and I realized I had been making the foolish assumption that Erskine and the dancers were both keeping the beat with machine-like accuracy.

Was this likely? What were the dancers listening to anyway? A 78 record? A friend with a harmonica?

I got a metronome and checked its beat against Hawkins' song, and sure enough, there is no steady beat that will consistently match that song. It speeds up and slows down, varying by as much as 10 bpm. saw the same thing comparing the soundless Spirit Moves video against that metronome.

I started watching the Spirit Moves without sound, just counting the steps, and going by the number of steps while ignoring the music, the Eagle Slide appeared to happen on 8. But it wasn't working with  the music. For some reason, the dancers rush right before that Eagle Slide, as though that guy with a harmonica sped up or skipped a note and the dancers just kept with him.

At this point I decided to do something extreme. If I counted the dance (as I was editing, I was counting everything outloud), the Crazy Legs after the jump starts on 1. There was no way to make that happen with minor speed shifts. I made a cut in the middle of the jump and slid the whole thing over around half a second, leaving a moment of blank video in its place. Now everything was where it should be - more or less.

I needed to get the TV credits part in better shape. At least here I had the proper music as a guide to when they did what step, but once again, beats weren't accurate, and I had to fiddle with some chunks to get things synced up. Not perfectly synced , but enough so that I could dance along without getting totally thrown off.

While I had previously been uploading a new version to youtube every time I completed one, this time I decided to spend some time dancing along with this one to make sure that I finally had what I wanted. This was good, because I kept thinking of further tweaks.

First off, I realized I shouldn't leave Pepsi hanging in the air for 4 beats. I put the jump back together and took a clip of the landing and stretched it out so that Pepsi is simply crouched and waiting for a while. Later I decided it would be better to slow down the section before the jump a little so I didn't have to pad the pause as long, although this created an obvious slow motion quality to the jump.

The jump into the Crazy Legs was still an issue, because I couldn't jump that slow. Studying the video some more, I concluded that it would make sense if he jumped so that he landed on 5 (without the padding he would land on 3 in my edit), then jumped into the squat on 7. I moved thing around until he was making a very slow jump turn on 3 and 4. It was still unrealistic, and it seemed more likely he would start the jump after the 3.  I stretched the first three beats so that instead of putting his foot down on 2 before the jump it doesn't come down until 3. That seemed to make sense, looked more-or-less right, and I could dance along.


And That's It ... I Hope

At this point the Spirit Moves video was as close as I thought I could get it. Oh, I could get it closer if I were to break the video into tiny pieces and stretch and contract each of them to perfectly match the music, and every time I see something that's a little off I'm tempted to move it into place, but I've already sunk hours and hours into this "simple" idea and I just can't take much more. It also occurred to me that it might have made more sense - since my focus was on the dance - to edit the music to fit the dance rather than vice versa, but I'll leave that experiment to someone else.

Was it worth it? Perhaps. Breaking the dance down so finely, and doing the steps on the right beat and on the wrong beat (I still think the knee slaps on 7 works really well) means I have an unusually strong sense of how Trankey Do is constructed. But if I knew it was going to take the five or six hours I spent on video editing rather than expected half hour, this video would not exist.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

explaining the explicable: why white people shouldn't wear blackface

On facebook, a friend posted an amusing flowchart called Should I Wear Blackface on Halloween? This flowchart is a response to yet another year of pictures of people wearing blackface at parties.


Another friend, one who is smart and generally well informed, wrote to say, what’s the big deal with blackface? Suprisingly, he was not familiar with the history of minstrel shows, and seemingly unfamiliar with the controversy in general. And while yet another facebook friend’s reply was basically to say, “don’t do it, just don’t, because you shouldn’t,” that didn’t seem to completely satisfy him.

For a lot of people, the rule that white people shouldn’t wear blackface is self-evident, but actually, very little in life is self-evident. Self-evident is when an alien came from a distant galaxy and you told him something people do and he says, oh, that makes total sense. And I don’t think an alien would instantly grasp the blackface issue, because it’s contextual and historical.

So I wanted to try and answer the question. In fact, I’m going to give three answers: the answer that’s generally given, a consideration of what blackface implies, and finally a personal, why-I-wouldn’t-do-it-answer. I was originally just going to post an answer in the facebook thread, but then another friend posted his contention that it’s okay to use makeup to match skin tone for the sake of veracity, and since my middle answer is concerned with that, I figured I’d put this on my blog and tag them both.

My Three Answers to Why Shouldn't White People Wear Blackface

Most of the objection to blackface are contextual, of course. It started out in the minstrel shows, and in early Hollywood, blacks (and Asians, and Native Americans) were generally played (and defamed) by whites. Even some black stars were required to darken themselves, like Lena Horne, whose fair skin was considered too confusing for white audiences who wanted their blacks black and their whites white.

But I feel there’s a further issue with blackface. Consider, for a moment, the reverse; black people in whiteface. It’s not especially common, and I have a theory as to why. It’s because black people aren’t defining characters entirely according to their skin tone. If a black person dresses as Superman, are they going to put on white make-up, thus making an explicit statement that Superman is a white guy and black people can’t be Super Men? I doubt it. I think most black people who think nothing of dressing as a leprechaun or a Viking or a Pilgrim without whitening their skin. Darkening your skin to reflect a character’s skin is, ultimately, a way of saying that race is a defining characteristic of who we are. Even that it's the defining characteristic.

So the question becomes, is it really necessary to have dark skin to make the costume right? If I want to be, say, Martin Luther King, should I wear blackface?

Well, no, both because that would be the ultimate slap in the face for African Americans and because even with blackface, no one would know who I was. White guy in a suit or black guy in a suit, I’m still going to have to explain my costume to everyone, which to my mind makes it a kind of crappy costume. On the other hand, if I go as Flava Flav, do I need dark skin? If I wear a giant freaking clock around my neck, is anyone not going to know who I am if I’ve got white skin?

Would I look more like Flava with darkened skin? First, no, because we look nothing alike, and second, who cares, because I’m not an actor playing him in a movie. It’s a freaking Halloween costume. It’s supposed to be fun and clever and entertain other people; it’s not supposed to allow me to walk into his house and have his wife say, “Honey, so glad you’re home.”

And yes, it does seem like a double standard that no one would make a big deal out of if someone wore whiteface. But the reason no one would make a big deal out of it is white people don’t care. There’s no history of us being denigrated by whiteface. We would all just go, hey, cool makeup.

I wrote a while back about the oddity of murder jokes being far more acceptable in modern society than rape jokes. I don’t make rape jokes, and I don’t wear blackface, because right now, these are both open wounds in our society, and why would I want to pick at an open wound? Blackface pisses off a lot of black people. I’m not black, so I’m not going to say, dude, get over it, grow a sense of humor.

I’m not saying you should never offend people. Lenny Bruce used offending people to great effect. I’m saying offending people shouldn’t be done cavalierly. If you’re a satirist who has a statement to make involving blackface, I could see that. If you’re a drunk guy at a costume party dressed like Little Black Sambo, you’re just an asshole.


Saturday, October 05, 2013

Boehner Vows to Continue Mouthing Hollow Statements for Duration of Shutdown

In a press conference, Speaker John A. Boehner vowed to continue a series of vague, hallow sound bites until the budget crisis gripping the nation is resolved.

“The American people don’t want their government shut down, and neither do I. All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion. We ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country. “Our goal here was to bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare.”

“I could do this all day,” Boehner added.


While the speaker is convinced that a steady stream of vague platitudes will lead to a budget settlement on Republican terms, a confident President Obama, noting that a majority of the American public blames Republicans for the shutdown, has doubled down on his rhetoric, saying yesterday that he would make the GOP “drop to its knees and squeal like a pig.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

what articles about what the Miley Cyrus VMA performance says about our culture say about our culture

Miley Cyrus was on the 2013 VMAs, and stuck her tongue out, and wore very few clothes, and did something called "twerking" that is apparently a dance move that is so much a part of black culture that Miley's doing it, and having black background dancers, makes her a racist. And her desperate need for attention makes her a slut, and maybe crazy, and saying that is slut shaming, and part of the way society oppresses women's expression of their sexuality. And everyone - everyone - is horrified by Cyrus's performance, so horrified for so many different reasons that they have to watch it over and over again and write articles about it that link to the video of her dancing so other people can see it and be horrified and write their own articles about how terrible Cyrus is and how she made a horrible mistake by doing something that has upped her fame level by about 1000% (at last when I hear the names Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift I'll be able to remember which one is which).

Is the Miley Cyrus performance the most egregious overuse of sex in a song in the history of mankind? Is it the most horrific example of naked racism? Is it something shocking that we will never forget?

I'm going to say no.

So why is this getting so much attention? Well, first off, it was on the VMAs, which apparently a lot of people watch (honestly, my only objection to the Cyrus performance is it made me pay attention to the VMAs for once). It was a little (purposefully) over the top, and people started talking about it.

And then bloggers and columnists all over the world said, oh my god if I wrote something about this that puts a spin on it then I'll get a billion blog hits. And when they got their billion hits, more people wrote about it.

And that's it. The truth is, the Miley Cyrus performance is not especially important, except for being a textbook example of how the blogosphere, and modern journalism, which now takes its cue from the blogosphere, operates. Writers are sharks, and when first blood is spilled, there is a feeding frenzy.

It is understandable. Even though I am not linking to the video, because if you haven't seen it already it's probably a conscious decision, just the fact that this article contains the phrases "miley cyrus" and "VMAs" means it will probably get more hits than anything I've written since I wrote an article about Kate Beckinsale's breasts. That still won't be a lot of hits - maybe a few hundred over the next year - but for serious bloggers, a popular article about the thing everyone is talking about can get them as much attention - almost - as Miley.

Miley Cyrus tried to get attention, and succeeded, and while her performance is being lambasted everywhere, a whole slew of singers are already trying to figure out how they can get this much attention. And when they figure it out, expect much joyous wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Monday, April 29, 2013

How comment spammers create dissimilar posts


As the editor/guide for about.com's Wii Games channel, one of my duties is to check comments to my blog to see if they are spam. Spam comments are generally generic comments along the lines of, "This is a very interesting piece, I look forward to other things you will right." The English is generally at least as awkward as that. Comments are often quite similar, but rarely identical. The user's name will generally then be linked to some website selling something.
Today I found something interesting in the comments of a post. Instead of the usual little comment, there was this strange, long piece of text with brackets indicating sections that could be swapped in and out.  There is paragraph after paragraph. So it is apparent that there is some sort of program that is supposed to grab a random paragraph from this text and then randomly choose a word or phrase from within each bracket in order to create a spam comment that cannot be kept out with a simple text filter because it will never be quite the same.
I don't know if anyone will find that interesting besides me, but  here is the entire thing. I realize aspiring spammers might find this a useful tool, but I think they probably all already know how to do this, so us non-spammers might as well understand how it works.

{
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} online more than {three|3|2|4} hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. {It’s|It
is} pretty worth enough for me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners}
and bloggers made good content as you did, the {internet|net|web} will be
{much more|a lot more} useful than ever before.
|
I {couldn’t|could not} {resist|refrain from} commenting. {Very well|Perfectly|Well|Exceptionally well} written!|
{I will|I’ll} {right away|immediately} {take hold of|grab|clutch|grasp|seize|snatch} your {rss|rss feed} as I
{can not|can’t} {in finding|find|to find} your {email|e-mail} subscription {link|hyperlink} or {newsletter|e-newsletter} service. Do {you have|you’ve} any?
{Please|Kindly} {allow|permit|let} me {realize|recognize|understand|recognise|know} {so that|in order that} I {may just|may|could} subscribe.
Thanks.|
{It is|It’s} {appropriate|perfect|the best} time to make some plans for the future and {it is|it’s} time to be happy.
{I have|I’ve} read this post and if I could I {want to|wish to|desire to} suggest you {few|some} interesting things or {advice|suggestions|tips}. {Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can} write next articles referring to this article. I {want to|wish to|desire to} read {more|even more} things about it!|
{It is|It’s} {appropriate|perfect|the best} time to make {a few|some} plans for
{the future|the longer term|the long run} and {it is|it’s} time to be happy. {I have|I’ve} {read|learn}
this {post|submit|publish|put up} and if I {may just|may|could} I {want to|wish to|desire to} {suggest|recommend|counsel} you {few|some} {interesting|fascinating|attention-grabbing}
{things|issues} or {advice|suggestions|tips}. {Perhaps|Maybe} you {could|can} write {next|subsequent} articles {relating to|referring to|regarding} this article.
I {want to|wish to|desire to} {read|learn} {more|even more} {things|issues} {approximately|about} it!
|
{I have|I’ve} been {surfing|browsing} {online|on-line} {more than|greater than} {three|3} hours {these days|nowadays|today|lately|as of late}, {yet|but} I {never|by no means} {found|discovered} any {interesting|fascinating|attention-grabbing} article like yours. {It’s|It is} {lovely|pretty|beautiful} {worth|value|price} {enough|sufficient} for
me. {In my opinion|Personally|In my view}, if all {webmasters|site owners|website owners|web owners} and bloggers made
{just right|good|excellent} {content|content material} as {you did|you probably did},
the {internet|net|web} {will be|shall be|might be|will probably be|can be|will likely be} {much
more|a lot more} {useful|helpful} than ever before.
|
Ahaa, its {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}
{discussion|conversation|dialogue} {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} this {article|post|piece
of writing|paragraph} {here|at this place} at
this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}, I have read all that, so {now|at this
time} me also commenting {here|at this place}.|
I am sure this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} has touched
all the internet {users|people|viewers|visitors},
its really really {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} on building up new {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}.
|
Wow, this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} is {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}, my {sister|younger sister} is analyzing {such|these|these kinds of} things, {so|thus|therefore} I am going to {tell|inform|let know|convey} her.
|
{Saved as a favorite|bookmarked!!}, {I really like|I like|I love} {your blog|your site|your web site|your website}!
|
Way cool! Some {very|extremely} valid points! I appreciate you
{writing this|penning this} {article|post|write-up} {and the|and also the|plus the} rest of the {site is|website is} {also very|extremely|very|also really|really} good.
|
Hi, {I do believe|I do think} {this is an excellent|this is a great} {blog|website|web site|site}.
I stumbledupon it ;) {I will|I am going to|I’m going to|I may} {come back|return|revisit} {once again|yet again} {since I|since i have} {bookmarked|book marked|book-marked|saved as a favorite} it. Money and freedom {is the best|is the greatest} way to change, may you be rich and continue to {help|guide} {other people|others}.|
Woah! I’m really {loving|enjoying|digging} the template/theme of
this {site|website|blog}. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s
{very hard|very difficult|challenging|tough|difficult|hard} to get that “perfect balance” between {superb usability|user friendliness|usability} and {visual appearance|visual appeal|appearance}.
I must say {that you’ve|you have|you’ve} done a
{awesome|amazing|very good|superb|fantastic|excellent|great} job with this.
{In addition|Additionally|Also}, the blog loads {very|extremely|super} {fast|quick} for me on {Safari|Internet explorer|Chrome|Opera|Firefox}.
{Superb|Exceptional|Outstanding|Excellent} Blog!|
These are {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely}
{great|enormous|impressive|wonderful|fantastic} ideas in {regarding|concerning|about|on the topic of} blogging.
You have touched some {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious} {points|factors|things} here.
Any way keep up wrinting.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend to
be} up too. {This sort of|This type of|Such|This
kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}!
Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys
I’ve {incorporated||added|included} you guys to {|my|our||my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey}! Someone in my {Myspace|Facebook} group shared this {site|website} with us so I came to {give it a look|look it over|take a look|check it out}. I’m definitely {enjoying|loving} the information.
I’m {book-marking|bookmarking} and will be tweeting this to my followers! {Terrific|Wonderful|Great|Fantastic|Outstanding|Exceptional|Superb|Excellent} blog and {wonderful|terrific|brilliant|amazing|great|excellent|fantastic|outstanding|superb} {style and design|design and style|design}.|
{I love|I really like|I enjoy|I like|Everyone loves} what you guys {are|are usually|tend to be} up too. {This sort of|This type of|Such|This kind of} clever work and {exposure|coverage|reporting}! Keep up the {superb|terrific|very good|great|good|awesome|fantastic|excellent|amazing|wonderful} works guys I’ve {incorporated|added|included}
you guys to {|my|our|my personal|my own} blogroll.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Hey} would you mind {stating|sharing} which blog platform you’re {working with|using}? I’m
{looking|planning|going} to start my own blog {in the near future|soon} but I’m having a {tough|difficult|hard} time {making a decision|selecting|choosing|deciding} between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your {design and style|design|layout} seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something {completely
unique|unique}. P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic but I had to ask!
|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind letting me know which {webhost|hosting company|web host} you’re {utilizing|working with|using}? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 {completely different|different} {internet browsers|web browsers|browsers} and I must
say this blog loads a lot {quicker|faster} then most.
Can you {suggest|recommend} a good {internet hosting|web hosting|hosting} provider at a {honest|reasonable|fair} price?
{Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks}, I appreciate it!
|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves} it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together} and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}.
Great {blog|website|site}, {keep it up|continue the good work|stick with it}!
|
Thank you for the {auspicious|good} writeup. It in fact was a amusement
account it. Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from you!
{By the way|However}, how {can|could} we communicate?
|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hey there|Hello|Hey} just wanted to give you
a quick heads up. The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to be running off
the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
I’m not sure if this is a {format|formatting} issue or something to do with {web browser|internet browser|browser} compatibility but I {thought|figured} I’d post to let
you know. The {style and design|design and style|layout|design} look great though!
Hope you get the {problem|issue} {solved|resolved|fixed} soon.
{Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that’s|which is} {close to|near to} my heart… {Cheers|Many thanks|Best wishes|Take care|Thank you}! {Where|Exactly where} are your contact details though?|
It’s very {easy|simple|trouble-free|straightforward|effortless} to find out any {topic|matter} on {net|web} as compared to {books|textbooks},
as I found this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} at
this {website|web site|site|web page}.|
Does your {site|website|blog} have a contact page? I’m having {a tough time|problems|trouble} locating it but, I’d like to {send|shoot} you an {e-mail|email}.
I’ve got some {creative ideas|recommendations|suggestions|ideas} for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great {site|website|blog} and I look forward to seeing it {develop|improve|expand|grow} over time.|
{Hola|Hey there|Hi|Hello|Greetings}! I’ve been {following|reading} your {site|web site|website|weblog|blog} for {a
long time|a while|some time} now and finally got the {bravery|courage} to
go ahead and give you a shout out from {New Caney|Kingwood|Huffman|Porter|Houston|Dallas|Austin|Lubbock|Humble|Atascocita} {Tx|Texas}!
Just wanted to {tell you|mention|say} keep up the {fantastic|excellent|great|good} {job|work}!
|
Greetings from {Idaho|Carolina|Ohio|Colorado|Florida|Los angeles|California}!
I’m {bored to tears|bored to death|bored} at work so I decided to {check out|browse} your {site|website|blog} on my iphone during lunch break. I {enjoy|really like|love} the {knowledge|info|information} you {present|provide} here and can’t
wait to take a look when I get home. I’m {shocked|amazed|surprised} at how {quick|fast} your blog loaded on my {mobile|cell phone|phone} .. I’m not
even using WIFI, just 3G .. {Anyhow|Anyways}, {awesome|amazing|very good|superb|good|wonderful|fantastic|excellent|great} {site|blog}!
|
Its {like you|such as you} {read|learn} my {mind|thoughts}!
You {seem|appear} {to understand|to know|to grasp} {so much|a lot} {approximately|about} this, {like you|such as you} wrote the {book|e-book|guide|ebook|e book}
in it or something. {I think|I feel|I believe} {that you|that you simply|that you just} {could|can} do with {some|a few} {%|p.c.|percent} to {force|pressure|drive|power} the message {house|home} {a bit|a little bit}, {however|but} {other than|instead of} that, {this is|that is} {great|wonderful|fantastic|magnificent|excellent} blog. {A great|An excellent|A fantastic} read. {I’ll|I will} {definitely|certainly} be back.|
I visited {multiple|many|several|various} {websites|sites|web sites|web pages|blogs} {but|except|however} the audio {quality|feature} for audio songs {current|present|existing} at this {website|web site|site|web page} is {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {marvelous|wonderful|excellent|fabulous|superb}.|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hello}, i read your blog {occasionally|from time to time} and i own a similar one and i was just {wondering|curious} if you get a lot of spam {comments|responses|feedback|remarks}? If so how do you {prevent|reduce|stop|protect against} it, any plugin or anything you can {advise|suggest|recommend}? I get so much lately it’s driving me {mad|insane|crazy} so any {assistance|help|support} is very much appreciated.|
Greetings! {Very helpful|Very useful} advice {within this|in this particular} {article|post}! {It is the|It’s the} little changes {that make|which will make|that produce|that will make} {the biggest|the largest|the greatest|the most important|the most significant} changes. {Thanks a lot|Thanks|Many thanks} for sharing!|
{I really|I truly|I seriously|I absolutely} love {your blog|your site|your website}.. {Very nice|Excellent|Pleasant|Great} colors & theme. Did you {create|develop|make|build} {this website|this site|this web site|this amazing site} yourself? Please reply back as I’m {looking to|trying to|planning to|wanting to|hoping to|attempting to} create {my own|my very own|my own personal} {blog|website|site} and {would like to|want to|would love to} {know|learn|find out} where you got this from or {what the|exactly what the|just what the} theme {is called|is named}. {Thanks|Many thanks|Thank you|Cheers|Appreciate it|Kudos}!|
{Hi there|Hello there|Howdy}! This {post|article|blog post} {couldn’t|could not} be written {any better|much better}! {Reading through|Looking at|Going through|Looking through} this {post|article} reminds me of my previous roommate! He {always|constantly|continually} kept {talking about|preaching about} this. {I will|I’ll|I am going to|I most certainly will} {forward|send} {this article|this information|this post} to him. {Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he’ll|he’s going to} {have a good|have a very good|have a great} read. {Thank you for|Thanks for|Many thanks for|I appreciate you for} sharing!|
{Wow|Whoa|Incredible|Amazing}! This blog looks {exactly|just} like my old one! It’s on a {completely|entirely|totally} different {topic|subject} but it has pretty much the same {layout|page layout} and design. {Excellent|Wonderful|Great|Outstanding|Superb} choice of colors!|
{There is|There’s} {definately|certainly} {a lot to|a great deal to} {know about|learn about|find out about} this {subject|topic|issue}. {I like|I love|I really like} {all the|all of the} points {you made|you’ve made|you have made}.|
{You made|You’ve made|You have made} some {decent|good|really good} points there. I {looked|checked} {on the internet|on the web|on the net} {for more info|for more information|to find out more|to learn more|for additional information} about the issue and found {most individuals|most people} will go along with your views on {this website|this site|this web site}.|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, I {log on to|check|read} your {new stuff|blogs|blog} {regularly|like every week|daily|on a regular basis}. Your {story-telling|writing|humoristic} style is {awesome|witty}, keep {doing what you’re doing|up the good work|it up}!|
I {simply|just} {could not|couldn’t} {leave|depart|go away} your {site|web site|website} {prior to|before} suggesting that I {really|extremely|actually} {enjoyed|loved} {the standard|the usual} {information|info} {a person|an individual} {supply|provide} {for your|on your|in your|to your} {visitors|guests}? Is {going to|gonna} be {back|again} {frequently|regularly|incessantly|steadily|ceaselessly|often|continuously} {in order to|to} {check up on|check out|inspect|investigate cross-check} new posts|
{I wanted|I needed|I want to|I need to} to thank you for this {great|excellent|fantastic|wonderful|good|very good} read!! I {definitely|certainly|absolutely} {enjoyed|loved} every {little bit of|bit of} it. {I have|I’ve got|I have got} you {bookmarked|book marked|book-marked|saved as a favorite} {to check out|to look at} new {stuff you|things you} post_|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|What’s up}, just wanted to {mention|say|tell you}, I {enjoyed|liked|loved} this {article|post|blog post}. It was {inspiring|funny|practical|helpful}. Keep on posting!|
I {{leave|drop|{write|create}} a {comment|leave a response}|drop a {comment|leave a response}|{comment|leave a response}} {each time|when|whenever} I {appreciate|like|especially enjoy} a {post|article} on a {site|{blog|website}|site|website} or {I have|if I have} something to {add|contribute|valuable to contribute} {to the discussion|to the conversation}. {It is|Usually it is|Usually it’s|It’s} {a result of|triggered by|caused by} the {passion|fire|sincerness} {communicated|displayed} in the {post|article} I {read|looked at|browsed}. And {on|after} this {post|article} Rayman Legends Developers Protest Delay. I {{was|was actually} moved|{was|was actually} excited} enough to {drop|{leave|drop|{write|create}}|post} a {thought|{comment|{comment|leave a response}a response}} {:-P|:)|;)|;-)|:-)} I {do have|actually do have} {{some|a few} questions|a couple of questions|2 questions} for you {if you {don’t|do not|usually do not|tend not to} mind|if it’s {allright|okay}}. {Is it|Could it be} {just|only|simply} me or {do|does it {seem|appear|give the impression|look|look as if|look like} like} {some|a few} of {the|these} {comments|responses|remarks} {look|appear|come across} {like they are|as if they are|like} {coming from|written by|left by} brain dead {people|visitors|folks|individuals}? :-P And, if you are {posting|writing} {on|at} {other|additional} {sites|social sites|online sites|online social sites|places}, {I’d|I would} like to {follow|keep up with} {you|{anything|everything} {new|fresh} you have to post}. {Could|Would} you {list|make a list} {all|every one|the complete urls} of {your|all your} {social|communal|community|public|shared} {pages|sites} like your {twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile|linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed|Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile}?|
{Hi there|Hello}, I enjoy reading {all of|through} your {article|post|article post}. I {like|wanted} to write a little comment to support you.|
I {always|constantly|every time} spent my half an hour to read this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site}’s {articles|posts|articles or reviews|content} {everyday|daily|every day|all the time} along with a {cup|mug} of coffee.|
I {always|for all time|all the time|constantly|every time} emailed this {blog|weblog|webpage|website|web site} post page to all my {friends|associates|contacts}, {because|since|as|for the reason that} if like to read it {then|after that|next|afterward} my {friends|links|contacts} will too.|
My {coder|programmer|developer} is trying to {persuade|convince} me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the {expenses|costs}. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using {Movable-type|WordPress} on {a number of|a variety of|numerous|several|various} websites for about a year and am {nervous|anxious|worried|concerned} about switching to another platform. I have heard {fantastic|very good|excellent|great|good} things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can {transfer|import} all my wordpress {content|posts} into it? {Any kind of|Any} help would be {really|greatly} appreciated!|
{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day}! I could have sworn I’ve {been to|visited} {this blog|this web site|this website|this site|your blog} before but after {browsing through|going through|looking at} {some of the|a few of the|many of the} {posts|articles} I realized it’s new to me. {Anyways|Anyhow|Nonetheless|Regardless}, I’m {definitely|certainly} {happy|pleased|delighted} {I found|I discovered|I came across|I stumbled upon} it and I’ll be {bookmarking|book-marking} it and checking back {frequently|regularly|often}!|
{Terrific|Great|Wonderful} {article|work}! {This is|That is} {the type of|the kind of} {information|info} {that are meant to|that are supposed to|that should} be shared {around the|across the} {web|internet|net}. {Disgrace|Shame} on {the {seek|search} engines|Google} for {now not|not|no longer} positioning this {post|submit|publish|put up} {upper|higher}! Come on over and {talk over with|discuss with|seek advice from|visit|consult with} my {site|web site|website} . {Thank you|Thanks} =)|
Heya {i’m|i am} for the first time here. I {came across|found} this board and I find It {truly|really} useful & it helped me out {a lot|much}. I hope to give something back and {help|aid} others like you {helped|aided} me.|
{Hi|Hello|Hi there|Hello there|Howdy|Greetings}, {I think|I believe|I do believe|I do think|There’s no doubt that} {your site|your website|your web site|your blog} {might be|may be|could be|could possibly be} having {browser|internet browser|web browser} compatibility {issues|problems}. {When I|Whenever I} {look at your|take a look at your} {website|web site|site|blog} in Safari, it looks fine {but when|however when|however, if|however, when} opening in {Internet Explorer|IE|I.E.}, {it has|it’s got} some overlapping issues. {I just|I simply|I merely} wanted to {give you a|provide you with a} quick heads up! {Other than that|Apart from that|Besides that|Aside from that}, {fantastic|wonderful|great|excellent} {blog|website|site}!|
{A person|Someone|Somebody} {necessarily|essentially} {lend a hand|help|assist} to make {seriously|critically|significantly|severely} {articles|posts} {I would|I might|I’d} state. {This is|That is} the {first|very first} time I frequented your {web page|website page} and {to this point|so far|thus far|up to now}? I {amazed|surprised} with the {research|analysis} you made to {create|make} {this actual|this particular} {post|submit|publish|put up} {incredible|amazing|extraordinary}. {Great|Wonderful|Fantastic|Magnificent|Excellent} {task|process|activity|job}!|
Heya {i’m|i am} for {the primary|the first} time here. I {came across|found} this board and I {in finding|find|to find} It {truly|really} {useful|helpful} & it helped me out {a lot|much}. {I am hoping|I hope|I’m hoping} {to give|to offer|to provide|to present} {something|one thing} {back|again} and {help|aid} others {like you|such as you} {helped|aided} me.|
{Hello|Hi|Hello there|Hi there|Howdy|Good day|Hey there}! {I just|I simply} {would like to|want to|wish to} {give you a|offer you a} {huge|big} thumbs up {for the|for your} {great|excellent} {info|information} {you have|you’ve got|you have got} {here|right here} on this post. {I will be|I’ll be|I am} {coming back to|returning to} {your blog|your site|your website|your web site} for more soon.|
I {always|all the time|every time} used to {read|study} {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} in news papers but now as I am a user of {internet|web|net} {so|thus|therefore} from now I am using net for {articles|posts|articles or reviews|content}, thanks to web.|
Your {way|method|means|mode} of {describing|explaining|telling} {everything|all|the whole thing} in this {article|post|piece of writing|paragraph} is {really|actually|in fact|truly|genuinely} {nice|pleasant|good|fastidious}, {all|every one} {can|be able to|be capable of} {easily|without difficulty|effortlessly|simply} {understand|know|be aware of} it, Thanks a lot.|
{Hi|Hello} there, {I found|I discovered} your {blog|website|web site|site} {by means of|via|by the use of|by way of} Google {at the same time as|whilst|even as|while} {searching for|looking for} a {similar|comparable|related} {topic|matter|subject}, your {site|web site|website} {got here|came} up, it {looks|appears|seems|seems to be|appears to be like} {good|great}. {I have|I’ve} bookmarked it in my google bookmarks.
{Hello|Hi} there, {simply|just} {turned into|became|was|become|changed into} {aware of|alert to} your {blog|weblog} {thru|through|via} Google, {and found|and located} that {it is|it’s} {really|truly} informative. {I’m|I am} {gonna|going to} {watch out|be careful} for brussels. {I will|I’ll} {appreciate|be grateful} {if you|should you|when you|in the event you|in case you|for those who|if you happen to} {continue|proceed} this {in future}. {A lot of|Lots of|Many|Numerous} {other folks|folks|other people|people} {will be|shall be|might be|will probably be|can be|will likely be} benefited {from your|out of your} writing. Cheers!|
{I am|I’m} curious to find out what blog {system|platform} {you have been|you happen to be|you are|you’re} {working with|utilizing|using}? I’m {experiencing|having} some {minor|small} security {problems|issues} with my latest {site|website|blog} and {I would|I’d} like to find something more {safe|risk-free|safeguarded|secure}. Do you have any {solutions|suggestions|recommendations}?|
{I am|I’m} {extremely|really} impressed with your writing skills {and also|as well as} with the layout on your {blog|weblog}. Is this a paid theme or did you {customize|modify} it yourself? {Either way|Anyway} keep up the {nice|excellent} quality writing, {it’s|it is} rare to see a {nice|great} blog like this one {these days|nowadays|today}.|
{I am|I’m} {extremely|really} {inspired|impressed} {with your|together with your|along with your} writing {talents|skills|abilities} {and also|as {smartly|well|neatly} as} with the {layout|format|structure} {for your|on your|in your|to your} {blog|weblog}. {Is this|Is that this} a paid {subject|topic|subject matter|theme} or did you {customize|modify} it {yourself|your self}? {Either way|Anyway} {stay|keep} up the {nice|excellent} {quality|high quality} writing, {it’s|it is} {rare|uncommon} {to peer|to see|to look} a {nice|great} {blog|weblog} like this one {these days|nowadays|today}..|
{Hi|Hello}, Neat post. {There is|There’s} {a problem|an issue} {with your|together with your|along with your} {site|web site|website} in {internet|web} explorer, {may|might|could|would} {check|test} this? IE {still|nonetheless} is the {marketplace|market} {leader|chief} and {a large|a good|a big|a huge} {part of|section of|component to|portion of|component of|element of} {other folks|folks|other people|people} will {leave out|omit|miss|pass over} your {great|wonderful|fantastic|magnificent|excellent} writing {due to|because of} this problem.|
{I’m|I am} not sure where {you are|you’re} getting your {info|information}, but {good|great} topic. I needs to spend some time learning {more|much more} or understanding more. Thanks for {great|wonderful|fantastic|magnificent|excellent} {information|info} I was looking for this {information|info} for my mission.|
{Hi|Hello}, i think that i saw you visited my {blog|weblog|website|web site|site} {so|thus} i came to _return the favor_.{I am|I’m} {trying to|attempting to} find things to {improve|enhance} my {website|site|web site}!I suppose its ok to use {some of|a few of} your ideas!!\

Monday, December 24, 2012

faith sucks, belief rules

I’ve been thinking about the concept of faith a lot lately. This is due to my recent Bart Ehrman kick. Erhman is a biblical scholar focussed on the New Testament who specializes in textual criticism, which is the art of figuring out how much of the original ancient texts are reflected in the versions we have now. I never thought about this, but back in the days of hand copying mistakes were common, and some copyists would also purposely change texts.  This means we don’t truly know exactly what was written by Plato or Confucius or, as Ehrman points out in books like Misquoting Jesus, the authors of the Christian bible.

Misquoting Jesus is a fascinating book that describes the attempts to figure out what parts of the New Testament are authentic. At times it reads like a detective novel, as he explains how textual critics compare writing styles and check other sources to figure out what is original and what was added later. Sometimes things were added long after the original documents were created - that “let he without sin cast the first stone” story is an example of that. Sometimes words were miscopied by barely literate copyists. Sometimes minor changes were made to, for example, deemphasize the role of women in the Christian religion or to deride the beliefs of competing Christian groups like the Gnostics (an interesting group who I learned about in another Ehrman book, The Lost Gospel of Judas Iscariot. They believed that the God of the Jews was a crazy asshole and that there is another, better, higher God to worship).

Ehrman was brought up an evangelical Christian who considered the Bible the literal word of God, but he eventually concluded the book was very much man made, and that its authors each had their own points to make. He points out that Jesus is portrayed quite differently in each gospel; he says we must respect the authors by reading each story on its own, rather than doing a Jesus Christ Superstar-style mashup.

Misquoting Jesus made me wonder if Ehrman was still a Christian after coming to understand what a mish masch the New Testament is. And in the book I’m reading now, God’s Problem, I learned that Ehrman is, in fact, an agnostic. But not, apparently, because of the conclusions that lead him to write Misquoting Jesus.

Erman begins God’s Problem by saying that he has “lost his faith,” and I found that an interesting statement. He makes it sound as though he lost an appendage, like his hand, and he still misses it. And as I thought about it I realized that while he had faith, when I believed in God as a child, I only had belief. Which is a very different thing.

I believed in the existence of God when I was young. I also believed in the existence of Santa Claus. In both cases my belief was based on the information I had been given. My parents, who I considered a reliable source, told me there was a Santa Claus. They would take on any questions I had; when I asked how he could get down our skinny chimney, they would say they left the back door open for him.

But then I discovered that not everyone believed in Santa Claus, I found the illogic of the Santa myth increasingly difficult to overlook. I expressed my doubts to my parents and they eventually admitted there was no Santa Claus.

My path with God was very similar. I believed there was an all powerful supernatural being who had created everything and was in charge of the world. I used to talk to him, either asking him for a better life or, when I was in a more charitable frame of mind, asking him to end suffering throughout the world.

By the time I was in Junior HighI discovered that not everyone believed in God, and just knowing that made me think about whether the whole God thing made sense. I concluded that it did not. I did ask the minister questions, but was unsatisfied with the answers.

Just as with Santa, I had a belief, I became more intellectually sophisticated, analyzed my belief and found it wanting, and decided to believe something different.

Erman became an agnostic not because the evidence for the existence of a savior was insufficient, but because he ultimately found he could not reconcile his faith in an all-powerful, all-loving God with the horrors of the world, both man-made horrors like war and natural horrors like disease and disaster.

I couldn’t help wonder though, why just the fact that the texts upon which his beliefs were based were an inaccurately copied set of documents written and chosen to fortify one of many competing views of Jesus.

And I realized it all came down to faith. Because faith is not contingent on anything. Once you have faith, you don’t need proof. Proof is irrelevant. Ehrman could see that the New Testament was not the literal word of God but still believed in God and Jesus, because that’s what faith is; believing regardless of everything.

Ehrman’s problem was he had faith in a very specific God. I believed in God as a child, but I wasn’t that clear on what he did. I didn’t really think about the issues of being loving and all powerful yet allowing suffering, because I was not a sophisticated nine-year old. By the time I could think about these things, I was done with God.

God’s Problem is a book about how the bible deals with suffering, and he apparently found nothing in it that fit with his faith. His faith wasn’t, seemingly, in the God that tortured Job to win a bet with Satan, killing his family in the process, or the God who punished children for the sins of their parents. I still don’t understand why it  took him so long to reach that point, but faith is a powerful thing.

Beliefs can be changed with new evidence; faith cannot be. Yet, insisting on proof for what you believe is considered somehow petty and mean.  If you don’t believe in God, or ghosts, or psychics,  or astrology, many people will see you as a cynic with no sense of childlike wonder, as though unquestioning belief is far more admirable than trying to really understand the world through careful study and a rational exploration of factual evidence. Instead, we admire what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness”; believing in something there is no proof for because you feel it in your gut.

People love the famous editorial in which a newspaper man tells a little girl that yes, there is a Santa Claus, even if there’s no proof, a piece wonderfully rewritten by Greta Christina as No Virginia, There is No Santa Claus, a paean to rational thought I found through a lovely post on the allure of irrational belief by my friend Tim Martin.

I don’t have faith. I don’t believe I have ever had faith. I have believed wrongly, but only because I was lacking information, or was trusting the wrong sources, or was too lazy to really consider all sides of an issue. But I can’t recall ever having blind faith in anything; I remain open to information refuting what I believe, and the model of the world I keep in my head is still constantly changing as new information arrives.

Certainly I have opinions I will not release. For example, I believe the world should devote more resources to feeding those who starve than building weapons. This is not based on fact. Starvation is not inherently wrong, it is a natural part of nature. But I don’t think you could really talk me out of this belief - you can’t use facts to persuade me I shouldn’t worry about people starving to death. Even then, you could, if you martialed your facts, possibly persuade me that starvation is inherently unsolvable, and that attempts to feed the world would ultimately just make things worse. I haven’t heard such an argument, but I feel certain someone out there is ready to make it. And if a good case could be made, I would adjust my beliefs accordingly.

Faith is not as easy to adjust. It isn’t based on proof, so it cannot be disproved. Asking for proof is not faith, and in fact those with faith would say wanting proof demains faith.As Kris Kringle explains in Miracle on 34th Street, "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."
 

Thomas Paine once wrote that it would make no sense for God to give man the ability to reason and then insist that he not use that gift. It’s exactly the sort of reasonable statement that faith easily discounts.

While faith is portrayed as beautiful, it actually an example of man at his most primitive, the confused cave man fearfully offering chickens to unseen spirits because he just doesn’t know any better. For centuries, man has been creating something beyond faith, something much, much better, based on rational thought and experimentation. I believe that is a good thing. But I have no faith in anything.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

TV Series Review: Perception


I love Oliver Sacks’ popular psychology books, which showcase oddities like a man who tries to put on his wife’s head like a hat or a man who falls out of bed while trying to hurl away his own leg, thinking it is a severed limb.

You know who else loves Oliver Sacks? My guess is, everyone working on Perception, a TV series featuring a psychology professor/detective whose cases revolve around prosopagnosiacs (people who can’t recognize faces), aphasiacs (people who have lost the ability to understand human speech), and anterograde amnesiacs (people who can’t form memories).

I should add the caveat that these are all worst-case scenarios; some aphasiacs just have trouble thinking of words, some prosopagnosiacs just have trouble with strangers’ faces.  But Perception has no interest in those people. It is only interested in the guy who can’t recognize his own wife and the forty-something woman whose brain is trapped in a single day in 1986.

The psychologist is Dr. Daniel Pierce, played with jittery intensity by a slightly disheveled Eric McCormack.  Pierce is not just an expert on psychological anomalies; like the president of the hair club for men, he’s also a member; a schizophrenic prone to hallucinations. He even employs a live-in teaching assistant whose main responsibility is to tell Daniel whether the person he’s talking to is really there.

When he’s not teaching his students about the vagaries of the mind, Pierce works as a consultant for the FBI alongside special agent Kate Moretti, played by Rachel Leigh Cook. He’s a little sweet on her, and she’s a little sweet on him, but he doesn’t consider himself good dating material and lives in fear that she will witness one of his “episodes.”

I generally think of schizophrenics as tattered people talking to themselves on the street, but like everything else I’ve googled in Perception, the functional schizophrenic turns out to be slightly less far-fetched than one might expect; a schizophrenic law professor teaches at USC.

Still, I suspect most schizophrenics don’t have symptoms as helpful as the professor’s. During each case, Pierce is visited by at least one hallucinatory person who will plead with him, threaten him, cajole him, or just try to run him over with a bicycle. Conveniently, these hallucinations act as clues to each mystery; offering egress to Pierce’s subconscious observations. 

While this is a bit ludicrous, it works well as a mystery-series device, offering a new way to dole out Agatha-Christie style clues. Much of the mystery is figuring out what these hallucinations represent, and in classic whodunit style, the viewer always feels on the verge of solving the mystery before the detective, but never does.

McCormack is quite good as Pierce; one moment clever and thoughtful, the next ranting about the radiation in a security scanner. The rest of the cast is also quite likable, with Cook maintaining her professionalism while staying alert for a romantic signal from Pierce and Kelly Rowan yoga-teacher-soothing as Daniel’s favorite imaginary friend.

The Oliver Sacks influence suffuses the series. At one point we see an aphasiac man laughing as he watches video of George W. Bush’s Saddam Hussein/WMD speech. Daniel explains that as the man has lost the ability to understand speech, he has become a human lie detector who finds lies very funny, an allusion to a Sacks report of a roomful of aphasiacs laughing at a speech by Ronald Reagan. The scene upset some Republicans, even though the series ends with the same guy laughing as Bill Clinton denies having had sex with Monica Lewinski.

As the latest of many series about brilliant but unstable detectives, Perception can be quite entertaining, using psychologically-damaged characters to craft elaborate, sometimes convoluted mysteries. But as a show about mental illness, the series is decidedly shallow. What makes Sacks’s writing so intriguing is his use of aberrant psychology to ponder on the nature of reality and explore whether personality is inherent or is simply the result of activity in the brain that, if diverted, can change us into someone entirely new. But Perception trots out its brain-damaged guests like a series of parlor tricks; every time McCormick introduces us to a new oddity one expects him to shout out voila! and take a bow.

To be fair, Sacks himself has been accused of putting on “a high-brow freak show.” Unfortunately, that seems to be what Perceptions’ writers like most about him. 

TV Series Review: Bunheads


Watching Bunheads is a lot like mistaking someone on the street for a friend.  You catch site of a woman down the block and say, is that Susan? You get closer. It looks a lot like her, but isn’t the hair a little shorter? Would she wear that hat? You get closer still. No, that’s not her. Pretty definitely not. Then you yell out “SUSAN!” to see if she turns around.

From a distance, Bunheads is The Gilmore Girls. Both shows were created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, so they unsurprisingly have her trademark sharp, witty dialogue and quirky, engaging characters.  But it goes beyond that. Sutton Foster, who plays a Vegas showgirl transplanted to a small Californian town called Paradise, bears a notable resemblance to Lauren Graham, who played Lorelei Gilmore. They even have similar voices. Kelly Bishop, who played Emily Gilmore, shows up as Foster’s mother-in-law, while the spunky daughter of the old show has been supplanted by a quartet of teen dancers in the new one (one sweet and unsure, one prickly and arrogant, two generic).

At times, the series seems to just be Gilmore Girls with some dance numbers thrown in.

Bunheads began oddly, with Michelle, a dispirited Vegas showgirl, drunkenly agreeing to marry a gift-giving admirer she never particularly liked. He takes her to Paradise, where it turns out he lives with his mom and her gaudy tchotchkes. While we are assured over and over that this guy is a really, really nice guy, one can’t help thinking that a nebishy man becoming obsessed with a showgirl and luring her to the oddly decorated home he shares with his mother would make a good foundation for a horror movie.

If you don’t like the premiere episode’s premise, don’t worry about it, because it has pretty much nothing to do with the series itself, which turns out to be about the relationship between Michelle, her ballet-teaching mother-in-law Fanny, and four of Fanny’s students.

Like Gilmore Girls, Bunheads is mainly about relationships. A big difference between the two shows is that while Lorelei was comfortably ensconced in a world of friends and family, Michelle finds herself dropped unceremoniously into a town of strangers; one of the first townspeople she meets is her new husband’s hostile, fiercely disappointed ex. While Lorelei always seemed to have a strong idea of where she was going in life, Michelle is lost and scattered, and while the series is developing its plot points slowly, it appears to be a show about someone finding her place in the world. It’s a journey that is looking to be filled with missteps and confusion.

While you can easily discover differences between Sherman-Palladino’s two pretty-lady-in-a-small-town series, these are less obvious than the similarities. And that’s fine with me. After contract negotiations fell through, Sherman-Palladino left The Gilmore Girls, leaving the final season in other hands. If Bunheads is like your friend’s doppelganger, the last season of Gilmore Girls was like the mother at the beginning of Invasion of the Body Snatchers whose son insists that, even though she looks like his mom and has her memories, she isn’t his mother. That last season was disturbing, with a Lorelei Gilmore who had the looks but had lost the spirit of the woman I had loved so much that I could never decide if I wanted her more as my girlfriend or my mom.

For me, Bunheads is the sorely missed Gilmore Girls come back to life. If I may indulge myself in one more comparison, it is like losing a loved one, and, years later, having her knock on your door and say, it was all a mistake, I never really died. And even though her hair is different, she’s wearing glasses and she walks with a limp, you’d still recognize her anywhere.

Welcome back, Gilmore Girls, welcome back.