Wednesday, February 28, 2007

in case all those religious wars weren't enough to convince you

A recent study mentioned at indicates reading passages from the bible can make people more aggressive. I'm happy to hear of this study, because it's something to bring up when people claim violence in movies or video games increases aggression.

Of course, like studies that link video games to aggression, all this measures is a sort of immediate reaction in a non-critical situation. It doesn't really prove the bible makes people violent any more than other studies prove video games make you violent. No, the proof that the bible makes you violent is all those people who specifically say they're killing people in the name of God. Which is a notably greater number than that of people claiming they're killing people in the name of Grand Theft Auto.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

the almost lyrical stupidity of bureaucracy

There's an article in the Times on overly cautious academic review boards, and I just found this part very amusing:

Among the incidents cited in recent report by the American Association of University Professors are a review board asking a linguist studying a preliterate tribe to “have the subjects read and sign a consent form,”

Might as well start the "save our show" petition now

Y'all should really check out the new TV series The Black Donnellys, because I don't expect it to be around for too long. I wasn't too excited about it from the commercials, which just left me wondering what, precisely the show was supposed to be, but my interest was piqued when I heard it was created by Paul Haggis, the genius behind television series Due South and the tragically short-lived EZ Streets who is probably best known as the writer and director of the oscar-winning Crash.

After seeing the first episode I can understand why the commercials were vague about the show; the show itself doesn't really tell you where the series is headed until the last five minutes.

It's a sharply written, intelligent, complex story. In other words, it's going to be canceled. Like EZ Streets, it has the feel of movie, or even a novel. It is aiming to tell a fairly epic story, and the pilot had just enough characters to make it just slightly difficult to keep track of who was who, which is usually an unpopular trait for a TV series.

Hopefully I'm wrong, and Black Donnelys will be that rarest of things, an intelligent, adult, creative show of great artistry that isn't canceled within the first 3 months, but just in case, don't wait for the reruns. The show is on Mondays at 10, and the premiere episode is being re-shown Thursday at 9. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Monday, February 26, 2007

if technology can't create paradise, what can?

A facetious title, but it is interesting how, even in a virtual world that would seem to offer greater freedom from the constraints of society, that world seems to fall into the same traps as the real one. Or so I gather from an article in the LA Times, pointed to at, on virtual terrorists going after virtual corporations screwing up their utopia.

I visited Second Life around the time it first started and couldn't get into it (I'm not big on virtual worlds; typing the command to dance or kiss or smile just isn't as good as going out into the real physical universe and dancing, kissing and smiling), but I do hear fascinating things about it, with protests, politicians, concerts, all sorts of stuff. I think about checking it out now and again, but I don't know, it sounds like it's going from cool to corporate, and I've already been through that from living in the East Village for the last 20-odd years.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

America: The world power that no one in the world takes seriously

Oh look, U.S. intelligence has been sending worthless intelligence about Iran to the U.N. since 2002. Now there's a surprise.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

the only thing I'm going to say about Britney

Okay, I'll admit it, I've been somewhat interested in watching Britney Spear's remarkable public meltdown. But honestly, it's just too much. I am not one of those people who slows down on the freeway to see a traffic accident or tries to see what's going on when there's an ambulance on the street, and Spears is the same sort of thing, something so sad and disturbing that I think it's best to just leave it alone. I'm just increasingly conscious that what you've got is some dumb, desperate young woman without a clue how to function acting out for an audience of vultures.

 Everyone should really just stop looking. Just let her fall apart, go through rehab and hopefully pull her life together without an audience. After she's cleaned up her life if she wants to get back in the public spotlight she can always go on The Surreal Life, but really, wouldn't it be great if everyone just stopped following her, photographing her, mocking her? Wouldn't it just make the world a better place if for once people could see, this is going too far and stop?

Alas for Britney, the world is not going to become a better place anytime soon.


Seriously, I can't even think of anything to say about this article in the Times about a sorority that kicked out its overweight and/or minority members in a bizarre attempt to change their image.

Friday, February 23, 2007

my crystal ball

I see in the Times that there is a rapidly hedge fund industry and that the Bush administration feels that industry doesn't really need much more to keep it on the straight and narrow than a "set of nonbinding principals."

Which leads to the question: is there a way to invest in future economic scandals? Because if we've got a fast-growing, poorly-regulated industry devoted to playing with money, well, we are going to see people make more and more money until suddenly it turns out there is all sorts of corruptions and things totally fall apart and a bunch of people go to jail.

I don't even know what the hell a hedge fund is, and I only skimmed the article in the Times, but I would bet money on it. It's going to be a mess, but by the time it happens Bush will be out of office and will probably have made a fortune in hedge funds.

Monday, February 12, 2007

And yet, polls show people consider atheists untrustworthy.

Reading an article on bible-nut science students who write papers using science they don't believe in, I am just horrified by the intellectual dishonesty. It seems clear that these are people who are doing whatever they have to to get a degree so they have credentials and can then say, I have a degree in science and I say the earth was created 10,000 years ago. It would be like me going to a religious college and getting some sort of degree in religious studies, and I write all the papers and say there is a god and her is the proof, and then after I graduate I start writing papers about how my study of god has convinced me there is no god. When in fact, I never believed in god.

It's just wrong, and it suggests good reason to be suspicious of those few "scientists" who replace biblical explanations for scientific ones. If you don't believe in science, don't get a degree in it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

honey versus vinegar

Interesting article on the difference between real-life interrogation and Hollywood interrogation, i.e. torture. It once again reiterates that torture doesn't yield much useful data and that real-life interrogators are never faced with getting information out of someone or a building will blow up in an hour.

What I found interesting was the idea that the real way to get information out of prisoners is to connect with them, to use psychology. I have to say, I think that would be a lot more interesting to watch; the careful cultivation of data through the creation of a complex personal relationship between enemies. Unfortunately, it seems Hollywood producers prefer the easy route of showing people getting beat up to the more difficult task of portraying a complex, realistic approach.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Lost: too good to last

I was surprised to read that in a poll, 22% of viewers ranked "Lost" as the most disappointing returning series. But I also understand the feeling.

I love Lost. It's a great show. And part of me wishes it would go on forever. But part of me wants it to end now, this second. Because I want to know how it all turns out. It's that same feeling you get when you're reading a suspense novel and want to look in the back of the book and see how it all turns out. But while you can fight that feeling for a few days while you finish that book, Lost is making viewers wait years.

This is the inherent problem in creating a series built around a central mystery. It was a problem Twin Peaks had, and Twin Peaks put off resolving the mystery it started with until people were screaming for a finale. But at least Twin Peaks could continue after that point. When Lost explains what's going on, the show is over. But it has to end, because the longer it goes on, the more aggravating wondering how it will end will get.

They should also try to wrap it up because let's face it, shows run out of steam, and it would be great if Lost ended before it starts to suck.

If Obama ain't black, then I ain't white

There's a rather odd article in Salon expressing Debra J. Dickerson's opinion that
Barack Obama isn't black. This isn't totally crazy when you read the article, which basically says that since he isn't a descendant of black slaves he doesn't share in the American black experience and thus isn't black as black people in the U.S. think of it, or something like that.

What that really means and whether it matters is dealt with wonderfully by Gary Kamiya in an article published in Salon the next day on the difference between black and "black," so I won't discuss too much of this. But I do have to comment on part of Dickerson's piece, in which she comments, "Whites, on the other hand, are engaged in a paroxysm of self-congratulation; he's the equivalent of Stephen Colbert's "black friend." Swooning over nice, safe Obama means you aren't a racist."

Actually, voting for Obama does pretty much mean you're not racist. It means that you accept that a man with black skin is as qualified to run the country as a man with white skin. Racism is not bigotry against people of a particular cultural background, it is racism against people perceived to be of a particular race (I say perceived because race is pretty much an artificial construct in which people from certain areas with certain features are lumped together in an ultimately meaningless fashion). American blacks are not a separate race in the way the term is generally used any more than one would say white Italians and white Germans are a separate race.

I think what Dickerson is really talking about is not racism but classism. She means that white people will vote for Obama but wouldn't vote for Chuck D because white people find Obama friendly and charming and white people figure Chuck D. hates them. On the other hand, white people would probabably vote for Denzel Washington or Will Smith. Are Washington and Smith "black," as Dickerson defines it? I have no idea. And I don't really care.

Dickerson is right in saying Obama is a relatively comfortable choice for whites. Jackson had that old style preacher thing which is very much a part of American black culture but not so much a part of white culture. Sharpton was a grandstander whose history would not make white people feel he'd really care about any of his non-black constituents (fairly or not). Carol Mosely Braun was actually a terrific candidate, but she was in the same camp as Kucinich - a great candidate, smart, right on the issues, but quixotic because she had no national political infrastructure.

Yes, liking Obama better than Jesse Jackson is classist, but it isn't racist. Because while Dickerson may make divisions between one sort of black and another, most white people don't. They are not looking at the candidates and saying, oh, this one isn't really black because his dad wasn't a descendent of slaves. I don't think this would occur to many white people, although I suppose Rush Limbaugh's description of Obama as "halfrican" is sort of getting at the same thing. But Limbaugh makes his living using words to twist reality, so we can ignore him.

I can't speak to whether Obama is really "black" as Dickerson defines it; that's something for the people who define themselves as "black" to debate about. But while Dickerson certainly understands the black experience in a way I can't, what does she know about looking at the world from a white American's perspective? If I were to say, "black people like this politician because of this dubious rationale," I think Dickerson would object. And she'd have a right to.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Why Christopher Hitchens isn't a competent writer

In writing, it is a good idea, particularly if you are going to suggest something bound to be controversial, to start with a compelling example of what you are talking about. It's something comics are very good at. They will begin with something simple, say, "do you ever eat sausage and bite into something realy hard?" and everyone who's not a vegetarian will nod and the comedian has made a connection and can then go on to suggest anything he likes, having won the audience to his side.

This wouldn't work if the comedian says something that no one can relate to, like, "have you ever put your hand on a glass window and it felt like it was made out of tapioca?" Then the audience would just think the comedian was crazy.

In his article in Vanity Fair, Why Women Aren't Funny, Christopher Hitchens effortlessly separates himself from all normal people in the first paragraph with a "glass feels like tapioca kind of statement." He says that while women, when talking about a guy, will mention how funny he is, but men, when talking about a girlfriend, will never mention how funny she is.

Huh? I always tell people that my girlfriend Debbie has a quick, somewhat caustic wit, and that my ex-wife Jessica told hilarious stories. I've known other guys who talked about how funny their girlfriends were. In fact, I avoid humorless women, and that is easy to do, because the world is filled with witty females.

So what Hitchens has done is to paint a picture of his friends. They are, one imagines, dense guys who think of themselves as macho and consider women to be pretty ornaments. They probably tend to date frivolous women half their age and are scared of any woman who is intelligent and witty and clever. Hitchens indicates very clearly in one paragraph that he has surrounded himself with men just as out of touch with the real world as he is, and basically seems to be going out of his way to say, "don't bother reading the rest of this, anything I have to say is completely irrelevant."

I only read the first of the three pages. Further down he admits there are funny women comedians (obviously none of his friends date them), but then insists that Dorothy Parker isn't all that funny, which suggests that he has never read any of her brilliant, hilarious theater reviews (seriously, don't knock Parker if all you know her for is "men never make passes at girls who wear glasses").

Also, as pointed out by Gene Weingarten in the Washington Post, Hitchens wants his article to be amusing but he fails abysmally.

Of course, the advantage of putting a controversial article in a major magazine like Vanity Fair is it stirs people up. But I think Vanity Fair's editor made a major blunder, because I, for one, can't take a magazine seriously that would publish such drivel. Vanity Fair has gone from being a magazine I am neutral towards and uninformed about to a magazine I consider a joke. It's the sort of crap article that got me years ago to stop reading the New York Press (which would have articles on things like why female circumcision is a fine thing and we should quit criticizing its practice).

Anyway, I wouldn't bother reading the Hitchens piece, but Weingarten's piece is quite amusing (he got a bunch of funny women to write it for him.)

Breaking story: Bush stops acting like an asshole for five minutes

Isn't it creepy that it's major news when Bush makes a speech in which he says
he's not questioning the patriotism of people who disagree with him on Iraq?

Of course, we all know at some point in the future, probably quite soon, he will once again question his opponents patriotism. It's what he does, and it's one of about a hundred reasons why I despise him and can't respect anyone who considers him in any way acceptable as a president.