Quote most interesting

"If we think about it, the problem was the same for the Iconoclasts of Byzantium. The Iconolaters were subtle people who claimed to represent God for His greater gory but who in fact simulated God in images, dissimulating at the same time the problem of His existence. Behind each image, God had disappeared. He was not dead, he had disappeared; it was no longer a problem. The problem of the existence or non-existence of God was resolved by simulation."
-Baudrillard, Toward the Vanishing Point of Art

Another interesting bit of the internet

Worth watching: Jonah Lehrer's presentation at Google Cambridge.

Anyone who mixes cooking (French and Japanese) with Music (Stravinsky) with Cognitive science is good by me. Also very worth noting - another proof of the difficulty with consensus. Were we to read the scholarly journals for almost all the 20th century, we'd see a definite consensus of four senses in the tongue. Now we know we missed the most pervasive of them.

I fear for the future

As someone who studies the past, I often think about those who will study us.

Things like this make me especially afraid.

"So, Bob, what have you uncovered about the 21st century culture?"
"Well, Jim, we've discovered a giant map of bi-sexuals."
"These people mapped sightings of bi-sexuals?"
"We think it was some sort of ancient cult of ridicule, Jim."


Just Watched: Thank you for Smoking

Sometimes I think the main point of America is a giant competition for bullshit artists.


We have to solve the democracy crisis!


Go to Lawrence Lessig's blog.

Watch his Netroots Nation Keynote.

It seems to me that Lawrence Lessig is one of the most well-informed political activists today - I enjoy him and rejoice in his knowledge.

Interesting points:

I didn't know about the peer reviewed journals on climate change.

He's exactly right when it comes to trust.

The difficulty of trust in academia is perhaps larger, but that is not his focus.


The Lookout in The Shop Around the Corner

In this Friday movie review, I was going to talk about the Lookout.
I watched The Lookout earlier this week, and was quite impressed by the clever but subtle camera work, and especially the way that veteran writer Scott Frank handled the main characters' disabilities, not as gimmicks on which to run a movie, but as honest ways of not making one feel like the character has to be right all the time - as a way of making the character human.
It seems a consistent theme in even passably good movies that a character, in order to be believable and have a struggle, in fact, in order to be human and not be a bad guy, must be either misunderstood (a case of romanticism which became Cliche long before romanticism) or must be struggling under some pre-set limitation. We only believe the protagonist in Chris Nolan's Memento represents all of us because he has a brain injury. (and if you've watched Batman without Memento, shame on you) we believe that Neo can only be a hero if he was grown under the illusive world. We believe Han can only be a conflicted hero with a bounty on his head (hence, Jabba). But Frank avoids making the protagonists' struggle about his injury, even avoids making it completely about his past, rather, makes it about his humanity.
But I'm not going to talk about the Lookout. I want to talk about Ernest Lubitsch. I have been watching several of his movies this week, and I want to talk especially about "The Shop Around the Corner." On the cover of it, this looks like a bit of over-sweet Capra, Capra without the darkness and irony of Arsenic and Old Lace (his only really good movie). The sweet initial feeling of "The Shop Around the Corner" is furthered by Jimmy Stewart, but those who have seen other Lubitsch films, such as To Be or Not to Be will understand that Lubitsch only plays to be sweet, and The Shop Around the Corner is perhaps his lees consistently sweet film. Not only does it include a horrible scene of discovered adultery, displaying all the character devistation of that feeling, without indulging in visual viscerality, except perhaps the stomach-cramping nature of the devastation a good actor can represent, it also includes a scene of attempted suicide, and sandwiches between them a very sweet, clever seen about a rascal of an errand boy. Lubitsch swings us from one end of the emotional range to the other with all the mercy of Copolla and Tarentino, and with all their effortless strength. Furthermore, for a movie with perhaps one or two close-ups, it's incredibly emotionally powerful and communicative.
Furthermore, the main romance is mostly a cat-and-mouse game of irony and perhaps even disguised hatred which, admittedly, ends up well, but throughout contains stinging, half-witty remarks (the sort of good wit that common people come up with when trying to be movie-witty) and some scenes of genuine anger, mixed with regret and attempted consolations. It's a movie that runs the full gamut of feelings, while remaining contained in a strange shell of normal life - no other director has taken fairly normal days and occurrences at a shop and turn them into such great movie scenes. We need more movies like this. What can I say? It's like Clerks... but without the sexuality and geeky masochism. Not to say Clerks is bad, just different. Anyway, The Shop Around the Corner is as much worth watching as anything, and I do highly recommend it.

Steampunk vs Cyberpunk

So, I'm more than a bit worried that (to twist a phrase from the brilliant Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw (AKA Zero Punctuation) that Watchmen will become nothing more than an
Objectivist (the worst thing you could to to Watchmen)
As a side point, if you have not watched any of Zero Puncutation's reviews, and have any interest in hearing a smart, literary dissection of modern gaming philosophy couched in funny rants about current games, get over there right now. Now, now, now, so I have people to laugh with.

Anyway, Watchmen has got me thinking about the differences between Cyberpunk and Steampunk. That said, I'm not an expert on either, so don't get all pissy if you've found I'm wrong by reading K.W. Jeter's original manuscripts. I'm engaging in creative philosophizing here.

It seems to me that one of the main differences between Steampunk and Cyberpunk is housed in the way that each becomes a running metaphor for the transformation of its protagonist. To wit: Steampunk is constantly obsessed with machinery that is never completely understandable, but always thinly veiled. There is always a sense that this machinery is understandable, even that the hero can understand it, and the hero is always trying to - be he H.G. Well's Time Traveler (or even more so Dr. Moreau) or Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan. (Watchmen, it seems to me, combines elements of each, and heroes from each), or for that matter, Tesla in the Prestige.
What is constistent with all these, however, is that once they get behind the thin veil (A reference to Dostoevsky's the Idiot and Conrad's Heart of Darkness, NOT to Wizard of Oz - that was a curtain) they discover a world that not only challenges their expectations, but their expectations of what to expect - the world behind the veil is categorically different from the world not behind the veil, and is not understandable on the first layer's terms. Furthermore, behind the veil are more veils. In this way, G.K. Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" is a work of Cyberpunk - besides having it's obvious dystopian, anarchic, Victorian, and philosophical themes, it is a group of men continually moving beyond various ignorance, and always feeling that "Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front —" but when they get round in front, while there is a change for the better, perhaps, there is still little certainty or vindication.
The cyberpunk hero, on the other hand, is often just forced to stand in awe of what arises before him, jutting up, as it were, through the veil, being the right way round, while still being entirely veiled. This is Blade Runner - at least, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (and to a large extent, Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream, as well) insofar as Blade Runner presents us with a hero who is not a geek - he isn't trying to get round to the other side. He is merely trying to do his job on this side while the other side keeps stabbing at him. This is also carried in the metaphors of the computer- none of us can see to get around the other side of the internet. Wires and transistors make invisible the very methods of the machine, so that we do not feel we can comprehend it. There is no other side to get around to, and the world is flat.

That's about all I have time for right now.


Worth Listening To:

I enjoy listening to Kevin Smith.
Go search for him on YouTube.

Fun times.


Watchmen is steampunk

See? The machinery, the golden lighting, the crystals? Steampunk.

Some people are nostalgic

So, here is a reassurance. Letter writing is not dead: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jUxjhSSOnY

This also presents (I believe in the second video) a great example of two strong men disagreeing loudly, but without really hurting each other's feelings, and confronting one another like men. Something else you just don't see enough of.

The fifties are a blank signifier.

The attitudes people have toward the fifties are very odd things.

In the Colbert Report appearance I mentioned earlier, Miller commented that "in the fifties, people trusted science."

Those people in the fifties must have trusted everyone.

I've heard religious leaders talk about the fifties like they were a holy land.
I've heard politicians talk about the fifties like they were the sanctified times of politics, when roads were built, back when the government did good... when they expanded the space race, the arms race, expanded an already failing Social Security system, and when scientists worked for and backed this expansion, when religion was its cheerleader.

The fifties have become the blank signifier (a literature term referring to a symbol that, like a white whale, can mean just about anything) of trust and goodness.

Now we have smog. Now we have nuclear waste. Now we have no post-war excesses. Now we can't oppress blacks and prisoners.

Is it any wonder we're a little more cynical when it comes to all these things, a little less respectful?

Not saying it's fully justified, not saying all our histories may be correct, merely trying to see where we think we have been, so I can know where we think we are going.


More Movies: Watchmen as Steampunk

There is a lot that can be said about the upcoming Watchmen film.

I can express my disappointment with 300, both as a graphic novel and even more as a film.

Which makes me worried about Watchmen even more.

But for now, I'll let my hopes rise again, because the trailer has its moments - given, I'm very worried about the actors not being actually able to be three dimensional superheroes.

But what does encourage me is:

1. If Snyder actually has a hand in the trailer, he seems to understand the importance of the Mars sequence, which shows that he actually has sympathy with the character, not just the visual, because that scene is so important not just in a visual way.

2. Snyder's visuals seem to show an interesting understanding of the idea that Watchmen may be steampunk. After all Dr. Manhattan is a watchmaker, in case you didn't notice, and he always has a fascination with the world as a machine, run principally by intricate mechanistic works. So many scenes from Watchmen are about taking things apart - guns, people, watches, and putting them back together, and the layering seems much more steampunk than cyberpunk, because the idea of cyberpunk is more interested in wires than gears, in the invisible movement and energy of wires, with the clean, smooth, plastic exterior. In Watchmen, little is smooth, little is invisible, in fact, the whole thing may be more smooth on the inside than the outside.

And that I find interesting.


Back to Evolution

Right, so, down to the meat of the issue.

In his appearance on the Colbert Show, Ken Miller stated we should trust science.

There are, in this, two difficulties. First, to trust science is to trust scientists. Scientists have been wrong. They are not omniscient, and consensus is by no means correct. Scientists often have no time to carefully review each others' work, so that they can actually be careful about what they believe. Also, often times our knowledge has simply not grown enough yet. This was certainly the problem with cigarettes for many years, when, according to several people I know, doctors would recommend them for colds. The problems simply weren't known. Scientists can also lie. It's surprising how often scientists, with all their ability to be wrong, so rarely report that their hypothesis proved wrong. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/main.jhtml?xml=/money/2006/10/16/ccpers16.xml)
The other problem is simple enough: The There may be problems we don't know yet, or, from a limited scientist perspective don't perceive, which was probably the case with most of the cigarette problems.

As Ken Miller says in his excellent lecture at Case Western University (available in full here: Ken Miller on Intelligent Design) for most Creation Science people, the problem isn't the scientists, it's the morals. I would certainly say that's true from what I've seen.

But that's the problem. We don't know the moral outcome yet, and morals allow us no leeway. In science we can be wrong, and unhurt. It is an academic exercise for good reason. It is an academic exercise because, in order to be safe enough to learn what is right, we have to be safe to be wrong and test it. But. But but but! The moment our ideas influence anyone to speak or act in a way that could damage them or anyone else, at least in my perspective, we loose the right and freedom to be wrong beyond any right or power of school, religion or state to bestow. Not that we can not be forgiven, but that we need forgiveness when we are morally wrong or encourage morally wrong action. In science we need no forgiveness for being wrong, unless that being wrong is willful ignorance. From the perspective of science, wrong is perhaps regrettable, but necessary. From the perspective of morals, wrong is urgent, and often deadly.

the old top 100

I watched the old top 100 list. The new one has some worthy additions, Shawshank Redemption, Blade Runner and Cabaret being the big ones, but they also eliminated the two great James Dean movies, while leaving on so much crap.

Like Titanic.

Funny, before I said titanic, I felt like swearing, now I don't...

I was going to post about evolution...

.. but the world is so interesting. For example, I have just finished watching all 100 of AFI's top 100 films. Later, I will try to summarize which ones are really worth watching and why (whenever I find myself actually having time for this blog. Isn't that the way things always are, I decide I have time to do something, then, boom... I'm busy again.)

Anyway, until I get my own views up, this list is quite worth a laugh:


First: Well done.

I would like to start this series on creationism (ahem, excuse me, intelligent design) / evolution by congratulating both sides. I do believe this is a sadly ignored tactic, but I hope it will become more popular. I would like to congratulate both sides for not killing each other.
Looking at human debates over a broad view of history, it seems clear that this is a rare, nearly unique state of affairs. Institutions of power and influence seem to act somewhat like Bruce Lee. He famously said "Be water. When your enemy expands, contract, when he contracts, expand." When science doesn't have an explanation, religion often has filled in, and when science arrives at explanations or conclusions, religion has often contracted. Of course, neither side likes the contracting part, but it does happen. When it happens, there is often blood shed, books burnt, presses seized, and thinkers imprisoned. Religious and Secular texts and historians agree upon this history, from the first thinkers and dissenters until today.
To my extreme joy, I do not know of one case in the past twenty years in which either proponent of Intelligent Design or Evolution has been killed, had his books burnt, truly censured (not merely rejected for publication) or imprisoned. No matter what either side may accuse the other of, there can be no doubt that it could be much worse.

For this, I congratulate both sides. Well done. Thank you. Thank you for not killing each other. It makes my life so much more pleasant.

The first of a series

Today, I begin the first post in what I hope will be a productive series. I want to write about something I have found particularly close to home, close to my experience, and interesting. Hurray, it's showing up here too (hey, it's important, and especially important to how we perceive information) it's the evolution debate.

To give a little background: I grew up in a conservative Christian home, my father was a pastor, and I still hold strongly to the faith of my youth. I believe in God, and the teachings of the protestant Bible, though my interpretation of the Bible may differ somewhat from your common Christian. I went to a private Liberal Arts college, at which there was, shall we say, an uncommon focus on this debate, and one which was rather one-sided. Doing more research myself, I have begun to doubt the common Christian arguments, have almost whole-heartedly rejected the "no-information-added" argument, and am currently working through a number of other issues. My very half-baked conclusions will be ignorantly and, perhaps, immodestly, displayed in this series.

To sum up: I wish I had all the time in the world to research everything.


Can't we just have a revolution?

Congress now has a single digit job rating - %9 of Americans believe Congress is doing a good/excellent job. WTF? How did this happen?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if a fair number of popular figures came out honestly for a revolution.

Perhaps we just need to re-write the constitution to try to keep this from happening again.

Vindicated! At least, somewhat...

A couple weeks ago, I was engaged in a long, heated debate with a couple of friends (they're still friends, actually) about the role of sports in academia. I took (and take) the position that having sports so dependent on the academy (high schools, colleges) is bad for sports, and worse for schools. In brief:

It creates a needless burden on already overburdened schools, especially financially.

It does nothing to help students to become more educated, or help the majority of students to become more fit - the only people becoming fit are the athletes, a small percentage of the students, and I think that this over-fit group discourages the majority of the students, since they see themselves as separate from this group. It is, like geekdom, a species of over-specialization.

I also think it possible that many people (and many sports) suffer from athletes being forced to do academic work, especially in college.

The presence of some athletes also, I believe, holds down the general intelligence of classes, making it harder for others to learn.

One of the main arguments I heard against this was "but Americans would hate seeing the college sports disappear" beside being aside the point, I think this may already be happening, which is why finding this post was so helpful:

Prep hoops star skips college, heads to Europe for a year

Never have I found a sports news item such a happy discovery.


Crazy birds

It almost looks fake...



Scratch that

I said in my post about WALL-E that the theater in Washington cost half of what a SoCal theater costs, for the same quality. Scratch that.

I don't know if I can call this quality, but I just saw Hellboy 2 in theaters here - and they had the volume up way, way too loud. Is everyone in Southern California half-deaf?

So I thought about the Army...

No, I'm not thinking of the service, though it could liven this blog up. I'm thinking philosophically. I was talking the other day with a couple of friends about military might, and something interesting came up. We were talking about military police actions, and how much we hate the way our government is involved in them, and what a mess they have been in the past.

First off, I think it important to state that I think we need to be careful about attributing a will and automatic sovereignty to nations. I have heard several people say things along the lines of "we should not be involved in hampering the will of a sovereign nation" - the difficulty of course being that nations don't have will - people have will, (the plural of will - what an odd thing, that linguistically we don't seem to think of will as plural) but nations do not. Tyrants have will, generals have will, presidents have will, but nations do not. Second, nations, I think, can not be assumed to be automatically sovereign. Just because people (in many cases our grandfathers) said they got to be separate nations doesn't mean they do - and that's a much longer discussion.

All that to say, one of the interesting points we came to in the discussion was that, while, as in the case of the Spanish Civil War we might intervene as private citizens (I highly recommend finding the old Esquire article on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade) to stop a civil rights violation, we are uncomfortable with the army doing it for us. This is interesting to me. I wonder if we would lend support to people going overseas to fight for civil rights in, say, Darfur and how that would be different from hiring an army.

Hard, important stuff.