February 28, 2004
Story -- who needs it?
I submit: The trailer for this Japanese movie "Casshern" (pictured above). Here's the site. Do I have any idea what this movie is about? No. Does it matter? Nooo!
Then there's this Boing Boing entry linking to a series of Flash animations built with old 8-bit Mario graphics. The whole thing is pretty funny, but check out part two in particular -- the way it uses music, motion, and cinematic tricks is astounding. It doesn't matter at all than the actual images are blocky NES icons and the plot is even lower-rez. There is some serious movie magic in effect.
I want an Oscar awarded for "Best Use of the Medium" or something like that. This year, I think "Big Fish" would have fared well in that category.
February 26, 2004
This Puts the "Ass" in "Associated Press"
"The ingenious album reconfigures the trippy Beatles rock to jibe with the Jay-Z's rough acapella raps."
I won't even comment on the fact that Jay-Z now apparently requires an article before his name. (Oh wait.) But I will say, for the record, that it's spelt "a cappella."
Don't be snarky. I know how "spelt" is spelt.
Love in the Age of the Bachelorette
Kevin Drum and Robin were both philosophizing today about The Bachelorette and illusions of attachment. Robin, apparently, was taken in by the show; he believed for a few moments that there was real devotion forming. Then, one of the Bachelorette's suitors proposed, and the thing was so insincere and hammy that the facade was shattered.
I actually think that real emotion does happen on these shows. I really believe that the contestants or whatever you call them feel "in love" by the end of it. Their version of "in love" is strange, synthetic, and fleeting, but it's not imaginary. I would argue that the same thing happened in high school when I went away for a week or two for special programs and retreats and whatnot. I'll never forget the NYLC in Washington, D.C., specifically, although this happened in micro all throughout high school.
A few hundred students attended the National Young Leaders Conference, but they split us up into groups of 20 or so for the week. We had field trips and learned about democracy and crafted bills and elected people and whatnot. By the end of the week, we were Frnds4Evr. This group of 20 people was just the tightest, most amazing, most meant-for-each-other group of buddies the world had ever seen, and these relationships would never die.
Eight years after that week was over, I still remember Katie Sparnecht, and dancing with Pat Germann on the last night, and quietly wanting this Polish guy Dave Swaintek, who was not-so-quietly hooking up with this girl Ashley. I remember Mormon Will, and my soft-spoken friend Mike. I knew these folks for (I think) nine days. There was enough genuine attachment there that vivid pictures of these folks are stuck in my minds. But the friendships were strange, synthetic, and fleeting.
Hasn't that ever happened to you?
February 25, 2004
Covering the Cheat Beat
TODAY'S LUNCHTIME QUESTION: The Rocky Mountain Progressive Network has delivered a fidelity pledge to lawmakers supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment. To preserve the sanctity of marriage, the legislators must promise that they will not and have not cheated on their partners.
Say you're a newspaper managing editor of a paper with unlimited resources. The executive editor comes up to you and says she's got this idea for an investigation: How many senators are cheating on their spouses? A database of how much fidelity you can track down in the most hallowed chamber of Congress. You can use this information as you wish; perhaps cross-referencing it with those who've pledged to support the FMA, supposedly out of respect for the sanctity of marriage.
What do you say?
February 24, 2004
A Line in the Sand
In case you've been hiding under a nipple disc, I'll break the news to you: President Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage today.
I, for one, am quite glad.
See, people (e.g. our dear President) keep on tossing around these phrases -- "activist judges," "activist courts," "judicial activism." The words don't much mean anything; an "activist judge" is for all intents and purposes one whose judgment you disagree with. In this case, the charge of "judicial activism" is the last refuge of a group of zealots bent on imposing its dominance over a minority. The will of the majority is being subverted!!, they say. Four judges in Massachusetts, five judges on the Supreme Court, two judges in California are all defying the desires of the people!!
Fortunately for civil rights in America, judges don't represent the people, they represent the law.
· PEDANTIC CIVICS LESSON TO FOLLOW ·
Legislators elected by the people create the laws, the judges interpret them, and the executives enforce them. It's an elegant little triangle. The role of the judges is often protecting groups of people against the casual tyrannies of the majority. The judges in these marriage cases have interpreted the highest will of the people to be equal rights for all, and have forced the executives to comply. If that is not the will of the people, let them tell us so.
The core of the power always belongs to the people. And that power is held above all else in one document — the Constitution — that embodies not just the will of the majority, but the will of the people, the judgment of a vast, varied segment of America. That document contains the truths we all, more or less, hold to be self-evident, and every inferior law must pass its muster.
So to change that document requires an unmistakeable quorum — over two-thirds of both legislatures in over three-fourths of the states must agree on the change.
· END PEDANTRY ·
So now we get to actually see what the people want the law to do. If the determined will of the people truly is to officially invalidate hundreds of thousands of relationships, then Vancouver, here I come.
But I look forward to the fight, because I believe that is not the determined will of the people. I think it's a panicked, reactionary response to progress by a frightened plurality, and such weak sentiments do not a Constitutional Amendment make.
Point Counterpoint Counterpoint
Am I the only one who's never seen WatchBlog? It's three political blogs side by side, one blog edited by a Democrat, one by a Republican, and one by an Independent. Who knows, maybe I haven't heard about it because it isn't any good, but it's an intriguing idea. Unfortunately, the giant three-column wall of text is pretty unreadable to me.
February 23, 2004
My Review of "The Passion"
I will not see "The Passion." Sounds like a pretty awful time. But, to complete my trifecta of utterly trivial posts, I just wanted to say that if Mel Gibson truly wanted to immerse Christians in an understanding of what Jesus suffered through before death, he wouldn't have made a movie, he'd have made a video game.
For anyone who wants a really pretty free font, or for anyone who doubts they exist, try Gentium. It was made as part of the Master of Arts for Typeface Design at the University of Reading, and is free. It prints as pretty as it reads on screen, and the entire point of it is to have full language support. (Via Ask MetaFilter.)
There's no reason for me to link to this story, other than taking yet another opportunity to point out that Camille Paglia is Cruella deVille. She is the scourge of all womankind and should be eaten by grues.
February 22, 2004
Girl With a Bad Script
Forget the hype. The movie is just annoying.
It's one of those movies that makes you resent art-house cinema. It should have had a honking red "For Your Consideration" subtitle superimposed onto every other frame in loopy script. It had a predictable yet nonexistent plot. It featured a cast of 1-ply characters, played by actors who masterfully conveyed suggestions of intense inner lives that unfortunately did not exist. It was pretty. It was empty. It was boring. It was an art appreciation lesson thinly disguised as a film.
There were some great ideas in it. I believe Peter Webber, the director, really was fascinated by the painting, the period, Vermeer's technique, etc. And if you're going to steal from anyone, why not rip off Ingmar Bergman, as Webber does -- a lot?
Still. Want my money back.
February 20, 2004
The Engines of Creation
I've discovered a new role model.
Jonathan P. Brown works at the Field Museum in Chicago. He also builds amazing things with Lego Mindstorms, like, oh, you know, a robot that can solve the Rubik's Cube. There's also a cannon that can see and a robotic hang-glider.
I so admire people who are smart and have interesting jobs (Brown is an archaeological conservator at the museum) and creative hobbies.
I mean, this is what it's all about, right? We ditched that whole hunter-gatherer thing so we could spend at least some of our time creating for creation's sake.
That notion gets some play in a St. Petersburg Times article about Brown's Rubik's Cube robot from 2001. Here's what Mike Wilson writes:
The cube wasn't going to help anybody do anything. So -- this is the big question -- why bother?
"It's something you do just to see if you can do it," [Brown] says. "I thought it was an amusing thing to do."
It occurred to us that this impulse -- the simple wish to know what you can accomplish -- is at the very root of creativity and innovation. Without that impulse in clever human beings, we wouldn't have computers or the Hoover Dam or the Sears Tower. And without it we'll never get the things we need to continue surviving on this torn planet. That impulse can save the world.
The article also includes this charming line -- another reason, I think, to take Brown as a role model:
[Brown's] 5-year-old son, Rush -- named after Benjamin Rush, a signatory to the Declaration of Independence -- has his own Legos.
"As you can imagine, they are kept separate. Underlined. We do borrow bits from each other, under very controlled, mutual-hostages situations," Brown says.
February 19, 2004
How Blacks Became White
Minorities in the U.S. have been pitted against each other for ever since this place was colonized. Read Howard Zinn, he'll preach it to you. Talk about how the Irish became white. Or how Jewish folks became white. There's just a long tradition of one minority group, usually blacks, being set against another minority group, with the victor winning higher social regard, more rights, etc.
It's happening again, and this time, it's gays and blacks.
Read Franklin Foer's article in The Atlantic Monthly about one of the chief architects of the anti-gay-marriage movement, an Irish-American who grew up in black churches and realizes the value of not allowing this fight to be painted as a simple oppressor-oppressed divide.
Daniels's savvy was also evident in his launching of the FMA. He had made the case for his amendment to leading social conservatives, but he hadn't tried to enlist them as his main allies, because of their polarizing language and stance. ("The traditional social-conservative movement harkens back to an era of white Protestant cultural hegemony," he told me.) And because he knew that gay-rights activists would cast marriage as a civil right and evoke the African-American struggle, he had devised a strategy to pre-empt this line of argument: he chose African-Americans, including the Boston minister Ray Hammond and the civil-rights veteran Walter Fauntroy, to be his spokesmen.
It's remarkable how brazen this guy is about it, though. Take a look at his Alliance for Marriage home page, a.k.a. "Happy Black Heterosexuals for Christ." Click around for a while. Or, if you're lazy, I'll just link to every image besides the logo I can find on the website in the extended entry.... Read more ....
I like what I've read of Dan Okrent, public editor of The New York Times.
I don't like his picture.
I can't really tell you why, he just looks worn-down, vaguely unhappy, insincere, trying too hard to look like a man of the people. I wonder if this is how everyone else sees Howard Dean?
Anyway, I know Robin disagrees with me, and I understand this post is worth nothing at all, but I'd felt I'd raise the point regardless, because the picture's all up on the front page of NYT.c, harshing my buzz.
And while I'm bashing Dan Okrent (what else are ombudspeople for?), is it just me, or is he way self-obsessed and tortured about Dan Okrent and his role and his place in the universe? Every column's filled with these asides, "Gentle reader, your concerns are half-right and half-wrong. It's like this lesson I've learned from my mother, which I always kept in my head as I was editor of Time, 'Dan,' she once intoned, 'you're half-right and half-wrong.' Do you see, Gentle Reader, how I am just like you? I am, in fact, one of you." (Take this one, for example.) His latest column was an interview with himself. Dude, if you're that hard up for the opportunity to navel-gaze, get a blog.
February 18, 2004
I Would Not Sing You to Sleep
Heartbreaking Washington Post Magazine story about a South Asian-American poet who killed her 2-year-old son and herself.
AND: OK, I won't just leave it at that. Why is it heartbreaking?
It's steeped in her poetry. Paula Span, the author, pulls in these opaque fragments of poems, and they're excellent. Early on, Span cites this devastating piece by the woman, called "Lullaby":
I would not sing you to sleep.
I would press my lips to your ear
and hope the terror in my heart stirs you.
And you can't help but see her writing that poem to her murdered son.
You can't read a good poem by a dead author without missing what's been lost, wondering what they were thinking, and lamenting that you can't know. It's just the same reading this. As with any article about a suicide, this one spends the whole time probing the question of why she did it, while always being upfront about the fact that we can never know. Reetika Varzani was foreign-born, and wrote between these two worlds -- India and America. America, where her own father disappeared one day, and she later found he'd taken his own life.
But that's just one seemingly significant piece in this huge puzzle portrait of a mind that you can almost feel beneath the text, as her words weave in and out. It's not at all like reading "The Bell Jar," I promise.
What Really Happened?
Yesterday, as San Francisco gay couples received marriage licenses from the city, Judge James Warren of the county Superior Court said something. That's about all the newspaper headlines about the story can agree on.
What actually happened, as far as I can tell: Judge Warren was responding to a request from an anti-gay-marriage group asking him to make San Francisco "cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to and/or solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples; to show cause before this court." He interpreted the semicolon in that sentence as an "or." So he told the city either to cease and desist, or to defend its actions on March 29. He also said that the anti-marriage group will probably win its stay when that hearing is held. In other words, the city's actions might eventually be determined to be illegal.
Depending on which headline you believe, the judge said the marriages were illegal, he said they were ok, he urged a halt on the marriages, he won't halt the marriages, etc.
I think The Washington Post hits closest to the truth with their headline, "Judges Postpone Action on Same-Sex Marriage." And I think SFGate.com carried the best story about the matter; theirs actually quoted the judge.
February 17, 2004
OK, this should be filed under something that's more like Election 3028, but whatever. Inspired by this asstastic idea, Robin and I were discussing our own pie-in-the-sky visions of electoral utopia tonight.
We agree that our current political system, in practice, does not reflect America at all. Our politicians are, for the most part, rich and homogenous. We've been debating strategies on how best to turn the country into a truly excellent representative democracy.
Here's one idea we had:
First off, Election Day should be a holiday. I could stop right there. Why isn't it a holiday? Really, we take days off for some of the most arbitrary things. The single calendar day arguably most rationally suited to being a holiday is not. What gives with that? I'm making it part of my Personal Life Crusade to get at least this plank of our plan enacted.
On Election Day, everyone eligible to vote gathers in geographically divided groups of 20. They spend all day trading words, talking ideas, deliberative polling, all the good civic stuff. Then, they elect a representative for the group, ostensibly the smartest and savviest member.
Then those representatives gather in groups of 20, and do the same.
Now it's Wednesday, and we've got 500,000 representatives, who gather in groups of 20, and pick 25,000 representatives, who gather on Thursday in groups of 20 and pick 1,250 representatives. Who gather on Friday and choose a legislature.
That's the gist of it. Thoughts?
Bag of Miscellaneous Food!
This is serious gleeful miscellany. CraigsList rocks the party that rocks the body.
February 13, 2004
21.4% Chance of Marital Bliss
A few researchers at the U. Washington have announced that they can predict if a marriage is going to fail or succeed.
I wonder if they've re-jiggered their algorithm to take into account the recent gay marriages in San Francisco. According to information from Focus on the Family and the Campaign for California Families, these developments will destroy an estimated 5.3 percent of all marriages.
Numbers by the Numbers
As a college economics major, I love it when we're able to assign specific prices to things that were once forsaken to the realm of qualitative mumbo-jumbo.
So of course I dig this post over at Collision Detection.
So in nine days we'll know the market value of 867-5309. As of this writing it's $1,475.00.
Last year in China, a phone number comprised entirely of 8's -- very lucky, according to Chinese numerology! -- was auctioned off for around $300,000. (The winner was an airline, which planned to use the number for its 24-hour service hotline.)
Now, I don't know if any kind of robust market is actually going to spring up for phone numbers.
But it'd be cool if it did! We could run statistics on the numbers and their prices and test for the positive effects of repeated digits, repeated sequences, sequential digits, etc.
So yes, by "cool" I mean "dorkily satisfying."
February 8, 2004
I totally just got got 19 out of 20 correct on this "Spot The Fake Smile" quiz over at BBCi.
I attribute this in part to my own proficiency at fake smiles.
That, and I am a genius.
February 7, 2004
My Excitement Is Renewed
You know, I have to admit, for a while there I was waning on weblogs.
FeedDemon, a program that gathers blog items together en masse, sat dormant on my desktop.
My venerable links page (a.k.a. the tersest blog ever) was drying up.
But then I started to get excited about blogs again, and here's part of the reason why:
NKzone, a new blog about North Korea by journalist Rebecca MacKinnon. She is CNN's Tokyo bureau chief, currently doing a fellowship at Harvard. She actually has two blogs; this new one on North Korea, and another on web-based participatory journalism in general.
This is the coolest thing ever.
Now, of course I like this: I'm both a) deeply interested in North Korea, and b) obsessed with new ideas about journalism.
But come on. If you don't find the vision articulated by MacKinnon in this foundational post exciting, or at least intriguing, then there's no hope for you.
Defending the Pretentious
We can all relate to this month's Esquire Complaint -- people who sit through the credits. I'm not sure why I'm linking to it, because I'm an Esquire subscriber, and unless you are, you probably can't read it. And in any case, it's good enough and short enough that I'm going to reproduce it here in toto. Sorry, Esquire:
You are fooling no one. You know who you are. You are impressing no one, and it is time you learned the truth: Nobody thinks you're smart because you sit through the closing credits at the end of movies.
You do this all the time (and particularly at the end of Miramax films). The movie concludes, the houselights come up, and you silently pretend to be fascinated by the cast listing. Somehow, this is supposed to indicate that you are a serious person. What this actually proves is that you are an inefficient person, because all the information you are pretending to ascertain is already on the Internet (and most of that information doesn't matter to anyone who doesn't actively work in the film industry). You do not have a favorite gaffer. You do not care what record label released the soundtrack. You do not know the difference between the motion caption coordinator and the environmental technical director, so why would you care who these people are (or who their first assistants are)?
Now, I realize you do this because you think your date will think you're intellectual. She does not. She either thinks you're a pretentious fraud (which you are), or she suddenly feels insecure (because she can't figure out why she's supposed to care who the secondary location scout was). The movie is over. Leave the theater. Go to the bathroom.
Being one who sits through the credits, I take umbrage, even as I appreciate Chuck Klosterman's sneering. But I'd like to answer on behalf of the Credits-Watchers. (Others who watch the credits, feel free to chime in.)... Read more ....
February 6, 2004
My Right Hemisphere Made Me Type This
So I'm reading The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker, whose books I have always really enjoyed.
I'm only forty pages in, and already it's blowing my mind.
Okay, so you know how we think of ourselves as "I"? That is, even if you subscribe to the notion that the mind is just a bunch of biochemical processes in the physical brain (as I do) you still tend to think of it as the mind. There's a particular you, a central nexus that gets sensory input, makes decisions, and all that.
Except there's totally not. Check this out:
One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the illusion of the unified self comes from the neuroscientists Michael Gazzaniga and Roger Sperry, who showed that when surgeons cut the corpus callosum joining the cerebral hemispheres, they literally cut the self in two, and each hemisphere can exercise free will without the other one's advice or consent. Even more disconcertingly, the left hemisphere constantly weaves a coherent but false account of the behavior chosen without its knowledge by the right. For example, if an experimenter flashes the command "WALK" to the right hemisphere (by keeping it in the part of the visual field that only the right hemisphere can see), the person will comply with the request and begin to walk out of the room. But when the person (specifically, the person's left hemisphere) is asked why he just got up, he will say, in all sincerity, "To get a Coke"--rather than "I don't really know" or "The urge just came over me" or "You've been testing me for years since I had the surgery, and sometimes you get me to do thing but I don't know exactly what you asked me to do." Similarly, if the patient's left hemisphere is shown a chicken and his right hemisphere is shown a snowfall, and both hemispheres have to select a picture that goes with what they see (each using a different hand), the left hemisphere picks a claw (correctly) and the right picks a shovel (also correctly). But when the left hemisphere is asked why the whole person made those choices, it blithely says, "Oh, that's simple. The chicken claw goes with the chicken, and you need a shovel to clean out the chicken shed."
The spooky part is that we have no reason to think that the baloney-generator in the patient's left hemisphere is behaving any differently from ours as we make sense of the inclinations emerging from the rest of our brains.
Whoahhh! I love this stuff. For a while during college (okay, like two weeks) I was totally going to go into cognitive science. How did I end up in lame old economics instead?
"To injure no man, but to bless all mankind."
Check out this interesting factoid:
The online edition records 4 million unique site visits per month, while the print edition, published five days a week, has about 70,000 subscribers.
Just 70,000 print subscribers! That's really surprising. I knew the CSM was a small paper, but I didn't think it was that small.
The Globe article says the church subsidizes the newspaper to the tune of about $20-million a year.
Here's a page explaining the paper's origin and purpose, from csmonitor.com.
And here's a rather compelling statement regarding "The Monitor Difference."
In related news, doesn't "Donovan Slack" sound like the name of a character from a Harry Potter book? What a great byline.
February 5, 2004
One Social Network is Enough
So, I am certainly glad to have gotten the tap, if only to be able to see the site, and if only because it means I have at least one super-techno-cool friend.
But I'm not sure yet if I want to invite anyone else.
If all my friends were dweebed-out Boing Boing readers like me, then sure. No question.
But they're not.
I don't think any of my friends are into the Internet-for-Internet's-sake. I'm pretty sure that none of them has even heard of Orkut; I heard about it the day it was launched (as did you, I suspect, my blog-reading brothers and sisters).
Me, I sometimes get a little thrill from CSS code. My friends think CSS is that popular show on CBS. (No, I'm just kidding. A few know CSS. But they regard it as a tool, not an ideology, which is a mindset I aspire to, but... it's just... that it's so... elegant...)
So what do I say to my level-headed friends? "Here's another social networking site for you to type all the parameters of your life into, again! And it has something to do with Google, maybe! Come on!"
Do I expect any of them to write me another testimonial, this one so the Orkut crowd can see how cool I am? Jeez, I don't know if I even want to write any more testimonials. As it is, I copied-and-pasted my Friendster profile stuff into Orkut. I suspect my friends would do even less; some of them are only borderline Friendster users (name, location, thazzit!) as it is.
I think Friendster might have the first-mover advantage on this one, at least for me. I just don't see how trying to replicate my social network on this new site is going to be anything but an annoyance -- to my friends!
(Of course, in ten years, when we're all walking around with our OrkutBadges that wirelessly identify us to the persistent digital mesh and go 'bloong' whenever a friend's friend is eating at the same McStarbuck Bread Company as us, let's forget I ever wrote this.)
February 4, 2004
This Man Cannot Be 50
File this AP photo under "Somewhere, a Portrait of John Edwards is Slowly Withering Away."
February 3, 2004
Why Ask MeFi is the New MeFi
These two posts, in conjunction, raise an interesting issue (if you're me) that I'd like to call out here.
People always snark out Alanis Morissette for misusing the term "Ironic." But it seems to me she clearly didn't do so. Her usages of the term are all "poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended." And it seems like all the protestations amount to, "That definition doesn't count."