Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Drinking Skeptically may have more reason to drink then they realize

We'll see about that: Scientists pick an arbitrary batch of studies and decide to try replicating the results, to get a handle on just how much bullshit is out there, awaiting (often hypothetical) eventual correction by the scientific process. h/t Malinda Boothe

Much as I hate to destroy everyone's last remaining ounce of faith in everything, I think pro-science skeptics (ones less sophisticated than Vijay Dewan) are sometimes guilty of thinking that because replication will in theory eventually sort out the true claims, it already has. Fodder for discussion at the Drinking Skeptically gathering tonight at 8pm at Swift Bar, perhaps.

(In much the same way, free-marketeers might incorrectly assume a given business is an efficient product of competition instead of a product of subsidies or a closing waiting to happen -- or, far worse, in much the same way, believers in democracy assume current or imminent policies have resulted from a wise sorting-out process by informed voters. The tentative is not already the time-tested just because "there's a process in place." And then there's the criminal justice system.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Italians Teaching You About Aliens in General

Some of the most interesting things about life run a high risk of being politically misinterpreted, and one is this thought (more nearly culturally-relativist than nationalist, I swear): Seeing things done by other cultures can help underscore how stupid those things are by giving you a fresh perspective on them -- and by being (to you) more transparently rooted in local norms than the stupidity you're used to.

With that in mind, I invite you to watch this (dubbed) fifty-minute documentary about purported ITALIAN extraterrestrial visitations, complete with: Teleporting fruit! A loyal telepathic dog by the seashore! An old letter purportedly written by conspirator Voltaire! Felliniesque tall and short people! Long walks! Small vehicles! And assurances that love and togetherness matter most in the end! 

(Reminder: I do not believe there are any supernatural phenomena at all -- and may attend the Wed. night "Drinking Skeptically" event at Swift Bar to boot -- and, reading between the lines, I'd be willing to bet the sincere-sounding old men in this documentary were duped by magician con men. Note that nearly everything "unearthly" they mention aside from the unimpressive saucer footage was either [A] unobserved, [B] observed only by the money-handling ringleader [hint, hint], or [C] involved a small object being slipped into an unexpected location or shooting some small flames.)

Oh, and it's unintentionally hilarious, in my humble opinion. But my tastes may be slightly odd. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oscars, Liberals, Spies, and Nerds

As threatened on the Facebook, a note about the Oscars (and what I’ll watch this year) and then relative silence while attending to some other stuff.

It’s funny that with a zillion films in the world ( typically lists about 500 releases of note each year), the nine Oscar nominees for Best Picture include:

•2 films about U.S. covert activities against Muslim radicals (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty)
•2 films about slavery (Lincoln, Django Unchained)
•2 films about a kid with magical animals (Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild)
•2 films about the tension between love and mental health problems (Silver Linings Playbook, Amour)
•plus 1 about musically-inclined French people, which was also an element of the previous film I mentioned (Les Miserables – and Amour)

(The sweeping and political fantasy Cloud Atlas would not have been greatly out of place among them, really, especially if it'd been a musical, which would've been fitting.)

I skipped Lincoln when it became clear its writer, who also wrote the revisionist gay history play Angels in America, had misrepresented Lincoln as the ardent liberator dragging along those slow-moving Republicans in Congress, when in fact the opposite was true (Lincoln having said he’d have ended the war without freeing any slaves if he could have – and the congressional Republicans having been radical abolitionists).

It is reasonable for me to suspect that Hollywood is so simple-minded in its leftism as to think that attacking the homonym “Republicans” is sufficient reason to rewrite history.  Don’t kid yourself that they’re more sophisticated than that in their political choices.  We must stop encouraging them (as with my boycott of projects overseen by the nasty and juvenile big-government advocate Joss Whedon, even if it means farewell to Iron Man et al; most people rightly think life is too short to waste on assholes, Mr. Whedon, something you might want to consider before making further efforts to impress fourteen year-old girls with your snarkiness). 

I won’t be the slightest bit surprised, then, if Lincoln wins, especially since the word already seems to be out that the excellent Argo and Zero Dark Thirty might both be deemed too conservative.  (I somewhat preferred Argo to Zero, by the way, since Jessica Chastain, despite making an admirable effort, was still slightly miscast, as was that poor dope who had the one scenery-chewing meeting-room scene where he announced it was time to get serious, people, etc., as if he’d wandered in from some schlocky cop film and Kathryn Bigelow was too busy thinking about explosives to tell him to tone it down a little.)

But on an older movie note: here’s someone other than Andy Kaufman portraying his character Tony Clifton (a big influence on the more current fictional-entertainer character Neil Hamburger), singing the Kaufman-inspired R.E.M. song that loaned its name to a film about Kaufman (it’s complicated – but that’s showbiz).  H/t (and congratulations to) newly-engaged Austin-dwelling hipster/nerd Janet Harvey on that number.

And speaking of nerds, once the Oscars are over, we can get back to anticipating The 10 Movies Todd Wants to See in the Remainder of 2013 (once more updating an earlier list), all of them geeky but all likely to be decent (I keep raising my standards, and so does a wonderfully nerd-dominated Hollywood – let none dare call these skippable, aside from maybe World War Z).  Here, by month:

APRIL: Oblivion
MAY: Star Trek Into Darkness
JUNE: Man of Steel, World War Z, Kick-Ass 2 (with more Hit Girl)
JULY: Pacific Rim, The Wolverine (which is using a nice Frank Miller/Klaus Janson-style poster image)

SEPTEMBER: Machete Kills

NOVEMBER: Ender’s Game
DECEMBER: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

In short, a fun-filled year of oblivion, darkness, war, killing, and desolation.  It should be a blast, even if none of these get 2014 Best Picture nominations.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

BOOK NOTE: “The Marriage Plot” (10 love notes for Valentine’s Day)

1.  I think tonight at 7:30 at Pyramid Club you can see me given away onstage in some perverse, Rev. Jen-hosted version of The Dating Game (a bit more on that in a moment).  But a couple decades ago, you could have found me on the campus of Brown University – and a decade prior to that, you’d have found Jeffrey Eugenides there (before he moved to New Jersey).

Eugenides would go on to write The Virgin Suicides and the gender-bending Middlesex, but it’s last year’s The Marriage Plot (recommended to me by Jacob Levy) in which he describes the 80s Brown milieu, complete with the brain-warping, sometimes love-damaging effects of then-rampant deconstructionism, fashionable French literary theory designed to shame the young into being nihilists and thus allowing themselves to be reconstructed as Freudian-feminist hardcore Marxists – not that I haven’t enjoyed the company of some very pleasant and sexy Brown alums. 

The three primary characters involved in the love triangle at the heart of the book grapple with the meaning of love, language, and religion – and travel the world as well – but I confess the main joy for me is seeing them navigate startlingly familiar environs, both physically (Thayer Street, the Ratty cafeteria, etc.) and mentally. 

Eugenides could have a whole second career as a writer of teen romance novels, given the wonderful job he does of capturing the naivete and downright stupidity of college-age decision-making while still capturing how heroically the protagonists struggle to make sense of the world and the (for them) new situations it presents.  He sympathizes with these characters but remembers more vividly than most of us what novel things some basic elements of cognition still were at that stage and how that made everything a bit like navigating a new campus.

Even more so than Mitchell Grammaticus’s questions about religion or Leonard Bankhead’s doubts about deconstructionism, Madeleine Hanna’s one-foot-in-front-of-the-other efforts to deal with one of her first hangovers, annoying questions from parents, and a flirtation with a weird guy from one of her classes all seem painfully plausible and familiar. 

But let’s get back to bashing deconstructionism.  Regardless of where this trio’s romantic and philosophical explorations lead, I have to thank any book that describes a semiotics class thusly: “Everyone in the room was so spectral-looking that Madeleine's natural healthiness seemed suspect, like a vote for Reagan.”  And a book in which Madeleine reacts to Brown politics thusly: “And ‘fascist.’  That’s another one of his favorites.  You know the dry cleaners on Thayer Street?  He called them fascist.”

And a decade later, that’s still about what it was like.  Sometimes, people tell me to forget.  But Eugenides hasn’t forgotten, and he wins prizes.

2.  I try not to be angry about Brown, though, or to hate my political foes.  Yesterday at Columbia, I saw psychologist Jonathan Haidt talk about just how important – and difficult – it is to avoid such behaviors, though.  He wrote the insightful and important Righteous Mind, about which I blogged two months ago.  It describes the multiple factors that go into people’s mostly pre-rational moral judgments – and how powerful and dangerous the temptation is to tell yourself that if your opponent doesn’t emphasize those same moral factors in the same way, it must be because he (and his whole tribe/party) is sadistic, not just mistaken.  This is juvenile but instinctual and commonplace.

On the other hand, whether polite or rude, factions can’t all be correct at the same time.  I was pleased that Haidt, when I asked him, readily conceded that (though he is a centrist) you can’t deduce from the observations in Righteous Mind that moderate policies are necessarily best just because of the calming, diplomatic advantages that come from a moderate, civil frame of mind.  Though his main message is that leftists could gain strategically from being as well-rounded as conservatives in their mix of foundational principles (instead of just hammering equality and fairness over and over), he also noted in passing that libertarians (A) have the highest IQs, (B) let emotion affect their moral evaluations least, and (C) are well-situated to escape some of the toxic us/them tribal warfare into which the left/right dialogue has degenerated.

On the other hand, we libertarians might prefer that politics stay gridlocked most of the time – and eighty or so years ago when both major American political parties were far more moderate and mixed, most political scientists, as Haidt acknowledged when I mentioned it, thought we’d be better off with clearly-defined right vs. left parties, so the public would know which was which and could thus participate more.  There are dangers to bipartisan consensus and slightly different dangers to constant fighting.  Nothing’s perfect.  Few things are even close, alas.

Interestingly, despite efforts by some to dismiss the Tea Party as a last gasp of social conservatism, Haidt boldly stated (and I hope he’s right) that the Tea Party was influential in replacing the old sex-vs.-puritanism “culture war” with a new government-vs.-markets culture war in which Obama’s camp are the defenders of government.  By my standards, winning this culture war will prove vastly more important – but as explained below, I will try to do my part while also keeping in mind Haidt’s cautions against hating the out-group. 

3.  Speaking of hate, I gather this Valentine’s week brought the revelation in the Batman comic, in the conclusion of the “Death of the Family” storyline, that Joker (in his sick way) loves Batman but that Batman (despite seeming too stoic to let such things get to him) hates the Joker.  These things are so complicated. 

4.  How complicated will tonight’s Dating Game segment get at Rev. Jen’s Anti-Slam (Pyramid Club, 101 Ave. A, 7:30)?  Well, not only is it technically “Cher Night” at the Anti-Slam, but the people running this show are associated with this crowd, so I have no one but myself to blame if they end up trying to sacrifice me to cannibalistic drag queens instead of piling hot chicks on top of me.  We’ll see how it goes. 

Maybe I’ll at least encounter a punk keen to join me at this coming Tuesday’s (delayed) Tegan and Sara concert.

5.  Speaking of love and family, I would also just settle for a posse keen to see the father-son violence-fest A Good Day to Die Hard, which I was delighted to see advertised with the slogan “Yippee Ki-Yay, Mother Russia.”

6.  To some, it is a more spiritual love that matters,

Monday, February 11, 2013

Velvet Goldmine, Dionysium tonight, music-osophy, and Latino heroes

•I finally saw Velvet Goldmine over the weekend, only fifteen years after it was recommended to me by Christine Caldwell Ames, and am thus more ready than ever to host TONIGHT’S DIONYSIUM DEBATE (Mon. 8pm at Muchmore’s, near the Beford Ave. L stop, the first stop into Brooklyn) on the question “Which Is Better: 80s Music or 90s Music?” 

True, the movie was about the 70s, but it showed an important step in the evolution of alternative rock, which will surely be a big element in tonight’s debate – as will the nature of love, another important theme in that film.  Love matters not only because Valentine’s Day is coming up but because tonight’s debaters are (at least pre-debate) a couple, young Olivia Bruno and Matt Brandenburgh. 

•Coincidentally, I had contact way back around the time Velvet Goldmine came out with another opiner on music who has since become regarded as an academic authority on the subject, specifically the philosophy of music, Joel Krueger. 

But back when I met him through Ted Balaker, he was just a guy who seemed to like techno music too much and to be reminded by it of Kantian manifolds of consciousness.  Ted and I joked then that we should see if has philosophical insights on the grinding noises the photocopier makes at ABC News.  Now, I see him cited in a Faceook thread by other academics.  They would probably think my reaction to Joel was as narrow-minded as this.

•Don’t think me an intolerant man simply because I hate Skrillex, though.  At least I like having more Latinos as comic book characters, as noted in this article on the topic from Fox Latino quoting me.  I am not morally obligated to want superpowered mariachi bands any more than I want to see Skrillex fight Skrull-X, though.  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

DIONYSIUM 2/11: Which Is Better, 80s Music or 90s Music?

Painful as it is to see a young, hip couple arguing in Williamsburg shortly before Valentine's Day, that's what happens when the Dionysium asks:

"Which Is Better: 80s Music or 90s Music?" 


Olivia Bruno (tchotchke merchant and 80s music fan barely alive in the 80s)


Matt Brandenburgh (folk musician, filmmaker, and 90s music fan)

Hip gets ugly Monday, Feb. 11 (8pm) at the Muchmore's performance space, just one quick L stop into Williamsburg from Manhattan (walk three blocks east of the Bedford Ave. L stop to 2 Havemeyer St.).

There'll be 80s and 90s music playing when they're not debating, craft beers on tap, and ample audience discussion – led by me, moderator Todd Seavey.

In other music news:

•Above are two pics from a similarly-themed event: an appearance at the Strand I attended by Joy Division bassist Peter Hook (seen in discussion and seen standing adjacent to young anarcho-capitalist Allison Oldak).

•This Thursday, Feb. 7, marks twenty years since Carmen Electra’s first shot at fame, a failed rap album produced by the greatest of all musical-hot-chick mentors, Prince, that effectively ended her music career.  Do not weep for her.  She has endured.  (This history factoid may not reflect well on either 90s or 80s music, really.  They can’t all be winners, though.)

P.S. And at this blog, my January "Month of Law" gives way to a February "Month of Love."  Awww.  (That means, for instance, that instead of blogging about Judge Napolitano’s most recent book, as I did last month, I’ll be blogging next week about Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, which is set at Brown in the 80s.)