Creative Destruction

August 7, 2006

TV: Doctor Who, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent

Filed under: Content-lite,Popular Culture — Ampersand @ 4:44 pm

So first thing I did once I got back from NY is catch up on some of the TV I missed. Spoilers ahead!
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July 14, 2006

Simplified Spelling

Filed under: Content-lite,Education,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 5:24 pm

If anyone has been paying attention to me at all, then I don’t even need to provide an opinion about this in the Boston Globe:

When “say,” “they” and “weigh” rhyme, but “bomb,” “comb” and “tomb” don’t, wuudn’t it maek mor sens to spel wurdz the wae thae sound?

Those in favor of simplified spelling say children would learn faster and illiteracy rates would drop. Opponents say a new system would make spelling even more confusing.

Eether wae, the consept has yet to capcher th publix imajinaeshun.

Must … keep … opinion … to … self … heroic … effort … involved.

July 12, 2006

Superman Returns

Filed under: Popular Culture,Uncategorized — Robert @ 2:56 pm

Mostly spoiler-free for your enjoyment. But for the truly spoilerphobic:

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July 9, 2006

The Slow, Steady Collapse of American Preeminence

Filed under: Education,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 2:26 pm

We’ve all see the reports. U.S. high schoolers rank at or near the bottom in math and science. Admittedly, that link is to a story eight years old, but I doubt rankings have changed significantly. A new study and report are due out next year. See this link.

What interests me is that we live in an era of unprecedented technological advancement. While the U.S. may still be in the vanguard, I wonder how long that can last when the source of inspiration and creativity — human knowledge and understanding — is dying at the roots in American schools. It’s a sad joke, really, that follow-the-directions instructions for setting the clock on a VCR (remember those?) proved so formidable for most end users that a time-setting function is built into more recent recording systems such as TIVO. Technical workarounds may actually enable ever-increasing levels of disability working with our own tools. Software design takes a similar approach by removing as much need for user thought as possible. Templates and wizards take expertise out of the use of much software.

So if the U.S. is to participate in technological change proceeding at an exponentially accelerating rate, where is the expertise going to come from? Right now, from abroad. We still have robust immigration into the U.S., and they’re not all migrant farm workers from Mexico. Many of them are scientists from India and China. In patent practice, literally the leading edge of innovation, there are three distinct players: inventors, patent attorneys, and patent examiners. Browsing recent filings and recently issued patents reveals a significant number of foreigners responsible for inventing and examining. Only the attorney ranks are mostly Americans, which is a result of the U.S. Patent Office inexplicably making it difficult for foreigners to be admitted to practice in the U.S. Patent Office. For now at least, the U.S. remains a beacon, attracting many of the best and brightest, who believe they can attain a better quality of life (difficult to assess) here than where they came from. But that’s changing, too. The emergence of a sizeable middle class in India and China points to a decreasing imperative for the science elite to come to the U.S., the so-called “brain drain” that also characterizes rural relocation to cities and flight from Indiana.

What will stem our slide toward a reversal of American preeminence in the sciences? Recognizing the cause of the effect would be a good start. Currently, a starting teacher’s salary in the Chicago Public Schools is $36,956 with a Bachelor’s, $39,516 with a Master’s, slightly higher than the average for the ten largest urban districts. Maximum salary is $67,706. Those pay rates indicate how we as a society value the preparation of our young for entry into adulthood. To those with a combination of scientific expertise and communication skills, which is a more significant skill set than the typical nerdy engineer or chemist, pay rates for teachers are a significant disincentive. Further, students mostly regard their teachers in any discipline as chumps, and of course that old saw “those who can’t, teach” relegates teachers to a prestige ghetto.

Two other factors contribute: distractions of entertainment and cultural decadence. Plenty of diatribes have been written about how entertainments attract a disproportionate amount of our attention. Whether it be TV, sports, movies, video games, books, or music, Americans spend a huge amount of time and dollars preoccupied by entertainments. Even worse, those embodiments that are the most popular are also the ones that require the least mental activity, understanding, and taste. It’s obvious that most of us identify better with Everybody Loves Raymond than Masterpiece Theater, Steven King rather than William Styron, or Britney Spears rather than the Juilliard Quartet, but I for one don’t consider matters of culture and taste even remotely equivalent, especially when a popular form — by definition low culture — completely masks an art form. By way of another example, most Americans just love to see shit blown up, not so different from our collective fascination with Fourth of July fireworks. But the time, patience, and understanding it takes to see how something is built can’t compete with the immediate gratification of demolition. Writ large, we may be well entertained (I dispute that, actually), but we’re losing our ability by attrition to function well in a technological world.

A culture of decadence is not specific to the U.S., but it’s especially prominent here. In the last 150 years, we’ve worked damn hard to raise our standard of living, and for those of us fortunate enough to benefit from that rising tide (not all Americans by any stretch), it’s become easy to rest on our laurels, or rather, those of our parents and grandparents. Unlike India and China, we’re no longer fighting and clawing to reach the brass ring; we’ve already grasped it. Our perspective now is that we must remain on top of the heap, among the biggest consumers of resources per capita (see this and this and this). But we’re not doing this by continuing to strive, or at least strive effectively. See this evidence of student apathy toward their studies, which we as a culture either allow from inattention or encourage as students are regarded as mere consumers. Rather, we try to stay at the top through politcal and economic oppresion that no one wants to acknowledge, and we often couch it in terms of charity. The argument usually goes that without those manufacturing jobs we outsource to Third World countries that pay below subsistence level, those poor souls would be starving. Meanwhile, we love our low WalMart prices gained off of exploitation of economically disempowered peoples.

Is if fixable? Hard to say. Like global warming, it will have to get very bad before we will believe that any action must be taken, by which time, of course, it will be too late.

July 1, 2006

The American Prediliction for New Coin

Filed under: Content-lite,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:56 pm

I thought Daran’s entry on neologisms admitted to the language (or at least coined and offered for adoption) suggested a broader treatment of the subject (which I had already intended but was apparently beaten to the punch). English is often cited as one of the hardest languages to learn. It’s not the pronunciation or syntax that are troublesome, it’s the sheer number of words and the fact that those words are drawn from everywhere.

According to The Global Language Monitor, English has, conservatively, nearly 1 million words. French has fewer than 100,000. Why compare to French? In the Colonial Period, French was the international language of diplomacy, so one might have expected French to be more democratic than English and to survive into the modern era as the preeminent international language. However, the French have since the 1600s admitted new coin only slowly — the Academie Francais is only on its 9th edition of its dictionary — the idea being to preserve the purity of the French language, notwithstanding that French borrows heavily from Latin. There are clear strengths and weaknesses to such an approach.
So English and French, the two most recent international languages (Latin and Esperanto were previous international languages), have diametrically opposed approaches to new coin. English, especially the standard American dialect, delights in creating new words, especially the combinations of existing words German speakers are familiar with. (The word metrosexual is a good example. Smash-ups of names such as Beniffer and Brangelina are good pop examples. I also recently came across infonaut and infobahn.) Many magazines have columns devoted to new usage, like this one at Variety, especially when the usage is hip, clever, slangy, and specialized. The idiom is sometimes called slanguage or slang-chic.

Technological advance offers myriad opportunities for new coin. Richard Dawkins took credit for the word meme, whereas the origin of the word Internet is a frequent subject of folk etymology or faux origins. A site called Word Origins specializes in word and phrase etymologies. A whole category of “retronyms” are needed to distinguish older word forms from newer ones when technological change renders the older root less precise. For example, e-mail vs. snail mail, land line vs. cell phone, acoustic guitar vs. electric guitar, etc. A list of -nyms words can be found here, for those curious what to call a variety of different word categories.

English has long been a sort of bastard child of many other languages and has no apparent compunction about accepting new words from any source. To take food for an example, soup derives from French, cheese from Latin, burger from German, squash from American Indian, pie from Irish, waffle from Dutch, coffee from Arabic, chili from Spanish, soy from Japanese, etc. There’s an interesting hypothesis for why English words for meat before it’s cooked — cow, swine, sheep, and calf — are of Saxon origin whereas meat after it’s cooked — beef, pork, mutton, and veal — are of Norman origin. The idea is that Normans conquered the Saxons and the Saxons were servants who used their own words in the kitchen but had to use the Norman words at their masters’ tables.

Words and their origins go beyond idle interest. They are our very tools of thought and function as powerful metaphors for reality. Edward Sapir believed that each language constructs reality differently from other languages, which goes a long way toward explaining why mere word translation can’t begin to bridge the gaps between cultures with difference languages. Edward T. Hall refers to hidden aspects of culture — those things embedded in our metaphors — as “deep culture.” For instance, is time a line, a circle, a flow, or a dimension? Is its measurement meaningful, flexible, or irrelevant to human experience? Answers to questions such as these influence one’s cultural assumptions and whether, for instance, an appointment is kept punctually or treated casually.

One explanation for America’s preeminence in the world today, beyond the obvious natural resources at our disposal, is that as a young country, unlike regions of the world with histories stretching back millennia, we were created anew from a diverse range of languages and cultures that became a greater whole than its parts. Our national character, as described by Tocqueville for one, stems in part from the need for so many different peoples to cooperate, rely on each other, and rise above their individuality to form a nation. And we continue to see that diversity played out in our predeliction for new coin.

June 25, 2006

It Hurts My Brain

Filed under: Content-lite,Popular Culture — Robert @ 11:55 pm

Ann Coulter: Deadhead

June 17, 2006

“I don’t see why people care about patriotism.”

Filed under: Philosophy,Popular Culture,War — Robert @ 1:24 pm

""The entire country may disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what? This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and like your life, but as for loving the whole country… I don't see why people care about patriotism."

– Dixie Chick Natalie Maine, as reported in the Telegraph.

"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful."

C.S. Lewis

June 9, 2006

Weaponizing Barry Manilow

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 3:00 pm

I'm late getting to this, as it's already all over the blogosphere. Oh, well.

Reuters reports that Barry Manilow's music is being used in Sydney, Australia, to drive "hoons" out of car parks and off streets where they apparently intimidate others and impede commerce. Using music as a means of coercing behaviors is a familiar idea, e.g., heavy metal music blasted at Noriega and the scene in Apocolypse Now with "The Ride of the Valkyries" used to terrify villagers. Apparently, though, Barry Manilow songs are especially "daggy" in Australia and work to drive away undesireable elements.

Sure, it's funny enough, and Barry Manilow himself likely has no pretensions about his public image. He'll probably get paid royalties, too. Still, I find it sad to see music weaponized (probably too strong a word, but it fits my thinking). Music has long been a good tool of propaganda, but to use music coercively is a bit much.

June 7, 2006

The Hot 100 – Radically Redefining “Hot” To Mean…Hot

Filed under: Blogosphere,Popular Culture — Robert @ 2:28 pm

Some feminist bloggers have been nominated for the "Real Hot 100", an alternative to the Maxim 100 cheesecake list that comes out every year. According to the organizers:

We’re tired of the media telling young women how to be "hot"! Maxim Magazine’s annual "Hot 100" list exemplifies how young women are viewed in popular culture.  The women featured in this leading men’s magazine are chosen solely for their appearance.

The REAL hot 100 shows that young women are "hot" for reasons beyond their ability to look cute in a magazine.

REALLY hot women are smart. REALLY hot women work for change. REALLY hot women aren’t afraid to speak their minds. And while some REALLY hot women might look awesome in a bikini, they know that’s not all they have to offer.

While their lefty bias is of course problematic (women working for "change" by, say, saving babies from abortion aren't "hot"), the basic idea is a good one: recognize women for something other than looks. I'm all for it.

Only…I've reviewed their nominations to date (strictly in the interests of online journalism) and…well…these gals are all pretty hot. Oh, there are exceptions; a few ordinary-looking women, a handful who wouldn't be regarded as attractive outside the lefty world, and one or two who might be considered conventionally unattractive. But basically, it's photo after photo after photo of cute, conventionally attractive women.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! But it seems like either:

a) pretty much only cute, conventionally attractive women become activists, journalists, poetry slam coordinators, etc., and the Real Hot 100 nominators are just working with what exists, or

b) there are plenty of non-cute non-conventionally attractive women out there who meet the criteria, but the leftysphere isn't nominating them.

In my lefty days, there were reasonable numbers of reasonably attractive women taking part in the various wankery that is 90% of lefty politics – but there were also a LOT of women who few people would look twice at. It was pretty much a representative sample of the distaff side of things.
Amazing how none of those women seem to be "hot", under a standard emphasizing mental attainment.

May 24, 2006

Got Bling?

Filed under: Content-lite,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 1:26 pm

Though not nearly so awful as the LimoJet, these exhaust tip spinners make the same negative impression on me.

flare turbine

I guess if you've got more money than you know what to do with, and no sense of either taste or value, then these are just the thing to pimp your ride.

The whole idea of bling is pretty distasteful to me, but I can't deny that it gets attention. And for those who have adopted that approach to self-promotion, it may very well turn them into attention whores (assuming they're not that already). While bling may be relatively harmless on cursory inspection, I suspect there is a lot more going on at the Gestalt level. Put another way, it's the Zeitgeist of our time (love them German psych terms) that livin' large, baby, is no longer something to be embarassed about; rather, it's become a categorical imperative.

It's true of most of us that at some point we've uttered the equivalent of "sure, I can tap dance." The implication is that you then go out and learn to tap dance. If you eventually show up and still can't dance, they you deserve what you get, which will likely be the boot. With bling, it's not about earning attention, it's about buying attention. Oddly, the payment isn't even made to those whose attention is desired but to a third party. "Watch me buy stuff" has replaced "sure, I can tap dance."

Much the same thing is going on in the media, which must above all be visually tantalizing even if other types of content are mostly banal, saccharine, or insipid (or combinations of the same). It's tease, tease, tease, but rarely deliver. And we're lapping it up like the dogs we are.

May 21, 2006

The Ugly American

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:19 am

The Sydney Morning Herald has a brief on-line article about a new guide being prepared by the State Dept. in cooperation with U.S. industry (whatever that means) to try to improve the image of Americans abroad. It seems we’re not much liked (duh!) when we find ourselves within foreign cultures and act the same abrasive ways we act among ourselves in the U.S. The syndrome has been called The Ugly American for years already, although it was apparent intended more charitably in the novel of the same name.

I find it ironic that people need to be told things, by the government no less, that should be common sense on just about any grade school playground. Yet in my travels, I’ve witnessed many of the things addressed by the admonitions the Herald lists. Here are a few with my comments.

Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller.

I’ve always thought it best to keep a small footprint and go relatively unnoticed when outside of my comfort zones. My alertness level also goes up.

Listen at least as much as you talk.

I’m probably as vain and love the sound of my own voice as the next person. But I learned in college that listening was a much more powerful behavior than talking, and not just because I learned more. People respond better if given room in conversation to express themselves.

Save the lectures for your kids.

Way too often I’ve overheard Americans begin a conversation with “The problem with your country is ….” The implication is that we Americans got it right and everyone else should be like us. How insulting.

Think a little locally.

What’s the point of travelling if you don’t experience any local culture? I’ve known Americans who go abroad and eat exclusively at American fast food franchises (generally not hard to find) and speak only in English within their own group or family. How boring.

Speak lower and slower.

This is probably the hallmark of the American traveller (other than garb). We’re loud sons of bitches, especially the Texas variety. In our dominant culture we’re exhorted to live large. Many others find that sort of behavior excessively rude.

If you talk politics, talk — don’t argue.

Conversational styles differ among people, to be sure. Although we don’t normally think of it this way, generosity ought to be the underlying sentiment. Argument works in some context, but even there, it’s worthwhile to yield ground generously.

May 19, 2006

Uh… what?

Filed under: Popular Culture — bazzer @ 9:36 am

Who says Hollywood doesn't have any original ideas? Check out the storyline of the latest big screen mega-hit starring Jack Black and Kirsten Dunst:

The story…follows a junkyard worker (Jack Black) who attempts to sabotage a power plant that he believes is melting his brain. But his plan goes awry and the magnetic field he creates erases all of the videotapes in the local video store where his best friend works. Fearing that the mishap will cost his friend his job, the two team to keep the store's only loyal customer — a little old lady with a tenuous grasp on reality — from realizing what has happened by re-creating and refilming every movie that she decides to rent.

Seriously, wouldn't you love to have been in the boardroom when this idea was first pitched? Something tells me it'd look a lot like those smoke-hazed scenes in Eric Foreman's basement where the camera goes around in a circle.(Hat tip: Jackie Danicki)

“Bad moms” and child safety

Filed under: Popular Culture — bazzer @ 9:14 am

Look, I understand that Britney Spears is an idiot, and I'm perfectly prepared to believe that she's not a model parent, but the media feeding frenzy over her parenting skills has just gotten plain silly. It reached a climax of ridiculousness on Tuesday, when the New York Post ran this story on its front page.Britney's offense? She was driving a convertible with her baby in the back seat, strapped into a car seat, in the exact same fashion that all conscientious parents strapped in their kids… until recently. Now, of course, you have to strap the poor tike in backwards, or you're an evil mom and you want your kid to die.

You have to keep them in the back seat, facing backwards so they'll get motion sickness, and you can't see their face, and you have no clue as to whether they're sick, or choking, or uncomfortable. Oh, and car seats aren't just for infants anymore. Now you have to remain in them until you start shaving.

Sorry, but the "child safety" mania has gone too far. No activity is ever going to be 100% safe, so we have to strike a meaningful balance between acceptable risks and reasonable precautions. That sense of balance is lost today, and soon kids won't be allowed outside of the house without being encases in bubble-wrap with a GPS locator attached to them.

I don't normally post this type of thing here, but I received one of those e-mail thingies recently that's relevant here. Read it, if you haven't already. It'll remind you that there was once a simpler time, and a time that many of us here lived through and remember.

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes.Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking.

As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank Kool-Aid made with sugar, but we weren't overweight because WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING !

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day.

And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD's, no surround-sound or CD's, no cell phones, no personal computer! s, no Internet or chat rooms……. WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays,

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

If YOU are one of them . . . CONGRATULATIONS!

You might want to share this with others who have had the luck to grow up as kids, before the lawyers and the government regulated so much of our lives for our own good.

Amen.

May 18, 2006

Yay!

Filed under: Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Tuomas @ 5:22 pm

Ha! A good reason to watch the Eurovision finals. One sure sign of apocalypse would be Finland actually winning the contest. Lordi's music video here. For one, it stands out from the usual Europop fare.

Update: Meaning that Finland got in to finals.

Update 2: Hard Rock Hallelujah! It has been said that hell freezes over before Finland wins the Eurovision song contest. So, Satan… Do you need some warm blankets down there? Bwahahaha! First place, 292 points… crushing victory!

Thanks to all the good people in Europe (all grudges forgotten) who knew good music when they heard it, and voted (I couldn't, you can't vote your own). Truly this is a historical moment!

May 16, 2006

G’head, Blame the Victim (some)

Filed under: Political Correctness,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 6:17 pm

Comments on another post have attempted to separate the behaviors of the victim from those of the victimizer as though they aren't or at least shouldn't be related. The frequently repeated trope is "don't blame the victim." I thought the discussion should have its own post, so here are my thoughts.

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May 15, 2006

Scare Quotes (or should that be “Scare” Quotes?)

Filed under: Blogosphere,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 4:06 pm

For more than a month as a contributor to this group blog, I've restrained myself from commenting on the poor writing I see, especially in the comments section (which admittedly is harder to format and edit than the main posts). I have my own share of mistakes, to be certain, but I read my posts and comments at least three times to eliminate most problems. I have noticed recently the reckless, improper, and misleading use of scare quotes, which is a term I don't prefer but is apparently becoming standard. I learned from Wikipedia that they're also called sneer quotes or, when used in speech rather than writing, air quotes.

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May 9, 2006

Update: United 93

Filed under: Content-lite,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 1:03 pm

I posted an entry on the movie United 93 last month, averring that it's a tacky exercise in audience pandering. George Will has a column on the movie in the Washington Post. He apparently fancies himself a cinema critic for the purpose of this movie, and he reports that United 93 won its opening weekend at the box office, which goes to show that folks were willing to subject themselves to repeat trauma, presumably out of some sense of obligation. I gather (from other sources) that there was a lot of quiet sobbing in theaters after showings. Will says two things in particular that bug me:

Going to see "United 93" is a civic duty because Samuel Johnson was right: People more often need to be reminded than informed.

and

The message of the movie is: We are all potential soldiers. And we all may be, at any moment, at the war's front, because in this war the front can be anywhere.

First, when a movie is transformed into a civic duty, especially one where the surrounding events are remarkably well known (yet the events depicted are cloaked in secrecy or flatly unknown) and the traumatic reminder is served up as pseudoentertainment, I have a real problem. A book reviewer may say a title is a must-read, and I'm OK with that. It's an endorsement. A pundit or cultural critic may say something should be required reading, whereupon I'm more than likely to ignore both the object of that sobriquet and the pundit or critic. I can make up my own mind what's important. When Will calls upon our civil duty to go relive the trauma (in a fictionally reenacted version, no less), the trauma still fresh in mind for most of us, it's offensive. Will can publish his opinions, sure. That's his job. But he certainly doesn't speak for me or my values when he imposes his sense of duty.

Second (beyond his apparent inability to punctuate properly using a colon), the message Will takes from the movie may be remarkably different from the intent of the filmmakers. Based on what I've read, they wanted to honor the martyred passengers, not galvanize the public into active resistance in the absence of open domestic warfare or repeated terrorist attacks. I've seen a fair number of arguments about the citizen soldier and why such a thing is necessary in the contemporary world. One of my fellow bloggers on this site, Robert Hayes, has made his arguments in favor of the citizen soldier at length in other venues.

It is clear to me that Will conflates his imperative to not only witness but be reminded of events with a duty to participate in them. Under certain extraordinary circumstances, that may indeed be necessary. Without going too far off topic, however, I can well imagine the awfulness that would obtain were groups of citizens, probably acting as mobs (as such things must inevitably go), to interfere with the obgligations and activities of the U.S. military in providing for the general defense. Our government already regards its citizens as enemies of the state, either potentially or literally. It wouldn't take much, I fear, to see the military ordered to fire upon the citizenry.

May 8, 2006

Anxious Grownups Unclear on the Concept

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture — mythago @ 11:31 am

There’s been a lot of argument about whether ‘virginity pledges’ really keep teens from engaging in sex (at least in the Clintonian sense). A Harvard report has found that teenagers may be muddling the data by not being, shall we say, completely honest about their behavior.

The study by Janet Rosenbaum took data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which interviewed and later re-interviewed teenagers about their sexual behavior, including whether they made a ‘virginity pledge’. Setting aside the data about how well the pledges are kept, we get two very interesting findings:

–Of the teenagers who told the first survey that they had taken a pledge and then later had sex, in later surveys, 73% denied ever having made the pledge in the first place.

–Of the teenagers who had sex and then took a pledge, nearly a third denied, post-pledge, that they had ever had sex.

–Ultimately, 17% of pledgers keep their pledge and don’t lie about having made one in the first place.

Teenagers want to have sex, engage in magical thinking and aren’t very good about keeping promises about what they’ll do in the next several years. Shocking! I guess it is to social conservatives. They’re probably the same people who freak out when their kids say “I’ll take the garbage out in five minutes, Dad” and then don’t.

May 2, 2006

Ben Affleck to Play Young Kirk?

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 1:30 pm

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
NO.

April 29, 2006

Copyright, Software, and the Recording Industry

Filed under: Economics,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:57 pm

Arguments that software and music sales and distribution models are outdated and need to be reconfigured are gaining currency these days. Two things are driving these opinions: the steady advancement of technology that makes copying and file sharing a low-cost or cost-free activity and the natural, if self-serving, desire among the consuming public to get it for free. Typical supporting arguments include contentions that no real harm is being done because these products exist in electronic forms, that artists and creators stand to gain from exposure and promotion of their work as a byproduct of file sharing, and that it's the wave of the future that can’t be stopped, so creators of intellectual property would be smart to recognize that fact and simply cooperate. These arguments are bogus for reasons I will try to show below.

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April 28, 2006

This is depressing

Filed under: Philosophy,Politics,Popular Culture — bazzer @ 1:41 pm

As if the rumor about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck redoing "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" weren't bad enough, now I have to contend with the prospect of Brangelina desecrating Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. I don't think you have to be a devout Objectivist to feel some measure of apprehension about this project.

I'll confess that I have less patience for Rand's writings than I did in my college days. Her rigid, pedantic prose quickly wore thin on me. Moreover, despite Rand's personal hostility toward religion, she ironically managed to create a religion herself, one that's every bit as unyielding and dogmatic as any other kind of fundamentalism.

Still, if I'm being totally honest, she probably had as big an influence on my own political philosophy as any one, single person. When I first encountered her work some 20 years ago, it changed my way of thinking in profound ways, as only a small handful of books have ever done.

Despite her hidebound dogmatism, I still find her straightforward, across-the-board skepticism of the modern, collectivist state to be more appealing and intellectually honest than the convenient piecemeal antistatism of modern-day conservatism and liberalism, both of which can talk a mean game about individual liberties… except when it comes to all those unpleasant activities which they really, really want to regulate.

Rand still occupies a soft spot in my heart, and I have a feeling that her work deserves a better treatment than Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie are likely to give it. Bummer.

April 27, 2006

Britney Fat-Bashed at Celeb Site

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Popular Culture — Robert @ 7:39 pm

This video shows Britney Spears practicing dance moves for a new song of hers. The video is unremarkable. It shows a pretty woman who has had a baby doing some dance exercises. Every straight man I've ever known would think "that's a nice looking baby mama there, that is".

What's remarkable (but sadly, not unusual) is the incredible fat-bashing going on in the comment thread attached to the video.

"Britney should give up on trying to look sexy and just embrace her new image of 'beached whale'"

"Big booty = more balance for spins…staple the stomach, please"

"Oh my god how much do you guys think she weighs- seriously…. I'm gonna guess 140…. that's being nice."

"Brit's doing a great job of getting as fat and foul as Anna was prior to the latest drug addictions."

"It's like watchin a WHALE chase a TicTac! "THERE SHE BLOWS""

And so on.

I hold no brief for Britney Spears or for celebrity culture in general. But it is sickening to see the contempt that these people have no compunction about pouring out in a public forum. What kind of mentality thinks it appropriate to crap on other human beings like this? Knock it off, knuckleheads; you're forcing me into agreement with moonbats, and I hate being in agreement with moonbats.

UPDATE: She hasn't put on weight. She's FIVE MONTHS PREGNANT. Makes the bashers look even worse, if you ask me.

Peace-gaming

Filed under: Popular Culture — bazzer @ 2:32 pm

Yeah, this should make a mint. A couple of graduate students are developing a video game called "Peacemaker," in which the goal is to avoid blowing things up. The goal, in fact, is to establish peace in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Obviously I've never played this game before, so I should probably withhold judgment. But why do I get the sneaking suspicion that I know how to "win" this game? Take the 0.01% of the Middle East that the Jews control, divide it in half, and give half to the Arabs and Muslims who control the other 99.9% without receiving anything in return?

Yay, I win! What's the prize?

Something tells me it won't be outselling "Grand Theft Auto" anytime soon.

April 16, 2006

Why, Finland? Why?

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 11:02 pm

Finland. Fine nation. Good soldiers; brave fighters. The reindeer are also of high quality.

As a new center for pop videos? Not so much.

Via GNXP.

April 12, 2006

Jazz Radio Erodes Further

Filed under: Popular Culture — Brutus @ 5:36 pm

The Chicago public radio station WBEZ announced recently that it will drop its jazz programming next year, which currently airs from 8 PM to 4 AM, and go to an “all public affairs and culture” format. Jazz aficionados are dismayed, and the format change has created a few ripples around the nation as those in other markets note the further disappearance of jazz programming, a process that has been underway for more than two decades. A similar erosion of classical music programming has taken place alongside the disappearance of jazz.

Free marketers view the disappearance of classical and jazz music on free radio outlets, which are often but not always replaced but subscription services, as evidence of a shift in public taste and a concomitant redefined emphasis on the part of radio station owners and operators. There is little to argue with in that assessment. However, cultural critics feel that this market shift represents a dumbing down of the radio audience and bemoan the diminished demand and therefore public support of anything but mainstream musics. Yet others recognize that as media outlets mature, sophisticated listeners find that free radio no longer serves their tastes and concentrate exclusively on direct media such as CDs to satisfy their interests.

I believe that all three are probably true and are not mutually exclusive. Commercial and publicly-supported radio is littered with ads and fundraising, which quickly become tiresome to even the most dedicated listener. Further, the fidelity of radio, mp3s, and streaming media (such as Internet radio or podcasts) are noticeably inferior to vinyl, CDs, DVDs, and DVD-audio, which is a criticism mass audiences don’t have as they embrace a variety of portable, computer-driven formats. And the inability to tailor one’s listening lists can be frustrating when standards receive repeated airplay to the near total exclusion of less well-known fare. Make no mistake, jazz and classical musics have made no particular inroads into gaining market share in the past two or three generations, unlike pop, rock, metal, country western, dance, techno, rave, rap, hip-hop, and other populist musics. All of these latter function within one demographic or another as a sort of vernacular, whereas jazz and classical could never make that claim.

Despite the inevitability of change, it is worth resisting the so-called “rush to the bottom,” a culture characterized by the extinction of sophisticated, traditional art forms by populist, wide-market forms. Consumers of easily digestible, quickly replaced music often find that their ability to relate in even the most rudimentary way to sophisticated music is extinguished by a pervasive diet populated by the equivalent of French fries and soda pop. While that diet may be enjoyable in and of itself, it frequently precludes the sensitivity needed to appreciate, say, a fine wine. A healthy range ought to include something more sophisticated from time to time, though that argument, too, mostly falls on deaf ears in a mass culture brought up to believe each individual is the final arbiter in matters of taste.

April 9, 2006

The Ascent of the Blog

Filed under: Blogosphere,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:56 pm

Our information environment had been monopolized in the last fifty years or so by large, corporate interests. Whether it be newspapers, book and magazine publishers, politicians, educators and textbook publishers, television, radio, advertisers, etc., the focus and flow of information has been from those with organized, bureaucratic, commercial, and political agendas to the masses. It’s probably conspiratorial to believe that an orchestrated attempt to control the cultural mindspace has been underway, but because of the way information is structured and consumed, a high level of control has nonetheless been effected.

When information is collected and disseminated by any clearinghouse, an inevitable filtering process alters meaning to some degree. News reporting, for example, is hardly characterized by an objective, just-the-facts perspective one might wish for. The simple decision what to include and/or exclude creates a context that channels the perception of the reader/viewer. Anyone who has witnessed an event later reported by the media knows that the story is shaped and massaged, often in an egregiously distorted manner. Some may recognize when they are being served propaganda, but not always. (You can fool some of the people all of the time; you can fool all of the people some of the time.) Advertisers are the most obvious propagandizers but not the only ones.

One of the surprising developments the latest communications innovations (following the printing press, the telegraph, the photograph, the telephone, the moving picture, the television) have given us is the blog. The blogosphere is characterized by individuals publishing their personal observations and opinions. Nothing could be more democratic. Although there are a few corporate-sponsored blogs, that’s not yet the nature of the beast. If there is cause for hope in the culture, and I believe there is, perhaps it’s that some have broken the information monopoly and are collecting and disseminating their own views, filtered through individual experience rather than a corporate agenda. Political agendas persist, but they are relatively simple to recognize and diffuse.

Perhaps the best collateral effect of the blog is a return to language. “What? We never abandoned language,” one might say. In the nominal sense, no. But today is the time of the image. “A picture speaks a thousand words,” it used to be said. We’ve forgotten how significant that is. Prior to the photograph, images were stylized and nonliteral depictions of reality and weren’t the dominant means of transmitting information — language was. Although historical literacy rates were nothing like those of the 20th or 21st century, the cultural mind was synonymous to the typographical mind. Information was processed first and foremost through language. The sequential, syntactical, propositional nature of language necessarily shapes information and knowledge, leading to a reasoned, logical way of thinking, which in turn has obvious implications for cultural and political discourse. The robust practice of publishing pamphlets and broadsides in the Revolutionary Era and the development of formidable writers, thinkers, and philosophes such as Thomases Paine and Jefferson is instructive.

Photographic images lack those characteristics and instead rely on intuitive and emotional processing, requiring little context as they are mostly self-contained. Video is essentially an extension of the photograph, giving the still image an aspect of time. Captions and dialogue embedded in pictures and video are not the dominant element, and in fact, the processing of the purely visual aspects of video interferes with language processing, not the other way around.

Most blogs, in contrast, are primarily text. Habits of mind necessary to craft effective messages are learnt through imitating worthy models and through trial and error. Clearly, though, more lay people (not professional writers) are learning to deploy language with greater facility and effectiveness, mostly free from the corrupting influence of commerce (though probably infused with the corrupting influence of self-aggrandizement and celebrity). No copy editor tells a blogger to punch up this or that aspect of a post or to avoid embarrassing the sponsors.

Cross-posted at The Spiral Staircase.

April 5, 2006

United 93

Filed under: Personal Ramblings,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 11:38 pm

Universal Studios is coming out later this month (April 28) with its movie dramatization of events on United Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001.

United 93

I can't speak for anyone else, but I find this a wholly improper approach to both entertainment and the historical event. There is probably a fair amount of information known only to the Dept. of Homeland Security about whatever happened on that flight. Can the moviemakers possibly know what really happened or it is an Oliver Stone type of revisionist history?

As if the trauma of events that day weren't enough to be etched in our minds, the last thing we need is a glossy, Hollywood movie version with predictable character drama, poignant loss, and depictions of American courage. I suspect that lots of folks will want to see it "out of respect," much like Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ drew many folks into the theater who hadn't seen a film in years.

Naturally, if there is some money to be made, some studio is going to exploit the opportunity. I don't think such a tacky approach to entertainment should be supressed, nor do I think it worthwhile to call for a boycott, but you certainly won't find my butt in the movie theater watching.

April 4, 2006

Katie Who?

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 9:33 pm

Why in the name of God's green apples am I expected to care about this?

Katie Couric's location, activities and intentions are material in two scenarios:

1) She is in my presence, interacting with me, and I need to be civilly interested in her life in order to be a decent human being.

2) She is being held hostage by terrorists on top of the Empire State Building and Nicholas Cage and Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis are all crawling through the ductwork to rescue her.

Otherwise, I don't care where you work, lady. Just get a job and do it, already.

Web Singer Gets Contract

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 7:14 pm

A woman who sang via the Web from her London flat has signed with a major record label. Sandi Thom, 24, signed with conglomerate RCA/SonyBMG on April 3, 2006, after building a respectable audience of 100,000 daily listeners.

I suspect that agile record companies have found their new low-cost method for finding talent: wait for the audience to find it for you.

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