August 22, 2014

The NYT blithely dispenses with Scott Walker as a GOP presidential candidate.

The column is "Taking Account of Republican Presidential Contenders," by Albert R. Hunt, which begins with the assertion that this year "hasn’t been so kind to... Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin." That's backed up only with this:
Mr. Walker of Wisconsin, 46, a success in a generally Democratic state, was considered a first-tier contender. But a mini-scandal and an expected tight re-election race this autumn have dashed his prospects.
Dashed his prospects? But the efforts to concoct a scandal got nowhere. And so what if the re-election race is close? He'll get honed, and if he loses, he's losing in "a generally Democratic state," so even then I wouldn't call his prospects "dashed." I think the NYT is a bit too eager to write off "Mr. Walker."

Before the performance...

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... of "Travesties" at the American Players Theater the other night. This play was so good — as a text and as a performance — that the next day I bought tickets to see it again. And I also bought tickets to see "The Importance of Being Earnest" a couple days before the second viewing of "Travesties." The 2 plays are related, and some of the actors play corresponding roles in the 2 plays. I'd seen "The Importance of Being Earnest" (in movie form) long ago, so I got the hang of the references, but not all the particularity. "Earnest" is playing in the outdoor theater at APT, "Travesties" indoors.

I was so taken with "Travesties" that I even bought the text. It's one of these plays about art, and I love art about art. What is art? I'm entranced by all sorts of blabbing on this subject, especially wrangling with the problem of art and politics — propaganda and all that — and "Travesties" has Vladimir Lenin as one of the characters. Lenin says things like:
Today, literature must become party literature. Down with non-partisan literature! Down with literary supermen! Literature must become a part of the common cause of the proletariat, a cog in the Social democratic mechanism. Publishing and distributing centres, bookshops and reading rooms, libraries and similar establishments must all be under party control. We want to establish and we shall establish a free press, free not simply from the police, but also from capital, from careerism, and what is more, free from bourgeois anarchist individualism!
Lenin actually wrote that. The playwright (Tom Stoppard) worked it into the script, which isn't all horrific blowharding like that, there's a lot of absurd banter and mistaken identity and various hijinks of a theatrical kind. Lenin is a minor character. James Joyce is more important, and the Dadaist Tristan Tzara.

Speaking of evil dictators — who never wear shorts and flip-flops, by the way — I got around to watching that 2004 movie "Downfall," you know, the raw material for all those Hitler parodies. It's heavy going, 156 minutes, mostly in the bunker. The familiar scene isn't the ending. It's quite close to the beginning.

Neurocinematics.

The science of why people cry at movies is deployed to design movies that will make people cry.

If movie makers could really figure this out decisively, would you go to movies or avoid them? I'm very resistant to manipulation when I perceive it, but I guess part of the science is not to trigger the resistance, but to cause the viewer to have a response that feels natural.

And I see a proximity to political propaganda, so I don't like science helping manipulators learn how to bypass our judgment and get right into our nervous system.

I'm not saying that kind of science is unethical or should end, but we the people need help resisting.

"When someone negates their existence, they cancel themselves out in my mind."

"I have many records, books and films featuring people who have taken their own lives, and I regard them all with a bit of disdain. When someone commits this act, he or she is out of my analog world. I know they existed, yet they have nullified their existence because they willfully removed themselves from life. They were real but now they are not. I no longer take this person seriously. I may be able to appreciate what he or she did artistically but it’s impossible to feel bad for them. Their life wasn’t cut short — it was purposely abandoned. It’s hard to feel bad when the person did what they wanted to. It sucks they are gone, of course, but it’s the decision they made. I have to respect it and move on."

That's not the only point Henry Rollins makes in "Fuck Suicide." My son John focused on one of the other points over at Facebook, where I'm participating in the comments. I'm choosing to focus on this because it made me reflect on the way I feel when artists who have spoken to me kill themselves. Unless they are in the final throes of a fatal illness, their suicide reveals something about the mind that gave rise to the art, and it infuses that art with different meaning.

I found a metaphor in the garden by the front steps.

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The shed skin of a cicada:
In China, the phrase "to shed off the golden cicada skin"(金蝉脱壳, pinyin: jīnchán tuōqiào) is the poetic name of the tactic of using deception to escape danger, specifically of using decoys (leaving the old shell) to fool enemies. It became one of the 36 classic Chinese strategems....  In the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West (16th century), the protagonist Priest of Tang...
I know. You want to make a joke like: Give us this day our daily orange-flavored beverage.

"'When she sings the song Pi,' whose chorus is a recitation of the mathematical digits, 'she really brings the emotion to it.'"

"'She’s able to deliver things that on the surface seem odd.'"

From "An Encore 35 Years in the Making/Kate Bush Fans Travel to See Rare Concerts in London."

(Video of "Pi.")

"Are airstrikes against ISIS putting US on same side as Assad?"

"The Obama administration can't partner with Assad overtly at this time, but the logic and trajectory of White House policy in Syria leads in that direction...."

August 21, 2014

What if your employer gave you a Fitbit to wear and reduced your health insurance payments if you racked up the right number of steps?

"We think the device is easy to use, gets people aware of how little they are walking and helps trigger people to get active.... BP doesn’t see any of the data except in the aggregate." 

Yes, but isn't this creepy, the boss making you wear a bracelet that counts your steps? Meanwhile, Fitbit stands to do well if this catches on.

But how do they know who is wearing the device? You could snap that thing onto whichever family member is doing some exercise, including a dog running around in the backyard while you watch TV and eat potato chips.

You'll have to make the damned thing creepier to prevent cheating.

"It was a guy I knew a little bit about, and I didn’t like his reputation... I just kind of interposed myself..."

"... and started talking to her about something. The guy got the message and he took off," said Adam Erickson, a Yale sophomore, describing something he did at a party where a female seemed to be drunk and a male seemed to be sexually interested in her. Erickson is quoted in an article at Bloomberg titled "Hook-Up Culture at Harvard, Stanford Wanes Amid Assault Alarm."

I think Erickson sets a good example of the way we should be looking out for one another. I suspect it will be hard for most people to break couples up like this. It takes some judgment and skill, and you incur some risks. Are you your friends' chaperone? People tend to feel safer doing nothing than doing something and err on the side of inaction. But just as we should stop a drunk person from getting behind the wheel of a car, we can keep a drunk person from getting isolated by someone who could take advantage of the mental impairment. It's better not to get drunk at all, of course, but students obviously do, and it's right that the standard is becoming: Don't have sex when you or the other person is drunk. Instead of worrying so much about the consequences of after-the-fact characterizations of sexual intercourse, improve the social dynamic at parties. Let everyone in the group be pro-active like Adam Erickson and just kind of interpose yourself.

"I guess, all in all, I wish I wasn’t American."

Said James Foley, shortly before his beheading, quoted in "How the U.S. and Europe Failed James Foley/America doesn't negotiate with terrorists. Should it?"

Linked by Instapundit, who says, "The response to Foley’s beheading should have been a MOAB dropped on an ISIS-held town."

I have no idea what the right answer is. I am not a military strategist. I want ISIS defeated, but these kidnappings (and beheadings) are their strategy for luring us into their game. They might love us to obliterate one of their towns.

ADDED: The NYT reports
[ISIS] pressed the United States to provide a multimillion-dollar ransom for his release, according to a representative of his family and a former hostage held alongside him. The United States — unlike several European countries that have funneled millions to the terror group to spare the lives of their citizens — refused to pay....

Sensitive to growing criticism that it had not done enough, the White House on Wednesday revealed that a United States Special Operations team tried and failed to rescue Mr. Foley....
Paying ransom strikes me as a terrible strategy, funneling money to terrorists and inciting more kidnapping. As for the Special Operations activities, I infer that when they don't work, we don't hear about them, but the White House made an exception here, because disclosing failure seemed, in this case, like better PR.

FOR REFERENCE: "We had to destroy the village in order to save it."

Assignments given to me in the comments.

1. "The hula hoop thing was github. Google github and hula hoop. It was a story with lots of hidden stuff, office romance, etc., so don't take any one article as definitive. I don't trust my memory enough to tell the tale, but my take away was that hiring the lady in question was a mistake. I'll add that the two women who did the hula hoops, did them at a company party and were not the ones who complained. The lady who complained cited it as a horrible example of the sexist atmosphere at the company when she quit."

2. "Go ahead and elaborate on your (brief!) 12:24 PM statement, and describe some scenarios and how you think they might play out under various levels of 'character' or the lack thereof." And, 2 days later after no response from me: "Yeah... so I guess when a student tries to give the professor an assignment, it doesn't usually work?"

Answers:

"If you choose an answer to this question at random..."

"... what is the chance you will be correct?"

Poor Obama!

This is so mean:



There's that brilliant smile America fell in love with. The man is photogenic. Is that so wrong?! Maybe the beams of joy will go out to Foley's parents... and to ISIS... and to the people of Ferguson...

***

Smile though your heart is aching/Smile even though it's breaking./When there are clouds in the sky/you'll get by.... Light up your face with gladness/Hide every trace of sadness/Although a tear may be ever so near....

August 20, 2014

Spike Lee doesn't want "a riot." He wants an "uprising."



"Uprising" was the word that was used around here for the Wisconsin protests.

ADDED (the next morning): I was rushing out of the house as I posted this last night. (We went out to Spring Green to see the play "Travesties" (which includes, amongst the various characters, Lenin).) So I didn't have one extra minute to put a link on "Uprising" to the book "Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street." From the reviews at Amazon:
Reading this highly emotional and polemical account of the Wisconsin Act 10 controversy/crisis/uprising, the reader would never know that the "movement" Nichols writes about -- LOST!...

"Anonymous apps like Secret have played host to sexist conversations about women who work in technology."

So asserts Kristy Tillman, one of the 7 participants in a NYT forum of the topic "The War Against Online Trolls/Does anonymity on the web give people too much license to heckle and torment others?" Tillman is identified as a design director at the Society of Grownups, which identifies itself as "a sort of masters program for adulthood" and "A place to learn how to deal with adult responsibility without losing your soul or sense of adventure along the way."

Trolls and pseudonyms on line have been big topics for me for a long time. Click the tags on this post if you want to see what I've had to say. It's not why I'm posting now. Neither is the Society of Grownups, which sounds funny, but might actually be a cool name for something worthy. I haven't checked it out. I'm posting because of the link Tillman has on "played host to sexist conversations." It goes to a piece in Business Insider written by Alyson Shontell called "9 Stomach-Churning Posts From Secret That Show Awful Sexist Behavior In The Tech Industry." Stomach-churning? Awful? I steeled myself. But it was stuff like this:



Which is just cute (and I don't even know if it's "In The Tech Industry").

And this:



Which is just a lameoid confession about affirmative action. That might make you queasy. Not because it's sexist. Because it's the built-in downside of affirmative action (unless you're careful only to use sex as a tie-breaker).

And:



Which I think is hyperbole intended as humorous criticism of women who want, inconsistently, to make a big display of themselves and then put men down for looking. That might be a bit sexist, but it's not awful or stomach-churning. And for all I know there really were 2 ladies with hula hoops who took offense when the men in the office seemed to enjoy their girlish fun in a way that wasn't the precise form of appreciation they sought. How terrible is it to want to secretly say to them: Lighten up?

Watching the video of the beheading of James Foley could be a criminal offense...

... in the UK.

"Help me out, Ann," says Barack Obama in his newest email.

"Ann -- Nothing has ever been more important than fighting for folks like you. You are my priority."

Me? Really? What about those people in Ferguson? What about the Yazidis? ISIS cut off a reporter's head yesterday.

"And right now, a focus of that fight has to be getting people who really care about making things better for you elected."

What fight? Oh... the fight for folks like me. You're focusing on the fight for folks like me by getting people elected who care about folks like me. Could you be anymore bland and generic?

ADDED: If he really cares about me, he should send me an invitation to stay at his compound on the Vineyard or at least to one of those 5-hour dinners served up by the hunky Sam Kass.

TPM says Chris Christie "Blows Up At Woman."

It's interesting that he's talking about Bruce Springsteen and going on about his friendship with the rock star, but I wouldn't call this blowing up:



Here's the author of the article, Tom Kludt. He doesn't look like he grew up in Newark, like Chris Christie. Can Chris Christie get away with talking to women like that? I don't know, generically. But I'm a woman, and I have no problem with that kind of vigor, I don't perceive it as losing his temper. But then I've spent some time in New Jersey.

AND: Kludt is a native of South Dakota, according to his TPM profile.

"Hippie Christmas."

In Madison.

Let's talk about Rick Perry's mugshot.



Do you think he had his own lighting people on the scene? It's got that portrait look, with one side of the face in shadow. Don't they normally shine a light right at you?

What advice do you think he was given on how to do a good mugshot? Smile. Seem confident, but not cocky. Try to look like you're posing for a normal photograph, like you're not in a mugshot.

I've seen the mugshot described as "defiant." Do you think he was advised to look "defiant"? Would you describe the expression as "defiant"? I wouldn't. People project. They think he should be defiant or is defiant, so they see defiant. But I don't think defiant is what you want in a mugshot. Randy Travis looks defiant in his DUI mugshot:



That's not what you want.