Moments II: Electric Boogaloo

Moments was supposed to be a monthly installment, but there’s simply too much goodness to read on the internet. Now it’s every fortnight or so. I have minimized the text a bit for formatting purposes. If it’s too small for you, hold ‘CTRL’ and hit ‘+’ on your keyboard. Today’s guest journalist is Otto Dix’s Portrait of Sylvia von Harden (1926), AKA Alan Cummings.
Slate has a annual feature called “The Movie Club” that offers some of the funnest, most irreverent film writing of the year. This edition brings together one of my favorite film critics, Nathan Lee, two decent ones, Dana Stevens and Wesley Morris, and Scott Foundas. Instead of quoting the article extensively, I recommend the whole series. No holds are barred. David Fincher is, “an expert spelunker into remote corners of the male psyche who never brings back quite enough from his travels to justify the descent.” The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is, “aka My Left Eyelid, aka Awakenings for the smart set,” filled with, “the interminable, pretentious, Brakhage for dummies POV shtick.” Oh, no, ya’ll didn’t! There’s the, “Silver Surfer, that intergalactic neuter who roams the galaxy on an externalized penis at the behest of a planet-gobbling vagina dentate.” Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, “explained to me what life would be like if Jeff Spicoli had died and gone to Trader Joe’s,” and makes you want to, “buy six cars, fill them full of gas, and drive them all at the same time.” Oh, yes, ya’ll did!

They gave Le Royale high marks for being not too self-consciously posey, despite the presence of a photo blogger. “The party should be about having fun, not looking like you’re having fun,” Ms. Maino said… Fashion was less outré than at Misshapes. One man wore a sweater around his shoulders, apparently without irony.

-Melena Ryzik, “Hipster Leap to Club-Party Hopscotch” [Zing.]

Make no mistake, law and medicine — the most elite of the traditional professions — have always been demanding. But they were also unquestionably prestigious. Sure, bankers made big money and professors held impressive degrees. But in the days when a successful career was built on a number of tacitly recognized pillars — outsize pay, long-term security, impressive schooling and authority over grave matters — doctors and lawyers were perched atop them all. Now, those pillars have started to wobble.

-Alex Williams, “The Falling-Down Professions

Among the Republican candidates, Mr. Huckabee is also as culturally un-Bush as you can get. He constantly reminds voters that he did not go to an Ivy League school and that his plain values derived from a bona fide blue-collar upbringing, as opposed to, say, clearing brush on a vacation “ranch” bought with oil money attained with family connections.

-Frank Rich, “They Didn’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

About 12,000 years ago people embarked on an experiment called agriculture and some say that they, and their planet, have never recovered. Farming brought a population explosion, protein and vitamin deficiency, new diseases and deforestation. Human height actually shrank by nearly six inches after the first adoption of crops in the Near East. . . In 2006 two Indian fishermen, in a drunken sleep aboard their little boat, drifted over the reef and fetched up on the shore of North Sentinel Island. They were promptly killed by the inhabitants. Their bodies are still there: the helicopter that went to collect them was driven away by a hail of arrows and spears. The Sentinelese do not welcome trespassers. Only very occasionally have they been lured down to the beach of their tiny island home by gifts of coconuts and only once or twice have they taken these gifts without sending a shower of arrows in return.

-The Economist, “Noble or Savage

Shopping at the convivial local bookstore might be a heartwarming experience, but the notion that such places offer us better choices is a fantasy. On Amazon, you can perform super-exact searches or browse endlessly (so at some point even the commoner may stumble across something worthwhile). You are guided not only by rough algorithms but by book lists and reviews written and compiled by other human beings who share your hyper-specific interests. And aren’t Amazon’s reviewers, list compilers, and bloggers a lot like helpful, educated bookstore staffers, leading us, by hyperlinking, to stories and ideas we otherwise might never have known about?

-David Harsanyi, “The Amateurs’ Hour

Within her own party, [Bhutto] declared herself the president for life and controlled all decisions. She rejected her brother Murtaza’s bid to challenge her for its leadership and when he persisted, he was shot dead in highly suspicious circumstances during a police ambush outside the Bhutto family home.

Benazir Bhutto was certainly a brave and secular-minded woman. But the obituaries painting her as dying to save democracy distort history. Instead, she was a natural autocrat who did little for human rights, a calculating politician who was complicit in Pakistan’s becoming the region’s principal jihadi paymaster while she also ramped up an insurgency in Kashmir that has brought two nuclear powers to the brink of war.

-William Dalrymple, “Bhutto’s Deadly Legacy

Having been a star of East German theater and having suffered under Stasi surveillance himself, Mühe seemed poised for international stardom as a result of his portrayal of Wiesler, but, alas, he died of stomach cancer in July of 2007. At least before he died, he got to play the role of a lifetime.

-Paul Cantor, “I Spy” [I had no idea he, the bald star of The Lives of Others, died.]

The “new privacy” is about controlling how many people know–not if anyone knows. . . Employers check Facebook to vet job applicants, for example, and some have advised users to change their profiles or photos during the application process, as the Stanford Daily reported last year. A 2005 survey found that one out of four employers has rejected applicants based on research via search engines. Campus police increasingly review social networking sites to investigate crimes. Arkansas’s John Brown University expelled a student after administrators discovered Facebook pictures of him dressed in drag last year, a violation of the school’s Christian conduct code. And a Secret Service officer paid a dorm visit to University of Oklahoma sophomore Saul Martinez based on a comment he posted on the Facebook group Bush Sucks.

-Ari Melber, “About Facebook

“With all the technical innovation, music sounds worse,” says Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, who has made what are considered some of the best-sounding records of all time. “God is in the details. But there are no details anymore.”

-Robert Levine, “The Death of High Fidelity” [An article on The Loudness War. Very important debate for people that listen to a lot of music.]

To my mind all these factors deserve further study. But another possible explanation cannot be ignored — the longstanding pattern of pre-election polls overstating support for black candidates among white voters, particularly white voters who are poor. . . I concluded, eventually, that I got it wrong not so much because respondents were lying to our interviewers but because poorer, less well-educated voters were less likely to agree to answer our questions.

-Andrew Kohut, “Getting It Wrong

Caroline Kohler gave the DNA sample that matched with the bones of her son and solved his disappearance 12 years after he went missing. But the answers she has received provide little solace. “Erik chose to live on the streets. He lived a troubled life and he probably died a horrible death,” she said. “I had always thought maybe he was off somewhere and just didn’t want to contact us. At least I guess now I won’t look at someone walking on the side of the road and wonder if that’s my son.”

-Patrick Oppmann, “Bone Investigation” [Jesus. Read a lot of Raymond Carver, lady?]

A series of recent tests suggest that when Jenkins accesses stored information in response to visual or mental cues, he is most likely to remember his family’s trip to Disney World, followed by the time he beat the dreaded Stage 57 on Bubble Bobble without losing a life, the first time he rode a bike, the exact route he made Bo Jackson run to defeat his friend Jason Whitner at Tecmo Bowl, hiding underneath his covers while his parents fought noisily in the adjoining room, and the locations of the three warp whistles in Super Mario Bros. 3. . . The findings also revealed that about 60 percent of Jenkins’ repressed memories may involve Nintendo. In a Rorschach inkblot test administered to him, Jenkins compared a series of amorphous shapes to a bird eating its young, his mother brandishing a broadsword, and the entire cast of characters from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest.

-The Onion, “Half of 26-Year-Old’s Memories Nintendo-Related” [This is one of those Onion articles whose humor relies solely on allusion, but I still got a kick out of it. Castelvania II. Oh god. What Horrible Night to Have a Curse.]

“Yeah, Mike, I’m at the service right now,” Donovan told Mike Mosedale, his boss at D’Angelo’s Pizza, via telephone from the First Avenue Funeral Home in downtown Minneapolis. “It’s very moving, you know, and she looks really natural, and I have a suit on. . . She was a big Widespread Panic fan,” Donovan added. “That’s why you can hear them in the background.”

-The Onion, “Pizza-Delivery Driver’s Sixth Grandmother Dies” [Okay, this is from 1999, but the “…and I have a suit on” line is so classic.]

Even when people agree that an outcome is desirable, they may disagree on whether it should be treated as a matter of preference and prudence or as a matter of sin and virtue. Rozin notes, for example, that smoking has lately been moralized. Until recently, it was understood that some people didn’t enjoy smoking or avoided it because it was hazardous to their health. But with the discovery of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, smoking is now treated as immoral. Smokers are ostracized; images of people smoking are censored; and entities touched by smoke are felt to be contaminated (so hotels have not only nonsmoking rooms but nonsmoking floors). The desire for retribution has been visited on tobacco companies, who have been slapped with staggering “punitive damages. . . We don’t show contempt to the man who fails to change the batteries in his smoke alarms or takes his family on a driving vacation, both of which multiply the risk they will die in an accident. Driving a gas-guzzling Hummer is reprehensible, but driving a gas-guzzling old Volvo is not; eating a Big Mac is unconscionable, but not imported cheese or crème brûlée. The reason for these double standards is obvious: people tend to align their moralization with their own lifestyles. . .

Other studies have shown that neurological patients who have blunted emotions because of damage to the frontal lobes become utilitarians: they think it makes perfect sense to throw the fat man off the bridge. . .

Preschoolers have an inkling of the difference between societal conventions and moral principles. Four-year-olds say that it is not O.K. to wear pajamas to school (a convention) and also not O.K. to hit a little girl for no reason (a moral principle). But when asked whether these actions would be O.K. if the teacher allowed them, most of the children said that wearing pajamas would now be fine but that hitting a little girl would still not be. . .

. . .rhesus monkeys, who go hungry rather than pull a chain that delivers food to them and a shock to another monkey. . .

In the West, we believe that in business and government, fairness should trump community and try to root out nepotism and cronyism. In other parts of the world this is incomprehensible — what heartless creep would favor a perfect stranger over his own brother?

Steven Pinker, “The Moral Instinct” [This is a fantastic article. Ethics to the people!]

The car finished 15th in the race, which had started in Chicago several days earlier. But the student engineers from Stanford were too pumped up to care. That night, they gathered at a house in L.A. rented by former team member J.B. Straubel, ’98, MS ’00. Although they’d had little sleep for the past week, everybody stayed up until morning scribbling calculations on white boards and stray napkins. “It dawned on us that with a larger lithium-ion battery, you could have actually run this car without a solar array for the whole race,” Straubel recalls. “We were thinking about how to apply this to the real world.”

-Ann Marsh, “The Electric Company” [An article about the upcoming electric car. Disclosure: My brother is one of Tesla Motors’ engineers! You can see him in the center picture. He’s in blue in front of the driver’s side door, behind the guy in pink. Go, bro!]

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~ by ohkrapp on January 17, 2008.

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