Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Why women in combat is going to mean more war

Indeed, women in combat is going to mean more war. Not declared wars (declarations don't seem to be necessary anymore anyway), but useless interventions built around touchy-feely narratives.

Here's the deal: People have learned to shrug off dead men in uniform. This won't be the case with dead women (at least not initially). The next time they need to convince Americans that we need to send troops or drones into some country 99% of Americans have never heard of to "resolve" a conflict that 100% of Americans have never heard of, the media will spam us with images of a female soldier killed in that region.

This will convince everyone on the right and left that SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE! Moronic egalitarian zombies won't stand for the unavenged death of a SISTER IN ARMS, and moronic "conservative" militarists will bang the drum about the death of this potential life-giver, this sacred temple of Christian femininity.

And before you know it, America will once again find itself embroiled in another battle where it stands to gain absolutely nothing thanks to a touchy-feely narrative (THEY KILLED ONE OF OUR WOMEN!), and this will override the scant critical thought that remains in this increasingly IQ-less role model for how not to run a superpower.

What's wrong with this picture?

"If women ran the world, there would be no wars!" 

"Yay, they're lifting the ban on women in combat!"

Something doesn't add up here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hipsters Explained

Was discussing hipsters with my comic friends Ian Ghent and Dan Goodman. The topic: Why are hipsters so useless?
I think part of what explains hipsters is a widespread refusal to grow up. Technological innovations like YouTube have created an incomprehensible archive of EVERYTHING that allows people to instantly and endlessly reminisce about Transformers, old commercials, etc. There was a time not so long ago when hitting a certain age meant completely parting ways with nearly every recreational activity from your youth (apart from sports). I am not referring to the 1950s. My older brother, who is under forty, left college as an adult, or at least he was adultish. He and his friends never sat around talking G.I. Joe.

These days your old memories never have to get old. Within seconds you can access everything the Smurfs ever did. And in just a few more seconds you can share that with all your thumb sucking, underdeveloped friends.

Also, jobs haven't been so readily available these last six years, so a lot of young folks haven't been reigned in by the workplace, nor have they had the capital to consider very adult purchases like houses. This has undoubtedly delayed a lot of growing up that otherwise would have happened. And even before the credit economy madness sputtered, there was already a trend toward starting families later in life, which enables you to extend your Frivolous Years.

What all this leaves us with is a burdensome demographic of Peter Pans (though hipsters would probably call themselves Pietro Pan in an attempt to sound worldly).

I think a refusal to grow up also played a role in the hippie/Summer of Love folks, but for some reason, that trend at least led to some decent songs and movies. The hipster trend has produced absolutely nothing of value. Not even by accident.

And could some of the problem be that a lot of these hipsters are trying to be artists themselves (this pose being part of what makes one "artsy"), so the hipster trend is a self-perpetuating mechanism that continually encourages a brackish sea of bad writing/music? Conversely, the hippies produced far fewer artists; a lot of the counterculture folks were just along for the ride and they ultimately became the fanbase that supported some of the better counterculture artists. Not enough sheep are just along for the hipster ride, so there isn't much support for any decent hipster artists (if such a thing exists). Seems like a division of labor problem.

Plus a lot of hippie-folk really did drop out of society (at least for a while). Dropping out isn't part of the hipster pose. Quite the opposite. Hipsterdom is all about letting the whole world know how you think and feel, and today's technology has made this very easy to do.

It is really too bad that none of the bearded hipster celebrities proclaimed that beards were a way of "hiding part of yourself from the world, man!" If one of them had, perhaps a lot of these hipsters would have taken the queue and quite literally hidden all of their body from the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why baby boomers aren't done ruining the country

You may have heard this quote (usually attributed to Winston Churchill): "If you are not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart and if you are not conservative at thirty, you have no brain."

You start off wide-eyed and idealistic, and as you gain experience the purism and utopian fantasy of youth gives way to at least a dusting of realism. I think there is some truth to this, and it is certainly tragic when it doesn't happen. Nothing sadder than a 40-year-old proclaiming that everyone could be an astronaut if only they were properly encouraged.

Given that the US (and the entire developed world) is aging, and given that old folks are traditionally more likely to vote, one would think this aging trend might express itself in a rise of conservative politicians (I realize that the Republican Party isn't conservative but let's keep this simple) and a consequent shrinking of government. I don't think this is going to happen, despite the standing army of dried up bingo ladies the US now finds itself with.

Old people, like all people, are going to milk everything they can out of the system while it is still standing, so it seems doubtful they are going to vote for candidates running on a platform of decreased entitlements. No way, Joseph. They are going to do everything they can to pressure politicians into keeping unkeepable promises, regardless of the consequences for everyone else (it is all part of that hard won realism). And politicians will happily punish everyone else to retain the votes of these geriatrics.

Rand Paul is not going to come close to getting the nomination, let alone the White House. No austerity candidate is going to become a heavyweight in US politics. "Austerity" candidates are failing in Europe right now. When deluded democratic citizens see the end of the entitlement road ahead of them, they don't get realistic and look for another road; they idle in place and scream at politicians to extend the road.

I keep hearing libertarians express hope for the future because of the splash Ron Paul made and the ideas he introduced to so many. I would like to be optimistic, but the numbers don't add up. Look at the youth turnout for Obama this time around. Look at the widespread antipathy to markets among the young. And now with Obamacare on the books, "liberal" politicians have bought themselves A LOT of entrenched voters, because every four years there is going to be a fight about "reforming" it, complete with all the images of people being dying in the streets. When you add to all that the overhang of old folks the US entitlement system is already grappling with, it really doesn't bode well for the political application of that allegedly Churchillian quote, does it? Ours is a mob rule republic, and the Ron Paul army is really more of a small militia (how appropriate!).

I would like to be optimistic. Unfortunately, I'm not twenty anymore.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Occam's Razor and Lance Armstrong

Occam's Razor: When you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better.

When people are accused of engaging in elaborate plots, commentators frequently dismiss the accusations by citing Occam's Razor. "Don't you realize how many people would have to be involved?"

They're not wrong to ask this. But this isn't the only way Occam's Razor can be applied.

In Lance Armstrong's case, you could point to this very simple explanation: when someone outperforms in his sport so overwhelmingly--especially post-cancer--it is not unreasonable to suspect complex cheating. Another simple explanation: when major bucks (Libor scandal) are on the line, it is not unreasonable to expect that people will go to very elaborate (quiz show scandal) lengths--involving multiple actors--to accomplish this cheating.

Incredible outperformance of the sort Lance Armstrong (or Bernie Madoff) demonstrated could lead you back to this always simple explanation: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shooter Games, Shooter Films, and Moneyshots

Today is the one month anniversary of Sandy Hook, and the discussion of the causes behind the shooting continues. One topic has been the possible link between violent entertainment and violent real-life behavior. This topic always surfaces after such incidents.

What is the relationship between death on the screen and death on the street? Put it this way: I frequently hear people say that Rudy inspired them to keep playing when people said they couldn't or that The Pursuit of Happyness inspired them to brush themselves off and follow their dreams. I also hear folks say they watch certain movies or scenes from movies to "pump themselves up" for certain activities. So why are we so afraid to consider that Die Hard might inspire something comparable in the other direction?

Look at kids and pro-wrestling. Nearly every kid sees the wrestling moves on TV and tries them in real life. I speak from experience on this. I doubt I would have invented the camel clutch on my own.

I also know I'm not the only one who has been involved in conversations about how the ubiquity of harcore porn has altered sexual expectations and responses.

If seeing something on the screen didn't influence your behavior, there would be no such thing as commercials.

When I went to the movies recently every single preview was for an upcoming explosion extravangaza. People love this stuff. Hollywood wouldn't keep sinking money into big budget bloodbaths if there was no demand. The vast majority of viewers walk away without seriously mimicking the carnage. But for a deranged viewer, why couldn't it be one of the contributors to his ultimate meltdown? If people are going to claim that uplifting, inspirational entertainment has a positive impact it seems like a stretch to say that violent, nihilistic entertainment can't have a negative effect on viewers' perceptions and behaviors.

Obviously humans were violent and aggressive before violent movies and video games. But does that automatically mean that continual exposure to certain kinds of violent entertainment can't help shape the way that aggression is expressed? People also had sex drives before the pill came along, but once it began to circulate, behaviors changed.

If violence on the screen doesn't desensitize people, then why has movie violence escalated so much? Go watch the darkest, most existential noir film from the fifties and see how tame it is compared to today's PG-13 films (to say nothing of R-rated ones). If our expectations and reactions weren't changed by continuous exposure to violence, we wouldn't be experiencing dimished returns when it comes to onscreen blooshed. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Arsenio Hall Revisited

Once Arsenio Hall's red hot comedy career hit a wall, to many the man became a joke himself. It happened rather quickly; rarely have I seen a comedian treated like an out-of-style pop star, with ex-fans pretending never to have liked him. People seem to have forgotten that at one time the man was seen as a very serious competitor to hosts like Letterman.

I never watched him as often as my friends did, and I must say I too had a fuzzy memory of him being a lightweight.

After revisiting some clips of him on YouTube, I realize that I--and the rest of the world--may have had him all wrong. Forget "Things that make you go hmmm" and the over-the-top crowds. The man was a smart and very natural interviewer.

Here is his famous interview with Vanilla Ice:

And his famous interview with Dice Clay:

Go back in time and remember how huge and controversial those two celebrities were, and how easy it would have been to be confrontational and sensationalist. Had Arsenio taken that approach, every paper in the country would have been on his side. But he didn't, and the interviews were better for it.

When other hosts have folks on they don't seem to like, it's palpable, and the interview becomes a mini-roast. That didn't happen on "Arsenio". The guy also didn't score easy points by lambasting easy targets. He let guests speak. He allowed for natural silences.

And here's something else that is key: when he talked to guests he didn't mug constantly to drag out cheap laughs. That's because he was creating a facsimile of a conversation, and when you're conversing with someone, you don't start gesticulating like a nervous mime. If you were at Starbucks having a chat with someone and in the middle of hearing their break-up story you randomly jumped up and did a Chippendales dance, chances are the conversation would never regain its footing.

For all the talk about his show bringing hipness to late night, his interview style actually owed a lot to the classic approach of Johnny Carson. In that sense, you might say he was a truer heir apparent to Carson that some of the other late night hosts. Had "The Arsenio Hall Show" stuck around, perhaps the more guest-driven, less sketch-packed style that he and Carson used wouldn't have ridden off into the sunset. Maybe more late night shows would have taken their queues from it.

I understand he has a new show in the works. Hopefully it is in the vein of Bob Costas's old "Later" show, which was nothing but interviews. If Mr. Hall takes that approach, I have a feeling the show will be different and better than most other shows on TV.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

If you like nonstop death, you'll love The Hobbit!

***Multiple spoilers alert.***

I went to see The Hobbit in 3-D. I haven't read the book, but as a very young child I saw the animated Hobbit many times. My memories of it were faint, so I went into this new Hobbit fresh.

The visuals are spectacular. But what those visuals amount to is bloody eye candy. There is constant, brutal violence. There are detached heads raised in triumph. It's Rambo with Orcs.

Yet the movie still shoehorns in a token nod to Bilbo's gentle nature:

Gandalf: Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay... small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That's because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

But the second that line finishes, it is back to the constant carnage. So basically we have a movie named after the gentle creature who has never killed, in which he is used as a wacky neighbor character to set the stage for scores of goblins, mountain trolls, and Orcs to get mowed down. It is like making a film ostensibly about a virgin where every other scene is an orgy. That sole line about Bilbo's purity is a dandelion in an exploding minefield. So much for the message about small everyday deeds.

Maybe it was just being faithful to the book. Still, I prefer the takeaway of the cartoon Hobbit:

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Deadbeat dads must be world class salesmen

Whenever you hear about a guy with a bunch of illegitimate kids, the formula is always the same; eight kids, seven mothers. There is always that one woman who fell for it twice.

This is not so bad if the father is someone like Mick Jagger, because let's face it: if you have two kids with Mick Jagger, you're rich. His sperm are like diamonds that can swim.

But the father isn't always a rich celebrity like Mr. Jagger. Usually it is a guy who hasn't had a checking account since the late seventies. You have to wonder what that guy told the woman to get her to have a second kid with him:

"Abortion stops a beating heart. Also, I need another birthday number I can use when I play the lotto!"

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Out with the old and the TOTALLY NEW, MAN!

I have been taking in the New Year's "Twilight Zone" marathon. Every TV program, but especially those like "TZ" that are attempting to be "socially relevant," can't help but be a time-capsule. Many "Twilight Zone" episodes were preoccupied with nuclear war. Nuclear war never happened. We didn't even have a nuclear skirmish. Still, these nuke-obsessed episodes retain social relevance; not because of any nuclear war reality, but because they reflect how heavily the anxieties of the nuclear age weighed on Americans of the fifties and sixties.

This seems to be inevitable for a lot of artists who try to "push the envelope" on the issues of the day. They end up timestamping their work in a way that makes it painful to behold even a few years after the fact. The message always seems shrill and the language used to make it (dig that, hepcat!) ends up sounding preposterous. Have you read the cutting edge work of New Journalism icon Terry Southern lately? It has about as much staying power as an oyster on the planet Mercury. Meanwhile Tom Wolfe's work from the same era could have been written today. One overindulged in the trappings of the day, one didn't.

Look at music, in this case The Rolling Stones; which holds up better: Beggar's Banquet or Their Satanic Majesties Request? The cover alone should tell you.

Seriously, how much "radical," "socially relevant" sixties fare can you still stomach today? By trying so hard at the time to be epochal, by being too conscious of THIS IS THE NEW THING, MAN!, it actually winds up dating itself far more than the entertainment it was fighting to replace.

In a few years terrorism/homeland security obessesed shows like "24" will also provide us with a time-capsule. This anxiety is not a perfect comparison with the nuclear anxiety seen in "The Twilight Zone" though. Unlike "Islamofascism," the Soviet Union actually posed a threat.