May 12th, 2008


The Day's Allotment of Brain Nourishment

From goodluckfox: Jonathan Zittrain: The Future of the Internet — and How To Stop It

WARNING: Over an hour. But very interesting, particularly if you're an internet professional (like me).

From Arts & Letters Daily:

Newsweek: Faulty Powers
Despite the fact that humans have been known to be eaten by bears, sharks and assorted other carnivores, we love to place ourselves at the top of the food chain. And, despite our unwavering conviction that we are smarter than the computers we invented, members of our species still rob banks with their faces wrapped in duct tape and leave copies of their resumes at the scene of the crime. Six percent of sky-diving fatalities occur due to a failure to remember to pull the ripcord, hundreds of millions of dollars are sent abroad in response to shockingly unbelievable e-mails from displaced African royalty and nobody knows what Eliot Spitzer was thinking.

Are these simply examples of a few subpar minds amongst our general brilliance? Or do all human minds work not so much like computers but as Rube Goldberg machines capable of both brilliance and unbelievable stupidity? In his new book, "Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind," New York University professor Gary Marcus uses evolutionary psychology to explore the development of that "clumsy, cobbled-together contraption" we call a brain and to answer such puzzling questions as, "Why do half of all Americans believe in ghosts?" and "How can 4 million people believe they were once abducted by aliens?"

(If this seems familiar, I linked to an essay by the author of Kluge last week, in which he talked about the basic premise of the book.)

The New Republic: The Stupidity of Dignity — Conservative Bioethics' Latest, Most Dangerous Ploy
Kass has a problem not just with longevity and health but with the modern conception of freedom. There is a "mortal danger," he writes, in the notion "that a person has a right over his body, a right that allows him to do whatever he wants to do with it." He is troubled by cosmetic surgery, by gender reassignment, and by women who postpone motherhood or choose to remain single in their twenties. Sometimes his fixation on dignity takes him right off the deep end:

Worst of all from this point of view are those more uncivilized forms of eating, like licking an ice cream cone--a catlike activity that has been made acceptable in informal America but that still offends those who know eating in public is offensive. ... Eating on the street--even when undertaken, say, because one is between appointments and has no other time to eat--displays [a] lack of self-control: It beckons enslavement to the belly. ... Lacking utensils for cutting and lifting to mouth, he will often be seen using his teeth for tearing off chewable portions, just like any animal. ... This doglike feeding, if one must engage in it, ought to be kept from public view, where, even if we feel no shame, others are compelled to witness our shameful behavior.

And, in 2001, this man, whose pro-death, anti-freedom views put him well outside the American mainstream, became the President's adviser on bioethics--a position from which he convinced the president to outlaw federally funded research that used new stem-cell lines. In his speech announcing the stem-cell policy, Bush invited Kass to form the Council. Kass packed it with conservative scholars and pundits, advocates of religious (particularly Catholic) principles in the public sphere, and writers with a paper trail of skittishness toward biomedical advances, together with a smattering of scientists (mostly with a reputation for being religious or politically conservative). After several members opposed Kass on embryonic stem-cell research, on therapeutic cloning (which Kass was in favor of criminalizing), and on the distortions of science that kept finding their way into Council reports, Kass fired two of them (biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and philosopher William May) and replaced them with Christian-affiliated scholars.

-The Gneech
Go Speed Racer Go


Just saw it. Loved it. Loved it. LOVED IT. LOVED IT! Absolutely five stars without reservation. They could not have made a better Speed Racer movie, or at least if it could be done, I don't know how.

And don't let the reviews fool you — this is a gutsy movie.

"Gneech," you may be saying to yourself, "what the heck do you mean 'gutsy'? Every review I've read talks about the simplistic plot and almost retro sense of do-gooderism."

That's it exactly! It's gutsy because, knowing full well they'd be sneered and spat at by the too-hip-for-the-room types — including many of their own fans — the Wachowski bros. stuck to Speed Racer. They didn't try to "make it cool," they didn't try to "reinvent it for modern audiences," heck, they didn't even get rid of the kitschy names like "Snake Oiler" and "Inspector Detector." Not only did they leave it there, they reveled in it. They made a Speed Racer movie that really looked, felt, and sounded like Speed Racer.

The wild, over-the-top effects and psychedelic colors are absolutely part of that. To see what I mean, first watch the original Speed Racer opening credits. In particular, watch the backgrounds, the distinctive art style, etc. Then watch the movie music video and compare. Yes, it's a little more frenetic and go-all-over-the-placey — but not that much. Not really. Speed Racer the movie, is a movie of what the world would be like, if Speed Racer wasn't a cartoon, you see what I mean? It's a brilliant tour-de-force.

What drives me most nuts about the negative reviews is that they keep sneering at Speed Racer for not being all these things they think it should be, as if they're deliberately ignoring both what it is, and what it's intended to be. The Speed Racer TV show was a boy's adventure tale, aimed straight at the 8-year-old heart and mind, with a few winks for any grownups (or older siblings) who might happen to be watching. That doesn't mean it's dumb, and frankly it's insulting to say so. It does mean that a direct, straight-faced approach to both narrative and characterization is what's called for, and it colors what themes your work needs to deal with.

"What's important in life?"

"How do I succeed? How do I prevail in a competitive world?"

"How do I relate to my family?"

"How do I know right from wrong?"

"How do I act on that knowledge when doing the right thing is hard or scary?"

These are important things for boys to learn, and these are the things that Speed Racer has always been about — the fast cars and explosions is just a framework, something to get the kid's blood pumping and past the "blah blah blah" reflex. (As an aside, the "blah blah blah" scene and Speed's trip into fantasy land is absolutely brilliant and absolutely spot on. I myself have woken up to a classroom staring at me because I was making my own sound effects while I drew. It happens!)

I don't know what exactly the other reviewers were wanting from it, other than a handy scratching post. The general attitude seems to be, "It could have been a good movie if it wasn't Speed Racer." Well, to them I cordially say, "Bite me, it's fun." If you're given something with as strong an identity as Speed Racer, dammit, you GO with it! (So to speak.) You put in corny gangsters, and Spridle and Chim-Chim doing candy raids and stowing away in the trunk, and Racer X being badass and smirking the whole time. Because to do anything else would be to get it totally wrong.

I'm so very, very glad to say, the Wachowskis got it totally right.

Thanks, guys. :) I've been waiting 35 years for this movie, and you didn't disappoint me. :)

-The Gneech

PS: Spridle and Chim-Chim are totally likeable. That is an impressive feat.