Boob Studies

This idea has some laboratory support. Studies have found that viewing people’s bodies, as opposed to their faces, makes us judge those people as less intelligent, less ambitious, less competent and less likable. One neuroimaging experiment found that, for men, viewing pictures of sexualized women induced lowered activity in brain regions associated with thinking about other people’s minds. NY Times, November 29, 2013

If there ever was a definitively ridiculous incarnation of the “studies show” shibboleth out there, this is might be it.

Studies show…. So, like, they did this research, and it proved, uh, that men who look at naked women are stupid.

First of all, do you accept that scientists know which part of the brain is involved with “thinking about other people’s minds”? Surely, you don’t. I sure as hell don’t. And I don’t think I would even believe you if you said you thought they did. But this kind of absurd assertion gains currency all the time in our culture, very simply, because you can’t show me the part of the brain that doesn’t think about other peoples’ minds. In other words, you can’t prove that it’s false, because you can’t prove a negative. You especially can’t prove a negative of an un-provable positive.

As Karl Popper demonstrated, that means this assertion is, therefore, unproven. There has to be at least a hypothetical possibility that you could prove the assertion wrong. Given the nature of “studies show” and “neuroimaging” (which is not even a word), there is no such possibility.

But never mind– these “social scientists” heedlessly carry on with the other qualities they believe men ascribe to naked women. “Less competent”. Do you think this actually means something in this context? Does a man looking at a picture of a naked woman actually apply some kind of affected judgment to the next woman he gives a job interview to?

To their dubious credit, the researchers acknowledge that some of the effects of seeing someone naked are positive. The comment is poorly worded but, in essence, a researcher indicates that some people feel empathy for people who are experiencing being naked. I think.

It’s not very hard to set up these kind of studies. You have a hypothesis which has to be somewhat, moderately, possibly true. Usually, there is a social mission to the theory– that there is discrimination, for example, against an identifiable minority. Then you set up a straw man: people don’t think they are biased (see Malcolm Gladwell). Then you act as if you have shocking news for everyone.

Bottom line: they reached the profound conclusion that people react differently to naked people than to clothed people. This astounding revelation is sure to make CNN and provoke another wide-ranging round of “studies”.

This bullshit was found in…

On Negative Reviews

You really need to know this:  On there is a little box near the bottom of the screen:  ” If you own or manage [this attraction] register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.”

This is a bit like the Ministry of the Environment inviting Shell to come in for a friendly little hoe-down and lunch and opportunity to give us their perspective on those pesky environmental activists.  How do you attract more comment from the public, meaning, perhaps, people who believe they stand to benefit from your work.

We just want to hear from both sides.

The Pearl with the Girl Earring

Just because Hollywood made a film about it does not mean that “The Girl with a Pearl Earring” is now the greatest Vermeer, evah. Even if it was Scarlett Johansson as the girl.

It is a mediocre film not worthy of it’s subject.  It isn’t even worthy of Scarlett Johansson, who spent most of the film trying to look innocent and sultry at the same time.

It’s not even close. I personally find the painting a bit off-putting myself. Give me “A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window”, “The Music Lesson”, The Kitchen Maid”, “The Geographer”– yeah, pretty well any other Vermeer painting, except for the “Study of a Young Woman”, which I also find off-putting.

School is Football

The Story

It is really depressing to read this story in the New York Times about two impoverished Philadelphia high schools who were rivals at football and who were forced to merge because of declining enrollments and public debt. The New York Times, who should know better, thinks this is a feel-good story because the two schools together produced a football team that could win.

It is not unusual at all to see articles in the U.S. press about how important it is to have schools and universities and colleges so that there can be football. The Times notes that the coach of the football team mentioned academics once. And the writer keeps trying to insist that the football success has some bearing on other apple-pie issues like school violence, attendance, and just how wonderful these poor, mostly black kids can now feel about themselves.

Personally, I think the schools in the U.S., at all levels, should give up the academics entirely and do the only thing they are really good at: exploiting children for adult gratification. It’s the coaches and parents, who turn out in droves for the matches, who are driving this process, living their own competitive ambitions through their children, and their children who pay– the football players at King now have to do year-round weight training. Isn’t that great? Wow! What self-discipline and ambition and drive! Oh– and maybe he’ll do his homework too, but who the what cares?

Doesn’t the New York Times care about the academic performance of this school? Of course it does. Then why this exuberant account of the success of big bad dudes crashing into each other? What does that have to do with the mission of a school, with the students’ social lives, with poverty, with inadequate funding for the arts, with math and english and science and music and drama and poetry and history and philosophy?

The Kitsch Thief

In both the book and movie versions of the Nazi-literacy-kitsch product “The Book Thief”, Hans Holberman and his wife Rosa take in a 20 year old Jewish refugee because his father saved Hans’ life during the first global war. Thus the potentially most interesting aspect of Holberman’s actions is emasculated: he owed the guy’s father. And thus the psychological perversity of this entire story is accentuated. He is repaying what is due. If someone is nice to you, you should be nice to them.

There were many people who took in Jews during the war– not nearly enough– but the percentage of them who were “owed” something by the people they took in was undoubtedly ridiculously small. That’s not why good people did a good thing. It’s not why people risked their lives to help others. Do we really need another movie to tell us that we are essentially good–nay, saintly– when we merely repay those who we believe owe us something?

It’s psychologically perverse, because if Markus Zusak had the ability to penetrate the surface of his own constructions, he would have revealled just how fraught with moral ambiguity such a relationship would be: the Jew is asking the Holbermans to risk their lives on his behalf. The Holbermans are not idiots: they know that as perverse as a refusal would be, Max, the Jew, is also forced into a horrible position, that of burdening others with enormous risk for his personal benefit. It’s the Nazi-kitsch equivalent of the stranger who rescues the toddler from certain death in traffic as the mother has dozed off in the playground. In Zusak’s vision, the mother is eternally grateful to the stranger, and the stranger feels entitled pride in his achievement. But a real mother is not going to be eternally grateful to someone who makes her look like a terrible mother. Better yet– she might be, but her gratitude is not unalloyed.

When Max, who was forced to leave the Holbermans because of a stupid act by Hans– for which the novelist forgives him instantly– is marched through town, Liesel defies the German soldiers by racing to his side, in a scene reminiscent of James Garner climbing over the beds to get to his beloved Allie at the end of an equally overwrought story, “The Notebook”, where the nursing staff find both of them the next morning, dead, in each others arms! This scene reeks contrivance: Zusak is desperate to clobber us over the head with just how utterly saintly Liesel is and he doesn’t trust his reader to get it: she has to do something patently absurd, instead. The only thing missing was rain.

Graham Greene, better than anybody else ever, pointed out the essential narcissism of stories like this in “The Power and the Glory”, and the damage they do to our understanding of good and evil. When we measure real actions against melodrama, we will fail to recognize the genuine heroism of people who were smart enough not to attract the attention of the Nazis when you are hiding a Jew in your house. Zusak wants it both ways: he wants you to wallow in the impetuous generosity of Hans Holberman when he can’t stand to see the suffering Jews marching through town without water or food, and then he wants you to forget how foolish that action was by refusing to describe the conversation Hans must have had with Max in which he had to explain why he had to flee the house, to certain death.

It should be added that I think Zusak thinks the Nazis didn’t have much use for reading. He doesn’t make much sense of the fact that Liesel’s act of “subversion” is to learn how to read– the Nazis loved education, literature, science, and music. Yes, she takes a book from a book-burning, suggesting that she stands against censorship, but it isn’t developed into anything. The books are rather random and irrelevant, and Zusak doesn’t make anything of that either.  (It would have been far more interesting if the book she had rescued was “Mein Kampf”.)

The Nazis, of course, loved culture. They were enthralled with Schiller and Goethe and Wagner. Why does Zusak act like Leisel’s reading is an act of subversion? Other than an appeal to that kind of nebulous dignity and intelligence we attribute to ourselves for loving literature?

The ultimate subversion is this: antiseptic accounts of Nazi resistance don’t do anyone any good if they miss the fact that some people who resisted Nazism were not always adorable and some of those who loved Nazism were not always repulsive.

I will acknowledge here that it was a New York Times Review that first used the word “kitsch” in connection with this work.

Am I too demanding? “The Diary of Anne Frank” is brilliantly evocative of the ambivalences involved with citizens who protected Jews during the war. And this was a 14 year old girl. The difference is, Anne Frank was writing honestly about what it was like to have this experience. Zusak is writing about what he thinks people think the experience was like– and catering to their inhibited sensibilities about the Nazis and little girls and reading and cranky old men with hearts of gold.

Some reviewers commented favorably about the novel idea of having Death narrate the book. If Zusak had actually written some interesting observations or comments by this character…

Don’t let anyone tell you that the movie isn’t as good as the book.  In fact, it is just as bad.  The book was singularly unimpressive.

Push the Button First, Gothamites!

You buy a product from a store. The store charges you extra. Then they give you “air miles” which they pay for with the extra money they charged you. This induces a hypnotic state of bliss in the customer.

In “The Dark Knight”, the Joker sets up a situation in which there are two ferries, one filled with upstanding citizens of Gotham, and the other with criminals. They each have a detonator linked to explosives on the other ferry. Whoever pushes the button first will be spared but the other boat will blow up killing all of its occupants.

This is the same principle behind air miles. The profitability of the system depends upon the fact that people like me refuse to collect them. Those who do collect air miles are pushing the button: they get the benefit of this surcharge, while I do not. But the truth is, both of us are paying more for products and services because of this idiotic scheme that vendors have induced people to buy into.

The same applies to discount coupons and affinity cards. Do people seriously believe that the store has reduced prices just because they love having you as a customer? The only reason any vendor has to provide a discount to any particular custom with a coupon or an affinity card is because they can charge more to people who are willing to shop there because of the cheap, meaningless thrill of getting a “discount”.


The Decline of the “Alien” Franchise

Gino (Richard Hervey) gets left behind when he stops to light a cigarette, he is also attacked.

From the synopsis of “It! The Terror From Beyond Space” at IMDB.

I would have thought smoking would have been banned in space ships by the time distant future had rolled around. But then again, there is smoking on the ship in “Aliens”. It’s the first thing John Hurt does after waking from his cryogenic sleep.

“Alien” truly is a very original, very well-made science-fiction horror film. Considering how derivative most effects-laden blockbuster Hollywood movies are nowadays– including it’s own sequel, “Aliens”– that’s an accomplishment.

But it was not conceived ex nihilo. In fact, it is quite surprising to me how much of the story is derived from earlier books and movies. This should be a lesson to aspiring writers: steal from the best. No wait– steal from the worst. They will have less money to sue you with.

First of all there is, “IT! The Terror from Beyond Space”.

First of all, what’s “beyond space”? I have no idea. But here’s the plot: a lone spaceman is the survivor of an expedition to Mars. He is rescued but where is the rest of his crew? He is suspected of killing the others but claims an alien creature is responsible. Earth does not believe him and plans to court-martial him…. until, his fellow travelers start disappearing one by one, including a gentleman stopping to light a cigarette. The creature has stowed away on the rescue ship and now stalks the rest of crew.

Whoa– the creature uses the air vents to travel through the ship! It hauls crew members into the vents, then attacks the others when they try to recover the victims.

When an autopsy is done on a deceased crew member, it is found that every ounce of moisture has been taken from the body. They try nuking the creature but that fails. Then they finally get into their space suits and vent the atmosphere from the ship causing the alien to be sucked out into outer space.

Not quite exactly like “Alien” or “Aliens” but there some striking similarities.

In “The Voyage of the Space Beagle” an insect like creature called Ixtl implants it’s eggs into living hosts. The author of the story upon which it is based sued the makers of “Alien” and received an out-of-court settlement. In other words, there enough similarities to make a court case out of it, or the studio wanted him, A. E. Van Vogt, to just go away.

Vogt’s stories revolve around a space ship staffed by a thousand castrati. I’m not making this up: that must be how he conceived peace and good order on this vessel during these grueling, extended absences. Thankfully, this particular detail was not plagiarized either by “Star Trek”, which bears more than a few similarities, or “Alien”, or it’s sequels.

The makers of “Alien” acknowledge a debt to “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Star Wars”, and “Texas Chain-saw Massacre”. Apparently, that latter film blew away Ridley Scott who suddenly realized that he could make his movie a lot bloodier and more violent without offending mainstream audiences.

However, he could not make Dallas or Lambert transgender, as originally written: decent, moral, law-abiding audiences draw the line somewhere.

But go ahead with the exploding chests.

In “Alien Resurrection”, Ripley is reconstituted from the DNA in a blood sample 200 years after the events in Alien3. They do this to retrieve the alien embryo from her body where it was implanted.

I’m confused by this: how would rebuilding her from her DNA in a blood sample also rebuild the alien embryo which couldn’t possibly have the same DNA?

“It! the Terror From Beyond Space”  Synopsis  Movie

50th Anniversary of the Lone Assassin

If I had been part of the group of men and women who plotted the assassination of John F. Kennedy– if there was a plot– I would very gratified to know the state of the conspiracy theories today: it’s a colossal mess.

It’s democracy in action, of course, but a mess. A simply search of Youtube will turn up dozens and dozens and dozens– if not hundreds– of amateur criminologists all claiming to have turned up some hitherto secret detail that would finally prove that there was a conspiracy. And nothing, of course, does more to discredit the idea of a conspiracy than a multitude of crackpot theories.

Obviously, a number of crackpot theories does not really diminish the possibility that there was a conspiracy. If anything, these crackpot theories are the result of the massive gaps and omissions and errors in the initial investigation and the Warren Commission’s report on the assassination.

So when some theorist announces that he has proven decisively that there was no conspiracy, he is missing the point. He can’t prove that there was no conspiracy. He can’t even prove that Oswald fired the shots. He can only provide answers to the questions that a conspirator would be happy to offer as evidence.

That’s why there is such an obsession with proving that Kennedy was shot from behind. Zing, bang, biff: no conspiracy. But of course, even if the proof is decisive (it’s pretty good), it only proves that the shots came from behind, not that they came from Oswald.

When Dale Myers insists that he has proven conclusively that the shots came from the 6th floor of the Texas Book Depository, I really begin to wonder if he isn’t in the pay of the conspirators. The idea that he can establish, from his CGI reconstruction, that the shots came from exactly that location– that he can insist that he didn’t set out to prove that they came from this location to begin with and that he only “discovered” it from his “research”– beggars belief. Is he serious? Why would he make such a ridiculous assertion? Why not stick to something reasonably credible and demonstrable, like the idea that the shots probably came from behind and above?

Because he has an agenda.

And PBS’ Nova later showed that a more accurate reconstruction of the assassination implied that the shots came from the Dal-Tex building: at least these researchers accepted the science, not the ideology, while acknowledging that identifying the exact location of the shooters is not really possible.

ABC News, in their report, insists that the FBI has established that the bullets could only have come from the gun owned by Oswald.  This was “proven” by a chemical analysis of the composition of the lead in the bullet.  Impressed?  We now know just how reliable that evidence is: the FBI itself has informed other law enforcement forces that it will no longer provide testimony to that effect in any court case in the U.S.  Because it was never true.

ABC News insists that a palm print from Oswald’s hand was found on the barrel of the rifle. It omitted the fact that no prints at all were found when the rifle was initially examined by the most credible expert: the FBI’s Sebastian Latona. He reported that no identifiable prints could be found anywhere on the rifle. It was returned to Dallas where the Dallas police, surprisingly, found the magical palm print. ABC News also reported that Oswald’s finger prints were found on the boxes used to form the “sniper’s nest”. But only one was recent, and Oswald’s job, after all, was to handle boxes on the 6th floor. No other boxes were tested. Other prints from other Depository employees were also found. And so were prints from the police– the evidence was contaminated and would never have been accepted in court.

If Oswald had lived to receive a fair trial and he had had good representation, I think it is quite likely he could have given the Dallas prosecutors a hell of a run for the money. He would have been convicted anyway, because juries can be easily swayed by the weight of opinion held by what they perceive to be the establishment, but a reasonable person might easily have concluded that nobody showed that Oswald actually fired the shots, or that they could not just as well have originated from the Dal-tex building, or that Oswald was not exactly what he said he was: the patsy in a conspiracy.

Many Warren Commission defenders love to point out that it’s been 50 years now and no conspirators have yet come forward to confess their role in the assassination. And if one did, would that change their minds? They would never believe him.  That’s the genius of it.  A conspirator could come forward right now and give 60 Minutes a lengthy interview and provide all kinds of details and no one would believe him.

I Am a Patsy

Answer the right questions: the establishment seems to relish giving alternative answers to the questions that aren’t really germane to the conspiracy. The only essential question is, did Oswald fire the shots? Did he or someone else act alone? For all their protestations to the contrary, the evidence for Oswald as the shooter is quite weak.

I am a patsy.

I have always been intrigued by Oswald’s use of the word “patsy” in the Dallas police headquarters, when asked by a reporter if he shot Kennedy. If you had committed a serious crime and were arrested for it a few hours later, and someone asked you if you did it, what would your first response be? I think mine would be, you’ve got the wrong guy. I didn’t do it. It wasn’t me. I had nothing to do with it. I don’t know anything about it. I have an alibi. I was having my lunch when it happened. You’re making a big mistake.

Oswald said, “I’m just the patsy”. Patsy, of course, has a very specific meaning: I have been set up to take the blame.

Watching the film of Oswald after his arrest, I don’t find it difficult to imagine that Oswald was involved in something, of which he understood little, and quickly realized that he was being set up. I think he quickly realized that he was the patsy and that he would likely be killed rather than arrested. I wonder if Officer Tippit was sent to “arrest” Oswald, and report that this desperate criminal resisted arrest, so he had to shoot him, and Oswald realized that and shot him first.

When the police seized him in the movie theatre, he loudly protested against “police brutality”, almost as if he understood that they were going to kill him if could at all have been made to look creditable. The number of police who converged on the theatre to arrest him was astounding.

For example, check out this guy, George S. de Mohrenschildt. If you think it’s preposterous to believe in a conspiracy, how preposterous is it that this man would be acquainted with the “lone nut” who shot Kennedy? Or that Oswald would send him a copy of the famous backyard picture of him holding a rifle? Just too weird for words.

Bill O’Reilly now defends the Warren Commission. Why oh why do defenders of the Oswald acted alone theory always seem to discredit themselves (as do many conspiracy theorists). O’Reilly claims to have been at George S. de Mohrenschildt’s door at the moment he committed suicide. The private investigator working for the House Assassinations Committee, who visited de Mohrenschildt the morning of the event, begs to differ. (“Killing Kennedy: the End of Camelot”, “co-written” by Martin Dugard.)

And then you explain why there are conspiracy theorists…

We are told that many Americans just can’t accept that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could assassinate someone as important and charismatic as John F. Kennedy.

How about if I explain why so many Americans believe that the U.S. intelligence services and military have too much respect for democracy to ever take violent, drastic actions to “save America from itself” in the face of the global communist threat? There were Generals in the Pentagon who essentially regarded JFK as a traitor for backing down from the confrontation over missiles in Cuba. Moreover, they didn’t think he had the “character” to stand up to the international threats to American hegemony and economic dominance. They believed that they were the true guardians of the American nation– the same kind of people who today describe Obamacare as a communist plot and insist he was not born in the U.S.

Can we have Peter Jennings or Walter Cronkite please offer your mellifluous voices, projecting reason and sobriety, as you describe the behavior and attitudes of people like General Lemay? And then tell us that rational people don’t believe that people like that exist?


Nazi Kitsch

More on Nazi Kitsch

I thought we got beyond this after “Hogan’s Heroes” was cancelled. Why do the characters in “The Book Thief” talk English with German accents? We understand that they are not English. We get that a movie aimed at English audiences about people who speak a non-English language will usually suck up to the exhausted intellects of these audiences by having the characters speak in English, instead of having speak their native tongue and subtitling the film (like the remarkable “Downfall” did).  I get it.  Audiences do increasingly accept subtitles but the larger audience isn’t quite there yet.

But why, in heaven’s name, do they have an accent?  The accent does not correspond to an artistic rendering of foreign speech.  Do they sound quaint and funny and foreign to each other? Can’t they speak properly?

No, they don’t.  But American audiences have a ridiculous preference for foreigners who sound foreign even to each other.

This film — and the book– caters to the audience’s desire to feel good about their sympathies for a little girl who hates the Nazis, loves books, and has an endearing old German man looking after her.  And a gruff woman who– SPOILER ALERT– has a heart of gold.

All right– it’s Oscar season. Nazis– check! Little girl who loves books — check! Gruff but lovable old man — check! Glorifies reading? Oh yes, Hollywood loves seeing itself as promoting literacy.  Except when they glorify working-class thugs who make educated, cultured “elites” looks weak and vapid and always get the hot girl.

Okay, we’re missing the character with a disability, but everybody has an accent– CHECK CHECK CHECK! I smell Oscar contender! (Check back to the extremely mediocre “The Reader”— Ah! I see where it came from! And the  relatively banal “The King’s Speech”– how we love the illusion that privileged people are really quite admirable because they allow us to admire them for not being as aloof as we thought they thought we thought they were.)

This is not really a film about a little girl living in Nazi Germany. This is a film about how modern audiences feel about little girls, and Nazis, and old men (who I know would do anything– ANYTHING– for me if I were that little girl), and the faint but digestible taste of titillation, and how much you want people to know that you are smart because you just love books so much that you approve of stealing them, especially from Nazis.

Let’s leave aside the fact that the Nazis actually loved books, and art and poetry and music, but it didn’t make them better people. Please, please, please, leave that aside, because it’s almost as unbearable as this film, which the New York Times rightly called kitsch.



“Did you know that your son has just killed the most important man in the entire world?” From “Parkland”.

Well, well, aren’t we important!

What is this crap? Even Aaron Sorkin used to do it… a lot. All of the major characters in West Wing at one moment or another would get into this coy, contrived schtick.

“I have to take a crap.”
“Okay, but just so you know, the most powerful man in the world is now wiping his ass in that same room.”

Are they afraid that the audience doesn’t understand that the guy they just shot in the limousine is the President of the United States (cue “Hail to the Chief”)?

Like “Book Thief”, “Parkland” looks like it is largely a projection of how we feel about ourselves feeling about the JFK assassination, and almost not at all about anything that really happened on that day.

Okay– fair enough– I’ll wait until I’ve seen it before I comment any further on the film. I just honestly expect the worst, judging from the previews. There are clips of a young doctor being told that the person being brought to the emergency entrance is only the gosh darn holy cow president of the United States! Whoosh! All the drama just got sucked out of that moment because the audience has been clobbered with SIGNIFICANCE.

I can’t wait, though, for “Parkland” to show us Dan Rather viewing the Zapruder film and then telling CBS audiences and the entire world that the film shows Kennedy’s head jerking forward and to the left, exactly as it should have after being hit from above and behind by the lone assasin, Lee Harvey Oswald!