Uncoupling (1986) by Diane Vaughan

Categories: 1986, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I interrupted my normal reading schedule to read this book specifically because I was going through a breakup – a relationship of nearly five years, the longest romantic relationship of my life, had ended. I chose Uncoupling of the books recommended to me because I found it the easiest but also because it appeared to not be a a self-help book, and I don’t enjoy the proscriptions of self-help books – I generally find them condescending. On the whole, Uncoupling is a landmark study of the end of relationships and if you, like me, learn and grow from seeing yourself Read More

The Civil War (1990, Ken Burns)

Categories: 1990 and TV.

I watched when I was 8 or 9 and never since. On watching it this time, I am amazed I still remember some of it; it obviously had a big impression on me. This documentary is an important landmark – kind of like the American version of Shoah – the first long-form American documentary about American history. And it’s also iconic – so much of what is contained in this film has become cliche but that’s not because it is cliche, just that Burns’ style has weaseled its way into American documentary storytelling, especially in the case of TV documentaries. Read More

Seven Up! (1964, Paul Almond)

Categories: 1964 and TV.

This is TV program, which actually started the Up documentaries, is a dated and kind of simple attempt to capture the socioeconomic differences among British children and how those differences may affect their lives down the road. The film oversimplifies the social psychological / sociological research of the day but it is compelling to see how class differences already exist at age 7. It’s too bad the production has dated so much. 6/10 Read More

The Port Chicago Mutiny (1989) by Robert L. Allen

Categories: 1989, Books, and Non-Fiction.

I was actually completely unaware of the occurrence of the Port Chicago explosion or subsequent “mutiny”, so this book was quite eye-opening. I don’t want to open this can of worms, but I think I have too: unfortunately this account is too focused on race and the individual, subjective experiences of the African American seamen who participated in the work stoppage. I say this because Allen has assembled a lot of damning information about Navy policies and actions that caused this explosion – and the successful blaming of the explosion on black sailors – but by focusing so much on Read More

The Pope Resigns

Categories: 2012 and Philosophy.

The pope is apparently resigning. So what? I am not sure we would hear if it were someone else. Okay, so maybe we would hear if it were the Dalai Lama, for some reason. But would we hear about it if the Somdet Phra resigned? Or, to bring it closer to home, any of the Bishops of the “old” Catholic Churches? Do we even know there are such things? I never hear anything in the news about the Primus inter pales. And I rarely hear anything about any of the numerous protestant leaders. What about the imam for that matter? Read More

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841) by Charles Mackay

Categories: 1840, Books, and Non-Fiction.

On the one hand this is an invaluable chronicle of many of the most ridiculous things human beings have got up to in European history. On the other hand it leaves a lot to be desired: Macky is interested only in describing. Though he does have the odd snide comment, he is not interested in “the why” at all, and perfectly willing to ascribe it to folly / original sin (or whatever you want to call it). If he published this today, he would get ripped to shreds for not trying to understand the nature of these things. Just describing Read More

Vernon, Florida (1981, Errol Morris)

Categories: 1981 and Movies.

This is sort of indescribable (in a less interesting way than Fast, Cheap and Out of Control). It’s a portrait of a town I don’t particularly have any urge to go to now. It lacks narrative of any kind and so is a precursor to many fly-on-the-wall documentaries (though here they talk to the camera). Unlike most of these types of documentaries, it is not too long. It doesn’t really tell the story of Vernon but apparently there is a very good reason for that. (Morris’ life was threatened.) 8/10 Read More

A new civics course

Categories: Society and TV.

Call me crazy but I think the Wire should be used in high school civics classes. I think watching the show could be the homework, and then each day they could discuss an episode. At the end of 13 or 12 days they could discuss the season. Then they could discuss the whole show after five units of that. The focus would be on ins and outs of people trying to do good (or not, as the case may be) in decaying institutions which were originally supposed to help them or others. This could be contrasted with a less realistic Read More

No Sound Reasons for Conspiracy Theories

Categories: Politics and Society.

This is a response to a comment on this post. What do you mean by “more going on”? Who led you to believe what you used to believe? I think conspiracy theories by definition do not give sound reasons for their claims. That’s why they are conspiracy theories and not accepted fact. Did you ever notice how those who push forward conspiracy theories are rarely if ever experts in the particular area the theory focuses on? For example, the most famous of the “scholars for 9/11 truth” is a theologian. That’s because if he put forward his ideas in any scholarly journal, but especially Read More

Ok. Why do you think conspiracy theories are a social evil?

Categories: Politics and Society.

I think conspiracy theories (as opposed the identification of actual conspiracies, which is an altogether different thing) and the belief in them cause a number of problems. First, as the individual level I think the belief in conspiracy theories allows the individual to be apathetic. If there are secret powers directing everything, we are powerless so why bother? The belief lets us abdicate our responsibilities as citizens (if elections are rigged, why vote? If the President gets shot by the real powers, why even bother electing the guy?) and it lets us avoid dealing with controversial issues which actually need Read More

Why is metaphysics dangerous in the hands of those who govern us?

Categories: Philosophy and Society.

All people generally think alike and don’t think alike at the same time. We have some things in common and other things which aren’t in common. But the claim there is a class, a coherent, self-contained ruling elite, that is distinctly different from the average joe, has no basis in fact; its basis is in the desire of some to believe that they are being directed by powers greater than themselves (which is, incidentally, a form of metaphysics). How did we get back on this again?C. Wright Mills, for example, has been totally utterly refuted. There are other examples which Read More

Why is metaphysics dangerous in the hands of those who govern us?

Categories: Philosophy, Politics, and Society.

Metaphysics, i.e the study of “things” outside of physical reality, is incredibly dangerous for politics. But first, why do we use metaphysics? For some reason or other, human beings need to use abstracts to express themselves. We cannot always refer our ideas to concrete things. There is a whole field of philosophy that studies this and related issues but I have no time for it. I am concerned with reality and politics, so philosophical disagreements over why we need abstracts are of no interest. But basically we need concepts that are not physically real in order to communicate. So, metaphysics Read More

Why don’t you believe in conspiracies?

Categories: Politics and Society.

First, I think we must distinguish between conspiracies in the legal sense, and conspiracy theories. Conspiracies are any time that two or more people get together to break a law. Conspiracy theories are “hidden han”d theories of history (for ages in the case of the Illuminati for example, or just recently, in the case of the Pearl Harbour, JFK, 9/11 and Alien theories) which claim that history is dictated, or at least severely influenced, by secret groups. There have been millions of conspiracies in history. There are some that have no doubt never been revealed but the ones we know Read More

Why is it so hard for some people to beleive that the people in charge don’t have their own agenda?

Categories: Politics and Society.

We can debate endlessly the meaning of “in charge” but I can’t agree with your first statement. Nobody is actually “in charge” in the sense that nobody has the power to do whatever they want. A cursory look at Obama’s struggles implementing his agenda is proof of this. Even the US president, who has more executive power than most executives, can’t do what he wants. But regardless, I completely disagree with your idea that there are “others” in charge. This is the hidden hand theory of history and it has been discredited more times than we could count. The world Read More

Why is it so hard for some people to believe that the people in charge don’t have their own agenda?

Categories: Politics and Society.

Further to this. The agenda doesn’t matter all that much, as much as we’d like it to. In a criminal trial they try to prove motive, means and opportunity. But investigators can’t focus on motive alone (which is what most conspiracy theorists do) because motive alone doesn’t rule out enough people. If an unpopular guy is killed, half a town could have a motive to kill him, but only two or three people might have been in the area, and only one of them might have owned the right gun. Similarly, with 9/11, asking who benefits from the attacks is Read More

Phones make people crazy

Categories: Psychology and Society.

I understand that losing something is annoying and maybe even saddening (depending on what it is). But it should hardly be the catalyst for a breakdown, especially when that thing is a phone, bought and paid for by work. It’s hardly the end of the world. I operate without one and I seem to do okay. We are becoming way too tied to these devices. They aren’t people and you can get hold of the people that matter to you in other ways. But more importantly, any person can indeed function without one. We managed to for tens of thousands Read More

The masses are stupid

Categories: 2008, Politics, and Society.

An Ipsos Reid poll tells me that 68% of those surveyed support suspending parliament. It further tells me that 60% of those surveyed support the Conservatives keeping power. It’s ignorance like this that leads to dictatorships. I’m not saying it will lead to a dictatorship in this instance, I’m saying it is popular support of undemocratic and illiberal political maneuvers that makes them appear legitimate. We have clearly failed, as a society, to educate our populace as to what is and what is not acceptable in democratic governance. This whole mess says one thing to me: we need a mandatory Read More

Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice (1969, Paul Mazursky)

Categories: 1969 and Movies.

I gotta give it points, because it made me uncomfortable in places. And that’s good. And the structure was neat. It seemed to spiral out a bit. Like at the beginning it was about Bob and Carol, and then it started to expand into the rest of the world. But not quite in the way I was imagining it would. And it was a little cyclical. Like the end scene references the first scene. And a middle scene with a shrink references the first scene. I like that stuff. And the opening music was neat in how it started out Read More

As much as I love the French Connection

Categories: 1971 and Movies.

I still think you gotta stop watching it before the “what happened to” part. But, I think I just noticed that some of the music is ripped off of a track from Wes Montgomery’s Full House. It is very, very similar. I will have to investigate this further. Some Chiropractors actually help you, as I learned this week. Back spasms suck balls, don’t let anyone tell you different. There was something else. It wasn’t this: 19th century Russian aristocrats vs. 21st century celebs / celeb watchers / celeb worshipers. Discuss. Be seeing you. Read More