RWCG


On Movie Titles
February 28, 2010, 6:35 pm
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If you ever have trouble getting interested in the same bland crop of Oscar winners and nominees we seem to get every year, just imagine all the film titles prepended with “Tyler Perry’s” to spice things up. Tyler Perry’s The English Patient. Tyler Perry’s Shakespeare In Love. Tyler Perry’s The Hurt Locker. Seems to work every time.

Here’s a list of fairly recent (last 10-20 years) movies that I wonder if you can expertly deduce what they have in common: Saving Private Ryan, Chasing Amy, Finding Forrester, Serving Sara, Saving Silverman, Killing Zoe, Finding Nemo, Owning Mahowny, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Being John Malkovich, Driving Miss Daisy, Boxing Helena.. (McSweeney’s has a more extensive list). Strong Bad from Homestar Runner made the astute observation that a good canonical title for an “indie” movie might be city (comma) state. Similarly, I think a good canonical title for mainstream movies like the above list would be Present Participle Proper Name. If I ever make a movie it’s totally gonna be called Present Participle Proper Name.

Well, that about covers it, I suppose (seeing as how the vast majority of movies are either “Tyler Perry’s” (such-and-such) or Present Participle Proper Name). There are very few exceptions nowadays.

UPDATE:

Special thanks to this here toy here.



Very Interesting Thoughts That I Had And Deign To Share With You, The Reader
February 25, 2010, 4:07 am
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Seriously though, this really is one of the best blogs out there. It totally should be bigger.

One thing that’s weird is when you know two people who don’t like each other, but you like them both. Except, also, you see their point(s) in both cases. Now that’s weird.

Did you know that The Records are considered one of the most seminal British power pop acts of all time? Yeah, me too. I totally knew how seminal they were all along. Side note – if I ever have a band, I sure hope it’s seminal.

My economic/financial advice for you is that I sure wish I could figure out a way to short everything. Is there one?

Is it just me or does President Obama seem like he’s in the lame-duck period of his Presidency? That can’t be right because it doesn’t make sense. (For the record, I think he’ll win re-election.) We may just be in for 7 more years of a lame-duck Presidency, which in a way suits me fine. A lot of disgruntled Obama fans’ complaint about him is that he “can’t lead”. Good!, I say. I sure hope not!

Rescue Dawn must be at least one of the 5-8 very best films that I have seen about the Vietnam war in the past 4 years at the very least. No, but seriously it was good. Which reminds me, you know how Canada has laws that declare such-and-such percent of their TV shows/etc. must be Canadian? I think we in the U.S. must have a similar law that such-and-such percentage of male-oriented action/violence movies are required to star Christian Bale.

I’ll admit it, I’m crazy for curling. Yes that’s right, Olympic curling. I haven’t been able to get enough of all the daily televised curling in the past week. Well, female curling anyway…



Brother Down
February 23, 2010, 4:50 am
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“Brother Down” by Sam Roberts



Unruleable
February 22, 2010, 3:11 am
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It’s pretty clear from context that what certain folks mean when they say the U.S. is ‘ungovernable’, is:

Unruleable.

It’s just a conflation of concepts (that of governing, vs. that of ruling) by people who cannot tell the difference between the two. To such people, ‘governing’ and ‘ruling’ mean the same thing. Consequently, the Constitution of the United States is an endless frustration to them.

And that’s the way the rest of us like it.



Alternative Is Here To Stay: Ideologies As Tribes

“The name of the sound: Alternative
And that’s the way I want to live
Alternative, if you’ll turn it on
We’ll alternate all night long
Let’s dance to an alternative song
And alternate all night long”

For my money, Arnold Kling of Econlog (along with myself, of course, as well as the TimeCube guy) is on any short list of best bloggers on the internet. The perfect blog post is not too long, pithy, says a lot, and makes a good, original case for something, while seeming effortless. Nobody could possibly do that all the time, probably not even a majority of the time. But Kling accomplishes it with a mind-bogglingly high frequency compared to everyone else. An example worth highlighting is this post on some peoples’ reaction to/treatment of “tea-baggers”:

…I am fed up with the psychoanalysis of the tea party movement. When people say that they do not like big deficits and government activism, why not take them at their word? Why say that what they really believe are wild conspiracy theories?

It would not surprise me to learn that many tea partiers believe strange things. But it would not surprise me to learn that many people of all political stripes believe strange things. If you are willing to filter out the strange beliefs of ordinary Democrats and Republicans in order to provide a narrative of a coherent ideology, then you should do the same with the tea partiers.

This is a useful explanation not just of how anti-“teabagging” operates, but how bias (self-centered bias, ultimately) operates in general. The groups we like and identify with are treated straightforwardly, at face value, even charitably. The groups we dislike and identify as our antagonists, on the other hand, are treated as uncharitably as possible, their motives questioned, any inconsistency or bad/weird subset instantly seized upon as being representative of the group as a whole. This is just how people seem to play the game of political combat, learned and honed in battles between the “cool”, “nerdy” and other cliques since school days.

“Some people like to rock
Some people like to roll
And that was cool in days of old
But all the kids where the action is
Got to have alternative”

As Kling goes on to describe,

I think that a lot of pundits would be comfortable describing the 2008 election as the a rational, focused statement in favor of the progressive agenda, rather than an emotional outburst of frustration with economic circumstances. Yet those same pundits would feel comfortable describing the tea party movement and the election of Scott Brown as an emotional outburst of frustration with economic circumstances, rather than a rational, focused statement in opposition to the progressive agenda.

This is a perfectly fair and obvious observation but it’s also easy to dismiss it as identifying mere hypocrisy. I think that misses the point. What’s really going on is a kind of analytical blindness.

Because let’s face it, while I’m sure Kling is right, it’s not as if the media know they’re doing this, or scheme and plot in secret to tilt and slant all news analysis and interpretation in the favor of ideologies they prefer, while giggling “heh heh heh that’ll show ‘em”. This behavior is not a conspiracy, and probably not even intentional. It just seems to be what humans do. Since the humans who populate the news media are disproportionately on the left, it’s the right that gets it. But this is not an exclusive property of left or right.


“I’m in love with an alternative girl
She’s not like the other alternative girls
She’s pierced and dyed and scarified
She hates Tom Cruise, She loves Anne Rice
We’re gonna be an alternative sight
When I take her out on Saturday night”

If you’re on the left, you are constantly on the lookout to find something wrong with, say, the group of people “those who desire lower taxes”. So (people being what they are – imperfect) you inevitably can, and will. You’ll find and link to a Youtube clip of some hick who showed up to a tea party protest saying something stupid, or racist, or whatever. You’ll point, and say looky, and it will make you feel better about yourself and your beliefs. If you’re on the right, you’re on the lookout to find something wrong with the group of people “those who desire single-payer health care”. The Youtube clip you find and link to will be much different of course – say, some overweight lesbian saying government should pay for her hypothetical abortions. Or whatever. But you’ll find one won’t you?

The point is, in any (reasonably sizable) group of humans you’ll find some weird, imperfect, or bad ones. What ideologues do is ignore the bad apples on their side while citing any bad apples on the other side as evidence of the other side’s inherent, intrinsic, foundational inferiority.

This sort of one-sided analytical blindness helps people nurture their ideologies. It’s what feeds and keeps ideologies alive and coherent. Because ideologies can’t, or don’t usually, survive merely by being a good and appealing set of ideas. The way they survive and flower in human populations is through group identification: by adopting an ideology, you’re not just getting some ideas into your head, you’re simultaneously signing yourself up for this or that sort of group membership. And it may be the latter not the former that appeals to people the most.

This is true of lefty socialists, for whom advertising themselves as ‘smart, nice people’ so often seems more important to them than the actual tangible results of the policies they favor. But it is true of righty “tea-baggers” as well; watching this interview of Andrew Breitbart by Glenn Reynolds, one thing that struck me in Breitbart’s laudatory comments about the tea partiers was that he didn’t merely, or even primarily, cite their ideas as appealing – he cited them as appealing. To him, they were good and decent and nice people, and it almost seemed as if that (not the ideas themselves) was, for him, the tea party’s biggest selling point.

In both cases, if these ideologies were just ideas, they would be much less appealing, or at least salient, to people. But really what they are is cliques. Tribes. Maybe the modern world doesn’t quite have enough ‘standard’ tribes to satisfy peoples’ need for them. Maybe nation-states are just too big, religions too weak, neighborhoods too fragmented. So, starved of that tribal craving, like a recovering junkie reaching for a cigarette, people need a substitute – in this case, some canned political ideology. “I’m a leftist”, “I’m green”, “I’m a conservative”.

This organic, consumer-driven splintering and antagonistic ingroup/outgroup bias even happens in relatively unimportant walks of life – note the rise of ‘alternative’ or ‘indie’ rock in the past 30 years or so. Until sometime in the ’80s, there was Rock. Sometimes there were distinguishable offshoots, like Punk. But then we were told there was (supposedly) something called ‘Alternative Rock’. Which, as far as I could tell, was just a subset of rock (guitars, bass, drums, 4/4..) played and listened to by people who had decided that the other subsets of rock weren’t ‘cool’ enough for them. I mean, it was never as if ‘Alternative Rock’ was a distinguishable form of music from ‘Rock’. You can’t listen to a song and tell whether it is ‘Rock’ or ‘Alternative’, because they are not different types of music. They’re different types of people, and different ways of marketing those people. ‘Alternative’ was essentially a marketing niche created to appeal to people who felt a need to distinguish themselves from ‘regular’ Rock listeners. And it worked. Virtually all rock listeners, millions of them, distinguished themselves as ‘special’ rock listeners, not like those dumb regular rock listeners.

Of course, at some point it worked too well, because your local Tower Records at some point inserted an ‘Alternative’ section, and there were ‘Alternative’ radio stations, and you could see characters on Beverly Hills 90210 talking about ‘alternative’, to the point where the idea that there was anything truly alternative about ‘Alternative’ was almost – actually, scratch that: literally – laughable. Hence the inevitable rebranding, sometime in the ’90s: suddenly there was ‘Indie’. Same thing, new name. What the heck’s so indie about ‘Indie’? Beats me. Still seems like rock musicians playing rock songs and trying to sell them to us. Is ‘Indie’ a style of music that one can aurally distinguish from ‘Rock’? Again: no. Again: it’s a type of person. It’s a tribe.

People just like and want to be part of tribes, it seems. They all want smaller, not bigger ones – although (somewhat paradoxically) the more people who join their ‘small’ tribe, up to a point, the happier they are. Similarly, they want to be in ‘special’ tribes, tribes that make them ‘special’ just by being a member – even if the tribe has zillions of such ‘special’ people. And when in tribes, people behave in predictably ‘hypocritical’ ways towards the enemy tribes. This is just the way people are.

Back to Kling’s post, I think it just happens that one tribe had, until the past decade or so, dominated the media; in a real sense, it was the tribe that was better at ‘media’, and still is. So they have used it shamelessly, perhaps subconsciously so, for their tribal ends. But that tribe lacks the same overpowering advantage on the internet, which the enemy tribe is now able to use to regularly and skillfully point out their (almost embarrassingly obvious) hypocrisy and bias. There has now arisen a sort of uneasy balance of power and I think perhaps that’s the best that can be hoped for.

“Alternative is something more
Than number 1,2,3, and 4
It’s 5,6,7,8,8,9
Alternative is doing fine
Alternative is how we live
We believe in alternative
And I think it’s safe to say
Alternative is here to stay
Alternative is here to stay
Alternative is here to stay”

(Sincerest apologies to The Mr. T Experience)



Meetings
February 18, 2010, 4:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I work in a group of many bosses (“director” and above), and only about – by my count – 2.5 people who ever do any real, actual work. (Myself, one other, and a third who I’ll count for half.) The remainder – the bosses – seem to keep themselves quite busy running around having meetings with each other and, to be fair, with clients – but they don’t roll up their sleeves and do a whole lot of what I’d call actual work. As I’ve said before, a constant hazard of working in a top-heavy group (all bosses, few grunts) is that the bosses will often neglect the possibility that other people have asked you (the grunt) to do stuff, hence they’ll all independently decide you’re slacking off.

But a related danger is that they’ll decide you (the grunts) “don’t communicate enough with each other”. You see, you (the 2.5 grunts) are so busy working on all the stuff they keep dumping on you, that, alas, you don’t spend hours a day gabbing with each other and coordinating stuff.

To a boss, the solution is more meetings. Regular meetings. Weekly meetings. Phone meetings. Daily phone meetings.

The possibility of simply needing more grunts (or its equal, delegating less grunt work and doing more grunt work yourself) does not come easily to a boss. Instead, the boss – understandably enough – invariably settles on the conclusion that what is needed is just more bossiness.

Since the bosses do no grunt work, by definition, the question is never how to get more work done (the answer to which might involve the bosses actually doing some). Instead the question is how to get the same two people we’ve dumped all the grunt work on to do more grunt work. To do this bosses have essentially one tool in their toolkit: meetings. This may be a casual meeting (phone call or email checkup asking “where are we on X?” – where, of course, “we” means “you”). Or it may be a formalized, regular meeting that they drop into your Microsoft Calendar (my version of which is by now riddled with the corpses of defunct, regular ghost-meetings that some optimistic boss set up way back when but which never really took off). But rest assured, it will be a meeting of some sort.

Because as we all know, meetings are what make things happen. The solution to not enough work getting done is not more people doing work, it’s the same people setting up more meetings more often.



Why New York Works
February 15, 2010, 5:07 pm
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I’ve seen head-scratching about this somewhere recently (forget where), so for the record here’s my theory for why New York is the best city for business in the country, in a nutshell:

Terrible quality of life, even for rich people.

Housing is so tiny and cramped that virtually nobody can stand to be at home for any extended period of time. Going anywhere (e.g. actually getting in your car, if you have one, and going somewhere?) is a huge pain in the ass. Hence, 12-14 hour days in the office don’t seem so bad – they actually provide a respite.

This factor feeds on itself, of course: The more the no-quality-of-life factor works for business, the more business thrives here; the more business thrives here, the more businesses (and people who want to be associated with big business) want to be located here; the more everyone wants to be located here, the higher the price of housing gets; the higher the price of housing gets, the less quality-of-life people can afford; and the less quality-of-life people can afford, the more they just want to stay at the office….

I think people who live in other parts of the country simply have no idea how powerful this effect can be. It’s understandably difficult for someone with a 9-to-5 job who lives in a five-bedroom house in a comfy suburb and drives after work to go watch his kid play little league to imagine not minding being at the office 12 hours a day. Or that people who (nominally) make four times as much as they do and have the same number of kids might feel themselves lucky to find a two-bedroom apartment renting sub-$3500 a month.

This also feeds on itself in the other direction: horrendous though the quality of life may be, people have to work that much just to achieve these minimal standards because of all the other people who are doing so. If everyone’s dropping $3500 a month on a tiny two-bedroom then if you want at least a tiny two-bedroom, you can’t not drop $3500 a month either. Similar forces drive the market in everything else of course, from schooling for your kids to mundane things like what to eat for lunch (I’ll have the small $9 sandwich please!).

The one saving grace these forces create is a healthy network of easy services that all the businesspeople spending too much money to live too densely end up supporting: food delivery from any restaurant, relatively cheap taxis, dry cleaning, etc. Indeed these things are often cited by visiting/newcomer businesspeople as reasons why New York is so great (as compared with, say, London). Yes, you can get a relatively cheap taxi…on the other hand, the unseen part of the equation is that you pay some of the highest city+state taxes anywhere to support social services for the giant fraction of the city (the cab driver and his family, e.g.) that is on food stamps, housing assistance and other forms of welfare. In other words part of the friendly business climate in New York is that the city has set up, essentially, a citywide subsidy for the servant population. This is “convenient” for all the bigshot businessmen, but the result is yet more need for inflation and escalation of profits that must pay for it all. Hence, another factor driving hard work.

The long-term equilibrium seems to be a super-bifurcated society of extremely rich guys and extremely poor guys living side by side in equally-squalid, cramped conditions, the poor guy begrudgingly delivering a $50 box of General’s chicken to the rich guy’s office every day, and the rich guy telling himself how good he has it.




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