July 11, 2011

Trend-spotting in Punditry Land

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 2:32 pm

Manohla Dargis authored an essay for the Sunday, July 10, 2011 edition of the New York Times that applied some of the information in the new book “The Invisible Gorilla” to the art of film reviewing. She elaborated how movie directors often go to extensive lengths to manipulate the audience’s attention. Bloggers will find that much of what she was trying to teach rookie film critics also applies to the art of political punditry and they are encouraged to read it online or on page 13 of the hard copy’s Arts and Leisure section.

The book contends (and Ms. Dargis seconds the idea) that sometimes folks get so intent on something that they see what they want to see and disregard all the rest (as lies and jest?). Haven’t magicians been making a comfortable living based on that principle for decades? Don’t they call it “The Three card Monty” Shuffle? Didn’t Banksey use the converse of that principle as the basis for his “Elephant in the Room” installation in Los Angeles, a few years ago?

Aren’t the efforts of the JEB Bush campaign to win the 2012 Republican nomination a viable example of the Invisible Gorilla book’s contention that (to rob another book title) Naked is the Best Disguise? Heck, if Karl Rove goes on the Sean Hannity radio show and while assessing the various candidates’ chances overlooks JEB, isn’t that proof that if he has fooled himself into forgetting about JEB’s efforts, then all the peons in Punditvania will also drop JEB from the evaluation process? Whew! Maybe the Fox Hacking team will also be fooled and not bother to pry into JEB’s telephone answering machine and come up with an embarrassing scoop? Wouldn’t that be a very lucky break for the JEBster?

Ms. Dargis suggests that “inattentional blindness” and “change blindness” help perpetuate some of the visual frauds in cinema.

Wow! What would happen if a Democratic President promised “change” and subsequently Karl Rove imposed the principle of “change blindness” on his pals in the national media who were searching diligently for opportunities to have a “Eurika!” moment in the contemporary political perception arena called “status quo chaos”?

Did we mention that Harry Houdini was the first person to pilot an aircraft flight on the continent of Australia?

Ms. Dargis quotes theorist David Bordwell as saying (on his blog) that “perceptually films are illusions . . .” and that reminded this columnist of the time (as a kid) when we asked an aunt who loved Western Movies, if so many of the actors, who were hired to be Indians and cowboys, were getting killed each week, why didn’t Hollywood run out of actors? At that point we were informed that the weekly images of massive massacres were only people playing pretend. (Just like with the bombings to kill Col Qaddafi?)

Boy, do the pacifists in Berkeley get pissed when they see film purporting to show massive carnage in Iraq? Dude, relax, it’s just a movie! Isn’t it ironic that a city known for the Peace symbol is home to a weapons laboratory?

Ms. Dargis then quotes a British psychologist, Dr. Tim Smith, about the fact that directors and actors do the same thing that magicians do: i.e. get the audience to look where they want them to look so that they miss seeing/learning something else that might spoil the fun/effect/surprise.

Our favorite British psychologist is Rupert Sheldrake and a quote about his concept of morphic resonance might have been germane to the topic, but oh well, you don’t always get what you want (but if you try some times?) . . .”

Wouldn’t it be funny if Roger Ebert wrote a review saying that remake of “The Italian Job” was a good summer action flick but nothing close to an existentialist drama and then some online fellow wrote a review that was peppred with quotes from Camus and Sartre showing that it was a superb example of existentialism in the cinema?

The American military got a line for the Marine Corps song when they fought the Barbary Coast pirates, then they went back to the same local to kick Rommel’s ass and turn the tide (“It is not even the beginning of the end.”) in WWII, and so Col. Qaddafi had best mind the American’ folk wisdom: “Three’s the charm.”

Is it true that on some liberal aggregator web sites that the contributors are not permitted to write about using cuts in the Social Security program to help solve the Budget crisis because such wild unsubstantiated speculation sound suspiciously like a conspiracy theory? Isn’t the President’s willingness to sanction such an obvious solution to the problem while all the other Democrats “can’t see it,” similar to the Invisible Gorilla principle?

Isn’t it time for political pundits to start gathering some facts about movies depicting cars driving off a cliff for some hip cultural references in their budget crisis commentaries? In “North by Northwest,” Carry Grant almost drives off a cliff. In “Rebel without a Cause,” and “Thelma and Louise,” cars do drive off a cliff.

For bloggers who are partisan cheerleaders the fact that they will have to work harder in the next year to support President Obama and help get out the vote for his reelection seems to be their equivalent of the Invisible Gorilla.

For curmudgeonly columnists, who see their mission as being critics of the status quo, their Invisible Gorilla moment might be to ask if there should be an investigation into the possibility that the Murdock media in the USA may have used the same methods of journalism as they did in Great Britain. (Would it be an example of überhubris to assert that only folks who have read every word in Ulysses can maintain that a practitioner of three dot journalism is obtuse?)

If major league Football and Basketball disappears in the USA, what’s going to happen next Spring at baseball training camps? Will Fox cable sports channel start to use their Australian facilities to provide a feed for cricket and rugby matches? Will Americans suddenly start wearing West Coast Eagle T-shirts?

How many Fremantle **ckers fans live in Concordia Kansas? (Not even Mike Malloy can legally say the name of that team on the air.) If the number of **cker fans in that Kansas town grows perceptibly that would be a real change, eh?

Speaking of Tricks; did Houdini teach an Australian publisher the lesson that if an elephant disappears, it’s much harder for folks to sue that elephant? Isn’t it obvious that it is harder to sue a paper empire that has been dissolved? It’s just like the lyrics of the song: “Why deny the obvious, child?”

President Obama is asserting that if the budget crisis isn’t solved ASAP, there will be a double-dip recession. As far as the Republicans are concerned, isn’t that like B’rer Bear and B’rer Fox threatening to throw B’rer Rabbit into the briar patch?

Tom Wolfe has written: “The young architects and artists who came to the Bauhaus to live and study and learn from the Silver Prince talked about ‘starting from zero.’”

Now the disk jockey will play Ray Steven’s “Gitarzan,” and “Harry the Hairy Ape,” and Ernie Kovacs’ Nairobi Trio’s version of “Solfeggio.” We have to go investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of St. Ronald Reagan’s costar, Bonzo. Have a “keep your eye on the ball” type week.

February 1, 2010

Bush as Existentialist

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , — Bob Patterson @ 2:29 pm

If you think that it is highly likely that it will be a very long time until the Republicans and Democrats agree on anything whatsoever, then there is an experiment you should try.
If you make a serious suggestion that former President George W. Bush deserves a place of honor in the Existentialists Hall of Fame; Democrats will want to tar and feather you, and Republicans will form a lynch mob. Both will be very adamant and be in full agreement that you shouldn’t say that.

The Republicans are trying so hard to disavow any hints of elitisim in their agenda and conduct and, instead, want to do the branding necessary to firmly establish their political party as a populist movement that only wants to improve the lot of the union worker and the bank clerk. There’s a rumor (which is being started right here) that the theme song for the Next Republican National Convention will be the Rolling Stones rendition of “Salt of the Earth.”

A Republican consulting firm has established the guiding principle that more Americans like corn than caviar.

The concept of lumping George W. Bush in with the likes of French Intellectuals such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre will be sufficient to send most of Ronald Reagan’s disciples staggering off to the nearest emergency room (where all immigrants and some Americans get free medical services?).

Democrats, on the other hand, will recoil in horror at any hint of seriousness in the suggestion that George W. Bush is an Existentialist because it will be misinterpreted to mean that they think that you think George W. Bush was smart enough to be ranked as a genius deserving a place alongside the likes of Camus or Sartre. The Democrats will react as quickly and as energetically as a bull at the rodeo when the gate is opened.

It would be easier to preach the gospel of Ferdinand at a bull fight than it would be to get the Hartman, Maddow, and Malloy fans to second the idea that Bush was an outstanding example of Existentialism in action. Note the words “in action.” Isn’t a part of Existentialism the “to be is to do” school of thought? If George W. Bush instinctively acted in an Existential way, without bothering to put “Being and Nothingness” on his famed reading list, then he was an Existentialist and thus eligible for membership in the Existentialists Hall of Fame.

Didn’t 43 cause a ruckus when he casually mentioned that “Le Stranger” was on his reading list?

On the web site for Princeton University this definition of an existentialist will be found: “a philosopher who emphasizes freedom of choice and personal responsibility but who regards human existence in a hostile universe as unexplainable.” So Bush and Cheney decide they gonna kick Saddam’s ass, they get a convenient excuse, they replace a Congressional Declaration of War with a clause in the doctrine of Executive Privilege, they replace the Chancellor-for-life title with Commander-in-Chief, and then when the war goes into extra innings, they hide behind a tsunami of “no one could have possibly forseen” bullshit, and if that doesn’t fit the definition of Existentialist, then this columnist had better start singing the song with the line about “gimme three steps towards the door.”

In “The Rebel,” Camus wrote: “The advocate of crime really only respects two kinds of power: one, which he finds in his own class, founded on the accident of birth, and the other by which, through sheer villainy, an underdog raises himself to the level of the libertines of noble birth whom Sade makes his heroes.” Do you seriously think, if Camus were alive today, that he would be doing political punditry for Fox. They just couldn’t hire the man who said: “A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”

Camus again: “I have seen people behave badly with great morality and I note every day that integrity has no need of rules.” Does that mean that sidestepping the Geneva conventions and leading the Christians for Torture posse qualifies Dubya for membership in the Existentialists Hall of Fame? Isn’t the Bush Family motto: “Fuck your rules!”?

“When one has served in a war, one hardly knows what a dead man is, after a while. And since a dead man has no substance unless one has actually seen him dead, a hundred million corpses broadcast through history are no more than a puff of smoke in the imagination.” Isn’t it obvious that George W. Bush would concur completely with that Camus quote? When one has served as a pilot in an Air National Guard unit that can’t provide the type of aircraft that one had been trained to fly, doesn’t that leave the fellow free to choose to become the Commander-in-chief and thus be free of messy encumbrances derived from dead bodies?

George W. Bush might not agree that he is an existentialist, but most of the existentialists also rejected the suggestion that they be dumped into that category.

Sartre said: “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of existentialism.” Thus if a man becomes the Commander-in-Chief by fiat of the United States Supreme Court, that’s just as good and better than being elected by the voters.

Can we get a witness from Nietzsche? In “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” Nietzsche said: “But thus I counsel you, my friends: Mistrust all in whom the impulse to punish is powerful. They are people of a low sort and stock; the hangman and the bloodhound look out of their faces. Mistrust all who talk much of their justice! Verily, their souls lack more than honey. And when they call themselves the good and the just, do not forget that they would be Pharisees, if only they had – power.” Sometimes, by God, they get it!

So would that be referring to the members of the Bush family?

When Camus said “You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked any clear question” was he referring to the Dubya challenge to America: “Come on, what say, we invade Iraq!”?

Wasn’t saying “I’m the decider” tantamount to openly declaring himself to be an Existentialist of the highest rank and thus qualified to be considered for a place in the Existentialists Hall of Fame?

At this point some readers may challenge the columnist’s credentials to elaborate on the subject of Existentialism. If a man chooses to call himself an expert on Existentialism; isn’t that sufficient? Isn’t a self-proclaimed expert on Existentialism a walking, talking personification of the philosophy of “to do is to be”? Would it be better to get a philosophy professor from Cal Berkeley to fact check this column? Wouldn’t that be a repudiation of the Republican/Existentialist heroic reliance on the code of self determination? “If I say this beach is safe to surf; it’s safe to surf!”

It was best said in some graffiti from the Sixties:
Camus: “To do is to be.”
Sartre: “To be is to do.”
Sinatra: “To be, do be, do.”

Now, the disk jockey will play Edith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regretted rien” (Bush’s theme song?), Les Baxter’s “Poor People of Paris,” and Bobby Darren’s “Mack the Knife.” It’s time for us to cut out. Have a “le jazz hot” type week.

January 7, 2010

Pitty those poor, poor (doomed) polar bears

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 8:06 pm

Today (Thursday, January 07, 2010), after Yoga class, while walking around near the BART station in downtown Berkeley, I was approached by a bubbly enthusiastic young lady who was raising funds for Greenpeace.

In an effort to play devil’s advocate, I challenged her to explain why those nasty brutal beasts deserved any sympathy, let alone should inspire a donation to their organization. She resorted to the old domino theory and said that if folks let polar bears die off, other more cuddly animal species, such as the Pandas, would follow. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let them have North Vietnam and the next thing ya know Saigon will become Ho Chi Minh City. Blah, blah, blah.

We continued to challenge her debating skills by asking if Ansel Adams, who was well known for his love of nature and his work on behalf of the Sierra Club, had ever taken any pictures of polar bears. She couldn’t give a knowledgeable answer to my question.

Let me be perfectly clear: in an effort to help her sharpen her arguments, we continued our efforts to be a devil’s advocate and indicated that her silence was tantamount to me saying “check” in a chess game.

If the existentialists in Paris think that global warming is worth worrying about, then that might be a point in her favor. Wouldn’t Camus and company say that life is absurd and that polar bears might not want to continuing to live in a cold uncaring universe? Cold, yes, but don’t most polar bears die saying: “Rosebud”?

If global warming is a real problem, why aren’t people trying to tell the world that global warming will also kill off the penguins? When it comes to environmental issues, the polar bears have taken over. (Could that be called a putsch?) She tried to sidetrack me with the information that Greenpeace was big in Australia. Does size matter?

She then shifted her approach and told me about a new peril facing the polar bears. It seems that with the thinning out of the polar bear herds, apparently some of the frustrated young and horny members of the species have taken to mating with grizzly bears (<Ursus arctos horribilis. The resulting hybrid is called Grolar bears, as in gr(izzle + po)ar bears. Do they have their own Latin name? Have to check that online.

I gave her the old “I didn’t know that” stalling tactic. She sensed an opening and pressed her attack. The white polar bears are in big danger of losing their species purity! Who knew? She sensed that she could manipulate me by using fear. Wouldn’t it be a shame if polar bears couldn’t maintain the purity of the white bear species? I hesitated and she pressed the point with renewed fervor: “Surely, Hitler would have believed in and opposed global warming.” Would the scientists at Peenemunda have endorsed or refuted the theory of global warming? That’s something to look up on the Internet.

If what she was saying about maintaining the supremacy of white bears was true, wouldn’t some Republicans be donating heavily to her cause? Maybe the young lady in Berkeley has a new talking point worth considering?

Isn’t seeing polar bears part of the Alaska tourist industry? So, if they were in danger of becoming extinct, wouldn’t every governor of that state want to promote fighting the global warming that has put the Ursis maritimus on death row? Should we use the “set grandma adrift on a the melting ice floe” analogy? Shouldn’t liberals turn the tables and instill fear by asking: “Are polar bears going to be the first death panel casualties?”

Is condoning the grolar bear trend the same as endorsing gay marriage? Note: that new species us a Google-able topic.

Where does the most famous polar bear in the world live? Isn’t Knute the star of the Berlin Zoo? Just a co-inky-dink?

We told the young Greenpeace fund raiser that due to the “low budge = no budget” Rupert Murdock style fiscal philosophy practiced by most of the liberal web site publishers, I couldn’t actually give her some dinero, but I could dash right back to my wickiup and pound out a sympathetic column on my new (used) laptop.

Didn’t Germany save their auto industry (many moons ago) by nationalizing it? When will the new President authorize more bailout funds for the American car makers?

Who says there’s no way that you can use conservative phraseology to make a liberal point? Who doesn’t love a leprechaun? Aren’t trolls just German leprechauns? Is there a sign in the Berlin Zoo that orders visitors to refrain from teasing the animals?

Would Republicans buy “White Bear Power” T-shirts to help fight global warming? They could add a bit of typographical humor by setting two words in big type and the middle one in very small type, eh? (and use the Schwaben alt. font?)

Which one doesn’t belong (and why?): Evita, Eva Braun, Sarrah Palin?

Poor girl, she must have arthritis because when she waved good-bye, her arm was kinda stiff and her hand didn’t move much.

[Did Jonathan Swift have to put a “snark” tag on his “A Modest Proposal” essay?]

Ansel Adams has said: “It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.”

We nixed the disk jockey’s suggestion that he play “Knights in White Satin” and, instead, insisted that he play “The Beer Barrel Polka.” (What? You were expecting “Quinn the Mighty Eskimo” or the Eagles “Take It to the Limit”?) It’s time for us to go disappear in Argentina. Have a “brown eyed handsome man” type week.

February 20, 2009

Being and Nothingness

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , — Bob Patterson @ 6:02 pm

The World’s Laziest Journalist doesn’t want to do all the research that a column titled “Sartre vs. Bush” would require because the conclusion would be obvious from the start: Sometimes the difference between there being a wedding celebration and nothingness can be one accidental air strike. No American politician will have the gumption to sanction a war crimes trail into being and watching his own political career dissolve into nothingness.

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