Sunday, October 31, 2010

Having or Being?

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world." -- Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in Fight Club

Network television is usually not too deep, but occassionally you get a little tidbit that has some insight, some deeper meaning. Just a week or so ago I saw this on C.S.I:

I've read bits and pieces of Erich Fromm but I think I'll have to pick up a book or two of his.

Consumerism and the religion of consumption are some of my favorite topics. Why do we measure the success of our country by how much the economy grows when we should be valuing the conservation and longevity of products?

We're all about "getting mine" instead of thinking about how that affects others. The whole concept of ownership is kinda bullshit anyway. We don't "own" anything. We're mere blips in the timeline of this planet and the universe. It's kinda odd ... atheists are usually portrayed as nihilists that don't care about anything because they don't have to answer to some "higher power". But, you have to wonder if the most harmful outlook to have is to believe that the Earth was just put here for our use and it will provide endlessly regardless of what we do to it. Or that we're just barreling towards "end of days" anyway and it doesn't matter how we damage the planet. Granted, my evidence may be largely anecdotal, but the atheists, agnostics, skeptics, Buddhists, etc. that I know have a lot more concern for the planet and the collective good than your typical "good" Christian.

Tyler Durden: "We're consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don't concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy's name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra."

Narrator: "Martha Stewart."

Tyler Durden: "Fuck Martha Stewart. Martha's polishing the brass on the Titanic. It's all going down, man. So fuck off with your sofa units and Strinne green stripe patterns." -- Fight Club

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Going Green Update ... Fail

"Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for - in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day so you can afford to live in it." -- Ellen DeGeneres

This is me stuck in nightmare traffic coming home this evening from a client. An hour and a half of my life that I will never get back ... spent in a tin can on wheels.

I am singlehandedly doing my part to speed up global warming. I think I have put on about 300 or 400 miles on the car this week going to clients. Ugh. I'm making some nice coin ... but that's so not the point. It's just a weak rationalization that postpones the decision staring me in the face.

"The new American finds his challenge and his love in the traffic-choked streets, skies nested in smog, choking with the acids of industry, the screech of rubber and houses leashed in against one another while the town lets wither a time and die." -- John Steinbeck

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


"Education... has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading." -- G.M. Trevelyan, English historian

"Education, n. That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their lack of understanding." -- Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and satirist

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Movie Review: The Social Network

I wanted my review of The Social Network to sit for a bit. It just seems like there is too much static both ways about this film. For those that have been hiding under a rock for the last few months, The Social Network is about the founding of Internet social networking website Facebook. It's largely based on the book, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, that I reviewed last year.

I think the best way to go into this movie is to not attach significance that was not intended, but also don't ignore its implications. Linda Holmes at NPR has a nice review, encouraging viewers to not "overload the allegory". Just enjoy the movie as a character study. There's crisp dialog by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing) and a distinct visual style by director David Fincher (Fight Club).

The movie may or may not be true ... or something in-between.

The movie may or may not be about society's increasing narcissism that's been encouraged by social networking. But, it doesn't really matter.

I mean ... are we really debating whether Facebook has altered the dynamic of relationships? It'd be stupid to try and claim that it hasn't, at least for a certain segment of society.

There seems to be a lot of talk of the veracity of the info, but none of the affected parties are really saying there's anything libelous in it.

As Frank Rich put it in the New York Times: " ... From the noisy debate over its harsh portrait of Zuckerberg, you’d think it’s a documentary. It’s not. Its genre is historical fiction — with a sardonic undertow ..."

I think some believe that Zuckerberg is portrayed as a thoughtless sociopath who left a string of people in his wake. I don't see that at all. Both the portrayal and Eisenberg's performance are nuanced. Andrew Garfield as Zuckerberg best friend Eduardo Saverin is very good. Justin Timberlake is fantastic as Napster founder Sean Parker, playing it with flashy zeal.

The Social Network is just good clean fun. It moves. Obviously Sorkin has shown his ability in the past to make simple legal proceedings dynamic and entertaining. And The Social Network is no exception, with depositions given humor and tension every bit as exciting as A Few Good Men.  Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails scores the movie effectively.

It's kinda hard to understand what all the fuss is about? Did Zuckerberg make huge out-of-court payoffs to business associates that had made claims of intellectual property infringement? Yes. Obviously they had some beef or they wouldn't be ridiculously rich now (Saverin, for example). Is the story told from the perspective of some of these associates? Yes. Does it push one perspective over another? No. Fincher and Sorkin intertwine them in an entertaining manner that allows you to make your own conclusions.

I heard on the radio some poll that said that older viewers of the movie came out of it less inclined to use Facebook whereas younger viewers were more likely. That's pretty illustrative of social networking and our generation in general. The older generation is more put off by the ethical implications of Zuckerberg's rise, whereas twenty-somethings, in true reality-TV style, don't see anything as bad publicity. Celebrity is its own end.

Like real life, social interactions are often about constructing an idealized version of you for public consumption. There is the person we want to be and the person we are. Too often there is a great divide between the two and Facebook and Twitter certainly magnify that. But, social networks are just a tool and not the cause. You get out what you put in. Maybe they even help people to see a side of us closer to what we really are. Some people are a lot wittier, more social and cogent in writing than in person.   Some that seam reasonably intelligent face-to-face could not string a simple sentence together on a page.  Whatever the case is, we shouldn't be judging people solely by superficial and limited interactions.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scale of Universe - Interactive Scale of the Universe Tool

Saw this in a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium:

@neiltyson: MUST SEE: Zoomable graphic of observable universe. Accurate enough.

Fascinating and intimidating at the same time.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

America's Non-Decline

"America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between." -- Oscar Wilde

From Kevin Drum in Mother Jones Magazine, America's Non-Decline:

David Bell on the common theme of America's decline:

Twenty-two years ago, in a refreshingly clear-sighted article for Foreign Affairs, Harvard’s Samuel P. Huntington noted that the theme of “America’s decline” had in fact been a constant in American culture and politics since at least the late 1950s. It had come, he wrote, in several distinct waves: in reaction to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik; to the Vietnam war; to the oil shock of 1973; to Soviet aggression in the late 1970s; and to the general unease that accompanied the end of the Cold War. Since Huntington wrote, we can add at least two more waves: in reaction to 9/11, and to the current “Great Recession.”

....What is particularly fascinating about these older predictions is that so many of their themes remain constant. What did our past Cassandras see as the causes of America’s decline? On the one hand, internal weaknesses — spiraling budget and trade deficits, the poor performance of our primary and secondary educational systems; political paralysis — coupled with an arrogant tendency toward “imperial overstretch.” And on the other hand, the rise of tougher, better-disciplined rivals elsewhere: the Soviet Union through the mid-'80s; Japan until the early '90s; China today.

My guess is that this is a bit more of a conservative impulse than a liberal one, since conservatives tend toward both an over-rosy view of the near past and a religious temperament that views man as a fallen creature. Still, that doesn't mean they're wrong. After all, in relative terms America has declined since World War II. How could it not? There's simply no possible world in which a single country could retain the kind of power and influence that America held over a shattered world in 1945. As other countries rebuilt and grew, the inevitable consequence was that their power would grow relatively faster than ours.

But what's remarkable, really, is how little America has declined. We are perpetually astounded that our military might doesn't guarantee us instant victory anywhere we go and that other countries are routinely able to make trouble for us, but that says more about our national psyche than about our actual global influence or military power. If anything, our ability to project power may be greater today than it's ever been, and it's certainly greater relative to other countries than it was 50 years ago. Economically, our share of GDP fell surprisingly little in the postwar era, from 28% to about 22%, and has stayed very nearly flat since 1980. And political idiocy aside, our ability to lead the world in a rebound from a world historical financial crash has actually been pretty impressive ...

The quote, " ... conservatives tend toward both an over-rosy view of the near past and a religious temperament that views man as a fallen creature ..." is the one that I take the most from because it points to the two things that are the biggest causes of our stagnation as a society. One, an unrealistic view of our past accomplishments and a complete disregard of our failures. How else could Ronald Reagan be given near-Godlike status? Secondly, religion informing policy.

Like the article says, it's not that we are not declining as a society in certain ways ... we are. It's that we are not declining in the ways that they think. Conservatives believe our society is going to hell in a handbasket because of gay marriage and "socialism". But our actual decline is because of the shortsightedness and arrogance of previous (and current) generations. Imperial hubris in our dealings with the Muslim world going back a hundred years has caused us to repeat the same mistakes over and over. A belief that oil is never-ending and that the Earth will recover regardless of how we damage it has caused us to permanently destroy thousands of species and, perhaps, eventually destroy our own species. Religion, besides influencing the previous items, also has adversely guided family and societal planning. The Church's consistent and strident criticism of contraception and abortion has caused the world's population to increase to unsustainable levels. There will be days in the not-so-distant future where fresh water is more valuable than oil.

It's an arrogance borne of moral certitude. More atrocities have been done by groups that believe they have the moral high ground and thus can do no wrong. That religious "get-out-of-jail-free" card expunges its adherents of their guilt and their doubt. But doubt is a powerful and good thing. And it's in short supply.

"Mankind is not likely to salvage civilization unless he can evolve a system of good and evil which is independent of heaven and hell." -- George Orwell

Friday, October 08, 2010

Maybe there's hope for us yet ...

Occasionally, I do see something that gives me reason to believe that we are not lost as a civilization yet:

(via Common Dreams and civil eats)

Tuesday, October 05, 2010