Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rationalism and Art

Hello a bunch of visitors from r/rational ! Good to see you. You might want to check out my review of Worm in the sidebar over there. If you want to know "how serious I take this" check out my tumblr.

So now is a fine time to talk about what the heck is up with Slate Star Codex, right?

So on the plus side, he recently wrote a review of a book that showed a fantastic understanding of art.

Someone once said that the point of art is to be more real than reality. The House Of God is way more real than reality. Reality wishes it could be anywhere close to as real as The House of God. This is a world where young people – the kid just out of school, the blushing new mother – die. Even normal old people – your grandmother, your grandpa – can die. But the most decrepit, demented people, the ones for whom every moment of artificially-prolonged life is a gratuitous misery and you pray at every moment that God will just let them find some peace – somehow they never die. They come into the hospital, they go back out to nursing homes, a few weeks later they’re back in the hospital, a few weeks later they’re back in their nursing homes, but they never die. This can’t be literally true. But it’s the subjective truth of working in a hospital. The Fat Man is right. I’ve been working in medicine for three years now, and I have seen my share of young people tragically cut off in the prime of life, and yet as far as I can remember I have never seen a gomer die. The magical realism of House of God describes the reality of medical professionals infinitely better than the rational world of hospital mortality statistics.

I bolded "subjective truth" because that's exactly the type of terminology you should be bringing to these discussions. Given the impossibility of achieving objective knowledge, most of how we describe the world (whether we admit it or not), is subjective explanations. He sounds like he really understands this stuff. (A friend of mine comments that Scott isn't really a rationalist writer, but rather he uses the style of social justice writing, just applied to rationalist causes.)

So what the hell is up with Unsong.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Try Watching Movies Without Sound

Films are a visual medium, where we often get distracted by writing and dialogue from the much richer textures expressed by body language, lighting, shot choice, clothing and a hundred other things I don't even know to notice but you still react to.

Sometimes a good way to re-focus on this, is just to watch the movie, or key scenes, without sound. Without the characters saying things, can you still tell what's going on? Almost always. (In fact, a good rule about expository dialogue is that it's often a lie that tells you more about the speaker than the facts they relay.)

For instance, try this classic scene from American Psycho. If you haven't seen it, well I shouldn't explain what's going on. See how much you can tell (which is pretty much everything) from just the actions and facial expressions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fake News and Where to Find It

The News Tribune has a fairly hilarious piece about the generators of right-wing viral news. Rather than fellow true believers, of course, they are disaffected liberals who see no other way to secure their identity besides economic success, and see no other path to economic success than viral fame.

Instead, Wade hums a hip-hop song and starts a new post as readers keep reading, sharing and sending in personal messages. One comes from a woman who frequently contacts his page. “YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE I TRUST TO REPORT THE TRUTH,” is one of the things she has written, and Wade doesn’t need to look at her Facebook profile to have a clear sense of who she is. White. Working class. Midwestern. “And the economy screwed her.” 
He writes another headline, “THE TRUTH IS OUT! The Media Doesn’t Want You To See What Hillary Did After Losing. ...” 
“Nothing in this article is anti-media, but I’ve used this headline a thousand times,” he says. “Violence and chaos and aggressive wording is what people are attracted to.”
“Our audience does not trust the mainstream media,” Goldman, 26, says a little later as Wade keeps typing. “It’s definitely easier to hook them with that.

Read it and laugh. This reminded me of the pre-alt-right book "Trust Me, I'm Lying" about generating similar fake content for blogs like Gawker when Gawker was still a thing.

Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by [Holiday, Ryan]

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Hufflepuff Reinterpretted

Elektra Theatre in New York is putting on a comedy piece called "Puffs" which is the story of the Harry Potter years at Hogwarts, told from the perspective of Hufflepuff students, or in this very unlicensed script, the "Puffs", alongside the other houses "Brave, Smart, and Snake."

If you're going to see it, this review contains some spoilers, though honestly there can't be that much to spoil given your knowledge of the books and basic narrative structure.

So what is a Puff?

Monday, November 7, 2016

Transformers: Bayhem

Even among those who take Prequel analysis seriously, there's always some basement level of pop culture that they assume everyone agrees you can't possibly analyze. The most common example people mention of "there is no artistic merit to this" is Michael Bay's Transformers movies.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil Close Reading

Midnight is a Southern Gothic novel about real people in Savannah, Georgia involved in a murder trial in the 1980's. John Berendt spent some time in the city, fell in love with it, and wrote about the colorful characters he met there. The book was hugely successful, and has come to define the town where it is known as "The Book" and social rankings are determined by how well you know people who were mentioned in it.

There was a movie version, starring John Cusack and Kevin Spacey. It's nothing to write home about, except that the very fact that a movie was made shows how big a deal this quasi-non fiction portrait of a sleepy southern town was.