Latest Blog Posts

by Rob Horning

20 Mar 2007

Economist Thomas Schelling’s Micromotives and Macrobehavior is the sort of book that changes the way you think about social situations for as long as you are under its spell; it forces you to consider how your own preferences affect the equilibrium of any particular scenario, making it obvious how the balances struck in society aren’t static or stable. He starts with an example of seating preferences in an empty auditorium and illustrates how individual preferences (not next to anyone; not in the front row; etc.) aggregate to produce strange outcomes, undesired outcomes. He piles on examples of how various unwanted outcomes—empty classes, intemperate rooms, segregated neighborhoods, etc.—nonetheless achieve equilibrium after we factor in the way each individual’s preferences yields behavior that’s affected by everyone else’s, and the way we tend to overshoot our preferred situation. This is a useful corrective to the view, derived from free-market dogma, that whatever equilibrium a situation finds is inherently justified, and it makes clear how dialectic much of our behavior is—it often doesn’t stem so much from conviction (from who we think we are, from our notion of our transcendent, unique self) but from the reactions of those we find ourselves mixing with. We end up having preferences and principles but find they are often frustrated by the presence of other people—this is partly why “convenience” so often means removing the other people or accommodating them so rotely that it is as if they have been disappeared.

Not only does Schelling shed skeptical light on our notions of transcendent, permanent selfhood, and our ability to act in accordance to our preferences, the book makes us question what really drives our friendships and invites us to consider how much of friendship is an arrangement of convenience rather than a true meeting of souls. At the end of a chapter on the sorts of dynamics that lead to segregation by age and income, he offers this passage, which I found equally stunning and dismal:

People who like privacy will associate with people who like privacy, not necessarily because they like the people but because they like the privacy. People who dislike dogs are happier among people who dislike dogs, not because they like the people but because there are no dogs. People who like crowds will be crowded with people who like crowds, without necessarily liking the people who like crowds. People who want to participate in a life-annuity scheme want to participate with short-lived people, without particularly preferring to have friends who are not long for this world.

A pretty devastating judgment on how we live, it seems. If this is true, then we form personal preferences about things and these become a set of dealbreakers, dictating who we can know, and ultimately our petty grievances will keep us in convenient company rather than that which might challenge and stimulate us.

Reading about economics brings up lots of concepts that can be seen as metaphors with ultra-depresssing ramifications. Consider, for instance, the Markov chain in which each state “is conditionally independent of the past states (the path of the process) given the present state.” In other words, what happens next in no way reflects what has happened in the past, and cause and effect no longer seems to apply—it’s the scientific term for the random walk behavior of stocks on Wall Street, but I’ve known people whose behavior has exhibited the Markov property, and have been accused of it myself. And then there’s the Sorities paradox, otherwise known as the problem of the heap—at what point does a pile of sand become a heap if you are piling it one grain at a time? You may be so fixated on the process that you never notice how it has grown up all around you. This seems an apt metaphor for all sorts of things in life, not merely combovers. When do you know you are in or out of love, for instance? How do you know when you’ve wasted too much time in a job or researching a topic? How do you know when to give up when life piles frustrations on you one grain at a time?

by Bill Gibron

19 Mar 2007


It’s a pretty good week for new DVD releases – that is, if you’re not looking for viable family friendly fodder. Among the “all audience” missteps hitting the merchandising shelves are the ‘Christ our Savior is born’ boredom of The Nativity Story, and yet another computer generated cartoon that mistook processing power for entertainment. Even that sadly mis-categorized Ed Wood gets his entire G-rated output overhauled for yet another plucked-from-the-public-domain box set. But if you’re looking for standard Hollywood heft, a popular pugilist taking one more drink from the sequel cistern, and the lamest LOTR cash-in ever, there will be plenty to fleece your finances come next Tuesday. So break out the bread and peruse what’s available this upcoming 20 March, including the sturdy SE&L pick:

Blood Diamond

Here’s an example of a movie that manufactured most of its hype months before it finally hit theaters. Several high profile jewelry merchants, including the infamous industry giant DeBeers, argued that this tripwire drama centering on the illegal diamond trade in South Africa, was bound to harm their business. Unfortunately, so few people saw the final film that any possible positive/negative effects were more or less annulled. There are critics who complained – rather loudly – that Hollywood was once again placing a white protagonist (in this case, a heavily accented Leo DiCaprio) in charge of helping a reluctant black man (a far better Djimon Hounsou) battle a syndicate/rebel desire for a priceless gemstone. As he did in previous productions (The Last Samurai, The Siege) director Edward Zwick amplifies the more melodramatic elements of his narrative to avoid dealing with confrontation or controversy. The result is an ersatz thriller with more character than clarity in its final plotting.

Other Titles of Interest

Eragon

If you ever want proof that a teenager is incapable of writing a literary epic, just feast your eyes on this overwrought adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s paltry Tolkein rip-off. Relying on elements from both sci-fi (lots of sloppy Stars Wars riffing here) and fantasy (dragons away!) the results are a dull, derivative mess. No matter the books puzzling popularity, it is clear we are dealing with a lack of legitimate originality. 

Everyone’s Hero

Another CGI stumble from a year overloaded with them. It takes a lot to mess up a movie dealing with America’s previous favorite pastime – a.k.a. baseball – but somehow, this tale of a talking baseball and Babe Ruth’s favorite bat (that also speaks) makes about as much sense as Barry Bonds’ steroid excuses. All touchy feely sentiments aside, this is proof that no amount of computing power can save a shoddy storyline.

The Naked City: The Criterion Collection

Using a post-World War New York as its sensational, pseudo documentary backdrop, this subtle noir finds Barry Fitzgerald and Don Taylor as detectives investigating the death of an attractive model. All leads point to a criminal conspiracy involving a string of apartment robberies. With Oscars for its amazing cinematography and expert editing, this is a pristine example of the monochrome movie mystery.

Rocky Balboa

After failing to find box office fortune with efforts outside his standard comfort zone (Get Carter, Driven), Sylvester Stallone returns to the franchise that put him on the cinematic map – and actually delivers something quite special. While not as good as the original film (or as jingoistic as other installments) this is still a nice coda to a time honored character – and a superstar’s sagging career.

Re-Animator

It remains one of horror’s most honored efforts, a film that can still flummox fans with its continued popularity and praise. But one has to admit that director Stuart Gordon took H.P Lovecraft to levels previously unheard of when he created this darkly comic zombie flick. Featuring a stellar performance from Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West, and lots of goofy gore, it remains an unqualified cult classic.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

Previously shown on Starz way back during the macabre month of October, this insightful little documentary attempts the impossible. It wants to cover the beginning, middle and leveling off of the slice and dice splatter spectacles of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Paying a little too much attention to Halloween and Friday the 13th (who are, granted, the grand old men of the genre) and not enough on the influence of exploitation (Michael and Roberta Findlay and their benchmark Flesh Trilogy fail to earn a mention) this is still a fun, fact filled romp. Especially interesting are the sequences describing the unusual merchandising that followed the fame of Freddy, Jason and the rest of the mass murderer brigade. Purists may wonder why other facets of the cinematic category aren’t covered (nary a mention of foreign horror films) while completists will complain over the lack of real depth. Still, for such a throwaway genre to receive this sort of attention speaks volumes for the staying power of horror.

 

by PopMatters Staff

19 Mar 2007

Self TitledMatt & Kim
All tracks from Self Titled on iheartcomix.
Yea Yeah [MP3]
     

No More Long Years [MP3]
     

“Brooklyn duo/couple Matt and Kim can’t stop exuding energy—they can only hope to contain it, all while gleefully messing with the usual formula in their debut album.”—iheartcomix

SanDj Klock
Theme [MP3]
     

“One of Japan’s most celebrated underground heros, DJ Klock drops his first U.S. recoding. This is art/hip-hop, experiments in minimilism, maximilism and general turntable weirdness.”—Ropeadope

SJ Esau
Cat Track (He Has No Balls) [MP3]
     

“For SJ Esau’s Anticon debut, the Bristol-based bedroom virtuoso continues his masterful balance of sonic manipulation and songcraft across 12 alternately expansive and explosive tracks. You’ll find Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse on the rarely tread common ground between Slint, Arab Strap, Fog, Sonic Youth and Mogwai (with Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke lurking in the shadows), which is to say, this is an album that successfully bridges genre-less explorations into sound to detailed composition, solo meanderings to inspired collaboration, a sense of humor to a sense of melancholy, and the listener to a unique world that could only be inhabited and operated by SJ Esau himself.”—Anticon

by tjmHolden

19 Mar 2007


What I learn about Munch, as I meander through his museum, is that he wasn’t the happiest of people. The paintings and sketches and woodblock prints suggest as munch (HA! You wondered when I would get that pun in. Sooner better than later, I say. Now we can get on with the serious business of dissecting—if not flailing—the artiste.).

About this I won’t complain, though: admission to the Munch Museum is free(!), which means that it costs nothing to wallow in the man’s self-absorption. And, in case the audience is too daft to catch the drift, there is a placard midway through the serpentine gallery with a quote from the master saying so. It is almost as if the guy was seated at dinner with Shiho and me the night before, answering questions about art. Ultimately he responds: “. . . art grows from joy and sorrow. But mostly sorrow.”

Then Shiho would turn to me (or more likely I to her) and say: “this guy sounds like he grew up with Woody Allen. You don’t know whether you are laughing because he is so damned pessimistic or because he is so darned right!”

Whatever the case, he is definitely earnest in his convictions. For in the feature-length film that plays in an endless loop in the darkened theater (barren, but with capacity to accommodate 200) in the basement, the narration trumpets the same motif. Reading from his diaries, Munch’s voice-over intones: “I inherited two things from my family: tuberculosis and mental illness.”

Not a very promising combination, even under the best of circumstances.

Not to mention that the guy spent most of his winters in Norway.

by Jason Gross

19 Mar 2007

Twisting My Quotes

I was hoping to share some post-SXSW thoughts but I couldn’t help commenting on a Village Voice article where my quotes were twisted around unfairly by a writer who should have known better.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Hozier + Death Cab for Cutie + Rock Radio 104.5's Birthday Show (Photo Gallery)

// Notes from the Road

"Radio 104.5's birthday show featured great bands and might have been the unofficial start of summer festival season in the Northeast.

READ the article