Sunday, May 31, 2015

The latest in taking back the rom-com - this one doesn't do it

By way of my actor buddy Matt comes this article about a new romantic comedy called Man Up.

The co-author Tess Morris has interesting things to say about romantic comedy:
The curious thing about the romantic comedy is that it has become more maligned than arguably any other genre of cinema. “The number of times I get into conversations with people where they’re dismissive of romantic comedy, which makes me so furious because you don’t dismiss all thrillers, you don’t dismiss all horrors,” says Morris with visible exasperation.
But this is how bad it's got with romantic comedies:
The art of romantic comedy is something of a passion for Morris and Pegg. “I did an essay at university that was a structuralist comparison of Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally,” Pegg recalls. “I got a first for it. I read it the other day and I didn’t understand it – it’s completely indecipherable to me. It’s like stereo instructions. But, basically, I tried to say that When Harry Met Sally is like a piece of prose, and Annie Hall is a poem because it uses cinematic devices figuratively, like poems, and it rhymes scenes, whereas When Harry Met Sally is a continuous narrative. It wasn’t saying either one is better. Though Annie Hall is better.”
These are examples of romantic comedies - Annie Hall and When Harry Met Sally. Ugh.

I used to like Annie Hall, but Woody Allen's advancing old man creepiness has completely ruined all his old movies for me. And "When Harry Met Sally" is one of the earliest rom-coms to suffer from insufficiently hot male syndrome. I still haven't seen "When Harry Met Sally" because I just do not want to see Billy Crystal in any kind of sexual situation.

And that's why I don't feel compelled to see Man Up - the leading man, Simon Pegg, is not very attractive. And the woman playing against him is younger and more attractive.

One of the reasons old tyme rom-coms were successful is because half of them starred Cary Grant. You have to have an attractive man to have a proper rom-com, otherwise you're just catering to male fantasies of unattractive men being entitled to hotter younger woman - the way things are in ALL OTHER HOLLYWOOD MOVIES.

And that's the problem with men having too much control over rom-coms - because then it's all about meeting the desires of men at the expense of women.

My actor buddy Matt is much better looking than Pegg - he should be in this movie.

One of the comments attached to the article makes a really great point about When Harry Met Sally:

The idea that the central axiom of When Harry Met Sally is, "Can men and women ever be friends?" is what makes me dislike the film so much. First of all, that's a fucking nonsense question, but secondly, it's not even the actual plot. Harry and Sally are never friends, they're two people who are sexually attracted to each other when they first meet but are unable to act on it. When they are later able to act on it, they do. The actual question driving the film is, "will these two people who want to have sex with each other end up having sex with each other?" If the film and its fans were more honest about this instead of making it about really shitty gender politics which never even come into play, I might be better persuaded of its greatness.
Good for you ZachBraffFan42069 - quite astute!

Completely off-topic: why do Brits call their dresses "jumpers"? Why not just dresses? When I read this:

Tess Morris is reminding Simon Pegg about the day she met him. “Do you remember, I was really sweaty? I’d bought a new jumper – it was my Simon Pegg Meeting Jumper – but it was a very warm day, and then I walked really fast, and I was late and I was incredibly nervous. And I thought that as you hugged me, all you could probably feel was the warmth of my sweaty jumper.”

What I imagine she's wearing is this:

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Manhattanhenge must have been a phenomenon for as long as Manhattan has had lots of tall buildings - so presumably for at least a hundred years by now. And yet it was not called "Manhattanhenge" until about 8 years ago, if Google Trends are to be believed.

Today and July 12 are "full sun on the grid" days of Manhattanhenge.

Apparently Stonehenge itself was not paid much attention to until about 90 years ago.

In this video, Neil DeGrasse Tyson seems to be taking credit for coining the term.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Creature of the night

Thursday, May 28, 2015

George Clooney flaunts his male privilege

I had this idea that George Clooney was one of the good guys, but his self-satisfied obliviousness concerning male privilege and aging was on ghastly display today as a "trending" item on Facebook;

This Is Why George Clooney Says He'll Never Dye His Hair
"You have to come to terms with getting older and not trying to fight it," Clooney said in an interview with the BBC, adding that there's "nothing fun" about the process. "I'm a big believer in the idea that you can't try to look younger. You just have to try to look the best you can at the age you are."
How nice for him.

To get a sense of how extreme male privilege and aging is consider this - nobody made a big deal about the age difference between him and his wife - he's 17 years older.

But when Demi Moore was with Ashton Kutcher, their age difference was all anybody talked about and she's only 15 years older than Kutcher.

Not too long ago NYMag ran a piece about the growing age difference between male movie stars and their love interests as the males aged. Clooney was right up there with the worst of them.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Libertarians attempt to dominate a college

The New Yorker has a story (Ayn Rand comes to UNC) on the chilling effects right-wing politics are having on the University of North Carolina. And as always, Libertarians are looking for a chance to shove the incoherent, poorly-sourced "philosophy" of a crackpot hack novelist down the throats of young Americans:
The other reformist front is a call to revive the Great Books model of humanities education: literature and philosophy as a source of eternal truths, dating back to Plato, passing through John Locke, and perfected by Ayn Rand and the libertarian economist Friedrich Hayek. A Pope Center research paper published this year describes a “renewal in the university” through privately funded programs dedicated to teaching the great books untainted by relativism. The report devotes a great deal of attention to programs dedicated to “the morality of capitalism,” which have been founded at sixty-two public and private colleges and universities. Many of these programs, which are often housed within business schools or economics or political science departments, were funded over the past fifteen years by North Carolina-based BB&T Bank, under its former president John Allison, who is now the C.E.O. of the Cato Institute. In a 2012 statement, Allison explained that he funded the programs to “retake the universities” from “statist/collectivist ideas.” He also noted that training students in the morality of capitalism is “clearly in our shareholders’ long-term best interest.”
The Cato Institute founded by the Charles Koch foundation, is where the most extreme aspects of Ayn Rand's economic beliefs are retained (best summed up as "the poor are moochers") but her atheism and progressive social views on abortion (this May they published a piece by Nat Hentoff, staunch abortion opponent, entitled bizarrely Certain U.S. Abortions Tear The Fetus Apart, ISIS-Style - I confess I didn't realize Hentoff was still alive)  and personal habits are thrown away, so you get the worst of the worst.

I've mentioned the John Allison indoctrination program before.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

He gets very cross if you criticize him

Great Partially Examined Life podcast from July 2011, a discussion with Patricia Churchland about her book on neuroscience. In the later half of the podcast they discuss a book by Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape.  Churchland criticizes the book for several reasons and says this (at about 1:21:15):
...the idea that neuroscience is going to tell us where well-being lies and what should make us happy and what we ought to choose is kind of what we deal with in Ethics 101, so I was midly surprised to find it in Sam's book... his book has been really criticized in a lot of places... I feel a little bit bad about criticizing him  because and I'm a friend of his and he of course gets very cross if you criticize him. I wish he'd take another couple of years to write that book.
Why am I not surprised that on top of being a torture-supporting Islamaphobe, Harris is also thin-skinned?

I don't know how Churchland could be a friend of somebody so morally repugnant, but then I knew that Churchland is a very different person from me because she claims she never stopped being fond of a high school teacher who offered tutoring on calculus to boys, but not to girls, since girls just can't understand calculus.

I imagine Harris probably believes calculus is harder for girls since he's a devout supporter of evolutionary psychology as are all the New Atheist celebrities, and in the past year said this:
“I think it may have to do with my person slant as an author, being very critical of bad ideas. This can sound very angry to people. People just don’t like to have their ideas criticized. There’s something about that critical posture that is to some degree instrinsically male and more attractive to guys than to women,” he said. “The atheist variable just has this – it doesn’t obviously have this nurturing, coherence-building extra estrogen vibe that you would want by default if you wanted to attract as many women as men.”
Notice how he points out other people's displeasure at being criticized. Not only thin-skinned but a raging sexist and a shameless hypocrite. What a guy.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Hard times for Objectivists

It was a golden age for Objectivists back when nobody but Objectivists were paying attention to Ayn Rand. But thanks to a combination of the two Rand biographies that were published in 2012, as well as the Tea Party and Libertarian-esque politicians like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan Ayn Rand has gotten much more attention in recent years than since her glory days in the 1950s.

And therefore hilarity has ensued.

I've done plenty of research on Rand for my DARK MARKET in the past couple of years (the re-write is currently on hold) and found much Rand-spoof humor. This weekend I found even more from 2013 - John Hodgman appeared as Ayn Rand for something called The Dead Authors Podcast. Possibly the highlight is when Hodgman as Ayn Rand ranks the heroism/tragedy of the members of the Village People.

I was pretty surprised to find her listed in The Partially Examined Life (PEL) philosophy podcast and blog. But actually soon into the 2-hour long podcast it's clear the discussants don't take Rand or her "philosophy" seriously.

As the blog notes:
First Rand grounds everyday human knowledge, largely by dismissing the concerns of other philosophers (even those whom she unknowingly parrots) as absurd. Then she uses this certainty to argue for her semi-Nietzschean vision of Great Men who master their emotions and rely only on themselves. Mark, Wes, Dylan, and Seth are satisfied with neither effort. 
Warning: This attempt to make sense of Rand's texts will likely offend any Randians out there, and our reading numerous passages from her alleged "texts" may offend the rest of you. When in doubt, curl up in the fetal position and moan "A=A!" over and over again until the bad sounds stop.
As so often happens when intelligent people are confronted with the philosophy of Ayn Rand, these discussants express infuriation. Beginning at 01:05:45 in the podcast on Rand's epistemology:
SETH: The whole thing about how she can go 50 pages before addressing Wittgenstein's argument about use and then to just dismiss it in one sentence infuriated me... 
WES: ...She doesn't really know what linguistic analysis is, or positivism is, she says things about positivism which are just absurd. She associates it variously with relativism, everything seems to get associated with relativism and so she doesn't really have a solid idea of what Kant is about or positivism, linguistic analysis, things she's railing against so it's sort of a weird contemptuousness of something, and she's talking about definitions, she just doesn't even know the definition of them. She just doesn't even have the vaguest idea of what these things stand for philosophically.
DYLAN:'s just so clearly what I would call nostalgic - it's this attempt to "I am very hostile to the idea that there can be ambiguity or disputes, we need to have an absolute authority upon which we can found our conceptual system"... the fact that she criticized Kant doesn't make sense to me because it sounds like she's an uber-Kantian in a weird way, although a misguided one.

WES: ...she characterizes academic philosophy as all one big cesspool of relativism and here she is riding in to save the day, and bring back the concept of objectivity - no all these people were worried about saving the concept of objectivity... that's the big straw man of this essay,that all these things are relativism...

On Rand's ethics beginning at around 01:18:00
SETH: This is a perfect example of a straw man she makes. Nobody advocates the kind of altruism she's talking about. 
WES: Right. Sacrifice ourselves totally. 
DYLAN: It just doesn't exist. It's like she's thirteen years old or something. And running around "you want me to give up everything in my whole life! I can't"'s just so pre-juvenile... (she builds) extreme versions of every case and takes one straw man after another, it's absolutely infuriating in this respect.
WES: her philosophy can be called "sentimentalism"'s this need for simplicity and certainty... 
By the second hour, Dylan gets to the heart of Ayn Rand and her "philosophy":
...she's like a celebrity of some sort, who somehow managed to get a grip in popular culture and called herself a philosopher and had philosophical aspirations... but you spend more time figuring out what she should have meant if it was actually consistent or thoughtful... 
I will definitely be checking out this PEL series further - not only do they have several podcasts devoted to Schopenhauer, but they have a good healthy contempt for the New Atheists, especially Sam Harris. For example:
Scientism is what makes it possible for someone like Sam Harris to be taken seriously on morality, despite the fact that his arguments flunk philosophy 101. That intellectually curious people are influenced by that kind of stuff (and freebase it regularly via TED lectures) is a crime. They're better off with "The Secret."
Love it.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hopefully the last thing I'm going to write about Compulsive Love

I had blissfully forgotten about Compulsive Love until a notice for a free reading by the series author Adam Szymkowicz was sent to me last week. I almost didn't post the notice because Compulsive Love is so mind-bogglingly obnoxious.

I thought yesterday's post would be the last time I ever wrote about it, but then out of curiosity to see if the other episodes were as grotesque as episodes 1-4 and 8 I took a look at the Youtube site devoted to the series. They were pretty bad, although episode seven seems to be the most realistic - instead of wanting to have sex with the unattractive hero, the Girl of the Week just steals his crappy stuff. But nothing else was especially extra-horrific - until... wow, just when I thought this series couldn't be more repulsive.

There appears to be three videos called "The Melissa Files." Melissa is the office boss lady who represents the "bitch" in the bitch/slut/ girl triumvirate of female characters in a dude-bro media production. She's basically like Frank Burns on MASH, except in MASH Burns had Hoolihan as a partner and got to have sex. Melissa is crazy, lonely and sexless - a loser in every possible way, and the three Melissa Files videos seem to exist to mine all the humor inherent in humiliating the character even more. I suspect that Szymkowicz has seen 30 Rock and based the Melissa character on Liz Lemon - except Szymkowicz doesn't get that we are supposed to be sympathetic towards Lemon.

And this is how deep the misogyny goes - while the unattractive, weaselly man-baby hero gets to have sex with many women in the series, the Melissa character doesn't even get to lust unrequitedly after an attractive man. In the episode The Fake Limp she is seen eyeing the average ass of some pudgy balding guy. His character is billed as "the sexy co-worker" which I would normally think was meant as a joke, but you can't tell in dude-bro Bizarro World. There really are no attractive male actors used in this series.

I feel especially bad for the way a good actor, Amy Staats is misused here. She's probably the best actor in the series and far more attractive than Alex Anfanger, who plays the hero who gets all the sex. But that's pretty much the fate of female actors in a world dominated by dude-bro assholes. I will have to reach out to Staats for an audition the next time I'm working on a decent project to give her a chance to play a character worth playing. 

One day when the entertainment industry is less thoroughly dominated by men we can all look back on series like Compulsive Love and laugh. Until then...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Compulsive Inclusion

I've been running the NYCPlaywrights web site/email blast as a money-making (although not notably
profit-making) proposition since January 2011, and about six months ago or so I started including free theater notices in the email blast, as a service to the readers. There is always some free theater - usually readings but sometimes full productions - going on in New York City, and especially between May and October because of all the Shakespeare in the park productions.

Sometimes I have to go looking for free theater, but often I'm emailed notices and I've never turned anything down for inclusion in the email blast. But I did briefly consider not running a notice for a Project Y Theatre reading last Sunday for a play by Adam Szymkowicz. But in the end I did run it for the sake of NYCPlaywrights inclusivity.

I found it odd that Project Y Theatre was promoting his play as part of a reading series called "Parity Plays."  What they consider "parity" is 50% women in casting - not playwriting.

The four or five regular readers of this blog may remember my excoriation of a web series written by Szymkowicz and produced a couple of years ago, called Compulsive Love, a case study in un-self-aware male entitlement in which the hero of this anti-romantic, unfunny romantic comedy is such a creep that when he loses a bet playing pool with a woman he refuses to pay up and instead pimps himself out (because there's such a huge market for unattractive hetero male prostitutes in the world of Compulsive Love)  performing oral sex on first his creditor and then on some kind of organized crime lady - there might be more to the plot but I can't report on it because of the vomit that inevitably lands all over my laptop screen whenever I try to watch more than a few minutes at a time of this show. Anyway, since his cunnilingus skills were honed through prostituting himself he is able to walk into a lesbian bar, buy a lesbian a drink and then have sex with her.

But since the hero has sex with at least one new woman per episode I guess that demonstrates Szymkowicz's track record writing work with lots of roles for women. Take that, patriarchy.

While researching this blog post I found somebody else complaining about the series, on the Youtube posting of the lesbian episode:

You do understand that "Where no man has gone before" is actually a name of a trope that you present here - a man having sex with lesbian? It appears in about 90% of movies and shows with lesbian characters (that are not aimed at lesbian audience) - that the lesbian has to be de-gayed and be sexually accessible for a man. I think I don't have to mention it's incredibly homophobic and misogynistic, and actually this way of thinking stands behind "corrective rapes" on lesbians too.
And no, that isn't me writing under a pseudonym.

The trope that the lesbian episode best embodies is If It's You It's OK. See illustration on the right. Although Compulsive Love goes this trope one better - you don't even have to be "The Batman" to turn lesbians into bisexuals, just some goofy-looking ethical failure. That's amore.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Nicest Thing

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mango Sorbetto

Good for everything. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 18, 2015

These people are all in their sixties now...

Or older.

Either somebody slipped her the final script or Eileen Sutton is really clever.

I think I know how Mad Men ends...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

My mirror opposite

I read somewhere that full siblings are your closest relatives, and if that's the case then my brother Brian, born thirteen months after me, is technically the closest of all my relatives. But we represent a complete failure of nature and nurture to influence beliefs and behavior. Not only are we closely related genetically, but we were raised together in the same houses, with the same cast of characters, and went to the same schools. We even both played sports although I only lasted for two years in girls softball, which I joined up in the first place to show that I could play sports like a boy - I was pissed off about the unfairness of the world towards girls long before I heard of feminism, and being good at sports was the universally agreed-upon way, so it seemed to me at the time, of getting respect.

But while there were many talented athletes on "The Bensalem Doves" and we won the championship both years I was on the team, I was personally terrible. Mainly because I never felt like I really understood the rules of softball and also because I had stage fright and was terrified of screwing up. Which only made me screw up more. But I'm sure I took it all much more seriously than my team coach, whom I remember looked like Suzanne Pleshette (or "Bob Newhart's wife" as I knew her then)  holding her cigarette between two long and well-manicured fingers and chuckling when any girl screwed up.

And yet with all that in common we could not be more different. In every important socio-political way we are polar opposites: Republican vs. Democrat; anti-abortion vs. pro-choice; devout Catholicism vs. atheism; hunting/fishing/football vs. arts/science/philosophy. And on and on.
I was reminded of all this because this past Easter when the whole family was together I mentioned to the other siblings that Brian had defriended me on Facebook over something derogatory I had said about the Catholic Church. So he re-friended me, only to have us immediately disagree about something. And then there was the police sympathizers up in arms this weekend over the fact that a few high school students somewhere in suburban New Jersey did artwork on the theme of police brutality. Resulting in the Facebook exchange between my brother and I that you can see in the image posted here.

I've taken it for granted most of my life but it really is weird when you stop and think of it - in spite of our nature/nurture commonalities, I have almost no memories of my brother and i together when we were young. Just two I can think of: when we were toddlers, and we suddenly realized tomorrow was Christmas and we hugged each other in ecstatic anticipation; and then when we were pre-teens, singing along together to Carly Simon's "Your So Vain." And that's it. And I don't think we've ever had any actual conversations as adults without it almost immediately turning into an argument. We have nothing to say to each other.

Although as a rule my family is not big on communication. When we meet up for holidays there's barely enough time to bark out the latest big updates of your life (and thanks to Facebook even that's not strictly necessary) before someone turns on the TV and at least half the family plunks down to watch the professional sports game of that season.

But also I think my family generally finds me boring - I can say all these things here because they find me so boring that not one of them, I am confident, ever reads this blog. And I don't exactly find them riveting. They have zero interest in the life of the mind, except sporadically, my youngest brother Paul, who is also politically liberal. To be fair there are very few people anywhere interested in the life of the mind, and when you find one of them you gotta cultivate them and hang onto them for dear life. That's a reason why I stayed with my old boyfriend John for over ten years, in spite of the fact that he was a suicidal manic-depressive and incredibly self-centered and didn't appreciate me at all (until I was ready to leave him, and then he decided to propose.) But he cared about the arts and sciences and philosophy. He was a remarkable autodidact, and I could literally talk to him for hours and not get bored.

And that's why I miss my dear beautiful friend Earl so much. He's been dead for almost 18 years now. Wow. I think one of the few ways to avoid social isolation in the US, especially as a member of the lower-middle class, is to be a sports fan. Even dear Earl, who was beleaguered by all the people who wanted to spend time with him (I have never had that problem), once admitted to me that he didn't like sports very much but he followed them because that was one of the few things he could talk to his father about.

It's amazing to me how much closer I felt to Earl, whom I mostly knew as a work colleague and object of unrequited love, then I've ever felt to my own brother. I don't believe in the supernatural, in spite of the strange occurrence surrounding Earl's death, but it does make you think that what really matters is the communion of souls. Earl was a soul mate. My brother is a virtual stranger.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rightwingers and cops freak out over high school art, call for censorship and a "station house adjustment"

I am embarassed, shocked, dismayed, angered, outraged, chagrined, and disgusted, that this is going on in my hometown of Westfield, NJ.
In a day and time in which drawing pictures of false prophets like Mohammed would get us in trouble, because of sensitivities, that something this gross and moronic would be allowed!
I am thoroughly disgusted

The artwork depicts images of officers shooting, a target on a silhouette with his hands up, a bloodied body stabbed by a police shield and other scenes on a...
 · 15
  • Barbara Guglielmi Mendoza Sorry for the rant but this make me sick to my stomach.
    1 · 7 hrs
  • Todd Cashdollar I don't blame you. It's outrageous! What happened to you and your daughter is messed up! So angering!
    1 · 7 hrs
  • Barbara Guglielmi MendozaThey are pathetic. They should think about putting this kind of effort into dealing with the drug and alcohol problem at the school. They work so hard to cover up so much and the funny thing is the police help the kids who live in that town all of th...See More
    1 · 6 hrs
  • Aileen Ann I think the artist deserves a "station house adjustment" ... my brother had one. He did a lot in later years -- but he never once crossed the line.
    1 · 6 hrs

Friday, May 15, 2015

Be it right or be it wrong

The only thing I ever knew from Chaka Khan, back in the old radio days, was "Tell Me Something Good." I was so missing out.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Schopenhauer's Cat

One of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer's endearing traits is that he loved his poodles. So I thought he was a dog person, although I think it's silly to have to choose between being a dog person and a cat person - dogs and cats are all so lovable. I have cats now, but when I was growing up I had a dog named Cookie and we were close. So close that when she had a litter of puppies she decided to have them in my bed.

So I can't understand this either-or point of view. Which even shows up in discussions between philosophers. David Skinner asks David Cartwright:
I don’t know how else to put this: Was Schopenhauer a cat person or a dog person? 
A dog person. He owned a series of poodles, calling each “Atma” formally and “Butz” informally. He once told a dinner companion that when his dog was mischievous, he would scold it by saying, “You are not a dog, but a human being, a human being,” and he claimed that this would shame the dog.
With all this evidence I was surprised to read this in Wikipedia:
...Schopenhauer settled permanently in Frankfurt in 1833, where he remained for the next twenty-seven years, living alone except for a succession of pet poodles named Atman and Butz. The numerous notes that he made during these years, amongst others on aging, were published posthumously under the title Senilia. 
Schopenhauer had a robust constitution, but in 1860 his health began to deteriorate. He died of heart failure on 21 September 1860 while sitting at home on his couch with his cat. He was 72.
It doesn't say the name of his cat, unfortunately. Possibly Atma too.

The Wiki entry reveals that there is a definite disagreement over whether the name is Atma - as the two philosophers named David have it, and Atman, as Wikipedia has it.

I suspected that there might be more to Schopenhauer giving his poodles all the same name besides lack of imagination, and I think I might have just found it:
In 1844, writing in the second volume of his magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation, Arthur Schopenhauer made a curious statement:

I know quite well [Schopenhauer wrote] that anyone would regard me as mad if I seriously assured him that the cat, playing just now in the yard, is still the same one that did the same jumps and tricks three hundred years ago; but I also know that it is much more absurd to believe that the cat of today is through and through and fundamentally an entirely different one from the cat of three hundred years ago.

Amazingly enough, Schopenhauer defended that statement throughout his magnum opus. The cat both is and is not the same cat that frolicked similarly three hundred years ago.
As far as Schopenhauer was concerned, they virtually were all the same poodle. 

In any case, there are worse ways to die than sitting on your couch with your cat.

Apparently there was a Google doodle dedicated to Schopenhauer on February 22, 2013 on his 225th birthday. It features him walking Atma, appropriately. It only showed up in Germany though, which is why I didn't see it.