Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Random stories

I promise that I won't turn the blog over to a whole bunch of click-through stories, but these two were so strange -- one funny-but-not-really (that has already been picked up by Slate in their own clickbait piece) and one that is a first-person social experiment that Slate occasionally likes to run (some of the columns they run do sound like the musings of Morgan Spurlock).  

So the first truly does sound like a plot for a B-movie: a groom realizes that he didn't properly book the wedding venue and calls in a bomb threat, hoping that after the wedding is postponed he will have time to make the proper arrangements.  It takes the police less than a day to figure out it was him. (In fact the bride's sister says to his face: "You probably done the bomb scare yourself.")  It wouldn't surprise me that there has been a movie based on this premise, and there probably has been a novel or a short story.  The problem is that the set-up is too easy, and then there are only a couple of options on where to go with the consequences of the bomb threat.  (Of course, one might suddenly launch into the tragic with the flustered clerk from the hall where the threat was called in having a heart attack.  Or in real life the nurse that spoke to the radio DJ pretending to be the Queen, then going and committing suicide.  Which in itself has some interesting twists and turns showing how far apart culturally the UK and Australia are with the Australian DJs (at least the male) simply refusing to accept any shame or shaming about his part in the incident, which further infuriates many Brits.*)

The next paragraph has some Gravity spoilers, so skip if you haven't seen the movie.

I guess in general, this incident reminds me of how foolish many people are and how easily led astray they are by what they see in TV or in movies.  Does that mean that artists really do need to exercise more self-restraint before putting out another Jackass or Bad Grandpa movie that will simply encourage more people to harm themselves?  I used to think no, but now I am no longer as certain.  I just see this huge number of really witless people and a chasm growing between the informed and the uninformed.  Just the other day on the bus, I overheard someone inspired by the movie Gravity to ask if there was "scientific proof" that the dead spoke to the living in dreams.  Maybe I am being too harsh, since he was inquiring rather than making a bold claim, and his friend seemed more inclined to think that Clooney was a figment of her imagination rather than a Obi-Wan wannabe materializing in the capsule.  However, the way these conversations usually go is that someone will then say, "Yes, there is scientific proof that X blah blah blah" or "It is a FACT that Y blah blah blah" almost always heading into some tendentious political point that either bashes Bush or Obama.  (Gah, the internet has been a lifeline (on steroids) to the blowhard community.)  No question this specific question implies a very weak idea of what the scientific method is in general (and that this is the kind of thing that couldn't be confirmed in the first place, relying as it would on first-person accounts of what they experienced).  But it also points to the power of shows like Ghost Hunters or what have you to dress up their supposed traces from the spirit world with the trappings of science.  Apparently we need 10 times more shows like Mythbusters or ones featuring James Randi, professional debunker, and ten times fewer bogus entertainment shows masquerading as science.  Instead, we have the reverse.  I have to say I agree with the people who feel the Discovery Channel should be forced to change its name to something more appropriate like the "Science Iz Too Hard Channel."  Well, if I am going to go on a thinly-veiled class-based rant, it is time to stop now.

I will turn instead to one of the funniest pieces I read in Slate all month, maybe all year.  Of couse, given that for the last month I mostly I went there to read up on the Default Follies, there were not too many chuckles from that newsfeed.  (Slate really is my main Web addiction.  I know most of the pieces have become super short clickbait pieces, but still I click through nearly everytime.  I guess you never know when you will get a full-fledged essay (certainly rarer these days) rather than a one paragraph summary with no extra analysis of some other report -- such as their version of the wedding bomb threat story, which I won't dignify with a link.  The one "advantage" is that now that the commenting system is so thoroughly fouled up that I almost never bother to look at the comments with the main exception of the comments on Dear Prudie's column.)  However, a couple of the writers on Slate still make an effort, including Dahlia Lithwick.  Here is her piece on why she wore Axe bodyspray for a week and what ensued.

* Another really odd and indeed tragic story that seems almost incomprehensible to me is that a British man was "rumbled," i.e. found out as responsible for a Twitter feed mocking the Queen's racing manager.  He thought he might have lost his job (possibly**) and his family (really?) and he hung himself.  I think it fairly certain that the typical Australian or American wouldn't have felt such intense shame to kill him- or herself, though of course there are always exceptions.  In the run-up to the Chicago mayoral election, someone set up an obviously fake Twitter feed as the Real Rahm Emanuel -- and ending up getting a book deal out of it.

** Like the WH National Security advisor that got caught running a particularly snarky, i.e. mean-spirited, Twitter feed and just got fired.  Having read a small sample of his output, it really is incredible this person felt he could just publish these tweets.  He looks just a tad too old to be an oversharing Millennial, but maybe just on the border between Gen Y and the Millennials.***  A one-time slip sure -- I have occasionally let things slip that shouldn't, but to constantly publish stuff about people's appearances?  It just means he is shallow and apparently never outgrew high school...  It doesn't really matter how smart you are, you can't be that disloyal to your co-workers, so he probably won't really be missed that much.  And honestly most of the people at the White House are pretty sharp, it's hard to see how he thinks he is that much above them, but apparently he did.  But this is something I struggle with from time to time, which is exactly why I don't need a Twitter account.  Email and apparently even blogging is so 90s that you could say anything you felt like and no one would find out...

*** Holy cow, the guy is a baby-faced 40 year-old!  He really should have known better.  Here is his half-apology: "What started out as an intended parody account of DC culture developed over time into a series of inappropriate and mean-spirited comments."  I guess once the genie came out of the bottle, he couldn't keep himself from writing what he really was thinking.  Again, a very valuable lesson -- to learn from watching others in disgrace!

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