Archive for the ‘pop culture’ category

For A Good Time In Cambridge: Coco Fusco, Junot Diaz, Ian Condry Edition

October 22, 2013

Hey, all — or at least all of you in reasonable range of Cambridge, MA (Our Faire City).  Day after tomorrow, Thursday, October 24, will see writer, performer and curator Coco Fusco talking at MIT, in an evening moderated by my colleagues, novelist Junot Diaz and Cool Japan majordomo Ian Condry.

The event begins at 5 and 7 p.m in MIT’s Media Lab rm 633. Details and map here.

Fusco’s title, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics” leads to the meat of her talk — which investigates what “Planet of the Apes” (the original) was really talking about.

Apes_in_a_persimmon-tree

Smart people taking on the world at an angle.  Should be fun.

Image: Mori Sosen, Apes in a Persimmon Tree, before 1821

Eye Candy Is Bad For You…

November 25, 2012

…But Oh. So. Tasty.

I’ve been conspicuous (or not) by my absence, I know, and will probably continue to be so for a while, as daily life does what it does so well.

But I’ve been collecting a few odds and ends that this crowd might enjoy, so I thought I’d offer them up as a peace offering until I can post something that actually has some substance to it.  Think of this as the third cotton candy stick you got as a kid, just before it all went pear shaped at the top of the Tilt-O-Whirl.

First up, via DKos, a truly delightful take on a song that my son has not let me escape in months (Ah, the joys of being well into middle age, and being schooled by your 12 y.o.)  Apparently, the thing is authentically what it alleges itself to be, the Royal Engineers living the pop life in somewhat forbidding circumstances:

watch?v=K-ZFKU2O1Zk

Via Daily Kos, here’s a US Army version, equally…how to put it…charming:

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I’ll leave it to y’all to decide which side of the Atlantic wins this battle of bands.

But I can say that my beloved uncle, a career officer in the Royal Artillery, warned me about those engineering boys.*

Which advice allows me to partake of the “not-quite-500-miles-away”** school of segues to take you to one of the latest effusions  from a noted engineering school — one that produced what, to my admittedly biased view, is the best of the exploding universe of Gangnam Style parodies.

Which is to say, here is the MIT version.  Watch for the cameos — I’m not sure I’ll ever think about genomics in quite the same way after seeing Eric Lander’s performance.  But the capper is one  I’ll let you discover, if your eyeballs aren’t already bleeding at the thought of yet more PSY coming your way.

watch?v=lJtHNEDnrnY

Oh, and open thread too.

*not intended to be a factual statement

**The not-quite-500-miles-away” segue was the term of art applied to the habit of the BBC programme Panorama to feign a link between two segments by saying something on the order of “Not 500 miles away from where Joe Bloggs was trapped in a death embrace with his pet python, Mary Scroggs paused, startled, while watering her petunias.”  Or some such.

For A Good Time On The ‘Tubes (Self Aggrandizement Alert)

August 29, 2012

Just a quick heads up for fans of smart (I hope) talk.  In just about an hour, at 5 p.m. EDT (10 GMT, 2 PDT) I’ll be trading views with science writer Jennifer Ouellete (AKA Jen-Luc Piquante), proprietor among much else of Cocktail Party Physics, which gig gives me the excuse for this pic:

The conversation will take place over at my more or less regular monthly gig on Virtually Speaking Science.  Listen live or later here. Alternatively, come join the virtually live audience in Second Life.  Podcasts of VSS, including the work of my co-host, Alan Boyle, can also be downloaded at the iTunes store.  Lots of back issues there — of particular current interest, you might check out my conversations with climate scientist Michael Mann; science studies scholar Naomi Oreskes, and science journalist and “framing” advocate Chris Mooney.

Jennifer and I will be leaping off from the impulse that led her to write her most recent book, The Calculus Diaries. That’s her account of being an admitted math-phobe coming to grips with the beauty and practical value of what is truly one of the handful of greatest human inventions ever.  As I blurbed for her — calculus allows one to think rigorously about change in time and space; it just doesn’t get bigger than that, really.

We’ll go from the book to the latest kerfluffle about what kinds of math should be taught in school (see the algebra controversy sparked by this piece. For a good reply, see this.)  More broadly we’ll use the question of how to present the actual importance of thinking mathematically in everyday circumstances to think out loud a bit about an issue that is bugging me more and more these days.  To put it in personal terms — I’ve been doing science writing/film making for public audiences for just about 30 years now.  Looking at the convention of one of our major political parties in which that party declares its denial of anthropogenic climate change, evidence based medicine, investments in science education and research and so on and on and on (without even going into the anti-evolution lunacy, nor the pseudo-science with which it justifies government regulation of ladyparts and … you get the picture) — looking at all that and more, it’s depressingly easy to conclude that my career has been a net negative.

Yes, I know, correlation is not cause, which is why some of us still believe that milk drinking does not  lead to heroin addiction. But really, for all that we live in something of a golden age of popular science writing and communication other media, it is past time, in my ever-so-humble opinion, to think about what, if anything, we should be doing to reach a mass audience we clearly have not fully attracted, much less persuaded.

Finally, Jennifer is near the end of a book that has proved much more challenging to write than she blithly thought going in.  I’m just starting a book I’m convinced I have got under control. (Thus every folly begins, in innocent confidence…) So we’re going to talk just a bit of shop:  how every book project trips you up, and what you can do about that terrible moment when you are finally, utterly, deeply certain that you computer is going to reach through the display and throttle you; just put you out of your and everyone else’s misery.

Should be fun.  Check it out when and as you have a notion.

PS:  As a DEW — Sunday, September 9, 8 p.m. EDT, 6 p.m. MT, I’ll be talking one of my old books, Measure for Measure: A Musical History of Science with the incomparable Desiree Schell on Skeptically Speaking. I’ve been on the show once before as a guest of Marie-Claire Shanahan, and it was a lot of fun.  Desiree is a fabulous interviewer, so I’m looking forward to this one too. But it’s relevant to the post above, if only because the book that both nearly killed me and most taught me to write was Measure…in which I succumbed to what I have decided is the dreaded second book syndrome.  More to come…

Image: Edgar Degas, L’absinthe, 1876

Do Not Get Out Of The Boat

September 28, 2011

Daily Kos has recently posted what may be the most eyeball-melting, brain corroding wingnut rap ever.  I’m not going to embed it here.  It’s that bad.  Don’t go watch it if you value any illusions you may yet possess about the possibility of the advance of civilization.  Any action you take from here — on you, my brothers and sisters.

The barbarians over at the GOS even had the sadist’s delight in getting this up at 6 p.m. Eastern time — dinner, or, for me and my family, the start of the new year observances that focus on the contemplation of the twelve months just past.

Talk about harshing one’s mellow.  Seriously, that’s a vid that could curdle any supply of milk within parsecs.

All of which leads to the question:  what is it about wingnuttery that yields such dire, humorless, dispiriting simulacrums of art.  Hell — not even art, but entertainment?  Even the merest of pleasures?

We did not deserve this.

Image:  Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne,  Altogether Too Stupid, (a peasant woman gets her wits sharpened on the knife-grinder’s whetstone as other are drawn in by the miracle cure), before 1662.  I know I’ve used this one before — but damn, it’s on point.

You Know It’s Tough All Over…

August 26, 2011

…When even the usually reliable Carl Hiaasen can’t crack a joke.

I’m a devoted reader of Hiaasen’s fiction — I’ve even tracked down one of his early co-authored novels.  And while rage at what the greedheads and buffoons have done to his beloved Florida animates everything he writes, he’s managed to retain both a capacity for awe and fun in the face of the absurdity that is that hallucination of a state.

So I had high hopes of some get-away-from-it all when I picked up his latest,  Star Island.  Some old favorites are back, notably Clinton Tyree, (aka Captain, aka Governor, aka Skink), and Chemo (don’t ask).  It has a promising premise, involving a drug-and-fame-addled tone-deaf pop star, a plucky and lovely lookalike, an utterly unlovely papparazo, with a bit of real estate fraud, GBH by sea urchin, and more thrown in for spice.  It looked good in the airport bookshop…

But nothing’s funny.  I finished it over lunch today, and it turns out that no one has any righteous joy at even a temporary triumph over the forces of huckster-evil.  No innocents wise up and save themselves amidst hilarity.  There isn’t really even any righteous revenge:  even when the sea-urchin attackee gets killed, it’s only for being a common or garden variety fraudster; his demise comes off stage; and he leaves us with only minimal Hiassen/Florida flamboyance.

For the rest?  The book reads OK.  There are a few fine set pieces — the best of which was Skink’s assault on the condo-deal tour bus.  Hiaasen’s a pro, and his basic craft hasn’t deserted him.  It’s only his astonished joy at the pure ridiculousness of his chosen home that’s MIA.

My diagnosis?

Hiaasen doesn’t write politics explicitly into his books — politicians, yes, but he mostly focuses on more generally human folly (to which are heir even Florida pols, only nominally accorded co-species status).

But the reality that he and we confront right now seems to have outstripped his capacity to mock.  Florida, as so often, is once again a test tube environment in which national pathologies grow in virulence — and monotonously self-destructive people just aren’t funny.    Just to take one of its most prominent current f**k-ups, Rick Scott is not to be cloaked with grandeur of any of these guys, but irony is a thin shield against the kind of implacable malice and/or stupidity that can find Hiaasen with every morning’s newspaper.

Nothing funny doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless; best not to laugh when there’s so much work to be done between now and November, 2012.  And certainly, Rick Scott — whom I take here as a stand in both for Florida’s woes and the current disastrous state of the GOP nationally — is inducing some serious buyer’s remorse.   But, while I know it is probably just me, reacting to one of my favorite summer authors having a down book, I have to say I was struck by how hard it is even for someone who has made a fine career out of laughing at life’s rich pageant just ain’t finding it easy to smile anymore.

Image:  John Singer Sargent (sic! — color me surprised too), Muddy Alligators, 1917.

Apropos of Not Much…

June 23, 2011

…Last night I ran across perhaps the most awesomest example of an utterly unexpected juxtaposition.  Truly, in the list of improbable duets, this beats all, IMHO

And while it is tempting to try some snarkilicious gloss on the title and treatment of the material below, sometimes cigars are just…strange (and delightful)…as here:

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I invite you to try and top the pure glorious absurdity of this one.

Consider This the “I Don’t Know Much About Music But I Know What I Like” moment of your day.

October 18, 2010

I am working on some more substantive new stuff for the blog (oh really? — ed.), but for just because I love you, here’s a little amuse bouche. Check out the video at this link.  Then tell me your hand doesn’t hurt.

I can’t count as fast as that man plays the violin.

Image: “Violin” See here for copyright info.


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