Daily Archives: 09 Dec 2015

Brain Chemistry and Video Watching

Sad FaceI am constantly amazed at the effect of chemistry on mood. For example, I always hope that I die right as I’m waking up, because when I wake up, I always wish that I were dead. Well, maybe not dead all the time. But I’m not pleased. Yet you get a cup of tea in me and I can be literally thrilled to be alive. This morning, for example, as I slide into consciousness, I started thinking about Schopenhauer — never a good sign: another day, like the last, which I will work in order to survive to have tomorrow, which will be like the last. It is pointless! I never forget this intellectually, but with the right amount of caffeine, it doesn’t seem important, emotionally.

But consider the chemical soup that swims around in our brains. It really does define us. Let me illustrate.

Happy FaceLast week, when I was going through a thankfully brief period of depression, I decided to watch A Collection of 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films. I have seen it before. These collections are wonderful. The truth is that short films are generally better than features because they are organic. They only need to be as long as they need to be. Features are almost always shoehorned into something between an hour and a half to two hours long — regardless of whether the film should have been eight hours or, as is more often the case, 20 minutes.

This particular collection contains two incredibly charming, light-hearted films: The Mozart of Pickpockets and Tanghi Argentini. I was undoubtedly thinking of these films when I decided to watch it. But the disc starts with At Night. It tells the story of three young women who are being treated for cancer at a hospital. Under normal circumstances, I would label the film “poignant.” But in my state of mind, it was devastating; I sobbed pretty much nonstop through it.

I had hoped that I would be about to embed it here, but it isn’t available. It is rather long anyway: almost 40 minutes. Although you can watch the wonderful Tanghi Argentini. Just in time for Christmas! It is a wonderful, heartwarming film. It also made me cry — but not nearly as much.

Okay, so yesterday, I was feeling much better. Great, in fact. And I happened on a sketch comedy show called, Bruiser. It came out in 2000, and I’m shocked that I didn’t know about it, because it was Mitchell and Webb’s first television show. (They are in a cast of six.) It only lasted for one series — six episodes. It’s a weird show with a lot of incredibly annoying characters. The duo definitely got much more subtle — and funny — as time went on.

Here is a series of skits that originally played at different times and across different episodes. It is a parody of Q from the James Bond films. What’s remarkable is that there really isn’t much of a joke here. It’s just: what if Q had really stupid ideas. Yet it made me laugh to the point of asphyxiation.

I must still feel pretty good, because I just watched again, and I found it almost as funny. Ah, brain chemistry.

The Ever Worsening Republican Party

Ted CruzMartin Longman asked a great question, How Did Cruz Become the Sane Alternative? A lot of people think the most likely scenario for the Republican nominating contest is that Trump will drop out and it will become a head to head match-up between Cruz and Marco Rubio. This narrative is presented as though it is a great relief. But how is that? Before Trump stopped being a joke, Ted Cruz was the crazy one that Republican elites were afraid of. Now we are supposed to think that he’s a statesman who can be trusted? That’s a reach.

The truth of the matter is that I fear Cruz more than Trump. There’s no question that Trump is not only a demagogue, but a damned fine one. Still, I think he’s at base a practical guy. He’ll say anything to get elected, but he isn’t going to destroy the world economy. If things go wrong, I think he will reverse course. On the other hand, Ted Cruz is a typical bitter ender. He is ideologically rigid. He always argues that if we just follow his One True Way™ then all will be fine. If a two week government shutdown doesn’t work, then a two month one will; and if not that, a two year one.

But what we are seeing in the Republican presidential campaign is what we’ve seen for decades with the Republican Party. Just look at the Bushes. First we had George HW Bush, and we thought he was pretty bad with his racist campaign. And then we got his eldest son who was equally as evil but spectacularly incompetent. And now we have Jeb Bush. A lot of conservatives have convinced themselves that Obama made the nation miss George W Bush. That didn’t happen. But Jeb has managed to make his older brother seem both less evil and incompetent.

Marco RubioLongman pointed out that, “Cruz is unapologetically at war with the mainstream of the party…” And he’s right to note that Rubio is no great shakes. Jonathan Chait pointed out some of his absurdity on Monday, Guns Don’t Kill People, Planes Kill People. This is in reference to Rubio’s ridiculous claim over the weekend that we can’t withhold guns from people on the no-fly list, because it is filled with errors. But of course, Rubio has no interest in getting rid of the no-fly list — or even fixing it. I’m sure if this lack of consistency were pointed out to Rubio, he would respond, “I’m not a logician, man.”

The larger issue was discussed in another Chait article, Donald Trump May Not Get the Nomination, but He Has Already Won. He showed Rubio’s disingenuousness — saying that Obama’s call for calm on Sunday was “cynical,” while only saying of Trump’s call for panic on Monday, “His habit of making offensive and outlandish statements will not bring Americans together.” As Chait noted:

Rubio impugns Obama’s motives for rejecting discrimination against Muslims. (“Cynicism”!) He makes no such judgment about Trump’s motives. Rubio needs to harness the same passions that Trump is exploiting, but to do so more carefully. His anti-anti-bigotry message cleverly redirects conservative resentment away from Muslims and toward the liberals who cynically denounce anti-Muslim prejudice and refuse to present the case against ISIS as a war of civilizations.

Whatever Marco Rubio truly believes, it is clear that he is determined to win the same votes by the same basic demagoguery as Trump. He just doesn’t do the whole comic-in-chief act of Benito Mussolini. Rubio, Cruz, Trump? They are all pretty much the same. The elites can pat themselves on the back about getting rid of Trump (if they do). But this is just a process that has repeated itself again and again in the GOP. It’s the reason why the party is so much worse than it was 40 years ago.

Anniversary Post: The Mother of All Demos

First Computer MouseOn this day in 1968, computer scientist Douglas Engelbart gave what came to be known as The Mother of All Demos. In this single 90-minute demonstration, he introduced the world to, well, basically all the things that distinguish the computer you are using today from the computers people were using at that time (and for a bit more than a decade after that). These include:

  • Graphics
  • Windows
  • Mouse
  • Hypertext
  • Collaborative editing
  • And quite a lot more.

It was a demonstration of his own designed “oN-Line System.” It is known as NLS. Why? Because computer scientists are cruel people. Trust me, I’ve worked with them for decades. It’s a good thing we have them working on computers, because it would be ugly if they go into politics.

Anyway, that image above is the first prototype of a mouse. You may not be able to tell, but it is one-dimensional. That is a cylinder and not a sphere underneath. But it doesn’t matter. That’s actually what I like about computer scientists as compared to programmers. The scientists are just interested in concepts. Leave the details to the programmers.