Archive for November, 2007

29
Nov
07

Universe To Hominids: Quit Looking At Me?

Quit looking at me

First, quantum physics ruined our week by demonstrating that things as they are depend to some degree on observation of those things. From Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle (“you can only know how fast something is going or where it is, not both”) to Schroedinger’s Cat (“that cat in the box is both/neither alive and/nor dead until you open up the box and take a look”) quantum physics does its best to screw up the idea of an objective universe.

While discovery of this highly subjective condition is decades old, recent research seems to push things further down the path of subjectivity by suggesting what might be thought of as an understandable extension of a universe that behaves this way. New research suggests the universe not only is or is not a certain way depending on whether it is under observation, it also has undergone significant changes in its volume and mass due to the very quantum effects of observation. Just looking at stuff is wiping out stuff and shortening the life of the universe. From the Telegraph’s coverage of a New Scientist story:

New Scientist reports a worrying new variant as the cosmologists claim that astronomers may have provided evidence that the universe may ultimately decay by observing dark energy, a mysterious anti gravity force which is thought to be speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.

The damaging allegations are made by Profs Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and James Dent of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, who suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have determined that the cosmos is in a state when it was more likely to end. “Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may provide evidence that the universe will ultimately decay,” says Prof Krauss.

What must be done is clear: in order to save the universe from our pernicious attempts to understand it, we must burn every observatory and library to the ground and remove the destructive force of science from our lives forever. Start by voting Republican.

20
Nov
07

Comedy Speaks: Kind Kindly Points Out Venerated Chicago Comedy Tradition Has No Clothes

Richard Kind aka “that one guy”

When I heard veteran character actor Richard Kind (pictured) publicly suggest last week that there might be, maybe, a little bit, something sort of wrong with abject worship of Chicago-style improv comedy, the resulting silence in the room was a little tense.

While the crowd at the Chicago History Museum’s “Comedy Speaks” program wrestled silently with Kind’s blasphemy, I felt like applauding. Improv is a sacred cow in Chicago, and perhaps for reasons of guilt over Chicago’s traditional treatment of cows, it enjoys a support base around here that is fairly called fundamentalist. Chicago improv fans are a fiercely loyal and vocal group of enthusiasts who endlessly laud the form and point to its many famous and beloved graduate practitioners as proof of its inerrant genius.

The unfettered fervor for improv Kind was opposing usually comes from actors who don’t want to face up to the fact that improv comedy, like psychotherapy, is a best-left-private development exercise and is usually senseless torture for discerning audiences. To do it humorously requires rare performers who are funny as opposed to plentiful performers who act funny. The reason there are at least six hundred Jimmy Fallons to every Jeff Garlin is because many, many people can mug for laughs but only a few people think or emote in a naturally amusing way. It’s the tiny minority of performers who can be funny by showing how they are as opposed to showing what they can do, and that is the precise difference between the great Eugene Levy and the shut-up-already Mike Myers. As well as the difference between a Bill Hicks and some Pi Kappa Phi brother from Northbrook who thinks he’s hilarious and won’t stop trying to prove it.

To be fair to Kind, he was not trashing the form in toto, but he did express impatience with The Harold, a particularly irritating long-form improv invention of legendary Second City director / ImprovOlympic founder Del Close. The Harold takes normative improv games to artificially extended lengths, (and sometimes into TV series and improv-training franchises.) Kind, bless him, finds the Harold “masturbatory.”

Masturbatory! And he wasn’t hustled out of the room and into hiding!

Well, it’s a form of progress.

16
Nov
07

Were You Expecting To Laugh This Hard At Smokey Robinson? I Wasn’t.

Tears Of A Clown, Cuff Links Of Paula Poundstone

Presenting the comedy verite’ blog gold of Men Who Look Like Old Lesbians

(Link swiped from Can’t Stop The Bleeding)

08
Nov
07

Suburban Civics Lesson: Keep Your Mouth Shut

Morton West’s Preferred Type Of Campus Gathering

Like a lot of us, sixteen year old Matt Heffernan noticed something was wrong. Unlike most of us, he did something about it, and he is paying a dear price.

The junior at Morton West High School in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn took part in a demonstration on school grounds last week. It was a peaceful sit-in protest against the illegal war in Iraq and the presence of military recruiters at Morton West.

As reported in the Nov. 7th New York Times, the Berwyn police on the scene found nothing wrong with the protest.

But somehow, that wasn’t enough for Berwyn school district superintendent Ben Nowakowski. He felt the police had missed a dire threat in 25 students peacefully speaking and singing. Dr. Nowakowski decided a 2007-style civics lesson – a crackdown – was in order.

Police officers were on the scene, and Berwyn’s police chief, William Kushner, said no arrests were made. “It was all very peaceful and orderly,” he said.

But at the end of the school day, Matt said, Dr. Nowakowski gave the remaining protesters disciplinary notices stating that they had engaged in mob action, that they were suspended for 10 days and that they faced expulsion.

“I was shocked,” said Matt, 16. “We had the sit-in. So I had mixed feelings of confidence — of a job well done — and fright, because my whole educational future is at risk.

The civics lesson continued, according to parents, when Nowakowski’s staff ensured that none of the right students were subject to this risk before he struck:

Parents also complained that deans, teachers and coaches singled out certain athletes and honor students and persuaded them to drop out of the protest.

Rita Maniotis, president of the school’s parent-teacher organization, said the school called her husband to say that their daughter, Barbara, a junior, was participating in the protest and that he should come to get her. He did so, and she was suspended for five days. But other parents were not called and not able to intervene, Ms. Maniotis said. “There’s no rhyme or reason to the punishment doled out,” she said.

The word from Heffernan’s family is Nowakowski’s lesson isn’t over. Not only did the school move to insulate the right students from the crackdown, now the families of the 25 remaining protesters without such cozy insulation are being pressured to “give up” Heffernan and hang the entirety of the disciplinary action on him.

So let’s review the good doctor’s lesson:

  • Accomplices to an illegal war are allowed on campus, but legal, peaceful protest is mob action.
  • Work within the system to speak your mind and face destruction of your academic future.
  • Be anywhere near someone who peacefully speaks his mind and risk your academic future as well.
  • Unless you’re an athlete or otherwise politically useful. In that case, you get a pass.

Dr. Nowakowski’s teaching may be more welcome than we might think. Assuming his aim was to demonstrate how things are done in Burma, China, North Korea, Chile, Cuba or Russia, he gets an “A” grade.

But if he’s forgetting that this is the United States, where we take a dim view of repression, coercion, favoritism and runaway authority, then he gets an “F”.

UPDATE: Some recent coverage of the Morton West High story

06
Nov
07

31 Seconds With Internet Phenomenon Ron Paul

The Two Ronnies
Presidential candidate Ron Paul looks good – for about thirty seconds.

He wins 1000 points for yelling about the problems of the Federal Reserve, fiat currency and fractional-reserve banking.

Then, he loses several million points for being a hardcore no-government libertarian boob whose prescription for an over-privatized country is more privatization. In the face of crumbling national physical infrastructure and disappearing national cognitive infrastructure, Paul thinks the Class of ’29 had the right idea. Great.

This position is nicely portrayed this way: a burglary ring is working over a neighborhood, systemically breaking and entering, grabbing what they can and running off to fence the goods. Ron Paul’s prescription: fire all the cops and march over to the fence, where the stolen goods are sold and demand they open the books.

Boob.

Ron Paul wins 10,000 points for seeking to end the illegal foreign wars.

Then he loses several million more points for not noticing that these wars ARE privatization projects in and of themselves. They are not aberrations, they are systemic of and essential to the overriding, seldom-interrupted project to privatize all public funds. Since he will not move to re-establish, endorse or protect a commons against the economic (local) and physical (overseas) terror of the unfettered Chicago-school free market, he is, ideologically speaking, a friend to all waterboarders.

A dangerous boob.

A candidate who seeks to limit reproductive freedom is bad enough, but a candidate who seeks to limit reproductive freedom while at the same time favoring the gutting of public education is…a dangerous, moralizing boob positioned at the nation’s birth canal, eagerly waving in generation after generation of complete fucking idiots. In libertarian circles, this is called “enlarging the base.”

I’ll not be voting for a neoliberal Reaganite suckass whose lame, transparently pandering notions of “getting government off our backs” is exactly as disingenuous, anti-democratic and insidious as every other wildly successful public-relations lie told since Freud’s nephew invented the industry in 1915.




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