Archive for February, 2003

Neuroeconomics

Thursday, February 27th, 2003

“Looking Inside the Brains of the Stingy” is an account of the new field of neuroeconomics: the “science” of using brain scans (MRI) to see what sort of neural activity is correlated with economic decisions. (Via McKenzie Wark on nettime). Neural stimulation and hormone levels are supposed to ‘explain’ why people do not always act in accordance with the dictates of “rational choice” economics. “Neuroscientists do experiments like looking at which parts of the brain are active when someone looks at photographs and decides which faces are trustworthy.” Researchers pursuing this line of examination have found, for instance, that trying to make a financial deal with somebody who is perceived as a cheapskate “stimulates the part of the brain associated with disgust.” When people act generously, on the other hand, levels of oxytocin (the feel-good hormone) in the blood seem to go up. What startling discoveries! This kind of survey is almost the perfect reductio ad absurdum of the cognitive/rationalist worldview, or of what Edward O. Wilson calls consilience: the attempt to give scientific rigor to the ‘soft’ disciplines of the humanities and social sciences. I doubt that the most inventive satirist could come up with anything better.

The Spook Who Sat By the Door

Tuesday, February 25th, 2003

Although it was published a third of a century ago, Sam Greenlee’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door is still one of the most brilliant and relevant books I have ever read about race relations in America. (Via Kali Tal’s list of Militant Black Science Fiction). Mixing blaxploitation images with a sophisticated social critique, it’s an imaginative story, published in 1969, of underground guerilla warfare organized by black militants in American ghettols…
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Blanchot

Monday, February 24th, 2003

In Memoriam Maurice Blanchot 22 September 1907-20 February 2003. See the obituary (in French only) in Liberation.

The Grammys

Monday, February 24th, 2003

The 45th Annual GRAMMY Awards tonight were exactly as lame and stupid as usual–neither more, nor less. There’s nothing to say, that hasn’t already been said, many times. But did anyone else find some of the pairings as hilarious as I did?

  • James Taylor accompanied by Yo Yo Ma
  • Queen Latifah introducing the Dixie Chicks
  • P. Diddy and Kim Cattral together on stage, making lame jokes about “Best Male Performance”
  • Coldplay accompanied by the New York Philharmonic

More on the Science Wars

Sunday, February 23rd, 2003

John Brockman’s latest broadside rephrases the argument for a scientific culture that replaces what have traditionally been called the humanities, outdated in an age of evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. Sigh. Here we go again…
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Scarlet Diva

Sunday, February 23rd, 2003

There are some works of art that so boggle the mind that nothing you can say about them quite seems adequate. Such is the case with Asia Argento’s film (she wrote, directed, and starred in it) Scarlet Diva. This film is simultaneously so awful and so wonderful that it leaves me exhausted and defenseless. And I don’t mean that it’s so-bad-it’s-good, a la Ed Wood. I mean that it’s simultaneously both bad and good, in completely novel ways…
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Jackson Redux

Thursday, February 20th, 2003

I wish I had more to say about tonight’s Michael Jackson Interview on Fox, but it was just lame. I doubt that anyone will be convinced by their repeated claims of objectivity, and that Michael had no editorial control over the show. Nor does it discredit Bashir very much to show his various ass-kissing comments to butter Michael up, as if they somehow threw into doubt his harsher judgments in the final edit of his documentary. All in all, it was more sad than anything else.

Saddam and Space Aliens

Thursday, February 20th, 2003

According to this article from Pravda (via Follow Me Here), Saddam Hussein has captured a crashed UFO, and it’s the technology he is getting from said UFO, or from alien survivors who are helping him, that makes him a danger to world peace. The stuff he is getting is techonlogically so advanced, it could make him the ruler of the world, unless the US intervenes before it is too late. All I can say is, this is the best explanation I’ve seen for the insane warmongering of the Bush administration. Believing in the threat of UFOs, and an alien invasion, is no weirder than believing in apocalyptic, evangelical Christianity, as Bush has shown himself to do on numerous occasions.

Global Frequency

Wednesday, February 19th, 2003

Warren Ellis’ new comic book series _Global Frequency_ (four issues out so far) isn’t as mindblowing as _Transmetropolitan_ was, but it’s pretty much fun in the way it matches high-concept with low pulp. You see, Global Frequency is a worldwide organization, with 1001 members, which intervenes in crisis situations…
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The Tipping Point

Tuesday, February 18th, 2003

Malcolm Gladwell’s book _The Tipping Point_ is in many ways popular science writing at its best. The book is lucid and intelligent, and it gives concrete examples for its arguments–without being condescendingly simple-minded about those examples in the ways popular science books often are. The subject matter of the book is both fascinating and important: how the logic of epidemic contagion applies to social phenomena, often causing things to develop in ways that are nonlinear, and hence deeply counterintuitive. All in all, a worthwhile read. And yet I find myself having complex reservations about the arguments of The Tipping Point– though my problems are less with Gladwell himself, than with (I guess) the zeitgeist…
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