Category Archives: Ideas

Tree of Life

Opening May 27th! About Terrence Malick:

There is a touch of Stan Brakhage (who was a fervent Malick admirer) in this poetic ambition: to film the things of the world (people, animals, flora and fauna) before they acquire their names, before they coalesce into firm shapes, objects, identities … Indeed, Brakhage made a film called “The Animals of Eden and After” – and could there be a better title for the cinema of Terrence Malick, with its obsessive central myth of Eden before and after the Fall?

More here.

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Paul Krugman: Left of center

For a century, liberals have been chasing the same organizing idea: to perfect the welfare state—the soaringly aspirational, deeply flawed apparatus of Social Security, public health insurance, and progressive taxation designed to guarantee a secure middle class—and to extend its protections to every American. A year ago, after Obama’s health-care reforms became law, that project looked closer to completion. Now we are debating the terms of its erosion—with Republican proposals to cut the benefits of Medicare and Medicaid, conservative efforts to repeal protections for labor unions, and an emerging Washington consensus that the costs of a broad welfare state may be beyond what Americans will willingly pay. The White House meeting this past December [with Paul Krugman and other left-of-center economists], viewed in retrospect, seemed to mark the end of the expansive first part of Obama’s administration and the beginning of an austere second phase. Krugman, departing, found himself left in the position that every purist fears, holding blueprints for impossible buildings.

“I think what people like Paul Ryan are trying to do is set us on a glide path to a much harsher society,” Krugman now says. “A country in which, step by step, more and more people are cast out into a situation of not having health insurance and poverty, and so we slide back to a Victorian notion that life is full of evils and that’s too bad but that’s the way that God made the world. That large numbers of the poor, large numbers of the elderly just live in dire poverty and don’t have health care because life is tough.” For two years, Krugman has been arguing that this trajectory might have been averted if only Obama had been a little less deferential, a little more demanding, a little more alarmed. And so Krugman has given the debate on the left its shape: whether the president could have mounted a more effective defense of the welfare state, and whether liberalism’s tragic flaw is Obama’s instinct for conciliation or his leading critic’s naïveté.

More here.

Feminism vs. the market

Mike Konczal, on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day:

A contract, like a marriage contract or like a labor contract, can be “freely” entered into but still contain elements of coercion to it. Coercion can still be the central characteristic of it. That the market is a series of voluntary transactions, and any outcome of it just, is an illusion. How to pull away that veil is the project, and feminist thought gives us a start on it.

More here.

Being James Franco

Ahead of his Oscars co-hosting gig, here’s last July’s New York Magazine profile:

Plenty of actors dabble in side projects — rock bands, horse racing, college, veganism — but none of them, and maybe no one else in the history of anything, anywhere, seems to approach extracurricular activities with the ferocity of Franco.

Take, for instance, graduate school. As soon as Franco finished at UCLA, he moved to New York and enrolled in four of them: NYU for filmmaking, Columbia for fiction writing, Brooklyn College for fiction writing, and — just for good measure — a low-residency poetry program at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. This fall, at 32, before he’s even done with all of these, he’ll be starting at Yale, for a Ph.D. in English, and also at the Rhode Island School of Design. …

Franco says all of his pursuits are possible, at least in part, because he’s cut down on his acting, but he’s still doing plenty of that. In the next year or so, he’ll be appearing in the films Eat, Pray, Love (as Julia Roberts’s boyfriend), Howl (as Allen Ginsberg), 127 Hours (as the one-armed hiker), Your Highness (a medieval comedy), William Vincent (an indie film by one of his NYU professors), Maladies (put out by his own production company), and Rise of the Apes (a prequel to Planet of the Apes). And of course there’s his epically weird stint on General Hospital — the crown jewel in the current science project of his career.

All of which raises a small army of questions:

(1) Can James Franco possibly be for real?

(2) If he is, then — just logistically — how is all this possible?

(3) And perhaps the biggest mystery of all: Why is Franco doing it? Are his motives honest or dishonest? Neurotic or healthy? Arrogant or humble? Ironic or sincere? Naïve or sophisticated? Should we reward him with our attention or punish him with our contempt? Is he genuinely trying to improve himself or is he just messing with us — using celebrity itself as the raw material for some kind of public prank?

More here.

“Medieval comedy” Your Highness, by the way, is a lowbrow affair co-starring Natalie Portman (!) and directed by David Gordon Green (!!). PG trailer here, very dirty R-rated trailer here.

Ken Jennings on Watson

Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It’s very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman.

More here.

Michael Bérubé on the fifteenth anniversary of the Sokal hoax

In early 1997, Sokal came to the University of Illinois, and quite graciously offered to share the stage with me so that we could have a debate about the relation of postmodern philosophy to politics. It was there that I first unveiled my counterargument, namely, that the world really is divvied up into “brute fact” and “social fact,” just as philosopher John Searle says it is, but the distinction between brute fact and social fact is itself a social fact, not a brute fact, which is why the history of science is so interesting. Moreover, there are many things–like Down syndrome, as my second son has taught me–that reside squarely at the intersection between brute fact and social fact, such that new social facts (like policies of inclusion and early intervention) can help determine the brute facts of people’s lives (like their health and well-being).

More here.

How to Fold a Fitted Sheet

This totally works:

(Via)