Hug an Atheist — but ask first!

Some movie makers are trying to raise money to distribute their film, and it looks good and sends the right message. It’s titled Hug an Atheist.

I don’t mind an occasional hug, but remember, though: some people are very uncomfortable with personal contact, and being an atheist is not a label that says you have permission to cross boundaries.

Except at the mandatory Satan-worshipping orgies. Oh, wait, did I let that slip?

(via Lousy Canuck.)

All you need to know about the Superbowl

Seattle won the game part.

The commercials were won by Coca Cola.

Apparently, right wing nuts are having a meltdown over the desecration of using non-English lyrics. I don’t know why, they ought to be overjoyed to see a megacorporation cunningly using diversity and natural beauty to sell people sugar water and making patriotic music an ode to capitalism.

Despair at the movies

We just got back home from Twelve Years a Slave. Throughout that movie, all I could think is, “we human beings did that to other human beings? We suck.”

Now how am I supposed to get to sleep with that kind of disgust for humanity on my mind?

(It was still the best movie I’ve seen in at least a year, though.)

Cinematic Appraisals gets appraised

Ashley Miller is getting legal threats from a company called Cinematic Appraisals, because she found their claims laughable, and publicly laughed at them. I have to join in the laughing.

They claim to be a scientific script review company — for a fee, they’ll take a look at your movie script proposal, run it through some scientific tests, and tell you whether it will connect with an audience (I wonder if that’s how movies like Transformers end up getting made?) I wondered how they do scientific script appraisal, so I visited their pseudoscience page. It’s illustrated with this:


They put your script under a microscope, and use molecular models to do something or other? What? If only they’d included some beakers of colored water with some dry ice to make them bubble, then I might believe this is a real photo of science in action!

But no, this is what they say they do:

The Mind Science Method has been lab tested and is proven to correlate with the actual psychophysiological responses of a subject to the screenplay. Testing measured neurobiological activity with a variety of electrodermal equipment including galvanic skin monitor, electromyrograms [sic], a zygomaticaus [sic?], a corrogator [sic?], an EEG and EKG (MP150WSW with Tel100C remote monitoring module data acquisition system).

The galvanic skin monitor is pretty much the same thing as the e-meter Scientology uses — it’s basically measuring how much you’re sweating. Electromyograms are recordings of muscle activity; I presume that’s what they doing with the zygomaticus (a muscle in your face involved in smiling) and the corrugator muscles (which are used to wrinkle up your forehead). Then they’re measuring general brain activity and heart rate.

If you want to get a strong response from a person strapped into such a setup, tell them a detailed story about sexual activity, or about lots of violent action with graphic descriptions. Suddenly, a great deal of the American movie industry is explained!

Otherwise, though, it’s a silly sciencey description of some really basic physiological apparatus, with misspellings and awkward grammar, that isn’t going to be able to do what they claim it will do, even with their pretense of a magic algorithm.

I can understand why they’d rely on lawsuits to protect their reputation. It’s too flimsy and compromised to be able to stand on its own.

Football doesn’t make sense to me

It’s the most boring game to watch, ever, and it’s also terribly destructive to the saps who play it. Yet Superbowl Sunday comes up in a few weeks, and hordes of people will be watching it. Why? Maybe this chart explains it all:


There’s no game there! It’s mostly commercials. Maybe that’s why it’s a popular party focus: there isn’t actually much going on to distract you from drinking beer and chatting with friends.

Spider-Man gets a new costume! Fans are the same old sexist scum!

Apparently, there’s a new Spider-Man movie in the works, and he’s got a fancy new costume (without nipples, I’m happy to report), and it’s got the hardcore comic fans in a lather. Well, not about the costume. It turns out that a few photos of the actor playing Mary Jane Watson were also leaked, and…she’s not sexy enough for some.

There’s actually 28 pages of people arguing whether Woodley is hot or not, seven times as many as there are talking about the new costume. (Although, like all comment threads, they go off-the-rails after a while. Flicking through, there’s an intense argument over whether the phrase "lipstick on a pig" is sexist, and a fair amount of discussion about porn.)

I hope the people making the movie aren’t as superficial as the ones who want to see it, although I fear there may be some unfortunate feedback between the two groups.

I may have to watch that movie again

An interesting philosophy paper: ‘That Man Behind the Curtain’: Atheism and Belief in The Wizard of Oz. I don’t think the movie The Wizard of Oz is exactly an atheist movie, but represents the current transition we’re experiencing, where the old-fashioned beliefs are becoming increasingly untenable and unsupported by the culture as a whole, while people are still largely uncomfortable with abandoning the traditional big guy in the sky.

This decaffeinated belief—this belief without belief—is everywhere in The Wizard of Oz, even in the film’s conclusion. When Dorothy finds herself back in Kansas, she tries to tell her family about her voyage, but Aunt Em silences her, saying, ‘You just had a bad dream.’ Dorothy replies, ‘But it wasn’t a dream. It was a place.’ When she tells the farmhands and Professor Marvel that they were all there, they laugh. Aunt Em tries once more to convince Dorothy that she has been dreaming, but Dorothy protests: ‘No, Aunt Em. This was a real, truly live place.’ As she continues to describe her experience, she is again met with laughter. But when she indignantly asks the central question—‘Doesn’t anybody believe me?’—Uncle Henry responds by saying, ‘Of course we believe you, Dorothy.’ Her family and friends offer a kind of ‘decaffeinated belief’. They do not really believe her, of course, but they do not wish to shake her faith. Believing in belief, they allow her to maintain her delusional inner conviction that Oz is real.

It is worth noting that ‘decaffeinated belief’ has likely been around as long as belief itself; similarly, belief in abstract (rather than anthropomorphic) deities certainly pre-dates the modern era. (One thinks of the connection made between God and the Word in the opening verse of John, for example; or later, Spinoza’s move toward a kind of pantheism.) Nevertheless, Žižek and Dennett are correct to suggest that various forms of diluted belief have taken on special force in modern times. It has been difficult for many (particularly in the especially religious United States) to come to terms with the serious challenges to the supernatural offered by Darwin, Marx, and Freud. When Hegel and Nietzsche declared the death of God, believers scrambled to put God on life support, re-defining ‘God’ in abstract ways to make belief seem more defensible. Few intellectuals could still argue for traditional conceptions of God in the post-Darwin era (for example, God as a divine watchmaker, pace William Paley), but belief itself refused to become extinct; God mutated into more arcane, abstract notions in order to survive the skeptical spirit of modernism. It is this simultaneous loss of belief and maintenance of belief in the modern era that is captured perfectly in Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz.

There are lots of little bits throughout the movie that give the game away — which never really jumped out at me because I take their attitude for granted. Now I might just have to watch the whole thing again sometime to look for them. Also, flying monkeys are just cool.