Trailers for films

It is interesting to see how trailers have changed over time. I recall a few decades ago, they would have fairly long sequences but with a loud, urgent, voice-over narration in the annoying style of old newsreels. Take this one for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

These days that obnoxious narrator is gone, to be replaced by an occasional and more subdued voiceover. But now the trailers have annoying rapid-fire cuts that last for very short times. The goal these days seems to be to show a fraction of every scene of the entire film in the hope that at least something will appeal to the audience. I have got into the habit of playing a game in which I try to identify which bit comes from the climactic scene of the film. Here’s a trailer for one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films.

No doubt these trailers are the products of extensive market research but I wonder if showing a few scenes in more depth in the old style (but without the old narrator) might engage the viewer and cause them to want to see the film more than these scattershot montages.

Narrowing the search for the Higgs particle

It looks like the search for the elusive Higgs particle is getting close. The so-called Standard Model of particle led to the existence of the Higgs being proposed 1964 as an explanation of how elementary particles get their mass and it is the final particle of the model to be yet directly detected. If it is not found, that would require us to re-think some important theories of particle physics.

They are hoping for something definite to emerge within the next year. But if the Higgs is not found by then, the search may drag on longer because concluding that something is not there is more difficult than concluding that it is.

The dumbness of crowds

Whoever coined the phrase ‘the wisdom of crowds’ may have second thoughts about it after seeing the crowd reaction at the Republican debates. Most people do not watch political debates at such an early stage in the process, so what gets registered in the public consciousness is what the media and pundits focus on after each debate. So far, appalling audience reactions seem to have become the story and this cannot be good news for the Republican party.

In the first debate, there were loud cheers for the record number of executions carried out in Texas. In the second, what is remembered was the yelling out that the person without health insurance deserved to die. In the third debate, Rick Perry even got booed for standing by his policy of allowing the children of undocumented people to pay in-state tuition for college, saying “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”

Yes, Rick Perry, who got such loud cheers in his first debate for his cheerful attitude towards executing people, got booed for being a softie.

In the third debate we had a gay soldier asking Rick Santorum what he would do as president about gays in the military. Santorum gave a weird answer (to loud cheers) where he not only said that he wanted to bring back ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (a policy that had long become an embarrassment even for those who opposed equal rights for gays), but seemed to go further and suggest that everyone in the military should not even talk about or have sex of any kind. Good luck with that policy!

But what was astonishing was that the soldier got booed for just asking the question. Yes, the crowd’s intense homophobia even overcame their normal desire to grandstand about patriotism and pander to the military, and not a single candidate on the stage spoke out against that awful display. Either they approved of the behavior, were stunned that the crowd reacted that way and were rendered speechless, or did not have the guts to rebuke those who booed because they feared alienating the nutters who seem to be the most energetic segment of their party and the ones who bother to come for these debates.

It is true that noisy mob reactions are rarely representative of the feelings of a large crowd, and reflect merely those of its more vocal elements. But still, the theatrics are not good. I have no idea how this is playing out in Republican homes across the nation but surely it can’t be helping? Is the Republican party in increasing danger of alienating even its own supporters? Surely even many Republicans, except for the loonies, must be turned off by their party’s image as one of angry haters who revel in death and discrimination?

Who knows what the crowd will do at the next debate but this cartoon suggests that we should be ready for anything.


Abusing the minds of children in the name of god

You may recognize Becky Fischer from the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp as the camp leader who thinks that her mission is to indoctrinate young children into being soldiers for Jesus. Here is a trailer for that film. (Note the appearance by Ted Haggard when he was an evangelical in good standing and a major player in the movement, shortly before his drug-taking gay hijinks were revealed. He is now trying to make a comeback.)

Fischer has now taken her show on the road. In this clip she seems to be bringing her creepy death cult thinking to little children in Singapore, getting them to pretend to die and then ‘praying’ them back to life. The children are told that since Jesus could do that, they can too.

She even tells them near the end that she actually knows of children who prayed and brought their dead pets back to life. The death of a beloved pet is heartbreaking. To increase the pain by giving them such false hopes is exceedingly cruel because the children will think that the reason their own pet did not revive is because they and their prayers were unworthy.

This woman is a menace who should not be allowed anywhere near young children.

(Via Boing Boing.)

Ridiculous hypotheticals

Rick Perry is taking a beating even from conservatives for his poor showing in the debates. While conservatives have focused on his fluffing of a chance to attack Mitt Romney, others have pointed to is his incoherent response to what he would do if told at 3:00 am that Pakistani nuclear weapons had fallen into the hands of the Taliban.

Watch the latest video at

I have to partly defend Perry on this particular point. Granted, his stringing together of non-sequiturs (what was India doing in that mix?) was Palinesque in its baroque quality. But posing these kinds of ridiculous hypotheticals to people is unfair. Do they expect a candidate to have thought through every possible emergency situation and have a readymade strategy to articulate? If Perry is to be criticized at all, it is for even attempting any specific answer instead of simply saying, whatever the crisis presented, that he would immediately convene a meeting of his national security advisors to devise a response.

Also, why do these questions always have the dreaded phone call coming at 3:00 am? What difference does the time make? Do they think that the president, groggy from being awakened and annoyed at a pleasant dream being disrupted and wanting to go back to sleep would say, “Dammit, just nuke ’em!”

The ontological argument for god

Here’s an attempt to explain Saint Anselm’s original argument that theologians love. Apparently Immanuel Kant pretty much destroyed it in its original formulation. But in this clip, theologians like Alvin Plantinga claim to have resurrected it in a better form that shifts the burden onto some thing that he refers to as a theorem in modal logic.

In this next clip Plantinga tries to explain what this ‘new’ modal argument is.

I must admit, I just don’t get it. As I have said many times, I simply do not see how you can answer an empirical question of the existence of anything using pure reasoning without any supporting data. Just because you can conceive of something or because something is possible to exist cannot lead to any firm empirical conclusions as to its existence.

Another philosopher Colin McGinn tries to explain to Jonathan Miller what the ontological argument is and the problems with it. This part begins at around the 11:30 mark and continues for the first 30 seconds of the second part.

If this is the best argument that theologians can come up with, then god is done for.