Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
January 14, 2012 - January 7, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Okay. This is funny.

. Well, it is. You know it is. Funny.

There's also this.

Who would have thought that Tebow would become a musical inspiration? Please forward all your Tom Brady songs....


When can we rely on Entertainment Weekly for a thoughtful review? This time. Word from the pollsters is, it's liberals who like the sitcoms none of the rest of us can watch. They like "sarcasm." Too bad for those of us who like funny.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Impossible:

A RomCom Boob Movie

SOMETIMES I REVIEW. Might make me sound old, but I never liked boob movies. I never even liked the guys who liked boob movies. They were invariably the ones who punished their families with softball schedules that would only have been defensible if they were playing shortstop for the Yankees. I'm not being a prig. If you're going to show sex, show sex. Don't annoy us with bouncy shower scenes and disingenuous off-topping. Don't pretend that the best aspect of female nudity is catching them unawares That's a mug's game. Cheerleaders in the shower with nerds watching through a hole in the wall? Count me out.

Then there's the RomCom (i.e., romantic comedy). Much worse than boob movies. First, you never get to see any boobs. Second, you're somehow supposed to understand the female point of view. That's even more ridiculous than cheerleaders not covering up in the shower when the coach walks in.

For all the grief I give you, I occasionally offer up a gift. Cashback is my early gift in 2012. Let me count the ways:

1) It's actually a good movie. Sensitive and like that. She'll be able to relate to the characters and like that.

2) Boobs. Plenty. And bush. Plenty. Not in a leering way but an admiring OMG way she might even forgive if you keep talking about the characters.

3) Ultimately, a pure chick flick. The final scene is the closest thing you'll ever find outside of airport bookstores to female pornography. It's all about me, me, me.

Needless to say, don't show her this post. Just buy, rent, or stream the movie.

Some watching tips with your beloved. When she says, "So this is why you wanted to† see this movie," you respond, energetically, "Don't you get it? He's in love and can't get over it. He doesn't care about tits & ass (maybe you should phrase this better)† He's in Hell."† I mean, these moments are coming. Be a Boy Scout. Prepared. If you get to the end, she will love you BECAUSE of all the nude scenes before. I promise.

Trust me.

Right. Like you would do that.

Who's your best friend? InstaPunk. But you always knew that. Didn't you?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Guest Post...

Here Comes the Flood.

OLD FRIEND, NEW MISSIVE. ...Consciousness, plasticity, evolution of the race, and our crucial moment in human history (but arenít they all). Conversation at the Grown-up Table again.

The kids are bored not because they need more from life; they need less from life. They arenít paying attention because they cannot pay attention anymore. Iíll say boredom denotes the functional breakdown of linear neural activity. It means that circuits have opened, currents disperse, and the energy which animates our conscious life spills into the spaces between. Like an aqueduct fails and the water of life is wasted on the surrounding terrain. That water was headed somewhere and now it's gone.

Boredom. The word is only about two hundred years old. It does not predate the newspaper. Perhaps it is a result of the newspaper. Extend the concept from there. Where does that leave us after the internet? Well the kids donít stand a chance against the internet. Do any of us? Maybe if we fight. First we have to know what weíre fighting. Then we have to fashion a plan.

Hereís what you got me thinking about.

Last year I read of a neuroscientist with a controversial view on autism (but arenít they all). The question on autism is: perhaps a sizable segment of the population has the genetic potential for autistic behavior, but whatís the environmental trigger that activates the condition, actualizing an autistic existence. Why is the incidence rate up? Chemicals in vaccines? False. (That was a hoax.)

This guy noticed a connection with overexposure to white noise during a critical period of brain development. Kids in apartments next to a freeway, kids intentionally exposed to white noise machines for better sleeping. He pressed the theory with rats---constant white noise auditory stimulation---it worked without equivocation. His biochemical explanation was this:

He identified the neurotrophin called BDNF, which is understood to play a crucial role in reinforcing plastic change. BDNF is released when neurons fire together (that is, when connections are being made in the brain, literally) and it facilitates growth, wiring the neurons together so that they continue to reliably fire together in the future. It also builds up a fatty coat around the neuron, allowing the electrical signals to run faster. Even more importantly, BDNF turns on the Nucleus Basilis---a part of the brain that allows us to focus attention---and it keeps this focal-enhancement device turned on for the entire period of activity. Finally, once the connections are made, BDNF shuts down the critical learning window. Pattern acquisition is over and the new ďmuscleĒ can rest.

His suspicion was that in cases of autism something was triggering a massive, premature release of BDNF. Instead of keying on and reinforcing important neural connections, this flood of neurotrophins was reinforcing ALL neural connections, most of which should have remained meaningless and unrecognized by the brain. The result: scores of undifferentiated maps in the brain. Loads of worthless connections that will torture the autistic person for a lifetime. They hear one sound and the entirety of the auditory cortex map starts firing. Their skin is touched and the whole sensory cortex map lights up.

In short: he postulated that overexposure to white noise triggered a pitiless tsunami of the neurotrophin BDNF. After the flood, the topographical maps in the brain were leveled. The neural terrain became undifferentiated and the brain could not make distinctions.

Obviously, I am no neurobiologist; I am a dilettante. I donít know how this particular theory on autism will turn out---maybe it falls aparts later. But the larger concept resonated with me, in part because it made me think of Julian Jaynes. (Iíd be remiss not to mention that Jaynesí 36-year old book fares quite well alongside the past decade of brain science. Not that professional academics care, but I do.)

In Jaynes, consciousness is [like] a place. A linguistically delineated mental analog of the physical world (which includes, of course, everyone elseís private mental spaces, in infinite regression). We can navigate this place, spatially and temporally---into the past, into the future. In fact, absent a belief in the absolute authority of a divine voice, navigating this mental space through time is our only way to be, survive, maybe even flourish. Thus the import of consciousness (and perhaps our sometimes estimation of it as an affliction).

The only alternative to pressing ahead, painfully, as autonomous conscious beings is a regression to some modern form of Jaynesí bicameral mentality. I see this regression going on all around us. When you scratch a certain type of Christian, for instance, and realize that they much prefer the Old Testament God to Jesus, you are looking at it. The Old Testament God is suitable for no modern human more mature than the average two-year-old. Even a three-year-old consciousness can run circles around that capricious tyrant. But consciousness is hard---getting even harder in the face of increasingly available complexity---and so Yahweh persists. And Islam is gaining market share. And so on, all in futile pursuit of the irrevocably retreating ancestral voices of certainty.

But if we leave off the grown-ups for whom the world has become too complex and consciousness has become hard--what of the youngsters who were incubated in a bath of informational white noise? With the auto-suggesting Search Algorithm always at hand and the banality of social updates endlessly channeling their synaptic forays from something greater into the one thing dull and familiar. What rough beast comprises the neural loops of that life? How much vertical deviation is even possible on the topographical maps of their brains? Are they conscious at all? Or are they prepped for a devious form of slavery: docile bicameral servility to the ďthird-halfĒ of their brain, the Algorithm and its Advertising Partners. I know not, but I surmise.

Once upon a time these matters were just exciting intellectual exercises for me. Games played in my own head, by myself or with a few friends. Then I had children. Now itís a fucking war. What you tend not to say too loudly at parties among fellow parents is: Holy shit, do you see how plastic these little brains are?! Parents of young children are tired, confused, and stretched thin -- itís easier for them to believe that they gave birth to little personalities that will just become what they are. On their own, without too much fiddling. Good luck with that. You may choose not to fuck with it, but everything else will.

A sadist can even decide to create the best golfer or tennis player in the world, though itíll be achieved at the unforgivable cost of a lost and tortured Tiger Woods or Andre Agassi. But if we dial the myopic ambition back a few hundred clicks to something much less insane, we find that the stakes are still life or death. We are carving the grooves in their brains, actively or passively, our choice. And they will ride those grooves around and around and around and around.

When Iím feeling hopeful, I marvel at the plasticity and resilience of the 3-year-old and 1-year-old brains [minds] bouncing around our little home, factor in the recent findings about enduring brain plasticity throughout life, and consider that language, art, empathy, and all the beacons of higher civilization can again be made into a prevailing contagion. That consciousness can persist, spread, continue to develop, and thrive. And that we humans, as the lucky standard-bearers of the infinite space called consciousness, will struggle through the ordeal with all the fortitude and perseverance our primitive ancestors displayed in getting us this far. Even when we canít see the Why (which, for many of us, is always).

Thatís when Iím feeling hopeful. Other nights it is, letís say, darker -- and through the north window of my baby girlís bedroom I can hear the long, cold silence of a universe that no longer harbors a mind to observe it. And then I sing quietly: Row row row your boat / Gently down the stream / Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily / Life is but a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream.

But anyway . . . Happy New Year, RL, cartographer of highly differentiated mental maps. May this year involve fewer insults between us than the last.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: "M" is a musician, poet, writer, sailor, and now father who shows up intermittently in the comments, usually when he has taken umbrage at one of RL's outrageous assertions, but not always.]

Hmm. Do Atheists Ever, Ever, Ever
Wonder If Just Possibly Maybe...?!!

Everybody knows the route to immortality is sarcasm. Right?

THE EXPERTS ARE STILL LAUGHING. Not trying to start a big fight here. Just asking. Do they ever, uh, GULP hard and say to themselves, "Self, are we  perhaps missing something important in the scheme of things?"

Like, He wouldn't make some kind of splashy statement to SNL, would he?

NAH. They know better. NO DOUBT ABOUT IT, DOG! Had you going for a minute there, though, didn't I?

P.S. This post is also by way of a personal apology. First time in my longish life I've known what the term "knee injury" meant. Couldn't even get into this posting chair since my last post till today. (You can hear it go POP. Sickening.) But I didn't take any exotic pain medication. Why I'm not placing any stock whatever in the Internet fever about Tebow's 316 yards passing, his 31.6 yards per completion average and his favorite Biblical eyeblack verse "John 3.16." If he'd thrown for 3.16 yards per pass, then we'd have to talk. Until then I'll just scream slightly whenever a window draft or door zephyr contacts my rightwing fundamentalist knee. Are we clear? But I'm still probable for the couch in next week's Broncos-Patriots game. Onward Christian Soldiers and all that. Got it?


Ennui. Yeah, that's
a nice word for it.

SHARING. When I picked up the book Nine Stories, by J. D. Salinger, my objective was to slap Salinger down. This objective was triggered by the documentary film Catching Salinger: The Search for the Reclusive Author J. D. Salinger, which is excellent and in no way can be blamed for my malicious intent.

The documentary is about a Frenchman who wanders around New Hampshire innocently asking people for directions to Salinger's home. It's not completely about Salinger and it does not really intend to solve anything, as the ending makes clear.† The movie is modest, understated, and will cause you to imagine yourself as a companion of the Frenchman on his mission,. It will also cause you to think. For me, it triggered a mean intent.

The reason for the mean intent the film triggered, however, is unique to me. Like everyone else, I read The Catcher in the Rye in my youth; but, unlike most people I knew, I read it voluntarily, not for some course, and therefore with an open and receptive mind.† But, in fact -- and also unlike most people I knew -- I didn't like it.

At the time I couldn't articulate why; when I gave the book a thumbs-down, people looked at me as if I was retarded. I remember particularly the reaction of the girlfriend who lent me the book to read. Her expression upon hearing my verdict was memorable, and it cost me if you know what I mean. Only much later did it dawn on me that I was reacting to the main character, whom I loathed, and not to the book as a piece of writing. I still cringe when I think back to my inability to articulate this elementary distinction. But I was onto something.

Holden Caulfield bugged the crap out of me and still does.† He represented and even idealized the dysfunction that is so common now. Ennui is one word for it. I thought a person like Caulfield was absurd and contemptible. He had big advantages in life and a large web of people who wanted to help him and see him succeed, but he dismissed it casually and didn't value it, like a prototype Ferris Bueller, whom I also can't stand. It angered me that Caulfield could reject so many people without even paying them the respect of explaining himself. It was obvious he was free to reject everything only because he knew those people would always be there to pick him up. In short, he was a phony. Around the same time, I also read 1984 and The Trial, both of which featured protagonists who struggled against impossible situations and, despite it all, still trudged on with life; Catcher was exactly the opposite, featuring a protagonist with no real obstacles in life who nevertheless made a mess of his life. And doing it for no greater cause than ennui. That did not resonate with me.

It angered me that no one got angry at him in the book; it angered me that the attitude caught on and that it became cool to be cool. Never hot, never cold. But, because I also realized that Caulfield was based to some degree on the author himself, being angry at Caulfield was the same as being angry at Salinger, more or less. It was Salinger who needed to be held to account for what he'd created. Further: I also had the new thought that such an unrealistic and unsympathetic character must be the product of an overrated author. So when I saw this documentary and it brought all that back to me -- and with the book conveniently on a shelf with the dust-cover fading down its exposed spine -- I set out for a little revenge on the author. In light of all this, I thought it would be easy to take down J. D. Salinger. The collection called Nine Stories was my hunting ground.

One of few photos of Salinger as an adult.

Well, that was wrong, a retarded idea. I abandoned my mission with the very first story, A Great Day for Bananafish, the shortest in the book. All the stories put me in a different place, with Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut being my favorite, for reasons I mentioned earlier in IP comments. Not only was it immediately obvious that the author deserved his status, I found myself lamenting, like so many devoted Salinger fans, that he wrote so little.

So I'm writing now to recommend him to all of you who may have overlooked him, deliberately avoided him, or simply not heard of him.

If you read these stories, please do not give in to the temptation to read quickly. The individual works are very short, so take your time; you must absorb rather than read, because the economy of words is so impressive that you'll miss a lot otherwise. What I kept doing was re-reading paragraphs because the mental images that were created were so out of proportion to the amount of text. I kept looking for the particular words that could account for the vividness of my mental images, but they simply couldn't be pinned down in that way. It has to be some kind of magic. I promptly lost the desire to take down a man who could do that.

I also realized I could no longer blame Salinger for the ennui -- "boredom" seems to be the word of the day for it on this site [ED: We delight in making up brand new words for cultural phenomena here.] -- that is so pervasive in our society. It resides somewhere between obedience and rebellion but is neither; it's a cop-out. Salinger only identified the newest incarnation of something that's probably as old as the devil. He saw the corrosive element that was growing in an affluent society whose youth knew no hardship and didn't care to learn or even hear about it. Catcher was, in hindsight, a cautionary tale. One told long ago.

The question that remains is, why have so many youngsters celebrated it and so few adults recognized the alarm it was sounding? For sixty years.

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