Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book-ramble, and some other stuff

Argh, Kingston's holding its St Pat's Day parade today, and the drumming is really getting on my nerves. St. Pat's is only fun for me when I'm drunk. When I'm not, it's obnoxious and pointless. (See George Carlin's take on Irish/ Whatevs Pride in It's Bad For Ya.)

Recently finished reading Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, and Jeebus, but human beings are predictably irrational. Some of the experiments detailed in the book--why expensive medicine works better than modestly priced or even cheap medicine--come to conclusions I've drawn on my own. But it also made me think about other irrationalities humans are prone to: why people can enjoy a beer with balsamic vinegar in it . . . unless you tell them there's vinegar in it beforehand. Why the word "free" short circuits what passes for rational thought in many people, making us more likely to grab three of something crappy and free, at the expense of one that's better and with a price tag. Going bid-crazy on eBay.

More importantly, it raises serious questions about the use of placebos and the ethics of keeping patients in the dark about their use. About doctors doing things like prescribing anti-biotics for viral infections, or the medical establishment as a whole being unwilling to really find out if so many of the surgeries performed on patients are necessary, when so many show improvement just from thinking they've been operated on.

So, not only are most people susceptible to practical jokes of all sorts, but they're sometimes better for being deceived. (I'd mention how it reminds me exactly of what Ozymandias says near the end of Watchmen, but I think I've established my geek-cred beyond question, as it is.)

I suppose that this power of positive placebo is hardly surprising or mystifying. If psychosomatic symptoms can make people feel pain--if men can experience "sympathetic pregnancies"--then the reverse certainly ought to hold water. Which naturally makes one wonder (and if one doesn't wonder naturally, the book will helpfully prompt you to forward) if human so-called reasoning is even less reasonable than the pessimists among us imagine.

How marvelous and frightening is it that not only is the human brain immensely powerful and subtle, but that at the reins of this complex difference engine is a frightened, stupid, occasionally gibbering madman, prone to mood swings and susceptible to a mish-mash of hormones?

How humbling and steadying it is that we don't yet truly understand the feats our brains are capable of, let alone have the ability to use its resources fully.

Also finished David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Touching, amusing, and insightful, as always. He makes me think that, if my life was more interesting, I could try my hand at being an essayist. And at learning to speak French and Japanese.

About to start Tom Paine, by John Keane, and I'm sooper siked (also wanna get his Vaclav Havel), and will likely reread The Stranger and The End of Faith.

Got a hair cut. I literally told the barber I wanted an "Obama", something short, neat and presidential. Bye-bye kooky, spiral-curly afro, hello blessed androgyny. The hair cut's caused so many double-takes, it's amazing. This one guy nearly broke his neck doing an unprecedented quadruple-take, trying to figure out if I was a dude or a chick. At least I assume that's what caused the look, as opposed to my ICP t-shirt or the armload of massively overdue library books.

Downside of the hair cut--I re-found that grey hair I first encountered back in August, and it almost totally resisted the clipper. It was still long and now way visible. Except to the barber who missed it. So I cut it myself. I'm now thirty percent more able pretend I'm not one step closer to my own personal underground sabbatical.

My Rorschach collectible figurine? Still in the unopened, original packaging. My will to power is heretofore unparalleled in human history. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.

And now, I present Indian Thriller, and what it sounds like in English . . . just because I feel like it (by now, it hopefully goes without saying that nothing with a youtube logo is 'mine' in any sense of the word):

"No horror can be more terrible than the daily torture of the commonplace." --HP Lovecraft


  1. So I finally got around to watching V for Vendetta the other day... I have mixed feelings about it. Mostly, I just thought it was far too long. Perhaps you could make a fan out of me?

    You'll be glad to know I managed to finish The Origin of Species. It wasn't easy going, but there was a particularly interesting section on ant slavery.

    Read Upton Sinclar's The Jungle after that. Surprisingly good and very readable, despite the whole AP US history connotations it has.

    And now I'm just about to crack open the Iliad and get my Ancient Greek on.

  2. So I finally got around to watching V for Vendetta the other day... I have mixed feelings about it. Mostly, I just thought it was far too long.

    No such animal. If there's one thing I love, it's a looooong, plotty film. Unless it has Russell Crowe.

    But you didn't walk away with any other strong feelings? None, at all? Must I make the puppy eyes of doom at you?

    Perhaps you could make a fan out of me?

    Who'm I--Jeebus?

    Lol, how could you not love every ickle bit of VFV? From the random bits of coolness--V's love of old jazz and old movies--to the dead people in the crowd at the end. We never get to see V's face, or find out who he is. I love that Prothero was the love-child of Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. It was almost like watching 1984, only . . . a bit more hopeful. Plus, shit got blowed up, which is always of the good, to my way of thinking.

    The casting was, imho perfect--Stephen Rea, Stephen Fry, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt . . . but what I loved most of all, was the realization that no matter how big and bad the government, it's still at the mercy of the people.

    "People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people."

    Good stuff. True stuff. Stuff I never really thought about or felt until I saw the movie.

    I get all stupid about the movie as a result. I love it far too much to be coherent about it. Repeated viewings and I've yet to find it slow or lagging.

    You'll be glad to know I managed to finish The Origin of Species. It wasn't easy going, but there was a particularly interesting section on ant slavery.


    Now, I totally wanna read The Origin of Species. God, I hope there's an ant-rebellion. I can't think of a better denouement.

    Read Upton Sinclar's The Jungle after that. Surprisingly good and very readable, despite the whole AP US history connotations it has.

    I've never read anything of his, though I did try unsuccessfully to read "Kingsblood Royal", by Sinclair Lewis . . . that's apropos of absolutely nothing.

    I'll check out Upton Sinclair :)

    And now I'm just about to crack open the Iliad and get my Ancient Greek on.

    It's tough--or was for me--but worth it. Easier, still, than Beowulf. Less choppy.

  3. I'm going to get The End of Faith soon. I read Paine's Common Sense last week. Have read quite a few of Robert Ingersoll's lectures in the past week and love them. I'll probably do a post about him soon at the chapel. I'm currently reading The Elegant Universe. Brian Greene explains things so extraordinarily well that I'm actually learning some stuff about physics. Who woulda thunk?

  4. I agree with most of what you said about Vendetta, but for some reason I came away wanting to like it more than I actually did. I loved the character of David Prothero; in fact I did a double take at first because I thought it was the Hitch! How great would that have been?

    I think the problem was that I never really felt threatened by the government. I could kind of see how the film was panning out, and the revelation that V wasn't in fact invulnerable came too late for the audience to worry that his plan might not come to fruition. By the time he dies, he's already killed the worst of them. As it was I was ferried along in the comfort of his indestructible manliness, which was a good theme park ride, but was never really scary. Perhaps the one caveat to that was Stephen Fry's arrest.

    I did still enjoy it though.

    My mistake, I couldn't find the Iliad so I'm reading the Odyssey instead. Maybe I'm a nerd, but I get totally awestruck whenever I think I'm getting wrapped up in a book that's so old. And that isn't the Bible. Heh.

  5. TC: Gotta get my eyeballs on some Ingersoll. The few quotes and bits I've read . . . he was a wordsmith. A genuine pleasure to read.

    I was reading The Fabric of the Cosmos, couldn't finish it, didn't get it. The same problem I initially had with The Selfish Gene. I plan to try again in another few months.

    FS: OMG! I knew Hitchens reminded me of someone! I saw V for Vendetta well before I knew who Hitch was, and couldn't figure out who he put me in mind of! I'm just embarrassed the penny didn't drop. Absolute headdesk.

    After I saw the film, my response to, like, everything was "England prevails!" I was insufferable. I mean more so than usual.

    As for not feeling threatened by the government . . . well. I've rarely felt as if I were in grave physical danger from them, but there have been times when, either local or federal, I feel as if the government is not on my side. But then, I tend to feel that way about any large and powerful group that's inadequately policing itself.

    Hmm . . . you're right, though about V's seeming invulnerability. And the fact that he wreaked his awful vengeance--got to die fulfilled. As almost no one ever does, let alone fire-branded freak-men. It might've been more realistic if that pedo-priest, or someone escaped, someone really scuzzy--though they all were--and he died knowing that. It would've been more realistic.

    I can't watch what happens to Stephen Fry in the arrest scene. It freaks me out, for some reason. He's so likable, and--well, usually, I root for the likable guy to get worked over. But I can't bear it in VfV. I mean--it's Jeeves! If they'd found a way to write in Bertie getting pistol-whipped unconscious, I'd have gone 'round the twist.

    I hated Odysseus. I kept hoping he'd die; him and his sprogling. I'm picky about heros with hubris, and I think he was kind of a douchebag. Everyone was, really. But some of the douchebags were more interesting than others. That said, it was an interesting read. The sirens and men-pigs and greek drama.

    Hah, nerds are my favorite kinda people. After drunken hussies.

    If you haven't tried The Canterbury Tales . . . pick it up if you've got two months to spare. It's slow going, but amusing, and the scope of it is admirable. Or certifiable.