Saturday, February 11, 2023

The bet heuristic

Oftentimes when I'm struggling to determine personal belief about something I use a simple heuristic. It goes as follows: imagine the question or decision in the context of the bet. What are you betting? The entirety of your savings, skill, and material possessions. Your 401k, savings, your house and method of transport. You also lose the ability to readily and easily regain them, so you lose your skill. If you're a woodworker or pianist, you lose your hands. If you're a singer, you lose your voice. If you're a writer, your creative drive. You lose any ability for a bailout. Then, when you've accurately put yourself in this headspace, consider the initial question again.

The use of this heuristic is it cuts through self-deception and self-denial. Many deny the moon landing, claim the earth is flat, or believe that Hillary Clinton eats children. I imagine most would change swiftly with this level of skin in the game, and perhaps even only with it as a perspective. Though it can be used for serious decision making, the absurd examples are more fun to talk about.

I used this when considering the alien/Area 51 story of Bob Lazar. "Is Bob telling the truth?" Much of his story, personality, and demeanor lean toward credibility. He is intelligent. His rationale and reasons are well-constructed. It also helps if its an idea interesting, compelling, or personally fulfilling enough that I desire it to be true. When looked at it through the lens of the bet heuristic, the fuzzy, positive points get subdued and a more objective point of view emerges from the contrast. He has equally big issues against credibility, between sketchy college references, convenient migraines and running a whore house.

As compelling as his story is, I'd put money on Bob being a pathological liar. It's still an educated guess, but the heuristic helps me to my actual belief.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

An analysis of There Will Be Blood (2007)

There Will Be Blood is a largely tonal film, made great by its beautiful cinematography, soundtrack, performances, set design, direction, and creative use of lenses. It evokes the feel of a 1950s frontier film in look and style but done expertly with modern technology. There's also a lot of metaphorical elements and symbolism in the film (e.g. marking the baby's forehead with oil) like is common with all the great writer-directors.

Somehow, P. T. Anderson beautifully photographs near-impossible scenes. In a way the whole movie is a metaphor for a man making it alone. It begins with the protagonist alone in a black hole maybe 50 foot deep, in struggle and in toil, with nothing but tools and a few explosives. He gets the gold. Only in scenes a few years later does he have a few more men, paid workers and believers in his vision, as he experiments and invents in ways to secure oil.

He continues, with an orphaned boy and a fake backstory to continue his career as an oil man. He has finally made himself a success and is a man of considerable talent. His con helps him succeed at the cost of isolating him. There's not too much violence for a film titled There Will Be Blood, making you question its title. Perhaps it's meant as ironic. There's no blood-ties. There's no familiar familial comfort in Daniel's life. His son isn't his. When Henry asks about his son's mother, he doesn't want to talk. He can't bear to lie more, especially to his brother. He doesn't enjoy or desire to explain himself in any capacity.

Of course, his brother isn't blood, either. Daniel has no connection to family. From not wanting to share any of his motivations, he finally opens up with Henry about wanting to own the nice house in the neighborhood, to have it, live in it, clean it, even raise children in it. This is the first time in seemingly his adult life Daniel has been honest with someone about his desires and moments later, he sees through Henry's deception. Henry says he knew a man who claimed to be Daniel's brother who died of tuberculous and used his story, there's a potential subtext where Henry may have killed him. When confronted Henry claims to be his friend and he's correct. The bond of them both being cons, similar in intent and manner, binds them more strongly than blood could. Daniel kills what is essentially his shameful shadow.

Daniel also has a lot in common with Eli, the false prophet. Daniel uses a child to sell a vision, Eli uses a church. They both manipulate. Daniel is better and can bully Eli. In turn, the rich, established oilmen try to psyche Daniel out into selling his property. You can see Daniel's insecurity as the self-made man from simpler means, as he grandstands before them upon succeeding without them. The oilmen see Daniel as he sees Eli, unworthy of their company, let alone as equal business partners.

Unlike The Master this story is more or less straight forward. Daniel Plainview might just be pathological pride, drive, greed and insecurity taken to its natural conclusion. He's chosen a life of success even over moral values, which blocks out the possibility of any love he may desire. Throughout the film there are cracks in his highly-driven, hellbent exterior where what's left of his humanity breaks through, often in his affinity for children.

If I were to speculate on why Plainview despises people, the first hint would be the irony of his last name. We see him make his own way, alone. Nothing was given to him, so why would he give any person a benefit of doubt. He sees simple people with disdain because they lack his intelligence, they lack a capacity for evil or to even see it as such. Daniel's dog-eat-dog mentality brings him riches, but he's not intelligent enough to see it brings him misery and a lack of closeness with those he loves. In the end all he has left are material possessions and pride. Were Daniel to admit the truth of his cons to himself the cost would be to see his life as empty, but also endear himself to others and to an extent gain sympathy.

The only time Daniel is forced to confront himself is during the baptism scene with Eli. Though Daniel views the church as a fraud, the humiliation he experiences here is the closest he ever is to human. So deep is his aversion to shame, when he enacts revenge toward the end of the film he can punctuate his life with pride by proclaiming, "I'm finished!"

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Meaning in The Master (2012)

The Master I've seen maybe six times since release in attempt to understand it. My confused conclusion after the first few times was that it's just not the masterpiece I wanted, instead a story of dogmatism not told well enough. In an attempt to explain it now, I will almost certainly fail. It's made by a world-class director, and while there are more complicated films to dissect, that's mostly the result of them being bad or purposely abstract. I'll try.

Freddy is fresh from the war. He's been killing the Japanese. He seems to have PTSD. He's a man who belongs in motion. Still, his life lacks structure which may have ultimately led him to the Armed Forces, and explains his attraction to the Master. In a way the two central characters want what the other has. Freddy is a feral animal. At the start we see him masturbating at the beach, fighting, unable to hold down jobs, and injuring people with his alcoholic concoctions. The alchemy of his alcoholic creations does though show his potential, as does his eye for photography.

He forces himself to sea. It's essentially where be belongs. There he finds the religious group of Lancaster Todd. Todd's attraction to Freddy is that they are polar opposites. Todd is controlled, serious, well-mannered and weighs a lot, all unlike Freddy. But as the Master asks Freddy personal questions, he takes a liking to him right away, aided by a hint of recognition. I would say Freddy represents his younger self, and that free, emotional, reactionary spirit. He still yearns to be. Freddy wants guidance and not to be in a bad place emotionally or in terms of addiction.

Freddy impresses Todd with his alcohol experiments that he says contain "secrets." It makes sense they would drink these secrets before the personality test where Freddy reveals finally to someone the deepest recesses of his soul, that he denied the psychiatrists of the Armed Forces earlier in the film. He talks about murder, incest, his one true love. By the end of the scene, they go from characters familiar to each other to best friends. That's one way to bond.

From here you have the framework of the religious belief of Lancaster Todd and his school of believers. They provide the comfort of family but at a cost. You must remain generally on the same page as Todd. Doesn't matter how far they go, how extreme, with tales of time travel and past lives. You can never defect, your service in the church is to grow it and exhibit it in lifelong commitment. Freddie is a loyal defender of the cause, as referenced by his behavior toward the socialites in New York.

Then comes the curious party scene where Todd dances with women. The scene cuts and returns with all the women unclothed. This is the second major break from the rest which can be considered literal, the first being the reminiscing scenes with Doris. It's purposely ambiguous, but this seems more an act of Freddy's imagination. There's no clothing scattered about. It's way out of line for values of the time. It seems built for the subtext of the next scene, where Todd's wife is masturbating him in front their bathroom mirror. She seems to suggest she's okay with secretive infidelity but not polygamy. In the next screen a drunken Freddy is confronted, controlled, made to repeat pledges and slapped with probably the same psychosexual intent as used on her husband.

In jail, Freddy, is told by Todd, "I'm the only one who likes you." And it's true, Todd is the only person Freddy, a complex character, has opened up to. The backbone of friendship is trust, and it's easier to like someone when you know who they are. It's the same reason we like dogs, they're not mysterious, their motivations and behaviors are readily transparent. So far, Todd's psychoanalysis, however faulty, is the only time Freddy has allowed himself to be him. Why wouldn't he trust Todd who allowed him this release and who also holds many of the attributes that he seeks. The prison scene may be the point in the movie where their personalities are matched and equalized, as they're both reduced to shouting animals.

Freddy may have started questioning but remains protege at this point in the film. It's clear for reasons of ego and affection for Freddie, Lancaster makes him the focus of his bizarre psychoanalytical experiments. Also because Freddy is the most willing subject, maybe not the biggest believer but the one with the biggest desire to believe. Freddy is made to behave like a monkey, jumping between a wooden wall and a window to the outside world he can feel but not physically see.

By the time "Book Two" is released, you sense Freddy's influence on Todd's work. Todd describes the secret now in less rigid terms, as "laughter." He scolds a woman for questioning his choice to change his words from "can you recall" to "can you imagine." Freddy seems to notice this change in Dodd and it's not surprising during an exercise with the group, his makeshift family, he drives off almost as if leaving the nest. He's off to see Doris.

Of course, his former love Doris is gone, moved, and married with children. She was left heartbroken and upon marriage is left as 'Doris Day,' an actress and singer of the time known for her beauty. In a way this points to the undoing of Freddy's picturesque fantasy of the perfect woman. He gets over her. He has a vision, or dream, or a real life phone call in an empty theater and is encouraged to visit Dodd at his school in England.

Dodd and his wife attempt to gaslight Freddy in his need for help and usefulness to the cause. He's not biting. Todd finally submits and serenades Freddy in song in a final attempt to win his favor and Freddy understands he's more powerful, even with less structure, and no longer needs Master.

The movie ends with Freddy attempting Todd's psychoanalytical tricks during sex but he laughs and mentions his dick fell out.


This movie is difficult because it's experimental and its design instinctual. It flourishes for the same reason it fails, its in uncharted territories and swinging for the fences. It's a joy to watch it work and not work. The main focus is belief and not only religious belief, also desire, and what is there before us in reality. If there's a central message it may not even be entirely against religious institutions as it might suggest, but instead to say, you have final say, and if its outlived its usefulness you can ride off into the distance.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Andrew Callaghan's content matches his accusations

Like many I was a fan of Channel 5 (All Gas No Brakes) during its initial viral rise for its "man on the street" style interviews. It reminded me of previous, relatively minor e-celebs who have done similar work, or Dave Attell's Insomniac show in the early 2000s. It's a simple enough format. You point the camera at people who are a little fringe or absurd, listen objectively, and the content creates itself. If the interviewee is particularly nasty the camera provides enough rope for the person to hang themself, but generally these videos work because they're funny and humanize people despite their misguided beliefs or odd personality quirks. Part of the allure is the camp and cringe but with a balanced and empathic editing and editorializing this becomes forgivable.

Something seemed off around early June of last year with Channel 5's "NRA Conference" video, it started a pattern seldom-seen in the videos until around this time of excessive editorializing and ideological slant, with clips from both sides built to fit a narrative. It also includes Andrew Callaghan adding just himself to the screen and interjecting. The word "journalism" began being paraded around the community which was bizarre, then a Hot Ones interview on the Youtube recommend algorithm made me question if he is in large part a media-whore.

A lot of this contradicts the golden rule of journalism to not become the story. You could defend this under the phrase "gonzo journalism" but this doesn't sit well with me. If gonzo is meant to forgo objectivity and add fiction, most media organizations do that by accident, and op-eds on purpose. VICE, Louis Theroux etc. regularly embraced subjectivity and engaged in drug use or in rituals to tell a better story. Werner Herzog fabricated scenes in certain documentaries to get to a deeper truth. Andrew's "journalism" by comparison is simplistic, shallow, and often with an insistence of having himself front-and-center. As a witness to an adult film award ceremony he played a perfect host.

Around this time I noticed, and put in my notes:

"Channel 5 went one-sided and preachy and fame-chasing with a quickness. Instead of an ironic witness to absurdity, it seems cynical and mean-spirited to its subjects, typically born of unfortunate circumstance."
I also wrote having finally understood that, Andrew's the type of person who, were he not holding a microphone, would be one of his subjects. Before that he was a tall, lanky man with bushy hair and bad posture in an ill-fitted suit and acne, and not without a sense of comic timing. It was contrived to a degree but not cynical and that's what made it compelling and digestible. This re-calibrated that dynamic to "a show making fun of the mentally ill," and the show's profile from there began to grow exponentially. Even that in itself isn't the biggest problem, it's being that while posturing as part of the fight for social justice. Nothing arouses distaste in me like holding two completely disparate values and cynically forcing them together for profit.

Only days ago Robin Young, a perfectly respectable radio personality and interviewer, asked Andrew a basic boomer question about his willingness to speak with Alex Jones. The glib response and laughter made the rounds, as if lifting weights and drinking alcohol with Alex was an act of courage required to expose him as mentally unhinged. I began then writing this article with a quote as a placeholder. Then, before I could fail to ever launch it, his rising star exploded. Through unfortunate circumstance he killed his career in spectacular fashion coinciding with the release of an HBO documentary titled This Place Rules.

Andrew's documentary is already a non-starter because also on HBO is Q: Into the Storm, which provides a rigorous look at Qanon and the events of Jan. 6 from a much more objective standpoint. This Place Rules seems more like a forced hodgepodge of footage from events strung together into a narrative. Instead of tackling any real psychology of belief it focuses the visceral reaction you get from witnessing the mentally ill behave. It reminds me of Borat where some people considered it brilliant social commentary as opposed to just hilarious depictions of stereotypical behavior encouraged by its stereotypical protagonist. In Andrew's attempt to take a sober look at America all the humor is removed.

The trajectory of of This Place Rules and Channel 5 toward mean-spirited and more simplistic interpretations of political events seemed like they would eventually have to coincide with a backlash or a crash and burn. This happened with multiple sexual assault allegations against Andrew Callaghan days ago. If he took a step back from the limelight perhaps his work could've survived but he's facing a big problem summed perfectly by a Redditor:

"His audience are the cancelers."
By delving into the world of simplistic answers he's garnered a simple fan base who won't look into the nuance of his actions, and there's now a vacancy for the relatively basic content he provides for someone with a clean slate to fill. There's a market for people who believe Alex Jones alone instigated Jan. 6 despite that he spoke several times on the day to protest peacefully--a point ignored in the documentary--but not if you yourself are a controversial figure. I hope he makes right by his accusers, and he has enough talent that I hope for his redemption. Because of the audience his work cultivated it seems unlikely and the ending to his documentary ominously counterpoints his predicament: "There is no end. This is only the beginning," Andrew says in a darkened sound stage before exiting the building.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Aftersun: The Year's Worst Film

Aftersun is the film of the year... that is critically praised, slow, realism-focused to the point of boring, melancholic, depressing, and a tedious mess, shot on lifeless, blue-hue digital cameras. It's a slice of life. So is waiting in line at Dairy Queen. There needs to be some story and interesting plot or visual elements interspersed. Other bad films of this style include Blue Valentine or Chop Shop, though they had a few moments. A decent example of this style done well would be The Florida Project. This is the exact kind of movie more mainstream cinema-goers cite as they avoid great understated films. We're talking long boring shots and Tarkovsky this person is not.

The astonishing aspect of this film is you come to understand how little can happen in 15 minutes. The tragedy this director tries to portray comes across with equal lack of distinction. What could've made it better was any hint of the purpose the story was meant to take, and any hint of the form used to express it. It's not hard in a nearly two-hour running time to include a minute and 30 seconds about a character's motivation or future ambition. Seeing someone cry alone in a room does nothing for me compared to understanding why. Instead, you have a depressed, deadbeat dad type who's trying to do the right thing. That's many dads, why care. Then you have the 11-year-old daughter with the implausible emotional maturity and quips of a 17-year-old. That can be overlooked, but there's no background into the divorce, no discernible problem in her other than annoyance, and near zero indication of what these events mean for her future. I wasn't rooting for her either, she's a wooden chess piece moved around a sterile screenplay. Toward the tail-end of the film there's a moment the two are alone on a boat and there's finally a word of empathy and character development between them. Thanks, the first proof this movie wasn't written and recorded by AI comes before the climax. The conceit here seems to be that stillness and quiet is enough to sell something emotionally evocative and incur a response. It's not, not without interplay with a little movement, a little heightened happiness to contrast the grief, a little unquiet to liven up to at least baseline human emotion, so you actually feel down when that time comes. Instead, it's a two-hour Lexapro commercial. If the entire film had a Paxil logo in the lower right hand corner this melodrama may be a perfect satirical comedy. Instead, you may be able to use this film's dull bleakness to break prisoners and secure intelligence without breaking international law.

Aftersun is #1 of the year for BFI, so you know it's not a good film. BFI disgraced themselves this year after previously curating excellent top 100 all-time movie lists once a decade, separated lists comprising both the choices of critics and directors. Paul Schrader took them to task for a new-found ideological slant to their ratings on social media. It's a bad sign because Paul is essentially a film-maker indiscernible from a feminist, starting with Taxi Driver--a film that dissected self-defeating, pathological male ego and its related drives and desires. He's also known for correctly stating Taylor Swift's music and concerts affirm life itself. On BFI, he had the following to say:

's re-tuned criteria suggests a change in the representation of woman-made films on the list, leading to a frankly confused and forced re-ordering of films. Yes, men are over-represented. There is a ratio of about 25-to-1 male directors versus female, they should be. It's more sexist to assume it's the failure of women or failure to recognize their artistic achievements, rather than recognize it could be they have different or better priorities. Yes, it's tragic when a film is critically overlooked as with Kelly Reichardt's brilliant First Cow. It's also unfortunate and unfair when this happens the other way. I suspect an over-correction could explain the attention given to this work by Charlotte Wells.

I thought Nope was the year's worst film, which is the worst thing I saw this year before Playtime by Tati. I would watch Playtime twice more before rewatching Aftersun. I thought it would be the hidden gem of the year with so many top spots. All those critics deserve to be hunted and pelted with Kinder Surprises, but they would love it like the groveling masochists they are. This film isn't #1, it's a 1. As an olive branch of optimism, the acting and camera work are there. The main problem with this may be a matter of tuning tone and pace, adjustments there could result in powerful future films. (I forgot to add this so I will shoehorn it in like my BFI-bashing: large plot points in 3-second splices under strobe-lights is not an effective narrative tool.) Until then when it comes to Aftersun, ask yourself if you want to spend two weeks at a resort with a depressed dad and his boring daughter in damn near real-time.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Post for the year 2022

It's important to try, keep on things, and post regular and pertinent content.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

On intelligence

The Uncertainty Principle: It proves we can’t really ever know what’s going on

If you’re dumb by design you can never fully know it. I’ve had the desire to write on the stupid approach to intelligence. Often when writing I’ll have this unwelcome inclination to sound like a good orator or otherwise clever. I fight this instinct because it goes against the general purpose of what would be an objective and scientific approach to inquiry. The purpose of language is only to communicate and an essay expressing a philosophy doesn’t have the same urgency for perfection a peer-reviewed paper might. Simplicity is the ultimate tool, and an excess of syllables unnecessarily complicate a message. I believe this impulse is indicative of how intelligence is perceived as a whole.

The easiest way to attack problems with our interpretation of intelligence is to look at IQ. Previously, I always looked at IQ with suspicion, as wasting time and rigorously preparing for an intelligence test seems “low iq,” before we get into the vain impulse to brag and socially peacock around your intelligence with a ranking or numerical score. After looking at the criticisms these feelings were confirmed. The test doesn’t work for several reasons. Namely, you can tell this because there’s a huge degree of variance even between people’s own test scores when taken multiple times. Also because it has a great ability to identify dumbness, but is wildly varying in the higher numbers on any quantitative scale (NN Taleb). One of those scales for example would be survivability and how you measure this is anyone’s guess. In my opinion an IQ test can’t work for the same reason we generally can’t predict the future. But say you were going for survivability, you could do some sort of base measure, a nuts and bolts estimate to do with a person’s financial success. Already, this seems an incredibly weak underpinning as we aim to predict a person’s ability to navigate an unknown, virtually infinitely complex future world.

But it gets worse. Tying a person’s success to their ability to survive, or their ability to earn which is our flimsy but best chance of a correlation (with all its variability and noise), is predicated on an assumption that survival is intelligent. Interestingly, the great philosophers like Alan Watts or Albert Camus often reduced the sum of philosophy to the question of suicide. It makes sense. A philosophical interpretation of existence will be examined best through the contrast of not existing. Whether to live, they determined, was the essential question. When judging intelligence, it’s clear Isaac Newton and Einstein are near the top of the known persons. But there’s an additional qualifier here if you’re looking at it through that philosophical lens, they were the smartest people who were also convinced for whatever reason to be driven and motivated in their pursuits toward an end. This version of intelligence is dependent on success predicated by ambition. Surely there’s been many equally intelligent people indifferent to any pursuit that would have them seen written into the pages of history, and others undoubtedly were intelligent and yet met existence, understood it, but saw futility or went without curiosity and committed suicide or otherwise resigned themselves in life.

Undoubtedly, the great intelligent men of history also had a bit of luck on their side not to fall to some misfortune or plague. It makes me question, were Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan really great men or were they just the best bold visionaries who also didn’t happen to take an arrow to the chest. Maybe T.E. Lawrence stood up to gunfire and survived, but if that’s true, certainly many more people who thought their existence was divinely-ordained were shot dead and never written about. In light of this, a lot of success is due to luck and explained by survivorship bias.

This echoes of the “great man theory,” which basically suggests a few persons of extraordinarily talent drove and explain history. I dismiss this because it credits the crest of the wave while ignoring every other part of the process. It seems more probable the conditions created by the collective enabled these individuals and made those high water marks inevitable. That doesn’t mean certain people’s discoveries didn't save us decades. I only wish to dispel the gross reductionist view and venerate to some degree the nameless everyperson for their part in the process.

In short we give too much credit and not enough. There’s an unquestioned belief that progress is possible and that it is good. That life, progress and its pursuits are innately intelligent for seemingly no other reason than we are alive and therefore compelled to stay so. Call it the life-bias, but if we’re to exist it seems important to remember this contrast to retain the right perspective and take life unserious and in stride and revel in its novelty. To recognize intelligence in any other way is likely stupid and to miss the point entirely.

This could explain the stereotype that smart people are miserable. It’s easy to infer more complex people will have greater difficulty and less resources when it comes to solving their more complex needs. Naval asks a great question, though, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you happy?” A great question for many not-so-smart smart people. But there is also an alternative, the masochistic intelligent who invite painful thoughts and situations into their lives as a form of discovery, and help mediate or navigate future trauma and pain. In short, the reason some watch horror movies or TV shows about sociopaths.

Intelligence seems to come with undue focus. There’s no correlation between it and morality. There’s a lack of appreciation for the wide, diverse systems that enable the experiments, conversation, and conditions for the inevitable leaps in science. There’s not enough challenge to the unproven yet widely held assumption that progress is the imperative collective goal. There’s a lack of study in the idea that the intelligent individual might meet the complex problems of the world with indifference.

Often people fall for the trap of cult of personality and for them intelligence can be defined by self-proclaimed genius, genius itself being a word of mythical quality. From what I can understand true genius is essentially not quantifiable. Some self-proclaim, some don’t want credit, some saw into the future enough they created solutions and prevented wars before they began, some understood the game of life and decided not to play it.

In considering my desire to write this my motive may be simply the miscalibrated view of intelligence. I see no innately intelligent or rational component in engaging in existence over not. I see no intelligent correlation in ambition over indifference. I see a vast disparity between con artists who claim to be geniuses to place themselves in that light, versus others smart enough to see fame and accreditation are often overrated or not worth pursuing. I see an excessive amount of credit go to problem solvers and not enough credit go to people who prevent problems from ever starting. I see the vast majority of the attention on the “great men,” less so on the collective’s daily contributions and inventions without which those great men would not exist in equal capacity. I see an unscientific acceptance of science as an irreproachable and final authority, and this elitism doesn’t seem a wise way to advocate wisdom.

There’s an entire world slowly, day by day inventing and perfecting ideas that get engineered into the reality, and the same with creating the complex systems to keep these emerging inventions running smoothly and compatibly with the inventions of the past, while leaving room for things to be expanded upon in the future. It seems an impossible task in a world of billions but this also means you have that many more minds working towards solutions. This world has another side defined by what it doesn’t do and doesn’t create, alongside with what measures are taken to exclude unfavorable outcomes. By the time you include ambition or desire to participate in life itself, it seems impossible to quantify and current measures are uninspiring and unwise.