Monday, September 25, 2006

You, Me and Cousin Chimpanzee

Dawkins Diagram 1Dawkins Diagram 2

I'm reading Richard Dawkins's wonderful collection of essays A Devil's Chaplain, and early on he includes these simple but effective illustrations, showing how closely we're related to our chimpanzee and gorilla cousins. The first (left) shows how you have to ignore significant branches of our family tree in order to artificially separate us humans from "the apes." The second (right) effectively highlights how we're more closely related to gorillas than gorillas are to orangutans. How many folks do you think know that? And are teachers explaining such specifics to kids in our schools?

In the last chapter, "Good and Bad Reasons for Believing," Dawkins addresses his ten-year-old daughter to tell her about "how we know the things we know. He closes with this simple exhortation:
Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important, think to yourself: "Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence? Or is it the kind of thing that people only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?" And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: "What kind of evidence is there for that?" And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say.
Simple, sage, sound advice. We'd probably not be in Iraq if more of us followed it. Of course, there are myriad other ways the human condition could be improved if more of us followed that advice.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Larry King Assumption

So long as I'm dispensing axioms, allow me to share The Larry King Assumption. Simply put, if, in examining any movie poster, you discover the best-known reviewer quoted there-upon to be Larry King, one best avoid said movie like an E. coli-laden spinach salad.

For example, an advertisement for the new Sean Penn vehicle All the King's Men trumpets "A Masterpiece" in large font atop a moody depiction of a shadowy, seated Penn, smoke rising noirish from a cigarette in his spotlit hand. In far smaller font, the reviewer's name: Larry King. Immediately, I'm deflated. I like to watch Penn and I'd hoped for a good remake of the flick, but if this movie were a masterpiece, its promoters wouldn't have selected a King quote to grace the ad; instead it'd bear a Stephen Holden, a David Edelstein, a Manohla Dargis, a Stanley Kauffmann (a personal favorite) or an A.O. Scott. What Scott actually says:
Nothing in the picture works. It is both overwrought and tedious, its complicated narrative bogging down in lyrical voiceover, long flashbacks and endless expository conversations between people speaking radically incompatible accents. ...

It is rare to see a movie so prodigiously stuffed with fine actors, nearly every one of them grievously miscast.
Ouch. And cue Larry King.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Picard Imperative

For some time, I've wanted to contribute something significant to the common vernacular, but I just never seized upon anything. I mean, Peter Merholz coined "blog" and Malcolm Gladwell popularized "the tipping point" (actually coined by Morton Grodzins), but I, alas, had nothing. Then it came to me: The Picard Imperative.

To wit: any man who finds himself approaching baldness must immediately shave his head to a length no greater than that of Captain Jean-Luc Picard's, AKA Patrick Stewart of TV's Star Trek, the Next Generation. Thereby, said gentlemen may maintain a modicum of dignity whilst losing their tresses. No elaborate combovers, no toupees, no hairplugs, however advanced in their technology. And be further advised that not every man looks good with a completely shaven head. For this reason, I decree The Picard Imperative and not The Brynner Imperative.

Now, balding men: Make it so!
Calvo turpis est nihil compto.
There is nothing more contemptible than a bald man who pretends to have hair.
- Marcus Valerius Martialis, Roman poet, 98 AD

Combover: The Movie
Baldiness: the blog

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Overheard in New York Today

Hipster Boy: The whole time I lived in that apartment, I never changed the sheets on my bed once.

Hipster Girl: Didn't you worry about bed bugs?

- Heard while strolling past four hipsters somewhere along 2nd Ave in the East Village.