Thursday, July 29, 2010

MATHS TRICK

This is an interesting experiment that throws new, and disturbing, light on the workings of the human mind:

Open the .gif and watch it, then scroll down.























Did you guess carrot too?

Experiments carried out by university lecturers on students, psychologists on colleagues, and teachers on pupils have shown that between 66% and 90% come up with the answer Carrot. Why this is so, is somewhat puzzling. Tests simply asking participants to name a vegetable came up with random answers. Bizarrely, another common response was "something orange." I thought most people knew the difference between "Choose a vegetable" and "Choose a colour."

Unfortunately, this is as far as scientists have managed to advance the issue. There are several hypotheses floating round, but none of them have been validated. We know that people associate arithmetics with carrots apparently. But we don't know why. Expect an international inquiry into this most urgent matter. 



END OF THE ROW

In a startling photography series, James Reynolds, has taken a handful of the most interesting "last supper" requests from people executed on Death Row as photographic inspiration.

Whether you are a proponent of the Death Penalty or not, the series offers a glimpse into the minds of the condemned in their last moments of life. Something which is both repellent and morbidly fascinating.









Thursday, July 22, 2010

MASSIVE DOSE

According to various media outlets the latest craze is iDoser, which purports to be a way to experience the same 'high' offered by illicit substances merely by listening to an audio recording. iDoser claims that its advanced binaural beats work by synchronizing the user's brainwaves to the same state as the recreational dose. Effects are supposed to include euphoria, sedation and even hallucination. According to http://www.i-doser.com over a million people have payed to download idoser, and presumably millions more have tried the pirated versions floating around. In the name of 'science' I decided to try this product out. 

Does it work?

Not unless what qualifies as a 'high' for you is limited to ringing ears and a feeling of nausea. I tried a wide variety of 'doses', following all the directions (high fidelity headphones, lying down in a quiet, dark room etc) and experienced none of the effects iDoser is purported to induce. They have an answer ready of course. Just like hypnotism, iDoser claims that not everyone is susceptible. Given the way in which iDoser is meant to work however, this claim is dubious. It would entail that my brainwaves resonate at a completely different frequency to the rest of the population. I can't say I'm surprised that iDoser doesn't work. After all, the drugs that it claims to emulate work by inhibiting or releasing neurotransmitters.  They temporarily alter the actual physiology of the brain itself. 

In my opinion, the closest an aural experience has even come to drugs is Massive Attack. Their music, with its sluggish tempo, exacting production values, and thumping beats, really does verge on a drug trip. Tracks like Black Milk and Group Four are what one might imagine heroin to be like. On the other hand, Inertia Creeps has a restless, jittery, energy more akin to amphetamines. Granted, listening to Massive Attack won't get you high any more than iDoser, but it will alter your mood. 


Not to mention that their music videos are produced in a way that is unparalleled. 
Give them a watch and you'll agree; the 90's were cooler than you thought. 



MRS FAUST

A brilliant poem I came across today and thought I'd share:

Mrs Faust 

First things first -
I married Faust.
We met as students,
shacked up, split up,
made up, hitched up,
got a mortgage on a house,
flourished academically,
BA. MA. Ph.D. No kids.
Two towelled bathrobes. Hers. His.
We worked. We saved.
We moved again.
Fast cars. A boat with sails.
A second home in Wales.
The latest toys – computers,
mobile phones. Prospered.
Moved again. Faust’s face
was clever, greedy, slightly mad.
I was as bad.
I grew to love lifestyle,
not the life.
He grew to love the kudos,
not the wife.
He went to whores.
I felt, not jealousy,
but the chronic irritation.
I went to yoga, t’ai chi,
Feng Shui, therapy, colonic irrigation.
And Faust would boast
at dinner parties
of the cost
of doing deals out East.
Then take his lust
to Soho in cab,
to say the least,
to lay the ghost,
get lost, meet panthers, feast.
   
He wanted more.
I came home late one winter’s evening,
hadn’t eaten.
Faust was upstairs in his study,
in a meeting.
I smelled cigar smoke,
hellish, oddly sexy, not allowed.
I heard Faust and the other laugh aloud.
Next thing, the world,
as Faust said,
spread its legs.
First politics -
Safe seat. MP. Right Hon. KG.
Than banks -
offshore, abroad -
and business -
Vice-chairman. Chairman. Owner. Lord.
Enough? Encore!
Faust was Cardinal, Pope,
knew more than God;
flew faster than the speed of sound
around the globe,
lunched;
walked on the moon,
golfed, holed in one;
lit a fat Havana on the Sun.
Then backed a hunch -
invested in smart bombs,
in harms,
Faust dealt in arms.
Faust got in deep, got out.
Bought farms,
cloned sheep.
Faust surfed the internet
for like-minded Bo Peep.
  
As for me,
I went my own sweet way,
saw Rome in a day,
spun gold from hay,
had a facelift,
had my breasts enlarged,
my buttocks tightened;
went to China, Thailand, Africa,
returned enlightened.
Turned 40, celibate,
teetotal, vegan,
Buddhist, 41.
Went blonde,
redhead, brunette,
went native, ape,
berserk, bananas;
went on the run, alone;
went home.
Faust was in. A word, he said,
I spent the night being pleasured
by a virtual Helen of Troy.
Faced that launched a thousand ships.
I kissed its lips.
Thing is -
I’ve made a pact
with Mephistopeheles,
the Devil’s boy.
He’s on his way
to take away
what’s owed,
reap what I sowed.
For all these years of
gagging for it,
going for it,
rolling in it,
I’ve sold my soul.

At this, I heard
a serpent’s hiss
tasted evil, knew its smell,
as scaly devil’s hands
poked up
right through the terracotta Tuscan tiles
at Faust’s bare feet
and dragged him, oddly smirking, there and then
straight down to Hell.
Oh, well.
Faust’s will
left everything-
the yacht,
the several houses,
the Lear jet, the helipad,
the loot, et cet, et cet,
the lot -
to me.
C’est la vie.
When I got ill
it hurt like hell.
I bought a kidney
with my credit card,
then I got well.
I keep Faust’s secret still -
the clever, cunning, callous bastard
didn’t have a soul to sell.

From "The World's Wife" by Carol Ann Duffy. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

HOW TO RELAX

Some of us are good, too good in fact, at kicking back and taking it easy. This post is directed at the rest of you. All you neurotic, caffeine loaded, workaholics out there. Next time you feel like some 'you time', make sure you do the following:

1. Select your drink of choice. Perhaps a nice scotch, some quality beer or a boutique wine. 
2. Open two tabs in your browser
3. On tab one: http://www.rainymood.com
4. On tab two: http://www.endlessyoutube.com/watch?v=td3SE3zEVP0 
5. Sit back and relax your night away

Optional: A volume of poetry or a good book 

You won't regret it.

TONETTA

“A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. No taste is what I’m against.”Diana Vreeland


In light of the above quote I feel a little less dubious about making this post. Tonetta, one of the strangest thing to bubble up from the youtube community, defines bad taste. If Tonetta was food, he'd be that tuna pasta-bake your flatmate left in the fridge for six months. So who is Tonetta? He's a man from Toronto who has been recording home made music videos for almost three decades. He sings about a range of topics. And his songs, while perverse, take on new meaning with multiple listening. 

These music videos look like they are shot on an old VHS, and the sound quality is rather low-fi. Tonneta dances through them all in various states of undress, bondage-dress or cross-dress. The net result is a 1980's snuff-movie/S&M aesthetic. Watching Tonetta for the first time is somewhat frightening. One feels like they are eavesdropping on something very private, and very awful. The music itself is loosely comparable to Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, and Wavves at various points. 

Tonetta's art is not self-conscious. There is no feeling that he performs for the benefit or entertainment of anyone other than himself. It is vogue at the moment to declare that Tonetta is some sort of genius. Humorous as this suggestion is, I do not think it should be taken seriously.Yet in some ways Tonnetta's juxtaposition of perversion and social commentary is art at its best. A striking condemnation of the modern age. At first Tonetta's perversion is distasteful. But we are reminded that after all it is a reflection of our own perversion: that to judge Tonetta as a society would be hypocrisy. If Tonetta is an artist, he an artist in the tradition of De Sade

Album Highlights: 
John and Yoko
$Viral$
Drugs Drugs Drugs

Hop on soulseek and enjoy this very special experience. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

GUBLEROTIC

Matthew Gray Gubler is a name that may or may not mean something to you depending on whether you are a fan of the CBS show Criminal Minds or have an unhealthy interest in male models. What you probably don't know is that Gubler is also an artist of sorts. He creates sketches. Amazing, albeit slightly creepy, sketches. Below are two personal favourites. The rooster reminds me of me, and the cactus is just funny. You can find more here.

Why am I writing about Matthew Gray Gubler? My sister, Stella, has agreed to contribute to this blog and she is a massive Gubler fan. So it's a sort of 'welcome' gesture. She will be writing about food, fashion, and gossip... among other things. 


BEACH HOUSE: TEEN DREAM

This year I have been so preoccupied digging back through time to find old gems, that I have yet to get my teeth into what 2010 has to offer. Deciding to change this, I began by perusing pitchfork's best new albums. In doing so I was pleasantly reminded that Beach House has a new album out, Teen Dream. Even better; pitchfork had given it a promising 9.0/10. 

Beach House's sophomore album, Devotion, was one of my favorite albums of 2008. I think I rated it about eight for the year. If I'm going on pure play-counts (which is probably more honest) it was probably only ousted from the top spot by Fleet Foxes, and m83.

As a result it was with great anticipation, yet also some trepidation that I played the album for the first time. I won't bore you with a whole lot of music jargon neither of us will understand - pitchfork does it better. All I will say is that it is a wonderful album. It builds on the same core elements that made Devotion great whilst trading somnolence for a renewed energy. Teen Dream is aptly named. The album has a dreamy quality, like all of Beach House's music, it seems to somehow wash over you (in a good way). This is an album that almost languidly sets itself apart from the mass of predictable synth-pop that seems to largely constitute indie rock at the moment. 

Buy it Read about it here: Beach House: Teen Dream

Saturday, July 17, 2010

WELLINGTON'S BEST COCKTAIL BARS

"I have simple tastes. I am always satisfied with the best." - Oscar Wilde.
For those of us that are born hedonists there are few better ways to spend a night than at a fancy cocktail bar. However when drinks can be upwards of twenty dollars it is important that you get what you pay for. The quality of the cocktail goes without saying; it is the ambiance, the service, and all the little trimmings that separate the sublime from the mediocre. The following is a basic guide for those wishing to find something special amongst Wellington's night life. 

1. Hawthorne Lounge 


Situated on 82 Tory St, Hawthorne Lounge is possibly one of the few 'exclusive' cocktail bars in Wellington to remain generally unknown. It is modeled on a 1920's gentleman's club and is fastidious down to the last detail. The bathroom alone separates it from the competition; the only bar in Wellington (in my knowledge) to offer proper hand towels. The bar itself (replete with leather couches, an open fire and a corner piano) oozes luxury and elegance. The music is always jazz. A jazz quartet composed of members of seminal Wellington bands plays weekly. The service is brilliant. The bartenders are actually a pleasure to talk to. Furthermore they are happy to help you choose your tipple without the boorish snobbery that one sometimes encounters.  The bar features an extensive selection of beverages, high quality but fairly priced. Smokers may be the only ones to find something to fault here; the bar does not have a designated outside smoking area. 

Pro Tip: Winter (when the fire is lit) is the best time to enjoy Hawthorne, especially as complimentary marshmallows are offered for you to toast.

2. Motel 
Situated on Forresters Lane. When I was first introduced to Motel it was with an air of extreme exclusivity. I was told, in hushed tones, that it could be found behind an unmarked door, and that prospective guests were 'vetted' over the security camera and turned away if they were not attractive and well dressed. It is with regret that I inform the reader that this turned out to be false. It may once have been that way: apparently Liv Tyler was once denied access! However going to motel today means entering into the secret club of you... and everybody. The bar is very well known. Elitists can stop reading now. Those of you who are truly discerning however will know there are exceptions to the rule that "popular = bad." Motel is one such exception. It was one of the first cocktail bars to grace Wellington, and it is still among the best. The bar has a 1970's theme, plays jazz vinyls (although it lacks the live element), and has a good selection of cigars as well as a smoking area. In many ways it is essentially a larger version of Hawthorne with less charm, although possibly a younger crowd. It caters best for groups and couples. 

Pro Tip: If you take someone to Motel, order the popcorn: Popcorn at 2am is amazing. If you're short on funds, Weka is a quality, but inexpensive, beer which the bar stocks.

3. Havana Bar


Situated on Wigan St. Havana Bar is a little too far off the beaten track to warrant frequenting regularly. Despite this it is still one of the best cocktail bars in Wellington - if only because it is so unique. Bars modeled on the same formula as Hawthorne/Motel (but of inferior quality in most cases) are common as mud within the Wellington night scene. Most of these offer overpriced drinks, in a bland environment with a pretentious atmosphere. Havana Bar excels because of its eccentricity. Well known for its eclectic range of world music and regular live bands, it is a sprawling narrow bar with a large outside courtyard. It opens as early as 3pm on weekdays and serves food from the Fidel's cafe menu. The bar's drinks are generally less expensive than at Motel or Hawthorne, but they are not of the same quality. Havana Bar is a place where you are likely to see more indie and less yuppie. 

Pro Tip: Havana Bar is perhaps best enjoyed on a lazy, sunny, afternoon in the courtyard with a packet of Lucky Strikes and a cold Caipirinha or two.

4. Overrated Bars

The following cocktail bars are not as good as rumor makes them:

Matterhorn: Yes it is considered by experts to be one of the best cocktail bars in the world. Certainly its cocktails could not be faulted on quality. Cocktail making is an art Matterhorn takes seriously. The bar itself is far too austere for my taste however. It lacks atmosphere. I would strongly recommend going to Matterhorn to dine rather than to drink. Apparently the owners of Matterhorn have recently established a new bar on the waterfront. I have yet to check it out, but I anticipate greatness.

The Library: This bar suffers from over-exposure. It is right on the Courteny strip and is often too busy and loud to be truly enjoyable. It is also more prone to being frequented by drunken revelers who got lost on the way to 'Estabs.'

Mighty Mighty: Can be great for gigs. This place is cool. And therein lies the problem. This place is too cool. Hipsters are only tolerable in small quantities. When you see them all in one place the homogeneous sea of ray bans, skinny jeans, fringes and irony is an affront to the senses.


Go out and explore!

IN DEFENCE OF RELIGION

"So you're saying that absolutely nothing in my life has any intrinsic meaning; and you're telling me to STOP worrying?"




Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Lord Rees, OM, PRS, on the subject of his latest book "Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning." Later I asked him whether he believed in God, to which he cheekily quipped; "Well I certainly don't believe in Dawkins!"

Atheism is the new black. For some reason, despite ceasing to be edgy circa 1945, Atheism is currently en vogue with the intelligentsia. Much of this popularity must be attributed to Richard Dawkins. Strange really, when one considers the long list of Atheists that preceded him (Hemingway, Diderot, Sartre, to name but some) all of which had something more interesting to say. 

I can't say I like Dawkins. Maybe its his inflated ego. Maybe its because he's a popularist and, as such, must pander to the idiot mass to whom he preaches. Primarily I feel it is because he diminishes the most subtle and thoroughly nuanced debate in human history to something basic and trivial. Dawkins is rather like the student who proclaims that there is no great genius in Shakespeare: one cannot help but feel that when someone rapidly discounts an idea that has captivated brilliant minds for centuries, that person is probably missing something.  

The following youtube video is a short example of the inane simplicity to which this debate is reduced:




At least from the youtube comments it seems most people believe that Dawkin's trounces O'Reilley here. I am inclined to think otherwise. Dawkins treats contentious ideas as if they were undisputed (that we have a scientific understanding of how life began; that truth values are universal). Furthermore, he resorts to sophistry to attempt to win the argument (his mustache analogy at the end of the clip). O'Reilley is justified in considering the belief systems of dictators as relevant to their actions. To suggest this is analogous to considering their facial hair for the same purpose is absurd and misleading. The chief point I wish to address however, is Dawkin's assertion that Atheism does not require faith.

Any belief that an individual holds requires either justification or faith. Most beliefs require both. A Christian's 'justification' for a belief in God might come from the Bible, personal experience, or various philosophical arguments. The average person's justification for believing that the world we perceive is real rests on the same things (excluding the Bible in most cases). To whatever extent our sources of justification are 'beyond proof,' faith comes into the argument. Even the most basic propositions require some degree of faith. Descartes believed there was only ONE proposition that didn't; Cogito ergo sum.

Dawkin's tries to avoid faith clinging to his beloved atheism by asserting that faith only applies to positive beliefs; "the onus is on you to say why you believe in something." Otherwise stated: the opposite of a 'belief in something' is not a belief, because if it were a belief it would be a belief with no object. This assertion is false. A belief in a lack of something is still a belief. The object of the belief is not nothing; the object is the data set from which the 'something' is excluded. One either believes in [a,b,c,d,e,f] or [a,b,c,d,e]. Either way the belief requires faith. Harking back to the earlier example; if faith did not equally apply to negative existential propositions our default position regarding the existence of the world would be one of extreme skepticism.

A belief is only free of faith to the extent it is justified. If you ask the average Dawkin's fanboy why he is an atheist he will probably cite science in some way. Evolution will likely be mentioned. First of all, theism is by no means incompatible with science. In attacking creationism, Dawkins and co. give themselves an easy 'straw-man' target hardly worth attacking. Secondly, science is highly specialized and esoteric. As a result, even the beliefs of a world authority on evolution are likely to be heavily dependent on the testimony of others. The average person's belief in scientific theories is likely to be wholly grounded in testimony, often to the point that they don't even understand what they claim to believe. (Just ask someone if they believe in string-theory or quantum mechanics.) Yet somehow these people have the unmitigated arrogance to consider themselves members of some intellectual club.

Richard Dawkins is the Michael Moore of the God Debate. And, like Moore, his dogma spills readily from many lips of his proponents. These people wear Atheism like a badge. They commit the fallacy of equating beliefs with intelligence. Intelligent people are, of course, more likely to believe certain things. The mistake is to think that believing those same things makes one intelligent. It is not what you believe that counts. It is why.

Dawkin's speaks of a need to be humble. The true position of humility is agnosticism. As various religious tenets are successfully challenged the best position is probably agnostic-atheism. Remember the scientific method espoused by Popper! "A hypothesis can never be proved, only disproved." It is reasonable to believe that God most likely does not exist. But one should always have the humility to accept that there are things about the world we do not know, and after all, one could be wrong. Unfortunately this is not a very controversial position. No one writes a best seller called "God Doesn't Exist (Maybe)." This is a pity. The world would be vastly improved if fence-sitting became more popular.

SACCHARINE UNDERGROUND


There is a haunting simplicity to American country music. The above ballad, performed by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, centers around the tragic lives of a Virginian mining family. The simple lyrics seem to transcend their thematic roots against the milieu of 1970's Vegas, to appear both compelling and timeless. 

Nancy and Lee make a ghostly pair. Sinatra looks like a candy coated skeleton, slightly doped as she gazes out into the darkness, singing "momma is the world comin' to an end?" Lee is an apparitious cowboy with tired eyes. When he drawls "so this is how it feels to be dead" in his distinctive monotone, it is instantly believable. 

The video evokes an indefinable mix of nostalgia and melancholia. It is a harking back to simple truths, in an age of failed idealism. 
"Now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back." - Hunter S. Thompson

PREFACE

There are two sorts of people in the world; those who blog and those who want to. Cynics deride bloggers for polluting the internet with inane updates about their personal lives or unnecessary discussion of the same, tired, popular culture. Nevertheless, the desire to blog still gnaws their hearts. No matter what one thinks of the blogosphere it is impossible to escape the fallacious belief that somehow, one might avoid that pitfalls that have trapped others. That, somehow, one might do it better.
  
Ordinarily I am quite good at suppressing this desire (I wish I could say the same when it comes to other vices). Today however, I find myself at home with bronchitis. Being sick all weekend is not pleasant, but it does have advantages. It is light on the bank balance, and it allows one the time to catch up on study finally create a blog. Being sick might also explain why, when it came to picking a blog name (a frustrating process) I resorted to a bacteria related pun. 

Ostensibly this blog's theme is everything that falls within the dubious moniker 'culture.' By which I take to mean primarily the arts, politics and philosophy. I say 'ostensibly' because at times I may digress from this theme. It might be better to say that this blog is devoted to two largely interrelated subjects: things I think, and things I like.