Sunday, January 31, 2016

Oscar nominated short animated films

Every year, we go to the movies to see these, and nearly every year, the best one is robbed by a flashier but less substantive Disney puddlemuck. Last year, the best one wasn't even nominated but was merely "commended." Even though it depicted Louis XIV's court as fat chickens! And the best of the nominated ones did not win. But this year, I'm confident that the Academy's insipid judgments will coincide with mine, because "World of Tomorrow" is so self-evidently excellent that no one can deny it. I don't know if it's better than the best of all short animated films (which did win the year it was nominated), "La Maison en Petits Cubes," but it's pretty close.

One of the strengths of this bizarre and charming genre is that the time constraint requires you to compress details, and the result is usually something like a visual parable. For some reason, this results in many films about, basically, mortality. Maybe animators just ask themselves, "If I had nine minutes in which to convey one point, what would be the most important thing to tell people?" and always answer, "Death." "World of Tomorrow" fits squarely into this tradition of cartoons meditating on mortality, but Hertzfeldt has the courtesy to offset all the moments when you'd otherwise cry with a joke, so that you end up not crying at all, and not knowing how one short movie comprised almost entirely of stick figures and floating lines and circles can be simultaneously so funny and so sad.

On the other hand, the Oscar winner might be "Prologue," because wow drawing so good that it doesn't even seem to matter what the point is.

UPDATE: But then I watched Hertzfeldt's long animated film, It's Such a Beautiful Day, and it was totally unremarkable.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Department of Bad Ideas: Holistic admissions 2.0

There is a crisis afoot in America: way more "youths" report that happiness and achievement are more important to them than "caring about others." Now, why would anyone think happiness was a greater end than selflessness? That is downright Aristotelian. It must be stopped. But how? Well, since the thing for which all American youths strive is admission to a prestigious college, because they hope that this will lead them to happiness and achievement, we ought to manipulate the criteria for this admission to reward only those who strive selflessly with success. Or, since success is a form of achievement and they're not supposed to desire achievement anymore, let's call it a reward of reciprocated care from the college of their choice, previously known as admission. Instead of selecting applicants for their perceived intellectual aptitude and promise of achievement, colleges should select for perceived sincerity and promise of moral goodness. What could go wrong?

The problem with the SAT was that it correlated too much with family income, and the problem with AP classes was that they stressed students out, and the problem with extracurricular activities was that students did so many that it was hard to tell which were "heartfelt," and the problem with the whole process was that it didn't "measure true ability or intellectual hunger." It was all so reductive and admissions committees are no good at discerning "true ability" from it. But you know what admissions committees are really good at? Determining the relative heartfeelingness and intellectual hunger of complete strangers based on what they claim about their heartfeelingness and intellectual hunger in essays carefully crafted for an audience of admissions committees. Surely it is more difficult to fake sincerity and "passion" than to fake an AP exam score.

Where grades and scores obfuscate "true ability," limitations on advanced coursework and extracurricular activities will reveal it. Grades and scores are so arbitrary that “we might as well be admitting these people on the basis of their height or the size of their neck.” What sense does it make to admit people to academic programs based on their previous records of academic success? It is obvious that people who care a lot about others will be much more capable of studying genetics and French literature than people who merely did well in science and literature in high school. We knew this when we first came up with the idea of holistic admissions in order to evaluate the whole applicant rather than just his practically worthless academic aptitude. But even holism was not enough, since extra-curricular activities only take up a few hours a week, and what we want here is to find the individuals who aren't just thinking about college admission a few hours a week, but every minute of the day. That is why "the nature of students’ day-to-day conduct should be weighed more heavily in admissions than the nature of students’ stints of service." Next time you're tempted to cut gym class or not tuck in your shirt, just remember, Harvard is watching.

All this is great news for poor kids, who evidently cannot be expected to demonstrate academic aptitude, but who can still be nice and authentic. If they tend not to score as well on standardized tests, but do tend to take care of family members and work part-time, we can make college more egalitarian by making taking care of family members and working part-time a pre-requisite for admission and getting rid of the standardized tests. Problem solved.

The best part of all this is that we know it will work: parents spend years trying to raise virtuous children, but elite colleges need only "signal" that what they want students to care about is, well, caring, and the youth of America will comply practically overnight. Next year, 90% of the applicants to Harvard and Yale will have suddenly discovered that their grandma - or someone's grandma - needed a lot of care, and will have spent 10 hours a week taking her grocery shopping (as illustrated in the report), and will effuse about what a meaningful experience it was. Of course, they will only help grandma grocery shop out of a genuine and authentic concern for their community, and not because they want to get into Yale. That will just be an incidental benefit. Because as everyone knows, the best way to cultivate authenticity and genuine concern for others is through bribery and manipulation. And the people most susceptible to being bribed into all this caring just happen to be those who prioritize happiness and achievement. Hm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

"We’re seeing a real flight out of suburbs like Rancho Santa Fe"

There are many hilarious things about this WSJ article pumping up downtown San Diego as a walkable foodie valhalla, not the least of which is the cover photo of shirtless hooligans illegally skateboarding on an upscale condo development to demonstrate how classy the neighborhood has become. But I'm pretty sure that the image of a "flight out of Rancho Santa Fe" is the best. Try to imagine these poor, huddled masses, fleeing their unwalkable mansion developments with only their Birkin bags and the Lululemon hoodies on their backs. Their Range Rovers snake down the clogged I-5 South, strewn with the abandoned vehicles of refugees past, towards their last beacon of hope: the luxury high-rises of downtown San Diego.

Never mind that there are probably about five people in the entire county doing this, and all of them are quoted in this article. That's the definition of a trend article. Let us now consider the great attractions that the new and improved "city center" holds. It's "walkable." Which means what exactly? You can take a walk, just as long as you don't actually hope to get anywhere. Can you walk to the grocery store? Nope. Your doctor's office? Probably not. The local high school? Negative. You can walk to a number of trendy restaurants and to "touristy Seaport Village." I can probably walk to the airport, but why would I do that? Ah, but here is what walkable means:
A few months ago, Huey and Suzanne Antley sold their home in the northeast edge of San Diego and bought a 1,000-square-foot condominium in the Marina district downtown, a neighborhood known for its high-end condos, parks and touristy Seaport Village. The couple paid about $600,000 for their condo, which is near a park where they can walk their dog. 
Walkable means you can walk your dog in a tiny park. Of course, on the "northeast edge of San Diego," these people could've probably walked their dog in a five-mile canyon. But no matter. They are so excited about this that they're even considering ditching their car:
“We maybe use the car once a week for an hour,” says Mr. Antley, a vice president of a data analytics company, who works from home. “We’re kicking around the idea of buying a Vespa.”
Ah but if you work from home, you don't need to drive to work no matter where you live. With such flexibility, people looking for a walkable city experience could even move to a city that's actually walkable, which would not be San Diego. We're talking about a place where you can't drive more than five miles in any direction without having to get on a freeway to go any further. And you can't walk on the freeways. And come to think of it, you can't drive a Vespa on the freeways either. So maybe this couple should consider the building with the "boat-share program" mentioned in this article before they trade in their car, so they can have some means of leaving their walkable urban paradise to get provisions.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

How Kenny Chesney can help you select a spouse

If you listen to country music (which of course you do, because it is great), you've probably heard the Kenny Chesney song, "Down the Road." If you also happen to be a Jew from Skokie who didn't realize that "Amazing Grace" was not in fact about a woman named Grace until you read about Calvinist theology in college, you may also have been puzzled by the line in said Kenny Chesney song which goes, "Mama wants to know if he's been washed in the blood or just in the water." What does this mean? Does Mama want to know if her prospective son-in-law believes in transubstantiation and is a Catholic? That seems doubtful, because there are no Catholics in country music. Well, behold, the internet has answers. The best thing about this is that this church has not here offered simply a general theological clarification, but a specific response to and endorsement of a Kenny Chesney song: "A popular country song by Kenny Chesney describes a mother who wants to know if the boy that her daughter is going to marry is 'washed in the blood or just in the water.' When young Christians are contemplating marriage, that is an important thing to consider." America is great.