On getting things done

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Love what you do - that's how you get things done. Discipline and treating yourself with kindness also go a long way. Ben Casnocha, a successful entrepreneur and writer (I'd add "personality"), noted the following about people who "get stuff done" on his blog:

  • People who get stuff done maintain a high commitment to themselves. They don't want to let themselves down. The chief motivation to achieve comes from within, not external factors. It is very easy to not keep promises you make to yourself ("Gee, I think I'm going to stop smoking" or "Gee, I'm going to join the gym this month").
  • People who get stuff done strive for "good enough." Good enough is a key principle in entrepreneurship. If your aim is "perfect," the future is so far away it may be hard to get going.
  • People who get stuff done think about the short term future - At the end of meetings, they ask, "So what are the next steps?" It's easy to analyze the present or dream about the distant future, but actionable tasks over the next 2-4 weeks is most important for keeping the ball moving.
  • People who get stuff done "dream" and "talk" as much as the next guy, but they share these dreams and ideas with others. By sharing your intentions with others, you introduce yet another accountability mechanism.

  • The action habit, in my opinion, is indeed a learned habit, not a permanent part of a "successful personality."
These points are well documented in social psychology. For examples, simply announcing intentions in public makes it more likely for you to follow through on your commitments (though we may have to make exceptions for many politicians, whose politics sway with the wind and the public's short term memory). Breaking down big long term goals into smaller short term goals help people to feel efficacious and successful in tackling particularly long-term oriented tasks. A woman who won her cancer battle told me once how she was inspired by a friend's observation about her weight loss: "I don't look at losing 30 lbs in a month; I think of how I could lose 1 lb a day." While I don't advocate drastic weight loss, the point remains: increasing opportunities for short term successes does wonders to motivation and self-confidence.

The first point regarding self-commitment is quite spot on as well. Taking yourself seriously is probably the first step to getting things done (the second being NOT taking yourself THAT seriously). Remember the Coen brothers' A Serious Man? (“I’ve tried to be a serious man,” Larry Gopnik would plead.) I know seeing myself as a "professional" has helped me commit to my daily work, regardless of type or scope of the work. In some ways, self-commitment relates to the second point about being ok with "good enough" work. Commitment to oneself may involve belief in one's place in the world and capacity for worthwhile work. If something is deemed imperfect, a high or low opinion of one's expected worth and work may prevent the work from ever seeing the light. What brings out the less-than-perfect work? You can take the stance that the work will continue to evolve from where it is, and even if it does not, you are ok with it being "good enough" in serving its purpose. Just "doing it" helps to eventually you get into the habit of "doing stuff", not to mention the fact that seeing "good enough work" actually being received as "good enough" often enough can foster the sense of self-efficacy. Being good at "good enough" can feel much better than not having anything to show at all.

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"America's joyous future"

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No comment needed?

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SAG nominations: True Grit makes an appearance

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After a rather embarrassing and questionable (more than usual) slew of Globes nominations, we're back to regular award season logic with the Screen Actors Guild award nominations. These were voted on by a randomly chosen block of actors so there may be a bit of favouritism but still probably a better indication of what passed as "good" this past year according to the industry. They also certainly hold more clout for the coming Oscars. Annette Benning seems to be locking down that Kids nomination over Julianne Moore for the same film, which is the correct choice by my estimation. True Grit is back in the game, though noticeably absent from SAG's cast performance category, the equivalent to Oscars' best picture.

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

BLACK SWAN (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
THE FIGHTER (Paramount Pictures)
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Focus Features)
THE KING’S SPEECH (The Weinstein Company)
THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Columbia Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
JEFF BRIDGES – “TRUE GRIT” (Paramount Pictures)
ROBERT DUVALL – “GET LOW” (Sony Pictures Classics)
JESSE EISENBERG – “THE SOCIAL NETWORK” (Columbia Pictures)
COLIN FIRTH – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)
JAMES FRANCO – “127 HOURS” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
ANNETTE BENING – “THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT” (Focus Features)
NICOLE KIDMAN – “RABBIT HOLE” (Lionsgate)
JENNIFER LAWRENCE – “WINTER’S BONE” (Roadside Attractions)
NATALIE PORTMAN – “BLACK SWAN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
HILARY SWANK – “CONVICTION” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role
CHRISTIAN BALE – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
JOHN HAWKES – “WINTER’S BONE” (Roadside Attractions)
JEREMY RENNER – “THE TOWN” (Warner Bros. Pictures)
MARK RUFFALO – “THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT” (Focus Features)
GEOFFREY RUSH – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
AMY ADAMS – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
HELENA BONHAM CARTER – “THE KING’S SPEECH” (The Weinstein Company)
MILA KUNIS – “BLACK SWAN” (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
MELISSA LEO – “THE FIGHTER” (Paramount Pictures)
HAILEE STEINFELD – “TRUE GRIT” (Paramount Pictures)

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Golden Globes Nominations

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Caught me by surprise this morning. The Social Network looks to have a very friendly awards season.

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Black Swan
The Fighter
Inception
The King's Speech
The Social Network

No True Grit huh? Interesting. What happened to The Town?

Best Foreign Language Film
Biutiful (Mexico/Spain)
The Concert (France)
The Edge (Russia)
I Am Love (Io Sono L'amore) (Italy)
In A Better World (Denmark)

Biutiful might win this, and it would be undeserved.

Best Animated Feature Film
Despicable Me
How To Train Your Dragon
The Illusionist
Tangled
Toy Story 3

Illusionist!!

Best Director – Motion Picture
Darren Aronofsky - Black Swan
David Fincher - The Social Network
Tom Hooper - The King's Speech
Christopher Nolan - Inception
David O Russell - The Fighter

The Fighter looks horrible. Why is it getting the love?


Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Drama
Halle Berry - Frankie and Alice
Nicole Kidman - Rabbit Hole
Jennifer Lawrence - Winter's Bone
Natalie Portman - Black Swan
Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

Wow, Halle Berry. Where did she come from?

Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture – Drama
Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network
Colin Firth - The King's Speech
James Franco - 127 Hours
Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine
Mark Wahlberg - The Fighter

Javier Bardem's notable absence - what does this mean for the Oscars?

Best Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical
Alice in Wonderland
Burlesque
The Kids Are All Right
Red
The Tourist

This is a joke. Only The Kids Are All Right is worth its film footage. Let's check out the rest of the category's metacritic rating:

Alice in Wonderland 53%
Burlesque 48%
Red 61%
The Tourist 37%

Best of the year!


Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical
Annette Bening - The Kids Are All Right
Anne Hathaway - Love and Other Drugs
Angelina Jolie - The Tourist
Julianne Moore - The Kids Are All Right
Emma Stone - Easy A

Best Performance By An Actor In A Motion Picture – Comedy Or Musical
Johnny Depp - Alice in Wonderland
Johnny Depp - The Tourist
Paul Giamatti - Barney's Version
Jake Gyllenhaal - Love And Other Drugs
Kevin Spacey - Casino Jack

Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture
Amy Adams - The Fighter
Helena Bonham Carter - The King's Speech
Mila Kunis - Black Swan
Melissa Leo - The Fighter
Jacki Weaver - Animal Kingdom

Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture
Christian Bale - The Fighter
Michael Douglas - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
Andrew Garfield - The Social Network
Jeremy Renner - The Town
Geoffrey Rush - The King's Speech

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture
Danny Boyle, Simon Beaufoy - 127 Hours
Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg - The Kids Are All Right
Christopher Nolan - Inception
David Seidler - The King's Speech
Aaron Sorkin - The Social Network

The Ghost Writer?


Best Original Score – Motion Picture
Alexandre Desplat - The King's Speech
Danny Elfman - Alice In Wonderland
Ar Rahman - 127 Hours
Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross - The Social Network
Hans Zimmer - Inception

I could really do without the 127 Hours soundtrack.

Best Original Song - Motion Picture
“BOUND TO YOU” — BURLESQUE
“COMING HOME” — COUNTRY STRONG
“I SEE THE LIGHT” — TANGLED
“THERE’S A PLACE FOR US” — CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER
“YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE LAST OF ME” — BURLESQUE

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Feeling stuck? Robin Williams will help you save the world

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I've always thought humour was a sign of intelligence, if not extraterrestrial then feral. Research studies dedicated to humour are still far and few in between compared to other topics explored in psychology, so it's always a pleasure to read how humour is making our life better. In a recent study by neuroscientists at Northwestern University, it was found that all you need in life is Robin Williams.

In their humor study, Dr. Beeman and Dr. Subramaniam had college students solve word-association puzzles after watching a short video of a stand-up routine by Robin Williams. The students solved more of the puzzles over all, and significantly more by sudden insight, compared with when they’d seen a scary or boring video beforehand.
If Mr. Williams is too busy to entertain you, worry not: you can now book me as comedienne extraordinaire. I consider myself a Mr. Williams disciple of sort, since it was his stand-up comedy that served as a stimulat-or for mine. I have a total of one stand up show under my belt. They said I killed it, whatever "it" was, and this was for a Jewish audience so you know I'm good. All you need to do is put up with Jewish and psychology jokes, and you'd be Genius in no time.

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VIFF 2010 Mini Reviews: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, but Don't be afraid, Bi! (Day 6 & 7)

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Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Weerasethakul, 2010). Thailand. Winner: Palme d'or, Cannes 2010.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul - Boonmee's world renown director - is a Buddhist (and gay, but that may not bear as much relevance for Boonmee as it did for Tropical Malady). I don't advocate having foreknowledge of an artist's life before attempting to analyze his/her work, but in this case, it might just be what may help us put the pieces of this challenging work together. The story - adapted from a Thai book called A Man Who Can Recall His Past Lives (1983) - revolved around Uncle Boonmee, whose dead relatives appeared to him (and his remaining family) in the night and helped him experience visions of his past lives. Thematically, the film could be explained with a little understanding of a Buddhist-related concept of transience called "wabi-sabi" (so named by the Japanese based on Buddhism's Three Marks of Existence). The idea is to accept that nothing lasts, nothing is complete, and nothing is perfect. In essence, the film was about imperfect beings living a rather surreal, transient life until death transformed them into other imperfect beings. In one of the most eerie sequences in the film, Boonmee was visited by his presumably dead son, who transformed into a gorilla-like beast with glowing red eyes. It may have been a nod to old Thai cinema, but it could also be interpreted as a nod to the tranformative link between us and our closest relatives and/or evolutionary ancestors. Elsewhere, marks of imperfection were physically embodied by the film's characters: Boonmee's liver was failing, his sister's legs were asymmetrical, the princess in one of his visions was facially deformed, and so on. Boonmee's past lives may have been shown as a way to prepare him for death, which was depicted as merely a transformative process in which one living form (human or other animals) is exchanged for another. Even violence and oppression - captured in a rather disturbing and comical sequence involving soldiers and the aforementioned beasts - were transient, it seemed. Various cinematic tools and techniques found in older Thai film tradition were in a way relived by the film, suggesting perhaps a continuation and transformation of older cinematic forms. Death was everywhere, but nothing was as final as one may believe.

Winning Cannes' Palme D'or this year may help Boonmee pique the interest of a certain kind of audience - perhaps enough to fill several screenings, especially if it was to be selected by the Oscars in the foreign film category (Boonmee was chosen as Thai's official submission). Sustaining this interest, however, may prove a bit more challenging. Even at Cannes, it was rumoured to have played to a divided audience, judging by the number of walk-outs. Attrition rate was not noticeable at my VIFF screening, but it would not have surprised me had the audience here followed suit. Far from being an offensive film that could have precipitated this kind of reaction, Boonmee was a grand, meta, mythical journey occupying its own stratosphere. It was a thoroughly Eastern/Buddhist film, if a film could be defined as such. There were lots required of its audience, in both patience and willingness to explore a highly unusual, highly fragmented, densely packed mystical quest. However, given that it also embodied the spiritual journey it explored, granting its audience the kind of experience possibly similar to something achieved via meditation, it may just worth skipping yoga classes for.

Don't be afraid, Bi! (Phan, 2010). Vietnam. Special mention, VIFF's Dragon & Tiger Awards.

To Sigmund Freud, life is a struggle between two opposing forces: eros (love instinct) and thanatos (death instinct). First time director Dang Di Phan created a deceptively serene picture within which these two drives came to a head on an ordinary Vietnamese family looking to reconcile its fragmented parts. Bi was a little boy who chanced upon these forces with more wonder than fear, a disposition that the film seemed to implore the audience to adopt, or return to. His grandfather came back to live with the family after having fallen seriously ill abroad. Bi's father, unable to face his own presumed issue of childhood abandonment brought about by the reunion, sought the buzz of alcohol and youthful lust. As a result, the care of the grandfather was transferred solely to the women of the house: Bi's mother, aunt, and housekeeper. Given the subjects at hand, the film could've been a heavy-handed art-house fare. For certain, there were moments in which a checklist of what tended to show up in art house films could be drawn up for the film. However, there were plenty of pleasant surprises in Phan's direction, the most remarkable of which was how the film skipped along lightly, like the wind brushing on his green-field canvas. Eros and thanatos would at times seem to abruptly and forcefully burst on to the screen, but their shadow never completely overpowered the film's blithe spirit.

In the context of the Vietnam war and the profound effect it has had on the country's collective psyche as well as its people's personal history, it was noteworthy how the young director imbued his first work with so much optimism about the healing process. The staging of the film itself was a mix of old and new, with colonial arrangement contrasting modern details. The land and its people seemed to have changed rather quietly and shockingly so from the usual image of a war torn Vietnam burnt in the world's memory. The poetically composed final shot of the plane landing over a cemetery plot, where Bi explored his province and nature at the beckoning of his mother, suggested a cyclical nature of these departures and arrivals. At its heart, the film adopted a zen attitude towards life's deeper forces: things happened, are happening, and will happen. You'd either hop on the train or be left behind, toiling in the misery of your own nonacceptance (like Bi's father). Interestingly, the women in the film seemed to wisely embrace both eros and thanatos with little resistance or struggle, perhaps presenting a commentary on possible gender differences in this arena. The film encouraged the audience to walk unafraid along Freud's ghosts, by showing how they were just a part of our natural being. Once embraced, there was nothing left to fear. We could all be Bi, for the rest of our natural life, if we'd just let our self be.

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The Social Network, reimagined by other directors, as imagined by some other other people

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Why does it seem so easy to imitate these directors? I wish my parents got me a camera when I was three instead of ... no I can't think of anything. I could have been a contender.

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Operant conditioning at work: and you don't even have to sing!

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Jack Russell in an invisible Skinner Box!

Operant conditioning is a type of learning that occurs when a behaviour's likelihood of being repeated is affected by its consequences. In this case, a treat is presented upon the closing of a drawer or the pulling of a shoe string, positively reinforcing its behaviour and motivating the dog to repeat it. Some shaping might have occurred before the dog could learn to do so in the first place. Shaping may involve a giving-withholding-giving treat pattern as the dog gets closer and closer to the desired behaviour. You can see evidence of shaping in the video, when the dog waited for a treat after taking her shoes off (the point at which during training/shaping, it would've gotten a treat in the beginning), and could only get actual treats after both shoes were taken off AND slippers were fetched! It's not animal slavery if they're happy doing it!

Just think though, all this work could easily be avoided if you'd just sing a song. Witness:


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Cottrell & Hand, 1937)


Enchanted (Lima, 2007)

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Hermione + Ron Weasley + Dobby = Autistic child = Neanderthal?

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I don't know how much credence I'd give to the speculative suggestion of the link between Neanderthal lineage and autism*. I'm only posting this because of the picture. Just in time for the new Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 release, of course.



Am I right, or am I right?

==================
Footnote:

*Newly proposed diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder, to be considered for DSM V (to be published May 2013):

Must meet criteria 1, 2, and 3:

1. Clinically significant, persistent deficits in social communication and interactions, as manifest by all of the following:
a. Marked deficits in nonverbal and verbal communication used for social interaction:
b. Lack of social reciprocity;
c. Failure to develop and maintain peer relationships appropriate to developmental level

2. Restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least TWO of the following:
a. Stereotyped motor or verbal behaviors, or unusual sensory behaviors
b. Excessive adherence to routines and ritualized patterns of behavior
c. Restricted, fixated interests

3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood (but may not become fully manifest until social demands exceed limited capacities)

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Kill Bill Cake: Love, Mommy

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Cake Rhapsody on flickr baked a cake for her 9 year old daughter and threw her a Kill Bill themed birthday party. Consider me triply jealous. All I ever want for Christmas is a Kill Bill themed birthday party. Please, Santa, make it true?

On the cake (edited for spelling):

the bottom represents "the bride".. the scene in which Beatrice is gunned down in the opening scene.. there is white bridal lace with blood and realistic chocolate bullets...the next tier is a Japanese pagoda.. this represents the scene toward the end in which Beatrice fights the "crazy 88s" and O-Ren Ishii..it has the traditional roof tiles and curves and bamboo of a pagoda.. all edible .... the top is yellow with a black stripe to represent the suit Beatrice wears when she is fighting O-Ren Ishii contains an edible piece of notebook paper made of fondant with Beatrice's "death List five" , and katana..(which was not edible.. i thought it would make a nice keepsake) and a mask that represents the "crazy 88 ".. with a whole lotta royal icing blood splat

On throwing a Kill Bill themed party for her children (edited for spelling):
My my oldest 2 kids love Quentin Tarantino movies.. "MY" kids are NOT too young but maturity level and mental readiness and mental ability to process and understand the content varies so much from child to child. MY children do not carry with them a violent attitude and can grasp the emotional moods and motives behind each scene... they really are quite worldly , and well rounded..and emotionally mature for their age- they enjoy MANY kinds of movies , not just bloody ones, many of which their peers don't "get" or "grasp".. whether it be documentary, drama , sci-fi.. etc. They have an appreciation for vintage kung-fu cinema and cult films as well, which this movie seems to barrow heavily from. My kids do not curse, they do not act violently, they are mentally healthy, and they have perfect grades in school.. So i think that they are doing just fine

Don't you worry, Cake. Correlational studies concerning the link between violent media consumed and aggression are at best inconclusive, and at worst terribly misleading. Yes, it's possible to raise children on awesome (not to mention artful, female-empowered) Kung-fu flicks and not turn them into serial killers (see: Asian countries on Hong Kong cinema diet). It's not so much what your kids watch; it's what kind of home environment they're watching it in, and what they are getting out of it. Cake does it right: watch with your children, teach them how to grasp a piece of work, and help them develop a full life. If you're so inclined, show them how to channel the more destructive side (we all have that darkness) into something manageable. Then you can have your bloody chocolate cake and eat it too.

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VIFF 2010 mini reviews: My joy, Tamara Drewe, I wish I knew (Day 4 & 5)

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My Joy (Loznitsa, 2010). Ukraine.

A truck driver (Viktor Nemets), taking the advice of a teenage girl looking to make a living as a sex worker, got off road while attempting to cut through a traffic jam in a small Ukrainian town. Unbeknownst to him, that was the last time he knew of his decency and self-identity, as his nightmare (and ours) began with the meeting of three strange men in the night coming to rob him of his load. He was carried and transacted, for the most part, by various figures in the film, like the last shred of humanity nobody wanted, dredged through the unforgiven desert of a senseless existence. Rarely had a film made me feel so helpless, angry, and oppressed (while admiring its execution at the same time). The lawlessness of the land turned people into grubby animals, and they in turn beat the crap out of any reminder of anything that was ever good left in the world. My joy was brutally bleak in its observations and uncompromisingly oblique in its presentation. It occupied the same sadistic world as that of Haneke's Funny Games, but without a readily available plot for the audience to follow (or a fourth wall to break, for that matter). The hand held, guerrilla, realistic style of film making meant there was no detachment possible - we were in it with him, suffering the psychological horror that he transferred to us by virtue of us being the only entity with self awareness and empathy in this communal experience. His unresponsiveness - possibly from the head injury's trauma - meant we were left on our own to respond for him, as helpless witnesses to the worse of human unkindness. The film went far beyond the implication that corruption of the laws incurred the most selfish and base of human behaviour; this was a world of traumas and abusers inflicting their pain upon others. It was a film to be endured - and you may want to for such a daring, unconventional film, but perhaps only once.

Tamara Drewe (Frears, 2010). England.

Plastic-modified beauty may not buy happiness, but it got Tamara Drewe the kind of attention she craved as a young girl growing up on the ugly duckling side of the fence. She understood the power of beauty - aided by sheer, unadulterated guts - and used it to thump her nose, so to speak, at the people who used to reject her. She soon found out, as these inner beauty fables tended to unfold, modern pretty girls have (surprise!) problems too, ones that her overeager ambition wouldn't know what to do with. Based on a comic strip that was itself a modern retelling of Thomas Hardy's Far from the madding crowd, Tamara Drewe exercised its comedy of errors duty diligently, leaving the audience with easy laughs and the pleasant feeling of a tea room escape. There's a certain comfort in familiarity, and the film was a comfortable experience. The small town life depicted seemed to exist from an unchanging time of yesteryear's romance novels with a slight feminist ambition, complete with its host of small-minded, nosy, but charming characters. Our heroine was still pining for love and deliberating marriage choices as her primary concerns. Plain-jane wives were still being taken for granted and growing green with a mix of contempt and envy for the pretty young things who would soon steal her undeserved husband away. We have seen it before, and we'll see it again. In the mean time, have a cookie and call it a show.

Hai shang chuan qi (I wish I knew; Zhangke, 2010). China.

Briefly, this gorgeously filmed documentary / fictional hybrid meta feature examined the history of Shanghai as told by eighteen people affected by the Cultural Revolution on both sides of the communist equation. Small in stature and modest in manner, Jia Zhangke, a seminal (and beloved, judging from the appreciative audience) living Chinese filmmaker with an appetite for knowledge and art, appeared at the VIFF screening I attended and spoke enthusiastically at length about the film during his Q&A. Apparently, he had wanted to make a film about an earlier war. However, in the process of gathering materials for the film, he found more compelling, moving individual stories that would have been difficult for him to justifiably crystallize in a feature film. Instead, he let a fraction of the people he interviewed - the survivors of an important moment in modern Chinese history - drafted their own film memoirs. The title of the film was inspired by a song recalled - and sung - by an old aristocrat:

I wish I knew how
It would feel to be free
I wish I could break
All the chains holding me
I wish I could say
All the things that I should say
Say 'em loud say 'em clear
For the whole round world to hear
I wish I could share
All the love that's in my heart
Remove all the bars
That keep us apart
I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you'd see and agree
That every man should be free

I wish I could give
All I'm longin' to give
I wish I could live
Like I'm longin' to live
I wish I could do
All the things that I can do
And though I'm way over due
I'd be starting a new

Well I wish I could be
Like a bird in the sky
How sweet it would be
If I found I could fly
Oh I'd soar to the sun
And look down at the sea
Than I'd sing cos I know - yea
Then I'd sing cos I know - yea
Then I'd sing cos I know
I'd know how it feels
Oh I know how it feels to be free
Yea Yea! Oh, I know how it feels
Yes I know
Oh, I know
How it feels
How it feels
To be free

One got the feeling that "I wish I knew" was also Zhangke's dream of the past, as his curiosity about Chinese history grew with the films he made about contemporary China. Like the recurring bridge motif and Zhao Tao's ghostly presence, the film served as an attempt to connect Shanghai's present occupants to their history, as a way of explaining the city's current importance in the modernizing China. It was - and is - a port of dreams of freedom, a witness to these dreams' realization (or lack thereof). As their audience, we, too, became witnesses to their personal evolution. As a film enthusiast, I found it particularly interesting to see other filmmakers and their respective films being used as parts of Shanghai's constructed history. The film ended with a controversial modern day chaser of dreams - the car racer cum novelist Han Han, who uses his power as a celebrity to blog rather fearlessly about China’s corrupted state officials (a fact that was not disclosed in the film). The message was clear: people's dreams of freedom were stronger than any party affiliation. Is the Chinese government watching?

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Liberal gene? Read the fine prints, not the headlines.

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The media (The Guardian, Wonkette, etc.) yesterday reported on a study by researchers at the University of California and Harvard University that identified a "liberal gene". Naturally, I was skeptical, because a complex behaviour such as that of political activity (never mind ideologue) can hardly be pinned to a gene by a single study, no matter how extensive it is. Furthermore, conservatism and liberalism are tied to a specific type of political system, which is a cultural construct. How does genetic factor into a construct that isn't all that universal?

Reading the source paper, it was clear that the researchers did not intend for this to be an identify-the-gene paper. The study was framed as an explicit exploration of the link between the polymorphisms of DRD4 (regulating dopamine activity in the brain, associated with novelty-seeking behavior) and self-report political identification (perusing a Likert scale that aimed for a liberal-conservative spectrum), as moderated by the number of friends reported by the subjects.

Here's the actual conclusion of the study:

[I]t is the crucial interaction of two factors—the genetic predisposition of having a greater number of 7R alleles and the environmental condition of having many friends in adolescence—that is associated with being more liberal.
The emphasis is on interaction, not the finding of a 'liberal gene.' The authors stated explicitly that there was no such thing:
[W]e argue that the DRD4-7R allele cannot by itself predispose someone to a liberal ideology. It requires a context in which people are exposed to certain social environments.
An important caveat (bolded for emphasis):
Among those who do not carry the 7R allele, there is no relationship between number of friends and ideology. Moreover, we show that the 7R allele is not directly associated with the reported number of friends, nor is it directly associated with ideology.
A VERY loose interpretation of the study: IF and only IF you're a novelty-seeking person (more so than, say, people you friended on facebook, on average), you may lean towards liberalism if you got a lot of friends; alternately, you're more likely a conservative if nobody wants to invite you to her Halloween party, despite your awesome home made costume that you make every year. HOWEVER, if you don't have this DRD4-7R expressed allele, nobody knows what party you vote for. You could very well be a libertarian!

Other caveats of note:
The expectation in genetics is that only repeated efforts to replicate associations on independent samples by several research teams will verify initial findings like these.
Genetic effects take place in complex interaction with other genes and environments, and it is likely the combination of hundreds if not thousands of genes interacting with each other and with external stimuli that influence political attitudes and behavior.
[P]ast work suggests that political sophistication plays an important role in the manifestation of ideology (Converse 1964; Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock 1993), but we cannot address the role that political sophistication might play in our results.
You also have to keep in mind that:
Subjects were young adults (age 18–26) by the time of the third wave and were asked several questions about their political behavior and civic activity. Our dependent variable, self-identified ideology, is ascertained from responses to the question, “In terms of politics, do you consider yourself conservative, liberal, or middle-of-the-road?” Five responses were permitted, “very conservative,” “conservative,” “middle-of-the-road,” “liberal,” or “very liberal.”
What the study seemed to measure was the subjects' political attitude, and not actual political partisanship or activity, which can be quite different. Noting the tumultuous time of youth, I wonder whether friends' influence on our political ideology would increase or decrease with age. Or, will whatever orientation that is formed during this developmental period persist with time? There are studies indicating attitudinal stability to be stronger than behavioral stability across life span (Hooge & Wilkenfeld, 2008). Researchers have shown that political attitude (not intensity) becomes more stable as we age, with youth (early adulthood, like those in the study in question) being the least stable time (Alwin & Krosnick, 1991). There maybe some event-graded effects (period of time influencing direction of political views; Danigelis, Cutler, & Hardy, 2007), but I would question how the window of age affects this interaction of gene and friends.

Of course, all of this questioning only further emphasizes the sociocultural, systemic (biology included) nature of political partisanship. Liberal gene? I'd put more stock in liberal jeans.

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References

Alwin, D. F., & Krosnick, J. A. (1991). Aging, cohorts, and the stability of sociopolitical orientations over the life span. American Journal of Sociology, 97(1), 169-195.

Danigelis, N. L., Cultler, S. J., & Hardy, M. (2007). Population aging, intracohort aging, and sociopolitical attitudes. American Sociological Review, 72, 812-830.

Hooghe, M. & Wilkenfeld, B. (2008). The stability of political attitudes and behaviors across adolescence and early adulthood: A comparison of survey data on adolescents and young adults in eight countries. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(2), 155-167.

Settle, J. E., Dawes, C. T., Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. H. (2010). Friendships moderate an association between a Dopamine gene variant and political ideology. Journal of Politics, 72, 1189-1198.

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All Bill Murray, all the time

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Portraits of different characters from Wes Anderson's 2001 film, The Royal Tenenbaums, if Bill Murray had played them all:

Brilliant depiction of Dissociative Identity Disorder (a.k.a. Multipersonality), or Jungian's Personas/Archetypes?

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50 States represented by movies

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(redditor subtonix made this incredibly fun map, which I found via Blame It On The Voices)

Now, if only someone would make one for Canada ...

P.S. Why Jesus Camp twice?

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Undressing Lamarckian Evolutionary Psychology

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Evolutionary Psychology is a branch of psychology that attempts to explain psychological behaviours and traits as products of natural selection. It seems to be one way for psychology to gain scientific acceptance - by adopting evolutionary biology, the principles of which it generally plays fast and loose with. Unfortunately, its place in popular culture is cemented by best selling books and questionable research paradigms that affirm intuitively sound but wildly inaccurate conclusions regarding gender differences. Claims by evolutionary psychology advocates have serious credibility issues amongst many scientific researchers (including all my professors). You simply can not adopt the blueprint for modern biology for psychology while ignoring the scientific logic behind it. My informed opinion (bias) comes from having been a human biology major and a psychology specialist, and from the courses I had taken on the subject, including Sex, roles & behaviour, and Evolutionary Psychology.

There is not a good argument to be found in the realm of behavioral biology for why American Women shop while their husbands sit on the bench in the mall outside the women's fashion store fantasizing about a larger TV on which to watch the game.
The above quote is by Greg Laden, a biologist who studied Efe Pygmies in the Ituri Forest, of Zaire. He blogs about science and culture over on ScienceBlogs conglomerate website. I recently came across his post on evolutionary psychology titled, "Why do women shop and men hunt?" It is an essential reading, so I'm going to cut and paste the main relevant arguments for you to skim through (comments in between provided by me; italics are added for emphasis):
  • What's your politics? "[T]he validity from an individual's perspective of the various arguments that men and women are genetically programmed to be different (in ways that make biological sense) is normally determined by the background and politics of the observer and not the science."
  • Evolution in brief: "Organisms have genes that vary (the variants are called alleles). Sometimes a variant arises that, when interacting with the environment, confers a negative or positive effect. Those that confer a positive effect with respect to the process of passing on genes to future generations are over-represented (on average) in the next generation while those that confer a negative effect are under-represented. If the strength of this selection is sufficient and random effects do not overpower it, there may be a shift in allele frequencies over time."

    It is by chance that a positive interaction between gene expression and environment takes place and is increasingly represented in the next generation. An interaction between gene expression (phenotypic variation) and environment averaged over time is the key here. Evolution is slow and the environment interacts with gene expressions rather than genes.

    "The link between phenotypic variation and the underlying genetic variation is almost always assumed and hardly ever documented directly."
  • The basic biology: "[H]umans are the result of evolution over two million years or so of the Pleistocene [...] The Pleistocene is, among recent geological time periods, considered to be the most variable in terms of climate change, and thus, overall ecology, habitat distributions, etc. There is no expectation that any given population making up part of a species like humans or their close relatives would have had any long term consistency in natural environment. [...] [H]abitat determines social structure in humans, with technology as a major factor. [...] There is also variation in important social norms beyond that which can be explained easily by ecology." There is no one social environment in which we evolved over millions of years. There goes evolutionary psychology.
  • Brain science: "It is very possible that module-like structures in our neocortex arise during development, de novo, in each of us, and that these modules are similar across groups (but perhaps different sometimes by gender) because of overall similar developmental trajectories."
  • Gender differences, artifacts? "There are dozens of reported gender differences, with piles of research demonstrating them. But when we look more closely, we often see that the either a) the methodology of the research sucks or b) the gender difference, while likely real, changes, goes away, or even reverses as times change, suggesting that the difference is (was) cultural."
  • There are some differences, sometimes. But not due to a direct link to genes. " Testosterone poising of neural tissue (indirectly) during development probably accounts for the fact that there are almost no male simultaneous translators. The neural ability to do this difficult thing is retains in some females but lost in almost all males during puberty. That is not genes coding for neural connections, but it is genes coding for different endocrine systems which then, through a series of negative and positive feedback systems, cause hormonally mediated changes in the body (including the brain)."
Basically, men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. We are all genetically humans. Our behaviours are the results (so many paths to take!) of the interactions between our gene expressions and our developmental and cultural environment. Where we are different, it is more likely related to hormonal environment we were/are exposed to, or our social conditions, rather than our genes or our ancestral social behaviour. If there's a kind of evolution psychologists should focus on, it's the cultural one. The hunter gatherer scenario as as universal environment from which we got our traits is highly disputable. To continue championing a Lamarckian-like idea (that behaviours of individuals acquired during a life time are passed on to the next generation - in this case, behaviours acquired during a particular period in human history) of sex differences in our complex human society is to go against basic evolutionary principles and biological research. I know some people like to stoke the nature-versus-nurture battle (even though at this point most would agree it's likely a combination of both, and a direct causal gene-behaviour relationship is unlikely in most cases), but at some point, you need to stop trying to grab the headlines by pandering to the public's erroneous but intuitively familiar hunches. After all, isn't there some sort of duty to practice good science? You know, as proclaimed scientists and all?

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VIFF 2010 capsule reviews: Armadillo, Biutiful, R U There (Day 3)

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Armadillo (Metz, 2010) Denmark. Winner: Critics Prize at Cannes 2010.

It was a surreal experience watching Armadillo, especially on the heel of the Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (a film that used a documentary, in-action style to explore a bomb squad's life in Iraq during the war). The line between documentary style film-making and fictional film-making has become thin enough that a real documentary like this would seem at times fictional (possibly due to the amazing editing work). The Danish film unfolded like an assured, dramatic, emotionally resonant fictional film, as it documented the life of soldiers at Armadillo, an operating base that was home to Danish and British soldiers in Helmand province, Afghanistan, where they supposedly were trying to drive out the Talibans and establish 'peace.' The soldiers were followed from the time they set out to say good-bye to their families to the end of their mission. We saw them bonded over porn and macho activities, waiting anxiously to face 'war' as they expected. Instead, they were treated to months of little activities other than the occasional interactions with the locals, many of whom weren't too thrilled with their presence and blamed them for the region's increased instability. The Talibans hid with the locals, and one really got a sense of how difficult it was to simultaneously on the defense/offense and not yield collateral damages. When they finally were tested in the extreme confusion of combat fires, the implications of their actions (did they really break the rule of engagement and "liquidate wounded people and pile up the dead to take pictures of [themselves] as heroes?") were profound, and caused quite a stir in Denmark. The soldiers were allowed to defend themselves in the film - through their words as well as the footage of them in combat. Perhaps Metz summed it up best when he said: "maybe we're looking at something that goes to the core of something very human. The soldiers are so close to death and they actually kill someone. The way they handle the bodies afterward maybe testifies to something at the very core of humanity – of our grubby human nature. War has always been there. It has always been part of us." (quote via The Guardian)

Biutiful (Iñárritu, 2010) Mexico.

Iñárritu aims high when it comes to finding misery in the world. His matrix of human connections is that of misfortunes (see his previous films: 21 Grams, Babel). Good people make unfortunate decisions to survive, only to end up with horrible consequences because, well, life is just unforgiving like that. Uxbal (Javier Bardem), true to Iñárritu's typical character style, was forced to make difficult choices every day of his life, as he lived in the shadows of human existence with a family strung together tenuously by the wife's bipolar condition. He had a terminal disease; his children were abused; his wife was a chaotic presence; his brother slept with her behind his back; his good friend sold illegal drugs but he had to provide covers for; his predatory business partners exploited him as much as they could; the people he helped using his psychic gift (he could see the dead and their last thought) were resentful of his message as often as they were grateful for it; and his well intended decisions just kept getting him further tangled in a never-ending web of suffering. The good times did not stay long, and they were never wholeheartedly created to be just so. Uxbal's descent into hell was gradual and torturous: even by the time his spirit was thrown a life line in the form of an imagined family face, it was not much of a relief. Iñárritu wants you to get that life really, truly sucks for some people, and perhaps misery ends only after life. It was an exercise in feeling helpless, albeit a beautifully shot one.

R U There (Verbeek, 2010) Netherlands.

It was a typical exotic love story: Caucasian boy traveled the world and fell for a beautiful, mysterious local girl. They had an ambiguous relationship both online and offline. Verbeek attempted to investigate the line where the virtual world met reality, but what he ended up with was a feature-length advertisement for Second Life. The problem was, Second Life was anti-cinematic, choppy, shallow, hollow, and awkward. The chemistry off screen was not any better, despite the leads' effort to look as though they belonged in the same movie. There was one brief moment where Verbeek almost had a decent film: Jitze (Stijn Koomen), a professional gamer who was in Taiwan to compete in a video game tournament, witnessed a motor vehicle accident that he did nothing about. Then, instead of cutting away, the camera lingered a little too long, going for that unnecessary sensational effect. Elsewhere, the film skipped ever too lightly and superficially on the virtual worlds its main characters occupied - both the virtual gaming industry and Second Life resembled ideas of what they could look like, according to outsiders. The film bore an interesting premise, but that was all it was.

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VIFF 2010: psychopathy and masculinity in Cold Fish (Day 2)

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Title: Tsumetai nettaigyo (Cold Fish)
Director: Sion Sono
Language: Japanese
Year: 2010
Critical Reception: Variety's faint praise, screened at TIFF, VIFF, and Venice.
Psych Index: Antisocial Personality Disorder, Gender
In Brief: Cult director Sion Sono serves up a comedic melodrama horror fest not for the faint of heart and fans of sushi. There's some reason to the madness - namely, an opportunity to investigate the pure "id" incarnation of the masculine aggression - but you'd need to go along for the blood-soaked ride in order to make sense of its purpose. Even then, there's no guarantee you'd be liking what it has to say.
Comment (SPOILERS ALERT):
Cold Fish is loosely based on a true story about Japan's series of murders from the 80s committed by the owner of a dog kennel and his ex-wife in Saimata. Director Sion Sono decided to bring the story to the present time, and relocated the serial killer (Murata, played with creepy exuberance by Denden) to a tropical fish store. The count, as reported by the time they were given the death sentence in 2009, was at four dismembered bodies, but the film made it a lot higher (30 and counting), as the cold fish killers made a profitable career out of their killings.

The violence portrayed in Cold Fish was comedic and over the top, but not so silly that it was without bite. The film took the concept of violence dehumanizing people literally, as it stripped them to their animal form/carcass. It was quite nausea inducing at first, but since repeated exposure to violence has the potential to normalize it, the audience may adapt to the graphic images just as Murata predicted when he said to the dumbstruck Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), "you'll get used to it." Some things should not be gotten 'used to' though. There were several disturbing sexually aggressive acts against women depicted, and while a case can be made for their inclusion, it was still a dubious decision to include at least two violent rape sequences (the third one with the ex-wife's rape status is debatable). The stylish way with which the film was directed, along with the exaggerated comedic tone, were more unsettling when applied to sexual violence against women than to general serial murders. Serial killing by the number is quite low, when averaged across the human population, whereas violence against women is much more prevalent. Making sexual violence into black comedy is a bit, shall we say, ill-advised. If the men depicted were not so rotten, it would have made the film much less tolerable for these acts.

As it was, the film made a point about being trapped in social gender roles, and the deadly effect of violence perpetrated on women and children at the hands of the confused, angry, bruised male ego. The other issue anchoring the film's story - psychopathology, or according to DSM-IV-TR, antisocial personality disorder - served as a back drop to the main social commentary. There seemed to be a suggested link between the two issues, but it would be erroneous to think that an emasculated male ego would lead to psychopathic tendency. The former is a case of misdirected aggression, and the latter an inherent psychopathic tendency. In this review, I'd be focusing on psychopathy and masculinity as presented in the film, with a particular interest in the former.

Psychopathy has a long and fuzzy history in the field of psychology. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association, after vague changes in the span of their four versions, settles on Antisocial Personality Disorder as the equivalent to the term 'psychopathy' (Gurley, 2009). There are disputes to the category being a stand in for psychopathy, since anyone who breaks the law would only need to satisfy three behavioural criteria to meet the diagnosis. For example, having just these three rather common criminal behaviours would be enough (in addition to 'evidence' of a conduct disorder before age 15) to be called the equivalent of a psychopath: (1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest; (2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure; and (3) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults. As you can see, it is not that difficult to achieve this diagnosis for your garden variety repeated criminal offenders, rendering the term 'psychopathy' meaningless in its severity and unique psychological properties. Furthermore, from a psychological point of view, psychopathy as it exists in the DSM points more towards the British tradition of defining personal abnormality in terms of social deviance and less towards the German idea of personal abnormalities causing personal or social distress (Blackburn, 2007).

In the field of forensic science, there are other sets of criteria being used to diagnose psychopathy, the most popular of which is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R). A score of 30 and above on the PCL-R would indicate a psychopathic diagnosis. Notably, many repeated criminal offenders score around 22, allowing a much more discriminating diagnosis for this serious disorder. The four-factor PCL-R addresses a couple of issues that researchers have criticized the DSM for not placing enough emphasis on: the lack of empathy coupled with superficial charms believed to be the core traits of a psychopath, and, to a certain extent, the more successful psychopaths who do not get caught breaking the law (i.e. the Wall Street psychopaths). The anxiety level of a psychopath is also quite low, and often assessed in addition to the checklists or DSM criteria. However, some brain damages (hippocampal and prefrontal) that would lead to lower stress reactivity have been linked with the unsuccessful psychopaths, but not successful (uncaught) ones (Ishikawa, Raine, Lencz, Bihrle, & LaCasse, 2001), suggesting some variations within the diagnosis. (For a fascinating recent controversy regarding psychopathic diagnosis in research, see Skeem & Cooke, 2010, the reply from Hare & Neumann, 2010, whose threatened lawsuit delayed Skeem & Cooke's paper from being published by 3 years, and the subsequent reply by Skeem & Cooke, 2010).

Murata exhibited all signs of a psychopath, regardless of which set of criteria you want to use for assessment: he was sexually coercive and precocious (sexual activities with multiple women), callous (dismembering human bodies with glee), deceitful (lying to his business partner), manipulative (with the wife and the daughter to get them to turn their father in), aggressive (beating Shamoto up), impulsive (going to see Shamoto's fish store in the middle of the night), reckless with safety for both himself and others (implored Shamoto to beat him up, then did not express much physical or emotional struggle/pain when hurt), completely lacking in remorse (no regrets or emotional pain about the lives he took), superficially charming (his exuberance was contagious and useful in getting others to carry out his will), emotionally shallow (laughed manically without feelings), exhibiting a grandiose sense of self (believing that he was giving the girls a better second life), etc. He took great risks even when cooperation would have been beneficial (murdering his right-hand man). Psychopaths have been shown to take great risks in hope of rewards and exhibit insensitivity to potentially negative consequences (Weber, Habel, Amunts, & Schneider, 2008). An Iowa gambling task study found that highly psychopathic subjects behaved similarly to patients with orbitofrontal lesions (van Honk, Hermans, Putman, Montagne, & Schutter, 2002). Lack of fear for or response to negative consequences (somatic marker hypothesis) and lack of emotional response or sensitivity to others' emotional distress (violence inhibition mechanism model) are thought to be hallmarks of psychopathy (Weber et al., 2008). Murata was also revealed, in the course of the film, to have a history of circumstances that might have contributed to his psychopathic expression: psychosocial (poor parenting, though it might not have been as impactful as the film led us to believe), temperamental (prone to react violently), and psychodynamic (pathological narcissism).

Other characters qualified for this profile include Mrs. Murata (Asuka Kurosawa) and Shamoto's daughter, Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara). Shamoto, however, was not a psychopath (or at least, not a developmental one), as evident by his emotional and fear responses (first, about the crimes committed, then, a reluctance to do what he could've done to his daughter), and an assumed lack of previous criminal offense. A psychopath would tend to show lower generalized emotional responsivity compared to non-psychopaths (Day & Wong, 1996). Psychopaths are able to only understand the literal (denotative) meaning of language, but not its emotional (connotative) significance (Cleckley, 1976). Brain studies have shown reduced activity in the amygdala (thought to respond to cues indicating distress in others) during emotional moral decision-making process (Glenn, Raine, & Schug, 2009). In addition, when faced with negative emotional situations (such as people being murdered), the psychopath would tend to use less of their right hemisphere for connotative-emotional processes and more of their left hemisphere for denotative-linguistic processes (Day & Wong, 1996). Victim's distress meant nothing for Murata, for example, whereas Shamoto reacted to his daughter's verbal responses. Furthermore, while Shamoto did commit sexual assault on his wife, he did not exhibit a tendency towards coercive and precocious sexuality, considered a fundamental aspect of psychopathy (Harris, Rice, Hilton, Lalumiere, & Quinsey, 2007).

What Shamoto may have become, albeit momentarily, was a hypermasculine response to the constant threats regarding his perceived/accused lack of masculinity. ‘Masculinity’ is a socially constructed concept, and the masculine attributes usually include physical strength or power, aggressiveness, and sexual potency (Beesley & McGuire, 2009). 'Hypermasculinity' is an exaggerated sense of male identity (Beesley & McGuire, 2009). Some studies (Vandello, Bosson, Cohen, Burnafold, & Weaver, 2008) have shown that the state of manhood - more so than womanhood - may be threatened with challenges to its masculinity, and men may react in a physically aggressive manner to this threat. In particular, insecure self-esteem - exhibited by Shamoto - may make one more vulnerable to threats of self-image (Baumeister, Smart, & Boden, 1996; Tedeschi, 1983). On a more psychodynamic level, the story bore some resemblance to the Greek mythological account of Oedipus, used by Sigmund Freud to develop his theory regarding the male ego. Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, and Freud believed on a symbolic level, this was part of the male ego development. In some ways, Murata took on the position of Shamoto's father as they role-played initially, and Shamoto eventually was forced to engage in sexual intercourse with Mrs. Murata.

Despite its penchant for violence and sexual violence, Cold Fish was an interesting look at the pure "id" incarnation of the male aggression, as the male ego struggled to develop itself (and failed). The under-developed male ego, in psychodynamic terms, was the culprit of the explosive expression of violent aggression in Shamoto (aided by a psychopath with undeveloped emotions). This was perhaps related to Japan's recent crisis of masculinity (Taga, 2006), the scope of which is beyond this essay (and this author's expertise). The black comedic aspect of the film allowed the audience a sort of protective wall against the madness - you can laugh, or you can be shocked into stupor at the terror unfolding. Sono mercifully chose the former, making Cold Fish a shocking but livable screen affair.

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References

Baumeister, R. F., Heatherton, T. F., & Tice, D. M. (1993). When ego threats lead to self regulation failure: Negative consequences of high self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 141-156.

Beesley, F., & McGuire, J. (2009). Gender-role identity and hypermasculinity in violent offending. Psychology, Crime & Law, 15(2&3), 251-268.

Blackburn, R. (2007). Personality disorder and psychopathy: conceptual and empirical integration. Psychology, Crime & Law, 13(1), 7-18.

Cleckley, H. C. (1976). The mask of sanity. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

Day, R., & Wong, S. (1996). Anomalous perceptual asymmetries for negative emotional stimuli in the psychopath. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105(4), 648-652.

Glenn, A., Raine, A., & Schug, R. A. (2009). The neural correlates of moral decision-making in psychopathy. Molecular Psychiatry, 14, 5-6.

Gurley, J. (2009). A history of changes to the criminal personality in the DSM. History of Psychology, 12(4), 285-304.

Hare, R. D., & Neumann, C. S. (2010). The role of antisociality in the psychopathy construct: comment on Skeem and Cooke (2010). Psychological Assessment, 22(2), 446-454.

Ishikawa, S. S., Raine, A., Lencz, T., Bihrle, S., & LaCasse, L. (2001). Autonomic stress reactivity and executive functions in successful and unsuccessful criminal psychopaths from the community. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 110, 423-432.

Skeem, J. L., & Cooke, D. J. (2010). Is criminal behavior a central component of psychopathy? Conceptual directions for resolving the debate. Psychological Assessment, 22(2), 433-445.

Skeem, J. L., & Cooke, D. J. (2010). One measure does not a construct make: directions toward reinvigorating psychopathy research - reply to Hare and Neumann (2010). Psychological Assessment, 22(2), 455-459.

Taga, F. (2006). Review of men and masculinities in contemporary Japan: Dislocating the Salaryman Doxa. Men and Masculinities, 9(1), 108-110.

Tedeschi, J.T. (1983). Social influence theory and aggression. In R.G. Geen, & E.I.
Donnerstein (Eds.), Aggression: Theoretical and empirical reviews Vol. 1 (pp. 135-162). New York: Academic Press.

van Honk, J., Hermans, E. J., Putman, P., Montagne, B., & Schutter, D. J. (2002). Defective somatic markers in sub-clinical psychopathy. Neuroreport, 13, 1025–1027.

van Honk, J., & Schutter, D. J. L. G. (2006). Unmasking feigned sanity: a neurobiological model of emotion processing in primary psychopathy. Cognitive neuropsychiatry, 11(3), 285-306.

Vandello, J. A., Bosson, J. K., Cohen, D., Burnafold, R. M., & Weaver, J. R. (2008). Precarious manhood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(6), 1325-1339.

Weber, S., Habel, U., Amunts, K., & Schneider, F. (2008). Structural brain abnormalities in psychopathy. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 26, 7-28.

Clip:

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VIFF 2010 capsule reviews: Barney's Version, Hahaha (Day 1)

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Barney's Version (Lewis, 2010) Canada.

Barney, a TV big wig sporting a caustic sense of humour and an insensitive persona, found the love of his life at the wedding to his second wife. It was not his wife to be (delightfully played by Minnie Driver); it was a guest in attendance, the radiant Miriam in blue (Rosamund Pike). What followed was a love story in the tradition of rom com's 'the one' mythology, with Paul Giamatti playing the role of the homely, cynical man wooing the sophisticated princess. The new romantic leading man in recent rom coms has only his unyielding love to offer and very few other qualities of note, but he would always end up inexplicably winning the love of some beautiful, complex leading lady. Barney's Version was created with the same conceit, framed from the perspective of an awestruck, self-sabotaging man. One never got the sense that Barney was in any way an equivalent or an equal partner to Miriam. His son even went so far as to state that Barney did not deserve Miriam in his life, a position the film never succeeded in dismissing, despite the attempt at trumping up his never-say-die love for Miriam. The cast members filled their roles in good spirit, but the film offered very little depth, originality or chemistry between the leads. Overly sentimental, and ultimately forgettable, Barney really did not need this version to be told.

Hahaha (Hong, 2010) Korea. 2010 Cannes winner - Prix Un Certain Regard (for "original and different" works)

Aspiring film director Moon-kyung and his friend, film critic Joong-sik, met up shortly before Moon-kyung left for Canada. They swapped stories of their recent trip to the seaside town of Tong-yeong over drinks. Along the way, despite their initial insistence on only skimping the pleasant surface of life, the two friends inadvertently ventured beyond the safety of their wading pool, providing us with a more complete picture of what happened to them over the summer. The two interweaving stories, told from Joong-sik's and Moon-kyung's perspective, were arranged in alternating sections, with each character taking turn stringing their interconnected experience together. The film gently made a case for our life story being a series of overlapping narratives. The meeting itself was presented in a series of freeze frames, as though the audience was rummaging through a photo book. Hong's honest but tolerant view of his characters' growth process made it possible for us to empathize with their struggle, however seemingly minute. The film offered an interesting peek at the Korean youth culture and its romantic aspirations, simultaneously poking fun at its naiveté and respecting its raison d'être. As a romantic comedy, it was as awkward, light-hearted and funny as their summer romance - certainly a welcomed fresh take on a genre overridden with cliché and conventions.

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How did you come up with that? Good ideas and creativity, in a nutshell.

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Now you can feel better about spending hours on Facebook!

The creative process, first hinted at by Wallas (1926), consists of four stages: preparation, incubation (as talked about in the video), illumination, and verification. The first step could be found in normal non-creative thinking. The second step lacked coherent theories concerning its construct. Illumination and verification could occur between the linked minds, as suggested in the video, but the possible brain process involved in such activities is poorly understood by neuroscientists. While it is possible that interconnected minds could lead to creativity, the 'how' of this process needs to be understood before creativity can be claimed - or properly employed.

There's a new literature review (Dietrich & Kanso, 2010) examining divergent thinking, artistic creativity, and insight, as tested by EEG, ERP and neuroimaging studies. While I hardly think something as complex and context-based as creativity could be mapped out by picturing brain activities in a confined setting, the conclusions regarding these studies are nevertheless noteworthy.

Divergent thinking - or, the ability to come up with as many solutions as possible - does not seem to be a domain of either left or right brain hemisphere alone (laterality effect), as previously postulated. The majority of studies did not find activation from specific brain areas (other than the expected prefrontal cortex), even though some have pointed to the cerebellum, striatum, and hippocampus. Findings were scattered and dependent on the tasks used to test creativity, so perhaps these tests were too crude to measure the concept properly.

As for artistic creativity, the authors suggested that there were different types that required either an engagement or disengagement of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, creativity can come with trying really hard to think; it can also come when you just 'let go' of metacognitive thinking (or over-thinking) and use your intuition. This must be what the zen masters in all those Kung-fu or Wuxian films talked about, letting yourself be the flow of water and you're going to solve the problems that plague you the most (e.g., Drunken Master, 1978).

Studies on insight yielded much more consistent results. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC, see figure above) was particularly activated by insight problems. It was found to be important in getting you 'unstuck' from the wrong solution space. In addition, the superior temporal gyrus (STG, see figure below) apparently played a role in solving insight problems that involved verbal associations. These activities aside, there was no definite brain hemisphere being solely responsible for insight, as it was found by imaging studies.

Because of the lack of cohesive findings with regards to the localization of creativity, the authors also dismissed the notion that creativity could be linked to psychological disorders (e.g., bipolar disorder, autism) or altered state of consciousness (e.g., meditation). That is not to say there could not be subsets of creativity with viable links to these different mental states; rather, the authors argued that the notion of 'creativity' would have to be redefined in a way that allows for the multifacet components of 'creativity' to be captured. Sometimes divergent thinking may be linked to creative solutions, and sometimes defocused attention brings about an aha moment.

If there is one thing social networking and the internet can help with, it's the opportunity to come across ideas that could stimulate your own. Some studies suggested a need for suppressing stereotypical responses in order for creativity to occur, and the sprouting of various responses could help with such processes. However, the existing data on creativity would caution and contest the idea that more information would lead to creativity. It would certainly depend on what the consumers do with such information, and even so, it's difficult to predict if their engagement or disengagement of their network would lead to creativity. Coming up with different ways to insert a sad Keanu in every picture may not indicate a generalized creative current that would help with solving a company's third quarter crisis. It may help with gaining greater notoriety or expanding one's network, and perhaps that's an aspect of creativity put to good social use for now.

References
Dietrich, A., & Kanso, R. (2010). A review of EEG, ERG, and neuroimaging studies of creativity and insight. Psychological Bulletin, 136(5), 822-848.

Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York, NY: Harcort Brace and World.

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Casey Affleck: Phoenix's melt down constructed

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According to the New York Times, Joaquin Phoenix's meltdown - the subject of I'm Still Here (Affleck, 2010) , screened at TIFF - was staged. From Casey Affleck, who directed the film:
Mr. Affleck, who is married to Mr. Phoenix’s sister and has been his friend for almost 20 years, said he wanted audiences to experience the film’s narrative, about the disintegration of celebrity, without the clutter of preconceived notions.

So he said little in interviews. “We wanted to create a space,” he said. “You believe what’s happening is real.”

As the film progresses, Mr. Affleck explained, subtle cues were supposed to provide hints of his real intention. Camera techniques, extremely raw at the beginning, become more sophisticated as the film goes on, for instance.

“There were multiple takes, these are performances,” Mr. Affleck said of unsettling sequences in which Mr. Phoenix appears to snort drugs, consort with hookers, and hunt to the ground an assistant who has betrayed him to the press — again, mostly actors.

But the movie never quite showed its hand. “There was no wink,” Mr. Affleck said.
Scathing reviews aside, having yet to see the film and no prior interest in seeing a mockumentary about Joaquin Phoenix's supposed downward spiral, I'm now intrigued that it was a staged event for a fictional film. I'll reserve my judgment of the film's worth until I've seen it, but in theory, this sounds like a brilliant way to examine the celebrity culture in the new media age (as I'm sure Phoenix and Affleck thought it did). A potential pitfall of performance arts of this kind lies in the gap of its disconnection. To experience a film properly is to suspend disbelief in order to engage in a story of fictional characters or non-fictional characters portrayed by appropriated figures. The double layers of falsehood presented by I'm Still Here may prove too challenging for the audience to engage in. Without engagement, the film's message may become inconsequential, thus failing its ambitious aim of meta cultural commentary. Nevertheless, it could still be a fascinating exercise in staging grand-scale performance art. Has Affleck been in talk with Lady Gaga?

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TIFF review, Day 3: Little White Lies, in friends we trust

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Title: Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies)
Director: Guillaume Canet
Language: French
Year: 2010
Critical Reception: TIFF 2010 entry
Psych Index: Homosexuality, Intimate, Family Relations
In Brief: The story centered around a tightly knit group of well-to-do but troubled friends shaken by an accident befalling one of its members. The actors fully inhibited the picture, creating an aura of warmth and sentiments while trying to keep their darker corners in check. At times, the director (and writer) gave into personal indulgence and made the film overly sentimental (and long) when it did not need to be. Nevertheless, Lies was a sweet little film about friendship and, though the director thought differently, the little white lies that greased it along the way.
Comment (SPOILERS ALERT): Les petits mouchoirs (Little white lies; Canet, 2010) made its debut at the Toronto International Film Festival to much chaos: the initial program ran into the second subtitling problem I encountered at the festival, much to the cast-on-hand's dismay. Canet, invoking the film's friendship theme, persuaded his captive audience into forgiving the technical difficulties that led to hours of waiting in line for the film. While the audience ultimately was soothed by the film's character charms, the dramedy, like the screening schedule, depended too much on the audience's good will and ran on way longer than it should have.

The gently told story centered around a tightly knit, mostly thirty something group of friends attempting to get on with their pre-planned vacation - and their life - at a beach-side cabin owned by its eldest member, Max (Francois Cluzet), after an accident that left one of their own (Jean Dujardin) in a life-threatening condition. Their friendships were tested by secrets and the revelations thereof, the most severe (and effectively handled) of which was Vincent's (Benoit Magimel) confessed feelings for the tightly wound and possibly homophobic Max. Other characters struggled with their own heartache, blinded by self interests and deceptions, until the weight of their drama, like Max's little weasels, broke their wall (Max literally did that in a fit of rage, as obvious a metaphor as it comes). Lies may be necessary at times, but as these characters found out, there comes a time when the consequences of living a white lie get a little too costly (perhaps a slight commentary on the closeted homosexuals out there). And it was practically impossible to contain consequences once personal lies become shared secrets.

Canet did not shy away from courting the English-speaking audience looking for a little crowd-pleasing foreign title to feel good about: he scored his entire film with well known English songs at opportune times. It was perhaps not surprising that he chose the English-subtitled screening for his Q&A when given the choice to speak at length with either a French audience or an English-speaking one. Unfortunately, his ambition - or, as he confessed at the Q&A, his affinity for songs in the English language - detracted from the cast's terrific ensemble work. Having a character (Marie's musician boyfriend) belting out a couple of English songs on the acoustic guitar for his French-speaking group of friends rendered a rather delicate moment false and trying.

While the script fell apart in the maudlin final act, the film as a whole was lifted by the strength of its well-observed characters. There was a sense of a natural, easy camaraderie that helped burrow the group in the audience's emotional space. They had the sort of friendship that people could fantasize about - having intimate connections with really attractive people, aided by a touch of drama and deception, well within the safe confines of ready forgiveness. Despite the obvious privileges that threatened to distant much of the group from the sympathetic viewers, their genuine portrayal humanized their struggle and saved the film from being completely swallowed by wishful sentiments. Canet may have written the film as a love letter to his friends, but as confessional cinema, it felt a little too wanting to truly convey the depth of its universal theme.

Clip:

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