Can Classic Moral Stories Promote Honesty in Children?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Classic moral stories have been used for centuries to teach children the virtue of honesty, but there hasn’t been any scientific evidence that they work — until now:

This study compared the effectiveness of four classic moral stories in promoting honesty in 3- to 7-year-olds. Surprisingly, the stories of “Pinocchio” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” failed to reduce lying in children. In contrast, the apocryphal story of “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” significantly increased truth telling. Further results suggest that the reason for the difference in honesty-promoting effectiveness between the “George Washington” story and the other stories was that the former emphasizes the positive consequences of honesty, whereas the latter focus on the negative consequences of dishonesty. When the “George Washington” story was altered to focus on the negative consequences of dishonesty, it too failed to promote honesty in children.

(Hat tip to Tyler Cowen.)

Adam Savage’s Cave

Saturday, July 19th, 2014

Adam Savage’s Cave is pretty wild:

Hipster Batgirl

Friday, July 18th, 2014

Batgirl is moving to Gotham’s trendiest borough to focus on grad school — and she has put together a new, hipper costume:

Batgirl 2014 Redesign

Batgirl Selfie

This new take on Batgirl tips its hat to Veronica Mars, Girls, and Sherlock — but I’m reminded of Buffy: The Animated Series.

Big Hero 6

Friday, July 18th, 2014

The trailer for Disney’s take on Marvel’s Big Hero 6 does look fun:

I’m not familiar with the original comic version, but it was apparently Marvel’s official Japanese state-sponsored superhero team, which appeared in Alpha Flight, about Marvel’s official Canadian state-sponsored superhero team.

Of Meth and Men

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

John Derbyshire reviews Breaking Bad:

Walter: I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. I was… really… I was alive.

There speaks the Old Adam. Sure, the bourgeois life of home comforts and civilized achievement is pretty nice. I am personally a big fan. Just this afternoon, of a perfect midsummer day, I was out in my backyard, doing some small painting chores on my garage; I’d sit for minutes on end admiring the work I’d done and planning next steps, looking forward to my wife coming home, anticipating the familiar wifely way she’d season her appreciation of my efforts with small sarcastic quips about jobs not yet done, then looking further forward to the extra glass of wine I’d allow myself with dinner… Life is good, and you won’t hear me complaining.

Still, inside most men — and no doubt some number of women, too — there is the understanding that to be alive, at some higher level, is to be staying on your feet in a swirl of amoral mayhem until at last, mortally wounded, you fall, laughing, among the corpses of your enemies.

Which is exactly what Walter does. Any number of characters from Greek epic poetry and Norse sagas would understand.

The great British statesman and scholar Enoch Powell gave a radio interview in April 1986 when he was 73 years old. “How would you like to be remembered?” asked the interviewer. Replied Powell: “I should like to have been killed in the war.”

Powell’s biographer adds the following.

After broadcasting that remark, he “received dozens of letters from people saying I’m glad you said that because I felt the same and I’ve never known it before. There’s a secret guilt about those who served and were not killed that they too… were not killed.”

The Old Adam: We have successfully pushed him out to the fringes of our pleasant suburban societies, the fringes where dwell Special Forces and inner-city desperadoes. A good thing too, for women, children, and us geezers. In our imaginations, though, the Old Adam still runs wild, and we love him for it.

Secret guilt is by no means only for combat survivors and schoolteachers turned meth cooks.

The 55 Essential Movies Your Child Must See (Before Turning 13)

Saturday, July 5th, 2014

There are people out there who have never seen The Princess Bride. They walk among us, holding down jobs, contributing to society, and generally living happy, semi-fulfilled lives. But whisper a perfectly-timed “mawage” in their direction during a wedding, and the resulting blank stare or awkward chuckle will expose an inconceivable pop-cultural blind spot. Someone failed them when they were growing up.

In many ways it’s too late for them, but we can still save the next generation.

The 55 Essential Movies Your Child Must See (Before Turning 13) is a starting point.

The Centaurs, a Fragment (1921)

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Twenty years before Disney produced Fantasia, animation pioneer Winsor McCay produced The Centaurs. This fragment is all that remains:

The Lone Ranger

Friday, July 4th, 2014

When the new Lone Ranger movie came out, a part of me wanted it to be good, because I enjoyed reruns of the original show as a preschooler — but even the original is Hollywood nonsense:

The Lone Ranger: There, it fits perfectly. Good job, Tanto.

Tanto: Here hat. Me wash in stream. Dry in sun. Make whiter.

The Lone Ranger: Thanks, Tanto.

Tanto: Here guns, to kill bad men.

The Lone Ranger: I’m not going to do any killing.

Tanto: You not defend yourself?

The Lone Ranger: Oh, I’ll shoot if I have to, but I’ll shoot to wound, not to kill. If a man must die, it’s up to the law to decide that, not the person behind a six-shooter.

Tanto: That’s right kemosabe.

That was quite progressive in 1949, I’m sure.

Eagles and Air Power

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

JRR Tolkien had an intuitive feel for air power, Dr Kenneth Payne suggests, in the RAF’s latest Air Power Review:

When it comes to air power roles, then, Tolkien and his eagles do a magnificent job of anticipating our modern RAF doctrine and of tracking real developments in aerial warfare then underway in Europe. There are time tested precepts of air power aplenty in Lord of the Rings — the importance of persistence, speed, reach and height should be readily apparent to readers. There is emphasis on precision, and shock; on improvisation and multirole capabilities; on centres of gravity and the constraints of terrain and climate. There is Defensive Counter Air (DCA), via ground based air defences (GBAD) on the ramparts of Gondor. There is passive DCA in the elvish cloaks adopted by Frodo and Sam to foil overflying Ring Wraiths.

There are, of course, many air power features that Tolkien overlooks, in part because he is as much a creature of his times as we all are, in part because of the nature of the wars of the Rings. There is, for example, not much inter-theatre mobility on offer, with air forces in Middle Earth and mid-twentieth century Europe alike having only a limited capacity to transport materiel. And with all the sustained land warfare going on in Middle Earth, air maritime integration doesn’t get much of a look in in LOTR — plus ça change, you might think. Stand off weapons too are in short supply too: Smaug excepted, the aerial creatures of Middle Earth cannot bring much weight of firepower to bear from the air. Accordingly, the attack role of Eagle and Nazgûl alike is limited to precision strike and the psychological effect of shock action.

But in his writings on autonomous ISTAR, long-range networked sensors (via the Palantir), and stealth, Tolkien was not just describing air power, he and the eagles were truly at the cutting edge. The fundamentals of air power, it seems, apply equally to this earth as to others.

If We Won

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Stephen Merchant presents “If We Won” with Newcastle Brown Ale:

Angelina Jolie’s Perfect Game

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Hello Magazine Cover of Angelina Jolie and FamilyLooking back, the Brangelina publicity strategy is deceptively simple, Anne Helen Petersen explains:

In fact, it’s a model of the strategy that has subconsciously guided star production for the last hundred years. More specifically, that the star should be at once ordinary and extraordinary, “just like us” and absolutely nothing like us. Gloria Swanson is the most glamorous star in the world — who loves to make dinner for her children. Paul Newman is the most handsome man in Hollywood — whose favorite pastime is making breakfast in his socks and loafers.

Jolie’s post-2005 image took the ordinary — she was a working mom trying to make her relationship work — and not only amplified it, but infused it with the rhetoric and imagery of globalism and liberalism. She’s not just a mom, but a mom of six. Instead of teaching her kids tolerance, she creates a family unit that engenders it; instead of reading books on kindness and generosity, she models it all over the globe. As for her partner, he isn’t just handsome — he’s the Sexiest Man Alive. And she doesn’t just have a job; instead, her job is being the most important — and influential — actress in the world.

Her image was built on the infrastructure of the status quo — a straight, white, doting mother engaged in a long-term monogamous relationship — but made just extraordinary enough to truly entice but never offend. The line between the tantalizing and the scandalizing is notoriously difficult to tread (just ask Kanye), but Jolie was able to negotiate it via two tactics: First, and most obviously, she accumulated (or, more generously, adopted and gave birth to) a dynamic group of children who were beautiful to observe; second, she figured out how to talk about her personal life in a way that seemed confessional while, in truth, revealing very little; and third, she exploited the desire for inside access into control of that access.

RIP, Daniel Keyes, author of “Flowers for Algernon”

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Daniel Keyes, the MD who wrote the science-fiction classic Flowers for Algernon, has died at 86, of complications from pneumonia.

Cory Doctorow met him in 2000:

He told the story of how he’d conceived of Algernon while riding the subway to his medical residence, and how pleased he’d been with its reception (it’s also one of the small handful of science fiction novels whose film adaptation is in the same league as the book — the 1968 film Charly won its lead an Academy Award).

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. 1: 1929-1964 includes the original short-story version.

Hayao Miyazaki Music Video

Friday, June 13th, 2014

In 1995, Hayao Miyazaki had writer’s block while working on Princess Mononoke, so he took a break to direct this music video for Chage and Aska’s song “On Your Mark“:

I pick up a strong Akira vibe.

The Man Who Literally Built Star Wars

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Roger Christian is the man who literally built Star Wars; he was the set designer on the original movie, before it even got funding:

[George Lucas] didn’t want anything [in Star Wars] to stand out, he wanted it all real and used. And I said, “Finally somebody’s doing it the right way.” All science fiction before was very plastic and stupid uniforms and Flash Gordon stuff. Nothing was new. George was going right against that. My first conversation with him was that spaceships should be things you see in garages with oil dripping and they keep repairing them to keep them going, because that’s how the world is. So we had the conversation and I got hired. I was the third person hired on Star Wars, in fact.


The Millennium Falcon was difficult, because I had to train prop men to break down jet engines into scrap pieces and then line them all up into different categories and stick them to the walls.


I told George gingerly one day, “I cannot afford to dress these sets, I can’t get anything made in the studio,” but my idea was to make it like a submarine interior. And if I bought airplane scrap and broke it down, I could stick it in the sets in specific ways — because there’s an order to doing it, it’s not just random. And that’s the art of it. I understood how to do that — engineering and all that stuff. So George said, “Yes, go do it.” And airplane scrap at that time, nobody wanted it. There were junkyards full of it, because they sold it by weight. I could buy almost an entire plane for 50 pounds.

Mean World Syndrome

Friday, May 30th, 2014

George Gerbner fled Hungary in 1939, returned with the Allies in 1943, and certainly saw many terrible things, but he was much more concerned with what people ended up watching on television after the war and said it led to Mean World Syndrome:

People who spent a great deal of time watching television, he found, had an inaccurate picture of the world. They felt that violence, corruption, and danger were more widespread than they were in reality. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Television is modern-day religion:

It presents a coherent vision of the world. And this vision of the world, he says, is violent, mean, repressive, dangerous — and inaccurate. Television programming is the toxic by-product of market forces run amok. Television has the capacity to be a culturally enriching force, but, Gerbner warns, today it breeds what fear and resentment mixed with economic frustration can lead to — the undermining of democracy.


Whoever tells most of the stories to most of the people most of the time has effectively assumed the cultural role of parent and school,” Gerbner says, “… teaching us most of what we know in common about life and society.” In fact, by the time children reach school age, they will have spent more hours in front of the television than they will ever spend in college classrooms. Television, in short, has become a cultural force equaled in history only by organized religion. Only religion has had this power to transmit the same messages about reality to every social group, creating a common culture. Most people do not have to wait for, plan for, go out to, or seek out television, for the TV is on more than seven hours a day in the average American home. It comes to you directly. It has become a member of the family, telling its stories patiently, compellingly, untiringly. We choose to read The New York Times, or Dickens, or an entomology text. We choose to listen to Bach or Bartók, or at least to a classical station or a rock station or a jazz station. But we just watch TV — turn it on, see what’s on. And in Gerbner’s view it is an upper-middle-class conceit to say “Just turn off the television” — in most homes there is nothing as compelling as television at any time of the day or night.

It is significant that this viewing is nonselective. It’s why Gerbner believes that the Cultural Indicators project methodology — looking at television’s overall patterns rather than at the effects of specific shows — is the best approach. It is long-range exposure to television, rather than a specific violent act on a specific episode of a specific show, that cultivates fixed conceptions about life in viewers.

Nor is the so-called hard news, even when held distinct from infotainment shows like Hard Copy and A Current Affair, exempt from the disproportionate violence and misrepresentations on television in general. The old news saw “If it bleeds, it leads” usually prevails. Watch your local newscast tonight: it is not unlikely that the majority of news stories will be about crime or disaster — and it may well be that all six stories will be from outside your state, especially if you live far from any major metropolis. Fires and shootings are much cheaper and easier to cover than politics or community events. Violent news also generates higher ratings, and since the standards for television news are set by market researchers, what we get is lots of conformity, lots of violence. As the actor and director Edward James Olmos has pointedly observed, “For every half hour of TV news, you have twenty-three minutes of programming and seven minutes of commercials. And in that twenty-three minutes, if it weren’t for the weather and the sports, you would not have any positive news. As for putting in even six minutes of hope, of pride, of dignity — it doesn’t sell.” The author and radio personality Garrison Keillor puts it even more pointedly: “It’s as bloody as Shakespeare but without the intelligence and the poetry. If you watch television news you know less about the world than if you drank gin out of a bottle.”

The strength of television’s influence on our understanding of the world should not be underestimated. “Television’s Impact on Ethnic and Racial Images,” a study sponsored by the American Jewish Committee’s Institute for American Pluralism and other groups, found that ethnic and racial images on television powerfully shape the way adolescents perceive ethnicity and race in the real world. “In dealing with socially relevant topics like racial and ethnic relations,” the study said, “TV not only entertains, it conveys values and messages that people may absorb unwittingly — particularly young people.” Among viewers watching more than four hours each day, 25 percent said that television showed “what life is really like” and 40 percent said they learned a lot from television. African-Americans especially, the study showed, rely on television to learn about the world.

Television, in short, tells all the stories. Gerbner is fond of quoting the Scottish patriot Andrew Fletcher, who wrote to the Marquise of Montrose in 1704, “If I were permitted to write all the ballads I need not care who makes the laws of the nation.” Fletcher identified the governing power of, in Gerbner’s words, a “centralized system of ballads — the songs, legends, and stories that convey both information and what we call entertainment.” Television has become this centralized system; it is the cultural arm of the state that established religion once was. “Television satisfies many previously felt religious needs for participating in a common ritual and for sharing beliefs about the meaning of life and the modes of right conduct,” Gerbner has written. “It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to suggest that the licensing of television represents the modern functional equivalent of government establishment of religion.” A scary collapsing, in other words, of church into state.