September 2019 Newsletter

This is the September 2019 edition of the newsletter; previous, August 2019 (archives). This is a summary of the revision-history RSS feed, overlapping with my Changelog & /r/gwern; brought to you by my donors on Patreon.

1 Writings

2 Media

2.1 Links










2.2 Film/TV


  • Mandy (2018; psychedelic horror revenge on a stereotypical 1960s ‘evil cult’ by way of a 1980s slasher splatterfest featuring, of all people, Nicolas Cage as a burly lumberjack driven nigh unto insanity—I had no idea he had it in him. The titular Mandy, played by Andrea Riseborough, is unsettling as well, but more for how she is made up to look like a dead fish or zombie from the beginning, and carries few scenes. The film goes to every excess in score, cinematography, and color to create its mood, and it’s a remarkable watch if one has the patience, if only for the epic chainsaw duel.)

  • Weiner (2016)

    Fly-on-the-wall documentary following husband-and-wife Anthony Weiner/Huma Abedin as they try to resurrect his career by running for mayor in the 2013 NYC election 2 years after his Congressional career was derailed by his sexting scandal.

    Spoilers: the sexting scandals weren’t over yet. Despite being the front-runner in the Democratic primaries (and thus by extension the future mayor), more photos & women popped out of the woodwork to torpedo his run, and he finished effectively last, handing the mayorship to the current Bill de Blasio (of interest to me primarily for his long-running efforts to destroy NYC’s magnet schools like Stuyvesant/Hunter in misguided application of egalitarianism and giveaways to the African-American Democratic base). Perversely, even then Weiner’s sexting scandal wasn’t done—many a soul like myself was jarred to recall that Anthony Weiner existed after his sexting scandal managed to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential election when, because of Weiner sexting with a 15yo girl, FBI director James Comey dropped an October surprise bombshell just days before Election Day by announcing the FBI had found further Hillary Clinton emails (from/to Huma Abedin, who made her career as an aide & advisor to Clinton). That the emails turned out to be completely irrelevant didn’t matter. It’s difficult to know if the emails caused the election of Donald Trump, but it certainly didn’t help.

    It is a comment on the vagaries and contingency of history that a Congressman using Twitter incorrectly in 2011 could lead directly, with a remarkably short causal chain, to the election of Donald Trump and the latest onslaught against the NYC magnet high schools. How did that happen?

    Weiner can shed only a little light on that. What it can do is humanize a walking punchline. Watching it, I can hardly believe how trivial and absurd the original casus belli was—a photo of boxers with a bulge, less racy and sexy than the underwear model photographs you see on packages of briefs walking through the Walmart underwear aisle. For this the media lost its mind and Weiner his career? (At least John Edwards actually slept with a woman not his wife.)

    Falling for such a reason on such a pretext hardly seems like a good way to run political life. Really, in 2011, anyone could even pretend to be appalled and outraged? Give me a break! Is what I’d like to say… Except the Weiner story goes on. (One is reminded of one of the great literary insults: “[Thanatopsis] was written in 1817, when Bryant was 23. Had he died then, the world would have thought it had lost a great poet. But he lived on.”)

    Weiner destroyed his career with sexting. This is an understandable and forgivable mistake. Abedin appears to have forgiven him the first batch, and he swore to his supporters and all and sundry he’d changed, and began the 2013 race and calling in favors—except that even as he was destroying his career, he began sexting some more. And not just with one person, or once, but (at least) 3. Who, predictably, came out during his race for mayor. The first woman, one ‘Sydney Leathers’ (I still have difficulty believing that is a real name), comes off as thoroughly loathsome: it takes two to text, yet she manages to be morally sanctimonious about her whistleblowing even as she attempts to exploit the scandal to launch a (apparently successful) career in pornography with stunts like hounding Weiner & Abedin at the post-defeat campaign party. (Leathers’s self-righteous cruelty make her appear to be a character out of an Ayn Rand novel: from what she says, and how she says it, her real grievance appears to be simply that Weiner had accomplished or stood for anything in his life and she is delighting in tearing him down.) Despite all this, Abedin stays with Weiner, even as the comeback crashes, and both must know that Weiner is done for good—Americans may believe in second chances, but few believe in third chances. Which makes it all the more incredible when you consider that Weiner doesn’t even cover the third sexting scandal post-2013, the one with a minor, which lands Weiner in jail (for almost two years! He was only recently released) and finally makes Abedin divorce him. It offers a sharp, detailed depiction, with some retrospective interviews with Weiner, of just the second scandal. So much for the how. But why did that happen?

    It’s hard not to wonder, as Weiner does, if it would have been such a scandal if he had not possessed that most cursèd of last names, a name and scandal with which to cow unbelievers in nominative determinism. I suspect that, like the Howard Dean yell or Richard Stallman or John Schnatter, it has far less to do with the gravity of the offense (so absurdly trivial, so eagerly prosecuted by those who had surely committed saucier sins), than it does with providing a Schelling point for internal enemies & external critics: Weiner is your stereotypical New York City Jew, in every point, sharp-elbowed and delighting in populist grandstanding in Congress & social media, aggressively appealing to his base. Making a lot of enemies can be an effective strategy and was working well for Weiner, but of course, then you’ve also made a lot of enemies. Given a chance & coordination, they can all pile onto you. Which is precisely what happened to Weiner. ‘Live by the (social) media, die by the (social) media.’

    A pile-on can explain the first scandal, but not the second or third. Any normal person would be so profoundly burned by having torpedoed a brilliant career (and one it is easy to imagine leading to the White House, as doubtless Weiner & Abedin permitted themselves to secretly fantasize about), that they would never so much as take a dubious photograph or permit themselves the most slightly off-color jest ever again. Instead, Weiner does it again and again and again. Why? To call him a ‘sex addict’ is to explain everything & answer nothing.

    The repetition also raises further questions. Knowing the penalties, Weiner did it anyway. “It is worse than a crime—it is a mistake.” Perhaps the first sexting was indeed trivial, but the more important thing is that he knew it would be a scandal and did it anyway. What does that imply about a man? Perhaps it implies he is unfit for any position of trust, because there is something wrong with Weiner that he cannot avoid stumbling into scandal. The inconsequentiality of sexting is a feature, not a bug; the slighter, the better, as a shibboleth & costly signal.

    Abedin maintains a professional veneer throughout, conscious of the camera, but Weiner (so straightforward, so stentorian) is silent when it comes to the sexting. “Why are you letting us film this?”, the cameraman is finally forced break his silence and ask. Weiner wearily shakes his head. Why? This is the question Weiner won’t, or can’t, answer. Weiner, it seems (like Walter White or Ross William Ulbricht), won’t change, can’t change, and like Oedipus, is burdened by himself. (“…That we are capable only of being what we are remains our unforgivable sin…”)

    Weiner takes the form of a Greek tragedy, hamartia sans anagnorisis, the hero whose fall ruins those he loved & who loved him; the action is laid in Hell, but the characters—I don’t know why—all have American names.

  • Falling Down (1993)


  • Redline (2009; rewatch. One of the most amazing hand-animated films of all time, Redline is a blast from start to finish in showing dystopian SF racing: the threadbare plot is merely an excuse to cram as much hand-animation and stylization and racing into one movie as possible. I feel like Redline is it for racing movies, it’s done, they can’t do any more or go beyond it, and that that is a passing of an age of hand-drawn cel animation—the detail, the backgrounds and individuality, the exaggeration, the sheer overload of energy and action and movement… There will probably never again be an anime film like Redline now that the industry has full shifted to CGI-heavy workflows, and Redline itself barely made it out of development hell alive—too strange to make, but too weird to let die. I first watched Redline in October 2010, and rewatching it 9 years later (as part of my project to gauge how often one should rewatch old favorites), it has lost none of its over-the-top bombast or power to impress. I look forward to next time in a few years.)

  • Neon Genesis Evangelion Concurrency Project (2013 EGF fan edit by Sailor Star Dust/Killericon (?); 942MB; MD5: c78172b26b67888318ef2ca779596c9f).

    One of the longest-standing debates in NGE fandom is the relationship between the famously-rushed ending of NGE TV (EoTV) and the theatrical followup, End of Evangelion (EoE). EoE seems much more explicit in the message and more easily interpreted, but has an even more puzzling ending, while NGE TV seems to have a reasonably comprehensible ending but the rest of the final 2 episodes are more puzzling; does their combination fill in the gaps? Fans can agree that they start from reasonably similar places, as EoTV shows brief static shots of characters in the ‘real world’ whose fate corresponds to what we see unfold in its entirety in EoE, like Misato or Ritsuko Akagi being shot to death, but then there appear to be at least some divergences in the plot, like Gendo’s role in triggering Instrumentality in EoTV but not EoE. Are these relatively minor differences, retcons, and just large omissions, as expected of a production as fluid as NGE TV (which engaged in much larger revisions & retcons throughout its production and the “Director’s Cuts”), or signal that the two endings take entirely different paths and have different means and perhaps, visual novel-like, represent ‘Good End’ and ‘Bad Ends’? The “Concurrency” position is that EoTV & EoE are essentially the same, and EoE is a larger-scale version of what EoTV would have been had time permitted (and Anno not procrastinated so badly); EoTV, then, depicts the ‘inner’ psychodrama of Instrumentality, dropping all the action and exposition as far too time intensive (legend has it that Mahiro Maeda did what animation there was almost single-handedly), and stopping at Shinji gaining the will to live, while EoE is able to cover the action at lavish movie-levels of animation and carries the plot a little further to Shinji re-emerging into the world. I have always been a weak Concurrency proponent: aside from the extensive overlap and echoes, and pointedly overlapping ‘real-world’ outcomes, it doesn’t make sense—from a purely out-of-universe production perspective—that Anno & Gainax would abruptly decide to make EoE tell a radically different story from EoTV, when work began almost immediately on EoE following the (compromised & controversial) EoTV.

    Comments from Gainaxers like Hideaki Anno on the relationship between the two endings have been ambiguous (I’ve collated many relevant statements in my NGE source anthology), and they have declined to either clearly endorse or reject Concurrency. But if Concurrency is right, then there is one way to test it: merge EoTV into EoE, and show that it makes sense. If they are indeed ‘concurrent’ works, the composite should work—even work better than either one. A number of fan edits have risen to the implicit challenge of splicing the works together, and I watched a 2013 effort coordinated on the EvaGeeks Forum. There are later edits which use better video sources (NGE TV has still not received a true BD release, although EoE has, so the visual jump can be quite jarring even in the best case scenarios), which may be worth a try.

    From a purely artistic perspective, Concurrency edits are a hard sell because they make the ‘movie’ much longer and interfere with pacing and have not a little bit of redundancy, but from the analysis perspective, it’s a success. Watching Neon Genesis Evangelion Concurrency Project convinces me further that Concurrency is correct: EoE and EoTV are far more alike than unlike. The first time I watched EoE, I was completely baffled, but watching Concurrency, so much of it lines up. For example, how did it never occur to me that the school-life snippet in EoTV is exactly analogous to the cut live-action sequence in EoE? Or Rei’s betrayal in EoE makes sense from her EoTV segments. Even the Asuka strangling makes more sense this time around, once you’ve been reminded of the Asuka-Shinji interactions in EoTV which are omitted in EoE to focus on Shinji (EoTV’s integration into EoE is also helpful in making Asuka’s revival less of a deus ex machina). It all just made far more sense, even though I have not watched either NGE TV or EoE in a decade. I recommend this to all NGE fans—certainly it’s way more gratifying to watch than 3.0 is!

    I suffer from the curse of expertise in watching Concurrency edits, as I know too much. But I wonder what people new to NGE would think of the series as a whole if they skipped EoTV/EoE and went straight to a Concurrency edit? That might be the best test of all.

2.3 Music




  1. Johnson, interestingly, like Bouchard, was influenced by Dunette 1966 (and also Wolins 1962).↩︎