Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

August 31, 2006

Putting the squeeze on Katie Couric

Filed under: mediachumps,television — secretmojo @ 2:51 pm

For fun, I decided to morph together the two images of Katie Couric that CBS retouched to make her look skinnier (wait a moment after clicking for animation to begin):
couric.gif

My opinion on this matter is “Save a scalpel: use an airbrush.” And, “Will I ever be able to trust the body fat percentage of news anchors ever again?

However, it’s interesting to point out what changes were made. Let’s forget about the color correction, which is standard. There are some neat tricks here if you look closely.

  1. I had to “squeeze” the original photo horizontally to align the morph. So they squeezed her. Squeezing is an easy technique to take off about 5-10 pounds: resize horizontally at about 98%—if you’re bold, 95%—and no one will notice.
  2. The suit was darkened—everyone knows darker clothes thin you out. Also, it hides some of the photoshopping going on.
  3. Her waist was “taken in” a little. Notice how the negative space under her arms change. Also, the production artist gave her a crisper line in general, without the puffs of the suit.
  4. Most interestingly, check out her neck and her head. It’s very subtle. Notice how her forehead gets bigger while her neck shrinks? My guess is that the skew tool, or something like Squizz was used to squinch up her neck. Also: her chin turns into a pointy “V,” her smile gets wider, and her cheeks get a little highlight to give her some depth.

All of these changes, except the facial mods, can be achieved through the clone and airbrush tools.

Basic stuff, really. So if you adore emaciation the same way t.v. people do, now you know how to get there–without the scalpel or malnutrition.

August 18, 2006

Morality precedes religion? Salman Rushdie on Faith & Reason

Filed under: Atheism,books,Fiction,Literature,Politics,Reading,religion,television,writing — secretmojo @ 11:55 pm

Wooohooo! All the author interviews at Bill Moyers’ Faith & Reason are up. I’m saving Margaret Atwood, with her darling little “happy witch” pose, for my own personal finale.

For a week, I denied myself free speech hero Salman Rushdie’s interview (click on “watch the interview online”) because I wanted to savor the anticipation while I enjoyed the others. I finally broke down, though, and clicked the link.

Rushdie, as the President of the PEN American Center, helped initiate the Faith and Reason event; his interview is longer and addresses far more topics in the political, religious, philosophical, and imaginative realms than the others.

The man is brilliant.

But he’s so smooth about it, humble and precise, that the complexity of his mind goes unnoticed. He talked about everything. Far more than I could encapsulate in one post. The Danish cartoons, the transformative power of the artist’s imagination, 9/11 as a hinge moment, how cultures are becoming increasingly incomprehensible to one another, his new-found joy of ordinary life, and much more.

Most interesting was his idea that human morality precedes religion. Religion, he posits, grows from an attempt to codify the moral instinct already built into our DNA. He points out that all art began as sacred art, and from this, implies that art and religion go hand in hand, and that the need for religion may be like language: a natural inclination of the human species, which gets fouled up, revised, politicized, and abused over time.

He also complained that there’s not much secular lingo to describe transcendent experience, and implies that this may contribute to atheists gaining the stigma as men with no moral guidance.

I found the part about morality as antecedent to religion so fascinating, I had to pause the video and mull it over.

It’s hard to argue with Rushdie, but let me try: I agree that religion is the language of morality we’ve developed. It’s rough and simplistic, but one must learn to grunt first, then write in iambic pentameter. One only needs to inspect all the religions out there to realize that, despite what any believer might believe inside his own faith, all religions are at their base, secular. Or at least humanistic. Only the biases of the mind entice one religion to claim absolute arbitration of morality, truth, and behavior.

That is essentially what Rushdie says, but I add this tidbit: we need only recognize that religion is an adopted moral language and lifestyle to get over all our hang-ups about it. Einstein used the word “God” differently than anyone else; he recognized that it was an unfortunate part of the vernacular needed to describe unprovable, yet still worthy, concepts.

And this is where I think many atheists and believers alike fail. The former asserts that fantasy is not real, therefore precariously dangerous; while the latter contends that truth is divine, and must never be challenged.

But I say that religion is a chosen, not given, symbolic language of morality that, in response to uncertainty, fills the gaps where we aren’t bright enough to devise ways of acting ethically.

“Chosen” changes everything. Not only does it implicitly recognize the sheer power (and worth) of imagination, it puts the responsibility square upon the believer to answer for his behavior. He cannot claim “God said so” to win an argument because, in the end, it is he who bought into the belief for one reason or the other, so it is he who must justify it. Therefore, a believer’s ideas of restricting or oppressing other people can be criticized as ideas embraced firstly by him and only subsequently strengthened by his religion.

With religious diversity in mind, Rushdie also warned against moral relativism, faintly echoing Sam Harris’ contempt of religious moderates.

In a nutshell, moral relativism is “live and let live” applied to morality. “They believe in cannibalism, and hey, that’s their religious prerogative.” But Rushdie admits that there is a paucity of language to describe absolute morality within the secular world. We’re just not experienced at it. One must always bring God into it. “Atheists are obsessed with God,” he laughed.

I agree with him here. Relativism is a dangerously slippery slope of self-justified apathy, and I believe people are not philosophical enough nor bright enough to discover the bullshit and oppression hidden within the ideology of “don’t rock the boat.” There needs to be a new lingo to describe what is right and what is wrong without bringing religion into it; too many religions on earth, and certainly too many political abuses of them, make the current religiously tainted moral vernacular (“Infinite Justice”) unacceptable.

Rushie suggested that Democracy was one of the ways to manifest our innate moral sense. With Democracy we can, unlike archaic religions dependent on absolute verity, adjust and improve our morality as we go along — without destroying the idea of Democracy. Slavery might have been wonderful 150 years ago, but is appalling now. We argued about it, killed each other over it, changed it, yet still retain our democracy.

Religions change, too, of course. Rushdie mentioned this, but didn’t give it the time I expected. Christians don’t stone women for adultery today, for example, nor do they beat their wives with a stick no thicker than the thumb.

In my view, these subconscious revisions of religion’s authority are done on the sly, and dysfunctionally ignore their own divine text. Such “adjustments” are entirely subtextual, never become explicit law, as in a Democracy — in other words, there’s no chance to say “Whoops. Sorry.” and move to a higher level. Eventually, divine books will internally contradict, show their age, and yet are kept that way — believers would never countenance an edit by anyone other than God himself.

I’m convinced that today we are on a threshold here, where many minds, like Rushdie’s, have advanced to a state able to articulate and obey a moral code without adopting the entirety of a religious system.

But many minds haven’t. Most people recognize the golden rule as the best piece of moral advice ever given. But with all the evidence of others getting ahead through shrewdness, a person tends to reconsider the value of such an ideal. Some folk still need supernatural help to become less selfish; and I’m okay with that.

But: I say religion as authority figure will fade. Must fade. Because if it grows, it may kill us all.

Like political parties, where a person can both believe in conservation and remain a Republican, religions may adopt a welcoming flexibility. They’ll evolve more explicitly. They won’t lose social influence, just their absolute authority. That’s what my brochure says, anyways.

I doubt this could happen in my lifetime, of course. I need only look at Lebanon — or hell, most of the Middle East — to see how far we have yet to go.

The whole interview is worth a gander. Beats the hell out of American Idol, for sure.


I have two other posts on this series, if you’re interested: The Burden of Belief, and Bill Moyers Delivers again: “Faith & Reason”.

July 21, 2006

The burden of belief

Filed under: Literature,navel gazing,religion,television,writing — secretmojo @ 12:48 pm

Continuing in my rabid consumption of Bill Moyers’ Faith & Reason, I watched three interviews that were so packed with chocolately goodness that I could feel my own thoughts converging toward a realization that none of the three addressed explicitly, but which somehow arrived through the subtle nudging of the subtexts swimming underneath these three interviews. Is this not exactly what television should be doing for everyone?

(more…)

July 18, 2006

A tale of sound and fury, as told by idiots

Filed under: free speech,mediachumps,Politics,television — secretmojo @ 2:33 am

Media Matters launched a petition to remove hate-spewing pundits like Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck from the airwaves.

Amongst the signers of the petition were:

“Dem Underground males Are FAGGOTS!!!”

“Keith Olbermann IS GAYYYYY!!!!!!”

“Az Joe says Imprison all Liberals”

“Www Liberals MustDie com”

“Democrat Underground Is for traitors!”

“Sore Loser”

“Adolph Hitler”

[Update: Many of these fake names seem to have been scrubbed from the list, so you may not find them there.]

Can it get any more pathetic than this? Unable to get their perceptive and well-thought out, er, opinions listened to by the mainstream, these bilious boneheads take the time to intrude upon a serious petition and puke out more of what the petition condemns, basically showcasing the effects of Coulter and Morgan, and therefore encouraging more people to sign up in protest (4,000 more after the bigot names petered out).

At first, I thought it was psychosis. But I realized that if that were true, they’d start a petition of their own: “We, the undersigned, call for the murder of all liberal-leaning Americans.”

Making it tangible this way proves not only the absurdity of the threat, but the fantasy image these kinds of people create for themselves. “If I were in a movie, I’d kill these motherfuckers.”

The only conclusion I could come to is that these hate mongers, by power of the Internet, have Virtual Balls, maverick avatars, but couldn’t find their own pair if handed a set of tweezers. When their threats, as a thought experiment, are taken as reality, it becomes clear that every person who does this sort of thing doesn’t really mean it at all, or if they do they hope someone else is brave enough to carry out their villainy—it’s all a sham of sound and fury to conceal their own failures as human beings. Otherwise they’d be arrested and put in jail for terrorist activity.

I don’t know anyone who talks this way in real life—besides shock jocks and vomitary pundits (if you want to call that “real life”). And I haven’t seen the assassination of a liberal yet. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I believe this juvenile behavior is like a high-pitched bark from a toy-sized dog who shakes in fear when the wind picks up. Annoying as hell, but quintessentially pathetic.

Or maybe not.

July 12, 2006

Bill Moyers delivers again: “Faith & Reason”

Filed under: religion,television,terrorism — secretmojo @ 5:07 am

Bill Moyers does it again with a provocative series on Faith & Reason, lending a fresh breeze to the currently stale “debate” by giving those capable of rational thought a shot at it.

He interviews the religious and the atheistic. Agnostics and religious critics. Addresses myth, the psychological importance (and pitfalls) of belief, and a treasure chest of other issues that seem to get kicked in the pants in favor of bias manipulation techniques in today’s discourse.

One fascinating episode was this one. (click on the “full hour interview” link) Both interviewees, philosopher Colin McGinn and writer Mary Gordon, briefly addressed the phenomena of fundamentalism, or more specifically, the kind of person who will die and kill others in service of their beliefs.

Gordon attested that a fundamentalist martyrs himself because he becomes disgusted with the way the world is turning out. I agree with her.

McGinn asserted that fundamentalism arises from the drudgery of life and the need to avoid it. I agree with him, too.

However, after some thought, I determined what bothered me about these explanations. Gordon and McGinn gave the fundamentalist a human texture. Drudgery, disgust. This revealed their hope, as humanists, that everyone functions under the momentum of passion.

But I believe that a fundamentalist, convinced of the worthlessness of the life he’s currently experiencing (for whatever reason), annihilates himself, his own fallibility, and the painful experience of humanness in exchange for becoming a venerated instrument of God.

It’s a significant upgrade.

I have many thoughts on the emergence (and inadvertent creation) of fundamentalism, radical patriotism, and terrorism, all of which I’ve drafted, but have yet to flesh out. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll have finished that essay I’ve been harboring in the back of my mind for so long. But for now, I’ll watch a little more of Faith & Reason; perhaps someone else has already said it better than I ever could.

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