Slaves to the Algorithm

We are slaves to the algorithm but we really can’t complain. We get what we want, we get what we ask for. I’ve watched quite a few rock and roll biopics and documentaries recently, so I get offered more of them. About a week or so ago, casting around for anything to watch that wasn’t some fucking cop show, at least, I watched The Cruel Sea, an old black and white Ealing Studios war movie from 1953, real hokey stuff but that’s the kind of WWII film I like, all filled with average guys sweating, and swearing, and smoking cigarettes while they save the world from fascism, except this was made in 1953, so the tough British sailors never swore and had a Disney-esque way of talking about women.
Anyway, after that I was getting bombarded with British war movies of that era, and I’ve watched a couple. Anyway, today the algorithms crossed paths and I was offered a British rock documentary named Pop Gear from 1965, which is way closer to the 1950s than the present, in some ways that it was kind of depressing to see.
They opened with a scene of the Beatles. Cool, so far. Then, I saw who was narrating the show. Jimmy Savile. Now, at the time this show was produced, his incredibly prolific pedophilia was not publicly known. However, it was happening, and so it’s kind of in the back of your head when you see him. The first song he introduced was a little number by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas called “Little Children.” An innocent little song, really, about a guy trying to have a bit of sexy time with his girlfriend but her little brothers and sisters are in the room, but after that introduction, and some of the opening lyrics (you must keep this secret, I’ll give you some candy), the creep factor was off the charts.
They showed lots of other bands that were popular in ’64/’65, most of whom I did not remember, a couple I did, and I wouldn’t say they were all lame musically, there were a couple of tunes in there which I still like today, but all the bands were guys with short hair, wearing suit jackets and ties, and looking grim as fuck. Zero energy. Barely a pulse. It was like they’d been told “You’re job is to stand on stage and play your instrument. Don’t do any funny stuff.”
It’s no surprise that the Beatles were such an instant hit. In that era, they must have stood out not just for their music, but for the fact that they actually seemed to enjoy what they were doing.

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Trains v. Cars

A friend just posted a picture of a high speed train, with the sentiment that it would be great if this was the nature of the world, and someone commented to the effect that “Hey, some people just like driving, get over it,” which strikes me as wrong on several levels.
First, of course, cars are one of the major sources of pollutants in our air, and we can’t take much more of that.
But, beyond that. Do people really like driving that much? Is that why they turn into complete rageaholics if someone in front of them is driving too slow, or has forgotten to signal before a turn, or left their turn signal on for the last half hour, or if there is no parking space at the spot and at the time they want it, and probably never will be until the entire world is paved in concrete and demarcated with little white lines.
Or do they drive because it’s the only way to get from point A to point B because the car companies have killed public transportation so they could make a lot more money. Do they like driving enough to justify how much they hate making payments, and having to pay every time they fill up their car with gasoline, and having to pay for insurance. Do they love driving more than they hate being pulled over by police officers, and occasionally ticketed?
Come right down to it, the things people love doing are going to be defined, to some extent, by what people are able to do. Once upon a time, people loved and romanticized horses. Some day, if we are to believe the movies, people will love piloting interstellar runabouts.
In the meantime, we need more high speed rail lines, more bicycle paths, and more electric shuttle buses to supplement the rail system. Because everybody, absolutely everybody, loves breathing.

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Tokamak

The story that the mainstream press is underplaying this week comes from China, because God Forbid they should ever print anything positive about China. To be fair, though, it is not an unqualified positive and there is definitely a scary side to all this, but it is amazing news, astounding news, and much more imminently relevant than the revelation that astronomers have seen a distant sun explode, or Novak Djokovic’s covid related visa problems in Australia.
The Chinese have managed to run a fusion reactor (Tokamak) for 17 minutes at a heat of 120 million degrees Celsius! For those of you thinking in Fahrenheit, it doesn’t matter – we are talking millions of degrees, it’s an incredible amount by any scale. It’s about 10 times hotter than THE SUN.
Since it’s fusion, not fission, this could mean a cheap and endless source of energy for the whole world. With that kind of energy we could green the deserts, provide the whole world with fresh, desalinated water, we could power the whole grid, transportation around the world would become cheap and easy, everybody would have to shut the hell up about bitcoin being ‘dirty,’ we could grow crops indoors under hot lights, creating tropical zones in all the world’s cities, we could leave the lights on 24/7 wherever we felt like it and heat all the roads to just melt the snow. We could even terraform Mars, which might in fact be the best place to use this kind of power because, damn, if one of these was to blow, it would make Fukushima look like a blown fuse in your apartment.
So, it’s awesome and scary at the same time. But it’s big, it’s very big, it is absolutely huge news and I think it deserves a little bit more attention.

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Give the Lady a Break

J.K. Rowling just can’t catch a break. As a resident of the Czech Republic, I remember a few years back when she caught all sorts of shit for making a completely valid criticism of Czech mental health care (cages are a bad look, at the very least). Since then, she has gotten a barrage of flak for saying that trans-women are not exactly the same as those who are female by birth, and now John Stewart (who I’m still a big fan of, by the way, but he’s wrong on this) is calling her an anti-semite because the Goblins in Harry Potter, who run Gringott’s bank and, by extension, the entire economy of the wizarding world, are a Jewish stereotype. You know, short, big noses, always obsessed with money. Sort of like Scrooge McDuck. Or the Ferenghi on Deep Space Nine.
I could argue that the Gringott Goblins, while they are portrayed as greedy and somewhat manipulative, are also known for their attention to detail, love of numbers, persistent dedication and, above all, reliability. If they weren’t reliable, the wizards and witches wouldn’t keep all their money there, much less store sacred relics in their vaults. It’s one of the great aspects of her books.
Sometimes good guys have a dark side, sometimes bad guys turn out to be good. There was Snape, of course, and Percy Weasley, and one lesser character I quite liked, Fletcher Mundungus (Order of the Phoenix, iirc, or maybe The Half-Blood Prince), who agreed to help the good guys but didn’t object to a bit of larceny on the side, and was sort of a typical Cockney hooligan. Are Cockney hooligans up in arms? No, they are not.
It’s one of the great things about her books. For YA fiction, they are very well nuanced.
But mostly, my argument is this: J.K. Rowling created a beautiful world of magic, as complex and detailed as Westeros or Middle Earth, as intriguing as Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, and that is no small feat. She has entertained millions, perhaps billions of people, encouraged literacy, and added significantly to the culture of the human race. She’s given plenty to charity and doesn’t dodge her taxes. She opposed Brexit. She has a fairly normal family life and, as far as I know, has never killed or molested anybody.
She’s all right in my book, and her critics should find somebody more worthy of their anger.

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A Final Comment on Don’t Look Up

It’s been over a week since I first saw, and blogged about “Don’t Look Up,” millions of people have written their own critiques since then, but the amazing thing is, nobody has changed their minds. We look at films as entertainment, and very few responded to the underlying message unless they were already in agreement with it. There is even some dispute as to what the underlying message was, which surprises me, because the satire was not exactly of the subtle kind. It kind of hit you over the head like a giant rock – a rock the size of Mt. Everest.
The basic, central message of the movie, as I see it, distilled down to two words, is “Trust scientists.” They are not only smarter than average people, they are way more knowledgeable in their specialties. When scientists tell you there is a dangerous, potentially fatal pandemic, you should do everything you can to avoid catching it, and avoid spreading it. When scientists tell you that we are heading for an environmental disaster if we don’t stop burning coal and oil, we should listen to them. Of course, scientists are seldom unanimous, and you can generally find one out of the millions of them to support your point of view, especially if the definition of scientist is ‘any bozo with a PHD.’ The director of NASA in Don’t Look Up was an anesthesiologist who had donated money to Meryl Streep’s campaign. But, there is such a thing as ‘leading scientists in the field,’ there is such a thing as ‘peer review’ and there is such a thing as ‘consensus.’
So, we should listen to scientists, and we should have zero tolerance for politicians or members of the press who do not listen to scientists. The opinions of anybody who shuns science should be shunned, and their advice ignored, because there is a real possibility it could get us all killed.

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