Posts Tagged ‘blog: things you should check out’.

Check out: Swedes face the “Ten Meter Tower”

Good observation

The Swedish short film “Ten Meter Tower” is really simple: what do people look like when they’re facing a high dive for the first time?

The film played at Sundance this year in the Documentary Shorts category, and the NY Times is currently featuring it in its rotating collection of “op-ed videos”. The filmmakers describe the project this way:

Our objective in making this film was something of a psychology experiment: We sought to capture people facing a difficult situation, to make a portrait of humans in doubt. We’ve all seen actors playing doubt in fiction films, but we have few true images of the feeling in documentaries. To make them, we decided to put people in a situation powerful enough not to need any classic narrative framework. A high dive seemed like the perfect scenario…

It’s fun without being entirely frivolous, and dramatic without being distressing. There’s no politics in it and there’s nothing complicated about it. I think it’s well worth 16 minutes of your time!

[ TEN METER TOWER at the NY Times ]

10 More Articles Well Worth Your Time

Here’s another roundup post of things I’ve read recently and found interesting! (Previous lists, all chock full of good readin’, are here, here, and here.)

The last time I posted a list like this, back in March, I promised that the next one would be “ALL POLITICS, ALL THE TIME.”

Now, if you’re like me, you vacillate between being grotesquely fascinated with our current political theater-fire and completely disgusted by the entire catastrophe. A lot of the articles I’ve saved in my own Instapaper queue over the intervening months have been related to Trump, or the Trump phenomenon, or an examination of some facet of the whole Trump thing…

A GOOD TIME TO NOTE: I was asked, and was pleased, to contribute to a little book called
The Ghastlytrump Tinies, spearheaded by Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games. It’s an Edward Gorey parody book, printed in limited edition, which can be yours for either regular cash money or a donation to help defeat Trump at the polls:

ghastly indeed

AND SO. For this list in particular, I decided that articles expounding at length on The Trump Thing are pretty easy to find, and if you’re interested you’ve probably already read your fill. Here are a few good ones if you really would like more perspectives on Trump.

The list below is populated with articles I found interesting about politics, but by design, none of them are elaborate meditations on Trump per se. You’re welcome.

The Day We Discovered Our Parents Were Russian Spies (The Guardian)

Alex presumed there had been some mistake –- the wrong house, or a mix-up over his father’s consultancy work. Donald travelled frequently for his job; perhaps this had been confused with espionage. At worst, perhaps he had been tricked by an international client. Even when the brothers heard on the radio a few days later that 10 Russian spies had been rounded up across the US, in an FBI operation dubbed Ghost Stories, they remained sure there had been a terrible mistake.

But the FBI had not made a mistake, and the truth was so outlandish, it defied comprehension. Not only were their parents indeed Russian spies, they were Russians. The man and woman the boys knew as Mom and Dad really were their parents, but their names were not Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley. Those were Canadians who had died long ago, as children; their identities had been stolen and adopted by the boys’ parents.

The Long Con (The Baffler)

Via the battery of promotional appeals that overran my email inbox, I mainlined a right-wing id that was invisible to readers who encounter conservative opinion at face value. […]

Back in our great-grandparents’ day, the peddlers of such miracle cures and get-rich-quick schemes were known as snake-oil salesmen. You don’t see stuff like this much in mainstream culture any more; it hardly seems possible such déclassé effronteries could get anywhere in a society with a high school completion rate of 90 percent. But tenders of a 23-Cent Heart Miracle seem to work just fine on the readers of the magazine where Ann Coulter began her journalistic ascent in the late nineties by pimping the notion that liberals are all gullible rubes. […]

The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place –and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.

This is how the CIA botched Iraq post-9/11: Bob Gates, careerist sycophancy, and the real history of the Deep State (Salon)

Two days later, after a decent interval, we say, “Mr. President, we have to tell you, with all respect to your blue-suited generals, the Ho Chi Minh trail doesn’t look anything like I-66 or I-95. You can’t see most of it from the air, with the [jungle] canopy and stuff, and besides it’s not one, it’s about 161 trails. No matter how many big bombs, you’re not going to be able to interdict the flow of men and supplies. And No. 2, we know Ho Chi Minh. Sam here literally took him into Hanoi after the war [World War II] on his shoulders. He’s a nationalist before he’s a communist. He’s not going to give up. As a matter of fact, Mr. President, No. 3, nobody ever gives up just on the bombing.”

So what’s the lesson from that? The lesson from that is, man, we did our job! But the president? Well, the president had other considerations. He didn’t want to be the first president to lose a war. So he disregarded our advice and became the first president to lose a war. […]

From my perspective as an intelligence officer, undue weight is given to political considerations of a domestic variety. That’s why we didn’t end Vietnam when we should have. That’s why we did a lot of things that we shouldn’t have. Domestic considerations prevail. The system is such that that’s the way it should be. So what’s the answer? We have to elect presidents with integrity and with some kind of feel for who their advisers should be.

God and Country (MTV)

You probably haven’t heard of the Constitution Party. They have no seats in the House or the Senate, and probably never will. They don’t have any spokespeople telegenic enough for Fox News. They’ve only been around since 1991, and they’ve only been called the Constitution Party since 1999. (They were the Taxpayers’ Party before that.) Basically, it’s a party for conservatives who think Republicans are too secular. […]

Constitution Party candidates don’t win anything, and they don’t make a big show out of losing anything. I hadn’t heard of them, either, until about two weeks before the convention. And about all I knew walking in was that their current chairman is named Frank Fluckiger and their vice-chairman is named Randy Stufflebeam. These cannot be real names. These can only be rival magicians in a World War II–era English children’s novel.

Trump, the University of Chicago, and the Collapse of Public Language (The New Yorker)

…I couldn’t see where ideological disputes actually arose. Protesters painted themselves as grass-roots liberals, speaking up for poor, creative, or countercultural outsiders. The techies involved also considered themselves grass-roots liberals, creating apps to fight the Man, effect philanthropic efficacy, and support the same outsiders.

I stayed in the Bay Area awhile, interviewed forty or fifty people, watched protests, attended tech events and community meetings, and flew to New York City to tear out my hair. Writing long articles always involves muscle strain, but the parturition of this piece (which ran in the summer of 2014) was excruciating, because the material seemed to lack any conceptual edges. The ferment had been billed in the press as a “culture war.” And yet the two sides of the conflict — in terms of beliefs, ideological lineage, and language — were almost entirely the same.

I’m With The Banned (Welcome to the Scream Room)

Milo Yiannopoulos is a charming devil and one of the worst people I know. I have seen the death of political discourse reflected in his designer sunglasses. It chills me. We met four years ago, before he was the self-styled “most fabulous supervillain on the internet,” when he was just another floppy-haired right-wing pundit and we were guests on opposing sides of a panel show whose topic I don’t remember and can’t be bothered to look up. Afterwards we got hammered in the green room and ran around the BBC talking about boys. It was fun.

Since that day, there is absolutely nothing I have been able to say to Milo to persuade him that we are not friends. The more famous he gets off the back of extravagantly abusing women and minorities, the more I tell him I hate him and everything he stands for, the more he laughs and asks when we’re drinking. I’m a radical queer feminist leftist writer burdened with actual principles. He thinks that’s funny and invites me to his parties.

The Secret Justice System That Lets Executives Escape Their Crimes (BuzzFeed)

Say a nation tries to prosecute a corrupt CEO or ban dangerous pollution. Imagine that a company could turn to this super court and sue the whole country for daring to interfere with its profits, demanding hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars as retribution.

Imagine that this court is so powerful that nations often must heed its rulings as if they came from their own supreme courts, with no meaningful way to appeal. That it operates unconstrained by precedent or any significant public oversight, often keeping its proceedings and sometimes even its decisions secret. That the people who decide its cases are largely elite Western corporate attorneys who have a vested interest in expanding the court’s authority because they profit from it directly, arguing cases one day and then sitting in judgment another. That some of them half-jokingly refer to themselves as “The Club” or “The Mafia.”

And imagine that the penalties this court has imposed have been so crushing — and its decisions so unpredictable — that some nations dare not risk a trial, responding to the mere threat of a lawsuit by offering vast concessions, such as rolling back their own laws or even wiping away the punishments of convicted criminals.

This system is already in place, operating behind closed doors in office buildings and conference rooms in cities around the world.

None Dare Call It Treason (The Nation)

The Court majority, after knowingly transforming the votes of 50 million Americans into nothing and throwing out all of the Florida undervotes (around 60,000), actually wrote that their ruling [in Bush v. Gore] was intended to preserve “the fundamental right” to vote. This elevates audacity to symphonic and operatic levels. The Court went on to say, after stealing the election from the American people, “None are more conscious of the vital limits on its judicial authority than are the members of this Court, and none stand more in admiration of the Constitution’s design to leave the selection of the President to the people.” Can you imagine that? As they say, “It’s enough to drive you to drink.” […]

Varying methods to cast and count votes have been going on in every state of the union for the past two centuries, and the Supreme Court has been as silent as a church mouse on the matter, never even hinting that there might be a right under the equal protection clause that was being violated. Georgetown University law professor David Cole said, “[The Court] created a new right out of whole cloth and made sure it ultimately protected only one person — George Bush.”

All right. Lots of those were kind of depressing.

We’ll end with this last one, which is no less honest about the political realities we face, but which, rather than leave me despondent and floundering in a whirlpool beyond my control or comprehension, left me reeling — but in a useful way, in a way that reordered my thinking on a lot of issues, in a similar way to Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind (discussed here).

I Can Tolerate Anything Except The Outgroup (SlateStarCodex)

If I had to define “tolerance” it would be something like “respect and kindness toward members of an outgroup”.

And today we have an almost unprecedented situation.

We have a lot of people…boasting of being able to tolerate everyone from every outgroup they can imagine, loving the outgroup, writing long paeans to how great the outgroup is, staying up at night fretting that somebody else might not like the outgroup enough.

This is really surprising. It’s a total reversal of everything we know about human psychology up to this point. No one did any genetic engineering. No one passed out weird glowing pills in the public schools. And yet suddenly we get an entire group of people who conspicuously promote and defend their outgroups, the outer the better.

What is going on here?

Enjoy the reads!

Here Is The Little Mermaid ‘Kiss the Girl’ Minor Key Cover You Didn’t Know You Wanted

Here it is. (by Chase Holfelder)

Previously: Here Is The Soulful Acoustic Smash Mouth Cover You Didn’t Know You Wanted

Check out: The artwork of Dominic Wilcox

I really enjoyed this short film, The Reinvention of Normal, about the artist Dominic Wilcox.

Wilcox makes strange objects, such as a soccer ball that you can put fruit inside so it becomes a smoothie as you kick it around.

He makes a lot of things like that, and he describes in the film how making a lot of things quickly has helped him tap into his creative instincts in a clarifying way.

As a person who derives an immense amount of joy from puttering around in my own workshop, making a lot of stupid things that occasionally end up not always being stupid, I am quite drawn to this line of thinking.

“I enjoy the playfulness,” he says, over footage of a car he designed covered completely in stained glass. “and just doing things — even though they’re completely ridiculous sometimes. So what? Let’s do the ridiculous. And by doing the ridiculous, something else might come of it!”

Here’s another video, as well, of him giving a talk at a conference… The first seven minutes are the same video above, and then there’s another bit with him explaining and demonstrating some of the strangers things he’s made, like the stained-glass car, or a set of GPS-enabled bespoke-leather shoes.

“It’s always difficult to describe what I am,” he says in the talk. “I work between art, design, invention, technology, craft… Really, I’m just a person who’s trying to be as creative as I possibly can be.”

Check out: GeoGuessr, the Google Maps game

My newest obsession is GeoGuessr, a game that places you at a random point in the world (via Google Maps Street View) and makes you guess where you are.

let's do!!

You can navigate around as much as you like, looking for identifying clues (such as signs or landmarks) before making your guess. You can play specific maps (restricted to a country or even a city), or let it plop you down anywhere that Google has mapped. You can also play specific challenges created by other people.

This is basically the perfect game for me. I don’t really want to fight bosses or solve reflex-based challenges; I just want to wander around and explore and discover things. And the fact that you’re exploring the real, actual world is so much fun, for someone like me who’s into geography: you start looking at billboards and bus signs and pieces of trash on the side of the road as if they are clues placed for you in a video game, freighting it all with a larger meaning that’s barely outside your grasp, believing that you can unravel the puzzle with the clues you were meant to find.

Siberia.

There are a lot of roads in the world, so when set to random, I’ve found that GeoGuessr often lands me on some lonesome highway in the middle of nowhere. To me, that first moment feels just as quest-like as the start of any video game (except the NPCs are very unhelpful).

Mexico.

These are challenging rounds, to be sure. Yesterday I clicked through a windy, backwoods Australian road for ten or fifteen minutes before finding any sort of signage that I could read. It’s not fun, for most definitions of fun, but it was absolutely interesting.

Texas.

You can navigate around in Street View, and you can also explore the world map in as much detail as you like. (But the game never shows you where you are, of course, and you can’t search on the map.)

Much of the time, I end up poring over the map in eye-watering close-up, scanning unknown regions for an Argentine or Turkish town name that matches one I’ve found in Street View.

It’s a game that you can always win, if you’re patient and nitpicky enough. I’m not, every time. But when I can figure it out, it’s extremely satisfying.

ahhhh, relaxing

No video game designed by a human (except maybe Desert Bus) would make you click through a Mexican desert for twenty minutes before you got to anything useful, or reward the player who’s able to look through a map of Brazil for the longest time.

But I accept it in GeoGuessr, because the game world is the real world. If I don’t know enough about the real world to identify a name, or a landmark, or a type of terrain quickly, then it becomes a chance to figure it out. I am pretty good at recognizing languages on signs, and yesterday I learned all about how the Japanese organize their highway numbering systems vs. how the French do it.

It’s not all desolate roads, of course. You often land in cities, or once, the game spawned me inside an enclosed Tunisian parking lot with no route back out to the main road. (I got a very poor score on that round.) The game navigation is limited to what Google has mapped, so some areas are poorly photographed, or the navigation is incomplete. That, I think, is all part of the fun.

That said, let’s be clear: clicking around through a map of France or Wales or Texas looking for a specific road number or town name — on a map that hides small towns and roads when you’re zoomed out — is tedious.

But doing so has the effect of showing me how big the world really is, which I think we sometimes forget. I love it for that.

Play GeoGuessr in your browser, for free.

Loads of people play GeoGuessr on YouTube, too.