Facebook, AI, censorship, surveillance and a global ID

Over at global guerillas John Robb has been knocking shit out of the park lately.

Here’s the latest: re where the convergence of AI, surveillance and information control is going

A global ID. Simply, Facebook is getting close to being able to create a global ID for everyone on the planet (sans China/Russia). It’s not a bit of paper or something you put in your wallet. It’ll be passive. It’ll replace your passport and driver’s license. If you can be seen by a camera, you will be known.

Seeing the future: The Demise of Trump, and President Pence

Quite a first month in office for Immortan Trump. 46% want to impeach him. The Flynn resignation. Scandal and incompetence. Rule by incoherent and illiterate executive orders. An increased division between the reality-tunnels people live in based purely on their information sources,

We haven’t seen anything yet.

Really.

Things are going to get off the charts bad before meaningful resistance – thousands and thousands of people, turning up week after week – gets underway. And then it will take as long as it takes. Remember the 60s – public figures assassinated – the 70s – thousands of acts of domestic terrorism. And the system lurched on.

Generally, to get a ruler out of power, somebody’s blood ends up on the streets.

Scattered thoughts:

How quickly Trump is ejected from office will be a measure of the health of American democracy, and, in fact, the ongoing relevance of democracy in the modern world. (Does democracy scale? When we have millions, or hundreds of millions, or billions, can one person really represent them all? What happens when it goes wrong?)

My personal pick for a while has been that Trump will not last a year in the job. What or how will cause his exit, I don’t know. And maybe it will take longer – impeachment and so on may take a while, whereas if he quits that could be quick – while the death throes might take a while, the inciting event will be within the first year.

With Trump gone, we get President Pence. The idea of “President Pence” is as alarming as Trump, just in a different way. Pence is a Tea Party conservative, and he will have two Republican houses behind him. For better or worse, people voted for Trump, and the god-awful sideshow he brings. No one voted for the Tea Party agenda. But Pence knows the system, and can work it effectively.

The total incompetence of Trump, Bannon, and the clown car posse, is quite reassuring. At least, it is if you aren’t in America, in which case they can do a lot of damage. But unless some kind of world crisis emerges that requires sober leadership, or they invade somewhere for the hell of it or approval ratings, the rest of the world can watch the USA burn and sink.

Man. All those US military bases all over the world. Yeah. Remember them. That is why America continues to matter, even more than their economic weight at the centre of the global economy.

Remember a month back when the US President was an eloquent guy with dignity? Time moves differently these days.

There is probably no going back to business as usual for America, or American politics. I don’t know what comes next.

Immortan Trump

immortan trump black and white

On the meaning of President-elect Trump

Well. President-elect Trump. So that happened.

Let’s take a deep breath and begin. This is going to be bad. Okay? Unpredictable, interesting, and even, on occasion, good, in the way that a stopped clock shows the right time twice a day. Enough has already been said about Trump’s character. He is not a good, well-balanced, well rounded person. Civilisation has standards. If civilisation means anything, it means having standards, and Trump does not meet those. He should not be President. He is going to be.

 

So what does it mean? What do we need to remember to understand this situation?

1. Let’s get this out of the way. With the election of Trump, America has effectively abdicated its role as leader of the free world. We cannot look to the USA for leadership because they clearly cannot sort out their internal situation and politics. They cannot run themselves; ergo they can’t run the world.

We have been looking in a de facto way to the USA to provide leadership for years. We can no longer expect leadership from America. We’ve got to grow up and sort things out for ourselves.

Perhaps a bitter pill, but the sooner swallowed, the better.

America has been an empire in decline for a long time and this election just seals it. Their internal problems are now so great they cannot lead the world. They can’t be trusted to. It’s a moral thing. If you can’t sort out your own shit why would we let you try and sort ours?

 

2. Trump is not to blame for the current state of the world.

There is so much that is messed up in our society and way of life. Trump did not cause these things, though he is a mighty symptom and emblem of them.

We (anyone likely to be reading this) are complicit in the way the world is today; and we did not get here overnight. For far too long we have remained idle and comfortable while other people suffered.

3. The Republican Party is more dangerous than Trump.

Tea Party Republicans are the real danger. If Trump hadn’t got the Republican nomination, Ted Cruz would have. He would be a far scarier President. Any other Republican with both houses behind him would be scarier than Trump.

Trump is a wild card. A dude who doesn’t know what he is doing. He started out running a protest vote campaign in the primaries that succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations, and his ego wouldn’t let him quit. He does not want to do the job of being President (eg offering Kasich the Vice Presidency and being in charge of all domestic and foreign policy), or possibly even understand what it entails.

An enormous amount is going to turn on who Trump appoints to advise him, and how well he can be controlled and managed. So far the signs aren’t good.

4. Trump does not have the Republican Party behind him.

This is huge. During the election race, a huge proportion of the Republican establishment turned their backs on Trump. He won’t forget that.

Crucial to remember is that Trump hijacked the Republican Party – a party itself riven between its extremist tea party rump and its old guard. Trump’s agenda is not their agenda. This is going to be one of the most fascinating things to watch play out. In a strange way, Trump and the Republicans become the brake on each other’s excesses.

What this means is that no one is going to get what they want.

5. The President has less power than you think.

Obama said this in an interview late in his second term. The President can make people listen but unless he can get them to agree and cooperate, they have their own power bases, and don’t have to do what he says. Trump is not going to bring people together. He is not a politician or negotiator. He is a billionaire autocrat who makes decisions the consequences from which he is insulated.

6. Trump forces change. Change is always double edged.

Trump forces change. Either he will shake things up radically and get his way, or he will be unable to, in which case the presidency is revealed as irrelevant and powerless, and the powers that be that control the world are shown to be not democratic, which itself demands a revolution from precisely those who supported Trump’s message. (I can actually imagine Trump stepping down in under a year, throwing his toys at not getting his way, calling the whole system corrupt.)

Every action prompts an equal reaction. The fact of Trump forces the left in America to slap itself hard and start engaging with reality in a new way. The fact of Trump forces the rest of the world’s leaders to start leading on the pressing issues of the day, be they wars, climate, or the changing economy.

The fact of President-elect Trump demands a reaction from every sane and responsible human being alive. For we all have power. We just need to own it, reclaim it, and start using it wisely, each and every day. We can and need to do better. And we are many.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Welcome to interesting times. Are you ready to play?

reading 2015 part one

Have been very slack at logging reading this year. Does anyone read these or care, anyway? Who knows. But they are useful for me. So here is a recap, glancing through my diary. Feel like I read a lot less than usual this year. I also think I am getting a lot of my mental stimulation from podcasts these days.

 

The Pastel City – M John Harrison

First in the Viriconium series. Oddly angled fantasy, a very different mood and mode, elegiac and austere. Written back in the 70s, maybe? Harrison is a wonderful writer and this is bizarre and neat.

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know – Ranulph Fiennes

Autobiography of adventurer/explorer/mad bastard Fiennes. What I read of it was entertaining.

Occupational Hazards – Rory Stewart

Scottish dude ends up running a really large province in Iraq under the Coalition Provisional Authority after the US invasion. Really fascinating insight into what trying to run a country and make things better is like when the country is messy and complex, and the area you are in charge of has its own very distinct history and culture from the rest of the country. Things do not go well. Great read.

Think Two Products Ahead – Ben Mack

Really excellent book about marketing and how to think about marketing and communicate what you are doing by a, well, wizard.

8 Tribes: The Hidden Classes of NZ

That book about NZ being made up of 8 tribes. Meh. It was short to skim. Deservedly forgotten.

What We See When We Read – Peter Mendelsund

Really interesting book by a designer – so there was lots of wild design as a book – who loves to read, about what goes on in our heads as we read, and how we visualise and imagine and interact with words. Definitely worth a look if that sounds like you.

Capital in the 21st Century – Thomas Piketty

Epic tome about inequality and how it isn’t going to go away, and in fact has and will worsen, because of how our economic system is structured. Compelling argument. Necessary to be familiar with at least the introduction.

Ritual – Malidoma Some

West African shaman describes the function, role and importance of ritual in the life of his people, with some eye-opening stories.

Conversation – Theodore Zeldin

Something short and light about the art of conversation, I think.

The Laughing Monsters – Denis Johnson

Novel, gave up real quick, Johnson is great but wasn’t in the mood.

Prophet – Brandon Graham (comic)

If you want some very very weird sci fi comics, this is your jam. Epic scope, weird, mad, fun. The most Metabarons-esque thing since Metabarons.

The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains – Neil Gaiman

Nice short story with illustrations, sort of the darker side of Gaiman.

Autobiography – Miles Davis

Entertaining ride, didn’t get too far. Jazz guys were a pretty wild crew, back in the day.

Money: Master The Game – Tony Robbins

Pretty exceptional book about managing money and investing. Robbins used his access to the most successful billionaire investors in the world to model what they are doing and put it together in a system. Essential.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich – Ramit Sethi

Irritating smartarse Indian teaches you money management and investment. Very sharp, good material, but annoying.

A God Somewhere – John Arcudi (comic)

Random grab from the library. Neat take on someone actually getting super powers and the guy who remains his best friend through it.

The Wake – Snyder (comic)

Ditto random. Award winning comic. Decent.

Neonomicon – Alan Moore (comic)

Alan Moore turns his genius to modernising Lovecraft. Really fantastic, and easily the darkest and nastiest thing I have read by him. So good.

Ecko Rising – Danie Ware

Random genre novel from the library on a whim. Sort of a sf/fantasy mashup. Shades of Thomas Covenant without the prose ability. A heavily implanted hi-tech assassin wakes up in a fantasy world, doesn’t know what is going on but has some special abilities in the local sense. Fast, fun read.

New Spring – Robert Jordan

Never knew this existed until I found it and read it. A prequel to the Wheel of Time, which I read a bunch of when I was much younger, then gave up on 300 pages into book 6 when nothing had happened for those 300 pages. This prequel features Lan and Moiraine 20 years before the first book, and how they got to where they got to at the start of the first book. It was really fun to reconnect with that world, though man does Jordan go on and on. Like, a hundred pages of this book could have been summarised in a paragraph or twp, but the depth of the world is amazing.

What I Learned Losing A Million Dollars – Jim Paul

Really useful book about when to get out, and how not to lose money, and the inner psychological game of money and investing. Biggest takeaway is this amazing question: if you were not already in your current situation, would you want to get into it?

The White Lama – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Fun times as Jodo does Tibet.

An Interpretation of Universal History – Ortega y Gasset

This was actually pretty fascinating. Dude takes on Toynbee’s model of history by showing that the Rome Toynbee takes as an exemplar of civilisation never existed on those terms.

Guide to Tranceformation – Richard Bandler

Bandler returns and summarises his life’s work. Best book you could get on NLP.

Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

Hugo Award winner? Real good for reasons it is difficult not to give spoilers about. Slowly uncovering just who the main character is and their history is exceptional.

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace

Read about 4/10 of it, which is an immense amount of this tome. It is incredible and Wallace is obvious genius and deserving of whatever praise is heaped upon him. Still, too long, eh? Gargantuan, genius, very funny, very dark, very empathic. No wonder the poor bugger topped himself. Sort of hope to get back to it someday.

Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach

Skimmed it. Woo Buddhist positive psychology.

Bold – Peter Diamandis

Very very interesting book about accelerating change and exponential technologies and what that means for changing the world via business. We are living in very interesting times.

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

Classic book by psychiatrist holocaust survivor about the experience of Auschwitz and what separated those who survived from those who didn’t. Incredible, powerful, stark view into humanity, and what is really important. Essential.

Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

Sequel to the above. Still enjoyable but much less interesting since most of what there is to be revealed has been revealed.

Magic and Mystery in Tibet – Alexandra David-Kneale

Woo. If you only read one book on Tibet, this is the one. French woman travels around Tibet in the early 1900s, spending time with hermits and magicians and in monasteries and documenting her experience and the stories people told her. There was some wild and crazy shit happening in Tibet, and credible miraculousness.

6 Months to 6 Figures – Peter Voogd

Sharp, punchy, entrepreneurial book. I rate it.

The Metabarons – Alejandro Jodorowsky (comic)

Jodorowsky’s masterwork, in a number of ways. A lot of what would have gone into Dune made its way into this. Mindfuckingly epic account of a thoroughly unreasonable lineage as they tear the galaxy apart.

Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Read a chapter, Gaiman doing storytelling, was not in the mood.

Providence

Moore does Lovecraft in Lovecraft era. Still coming out. Nice.

The Death Cure – James Dashner

Third part of the Maze Runner trilogy. Saw the first movie randomly, the second movie is way better and I recommend it, read this cos I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the third movie. A lot must have changed in the second book to movie adaptation. Anyhow. Decent enough. Very YA.

Beyond the Beautiful Forevers – Katherine Boo

Absolutely extraordinary. Pulitzer prize winning journalist gets to know slum dwellers in Mumbai over several years. Writes up an eventful period of their lives as a novel, essentially nonfiction but written novelistically and based on immense interviews etc. Shattering, profound.

Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself – David Lipsky

Lipsky spent a week interviewing David Foster Wallace on the last leg of the book tour launching Infinite Jest, as Wallace was in the process of going stratospheric. Fascinating as an account of a guy coping with the descent of fame, and as an insight into a remarkable mind. A film of it came out, End of the Tour, haven’t seen it.

Hard To Be A God – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Russian SF from way back. Russian observer-scientists go to another planet to document the Renaissance happening in a medieval world… except it doesn’t seem to be happening, if anything, a reversion to barbarism is underway. Great novel. I read it cos I saw the insane, incomprehensible film version at the film festival a year or two ago, and wanted to know what the hell actually happened.

The Magus – John Fowles

The first 3/4 of this are an astonishing novel. The end, well, lost me a bit. But hell, the quality of Fowle’s prose, and the intensity and observation he brings to bear, are exceptional, and the dizzying weirdness of the island and the elaborate charade the narrator is caught up in is unforgettable.

The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu

Modern Chinese SF, apparently a bestseller there. Very unique take on first contact and Earth being invaded by aliens, through a very different cultural and historic lens. Recommended.

Killer in the Rain – Raymond Chandler

Early novella from Chandler.

Teaching the Dog to Sing – Jonathan Carroll

Recent novella from Carroll, whom I hadn’t read in years. Alright, I guess.

Harvest – Jim Crace

Multi award winning Irish novel of the end of the era of peasant farming before enclosure. Beautifully written.

Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s most intense and darkest vision of the old West. If it was the first thing of his I’d read it would have taken my head off. Incredible evocation of landscape and nature and random brutality and the ugliness of humanity, in astonishing prose.

A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Pulitzer prize winning novel, told through a bunch of different tangentially related characters set over many years, about growing up and the changes time wrings. Really well done.

The King’s Justice – Stephen Donaldson

Fantasy novella from a real master of fantasy. Good good shit.

Beasts of No Nation – Uzodinma Uweale

Novel about a child soldier somewhere in Africa caught up in a cycle of senseless violence and destruction. Short and unpleasant. Weirdly similar vibe to Blood Meridian, come to think of it.

 

Trump vs Sanders 2016: The Battle for America’s Soul

Even having dropped out of deep politics chasing, the US election looms large and wild eyed this year. Something about the truly preposterous nature of the Republican candidature, a rogue’s gallery of lunacy. And the almost unbelievable emergence of what seems an honest decent man from within the US political system, who talks sense, and, on paper as of now, has a shot at becoming the Democratic presidential nominee, and hence President.

As of now, we face an extraordinary potential Presidential election in 2016: Donald Trump against Bernie Sanders.

Let’s take a moment to grok this in all its poetic beauty as it encapsulates the world and its tensions.

On the one hand, Trump. An exemplar of the 1%: a billionaire, full of confidence, bluster and delusion, but doubtless some real ruthlessness and business cunning. An exemplar of the hype and emptiness of American culture: a candidate essentially making it on his celebrity status from The Apprentice. An exemplar of the very particular type of ignorance insularity and success bring: he’s lived in a world where he can have anything he wants, and doesn’t need to engage with reality the way lesser mortals do. A guy who has announced he is willing to nuke Iran. (Hell, nuke anywhere and you are frankly not the same moral species as me.)

On the other hand, Sanders. This clip was my introduction to Sanders. Five minutes of off-the-cuff comments, nailing lucidity and informed sanity. Seriously, it’s like a litany. Long standing independent, tried to get campaign finance reform, voted against Patriot Act, against Iraq War, is against TPPA. Preaches a necessary political revolution to bring politics back into being a democracy rather than an oligarchy and seems to mean it. Is old enough he doesn’t seem to mind if they shoot him for standing up for working people.

YouTube Preview Image
So there we have it. A perfect choice. The fate of a nation’s soul. And, unfortunately, quite a lot of the world.
I love the symbolism. Seven years ago I called that
Barack Obama will, and needs to, win the election to demonstrate to America that they can still be great. Electing a black president just forty years after segregation ended will help wash away the sour taste of Bush.
Today, the choice is even simpler. Does America want a future? Does it want the world to have a future?
Peak oil, climate change, the multi-polar world of emergent China, the festering hotspots of the Middle East. Who does America choose to guide them through this?
Choose death and ignorance, a dream long since turned sick and nightmarish. Or choose life, integrity and sanity.
(Also: if we end up with Bush vs Clinton, again, this in itself is a defacto vote for disaster and the replacement of the West as world leader. Both represent the system, and the system will fail to respond in time. Trump just represents a will to death. Sanders seems legitimately the only hope for the US to have continued relevance (as anything other than a feared maniacal warmonger in the global ‘hood) and reform itself, and it is frankly a miracle he has emerged.
The terror, of course, is that in the US system, the guy with the most money usually wins. And guess who that is.)

NZIFF 2015 in review

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses

Fascinating and disturbing re-enactment of the accidental murder of a Wainuiomata woman by her Maori family as they tried to lift a curse from her. Even handed doco leaves the reality of things open – the crux really is belief, what we believe to be true, and how that allows us to act – there is no doubt the family genuinely believed what they were doing was for the best. The film is really about putting you in the room with the extended family for five days as they stamp and chant and try to drive the spirit out. Intense, probably essential viewing for New Zealanders, and anyone interested in the clash between traditional/spiritual beliefs and the modern world. (From the director Q&A there is definitely more to the story, but this holds up.) Also works as a straight up horror movie about people going insane.

Victoria

Shot in one take, starting at about four in the morning, as a young women meets some guys at a club and things end up going in a very unexpected direction. Really solid and enjoyable. Big recommendation; try to avoid spoilers.

Inherent Vice

Stoned surfer private investigator in the 1970s takes a shaggy dog trip through the conspiracy haze of the day. Adapted from a Pynchon novel, lots of fun and very well done but not really having a discernable point.

The Colour of Pomegranates

Famous 1969 Russian/Armenian film. A sort of impressionistic/symbolic biography of an artist that unfortunately pretty much plays like the most excessive and pretentious student art film of all time. Punishingly bad with a few striking images.

The Assassin

Chinese period piece about a female assassin in 7th Century or so China. Looked pretty great, didn’t really seem that interested in telling its story, extremely stylish and very enjoyable however.

Alice Cares

Doco about trialling Alice, a robot with AI in it, to hang out with elderly people with dementia both as companionship and to help keep track of their lives for them. As proof of concept, it works. Alice has a realistic face and expressions, and talks well enough and naturally enough and follows up enough that a relatively normal conversation is possible. She can look things up online and remember information and help people do exercises. This is like an early cellphone, in terms of AI, so we are heading in this direction. Still somehow uncanny and discomforting conceptually. You are left wanting there to be more going on in Alice herself, and it is somehow off that there isn’t, once you have bonded with her a little. A necessary glimpse of our changing world and what is coming. Big big recommendation.

10000 Years Later

CGI animation, set 10000 years after present day. More of a kids movie than I expected. The story is trite and the characterisation lacking, but its environmental etc themes are apt. overall, pretty cheeseball with some excellent design. Would recommend watching it with the sound off and your own soundtrack and improvise your own story.

Embrace of the Serpent

Awesome. Mostly black and white film about two explorers, one following the journals of the other, travelling in the jungle in search of ayahuasca, and their encounters with the same shaman across time. The film is based on real accounts, including that of Richard Evans Schultes, who, among other things, introduced magic mushrooms to the West. Gets very surreal. But yeah wonderful and huge recommendation if this sounds remotely your kind of thing.

The Look of Silence

Companion piece to The Act of Killing (which was my film of the year of 2013, and remains the most striking and necessary film I have seen in years), returning to Indonesia and the aftermath of the mass killings of the 1960s. This film follows Adi as he seeks to engage with the men who murdered his brother, among a million others, and offer them forgiveness.

This screening had a Q&A with Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, which was fabulous.

I don’t really know what to say other than these two films are totally necessary and about the highest example of the documentary art, especially in terms of their real world impact; they have opened a dialogue for change within Indonesia that continues to gain momentum.

Tale of Tales

Inconsistent, opulent, byzantine melange of fairy tales with dark and unexpected twists. Totally worth a look, though somehow unsatisfying as a whole.

Cemetery of Splendor

Woo. The way Apichatpong Weerasethakul (director of Uncle Boonme Who Can Remember His Past Lives) blends the mundane and the supermundane is an achievement of the greatest artistry. His films are gentle, meandering and bizarre. So strange and lovely, and quietly unsettling. This one is set in a makeshift hospital with soldiers struck down with a sleeping sickness, and follows a woman volunteering there. Somehow from there we drift into a world with looser boundaries. Goddesses stop by for tea. The openness of Thai culture to the spirit world grounds the weirdness. Glorious and not remotely like anything else in film, I will keep going to this guy’s films. Challenging in unexpected ways.

Review: 50 Shades of Grey (2015)

What? No one blinked an eye when I watched The Room.

So anyway. Here is the latest instalment in a series in which I get smashed and watch fascinatingly terrible mainstream movies and write long reviews (see: Sucker Punch, Transformers 2).

50 Shades is an interesting cultural phenomenon. (How does Twilight fan-fiction end up being directed by a Turner prize winner and go on to make half a billion dollars already? This is a question of culture, not film.) In fact, most of what this review will be about is probably culture, rather than the movie, the specifics of which I barely recall. (The smashed methodology is about taking on impressions and hunting deeper truths, not details. 🙂 )

So. 50 Shades. I read the first paragraph of the first book a few years back and found it atrociously written. After finding out it began life as Twilight fan-fiction, I then ignored the whole thing, and had only a vague sense of BDSM about it as it became a phenomenon.

So. The movie. I found a lot of it funny, in the funny-because-it’s-bad way, in the you’re-shitting-me-that’s-how-you’re-playing-this? way, in the oh-my-god-this-dialogue way. That was maybe for the first hour. It also felt like it went on quite a long time.

The film is competently made and shot well. The content is the weak link. Characters, dialogue, story; all lacking. Very little happens. But this is at heart a fantasy (sexual rather than otherwordly.) As such it is about mood, and the accumulation of small details to make it whole.

So what is this movie? It is a journey into the female subconscious, lit up on the big screen for all to see. Of course, we’ve seen the male subconscious at the movies for a while now. How long has 007 been a thing? And action movies. We get that dudes want to be the coolest most bad-ass mofo in whatever the context is, get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the planet. It is stark, infantile and embarrassing, but we have gotten used to it. We barely blink. It’s just the story we tell. (At a baser level, through mainstream pornography, we get a raw and ugly sense of male sexual fantasy.)

So what is most notable here is the entry into mainstream culture of this feminine subconscious. A different flavour of desire.

Why this cultural moment? Here I wonder about the power of demographics; the realisation that women are a substantial audience, and content tailored to them will sell just as well. Our cultural production houses were framed in a one TV per household era. When the man of the house lost control of the TV remote, he lost control of the household’s attention. Now everyone has a computer of their own, and there are more channels of content than anyone can track. Combine this with a few extra billion people and the result is fracturing appeals. There is lots of money to be made in what were once unviable untargetable niches. And half the population is more than niche.

These changes are still underway; they have been underway for the past 25 years or so in media. They have been accelerating in the internet age as more and more voices and experiences can be heard, because more can speak through the democratisation of access to the means of being heard online.

This is one of the first times the female subconscious has come out to party so lustily. So it is raw. And clumsy. And embarrassing.

Baby steps.

So what happens? Girl meets guy. They have Sex. OMG.

Who is this guy? A billionaire. We don’t know why, or how, or what he does. He has a building with his name on it, is very busy and occasionally talks intently into the telephone. He has aspects of class, education and refinement. He dresses well. We are told he is hot. He has crazy wealth and therefore power, and is a total control freak. And, most importantly, he is completely obsessed with this girl he just met, and their relationship is the most important thing in the world of the movie.

Who is this girl? An insecure virginal English lit student. She seems nice. She is the role to be stepped into, so we don’t want too much character intruding.

The lack of characterisation throughout reveals we are dealing with archetypes.

The lack of characterisation succeeds better here than in Twilight. I suspect because 50 Shades is purer fantasy, and somehow less absurd. A surprising sentence to write. (No sparkly vampires FTW!) There is so little context around Anastasia and Grey, whereas Twilight comes burdened with families and school and teenagery and vampires and stupidity. 50 Shades is more naked in every sense. They can just get on with the fucking.

Yes, their relationship as portrayed is pretty fucked. But how can they have a relationship? Neither of them are people, or characters. They are nothing but their roles.

My reading of the film was coloured by watching Beauty and the Beast at the French Film Festival earlier in the day. In essence, they seem the same film, the same archetypes.

The Beast is all powerful (physically, through his bestial nature, and practically, through magic) and controlling, yet cultured and refined (once a noble prince) and desirable, and tragic and messed up in some undefined way (which is the healing he seeks through Belle’s love).

Belle has only her innocence, purity and love; this disarms and redresses the power imbalance as they clash and negotiate. Her power over him grows as his need for her grows, and through love they emerge as equals.

This is a story form we have been telling for a long time. (Beauty and the Beast is a traditional story, going back hundreds of years at least.) And there is wisdom in stories, particularly the ones we tell and retell.

Does the 50 Shades series ultimately follow this arc? Is Grey ultimately healed through the relationship with Anastasia? I haven’t read them, but doubtless someone has.

When you peel away the (gasp) dominant/submissive sex angle, and the kinda fucked relationship they have, is there anything new here that we haven’t known archetypally?

So as a phenomenon this really says more about our cultural moment now, about our need to deal with sex, and the forces it unleashes in us, better, and talk about what we want like a grown up species. The funniest (and possibly most important) scene is the lengthy contract negotiation for consent for various sexual acts.

To that end it is a good thing that this is out there in the mainstream. Because porn. Because rape. Because too often guys and gals can’t talk to each other without being drunk.

That’s about all I have to say, I think.

(One tangent: watching this also makes me aware of how ghettoised we are by our demographics. We buy what is aimed at us, made for us, tailored to our predetermined tastes. We tune out the rest without even considering it. We are well trained. This applies to our consumption of media and stories. Sadly, it distorts us. What the heck is going on elsewhere? How do we know we won’t like something unless we try it? What parts of the conversation are we missing because we don’t even recognise they exist?)

After 50 Shades, we tried watching Enthiran, which turned out to be another fascinating lens to consider 50 Shades through. Enthiran is a Bollywood movie about a robot covered in human flesh a la Terminator, except instead of being a killing machine from the future, he is just the most awesome guy ever now. Another conception of the relationship between the total masculine and the feminine, filtered through another cultural lens. We only got an hour in to this, so not much to add.

 

Short review: Dudes. Get real drunk and see this movie. Treat it like a bad comedy. The female subconscious is giving you some hints about what it wants here. And it’s about much more than the sex.

 

 

birthday mutants

 

The mental side effects of travelling into space. Interesting historical survey of the break-off phenomenon.

The myth of AI. Jaron Lanier being interestingly iconoclastic again. Watch or read at the link.

I want to go little deeper in it by proposing that the biggest threat of AI is probably the one that’s due to AI not actually existing, to the idea being a fraud, or at least such a poorly constructed idea that it’s phony. In other words, what I’m proposing is that if AI was a real thing, then it probably would be less of a threat to us than it is as a fake thing.

Retired US army general, author of “Why We Lost”, explaining the truth about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We did not understand the enemy, a guerrilla network embedded in a quarrelsome, suspicious civilian population. We didn’t understand our own forces, which are built for rapid, decisive conventional operations, not lingering, ill-defined counterinsurgencies. We’re made for Desert Storm, not Vietnam. As a general, I got it wrong. Like my peers, I argued to stay the course, to persist and persist, to “clear/hold/build” even as the “hold” stage stretched for months, and then years, with decades beckoning. We backed ourselves season by season into a long-term counterinsurgency in Iraq, then compounded it by doing likewise in Afghanistan. The American people had never signed up for that.

The future of autonomous weaponry – the ethics of bombs that pick their own targets.

 

november mutants

 

just some linkage of things that may or may not matter or be of interest

Putin makes what may be “the most important political speech since Churchill”. Kinda ignored by Western media. Summary here.

6 useful online encryption tools.

Google wants to put everyone’s genome online.

Sliding into the future – app that solves maths photos, just take a photo of the problem.

Fairly jarring article about the frequency of males being sexually assaulted in America.

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.” – UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, on Climate Change

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