Computer Dream

I have a theory. And it is just a theory, I’m spitballing not researching so let’s not get carried away here. But…

I hypothesize for the purpose of discussion that the real purpose of all these fake news stories is not exactly to deceive us, but rather to place us unto an epistemic fugue state in which truth and falsity commingle to such an extent that the question of ‘what is true’ and ‘what is false’ is lost.

In order to do this, these sites circumvent the gatekeepers who normally keep garbage out of circulation (the much and somewhat wrongly derided ‘mainstream media’) by exploiting the network effect.

After all, if one is to see a wild, wild lie mixed in with the truth, is it not possible that the presence of this lie would impeach the credibility of the truths rather than the truths’ presence falsely bolstering the credibility of the lie?

If I give you a list of five claims, one a clear lie and the others undetermined, wouldn’t you then presume that the accuracy of the 4 remaining claims is in doubt. If I lie once, might I not lie again?

And, If we do not know what is true and what is untrue might we then be more susceptible to non-rational forms of persuasion?

So, an obvious question is ‘who is behind these fake news sites?’ In some cases it is clear that it is Trump associates. Brietbart’s head honcho Stephen Bannon is a key Trump adviser. In some cases it appears to be bored teenagers, but in many cases (including many of the latter cases which seem at least slightly suspect to me) it is unclear, particularly with the small ones.

The most probable answer is that it is Trump. Either the Trump campaign or arms-length bodies or advocacy groups. Many of the site’s DNS registration information is hidden, the sites are registered on behalf of the real owners by proxy companies. (This is a perfectly legitimate and commonplace business.)

But… let’s go really far down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole for just a moment here.

Could it be Russia?

Why Russia? Well, because simply put something very similar is happening in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, everything was fake. Everyone knew it was fake but everyone pretended that it was not. To do otherwise was crimethink. In modern Russia, everything is still fake. Or more accurately, everything is postmodernist. Because now, everyone accepts that it is fake and just moves on.

The chief of fakery is Vladislav Surkov. He is Mr Putin’s gray eminence but also writes lyrics for rock bands and avant garde poetry. I’m not joking. He also is generally thought to have written a novel about himself and what he is doing under a pseudonym which is a masculinized version of his wife’s maiden name.

Surkov sponsors everyone and everything, even the political opposition at times. yet, everyone knows. According to the dissident writer Eduard Limonov, the strategy is based on keeping the opposition constantly confused. The political system relies on everyone being unsure of what is actually happening and what is not. Is even the opposition real? Who knows!

Surkov speaks of ‘nonlinear warfare.’ Once there were many groups in two sides (Axis vs Allies, NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact.) Now, everyone is against everyone.

One of the jobs of News is to expose fakes. But News can only expose things which are hidden. How is that supposed to work? Does Fact Checking work when hardly any effort is made to hide that it isn’t really so? How does one get any purchase against nothingness?

Maybe this is not true. Maybe ideas of Russian influence are a form if cranky nonsense cum wishful thinking.

(How would we know?)

But even if it is not, even if the usefulness to those of power and wealth of this postmodernist fog that has settled on our lives is a coincidence, it is still a huge problem.

The Traditional Critique is that Newspapers are dying because advertising has moved online. This is partially true. But, I think that it misses the fundamental point that the truth binary no longer is a major feature of a huge number of people’s daily lives. Since that is what newspapers sell, why buy them?

We feared, once, that we would create a computer world, upload ourselves into the dream and forget who we were. That, I think was optimistic, not dystopian.

The real dystopia is that we don’t have to do any such thing in order to find ourselves in a reality of illusion. We don’t have to upload ourselves to the computers to become lost in them.

One of the oldest traditions is the sacred knowledge. That there is some esoteric ‘truth’ that only the ‘chosen’ few can understand and so slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of god.

Even seemingly completely secular systems can have this silly feature. Marxists called it ‘dialectical materialism’ and Abraham Mazlow called it ‘self-actualization.’

I believe that exactly idea is what is found in optimistic science fiction such as The Matrix and World on a Wire. And that is why I call it ‘optimistic,’ because it asserts the existence of a true world into which the properly initiated can awaken. And so, I think impliedly it stimulates our secret desire to believe that not only is there is something beyond our own experience but that all of the things which we hate about our world are just nightmares, from which we can awaken without actually doing anything.

This is not so. Neo can’t wake up.

The imaginary seems real because it is real.

If this sounds totally hopeless and depressing, however, remember that a dream is like a train which goes on its course and which cannot be turned to one side or another. You cannot change a dream, not even in theory. But you can, theoretically, change the world.

We just have to discover how.

PS: there were traces, and just traces, of the miasma around Mr Obama, particularly during the first campaign. But isn’t it weird that the first truly hyperreal postmodernist candidate is a Republican?


Donald Trump wins III

Let’s be careful not to fall into hermeneutic interpretation of simple facts. Or, to put it another way…. let’s not B.S. ourselves. Donald Trump is a bigot. Moreover, and perhaps worse, Mike Pence is a mega-Mega-MEGA bigot.

Given Trump’s vagary, Pence may be the ‘power behind the throne’ like Cheney. Some people have wishfully said, ‘Maybe Trump will get bored and quit?’ That might not be an improvement. In the new congressional majority too there are many people who are, let us say, not so nice.

MANY people looked at Trump and saw a chance to take back their country… to the fifties. That is why so many people, including myself, are deeply frightened at Trump’s win. We have suddenly realized that this particular problem was much bigger than we thought (or, returning to the fist post in this series that it is as big as we disavowed knowing but to some degree knew nonetheless.)

When people chant “Jew-S-A” at Trump rallies and when the KKK and other white-supremacist organizations can hardly contain their glee at his ascension, in these cases no further analysis is necessary or possible.

Again, let’s not B.S. ourselves or try to say things like “they don’t know what they’re saying” or “they’re just burning off steam.” That’s crap. Take them at their revanchist word.

However in other cases there is a reason to be nuanced. I think that there are three basic types of Trump voter. In addition to those ‘a priori’ bigots there are the desperate and the ‘adjunctive’ racists.

Many people said “My and my friends’ standard of living has cratered. Our children’s will surely be lower still or they might drown in a sea of heroin and fentanyl. Our town/city will never recover. I am desperate and I’ve had it with trickle-down economics, political correctness and arrogant elites. How do these things help anyone, let alone our children?”

Also for these people do not miss the importance of Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street.

Another important fact is that in the key “flip” states many of them are actually lifelong Democrats. They voted for Trump, not with malice but out of reckless desperation. “This,”—I am sure many thought—”is our one and only chance.”

In voting for Trump on this basis (or by refraining from voting or by voting third-party which is basically the same thing) did these people act with lack of empathy for and perhaps disregard for minorities? Yes. Is this the U.S.A at its finest? No.

However, in two years there is a midterm and it is of paramount importance that we zero in on the parts of that logic we can work with and ignore the parts we can’t, for now anyway. We must be able to credibly say “We can help you and your children.” We must make the case (and then we must actually do it, ‘natch.) They did not believe that Clinton could help them or would. And I think that they were right. They are wrong that Trump can help them but that must be a part of our case.

Here is a quotation from a November 10 Reuters piece by Peter Eisler. The dateline is Bethlehem, PA.

[Jim] McAndrew, 69, a retired steel worker, voted Democrat in every presidential election for half a century. This year he stayed home… [He] was intrigued by Trump, but decided eventually that “all he does is insult everybody … women, black people, white people, rich, poor. He’s an idiot.” He considered Clinton, but was concerned by the scandal over her handling of classified material on a private email server as secretary of state. “I hated both of them, so I just said, ‘the hell with it,’” McAndrew said. His wife, also a life- long Democrat, went to the polls without him—and voted Republican. “First time ever,” he said.

The title of the article? “How Hillary Clinton’s white voters melted away.” Notice how this man specifically identified disparagement of black people and women as a reason to not vote for Trump. His response to this situation was not perfect, but there is reason for hope. To denounce these people and shout “bigot!” is counterproductive.

The third group voted for Trump because of adjunctive racism. The difference between this and a priori racism is that this racism emanates from something identifiable. It’s basically superstition, an incorrect explanation for something which is real. “Mexicans took my job.” “Blacks come into my town and deal drugs.” You know the drill.

They lashed out in anger because they perceived themselves as victims (and they may have a point about that) but blamed the wrong victimizers. This can be dealt with in basically the same way. If we point to the real facts and make credible promises to ameliorate the social ills, the racism will be abandoned as it will no longer seem attractive.

Deprive racism of an argument and it won’t give even false explanations for anything. We need well-founded, unhostile counter-arguments that focus on the factual inaccuracy of the logical linkage and which leave the valence of the racial disparagement for later.

I use the term “adjunctive racism” not “adjunctive bigotry” because 99% of this is wrapped up in nativism. However to the extent that it applies to other categories of bias then mutatis mutandis the same solution may also apply.

(But obviously, some of Trump’s supporters are dangerous. Violence has entered into our public discourse in a way that is quite scary. Emotions have exploded out of control. So be smart about who you talk to and how.)

Donald Trump wins II

In the thirty years since the fall of Communism, we have lived in an intellectual famine. Basically, the left and right stopped developing, frozen like insects in amber. Our politics became consumed with Manichean zero-sum fables.

‘There is no Alternative,’ Margret Thatcher said, “T.I.N.A.” We came to agree with her. The right-wing historian Francis Fukuyama termed it “The End of History.”

Have you noticed how even a supposedly socialist candidate did not call for the abolition of property of markets and of normal buying and selling? That’s not socialism. It’s not even fabianism.

But the politics of fear which defined that era did not go away, rather than fear the Reds, we came to fear each other. This fear sank in and stained our minds.

I have a troubled and uneasy relationship with the American left which to me seems to have lost its teeth and mind and to have settled for a sort of economic-neoliberalism with fuzzy-edges and a penumbra of weak, arrogant thinking. Liberalism is like a cheap suit, it fits me—but poorly. It always sucks being more catholic than the pope.

The Internet and the modern media landscape have made it so easy, so natural to find only those who we agree with and to see only the information which confirms our biases.

The Left is very good at diagnosing this problem in others (Fox ‘news’, Brietbart) but cannot diagnose it in itself.

In 1972, Paulene Kael delivered a speech to the Modern Language Association in which she famously said “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Far too many of us live in Kael’s “rather special world.”

This is a part of what went wrong.

This election reveals that the Left has utterly failed to convince people of certain things that we thought were at least the grudging consensus.

Presented with the “establishment-Left” candidate nonpariel, 58+ million people rejected capitalism-lite and more than 90 million thought the whole matter so insipid that they did not bother to vote at all (or they cast pointless ballots for 3rd party candidates.)

Yes, your math is correct: only about 25% of people voted for the man who will become President of 100% of Americans.

“There is no Alternative!” we said. Many agreed and decided to make no choice. But some said “Aha!, You are wrong! The Alternative is Trump!” And we could not answer them because they were technically right.

It seems history did not end, though we may wish it had.

Donald Trump wins I

Donald Rumsfeld (a broken clock is right twice a day, hear this out) famously spoke of the “Known Unknown,” the gap in knowledge which we are aware of and of the particular danger of the “Unknown Unknown,” that which we do not begin to realize that we do not know.

Slovenian postmodernist semi-philosopher (a broken clock is right twice a day, hear this out) Slajov Zizek spoke of the “Unknown Known”, being that which we know but but do not acknowledge knowing. The obscene, dark, Lynchian side of daily life. The hidden practices which are always on the periphery.

The news has been greeted with much popping of monocles and clutching of pearls. I have read many insincere choir-preaching, huffy Gawkery rants. I have read many sincere and humble professions of total shock.

I have heard and read so much that begins “I can’t believe…” But is that really so? Or is it, rather, that we knew but did not know we knew? “I COULD not believe…” or “I DID not believe…” One word, so much difference.

Might it not be the case that we knew far more than we knew?

Syria, the Graveyard of the Notion of ‘Human Rights’

Wall Street JournalKerry Says Russia and Syria Should Be Investigated for War Crimes

Syria is the Graveyard of notional “Human Rights”. The philosopher* Hannah Arendt declared that human rights did not exist because nobody could enforce them against the will of state sovereignty. Civil rights, she argued, are not real natural rights the way we are accustomed to thinking about them but arise because we are members of some polity which gives these rights effectiveness and affordability.

In contrast, ‘human rights’ are supposed to exist solely by nature: by existing in humanity itself. However, if our ‘human rights’ are abused, we have no recourse to enforce them—therefore, human rights are just civil rights. And, if civil rights are not being enforced then there is no possibility of human rights being enforced either: they are illusory and ineffective.

* She described herself as a political theorist but her ideas transcend those limits and enter the domain of true philosophy as well.

Hillary Clinton and guns

Someone recently said that they are considering voting for Donald Trump because they fear that Hillary Clinton will take away their guns*.

I respectfully disagree, here is why that is wrong.

To begin with. I am fine with personal gun ownership. I know that this is liberal heresy but I never claimed to be large-L Liberal. Beside, let us look, clear-eyed, at the candidates; if we accept the common definition that conservatives wish to retain the way things are now, or return to earlier ways and liberals wish to try new ways in no meaningful sense is Trump conservative or Clinton liberal. Trump is a radically disrupting, innovative, even deviant force. Clinton is the ultimate status-quo candidate. “Liberalism” and “conservativism” are now dead.

Hillary Clinton will not take guns away because that is legally impossible.

Not even the most contorted reading can get around the fact that the constitution flatly prohibits a total ban on private gun ownership. Aside from the obvious 2nd amendment dimension, in practice a gun ban would involve the 5th amendment (illegal taking) the 14th amendment (ditto) and, vitiated though it is, the 10th amendment (limits on Federal power vs. State power.)

Hillary Clinton will not take guns away because that is politically impossible.

Forty-three percent of Americans own at least one gun according to a Gallup poll. The same poll showed 72% oppose a handgun ban. 56% said an increase in concealed-carry would make the country safer. 58% had a favorable opinion of the NRA. Remember: those people vote.

However, polls (and not just this one) do show considerable support for expanding background checks. That, however, does not constitute taking guns away.

Even barring the overwhelming legal obstacles, gun confiscation is politically suicidal. In addition: while predicting the future in normal years is a guessing-game and in this political year doubly so, I do not think that the GOP will lose the house. Their majority will surely be diluted but they will not likely lose the house because they have the largest majority in modern history.

Probably, Democrats have a chance of retaking the Senate. (Just as districting (the ‘Electoral College’) currently works FOR Democrats in the presidential election, districting currently works AGAINST them in the House. Democrats are largely and heavily concentrated in blue-leaning urban districts. Many of those districts are leaning so-far to the blue side that they’ve fallen and can’t get up. That means remarkable levels of ‘wasted’ votes. Moreover, the GOP controlled the last gerrymandering–excuse me, ‘re-districting’, and naturally distorted the system heavily to their favor**. Therefore: even though in 2014, Democrats won 47% of the vote, excluding minor parties, they won a mere 43% of seats.)

A significant additional reason why the Dems did so poorly in 2014 was that their core voter didn’t turn up. Now, in an election year, with a fabulously unpopular if not downright toxic candidate at the head of the ticket…. don’t hold your breath, especially if it looks like (and it does) that Trump is hurtling toward inevitable defeat.

So, in order to seriously dent gun rights. Clinton would have to win legislation that cannot pass, that would see root-and-branch resistance among a large percentage of the electorate and that would be shot down by the Supreme court. It is more politically probable that the Eritrea will apply to become the 51st state than that significant gun policy changes will occur.

There are three “live-rails” of American politics: Medicare, Social Security and Gun Rights. Even politicians of singular conviction and moral strength cannot touch these.

Speaking of that…. Hillary Clinton is singularly vacuous and lacking in principals, thus it is foolish to imagine that she will actually blow a huge amount of her already meager political capital on something that cannot occur.

Clinton has flippity-flopped on so many issues that it buggers belief. No politician is more nakedly blown here and there by every wind of doctrine. Only the presence of you-know-who prevents me from describing her as the “dada-candidate.”

Trump is the Dada candidate. It’s silly to assume that a candidate who has no rational or coherent policy agenda, may be insane and does not even bother to try to hide his constant policy gyrations would actually support any thing whatsoever. He is a splintered reed. That goes for gun rights as for anything. At this point, if Donald Trump said he was for three square meals a day I would disbelieve him.

*This was before Trump hinted that his followers should assassinate Clinton. However, in political writing you can pick no more than two of currency, sophistication and style.

** In fairness, oh yes Democrats 100% do that too. They just weren’t in a position to do so at the time.

Why did Bernie Sanders’ campaign fail?

Are you sure it failed? Certainly, Sanders has been precluded from being the nominee for a long time but it prevented the no-challenge Clinton coronation that everyone was afraid of. That is not to be sneezed at.

Beside, by out flanking her ideologically he has forced her into the unfortunate position of having as her best argument “I’m not Trump.”

But let’s examine some things that undermined the campaign.

  1. TOO NICE – Sanders was a remarkably civil, high-concept opponent. Not to sound cynical but that doesn’t really work in presidential politics.
  2. THE WORD SOCIALISM — There are two problems with using the word “socialism.” First is the obvious one. It’s just not true.

    Sanders is no socialist, nowhere near it. Nationalization of industry and abolishment of normal buying and selling are central and inseparable to the definition of socialism and both are conspicuously absent from Sander’s agenda. Sanders is a garden variety social democrat (which is a world of difference from “democratic socialist” a term with no accepted prior definition.) This left the unavoidable impression that Sanders was either uninformed or reaching for shock value. Neither is a good look on a presidential candidate.

    The second problem with “socialism” is that it invites false but hard to rebut comparisons to failed states such as Venezuela. What is happening in Venezuela is the inevitable result of the combination of price controls and artificially fixed currency exchange rates which encourage the normally economically irrational practice of buying things in order to export them out of the country. This has very little to do with socialism and the majority of Venezuelan industry is privately owned.

  3. WRONG PHRASING — I cannot say it enough, “income inequality” is a junk concept. To be sure, it’s a real and existential threat to the stability of our civilization in the long-term and when it entails rigging and economic fakery, which is more commonly than imagined, it is morally wrong but the problem lies in how it is termed. “Income inequality” sounds greedy and entitled. You get nowhere with that. Try talking about “dramatic collapse in upward mobility.”

    When you phrase it that way, many Sanders initiatives such as free at the point of use healthcare and higher education sound less like lazy-bum handouts and more like investments in that thing Donald Trump keeps talking about: Making America Great. The tack that Sanders and the left at large are taking is ideologically immoderate and renders cross-aisle support unlikely.

  4. IMPRACTICALITY — You don’t have to have a degree in politics to determine that there is zero chance in hell of Sanders implementing even a single plank of his platform as long as Republicans control the House and/or Senate. More likely than not they will retain the House and Senate. Sanders never articulated any idea as to how he was going to actually implement this. Rather, he embraced what is sometimes termed “whig history” – the idea of historical inevitability of progress towards certain ideas. That is to say, no action was required other than a vague “political revolution.” We all know what happened to the Whigs.
  5. TACTICAL ERROR — I admire the spirit of the comment about “your damn emails” but that was a mistake. We, voters, are obliged to consider the matter. Not necessarily because of alleged illegality per se but because of what pattern of secrecy, contempt for rules and disregard for appearances of propriety they evince.

The Nice Guys

(Grade: Ineligible for grade)

Well… I have never actually walked out of a cinema before. The dialogue thinks itself clever: it’s flat. The acting thinks itself arch, it’s insipid. The shooting thinks itself knowing, it’s literal. The scenario thinks itself adult, it’s “adult” instead. Is this a comedy? Then why isn’t it funny? Damn it. If it is a drama, why is nothing happening?

It’s like Quentin Tarantino without the vulgarity of affect. (And Q.T. without vulgarity is, what exactly?)

There are bits and pieces that sort-of work (the towel gag is stupid, but legitimately funny) but they’re like sequins floating on a drum of oil. It’s not that the parts that don’t work are actively bad it’s just that when you have enough zeroes the average trends to so nearly zero as to not matter. The whole has no more purchase than air itself.

One would not truly watch this movie; at best, one might ‘note’ it. The breaking point was the interminably over-long scene at the burnt out house that ended with a non-sequitur 12 year old offering to show a bunch of middle aged men his member for $20. (It is, he claims, sizable.) This is not funny. It is brazen. Brazen is not the same thing as daring; and everything that is brazen is not necessarily funny.

It’s the sort of thing one is forced to laugh at but this is because the alternative is to feel very icky. I suppose that the “joke” could just possibly have been gotten away with if it was one-and-done; but the writers dragged it out and out and out and then had the characters continue to discuss it in the next scene! (The #1 Cinema Sin: characters talking about things that have just happened*.)

As it stands, you can just see the writer at his typewriter, having pounded out those lines, rubbing his hands and cackling “haha, aren’t I clever?” — No, Shane. You’re not.

By my calculations, this scene cannot be more than 45 minutes into the film, but it felt like two hours. A couple of scenes followed that were just padding and then randomly the characters are off to a party to look for a MacGuffin. Then yet another car ride-and-talk** and, suddenly, a little voice in my head barged in—as operators once did on pay phones to tell you to deposit another quarter. Only this little voice said: ‘Why are you still watching this?’ So Nice Guys became only the fifth movie (and the second starring Ryan Gosling!) that I intentionally stopped watching and, most importantly, the first (and I hope, only) that I left a cinema showing of.

Here’s the updated, chronological list: 1. Being John Malkovich 2. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit 3. Only God Forgives (Hi, Ryan! Sorry you keep turning up in shitty movies ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.) 4. Interstellar and now, 5. The Nice Guys.

I’ve always made every effort to finish movies, even if I hate them. I respect the art and craft, even when its artisans and crafters can’t hack it. I struggled to the disspiriting ends of Antichrist (the most favorable thing I can find to say is that the possibility cannot be completely excluded that the film is a hoax perpetrated by the filmmaker on the independent cinema establishment to expose them all as picayune, artless frauds) and The Revenant (154 minutes too much for Oscar Bait.) But then, I was with someone each time and leaving would’ve violated certain social norms.

I did also finish Inglorious Basterds, which is nearly as bad and can’t even spell, on my own.

There seem to be some issues with contemporary filmmaking. The last movie which I saw, which I would rate A+ was made in 1994. The last individual episode of TV that I would rate A+ was made in 2014. I grade on a curve, A+ is twice, even thrice as good as A. I guess that it’s not totally horrible that 22 years have passed since a movie deserving the highest possible grade was last made but where are the A and even the B movies? There should be at least one or two a year.

Hell, even a B- isn’t awful, it is OK to make B- movies! There should be dozens of those yearly! (The last B- was Skyfall way back in 2012. Another B- was Argo, earlier the same year.)

Again, comparing to television: there have been many shows of the last half-dozen years which I would give a composite rating of at least B- and two that I would grade individual seasons of as B+.

To be sure, I can’t see everything and some days I feel as if I will never get enough time to see anything at all! But nothing crosses my radar. And when, as here, against my better judgement I see a film based on positive notices… I’m proved right.

(I’m talking about fiction, documentaries are excluded from this discussion. Excellent cinema and TV documentaries continue to be made.)

* Unless the talking leads to new information for the audience.

** Car talk never works. Ever. Not even in True Detective. Especially in True Detective. At least Nice Guy’s car talk is flaccid, not comically pretentious.

Why Britain should not exit the E.U.

If I was British, I would vote to stay. I say this not because the E.U. is good and nice and stuffed with flowers and candies and such. The EU is a hideous abortion, an unaccountable, dysfunctional clusterjerk, an undemocratic Chancellery of weakness doubled upon futility.

But I say this because reform is not impossible, indeed it has never seemed more possible and in the interim, come what may, the U.K. has a permanent opt-out of the worst part of the E.U.: The Euro. The Euro is economically impossible. You simply cannot have a situation in which fiscal and monetary policy are so wildly unrelated.

For example the European Central Bank (ECB) cannot buy EU-member state’s bonds, except in proportion. Yet each member state sets its own fiscal policy (hello, Greece!) This prevents the ECB from effectively monetizing the debt. This defies the entire economic rational of central banking and fiat money. The situation is not altogether dissimilar to the doomed Bretton Woods System and we all know how that ended*.

Because the U.K. (And, also wisely, Sweden and Denmark) have opted out of the Eurozone (despite being eligible) they are insulated from the worst of the effects that could arise in the event of the demise of the E.U. itself and/or the Euro. The U.K. could mobilize rapidly to contain the worst effects.

However, should the U.K. exit the E.U. it would still feel most of these effects anyway, as Europe—vaguely or specifically—is still to be a huge economic reality for the country regardless of what the vote decides. Therefore, it is best for the U.K. to stay in the union because there are certain advantages that legitimately come from membership. The U.K. benefits enormously from membership in the common market, etc.

Moreover, should Britain leave it could provoke the near-term crackup of the union. Britain leaving a union which survives will be disadvantageous to both. But Britain leaving a Union that then explodes a year-down-the-line would be “mutually assured destruction.” Make no mistake, if the decision is ‘exit,’ and margin of victory is not as narrow as a hair, contagion will erupt. Ugly, illiberal nationalism and racism are on the ascendancy there as here. And, for once, Europe may be further down that road to perdition than we are.

* “The Nixon Shock”

Buzzword decoder

Here is your bubble buzzword decoder, 2016 edition:

“The Cloud” → “Some Servers”

“As-a-service” →”Outsourced”

“Gig economy” → “Piecework”

“Responsive” →”A mobile website automatically, and badly, reformatted to fit on non-mobile devices.”

“Disrupt” → “Destroy”

“Creative destruction” → “Pillaging”

“At scale” → “Monopoly pricing”

World on a Wire (Welt Am Draht)

Ok, so this movie has a sort of cult status because it was made for television, shown once, then ‘lost’ for many decades. But once you get that out of the way… it’s a pretty, comma, bad movie. Oh yes, the low-budget photography has its impressive moments and the sets are tinged with the midcentury weird aesthetic also found in the cult T.V. Show ‘The Prisoner’ but the story drags on and on.

The outline is that Stiller, a computer scientist, is promoted to the head of the SIMULACRON project to create a virtual computer world after the mysterious death of the project’s manager. Soon, he discovers alarming information about what the SIMULACRON project is really about and bizarre events occur which suggest the conspiracy may be unimaginably big.

Possible Influences: Kubrick, Phllip K. Dick, The Prisoner, The book Solaris by Stanislaw Lem and the film by Tarkovsky, Walter Benjamin

Possibly Influenced: Blade Runner, The Matrix, The Lathe of Heaven, Inception

The biggest problem is that the film is nearly *FOUR* hours long but the treatment is probably worth about 55-90 minutes tops. There are long, unmotivated digressions that don’t work because they neither motivate the plot nor improve the characterization. I rarely complain that movies are too long.

The film also takes ages to establish fairly ‘one-and-done’ plot points. For example, early in the movie the character of Lauser vanishes into thin air and nobody except the protagonist, Stiller, remembers he ever existed. Stiller spends a considerable amount of time in multiple scenes which drive home the fact that nobody remembers Lauser well after the point that the audience ‘gets it.’

This is also a major plot hole. Once the reason for Lauser’s evaporation is revealed the fact that Stiller can remember his existence makes no sense at all. It’s a bit hard to discuss this movie because there is a major plot twist just before the end of the first half. Unfortunately, most people will probably have tuned out by now.

This plot point is revealed in the worst possible way—dialogue, delivered by the worst actor in the lot—in the worst possible setting—the cafeteria—with the worst-possible dramatic timing—it’s completely arbitrary and feels forced. To make matters worse, it is totally impossible for this character to know the information revealed. Not “hard” not “surprising” but, in the films ontology, completely non-possible. It’s a major plot hole and it’s not one that occurs to you after a while it’s one that is immediately obvious and offensive to the audience’s intelligence.

More plot logic and pacing problems pile up very quickly. To avoid spoilers let’s just say that the ‘bad guys’ are established as being in possession of a plot apparatus that would enable them to instantaneously annihilate Stiller and remove all evidence of his existence in the same way as Louser. It’s also established that they have twice done this to others for reasons of them learning the information in the ‘plot twist.’ They don’t, however, do this for no discernible reason despite events which clearly establish that they do know that he knows the secret because they do stage several attempts on his life with fake accidents and have one of the other characters warn him ‘forget everything you saw.’

A recurring point through the plot is that Lauser’s vanishment was reported in the press and investigated by the police but that the police and reporter also forgot Lauser ever existed and the newspaper story has been ‘vanished’ as well, replaced by an unrelated piece. The final crowning ‘proof’ that the plot-twist ‘secret’ is correct is revealed when a ‘correct’ copy of the paper is discovered by one of the paper’s foreign bureaux. As with Stiller’s unexplained but plot-convenient ability to remember the disappearance, the existence of this unexpurgated newspaper is completely illogical.

The second half is worse than the first half, it spends most of its time meandering pointlessly except…. it starts to get a lot better about halfway through. The visualization is impressive, but empty due to the vapidity of the script. However, the script, acting and directing dramatically improve late in the game and by the time the final twist-within-a-twist is revealed and the credits roll it truly becomes memorable and worthwhile, even thrilling! It’s a pity the rest of the film could not be as vigorous.

Rating: D-

Alternative recommendations: Solaris, Tarkovsky A+; Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, B-; The Lathe of Heaven, David Loxton and Fred Barzyk, C+


Have you noticed how Apple and Google are now making cars?

Apple car will not have seats or climate control but will be very pretty and many of its owners will have weirdly personal, defensive attitudes about the car’s shortcomings. It will be hugely influential and financially successful—despite relatively low market share—because of its built-in vending machine that dispenses six different types of intoxicating liquors. Other car developers will race to add vending machines and copy its styling but with mixed results. MoMA will acquire several models of this car for its permanent collection.

Google car will spy on you constantly while issuing vague reassurances that this is so they can make a better car. You can turn the spying off, however this results in irrelevant types of cars appearing in your driveway. Google does not actually make the car, rather the car is made by a South Korean company which changes the design in arbitrary ways that everyone hates and adds extra switches for each of the features. Google car’s vending machine mostly dispenses free liquors meaning the manufacturer makes very little money on them and the quality leaves much to be desired. The beverages also spy on you. Though launched with great fanfare, Google car will be abruptly discontinued with little warning. Owners will be offered a suitcase that contains lint from the upholstery before it is automatically vaporized from everyone’s driveway.

Microsoft car will get off to a very rocky start several early models being prone to exploding but fifteen years later Microsoft cars work very well despite being a bit ugly and the most popular model achieved over 97% market share. However, the company followed this blockbuster up with a completely different style of car with uncomfortable, neon-colored seats and a vending machine that only sells prune juice. After the failure of this model the company will bolt some of its parts onto the old model then start sneaking into everyone’s driveways and replacing their old cars with the new one against their will. This car does, very occasionally, needs to have the engine re-installed for no obvious reason.

Linux car started out as a project in someone’s garage and has somehow become something that Fortune-500 companies rely on. This car is available in 3, 4 and 5 wheel models. In addition to a burgeoning corporate market, dozens of warring factions battle each other to produce consumer versions but only sell kits that require the user to remove the body, engine and other components from their existing car and bolt new parts onto the chassis. These cars will sometimes refuse to drive on certain roads due to licensing politics. Unfortunately, some of these roads are quite popular. After a while, the owners of these roads will start to produce add-ons that enable some Linux cars to drive on them but they have to be installed separately and occasionally make the car explode. The car has a legion of PR people who keep saying “This is the year of Linux car on the driveway!” But it never comes true.

BSD car is extremely similar to Linux car except for certain minor things which are completely incompatible and cause accessories designed for Linux car to break. BSD car comes in three models that are mutually incompatible. Some of the varieties support a feature called Ztrailer in which arbitrarily large arrays of trailers can be combined to create what appears to be a single gargantuan, fault-tolerant trailer which can instantaneously be returned to any previous state (although, if you only want to get one item from a previous state it could take hours.) Linux cars scoffed at Ztrailer and said it was unnecessary but eventually capitulated and copied most of its features. BSD car has much larger market share than commonly imagined.

OS/2 Car used to be very popular according to its manufacturer, which currently only manufactures trains, though there is little evidence of this. OS/2 Car was originally a joint project with Microsoft Car but the developers got divorced and things got messy. OS/2 Car no longer exists but it had a really weird way of starting up and there is still an option to configure some roads to work that way.

Blackberry Car has fallen on hard times after being the most popular model for many years. Blackberry Car has ten times the airbags of the next safest model however its vending machine is always out of stock and only accepts $50s. The steering wheel of this car is legendary and remains heavily touted by the company. Critics question whether this can truly be considered a self-driving car, in part because of the steering wheel. In desperation, Blackberry did a deal to release a version of Google car that was mostly self-driving, had a much better vending machine and had the Blackberry steering wheel bolted onto a sliding panel so it could be put out of the way when not in use. This ended up pleasing nobody.