Notes from an emergency

This is an interesting read – a reflection on power, politics, class and technology in contemporary America and Europe:


Colossal – a minor disappointment

Colossal was fun, and then it was quite dark and scary, and then it was satisfying, when there was a resolution. Sorry, let me back up.

Colossal is a story about a woman struggling with alcoholism who moves back to her hometown after a relationship breakdown. An old school friend helps her out, and [Mild spoiler alert] she discovers she can control a monster in Seoul by stepping into her local playground.

That that summary doesn’t really tell you much about the conflict at the heart of Colossal is what makes it surprising, but also somehow dissatisfying, because it’s a conflict that feels like it’s introduced in the second act.

Like other reviews, I think Jason Sudeikis does a fantastic job; I just didn’t love the movie overall. Others may.

What’s on Netflix

Netflix has been doing well with the independently commissioned pieces recently (although while it’s refreshing now, it’s in a terrifying position to dominate things in the future).

It’s been a while since the first season of Master of None, but it’s worth the wait. I’m only a few episodes into the second season, but it’s fun, warm, and almost borders on being through provoking at points. It’s not ScrubsParks and Recreation, or the American Office, but it’s warm and fuzzy at a time when there’s not enough warm and fuzzy TV out there.

Dear White People is a TV show following on from the movie that Netflix snapped up. The creator takes the time, in the expanded format, to unpack all the characters, and it’s well worth it. There are some great reviews out there. I’ll just add my two cents: It’s great TV, and well worth it.

The Horde (in a comments section)

I’ve long been a fan of TNC (earlier instalments, among others, here and here). It’s nice to read an article on what his comments section did well, and how he did it:

If there’s a lesson to be taken away from the story of the Horde, it might be—depressingly—that trying to build a comment section that truly adds value to a writer’s work will inevitably become more trouble than it’s worth. For years, the Horde gave me hope for a better internet, but these days I tend to believe that comment sections are just tumors on otherwise good journalism, and that we’d all be better off without them.

Cixin Li and the ‘Three Body Problem’

I really enjoyed Cixin Li’s Three Body Problem. Since then I’ve smashed through the other two parts of the trilogy. Both were enjoyable – if you liked the first, definitely keep reading.

The third particularly, Death’s End, feels like a step up in terms of his writing. Perhaps it’s just that he gives himself more room to breathe, rather than racing through it all. It’s a particularly bleak vision that he has of the universe, and the end of it. But he tells it well.

Particularly good throughout Li’s writing is the idea of what happens if the floor falls out from under us; if the basic laws and experimental findings turn out to have been manipulated, or falsified.

Here are some quotes (from all parts of the trilogy):

It was impossible to expect a moral awakening from humankind itself, just like it was impossible to expect humans to lift off the earth by pulling up on their own hair. To achieve moral awakening required a force outside the human race …

The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him… In this forest, hell is other people. An eternal threat that any life that exposes its own existence will be swiftly wiped out. This is the picture of cosmic civilization. It’s the explanation for the Fermi Paradox …

… the universe is not a fairy tale …

… at some point, humanity began to develop the illusion that they’re entitled to life, that life can be taken for granted …

Stories meant twists and catastrophes …

“I also thank every member of the human race,” said … Ice. “Once, we lived together in the Solar System.” …

Civilization was like a mad dash that lasted five thousand years. Progress begot more progress; countless miracles gave birth to more miracles; humankind seemed to possess the power of gods; but in the end, the real power was wielded by time. Leaving behind a mark was tougher than creating a world …

A museum was built for visitors; a tombstone was built for the builders …

… she was but a mote of dust in a grand wind, a small leaf drifting over a broad river …


A few random things:

  • I like 538’s work, and I particularly like this piece on the Comey letterThey clearly set out their logic in arguing their logic that while their are multiple factors that impact any election outcome, the Comey letter was a clear impact, and one that was significant enough to almost certainly tip the scales:

The Comey letter wasn’t necessarily the most important factor in Clinton’s defeat, although it’s probably the one we can be most certain about. To explain the distinction, consider Clinton’s decision to run a highly negative campaign that focused on branding Trump as an unacceptable choice. One can imagine this being a huge, election-losing mistake: Trump’s negatives didn’t need any reinforcing, whereas Clinton should have used her resources to improve her own image. But one could also argue that Clinton’s strategy worked, up to a point: Trump was exceptionally unpopular and needed a lot of things to break his way to win the election despite that. The range of possible impacts from this strategic choice is wide; perhaps it cost Clinton several percentage points, or perhaps it helped her instead. The range from the Comey letter is narrower, by contrast, and easier to measure. It was a discrete event that came late in the campaign and had a direct effect on the polls.

The standard way to dismiss the letter’s impact is to say that Clinton should never have let the race get that close to begin with. But the race wasn’t that close before the Comey letter; Clinton had led by about 6 percentage points and was poised to win with a map like this one, including states such as North Carolina and Arizona (but not Ohio or Iowa).8My guess is that the same pundits who pilloried Clinton’s campaign after the Comey letter would have considered it an impressive showing and spoken highly of her tactics.

Thus, you have to assess the letter’s impact to do an honest accounting of the Clinton campaign. If you’re in the “Big Comey” camp and think Clinton would have won by 5 or 6 percentage points without the letter, it’s hard to fault Clinton all that much. Even given all of Trump’s deficiencies as a candidate, that’s a big margin for an election in which the “fundamentals” pointed toward a fairly close race. “Little Comey” believers have more room to assign blame to Clinton’s campaign, in addition to Comey (and the media’s coverage of him).

Facebook claimed the report was misleading, assuring the public that the company does not “offer tools to target people based on their emotional state”. If the intention of Facebook’s public relations spin is to give the impression that such targeting is not even possible on their platform, I’m here to tell you I believe they’re lying through their teeth …

In a white paper authored by the company’s security team and published on Thursday, the company detailed well-funded and subtle techniques used by nations and other organizations to spread misleading information and falsehoods for geopolitical goals. These efforts go well beyond “fake news”, the company said, and include content seeding, targeted data collection and fake accounts that are used to amplify one particular view, sow distrust in political institutions and spread confusion.