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FaceBook Relish

18 Jan

This was published yesterday at The Daily Caller.

In ancient times a virtual reality was a hypothetical discussion by philosophers and their students.

Plato has Socrates and a group of young men discuss what the just city should be like in the Republic and they quickly spell out what it would be like: simple, agrarian, egalitarian, self-sustaining, producing all the things it needs for everyone to lead a wholesome, healthy, peaceful life.

That is until one of the students asks about relish.  In order to produce condiments more land is needed and the economy becomes more complex, leading the friends of Socrates out of their hypothetical Eden, to ever more complicated regimes, each found wanting, until the symposiasts end up with a somewhat totalitarian state in which the rulers are philosophers who want to live the life of the mind and don’t want to rule, and the ruling political class of “guardians” unlike any historical ruling class we’ve ever met (excepting people named Kushner or Trump) denies itself any wealth, private families, or even knowledge of the identity of their own children – who are given up for adoption at birth.

Today we have virtual polities again, which we call social networks.  Now they aren’t so much the message – about how we should live or what justice is – but the medium by which we discuss this.

Like the hypothetical just city in the Republic our social networks keep evolving and getting more complicated.  And just like Eden, there are snakes in the grass.

The snake everyone is concerned about now is “fake news.”  FaceBook in December announced a plan to combat “fake news” that will soon be implemented.  FaceBook’s 1.7 billion users will be allowed to flag stories or links they think are fake news, which will then be sent to a small list of centrist liberal “fact checkers” who will decide if the story is not factual, and label it so.  If a user then wishes to share a story labelled as fake news they will receive a warning in a pop-up dialogue box asking them if they really want to share it.

People on the right are of course concerned that this will lead to rampant censorship of their opinions and news they think important, citing past reports that the Silicon Valley millennial cyber-guardians hired by FaceBook to “curate” its trending stories were accused of this in the past, with a rather lame rebuttal from FaceBook that this wasn’t true.  The Federalist‘s Mollie Hemingway pointed out that the “fact checkers” who FaceBook had contracted with so far (FaceBook says they are not paying the fact checkers) have partisan leanings and a bad record of sticking to facts.  Though I cannot find any pattern of left of center FaceBook users who were banned or had their postings deleted by FaceBook (and one can find many right of center or libertarian victims), the World Socialist Web Site‘s George Gallinis doesn’t trust the FaceBook fact checking regime either.

In December FaceBook sent a PR person who is a libertarian (not a liberal) to speak to center right groups and assure them that “fact checking” was not an attempt to censor their publications or suppress their views.  Indeed, she argued, by preventing the fake news produced by Macedonian teenagers or a California clickbait entrepreneur (who turned out to be a Democrat) from going viral and swarming the news feed, they would be freeing up more FaceBook “real estate” for everyone else.  This week FaceBook announced an additional initiative, where FaceBook staff will visit newsrooms and coordinate with mainstream journalists, local and national, including FOX News, to attempt to define which news is real and which is fake.

Which leads me to wonder if part of what motivates the fake news protocol is neither the need to suppress fake news, nor a desire to censor Trump (and Johnson etc.) supporters whose social media activities helped the candidate Silicon Valley supported lose her election (by keeping alive stories the legacy media had tried to quash).  Instead, Mark Zuckerberg is trying to free the best tables at his $17 billion restaurant from the low value customers using his internet for hours while only buying one cup of coffee, and make them available for paying customers, left or right, who want to buy some pricey relish.  Zuckerberg wants users to be clicking on links that paid to be boosted or advertised, not non-paying spammers who are clever with incendiary headlines.

As we know from Mr. Zuckerberg’s biography, The Social Network, he never planned to limit himself to a simple menu.  FaceBook evolved from being a social network to being a data broker and online store and advertising platform – because Zuckerberg (and his investors) wanted relish.  FaceBook collects data on its users so it can market itself to those who want to advertise to targeted groups of users (or pay to boost posts to them).  FaceBook even demands data most Boards of Elections don’t require:  FaceBook sometimes demands users email them a scan of a driver’s license or other government issued ID.  FaceBook claims it is verifying that people are who they say they are.  But by demanding IDs its also making sure that the mineable data in your FaceBook profile (birth date, gender, name, address) is correct.

Another Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Mark Weinstein,  has created another social network, MeWe, that is a return to the original simple city, just a social network, not a data broker or advertising platform.  You can be connected to friends and you can join topical groups, but MeWe does not harvest your data.   (Weinstein is also a privacy rights activist and Edward Snowden fan who blogs at Huffington Post.)  MeWe has only 500,000 users today, but it was nominated in 2016 for a South by SouthWest award, the Austin tech venue that helped launch Twitter in 2007 (which now has 310 million users and $600 million in revenue).  Weinstein predicts MeWe will have 30 million users by the end of 2017 (around the size of MySpace, which still exists, unlike Friendster, the other social network that once competed with FaceBook, which went dark in 2015).  When I asked about how he will pay for the servers and engineers needed to scale up to what would still only be 2% of FaceBook’s size, Weinstein says MeWe will begin launching additional subscription upgrades, beyond the social network, for those who want to pay for them – encryption for chats, or an app like Slack.   He’s serving the relish – non-GMO, additive free – on the side.

Beef on the Barbecue – July 4th weekend movies including "Magic Mike XXL," "Terminator Genisys," and "Results"

3 Jul
spoiler alerts

What if Odysseus had been retarded?

Everyone and their mother is in Magic Mike XXL (edited but no longer directed by Steven Soderbergh).  Especially if their mother is a little overweight or a recent divorcee.

Elizabeth Banks is in it, and she is also in every other movie out right now, including Love and Mercy (which is a lot better than Magic Mike) and Pitch Perfect 2 (which is a teeny bit better).

If you want to get a heterosexual guy to go to Magic Mike XXL, you can truthfully tell him that for about a minute and a half, Elizabeth Banks and Jada Pinkett Smith make out, their characters having apparently been lovers years before the events in this movie (or those of the first Magic Mike).

Banks play a slightly trashier and much more countrified version of the contest maven she plays in the Pitch Perfect movies, it’s just that now she is organizing male exotic dancers instead of college acapella groups.  And MMXXL is about a third back story, filling in what went on in dancer Mike’s (Channing Tatum’s) life, before the first movie, including an affair he too had with the omnivorous Ms. Pinkett Smith.

One of the innovations of MMXXL over the original is just this multiculturalism:  there are now black people and gays.  Given the addition of black male dancers (ironically – or perhaps this is a marketing ploy to pull in TV viewers who otherwise would not see a dirty movie – daytime’s  Michael Strahan from the Kelly and Michael show aka Regis, and “Twitch” from Ellen) it is somewhat jarring that the odyssey Mike and friends take on their journey from Tampa to Myrtle Beach takes them through Charleston, South Carolina.

And it is almost literally an Odyssey, with many parallels.  The guys travel not from Mediterranean island to Mediterranean island, but from coastal beach town to coastal beach town.  Their ship, a frozen yogurt food truck, crashes.  They are rescued by an Athena-like Jada Pinkette Smith, who is a goddess of conniving, if not of wisdom (in one act the boys throw glitter on a poster, which sticks to invisible glue and then reads “The Goddess”).  At one point the boys end up in a drag bar and dance in a style to make themselves appear gay – Circe becomes a drag queen and they become not pigs but femmie faggots.  In another stop they visit a stripper club/brothel for a (mainly black) female clientele, where the owner, a beclawed Pinkette Smith, playing a slightly less homicidal version of her “Fish” character in TV’s Gotham, is like a Cyclops, ready to eat them – she makes Mike dance before the assembled clients to decide whether she will be his Cyclops or his Athena.  In a third stop they go to the home of a girl they met who gave Adam Rodriguez’s character her number, and her mother, played by Andie McDowall, is a wealthy divorcee, social queen in a McMansion with a court of wealthy girlfriends, all drinking wine to forget their sorrows; on one stop Odysseus visits Helen (of Troy) and her husband, who serve nepenthe, a psychopharmacological drink, to help them forget the Trojan War.

But these boys aren’t smart like Odysseus; they barely know any words that aren’t four letter words.  Their most elevated comments are when pretty Matt Bomer’s character launches into New Age flatulence about sexual and emotional healing.  So the first third of the movie is kind of awful.  Dirty looking boys with nice abs who aren’t that attractive, except for returning Joe Manganiello, who looks really good scruffy, and also turns out to be a better actor than the rest of them. (Manganiello, who starred in the HBO vampire show TrueBlood, at one point gets to make a joke about a rival group of contestants who have a stripper act where they are dressed as sexy vampires.)

But then the movie becomes a remake of Bring It On, with Tatum and Manganiello playing the Kirsten Dunst and Eliza Dushku characters, with the missing Matthew McConaughey being  the cheerleader flick’s “Big Red.”  They have to invent new choreography and win!  When these characters follow Laura Ingraham’s advice and shut up and sing (and dance) the movie improves.  Except it is still a sad world of stupid men who make unloved women, some morbidly obese and some distraught divorcees, happy with their gifts, which are almost exclusively physical.

There are other fun bits. Matt Bomer sings nicely, making you think, because he’s prettier, if he learned to tell a joke he might threaten Neil Patrick Harris for top Hollywood gay guy. Amber Heard is good in a small role, playing a blond version of a Winona Ryder type character.

Film: C+     Libertarian Quotient: 5


Where Magic Mike XXL is Homer’s Odyssey, Terminator Genisys is Plato’s Republic.

The totalitarian artificial intelligence in all the previous entrants in the Terminator franchise was Skynet, an apocalyptic genocidal evil foisted on us by greedy corporations and militaristic governments, too shortsighted to worry about what an AI entity would do, just as they were too shortsighted to think the Pentagon maybe should be guarded by anti-aircraft weapons.

But in the new Terminator, Skynet uses time travel to continually evolve, or create alternate time streams, like founding new cities in Platonic thought experiments in the search for Justice.  And Skynet re-engineers time so that it instead enters history as a consumer product, Genisys (an evil Genie in a bottle?), that everyone must have, like the latest Apple product (in the film there are one billion pre-orders).  In the Republic the conversants actually found a simple, just, edenic city toward the beginning of Plato’s dialogue, kind of egalitarian, libertarian, and vegetarian.  But then one of them decides that in the perfect city, besides the simple, healthy food, there must also be relish, and away they go, until they end up in a weird totalitarian society where the ruling class steals your kids, but doesn’t know which of the communally raised children are its own children, and also has no property, as well as all sharing the same gym and bathroom facilities no matter what their gender or sexual orientation, where they are all required to exercise naked together.  Kind of like America today. In this movie, Skynet/Genisys must have been reading a digital library including Mary Wollstonecraft, Leo Strauss, and Leon Kass.  It creates a third model of Terminator, not the old Schwarzenegger model, nor the living liquid metal model, but a fused human/machine version.  In TG, the new AI entity offers to borg humanity with nanotechnology, improving it, along the lines of the Ilia character played by the (late) actress Persis Khambatta in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

If you like all the other Terminator movies you will like this one too.  They do handle the time travel conundrums well, and they explain why when the human heroes jump to 2017 their Terminator guardian, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been waiting for them for 23 years, is now an old, gray haired, man.  But for syfy fans, I think the current CBS offerings, Halle Berry’s/Steven Speilberg’s EXTANT, Rachelle Lefevre’s/Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and James Patterson’s Zoo, all deliver more punch.

Film:  B-          Libertarian Quotient:  6


Healthier beef, and more realistic servings, are provided by Guy Pearce in Results.  It’s a somewhat low budget movie set in Austin, Texas, tracking the lives and loves of a fitness center owner who is a personal trainer, his staff, and their clients.  Like Tatum or Schwarzenneger, Pearce is built.  Like Schwarzenegger he has played action villains (Iron Man 3), and like Tatum he has played to the gay audience (long ago, in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.)

This is a good date movie, especially for people who like indie films.  One of the remarkable features is Cobie Smulders, who looks strikingly like Jennifer Connelly, except with a very weirdly unattractive, though perhaps memorable, name.

Film: A-            Libertarian Quotient:  7


Coming attractions

Jurasslick Park  – Scientists recreate neanderthal and cro-magnon humanoids so sex tourists can partake in inter-species orgies on a secluded island; starring Jeff Goldbloom, Ron Jeremy, Sharon Stone, and Lena Dunham as “Gurga.”  Directed by Bryan Singer.