31 July 2023

Meditation #15 -- carpe nocturnem

The night is a refuge
From the surging crowds, the blare and glare,
From all that which, belonging to the day,
Makes the common world banal.

The night is an escape
To the inner world of dreams and shadows
That thrives under darkness's velvet canopy.
A geography of thought made real,
A fantastic landscape of snowy plains
And soft jeweled mountains with crystal hearts,
A paradise where cruel light and crude judgment
Cannot pursue me.

The night is an adventure
An infinite cosmos contained in one brain;
Each dusk I wonder, what new creation awaits?
Phantom worlds, whole dramas and histories,
Heroes and horrors, strange new glories,
Shaped and scripted by I know not what,
More colorful and vivid and fluidly alive
Than dreary day.

If my time comes
To go to the final sleep that never ends,
I hope that there too, in that eternal night,
There will be dreams.

30 July 2023

Link round-up for 30 July 2023

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.

o o o o o

This man can teach you how to handle electrical tools.

Here's a response to those guys who send unsolicited dick pics.

He ordered an Uber ride to go out and get strawberries.

Life was tough in the stone age.

Build your house here, and you'll never get any sleep.

Blowing bubbles in zero gravity can get messy.

Guess he just wanted a simple, no-frills car.

Everyone has fallen for this deception.

Signs of the times here.

Catchy tune, whatever the heck it means.

This jump went really wrong.

We all need a refuge from the toxic zombies of life.

Being killed and eaten is just part of life.

Crows are smart.

Everyone's going on strike these days.

This must be what Hell is like.

By Oregon standards, this is apparently a "desert".

She has the rare patience to respond to a fool.

This is Bangladesh.  I won't be going there.

This is Russia.  I won't be flying there.

Writing is a solitary pursuit, but some writers find networking useful.

Interesting observation here on Verne's 20,000 Leagues.

It was obvious from the beginning that ChatGPT and its ilk were going to be junk.

Streaming is a failure for both customers and creatives.

Is Barbie appropriate for kids?

Oppenheimer leaves out a crucial part of the story.

Sound of Freedom has grossed $127 million in the US alone.  As to those people claiming that right-wing groups are mass-buying tickets purely to inflate the numbers -- for this to account for a significant part of $127 million, those groups would need to be blowing a hell of a lot of cash on such a rather trivial campaign.  Barbie grossed more than half a billion (globally) in less than a week and will probably be the biggest hit of the year, a genuine cultural phenomenon.

Small and independent film producers can work within SAG-AFTRA's terms.  So why do the big studios refuse?

The first livestream took place in 1881.

These are fireflies in rural Pennsylvania.

Fear the awesome toughness of flamingos.

Moose (mooses? meece? mooselini? we need a real plural for that) are very fast.

Here's what happens when a whale dies (gruesome).

Even a fallen tree makes the grass greener.

Besides protecting against the disease itself, covid vaccines also reduce the risk of "long covid" effects.

One of the world's greatest biologists explains why biology matters.

NASA has begun an effort to develop nuclear-powered spacecraft.  It sounds impractical to me, but I suppose NASA knows what it's doing.

Anti-vax drivel extends beyond covid, with predictable results.

Here's a site where you can post a review of your landlord.

This jackass will think twice before trying to break into any more houses.

This guy won't be committing any more rapes.

Even some non-white-collar jobs can now be done from home.

The Wall Street Journal is hosting a much-needed debate about endocrinology.

Useful info about phone scams here.

If you buy ammunition over the internet, beware of deals that sound too good to be true.

Congratulations to UPS workers and the Teamsters, whose strike threat brought a big win from UPS management.

WhatsApp shares its users' personal data with Meta -- here are some alternatives (link from Raziel Rufus).

Maybe this is the answer to the issue of men claiming to be women.

This bill is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.  Any senator or congressman who supports it needs to be hounded out office and his career destroyed.  More details here.

Here's how the Twitter "X" re-branding is going so far.  They even bungled changing the sign at headquarters, while the new giant metal X is a dangerous eyesore.  Oh, and they're still flagrantly censoring stuff.  Any true free-speech defender would go to the mat for this man.

The majority of Chinese-Americans don't like the Beijing regime; they view Taiwan and even historic enemy Japan more favorably.

This nutcase should not be in charge of a lot of powerful weapons.

Houston is closing several school libraries and converting them into "discipline centers".

This "pro-lifer" had ulterior motives, apparently.

John Fetterman has a plan help striking workers cover food costsThis is the kind of thing the Democrats should be focusing on.

It's just a typical conspiracy theory.

We can achieve many social improvements by fighting back against the special status given to religious beliefs.

Wingnuts have concocted a plan for a future Republican president to completely take the US out of the global warming fight (though this is not party policy, as some reports have implied).  My state's senator Merkley has called out Biden's own disastrous record on the issue.

A judge has blocked an Arkansas law which would allow criminal prosecution of librarians and booksellers who make certain books available to minors.  These laws are insane.  We can stamp out stuff like indoctrinating third-graders with gender weirdness in school without turning the whole society into a police state.

Some Christian nationalists want to replace the Constitutional system with Biblical rule, including stoning adulterers to death.

Some swing-state Republican parties are imploding as the nutcases take over.

Never buy a Tesla -- their customer service celebrates not helping people.

"Transitioning" has never actually been possible.

These Christians don't want religious freedom for anybody except themselves.

DeSantis's ghastly views on teaching the history of slavery in the US have gotten him into a feud with black Republicans.

The TSA claimed the right to sexually assault airline passengers with impunity.  Fortunately the courts disagreed.

This senator seems not to realize that there exist 200 foreign countries, where US laws don't apply, and that Americans can see websites based in those countries.

This is not "activism".  It sounds more like terrorism.

Musk is trying to bully other companies into buying ads on Twitter.

Sorry, evangelicals, you did this to yourselves.  And there's no way back.

We can't get rid of the Electoral College because that would require a Constitutional amendment, but there's a way Congress alone could reduce its unfairness.  This would still take more chutzpah that the current Democrats have, though.

Mormonism is a horrible, hateful, cultish religion.

Giuliani may be the most honest guy on Trump's team since he at least openly admits he's a liar.

Yes, they are doing "penile inversion" surgeries on boys as young as fifteen.  Read the stomach-turning details if you dare.

Ohio is holding a referendum on August 8 on a Republican initiative to make it harder to amend the state constitution.  The purpose of this is to make it harder to pass an amendment in November which would guarantee abortion rights in the state.  Early turnout for the special referendum is massive, suggesting that forced-birthers' hopes to sneak this through under the radar are being dashed.  The proposed abortion-rights amendment itself is supported by 58% of Ohioans, including a third of Republican voters.

The UN is openly an enemy of free expression.  It's long past time that the US and other democracies abandoned this poisonous and useless organization.

Sometimes death is the best option.

New Zealand will investigate police failure to curb mob violence at the Let Women Speak event in March.  In Scotland, a week ago, once again a thug attacked a woman in public and suffered no consequencesPeople are not happy.

Putin's attack on Odesa was one more step into barbarism.

Caste discrimination is still a big problem in India, openly defended by some politicians.

Some parents in China are paying their adult children to stay children.

More links at WAHF.  Burr Deming is still recovering from covid.

My own posts this week:  rock from Wales, truths and inspirations, and a review of Barbie.

To suggest an item for inclusion in the next link round-up, you can use the e-mail address on the left in my profile, or if you don't want to use e-mail, leave it in a comment to the previous link round-up.

o o o o o

If you've noticed these round-ups getting shorter, it's because a lot of the internet is kind of dead these days.  Several of my favorite blogs have stopped posting.  Twitter is still a useless mess (as of Saturday, non-account-havers can see Twitter "timelines" again, but individual tweets are all jumbled up in random order, not chronological -- and on individual tweets, you still can't see replies).  And I'm sick of politics.

Whose work is truly important?  If every corporate executive in the country went on strike for a month, and every garbage collector in the country went on strike for a month, which absence would cause more actual problems?

Every belief which we define as "religion" when a million people hold it, would be described as "insanity" if only one person held it.

Apparently Congress has solved all the country's real problems and has no more actual work to do, because this week it spent several hours of taxpayer-funded time holding hearings on flying saucers.  Next up, I presume, will be special hearings on unicorns, and a Select Committee on Haunted Houses.  The evidence for those things is exactly as good as the evidence for alien visitations or "biologics", after all.

27 July 2023

Barbie's pink existentialism

Well, I've just seen the new Barbie film, my first trip out to an actual theater since quite a while before the pandemic.  This post contains spoilers, so if you prefer to skip over it without reading and go to the one below, click here.

First off, contrary to the impression created by the trailers and so forth, this isn't just a movie of zany hijinks set in a benign dollhouse world.  There is a fair bit of that at the beginning, and the inherent silliness of a world whose inhabitants and artifacts are actually just toys is sustained throughout (for example, a battle is fought with weapons like frisbees and arrows with suction cups on the ends instead of arrowheads), but the themes explored quickly become serious, even challenging.

Second, this is probably the most bizarre and original movie I've ever seen that still manages to achieve genuinely coherent, easy-to-follow storytelling.  At various times, even in the midst of hot pursuit, our characters suddenly shift from wherever they are to someplace that looks like it doesn't even belong in the same universe.  I can see why the film is sometimes compared to Pleasantville (another favorite of mine), not because it's actually very similar, but because both movies focus on an almost-impossible-to-describe relationship between the real world and a fantasy world derived from it, and on the effects of the one intruding into the other -- though in Barbie the intrusion goes both ways.

When I say "coherent storytelling", that doesn't mean it's done entirely in the way you're used to seeing in movies.  At first the jumps from scene to scene seem jarring, linked only by brief narration, but you get used to it -- perhaps it reflects the way children actually play with toys, following storylines of their own imagining while simply leaving out anything that doesn't interest them.

The overarching theme is the contrast between female-dominated Barbieland and the male-dominated real world.  Of course, an actual female-dominated society wouldn't just be a mirror-image of the real world, because men and women really are different -- and that's the case here.  Barbieland's males suffer not from oppression but more just benign neglect; they feel not exploited but merely superfluous.

The film is complex and multi-layered.  Without going into too much detail, Margot Robbie's "Stereotypical Barbie" character must travel from Barbieland to the real world, with Ken (Ryan Gosling) tagging along.  They find the real world unexpectedly strange, not least because of male domination (yes, the term "the patriarchy" is overused, but with satirical intent).  Ken decides that he likes "the patriarchy" and manages to install a (rather silly) version of it back home in Barbieland, though only briefly.  A woman from the real world, Gloria (America Ferrera, who almost steals the show) is inspired by Barbieland's plight to discover her inner revolutionary, delivering a fiery feminist speech which has gone viral and may become the movie's defining moment, though I have a feeling it will afford many male viewers and critics an unparalleled opportunity to nit-pick and miss the point.

Robbie and Gosling do an awesome job embodying their characters, and director Greta Gerwig is definitely someone to watch.  Despite how it may sound here, Ken is not a villain.  He's too naïve for that, and his resentments are shown to be well justified.

After Gloria, Barbie, and their allies overthrow Ken's amateurish patriarchal regime, the film proceeds to a long (a bit too long, to be honest) series of scenes where various characters grapple with the profound existential issues the preceding events have forced them to confront.  Right-wing critics who accuse the film of being "woke" are not only wrong (it isn't preachy or constantly throwing explicit identity politics in your face) but hopelessly superficial.  The film doesn't offer easy answers, and avoids the standard clichés -- love isn't always the answer, and Barbie and Ken don't get romantically involved, as would have been inevitable in a more conventional storyline.  The film is not anti-men.  Yes, it pokes fun at men, but it pokes fun at everything.

Despite all these "heavy" themes, the movie is both very funny and aesthetically awesome.  Yes, Barbieland is every bit as beautiful and weird as this video suggested, but under Ken's brief male-centric rule, the same settings become hideous, with beer and flatscreen TVs and macho kitsch everywhere.  There are also some excellent songs, notably the initial "Pink" which helps ease you into this bizarre world.

(Yes, I know there is a trans actor in the film.  This is consistent with the source material, since there was actually a trans Barbie doll.  The issue of transgenderism is never explicitly mentioned.  It's not that kind of movie.)

This is not a film for ideologists.  If you watch it with what I call a checklist mentality, checking off which aspects of it are consistent with leftist politics and which are not, you're wasting your time watching it at all -- because, again, it's not that kind of movie.

A minor criticism -- there's too much crying.  Yes, Barbie has lived all her "life" in an unchanging utopia where she's never needed to deal with an actual problem, so it's not surprising that, while in the real world, she can be reduced to tears by a bratty teenager's string of tired and clichéd insults (ending, of course, with "fascist"), but there is too much giving up and bursting into tears in response to challenges.  It's Gloria, toughened by life in the real world, who inspiringly rises to the occasion and displays unexpected abilities.  The same could be said of "Weird Barbie" (Kate McKinnon), an outcast who has had to fend for herself and learn to think.  Even Gloria's daughter (that same bratty teenager) quickly adapts to her strange new situation and shows real character development.

I would encourage everyone with any interest in these kinds of themes, or in movies generally, to see this.  I'm not surprised that it has been enormously successful with audiences so far.  Indeed, I now feel some hope that the success of Barbie and Oppenheimer and Sound of Freedom means that American film is finally emerging from the long dark age of franchises and superheroes and remakes and reboots in which it has been mired for what seems like forever.  Whatever you think of those three movies, there's no denying that they're fresh and new and original and different -- indeed, very different even from each other.  This is new green growth in the wasteland; it's what our culture needs.

26 July 2023

Truths and inspirations, 26 July 2023

If something's hard to read, click to biggify.....

(For the previous post, click here.  For the link round-up, click here.)