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Month: October 2017

Reddit Thread of the Week: American Healthcare Horror Stories

Reddit Thread of the Week: American Healthcare Horror Stories

Las Vegas shooting victims struggle to afford mounting medical costs
byu/speaktodragons innews

Lots of kvetching about the mess of a healthcare system in the United States, with some comments from other countries for comparison. The number one takeaway on surviving healthcare in the U.S. – don’t ride in an ambulance if you can help it.

This is all comes down to the basic American principle of self-determination – otherwise known as, “if you can’t take care of yourself, then fuck you!” Also the ethos of Yankee ingenuity, or how to make a buck off of your fellow citizen. On this thread, you can just see the nation’s stature slipping away.

Today’s Workout Album: Audio Elastique

Today’s Workout Album: Audio Elastique

So you go to the fitness center to work out but you don’t want to listen to the music they play there. What to do? Well, easy, in this day and age. You bring your smartphone, some ear buds, and pull up your streaming music app.

This morning’s album was Audio Elastique by De-Phazz. At 53 minutes it’s the perfect length for one of my workouts, which generally is 15 minutes of strength training, half an hour of cardio, and some cooling down time. It has enough tempo changes to accompany the cardio well, and it has the most important quality for a workout album: I like the tracks enough to keep wanting to hear the next one, which gets me over the hump when I start the cardio and it quickly wears me down.

I’m no hotshot, just a middle-aged guy trying to keep his body from falling apart. But like Baby, I need my musical inspiration to stay on task.

Blade Runner 20-whenever

Blade Runner 20-whenever

Science fiction often portrays a vision of a not-too-distant future, but a vision colored by the familiar elements and trends in thought of its own time. My favorite observation about the future as shown on the sci-fi screen is that hairstyles are going to be the same as whatever they were at the time the movie or TV show was made.  When watching an older movie about the near future it’s always fun to see where they got it wrong when that future finally rolls around.

Blade Runner, released in 1982, is set in Los Angeles in 2019. Not the real 2019, of course, but an alternate one where the technology looks like it did in the 1970s and the atmosphere is like a 1940s noir film. It’s a wonderful movie, dark and moody, well written and well acted, and featuring a gorgeous Vangelis soundtrack.

I understand that the point of it is the story and the imaginative vision and that it’s silly to compare it to our time period. Nonetheless, I will. Here are some out of date elements in the scenery, compared to the real 2019:

  • Big honking CRT monitors
  • Neon signs
  • Everyone is smoking in public

Of course, how could the people of 1982 predict that by 2019 smoking would be banished from public spaces (at least where I live; maybe it’s different in L.A.)? And that there would be LEDs, and flat screens, and the one thing that absolutely no pre-2007 sci-fi ever anticipates – smartphones?

To be fair, Blade Runner does get a couple of future technologies right:

  • Voice recognition software
  • Video calls

And then there are the predicted technologies that it might have been natural to assume would be coming in our future, but that our pathetic civilization has yet to achieve:

  • Flying cars
  • Off-world colonies
  • And – oh yeah – Replicants!

It always strikes me how optimistic mid-twentieth century conceptions of the future of space travel are. Back then, it hadn’t been that long since the first orbital launches, and the U.S. space program was still prestigious. But what, no moon colony by 1999? No manned mission to Jupiter in 2001? Well, at least it’s not too late to get that warp drive invented, even if we do have to wait for some time traveler assistance.

As for the artificially created humans, well, they are the crux of the story of Blade Runner, and a sci-fi obsession going back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But their presence in the story is not a realistic extrapolation of technological progress.  The closest thing we have to replicants today is artificial hamburgers. Our real world robots are dumb machines, and our real world ‘AI’ is the power of  the Internet to collect and process vast amounts of data.

So I went to see Blade Runner 2049, and first I will report that it is just as good as the original. It has the same feeling of ominous wonder created through beautiful visual effects and an atmospheric soundtrack. It manages to take advantage of the 30+ years of advancement in film special effects (in the real world timeline, I mean) without detracting from suspenseful and meaningful storytelling. If you like science fiction movies in general and Blade Runner specifically then you will love this film.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that it is set in the same timeline as Blade Runner 2019, so there absolutely is no point in waiting until real 2049 to verify its predictions. In the movie’s version of 2049, there are still replicants, and off-world colonies, which is where you’d rather live, because Earth is still a mess, although the color palette of its dreary desolation has been updated a bit.

The 1970s look and feel of much of the technology is still there, which is neat, but here are some additions that reflect modern awareness:

  • Drones
  • Self-piloting flying cars
  • Touchscreens!
  • What if instead of growing a replicant, you programmed a virtual person into a computer, you could call it something else…

I will finish with some thoughts on the subject of artificial intelligence, which is huge in sci-fi film these days, in tandem with news feeds about the growth of the AI industry (which in the real world is building advanced information processing algorithms, not sentient beings).

In the original Frankenstein story, the monster confronts his maker, seeking acceptance, and the scientist creator laments that he has unleashed a destructive force. Both themes are prevalent in subsequent science fiction retellings, reflecting humanity’s yearning to understand its purpose in the universe, and fear that its technological progress has unmoored it from its origins. With Blade Runner (either one) you get all this, along with modern forebodings about overpopulation, ecological catastrophe, wealth inequality, and unbridled corporate power, artfully crafted to satisfy your need for continued myth-making.

Quick Movie Review: From X to Millennial

Quick Movie Review: From X to Millennial

I had an impromptu movie night some days ago and watched two movies which exemplify perfectly the transition from Generation X to Millennial in attitudes about risk and individuality.

The first one was 2008’s Wanted, starring Gen-Xer James McAvoy as a bored office drone who gets recruited into a super secret league of assassins.  As in earlier Gen-X movies that start the story the same way (Fight Club, The Matrix), the protagonist ultimately finds his destiny by breaking out of conventional society and embracing a singular role. It also has a lot of graphic, bloody violence.

Wanted is a cusper movie, and by the end of it the main character has crafted a career for himself which is not unlike being in a real world first person shooter. McAvoy is a late wave Xer, but I imagined he was living the dream of the video game addicted Millennial beta male – perhaps the target audience.

I followed that by watching 2016’s Nerve, in which Millennial Emma Roberts is a shy high school student who decides to court notoriety by joining an underground Internet game of truth or dare – really just the dare part with obligatory smartphone recorded proof. It’s an action movie like the previous one but not murderously violent, rated PG-13 instead of R.

In Nerve the lure of a high-risk, action-packed life isn’t a call to destiny but a trap, and the characters must ultimately test rivalry against loyalty in their quest to find a way out. I also thought it was the better of the two films, with more likable characters and a more sure-footed plot. It belongs in the ranks of films based on juvenile literature in which Millennials band together against a hostile externally imposed system (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner), but with the notable twist that the system isn’t some sci-fi dystopia but rather a plausible creature of our own social media-driven times.

In summary, they’re both flashy action flicks, but in attitude and message represent the difference between the brassy, individualistic Gen-Xer and the group-oriented, approval-seeking Millennial.



Monday Night Football Will Never Be The Same

Monday Night Football Will Never Be The Same

Here is what I think about the “NFL players kneeling for the anthem controversy,” which in this bizarre time of psychosocial media warfare is a thing. First off I will say that I have never witnessed this phenomenon live, as I do not watch football. I have only seen images in my social media feeds. Second, I will say that kneeling is not disrespectful. After all, one kneels before royalty, or before God.

In fact, the story as I understand it is that a young man named Colin Kaepernick first sat during the anthem in protest of police shootings of unarmed young black men, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. He began kneeling instead of sitting after a conversation with a former NFL player and veteran, who suggested kneeling as a way to protest respectfully. In other words, the kneeling players are intending to be respectful, while exercising a right to protest.

Now you might question whether a football game is the place for a protest. I have some personal exposure to football fans who are offended by the kneelers, and it seems that mainly they are annoyed about having their game experience tainted. They came for football and they got politics, which is upsetting. That is understandable.

But sometimes they also complain that the protesters are entitled crybabies who are disrespecting the flag and the armed services. This is overblown to me, for the reasons I gave above, but that could just be my bias. Or it could be that people’s outrage is being stoked by social media bots. Those pesky Russians are at it again, undermining our civic order.

Years and years ago I posted a chart which attempted to define the sides in the Culture War – the “red zone” and “blue zone” as colored by the contentious 2000 elections. After all this time the war rages on in social media, in a kind of playground shouting match where each side accuses the other of being “snowflakes” for not accepting the other’s point of view, and shelters in the safe space of their media bubble.

Let’s allow that the NFL kneelers are blue zoners, and their detractors are red zoners. Maybe what’s bothering the red zoners is that they’re having to face the blue zone in a public arena which they thought was a safe space for their MAGA reality. Monday Night Football is supposed to be patriotic and all-American! Now they’re seeing all these protesting blue zoners who can’t be easily unfollowed or blocked like on a Facebook feed. The only safe space they have left is a Trump rally.

When I look at the kneelers, I see solidarity and courage in a group of empowered Millennials. It’s fitting that black athletes in professional sports use their prominent position to support justice for other young black men who are less privileged. And the tide appears to be turning in their favor. I’m glad for that, but that’s just my bias showing.