tom moody

Archive for the ‘around the web’ Category

presidential material

With Mark Zuckerberg contemplating a presidential run, let's take a minute to reflect on his achievements.


You might think back to The Social Network, a movie that rates 96% on the Tomatometer (the Wikipedians' standard of quality).
Critic Michael Atkinson was one of the few naysayers to challenge the outpouring of accolades for the film back in 2010. In In These Times he wrote:

The narrative of the film is, in outline, drab and inconsequential: college squabbles, modest programming achievements, money, betrayals, lawsuits. If the entity at the center of the cyclone weren’t Facebook, it would barely justify a TV drama’s single episode, regardless of how many thorny zingers Aaron Sorkin stuffed into his screenplay. But it is. And how familiar we all are with Facebook by now is the film’s raison d’être -- its extra-cinematic fuel.

The boilerplate cant regarding Facebook in the media posits the site as having changed our lives. But has it? How is your life significantly different due to Mark Zuckerberg’s contraption? Is it more than a monstrous distraction? You should clock yourself on an average day, and see how many minutes you waste futzing with Zuckerberg’s masterpiece.


More than a time-suck, Facebook has the express intention to propagate social adhesion (something the movie’s Zuckerberg ironically lacks any capacity for). Yet instead it erects an artificial public simulacra of human contact. Since you’ve used it, you know that its potential for alleviating genuine loneliness, fostering a real sense of community and retaining bygone friendships is minimal and possibly even counteractive. In the medium run, Facebook may well depress the emotional engagement and opportunities needed for live relationships, and foster the social atomization it purports to remedy. Substituting for the real thing may well be part of the Facebook business plan by now -- the real Mark Zuckerberg would surely be chagrined if his 500 million customers were to suddenly defect in favor of real meetings, real conversations, real intercourse. If Facebook is the future, it’s dystopian. It’s built around a voluntary form of social control that would’ve astonished George Orwell.

So negative! Atkinson must not want to be "liked."

Update: London Review of Books, via Naked Capitalism:

Jesse Eisenberg’s brilliant [wince --TM] portrait of Zuckerberg in The Social Network is misleading, as Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook manager, argues in Chaos Monkeys, his entertainingly caustic book about his time at the company. The movie Zuckerberg is a highly credible character, a computer genius located somewhere on the autistic spectrum with minimal to non-existent social skills.

But that’s not what the man is really like. In real life, Zuckerberg was studying for a degree with a double concentration in computer science and – this is the part people tend to forget – psychology. People on the spectrum have a limited sense of how other people’s minds work; autists, it has been said, lack a "theory of mind." Zuckerberg, not so much. He (Zuck) is very well aware of how people’s minds work and in particular of the social dynamics of popularity and status.

- tom moody

August 4th, 2017 at 7:59 am

Posted in around the web

keen social insight via photography, part 2

I updated my post on Crooked Timber's "Trump's America" photo, after the photographer, a political science prof at a major US university, offered some clever sophistry at my expense :( in support of sliming the opposition (a tactic that didn't work so well in the 2016 election). This is still a live issue, since the unapologetic Clinton appears likely to run again.

In the comment thread responding to the photo, several people rehashed her "deplorables" remark...

We are living in a volatile political environment [Clinton said]. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.

...and debated how broad a segment of the American public she was denouncing. Was it half of Trump supporters? Half of Trump voters? Or did she just mean the Breitbart readers?

Commenter Heliopause says (comment 91):

This thread has gone a strange direction, hasn’t it? “Precisely how many people are in Clinton’s ‘Basket of Deplorables?’ Nate Silver will be joining us next…”

Look, people, smart politicians generally avoid statements of this kind because they have a rudimentary understanding of human nature. If you go to Cleveland to give a speech and say, “some of the people here are stupid,” a not insubstantial proportion of your audience hears, “he just said we’re stupid.” Next day the local paper headline is, “Speaker Calls Clevelanders ‘Stupid'”, and away we go.

When Trump made his infamous remark about rapists he of course did not say, “all Mexicans are rapists,” though that’s what most people heard. What he actually said was bizarre and racist enough; essentially that there was some sort of coordinated effort to send criminals, whatever their relative proportion of the population might be, to the U.S. But that’s not what got heard and reported around the world.

So I don’t see how it matters how many Deplorables Clinton really thinks exist, she was stupid to have said this within earshot of anyone who might have reported it out.

Update: The word "unapologetic" was substituted after publication for a harsher word.

- tom moody

July 26th, 2017 at 8:47 am

Posted in around the web

"2000s figures" stumbling in the age of you-know-who

Comments on Naked Capitalism:

July 20, 2017 at 3:04 pm

Trump’s Budget Shows How He Is Building a Police State
Trump is aiming to turn the federal government into a much more militaristic and paramilitary policing organization.
[link to David Cay Johnson story]

Lambert Strether
July 20, 2017 at 3:10 pm

There aren’t a lot of specific domestic programs mentioned in the post, which is what I expected (since a “police state” is by definition directed at the citizens of that state). One tendency liberal Democrats have is to point to some bad (undeniably bad) thing Trump is doing, while ignoring how Obama (and the now rehabilitated George W. Bush) either did the same thing or created the conditions for what Trump is doing. It’s like they built the car, assumed they’d always have the keys, and then scream because they don’t like the direction Trump is driving it). Uncharacteristic lack of focus by Johnston.

Tom Moody
July 20, 2017 at 4:13 pm

Yes, many blogs I read complain about [ongoing political evil] and stick “in the age of Trump” into the headline. Juan Cole is especially bad at this.

Swamp Yankee
July 20, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Agreed on Cole, Tom. He has not been at his best lately; Trump seems very difficult for him to get his head around. In general I’d say he is far more perceptive about the Middle East than America (I think this is related to his having been raised in large part as an American abroad). In general, I think figures from the 2000s like Cole’s time, in the sense of when they were most influential and insightful and central to world-historical events, has passed (see also Colbert, Stephen, Stewart, Jon, etc). The focus is back on the US, and off the Middle East.

I say all this with great admiration for Cole, I actually know him in real life and found him to be a very decent sort.

Tom Moody
July 22, 2017 at 7:07 am

I still read him for the Middle East coverage. Unfortunately every other headline is something like today’s “How our Intel Agencies Screwed us by Letting Sessions, Trumpies get away with Russia Scheme.” Immediately after the election Cole was skeptical of any “scheme.” Now he’s fully on board with the Clinton talking points.

Tom Moody
July 22, 2017 at 7:32 am

OK, I deleted his feed from my RSS reader — will scan his front page occasionally for Mideast analysis. I also had to delete Corrente a while back (sorry Lambert). They had a *daily* series going called “Trump therapy” which was like agony to read if you believe Clinton is no better. I made a skeptical comment which never left moderation, then deleted the RSS. Joe Conason’s blog remains in the queue for its reading of the current Clintonite thinking and because he posts infrequently. Swamp Yankee, you are right about those “figures from the 2000s.” Many of them seem out of touch with the reasons for popular anger.

- tom moody

July 23rd, 2017 at 5:38 am

Posted in around the web

those clinton russia scandals

Clinton supporters avoid focusing on the poor election performance of their candidate by keeping a steady stream of revelations about Trump and Russia coming every day. The Washington media seem to think it's 1972 and they are Woodward and Bernstein, breathlessly reporting new details. Meanwhile Trump goes about his business, packing the government with cronies and reversing socially useful regulations.
The irony is the Clintons would be hip deep in Russia scandal if the same level of scrutiny were applied to them.
James Howard Kunstler summarizes neatly:

More interestingly, though, the meme that has led people to believe that any contact between Russians and Americans is ipso facto nefarious vectors into the very beating heart of the “Resistance” itself: the Clintons.

How come the Clintons have not been asked to explain why — as reported on The Hill blog — Bill Clinton was paid half a million dollars to give speech in Russia (surely he offered them something of value in exchange, pending the sure thing Hillary inaugural), or what about the $2.35 million “contribution” that the Clinton Foundation received after Secretary of State Hillary allowed the Russians to buy a controlling stake in the Uranium One company, which owns 20 percent of US uranium supplies, with mines and refineries in Wyoming, Utah, and other states, as well as assets in Kazakhstan, the world’s largest uranium producer? Incidentally, the Clinton Foundation did not “shut down,” as erroneously reported early this year. It was only its Global Initiative program that got shuttered. The $2.35 million is probably still rattling around in the Clinton Foundation’s bank account. Don’t you kind of wonder what they did with it? I hope Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller wants to know.

- tom moody

July 18th, 2017 at 7:56 am

Posted in around the web

dem russia obsession bores voters

Norman Solomon:

"Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia,” The Hill reported over the weekend. In sharp contrast to their party’s top spokespeople, “rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare."

- tom moody

June 27th, 2017 at 5:38 am

Posted in around the web

recursive alto


Ken Shirriff has been restoring a vintage Xerox Alto computer (the PC Steve Jobs "borrowed" his ideas from). Using the BCPL programming language, a precursor to C, he made this image of an Alto on an Alto on an Alto [etc]

Before Wikipedia such an image would have been called infinitely recursive and everyone would have known what you meant ("infinite" within the limits of screen resolution, of course). Now the Wikipedians are encouraging us to use the term Droste Effect, after an obscure cocoa package design. Thanks, I'll pass, but Redditnerds are all over it with an online festival of recursive computer screen images they're calling Droste Week. Here's a typical example (most of these aren't very infinite):


Earlier posts on Shirriff and the Alto restoration.

- tom moody

June 27th, 2017 at 5:16 am

overcoming "our" disillusionment

Geert Lovink's latest anti-social media rant starts out well with amusing quips:

“Artificial intelligence is not the answer to organized stupidity”—Johan Sjerpstra.
“Please don’t email me unless you’re going to pay me”—Molly Soda.
“Late capitalism is like your love life: it looks a lot less bleak through an Instagram filter”—Laurie Penny.
“Wonder how many people going on about the necessity of free speech and rational debate have blocked and muted trolls?”—Nick Srnicek.
“Post-truth is to digital capitalism what pollution is to fossil capitalism—a by-product of operations”— Evgeny Morozov.
“I have seen the troll army and it is us”—Erin Gün Sirer.

But then Lovink switches to first person plural causing me to vomit on the keyboard:

Our disenchantment with the internet is a fact. Yet again, enlightenment does not bring us liberation but depression. The once fabulous aura that surrounded our beloved apps, blogs, and social media has deflated. Swiping, sharing, and liking have begun to feel like soulless routines, empty gestures. We’ve started to unfriend and unfollow, yet we can’t afford to delete our accounts, as this implies social suicide. If “truth is whatever produces most eyeballs,” as Evgeny Morozov states, a general click strike seems like the only option left. But since this is not happening, we feel trapped and console ourselves with memes.

As the old '60s joke goes, "What do you mean we, kemosabe?" Some people didn't sign up for Facebook in 2007 -- because it smelled like a racket. Some people don't carry surveillance devices in their pockets just because everyone else does. Some people have made a good-faith look for alternatives to swiping and sharing, shy of a "general click strike."

Lovink's article appears in e-flux, which recently tried and failed to acquire the .art domain, speaking of the need for general click strikes. A Facebook for art, controlled by well-intentioned do-gooders, was narrowly avoided.

The rest of Lovink's article discusses positive uses of memes, or something. I haven't read it all. It was hard to get past that first paragraph. Will update if there is anything worth passing along.

- tom moody

June 21st, 2017 at 9:43 am

Posted in around the web, theory

various zappa-related links

A YouTuber's review of Timothy Carey's film The World's Greatest Sinner. Frank Zappa wrote the score in the early '60s when he was a broke unknown and described it as the "worst movie ever made" during his legendary Steve Allen appearance. Career oddball Carey was essentially a performance artist working in the film medium, and enlivened two Kubrick projects, The Killing and Paths of Glory. TCM shows Sinner occasionally but I haven't seen it in its entirety (yet).

Interview with David Walley, who wrote the 1971 Zappa biography No Commercial Potential. Zappa hated the book because it dared to describe his faults, and he badmouthed Walley in interviews. Walley updated it in 1980 at the request of the publisher and updated it again after Zappa's death in 1993. The updates don't continue the "Zappaesque-collage-with-interviews" style of the original text and they have a sadder-but-wiser tone but they merit reading. Walley admired Zappa's music despite reservations about the "darkness" of his vision: "a universe of no hope and putdowns." The interview captures the love-hate spirit.

Walley notes in the interview that Zappa wasn't always the best judge of his own work -- including which older projects needed improvement. Never was this clearer than the disastrous 1984 CD remix of We're Only In It For The Money, where Zappa dubbed in new bass and drum playing to punch up the original sound. This web page goes into exhaustive detail on the changes and Zappa's shifting justifications for them.

I knew the Zappa kids were feuding after mom Gail died. It's interesting to compare this family interview from when she was still alive with this posthumous one. Apparently she didn't prep the kids that they'd be getting unequal shares in the Zappa Family Trust (30% each for Ahmet and Diva, 20% each for Moon and Dweezil). As Kazanian says (admittedly tangentially) in Dario Argento's film Inferno: "[T]he only true mystery is that our very lives are governed by dead people." First Zappa by creating a monster creative legacy and then Gail by doling out who profits from it.

- tom moody

June 15th, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Posted in around the web

a purpose for collecting

Robert Nickas, from his essay on the Affidavit website titled "A 12-Step Program for 'Collectors'":

To collect is to draw things towards ourselves over time, to study and learn from them, to see what they elicit, one from another, not to engage in a continuous and expedient dispersal.

Well said. The essay is a collection of Benjamin Franklin wisdom or Tom Paine common sense aimed at flippers of artwork. None of it should need to be said except this is the era of a $2.9 million Peter Doig (a terrible painter) and a $110.5 million Basquiat that, according to Nickas, "may not be among Basquiat’s very best."

- tom moody

June 6th, 2017 at 5:48 am

i see a dead candidate

As blogger/Village Voice columnist Roy Edroso has noted, the National Review is rarely funny.
But with Hillary Clinton suddenly back in the media every day after her failed campaign, serving up a cornucopia of self-justification, we'll have to take our laughs where we can find them:

Hillary Rodham Clinton isn’t merely in a state of denial. She has become Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense. Politically speaking, she is dead, but she doesn’t know it. Her staffers are so many Haley Joel Osments — too kind (and too attached to their salaries) to tell her that her career is over. She doesn’t need briefings. She doesn’t need to do interviews. She doesn’t need to write the book she is writing (after so many indigestible volumes, why bother with one more?). She doesn’t need to stake out a politically nuanced position on James Comey’s firing or scramble to get out in front of the Resistance parade. She lost two exceedingly winnable presidential campaigns in Hindenburgian fashion. There is no demand for her to run again and there is nothing left for her except to receive whatever ceremonial honors and sinecures may come her way. She has been handed her political retirement papers by the American people. She’s done. (Kyle Smith)

If only. She's not Bruce Willis but Michael Myers in Halloween, endlessly resurrecting no matter how many times Jamie Lee Curtis stabs him.

- tom moody

June 1st, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Posted in around the web