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Mixed Media

Mixed media, Saturday 1 February 2020

Fuck Brexit!

The words Europe and Scotland linked by a heart, projected onto the side of the European Commission HQ
Europe ❤️ Scotland

Town in Netherlands replaces Union Jack with Saltire in EU flag line-up

I haven’t quite figured out how to make a European Flag tattoo design that works for me yet.

Fuck Brexit!

Knives Out movie poster

Films:

  • El Camino (Breaking Bad movie) A good chaser after having finished watching all of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
  • ⭐️ Knives Out I’m a fan of Rian Johnson’s, and I’d been looking forward to this for ages. Watched it at the cinema with Abi and Fiona on my birthday, after rushing down a pineapple and jalopeño pizza (yes) at the Domino’s around the corner to catch the movie start time. Excellent film, absolutely loved it.
  • The Irishman Boring. The facial digital de-aging was good, possibly the best we’ve seen to date, but they forgot to de-age the actors’ gaits. In scenes where he’s supposed to be playing a man in his 40s, De Niro still walks and moves like a man in his 70s. Also, did I mention the film’s boring? Because it’s boring.
  • Rise of Skywalker Yes, it’s stupid and full of plot holes, but I liked it. Kinda glad that the cycle is done now, though.
  • ⭐️ Warcraft You know what? Not at all bad. It’s not Moon or Source Code, but it’s not a turkey. It’s not subtle, it’s not groundbreaking, but it’s sincere in putting on an entertaining and exciting big-budget fantasy spectacle that isn’t set in Middle Earth. I enjoyed it.
  • Roman J Israel Esq Knowing nothing about this film other than having watched the trailer clip showing a single scene of dialogue between Denzel Washington and Colin Farrell, this went in a completely different direction than I’d expected. Thoughtful, uncomfortable, pretty good.
  • 💩💩 6 Underground I tried watching this, but I couldn’t. A billionaire faking his own death so he can mete out vigilante justice with no regard for collateral damage is…troublesome at best, the I found the opening car chase scene so abhorrent that I deleted the download from my phone so that I wouldn’t be tempted to try returning to it. (Yes, Bruce Wayne/Batman, yes, Tony Stark/Iron Man. I know.)
  • Frozen 2 Good. Kristoff’s “Lost in the woods” eighties music video parody is hilarious.
  • My name is Dolemite Excellent. Funny and moving story of a comedian trying to make it big, and do it his way.
  • Song of the Sea Beautiful film, gorgeous animation.
  • Jojo Rabbit Brilliant. I found the start uncomfortable, with how much it leaned in to painting the nazis in a normal and humorous light, but it turned into something altogether sharper, more subtle, and more emotional.

TV

  • Rick and Morty season 4 (or at least the first half of it) – still funny.
  • Watchmen Excellent, intense, twisty & turny, although the use of kinetic weapons in the final episode felt inconsistent in its execution.
  • The Good Place season 4 Wow. Hard to keep up the level of comedy and still bring that to a satisfying ending, but they really did it.
  • October Faction season 1 I won’t be surprised if Netflix doesn’t renew this for a second season, and I won’t be super disappointed, either, because they brought this first story arc to a pretty solid conclusion. It’s relatively low budget, relatively low key and downbeat, definitely not the flashiest or best piece of TV out there. But what can I say? I enjoyed the family story, and felt a strong connection with the two parents, struggling to deal with two teens who themselves are trying to figure out their own identity in a new and difficult situation.
Slow Horses by Mick Herron book cover

Books

  • ⭐ The first 5 books of the Jackson Lamb series by Mick Herron: Slow Horses, Dead Lions, Real Tigers, Spook Street, and London Rules. Loved these. I came across them via Warren Ellis. Serious spy stories, with elements of Archer-like inappropriate humour that creep in around the edges. Looking forward to the next one.
  • 😐 Measure What Matters by John Doerr. He never comes out and explicitly says there is a causal link between the use of OKRs and corporate success (maybe his editor balked), but he sure as heck implies it at every opportunity. Now, I like OKRs, but I also like supporting evidence. This book is a selection of the most successful case studies from his personal acquaintance. Pretty! But completely lacking in balance, or in guidance for anything but the happiest of paths.

Music

  • Manic by Halsey is amazing. Varied and richly textured. And I can actuall play the bass part for “Finally // beautiful stranger” because it’s super easy (E-D-C-A) and at a tempo I can still handle. ❤️
  • The track “Alanis’ Interlude” on Manic features…Alanis Morissette, who I haven’t listened to for ages. As in, I hadn’t heard Flavors of Entanglement from 2008 or havoc and bright lights from 2012 at all. But now I have! I prefer the latter.

Update: I’d forgotten that in the time period for this mixed mediastravaganza I also had a subscription to Amazon Prime. This was accidental. I generally avoid Amazon (I disapprove strongly of their labour practices), but when I do use them, I always avoid signing up for their offers of Amazon Prime. But this time they caught me with one of their dark patterns. Something like a “no, I don’t want to not take advantage of opting out of this free offer” checkbox that I misinterpreted.

Anyway, so there I was with an Amazon Prime subscription, and Season 4 of ⭐ The Expanse just having been released as an Amazon exclusive, so I stuck around for that. And season 1 of ⭐ Fleabag. But not season 2, because despite season 2 being “Available on Amazon Prime Video” this apparently doesn’t mean it’s, you know, available on Amazon Prime Video in the way media are available on other video subscription services. Of course not, what was I thinking.

So anyway, that subscription is gone now.

And then there’s Disney+, on which we’ve watched season 1 of The Mandalorian. Mixed opinion. On the one hand Baby Yoda, on the other hand droid slavery and mass murder. So.

And as I was looking back over this media collection, I thought it was looking a bit light for a three month gap since the previous one…and then I remembered that ⭐ Spider-Man on PS4 kinda took over my life for while there. Time well spent.

The Human Capital Hoax

Ordinary capital refers to tangible items and investments: cash, property, equipment. It can be sold, split up, moved around. Human capital is the accumulation of knowledge, skills, abilities, etc. inside a person. As such, it can’t be separated from the human in which it resides.

Human capital comes in two types: specific human capital is the set of skills that someone needs to do a specific job. (For example, knowing how to use a particular home-grown piece of software, or an idiosyncratic manufacturing process.) This is non-transferable: if the person goes to work for a different company, they can’t really take it with them. General human capital is the set of skills and abilities that an employee can take with them, and hence makes them (theoretically) more valuable to employers in a supposedly free marketplace.

So the question is: who should pay for a person to develop that general human capital, which by definition cannot be separated from the person in which they reside? Back in the 1960s, neoclassical economics said: well, duh, the person is responsible for that themselves of course. Say hello to human capital theory, the fall of free education, and the rise of the gig economy, zero-hours contracts, and out-of-control inequality.

On my course this term I’m doing the Learning & Development module! And in the first week, our lecturer Dr Rebecca Whiting dropped this paper on us: “The Human Capital Hoax: Work, Debt and Insecurity in the Era of Uberization” by Peter Fleming, which takes an axe to the whole edifice.

He stands clearly in the corner of human dignity and social equality, but he uses the tools of economics to draw a straight line from the foundations of human capital theory to the obviously flawed practical outcomes we see in the world right now: “This has allowed the genuine yearning for worker independence to be hijacked and transformed into an instrument of proletarianization”

Fuck yeah. One more quote I’m especially fond of:

“[…] a more balanced employment relationship is indispensable if self-determination is to be successfully renegotiated to create fairer life chances. […] One cannot truly express individualism, self-reliance and choice when desperately dependent on an unequal power relationship.

Fleming (2017)

It’s an academic essay, so it’s not quite a casual read, but it’s a powerful tonic when the world outside looks a bit grim.

Genuine Apple Advice for SD card problems

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204384

What. The. Hell.

Insert faster! Faster, damn it!

And for the SD card I’m using right now…this tip actually works.

More truth

Heather Cox Richardson, in her newsletter yesterday:

If you can force people to accept as reality something that is demonstrably false, you prove to both of you that they are the ones in charge and you will submit. That’s why it’s so darned important to Trump to be right about everything, so important that he’ll alter a weather chart with a Sharpie.

So how do we figure out what’s real?

Truth

Back in September I had what I’ve jokingly described as “a brush with the law.”

It’s not what you think. I was called to give a deposition in a lawsuit in the course of my day job. It involved me spending a whole day in a conference room of a fancy New York law firm, answering questions from an attorney sitting across the table from me. There was a microphone clipped to my shirt, a video camera trained on me the whole time, and a court reporter doing a live transcription. It was not fun.

I can’t say anything about the content of the deposition, but the emotional experience was profoundly unsettling. It gave me a visceral understanding that the legal system is not there to determine “the truth.” It’s there to ensure that two sides get an equal opportunity to discover and present their own version of events.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove is a cliché of crime fiction. When you believe there’s such a thing as objective reality, this doesn’t seem right and fair. It certainly didn’t make me happy. Normally I enjoy spending time in New York. This time, I couldn’t wait to leave.


A few weeks later, I started the first term of a part-time distance learning Master’s course in Organizational Psychology at University of London. I can do the course over five years, so I’m being sensible, taking it easy, and only doing one module per term. This was a good move because the module for this first term is Research Methods, and it’s hard.

And the subject of truth came up again. In the first two weeks we studied epistemology, ontology and the philosophy of science: how do we know what we know? How can we be sure that we know is true? Is there even such a thing as objective knowledge, or is the whole edifice of science a convenient construct that could just as easily be formulated and interpreted in a thousand completely different ways?

I’m a hard science boy. I did maths & physics as an undergrad, and I’m pretty solid on the idea that there is an objective reality, and we just live in it. Physics has a habit of being measurable and immovable. When there’s a discrepancy, it’s theory that’s wrong, not the universe.

Buuuut…in the context of social sciences and psychology, we’re not dealing with particles and forces and fields. We’re dealing with dynamical systems on top of dynamical systems. If someone says that they see the dress as white and gold, when actually it’s black and blue, their perceptions are objectively false. But the statement that the person perceives the dress as white and gold is objectively true. Now think about phenomena that can’t be measured by spectrometers, such as self-image or emotional resilience.

Epistemologically speaking, I’ve been coming to terms with the idea that qualitative research can be rigorous, “hard”, and meaningful just like quantitative research. Is it true? That might be asking the wrong question. Does it matter? The way I’ve got it in my head right now is that qualitative research tends to be broadening: improving our understanding of and empathy for others by gaining insight into their lived and shared experiences.

(Even in the last few weeks of studying quantitative methods, we still have to deal with questions of ontology. Sure, we have scales for measuring “intelligence.” But is this even a valid construct in the first place?)

Yesterday, feeling better than I had been all week, Abi and drove to Castricum beach to watch the sunset, get some sea air, and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and a slice of apple pie at one of the beach cafés. In the light of the Trump impeachment hearings in the US this week, and the general election campaign in the UK, I got on a ramble about how modern media, by attempting to be impartial and “fair to both sides” allows lies to run rampant. How the idea that there are always two sides, and it’s up to the reader or viewer to decide, is in itself a libertarian free-market stance. And we’re back to the nature of truth again.

When we got home, I read Sacha Baron Cohen’s speech to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), printed in The Guardian. He talks about exactly this, with specific reference to the gatekeepers of modern popular knowledge – social media and search engines:

On the internet, everything can appear equally legitimate. Breitbart resembles the BBC. The fictitious Protocols of the Elders of Zion look as valid as an ADL report. And the rantings of a lunatic seem as credible as the findings of a Nobel prize winner. We have lost, it seems, a shared sense of the basic facts upon which democracy depends.

[…]

To quote Edward R Murrow, one “cannot accept that there are, on every story, two equal and logical sides to an argument”. We have millions of pieces of evidence for the Holocaust – it is an historical fact. And denying it is not some random opinion. Those who deny the Holocaust aim to encourage another one.

Still, Zuckerberg says that “people should decide what is credible, not tech companies.” But at a time when two-thirds of millennials say they haven’t even heard of Auschwitz, how are they supposed to know what’s “credible”? How are they supposed to know that the lie is a lie?

There is such a thing as objective truth. Facts do exist. And if these internet companies really want to make a difference, they should hire enough monitors to actually monitor, work closely with groups like the ADL, insist on facts and purge these lies and conspiracies from their platforms.

I’ve long turned away from web-scale social media myself, because I’ve found it incompatible with maintaining my own mental health. The only person I’m helping with this stance is myself. Truth is very important to me, but I’m not 100% sure what it is any more. And I don’t know what I, as an individual, can do to promote it.

Boredom

Emma Brockes in The Guardian – “Forget Bali, I found bliss in the blandness of a chain hotel”

On the second day, after my meetings, I went down to the hotel lobby. The sliding doors opened and the chill air contracted in the dank Florida day. I did some laps of the car park, talking on the phone to friends, then went inside and ate wings. Back in the room, I lay on the bed, looking through the sliding glass doors towards the highway. I thought about sending an email and didn’t. I took a three-hour nap, went downstairs and ordered more wings. No one spoke to me, looked at me or confirmed I existed.

I recognize that feeling from the time last year when my Friday evening flight home was cancelled, and EasyJet put me up in various hotels until they could fly me home again on the Monday evening. I wasn’t in a good headspace at the time, but I look back now on those three days as a break of almost unprecedented rest and tranquillity.