Monday, February 25, 2019

Who to blame? Facebook!

We live in the Age of Facebook, and might well die together because that platform's strengths as well as its numerous weaknesses leave us vulnerable to every sort of blunder.

For years now, most of the older souls around me have been posting and checking posts daily. I have read and read again that 70 percent of us get the bulk of our news from that rapacious, easily manipulated social media platform. Is that an accurate figure? I doubt it, if only because not every American belongs to Mark Z's empire of code and compulsion. (I've never signed up, though I understand that my data has been harvested from every member's postings, and such.) Yet I have seen enough nonsense from both sides of the political terrain to shiver in terror. Today's ignorance about issues and reality? That always existed, yes, but it was dampened down during the Age of Cronkite. During the Age of Lucid Republicans. During the Age of the Clear Soviet Threat.

Over the weekend, I rewatched THE SOCIAL NETWORK. And I have two takeaways.

One: As so often happens in film, children are played by actors who are a few years older than their namesakes. Jesse Eisenberg was 26 or 27 when he pretended to be Mark Zuckerberg. Who was just a sophomore in college. I'm not going to argue that 26 year-old men are sages dripping wisdom, but there is maturity there that you just don't expect to find in a 19 year-old kid. And the 19 year-old is a kid, regardless of his IQ or the Harvard backdrop. This is not to say that the fictional Mark doesn't act like an impulsive boy. But imagine every scene with a different actor. A younger, less graceful child who might one day grow up to be Jesse Eisenberg. But isn't there yet.

And Two: I do like the movie, reservations aside. And this second watching gave me a small revelation. Suppose Mark Zuckerberg doesn't care that much about money. It's his cleverness that matters, and the reach of his cleverness.

Let's take that as the truth.

A businessman who doesn't recognize the value of his billions presents his own kind of danger. Because he will be surrounded by powers that do love money, who see it in the world and will find a multitude of ways to catch it in their nets, and very few of those powers are going to give a rat's ass about any company's moral bearings.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Observations from a Star Trek sometimes-fan

There was a day when the Reed household paid extortion fees to Time-Warner cable. But our new Samsung television -- a 40 inch monster -- supplied hi-def video only while watching blu-rays. Save for one or two local channels, which came in bright and strong. Yet still not quite hi-def, since you could see the algorithms making the grass simple, and every fast motion became a blur.

Now this was a perfectly normal situation, the cable guys claimed. Hi-def everywhere needed the best equipment, and we had to pay for the best. And oh, that included a new cable line strung underneath the backyard. So I said, "Gosh, we'll sure talk this over," and then my wife cancelled the service completely. (We have DSL, not cable, for the Internet.) After that, I put up the first of a series of antennae that now, after a ridiculously long learning curve, feeds 29 crisp channels into the same machine. But that TV clings to the wall in the basement bedroom, since that's the shorter run from the antenna inside the garage. Questions about signal strength and splitters means that the newer 55 inch behemoth doesn't get a reliable signal. It did for a long while, but something has degraded since then. Raccoons. That's what I'm blaming. Raccoons in our crawlspaces, causing raccoon troubles.

My point is that our entertainment center is Internet/digital-file/DVD only. Which is quite spectacular most evenings. But there was some talk about watching the Superbowl from the couch, not from the bed. So because I was going to do this eventually, I punched a few numbers into the new Chromebox, and 10 seconds later, we were able to watch our local CBS feed. As well as THE GOOD FIGHT. And because I was professionally curious, I immersed myself in STAR TREK DISCOVERY. From the first episode, one after the next.

Writing this, I'm two or three episodes behind the latest. Plus I need to see all those tiny episodes that I have been told are quite interesting.

In general, I'm happy with the product. I'm not NEXT GENERATION minus-Wesley happy. And I certainly can imagine strategies for improvement. The blunt obvious can't-leave-my-brain-alone trouble is the "science" of the show. It feels like the outgrowth ... no, I won't say hallucinogenic mushrooms. Too easy, too wrong. Trippy fungus would make for a dreamier, avant-garde work, and that might prove fascinating in its own right. No, DISCOVERY feels as if it sprouts from a couple semesters of college biology and a few Nova specials about space. I just don't believe that anyone connected to the show is in control of this universe. Meetings are held, writers spitball, suits from CBS give their opinions, and the next thing you know, you can neutralize the Klingon Empire with a gizmo. With a card trick. And that is sloppy and dumb, wounding me clear to my rational core.

And yet. DISCOVERY has this talent for ending episodes with plot flourishes that make me wish that I had written them.

Argue about the merits of a certain villain, but that one revelation late in the first season ... well, I found myself giggling with murderous delight.

Of course I know almost nothing about the show itself. Except that its gestation sounds as troubled as a Klingon and human mating on Vega. Or in Vegas. People were hired, were fired. Two producers died in transporter failures, or so I hear.

I have a nephew who tells me that much of the first season was stolen from a "flash game" from more than a decade ago. And stolen means scene for scene, in some cases. He claims that a lawsuit is underway, and while I'm usually on the side of poor little fan boys, I have to wonder about the legal underpinnings. (I just watched the second season of THE GOOD FIGHT, after all. The Law is good.) These little twerps used someone else's universe, and that universe took back what always belonged to it. In the same manner, if fans of mine stole the Great Ship and did something intriguing, and if I decided to employ their work in my own efforts, who would be injured? I don't just give away my property. They took it and did interesting work. Oh, and here's a gift card for Blockbuster. In thanks.

I'll have more to offer later. Particularly about the acting, which is the strongest feature of this series. I'll do that after this season ends, perhaps. But at this point, I'll argue that this STAR TREK is nine-and-a-half times better than the shabby J.J. Abrams movie-reboot efforts. Each of which had a talent for taking one inspired notion, then hitting it with an ax and burying the corpse in a shallow grave beside someone's old cable line.