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Robert Rossney
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Robert Rossney

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So I had some more thoughts about Whiplash that I wanted to get down.

Syd Field (or maybe it was Robert McGee - one of those screenwriting gurus) liked to say that a movie was a magical universe - that is, that the movie is its own world, and that if its internal rules were sufficiently consistent and well constructed, you could forget about the real world while you were in its grip.

One of the organizing principles of the magical universe of Whiplash doesn't even bear a moment's scrutiny:  the movie is set in a music conservatory in which, somehow, not a single student is female.

If you ask yourself why, a second aspect of the magical universe comes into sharp focus:  If there were women in Fletcher's class, his drill-sergeant level of abusiveness would instantly make you wonder why nobody's sued this conservatory into the ground yet.  As creepy as Fletcher's attacks on his students get - and they get very creepy indeed - if he were doing what he does to a woman, there would be an unavoidable current of sexual violence that would pull the entire movie in a very different direction than the one it's designed to head in.

So the movie makes an assumption of the sort that doctors have been making for generations:  to keep things simple, let's just assume that all people are men.

Interestingly, it doesn't assume that they're all white men.  It's jazz, after all: it would be really disconcerting if everyone in a New York City jazz band were white.  But we never see Fletcher abusing a black musician, and I think it's for the same reason there aren't any women in the room:  Fletcher's a terrible person who does terrible things, but the people he beats up on are privileged.  (We only find out that one of them is gay late in the movie, once the rules of the game are well established.)

What the movie's doing, really, is trying to remove from sight anything that would cause you to disbelieve in its core premise:  that musicianship is simply a matter of hard work.  There's a great deal of talk about genius in this movie, but not until the very end is there even the tiniest hint of what musical talent is like.  Fletcher chastises musicians for being out of tune, for being out of time, and nothing else, and outside of abusing his students, all he has to offer them is practice.

Do you become a genius by playing until your hands bleed?  Of course not.  That kind of lunacy is orthogonal to the question of genius.  But blood and sweat and grimaces are all visible signs of struggle, and the movie is all about struggle.

My point here isn't that Whiplash isn't great.  It's a fantastically entertaining and exciting movie.  But it achieves that by cutting away everything that doesn't matter.  And that includes the way things work in the real world.  In the real world, these two characters are not only horrible sociopaths, they're boring beyond belief.  But keep them pinched inside a powerful enough magnetic field and they're incandescant.
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Got it.
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I thought I loved Paul Ford.  I was wrong.  I really, really love Paul Ford.

+Yonatan Zunger , who will be intrigued by the observation, "The modern social web is a miracle of progress but also a status-driven guilt-spewing shit volcano. "
I had a couple drinks and woke up with 1,000 nerds The story of Tilde.Club Stevie Nicks This is the story of an accid…
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Of the things Paul Westerberg could have donated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, this one's a pretty good choice.
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Here is, so far, the most thorough and authoritative analysis of the SF housing crisis that I've seen anywhere.  It's solid on the political economics of SF and the Bay Area, solid on the San Francisco history, gives all parties in the ongoing discussion their due, and its conclusions are realistic without being hopeless.

There is so much cursory, crappy information circulating around every aspect of this discussion, and this article digs down into it all.  

I think there's plenty of room for disagreement with its perspective and the author's biases, but if you have something to say about San Francisco and you don't at least address the points raised here, you're probably talking out of your ass.
Today, the tech industry is apparently on track to destroy one of the world's most valuable cultural treasures, San Francisco, by pushing out the diverse..
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Abecedarian burning questions, slightly curated, from Google Instant.  Your results may vary:

is anderson cooper gay
is brian really dead
is coffee bad for you
is dexter over
is england a country
is farro gluten free
is god real
is hookah bad for you
is it a spare the air day
is justin bieber retiring
is khloe kardashian pregnant
is lil wayne dead
is masturbation a sin
is noon am or pm
is obama gay
is paypal safe
is quinoa a grain
is red lobster closing
is santa real
is the man who is tall happy
is urine sterile
is vaping bad
is will smith dead
is xbox one sold out
is yosemite open
is zero an integer
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Robert Rossney

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Well, Rebecca Solnit has written another essay for the London Review of Books.  

It is, as you might expect from her last outing (in which, you may remember, she claimed San Jose was the birthplace of the UFW), it's full of things that are not quite correct.  No tech companies are members of the American Legislative Executive Council, since whatever else you can say about them, they're not legislators.  Calling anyone associated with the Seasteading Institute a "lord" of Silicon Valley is...well, in their dreams, maybe.  

And then there's this:  "Edward Snowden’s revelations began to flow in June: Silicon Valley was sharing our private data with the National Security Agency. Many statements were made about how reluctantly it was done, how outraged the executives were, but all the relevant companies – Yahoo, Google, Facebook – complied without telling us."

Well yes, of course they complied without telling us.  They were compelled to do so under federal law.  This basic fact about the data sharing is widely enough known that this paragraph just looks less like an inaccuracy and more like a lie.  

She also characterizes a group of protesters who blockaded a Google employee inside his Berkeley house as "hellraisers" - those scamps! - and takes anonymous posts on Twitter seriously.  (Even while telling you that you can't take posts on Twitter seriously.  I'm not making this up.)  So, you know.

My favorite sentence in the article is this one:  "The city somehow remained hospitable to those on the margins throughout its many incarnations, until now."  This is a funny thing for someone styling herself an urban historian to say about San Francisco.  She should maybe take a look at Paul Groth's excellent Living Downtown, or trouble herself to learn about the International Hotel, or the Western Addition, or, Jesus, like, anything.  I seriously don't know where to start with this.

There are certainly unprecedented things about the forces transforming San Francisco at the moment.  They are the forces that have been transforming America for the past thirty years.  The massive decline in manufacturing employment, the shrinking prospects of service workers, the abandonment of the public sphere:  for a long time San Francisco was relatively insulated from them.  The greater Bay Area certainly wasn't - Vallejo turned into a ghost town during the 1990s, for instance - but San Francisco managed to delay this fate, mostly because, well, it's rich.  

I know, right?  

But she's settled on the us-versus-them narrative.  She jumps through quite a few hoops to try to demonstrate that people in tech aren't echt San Franciscans.  She's pretty shameless in her pandering:  "The current boom is dislodging bookstores, bars, Latino businesses, black businesses, environmental and social-services groups, as well as longtime residents, many of them disabled and elderly."  One wonders why she stopped there and didn't also list LGBT, the physically challenged, small children, and puppies.

Anyway, it's just more of the same shitshow.  It's not even fun to read, it's just:  half-truth, half-truth, false equivalency, unexamined privilege, more unexamined privilege, weak grasp of history and economics, more half-truths, well-poisoning, ignorance of urban planning principles, casuistry, disingenuousness, all the way through.

Here's a little lesson from the world of software engineering.  I work with a guy named Vivek.  Vivek is a really good programmer.  I know this because he sends me his code to review all the time, and every time I do, I understand what he's doing perfectly.  He builds things exactly the way I would build them.  This is pretty interesting to me, actually; I read a lot of code, and I rarely see anything that's close to the obviously correct way that I solve problems.

Which is why I recently told Vivek that he probably shouldn't have me review his code.  I understand it, and I agree with everything he's doing.  But I'm not right about everything, and I know it.  

To produce good code, code that isn't crippled by hidden flaws, he needs someone who doesn't think like he does to look it over and probe it for weakness.  This is something good engineers know:  If you listen only to people who agree with you, your work won't be something anyone should depend on.
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Robert Rossney

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I remember seeing Das Boot in the Act II Theatre in Berkeley. It was an almost unendurably stressful movie, one where the danger and pressure kept rising and rising to levels of such intensity that whenever the eponymous submarine surfaced the entire audience took in a breath.

So, yeah, Whiplash is a lot like that. Only it's set in a music conservatory instead of a German submarine.

It casts a spell that is very hard for movies to cast: there are points in the movie where the artifice disappears completely, and the overwhelming force of the ideas that the actors embody surges through the air with the force of received truth. You forget that these are actors. You forget that their characters are dully one-dimensional and more than a little psychopathic. You forget even that what you're hearing isn't virtuosic jazz music performed by geniuses. When the boat breaches, you gasp for breath.

JK Simmons is having the time of his life in this role. He's J. Jonah Jameson, R. Lee Ermey, and Roy Scheider as Bob Fosse all rolled into one. He's alert and vicious and his face is all tautness and folds, mesmerizing as a hooded cobra. There's one shot where he's smiling, only the camera's only showing his eyes, and you can tell that his mouth is smiling even though his eyes are not.

This is a movie about musical performers in which only two figures are invoked: Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich, two terrible, monstrous people who were also geniuses. This, the movie claims, is how the sausage is made. Is it true? Does it need to be? The beauty is that it doesn't matter. It's enough to hang a story on, and the story is enough to hang this film on. And this film will kick your ass.
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Hey, G+.  And particularly those of you who are Burners, listen up.

A colleague of mine, a fellow Black Rock Ranger and Sandman, was blinded by a laser while on duty at Burning Man.   She still has not regained vision in her left eye and it is possible that she never will.

She was a volunteer.  She was was out there protecting you, protecting the event.   Because someone in the crowd was careless with a high-power, hand-held green laser, most likely a 1W 532 nm toy from China, she is maimed.  This should never have happened.  

Lasers like this are weapons.  it only takes a momentary, glancing interaction between a beam and an eye to cause permanent blindness.  They have no place at an event like Burning Man and I will do everything I can to get these devices banned.  Not that it will help the Ranger who is facing a lifetime of disability.

I expect there were only a few dozen hand held lasers capable of doing this at the event.  If you own one, you might be the one who (presumably unknowing) did this to my friend.   If that thought is horrible, I'm sorry.  What happened to her is worse.

Spread the word. Next time leave the god damned laser at home.
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Hey Robert,
So sorry to hear about your friend and good of you to let us know (not that I'm a Burner, but you never know).
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Here is concern trolling raised to the level of performance art.

Everything surrounding this, up to and including the existence of Secret itself, is a symptom of a bubble.  We have people putting down serious amounts of money to fund nothing of value.  (Like, seriously, Kleiner Perkins and Google Ventures have put money into what's essentially 4chan, for mobile, without advertisers.)  In Pando we have what appears to the Tiger Beat of Silicon Valley, and you know, someone's paying good money for that too.

Read this story.  It's fascinating.  The brewing scandal that it's alluding to is, at bottom, this:   the founders of Secret don't take Pando seriously.  

The dialog may fairly be summarized as this:  Pando:  "What if someone is bullied into suicide?"  Secret:  "Who's Pando, again?"  Pando:  "OMG THESE PEOPLE ARE HEARTLESS SOCIOPATHS WHO DON'T CARE IF A MILLION TEENAGERS ARE DRIVEN TO SELF-IMMOLATION BY THEIR HEARTLESS HEARTLESSNESS."

And no, the fact that you talked to someone who once knew someone that worked on something where there was a real problem doesn't mean that there is consequently a real problem which must be taken seriously THIS INSTANT somewhere completely different, and that the only reason the folks at Secret are failing to drop everything to deal with something that isn't happening is because they're horrible human beings.

When the last tech bubble popped a lot people had their dreams crushed.  They drifted away from what they'd poured their hearts and souls into and had to find real jobs.  I'm not going to trivialize what really, seriously needs to happen.  It's going to hurt a lot of people.  I'm probably one of them.

But the very existence of the kind of self-involved idiocy that this article's an example brings Stein's Law into sharp focus:  If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

And I have to say:  we had stupider business models, and quite a bit less money, last time around, but we also had suck.com.  Pando is no suck.com.
When I wrote a post last week calling out otherwise good people for investing in Secret, I expected some strong reactions. What I didn’t expect was what happened over the past four days. Four days ...
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Jeez. I got a Secret invite and deleted it right away. The anonymous conference was a bit before my time, but I can imagine what Secret must be like.
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This is mind-blowingly nerdy.
In one fascinating episode, Star Trek: The Next Generation traced the limits of human communication as we know it—and suggested a new, truer way of talking about the universe.
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Well, here is yet another thing I wasn't good at when I was 13.
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When you've decided that a hammer will make you a shitload of money, everything in front of you had better be a nail.
...game jam in the history of the video game industry, and how it was dismantled by a single man. Let’s get started. GAME_JAM didn’t start out as a...
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This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. 'Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.' And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, 'But Hodge shan't be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.'

-- James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson
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"I've snapped and plotted all my life. There's no other way to be alive, king, and fifty all at once." -- Henry II, in The Lion in Winter