Saturday, April 07, 2018

links for the weekend--trying to replicate ancient Greek music, Native American art forgery, a Kubrick film at 50,

Ancient Greek music is full of puzzles and while it might be easy to suggest that we're not necessarily much closer to finding out, if ever we can, what ancient Greek music sounded like, there's some interesting sounding efforts to get at what the music would sound like.  Fortunately there's enough art depicting what instruments from ancient Greece looked like reconstruction is practical.

And since the Greeks wrote stuff down we've got theoretical treatises on language, rhythm and the like.  Aristoxenus seemed opaque and impenetrable to me when I tried reading him in college but I was an undergrad student diving into the deep end of the pool trying to read Aristoxenus! 

Anyway ...

an altogether different kind of replicating of arts and artifacts of another culture of a more ... mercenary nature ... here's something about Native American art forgery stuff.

Stanley Kubrick's blank slate sci-fi classic 2001 turns fifty, although obviously not everyone regards it as actually being a blank slate of a film.  Here's a case for comparing 2001 to Dr. Strangelove as a political satire on technocratic optimism being undone by a combination of human error and errant computers.  When I finally saw the uncut version of 2001 it struck me as a riff on Cold War brinksmanship and deceit.  Neither the US nor the USSR wanted to let slip how much they had respectively learned about the monolith and the monolith itself resisted analysis while catalyzing changes and discoveries.  The monolith doesn't necessarily represent something clear, though, it's that when it shows up humans or proto-humans pioneer new capacities, capacities that humans or whatever they were or become, don't necessarily put to good use. 

But in the sense that Kubrick declined to say what the film was "about" it is a touchstone of film as a kind of art religion, a vacuum like the vacuum of space into which film critics and film historians can contemplate a Big Bang of speculation and interpretation.

Not exactly a Kubrick fan myself but I can admire the skill of the director while finding the cult of his fan base offputting. 

At a considerably lower level, this year's favorite for journalists as superhero films, The Post, gets a bit of a treatment below in two articles at Consortium News.  The Post had more cartoonish takes on politics and good vs. evil than any of the superhero films I saw in 2017 (to name them: Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy volume 2, Wonder Woman, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok.  Every single one of those films had more nuanced takes on how and why people and states might choose evil than The Post.  Okay, we could rephrase it, the above-named superhero films were certainly no more cartoonish in their depiction of evil than The Post. Other than Odenkirk as Bagdikian nobody in the entire Spielberg film seemed to be playing characters so much as riffing on their own respective shticks, especially Hanks.  But if Hanks phones it in in The Post he can get praised, whereas if Jennifer Lawrence phones it in as Mystique it's just phoning it in.

So, as noted ...

"Big data" has been a loose term to describe the perceived economic value of massive data collection, storage and analysis that some believe has the promise of great insights and great profits but no matter how big the sample there's always room for sampling bias and assuming too much about causes and effects which gets us to ...
I don't think I'd say it's evangelicalism that has a culture of forgiveness.  Somebody was pardoning or looking the other way over the last twenty odd years as Weinstein was Weinstein and Bill Clinton was Bill Clinton. 

There's a pastor in Houston who's been indicted for ... well ... read for yourself.  Pastors passing themselves off as financial advisors and planners is a thing, a thing there should be less of.


And, of course, there's sex scandals because why wouldn't there be?

These are reminders, pertinent to things connected to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill, that one of the mantras in the case of Driscoll's Richard Nixon moment as a megachurch pastor was that there was no sexual immorality or embezzlement anything going on, just a "death by a thousand cuts".  We've explored at frankly intimidating length that the death by a thousand cuts account is hardly a plausible explanation for what happened.  Years of observable double standards on the part of the leadership culture at Mars Hill on the subjects of intellectual property, real estate acquisition and municipal compliance, and consistency in the design and implementation of governance and discipline all culminated in a public relations suicide on the part of Mars Hill's top leadership. 
If there's a "story" to how Mars Hill collapsed part of that story is that it was a church on the leading edge of developing social media and connection systems and leveraging them as much and as hard as possible.  One of the reasons Mars Hill's implosion was so rapid and, depending on who you talk to, so painfully public was because Mars Hill had a culture in which data mining and leveraging collected information within a stratified and delineated information system meant that the top-down controls within any given silo were completely useless when former members and staff and volunteers, knowing pretty fully how this information culture worked, began to coordinate and share information.  When you dump tons of information into an online information network you can't control where it goes or how it gets used.

Which sorta gets us to things about Facebook, doesn't it?  If what happened at Mars Hill was a technocratically optimistic leadership culture dumped everything into their online networks without considering just how much potentially self-incriminating content could end up off of The City and on the general internet, the Facebook news of the last few weeks plays like a photo negative of the Mars Hill public relations suicide process--people are discovering just how much information Facebook gave away or let companies data mine or extract.  If you want to read a bit about what it means to have Facebook accounts "scraped" you can go over here.
and in the midst of all the this and that, it seems that Facebook leadership seems committed to the idea that whatever it is they do isn't really, exactly, the real problem.
From the outside, Facebook’s recent data-leaking problems seem to result from the tension between their business—which relies on harvesting, keeping, analyzing, and selling advertisements based on user data—and their stated goal of growing meaningful communities.
To this mind-set, Facebook’s privacy policies, for example, are a set of trade-offs between making money and providing a place where people are willing to share the sensitive personal information that has made Facebook the most powerful data owner on the internet. Provide too much access to advertisers or other companies and you violate user trust. Provide too little and the advertisements become less effective, making Facebook less competitive for ad dollars.
In a conference call with reporters on Wednesday, I asked Zuckerberg directly: “Have you ever made a decision that benefited Facebook’s business, but hurt the community?” And his response, roughly, was that he didn’t consider that set of trade-offs to be particularly difficult.
“The things that make our product challenging to manage and operate are not the trade-offs between people and the business. I think those are quite easy,” Zuckerberg told me. “Because over the long term, the business will be better if you serve people. I think it would be nearsighted to focus on short-term revenue over what the value to people is, and I don’t think we’re that short-sighted.”
Zuckerberg has referenced his near total control over the company because of an unusual stock arrangement, which he maintains insulates the company from Wall Street’s short-term whims. So, what is hard, then?
“All the hard decisions we have to make are trade-offs between people. One of the big differences between the type of product that we’re building, which is why I refer to it as a community, [is that] different people who use Facebook have different interests,” Zuckerberg said. “Some people want to share political speech that they think is valid and other people feel like it’s hate speech.”
While that is undoubtedly a difficult trade-off among 2 billion users across thousands of cultures, it struck me as glib, to borrow a word, to write off the difficulties of building a business out of people’s personal and professional relationships. When Zuckerberg’s lieutenant Andrew Bosworth wrote a controversial post in mid-2016, he even referred to specific decisions that Facebook was making to grow that might not benefit “the community.”

Yes, there was that Youtube shooting thing but we don't have to try to keep up with "everything". 

Facebook is a system that allows for the generation and dissemination of sociological propaganda and it works well at accomplishing this at a horizontal level, to borrow terms used by Jacques Ellul.  While I'm meaning to write a post or maybe two posts about this topic I don't feel like doing that today.  but the gist of what I have been saying is that if you know that Facebook and Twitter and similar platforms are sociological propaganda systems and catalysts then you can use them and know what they're for.  The reason I find Zuckerberg's blather about "community" dubious is because a virtual community on Facebook is no more plausible to me than a virtual church or a virtual city.  Yes, we live in an era where if you get sick or are out of town you can listen to sermons online.  That's fine.  That's not the same as baptism or communion, though, and it's not the same as meeting with people in person.  This is not even to denigrate technology as a connecting system.  For people who had disabilities at Mars Hill its tech-savvy second-nature could be helpful.  The trade-off, obviously, was that the kinds of modern communications networking possible in social media also allowed for an unprecedented level of administrative surveillance and oversight and this was how The City seemed to play out with its top-down administrative dynamics.

Facebook feels like a macro-level national or even international variation of the unforeseen possibilities of leveraging a mountain of information from a social network run by a leadership culture that seems kind of eager to not have to really explain itself too much to the users.  Or that's how it comes across this weekend.  Maybe next weekend Zuckerberg wil have said something so amazing it forces me and others to have a change of mind on that.   

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