Thiel - Girard

During the week of July 12, 2004, a group of scholars gathered at Stanford University, as one participant reported, “to discuss current affairs in a leisurely way with [Stanford emeritus professor] René Girard.” The proceedings were later published as the book Politics and Apocalypse. At first glance, the symposium resembled many others held at American universities in the early 2000s: the talks proceeded from the premise that “the events of Sept. 11, 2001 demand a reexamination of the foundations of modern politics.” The speakers enlisted various theoretical perspectives to facilitate that reexamination, with a focus on how the religious concept of apocalypse might illuminate the secular crisis of the post-9/11 world.

As one examines the list of participants, one name stands out: Peter Thiel, not, like the rest, a university professor, but (at the time) the President of Clarium Capital. In 2011, the New Yorker called Thiel “the world’s most successful technology investor”; he has also been described, admiringly, as a “philosopher-CEO.” More recently, Thiel has been at the center of a media firestorm for his role in bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, which outed Thiel as gay in 2007 and whose journalists he has described as “terrorists.” He has also garnered some headlines for standing as a delegate for Donald Trump, whose strongman populism seems an odd fit for Thiel’s highbrow libertarianism; he recently reinforced his support for Trump with a speech at the Republican National Convention. Both episodes reflect Thiel’s longstanding conviction that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs should use their wealth to exercise power and reshape society. But to what ends? Thiel’s participation in the 2004 Stanford symposium offers some clues. more...

January 29th, 2011 @ 19:11:28

So it happened that, after about a year of unemployment and almost nothing but writing and editing books, I returned to video games.

I used to both play them a lot and write about them a lot, and I missed them. I genuinely think my mental health took a hit when I (largely) stopped. Video games engage a part of my brain that really nothing else does, and that brain-part gets engaged actively. Game critic Eric Kain wrote that killing in video games is essentially puzzle-solving, and I agree (though I don’t believe that’s all it is), because that’s exactly how it feels.

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One of the most interesting and unimagineable ideas about the nature of reality in the 21st century is that we are living in a computer simulation. Philosopher Nick Bostrum posed the question in Philosophical Quarterly (2003) this way: given the enormous computing power of any posthuman civilization, and the likelihood that they would run simulations to better understand their evolutionary history, it is entirely possible that we are living in a simulation created by a higher intelligence. Since Bostrum’s essay was published, many theorists have laid out reasons for entertaining the hypothesis, which are typically grounded in the mathematic nature of our current understanding of the universe. But I think we’re overlooking the most compelling argument in favor of the simulation hypothesis to date: the meteoric rise of Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump.

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The 2016 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team

Every 2 years, Olympic trials provide the rare opportunity to watch people’s huge and impossible dreams coming true. I love the Olympic trials. All of them. I love them so much. If shoe-tying were an Olympic sport, I would be entirely rapt with the selection process.  However, I am especially enamored by women’s gymnastics (in trials and in The Games)—I trace this back to my own budding gymnastics career cut short at the fragile age of 8 when, upon receiving an invitation to join my gym’s competition team, my mom said Hell-No-Competitive-Gymnastics-Is-Too-Intense and signed me up for basketball.

So imagine my delight when I discovered and immediately dove gleefully into the podcasts, blogs, and Twitter feeds that make up the gymternet—a network of gymnastics enthusiasts who nerd out about the sport and its athletes.  I had (and still have) so much to learn.  Jessica O’Beirne’s  GymCastic podcast is like the mother of the gymternet. The podcast goes in depth with gymnasts, coaches, and experts, and is a must-do for many of the big names in the sport (see: McKayla Maroney’s interview after deciding to retire).  In the blogosphere, Lauren Hopkins’ Gymternet blog has shot into popularity, and includes gymnastics history lessons, commentary, FAQs and funny memes. Linking around through the contributors at both GymCastic and Gymternet leads to an array of additional fantastic content. more...

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CW: Discussion of assault

“It happened in the light of day, in a safe neighborhood, 200 feet from a police station.” Cut to a disembodied torso, a hand caressing the scars up the abdomen, panning up to a scarred chest and a woman with a soft expression. She is Kathy Roma, and in 2000 she was attacked by a stranger in broad daylight and stabbed repeatedly. Now, she serves as communications director for Nimb, “a smart ring that keeps you safe and sound.” The developers are currently raising funds on Kickstarter, with $186,530, far exceeding their goal of $50,000. more...

Fourth_of_July_2016_4534_1_Fireworkscredit to Fourandsixty

This July 4th, PBS viewers in the DC metro area were outraged to be reminded of the fact that they were watching television.

It’s actually not quite that simple, though it’s fun to phrase it that way. Here’s what happened: this past Monday was an extremely muggy and cloudy one in our neck of the woods; in other words, not at all the idea climatic conditions for a fireworks display. PBS, in something of a bind regarding how to maximize the spectacle for its live broadcast of the Independence Day celebration in front of the White House, elected to include archival footage of past fireworks displays with its live broadcast of the currently-happening fireworks.

People were displeased.

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Image credit: Kevin Dooley on Flickr

This is a follow-up post to this essay on accusations of censorship on Reddit and the unpredictable consequences of algorithmic quirks.

Reddit is the self-described “front page of the internet.” Millions of users rely on Reddit to keep them informed on a wide range of topics from world news to gaming developments to the latest in pictures of cute dogs (or, often as not, reposts of pictures of cute dogs). But what happens when the front page fails us, and how do Reddit administrators respond? more...

I grew up watching a lot of Star Trek. It would be an understatement to say that the franchise was a big part of my life. Immediately after the last episode of Star Trek: Voyager I cut off my hair. I took Enterprise as a personal insult. If I saw J.J. Abrams I’d probably try to blind him with a strobe light while yelling, “How’s that lens flare working for you?!” I was feeling much more optimistic about the new TV series incarnation under Bryan Fuller until a couple days ago when, in an interview with Collider he told a reporter asking about casting decisions: “I’ve met with a few actors, and it’s an interesting process. There’s a few people that we like and we want to carry on what Star Trek does best, which is being progressive. So it’s fascinating to look at all of these roles through a colorblind prism and a gender-blind prism, so that’s exciting.” I try not to notice the color of flags but I’m pretty sure I’m seeing red ones. more...

Williams Response

Before the first word was written, Orange is the New Black was already fucked.

In an essay we posted earlier this week, guest author Apryl Williams refers to the 4th season of Orange is the New Black as a spectacle, comparable to the lynch mobs that used the destruction of black bodies as a form of entertainment. In her excellent post, Williams especially laments the lack of a trigger warning accompanying the graphic death of a key black character, one which unapologetically mirrored the 2014 suffocation of Eric Garner. Had there been black writers, Williams contends, things would have been different—she would have been warned instead of just “entertained.”

Williams and others critique the writing decisions that played out in Season 4 and attribute the season’s missteps to a very white writing crew. Indeed, by Isha Aran’s careful calculation, exactly zero black people have been involved in writing Orange is the New Black across its 4 seasons.

Undoubtedly, Williams is right that the series, and the 4th  season in particular,  would have been generally better, and also more carefully written and produced, with a racially diverse staff. The issue of racial representation in the writing room is one that pervades the popular media industry, and Orange, a show about prisons that tells stories about race, is a cautionary tale. Rather than reimagine how much better the season could have been with the inclusion of writers of color, however, I think the critique of a whitewashed profession and industry stands strongest when we table the quality of the writing altogether. Because even if Orange is the New Black Season 4 had been the greatest story of our time, it would remain, unacceptably, told by the wrong people. more...

Williams

 

*****************************Mild Spoilers**************************************

Orange is the New Black’s newest season demands to be binge watched with its notorious twists at every episode style. When it came out on June 17th, I began my annual binge session and had completed it by Saturday, June 18th.

If you haven’t heard, the series delivered “The mother of all finales” at the end of this season. As I mourned the death of a major black character, I found myself simultaneously mourning the real deaths of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray and the list unfortunately goes on. The stylized portrayal of a death in prison custody at the hands – or knee rather – of a white correctional officer was unmistakably close to Garner’s “I can’t breath.” Though those words were never uttered, anyone who has kept up with news in the last year would find haunting familiarity in the fictional inmate’s all-too-real gasps for air.

With her small frame and spine gradually being crushed by the full weight of the white correctional officer as she tried to breathe but failed, the imagery was almost too painful to watch. But I had come this far, I had to continue. At the end of the season, instead of falling into my usual “showhole” syndrome, I was angry and emotionally distraught. This had a visceral, personal effect and nobody warned me it was coming. As the other inmates grieved the death of their friend and urged those in charge to move her body, I wondered who was responsible for writing these scenes and this episode. Surely, a person of color would have cautioned against such tactics without ample viewer preparation. It appears as though the perspective of black viewers was not taken into consideration; a likely result of the limited representation we have in media production. Then I realized that to a white audience, a warning would not have the same meaning or importance. more...