Francis’s news feed

This combines together some blogs which I like to read. It’s updated once a week.

October 22, 2016

How to Insult Me on Twitter by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

I’ve noticed that a lot of people are struggling to come up with creative ways to insult me on Twitter. As a public service, I will organize the common approaches in this post so people can insult me by number.

1. Act like you think I draw Garfield. 

2. Proclaim that I am the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert.  (Assume a million people haven’t already told me the same thing.) 

3. Label me irrelevant.

4. Note that Dilbert used to be funny but now it is just sad, like its creator.

5. Make a fake Dilbert comic and have the characters mock their misinterpretations of my opinions in a way that you mistake for satire. 

6. Tweet a quote from me that is out of context so it mischaracterizes my opinions. 

7. Ask what could anyone expect from a cartoonist that you believe to be a misogynist  because you didn’t understand something he wrote. 

8. State your professional medical opinion that I am a narcissist. 

9. Say you didn’t know I was such a (insert word for penis) until you read my blog and Twitter posts.

10. Display your lack of understanding of the word “fascist” by calling me one.

11. “Don’t quit your day job.”

12. Do a “Point by point” “take-down” of my blog post in which you misunderstand each point individually and argue against your misinterpretations while blaming me for all of it.

13. Take time out of your day to tell me I am not important.

14. Say you regret ever purchasing Dilbert products and have discarded the ones you have.

15. Accuse me of having a “meltdown” because I was bored and responded to some Tweets.

16. Imagine I’m doing something I’m not and then mock that imaginary thing with sarcasm as if it has anything to do with me.

17. Pretend you are too smart to be duped the way I have duped other people. Add sarcasm to make it sound smarter.

I will update the list as I see new ones.

If you like insulting me, you will love my book because it has lots of words in it.

The Crook Versus the Monster by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

Thanks to timely assists from Wikileaks, Trump has successfully framed Hillary clinton as a crooked politician. Meanwhile, Clinton has successfully framed Trump as a dangerous monster. If the mainstream polls are accurate, voters prefer the crook to the monster. That makes sense because a crook might steal your wallet but the monster could kill you. As of today, Clinton has the superior persuasion strategy. Crook beats monster.

Reality isn’t a factor in this election, as per usual. If the truth mattered, voters might care that the Democratic primaries were rigged against Sanders. They might care that the Clinton Foundation looks like a pay-to-play scheme. They might care that the FBI gave Clinton a free pass. They might care that we know Clinton cheated in at least one debate by getting a question in advance. They might care that Clinton’s dirty-tricks people incited the violence at Trump rallies. They might care that Clinton’s “speaking fees” were curiously high. They might care about all of that. But they don’t, because a crook is still a safer choice than a monster.

The biggest illusion this election is that we think the people on the other side can’t see the warts on their own candidate. But I think they do. Clinton supporters know she is crooked, but I think they assume it is a normal degree of crookedness for an American politician. Americans assume that even the “good” politicians are trading favors and breaking every rule that is inconvenient to them. I’ve never heard a Clinton supporter defend Clinton as being pure and honest. Her supporters like her despite her crookedness. 

Likewise, Trump supporters know what they are getting. They know he’s offensive. They know he’s under-informed on policies. They know he pays as little in taxes as possible. They know he uses bankruptcy laws when needed. They know he ignores facts that are inconvenient to his message. They just don’t care. They want to push the monster into Washington D.C., close the door, and let him break everything that needs to be broken. Demolition is usually the first step of building something new. And Trump also knows how to build things when he isn’t in monster mode.

Clinton’s team of persuaders have successfully crafted Trump’s offensive language and hyperbole into an illusion that he’s a sexist/racist in some special way that is different from the average citizen. The reality is that everyone is a little bit sexist and a little bit racist. We’re all wired that way. There’s no escape if you are human. Our brains are pattern-recognition machines, but not good ones. That’s what gets us in trouble. We see patterns where none exist. None of us are exempt from that. But we can use our limited sense of reason to see past it. 

Clinton’s persuaders have taken advantage of the public’s faulty pattern recognition to build an illusion about Trump that he is a horrible monster who hates people because of their genitalia, their skin pigmentation, and their sexual preferences. I don’t believe Trump holds any of those views in 2016. But there is plenty of confirmation bias to make us think he does, thanks to Team Clinton’s persuasion efforts. For example…

There was the time Trump said we need good border control with Mexico, and Clinton turned that into something racist because of the way he worded it.

There was the time Trump said we need to try harder to keep out terrorists who want to kill us, and Clinton turned that into something racist because of the way he worded it. 

There was the time that Trump said a judge with Mexican heritage might be biased against him because 90% of American citizens with Mexican heritage are biased against him. Clinton turned that into something racist because of the way Trump worded it.

There was the time that Trump didn’t need much sleep one night and decided to fire off a few thoughts on Twitter about one of his accusers. But because it was late at night, Clinton framed that as some sort of “meltdown” to prove Trump is unstable. 

I realize I can’t change anyone’s mind if they see Trump as a monster who hates people with different genitalia and with skin pigmentation that is far superior to his own pasty-orange covering. To me, those illusions about Trump are ridiculous on face value. I can’t change anyone’s mind if they see Trump as a monster. So instead I will make you a promise.

My promise: If Trump gets elected, and he does anything that looks even slightly Hitler-ish in office, I will join the resistance movement and help kill him. That’s an easy promise to make, and I hope my fellow citizens would use their Second Amendment rights to rise up and help me kill any Hitler-type person who rose to the top job in this country, no matter who it is.

As I often say, Democrats generally use guns to commit crimes. Republican use guns for sport and for self-defense. If you are a Republican gun-owner, and you value the principles of the Constitution, I’m confident you would join me in the resistance movement and help kill any leader that exhibited genuine animosity toward people because of their genitalia, sexual preference, or skin pigmentation.

In other words, I’m willing to bet my life that the “monster” view of Trump is an illusion. 

That said, I also don’t know which candidate has the best policies. I wouldn’t risk my life for any of their tax plans or ISIS-fighting strategies. I’m only interested in helping the public see past their hallucinations about the monster under the bed. You’re on your own to decide who has the best policies.

If you like books, you might like my book because it is a book. Bigly.

I Score the Third Debate by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

I watched the third and most boring presidential debate last night. Here are my thoughts.

Clinton’s goal was to stay vertical for ninety minutes and sound more well-informed than Trump while framing him as an unstable monster. She accomplished all of that and won the debate, in my opinion.

But it wasn’t a big win. 

Trump only needed to act semi-presidential, and he did. We don’t expect him to have the same mastery of the facts. The bar is lower for the outsider. He needed a knockout punch but there was none. 

Persuasion-wise, the most emotionally powerful moments involved Clinton describing Trump as a sexist/racist monster who can’t be trusted with the nuclear codes. “Scary” was the only message she needed to drive home, and she did.

Ask Clinton voters why they prefer her over Trump and few people will mention the economy or any specific policies. Almost everyone will mention Trump’s “temperament” or alleged racism/sexism. Those were the only variables that mattered. Clinton reinforced those messages and Trump did little or nothing to counter them. The rest of the debate and all of the policy questions were largely irrelevant to persuasion.

Trump mentioned Clinton’s various scandals involving email, Wikileaks, and pay-for-play. But the public assumes all career politicians trade favors and say things in private that they wouldn’t say in public. The public also expects some dirty tricks out of campaigns. The Wikileaks attacks are toothless so far. So toothless that Clinton’s “Russia did it” defense is good enough (for a debate) even though it is ridiculous.

The biggest buzz from the debate seems to be Trump’s refusal to say in advance that he would accept the election results if they went against him. The pro-Clinton pundits are framing that as another example of Trump’s terribleness. But of course it is nothing but Trump keeping all of his options open as he does in every other situation when he can. He wants to maintain the right to complain later if the result looks rigged to him. That seems reasonable to me, and no real danger to the Republic. But the Clinton-friendly parts of the media will make it a thing this week.

If you want a reason to be worried, ask yourself why the mainstream media is so keen on framing the election as “not rigged.” The message I’m getting from them, collectively, is that they think it will be. (Because it will be.) We just don’t know how much the rigging will matter.

Why do I say it will be rigged?

Because whenever humans have motive, opportunity, a high upside gain, and low odds of detection, shenanigans happen 100% of the time. Our vote-counting systems have plenty of weak spots. Rigging (to some degree) is a near guarantee.

And keep in mind that Team Clinton has framed Trump as the next Hitler. That gives every citizen moral cover to do outrageous things to stop him. The stakes are sky-high. In this environment, it would truly be a miracle to have an unrigged election. But again, we don’t know how much rigging there will be. It might not be enough to matter.

There will almost certainly be election rigging for the same reason there has been debate rigging. If you don’t believe me about debate rigging, ask a woman who did some of that debate rigging herself. Allegedly. Unless it was Russia’s fault.

You might like my book because I blame Russia for rigging it.

I Wake You Up for the Presidential Debate by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

Here’s a little thought experiment for you:

If a friend said he could see a pink elephant in the room, standing right in front of you, but you don’t see it, which one of you is hallucinating?

Answer: The one who sees the pink elephant is hallucinating.

Let’s try another one.

If a friend tells you that you were both abducted by aliens last night but for some reason only he remembers it, which one of you hallucinated?

Answer: The one who saw the aliens is hallucinating.

Now let’s add some participants and try another one.

If a crowd of people are pointing to a stain on the wall, and telling you it is talking to them, with a message from God, and you don’t see anything but a stain, who is hallucinating? Is it the majority who see the stain talking or the one person who does not?

Answer: The people who see the stain talking are experiencing a group hallucination, which is more common than you think.

In nearly every scenario you can imagine, the person experiencing an unlikely addition to their reality is the one hallucinating. If all observers see the same addition to their reality, it might be real. But if even one participant can’t see the phenomenon – no matter how many can – it is almost certainly not real. 

Here I pause to remind new readers of this blog that I’m a trained hypnotist and a student of persuasion in all its forms. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to learn the tricks for discerning illusion from reality. And I’m here to tell you that if you are afraid that Donald Trump is a racist/sexist clown with a dangerous temperament, you have been brainwashed by the best group of brainwashers in the business right now: Team Clinton. They have cognitive psychologists such as Godzilla advising them. Allegedly.

I remind you that intelligence is not a defense against persuasion. No matter how smart you are, good persuaders can still make you see a pink elephant in a room where there is none (figuratively speaking). And Clinton’s team of persuaders has caused half of the country to see Trump as a racist/sexist Hitler with a dangerous temperament. That’s a pink elephant.

As a public service (and I mean that literally) I have been trying to unhypnotize the country on this matter for the past year. I don’t do this because I prefer Trump’s policies or because I know who would do the best job as president. I do it because our system doesn’t work if you think there is a pink elephant in the room and there is not. That isn’t real choice. That is an illusion of choice.

Trump represents what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring real change to a government that is bloated and self-serving.  Reasonable people can disagree on policies and priorities. But Trump is the bigger agent for change, if that’s what you think the country needs. I want voters to see that choice for what it is.

And it isn’t a pink elephant. 

If you are wondering why a socially liberal and well-educated cartoonist such as myself is not afraid of Trump, it’s because I don’t see the pink elephant. To me, all anti-Trumpers are experiencing a shared illusion. 

Pause here. 

Before you scoff at mass, shared illusions as being unlikely, keep in mind that everyone with a different religion than yours is experiencing exactly that. Mass shared illusions are our most common experience. 

Back to my point. As a trained persuader, I can see the “Trump is Hitler” illusion for what it is. Where you might see a mountain of credible evidence to support your illusion, I see nothing but confirmation bias on your part. I have detailed that confirmation bias in other posts.

Remember my rule from above. If you see something unlikely – such as a new Hitler rising in the midst of America – and I see nothing remotely like that – I’m almost certainly right and you’re almost certainly having the illusion. I say that because the person who sees the unlikely addition to reality is the one experiencing the illusion nearly every time. Trump as Hitler-in-America is an addition to reality that only some can see. It is a pink elephant. It is a classic hallucination.

I’m not trying to say I’m smarter than anyone else. I just don’t see the pink elephant. Nor do perhaps 40% of the country who prefer Trump as president. And when that many people don’t see a pink elephant in a room, you can be sure it isn’t there, no matter how many do see it.

If you are a Clinton supporter, you might think Trump supporters see the same pink elephant that you do, and you rationalize that by saying Trump supporters prefer the pink elephant because they want it to stomp all over minorities.

Some Trump supporters are racists. That’s a fact. Racists are in every group. Perhaps they see the pink elephant too. If so, they probably do want that elephant to stomp all over minorities. But in this case, the racists are sharing the same illusion as Clinton supporters, seeing the same pink elephant. The majority of Trump supporters – as far as I can tell – simply don’t see any pink elephant at all. They just want change.

I don’t believe in Santa Claus.

I don’t believe in ghosts.

I don’t believe in a traditional god.

I don’t believe in luck.

And I don’t see Donald Trump as dangerous. 

In my elephant-free view of the world, Trump is a guy who uses provocative language (as New Yorkers do) while succeeding across several different fields. And he knows risk-management. You can see that in everything he does.

If you are an anti-Trumper, you might reject my point of view as manipulative or naive. I can’t change your mind with a blog post. But you can change your own mind. Just ask others if they see the addition to reality that you see. If others don’t see the pink elephant in the room, and you do, the elephant isn’t there.

Look for that pattern. Once you see it, you’re awake.

Then vote for whoever has the policies you like. 

You might enjoy my book because you are almost awake now.

Is Twitter Shadowbanning me? by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

According to many of my Twitter followers, Twitter is “shadowbanning” me. If true, that means someone at Twitter has decided to suppress my free speech on the site, presumably because I have said good things about Trump’s talents for persuasion. My tweets do not align with Twitter’s political preferences as I understand them.

I don’t have confirmation from Twitter that this is happening, so I tweeted Jack Dorsey today to ask. I’m sure he’s busy, but I’m hard to ignore. If no response in two days, I’ll assume my Twitter followers are correct that my tweets are not always showing up in their feeds. Shadowbanning isn’t a complete suppression of tweets. It only suppresses some percentage of them to reduce the influence of the sender. Allegedly.

I won’t jump the gun and assume something nefarious is happening. But I will say that IF it is happening, I would regard it as treason. If one political party can use the machinery of social networks to reduce free speech, that is an attack on American values at the deepest level. As a patriot, I would feel obligated to help kill Twitter. (And you wouldn’t want to bet against me.)

I understand Twitter is looking for a buyer. If management is shadowbanning me, that would be breach of fiduciary responsibility, screwing both the shareholders and the employees who hope the company can be purchased. In my view, shadowbanning would make Twitter too toxic to own. That toxicity – treason in my view – would transfer to the buyer.

But again, I don’t assume Twitter is doing anything wrong. That’s why I’m asking the question. There could be other reasons people are not seeing my tweets. Let’s keep open minds.

For two days.

You might like my book because it is getting fake bad reviews from Clinton’s team of presumably-paid trolls.

Lie Detection and Scandals by Scott Adams (Dilbert)

When Clinton’s surrogates respond to questions about Wikileaks by saying the Russians are behind it, that’s an acknowledgment of guilt. Guilty people almost always question the source of the information first. Innocent people start with a clear denial, or sometimes confusion as to why the question is being asked.

Some guilty people will give you a straight denial if they know the question is coming and they prepared for it. For example, Bill Clinton famously said of Monica Lewinsky, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” A firm denial from a prepared witness doesn’t mean anything. But a lack of denial, combined with questioning the source, is almost always a lie. Here’s the summary.


Did you commit the crime?

Liar: “Who told you that?” 

Honest Person: “Hell no. I was at work. You can check.”

Prepared/coached Liar: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Notice that you can’t always tell the difference between an honest answer and a well-coached liar. But the liar without good coaching is as obvious as a lighthouse. When Clinton surrogates redirect any question about Wikileaks to “Russia did it” they are confirming that they believe the content is real and damaging. They just don’t realize they are confirming it.

Now let’s talk about Trump. When Trump “categorically denies” the accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior, that form of an answer is common to both honest people and well-prepared liars. You can’t tell anything from Trump’s answer.

But Trump’s supporters and surrogates clearly believe Trump is guilty. You can tell by the precision of their answers. An honest opinion from a surrogate that Trump is totally innocent of all charges would look like this:

“None of it happened. It is all lies.”

Instead, you hear deceptive talk that fits these two forms:

1. “It can’t be a coincidence that everyone came forward at the same time.” 

2. “Trump categorically denies the allegations and we take him at his word.”

The first response questions the source of the information, which I already taught you is a sign of deception. 

The second response allows the surrogate to avoid giving an opinion on the facts and instead focus on their belief in the candidate. “Take him at his word” is code for “He’s on his own to defend the allegations. Keep me out of it.”

As regular readers know, I now endorse Gary Johnson because he only touches himself. But let me put some context on both the Wikileaks info and Trump’s alleged groping/kissing.


The Wikileaks emails are not having a huge impact because movies and books have taught us that even our most-respected politicians do favor-trading to get things done. And the emails that DO NOT come from Clinton are little more than underlings chattering. So far, Wikileaks is a big nothing.

Groping/Kissing Allegations

I think nearly everyone believes “something happened” with Trump and at least some of the women who have made allegations. I wasn’t a witness to any of it, and I have no opinion on the truth of any specific allegation. But I can help you put the allegations in context.

I’ll start with a true story that a good female friend once told me about going on a blind date with a famous billionaire (not Trump) years ago. A mutual friend set them up. On the night of the date, she drove to his mansion and a servant let her in. The billionaire came downstairs a few minutes later, introduced himself, and asked if she wanted to have sex before or after dinner. 

Those were his first words. There was no chit-chat.

She chose before. So they did. She enjoyed it.

Why was my friend so accommodating that night? She said it was because he was a billionaire. She liked that.

Does that story sound anything like your life? I doubt it. So when you evaluate what a billionaire did or did not do behind closed doors, don’t make the mistake of putting your own filter on it. Trump’s experience with women is not like yours.

My own fame is about 1% of Trump’s fame. And I can confirm that when women hear what I do for a living, they tend to act sexually available. In other words, they flirt. But it isn’t always the “real” kind of flirting. They might have husbands or boyfriends and no intention of cheating. But their body language tends to be inviting in ways that non-famous people never see. The signals can be confusing because sexual attraction and celebrity-awe look the same to the observer. 

I’m willing to bet that when Trump is alone with a woman, she often – but not always – sends signals of availability, whether she intends it or not. Her rational mind – and her words – might be giving a clear message of no while her eyes, body language, and other signals are responding to power the way humans have evolved to respond. 

To further complicate things, Trump probably has a good track record of turning a firm no into a yes. He tells the story of Melania rejecting his initial advances until he eventually persuaded her.

When normal men get rebuffed by women, they know the odds of turning things around are low but not impossible. Most men have had the experience of turning an initial rejection into an eventual girlfriend. Let’s say we succeed at that about 20% of the time at best. But Trump’s turnaround average is probably closer to 80% because he’s a billionaire. And because he’s a Master Persuader.

I don’t excuse or condone anything Trump has allegedly done. That’s his problem. I’m just providing you with some context. In Trump’s billionaire world, women send mixed signals far more often than you probably imagine. There is a near guarantee that a normal human male in Trump’s situation will press too hard or assume too much about consent. Again, I am not condoning or excusing anyone’s behavior. I’m just saying that rich men are more likely to get mixed signals about consent. I doubt Trump ever leaned in to kiss anyone unless he interpreted their actions as willingness. But I’m sure he’s been wrong more than once. Vote accordingly if that matters to you.

You might enjoy reading my book because other people did.

Fieldnotes for 2016-10-12 by Indie Manufaturing

To give a flavour of what we're up to, we'll be tweeting and instagramming notes and points of interest as we go. Then each week we'll collect them together and post them here on the blog.

These are our fieldnotes from the past seven days.

Things of Note

Lessons In Mapping by Indie Manufaturing

We’ve already written about why we wanted to map suppliers, factories and making facilities and also covered the way we’re gathering the data and how we’re storing it in Open Street Map.

Collecting the data is only half the story. What do we do with it once it’s gathered? How can people use it? How can we share it to make that easier?

We chose to use Open Street Map to store the data in part because that gives us access to a raft of existing tools and guides to use the information collected. Some of the things we’re mapping—particularly the trade counters, but also some of the factories and machine shops—will show up in the standard rendering on the Open Street Map website, but many of them are too specialist to be displayed (including all the data in Open Street Map on the standard map would make it far too crowded!)

That extra detail is still available, you just need to know how to find it.

Querying the Data

One of the easiest and most powerful tools for querying the OSM dataset is Overpass Turbo. It lets you run queries to retrieve different datasets, which can then be displayed on a map or returned as JSON-formatted text. You have to write the queries in the Overpass Query Language, but it’s not too complicated to get to grips with. There is a wizard built into the Overpass Turbo website to help with simple queries and for more complicated work the API/Lanugage Guide is a good place to start. We also created a few example queries to pull out the Indie Manufacturing data which we shared at the end of that blog post.

The Indie Manufacturing Map

To save people having to query the data themselves, we also built an Indie Manufacturing map page on this site. It took a couple of iterations to get to the map you see now which, although there are things we’d like to improve (we’ll return to that), was something we’re happy with as a starting point.

Given that is built with Jekyll I started out with the jekyll-mapping plugin.

It was nice and easy to get up and running, but seems a bit more focused on linking to individual posts on the site which have an associated location. That’s to be expected, and wasn’t a deal-breaker—I extended the code to pull in the list of markers from the Jekyll data folder. However, that was what sent me looking for an alternate approach. If your dataset isn’t too big then this approach would be fine (and was for the current makerspace, machine shop, and factory sets); but there are a lot of trade counters in Open Street Map already, and just to cover the UK would mean processing half a MB of data each time the map was loaded, which made the map rather slow to render.

In looking for other solutions I came across a couple of helpful blog posts from Mappa Mercia (the West Midlands OSM community). They explain how to use uMap to build the map ( gives a good overview of uMap’s capabilities), and then how to tie it into Overpass Turbo to query the dataset on demand.

That would be the ideal solution: the data being displayed would always be up to date, and by only requesting the data for the area of map being viewed it would keep the load on the servers to a minimum. However, in practice the queries to Overpass Turbo take too long to complete, often resulting in error messages and a poorly populated map.

We ended up with a mixture of those two approaches.

For the smaller datasets—the makerspaces/fablabs/etc.; factories; and machine shops—I set up a script which runs periodically to query Overpass Turbo and download the latest information to a file on the Indie Manufacturing server. That’s used to populate those layers on the map (built with uMap), so the data loads quickly at the expense of being a bit stale at times; however, it doesn’t change quickly enough for an update frequency of every-few-hours to be a problem.

The trade counter data, which is much more widely used and therefore a much bigger dataset, is turned off by default (otherwise it would tend to throw an error message at the user when they arrived at the map). It is hooked up to query Overpass Turbo in real time, and just download the relevant data for the geographic area the user is looking at.

For bigger areas (anything beyond a single city, in practice) when it’s turned on the trade counter queries will tend to time out before they’ve gathered that data. If you only want to find the trade counters near to you, however, that’s usually a small enough data set that it will work. Not ideal, but we thought it was an acceptable compromise.

Which brings us to…

Making Things Better

How might we improve things? Both for the Indie Manufacturing map and for anyone else wanting to use maps to help their community.

Easier Submission of Data

By far the biggest challenge for the Indie Manufacturing map was getting people to contribute data. Everyone is busy and the time required (or perceived time required) to learn how to use a new system is too great a barrier to share what you know.

The New Cloud Atlas editor that Tim Waters built is a good example of how it’s possible to modify the standard OSM editor tools to suit a particular subset of mapping. However, that requires pretty good OSM developer chops to deploy at present. Making that easier would be good.

Even simpler could be an online form that lets someone find an existing item on OSM or easily add a new point to it, and then provide a set of useful tags - ideally hidden behind friendlier descriptions provided by the map-maker.

I think either of those approaches would need to find a way round the requirement for an OSM account, if they’re to achieve making it easy to contribute. That runs slap bang into the OSM community’s (completely valid) concerns about data provenance.

Maybe any of those submissions could include some sort of data source tag—which seems a well-established convention in OSM for bulk imports—so that consumers of the data would be able to make decisions on how much to trust the information.

It would also be useful to build more tools to help people with a foot in each of those communities. For example, here I’m both a member of the maker community wanting to map making facilities and the OSM community.

An ability to monitor all the changes which include a certain set of tags would let me keep an eye on what was being contributed, and then intervene and fix up the data or ask further questions if I spot anything amiss. I’m surprised that this doesn’t already exist, but I’ve failed to find it if it does.

If allowing semi-anonymous contributions is too risky for OSM then some sort of approval queue could help. That makes the list of curators of submissions a potential bottle-neck, but being able to run through submissions choosing from “approve”, “deny” and “push to ‘needs more detailed checking’ queue” could be good enough.

Better Maps

On the display side, uMap and Overpass Turbo are already 90% of the way there and it would be good to find ways to help those projects.

Any project looking to fund building a similar map system might find that spending some of the money on more kit for Overpass Turbo is a better investment (for all of us).

However, there are many situations where we don’t need right-up-to-the-minute data and occasional queries to Overpass Turbo which are then cached would reduce load on their servers with negligible impact on the viewers experience.

We’ve shown that for small datasets that’s already possible.

A caching service could be built to slurp in data from Overpass Turbo and then serve it out again to uMap using the same query syntax that’s used to connect the two of them together at present. That would allow the map-maker to insert the small caching server as a shim between the two services, reducing the load on Overpass Turbo and providing data more quickly to uMap as there’d be less of it to sift through in response to a query.

Even nicer would be if the remote data syntax used by uMap was extended to allow something like tile-boundary tags as well as the existing {south}, {west}, {north}, {east}. That would let the map-maker create a set of static files with the data in, much like tilesets are generated at present, thus removing the need to run a database or a particular web language on your server. You’d be able to run a script to query Overpass Turbo and generate a bunch of JSON files to then upload whenever you wanted to update the map. Obviously, more advanced users could set up a cron job on the server to similarly run the update there to automate things.

That would solve getting the data into uMap for it to show. There are a couple of improvements that would make the display even better.

uMap has a template system which lets you use some of that data imported from Open Street Map (or wherever) to populate the pop-up when the viewer clicks on a marker. We use that to show the name and website of the firm, plus some details of the materials they use and such-like from the OSM tags.

That works well, but results in text like “print_shop” rather than “print shop” as it’s just using the content of the OSM tag. If there was a way to conditionally include bits of templates (so we could add a heading of “Materials”, for example, but only if that tag was present) and also provide a set of mappings to let us define more user-friendly names, that would make the maps even slicker.

Finally, and this might be beyond a general solution like uMap (or at least, I’ve not got an easy suggestion of how to implement it…), maps such as the Indie Manufacturing map would be much improved if the viewer could easily filter the results shown.

Coarse-grained filtering can be done by putting the different sets of data onto different layers, as we’ve done with the factories vs. machine shops, etc. However, that doesn’t let the user drill into the data on a single layer. For the Indie Manufacturing map it would be really useful if you could limit the list of machine shops to just the ones offering laser-cutting, for example. That information is held in the tags, so you’d need some way to be able to tell the map interface which tags can be filtered and then choose values or provide a text box to enter the search terms.

The Open Street Map tools make all sorts of mapping activities lots easier. With the addition of a few more pieces it could form an even better toolkit for many more communities of interest.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Toxic Alliance? by The Leveller

Evidence pointing to weapons manufactured and sold by the U.S. and U.K. being used in human rights violations in Yemen (most recently in the bombing of a funeral), a complex web of allegations of funding and support for extremist groups, reliance on oil revenues and pressure to diversify amid dipping prices and climate change, a lack of freedom for women and a reliance on the openness or restrictions of individual ‘male guardians’ who oversee life decisions and the plight of migrant workers who often go unpaid, are unable to leave the country or change employers. There is much to learn and much to cover in understanding the sharpest impacts of the Saudi royal family’s seemingly unshakable rule.

Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection, a new book by peace activist and co-founder of Code Pink, Medea Benjamin seeks to make challenging the kingdom’s repressive aspects more possible by increasing awareness and pushing for an acknowledgment of the United States’ complicity through its long but controversial alliance.

Benjamin has offered a primer, “giving readers a basic understanding of how the kingdom holds on to power internally and how it tries to influence the outside world.” It is easily digestible with key aspects of the Saudi state dissected in short but detail-filled sections. The book takes the form of nine chapters covering the foundation of the Saudi state, religiosity and religious freedoms, the justice system and use of beheading and torture, the struggle of Saudi women for equal rights, the condition of migrant workers and the state’s alleged support of extremism and spread of Wahhabism. It then places the Kingdom in a broader context both historically through its relations with the U.S. and ‘the West’ and geographically through its relationship with its neighbors. The culminating chapter The Way Forward examines the increasingly fragile basis of the royal family’s rule and future prospects for change.

During a trip to London and ahead of speaking at the Stop the War Conference, the Leveller spoke with Medea Benjamin about the book, the challenges of reaching out to those inside the kingdom, how to challenge U.S. complicity and future prospects for the anti-war movement.

One of the key challenges for greater understanding of experiences inside the Saudi kingdom is bridging the gap between Saudi voices – whether they are lawyers, women, activists, journalists or migrant workers – and the international audience. Benjamin was clear about the challenge of using first-hand personal accounts for the book and the dangers facing those who speak out:

“It’s very difficult because Saudis are really worried about speaking out and using their names. I’ve had so many Saudi friends who’ve said don’t even thank me in the acknowledgments. Even the Saudis who live outside Saudi Arabia are afraid of the repercussions for family back home, some are also seeking asylum and want to keep quiet until their cases are over.”

“You get kind of a feeling that the Saudi government are a big mafia and they can threaten people way beyond their borders in such a way that it intimidates all kinds of people. So it’s difficult. The internet does open a whole new way of talking to Saudis – of course there’s language barriers and people are still afraid that over the internet they’ll still get caught.”

Tight control of the media comes through the royal family’s significant stakes in news outlets as well as the banning of journalists and editors who publish articles deemed offensive to the religious establishment or ruling authorities. The internet, while giving the public access to an enormous source of information has increasingly become a site of pitched battles between voices of dissent and government surveillance and crackdowns.

One of a number of cases explored in the book is Raif Badawi, a writer, activist and founder of the Free Saudi Liberals website who was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to ten years in prison, a thousand lashes and a fine of over $250,000. The first fifty lashes were administered in January 2015 but international outcry meant the rest were postponed. More recently, a ‘reliable source’ claims his flogging could continue at any time.

Awareness raising and organizing around the issue of the U.S.-Saudi relationship back in the States is no small feat either. There is a double challenge for campaigning where on the one hand there are demands on the US government to curb the actions of a repressive ally, while at the same time it’s been shown with Chelsea Manning, revelations from Edward Snowden and others to be all too happy to flirt with authoritarianism itself. How do you square that tension?

“Well, I think by not being arrogant and pretending that our governments are great democracies and that we want to sever the ties with the repressive regime because it’s not worthy of our values. I mean come on, our values have been invading other countries on the basis of lies, killing untold numbers of their civilians, destroying their ways of life, keeping people locked up indefinitely not just in Guantanamo but in solitary confinement in the United States and now the world knows more in the US of people of color being killed by the police.”

“What’s left of the anti-war movement understands that we will never be strong and effective if we continue to think of ourselves as the anti-war movement narrowly speaking rather than looking more broadly, including the militarization of the police at home which Black Lives Matter have made such gains in raising awareness, issues around the environment and how much of the wars are being fought around resources as well as making alliances with the groups fighting around the corrupting influence of money in politics as we understand the corrupting influence of the weapons industry.”

“So we have our own problems and our own corrupt systems to deal with. I think the issue is to see it as the worst of both of our countries are colluding with each other to keep this racket going. And part of this racket is the military industrial complex on both sides and also in the UK, where weapons companies have close relationships with elected officials and convince them to be selling weapons to regimes like Saudi Arabia.”

The numbers here are staggering. The kingdom’s military spending is one of the highest in the world and given its population size, 2015 military spending came out at $6,909 per person. As Benjamin notes in the book: “Obama sold more advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia than any of his predecessors. The 2011 deal for $60 billion constitutes the largest weapons sale to any country in U.S. history.” A report by the U.S.-based Center for International Policy puts the total offers made to Saudi Arabia during Obama’s administration at more than $115 billion (it did not disclose how many offers were agreed/completed).

The U.K. is also implicated in the tangled web of political ties and business interests. The largest corruption scandal involved $2 billion in kickbacks from U.K. military company B.A.E. Systems paid to former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Some of the funds were funneled through a U.S. bank account, meaning the Department of Justice was able to force B.A.E. to pay $450 million in fines after an investigation. Prince Bandar however was not charged in the U.S. or in the U.K., where then Prime Minister Tony Blair halted the investigation after the Saudi government warned there would be “repercussions”.

While the challenge for campaigning are clear, cracks are beginning to show in the justifications for such close links with Saudi Arabia. As Benjamin notes in the concluding chapter:

“…this marriage of convenience had to be constantly justified from both sides. Saudi rulers had to convince religious zealots that the Westerners were not a threat to Saudi religious traditions; U.S. officials have had to justify the relationship as essential to U.S. national interests. The rationale binding Western interests to the Saudi state is no longer so easily justified.”

There are however signs of change and growing discomfort with this marriage:

“There was the recent example of the U.S. Congress voting and then overturning a Presidential veto (for the first time ever in Obama’s presidency) concerning legislation to allow U.S. 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government. Then we have the 27 Senators and 88 Congress people for the first time questioning weapons sales because of war crimes being committed in Yemen. So there is a change happening, where Saudi Arabia is getting the bad name it deserves and it is starting to make people feel uncomfortable regarding their position.”

Benjamin acknowledges throughout that change must come from inside the kingdom, from what civil society groups there are, lawyers, women activists, journalists, bloggers and more. At the same time this is made all the more difficult by the legitimacy and support given to the Saudi state by continued, barely critical relationships with the U.S. and others. Kingdom of the Unjust contributes to a vital pivot in the conversation to understand how, through its position as international and regional ally, America is complicit in breaches of human rights standards by the Saudi state. The hope is that wider understanding of this link makes it more possible to challenge at home.



Kingdom of the Unjust. Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection is published by OR Books. Paperback $18/£13, E-book $10/£7. 246 pages.

Copies can be purchased here


Image: Tribes of the World

The post The U.S. and Saudi Arabia: A Toxic Alliance? appeared first on The Leveller.

Hat-trick and a wrecked living room by Goatchurch

Maybe I’ve got writer’s block. I’ve not even filled these into my logbook. I call it a hat-trick if I do a cave trip, a hang-glider flight and a dive in the same week. This is the fourth time I’ve done it. Generally speaking, the individual events are not all the greatest: the dive was pretty murky, the cave was gritty, and the flight was ridgy. Can’t complain.

The wreck of the Azmund is in Holyhead harbour about a mile of paddling out from the beach.

It was dark and murky and we didn’t find the way back to the boilers after starting on it. The wreck is huge though. Part of the metal juts out of water at low tide.

On the way back we discovered why the beach we launched from is not popular with kayakers — it dries out to about 500m. We couldn’t see our boats after the first time we walked back with a load to the car.

That was Saturday. There was a pleasant day out at Moelfre, with some people being terrified of the currents, but it was the wash from the joy-riding lifeboats that nearly sunk us. The image of the almost breaking 4 metre high wall of water that came upon us while we were anchored in the shallows of Rat Island a few minutes after they zoomed through the channel is going to live long in my memory. The second dive worked out well when we found the remains of the Royal Charter in the sand after groveling in the shallows among the kelp where it was supposed to be until giving up.

Then there was a cave trip to the far end of Ingleborough Show Cave (the only photo of which I have is a line of cavers getting changed on the footpath), followed by a quick escape home ostensibly to start clearing out the house, but which was in fact an excuse to be in North Wales for a flight off Penmaenbach.

I landed on the dwindling beach at high tide after an hour of very smooth sailing in the sea air.


A concrete breaker was hired to smash up and take down the floor. We filled a skip with the crap a day later with some help from friends.

Now we live in a building site. Again. And it’s mid-way through October.

The Problems with EULAs are Infecting Hardware: What Will it Mean to “Own” Your Car? by Albert Wenger

Watching Tesla’s video of a door-to-door self driving car offers an amazing glimpse into an autonomous and robotic future

But there was also a disturbing footnote to the announcement: you are not allowed to let your self-driving Tesla operate as part of Uber or Lyft, only as part of some forthcoming Tesla network.

Now you might ask, is such a restriction legal? Haven’t I, as the purchaser, paid for the car? And normally, once I have paid for a car, doesn’t the manufacturer have no further say in what I do with the car? Well historically yes, but we are witnessing the fascinating encroachment of Software Enduser License Agreements (EULAs) on physical objects, as those objects embed more and more software.

The EULA allows for all sort of usage restrictions based on the argument that you have not actually purchased the software but rather licensed it. A license establishes an ongoing relationship with the software vendor in which the vendor can restrict how you use the software. The joke has long been that the most common lie people make these days is to check a box or click a button that says something like “I have read the EULA” (or Terms of Service for something that’s hosted). The agreements are so long and their language so lawyerly that of course nobody actually reads them.

The fact that nobody reads the EULA or Terms of Service has encouraged companies to stick all sorts of new restrictions in there, such as forcing binding arbitration instead of regular recourse via the legal system. It also makes it possible to add the kind of usage restrictions that Tesla is looking for.

At present course and speed it is not impossible to imagine a scenario where you get a pace maker implanted and then have restrictions as a person on where you can go or what activities you can carry out based on the EULA for the embedded software. It is high time we collectively re-evaluate what kind of conditions and restrictions should be imposable on consumers via a EULA or Terms of Service.

Uncertainty Wednesday: Explanations by Albert Wenger

Now that Uncertainty Wednesday has covered the various ways in which our ability to observe reality are limited, we will look at limitations on explanations. Again for those readers just starting this series, the basic framework has uncertainty resulting from limits on observations and explanations of reality. Now today’s post isn’t titled “Limits on Explanations” but just “Explanations.” The reason for that is that I think I need to first explain what an explanation is (in retrospect I should have maybe done this for observations as well but last week’s post gets to the heart of that: observation is an information transfer from reality to the observer and hence are a physical process themselves).

OK, so what is an explanation? An explanation is a relational story about reality. Let’s unpack this starting with the “about reality” part. We have lots of stories in the world that are about fictional universes. Those are not explanations. Take the Harry Potter series for example. Even though it contains detailed “explanations” of say the game of Quidditch or the construction of Horcruxes, these are not explanations in the sense used here. Why? Because there is no corresponding observable reality. And in the absence of a corresponding observable reality, the story can be changed as pleases the author (or reader, or movie maker). You can still compare one version of a fictional story against another or examine a fictional story for internal consistency, but you can never have any corresponding observations because there is no underlying reality.

The second important qualifier for explanations is that they must be relational stories. Saying “The Earth is round” is not an explanation. It is simply a description, which is the same as a “possible” observation. I say “possible” because there are many descriptions we can come up with of reality that are different from what is observed (eg “The Earth is flat”). Saying “The Earth revolves around the Sun” is an explanation. It establishes a relationship between the Earth and the Sun. And if I switch it around to “The Sun revolves around the Earth” I get a different explanation. Changing an explanation in this way has implications for what should be observed which is why relational stories about reality cannot be changed simply at the whim of the author.

The relational nature of explanations can be seen in our ability to express many of them as mathematical equations (equalities or inequalities) with at least two variables. The equation expresses the relationship between the two. We can also see that an equation with only one variable, something like x = 42 expresses a description, not an explanation.

There is much much more to be said about explanations, such as where they come from, what makes for a good explanation and how explanations relate to observations. Over time I am planning to get to all of those but in the next few posts we will look at limits on explanations.

PS My thinking on explanations is heavily inspired by David Deutsch’s writing, in particular “The Beginning of Infinity” which has as its subtitle “Explanations that Transform the World.” 

Birth of a Theorem by Cedric Villani (Book Review) by Albert Wenger

I recently finished reading “Birth of a Theorem” by the French mathematician Cedric Villani.

It is a terrific book even if you understand only a fraction of the math in it (I certainly did not understand most of it). Villani does a great job bringing the reader along on his quest to prove a theorem that would qualify him for the coveted Fields medal. The Fields medal is the highest reward in mathematics and among its qualification requirement are that the recipient must be 40 years or younger. The book chronicles Villani’s race against this time clock.

I thoroughly enjoy mathematics and would love to learn more than I have. One of my misgivings is that there aren’t more books similar to “The Theoretical Minimum” in Physics aimed at readers who want to learn more but don’t want to slog through an undergraduate textbook. Villani’s book doesn’t solve this problem, but it does accomplish something else: it highlights many aspects of mathematical research that make it a fascinating case study in how the knowledge loop can work (you learn, you create, you share – see also World After Capital).

Villani describes in great detail how his theorem is the outcome of an intense collaboration with one of his former students and how it is informed by the work of other mathematicians, including a number of fortuitous conversations that trigger new ideas. Mathematics as a field already has a high degree of what I call “Informational Freedom” in World After Capital. Mathematical formulas cannot be patented and copyright has not been used to build up a world of expensive publications but rather previous results are widely available for free.

Villani beautifully relates how intrinsic motivation, a love for the beauty of mathematical knowledge, combines with a strong reputation system inside the mathematical community and some key prizes to drive forward the knowledge loop in mathematics. We should move other fields of knowledge to be closer to mathematics not the other way round. It is worth reading the book from this perspective alone.

Likely Schiaparelli crash site imaged by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter by The Planetary Society

Just a day after the arrival of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and its lander Schiaparelli, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken a photo of the landing site with its Context Camera, and things do not look good.

Remembering Ewen Whitaker, the "careful and caring" scientist who found Surveyors 1 and 3 by The Planetary Society

Ewen Whitaker was one of the founding members of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, one of the world's first research institutions dedicated to studying the moon and planets.

ExoMars: Schiaparelli Analysis to Continue by The Planetary Society

The fate of the ExoMars lander, Schiaparelli, remains uncertain. European Space Agency mission controllers had been optimistic on Wednesday night that a definitive answer would be known by Thursday morning’s news briefing. However, although some more details have been made public about the lander’s descent, it is not yet clear whether it hit the martian surface at a speed it could not survive.

Brief update: Opportunity's attempt to image Schiaparelli unsuccessful by The Planetary Society

Today, the Opportunity rover attempted a difficult, never-before-possible feat: to shoot a photo of an arriving Mars lander from the Martian surface. Unfortunately, that attempt seems not to have succeeded. Opportunity has now returned the images from the observation attempt, but Schiaparelli is not visible.

ExoMars: Long day’s journey into uncertainty by The Planetary Society

Trace Gas Orbit is successfully in orbit at Mars, but the fate of the Schiaparelli lander is uncertain.

Fall Issue of The Planetary Report is Here! by The Planetary Society

From the innermost planet to the farthest reaches of our Solar System, this issue of The Planetary Report spans it all!

DPS/EPSC update: 2007 OR10 has a moon! by The Planetary Society

The third-largest object known beyond Neptune, 2007 OR10, has a moon. The discovery was reported in a poster by Gábor Marton, Csaba Kiss, and Thomas Mueller at the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society (DPS/EPSC) on Monday.

Rapidly Rotating Regular Satellites and Tides by The Planetary Society

Pluto’s small moons have unusual rotation rates and states. Now we know a moon of another dwarf planet does as well. Is there a connection?

Juno to delay planned burn by The Planetary Society

The Juno mission posted a status report late Friday afternoon, indicating that they will not perform the originally planned period reduction maneuver during their next perijove (closest approach to Jupiter) on October 19. The delay changes the start date of the science mission and also all the future dates of Juno's perijoves.

October 20, 2016

Yves Klein at Tate Liverpool. by Feeling Listless

Art The first and so far only comments card I've ever filled in Tate Liverpool was about Yves Klein. One of his blue paintings, IKB 79 1959, was once part of the permanent exhibition. One day, this must be over a decade and a half ago, I was in an especially cantankerous mood and noticed that, because the painting was behind glass and positioned in a particular place with a florescent light above it, the blueness seemed to be off colour, slightly dull, the shimmer of the pigment only really visible along the edges.  After chatting to the invigilator, I headed to the foyer and filled the white space on the card and popped it in the box, not expecting a reply.

Tate replied via email and explained to me what's now patently clear.  That the painting has to be behind glass for protection purposes and so it's almost impossible not for light to be reflected off the surface no matter were the painting was hung.  Would you believe I argued back about this?  But the exchange was perfectly cordial and in retrospect especially patient considering my ignorance.  There's always a trade-off in museums between displaying and preserving an object and sometimes, because of the very nature of a painting or sculpture or an example of the decorative arts, there isn't a perfect solution.

IKB 79 1959 returns to Tate Liverpool for this retrospective and remains one of art history's greatest achievements, breathtaking in its execution and visual beauty.  Displayed in a corner near the entrance, as far away from direct light as possible, it has an almost supernaturally watchful presence within the gallery, with all the foreboding of Clarke's monolith.  It shimmers as your eyes find it impossible to quite focus on its aquamarine surface, unable to fix on any particular details.  To stand before it, is to find your emotions being absorbed and reflected back, as it broods, smiles, addresses, surprises and it's impossible not to look, to want to look, addicted by its luminosity.

International Klein Blue or IKB, was created with the help of the chemist and paint dealer, Edouard Adam, attempting to retain the radiant blue that the dry pigment has even after it had been applied to the canvas.  The result is the bluest of blues, with all the lucidity of the skies in the Giotto frescoes which were the painter's initial inspiration.  Giotto mixed lapis lazuli with egg tempera and oil which hasn't aged well in some cases but Klein's "trick" was to suspend the pigment in a synthetic resin, Rhodopas, described by Klein as "The Medium."  As a result the surface has much the same quality as it must have done when he originally applied the paint.

If the exhibition had simply been an empty room with this at the centre, then nothing more would need to be said, an example of an artist at the apogee of his creative powers, what would be the perfect album for a musician, the unrepeatable novel for a writer, the first feature film whose magic can't be recreated.  But like any creative, Yves Klein during his slender life (he died of a heart attack at thirty-four in 1962 just after most of these paintings were produced), kept trying, kept working and if the rest of the items in the exhibition are any evidence, wasn't fucking around.  As well as a painter, he was a judo master, one of the few in Europe at that time, and there's even a startling photo of him leaping off a building (albeit heavily staged).

But IKB 70 1959 doesn't exist in isolation.  Klein painted over two hundred similar paintings, trying out different painting techniques from brush to roller to sponge and there are smaller examples of these blue voids elsewhere in the show.  In his 1957 show, Monochrome Proposals, Klein displayed eleven identically sized blue monochromes with different prices to "focus our attention of the sensitivity of artistic expression and the role of the audience".  But they are different, with varying textures leading to other ways in which the light shines from the canvas but few as successful as the larger work.

Similarly, there's a rainbow of even smaller monochromes collected together with only purple missing from the usual list and other than the IKB, none of them are actually monochrome, either because of blotchy paintwork, or dirt which has collected on the surface across the decades or fading.  Around the same time, Klein experimented with utilising his pigment within sponges either attached to the surface of a canvas or as stand alone sculptures, but this has a dulling effect, making it just seem like the kind of blue water based paint we'd use in school, artificial.  But it's important for us to see these choices in order to appreciate the miracle of IKB 70 1959.

Half of the main display space is filled with Klein's Anthropetries, in which the artist attempted to find a crossover between performance art and creating something with aesthetic qualities.  A film is included demonstrating how these works were achieved, as the artist daubs naked women with blue paint and they then press their bodies against the canvas, the idea of a whole being becoming living paint brushes.  People with long memories, or want to click here, can see a recreation of just this on Channel 4's Club X in 1989 during a live television broadcast, which even filtered through TV Hell's presentation is still fascinating.

Klein said that he considered his paintings to be "ashes" of the original work implying that the actual art work was the process of creation rather than the results.  But creative people always say that their output is always a goshima shadow of the version they had in their heads, and it's possible, that the very great artists in all media are those who're able to replicate the version they have in their head to the rest of us as close as is meaningfully possible.  Klein was able to do just this.  IKB 70 1959 is one of a small number of paintings which has the capacity to create sense of wonder despite its apparently simplistic formal qualities and shouldn't be missed.

Yves Klein (with Edward Krasinski) is at Tate Liverpool, 21 October - 5 March 2017.  £10.00 / £8/00.

October 19, 2016

Elizabeth Wurtzel on Bob Dylan. by Feeling Listless

Music Writing for The Guardian:

"I learned from Bob Dylan that, if you are good with words, you can invent whatever life you want. That is the power of writing. Great authors create worlds, with cityscapes and neighbourhoods and characters that they choose. I’ll be damned if you can’t become the person you render. Bob Dylan’s masterpiece is himself, all his work and all the people it has affected."

October 18, 2016

Let's Not Kill Hitler. by Feeling Listless

Books Here's a brief but fascinating explanation for the origin of the "kill Hitler" genre of time travel stories. Doctor Who isn't mentioned but it does mention Rimbau's El Acronopete which sounds structurally oddly familiar. A cast iron box travels through time (albeit implied as happening in a dream) and ...

"The machine provided the setting for a story in three acts, in which the following group of characters travel in time: don Sindulfo García, a scientist from Zaragoza and the inventor of the device; his friend and assistant Benjamín; Clarita, don Sindulfo's niece and ward; a maidservant; Captain Luis, Clarita's beloved; several Spanish hussars; and a number of old French women of 'loose morals' that the mayor of Paris wants to rejuvenate so that they "regenerate" themselves."
They're then involved in the sort of hijinks which wouldn't be too out of place in a Who story if you squint, albeit in the wilder spin-off material.  An English translation is available here.

October 16, 2016

My Favourite Film of 1924. by Feeling Listless

Film Just over ten years ago, while I starting research on my MA dissertation, I attended a Philosophy of Film conference at Liverpool University. Inevitably this was mentioned on the blog and here's what I wrote:

"This last couple of days have been spent at a Philosophy of Film conference at Liverpool University. I'm feeling hot and drained so I can't really put into too many words how enjoyable it's been. I might not be intelligent enough to have grasped all of the intricacies of everything which was said over the two days and I think I might have over compensated by talking to people a lot and loudly (as usual).

I did have a moment of zen during one of the breaks at the refreshment table on the first day when I began to second guess myself and my own greed.

Should that be a small muffin, or a large muffin?

I chose a small muffin.

I think it was a (tiny) personal victory."
My intention was clearly to return to the topic but as has so often been the case over the years, my over expanded interest in everything and attention span of a small rodent has meant that there have been plenty of occasions when this didn't happen. There never was a follow-up post about what actually happened during the one flashmob I attended back in 2004.

Philosophy of Film is a rather new discipline within the wider film studies sphere and in simplest, most obvious terms is to apply various elements of philosophy and and philosophical discussion to the study of cinema. The primary mainstream exponent is Slavoj Žižek, whose Pervert's Guide documentaries are a prime example of the approach although it's also arguably that Mark Cousins's The Story of Film also has elements in the way it juxtaposes extracts from across the world and different film industries to make a case for this or that point about the social order of things.

The conference, titled The Philosophy of Film: Towards an Understanding of Film as Art gathered together academics from across the world with a diverse and rich selection of papers some of which sound especially left field reflecting back a decade. Grand Theory and/or Grand Film? Towards an Intrinsic Philosophy of Film utilised Michel Gondry's little known or seen Human Nature as a jumping off point, investigating just how philosophical the two mice hitchhiking to New York are.  This was the first illustration of just how wide a focus, the Philosophy of Film actually has.

My memories of the weekend are blurry at this remove, mainly because as I flat out admitted in the earlier post, most of the papers flew skyward over my head even after at that point spending eight months studying film at a fundamental level.  Partly this was because a certain working knowledge of philosophy was also expected, this was being held in the philosophy department and so the bias was naturally in that direction.  One of the organisers has been kind enough to send me synopsis recently and there are sections in here, glancing through, which I have difficulty grasping even now.

It's the talks which focused on specific films which are most vivid, at least in terms of having a memory of seeing the slides.  There's Last Year at Marienbad: Film as Philosophy which considered whether the film itself was conducting a philosophical discussion about itself.  The Philosophical Ambience in Ozu Yasujiro’s Tokyo Story which was I think the way I discovered Ozu, one of the directors I've shamefully neglected in this favourite film list.  The Lord of the Rings as Descartes’s Malign Demon: Jackson’s Trilogy as Philosophy was considered the light relief at the end.

Clearest in my memory are the gaps between, the breaks for tea and lunch and talking to the attending academics at a time when I still felt like a peer even though I really wasn't.  There's a confidence in youth, which at the age of thirty-one I still retained.  As I discovered, academics don't tend to talk about the subject at hand, conversations always tend to be about the last conference they attended or business in their own university department, there's a clear demarcation between office hours and business and leisure because of course there is.  There has to be.

On the morning of the second day, to settle us in gently for the day ahead, the organisers screened some Buster Keaton films including my favourite film of 1924, Sherlock Jr. which would have been my first viewing.  Nothing prepared me for the innovative camera work or just how funny it was, a room full of academics tittering along during a piece of cinema they must surely have seen a few times.  However serious the film can be both in its execution and how it's considered, it's often important to be reminded that it's primarily a form of entertainment.

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Updated using Planet on 22 October 2016, 04:48 AM