Quotulatiousness

September 22, 2017

Why I DON’T watch (most) TV Documentaries

Filed under: History, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 5 Sep 2017

I get asked quite a lot about TV documentaries either which I recommend, like or watch. Well, here are the main reasons why I usually avoid them like the plague.

September 21, 2017

TV and Parliament

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

It’s an old visual joke: two photos of Parliament (Canadian, British, Australian, etc.) or Congress, one showing the attendance for debate on a bill the poster believes to be of utmost importance … with a bare dozen or so on either side of the aisle contrasted with a photo of a jam-packed chamber said to be a debate on politicians’ salaries. The joke works because very few of us have ever been (or wanted to be) in the visitor’s gallery during a session. Our impressions of what actually happens in Parliament are informed by the still photos in the newspapers and the incredibly misleading snippets of TV coverage on TV or on Youtube. In the National Post, Andrew Coyne calls for the TV camera to be allowed to record a non-stage-managed version of what actually happens in the chamber:

A great many things have contributed to Parliament’s decline, but I wonder if it is entirely coincidental that the age in which the Commons mattered, when a good speech could turn a debate and debates were of consequence and giants walked the Earth, predates its televisation.

Look at it from the point of view of a member of Parliament asking a question or giving a speech in the Commons. Before the television cameras were introduced in 1977, who was your audience? Who were you trying to persuade, or impress? Who graded you on your performance? It was the people within its walls — your fellow MPs, mostly, plus the press. That was your world: people who were committed to Parliament, and knowledgeable about its traditions, and who themselves believed in its importance. For it was their world, too.

Perhaps they were wrong to believe this. Perhaps it was no more important, objectively, than it is now. Except that they believed it was, and believing it to be so, acted accordingly. And as it was important to its participants, so that importance was communicated to the country, which after all had no evidence to the contrary. If it was a delusion, it was a shared delusion.

[…]

Worse, the world outside is not even watching. It would be one thing if there were millions of Canadians tuning in. But as in fact the audience is largely limited to journalists and other shut-ins, the effect is simply to reinforce the sense of pointlessness and insignificance. All of that posturing for the cameras, all that canned outrage, and for what? Maybe a few hundred views on YouTube, if you’re lucky.

But of course no one’s watching. Have you watched Parliament? It would be unexciting enough, without the help of the rules governing the parliamentary television service, which allow only a single, fixed camera on a speaker at a time — no cutaways or reaction shots. Not only does this drain the proceedings of any drama, but it presents a stilted, distorted version of what goes on. Witness the little charade wherein a platoon of a speaker’s colleagues are assigned to occupy what would otherwise be the empty chairs around him. The public has been given the pretence of a direct, unfiltered view of Parliament, one that is vastly less interesting than the real thing.

Should you decide to watch the bear pit live, you are not allowed to use a camera or recording device of any kind, and you’re explicitly not allowed to take notes during the session. Those privileges are reserved to the official representatives of the media alone (see the “Live Debates” section of the Parliamentary website.

September 15, 2017

“Assemble the squad”

Filed under: Environment, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Severe weather is coming, and the media know their role. Joe Bob Briggs has been there, and speaks from his own experience:

News executives love disasters. They get to act like Chuck Norris and Assemble the Squad.

“Maginnis, you cover first responders.”

“Wilson, get over to NOAA and stay on those maps.”

“Kelly, official press briefings. Work with Yurozawski to keep tabs on every emergency room within a 300-mile radius.”

“Bergram, you’re Cop Shop, but we’ll keep the aperiodic radio tracking the locals.”

“Ramstein, find that German guy who gets a hard-on for global warming.”

By the time a managing editor or a news director gets finished “covering this mother like blubber on a seal,” you’ve got thirty people who feel like they’re crammed into a D-day troop carrier, waiting for somebody to throw open the landing door and engage the Nazis. They have lust in their eyes. They’re hopped up like nekkid trance drummers at Burning Man.

You know those reporters clinging to lampposts in 120-mile-per-hour winds on the pier at Sanibel Island?

Same thing. They’re pumped. They’re wild. They’re getting all orgasmic from the needle burns on their cheeks as the gooey red juice of the hurricane danger zones envelop them in delirious wet convulsions.

I know. I was one of those guys.

QotD: The sexist TV shows of the 1960s

Filed under: History, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Speaking of a different world, there was one big barrier to entry into [the original Star Trek]: its ladies. I’m still not quite sure how to deal with the way women were treated in the show. I’ve found that when watching many movies or shows from the ’60s and ’70s, it’s incredibly hard to relate the characters — not just because plot pacing was slower and diction was different than it is on TV today, but because I’m almost guaranteed to be disappointed by the way the story treats women. Generally, one just has to accept that there is going to be out-and-out sexism in a lot of old movies and TV, and you can either toss out the whole thing or watch it from afar like you’re in a museum, analyzing an ancient culture.

Megan Geuss, “I watched Star Trek: The Original Series in order; you can too, Or: Filling the gaps in your cultural knowledge is equal parts boring and fun”, Ars Technica, 2015-09-05.

August 28, 2017

Sexism in the original Star Trek

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Dave Leigh stands up for Gene Roddenberry:

… the most infamous case is in part a running gag throughout the series. It’s dictated in the Guide, runs the length of the series, and culminates in the final episode. And I’m pretty sure that very few people other than Gene Roddenberry himself knew that it was a running gag.

It’s sexism.

First… history. And this part is well-known. When the first pilot (“The Cage”) was delivered, Roddenberry cast his future wife, Majel Barrett, as “Number One”, the coldly logical second-in-command of the Enterprise. When the studio rejected that pilot and commissioned a second one, they made a few demands. They wanted to “get rid of the guy with the ears” (as Roddenberry told it). They also wanted to axe Number One, because they claimed that their test audiences didn’t like a woman as executive officer. For decades, Roddenberry told the joke that he kept the alien and married the woman because the other way ’round wouldn’t be legal. He also transferred Number One’s coldly logical nature to Mister Spock.

In the years that followed, many fans and critics completely forgot this story when examining the rest of the series. For instance, there’s the fact that the captain’s yeoman is always a pretty female. This is by decree. In fact, the Guide describes the character as follows:

    YEOMAN — Played by a succession of young actresses, always lovely. One such character has been well established in the first year, “YEOMAN JANICE RAND”, played by the lovely Grace Lee Whitney. Whether Yeoman Rand or a new character provided by the writer, this female Yeoman serves Kirk as his combination Executive Secretary-Valet-Military Aide. As such, she is always capable, a highly professional career girl. As with all female Crewman aboard, during duty hours she is treated co-equal with males of the same rank, and the same level of efficient performance is expected. The Yeoman often carries a small over-the-shoulder case, a TRICORDER, about the size of a small handbag, which is also an electronic recorder-camera-sensor combination, immediately available to the Captain should he be away from his Command Console.

In the real-world Navy, a yeoman is simply a clerk. Most of them are men. But in Star Fleet, this is women’s work, at least superficially. Note that in other respects these women were to be treated co-equally. What isn’t women’s work — ever (in the original series) — is the Captaincy. And this is stated explicitly in the very last episode of the series, “The Turnabout Intruder”.

Now, this has been retconned over and over, but this episode was deliberate, and it was conceived and outlined by Gene Roddenberry. By now you probably know that I don’t like retcons because they suck. They’re poor explanations that say, “it didn’t happen”. It’s better to explain why it did happen. And to do that, we have to start with an understanding of what Star Trek was for. It was first and foremost a platform for storytelling. Fantastic elements were readily employed whenever they served a storytelling need. It’s one of the strengths of science fiction:

    “I was working in a medium, television, which is heavily censored, and in contemporary shows I found I couldn’t talk about sex, religion, politics and all or the other things I wanted to talk about. It seemed to me that if I had things happen to little polka-dotted people on a far-off planet I might get past the network censors, as Swift did in his day. And indeed that’s what we did.”

    — Gene Roddenberry

August 21, 2017

Joss Whedon’s ex-wife on Whedon’s affairs

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Kai Cole at The Wrap:

I’ve been asked some questions by the press recently about my divorce from Joss Whedon, to whom I was married for 16 years. There is misinformation out there and I feel the best way to clear up the situation is to tell my truth. Let me begin by saying I am a very private person and the act of writing this is antithetical to who I am and everything I stand for. Yet, at the same time, I feel compelled to go on the record and clear up some misperceptions. I don’t think it is fair to me or other women to remain silent any longer.

I met Joss in 1991. I was driving across the country from Massachusetts on a whim, and met him when I was passing through Los Angeles. We fell in love and I moved to L.A. so we could be together.

I was with him when his Buffy the Vampire Slayer script was adapted, and the resulting movie released. It was painful to see how his vision was interpreted by the production team and on our honeymoon to England in 1995, I urged him to figure out how to turn it into a TV show. He didn’t want to work in television anymore, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, but I convinced him it was the fastest way to get the experience he needed, so he could direct his own films someday. I had no idea, in that lovely garden in Bath, that it would change everything.

There were times in our relationship that I was uncomfortable with the attention Joss paid other women. He always had a lot of female friends, but he told me it was because his mother raised him as a feminist, so he just liked women better. He said he admired and respected females, he didn’t lust after them. I believed him and trusted him. On the set of Buffy, Joss decided to have his first secret affair.

Fifteen years later, when he was done with our marriage and finally ready to tell the truth, he wrote me, “When I was running Buffy, I was surrounded by beautiful, needy, aggressive young women. It felt like I had a disease, like something from a Greek myth. Suddenly I am a powerful producer and the world is laid out at my feet and I can’t touch it.” But he did touch it. He said he understood, “I would have to lie — or conceal some part of the truth — for the rest of my life,” but he did it anyway, hoping that first affair, “would be ENOUGH, that THEN we could move on and outlast it.”

Joss admitted that for the next decade and a half, he hid multiple affairs and a number of inappropriate emotional ones that he had with his actresses, co-workers, fans and friends, while he stayed married to me. He wrote me a letter when our marriage was falling apart, but I still didn’t know the whole truth, and said, “I’ve never loved anyone or wanted to be with anyone in any real or long-term way except for you ever. And I love our life. I love how you are, how we are, who you are and what we’ve done both separately and together, how much fun we have…” He wanted it all; he didn’t want to choose, so he accepted the duality as a part of his life.

August 19, 2017

How to Safely Watch The Eclipse or CNN

Filed under: Humour, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 18 Aug 2017

Remy has a few helpful tips for safely watching large orange balls of gas.

Written by Remy. Produced by Austin Bragg

August 17, 2017

QotD: Can you describe romance novels as “pretty people behaving stupidly”?

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’ve been learning about the romance genre recently. I have no intrinsic interest in it at all, but I have an intelligent friend who plows through romances the way I read SF, and we’ve been discussing the conventions and structural features of the genre. Along the way I’ve learned that romance fans use an acronym TSTL which expands to “Too Stupid To Live”, describing a class of bad romance in which the plot turns on one or both leads exhibiting less claim to sophont status than the average bowl of clam dip.

My wife and I have parts in an upcoming live-action roleplaying game set in early 16th-century Venice. As preparation, she suggested we watch a movie called Dangerous Beauty set in the period. I couldn’t stand more than about 20 minutes of it. “It’s just,” I commented later “pretty people behaving stupidly.”

On reflection, I’ve discovered that PPBS describes a great deal of both the fiction and nonfiction I can’t stand. It’s a more general category that includes not just TSTL, but celebrity gossip magazines, almost every “romantic comedy” ever made, and a large percentage of the top-rated TV shows (especially, of course, the soap operas).

Eric S. Raymond, “Pretty People Behaving Stupidly”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-29.

August 14, 2017

When did you first suspect that the world was being run by incompetent idiots?

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ace discusses the moment he realized there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible way our government and mainstream media operate:

Here’s a question I’d like to ask. I’ll try to figure out my own answer in the comments. But this is what I’m interested in:

When did you begin to suspect that the people in charge of the government and the media were dumb, ignorant, and sometimes actually deranged, and what confirmed it for you? What were your feelings about this? That is, was it like taking the Red Pill? Was it scary?

I’m trying to remember when this happened to me. Oh, the media I knew was biased; but I didn’t realize until the last decade that it was pig-ignorant and incompetent and filled with people who are mentally unwell.

The government — well, I blithely assumed that people who ran the government (or other major institutions) were generally at least low-level qualified.

At some point I realized we are being led — or rather controlled, as we do not follow willingly, but through coercion — by misfits, morons, and maniacs.

It was both scarifying and liberating, in a dark way.

But I think these realizations came kind of slowly and I’m trying to think of major things that crystallized them.

It also changed my opinion of many of my fellow citizens and onetime allies: I now view them as fools and maniacs (or worse) themselves for apparently seeming to continue to believe that Everything’s Okay and we’re still being led (controlled) by, if not the best and brightest, certainly the somewhat good and reasonably intelligent.

July 28, 2017

Game of Thrones in the DC swamp, where nobody has read Sun Tzu’s Art of War

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Kurt Schlicter offers some strategic advice to President Trump, illustrated by some recent Game of Thrones narrative (dunno how accurate, as I’ve neither read the books nor watched any recent TV episodes):

President Trump has done remarkably well so far, considering the hatred, contempt, and subversion he faces from members of his own party – much less the garbage he endures from the astonishingly inept and newly Russophobic Democrats. These nimrods’ bright idea for appealing to the deplorable people we call “normal Americans” is to take the New Deal and replace the adjective with “Better.” It has yet to occur to them to try not calling us “Jesus-loving gun freak racists who aren’t afraid enough of the weather and don’t believe women can have penises too.”

But it’s bad strategy to rely upon the lameness of your opposition. Instead, the president should be focused on launching a disciplined and overwhelming attack against the establishment to force his agenda through. But he’s not doing that. He’s messing up by going off on emotional tangents, and it will catch up with him.

[…]

Spoilers follow, so stop reading if you care.

Here’s the problem. The president has some huge challenges. He has limited combat power – yeah, he has a lot, and while it is still superior to his enemies, it is not unlimited. There’s a basic military rule of thumb that you break at your own peril. You do not split a superior force.

When you split a superior force, the enemy can then move to defeat you piecemeal. A superior force nearly guarantees a win. Take the guaranteed win. Grind out the victories. Don’t split your army.

They did in a recent Game of Thrones episode. The hot girl with the dragons met with the sort-of-hot woman with the three hard-six daughters, the bi-curious pirate chick, the sassy old lady who used to be Emma Peel, and the differently-abled person of shortness, and they came up with a war plan. It was a terrible war plan. They split their vastly superior force in two instead on focusing on the castle with the hot woman who was getting it on with her brother before she became a big enough star not to have to do nudity.

Terrible plan. Naturally, the enemy destroyed their fleet because they split their forces and ditched their dragon air cover like morons. I expect the producers thought it was super progressive to have the generals be all either women-identifying women or dwarves, but then they got thoroughly beaten by a cis-vertical phallo-person of pallor.

I’m not sure that’s the girl/midgetpower message they meant to convey, but whatev. The point is that when you lose focus and try to fight every battle, you risk losing every battle. The Sessions fight wasn’t strategically necessary – hell, “winning” would mean someone even worse because there’s no way the Senate will confirm anyone as AG that Trump actually wants.

Focus. Discipline. No one enemy can compete with the president, but a bunch of enemies can. Using the superior force at hand in a cunning, targeted way can bring back the winning. But uncoordinated, quixotic, emotion-driven lashing out? No, that’s what the Democrats and the Fredocons want from the president – mostly because they know from their own bitter experience how it leads to losing.

July 9, 2017

Historical ignorance

Filed under: Education, History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonah Goldberg laments the constant displays of historical ignorance in the media and on social media:

Ideological and political polarization is a big concern these days, and commentators on the right and left have chewed the topic to masticated pulp. But it occurs to me that one unappreciated factor is widespread historical ignorance, and the arrogant impatience of reaching conclusions before thinking. The instantaneity of TV and Twitter only amplifies the problem.

For instance, on the Fourth of July, NPR’s Morning Edition tweeted out the text of the Declaration of Independence, 140 characters at a time. The angry responses, from left and right, were a thing to behold. “Are you drunk?” “So, NPR is calling for revolution,” “Glad you’re being defunded, your show was never balanced,” and so on.

World War II and the Cold War, particularly Vietnam, used to define the intellectual framework for how we understood many events. For people in their 30s, that framework changed to the Iraq War and the War on Terror. In my more curmudgeonly moments, it seems like the new paradigm for millennials (and the journalists and politicians who pander to them) isn’t some major geopolitical test or moment but the adventures of Harry Potter. Having never read the series, I also don’t read the countless articles using the books to explain the political climate, but I do marvel at their ubiquity.

It should go without saying that a children’s book about a magical boarding school for wizards is of limited utility in understanding, well, just about anything in a world without wizards.

I once heard a story second-hand of a general who was talking to an audience full of 20-somethings. He was explaining how the War on Terror challenged his generation’s mindset. “I spent most of my career worrying about the Fulda Gap,” he said. To which one “educated” fellow reportedly replied, “I know that Gap! It’s in a mall near my house.”

The Fulda Gap is the location in the German lowlands where the Soviets were most likely to launch an invasion of Europe.

Today, we face a multitude of challenges, at home and abroad, that can only be met by people with a modicum of historical literacy. If only Harry Potter could cast a spell to give it to us.

July 7, 2017

“Donald Trump views the mainstream press with contempt, and the mainstream press returns the favor”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jacob Sullum on the tendentious relationship between President Trump and the mainstream media:

Donald Trump views the mainstream press with contempt, and the mainstream press returns the favor. Or is it the other way around?

Just as the president has trouble distinguishing between negative press coverage and “fake news,” the journalists who cover him tend to treat every inaccurate, unfounded, or even debatable statement he makes as a lie. That mistake, to which I myself am sometimes prone, clouds the judgment and damages the credibility of reporters and commentators who aspire to skepticism but too often settle for reflexive disbelief.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt recently catalogued “nearly every outright lie [Trump] has told publicly since taking the oath of office.” There are a lot of verifiably false assertions on Leonhardt’s list, but it’s an exaggeration to say every one of them is an “outright lie,” which implies that Trump knew the statement was wrong when he made it and said it with the intent of misleading people.

Take Trump’s preposterous puffery about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. “It looked like a million, million and a half people,” he said the next day in a speech at CIA headquarters.

Four days later, Trump was still marveling at the size of the crowd. “The audience was the biggest ever,” he told ABC News anchor David Muir on January 25, standing in front of a photo on the wall in the White House. “This crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes.”

Maybe Trump was trying to trick people into ignoring plain photographic evidence that his inaugural audience paled beside Barack Obama’s in 2009. But it seems much more likely that he was offering an emotionally tinged, self-flattering impression of his experience as he took the oath of office.

June 24, 2017

QotD: Manipulation of public opinion using “optics”

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Public business is now done this way in “democracy,” thanks to media that can capture emotional moments, usually posed and contrived. A successful politician, such as Barack Obama, exploits them with genius, and a cool confidence that the public has a very low attention span. They will only remember emotional moments. Angela Merkel herself usually does a better job, but nothing much can be done about an ambush. She did her best to diffuse it. She’s a pro: I’m sure she knew exactly what the game was; that she’d been set up. From working in the media, I have seen such set-ups many times: all the cameras flashing on cue. Tricks of editing and camera angle are used to enhance the “teachable moment”; to condense the narrative into a hard rock of emotion, aimed directly at the boogeyperson’s head. For the media people are pros, too. They know how to adjust the “optics.” Pretty young woman crying: that will sway everyone except the tiny minority who know something about the subject. And they are now tarred with the same brush.

Huge changes in public life can be effected with big money, careful organization, and ruthless attention to “optics.”

David Warren, “Authority”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-07-17.

June 23, 2017

Patrick MacNee of The Avengers on alcoholism and his life

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Apr 30, 2017

Patrick talks about his mother began to identify as a lesbian. His father moved to India, and his mother began to live with her wealthy partner, Evelyn Spottswood, whose money came from the Dewar’s whisky business. He called her Uncle Evelyn and he despised her.

He talks about his battle with Alcohol, being a Grandfather, working with Diana Rigg and his book Blind In One Ear. He has a delicious sense of humor and such a fun interview.

He was best known for his role as the secret agent John Steed in the British television series The Avengers. Patrick died in June of 2015 at age 93.

June 19, 2017

Political crossovers

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the most recent G-File “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg nerds out on the crossovers in comic books and TV shows, before pointing out that we’re living in the biggest crossover yet:

Well, the Donald Trump presidency is the mother of all crossovers. The primetime reality-TV universe has merged with the cable-news universe — and both sides are playing the part. This is a hugely important point, and one I think my fellow Trump-skeptics should keep in mind. Take, for instance, that cabinet meeting where everybody reportedly sucked up to the president. As Andy Ferguson notes, that’s not really what happened. Reince Priebus did the full Renfield, and so did Mike Pence, but most of the others played it fairly straight.

Don’t get me wrong: Donald Trump’s need for praise is a real thing, so much so he has to invent it or pluck it from random Twitter-feed suck ups. (Remember when he told the AP that “some people said” his address to Congress “was the single best speech ever made in that chamber”?) So, yeah, Trump acts like a reality-show character, but much of the political press is covering him like they’re reality-show producers.

As I’ve talked about a bunch, the mainstream media MacGuffinized Barack Obama’s presidency, making him the hero in every storyline. With Trump, they’re covering the White House like an episode of Big Brother or MTV’s Real World. By encouraging officials to gossip and snipe about each other and the boss, they too are playing the game. Much of MSNBC’s and CNN’s coverage feels like it should be called “Desperate Housewives of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

So, when you look at how that cabinet meeting was covered, it felt less Stalinesque and more like a creepy spinoff of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette or some sure-to-come non-gendered version (working title, “I Could Be into That”). I kept wanting the anchor to break away to a confession-cam interview with Mike Pence. If he doesn’t give me a rose but gives one to Reince, I will be like, “Oh no he didn’t!”

Meanwhile, Trump’s tweeting seems less like what it is — the panicked outbursts of narcissist with a persecution complex — and more like a premise of The Apprentice in which contestants have to deal with the boss’s rhetorical monkey wrenches. Back in the West Wing, the producers (who just finished congratulating themselves for coming up with the crossover idea of having Apprentice alumnus Dennis Rodman give Kim Jong-un a copy of The Art of the Deal) are trying to craft the best possible tweets to get Sean Spicer to pop a vein in his neck.

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