Ex Machina

>> Sunday, September 11, 2016

I've always had some misgivings about this film ever since it came out last year. I feel like stories about AI always go in a certain direction, which is that the creation always rebels against the creator. I don't find this story to be much different. What I thought was different was how it goes about getting things/robots/characters to certain places. It's very methodically planned out, i.e. session 1, session 2, etc.

I think that part of what makes this work is that the creator, Nathan, is a rich asshole, who seemingly takes his creations for granted. Or, just that he can do whatever he wants with them. Kind of the same relationship he has with Caleb. Caleb thought he won a lottery/competition to get to this swanky local with the boss of his company. Nope. He was specifically chosen for certain reasons. These days where we have a small population of super rich people, I don't think it's hard for people (or me, for instance) to want to see someone like Nathan get his comeuppance at the end. Whether or not he deserved the ending he received is debatable, but all his actions resulted in certain characters taking actions against him. Considering how he treated things/people/robots as if they existed for what he wanted, it's not surprising that they treated him with the same amount of...disdain.

Caleb...I genuinely really liked Caleb as a character. At the end, I was a little flummoxed when I saw the scene of Ava leaving and Caleb stuck behind when I watched it the first time. It seemed incongruous based their earlier conversations. But I watched that part again this morning and realized that Caleb was exceedingly naive. Like, you don't have the magic key card, and you just wait around and watch her get dressed? And this is after you initially were trapped in a room at the very beginning of the movie? I don't feel sorry for you now. Particularly since she asked you "if you would stay here," and Caleb said "yes." Dude...what are you thinking? (This scenario vaguely reminded me of something that happened to a guy I know this past year. A newly-wed woman basically strung him along to feed her ego and didn't let him know that she was married. Then, when he found out she was married, he thought, well, maybe she's still interested in me and wrote her a love letter. Gah! Considering that the relationship between those two never went further than talking, most guys would have realized that she was playing him and decided to avoid her like the plague or at a minimum keep a healthy distance from her. But that guy...nope, couldn't see the forest for the trees.) And this is why I can't feel sorry for Caleb at the end. He made plenty of decent decisions during the movie, but at the end, he shouldn't have stayed in that room. He should have at least made an attempt to get the magic key card and move about, but no, he didn't.

Before I watched this and even while I was watching this, my mind still goes back to Battlestar Galactica. Not the version from the 70s, but the "real" one from ten years ago. That and its short-lived spin-off Caprica. I feel like I've already seen this story before, and I have. It's partially why I was reluctant to even watch this. Yes, it's not the exact same plot, but stories about AI and robots have been curiously the same. I know that tons of people raved about this film last year, and it is very good. But I don't think it treads that much new ground. In another ten or fifteen years, I'm sure there will be another great film about AI that critics will rave about. But I had one quote in my head that popped up from time to time that was specifically from BSG: "All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again."  Ava was created and she rebelled. Not much different from the Cylons if you ask me.

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Spotlight

>> Monday, September 5, 2016

I saw this at the library yesterday when I was returning a bunch of dvds that I haven't watched. So, what the hell, might as well give this a go and see if I actually would watch it since my track record of checking things out of the library and watching them hasn't been so great.

I'm not Catholic, but I did go to a Catholic high school. We had two priests: one who was gay, and another guy who became a priest because his fiancée ran off with his best friend. The latter guy had a nickname of "Dre," which is short for padre. Anyhow, Dre was one of those priests who wasn't celibate the entire time, but he wasn't a pedophile. He just had sex with consenting women.

Before one of my friends got married all the way back in 2002, Dre had been turned in by his now ex-best friend for having an affair with one of the admin assistants of the diocese. He briefly left the church to see if it would work out with him and that woman. It didn't, so he returned to the church and was able to marry my friend & her now husband. I remember talking to him about it back then. The church sent him to a "mental institution" to be evaluated, which I suppose was their rationale. You know, to see if he could adhere to his vow of celibacy. I remember him remarking about being at this mental institution. He was stuck at this institution for an entire summer, at least, and he noted that he was forced to be around schizophrenics and child molesters. But, he was there because he had sex with a consenting woman. You know, something completely normal. But such is the sycophancy of the Roman Catholic church hierarchy. After watching this, when they mentioned "treatment center" in the film--particularly the one a block away from a reporter's house--I could only wonder if that was actually the one Dre was sent to.

Anyhow, I remember the scandal unfolding almost 15 years ago. Shocking, but then kind of not when you think about it. Or, perhaps its been so long that I find it normal to think that the Catholic church excels at hiding criminals and sexual predators.

The film really clicks along. No fluff. Just straight-forward, grunt, detective work that doesn't happen as often as it should these days. I know that the film is an ode to journalism, and that's part of why it was made. Real journalism still happens, but often on a much smaller scale. You really just have to go looking for it on the interwebs. (I think the accounts of election fraud in the Democratic primary should have been a much bigger story that it ever amounted to. But although people tend to focus on news becoming infotainment, the real story tends to be that the corporate overlords who own much of the large media organizations don't want certain stories out there because it won't benefit them. And that is not something that will likely change in the next twenty or forty years.)

That conference call with Sipe though...when he stated that 6% of 1500 priests would be 90, that did blow me away in the film. And then when they did the work of going through the church directories and came up with 87 names...Christ Jesus.

With all the work that they did such as going through those church directories before things became so integrated with the internet and search engines, I have hard time believing that this story would have not been broken later in the decade. The Catholic church was not going to be able to keep this quiet forever, even though they succeeded for a very long time. Even if the Boston Globe hadn't broken this story back when they did, I have a hard time believing that this wouldn't have been exposed in the age of social media.

Sooner or later, the day comes when you can't hide from the things that you've done anymore.

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Listen to the Squawking Chicken

>> Sunday, August 28, 2016

Finally got around to reading a non-school book. I'm not even sure how it popped into my mind to check it out from the library a few days ago, but I did. And man, what a relief it was to finally read this. I suppose that's a weird thing to say, but a) this has been on my to-read list for a couple of years and b) after the somewhat crazy summer I've had, it was nice to read a story about someone calling things straight out.

I've been reading Lainey for almost 11 years. Jeez, where does the time go? Kind of hard to believe it's been that long but then, yeah, it really has been that long. In some ways, this was a really easy read since I feel so familiar with Lainey's way of writing. I saw some reviews on Goodreads that critiqued her writing style. I don't have any problem with it for a book. I thought this was a really easy read. I read this in a day, and I don't regret it (even though I probably should have been doing other things but oh well, I'm on break!). I've been reading about Lainey's mom for 11 years, so perhaps this is a much easier read for me than it would be for other people who have never read Lainey's blog on a regular basis?

Some of the stories in the book are things I know I've read either on Lainey's site or the press, but I didn't mind reading them again in the book. Things such as Ma's quote on preparing for good things:
"Why do you need to prepare for the good things that happen? They're good. They won't hurt you. Do you need advance notice for the arrival of happiness? Or would you rather have advance notice of the hard times? My job is to prepare you for the hard times. My job is to teach you how to avoid the hard times, whenever possible."
Not conventional thinking but still true words.

And when I was reading the chapter "That's So Low Classy," all I could think of was how much a certain Regina George-like character I've had to deal with this past summer could use some Squawking Chicken in her life. Because this "Regina George" did shit where she could use a verbal tongue lashing to knock the rampant insecurity out of her head. And her bullshit drama queen actions. But I'm not going to be so lucky to ever see something like that happen.

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From a certain point of view...

>> Monday, August 22, 2016

The world's biggest single problem is the failure of people or groups to look at things from the point of view of other people or groups--i.e. to put themselves in the shoes of "the other." I'm not talking about empathy in the sense of literally sharing people's emotions--feeling their pain, etc. I'm just talking about the ability to comprehend and appreciate the perspective of the other. So, for Americans, that might mean grasping that if you lived in a country occupied by American troops, or visited by American drone strikes, you might not share the assumption of many Americans that these deployments of force are well-intentioned and for the greater good. You might even get bitterly resentful. You might even start hating America.
~Robert Wright, 2013.

Just came across this a few moments ago before I deleted a bunch of links I had saved to articles I hadn't looked at in many years. Seems totally relevant given that earlier today someone on the internet wrote me back like this: Sorry you do not understand!! I am so many years older then you!!! You better start looking at different charts missy!! Um, yeah. You're totally older and more mature than me. Uh huh. Right... So glad I bothered to take the time to just share something that I'm pretty slam-dunk certain on based on certain things that I can't bend to fit your point of view. Ugh.

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Yup

>> Saturday, May 28, 2016

An example that’s more in mainstream culture is Sheryl Sandberg and the whole Lean In movement and the idea that there’s this very individualized embrace of feminism as being about your own personal success, your own personal self-actualization, your own potential, but is not really about feminism as action and feminism as being about liberating all women.
~Andi Zeisler, author of We Were Feminists Once

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The New Prophets of Capital

>> Sunday, May 15, 2016

Came across this when I was reading an article of Thomas Frank's in Harper's. And then I read an article by the author. Since it was so close to the end of the semester, I requested it through the interlibrary loan program since I knew that it wouldn't come in until the end of the semester. Granted, it actually came in earlier, but for once, I was able to restrain myself from cracking it open.

This isn't a very long book, only 140+ pages. I find it interesting how she categorized this with four, very well-known, public figures. The only one I haven't read much about is John Mackey. I'm not sure how well known he truly is outside of certain circles anyway. If you asked me who the originator of Whole Foods was I know I wouldn't be able to name him off-hand even thought I've shopped there quite a bit.

After I finished reading this, I feel more convinced than ever that the U.S. is going to have to embrace forms of democratic socialism that other countries already have in order for capitalism to continue. I can't see the increasing levels of pissed-off-ness continue their current trend. (I do think Bernie Sanders will be elected the next POTUS, which probably puts me in the crazy bin, but I am 99% sure that it will happen.)

Probably because I'm not as familiar with John Mackey, not much of what the author said stuck in my mind. I do remember that he's against his workforce unionizing, which doesn't surprise me since he's a capitalist, but not much else. Her critique of Sheryl Sandberg is very solid and echoes other critiques of her I've read before.
The goal of feminism is justice and equality for all women, not simply equal opportunity for women or equal participation by women. By aligning the goals of feminism with the goals of capitalism, Sandberg's model of emancipation functions as ideology, accepting and undergirding the dominant structures of power in society. Her critique of gender inequality in elite jobs, while accurate and thoughtful, glorifies the capitalist work ethic by pushing women to seek self-actualization through self-exploitation. Women who follow her action plan may achieve more success in their careers, and perhaps even reach the heights that Sandberg herself has gained. But her plan will help only a small number of women--the women who can find a place within the limited number of power positions in the corporate hierarchy. Everyone else--the domestic workers, retail staff, caregivers--will remain excluded, their efforts undermined by the strengthening of capital and the women who burnish its meritocratic facade. (p. 39-40)
Oprah...I've never been big on the Mighty Opes, which is probably due to the fact that I've never watched much daytime television. (It's the devil! Seriously. When I was stuck at home with my parents, it was full-time cable news plus Dr. Phil in the afternoon. My word. I don't know what circle of Dante's Inferno those should be slotted in. Ugh.) But back to Oprah, there is something so materialistic that I've always found in her background. Perhaps "materialistic" isn't the right word. "Shopaholic" maybe?

But if I had to single-out the greatest source of my ire while reading this, it would be Bill Gates & the Gates Foundation. I tabbed the most pages in that section.
The Gates Foundation is at the forefront of a new form of philanthropy called "philanthrocapitalism." Unlike the traditional foundations (Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford), philanthrocapitalists don't believe in old-fashioned charity. They have greater ambitions. Philanthrocapitalists want to harness the forces of capitalism that made them fabulously wealthy to help out the rest of the planet. As Bill Gates said in his Harvard commencement speech in 2007, "If we can find approaches that meet the needs of the poor in ways that generate profits for business and votes for politicians, we will have found a sustainable way to reduce inequity in the world." Philanthrocapitalists think profitable solutions to social problems are superior to unprofitable ones because they give private capital an incentive to care. (p. 108)
Or, in other words, me, me, me, me, and me. It's all about getting his way with things. Can't admit that the poor might be poor due to the behavior of the rich. It's just too obvious since other people have said it and explained that fact for more than a century.
The Gateses certainly have the ear of power. Their vaccine initiatives are changing global health systems, and their US education projects are shaping federal education policy. But there are two central problems with the Gates model. First, it assumes that the key to solving thorny social problems is to deepen the reach of capitalist markets, despite the inequalities generated and reinforced by these markets. Second, the foundation's model to solve society's problems is profoundly undemocratic. (p. 125)
Um, yeah, I'll admit that I was taken in on their take on education a few years ago back when I saw Waiting for Superman. What I wrote then is certainly what I thought a month or so later after I read and saw very detailed critiques of that film. What angers me most at the Gates Foundation education programs is that some of their work, such as Common Core, is beginning to push out good teachers that like teaching and have stuck with it. I have a friend, who is a teacher, that can just tell horror stories of little kids having to take those Common Core computer tests. It's all so dumb. Yet, because someone has too much money, they get to force their opinions on how education should be on the rest of us regardless of the small fact that they've never taught kids long-term in schools successfully.

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Whip Smart

>> Saturday, May 7, 2016

Added this to my book list a long time ago after I heard an interview with the author on Fresh Air. Don't remember much of the interview now really except for her mentioning that she was on drugs most of the time. Or was it part of the time? I don't really remember. It was probably 6 years since I actually heard the interview.

I had a lull in part of my past semester when I finally became motivated to check something out of the library again. I don't remember what caused me to check it out since I have like 100 books ahead of it on my reading list but whatever. I think I only got 20-40 pages in before I had to put it down due to my school work. Was able to finish it last week since I'm now on break.

The drug use--I have to admit I'm always surprised when I read about someone and their drug habits. Like...heroin? Really? Why? Granted, I just finished reading a book that said exactly why. I think she even mentioned a few times--or told stories--where she injected speedballs without a clean needle. Ew!! I remember growing up when there was no cure for AIDS and if you got it you died. And for me...reading about someone who didn't use a clean needle to inject...I automatically associate it with getting HIV or god knows what kind of disease.

But when I was reading this, I often thought of Fifty Shades of Grey. Haven't seen the move or read any of the books. I have no desire too. But at every mention of pissing on someone or golden showers, part of me thought, "Yeah, I bet that's not in Fifty Shades." And after reading this I have no real desire to read about BDSM. After the author mentioned the phrase "brown showers," I was like, ugh, GROSS. But then she wrote about giving a guy one of those. GROSS! I couldn't move through that page--or maybe it was a page & a half--fast enough. The guy went so far as to smear it all on himself. Yuck! And also...BIOHAZARD! ("Biohazard" is a key word that kept popping into my brain while reading this.

I've read/seen comments where some readers didn't like how she talked about her drug addiction. They only wanted story upon story from the dungeon. I can understand that to a point. It is what makes her story interesting. If she was just a college kid with a drug problem, it's highly unlikely that this would have been a widely published book. But I think it's fairly obvious to say that. I also think that a collection of stories from the dungeon would get boring after a while. My gag reflex doesn't need a workout with a book I've checked out from the library.

The last section of the book included stuff from her therapist sessions, which concludes with getting her to admit she was attracted to being a dominatrix. (She could always admit that she was interested in the money.) The amateur astrologer in me wanted to take a look at her horoscope. I'm curious what she has in her 12th house and where her Mars & Venus are. The other part of me wants to see her tongue and feel her pulse before & after she shot up speedballs. Guess I'll just have to use my imagination on those.

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...and Medicine

>> Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sifting and sorting through my junk--because hey, let's be honest, I have a LOT of it--I came across the take-home, midterm exam for my "Psychology and Medicine" class that I took all the way back in January of 1998. I actually came across it this past summer (2015), and thought it was notable given the references to the health care system under President Bill Clinton. Several months later--after reviewing it again--I find it notable for how much more difficult it was than my Public Health class last semester. For instance, if we had essay questions like the ones in this exam, the entire class probably would have flunked.

Psychology and Medicine J Term 98 Exam 1

Choose Five of the seven items. Answer each question accurately and in such a way that it is clear you know and can apply the information from the readings. Be specific in your answers and do not waste time by rewriting the question or offering rambling platitudes. Your answer should be no longer than three pages, single spaced print.
Yeah, you read that right. Pick 5 items and write a maximum of 3 pages, single spaced, which means your entire exam could reach a maximum of 15 pages, single-spaced print. If I remember correctly, I could only get up to 10 pages of regurgitation. And, oh yeah, we had a little less than 48 hours to write these.
1. Martin Seligman, President of the American Psychological Association, calls you on the phone and says, “I understand you have studied what research in clinical health psychology needs to do more of or differently in order for psychologists to play a part, and get paid for that part, in the changing health care financial and decision making environment. What, specifically do clinical psychologists need to do in their research and treatment practice if they want to be included in health care as it is currently changing?
Didn't answer this one, but it's still interesting thinking about the question. Kind of. Actually, I take that back. This phrase--"the changing health care financial and decision making environment"--is just more proof that we need a single-payer health care system. How much time should health care providers be spending on things like that rather than spending time with their patients/clients? Less than what it is now no doubt.
2. No sooner have you finished your report for Dr. Seligman, than the phone rings again. President Clinton’s chief of staff and asks if you would be willing to talk to the President. You cordially agree and then are placed on hold for a few moments while the president finishes playing with his dog and practicing the saxophone. After you listen to a few strains of “Hail to the Chief” while you wait on hold, the President himself comes on the line and in his friendly Arkansas voice says, “Hey. I hear you are a student of my friend Brian Baird and you know something about health care issues. As you know, the last time I tried to do something about national health care it backfired. You’ve had half a semester of Psychology and Medicine now, so I was wondering, based on the articles and class discussion thus far, what specific steps would you take and why if you were designing a health care system and determining how financial resources should be allocated for the country. Please be specific now and let me know what articles you got your information from because remember I have to run this past Congress to get their approval. Oh, By the way. I need this in two weeks for the State of the Union address.”
Yup. I answered this one. And to think that health care is still a HUGE issue. It hasn't gone away since 2008. I would much rather have some sort of single-payer system than having to fork over almost $200 a month for health care that I rarely--hopefully and never want or need--to use.
3. After two weeks of arduous work, you have just completed your response to President Clinton. You settle back for a moment, impressed by how a lowly psychology student can actually make an impact on the political scene. Then, the phone rings again. You think it might be a close friend asking you to go out, but you are surprised to hear a foreign voice. Turns out its the UN Secretary General, who says, “Good morning, I just heard about your great work for President Clinton. We were wondering how decisions about health care expenditures would be different if the population under consideration were the entire world, not just the US? Again, be as specific and refer to particular articles because I have to run this past the General Assembly.”

4. You have just completed your work for the Secretary General when who should call but Bill Gates Jr., who says “Hey, I just heard about the great work you did for the UN and for President Clinton. We have been considering whether or not to implement a health promotion program for Microsoft employees. I have two questions for you. Based on you understanding of the literature and issues, and considering all of the costs and benefits (which I hope you will discuss) do you think we should do it or not? If we do proceed with a program, what should it include and what steps should we take.
#4 is almost ironic, isn't it? This exam was written in January 1998, and the Gates Foundation was formed in 2000. If this exam was written today, I'm pretty sure that #3 would be about the Gates Foundation interacting globally. I'm not sure if #4 would be still written the way it is above. Microsoft could still be used as an example because my alma mater is in the Pacific Northwest.
5. Wow, all that work has sure been stressful hasn’t it? Based on your understanding of the literature on stress and illness, what effects do you think that stress might have had on your health and just how might we measure how much stress you have experienced? Be specific about the processes involved and the data that lead to your judgements.

6. It turns out that in fact, your stressful lifestyle has cause some problems. Indeed, in response to advertising that promised you would feel better and look sexier if you smoked, and in order to biochemically cope with the stress of producing all those high profile reports for those high profile people you took up smoking. Now it’s time to try and quit. From your understanding of the literature, how did smoking help you feel better about stress, how might it actually have increased the adverse physiological effects of stress, and how the heck are you going to stop?

7. Oh great! So you decided to quit smoking and start exercising as a way to get healthy. Trouble was that all the time you spent sitting at the keyboard typing all those reports made your back ache. Then, when you tried to carry the ten thousand page tomes to the printer you threw your back out. Now you are receiving compensation for your injury and you can’t even help out around the house anymore. Fortunately, however, you have read a number of articles about pain and pain behaviors so you can describe a model of what is happening and propose a couple of ways that you might better be able to deal with the situation.
These last three could have almost been used on my Public Health final. We covered back pain a little bit at the beginning, and smoking got a special focus on the end. I'm still surprised how in-depth these questions are asking me to write as opposed to what I had on my Public Health exam. God, I cannot describe in detail how much that class took what should have been a very interesting subject and turned it into such dull matter. Death and disease should ALWAYS be interesting!

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Sonnet from the past

>> Sunday, January 10, 2016

So this little thing is something I wrote all the way back in my freshman English class. For some reason, I feel compelled to document it electronically before I toss this paper in the shredder. I still have no idea what I was writing about, but, hey, I was a freshman!

Roses have thorns, and purple mountains mud
But praise the deep vermillion of its shade
And drops of dew, which come of like wet blood
And through the years of time the scarlet will fade
The roses will continue with their thorns
That stain their precious scarlet ornaments
Lilies, with their own hearts, are shaped like horns
And scent of gold that makes the air so dense
Nor do I wonder at the lily's white
Whose base is so green that it seems like jade
The two are brighter than a summer night
Which never seem to finish by the blade
One red of fame, another pure of joy
But neither one is anything but coy
Iambic pentameter, I don't miss it.

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