Categories
Media diet

My media diet

Books read

I don’t spend as much time as I would like reading books as I find longform journalism often filling this space. That being said, books do provide a depth you can’t hope to get from a newspaper column or magazine article. You can find my incomplete reading list over on Goodreads.

Black, Listed: Black British Culture Explored

by Jeffrey Boakye: A personal look at the language used by and about black people in the UK by a South London born teacher. Far from providing a definitive account but interesting to hear his take from the position as a first generation Ghanian in the city I now live in.

Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture

by Jace Clayton: I’ve been a long standing fan of Jace Clayton both as a DJ (his Solar Life Raft with Matt Shadetek being a particular favourite) as well as a writer. Uproot brings together a collection of his writings acting as something of a travelogue as he visits various music communities looking particularly where technology has re-shaped  music particularly from non Western creators. 

Nobber

by Oisín Fagan: I tend to favour fiction written in the present or the future so a book set in 14th century Ireland during the Black Death is something of an outlier. I appreciated the prose but didn’t find it a particularly easy read.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language

by Gretchen McCulloch: inspired by an interview with Gretchen on the Ezra Klein Show. It’s great to hear how language has been shaped by communities on the internet and also provided the opportunity to brush up on my own digital etiquette.

Films

Find below films that I’ve seen relatively recently that I have appreciated even if it hasn’t necessarily left a smile on my face. You will find a more complete picture of what I have watched now and in the past on my Letterboxd profile.

Parasite

It seems almost another era when I was able to catch Parasite at the cinema but I would still describe it as a classic and something I am looking forward to revisiting. There’s some great explainer videos on YouTube which point to why the film makes such a great impact including ones from Thomas Flight and Nerdwriter.

Beanpole

I have had a growing fascination with the old Eastern Bloc helped along by occasional visits, the work of the Calvert 22 Foundation and representations on the silver screen (Leviathan,
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and Tangerines spring to mind). Beanpole definitely fits at the bleaker end of the cinematic spectrum following the lives of a couple of women in Leningrad soon after the end of World War II.

Come and See

Another film that’s probably best not viewed if you’re on a downer. A Belarusian film set in World War II that is now considered something of a classic. Whilst the film definitely ticks some of the usual boxers associated with a war film, it also has an ethereal quality at times that definitely left a strong impression.

A Serious Man

The Coen Brothers are long standing favourites of mine with the wood chipper scene from Fargo remaining indelibly imprinted on my memory. A Serious Man isn’t as flashy as some of their other films but definitely has a healthy dose of black humour.

Dark Waters

The film brought to mind Michael Mann’s The Insider with a David versus Goliath battle (in this case with DuPont rather than the tobacco industry). Mark Ruffalo puts in a strong performance as a lawyer who switches sides from corporate defender to consumer plaintiff.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

I’m not the greatest fan of French cinema or period drama but I read enough recommendations to persevere and the film impressed with its beauty.

Dheepan

Another French film that like La Haine, focuses on the experience of some of the marginalised that inhabit Paris’ banlieue. Dheepan focuses on a trio of Sri Lankan refugees thrown together in an environment that appears almost as toxic as the country they fled.

Queen & Slim

It’s interesting contrasting this film with Green Book. Both are road movies looking at racism in Southern America but Green Book is set in 1962 whereas Queen & Slim suggests there’s still plenty of need for #blacklivesmatter.

Memories of Murder

Watching Parasite inspired me to take a closer look at one of director Bong Joon-ho’s earlier works. You definitely a sense of Bong’s feel for the absurd but Parasite feels like a more accomplished work.

The Assistant

Drama following the experiences of a young graduate in a film production company with strong echoes of accounts from The Weinstein Company. Julia Garner cements her position as one of my favourite actresses with scene stealing role in Ozark.

Television

If there was one thing I’d like to see changed with Letterboxd, it would be the inclusion of television as well as film. Whilst I understand purists arguments for the uniqueness of film, in the age of streaming media I would argue the delineation between between the two mediums is tenuous at best.

Babylon Berlin

I have a something of a crush on Berlin which I put down to growing up there for a period with a particular fascination with the city’s Cold War history. Babylon Berlin is actually set in the earlier Weimar Germany and provides a much more fraught environment than you associate with many British period dramas. The production is stunning and the rising tide of fascism definitely provides something to reflect on as we see the growth of the far right around the world.

Ozark

For those of you looking to fill the slot left by Breaking Bad or The Sopranos, this series follows a family involved in laundering drug money in the American Ozarks. Series three recently went live on Netflix and reflects a return to the earlier form with some great acting and character journeys.

The Plot Against America

HBO series based on an adaption of a Philip Roth novel in an alternative reality where Charles Lindbergh is elected president and tilts USA towards fascism and antisemitism. The series doesn’t match up to creator David Simons’ strongest work (The Wire, Treme, Show me a Hero), but it provides another warning of how easily politics can be derailed in the wrong circumstances.

Homeland

I haven’t always got on with Homeland sometimes coming across as islamophobic and at times preposterous. That being said said the series often quickly responded to issues of the day. Series eight represents a return to form for the series centring on a potential peace process in Afghanistan with the usual mix of spycraft and international politics.

Normal People

I’ve seen too many fawning reviews of this BBC adaptation of a Sally Rooney novel with Jessa Crispin’s takedown echoing many of my own thoughts. That being said, it makes for easy escapist viewing with half hour episodes making for bite sized morsels.

Podcasts

I’m struggling to keep up with my podcast feed now that I’m no longer commuting to work. That being said, I find podcasts provide an important respite from the here and now of more traditional online news sources.

regular shows
Anthropocene Reviewed

A look at the world with John Green’s idiosyncratic view of the world.

Worldly

A regular review of international relations from Vox.

Guardian Audio Long Reads

A chance to catch up with The Guardian’s more cerebral journalism.

Reset

A look at the impact of technology on society.

Flash Forward

Part science fiction, part sociology looking at where our world is heading as well as reflecting on the present.

Stephanomics

A look at the world through the lens of economics from Stephanie Flanders.

Planet Money

Long running series from NPR taking a deep dive on economic issues through a consumer lens (US).

The Indicator from Planet Money

Bite sized spin off from Planet Money looking at different economic indicators through the week (US).

More or Less: behind the statistics

BBC show taking a critical look at statistics reported by the news media.

interview podcasts
The Ezra Klein Show

Interviews led by Vox founder Ezra Klein

Conversations with Tyler

Interviews led by Marginal Revolution author Tyler Cowen.

Longform Podcast

Interviews with high profile journalists from the team at Longform.

limited run series
Floodlines: the story of an unnatural disaster

A series looking at the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans from the team at The Atlantic.

1619

A look at the lasting impact of slavery on contemporary American society from the New York Times.

Nice Try!

Avery Trufelman looks at different attempts to create utopian societies from around the world and across history.

Dolly Parton’s America

This series uses Dolly Parton as a filter to look at American culture wars.

The Missing Crypto Queen

BBC series where focus is more on greed and deceit rather than cryptography.

The Chernobyl Podcast

Series best consumed as a companion to HBO’s much loved Chernobyl programme.

Running from Cops

Series that pulls apart the Cops television series providing a valuable antidote to this pioneer in reality television.

Header image: Akumulator by Marcin Dudek at Edel Assanti gallery.

Categories
Thought Starters

Thought starters: Artificial Intelligence and its malcontents

Karen Hao takes a look at how OpenAI is looking to develop artificial general intelligence and the conflicts between getting there first and fulfilling its founding ethical principles don’t always make for perfect bedfellows:

“They are using sophisticated technical practices to try to answer social problems with AI,” echoes Britt Paris of Rutgers. “It seems like they don’t really have the capabilities to actually understand the social. They just understand that that’s a sort of a lucrative place to be positioning themselves right now.”

Whilst were on the subject of artificial intelligence, it’s worth reading Paul Grimstad’s profile of Alan Turing whose life came to a premature end due to homophobia of the post war era:

“It is fortifying to remember that the very idea of artificial intelligence was conceived by one of the more unquantifiably original minds of the twentieth century. It is hard to imagine a computer being able to do what Alan Turing did.”

Ian Parker wrote a great profile of Yuval Noah Harari who I’ve been a big fan of since reading Sapiens. It’s well worth a read but did leave me feeling rather wary of his assiduous avoidance of taking a stance on the issues he writes about.

The concept of filter bubbles has provided a tidy justification for what many of us see as the growing polarisation in this era of social media. Research from the Dr Richard Fletcher at the Reuters Institute provides a much more nuanced analysis in a world where there’s a growing abundance of news sources and algorithms aren’t the only means of discovery:

“Most of the best available independent empirical evidence seems to suggest that online news use on search and social media is more diverse. But there’s a possibility that this diversity is causing some kind of polarisation, in both attitudes and usage. This is interesting, because in some ways it’s the opposite of what the filter bubble hypothesis predicted.”

Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolutions blog is a regular source of nuggets of information. The highlighting of research from Jason L Cummings provides an interesting look at a possible driver for the rise of Donald Trump

“Black women for instance, present a consistent pattern of improvement in happiness across decades, while White women display a persistent pattern of decline. In contrast, Black men experienced a discernable pattern of improvement in happiness between the 1970s and 1990s, followed by a leveling off in the early-2000s. White men experienced moderate gains in happiness between the 1970s and 1990s, but after the Great Recession/Obama Era, White male happiness followed a pattern of unprecedented decline, with the “happiness advantage” they once enjoyed (as a group) over Black men and women largely vanishing.”

Peter Thiel’s often quoted statement We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters has long given people food for thought particularly as people point to the lack of growth in productivity in the global economy.  The It’s Only Chemo blog provides a somewhat different point of view as we all become infovores less obsessed with the material, something not necessarily picked up in traditional measures:

“Perhaps much of this is explained by the Alchian-Allen Theorem. There is so much to be gained by simply sitting at your screen and surfing, exploring the cultural niches of YouTube or learning Game Theory online or simply playing videos games. We haven’t yet realised that our minds are the new frontier. And therefore the returns to any sort of physical world accomplishments are much diminished.”

For a look at traffic modelling, this video is mesmerising. What I also find interesting is what it leaves out such as the costs of different options and the impact the different solutions have on people who aren’t confident motorists (elderly motorists, cyclists, pedestrians etc). What you exclude sometimes says more about you than what you include:

 Culture

I find winter time is a great opportunity to catch films pre/post award seasons or simply catch those films that missed your attention when they came out on the silver screen. I’ve been really enjoying using Letterboxd to track films I’ve seen (apparently 741 films seen at last count with 335 films on my watch list) and you can catch me here.

Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite is deserving of the praise that’s been piled on it in my opinion and explainer videos from Thomas Flight and Nerdwriter give an idea of the level thought that has gone into the finished film.

I appreciated 1917 nail biting trip the trenches but it was Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life that made the bigger impression. The film is a beautiful look at the struggles endured by an Austrian conscientious objector and his family during World War II.

Whilst were on World War II, Ari Richter’s illustrated account of his trip to Auschwitz provides a valuable look at how histories are being rewritten by populist governments to serve their own ends.

I can remember Cerith Wyn Evans’ work catching my eye at the Tate Britain and it’s great to see him have the whole of White Cube Bermondsey to explore his artistic vision. Well worth a visit.

Tools

Aegisub: Whilst the open source software’s website looks like it’s something from an earlier era, the tool for creating subtitles hits the spot if you’re posting videos to Twitter or other video platforms. I used this for our recent Bobby Seagull video for our petition to end library austerity.

DIY Captions Launcher for Youtube: Transcribing video is a painful task I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Google has been doing great work with its subtitling technology and this Chrome Extension helps you pull down transcripts. There’s inevitably going to be some corrections involved but it does much of the leg work for you. In my case, this has been great for transcribing videos from CILIP Conference’s last year, I task I fear would otherwise never have been completed.