BB #58: Foam

BrainFireFoam: Lots of little bubbles. In this case, a dump of various news items that caught my eye but which didn’t — for whatever reason — fit into the previous bubbles. (Or which I just forgot to include.)

Truth be told, I’m actually getting a little bored with these bubble posts of news items. But I’d accumulated so many of them by the time I got the idea that it’s taken some effort to flush the queue. And it has been nice that other writers, and other events, have been making my points for me.

And now I’m down to the foam at the bottom of the glass…

It’s been a while since Comedy Central announced the cancellation of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. I’m not surprised. I’ve also read that Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show, had gone beyond making the show unfunny to making it irrelevant.

Pity. I wanted to like TNS, and I wanted to go on loving TDS. But I found it hard to care about either. From what I can tell, Comedy Central seems to be pitching to a very young, and kinda dumb, audience.

TNS could have been brilliant (and relevant), I thought, had it avoided all the low comedy and wasted one-sided, fairly lame, skits. And, honestly, “Keeping it 100” often didn’t, but pandered to audience reaction.

I think the loss of The Colbert Report, and the failure of TNS, and the style and content changes in TDS, all mean something, all say something about our society.

At least there’s still Sam Bee and John Oliver.


Jeet Heer, writing in New Republic (August 24), asks What Were Blogs?

He ties the death of blogging as it once was with the death of Gawker, which was a stretch for me, but his observation about the decline in long-form blogging is on point. I’ve noticed it, and so have other bloggers at WP (and, I assume, other venues).

The Japanese have a word for blogs that have fallen into neglect or are altogether abandoned: ishikoro, or pebbles. We live in a world of pebbles now. They litter the internet, each one a marker of writing dreams and energies that have dissipated or moved elsewhere.

Yes, we’ve all seen all the pebbles strewn along the road. Blogs that haven’t had a post in years, sometimes many years.

Heer ultimately blames two things: Big media for absorbing successful blogs (and often altering them beyond recognition); Twitter for creating a TL;DR world. (That would likewise apply to Facebook and others.)

It is, again, the problem of scope.


I really enjoyed Aliens Have Found Us. And We’re Sorry, by Rupert Myers in UK GQ (August 31). He keyed off the SETI signal that sent waves through social media recently and writes: “If Aliens discover us in 2016, then they have caught us with our trousers down.”

He cites many items of human shame, cat videos being a benign indulgence in a realm filled with bigotry, shaming, virulent misogyny, spam, fraud, and more misinformation than information.

Modern culture circles the bowl of the toilet, as we define ourselves in reference to either side of a dispute between millionaire pop musicians whose confected disputes are as performative and superficial as their relationships. 87 million of us follow Justin Bieber on Twitter, more than even the President of the United States, Judge Judy is the highest paid star on US TV and the great British public voted Mrs Brown’s Boys the best situational comedy of the 21st Century. Television shows now consist of men and women being revealed naked to one another. Cinema has been infantilised, with half of the ten top-grossing films of 2016 being superhero franchises. Another four were CGI children’s films about animals, the final one being a Chinese movie about mermaids.

‘Swhat I’ve been saying.


Speaking of Facebook, they’re recently in trouble for having censored the iconic Vietnam war photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc by Nick Ut.

On the other end of the spectrum, they’re also in trouble for having not censored well-debunked 9/11 conspiracy items from their news feed.

In honor of Larry, let’s keep it 100. Facebook is stupid. And possibly even evil. If you spend much time there, you’re damaging your brain.


Lori Janjigian, writing for Business Insider, has an article: These are the 10 best countries for computer programming — and the US didn’t make the list.

While the United States and India have the most participants on the site, both countries put up disappointing numbers overall. The U.S. came in at 28th, while India was a few behind at 31st

This matches well with something I experienced when I was still working. Lots of people say they can program. Not all them, not even most of them, actually can.

On the plus side, efforts are being made to train children, especially female children, to program. That can only have good outcomes.


Peter Suderman, in Vox (September 5), writes that The 2016 summer movie season was a bust because Hollywood’s go-to formulas stopped working.

Nearly all of this summer’s most expensive, expansive releases, from the superhero sequels to the live-action reboots of animated classics, were based on existing media properties of some sort — so that every week felt like the cinematic equivalent of reheated leftovers.

Again, ‘swhat I’ve been saying. It’s hard to believe that this is what people actually want.

Suderman opines that some of the best viewing is on the “small” screen (TV, that is). While I think TV is generally a wasteland, there are some very good shows, and I’d agree they are better than most movies.


Ross Douthat, The New York Times (July 9), asked: Are We Unraveling?

We are not a country in open revolution. We are not a country under enemy siege. We are the United States of America in the sticky summer of 2016, and the market is up and the unemployment rate is low and the president’s approval ratings are solid and it could have been a moment of brave hope and national resurgence, but it is not, and from the grandstands at Trump rallies to the streets of Dallas to the mad world of social media everyone knows that it is not.

No, it’s certainly not.

In the quoted paragraph, Douthat is invoking the words of Joan Didion from Slouching Towards Bethlehem, written in the turbulent times of the 1960s and 1970s.

Social cycles do repeat, and those of us who’ve been around a while often recognize the signs of what’s coming because we’ve seen it before!


Sara and Jack Gorman, Time (September 6), have an interesting article: Why We Shouldn’t Dismiss People Who Deny Facts. They discuss the common perception that anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers are stupid:

But let’s try asking a different question for a minute: Are anti-vaxxers and climate change deniers actually stupid? Are they just a bunch of idiots who are ignorant of science and incapable of understanding it?

The authors conclude that, generally speaking, no, they are not. (And, yet, they fail to make any case this is genuinely so.)

Their point is that folks like this deserve empathy. Research shows “that humans are distinctly uncomfortable with events or phenomena without clear causes, and when we don’t know something, we tend to fill in the gaps ourselves.”

And so we make up stories that fit our perceived reality. The trick for others is to understand the stories, apparently.

I do agree that disdain isn’t helpful (but I’m human, too, and I have my own opinions and reactions). I do think it’s possible to be empathetic while still having a very low opinion of where someone is coming from.

I dunno… sometimes it seems like we should be more willing to point out — and reject — stupid behavior. I’m not sure embracing it in the name of some form of egalitarianism is the right idea.


Another article I had mixed feelings about was by Kathryn Nave, Wired UK (September 1), We’re all living in a ‘conceptual prison’: our brains perceive a fraction of reality to keep us alive.

She’s writing about scientist Donald Hoffman who, to my reading, has turned the idea (due to Kant and others) that the reality we perceive actually exists only in our brain.

Unlike Kant, who believed in empirical realism, Hoffman suggests our distorted perceptions of the world indicate idealism. As such, Hoffman thinks math can connect us to reality:

Doubting our perceptions isn’t easy. “Our perceptual system is our window on the world, but it’s also a conceptual prison,” he agrees. “It’s difficult to conceive a reality outside of space and time. But maths can open up a chink in the walls of that prison. I can’t imagine a multidimensional space, but I can deal with infinite dimensional space in mathematical form.”

The math connection is interesting, and Hoffman’s theory does offer some testable ideas, so who knows. There are some interesting ties to the hypothesis that we live in a virtual reality.


Did you know a second asteroid sailed by very close to the Earth and wasn’t spotted until the last moment? See the article by G. Clay Whittaker in Popular Science (September 9), Second Asteroid In A Month Sails By Without Us Detecting It First.


Speaking of space, DeepStuff reports that researchers at Rice University (located on Earth) may have solved a long-standing carbon problem — why it’s here at all.

Carbon is a volatile element that should have boiled off long ago. Or been captured in Earth’s iron core (iron and carbon really liking each other). So how is there so much life-giving carbon around?

Turns out it may have come from a collision with another planetoid after the Earth’s core was mostly formed (which allowed the donated carbon to remain in the mantle, crust, and atmosphere).

What’s interesting is that it’s another coincidence that allows us to be here. One of many, many of such.


Lastly, long-time online journalist, Jack Shafer, Politico (September 10), explains Why Print News Still Rules for him despite fully embracing the online world.

Even his own friends have pointed out to him that it probably has more to do with what he grew up using than anything else. The general idea is that, unlike us oldsters, young people who’ve grown up with the online world do find it easier to navigate than the paper world.

Shafer nevertheless offers some rebuttal to the idea, and it’s worth a read. It seems clear online is different than offline; the implications of that difference are still settling.


About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

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