Weekend Reads (Mar 4): “Dilbert,” Fox News, the Internet Movie Database, TikTok, Pancakes
Recommended weekend reading material for March 4, 2023.
If you’re a paying subscriber, don’t forget to check out my March 2023 playlist, which explores the discography of Richard Adams (The Declining Winter, Memory Drawings, Western Edges, Hood.) Playlists and podcast episodes are my way of saying “Thanks” to Opus’ paying subscribers.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
In a turn of events that should surprise exactly no one, Scott Adams’ Dilbert comic strip was dropped by hundreds of newspapers around the country following Adams’ racist statements.
On his video show last week, the 65 year old said he had been identifying as Black “because I like to be on the winning team,” and that he used to help the Black community. Adams said the results of the Rasmussen poll changed his mind.
“It turns out that nearly half of that team doesn’t think I’m okay to be white,” he said, adding that he would re-identify as white. “I’m going to back off from being helpful to Black America because it doesn’t seem like it pays off,” he said. “I get called a racist. That’s the only outcome. It makes no sense to help Black Americans if you’re white. It’s over. Don’t even think it’s worth trying.”
In his video, Adams also went on to state that “the best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from Black people.”
Since then, Adams has also been dropped by his Dilbert distributor, book publisher, and agent.
At one point, Dilbert — which began in 1989 (and stopped being funny approximately 20 years ago) — ran in over 2,000 newspapers in 65 countries. Such was its popularity that it inspired a cottage industry that included books, an animated TV series, and even a video game. But now, Adams has thoroughly torpedoed his own career; in a followup video, Adams admitted “My reputation for the rest of my life is destroyed.”
There will those who claim that this is yet another example of “cancel culture” run amok, that Adams’ freedom of speech is bring infringed upon. But as The Oregonian’s Therese Bottomly explains:
Some readers no doubt will deride my decision as an example of overly “woke” culture or as a knee-jerk “politically correct” response. What about free speech, they might ask? Isn’t this censorship?
No one is taking Adams’ free speech rights away. He is free to share his abhorrent comments on YouTube and Twitter so long as those companies allow them.
This also isn’t censorship; it’s editing. Editors make decisions every day about what to publish, balancing the need to inform against the possibility of offending reader sensibilities.
Also no surprise: Elon Musk defended Adams’ comments.
Another big not-surprise: Fox News knowingly and continually lied to its viewers concerning the 2020 election by supporting baseless allegations and conspiracy theories. David French examines the reasons behind Fox News’ deception.
There are some stories that are important enough to pause the news cycle and linger on them, to explore not just what happened, but why. And so it is with Fox News’s role in the events leading up to Jan. 6, 2021. Thanks to a recent filing by Dominion Voting Systems in its defamation lawsuit against Fox, there is now compelling evidence that America’s most-watched cable news network presented information it knew to be false as part of an effort to placate an angry audience. It knowingly sacrificed its integrity to maintain its market share.
Why? There are the obvious reasons: Money. Power. Fame. These are universal human temptations. But the answer goes deeper. Fox News became a juggernaut not simply by being “Republican,” or “conservative,” but by offering its audience something it craved even more deeply: representation. And journalism centered on representation ultimately isn’t journalism at all.
Unfortunately, I suspect that Fox News’ diehard fans won’t really care about their favorite network’s duplicity, any more then they cared about Donald Trump’s numerous lies and obvious moral failings.
I’ve written before about artists who are concerned about the effect AI-powered art generators might have on their business. And now, numerous voice actors claim that they’re being targeted by a harassment campaign using AI-generated voice synthesis.
Voice actors Zane Schacht and Tom Schalk were among several who were targeted by videos on Twitter containing faked audio that shared their home address while using racist slurs. Schacht, who has done voice work for properties like Fallout 4, told Gizmodo he and other voice actors were targeted after posting their outspoken antipathy toward generative AI. Schalk, who has done voices in several indie video games and animated series, also said the folks targeted by the malicious tweets had been outspoken on AI.
Related: Somebody asked an AI to create portraits of every American president, only they’re cool and they sport a mullet. Finally, a legitimate use for AI. I mean, just check out Abe Lincoln. Via The Dispatch.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is the web’s premier source of film-related information, and it’s all the work of volunteers.
Although there are over 83 million registered users of IMDb in the world, only a small fraction of those ever add information to it. That group includes actors adding their own credits; production companies filing content for their productions; and most of all, individual volunteers contributing wherever they see fit. The top 300 contributors — from Brazil, India, Germany, Norway, the Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Turkey, and the US, among others — are memorialized annually in the site’s Hall of Fame for the extraordinary amounts of time and energy they spend helping build the preeminent reference source for film and TV. Beyond that, they don’t get public recognition; they are largely pseudonymous and don’t divulge much about themselves on the site. They don’t get paid, either. (Adams says he once received an IMDb tie pin.) And yet their contributions have an incalculable reach across the web — viewed by millions on IMDb, repurposed on Wikipedia and TikTok, copied into movie event listings, cited in scholarly articles.
As of December 2022, the site contains over 484 million pieces of data, including info on 625,000+ movies and 230,000+ TV series. It’s also expanded beyond movies and TV to include podcasts, music videos, and video games.
This past week marked the 40th anniversary of “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” the M*A*S*H series finale (and single most-watched TV episode in American history). Matt Zoller Seitz writes about the finale and considers how M*A*S*H pushed the boundaries of network television.
But M*A*S*H is fascinating in the way it wove awareness of its own constraints into the fabric of each tale. Alda, showrunners Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds, and their fellow writers and actors were like the many beleaguered truth tellers in the 4077th. They kept tripping over the incompetence, intransigence and pettiness of network leaders pushing empty, self-serving social codes of acceptable behavior that applied only to certain people in particular circumstances. (The long-running gag of Klinger wearing dresses in hopes of getting a mental-health discharge was less about a man wearing a dress than the Army ignoring its own retrograde rules in wartime because it needed everyone it could get.) The Hawkeye-cracks-up plotline feels like a summation of the compromises and transferences required to get M*A*S*H on the air and keep it there.
The Mandalorian is back with a new season, so now’s a perfect time to revisit this 2020 article on the science of Baby Yoda.
So why does Baby Yoda seem so developmentally delayed compared to humans? He’s been alive for 50 years, and he’s the cerebral equivalent of a one-year-old. Spana points to a recent study from Vanderbilt University, which showed that the longevity and sexual maturity of animals is correlated with their number of cortical neurons.
“Since Yoda lived much, much longer than any human, we could extrapolate that he had many more cortical neurons,” Spana says. “In humans, much of the first years of life is spent growing the size of the brain, adding neurons and adding connections between the neurons. Essentially building a brain. A bigger brain would require even more time for neurogenesis and synapse formation.”
So Baby Yoda’s slow cognitive development, at least compared to humans, isn’t cause for alarm. If you’re a human parent who has adopted a Baby Yoda — something the entire Internet has daydreamed about — and you’re worried that he or she isn’t hitting their developmental milestones, and you’ve had whispered discussions with the pediatrician about whether your Baby Yoda is on the spectrum, you can relax.
Last week, Roald Dahl got the modern “sensitivity” treatment. This week, it’s Ian Fleming’s turn.
A report indicates that Ian Fleming’s ribald James Bond books have been rewritten to accommodate 21st century sensitivities, removing a number of racial references ahead of the 70th anniversary this spring, The Sunday Telegraph reported. The books are expected to be republished in April.
Fleming’s thrillers — from Casino Royale to Octopussy — will be rereleased this spring after Ian Fleming Publications, the company that owns the literary rights to Fleming’s work, commissioned a review by “sensitivity readers.”
The outcry at Dahl’s novels getting rewritten eventually led to the publisher backtracking somewhat; they’ll be publishing un-edited “classic” editions of Dahl’s novels alongside the “updated” versions. I wonder if something similar will happen with Fleming’s novels.
Live was one of the biggest alt-rock bands of the early-to-mid ‘90s. (When I was a college freshman, MTV played the video for “Lightning Crashes” approximately every 45 minutes.) But it all came crashing down (npi) in a sordid tale involving a con man, abuse, royalty disputes, lawsuits, failed business ventures, and more.
This is hardly the first time in music history that a band has melted down due to personality conflicts, clashes over money, and legal battles. Wildly successful groups from the Beatles to the Police to Fugees have faced some combination of those issues, and most of them eventually got past it and repaired the damaged bonds. That’s hard to imagine in this case. The onetime best friends in Live are now so bitterly divided on every imaginable topic — even the most basic facts of what transpired over the past few years — that speaking with them feels like asking Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to sit down for a friendly chat about the root causes of Jan. 6. (In fact, one of the former bandmates is a Trump supporter, while another calls himself a “bleeding-heart liberal.”)
Gizmodo has announced the winners of their 2023 Science Fair.
[W]e’re celebrating the projects that inspired us, shook up their respective fields, changed lives, and showed what is possible when smart people collaborate on big ideas. These winners — from huge NASA missions to scrappy, crowdfunded teams — all tackled difficult problems with creativity and grit. And most importantly, they all relied on the scientific method to demonstrate real results that aren’t just hype and promises.
This year’s winners include the Webb Space Telescope’s image processors, an experimental breast cancer vaccine, and the whitest paint ever made.
Also from Gizmodo: Federal agencies have 30 days to remove TikTok from all government devices. However, if the goal is to ensure privacy and prevent China from getting sensitive personal info, it’s an inherently misguided venture.
A 2020 Gizmodo investigation found that Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Gmail, and Snapchat and other apps expose Americans’ data to the same threats as TikTok because they all partner with Chinese advertising technology companies. That means American companies are sending data to servers in China governed by the exact same laws that make TikTok so terrifying to American policy makers.
“I’m not at all saying TikTok is innocent, but focusing specifically on one app from one country is not going to solve whatever problem you think you’re solving. It truly misses the point,” Kahn Gillmor said. “Do we really think that Facebook or Google are not capable of being influenced by the Chinese government? They know a market when they see one. I think the pressure that’s building is basically a race to be seen as tough on China.”
Finally, on a lighter and more delicious note, a brief history of the humble pancake.
Defined simply as flat cakes prepared from starch-based batter, pancakes—or at least rudimentary versions of them—were one of humanity’s earliest, most important foodstuffs. While previous research suggested cooking emerged during the Neolithic era (roughly 7000 to 1700 B.C.E.), when prehistoric people transitioned to larger, more structured communities and began to domesticate crops and animals, more recent findings indicate otherwise. Kabukcu cites evidence of “cooking with different plants (tubers, nuts, seeds) much earlier than the Neolithic.” Some 30,000 years ago, for instance, Stone Age people made flour out of cattails and ferns, likely combining the powder with water and baking the mixture on a hot rock to create a flat cake.
I love a good flapjack and have tried lots of recipes over the years; this recipe for buttermilk pancakes is my current favorite. (The secret? Let the batter rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes so the buttermilk can work its magic.) Other recommendations include cottage cheese pancakes and Swedish pancakes.
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