Review: High-Rise (2016)

High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, brings J.G. Ballard's classic novel to the screen after a long wait.

It's set almost entirely in a residential tower, a massive brutalist edifice inhabited by thousands of early-1970s Britons eager for a new life. The ultimate product of mid-century urban planning, the concrete building is designed to take care of all its occupants' needs: there's a supermarket, a swimming pool, even a primary school, all tucked away deep within its forty stories.

Robert Laing, an introverted young doctor, moves in hoping to become an anonymous nobody amid this monument to the bland excellence of modern life. But he commits the critical error of making friends, and is slowly consumed by the building's odd psychic character, its microcosmic reflection of the divisions in society at large.

He notices that the lower levels are first to suffer when the power fails; then that the higher echelons enjoy special amenities of their own. And then, when the lights go out, everything goes to hell.

A little awareness of British life in the 1970s helps contextualise details that might otherwise baffle—in particular, skyscraper-happy Americans should know that residential towers there were always a controversial novelty, that garbage collecters were perpetually on strike, and that in British engineering, corners are always cut. But Ballard's sinister geometry of modernity, hiding an emotional suppression ready to explode into violence, is a language universal to all employed westerners.

It's an intriguing, sophisticated and handsome movie made excellent by Wheatley's skill and its cast: Tom Hiddleston as the skeptical middle-class everyman driven to madness by his environment's awful sanity, Jeremy Irons as the tower's vicious yet uncannily humanist architect, Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid's Tale) as society's hope, and Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as the agent of chaos.

But there are some conceptual misteps, I think, that garble Ballard's anxieties—and the power of his storytelling.

In particular, the movie counterposes superficial social realism against dreamy surrealism in an attempt to triangulate the novel's hyperreal quality with its period setting and the presumed ironic sensibilities of a contemporary audience. Clever as this is, the result has a weird 1980s artsy zaniness to it, as if directed by Peter Greenaway or Ken Russell or (sorry) whoever did the Pet Shop Boys movie. Ballard is about games that turn deadly serious, but this is just a deadly game. Among other things, it makes its cruelties (which often involve animals) seem self-satisfied and spiteful.

Wheatley also tries to achieve too much though implication; even as a fan of the novel, I felt a little lost and could have done with an establishing vignette to establish the scenario. Motivations are often unclear, too. Though this is rather the point, the depraved psychic hygiene of the tower's world is only lightly sketched before it erupts. It's as if the movie is only interested in people who already understand its message.

Ballard's writing is cold and sharp, yet lurid in how it draws out the entrails of our discomfort. This movie's script is just drawn out. I like the film, and it's full of arresting images. It is a tribute, a floating world of its own, but a metaphor too distant and too arch to draw much blood.

Thumbs up, ish.

High-Rise (2016) [Amazon]

Trump's reign is sad for tech, too

The first 100 days of Trump's presidency were a shambolic festival of incompetence and looming catastrophe. But it's not all about beltway politics, you know! Because the intense (and reasonable) focus is upon on the media-friendly dimensions of his buffoonery, we sometimes miss how it affects specific aspects of American life. The Verge took a look at what's already happening to the technology business, from the threatened end of net neutrality to immigration lockouts. If you had hoped tech might have gotten through unscathed, somehow, perhaps you aren't paying attention to how much his corner of the establishment hates it.

Under Donald Trump, Silicon Valley’s ideal of a global community no longer seems like the foregone conclusion it might have a few years ago, and people are still figuring out how to deal with the barriers Trump is erecting. Mass protests and legal battles have stalled bans on visitors from several Muslim-majority countries, and the president’s love of Twitter isn’t doing him any favors in court. But there's still plenty more on the table that points to a future of isolation, not interconnection.

The change in course has shaken tech titans who are dedicated to getting the whole world online (and on their platforms). Mark Zuckerberg published a defense of "global community" that acknowledged its discontents, hoping to win the public’s affection before either running for president or making reality obsolete. Uber, meanwhile, stayed true to form and turned the protests into a way to make people hate it even more.

The larger tech world, which is ground zero for the high-tech immigration debate, has been slowly mobilizing to defend immigration. But one has to wonder whether their focus on the H-1B visa program — which lots of people agree actually is in need of reform — isn’t self-serving. In the meantime, the administration’s xenophobic rhetoric, coupled with actual violent incidents and aggressive deportations, is creating a culture of fear.

One can be ambivalent about the motives of Silicon Valley in all this, for sure. But their inane grinning platitudes belie something deeply useless about them when it comes to politics, especially opposition to Trump, that goes beyond the present crisis. Take the cringe humor of Zuckerberg's strange, alien replica of how a presidential aspirant should address the public, for example: it's so obviously, comically false it seems like a joke.

But then you remember: Donald Trump is president. Nothing is impossible.

Flying Fox enjoys grape

Megabattie posted a video of a female grey-headed flying fox who is "happy to stuff her face" with grapes.

Green grapes, red grapes - any grapes.

This bat is not a pet - she's a wild animal who was rescued, nursed back to health, and released, fatter and healthier, and still pregnant, about 6 weeks after she was rescued, almost dead.

Do not handle bats unless you're vaccinated and trained. Some bats (a very small percentage) may carry deadly viruses.

Call a wildlife group if you find a bat in trouble. If you get bitten or scratched, go to your local hospital and you will be vaccinated free of charge (in Australia).

Bats are nothing to be scared of if you leave them alone.

In 1961 an IBM 7094 was the first computer to sing

I had no idea!

Evidently HAL 9000 sang Daisy Bell as a tribute, it is the first song ever sung by a computer. In 1961 an IBM 7094 was the first to raise its voice in song.

The vocals were programmed by John Kelly and Carol Lockbaum and accompaniment was programmed by Max Mathews, but the song was written by Harry Dacre, almost a century earlier, in 1892.

Already regretting assigning J.G. Ballard to cover the Fyre Festival

(Note to proofreader: I just received this copy and figure it should just go up verbatim. Next time they do something like this remind me to send William Golding instead. — Rob)

Later, as he sat in his tent eating the doggo, Robin Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place at the Fyre Festival during the previous three hours.

Now that everything had returned to normal, with most of the rich kids cowering in the airport and the ostensible proprietors begging Twitter for forgiveness and mercy, he was surprised that there had been no obvious beginning, no point beyond which lunch had moved into a clearly more sinister dimension. In the middle of the field, a girl in an Afhan Whigs tee shirt screamed about gluten in the rye. (more…)

The 10 worst jobs in America right now

Not all careers are created equal. Take journalism, for example. High stress, low growth, very low pay. Why would anyone choose this field? (You're asking the wrong person.) According to CareerCast, who ranked the 200 most common jobs in America, journalism is a pretty crummy field to be in this year (as in, last place on the list).

CareerCast used metrics such as "growth outlook, income, environmental conditions and stress" as their basis in creating this list. Here is the methodology they used.

And now (...drumroll...), here are the 10 worst jobs of 2017:

1. Newspaper reporter (Median Salary: $37,820)

2. Broadcaster (Median Salary: $38,870)

3. Logger (Median Salary: $37,590)

4. Enlisted military personnel (Median Salary: $27,936)

5. Pest control worker (Median Salary: $33,040)

6. Disc jockey (Median Salary: $30,830)

7. Advertising salesperson (Median Salary: $50,380)

8. Firefighter (Median Salary: $48,030)

9. Retail salesperson (Median Salary: $22,900)

10. Taxi driver (Median Salary: $24,300)

And in case you're wondering, the very best job these days is that of statistician (Median Salary: $80,110). To see CareerCast's full list of 200 ranked jobs, click here.

Image: Israel Government Press Office

Extreme wealth inequality will always devour the societies that produce it

My new novel Walkaway (US tour/UK tour) is set in a world that is being torn apart by out-of-control wealth inequality, but not everyone thinks that inequality is what destabilizes the world -- there's a kind of free-market belief that says the problem is really poverty, not inequality, and that the same forces that make the rich richer also lift poor people out of misery, delivering the sanitation, mass food production, communications tools and other innovations that rescues poor people from privation. (more…)

NYPD boasts about small-time weed bust, NY says "apologize and give it back"

A pair of New York's finest posed with 100 tiny bags of pot, tweeting, "One less marijuana dealer on our streets thanks to Officers Sardone and Winter." The twittersphere was not impressed.

[via]

Musical instruments cunningly disguised as household potteryware

At a pottery fair in Pittsburgh, I ran into Kimberlyn Bloise, who makes handsome musical instruments that are also mugs, vases and pendants. They sound and look wonderful, and have the strange quality of something both charming and haunting, like remnants of a vanished culture. You can order them from her online shop.

I put a lot of testing into my instruments, but none of them plays a full scale, and none are traditionally tuned. The clay changes so much from when I begin to working with it to when I have the finished product. It shrinks and expands, and the pitches change along with it. What I have been able to do is figure out where to place the holes in relation to the size of the resonating chamber (the hollow handle) so that the notes all sound good together on each individual piece. The flute mugs all play parts of a blues scale! Could I figure out traditional tuning on all of them? Probably. But it would take so much planning and effort, and my prices would have to reflect that. I'm sure you've noticed that "real" instruments are quite expensive, and I don't want to make mine that pricey! Plus, I don't intend for anyone to play the flute handle in any professional capacity, so I don't sweat it too much.

Here's a flute hidden in a mug handle:

The large horn vase:

Here is the "complaining husky" horn vase:

And the bouncy udu:

This surgeon says snoring is a voluntary habit and can be cured by singing God Save the Queen with your tongue poked out

People snore because they've lost throat muscle tone, says Dr. Mike Dilkes, an ear, nose and throat surgeon in London. In an interview with CBC, he offers an exercise to rebuild your throat muscles:

MD: There's a quick [exercise] you can do: Opening your mouth as wide as you can. Poking your tongue out as far as it'll go, so it hurts. You got to really strain your tongue out. Then you touch tip of your nose with your tongue. Then go south and touch your chin with your tongue. Then go side to side as far as you can. Then, as you're doing this, in a loud voice, sing something familiar like your national anthem.

CO: So if someone does this workout, four or five minutes a day, they'll stop snoring?

MD: If there's no other mechanical obstruction i.e. it's just an age-related problem, then yes — this is a good treatment.

Parents buying black-market insulin for their kids as prices skyrocket

Three million Americans have Type-1 diabetes. If they don't get insulin every day, they will slip into a coma and die. The price of rapid-acting insulin, needed by diabetics who can't take slower-acting insulin, has increased 1,123 percent since 1996. Many insurance companies won't cover the costs, forcing desperate parents to look for insulin on the black market.

From NBCNews:

Gabriella is allergic to the kind of insulin her insurer covers at a $25 out-of-pocket cost. She can only take Apidra, but her insurance only covers 25 percent of the price, leaving the family to pay hundreds of dollars a month they can't afford.

So her mom has turned to the black market, trading for the medication with other families with diabetes she meets online, a tactic that regulators and health experts warn is a health risk. And she cut a back-end deal with a sympathetic drug rep: If she bought one vial he would give her 10 vials from his sample kit, nearly a one year's supply. Gabriella's grandmother covered the cost.

Southwest says it will no longer overbook its flights

All airlines have their share of customer service problems, and Southwest is no exception. But they seem to be better than most (two free checked on bags, no charge for changing flights), and they just announced that they will no longer overbook its flights, bucking a widespread airline practice.

From CNN Money:

Southwest is taking it one step further and plans to end overbooking outright by May 8, spokeswoman Brandy King said. The carrier joins JetBlue, which has long advertised that it doesn't overbook flights.

It's standard practice for airlines to sell more tickets than there are seats in anticipation of no-show fliers.

When a flight is overbooked, federal rules require that airlines first check to see whether anyone will give up his or her seat voluntarily. Airlines control how much they offer to pay, though they usually shell out a travel voucher toward a future flight or a gift card.

Image by aeroprints.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Interview with Alan Moore about science, imagination, and time

On the heels of the Daily Grail's new essay anthology Spirits of Place -- featuring Alan Moore, Maria J. Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, and many more writers and thinkers -- the Grail's Greg Taylor conducted a deep interview with Moore about populism, time, language, science, and other heady topics. From the Daily Grail:

What are your thoughts on the importance, or non-importance, of including consciousness, imagination and subjective experience in any theory of what 'reality' is?

AM: Is it helpful to observe that subjectivity is the only thing that we know is objectively real, or does that just muddy the waters even further, as with so many of the well-intentioned things I say? I mean, we do not experience the universe directly: we experience it only through our limited senses, with our sensory impressions arranged moment by moment into this immersive psychic movie that we agree to call reality. From this point of view, our entire universe can only ever be a subjective neurological phenomenon, at least to us, and a quick glance around will confirm that it’s only us who seem to be much bothered either way about this ontology business. I think Nagel is correct in his criticism of the materialist worldview, and I would further state that even should science ever accomplish its goal of unifying classical and quantum physics, of achieving a grand ‘Theory of Everything’, then if it only describes the physical universe and does not take account of the marvellous, supernatural phenomenon – consciousness – that has arrived at this theory, it is nowhere near a theory of everything, is it? It’s more a theory of everything we perceive, which by definition does not include our own act of perception.

In fact, were we to derive at a theory of reality from only consciousness, imagination and subjective experience, I think we’d have at least as good a chance of arriving a workable and comprehensive model of how reality works. After all, as an essay in one of Dennett’s own excellent anthologies, The Mind’s I, points out, if current quantum theory suggests that our reality to some degree depends upon having us here as observers, then a dismissal of consciousness and subjectivity would seem a bit intellectually reckless, even from a materialist perspective. I think it’s time that we stopped trying to exorcise the Ghost in the Machine and perhaps, instead, tried communicating with this haunting presence, trying to find out what it is, what it wants, and why it cannot rest easily. Maybe then, and only then, will consciousness find peace and stop chucking our mental furniture about or sucking our children into malefic television sets.

"Alan Moore on Science, Imagination, Language and Spirits of Place" (Daily Grail)

Lego's new Saturn V/Apollo Mission model rocket set

Lego just announced its new NASA Apollo Saturn V model rocket set. It's based on a Lego Ideas submission by a builder named saabfun, it's a 1:110 scale model of the real thing. Of course the Saturn V was the workhorse rocket that took astronauts to the moon beginning in 1969 and delivered Skylab to orbit in 1973. and The 1,969 piece set will sell for $120 starting in June. It looks fantastic but I'll wait (and hope) for a Voyager Mission set complete with the Golden Record!

Elon Musk's Boring machine

Yesterday Elon Musk took delivery of his second-hand boring machine for his Boring Company. It's in a parking lot next to the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Musk says he's going to take it apart, figure out how to improve the design of boring machines, and start testing by coring out an underground pedestrian tunnel from his offices across (or rather under) the street to the parking lot. He'll certainly need good boring machines to build his Hyperloop system. From the San Jose Mercury News:

Last week, a tunnel-boring machine used by L.A. Metro to carve out 2 miles of earth for the new Crenshaw/LAX line was removed from the future Leimert Park Station in South Los Angeles in three pieces.

No one confirmed whether the 950-ton, 400-foot-long steel grinder would go to SpaceX. Metro had dubbed the machine “Harriet,” in honor of Harriet Tubman, an American abolitionist instrumental in the Underground Railroad, after a student contest.

The day Harriet finished work for Metro, Musk submitted plans to Hawthorne officials to build an underground pedestrian tunnel from SpaceX headquarters to its parking garage across Crenshaw Boulevard.

A vertical tunnel shaft already has been dug in the SpaceX parking lot.

Now, The Boring Co. machine will dig – cheese grater-style – a 500-foot-long, horizontal pedestrian tunnel that is 20-by-150 feet and 13.5 feet in diameter, according to interim Hawthorne City Manager Arnie Shadbehr.

$12,000-a-ticket luxury Fyre Festival in Bahamas descends into a Lord of the Flies dystopia

Fyre Festival was advertised as a luxury music festival on a private island in the Bahamas. But promises of a private chartered flight to the island, gourmet meals, private glamping tents, yacht cruises, gourmet catering, and an all-star concert performance line-up "quickly turned into a terrifying B-movie, with flocks of Instagram models forced to seek shelter in an airport after arriving to discover a lack of food, violent locals, appalling accommodation and feral dogs roaming the grounds," reports The Telegraph.

Snip:

As a result, social media has exploded overnight with tales of Instagram-filtered terror and disappointment, with beautiful festival-goers arriving on the island to discover half-built tents, their luggage being thrown out of the back of a truck, muggers and thieves laying in wait to steal wallets from trust fund kids, unhelpful staff, and "gourmet cuisine" that turned out to be nothing but ham and cheese sandwiches.

From iBankCoin:

The “chartered flight from Miami” turned out to be severely delayed coach seats, and upon arrival shocked concert-goers were met with partially constructed USAID disaster relief tents.

Heres a drive by tour of the tents:

Angry attendees have flocked to social media to express their disappointment:

When I showed Carla these photos, she said "Why did the promoter even bother to put *anything* there?"

Sad & Snoozy says he found an event planners notes sitting on the ground:

So, Jonestown with worse logistics, basically.

Fyre Festival's website has gone offline, save for a cryptic, unhelpful, unapologetic message:

Imagine being stranded and reading that.

Ex-Fox News host: when I filed a sexual harassment claim against Ailes, the company hacked and stalked me

In a federal complaint against Fox News, former Outnumbered host Andrea Tantaros claims that after she filed a sexual harassment claim against the former CEO Roger Ailes, Fox News contracted with a psyops team to set up a "black room" to run a hate campaign that targeted her by cyberstalking her, implanting malware on her computer, and libeling her on "fake news" sites. (more…)

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