Located in County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher are one of the most visited tourist attractions in Ireland. They run for about 10 miles and at their highest are some 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. The cliffs are believed to have been formed about 320 million years ago during the Upper Carboniferous period.
Remember when social media networks first became popular and when you first started using them. I re-connected with friends I hadn’t heard from in years, some in decades. I was able to keep up with what friends and relatives were doing, where they lived, how they spent their vacations, even what music they listened to or movies they watched.
It was part of an expanded social environment on the internet that gave all of us a voice, a publishing platform. I could offer up my opinion, my photos and my videos, as I’m doing on this blog, without having to find a publisher, pitch an editor or go through any gatekeepers. I thought of it as the democratization of information and publishing. The only drawback I saw was a petty one, the tediousness of one too many cute cat photos, cute dog photos or cute kid photos.
But then a dark side emerged. This democratized publishing platform became the platform for neo-Nazis, racists, scammers, bullies and various types of hate mongers and disinformation providers. It became a virtual recruiting office for terrorist organizations and a tool for foreign governments to try to manipulate election outcomes.
At Recode’s Code Conference, held this week in Scottsdale, Ariz., current and former executives from Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram were asked about this. Their answers were all pretty much the same and it goes like this:
1, Each was anxious to remind the audience that the toxic stuff is only a small percentage of the information available on their platforms. Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, calls it the 1%, suggesting that the other 99% is good quality stuff of interest to their users.
2. The poisonous content is an unintended consequence of their noble effort to provide an open platform and give everyone a voice. As a former head of communications at Google, Jessica Powell was more blunt than some of the others: “They have been there from the start. Historically the platforms have been way too lax about what is allowed.”
3. But now, they say, we recognize the problem and, while we’re not there yet, we’re working on it. YouTube says they have 10,000 people dealing with controversial content and took 8 million items down in the last quarter. Twitter says 110 groups were banned from the platform, 90% of which were white supremacist organizations. And so on and so on.
Wojcicki deserves credit for being the only one in her position to get up on stage and answer questions about this for an hour or so. But her comments only seem to prove the inability of these companies to deal with the problem.
Wojcicki started her session noting that a recent decision by YouTube was deeply hurtful to the LGBT community. She apologized. This comment referred to the recent public disclosure by a Vox reporter Carlos Maza that he has been harassed for the past two years on YouTube by a racist homophobic pig named Steven Crowder. His videos refer to Maza as a “lipsy queer” and “gay Mexican.” Some of his comments are delivered while wearing a t-shirt that says “socialism is for fags,” an item he sells.
This stuff was made public while YouTube was blowing the trumpet about its new hate speech policy. So they took Crowder videos down right, despite the fact that he has almost 4 million subscribers? Nope. They decided these videos did not violate their hate speech policy. And when that announcement produced the predictable uproar they decided that while they weren’t taking the videos down they were going to block Crowder from monetization. So now everybody’s pissed and things are even worse for Maza as some of the cretins who follow Crowder are now harassing and threatening him.
Amongst Wojcicki’s litany of excuses was “if we took down that content there was so much other content that we had to take down.” And that’s a bad thing? Seems to me to be a start for cleaning up this digital cesspool.
The tech industry is in the midst of what has always been an issue in American capitalism. Whenever an industry, in its quest for greater and greater profits, starts to damage consumers, the society that they operate in or the environment, it raises a call for government regulation. The response of the giants in that industry, whether its banking or real estate, energy or autos, is always to try to convince that they can self-regulate.
That is what the giant tech companies are doing now. But they can’t do it. And the best explanation I heard of why came from NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway. “When it’s raining money, your vision gets blurred.”
Like everyone else I know, I believe in free speech. And I want an open internet. But how much weaponization can we tolerate. Do we protect free speech that threatens, humiliates or victimizes? No. Nor can these companies effectively self-regulate. So there has to be some government regulation and most of the execs at the Code Conference are resigned to that.
But regulation by the U.S. government in its current state is sure to be a challenge. So many of the government leaders and officials both in the White House and in the Capitol are pretty out of touch when it comes to technology and some barely seem to understand what the internet is. How would you like, for example, to have internet policy set by the likes of Mitch McConnell.
We have an administration that is touting de-regulation, run by a party that likely benefits from far-right disinformation. But it’s a bipartisan problem that most elected officials seem far more focused on partisanship and their own self-preservation than they are on benefiting and supporting their constituents. That is unless you mean by constituents the corporations, billionaires and interest groups that fund their campaigns. How else could you explain why congressmen would vote against an open internet other then that they’ve been bought by Comcast or Verizon.
It is reasonable to point out that the social networks are a reflection of the society in which they operate. But they have attached a megaphone to it. Here is a small example of how small issues become big problems on social media. In the town where I live two middle school kids had sex in the bathroom of a local pharmacy. Not exactly what you would like to think is going on while your filling your prescriptions, but how do I know about that anyway? The issues could well have stayed within the crusty walls of the public restroom, had not one of the kids posted it online. So everyone in town now knows about it. While that doesn’t change how acceptable or unacceptable the initial behavior is, the consequences have been amplified for the kids involved, their parents and families, their schools and teachers and likely for the staff of the drugstore which is part of a giant chain.
Government regulation won’t address the issue of having a portion of our citizenry that is hateful, bigoted and violent. But maybe by taking the megaphone away from them they will crawl back under the woodwork from whence they came.
Killarney National Park was Ireland’s first national park. It was created in 1932 when the Mucross Estate was donated to the Irish Free State. The Muckross Estate had several owners. In the early 20th century it was purchased from the Guinness family by a wealthy Californian William Bowers Bourne. He gave it to his daughter as a wedding present, but when she died shortly after the marriage the estate was given to the Irish people by her husband and his family.
Today the park is maintained by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. It has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Ashford Castle, which is next to the town of Cong, was originally built in 1228 by the Anglo-Norman House of Burke. It has passed through numerous hands and was a one time a spoil of war. By the mid-19th century it came under the ownership of the Guiness family. Both the building and the estate were extended under their ownership. In 1939 a new owner purchased the castle and turned it into a hotel. The current owners, Red Carnation Hotels, purchased the property in 2013. They did an extension renovation and reopened it as a five-star property.
and inside it looks like this
Kilkenny Castle was built by the Earl of Pembroke in 1173. It was purchased by James Butler, the Third Earl of Ormonde, in 1391. It remained in the Butler family for some 600 years. It was presented to the people of Kilkenny in 1967 for a token payment of £50. It is currently maintained by the Office of Public Works.
Ross Castle was built in the 15th century by the ruling O’Donoghue clan. It is in Killarney National Park on the banks of Lough Leane. The castle was one of the last to be taken by Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads in the 17th century Irish Confederate Wars. It was later converted to a military barracks. Currently, it is maintained by the Office of Public Works.
The Book of Kells is a manuscript created at a Columban monastary in approximately 800 AD. It includes the four gospels of the New Testament. The photos are enlargements of illustrations in the Book of Kells.
The Whitney Biennial has been a regular part of the exhibition schedule at the Whitney Museum of American Art since 1932. It features works from the previous two years. The Biennial is considered a barometer of the current trends in art in America.
The 2019 Biennial opened today and will remain on display until Sept. 22. This year’s exhibit shows a focus on diversity, social commentary and realism. Here are some of my favorite pieces. This is a small sampling of the 75 artists included in the Biennial.
More documentaries from this year’s Montclair Film Festival, starting with the best one that I saw.
The Biggest Little Farm
I used to take a commuter train into New York City everyday and then hook up with a light rail or a subway until I eventually got to work. Sometimes I’d sit on those trains and wonder what I was doing. I’d come home and float out the idea of giving it up and starting a vegetable farm.
That is about what John and Molly Chester did. They traded in their Santa Monica apartment and bought a farm north of Los Angeles with spent soil the consistency of cement. Their vision was a farm based on traditional farming methods. Molly found a sort of natural farming guru online and based on his guidance, they ignored the fact that almost all the neighboring farms had gone to single crop. Instead their theme was diversity. So they planted dozens of different kinds of stone fruit trees, starting raising chickens and filled the farmland with other animals.
What was not part of their vision, and certainly not part of my musings about retiring to a farm, was shoveling shit, cleaning the carnage in the chicken coop after a midnight raid by a coyote and watching swarms of starlings eat all of their fruit. In fact, having watched this, I realized that I probably was better off fighting the progressive deterioration of the New York metropolitan area’s public transportation infrastructure.
This movie is so much more interesting than the description (or my review) would suggest. The story is told with a healthy dose of humor and many scenes are truly heartwarming. There is, for example, the story of Greasy, an outcast rooster, who decides to co-habitate with Emma the pig. It was in fact a rescued dog that started the whole story. John had rescued a dog from a hoarder. Todd was a great dog, but with one bad habit. When John and Molly were out, he barked incessantly. That led to an eviction notice. They decided to keep Todd and instead dumped the urban lifestyle.
This is a movie in which the good guys win. There is also a message in the story. It is about the power of nature to work everything out for the better….as long as we let it.
A rust belt tale. GM closes a plant in Dayton, Ohio. A few years later and a Chinese company buys it and reopens as an auto glass manufacturing plant.
How’s it working out? One woman tells us she made $29 an hour working for GM. She now makes $12 an hour. Another says she lost her house to foreclosure and moved into her sisters’ basement. A man says he makes $13,000 a year less than his daughter who does nails.
The cultural divide between the Chinese workers and supervisors who are brought to Dayton and the Ohio workforce seems completely irreconcilable. The Chinese see the American worker as slow, inefficient and accustomed to the cushy life of eight hour days and weekends off. We see a Chinese supervisor bemoaning the fact that Americans can’t be forced to work overtime. Another plant manager counsels a group of supervisors by pointing out that Americans overindulge their children and thus they all grow up to be over-confident.
Nowhere is the cultural clash more apparent than when a group of the Fuyao employees from Ohio are flown to China to see how the plant runs there. Among the things they get to see are young Chinese women is some sort of traditional get-up singing songs about teamwork and efficiency, homage to the glory of Fuyao. Yeah, that’ll work here.
This is a movie that documents a lost life style. Millions and millions of Americans worked in factories at secure union jobs for wages that enabled them to buy a home, raise a family and send their kids to college. That’s history. But the people who lived it are still alive and, as with so many other things in America, want to turn the clock back. If you think that’s going to happen, watch this movie.
Consider that the city of Dayton or the state of Ohio undoubtedly kicked in millions of dollars in tax breaks to lure this company to Ohio and bring jobs back to the area. Now that they’re there, the focus is on automating the production tasks to eliminate those very jobs.
This is a movie about a couple of dogs. Not the kind of animated talking dogs that you find at the matinees at the highway movieplexes. This is about Football and Chola, a couple of mutts who live in a public park, Los Reyes skating park, in Santiago, Chile. Being that it’s a skating park, they share the space mostly with teenagers. Apparently the filmmakers originally intended to shoot the skateboarders, but found a more compelling story.
Living in a public park doesn’t stop these two from getting in 16 hours or so of sleep a day. They pick up a stray soccer ball or tennis ball for amusement. Mostly tennis balls. They play a big part in this movie. And like many dogs Football and Chola invent games to engage the humans around them. Here, they roll the tennis balls with their snouts down into the skateboarding pit. Then they bark until one of the kids picks up the ball and throws it back out. You know what happens next, right?
Being as these are not cinematic talking dogs, the film’s only dialogue comes from the teenagers. It’s not that insightful. Mostly they complain about their mothers and talk about drugs. There’s the occasional thought of getting a job instead of skating all day and night and a couple of the more entrepreneurial sorts talk about making cannabis edibles once it’s legal.
Some may think of stray dogs and stray teenagers as a problem. Not here. Everyone co-exists in peace. I just wish they hadn’t shown so many intense close-ups of the flies crawling on the dogs.
The 2019 Montclair Film Festival screened dozens of documentaries. I only saw a small fraction of them, so this is in no way a “best of” post. But it is about some really good films that I saw at the festival.
Harlem’s Apollo has long been the temple of black music in America. Whether it is jazz or R&B or hip-hop, its history has unfolded here. In this documentary we get brief glimpses of why: Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and lots, lots more. The history of the Apollo is the history of music that came out of African-American communities and that history is fundamental to the story of music in America. Whether it’s the jazz bands of the 20’s and 30’s or the rock and roll pioneers of the 50’s, this music changed what America looked like, its trends and styles, its culture and its teenagers. In a substantially segregated society it was often an oasis of integration.
And thus a documentary about the history of the Apollo is more than the story of one theater on 125th street. It becomes the story of Harlem, the story of 20th century American cities and the story of blacks in America. The movie juxtaposes footage from Apollo performances with a group preparing a dramatic presentation of Ta-Nhisi Coates’ book “Between the World and Me.” Coates has written about what it is like to be black in America and there is probably no better place for a reading. The movie reminds us of a time in the 30’s when black music was accepted by white America and black performers played in some legendary clubs, but they were clubs were blacks were not welcome in the audience. The Apollo’s doors were open for everyone.
I found two scenes especially poignant. One was James Brown singing “I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Isn’t that maybe what every night at the Apollo was about? The comment was made (don’t remember by whom) that Brown’s song put an immediate and everlasting end to the use of the word Negro. The other moment was Barack Obama’s appearance. In 30 seconds or so, the movie captured the meaning of his election. Thus we can recall a proud moment in U.S. election history, something we haven’t had since.
This is an HBO movie that is due to be available on HBO in the fall. Definitely worth seeing. My only disappointment was that we just didn’t hear enough of the music or see enough of the legendary performers on the Apollo stage. Likely doc filmmakers can’t afford the bills for the rights.
One school year in a town near the Everglades in Florida. It is an economically poor community and its residents are primarily black.
Pahokee is about teenagers. We meet the girl was finishes as runner up in the two-person Miss Pahokee High election. We meet the marching band drummer who spends all of his free time with his one-year-old daughter. And we meet the daughter of the Mexican couple that runs the local taco shack, a girl who becomes class salutatorian and who is headed to the University of Florida after graduation.
This is a slice-of-life sort of film. There is no narration and no score. The film was made by a married couple who moved to Pahokee for the duration of the school year that they filmed. We see the football season, the Christmas parade, the Easter egg hunt, an especially brilliant prom and in the end, graduation day.
I thought there were two takeaways from this movie. The fact that this is a poor and a segregated town doesn’t make the high schoolers any different than teenagers in towns across America. They’ve got the same kind of insecurities and ambitions and dreams. Secondly the kids at Pahokee High, kids whose parents work in the fields or in sugar cane processing plants, give meaning to high school graduation and college acceptance. It is not a shrug-of-the-shoulders move from one school to another to them, it is a step toward a new life and better future and they’re so aware of that.
Mike Wallace is Here
Barbra Streisand called him a “son of a bitch.” Bill O’Reilly called him a “dinosaur.” But the word most often used to describe Mike Wallace is prick.
All of those comments were meant for Wallace as an interviewer. He is blunt, dogged, unrelenting and confrontational. He asked Vladimir Putin if Russia is a democracy. He asked Panamanian strongman Manuel Noreiga how much he makes. He asked Richard Nixon what he thinks of the fact that he is considered to have no charisma. He asked Larry King about his “woman” problem. (King was married five times. Wallace was married four times. I guess the fifth one signals a problem.)
I’m not quite old enough to know this but in the documentary Wallace is credited with changing the face of television news. Before his probing and controversial interviews on the show “Night Beat,” TV interviews were mostly small talk and fluff.
There is some truly historic footage in this film. In additional to all those I mentioned already you see snippets of Wallace’s interviews with Ayatollah Khomeini, General William Westmoreland (who unsuccessfully sued Wallace and CBS for libel), Martin Luther King Jr., Frank Lloyd Wright, Eleanor Roosevelt, Arthur Miller and a young Donald Trump. We also get a look at some of Wallace’s vulnerabilities, his battle with depression and his regrets about not being a better father.
While the footage may be historic, this is a movie for our time, a time when we have a president and a cadre of his cohorts who deflect questions about their integrity by trying to destroy the credibility of the mainstream media. Wallace is seen at a much younger age commenting that the path to authoritarianism always involves the elimination of the free press. Guess that makes him a prophetic prick.
The Erie Canal dates back to 1825. The 363 mile long canal stretched from Buffalo to Albany where it met the Hudson River, thus connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. It offered a means of transporting bulk goods which at the time were primarily moved by pack animals. Traffic on the canal peaked around mid-19th century. One of the main commodities that was moved by canal was grain from the midwest headed for eastern markets. Freight boats on the canal were pulled by horses or mules walking along towpaths. Slow, yes, but the canal cut transport time across New York State in half. The canal also was used by passenger boats. It was a key route bringing immigrants from New York City into towns in western New York. It was also used by tourists visiting New York City.
These photos were taken in Lockport, N.Y., the location of locks number 34 and 35 on the canal. Locks are used to raise and lower boats and make waterways more easily navigable. The town of Lockport, N.Y., was established in 1829, a few years after the canal was finished. It runs through the center of the city which is about 30 miles northeast of Buffalo. Its initial inhabitants was mostly Irish and Scottish immigrants who were brought in to work on the locks and remained after the construction was completed. Today it is a town of 20,000. It has actively sought to establish itself as a tourist attraction based on the historic canal.
The canal continues in use to this day. Most of the traffic now is of a recreational nature, although there is still some cargo traffic.