“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”: AFIDocs shows film about secret efforts to silence the established press; what about amateurs?

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”, by Brian Knappenberger, confronts us with the problem that the wealthiest classes may try to silence the established press by secretly bankrolling litigation, and by secret hostile takeovers of media outlets.

The film does focus on the Fourth Estate, the credentialed press, as such.  The viability of the Fifth (the amateur base) would make a subject for another documentary, I think, one that could focus on open access, for example.

The film focuses on two big events.

The first of these is the lawsuit Bollea vs. Gawker, by “Hulk Hogan” against Gawker media, and personally against several employees, for posting some of a private sex tape online.  Some employees were bankrupted personally and had assets frozen by judgment.  There is a scene where one younger male employee testifies (in Florida) flippantly about the idea of fictitious sex involving minors, an idea that helped bring down Milo Yiannopoulos this year, and affected a serious incident in 2005 when I worked as a substitute teacher, the details of which I have written about elsewhere.  It also had an indirect effect on the 2016 elections, which the film gets into in its second half.  A visit to today’s Gawker shell is well worth a visit and rather sobering.  I do wonder about situations where individual speakers could be effectively silenced by aggressive litigation and bargaining, but that is another topic.

An important concept in the suit was whether Bollea’s conduct, as a WWE public figure, was newsworthy and generated a higher standard of proof from the plaintiff.  This was technically a privacy case;  similar ideas occur with defamation.

About 40 minutes into the film, the documentary introduces the clandestine role of gay Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel in bankrolling the suit, as revenge for his being outed in 2007 by Gawker. In one humorous scene Thiel stumbles as he calls Gawker “sociopathic”.  Thiel’s speech in Cleveland at the RNC is quoted, but I recall Thiel’s saying that the country (including LGBTQ people) has more pressing problems than bathroom bills. Indeed, Thiel has offered scholarships to young inventors to start businesses instead of finishing college.  One of these went to nuclear fusion power inventor Taylor Wilson, now 23, very much in the clean energy business (which Trump has sidestepped) but also new levels of port security.  (Sorry, some “inventors” do need to finish college:  Jack Andraka will have to finish medical school to become a cancer researcher;  both Wilson and Andraka would deserve their own documentary feature films, as Andraka especially fits into the open access debate). The film shows Thiel with a chessboard, and indeed he is an accomplished tournament competitor, preferring direct attacking openings starting with 1 e4 (as did Bobby Fischer); he could probably be a real challenge for Magnus Carlsen to beat.

But the film focuses on the fact that Thiel’s backing of the litigation occurred in secret for a while.  So we have powerful business people (even in the LGBTQ community) silencing forces that oppose them.  Trump is not the only one.  This happens on the Left as well as the Right.

For its last third, the film shifts its narrative to Las Vegas, and the clandestine purchase of the Las Vegas Review Journal by the family of self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson who then reportedly influenced what would be published about high-roller developers.

The film covers Donald Trump’s particular vilification of the established media as an enemy.  His speech about opening up libel laws (to resemble those in England where the defendant has to prove truth) is quoted. Presumably Trump sees journalists as “watchers” or “spectators” who don’t put their own skin in the game;  but curiously, despite his reported disdain for computers, he loves Twitters and doesn’t seem to show the same disdain for journalists from smaller companies (like OAN) or independent bloggers.

The Journal Review I believe is the same paper that was involved with “copyright troll” Righhaven starting in 2010.  The law firm bought rights to articles from various smaller client newspapers (“champerty”) and then sued even low-level bloggers who allegedly violated copyright in various trivial ways.  At the time, there was a theory that bloggers were destroying small newspapers.  I’ve covered the development with a Blogger label here.  Note the coverage in the Journal Review and in Arstechnica.

Director QA (some technical problems with feedback):

Fact Sheet:

Name:  “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”
Director, writer:  Brian Knappenberger
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2017 AFI-Docs, Landmark E St, Washington, 2017/6/16, sold out
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13 (?)
Companies:  Luminant, Submarine, Netflix
Link:  Luminant

(Picture: Mine, 2012 trip in Las Vegas;  2015, Tampa Bay, near the litigation site; 2016, NYC midtown)

“Magnus”: biography of the current chess World Champion Carlsen from Norway (only 26)

img32291

Name: Magnus
Director, writer: Benjamin Ree
Released: 2016
Format: 1.85:1, often 4:3
When and how viewed: 2016/12/4 on Amazon Prime
Length 78
Rating NA
Companies: FilmRise
Link: Chess24

Benjamin Ree’s biographical documentary “Magnus” (2016), presents the 26-year old chess World Champion Magnus Carlsen (the “Mozart of Chess”) from Norway as a charismatic person. I covered yesterday, on another blog (link link) , the factual information on his retaining the World Championship at a recent match in New York City, which may have caught the admiration of Donald Trump (who personally likes winners).

The film shows his early childhood along the Norway coast, where his parents noticed his fascination for patterns and numbers even as his social skills languished, with the possible risk of autism. He quickly learned to play chess, and his social, communication and athletic skills started to catch up.

The film shirts to 2004 with a big win in an international tournament at age 13. In 2013, at age 22, he eked out a win in a major tournament despite losing a critical game with White (analogous to losing a critical game at home in baseball or football despite “home field advantage”) because a rival similarly lost. He traveled to India to play Anand on the World Championship. He struggled with bad positions but managed to draw each of the first four games, with Anand probably missing wins. He then went on two win the next two and then a third later, in a turnaround.

Shortly before the World Championship, Magnus gave a blindfold simultaneous exhibition against ten opponents, showing the ability to remember 10 games at the same time.

Carlsen’s style evolved from aggressive attacks and opening preparation (meaning the moves “are not mine anymore”) to positional play, endgame skill, and combativeness in the middle game, and the ability to fight when in inferior positions and coax opponents into errors, much as in other sports (the “turnover” in football). In the recent World Championship, he sometimes played systems with White regarded as less forcing and less “bookd” and simply outplayed his opponent in the middle game (especially in the speed-controlled tie breaks). There is something meritocratic and moralistic in the belief “the better player will win.”

Magnus also went to some training spas, where he played volleyball, swam, and developed an obvious interest in big league fitness (that would please Twitter’s “Blogtyrant”), and would become a men’s clothing fashion model. All of this fits in with Magnus’s present view of chess as a major athletic sport.

The film shows him with his family on holidays (you sort of expect to see a dog or cat but don’t), but does not get into his personal life as an adult.

Some of the family conversation in the film is in Norwegian without subtitles, which are needed. Magnus speaks perfect English with no accent, the way an actor could.

One wonders if NFL football coaches and players and MLN managers, coaches, players (especially pitchers), and owners would benefit from learning chess.

Remember, even when playing Magnus with his 2800+ USCF or FIDE rating, only you own mistakes can beat you. Chess poses a “Godel Incompleteness Theorem” problem. That relates to entropy, and to why life and consciousness must exist.

Picture: Rublevsky-Jakovenko, 1952, won in 50 moves by White, after move 23. This is a little used line in the Petroff (5 d3 instead of d4) to force an unbalanced pawn structure and possible active pawn majority and good knight v. bad bishop syndrome in the ending. I’m surprised it isn’t played more; this looks like the kind of play Carlsen likes.

(Posted: Monday, December 5, 2016 at 10 AM EST)

“Queen of Katwe”: a young girl brings chess (and real economic benefit) to Uganda as a prodigy

matugga_hill

Name: “Queen of Katwe”
Director, writer:  Mira Nair
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Common, OM. 2016/9/30, fair audience for weekday
Length 124
Rating PG-13
Companies: Walt Disney Pictures (independent), ESPN
Link: official

Queen of Katwe”, by Mira Nair, tries to be a kids’ underdog human interest story typical of Disney, with a slightly independent look.  The basic storyline is that Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is found to be a chess prodigy, even though her family in Uganda doesn’t have enough money she can go to school.  With coaching, she enters tournaments, eventually plays in Russia and finally plays well enough at the FIDE level to earn a living (by her late teen years) and buy her family a nice house in better sections of Kampala.   She also founds a Chess Academy and Mentoring Center in a  poor section of Kampala.

The film makes many points about living conditions over there.  Kids have to support their siblings.  Families get tossed out in the street by brutal landlords.  Storms and floods wash away whole neighborhoods.  The IMDB credits list South Africa as a filming location, but the film credits say that some of the filming actually in in Uganda, in the shacks around Kampala.

Uganda is notorious for its bad record on human rights, especially for LGBTQ, and society is not pleased to see women beating men.

The chess coaching scenes are a bit corny.  In one early tournament, a little girl announced mate, and sees her male opponent take off her Queen and bursts into tears.  The coaching (David Oyelowo) is too generic to be interesting (it’s harder to make chess interesting in the movies than baseball, football, basketball, hockey, or especially soccer).  In a final championship game, Phiona plays the White side of a Queens Gambit Declined (not the Exchange Variation but the usual 4 Bg5).  Later she has a Queen side attack and advanced c-pawn that, by advancing, either wins a minor piece or forces mate after a sham sacrifice.  The combination on the board actually made sense.  Larry Kramer (a great proponent of 1 d4) would approve.  But Peter Thiel is a bigger proponent of 1 e4 than even Bobby Fischer (“Pawn Sacrifice”  or “Searching for Bobby Fischer”).

img31383

The film opened in widespread release today after a limited release in less convenient locations one week ago.

By Wulman83Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37337865

Posted Friday: September 30, 2016 at 9:30 PM EDT (WP marks as Oct.)

“The Second Machine Age” probes the economic and social dislocations associated with technology, globalization

IMG28747

Authors: Erik Brunjolfsson, Andrew McAfee
Title, Subtitle: “The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies”
Publication date 2014
ISBN 978-0-393-35064-7 paper
Publication details: WW Norton, 306 pages, indexed, endnotes, 15 chapters
Link: Amazon


The Second Machine Age”, recommended by Fareed Zakaria on his Global Public Square program on CNN two months ago, looks at the transformation of technology since the 1980s through now, as it continues, and at the long term social and economic effects on how people actually live.

One could talk about the industrial revolution and all the advances (from steam engines to electricity, to factory automation, to cars, air travel, modern appliances, space travel beginnings and personal mobility) from about the 1850s until about 1980, and then realize that during the time of Reagan (maybe with the help of Ronnie’s somewhat libertarian streak, and the development of solid state) miniaturization exploded with a revolution in communication, both peer-peer and in self-publication.  A major sub-inflection occurred around 1992 with the release of the public Internet, even though precursors had been in use for a long time.  The rapid changes followed the expansion of computing power stated by Moore’s Law enabling the digitalizing of almost all information.

In the 1990s, one of the most revolutionary changes was the nosediving cost in (digital) reproduction of published materials.  Not only did this drive down the cost of traditional desktop self-publishing but, in conjunction with search engines,  it also enabled speakers to reach a very wide audience through the web with almost no incremental cost.  This opportunity benefited me, as I embarked on self-publishing when taking on the issue of gays in the military (and “don’t ask don’t tell”).  I have gotten flak for not doing enough to sell “instances” of my books (physical copies and perhaps Kindle) rather than let people read it online, because my doing so can disrupt other people’s way to make a living.

The authors point out that the digital revolution benefited consumers, who did not have to pay much for new access to convenience.  Even though people might earn less in wages or other compensation, in terms of real wealth people were often better off.  But this is true whenever there is a rise in the standard of living through technology. The authors ask, are you better off with 2016 goods and services at 2016 prices and incomes, or with 1986 goods, prices and incomes.  For many people, earning relatively less, the answer is the former.  So my own “self-publishing” was arguably adding real wealth, even if it could exacerbate hidden social conflicts regarding inherited privilege or shielding from the risks that others (less fortunate on the economic ladder) must take to earn a living at all. Modern social media (most of all Facebook) replaced the earlier chaotic “dot-com” bubble by expanding mere publication and broadcast and embedding it into the process of social networking, representing online. While social media represented new opportunities for abuse, it probably settled the question that social media was here to stay along with user-generated content, despite the conflicts that “amateurism” with UGC could cause.

But technology also seemed to increase income inequality, largely through globalization, and through replacing some kinds of jobs with computers and automation. Indirect effects made weaker competitors in many businesses drop out, and tended to result in consolidation, with relatively fewer jobs at the top and more concentration of high earnings among the few. The “winner take all” economy developed, with stars earning orders of magnitude more than ordinary people.  Income averages tended to exceed medians, which tended to mean that “ordinary people” had less chance to advance out of mediocrity. While the standard of living for the poor and less well off improved in some areas, like ownership of smartphones and mobile devices, in the big items like housing, health care and education, the poor usually got worse off.

Actually, this seems to be a cyclical process.  Middle class incomes did rise after WWII as old patterns of “extraction” of wealth from labor (from the class societies of the past, so much the target of communist ideology of the past) broke down to democratization (labor unions and civil rights), but this improvement in middle class lives, as experienced in the 50s and 60s, started to reverse with the hyperindividualism associated with the growth of digital technology.

To deal with inequality, the authors recommend a mixture of measures for both individuals and policy makers.  The authors start out by using a great analogy of human conflict – the game of chess. Although super computers can normally beat grandmasters now, in team chess, where both sides have access to computing and database, human grasp of positional strategy still trumps.  The experiments of Garry Kasparov are discussed.  I’d mention that it would seem possible for computers to generate paths of optimal opening preparation strategy for tournaments.  For example, any chess computer system would know that White’s prospects are far better with “1. D4 d5 2. C4” than with the mirror image of “1. E4 e5 2. F4”.  (But, given 1. D4 Nf6 2. C4 e6 it is much harder to say if 3 Nc3 or 3 Nf3 is stronger.)

The authors talk about “ideation” as a needed skill, getting beyond the obvious.  But superior ideation is still likely to reward the few best ideas with billions (Mark Zuckerberg – whether or not he really did invent Facebook one night in his dorm room after a fight with a girl friend, as in “The Social Network”,)

The authors talk about improving education, but with a mash of ideas.  They praise Salman Kahn and his online academy.  They would probably like AOPS and the problem solving videos by robust young math grad students like Deven Ware.  They’re all for improvement of teaching as a profession, but would they go as far as Finland?  What about the homework controversy?

IMG20277

Their most important ideas seem to be in recognizing the value of various kinds of work.  Many kinds of labor, many of them trade skills involving complex tools, or involving taking care of other human beings, a skill that gets more important as more people live longer with some disability.  The authors talk about libertarian Charles Murray’s 2012 book “Coming Apart”, which sounds like a surprising call for eusociality.  The authors mention Murray’s comparison of “Belmont” with “Fishtown” (Philadelphia working class area), but disagree that it is just about social norms, the problem is that not as many people in Fishtown have jobs, or good jobs, as in the past.  The authors also get into tax policy, and seem to concur with Thomas Piketty (“Capital in the Twenty-First Century”) somewhat that the lazy rentier class tends to be abusive. There may something to my own father’s past moral opprobrium about “learning to work.”

IMG20286

The authors seem, in fact, to think that structured work is a key to dealing with the social disruptions of globalization.  I don’t see that they have taken up the low wage (like the minimum) much, or Barbara Ehrenreich’s setting an example by paying her dues (“Nickel and Dimed”, 2001). Arguably, it could be important somehow to make what I do in retirement really pay (without cheesy ads or pimping copies of books), because “It’s Free” (Reid Ewing’s little 2012 short film about the public library that sets up this whole issue) can become socially disruptive to the businesses models that provide income for others.  One idea could be that more steady volunteer positions could be funded or paid.  A progressive idea is connecting volunteer projects to retiring student loans, as in this Huffington piece or this Take Part article.

IMG24709

The authors, however, examine some other progressive ideas, like guaranteed income, or the negative income tax, that can also help (Vox Media has supported these repeatedly).

The authors do discuss the evolution of the sharing economy (ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft;  renting out your house, like Airnbn), as something concomitant with sustainability, and moving away from the idea of personal identity by “collecting things” (in my case, classical records and CD’s earlier in my life). Shared housing is coming to for, as in the New Yorker article by Lizzie Widdiecombie, “Happy Together” (the antethis of “Alone Together“, Sherry Turkle. 2011) by or “dorm life forever”, May 16, 2016.

Finally, the ask whether we could really approach a singularity someday, where robots become conscious of themselves and reproduce.  That may be only way to travel the galaxy.

nyc3

It would be well to compare this book to the new “Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business” , by Rana Faroohar, summarized in her article “Saving Capitalism” on p. 26 of the May 23, 2016 issue of Time Magazine  (paywall link). The villain is “finanicialization”, where Wall Street designs financial products for short term gain rather than infrastructure or “real wealth” investment, because of perverse personal incentives (mentioned criticially by the authors of the main book in this review, above, relating to extracting wealth by debt instruments and derivatives).  But these incentives are somewhat tied to way globalization and digitization affects the value of labors and commodities, while at the same time, as Charles Murray points out, social fabric unstrings itself. Edmunk Contoski had self-pubbed a libertarian, Ayn Rand-like book with the “Makers and Takers: How Wealth and Progress Are Made and How They Are Taken away or Prevented” title (American Liberty Publishers) back in 1997 (also the sci-fi novel “The Trojan Project” filled with constitutional amendment proposals like mine, and a pre-malware telephone virus that is more like a telepathy manipulation and a Windows executable.

(Published: Saturday, May 14, 2016 at 1 PM EDT)