America’s Spotty Broadband

A new video from Vox explains the issues with America’s broadband internet coverage. Interestingly, it suggests that the US Government follow a model similar to electrifying US communities, which could be a good idea. It touches upon private, corporate efforts to offer broadband, but doesn’t really get too much into the impact of what that might mean. Ultimately, the video explains that government isn’t doing enough to provide broadband internet to rural communities, and, as a result, these communities lack the advantages that high-speed internet offers. Vox asserts that this is correlated with lower income, education, and health in these communities.

Whether it’s a private company or the government that offers broadband internet to rural America, there are still pitfalls with both models. On the one hand, an increasingly consolidated corporate landscape might mean that any private companies that offer broadband might work together in an oligarchy or exist as a monopoly.

As suggested in the Vox video, the low profits in installing rural broadband infrastructure makes this kind of project suitable for the government to take on. But–if you’ll permit me to put on my tinfoil hat for a moment–the mass surveillance programs disclosed from 2013 onward make this just generally unpalatable, if not specifically inimical. Then again, maybe we don’t need to worry about that since if surveillance were to be expanded with a commensurate broadband expansion, that would happen whether the expansion was privately or publicly funded. Alright, tinfoil hat removed.

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs Trailer Evokes Fantastic Mr. Fox

The first trailer for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs has come out, and it is… well, very much a Wes Anderson flick about dogs.

Don’t worry, I won’t talk about being a rabid Wes Anderson fan. I’m an enthusiastic Wes Anderson fan, and this film looks like it will be serving up a little bit of Fantastic Mr. Fox with some new spices. And that’s not a bad thing–just the opposite. Fantastic Mr. Fox was based off of a Roald Dahl story, so maybe that new spice in the trailer is just Anderson filling in where Dahl used to be.

Check out the trailer below. If you want some Fantastic Mr. Fox deju vu, 0:30-0:35 certainly did it for me.

Isle of Dogs will feature some of Anderson’s tried-and-true actors, including Edward Norton and Bill Murray, as well as some new ones, like Bryan Cranston and, terrifyingly, Yoko Ono.

What We Watch When We Watch the Watchmen

After an ambiguous Instagram post and hearing the phrase “being in talks,” it looks like HBO has ordered a Watchmen pilot from Damon Lindelof. HBO’s worked with Lindelof before on The Leftovers, which earned a 93 on Metacritic for this its most recent season.

For those of you unfamiliar with Watchmen, the graphic novel portrays superheroes in a realistic fashion, exploring what global politics might look like in a world with superheroes and how one can contend, existentially, with the presence of superhumans.Watchmen

Hopefully, the show will be another hit in the golden age of television. Which, confusingly enough, is actually the second or third golden age of television. The first took place in the 1940s and 50s, and the second might exist depending on whether you think that Hasslehoff in Baywatch represented the apex of an art form. Read more What We Watch When We Watch the Watchmen

How to Live in a Van Down by the River (or Wherever Else You Might Feel Like)

The Van Life

If there ever was a phrase that inspired ambivalence, it’s “digital nomad.” Yes, it does evoke an image of a massive and greasy top-knot that a wizard cursed into being alive, compelling it to wear selvedge jeans and tell its peers at high school reunions that it’s a working as something that’s between a content creator and a content curator, but with an inflection that suggests it’s a question?

On the other hand, it’s a damn enviable lifestyle.

I have been living and working on the road for the past 9 months as of this writing, and my quality of life has never been better. There are a lot of different ways for a person to live and work remotely; the way I’ve been doing it has been rather slow-paced. I spend a few months at a time in different places in Asia, taking advantage of the relative value of the dollar there, earning a bit as an editor, and working around 20 hours a week.

However, there are as many ways to be a digital nomad as there are reactions to the term. Feeling homesick for the States, I’ve been looking into a new way to travel semi-permanently, and so I thought you might like to learn along with me about van life. Because this idea touches on a lot of different subjects and there’s a lot of material out there, this post will come in a few different parts. For this one, let’s talk about the first step. Read More

Samurai, Ghosts, and Kickstarter

Kickstarter has always treated me like a bad romantic partner who hurts me, but I keep coming back anyways. It seems like the best you can expect is well-intended but infeasible projects. Or, if you’re unlucky, you might find yourself hiring private investigators to investigate beef-based fraud (the best kind of fraud). At the very end of the spectrum, there are Kickstarters that will just bum you out. Does the world need a “smart” fidget spinner? Is the world ready for a smart fidget spinner?  Is the company called Kickstarter because you’re paying to get the emotional version of your groin kicked?

If you’re like me, apparently it doesn’t matter. I’m very much hoping that this puppet film about a samurai and his friend, a severed head, gets funded. The Haunted Swordsman will be directed by Kevin McTurk, who has directed several other successful and spooky puppet films. Other members of the team have experience working on Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy franchise, Stranger Things, and other films, so fingers crossed that this one doesn’t end up on Your Kickstarter Sucks.

Production Shot from The Haunted Swordsman

The project seems like it has experienced people working on it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be a success. For that, there needs to be a good story. From the Kickstarter page:

“Lost in a bamboo forest, his Shogun murdered by an evil supernatural force, a lone samurai collapses to his knees with an anguished cry. Disgraced and humiliated at having failed to save his Master, the Samurai prepares to commit seppuku. But a voice stops him. A voice emanating from a cursed severed head who offers to guide the Samurai on a quest for vengeance. Thus begins the tale of… The Haunted Swordsman.”

This, of course, is just the premise; ostensibly, the script will be written and fleshed out as the project gets funded. Regardless, it seems like a good starting point. Who doesn’t like ghost stories involving samurai? The two go together very well, better than most people think.

One of the surprising things about Japanese culture is how much their folklore embraces horror. Most of us are familiar with this through the subgenre of Japanese Horror from films like The Ring or The Grudge.

But in addition to tapping into this particular vein of horror, The Haunted Swordsman will also be using 36−inch–tall bunraku puppets. This is a traditional type of puppet theater from 17th-century Japan that requires three separate puppeteers to control a single puppet.

So, it seems like The Haunted Swordsman has a nice confluence of factors that might contribute to its success. There’s an experienced team working on the project, and there’s cultural history that contributes to both the form and the genre, which should provide plenty of material to make a compelling and sufficiently spooky story. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the Kickstarter page here.

 

“Night Witches” Animated Short Documents WWII Bomber Regiment

The 2017 graduating class of Gobelins—the French school of visual arts—has released their films on YouTube and Vimeo just a few days ago. One that really caught my eye was Night Witches, which commemorates the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment. The regiment’s modus operandi was to let the engines of their biplanes idle on the approach to dropping their bombs on their targets. The unfortunate German recipients of these nighttime deliveries compared the quiet, gliding sound of the biplanes in the wind to that of broomsticks. This, coupled with the fact that the 588th was mainly composed of woman, earned the regiment the nickname “Night Witches.”

Despite the subject matter, there’s something oddly cozy and comforting about the animation style and sound of Night Witches. If you want an armchair professor’s take on it, I’d say it parallels the experience of World War II soldiers during the night. There’s quiet and calm, and then a sudden burst of violence. Then it’s quiet and calm again, except the only witnesses are the survivors, whether they’re German or Soviet.

Night Witches was directed by Arina Korczynski. If you’re interested in seeing the other Gobelins videos or animated films in general, you can check out the Everything Animated channel on Vimeo.

That New Old Kurt Vonnegut Story

Recently, Dan Wakefield and Jerome Klinkowitz stumbled across an until-now unpublished short story by Kurt Vonnegut, one of five the pair discovered while developing a comprehensive collection of his short stories. The other four will be published in Complete Stories—that comprehensive collection I mentioned—but The Drone King has been released for free through a variety of media.

Kurt Vonnegut

The story is good; even though it’s one of his first short stories, it’s still Kurt Vonnegut through and through. It demonstrates a straightforwardness in its delivery that’s so straight and forward that you’re forced to consider themes in a way you never did before. Vonnegut hides his messages in plain sight, which is great, while most writers tend to dress up their meaning in literary ways to greater and lesser effects. And, while his later works were certainly a more perfect expression of that technique, The Drone King serves as another example of it.

The story itself is fun to read, but its frankly weird that we’re reading it all. The exciting thing about it is that its previously unpublished. There’s a sense of discovering a hidden treasure. We’ve discovered a new proto-human skeleton that upturns our understanding of when it all really started. It’s the extra six-pack in the fridge when we thought we drank it all. It’s a new old story. But if the author didn’t publish it, did he want it to be read? Because that question is, for all practical purposes, about a decade too late to be asked, I would be inclined to lean towards “no.”

Kurt Vonnegut GraffitiWriting is mostly throwing things away. Good writers don’t put their thoughts down verbatim and make a fantastic piece of writing that they produced in brilliant moments of inspiration that they are disposed to experience more frequently and deeply than us poor ungifted folks. Most writing sucks, and it goes into the garbage can so the writer can get on with writing the good stuff they could only write when the bad stuff is out of the way.

So, The Drone King is pretty good. It’s not nearly as good as some of Vonnegut’s other short stories, and, considering this was early in his career, there’s probably a reason why he didn’t choose to publish it. He likely tried to publish it and was rejected at first, but with the kind of success he experienced, he probably could have published it after Slaughterhouse Five or Sirens of Titan. But he didn’t.

We have a lot of trouble with the idea that some things are best left alone. Examples like this are everywhere in writing—think about last year’s “new” Beatrix Potter, JRR Tolkein, and Michael Crichton. Musically, this looks like played out septuagenarian rockers filling Fenway. Film is the most egregious example. Everything is sequelized, repeated, and rebooted until it quits making money. The trouble is, sequels make a lot of money. If dollars are votes, sequels count among our very favorite things in the world.

We like old things brought back to life, like time never passed. Frankenstein’s not a bunch of corpses stapled together, he’s vintage people. The return of the 80s sound, TV, and style has produced some great stuff, but it’s a little disturbing when the generation returning to all that is one faced with a drastically evolving climateincreasing inequality, and rising rates of incarceration.

Uncertainty about our future is what drives us to glom onto older stuff, anything that is tried and tested or close enough to that. The problem is that selectively picking the best parts of the past isn’t really representative of that time, it’s representative of what we want it to be like. Our understanding of the big picture won’t get any clearer if we selectively pick parts of the past that weren’t meant to picked at all. While discovering some new old Kurt Vonnegut stuff can make us feel like it’s the first time we’re reading him all over again, it can be tempting to treat that like a kind of sedative.

Rather than return to the happier moments when we consumed media in the past, consider casting a vote for new movies, innovative sounds, and literature that’s based on the present moment. This is the stuff that’s meant to help people filter the world and its issues into manageable narratives: building a retro Frankenstein can’t teach you how to deal with the world in the 21st century.

Vulfpeck to Release New Album, Mr. Finish Line

Vulfpeck will be releasing their third album, Mr. Finish Line, on November 7, 2017 (fourth, if you count the silent Sleepify album that exploited a royalty loophole on Spotify and helped to fund an admission-free tour).

While the core group are native Michiganders, this upcoming album will feature a slew of musicians from all around. David T. Walker, a guitarist who’s worked with Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock, will be returning to play with the band. Bootsy Collins will also be featured on the album, who you may recognize from Parliament-Funkadelic. There’s honestly too many talented musicians to list here, so I recommend checking out the album trailer below for more details.

Vulfpeck’s core group is made up of Jack Stratton, Joe Dart, Theo Katzman, and Woody Goss, and their crisp and healthy funk would probably have made Michael Jackson proud (the younger MJ, not the scary one). If you haven’t heard Vulfpeck before, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying “Cory Wong,” which features the eponymous Cory Wong on the Stratocaster, backed up by Joe Dart’s understated bass:

If this was your introduction to Vulfpeck, you might be a little unsure of how to handle all of this new sonic information. Here’s what I enjoy doing while I’m digesting all of that good funk:

  1. Imagining it’s the background music of a movie I’m inexplicably in.
  2. Dancing.
  3. Nodding my head when dancing is not acceptable.
  4. Scrunching my face up so it looks like I’ve either smelt something horrible, just remembered an unpleasant memory, or am listening to a very funky breakdown.

Mr. Finish Line is available for pre-order on their delightfully minimalist website, where you can also find tour dates; the Vulf Compressor plugin (if you’re into music production); and, weirdly, their own font. I’ll be looking forward to November with gusto.

360 Video Illustrates Hosseini’s Sea Prayer on the Anniversary of Death at Sea

Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, recently released a short story titled Sea Prayer on the 2nd anniversary of the death of Alan Kurdi in the Mediterranean. Kurdi was a three-year-old Syrian boy fleeing the country’s civil war, and his drowning on September 2nd transformed him into a symbol of the refugee crisis and the 8,500 others who would die crossing the sea after him. This little story was animated by The Guardian as a 360 film—try clicking and dragging along as the narrative unfolds in the video below.

Hosseini himself was a refugee; his family applied for asylum in the United States when he was an 11-year-old Afghani. As a result, Hosseini escaped the violence of the Soviet invasion, the civil war, and the 16-year-long U.S. occupation of Afghanistan. Read more 360 Video Illustrates Hosseini’s Sea Prayer on the Anniversary of Death at Sea

Burning Man 2017 Ends with Man Diving into Flames

Burning man 2017 has ended after a little over a week of “interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions.” The theme for this year was the “radical ritual.”

Burning Man is an opportunity for artists, performers, and regular folks to participate in transcendental, higher dimensional orgies or just maybe observe one before hopping back in their private planes to reflect on how their mescaline trip can inform their tech startup’s strategy. Every year, an effigy of a man (referred to as the Man) is constructed out of timber and burned at the very end, giving the festival its name.

This year’s burn ended on a tragic note when Aaron Mitchell, a 41-year-old first time burner, jumped into the flames of the festival’s effigy. Read more Burning Man 2017 Ends with Man Diving into Flames

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