I quite liked Benjamin Mercer's roundup of movies about the Internet that anticipateThe Social Network. But I think he's remiss in omitting one title. Hackers has nowhere near the sophistication of some of the other movies that he's citing. It's cheesy, and melodramatic, and features Jonny Lee Miller at his poutiest. But it's also a great movie about how people forge positive social relationships online and then transfer them into real life.
The plot is really quite simple. Boy gets busted for hacking as a preteen. After his probation's done, boy moves to New York. Boy meets Angelina Jolie in high school and finds out she's a rad hacker. Boy joins Angelina Jolie's group of hacker pals, who give Bunk from The Wire (Wendell Pierce, playing a New York cyber-crime cop) a hard time and work together to stop Fisher Stevens from stealing a lot of money (although they can't stop him from betraying Dr. Melfi [Lorraine Bracco, out-annoying Fran Drescher]). It's a weird, overstuffed movie that places too much power in the Internet and things people can do while playing around with it. But it's fun, and captures something about the aggressive intelligence of smart, malcontent teenagers.
Most kids in the Internet age are not going to spend their time hacking into mineral companies' computer networks to prove they're cool. But one of the great, critically important social dynamics of our age is the personas we create for ourselves online, and how we cope when we want to move into real-life contact with people who only know us by those personas. The Internet's a place to experiment until we know who we want to be—we can strive for that in real life, or not, depending on what we believe our capacities are. It's exactly what happens to Dade and Kate, the movie's Boy and Girl, who initially meet while hacking a TV network:
Dade is not as aggressive or articulate in person as he pretends to be online, though Kate, being a quite young Angelina Jolie, is hotter than her handle, Acid Burn. Their prickly competition gives way to romance, and a strong solidarity between their immediate group of friends and the wider hacking community, as people they've never met come to their aid. Much more than identity theft, or fraud, or child abuse, or sex, the internet as experimental social playground matters. While it may have been the provenance of smart, frustrated people who knew how to make use of it in the beginning, we've all got to deal with the social issues Dade and Kate faced fifteen years ago.
And we all benefit. One of the messages of the movie is certainly that while hacking can be used for evil, the internet is where you find your tribe, if you're too smart, or too maladjusted, for your surroundings. The net's great promise is that even if you feel alone, you can find someone like you out there in the vastness of the web, and that those relationships will be no less real for being remote. Such affinity knows no particular race or religion (Dade's friends are, eventually, black and Asian and Latino and a Jewish Matthew Lillard, a shonda for the goyim if there ever was one), just talent, and energy, and rage, and the joy of accomplishment. Hackers is very much a teenaged movie, and very much a movie of the early internet years. But even given those limitations, and some of the movie's great and abiding sillinesses, it's also true and predictive, and a little sweet.
The president’s unique approach to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will surely be missed.
No U.S. President has been a better comedian than Barack Obama. It’s really that simple.
Now that doesn’t mean that some modern-day presidents couldn’t tell a joke. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton excelled at it. But Obama has transformed the way presidents use comedy—not just engaging in self-deprecation or playfully teasing his rivals, but turning his barbed wit on his opponents.
He puts that approach on display every year at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This annual tradition, which began in 1921 when 50 journalists (all men) gathered in Washington D.C., has become a showcase for each president’s comedy chops. Some presidents have been bad, some have been good. Obama has been the best. He’s truly the killer comedian in chief.
“A typical person is more than five times as likely to die in an extinction event as in a car crash,” says a new report.
Nuclear war. Climate change. Pandemics that kill tens of millions.
These are the most viable threats to globally organized civilization. They’re the stuff of nightmares and blockbusters—but unlike sea monsters or zombie viruses, they’re real, part of the calculus that political leaders consider everyday. And according to a new report from the U.K.-based Global Challenges Foundation, they’re much more likely than we might think.
In its annual report on “global catastrophic risk,” the nonprofit debuted a startling statistic: Across the span of their lives, the average American is more than five times likelier to die during a human-extinction event than in a car crash.
Partly that’s because the average person will probably not die in an automobile accident. Every year, one in 9,395 people die in a crash; that translates to about a 0.01 percent chance per year. But that chance compounds over the course of a lifetime. At life-long scales, one in 120 Americans die in an accident.
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?
There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.
But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.
That second finding is the puzzle that Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, tries to make sense of in his recent book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?Raghunathan’s writing does fall under the category of self-help (with all of the pep talks and progress worksheets that that entails), but his commitment to scientific research serves as ballast for the genre’s more glib tendencies.
Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.
Since 2013,the Federal Reserve Board has conducted a survey to “monitor the financial and economic status of American consumers.” Most of the data in the latest survey, frankly, are less than earth-shattering: 49 percent of part-time workers would prefer to work more hours at their current wage; 29 percent of Americans expect to earn a higher income in the coming year; 43 percent of homeowners who have owned their home for at least a year believe its value has increased. But the answer to one question was astonishing. The Fed asked respondents how they would pay for a $400 emergency. The answer: 47 percent of respondents said that either they would cover the expense by borrowing or selling something, or they would not be able to come up with the $400 at all. Four hundred dollars! Who knew?
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
A stranger going into one of these agencies during business hours is struck by the stupendous machinery at work before him. Rows of desks, private rooms, particular departments, scores of busy clerks, hundreds of interested searchers, are around and on all sides of him. A constant stream of busy men, young and old, is flowing in and out all day, and every manuscript volume, of which there are hundreds, seems to be the subject of eager examination.
A few lines beneath the enormous all-caps headline (“AGENCIES”), a series of truncated sentences in a large, bold type summarized the article: “Private Detectives Watching Business Men Day and Night—Spies Around the House and in the Kitchen—Questioning a Man’s Tradesmen and Pumping his Domestics—The Family History of Business Men and Their Wives Made a Subject of Daily Record, &c., &c.”
By speaking to the discontents of neglected groups of voters, the two men—who share little else in common—have both found political success.
The most important message from this year’s tumultuous presidential primaries may be that millions of voters in both parties have grown sufficiently disenchanted with conventional political options to vote for candidates who not long ago would have been considered beyond the pale of viable choices.
20 or even 10 years ago, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders might have struggled to advance beyond the margins of their parties. Yet after this week’s five primaries, Trump has drawn just over 10 million votes and Sanders 9.3 million. Both have built followings that are not only large but also more impassioned than those attracted by their more traditional rivals, from Ted Cruz to Hillary Clinton.
In Trump’s aftermath, his enemies on the right will have to take stock and propose a meaningful alternative vision for the GOP’s future.
Donald Trump’s big victories in the Mid-Atlantic primaries don’t represent quite the end of the ballgame—but they come damn close.
And now Donald Trump’s many and fierce opponents in the Republican Party and the conservative movement face the hour of decision. Trump looks ever more certain to be the party nominee. Yet not perhaps since George McGovern in 1972 has a presumptive nominee so signally failed to carry the most committed members of his party with him.
So what happens now to those who regard themselves as party thought-leaders? Do they submit? Or do they continue to resist?
Resistance now means something more—and more dangerous—than tapping out #NeverTrump on Twitter. It means working to defeat Trump even knowing that the almost certain beneficiary will be Hillary Clinton.
The U.S. president talks through his hardest decisions about America’s role in the world.
Friday, August 30, 2013, the day the feckless Barack Obama brought to a premature end America’s reign as the world’s sole indispensable superpower—or, alternatively, the day the sagacious Barack Obama peered into the Middle Eastern abyss and stepped back from the consuming void—began with a thundering speech given on Obama’s behalf by his secretary of state, John Kerry, in Washington, D.C. The subject of Kerry’s uncharacteristically Churchillian remarks, delivered in the Treaty Room at the State Department, was the gassing of civilians by the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad.