I must confess that I haven’t been very active in social VR and virtual worlds this week, glued as I have been to the news media, Twitter, and Reddit, since Wednesday’s U.S. Capitol riot.
In the past 48 hours, many Big Tech companies have acted to ban or impose restrictions on Donald Trump’s accounts (a step which should have been taken long ago, in my opinion). In a deliciously ironic twist, even TikTok (a platform which Trump threatened to ban) has banned the soon-to-be-ex-president!
Notably, Twitter permanently suspended Donald Trump’s account, cutting him off from his millions of Twitter followers at the push of a button. When Trump tried to evade that by tweeting from other accounts, those were also quickly suspended.
Buh-bye, Donald Trump! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out…
UPDATE 9:26 p.m.: The New York Times is reporting that three Big Tech companies have acted to take down a platform where many speculated Donald Trump would land up after being evicted from Twitter, the right-wing social media app Parler (original version of the NYT article; archived version). Yesterday, Google removed the Parler app from its Google Play store, and today Apple followed suit, removing Parler from the Apple app store. Apple’s and Google’s actions mean that users would have no way to install or update the Parler app on their mobile devices (although Android device users could theoretically still sideload the app). And later today, Amazon, bowing to pressure from its employees, decided to remove Parler from its web-hosting service, effectively crippling a service which had relied on Amazon Web Services to operate. It looks as though Parler is doomed; even more reason to rejoice!
Centralized Big Tech platforms have been the defacto police of dangerous speech and harassment. They’ve historically done a terrible job reining it in (ask any woman, LGBTQ, BIPOC, etc). But it’s also a cultural issue not solvable via purely technological, deterministic means.
As soon as anti-democratic populists move to completely decentralized networks and encrypted, peer-to-peer communication networks, there isn’t going to be any technological deterministic “ban hammer” method of mitigating dangerous speech, aside from banning underlying peer-to-peer tech.
The problem isn’t that he’s the bringer of bad news; it’s that his government failed to have the foresight to prepare for the inevitable second wave of the pandemic back in the summer when things were relatively under control. It’s also his and his cabinet’s arrogance.
To see his arrogance first-hand, all you have to do is watch the following recent CBC News interview with Rosemary Barton, which is a total cringefest:
The CBC’s Rosemary Barton rightfully grills Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister on his woeful mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. You can watch him deflect, blame the people of Manitoba, boast about his government’s response, and squirm. Brian even goes so far as to blame Rosemary herself for not having any ideas on how to respond to a pandemic (and she is NOT having it, rightfully reminding him that she is not an elected official).
Today, Brian was also complaining about aboriginal Manitobans getting a share of any coronavirus vaccines delivered to the province by the federal government, when they become available. CBC Manitoba reporter Bartley Kives tweeted:
Pallister insists Manitobans will be short-changed on initial vaccine deliveries because of our large Indigenous community. Indigenous communities are more vulnerable and need to be served early. Says per-capita distribution won’t take that into account.
Indigenous Manitobans ARE Manitobans. Pallister’s point is only true if you don’t believe this.
Racist, dog-whistle politics has zero place in a pandemic. Brian Pallister should be thoroughly ashamed of himself. And I dearly hope the Conservative party will get their asses kicked in the next provincial election, and that the opposition NDP, under their party leader Wab Kinew*, forms the next government.
You simply have to watch the following three-minute video (I simply cannot WAIT to see what Saturday Night Live does with this…is Victoria Jackson still around to play Melissa?):
I have now watched this video several times, and I still completely crack up when Melissa says to Rep. Steven Johnson on the House panel (who is a Republican), “…And I signed something saying that if I’m wrong, I could go to prison *tongue pop*. Did you?”
According to [Melissa] Carone’s Wednesday night testimony her life has been “destroyed” by speaking out. “My life has been completely destroyed because of this,” Carone said, claiming that she and her family has been threatened and that in addition to having to move, she’s “had to get rid of social media.” (Carone seems to continue to have a Facebook page, where she describes herself as a proud #boymom and #girlmom, as well as a LinkedIn account.)
“I can’t even get an actual job anymore, I can’t,” she said. “Because Democrats like to ruin your lives. That’s why. Just like they do to Trump.”
Oh, honey, NO.
Melissa, the reason you can’t find a job anymore is not because of the Democrats. It’s because you’re a delusional, pathalogical liar and a lunatic. I mean, you made Rudy Giuliani—Rudy Guiliani!— look relatively sane by comparison, as he tried and failed to shush you in abject embarrassment. That’s a pretty mean feat!
*Wab Kinew is an indigenous man, and if he were to be elected, he would become Canada’s first aboriginal premier.
◙ Laughter relaxes the whole body. A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
◙Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
◙Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
◙Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.
◙Laughter burns calories. Okay, so it’s no replacement for going to the gym, but one study found that laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn approximately 40 calories—which could be enough to lose three or four pounds over the course of a year.
◙Laughter lightens anger’s heavy load. Nothing diffuses anger and conflict faster than a shared laugh. Looking at the funny side can put problems into perspective and enable you to move on from confrontations without holding onto bitterness or resentment.
◙Laughter may even help you to live longer. A study in Norway found that people with a strong sense of humor outlived those who don’t laugh as much. The difference was particularly notable for those battling cancer.
I filled out a Trump survey trashing him a week ago, and in the NAME field I put Fuck You as my name. Forgot about it. Then just got this email out of the blue. And I’ve never been more baffled or laughed as hard as I just have. I thought he emailed truly addressing me like this:
Brian followed up with:
For 10 minutess I stared at my phone in awe—thinking this crazy man just tried to connect with supporters by droppin F-bombs in a campaign email! I was shocked. Mad. Sad. It was so unbelievable [yet] believable at the same time. Then the wave of laughs, realizing I just pranked myself so hard.
And the whole time, I was sitting at my computer, reading through all the posts, just absolutely HOWLING, with tears of laughter running down my face! (I’m quite sure the woman who lives upstairs from me in my apartment complex thought I had completely lost it.)
It was the best laugh I have had in months, people, perhaps all year. and let me tell you, in the middle of province-wide, code-red pandemic lockdown, I very much needed that laugh.
When you look at the latest pandemic indicators, Manitoba is struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the province reported a record number of daily COVID deaths (nine), a record number of people in hospital with the disease (218) and a record percentage of tests coming back positive (10.7 per cent).
The total number of COVID-19 deaths in Manitoba has doubled since Oct. 26 — a mere 16 days ago.
Intensive care unit capacity is almost maxed out. Health-care workers are getting infected with COVID-19 and two have died.
Contact tracing is backed up anywhere from days to weeks. Provincial epidemiology can no longer pinpoint how and where COVID-19 is spreading.
The wearing of 3-ply, disposable masks is mandatory on all UM campuses for all academic and research activities. Masks will be distributed in the situations for which they are required; a mask should be worn at all times on UM grounds. Further, unit supervisors will communicate directly with employees regarding the need for these masks to be worn, and will provide these masks if required.
All work that may done remotely must be done remotely.
Employees accessing UM campus(es) must be reduced as much as possible – only essential activities should take place on campus.
Employees accessing UM campus(es) to be reduced to a maximum of 20 per cent.
Individuals are encouraged to limit their time on campus(es) as much as possible.
Cancellation or postponement of all in-person discretionary activities (either being contemplated or previously approved) until at least January 2021.
Closure of all but absolutely essential common spaces and lunch spaces; all other UM spaces will be closed. A reduced number of study spaces will remain open.
Eye-protection (shields or goggles) are recommended for all laboratory work or in situations in which 2-metre physical distancing is not possible.
All UM sport and recreation facilities will be closed.
The University Centre Pharmacy and the Fort Garry Bookstore will be reduced to 25% of normal capacity.
Suspension of all research involving human participants.
The University of Manitoba has already announced that the upcoming winter term (January-April 2021) will be conducted almost entirely online and remotely, the same as the current fall term.
President Donald Trump had predicted in almost every campaign rally that the media would stop talking about the coronavirus pandemic the day after the election. But as it turns out, no one is ignoring the worsening tragedy more than the President himself.
Instead of taking charge as the country plunges deeper into the worst domestic crisis since World War II, Trump has disappeared inside the White House, saying nothing on camera since he baselessly claimed a week ago that the election was being stolen from him by President-elect Joe Biden.
He’s spending time with advisers, not strategizing on how to tame the out-of-control health emergency but seeking a path to win an election already declared lost. He’s also found time to purge the top leadership of the Pentagon, and with few appointments on his public schedule appears to spend his days watching news coverage and tweeting misinformation about voter fraud.
In essence, Trump, his family and his advisers are spending all their energy desperately trying to save a job — the presidency — that he appears to have no intention of doing in any meaningful sense.
History will damn Donald Trump and his administration for their mistakes, misdeeds, and inaction during what will be the worst surge of the coronavirus pandemic crisis yet in the United States, leading to untold suffering, misery, and death among Americans.
Meanwhile, I am escaping messy, painful reality again today (the first official day of Manitoba’s emergency code-red pandemic lockdown), by spending most of my time in various social VR and virtual worlds (and, of course, writing about them on this blog).
My little hobby provides me with an outlet for socializing while stuck in my apartment during lockdown, when we are all urged to stay home by various levels of government in an effort to flatten the curve and avoid overwhelming our hospitals and healthcare system. Creating and styling new avatar looks as inexpensively as possible puts me in a state of positive mental flow, and it gives me a feeling of pride and accomplishment (no matter how small).
Before the pandemic hit, I used to visit places like Second Life to experience the unusual, the exotic, and the fantastic: those places which could never exist in the real world. Fairyland forests. Space stations. The Old West. Victorian steampunk. Blade Runner-esque urban noir environments, where the rain comes pouring down.
But nowadays, instead of teleporting to impossible worlds, I am using Second Life to visit virtual recreations of mundane places in which I have not set foot since the pandemic started. Places like the inside of supermarkets, for example:
I have not set foot in any retail establishment since I began working from home in self-isolation in my apartment for my university library system on March 16th, 2020 (except for two trips to my local drug store, one to get my flu shot and a second one to stock up on my favourite brand of shampoo). Today is officially Day 242.
All my grocery shopping is done online through the Walmart website, where are I schedule a date and time for grocery pickup. I drive to my nearest Walmart, I park in one of the designated parking spots for grocery pickup service, and someone wearing a facemask loads my groceries into my car while I stand a fair distance away, wearing a facemask myself. The pharmacy delivers all my prescriptions to my home. And I have no need or desire to visit any shopping malls (in fact, I gave my mother and stepfather, who are both in their eighties, a very stern lecture when I learned that they had gone for a walk through Polo Park Shopping Centre earlier this summer, just to get out of the house).
And I am still spending a lot of time, especially in the evenings, watching Netflix on my iPad, either perched in front of my Windows desktop, sitting at my kitchen table, or lying on my sofa. I have moved on from gorging on the post-apocalyptic, science fiction, and zombie apocalypse fare, and I am now watching a lot of crime dramas.
I just finished binge watching Broadchurch over the past week, and I can recommend the TV series highly. It was some of the best TV I’ve seen this year: a gripping crime drama featuring two bickering detectives, taking place in a seaside U.K. village, with a rich cast of well fleshed-out characters that you genuinely grow to care about over the three seasons of the show’s run (from BBC, on Netflix).
And, having finished Broadchurch, I am now watching another British crime drama, Retribution, about the investigation of a murder of a newlywed couple in Scotland.
I have to say that I am definitely getting my money’s worth from my Netflix subscription! Netflix just has so much more content to choose from than rival services such as Amazon Prime, Crave, and Apple TV.
I had a subscription to Amazon Prime last year, but I cancelled it because I didn’t find the breadth of content I was expecting (although I may renew just so I can catch up on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). I joined Crave (a Canadian streaming service) just so I could watch the final seasons of Game of Thrones (since G.R.R. is apparently never going to finish the series of novels upon which they are based, and I wanted to know how it all ends). But after that, I didn’t find much else I wanted to watch, so I unsubscribed earlier this year.
And I got a free one-year Apple TV subscription when I bought my iPhone earlier this year. Again, after watching The Morning Show and the alternative-history space drama For All Mankind, there wasn’t a lot of other content I was interested in, so I plan to let my subscription lapse rather than renew it.
For my LGBTQ content, I rely on two relatively inexpensive subscriptions to OUTtvGo (a Canadian service) and Wow Presents Plus (for their RuPaul’s Drag Race shows, including the recently concluded Drag Race Holland). I cannot get enough drag TV! As I have said before, RuPaul’s Drag Race is one of the things keeping me sane in this dumpster-fire year. (And yes, I am still doing digital drag in Second Life.)