Degrees of separation

Forget Google Earth, Google Street View, and those proposed Google goggles.  Here is Google’s coolest feature:  Google will now calculate how many degrees of separation a person is from Kevin Bacon.

It is the party game beloved of cinephiles everywhere, one which rewards detailed knowledge of the career of one of the finest actors never to receive an Oscar nomination. And now it is even easier to play: Google has built Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon into its search system.

Devised in January 1994 by a trio of students at Pennsylvania’s Albright college, the original game was based on the idea that it is always possible to connect every movie actor in the world back to the Footloose star in no more than six associations. A website, board game and book later emerged and an initially reluctant Bacon eventually embraced the phenomenon by launching his own site, SixDegrees.org, to foster charitable donations.

To use Google’s system, the user simply types in the words “Bacon number” followed by the name of the actor. By way of example, typing “Bacon number Simon Pegg” reveals that Bacon and the British actor are linked by Tom Cruise, because the latter appeared in 1992’s A Few Good Men with Bacon and in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III with Pegg. Pegg therefore has a Bacon number of two, indicating two degrees of separation.

Lead engineer Yossi Matias said the project was about showcasing the power of Google’s search engine by flagging up the deep-rooted connections between people in the film industry. “If you think about search in the traditional sense, for years it has been to try and match, find pages and sources where you would find the text,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s interesting that this small-world phenomena when applied to the world of actors actually shows that in most cases, most actors aren’t that far apart from each other. And most of them have a relatively small Bacon number.”

By way of example, type French Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard’s name into the system and it is revealed that she has a Bacon number of two, while Humphrey Bogart, who died in 1957, nevertheless has a Bacon number of just three.

via Google builds Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon into its search system | Film | guardian.co.uk.

The Google algorithm (someone please explain how it works)  just works for Hollywood figures, which is the original game, though one variation tries to connect anyone on earth to Mr. Bacon.  I, for example, have a Bacon number of four:  (1) The wife of a former colleague is the daughter of the man who did the make-up on Citizen Kane.  (2)  He worked for Orson Welles, who produced, directed, and acted in Citizen Kane.  (3)  Google tells me that Orson Welles appeared with Jack Nicholson in A Safe Place.  (4)  And that Jack Nicholson and Kevin Bacon appeared in A Few Good Men.

Another variation proposes that there are no more than six degrees of separation (or maybe a few more) between any two people in the world.  For example, what chain of people who have met or have had a direct personal contact with each other might connect me to, say, a hypothetical Chinese peasant named Chen who lives in the Jiangxi province?  (1) When I was in high school, I shook the hand of Senator Eugene McCarthy.  (2)  He shook the hand of Richard Nixon.  (3)  Nixon shook the hand of Mao Zedong.  (4)  Chairman Mao knew the members of his Communist Politburo.  (5)  The representative of the Jiangxi province worked with the Secret Police.  (6) One of whose members doubtless spied on Chen and his parents.

I don’t know if that always works, of course.  I suppose it’s based on the exponential calculations that perhaps someone could explain for us.  (Is it that if each person has met a thousand people, six degrees would mean 1000 to the 6th power, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, a number that would require a great deal of overlap since the world’s population is only about 7,000,000,000.)

I think it shouldn’t count if your only contact with a person is reading a book or article that was written by that person.  But if you comment on the person’s blog, that does count, like talking to someone over the phone.  So you can add onto my degrees of separation with Kevin Bacon.

Do any of you have any other interesting degrees of separation that the rest of us could then appropriate?

Google reposts anti-Islam video

The White House asked Google, which owns YouTube, to take down the 14-minute “trailer”–some people are doubting whether there even is a full movie–of The Innocence of Muslims, which has sparked anti-American riots throughout the Muslim world.  Google did take down the video temporarily, but then decided that it does not violate YouTube’s terms of use and put it up again.  See Google Won’t Rethink Anti-Islam Video’s Status – NYTimes.com.

The role of the video in the murder of the Americans in Libya has been challenged by evidence that the attacks were pre-meditated before the protests.  But see this for the eruptions in “Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Britain, East Jerusalem, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Pakistan, Qatar, Syria, Turkey, the West Bank and Yemen.”

Google is still blocking the video in Muslim areas–so the rioters have likely not seen the thing–but it is available elsewhere.

As this article points out, websites and internet companies–as opposed to nations, courts, and governments–have now become the arbiters, the gatekeepers, the potential censors, and the enablers of free speech.

Who really made that anti-Muslim movie

It turns out that the man who made that reportedly salacious movie about Mohammed, The Innocence of Muslims,  that has set the Middle East on fire is NOT Sam Bacile, an Israeli-American with 200 Jewish investors, as he claimed.  That was a fake identity for a convicted scam artist named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian.  The Copts are already cruelly persecuted in Egypt, so this won’t help them.

via US Identifies Anti-Muslim Filmmaker Blamed for Attacks « CBS DC.

So do we blame this guy or defend his freedom of speech?

Hobbit update

Titles and release dates have been released for the upcoming movie trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit.

As announced last month, The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s long awaited adaptation of the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, will be made into a trilogy rather than the two-parter originally announced. Yesterday, the new title of the second instalment was announced, with the intended title going to the final instalment, and the expected release date of the final instalment also being announced.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug will be released on December 13th, 2013; whilst the third and final instalment in the series, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, following on July 18th, 2014. The first of the trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, will be released at the end of this year, on December 14th.

Jackson, who directed the LOTR trilogy, announced the news that the series will be extended into a trilogy through his Facebook page early last month. On The Hobbit Jackson will be rejoined by LOTR cast members such as Sir Ian Mckellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood, who will be reclaiming their former roles. Meanwhile, stars such as Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch will join the cast, taking on the roles of Bilbo Baggins and the voice of The Necromancer respectively.

via Second The Hobbit Instalment Title Changed, Thrid Movie Release Date Announced | Contactmusic.

Spike Lee on fatherhood & the black church

Filmmaker Spike Lee has a new movie out, Red Hook Summer, about a middle-class black teenager from Atlanta who spends the summer with his grandfather, a no-nonsense preacher in poverty-stricken Brooklyn.  Both comedy and social commentary ensue.  The movie sounds quite good and very pro-church.  In an interview with Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, Lee himself does some preaching:

TWP: Bishop Enoch fulminates against a number of ills that plague the black community — from violence to coarsening pop culture to gentrification. In one pivotal conversation, he and Sister Sharon (Heather Alicia Simms) speak candidly about the pressures on African American parents trying to bring kids up, often alone. Those sequences felt like very personal statements from Spike Lee.

SL: Three out of four African American families are headed by a single mom. That’s 75 percent. And I will put my left hand on 10 Bibles and my right hand to God and say that’s the main correlation to the highest drop-out rate and the highest prison rate, and it manifests itself ultimately with these young brothers killing each other with this insane pathological genocide that’s happening, whether it’s in D.C., New Orleans, Brooklyn, Chicago. It all comes back the fact that — and I’m not trying to demonize these single moms, they’re doing the best they can, working two or three jobs to keep it together. But these young boys, and young women, with no father in their lives, how can that not affect their relationship with black men? It’s the domino effect.

I feel for these single moms and I feel for the children of single moms because they’re crying out for help and they need their daddy and Daddy ain’t around. Daddy ain’t been around. So where are these daddies? A lot of these guys are locked up or just out on the street. It’s not a good look, okay? All I’m saying. It’s not a good look.

via Spike Lee talks about ‘Red Hook Summer’ – The Washington Post.

I judge the superhero movies

Well, to celebrate our anniversary and to catch up with our fast-disappearing summer, my wife and I constructed a “double feature” (anyone remember those?) by seeing BOTH Spiderman and Batman:  The Dark Knight Rises on a single Saturday, with a late lunch in between.   We had a good time despite the Batman movie.

The Dark Knight Rises is pretentious, ponderous, ludicrous, and lugubrious.  It makes me miss what I thought I was tired of–namely, irony.  The movie was so serious, so full of itself, even while its main characters were putting on silly costumes.  A super-hero movie can be philosophical or angst-ridden, but it needs to have at least some element of fun.

As the Spiderman movie shows.   (Normally, one waits several weeks or months between superhero movies, so seeing them side-by-side makes the comparisons stand out.)  The best part of that movie was the part I didn’t expect to like, yet another version of the origin story.  But this time the origin made much more sense even than in the comic book (I write and criticize as a fan), picking up on the motif of interspecies genetic engineering.  What the movie did especially well was in showing high school nerd Peter Parker gradually learning about his new superpowers.  What science fiction and fantasy can do at their best is give us a sense of wonder.  Juxtaposing the spidey powers (super strength, agility, ability to climb and hang upside down and swing on webs, sticky hands and feet) with the ordinary routines of school and family life was an effective way to stimulate the imagination.  Later we get to the obligatory and conventional friend-turned-monster, but that’s all right, given the genre.

So what about any political themes in the Batman movie, as we discussed on this blog?  It does pick up on the Occupy Wallstreet threat of an uprising against the wealthy and privileged, such as millionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne living in stately Wayne Manor (to use the comic book language).  And it comes out decisively against the mob.  (The best scene was the sight of thousands of police officers coming out of the ground to restore social order.)  So the movie managed to be pro-rich, while still blaming the wealthy for  economic and social disintegration.  It presents the point of view of the wealthy-but-guilt-ridden-over-their-wealth.  That is, the new base of the Democratic party.

(That’s not why I disliked the movie.  That’s a perfectly defensible position and appropriate in many cases.  I disliked the movie for the reasons given in the second paragraph.)