November 20, 2019

Google Stadia Wants You to Replace Your Video Game Console. Don’t.

I spent most of my time playing the shooter game Destiny 2 and the fighting game Mortal Kombat 11 since they were the most graphically intense. I enjoyed playing the games on my TV screen and on a laptop, but not a phone.

Stadia struggled the most with Mortal Kombat 11. In some fights, motion stuttered and the graphics appeared more pixelated at times, like when my character stuck a giant sword through his opponent’s stomach and sawed away at his innards.

Google said this could be because my internet speeds dipped.

I tinkered with the settings to see if I could make the motion smoother. In the Stadia app, there is a button labeled “data usage and performance,” where you can change the video quality from “best” to “balanced” or “limited.” In a nutshell, the three modes will stream games at different resolutions depending on your internet speeds. After I chose the “balanced” settings, Mortal Kombat 11 ran more smoothly and the graphics still looked great.

Among the games, I enjoyed Destiny 2 the most. (I admit that years ago, I lost many hours of my life playing the original Destiny game on the PlayStation 4.)

With incredibly detailed graphics, this online role-playing shooter title is a game that pushes computing power to its limits. So I was delighted to see Stadia running it adequately in my MacBook Air’s web browser and even on Google’s Pixel 3A, its budget smartphone.

Smartphone gaming was where Stadia fell short. Stadia requires you to plug the game controller into the phone’s USB port to control the game; the games do not adapt to a smartphone to take advantage of its touch-screen controls.

This mobile gaming setup doesn’t make sense. I spent half an hour on my couch, hunched over and staring at a tiny screen while mashing buttons to blast aliens in Destiny 2 before my back started hurting. I moved to a desk and used a stand to prop up the phone and play sitting in a chair, but this still felt uncomfortable.

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Random House Names a New Publisher and Hires a Top Editor From Knopf

Robin Desser, the editorial director of the Penguin Random House imprint Alfred A. Knopf, will fill Mr. Ward’s role and become senior vice president and editor in chief of Random House. At Knopf, Ms. Desser was a tastemaker who acquired and edited works by best-selling and award-winning authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Edwidge Danticat, Jhumpa Lahiri, Valeria Luiselli, Julia Phillips, Arundhati Roy, Jane Smiley, Patti Smith and Cheryl Strayed. In a note to staff, Sonny Mehta, Knopf’s chairman and editor in chief, said that some of the books Ms. Desser edited are “destined to become classics” and praised her for “the joy she takes at working in the editorial trenches.”

The changes come during a period of rapid transformation at Penguin Random House, which has more than 275 imprints and is by far the biggest of the “big five” publishing companies in the United States. In the past year or so, a parade of high-profile editors have left Penguin Random House, among them Molly Stern, the publisher of Crown, who edited Michelle Obama’s book; Julie Grau and Cindy Spiegel, who left the company when their influential imprint, Spiegel Grau, was shut down; Maya Mavjee, the former president and publisher of Crown, who left Crown when the company decided to merge Random House and the Crown Publishing Group; and Anne Messitte, the former executive vice president of Knopf Doubleday and publisher of Vintage/Anchor, who departed after a restructuring. Ms. Messitte was known throughout the industry as a powerhouse who worked with authors like E L James, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison and Haruki Murakami.

All the churn seems to have done little to shake the company’s dominant position within the industry. Penguin Random House has been on a growth spree: In May it acquired a 45 percent stake in Sourcebooks, an independent publishing company, and in March it acquired the children’s publisher Little Tiger Group. It also bought two publishing companies based in Spain, a Spanish-language literary publisher named Ediciones Salamandra and a Catalan-language publisher, La Campana Llibres. Penguin Random House reported a 33 percent rise in profit for the first half of 2019 compared to the same period the previous year, a jump that was attributed to its acquisitions and a string of best sellers like Mrs. Obama’s memoir and Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing.” In November, the company said it would add a new distribution center in Reno, Nev., expanding its distribution capabilities on the West Coast.

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Luke Combs Opens at No. 1 With Country’s Biggest Streaming Total Yet

The country singer Luke Combs reached the top of the Billboard chart this week with his latest album, and set a surprising record for country music.

Combs’s “What You See Is What You Get” opened with the equivalent of 172,000 sales in the United States, according to Nielsen, which includes 109,000 copies sold as a full album, thanks in part to ticket and merchandise bundles. It is only the second country album to hit No. 1 this year, after Thomas Rhett’s “Center Point Road” in June, and it had the biggest opening for any country title since Carrie Underwood’s “Cry” 14 months ago.

But the most eye-opening statistic for “What You See Is What You Get” is about streaming. Songs from the album were streamed 74 million times, by far the biggest number for any country album so far. And it broke a record not held by any contemporary star but rather one dead for more than 20 years — Gene Autry, whose album “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Other Christmas Classics” racked up almost 44 million streams late last year thanks to holiday chestnuts like “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Country fans have been slow to adapt to streaming. According to Alpha Data, a music tracking service that is a rival to Nielsen, just 8.7 percent of the consumption of country songs came from audio streaming last year — well behind hip-hop (26.9 percent), pop (19.4 percent) and even rock (13.7 percent). But Combs’s success suggests this may be changing.

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‘No One Believes Anything’: Voters Worn Out by a Fog of Political News

“In the political space, you no longer have to have facts to back up your claims,” said Talia Stroud, director of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas. “The result is a population bordering on cynicism, where people discount everything that’s opposed to their views.”

The loss of shared facts can be corrosive for rational discourse, as in Russia, where political leaders learned to use the online explosion far ahead of the United States.

“They spread this sense that people live in a world of endless conspiracy, and the truth is unknowable, and all that’s left in this confusing world is me,” said Peter Pomerantsev, author of “This is Not Propaganda: Adventures in the War Against Reality.” He was referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other authoritarian rulers. Mr. Trump, he said, has that style too.

Mr. Pomerantsev, who worked in a Russian television station in the early 2000s, said there is a transgressive thrill in strong leaders thumbing their nose at the facts.

“We slightly miss the point if we don’t understand how much pleasure their supporters derive from this,” he said. “Did he really say that? You can’t stop watching him. It’s partly about power. But it’s also anarchic, and there’s a weird freedom in that.”

Mr. Trump’s approach does not appeal to everyone, though, even in his own party.

“I do not support this brand of politics — any time there is any type of controversy, you just flatly deny it and you do it over and over until people are exhausted and move on,” said Mr. Memory, the computer programmer. Mr. Memory, a registered Republican, said that was why he did not vote for Mr. Trump.

But he said he sees bias among liberal news outlets and that drives him crazy too. He was annoyed, for example, that stories of Mr. Trump being booed at the Washington Nationals baseball game were given top billing, but when Mr. Trump was cheered in Alabama a few days later, he could find almost nothing about it.

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TikTok’s Chief Is on a Mission to Prove It’s Not a Menace

In late 2017, agreed to be taken over by ByteDance. Last year, the app was merged into TikTok.

Mr. Zhu stayed to help with the transition. He then took a few months off last year to rest, go clubbing in Shanghai and listen to jazz. He rejoined TikTok early this year, not long after ByteDance raised funding at a valuation of around $75 billion, making it one of the planet’s most richly valued start-ups.

TikTok surely owes some of its success to the sunny, fun-for-its-own-sake vibe it has cultivated. But that has led to suspicions that TikTok suppresses material, such as clips of the Hong Kong protests, that could be a buzzkill. The company says it previously penalized content that “promoted conflict.”

Now “we don’t take any action on any politically sensitive content as long as it goes along with our community guidelines,” said Vanessa Pappas, general manager for TikTok in the United States. Those cover things like hate speech, harassment and misleading information.

Mr. Zhu said TikTok, which makes money by selling ads, was still drawing up its content policies.

“Today, we are lucky,” he said, “because users perceive TikTok as a platform for memes, for lip-syncing, for dancing, for fashion, for animals — but not so much for political discussion.”

He acknowledged this could change. “For political content that still aligns with this creative and joyful experience, I don’t see why we should control it,” he said.

The deeper concern is that ByteDance’s vast business in China could give Beijing leverage over the company, and over TikTok. In its brief existence, ByteDance has had plenty of run-ins with Chinese authorities. This month, regulators hauled up company executives after finding search results from ByteDance’s search engine that supposedly defamed a revolutionary hero.

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Two Female Writers Quit Patricia Heaton’s CBS Show After Making Complaints

Ms. Gupta, who published humor pieces at McSweeney’s and The New Yorker while still in college, and later wrote for the ABC sitcom “Speechless” and the Netflix show “Friends From College,” joined the writing staff in June. In early August, after a dinner for the cast and crew at Pizzeria Mozza, Ms. Gupta was standing with Mr. Hunt and others in the valet-parking area. She said she had not met him before that night. He hugged her twice from the side, Ms. Gupta said, before he complimented her pants and ran a hand up the side of her thigh.

Bryan Freedman, a lawyer for Ms. Heaton and Mr. Hunt, said in an email that his client “did not remember the details as described” and that he “does not recall rubbing anyone’s thigh or leg and he disputes that characterization of it.”

Ms. Gupta said the experience outside the restaurant made her uncomfortable. On her way home, she called her boyfriend, Greg Gallant, a television writer, and described what had happened. A friend, Dylan Gelula, an actress, later went to her apartment, and Ms. Gupta told her about the incident. (Mr. Gallant and Ms. Gelula confirmed the conversations they had that night with Ms. Gupta.)

Mr. Gallant said he encouraged Ms. Gupta to complain to the showrunners. But the women had reservations. “We both kind of decided that it would be bad for her to do anything about it,” Ms. Gelula said. “And, clearly, we were correct.”

For several weeks, Ms. Gupta said, she told no one at “Carol’s Second Act” about her accusation against Mr. Hunt. But then, she said, there was another instance of unwanted contact.

She was seated on a high folding chair, the kind known as a director’s chair, on the lot. Ms. Magee, the co-executive producer, was seated next to her as Mr. Hunt approached. He seemed to be looking for something, Ms. Gupta and Ms. Magee said, when he took Ms. Gupta by the shoulders and jerked her forward. Ms. Magee jumped out of her chair and said, “Excuse me,” she told The Times. Mr. Hunt said nothing and walked away, the two women said.

Mr. Freedman, the lawyer, said Mr. Hunt “remembers looking for a script but does not remember the detail of touching anyone’s shoulders, and if he did that, it was not intended to be offensive.”

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In Prime Time, Two Versions of Impeachment for a Divided Nation

Viewers are flocking to opinionated outlets with irreconcilable differences. Although every major TV station broadcast the hearings, Fox News and MSNBC were far and away the most popular networks for Americans to watch the opening round of public testimony this past week, outdrawing CNN and the “Big Three” networks of ABC, CBS and NBC, according to Nielsen.

On Wednesday, a pair of veteran foreign service officers testified that Mr. Trump had pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate his domestic political opponent, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. On Mr. Hannity’s show, the right-wing radio pundit Mark Levin compared the officers to “two homeless guys.” A guest on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program said the men “looked like people who sat by themselves at recess.”

On MSNBC, the host Chris Hayes praised the officers, telling viewers they had revealed “brand-new evidence of the president’s plot to extort Ukraine.”

“Today, the American people got a fuller picture of the corrupt abuse of power by the president of the United States,” Mr. Hayes said, around the time that Mr. Carlson was telling his audience that the testimony was “pointless and tiresome.” Mr. Carlson added, “It made you realize that Democrats really have no master plan for impeachment.”

Television played a crucial role in framing impressions of the nation’s last two impeachment dramas. The Watergate hearings of 1973, now viewed with nostalgia as a moment when Americans could more or less agree on facts, were broadcast in sober tones on PBS. (ABC, CBS and NBC rotated coverage to avoid losing daytime ad revenue.)

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Taylor Swift Escalates Battle With Scooter Braun and Big Machine

The escalating battle — a sort of chess game of contract maneuvers and public relations — started over the summer, when Swift spoke out against the music manager and entrepreneur Scooter Braun after he announced his company’s purchase of Big Machine.

Braun — who once managed the noted Swift adversary Kanye West — was a bully, the singer said, and in teaming with the Big Machine founder Scott Borchetta, who signed Swift when she was 15, the pair would partially dictate her musical legacy. (Borchetta countered that Swift had been offered a new deal at Big Machine that would have allowed her to eventually own her recordings; Swift instead signed to a new label last year, and stipulated that she will own her masters there.)

Stars like Beyoncé, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj and the K-pop group BTS have aggressive online fan communities that frequently attack perceived enemies online, for slights real or imagined. On Thursday, Swift effectively weaponized her following, calling explicitly for her fans to “help” by letting Borchetta and Braun “know how you feel about this,” and by asking her followers to lean on artists managed by Braun, whose roster includes Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. While thousands of Swifties, as her supporters are known, shared messages of solidarity for the singer and even circulated a petition (“Let Taylor Swift perform/use HER art”), Twitter was also forced to delete multiple posts that it said violated its rules by purporting to share Braun and Borchetta’s phone numbers.

Swift’s call to action did not stop there: She also invoked the private equity firm the Carlyle Group, a major investor in Braun’s company, Ithaca Holdings, that helped to fund the purchase of Big Machine, leading her followers to share information among themselves about the firm. Carlyle did not respond to a request for comment.

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Will Streaming Kill the Art of Cinema or Grant It New Life?

A.O. Scott, Cinephile Only subscription fees, which can add up in a hurry if you want that — highly theoretical — full menu of cinematic delicacies. The subscription model undermines that fantasy of universality. Imagine a video store that allowed you to rent only Warner Brothers movies. Imagine having to enroll in a corporate loyalty program, pledging allegiance to Disney or Sony or Netflix, and being forced to limit your choices accordingly.

The emerging streaming regime both restricts and expands access. Matt Zoller Seitz recently published a troubling article in Vulture about how Disney, newly in possession of the 20th Century Fox catalog, won’t allow Fox titles to be screened in public. But why, as a simple economic matter, should companies in the streaming business undercut the value of their assets by letting nonsubscribers see them?

If that practice became the norm, if Netflix, Amazon and the studio-owned streamers kept their movies locked up on their platforms, what would happen to college film societies, museum film departments and repertory houses? This may seem like a minor issue, but revivals and retrospectives are part of how tastes are formed and history is made and revised.

A.O. Scott, Cinephile What encourages them? Streaming is built on the power of the algorithm, which inhibits risk and serendipity and creates an illusion of ease and comprehensiveness.

A.O. Scott, Couch Potato Why call it an illusion? It’s surely the case that more movies are now available to more people in more places than before, at any time of day or night. You don’t need to live near a campus or a museum or even an art house. You can queue up the complete works of your favorite auteur at six in the morning if you want to.

A.O. Scott, Cinephile Will you, though? Abundance can be its own kind of scarcity. Without a sense of occasion, without the idea that a given experience is special, even rare, all experiences become equivalent, and our attention follows the path of least resistance.

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Netflix to Amend Maps After Complaint From Poland

Days after public criticism from Poland’s prime minister, Netflix said that it will modify some of the maps shown in the new documentary series, “The Devil Next Door,” to clarify that concentration camps shown within the boundaries of modern-day Poland were built and operated by Nazi Germany.

A Netflix spokeswoman said on Thursday that the company will not alter the maps themselves, but will add text saying that the camps were run by the Nazi regime, which invaded the country in 1939 and occupied it until 1945. She was careful to say that the move was a response to complaints from subscribers rather than from the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, who sent a letter to Netflix’s chief executive earlier this week saying the maps should be modified because they falsely suggested that Poland operated the camps.

The true-crime series, released last week, focuses on the case of John Demjanjuk, a retired autoworker from the Cleveland area who was put on trial in Israel in the 1980s after he was accused of being a notoriously cruel guard at the Nazi-run concentration camps. Some of the maps in the five-episode series showed modern-day Polish boundaries, labeled “Poland,” with geographical markers for death camps such as Sobibor and Treblinka, sites where Demjanjuk is said to have worked.

The Netflix spokeswoman said that five maps showing modern-day Polish boundaries would be altered to include further context. The maps were taken from United States and Israeli television coverage of Demjanjuk’s trial in the 1980s, when he was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to be hanged. The Israeli Supreme Court later overturned the decision.

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