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Weekend Links, 28/02/15: Delegates + “globe-straddling demi-gods of data”

“A different cluetrain” by Charlie Stross.

“4. The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization’s employees.)

5. Governments are organizations.

6. We observe the increasing militarization of police forces and the priviliging of intelligence agencies all around the world. And in the media, a permanent drumbeat of fear, doubt and paranoia directed at “terrorists” (a paper tiger threat that kills fewer than 0.1% of the number who die in road traffic accidents).

7. Money can buy you cooperation from people in government, even when it’s not supposed to.

8. The internet disintermediates supply chains.

9. Political legitimacy in a democracy is a finite resource, so supplies are constrained.

10. The purpose of democracy is to provide a formal mechanism for transfer of power without violence, when the faction in power has lost legitimacy.

11. Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media.

12. A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2).

13. Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion. 14. The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there’s a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.”

“The Euro crisis seen through 3 historical models” by Andreas Kluth.

“In a nutshell, the Holy Roman Empire after the Thirty Years War agreed to leave the question of sovereignty and integration ambiguous. Thus its laws were signed by “Kaiser und Reich”, emperor and empire, where empire meant the princes. In much the same way, the German and EU flags today fly side by side on top of parliament.

The struggle between closer union or looser union was thus resolved in favor of a looser union, rather as Britain imagines the ideal EU today. As Hamilton’s America had slavery, the Empire had the Catholic-Protestant conflict, but it defused this through loosening of the union (“subsidiarity” in the language of today’s EU). The Holy Roman Empire would never again fight about religion. (Arguably, the Catholic/Orthodox-Protestant split continues in the EU and euro zone to this day.)

Even the process and style of bureaucracy was similar: Germans today have the phrase “etwas auf die lange Bank schieben” (to shove something onto the long bench) to mean endless delays in Brussels or elsewhere. The phrase originated at the imperial diet in Regensburg, where delegates literally shoved their paperwork onto a long bench which still exists in the city hall today. (Several German Eurocrats have remarked to me that Germans, with their millennium of experience with federalism, tolerate the processes of Brussels more readily than the French or British do, with their history of centralism.)”

“The ‘new’ Imperialism” by Zoltan Zigedy, via John Steppling.

“But the US variant of classical imperialism predates the Cold War instantiation embraced by the Truman administration. As Appleman Williams notes, post-World War I leaders like Hoover, Coolidge, Hughes, and Stimson endorsed an international ‘community of interest,’ achieved by encouraging the penetration of US business worldwide. In Appleman Williams’s words, “These men were not imperialist in the traditional sense… They sought instead the ‘internationalization of business’… Through the use of economic power they wanted to establish a common bond… Their deployment of America’s material strength is unquestioned.”[4]

It is important to note that their choice of a more benign imperialism was not based upon moral considerations, but self-interest. Moreover, it necessarily preferred stability when possible, even if stability came through the exercise of military might. President Coolidge acknowledged this in a Memorial Day address in 1928: “Our investments and trade relations are such that it is almost impossible to conceive of any conflict anywhere on earth which would not affect us injuriously.”[5] As a late-comer to the imperial scramble, US elites chose the non-colonial option, avoiding the enormous costs in coercion, counter-insurgency, and paternalistic occupation associated with colonialism–and equally avoiding conflicts that might rock existing and expanding business relations.

In the post-World War II era, the Marshall Plan and The Point Four program were early examples of neo-colonial Trojan Horses, programs aimed at cementing exploitative capitalist relations while posturing as generosity and assistance. They, and other programs, were successful efforts to weave consent, seduction, and extortion into a robust foreign policy securing the goals of imperialism without the moral revulsion of colonial repression and the cost of vast colonies.

In the wake of World War II, US imperialism reaped generous harvests from the ‘new’ imperialism. Commerce Department figures show total earnings on US investments abroad nearly doubling from 1946 through 1950. As of 1950, 69% of US direct investments abroad were in extractive industries, much of that in oil production (direct investment income from petroleum grew by 350% in the five-year period).[6] Clearly the US had recognized its enormous thirst for oil to both fuel economic growth and power the military machine necessary to protect and enforce the ‘internationalization of business.’

One estimate of the rate of return on US direct investments from 1946 to and including 1950 claims that Middle Eastern investments (mainly oil) garnered twice the rate of return of investments in Marshall Plan participant countries which, in turn, produced a rate of return nearly twice that of investments made in countries that did not participate in the US plan.[7] Undoubtedly, US elites were pleased with the rewards of the new imperial gambit.”

“Vertical and Horizontal Solidarity” by mtraven.

“Unfortunately the very idea of class solidarity in America, especially in Silicon Valley, has an odor of ridiculous obsolescence. It՚s a boring and trite view of the world, compared to the technological sublime. SV culture, for all its cachet and raw intelligence, runs on the basically same toxic individualism that rules in the rest of the US and prevents any real political left from forming. It՚s just brought to a more intense level here, where everyone thinks they are or should be an entrepreneur.

The class struggle is not much in evidence here; everyone՚s just trying to get rich by making their company awesome. Companies use obvious tactics to make it seem like everyone at the company is best buddies, teammates, all working hard and happily together towards the same goal. And to some extent this works! It always amazes me that companies, despite their petty politics and obvious social pathologies, actually get shit done. Whatever their flaws, they seem to solve the general problem of goal-directed cooperation.

Doing so always seems to require a communal myth of the company, and everyone has to take part in building up this myth and everyone has to occasionally make a public display to the effect that they are bought into it. This is just as true at both excellent and crappy companies, I suspect. My current company actually does do pretty well in both mythmaking and living up to its myth. Today they chose (by coincidence I՚m sure) to give a presentation on stock options. Can՚t complain about that; stock options actually do work, they do help align labor with the interests of the organization.

So companies build what I՚m going to call vertical solidarity, that is, solidarity and loyalty within a company, between its various ranks and groupings, and to the company itself. Let՚s distinguish that from horizontal solidarity, which is solidarity to your class, profession, or community.

Both of these have their necessary uses. Companies require vertical solidarity to operate; and society requires horizontal solidarity to keep from degenerating into a hellscape. But both forms of solidarity seem to be decaying over the last few decades or so.”

“When Google met the Pentagon….” by Nafeez Ahmed.

“Beyond that, the story explores how at every stage of Google’s evolution, it was assisted by networks closely aligned with the Pentagon and the US military intelligence community – and further that senior Google executives are members/delegates of the Pentagon’s Highlands Forum, a shadow network that convenes private defense contractors, investors, energy executives, IT experts, among others, sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, to help coordinate the Pentagon’s strategies on “information operations.”

All this is not a result of some grand conspiracy, in which Google’s investors, for instance, are all ‘spooks.’ This isn’t the case – rather than being the result of a grand plan, much of this appears more to be the result of Brin being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a Silicon Valley nexus which was being heavily courted by a range of Pentagon agencies in search of the next step in IT. From inception, Google was surrounded and supported by people closely aligned with the Pentagon and the Pentagon’s values, and connected through social networks with powerful actors in the US intelligence community. The Pentagon Highlands Forum played a key role in this process in terms of bringing people together that otherwise would not be connected, so that their expertise, funds, ideas and their own networks could be harnessed to be fed into the formation of information operations across the US military intelligence community.

Among the Forum’s many credits are its role in virtually writing the information warfare doctrines that led to the Pentagon’s adoption of mass surveillance at home and abroad, the definitions of irregular warfare and network centric warfare, and the conceptualisation of the war on terror as ‘The Long War’. Another important credit is that it is run, according to a DoD Inspector General report, by The Rendon Group (TRG) – the same firm contracted by the Pentagon to manufacture propaganda to justify the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. TRG played a lead role in drumming up false information on Saddam’s WMD. Apart from running the Highlands Forum process, TRG’s chief executive John Rendon is a longstanding member of the Forum. TRG also has access to the most secretive intelligence across the intelligence community, including NSA surveillance data for instance.

The story is starting to get noticed, though so far the mainstream media has remained studiously silent about what is in reality a huge story – clear and unimpeachable documentary evidence and testimony that Google’s Sergey Brin did receive a modest amount of seed-funding from the CIA and NSA, through their MDDS initiative, and that Brin had regular briefings with representatives of the US intelligence community from 96-98.”

“The Myth of Magical Futures” by Kate Losse.

“Investors and board members in addition to founders influence everything from how much equity goes to individual employees, to perks and play budgets (which often are not evenly distributed across the company), to the construction of departments, their relative importance, and the resources accordingly allocated to them. And not coincidentally the privileged departments, on this model, tend to be those occupied by people who look most like the founder and investors (at Facebook this was product engineering, which dominated other forms of engineering, which dominated non-engineering departments, which tended to have the largest degree of race and gender diversity).

But when Thiel is arguing for more women founders he isn’t just deflecting responsibility from himself and his fellow investors. He is also doing something else that I want to unpack: he is re-inscribing a form of hierarchical thinking that is part of the reason tech is such a mess regarding diversity. That is, when Thiel points to “more women founders” as a solution, he is asking women to become founders in order to possess a status that would allow Thiel to acknowledge women in tech at all. That is, all of the women who are currently working in tech, up and down the employee stack, many at companies that Thiel may be invested in, do not seem in Thiel’s formulation to really exist to him. They do not have a seat at the table. They are not acknowledged as agents of change, or as subjects of discrimination (for example, in the AMA, Thiel cited the Bay Area “housing crisis” as a worse problem than sexism in tech, not knowing that the housing crisis disproportionately affects women and people of color because of the wage discrimination marginalized people face at work).

That is, according to Thiel’s “women founders” logic, he can only imagine women as agents/subjects if they are the founder of a company. And this, in the end, is exactly why and how tech is such a diversity disaster: because there are so many ways powerful people in the industry have of ignoring that marginalized people are working at their companies and are experiencing multiple forms of discrimination right now. This is why many powerful people in tech can only conceive moves to “change” the industry in terms of magical futures like “more women founders” or “getting young girls to code”. The women working in the industry right now are being written off in favor of these magical futures, and as long as this is the case, the now of tech (whether the now is today or twenty years from today) will be unchanged.”

“Continuous Monuments and Imaginable Alternatives” by Tobias Revell.

“Now, 80 years later, renderings of smart cities bear huge resemblance to the visions of Le Corbusier. Their images are eerily devoid of human beings. Rigid and measurable structures are almost always presented from a gods-eye-view. They worship the cult of Big Data – a kind of Cthulu Mythos4 [4] The Cthulu ‘Mythos’ refers to the sprawling collection of stories by HP Lovecraft and successors about a race of god-like sea monsters worshipped by human cults. The mythos itself has its own cultish following. of the 2010s. While the machine was the savior of the age of Le Corbusier, Data would be its equivalent of today. Similarly as in the example of the German forestry project, the IT companies backing the smart city projects base their success on the ability to abstract, process and read data about our lives. They are so successful in fact, that much like with the German forestry scientists, Fordists, Taylorists, centralized nation states and master-planners that went before them, they seek to impress this supremely efficient abstraction back upon the world.

Much like Superstudio saw in the late 1960s, designers and architects now often find themselves in a position working – often not by choice – as indentured servants to the globe-straddling demi-gods of data. The consumer market is bloated and heaving with products and projects promising streams of data that will turn your sleeplessly hellish, austerity-riddled corpse-life into the stuff of Silicon Valley dreams. Cups that can measure nutritional content, armbands that tell if you are too fat, apps that can tell you if you have had the perfect amount of sleep. Not to mention, as I have been careful to avoid, the ceaseless and oppressive surveillance brought in to prop up the modern state under the auspices of anti-terror measures. And, at the top of our new Continuous Monument is of course the Smart City masterplan.”

“The Other Avian Flu” by Gordon White.

“One of the great joys of not having to get changed out of my house clothing for several days is that it promotes a tendency to wallow. So let’s see what’s been in the news this week!

1. Even Bibi’s own spies admit that he was completely full of steaming shit with his ‘Iran has the bomb’ antics. Where did you hear that before? Oh yes, right fucking here.
2. What about when I said that HSBC was the bank of record for the shadow state? (Sidebar: Did you know it had its origins in the opium trade?) Nailed it.
3. The Pacific Pivot? China is playing some kind of real-life Starcraft.
4. The CIA created the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ to stifle debate. Which is why I don’t use it and further evidence why anyone who refuses to look at parapolitics is a straight-up moron with zero experience of how power works.

You know the pathetic wasters I mean: the kind who thinks their boss is incompetent because she didn’t give him the promotion, or the kind who thinks ‘the government can’t do anything right’ because their bin men were late by a day to collect their garbage. (Been invaded recently? No? So I guess they can do one thing right, hey?) Or ‘the government can’t keep secrets’ as every file relating to Britain’s (at least) two decades of being run pretty much exclusively by paedophiles gets lost or suffers water damage. Impotent, socially-awkward, basement-dwelling failures, the lot of them. Yes, I feel strongly about this but I am also using the opportunity of being 100% correct with Bibi and Iran to gloat gloat gloat. I am pretty high right now. Nick and I recently discussed this on his podcast and it’s one of the failures of staying in Bob Wilson’s shallow end of the pool. There is in fact a lot of things we can know.”

“A Dent in the Universe” by Venkatesh Rao.

“These areas of behavior require you to navigate freedom, but not necessarily with imagination.

You can unimaginatively eat the same food you grew up eating your whole life. You can take up running because most people around you take up running. You can save cash, buy a house or invest in an index fund because that’s what your neighbors are doing. You can follow the same career track as the majority of your college graduating class. As you gain power and authority, the pattern continues: you can unimaginatively set up the same kinds of organizations your ancestors did and and perpetuate the same patterns of governance you yourself endured.

And if you’re like most people, that is what you actually do. The structure of society does not enforce imitation and conformity. The human fear of self-actualization necessitates structures that enable imitation and conformity. There would be riots demanding such structures if they didn’t exist.

No government in history has ever had to deal with the problem of too many of its citizens wanting to live so imaginatively that institutions based on conformity and imitation become unsustainable. If anything, the problem has always been the reverse one: getting enough of the population to act with enough imagination to keep the institutions alive.”

ABV #51: Museums, “material remnants” + the macabre

“Open Minds, Open Hearts: Paddington’s London” by Brian Baker.

“The film of Paddington is located in a very different kind of London. Sure, there are nods to indexical landmarks (the London Eye, the Natural History Museum), journeys encompassing black cabs and the new open-back Routemaster buses, but this is a London identified most overtly with Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, and in particular with a multi-racial, multi-cultural sensibility most clearly presented in the calypso band that Paddington wanders past (in a running joke about diegetic and extra-diegetic sound) several times in the film, whose songs celebrate that all kinds of people, from all over the world, can call themselves Londoners. Paddington is then a London film, but of a particular kind: a utopia of accepted difference, a family where a bear from Darkest Peru can find himself at home, a post-imperial world-city in which the legacies of colonialism are negotiated, both positively and negatively.

Offsetting the calypso band, and Paddington’s trajectory from newly-arrived migrant, ignored by the bustling commuter crowds at Paddington, to Londoner, is the role played by Nicole Kidman. As Millicent, the amoral taxidermist working for the Natural History Museum, Kidman does a nice turn as a Cruella-style villain, blonde-bobbed and buttoned-up. Her pursuit of Paddington is motivated by a backstory in which her father, the geographer Montgomery Clyde, ‘discovered’ Paddington’s Uncle and Aunt living in Peru, and in effect taught them English (as well as a love of marmalade); upon returning to London, the Guild of Geographers refuses to accept Clyde’s evidence of talking bears with a ‘specimen’ (i.e. a dead bear). When Clyde refuses to reveal the whereabouts of the bears, he is expelled from the Guild and spends the rest of his life running a petting zoo. Millicent mis-reads this gesture as a failure to complete the ‘mission’, and her desire to kill and mount Paddington is a perverse desire to redeem her father in some way; what Millicent cannot see is the ethical weight of her father’s choice. In effect, through Millicent, the film of Paddington offers a critique of the implication of British science, and in particular scientific institutions such as the Natural History Museum, with Imperialism.

Museums have long fascinated me. Back when I wrote about Literature and Science in a book, I read Pyenson and Sheets-Pyenson’s Servants of Nature about the development of scientific institutions in the 19th century, and how they acted as centripetal machines of knowledge-gathering, whereby the Imperial ‘margins’ (possessions) were the sites of ‘exploration’ and observation but where the collation, systematisation and organisation of that knowledge could only take place at the Imperial centre, London. Tony Bennett, in a brilliant article called ‘The Exhibitionary Complex’, also discussed (in Foucauldian terms) how the very spaces of museums themselves, in developing from ‘cabinets of curiosity’ (spectacular displays of exotic objects and fauna) to large halls ordered by means of taxonomy or chronology, also served as a disciplinary mechanism for the regulation of crowd behaviour. Crowds, Bennett argued, came to see the objects on display but also to watch the crowd itself, a kind of auto-spectatorship. By turning the crowd’s gaze back upon itself, the museum manages and regulates behaviour to move in orderly fashion: through signage, maps, queues. Museums are not neutral spaces.”

“Managing Monsters: Six Myths of Our Time – The 1994 Reith Lectures” by Marina Warner.

“When a museum assembles scraps of a vanished civilisation to show schoolchildren how people lived, in that place, at that time, it might put on display a drinking bowl, a relief of an emperor hunting lions, a coin, the sole of a sandal, a brooch or necklace. Such material remnants reveal ways of life, interests and activities, social arrangements; but they are also likely to be eloquent of the culture’s belief system. A winged being might be stamped on the coin, communicating victory, or luck, or virtue or vengeance; the jewellery, too, might bear images of the longings and the fears of the wearer – a charm for fertility, a piece of coral against the evil eye. Belief systems naturally involve theology and metaphysics, but mythology plays its part in them as it does in what has been called, since the nineteenth century, folklore: Christians do not on the whole have a problem accepting that the feast when the saviour was born falls on a day calculated by the sun and celebrated for symbolic reasons understood and honoured long before the Christian era.

Historical research has always led me to myth; the attempt to see and hear people in the past carries investigations into areas far beyond the legal, economic and personal circumstances in which they lived, or the sequence of events in their experience. Even the most immediate and intense emotional upheavals pass through a mesh of common images and utterance which are grounded in ideas about nature and the supernatural, about destiny and origin. These are rarely empirical, more usually imaginary. Death, in every culture, is faced by means of rituals which have multiple functions, but one of them is certainly to give the bereaved a way of thinking and talking about their loss. Such rituals, even in secular and rationalist systems, have deep connections to myth. Maud Pember Reeves, when she was working on her pioneering study of the urban poor in London in the 1910s, Round About a Pound a Week, found that they gave a substantial portion of their pittance to the undertakers as burial insurance, so that they should not suffer a pauper’s funeral. The fear wasn’t only based in anxiety about social dishonour – though this isn’t to be lightly scorned – but in the need to deal with death itself in all its supernatural implications. In a family surviving on next to nothing, it counted as a necessity of life, alongside bread, alongside soap.

Religion derives from ‘religio’, and the word’s root, ‘lego’, to bind, conveys the binding effect of religious observance – belief and worship. Myths don’t necessarily command faith in the same way (indeed, it’s not certain that the Greeks themselves believed in their myths, in the sense that a Christian believes in the Incarnation). In common usage, the word myth rather invites dissent, implying delusion and falsehood. But my underlying premise, in these six lectures, is that myths are not always delusions, that deconstructing them does not necessarily mean wiping them, but that they can represent ways of making sense of universal matters, like sexual identity and family relations, and that they enjoy a more vigorous life than we perhaps acknowledge, and exert more of an inspiration and influence than we think.”

The Works’ “Cutting Up Rough” documentary on Alexander McQueen.

Site Spotlight: Full Fact

Factchecking
Our factchecks look at whether it’s reasonable for people to trust the claims of politicians and journalists based on the evidence that’s available to us. We link to all our sources so that people can judge issues for themselves.

We publish all our findings, whether a claim turns out to be accurate or not.

We monitor newspapers and broadcast programmes, parties’ websites, social media and Parliamentary debates, either live or in transcript form. We also get tip offs from our readers (please email team@fullfact.org).

Free tools and advice
We’ve drawn together all the sources we use in our most recent tool, Finder, a searchable guide that takes you to accurate sources of information in three clicks. It includes data published by the Office for National Statistics, government departments, the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England, as well as international organisations like Eurostat and the United Nations. There’s also research by polling companies and independent analysts, academics and researchers, and data we and others obtain through FOI requests.

We also get queries from people who want us to answer questions or point them to a source of information to a certain topic. Email team@fullfact.org if you have a query and we’ll see if we can help.

Corrections
Factchecking by itself isn’t enough to stop inaccurate information from doing damage. We work with government departments, individual journalists and editors to ensure that mistakes are corrected and mechanisms are in place to correct errors quickly.

Since we launched in 2010, MPs, Ministers, government departments, pressure groups and nearly every national newspaper from the Sun to the Financial Times have issued corrections as a result of our research.

When we ask people to correct the record, we focus on the claim, never the person. Many people assume that corrections requests are unwelcome, but we find that lots of people in journalism and politics are keen to straighten things out.

We’ve used our specific experiences to promote general improvements. For example, after a series of correction requests, the Daily Mail set up its first ever corrections column.

Statistics
Full Fact’s factchecking work regularly draws the attention of the UK Statistics Authority. At our urging they’ve addressed particular cases and elicited changes in publications and processes from the relevant Ministers and departments.

We have also worked with the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Government Statistical Service (GSS) in a number of cases to help them present statistics in a more user friendly way.

We are often invited to speak at GSS and ONS meetings at all levels. Our Director serves on a panel which provides independent reviews of statistical bulletins and helps the responsible statisticians to improve them.

We participate in the induction course for new official statisticians and have set up a secondment scheme where a junior member of the GSS works with Full Fact for three months, contributing their expertise to our work, and seeing the impact of official statistics across the media and the benefits of alternative forms of presentation.

The GSS is professionally accountable to the National Statistician and independent UK Statistics Authority.

Policy
Collectively, the hundreds of factchecks we research and publish give us unique expertise and specific examples of the way information affects policy decisions.

For this reason, we are sometimes invited to submit evidence to Select Committees and inquiries. Recently we’ve been providing evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee on the Statistics Act, communication of official statistics (oral, written) and open data. Previously we’ve submitted evidence to the House of Lords Communication Select Committee on media convergence, and the triennial review of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

As a regular user of the Press Complaints Commission, we were asked to submit evidence to the Leveson Inquiry (into the practices and ethics of the press). We gave an opening seminar (video from 39.20, transcript) on the user experience of press regulation. Lord Justice Leveson described our evidence as “comprehensive and extremely helpful” and praised the “extremely important” value of Full Fact’s work.”

- Full Fact

ABV #49: “Self-deleting”, speech + sign-systems

“How I Learned To Stop Erasing Myself” by Durga Chew-Bose.

“The same goes for when I make a reservation or greet the hostess at a restaurant. “D’s fine,” is what I’ll say in a slack warble as if unencumbering her. Most times though I’ll give my friend’s name without the slightest hesitation because mechanically disallowing my name in favor of what I assume is more commonplace has over the years, become reflex. “Table for two under Fiona,” I’ll say spryly. No sweat. Sometimes I feel miserable doing that, like the pangs I pocketed as a kid any time I couldn’t reconcile my parents’ Indian heritage with my own Canadian childhood, but mostly, I rarely notice my impulse because it’s just that, chronic.

Mindlessly self-deleting, it turns out, is addictive. And while these little accommodations have simplified some experiences, there is the gamble that my willingness to write myself out of my daily encounters will curb the potential for A Tremendous Me: big goals, big wants, and dreams I’ve left in the cold or, you know, crystallized into just that, the unattainable. I’ve often wondered if my friends whose identities have meshed more seamlessly with the world, who’ve never had to repeat their names in line for a coffee, say, are more readily encouraged to occupy ineffable spaces too. Like their future or the incommunicable load and levity, both, of ambition.

There’s a type of inborn initiative that comes from having never been obligated to answer questions about the meaning of one’s name, or one’s country of so-called origin, or to explain that the way you look is generationally and geographically worlds apart from where you were born. For some of us, there has been an assumption since childhood that we must reply to a stranger’s inquiry on matters we ourselves struggle to have words for, let alone understand. When it comes to our identity, the ways in which it confuses or interests others has consistently taken precedent as if we are expected to remedy their curiosity before mediating our own. In this way, I’ve caught myself disengaging from myself, compromising instead of building aspirational stamina. While uncertainty about my future is of course not unique to me, I do marvel at the bounty of hesitation I have acquired over the years because I surreptitiously presumed potential was a dormant thing; that it only functions as a trait others see in me.”

“Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story” by Michael Rosen.

“The ultimate reason why the use of the alphabet changes is because we change, whether that’s through war, migration, new technology, new kinds of work and leisure, new systems of government or new forms of education . It seems odd to think that the reason why I say a ‘j’ sound and that there is a letter for that sound is because, nearly a thousand years ago, in the wars between the tribal warlords of northern Europe, a French-speaking group got the upper hand in the part of the world where I happen to live. I can hold an instrument in my hand and tap the letters ‘y-i- s-s-s-s’ and ten seconds later my son hundreds of miles away knows that we are both celebrating the same goal. The instrument that makes this possible comes after 250 years of scientific industrialization and some dubious exploitation of labour and mineral resources that took place far from where I live. My freedom to write a word in this non -standard way comes as a result of the mass education and artistic revolts of the last 150 years: my son and I have both learned to write but we don’t get nervous making up new spellings. We’re not scared we might get told off by the invisible teacher, grammarian or priest in our heads.

When I’ve texted my son, I put the instrument down on the table next to a newspaper and, let’s say, my copy of Emil and the Detectives, and I go on watching the TV. Though this all seems seamless, the frontiers of different technologies, different languages, different typefaces, and different uses of alphabets, symbols and codes are all nudging up against each other on my table. The names of the footballers I’m watching on the TV are a coming-together of different uses of letters: the commentator tells us that Cazorla would like us to pronounce his name as ‘Cathorla’ with a soft ‘th’ as in ‘thorn’. Giroud, the commentator explains, has a ‘d’ on the end of his name but we don’t say the ‘d’, and the ‘G’ sounds like the ‘j’ in ‘bijou’. The goalkeeper’s name is Szczęsny. The commentator explains that the team look like they’re ‘playing 4, 4, 1, 1’ with Cazorla ‘playing in the hole’. This too is yet another system of signs created partly in language, partly by the movements of the players.

This running of languages and sign-systems in parallel to each other is not new.”

“Contra Diction: Speech Against Itself” by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, at Lighthouse’s Improving Reality 2014.

Site Spotlight: The Interstitial Arts Foundation

“The IAF was founded by a group of literary, visual, musical, and performance artists for the purpose of developing and promoting interstitial art.

What is interstitial art? It is art made in the interstices between genres and categories. It is art that flourishes in the borderlands between different disciplines, mediums, and cultures. It is art that crosses borders, made by artists who refuse to be constrained by category labels.

Just as how in nature the greatest areas of biodiversity occur in the margins of land between ecosystems, it is our belief that some of the most vital, innovative, and challenging art being created today can be found in the margins between categories, genres, and disciplines. Because such works are hard to classify, they are often misunderstood in a culture that has become overly dependent on branding and selling art by category labels. Border-crossing works of literature, for example, which consciously borrow tropes and themes from both genre and mainstream fiction, are classified as one or the other – and then critiqued according to the terms of that classification rather than on the book’s own terms, often to the detriment of the work in question. This happens in other areas of the arts as well: in visual art forced to declare itself as either “illustration” or “fine art”, for instance, when in truth it falls into the interstices between the two; in music labeled as “country”, “jazz”, or “roots”, when it actually utilizes elements from all those genres; etc.

Though labels make for convenient marketing tools, they misrepresent the work of artists who don’t fall neatly into one category or another. Rigid categorization by critics and educators is an unsatisfactory method for understanding the border-crossing works to be found in all areas of the arts today. As interstitial artists from a variety of disciplines, we are increasing our visibility, claiming a place in a wider artistic and academic community. The mission of the Interstitial Arts Foundation is to give all border-crossing artists and art scholars a forum and a focus for their efforts. Rather than creating a new genre with new borders, we support the free movement of artists across the borders of their choice. We support an ongoing conversation among artists, academics, critics, and the general public in which art can be spoken of as a continuum rather than as a series of hermetically sealed genres. We support the development of a new vocabulary with which to view and critique border-crossing works. And we celebrate the large community of interstitial artists working in North America and around the world.”

- The Interstitial Arts Foundation