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Weekend Links, 17/08/14: Caricatures + complexity

“The Good News Bible taught me the power of words, but also stole my youth” by Christina Patterson.

“My parents would have been surprised to see me talking about patience. Their view of the sulky teenager who spent hours hogging the bathroom was that she was more keen on her family’s patience than on developing any of her own.

They must have been surprised when I asked for a Bible. Two years earlier I’d stopped singing the hymns at the Anglican church we’d always had to go to – the price we paid for Sunday roast chicken and ice-cream. I’d discovered Camus, and you couldn’t really sing “Praise my soul, the King of Heaven” if you now knew there wasn’t a God and wanted to be authentic. You couldn’t be authentic if you even went to church, so I was relieved when my parents said I could stop.

But then I discovered boys. The boys I found were at a youth club attached to a Baptist church, so it wasn’t long before I found God too. This God was quite different to the one I’d grown up with. That God was distant, and busy, and not too bothered with the details of your life. He just wanted you to be nice, and kind, and polite. The new God wasn’t distant at all. He wanted every single thing that happened to you to be all about Him.”

“Custerism (A Manifesto of Doubt)” by Rachel Wilkinson.

“I fear as we both grow older, we are becoming the same caricature. I think of Chris Cooper’s character in American Beauty, pointing at his morning newspaper and declaring, “This country is going straight to hell,” to his silent, indifferent family. Similarly, living in Western Pennsylvania—with its football machismo and casual misogyny and loud-mouthed, libertarian, everyone’s-a-jagoff ethos that continually make me confront the full extent to which I was raised within a privileged liberal bubble—I find myself constantly telling people we should “burn it all down.” Like you, I quote leftist blogs, get set off and turn self-righteous at the first mention of anything vaguely political: ALDI’s, the fact that bees are disappearing, something I construed as a comment about inequity in college sports (but actually wasn’t), because I was so profoundly bored watching the NCAA Championship. I tell whoever will listen that problem is capitalism and white men and that incrementalism is a crock: all the problems of our society are constitutive and that nothing short of total systemic overhaul—revolutionary change—will remedy them, so isn’t now the time to buy a gun, to take up arms against an oppressive government, because that’s what Karl Marx said, after all, to rally the proletariat so we can rise to the historical inevitably that will be the total destruction of class?

And then, like you, the next day, I hop in my used Honda Civic Hybrid, drive to Whole Foods to buy the good Chilean organic blueberries and donate—as we do every year—$5 to public radio, stopping to complain about how the arts are still under attack in America, thanks to the goddamn Republicans in Congress. Though neither of us really likes Obama. Or party politics at all. Mostly we’re just prone to screeds that elicit laughter and raised eyebrows. And then we go home. Even though we deeply believe what we believe.”


“That last time I saw him, we went down the elevator to have a cigarette together out on the patio of his building, overlooking York Avenue and the hospital where he would eventually die. He told me he was going to quit smoking and drinking too. I thought that was crazy. Keep smoking, I thought. It’s too late to change now. Let’s get a drink. I was going to Paris afterall. I was going to sit in cafes and drink strong coffee or sip Pernod and smoke my brains out. We finished our cigarettes and he lit another one, an Ultra-light, but I had to go. I told him so. I had a lot to do. Then he told me something he’d never said before. He told me he loved me.

It is hard to know what your liberal father means when he says he loves you out on the slate patio in front of the building he’s lived in for thirty-five years, my liberal father who wanted to abolish inheritance, wanted to give his money to the Native American College Fund and to the NAACP. Now, if I think about it, I think that liberal love is a dispersed and ethical love—for humanity, for equality, for social justice. It hopes for the future against its better judgment. It is reasonable. This was the love he was talking about, because how else could it have waited so long. I understand. Yes, I understand. Liberal love, because of its unstable, slightly volatile nature, drives us just so toward alcoholism, smoking, and other forms of hedonistic death. Liberal love, idealized and platonic, is not a ferocious thing that moves the blood. Measured and proportional, it verges on the misanthropic—because human beings, when we really look at them, are a bit more despicable than kind. Yes, liberal love is reasonable, intelligent, a tad self-conscious, it weighs and balances and makes sense. So, it is hard to know what to think, when, at the last minute, he says something like that.

My father’s love, even in the last moment we would ever see each other, was not the selfish passion of those ignorant, morally slothful fathers, Bush and Bush, of Cheneys who shoot their friends and friends who apologize for it, of those who know about loyalty, about a tribe that devours its young—other people’s young. My father’s love could never be like that. Profoundly ethical, he would never suggest anyone die for something he would not die for himself, let alone sacrifice a generation for a piece of pie. But his liberal love finally was no better for the world, because like the world, love is not reasonable.”

“Diary” by Rebecca Solnit.

“The young woman at the blockade was worried about the banner the Oaklanders brought, she told me, because she and her co-organisers had tried to be careful about messaging. But the words FUCK OFF GOOGLE in giant letters on a purple sheet held up in front of a blockaded Google bus gladdened the hearts of other San Franciscans. That morning – it was Tuesday, 21 January – about fifty locals were also holding up a Facebook bus: a gleaming luxury coach transporting Facebook employees down the peninsula to Silicon Valley. A tall young black man held one corner of the banner; he was wearing a Ulysses T-shirt, as if analogue itself had come to protest against digital. The Brass Liberation Orchestra played Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams’ as the television cameras rolled.

The white buses took up most of the four lanes of Eighth Street at Market, and their passengers were barely visible behind the tinted windows, scowling or texting or looking at their laptops for the half-hour they were delayed by the blockade. GET OFF THE BUS! JOIN US, another banner said, and the official-looking signs from the 9 December blockade were put up at either end of the Facebook bus: WARNING: INCOME GAP AHEAD the one at the front said. STOP DISPLACEMENT NOW, read the one at the back. One protester shook a sign on a stick in front of the Google bus; a young Google employee decided to dance with it, as though we were all at the same party.”

“Occupy the Internet” by Vicken Cheterian.

“The fact that digital companies are supplying government agencies with our private information is evident. In Culleb Hoback’s documentary Terms and Regulations Might Apply, one sees how a Facebook posting of a tweet by a young, Irishman to his friend before departing to LA — saying “free this week for a quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America? x” — led him to prison directly he disembarked, then expulsion. In Britain, immediately before the royal marriage between Prince William and Catherine Middleton, some 50 people were arrested because the police suspected they could have constituted a threat. We are already in the age of Orwell’s “thought crimes.” But the worst episode was when the FBI was spying on the private emails of the CIA director, 4-star general David Petraeus, and discovered an extramarital affair with his biographer Paul Broadwell. The FBI leaked the information creating a scandal that forced Petraeus to resign.

The Snowden revelations, as well as the WikiLeaks scandal in which US army intelligence analyst Bradley (later Chelsea) Manning could download thousands of documents containing US diplomatic correspondence, reveal another truth: the accumulated data behind the NSA walls are not safe at all — a mid-level official can walk away with even their top-secret data. What happens if such data eventually falls into the “wrong hands”?”

“Reading Heinlein: Part 1, Introduction” by Andrew Hickey.

“And all the thinking about Heinlein has made me think about my own relationship to his work. In some ways, Heinlein has influenced my political thought as much as any author — but the Heinlein that influenced me was not the Heinlein that influenced the Mil-SF writers, the writer of novels about Space Marines In SPAAACE, the man whose politics became, frankly, utterly deranged from terror at the existence of atomic weapons. From about 1950 on, Heinlein’s politics were driven by nationalism, militarism, and anti-communism, to the exclusion of almost all else — he wasn’t a fascist, as some of his detractors say, but his politics certainly came from the same impulses. Post-1950 Heinlein was definitely more culturally influential (three of the artists I’m dealing with in my book on 60s LA music did songs inspired by him — The Door Into Summer by the Monkees, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Jimmy Webb, and Triad by the Byrds), but I find much — though not all — of his work during his commercial peak to be shrill, hackneyed, and the product of “thinking” not that far from the Tea Party.

No, the Heinlein that influenced me was the Heinlein of the 30s and 40s, the pulp writer who told short, tight, stories about the impact of technology on society, and whose political ideas were shaped by Upton Sinclair and Bernard Shaw. *MY* Heinlein was a Libertarian Socialist whose biggest issues were monopolistic corporations and endemic government corruption. MY Heinlein was the one who warned of the dangers of fundamentalist Christian theocracy allying with right-wing racist authoritarianism in 1941.”

“Liberal Britain? That’s not what Kellie Maloney coming out tells us” by Hadley Freeman.

““Kellie Maloney shows how times have changed,” boomed the BBC.

“What has been particularly heartening has been the reaction to the news,” crowed the Daily Mirror. “A few years ago, such an announcement would have been met with derision and prejudice. The response to Kellie has been warmly supportive.”

Yay! Well done us, open-minded, open-armed, modern Britain. But let us look at why what the Daily Mirror calls “the news” came to light in the first place.

Paris Lees wrote in the Guardian this week: “Not so very long ago, all you had to do was pop to the shop for a pint of milk as a trans person to find yourself on the cover of the Daily Mail.”

It turns out that this time was not “not so very long ago” at all because it is, in fact, right now. Maloney’s admission was forced out of her through the deeply traditional impetus of British journalists bullying her and her family, and threatening to expose her. Depressingly, someone from a support group she was attending had ratted her out. You are now advised to stop patting yourself on the back, Britain, and attempt to style it out by pretending you were trying to itch a tricky mosquito bite.”

“An Incomplete Rainbow” by Suzanna Danuta Walters.

“Tolerance is not just a low bar; it actively undercuts robust integration and social belonging by allowing the warp and woof of anti-gay animus to go unchallenged. Tolerance allows us to celebrate (hysterically) the coming out of macho professional athletes as a triumphant sign of liberation rather than a sad commentary on the persistence of the closet and the hold of masculinist ideals. Tolerance allows religious “objections” to queer lives to remain in place, even as it claims that a civilized society leaves its homos alone. Tolerance pushes for marriage equality and simultaneously assures anxious allies that it won’t change their marriages or their lives.”

“Weak Men Are Superweapons” by Scott S Alexander.

“This gives me some new views on political coalitions. I always thought that having things like political parties was stupid. Instead of identifying as a liberal and getting upset when someone insulted liberals or happy when someone praised liberals, I should say “These are my beliefs. There are other people who believe approximately the same thing, but the differences are sufficient that I just want to be judged on my own individual beliefs alone.”

The problem is, that doesn’t work. It’s not my decision whether or not I get to identify with other liberals or not. If other people think of me as a liberal, then anything other liberals do is going to reflect, positively or negatively, on me. And I’m going to have to join in the fight to keep liberals from being completely discredited, or else the fact that I didn’t share any of the opinions they were discredited for isn’t going to save me. I will be Worst Argument In The World-ed and swiftly dispatched.

In the example we started with, Beth chose to stand up for the people who self-diagnosed autism without careful research. This wasn’t because she considered herself a member of that category. It was because she decided that self-diagnosed autistics were going to stand or fall as a group, and if Alice succeeded in pushing her “We should dislike careless self-diagnosees” angle, then the fact that she wasn’t careless wouldn’t save her.

Alice, for her part, didn’t bother bringing up that she never accused Beth of being careless, or that Beth had no stake in the matter. She saw no point in pretending that boxing in Beth and the other careful self-diagnosers in with the careless ones wasn’t her strategy all along.”

“The Wrong Kind of Pakistani” by Ali Dayan Hasan.

“Raza is a political analyst, a TV anchor of late. I’m a human rights activist. My problem is, I am told, that I follow a “maximalist position” in my advocacy of basic human rights standards. I am unable to see how you can perform my role otherwise.

But as a television journalist, Raza had greater room for compromise. He could, and did, use more politic language, gloss over realities he found abhorrent, at times appease those who deserved his condemnation. But in Pakistan today, publicly arguing for relatively prosaic standards of sanity, however inoffensively, earns you the title of “liberal extremist.”

If you condemn prejudice, abuse and violence as categorically as those who perpetrate it, you are the other side of the same “extremist” coin. And the terrorist somehow is better because he is “indigenous and authentic” whereas the liberal extremist is a sinister Western Plant. This bogeyman is neither the creation of a state propaganda machine nor the murderous religious extremist. He is a creation of influential hate-mongering opinion-makers, their acolytes, apologists and understudies. It is a delegitimizing, dehumanizing term, and this villainous monster is made real by widespread social acceptance of his existence. This acceptance is no misunderstanding. It allows for a fictional place of ostensible social dignity, balance and moderation between sane humanism and nihilistic rage. It is also clearly nonsense. Unfortunately, it is murderous nonsense.”

“Our thoughts on Prince’s recent Birmingham show” by Neil Kulkarni.

“Finally, a thought that can’t be added to a list because it’s too important, a thought that occurs at 4 in the morning, cos of course, after this, I can’t sleep, I’m still buzzing, my head full of undeniable inarguable HIM. It strikes me that the most important thing about what I’ve just seen isn’t about skill or technique or songs or showmanship, it’s not about something you can learn or fake. It’s about generosity. Generosity of spirit in your music. At all times Prince does the incredible things he does FOR the people. At no point is this merely flash. If it was, my god WHAT flash. But there’s something about the way Prince puts his music across that’s about love, about love for us, and our love for him – he never scowls, he never moans if the crowd don’t sing back as loud as he wants them to, he never makes us feel like we HAVE to do anything. He starts a party and he keeps that party going and it’s the greatest party you’ve ever been at and you feel blessed and honoured to have been there, bear witness, got DOWN with the man. He just gives us his songs with a total openness of spirit and heart.

That’s the thing, perhaps the only thing, that links all true artistic immortals, that deep intrinsic instinctive unselfishness, and Prince exudes it out of every pore. There’s moments tonight where it’s as if he IS music, in some way a living avatar of music’s true liberating spirit, the openness, the freedom, the suggestiveness, the abstractness, the horniness, the transcendence that has us all hooked our whole lives made flesh. He’s everything. Incredible moment when he thanks us for not using our phones, then gets everyone to turn on and transform the place into a sea of stars. And then, during ‘Purple Rain’, which is the most moving moment of my entire life of gig-going, you realise not just that you feel you’re part of that film’s closing sequence but also that that kind of fantasy is precisely what Prince makes real, right here and now. In a time where it’s become orthodoxy that there’s nothing new under the sun, Prince gives you back a new you, under a new sun, dancing a new dance. He makes your life, in seeing him, feel that big, that worth it. That’s an incredibly rare and precious gift, to be able to make people feel that life is worth pushing on with. Utterly inspirational. Totally mind-blowing. It’s amazing what a person can do with music. The pivotal moment I feel the rest of my life will be spun out from. I don’t care if that’s delusion. It’s the best delusion I’ve ever felt.”

“Primal Crimes” by John Steppling.

“The import of artworks is a sort of social function, not a political impact. It is never the message that matters, but the interpretation and the interpretive process of the artwork; and this interpretation is linked to both mimesis and autonomy. Without going too deeply into this (since I’ve done so several times on this blog) the point here is that the rational is now the irrational. Instrumental thinking leads one toward the sentimental and trivial. For Adorno, the crucial element in aesthetics was to develop a sensitivity to art, that only via deep philosophical engagement can one find an adequate base from which to both experience and create art. This sort of discussion is, today, sneered at. So bad is most art instruction that students reject the complex and turn to the empty new populism of consumer culture. Artworks are negations of the untruth of an irrational society. But this negation is, in the artwork, is not a simple matter. I’ve heard students say they are sick of Shakespeare. This is almost certainly the result of poor instructors. Art is an expression of suffering, both immediate and historical, and always a rejection of the status quo. There can be no decent art that reconciles with a system of domination.

It is better to accept emptiness that to seek out optimism. Of course the self consciously nihilistic is only another form of optimism. That is the alibi, again. When there is no story, it is almost always replaced with fake optimism or hope. The idea of artistic hope is the real nihilism. A film about emptiness (of any sort) almost always is really about ‘hope’ springing from such emptiness. The logic imposed reads ‘why make anything, create anything, if there is no hope?’ The answer is, that is why you do.”

Weeknotes, 17/08/14

(Maths homework from when I tried going to college to get GCSEs; I lasted

Clearing out, resetting, fresh leaf week. My shredder has officially given up the ghost despite a fortnight of everything search engines can suggest. I’ve mirrored this paperwork stasis, been pottering on with non-critical problems.

I’ve been working on better sleep in general, and a large part has been discipline about bed times. Living with & around other people means it’s almost guaranteed I’ll be woken early despite earplugs etc, so the only way to get more sleep is to make myself turn in. SO HARD.

But! Other good (better) habits seem to have just materialised. Reading has mostly shifted to early mornings and weekends. The recycling backlog has gone. Etc. I’ve been having a ridiculous time with muscle pain after doing anything physically, whether ripping paper/typing with my hands/climbing stairs/just sitting up for an hour. Humour & naps & bath & warmth have been helping.

Also, eurgh. I switched browser & my header looked super dodgy in Firefox & IE. I spent a while faffing with the css & eventually sussed it out. It took me about 40 minutes from “aah problem” to “haa fixed”. I’d forgotten how satisfying it is to find that kind of answer, when something is either right or it isn’t, and the fun of tinkering to find it out precisely how to repair it.

Schoolwork all went, minus a couple of sheets I’ll want to remember for reference as teaching resources. Magazines also went, after a curious flick-through.

Were music magazines always this obnoxious though? The ones I’d saved were completely appalling. Crap posturing, stuffed with softcore (content & ads), hugely dismissive of anyone female and not a certain way. I don’t remember noticing it before, I think I’d just learnt to block it out? Now that I have more choice in the media and culture I have access to (no longer limited to £3 magazines or teenager-dominated culture, almost everything now online for evaluation as alternatives) I don’t have to see that stuff, ever, so it comes as more of a surprise.

It made me think of a post by garçonnière.

“But there’s something more that gets under my skin about these “festival fashion round-ups”: it’s one of the exceedingly rare mainstream moments where I see women represented as music fans, included as part of the conversation as music lovers. Why does it have to be all flower crowns and denim cut-offs?

Perhaps it’s because I feel these issues are so conflated with other sexist bullshit that permeates the music industry… Maybe it’s because I’ve overheard one too many bro dudes tell me how the band on stage is “pretty good… for a girl band.” Maybe it’s because I’ve read one too many concert review which spilled far more ink on how a female performer was dressed rather than how she played her instrument, how she sang her songs, how she connected with the crowd.”

Very much worth reading in full. See also: all of these.

There’s been digital housekeeping as well as the literal; I spent some time researching-slash-organising a bunch of saved urls as the untagged quantity had become unwieldy.  I had an ABV pop into my head pre-formed in the small hours of Thursday morning, so was on a bit of a roll with spurious connections. The things that come to you on either edge of sleep are usually golden but it’s comparatively rare for that to happen. Hopefully improved sleep will equal improved thoughts too!

ABV #37: “Lonely monsters”

“The Internet With A Human Face – Beyond Tellerrand 2014 Conference Talk” by Maciej Cegłowski, via Lauren Bacon.

“Marc [Thiele] emailed me a few weeks ago to ask if I thought my talk would be appropriate to close the conference.

“Marc,” I told him, “my talk is perfect for closing the conference! The first half is this incredibly dark rant about how the Internet is alienating and inhuman, how it’s turning us all into lonely monsters.”

“But in the second half, I’ll turn it around and present my vision of an alternative future. I’ll get the audience fired up like a proper American motivational speaker. After the big finish, we’ll burst out of the conference hall into the streets of Düsseldorf, hoist the black flag, and change the world.”

Marc said that sounded fine.

As I was preparing this talk, however, I found it getting longer and longer. In the interests of time, I’m afraid I’m only going to be able to present the first half of it today.

This leaves me with a problem of tone.

To fix it, I’ve gone through the slides and put in a number of animal pictures. If at any point in the talk you find yourself getting blue, just tune out what I’m saying and wait for one of the animal slides, and you’ll feel better. I’ve tried to put in more animals during the darkest parts of the talk.”

“Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures” by Mark Fisher.

“It is also worth holding onto the name Jungle because it evokes a terrain: the urban Jungle, or rather the underside of a metropolis that was just in the process of being digitalised. It has sometimes seemed as if the use of the word ‘urban’ is a polite synonym for ‘ black’ music. Yet it’s possible to hear ‘urban’, not as some disavowal of race, but as an invocation of the powers of cosmopolitan conviviality. At the same time, however, Jungle was by no means an unequivocal celebration of the urban. If Jungle celebrated anything, it was the lure of the dark. Jungle liberated the suppressed libido in the dystopian impulse, releasing and amplifying the jouissance that comes from anticipating the annihilation of all current certainties. As Kodwo Eshun argued, in Jungle there was a libidinisation of anxiety itself, a transformation of fight and flight impulses into enjoyment.

This was deeply ambivalent: at one level, what we were hearing here was a kind of sonic fictional intensification and extrapolation of the neoliberal world’s destruction of solidarity and security. Nostalgia for the familiarity of smalltown life was rejected in Jungle, but its digital city was devoid of the comfort of strangers: no-one could be trusted here. Jungle took many of its cues from the Hobbesian scenarios of 1980s films such as Blade Runner, Terminator and Predator 2. It’s no accident that all three of these films are about hunting . Jungle’s world was one in which entities – human as well as nonhuman – stalked each other for sport as well as for sustenance. Yet darkside Jungle was about the thrill of the chased, about the videogame euphoria– anxiety of eluding ruthless predators, as much as it was about the exhilaration of running prey to ground.”

∞ “James Hillman – A Deeper Look” via synthetic_zero.

Weeknotes, 10/08/14

Loads of reading this week. I’ve been particularly enjoying Vikram Chandra‘s “Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software”. Thanks to Vikram Chandra’s excellent writing, I’m starting to properly *get* logic gates:

“Once you have objects which can materialize both Boolean algebra and binary numbers, you can connect these components in ways that allow the computation of mathematical functions. Line up sufficiently large numbers of simple on/ off mechanisms, and you have a machine that can add, subtract, multiply, and through these mathematical operations format your epic novel in less time than you will take to finish reading this sentence. Computers can only compute, calculate; the poems you write, the pictures of your family, the music you listen to— all these are converted into binary numbers, sequences of ones and zeros, and are thus stored and changed and recreated. Your computer allows you to read, see, and hear by representing binary numbers as letters, images, and sounds . Computers may seem mysteriously active, weirdly alive, but they are mechanical devices like harvesting combines or sewing machines.

You can build logic gates out of any material that can accept inputs and switch between distinct states of output (current or no current, 1 or 0); there is nothing special about the chips inside your laptop that makes them essential to computing. Electrical circuits laid out in silicone just happen to be small, cheap, relatively reliable, and easy to produce in mass quantities…

Logic gates have been built out of pneumatic, hydraulic, and optical devices, out of DNA, and flat sticks connected by rivets. Recently, some researchers from Kobe University in Japan announced, ‘We demonstrate that swarms of soldier crabs can implement logical gates when placed in a geometrically constrained environment.’”

Chapter 3 refers to randomwraith’s LEGO gates, which are so visually helpful when combined with that part of the text. A few:

(There’s a whole LEGO creation section on that site, featuring a functional Rubik’s cube.) This next one by William Hilton looks ridiculously impressive/huge.

I also started “Language as Discourse: Perspectives for Language Teaching (Applied Linguistics and Language Study)” by Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, to develop my thinking around literacy and language teaching (and to consider as a possible OU module after two final design courses). I picked this up as light reading…ha. This is going to be a book for irregular dipping into instead though, as it’s densely written, a bit of a slog & not immediately applicable.

Joshua Ellis published “Everyone I know is brokenhearted” last week, but I found it on Monday via Klint Finley.

Kind of on that note, and kind of on a “stop being a coward” one, I’ll be going to UK IndieWebCamp 2014. Here’s the why and the how.