CJW: This will be our last newsletter on the Substack platform. I wanted to move to Buttowndown immediately, but with an archive of over 120 letters (including bonus posts which are another thing I need to figure out on Buttondown), as well as paid and unpaid subscribers, it’s going to take me a minute to migrate everything. The real heads will know that Buttondown will be our third provider, but the newsletter has grown in size and complexity since the Tinyletter days. Depending on how it goes (I do, after all, have a day job, a novel I’m editing, a podcast, and various other projects on the go), the next bonus might be delayed so I can figure everything out.
Current paid subscribers - all payments have been paused while I figure this out. I’ll be in touch with more information about your subscriptions later, once I’ve got everything sorted on the Buttondown back-end.
Why are we moving? A lot of you may have already seen Annaleen Newitz’s post about the current Substack situation. The first half at least was stuff I really didn’t care about (I won’t explain more because fuck it, we’re already leaving, so who cares), but near the end when they mentioned that Substack is paying TERFs and other pieces of shit a lot of fucking money to establish a home on this platform? Fuck that. We are out. Their recent focus on being a “free speech” publication was iffy because it’s so often shorthand for allowing/promoting hate speech, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at first. Obviously I shouldn’t have.
So, we’ll be coming to you live via Buttondown next issue - I’ve already transferred subscribers over, so no worries there. All being well, the newsletter will look different but otherwise there will be no disruptions or difficulties for youse all.
Our latest bonus was Australia’s ecosystems are f---, from MKY. Recently I’ve shared some positive outlooks on environmental issues, but I remain skeptical, and Mikey lays out some great evidence to support my skepticism. and our latest unlocked bonus is Austin’s last: Chair Talk. Unlocked bonuses are here.
MJW: On Tuesday, eight people were murdered by a white man in a series of racist and sexist attacks on several massage spas in Georgia. There’s so much commentary on this horrific attack, and it’s so hard to know the right links to link. Because this crime is motivated by intersectional factors, the coverage ranges across anti-asian racism, the curdled sexualisation of that racism specifically against asian women, and violence towards sex workers. Here is coverage and commentary from various sources:
Recently, however, I’ve become increasingly aware of critical writing that is parasitic upon and even inflates hype. [...] The kinds of critics that I am talking about invert boosters’ messages — they retain the picture of extraordinary change but focus instead on negative problems and risks. It’s as if they take press releases from startups and cover them with hellscapes.
I think we've been guilty of falling into the trap of criticism/hype in these pages, and I'm not above self-criticism. I think it's natural to latch onto these examples of criti-hype (ugh, I hope that doesn't catch on, but doubt it will because it's quite clunky), because we can see that these technologies are having a huge effect on society, and we want to understand how and why. The trick is to remain balanced, which can be difficult when sosh platforms pedal outrage as a business model. But anyway, a whole chunk of Adam Curtis' latest is also about how sosh claims about influencing users doesn't match reality, just in case you've not watched that yet.
(And a section on nanobots [remember those?!?] made me wonder if xenobots will share the same fate. Hype to… Nothing.)
DCH: Curtis and Doctorow too. I think the thing worth remembering is that both things can be true: that ad tech is a con and that radicalization happens through posted content. Some proponents of criti-hype seem to struggle to acknowledge that at times.
Truly understanding human-level intelligence—to say nothing of recreating it—will mean understanding cognitive forces at play in the body. “You can't throw the body out with the bathwater. It is an integral part of intelligence, and we need to focus on body and brain together if we're going to be able to create truly intelligent machines,” Bongard says. Rather than aping the human brain, perhaps new machine learning architectures will emulate the more ancient, pre-neural principles by which cells solve problems.
We talked about xenobots last year, so consider this a follow-up looking at xenobots and the larger questions they raise about intelligence and embodiment and the interactions between the two.
On the one hand, nation-states on their own cannot mitigate climate change, because doing so requires collective action at a planetary scale. [...] On the other hand, nation-states are also not the right institution for climate change adaptation: Los Angeles, Miami and Minneapolis are all impacted by climate change, but in vastly different ways that require vastly different policies. In fact, these cities’ climate impacts have more in common with cities in other nation-states [...] than they do with each other. Yet nation-states are wired for coordination and collaboration among the subnational entities contained within them, not across them.
Interesting piece on the failures of the nation-state in addressing global issues. I’m sure this feels especially resonant for Australians when our Federal government has basically sat on its hands for the entire pandemic, leaving the States to take care of business (while the Feds were busy with all manner of corruption). Still, the piece is not without its faults...
In this new architecture, there will still be an important role for the nation-state — overseeing military matters and distributing economic goods, for example — but it will be much diminished.
They're imagining a complete overhaul of geopolitics, but think nation-states should still be conducting wars against one another? That seems like an awful lack of imagination right there.
I came across the above via the Foreign Exchanges newsletter, and the rebuttal they posted - The Problem of International Anarchy - all about the difficulties involved in creating the sort of planetary institutions outlined in the above piece. (FX posts regular updates on current events in nations all around the world. It’s a great way to keep up with events that most news outlets don’t bother to cover. They also post longer essays occasionally, like this piece.)
The major problem with Blake and Gilman’s piece, of course, is that it doesn’t address the myriad difficulties involved in creating such planetary institutions. Crucially, one of the major reasons we don’t have strong international organizations is because nation-states refuse to surrender their sovereign powers.
They go on to argue (convincingly) that the US is the de facto planetary state...
[...] does the existence of a US empire of 750 military bases, an empire that has regularly deployed troops to most of the world’s countries, indicate that there is in fact a supranational body that shapes international politics, and that body is, in fact, the US empire? And does this not suggest, to use Marxist terms, that if capitalism is the prerequisite for socialism (in that it creates the conditions that make socialism possible), then perhaps the US empire is the prerequisite for planetary organization (in that it creates the truly global structures necessary for the latter)?
We live in a world where digital colonialism now risks becoming as significant and far-reaching a threat to the Global South as classic colonialism was in previous centuries. Sharp increases in inequality, the rise of state-corporate surveillance and sophisticated police and military technologies are just a few of the consequences of this new world order.
A great rundown on the digital colonialism of Big Tech. A lot of the issues raised are things we've touched on before (and that Dan has covered in 20minutesintothefuture), but this is a fairly succinct encapsulation of those varied strands.
On Tuesday, the Home Office published the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. It covers a wide range of areas, from sentencing to digital information. But it has a specific section on the policing of protests. And the function of this section is simple: It aims to silence them. It is cancel culture on a statutory footing, directed against the left.
One of the hallmarks of last year’s BLM protests were protestors tearing down statues to Briton’s who made their extreme generational wealth from the slave trade. Now that protest action comes with a possible jail time GREATER than rape. Patel has also expressed resentment of groups like The Extinction Rebellion too.
A vigil in Clapham Common on Saturday night in memory of “all women threatened by male violence” – planned following the arrest of a serving Metropolitan Police officer on suspicion of murdering Sarah Everard – ended with scenes of police officers grabbing and handcuffing women.
To keep the peace, Britain said, it must make the threat of nuclear war real. To that end, it wants to expand its nuclear stockpile. “In 2010 the Government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s,” it said. “However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads.”
This is the first time in 50 years that a major nuclear power has sought to increase it’s arsenal. We’re inching ever closer to Midnight, thanks to The Tories.
Notably, its continued growth has been spurred by both success and failure. And perhaps because Special Ops is such a flexible tool, that growth has enabled the U.S. to multiply the way it uses force abroad without much consideration of overarching strategy. The advent of nuclear weapons, in the 1940s, presented leaders with urgent ethical and strategic imperatives. Defining the purpose of such weapons automatically demanded fresh thinking about the bedrock values of a democracy, the nature of multilateral alliances, the morality of warfare, and the scope of U.S. ambitions in the world. Because of its sub-rosa nature, Special Ops has not compelled the same kind of reckoning—and, in fact, may foster the illusion that a strategic framework is not necessary.
US Spec Ops are active in over 80 countries today.
After losing a lengthy legal battle, Uber is officially categorizing its workforce of more than 70,000 drivers as "workers" in the United Kingdom, multiple outlets have reported. This is a landmark change for the labor force which was previously classified as independent contractors and follows a decision published by the court in February. Starting Wednesday, these workers will be guaranteed at least a legal minimum wage in the country, paid vacation time, and possible-though-not-guaranteed eligibility for enrolling in a retirement pension program. The company also plans to give a 12 percent increase in holiday pay for every hour a worker puts in during the period.
The UK has had enough of Uber’s bullshit. Best good news item of the week.
One Instagrammable slide in heavy circulation at the moment says “educate your son” but about what? Women’s fear? That harming women is wrong? I’m not being facetious. I’d like to know precisely what those behind these posts think the solution is, especially when their solution eschews criticism of institutions. Do these people truly think Everard’s murderer was simply not told the right things as a boy? The inarticulacy of these cris de coeur makes them dangerous. In the vacuum of coherent analysis and concrete, organized action, the state exploits outrage to respond with more cops, more policing, in spite of the evidence that Everard herself was killed by a cop.
This is a great essay from Charlotte Shane's newsletter, though I'm sure many people (women especially) will take issue with some of her points. But I think her point is an important one: that the outpouring of women's fear on Twitter is misplaced in the discussion of Sarah Everard's murder because it ignores the structures of power that are actually to blame here.
Last year George Floyd's murder forced a lot of people to finally reckon with racial police violence in the US and elsewhere - perhaps Everard's murder will force people to reckon with the violent misogyny available to men deemed above the law by our structures of power. Already UK police have closed ranks with the murderer by treating a vigil like a violent protest, but it will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the media and courts (I predict more victim blaming and claims that it was "just one bad apple", and no substantive change).
Here's another piece in a similar vein (that also references the above) from Natasha Lennard at The Intercept.
Conversations about “women’s safety” in which sentences go unfinished — safety from what or whom? Safety to do what? — too often fail to account for the systems of power and precarity that produce and perpetuate gender-based violence, let alone the ways it is unevenly distributed along racialized and class-based lines.
Worth reading as well as it offers examples and figures that more people should be familiar with concerning both police violence and domestic violence.
MJW: Hahahaha, ‘women's safety’. Never men’s violence. Not all men, yeah. But the people who have sexually assaulted me were all men.
Movies + TV
The new show from the creator of Fringe (and the much overlooked, Almost Human (2013)). Weird alien shit is scattered across the Earth doing weird alien things, after a space ship broke up in our system - possibly inspired by our extrasolar visitor a few years ago, which is now thought to merely be a chunk of an exo-planet drifting thru the void. Something like that anyway. It’s, in theory, a Roadside Picnic in the Dark Forest.
We’re three eps in now, and goddamn… the leads are terrible. Super bland, super boring Fed and MI6 agents team-up to contain the weirdness from the world. (So basically, they’re Agents of SHIELD… or SWORD. Or whatever). I wish the show was called Influx, coz that rebel group or whatever they are? the nominal bad guys? with Scroobius Pip continuing to honour his vow (yes, that guy - and that was ten years ago?) and have more presence looming from the trees and teleporting out like a boss, than poor Jonathan Tucker (Kingdom, and Low-key (Loki) in American Gods) phoning it in as the tenth generation Mulder or whatever - coz I’ve been waiting to see him get his big chance. This isn’t it. I won’t be surprised if this gets cancelled. I’ll be even less surprised if it gets six seasons and a movie, coz have you seen what else passes for mainstream US tv these days? A FREAKING WALKER, TEXAS RANGER REBOOT? MACGYVER? WTAF. Ngl, I’m hanging for the next season of Another Life. Which is extremely Dark Forest. And extremely Netflix.
And goddamnit, so is Debris. Ep3 was me giving it one more chance, and now they’re doing weird higher dimension shit that is EXTREMELY DARK FOREST. Which is my jam.
But most of all, this show serves as a strong note on spending as much time on characters as setting (IF ONLY TO ME). The FX and ideas rock. The humans wandering around it, far less so. But, just maybe... that’s also the point? I wanna believe.
The It’s Going Down podcast has been getting more and more of my attention, and this ep is a good example of why. A great series of interviews with mutual aid and other organisers in Texas, and how they stepped in when the state very aggressively did nothing during their most recent heavy weather event (and how unprepared everyone was for it, despite hurricane life) . Or, more bleak previews of life to come in the western world (and basically, what life as normal is elsewhere)… unless something changes.
If you could call a number and say you're sorry, and no one would know…what would you apologize for? For fifteen years, you could call a number in Manhattan and do just that. This is the story of the line and the man at the other end who became consumed by his own creation.
I used to own cassette tapes of recordings of The Apology Line years and years ago. A truly uniquely New York creation of a different era. I’ve long thought the concept deserved a comeback. This is the next best thing. Take a listen.
MJW: Here’s a roundup of podcasts in my ears lately: Odessafrom NYT, about a Texas school reopening mid-pandemic; Collapse from Stuff, which tells the story of how the CTV building came down in the Christchurch earthquake; Against The Odds, about the rescue of a soccer team from a flooded cave system in Thailand.
Instead, we wage war on the poor, the sick, and the addicted. We drive the homeless from their camps with guns and batons. We leave abused women and children to be crushed at the hands of their tormentors. Our government's only strategy to deal with the sick and the poor is to punish them and keep punishing them until they magically stop being sick and poor. It isn't working.
The American plea bargain system means only 2% of the 2.3 million people in prison ever had a trial in the first place. That number is expected to go up to 4.9 million this year. Land of the free my ass.
CJW: And that’s all, folks. See you next time on Buttondown.
The biggest story in Australian politics this week has been the rape allegations against our current Attorney General. He’s accused of raping a sixteen year old girl when he was seventeen - the woman in question has since committed suicide. He is refusing to stand down (“Won’t somebody think of my career?!”) and the Prime Minister has also refused to do anything - which is unsurprising as inaction and buck-passing have been the only mainstays of his “leadership”.
Many people have been outraged by this inaction - rightfully so, of course, especially as more evidence of rape culture in Australian society is being brought to light - but the government/people in question have behaved exactly as I would have expected. As ever, a white man’s job is more important than a woman’s life, than the lives and trauma of countless women who experience sexual abuse and either come forward just to be re-traumatised by this sort of response from the patriarchal hegemony, or who don’t come forward because they know that this is exactly what will happen. It’s completely fucked.
In this particular case (and related ones) the media is complicit because they care more about access to politicians than about speaking truth to power. The politicians won’t change while the media is so sympathetic and will let them get away with this sort of bullshit… but maybe the people can force the media to change? I can’t imagine how many deadshit journos and op-ed writers we’d have to drag kicking and screaming to a place where authority is something to be questioned and held to account, but it’s a worthy project.
So, Australian politics remains as regressive, corrupt, and depressing as ever, but there is hope in the voices that are speaking up, like Grace Tame above.
I also saw something on Instagram (via Sommer Tothill) that I think is worth sharing as knowing about the tactics these arseholes use makes it easier to see their manipulations... Christian Porter (and other men who find themselves in the same position as him) used DARVO in his press conference:
DARVO is an acronym for "deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender".
According to wikipedia it’s “a common manipulation strategy of psychological abusers,” which is why it’s unsurprising to see it also used as a media strategy by men trying to save their own necks and avoid any sort of accountability. The RVO part is probably the most insidious.
MKY: “In this particular case (and related ones) the media is complicit because they care more about access to politicians than about speaking truth to power” 1000x this.
For some reason I can’t help thinking of a recent film I watched, Burn It All, in which a young one is about to nope outta existence, pulls herself back at the last moment, and then basically goes on a fully justified rampage that’s kicking dudes asses in between angry young feminist rants, that ought to be a cliche, except we haven’t had nearly enough of this. And haven’t women, and their allies, had enough of this shit yet? Why isn’t Parliament on fire? Why the fuck weren’t there burning catholic churches after that George Pell shit? Why?!
~cue the Adam Curtis monologue~
MJW: Motherfucking sigh. I mean, we knew the Liberal government (all government?) felt this way, and now we’ve had it 100% confirmed, just in case we’d forgotten. Just in case we thought that maybe, for fucking once, victims would be believed. Just in case we had the fucking GALL to think that maybe, just maybe, this time it would be different.
Here’s an important infographic about false reporting of sexual assault also via Sommer Tothill:
Content warning again: personal details of sexual assault: I’ve always thought, ‘oh, I’ve never been sexually assaulted.’ This is despite being digitally penetrated while crowdsurfing when I was sixteen. Despite waking up to someone having sex with my sleeping body. Despite having sex with someone I didn’t want to because I suspected they would not let me out of the room we were in otherwise, and afterwards I chided myself for ‘putting myself in that situation.’ Despite having dominant AND submissive clients touch my breasts and genitals without consent, often specifically against the boundaries we’d agreed on and not even considering for a second that what they were doing was wrong because they’d paid me to be naked near them.
I’ve never even counted these assaults as assaults, because almost every single woman and a large number of men I know have experienced SO MUCH WORSE. Sexual assault is so common, so ubiquitous, that because it wasn’t violent I didn’t even think that it counted.
I am so fuckng sick of this shit. THE VAST VAST VAST MAJORITY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT CLAIMS ARE 100% LEGIT BECAUSE THERE IS ACTUALLY NOTHING TO GAIN FROM ACCUSING SOMEONE AND ACTUALLY EVERYTHING TO LOSE.
How do you confront the truth of climate change when the very act of letting it in risked toppling your sanity? There is too much grief, too much suffering to bear. So we intellectualize. We rationalize. And too often, without even allowing ourselves to know we’re doing it, we turn away. At virtually every level — personal, political, policy, corporate — we repeat this pattern. We fail, or don’t even try, to rise to the challenge.
A counterpoint to the recent links we shared that offered some hope for the future RE: climate change. A scientist losing his shit and feeling like a modern Cassandra. I feel like my doom-spouting is a fraction of Peter's and still I know people don't want to hear it (and sometimes even I need a break from it/myself).
This also struck me - emphasis mine:
But Peter’s kids were pissed and his wife was pissed and the salience that he’d so desperately wanted others to feel — “salience” being the term of choice in the climate community for the gut-level understanding that climate change isn’t going to be a problem in the future, it is a crisis now — that salience was here.
I think a lot of us hoped COVID would bring about widespread salience about economic injustice and the ravages of capitalism, but it's easy to underestimate the inertia of hegemony.
The years-long havoc his life was thrown into — illegal deportation, confiscation of his documents, and lack of protection or even recognition under the law — amounts to what Fady’s lawyers claim is an enforced disappearance. It is a novel legal argument that his attorneys are currently presenting before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, an effort to bring attention to the series of abuses he and other asylum-seekers suffer. “Framing migrant detention in unknown places as enforced disappearance is important because it highlights the egregiousness of these crimes,” said Itamar Mann, an associate professor of law at the University of Haifa and legal adviser at Global Legal Action Network [...]
I asked Fady if he felt like he had been disappeared during those three years. “That was exactly what it felt like,” he told me. “I felt like I didn’t exist, that I was nothing.”
Fady’s case is especially disgusting because he already had protection as an asylee, but that doesn’t mean anything in the face of this sort of border-security nationalism (I’m not sure nationalism is the right word, but it’s certainly nationalistic rhetoric that is employed to defend the human rights abuses committed at and in the name of national borders). That said, no refugee should be treated like this, or detained in barbaric conditions. The costs alone should be enough to change the minds of conservative politicians, but when have they ever let economic reality get in the way of ideology?
[Summary from Twitter:] Extremism experts and ex-GOP officials are warning that QAnon-type conspiracy theories are becoming more intertwined with White evangelical Christianity in a way that echoes the Islamic fundamentalist movement that gave rise to al-Qaeda & Isis
Was y’all-Qaeda ever actually a joke, or was it always a prediction?
DCH: It was an observation. Evangelicals have long been prey for the purveyors of this lethal magical thinking. In fact, as we see in the next article the strange alliance of evangelicals and psyops goes back to at least the mid-90s…
“A lot of the people involved with CNP got involved with a group called the World Congress of Families that was put together in the mid-‘90s by an American visiting Russia, who realised that traditional values and family values were something that would unite the East and the West, Russia and the United States.” By 2011, the World Congress of Families started scheduling their meetings in Russia.
“You ended up with all these traditional family organisations traveling to Russia on a repeated basis, and connecting with people like Aleksandr Dugin, a mystic philosopher who has been an advisor to Putin who has developed this Eurasianist global framework,” Troy explained.
Cuda interviews network disinfo specialist Dave Troy on the ties between Evangelicals, conspiracists, oligarchs, and more. Proper Axis of Evil shit here. Worth a read.
The influence Musk is having on a generation of people could not be more different. Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter. He seems to have missed one of the other lines from Pale Blue Dot: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”
Sagan did believe in sending humans to Mars to first explore and eventually live there, to ensure humanity’s very long-term survival, but he also said this: “What shall we do with Mars? There are so many examples of human misuse of the Earth that even phrasing the question chills me. If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if [they] are only microbes.”
A-freaking-men. This piece touched such a nerve that the more militant Musk stans sent death threats to the author, so you know it’s def worth reading.
Instead, the cameras were waiting for Disha Ravi, a nature-loving 22-year-old vegan climate activist who against all odds has found herself ensnared in an Orwellian legal saga that includes accusations of sedition, incitement, and involvement in an international conspiracy whose elements include (but are not limited to): Indian farmers in revolt, the global pop star Rihanna, supposed plots against yoga and chai, Sikh separatism, and Greta Thunberg.
Through it all, the giants of Silicon Valley have stayed conspicuously silent, their famed devotion to free expression, as well as their newfound commitment to battling hate speech and conspiracy theories, is, in India, nowhere to be found. In its place is a growing and chilling complicity with Modi’s information war [...]
Great piece from Naomi Klein looking at activism and free speech in India (and the apparent attempt to criminalise both), and the complicity of the tech giants who want to keep Modi’s government happy so they can continue doing business in India. This is of course also related to the recent Farmer’s Movement and Modi’s authoritarian bent more generally, and provides a lot of relevant context.
And there are some great quotes from the judge overseeing Ravi’s case who doesn’t have time for this sort of governmental bullshit.
Sharp Eyes is one of a number of overlapping and intersecting technological surveillance projects built by the Chinese government over the last two decades. Projects like the Golden Shield Project, Safe Cities, SkyNet, Smart Cities, and now Sharp Eyes mean that there are more than 200 million public and private security cameras installed across China.
Sharp Eyes is the current salvo in China’s surveillance war against its own populace. Special TVs installed in homes allow people to narc on their neighbors. Peachy.
It comes as a batch of internal government emails uncovered by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and seen by Sky News reveal that high-level meetings took place between Palantir and the most senior officials in government and the NHS before the pandemic, raising questions about the role of personal relationships in the award of the contract.
I personally know for a fact that these conversations were happening pre-pandemic. Broken and opaque procurement processes is the primary tool enabling the blatant Cronyism on display here in the UK. The work that Cori Crider, FoxGlove and OpenDemocracy are doing here to drag it kicking and screaming into the light is important.
In 2019, Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious mercenary firm Blackwater and a prominent Donald Trump supporter, aided a plot to move U.S.-made attack helicopters, weapons, and other military equipment from Jordan to a renegade commander fighting for control of war-torn Libya. A team of mercenaries planned to use the aircraft to help the commander, Khalifa Hifter, a U.S. citizen and former CIA asset, defeat Libya’s U.N.-recognized and U.S.-backed government. While the U.N. has alleged that Prince helped facilitate the mercenary effort, sources with knowledge of the chain of events, as well as documents obtained by The Intercept, reveal new details about the scheme as well as Prince’s yearslong campaign to support Hifter in his bid to take power in Libya.
A dizzying story about how Warlord-for-hire Erik Prince violated UN sanctions in an effort to overthrow the government of Libya.
Blindsight is a transhuman first-contact novel unlike anything you’ve ever read, following a crew of cybernetically-neurodivergent specialists (in the scientific not military sense) as they attempt to understand a recently-discovered alien vessel. I won’t go into it much further than that - not because it has twists that I could spoil, but because you’ll be better off reading the book than my take on it.
What really struck me with the book is how Watts was able to clearly convey the one thing that was sorely missing from Cixin Liu's (otherwise brilliant) Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy - an utterly alien alien. Here his experience as a marine biologist obviously helped because it makes perfect evolutionary sense when the cards are all laid out on the table, but it's still so alien and kind of shocking. And I don’t just mean in terms of physiology, but also its reasoning and motives (if those are even the right words - you’ll know what I mean when you read it).
I'm still holding off on writing a book with aliens in it until I can make them truly alien, and Blindsight has given me a high water mark to aim for…
MJW: I got a chance to read an advance review copy of Ella Baxter’s New Animal. This book is a delight, with a main character that I read as totally neurodivergent, a rich and vibrant setting, and some of the most lovely prose I’ve read in a long while. It crams so much into few words (fuck I love a shortish novel), weaving threads between sex and death and BDSM and care and family to make a darkly funny book.
If you like your crime dramas bleak and British, then this may be for you! It’s based on the true crime story of family annihilator Jeremy Bamber, and how he let his sister Sheila, diagnosed with schizophrenia, initially take the fall for his crime. It’s a bit of an exploration of mental illness stigma and (of course) police incompetence and corruption.
So while I don’t actually know anyone in Japan who would believe in the great catfish, I do know many who might visit the shrine and pay their respects to Takemikazuchi, who pins the catfish to the earth’s core. They would do this, and they would also be grateful for the modern design of Tokyo skyscrapers that allows buildings to sway safely—“like a ship,” an attendant in a hotel once said to me cheerfully, as we looked out the window of my twenty-third-floor room in Tokyo. They would pray to the god Takemikazuchi not because they actually believe that he exists but because to do so puts them in the habit and the mindset of focusing on the earth and disaster, and on planning to keep each other safe.
Japan has never fully retreated from its relationship to Shintō, yet the ability to imagine a river as a god who can play a role in a hugely successful cultural export [(Spirited Away)] did not prevent Japan from dismantling almost all of its wilderness, or from guzzling carbon fuels on a path to modernity.
This is a fantastic personal essay on natural disaster (and thus climate change), comparing and contrasting Japanese language and storytelling to that of the West.
Private firms increasingly provide manipulation campaigns. Over the last year, we found forty- eight instances of private companies deploying computational propaganda on behalf of a political actor. Since 2018 there have been more than 65 firms offering computational propaganda as a service. In total, we have found almost US $60 million was spent on hiring these firms since 2009.
New research on digital propaganda. Lots of good highlights on shifting tactics and strategies the bad guys are using to fuck shit up. Worth a read if this is your jam.
This was nowhere as a good as their interview with Curtis post-Hypernormalisation but, when he wasn’t being talked over or felt he had to give summaries of the films, Curtis still got a few great thoughts in about ‘radical culture’ and the likely cost of a revolution (and its personal stakes) that I feel makes this very much worth listening to.
CJW: I don’t know, I’d put this one on par with it - Curtis insistently asking “Do you really want change?” got to me, and there was a section near the end where he talks about the need for us to square the circle between individualism and a desire for collectivity to create a new vision of the future. I thought that was incredibly encouraging - we can’t put individualism back in the box, but maybe now we’re seeing its limits, and we might be able to forge a new sort of collectivism... He also mentions that if we can’t do that, then the old nationalisms of the past could make a resurgence - which is something I picked up on when we wrote our last bonus on Can’t Get You Out of My Head.
I’ve read a bunch of reviews and thought pieces on Death Stranding, but this is the first ‘reading’ of it that makes me wanna shell out for a new console and sink 100s of hours into playing it (before we actually live it). Almost like everyone else missed the point Hideo was trying to make? IDK.
DCH: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - Pentagram
The Doomsday Clock is the graphic symbol of the world’s proximity to annihilation through dangerous technologies of our own making. Created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the advocacy group formed in 1945 by scientists from the Manhattan Project, the Clock is periodically updated, with its minute hand moved forward or backward from midnight, or metaphorical doomsday. In 2021, the Bulletin has decided to keep the Clock at its current setting of 100 seconds to midnight––where it was moved in 2018 and remains the closest it has been to midnight since 1953––in recognition of the continuing threat to humanity from nuclear war, climate change and disinformation.
Giorgia Lupi and her team at Pentagram have produced an impressive array of data visualizations detailing the rationale for our current precarious placement on the Doomsday Clock.
As Me, Mia - I’m working on a new memoir-y thing, Living like a raw nerve: a guide for tender bitches, and this is the first chapter, What the fuck is wrong with you?I’m currently at work on the next chapter, ‘You can’t spell memoir without me me me me.’
MJW: Sorry/not sorry for the heavy shit. This is a heavy world. I think that sharing our stuff helps folx to realise that they aren’t the only one with this junk inside them, how we let each other know that we aren’t alone. I am no fucking island, etc. As always thanks for reading, take care, and be well.