nothing here but disaster voyeurism

issue 067 - 10th January, 2021

MJW: I’m light in this issue because I’m busy with a shitfight battle to manage both my mania and my outrage. The list of bullshittery gets longer and longer, with new players (or old ones you weren't paying attention to) entering the game from all sides, and all of it is IMPORTANT and FUCKED and LOUD. 

My cohort of sin eaters has corralled some of the world’s flaming shit for you, and posted here, so ENJOY!

But really: take care, friends. It’s hard and rough and scary but remember we’re in it for those who don’t have a fucking choice but to engage because it’s their lives. SO, try and eat a vegetable, and if you can’t sleep, try at least to rest. Keep hydrated, look in on yr loved ones and don’t forget to floss: you’ll need good teeth for when we eat our slumlords. Xx

CJW: And this issue we have a special guest. Returning to these pages for the first time in a long time, it’s Austin!


The Team


Articles

CJW: Capitol Round-up

Here one of the “protestors” saying the quiet part loud:

“This is not America,” a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking. She was crying, hysterical. “They’re shooting at us. They’re supposed to shoot BLM, but they’re shooting the patriots.” 

One current Metro D.C. police officer said in a public Facebook post that off-duty police officers and members of the military, who were among the rioters, flashed their badges and I.D. cards as they attempted to overrun the building. “If these people can storm the Capitol building with no regard to punishment, you have to wonder how much they abuse their powers when they put on their uniforms,” the officer wrote. 

DCH: MAGA Cosplayers Seize Capitol While Cops Flounder

Despite the gravity of the event, if you look not very hard at what happened, both sides in their different ways were shambolic. Even though the mainstream press has been talking up the prospect of a Trump coup even before his electoral loss, this insurrection was impulsive. Trump gave an hour-long speech where he repeatedly exhorted the crowd to march to the Capitol and “stop the steal.”

Yves Smith smartly dissects the Insurrection over at Naked Capitalism. 

In other words, when it comes to a fabricated and conspiracy-based assault on elections, we’d be dumb and blind to wave away it as something that can happen only in America, because Trumpism, a syndrome that leaves one impervious to facts and evidence but vulnerable to exploitative disinformation, can be found in the comments section of many of the world’s major newspapers – including those in the UK and Australia.

CJ Werleman has the receipts on how close the UK and Australia are to falling into the same sort of chaos. 

What we saw on Wednesday is that they have created their own media: unfiltered, unedited, and by, for, and to each other in the form of posts, images, videos, and, most notably, livestreams. What much of the mob was actually doing in the Capitol, if you looked closely, was capturing images of itself for other members of the mob. And for a brief moment, the images on their screens were being reflected throughout the world.

This wasn’t an actual Insurrection. This was a reality TV version of one. The insurgents weren’t trying to actually stop the count. They were doing it for the ‘Gram. They were doing it as a recruitment drive

“This was exactly what we expected,” said Brian Friedberg, a senior researcher at the Harvard Shorenstein Center’s Technology and Social Change Project who studies the rise of movements like QAnon. “It is very consistent with how the coalescing of different factions responsible for what happened yesterday have been operating online, and how platforms’ previous attempts to deal with them have fallen short.”

And to think it only took a violent insurrection in the US capitol and 5 deaths to get all the tech companies to enforce their terms of service. Oh and a full sweep by the party that actually wants to maybe regulate them. You don’t get kudos for too little, too late especially when it’s clearly doing the right thing for opportunistic and mercenary reasons. 

MKY: What is Dlive? The Streaming Site Growing in Far-Right Users - Kellen Browning and Taylor Lorenz at New York Times

Because Parler, Gab and other sites don’t offer ways to make money, streaming on Dlive has become a key piece of many far-right activists’ strategies...

CJW: And some more late additions:

Racism, whether implicit or openly avowed, is hardly unknown in the halls of Congress. Yet to see racists who weren't wearing suits or following parliamentary procedure, to see them having fun, was taken as a unique defacement of a seemingly sacred fount of democracy. The images from Wednesday are reminders of both the frailty and hypocrisy of these “official” symbols of democracy when they suddenly encounter the reality of this country.

It may be that the mob is a less appropriate image for the near-coup that happened this week: A more appropriate moment to seize upon came after the mob was cleared, enacted by the politicians who tried to overthrow election results with their own Congressional votes. They are still in office. The selfies may ultimately serve as misdirection from those politicians' malfeasance if we allow the mob to be the avatar of the “coup.”

And Zeynep Tufekci making the same point in her newsletter:

Meanwhile, crucially, the same evening, after the Capitol was cleared, the legislators moved back under heavy military presence and… many of them proceeded to vote to throw out the results of the election. Eight GOP senators and 138 GOP representatives (65% of the GOP caucus in the House) still objected to the electoral votes being certified.

If anything on Wednesday could be called an attempted coup, it was the actions of the Republican senators…

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CJW: Onward Barbarians by End Notes (via Inhabit)

These non-movements are not in any sense revolutionary in themselves. They are closer to what Camatte has recently called “passive revolts”: subjective expressions of the objective disorder of our times. They reflect above all the growing delegitimization of politics in a context of ongoing stagnation and austerity. It is the combination of steadily rising non-movements involving unprecedented numbers of people, with a decline in democratic legitimacy, that allows us to describe the trend of our era as the production of revolutionaries without a revolution.

On revolution without revolutionaries vs revolutionaries without revolution. It's quite a long piece, but there are plenty of interesting thoughts throughout.

Related: "Beautiful Like an Impure Insurrection" by The Invisible Committee

[...] in a world where the stranglehold of control around each individual tightens a little more with each passing day, popular insurrection becomes the only effective way of acting that does not add up to suicide, since the mass functions as protection for each of its elements. That is what thousands of citizens without history learned by themselves at great speed in the experimentation of those days, and without the need for any “manual of subversion.”

This is focused on the Italian context (with insight coming from the experiences of the French Invisible Committee), but is still interesting and might challenge some ideas you hold (or at least it did for me…).

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CJW: How Amazon Destroys the Intellectual Justifications for Capitalism - Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs

Amazon’s marketplace has become so large that it is very difficult for manufacturers not to offer products through it. But when they do, they have to agree to Amazon’s terms, and Amazon’s control over who gets to sell on their platform means they can extract nearly any concessions they like, including getting access to the kinds of information that help them launch competitor products. So manufacturers are in a bind: they can’t not sell on Amazon, but if they sell on Amazon, Amazon will try to steal their ideas and destroy them. If Amazon is willing to take a $7 loss per sale, who on earth could compete?

I can't say I'm surprised by any of this, but it's yet more shitty behaviour from Amazon. Too big to fail because they're big enough to fuck everyone else over, with a team of lawyers that would see you broke before you ever saw justice.

It's also exactly the same sort of practice that Facebook takes part in - they'll either rip-off or buy the innovators who could potentially become their competitors, leading to less innovation (which capitalists pretend they're concerned about), and a further entrenchment of the monopolists.

MJW: BRING BACK THE BARTER ECONOMY 2021, MY PUMPKINS ARE COMING ALONG NICELY, WHAT YA GOT TO TRADE?

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DCH: 2020 was a terrible year for climate disasters, but there are reasons for hope in 2021 - Matthew Hoffman at The Conversation

In some ways, climate despair is the new climate denial, dulling the sense of urgency and blunting the momentum for action. It is a discourse that paralyzes when paralysis is what we can least afford. The discourse of despair strengthens the grip of the status quo and can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There are signs of hope. Climate justice movements, capital fleeing the fossil fuel industry, the US poised to rejoin the Paris Agreement, and more. Don’t let despair ruin you for the fight. 

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AA: The Journalist and the Pharma Bro - Stephanie Clifford at Elle

A Very Modern Love Story, feat. arch-douche Martin Shkreli and journalist Christie Smythe, who was assigned the Shkreli beat for Bloomberg News...

Over the course of nine months, beginning in July 2018, Smythe quit her job, moved out of the apartment, and divorced her husband. What could cause the sensible Smythe to turn her life upside down? She fell in love with a defendant whose case she covered. In fact, she broke the news of his arrest. It was a scoop that ignited the internet, because her love interest, now life partner, is not just any defendant, but Martin Shkreli, the so-called “Pharma Bro” and online provocateur, who increased the price of a lifesaving drug by 5,000 percent overnight and made headlines for buying a one-off Wu-Tang Clan album for a reported $2 million. 

“I fell down the rabbit hole,” Smythe tells me, sitting in her bright basement apartment in Harlem, speaking publicly about her romance with Shkreli for the first time.

Apparently Smythe has sold the movie rights to her unpublished book about the affair. Based on the sad, strange and sometimes funny overview of their relationship presented in this article, I’d watch it.

CJW: The one thing I really wanted from that article was to see the picture of Smythe with the Wu-Tang album.

MJW: omg, just what I want to see or read, a ‘love story’ about two rich awful fucks, written by one of those fucks. I bet they gave her a million bucks and she barely noticed when she chucked it on top of her other millions.

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CJW: Vons, Pavilions to Fire “Essential Workers,” Replace Drivers with Independent Contractors - Mike Dickerson at Knock LA.

Albertsons was happy to reap public goodwill during the pandemic. But once Prop 22 gave the company the option of replacing workers with lower-paid contractors, they jumped at the opportunity. Employees received notice during the holidays that their employment would end one month into the new year.

This is a direct result of Prop 22 getting passed. Expect to see more workplaces, jobs, and industries move toward using underpaid and exploited app workers. And if you haven’t been paying attention to who’s actually in Biden’s transition team, I’ll warn you now that there’s a good chance this shit will spread beyond California.

Also, I keep forgetting exactly how fucking broken America is - but obviously these workers are also losing their health insurance… during a pandemic.

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AA: The State of Nature by Richard Smyth at The Fence 

A pretty brutal skewering of certain pretentious stylistic trends that dominate nature writing (and writing in general IMO). 

Please, show me how the writer’s personal connection with wildlife and landscape speaks to something in us all – something complex, elusive, contradictory, interesting. Please do not show me that the writer is a precious son of the mountain who still, humbly yet magically, looks upon the meanest works of nature with a child’s gaze. Please do not tell me, again, that you have been for a swim in the sea, and it was dark, and the sky was large, and you were small, o so small (‘Well, I mean to say,’ Bertie Wooster remarks at one point, ‘when a girl suddenly asks you out of a blue sky if you don’t sometimes feel that the stars are God’s daisy-chain, you begin to think a bit’). I mock, but it’s so hard not to, and I dearly wish more people would.

CJW: I have definitely noticed these trends, particularly in nature writing, but elsewhere too. It’s gotten to the point where I often scroll past the first few paragraphs so I can get to the meat of the story and skip over the author’s personal little introduction. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but when it becomes predictable and ubiquitous it ceases to serve the same writerly functions that made it a powerful device before.


Newsletters

AA: The Magnet 20: How God Makes God by Mark Frauenfelder

CJW: After reading the above review, me and Austin decided to dive into the game (?) and check it out. Its 1-bit art with minor animated elements is charming and it’s compelling in the way it ties together maths, probability, computing, history, etc, with that real auteurial feel to it. It reminded me of John Higgs’ books in the way it packages its ideas in a straight-forward comprehensible way. It can be a bit slow and clunky to go through, and depending on your prior knowledge some parts of it are much less interesting than others - even so there’s probably one interesting thought, fact, or idea in each thread.

AA: I agree with everything Corey said above - How God Makes God is a truly singular product and clearly the product of Peter Small’s unique, idiosyncratic auterial vision. I really enjoyed the multi-layered anachronisms of this game - you have to use an in-browser mac emulator to play a “game” written in the 1990s, but which is set (seemingly, despite references to cultural products like DnD) in the late 1800s, where the author uses period-appropriate public domain images (distorted by 90s scanning/animation techniques) to teach you about game theory and the true nature of money etc. Windows in windows, layers upon layers. The game is kind of ironic in tone but also earnest in its deep desire to teach you something interesting and useful! I need to look into Peter Small and see what else he has made, because this thing is fascinating.

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CJW: I Hate It Here, See You Tomorrow by Dan Sheehan (via Dan Hill)

A celebrity’s gaffe, a politician’s outfit, a racist dweeb’s attempt at bean-based parenting, all of these things have more control over my life than I do now. We’re all like Bean Dad’s poor daughter, being promised that if we work hard enough for long enough, eventually we will get this broken machine to do what we want it to do. And we don’t even like baked beans. 

On Bean Dad and similar twitter blow-ups.


Movies + TV

MKY: Sweet Home (Netflix SOUTH KOREA)

TW: violence against women (and no redemptive or revenge arc payoff). Or, it’s pretty telling that the best character in this show was the one added by the writers in their adaptation of a korean webtoon. This is South Koreans in an apartment complex under lockdown as humanity goes full mask off and turns into a series of really horrible monsters - inside and out of the complex. And a certain former special forces operator turned firefighter ain’t having that shit. Not one bit of it.

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MKY: Shadow in the Cloud (NZ)

Maybe you need a break from recent events and just wanna tune out the world for 90mins and get gripped by a damn solid lil horror action movie with stunts that are better than every big blockbuster of late, and a kickass femme lead (Hit Girl all grown up, innit) surrounded by a bunch of men that, by the very end, those that haven’t died horribly prove to be completely superfluous. 30mins in I thought this was the new Descent. By the end, I was like, move over Ripley… a new challenger has arrived. More. Like. This. Please. (Best seen blind, trust me).

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AA: Possessor

Damn I loved this movie. What a wilfully fucked up psychotropic freak out of a film! Brandon Cronenberg is taking his father’s techno-organic body horror into the 21st century and pulling no punches - this film features a few things I have never seen on film and probably never will again. The practical fx are astounding/disturbing. 

I thought at times there were hints of Gender Accelerationism in here (particularly the Nyx Land brand of it), so I would love to know what the trans community thought of this film! It’s a Feel Bad Classic! 


URL

CJW: Defuturing the Image of the Future - Andrew Blauvelt (via Sentiers)

In the temporal construct of the world’s fair, other cultures were presented as unchanging, while visitors’ sense of the present was suspended and supplanted by simulations of their future lives. It was thus not only other lands and lives that were colonized but the future itself. At the same time, the static exposition of otherness “defutured” these cultures, not only in the minds of most visitors, but also in the imagination of many of the colonized, vanquishing possibility and agency over their future.

On design, the future, colonialism, climate change, and more.

Coincidence, from a recent issue of Christopher Brown's newsletter:

But it makes me wonder whether the same power of imagination that turned us into the apex predator, one that managed to turn the entire planet into a factory to feed us, might also give us the power to imagine a more balanced future, one that harnesses the power of reciprocity instead of dominion.

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CJW: How and why I stopped buying new laptops - Kris De Deckerat Lowtech Magazine(via Dan Hill)

Really interesting look at the whys and hows of running old laptops. I'm tempted to make some changes along these lines to my laptop (which was 2nd hand, was already a few years old when I bought it, and is primarily a writing machine).

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CJW: Astroturfs of Offense - New Models (via Ahmet A. Sabancı)

New Models in conversation on crowds, grassroots vs astroturf and the mere voyeur. I found it interesting for the way it delves deep into something we often see but rarely consider.


Art

AA:  EV-1K/56 | 5060™ by Machine56

I love the design work happening at M56, and I’m particularly into the look of this electric motorcycle, which is somewhere in the vicinity of Kojima/Otomo/Teenage Engineering in terms of style. Apparently the top speed is only 80km/h, so you’re not going Full Send on this thing, but damn it looks cool! 

EV-1K/56 embodies the inspiration of retro military aircraft design combined with cutting edge futuristic graphic blueprint. This next level collaboration with @katalis.co , a multidisciplinary design studio based in Jakarta, Indonesia, is geared towards eco-conscious riders who also appreciate progressive outlook in electric vehicle design. 

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AA: Christian Rex van Minnen

There’s no one currently doing better surrealist art than Christian Rex van Minnen IMO. His control of oil paints matches the Dutch Old Masters, but he creates work that is funny, gross, horrific, thoroughly modern and deeply human. I said to Corey (quite pretentiously) that I thought his stuff was Deluzian, mostly because it made me think of this quote from A Thousand Plateaus:

Is it really so sad and dangerous to be fed up with seeing with your eyes, breathing with your lungs, swallowing with your mouth, talking with your tongue, thinking with your brain, having an anus and larynx, head and legs? Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin, breathe with your belly: the simple Thing, the Entity, the full Body, the stationary Voyage, Anorexia, cutaneous Vision, Yoga, Krishna, Love, Experimentation. 

To me, this stuff seems to short-circuit the supposed necessity of certain relationships between form, content and context, and in doing so presents new ways of seeing. 

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MJW: This felt relevant.


The Self-Promotion

CJW: 7 of the Best Books Like Cyberpunk 2077 If the Game Let You Down

Some great books in this list, including Repo Virtual.

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MJW: My short storyAtavistacular’ was featured on Curious Fictions the other day. If you like transhumanism, 'It' girls, and a fuckton of made-up words, this might be the story for you.


CJW: Later, taters.


Cutting Room Floor