nothing here but 232 years of colonial occupation

issue 042 - 26th January, 2020

CJW: Welcome to another issue of nothing here. Today is Invasion Day here in Australia. I talked about it a little this time last year, but also want to point to some Aboriginal voices writing around important issues all year round. Here’s a piece by Jack Latimore on the media circus around Australia Day and what it does to black writers - Latimore writes a lot about Indigenous and Australian political issues, and is well-worth a follow if you want to see Australia from a different perspective than the one presented by white columnists. Luke Pearson does a lot of work around IndigenousX, an independent Indigenous media organisation. Here he is on Toxic Patriotism.

As ever, you can become a paid supporter to show your appreciation for the work we do here, and get access to fortnightly bonus letters.

CJW: Terror, hope, anger, kindness: the complexity of life as we face the new normal

James Bradley writes well and frequently on the topic of climate change with an Australian focus but global view. For anyone who’s missed, or been unable to follow, the bushfire coverage, this is quite a good summary.

Related: Pictures of the world on fire won’t shock us for much longer

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CJW: Why we should leave this Australia buried in the ashes of the bushfire crisis

Let’s imagine that the Australia which helped draft the UN Charter, drove the creation of APEC and the Cairns Group of Trading Nations, the Australia which led the Intervention in East Timor and which was crucial to the UN mission in Cambodia, all while finding time to invent the electric drill, the wine bladder and penicillin, is the same Australia which cannot just get its own carbon emissions down, but which could help the rest of the world do the same.

There are 24 countries which contribute between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent of global emissions. Together they account for 21 per cent of the world’s emissions. Taken as part of that grouping our ‘insignificant’ contribution begins to look a lot more significant and the futility argument a lot less compelling.

Once upon a time, but not so long ago, Australia would have been out there every day, pestering those other 23 countries.

Here John Birmingham makes a good argument pitting the Australia of the recent past against the Australia of today. We used to strive. We used to punch above our weight. But now that we’ve fallen into the thrall of corporate coal interests, we’ve become the snivelling weasel of countries, trying to avoid our responsibilities and undermine the wider global community.

AA: Although I'm generally wary of romanticised conceptions of the past, Birmo’s broader point is a salient one. And I'm particularly pleased with the inclusion of some shots at Australia’s war-worshipping political culture: 

...you never, ever hear the big mouths for a Little Australia say anything like: “Our defence budget is an insignificant rounding error in the total global spending on military forces, so we might just sit this one out because we are a tiny country, far away from everywhere and we can’t make a difference.”

Imagine how refreshing it would be to hear something like that from one of our elected officials. 

CJW: Oh, indeed. Despite whatever achievements Australia made in the past, it remains a colonial project built on stolen land and maintained by systems of white supremacy. But imagine if we decided to become a world leader on both climate change and justice for first nations people.

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CJW: Bushfire smoke: Here's exactly what you are inhaling

And one last piece of bushfire writing - this time a little heartbreaking, and something for people with a lot of empathy for the non-human animals we share this planet with: Jimmy escaped the fires, but not the pain of devastating loss

The next morning, he began to look for Katy. Everywhere. In their house, down in their woods, up under the trees. He would turn and look and stand very still, listening for her perhaps, smelling the remnants of her presence.

And then he stopped. My guess is that now that he was home, he could stop being hypervigilant. He could relax the terror that had been keeping him in movement. But with that relaxation, both the reality of Katy’s death and the trauma of his experience of the fire came to the fore. He placed his body on the cool of the earth, and he has not gotten back up. When he will get up again, and whether he will find a way back to his world, are among the uncertainties we now have to live with. 

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CJW:  I campaign for the extinction of the human race

It’s true that society would be greatly diminished without children, but it isn’t right to create them just because we like having them around. People worry that we won’t have enough workers to support pensioners, but economic systems are artificial and can be adjusted. We don’t need to breed more wage slaves to prop up an obsolete system. If we go extinct, other species will have a chance to recover.

Utopia Season 2. Oh no wait, this is real life. However you personally feel about planned extinction of the human race, various flavours of this are going to become en vogue in the coming years as we grapple with the effects of climate change and our complicity in the current ongoing mass extinction event. Some of you will be absolutely horrified by this line of thought, but a lifetime of depression makes me sympathetic, and Ligotti’s Conspiracy Against the Human Race only reinforced a lot of things I’d pessimistically dwelt on over the years. 

That all said, we still need to be wary of anyone using this sort of logic aimed particularly at groups from the global south, where any talk of “overpopulation” is just white supremacy and genocide dressed in green livery.

AA: Maybe my thinking is a tad based and black-pilled, but why would someone who believes this stuff make an argument for the intrinsic value of the organic over the inorganic anyway? Also, choosing to “sacrifice” humanity for the good of planetary biodiversity still holds within it the idea that humanity is separate from a broader natural order, and thus consciously able to remove ourselves from it. I intuit the real issue here is a hatred of being, a sensitivity to the senseless of being alive / imbued with consciousness, and this sort of movement does not really concern non-human flourishing, but rather a negation of the human. 

Also this made me laugh:

At 25, I wanted to show I was serious. A medical school gave me a discounted vasectomy in exchange for being a student doctor’s first try at the procedure, which was successful.

That's praxis baby! Be the change you want to see in the world. 

CJW: Your first points echo Morton's Hyperobjects, which remains essential reading.

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CJW: Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

[...] whenever a local Afghan spots you, you knock him out with a tranquillizer, until you make it to the bridge that leads to the inner corridors of your parents’ home village, Naw’e Kaleh, which looks so much like the photos and your own blurred memories from the trip when you were a kid that you begin to become uneasy, not yet afraid, but as if consumed by an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

Sneaking along the dirt roads, past the golden fields and the apple orchards and the mazes of clay compounds, you come upon the house where your father used to reside, and it is there—on the road in front of your father’s home—that you spot Watak, your father’s sixteen-year-old brother, whom you recognize only because his picture (unsmiling, head shaved, handsome, and sixteen forever) hangs on the wall of the room in your home where your parents pray, but here he is, in your game, and you press Pause and you set down the controller, and now you are afraid.

This is a really powerful piece about playing MGSV and finding your family’s Afghani village in the game. Even if you can’t relate to that part of the piece, it’ll resonate with you if you ever lined up to buy a game the moment it was released, or ever spent hours lost in a game ignoring such inconsequential things as family and hygiene.

I’d say it has parallels to my piece in Creeper #1, but this perspective is much closer and realer than my own.

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CJW: Holly Herndon on Her AI Baby, Reanimating Tupac, and Extracting Voices

AI is just us. AI is human labor obfuscated through a terminology called AI, and our goal is to use technology to allow us to be more human together. Forget about the AI for a minute and think about how to make the laptop an organizational brain for upward of ten people to perform around—that’s a challenge but it’s never about the laptop. The laptop has great capabilities, but it’s always about the communication between the people.

Also, things didn’t start out as this grand vision. Mat and I wanted to perform with people in real time, but still, we are both nerds interested in nerdy topics. We were hearing all of this AI stuff and were like, “I need to deal with it in order to have an opinion on it.” Through research, I learned a lot of people use existing score material as a training set to create works based on that style, which is basically a statistical analysis of a composer or genre that enables you to make those types of sounds forever. This is so problematic in so many ways in my mind; you get yourself into this aesthetic cul-de-sac, where you’re only making decisions based on those that were made before. To me, that’s not what music is. That process doesn’t make it alive, it makes it a historical reenactment.

If you’re interested in AI as a creative tool, then Holly Herndon is one of the most interesting people working and creating in that space right now, and you should be paying attention to what she says. Also worth reading is her response to a discussion between Grimes and Zola Jesus.

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Cutting Room Floor:

MKY:Meghanomania and the Big Bong

I’ve been really enjoying Huw’s newsletter, which is also now a podcast. In this issue he’s talking about the Brexit Culture Wars, and riffing off our friend @thejaymo’s podcast - which is not also a newsletter but is sometimes a zine. Thank fuck for the evolving republic of newsletters / podcasts, all hail the dark forest internet. Etc.

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CJW: How the world's richest man helps run America's concentration camps

I’ve mentioned Daniel Harvey’s newsletter before, but this issue deserves a little extra focus.

AA: well well well if it isn't Peter Fucking Thiel again 

ICM is the brainchild of Palantir, Peter Thiel's morally bankrupt data firm. It is a mission-critical component of ICE's detention and deportation program. The entirety of ICM's dataset and algorithms exist in Amazon's cloud.

He gets around, doesn't he? Whether it's helping fund the recently notorious Clearview AI project (which is probably being used in Australia BTW) or hanging out with Murdoch and bin Salman, he stays Full Time Evil. Elon Musk receives a lot of attention for his stunts and celebrity lifestyle, but Thiel is much more sinister (and powerful?). This recent article is worth a read if you find him as terrifying/fascinating as I do:

How to square Thiel’s post-national techno-libertarianism with his bloodthirsty authoritarian nationalism? Strangely, he wants both. Today’s Thielism is a libertarianism with an abstract commitment to personal freedom but no particular affection for democracy — or even for “politics” as a process by which people might make collective decisions about the distribution of power and resources. Thiel has wed himself to state power not in an effort to participate in the political process but as an end run around it.

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AA: Cartoonist Kayfabe has a newsletter. If you love comics, you should subscribe. It's interesting to see Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg build their audience, and they somehow seem to make quality content at a good clip (while also making a ton of comics). 

CJW: Clay’s Ark, by Octavia Butler

I’d heard of other Butler books before, but I first heard about Clay’s Ark only recently. It’s a brilliant and fascinating book - what starts as a harrowing story of a family kidnapping (similar to Nocturnal Animals) quickly becomes low-key sci-fi horror dealing with the question of ‘what does it mean to be human?’, before things explode in an 80s exploitation extravaganza of sex, gore, and ultraviolence. It’s also (I think) about the sexual drive of teenagers and the complete inability of even well-meaning adults to put a stop to it. I won’t lie - there are parts of the book that are tough to read, even for me, so if you’re a sensitive sort or someone who heeds content warnings for sexual violence (in context it’s more complicated than that, but if you need the CW, I don’t think that context will be good enough for you), then you should definitely avoid this book. But otherwise… it’s phenomenal.

About two-thirds of the way through the book it brought to mind conversations we’ve had previously about content, context, and responsibility in and with your fiction. It’s a book that could get a writer cancelled today, but Butler wrote it 35 years ago… Sometimes I worry about us as a culture - the disneyfication of it, and the people who violently push back against certain things being shown on a page regardless of the author’s intent or experiences. (I wrote that before the Attack Helicopter discourse razed half of SF twitter.)

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CJW: Stranger Than We Can Imagine, by John Higgs

I also read John Higgs’ Stranger Than We Can Imagine at the tail-end of last year. Austin mentioned it previously when discussing Higgs’ newsletter, and then gifted me the book at my last birthday. It’s basically a summary of the 20th Century, split up into chapters based on an overriding idea or movement, with links drawn between the chapters/topics.

On the one hand, if you’ve got a decent handle on 20th C history and art, there won’t be too much new information in the book, but the connections being made recontextualise a number of discoveries and movements, and on the whole the book is interesting from start to end, with clean, readable prose (it seems odd calling a book “readable”, but I don’t know how else to explain it), and by the end of the book Higgs has developed a compelling argument about individualism in the 20th Century, and how that is the largest factor determining the world as it is today.

I feel like it should be in the curriculum for high school modern history - it’s that fundamental.

CJW: How the Movie 'Parasite' Confronts Native Stereotypes

This introduction to Da-song’s enthusiasm about a stereotypical version of Native American culture is casual, as if his mother is stating her son is obsessed with James Bond or pirates. The Park family seems to think he is just playing pretend, the way any child would. This misuse of Native culture is continually brought back to the screen as the plot becomes more tense, highlighting the embarrassing appropriation.

This is an angle on Parasite that I hadn’t seen discussed, and hadn’t considered before.

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MKY: Temple [SkyOne 2019]

I’m a bit conflicted on this one. On the one hand, it’s a tightly written drama with Mark Strong in the lead (who I’ve loved in many a Guy Ritchie film), revolving around a literally underground medical clinic, that weaves all in the various character arcs into a dramatic climax at the season’s end. On the other hand, it’s a remake of one of my favourite TV shows in recent years, the Norwegian drama Valkyrien - and in adapting it for the UK audience they cut my favourite aspect of the original series: the prepper character becomes an anti-hero, giving the citizens of Oslo an unasked for lesson in resilience and community, all to be better braced for the coming shocks that is the weather system of this broken century.

In Temple that character’s development seems to have been reduced to make space for the introduction of a problematic love interest, who we last saw as the Red Priestess in Game of Thrones. Unlike Valkyrien though, Temple is getting a second season. So there’s still hope for the prepper character to be more than a broken caricature, and maybe he’ll team up with someone in the show who knows in her metafictional bones that the night - I mean future - is dark and full of terrors. Especially if it’s set in a post-BREXIT London.

CJW: Introducing BusKill: A Kill Cord for your Laptop (via Ospare)

Let's consider a scenario: You're at a public location (let's say a cafe) while necessarily authenticated into some super important service (let's say online banking). But what if–after you've carefully authenticated–someone snatch-and-runs with your laptop?

[...]

Surely there must be some solution to trigger your computer to lock, shutdown, or self-destruct when it’s physically separated from you! There is: I call it BusKill. 

A cool hack for those with legitimate (or paranoid) reasons to fear laptop theft and digital security.

MKY: An Anti-Colonial Anarchist Analysis on the Rise of Far-Right Hindu Nationalism in India

IT’S GOING DOWN has become one of my must-listen-to podcasts (vs falling asleep to podcasts), and this ep in particular shows you why. If you’re only vaguely, or not all, aware of just what’s been going down in India, this will give you a solid briefing and a whole lotta follow up material. But brace yourself: like everything these days, it’s even worse than you thought - which is the big 2020 mood.

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MJW: The Ballad of Billy Balls

I’m only halfway through this one but it’s just amazing. As per usual, I’m late to the party and kicking myself for not listening earlier! iO Tillet Wright is the perfect person to host this podcast, which is well-researched, beautifully produced, and which captures the essence of 1970’s-early 80’s New York in such a visceral way. It’s the story of the murder of musician Billy Balls, but it’s also SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. I can’t wait to finish listening because the story-telling is just phenomenal. Georgia Hardstark from MFM has been talking this one up for a while, and I’m so glad I finally subscribed. As well, iO Tillet Wright’s memoir Darling Days sounds like it’s going to be super fascinating, and I can’t wait to read it and see what it was like growing up in the NY punk/weirdo scene.

CJW: Land of the Free

I was happy with this story, but it collected rejections from the SF markets with a quick turnaround, and felt like it was too contemporary a story to wait around for the markets that can take 3 months (or longer) to respond. So I decided to experiment with the story by posting it to Medium.

It’s a condensed look at the neoliberal horrors that reared their ugly heads in 2019, spawned earlier, or may be waiting just around the corner. Enjoy?

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CJW: That’s it for another issue. I’m sick (again/still), so I’ll keep it brief. Look after yourselves, and if you know of someone who might appreciate what we do, hit the share button below.

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