nothing here but exaggerated planetary doom

issue 070 - 21st February, 2021

CJW: Welcome to another edition of nothing here.

Our latest bonus was the first two chapters of The Forgetting Navigations, a novella Marlee is serialising over on Patreon. Our latest unlocked bonus is The Husband in Your Head, a piece of original short fiction from Marlee.

For future bonuses and access the full archive, you can become a supporter. Unlocked bonuses are here.


The Team


Articles

CJW: Why won't Nike use the word disabled to promote the Go FlyEase shoe? - Jaipreet Virdi and Liz Jackson at Slate (via Damien Williams)

The marketing of these shoes created ripe conditions for what disabled writer and design activist Alex Haagaard describes as the #PeeledOrangePhenomenon : “a device that’s widely derided by abled people as a needless technological frivolity, but desired by disabled people.” These are products designed to create access for disabled people, but the marketing often erases disability.

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Framing accessibility as an edgy marketing slogan without centering disabled people is problematic. Disability is not a bad word. The #SayTheWord campaign started by activist Lawrence Carter-Long, for instance, has drawn attention to how language shapes perceptions: Using euphemisms about disability and disabled experience is harmful and only reinforces negative and stigmatizing stereotypes about disability.

Remember those over-the-top day-time TV commercials for the sorts of products that would always be labelled ‘As seen on TV’? Most often (in my memory at least) kitchen tools. It took a long time for me to learn the truth about those products and ads - that in fact the products were generally designed to assist disabled people, but they “had” to be advertised with able-bodied actors (often playing exaggeratedly clumsy people) because in our society even acknowledging the existence of disabled people is taboo. The above article goes into this (along with Wolven’s recent newsletter), specifically in regards to Nike’s new Go FlyEase shoe.

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CJW: Facebook Is a Global Mafia - Jacob Silverman at New Republic

There are several glaring ironies in Facebook’s decision to unilaterally cut off access to news for an entire country. The company centered on facilitating human connection—one whose founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, just months ago said, “We’re going to stand for free expression”—is now censoring millions of people in a democratic country. A platform that’s wrestled with misinformation and radicalization is now limiting access to potentially helpful outside information—during dueling global Covid-19 and climate crises, no less. It’s hard to think of this act as anything but punitive.

It'll be interesting to see how this all shakes out. If Facebook stands its ground the I see two possibilities - Australians will leave FB in droves, or it will once again become a place where you keep up with the lives of your family and friends, instead of finding out exactly who is bigoted/misinformed in what ways based on their posts. Either way I see it as a net win.

If it wasn't for the fact that Google already folded and agreed to pay for serving news results, I would expect the government to fold (on this issue, not entirely [sadly]) before FB does.

The only real problem with this is something highlighted in the above link:

Australian charities, health care workers, domestic violence helplines, emergency response services—along with newspapers and magazines—have found their Facebook pages rendered useless and their content unshareable.

I couldn't give a fuck about 90% of the news and "news" that's shared on FB, but limiting charities, health workers, domestic violence services and the like has nothing to do with news or the media (the arena in which this battle is being fought), but could have a real effect on the lives of struggling individuals.

For more on the media, censorship, and anti-democratic portions of this debate, this piece by Mike Masnick at Tech Dirt is well-worth the read. In short, he suggests this whole thing is a shakedown: the government (being expertly puppeteered yet again by Rupert Murdoch) told FB to either get out of the business of disseminating the news, or pay for the privilege. FB called their bluff and chose to get out. And when you look at the laws they would have been subjected to, that's completely understandable.

As ever, when it's a corrupt government going after an ideologically harmful business (at the behest of an evil piece of shit billionaire), there are no good guys to be rooting for.

(Both the above links came via the Real Life Mag newsletter. It was fallow for a long time, but is worth reading just for Rob Horning's commentary, plus, y'know, they'll link you to the essays they post.)

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CJW: Inevitable Planetary Doom Has Been Exaggerated - Emma Marris at The Atlantic (via Sentiers)

Jenkins also rejects the idea that if we fail to keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius, the key target in an influential United Nations report, all is lost. “Any time you see a round number like 2.0 or 1.5 or 20 percent by 2020, that is a political number,” he said. “The reality is that every 10th of a degree matters.” There is no threshold after which it is not worth fighting.

Similar to last issues’ piece by David Wallace-Wells, here’s an environmental writer also giving cause to hope for the future. I’m still too hesitant to get excited about the sort of bare minimum approaches the Paris Agreement really represent, but I can’t deny that any amount of progress is positive.

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DCH: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster - Leah C. Stokesmit at Technology Review

Reading Gates next to Robinson underlines the inextricable link between inequality and climate change. Gates’s efforts on climate are laudable. But when he tells us that the combined wealth of the people backing his venture fund is $170 billion, we may be puzzled that they have dedicated only $2 billion to climate solutions—less than 2% of their assets. This fact alone is an argument for wealth taxes: the climate crisis demands government action. It cannot be left to the whims of billionaires.

Economic justice and climate justice are inseparable. If we banned billionaires we could solve both wicked problems. Chop chop.

MKY: hear freaking hear!

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CJW: Could Amsterdam's New Economic Theory Replace Capitalism? - Ciara Nugent at Time

“The concepts of the 20th century emerged from an era in which humanity saw itself as separated from the web of life,” Raworth says. In this worldview, she adds, environmental issues are relegated to what economists call “externalities.” “It’s just an ultimate absurdity that in the 21st century, when we know we are witnessing the death of the living world unless we utterly transform the way we live, that death of the living world is called ‘an environmental externality.’”

We mentioned doughnut economics a while ago, and in the wake of the pandemic, some cities are using the massive disruption as an opportunity to implement some doughnut practices. Interesting to see how it might pan out, because anything is better than business as usual.

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DCH: It’s All Rigged - Zeynep Tufekci at The Atlantic

It was yet another stark demonstration that technology is not simply a tool—neutral on all possible outcomes, good or bad—but something more dynamic, messy and complicated. It’s a complex system where the workings of both the technology and our society, and crucially, how they interact with each other matter greatly.

I’ve been wary of talking much about the whole GameStop story because real people lost real money in all the chaos but this article from Zeynep is the best you’ll find. Lots of great bits on tech business models, the corrupt political-managerial class, etc. Go read it.

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MKY: The Best Way to Find Aliens on Other Worlds May Be to Search For Signs of Their Smog

"On Earth, most of the nitrogen dioxide is emitted from human activity – combustion processes such as vehicle emissions and fossil-fuelled power plants," says astrobiologist Ravi Kopparapu, from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

"Observing NO2 on a habitable planet could potentially indicate the presence of an industrialised civilisation."

The presence of NO2 would be called a technosignature – a sign of technology on an exoplanet outside our Solar System.

Yeah, like we fucked up the planet so bad that with our dying breath we might just find others as bad as being a caretaker species as us - or, more generously, going through those same growing pains of being an adolescent sentient world-consumer, trying to squeeze ourselves thru the Great Filter - and might be able to have our descendants meetup for some sorta intergalactic pity party. Idk. Seems pretty dark to me. And not even in a cool Dark Forest way. Still, ya know... somehow, some when, Aliens Must Be Out There.

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CJW: The Biopolitics of Nursing Homes - Marco D'Eramo at New Left Review

The much-acclaimed ‘flexibility’ of modern labour tacitly requires dismantling the extended family and atomizing life itself.

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The wage relation was once considered a hellscape; now true damnation consists in being banished from it. Hospices were once a last resort, whilst now they represent an ineluctable destiny – even for the wealthy.

If we’re lucky we’ll live long enough to be unlucky enough to be put into a nursing home. We’ve all heard stories about the abuse taking place in certain facilities, but this piece about the biopolitics (and I would argue economics [or bioeconomics]) of nursing homes takes a much larger view.

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DCH: Number of newborns registered in China drops 15% amid population decline fears- James Griffiths at CNN

According to figures published by the Ministry of Public Security this week, there were 10.03 million new babies registered in 2020, compared to 11.79 the year before, a decrease of 14.9%. The news comes as last year, China recorded the lowest birthrate since the People's Republic was founded in 1949.

Children of Men was set in 2027 in case you were wondering.

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DCH: Second Victim Dies Of Ebola In Congo, Marking Virus's Return- Jaclyn Diaz at NPR

This new cluster marks the twelfth outbreak of Ebola in Congo. Thousands of people have died from the virus in Congo in recent years. An outbreak that began in 2018 and the WHO declared over in June 2020 killed more than 2,000 people.

This threatens another outbreak just three months after Congo ended the second worst outbreak of Ebola in history. Imagine having to deal with all that while also struggling with Covid. On top of poverty, armed conflict, and all the other spectres of colonialism.

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DCH: Amazon questioned over contract with company that offered ‘real-time Uighur warnings’ - Johana Bhuiyan at Los Angeles Times

Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sent the letter to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos one day after the Los Angeles Times reported on Dahua product support documents that suggest the company’s technology can sort passersby by race, issue “real-time warnings for non-local Uighurs,” and track “Uighurs with hidden terrorist inclinations.” 

Not the first time Amazon has been implicated in supporting China’s genocide against the Uighurs. Highly doubt it will be the last. 


Books

MJW: The Pill, a short story by Meg Ellison

Content warning: fatness, body issues.

It’s hard to write about this story. Not just because it speaks to the ingrained hatred of my body that my self-esteem is built on, but because I’m a ‘kinda-fat’. The BMI is bullshit, but I am just over the line into ‘obese’, but I’m also five feet tall, so my weight is low even though my flesh is quite ample. I’m always getting stuck in these in-between places.

I would read a shopping list if it was written by Meg Elison, she’s such a wonderful writer. The Pill is defiant, heartbreaking, confronting. It’s nuanced. It explores so many things in so few words. It breaks down the fear of fatness and the fetishization as well. It starts in a world where being fat is the worst thing a person could be, because that is the actual fucking world we live in, and takes us forwards into the what-if. I’m so, so glad to see these stories, and if Meg wants to send me a shopping list, I’ll no doubt give it a glowing review.


Movies + TV

CJW: Can't Get You Out of My Head by Adam Curtis

In our next bonus we’re going to chat about this new documentary series by Adam Curtis, so if you want to play along at home, just hit the link above and get watching.

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MKY: Space Sweepers [Netflix South Korea]

I greatly enjoyed Elysium 2: Planetes. So much heart there, such a great mix of characters! Like, give me an animated prequel for each of them, plz n thank you. Most of all, it’s the best take I’ve seen yet on ‘the agenda’ of the plutocrats, and drills the point home that they’d rather build castles in the sky, than even think about using their profits from destroying the earth, to ya know… not?. Class war in low-earth orbit, thanks again South Korea.

CJW: I watched Space Sweepers during a 3 hour wait for dinner to be delivered, so possibly I was too hangry to enjoy it as much as I otherwise might have. Like almost every movie made these days, it could have benefitted from being 15-30 minutes shorter, but still, the characters in this found family were all great, as were their interactions, it was completely over the top, and probably more fun and more interesting than any of the Star Wars sequels…

And if I may be shameless for a moment - if you want more found families in space, you can check out my VoidWitch Saga. Though my body count is a lot higher...

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MKY: Resident Alien [SyFy]

Do you like Alan Tudyk? Do you wanna see Alan Tudyk acting in a prestige drama while everyone else in the show is in yet another SyFysmall town drama (eg Eureka)? Then give this a look.

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MKY: Judas and the Black Messiah [HBO Max]

I’ve been mentally calling this the wikipedia skim’d version of the Black Panthers. Like, good place to get interested, bad place to stop.15mins max on the rainbow coalition (wiki link lol - but srsly, is there a more powerful idea than overcoming racism to unite the working classes against the ruling elites?), 2hrs+ making you simp for a snitch. So it goes.


URL

CJW: How the Media Cracks Down on Critics of Israel - Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs

I hope, however, that we can see exactly how the suppression of critics of Israel works. You say the wrong thing, you lose your position. No second chances. You will be tarred as an anti-Semite and your job will disappear overnight. This is one key reason why Israel continues to get away with horrific crimes. To speak honestly and frankly about the facts risks bringing swift censorship. Human rights violations continue with impunity. And when Israeli snipers target Palestinian children, the Guardian is complicit.

I only caught the edge of this on twitter - I saw that NJR had been “cancelled,” but had read enough of his writing to be pretty sure it was down to some sort of bullshit. Obviously this piece is written by NJR, so it’s not entirely objective, but it’s also not the first time we’ve seen people thrown under the bus for criticising Israel. (The recent TrueAnon interview episodes with NormanFinkelstein are also relevant here.) Interesting here though is the fact that it was actually a criticism of American spending on weapons for Israel.  

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CJW: Histories of Violence: On Suffering - Brad Evans interviewing Eugene Thacker at Los Angeles Review of Books 

There is a tragic irony in the Anthropocene idea. We do matter after all. The evidence? We have created the conditions for our own extinction. I suppose that is an achievement, of sorts. So convinced are we as human beings that we matter that we are willing to sacrifice the planet for our own species-specific self-importance.

Great interview with Eugene Thacker, author of In the Dust of this Planet.

MKY: anthropocentrism must die.


IRL

MJW: This is entirely un-newslettery, BUT: tomorrow CJW and I will have been together for six years. Don’t ask me how two such diametrically opposed people have made it work so long - me, your local disaster, and CJW, the most disciplined and hardworking person I’ve ever met. But we have. In fact, maybe that’s why? And we still adore each other every day. Happy anniversary, lovelo. You are Quite Good. (And thanks for keeping track of our anniversary for all these years, too.)


Video

DCH: The Witch of Kings Cross | Trailer

Seems relevant to our interests.

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DCH: Satirical Mars tourism ad by Greta Thunberg's Fridays for Future

Greta has had enough of Elon Musk’s horsehit.


The Self-Promotion

CJW: Recently I mentioned the Buddies without Organs podcast, but what I didn’t mention was that I was joining the buddies, talking a different Deleuze essay each episode. My debut episode is here: Episode #04: The Geology of Morals – Buddies Without Organs and I also tidied up some notes on the essay here: *Who* Does the Earth Think It Is?!

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CJW: I also had the pleasure of taking part in this webinar: The State of Cyberpunk in the Asia Pacific, which also featured Amanda Bridgeman, Jamila R. Nedjadi, T.R. Napper, and Yudhanjaya Wijerante. It was a great chat, and you’ll be able to see the replay at the link (I can see it now, but that might be my local recording? If you can’t see it, wait another day and it should be live.) Special thanks to Kat Clay for organising such a great event!

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MJW: The podcast Even The Rich (from Wondery Media) is doing The Kardashians and I'm all like, 'I have a story about a reality tv family dynasty, I should use this opportunity to shamelessly plug it.' It's called 'The Great House Thrippet, Season 246, Episode 12' What does a reality tv family dynasty look like in its 246th season? It was originally published in Aurealis Magazine & you can read it here.

Aeren calls a cut and Perola’s team swoops in, taking her off to the Image department on the second floor for hair and makeup. Piyel’s younger sister Perseus sweeps out of the room, knocking into Piyel.

“Thanks for ruining the scene,” she says, then drops her voice low and vicious so only Piyel can hear, “9.98.”

Piyel goes white. Her sister, born a year after her, topped the VR at 9.99. She immediately feels so empty inside that she mentally schedules in some time to find her older sister, Pinta, and call her 9.96 to her face. For now, Piyel starts to follow her mother up to Image, but Aeren and his assistant, who is also called Aeren, steer her off towards Legal.

“What the fuck was that?” Aeren hisses, yanking hard on her wig for a second before he lets go. Piyel teeters in her eleven-inch Huáng Meizhen spidersilk/carbon fibre heels. She’s got terrible balance from the structural reshape Surgical implemented on her feet – she’s all toe and ball. The other Aeren catches her and rights her body, and she trots fast down the hall, trying to catch up as Aeren swats at her heels with his softscreen.


CJW: That’s all, folks!


Cutting Room Floor