CJW: Welcome to another edition of the nothing here newsletter.
Our latest bonus was A primer on propaganda in the 21st century courtesy of DCH, and our latest unlocked bonus is Field Notes from the proto-Invisibles Monastary 4 - on Dataism and the Stacks, the continuation of MKY’s explorations.
An earlier bonus from Marlee and I went around twitter a bit this week, on passive suicide ideation. It’s not an easy read, but it might help someone if I mention it here again.
Corey J. White (CJW) - Nice.
CJW: The Pandemic Year Marked a Turning Point in Climate Change - David Wallace-Wells at NYMag Intelligencer (via Sentiers)
Just a half-decade ago, it was widely believed that a “business as usual” emissions path would bring the planet four or five degrees of warming — enough to make large parts of Earth effectively uninhabitable. Now, thanks to the rapid death of coal, the revolution in the price of renewable energy, and a global climate politics forged by a generational awakening, the expectation is for about three degrees. Recent pledges could bring us closer to two. All of these projections sketch a hazardous and unequal future, and all are clouded with uncertainties — about the climate system, about technology, about the dexterity and intensity of human response, about how inequitably the most punishing impacts will be distributed. Yet if each half-degree of warming marks an entirely different level of suffering, we appear to have shaved a few of them off our likeliest end stage in not much time at all.
The next half-degrees will be harder to shave off, and the most crucial increment — getting from two degrees to 1.5 — perhaps impossible, dashing the dream of avoiding what was long described as “catastrophic” change. But for a climate alarmist like me, seeing clearly the state of the planet’s future now requires a conspicuous kind of double vision, in which a guarded optimism seems perhaps as reasonable as panic. Given how long we’ve waited to move, what counts now as a best-case outcome remains grim. It also appears, miraculously, within reach.
Here, David Wallace-Wells offers some reasons to be hopeful about our climate future, but this good news is perhaps only good compared with our pre-COVID trajectory:
Two degrees is no one’s idea of a happy climate outcome — or shouldn’t be, I should say. African diplomats have wept at climate conferences at what it would mean for the fate of their continent, calling it “certain death”; island nations have called it “genocide.” At two degrees, it’s expected that 150 million additional people would die from air pollution, that storms and flooding events that used to hit once a century would hit every year, and that many cities in South Asia and the Middle East that are today home to many millions would become so hot during summer that it often wouldn’t be possible to walk around outside without risking death by heatstroke.
“It is a totally different world,” Figueres told me. “It’s two completely different worlds from the point of view of human misery. It’s two completely different worlds from the point of view, certainly, of ecosystem resilience. It is two completely different worlds with respect to economic profitability and stability. And it will be unmanageable for any social system in any country to deal with the increased poverty and the increased migration pressure that a two-degree world will bring.”
When I say we are now heading toward a best-case outcome, this is what I mean.
It's a long read (hence my long quotes), but DWW is always worth the time.
MJW: Our best-case scenario is human misery!
[...] how we develop CDR matters. It matters whether these approaches take place in disadvantaged communities without offering benefit, or whether they are designed in ways that offer communities good employment and revenue. It matters whether they decrease biodiversity or restore it. It matters whether polluters are paying for it, or if those who can least afford it are bearing the cost. These are choices. Interdisciplinary, empirical science can help us articulate these choices.
Related to the above, this Carbon Dioxide Removal Primer is a book (available to read online at the link) that "[...] reflects more than two years of thoughtful work and collaboration among dozens of authors, all experts in different areas of carbon dioxide removal. The effort spanned several workshops and an extensive period of writing, reading, and constructive feedback."
I hope to go through the whole book eventually, and I'm sure some of our readers will find it interesting.
DCH: American Cities Are Way Underreporting Their Carbon Footprints- Matt Simon at Wired
The study used Vulcan, a comprehensive emissions model developed by the researchers, to analyze 48 American cities. It found that, on average, officials are underreporting their greenhouse gas emissions by 18.3 percent. If you were to extrapolate that discrepancy to all the cities across the United States, the potentially unreported carbon would equal 129,000,000 metric tons—nearly 25 percent more than all of California’s emissions in 2015.
There is no US climate response just as there is no US pandemic response. Because too many important things are left to the vagaries of states. That goes done to even something as basic as “how do we measure our carbon footprint.”
Projects like Vulcan could help rectify that. Or an emergency rollout of carbon-eating machines as Simon suggests in a related article also at Wired.
DCH: Sea Levels Are Rising Faster Than Most Pessimistic Forecasts - Jonathan Tirone at Bloomberg
“It means our carbon budget is even more depleted,” said Aslak Grinsted, a geophysicist at the University of Copenhagen who co-authored the research. Economies need to slash an additional 200 billion metric tons of carbon — equivalent to about five years of global emissions — to remain within the thresholds set by previous forecasts, he said.
Two-fifths of the world’s human population lives near coastlines. Coastlines that are plunging underwater faster than we previously thought. Out of all of Sci-fi’s apocalypses, we’re getting fucking Waterworld.
CJW: Other Species are Essential Workers, Whose Economies Enfold Our Own - Didi Pershouse (via Sentiers)
Human economies have failed, fertile lands have turned into deserts, and empires have fallen throughout history, in large part because the “deciders” did not recognize, understand, or value the work of other species. They failed to see that human work and human economies are nested within the work and economies of other species. They did not design their own future to include these essential workers, find a way to work along with them, or invest in the larger economy.
I kind of hate the way animals, plants, fungi, etc here are framed as "essential workers" in human systems, and, worse, investors who require a return on investment. That anthropocentric framing is entirely at odds with the point of the article, and referring to animals as though they were important economic actors reinforces the status of the economy as an all-important monolith that can and should deliberately expand beyond the realm of the human.
I can’t help but think that this sort of thinking would lead to an expansion of animal slavery, like what we heard about last year.
But there are parts of this ‘essential workers’ piece that make it worth reading, including a section on the teaching the author is doing in the local area:
Because non-human work is invisible to our economic thinking, it is not just undervalued, but unvalued. We only pay the cost once the work has ceased to happen, at which point it becomes an unfolding entanglement of problems, leading to an extremely expensive crisis.
CJW: Build Back Better for Whom? How Neoliberalism (Re)creates Disaster Risks - Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs
The emphasis of BBB is on continuity–i.e., to keep on going no matter what. The goal is not to alleviate the original conditions that created a crisis, but rather to quickly move past the crisis without altering the underlying political, economic, and societal structures. This emphasizes the core of neoliberalism: not as a mode of economic management, but as a mode of political rationality and government reasoning that constructs and regulates the realm within which a disaster—and then the reconstruction—occur .The contradiction here is that a disaster exposes, and is grounded in, the underlying inequalities in society while neoliberal capitalism relies on the maintenance of those same inequalities.
On the neoliberal continuity represented in the phrase "build back better," and the ways in which this idea is used to ignore the problems that might have caused the disasters (whether natural, environmental, economic, etc) in the first place.
Disasters are often portrayed as unexpected external shocks and are frequently naturalized and framed as inevitable, meaning that their root causes cannot be altered, and thus it is we who must adapt.
CJW: Call center workers pay for the privilege - Cory Doctorow
They have to do weeks of unpaid "training" just to get started, and then they have to pay more to get specific training for every one of Arise's giant corporate clients, from AT&T to Carnival Cruises to Comcast to Disney to Airbnb to Intuit to Barnes and Noble to Ebay.
After passing random, invasive, in-home inspections, after shelling out thousands of dollars and doing weeks – if not months – of unpaid training, they are finally eligible to sign up for shifts.
Here Doctorow summarises an excellent piece of reporting by Ken Armstrong, Justin Elliott and Ariana Tobin at Propublica: Meet the Customer Service Reps for Disney and Airbnb Who Have to Pay to Talk to You, which would have to be the most disgusting independent contracting arrangement in North America.
Doctorow’s description of chickenisation alone is worth the read because I think it’s a useful lens. Capitalists all talk about the free market, but then let this kind of shit happen, and then wonder why things are decaying economically for everyone but the people at the top. If you need more after Doctorow’s piece, the full article from Propublica has plenty of extra detail.
Globalization works in our present-day economy because capitalism maintains pools of labour in destitute conditions, and is thus able to offer goods at cheaper rates to those in walled-off prosperity zones. By extension, the existence of large-scale systems of transportation for manufactured goods in a science fictional setting implies the existence of planets with populations that are mired in subsistence poverty or slavery.
So I’ve just finished watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9 for the first time, and in that show they nicely summarise the trope of interplanetary trade as The Great Material Continuum - from want to have and back again. But it’s in The Expanse that this idea is even more resonant - for if the idea of the Belters being a slave race is a hard sell (and justification for <events of the current season> that just concluded, which to my mind is a fully justified slave rebellion) there’s no disputing that the genetically and culturally adapted true born citizens of the Asteroid Belt and beyond - SPACE FOR SPAAAAACERS, he screamed - had been ‘mired in subsistence poverty’ and kept - and controlled - that way by the more developed nations of Mars and Earth. All of which is to say, the above blogpost is just the kinda contributions we need in thinking about decolonising space and imagining better futures - something more than NeoLiberalism in Space or Technocratic LARPer’s Galactic Adventures. Innit. We need to outcompete bullshit oldthink like this: Brainlord Elon Musk's Grand Plan For Mars Settlement Is Indentured Servitude. (Also don’t we already have a planet to make habitable... again? Just sayin’.)
DCH: Even Grimes is assuming her ticket to Mars means manual labour until death.
DCH: Inside China’s Police State Tactics Against Muslims - by Ryan Tate, Yael Grauer, and Darren Byler at The Intercept
The report also confirms many of the anti-democratic systems already in place: child separation and carceral re-education, installation of surveillance cameras inside private homes and mosques, immense detention centers, frequent police stops, widespread collection of electronic and biometric data, demolition of Uyghur cemeteries, and the forced abortion and sterilization of women.
In a past bonus letter we talked about how the supply chains of the biggest big tech companies take advantage of forced labour of Uyghurs. This article/podcast from The Intercept is positively chilling. People like to say things like “never again” but we’re seeing rampant state-sponsored genocide play out on a monstrous scale yet again.
DCH: Oxygen Becomes a Scarce Resource in Latin America’s Two Largest Economies - Nick Corbishley at Naked Capitalism
In Mexico, where the second wave of Covid-19 is proving to be a lot worse than the first, criminal gangs have taken to stealing tanks of medical oxygen. Given Mexico’s recent history, this is not really surprising. In the last 20 years the narco gangs have diversified so successfully from their original line of business that their reach extends to just about every corner of the national economy. They have taken over the avocado trade in Michoacan, inserted themselves in Quintana Roo’s tourism industry and made billions pilfering oil from the Pemex-owned pipelines that crisscross the country. Now they are hijacking lorry loads of oxygen tanks.
MJW: Jesus fucking christ, I’m trying to be less depressed. Thanks, news.
We’ve all read summaries of the event itself and primers on how shorting and squeezing works, so I’ve gone for some other links that go a little deeper/weirder. The above link is on the Game Stop fiasco, deterritorialisation, the postmodernism of WSB/hedge fund trading, and more.
I found that after hearing a mention of it on a recent Trashfuture (Patreon-only bonus) episode, which is also worth the listen. For a non-paywalled podcast rundown of the event, TrueAnon's episode was incredibly detailed.
Related: Hype(rstition) and Unbelief: On GameStop and Coronavirus - Matt Colquhoun
The gall of r/WallStreetBets in this regard has captivated the internet for the last few days. They have shone a giant light on economic superstition and, in the process, lifted the lid on hyperstition. But they have done so without hiding their hand. They have humiliated the game by bending its rules in plain sight. The problem — for hedge funders, if no-one else — is that they risk both the system and their own investments in the process.
The rest of the internet has cottoned on. What do you mean you can just collectively will stocks to increase? Like chanting for capital actually works? The unbelief of economists in market dynamics has been revealed to be precisely that — not so much belief as such, but a cynical form of occulted belief that nonetheless produces measurable effects.
A great piece on hyperstition, belief and unbelief, economics, COVID, etc. Ties in to my recent bonus too.
DCH: How to Steal an American Election - William Hogeland
The 2020 election wasn’t stolen—though full marks for trying. The incumbent president and some of his Republican supporters gave it their best shot. That phone call to Georgia was but one example exposing the effort at chicanery. Systemic obstacles to voting, in many states, show it more generally. Still, in 2020, Trump’s best shot wasn’t good enough. The president was defeated, and he failed, through both legal and illegal efforts, to overcome that fact.
So here are a few tips for more effectively messing with elections, based on the experiences of earlier American politicians:
Another great “bad history” lesson from my friend Bill Hogeland. In this edition of his great newsletter he walks through four different examples of stolen elections from 1776 to 2000. Well-worth your time.
CJW: The Big Sleep - Max Anton Brewer
Prompt: Dog with angel wings and a thousand eyes
I’ve mentioned MAB’s new newsletter before, but if you didn’t subscribe last time you would have missed this great post. The politics and magic angle parallel my recent bonus (I keep mentioning it, I know...), but he also points to a text-to-image GAN running from a shared Google Colab, which you can use to create psychedelic images like the above.
I recommend reading the newsletter, but at the very least, have yourself some fun with The Big Sleep.
For anyone keeping tabs on the slow decline of the mass centralised social media networks, this should be of interest - Facebook and Twitter starting their own paid newsletter services (a la Substack), commentary from the Substack CEO.
Movies + TV
I’ve only watched the first few eps, but Emily’s already rocked up to Thoreau’s house, busted his mum doing his laundry and his sister bringing him cookies, called him a hipster poseur and… i am very much here for a show like this, coz fuck the cult of Thoreau. Also, unlike a certain popular… woke feudalism period show… I can watch more than 10mins of this without dying of cringe. The magical realism scenes are def a selling point too.
[Rain Dove believes e]veryone should be a gender capitalist, and everyone can be a gender capitalist because Dove is ‘not talking trans...plastic surgery or anything weird like that’. Cis people should be trans, but do it better. do it so well that it’s not a trans thing, it's a capitalist thing, which is fine.
Dove gives the bizarre example of the sinking of the Titanic: pass as a man and join the ship as a deckhand to make $$$, when the ship starts sinking whip your tits out and get on a lifeboat.
Interesting piece on gender capitalism, gender more broadly, capitalism more broadly, transness and related subjects.
Capitalism wants to forge a non-binary gender role as demanding and constricting as male and female. More gender = more capitalism.
CJW: Future Schlock - Jathan Sadowski at Real Life Mag
“Utopian” and “dystopian,” then, should not be understood as alternatives but co-existing perspectives: What is utopian for Amazon or DoorDash is highly dystopian for their workers. Whether its platforms like Uber pushing to pass a law in California that enshrines serfdom for gig workers or Amazon rolling out tools with the comically ominous names of Monitron and Panorama to automate control of factories, tech companies are progressing toward their utopia, the world they have been striving to create and dominate. Part of their utopia is foreclosing on our ability to imagine our own.
On tech company visions for the future, in all their utopian and dystopian glory, and the possibility of resistance to them, ending on what could perhaps be described as a call to arms.
And in using Sidewalk Labs' (now defunct) plans for Toronto as an example, it kinda sums up why I was always skeptical (hostile?) to Sidewalk Labs' plans...
To some, scuttling a smart-city project may seem defensive and reactionary — a rejection of the future. But it is only a rejection of one predetermined future. At the same time, it is a positive affirmation of a world in which decisions about governance and development are not already dictated by corporations.
CJW: Why we started a club night for our teacher, Mark Fisher - Natasha Eves, Archie Smith and Kitty McKay at Huck Mag
Following this, the January 2020 event took place at Goldsmiths Students Union. On Instagram, snarky academic-types said the queue was “full of teenagers googling ‘who is Mark Fisher?’” However, this look-down-the-nose attitude was exactly what we aimed to dispose of. We didn’t know who Mark Fisher was when we took his class. We simply met him, and each other, in that serendipitous way through which encounters happen. Engaging with Mark and his thoughts feels exciting. Nursing more than just a hangover, new futures for political or philosophical thought are brought into being.
About the celebrations of Mark Fisher and his work that have been taking place each year since his death, and some new projects spiraling out of those celebrations. Love to see it.
Related, another Xenogothic post makes some great points and asks some interesting questions: The Post-Capitalist Realism Generation: Notes on Students, BreadTube and Digital Psychedelia
We should be asking ourselves: are we producing “Red Pills” to be swallowed with ease, that nonetheless radically shift our perspective? Or are we producing Facebook-ready bonbons — a doublegood sweet treat that limits philosophy to yet another capitalist palliative? Are we hacking the word virus or producing newspeak? Are we diminishing our own vocabulary through memetic reduction or laying the groundwork for the hard work that we otherwise know is necessary and to come?
MJW: NO NEW BOOKS, ONLY REREAD
I’m midway through a listen of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers audiobook. Listening to King in audiobook form has highlit his flaws, the wincing other-timely-ness of the content and characters, the problematic language peppered through his books. It is not to say that I do not enjoy his work any longer - I do like so much of his demonstration of craft.
What I’m discovering with my SK audiobook binge is that I love pieces of his work. There are chapters where King almost reaches the sublime. The Tommyknockers is one of his most reviled books, but listening to the chapter ‘Hilly Brown’ last night, I wanted to grab the physical book from the shelf, find the chapter, jam it in CJW’s face, and say, ‘this! This is King’s magic!’
The interweaving of backstory and personality in these fleeting moments of even the most minor and momentary of characters is just so fucking deft in places. Nobody has ever made me care about characters as much as Stephen King does, and I guess that’s why I just can’t quit him.
MKY: Seinfeld: The Return
Remember mashups n shit? Well remix culture is back, shit like this is amazeballs and I can’t wait for the cinematic equiv of the Grey Album. But for now, what if they did a sequel to Seinfeld in the manor of Twin Peaks: The Return. What if indeeeeeeeed Jerry:
CJW: Chris Dorland
At the Future Schlock link above you’ll see this piece of Chris Dorland’s early work adorning the essay:
It grabbed me right away, largely because the dome hints suggests the novel I’m currently editing, and a book cover in this style could be incredibly striking. Checking Dorland’s current work has become even more abstract, more striking, and he’s also begun utilising animation - with short loops on LED displays. So much incredible work.
CJW: See you next time.
Cutting Room Floor
Decolonisation is a comfortable buzzword for the aid sector - Themrise Khan at Open Democracy
How Texas Hunting Went Exotic – Texas Monthly - Wes Ferguson at Texas Monthly - CJW: Some interesting bits about endangered and extinct-in-the-wild animals.
Climate change: Australia's emissions targets are catastrophic - John Hewson at Sydney Morning Herald - CJW: Short and important read for Aussies or anyone who likes to stay on top of climate... stuff. Normally I wouldn't trust someone like Hewson or the SMH, but this looks solid to me.
Lana Del Rey Shows Americans Who They Really Are - Joseph Earp at Junkee
The scandals he walks past - Nick Feik at The Monthly - CJW: On the scandal-less corruption of the Australian government.
The Australian Neo-Nazi movements going bush: Grampians cross burning spurs call for action - Nick McKenzie and Joel Tozer at Sydney Morning Herald - CJW: On far-right groups in Australia, and the way media perception/reporting is finally changing.
Australia has stupid discussions about everything - Lucy Valentine at The Shot - CJW: On Australia’s endless culture wars and our needless cruelty.
Earth at a Cute Angle. Satellite imagery surrounds us - by Robert Simmon at Nightingale (via Sentiers)
Inside the mind of Jeff Bezos - Mark O’Connell at The Guardian
Amazon plans to install always-on surveillance cameras in its delivery vehicles - Nick Statt at The Verge (via Damien Williams)
Gone: The lost victims of Nigeria’s ‘most brutal’ police station - Chika Oduah at Al Jazeera