nothing here but kaiju walls

issue 044 - 23rd February, 2020

CJW: Hello and welcome. Here we are with another edition of the nothing here newsletter, beaming a dense dose of cultural, social, environmental, and political happenings directly into your eye holes.

The work we do here is supported by paying subscribers, who also get access to bonus letters - essays, experiments, fiction, rants, and whatever else we’re feeling at that moment. The latest bonus was a piece of original fiction from Marlee Jane, The Husband in Your Head. To get access to it and all the other bonus letters in the archive, just go here to become a supporter.

Now, on with the show.

MJW: Juul Bought Ads On Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, And Other Kids Websites, A New Lawsuit Claims

I’m one of those people who is Addicted To Everything. Gimme something to abuse and I’m ALL OVER IT. (I even got addicted to kickboxing for two years and since then I can’t turn my head all the way to the right.) Anyway, nicotine was my very first love: I started smoking when I was 12 and was a heavy smoker until I was in my mid-thirties. I turned to vaping as a substitute (note that I didn’t say ‘to help me quit’) and was so fucking addicted to that thing I was hitting it like every ten minutes. I had to stop when I started noticing a whole different set of health problems, and it was harder to quit than cigs. The idea that Juul expressly marketed to kids makes me fucking furious. I spent like, 23 years trying to shake off nicotine and any company that would put another kid into that position should be held accountable.

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CJW: 'The Good Place' Finale Made Heaven Look Hopeless

To talk about self-destruction with the terminology I’ve been using—and that the show points toward—is dicey. There is a judgmental social tradition of referring to people who die by suicide as “selfish” when really what they were was in need of help. There is also an ongoing debate among experts and clinicians about whether suicide should ever be discussed as rational. Most people who kill themselves experienced mental illness, and “acute suicidality, which involves feeling like one should die now, is a genuine altered state of consciousness,” according to Jesse Bering, a psychologist and the author of a book on suicide. But, as Bering also writes, some people have carefully thought through the pros and cons of remaining alive and made an informed choice to die—a process a lot like what The Good Place reverently portrayed at the end.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of The Good Place in relation to suicide, but I still need to piece together my thoughts. Read this in the meantime, but it could very well be the topic of my next bonus letter.

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CJW: More drawings allege CIA's horrific treatment of Abu Zubaydah (via Leslie Lee III)

Anyone who's read Void Black Shadow will know I have an unhealthy interest in torture (I blame the self-titled TEXT album), so whether you're fucked-up in that same way, or just want to understand exactly how evil the CIA is, this is an important read.

And even if you're a ghoul who thinks torturing people is worth it for the intel it produces, please note that the FBI's soft approach provided useful intel, and the CIA torture produced nothing but pain, PTSD and lies peddled by the Agency to justify its violence.

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CJW: Michael Bloomberg's Polite Authoritarianism

Bloomberg’s three victorious mayoral election campaigns are depressing evidence that a substantial number of Americans are amenable to authoritarian politics and uninterested in protecting civil liberties. So long as the person overseeing the police state claimed to be surveilling people for their own good, it was easy to turn a blind eye, especially if the surveillance was concentrated in certain neighborhoods.

Seems reminiscent of the way imprisoning and torturing refugees has become bipartisan policy here in Australia, because enough people are racist enough to allow such things to continue.

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CJW: The Golden Age of White Collar Crime

As the links between corporations and regulators become increasingly incestuous, the future will bring more crude-soaked coastlines, price-gouging corporate behemoths and Madoff-style Ponzi schemes. More hurdles to suing companies for poisoning their customers or letting bosses harass their employees. And more uniquely American catastrophes like the opioid crisis and the price of insulin.

This piece started off strong, then I started skimming as it got more specific because, uhh, it's not my country. Still, I'd recommend all our USian subscribers check this one out.

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CJW: How to Be A 21st Century Marxist with Hacker Theorist McKenzie Wark (via Ospare)

Is there a new mode of production growing out of capitalism? It hasn't replaced it, we mostly still live in capitalism, but it's not all that anymore; there’s something a little bit different. Is there a new kind of ruling class, and could we view it as one that mostly controls information? It's really not interested in things; it doesn't directly own factories. It doesn't care about physical things. It cares about controlling the value chain through controlling information. There are elements of that all through capitalism, but for it to be emerging to the point of dominance is relatively new. And I think that needs a new critical language—so I called it the “vectorialist class,” who controls the vector of information.

I’ve seen Wark’s name come up here and there lately, and this interview definitely puts her on my radar of thinkers to look further into.

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CJW: The Long Time

We now have the unprecedented ability to destroy our species and that has happened at such a speed that we haven’t evolved mechanisms—politically, scientifically or culturally—to manage such risks.

In fact, in the West, we have done the converse, developing powerful ways to dismiss and distance ourselves from taking responsibility for the future. Philosopher Roman Krznaric talks of how we generally treat the future as something he calls tempora nullius, ‘empty time’, in reference to the ways that colonising powers throughout history have portrayed the spaces they wish to dominate as terra nullius, ‘empty places’. Our short-termism means we are effectively colonising the future, prioritising our own short-term gains over the future collective good.

Not just a lamentation, in this piece they also go into potential solutions to our short-termism. One of the possible paths is outlined as Deep Time. As well as the examples offered, Stephen Baxter explores this notion in a really interesting way in his novel Evolution.

MKY: I’m struggling to articulate my issues with what they’re pitching here, so instead I’ll just point to two other bits of Deep Time culture, the long compositions/performances of John Cage and Terrence Malik’s film The Tree of Life. Also, I guess I shouldn’t miss an opportunity to reference the work of the legendary Human Interference Task Force.

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CJW: As Sea Levels Rise, Scientists Offer a Bold Idea: Dam the North Sea

Even the scientists behind the proposal acknowledge that attempting to dam the entire North Sea is not an ideal solution.

Much better, they said, would be for the proposal to serve as an alarm, vividly illustrating the kind of drastic action that might become necessary if global leaders cannot find a way to address climate change.

On the one hand, I appreciate what these scientists are doing - pointing out the massive costs associated with engineering “solutions” to climate change in order to help policymakers realise that smaller costs and immediate changes to address climate change now might be the better approach. On the other hand though, I can easily see this backfiring. How many politicians will say instead, “Well, we don’t have to worry about sea level rise then, these scientists have figured out we can just damn the entire sea!”

It’s Pacific Rim, but the walls aren’t meant to keep out kaiju, just the watery results of our greed and ineptitude.

MKY: yeah, I’ve long seen the kaiju as a manifestation of the effects of climate change and other exciting ways we’ve fucked the world, something Tim Morton talks about briefly in HyperObjects - Godzilla as the effects of nuclear testing etc made real. The way the kaiju tear through the Wall in Pacific Rim like it’s made of paper - just as the Dragon effortlessly burns down the epic IceWall in GoT - says like, a lot. Still, like you say, it’s far too easy to imagine this damming of the North Sea being picked as a viable solution by these nations - and I’m kinda into a freshly independent Scotland uniting with the Scandnavian countries to build it (though, good luck getting that much sand). Because it’s this or tackle the far greater construction project of dismantling capitalism in its various world-ruining forms and building something better from the rubble.

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Cutting Room Floor:

CJW: Field Notes a newsletter from Christopher Brown

Christopher Brown is an author of near future science fiction with a focus on environmental and political issues, and this is his new newsletter of urban nature writing and photography. Beautiful stuff already.

MKY: Instant subscribe!

CJW: normal cat pictures (@normalcatpics)

This is a twitter account that tweets GAN-produced images of cats. My favourite feature is the nonsense ur-language on so many of the images because of the proliferation of cat memes. Some of these pictures look like bad taxidermy jobs, some look like something out of The Thing, others look scarily real and I would scritch.

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AA: Simon Roy and C.M. Koseman attempt to answer the question: What would the world look like if dinosaurs had not gone extinct? They offer some creative conjecture about how evolution may have continued to shape dinosaurs and the world around them. The duo’s ideas, recorded as a series of sketches and informal discussion, are fascinating. Below you’ll find a couple of choice selections, but make sure to head to Koseman’s site for much more

Having a look through all this stuff made me want to revisit my floppies of Steve Bisette’s epic (unfinished) dinosaur comic TYRANT.

AA: Please enjoy this wholesome content, which may be even more rewarding for fastidious types that take good care of their stuff (like CJW). (via Mark Frauenfelder) 

AA: There's a decent Moses Sumney feature up at pitchfork

On a frigid Friday afternoon, Moses leads me into Firestorm, a worker-owned local queer bookstore. There is one book in particular he is after, Valerie Solanas’ 1968 feminist bible the SCUM Manifesto. (He’s in loose agreement with her misandrist thesis, that men have ruined the world.) Moses also buys a copy of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, an epistolary novel whose themes crisscross immigration, abuse, race, and sexuality. I offer a warning: The book is beautiful, but it will break you. “We love that,” he replies drily.

I've been a fan of Sumney since his elegantly haunted 2017 debut Aromanticism, but it sounds like this latest release is somewhat more maximalist with pop flourishes and appearances by the likes of Oneohtrix Point Never and Thundercat. I'm excited to hear it. I'd also recommend his NPR Tiny Desk as a good entry point. 

CJW: Confessions of a Hate Reader, or Bad Writing Habits I Picked up from Bad Criticism

I thought this was an interesting piece about letting criticism (general, not personal) get under your skin and alter your writing for the worse. Good thing for emerging writers to pay attention to because until you find your voice and some self-confidence it will be very easy to fall into these kinds of traps.

A rule I like to follow in writing is this: there are no rules, there is only whatever you can get away with. Meaning the real value in “rules” is knowing what to avoid until you’ve honed your skills enough to either get away with it, or subvert it.

For example, I hate exposition and avoid it as much as I can, but at the same time exposition has its place. Sometimes you need to get that information on the page, and a paragraph of exposition will be preferable to a scene that takes up multiple pages and has no use apart from conveying said information. , Exposition is simply a tool, and it’s a perfectly valid one just as long as you don’t use it too early, too often, or too liberally. And the only way to figure out those limits is to write, to experiment, to fail, and to eventually succeed.

CJW: Repo Virtual Preview

My publisher has released a 100-page ebook sneak peak containing the first 8 Chapters of REPO VIRTUAL. Check here for download links, and if you enjoy the sample, please consider preordering it through your favourite local (or online) bookseller. I’m really proud of this book, and glad to see some great reviews coming in from early readers, but I’m also anxious about its reception when it’s released. It’ll be out in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook on April 21st.

Also, with REPO VIRTUAL on the horizon, if you've got a website, podcast, newsletter, or whatever and you'd like to talk to me about the book, cyberpunk, sci-fi, writing, publishing, editing, or other topics I'm interested in, hit me up.

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CJW: Remnant: From the Ashes is a Metaphor for Climate Change

I wrote a piece for Interstellar Flight Magazine on my favourite co-op game from 2019, Remnant: From the Ashes, and the ways the game can be read as a metaphor for climate change, and the ways we can use it as a lens through which to view rampant consumerism and colonialism.

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 CJW: And that’s it for now. Thanks for reading. We’ll see you again in a couple of weeks. Until then, look after you and yours, because the world needs you, but it’s too arrogant to realise or help.