nothing here but radioactive sunflowers

issue 045 - 8th March, 2020

CJW: Greetings from the land of no toilet paper, where panic buying has stripped our shelves of countless basics as people prepare for… I don’t know? Judging by the amount of TP they’re buying, I can only assume they’re preparing for 6 months of self-quarantine, or they hope to shit themselves to death with a little dignity.

I've seen a few people say something along the lines of "if only we reacted to climate change with the fervour of our reaction to coronavirus." And I get what they're saying, but the big difference is that Coronavirus is a situation in which we (think we) can consume our way to a solution. Masks, hand-sanitiser, hoarding food and toilet paper, or at an infrastructural level building new hospitals - the media can point us in the direction of things to buy and we can do so at a panic bordering on hysteria. But the only genuine response to climate change is to address our addiction to consumption, to embrace de-growth, and refocus on local sustainable production instead of a wasteful, capital-driven global network of trade. No one has worked out how to profit from climate change, so no one is willing to act. (Of course plenty of us are acting as individuals and in small groups, I’m talking about our corporate overlords and our politicians who are in their pocket.)

So, right now I’m a little exasperated, and kind of disappointed in my fellow Australians, particularly the selfish, racist, and just plain stupid reaction to the current situation. As for Coronavirus in general - I’ve got some tabs open to read, but haven’t gotten to them yet. Maybe next time.

The latest bonus letter was from me - looking at Ursula Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, and how it relates to modern capitalism: The Ones Who Stay. To get access to it, our future bonuses, and the full archive, just go here to become a supporter.

CJW: I’d rather be called a climate pessimist than cling to toxic hope

[Aboriginal Australians] know we’re in an abusive relationship with the institutions of power and capital that occupy our lands, but does the climate movement? Much of what the movement focuses its energy and resources on feels a lot like asking an abuser to change their ways. Indeed, the movement appears intent on preserving a way of life that depends on that toxic relationship for its very existence. Climate emergency declarations, green jobs, renewable energy targets, citizen’s councils – maybe they will stop the worst of climate change, maybe they won’t. What we know they won’t do is end the abusive relationship between the colony and us as Indigenous people. They won’t end the abusive relationships between capital and workers, between the rich and everyone else, between the exploiters and the exploited, here and around the world.

Whilst this piece focuses on colonial Australia as it's connected to the global climate crisis, it also covers the broad view, making some great points about the many failures of mainstream climate movements, that tracks closely with what I've long been saying here.

There is plenty of evidence to suggest that a return to pre-colonial, indigenous land management practices could have a huge positive climate impact, but it seems unlikely that we'd allow ourselves to see the wisdom in their practices when our systems of governance and law barely recognise the personhood of indigenous peoples all across the world.

MJW: One of the most cheerful, positive and optimistic-seeming of my friends frequently has the most devastating conversations with me about the future. ‘I’m an optimist, yes,’ she says. ‘But I’m also a realist.’ Me too, Clara, me too. I think hope is a powerful thing, but it can be a dangerous thing. And I think CJW is right: if we can’t let go of our deep-rooted racism and conscious and unconscious colonial attitudes, then how will we ever return stewardship of the land back to the people who understand it best?

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CJW: Shell Has a Plan to Profit From Climate Change

There’s little doubt that fossil-fuels are, culturally speaking, on the wrong side of history. But there is still a lot more money to extract from those wells, and the fossil-fuel businesses are intent on extracting as much as they can. It’s not necessarily such a bad time to be an oil and gas company, in other words, but it is a bad time to look like one. These companies aren’t planning for a future without oil and gas, at least not anytime soon, but they want the public to think of them as part of a climate solution. In reality, they’re a problem trying to avoid being solved.

This is a brilliant insider's look at a fossil fuel company conference that also includes a broad look at the history of avoidance and denial, and the current wave of green initiatives as polluter propaganda.

Right now, these companies have to convince governments and their publics to let them run out the clock with fossil fuels, and they’ve decided the best way to do that is to appear to be an essential partner for whatever’s coming next. I was ostensibly there to help plan the timing.

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CJW: Washington Post Amplifies Climate Change Denialism From the Heartland Institute

The Heartland Institute has spent decades peddling pseudoscience on behalf or major corporations. From helping big tobacco downplay smoking cancer risks to helping big telecom demolish popular consumer protections like net neutrality, Heartland can routinely be found peeing in the public discourse pool on behalf of its corporate donors.

[...]

The Washington Post not only gives Heartland and Seibt a mainstream platform to spout climate science denialism, the paper parrots terms like “climate skeptics,” lending unearned legitimacy to a position the vast majority of global scientists say isn’t just false, but existentially dangerous.

This is like the “manufactured boy band” of the climate crisis. I am, sadly, entirely unsurprised, both that a shitty think tank would bankroll this sort of thing, but also that the Washington Post would gormlessly promote it.

Also, surprising no one, the anti-Greta has previously expressed openly fascist ideas. Read here in German: Gesucht: Influencer*in, jung, rechts.

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CJW: Forest Accumulator (by Geoff Manaugh)

Fast-forward ten years: it’s 2030 and landscape architecture studios around the world are filled with speculative metal-harvesting plant designs—contaminated landscapes laced with gardens of hardy, sap-producing trees—even as industrial behemoths, like Rio Tinto and Barrick Gold, are breeding proprietary tree species in top-secret labs, genetically modifying them to maximize metal uptake.

Weird saps accumulate in iridescent lagoons. Autumn leaves glint, literally metallic, in the sun. Tiny metal capillaries weave up the trunks of black-wooded trees, in filigrees of gold and silver. The occasional forest fire smells not of smoke, but of copper and tin. Reclaimed timber, with knots and veins partially metallized, is used as luxury flooring in suburban homes.

This is incredibly fascinating, touches on some science and history I wasn't familiar with, and ends with some brilliant speculative design.

MKY:  From the New York Times article linked to in that post:

With new electronics spurring surging demand for rare minerals, companies are exploring as far as outer space and the bottom of the ocean. Far less explored is one of humanity’s oldest technologies, the farm.

The language of literature on phytomining, or agromining, hints of a future when plant and machine live together: bio-ore, metal farm, metal crops. “Smelting plants” sounds about as incongruous as carving oxygen.

When Melbz started choking on bushfire smoke I finally got off my ass and bought some house plants, from a list I’d made years earlier, culled from what NASA etc might one day have on long duration space flights, ‘cause some plants are super great at filtering the air. Something I should’ve already known, but had to have spelled out to me whilst watching Daybreakis that sunflowers are being planted across human exclusion zones ‘cause they soak up radiation and toxic metals. When I talk about gardening the Alien Earth, this is part of what I mean. And who knew the post-apoc landscape could be so pretty? This article takes that to the next level… we could have idyllic post-industrial landscapes / forests / non-intrusive biopunk af mining operations. Which would def be a thing to plant over landfills in cities as well. Maybe the Machine Elves are coming to our dimension after all :D

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CJW: If Men Carried Purses, Would They Clean Up Messes? (via Sommer Tothill)

A friend of mine, a women’s history professor, had a different idea. Women clean up because fashion allows it. She pointed to the size of women’s bags, which allow us — like sherpas or packhorses — to lug around the tool kits of servitude.

With coronavirus discourse helping people realise only now how rare it is for men to wash their hands after using the bathroom*, here’s a piece on the way men exist in public spaces, and the way they shirk societal responsibilities because our patriarchal society lets them. 

*I remember seeing a touch screen at an airport bathroom which had a line up of smiley faces you could use to rate the cleanliness of the bathroom… Umm, there was no fucking way I was going to touch that thing after washing my hands. I know what men are like. (Dudes, wash your fucking hands.)

MJW: One day I was like, ‘hrmm, bag’s a bit heavy,’ so I emptied it.

Granted, none of this shit is useful to anyone but me (unless someone has dry hands, needs one of three different red lipsticks in slightly varying textures and shades, wants straight hair immediately, or requires several different kinds of psychiatric drugs?) but I need it. My handbag is a buttersoft black leather tote (I’m the worst vegetarian) big enough for all this plus my laptop because I feel a deep, almost primal urge to load myself up like a mule everywhere I go. But sometimes, and indeed more frequently these days, I don’t haul this everything-receptacle around. Sometimes I just grab my keys and wallet and phone and enter the world light and unburdened and unprepared. There’s such a freedom in it. So what if your hair gets messy or you start to sweat or whatever? I feel like it’s maybe even related to the way I often leave the house with no makeup on more and more often, something that a few years ago would just not have ever happened. It’s probably no coincidence that a lot of the junk above is related to maintaining a visual facade. So, while the article is talking about the practicalities of life and the way that men can avoid that by carrying little, the idea of men having the freedom of not needing to maintain any kind of specific vanity-related facade was what I came away with. 

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CJW: Reading Colonialism in "Parasite"(via Ospare)

Bong’s social critique concerns the international conditions of globalized capitalism, but particular to Korea’s neoliberal and neocolonial present. Examining the film as a story of class in the neocolony shifts it from a decontextualized tale of rich and poor to one of compradors and the colonized. This lens takes Parasite from an allegory of “class conflict” to one of imperialism, and illuminates the film’s recurring motifs of English, militarization and appropriated Indigenous material culture.

This is a detailed look at the many ways Parasite seems to be talking about American imperialism. Recently I've come across a lot of articles that merely state something, without delving into what that something really means. Here is a perfect antidote, a deep-dive that takes a wide, historical look at the class issues in today's Korea, seen through the lens of a brilliant movie.

MJW: This article had me from the first line:

Parasite has made history, which is a euphemism for achieving Western recognition — history’s qualifier. 

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MKY: How big tech hijacked its sharpest, funniest critics by Tim Maughan

Nice look by Tim here at the origins and issues of the contemporary genre of design fiction. Probably the closest thing to working in this genre myself was posts like this old one from 2014, speculating about the future of Amazon’s drones and a next nature, cyborg city.

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CJW: The fate of Egypt is with the people - and Sisi knows it (by and via Ganzeer)

But no one wants to appear unprincipled, so they trick themselves into believing that the blatantly evil person they’re siding with is the “good guy”, and they eat up all the propaganda spun around him - that he’s keeping them safe from “terror”, that international relations are improving, that he’s stomping out corruption at home, and that his economic policies are impeccable. They do so even if all indications prove otherwise, because it’s the safest thing to believe, at least in the short run.

This is a fantastic piece, asking questions about the future of democracy in Egypt and how it relates to other "democratically elected" governments worldwide:

Principles are not subject to contradictions. If one is willing to overlook injustice in one place, then one is able to overlook injustice anywhere - and that is a very dangerous trait for governing politicians to have.

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Cutting Room Floor:

MKY: HUNTERS (Amazon)

This show has the best opening scene I’ve seen in a tv series since Breaking Bad. The American dream is shattered, Nazis are… everywhere? Don’t worry, ‘cause Al Pacino has a rag-tag team dedicated to hunting them down, and delivering extra-legal justice. The show is set in the late 70s, roughly the same period when films like Marathon Man, The Odessa Files and The Boys From Brazil came out. It fits somewhere between those movies, having elements from all of them, and Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, with a touch of Adam McKay circa The Big Short to make it very much of our time. *****

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CJW: Richard Stanley: 'I got a phone call from a guy claiming to be Nic Cage'

I was excited to check out The Colour Out of Space, but it only showed at one cinema nearby that’s annoying to get to. Still, this interview with Richard Stanley is fantastic, and if you want more Stanley-related content, check out the episode of Wyrd Signal on Hardware.

AA: Awful AI - a list of terrible AI projects curated by David Dao. You’ll be familiar with many of these already, but it’s handy to have this succinct shit list for easy reference. 

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AA: How to Build Your Own House and Go Off-Grid for Only $10,000

This is a couple of years old but chock full of useful information about how to build your own off-grid house. It’s written from an Australian perspective, but the information is broadly applicable. I hope to get a project like this off the ground in the next ~5 years, and I found this a helpful starting point. Nothing_Here Commune anyone? 

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AA: I’ve got a bunch of loose notes for a project called Chair Talk, which is one of those things that will never be finished but I often find myself thinking about anyway (it’s about a newsletter contributor that descends into madness after considering the conceptual origin of chairs, in case you were wondering). Witold Rybczynski has a great book, Now I Sit Me Down that isthe definitive examination of the history of chairs, and this short article from Architectural Digest features Rybczynski dropping some knowledge about seven of the most influential chairs of all time. Please do not read this if you are of a sensitive disposition or faint of heart! 

“The injection-molded one-piece polypropylene chair is an anonymous design of the 1980s. Apart from being cheap and virtually indestructible, it solves the great bugbear of chair making—it eliminates all joints. Love it or hate it, the monobloc is the reigning global chair.”

Hail to the King, baby! The Monobloc Plastic Chair also has a pretty comprehensive instagram page dedicated to it. Any other Blocheads out there get at me! If you’re looking for something a little more in depth by Rybczynski on the topic of chairs, check out this analysis of Tadao Ando’s “Dream Chair”. You will learn stuff like this: 

...the director’s chair is a 19th-century invention, although it has a long pedigree: X-braced legs were used first by the ancient Egyptians in folding stools, folding scissor chairs appeared during the Renaissance, and collapsible chairs were used during the Civil War.

Chairs! This is what I’m reading about while Corey et al are doing the heavy lifting above lol.

AA: The label Weird Dance Music (operated by friend of the ‘letter Craig Puzahki) has just released a banging new single, Zek Duci Phylaxis.

It features two tunes, one from Lysdexic and the other from Puzahki himself. Both songs are glitchy IDM freakouts constructed purely from foley recordings.The sound design here is really something, full of surging, demented energy, and anyone who is a fan of maximalist experimental electronica will find something worthwhile here or at the WDM site.

MJW: In regards to the highly embarrassing, baffling and continuing Coronavirus-related great Australian panic-buying event of 2020 (because for some reason it’s mostly toilet paper), I offer you this short story of mine about a quarantine called ‘Starving to Death In Brunswick West’. It was originally published on the now-defunct short story site Slink Chunk in 2017.

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CJW: And that’s it for now. I recently planted some potatoes in the back yard, and after the recent hoarding madness, it’s become apparent that I’m going to have to get more serious about homegrown foodstuffs.

Look after each other, because the masses that pay attention to the media are (apparently) only one bad day away from going full prepper. Unless you’ve got a bunker and foodstores (and a thousand rolls of toilet paper???), your best bet will be community. Remember that. Try and embrace it, even if our modern times have pushed you (me) towards solipsism.