CJW: This will be our last newsletter on the Substack platform. I wanted to move to Buttowndown immediately, but with an archive of over 120 letters (including bonus posts which are another thing I need to figure out on Buttondown), as well as paid and unpaid subscribers, it’s going to take me a minute to migrate everything. The real heads will know that Buttondown will be our third provider, but the newsletter has grown in size and complexity since the Tinyletter days. Depending on how it goes (I do, after all, have a day job, a novel I’m editing, a podcast, and various other projects on the go), the next bonus might be delayed so I can figure everything out.
Current paid subscribers - all payments have been paused while I figure this out. I’ll be in touch with more information about your subscriptions later, once I’ve got everything sorted on the Buttondown back-end.
Why are we moving? A lot of you may have already seen Annaleen Newitz’s post about the current Substack situation. The first half at least was stuff I really didn’t care about (I won’t explain more because fuck it, we’re already leaving, so who cares), but near the end when they mentioned that Substack is paying TERFs and other pieces of shit a lot of fucking money to establish a home on this platform? Fuck that. We are out. Their recent focus on being a “free speech” publication was iffy because it’s so often shorthand for allowing/promoting hate speech, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at first. Obviously I shouldn’t have.
So, we’ll be coming to you live via Buttondown next issue - I’ve already transferred subscribers over, so no worries there. All being well, the newsletter will look different but otherwise there will be no disruptions or difficulties for youse all.
Our latest bonus was Australia’s ecosystems are f---, from MKY. Recently I’ve shared some positive outlooks on environmental issues, but I remain skeptical, and Mikey lays out some great evidence to support my skepticism. and our latest unlocked bonus is Austin’s last: Chair Talk. Unlocked bonuses are here.
Corey J. White (CJW) - Do not perceive me.
MJW: On Tuesday, eight people were murdered by a white man in a series of racist and sexist attacks on several massage spas in Georgia. There’s so much commentary on this horrific attack, and it’s so hard to know the right links to link. Because this crime is motivated by intersectional factors, the coverage ranges across anti-asian racism, the curdled sexualisation of that racism specifically against asian women, and violence towards sex workers. Here is coverage and commentary from various sources:
Racism, sexism must be considered in Atlanta case involving killing of six Asian women, experts say by Kimmy Yam and Atlanta spa shooting suspect's 'bad day' defense, and America's sexualized racism problem by Nancy Wang Yuen at NBC News
Don’t forget — the Georgia shootings are a hate crime against sex workers by Tracy Quan at the LA Times
The Atlanta Shootings Made Me Stop Gaslighting Myself by Jerrine Tan for Wired
And for background reading, here’s The Madame Butterfly Effect - Tracing the History of a Fetish by Patricia Park at Bitch Media
Red Canary Song, a ‘grassroots collective of asian and migrant sex workers’, has a statement and links to donate to the victims families at their site.
There’s more below under ‘Newsletters’.
CJW: The Controversy Behind the False Memory Syndrome Foundation - Katie Heaney at The Cut
Not only was False Memory Syndrome developed by a man who was accused of sexual abuse by his own daughter, but it was developed in response to those accusations.
This is a really interesting read, but be prepared to feel outraged and disgusted throughout.
CJW: You’re Doing It Wrong: Notes on Criticism and Technology Hype - Lee Vinsel (via Sentiers)
Recently, however, I’ve become increasingly aware of critical writing that is parasitic upon and even inflates hype. [...] The kinds of critics that I am talking about invert boosters’ messages — they retain the picture of extraordinary change but focus instead on negative problems and risks. It’s as if they take press releases from startups and cover them with hellscapes.
I think we've been guilty of falling into the trap of criticism/hype in these pages, and I'm not above self-criticism. I think it's natural to latch onto these examples of criti-hype (ugh, I hope that doesn't catch on, but doubt it will because it's quite clunky), because we can see that these technologies are having a huge effect on society, and we want to understand how and why. The trick is to remain balanced, which can be difficult when sosh platforms pedal outrage as a business model. But anyway, a whole chunk of Adam Curtis' latest is also about how sosh claims about influencing users doesn't match reality, just in case you've not watched that yet.
(And a section on nanobots [remember those?!?] made me wonder if xenobots will share the same fate. Hype to… Nothing.)
DCH: Curtis and Doctorow too. I think the thing worth remembering is that both things can be true: that ad tech is a con and that radicalization happens through posted content. Some proponents of criti-hype seem to struggle to acknowledge that at times.
CJW: The World's First Programmable Organism - Claire L. Evans at Pioneerworks
Truly understanding human-level intelligence—to say nothing of recreating it—will mean understanding cognitive forces at play in the body. “You can't throw the body out with the bathwater. It is an integral part of intelligence, and we need to focus on body and brain together if we're going to be able to create truly intelligent machines,” Bongard says. Rather than aping the human brain, perhaps new machine learning architectures will emulate the more ancient, pre-neural principles by which cells solve problems.
We talked about xenobots last year, so consider this a follow-up looking at xenobots and the larger questions they raise about intelligence and embodiment and the interactions between the two.
CJW: Governing In The Planetary Age - Jonathan Blake and Nils Gilman at Noema Mag
On the one hand, nation-states on their own cannot mitigate climate change, because doing so requires collective action at a planetary scale. [...] On the other hand, nation-states are also not the right institution for climate change adaptation: Los Angeles, Miami and Minneapolis are all impacted by climate change, but in vastly different ways that require vastly different policies. In fact, these cities’ climate impacts have more in common with cities in other nation-states [...] than they do with each other. Yet nation-states are wired for coordination and collaboration among the subnational entities contained within them, not across them.
Interesting piece on the failures of the nation-state in addressing global issues. I’m sure this feels especially resonant for Australians when our Federal government has basically sat on its hands for the entire pandemic, leaving the States to take care of business (while the Feds were busy with all manner of corruption). Still, the piece is not without its faults...
In this new architecture, there will still be an important role for the nation-state — overseeing military matters and distributing economic goods, for example — but it will be much diminished.
They're imagining a complete overhaul of geopolitics, but think nation-states should still be conducting wars against one another? That seems like an awful lack of imagination right there.
I came across the above via the Foreign Exchanges newsletter, and the rebuttal they posted - The Problem of International Anarchy - all about the difficulties involved in creating the sort of planetary institutions outlined in the above piece. (FX posts regular updates on current events in nations all around the world. It’s a great way to keep up with events that most news outlets don’t bother to cover. They also post longer essays occasionally, like this piece.)
The major problem with Blake and Gilman’s piece, of course, is that it doesn’t address the myriad difficulties involved in creating such planetary institutions. Crucially, one of the major reasons we don’t have strong international organizations is because nation-states refuse to surrender their sovereign powers.
They go on to argue (convincingly) that the US is the de facto planetary state...
[...] does the existence of a US empire of 750 military bases, an empire that has regularly deployed troops to most of the world’s countries, indicate that there is in fact a supranational body that shapes international politics, and that body is, in fact, the US empire? And does this not suggest, to use Marxist terms, that if capitalism is the prerequisite for socialism (in that it creates the conditions that make socialism possible), then perhaps the US empire is the prerequisite for planetary organization (in that it creates the truly global structures necessary for the latter)?
CJW: Digital colonialism: the evolution of American empire - Michael Kwet at Roar Mag
We live in a world where digital colonialism now risks becoming as significant and far-reaching a threat to the Global South as classic colonialism was in previous centuries. Sharp increases in inequality, the rise of state-corporate surveillance and sophisticated police and military technologies are just a few of the consequences of this new world order.
A great rundown on the digital colonialism of Big Tech. A lot of the issues raised are things we've touched on before (and that Dan has covered in 20minutesintothefuture), but this is a fairly succinct encapsulation of those varied strands.
DCH: Silencing Black Lives Matter: Priti Patel’s anti-protest law - Ian Dunt at Politics.co.uk
On Tuesday, the Home Office published the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. It covers a wide range of areas, from sentencing to digital information. But it has a specific section on the policing of protests. And the function of this section is simple: It aims to silence them. It is cancel culture on a statutory footing, directed against the left.
One of the hallmarks of last year’s BLM protests were protestors tearing down statues to Briton’s who made their extreme generational wealth from the slave trade. Now that protest action comes with a possible jail time GREATER than rape. Patel has also expressed resentment of groups like The Extinction Rebellion too.
DCH: Clapham Common Vigil ‘It Changed Because of the Police’s Actions’- Sian Norris at bylinetimes.com
A vigil in Clapham Common on Saturday night in memory of “all women threatened by male violence” – planned following the arrest of a serving Metropolitan Police officer on suspicion of murdering Sarah Everard – ended with scenes of police officers grabbing and handcuffing women.
The brutal murder of Sarah Everard by dirty cop Wayne Couzens has shocked the nation. The overzealous and ongoing clampdown on the protests by still more bastard cops, encouraged by Patel, is less shocking. The Tory solution? Spending more money to send even more plain-clothed police predators after women.
And that’s not the only recent example of cops attacking women in the UK either.
DCH: The UK Wants to Grow Its Nuclear Stockpile for the First Time in 50 Years- Matthew Gault at VICE
To keep the peace, Britain said, it must make the threat of nuclear war real. To that end, it wants to expand its nuclear stockpile. “In 2010 the Government stated an intent to reduce our overall nuclear warhead stockpile ceiling from not more than 225 to not more than 180 by the mid-2020s,” it said. “However, in recognition of the evolving security environment, including the developing range of technological and doctrinal threats, this is no longer possible, and the UK will move to an overall nuclear weapon stockpile of no more than 260 warheads.”
This is the first time in 50 years that a major nuclear power has sought to increase it’s arsenal. We’re inching ever closer to Midnight, thanks to The Tories.
DCH: American Special Ops Forces Are Everywhere - Mark Bowden The Atlantic
Notably, its continued growth has been spurred by both success and failure. And perhaps because Special Ops is such a flexible tool, that growth has enabled the U.S. to multiply the way it uses force abroad without much consideration of overarching strategy. The advent of nuclear weapons, in the 1940s, presented leaders with urgent ethical and strategic imperatives. Defining the purpose of such weapons automatically demanded fresh thinking about the bedrock values of a democracy, the nature of multilateral alliances, the morality of warfare, and the scope of U.S. ambitions in the world. Because of its sub-rosa nature, Special Ops has not compelled the same kind of reckoning—and, in fact, may foster the illusion that a strategic framework is not necessary.
US Spec Ops are active in over 80 countries today.
DCH: Uber recognizes drivers as workers after losing labor case in the U.K. by Mehreen Kasana at inputmag.com
After losing a lengthy legal battle, Uber is officially categorizing its workforce of more than 70,000 drivers as "workers" in the United Kingdom, multiple outlets have reported. This is a landmark change for the labor force which was previously classified as independent contractors and follows a decision published by the court in February. Starting Wednesday, these workers will be guaranteed at least a legal minimum wage in the country, paid vacation time, and possible-though-not-guaranteed eligibility for enrolling in a retirement pension program. The company also plans to give a 12 percent increase in holiday pay for every hour a worker puts in during the period.
The UK has had enough of Uber’s bullshit. Best good news item of the week.
CJW: A Woman is Afraid by Charlotte Shane
One Instagrammable slide in heavy circulation at the moment says “educate your son” but about what? Women’s fear? That harming women is wrong? I’m not being facetious. I’d like to know precisely what those behind these posts think the solution is, especially when their solution eschews criticism of institutions. Do these people truly think Everard’s murderer was simply not told the right things as a boy? The inarticulacy of these cris de coeur makes them dangerous. In the vacuum of coherent analysis and concrete, organized action, the state exploits outrage to respond with more cops, more policing, in spite of the evidence that Everard herself was killed by a cop.
This is a great essay from Charlotte Shane's newsletter, though I'm sure many people (women especially) will take issue with some of her points. But I think her point is an important one: that the outpouring of women's fear on Twitter is misplaced in the discussion of Sarah Everard's murder because it ignores the structures of power that are actually to blame here.
Last year George Floyd's murder forced a lot of people to finally reckon with racial police violence in the US and elsewhere - perhaps Everard's murder will force people to reckon with the violent misogyny available to men deemed above the law by our structures of power. Already UK police have closed ranks with the murderer by treating a vigil like a violent protest, but it will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the media and courts (I predict more victim blaming and claims that it was "just one bad apple", and no substantive change).
Here's another piece in a similar vein (that also references the above) from Natasha Lennard at The Intercept.
Conversations about “women’s safety” in which sentences go unfinished — safety from what or whom? Safety to do what? — too often fail to account for the systems of power and precarity that produce and perpetuate gender-based violence, let alone the ways it is unevenly distributed along racialized and class-based lines.
Worth reading as well as it offers examples and figures that more people should be familiar with concerning both police violence and domestic violence.
MJW: Hahahaha, ‘women's safety’. Never men’s violence. Not all men, yeah. But the people who have sexually assaulted me were all men.
Movies + TV
The new show from the creator of Fringe (and the much overlooked, Almost Human (2013)). Weird alien shit is scattered across the Earth doing weird alien things, after a space ship broke up in our system - possibly inspired by our extrasolar visitor a few years ago, which is now thought to merely be a chunk of an exo-planet drifting thru the void. Something like that anyway. It’s, in theory, a Roadside Picnic in the Dark Forest.
We’re three eps in now, and goddamn… the leads are terrible. Super bland, super boring Fed and MI6 agents team-up to contain the weirdness from the world. (So basically, they’re Agents of SHIELD… or SWORD. Or whatever). I wish the show was called Influx, coz that rebel group or whatever they are? the nominal bad guys? with Scroobius Pip continuing to honour his vow (yes, that guy - and that was ten years ago?) and have more presence looming from the trees and teleporting out like a boss, than poor Jonathan Tucker (Kingdom, and Low-key (Loki) in American Gods) phoning it in as the tenth generation Mulder or whatever - coz I’ve been waiting to see him get his big chance. This isn’t it. I won’t be surprised if this gets cancelled. I’ll be even less surprised if it gets six seasons and a movie, coz have you seen what else passes for mainstream US tv these days? A FREAKING WALKER, TEXAS RANGER REBOOT? MACGYVER? WTAF. Ngl, I’m hanging for the next season of Another Life. Which is extremely Dark Forest. And extremely Netflix.
And goddamnit, so is Debris. Ep3 was me giving it one more chance, and now they’re doing weird higher dimension shit that is EXTREMELY DARK FOREST. Which is my jam.
But most of all, this show serves as a strong note on spending as much time on characters as setting (IF ONLY TO ME). The FX and ideas rock. The humans wandering around it, far less so. But, just maybe... that’s also the point? I wanna believe.
The It’s Going Down podcast has been getting more and more of my attention, and this ep is a good example of why. A great series of interviews with mutual aid and other organisers in Texas, and how they stepped in when the state very aggressively did nothing during their most recent heavy weather event (and how unprepared everyone was for it, despite hurricane life) . Or, more bleak previews of life to come in the western world (and basically, what life as normal is elsewhere)… unless something changes.
DCH: The Apology Line
If you could call a number and say you're sorry, and no one would know…what would you apologize for? For fifteen years, you could call a number in Manhattan and do just that. This is the story of the line and the man at the other end who became consumed by his own creation.
I used to own cassette tapes of recordings of The Apology Line years and years ago. A truly uniquely New York creation of a different era. I’ve long thought the concept deserved a comeback. This is the next best thing. Take a listen.
MJW: Here’s a roundup of podcasts in my ears lately: Odessafrom NYT, about a Texas school reopening mid-pandemic; Collapse from Stuff, which tells the story of how the CTV building came down in the Christchurch earthquake; Against The Odds, about the rescue of a soccer team from a flooded cave system in Thailand.
DCH:The actual number of Americans jailed or imprisoned, about 2.3 million by Matt Korostoff
Instead, we wage war on the poor, the sick, and the addicted. We drive the homeless from their camps with guns and batons. We leave abused women and children to be crushed at the hands of their tormentors. Our government's only strategy to deal with the sick and the poor is to punish them and keep punishing them until they magically stop being sick and poor. It isn't working.
The American plea bargain system means only 2% of the 2.3 million people in prison ever had a trial in the first place. That number is expected to go up to 4.9 million this year. Land of the free my ass.
CJW: And that’s all, folks. See you next time on Buttondown.
Cutting Room Floor
In the Atlantic Ocean, Subtle Shifts Hint at Dramatic Dangers - Moises Velasquez-Manoff and Jeremy White at New York Times (via Gentle Decline/Drew Shiel)
Racism has broadened 'Black time' to an always and everywhere - Desirée H Melton at Psyche
The Culture War: Iain M. Banks's Billionaire Fans - Kurt Schiller at Blood Knife
For Creators, Everything Is for Sale - Taylor Lorenz at New York Times - CJW: SV thinking cyberpunk dystopia sounds like a great idea yet again.
Source Material - Jackie Brown at Real Life Mag - CJW: On studies of supply chain designed to un-obfuscate what really goes into our tech.
Artists report discovering their work is being stolen and sold as NFTs - James Purtill at ABC Science
Sci-Fi Writer or Prophet? The Hyperreal Life of Chen Qiufan - Yi-Ling Liu at Wired (via Sentiers)
Internet Occultists Are Trying to Change Reality With a Magickal Algorithm - Tamlin Magee at Motherboard - CJW: Related to one of my recent bonuses.
Bitcoin rise could leave carbon footprint the size of London's (DCH: it’s already worse than New Zealand and Argentina combined)
My father was famous as John le Carré. My mother was his crucial, covert collaborator - Nick Cornwell at The Guardian