nothing here but wandering cosmonauts, feat. Ospare

issue 048 - 19th April, 2020

CJW: Welcome to another issue of nothing here. This time around we’re joined by Ospare! You’ve seen their name grace these pages plenty of times before (with shared links, and when I’ve recommended their newsletter), but it’s great to have them on-board officially.

Our last bonus was a piece I wrote on COVID-19 and The Division. To get access to it, our future bonuses, and the full archive, you can become a supporter.

DCH: UK government using confidential patient data in coronavirus response
I’m glad this is finally coming to light. Palantir and Faculty.AI (fka ASI when they were under Cambridge Analytica’s wing) are running data ops for NHSX. This is the first time the press have specifically mentioned the contact tracing part of this work. Truly alarming. Don’t forget: Palantir runs data ops for the American concentration camps. 

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CJW: Climate crisis: in coronavirus lockdown, nature bounces back – but for how long? (via Emile Hooge)

Commentators are even talking of the “post-human” era – a mocking rejoinder to the idea that we live in Anthropocene, a period of human domination that is reshaping the planet. Humour does not get much blacker. We are laughing at our own decline – and assuming that nature will be the beneficiary.

This piece is quite broad, and is largely a useful summary of a few different trains of thought I’ve seen appearing elsewhere.

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CJW: Early Data Shows African Americans Have Contracted and Died of Coronavirus at an Alarming Rate

No, the coronavirus is not an “equalizer.” Black people are being infected and dying at higher rates. [...] As of Friday morning, African Americans made up almost half of Milwaukee County’s 945 cases and 81% of its 27 deaths in a county whose population is 26% black. Milwaukee is one of the few places in the United States that is tracking the racial breakdown of people who have been infected by the novel coronavirus, offering a glimpse at the disproportionate destruction it is inflicting on black communities nationwide.

This is an important piece of reportage from Propublica. The figures are horrifying and depressing, and it’s sadly unsurprising that this isn’t more widely tracked/known, though at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if these facts only served to fuel racist reports from the inherently racist media, and encouraged hateful bullshit from white supremacists (hey, assholes, maybe the fact that COVID-19 is effecting black people worse is due to decades [centuries?] of systemic racism leading to significantly worse health outcomes across the board).

“What black folks are accustomed to in Milwaukee and anywhere in the country, really, is pain not being acknowledged and constant inequities that happen in health care delivery,” Kowalik said.

O: I’ve been thinking about the community responses to the crises (and organizing a bit in my own locality) and one of the distinctly intersectional and grassroot responses to emerge these past years has been the Anarkata.

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CJW: Does the coronavirus pandemic make someone who is disabled like me expendable?

Were I to contract coronavirus, I imagine a doctor might read my chart, look at me, and think I’m a waste of their efforts and precious resources that never should have been in shortage to begin with. He might even take my ventilator for other patients who have a better shot at survival than me. All of these hard choices doctors have to make primarily hurt those hit hardest, not the people who present as worthy investments of scarce resources. Who gets to make these hard choices and who bears the brunt of them is a matter of inequality and discrimination toward protected classes

Like the above link, this is a topic I’ve seen come up on twitter, but not in any capacity I could link to. It’s important, and worth consideration.

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O: Property Manager does an accidental class traitorship by helping tenants organize, oopsie

2020 is the year of class incompetency. With rent strikes brewing all across Italy, the US, Spain and even some outliers of the french militant scene considering it. It’s pretty important to pay attention to what’s needed.

I see a lot of people talking about a period of “social distancing” but there should rather be calls for social mobilization & physical distancing. Just because we can’t breathe the same air doesn’t mean we can’t be united.

MJW: I’ve been trying to figure out how we can riot at a safe distance.

DCH: We should be building trebuchets to go with the guillotines. 

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CJW: The Art of the Meta-Scam

While meta-scams generally don't lead to lasting change, they can provide wiggle room within the structure to lessen, minimize, or reverse the extraction of the scam. Meta-scams, too, may be legal or illegal and; the ones that are legal are often the most interesting to me. They play with this idea of malicious compliance: you follow the letter of the law, but in a way that undermines the law itself.

If you’re familiar with scams in general and the recent scams that grabbed the public’s attention in particular, then you’ll be able to happily skip the first part of this, but definitely read the stuff on meta-scams. Some great ideas around organising.

O: “Another tactic that Uber uses is the inclusion of arbitration clauses in their driver contracts. As a driver you give up your right to sue the company in open court and instead agree that Uber will mediate disputes through a third-party of their choosing, and such disputes can only be carried out on an individual basis (i.e. no collective bargaining). Crucially, Uber covers the arbitrator's and arbitration fees. [...] Drivers organized and turned this against Uber; A group of 12,501 drivers opted to take Uber at its word, individually bringing their cases up for arbitration, overwhelming the infrastructure that’s meant to divide and conquer.” 

Fuck yes. That’s some Alinksy shit right there.

DCH: +1. DoorDash, AT&T, Comcast, and Boeing are all getting their teeth kicked in too. There’s even a start-up called FairShake that’s set up to flood the system. So much fucking poetic justice here. 

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CJW: Premonition (via Marcel)

This is a thought-provoking (and sometimes worrying) collection of premonitions from a group of designers and cultural workers/thinkers. It covers a lot of ground, including expected evolutions in retail space, the city, branding, online cultural production and dissemination, etc, with a focus on the rise of digital-only. I hoped to see some ideas I could directly take on board with my writing practice, but didn’t immediately see anything. But if you’re a podcaster, streamer, game developer, or similar, you might find something here.

And it’s vaguely related to this forecast on supply chains (via Sentiers), which seems a little too ‘business as usual, but altered only slightly’ for my tastes, but is still interesting to consider. And another piece on supply chains from Ingrid Burrington: After Supply Chain Capitalism. Because the current situation has a lot of people thinking about supply chains (for obvious reasons). And more forecasting talk (via Sentiers) by Benjamin H. Bratton.

O: A quick response to Bratton’s listicle that I think is worth reading.

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MKY: Underground skyscrapers and off-grid bunkers: inside the world of preppers

My friend Brad Garrett spent four years researching a book about bunkers and prepper culture and wouldn’t you know it, it’s imminent release is kinda timely. This interview with him about it is great, and features some insights into just why certain western neoliberal states aren’t exactly handling things great rn, almost by design?

Garrett grimly offers a reminder of the fact that Trump in 2018 dismantled the Obama-created National Security Council directorate charged with preparing for a pandemic. “When the government doesn’t prepare for emergencies, you do it yourself.”

Garrett’s suggestion is that behind such ill-advised cutbacks lurks the uber-disruptor Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. For Bannon, short-term disaster is to be welcomed, perhaps even provoked, since it can be used to leverage power.

[...]

Bannon and Jacob Rees-Mogg met to discuss how to further the conservative cause in the UK. Garrett writes: “It seems no small coincidence that both men were the puppet masters behind what we might call ‘pro-collapse governments’ in both the US and UK. Leaders in these movements see chaos as an opportunity to seize wealth and power.”

CJW: Related - Real estate for the apocalypse: my journey into a survival bunker

Vivos was offering more than just the provision of ready-made bunkers and turnkey apocalypse solutions. [...] What was being offered, as such, was a state stripped down to its bare rightwing essentials: a militarised security apparatus, engaged through contractual arrangement, for the protection of private wealth.

O: @bourgeoisie. Just a reminder.

CJW: Drew Shiel’s Gentle Decline

If you go away somewhere, can you get home in time if a lockdown is announced? If you're getting a new place to live, would you be able to spend six weeks there non-stop without going barmy? If you're getting a new housemate, are they someone you can stand to be locked in with for weeks? If you're moving out on your own, can you handle nothing but your own company for a prolonged period? Do you have stores (and room for stores and money to buy stores) of the things you need and the things you like? If you're changing jobs, does the new job allow working from home, and if not, what did they do for their workers during this episode? And so forth. Even if there isn't another pandemic for years, this will still shape our thinking.

Interesting (and concrete) questions we may find ourselves asking long after this pandemic has passed.

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CJW: How come Australia suddenly has billions of dollars to pay for welfare? (via Austin)

I've long believed economics is largely arbitrary bullshit, and the more I read into it, the more convinced I am. I appreciate that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a form of economics that’s seemingly designed to push back against neoliberal austerity measures, but beyond that I don’t know what to think.

More on MMT on twitter (via Andrew Macrae).

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Cutting Room Floor:

O: Recently finished Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Dreadnought, a filthcore body-horror, visceral and emotionally raw take on the mecha genre as well as a splitting open of the transfem readings of Neon Genesis Evangelion. 

In case this quick tagline is not explicit enough, I’d put serious content warning for this book for horrible violence, explicit sex, questionable life-decision and suicidal ideation but if you can stomach it, it’ll probably reward you with the most aesthetically pleasing gut churning feeling you’ve felt in a while.

DCH: You had me at “filthcore body-horror.”

CJW: I’m a fan of GFM’s cultural criticism (some of which we’ve shared here previously), but I didn’t actually realise she wrote fiction until I saw on twitter that she’d signed with a literary agent (Congrats, Gretchen!). 

Anyway, everything O said. With Dreadnought there’s a much stronger sense of the body-horror that NGE largely avoided, instead choosing to focus on mental breakdown and depression. But here Felker-Martin asks “Why can’t we have both?” But the body-horror isn’t just about the melding of the human body with the dreadnought body, it’s also prevalent outside of the biomechanical weapons, with each of the main characters struggling with their own bodies for different reasons.

If fucked-up, transfem NGE sounds like your cup of tea, you won’t be disappointed.

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O: I’ve also read Four Futures and a whole cohort of utopian theory works. One important notion that comes out of these future-facing texts is that futurism is about identifying patterns rather than predicting precise results. I do think the creation of utopian visions is more about setting up an intention (in the magickal sense) rather than trying to pinpoint a definite target. I’m also wondering about the creation of utopian narratives in a collective manner rather than the individual/mediated intellectual work most theory texts seem to be products of.

What is the solarpunk equivalent of the CCRU?

MKY: That, O, is the question rn.

O: Hopefully it’d be both theory-heavy and practice-heavy but I sense that if it’s out there, it’s either distributed/not-coalesced or too occupied being slow and planting things to make itself visible.

Or maybe it’s on scuttlebutt and that’s why nobody’s talking about it.

O: https://antisoftware.club/ is a non-profit software company that hates the software industry. we’re not ready to announce our first product yet, but you can read our manifesto.

DCH: That’s fucking fire.

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DCH: Magical spells are a booming business in Myanmar (paywall) 

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DCH: A toilet with facial recognition for your butthole

Pulling this one out of the cutting room floor for banter purposes. What a shitty idea. Fecal recognition surely?

DCH: Protector

Co-writers Simon Roy & Daniel M. Bensen and artist Artyom Trakhanov have recently launched their creator-owned series Protector at Image Comics. Protector is a far-future post-apocalypse story about the climate catastrophe that inverts the colonial narrative of North America. The publisher blurb likens it to Conan x Mad Max x The Expanse which works but I'd say more Arak Son of Thunder than Conan.

O: Margaret Killjoy’s Live Like The World Is Dying is a must-listen for all people stranded at home who have considered making a go-bag but got too busy to do so. Her latest episode is specifically about living off the grid but in the previous ones she invites a variety of guests to talk about community preparedness in the face of disaster, “anarchist prepping”, mental health in times of isolation, etc.

CJW: I've not listened to the podcast yet, but coincidentally I had this post from Margaret Killjoy open in my browser: How to Live Like the World is Ending, which includes some great strategies for navigating uncertain times like these.

MKY: Reading that post now feels prescient af. I liked it so much I just subscribed to their patreon, and was rewarded with a longer cut, PDF ver of that post. Love it when ppl do that ;)

And, after slowly working my way thru the podcast - if nothing else, this is great background material if one just happened to be writing a near-future novel and wanted to know what kinds of people just might survive and thrive as the Collapse continues to accelerate.

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CJW: Intergalactic Railroad

IR belongs to the oft-maligned family of podcasts where the hosts mostly just talk shit for the entire length of each episode, except that with IR it actually works because the guys involved are all intelligent and well-read enough that their shit-talking still comes across as smart, weird, and compelling. Sits at the crossroads of tech, tech-cynicism, cosmism, weird theory, and related topics.

O: Praise the Godslime, Be the Godslime, Drink some water.

DCH: Monika Bielskyte at Xynteo Exchange 2019

The banter upthread between Ospare and MKY about utopian theories made me think of my friend Monika’s work. She’s a nomad futurist that’s created a framework she calls protopian design. “Those who control the fantasy, control the future,'' as she wisely says. A major part of her work is about shifting the narrative focus of future visions away from their western colonial biases. Have a watch.

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DCH John Oliver on OAN

Fox News is utter garbage. One America News is like Fox News set to 11. Brilliant takedown on Trump’s love affair with the network. Even more important to stay on #bastardwatch with these fucks now. Misinformation was already killing us before the pandemic…

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CJW: On The Silver Globe, Andrzej Żuławski, 1988 (at exmilitary)

Wandering cosmonauts, lunar escape, and the return voyage. The serialized attempts to colonize the moon are recounted through a dysfunctional narrative, riddled with angels of god and man. Repeated, unexpected crash-landings on the moon breed a new civilization wrought in images of their past: the victory over the moon reinstalls humanity's exports - religion, violence, war. It is hard to be a god: intergenerational trauma spirals downwards, and each iteration of lunar-humanity is further militant, degenerate and human - a domestic alienness (or: indigenous occupants). Speculative origin stories approach the zero point of falling stars. As memories are relayed back to the other present, Earth’s inter-dimensional interference traces back a desire to prevent the future: a few more cosmonauts arrive to the scene only to capitulate further to the co-emergent animality on the ground. Cross-pollination breeds both civil war and new “life,” old messiahs and tangential Earths in the ‘ideal’ image of the one prior.

MKY: oh hell yes!

CJW: Closed Circuits - Lucifer

I stumbled across this album on twitter much by accident, and it grabbed me right away. The vocals are reminiscent of The National, but the music consists of unsettling electronic beats, organs, and droning noise.

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O: “Terence (Nance) etc”. Things I never had

Soft soul, melancholic and drifting, sampled gospel ceding ground to Rhythm and Blues, organ-music and spoken word, it’s a mesh.

Reminds me of the rawest parts of Terence Nance and his team’s Random Acts Of Flyness

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DCH: The coronavirus has a SoundCloud

Via ABC News “In an attempt to understand this new pathogen better, musician and engineer Markus Buehler and his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have assigned each protein and structural form a musical equivalent.”

O: Kate Macdonald

DCH: 4 exercises for your remote design sprint

That’s actually a really good rundown of what my second week at the new job was like last week. Design sprints can be equal bits exciting and exhausting. This was my first fully remote one though. Thanks to the pandemic, all design sprints are remote design sprints now. My colleague Daniel Souza facilitated the whole shebang like a champ.

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CJW: And that’s it for another issue. Thanks to Ospare for joining us, and thank you for choosing to spend a little time with us.

We’re living in interesting times. Be alert, be careful. Be generous and open with those you love, and brutal with those who would hurt you. You deserve better than pain.