nothing here but worst-case scenarios

issue 056 - 9th August, 2020

CJW: Welcome to the latest edition of the nothing here newsletter. The last 2 weeks have gone by very quickly. I think that’s because under lockdown every day is exactly the same, and the lack of delineation makes them blur together.

I wrote our latest bonus letter, Bad Ideas. I’ve had trouble focusing on much of anything other than the day job and novel edits lately, so I put together a selection of story ideas - free to good home - with some notes about where they came from (the age-old question), and what I would do with them if I was going to develop them further. Could be good fodder for the fiction writers reading this, or just an insight into my brain for anyone who’s interested. To access it, future bonuses, and the full archive, just go here to become a supporter. An updated list of unlocked bonuses is here if you want to see what you’re in for.


The Team


Articles

CJW: The Worst-Case Scenario for Global Warming Tracks Closely With Actual Emissions

With scientists divided between hope and despair, a new study finds that the model projecting warming of 4.3 degrees Celsius is “actually the best choice.”

Did you forget about climate change? It’s easy to do when the pandemic is still a huge issue in various parts of the world, but climate change hasn’t forgotten about you... UwU

(They quote a guy involved with the McKinsey Institute which would normally be a red flag, but it sounds like his work has moved on from there precisely because they only care about short(ish)-term economic ramifications.)

Related:

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DCH: Why 2020 to 2050 Will Be ‘the Most Transformative Decades in Human History’

A study from researchers at the University of California at Berkeley found that higher temperatures and shifting patterns of extreme weather can cause a rise in all types of violence, from domestic abuse to civil wars. In extreme cases, it could cause countries to cease functioning and collapse altogether.

Climate change is the one who knocks.

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DCH: A Good Life For All Within Planetary Boundaries

No country in the world currently meets the basic needs of its citizens at a globally sustainable level of resource use. Our research, recently published in Nature Sustainability (and summarised in The Conversation), quantifies the national resource use associated with achieving a good life for over 150 countries. It shows that meeting the basic needs of all people on the planet would result in humanity transgressing multiple environmental limits, based on current relationships between resource use and human well-being.

If we can get our shit together we can still have a good life within the planet’s means. That is, of course, a mighty big fucking IF.

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DCH: Residents describe apocalyptic scenes after blast rocks Beirut

The destruction is staggering. The Lebanese Red Cross accepts donations online if you’re able.

CJW: There are a few donation options on this page here. I donated some money earlier in the week - if you’ve got some money to spare, people in Beirut were already struggling before this.

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CJW: Homeland Security Was Destined to Become a Secret Police Force

On behalf of the D.H.S. and its uniformed services, Wolf claimed responsibility for the armed presence in Portland. He asserted that his agency was doing exactly what it was created to do. He was right.

On the TrueAnon podcast, they've been doing a series about American foreign policy post-WW2, and have made a compelling argument that the US didn't defeat the Third Reich, but rather absorbed it, taking on many elements of Nazi ideology and policy (or merely continuing their own white supremacist policies that would have made the Nazis proud). I'm sure some people would be appalled at that idea, but if you just consider the rampant and flagrant white supremacist state violence we have witnessed, the secret police rounding up dissenters, and the medical eugenics programs that have come to light (and I'm just cherry-picking three recent things) it's hard to argue in support of America.

Anyway, you'd have to subscribe to the TA patreon to hear all the relevant episodes and think about it for yourself (one has been unlocked so far), but there are also plenty of literal Nazi-US connections that were formed in South America that are disgusting and which they never even tried to hide. We have long been governed by white supremacists, fascists, and the like, but the current decaying state of affairs is finally revealing so much of this truth to us.

(Sidenote: sometimes I worry that I come across as suffering under paranoid delusions, but then I listen to another episode of TrueAnon and realise I'm not frothing at the mouth even half as much as I should. Their series on 9/11 was eye-opening, and I have been Bushpilled. And when I try and talk about it with people they look at me [on video chat, of course], like I'm crazy.)

MKY: Related - How the Fascists Won World War II - CounterPunch.org

This TA episode lowkey blew my mind tbh

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CJW: Illiberalism, cancel culture, free speech, and the internet. (via Ed at Restricted Academy)

[...] years of arguing on social platforms, mixed with the incentives that they supply, has distorted not just the way most of us talk about things but also the way we manage ideological dissent. In short: Political discourse has been warped less because of “cancel culture” or “illiberalism” than by the way social media platforms have been poisoned, like wells, that poison us in turn.

This piece by Lili Loofbourow will be very familiar to anyone who spends any amount of time on the hell site.

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CJW: https://www.generationc.xyz/ingrid-burrington (via Inhabit)

A fantastic essay by Ingrid Burrington, written for the possible future space-faring descendents of capable cowards like Musk and Bezos, contextualising our current and recent history for people she (and I) hope never exist.

I love that term, capable coward. It's a perfect encapsulation. These billionaires are capable of righting so many wrongs, to lobby, build, and pay our way to a brighter future, but they're too fucking scared. They're terrified at the prospect of a world and a future where they and people like them are on top. They would rather mass poverty, starvation, inequality et cetera than to give up their disgusting wealth.

Remember, every single day that you wake up and people are still homeless, that's because Bezos (and so many other billionaires) continue to allow that to be the case.

MKY:

DCH: This is fucking ace.

MKY: Elysium was a documentary from the future…

DCH: P.S. These billionaires and centibillionaires make more in a few seconds than you do in a whole year.

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MKY: Testing Chernobyl fungi as a radiation shield for astronauts

The researchers found that the side of the petri dish that was covered with fungus reduced radiation levels coming through the dish by approximately 2% compared to the control side. That alone is inadequate as a safety shield, but the experiment serves as an indicator of what might be possible. On its own, the fungus is known to grow, which means a rocket carrying humans could carry just a small amount with them. Once on Mars, the fungus could be cultivated on a shield structure and allowed to thicken, offering perhaps one layer of protection very nearly free of charge.

Taking moving to Mars (or elsewhere) srsly rn should be the very last thing on our minds, but… there’s something about the ruin of the world being the key to life amongst the stars. Not that we should ruin the world any more than it already is [on a highway to hell], but… thatwhat we might learn from it, and grow from that, and apply new understandings built from the deep knowledge of just how bad we, as a species, have collectively fucked up. That on the other side of the Selection Filter, bits and pieces of a wildly different future lying waiting for us to assemble them, as a reward for making it through.

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CJW: The Scourge of Hygiene Theater

“Surface transmission of COVID-19 is not justified at all by the science,” Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told me. He also emphasized the primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission.

There is a historical echo here. After 9/11, physical security became a national obsession, especially in airports, where the Transportation Security Administration patted down the crotches of innumerable grandmothers for possible explosives. My colleague Jim Fallows repeatedly referred to this wasteful bonanza as “security theater.”

COVID-19 has reawakened America’s spirit of misdirected anxiety, inspiring businesses and families to obsess over risk-reduction rituals that make us feel safer but don’t actually do much to reduce risk—even as more dangerous activities are still allowed. This is hygiene theater.

This is a really interesting piece about (apparently useless) performativity of surface scrubbing and other forms of hygiene theatre. It can be conducted with little change to business as usual, so businesses are latching onto it as opposed to the far more effective and disruptive social distancing measures. The comparison to “security theatre” is interesting and also worrying if it means we can expect grifters to get rich off of offering “pandemic-busting” cleaning services for decades to come.

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DCH: How McKinsey Is Making $100 Million (and Counting) Advising on the Government’s Bumbling Coronavirus Response

In a matter of weeks, McKinsey had extracted a total of $40.6 million in no-bid contracts out of its initial agreement with one federal agency. The firm has continued to scoop up COVID-19-related contracts for various governments since then. Altogether, in the four months since the pandemic started, the firm has been awarded work for state, city and federal agencies worth well over $100 million — and counting.

When I say Management Consultants are just behind billionaires in my guillotine queue, this shit is why.

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DCH: Corporate Insiders Pocket $1 Billion in Rush for Coronavirus Vaccine

Senior executives and board members are making millions of dollars after announcing positive developments, including support from the government, in their efforts to fight Covid-19. After such announcements, insiders from at least 11 companies — most of them smaller firms whose fortunes often hinge on the success or failure of a single drug — have sold shares worth well over $1 billion since March, according to figures compiled for The New York Times by Equilar, a data provider.

Then the rest of these fucking pandemic profiteers can fucking follow.

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Cutting Room Floor:


Books

MJW: Genre Grapevine (Worldcon and Hugo Award Edition)

CJW: So much great stuff in here:

If you think all of this isn’t a problem, that Worldcon is doing just fine and nothing needs to change, know that attitude may help drive Worldcon fandom to extinction. 

Don’t misunderstand — there will always be a science fiction and fantasy genre. But SF/F fandom as represented by Worldcon is at risk of being forgotten and made irrelevant. 

SF/F is larger and more diverse than it ever has been, with this fandom reaching every corner of the world. It is these new writers and fans who have made DragonCon and Comic-Con among the largest SF/F events in the world. These events are many times larger than Worldcon and these writers and fans are the people Worldcon and the Hugo Awards should be welcoming with open arms.

As Jeannette Ng said, “The Hugos gain more legitimacy, more relevance, more clout from the participation of marginalized writers than we do from them. Without us, they stop being the future.”

I’m a white cis guy and a SF writer, and I still feel like Worldcon is largely irrelevant for me, and this gross nostalgia for the racist/fascist canon is a big part of that. The convention is a great excuse for us nerds to gather together and talk about nerdy things, but it suddenly seems like that’s no longer a good enough reason to support something that is so organisationally broken. 

To be honest, I don’t even know how Worldcon functions. I assumed that each city ran its own convention (the volunteers on the ground are doing incredible work), but I gather there must be some governing body above them, otherwise we wouldn’t have seen NZ SFF so thoroughly side-lined at this year’s event. If there is a governing body, perhaps they need to be replaced with people who will stand up for the present and the future of the genre/industry/fandom, or they risk irrelevance.

Some fantastic people are putting together a Worldcon bid for Brisbane in 2025, and I trust that they will put together an awesome, inclusive, and forward-looking convention. So let’s just hope that any non-local governing body can fix their shit immediately so that Worldcon is once again something people can get excited about. As it stands, without seriously addressing the many many issues raised in Sanford’s Genre Grapevine column, a huge crop of the current SFF talent and fandom simply won’t pay attention to next year’s event.


URLs

CJW: At Play on the Field of Ghosts (via Lex Griffiths)

This piece by James Bridle from 2016 is incredibly fascinating, discussing virtually broadcast sports, algorithmic ghost players, and sport as simulation. It also seems prescient considering our current lockdown lifestyles, with many designers, companies, artists, etc trying to work out the future of performance and spectacle in a world where it may simply not be safe for us to gather together in person.

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DCH: A Survival Guide for Living in the Simulation

Now that you have ensured the survival of the simulation, Robin Hanson suggests in the article ‘How to Live in a Simulation’ (2001) that it may be in your best interests to become, or remain, a particularly interesting individual, since the creators may want to be efficient in their use of computing power, potentially turning people off or making individuals less conscious if they’re uninteresting or uninfluential. So, if your plans were to simply chill out, eat Doritos and watch Netflix, for your survival’s sake you may need a change of plan. Perhaps consider a career as a revolutionary, start your own religion, or maybe become a comedian. If you’re funny, maybe the creators will keep you around.

Speaking of simulation, here’s a great piece about surviving the simulation. Now, I’m not one to buy into simulation theory but our very own Corey wrote about it in one of our bonus letters not too long ago. That’s a read well-worth your time too. 

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CJW: Getting DP'd in the Age of Loneliness: The End of History and the Rise of Polyamory (via Pregnant)

This essay by River Page is largely anti-polyamory, but it also brings up some interesting ideas in relation to it. Usually when I see polyam-bashing online it seems lazy and lazily cruel, so at least here the author offers an actual critique.

It parallels something that I've long said, but comes at it from a negative perspective. I've been saying that I can imagine polyamory becoming more prominent in the coming years because neoliberalism/austerity/precarious employment/etc means that it will be increasingly difficult for single people and even couples to be able to economically survive, let alone thrive, but three or more people in a committed relationship and a shared housing situation could cope better. Here the author posits polyamory as itself being a representation of neoliberalism, being a form of precarious, gig-economy romance. Uber but for emotional/physical connection. I don't know that I agree.

Perhaps polyam relationships have that potential, but I’m not sure it’s representative of how people in those situations actually conduct themselves and their relationships. And if people did conduct themselves that way would it actually be because neoliberal doctrine has fundamentally damaged the ways we relate to one another? But it's an interesting read nonetheless. 

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MJW: Every day Melbourne wakes and waits for the news. It’s worse this time | Anna Spargo-Ryan


Comics

CJW: Prism Stalker Vol. 1 by Sloane Leong

I’ve been hearing about this comic for the longest time, but it took me until now to finally read the first volume, proving that I am a fool, because this book is phenomenal.

As much as some of my favourite comics have a separate writer and artist, there is a certain energy or flow you often find in work by writer/artists, some sort of internal back and forth that creates imagery that I as a writer would never know how to describe if I was working with an artist. And with Sloane Leong’s work here, that is definitely the case. It feels deeply personal, like we’re seeing into the depths of Leong’s mind or soul and seeing a pure spiritual-primal essence rendered in bold lines and brilliant colours.

The character designs are reminiscent of Carla Speed McNeil’s FINDER, the alien geography is similar to Simon Roy’s work on PROPHET but pushed even further into unseen forms. But even then there is so much more to the art than the characters and the landscapes - the dreamlike and mythical feel to certain scenes and sections, the psychedelic fracturing in others, the fluid action scenes, the vibrant glowing colour.

I don’t want to say too much about the story, as it’s obviously still building by the time this volume comes to a close, but I get a very post- or de-colonial vibe from the setting, with elements of the self-discovery plot you’ve seen in The Matrix, Harry Potter, etc, but I don’t mean that in a diminishing way at all. Here, the self-doubt, the questioning, and the fear feel so raw and real that it is far more affecting than what those movies ever managed.

DCH: +1. Huge fan of Prism.


Video

DCH: The US economy has just taken it’s biggest dump in my lifetime. Which is not good for the nearly 30 million people in the US that already don’t have enough to eat.

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DCH: Urban plan is racist as fuck


CJW: And that’s it for another issue. Thanks for spending this time with us.

Look after yourselves, and if there’s ever anything you want to let us know about (perhaps your own project, or just some interesting stuff you think we’d like to share here), always feel free to comment or reply.