CJW: Let’s get right into it - as ever there is so much to share.
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Lidia Zuin (LZ) - Journalist, MA in semiotics, and PhD in Arts. Sci-fi writer, futurology researcher and essayist. @lidiazuin
CJW: Rich nations caused climate harm to poorer ones, study says - Seth Borenstein and Drew Costley at AP News
the data shows that the top carbon emitter over time, the United States, has caused more than $1.9 trillion in climate damage to other countries from 1990 to 2014, including $310 billion in damage to Brazil, $257 billion in damage to India, $124 billion to Indonesia, $104 billion to Venezuela and $74 billion to Nigeria. But at the same time, the United States’ own carbon pollution has benefited the U.S. by more than $183 billion.
“Do all countries look to the United States for restitution? Maybe,” said study co-author Justin Mankin, a Dartmouth College climate scientist. “The U.S. has caused a huge amount of economic harm by its emissions, and that’s something that we have the data to show.”
Make them pay! They’re only going to spend it on the military otherwise.
CJW: Noiseless Messengers - Rebecca Giggs at Emergence Magazine
A world of our design promised to restrict insect life to the margins; but having been besieged by moths, one could be forgiven for believing, however fleetingly, that our houses were less of a permanent fixture than the cascades of insects that cyclically, opportunistically, sought shelter within them. That we might have been living in the moths’ home all along proved an uncomfortable notion; one that implied we had less right to control what was excluded and what was invited in than we might have supposed. Whose world was this? Who belonged to it—and who only claimed the world belonged to them?
A beautiful and wide-ranging piece on moths, migratory animals, and the Australian bogong moth in particular, now endangered due to a rapidly changing climate.
To argue for shielding animal migration is to adopt an expansive definition of vulnerability, for it means not just protecting animals—safeguarding their mere existence—but maintaining their ways of being in the world, and in relationship to one another. It can also mean attending to the commonplace over the seldom-seen; to the maintenance of the unremarkable.
With climate adaptation more generally, for every high-tech “fix” offered, I’d much rather see “the maintenance of the unremarkable” to take care of all the small but important tasks we need to address over the coming years.
The Climate Anxiety Discussion Has a Whiteness Problem - Grace Browne at WIRED
Kylie Jenner apparently uses her private plane for three-minute long flights - Brandon Yu at Mic
DCH: Boris Johnson Was a Creation of the British Media by Francesca Newton at Jacobin
As a result, we shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that Johnson himself is done either. He is the current villain, he will remain so for a while, but he may well eventually be brought back into the fold as part–Westminster authority, part-clown. The more serious scandals can be expunged, the lighter ones made light of. This future is perhaps most evident in the fact that the criticisms that brought him down have avoided any real critique of how he has run the country: parties, financial misdealings, and sexual misconduct scandals have been the core of the argument, while the millions in poverty, the widespread suppression of democracy, and the attacks on basic rights have received comparatively little airtime.
It’s not just climate, British politics has also gone into meltdown. Boris Johnson – an odious, graceless, self-serving man – has been forced to resign from office. Brought low by his support of Chris Pincher, an MP and sex pest.
Yes, Pincher. Reality, it seems, really loves irony.
Johnson likely thought he’d avoid consequence as he’s done his entire life. What he failed to take into account was the political opportunism of his own party. First Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid were the first to resign their posts in his cabinet. Then over 50 more followed in blistering succession.
Sunak now stands poised to succeed Johnson as Prime Minister. But only time will tell where the Tory party goes next.
Johnson, unsurprisingly, blamed the whole thing on a nebulous “deep state” conspiracy to stop Brexit.
CJW: Israel Can’t Destroy the Memory of Shireen Abu Akleh - Xavier Guignard & Colin Powers
No, the Nakba endures, constituting the Palestinian experience as much as the Israeli one. The very topography of that which was Palestine continues to be transformed with each passing day, her hills flattened, waters drained, quarries mined, so that Israeli capital may accumulate, Israeli settlements be built, and Israeli farms be irrigated. Just as in the 1940s, Palestine’s homes and villages are destroyed, her lands appropriated, and her laws manipulated so to allow the reign of one state — and one state only — between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
On the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh and Israeli colonialist violence.
Related: Biden to Saudi Arabia and Israel: Sure, Kill Our Journalists - Murtaza Hussein at The Intercept
CJW: Enclaves of Democracy - George Monbiot
This seems to be a feature of deliberative, participatory democracy: it works better in practice than it does in theory. Many of the obstacles critics imagine dissolve as people are transformed by the process in which they engage. A classic example is the participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil. During its peak years (1989-2004) before it was curtailed by a more hostile local government, it transformed the life of the city. Corruption was almost eliminated, human welfare and public services greatly improved. The decisions made by the people’s assemblies were greener, fairer, wiser and more distributive than those the city government had made.
Why does it work better than we might imagine? Perhaps because the current system of domination persuades us of our own incapacity. It forces us into competition when we should be cooperating to solve our common problems. The horrible culture wars whipped up by governments and the media and fought between people with similar socio-economic interests are enabled by our exclusion from meaningful power: we have no opportunity to engage creatively with each other in building better communities. Disempowerment sets us apart. Shared, equal decision-making brings us together.
I need to read Bookchin, because when his writings and thinkings are mentioned (like the above, or often on the SRSLY WRONG podcast), they sound fascinating. It will always be easy for people to make bad faith arguments against socialism/communism because of the actions of various Soviet leaders, but maybe social ecology and communalism are distinct enough concepts to be taken seriously as alternatives to extractive capitalist colonialism (or whatever I feel like calling it this issue). Fuck knows we need more people truly considering our politics and how they can and should change.
DCH: We Can’t Save Democracy Just by Voting by Edward Ongweso Jr VICE
There’s a rhetorical commitment to political democracy, but it amounts to nothing if we don’t democratize everything and allow people to have a direct say in the things that affect their lives. This is not a problem we can fix just by voting every two years, and democracy shouldn’t end at the ballot box—our workplaces should be run by unions of workers, corporations by cooperatives or collectives of workers or the state in some instances, and our economy by public interests for socially productive purposes.
There are a multitude of remedies that spring from this prognosis that serve to more fully democratize our society. Some circumvent the democracy deficit in this country by applying pressure directly—uprisings and sabotage can serve to subvert some ends, hold feet to the fire, and crystalize further actions for movements to take. Dewey, a progressive liberal, may have shied away from these more explicitly insurrectionary methods, but still believed a revolution of sorts was necessary to save this country and the traces of democracy within it.
Maybe The Ballot or The Bullet is a false dichotomy. Maybe we need both.
Time for Palestine to claim its stolen gas - Yousef Fares at The Cradle
Latin America’s Second Wave of Left-Wing Governments Could Be More Powerful Than the First - Kyla Sankey at Jacobin
Under Jair Bolsonaro, Meat Is Becoming an Unaffordable Luxury Item for Most Brazilians - Oscar Brought on at Jacobin
Scientists Find Link Between Wolf Attacks and Far Right Politics by Becky Ferreira at VICE (DCH: “‘I never thought wolves would eat MY face,’ sobs Neo-Nazi who voted for the Wolves Eating People’s Faces Party.”)
What Comic Genius Gave Us the Nest Thermostat Election Conspiracy? by Timothy Noah at The New Republic
This Part of India Is on the Verge of Becoming a Complete Surveillance State by Qadri Inzamam Haziq Qadri at Slate
The View from Here by Errol Morris at Airmail (DCH: Morris on the January 6 Committee hearings)
CJW: The Dangerous Populist Science of Yuval Noah Harari - Darshana Narayanan at Current Affairs
Harari has seduced us with his storytelling, but a close look at his record shows that he sacrifices science to sensationalism, often makes grave factual errors, and portrays what should be speculative as certain. The basis on which he makes his statements is obscure, as he rarely provides adequate footnotes or references and is remarkably stingy with acknowledging thinkers who formulated the ideas he presents as his own. And most dangerous of all, he reinforces the narratives of surveillance capitalists, giving them a free pass to manipulate our behaviors to suit their commercial interests. To save ourselves from this current crisis, and the ones ahead of us, we must forcefully reject the dangerous populist science of Yuval Noah Harari.
I would have liked to see a deeper dive offering more damning examples (but that would likely require the proper fact-checking that Harari’s books avoid), but still I have no trouble believing that a massively popular/populist writer who’s deeply entrenched in SV would be full of shit. Always worth asking yourself how much is ideas and how much is ideology.
Here are the James Webb Space Telescope’s stunning first pictures - Lisa Grossman at ScienceNews
Tardigrades could teach us how to handle the rigors of space travel - Douglas Fox at Science News - CJW: Human-Tardigrade hybrids when?
SpaceX starts testing its Super Heavy booster, and it’s “not good” by Eric Berger at Ars Technica
There’s a 10% Chance Rocket Debris Will Kill Someone on Earth This Decade, Study Says by Chloe Xiang at VICE (DCH: Are you there God? It’s me, Dan. I have a few targets for you…)
CJW: The Model is the Message - Benjamin Bratton and Blaise Agüera y Arcas at Noema
Subjectivity is thus the experience of objectifying one’s own mind as if it were another mind. If so, then where we draw the lines between different entities — animal or machine — doing something similar is not so obvious. Some AI critics have used parrots as a metaphor for nonhumans who can’t genuinely think but can only spit things back, despite everything known about the extraordinary minds of these birds. Animal intelligence evolved in relation to environmental pressures (largely consisting of other animals) over hundreds of millions of years. Machine learning accelerates that evolutionary process to days or minutes, and unlike evolution in nature, it serves a specific design goal.
This piece uses the recent case of Lemoine and the LaMDA bot as a starting point (which I’m not sure we even mentioned because it was so obviously stupid right from the get-go), but then covers a lot of ground on AI, intelligence, sentience, language, and related topics. Plenty to think about here for future cyberpunk writings.
In the extreme, [apophenia] can manifest as something like the Influencing Machine, a trope in psychiatry whereby someone believes complex technologies are directly influencing them personally when they clearly are not. Mystical experiences may be related to this, but they don’t feel that way for those doing the experiencing. We don’t disagree with those who describe the Lemoine situation in such terms, particularly when he characterizes LaMDA as “like” a 7- or 8-year-old kid, but there is something else at work as well. LaMDA actually is modeling the user in ways that a TV set, an oddly shaped cloud, or the surface of Mars simply cannot. The AI may not be what you imagine it is, but that does not mean that it does not have some idea of who you are and will speak to you accordingly.
DCH: Facial Recognition Search Engine Pulls Up “Potentially Explicit” Photos of Kids - by Mara Hvistendahl at The Intercept
Over the past few years, several child victim advocacy groups have pushed for police use of surveillance technologies to fight trafficking, arguing that facial recognition can help authorities locate victims. One child abuse prevention nonprofit, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s Thorn, has even developed its own facial recognition tool. But searches on PimEyes for 30 AI-generated children’s faces yielded dozens of pages of results, showing how easily those same tools can be turned against the people they’re designed to help.
A perfect storm of good intentions, negative externalities, bad actors, and corrupt business models.
DCH: How Elon Musk Damaged Twitter and Left It Worse Off - Kate Conger and Mike Isaac at The New York Times
Now, as Mr. Musk, a billionaire, tries to back out of the blockbuster deal, he is inexorably leaving Twitter worse off than it was when he said he would buy it. With each needling tweet and public taunt, Mr. Musk has eroded trust in the social media company, walloped employee morale, spooked potential advertisers, emphasized its financial difficulties and spread misinformation about how Twitter operates.
I have no love lost for the hellsite that is Twitter. But it is 100% demonstrable that Musk acted in bad faith throughout the process. The very first red flag for that was the fact he passed on doing any due diligence at the onset.
What I do take issue with is how his trolling of the company has emboldened far right agitators. Because, you know, that’s more of what we need while all this (waves arms around frantically) is going on.
The outcome of this flame war between Musk and Twitter has enormous consequences: The lawsuit will determine who controls one of the world’s most important platforms for speech and how the company, which has struggled long before Musk, will make money and continue to grow. And if a judge ends up issuing a ruling in the case, it will influence American mergers and acquisitions for decades to come.
Telematic Society - Richard Woodall at Real Life Mag
Soulbinding Like a State - Gordon Brander (via Sentiers) - CJW: I found the parts on identity vs legibility to be really interesting, but skimmed over the crypto stuff. Sidenote: I will not be able to take cryptoweb3 seriously if they insist on using WoW-sounding bullshit like “soulbinding” with a straight face.
Uber faces 550-passenger lawsuit over alleged rape and assault in US - Alex Hern at The Guardian
Facebook May Be on the Cusp of an Embarrassing Milestone - Alex Kantrowitz at Slate (Spoilers: Facebook faces a reckoning as advertisers slash spending and abandon the platform for the first time ever)
Facebook users’ lawsuit forces Mark Zuckerberg to give 6-hour deposition - Ashley Belanger at Ars Technica (DCH: The Cambridge Analytica scandal won’t go away.)
Don’t Look Now, but Congress Might Pass an Actually Good Privacy Bill - Gilad Edelman WIRED
Democrats prepare bill that would codify net neutrality by Makena Kelly at The Verge
‘No Tech for Israeli Apartheid:’ Protesters Disrupt AWS Conference Over Military Contract by Edward Ongweso Jr VICE
CJW: Speaking in Stickers - Krish Raghav at Real Life Mag
Being online means arming yourself with a sophisticated arsenal of forms of indirect speech: The widespread spiky, passive-aggressive performativity seen on the platform, for instance, can actually be understood as a kind of coping mechanism. It’s a careful staging of life and work, a necessarily low-key basking in noncommittal expressions of disavowed emotional states like frustration or laziness.
[Stickers] have also become crucial to communication where the implied is preferred over the stated. They provide an everyday shared cipher, a way of hinting at something without stating it outright.
Stickers could be understood as a more quotidian version of what Asian Studies professor Margaret Hillenbrand, in her book Negative Exposures, theorizes as a “photo form”: media that involves a “labor of decipherment [that] binds people together,” creating intimate, interpersonal “coded archives” of clarity, in-jokes, and shared meaning. She draws on lingering (and clandestinely circulated) images of traumatic and powerful events in China from the long 20th century — the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Cultural Revolution — to show how photo forms function within suppressive environments as modes for visualizing what is hard to say aloud.
This is a really interesting look at sticker use in WeChat, which also relates to online chat more broadly - as in, I see plenty of parallels to online communication in the West. People in China use stickers to avoid censorship or other repercussions, where someone else might look forward to Elon Musk “dying in Minecraft”. Also plenty here specifically related to the use of image.
MJW: Pamela Paul’s Great Replacement Theory - Melissa Gira Grant at The New Republic
[…] roughly half the people in America, many of them reeling from being robbed of something they were told was their birthright, were told by one rarefied columnist at the country’s most powerful newspaper that trans women are set to replace them. Some may call that fascist. I do.
CJW: A really great piece, with some parallels to Dan’s recent bonus that I unlocked last issue. Where Dan was focused on anti-abortion rhetoric, Gira Grant is talking about the anti-trans side of the coin.
DCH: The Politics of Concrete by David Helps at Protean Magazine
Mike Davis thought about California, he thought about concrete. In 1998, the state’s most famous radical not named Angela took the stage at the founding conference of Critical Resistance, the Los Angeles prison abolition organization, and held up a hunk of his driveway. To a kid in the 1950s, “this is what the California Dream was made of,” Davis regaled the audience. In those days, concrete embodied the postwar promise of liberal capitalism: “great dams,” good union jobs, and tuition-free colleges. Now, Davis looked at his prop and saw “something rather sinister.” Concrete meant the prison-industrial complex—and the life-affirming investments that mass incarceration had crowded out. “Each of those prisons,” lamented Davis, “is a school or a hospital that’ll never be built.”
If public works are the material expression of political priorities, then we can learn a lot about a place from what gets built. Davis’s focus was on prisons, as the antithesis of the colorblind “California Dream” he grew up on in Fontana, a steel town fifty miles east of Los Angeles. But follow the concrete into another outlying region, and the relationship between race, infrastructure, and abandonment becomes even more tangible.
A brilliant long-read and meditation on the racism lurking behind the built world. Threads the needle from The City of Los Angeles to The New Economy.
Blame it on the Game - Katherine Alejandra Cross at Real Life Mag - CJW: On violence in video games and media being scapegoated for mass shooting events, and other related cultural issues.
The Latest Uvalde Revelations Show Exactly What’s Wrong With US Policing by Branko Marcetic at Jacobin
How social media is misleading beginner strippers by Jessica Lucas at Input
K-Pop’s online community has a homophobia problem by Jessica Lucas at Input
How Americans Became Convinced Divorce Is Bad for Kids by Gail Cornwall Scott Coltrane at Slate (DCH: My hang-ups stem from my parents NOT getting divorced.)
CJW: Deep Time Sickness - Lachlan Summers at Noema
If we consider the city a geophysical entity, we can think about being tocado as a uniquely historical form of relating with the Earth. Rather than Elena’s affliction being induced by a traumatic experience and a fear of future earthquake events, she and others fear the processes that were initiated by the earthquake: the grietas, the slumps, the leans, the fissures, the buildings collapsing years later.
A really interesting and (again) wide-ranging piece on a type of mental illness experienced by people in the years since Mexico City’s 2017 earthquake, deep time, the history and foundation of the city, and the corruption that has left so many of its buildings vulnerable.
DCH: Is Abortion Sacred? by Jia Tolentino The New Yorker
Abortion is often talked about as a grave act that requires justification, but bringing a new life into the world felt, to me, like the decision that more clearly risked being a moral mistake. The debate about abortion in America is “rooted in the largely unacknowledged premise that continuing a pregnancy is a prima facie moral good,” the pro-choice Presbyterian minister Rebecca Todd Peters writes. But childbearing, Peters notes, is a morally weighted act, one that takes place in a world of limited and unequally distributed resources. Many people who get abortions—the majority of whom are poor women who already have children—understand this perfectly well. “We ought to take the decision to continue a pregnancy far more seriously than we do,” Peters writes.
A brilliantly written essay that covers a lot of territory. From the personal to the political to the sacred. From TikTok to AOC to Buddhism.
Is BA.5 the ‘Reinfection Wave’? by Ed Yong at The Atlantic.com
The Last Abortion Clinic in North Dakota Gets Ready to Leave by Emily Witt, The New Yorker
The Abortion Surge Engulfing Clinics in Pennsylvania by E. Tammy Kim, The New Yorker
Over-the-counter birth control pills are available worldwide. The U.S. may be next by Allison Aubrey, NPR
How to Support People in States Where Abortion Is Under Threat by Christina Wyman, Wired
Why is Monkeypox Evolving So Fast? by Sara Reardon, Scientific American
DCH: The Explicit Choice by the SEC Not to Regulate Crypto by Stephen Diehl
There is a common misconception that American law does not know how to deal with crypto assets, which is entirely false. Crypto assets are investment contracts, and they clearly meet the Howey Test for securities and fall under the remit of the SEC. And yet the SEC is explicitly choosing not to regulate these investments for seemingly no reason. This selective enforcement is a choice being made behind closed doors, thus undermining both the democratic process and the rule of law. If unelected bureaucrats can selectively choose which laws from Congress they personally want to enforce, then this undermines both the rule of law and our democracy itself.
This is Stephen Diehl calling out SEC Chairmen Jay Clayton and Gary Gensler for their bullshit. An abject dereliction of duty that has drained the savings of amateur investors across the globe.
DCH: The Uber Leak Exposes Its Global War on Workers - Paris Marx at Jacobin
As I outline in Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation, Uber was supposed to reduce car ownership, cut traffic congestion, make mobility more accessible for underserved communities, allow its drivers to make a good living, and be complimentary toward transit services — or so Kalanick claimed. It only took a few years for all the big promises to be revealed as overly ambitious at best or outright lies at worst.
Uber’s real impact has been to make life worse for virtually everyone it touches. A series of studies have found that the company made traffic worse in major cities, did little to affect car ownership, took passengers away from transit services, and increased trip emissions. Meanwhile, it decimated the conditions of existing taxi workers and squeezed its own drivers (who mainly hailed from marginalized communities) to disproportionately serve affluent young people living in cities.
Regular readers will recall Uber is one of my favourite chew toys. They’re basically a Koch Brothers scheme wrapped in software. Their predatory business model has drained billions from working class people of colour and damaged the environment.
Cryptocurrency flowing into “mixers” hits an all-time high. Wanna guess why? by Dan Goodin, Ars Technica
Good News: Economy Sucks, You’re Screwed, and It’s All Your Fault, Economists Say by Edward Ongweso Jr, Vice
Spain Taxes Banks and Energy Companies to Make Trains Free for 4 Months by Sophia Smith Galer, Vice
Who broke capitalism? by Judd Legum, popular.info
The Speedy Downfall of Rapid Delivery Startups by Caitlin Harrington, wired
What Will Chris Smalls Do Next? by Wes Enzinna, nymag
The True Costs of Inflation in Small-Town Texas by Rachel Monroe, The New Yorker
LZ: Anéantir, by Michel Houllebecq
Unfortunately, this book seems to be only available in French (original language) or Spanish and no English translation for now… in any case, this is my first experience with the author and it’s been interesting. I’m still in the beginning of the read, but I was surprised this is kind of science fiction-ish, in a way that it reminds me of Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. It’s techy but it’s also kind of sarcastic if you consider that the protagonist is a somehow depressive guy who thrives at work but has a complicated family/love life. I heard about this book after Bruce Sterling mentioned that even the Spanish liked that – whatever that means.
MJW: A History of Dreams by Jane Rawson
Friend of the newsletter Jane Rawson’s new book is witches vs nazis in 1930s Adelaide (South Australia). In this world, witches’ magic is the ability to seed dreams, to insert them into minds and hearts to change thinking. When an authoritarian government strips away the rights of women, the little coven of richly developed characters use and are used for their dreaming spells. Despite the dark themes, this book was such a delight. Jane’s imagination is vast and enviable, and her worlds are always so beautifully rendered.
LZ: The Boys
You probably already watched it or heard of it, but I would like to tell you a bit about the context in which I started watching the series.
I’m no fan of superheroes and I’m dead tired of Marvel and DC movies. That was enough context to know why I would enjoy The Boys as it has a very dark humour approach to superheroes, marketing stunts and political correctness.
I didn’t read the comics, but apparently they did some improvements (or at least changes) to catch up with current events… and that makes the series even more meta, but not in a Captain America-meme way. It puts many fingers in different wounds, which makes the narrative even more surprising – probably one of the best plot twists was the transformation of Stormfront into a woman superhero that portrayed the ideals of (liberal) feminism and turns out to be not quite the best person.
They are renewed for a fourth season and the third one is even more gory than the others… in a way that you will laugh but feel guilty and at the same time enjoying the ride.
CJW: At the start of season 2 I wasn’t sure if the writers knew about a certain neo-Nazi web forum, but I soon realised it was entirely deliberate.
The only thing I don’t like about this show (2 seasons in, I’ve not started on 3 yet) is that if I was going to do something involving supes, it would have been just like The Boys. I never read much of the comic, but I read enough to know it’s not Ennis’ subtlest work, but the show does a great job of taking source material that’s hugely juvenile and kinda just unpleasant and building on it to create some great satire.
Even though the game is around for a while, it went viral a couple of weeks ago on Twitter. The premise is to create a shooter game where you are a toy in a toy store – so it’s like Mugen on steroids. Very interesting and worth the check if you like this kind of game mechanics and/or indie games.
Whatever that is, if you’re into atmospheric black metal and gothic nature, this playlist should be your cup of tea. Including tracks by Olhava, Trna, Ultar, Wolves in the Throne Room, Lustre and more.
DCH: In the Black Fantastic by Regine we-make-money-not-art.com
What physical form might Black utopia take? What are the legacies of Afrofuturism? Who are the TRAUMAnauts? Are there seducing and compelling alternatives to Western visions of progress? How can fantasy, myth and fiction address racism and injustice? Or even give new perspectives on ecology and gender identity?
Gorgeous photos at the link too.
MJW: Exotic Cancer recently released a tarot deck via preorder, but the cards are now available on their website for general purchase. This deck is a beauty, candy pink and beautifully illustrated with stripper-themed art. Buy one for your witchy friends.
MJW: Themme Fatale has great Venn diagrams on Insta