CJW: Everything happens so much, so here we are. Welcome to another issue of nothing here.
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Let’s begin, shall we?
Daniel Harvey (DCH) - Designer, writer, provocateur. Pro-guillotine tech critic. @dancharvey
m1k3y (MKY) - @eattrainrevolt
Marlee Jane Ward (MJW) - is also Mia Walsch. Writer, shut in.
Corey J. White (CJW) - Author, podcaster, sin-eater.
Lidia Zuin (LZ) - Journalist, MA in semiotics, and PhD in Arts. Sci-fi writer, futurology researcher and essayist. @lidiazuin
CJW: The Eternal Tree - Jori Lewis at Emergence Magazine
[…] researchers think that baobab trees evolved millions of years before humans were even a speck in some ape’s eye. They are survivalists on a geologic time scale; they were around when the Sahara was a lush grassland and the Congo Basin was a semi-arid desert, and they have weathered one ice age after another. It seems likely that people followed the baobabs, not the other way around. It is, perhaps, our hubris that puts humans at the center of the tree’s evolution.
On the baobab tree, its history, uses, lifecycle, and its precarious position in our changing climate.
The atomic priesthood is one thing, but can we have a secular priesthood to help with the seeding, growth, and continued existence of baobabs? (Speaking of the atomic priesthood: read The Only Harmless Great Thing.) We need generational projects to shepherd the world through coming troubles. A Baobab Priesthood, Coral Priesthood, Wetlands Priesthood, and on and on. And if the priesthood decides that to do their job they need to blow up a pipeline, well…
Speaking of, I found this piece at Roar Mag by Franek Korbanski, on reading Mark Fisher and Andreas Malm alongside one another: How to blow up the capitalist realism of fossil capital.
CJW: The United States Is Exceptional - Aviva Chomsky (via Foreign Exchanges)
Bad news, everyone.
CJW: Naming Storms - Lachlan Summers at Real Life Mag
Events like 19s, the storms of the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season, and the Black Summer are not singular entities, but irreducibly plural, propagating across time and space, refusing disambiguation. Figure and ground reverse: instead of discrete aberrations thrown into relief by a neutral background, these events threaten to become conditions, continuums. They don’t so much highlight a widening gap between the normal and the aberrant as indicate that this gap is closing — converging into one disaster that can’t be isolated and localized in a name.
On the history of naming storms and other disasters, and the ways these naming conventions and disaster scales are being proven inadequate by accelerating climate disasters.
Ukraine war threatens global heating goals, warns UN chief - Fiona Harvey at The Guardian
The Plough’s Share & Payday - George Monbiot
Floating Solar Panel Flowers to Power South Korea Homes - Heesu Lee at Bloomberg (via Sentiers)
Great Barrier Reef authority confirms unprecedented sixth mass coral bleaching event
Opinion: Facts Haven’t Spurred Us to Climate Action. Can Fiction? - undark.org
Exxon Considering Expanding Bitcoin Mining Pilot to 4 Countries: Report - Audrey Carleton VICE
‘OK Doomer’ and the Climate Advocates Who Say It’s Not Too Late - Cara Buckley The New York Times
CJW: The consolidation of Europe’s border regime in Greece - Wasil Schauseil at Roar Mag
However, what the government takes pride in, essentially, is the steady increase of illegal expulsions by the coast guard and security forces, which has massively reduced the numbers of official arrivals.
As horrific as Greece’s legal and illegal treatment of refugees is, it sounds like they’ve been learning from the Australian model. Our major exports: fossil fuels to choke the future and cruel and racist systems of refugee torture.
There is a lot here in this piece - worth a read for a reminder of what it’s like as a refugee when you’re not a white European being welcomed with open arms.
In light of this systematic practice [of illegal pushbacks] and the “willful blindness” of the relevant state actors in the Aegean, UNHCR statistics on arrivals have lost their meaning. Only organizations such as Aegean Boat Report, Josoor or Mare Liberum and networks such as BVMN provide a realistic assessment of the situation, thus making them targets for the authorities. […] a September law amendment prohibits non-governmental organizations from engaging in rescue missions without official authorization from the coast guard — the same coast guard that carries out forced expulsions. International maritime laws concerning the unconditional obligation to rescue people in danger is trampled upon. Such legal changes help lay the foundation for the further criminalization of solidarity work and border monitoring activities by civic groups.
Related: The War in Ukraine Shows That Europe Could Help Refugees if It Really Wanted To - Nathan Akehurst at Jacobin
For years European politicians and commentators across the political spectrum have told us that the continent is full up, that letting people in only encourages more people to move, and that most refugees aren’t genuine anyway. In the Ukraine case, such facile arguments have melted away. Even usually virulently anti-migration governments have not entertained them. What we were told was impossible and impractical by countless hand-wringing European politicians is now happening, rapidly and at a huge scale.
This is a good piece on the phenomenon I mentioned last issue (or was it the one before?) about racism in European reactions to Ukrainian refugees vs refugees from, ah, less-white parts of the world.
And finally: Minting Xenophobia: What We Can Learn From the AP’s NFT Error - Jamie Cohen
the media continues to represent these migration flows (from either on foot or over water) from a macro standpoint, seeing the mass of people rather than the human individual. The paper calls for an immediate adaptive strategy to combat the perpetuation of mediated xenophobia.
A piece spurred on by the AP’s (since reversed) decision to mint an NFT of a photo of refugees. Discusses migration, xenophobia and the mediation thereof.
DCH: RIP Madeleine Albright and Her Awful, Awful Career by Jon Schwarz at The Intercept
Finally, Albright’s arrogance was similar to that of George W. Bush and company. In 1998 she expounded on America’s right to bomb Iraq, proclaiming, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.” This was a bizarrely precise embodiment of what John Adams once wrote to Thomas Jefferson about the corruptions of power: “Power always thinks it has a great Soul, and vast Views, beyond the Comprehension of the Weak.”
Kissinger in heels. Madeleine Albright Was a Killer.
DCH: The Empire of the Golden Triangle - Dylan Levi King, Palladium
These frontiers are run on commodities that no honest man should touch. Once, it was opium. The Kuomintang and the CIA fought running battles with the Shan United Revolutionary Army and the Royal Lao Army to control the trade. Methamphetamine came next. The drugs travel down trails that no map shows, joined by gems, furs, weapons, and women and children in bondage.
This frontier is built for men like Zhao Wei.
An amazing long read on the most notorious warlord in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in the Southeast Asian highlands.
MKY: We Have New Evidence of Saudi Involvement in 9/11, and Barely Anyone Cares - Branko Marcetic at Jacobin
As a friend of the newsletter, Brendan, put it, “Those planes could have had SAUD 4 EVA spray painted on the sides and it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Related: I’m continuing to enjoy The Antifada’s History is a Weapon series [Patreon].
I’m starting to think that we’re always seeing through the debris.
Time Running Out to Address Afghanistan’s Hunger Crisis - Fereshta Abbasi at Human Rights Watch & The families losing their loved ones to hunger suicide in Afghanistan - Hizbullah Khan at Prospect Magazine
Russia’s War on Ukraine Has Already Changed the World - Jacobin - CJW: A lot of interesting stuff in this interview, though the situation changes so quickly ymmv by the time this newsletter goes out
Israel, Fearing Russian Reaction, Blocked Spyware for Ukraine and Estonia - Mark Mazzetti Ronen Bergman The New York Times
AI-Influenced Weapons Need Better Regulation Scientific American
The Ghost of the Soviet Union Still Haunts the Internet WIRED
Jamestown colonists may have kept, eaten indigenous American dogs
DCH: Asteroid Mining Company to Launch NFTs to Fund Resource Extraction In Space - Edward Ongweso Jr VICE
“The whole point of embarking on this side project is to be able to scale our engineering. And so, if talent exists within the community, specifically to contribute to the project on a significant level, we want to speak with those individuals directly,” said Pascual. “We have an opportunity to create some awesome artwork with really talented artists and share that vision for what that’s going to be. But really, we just hope to be, you know, inspirational the same way SpaceX has been.”
Thanks. I hate it here.
Researchers Made a New Message for Extraterrestrials Scientific American
We have our best look yet at mysterious ORCs (odd radio circles) in space Ars Technica
CIA Document Claims Soviet Union Was Developing Cybernetic Telepathy VICE
Astronomy’s contribution to climate change rivals the emissions from some countries NPR
CJW: Hope for the Future - Audrey Watters (via Sentiers)
There’s no inevitability to “online.” There’s not, despite how loudly ed-tech evangelists insist that “There’s no going back now,” so pleased that disaster capitalism has helped unlock the possibility they’ve longed for: one in which all teaching and learning is mediated through their digital platforms, in which labor unions are busted, in which public funding is eviscerated to make way for privatized profiteering.
Of course, there is no “back.” Time doesn’t work that way. And no one wants to go “back.” That’s a red herring, akin to thinking “luddite” is an insult. The luddites didn’t want to go back; they wanted the future to be better. From where we are, there is always only forward. But the future is unwritten. Forward is open and incumbent upon us to shape.
The focus of this talk is education, but there is plenty in here of broader interest. Embrace luddism. Recapture the future.
DCH: When Nokia Pulled Out of Russia, a Vast Surveillance System Remained by Paul Mozur, Adam Satariano, and Aaron Krolik at The New York Times
Nokia said this month that it would stop its sales in Russia and denounced the invasion of Ukraine. But the Finnish company didn’t mention what it was leaving behind: equipment and software connecting the government’s most powerful tool for digital surveillance to the nation’s largest telecommunications network.
The tool was used to track supporters of the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. Investigators said it had intercepted the phone calls of a Kremlin foe who was later assassinated. Called the System for Operative Investigative Activities, or SORM, it is also most likely being employed at this moment as President Vladimir V. Putin culls and silences antiwar voices inside Russia.
Nokia spent years knowingly building a comprehensive surveillance system for Putin and the FSB. They earned hundreds of millions of dollars of annual revenue on the back of this fuckery. But hey aren’t dumbphones great?
DCH: E.U. Takes Aim at Big Tech’s Power With Landmark Digital Act by Adam Satariano at The New York Times
The law, called the Digital Markets Act, is the most sweeping piece of digital policy since the bloc put the world’s toughest rules to protect people’s online data into effect in 2018. The legislation is aimed at stopping the largest tech platforms from using their interlocking services and considerable resources to box in users and squash emerging rivals, creating room for new entrants and fostering more competition.
What that means practically is that companies like Google will no longer be able to collect data from different services to offer targeted ads without users’ consent and that Apple may have to allow alternatives to its App Store on iPhones and iPads. Violators of the law, which will take effect as early as later this year, could face penalties of up to 20 percent of their global revenue — which could reach into the tens of billions of dollars — for repeat offenses.
Big Tech companies have spent decades “self-privileging” there on services above their competitors. At the heart of this regulation is a big hefty “fuck you” to that mindset. The ramifications around interoperability of services (first up chat messaging) is going to keep big tech busy and sweaty for years to come.
At SXSW, A Pathetic Tech Future Struggles to Be Born - Edward Ongweso Jr at Vice
The Metaverse and NFT Boom Is About to Go Bust - Stephen Moore
Facebook paid GOP firm to malign TikTok The Washington Post
Riders in New York City can hail a yellow cab through Uber protocol.com and Uber Close to Deal for Partnership With San Francisco Taxi Outfit The New York Times (DCH: This was all part of Uber’s plan from day 1. Decimate the taxi market and then take it over. And this wasn’t even an original idea. Kalanick stole it from The Koch Brothers.)
Microsoft is tied to hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign bribes, whistleblower alleges The Verge
MJW: How the Atlanta Spa Shootings—the Victims, the Survivors—Tell a Story of America - May Jeong at Vanity Fair
On the echoes of violence, immigration and America.
On May 4, 49 days after the shootings, Randy and Eric went to visit their mother. Buddhists believe that on the 49th day after a person dies, their spirit moves on to one of three realms: the hell realm, a heavenly kind of realm, and a return to this realm. According to The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the Bardo Thodol, whence this tradition comes, the soul must be helped along as it passes into the next world… Between a nominally nicer, more expensive all-white cemetery and a cheaper and more diverse option, the brothers chose to bury their mother along with other people of color. “I don’t think she would be comfortable with all white people,” Randy told me. Even in death, America remains segregated.
LZ: Facing the Strategic Sublime: Scenario Planning as Gothic Narrative - Matt Finch and Marie Mahon at Vector
The future is gothic! Brilliant article suggesting the use of the concept of the sublime when building future scenarios.
CJW: Why Is the Internet So Exhausting? Blame Your Crowdsourced Bosses - Katherine Cross
So you can’t completely escape, but can you cut back on social media use? Yes, at a cost. There’s an old joke among those of us who do freelance cultural work and are told to work for “exposure”: People die from exposure. That can literally be true, as harassment campaigns can and do endanger people’s lives—they’re the result of that online attention economy with all its perverse incentives. And yet you need exposure to thrive in many professions these days. I hate Twitter, and yet I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t made a significant chunk of my income over the years from promoting my work there. Participating in the Discourse of the hour, being terminally angry online, and partaking in the sousveillance and bossing of others can help you go even further. Harvest likes, shares, followers, donors, and you too might be able to have some vague approximation of a living wage. To try and opt out of this economy is to deny yourself a potential income stream.
I’m sure the author didn’t write the headline, which I think cuts counter to the point of the piece. It’s about the emotional labour expected of gig workers (and emotional labour more broadly), but I think rather than “blame your crowdsourced bosses” a better framing would be “check your own complicity in the exploitation of already-exploited workers”. Ironic karma would see every TikToker that made a delivery driver dance for their fucking Ring camera get hit by a delivery truck.
DCH: The True Crime-Obsessed Philanthropists Paying to Catch Killers - Kashmir Hill The New York Times
Ms. Davis is part of a growing cohort of amateur DNA detectives, their hobby born of widespread consumer genetic testing paired with an unquenchable desire for true crime content. Why just listen to a murder podcast when you can help police comb through genealogical databases for the second cousins of suspected killers and their unidentified victims?
So far donors around the country have given at least a million dollars to the cause. They could usher in a world where few crimes go unsolved — but only if society is willing to accept, and fund, DNA dragnets.
What could possibly go wrong?
Russian Misinformation Seeks to Confound, Not Convince Scientific American
OnlyFans could ban porn again in its push for an IPO inputmag.com
DCH: What a Single Metric Tells Us About the Pandemic by David Wallace-Wells at New York Magazine
There is one data point that might serve as an exceptional interpretative tool, one that blinks bright through all that narrative fog: excess mortality. The idea is simple: You look at the recent past to find an average for how many people die in a given country in a typical year, count the number of people who died during the pandemic years, and subtract one from the other. The basic math yields some striking results, as shown by a recent paper in The Lancet finding that 18.2 million people may have died globally from COVID, three times the official total. As skeptical epidemiologists were quick to point out, the paper employed some strange methodology — modeling excess deaths even for countries that offered actual excess-death data and often distorting what we knew to be true as a result. A remarkable excess-mortality database maintained by The Economist does not have this problem, and, like the Lancet paper, the Economist database estimates global excess mortality; it puts the figure above 20 million.
A great primer on excess mortality and how surprisingly similar and catastrophically bad the pandemic has played out across various countries using it as a measure. Pro-tip: don’t stop reading when it starts to reek of “American exceptionalism.” Spoiler: That is very much not the case and very much not the point of the article.
It makes frequent mention of The Economist’s excellent database of excess Covid deaths. You should definitely check that out. I spent the bulk of 2020 working on Covid related issues and spent a lot of time trying to convince people this was the only metric that really mattered.
DCH: How Long Should It Take to Grieve? Psychiatry Has Come Up With an Answer. - Ellen Barry The New York Times
After more than a decade of argument, psychiatry’s most powerful body in the United States added a new disorder this week to its diagnostic manual: prolonged grief.
Oh. I’ve been struggling with grief ever since my father died in 2017. I’ll give this a read…
The decision marks an end to a long debate within the field of mental health, steering researchers and clinicians to view intense grief as a target for medical treatment, at a moment when many Americans are overwhelmed by loss.
The new diagnosis, prolonged grief disorder, was designed to apply to a narrow slice of the population who are incapacitated, pining and ruminating a year after a loss, and unable to return to previous activities.
Its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders means that clinicians can now bill insurance companies for treating people for the condition.
…and do fuck right off. Of course the vultures behind the DSM want to find new ways to milk people at their lowest. All to help out big pharma no less.
P.S. This is the same DSM and the same governing body that labeled homosexuality as a mental illness decades ago. Fuck these assholes.
The medical establishment gaslights doctors, insisting long Covid is “psychological” - David Tuller at Coda
Social media may affect girls’ mental health earlier than boys’, study finds The Guardian
LZ: The skilled worker shortage is a joke, yours truly on her Twitter
I’m doing specific research about the gaps between workers and what startups are demanding. Well, during this process, I discovered two very interesting concepts: The Great Resignation and Reservation Wage. I made this thread on Twitter summarising a little bit of my findings, but long story short, companies don’t want to pay good wages and offer benefits, including the culture and flexibilisation when it comes to remote work, maternity leave etc. The other thing is that the obvious way to solve this is always hiring migrant workers, but there are cases in which in spite of the investment in bringing people to the country, they had a percentage of unemployment above the national average, with some interviewees saying that they don’t work enough. Huh? Well, this is weird considering how much racism and xenophobia exists everywhere. I mention a case in Brazil when we had a shortage of doctors and brought Cuban professionals, but Brazilian doctors were so outraged by this that they got to the point of calling some workers “slaves” - why? About 70% of Cuban workers were black. Anyways, just check the thread and the links for more!
DCH: How Putin’s Oligarchs Bought London by Patrick Radden Keefe at The New Yorker
Three years after gaining his governorship, Abramovich leapt from wealthy obscurity to tabloid prominence when he bought London’s Chelsea Football Club. In 2009, he settled into a fifteen-bedroom mansion behind Kensington Palace, for which he reportedly paid ninety million pounds. His mega-yacht Eclipse featured two helipads and its own missile-defense system, and he took to hosting New Year’s Eve parties with guests like Leonardo DiCaprio and Paul McCartney. It was a long way from Chukotka. Indeed, that unlikely interlude seemed mostly forgotten, until the publication of “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took on the West” (2020), a landmark work of investigative journalism by the longtime Russia correspondent Catherine Belton. Her thesis is that, after becoming the President of Russia, in 2000, Vladimir Putin proceeded to run the state and its economy like a Mafia don—and that he did so through the careful control of ostensibly independent businessmen like Roman Abramovich.
A nice long read on “KGB Capitalism”, London money and reputation laundering, and how they’re all enabled by British libel law that disproportionately favours the wealthy. You should probably read it before Abramovich sues Keefe in some trumped up English court and the whole thing gets yeeted off the internet. And if you think Johnson’s going to do anything even resembling a crackdown on these oligarchs then I’ve got a bridge in Chukotka I’d like to sell you.
The Unlikely Persistence of Antonio Gramsci The New Republic
TikToker Makes Script to Spam Ralphs Scab Site with 23,500 Fake Applications VICE
Biden’s Billionaires’ Tax Is Mainly a Way to Avoid Taxing the Rich The New Republic
El Salvador’s bitcoin experiment is becoming a foreign policy crisis protocol.com
15-minute grocery delivery startups are already folding Quartz
Amazon workers kept at facility as ‘unknown vaporized substance’ spread inputmag.com
Amazon Warehouses Are Relentless, Dangerous Workplaces—but It’s Hard to Punish Them for It, Thanks to Bill Clinton The New Republic
Amazon Workers In New York Have Voted To Unionize Buzzfeed (DCH: Finally. This is on the back of years of hard work from Christian Smalls and so many others)
Workers Are Trading Staggering Amounts of Data for ‘Payday Loans’ WIRED
LZ: Fungi, an anthology by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey
If you are into weird fiction, body horror or just astonished by mushrooms and fungi in general, this is the anthology for you. TBH I’ve gotten lost in some stories because I think they were experimenting with more psychedelic, experimental language and I wasn’t in the mood, but there are some very interesting pieces here. One that marked me the most was the first, in which a man returns to visit his father at home and something weird happens.
MJW: On Connection, by Kae Tempest
This short book is Kae Tempest’s first non-fiction book. It’s all about creativity, the spark of connection that creative work relies on, what and why we need to foster it. Listen to the audiobook for the lyrical rhythms as well as the words.
LZ: I’ve Heard The Mermaids Singing (1987), dir. Patricia Rozema
I hate Amélie Poulain and the trope she represents, but if you like that, you will appreciate this Canadian film that tells a lesbian fairy tale. Yes, this is a recommendation based on hate.
I watched the new big dumb space disaster movie and am here to say that, despite Roland Emmerich putting in most of the plots and images from his previous big dumb disaster movies, this pales in comparison to the truly wondrous _A Wandering Earth, _coming straight outta CHINA!, and is further proof of the fall of America (note: this big dumb space diaster movie was a Tencent production). Great movie for the schizo and proud tho.
CJW: Ridiculous and ridiculously stupid, but entertaining. There’s an entire subplot that they utterly failed to make me care about, but otherwise it’s big stupid fun.
The ending makes me wonder if they thought they were launching a new franchise with this (the MCU, Moonfall Cinematic Universe). And frankly if they tried it it would be so stupid I almost want to see it.
Other obvious (and obviously failed) attempts to launch a franchise: Spenser Confidential, The Predator (2018), Red Notice, The Mummy (2017), and others I’m forgetting now (for obvious reasons). Studios seem to forget that to launch a franchise you need a genuinely good first instalment.
CJW: SRSLY WRONG - Episode 251 - Racism, Not Race (w/ Joseph L. Graves & Alan Goodman)
I’ve recommended SRSLY WRONG before, but this recent episode really stood out to me. The two guests, Joseph L. Graves and Alan Goodman have written a book that completely debunks any argument you may have heard (and others you haven’t) about a “scientific” basis for race. It wasn’t that the existence of different races caused racism to become an issue, but rather racism and colonialism led to the creation of racial science in order to try and legitimise itself.
The fact that these racist lies are only now being addressed is fucked up but sadly unsurprising. Definitely recommend giving this episode a listen - there are a lot of facts that you probably aren’t across and could possibly use to push back against your least favourite racist relative at the next big family gathering.
CJW: Riz Ahmed - The Long Goodbye
I came across this short film because it won the Oscar for live action short film. It’s a brutal piece on racism and fascism today, ending on a spoken word piece written by Riz Ahmed. I’ve seen him perform it before, but it carries even more weight here in this film.
CJW: A rare glimpse inside a samurai sword workshop, where ritual meets mastery
The other day I was thinking to myself, “I bet there’s a video on youtube somewhere all about how samurai swords are made.” And then Aeon delivered this short documentary from 1969 right to my eyeballs.
Alongside the workshop footage, [filmmaker Kenneth] Wolfgang uses traditional Japanese woodblock paintings, dolls and the narration of the US actor George Takei (Lt Sulu in Star Trek) to take the audience through the sword’s history – from its mythological origins and into the 20th century, well past the samurai era. In doing so, Wolfgang demystifies the object for Western audiences while also conveying its deep significance to Japanese history and myth.
The video certainly… whet my appetite.
CJW: Night, Rain, And Neon - A Cyberpunk Anthology
A new short story from yours truly will be appearing in the forthcoming cyberpunk anthology Night, Rain, and Neon from NewCon Press. The story - Digital Salt - has some parallels to Repo Virtual, so if you liked that and want some more, check this antho out. Or if you’ve not got around to RV yet and want a taste of a whole bunch of new cyberpunk, this could be a great starting point, including some great names in current SF.
My dad was a vicar and his most beloved possession is a vial of water from some well in the Bible. As a kid I didn’t want my cat to go to hell so I used the vial of water to baptise him then replaced it with tap water. Dad cherishes the vial of tap water to this day.— Fesshole 🧻 (@fesshole) March 25, 2022