New art! Plus much pondering about art!

What follows is the blog archive of my newsletter sent on the 27th of February 2020. One day I'll figure out how to post to both the web and email in a way that satisfies me, but for now, subscribe over here if you want it in your inbox.


I had a quiet winter, writing-wise. I realised I was enjoying this period of intellectual hibernation, particularly over the Xmas break, so carried it on for a bit. The freedom to do nothing was quite delightful, and to be honest there wasn't much to report.

The Winter lockdown was (and still is) so very boring, but its nice not to be constantly stressed and terrified by the gaping void of uncertainty. Now we're just waiting, trying not to get too optimistic about the year ahead but looking forward to at least inviting people into our garden again.

It has helped that I've been kept very busy with Loaf this lockdown as we radically adjusted our working practices again in the new year, explained in this newsletter. I've been fully working from home running all the website and email stuff and while I haven't always worked my full hours it's certainly occupied by brain full time.

I did do one bit of writing though, marking the new Adam Curtis and noting that, to my surprise, I really liked it.

In other news, I published an Art which I'm pretty pleased with and want to make a fuss about.

Coronavirus Press Conferences – the book

Over the pandemic I've been occasionally putting Mr Johnson's addresses through my image crunching processes. They seemed to resonate with the people I showed them to, so I decided to attack the whole archive of 10 Downing Street press conferences.

There were 89 briefings in 2020, starting with the panic of March and Johnson's hospitalisation, moving through the false-dawn of the summer, returning to panic as the chickens came home to roost in the Autumn and then the clusterfuck of (not) cancelling Christmas.

As I looked at the image en mass it struck me they pretty much reflected what it was like to watch these woefully out-of-their-depth politicians attempt to reassure a public in desperate need of guidance.

The book is available as a free PDF or printed for £20 with £10 going directly to me as profit.

BUY IT HERE

More details and images.

The critics love it!

"They're up there with Steadman's manipulated polaroids" – Fairlywellselling author, artist and good egg Dave Shelton

"Reminds me of Francis Bacon" – Tomasso, partner of work colleague Valentina.

I joke, but in all seriousness, I'd like to get this out there more and I don't have an agent or am particularly in with the political-digital-art intelligencia these days. So if you are and think this is worthy of note, please do pass it on to the great and/or the good.

Making money again

Popping a profit margin onto the book cost is me dipping my toe into self-funding my art practice after a year of nearly zero paid freelance work. The governments furlough support scheme looks to be ending late Spring, early Summer, and my being available for work doesn't mean there will actually be any for me, so maybe it's finally time to sell my work directly, as it were.

I've always like the patron / membership / subscriber model which is seeing a resurgence with paid newsletters the big hot thing, in reaction to the failure of surveillance advertising to support a creative ecosystem.

But I've also been a passionate supporter of unlocking the commons. Paying for a creation – be it an essay, song, photograph, idea – it utterly pointless if I'm the only person who can experience it. How can we share a culture if that culture isn't available to everyone?

Public service models like libraries and the BBC enable this, as does advertising supported and subsidised media where costs are shifted to the products being marketed. But paywalls create a two-tier culture, and that's a regressive step, especially for the internet.

That's why I am happy to pay for the Guardian even though the only difference is I don't get pop-ups asking for support anymore. And it's why I reluctantly pay for the Atlantic who no longer make everything available for free, except their Coronavirus coverage, which implies they know the damage holding back the rest does to the culture.

But the best justification for unlocking the commons is that in our current system the truth Is paywalled but the lies are free. This is a problem.

ANYway, that was a bit of a sidebar. The point being I'm not a fan of selling exclusives. So what am I selling?

What does Pete do?

This has been the question of my life, both as a joke (Fiona's uncle Bill is endlessly fascinated by my lack of definability) but also practically. "Artist" works well because it's so darned broad, like a massive blanket, with delightfully vague qualifiers like "multidisciplinary" and "transmedia" that aren't seen as a cop-out.

But if I'm brutally honest it's a flag of convenience. I've been part of the art world for over a decade, and I find it very useful and beneficial to my work. But there are whole swathes of what we might call the business of art that kinda repel me, from the Saachi-eque collectors market to the politicisation of state funding that I find alientating and constricting.

That said I'm in the process of setting up an arts organisation, so I'm on the cusp of being part of that system. Walkspace has started opening up to members and we are a collective of 16 now, with more to come. Right now we're just chatting on a WhatsApp group, seeing what people are up to and getting and sense of what we need from this nascent collective.

The bit of Walkspace that I really want to develop is artist support and development, which you can interpret as "helping people do their stuff". I've been effectively mentoring Fiona in developing her artistic practice over the last few months, helping her find the edges of her interests and understand what it means to make a "piece of art". It's been a really useful thing for me too, forcing me to articulate and refine the experiences, good and bad, I've have over the last decade.

I also did this in a limited way with Megan's A Figure Walks project, ostensibly offering video/photo support to record her walk in the river Rea, but also being a sounding board as she worked through the problems and opportunities that presented themselves.

It's also become apparent that despite being 20 years into the mass adoption of the web as a creative platform, artists are still struggling to get an online presence that works for them. This is something I want Walkspace to help with, given I have spent an excessive amount of time in this arena. It shouldn't be hard or daunting – that's a failure of the services, not the users. (My first freelance job in the tech/arts scene was a "blogging for artists" workshop with Dame Helga Henry circa 2006, so it's both nice to come full circle and frustrating that I need to.)

Getting Walkspace to the point where it can raise money to pay us to deliver these sorts of things is going to take some time and is a classic chicken-egg situation, so for now it's probably best seen as part of my general practice, akin to producing or curating, albeit in more collective / cooperative way. Community shepherding, or something.

Gosh, the interface between words and reality is hard. Hopefully you see what I mean.

Let Bartlet be Bartlet

(yes, it's a West Wing reference)

Fi says I just do what I do and only really struggle when I try to define what I do in advance of doing it, so I should just do stuff and not worry about how it fits. I like that sort of hindsight approach to an artistic practice. I look at the miasma of stuff on my Art portfolio-thing and I can see patterns and themes that were utterly hidden from me at the time. That decade of work has a coherent and clear purpose now. At the time I was felt I was all over the place, unable to articulate what I was doing or why.

That decade of work has value to me. It helped me become the person I am now, and I'm fairly content with being that person, or at least more content that I was a decade or so back.

I have no idea what value the work has to other people, and not in a self-deprecating way. It genuinely doesn't feel like it's my place to value my work for others by whatever metric, emotionally, financially, culturally or otherwise. If it has no value at all, or worse a negative value, then that's obviously a problem; part of the personal value is that connection and resonance with other people, which is why I put it out there. But the quantification and qualification of that value to you, a person who is not me, is by definition unknown, and that's OK.

I support a bunch of people via services like Patreon, chucking them some digital coins every month or so. When I do this I rarely see it as a transaction. I want nothing material in exchange for my money, just the knowledge that they're doing the thing they couldn't otherwise do. I don't need to see a video every month or a newsletter every week. Sometimes work needs to gestate for a while to take shape, and that's great – just keep me posted that you're still around.

Patronage for me is doing my small bit to ensure that the people whose work I enjoy and benefit from are able to spend time making it. Ideally I'd live in a culture with no-strings Basic Income that supported this, but I don't, and the government has historically not wanted to increase tax revenue, let alone spend it on the arts, so we make do.

This has turned into a long one…

So let's bring it to a close.

I did the maths and if I were to dedicate one day a week to making art and art-related stuff, I would ideally need it to generate £70, or £300 a month. That's one of those sums that is both tediously small and annoyingly large, depending how you approach it.

Could I generate some or all of that from a Patreon-style system?

What would people want in return for supporting me?

Do I offer the full-fat Pete exploring everything of interest or a slimmed down Pete that fits into an easy category?

As a reader of this who's made it to bottom I'd genuinely welcome your thoughts and opinions. I know I find things I find interesting interesting. But do you find them interesting enough to support me giving time to them? Or I am deluding myself?

The end

Here's a funny picture I saw on the internet. (via)

Thank you as ever for your time and interest,

Stay well,

Pete

A new Curtis lands

So there's a new Adam Curtis film out. It's 8 hours long over 6 chapters and in it he attempts to explain, or outline a theory explaining, how we have gotten to where we're at at this moment in time and why the world doesn't seem to be working for anyone anymore.

I have had a fluctuating relationship with Curtis' work over the years. The first film (I'm calling them films because while they tend to exist as TV serieses, the nomenclature of the tellybox doesn't quite fit) of his I saw was The Power of Nightmares in 2004 which turned me into a raving fanboy for a while. Once the honeymoon wore off I became more cynical of his approach, seeing it as something to be avoided even if I do mostly agree with him on things. I think it's that thing where someone working close to your wheelhouse prompts a unique flavour of criticism, because you swim in those waters and you know what they're like. Yes, that stuff he's talking about is interesting, but he's doing it wrong.

I don't pretend to be Adam Curtis' peer, but it amuses me that my (stalled due to pandemic) 1972 Project could easily be a Curtis film. It sees me approaching middle age and considering how events and ideas surrounding the year of my birth might explain how we have gotten to where we're at at this moment in time and why the world doesn't seem to be working for anyone anymore.

So yeah, Curtis dropping an 8 hour film on pretty much the subject I'm been pondering… Nice.

The first part of Can't Get You Out of My Head is, I was relieved to see, classed Curtis. A brain-fart of disconnected ideas and obscure characters bundled up in search of a narrative thread. I confess I joined in the commenters jeering in the Guardian's review, noting the peculiarity of focussing on Kerry Thornley, the founder of Discordianism (of which I know something), but utterly ignoring the contribution of Robert Anton Wilson who at the very least popularised it all.

But I was intrigued, so I watched the second part. And reader, I loved it, and the rest. The final chapter is quite divine and fully quashes any reservations I might have built up over the years. There's even a note of optimism, a sense that we are stronger and weirder than the forces that try to control us, that we might be able to find a way out of this nihilistic stupor and build a better, or at least different, future.

I may write more about his conclusions, or I may just let them percolate in my brain and feed through my own work, but I certainly recommend you get through the first episode and give the whole thing a go. It's only 8 hours. What else are you doing? (Don't answer if you're actually doing stuff.)

Further reading:

Notes for Dec 18th

It's funny how despite knowing that my energy levels graph like in sin-waves, with a peak followed by a trough, when I'm at a peak I totally don't see the trough coming, assuming that I'll be able to maintain this awesome level of productivity forever without crashing. Which is to say the last fortnight was fun… Anyhoo, we're in the final cruise towards Xmas and most of my jobs are done, so things are a bit more chilled. Let's get some notes down.

Solihul in December 2020 - 4

We went for a walk with our walking artist friend Kruse around suburban Solihul last week and I continued my very occasional documentation of pandemic signage. I particularly liked this guidance on a school gate that has already been edited with black tape, juxtaposed with a fading NHS rainbow. It seemed to sum up the vibe of the the UK this winter.


📷 If, like me, you really enjoyed the recent Lovecraft Country telly series feeding the horrors of racist America through the medium of pulp genre fiction, you'll find Rich Frishman's photography project Ghosts of Segregation of interest. From coloured-only entrances to internment camps, the dark history of the USA can be found in the architecture long after it's struck from the statute books. What's astonishing to a foreign viewer is how blatant it is, but then we're very good at covering up our racism in the UK.

⚔️ RIP Richard Corben, cover artist to Meat Loaf's Bat out of Hell. I was never a fan of barbarian fantasy art but given the pre-internet tiny size of the "people who like weird shit" subcultures I was part of I would often bump into his work via Heavy Metal magazine. Corben is of note for being an equal-opportunities fantasy artist, with his musclebound men having implausibly large cocks alongside the implausibly large tits of the women.


Jason Kottke posted an excerpt from Art & Fear, an excellent book that I highly recommend for any artist regardless of their medium or practice, especially when they're going through the "what am I doing this for, I can't make good work and I suck" periods that every artist goes through. The passage is the classic "quality vs quantity" example of toiling to make one perfect piece vs iteration through rapid making, with the latter winning out. I first came across it from a cartoonist who, being often asked how they developed their craft, recommended getting a stack of paper a metre or so high and filling every sheet with drawings. Then you'll be ready to call yourself a cartoonist.

Art & Fear's example uses ceramics, but it turns out story was originally about photographs. They changed it to broaden the scope of the book and to universalise the lessons, the authors being photographers. Jason isn't so sure.

The specific details lend credibility to the actual story and to the lesson we're supposed to learn from it. There's a meaningful difference in believability and authority between the two versions — one is a tale to shore up an argument but the other is an experiment, an actual thing that happened in the world with actual results.

I've always found these sorts of objections fascinating. There is the recounting of facts, and there is the telling of a story, and we often confuse the two. What is the purpose of story telling? Usually it is about communicating a message as simply as possible, to communicate an idea in a way that it stays in people's minds.

The real world is not simple and clear. It may provide us with examples we can use in our storytelling but they will always need to be tidied up, edited and embellished. There is technically no such thing as a "true story". There is the truth, and there are stories told about it. Some hew close, some diverge wildly.

A story should only be judged on whether it succeeds in affecting the receiver. In Art & Fear's case, the story does not succeed for Jason because it doesn't ring true. That's fair, but it's not because the subject was changed. It's because the re-write didn't convince him. The story was not well told.

(For what it's worth I vividly remembered the ceramics example and was able to apply it to my photography, so it worked for me!)


🗣 I love how Zeynep Tufekci has launched The Counter, commissioning someone to explain why they think she's totally wrong about something she's written convincingly on, and publishing them in her newsletter. I've started to take her writing as near-gospel, especially about the pandemic, so it's really healthy to see her open up her platform to the sort of thing that might appear as a right-of-reply or letter to the editor. It gets away from the opinion sewer of faux-debate and towards something more useful.

📺 A promo for John Cooper Clarke's new book, containing an fantastic Hedgehog / Beatles joke, sent me down a YouTube tunnel of old JCC clips, which was a delight. It ended with Ten Years In An Open Neck Shirt, an hour long, lo-fi documentary from 1982 at the dawn of Chanel 4 when this sort of thing was acceptable broadcast quality.


Music Corner

It's always nice to see what your old housemates are up to. A decade or so back I lived with a tall long-haired gentleman who studied history and played post-rock guitar, amongst other things. He's been releasing folk-ish music as Burnt Paw and this month has a collaboration with The Sound Priestess under the title Chanting Temples, a mystic gong folk duo. Rise To Meet The Dawn is out next week and a couple of tracks are up on Bandcamp.

I am rather proud of what my old housemate is up to.


Documenting the Documentaries

I've got a massive backlog of documentaries I want to watch, so I'm going to try and watch more and write a short bit each.

Weiner (2016)
A fly-on-the-wall record of Anthony Weiner's failed 2013 bid for mayor of New York in the face of spectacular nominative determinism as photos that he sent to young ladies of his… Vienna sausage… were uncovered by the press. Released in the year that the norms of US politics were eviscerated by one Donald Trump, it's something of a historical curiosity from another world. As such it sort of feels irrelevant – there's nothing to learn because this situation will never happen again, so the film has to stand purely on dramatic terms. Which is kinda does. Weiner is a flawed character, but he at least tries to own it and move on, believing he can make a difference and help people. I kinda admire him for that. Holding politicians to utopian standards is foolish and a redemption arc can be a productive thing (cf Profumo for example). Thinking of how Trump sidestepped scandals of a similar sexual nature simply by not giving a fuck makes me wonder if maybe Weiner's problem was he was too honest and too willing to engage on terms dictated by the media. And yet he doesn't come out of this documentary that well, not to mention his subsequent imprisonment for sexting a minor. So, yeah. Maybe best seen as a portrait of a 21st century politician, warts and all?
Trailer | Streaming options

The White Diamond (2004)
My first Werner Herzog documentary was Grizzly Man, followed by Encounters at the End of the World, a duo that serve as the perfect introduction to his non-fiction work, should you not be familiar. While I have seen everything he's made since, I realised recently I hadn't seen any docs he made before that. The White Diamond comes just prior to those and is frankly astonishing. It hits all the Herzog notes and tropes that you expect in his current work, but here they feel fresh and penetrating. What also felt different was the lack of Herzog's opining. We all love a bit of "I see only nihilism and death" but here he's content to follow his nose and observe, letting others fill the gaps, from the hyperactive British engineering dork testing his DIY airship, to the soft-spoken, wide-eyed and wide-minded Guyanese labourer who falls in love with it. Just when I was seeing Werner as a comfortable blanket I discover his back catalogue. Wow.
Not available commercially but has been uploaded it to YouTube.


Speaking of Werner Herzog, after writing the above last week I went on a bit of a binge, wanting a bit of clarity about what has driven this man to make such a huge number of films that seem to be thematically linked. Then I remembered I'd downloaded this video essay, The Inner Chronicle of What We Are – Understanding Werner Herzog, and it turned out to be the perfect overview of the man's philosophy, adding layers without detracting from the magic. And if you haven't watched all 51 of his feature films don't worry, there are no spoilers.

Links I'd like to share but don't have time to add anything substantial lest we be here all week.

🏰 This Artist Posed As a Hungarian Billionaire Buyer to Get Into 25 New York Penthouses. Nice blag and lovely photos.

📧 Substack launches an RSS reader to organize all your newsletter subscriptions. Bear in mind Substack is on an investment-driven growth spurt which will end with them fucking everyone over, so… yay?

📷 Understanding ProRAW. A journey into cameras, RAW, and a look at what makes ProRAW so special. Halide's deep dives into Apple's computational photography are always worth a read.

💻 Making a digital clock in Google Sheets. I need to make some spreadsheet art. It's the only form of programming that doesn't give me a stress headache.

💰 I keep hearing people complain that the 'mainstream media' does not understand economics and that we're talked down to as if everything must be explained as if the economy is a household. In this thread I explain all you (and they) need to know. Fantastic essay, essential for anyone who still thinks austerity was necessary to "balance the books", rendered as a series of tweets for some reason.

© Unfiltered: How YouTube's Content ID Discourages Fair Use and Dictates What We See Online. Features an interview with Lindsay Ellis.

🛫 Modern consensus ghosts such as the Monkey Man and the Gatwick Drone. Good musings by Matt Webb on the uses of urban mythology.

👵🏻 What Facebook Fed the Baby Boomers. Old people have been systematically broken by Zuckerberg's machine.

📽 Francis Ford Coppola Is Still Going for Broke. Delightful interview

🇬🇧 The British middle class is in freefall, its young people pushed into precarity. One of those essays that reminds you why Owen Jones is worth keeping tabs on.

👑 The Majestic Untruths of 'The Crown'. Helen Lewis on the simmering culture wars around historical drama and "the subordination of facts to narrative", which is what I was going on about earlier with that Art & Fear ramble.

That'll do for now

If I don't write another of these before Christmas, have a good one. Be safe and don't get too lonely.

Notes for Dec 5th

Thanks to those who let me know that they liked the new format. I'm still not sold on the emoji's but the act of choosing the triptych entertains me enough to continue in this vein.

Brandwood End Cemetery this afternoon. I like how this photo looks like it's a 3D render. The gravestones are too flat, the green grass too green, the tree textures too uncanny. But this is how my Nikon captured it.

🎂🎅🏻🎄 My mum's Christmas cake is somewhat legendary, especially as she has sent me a significant chunk of it every year I wasn't able to join her. circa 1999 my sister delivered a massive one to the significantly large bookshop where I was working and I distributed a slice to everyone who worked there. People talked about it for years after. Even after she moved to New Zealand a decade back, I'd still get a kilogram or so in the post, which is ridiculous, sending an actual cake from New Zealand by airmail, but upon eating the thing it always seemed worth it. Awesome cake. Awesome tradition.

This year she's decided to retire and passed on the recipe to my sister, who made her first proper attempt this week. I said she didn't need to send me any and mooted that maybe I might have a go, and she forwarded the recipe. Part of the cake's legend for me was that the recipe had been handed down from our grandmother who got it from her mother and so on, presumably transcribed by hand in some ancient notebook. So when sister sent me some photographs from an old Delia Smith book…

Never meet your heroes.


🚫🛌😴 I'm in two minds as to whether the psychology behind revenge-bedtime-procrastination applies to me. On the one hand, I do my best work between the hours of 11pm and 2am and would be totally nocturnal if society permitted. On the other hand I'm not working long hours at a job I hate – I'm in the surprisingly fortunate position to be working reasonable hours at a nice job and have plenty of time to do the things I love. I think it's that being awake at this time is calming, because everyone else is asleep so I don't have to attune myself to them, to figure out how to be around them. A huge chunk of cognitive work vanishes and I'm able to be much more productive. Maybe I'm carving out a space where I can be myself. But, unlike those poor fuckers doing 12 hour shifts, I'm not doing it out of revenge, more for self care. (I believe some people get up at 5am for similar reasons, but just typing that hurts my brain so I'll leave it there.)


🍄💡🍄 I continue to have barely started Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing's The Mushroom at the End of the World : On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins due to my lifestyle, such as it is, not really lending itself towards the reading of books, but every time I do I find awesome gems like this.

How does a gathering become a "happening," that is, greater than a sum of its parts? One answer is contamination. We are contaminated by our encounters; they change who we are as we make way for others. As contamination changes world-making projects, mutual worlds—and new directions—may emerge. Everyone carries a history of contamination; purity is not an option. One value of keeping precarity in mind is that it makes us remember that changing with circumstances is the stuff of survival.

The first paragraph of chapter 2, Contamination as Collaboration

The book uses fungoid life to explain The Modern Condition, and it's surprisingly effective. I really this reclaiming of contamination as a good thing, of getting mucky and mixing it up. Purity is a terrible idea both biologically and intellectually, which of course begs the question, why has it been such a dominant idea for humans? If you've already contaminated your brain with the ideas of Paul Stamets, this is a good next step.


Documenting the documentaries

I've got a massive backlog of documentaries I want to watch, so I'm going to try and do one a night and write a short bit about it.

American: The Bill Hicks Story (2009)
Like many who were in their late teens in the early 1990s, I liked Bill Hicks a lot. And then he died. Hicks was counterculture – not strictly in a hippy sense, although he was all about the consciousness expansion. He's definitively of the 80s and attacking the hypocrisy of the that era, which mostly involves attacking conservative and religious government and institutions. He's a think-for-yourself libertarian, but socially aware. I wonder how he would have adapted to the 21st century. I often find myself wanting to defend institutions these days. If, and it's a big if, we're going to have a society, we're going to need to organise it, and if that society is going to have millions of people in it, ideally not killing each other, that organisation is going to be pretty institutional. Isn't the problem that bad people are corrupting and destroying the institutions that should exist to help people? Would Bill agree? We've had a good decade of people distrusting the government and "thinking for themselves" and it hasn't worked out that well. Was Bill's aim wrong, or was he right for his era? What would Bill have made of Trump and QAnon and the fucking internet? So many questions.
Watch online


From the mailbag

💨🌠☄️ Jez replied to the last newsletter, partly to poke fun at my description of air as a "solid mass", to which I might retort, "on an atomic level nothing is solid, mate", but I take his point. I will attempt to write more clearly about how I find wind to be uncanny in the future. More interestingly he tells of a photographic array built in the Australian desert to capture meteor falls and track them back to their source, like the dashcam footage of the Chelyabinsk meteor, only on purpose. Speaking of meteors, I forgot to mention we'd just watched the latest Werner Herzog doc on that very subject, Fireball – Visitors from Darker Worlds, and while it's a pretty run-of-the-mill Herzog, that still raises it head and shoulders above all else. It's on Apple TV+, if you have access to that.


That's all for today. Do feel free to send any notes on my notes!

Notes for Dec 3rd

Been a while. Day off today with nothing on the todo list for a change, so let's try something new.

Full moon through the corrugated plastic roof of the rabbit run.

I got very confused this week by condensation on the plastic roof I recently put up over the rabbit run and outside the shed door. Over the weekend it was very cold and I found condensation on the underside of the roof. This implies that it was warmer below than above, something that makes sense, as you'll know if you've ever left a tarp on the ground on a cold day. But this covered area has no walls so any ground-heat should have dispersed to the sides on the two metre journey to corrugated plastic. And yet droplets were collecting to the point where it was effectively raining in the area I wanted protected from the rain, which was terribly annoying.

Finally, with help from Fiona, we cracked it. There hadn't been any wind for days. Any moist heat from the ground was going straight up and staying there, depositing its h2o as it cooled. And yes, now we're back to normal windy rainy weather the underside of the roof is dry as a bone.

Condensation is fascinating. In fact, air in general is fascinating. A solid mass covering the earth that we move through without thinking about. This must be how fish feel about the sea.


🎬🤔🦈 Grace Lee asks why Jaws is a horror movie when it doesn't fit the standard definitions of horror, in a classic "it's not about the shark" deep dive of all the things it could be about.

💥🎥🕵️‍♂️ This reconstruction of August's Beiruit port explosion, where tonnes of badly stored ammonium nitrate destroyed the port and emitted a shockwave across the whole region, uses photogrammetry of videos taken before and during the fire and explosion to recreate the probable layout of the warehouse interior and the sequence of events. Reminded me of the Chelyabinsk meteor landing of 2013 which was recorded by loads of dashcam video cameras which enabled scientists to figure out it's origin, direction, velocity and landing point (as documented in this slightly OTT tv show). At the time the Russian dashcam phenomena was novel – not so much now.


The burst of successful vaccines over the last couple of weeks has been great news, but it seems to have triggered an odd reaction in me. I realised I sort of don't want the pandemic to end. Not because I want people to keep getting ill and dying – that's absurd. More that I think I've finally got used to this situation and the idea of everything changing again is not a pleasing one. Some of it is purely logistical – I've been assuming this won't end before 2022 and we have steered Loaf's business plan accordingly, so having to tear it up and go through the planning process all over again is not something I want to do for a while. But there's also a more psychological aspect. I'm relatively at peace right now after a fairly bumpy 9 months. I'd like a period of stability, of knowing how to live in the world, before we go into the bumpy period of exiting this nightmare.

Do I have Covid Stockholm Syndrome? Is it possible to have mild PTSD from too much change?


😷🚗🧪 White Tents in the Car Park is an enjoyable entry in the "pandemic Britain is a shit disaster movie" canon. Emilia Ong documents a drive-through Covid testing site visible from her window, incongruously next to a closed funfair in Margate.

🇺🇸💰🇺🇸 I'm looking forward to this new docuseries on The Reagans as it's a strange blind-spot in my history knowledge. I feel I've got a fairly good handle on Thatcher and Thatcherism, but the nitty gritty of where Reagan came from and what was going on behind that folksy good-old-boy schtick is a bit of a mystery. Here's the trailer.


I didn't think The Death of Flash would affect me, as I don't think I've knowingly used anything that runs in Flash for years now, but I'm feeling oddly ambivalent about the dialogue that Adobe pops up on whenever it gets triggered, usually when reading some story about Flash being discontinued by Adobe, asking me to uninstall it for security reasons. While it might have been replaced with a hellscape of bloated web-apps and surveillance scripts, losing Flash is one of the bright spots of 2020. So why haven't I uninstalled it yet? I guess for the same reason you don't throw away old tools. I have spanners and screwdrivers I'm 99.9999% sure I'll never use but I hang on to them, just in case. I'll keep Flash disabled, because it's Flash, but I want to keep it around. You never know.


🤘🎸🧟‍♀️ This short article asking what is the heaviest music ever made is one of those rare beasts where the subsequent comments are a treasure trove of magical finds. If you're into your doom-laden drone, that is. Nicely makes the distinction between loud (easy enough to achieve) and heavy (more nuanced and subjective).

✨🛰🌌 You can always use more awesome photos of deep space in your life so bookmark the Atlantic's Hubble Space Telescope Advent Calendar for a daily burst of cosmic insignificance. Seriously, experiencing "a diminished sense of self" is good for you.


Magical runes found on the road on my way to work. What secrets do they hold?

That's all from me from today. I'd like to try and do a version of this every night before bed, as I tend to spend an hour or so aimlessly pottering at midnight. But no pressure. Let me know if you like it.

Exeunt Corbyn

Waaay back in 2000-whenever-it-was, when the world made a smidge more sense, I joined the Labour party to vote in the leadership election. You could call me an entryist, but I'd pretty much always voted Labour and been on the cusp of joining for a while. I voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader and Tom Watson as deputy. Watson, if you're not aware, was a veteran of Gordon Brown's fairly centrist government, but I knew him for his work opposing the Digital Economy Act and the Murdoch phone hacking, and he seemed like a good egg.

Corbyn and Watson were principled politicians from opposite ends of the party, and ultimately that was why I chose them. After seeing Ed Miliband fail to beat the Conservatives on their own turf I felt Labour needed an injection of actual socialism, to remember what a democratic socialist party was supposed to be fighting for. But I also felt a wholesale rejection the Blair/Brown ideology would be a mistake.

Labour needed to grow, to accept it was a coalition of many views that shared a common goal. I hoped that Corbyn, who wasn't expecting to have this job so late in his career, would act more as a spiritual leader, working with Watson to empower people from across the leftist spectrum, putting aside their differences and working together to create a force that could properly dominate British politics.

Anyway…

Here we are…

Jeremy Corbyn is probably not an antisemite, but he seems utterly incapable of dealing with the fact that some people he admires hold antisemitic views. It is a genuine tragedy that there is no clear way to criticise the right-wing Israeli government's appalling actions in Palestine without criticising the existence of a Jewish state, but that doesn't excuse people from being racist assholes. The left is not immune from racist assholery – if anything its susceptibility is more pernicious because it thinks it's immune.

If you're leading a party that identifies first and foremost as democratic socialist, then you're going to have a lot of Jewish people around, because leftist Jews have always been a key part of the movement. And you're also going to have a lot of pro-Palestine people around. So it's your job to bring them together, to find that common ground.

On this, and countless other issues, Jeremy Corbyn was a terrible leader. He may have been a lovely man, a righteous man, a moral man, but he was a shite leader.

Corbyn has been suspended from the Labour party for being a whiney bitch about the report into antisemitism under his watch.

Tom Watson stood down at the last election and has left politics because he couldn't be arsed with the hassle and abuse he was getting from within the Labour party.

I left the Labour party after it became clear they weren't going to properly oppose Brexit, though I donate occasionally and support them in elections. In hindsight I should never have joined as I'm unable to separate my beliefs and ideologies from the need to get elected and be in government.

I have a few friends who are active Labour members from across the spectrum. Some of them appear to have gone fucking insane over the last few years, if their Twitters are anything to go by, like rats fighting for scraps of meat off a rotting corpse. The worst part is they are experts at attacking someone a few steps to the left or right of them, but absolutely hopeless at dealing with the gaping maw of awfulness that's been in power for the last decade. The left has neutered itself.

What this country needs is a progressive coalition with the sole goal of attaining political power. Everyone from the LibDems to the Marxists needs to be included. We will never agree on everything, but that's OK. We just need to agree on enough, and educate each other about our differences. And then we can kick this minority interest Tory party to the kerb where they belong.

I don't know who is the best person to do that, but it clearly wasn't Corbyn. Get over him, learn the lessons and move on.

Is my take.

The Sunday Pete

Well, hello there.

I seem to have developed a nasty case of figuring out what I want to do with my writing and then freezing and not doing any writing, and I don't like it. So here's me trying another format that might provide the right mix of freedom and constraint, giving me space and permission to write, while keeping it focussed and developmental. I'm inspired this time by Jay's Weeknotes, which I enjoy getting every Sunday even if I'm not interested in half of it because it's built to skim.

What I've been up to

After being on furlough for a shocking seven months I'm back at Loaf on my regular hours from November, which will be a relief. But since the furlough scheme had a loophole which allowed me to do some hours in an R&D capacity, I've been doing business development with a smal group and mentoring from Coops UK. It's been an eye-opener, drawing up a full budget and plan for 2021 that overhauls how Loaf operates given we can't profitably teach people in our kitchen classroom during the pandemic. It's involved a lot of discussions too, since we're a workers cooperative, making sure that everyone is able to make an informed decision about the future of our business regardless of their level of interest in the financial planning side. It's amusing to me that I'm only just discovering I'm quite good at this in my mid-40s.

Speaking of mid-40s, I've had a cough since August and after two negative Covid tests I got in touch with the doctor. She thinks it's probably some kind of acid reflux thingy common to folks my age so I'm on Lansoprazole for a couple of months, which seem to be knocking me out a bit, like shitty sleeping pills. Which would be great if I wasn't taking them in the morning. But the good news is the cough has lessened.

I also had a chest X-ray this week, just to be safe. The last time I had an X-ray at the QE it involved lots of waiting around in rooms and corridors. This time I was in and out in 10 minutes, tops. They really don't want people hanging around in there these days! After than I walked home along the canal, which was nice, and then slept for three hours, because Lansoprazole.

Fi and I went on our first Date Night since February. Date Night is something long-term couples are advised to do to remind them why they became long-term couples. We'd been pretty wary of restaurants but Alicias have converted their back yard into an outdoor eating space and their pizzas are SO good, so we went for it. And it was great.

Sunset Social Club, one of the art jobs I had lined up before lockdown wiped out my freelance career, has been resurrected, albeit in a more distanced fashion. I'm heading with my camera up to Druids Heath, on the edge of Birmingham, whenever there's a good sunset and local folk are welcome to join me. More info here and I'm putting my pics in this Flickr album.

What I've been watching

I really enjoyed Lovecraft Country, which ended this week. I think I'm going to have to write something long-ish about how it employed magic to talk about how language is used to oppress depower. My brain was so bubbly I even farted my theory in the Guardian recap's comments. (Sky/NowTV).

I introduced Fi to Star Trek: Discovery which has gone down well. We started season two this week and that first episode is quite bonkers – all that crazy shit happens and then Tig Notaro appears! Meanwhile I've started season 3, because I have no self-control, and I think it's going to be a metaphor for taking democratic institutions for granted in the face of emergent autocracies. (Netflix)

I do like a heavy-handed metaphor in my televisual entertainment.

What I've been reading

I switched my Read Later service to Instapaper last week and am much preferring it to Pocket. (Instapaper went bad a few years ago but has been bought out by the workers and it good again). As usual I've been reading A LOT but I don't think those long links posts were particularly useful, so I'm going to refer you to my Instapaper profile for the last 20 things I faved and just pick a handful for here.

Explaining Brexit to Americans Part II by Alina Utrata is equal parts hilarious, infuriating and illuminating. Especially if the spectre of the Covid has caused you to forget this is all about to kick off again in a few months.

Revolution and American Indians: "Marxism is as Alien to My Culture as Capitalism". This speech by Russell Means from 1980 is essential reading in itself but also ties nicely into thoughts I've been having about our somewhat myopic view of the European Enlightenment which, sure, was generally a good thing, but it wasn't the only thing. Means' view of the squabbles within European thought as being equally alien to him feel important as we squirm out of late-Capitalism into something… else. See also Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch and, possibly, William Kempe

QAnon Conspiracy Theories Are Driving Families Apart. Is it notable that the older generation seems more susceptible to conspiracies these days? Are the youngs better at navigating this stuff? Or does this wave of conspiracies just appeal to the small-c conservative mindset that you find in the parental generation? And what do you do if you're a reasonably level headed kid who's watching the people who brought you up descend into kooksville?

What I'm listening to

New Mountain Goats album! Getting Into Knives dropped this week and it's a great Mountain Goats album. If you like the Mountain Goats you'll like this!

Live Music For A Time Without Stages is a 20 hour playlist of live tracks, specifically those live tracks where the gig really kicks into another gear. Worth dipping into for some needed energy.

What I'd like to know

So, you've read, or skimmed, to the end of this email, which means you like my writing to some degree. What do you want me to write about? I'm not saying I will write about it, but I'm genuinely intrigued. Personal stuff? Art stuff? Counterculture stuff? Internet stuff? Other stuff?

Let me know!

Arts & Ents – a links special

Kiran Shah testing Ewok costumes for Return fo the Jedi.

This week I noticed a bit of a theme in my text document of interesting links, so I pushed the sirius-news-is-sirius stuff out during the week and saved all the stuff on "the arts" for the weekend, just like a proper newspaper!

Why Radiohead are the Blackest white band of our times.

You can filter people based on how they respond to this headline. If they find it intriguing and want to know more, they're my kind of people. Otherwise, meh. Written from the perspective of a Black girl Radiohead fan, she picks up on ideological similarities with Black culture as much as, or more than, the music. This is not to say Radiohead did this on purpose – once the art is out there it is in the hands of the audience, and subjective audience interpretation has always fascinated me. This is also the first time I've really noticed the capitalisation of Black, signifying its use as a culture rather than a colour. (Guardian)

Bob Mould, alt-rock's gay icon, takes on American evil: 'My head's on fire!'

Nice interview with the Hüsker Dü / Sugar frontman who I've kept tabs on over the years mostly due to m'good friend Jez's next level man-crush. I'm even going to recommend you check out the comments, which I never do, as they add multitudes. The new album is pretty sweet. (Guardian)

How Flash games shaped the video game industry

It's kinda mad that Flash is being effectively discontinued this year. It felt like it defined the internet for a while in the 2000's. For websites Flash was a gigantic pain in the arse, so I don't miss it, but this rundown of simple games people made with Flash brought back some very fond memories. I found myself wanting to play Canabalt again – thankfully a bunch of games are linked to at the bottom of the page so I loaded it up, clicked to allow the hoary plugin to run, and boom, off I went. (flashgamehistory)

'Fiery, chaotic and full of emotion': This Heat, the band who tried to change everything

One of my favourite things is discovering a piece of culture from my youth that I'd never heard of before, especially something that has been cited as an influence by people I admire. I'm never ashamed of my ignorance, just really keen to correct it. I love their music. I'd possibly describe it as psych-prog-punk, but only because they spanned those 70s eras. It's really like nothing else of that time. From the interview I really admire their desire to reach out to everyone, not to just play to insular same-faces crowds. (Guardian)

Kiran Shah: The hero with a thousand faces

I'd come across Shah in the Lord of the Rings DVD extras back in the day but I had no idea as to the extent of his career as a scale double for some of the major films of the last few decades, playing characters in the distance against smaller, more economic sets. This is on top of his actor work, in and out of costume. A great profile and insightful interview. (CNN)

Nurse with Wound list

The 1979 Nurse with Wound album Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella contained a long list of musicians and bands considered influential. It ranges from the expected to the almost willfully obscure, so if you were looking for a listening project over the next lockdown… (Wikipedia)

Recommended Movie: One More Time With Feeling

We're currently watching this 2016 documentary in bits over the weekend, because it's a bit too itense to watch all at once, for the first viewing anyway. In many ways a sequel to 20,000 Days on Earth, this sees Nick Cave, deep in mourning for his recently deceased son, finishing the recording of the Bad Seeds' album Skeleton Tree. Here's a clip that pretty much sets the tone. (Rent/buy on AppleTV)

Links for Thursday 1st October

My translation of the Prime Minister's Sept 22 address to the nation. Number 2 in a series.

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in "anti-intellectual times"

With so much heat and very little light being emitted by the trans rights debate it's good to check in with Judith Butler, who arguably started it all with her revolutionary gender theory work. This interview cleared up a few misconceptions and misunderstandings I had and introduces her concept of "radical equality", understanding "ourselves as living in a world in which we are fundamentally dependent on others, on institutions, on the Earth." A good egg. (New Statesman)

Degrowth and Modern Monetary Theory: A thought experiment

We're often told that money is a social construct, a system based on a promise, but it feels like a natural law to most people, presumably because we've been living under a financial monoculture that denies any alternatives. Thankfully we're starting to see a few challengers to capitalism's crown and Modern Monetary Theory is a new one to me. In short, debt is good, inflation is bad and growth is unnecessary. Which seems insane, but so does capitalism from afar. (Jason Hickel)

Joggers and drinkers: what a day in the life of a Leeds park tells us about modern Britain

As I was carrying a garden chair to the local park to meet someone from Loaf to talk shop, I joked to a neighbour that the park has become my co-working space. Last week I did tech-support on a friend's Macbook sitting in the sun. I used to meet in cafes and bars. Now I meet people under specific trees and am getting to know the local dogs. So I totally enjoyed this lovely survey of a park in Leeds and the wide variety of ways people have used it this summer. (Guardian)

How Memes, Lulz, and "Ironic" Bigotry Won the Internet

An important piece by Helen Lewis (who is blossoming in her new position at the Atlantic) on the complacency of late-2000s internet culture not picking up on nascent forms of the extremist bullshit we're suffering through today. I was quite invested in that era's LOL culture and while my lot might have been mostly in the light, we were certainly only a few degrees from some nasty shit. I was a mostly-lurker, occasional poster on FilePile, which was no 4chan, but y'know, in hindsight I wonder if any of those guys are now mens-rights incels or shitposting nazis. Algo-social networks might have amplified internet culture into mainstream culture but we built the foundations on levels of irony so deep it's no wonder no-one knows what's going on. (Atlantic)

'The Social Dilemma' Dilemma

Nick Heer's take on Netflix's social-media-is-bad documentary, which he calls "a mediocre movie about a difficult topic", is a nice accompaniment to my initial thoughts as he's a ardent critic of surveillance advertising who is hooked in to the culture of developer that work in the the attention economy, so is able to present both sides. That's not to say the sides are balanced, he at least provides a window. (Pixel Envy)

What If Trump Refuses to Concede?

Lots of talk currently about Trump not accepting defeat in November and literally breaking the bits of the American democratic project that depend on not being an asshole in the process. This is the sobering breakdown of how that might play out, should you have a morbid disposition. (Atlantic)

Video: Hamilton and the right mess it's gotten me into

Today's video essay is from Grace Lee and is about the problems with the Hamilton musical (now available at home for non-musical-theatre people to see what the fuss was all about) from a leftist perspective. Which you might find odd as Hamilton is as progressive as all fuck, no? Well… it's complicated… See also Lindsay Ellis' Musicalsplaining podcast episode.

Thoughts on The Social Dilemma

So there's this new documentary, The Social Dilemma, which goes into great detail about how terrible the social media industry is for its users and for society in general, ultimately concluding that unless something changes we could see the end of democracy as we know it. Netflix bought the rights and it's getting a lot of exposure.

As you might imagine, I have thoughts.

Some of you will be aware that for a few years in the late 2000's I traded as a Social Media Consultant. I'm not proud, but it meant I was there at the teething of what we might now call the surveillance capitalism industry. I got in to the SMC game around 2006 or so, when blogging suddenly was a thing that people wanted to pay good money to learn how to do, which soon became Twitter and other stuff which coalesced under the "social media" umbrella. The name never sat that well – surely all media is social? – but once it had a label and was no longer an amorphous mass of nerdy shit it was quickly overrun with marketing people and I started to want to get out. (Thankfully I'd made my rep blogging about artists so actually becoming an artist was a short hop. But I digress.)

The marketing people were mostly just an excuse, though. Something was rotten in the world of social media from the get go. But when you're in the middle of the wood it's hard to see all them trees.

I developed a habit, maybe even a reputation, of writing some screed against "social media" every year or so. I think people found them entertaining (there he goes again!) and maybe even thought provoking, but I doubt they changed any minds, because they were pretty incoherent. I didn't have the language, the insight or the metaphors to properly articulate what I was finding disquieting. And ultimately I probably didn't want to prove myself right because it would render void a bunch of ideas that I'd come to identify with.

Nowadays there's a plethora of academics and activists using decades of media theory and social science to point out the blindingly obvious. I wish they'd been around in the mid 2000's.

I'd always talked about the media platform as being the thing, because that's where I operated. I drew a line from printed books to photocopied zines to online forums to blogs to Twitter and Facebook. I wasn't looking at the undercarriage, the printing presses, photocopiers, internet protocols and data-mining algorithms.

It took being an artist to bring that stuff to my attention. While digging deep into the fundamentals of photography, I came across a media theorist called Vilém Flusser who had this theory about that was fascinating. The camera is the true author of a photograph, not the person holding the camera. When you take pictures you're just along for the ride. But this goes further than simply collaborating with Nikon or Canon. Your involvement is dwarfed by the technical, industrial, economic and social systems which caused that camera to come about.

My research as a BOM fellow was centred on this and it features in a talk I gave in 2016.

Like all good theories, it's not about photography. It's about our relationship with technology, specifically media technologies under capitalism. The iPhone is not a screen, Instagram is not a cascade of images, Facebook is not updates from your friends, Twitter is not whatever it is you thought Twitter was (no-one really knows, especially not Twitter). They are systems which sits on top of systems upon systems upon systems going back through history to the first tool. There is no magic but there is massive complexity coupled with exponentially insane levels of processing power.

In looking for metaphors to describe the scale of the systems upon which our devices sit the best I can think of is the cosmicism of HP Lovecraft. In the face of an incomprehensibly infinite universe our greatest fear is our own insignificance. The algorithm doesn't care about you. You don't exist as anything more than a string of numbers. But paradoxically the algorithm is programmed to make you hyper-aware of yourself and how you fit into society. Hello ant, meet your uncaring clockwork universe.

So it was kinda remarkable and very cheering to see this sort of thinking (albeit without the Lovecraft references) underpin Netflix's documentary on how surveillance capitalism is strip-mining our emotions and breaking the world. Because so much of this stuff just looks at the surface without trying to get a handle on the tentacles writing beneath. It's not perfect of course – no film ever is – but it feels like a breakthrough.

Douglas Rushkoff has a nice little video celebrating the film and cautioning his community not to attack the makers for ripping off ideas that he and other fringe thinkers have been writing about for years. This is a victory! We're winning!

Bigger is not just bigger, it's different, and for once I feel a teeny, tiny bit optimistic about the effect of this documentary because I think it has opened the door, just a crack, to some actual change.

One of the few solutions put forward is a tax on data collection. Regulators would set a limit to the amount of data-points a company is able to hold on a person for free. Above that you need to pay a tax, set such that you would need a really good incentive to keep that data. While bad actors and foreign companies could evade this with ease, it would be in the interests of the likes of Google and Facebook to comply and change their business models. There's no reason our internet has to be funded by surveillance advertising. It didn't exist a decade or so ago. Why can't we replace it with something less toxic?

Now, I'm not saying this will work, but it's a good idea that sits between business-as-usual and burn-it-all-down. And once we have one good idea we can have more good ideas and maybe we'll be able to share photos and talk to each other online without destroying civilisation.

I could say much more about this doc but I set myself a two hour limit for writing about it tonight, and that time is up. If you have Netflix, give it a watch. It's worth the data-shadow of you they'll sell on the ad-tech markets. Lol.

Further Reading

Header image: Cover to Astounding Stories (1936) the first publication of HP Lovecraft's The Mountains of Madness.