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.

Links for Saturday 26th September

Reprogramming a Game By Playing It: an Unbelievable Super Mario Bros 3 Speedrun

So there's this thing where people see who can complete a computer game in the fastest time. This used to be simply about pressing the buttons in the right sequence and was pretty impressive even then, but it looks to have developed even further. This method of playing Mario involves making specific moves that corrupt the memory storage so that a glitch will appear at a specific point and allow you to skip to the end. Because you're playing the original game code it's not a cheat, right? If the puzzle is a manifestation of computer code, this is just part of the puzzle. Right? You don't have to be interested in computer games (I'm totally not) to find this philosophically fascinating. (Kottke)

Surfaces vs Airborne: What We Know Now About Covid-19 Transmission

How we respond to this Coronavirus has evolved from "touch nothing and see no-one" to something thankfully more nuanced. For me the big change has been focussing more on airborne droplets (from heavy breathing and speaking) than infected surfaces, and this roundup of current (Sept 2020) knowledge and advice is a good one to share. In short, wear a mask, don't disinfect your shopping, keep washing your hands to be safe. (Medium)

Solarpunk – Life in the Future Beyond the Rusted Chrome of Yestermorrow

I have been bemused by Solarpunk for a while now, more-so since actively following Jay Springett's work where the term come up a lot. So I was grateful for this extended explanation (essentially a talk transcript with slides) which cleared up a lot of stuff. It's thankfully got nothing to do with Seapunk, which is just a daft aesthetic and some bad music. Solarpunk could best be described as imagining a future we'd like to live in, rather than speculating how we might live in a dystopia. In other words the opposite of Cyberpunk. There's also a lot of Mark Fisher-esque analysis of late-capitalism's mining of nostalgia and actively looking for ways to break beyond that. It's an attempt to solve the problem of not being able to imagine a future these days. And, of course, a shitload more, but that's my understanding of the basics. In short, it turns out to be very relevant to my 1972 Project thinkings. If I was a bit less of a nihilist I could even be a Solarpunk! (thejaymo)

The disruption con: why big tech's favourite buzzword is nonsense

I remember when I first learned that "disruption", the natural-law-style justification for investment-backed tech companies destroying existing industries with maths, was at best bullshit and at worst fundamentally evil. It's a bit like putting on a new pair of glasses and suddenly seeing the world in focus. This teardown has a nice bit of backstory I didn't know. This concept of disruption has its roots in The Communist Manifesto, so who knows? The endless Uber-fication of everything might lead to a socialist world state! Or not. (Guardian)

How to Build a Three-Parent Family

I've often felt that the two-parent family unit, while it can work for some, is not always the best fit. We know "it takes a village", but the nuclear family is always the default. So I found this account of people attempting to separate romantic/sexual attraction from the long-term commitment to parenting, really interesting, especially legal three+ parent adoption. Massive caveat that story takes place in an area of San Francisco with an "alternative parenting community", but as someone who is "always the Uncle, never the Dad" it's a fascinating eyeopener.

How To Talk About Books You Haven't Read

I don't think I've read a whole book in years, but I've skimmed a fuck-tonne and I've never thought this to be a problem. I can't remember most of what I've read anyway. What I get from reading is less specific, more like a cloud of knowledge-stuff in my memory which illuminates and enriches my experience as I move through life. Fuelling that cloud does not necessarily involve reading books cover to cover. So this book (lol) about not reading books looks very interesting. If you don't want to read it (lol) this is a good summary. (Brain Pickings)

Video: American Desert: Breaking Bad & Punishment Park

Maggie May Fish is one of those video essayists who regularly hits it out of the park. She's also been my gateway to the work and ideas of filmmaker Peter Watkins who came up making dramas for the BBC back in the 60s when they incubated radical filmmakers (see also Alan Clarke) but he turned out to be a bit too radical and moved on. His big theory is that of the monoform, which Maggie deals with half way through her excellent Fight Club video. This essay compares Watkins' 1971 film Punishment Park with the tv show Breaking Bad, initially through their use of the American desert and then going much deeper into questions of power and authority. Oh, and she does all this while keeping it light, breezy and fun! (YouTube)

Links for Friday 18th September

Graph of Covid cases in Birmingham, from this analysis of testing data.

A psychoanalytic reading of social media and the death drive

Richard Seymour's The Twittering Machine has moved to the top of my to-read list thanks to this highly entertaining review, best summarised with this quote: "Rather than wondering ponderously if this is 'cancel culture' or whatever, we might ask ourselves: Why the fuck were all these people tweeting? What were they thinking? What were they hoping to accomplish? What was the cost-benefit analysis that led them to think continued participation in social media was a good idea?" (Bookforum)

The battle over dyslexia

I struggled with writing essays in school, barely scraping English GCSEs. Since school I've taught myself to write for zines and blogs using typewriters and computers. School being in the 80s, I was never diagnosed but usually say I'm probably a bit dyslexic, part of my bundle of Autistic traits. So I found this article about whether dyslexia even exists as a diagnosis really interesting, the implication being the teaching methods don't fit the student, rather than the student being "broken" in some way. Worth a read if this affects you. (Guardian)

How big oil misled the public into believing plastic would be recycled

It seems everyone in the waste industry knows most plastic can't be recycled, yet for some reason we assume it can be. Turns out the oil industry has been lobbying for and promoting pointless plastic recycling schemes to distract from the urgent need to reduce our plastic usage. A long and damning expose. (NPR)

It is unclear what rich people are for.

This is a sports article on a sports website about the ownership of a sports team. But the first paragraph is universal. One day our descendants will look back with bemusement at how we allowed a tiny minority of unqualified fools to become stupidly rich. (Defector)

When you browse Instagram and find former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's passport number.

We all kinda know you shouldn't post a photo of your boarding pass online because… reasons? This chap found Tony Abbott's pass and decided to see how much he could hack it. (Mango PDF Zone)

Paul Lansky – Mild und Leise (1973)

Came to my attention because Radiohead sampled a chord progression (45 seconds in) for the track Idioteque, this is a really nice piece of very early computer-generated music composed on an IBM mainframe around the time of my first birthday.

Links for Tuesday 15th September

Irregular collections of internet links for your enjoyment and edification.

The future is fungal: why the 'megascience' of mycology is on the rise

Fab interview with mycologist Merlin Sheldrake which also serves as a nice introduction to the joys and importance of fungus. (Guardian)


How Zeynep Tufekci Keeps Getting the Big Things Right

Tufekci was far ahead of the curve on all the social-tech issues I've been interested in over the years, so when she applied her brain to Covid I immediately paid attention. (NY Times)


The Truth Is Paywalled But The Lies Are Free

Highlighting the awkward fact that you might not be able to read some of the things I link to because of paywalls. I love the Guardian's approach where my subscription means everyone can read it. I was really sad when the Atlantic went paywall. (Current Affairs)


'Impossible Objects' That Reveal a Hidden Power

Trevor Paglan has a new artwork. I like his work – he's one of the few people making work about computational culture that hits the mark. (NY Times)


Michael Sandel: 'The populist backlash has been a revolt against the tyranny of merit'

I find the concept of "meritocracy" fascinating because it seems like a perfectly good thing, to be raised up by merit and hard work, while it disguises all manner of structural inequalities while placing the blame on individuals for not succeeding. This is a nice take-down which focusses on the emphasis given to individualism over collectivism by the left over the last few decades as part of the problem. (Guardian)


Living in a Conspiracy Nation

If you're not up to speed on how the USA is quickly losing the battle against conspiracy theories and reality-denial, this is a good refresher. It's getting scary over there. (Kottke)


Ogmios School of Zen Motoring Ep 3 – Streets Of Rage

Long overdue but very welcome continuation of the best dashcam series.

Photo at top: A laser scan of fungi living within plant roots, with the fungus rendered in red, and the plant in blue by Melvin Sheldrake.

Sunday Reads

A currently biweekly digest of longer-form writings and the occasional video I would like to commend to you for a lazy Sunday morning.

The Shape of Space

This extensive look at the geometry of living in environments where up and down don't make sense is packed full of quite wonderful things. Buckminster Fuller made a big deal of us living on "Spaceship Earth" and encouraged shifts in language to reorient ourself as riding on a planet moving through space, but our evolutionary experience is stubbornly locked to a gravity model. Even astronauts on the International Space Station, that great experiment in post-planetary living, orient themselves as if "they are in a very tall building with all the intermediate floors removed." Also of note is an intelligent and detailed look at those 1970s cylindrical space habitats that haunted my childhood.

Russian Cosmism Versus Interstellar Bosses: Reclaiming Full-Throttle Luxury Space Communism

Cosmism is a new term to me and I'm enjoying discovering it. Like many ideas that came from inter-war Europe and post-revolutionary Russia, it's unrealistic and bonkers but highly alluring. And the parallels with the fringe ideologies of our algorithm-weilding masters is quite striking, albeit more optimistic, maybe? Does the left need to "seize back crazed utopic ideas from fascists and Silicon Valley" in order to save the world from Trump? It's certainly worth considering.

How to be human: the man who was raised by wolves

A long-read on Marcos Rodríguez who was abandoned as a child in poverty-stricken Spain and grew up without human contact. But that's just the preamble. The story really happens when he is brought back to civilisation but doesn't have any of the social tools to deal with a culture coming out of Fascism.

It may be no accident that Rodríguez's case was, for half a century, rather less celebrated: he emerged from the mountains into a country scared to investigate itself for fear of what it might find. There was little appetite for reopening debates about poverty and neglect, or the sale of children into labour, even in the 1970s. It was not until much later, 35 years after Franco had died, in a democracy mature enough to confront its past, that the details and significance of his story were finally embraced.

What does a nuclear bomb blast feel like?

The headline here is soldiers at nuclear bomb tests seeing the bones in their hands as they covered their faces, but the real kick in the guts for me is that they were forced into secrecy for decades and never compensated for being there at all. Oh, these are British soldiers, by the way, dying of leukaemia and fathering deformed babies. This bloody country…