Owning a trampoline

One lockdown phenomena I've seen very little written about was the rapid spread of trampolines across suburbia. From my back garden there were four within hearing range, sproinging away and very occasionally falling into glorious synchronisation as eight small feet hit the springs at exactly the same time, before drifting back to their demented rhythm.

Jeremy Wilson noticed it, because he was one of the parents who bought a trampoline to tire out his kids while he tried to get some work done. His article, Every Child on their Own Trampoline, uses this to explore how consumerism under capitalism has affected how children play and, by extension, how we socialise. "Every family has its own trampoline. Meanwhile, the playground round the corner falls apart quietly."

Capitalism pushes us towards private affluence. We aspire to acquire our own things. Shared things are seen as second best, something of an inconvenience. Politics responds accordingly, prioritising economic growth and 'more money in your pocket', rather than shared goods and services. So everyone has their own lawnmower while the grass grows long in the park. People get their own exercise bikes or rowing machines, and the gym at the local leisure centre starts to look tired and under-funded. The wealthy pay for childcare or hire a nanny, but the early years nursery closes down.

As a Gen-X kid who grew up in the 80s, my adult life often feels like an endless de-programming exercise, a battle between my desire to be a better person living in a better world (by some definition of "better") and the self-centred Oikos ideology that infested the psyche of the English under Thatcherism.

Which is to say I'm still addicted to owning stuff. I want my own books, my own tools. Rationally I want to be part of a library or a tool-sharing club. Rationally I don't need my own circular saw. But emotionally I like having it there.

We don't use the car that much, maybe once or twice a week to go shopping with a trip out of town to a farm for hay every month or so. A car-sharing service would make much more sense, but there's a resistance to not having our own car that is weirdly strong. (And I should add I have no interest in or love for cars and don't really enjoy driving.)

I'm thinking, as one often does, of Mark Fisher's concept of Capitalist Realism, the "widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it". If, like me, you were born in the 1970s and only really starting thinking about how the world works in the 1980s, then challenging the status quo is very hard indeed, particularly on an emotional level.

We could have a fucking awesome communal trampoline in the park, managed and maintained by the council, funded by taxation and available to all. But that's impossible, so every back garden has a trampoline.


Oikos and Co-operatives

Oikos, from the Greek for 'household', is a new term to me, and it's made up of letters arranged in such a way that it refuses to stick in my brain, so I'm having a bit of trouble getting my head around it, but I'm definitely intrigued.

Matt Webb goes into some detail as to why it interests him, because the traditional political compass doesn't seem to work for today's world. (Sidenote – the political compass is another thing that one might assume has been around forever but which is relatively recent, being launched in 2001).

Oikos seems to be the position that it's morally OK to favour blood relatives, or more broadly "people like me". A Polis view is the more traditional "everyone is equal and should be treated equally". Oikos is also called "Mafia logic" and from the perspective of the left it is generally associated with bad things and bad people. Trump is oikos all the way, but it also crops up in more mainstream conservative thought. "There is no such thing [as society]. There are individual men and women and there are families" as Mr Thatcher famously said. And while I might fundamentally disagree with her, she wasn't talking about running a kleptocracy, simply that "people look to themselves first" before thinking about the wider society.

What interests me about this is how it might apply to co-operatives and other non-hierarchical member-run organisations. Are the co-operative values and principles compatible with an oikos view? Matt is at pains to stress oikos is not necessarily a bad thing:

Community is an oikos value! Neighbourhood is an oikos value! Closing the streets to city traffic so kids can play, that's an oikos value! Mutuality and cooperative organisations… traditionally left wing, but elements of oikos there.

I'm not sure. Co-ops are an interesting mix of broadly left-ist ideas of community and equality, but contained within a membership structure which by definition creates a them-and-us dynamic. A co-op can be quite socialist in how it operates, but from what I can see there's no requirement to be. Indeed, there is a Conservative Co-operative movement, set up by Tory MP Jesse Norman who is certainly not some wet centrist, as an adjunct to Cameron's Big Society idea, though it seems to have faded out in 2014. Housing co-operatives, usually associated with affordable housing in the UK, run luxury apartments for the rich in New York, which always blows my mind. I wonder if they subscribe to the co-op values?

Art my co-op, Loaf, we spend a reasonable amount of time thinking about our values, why we do things they way we do. Our primary goal, it's fair to say, is to provide stable long term employment on a living way to our nine members, being ourselves. We have many many other goals, but that's the primary one, because without that we'd be unable to do much else. Are we using an oikos value to create a platform for non-oikos activity? Does that even make sense?

Charity begins at home. Think global, act local.

On a personal level I've never been that bothered about blood family ties. They're important, I guess, but only because they trigger a primal psychological connection and that mostly comes from spending a lot of time with them as a child. Adopted kids have the same thing, so family more about socialisation than genetics, I guess

Even so, the idea that one person is more important than another simply because I have a familial connection to them is woefully subjective and a terrible way to run a society. It might work on a small scale, giving us the bonds we need to survive, but it's objectively meaningless. It's like opinions and beliefs – I have them and I rely on them to navigate, but they don't matter as much as knowledge and wisdom.

Oikos is how you get through the day, but it's a terrible way to run the world.

(Conclusions pending, more pondering required)

Maybe inmates should take over asylums?

Nice observation in Jaymo's 301-second podcast (with transcript for those can't be dealing with podcasts) that the term the inmates have taken over the asylum assumes that this would be a bad thing and that the people previously running the asylum were doing a good job. It usually crops up when there's some kind of regime change where people usually found at the bottom of the organisational chart find themselves at the top, and those with a vested interest in the old status quo can't quite get their heads around it.

What the phrase doesn't allow for is the notion that the people who usually end up running things, at least a middle-management level, might not be very good at it. Anyone who's worked for some kind of big org will have experienced the soul-crushing realisation that someone up the hierarchy from them is at best incompetent and at worst a raging sociopath, and there's nothing you can do about it except leave.

Plenty more observations and links at the link.

Elinor Ostrom and the miracle of the commons

'The Tragedy of the Commons' is one of those terms that is often taken at face-value and assumed to be true. Humans, when left to their own devices, will consume and exploit everything they can until there is nothing left and they all die. The theory was devised by ecologist Garrett Hardin in 1968 and, in my experience anyway, is most often employed when moaning about littering.

Around the same time Hardin was writing that "ruin is the destination toward which all men rush", Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist, was seeing the opposite in her work. When faced with scarcity, humans devised systems of mutual benefit to manage those resources, subject to certain conditions.

The features of successful systems, Ostrom and her colleagues found, include clear boundaries (the 'community' doing the managing must be well-defined); reliable monitoring of the shared resource; a reasonable balance of costs and benefits for participants; a predictable process for the fast and fair resolution of conflicts; an escalating series of punishments for cheaters; and good relationships between the community and other layers of authority, from household heads to international institutions.

This feature on Ostrom goes into some detail on her work and case studies from the world of conservation. There's an emphasis on complexity and the unique and variable situations that she studies, and the struggle of scaling up to national and international levels, but above all there's a repudiation of the doom-laden Tragedy myth, which is nice to see.

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.


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,


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.


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.