reading 2011, vol 1

What Technology Wants Kevin Kelly

Pretty interesting, there is lots in it, not sure it is essential though.

Argues all sorts of things, but essentially that there is a “technium” – the totality of culture and technology – which can be considered an evolving entity in itself. More interesting for the specifics of the data he brings together than the thesis itself, as he pulls pretty gnarly stuff in from all over the show. The chapters on the Amish and the Unabomber were both fascinating, and not for the usual reasons one might expect. Particularly, the Amish come across not as Luddites but very conscious of the effects of technology on them, individually and socially, and choose only to adopt technologies, which, after testing, prove to enhance their values and goals; which strikes me as about the sanest approach. However, most of us do not have such a strongly defined group with shared values, so we get dragged along into adopting technologies with no thought for the effects, because everyone else does, and we need them to stay in touch, conform and function. But the idea of selective adoption of technologies comes through really strongly, and I have nattered on about the need for this elsewhere, a la McLuhan; and indeed in Kelly’s own life.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

Ripped through this in a few hours. Young adult SF novel, set on a pioneer world where, so it seems, a disease has killed all the women, and the men can all hear each other’s thoughts. From there it goes in pretty consistently unexpected directions. Tight, gripping, fun.

Cults of Unreason – Christopher Evans
Excellent history of early Scientology, and other cultish stuff. I can see why they try to suppress it.

Counting Heads – David Marusek
Debut novel from a guy to watch. A SF future world with virtual immortality, mucho AI, clones, crazy nano, and fabbing, all happening all at once, and really well integrated into a fairly dizzying experiential ride of what living in that would be like on a regular human level, while dealing satisfactorily with humanity and emotions. Impressive. Biggest gripe: it feels like an episode of something larger, rather than a really complete entity in itself. (Which, to be fair, it is.)

Michael Moorcock – The Warhound and the World’s Pain
Years back I bought a bunch of Moorcock omnibus editions and never read them. Read this novel after snooping around the web and it coming up heavily recommended a lot. It was fun, diverting, and there was a lot I enjoyed in it, particularly its fluidity and narrative sweep, yet even with the philosophical resonance explored via its quasi-Faustian bargain, it felt sort of… empty afterwards. Like the depth of imagination that goes into creating a world is somehow lacking when you churn out books at 15000 words a day, maybe. (Any other strong Moorcock recommendations? I think I read the first Elric novel and didn’t think much of it, and one of the Jerry Cornelius novels (The English Assassin, I think), which was totally demented.)

The Possessed – Dostoyevsky
Felt I had been reading a bit too much genre insubstantiality, and prevailed upon my friend Brian for the Best Novel Ever Written; this got the nod. It is pretty remarkable how gripping a novel which is mostly people standing around chatting in polite society in 1800s Russia can be. Brilliant psychological observation, and in general brilliant; not sure it is the best novel ever, but it is pretty damn impressive. Left me wondering what its equivalent would look like if it were written now. Ultimately seemed to be arguing that we are lost without God, or some Idea on that scale.

Jan Fries – Visual Magick
Really good, grounded, experiential guide to creativity, magic, art, and presence in the moment.

holding our breath, waiting for the body count

Slowly shock wears off, the numbness seeping into reality. The rubble is still there, the dead beneath. The city devastated. Months to clean the mess, years to rebuild? And nothing will be the same again.

So huge, too big to grasp, to get your head around the ramifications. The economy. Peoples lives. This event, and its effects, will be with us for many years. Everything changed in a minute. Plans and dreams, hopes and realities, redefined, shattered, gone.

Light in the darkness. Chatting to a friend in Lyttleton, who observed that without the horror, this would be great. People are working together, helping each other out. The suspension of normality allows something wonderful to bloom in the cracks. We shed our roles and rediscover ourselves.

What will we make of this tragedy? Our actions from here on will decide. As we rebuild our second largest city, we can ask ourselves, what is it we want to build here? How do we want to live? Will we just do our best to put things back the way they were, forgetting it is all impermanent? Are we defined by the buildings and the roles we played? Or can we dream something better into being, freshly armed with the shock of death and change, and the reawakened perspective of what is truly important to us: people.

Many buildings are yet to come down. Central Christchurch will be changed beyond recognition. How often do we get to consciously change the character of a major city? What is the most awesome change we can make?

thoughts on welfare reform

The earthquake has come at a convenient time for the National government, eclipsing the release of the Welfare Working Group’s report.

The proposed welfare reform is fundamentally about getting people actively looking for work. Collapsing all benefits into one “jobseekers” benefit, defined in essence by the criteria to be actively seeking work, punishing the long term unemployed, and those who have children (in quasi-eugenic policy).

This criteria, as demonstrated in In A Land of Plenty, is purely a piece of economic theory in action. An unemployed underclass actively looking for work keeps wages down, which, according to the dominant economic theory – the one that doesn’t work and has led to the ongoing global economic crisis – will keep inflation down, and if only inflation can be kept down, sunshine and bunnies will reign in the land. That is the whole of the faith.

Being forced to actively look for work, in this light, has nothing to do with actually getting a job that isn’t there. Jobseekers are the stick keeping wages down and workers willing to put up with crap conditions because at least they have a job. This is fine as a purely numeric theory if you disregard that actual humans are involved.

The proposed reform refuses to acknowledge the wider economic situation. Jobs aren’t there because the economy is broken. The government isn’t doing anything to create jobs. They have no ideas and no plan but sticking to a failed ideology that requires treating people like shit. The proposed welfare reform is like a game of musical chairs, except there are many thousands less chairs than players, and the losers get screwed.

Also, in the wake of the Christchurch disaster, there are going to be many people in our second biggest centre whose livelihoods are gone. Just in time to queue up for some dehumanisation.

Last word taken from Gordon Campbell’s summary:

In sum, welfare reform on this scale will not only punish and marginalise the poor – with all the health/law and order costs that will create in its wake. It will also present employers with a golden opportunity to permanently undercut the wages and conditions of all but the elite and skilled members of the New Zealand work force. Obviously, New Zealanders can vote for this package or reject it – but we need to very clear what sort of society we would be endorsing in November by supporting it. IMO, the welfare gulag envisaged by the WWG and (apparently) endorsed in large part by the Key government, is foreign to the country that most of us have known.

Iz real direktor naow

Screening went pretty well. A decent turnout, nice things were said. All a bit of a blur, like hosting a very short party. Cheers to those who came :) and apologies for my frazzledness.

Was quite pleasant to see it on a proper cinema screen. Showing it at the burn was fun but the conditions were not ideal.

As it was, I was abundantly aware of every flaw, but still caught up in it and enjoying it. And it turns out the sound mix is really not optimised for a massive cinema sound system. So much bass and low end noise that wasn’t there on the speakers we were mixing on :/ Still learning. Should be fine on DVD through a regular system.

Overall, though, people seemed to think we got it, somehow evoking the spirit of the burn, which was the point, really, the challenge and the art of it; which, creatively, is pretty satisfying for my first whack at a new medium, and trying to capture something as specific, nebulous and beyond words as a burn.

The way appears as you walk it

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, magic and power in it.

Begin it now.”

- Goethe

In my own language and writings, this sentiment appears as “the way appears as you walk it.” Funny how sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know.

Sunday Mutants 15/2/11

Heh. Has been a while. Trawling the mutants list, we find:

* Josh Harris (of We Live in Public fame) makes a bid to head the MIT media lab

“If I become director of the MIT Media Lab, the institution’s primary focus will be to build a working singularities effect of the future, now, in order to understand how it all works.”

* Psychedelic sequence removed from Avatar would probably have made it more interesting.

The ritual consists of the initiate having to eat a worm as well as endure the sting of a scorpion-like creature.  The worm is significant as it eats from the “sacred tree,” presumably the Tree of Souls, and contains a psychoactive alkaloid.  The scorpion provides a potent neuro-toxin that brings the Na’vi close to death.  When combined together, the two compounds unleash a powerful psychedelic experience that allows for the initiate to go on a “dreamhunt” and attempt to contact their “spirit animal.”

* The Big Deal. Heavy think pieces from Vinay Gupta, who is way out ahead of the curve, about what the hell is going on.

I’ve recently written four essays, The Big Deal (#thebigdeal) which combine to paint a new picture of the current state of the world and a future picture showing how grass roots political power can achieve what current models of governance, including government, cannot do alone. This work is partly a critique and expansion on the British government’s Big Society concept, but it also draws heavily on my own experience in futures, complexity science and engineering for the bottom billion. It is an attempt to model the world in a new way; a way which reveals otherwise hidden paths to achieve change.

Yet to read them but flag them necessary.

* Ten myths about welfare. Actually not via the mutants, but this is getting around. If you are in NZ you probably need to read this as we roll into election year.

* Uncontacted Amazon Indians face annihilation Kind of amazing that this sort of thing is still happening. Also amazing that it can still happen, that there is anyone left out there.

* According to this fun sliding tool, all income growth in America in the past three decades has gone to the top 10% of the population. Thus income has declined for the bottom 90% of people. (Yay for unfettered capitalism!) The same sort of trend is probably at work here, as these things go.

Egypt

Go, Egypt. Go, people.

Of course, now the real task begins. Setting up and maintaining the life you want to lead. Because the way things are will do all it can to propagate itself in a new guise with pretty words and a new face at the top.

And yeah, once again, it is amazing to have it reaffirmed that massive change is in fact possible, out of seemingly nowhere, peacefully, through the actions of people working together to make things better.

This is what the future looks like.

We can change. The choice is when, and to what.

Way back I quote Ventura thusly:

We are neither governed nor ruled. We are ignored. That most of usdon’t make a peep about it is perhaps an indication that we deserve to be ignored. We’ve demanded to be flattered, agreed with, and comforted; we’ve demanded almost anything but competence. Only a massive shift in public sentiment – and public action – will change things, and no one knows if that’s afoot.
[...]
The only antidote for a failure of democracy is the exercise of democracy. What every government fears most is a million citizens peaceably assembled at its front door, people who won’t go home until they get what they came for.

Wow, and just while trawling through old quotes, here is James Baldwin

But for power truly to feel itself menaced, it must somehow sense itself in the presence of another power – or, more accurately, an energy – which it has not known how to define and therefore does not really know how to control. For a very long time, for example, America prospered – or seemed to prosper: this prosperity cost millions of people their lives. Now, not even the people who are the most spectacular recipients of the benefits of this prosperity are able to endure these benefits: they can neither understand them nor do without them, nor can they go beyond them. Above all, they cannot, or dare not, assess or imagine the price payed by their victims, or subjects, for this way of life, and so they cannot afford to know why the victims are revolting. They are forced, then, to the conclusion that the victims – the barbarians – are revolting against all established civilized values – which is both true and not true – and, in order to preserve these values, however stifling and joyless these values have caused their lives to be, the bulk of the people desperately seek out representatives who are prepared to make up in cruelty what both they and the people lack in conviction.

(No Name in the Street, 1972)

And as ever, Bucky needs to be reaffirmed:

whether it will be utopia or oblivion will be a touch and go relay race until the very end.

People do stuff, and make stuff happen. Inactivity is also doing. What is your activity, and inactivity, producing in the world? And what do you think the world needs? Because when enough people feel the same, the streets are full.

Combust in Unity – kiwiburn documentary – Wellington screening

Come along to the off-paddock premiere screening of Combust in Unity, the documentary about Kiwiburn that Paul and I have been making for the last short eternity. (Yes. It is finally done and out in the world.) Screenings in other centres may or may not follow. DVD release is in the works.

Saturday, February 19 · 5:00pm – 6:30pm at the NZ Film Archive.

(Corner of Ghuznee St and Taranaki St)

This will likely be your only chance to see it on the big screen in Wellington. If you know someone who needs to be there, tell them! :)

If you haven’t yet seen the trailer, it is here http://www.youtube.com/wat ch?v=yE9H4wf2Obc

(Also also, if you’ve never been to the Film Archive before, tickets are only $8,or $6 concession!)

Saturday, February 19 · 5:00pm – 6:30pm

Location NZ Film Archive

Corner of Ghuznee St and Taranaki St
Wellington, New Zealand

Created By

More Info Hi!

Come along to the off-paddock premiere screening of Combust in Unity, the documentary about Kiwiburn that Paul and I have been making for the last short eternity. (Yes. It is finally done and out in the world.)

This will likely be your only chance to see it on the big screen in Wellington. If you know someone who needs to be there, tell them! :)

Screenings in other centres may or may not follow. DVD release is in the works.

If you haven’t yet seen the trailer, it is here http://www.youtube.com/wat ch?v=yE9H4wf2Obc

(Also also, if you’ve never been to the Film Archive before, tickets are only $8,or $6 concession!)

I’d rather be in the paddock

Back from the paddock. Have mostly caught up on sleep.

Once again, Kiwiburn was amazing, awesome, wonderful, intense, powerful, challenging, etc. And full of people who are amazing, awesome, wonderful, etc.

It’s funny, I was particularly ambivalent about going this year – mostly I went to screen the doco, in situ – but I came away wanting to still be in the paddock way more than any previous year. The quality of the people, the quality of the interactions, and the energy of the place, is just flat out better. Strangers from all over the country and the world come together in spontaneous community. It is a strange and beautiful phenomenon. All these people are still in my heart and mind.

The doco screened twice, in appropriately DIY paddock conditions, once in a torrential downpour, and once after the temple burn. It was fascinating to observe the audience responding to the film, as the screenings were very different. It seemed to go down pretty well, which was nice.

Rupert Murdoch – A Portrait of Satan

Check out this wonderful documentary essay from Adam Curtis, in which he more or less genteely assassinates Rupert Murdoch.

(Adam Curtis is the BBC genius behind Century of the Self, Power of Nightmares, The Trap, etc, which as we never tire of telling you are essential viewing, and are available free online.)