Reading 2011, Vol 3

Barely read on the road. What I did read was

 

Babylon Babies – Maurice Dantec
Dense, complex, harsh, hilarious, fascinating, hallucinatory, bugfuck. One of the few fictions I have read which grapples with the complex interconnectedness and brutality of the contemporary world. Reading it feels like the closest thing I can think of to what reading Neuromancer when it was first released must have been like. Recommended. Bizarrely was adapted into a movie starring Vin Diesel, which is such a staggering piece of miscasting that I am kind of fascinated to see it.

Phantastes – George MacDonald
Published in 1857; a gorgeous dream of fantasy and myth, one of the founding books of modern fantasy. What inspired a whole generation, once, that then inspired the next… A real treasure. Beautiful and mysterious and extremely inventive; also a bit overwrought stylistically.

Babur Nama
Autobiography of Babur, the founder of the 15th Century Mughal Dynasty. Apparently the earliest example of autobiographical writing? And generally bizarre, as he moves from discussing the finer points of poetry to stacking heads in pillars without blinking. Idiosyncratic, evocative, otherworldy.

 RUR – Karel Capek

Just remembered I read this on the bus on the way to Scotland. Play by the Czech writer, in which the word “robot” is coined. Bleak parable about automatism and the essence of humanity. (Title stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots – I wonder if Rossum corporation in Dollhouse was a tenuous shout-out to that?)

And since returning:

Pitch Yourself – Faust & Faust

Basically a process to deconstruct your life, find your actual skills, and how to present them with evidence. Useful.

The Personal MBA – Josh Kaufmann

Basic pitch is you are better off learn business fundamentals and doing stuff than doing an MBA. Solid, useful coverage of what goes into making a business work. A couple of the financial things are beyond its scope.

a bunch of Ramit Sethi‘s stuff on business and finance

Dude seems on to it.

Schrodingers Cat Trilogy (The Universe Next Door, The Trick Top Hat, The Homing Pigeons) – Robert Anton Wilson

Entertaining and mindbending extrapolation of quantum physics, more or less demonstrating multiple worlds theory in the novel’s structure, as well as teaching the other main interpretations of quantum physics. Some characters act like particles, too. Along with the usual RAW stuff on consciousness, history, and what is going on, though in an early formulation. So the kind of book I read with a pencil handy to make notes.

My edition was published in 1979. Thing is, I am familiar with most of his schtick, and his interests, and generally prefer his more mature non fiction renderings; so lots of this was like a light refresher, with him feeling freer to show certain applications in fiction than he does in non-fiction. But man, this book was still a total crazy weirdout. And must have been a total mindfuck in the late 70s. Also, he explains fractional reserve lending in under a page, not calling it that, in explaining the process by which money is created out of nothing. Just tucked in there. Picked it up unexpectedly, really enjoyed plowing through it.

Currently pecking away at:

ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age – Andre Gunder Frank

Legendary analysis of the global economy as a world system over the past 500 years, arguing that a global economy has existed for longer than that, it has always been centered on Asia, and the last couple of hundred years are an aberrant bubble that is being corrected. Amazing book, also for its meta-historical commentary and method. Have only scratched the surface, after meaning to read it pretty much since it came out in ’98.

and Lilith by George MacDonald, which is so far lovely, magical, and deeply weird. Fast becoming one my favourite authors. Unique.

 

Have read less this year than in many many years. Did a lot of stuff though. :)

 

sunday mutants, end of 2011 special

Kind of by category: first, politics and economy:

The Citigroup Plutonomy memos quite bluntly assess the size and power of the wealthy minority in the world economy, and how this distorts a number of economic indicators. Basically argues that companies servicing the rich will continue to do well, since they have all the money, so invest in them.

In 2005 and 2006, several analysts at Citigroup took a very, very close look at the economic inequalities within the USA and other countries and wrote two memos which were addressed to their very wealthy customers. If there is one group of people who need to know the truth about what is really going on within the society and the economy, minus the propaganda, then it’s businesspeople who have a lot of money to invest, and who want to invest wisely.

Fascinating. Apparently these have been fairly successfully suppressed, yet are reasonably available online. The trick is to know to look for them. Particularly relevant in terms of the Occupy 1% – 99% dialogue.

Footnotes to a changing world: Brazil has overtaken Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy.

Saber rattling between Iran and USA

A senior Iranian official on Tuesday delivered a sharp threat in response to economic sanctions being readied by the United States, saying his country would retaliate against any crackdown by blocking all oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz, a vital artery for transporting about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply.

This would actually lead to war, so it will be interesting to see who backs down and how.

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A quick few interesting tech tools:

“I’m getting arrested” android app – alert lawyers and loved ones with one click when you are being arrested. Evolved from OWS/protestors needs.

Tasker. Total automation for your android. Looks real high powered, but overkill for casual users.

Okay, this looks like it has really interesting potential: if this, then that: an automation tool for online stuff. Basically lets you automate repetitive online tasks between different programs you use daily, and more.

Also looks really interesting: hypothes.is.”The Internet, peer reviewed.”

 

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A few kinda nerdy notes:

Some surprising uses of wolfram alpha for word-professionals.

Large Hadron Collider discovers its first new particle

This is quite fascinating, on a philosophical/thinking level:  answers to the question “what it’s like” to have an internalized sense of very advanced mathematical concepts“.

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A few tracking the nasty weird future coming soon/now:

The Future of Drone Warfare – deeply weird and fascinating extrapolation on the likely direction of drone warfare. For bonus points, introduced me to the fact of Bonjwas.

System D – the 10 trillion dollar black market global economy – Foreign Policy article by the excellent Robert Neuwirth (author of Shadow Cities).

More on the emerging warlords of our near future: Mexico’s cartels build own national radio system. (via @nils_gilman / @deviantglobal)

Tracking this stuff is pretty relevant to what things are going to look like when things fall apart more openly: empowered non-state actors doing it themselves.

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And some random shit:

How to open a padlock with a coke can

Mad monks shut down by Pope

“a renowned monastery in Rome where monks staged concerts featuring a lap-dancer-turned-nun and opened a hotel with a 24-hour limousine service has been shut down by the pope.”

Global Drug Commissioner Richard Branson (huh?) on lessons from Portugal after a decade of decriminalistation.

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And to go out on: Wax, Or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees

By all accounts about the most impossibly weird film ever.

Watch it free online here.

media on the road

 

Right. It seems everyone is taking their brain off for xmas, so here is some brainless content.

During my travels I watched a few movies, most often on long haul buses and planes, which is interesting as I often didn’t get to pick what I was watching, or had a fairly limited ranged, and thus saw a bunch of shit I would never watch. You will probably be able to pick the few I did seek out by choice. Here are random slappy reviews.

 

Adjustment Bureau

Pretty good Philip K Dick story-based film. Solid, worth it if you watch SF.

Rabbit Hole

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart actually acting in a taut tale of a family grieving.

Harry Potter 7 pt 2

Despite being in 3D at the movies in England, it was kind of a let down. For a change, almost all the changes they made for film were actually detrimental from the original.

The Last Circus

Alex de la Iglesias is the Jesus of the new age. Okay, that isn’t even slightly accurate, but goddamn this movie is crazy and fun and deranged and disturbed and unique and wonderful. If you are afraid of clowns, this movie will destroy your soul. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous.

Winters Bone

Grim and beautiful drama of small town life. Would have rather seen it with subtitles than dubbed into American South accents; figure it would have been a lot more disturbing. It is pretty harsh. One of the best films of recent years, hands down.

[Edit: so it wasn't dubbed, and was actually set in America. Dunno where I got the idea it was European in my head, but I watched the entire thing thinking it was dubbed.]

Limitless

Awful opening voice-over becomes a pretty fun film about a guy who gets on a smart drug that really works. Totally written by a frustrated writer.

Thor

Kenneth Branagh directs norse god comic adaptation. Given the ludicrous material they had to work with, they work in themes and content in a way that it is almost okay, but other than that totally unremarkable.

The Fighter

Kind of biopic. Unlikely story.

Parts of My Sisters Keeper

Wow, that movie looked shit. If you know the premise, you don’t ever need to read or see it. Cameron Diaz in a serious role? Whut? Luckily I tuned most of it out.

Just Go With It

Godawful Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston vehicle. Insulting and embarassing to the species. That this passes for comedy speaks volumes about how decrepit American culture has become, and how totally sexually fucked up. Thanks to Peruvian bus-lines, I saw lots of this. TWICE.

Fireproof

Sub-TV movie production values, family relationship drama turned out to be a Christian propaganda movie. All the relationship advice was actually pretty good. All the spontaneous Jesus conversion was a bit uncomfortable. Weirdly fascinating to watch as it was so out of left field. Peru buses, man.

Pirates of the Caribbean – on stranger tides

I actually mostly enjoyed the first POTC as balls out entertainment. I don’t know what the hell this was supposed to be. But, from what I couldn’t ignore, it was shit.

Captain America

I never knew anything about Captain America, so was pleasantly surprised to get a WWII era superhero film.

Book of Kells

Really interesting animation style, only saw the end. Later had the chance to see the real book of Kells in Dublin, but didn’t. So it goes.

Green Lantern

Uninteresting piece of shit. Some potential for crazy CGI though. Afterwards I discovered that an unrecognisable Temeura Morrison fought an unrecognisable Clancy Brown. Not even that saved anything about this uninteresting piece of shit.

The Avengers should actually be interesting as a nightmare of combining these retarded superheroes functionally. Even Whedon will struggle with that.

Crazy Heart

Jeff Bridges is still a dude. Can’t quite buy Maggie Gyllenhal going for him though. Um. Good character study. Bridges has deserved an Oscar for years, not sure why this was the role that did it.

I am sure there were others. Oh, there was some truly diabolically shit Ice Cube as a family dude renovating a house movie, again on a bus in Peru, but luckily I fell asleep with earplugs quite quickly.

[Bonus edit: I also watched about 20 minutes of Horrible Bosses. Which was like three really bad comedies in one, but with even less character development. Watching vomit congeal is more appealing.]

Incidentally, this is probably the most current I have been with modern film in ages, in terms of seeing recently released movies, in quantity. It does not speak well of modern film, at least as far as Hollywood goes.

 

the return of sunday mutants

The world shifted while the moose was loose in the world. Lots of crazy shit happening ever faster in these unfolding interesting times. We missed a lot, and I’m not even going to try to summarise or catch up. But it seems like we are at least coming closer to facing reality.

Anyhow. Here are the results of my first dedicated info trawl in a long long while, scrying the emerging future in the froth of the web… Much of the best of this comes from the already indispensable Innovation Patterns, the rest from the mutants list, and generally revisiting some of my haunts.

 

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Michael Ventura steps into prophet mode again. Three parts, necessary reading/analysis of what the fuck is going. (Subtitle: “The Worldwide End of Capitalism and Its Replacement by a Mode of Commerce for Which, as Yet, There Is No Ism.”) Flash Mob Dance Revolution Parts One Two & Three. Two parts analysis, third part an attempt at solution.

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fighting muppetocracy: pretty brutal and punchy look at how fucked we are, well worth reading and distressingly difficult to argue against.

This show brought to you by the international community, by government, by the NGOs, by well-intentioned individuals, by the UN, and all the rest of it. The same cast of clowns that screwed up Haiti.
Get it yet? Is it landing?
We are screwed. We don’t need to speculate on how or why, but we have an absolutely clear and rational expectation that there will be no sudden, effective, global and complete transformation in our global governance systems resulting in an effective resolution to our climate crisis.
We did not do it for poverty.
We do not do it for natural disasters.
We will not do it for climate.
Everything rests on us getting a technological fix for climate, and we’re massively, dramatically underfunding research into those breakthrough technologies in favour of continuing to subsidize oil. These are the facts.

Really worth reading the whole thing for context etc.

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kind of an antidote to that: recent interview with zen buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn :

“Without collective awakening the catastrophe will come,” he warns. “Civilisations have been destroyed many times and this civilisation is no different. It can be destroyed. We can think of time in terms of millions of years and life will resume little by little. The cosmos operates for us very urgently, but geological time is different.

“If you meditate on that, you will not go crazy. You accept that this civilisation could be abolished and life will begin later on after a few thousand years because that is something that has happened in the history of this planet. When you have peace in yourself and accept, then you are calm enough to do something, but if you are carried by despair there is no hope.”

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Excellent Foreign Policy article about the logical limits to China’s growth, and the rise of Turkey, India, Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia.

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DARPA trying to hack the neurobiology of narrative in order to bring in a whole new generation of propaganda control.

Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to “detect narrative influence.” These tools will enable “prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.” In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side.

“The government is already trying to control the message, so why not have the science to do it in a systematic way?” said the researcher familiar with the project.

Um. WTF? Disturbing as fuck anyway.

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The Case Against the Spirit World Model of Psychedelic Action

Pretty fascinating/challenging read for entheogenic enthusiasts.

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Cyborg future news: A team at at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen says it’s built the foundation for devices to communicate directly with the human brain.

The researchers’ new graphene-based transistor array is compatible with living biological cells and can, for the first time, record the electrical signals they generate.

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Have you missed these posts? Or are you happier not knowing? ;)

(Hell, for that matter, have I missed making these posts, and am I happier not knowing?)

 

Notes from Afar 12: Wellington, New Zealand

 

Going away was in large part about returning. And it has been a strange and uneasy homecoming. Here are some observations. (And I am very aware that Wellington is far from completely representative of NZ.)

Kiwis are a funny looking bunch. Maybe we are an isolated population inbreeding. They tend to be unaccountably down on themselves, and emotionally withdrawn. We give each other so much space it is dysfunctional, and seem to require alcohol to reach a functional level of outgoingness. I shudder to think what our depression rates are, but there are a lot of obviously unhappy people around. (This is all in implicit contrast to other countries which have a much stronger sense of community and engagement and life lived on the street, particularly Morocco and Peru. Big cities in the West, well, no one shows any humanity, at all, on the street.)

New Zealand is a Pacific island, very far from the rest of the world. And almost devoid of people, at least in terms of global population density.  It runs at a totally different pace of life to anywhere else. The isolation lends an unreality to the rest of the world, and also a hyper-reality – so much of our media and news is all about this faraway world which we inevitably fetishise.

Kiwis seem politically apathetic and naive, and tolerate a truly pathetic and ineffective media. Brutal to be welcomed back by a farcical election – the lowest voter turnout in a 100 years – returning an embarrassing right wing government bent on environmental degradation for profit, led by a blatant slimy fuckwit millionaire merchant banker. With a majority of one vote, they will continue an adherence to failed economic ideology and gut the country and its resources to service the already wealthy. We have an unusual political history, one of the few existing countries that has not changed government by violence in the past hundred years. I suspect this lack of having to fight for anything at any point adds to our laxness. We have not fought for our identity, or what we have, and so do not resist it being taken away.

We are half-assed to the point of incompetence, and no one seems to mind. Life here is easy enough to allow that. The absence of population makes for an absence of competition. This is nice, in that it makes things chilled out, but lame, in that there is little to drive excellence.

The country itself is a little ludicrous in how effortlessly pretty it is compared to basically everywhere else on the planet. There are lots of pretty parts of the rest of the world. But here just does it, all the time, everywhere. I had missed our beautiful native birds, too. So many! And such song! New Zealand is green, green, everywhere. Nature swarming, but not seething, like the jungle. And the light is stunning. An absence of pollution, and ozone layer, both.

And yeah, we are chilled out and friendly compared to most places, and have a naive honesty, in that so much of the negative behaviours I encountered in the rest of the world would never occur to people in New Zealand – you just don’t treat people like that. Though also, because the population is small, if you are an asshole, it gets around swiftly, so there is pressure not to be a lying cheating sonofabitch.

While our race relations lack the obvious tension of overseas, perhaps it is just that we have the space to ignore each other, and no one is going to bother anyone else, because that would be effort, anyway.

More positively, Kiwis are also a pack of mad bastards. (Somewhere in the travels I observed that I felt a higher proportion of kiwis suited the description “dangerous lunatics” than any other culture I have encountered, with the possible exception of Americans.) The thing is, we have access to all the intellectual and technological fruits of the pinnacle of world culture, but are basically left floating alone in an isolated cultural void, free to concoct demented alchemical experiments in our sheds. We just get on and do stuff, with a “its rough and ready and mostly works and who gives a fuck anyway” attitude. Alchemical here meaning any flavour of weirdness that an individual has glommed onto, and decided to combine with whatever other obsessions, and sheds meaning the infinite space we have here, or your closet, or a shed. One of the truly great things here is you can do your own thing and no one will bother you if you aren’t bothering them.

Despite the resolute absence of culture pursued by the mainstream of NZ, we are also the most refined, open minded and wide ranging scholars I have encountered. (There is a bias there among those I know and cultivate.) We are outside it all, but plugged into it from the outside, often in the weirdest way. So far away but so aware of the rest of the world, to which we are invisible. A nation of scruffy low-key obsessive geniuses with no respect for anyone telling them what to do. Mutants on the periphery of the global empire.