[This fragment is available in an audio version.]
Welcome to another curation of long-form pieces, the kind of thing that I, as a semi-retired person, have time for. While you probably don’t have the space for all of these, one or two might reward an investment of your attention. These are obviously grim times and indeed there’s grim stuff here but I’ve tried to add some smiles for balance.
The world’s terrible but there’s great new music being created all the time! Let’s start with a palate-clearing blast of excellent hard rock from the “EQD Japan All-Stars”; it’s actually a promo piece for Earthquake Devices (thus “EQD”) who make guitar effects. It’s called the Reincarnation Rose Session, featuring Japanese women-metallistas Wata (from Boris), Tokie, suGar Yoshinaga, and Yuka Yoshimura, the latter two of METALCHICKS. I cannot lie: I have always been attracted to women with large amplifiers. What a great performance, and the drumming is out of this world. Next up, Sierra Ferrell sings Bells of Every Chapel; I just discovered Ms Ferrell a few weeks ago and have tickets to her upcoming Vancouver show. She’s sort of halfway between Dolly Parton and Leon Redbone and she’s wonderful. By the way, did you know that there’s a Guitar Girls magazine? And just to be fair to the old-guy demographic, check out Welcome Back, from Neil Young’s recent Barn project. What a pretty and reassuring sound the band makes.
We’re all weeping for Kyiv, there’ve been a few background pieces about the place when there’s not a war on; the one I read was Kyiv's ancient normality (redux) by Timothy Snyder. Boy, does it ever have a lot of history. Some of it’s even happy. And just to be clear: Vladimir Putin can eat shit and die. Also on my shit list are the opinionators ranging from Jacobin on the left to various GOP hacks on the right saying “yes, Putin bad, but we have to acknowledge that it’s mostly our fault because NATO is bad too, and also we’re too woke.” People who start land wars in Europe deserve eternal torment in the Hell I don’t believe in, and their apologists are standing on perilous ground.
Since we’re talking about unhappy zones, let’s look at Israel/Palestine. The Israelis finally managed to rid themselves of that scuzzbag Netanyahu, but the voters there overwhelmingly prefer far-right parties of various flavors, where by “various flavors” I mean the spectrum between “ethno-nationalist” and “stone racist”. Prime Minister Bennett is trying to “shrink the conflict” by improving Palestinian lives but never, never talking about the bigger Palestinian-future issue. Over at Israel Policy Forum, Michael J. Koplow asks If someone shrinks a conflict but nobody sees it, has it been shrunk? which explains in erudite detail why this isn’t working that well. In particular, there seems to have been an upsurge of settler-on-Palestinian violence; over at +972, Meron Rapoport asks What’s behind the Israeli right’s renewed war on Palestinian citizens? going way deeper into Israeli political dynamics than, well, anything that’s written outside Israel. It’s gotten to the point where Amnesty International released a report using the word “Apartheid” to discribe the situation in the West Bank. At Religion Dispatches, Joshua Shanes offers Rather than attack Amnesty for labeling Israel an apartheid state critics could address the actual problems; as you can guess from the title, he’s not happy. What with Covid and Russia, that part of the world has pretty well fallen out of the news, but the problems don’t seem to be going away.
In my own country, Canada, the big story of course was the protesting truckers and their “Freedom Convoy”, which caught our ruling class entirely by surprise; it took the authorities a big four weeks to get organized and free up the streets of Ottawa. It was pleasing that they managed it with astonishingly little violence. Now that we know the approach works, I expect it to be applied to demonstrations which are led by indigenous people and other marginalized communities as opposed to good ole boys. There’s a pretty decent write-up by Michelle Goldberg in the NYTimes, published about fifteen minutes before the cops waded in. Here’s another take by Canadian finance/real-estate blogger Garth Turner, In the crosshairs. It explores the interesting and I think genuinely new intersections of class and culture and politics that are stirring up North America. Let me quote:
But have you noticed the demographics? Yup, mostly white. Mainly guys.
On the surface this may be centred on vaccines and ‘freedoms’ but it’s really about disenfranchising and exclusion. Covid has exacerbated the wealth divide. The white-collar WFH crowd has been in the bedroom, employed, tapping on a laptop for two years watching their real estate equity grow. The rest have been handed the dirty end of the stick. On top of this economic injustice are governments whose diversity and inclusion policies have favoured certain groups (women, indigenous, racialized) while others (like white dudes in trucks) feel left out. Have you seen a TV commercial for a Canadian bank lately that portrays such a person? Me neither.
The appeal to bank commercials makes sense in Canada, whose economy is dominated by five insanely-profitable too-big-to-fail ones. These institutions advertise like hell on TV all the time, and those ads are sort of The Future Liberals Want; all the families are either multiracial or gay or both. Which is to say, they work hard on avoiding all the -isms (including able-ism, good on ’em), and being inclusive. Which is totally fine by me and in fact what it looks like around my family dinner table these days.
Of course, the people who run the banks also don’t look like the people in those ads. It doesn’t bother me that people who look like me never appear, we had our run in the sun. But the absence is kind of striking, and I can see how it might bother someone who was also getting fucked over by current economic trends.
Not that I sympathize with the truckies in the slightest; they combine incoherence with ignorance and bigotry. But when something doesn’t make sense I want to understand it better.
Another symptom of that same malaise is the propensity of people to believe big lies in general and The Big Lie about the 2020 US election in particular. Over at 538, There Is More Than One Big Lie dives deep not just on the fact of the lie, but on the fine belief structures and their dynamics. I thought it was fascinating.
Speaking of good deep-dives from 538, here are two more: Democrats Helped Build The Social Safety Net. Why Are Many Now Against Expanding It? and Why Democrats Keep Losing Culture Wars. Both useful examinations of extremely puzzling evidence.
These days, when you think of Big Lies, you also think of cryptocurrencies and NFTs and so on. Now here’s a treat: Yanis Varoufakis on Crypto & the Left, and Techno-Feudalism. Varoufakis is one of the world’s really interesting people, and very economically literate. In this interview, he explains why, even if the “crypto” technology was good (it isn’t) and even if the people pushing it had integrity (they don’t), the whole thing doesn’t make in the context of the current landscape of egregious inequality and class war.
I think the whole crypto/NFT scene is nauseating. But it’s not the worst problem we have with online culture. That would the torrent of abusiveness directed at various out-groups, in particular women. Let’s turn the mike over to Aubrey Hirsch’s That’s How It Works When You’re a Woman on the Internet. I suspect most readers here know about the bad stuff that’s happening out there, but let’s never forget it or wave it aside or stop looking for ways to bring to a fucking halt already. Humanity can be better than this.
As I type the words you are now reading, I am engaging in Internet-mediated authoring. Which is still in its infancy and we don’t understand it very well. I think the subject is fascinating and enjoyed the hell out of Andrey Mir’s Social Media Emancipated Authors, But To What End? It includes a taxonomy of “Types of Internet Authors” and I bet anyone reading this would identify with one or more types: Flickering Author, Silent Author, Interjectional Author, Commenting Author, Emitting Author, Principal Author.
But publishing, like most things, is all about money. Brian Morrissey, in The rich niche, discovers that most of the innovative-looking new media projects have something in common: They’re seeking an audience that is described as “sophisticated”, “literate”, “insider” and various other euphemisms for “has lots of money”. Interesting, and with ideas on alternatives too.
Please bear in mind that I’m a geek by profession and taste, and if you’re not, please skip to the next paragraph. Marc Brooker, one of the Really Smart people over at AWS, has been lighting things up over at his blog; consider Will circuit breakers solve my problems?, Software Deployment, Speed, and Safety, and DynamoDB's Best Feature: Predictability. All recommended! I also enjoyed Evan Martin’s Rethinking errors, warnings, and lints, which addresses the question “should you block dev builds on compiler warnings?” and offers a good answer. Finally, for those who want a really deep dive, let me recommend Russ Cox’s excellent piece from 2007: Regular Expression Matching Can Be Simple And Fast (but is slow in Java, Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, ...) This remains my single favorite piece of exposition around a core piece of both theoretical Computer Science and practical Software Engineering.
Let’s end up on a note of reassurance. Have you been having trouble understanding the dialogue in the movies and serials that you watch? Think it might be because you’re getting old? Well, it might be, but it also turns out that there really truly is an epidemic of lousy, inaudible dialogue. I was overjoyed when I read Here's Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult To Understand (And Three Ways To Fix It); I’m pretty old but I thought my hearing was still good, and maybe I’m right. In fact, this has become such a common piece of conventional wisdom that the New Yorker has a cartoon series: Things Easier to Hear Than Movie Dialogue. Example: “Worm fart”. We can all use a smile.