Posts tagged the_long_depression

Twenty sixteen ramblings

It took me forever just to write this short sentence about 2016, such a year it was. Surely it wasn’t the worst year in human history, as many hyperbolic posts on social media would have me believe, but it wasn’t just a fine year in which, by coincidence, too many esteemed celebrities died. For 2016 was a year of horrible politics, the kind of hair-raising, chilling politics one thought was in the fringe; remote ideas unable to overcome a common sense shared by a large majority. Brexit and the election of Donald trumped whatever confidence one could have that our neighbors in Western Civilization (if such a thing ever existed) wouldn’t send the Gestapo on us just because.

One can try to frame those bad things that happened in 2016 as dark jokes, as Charlie Brooker does so eloquently in his 2016 Wipe end of year rant, but there is no entertainment to be had.

2016 shattered the belief, even in a faraway corner such as Portugal, that the nicest people one knew wouldn’t become racist, classist, sexist trolls once they opened Twitter or Facebook or a newspaper’s website. I really started to question the benefits of hyper-connectedness, much before I even heard a friend, hooked on confirmation bias, state that vigilance against ‘fake news’ is all about censoring the 'real news’ fake news sites provide. To which I say, it’s all real for all I care, because real or fake, local or international, it’s all horrible. The comments do feel real and make me wonder: should I drop dead because I’m from Southern Europe in a country where they have a Socialist government? Should I drop dead because I’m in academia? Am I an insect, a leech, because I was for a couple of months on benefits before being a public servant with a meager paycheck and a temporary contract? 

In 2016 it often felt as if harassment was being legitimized, then vindicated by politics. And as a cis-hetero white male, what to do? Speaking out with the best intentions is often framed as illegitimate _splaining, a ridiculous way to frame things in a year in which we found out arguments don’t matter, much less the writer. I’ll just leave this here:

Judging people whose lives and actions you don’t know anything about is wrong.

(Except in traffic. Tailgating assholes deserve judgement.)

In Portugal in 2011 we had a very nasty election in which the prevailing right-wing turned old against new, public workers against private workers, rich against poor. Our current government is, against all odds, managing to heal these divides bit by bit, against all the fanaticism of a media thirsty for some kind of war. However in 2016 all those rifts exploded everywhere, across every single line that could become contentious — race, nationality, gender, sex, religion. That Dark Enlightenment which openly articulates a desire to go back to absolutism, as recently as a couple of years ago was just a lunatic twinkle in some solipsists’ eye (long live King Thiel I). Then comes 2016 and it seems to have become public policy from the United States to Brazil, from Hungary to Russia, from Turkey to the Philippines. Can we trust each other? It’s as if while our societies were made deeply afraid of the Islamic State, our own next door neighbors became as radicalized, only about things other than religion, and mercifully still only wielding tweets and votes rather than explosives.

Is this social media’s endgame? Filter bubbles and confirmation biases so heavy they implode into black holes of hatred?

Is that why we haven’t found alien civilizations? They go extinct because they invented nuclear weapons, poison their climates, and then invent Facebook? That which extra-dimensional archaeologists call the Technological Sandwich of Doom? 

Then fuck social media.

Fuck it. Fill social networks with bots and IFTTT recipes, feed Facebook and Twitter back to themselves until they too implode in a blackhole of bullshit that vacuums all the fake news, along with a few media conglomerates just for safety.

Ahem.

Progress?

Hence the despair, often feigned, but often real, at the deaths of beloved celebrities like David Bowie, Prince, or Carrie Fisher. Those were artists and performers of The Future, therefore a literally dying Future, crashing our old but reassuring collective belief in a Whig sense of Progress. Without Bowie or Prince, who or what stands for A Better Future?

Vaporwave? C'mon.


So it was bit weird to be living in Portugal while 2016 happened. Internal politics were the opposite of whatever happened in international news: in 2016 we had a Socialist government supported by Communists and Trotskiites in parliament and by a hyperactive right-wing President (and former TV personality!) who has so far been doing the utmost to be decent and respectful of differences. Such good karma visited Portugal that its football national team even won the Euro, in the bestest! imaginable victory (winning < against France < in France < without Ronaldo < with a goal scored by Éder, who has the footballing ability of Ronaldo’s right kidney).

Not that everything was rosy. Job precarity remains the norm, salaries remain miserable for the bottom 90%, and the government’s left-wing peers are still focused on employment rather than what comes next. Porto is being Disneyfied and Disrupted beyond recognition by an unholy alliance of AirBnB, speculators local and foreign, and, again, a local citizenry more than happy in screwing over their neighbors whenever the time comes to renew a lease, or to price the food in their artisanal gourmet tapas bar restaurant bistro. But hey, at least we’ve got a brand new city centre which the tourists and the petty bourgeois can enjoy mostly free of locals, as the city lost 10% of its inhabitants in just these last four vigorous years. That an untold number of businesses in the periphery had to close is something almost nobody notices. 

Yay for growth!

May the tourists never cease touring the brand new hotels standing on the ruins of our heritage. Nobody can make a living here, but those TripAdvisor rankings are unmatched.

If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than any one else, or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success.

G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered (1915), as quoted by Jason Kottke.

Kottke is right to point out Chesterton wrote the last time social class inequality was as high as it is today. Like then, nowadays there’s a flood of literature about Attaining Success (a.k.a. Entrepreneurship), books but also blogs, podcasts both daily and weekly in audio and video formats, along with the acompanying conferences, workshops, incubators, seminars, meetings, camps, reality television and the odd TED talk, in both ‘real TED’ and totally unaccountable (eg. TEDx) versions. The artistic-minded can also expect a similar plethora of writings and speeches about Creativity. Success does seem to belong to the quacks writing about it, most of whom aren’t as articulate as a Malcolm Gladwell and provide nothing better than garden-variety homeopathy evangelists.

At any rate, literature about Success (and Creativity) does provide one with a good heuristic on spotting a phony. Just look at his or hers’ bookshelf or browsing/sharing preferences. As Chesterton points out, a lack of ‘technical’ literature (on the game of whist, on design, on computer programming, on writing, &etc.) is the mark of the mediocre.

“Occupy Es.col.a — You Can’t Evict an Idea” by Gui Castro Felga.

Today is a bad day to be a citizen of Porto. Heavily armed police forces forcefully evicted Es.col.a (‘School’), a previously abandoned and derelict midtown elementary school that for the last year has been successfully occupied and served as an impromptu community center for the Fontinha neighbourhood, in an old and impoverished part of Porto. Truth be told, I only visited once, and ended up spending a pleasant afternoon in the schoolyard, helping with the sorting and testing of old computers that had been donated, so that a public computer center could be set up. I did enjoy thinking such a thing could exist and work out.

City officials, of course, always maintained such an occupation was illegal, even going as far as making the absurd claim the school was “private City property”. In fact, the legality of the occupation is highly contentious, as it is public property (so it’s not the same as occupying one’s house, at all), and what’s intolerable is City Hall’s claim, which is, in my humble opinion, such a serious misinterpretation of what ‘City property’ means that it should be grounds for immediate resignation (if our beancounter of a president Rui Rio and their lot had any shame, that is). The truth is, City Hall — for eleven years in the hands of right-wing conservatives — just can’t allow a successful community occupation to exist. They just couldn’t handle the recent good press about Es.col.a, as the whole concept of communities making stuff is against the Coalition’s political dogma. They’ll rather leave the School unoccupied and falling to pieces for decades — something certainy speeded up by today’s wanton destruction perpertrated by the police and city firemen (a flourish of Farenheit 451 WTF-ness). Or perhaps they’ll open it once a year, allowing Time Out Magazine or some other brand to throw a lavish party there without having to clean up afterwards — and for that, there will be talk of ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepeneurship’, the same vocabulary so throughly denied whenever poorer people are in charge.

In a decent democracy, City Hall, Police and Fire Brigade officials would resign or be impeached because of their willing destruction of public property. In a liberal kleptocracy, empoverished people who see their safety nets sacrificed every day in the altars of Free Market just try to set themselves on fire.

More updates here.

Misc. links Feb 16th - Apr 4th

The Rise of the Privileged Poor. It’s easy to dismiss some guy on TV complaining about being poor because he lives on a PhD grant as a pretentious, insensitive ignoramus (the powers know well who to pick to be on the news). Still, one can’t ignore the mental, emotional toll of perceived poverty — people get sick, shy away from relationships, postpone raising a family, in a word: people are hurting. Some should mind their complaints and how they might come across to others (there are certainly some to whom the ‘privileged poor’ sound as monstrous as the ultra-rich complaining about infinitesimal amounts of tax), but that doesn’t mean many complaints are any less real or legitimate. Those who tell the poor (either the ‘privileged’ with their Media Studies degrees, or the proletarian with family histories of unemployment and industrial decay) that they did this to themselves via lack of willpower and poor life choices (eg. ‘following their dreams’) are either deluded into thinking they actually achieved something for themselves alone, or are mechanized monsters who fail to appreciate their luck.

Peter Norvig on learning to program — in ten years. Expertise takes time, which is why it is unfortunate that time to develop expertise is so thoroughly unprotected in academia here (the mission of which should be precisely the opposite), as grad students often must go from zero to SWOT analyses and business plans in a semester. Everybody wants geniuses, nobody wants to ‘grow’ them, and then they’ll blame you for not being one (see above).

A transcript of a talk in which Clay Shirky explains why groups are their own worst enemies. Worth a read as Shirky deftly demonstrates groups can’t survive long without a set of regulations and moderation.

A Slate article about the sudden internet-disappearance of the programmer just known as _why. After the article mentions _why’s handle might be an Ayn Rand reference, it’s tempting to speculate his exile was an attempt to act the libertarian fantasy of letting the world going to hell after the ‘geniuses’ leave (or a critique thereof, I’d rather think). The results couldn’t have been more endearing, though: the Ruby developers’ community is fine, and _why’s multiple projects have been restored, debugged and made better. (Despite only having a very rudimentary knowledge of Ruby, I’ve recommended _why’s whimsical work here in the past, eg. Shoes, which seems like a good and fun GUI toolkit to dive into).

David Bordwell on ‘Pandora’s digital box’ and the sobering reality of digital preservation.

Much Ado About Nothing: Why Barry Levinson’s Diner might be one of the most influential movies in film history.

London’s Overthrow by China Miéville. A sprawling essay about the London zeitgeist, and the ongoing apocalypse of its citizens not being able to afford it. Parts of the essay can surely be applied to other cities.

High-definition video files of stock 35mm footage. Might come very handy for some projects.

The Mixtape Lost at Antikythera. Another incredible crypto-historical mixtape + essay by Rob Beschizza. (Previously.)

What is Love? A debate between Wikipedia and Haddaway.

Misc. links Dec 13th - 31st

Metafilter’s Year in Writing has given me much to read in the past and coming weeks…

Our Unpaid, Shadow Work: you know that last time you bought a ticket online? Or yesterday when you filled your car with gasoline yourself? Or when you went to the supermarket and scanned your own groceries’ barcodes? You are doing someone else’s job, for free. Sure, you get cheaper tickets, gasoline or groceries because of that (do you really?), but that’s no way to run a proper economy.

Makimizing shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world. This is a headline on Forbes!, not The Communist Workers’ Union Monthly or something like that.

Two interesting articles about fighting cognitive biases and other kinds of self-delusion: Steven Pinker would ban the idealization of the past if he happened to rule the world, while Freeman Dyson reviews Daniel Kahneman’s statistical approach to psychology.

Umberto Eco’s guide to identifying fascists, written in 1995, makes the future look rather bleak.

Roger Ebert tells us why movie revenue is falling. I’d say what’s surprising is that movie revenue is holding so well, at least here in Portugal. Mini-rant: Even though I’m rather able to concentrate when I go to the movies and cope rather well with other patrons’ poor civics, I find it anoying that going to the movies means quite often driving to a shopping mall in the suburbs, eating overpriced mall food, standing in line for too long to buy tickets, etecetra, the alternative being a couple of inner-city theatres that offer nothing else but waiting out in the cold, or an extremely overpriced and unconfortable bar. Please make the theatres places where people would actually enjoy hanging out, else they’ll be downloading movies off the internet and watching them at home — not because it’s cheaper but because it is better.

Peyton’s Place: An interesting essay about what it’s like to lend one’s house to a TV series’ production. It didn’t go well.

KidsRuby seems like an interesting tool to teach programming. And not just to kids. Similar tools using Ruby (which, from my very shallow knowledge of it, really seems the general-purpose language with the simplest syntax) include Hackety Hack and the very cool Shoes.

Aaron Koblin’s The Single Lane Super Highway. I felt like twelve again, drawing badly pimped-out cars.