On the one hand, A Quite Possibly Wonderful Summer ahead. On the other, which news outlet can most beautifully visualise 500,000 dead? Will we all meet in a bar again soon? Perhaps we can simulate it. Or perhaps we can turn to look for the slightly more academic research to prove that “missing my friends and family to the crazed extent that I do is not, after all, a sign of incipient madness.”
A few weeks back, I was talking to one such friend that I miss who works at the border between Sudan and Ethiopia. She’s always good at putting things in perspective. She told me how much things were escalating there, in her small town. She sent me pictures over WhatsApp of families rushing across the river, their soaked clothes drying on the shore. I’d barely been paying attention, what with everything else going on, though the reports of crimes against humanity as they now emerge through Amnesty and elsewhere are just horrifying on every level. We both talked about how we should do more online courses to keep our brains active.
Maybe I just need one of these ubiquitous lurid blankets with no name. You see them everywhere you go, pull them up around you for reassurance, however far from home you are, and you never stop to think, why are these things everywhere? Life is full of these inexplicable icons of the supply chain that somehow become a cherished cultural marker wherever they land. Not all of them, though, can deliver “not only an impossibly warm, soft hug but a great sense of belonging.”
I wish you both of those things this week.
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You told us the movies in your head
Thanks to reader Rachel for our favourite entry into our groundbreaking “tell us the movie in your head when you listen to the new John Carpenter album” contest. We’re going to keep it open just for fun, so feel free to join in. Rachel really should sell the rights to this one, possibly to the Scooby Eats guy?
“Futuristic dark sci-fi detective film, some sort of fancy looking vehicle speeding through night-time city streets towards a brightly lit complex of SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY! Everything is a Scooby Doo cross-over in my heart, so this has to be too. The fancy looking vehicle turns out to be the Mystery Inc van of the future! The gang have been called in to consult by Det. Columbo (the original Columbo's grand-niece, inspired by her great-uncle to do her bit to make sure that the uber-wealthy and upper class of the city don't get away with murder!) - there are SPOOKY goings on, and someone is attempting to sabotage the cheap, clean and safe energy generators that are being developed! One of the main engineers has been MURDERED and some claim it was GHOSTS!”
Friend of Buckslip Julia Huang, of the agency Intertrend, launched a #StopAsianHate campaign this weekend in the American metro papers and on billboards. She’s linked to a series of resources if you’re looking to help.
An immersive and unsettling—and perhaps too overengineered to allow whatever it’s trying to say to be clear to users trying to listen—experience, Feral Atlas maps “the ecological worlds created when nonhuman entities become tangled up with human infrastructure projects” in bleak but beautifully rendered detail. (We’re not sure if it’s a joke or the point that almost everything we click on seems to wind up at “empire” eventually.) Kind of an unwieldy digital companion to Elizabeth Kolbert’s excellent new book on misguided human intervention in planetary matters in an endless search for“balance”, Under a White Sky.
Related: Kate Morgan in Sierra on efforts to revive the American chestnut in the derelict former mines of Pennsylvania coal country, perhaps one day turning them into forests of the long-gone giants. And for Places, scientist Andrew Hipp uses lockdown isolation to look deeply, through millions of years, at a tiny patch of preserved forest in the Chicago suburbs, telling a humble story of “the origin and extinction of forest tree species, department-store fortunes, civic pride and self-interest, glacial recessions, colonial expansion, international shipping routes, viruses, and kids in a pandemic summer, dirt-biking and building forts from the bark of downed ash trees.”
We were sad when the excellent magazine The Outpost, a beautiful Beirut-based “magazine of possibilities”, just kinda stopped publishing after seven issues a few years back. We’re not unfamiliar with much-loved indie magazines that just kinda stop publishing, so we get it, but still, this gave us some joy: a really lovely and straightforward archive of all content from its brief time here on earth. Though the magazine was a visual feast, this text-only remnant of it still is a perfectly fitting delight.
Other beautiful “magazine” project we love—Isolarii, a subscription-based series of tiny “island books”, a revival of a concept “that flourished in the experimental and tolerant climate of the Renaissance but has now slipped out of our grasp” for intra- and post-pandemic times. What this means in practice is very pretty, very small, and very geographically diverse thematic little pocket books! Cute! With online “forewords” such as this soundtrack to the latest—a micro-collection of shorts by the Chinese writer Can Xue—by Warren Ellis (the musician, not the other one, who, let’s not talk about that right now.)
Keeping on the theme—first, we read this loving Nathan Heller New Yorker feature on the once and future meaning of magazines. Then we read that Q, the first magazine that we (Patrick, anyway) avidly collected—and yes we know that’s not very cool—is now a Substack instead of a magazine. And reader, this made sense. But look, much as we loved Q once, maybe we can leave that kind of music magazine in the past? If your inbox has room for a good music Substack, perhaps we can recommend instead Gary Suarez’s Cabbages, or Lars Gotrich’s Viking’s Choice?
“[Y]ou cannot say you have not been told, and not just here, but by The Guardian and other publications and outlets who have been reporting on this from the start a decade ago. World Cup ’22 is the threshold sporting event of this generation, and we are now nearly at the front step—a massive bronze door of great weight and beauty, with a fresco of bloody handprints all over it.”
“The problems that I write about are problems that we can do something about.” This very good hour-long NPR radio doc is an excellent appreciation of work Octavia Butler was doing in her books to provide not just a warning but a toolkit for imagining other ways of being. Pair with this incredible 1995 conversation between Julie Dash and Butler that we’ve probably linked to before, but whatever, it’s always worth going back to.
“Silicon Valley, where I’ve spent a significant part of my career so far, is a place where the stories of past futures and their technologies are made and remade, and where many pieces of those pasts are erased or rewritten or just forgotten; where stories of the future are told all the time. Now, we need to make a different kind of story about the future. One that focuses not just on the technologies, but on the systems in which these technologies will reside. The opportunity to focus on a future that holds those systems – and also on a way of approaching them in the present – feels both immense and acute. And the ways we might need to disrupt the present feel especially important in this moment of liminality, disorientation and profound unease, socially and ecologically. In a present where the links towards the future seem to have been derailed from the tracks we’ve laid in past decades, there is an opportunity to reform.”
Genevieve Bell on the cybernetic pre-history of AI in the Griffith Review, but moreso on the systems beneath that story,“as a set of conversations in which we are all implicated” which “encompass everything from the electrical grid and railway lines to mine sites, lift shafts and food supply chains.” We’ve just started reading Keller Easterling’s new“Medium Design: Knowing How to Work on the World”, which is also largely about those systems and how to work on them, and as yet have only raw-formed thoughts, but we feel like they’re going to linger. Here’s her in conversation with Ingrid Burrington, who’s smarter than us about this stuff anyway.
Systemic transformation at work: Andrew Zaleski at Grist, on what’s motivating Big Meat’s big investments in Big Plant-Based Patty.
Kofie Yeboah on Fan Controlled Football, the official sport of the hyperreal.
Meanwhile, in the official art gallery of the hyperreal, Beeple! Non fungible tokens! Should we have an opinion on this? Do we have to? Probably not, but Rob Horning’s are worth spending some time with.
“An entirely new product in the ‘market of living together’.” Buckslip’s ongoing Seasteader makes landfall at last in Brazil, where the Free Private Cities foundation is having some fun with charter cities.
Tech, class, cynicism, and pandemic real estate: eviction streamlining platforms, biometric surveillance, and all the latest in COVID “proptech”. Who are the modern versions of Superstudio out there now pushing back against all of this?
Ok but also we can just have some architecture fun? Sure! Let’s linger for just a moment on Wayne Thom’s beautiful images of the buildings of 1970s Los Angeles before we press on.
“This goey, brainless blob can store memories.” (We’re talking slime molds not Ted Cruz.)
We haven’t yet said anything about the CIA rebrand as Mutek collab, because what can we really learn from it other than further knowledge of how fucking weird everything is right now? But this Bloomberg column on the whole weird episode by Ben Schott is actually really good, taking as its central edict that if John le Carré (or the very trustworthy Bill Haydon, to be specific) was right that “secret services were the only real measure of a nation’s political health, the only real expression of its subconscious”, we probably should try to figure this one out. This line gets to the heart of it: "A better-branded approach to spying may also be catalyzed by the ‘industrial scale’ of cyber-espionage aimed at individuals unaware of their intelligence potential.”
What was America’s subconscious expressing when selfsame CIA recruited a bunch of high-altitude climbers to lug a 125-pound, nuclear-powered observation device to the top of one of the tallest peaks in the Himalayas?
We were going to make this mostly a Patricia Lockwood-free issue for the first time in a while, but we couldn’t not link to this excellent interview with her by Joanna McNeil, another of our favourites, particularly after we found out in McNeil’s Substack that they conducted part of said interview in an abandoned Usenet Lost in Space fangroup.
“Alongside streamers selling plums by the thousands, and others telling viewers what long-haul trucker life is like, drivers show off their tiny cars. Su Hua, Kuaishou’s founder, has long maintained that his app’s users are not “cool,” unlike those on Douyin, the TikTok predecessor popular with China’s urban elite. Rather, they are ordinary—the kind of people who might be in the market for miniature cars.” Rest of World has become one of our more reliable reading sources of late, and this feature by Lavender Au on the popularity of tiny, off-brand electric cars in the Chinese market is a perfect example of why. (As is this piece on why a random image of a particular purple daisy accounts for 20% of the hits to the Wikimedia Foundation’s image server.)
So far, we’ve largely avoided Clubhouse because of an impression, justified or not, that the conversations there might be mostly of the sort we have no interest in listening in on. But Zeynep Tufekci, who is pretty much never wrong about anything, is going some way towards convincing us otherwise, with judicious use of Walter Ong just to make sure we pay attention. We’re mistaking the early users of the platform, she says, for something bigger that’s going on under the hood that will reveal itself more clearly over time, as it did with Twitter: "Oral psychodynamics have broken through at scale, and we are trying to manage them with institutions that operate solely through and within print/written culture. And that cannot, will not, hold without adjustment.”
Since we last spoke, a whole thing went down with Facebook in Australia, where many of our readers reside. It was deeply weird to see years of content from outlets we used to work and write for, radio stations even, suddenly disappear entirely. All history, gone with a Zuck finger snap. Corey J White in the Nothing Here email, which has a good roundup of the whole thing with further readings, just about sums up our thoughts about what it might all mean in the end: “I see two possibilities—Australians will leave FB in droves, or it will once again become a place where you keep up with the lives of your family and friends, instead of finding out exactly who is bigoted/misinformed in what ways based on their posts. Either way I see it as a net win.” Cory Doctorow has a bunch to say as well.
For any of you who use Chrome and were devastated by Google’s removal of tab manager The Great Suspender from its store due to malware—as one Buckslipper was—behold! Its carbon copy: The Marvellous Suspender.
From the department of big impossible dreams we like the sound of: Liz Pelly, in Real Life, arguing for the socialization of music streaming platforms, and laying out a model for what that might actually look like.
In our conspiratorial department this week, Undark on the history of the anti-cult movement vs the actual science of brainwashing and mental control. “Mercier argues that the brainwashing model often gets the process backward: Rather than tricking people into harmful thinking, effective propaganda — or even pure misinformation — gives them permission to openly express ideas they already found appealing.”
Unspool from that into Ruth Graham in the Times, on the many very certain prophets of late who have struggled to eat crow, and then onwards into this piece about by Corinne Purtill at OneZero about people who believe they have special extrasensory or superpowers, and the skeptics who would call their bluff. This one is sort of fun on the surface, but lands right back there in that selfsame place. “Believing in things that aren’t true has become a national, if not global, emergency. We’re all stuck in a version of the Paranormal Challenge, one with much higher stakes than prize money.” Don’t miss the comments on this one.
And here’s a wild student project from Milan, digging into the visual language of conspiracy across the posts of influencer moms on Instagram, weird conspiracy merch on Etsy, stickers on RedBubble and through characters on 4chan. Dank research.
“Scissor labels are only scissor labels as long as something is at stake. When their definitions fade in importance, scissor labels become categorical terms like any other, but with a cheap feeling left behind that makes it hard to take them seriously. […] Scissor labels pop up when something exciting has emerged organically, recognized by everyone who sees it. Though much else may be at stake as a result of its popularity, a scissor label most often has its origin in something honest, artistic, and interesting.”
John Palmer on the “scissor label”—“a word or phrase that, for the first time, establishes a widely embraced name for a trend without simultaneously establishing a canonical definition.” Think, y’know, normcore, vaporwave, hipster. Or, in the detailed case of this essay, “Hyperpop”. (Mental note for later: find out what’s going on with the weird-ass token micropayment monetization on this site. Are we investing in $ESSAYS now?)
“Popular digital audio workstations like Ableton, FL Studio, Logic, and Cubase were built primarily to facilitate music-making in a Western mode, according to the principles of European classical music. If an artist wants to compose with the common features of music from Africa, Asia, or Latin America, they have to fight against the software and rely on complex workarounds.” Decolonizing music software at the level of microtonality, with a couple of great new web-based tools built around the basic truth that the majority of the world’s music doesn’t fit into the Western tuning systems production software demands.
“There is a bittersweetness in understanding that the appeal of Strom's music grew in part from her isolated circumstances. At times it feels uniquely utopian, carrying the possibility that machines can facilitate the creation of wondrous new worlds and transcend the limitations of the body.” Our soundtrack this week, a tragically posthumous release from Pauline Anna Strom, more than 30 years since her last.