Links Retrospective, March – April 2020

Links Retrospective is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month time-frame. The intent is for there to be a few weeks of “lag” time between when I first read the articles and when I curate this collection, so that my selection isn’t biased by ongoing hype or sensationalism.
 
The articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the two months. Of ~200 articles that I liked enough to bookmark during this period, I shortlisted 15, and now here are my top 5 picks for March and April, 2020 in no particular order:
 
Hyperobjects and the End of Common Sense – Timothy Morton, 2010
We have created things that we can hardly understand, let alone control, let alone make sensible political decisions about. Sometimes it’s good to have new words for these things, to remind you of how mind-blowing they are. So I’m going to introduce a new term: hyperobjects. Hyperobjects are phenomena such as radioactive materials and global warming. Hyperobjects stretch our ideas of time and space, since they far outlast most human time scales, or they’re massively distributed in terrestrial space and so are unavailable to immediate experience.
 
I think that this could be a really useful term. Go take a look at the plutonium, really look. Because I felt a new emotion when I did.
Reiki Can’t Possibly Work. So Why does it? – Jordan Kisner, 2020
To note that touch-based healing therapies, including Reiki, simulate the most archetypal care gestures is hardly a revelation. Several scientists I interviewed about their work on Reiki mentioned the way their mother would lay a hand on their head when they had a fever or kiss a scraped knee and make the pain go away. It is not hard to imagine that a hospital patient awaiting surgery or chemotherapy might feel relieved, in that hectic and stressful setting, to have someone place a hand gently and unhurriedly where the hurt or fear is with the intention of alleviating any suffering.
 
I’m generally very, very anti-woo. But honestly, this doesn’t even feel like woo. This just seems like a pretty reasonable thing for humans to respond to.
Zeroth Person Writing – Tumblr thread, 2020
Anyways, what I’m trying to talk about here is: there’s this thing that… I guess philosophers talk about sometimes which is, how certain kinds of information can’t really be transmitted via just, text, in the generalized sense (like, not necessarily writing, also images, sound, etc) and the point is usually that like, those are the things that you Just Have To Go Through. And math has a specific construct which, in effect, lives kind of in the middle of that gap.
 
Exercises.
 
No solutions are ever given, though; the strictures of the genre are strong enough that when you find a solution, you’ll know it, and the author can just give you the challenge and expect you not to fuck it up.
 
A delightful but rambly discussion thread that goes in many directions.
 
I Don’t Know What These Food Videos Are, But I Can’t Stop Watching Them – Scaachi Koul, 2020

Chefclub recipes are pure id — an expression of the most primal desires of someone who enjoys food, taken to an extreme no one asked for. Bread good, cheese good, meat good. Me like big food tower. Me like when cheese go in bread hole. If you were to claim that none of Chefclub’s videos are enticing to you, you would absolutely be lying. Imagine you went to a party — do you remember what it’s like to be at a party? — and saw the host made finger sandwiches in the shape of flip-flops. You’re telling me you’re not going to eat one? You’re telling me you’re not going to eat eight?? And that for the rest of your life, you wouldn’t tell everyone you know about the insane foot-themed party where you ate shoe sandwiches??? Come on, bro, grow up.

Can’t wait until quar is lifted and I can host a garden party and serve finger sandwiches in the shape of flip flops B’)

The Asshole Filter – Siderea, 2015

When you set up a situation in which other people’s choices are between, on the one hand, respecting your espoused wishes and being significantly disadvantaged, and, on the other hand, transgressing against your wishes to be effective, you have essentially posed a test that discriminates against those who are less willing to transgress against your espoused wishes: an asshole filter.

If you tell people “the only way to contact me is to break a rule” you will only be contacted by rule-breakers.

Another very useful concept.

Links Retrospective, January – February 2020

So, I read a lot of stuff. Links Retrospective is a bi-monthly post on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month period. The intent is for there to be a few weeks of “lag” time between when I first read the articles and when I curate this collection, so that my selection isn’t biased by ongoing hype or sensationalism. The articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the two months. Here are my picks for January and February, 2020:

When “Life Hacking” is Really White Privilege – jendziura, 2013

Skipping ahead of people in line, even when invited to do so, is better referred to as “being an asshole.” And obliviousness to your own privilege is no excuse. If you’re absorbed in your phone and not really sure if you’re rightfully next in line, it’s your job to look around and say, “I’m sorry, were you here before me?”

When you are an affluent-seeming white man and you ask for things that don’t belong to you, sometimes you’re not really asking. It’s sort like Bill Clinton asking Monica Lewinsky to have sex with him. There’s a context behind the asking.

When you ask a serviceperson for something that doesn’t belong to you, there is often a subtext of, “If I complain to your manager, you know your manager is going to listen to me. Just look at me, and look at you.”

If you seem to be “getting everything you want,” you should probably examine whether you’re getting it at someone’s expense, or whether you’re just constantly, in small ways, making the world worse.

This is an interesting and well done piece from a bygone era of SJW blogging, when people were a lot more high-key about pointing out white privilege. I don’t really miss that era because I feel like most content put out then were unnecessarily inflammatory, but occasionally there would be an article like this one, that does a nice and tight analysis within the framework.

Pairs nicely with Siderea’s article on the Asshole Filter (check the “readability” box on the top right corner) from 2015, which has another perspective on the issue of assholery.

h/t Evan for putting it on my dash!

When the Hero is the Problem – Rebecca Solnit, 2019

In a farming valley on the Laxa River in northern Iceland in August 25, 1970, community members blew up a dam to protect farmland from being flooded. After the dam was dynamited, more than a hundred farmers claimed credit (or responsibility). There were no arrests, and there was no dam, and there were some very positive consequences, including protection of the immediate region and new Icelandic environmental regulations and awareness. It’s almost the only story I know of environmental sabotage having a significant impact, and it may be because it expressed the will of the many, not the few.

We are not very good at telling stories about a hundred people doing things or considering that the qualities that matter in saving a valley or changing the world are mostly not physical courage and violent clashes but the ability to coordinate and inspire and connect with lots of other people and create stories about what could be and how we get there.

Our largest problems won’t be solved by heroes. They’ll be solved, if they are, by movements, coalitions, civil society. The climate movement, for example, has been first of all a mass effort, and if figures like Bill McKibben stand out—well he stands out as the cofounder of a global climate action group whose network is in 188 countries and the guy who keeps saying versions of “The most effective thing you can do about climate as an individual is stop being an individual.”

Down with the cult of the individual, up with collective action.

Amy Discovers Jo’s AO3 Handle and Drags Her in the March Family Group Chat – Peyton, 2020

Beth: did she literally write sherlock holmes fanfiction about the time i got pneumonia and almost died

A piece of fiction. There’s getting fandom culture, and then there’s being able to capture the exact mixture of humiliation and nostalgia from unearthing your old Homestuck fanfiction from 2014 in the year of our lord 2020.

I absolutely love everything about this, but this is in large part because I’ve been heavily involved in fandom for over half my life at this point.

Do You Even Bake, Bro? – Dayna Evans, 2018

Bread requires little and it has existed in some form for thousands of years, relatively unchanged, because it’s simple to make and it feeds you. But if you were to scroll through Instagram, or watch recent YouTube tutorials, or read the libraries of blogs and self-published e-books, you might come away thinking that making bread was more challenging than performing brain surgery. That’s because bread-baking in America has, of late, found a friend in the unlikeliest of people: engineers, technologists, and the Silicon Valley-centric and adjacent. The image of a folksy baker laboring from muscle memory over her humble daily loaf, this is not.

Bread is back. And it’s being disrupted.

Man, I just relate to the author of this piece so much.

Like, all my friends are tech nerds, and I’ve dated one for five years. I just have a major soft spot for these adorable weirdos who feel a compulsion to debug and optimize every part of their existence. And I think she probably can relate to that because she’s married to one of these weirdos as well.

And also like Evans, at the same time I’m super frustrated with the, I guess, insularity that they exhibit whenever they find a new hobby to disrupt.

On one hand, it’s like, this is why representation is important, you know? When you see someone in a novel field that’s like you, it makes the field more approachable to you. This is why we want more women in politics, and people of colour in academia, and queer folk in board rooms etc etc etc.

When these nerds discovered bakers that spoke their language of debugging and standardization, it’s natural that it’s those (overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male) bakers that the tech bros gravitate towards.

Again, this is the same phenomenon that we want, for more “underrepresented” groups, in more important fields. So being like, “ugh, these techies, so cliquey,” (to be clear this is not a thing that Evans says, I’m just saying like, in general) seems pretty disingenuous? Humans are cliquey, we like people who are like us. As the Gen Zs say, it’s not that deep, bro.

But on the other hand, the techies have a fair bit of cultural capital, and the end result is that, once again, the dudes in a female-dominated field are the ones that are spotlit, and any knowledge that hasn’t been formalized is belittled, putting them at a higher risk of being lost.

So like, wow, both those hands are pretty crap. The last thing that I think we need is people becoming intimidated by something as simple as baking bread.

We already have corporations telling us that doing everyday things like cooking and mending clothes and any other form of self-sufficiency is too hard and that you are right to be intimidated by it. Telling us that you should shell out money to let the professionals handle it instead, and continue being completely dependent on our incredibly fragile current system.

But then again, how can I say no to scientific inquiry and better troubleshooting when one of your loaves inevitably fails in some way? Trying to advance the field, and make the network of bakers stronger to facilitate better knowledge transfer, are both good and admirable goals.

For my part, I just try to push back against the narrative and tell my friends that, no, really, baking bread is pretty easy. I’m sending everyone who expresses even VAGUE interest the simple and entertaining recipe that inspired me to bake my first loaf. And once they bake bread for themselves, it’s a lot harder to believe that baking bread is as hard as brain surgery.

How to Draw a Horse – Emma Hunsinger, 2019

To learn to draw horses, you can’t just want to draw them; you must NEED to draw them.

A comic about middle school and doodling in class.

Links Retrospective – Rest of 2019

It’s weird how school terms seem pretty ok when you’re in them but then when they’re done you’re like “wow, that sure was, a brickload of stress I was under, I had no time to do anything!” You think I’d be used to it after like 4 years.

Anyways, now that I have dealt with both exams and a case of what was likely bronchitis that my friend had thoughtfully gifted me from all the way across the pond, I’m finally ready to finish what I started. So here are the some of the most interesting things from the internet that I’ve read in the latter half of 2019.

As a reminder, the articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the months in question. 

August

The Anglosphere Has Always Had Three Genders (Archive)
Death is Bad Blog, 2019

I see almost everyone on both sides acting as if traditional American society has only two genders, and I don’t think this is right. It’s at least half-wrong, anyway. Because since its inception, American society has always had a third gender option for women, and I think this is true for all anglophone cultures for several centuries now. I speak, of course, of the tomboy.

I think this is an interesting theory, and honestly based on the feminist theory I’ve read it seems like it could be valid. But my own, lived experience as a tomboy is messier. My tomboyness 100% had a performativity aspect to it, and my tomboyness changed the things I was allowed to do, restricting in some places and expanding in others.

As a girl, I really liked some of the affectations of femininity – the colour pink, wearing dresses, doing my long hair in elaborate ways. but I had to act as though I didn’t. In return, I was allowed to climb trees and fences, and bring worms home when it rained, and play with beyblades with the boys in the sand pit. I think some part of me knew that I was making a bargain at the time, because the world would not accept me in its entirety. And I decided that I valued wearing dresses less than I value the freedom to climb trees. And I feel like this story of sacrifiting bits of yourself so that you’re legible to others in your society, isn’t innate to tomboyhood, or even femininity. It just sounds like part and parcel of being human, and (sigh) living in a society.

Ra (Archive)
Sarah Constantin, 2016

Ra is a specific kind of glitch in intuition, which can roughly be summarized as the drive to idealize vagueness and despise clarity.

This wasn’t like, the first time that I read this essay, but at the end of my internship deep within the guts of the federal welfare machine, as I began to see more and more of the picture, it was a piece that kept coming to the forefront of my mind. 

What’s interesting is that I think I started the term off very anti-Ra, but by the end, I was seeing many benefits that come from vagueness. It’s not a glitch in intuition, it’s a tradeoff. The vagueness is intrinsically powerful in many ways – although it is a dangerous path that is conducive to corruption and systemic rot. All in all, it’s not a tradeoff I would make, but I can see why others might. I think anyone who works in a large company or organization should read this piece, and come to their own conclusions.

September

Untitled microfiction piece (Archive)
Grimelords, 2014

There’s six guys who live in this flat and all they do all day is play WoW and watch movies.

Short and tender piece about the university experience, if you’re a certain type of nerd.

Warcraft: LFG (Archive)
Left Conservative, 2016

Think about this the next time you wonder why, as we have more loot, more sex, more games, and more media that fits our tastes than ever before, we’re also less satisfied than we’ve ever been.

A cool microcosm of what modernity does.

October

It’s not “them” — it’s us! (Archive)
Betsy Leondar-Wright, 2006

“But let’s say that some working-class people did nevertheless manage to get into this organization. What would we do to make sure they felt uncomfortable and to stop them from taking leadership?” The group launched in with gusto: “A dress code — nothing but tuxedos and evening gowns!” “Fancy food — caviar and champagne!” “The real business takes place at the golf course at the country club!”

No-one said anything like “tofu.”

An old piece, but one that is still so incredibly useful and informative for building cross-class coalitions. 

The Music of “Hustlers” and the Soaring, Stupid National Mood Circa 2008 (Archive)
Jia Tolentino, 2019

I started crying a little, because Usher’s “Love in This Club” was playing. It’s a song with synths that shudder like lasers, and a central looping riff so triumphant and brimming that it sounds like someone telling you that you’re never going to die. As the song played, a flash of pre-recession memories emerged from beneath eleven years’ worth of increasingly subdued expectations: I was in college, and things often felt that good and endless, even though the wad of bills in my pocket was a bunch of greasy ones from waiting tables and my roommates and I were blasting “Love in This Club” in our wood-panelled living room, wearing clearance American Apparel and chugging leftover keg beer, hoping that we wouldn’t see any mice. It feels unseemly and indulgent to get nostalgic about something so dumb and so close to the present, and yet “Hustlers” helped me realize how many people have begun to remember the brief period just before the recession in a similar way.

If you ever want to relive 2007, here is one very excellent way to do it.

November

Why Are My Students Afraid of the World? (Archive)
Christopher Schaberg, 2019

I’m talking about discomfort with the physical world outside our campus buildings, things like sitting on grass: many students just won’t do it.

A new(?) phenomenon, that seems simultaneously tragic, dangerous, and inevitable.

The Real Class War (Archive)
Julius Krein, 2019

The socioeconomic divide that will determine the future of poli­tics, particularly in the United States, is not between the top 30 per­cent or 10 percent and the rest, nor even between the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The real class war is between the 0.1 percent and (at most) the 10 percent—or, more precisely, between elites primarily dependent on capital gains and those primarily dependent on profes­sional labor.

The last few years have brought about a new “discovery” of working-class immiseration—a media phenomenon arguably pro­voked by renewed elite anxieties. As a result, the story of a declining working class is now broadly understood. It is, after all, decades old, and it was entirely predictable if not exactly intended. Much less understood, however, is the more recent reshaping and radicalization of the professional managerial class. While the top 5 or 10 percent may not deserve public sympathy, their underperformance relative to the top 0.1 percent will be more politically significant than the hol­lowing out of the working or lower-middle classes. Unlike the work­ing class, the professional managerial class is still capable of, and re­quired for, wielding political power.

This maps on very well to the class-based discussions that I’m seeing online and in-person (in my very academic crowd, being a uni student and all).

December

What Is a Take? A Trans Feminist Take on the 2019 British Election Results (Archive)
Grace Lavery, 2019

At some point in the last, say, five years, the phrase “hot take” both started to appear less frequently in conversations about online culture (especially Twitter), and the apparently more neutral term “take” has seemed to appear more frequently. The shift seems to have entailed a subtle shift in tone, too. The phrase “hot take” was usually fairly scornful, indicative of a callow or insincere attempt to gin up controversy for the sake of getting attention, much like “clickbait.” Another term from the same period, “thinkpiece,” possessed an even stronger critical association: the typifying thinkpiece was self-indulgent, unfocused pie-in-the-sky; the term carried the sense of intellectual irresponsibility, an inability or refusal to grasp things as they actually are. In that sense, then – and this will be a hot take for some, and a very cold one for others – that the object scorned by the term “thinkpiece” is conceptually indistinguishable from the object once scorned by the term “theory.” We have never lacked for terms to indicate our contempt for those whose thinking is piecemeal, or who fail/refuse to knead the pieces into a larger thinkloaf. 

A really weird and interesting piece, and a good example of what queer theory can contribute to one’s understanding of the world. I wanted to excerpt the entire thing.

Probably the best take you’ll get on the new star wars movies ugghhhhh (Archive)
Kuiperblog, 2019

Rogue One might be the only film since the original trilogy that really understood what, exactly, Star Wars was before it was Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. 

As someone who doesn’t care about Star Wars, this was an extremely interesting piece of analysis that made me care more about Star Wars.

 

Okay! Those are the links. Hopefully the next retrospective wouldn’t be like, 6 months late, but we’ll see 😛

Articles of Interest, June-July 2019

Articles of Interest is a bi-monthly retrospective on the five or so most interesting things I’ve read during the titular two-month period. The intent is for there to be a few weeks of “lag” time between when I first read the articles and when I curate this collection, so that my selection isn’t biased by ongoing hype or sensationalism. The articles aren’t necessarily published during this period, although many of them are – I choose my collection from what I’ve bookmarked over the two months. Here are my picks for June and July:

The Privilege of Property (Kondo and the Bibliophibans, Part 2a) (archive)

(The other parts of the sequence are also very worth reading; they are linked at the top of the post.)

“If we keep it real for a minute, Trudeau is not the first (or last) white male to darken their skin in supposed jest. As someone who has spent the last 10 years studying blackface in Canada, the one thing I know to be true is that blackface is as Canadian as hockey. It literally was (is) performed everywhere.”

This piece gave me a lot of feelings. In the beginning was the especially ugly type of anger that comes from feeling entitled to something you’ll never have. From knowing that twenty years ago, people who were making less than you got away with having expensive hobbies that you can’t afford and living in spacious homes in the middle of dense, lively American cities, and that you’ll never, ever be able to do that, so you were being cheated in some way.

And after that burnt away I was left with a lot of sadness and resignation. This thing that was good for us was taken away for some incredibly shit reasons, and there’s no way of talking about it that makes me not come off as a spoiled, entitled millennial, that allows me to be taken seriously. I feel like this is a thing that more people should know about because not knowing your history means that you have a worse grasp on what’s possible to change. But fat chance of that happening on a large scale, yeah?

But it also left me kind of hopeful? To know that this kind of lifestyle was possible at all, as recently as the nineties. It’s not a pipe dream.

Brought to mind a professors’ lecture tangent, about how if Japanese couples were able to raise a family in cramped Tokyo one-bedrooms then we should re-examine our desire for large amounts of space, because maybe it was just some American extravagance that has no place in a warming planet. Suddenly that doesn’t sound like the entirely correct reasoning. Smaller spaces won’t give you enough room to build a more self-sufficient, sustainable lifestyle and a community. Space is necessary for us to plan and prepare. Space is necessary for us to thrive.

“The Minnesota Diet” (archive)

There’s a new etiquette, which spreads via people’s Savants and Flings. Don’t talk about food in front of other people. But if someone else talks about food in front of you, don’t lose your shit at them. Don’t try to make anyone watch a movie, or Virtual Immersive Scenario, in which people are eating. Talk quietly, and above all don’t yell. Don’t be fatalistic. Don’t proclaim false hope, or insist that everything is going to be fine. Don’t judge other people’s weird food rituals: the way they hold food in their mouths for a long time before swallowing, mix it with water, or even cradle a piece of food in their arms like a baby. Don’t blame your partner(s) for lacking sex drive, or for being uninterested in romance. If people need to be alone, leave them alone. Most of all, don’t judge people for listlessness or apathy, or the inability to get out of bed—but do try to keep other people moving, at least enough to avoid muscle atrophy.

A short story about a food shortage in a post-scarcity smart city. I haven’t really gotten the hang of summarizing fiction pieces yet, but I really liked it. It got me thinking about how like, the word “hunger” has a place in our vocabulary still, right? But when was the last time that you’ve seen it to mean the actual, bodily sensation of starvation, instead of some dumb “be wanting things” precariat/consumerist slogan? The story hangs in an interesting space, in the space of the nine meals that it takes for society to collapse.

Why Privilege Discourse Predominates (archive)

Today, privilege discourse is the dominant framework for discussing racism. It’s a multi-million dollar industry, as universities, corporations, and the US military institute privilege courses. The dominant position this discourse occupies—especially its patronage by white supremacist institutions like the military and big business—indicates that large segments of the ruling class find the overwhelming focus on privilege discourse to not only be non-threatening, but valuable.

A good piece from 2016 that outlines where the Social Justice Brigade is probably heading in the next decade.

The Phantom Men-ness (archive)

Most men have an inarticulate understanding, way down in their guts, that this is how things work for them. I think most women don’t. Just as it’s hard to really get the feeling of being constantly objectified, when you’re not, it’s hard for a valued person to get the feeling of being completely disposable.A man can do things to make himself valuable.  He can become strong, wise, rich, accomplished, creative, charming, lots of options.  He can fill any of a thousand roles.  But doing so will always require talent or effort or luck or some combination of the above.  And it’s always very, very contingent on demonstrated success.  It is not a default.  It cannot be a default.

And a man who can’t call upon a substantial degree of excellence, in something, is worthless. There’s nothing he can offer. There’s no role for him to play. There’s no real reason for anyone to show him any respect. If you want to get anything at all out of this life, you have to earn it, you have to carve it out for yourself. No one will love you, or even pity you, just for being yourself.

A man can do things to make himself valuable.  He can become strong, wise, rich, accomplished, creative, charming, lots of options.  He can fill any of a thousand roles.  But doing so will always require talent or effort or luck or some combination of the above.  And it’s always very, very contingent on demonstrated success.  It is not a default.  It cannot be a default.

The opposite of objectification is subjectification, the idea that you alone are responsible for every single thing in your life. This is an interesting dive into how that feels, and as someone who is AFAB, it sounds frankly terrifying.

The Show Horse and the Work Horse (archive)

At a comfortable distance from the country club set and elegant homes on leafy hillsides there’s a working class town where I accidentally stumbled on a flea market the day before. It’s composed of an old asphalt parking lot, tents, and portable shipping containers. There isn’t anything about the place that cost much to build or maintain yet it functions like a traditional human scaled Main Street lined with mom and pop shops.

Granola Shotgun does really great photo essays about urbanism for the non-yuppie set. E and I had an interesting discussion over whether or not Johnny was right about why cities don’t encourage these sorts of flea markets more (not enough tax revenue for city hall even if it’s good for city citizens), but as usual, we got sidetracked and started talking about Seeing Like a State instead.

Interestingly enough, although I’ve bookmarked maybe three times the amount of content than usual during these two months, I didn’t really have a harder time picking out my faves, nor do I feel like the overall quality of these links are higher than previous links posts. I think some of this comes down to the fact that this bookmarking increase is more “bookmarking a greater % of what I’ve read” than “reading a greater number of things than usual”, although that happened too.