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.
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.

Now, Less Than Ever

On my corner of Tumblr, there’s a good meme going around, inspired possibly by something Matt Yglesias did a few years back? And it’s been a good workout for my brain, now that school doesn’t seem real anymore because the entire world sort of went on hiatus.

Anyways, so you know how every time there’s a crisis, there’s a bunch of people on Twitter saying “if we only had implemented [my preferred policy] years ago, this could have been totally averted”? 1  The idea is to flip that for the sake of nuance and intellectual honesty. To think of policies you unreservedly support that would have made things a lot worse now, or conversely, ideas that you absolutely will not support, that would have absolutely helped.

I’ve thought of a few things that fit this profile for me:

      • I want higher dependence on mass transit and a severe reduction of car culture. But if more households did not have cars and were dependent on public transportation to get around, then our transit systems would have been truly terrible vectors of disease. Instead, buses currently are near-empty here in Waterloo, meaning that if you absolutely had to go someplace, it’s not as dangerous to use. (I think there’s still decent ridership at peak hours, which is bad. But it could be a lot worse.)

        NUMTOT asked for “angry reacts only”, but where is the lie :^(
      • Downsizing your fridge and doing near-daily grocery runs for your food is a fantastic way to increase the freshness of what you eat and reduce food waste. But without the ability to shop for a weeks’ worth of food at a time, households would need to be in more frequent contact with the community.
      • Relatedly, as a #millennial, the whole #supportlocal lifestyle where I go to 4 specialty grocers for specific ingredients instead of one (1) Loblaw is very appealing to me. Now, the thought of visiting even two different stores back to back makes my hair stand on end and I’m very grateful for big-box stores that sell most of what I need.

      • Mass surveillance. Hoo boy, to say that I am not a fan would be a giant understatement. But I can’t deny that contact/proximity tracing would have helped prevent the spread, even if that feels like pulling teeth to admit. I am very angry that many countries are working on developing such tools, and extremely concerned about the further erosion of privacy that this symbolizes as well as the fact that, let’s be real, it won’t be rolled back.

        I’m anticipating some quibble about whether surveillance at our current fidelity level is actually effective, but I’m obviously against higher quality surveillance that is 100% effective even more than I am against our current level of surveillance. 2 Basically, surveillance will help save lives and I’m big mad about that.

What are some things that you support, that would have been pretty bad?

  1. To be clear, I’m not bashing on the “[my preferred policy] would have solved this crisis years ago” folk – such commentary is often valuable and true, and I do not agree with the characterisation that that is opportunistic/in bad taste. []
  2. Okay, so this might not be strictly true. It looks like clumsy surveillance screws over more innocents than having more comprehensive profiles, which might be a worse state of affairs on balance. But in case it wasn’t obvious, I would consider both clumsy and sophisticated state surveillance to be worse than no state surveillance. []

Assessing the Overton Window: Trudeau’s 2019 Blackface Incident

[Note: This was the final essay for a rhetoric class that I took last term, titled Politics and Bullshit. I figured I might as well put it up, because I had a lot of fun writing it, and also school is cancelled because of this new virus going around so I suddenly have some free time on my hands.

This is an extra-long post, so I’m sticking it under a cut. Read on to find out about party, media, and internet responses to the scandal and what it might mean for our understanding of modern politics.]

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