The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'pessimism'
In the future, we'll have terrorism by flashmob and EMP weapons, ethnic cleansing by neutron bomb, neurally-implanted computer chips and the resurgence of Marxism as the middle classes become the new proletariat. Oh, and spray-on computers.
Charlie Stross has a characteristically sobering assessment of the Litvinenko assassination:
Anyway, to the point: this wasn't simply an assassination. There are any number of poisons out there that would do the job painfully well but much more rapidly, and without the same scope for a diplomatic incident. Likewise, a bullet to the back of the head would have worked just as well (as witness the assassination of Anna Politkovskaya).
What this is, is a warning: "we have the capability to detonate a dirty bomb in central London any time we feel like it, so don't fuck with us". (Just take Polonium and add a little TNT.)
Given that Litvinenko was promoting a book that asserted FSB agents blew up two apartment buildings in Moscow and pointed the finger at Chechen rebels in order to justify Putin's subsequent war on Chechnya, one possibility that must be considered is that elements of the FSB may be responsible — and willing to use radiological terrorism as a tool of foreign affairs. It may well not have been ordered by the Kremlin: all it takes is for Vladimir Putin to mutter "will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest?" over his breakfast one morning, and Shit Happens in a foreign capital thousands of kilometres away. (Or it may be entirely deliberate, merely "plausibly deniable", to use the charming CIA-surplus weasel words for "we did it but you can't prove it".)
And what disturbs me most is that all the other possibilities I've been able to think of are worse ...And as a bonus, here is Charlie's analysis of the Iraq débâcle
Despite all that, despite the Abu Ghraib photographs and the evidence of mass murder of civilians by soldiers, and a thousand daily petty atrocities, it's not immediately obvious that bringing the troops home won't make everything a whole lot worse in the long run, up to a worst-case scenario in which the "failed state" of Iraq turns out to be not so much a "failed state" as a voracious cancer of social breakdown that spreads inexorably to its neighbours, until the entire region is effectively government-free. "Government-free" does not mean some libertarian pipe-dream of a night watchman state and respect for individual liberty: it means that eventually the whole region will come to resemble Afghanistan under the Taliban, with authority — any authority — welcomed as an antidote to blood feud and starvation.
A copy of the New Waver retrospective, Neuters, arrived in the mail recently. This CD was released this year through Australian experimental label Dual Plover (who will be familiar to anyone who has been to the What Is Music? noise-music/sound-art festivals or who frequents Synæsthesia), and compiles 14 of New Waver's biggest hits from the early 1980s onwards.
The compilation appears to be roughly in chronological order. It starts off with NW's rougher, earlier pieces; covers of pop songs performed on a home organ, with altered lyrics performed in a lugubrious monotone, and then goes on to more sophisticated General MIDI dance grooves. The basic concept of New Waver involves covers of pop songs with the lyrics changed to present an extremely pessimistic neo-Darwinian worldview; in the New Waver world, everything comes down to Darwinian competition, in which the strongest and most dominant triumph and the rest are sidelined, ostracised, beaten up, and generally have miserable, pointless lives. This is underscored with lyrics like "sexual performance needs social dominance" and sound samples from wildlife documentaries, recordings of counselling sessions, consumer-product advertisements and Christian anti-masturbation therapy tapes.
The songs are roughly chronological in terms of the story they tell, which is the life of Everyman (or perhaps Everyloser), the poor low-status schmuck who keeps being kicked in the teeth by life and always comes out worst. The story starts with him being bullied and persecuted at school, his life made a hell by "tough guys" and "confident guys"; then goes on with him going on to a dead-end public-service office job and being ostracised by coworkers ("a complex man with a heart of darkness in a beer and football land"), getting obsessively into computers/video games, being ignored by the opposite sex until a last-resort marriage to a low-status female who recognises and exploits his low value and lack of bargaining power, moving to the suburbs, and dulling the pain of existence with beer, consumption and Prozac whilst trudging through the pointless day-to-day routine. Had Jean-Paul Sartre been born in Brisbane or Canberra, he could well have come up with something like this.
The songs? Well, it starts with an organ-driven version of the Beastie Boys' You've Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party, which segues into an AC/DC cover titled Tea Break. There's a version of Madonna's Erotica all about masturbation, a Jimmy Barnes tribute titled Middle Class Man; a version of the Dead Kennedys' Too Drunk To Fuck that proclaims that, without brain-deadening alcohol, the human race would die out, and a masterful take on the Velvet Underground's Heroin, titled Prozac. And that old Depeche Mode joke which everyone has heard lots of times, Just Can't Get It Up, gets transformed into a complete song; transposed into a minor key, it works quite well.
The CD came with a press release recounting the history of New Waver; the band's formation by several teenaged clerks in the Claims section of the Australian Tax Office in Canberra in the early 1980s and run of minor hits in the 1990s, before time pressures caused the band to break up.
What do spelling checkers say about modern culture? The spelling checker in Microsoft Word 97 has some telltale gaps in its lexicon:
Your computer knows baddies Lenin and Trotsky, but not peace lovers Lennon, McCartney, and Starr. It remembers Auschwitz but not Woodstock. Your spell-check will gleefully accept Ku Klux Klan (try typing it in lower kase, your komputer will gently suggest that you kapitalize your k's). Ominously, Word 97 acknowledges German politicians Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroeder - we may not know exactly what these men are up to but we can assume, from the company they keep in our spell check, that they are bad, bad men.
Researchers at Stanford University have found that pessimists' and optimists' brains work differently. Optimists' brains showed stronger reactions to images of rainbows and puppies, whereas pessimists' brains showed no reaction there, but a reacton to images of angry people, cemeteries and spiders (albeit not as much in the emotional centres of the brain).