The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'terriblisma'
The good news: The predicted collapse of the Greens, with the Tories preferencing Labor ahead of them and Rupert Murdoch declaring them a cancer to be cut out of the Australian body politic, did not happen. Adam Bandt was comfortably reëlected in the seat of Melbourne and online liberty champion Scott Ludlam might just have scraped into the last Senate place in WA (though it won't be known for weeks), despite the Wikileaks Party kicking him in the teeth in their preference card, after a clusterfuck of right-wing minor parties coalesced into a seat for the Australian Sports Party.
The bad news: The Coalition won by a landslide. Tony Abbott, a reactionary religious authoritarian who believes that climate change is “crap”, is Prime Minister, on a platform that can be summed up as “we'll have none of that here”.
The good news: The Coalition didn't manage to get control of the Senate, so they'll have to negotiate to have their reactionary platform passed into law.
The bad news: It looks likely that the Coalition plus the Religious Right (Family First and DLP) will, together, have a majority in the Senate. The main upshot of this is that the internet censorship system that was dismissed as a “gaffe” in the election is likely to materialise as a negotiating tactic (“Mr. Abbott, your industrial relations plan is anti-family. However, we could pass it if you give us a national mandatory internet filter blocking porn, homosexuality and blasphemous content.”) The other option, of Abbott striking a deal with the sizeable Green presence in the Senate, is, of course, utterly out of the question; one does not deal with un-Australian extremists.
So, yes, basically, Australia is fucked, at least to the extent that one was expecting it to be a modern, progressive country; at least for the next 3 years, probably the next 7, odds-on to be the next decade, and quite possibly however long it takes for the Greens to transmute into a party of alternative government. From now on, 2013 is pronounced “nineteen-fifty-sixtythree” in Australian English. The past has vanquished the future, and here comes a victory of shit.
Inner Melbourne, which reelected Bandt and almost sent a few other Greens to Canberra to join him, is a light in the darkness; a bit like Austin, Texas, or Barcelona in Franco's Spain. And as such, it can probably expect collective punishment; one part of that will be the razing of homes and parks to build freeways for outer-suburban Liberal voters to drive their 4WDs on. (Incidentally, all federal funding for public transport is to be scrapped, because “we don't do urban rail in Australia”. Which makes perfect sense, given that global warming is a load of black-armband Marxist crap, oil will be cheap forever, and if you start getting traffic jams, you can always build more roads and widen the existing ones.)
In Charlie Stross's blog, a cheerful and fascinating discussion about speculated existential threats to civilisation, the human race, life on Earth, or the universe itself. These vary from plausible ones (ecological collapse, killer viruses, killer asteroids) to the far-fetched and surreal:
What would be the implications of trying to return from an iron age technology now given the amount of "low hanging fruit" in the way of natural resources we've mined in the last two hundred years or so? I'm particularly, but not solely, thinking that there aren't many places now where you just make a hole and oil bubbles out of the ground - you now need a sophisticated technologically adept mining operation just to get to the stuff. How are we doing for easily available iron ore that could be got at by an iron-age civilisation? Or is it so abundant that that will never be a problem.
[U]ploading is likely to start out being an experimental process which is destructive of the original brain and have a fairly high chance of failure. So who's going to be the first person uploaded? I'd say chances are good it'll be a condemned Chinese prisoner... so that process might result in a fairly hostile machine intelligence. If they escape? No rapture of the nerds for anyone.
[M]aybe a copper eating bacteria would be a better idea. They would first spread on the surface of cables across the world, not causing any massive consequences. Then they would start eating *into* the wires...
A simple party trick, maybe outgrown from all those neuropsych tests that disprove free will. Something easy to do and apparently harmless "Look when you do X you can't/have to do Y" but which unavoidably sinks in and leads to existential nihilism as the implications percolate.
A fad toy that expands in water goes down drains in such numbers that sewerage systems collapse on a scale never seen. The resulting public health debacle cascades due to massive shortfalls in public infrastructure spending during the 2010's and 2020's.
To paraphrase and build upon Arthur C Clarke's famous remark. "Any advanced technology [we no longer understand] is indistingushable from magic"... Going further, there may come a day when we forget we once built this stuff. Maybe theres a potential fictional work in this, a far far future fantasy story where the "magic" starts to break down across the kingdom andstop working, magic incantations no longer work predictably (voice commands throw errors or are ignored), creatures conjured up of dust disintegrate into powder (nanobots fail to hold form). Cauldrons no longer produce magic when ingredients added (Cornucopia nano-fabricators no longer accept feedstock matter). All because it's been a thousand years since anyone understood how these machines work. user-pic
Dispatches from the grim meathook present-day: the Calabrian mafia, which has for a long time made a lucrative sideline from the disposal of waste, has apparently muscled in on the business of nuclear waste disposal. Of course, being the Mob, they're able to offer economies honest operators cannot, by the simple expedient of packing ships with nuclear waste and blowing them up off the coasts of Italy and Greece. Up to 30 such ships may have been sunk.
Think your privatised public transport service is shoddy? It could always be worse, like, say, the buses in Delhi, which are privately owned, with strong free-market incentives. Unfortunately, they're incentives to drive faster, overtaking the bus in front and grabbing potential passengers, whilst skimping on any avoidable maintenance, rather than providing a useful service:
While a city-run service would prioritize getting its citizens from A to B, a private driver is less focused on customer service than on overtaking the next bus down the road. After all, the faster he drives, the more competitors he passes, the more passengers he picks up, and the more money he makes.
Which is why the last thing a Blueline driver ever wants to do is come to a stop. Every move he makes is done with the intent of keeping the bus in motion: slowing just enough so debarking passengers can jump off, then picking up speed as the new passengers run alongside the bus, swinging themselves up and in as the conductor screams at them to hurry. And before the last passenger is fully aboard (sometimes pulled in by his fellow passengers), the driver is already shifting gears, spewing mocking black smoke at hapless would-be passengers still running after the bus, and bulldozing the bus back into traffic.
But with an estimated 2,200 Blueline buses careening across Delhi on any given day, it’s no wonder the newspaper reports are almost identical every day. After an accident, the driver tries to flee, an angry mob beats him, the police impound the bus, the driver is thrown in jail, the owner of the bus is not mentioned. Sometimes the driver escapes, in which case the mob finds its release in setting fire to the bus.The Delhi government wants to replace the privatised system with a modern, city-run one, though is expected to run into powerful opposition from the owners of the private buses.
Every so often, one reads horror stories about how technology is destroying our ability to write: about kids robbed of grammatical ability by text messaging, or PowerPoint presentations eroding the ability to string sentences together. . Now, a professor of writing claims the opposite: thanks to the internet, we are entering a golden age of literacy. According to Professor Andrea Lunsford of Stanford University, thanks to the internet, email, blogs, forums and instant messaging, people write more than in living memory, and consequently, more people than ever have the sorts of highly developed and practiced writing skills that previously were the domain of an elite cadre of professional wordsmiths:
Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.
But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis—from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs—has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.
The Independent has an article on the dark side of Dubai. The economic boom apparently owes itself to the unique and dynamic qualities of Dubai's autocratic legal environment, which short-circuits a lot of the inefficiencies of a more liberal society. For example, if you can lure workers over with promises of wealth, then take their passports, force them to work in inhumane conditions and not bother with paying them, you can achieve miracles of efficiency:
As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don't like it, the company told him, go home. "But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket," he said. "Well, then you'd better get to work," they replied.
Sahinal could well die out here. A British man who used to work on construction projects told me: "There's a huge number of suicides in the camps and on the construction sites, but they're not reported. They're described as 'accidents'." Even then, their families aren't free: they simply inherit the debts. A Human Rights Watch study found there is a "cover-up of the true extent" of deaths from heat exhaustion, overwork and suicide, but the Indian consulate registered 971 deaths of their nationals in 2005 alone. After this figure was leaked, the consulates were told to stop counting.That's the construction workers building the marvels of architecture. The maids hired by the ruling classes of Emiratis and expatriates don't have any more rights, and don't have it much better:
The only hostel for women in Dubai – a filthy private villa on the brink of being repossessed – is filled with escaped maids. Mela Matari, a 25-year-old Ethiopian woman with a drooping smile, tells me what happened to her – and thousands like her. She was promised a paradise in the sands by an agency, so she left her four year-old daughter at home and headed here to earn money for a better future. "But they paid me half what they promised. I was put with an Australian family – four children – and Madam made me work from 6am to 1am every day, with no day off. I was exhausted and pleaded for a break, but they just shouted: 'You came here to work, not sleep!' Then one day I just couldn't go on, and Madam beat me. She beat me with her fists and kicked me. My ear still hurts. They wouldn't give me my wages: they said they'd pay me at the end of the two years. What could I do? I didn't know anybody here. I was terrified."The sense of terriblisma is heightened by some choice quotes from some particularly charming-sounding expatriates (mostly found in a tacky British bar):
"If you have an accident here it's a nightmare. There was a British woman we knew who ran over an Indian guy, and she was locked up for four days! If you have a tiny bit of alcohol on your breath they're all over you. These Indians throw themselves in front of cars, because then their family has to be given blood money – you know, compensation. But the police just blame us. That poor woman."
As she says this, I remember a stray sentence I heard back at Double Decker. I asked a British woman called Hermione Frayling what the best thing about Dubai was. "Oh, the servant class!" she trilled. "You do nothing. They'll do anything!"The expatriates, however, are not citizens and have no rights there; life's good for them, but only while they have money to spend and don't rock the boat:
She continued to complain – and started to receive anonymous phone calls. "Stop embarassing Dubai, or your visa will be cancelled and you're out," they said. She says: "The expats are terrified to talk about anything. One critical comment in the newspapers and they deport you. So what am I supposed to do? Now the water is worse than ever. People are getting really sick. Eye infections, ear infections, stomach infections, rashes. Look at it!" There is faeces floating on the beach, in the shadow of one of Dubai's most famous hotels.It gets worse, though: the article starts with the account of a woman who moved there with her husband when he got a senior management job. All was well until he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and resigned to leave; his payoff wasn't enough to cancel their debts, their passports were confiscated, and he was thrown in a debtors' prison.
Of course, it can't last forever; some say the Great Recession could wipe Dubai out:
If a recession turns into depression, Dr Raouf believes Dubai could run out of water. "At the moment, we have financial reserves that cover bringing so much water to the middle of the desert. But if we had lower revenues – if, say, the world shifts to a source of energy other than oil..." he shakes his head. "We will have a very big problem. Water is the main source of life. It would be a catastrophe. Dubai only has enough water to last us a week. There's almost no storage. We don't know what will happen if our supplies falter. It would be hard to survive."This article concurs that Dubai is in a world of trouble, citing the fact that those who have passports and their wits about them are fleeing, abandoning their cars at the airport with the keys still in the ignition before anyone can detain them.
On the question of whether video games can be art: The post-apocalyptic first-person shooter Fallout 3 sounds like an interesting aesthetic experience:
It's an incredibly bleak game. Critics have lauded it for its complex-but-intuitive gameplay, its intriguing story and a go-anywhere world that outdoes even the sprawling burbia of Grand Theft Auto IV. But for my money, Fallout 3's accomplishment is more subtle: It's depressing.
Its mood is so quietly and painfully demoralizing that I regularly had to turn off my PlayStation 3 to take an emotional break. After playing videogames for 25 years, I'm accustomed to wandering around environments that are gory and dangerous, or creepy and scary, or puzzling and baffling. Many such games thrill me, but very few make me sad. That's precisely what Fallout 3 achieved.
The game is also filled with scraps of surviving culture that suggest how people lived before the holocaust, dimly aware of the impending horrors. "There won't really be a nuclear war, will there?" is the title of a government flier aimed at a clearly nervous public. Most post-apocalyptic games do not seek to make you sympathize with the lost civilization. On the contrary, they usually mock the dead culture, as with the out-of-control kitsch consumerism and genetic tampering of Rapture in Bioshock. Fallout 3 possesses this mocking edge, too, but just as often, the game's designers seem to have genuine respect for the culture that died.
Probably the saddest part is the children.Which is another sign that video games are maturing as a medium. Up until now, the typical game would be analogous thematically to fairly light entertainment; pulp paperbacks, superhero comics, or perhaps Victorian parlour puzzles (in the case of the likes of Myst or ICO). That a game can move one to this extent, rather than merely providing gratification, is somewhat novel.
Read: Another Day At The Office, a fine and topical short piece of dystopian sadofuturism by Nile Heffernan:
Work enough weekends under constant threat of downsizing, maybe any of us would look like that. Maybe.
Get downsized enough times, then one last time in a world where white-collar work is over, and maybe you'll look like the woman in the next cubicle across. Which is to say: crying silently and either not knowing or caring and just carrying on. And the next cubicle, and the next: scuffed and fading grey partitions repeating like an exercise in perspective, straight lines along and across the concrete floor of a factory that hasn't had machinery for thirty years: closed and cleared in the last recession, or maybe the one before that.
Look closer and there's no lamps or work lights in the cubes. None. Four of them - the corner offices - are lit by the blue flicker of a monitor. The rest are not: these people are 'working' in front of dead screens, tapping away on keyboards that may or may not be plugged into the silent metal boxes underneath the desk.
Some of the 'monitors' are cardboard boxes, sideways-on.
People have been shot for coffee: it's the currency of choice for criminals, and we don't touch it. Our trade is bread-and-butter materials recovery, digging through the garbage and extracting lead for roofing, paper and cardboard for compression into pellets; these bulk commodities, like the gas and water, are the currency for a regular supply of food and nowadays some biodiesel. Higher-value items - tools and wheel-bearings and plastic sheeting - are tradeable for spares and welding gas but it's slow: we have a network and a market, but bartering depends on luck - without a formal currency, you have to have the thing they want, and they have to have the thing we want, both in the same place at the same time. It's frustrating and it isn't getting any better.
I have absolutely no idea who's supplying food to the 'Office Workers', or why; Médecins Sans Frontières provides a monthly clinic on the local round but there's no way they can be supplying all those people with antidepressants or tranquillisers... Is there? We supply the gas and water because the doctor's round will stop if we can't keep up a 'population centre'.
Having seen their previous bets turned into a spectacular wipeout, some hedge-fund managers are now betting on the total collapse of civilisation:
In his book Wealth, War, published last year, former Morgan Stanley chief global strategist Barton Biggs advised people to prepare for the possibility of a total breakdown of civil society. A senior analyst whose reports are read at hedge funds all over the city wrote just before Christmas that some of his clients are “so bearish they’ve purchased firearms and safes and are stocking their pantries with soups and canned foods.” This fear is very much reflected in the market—prices of corporate bonds have been so beaten down at various points that they suggest a higher default rate than during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, while the overall gold market has fluctuated, the premium for quarter-ounce gold coins—meaning the difference between the price for gold you can hold in your hand and that for “paper gold,” such as exchange-traded funds—rose to an all-time high of 20 percent. “Gold is transportable, it’s 100 percent liquid, and it’s perfectly divisible in the context of ounces, bars, or coins,” says the head of a California research firm who keeps a supply of it, along with food, water, and guns, on hand. “And most important, there’s no counterparty”—i.e., it’s an investment beholden to no one, and perhaps one of the few assets that will retain value if the financial system collapses.
While it may look like these Wall Streeters are betting on such a collapse, their embrace of survivalism is an outgrowth of their professional habits of mind: Having observed the economy’s shaky high-wire act from their ringside seats, they are trying to manage their risk and “hedge” against a potential fall. “It’s like insurance,” says an investor who has stockpiled MREs and a hand-cranked radio. “And by the time you need it, it’s way too late.” Leave it for others to weep for the collapse of the social order. These guys would prefer to be in a high-speed boat or ex-military vehicle, heading off toward their fully provisioned compounds in pursuit of the ultimate goal: to win the chaos.I wonder how many of these Wall Street supersharks would be able to translate their killer instincts to being effective post-apocalyptic warlords, or whether most of them would end up as mincemeat when the first killer caravan rolls through their survivalist homestead. I also wonder how long until "Post-Apocalyptic Warlordship for Dummies" replaces "Flipping Houses for Dummies" in the Business sections of bookshops.
(via Boing Boing)
Texan Cyberpunk sci-fi author turned father of the Viridian pro-green design/technology movement turned Belgrade-based design theorist Bruce Sterling gives his annual state-of-the-world address to the Inkwell forum. It's focussed mostly on the economic cataclysm in progress, and it's full of the sorts of apposite powder-dry black humour you'd expect from him:
Do we HAVE to talk about the economy this year? I'm wondering what conceivable event could overshadow the fiscal crisis. Maybe a cozy little nuclear war? An Indo-Pakistani nuclear war might conceivably take a *back page* to the fiscal crisis.
I'm a bohemian type, so I could scarcely be bothered to do anything "financially sound" in my entire adult life. Last year was the first year when I've felt genuinely sorry for responsible, well-to-do people. Suddenly they've got the precariousness of creatives, of the underclass, without that gleeful experience of decades spent living-it-up.
If the straights were not "prone to hostility" before that experience, they might well be so after it, because they've got a new host of excellent reasons. The sheer galling come-down of watching the Bottom Line, the Almighty Dollar, revealed as a papier-mache pinata. It's like somebody burned their church.After indulging in terriblisma for a while, Sterling turns his attention to Dmitry Orlov's prediction of the US disintegrating, and ideas for a "new localism" that might arise in the event of catastrophic collapse:
In any case, after eight glum years of watching Bush and his neocons methodically wreck the Republic, both Kunstler and Robb have gotten really big on American localism -- "resilient" localism. Kunstler has this painterly, small-town-America, Thoreauvian thing going on, kinda locavore voluntary simplicity, with lots of time for... I dunno, group chorale singing. Kunstler seems kinda hung up on the singing effort, somehow... Whereas Robb has a military background and is more into a gated-community, bug-out-bag, militia rapid-response thing.
Certainly neither of these American visions look anything like what happened to Russia. As Orlov accurately points out, in the Russian collapse, if you were on a farm or in some small neighborly town, you were toast. The hustlers in the cities were the ones with inventive opportunities, so they were the ones getting by.
So the model polity for local urban resilience isn't Russia. I'm inclined to think the model there is Italy. Italy has had calamitous Bush-levels of national incompetence during almost its entire 150-year national existence.Meanwhile, Clay Shirky gives his predictions for 2009. Whether or not we're all toast, a lot of the old media, such as newspapers, seem to be:
The great misfortune of newspapers in this era is that they were such a good idea for such a long time that people felt the newspaper business model was part of a deep truth about the world, rather than just the way things happened to be. It's like the fall of communism, where a lot of the eastern European satellite states had an easier time because there were still people alive who remembered life before the Soviet Union - nobody in Russia remembered it. Newspaper people are like Russians, in a way.
Why pay for it at all? The steady loss of advertising revenue, accelerated by the recession, has normalised the idea that it's acceptable to move to the web. Even if we have the shallowest recession and advertising comes back as it inevitably does, more of it will go to the web. I think that's it for newspapers. What we saw happen to the Christian Science Monitor [the international paper shifted its daily news operation online] is going to happen three or four dozen times (globally) in the next year. The 500-year-old accident of economics occasioned by the printing press - high upfront cost and filtering happening at the source of publication - is over. But will the New York Times still exist on paper? Of course, because people will hit the print button.Shirky's not one for terriblisma, so not much about social collapse, cannibalism or killer caravans marauding the post-apocalyptic landscape there. For that, you'll have to read Charlie Brooker's column:
Dim your lights. Here's the highlights reel. The worst recession in 60 years. Broken windows and artless graffiti. Howling winds blowing empty cans past boarded-up shopfronts. Feral children eating sloppy handfuls of decomposed-pigeon-and-baked-bean mulch scraped from the bottom of dustbins in a desperate bid to survive. The pound worth less than the acorn. The City worth less than the pound. Your house worth so little it'll collapse out of shame, crushing you in your bed. Not that you'll die peacefully in your sleep - no, you'll be wide awake with fear, worrying about the situation in the Middle East at the precise moment a chunk of ceiling plaster the size of a flagstone tumbles from on high to flatten your skull like a biscuit under a shoe, sending your brain twizzling out of your earholes like pink-grey toothpaste squeezed from a tube. All those language skills and precious memories splattered over your pillows. It'll ruin the bedclothes. And instead of buying expensive new ones, your grieving, impoverished relatives will have to handwash those bedclothes in cold water for six hours to shift the most upsetting stains before passing them down to your orphaned offspring, who are fated to sleep on them in a disused underground station for the rest of their lives, shivering in the dark as they hear bombs dipped in bird flu dropping on the shattered remains of the desiccated city above.
(via Boing Boing)