Abandon (Nearly) All Hope

Simon Critchley on the audacity of hope:

When democracy goes astray, as it always will, the remedy should not be some idealistic belief in hope’s audacity, which ends up sounding either cynical or dogmatic or both. The remedy, in my view, is a skeptical realism, deeply informed by history.


The Nourishing Wake

On my walk this evening, an old essay by Craig Mod popped into my head. It was even more moving reading it again after all these years. In it he imagines reversing the tsunami of 2011.

I pulled the tsunami back. I drew the inland water back into the ocean. I pulled it over the rice paddies, unflattening them; the trees, straightening them — a billion billion leaves fluttering back into position. I drew the water back, back, back. It was easy because it was what I had to do, I tell her looking her straight in the eyes. Perhaps you don’t understand, but I had to. As the water washed backwards over the towns, homes were placed firmly onto the soil. The elderly were swept the opposite of away, they were swept into. Into their lives: onto tatami, sipping tea, listening to the radio, getting their hair done, strolling in the beautiful early spring light, thinking about their grandchildren who were going to visit in a week over the long holiday.

Read the whole thing.


Notes on Fellowship of the Ring

We watched Tenet the evening before last so to give our aching brains a rest we went for simpler fare last night—The Fellowship of the Ring.

We watched this a tonne of times back in Japan, but only on a tiny TV that didn’t even do DVDs justice. Watching it on a larger screen with better resolution was something else. There were so many details I had never noticed before, despite the many times I’ve seen it. One that stood out was a long shot of Aragorn in silhouette stepping out onto a ledge on Weathertop. Although I know I have, I felt as though I’d never seen it before.

We went for the theatrical release rather than the extended one, mainly because it has Japanese subtitles. A couple of the extra scenes that I missed and would have liked to see again were the giving of the gifts when the fellowship leaves Lothlorien and Boromir’s funeral. A lot of work went into getting details of the model of Boromir that goes over the falls just right and none can be seen in the theatrical version. Such a pity!

Never in my life, even when I was a freshly born baby, has my skin ever been as smooth as Elijah Woods’ in this film.


Smells Like Content – The Books


“This must be your first”

Zeynep Tufekci

It’s not enough to count on our institutions to resist such onslaughts. Our institutions do not operate via magic. They do not gain their power from names, buildings, desks, or even rules. Institutions rely on people collectively agreeing to act in a certain way. Human laws do not simply exert their power like the inexorable pull of gravity. Once people decide that the rules are different, the rules are different.


Brain Malleability

This interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman is full of ideas. One of the most intriguing is his speculation that dreaming is a defence mechanism used by the visual cortex to prevent the encroachment of other senses.

We always think about the area at the back of the brain, where you do all the seeing, as the visual cortex. But if you go blind — in fact, if we even just blindfold you tightly and stick you in a scanner for a little while — we’ll see that other areas like touch and hearing are starting to encroach on that area.

We have electricity for lighting now, but in evolutionary time, 99.99 percent of it, we didn’t have that. You really were in the dark. Your hearing and your touch were just fine in the dark, but your vision was disadvantaged. And given the speed of takeover, that means the visual cortex is going to get taken over just by dint of the planet’s rotation. Years ago, my student Don Vaughn and I worked out a model showing that dreaming appears to be a way of keeping the visual cortex defended every night.


Albrecht Durer

Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of the Self-Portrait by Jason Farago.

But the premise that an image can be an authentic representation — that you are a unique individual at all — is not self-evident. It is a historical development. It had to be invented.

More than five centuries ago, Albrecht Dürer painted images so detailed and exact that they seemed some kind of divine creation.

One subject fascinated him above all: himself.


Chess by Tom Wainwright

Chess by Tom Wainwright. A lovely little post about chess, intelligence, distraction and self-care.

Maybe it’s appropriate, now that computers are the unquestioned champions of the game, that chess is now a vehicle for us fleshy vessels to better understand our complicated and finicky abilities.


The Volume

The Volume is a new visual effects technology being used on The Mandolorian as a replacement for green screen. It uses huge LED displays to create a stage set, with lighting and colour being controlled and adjusted in real time. I love seeing how much human craft and artistry goes into each shot to make it look realistic. It’s a pity that the better VFX people do their jobs, the less we notice because it just looks right.

Watching this has me wanting to go back and watch this show again, but focus on taking in the visuals rather than just the story and characters.


Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

Last night I accidentally started watching the Pavement documentary, Slow Century, and ended up watching the whole thing. It has tonnes of great music and performances. Two of my favourite moments are the band playing For Sale The Preston School of Industry, which has been on repeat in my head all day; and Malkmus doing an early version of Discretion Grove.

I was struck by how little actual information there is about how the music was made. Thankfully, we have the Stereogum oral history of the making of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain to fill that void. It’s incredibly detailed, with in-depth contributions by not only the whole band, but also a bunch of other people who were around them.


Exhalation by Ted Chiang

Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is one of my favourite short stories. Its centrepiece is a meticulous description of the protagonist’s self-dissection of his own brain. It’s a mechanical being (although the word mechanical seems too crude) so rather than blood and bone, it’s an assemblage of intricate mechanisms. Reading it takes some concentration — you really have to pay attention to each word and try to hold the image in your head as each detail is added — but it’s well worth the the effort.

When I was done, my brain looked like an explosion frozen an infinitesimal fraction of a second after the detonation, and again I felt dizzy when I thought about it. But at last the cognition engine itself was exposed, supported on a pillar of hoses and actuating rods leading down into my torso. I now also had room to rotate my microscope around a full three hundred and sixty degrees and pass my gaze across the inner faces of the subassemblies I had moved. What I saw was a microcosm of auric machinery, a landscape of tiny spinning rotors and miniature reciprocating cylinders.

You can find the story online at the Night Shade Books site, or in Chiang’s recent collection, also called Exhalation.


The Assassination of Albert Camus?

“The accident seemed to have been caused by a blowout or a broken axle; experts were puzzled by its happening on a long stretch of straight road, a road 30 feet wide, and with little traffic at the time,” Herbert Lottman wrote in his 1978 biography of the author.

Catelli believes a passage in Zábrana’s diaries explains why: the poet wrote in the late summer of 1980 that “a knowledgeable and well-connected man” had told him the KGB was to blame. “They rigged the tyre with a tool that eventually pierced it when the car was travelling at high speed.”

News of a book outlining a theory that Albert Camus was assassinated by the KGB has been making the rounds recently. My gut feeling is that it’s nonsense. A scheme to kill someone by making a tyre blow out seems like it would have a pretty low likelihood of success, even if everything went to plan.


Net Zero Emissions

It would be an overstatement to call this article hopeful, but it’s a good overview of things that could and can be done to draw CO₂ from the atmosphere. The upshot is that the current technological solutions cost too much and do too little. Lower-tech approaches, including planting forests and storing crop residue at the bottom of the ocean, seem to be a better place to start right now.

New technologies may in fact hold the key to the problem. In the second half of the century we should be doing things that we can’t even dream of yet. In the next century, even more so. But it takes time to perfect and scale up new technologies. So it makes sense to barrel ahead with what we can do now, then shift gears as other methods become practical. Merely waiting and hoping is not wise.

Of course, working out how to do it may not even be the hard part.

Even if we try, we are far from guaranteed to succeed … But will we even try? That is more a matter of politics and economics than of science and technology.


The Husband Stitch

A modern fairytale by Carmen Maria Machado.
The whole thing is wonderful, but I especially like the instructions for storytellers, such as —

(If you are reading this story out loud, force a listener to reveal a secret, then open the nearest window to the street and scream it as loudly as you are able.)


iTunes Movies with Japanese Subtitles

Finding a movie with Japanese subtitles to watch on the Australian iTunes store can be a pain because most don’t have them and there’s no way to just see a list of those that do, as you can with Netflix.

To keep a track of the ones that do I’ve made a list that I intend to add to as I find more.


The New Wilderness

Maciej Ceglowski on privacy in the age of surveillance capital  —

This requires us to talk about a different kind of privacy, one that we haven’t needed to give a name to before. For the purposes of this essay, I’ll call it ‘ambient privacy’–the understanding that there is value in having our everyday interactions with one another remain outside the reach of monitoring, and that the small details of our daily lives should pass by unremembered. What we do at home, work, church, school, or in our leisure time does not belong in a permanent record. Not every conversation needs to be a deposition.

The New Wilderness