Guardian: Grid girls and speed limits

More upside-down thinking from Class-A humans. This time it’s not the gun lobby but the automobile association. And more than a few of us believe the same rubbish and can’t see the rubbish for the believing.


Talking to the Future

I just finished watching the documentary Into Eternity on the final repository for nuclear waste that is currently being built in Finland, the first of its kind in the world. Construction on the project, called Onkalo, began in 2000 (the search for a suitable location began in 1983) and it is projected to be completed in 2020. Over the following 100 years, so the plan goes, it will be filled with Finland’s nuclear waste until finally, in 2120, the complex will be sealed forever, or at least 100,000 years. Because that’s how long nuclear waste remains dangerous for.

One hundred thousand years! That is an almost impossible timeframe for us to think in. Any discussion of such spans of time must inevitable become a philosophical discussion beyond all technical details of this immense project. Who can say what the Earth will even be like in 100,000 years? Certainly nothing like our world today. Looking back on human history, the first ever nuclear detonation took place only 73 years ago. Both World Wars (not to mention countless other armed conflicts) took place in the last 100 years. The industrial revolution only began 250 years ago. Christianity has only been around for 2000 years. Even the pyramids of Ancient Egypt are only 5000 years old. How much has the world changed in that “short” time, technologically, politically, even morally?

Then there’s the even more fascinating problem (for me and the documentary maker) of communication, of how to warn future generations of the dangers buried at Onkalo, of, so to speak, what to put on the “door”. Certainly, lacking understanding of the dangers buried there, it is unlikely that future explorers would heed our warnings even if they could understand them. No curses kept us out of the pyramids. At the same time, any attempt to pass down knowledge over such a timespan is almost certainly doomed to failure.

What languages will be spoken in 100,000 years? Certainly not any language existing today. Even symbols or pictures need a common frame of reference that will most likely be lacking. Spikes, skulls and radioactive ‘rays’ could all mean something completely different to them or mean nothing at all. And who are ‘they’ anyway? Assuming intelligent life still exists in 100,000 years, will it even be “human”?

Perhaps it will be better, as some suggest, to bury the project and lose the records, to try to forget it was ever there. Perhaps all that will remain in 100,000 years is a story, a myth, a cautionary tale passed down from parent to child, from philosopher to student, from storyteller to storyteller. In the words of Michael Madsen, the writer and director of Into Eternity:

Did your parents tell you stories about the fire in the burial chamber deep in the bowels of the earth, the chamber you must always remember to forget?


Guardian: Timothy Morton, philosopher prophet of the Anthropocene

‘Another’ crazy rock-star philosopher? Why not.

I’m yet to read Morton’s work, but the interview makes his ideas sound like a case from Dirk Gently’s files (albeit more ecological and less fantastic), or the novel on complex systems Douglas Adams was working on when he died.

Some quotes form the article:

Morton likens this realisation [that everything is connected] to detective stories in which the hunter realises he is hunting himself (his favourite examples are Blade Runner and Oedipus Rex). … “Oh, my God!” Morton exclaimed to me in mock horror at one point. “My attempt to escape the web of fate was the web of fate.”


This leads Morton to one of his most sweeping claims: that the Anthropocene is forcing a revolution in human thought. Advances in science are now underscoring how “enmeshed” we are with other beings – from the microbes that account for roughly half the cells in our bodies, to our reliance for survival on the Earth’s electromagnetic heat shield. At the same time, hyperobjects, in their unwieldy enormity, alert us to the absolute boundaries of science, and therefore the limits of human mastery.


Poring over his books, or speaking to him in person, one starts to suspect that what is outlandish in his thinking and personality actually reflects something truly strange about the world. Over lunch, Morton ordered a chicken salad sandwich – an earlier experiment with veganism had lapsed – and we discussed the development of his thought. As he ate, I was reminded of a recent report that almost 60bn chickens are slaughtered globally every year, which, in the words of Jan Zalasiewicz, means that their carcasses have now been “fossilised in thousands of landfill sites and on street corners around the world”. That thought leads immediately to another one: about the bacterial “superbugs” we have created through widespread use of antibiotics, especially in industrial livestock production. From there, it’s only a short jump to thinking about other strange phenomena in our new epoch, like rocks formed from plastic and seashells, and changes in the earth’s rotation caused by melting ice sheets. Once you start listing these unsettling Anthropocene facts, there’s no end to it.

Giving us a peek into the method of Morton’s madness, Blasdel, the author of the article, writes:

He has achieved the usual trappings of academic success; now that he’s through the metaphorical metal detectors of polite society, he has a different aim. “I can get quite well known, and then I can unleash this kind of anarchist-hippie thing that I’ve been holding like a very precious liquid, carefully, without spilling any, for years and years and years,” he said. “And now I’m going to pour it everywhere.”

Which, ultimately, is not incompatible with the criticisms:

The Morton detractors with whom I spoke accused him of misunderstanding contemporary science, like quantum mechanics and set theory, and then claiming his distortions as support for his wild ideas. They shared a broad critique that reminded me of the sceptical adage, “If you open your mind too far, your brains will fall out.”

Read the article here.


Palace Intrigue: Where Have You Gone?

If the super-rich are supposedly the royalty of today, whatever has happened to the drama? Where is the selfishness and pride? Where the jealousy and rivalry? Where, if I may be so blunt, is the treachery and murder? If they have to rule us, let’s at least have some palace intrigue!

Don’t tell me today’s half-brothers and stepmothers and third cousins twice removed have outgrown the base–I mean, basic–no, I mean, base–human drives of ambition and greed! Don’t tell me the children of the super-rich today are more loyal and content than their blah-blah-divine-right frères! Maybe they think they’re guaranteed their slice of the pie one day, they only need to bide their time, but if there’s one thing your parents taught you, and it’s likely the only thing, it’s that, one, it must be the whole pie, and, two, the pie has to be had now!

And besides, irrespective of the promised life expectancy in your generation, you know–you know–your parents are going to outlive you anyway, and even if they don’t, they’re still going to give more to your snivelling, butt-kissing little brother and your oh-so-innocent-let-me-sit-on-your-lap daddy’s-little-princess sister. They’ve ignored you your whole life, parcelling out affection like dog treats. ARE YOU A DOG? Remember the cards you made that they never opened, the cake untouched on the restaurant table? They didn’t even show for the state finals, your big day, just made certain that your dad’s lawyer was umpiring and double-faulted Johnny Goodspeed thus crowning you champion. Ahhh, who else in your life–your life of strength and power and perfect control!–can make champion sound so much like loser?

So where was he? Yeah, you know exactly where he was. Blowing your rightful inheritance on the Côte d’Azur, that’s where, with his hands, leg and feet model of a third wife. It’s not okay. All of it is just not okay. Something must be done. And it’s so easy, it doesn’t even have to be a thing. He’s old and on too many pills for this heart and liver, and you can certainly make sure that she won’t get a cent. Your brother races powerboats which is the most dangerous sport in the world, and of course you’d still look after your sister, as long as she does what she’s told.

Why not, right? Why not?


More Notes on America from James Baldwin

Let me present, further to my Notes on America from James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son, More Notes on America from James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son:

In the Preface to the 1984 Edition, Baldwin writes:

“It is not pleasant to be forced to recognize, more than thirty years later, that neither this dynamic [of race relations] nor this necessity [to find one’s place in it] have changed. There have been superficial changes, with results at best ambiguous and, at worst, disastrous. Morally, there has been no change at all and a moral change is the only real one. … The only real change vividly discernible in this present, unspeakably dangerous chaos is a panic-stricken apprehension on the part of those who have maligned and subjugated others for so long that the tables have been turned.”

If that was unpleasant to write in 1984, how much more unpleasant is it that today, another thirty plus years later, it is still the case that “North Americans appear to believe these legends [of white supremacy], which they have created and which absolutely nothing in reality corroborates, until today. And when these legends are attacked, as is happening now — all over a globe which has never been and never will be White — my countrymen become childishly vindictive and unutterably dangerous”?

Baldwin’s declaration that “[t]he people who think of themselves as White have the choice of becoming human or irrelevant” is no less poignant today than it was at the time of writing, and though we are yet to see the sentiment reach its ultimate expression, matters do seem to be coming to a head, judging by how “childishly vindictive and unutterably dangerous” capital-W White people are becoming.

One wonders if things have improved since Baldwin wrote that he “can conceive of no Negro native to this country who has not, by the age of puberty, been irreparably scarred by the conditions of his life. All over Harlem, Negro boys and girls are growing into stunted maturity, trying desperately to find a place to stand; and the wonder is not that so many are ruined but that so many survive.”

Certainly, it is still the case that “Americans, unhappily, have the most remarkable ability to alchemize all bitter truths into an innocuous but piquant confection and to transform their moral contradictions … into a proud decoration, such as are given for heroism on the battle field.”

Finally, Baldwin takes his readers right to the very heart of the issue when he writes: “I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once the hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.” Neither is he himself free of this burden, though he offers up some hope:

“Hatred, which could destroy so much, never failed to destroy the man who hated and this was an immutable law.
“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. This first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, on one’s own live, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. The fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.”


Guardian: ‘Nations don’t always learn from history’

So sad to see countries–and peoples–take the wrong turn, pull the rug from under their own feet, tear themselves apart. Author Elif Shafak reflects on the path Turkey is taking.

Guardian: Racism in the Bedroom

“… But then sex and relationships are one of the last remaining bastions of unreconstructed racial prejudice.”

Guardian: “Fat Cat Thursday”


“Bosses of top British companies will have made more money by lunchtime on Thursday than the average UK worker will earn in the entire year… The chief executives of FTSE 100 companies are paid a median average of £3.45m a year, which works out at 120 times the £28,758 collected by full-time UK workers on average… The title for the highest paid listed company boss this year is almost certain to be Jeff Fairburn, the chief executive of housebuilder Persimmon, who is on track to collect a £110m bonus.”

Guardian: What should equality really look like?

The political right have so successfully sold their system of “equality of opportunity”, of “meritocracy” and “social mobility” to the masses that not only do we not realise that this neoliberal dream obfuscates the truth of increasing inequality, even more effectively, we don’t want to realise this, because then we would be without the reality and the hope, however illusory.

To bring change, we have to want change.

“A more equal society would mean everyone has shelter, healthcare, education, food and time to rest and play as well as work. It would mean not discriminating on grounds of identity, sex or skin colour. It would mean a system of “public luxury and private sufficiency”: of facilities such as libraries and galleries and parks which could be participated in by everyone. It would involve foregrounding egalitarian goals and dramatically curbing corporate power and high pay. It would mean heeding the call for universal public services. It would mean prioritising climate change as an issue that affects everyone.”