Posts Tagged ‘dystopia’
Tesco — the company that runs a chain of grocery stores across Great Britain — uses digital armbands to track the performance of its warehouse staff.
Tesco representatives said the devices allow users to switch into a “break mode” for up to 25 minutes a day. But that anonymous employee claimed that using the toilet without logging the trip as a break would result in a surprisingly low score, even if the task was finished within the allotted time.
That’s just one of the many ways that employers are using technology to track employee productivity. Call centers have long used metrics such as call time to rank employees, and gamification software may take it to new levels. Darpa wants to track soldiers’ health. Apparently, IBM has a tool for detecting disgruntled employees. And Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has boasted of a “Chatterlytics” system for ranking employees on their use of the company’s internal social network.
* The kids are all right: Last Friday night, the Harvard College Undergraduate Council announced that the student body had voted 72% in favor of Harvard University divesting its $30.7 billion endowment from fossil fuels.
The trope of invasion is doubly brilliant, first because the invasion plot is a mainstay of SF and second because the trope captures quite neatly what it must feel like for some literary intellectuals to be forced to confront the increasing cultural cachet of SF, to face its meteoric rise over the last thirty years from lowbrow genre to literary respectability. The genre now comfortably occupies university syllabi, best-of lists, and handsome Library of America editions — though some hardened highbrows might suspect its popularity is more a function of marketing than of quality.
For all its brilliance, Clowes’s trope of invasion makes an important mistake, failing to note that the invasion is largely moving in the other direction. After all, one wouldn’t expect Asimov’s Science Fiction to run a special issue featuring “literary fiction,” but publications like the New Yorker apparently do feel the need for a science fiction issue, perhaps trying to freshen themselves up by tapping into the unruly energies of a disreputable genre. Indeed, the lure of the so-called low genres — and SF in particular — has long proven irresistible to those who otherwise fashion themselves as literary types, at least since Kingsley Amis’s classic 1960 study of the genre, New Maps of Hell.
Clowes’s New Yorker cover is, in fact, a perfect example in miniature of the subgenre Amis called the “comic inferno” — humorous dystopias such as those written by Frederick Pohl, C.M. Kornbluth, and Robert Sheckley. This subgenre, by Amis’s account, mocks ideas of progress in its humorous rendition of dystopian futures. What is dystopian about Clowes’s comic cover is very precisely that SF cannot be ignored, that it disrupts the bourgeois regularity and comfort that informs the imagination of hypothetical readers of The New Yorker. The genre — which always bears with it the threatening knowledge that the world might change inexorably, beyond human control, or at least beyond the control of those who are humanistically inclined — cannot be ignored, because the signs of our world’s deepening state of crisis (political, technological, environmental) cannot be ignored.
* Bonus: “Anthony Burgess Answers Two Questions” by Jonathan Lethem.
* Not only are student loans not a burden on the federal government, they’re a good investment. In 2012 the DOW estimated its subsidy for student lending at -17 percent. In other words, the DOE “subsidies” actually represent money coming in. Including all expenses, from loses on defaults to debt collection to program administration, the DOE will pull in more than $25 billion in profit from student lending this year alone—billions more dollars than the IRS will assess in gift and estate taxes combined, and more than enough to pay NASA’s whole budget. The DOE explains the negative subsidy through a divergence between “the Government’s borrowing rate and the interest rate at which borrowers repay their loans.” After all, no one can borrow at lower rate than the U.S. Treasury, certainly not college students and their families. Bondholders aren’t the only ones who think student debtors—including defaulters—will pay back every cent they owe, with interest. The government is literally counting on it.
* The headline reads, “Charges dropped against man arrested for wearing an elaborate wristwatch.”
This is not identical to the story with the American Airlines bankruptcy, but there’s something similar about it. There the CEO gets a large payday if he can avoid a merger, regardless of the value for the enterprise.
* The handwriting is on the wall. Until Republican candidates figure out how to perform better among non-white voters, especially Hispanics and Asians, Republican presidential contenders will have an extraordinarily difficult time winning presidential elections from this point forward.
* My name is R______. I am six years old. I think it’s not fair to only have 5 girls in Guess Who and 19 boys. It is not only boys who are important, girls are important too. If grown ups get into thinking that girls are not important they won’t give little girls much care.
* Remixed trailer of the moment: Gotham High.
* And a new game: impressions of Sean Connery as Gandalf. Oh, what might have been!
* Peter Frase: Drone assassination is now the first resort of the state. Inside the CIA’s new dystopian novel. Responds to the Washington Post report on the drone program here.
The game’s true origins, however, go unmentioned in the official literature. Three decades before Darrow’s patent, in 1903, a Maryland actress named Lizzie Magie created a proto-Monopoly as a tool for teaching the philosophy of Henry George, a nineteenth-century writer who had popularized the notion that no single person could claim to “own” land. In his book Progress and Poverty (1879), George called private land ownership an “erroneous and destructive principle” and argued that land should be held in common, with members of society acting collectively as “the general landlord.”
Magie called her invention The Landlord’s Game, and when it was released in 1906 it looked remarkably similar to what we know today as Monopoly. It featured a continuous track along each side of a square board; the track was divided into blocks, each marked with the name of a property, its purchase price, and its rental value. The game was played with dice and scrip cash, and players moved pawns around the track. It had railroads and public utilities—the Soakum Lighting System, the Slambang Trolley—and a “luxury tax” of $75. It also had Chance cards with quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson (“The earth belongs in usufruct to the living”), John Ruskin (“It begins to be asked on many sides how the possessors of the land became possessed of it”), and Andrew Carnegie (“The greatest astonishment of my life was the discovery that the man who does the work is not the man who gets rich”). The game’s most expensive properties to buy, and those most remunerative to own, were New York City’s Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and Wall Street. In place of Monopoly’s “Go!” was a box marked “Labor Upon Mother Earth Produces Wages.” The Landlord Game’s chief entertainment was the same as in Monopoly: competitors were to be saddled with debt and ultimately reduced to financial ruin, and only one person, the supermonopolist, would stand tall in the end. The players could, however, vote to do something not officially allowed in Monopoly: cooperate. Under this alternative rule set, they would pay land rent not to a property’s title holder but into a common pot—the rent effectively socialized so that, as Magie later wrote, “Prosperity is achieved.”
* The patriarchy ain’t what it used to be: The overhand throwing gap, beginning at 4 years of age, is three times the difference of any other motor task, and it just gets bigger across age. By 18, there’s hardly any overlap in the distribution: Nearly every boy by age 15 throws better than the best girl. I consider myself living disproof of this hypothesis.
* And just this once: Inside the Romney camp’s massive self-inflicted wound. You know, some days I think I just might not like the guy.
* ‘Armed Militia’ of Soldiers Plotted to Take Over Army Base, Assassinate Obama. We’re just going full-bore dystopia all the time I guess.
It’s worse to imagine a world with Obama getting a second term than it is to imagine a world without pizza. Because with Obama in a second term, there will be no pizza. For anyone.
* I found out today with great sadness that Congress has killed the Jacob Javits Fellowship. That thing paid for my MFA. It was a great program.
* There are many ways to destroy a person, but the simplest and most devastating might be solitary confinement. Deprived of meaningful human contact, otherwise healthy prisoners often come unhinged. They experience intense anxiety, paranoia, depression, memory loss, hallucinations and other perceptual distortions. Psychiatrists call this cluster of symptoms SHU syndrome, named after the Security Housing Units of many supermax prisons. Prisoners have more direct ways of naming their experience. They call it “living death,” the “gray box,” or “living in a black hole.”
* The Republican strategist told Brownstein, “This is the last time anyone will try to do this” — “this” being a near total reliance on white votes to win a presidential election.
* Stat of the day: There are three times as many gun dealers as grocery stores in America.
* College Humor, against malaria. I thought Ellie Kemper, Tony Hale, and Rhys Darby alone were worth it.
* Vera Farmiga set to play Norman Bates’ infamous mother in A&E’s Psycho prequel series. We had some fun with this on Twitter earlier today, as this Storify may attest. And here’s one that was Facebook only: Before “North by Northwest” there was “Where’s my compass?”
* Who’s ruining Justice League this week? The Wachowskis.
* Laurie Penny: Rapists are evil people. They’re not nice blokes who everybody respects who simply happen to think it’s ok to stick your dick in a teenager who’s sleeping in the same bed as you, without a condom. This guy seemed, if anything, confused as to why I was scrabbling for my things and bolting out the door. He even sent me an email a few days later, chiding me for being rude.
* A new scientific theory suggests that Big Bang was actually a phase shift: a Big Freeze.
* Terrors of a True Believer: MOOCs and the Precarity Problem.
* Despite our gut-level hunch about the direction of the language; despite the fact that 70-cent, three-minute, off-peak, coast-to-coast long-distance calls that cost four inflation-adjusted dollars in 1970 are now free; despite cheap travel, YouTube, and the globalization of film and television, American dialects are actually diverging.
There are multiple examples of such divergence. But none is as dramatic, as baffling to linguists, and as mysteriously under the collective radar as what’s happening in the cities that ring the Great Lakes. From Syracuse, N.Y., in the east to Milwaukee in the west, 34 million Americans are revolutionizing the sound of English.
* “I know that we have members of the media here right now, so I’m not going to go through that in great detail.” Not to make a whole thing out of it, but it’s amazing he’s able to get away with this.
* And David Cross teases even more Arrested Development than you’d dared to hope.
Tonight’s chilling vision of things to come is brought to you by Google Goggles. Google Goggles! Learn To See.™
* Great television contrarianism watch: Neoliberal Holmes, or, Everything I Know About Modern Life I Learned from Sherlock. In which I analyze my allergy to Sherlock.
* David Harvey: The financial crisis is an urban crisis.
* Utopia and dystopia in quantum superposition: New parking meters text you when time’s running out.
But there is something troubling about this sea of C.G.I.-perfect flesh, shaved and scentless and not especially medieval. It’s unsettling to recall that these are not merely pretty women; they are unknown actresses who must strip, front and back, then mimic graphic sex and sexual torture, a skill increasingly key to attaining employment on cable dramas. During the filming of the second season, an Irish actress walked off the set when her scene shifted to what she termed “soft porn.” Of course, not everyone strips: there are no truly explicit scenes of gay male sex, fewer lingering shots of male bodies, and the leading actresses stay mostly buttoned up. Artistically, “Game of Thrones” is in a different class from “House of Lies,” “Californication,” and “Entourage.” But it’s still part of another colorful patriarchal subculture, the one called Los Angeles.
* Terrible news, state by state:
* Contemplating these dreary statistics, one might well conclude that the United States is — to a distressing extent — a nation of violent, intolerant, ignorant, superstitious, passive, shallow, boorish, selfish, unhealthy, unhappy people, addicted to flickering screens, incurious about other societies and cultures, unwilling or unable to assert or even comprehend their nominal political sovereignty. Or, more simply, that America is a failure.
* The New Yorker‘s science fiction issue is live. If you wanted to get me to read New Yorker fiction for the first time in years, well, mission accomplished…
* And we’re still pouring college money down the for-profit drain. Because never learning from your mistakes is the most important thing we have to teach.
* Chilling fact of the night: “Texas uses fourth grade reading scores to project the number of prison cells they’re going to need 10 years later.”
* LGM has your Wisconsin pre-postmortem.
* And tonight’s dystopia: Behold the London Olympics’ Creepy ‘Brand Exclusion Zone.’
The most carefully policed Brand Exclusion Zone will be around the Olympic Park, and extend up to 1km beyond its perimeter, for up to 35 days. Within this area, officially called an Advertising and Street Trade Restrictions venue restriction zone, no advertising for brands designated as competing with those of the official Olympic sponsors will be allowed. (Originally, as detailed here, only official sponsors were allowed to advertise, but leftover sites are now available). This will be supported by preventing spectators from wearing clothing prominently displaying competing brands, or from entering the exclusion zone with unofficial snack and beverage choices. Within the Zone, the world’s biggest McDonald’s will be the only branded food outlet, and Visa will be the only payment card accepted.
* We’re running out of visions of the future except dystopias,” Morrison says. “The superhero is Western culture’s last-gasp attempt to say there’s a future for us.” The interview’s at Playboy, if you’re at work.
* Mayor Michael Bloomberg has vetoed a City Council bill that would have raised the minimum wage in New York City to $11.50, calling the measure “a throwback to the era when government viewed the private sector as a cash cow to be milked.” I mean really.
* The headline reads, “Watch an Icelandic glacier disintegrate.”
* Scandal in Whoville! The National Post reports that a first-grade teacher at British Columbia’s Prince Rupert elementary school could face disciplinary action for displaying the following Dr. Seuss quote from Yertle the Turtle on school grounds — “I know, up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”
* And in local news: they’ve finally figured out how to ruin 9th Street.
Detroit’s fire boss suggests his department could adjust to a looming 15 percent budget cut by letting some abandoned buildings burn to the ground and using firefighters and even Navy Seabees to demolish vacant structures. I swear I’ve read this dystopian novel before.
* New dystopian novella from Margaret Atwood. It’s a $2.99 Kindle single.
* A spring heat wave like no other in U.S. and Canadian history peaked in intensity yesterday, during its tenth day. Since record keeping began in the late 1800s, there have never been so many temperature records broken for spring warmth in a one-week period–and the margins by which some of the records were broken yesterday were truly astonishing. Wunderground’s weather historian, Christopher C. Burt, commented to me yesterday, “it’s almost like science fiction at this point.“
* Some student loan borrowers with the biggest debt loads didn’t fully understand what they were getting into when they borrowed the money, a survey of those borrowers has found. I’m shocked, shocked!
* …let’s start by setting forth two uncontroversial propositions. The first proposition is that the health care law is constitutional. The second is that the court could strike it down anyway.
Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all “progressive” thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them “I offer you struggle, danger and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation “Greatest happiness of the greatest number” is a good slogan, but at this moment “Better an end with horror than a horror without end” is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
* Vernor Vinge Is Optimistic About the Collapse of Civilization. At least that’s one of us!
* Teju Cole has expanded his White Savior Industrial Complex tweets into a full piece at the Atlantic.
* Procedural reasons SCOTUS may punt on health care. Personally I’d be very surprised if we don’t get a definitive ruling this summer.
* “Which dystopian novel is it where thousands of surveillance robots constantly monitor us from the stratosphere?” Send in the Drones.
* Wired profiles James Erwin, whose Reddit comments landed him in Hollywood.
* A résumé filled with grievous errors in the period 1996–2006 is not only a non-problem for further advances in the world of consensus; it is something of a prerequisite. Our intellectual powers that be not only forgive the mistakes; they require them. You must have been wrong back then in order to have a chance to be taken seriously today; only by having gotten things wrong can you demonstrate that you are trustworthy, a member of the team. (Those who got things right all along, on the other hand, might be dubbed “premature market skeptics”—people who doubted the consensus before the consensus acknowledged it was all right to doubt.)
* Is the Portal to Hell Opening Up Under Wisconsin Right This Very Minute? Single-serving website in 3… 2… 1…
‘The U.S. Military Often Replaces a Working Dog’s Teeth with Titanium Fangs, Capable of Ripping through Enemy Protective Armor’
2015: Cyborg dogs augmented with body armor and titanium fangs stalk the world. This is nightmare-quality monstrous, and I’m not just talking about that “ruff justice” pun.