Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Weekend Links!

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South Carolina Officer Is Charged With Murder of Walter Scott. The police can’t police themselves. And now the public is too scared to cooperate with them. Police Reform Is Impossible in America. The Police Are America’s Terrorists. Man Who Recorded Walter Scott Murder Is Worried Police May Kill Him. White America’s Silence on Police Brutality Is Consent.

Montreal professors stare down riot cops.

Colleges are raising costs because they can.

How self-segregation and concentrated affluence became normal in America.

How to survive a mega-drought.

The Last Time Oceans Got This Acidic This Fast, 96% of Marine Life Went Extinct.

None of the world’s top industries would be profitable if they paid for the natural capital they use.

In The Midst Of Toxic Oil Spill, Vancouver Announces It Will Go 100 Percent Renewable.

Report: Hillary Clinton Overlooked Labor Violations After Millions in Donations. Guess what I’m #ready for?

* Is Hillary Clinton even any good at running for president?

The Assistant Economy.

Elizabeth Warren Is Right About Everything.

The Columbia Report on Rolling Stone‘s Rape Story Is Bad for Journalism.

The Brontosaurus Is Back. Take that, science!

A Map Showing UFO Hot Spots Across The United States.

The analysis concluded that, over the past 10 years, the five pension funds have paid more than $2 billion in fees to money managers and have received virtually nothing in return, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said in an interview on Wednesday.

The man who was accidentally released from prison 88 years early.

What Was On a 1920s Membership Application for the KKK?

Haunted by The Handmaid’s Tale.

* On correcting the Bible.

Wired proves the laws of physics don’t apply to Legolas.

Videogame Publishers: No Preserving Abandoned Games, Even for Museums and Archives, Because All “Hacking” is Illegal.

* Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to get even more boring spinoff. If that’s possible.

Memorial for the “Unknown Deserter” – Potsdam, Germany.

The Photographer Who Took This Picture Barely Escaped With His Life.

This Probably Made Up Reddit Story About a Potato Is Incredibly Good.

* There’s nothing sweet in life.

* Lili Loofbourow takes the bait on the “is that all there is?” Mad Men and boredom thinkpiece. Also from Lili: You Should Be Watching ‘Fortitude,’ A Murder-Mystery That Makes Climate Change The Real Villain.

Arrested Development returning for 17 episodes, according to Brian Grazer.

* A cheat sheet for figuring out where in the US you are by recognizing the background from movies.

12 Ways Humanity Could Destroy The Entire Solar System.

* And I really hope they catch him this time.

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From the Archives! Interview with Cory Doctorow on Disney, SF, Violence, Meritocracy, Goodhart’s Law, Fandom, and Utopia

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Several years ago I taught Cory Doctorow’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom for a Writing 20 class at Duke called “Writing the Future,” which resulted in a lenthy interview between my students and Doctorow. For many years the interview was archived at the course site at duke.edu, but it looks like it’s been pulled down; even the Wayback Machine has been thwarted. Since I’m fond of the interview, and frequently return to some of the things he says in it, I’m reposting it here. Enjoy!

The interview took place in Spring 2010.

“Trying to Predict the Present”: An Interview with Cory Doctorow

W20: What did this novel mean to you when you first wrote it, and how has the meaning changed in the nine years since? How might the novel be different if you wrote it today?

CD: That’s a really tough question to answer—not specifically because of the change in circumstances, but because of the change in the writer over time. The more time you spend writing, the more different your approach to the work is. That was the first novel I ever finished—it’s fundamentally different to write a book when you know you can finish a book than to write a book when you don’t know if you can a finish a book—and I actually think those differences would swamp any differences that arose from circumstances or politics or new wisdom or whatever. Just the idea of writing a book, when you know you can write a book, completely overpowers any of the other changes.

I don’t know if that makes sense. It probably doesn’t answer your question very well.

One of the things I realized in the course of writing the book, and that I think a lot of people miss when they read the book, is that Whuffie has one of the fundamental problems that accrues to money or property, which is that the more you have the easier it is to get more. That’s a pretty a pretty enormous gap in the Utopian character of Whuffie. A properly Utopian system is one in which you have something that’s a lot like merit, not like circumstance—where people are rewarded based on how great they are, not based how great they used to be. And I think Whuffie is primarily one of those systems that rewards you for having gotten lucky or doing something good some time ago, and then continues to reward you for that forever at the expense of other people.

I think Whuffie would follow a power-law distribution, just like in-bound links to blogs, for exactly the same reason.

W20: We talked a little bit about this, and it leads to the second question, whether or not large corporations are starting to create a system that’s sort of like Whuffie, but at the same time proprietary. We were thinking of Google, YouTube, Facebook especially, but even something like LinkedIn—isn’t this something like Whuffie that’s starting to materialize? Blog linkage would be the same sort of thing, facing the same sorts of problems you’ve just been talking about.

CD: I based Whuffie at the time more on Slashdot’s Karma, and I don’t know that Faceook has an exact analogue to it. I guess Facebook has this thing where you can see who has the most inbound links, who has the most friends, and you can “digg” up yourself by getting more of those.

I think that in general we have a pathological response to anything we measure. We tend not to measure the thing we care about; we tend to measure something that indicates its presence. It’s often very hard to measure the thing that you’re hoping for. You don’t actually care about how calories you eat; you care about how much weight you’re going to gain from the calories you eat. But as soon as we go, oh, well, calories are a pretty good proxy for weight gain, we start to come up with these foods that are incredibly unhealthy but nevertheless have very few calories in them. In the same way, Google doesn’t really care about inbound links because inbound links are good per se; Google cares about inbound links because inbound links are a good proxy for “someone likes this page; someone thinks this page is a useful place to be, is a good place to be.” But as soon as Google starts counting that, people start finding ways to make links that don’t actually serve as a proxy for that conclusion at all.

GDP is another good example. We don’t care about GDP because GDP itself is good; we care about GDP because the basket of indicators that we measure with GDP are a proxy for the overall health of the society—except as soon as you start measuring GDP, people figure out how to make the GDP go up by doing things like trading derivatives of derivates of subprime subderivates of derivatives, but which actually does the reverse of what we care about by undermining the quality of life and the stability of society.

So I think that one of the biggest problems that Google has, taking Google as probably the best example of someone trying to build a reputation currency, is that as soon as Google gives you any insight into how they are building their reputation system it ceases to be very good as a reputation system. As soon as Google stops measuring something you created by accident and starts measuring something you created on purpose, it stops being something that they want to measure. And this is joined by the twin problem that what Google fundamentally has is a security problem; they have hackers who are trying to undermine the integrity of the system. And the natural response to a problem that arises when attackers know how your system works is to try to keep the details of your system secret—but keeping the details of Google’s system secret is also not very good because it means that we don’t have any reason to trust it. All we know when we search Google is that we get a result that seems like a good result; but we don’t know that there isn’t a much better result that Google has either deliberately or accidentally excluded from its listings for reasons that are attributable to either malice or incompetence. So they’re really trapped between a rock and a hard place: if they publish how their system works, people will game their system; if they don’t publish how their system works it becomes less useful and trustworthy and good. It suffers from the problem of alchemy; if alchemists don’t tell people what they learned, then every alchemist needs to discover for themselves that drinking mercury is a bad idea, and alchemy stagnates. When you start to publishing, you get science—but Google can’t publish or they’ll also get more attacks.

So it’s a really thorny, thorny problem, and I elide that problem with Whuffie by imagining a completely undescribed science fictional system that can disambiguate every object in the universe so when you look at something and have a response to it the system knows that the response is being driven by the color of the car but not by the car, or the shirt but not the person wearing it, or the person wearing it and not the shirt, and also know how you feel about it. So it can know what you’re feeling and what you’re feeling it about. And I don’t actually think we have a computer that could that; I don’t think we have Supreme Court judges or Ph.D. philosophers that can do that.

W20: That’s sort of a fantastic self-criticism, actually—you’re exposing what’s so great about Whuffie and what’s so impossible about it all at once.

CD: Sure, and that’s why I think Whuffie feeds the fantasy of a meritocratic society. There’s something particularly self-serving about people who are doing very well imagining that society is meritocratic: it means that the reason you are doing so well is because you have merit, not because you were lucky or because you screwed someone else. So I’m always suspicious of people who are doing extremely well telling you how meritocratic society their society is. I’m also somewhat suspicious of people doing very poorly who tell you how meritocratic society is, because I think that’s often aspirational: they’ve basically bought the story that if only they work hard and are good and pure of heart they’ll catch up to the people who have been rich for a hundred generations. So I think the idea of meritocracy is a really tricky one because the embrace of meritocracy is seductive for reasons that transcend logic.

W20: I don’t know if I’ll include this in the interview, to shame my students or not, but this is something that comes up a lot in Duke classes. Duke students believe very much in meritocracy because they’re the winners of the system.

CD: Yeah, sure. I think we have a problem in that we end up with this tautological definition of merit in a meritocracy. How do we know what’s meritorious? It’s the thing that’s on top. You have this very Milton Friedman way of measuring accomplishment: you come up with some self-serving thing that makes you better, and declare whatever outcome you have as the best possible one. And I think that’s pretty nakedly not a great way of apportioning social resources or measuring the quality of life.

W20: Let me switch gears to the next question, which is kind of a shadow version of the last one. We talked a little bit about smartphones, and about closely they seem to match the things you describe in the book as the start of the Bitchun society, these little handheld devices. So on the one hand we have the question of whether or not it can still be Bitchun if it’s run by corporations, if they’re provided not by these collectives but by Apple. And then, as a secondary question, to what extent was this novel your personal prediction for society’s future, and what did you not predict that you wish you had?

I’ve never really done anything predictive in my life. I always say that I try to predict the present. Which is to say that you take those elements that seem futuristic that are kind of floating around in the present, but because they’ve snuck up on us so gradually, because we were boiled frog-style so gently in them that we end up not even noticing that they’re there.

My friend Jim Griffin always says that anything invented before you’re 20 was there forever; anything invented before you’re 30 is the coolest thing ever; and anything invented after that should be illegal. And I think one great way that a science fiction writer can help overcome that, or call attention to that, is to have a look at what’s around you and the stuff that feels futuristic and just write about it as if it hadn’t been invented yet, as if it were something you were making up for a science fiction story. And so everyone goes, “Wow, look at that, it’s this incredibly futuristic thing that we have right here about to happen”—and then they look around again and say “Oh my god, it’s happened!”, even though it was there before you started.

So I guess the best example of this was a presentation I once heard someone give on gold-farming at a games conference about five years ago. And then I wrote a short story “predicting” there would be gold-farming in the future. And people who discovered the story first and then read the article, or read more articles as the phenomenon increased—there’s now 400,000 people who earn their living goldfarming—assume that I predicted it. And really what I’d done is written about something in the present as though it were being invented in the future.

I didn’t answer the part about whether smart phones can be Bitchun. And no, I don’t think so—I think the problem with smartphones is not necessarily that they’re run by corporations but the specific corporations that run them. Phone companies are basically a regulatory monopoly wrapped around a soft chewy core of greed and venality. The phone companies have always disguised a complete aversion to change, progress, and democracy by wrapping it up in high-minded talk about how they’re guardians our natural infrastructure. There’s a famous case called Hush-a-Phone in which finally customers won the right to attach a Privacy Cone—like the cone you put around your dog’s head when it has stitches—to the receiver of your phone. Because up until then Bell argued that connecting anything to a phone endangered the network, including, you know, putting stickers on it. And you see this today. Why can’t you get an open phone that you could run any software on? Oh, you could crash the network.

So I think the specifically the fact that cells are run by phone companies and then also run by control-freak companies like Apple that have decided that you shouldn’t be allowed to decide what software you want to run. And Apple has made this unholy alliance with the music industry, who are also great believers that you shouldn’t be able to inspect the workings of your device, and that you shouldn’t be able to use protocols anonymously, and so on. That unholy trinity of the entertainment industry, Apple, and the phone companies means you’ll never get anything remotely great out of mobile phones until someone breaks the deadlock.

W20: What about that last part, what did you not predict that you wish you had? I guess this doesn’t make sense as a question because you don’t predict anything.

You know, in terms of staying power, there are a few things that I predicted would still be in Disney World that have just shut down. The Adventurer’s Club, which I still think is the best Disney has ever done, is now shut. But I guess I could say that in my future they’re reopened it; I could fix that by adding a sentence that says, “The first thing they did was reopen the Adventurer’s Club,” and we’d be back in business.

W20: We were surprised to check your archives and find out that you’d liked the Johnny Deppification of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Given your character we thought you might have wanted it to stay the same.

I really like that. In fact we rode it last week, as we’re stuck in L.A. The new Lincoln Bot is good too; The new Lincoln Bot is awesome, actually: he’s lip-synching, he’s gesturing. The last Lincoln Bot, he was really, um—what they did is go back and research all of his historical gestures, and they put every single into his 90-second speech. They’d made it look like he had Tourette’s.

W20: I’m going to skip a question because we’re now talking about Disney World. They were really interested in why it was you set the novel in Disney World, how it fed into the plot or the themes of the novel. They were wondering if Disney World came first, or did it fit into the idea you had for the story line?

CD: No, it was definitely that Disney came first. I’d always wanted to write a book about Disney World. It’s always inspired me, going to Disney World. I find it inspiring as a piece of art and a piece of social engineering. And inspiring not in the entirely good sense, but inspiring in the sense that every time I go there I have a bunch of thoughts. It really gets both my creative and critical juices flowing, to go to Disney World. I’m not the only one; if you read Baudrillard, he spent all this time there too.

It definitely started with Disney, and to be totally frank one of the cool things about writing a book set in Disney World is that it makes your Disney trips tax-deductible. Which is sort of an interesting, science fictiony thing: anything you choose to write a book about becomes tax-deductible. There’s a reason why Iain Banks took a year off from writing thrillers to write a book about whiskey; his whiskey became tax deductible for a year!

Disney has always had a love-hate relationship, or at least an ambivalent relationship, with audience participation. And with remix, obviously, which is ironic given all the ways Disney has borrowed from the culture before it to make new and I think very good cultural artifacts, by and large.

The Mickey Mouse Club, in the early days, actually met and made their Mickey stuff, and did their own Mickey activities. There’s always been this aspect of, you know, take Mickey and make him part of your world—make your Disney memories classic memories of your life that stick with you forever. All that stuff has always been part of Disney’s DNA. At the same time they’re very proprietary: that shalt not copy, we own all rights in all media now known and yet to be invented throughout the universe, and so own. There’s also some of that.

But when you go to Disney World, what you find is that Disney’s implicit and sometimes explicit social contract with its visitors is that you are a resident of Disney World while you’re here. This is your place too. I once did one of the Disney management courses at the Disney Institute, and one of the things they said is that after a couple of days in Disney World people who are staying there start picking up trash when they see it.

So they want to form a social contract with says that you and we are in this together—which I think is one of the reasons Disney doesn’t go after people who put entire ride-throughs of their rides on YouTube, or why by and large they don’t stop you from taking photos even of the photo ops where they sell you the photo. There’s never a time when they tell you to put away your camera because you’re “on stage”; you can always have your camera out, you can always be shooting. And that’s because it’s your place too; you’re supposed to be making memories and taking them home because that’s where they’re getting their value from.

And yet they’re not completely into this; there’s a place at which the social contract breaks down and becomes a commercial relationship again. And I think it’s pretty natural that fans of Disney World, who’ve been told for generations to form a social contract with Disney where they treat it as their own place, and also become not just guests but custodians of it, start to act like custodians of it.

There’s a great book by Greg Egan called Quarantine—it’s his first novel. In it, there’s a conspiracy of kind of bad guys, and one of the things they do to anyone who is on their trail is put a chip in their brain that makes them absolutely loyal to the conspiracy: they can’t betray the conspiracy, they’re neurologically incapable of betraying the conspiracy. And the way that they get out of it is really clever: what they do is have this mental game in which they say, “Only people who have this chip can be truly loyal to the conspiracy. Therefore the people who put the chips in our head aren’t members of the true conspiracy. They’re members of a false conspiracy because they can choose to betray the conspiracy and we can’t. Therefore it is our duty as members of the true conspiracy to betray the people who put the chip in our heads that make us loyal to them.”

I always thought that was a really interesting little bit here, to say: Who are you to say that you’re the true keeper of the flame? Maybe I’m the true keeper of the flame. You’re just a corporation who’s in it to make as much money as you can from these assets. And maybe that converges sometimes with being the best custodian, and maybe sometimes it doesn’t; maybe sometimes you’ll go off and chase the quarterly profits at the expense of long-term value. Meanwhile, I have no commercial interest in it – therefore I’m a better custodian than you, I should have more say in it that you do. And I think that relationship beats in the heart of big Disney fans, the people you see who know the park like the back of their hand.

W20: So then my follow-up question about whether Disney is a utopia or an anti-utopia has again already been answered in the sense that it’s both, right—that it has these utopian qualities and then these other kinds of countervailing qualities that push against it.

CD: Yeah, that’s right.

W20: So, then, two more questions. The first one—we’ve had a lot of talk about ecology and the environment in our course, and we got a little hung up on what you meant by Free Energy, whether this was something you were imagining seriously as a post-scarcity economics or if it was just something that was some magical thing.

CD: This is Free Energy in the kind of crank sense—zero point energy, cold fusion, perpetual motion machines. The perpetual motion machine has been a feature of Utopianism since Newton I guess. It’s science fiction shorthand, I think, for all of the above—an entropy reversing ray, another universe from which you can siphon off energy, whatever it is. You know, theoretically, fusion, if we ever get, fusion becomes more or less free energy. Not even cold fusion; moderate temperature fusion is more or less free energy forever, because it turns water into electricity.

W20: I think the feeling of the students who asked this question really had to do whether or not this was kind of like the short-circuiting you were talking about with regard to Whuffie; that you kind of skip over the post-scarcity engine that makes this thing work, and that without something like Free Energy (which may or may not actually be possible, probably not) we could never actually get to the Bitchun society because we’d constantly be falling back in to the scarcity wars, constantly falling back into exploitation.

CD: I don’t know that scarcity is necessarily what drives exploitation. I think abundance can drive exploitation too. The record industry certainly responded to a death of scarcity in its core product as a social evil. I don’t know that abundance is necessarily the necessary precondition.

But this is more like the physicist who sits down at the start of the Gedankenexperiment: let us assume a perfectly spherical cow of uniform density. Every Gedankenexperiment necessarily elides certain details, because that’s not what the experiment is about. The thought experiment is not about

how we would get infinite energy, the thought experiment is about what we would do if scarcity vanished. There’s a different thought experiment about how we could get infinite energy; Damon Knight wrote a book called A for Anything that’s very good about that. A very cynical book, I think, but very good. And so there’s a lot of different variations on that theme.

W20. Last question and then I’ll let you go. Thanks for doing this. This was about whether you want to live in the Bitchun Society personally: Would you deadhead, erase memories, flashbake, use backups? What wouldn’t you do? Basically the question is: is the Bitchun Society Cory Doctorow’s Utopia?

CD: I would definitely backup; I would probably flashbake; I don’t think I would deadhead though it’s hard to say what you’d do after 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 years. Nobody really knows the answer to that question. And I think that by and large the Bitchun Society would be better than the one we have now; I don’t know that it’s Utopia. But one of the advantages of the Bitchun Society as opposed to other Utopias is that it doesn’t require a tabula rasa as an interim step.

I think Utopianism has genocide lurking in its bowels; I think a lot of Utopians are saying, “First we eradicate all the systems that are present. We settle all the grievances, we wipe the slate clean, we level the earth, we pave everything, and then we start from go.” The Bitchun Society doesn’t require that at all; it does have a lot of social upheaval in it, but it doesn’t begin “First what we do is kill anyone who has a beef with anyone else in the Middle East, and then we settle up with whoever is left.” That’s a bad solution.

Tuesday Links!

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* In case you missed it, I put up a short thing about The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt yesterday. It was an odd and sad day to have done so, in retrospect.

* And here’s everything we know about season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

* Some (more) thoughts on the Hugos. And some more.

* Science Fiction Film and Television 8.1 is now available. And don’t forget our call for papers on Star Trek at 50!

* If you want a vision of the future: University of Florida admits 3,000 students — then tells them it is only for online program.

Visiting Africa: A Short Guide for Researchers.

* Rolling Stone has retracted their UVA story, as well as a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism detailing what went wrong. Reaction online has generally been that the Columbia report doesn’t go nearly far enough, and that RS is in total denial about the seriousness of what they did — though there’s speculation that RS‘s non-response is at least partially driven by the fact that the fraternity plans to sue.

* What happens when you build a town around a prison?

* What percentage of national Democrats have been placed there as sleeper agents specifically to disrupt literally any attempt at improvement, do you think? 90, 95%?

* The American West dries up. In a development that will surprise no one, California’s wealthy aren’t doing their part to save water. Water-rationing plan leaves corporate interests untouched. Nestlé called out for bottling, selling California water during drought. And the state has been fracking into their aquifers this whole time. We know what our problems are and we do nothing or make them worse.

Report: Majority Of Earth’s Potable Water Trapped In Coca-Cola Products.

Melting Ice Caps Expose Hundreds Of Secret Arctic Lairs.

* Man-made earthquakes in Oklahoma. Bonus points for a truly good headline pun: “Weather Underground.”

First Gorgeous Look At Mark Z. Danielewski’s New Series, The Familiar!

* Finally, someone is responding to voter ID panic in the proper way.

* Can Marxist theory predict the end of Game of Thrones?

A former Harvard associate professor is pursuing a federal Title IX lawsuit against the university, alleging she was discriminated against while trying to secure tenure there in 2013.

NYC officials remove Edward Snowden statue secretly installed in Brooklyn park.

“Recognizing that Native American art was made by individuals, not tribes, and labeling it accordingly, is a practice that is long overdue,” said Dan L. Monroe, executive director of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., which has a large Indian collection and has made some attempts to identify individual artists since the mid-1990s.

In short, ruin porn hides more than it shows. It creates the hyper-visibility of some elements of crisis, usually infrastructural damage and death, while simultaneously making others invisible, namely the social and political forces that engender uneven patterns–and origins–of damage and recovery.

* Helen Keller, socialist.

I was arrested 75 times: how violent policing destroys mental health.

* Strange fashion choices of the 24th century.

* Inside Brown’s plan to make its faculty more diverse. I don’t see how “postdoctoral fellowships” is even part of this conversation. Postdocs aren’t faculty.

* Paul “Freaks & Geeks” Feig has a new show, outer space comedy Other Space.

* Lucille Ball statue terrorizes small town.

* And I’ll see you again in twenty-five years: The Twin Peaks revival is apparently going to happen without David Lynch.

Notes Towards a Miss Reading of Kimmy Schmidt

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Seeing this review of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt at the Los Angeles Review of Books has inspired me to finally write up some somewhat idiosyncratic thoughts I’ve had about the series that I haven’t seen reflected anywhere else. (And thanks to the people who have indulged me about this on Twitter, especially @millicentsomer and @evankindley.) I definitely agree with the reviewer that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a “woman out of time” story, but I really think the interpretive emphasis on “Unfrozen Middle Schooler from the 1990s” should be on “middle schooler” rather than “from the 1990s.” My take is that the 1990s nostalgia is largely driven by the Millennial audience the show is pitching itself at — it’s an engine for jokes but not really the center of the project. “Unfrozen Middle Schooler,” in contrast, is the actual heart of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, at least the way I want to read it as a feminist work.

One of the things I talked about with Lili and Evan on Twitter was whether Kimmy’s abduction is taken seriously as an event or if the bunker is taken seriously as an actual lived environment. Having completed the series now, I still don’t think so: I think “the bunker” essentially functions in the series like being in a coma, or being shot with a Grow-Up Beam, or making a wish to be Big. It’s a magic spell to get Kimmy from middle school to adulthood without having to go through high school and college, which is the source of her power in the series, from her refusal of the usual rules of society to her love of backpacks and bright, mismatched clothing. You can see this utopian imaginary working really clearly in the incredibly infectious theme song, where the removal of the girls from the bunker and a closeup on Kimmy’s ecstatic childlike grin over the lyrics “Unbreakable! They alive, damnit! It’s a miracle!” quickly gives way to a montage of nostalgic, home-video-style images of childhood (and specifically girlhood), which express the same unvarnished joy but also absolute self-confidence (thumb’s up), total mastery of their environment (the dancing, the hula hooping, the monkey bars), and maximum resilience in the face of adversity (the baby plopping down face first).

We return to the in-universe “autotune the news” frame only once during this thirty-second sequence, to be told that “females are strong as hell” — the clear implication to me being that we ought to draw an interpretive connection between the claim of female power and childhood, specifically, girlhood: before sex, before even puberty, before the male gaze, before pervert teachers and abusive boyfriends and quasi-consensual sexual encounters and ubiquitous street harassment and the too-familiar host of other abuses inflicted upon women from the moment they enter young adulthood. What the magic spell of the bunker allows Kimmy to do is pass over the moment in which girls are forcibly conscripted into becoming “women” (somewhat or entirely against their will) and emerge instead as an adult who has not internalized our society’s misogyny or its mean, psychosexual aggressivity. So much of what is delightful about Kimmy is precisely the fact that she has retained the aspirations, expectations, confidence, and general affect of a precocious middle-schooler without having had to temper or diminish herself through unhappy experiences with patriarchy. If the show has a moral or utopian message for women, it’s Let’s all go back to thinking about ourselves the way we did before society told us we were worthless, and it’s a pretty damn good one.

We’ve been working with children’s stories a lot in my “magic as literature” course this semester, and one of the oppositions we’ve really been focusing on (especially as we’ve studied Disney, and Frozen, recently) is the opposition between what mythographers call “the girl’s tragedy” and what we’ve been calling instead the utopia of childhood or (here more directly) the utopia of girlhood. The girl’s tragedy is the female answer to “the hero’s journey,” but the narrative doesn’t work the same way: instead of the boy hero who sets out from home, masters the outside world, slays the dragon, and then returns home to become king, the girl’s tragedy is a story about being ripped from safety and forced to accommodate oneself to the whims of adult men, particularly their sexual urges. The happy ending for the girl’s tragedy — the happiest one available — is that she accepts her role as wife and mother and gives birth to a male son who will then inaugurate the next cycle of heroism; girls and women who refuse to play the proper role are typically cast out of the realm of the human altogether, turned into animals or plants or stars or foam. The utopia of childhood describes those comparatively rare stories that are exceptions, where the girls are neither forced to become mothers nor punished, but allowed to remain what they were without transformation by instead bending the adult world to their will (as in Brave, or Moonrise Kingdom, or arguably Frozen, though in most of these the girl-heroes seem only to buying themselves time rather than enacting a full and permanent transformation of their circumstances).

Of course the utopia of childhood can itself be deeply retrograde, and is frequently misogynistic in its way — we spent a lot of time on “The Problem of Susan” in the Narnia books precisely so we didn’t fall too in love with the impossible fantasy of never growing up (when in the end we all have to). Nor can we safely imagine childhood in such uncomplicatedly rosy terms, both because childhood can also be a time of fierce frustration, competition, and intense pain even when it is not actively shattered through the cruelty and abuse of adults. But all the same there is something undeniably appealing about the idea of returning to a childhood that is both happy and which never gives way to something else, a desire that structures so much of our culture (particularly the middle-class culture of “good parenting”) that it really almost goes without saying. And in the case of Kimmy Schmidt‘s feminist politics of course the idea is not that women find some fantastical way to literally de-age themselves so much as they look to their younger, effortlessly capable and supremely confident selves as inspiration in the present.

There’s one more thing to say about Kimmy Schmidt, which is again about the abduction and the bunker, which would seem to be a rather large problem for my reading of the series. Isn’t Kimmy’s entire situation itself a literalized girl’s tragedy, insofar as she is abducted as a child and put into radical seclusion, all the while being fed obscenely misogynistic lies by a woman-hating male adult? Well, yes! The question of Kimmy’s abduction, and the horrific sexual violence it inevitably implies if thought about too much, is a pretty thorny one for the series: fixated on too much, it threatens to derail any potential for comedy in the show at all. (UPDATE: Someone just sent me Emily Nussbaum’s review, which talks a lot about this issue.) The series cleverly solves the problem by opening the door just a crack — “yes, there was weird sex stuff in the bunker” — and then simply leaving it there. Something happened — perhaps, as Evan suggested in what has become my headcanon, it was all between the girls and not involving the preacher at all — but it hasn’t changed Kimmy, or defeated her. And she emerges from Hell neither pregnant with the monster’s baby, nor transformed into a weeping plant or into sea-foam, but just as unflappable and unbreakable as she was when she went in.

And in any event the treatment of the bunker doesn’t really work the way the ten-second summary of the setup would suggest. The presence of the preacher is actually a further occasion for Kimmy to refuse to internalize her sexist training, precisely because it is now located within a single, odious man against whom she can fight. The button at the end of the first episode demonstrates precisely this: Kimmy proves he is lying to them, he says he’s going to break her someday, and she replies no, he never will. It’s easy to see why, in contrast to the microaggressions and little indignities — alongside the very big ones — that make up girls’ training to be women in our society, which is constantly delivered by parents and siblings and friends and trusted authority figures and widely celebrated mass culture texts, Kimmy’s more direct training in misogyny at the hands of the Reverend never really takes. In the bunker she had an obvious enemy, someone she could tell she was feeding her poison, and so she could reject it. It’s actually outside the bunker where the true brainwashing takes place, which is all the more insidious because it seems like education, like help, like love.

Easter Links! Find Them All!

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* The 2015 Hugo nominees have been announced, and they’re a mess. The Hugo Awards Were Always Political. But Now They’re Only Political. A Note About the Hugo Nominations This Year. The Puppy-Free Hugo Award Voter’s Guide. The Biggest Little SF Publisher you never heard of declares war. “Why I Declined a Hugo Award Nomination.”

* And in response to the question “Well, what should have been nominated for a Hugo?”: “Andromache and the Dragon,” by my brilliant Marquette colleague Brittany Pladek!

* “The Many Faces of Tatiana Maslany”: In portraying a horde of clones on ‘Orphan Black,’ the actress has created TV’s strangest — and most sophisticated — meditation on femininity. And a special bonus companion piece: Meet The Woman (Besides Tatiana Maslany) Who Plays Every Single “Orphan Black” Clone.

Reddit’s Bizarre, Surreal, Maddening, Hypnotic, Divisive, and Possibly Evil April Fools’ Joke. I’ve become obsessed with this.

* CFP: Ephemeral Television. CFP: Into the Pensieve: The Harry Potter Generation in Retrospect.

* Watching them turn off the Rothkos.

Somali Militants Kill 147 at Kenyan University.

Iran’s Been Two Years Away From a Nuclear Weapon for Three Decades. The Iran deal. What if the Iranians are people too?

So how much money is the NCAA making? In 2010, CBS and Turner Broadcasting gave the NCAA $10.8 billion for a fourteen-year broadcast monopoly on March Madness games. Estimated ad revenue for the 2013 tournament reached $1.15 billion, while ticket revenue brought in another $71.7 million. Last year no less than thirty-five coaches pulled down salaries higher than $1 million before bonuses; Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski topped the list with an income of more than $9.6 million.

Guarding against the errant, suicidal murderous pilot belongs to a category called “wicked problems” — the complexity of the system and the conflicting incentives mean that every solution introduces another set of problems, so the only way forward is always going to be an imperfect one. Second, and perhaps more importantly, is that this once again reveals how, as humans, we are lousy at risk assessment, and also lousy of accepting this weakness. The problem is wicked, but its occurrence is so rare that it is almost unheard of — partly why it terrifies us so. Our imagination, biases and fears are terrible guides to what should actually be done to keep us safer, and this has significant consequences in a whole host of fields, ranging from terrorism to childcare to health-care.

So you see, people like Tim Cook are selective in their moral universalism; morality, it turns out, is universal only insofar as extends to the particular desires of a Western bourgeoisie; deny a gay couple a wedding bouquet that they could get at the florist down the street anyway, and that is a cause for outrage and concern; extract minerals using indentured Congolese servants, well, look, we’ve got marginal cost to consider! The moral argument, it turns out, curdles when exposed to the profit motive, and the universality of justice actually does end at certain borders, one way or another.

How the Slave Trade Built America.

* But unlike its predecessor, the show has no obvious narrative progression. Nacho’s important, or he’s not; the Kettlemans are half the show, or maybe we should care about Sandpiper. There are flashbacks to Jimmy’s past where Bob Odenkirk is playing either 25 or 57—a savvy criminal or a neophyte screw-up. In the lead-up to Better Call Saul, there were theories that the show would be funnier than Breaking Bad (maybe a sitcom?) or more procedural than Breaking Bad (maybe The Good Wife for bad boys?) or more episodic (like X-Files with lawyers!). None of that is true, and all of that is true. It’s interesting, but not the way great TV is interesting. Better Call Saul reminds me more of Treme or John From Cincinnati: post-masterpiece meanders. 

* In TV’s Silver Age, a logjam of shows that are ‘pretty good,’ but not great.

Here’s A Map That Shows All The Future Megacities From Science Fiction.

* Can science fiction be a form of social activism? Walidah Imarisha thinks so, and she’s recruited everyone from LeVar Burton to Mumia Abu-Jamal to help her prove it.

* Johns Hopkins Faces $1-Billion Lawsuit Over U.S. Experiments in Guatemala.

* sirens.io, blogging from seven years in the future.

* Are Aliens Behind Mysterious Radio Bursts? Scientists Weigh In.

* Calif. Governor Orders Mandatory Water Restrictions For 1st Time In History. It’s up to us to singlehandedly save california from drought by turning off the tap when we brush our teeth! California is pumping water that fell to Earth 20,000 years ago. California Drought Tests History of Endless Growth. R.I.P. California (1850-2016): What We’ll Lose And Learn From The World’s First Major Water Collapse. Children of the Drought.

Starting this week, 25,000 households in Baltimore will suddenly lose their access to water for owing bills of $250 or more, with very little notice given and no public hearings.

* Oceans might take 1,000 years to recover from climate change, study suggests.

Drug field tests used by cops are so bad they react positively to air, soap, candy.

* Trolley Problem: The Game. Advanced Trolley Problems.

* Scott Walker’s budget cuts $5.7 million from pollution control efforts.

The Most Popular Antidepressants Are Based On A Theory We Know Is Wrong. Most antidepressant users have never had depression.

* 12 New Science Fiction Comics You Absolutely Need to be Reading.

* From Shaman to Equinox: The Challenges and Failures of Indigenous Representation in Superhero Comics Read More: Indigenous Representation in Superhero Comics.

* Hero Price Is Right model begins the revolution by just giving away a car.

* First as an unexpectedly great show, then as I don’t know it doesn’t sound like a very good idea to me.

All told, the “Detroit Industry” frescoes are probably as close as this country gets to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

* The happiness spigot.

New report says manned Mars mission could reach orbit by 2033, land by 2039.

Clarke makes her point not with stirring courtroom rhetoric or devastating legal arguments but by a process of relentless accretion, case by case, win by win. This is her cause. Because if the state cannot put these defendants to death, then how can it put anyone to death? Thirty-five executions took place in the United States in 2014 for crimes that form an inventory of human cruelty—and yet few were as willful and egregious as those committed by Judy Clarke’s clients.

Here is an example of the priorities in New York state’s budget: There is no increase in the minimum wage, but purchasers of yachts that cost more than $230,000 are exempt from the sales tax.

* U.S. Court Officially Rules that Friendship Is Worthless.

Tales from the Trenches: I was SWATed.

Texas Just Does Not Care How Hot Its Prisons Get.

* Duke tries throwing polio at cancer, as you do.

* Interesting article on design: The Secret History of the Apple Watch.

Senate Republicans say the current system is unfair because rural residents are effectively supporting urban counties’ schools and services when they shop there. Yes, that’s literally how the system is intended to function.

The dystopian lake filled by the world’s tech lust.

* So you want to resurrect a college.

These Slow-Motion Videos of Fluids Vibrating on Speakers Are Wonderful.

* Now Full House, and the Muppets too.

These Photos Of Melanie Griffith And Her Pet Lion In The 1970s Are Everything. (UPDATE: Here’s the article that seems to be the original source, plus a little bit on Roar’s rerelease. Noteworthy lines from Wikipedia: “Over 70 of the cast and crew were injured during the production of this film.”)

* Being Andre.

Landlord Sends Man $1,200 Bill To Cleanup His Roommate’s Blood, Who Was Shot Dead By Police.

Stan VHS, A Tumblr Blog Featuring 1980s-Style VHS Cover Art for Modern Television Shows and Movies.

A Linguistic Comparison of Letters of Recommendation for Male and Female Chemistry and Biochemistry Job Applicants.

* SF Short of the Weekend: “Burnt Grass.”

* …and your short short of the weekend: “No One Is Thirsty.”

* I finally found enough time to be annoyed by Obama interviewing David Simon about The Wire.

* This Easter, we remember.

* And because you demanded it: An oral history of Max Headroom.

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Written by gerrycanavan

April 5, 2015 at 9:29 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Wednesday Links! No Fooling.

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* Keywords for the Age of Austerity 17: Brand/Branding/Rebrand.

Jackson was paid $7.1 million in 2012, more than any other college president in the nation, and continues to be paid at that level. Just in case you don’t click through, the headline to that piece reads “Report: R.P.I. facing $1 billion in debts, liabilities.” So you know she’s worth every penny of that salary.

But did you know the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee gets less than half the public money per student that Madison Area Technical College gets and less than a third of what goes to Milwaukee Area Technical College?

* And speaking of UWM: After Extinction, at UWM April 30-May 2.

* Meanwhile, at Duke: Response to President Brodhead and Provost Kornbluth. The original incident is described here.

Unsettling the University, at UCR April 2-3.

But what also became clear was that she and I have radically different visions of what constitutes the well-being of the University of Wisconsin System and how it might be preserved and protected. Through the course of our conversation it became increasingly clear to me that in the current situation in Wisconsin we find ourselves in what French philosopher Jean-François Lyotard called “a differend,” a case of conflict between parties that cannot be equitably resolved for lack of a rule of judgement applicable to both. In the case of a differend, the parties cannot agree on a rule or criterion by which their dispute might be decided. A differend is opposed to a litigation – a dispute which can be equitably resolved because the parties involved can agree on a rule of judgement.” Despite all parties–Regents, chancellors, faculty, staff, students, and alumni–being committed to the well-being of the University of Wisconsin System, it seems impossible to agree upon a rule of judgment or any set of criteria by which to adjudicate our different visions of what that well-being would look like.

Dept. Names More Than 550 Colleges It Has Put Under Extra Financial Scrutiny.

Salaita lawyers: ‘No doubt’ that UI, prof had agreement for employment.

Over time, however, more and more departments failed to meet that standard; last year some 60 units were out of compliance, according to information gathered by the union. At Bridgewater State University, one of the worst offenders, for example, adjuncts taught more than 15 percent of courses in 16 large departments in 2014-15. Some 50 percent of classes in the English department were taught by part-time faculty, along with 40 percent in math and computer science. In philosophy, it was 63 percent of classes. Bridgewater officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Google Maps turned your streets into Pac-Man yesterday, though I can’t imagine how anyone could have missed this news.

The Entire History of ‘Doctor Who’ Illustrated as a Tapestry.

24 Rare Historical Photos That Will Leave You Speechless.

California Snowpack Hits All-Time Low, 8 Percent Of Average.

Ring of Snitches: How Detroit Police Slapped False Murder Convictions on Young Black Men.

* Chomsky: The Death of American Universities.

* There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

* The Trevor Noah train wreck.

* “Lutheran pastor resigns after being linked to threatening email.” That’s… something.

Italian grandmother causes illness with cocoa expired in 1990.

* Why You Should Really Be Afraid of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Gas Siphoning Coverup May Have Caused East Village Explosion. Jesus Christ.

But there’s at least one unforeseen upside when all episodes are released at once: The writers don’t get the chance to self-correct in the middle of the season.

The Long And Terrible History Of DC Comics Mistreating Batgirl.

* The Americans renewed for season four. Hooray!

Pokémon and philosophy.

Study: Not Many Disco Songs About Daytime. But of course more work is required.

I Followed My Stolen iPhone Across The World, Became A Celebrity In China, And Found A Friend For Life.

Oh my God, Becky, look at this vigorous debate among scholars about the true origin of the straight male preference for a curvier backside.

* I can”t believe they’re bringing this thing back: The X-Files Could Have Ended With a West Wing Crossover.

* And Paul F. Tompkins picks his best episodes from a prolific podcasting career. My tragedy is I’ve heard all these. Perhaps you’ve heard he’s got a new one out today…

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Find the Secret Tuesday Link and Win a Prize

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A thoughtful, if ultimately mostly negative, review of The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction. I’m either too narcissistic or not narcissistic enough to argue with the reviewer point-by-point — and in any event it’s probably unprofessional to get too deep into how the sausage is made — but I will note that we definitely thought about all these issues as we were putting the volume together, and tried to address them in our introduction and general organization. I’ll also add that “for better or worse” we didn’t really see our book as operating independently from the James and Mendlesohn volume; we were trying to do something that extended that book rather than merely replicating it with identical chapters focused on the US. No book can be all things to all people, but hopefully other people find the balance we struck more pleasing than Cheney did…

* Here’s a short alumni interview on science fiction I did with the CWRU English department for their newsletter.

On Monday, however, a county attorney in Virginia gave defenders of the college new hope that they could stop the ticking clock and save the institution. The county attorney filed suit in Virginia court charging that the president and board of the college have violated several state laws and failed in their duties to keep the college running. And the suit seeks an injunction to stop activity to close the college and to replace the president and the board.

* You mean “Capitalocene.” Just say Capitalocene.

* A great Existential Comic on the transporter problem. You’d never get me in one of those things.

Senate Bill 593 ties professors’ pay to teaching assignments, requiring a minimum of eight courses for the profs to earn their full salary. If academic research requires a lighter course load, universities could supplement professors’ salaries with money from their nonprofit foundations. Why only eight courses? We’re leaving money on the table!

Prof who got UW’s Ray Cross to put his job on the line says he meant to help him.

Towns established by freed slaves are dying out.

Growing Up on ‘Mad Men’: A Conversation With Matthew Weiner and Kiernan Shipka.

Disney Developing Live-Action Mulan.

* Robot horror.

If You Didn’t Kill That Zombie, Maybe I Won’t Either.

A brilliant Tinder hack made hundreds of bros unwittingly flirt with each other.

* Unreal: Spokesman for GOP candidate who committed suicide after anti-Semitic ‘whisper campaign’ found dead.

* Hell, just let Maisie Williams play the Doctor next. Or Kiernan Shipka. But one of them definitely.

* See, you can get fired from being a cop.

“I retweet not in anger. But it’s an impressive rise for a dude who three years ago was replying to Uberfacts tweets with dick jokes.”

* It hasn’t been the dynamics of the market so much as active state intervention that has fueled technological change.

Artist paints Star Wars characters using nothing but coffee.

* The United States Is (Still) at War in Yemen. “On the Verge of Total Collapse.”

* Everything old is new again: Anglo Saxon remedy kills hospital superbug MRSA.

* Everything old is new again.

* And everything old is new again.

2015-03-31 11.13.51 am

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