Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Cory Doctorow

Father’s Day Links!

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* The entire bloody country hates the AHCA.

Democrats to step up attacks on GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort.

Democratic 2020 contenders? Voters haven’t heard of them. Maybe the best one:

More than a third of voters, 35 percent, said they have never heard of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) — a former governor and national party chairman who was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee last year.

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke rescinds acceptance of Homeland Security post.

* Sad.

* Directing Julius Caesar.

* Even The National Review.

* Listen, I’m getting sick of this.

Plastic polluted Arctic islands are dumping ground for Gulf Stream. An Abandoned US Nuclear Base in Greenland Could Start Leaking Toxic Waste Because of Global Warming.

* Amazon is a very unusual company. I said on Twitter that it was the closest we’re ever going to get to the weird hybrid of monopoly capital and state socialism you get in Bellamy’s Looking Backward, and I really think that’s right.

Where will it all end? Mr. Kubica has thought about this. Amazon can be understood as a decades-long effort to shorten the time between “I want it” and “I have it” into as brief a period as possible. The logical end of this would be the something Mr. Kubica jestingly called Amazon Imp, short for “implant” and also “impulse,” Mr. Kubica said. It would be a chip inserted under the skin.

“The imp would sense your impulses and desires,” Mr. Kubica wrote in an email, “and then either virtually fulfill them by stimulating your brain (for a modest payment to Amazon, of course) or it would make a box full of goodies for you appear on your doorstep (for a larger fee, of course).”

Every desire fulfilled. “I am sure that Amazon even now is building it,” Mr. Kubica said.

* Elsewhere in Big Data: Google Doesn’t Know My Dad Died.

Power Causes Brain Damage.

“At this point it appeared that the left testicle and cord may actually have been removed instead of the right one,” the surgeon, Valley Spencer Long, wrote in a postoperative report, according to court records. Seems like the sort of thing you wouldn’t need to rely on speculation for!

The recordings revealed that fathers engaged in more “rough and tumble play,” such as “tickling, poking, and tumbling,” with boys than girls. On the other hand, “fathers of girls used more sadness language when talking to their child.”

* Jordan Peale’s next: Lovecraft Country.

* Science fiction for the ungovernable: Cory Doctorow’s Walkaways.

* Sounds like Sony and Disney/Marvel will be suing each other soon.

* Alignment chart. Maybe he’s born with it. From our family to yours, Happy Father’s Day. Press start. And the Trump presidency, in one tweet.

I’ve Closed Every Tab I Had Open and I’m Not Sorry Links

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* There are no links now. There is only the Orb.

* Twilight of the NEH.

* Chelsea Manning is free.

* CFP: Suvin Today?, A Roundtable Discussion, The Society for Utopian Studies (November 9-12, 2017 in Memphis, TN).

* CFP: In Frankenstein’s Wake.

Queer Artist Transforms Octavia Butler’s ‘Parable of the Sower’ Into Opera.

* Great literature, by the numbers. The Bachelor/ette, by the numbers.

But if you read Spencer’s three-pronged narrative as Sam Wilson’s story, it looks very different. It becomes the story of an impeccably qualified black hero whose time in the spotlight is abruptly cut off by the return of an old white man who once had his position and of a public so thirsty for the moral certainty of the Greatest Generation that it can’t see the nightmarish perversion of it that’s right in front of them until it’s too late.

* Utopia in 2017.

* LARB on the unionization struggle at Yale. A Case for Reparations at the University of Chicago. Crisis at Mizzou. Two sets of universities, two countries, two futures.

The engine of irrationality inside the rationalists. Why the “Conceptual Penis” Hoax is Just a Big Cock Up. Some Work Is Hard.

* The Ethos of the Overinvolved Parent: Colleges are adjusting to increasing contact with adults who are more ingrained in their children’s lives than ever.

* A brief history of Esperanto.

Science fiction’s new golden age in China.

* Science fiction doesn’t predict the future, it influences it.

The Secret History of William Gibson’s Never-Filmed Aliens Sequel.

Feds use anti-terror tool to hunt the undocumented. Arrests of Undocumented Immigrants Without Criminal Records Spikes 150%.

The camp is the end of the liberal order, the end of the post–World War II world, the end of human rights.

* Felony charges against inauguration protesters represent ‘historic crossroads.’ The airport lawyers who fought Trump’s Muslim ban are facing a Justice Dept. crackdown.

* Horror in Manchester. Terror in Kansas.

I thought I understood racism and mass incarceration. But nothing prepared me for what I saw in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

* The Death of the Suburban Office Park and the Rise of the Suburban Poor.

Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Centre.

Sheriff Clarke leaving Milwaukee County for position with Department of Homeland Security. Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.’s departure will be good for department and Milwaukee County. Plainly, indisputably unfit. But not so fast!

* Downward spiral: Special Prosecutor? Independent Counsel? Special Counsel? What’s the Difference? Meet Bob Mueller. A forgotten lesson of Watergate: conservatives may rally around Trump. Did Trump Commit a Crime in Sharing Intelligence With Moscow? Trump Gave Russians Secrets News Orgs Are Being Asked To Withhold. Trump’s disclosure endangered spy placed inside ISIS by Israel, officials say. Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign. Notes made by FBI Director Comey say Trump pressured him to end Flynn probe. Trump straight-up told the Russians he fired Comey to obstruct justice and it just. doesn’t. matter. ‘He Looks More and More Like a Complete Moron.’ Even while I was just trying to put this post together more bombshells dropped: Michael T. Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case. And this one! Flynn stopped military plan Turkey opposed – after being paid as its agent. And this one! It sure seems like Michael Flynn lied to federal investigators about his Russia ties.  Shot. Chaser. Donald Trump has committed the exact offense that forced Richard Nixon to resign. Have Trump’s Problems Hit a Breaking Point? Articles of Impeachment for Donald J. Trump. “Don’t See How Trump Isn’t Completely F*cked.” Presidential impeachments are about politics, not law. This is the exact situation impeachment was meant for. Let’s hurry up. Nate Silver runs the numbers. When Will Republicans Dump Trump? Oh honey. But why not him?

* Meanwhile, on Fox News.

* Understanding the self-pardon.

* This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This seems fine. This one really does seem fine. This seems fine. This is definitely not fine.

* You think?

* Here at the end of all norms.

Trump Team Stands by Budget’s $2 Trillion Math Error.

Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago.

* Can the Anti-Trump Resistance Take the Philadelphia DA Office?

* SNL and the profiteers. Trump and the Hall of Presidents.

* MSNBC replaying its Bush-era history note for note.

* I think maybe I want to trade with the Netherlands.

* At least we can still laugh.

* Star Trek: Discovery is definitely bad. This single photo proves it! Honestly, though, I thought that aside from the strong leads the new trailer looks cheap and bad, with terrible-looking secondary characters and a narrative I have very little interest in. I was very glad when The Incomparable explained to me that none of this had anything to do with the actual plot of the show.

If The Last Jedi Really Has the Biggest Reveal in Star Wars History, What Could It Be? I’m hoping the poster is wrong, rather than (the only possibility) they’re making Luke bad.

* On Twin Peaks.

* The Secret History of Dragonlance.

Jordan Peele’s Next Project Is a Terrifying Lovecraftian Story About Race in 1950s America.

* Today in making fascism fun: 1Password’s new Travel Mode.

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts. The end of the penguins. Miles of ice collapsing into the sea. Scientists say the pace of sea level rise has nearly tripled since 1990. The Greening of Antarctica.

* Millennials and their damned avocados.

Don’t Like Betsy DeVos? Blame the Democrats.

It wasn’t just petty infighting that tanked Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It was the lack of any coherent program for the country. But don’t worry! There’s a plan.

* Laura Kipniss is apparently being sued for Unwanted Advances. The book seemed to be absolutely begging for a lawsuit; if the publisher wasn’t absolutely scrupulous it was extremely negligent.

A Very High Degree of Certainty in Future Military Operations: H.R. McMaster and the tragedy of American empire.

* Being Timothy Zahn.

* Maybe let’s not gene-sequence human intelligence.

* Can capitalism survive the rise of the machines?

* Statement of Teaching Philosophy. And on the pedestal these words appear. The circle of life. One fear. So you want to write a book. Why work so hard.

* Listen to what science teaches us, people!

* And the circus is (finally) closed.

Written by gerrycanavan

May 24, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Weekend Links!

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* Extrapolation 58.1 is out! With articles on Octavia Butler, Aldous Huxley, Neal Stephenson, and Celu Ambsterstone. I’ll give a special endorsement to  Donawerth and Scally’s Butler article, which is not only the first article to cite my book (that I know of) but also a truly great study tracing Butler’s footsteps research Kindred in Maryland. Check it out!

* CFP: Utopia, Now!

* Jeff VanderMeer in conversation with Cory Doctorow.

* William Gibson after Trump.

The result is “Agency,” Mr. Gibson’s next novel, which Berkley will publish in January. The story unfolds in two timelines: San Francisco in 2017, in an alternate time track where Hillary Clinton won the election and Mr. Trump’s political ambitions were thwarted, and London in the 22nd century, after decades of cataclysmic events have killed 80 percent of humanity.

Mr. Gibson never set out to write a sequel, but the plots of “Agency” and “The Peripheral” converged unexpectedly last fall. He had spent about a year writing “Agency” when the 2016 election rendered the fictional world he had created obsolete. “I assumed that if Trump won, I’d be able to shift a few things and continue to tell my story,” he said. But when he tried tinkering with the draft, he realized that the world had changed too drastically for him to plausibly salvage the story. “It was immediately obvious to me that there had been some fundamental shift and I would have to rebuild the whole thing,” he said.

The difference between utopia and dystopia isn’t how well everything runs. It’s about what happens when everything fails. Here in the nonfictional, disastrous world, we’re about to find out which one we live in.

Wes Anderson’s latest, Isle Of Dogs, gets a release date and poster. Warm up your power rankings now!

* I’m Wes Anderson, and I’m Directing This FBI Investigation into Russia and the Trump Campaign.

* If the police do it, it isn’t murder: Inmate’s water cut off for 7 days before his death in the Milwaukee County Jail.

* Purdue Has Bought Kaplan — for $1. The weird fall of Burlington College. Rand Paul Stealing My Bit. When 51 Years Experience Isn’t Good Enough.

* CBS is apparently fully committed to ruining Star Trek: Discovery in every possible way.

* More on the Cal audit that reveals massive administrative blight.

* Tracking White Collar Crime Zones.

* The March for Science wasn’t.

* Charter schools as corporate perk.

* What’s the matter with Nintendo?

* Apple’s Promise to End Rare Earth Mineral Mining Is ‘100 Percent Unattainable Today.’ Haters! Apple can do anything.

25 percent of young Britons have lied about reading Lord Of The Rings, poll reveals. I want to know how many have said they didn’t read it when they did!

Corbynism or barbarism. Inside Corbyn’s Office.

We May Have Uncovered the First Ever Evidence of the Multiverse.

* Trump Wants to Send a Man to Mars During His Presidency. The next launch window isn’t until the 2030s, so this is a worrying declaration indeed. Here’s the plan.

Record-breaking climate events all over the world are being shaped by global warming, scientists find. What will Earth look like when all the ice melts?

* I Got Hacked So You Don’t Have To.

Artist attaches Trump’s quotes about women to sexist 1950s ads and they fit too well. Into the shadows in Trump’s America. A GOP Lawmaker Has Been Revealed As The Creator Of Reddit’s Anti-Woman ‘Red Pill’ Forum. How the Ivy League Collaborates with Donald Trump. Killing Obamacare, Again (with an asterisk). In the richest country that has ever existed. We all gonna die. And the worst news yet: US considers cabin laptop ban on flights from UK airports.

We Asked ICE About the Prank Calls to Their Anti-Immigrant Hotline and They Kind of Lost Their Shit. 100 Days of Democratic Rage. Donald Trump Has Made Socialism Cool Again. Trump supporters are the most overrated force in American politics. The Anatomy of Liberal Melancholy. Could Your Teen’s Meme Be a Red? Texas Is The Future.

To clarify: it is perfectly possible that some collusion between Trump’s agents and Russian hackers did indeed occur. But at this point, the empirical question of whether or not it happened is secondary to the deeper psychological need for media pundits, policy wonks, and the professional-managerial strata to maintain their sense of self when the objective historical conditions in which they flourished are being actively dissolved. For liberals, the continued libidinal investment in the drama of the as-yet invisible Trump-Russia scandal actively blocks any realization that the neoliberal order they are trying to restore is already dead on its feet, and that Trump is the uniquely bizarre American expression of a visible worldwide trend: the virulent, deepening nationalist backlash against a financially-integrated global economy based on the relatively free movement of commodities and people. His ascent is a death knell for an entire era and the basic assumptions about economic and political life that shape the worldview of contemporary liberals.

* Organize. Syllabus prep. The Tenure-Track Professor. Should I Go to Grad School? Ikigai. Legolas, what do your elf eyes see?

* Against buckraking. But what does Obama’s willingness to take the money in the first place say about progressive centrism, if we stipulate (as I think MY would likely agree) that Obama is probably as good as progressive centrists are likely to get? The left neoliberal hit against standard liberal-to-left politics in the 1980s was that it fostered sleazy interest groups and tacit or not-so-tacit mutual backscratching between these interest groups and politicians. If the very best alternative that left neoliberalism has to offer is another, and arguably worse version of this (Wall Street firms, unlike unions, don’t even have the need to pretend to have the interests of ordinary people at heart), then its raison d’etre is pretty well exploded.

* Disney will just take all your money, thanks.

* How Marvel Killed Marvel.

* Building blocks of our weird future: artificial wombs.

* Warner Brothers Might Have to Pay $900 Million If It Can’t Prove Ghosts Are Real.

* The AI Cargo Cult.

* More bad press for United. It’s like they’re trying to go bankrupt.

* “Twitter” is an oversimplification. There are many twitters, which is also part of the problem: my twitter and yours are different, but they can come into contact with each other and overlap, and do. We can each think the other person is a holographic projection into our living room, and the rooms are similar enough that we can overlook the ways they are different (and then blame the other person for coming into our house and acting like an asshole). But this also means that talking about what “twitter” is or isn’t, or does, or doesn’t, is a similar exercise in polemic misunderstanding. If the underlying structure of the program is a constant, the conversational norms and practical methods we bring to it will vary, radically and dramatically. Some of the problem is the latter thing: people not only use twitter differently, but they sometimes regard other people’s use of it as illegitimate or wrong. Policing other people on twitter can become particularly heated and vicious, if a police from one jurisdiction comes into another, without knowing it, and attempts to apply one set of laws to someone who thinks they’re operating in another. It rarely ends well. And yet if we keep pretending that there is one twitter (ours), we’ll keep crashing into each other and insisting that it’s the other car that came into my lane. Twitter road rage.

* Great Artists at 8.

* Oh, I see the problem: Americans don’t read.

* And I know things seem dark, darker than they’ve ever been, but Illinois fixed it. Kudos.

Written by gerrycanavan

April 28, 2017 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Getting into the Real Good Procrastination Now Links

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* Bush-era flashback and general-election-2016 flashforward, courtesy of Chris Hayes: George Saunders’s The Braindead Megaphone.

* Today in stadium boondoggles: St. Louis has stadium debt, but doesn’t have a team.

* An ecological argument sure to catch fire: What we can do is learn to offer each other patience, compassion, courage, and love. We can learn to accept that just as every human life has its natural end, so too does every civilization. Contrary to what Purdy argues, we don’t need more politics. We need more hospice. We need to learn how to die.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. While neoliberal capitalism has been remarkably successful at laying claim to the future, it used to belong to the left — to the party of utopia. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’s Inventing the Future argues that the contemporary left must revive its historically central mission of imaginative engagement with futurity. It must refuse the all-too-easy trap of dismissing visions of technological and social progress as neoliberal fantasies. It must seize the contemporary moment of increasing technological sophistication to demand a post-scarcity future where people are no longer obliged to be workers; where production and distribution are democratically delegated to a largely automated infrastructure; where people are free to fish in the afternoon and criticize after dinner. It must combine a utopian imagination with the patient organizational work necessary to wrest the future from the clutches of hegemonic neoliberalism.

tumblr_nzx16hOyNR1qap9gno1_500* Eugene V. Debs, accelerationist.

Keep your scythe, the real green future is high-tech, democratic, and radical.

Inside the Police-Industrial Complex.

* Sesame Street has heard your gentrification jokes, and they have decided they are really into it.

* From my friend James Tate Hill: On Being a Writer Who Can’t Read.

* On the Run on trial.

* Keywords for the Age of Austerity 25: Competencies.

Before I Can Fix This Tractor, We Have to Fix Copyright Law.

* Relax, nerds: It Turns Out the Next Game of Thrones Book Isn’t Late at All.

* The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland. A counterpoint.

* My favorite little bit of fan fiction/overthinking from The Force Awakens, I think. Elsewhere on the Star Wars front: The 13 Most Nonsensical Theories About The Identity of Supreme Leader Snoke.

* The end of Mad Max?

MST3K is that for me. It saved my life, at least twice.

* An interview with Ahmed Best. From the archives.

* Successful squirrel cyber attacks as of January 2016.

Angry Militia Leader: Stop Mailing Us Dildos.

* Life in Wisconsin: Was it a ‘frostquake’ or an Air Force sonic boom? And then there’s the education beat.

* If left-liberal people don’t stop embarrassing themselves with this Ted Cruz eligibility stuff I might vote for Cruz in protest. Okay, no, but seriously this is embarrassing.

More Than Half of Americans Reportedly Have Less Than $1,000 to Their Name.

This Professor Fell In Love With His Grad Student — Then Fired Her For It. And you’ll never guess what Caltech did next!

* I’m considered adding a running closer to these link posts that’s just headlines from the day’s Journal-Sentinel that amuse me. Today, that’s Shorewood man pursues insanity defense in voter fraud case.

* But for now, nothing gold can stay: Mysterious Wow! Signal Came From Comets, Not Aliens, Claims Scientist.

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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.

Wednesday Links!

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* After long neglect I’ve updated the “online articles” page on my Professional Website, if you’re interested.

* Studies show kindergarteners do better on standardized tests when chained to their desks in windowless white rooms for fifteen hours at a time, so.

* Jacobin‘s brief history of neoliberalism is quite good, though the claim that the Tea Party is irrelevant or that the GOP is on the ropes seems especially odd after last night’s wonderfully improbable defeat of Eric Cantor.

* You’d think at the “legacy project” point of his presidency Obama might want to avoid phrases like “misspent years” and “talking your way  through” things.

* Pizzeria Boss Fined $334K Because You Can’t Pay Workers In Pizza And Soda. Why not let the free market decide if pizza is currency?

* The Mental-Health Consequences of Unemployment. The jobs with the highest incidence of depression. Both cases seem like prime candidates for the left critique of the medicalization of depression, which is that sometimes you’re depressed because your circumstances are bad, not because your brain is misfiring.

* Headlines you don’t want to read about your new city: “Getting Milwaukee’s rivers to meet state water quality standards won’t be easy.”

* Peru Approves Genocide for Uncontacted Tribes.

* Why I’m sending 200 copies of Little Brother to a high-school in Pensacola, FL.

Temp Nation: How Corporations Are Evading Accountability, at Workers’ Expense.

* Why a California judge just ruled that teacher tenure is bad for students.

* Another study confirms Fox News viewers are unusually misinformed even by American standards.

* Feedly and Evernote Go Down As Attackers Demand Ransom.

* Climate Change: SVU.

* Map: All the Countries John McCain Has Wanted to Attack. I have to believe this is a significant undercount.

* My “but it could actually be good” fantasy script for Batman vs. Superman get less and less likely by the day. Alas.

* And could we finally see another Star Trek TV series courtesy of Netflix? Only if you promise it’s not Captain Worf.

Weekend Links

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* All in the game: 16-bit The Wire.

* Star Trek: Settlers of Catan? Oh, all right. Meanwhile: Michael Dorn Developing Wildly Ill-Conceived Captain Worf TV series.

19th century British slang for “sex.” Via Bitter Laughter.

* Captain Jack Harness is coming to Milwaukee.

* Polls are reporting signs of a big DNC “bounce” for Obama. Meanwhile, Romney’s ad buys suggest he thinks he needs to run the table.

The fresh crop of post-secondary students filing into the classroom this week could be in for a shock when they realize they could be paying for their education an average of 14 years after they graduate.

* Actually existing media bias: Why won’t CNN air its own award-winning documentary on Bahrain?

* Can You Die from a Nightmare?: Life with Night Terrors.

* Cory Doctorow, against science fiction film.

Teletubbies as Radical Utopian Fiction.

* You demanded it, now here it is! A Christmas Story 2. This film looks so terrible it hardly even seems real.

* Secrets of the Avengers!

3. The Hulk has no penis.
They modeled every part of the Hulk, except for one. “When the maquette came in, it’s just a Barbie doll,” said Jason Smith.

* David Foster Wallace in Recovery. Via MeFi. And for all your Infinite Jest needs: Infinite Atlas.