Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Darko Suvin

I May Have Committed A Little Light Treason Links

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* thisisfine.jpg: An iceberg the size of Delaware has broken off Antarctica. My kids are three and five. Just 90. And you’re a little late.

Blogger completely debunks claim Amelia Earhart was a Japanese prisoner.

* CFP: The George Slusser Conference on Science Fiction and Fantasy, University of California, Irvine, on April 26–29, 2018. CFP: Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction. And our deadline was extended a month with the rest of the SUS: Suvin Today?, A Roundtable Discussion, The Society for Utopian Studies (November 9-12, 2017 in Memphis, TN).

Nothing now would better serve the maturity and the invigoration of the Democrats than to give up any hope of sound advice or renewal from Bill or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. They were pleasant to think about, but their politics have turned out wrong, and there’s nothing they can do for us now. The Age of Detesting Trump.

* Fredo, Fredo, Fredo. I tried to warn you: These revelations—and the possibility that more is yet to come—have made it increasingly untenable for Trump’s supporters to argue that there is nothing to the collusion story. And so, many have now begun to argue that even if there was collusion of the kind suggested by the Times, it wouldn’t be a crime—or even all that out of the ordinary. Some Trump loyalists are even making the case that it was smart and savvy for the campaign to pursue help from the Russians. Trump supporters know Trump lies. They just don’t care.

* Too many Fredos.

* Fredo deserves better.

* I mean the wheels are really coming off.

* Trump still hasn’t resigned from his businesses like he promised, either.

* Meanwhile, ladies and gentlemen: The Democrats! The Democrats Are Eisenhower Republicans.

* The attempt to stay faithful to the actual facts of the world that would make this impossible tanks the piece, but the overall message — that our political elites are soulless monsters without any hint of integrity or principle — is absolutely sound: What If Trump Had Won As a Democrat?

Democrats should take the class warfare message to upscale suburbs.

* Science Fiction and Dystopia in the Age of Trump.

Could a Robot Be President?

* What happens to America if Anthony Kennedy retires?

Cancer researcher was held at Boston airport. Now he is being sent back to Iran.

23 emotions people feel, but can’t explain.

Space colonization, faith, and Pascal’s Wager.

In St. Louis, America’s nuclear history creeps into the present, leaching into streams and bodies.

Between 2009 and 2011 more than 1 in 8 Milwaukee renters experienced a forced move. Rent Is Affordable to Low-Wage Workers in Exactly 12 U.S. Counties.

* Stage four credentialing. The Library of Heaven.

The Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) garnered more than 3,000 complaints regarding the uniforms. They conducted their own tests and found concerning evidence: a short-sleeved jacket had levels of cadmium, a highly toxic chemical, that were above the acceptable textile industry standard. The tests also found traces of formaldehyde, nickel, and tetrachlorophenol, all of which can cause major irritations. Formaldehyde, for instance, is even on the American Cancer Society’s list of known human carcinogens. What’s more, in 2011, Alaska Airlines experienced a very similar problem after issuing uniforms from Twin Hill. Around 10 percent of employees reported reactions and that airline issued a recall. Despite this damning evidence, American Airlines maintains that their uniforms are safe.

* Looking forward to this movie: Chicago Library Seeks Help Transcribing Magical Manuscripts.

* Gotta love a headline that has the courage of its convictions: CRISPR gene editing technique is probably safe, study confirms.

We were driving away from Hedgesville when the third overdose call of the day came, for a twenty-nine-year-old male. America leads the world in drug overdose deaths — by a lot. Trump-Loving Sheriff Won’t Let Deputies Carry Overdose Antidote. Small-Town Police Officer’s War on Drugs.

* The Klan comes (back) to Charlottesville.

Drones keep dropping drugs and porn into prisons.

* No! No! No!

* Yes! Yes! Yes! And I’m especially all in for this: Quentin Tarantino’s Next Movie Will Be About the Manson Family.

* Makes you think.

* Dark Stock Photos.

* Remembering Milwaukee’s Own Cordwainer Smith.

* Mizzou, two years later.

* The mass defunding of higher education that’s yet to come.

* Jeff VanderMeer Amends the Apocalypse. Russia 1917: You Are There. Nor Secret Griefs Nor Grudges: Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances. Cottage Industry.

The racial daring of Sundance’s Cleverman gives it an edge most superhero stories can’t match.

* The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neo-cons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge.

As you can probably tell by looking around, every employee at our startup is 23 years old. On the morning of your 24th birthday, the barcode on your employee ID stops working and you can no longer enter our building. We do this to ensure our company has a ceaseless, youthful energy. We believe old people are displeasing to look at and also, bad at ideas.

The relationship between the Internet and childhood memory, or generational memory, is a strange one that hasn’t yet been sufficiently chronicled or really thought through.

* Nightmare jobs I’d never even though about: Rape Choreography Makes Films Safer, But Still Takes a Toll on Cast and Crew.

* Cyberpunk lives!

* First object teleported to Earth’s orbit.

* Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again! Junot Diaz and Margaret Atwood in conversation.

* Wakanda and Zamuda: A Comparative Analysis.

* And sure, I can pick up tacos on the way home.

Written by gerrycanavan

July 12, 2017 at 6:43 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Friday Links!

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

People Are Sharing Photos of Real-Life Places That Belong in a Wes Anderson Film. Below: a conference room in North Korea.

* What the stock market’s rise under Trump should teach Democrats. Great piece from the great Rortybomb.

First, Democrats need to reevaluate their idea of themselves as disinterested stewards of the economy — as a party that accepts the current economic arrangements largely as a given. Second, they need to understand what their coalition looks like if they can’t peel off moderate Republicans, as they predicted they would throughout 2016. Third, they also need to decide if the economy requires structural changes, or merely some tinkering around the edges. And finally, they must decide whether social programs should target narrow populations or lean towards universalism.

* It’s a bit premature for Democrats to start planning what they’ll do with their domination once they have it, but I agree with Jack Balkin that they need to start fighting fire with fire.

* Study claims Clinton lost because of ravaged communities sick of war. I’m sure her hawkishness was a factor at some level, but the last few months have made it crystal clear that people pick their team first and then select some reason why.

* DFW vs. Twitter.

* A History of American Comics.

* Mars Trilogy –> Aurora: “Mars covered in toxic chemicals that can wipe out living organisms, tests reveal.”

* Stories of a Hollow Earth.

* The best SF going is being printed at SBnation.

Hackers are Targeting Nuclear Facilities, Homeland Security Dept. and F.B.I. Say.

The Police State Can Come After Trump Protesters, But It Can’t Make Them Cooperate.

A judge said these kids get a green card. ICE says they get deported.

Internal memo reveals ICE officers have free rein to detain any undocumented immigrant.

* Republican lawmakers buy health insurance stocks as repeal effort moves forward. Tillerson Considered Central Figure In ExxonMobil Investigation. Accessory after the fact (at best). GOP source of fraud allegation vs. Bernie Sanders’ wife admits info was hearsay.

* How long till Michael Flynn is a #hero of #TheResistance?

* 2020 watch: Kamala Harris.

Self-appointed ‘King’ Macron is no antidote to Trump.

The House Has a ‘No Sleeveless’ Dress Code for Women.

* How CNN Made Its Own Reporting Sound Like Blackmail.

* The Alt-Right 2.0. The Dirtbag Left. On SWATting.

Hundreds dress like zombies at ‘Welcome to hell’ protest ahead of G20 summit in Hamburg.

Progressives have long viewed Penn with deep skepticism, noting that he has repeatedly used his close ties to Democratic officials as a vehicle for promoting his corporate clients. But there’s another wrinkle to Penn’s advice: He now invests in Republican advocacy firms — and profits from the electoral defeat of Democrats.

Hollywood Has a Bad-Movie Problem. Fan Fiction Is a Bad Television Show’s Best Friend. I Would Totally Read the Harry Potter Fan Fiction Written by a Neural Network.

An anthropologist who had the unenviable task of sitting through academics’ meetings and reading their email chains to find out why they fail to change their teaching styles has come to a surprising conclusion: lecturers are simply too afraid of looking stupid in front of their students to try something new.

* AIs: artificial intelligence vs academic integrity.

* Drug addiction as learning disorder.

* Oh baby: Homebrewers Find An NES Emulator Inside The Nintendo Switch.

Brand New Book By Maurice Sendak Has Been Found in the Late Author’s Archives.

* Encryption by destruction. Social media. Gimme all your money.

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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Friday Links Are Just a Party and Parties Aren’t Meant to Last

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51yLZieyZIL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_* Out today, a project very close to my heart: my edited 2016 rerelease of Darko Suvin’s Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. Here’s the Amazon order page, for you or your favorite academic library!

* The Ever-Tightening Job Market for Ph.D.s. The Mobile Academic.

The strange story of Hugo Gernsback, who brought science fiction magazines to America.

* Just in time for finals! MLA Eighth Edition: What’s New and Different.

* At LARoB Rebecca Evans reviews the reissue of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital series, Green Earth. David Perry reviews The Secret Life of Stories. Against Star Wars. Inside the Coetzee Collection.

* My desire to see The Twilight Zone has boomeranged on me in the most ironic possible way.

* An independent researcher claims to have discovered a lost civilization in China.

Existential Depression in Gifted Children.

* Mourning Prince and David Bowie, who showed there’s no one right way to be a man. Buzzfeed’s The Most Powerful Writing about Prince. Nation Too Sad To F*ck Even Though It’s What Prince Would Have Wanted.

The Secret Life of Novelizations.

The Hidden Economics of Porn.

Five Hundred Years of Utopia.

Harriet Tubman once staged a sit-in to get $20. The Treasury just gave her all of them. You have no idea how hardcore Harriet Tubman really was.


The smug style in American liberalism.

* How Chicago elites imported charters, closed neighborhood schools, and snuffed out creativity.

How Seattle Gave Up on Busing and Allowed Its Public Schools to Become Alarmingly Resegregated.

How to Blow $9 Billion in 6 Months.

* Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them.

Why America’s Schools Have A Money Problem. Related: 25 Best Wisconsin High Schools: U.S. News Rankings 2016.

Against Activism.

For forty years, liberals have accepted defeat and called it “incremental progress.” Bernie Sanders offers a different way forward. How Sanders fell short. The real scandal.

12 Reasons Not to Write Lord of the Rings.

I Talked to the Kid Whose Mom Used Craigslist to Find Him a Feminism Tutor, and It Got Weird.

* Do Honeybees Feel? Scientists Are Entertaining the Idea. Insects Are Conscious and Egocentric.

* Our foundation of Earth knowledge, largely derived from historically observed patterns, has been central to society’s progress. Early cultures kept track of nature’s ebb and flow, passing improved knowledge about hunting and agriculture to each new generation. Science has accelerated this learning process through advanced observation methods and pattern discovery techniques. These allow us to anticipate the future with a consistency unimaginable to our ancestors. But as Earth warms, our historical understanding will turn obsolete faster than we can replace it with new knowledge. Some patterns will change significantly; others will be largely unaffected, though it will be difficult to say what will change, by how much, and when.

Details arise about U.S. Bank robbery in the Alumni Memorial Union.

* Behold, the Hasbro Cinematic Universe.

* The Tragic History of RC Cola.

U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High.

Hamilton just won the Pulitzer for drama. Here’s why it matters for American musicals. And congrats to Emily Nussbaum!

This map shows every place in the US that has ever had a woman in Congress.

The Average 29-Year-Old.

* Milwaukee’s Appeals, Vibrant and Cheap.

First Criminal Charges Handed Down After Flint Water Crisis.

* A man once described as a “perfect donor” at an August, Georgia sperm bank and who fathered at least 36 children around the world is actually a mentally ill felon whose lies on his donor forms went undiscovered for more than a decade.

We owe Rey and Finn’s friendship to Harrison Ford’s broken leg.

Love It Or List It sued over shoddy renovations, ridiculous falsehoods.

As A Father Of Daughters, I Think We Should Treat All Women Like My Daughters.

* Hello, from the Magic Tavern watch! There’s two noncanonical podcasts from Foon-16 over at One Shot. There’s also a band new, slightly less… rigorous improv podcast from some of the principals involved called Siblings Peculiar.

The U.S.’s Best High School Starts at 9:15 a.m.

Lab Mice Are Freezing Their Asses Off—and That’s Screwing Up Science.

New Evidence Suggests That Limbs and Fins Evolved From Fish Gills.

* How to Shakespeare.

* Cards Against Humanities.

* And rejoice, comrades! Twilight Struggle has come to Steam.


Written by gerrycanavan

April 22, 2016 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Avoid Your Family with This Very Special Thanksgiving Edition of Thursday Links

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* America’s Founding Myths.

* 100 New Debate Topics You and Your Uncle Can Turn into an Argument about Republicans.

* Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Ferguson. Police violence. Ferguson. America. Ferguson. Turkey pardons. Ferguson. New York. Cleveland. Cleveland. Utah. Everywhere. Everywhere.


Winners are mad when winning lights the shadows.

Nation Doesn’t Know If It Can Take Another Bullshit Speech About Healing.

We should get rid of local policing. Ferguson shows why the system just doesn’t work.

* All my heroes are monsters.

* Rescind Cosby’s honorary doctorates?

* “Suicide Is My Retirement Plan.”

An expert hired by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) argued in court that a 9-year-old girl seeking damages after she was sexually assaulted would be protected from emotional stress by her low IQ.

* It’s almost as if the profit motive and what’s best for our schools and students are not well aligned!

Accumulation by Lockout.

* 41 men targeted but 1,147 people killed: US drone strikes.

* While Detroit contended with largest municipal bankruptcy, its lawyers were robbing it blind.

* Tyler Cowen, for one, welcomes the hyper-meritocracy.

* Anthropology as white public space.

* In praise of Lovecraft.

* The Downside of the Boom.

* Here’s the guy who wants to run to Hillary Clinton’s left. Democrats! Catch the fever.

* While he wasn’t second in command of the United States nuclear arsenal, Rear Adm. Timothy M. Giardina not only had a 15 hour a week gambling habit he also may have had a one-man poker chip counterfeiting operation in which he used paint and stickers to make $1 poker chips into $500 poker chips. This led to repeated bans from local casinos, eventually a lifetime ban and finally his nuclear weapons were taken away.

* What is your research agenda for the coming year?

* Just another Afrofuturism megapost.

* Town Bans Winnie The Pooh For Lack of Genitals, “Dubious Sexuality.” Finally, someone said it.

* At some point this guy took a moment and smiled to himself, secure in the knowledge that he’d covered all his bases.

SDSU suspends all frat activities after members wave dildos, throw eggs at rape protesters.

UVA has expelled 183 students for honor code violations — and none for sexual assault.

End Fraternities.

* Alexey Pajitnov, hero, creator of Tetris.

Frederik Pohl Made Doing Literally Everything Look Easy.

* Strange Horizons reprints Darko Suvin’s “Estrangement and Cognition,” with a 2014 postscript.

All of us on the planet Earth live in highly endangered times. Perhaps the richer among us, up to 5% globally but disproportionately concentrated in the trilateral U.S.A.-western Europe-Japan and its appendages, have been cushioned from realizing it by the power of money and the self-serving ideology it erects. But even those complain loudly of the “criminality” and in general “moral decay” of the desperately vicious outside their increasingly fortress-like neighbourhoods. We live morally in an almost complete dystopia—dystopia because anti-utopia—and materially (economically) on the razor’s edge of collapse, distributive and collective.

In a look backwards to my writing of the 1960s from this most endangered cusp of history, I see a main limitation to my “Poetics of SF” essay in its innocently and naively Formalist horizon. That is, I presupposed the tide of history was flowing, even if with regrettable eddies, towards socialism or democratic communism, and concentrated on the problems of understanding, pleasure, and form within that tide. Thus I seem to have felt I could freeze or even freeze out history, as all pursuits of aesthetics do: transcending the moment. I was wrong.

* The official SF short film of the Thanksgiving holiday: Survivors Of A Nuclear War Find A Secret Bunker—But There’s A Catch

* Maybe the most twenty-first-century artifact possible: ‘Sunburn!’, A Gravity-Based Puzzle Video Game Featuring a Doomed Spaceship Crew That Is Determined to Die Together.

* Cli-Fi Is Real.

The good news: There is no substantial technical or economic barrier that would prevent the U.S. from reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, a target that would help put the world on track to limit global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. In fact, there are multiple pathways to that target, each involving a different mix of technologies. Achieving the goal would cost only around 1 percent of GDP a year out through 2050, and if we started now, we could allow infrastructure to turn over at its natural rate, avoiding stranded assets. The bad news: Pulling it off would require immediate, intelligent, coordinated, vigorously executed policies that sustain themselves over decades.

Trotsky at the IMF.

* LEGO is dead, long live LEGO.

* But really, do they know.

* Guys, it’s not all bad news: After The Sun Incinerates Earth, Life Could Evolve On Titan.

* And this blog’s most sacred annual tradition: William S. Burroughs – A Thanksgiving Prayer.

Gauging Interest in a New Release of Suvin’s METAMORPHOSES OF SCIENCE FICTION

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I’ve been speaking with a press recently about the possibility of releasing a new edition of Darko Suvin’s discipline-defining work Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, which as we all know has been out of print for decades. One of the things they’re very interested in and concerned about is the question of continued scholarly interest in the material; the fact that second-hand copies of the book regularly sell for $100 has not by itself convinced them of anything.

If you would have use for a new edition of Metamorphoses (i.e., a reprint of the original plus some new reflective material on the book’s legacy and ongoing relevance), would you please email me at to let me know? I’d like to have some brief endorsements of the idea to send back to my contact at the press, as well as a sense of how interested the community actually would be in the idea.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 25, 2014 at 9:29 am

Brecht on the Future and Suvin on Science

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Faced with all these machines and technical arts, with which humanity could be at the beginning of a long, rich day, shouldn’t it feel the rosy dawn and the fresh wind which signify the beginning of blessed centuries? Why is it so grey all around, and why blows first that uncanny dusk wind at the coming of which, as they say, the dying ones die?

Quoted in Darko Suvin’s excellent “On the Horizons of Epistemology and Science,” which has some nice affinities with the Kim Stanley Robinson talk from last January as well as what he has to say in the Polygraph interview. Here’s a excerpt from Suvin elaborating the difference between what he calls S1 (science that is “good” from the standpoint of global justice) and S2 (the majority of the present kind of science, “whose results are mixed but seem to be increasingly steeped in the blood and misery of millions of people”), using John von Neumann and Norbert Weiner as his templates:

Noble points out how the S1–S2 dichotomy can be followed in the diverging of von Neumann and Wiener paths from the 1940s. Von Neumann’s ‘mathematical axiomatic approach reflected his affinity for military authority and power’, while ‘Wiener insisted upon the indeterminacy of systems and a statistical, probabilistic understanding of their function … [T]he “steersman” [of his cybernetics] was human in social systems and thus moved not by formal logic but by skill, experience, and purpose … [He] urged “a constant feedback that would allow an individual to intervene and call a halt to a process initiated, thus permitting him … second thoughts in response to unexpected effects and the opportunity to recast wishes”.’ He protested against military secrecy, accurately seeing that ‘it will lead to the total irresponsibility of the scientist, and, ultimately, to the death of science’ (the good one, S1). As is well known, he was ignored by a solid wall of scientifico-military bureaucracy, and decided to stop further work in militarily usable cybernetics ‘to kill civilians indiscriminately’. He turned his attention to the development of prosthetic devices in medicine and cooperation with trade unions (Noble, Forces, 71–4; see Wiener’s 1946 ‘open letter’ in Haberer, 316–17).

Last but not least, a Wienerian responsible science, co-directed by other community members, would reopen, as he did, the totally forgotten question of its democratic accessibility and accountability, definitely lost since the atom bomb, with a return to full transparency, to a ‘cognitive democracy’ (Morin, 166–9). This would also mean fully reorganising education, from top to bottom, to prepare citizens for such an understanding.

And here’s a longer excerpt still on what the struggle for S1 might entail, with my emphasis:

This begins by noting that multiplicity entails choice. If science is a human and societal institution with a history, traversed by often intense class struggles, then our Archimedean point necessarily takes a stand on the side of humanity or against it, using all the good insights we can muster from practice, science, art or elsewhere.

We may need a modified version of the felicific calculus. I take my cue from the path-breaking work of Georgescu-Roegen, who pleads for a ‘maximum of life quantity’, which ‘requires the minimum rate of natural resource depletion’ (pp. 20–21; cf. Schrödinger, and Lindsay 440ff.). He starts in the proper scientific way by identifying life as a struggle against entropic degradation of matter, bought at the expense of degradation of the ‘neighboring universe’ or total system – for example Terra. The inevitable price to be paid for any life-enhancing activity reintroduces, as against classical physics’ narrowing of causality to the efficient cause of manipulating matter and its disregard of the time sequence, the importance of purpose, Aristotle’s final cause (pp. 192–5) discussed above, reinforced by Lenin’s cui bono, a choice ‘for the sake of what’ (in whose interest or for whom) is that activity undertaken. As Prigoginian theory puts it, there is never such a full reversibility that time (history) could be left out as a factor: matter has memory (cf. WallersteinEnd 164–6).

Georgescu-Roegen explains ‘life quantity’ as the sum of all the years lived by all humans, present and future. I differ from him by finding this first useful step still too Benthamite in its disregard for quality. True, we can neither properly specify a positive life-quality nor legislate for the horizons of future generations. But we know at least what is to be avoided as bad quality of life: lives traumatised by direct violence, hunger, (mostly evitable) diseases, and also by anxiety and aimlessness. And I think we know enough to say, first, what major financial orientations, and second, what major productive orientations are not to be pursued. As to the first orientation, his main continuator and updater, Herman Daly, points out that even in classical economics it is accepted ‘that in accounting income we must deduct for depreciation of capital in order to keep productive capacity intact. This principle … needs only to be extended to natural capital’ (p. 16). This means that environmental costs must be internalised into prices ‘so that the polluter and the depleter pay’, through tax measures (p. 15). Faced with the uncertain effects of new technologies or substances, ‘an assurance bond in the amount of possible damage [should be required], to be posed up front and then returned over time as experience reduces the uncertainty about damage’ (p. 16). Thus we could approach a Steady-State Economy, which is defined not by the capitalist instrument of GNP but by ‘ecological sustainability of the throughput’, which is NOT registered by market prices. (p. 32). ‘[T]he maximand is life, measured in cumulative person-years ever to be lived at a standard of resource-use sufficient for a good life’ (p. 32; Daly acknowledges that this standard is vague, but vagueness to be worked out in practice is much better than total disregard as in the GNP). Such a Steady-State Economy would also do better for the preservation of all other species.

As to the second orientation, according to Georgescu-Roegen’s ‘thermodynamic calculus’, only pursuits as minimally entropic as possible can be allowed if civilisation is not to collapse. This is directly opposed to the pursuit of unnecessary quantity: ‘“bigger & better” washing machines, automobiles and superjets must lead to “bigger & better” pollution’ (p. 19). But it is fully consonant with the post-Einsteinian concept of nature, from quantum physics to the catastrophe theory (cf. also Collingwood, 13, and Grene, ch. 9 on ‘Time and Teleology’). His approach can thus be usefully continued by using the notion developed by Nussbaum of ‘central human capabilities’ to be used in order to establish ‘a basic social minimum’ (pp. 70–71) for a life of human dignity. Her list of capabilities which also constitute entitlements is rich, and I shall mention from it only what seem to me two central groups and one precondition. The two groups are entitlements to life, bodily integrity and health, and then to a development of sense, imagination, thoughts, and emotions. The precondition is what I would rephrase as control over the relationship between people and the environment, which could be expanded to encompass all the inextricable political and economic means to the above ends (cf. pp. 76–7). These entitlements as rights supply a ‘rich set of goals … in place of “the wealth and poverty of the economists,” as Marx so nicely put it’ (p. 284).

Further, our technical competence, based on an irresponsible S2 yoked to the profit and militarism that finance it, vastly exceeds our understanding of its huge dangers for hundreds of millions of people and indeed for the survival of vertebrate ecosphere (cockroaches and tube worms may survive). For humanity to survive, we imperatively have to establish and enforce a graduated system of risk assessment and damage control based on the negentropic welfare of the human community and its ecosystem (which includes the fauna and flora) as an absolutely overriding criterion. This means retaining, and indeed following consistently through, Merton’s famous four basic norms of science–universalism, scepticism, public communism, and personal disinterestedness (cf. also Collingridge, 77–85 and 99ff.) – or Kuhn’s five internal criteria – accuracy, scope, fruitfulness, consistency, and simplicity – as well as strict scientific accountability in the sense of both not falsifying findings and accounting for them. However, it also means practising science from the word go (say, from its teaching) as most intimately co-shaped by the overriding concerns what and who is such an activity for, and thus why would it be worth supporting or indeed allowing by the community: ‘A stronger, more adequate notion of objectivity would require methods for systematically examining all the social values shaping a particular research process …’ (Haraway, Modest, 36, building on Harding; cf. also Wallerstein, End, 164–7, 238–41 and 264–5, and Cini). All theories can today be seen to have powerful biases, the goodness or badness of which must be treated in each case on its epistemologico-political merits.

But probably even this is not enough. We are today irreversibly steeped in technoscience: very little technology is to be had apart from the science that produced it, very little science is to be had apart from complex technology. It is a time not only of particle physics and molecular genetics, but also of nanotechnology and untold further possibilities of highly risky forays. We therefore have to draw on, encourage, and discuss all suggestions for limiting risks, such as the one by Kourilsky and Viney on precautionary steps before prevention, and many other debates for a ‘University of Disaster’ (Virilio). Yet, furthermore, we have to pick up the suggestion by Denis Noble ‘that there is an obligation on the part of creators of this stockpile of knowledge to work out how to disarm its ability to destroy’ (p. 184). ‘First of all, do not harm’: this old Hippocratic oath must be amplified by adding, ‘Whatever else you do, put up barriers against destruction.’ These would be still recognisably scientific debates (cf. Collingridge, 189–94), only enhanced by the wider horizon of a life-oriented S1, where the opponents are transparently honest and explicit about their presuppositions, and thus allow both an understanding of how rival interpretations of data may be arrived at and, where necessary, a questioning of the presuppositions (for example, not just where to build a highway and how to build a nuclear power-station but also whether). As mentioned above, this profile of decision-making should, after the original decision, be preserved for needed corrections as consequences unfold.

I do not pretend the above is more than a first orientation. Among its huge gaps is, for example, lack of discussion on who should establish and administer such reviews and controls, and how to prevent an unnecessarily cumbersome bureaucracy from taking root. These are, however, not beyond human ingenuity, if transparency and accountability are achieved. What ought to be stressed is that today science (S2) is fully accountable to and strictly steered by capitalist interests, while pretending to be technical and apolitical. It has therefore grown ecocidal and genocidal (for the genus Homo), with almost all scientists as ‘craftsmen of power’ (Haberer, 303), ‘barbarian experts’ (C. P. Snow), and today willing mini-entrepreneurs of destruction. We need a science for survival (S1), which would look anew at its reason for being by openly acknowledging its civic political responsibility, and which would be steered – probably, in the long run, less tightly than today – by the interests of community and species survival.