Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Disney World

Father’s Day Links!

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* Statement of teaching philosophy.

* CFP: Empirical Ecocriticism.

* But anyone with a modicum of utopian imagination should be asking, what are the opportunities secreted within this emerging network of control? When older forms of democratic possibility are being foreclosed or rendered obsolete, what new (and perhaps better) possibilities can be found? How can the emerging order, which has thus far depended so much on deliberately produced ignorance, and on keeping its political allegiances occulted, be politicised? Utopian thinking beyond Brexit.

In their different ways, Mayer, Haffner, and Jarausch show how habituation, confusion, distraction, self-interest, fear, rationalization, and a sense of personal powerlessness make terrible things possible. They call attention to the importance of individual actions of conscience both small and large, by people who never make it into the history books. Nearly two centuries ago, James Madison warned: “Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks—no form of government can render us secure.” Haffner offered something like a corollary, which is that the ultimate safeguard against aspiring authoritarians, and wolves of all kinds, lies in individual conscience: in “decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large.” It Can Happen Here It Happened Here 18 Months Ago.

The Trump administration’s policy of separating families is designed to erase hope—with devastating consequences for thousands of children. Extinguishing the Beacon of America. Conservative Religious Leaders Are Denouncing Trump Immigration Policies. A Legal Resident, an Arrest by ICE and Father’s Day in Jail. In Father’s Day plea, wife of man held by ICE after delivering pizza asks for his release.

* Yeah, that’ll do it: The National Institutes of Health on Friday canceled a mammoth study of moderate drinking after determining that officials had irrevocably compromised the research by soliciting over $60 million from beer and liquor companies to underwrite the effort.

* I should have seen this coming, but it still shocked me: NASA’s Lunar Orbiter pics from 1967/8 were deliberately fuzzed and downsampled to hide US spying capabilities.

If You’re A Facebook User, You’re Also a Research Subject.

* Feminize Your Canon.

James Bridle’s essay on disturbing YouTube content aimed at children went viral last year. Has the problem gone away – or is it getting worse?

How does a Google-averse generation figure out how to deal with acne, fake friends, and boy trouble? On Instagram, of course.

* Well, sure: Americans Are Unprepared for a Nuclear Attack.

Trump’s EPA Greenlighted a Pesticide That Harms Kids’ Brains. Hawaii Just Said, “Hell No.”

* High tech lock is “invincible to people who do not have a screwdriver.”

* Adventure House: the sequel to the Haunted Mansion that never was.

* And Wired Has Your Secret History of the Racy Module That Almost Ruined D&D.

Saturday Morning Links!

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* Great piece at n+1 on the late Daniel Quinn. I think this persuaded me to teach Ishmael this fall; I’ve been thinking about doing it for years and the time seems right. I really loved the book when I was 18, and think about it a lot even now.

* Kim Stanley Robinson at the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology: Science Fiction Is the Realism of our Time.

* And a bonus podcast: my friend Isiah Lavender on Minister Faust’s podcast, talking about the pan-African response to Black Panther. (Isiah’s actually in the extended edition, available for free on Faust’s Patreon.)

* Wauconda forever.

The science fiction of this century is one in which great existential threats are known: they are real, and terrible. Something is terribly wrong. Will we listen?

* A decade ago, The Wire series finale aired. The show was a Marxist’s idea of what TV drama should be.

Sweet Jesus, Will the NYT’s Conservatives Ever Write About Anything but the “Intolerant Left” Ever Again?

* Artificial intelligence has a hallucination problem.

* Turns out they already made a Sopranos prequel.

It’s Time to Abolish ICE.

There Is No Case for the Humanities.

There Is No Campus Free Speech Crisis: An Unreasonably Long Thread.

* “‘Schools will stay closed until we get what we are asking for,’ Oklahoma teachers union president says.” And next: Arizona?

* “Foreigners could ease Japan’s labor shortage, but Tokyo prefers robots.”

Deputy sheriff jails ex-wife after she complained on Facebook about him. This should be an automatic firing, followed by prosecution.

Trump’s Latest Pardon Shows The Best Way To Get One: Go On Fox News.

*  How do 11 people go to jail for one murder?

* Buckle up.

New evidence the Stormy Daniels payment may have violated election law.

* Rules for Reading Jordan Peterson.

* Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

In conclusion, Area X is a land of many contrasts.

Christmas Eve Eve Links Links

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* There’s a lovely review of my Butler book by Nisi Shawl in the new Women’s Review of Books. It’s not available online so you’ll have to take my word for it, unless your library subscribes…

* And I’m so happy to report that Extrapolation 58.2-3 is finally out, the special issue on “Guilty Pleasures: Late Capitalism and Mere Genre” I edited with Benjamin Robertson. Check out the intro to see what it’s all about, and then check out articles on Dragonlance, the Star Wars and Star Trek expanded universes, Sweet Valley High, Blondie, The Hunger Games, and Game of Thrones and fantasy roleplaying games…

CFP: Academic Track at the 76th World Science Fiction Convention, San José, California. CFP: Punking Speculative Fiction. CFP: Histories of the Future: Proto-Science Fiction from the Victorian Era to the Radium Age. CFP: Chapter Proposals for “Ecofeminist Science Fiction.” CFP: Neukom Institute Literary Arts Awards.

An Incomplete Timeline of What We Tried.

* I thought this was great.

* Consider: Who pursues their goals with monomaniacal focus, oblivious to the possibility of negative consequences? Who adopts a scorched-earth approach to increasing market share? This hypothetical strawberry-picking AI does what every tech startup wishes it could do — grows at an exponential rate and destroys its competitors until it’s achieved an absolute monopoly. The idea of superintelligence is such a poorly defined notion that one could envision it taking almost any form with equal justification: a benevolent genie that solves all the world’s problems, or a mathematician that spends all its time proving theorems so abstract that humans can’t even understand them. But when Silicon Valley tries to imagine superintelligence, what it comes up with is no-holds-barred capitalism. Ladies and gentlemen, the great Ted Chiang.

Science fiction when the future is now. With appearances from Kim Stanley Robinson, Ken Liu, and Lauren Beukes.

* The best anti-Last-Jedi piece I’ve seen is Alyssa Rosenberg’s at the Washington Post. And the best pro-Last-Jedi piece from Dan Hassler-Forest at LARB. Somewhere in the middle is Abigail Nussbuam’s excellent piece at Asking the Wrong Questions.

* Lightsabers, by the numbers. Secret history of the porgs. Star Wars from below. Thank goodness somebody realized how terrible this would be. The Last Jedi and the necessary disappointment of epilogues. The films that inspired The Last Jedi. Behind the scenes. In defense of Canto Blight. Anti-nostalgia and anti-salvation. Star Wars without the Empire. How to Read Star Wars.

* Winter Is Coming: Climate Change in Westeros.

* How the Sesame Street Puppeteers Play Their Characters. It was only a year or three ago that I realized that on a basic level I’d still believed Big Bird was real; I had never thought or processed the fact that his lips were being moved by a puppeteer’s hands.

* So old I can remember when Sweet Briar was an inspiring story about a college being saved.

* On faculty and mental illness.

Study finds humanities and social science Ph.D.s working outside academe are happier than their tenure-track peers.

* Podcast alert: how does Samuel R. Delany work?

* Bang. Pow. To the Moon.

* Comedy writers name their most influential episodes: 1, 2.

* SHOCK REPORT: The tax bill is bad.

This Congress’s clear priorities: corporations, not children.

* It’ll also tax large endowments. Meanwhile in the academy: We Will Not Be Your Disposable Labor: Graduate Student Workers’ Fight Goes Beyond the GOP Assault. ‘A Complete Culture of Sexualization’: 1,600 Stories of Harassment in Higher Ed.

* Defund every agency that had any part in this. Murder Convictions Overturned, Two Men Are Immediately Seized By ICE. What happens to children whose parents are deported? 92 Somali immigrants deported in “slave-ship” conditions. ICE is abusing immigrant detainees with strip searches and threats. Shock of shocks, it turns out legal immigration is bad too.

The majority of US workers live in “employment monopsonies” where there is little or no competition for workers.

Why Doug Jones’s narrow win is not enough to make me confident about American democracy.

* Ghosts of 2012.

* First #J20 defendants found not guilty.

* The media wealth of African Americans in Boston is $8.

* People are using Uber instead of ambulances.

* The New York Times oddly reports on a Harry Reid boondoggle in a way that makes it sounds like aliens might be real.

* The Fred Moten century.

The Adult Bodies Playing Teens on TV.

* Monopolies are bad, no matter how much you like the brands involved. Avengers vs. monopoly.

“Neoliberalism” isn’t an empty epithet. It’s a real, powerful set of ideas.

* The madness of prison gerrymanders.

* Desegregation never happened.

* Climate refugees in Louisiana. Disability and disaster response in the age of climate change. Losing the wilderness.

* The FoxConn boondoggle gets worse and worse.

* The Next Crisis for Puerto Rico: Foreclosures.

* Revising agricultural revisionism.

* Against optimism.

* Against being born.

* On the sadcom.

Your Favorite Superhero Is Probably Killing the Planet.

* Professor X Is a Jerk!

* The Daily Stormer’s style guide.

* Opoids and homelessness. 3,000,000 pills to 3,000 patients in two years. The Opioid Crisis Is Getting Worse, Particularly for Black Americans. What happens after an American city gives a homeless person a one-way ticket out of town.

* The US gymnastics scandal somehow gets worse and worse.

‘The World’s Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread.’

* The Forgotten Life of Einstein’s First Wife.

* The Ghost Economy.

* WHAT YEAR IS IT: How to prepare for a nuclear attack.

Lumberjanes’ Noelle Stevenson is Rebooting She-Ra for Netflix. Sir Ian McKellen Would Totally Play Gandalf In Amazon’s TV Tolkien Adaptations. The Next Bechdel Test.

* “Paradox,” by Naomi Kritzer.

* The Journal of Prince Studies.

* 80% of workers think managers are unnecessary. The other 20% mistakingly think they are managers.

* It’s not a perfect system, but it’s the one our Founders built: The Donald Trump droid is live at Disney World’s Hall of Presidents.

‘Trump, Trump, Trump!’ How a President’s Name Became a Racial Jeer. 55 Ways Donald Trump Structurally Changed America in 2017. Fascism has already come to America. Life expectancy declines for the second straight year. On brand.

* Heartbreaking interview with Heather Heyer’s mother.

* Jordan Peele, auteur.

* Dilbert: A Reckoning.

Still, it does make you ponder all the ways this industry works in service of power, and by extension those who abuse it. So many of comedy’s institutions are, at their core, PR machines. Branded content is Funny Or Die’s bread and butter. Every week SNL promotes someone’s new movie or TV show or album. Late night talk shows, with few exceptions, use jokes to bookend celebrity press tours. Comedians host awards shows because otherwise we might see them for the rituals they are—the wealthy and famous celebrating their own wealth and fame. Comedy normalizes power; it’s so successful at normalizing power that it feels weird to even write that as a criticism. Well, what’s wrong with normalizing power? Lots of things, but to start it lets monsters play the straight man in comedy sketches. It makes them relatable, which makes them less threatening. But power is always a threat, even more so when it seems innocuous, even more so when it seems… funny.

* 2018 is already terrible: there’ll be no more Zelda DLC.

* And remembering the reason for the season: Behold the official policy for destroying the head of Chuck E Cheese.

Written by gerrycanavan

December 23, 2017 at 10:06 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Friday Morning Links!

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* ICYMI! SFFTV CFP: “When the Astronaut is a Woman: Beyond the Frontier in Film and Television.” At the link there’s also details for SFFTV’s year-round reading period.

* Climate Scientists Warn That All Super Mario Levels Will Be Underwater by 2025.

* On academic mobbing.

* Okay, but it’s only barely half.

Duke University’s non-tenured faculty have reached a tentative agreement in their first union contract, which includes higher pay and longer-term teaching appointments.

* Yours, Mine, but Not Ours: Why the politics of national security means that we’re all living in failed Hobbesian states.

* Ethnic cleansing remains the one arena of policy where this White House can focus. Emboldened by Trump, U.S. Border Officials Are Lying to Asylum Seekers and Turning Them Away.

Judge Derrick Watson is soft on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

Trump Lawyer Marc Kasowitz Threatens Stranger in Emails: ‘Watch Your Back , Bitch.’

* I sincerely hope the lawsuits associated with this pronouncement bankrupt Anthem.

* Game of Thrones fan fiction getting serious now.

At the end of the second Obama administration, there seemed to be more time and world in which to noodle around with those questions than there is today. In this new age of anxiety and emergency, existential threats seem very close indeed. Our own game of thrones has taken a terrifying turn. Winter is other people.

It is ridiculous how beyond debate the collusion case has become and how little it matters anyway.

* It’s going to pass.

* Why Are We So Unwilling to Take Sylvia Plath at Her Word?

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (dir. John Hughes, 2017). This will definitely hold up in court. I hope this is still legally binding. At this point I’d at least hear them out. When you stare too long into the abyss. From A to Z.

“I set a goal to only eat meat that I killed and helped butcher myself” is the most Hannibal Lecterish thing this guy has ever said. So far.

* The war on drugs goes speculative.

* Income Inequality Will Survive the Nuclear Apocalypse.

And Here’s Your First Look at an Insanely Detailed Model of Disney’s Star Wars Land.

Please Enjoy Weekend Links!

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* Get your abstracts in! CFP: Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling. And a CFP for a special issue of the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies on “The Intersections of Disability and Science Fiction.”

* The schedule of classes for Marquette English is up at Spring 2017. I’ll be on research leave, if you’re wondering why I’m not listed…

* Best Tumblr in forever: Sad Chairs of Academia.

* How to Live Less Anxiously in Academe.

How Skin-Deep Judgments of Professors Might Influence Student Success.

“There are many things I do not know because I photocopied a text and then relaxed as if I had read it.”

* The extent to which Trump is floating absolute gibberish cannot be undersold. Even Costanza is superseded in his time. Once more with feeling: On Bullshit.

america-is-already-great-3-8ad19eWhat did Trump lie about at the debate, mondo-hugeo chart edition. Donald Trump’s first presidential debate confirmed he has no idea what he’s talking about. Prince Georging, Meflection, and Gobbing: A brief guide to Trump’s rhetorical tricks. A Trump Glossary. You’ll get ’em next time, buddy. What It’s Like to Be a Female Reporter Covering Donald Trump. This May Be The Most Horrible Thing That Donald Trump Believes. When Trump said that not paying taxes ‘makes me smart,’ undecided voters in N.C. gasped. How Donald Trump Set Off a Civil War Within the Right-Wing Media. How to bait Donald Trump. Gray’s. Sports. Almanac. How to evade your taxes the Trump way. More. Even more! Trump Foundation lacks the certification required for charities that solicit money. Cuba! I sold Trump $100,000 worth of pianos. Then he stiffed me. Donald Trump and the truth about race and real estate in America. America is already great. There’s still heroes in the world. And then there’s what happened just this morning.

 

 

* The most American-democracy thing that’s ever happened: But Republicans said the White House didn’t make a forceful case, putting themselves in the awkward position of blaming the president for a bill they enacted into law over Obama’s veto.

Beyond Clinton or Trump: Nuclear Weapons and Democracy.

Wisconsin Is Systematically Failing to Provide the Photo IDs Required to Vote in November. What a shocking and unexpected consequence of these well-intentioned, commonsense laws.

Note: The original headline for this piece was “George W. Bush is Not Your Cuddly Grandpa. George W. Bush can rot in hell.”

Five questions we need to answer before colonizing Mars. Elon Musk’s spectacular plan to colonise Mars lacks substance. Fun and exciting, not boring and cramped! Is Elon Musk’s Crazy Mars Plan Even Legal?

* What could possibly go wrong? UVM Medical College to Eliminate Lectures.

No Punishment for ‘Run Them Down’ Tweet.

Baltimore vs. Marilyn Mosby.

Why New Jersey’s Trains Aren’t Safer.

* Nicholson Baker goes to school. Reader, I bought it.

* In Praise of Bob Ross.

* Has Pope Francis Failed?

* Another review of Alice Kaplan’s book on The Stranger.

* “Liberalism is working”: Teen accused of stealing 65-cent carton of milk at middle school to face trial.

Measles are gone from the Americas.

Silicon Valley’s rhetoric of magical innovation relies on a hidden abode of rare earth mining and hydro-cooled server farms.

* On Premier League Fantasy Football.

How ‘Daycare’ Became ‘School.’

* The 25 Best Superpowers in the Superpowers Wiki.

*Wonder Woman Writer Greg Rucka Says Diana Has ‘Obviously’ Had Relationships With Women. She was on an island of only women for millennia! So yeah.

* One effect of superhero culture: a proliferation of fan events where Marvel movie heroes and ‘Walking Dead’ stars walk away with six figures (more than most get paid for their real jobs) for a weekend’s work.

The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently.

And yet, looking back at The Jetsons intro sequence today, I wonder where the icecaps are in that little illustration of earth. Is some land missing from Central America? Has the North gained land mass? Such questions become more troubling in the context of current concerns about global warming and, once asked, open the floodgates for similar observations. In the intro sequence, flying cars convey the Jetsons and other families from their floating bungalow to other floating buildings like The Little Dipper School, Orbit High School, Shopping Centre, and Spacely Space Rockets Inc. What was once a cute innovation—why not live in floating cities?—becomes troubled by its energy costs and its purpose. Why do the Jetsons and other families live in orbit? What has happened below to force them into the skies?

* Today in on-the-nose metaphors: NASA Is Sinking Into the Ocean.

Every society gets the post-apocalypse it deserves.

* Big as horror movie.

There were no casualties in the landslide which occurred earlier this month, but the facility’s new rock climbing facility was completely wiped out. Yes, I suppose they would be.

Codex Silenda, A Handcrafted Puzzle Book With Pages That Must Be Solved to Unlock the Next One.

* The ADA at Disney.

* Cheating in school as communism.

* Today in neoliberal consumerism: Want to Make Ethical Purchases? Stop Buying Illegal Drugs.

* The Dark, Gritty Tick goes to series. Spoon! But like a dirty, chipped spoon, a spoon that really reflects the darkness of our society and our souls.

Emulator lets you turn NES games 3D.

U.S. owes black people reparations for a history of ‘racial terrorism,’ says U.N. panel.

Striking Prisoners Say Their Guards Have Joined In.

* The Longreads Reading List on Utopias.

* Die a hero, or… Has Whedon Changed, Or Have We Done Changed?

It’s Official: The Boomerang Kids Won’t Leave. I wonder how many are actually caring for or financially supporting un-, under-, and unable-to-be-employed parents and siblings.

Let’s Stop Talking About Stranger Things Season Two Before We Ruin It. Friends, I have some terrible news.

* Leave the hot moms alone.

* There’s bad luck, and then there’s: Man Bitten On Penis By Spider For The Second Time This Year.

* Today in terrible ideas I could not denounce more strongly: Is it time for Star Trek: The Next Generation to go Kelvin?

* And at least the kids get it.

Written by gerrycanavan

September 29, 2016 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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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.

All the Friday Night Links!

with 4 comments

* We are ruled by fools: The amount of airtime granted to climate change on both the Sunday shows and the nightly news was up, too — to a total of 27 minutes, and an hour and 42 minutes, respectively, for the entire year.

* So long and thanks for all the fish: Freedom Industries has declared bankruptcy.

“Why Is The Rest Of The Country Fixated On A New Jersey Traffic Jam And We Have No Clean Water?”

Fracking Chemicals In North Carolina Will Remain Secret, Industry-Funded Commission Rules.

Judge Rules Detroit Is Trying To Give Banks ‘Too Much Money.’

Remember that most of the “steps” any insurance company or pharmacy makes you go through are pretty much nothing but hoops, in the purest sense of the word. These are obstacles being placed in your path in hopes that you will become discouraged and give up—and they won’t have to pay for your medication or treatment. Show them that you are not going away.

* The headline reads, “Six Years After Chemical Ban, Fewer Female Snails Are Growing Penises.”

* TFA isn’t working.

Every Scary, Weird Thing We Know the NSA Can Do.

The Most Dangerous Sentence In U.S. History.

Total Disaster as Springsteen Tries to Sell Recordings of Live Shows.

* The rule of law still has a few bugs in it.

* Star Wars retcons we can get behind.

* Someone stop J.J. Abrams before he kills again.

* BREAKING MUST CREDIT CANAVAN’S RAZOR: The point of the STEM push is to lower STEM wages, not help people get jobs that don’t exist.

* BREAKING: Comedians are psychopaths psychotics. See comments.

* Johnson’s No More Formaldehyde Baby Shampoo.

Even half of Utah supports marriage equality.

* Turns out California wrote their don’t-use-Google-Glass-while-driving law in a way that’s seemingly impossible to enforce.

The Myth Of The Absent Black Father.

UNC Stops Professor Mary Willingham From Researching Athletes’ Low Reading Levels.

* Rob Nixon is giving a talk at UWM’s Century for 21st Century Studies next Friday.

* Wisconsin may eliminate ban on 7-day work weeks. Workers will be allowed to “volunteer” for extra work.

This medieval manuscript curses the cat who peed on it.

* This transphobic publication hounded a woman to suicide. You’ll never guess what happened next.

Pope Benedict Defrocked 400 Priests For Molesting Kids.

We Would Have Eliminated Poverty Entirely by Now if Inequality Hadn’t Skyrocketed.

They almost put Disney World in Saint Louis.

* And Lex Luthor: Hero!