Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘Polygraph

Sunday Morning Links!

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* Released yesterday: Grad School Vonnegut #11, Cat’s Cradle with Patrick Iber! We had some minor but annoying audio problems with this one, so the editing took a bit longer than usual — so please enjoy, and look forward to, well…

* Apocalypse Now: Covid-19 and the SF Imaginary: Gerry Canavan, Jennifer Cooke and Caroline Edwards in conversation with Paul March-Russell.

* Registration for the “Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions” conference is now open. Call for Papers: Journal of Posthumanism. And ICYMI: SFFTV’s Call for Reviewers.

* Polygraph has a new issue! Marxism and Climate Change.

USPS changes blamed for deliveries of thousands of dead chicks: ‘We’ve never had a problem like this before.’ ‘Like Armageddon’: Rotting food, dead animals and chaos at postal facilities amid cutbacks. Washington Postal Workers Defy USPS Orders And Reinstall Mail Sorting Machines. How a viral photo of USPS collection boxes became a lesson in misinformation. The barn door will now be closed.

* Starting to regret my vote for Trump: In secretly recorded audio, President Trump’s sister says he has ‘no principles’ and ‘you can’t trust him.’ Senate committee made criminal referral of Trump Jr., Bannon, Kushner, two others to federal prosecutors. Inside the chaotic, desperate, last-minute Trump 2020 reboot. What happens if when Donald Trump fights the election results? We Shouldn’t Have to Remind People George W. Bush Was a Terrible President.

* The K-Shaped Recovery. Coronavirus stimulus: Loss of extra $600 unemployment benefits leads to 44% drop in spending. Economists foresee an unemployment “tsunami” coming. The COVID economy means millions of Americans are at risk of food insecurity. Nearly 30 million Americans told the Census Bureau they didn’t have enough to eat last week. Evictions are expected to skyrocket as pandemic protections come to an end.

* New York lays off hundreds of EMTs amidst historic budget crisis.

* Joe Biden’s Campaign Is Making It Very Clear: They Will Push Austerity in the White House. Biden to ABC’s Robin Roberts: ‘I don’t want to defund’ the police, but Trump does. Joe Biden: An Old Man Trying to Lead a Young Country. Prepare yourself for the Biden century.

* Wisconsin lacks ideal coronavirus testing capacity for reopening of college campuses, schools, top health official says. Trending the wrong way. Wisconsin unemployment rate drops, still double last year. ‘The system is not built for problems:’ Attorneys point to Gov. Walker reforms amid unemployment delays. Wisconsin Is a Microcosm of America’s Democratic Decline.

* But it’s not all bad news! Sculpture Milwaukee 2020 works now on display. A Brief History of Frozen Custard, Wisconsin’s Favorite Dessert.

* University Staff Are Worried Their Recorded Lectures Will Be Used Against Them. The Neoliberal University Is Failing on Coronavirus. How Covid-19 United the Higher-Ed Work Force. Company that builds and maintains student housing sent letters to public universities in at least two states in May as they weighed in-person fall classes, reminding them of hundreds of millions of debt. Deserted College Dorms Sow Trouble for $14 Billion in Muni Bonds. Records from before reopening show experts warned UNC of COVID-19 outbreaks. UNC fiasco reveals truth about reopening colleges. Early Movers to Online Don’t Regret Decision. Will Shame Make Students Stop Socializing? News from the Daily Tarheel. Don’t make us write obituaries. Blaming students at Syracuse, UNC, NC State. University of Michigan professors have ‘no confidence’ in administration’s plan to contain coronavirus. Michigan State, Notre Dame Back Off From Fall Reopening Plans. Detroit Teachers Authorize ‘Safety’ Strike Over School Reopening Fears. ‘I just can’t do this’: UI student who tested positive for COVID-19 recounts school response. Alabama goes from 1% positivity to as high as 29% in one week. NYU students use TikTok to expose the school’s bleak quarantine meal plan. Inside the Slow-Moving Disaster of Students Returning to College Campuses. ‘They put us all in danger.’ Georgia State QB Mikele Colasurdo diagnosed with heart condition linked to COVID-19. Marquette in-person class decision detrimental to non-tenure faculty, TAs. Marquette University’s reopening plan draws backlash. Faculty, Students Protest at MU President’s House. “Christian Colleges Ask: Would God Want Us to Reopen?” The New College Drop-Off. Remote learning: a poem. True shamelessness. This is everyone’s fault but mine.

* Ghouls, ghouls, ghouls.

* Andrew Cuomo, Leader.

Study suggests ‘horrifying’ rise in domestic violence during pandemic. Long-Haulers Are Redefining COVID-19.

* Evidence grows that children may play a larger role in transmission than previously believed.

9 reasons you can be optimistic that a vaccine for COVID-19 will be widely available in 2021.

* Are You Overpraising Your Child?

* America’s Terrible Internet Is Making Quarantine Worse. Blow up plans for the school year and get creative, you fools. Understatement of the year: Working parents face tough decisions as schools reopen. Scientists warn it may be years before students can return to school without masks, social distancing.

* The Lesson Americans Never Learn.

* What Happens If the 2020 Census Fails?

* “Fears about Peak Oil are gone. Now we plan for Peak Demand.”

* Millennial Futures Are Bleak. Incarceration Is to Blame.

* Looking for Solace and Solidarity in a Broken-Hearted World.

Black newborns more likely to die when looked after by White doctors.

* California is burning, again. The state is suffering from a severe lack of firefighters due to the COVID-19 depleting the ranks of prisoners who normally do the work for $3/day (and then are barred from being firefighters after release). Severe inhumanity.

* The Mysterious Life of Birds Who Never Come Down.

* The Enduring, Pernicious Whiteness of True Crime.

* TOS FTW. ‘The Before Time’: A Sci-Fi Idea That Has Made Its Way to Real Life.

* The Evolution of Ransomware.

* This week’s thing we’re supposed to bicker about on Twitter is just absurd. I’m still not over last week’s thing.

* There’s friendship, and then there’s friendship.

* A new theory of historical fantasy from N.K. Jemisin.

* The QAnon Century. A Primer. How three conspiracy theorists took ‘Q’ and sparked Qanon. Trump’s Cloud of Gossip Has Poisoned America. The Republican Embrace of QAnon Goes Far Beyond Trump.

How UFO culture took over America.

* Never a good thing to star in your own dystopian fiction.

* Twilight of DC Comics. But they’re bringing Milestone back!

* In search of Bombadil.

(Behold?) The Vision’s Penis: The Presence of Absence in Mutant Romance Tales.

* #MLA21 goes virtual.

* What about the bad job offers?

* ‘Watchmen’ Writer Cord Jefferson on Fresh Air.

* ‘The mystery is over’: Researchers say they know what happened to ‘Lost Colony.’

* I could listen to anything on eight cellos, it turns out.

* The latest in my recurring series of grad school advice tweets.

* J. G. Ballard’s book for children were not a success.

* And I believe America’s best days are still in front of it.

Written by gerrycanavan

August 23, 2020 at 9:55 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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A Million Billion Links, Forever and Ever

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* I don’t think I’ve even seen anything that sums up academic labor as well as this image.

* I’ve been deposed, but SFRA soldiers on: SFRA Review #327 is out, this time with a special devoted to papers from the Worlding SF conference last December.

* I’d also suggest you very urgently check out Polygraph 27: “Neoliberalism and Social Reproduction.”

* My entry on Kim Stanley Robinson for the Oxford Research Bibliography in American Literature has gone live.

* Along with some of my colleagues I’ll be presenting at the Center for the Advancement of the Humanities conference this weekend; schedule here!

* Call for applications for the R.D. Mullen fellowship.

* Please support the AAUP-WSU Strike Fund.

* Do Catholic Universities Still Have a Value Proposition? Gee, I hope so.

Describing a UW System in transition with campuses facing falling enrollment and declining tuition dollars, its president, Ray Cross, said in a wide-ranging panel discussion Wednesday that the UW is not abandoning the humanities.

Thompson said among neighboring states, the condition of Wisconsin highways was rated “not only the worst, but it was worse by a gaping margin.”

* Nice work if you can get it: Dale Whittaker, who resigned amid controversy last week as president of the University of Central Florida, could collect $600,000 as part of a proposed severance package.

The End of the Remedial Course.

* Our in-house student satisfaction survey has found that every department scored 97%. However, within this, we have identified three groups: – Green: 97.7-97.99% – Amber: 97.4-97.69% – Red: 97.0-97.39%. As you can imagine, this is cause for concern.

* N.K. Jemisin’s preface to the new edition of Parable of the Sower. As of date, the Octavia E. Butler papers are the most circulated and accessed collection at the Huntington. What a potent reminder of the significance of her words, more than a decade after her passing. And a TED Talk from Ayana Jamieson and Moya Bailey: Why should you read sci-fi superstar Octavia E. Butler?

There’s No Severing Michael Jackson’s Art From His Obsession With Children.

* A 1983 EPA report titled “Can We Delay a Greenhouse Warming?”

* Climate change in Bolivia: a thread.

* America’s Northernmost City Is Having a Weird, Hot Winter. Homes lose $15.8 billion in value as seas rise, Maine to Mississippi. Extreme Weather Can Feel ‘Normal’ After Just a Few Years, Study Finds. Iceberg twice the size of New York City is set to break away from Antarctica. In the Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any ocean, every tiny animal tested had plastic pollution hiding in its gut.

Renewable hydrogen ‘already cost competitive’, say researchers. Lake Erie just won the same legal rights as people. The tick that gives people meat allergies is spreading. He’s on to us.

White Settlers Buried the Truth About the Midwest’s Mysterious Mound Cities.

* Tenure and promotion letters — a thread.

* Writers love to hate creative writing programs, graduates of them most of all. In 2009, literature scholar Mark McGurl published The Program Era, in which he declared the rise of creative writing “the most important event in postwar American literary history.” For an academic book full of graphs and terms like “technomodernism,” it reached a wide audience, prompting reviews and editorials from publications like The New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker. While McGurl steered clear of either celebrating or condemning the creative writing program — seeking “historical interpretation,” not valuation, he emphasized — his reviewers did not. Charles McGrath, the former editor of the NYTBR, called creative writing a Ponzi scheme. Chad Harbach, a founding editor of n+1, suggested that the MFA program had transformed books from things to be bought and read into mere “credentials” for professors of creative writing. Literature scholar Eric Bennett wrote that the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his alma mater, discouraged all writing that wasn’t either minimalist, conversational, and tenderhearted, or magical realist. Junot Díaz, a Cornell alum, argued that the creative writing workshop secured the whiteness of American literature. And the attacks keep coming, not that they have slowed applications. Some 20,000 aspiring writers apply to MFA programs every year, and the numbers continue to rise.

The range of writers who come out of graduate programs in creative writing make it difficult to argue that the MFA has somehow flattened literature, that T. C. Boyle, Sandra Cisneros, and Denis Johnson all write with something called “Iowa style.” The world of creative writing isn’t homogeneous, and for a lot of writers it offers time rather than instruction, two years to complete a book-in-progress rather than two years to mimic their advisor’s prose or verse. But creative writing also didn’t come out of nowhere. It emerged from a long-since-forgotten philosophical movement that instituted creative writing as a discipline for learning about yourself rather than the wider world.

* When you definitely didn’t do any crimes in 2006.

* Never tweet: Elon Musk Faces U.S. Contempt Claim for Violating SEC Accord. Seems like the jig may almost be up.

* New horizons in cheating to win.

* Really saying the quiet part loud here.

* News from a failed state: At issue is the number of hours the armed teachers and staffers would have to train, the 27 in the district’s policy or the more than 700 required of peace officers. Pater said his reading of the statutes doesn’t require school staff to be treated as security personnel requiring 700-plus hours of peace officer training.

* Living with Type 1 Diabetes When You Can’t Afford Insulin.

Every parent with a disability could benefit from a friend like Carrie Ann. The fact that she is no longer in our world just enrages me more now. The fact that the systems that should be in place to maintain the care and wellbeing of people with disabilities and their families, killed her. The fact that her insurance company thought that the medication she needed to recover from a lung infection was too expensive and instead approved a drug that would lead to her loss of speech and her eventual death. Carrie Ann Lucas died to save $2000, even though it ended up costing the insurance company over $1 million to try and salvage their error.

* Oh no, not my stocks! “Health Insurers Sink as ‘Medicare for All’ Idea Gains Traction.”

* As Doctors, It Is Our Responsibility to Stop Racism in Medicine.

* Why White School Districts Have So Much More Money.

Texan Determines It’s Cheaper to Spend Retirement in a Holiday Inn Than a Nursing Home.

* “Mom, When They Look at Me, They See Dollar Signs.” How rehab recruiters are luring recovering opioid addicts into a deadly cycle.

* Maybe not the strongest argument, but… You Don’t Have to Like Bernie Sanders to Like Bernie Sanders.

* The U.S. war in Afghanistan has been going on for so long that the newest recruits weren’t alive when it started. Drafting Only Men for the Military Is Unconstitutional, Judge Rules. Clothes, violence, war, and masculinity. Would you like to know more?

* Then ruin them!

* Solving homelessness by giving people homes.

Concrete: the most destructive material on Earth.

When Morrison and Millar Almost Had Professor X Destroy the Universe.

Under the terms of the deal, science fiction novels would be periodically interrupted by scenes in which the characters would drop everything and start eating Maggi soups, smacking their lips and exclaiming over just how delicious they were. It actually sounds at least as well as achieved as the interruptive ads in comics.

We gradually become less attentive as we age—and not just because we stop giving a damn. The phenomenon is due to a shrinking “useful field of view,” the feature of visual attention that helps us recognize at a glance what’s important to focus on. Studies show that kids have a similarly limited field of view, hindering their ability to register the complete visual world around them.

* Toxic parenting myths make life harder for people with autism. That must change.

China blocks 17.5 million plane tickets for people without enough ‘social credit.’

* Upsetting subplot.

California keeps a secret list of criminal cops, but says you can’t have it.

Thousands of migrant youth allegedly suffered sexual abuse in U.S. custody.

* Late abortion: a love story.

* What is the Global Anglophone, anyway?

* Superheroes and traumatic repetition compulsion.

* Whoever wins, we lose.

* A Brief History of the Grawlix.

* I might have done this one before, but: video games as pulp novel covers.

* Still a bit long honestly.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Wants the Country to Think Big.

* And I’ve weirdly become a complete sucker for this category of photography: Winners of the 2019 Underwater Photographer of the Year Contest.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 28, 2019 at 4:20 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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612 Frozen Hellscape Links for All Your Frozen Hellscape Needs

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* In case you missed it, I posted my syllabi for the spring last week: Classics of Science Fiction, Game Studies, and Methods of Inquiry: The Mind. And just in time for my games course: Marquette announces that esports — competitive video gaming — will be a varsity sport next year.

* Another just-in-case-you-missed-it: I was on the most recent episode of Random Trek talking about Voyager episode 7.18, “Human Error.”

* I was interviewed for this Octavia E. Butler audio documentary at the BBC, though it’s geolocked at the moment and even I can’t listen to it…

* Polygraph 22 (“Ecology and Ideology”), coedited by me, Lisa Klarr, and Ryan Vu in 2010, has been put up in its entirety at the Polygraph site. Some sort of retrospective involving the three of us is coming in Polygraph 25 on Marxism and climate change…

* And you can read our introduction to The Cambridge History of Science Fiction for free at CUP! Put in a purchase order with your institutional library today!

* CFP: Marxism and Pornography.

* CFP: Canadian Science Fiction.

* CFP: After Fantastika.

* Science Fiction and Social Justice: An Overview.

* Special issue: Queerness and Video Games.

Speculative Anthropologies.

* Absolutely worst week of weather since we moved to Wisconsin. Ancient Plants Reveal Arctic Summers Haven’t Been This Hot in 115,000 Years. Sea levels could rise by metres amid record Antarctic ice melt, scientists warn. And meanwhile, in Australia.

* For and against hopepunk.

* The hope in dystopia.

* The radical hope of Octavia E. Butler.

* Snowpiercer was a documentary.

Fantastic Beasts and Muggles: Antihumanism in Rowling’s Wizarding World.

* The next Cixin Liu: Supernova Era.

Red Moon, Red Earth: the radical science fiction of Kim Stanley Robinson.

* A year-end (oops) roundup post about great science fiction stories from 2018.

The Largest J.R.R. Tolkien Exhibit in Generations Is Coming to the U.S.: Original Drawings, Manuscripts, Maps & More.

* At its core was an algorithm so powerful that you could give it the rules of humanity’s richest and most studied games and, later that day, it would become the best player there has ever been.

* What’s a dirty secret that everybody in your industry knows but anyone outside of your line of work would be scandalized to hear?

* The University in Ruins: Colleges Lose a ‘Stunning’ 651 Foreign-Language Programs in 3 Years. The life and death and life? of the English major. Getting Students to Study Literature.

Proceedings Start Against ‘Sokal Squared’ Hoax Professor. Landmark controversy could determine once and for all whether journal editors are people.

* The MSU autopsy.

Being Poor in America’s Most Prestigious M.F.A. Program.

The median salary for a full-time writer in America is $20,300.

* When you kill the humanities, you kill the sciences’ revenue stream.

4. The real analogy to make here is how many monuments do you see to, say the “genocidal regime” in Germany? Are there statues of Hitler at the University of Berlin? Of course not. There are “historical remnants” across Germany. But that is different than erecting monuments.

Racism and the Wisconsin Idea. And while we’re beating up on Wisconsin: Mandela Barnes Is First African-American In Decades To Hold Statewide Office In Wisconsin.

How Ph.D.s Romanticize the ‘Regular’ Job Market. Okay, y’all, let’s talk quick about what my experience was getting an #altac job. And from the archives: Alt-Ac Isn’t Always the Answer.

* Federal judge allows to proceed a suit in which white student says an admissions officer told her she might improve her odds of getting into medical school by discovering Native American or African American lineage.

* Baby Boomers to steal college from their grandchildren, again.

* Hampshire College struggles to stay afloat.

* College of Theseus.

* The university at the end of the world.

How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation. Generation Layoff.

A $21,000 Cosmetology School Debt, and a $9-an-Hour Job.

Not lazy, not faking: teaching and learning experiences of university students with disabilities.

In this context, diversity banners are not evidence of Maoism on the march. They are evidence of an institution whose ideals are at odds with its social function. Few in higher education want to work in a laundering operation that exchanges parental capital for students’ social capital so that they can turn it back into material capital again.And yet…

The Data Colleges Collect on Applicants. Chinese schools are using ‘smart uniforms’ to track their students’ locations.

* Journalism in ruins. What will Google and Facebook do when they’ve killed off every industry they’re parasitic on? BuzzFeed’s Unpaid 19-Year-Old Quiz Genius on Her Tricks, the Layoffs, and Jonah Peretti. Do You Still Have A Job At BuzzFeed?

* How to build a Medicare-for-all plan, explained by somebody who’s thought about it for 20 years.

* The Foxconn deal just gets worse and worse.

Whiteness in 21st century America has an endgame, and it is this: to divest itself from the shame of its power, while working to revive the fear it needs in which to thrive.

In the face of climate apocalypse, the rich have been devising escape plans. What happens when they opt out of democratic preparation for emergencies? Call me crazy but the horse may have left the barn on this one.

Our national amnesia and insouciance is so advanced (sort of like those of our president) that we have already forgotten that Malibu burned down this fall and the celebrities had to flee, many losing their multimillion-dollar mansions. Ocean Warming Is Accelerating Faster Than Thought, New Research Finds. Billionaire Miami Beach Developer Dismisses Rising Sea Levels as ‘Paranoia.’ Ancient Plants Reveal Arctic Summers Haven’t Been This Hot in 115,000 Years. The Democrats are climate deniers. What It’s Like to Be a High School Senior and Lose Everything in the Worst Fire in California History. Managed retreat. This is what extinction feels like from the inside. Everything is not going to be okay.

* Consider de-extinction.

Soy boom devours Brazil’s tropical savanna.

* The end of the monarch butterfly.

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, would have to pay $4.1 billion in the first year under U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed wealth tax, based on his current net worth of $137.1 billion. Article never quite gets around to mentioning that that’s about three weeks of Bezos’s earnings.

* Meanwhile: Hospitals Are Asking Their Own Patients to Donate Money. The wallet biopsy.

* Politicians have caused a pay ‘collapse’ for the bottom 90 percent of workers, researchers say.

* Joe Manchin’s Daughter Was Responsible For Increasing EpiPen Prices By 400%.

* “If True, This Could Be One of the Greatest Discoveries in Human History”: The head of Harvard’s astronomy department says what others are afraid to say about a peculiar object that entered the solar system.

Mysterious radio signals from deep space detected.

Surely You’re a Creep, Mr. Feynman.

* Surviving R. Kelly.

The Bulletproof Coffee Founder Has Spent $1 Million in His Quest to Live to 180.

J’Accuse…! Why Jeanne Calment’s 122-year old longevity record may be fake.

CBS All Access playing with fire with my precious baby wants to create the next generation of Trekkies with multiple animated Star Trek series. On the plus side, Michelle Yeoh is good. On the down side, she will be playing a fascist, and the show will be poorly lit.” Star Trek 4.

* Trump scandal watch 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

* What even is Fox News?

* The ACLU made the Border Patrol reveal its terrifying legal theories.

* Face it, tiger, you just need a new Constitution.

* Twilight of the UCB.

* Bandersnatch stats. The Illusion of Free Will: On “Bandersnatch” and Interactive Fiction. The biggest thing missing from Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’s horror story about a career in games. Paging the Reddit detectives.

* Ainehi Edoro on the New Image of Africa in Black Panther.

* I have a problem with Black Panther: Anyone committed to an expansive concept of Pan-African liberation must regard ‘Black Panther’ as a counterrevolutionary film.

Was Jane Jetson a Child Bride?

Dozens of college-age men dead from ‘accidental’ drownings—but a team of retired detectives say the boys were drugged and killed by a shadowy gang with a sinister symbol.

The year was 2005. That same year, National Book Award-winning author George Saunders traveled to Kathmandu to meet Bomjon, or “Buddha Boy” as the Western press had dubbed him. Saunders trekked deep into the unruly jungle that’s shadowed by the distant Himalayas and recalled his adventure for GQ, reporting back that he felt as though he’d experienced a miracle. A divine presence. Dark Secrets of Nepal’s Famous Buddha Boy.

‘Nobody Is Going to Believe You.’ How is Bryan Singer still working?

* Sex after Chernobyl.

Winners of the 2018 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest. There’s more posts after the links, I just liked a bunch of these.

* Uber and Lyft singlehandedly wipe out US transit gains.

* AAVE and court stenography.

General Strike: Fierce Urgency of Now.

Research shows that encouraging all women to breastfeed comes with serious risks. Will our perception of it ever catch up?

* The end of forever: what happens when an adoption fails?

* When Isaac Asimov predicted 2019.

* The United States of Rage.

Facebook knowingly duped game-playing kids and their parents out of money.

How The Lord of the Rings Changed Publishing Forever.

* Maybe fixing schools isn’t actually about cutting budgets down to nothing and calling it a day.

* Automation at Amazon. Automation everywhere.

* The future is here, it just isn’t very evenly distributed: Wielding Rocks and Knives, Arizonans Attack Self-Driving Cars.

The Fascinating ’80s Public Access Films Produced by a California UFO Cult.

“Black babies in the United States die at just over two times the rate of white babies in the first year of their life,” says Arthur James, an OB-GYN at Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University in Columbus. When my daughter died, she and I became statistics.

How Sears Was Gutted By Its Own CEO. Sears bankruptcy court OKs $25 million in bonuses for top execs.

Math against crimes against humanity: Using rigorous statistics to prove genocide when the dead cannot speak for themselves.

* The Future of the Great Lakes.

The Owner of One of the Biggest Comedy Clubs in the Country Tells Us Why She Said No to Booking Louis CK. Walking away from Louis C.K.The end.

* Fake-porn videos are being weaponized to harass and humiliate women: ‘Everybody is a potential target.’

I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America.

2018: The Year In Ideas: A Review Of Ideas. What Will History Books Say About 2018?

* The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

* 538 really covering its bases: How Kamala Harris Could Win The 2020 Democratic Primary. How Pete Buttigieg Could Win The 2020 Democratic Nomination.

* This Is What Happens When You Try to Sue Your Boss.

Tesla chief Elon Musk’s corporate jet flew more than 150,000 miles last year, or more than six times around the Earth, as he raced between the outposts of his futuristic empire during what he has called “the most difficult and painful year” of his career, according to flight records obtained by The Washington Post.

In the time it has taken for a child to grow up in Chicago, city leaders have either closed or radically shaken up some 200 public schools — nearly a third of the entire district — a comprehensive new tally by WBEZ finds. Boston’s economy is booming, but schools seem cash poor. Why? Hidden crisis: D.C.-area students owe nearly half a million in K-12 school lunch debt.

* Yes, there are online preschools. And early childhood experts say they stink.

Gym Class Is So Bad Kids Are Skipping School to Avoid It.

* The end of tag.

* The generation gap in the age of blogs.

Why a Medieval Woman Had Lapis Lazuli Hidden in Her Teeth.

AI Algorithm Can Detect Alzheimer’s Earlier Than Doctors.

* The secret of my success: A small literature demonstrates that names are economically relevant. However, this is the first paper to examine the relationship between surname initial rank and male life outcomes, including human capital investments and labor market experiences. Surnames with initials farther from the beginning of the alphabet were associated with less distinction and satisfaction in high school, lower educational attainment, more military service and less attractive first jobs. These effects were concentrated among men who were undistinguished by cognitive ability or appearance, and, for them, may have persisted into middle age. They suggest that ordering is important and that over-reliance on alphabetical orderings can be harmful.

Waukesha college helps answer ‘What’s next?’ for people with autism.

* Today in dark, dark headlines: Female veterinarians committing suicide in record numbers.

We’re Working Nurses to Death.

* Grifts in everything: GoFundMe Provides Refunds To Donors Duped By Viral Campaign.

* The DNA grift.

* “Look, a lot of Twitter is bad. No question. But only Twitter can take you on a journey like this. What a website.”

It is one of the neoliberal commandments that innovation in markets can always rectify any perceived problems thrown up by markets in the first place. Thus, whenever opponents on the nominal left have sought to ameliorate some perceived political problem through direct regulation or taxation, the Russian doll of the [neoliberal] thought collective quickly roused itself, mobilized to invent and promote some new market device to supposedly achieve the ‘same’ result. But what has often been overlooked is that, once the stipulated market solution becomes established as a live policy option, the very same Russian doll then also rapidly produces a harsh critique of that specific market device, usually along the lines that it insufficiently respects full market efficiency. This seemingly irrational trashing of neoliberal policy device that had earlier been emitted from the bowls of the [neoliberal thought collective] is not evidence of an unfortunate propensity for self-subversion or unfocused rage against government, but instead an amazingly effective tactic for shifting the universe of political possibility further to the right.

* And a tiny fraction of the genius Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has been laying down day after day after day while I’ve been gone: When sociologists make movies. Pickup lines. I couldn’t live without you. Domestication. Can video games be art? Honestly, Frank, that sounds like conspiracy theory territory. On Framing. I come from the future. Econ 101. Do you think humans are capable of suffering? Machine ethics.

Written by gerrycanavan

January 30, 2019 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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If You Scroll Down Far Enough on This Linkpost You May Eventually Reach Content That Won’t Cause Immediate Existential Despair

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* Call for Papers: Polygraph 28, Marxism and Climate Change. Call for Papers: Speculative Souths.

* Transformative Works and Cultures 27: Tumblr and Fandom.

* The Trump administration separated thousands of children from their families over a crime the justice system penalizes with a $10 fine. What’s Really Happening When Asylum-Seeking Families Are Separated? Hell is this audio. Photos. Summer Camp at the Nightmare Factory. Toxic stress. For a 6-Year-Old Snared in the Immigration Maze, a Memorized Phone Number Proves a Lifeline. The Heartbreaking Case Of The 3-Year-Old Boy In Immigration Court. U.S. officials separated him from his child. Then he was deported to El Salvador. Mothers in a New Mexico Prison Who Do Not Know How to Find Their Children. Torn from immigrant parents, 8-month-old baby lands in Michigan. Families divided. Hundreds. 1,995. 3,700. Over ten thousand. Trump administration could be holding 30,000 border kids by August, officials say. “She had to teach other kids in the cell to change her diaper.” “I have no information about your child.” “I Can’t Go Without My Son.” “These aren’t our kids.” Where are the girls? This is bad. History. Here Are Some of the Democrats Who Paved the Way for the Family Separation Crisis. The outrage over Trump’s heartless family separation policy provides an opportunity to reverse the bipartisan consensus that has long victimized immigrants. Protesters Flock to La Guardia to Support Immigrant Children. Protest held outside Bay Area ICE facility over immigration controversy. After Six Days, Portland’s ICE Blockade Is a City of More Than 80 Tents. First Step to Helping Children Sent to New York: Find Them. Governors won’t send Guard units to border if family separation continues. Governor orders probe of abuse claims by immigrant children. On the tarmac. Flight attendant: I won’t work flights that separate immigrant kids from families. Fundraiser to reunite immigrant families shatters Facebook record. Tender age. Kids Taken From Their Parents At The Border Get Their Toys Confiscated Too. Senate Candidate Arrested For Delivering Toys To Children’s Internment Camp. Substandard Medical Care in ICE Detention is Killing Immigrants, Endangering Lives. Poor Medical Care in ICE Custody Is Fatal. More Immigrants Died in Detention in Fiscal Year 2017 Than in Any Year Since 2009. Code red. Torture. Deputy sexually assaulted child, threatened undocumented mom if she reported it. Teens Describe Life Inside A US Detention Center. ICE detention of unaccompanied minors in New York is up more than 500%, city says. Boston Public Schools Superintendent Chang has resigned after it was revealed that BPS has been providing student info to ICE to help deport migrant schoolchildren. Businesses have made millions off Trump’s child separation policy. The corporation that deports immigrants has a major stake in Trump’s presidency. Private Prison Stocks Are Soaring Amid the Trump Administration’s Immigration Crisis. Ex-CIA Contractor Makes Millions Flying Immigrant Kids to Shelters. Southwest Key 1, 2, 3, 4. Betsy DeVos cashes in. Migrant children sent to shelters with histories of abuse allegations. Nearly Half of Funding for Child Migrant Care Went to Shelters With Histories of Abuse. Immigrant children forcibly injected with drugs, lawsuit claims. Unspeakable cruelty. The D&D thread. Even Laura Bush. ‘They are coming crying, almost hysterical.’ The chaotic effort to reunite immigrant parents with their separated kids. No plan. The courts must award damages to families torn apart by the policy. Some migrant family separations are permanent. There’s no migration crisis. 3 Charts That Show What’s Actually Happening Along The Southern Border. For the ages. The real hoax about the border crisis. Checkpoints in New Hampshire. Jogger Accidentally Crosses U.S. Border From Canada and Is Detained for Two Weeks. The Trump administration changed its story on family separation no fewer than 14 times before ending the policy. Trump’s Executive Order Turns Family Separation Into Family Incarceration. “There is a policy now on the part of our government for the Office of Refugee Resettlement to share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That’s as new as four days ago.” Nothing but lies. The next phase. 120,000. The plans are ready. Simple from here. Malice aforethought. If only. American fascist party membership application, Atlanta, 1930. ICE detention centers in your state.

* Newsflash: they’ll support anything.

We Owe Central American Migrants Much More Than This.

* Whiteness is the crisis.

The buses came right into the camps, in the middle of the courtyard there was a place separated by barbed wire, and the buses came into this area very fast. The children were told to leave the bus because one bus followed the next at great speed, and they had to make way for the buses behind them.

And so these unfortunate children were completely disorientated and at a loss; they left the buses in silence. They were taken in groups roughly corresponding to the numbers in each bus – there were sometimes fifty, sixty, eighty children.

The older ones held the younger ones by the hand, no one was allowed to go near these children apart from a few people amongst us, including myself, who had special permission. They were taken into rooms in which there were no furnishings but only straw mattresses on the ground – mattresses which were filthy, disgusting and full of vermin.

Question: Mr Wellers: Did all these children know their own names?

Answer: No, there were many infants two, three, four years old who did not even know what their names were. When trying to identify them, we sometimes asked a sister, an older brother – sometimes we simply asked other children if they knew them, in order to find out to find out what they were called.

As the American detainee crisis deepens, Australia’s own immigration catastrophe points to a bleaker future.

Hitler goes west: The secret plans for Nazi America.

How to sleep at night when families are being separated at the border.

We’re Not Better Than This. But We Can Try to Be.

Former Border Patrol Agent To Current Agents: Refuse Orders To Separate Children.

* Takei: “At Least During the Internment…”

States of Emergency: Imagining a politics for an age of accelerated climate change.

* White supremacy after Vietnam.

Forty-Five Things I Learned in the Gulag.

1. The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.

* Boomers, man.

Trump’s Military Drops a Bomb Every 12 Minutes, and No One Is Talking About It.

Meanwhile, Trump’s cabinet is corruption central.

Melania Trump Plays the Role of Medieval Queen.

* That D&D thread above linked up nicely with this vintage SMBC that popped across my feed this morning.

Engineered for Dystopia.

In times like these it is important to remember that border walls, nuclear missiles, and surveillance systems do not work, and would not even exist, without the cooperation of engineers. We must begin teaching young engineers that their field is defined by care and humble assistance, not blind obedience to authority. Without this crucial first step, organizing engineers’ labor in Silicon Valley and elsewhere may only yield counter-productive results. After all, police have benefited from some of the most powerful union representation and that has not proven liberatory for anyone. It is only after the engineering profession takes its place among other professions—ones that recognized their power and created systems of independent review and accountability—and comes to terms with its relationship to ethics and morals, can it be trusted to organize. Only then can we trust them to leave the siege engines behind and join us in building something new.

* Summoning the Future: The story of the British National Health Service, one of the twentieth century’s great working-class achievements.

* Auditioning for the Supreme Court: Republican judge orders the entire Consumer Financial Protection Bureau eliminated.

* Possible environmental factor for type-2 diabetes identifies: a chemical found in teeth-whitening toothpaste. Here’s the study.

* Another round of images from the Bodleian’s Tolkien art exhibit.

* Desistance and detransitioning stories value cis anxiety over trans lives.

Shots Not Fired: A new Oregon law takes guns from people who may do harm.

* An oral history of “Because the Night.”

The fall of New York and the urban crisis of affluence.

These stores, like so many others in my neighborhood, have not been replaced. They are simply . . . gone. In an informal survey of Broadway, from 93rd Street to 103rd, I recently counted twenty-four vacant storefronts—many of them very large spaces, enough to account for roughly one third of the street frontage. Nearly all of them have been empty now for months or even years.

* Time travel on the blockchain.

A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw.

Amazon Workers Demand Jeff Bezos Cancel Face Recognition Contracts With Law Enforcement. Microsoft, under fire for ICE deal, says it’s ‘dismayed’ by family separations at border. A Cloud Is Not Just a Cloud.

* Subscribe, you loathsome, miserable worms. Historical New York Times tweets.

* National Enquirer sent stories about Trump to his attorney Michael Cohen before publication, people familiar with the practice say.

When platforms that aggregate, distribute and monetize news — Apple, Google, Facebook — share revenues with publishers, maybe they should check against a provenance service to find out whether they’re rewarding someone who did original journalism, or someone who’s simply chasing clicks. Perhaps one or more platform would end up sharing revenues between the publisher that captured the clicks and the one that initially sponsored the investigation.

* A study exploring the impact of lecture capture availability and lecture capture usage on student attendance and attainment.

The possibility of vacuum decay has come up a lot lately because measurements of the mass of the Higgs boson seem to indicate the vacuum is metastable. But there are good reasons to think some new physics will intervene and save the day.

We have hints of a theory beyond quantum physics.

With the Switch, the 130-year-old gaming giant has once again turned reports of its demise into Nintendo Mania. The Legend of Nintendo.

* Office classics.

* The case against the case for the humanities, Stanley Fish edition.

So is there anything left once the justifications I have surveyed prove to be at best partial and at worse delusional? Well, what’s left is the position articulated by Oakeshott, a position I have always held, a position Small names the “intrinsic value” or “for its own sake” position. This position has the great advantage not of providing a justification but of making a virtue of the unavailability of one. Justification is always a mug’s game, for it involves a surrender to some measure or criterion external to the humanities. The person or persons who ask us as academic humanists to justify what we do is asking us to justify what we do in his terms, not ours. Once we pick up that challenge, we have lost the game, because we are playing on the other guy’s court, where all the advantage and all of the relevant arguments and standards of evidence are his. The justification of the humanities is not only an impossible task but an unworthy one, because to engage in it is to acknowledge, if only implicitly, that the humanities cannot stand on their own and do not on their own have an independent value. Of course the assertion of an independent value and the refusal to attach that value to any external good bring us back to the public-relations question: How are we going to sell this? The answer is. again, that we can’t.

Here’s How That Tablet On The Table At Your Favorite Restaurant Is Hurting Your Waiter.

* There could be as many as 7000 tigers living in American backyards.

* RIP, Koko. More here and here.

Needle exchanges have been proved to work against opioid addiction. They’re banned in 15 states.

* “Falling Out of Love With the Nerdist Podcast: The allegations against Chris Hardwick mark the end of a complicated era.

MIT Clears Junot Díaz to Teach.

* The end of Starbucks.

* Hyperexploitation at the laugh factory.

Why are game companies so afraid of the politics in their games?

* Black Panther and the Black Panthers.

* A Brief History of Soviet Sci-fi.

* Octavia Butler Google Doodle.

* For one brief, shining moment, the Star Wars anthology films were being cancelled.

* Don’t give me good news, I’m too depressed.

* And here comes the Space Force. Would you like to know more?

Written by gerrycanavan

June 24, 2018 at 10:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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Seven Pounds of Sunday Links in a Three-Pound Bag

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cr2zpcrw8aa7gey* If you missed it, my contribution to the thriving “Star Trek at 50″ thinkpiece industry: “We Have Never Been Star Trek.” And some followup commentary on First Contact and the Rebootverse from Adam Kotsko.

* Elsewhere: To Boldly Imagine: Star Trek‘s Half Century. 13 science fiction authors on how Star Trek influenced their lives. 50 Years of Trekkies. Women who love Star Trek are the reason that modern fandom exists. What If Star Trek Never Existed? In a World without Star Trek The Star Trek You Didn’t See. How Every Single Star Trek Novel Fits Together. What Deep Space Nine does that no other Star Trek series can. Fighter Planes vs. Navies. Fifty years of Star Trek – a socialist perspective. Star Trek in the Age of Trump. Star Trek Is Brilliantly Political. Well, It Used To Be. Sounds of Spock. A Counterpoint. Catching Up with Star Trek IV’s Real Hero. The Workday on the Edge of Forever. A few of the best images I gathered up this week: 1, 2. And of course they did: CBS and Paramount Royally Screwed Up Star Trek‘s 50th Anniversary.

* And some more Star Trek: Discovery teasing: Time to rewatch “Balance of Terror.” And Majel might even voice the computer.

Deadline Extended for the 2016 Tiptree Fellowship. The Foundation Essay Prize 2017.

* CFP: Speculative Finance/Speculative Fiction. Editors David M. Higgins and Hugh Charles O’Connell. Call for Chapters: Transmedia Star Wars. Editors Sean A. Guynes and Dan Hassler-Forest.

* Not a CFP, but I’m glad to see this is coming soon: None of This is Normal: The Fiction of Jeff VanderMeer.

* Polygraph #25, on sound and the modes of production, is now available.

* Tolkien once said that fantasy can’t work on stage. Katy Armstrong argues that The Cursed Child only works on stage. Harry Potter and the Conscience of a Liberal.

* On Utopia and Reaction.

* Poetry and Class Struggle.

* This LARB essay on scholars fighting about King Lear is as spellbinding as everyone said.

Here is a list of things that I am including in this book. Please send me my seven-figure advance. An Easy Guide to Writing the Great American Novel.

Concerns Over Future of UMass Labor Center.

Lockout at LIU. The Nuclear Option. Unprecedented. This is the first time that higher-ed faculty have ever been locked out. Lockout Lessons. Students Walkout. As Lockout Continues at Long Island U., Students Report Meager Classroom Instruction. This has been, to say the least, an amazing story.

Decline of Tenure for Higher Education Faculty: An Introduction.

Salaita’s Departure and the Gutting of American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois.

Inmates Are Planning The Largest Prison Strike in US History. ‘Incarcerated Workers’ stage nationwide prison labor strike 45 years after 1971 Attica riot. Your Refresher on the 13th Amendment.

The long, steady decline of literary reading. History Enrollments Drop. Werner Herzog Narrates My Life as a Graduate Student. My dirty little secret: I’ve been writing erotic novels to fund my PhD.

Quebec’s massive student strikes emerged from an organizing model that constantly trains new generations of activists.

Retirement Plan Roulette.

* The First Trans*Studies Conference.

* Donna Haraway: “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene.”

The unfinished Chthulucene must collect up the trash of the Anthropocene, the exterminism of the Capitalocene, and chipping and shredding and layering like a mad gardener, make a much hotter compost pile for still possible pasts, presents, and futures.

A bit more here.

* Elsewhere in the Anthropocene: Montana declares state of emergency over pipeline spill, oily drinking water. The Gradual Atlantis (and see Dr. K.S. Robinson for more). Fast Fashion and Environmental Crisis. The Planet Is Going Through A ‘Catastrophic’ Wilderness Loss, Study Says. The Oceans Are Heating Up. A Monument to Outlast Humanity. New genus of bacteria found living inside hydraulic fracturing wells. And from the archives: Louisiana Doesn’t Exist.

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergartners of Finland. What Should a Four-Year-Old Know? How to Raise a Genius.

* Michael R. Page on the greatness of The Space Merchants. Bonus content from University of Illinois Press: Five Quotes from Frederik Pohl.

The problem with this reasoning, at least as it relates to graduate students, is that we have had fifty years to find out if unions destroy graduate education. They don’t.

How Unions Change Universities. Scabbing on Our Future Selves.

Of Moral Panics, Education, Culture Wars, and Unanswerable Holes.

The Death of ITT Tech, Part One: What Happened?

* Audrey Watters on the (credit) score.

* Clemson’s John C. Calhoun Problem. And Jack Daniels’s.

* Welcome to Our University! We’re Delighted to Have You, But If You Think We’re Going to Cancel the Ku Klux Klan Rally, You’ve Got Another Think Coming. Cashing in on the Culture Wars: U Chicago.

* The things English speakers know, but don’t know they know.

* Raymond Chandler and Totality.

* Writing Like a State.

Slapstick, Fordism and the Communist Avant-Garde.

Capitalist Saboteurs.

Why ‘The Stranger’ Almost Didn’t Get Published.

It’s Getting Harder and Harder to Deny That Football Is Doomed.

After Richmond Student Writes Viral Essay About Her Rape Case, the University Calls Her a Liar.

* Milwaukee vs. Pikachu. The World’s Most Dangerous Game: Pokémon’s Strange History with Moral Panics.

Weapons of Math Destruction: invisible, ubiquitous algorithms are ruining millions of lives.

British artist Rebecca Moss went aboard the Hanjin Geneva container ship for a “23 Days at Sea Residency.” But the company that owns the ship went bankrupt on August 31, and ports all over the world have barred Hanjin’s ships because the shipping line is unable to pay the port and service fees. Artist-in-residence stuck on bankrupt container ship that no port will accept.

* Christopher Newfield talks his new book on the collapse of the public university, The Great Mistake.

Bill de Blasio’s Pre-K Crusade.

* The Plight of the Overworked Nonprofit Employee.

* FiveThirtyEight: What Went Wrong?

The Lasting Impact of Mispronouncing Students’ Names.

* The law, in its majestic equality: Black Defendants Punished Harsher After A Judge’s Favorite Football Team Loses.

* Fred Moten on academic freedom, Palestine, BDS, and BLM.

* Being Nadja Spiegelman.

* The Night Of and the Problem of Chandra.

The Book of Springsteen. Relatedly: Bruce Springsteen’s Reading List.

* Defining Unarmed.

New research suggests that humans have a sixth basic taste in addition to sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness, and umami. It’s starchiness.

* Against Theory.

Differently from philosophy, which functions under long, frustrating timings, and very rarely reaches any certainty, theory is quick, voracious, sharp, and superficial: its model is the “reader,” a book made to help people make quotations from books that are not read.

* The largest strike in world history?

* The Walrus has an absolutely wrenching piece on stillbirth.

How to Tell a Mother Her Child Is Dead.

“Science thought there was one species and now genetics show there are four species,” Dr. Janke said. “All zoos across the world that have giraffes will have to change their labels.”

The Mysterious Ending of John Carpenter’s The Thing May Finally Have an Answer.

* Teach the controversy: No Forests on Flat Earth.

* The clash of eschatologies.

Wisconsin appeals Brendan Dassey’s overturned conviction.

* Abolish the iPhone. How Apple Killed the Cyberpunk Dream. It’s not much better over there.

* Atwood and comics.

The NEH’s chairman, Bro Adams, tries to make a case for the humanities. Is anyone listening?

* Britain isn’t doing a super great job with Brexit.

* No other image has better captured the struggle that is simply living every day: Drunk Soviet worker tries to ride on hippo (Novokuznetsk, in Kemerovo, 1982). Yes, there’s still more links below.


* The DEA vs. Kratom. Why Banning the Controversial Painkiller Kratom Could Be Bad News for America’s Heroin Addicts.

*Never-Ending Election Watch: How Donald Trump Retooled His Charity to Spend Other People’s Money. Trump pays IRS a penalty for his foundation violating rules with gift to aid Florida attorney general. A Tale of Two Scandals. That Clinton Foundation Scandal the Press Wants Exists, But they Won’t Report it Because it’s Actually About the Trump Foundation. Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘honorary chancellor’ of a for-profit college. No More Lesser-Evilism. And Vox, you know, explaining the news.

* Dominance politics, deplorables edition.

* And put this notion in your basket of deplorables: Darkwing Duck and DuckTales Are in Separate Universes and This Is Not Okay.

How Fox News women took down the most powerful, and predatory, man in media.

* Yes, Here Comes Trump TV.

* Corporal Punishment in American Schools.

* Black Teachers Matter.

* I say jail’s too good for ’em: US library to enforce jail sentences for overdue books.

Bugs Bunny, the Novel, and Transnationalism.

* Understanding Hellboy.

* The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad. The Atlantic Slave Trade in Two Minutes.

* What’s the Matter with Liberals?

* Alan Moore Confirms Retirement from Comic Books. An interview in the New York Times where, lucky for me, he talks a lot about David Foster Wallace.

The Need For Believable Non-White Characters — Sidekicks, Included.

What Your Literature Professor Knows That Your Doctor Might Not.

Geologic Evidence May Support Chinese Flood Legend.

Fully Autonomous Cars Are Unlikely, Says America’s Top Transportation Safety Official.

* Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal roundup: The Clockmaker. Science Journalism. I Am No Longer a Child. Teach a Man to Fish. How Stress Works. On Parenting. You haven’t hit bottom yet. Keep scrolling!


* Today in unnecessary sequels: Mel Gibson confirms Passion Of The Christ sequel. And elsewhere on the unnecessary sequel beat: We Finally Know What the Avatar Sequels Will Be About.

* At least they won’t let Zack Snyder ruin Booster Gold.

* Poe’s Law, but for the left? Inside the Misunderstood World of Adult Breastfeeding.

* The Revolution as America’s First Civil War.

* Mike Konczal on Eviction.

* What Happens When We Decide Everyone Else Is a Narcissist.

45,000 Pounds of Would-Be Pennies Coat Highway After Delaware Crash.

* ‘Illegal’ Immigration as Speech.

* Second Thoughts of an Animal Researcher.

* Conspiracy Corner: Obama and the Jesuits.

On Sept. 16 the opera “Happy Birthday, Wanda June,” based on Vonnegut’s play, will have its world premiere in Indianapolis. A dayslong celebration of, and reflection on, the best-selling author’s works called Vonnegut World will precede it.

* The Unseen Drawings of Kurt Vonnegut.

* The Science of Loneliness. Loneliness can be depressing, but it may have helped humans survive.

* Once more, with feeling: On the greatness of John Brunner.

* Let us now praise Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

* Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Man Dies, Leaving Behind a Sea Of Big-Boobed Mannequins. Yes, it’s a Milwaukee story.

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Douglas Adams in 1984.

* Taking a Stand at Standing Rock. Life in the Native American oil protest camps.

* Earth First: The Musical.

The Subtle Design Features That Make Cities Feel More Hostile.

* Hitchens wept.

* Rebel propaganda. All the Ewoks are dead.

* Finally.

* Salvador Dali Illustrates Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

* Where the Monsters Are. The Wonderful World of Westeros.

* And I’ll be bookmarking this for later, just in case: A lively new book investigates the siren call—and annoying logistics—of death fraud.


Written by gerrycanavan

September 11, 2016 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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It’s Been Much Too Long And Now There Are Much Too Many Links

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* Job ad (probably best for Midwest-located scholars): Visiting Assistant Professor of English (3 positions), Marquette University.

* There’s a new issue of SFFTV out, all about the Strugatskiis.

* CFP: Octavia E. Butler: Celebrating Letters, Life, and Legacy – February 26-28, 2016 – Spelman College.

* Episode 238 of the Coode Street Podcast: Kim Stanley Robinson and Aurora.

* The weird worlds of African sci-fi.

* Afrofuturism and Black Panther.

* To save California, read Dune.

* All episodes of I Was There Too are great, but last week’s Deadwood-themed episode was especially so.

* Jameson’s essay on Neuromancer from Polygraph 25 (and his new book The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Formsis available at Public Books.

“My college has had five deans in the last 10 years. They want to make their mark. That’s fine, but the longer I’m in one place as a faculty chair, I see why faculty are cynical and jaded,” Dudley said. “Every time there is turnover, there is a new initiative. There is a new strategic plan. So many faculty are just at the point where they say ‘just leave us alone.’ “

Pomp and Construction: Colleges Go on a Building Tear.

6 Ways Campus Cops Are Becoming More Like Regular Police.

* Diversity and the Ivy Ceiling.

* What academic freedom is not.

7) Academic freedom is not a gratuitous entitlement for privileged faculty but essential in achieving societal progressivity. Those with academic freedom are more likely to produce higher quality research and effective teaching that benefits society, if not always the ruling elites. I frequently state in class: “If I am not free, you aren’t free! For me to do my job, I must speak freely and teach outside the lines to help you expand your frame of knowledge and question your world.” There may not be a” truth, however earnest the search, but the attempt to find it must be unfettered. Society spends billions of dollars on higher education, and the investment is more likely to reap dividends if revisionism, and not orthodoxy, prevails.

* Why Is It So Hard to Kill a College? Why do you sound so disappointed?

An LSU associate professor has been fired for using curse words and for telling the occasional sexually-themed joke to undergraduate students, creating what university administrators describe as a “hostile learning environment” that amounted to sexual harassment.

* Josh Marshall: Here’s an (fun in a surreal, macabre way) article about a recent example of how Twitter has dramatically increased the velocity at which bullshit is able to travel at sea level and at higher altitudes. In fact, the increase is so great that Twitter has become a self-contained, frictionless bullshit perpetual motion machine capable of making an episode like this possible. This is the story of Zandria Robinson, an African-American assistant professor of sociology at the University of Memphis who made some that were both genuinely outrageous and also a peerless example of jargony academic nonsense-speak, became a target of right-wing media and twitter-hounds, then got fired by the University of Memphis because of the controversy, thus making the University a target of left-wingers on Twitter and driving Twitter to cross-partisan paroxysms of outrage and self-congratulation. Except that she wasn’t fired and actually wasn’t even an employee of the University of Memphis in the first place. Thanks, Twitter.

Supreme Court to Consider Case That Could Upend Unions at Public Colleges.

* Adjuncting is not a career, TIAA-CREF edition.

Keywords for the Age of Austerity 19: Resilience.

* Fraternities, man, I don’t know.

* Right-wing SF and the Charleston attack.

* Fusion is mapping the monuments of the Confederacy. Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy? Because our textbooks and monuments are wrong.

* Tomorrow’s iconic photos today.


* There’s a dark side to everything: the secret history of gay marriage.

* Andrew Sullivan’s victory lap.

* Gay rights in America, state by state (updated 26 June 2015).

* The Y2Gay Problem.

How do you tell a person to choose between having food to eat and getting married?

* When docents go rogue.

* When image recognition goes rogue.

Greece just defaulted, but the danger is only beginning.

* Puerto Rico and debt.

Now We Know Why Huge TPP Trade Deal Is Kept Secret From the Public.

Let that sink in for a moment: “[C]ompanies and investors would be empowered to challenge regulations, rules, government actions and court rulings — federal, state or local — before tribunals….” And they can collect not just for lost property or seized assets; they can collect if laws or regulations interfere with these giant companies’ ability to collect what they claim are “expected future profits.”

* The Rise and Fall of LSD.

* How FIFA Ruined Soccer.

* Rape on the night shift.

* Self-driving cars and the coming pro-driving movement.

* Class and the professorate.

* “I’ve been a boy for three years and I was a girl for six.” Frontline on growing up trans.

* Why are colleges investing in prisons in the first place? Don’t answer that.

* The view from over there: 38 ways college students enjoy ‘Left-wing Privilege’ on campus.

How to Avoid Indoctrination at the Hands of ‘Your Liberal Professor.’

* Against students.

You Were Right. Whole Foods Is Ripping You Off.

* “You have the wrong body for ballet.”

* The toy manufacturing sublime.

* Barack Obama is officially one of the most consequential presidents in American history. I really don’t think going on WTF is that big a deal.

* What Went Wrong: Assessing Obama’s Legacy. [paywalled, sorry]

* Debating polygamy: aff and neg (and more).

Alex Hern decided not to do anything for a week – unless he’d read all the terms and conditions first. Seven days and 146,000 words later, what did he learn?

Philip K Dick’s only novel for children to be reissued in UK.

Postcapitalist Posthumans.

* Preschool justice.

* The World Without Work. The Hard Work of Taking Apart Post-Work Fantasy.

* The Sweatshop Feminists.

Keita “Katamari Damacy” Takahashi is still making the best games.

The Assassin Who Triggered WWI Just Got His Own Monument.

Every state flag is wrong, and here is why.

US military admits it carried out secret race-based experiments to test impact of mustard gas on US soldiers.

Don Featherstone, Inventor of the Pink Flamingo (in Plastic), Dies at 79.

* A people’s history of the Slinky.

* How to fix science.

J.K. Rowling Announces “Not a Prequel” Play About Harry Potter’s Parents. There’s just no way we’re not going to get an official “next generation” sequel series in the next few decades.

Court Affirms It’s Completely Legal To Swear Loudly At Police.

* Oh, but we have fun, don’t we?

* They’re making a sequel to Lucy, more or less just for me.

* Kotsko flashback: Marriage and meritocracy.

If in the Mad Men era the mark of success was the ability to essentially ignore one’s family while enjoying access to a wide range of sexual experiences, now the situation has reversed: monogamy and devotion are the symbol of success. And the reason this can make sense as a symbol of elite arrival is that the trappings of a bourgeois nuclear family can no longer be taken for granted as they were in the postwar heyday of the “traditional family” — they are the exception rather than the norm. In the lower and working classes, successful marriages are increasingly difficult to sustain amid the strain and upheaval that comes from uncertain employment and financial prospects (a problem that is compounded by the systematic criminalization of young men in minority communities). While marriage is still a widely-shared goal, the situation now is similar to that with college: a relatively small elite get to really enjoy its benefits, while a growing number of aspirants are burdened with significant costs (student debt, the costs of divorce) without much to show for it.

I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery.

* When police kill the mentally ill.

* Despair bears

A broken bail system makes poor defendants collateral damage in modern policing strategies.

Drug cops took a college kid’s savings and now 13 police departments want a cut.

The 20 Best Lines From the Supreme Court Dissent Calling to End the Death Penalty.

* Inside Rikers Island.

Someone is turning the Saved By The Bell Wiki into a thing of beauty.

* Dystopia now: “Predictive Policing.” You’re being secretly tracked with facial recognition, even in church. Air pollution and dementia. Rivers of death. The dark future of ‘Advantageous’: What happens when the difference between child-rearing and job training collapses?

* Plus, there’s this creepy shit.

* If you want a vision of the future, imagine Abramsverse Star Trek sequels, forever.

* No one else apply for this.

* And they said my English major would never be useful.


Written by gerrycanavan

July 2, 2015 at 8:00 am

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Failing My Saving Throw against Egomania – 2

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I have a few pieces out in a couple of new books:

* “Debt, Theft, Permaculture: Justice and Ecological Scale” is in Debt: Ethics, the Environment, and the Economy, which is based on a conference the Center for 21st Century Studies at UWM held a few years ago. This one is a little bit more political economy than the usual stuff I write, extending what Lisa and Ryan and I tried to do in the Polygraph introduction, though I did manage to sneak in some Kim Stanley Robinson near the end.

* “Life Without Hope? Huntington’s Disease and Genetic Futurity” is in Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure, out in hardcover today. The piece takes up a bunch of different pop-culture figurations of Huntington’s disease, but the focus is on Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, Robert J. Sawyer’s Frameshift, and Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy and “The Evening and the Morning and the Night.” No Kindle or paperback yet, but call your library!

I was also recently invited on the Old Mole Variety Hour out of Portland to talk a little bit about utopia, which you can find as a podcast here. As you can see at the link, I appeared as my famously inarticulate character “Jerry” Canavan, which explains why I begin every answer with “absolutely” and end every answer with “right?”


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* C21’s book on Debt is finally almost out. My essay draws on the bits of the Polygraph introduction I wrote and is about ecological debt.

* Syllabus minute: I have W.H. Auden envy.

MOOC Completion Rates: The Data.

* How neoliberal universities build their football stadiums.

Some projections showed Athletics might not be able to make payments starting in the 2030s when the debt service balloons. The debt is structured so that for the next 20 years, Cal only needs to make interest payments on the debt. The principal kicks in in the early 2030s, resulting in payments between $24 million and $37 million per year.

Look, if it’s good enough for an idea man who settled out of court on securities fraud, it’s good enough for me.

* Kent State fires adjunct who built their journalism master’s.

* Ian Morris, psychohistorian.

* What If? on The Twitter Archive of Babel. The Twitter Archive of Babel contains the true story of your life, as well as all the stories of all the lives you didn’t lead….

Proud Species Commits Suicide Rather Than Be Driven To Extinction By Humans.

* A People’s History of “Twist and Shout.”

PPP: Russ Feingold Poised For Comeback, Could Top Scott Walker Next Year.

* Michael Chabon: Dreams are useless bodily effluvia. Nicholson Baker: Dreams are all we have.

* You and I are gonna live forever: 72 is the new 30.

* Settling nerd fights of the 1990s today:  Is This the Smoking Gun Proving Deep Space Nine Ripped Off Babylon 5?

* The Star Wars Heresies: Star Wars and William Blake. Tim Morton’s essay in Green Planets has a similar impulse with respect to Avatar.

* And in even more insane mashup news: WWE Keeps Pressure On Glenn Beck.

This World Is Still Possible, Maybe

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By request, now up at the Polygraph website: Michael Hardt’s “Two Faces of Apocalypse: A Letter from Copenhagen” from Polygraph 22.

This conceptual conflict between limits and limitlessness is reflected in the seemingly incompatible slogans of the movements that met in Copenhagen. A favorite rallying cry of anticapitalist social movements in recent years has been “We want everything for everyone.” For those with an ecological consciousness of limits, of course, this sounds like an absurd, reckless notion that will propel us further down the route of mutual destruction. In contrast, a prominent placard at the public demonstrations in Copenhagen warned “There is no Planet B.” For anticapitalist activists this too closely echoes the neoliberal matra popularized 30 years ago by the Margaret Thatcher government: “There is no alternative.” Indeed the struggles against neoliberalism of the past decades have been defined by their belief in the possibility of radical, seemingly limitless alternatives. In short, the World Social Forum motto, “Another world is possible,” might translate in the context of the climate changes movements into something like, “This world is still possible, maybe.”

Written by gerrycanavan

April 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Joachim Radkau on the (Historical) Lack of an Anti-Nuclear Movement in Japan

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…Japan, however, lacked a great nuclear energy controversy. That’s very strange for a number of reasons: Japan is the first and so far only victim of nuclear weapons. When the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5 was hit by the fallout from an American hydrogen bomb test in 1954, this scandal gave impetus to the international protest movement against nuclear weapon tests in the atmosphere. The Japanese mainland, moreover, is far more densely populated than Germany: correspondingly, the residual risk of nuclear technology is higher. On top of that, Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. In the United States, the regional earthquake danger was the key argument of the first initiatives against a nuclear energy project at Bodega Bay in California. For yet another and more unique reason, conditions in Japan were amenable to anti-NPP protest: because the Japanese electronics industry—herein more forward-looking than the German one—from very early on concentrated not on nuclear technology but rather on electronics, nuclear power never had a “national” argument in favor of it. On the contrary: the reactors had to be imported from the United States.

How it is that Japan never experienced a large protest movement in spite all of this remains to be investigated. It concerns one of those questions upon which one first comes via international comparison. Supposedly, the main reason lies in the fact that no alternative to nuclear energy could be seen from the very start: Japan has no rich coal reserves at its disposal; the dependence on Chinese coal would have been a nightmare; the great oil resources of the world are far removed from Japan; and wind power, even in the land of typhoons, isn’t exactly a confidenceinspiring energy resource. That saving energy in the short term is by far the most effective energy resource was understood by the Japanese automobile industry, to their advantage, much earlier than in the German automobile industry (while the Japanese, since the end of the “wooden age” around 1960, preferred to have their interior heating provided by electricity—a scandal in the eyes of European energy conservation strategists!).

And Hiroshima? In Tokyo there is only a small, hidden, and seldom visited memorial for the victims of atomic weapons. The subject was, as one hears, never popular in Japan. The victims had to suffer under discrimination, and a “culture 176 The Anti-Nuclear Movement in Germanyof memory”—to use a fashionable word—never developed. As Europeans familiar with Japan relate, the Japanese prefer to display a composed cheerfulness and dislike speaking about misfortune and suffering. Whether or not this judgment is tenable in such a sweeping form is open to doubt, as one finds counter-indications in Japanese literature as well. But Arnold Toynbee, the British universal historian, was presumably right in his thesis that cultural successes indeed emerge as a response to challenge and crises. These challenges, however, can’t be too strong. In Germany’s experience, people became capable, first out of a certain temporal distance, of a creative working through of the terrible catastrophe that was Nazi rule and World War II. From Russia it was reported that the contamination of Lake Baikal, famous for its beauty, gave the environmental movement a strong impetus, but not, however, the reactor catastrophe at Chernobyl—because Chernobyl struck at the core of a Russian national pride founded on leading technologies like Sputnik. Presumably, the atomic catastrophes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were so immense that they could no longer be processed by many Japanese—only suppressed…

From the Polygraph archives: Joachim Radkau’s “The Anti-Nuclear Movement in Germany” (and Japan, and elsewhere…).

Written by gerrycanavan

March 16, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Links for the Day after Christmas

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* I consider myself extremely skeptical about the overall theoretical usefulness of object-oriented ontology (see Vu’s excellent Polygraph review for a primer)—frankly I consider claims like these to be so preposterous as to be self-refuting—but nonetheless I’ve downloaded the PDF for new anthology The Speculative Turn at the terrible risk of someday having to writing a conversion essay.

* Hippeism: pray for a cure.

* They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They? Informative, almost-SFW essay via this AskMe thread about the violence and ugliness of contemporary pornography.

* Biden says gay marriage is inevitable, and Obama is teasing that he may even soon stop pretending that he opposes it. Progress!

* Where Obama failed: Nearly One In Nine Federal Judgeships Are Now Vacant.

* Republicans say they just won’t bend on the DREAM ACT. Obama’s eleven-dimensional strategy of aggressive deportation hasn’t brought them around at all; maybe it’s time to give it up.

* UNC plans to take the fight to grade inflation. There’s a pretty dramatic collective action problem here; more informative transcripts would disadvantage UNC’s own students while doing little or nothing to combat any larger nationwide trends.

The Scott Pilgrim Alternate Ending That Was Never Shot. The DVD also has the surprising original ending in which Scott goes back to Knives after all. I’m shocked this was really considered, much less lasted long enough to actually be shot.

* You had me at “Michelangelo painted a UFO.”

* And, at long last, the death panels are real.

Interested in a Review Copy of Polygraph 22?

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Email me at the address in the sidebar.

Written by gerrycanavan

October 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm

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.

What’s In Polygraph 22?

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The Kim Stanley Robinson interview posted yesterday is just part of what’s in Polygraph 22, available now (you may have heard) from Below is the portion of our introduction that summarizes the articles in the issue.

In “System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster” (South Atlantic Quarterly 106, no. 4 [2007]), Imre Szeman laid the foundation for an approach to the history of capitalism that focused not on geopolitical nation-state actors but on the forms of energy that were hegemonic in that moment. Such a historiography of capital would transition us from steam capitalism (c. 1765) to oil capitalism (c. 1859), in which massive reserves of solar energy stored in fossil fuels are converted into mechanical power at staggeringly efficient rates of EROEI. From such a standpoint oil and capitalism begin to look like one and the same phenomenon, with the looming end of cheap oil therefore presenting itself as a catastrophe for the system as such. “The Cultural Politics of Oil: On Lessons of Darkness and Black Sea Files” continues the theoretical trajectory begun in Szeman’s earlier essay with a laying out of how such an “oil ontology” might be thought and represented in culture, with special attention to films from Walter Herzog and Ursula Biemann that usefully problematize the desperate petro-capitalist strategies of continuance and the ecstatic eco-apocalyptic prophecies of doom that otherwise dominate discussions of oil capitalism’s terminal prognosis using the perspective of the sorts of “it-narrators” we had occasion to discuss above.

In his essay, “Ecology after Capitalism,” Timothy Morton extends his critique of the very concept of Nature, arguing for an ecological ethics that takes its first principles from contemporary evolutionary and genetic theory’s deconstruction of the stable subjects assumed by traditional ethics. In a roundtable discussion with Duke Women’s Studies professor Kathy Rudy and the Polygraph Collective, also in this issue, he and she extend these ideas with a sustained consideration of the roles of animals, alterity, eco-feminsm, spirituality, and apocalypse in ecological thought. Morton’s ecology arises “after” capitalism not only in the expected Utopian sense of a better, more responsible future but also in our recognition that the adaptability of advanced capitalism puts it light-years ahead of our ossified notions of transcendent Nature. He also develops the consequences of scientific ecology’s derealization of the everyday experience of large-scale phenomena like climate change, arguing that it undermines traditional aesthetic criteria for ethical concern, along with all associated justifications for action or inaction based on ‘natural’ sympathy. In its place, Morton’s “dark ecology” makes an ethical call to responsibility based on existence alone.

Andrew Hageman activates Althusseur’s definition of “ideology” to interrogate the various ways Nature “hails” its subjects, either through his example of “Nature’s call” as the requisite mandate to expel interiorized externalities, or in the ideologically inflected “call” of contemporary green thinking: “Save the Planet!” Hageman utilizes Althusseur to understand how the Nature ideology of the green movement impedes ecocritical thinking, arguing that only a sustained critique of ideology can differentiate Nature from ecology. To this end Hageman gestures toward a central paradox of green dogma; namely that both climate change believers and non-believers activate the notion of the “essential harmony of Nature” as proof of their cause. Since both figure Nature as “metonymically signified by the climate,” there is an “ideological unity” subtending these two positions that requires critical work to disentangle. Further, global warming discourse circulating in the ISAs—schools, advertising, popular culture—frame, or limit, the horizon of ecological thought, while the ecocritical obsession with Wordworth as nature-writer fails to recognize that “nature writing” is not mimetic but rather the inscription of an imagined relation to material conditions. The chain store REI, along with popular “wildlife snuff” films (Grizzly Man) and documentary forms (An Inconvenient Truth) all illustrate how the circulation of Nature ideology inflects cultural production, mostly through the imperative to connect to Nature through the market.

Against theorists like Morton and Hageman, Ben Woodard writes in Nature’s defense. However, this Nature is neither form of forms nor bucolic paradise, but a material force that exceeds every a priori structure posited by human consciousness. Woodard draws on Schelling’s productivist Naturphilosophie and contemporary theorists like Iain Hamilton Grant and Reza Negarestani to argue that thought and formal ethical reasoning have no authority to legislate the dynamic forces that constitute them. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste depository serves as an example of how ecological responses based in the removal of the “artificial” and preservation of the “natural” rely on an increasingly untenable, anthropocentric valorization of phenomenological life over real nature.

Anthony Paul Smith notes that ever since the philosophy of nature, philosophy has tended to prescribe its own set of ethical and aesthetic norms when trying to think ecologically, itself remaining unchanged by the encounter. Smith draws out the implications of Francois Laruelle’s “non-philosophy” for the development of a “unified theory” of philosophy and ecology, one that would avoid determination by either transcendental critique or scientific empiricism. For Laruelle, philosophy has a deeply problematic faith in its own self-sufficiency, and consequently in its unique ability to comprehend the Real within “regional knowledges”: science, literature, history, etc. The effect of philosophy’s hubris is to surreptitiously replace the Real with philosophy itself. For philosophy to address ecology, according to Smith, both must be changed by the encounter. A “transcendental ecology” would submit philosophy to conditions other than its own pre-existing, self-sufficient concepts. Smith ends the paper with an attempt at conceiving what the organization of philosophical thought according to the concept of ecosystem might look like.

In “The Ecology of Consumption: A Critique of Economic Malthusianism,” John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark critique the liberal environmentalist preoccuption with the consumptive sphere, an ideological commitment which they identify as the economistic heir to classic demographic Malthusianism. (Where once we had too many people, we now have too many consumers.) Treating consumption as a sphere discrete from and prior to production distorts society’s actual economic-ecological structures, leading to a crucial misdentification of the actual agents of global ecological devastation as well to the fantasy that one might “remove” oneself from environmentally destructive behavior simply by curbing one’s discretionary consumer spending. Ethical attacks on “wasteful consumption” and “bad consumers” take the “consumer sovereignty” postulated by mainstream market economics as a premise, thereby foreclosing any investigation of the production’s determinative role in causing and exacerbating the various ecological crises above and beyond the capacity of individual consumption choices to redress. A genuine ecology of consumption, and a truly radical politics, can only emerge out of a steady-state ecology of production, one which directs itself not towards “sustaining economic accumulation and growth,” as with capitalism, but rather towards “sustainable human development.”

Recently, the positing of immanence as an ontological solution to ecological crisis has come to replace the transcendent imaginary of Gaia or Mother Earth. In his essay Geroux diversifies the concept of “immanence” in order to complicate these debates. He classifies our current ecological reality as “immanent hydrologic,” meaning that we exist in a nexus of circuits and flows, all of which undercut interspecial boundaries. The human is now a “posthistorical, posthuman hybrid”; in other words, an animal. This animal exists both within and without, the “animal within” being an evocation of Agamben’s concept of the mobile border, the interior caesura that divides subjectivity. Yoking biopolitcs and ecology, Geroux argues that we belong to a biopolitical continuum that harnesses surplus biopower for the market, a continuum that renders impossible the process of individuation. Outside of sovereignty, all life is immanent. Geroux then turns to two key examples, the cannibalism of Meiwes and the version of Christianity espoused in AiG’s Creation Museum, to underscore how immanence functions ecologically. The Creation Museum in particular foregrounds how the animal/human split troubles pre- and post-lapsarian versions of unity. Within the logic of the exhibit, prelapsarian harmony is an immanence operating according to the logic of grace, the vegetarianism of the animals a negation of the “absolute” immanence of Bataille’s animal (the predator-prey relation). The “Fall,” then, produces this negative, absolute form of immersion, a negativity that ultimately challenges the equally immanent logic of the bio-market.

Britt M. Rusert traverses a wide range of historical events, from the recent post-Katrina abandonment of New Orleans to the management of the plantation ecologies of the South, to interrogate how the anthropomorphizing of ecology perpetuates environmental racism. Recognizing that the racialization of nature often works in tandem with environmental degradation, Rusert seeks to unpack this contiguity by engaging ecology’s fraught relation to the human. While both of the discipline’s early founders, Haeckel and Uexküll, began with “radically anti-anthropocentric worldview[s],” Nazi doctrine adopts their work into an “anthropocentric” social program invested in human population control and eugenics. The Chicago School’s model of human ecology—their “concentric circles” approach to urban expansion highlighting the “foreign” element inhabiting the undesirable cores—similarly works to naturalize the segregationist strategies of the industrial city through the application of ecological concepts like “competition” and “succession” to the struggle for space. Second Wave feminist appropriations of ecology also fall into the trap of an anthropomorphized ecology, dovetailing into issues of state-sponsored birth control that often specifically targeted black reproduction. Despite ecology’s compromised genealogy, Rusert concludes the piece by reclaiming ecology-as-network, a key conceptualization for 19th century black activists rebelling against a global plantation system, and one that will allow ecocriticism to engage with race in terms of “blackness,” a radical non-anthropocentric ontology.

Environmental historian Joachim Radkau analyzes the contradictory history of the German anti-nuclear movement. He begins by noting its strengths relative to other comparably industrialized nations: its unique continuity, fervor, and mainstream political influence, the latter demonstrated by its close relationship to Germany’s Green Party, the most powerful environmentalist political party in the world. Throughout, Radkau emphasizes a series of contingencies and inter-institutional struggles, contesting the common assimilation by historians and sociologists of the German anti-nuclear power plant movement into the so-called “new social movements” of the 1960s and ’70s, as well as any culturalist reduction to some version of the German Nature-Romantic spirit. Radkau’s comparisons of the German situation with anti-nuclear movements in France, the United States, and Japan highlight not only the specificity of the German history but the specificity of every political response to the ecological threats and economic potentials posed by the industrial use of nuclear energy.

In an interview with Polygraph’s editors that challenges the theoretical presuppositions of several of our other contributors, Ariel Salleh forwards embodied materialism as a mode of inquiry capable of grounding the Left in materialist practice. To realize the potential of this concept, she calls for the immediate recognition of the humanity/nature split as both historical, as the requisite condition for the theft of reproductive labor by capitalist and pre-capitalist systems, and sex-gendered. For Salleh, it is the persistence of this gendering (Man/Woman = Nature) that sustains the humanity/nature divide. Discourses that replicate this split are simply “ontologies for capitalism,” including those in the academy who refuse to acknowledge the patriarchal structures of violence undergirding ecological degradation. Salleh introduces embodied debt as a corrective to the capitalist method of valuation, a form of accountability that would (theoretically) tabulate the inclusion of externalities “outsourced” in the system of global production as well as reverse the loan/debt relation of IMF and World Bank debtor-nations. Embodied debt would also allow for the valuation of what Salleh calls the “meta-industrial worker.” Operating at points in the global system where humans directly metabolize nature, where mothers, farmers, and peasants oversee biological flows, the meta-industrial worker is a viable political subject. Embodied debt would thus accrue “value” to the reproductive labor of these workers, creating in the process a new economic system based on metabolic value.

In his interview with Polygraph 22’s editors, science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson untangles the Utopian potentialities of science, social justice, and science fiction. Robinson argues that social justice is now a “survival technology”: the severity and immediacy of the various ecological crises demand an end to the structures of power and inequality that only exacerbate the disaster. Both science and democracy emerge in Robinson’s formulation as instances of actually existing leftist praxis—always compromised by capitalism and by power, but, he says, never fully or determinatively so. Science fiction suggests itself as a field in which these potentialities might be thought through, a “casting forward of the imagination” into better spaces and times. The urgency of ecological crisis calls for these Utopian potentialities to be made actual, and quickly, and Robinson finds encouragement in recent actions from climate scientists and worldwide democratic movements, including the election of Barack Obama in the U.S.

In “Living in the End Times” Slavoj Žižek suggests the usefulness of the apocalyptic mode with an omnibus accounting of impending ecological collapse. Žižek calls attention to our inability to properly think apocalypse, to grasp its scale, its urgency, or our own agency in bringing it about. We remained trapped in old ways of thinking that are not appropriate to reality as we now encounter it; we must come to terms with the fact that “we are not impotent, but, quite on the contrary, omnipotent, without being able to determine the scope of our powers.” The science fictional solution to the problem, one he borrows from the alternative temporal logic of Jean-Pierre Dupuy, is remarkable: we must short-circuit this doom by reconciling ourselves to apocalypse and accept that the disaster is already here and that technological civilization has failed. From this futur anterieur perspective we can then recognize the counterfactual actions we might have taken to prevent the disaster—at which time we can return to our usual temporality and change our “destiny” before it is too late.

Finally, in “Two Faces of Apocalypse: A Letter from Copenhagen,” Michael Hardt identifies a cleavage point on the Left between anticapitalist and ecological politics. While both groups, Hardt argues, are engaged in a struggle with capitalist hegemony over control of the common, the two groups come to diametrically opposed conclusions about the possibilities inherent within the common. If anticapitalist social movements might be said to be organized around the slogan “We want everything for everybody,” ecological politics are motivated instead by a profound recognition of planetary limit; the slogan of the ecological left can be found in the posters at Copenhagen proclaiming “There is no Planet B.” This split reflects a tension increasingly obvious in the workings of global capitalism itself, in which the reproducibility of immaterial goods—which are more productive and more valuable the wider their distribution—is in irresolvable conflict with the need to privatize such goods for the purposes of profit and accumulation. The antimonies of the common, Hardt says, present in the end two faces of the apocalypse; one (the anticapitalist version) in which the breakdown of global capitalism is an “event of radical transformation” that leads to renewal and a better world, and the other (the ecological version) in which the ecological devastation endemic to global capitalism is an irreparable final catastrophe and “the end of days is just the end.” The struggle of the Left is now to find the conceptual framework that can shatter this antimony, in much the same way that the 1990s antimony between globalization and anti-globalization was broken by the development of practices of alterglobalization and theories of alternative modernity. We offer this issue, in that spirit, as a tentative first step. ■

Written by gerrycanavan

September 14, 2010 at 10:46 am

Science, Justice, Science Fiction: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson

with 20 comments

The following interview with Kim Stanley Robinson appears in Polygraph 22: Ecology and Ideology, available now from The interview is also available as a PDF, as is the introduction written by the issue editors. Brief summaries of the other articles can be found here. Other contributors to the issue include Slavoj Žižek, Michael Hardt, John Bellamy Foster, Timothy Morton, Joachim Radkau, Imre Szeman, Kathy Rudy, and Ariel Salleh. The full table of contents can be found here; video from Kim Stanley Robinson’s January visit to Duke University can be found here and here.

Science, Justice, Science Fiction: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson
Gerry Canavan, Lisa Klarr, and Ryan Vu

Kim Stanley Robinson’s stature in the field of science fiction goes well beyond the usual sorts of accolades and distinctions. In a genre so often dominated by repetitive visions of dystopian surveillance states and inevitable robot apocalypses, Kim Stanley Robinson is among the proud few who still assert that most Utopian and most science fictional of dreams: that another world is possible.

In his fiction, Robinson has often approached ecological themes from a future-historical perspective. In his first novel, The Wild Shore (1984), he imagines a United States that has been bombed back to the Dark Ages, surveilled from the coastline by a coalition of nations eager to prevent any American reunification; decades later, a character who lived through the bombing explains the contradictions in his own memory of America (our present):

…America was huge, it was a giant. It swam through the seas eating up all the littler countries—drinking them up as it went along. We were eating up the world, boy, and that’s why the world rose up and put an end to us. So I’m not contradicting myself. America was great like a whale—it was giant and majestic, but it stank and was a killer. Lots of fish died to make it so big. Now haven’t I always taught you that?1

In another early book, Pacific Edge (1988) Robinson advances what might be a sad maxim of human history, and perhaps even its epitaph: “Every culture is as wasteful as it can afford to be.”2 But Robinson is never as cynical as that quote implies: he has spent his career in service of the Utopian form. In a recent interview with the website BLDGBLOG, Robinson spoke about the way the idea of permaculture, borrowed from Australian agriculturists Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, is put to work in his novels and politics:

We should take the political and aesthetic baggage out of the term utopia. I’ve been working all my career to try to redefine utopia in more positive terms—in more dynamic terms. People tend to think of utopia as a perfect end-stage, which is, by definition, impossible and maybe even bad for us. And so maybe it’s better to use a word like permaculture, which not only includes permanent but also permutation. Permaculture suggests a certain kind of obvious human goal, which is that future generations will have at least as good a place to live as what we have now.3

Permaculture rejects the neoliberal paradigm of “sustainable growth” in favor of what it is essentially raw futurity, a politico-ethical imperative not only that there should be a future but that the people in it deserve a decent world in which to live. This, Robinson says, is closely tied to his career as a science fiction author, which he imagines as speaking both from and for the future. Returning again to the BLDGBLOG interview:

And you try to speak for them [the people of the future] by envisioning scenarios that show them either doing things better or doing things worse—but you’re also alerting the generations alive right now that these people have a voice in history.4

Of course, no one said this would be easy. Robinson’s Utopia is never some perfect, static end-state, but rather an ongoing praxis which may sometimes achieve victories but is never victorious. We might think of the lesson he sneaks in near the end of The Years of Rice and Salt, when he reminds us that while our individual lives and personal struggles must necessarily end in the tragedy of death, we can still find the possibility of comedy, of happy endings, in the long arc of history towards justice and collective life.5 In Pacific Edge he’s a bit more blunt about all this; he defines Utopia with two simple, brutal words: “Struggle forever.”6

So we struggle. And in Robinson’s novels it is science that lights the path. But like his relationship with Utopia Robinson’s relationship with science is neither uncomplicated nor naïve. He is aware of the pitfalls. He knows about Frankenstein and he’s heard about the atom bomb. In his most recent novel, Galileo’s Dream—a novel that plucks Galileo from the 17th century to the moons of Jupiter 500 years from now—Robinson describes the history of science and its sometimes-cooptation by capital and the state this way:

Science began as a Poor Clare. Science was broke and so it got bought. Science was scared and so did what it was told. It designed the gun and gave the gun to power, and power then held the gun to science’s head and told it to make some more. How smart was that? Now science is in the position of having to invent a secret disabler of guns, and then start the whole process over. It’s not clear it can work. Because all scientists are Galileos, poor, scared, gun to our head. Power lies elsewhere. If we can shift that power… that’s the if. If we can shift history into a new channel, and avoid the nightmare centuries. If we can keep the promise of science, a promise hard to keep.7

Polygraph spoke to Kim Stanley Robinson in the spring of 2009.

I. Science
Polygraph. One of the more salient features of your work has been the union of serious science with serious politics. Both the Mars trilogy and the Science in the Capital trilogy focus on scientists who decide they must involve themselves directly in the politics of their time. In Science in the Capital this comes through not only in the critique of capitalism’s dangerous ecological practices but also in the way the practice of science is continually stalled both by the privatization of intellectual property and by the partisan political process. How might scientists be, or become, politicized? Is this what science fiction is for?

Kim Stanley Robinson. This is a hard question. Scientists, I think, would resist the idea that they need to become politicized, as they often think in ways that would make science and politics a dichotomy, with science being clean, pure, rational, empirical, etc., and politics being the opposite, and bad. So it has taken the global climate crisis to wake them up as a community to the need that exists for them to join the political process specifically as scientists, and as the scientific community. I think the story of this first decade of the twenty-first century is them seeing and understanding that need, partly because of the anti-science actions of the Bush administration, and partly because of the danger they see in the coming climate change and the inability of the normal political process to react adequately to this crisis.

What they have done, then, is in keeping with their image of science and how it works; they have begun their political action through already existing channels, meaning the professional associations they all belong to, like the American Chemical Society or the American Association for the Advancement of Science, (there are scores of these), and also through scientist advocacy groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists. These organizations have been charged by their members to speak to the political powers-that-be in terms strong enough to make an impression on political actions taken; that the carbon we are putting in the atmosphere and ocean, and the environmental damage we are creating more generally, are dangerous to the current biosphere; dangerous enough that it is right to speak of a possible “mass extinction event” like those found in the fossil record, in which really significant percentages of the species on Earth went extinct. That can happen again, and humanity would be fully entangled and ruined in such a crash—while maybe not rendered extinct, but in danger of huge losses of life and quality of life.

This message has been put out to the human community by the scientific community, with an insistence and urgency never seen from scientists before—which is one sign among many others of the reality of the danger, as most scientists would very much rather pursue their science than do this kind of work. But it has to be done, they have judged, and they have taken the first steps. The work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is only the largest of these efforts. Some statements on this issue have been signed by as many as 130 international scientific organizations.

What comes next is of course very interesting—because capitalism doesn’t want to hear them. We are somewhat past the high point of the recent “free market” ascendancy because of the financial crash, but the underlying power of capitalism is not yet much diminished, and exterior constraints on capitalist growth are still so unwelcome that they are usually denied as real constraints. So we are entering a zone of history where the struggle between science and capitalism for dominance of our culture—which I think has been clear all along, but which many do not see or agree is the situation—may become explicit and open. I hope so; this is a scientific culture as well as a capitalist culture, and I’ve been arguing for years that the utopian ethics and politics buried in the scientific method makes science the equivalent of the most powerful leftist politics we have ever had. Now the climate crisis may make that much more obvious to everyone.

As for science fiction, who knows what it is for. To me it is simply the literary realism of our time; in other words, if you want to write novels that reflect the time we live in in accurate and stimulating ways, you will end up writing science fiction because that’s the culture we live in. It’s also a good tool to sharpen up one’s thinking about the future. It could be good for making scientists think a bit more about what they are up to and how science works and fits with the rest of culture, but this assumes that scientists read science fiction, or fiction, and I find this is not often true. Many scientists report to me that they read science fiction when they were young, found it inspiring, then gave it up later—they don’t say because it was too unrealistic, but often they imply that. But they often have given up on reading any fiction at all, so there may be something else going on there; it’s hard to say. The idea of science fiction educating scientists also assumes that the science fiction is good enough to say something new and interesting to scientists about science. That’s also a big assumption.

PG. You cite a fundamental struggle between science and capitalism as defining our cultural moment, but is this opposition really so stark? Many critics of capitalism have argued for their functional inseparability, including such otherwise opposed perspectives as Foucauldian analysis of power-knowledge and the Frankfurt School critique of the Enlightenment legacy. Many (if not most) scientific institutions, from the British Royal Society to contemporary corporate universities and think tanks, have received their legitimacy, funding, and even agenda from the dominant powers of their respective societies, whether monarchical or capitalist—and this of course includes the science of ecology, the intellectual basis of the environmental movement. If we can distinguish a scientific ideology distinct from its capitalist context, might it be one that hasn’t yet been formulated? To put it another way: how do we liberate science from capital?

KSR. I do see the opposition as stark. For me, it is Manichean and a way of sorting out the information of the world: I see it as Science vs. Capitalism. I think there is a historical basis and theoretical framework to support this view.

The critics you mention (Foucault and the Frankfurt School) were formidable theorists, but the most recent and sophisticated findings at this interface come out of science studies. You need to include in the discussion Bruno Latour, also Isabelle Stengers and Donna Haraway, and Bachelard, Bourdieu, Shapin, Biagioli, really that whole community that, since Kuhn, has been trying to study science as one human system among others. Their work has opened up and deepened the description of what is going on in science, both in the past and in our moment.

Then also it would be very good, important, to read scientists, talk to scientists, study the field in its own documentation and practice. What working scientists have to say about science is often more illuminating than what theorists say about it from the outside—no surprise—and really it’s best to read both insiders and outsiders to get a full picture. Among the scientists you should read E.O. Wilson, Stephen Jay Gould, António Damásio, Sarah Hardy, Roger Penrose, Steven Rose, Michael Gazzaniga, Richard Feynman, Jared Diamond, Steven Weinberg, Patricia Churchland, Paul Davies, Lee Smolin, George Lakoff, John Barrow, and on it could go—it’s a rich literature from a thoughtful community of practitioners.

What all this might help make clearer is that, within capitalist society, science has struggled from its beginning as an alterity, an already existing utopian community, because its distinctive power in the real world has managed to create a counter-hegemony to capitalism itself. Science is a praxis—it’s what theory or the humanities always call for, sometimes as if it is entirely absent. But it’s already being enacted, in inevitably compromised ways, because of the overarching structure of capitalism within which science has always moved. Science has always had to seek funding, and capitalism has always tried to buy science and to own the results of science—to aim science’s creation of ability and capital in certain easily owned directions, and to own that capital. So we see the giant struggle of what are almost conjoined twins, as if in some Hindu cosmic drama.

Why is this ideology, the scientific method, so different, and so powerful in its real world effects? I think it has to do with some kind of “ping factor” (as in sonar): its constant efforts to test its assertions against perceived reality—or the non-human, or what have you—in order to see whether the assertions actually hold up to tests of various kinds. The move to quantification came from an effort to ask questions that were amenable to this kind of test. But the method can range beyond the quantifiable, and often does. There is a utopian underpinning to these underlying questions of value that science attempts to answer along with the more obviously physical and quantifiable questions. Who are we? What might make us happy? Does this or that method work in making us healthier? These too have become scientific questions, with distinctive answers born of science’s desire to create testable assertions and tweak them in repeated reiterations and revisions.

They’re not the same answers created by capitalism to these same questions, where desires and habits are encouraged that lead to profits for a certain portion of society, but deteriorating health and happiness for most people, and for the biosphere.

So, it’s not that scientific ideology has not been formulated; it has (although as a community it tends to be inarticulate about its goals). But it’s also a work in progress, continually applied and then studied and tried again, for a few centuries now, studying not just the results but the method itself, and getting better—after being shocked and humbled by some huge reverses, moments of hubris after which the idea that science had been perfected as a method was shown to be wrong and corrections were then proposed and attempted. That process continues, but always under enormous pressure to “be more profitable,” which certainly distorts its efforts. It is a clash of paradigms and systems of power.

How do we liberate science from capital? We believe what science tells us, as our strongest method and ideology, instead of believing advertising and the consumption habits of our culture and our time. That in itself would make a huge difference. It might move us to support democratically a government that became increasingly scientific, and the utopian project would then proceed on a collective basis. Science would be aimed at different goals and technologies than it is now, and the public would own the resulting capital, with life’s necessities all conceptualized and legalized as “public utilities” and private capital finding its power reduced to something like a kind of superstructural efflorescence, a playground for the space beyond the necessities. If that change could be made nonviolently it would be an amazing accomplishment, and yet because of the existence of democratic governments and the supposed rule of law, it is theoretically possible. But it takes a different view of science than the one your questions imply, and that one sees expressed pretty frequently in left and progressive circles. What if science and democratic government are both leftist praxis itself, both “already existing leftism,” struggling with capitalism as best they can? I think it helps to think of them this way, and I think the evidence is there to support the notion.

All these paragraphs are hypotheses that need to be tested, or turned into novels, obviously.

PG. Late in Sixty Days and Counting one of your characters remarks “Maybe we can’t afford to fight capital anymore,” suggesting that the seriousness of the environmental crisis demands that all political effort be marshaled towards its resolution, or at least its reduction. Do you see this as a temporary truce or a more permanent détente? Given the critiques of capitalism elsewhere in your work—including earlier in the Science in the Capital trilogy itself—does this represent a shift in your thinking about the prospect for radical political change? To put it another way, how can we be sure that a “truce” with capitalism is different from a surrender to it?

KSR. Well, this was a Phil Chase statement, and he is a character prone to provoking his friends and colleagues by overstating things. He argues that if we have to reform capitalism and save the environment at the same time, we have too much on our plate—that the climate crisis demands immediate action, whereas getting beyond capitalism looks to be a long-term project at best—so he suggests that we configure the legal/economic landscape such that we can aim capitalism like a tool or weapon at the immediate problem at hand, which is swapping out the energy and transport systems very quickly, among other important changes.

This might be good to try, but other characters and events in that novel make it clear, I hope, that because capitalism itself is a big part of the climate problem, really we need to attack the problem of capitalism’s detachment from reality if we are to have any hope of stabilizing the climate and our relationship to the biosphere more generally. Not to mention justice among humans, which is a question with an environmental impact too.

This would involve inventing a new economics that would be more scientific, more like an ecology of the biosphere in which our actions were included. It’s a commonplace that economics is not a science—that it is more like a system of analyses of human laws, laws usually taken as given or immutably natural, even though they are hierarchical and could be changed by legislation. So it’s a power-support mechanism pretending to be a science, like astrology in the Middle Ages. But it easily could become a science if all the capitalist laws were also put on the table and studied as processes with real-world results, and the results judged against some kind of scientific rubric of well-being—this gets tricky, but you see scientists groping toward concepts like biodiversity, ecological balance, and the like, even naïve postulates like the editorial by Wallace Broecker in Science which suggests that we create a “carbon pie” that all humans have an equal share in: an end of property, in other words, but not put that way.

I’ve been trying to use standard economic terms to describe the situation in ways capitalists might have to come to terms with and that might serve as entry-points to a larger discussion: that the implicit promise of capitalism was that a generation would work so hard in the working class that its children would be in the middle class, and that if extended this program would eventually lift everyone on Earth., But now resource analysis makes it clear that for the three billion living on less than two dollars a day this promise can never be fulfilled, so that capitalism is really nothing but a big Ponzi scheme, and would be illegal if run in a single state or community.

The pricing we put on things, carbon especially, does not include the environmental costs of making the thing, so that we are practicing systemic predatory dumping, and the competitors we are predating on are our own children and the generations to come. So we are predatory dumpers, out-competing non-existent people, which is easy enough, but they will suffer when they come into existence, and we are cheaters.

So these are different ways of saying that capitalism is a system of lies, but I hope they open the discussion again, because I don’t think capitalism can be defended from these criticisms using its own vocabulary.

Another way is to say that science is an ideology (using the Althusser definition of “an imaginary relationship to a real situation”)—admitting that, and then exploring what it means—that among others it might be the most powerful and effective ideology, if judged against the performance of all the other ideologies.

II. Justice
PG. Taking your point about science, what about democracy? Are you referring to any currently existing model of leftist praxis, or are you suggesting some potential capacity, a subsequent direction for political effort?

KSR. Both of those, but mainly I am referring to the ones operating now around the planet, acknowledging that they work under great pressure and are deformed from their best or ideal selves. But it’s the combination of the actual democracies and the idea of how they could work if they were running the way they are supposed to that I take to be the potential state, something like Lincoln’s great formulation “of the people, by the people, for the people.” This potentiality is a site of contestation and therefore something we have to regard as an improvable reality, and stay engaged in making the potential good more enacted, bit by bit. If democracy is enacted and a majority of the electorate wants to do good things—which majority should be possible to gather, or else just how good are we as educators and persuaders, and how good is our cause?—then good things could follow. This is where science comes in, as the ultimate educational system and persuasive method, also as a method for helping decide what causes are good. People don’t always see that moral imperative or navigation system within science, and that’s where science fiction comes in, to explore that somewhat hidden dimension.

PG. The history of American democracy, for example, is only sporadically encouraging as a form of governmental praxis in opposition to capitalist imperatives.

KSR. I’m not so sure of that. Maybe it’s done the best it could against a truly powerful system—I wonder about that when I look at alternative forms of resistance to capitalism and how well they have done. The social democracies of northern Europe might be models of the next steps toward even better democracies. There you get into science fictions again, the utopian or optopian8 mix of present and future.

PG. And hasn’t it been by resisting American democracy that most of the rest of the world manages to retain political and economic agency?

KSR. It’s true, the American electorate has elected representatives who have then acted as if they were a capitalist imperial power, causing huge and unforgivable damage all over the world. And a majority of the American public has either approved this imperialism or managed to stay ignorant of it. Mark Twain and John Dos Passos are as clear as anyone in describing how this happened in the Manifest Destiny period. Voters vote emotionally, they act politically out of a core set of beliefs or a framing narrative, which allows them often to vote and act against their own best interests, as well as against everyone else’s. Who persuades us to do that? And why are we so persuadable?

Here again theory must come in, and science, and fiction too—as analysis and education, and also scenario building, and the vision of something to work toward. The better our pedagogy and rhetoric, the faster word spreads. The better we articulate justice as a necessary component of any sustainable civilization, the sooner the notion will be incorporated into law and technology.

PG. Even the apparent recent success of Obama’s election, for all its successes in generating a mass movement, was as much a marketing victory as it was a democratic one—and the ongoing transfer of wealth from public to private funds since the election in the effort to prop up an obviously corrupt and internationally destructive financial sector isn’t especially encouraging either. How can partisan politics and an increasingly middle-class voting bloc dependent on consumer credit and cheap labor ever be expected to act in advance of sheer necessity?

KSR. I’m wondering if this is the moment of the awareness of that sheer necessity, or the beginning of it, so that possibilities for real change open up in the years to come. We have to act on the basis that this may be true, because the need to decarbonize our civilization fast is such an overriding imperative that it trumps capitalism in the realm of human decisions and history making. So changes will come, and I’m sure they will be in the context of a mixed economy, best described by Marx and Keynes, in that globalization as practiced now is a Keynesian mix of government and business, an uneasy mix that fluctuates back and forth in a power relation, and now with the climate crisis is going to turn toward more government control of the economy and less free market business-as-usual. The push for that will come from people themselves as they come to understand the danger to their homes, livelihoods, and children, and in democracies it will be enacted by legislation; in the command economies (mainly China) it will come about from national self-interest, directed by the expert advisors going off like fire alarms while the command nations’ biospheres die and their people suffer. These expert advisors to oligarchs everywhere will be scientists, and the scientists will be scientists by being part of an international scientific community, a community working with the same methods and paradigm, so that it works as a global coherent human effort—an effort to understand the situation better and figure out things to make or do that will better the situation.

PG. Reading the Science in the Capital trilogy in the context of the 2008 election, the similarities between Phil Chase and Barack Obama seem difficult to ignore. Was something like the Chase or Obama campaigns inevitable after the Bush presidency? What are your expectations for Obama with regard to the environment? Will he (and can he) do “enough,” given the scope and seriousness of the crisis?

KSR. I am glad to hear someone mentioning these similarities. I wrote those books before Obama himself even began to run for office, so my novel exists as a utopian wish from out of the darkest of the Bush years. I’m sure it was a wish shared by many. Still, someone like Obama or my fictional Chase (who resembles McCain with Obamalike values, or perhaps a mutating set of values that shifts leftward as he works in office) was not at all inevitable after Bush. Indeed it’s all too possible to imagine Obama losing, or some other candidate winning who did not link the economy to the environment as much as Obama seems to be doing. These years we are in now have no inevitability at all in them, it seems to me; it’s a really volatile time, a true crisis.

So, I don’t know what I expect. So far signs out of the Obama administration, just beginning really, are pretty positive. It seems they understand that a “green economy” could get us out of a recession/depression, and cut our carbon burn, all at once, and this is one of the double-goods or positive feedback loops we must seize and act on. Another is social justice and population stabilization; the correlation between countries where women and children have full human rights, and reproduction rates at the replacement rate or below, are very strong, enough to constitute evidence something real is going on there, and this linkage is a very important part of any potential environmental health. It also serves as a way to bridge the feminist community and the leftist community to the environmental community; I hate it that there is any gap to be bridged here, as I see them all as parts of a whole, but historically we see a certain disconnect, gap, even antagonism, as if each has been saying, “my crisis is more important than yours!” As if they were not always the same crisis, and all of them anticapitalist. So, when I see signs of this kind of understanding from the administration, it seems to announce a more general cultural understanding, and I am encouraged that we will be doing good things.

Can Obama do “enough”? I hope so. I tend to go with his judgment, when he says that he is an expression of what we all want, so if we want to deal with the crisis, we can. Will we? This is an open question. There are some very serious obstructions. Or to put it more clearly, there will be many very capable, serious, and well-funded people doing everything they can to impede, forestall, and reverse any progress we might make. Many of these people are stuffed with anger and resentment—why I am not so sure, maybe just because the world is not turning out the way they wanted it—but whatever the cause, they are intensely motivated to do bad. That this is true is a shame, but it is true. A science fiction that could convince even these people of the value of government in creating a sustainable civilization, and of the reality of the crisis moment we are in now in our relationship to the biosphere, would be a really powerful science fiction…

PG. Doesn’t the antagonism you describe between environmentalism and the left also manifest within the environmental movement itself? We might refer to various factions, all of which assume a broadly “green” orientation: the official conservationism of organizations like the Environmental Protection Agency or the Sierra Club, the environmental justice movement, green consumerism, deep ecology or biocentrism, Evangelical environmentalism, and so on. Can we really say the “Green Recovery” or “Green New Deal” proposed by some policy makers belongs to a coherent “environmental community” of shared assumptions?

KSR. Well, maybe. Look underneath the various platforms of the groups you have mentioned (not easy to get underneath Deep Ecology of course, it being so deep) and see if there’s anything in common, anything simple but basic to all, like “Earth’s biosphere matters” or something like that. Some of these groups will fail the test and be revealed as “greenwashers” who are claiming to be green and are instead front groups established by capitalists to muddy the waters and help them keep their hold on the system, or at least escape to their island getaways where they imagine they will be safe (they won’t). But most of these groups are working on the underlying notion that the Earth matters, and are dealing with it from their own perspective and in the best way they can figure out to do. The front is broad, so in theory they should all work together. Indeed in coming together, ideas from Deep Ecology are very important too.

In practice we see a bit of back-biting and the like, but it’s less harmful than in some social movements. All these people focused on conflicts within a movement need to think about Freud’s “narcissism of small differences.” Sometimes real and important distinctions are being fought over, but too often the insistence that these differences trump all else is the result of the narcissism of small differences. I read an account of the recent election victory of a leftist in El Salvador, that those celebrating were chanting, “the Left, united, will never be defeated.” A nice thought, and maybe this election was a data point supporting the assertion, but how often has the assertion been tested? In other words, how often has the Left been united? We need more experiments to try this assertion out and see if it is true! The left united will never be defeated… Hmm, interesting hypothesis. Deserves further testing.

PG. In a culture that remains so beholden to mass media, how does partisan politics move past the level of the sloganeered sound-bite and the meme towards useful political interventions, especially when huge percentages of national populations still deny basic scientific theories like the theory of evolution (much less climate change)?

KSR. There’s lots of educating left to do, that’s for sure! So, start talking and writing. A real examination of rhetoric—a scientific examination of how people are persuaded of new ideas—this too would be good, to consciously improve our tools and methods.

You may scoff at the idea of scientifically examining persuasiveness, but scientists do it all the time, and their results are very suggestive. We should be learning from them, and Lakoff’s work on framing narratives is a good start in that direction.

It’s instructive also to remember the story of how the carbon industry researched the possibility of swaying public opinion, to confuse people about how unified the scientific community was concerning the reality of climate change and resulting biosphere damage. As related by Naomi Oreskes, they studied what the tobacco industry had done when hoping to achieve similar confusion, and then they spent half a million dollars to perform experiments in a number of American cities, taking polls before and after various kinds of advertising and publicity campaigns, several based on the tobacco industry’s experience. As Oreskes noted, “they behaved more scientifically than the scientists” by running and evaluating experiments and then acting on the basis of the results, to good effect for their cause.

The left should be using and engaging science in the same way. Why not? Science is not the enemy but the battlefield. The left has not acted as if science were a tool, a method, and as such, an already-existing fellow traveler or even ally, or even a model for action, and a process the Left should join, use, follow, enlarge, and illuminate. Science would love to hear itself theorized, if the lessons learned from that process gave rise to interesting new experiments, which could eventually lead to improvements of scientific method. One of science’s strengths is a planned adaptability. It is possible consciously to change science, it’s been done many times before and it’s always happening.

One concept I’ve been using with I hope some success is E.O. Wilson’s word consilience. He uses it mostly to ask for a greater mutual comprehension between the sciences and humanities, and that would be a good thing, but I use the word to remind people that there already is active consilience between all the sciences—that they work from a shared over-arching paradigm that is similar to physics’ “standard model,” such that physics supports chemistry which supports biology. This allows one to point out the cherry-picking or sheer intellectual incoherence of people who go to the doctor when they are sick and yet profess not to believe in evolution. Everyone trusts physics and biology as sciences when they get on a plane or go to the doctor, and when you point this out, if it is accepted it leads to more openness to the idea that there is further consilience—that sociology, anthropology, psychology and the rest of the human sciences are also consilient with biology, chemistry, and physics, and, though the questions get harder, the methods are the same and the answers, when achieved, are part of a whole system. That agreed to, we come to economics and the questions of “what are we” and “what should we do” begin to fall under the umbrella of consilience and it may be we can get answers most of us would agree to, because they are integrated successfully into the larger field of human knowledge. In such a manner politics becomes scientific.

This is at least a talking point or a way into the discussion of how we decide what is right action.

PG. How, in your view, can democracy be put to work in service of social and environmental justice and responsible governance?

KSR. This must be a whole program with reforms all across the board. Complex and messy, it would (or will) take many years in many jerks and starts. But it would begin with electing representatives who have promised to work on it, and then holding them to it in subsequent elections, for a long time, until a pattern was built and a certain trajectory or path dependency set into place. A very difficult assignment. It’s part of the education and persuasion project sketched above.

PG. These questions about government take on new urgency when we return to the problem of a calculated, coordinated response to immediate environmental threats like climate change and ocean acidification both within and across nations. Even putting radical measures like geo-engineering aside for a moment, the need to carefully manage human interaction with the environment would seem to put an end to the anarcho-communist, anti-statist tendencies that have been so common on the Left since at least the fall of the Soviet Union. Are we finding more and more that we need the state, whether we like it or not, at least in the short term? Don’t the breadth and depth of our ecological crises call, if not quite for a return to Leninism, to a renewed trust in centralized authority that has come to seem quite alien, and, perhaps, even impossible?

KSR. Yes. But let’s go back to the Lincoln formulation. The state = us. So the statement “we need the state” reduces to “we need us.” Yes we do. I guess it means, “we need us to do the right things as a collective or a civilization.” If we don’t objectify the methods (the state) into something physical, like a fortress, maybe it will be easier to imagine it happening. Methods change.

Maybe the new thing here is that it used to be that we on the Left were always interpreted as saying “we should do good things,” and everyone would agree but then continue doing bad things, as being the way of the world and the only practical way to get along. Now, in the climate crisis, we are saying, “we need to do good things or we won’t survive—and we can make that case scientifically.” Justice becomes a survival technology. Of course it’s a little galling to treat justice as something that needs a more utilitarian reason to support it, but since as a good idea it has only gotten us so far—to an amount of justice more than none but not enough—we might as well take advantage of this extra notion of justice as survival, because it’s true, whether we point it out or not. Justice stabilizes population growth, and reduces the discrepancies between rich and poor, which extremes are both very environmentally destructive among their other bad qualities. Real justice would alleviate the poverty that has desperate people stripping away forests and soil in much of the world, and it would reduce the hyper-consumption of the rich, which is equally or even more destructive of resources and excessive in carbon burn. The only possible road to sustainability’s necessary carbon neutrality involves justice. We should insist on this at every opportunity. It points to a justice that is more than just a meaningless right to vote, but something far larger, something like a decent human existence for all.

III. Science Fiction
PG. This discussion brings to mind the variety of science fictions currently circulating in popular culture. Whatever their basis in fact, a few have fairly clear ideological implications. The posthuman visions of the Singularity, like those articulated by Ray Kurzweil, collectively serve as science’s promise of a future elect emerging out of catastrophe. The “new secularism” of figures like Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins use science as an authority to bludgeon the religious. And the excitement over green technology seems to gravitate toward imaginary solutions that will erase the need for changes in lifestyle, i.e. “clean coal,” climate-stabilizing geoengineering projects, or proposed nuclear-centric power grids. Given that a good portion of what is marketed as science fiction relies on semi-magical technologies that ignore unsexy ecological costs, how does science fiction as the inheritor of realism tell itself apart from science fantasy? Do you accept the “hard SF” label that sometimes gets applied to your work, or do you see yourself as doing something different?

KSR. These are very different phenomena being lumped together, and I have different responses to each. “The Singularity” is a science fiction idea that misunderstands the human brain and our technological capacities, including and especially self-reproducing robots and “artificial intelligence.” There are lots of bad and/or impossible science fiction ideas, like faster-than-light travel (which would be also time travel), but some are picked up and promoted in the real world as futurisms by interested parties who are boosters for their particular field. Nanotechnology was similar twenty years ago. There are nanotechnologies now, it’s really a kind of chemistry, and there are extremely powerful computers, but neither will lead inevitably to the magic states described by the boosters. So, the Singularity is “the rapture for geeks” as Ken MacLeod so pithily said, but also a bit of boosterism. That will become clearer over time when it continues not to happen.

The scientist atheists like Dawkins and Dennett are merely insisting that supernatural explanations are not necessary to explain the universe we see; I’m not sure that’s right, when you get before the Big Bang etc., but usually they are saying that the ancient religions are not good models for understanding the universe or guiding human action. So we ought to go with our more empirical (scientific) ideology, which after all has the universe a pretty miraculous space, 13.75 billion years old and full of mysteries and surprises. My sense is most scientists will stop short of atheism as being just another assertion, and stick to agnosticism, and hope only for a working method in this life (and in that, in some senses, they are acting like some Buddhisms).

Clean coal is indeed probably a neat idea that won’t work. I follow James Hansen here; we should leave all the coal alone (he says, burn the oil, there’s not enough left to matter, but the coal will cook us). But we should pay for work to study how to capture carbon from existing coal plants, etc. Just don’t count on it helping any time soon. Which means of course that we have a huge problem, because the electricity keeping us all alive is generated to a too-large degree by burning coal. Interested parties, the carbon lobby, will fight action on this front, but we have to prevail, and fast. Alternative clean energy sources are a necessity now, not an option.

Climate stabilization by way of geoengineering I have studied, and nothing proposed seems stable, sure to be effective, and clear of unintended side effects. And the world community will never agree to anyone trying anything in particular. And we can’t just reduce the temperature by some geo-engineering means and then keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, because half of the CO2 that goes in the air is later taken up by the oceans, and the resulting ocean acidification is a bad problem in itself and nothing at all to be done about it. So we have to stop burning carbon, because none of the geo-engineering ideas are any good even as imaginary solutions, meaning on their own terms. In essence, stopping burning carbon IS the geo-engineering required; any replacement for that plan is even huger in impacts and difficulties.

The most powerful geoengineering technology for reducing our carbon burn would be a rapid shift to social justice and an end to capitalism. Justice, capitalism, these too are technologies—system designs, softwares. We ought always to bring this up whenever climate and technology are brought up. Demographic figures and many very strong studies have made this correlation, of justice and climate/population/consumption relief, more than just an assertion or a virtuous thought. Democracy and human rights are effective technologies as well as forms of justice already good in themselves.

I’d like to see a complete analysis of the various “clean nuclear” options that have been proposed. I suspect they don’t actually turn out very carbon negative, but I’m not sure, I haven’t seen good studies (I would guess they might be out there though). We need to seriously consider any carbon neutral or negative proposals to bridge us to a truly clean sustainable technology. Nuclear power may be one of these. One more generation of nuclear wouldn’t kill us, but the question is, would it help? Our need for energy is real, our population is real. Both can be altered, but not ignored as realities. So I say, judge each technology or proposal on its (scientific/human) merits, without preconceived ideas that “this would be bad” or “this would be good.” Especially in a moment where there are few great options. Risk assessment is not an instinctive ability we have but a kind of mathematical skill that needs to be taught—another technology, in effect. We all need to learn to be better at risk assessment, which inevitably leads to cost/benefit analyses, not in economic terms but in life and species survival terms. Possibly the risks and costs of nuclear are worth taking because of the carbon gains; one more generation of new waste-burning nuclear might be a bridge technology we choose, bridging us to something better.

As for science fiction, well it’s a big genre. It might be that most of it is science fantasy, including the greater part of what was called “hard SF.” I think my Mars novels killed that category, because it was never talking about the amount of physics or high tech in the story, but was labeling a SF “hard” in its attitudes towards weaker people, in other words as Social Darwinist right-wing space fiction. You could just call those texts that from now on, but since no one uses the term “hard SF” much anymore anyway, it isn’t necessary.

There are science fiction texts that form a kind of projective realism, but rather than calling them “hard SF,” a better term for them would be simply science fiction itself. There’s a lot of it out there mixed into the science fantasy, sometimes in the same writer or text, and it’s often very good—it’s up there with the rest of the best literature of our time, and maybe it is the literature of our time, as our time is so amazingly science fictional. It’s real, very real, but also fantastical and surreal. Science fiction can capture that structure of feeling better than the older genres, maybe, as being an attempt to express our moment as artfully as possible.

PG. William Gibson has been widely quoted in the last few years as arguing that the future is no longer imaginable, and both he and you (among others) wrote books during the Bush years that were set in the very near future, if not indeed a thinly disguised present. During these same period, the “Mundane SF” movement as advocated by people like Julian Todd and Geoff Ryman has risen to prominence in calling for an end to fantasies about warp drive, aliens, and fantastic technology-fueled abundance, and instead demanding stories premised by the notion that “the most likely future is one in which we only have ourselves and this planet.” Has it, as Fredric Jameson has written, become impossible to imagine a future that is neither radically apocalyptic nor a mere attenuation of the present? Has our sense of the future become foreshortened, and if so what does that mean both for science fiction and for Utopia? If not, where does the blueprint for other sorts of futures begin?

KSR. We can still imagine all of it.

There is a flourishing science fiction going on that is devoted to the near future, as always in the history of science fiction, and because more and more our daily reality and our recent history resembles science fiction, it becomes more true that the genre formerly known as near future science fiction is now simply realism itself, and as such the best description of the felt reality of our daily lives. Thus we have Gibson, Ryman and the “mundanes,” and many other writers working explicitly in this genre, to great effect.

But at the same time there is a flourishing “new space opera” coming mostly out of the U.K. (indeed most good SF of all kinds comes out of the U.K. these days) and there is no reason to doubt that if you choose to locate a story about a thousand years or more out from now and populate it with humans, then the postulate is that we have survived, and are very likely by then to be a quite spectacularly powerful species, both outwardly into the solar system and maybe the stars, and inwardly into our own genome and minds. Almost anything might happen—and this is simply a great zone for new stories. Not only is it expressive of our deepest fantasies and desires, but it might even come true—what a mix! So, there is no reason not to love far future science fiction as well as near future science fiction.

In the middle, and a bit depopulated as a subgenre of its own, is that range of history that is about a century or two out from now. Somehow it seems certain these will be fraught and dangerous centuries. They will constitute a crisis zone, a peninsula of perpetual tipping points, along which we must successfully balance and navigate if we are not to fall into some kind of depressing apocalypse and after-the-fall scenario (which science fiction has also supplied in abundance, of course).

There is no very plausible history running from the near futures we depict to the space operas we write. Showing those bridge centuries is therefore almost necessarily utopian, in that any proposed society suggests a possible way forward, thus a kind of success story for history, at least up to that point; while the dystopian and apocalyptic scenarios are also utopian, in that they are warnings saying “don’t go this way” with the implicit suggestion there must be better ways (at least usually—some writers seem to think there are no good ways left).

So, utopias have never been thick on the ground, partly because they take place in this difficult middle zone, the history most certainly before us, which takes on big shadowy portended shapes, but is well beyond what we can clearly foresee. It’s just a mass of potentialities not yet narrowed by contingency and passing time. I am interested in this zone, but as a story space it is vexing and in the end impossible, so that it becomes perhaps mostly a way of talking about now, an estrangement, or projection of current hopes, or something like that: scenario building, derangement, a casting forward of the imagination. ■

1 Kim Stanley Robinson, The Wild Shore (New York: Orb Books, 1995), 198.
2 Kim Stanley Robinsom, Pacific Edge (New York: Orb Books, 1995), 3.
3 BLDGBLOG, “Comparative Planetology: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson,”
4 Ibid.
5 “Perhaps the way to construct a proper history is to inscribe the whole figure, and say that for the individual, ultimately, it is a tragedy; for the society, comedy. If we can make it so.” Kim Stanley Robinson, The Years of Rice and Salt (New York: Spectra Books, 2003), 737.
6 Robinson, Pacific Edge, 95.
7 Kim Stanley Robinson, Galileo’s Dream (New York: Spectra Books, 2009), 524–525.
8 Optopia, borrowed from Joanna Russ, suggests not a perfect society but the optimum society, the best one possible given our starting conditions. See Bud Foote, “A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson,” Science Fiction Studies 21, no. 1 (1994), 59.