Mandatory Fun

Home. Base of operations. The more you invent your own life style, the more you realize that the categories that have been invented are ultimately, at best, imperfect devices for understanding the world, and, at worst, fake. Vitalik Buterin

“A friend of mine who is involved in a blockchain startup remarked that people keep trying to explain the underlying technology—the engine under the hood rather than the car on the road. ‘It’s like they’re trying to describe e-mail to people, and instead of saying, ‘You can send messages to people over the Internet,’ they’re saying, ‘There’s a protocol called S.M.T.P., which locates a set of rules for the movement of files from one to another.’ And yet he also complained about what he calls the incorrigibles, the Luddites who refuse even to try, whom he likened to the people in an office who profess not to know how to work the copy machine.” Nick Paumgarten (ibid above)

These days I tend to think of dystopias as being fashionable, perhaps lazy, maybe even complacent, because one pleasure of reading them is cozying into the feeling that however bad our present moment is, it’s nowhere near as bad as the ones these poor characters are suffering through. Vicarious thrill of comfort as we witness/imagine/experience the heroic struggles of our afflicted protagonists—rinse and repeat. Is this catharsis? Possibly more like indulgence, and creation of a sense of comparative safety. A kind of late-capitalist, advanced-nation schadenfreude about those unfortunate fictional citizens whose lives have been trashed by our own political inaction. If this is right, dystopia is part of our all-encompassing hopelessness.On the other hand, there is a real feeling being expressed in them, a real sense of fear. Some speak of a “crisis of representation” in the world today, having to do with governments—that no one anywhere feels properly represented by their government, no matter which style of government it is. Dystopia is surely one expression of that feeling of detachment and helplessness. Since nothing seems to work now, why not blow things up and start over? This would imply that dystopia is some kind of call for revolutionary change. There may be something to that. At the least dystopia is saying, even if repetitiously and unimaginatively, and perhaps salaciously, Something’s wrong.

    Things are bad

Kim Stanley Robinson

“Platforms are defined not by what they permit but by what they disallow. Our public culture is, in important ways, a product of their design and oversight. Platforms do not just mediate public discourse: they constitute it. Platforms moderate (through removal, filtering, and suspension); they recommend (through news feeds, trending lists, and personalized suggestions); and they curate (through featured content and front-page offerings). Platforms use these three levers together to actively and dynamically tune the participation of users in order to generate the “right” feed for each user, the “right” social exchanges, and the “right” kind of community. “Right” in these contexts may mean ethical, legal, and healthy, but it also means whatever will promote engagement, increase ad revenue, and facilitate data collection. Too often, social media platforms discuss content moderation as a problem to be solved—and solved privately and reactively. In this customer service mindset, platform managers understand their responsibility primarily as protecting users from the offense or harm they are experiencing.” – Tarleton Gillespie

“Historians are certainly chargeable with the depravation of mankind, when they relate, without censure, those stratagems of war by which the virtues of an enemy are engaged to his destruction. A ship comes before a port, weather-beaten and shattered, and the crew implore the liberty of repairing their breaches, supplying themselves with necessaries, or burying their dead. The humanity of the inhabitants inclines them to consent, the strangers enter the town with weapons concealed, fall suddenly upon their benefactors, destroy those that make resistance, and become masters of the place; they return home rich with plunder, and their success is recorded to encourage imitation.” Dr. Johnson

Kinda goes without saying that things have kinda sucked over the past couple of weeks. (GHWB, stock market et al.) Not that anybody needed the addition stress during the holidays, but it’s not like you’re bereft of choices when it comes to navigating all this.

Either you can get all stressed out reading the 10+ pages the British Parliament published about Facebook’s wrongdoings here.

Or you can just read on.

Roll me, call me the Tumblr dice

Tumblr went through serious upheaval last week after Apple bounced them for having kiddie_p)rn on their site. Rather than deal with the problem directly Yahoo’s parent company, Verizon turned loose AI bots to clean up all manner of content that might be offensive and/or illegal. It turned out to be a more than a bit ham fisted as the wide net cast squashed such images that included The Statue of David and took down many, many of the retro images that I have … repurposed for … ummm my social media branding. (e.g. the Lucky Strike ads, Burma Shave signs, and various images to help tell the tale of The World’s Most Radioactive High School.) Most if it came from one guy’s site, but by the end of the week his page was strictly a farewell note, and Saturday morning it was gone. What I’l really miss about that page are the countless magazine covers from those uber-butch mens magazines. You’ve seen them – some guy’s wrestling an alligator with his bare hands while his date stands nearby screaming. Gents of a certain age remember such publications from when we went to the barber shop on a regular basis. You be waiting your turn in the barber chair so you looked for something to read. You’d pick up the last Bob Hope comic book in the stack and there it was, some shirtless Sgt. Rock type barely keeping a gorilla in a headlock and there at the bottom of the page was the breathless headline, “NAZIS BUILD SECRET A&W IN ARGENTINA!”

Oh, sure, you can say that’s a simpler publication from more innocent time, but as far as Verizon’s Prude Bots are concerned that’s out-and-out smut.

How did we get here?

Once Yahoo acquired Tumblr they got busy managing it The Yahoo Way which as we all know is not so much laissez faire nor benign neglect. It’s more like everybody in the executive suite stands around looking bewildered and asking each other, “Wait, we own what?”

Sure, they could have gone in and taken care of the problem in a more precise surgical way, but no.

The Tumblr kerfuffle was the first suck-awful thing of the week because it proved my point that the Internet is no longer fun. In fact the corporate masters who set the Prude Bots loose are part of a growing trend to turn the Internet into a junior-high dance at a Catholic School.

For those of you who’ve never had this pleasure this is how it works:

Ten nuns ride roughshod over about 100 kids. Four nuns have clipboards, two stand at the door taking attendance (as this is mandatory fun) and the other two wander the dance floor. On the dance floor one nun has a list of the boys’ names, and the other has the girls’. The point of this exercise is to make sure that no one get a chance to get in touch with their inner wallflower. The Clipboard Sisters job is to use some sort of nun-based calculus to make sure everyone dances in some sort of even rotation.

Think of it not so much as an old fashion dance card but dance assignments.

The balance of the nuns?

They spread out across the dance floor carrying an assortment of yardsticks and rulers. Their job is to make sure that no one’s personal space is intruded upon. (Please note, we’re not talking about how a given individual might define his or her own personal space, rather we’re talking about how Sister Jane Albert, Sister Perpetua, and Sister John Bosco defined it.) The personal space thing raised blisters on my ass as I had an inkling that I -might – just maybe – might – sorta – maybe- have a chance to test the limits of what constituted Patti McNamara’s personal space. (I had come up with several theories on the matter since the start of the school year.) I thought that maybe – OK – maybe – I would be assigned to her during a slow dance so I could come away with a good idea of how much Charlie perfume she was wearing before the rulers were deployed.

So much for that.

I got a fast dance with her and she got to slow dance with Alfonse Edward “Sonny” Paturzo.

Goddamit.

At the end of the night we all thanked the principal – in unison – just like we practiced all week – for such a lovely evening. Then we were turned loose to our parents where we got to recite the other thing we memorized – telling them what a great time we had.

Moving along –

“Draw me your map of utopia and I’ll tell you your tragic flaw.” – or – Keeping a CIVIL tongue planted firmly in your cheek

“I was anticipating evenings spent listening to crypto-hippies describe the angel-faced space elves they met when they took DMT.” Laurie Penny

The CIVIL initiative’s ICO for the CVL token failed badly a few months back. What follows are a few thoughts that are neither autopsy nor obit. That would probably be OK with the CIVIL-ians at CIVIL as they’d probably prefer some Nick Carraway green-light themed essay on the matter.

For those of you just tuning in – the CIVIL initiative was at attempt to save journalism by offering a journalism specific cryptocurrency.

No, really.

Per CIVIL the CVL token would free journalism from worrying about being pressured by advertisers or having to deal with something like Peter Thiel’s attack on Gawker. Beyond that the CVL would build a newsroom of the future that was inclusive and transparent. So CIVIL kept beating that drum for a half dozen months. Then in September when the tokens went on sale it barely brought in any money. In fact it brought in so little money that no one involved wants to talk about it other than to say it fell short of the $8 million it was supposed to raise.

Why?

CIVIL’s arguments were all inward facing. There’s no way you can get the general public to buy into much of that. First, the general public doesn’t really know much about cryptocurrency. In fact it’s only recently, now that Bitcoin has proven unstable, that the issue has managed to sneak onto the edges of the public’s radar. We only got interested in the matter about a week before the failed CVL sale when Forbes said it was interested in using CIVIL. Previously CIVIL only talked about associate site that are small or had niche topics.

But Forbes?

That was another matter.

So Mom tasked me with learning about the blockchain and cryptocurrency. Alaska Wolf Joe got wind of his mother’s request and got to work. He sent this post-post modernist “Neo-Kantian take by some DeLeuze fanboy” on Bitcoin and the blockchain.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

– I still stand by the idea that Bitcoin et al. are still at the Commodore C64 stage – in other words – too early to tell. Lately I’ve been reading a series of essays about media infrastructure by Tarleton Gillespie, Lisa Parks, and Paul Dourish. All talk about how certain technologies start off one way only to yield a more practical result. One of their examples is how CDN’s came along because someone wanted faster access to video on the Internet(s).

– The blockchain is – for now- a darn secure way to send data. Once it gets in wider use it will attract monkeyshines.

– Crypto will not make you a better person and crypto cannot prevent people from acting like people. Right now its enthusiasts fail to acknowledge that humanity’s dark side will sooner or later intrude. Money comes with lots of emotional baggage, but you’d never know it reading about the crypto types. Their world has as much emotion as a NASA clean room has dust.

To that point Roger Ver was quoted in the article going around this morning,Four Days Trapped at Sea with Crypto’s Super Rich as saying, ““No amount of coercion can solve a math problem.” That’s true. But it’s also the case that no amount of mathematics can delete human prejudice, and no ledger can logic away human cruelty. If the crypto community hasn’t realized that yet, it soon will.”

Or as Nick Land said in the article AWJ sent

Because money is inextricably entangled with questions of reciprocity, it is tied-up intimately with such provocations to outrage as injustice, cheating, exploitation, and unbounded inequality. Such sensitive moral trigger-zones pose a formidable inhibition to dispassionate analysis. Disciplined investigation of money threatens to arouse sentiments of social alienation, and even desecration. There is no theoretical conclusion about the nature of money so cold that it does not appear burdened with concrete socio-political implication.

CIVIL’s greatest sin?

When you ask people for money you absolutely have to answer the first question they always ask, “What’s in it for me?”

At no time did they make the case which was wrong in that sooner or later you’ve got the to get the general public involved because there’s more of them than there are of you.

BTW – it is a tad ironic that the crypto cruise got the a-fun-thing/David Foster Wallace treatment from a publication that says its blockchain powered.

Speaking of what the DMT space elves had to say – let’s finish up.

Punk’s Not Dead! It Just Smells That Way!

A variety of things have piled up recently. About a month ago we saw PiL and noted that Mr. Lydon now needs reading glasses to see the set list. This past week marked the 40th anniversary of several of us making a trek in the snow (uphill both ays) to see The Talking Heads. Then a couple of days ago Pete Shelley died. They were all of the same era.

For those of you who weren’t there it was a damn interesting time. Those bands killed the pomposity of the extended solo and relegated such profound statements as “All we are is dust in the wind” to people with 8-track decks. Around that time some people went all in on being totally punl, but many of us weren’t into zero-sum lifestyles. Many of us had to face facts as we’d look stupid in black motorcycle jackets. Never mind that we didn’t have the personality to pull off tattos and piercings. That’s why it was a relief to discover Australia’s Cosmic Psychos whose brand of loud and fast dates back to the late 70s.

Finally there’s a punk band whose couture now resembles mine and my current physique.