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Mind Trick Linky

Mark Hamill does some smooth Jedi moves on over-eager Star Wars fans:

My friend Vivian has released her new EP, “In Between Times”. Listen on Bandcamp, and drop a few bucks if you like what you hear.

New Yorker thinkpiece about how we no longer use facts to justify our beliefs, which, okay, but I’m pretty sure we never did.

And this short vid summarising psychologist Paul Bloom’s take on why empathy is a bad thing is infuriating in its bland dumbness. “We go to war because we are told people are suffering and we need to save them, then it turns out we harm loads more people, THANKS EMPATHY”. Linking to see if I’m motivated enough to read deeper and figure out if this guy has a point or not. But I suspect not.

Both those via the Nextdraft newsletter of interesting things, well worth the subscription.

Actually these might have come from there too – Vanity Fair’s writeup of the senior citizens behind the biggest jewel heist in British history. (There _must_ be a film of this in production already.)

The origin of the Airball chant, basketball’s most humiliating crowd response.

Edward Gorey’s War of the Worlds illustrations.

The AV Club has an overview of the vast store of unaired TV pilots at DailyMotion, including Young MacGyver and Buffy: The Animated Series (which I’d never seen before).

Via Billy: the story of when, in 1906, a young African man was exhibited with the apes in a zoo.

And finally, what do you get when you cross legendary bad movie The Room with legendary good musical Hamilton?


Trump, the view from Moon Zealand

For a while now I’ve wondered when exactly we should start taking seriously what is going on in US politics around Donald Trump. How foolish of me. The time is now. Right now.

Let’s be clear: Trump is not going to be President of the United States of America. He has terrified more people than he’s won over, and the demographics in the US have shifted against anyone who cannot appeal across ethnic lines. I don’t know how great this disparity is – it might be scarily close – but barring some late-stage game changer, I can’t see any path to the Oval Office for Trump.

Let’s also be clear, the fact that I had to write the above paragraph is *fucking terrifying*. Because look where we’re at: Donald Trump is quids in to get the Republican nomination and run for President with the banner of the GOP fluttering over his head. This is a man who is holding a series of rallies where the main entertainment is shouting down and ejecting protestors, loudly booing enemies, and cheering wildly at the prospect of building a giant wall between the US and Mexico. A giant wall! This is the act of a carnival barker crossed with a demagogue. There has never been a major candidate so floridly unfit for political authority of any kind, yet somehow he is not only in the contest for a Presidential nomination, he is very likely to win it.

“Somehow” is the loaded word, there, suggesting Trump has popped up out of nowhere like a Jack-in-the-box with orange skin and a combover. He hasn’t, of course. Trump has been on the scene for a long time, and has spoken of running for President for a long time. He was never taken seriously by sensible people, but it turns out he had the measure of the game the whole time. Trump saw the control systems of US politics are fundamentally broken, and someone like him could walk right in through the shattered glass and start kicking levers. And that is exactly what he’s done.

He will fail to get elected. With any luck, he will shrug off the failure like has has so many others and turn his attention to other things, depriving his supporters of an aggrieved leader to whom they might pledge themselves. The Republican party as a whole will be shaken and weakened. It might, in fact, seem like a happy ending. This could even be true, as an ending to the story of Trump’s political gambit. The problem is, this is not an ending at all. The events of 2016 are much better understood as a beginning, because Trump’s toddler-level manhandling of the sparking, smoking US political control panel is tearing the whole machine to pieces.

“Somehow”. There will be books and books written, trying to explain how the US ended up here, but sitting on the distant moon that is NZ, staring through the telescope, the narrative seems to run like this:

After the second world war, times were good in America, at least if you were white and straight and male. Most folks were reading from the same book, if not always the same page, about how the economy should be managed, whether business needed to be reined in to prevent another depression, and how society should look after the less well-off. For some, this was unacceptable. Government intervention in the economy, progressive taxation and the welfare state were the enemy, and starting from a base in the media (Willam F. Buckley’s National Review), a new conservative movement grew, spawning think tanks and an energetic force of College Republicans.

Movement conservatism began in furious opposition to socialism (which it identified with communism), and before long it found this base of paranoia could easily extend to other fearsome boogeymen. The movement cynically co-opted anxiety over the civil rights movement to annex the sympathies of poor white voters in the south, and over growing secularism and immorality to secure the evangelical Christian vote. The racial politics harmonized with Nixon’s southern strategy, and Ronald Reagan came up through the movement’s institutions to become the first movement conservative President. His Presidency interwove the small-government aims of the movement with the paranoid identity politics that energised it. This frame has remained in place to the present day.

This ideology – use paranoia over blacks, gays and commies to drive a free market agenda – was in place just in time for an enormous infrastructural transition. Communications technology had been slowly changing for a century, but deregulation and new technology in the 80s brought about the era of cable news, and in the early 90s, Fox News was created as a propaganda arm for the movement in the same way many newspapers carried water for certain ideological positions. The power of 24 hour news to shape how its audience saw the world was unprecedented, far exceeding anything the newspapers could achieve. Radio developed along the same lines. The internet followed and in short order it developed intense demographic sorting; political battlegrounds were fierce but the majority of political content online was about reinforcing partisan messages for an audience of allies. In the space of a decade, the conservative-inclined found themselves encased in a bubble of TV, radio and internet that presented a unified picture of civilization under assault, increasingly disconnected from anything resembling reality.

This was the culmination of a political project. Political leadership could have countered these developments, and steered the polity back towards a town square of mutual comprehension, but instead it was welcomed and encouraged by those in power. Karl Rove, a Buckley acolyte who had come of age through the College Republicans, positioned himself as the architect of George W. Bush’s ascension, and his contempt for the very idea of real-world conditions came through in the famous quote (attributed to him) about the reality-based community: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out.”

It did not take long for the movement’s representatives in power to strike the limits of their disregard for reality. Their Middle East adventures descended into a horrific quagmire, economic policy settings led directly to a series of shocks culminating in an economic collapse that wreaked havoc on the globe, and natural disaster in New Orleans showed the horrific consequences of running down civic infrastructure. As delegates attempted to navigate these checks on their ability to create their own reality, the movement’s popular base reacted in fury. Trained by two decades of media messaging within their bubble, they interpreted this hedging as moral weakness. The rise of Barack Obama – a black man with a middle name associated with Islam – only stoked this fury further. The Tea Party movement came into being, and immediately started influencing elections. The movement conservatives had created an electorate fuelled by paranoia, and now found themselves judged for insufficient purity. Things were by now utterly out of the control of any Rove-style planning committee, with the selection of the comically underqualified Sarah Palin as running mate for the Republican candidate in the 2008 election identifiable as the moment where the party’s elite officially lost their grip on the steering wheel.

The situation has essentially remained unchanged since 2008, although it has worsened, achieving even greater extremes of fearful division within the American polity. The movement conservatives spent decades encasing their supporters in a bubble of identity-based fear. They aimed to exploit these voters for economic ends, but lost control of them, and have no way of reining them in. The bubble is self-sustaining, cynically maintained by publishers and broadcasters who derive revenue from stoking the paranoia ever-higher. It is floating further and further away from ground.

And that brings us to 2016. Trump has come in speaking directly to the fears of those in the bubble, while ignoring entirely the economic policy settings that were initially the point of the exercise. Not only is he uninterested in connecting these voters back to real conditions in the world, he is propelling the bubble ever higher into the stratosphere. The many comparisons between Trump and fascism are appealing precisely because he is using fear as his fuel. And one of the consequences of fear is violence.

If Trump gets the nomination – and it seems unlikely he will fail to do so, now – he will not pivot. He has no other setting to pivot towards. He has no policy to discuss, no insight into social matters, no grasp of foreign policy, and no inclination to ever address these things. He will spend his time on the campaign trail perpetuating the same act he has been perfecting thus far, because it is the only one open to him. He will put on a show, and encourage fear and rage, and do everything short of openly inciting violence against his enemies.

He will lose, thankfully. But when he loses the election, what will follow him? Because, be certain, there are other demagogues eagerly preparing to harness the forces Trump is whipping into a frenzy. And those forces themselves will continue to swirl through the electorate, degrading any possibility of reconciliation between belief and fact, let alone between left and right prescriptions for solving the problems of society. Things seem like they are going to get worse, the kind of worse that reverberates out from the United States and affects everywhere else, because when the USA sneezes the entire rest of the world needs to wipe snot off their faces.

But, sitting here on Moon Zealand spying through my telescope, it seems to me there is hope, because that bubble, while becoming ever more vociferous, ever more divorced from reality, and ever more dangerous, is also becoming smaller. Steadily, slowly, surely smaller. The future is gay marriage. The future is Black Lives Matter. The future is Occupy. The future is interfaith understanding. The future is identity-based paranoia slipping away and a pendulum swing away from the extremes of economic liberalism.

It will take time. I like to talk about a “national conversation” when trying to make sense of events and how a society responds to them. The movement conservative paradigm deliberately disrupted this national conversation, which was already less than evenly-spread. The real world in the USA is heavily demographically sorted, and the communications world even moreso. But change is possible nonetheless. Witness the arc from Reagan Press Secretary cracking jokes when asked about AIDS, through to gay marriage becoming widely accepted. This change was never inevitable but the result of countless moments of work, first by activists, and finally by ordinary people who had come to know gay people as pretty much ordinary too. That’s the national conversation. Homosexuality defies demographic sorting, it can pop up like a glorious rainbow in any family, but even deprived of this benefit other identity barriers will also be ground down over time (if never overcome).

I see hope but that hope cannot be taken for granted. The bubble of fear created by Buckley and Rove and Trump and so many others will wreak havoc if it isn’t fought. Resistance is necessary. The fight has already begun, with massive protests against the hate-filled Trump rallies just a sign of what is ahead.

Those in the USA who have to step out into this bubble of fear: you’re doing the hard work. Respect.

Everyone else, around the world: our job is to watch, and to listen, and to support. For even though we are far away, the world is made of connections between people, and we can contribute to the communications environment around those stepping to the line against Trump.

So be reasonable, be considerate, be thoughtful, be kind. Listen. Celebrate difference. Refuse fear. Give. And go into the world with love.


Bestselling Linky

What does it take to be a bestselling author? Three dollars and five minutes.

Yes I’m a sucker for this story: an ode to promposals. Teens making a big deal of asking someone out to prom, partly trying to go viral, partly just for the joy of feels. (Yes of course this is a rose-tinted view of high school life which is still as full of misery as it ever was; that’s the whole point. I heart it.)

Via my aunt Margaret – geek vs. nerd infographic, plotting words associated with geek vs those associated with nerd, across 2.6 million tweets.

Via d3vo, D&D Strength in real-world terms

Also via d3vo, apparently this is a thing: head tingles from gently brushing microphones mounted in ears

I listen to Harmontown and I didn’t know this existed. It even says “episode 2”. It’s basically an episode of Harmontown but it’s filmed and the guest is Ernest Hemingway plucked out of history. Based on this description you will either have already clicked the link, or you can move on with a clear conscience.

David Roberts gives a smart, sympathetic reading on why so many people are voting for Trump.

Hey you guys you know how Obama did a foreign policy thing that was “be like minimally civil to Iran” not “threaten to blow Iran into a smoking crater” and the entire Republican political world went wiiiild? Turns out things are going beautifully. Thanks Obama.

How Robert Louis Stevenson’s reputation was shipwrecked by his inner circle.

Via Allen Varney: “Cyclops is a programming language written in Linear A, a forgotten/undeciphered script used 3500-4500 years ago on the Greek island of Minos.”

And finally, via Jason Morningstar, a 1975 FAA report on the Anthropometry of Stewardesses


Floating Linky

Scenes from a conspiracy theory cruise. Wow.

Via Peter B: proof that dogs can read human emotional states. Cute doggums strapped into giant medical machines!

Via Dave Keyes, the Wiggles did a grown-up concert in a pub and it was amazing.

The month-by-month transformation of the American male gaze: every centerfold from Playboy ever. Warning: many, many naked women.

Cleanse your palate with new hero Jenny Beavan who wore exactly what she wanted to the Oscars. Best bit: she won for costume design. (via Evie)

Long, searing indictment of the complete capture of society by Boomer interests. Surgically dissects what sits behind those comments telling young people to stop acting so entitled and to start working hard. Aussie article, but you could go through and put a tick by the paras that apply equally to NZ – there would be very few paras left unticked.

Via Scott Common, why kids’ movies have so many happy poor people

The BBC has an interactive history of interactive fiction called, of course, SKILL, STAMINA AND LUCK

And finally, via Nick P, HUGE BASKETBALL SHORTS


Fairy tale linky

Tracing the origins of fairy tales using a genetic methodology – “The Smith and the Devil” may be 6,000 years old.

The secret lives of tumblr teens – while insightful, I found this depressing reading. It starts as a discussion of why the clever weird kids gravitate to tumblr, and then, like the kids in the story, gets entirely caught up in the mechanics of making money through the network.

Via Hamish C: Vader’s Redemption: The Imperial March in a major key.

Typography guru/comics letterer Todd Klein on the logos used for the Marvel movies.

How the internet is trying to design out toxic behaviour. Good. The problem can’t be solved this way, but there is lots and lots of space for mitigation.

The New Yorker has an interesting profile of Mr Money Mustache, who gives advice on living frugally, retiring early, biking everywhere, that sort of thing. (My Cal is something of an enthusiast.)

And finally, via Gareth S, the most unsettling channel on Youtube. Weird stuff out there on the internet, huh.


New Mutants Linky

via Theron – if you read Marvel Comics in the 80s, this will be a bit surreal.

Interesting look at how a wholesome TV personality in Japan was undone by scandal, and what that reveals about sexism within the culture.

What happened after Sweden started putting Bechdel test results on films.

Some insights into the crazy US conspiracy thing that is the Sovereign Citizens Movement.

Via Angus Dingwall – “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” turns 15. Contentious claim there from the NY Mag that it was the first real internet meme – expect fierce warfare from “Mr T Ate My Balls” partisans.

Ima link to Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Grammys because I’ve seen a lot of hiphop performed at awards shows and I always look forward to those performances and they always, always suck. Hiphop is the opposite of award shows. But Kendrick killed. Watch it.
The Hamilton performance is also very much worth your time.

The BBC has a great explainer on those gravitational waves and what the discovery means.

Hot sauce in her bag – how this Beyoncé lyric reveals a whole food culture. Great article!

Clay Shirky makes clear how social media has broken the structure of US politics and opened the way for Trump and Sanders.

Two links about academic publishing’s ongoing crisis: Researcher illegally shares millions of science papers free online to spread knowledge, and “Get Me Off Your ****ing Mailing List” is an actual science paper accepted by a journal (profanity censored so I don’t set off workplace filters)

Investigative journalism from Buzzfeed would have been the setup for a joke about cat pictures a short time ago, but now some great work is coming out of the viral content giant. Here’s a glimpse of how they work, and maybe what the future of journalism looks like.

And the flip side of the same issue: how TMZ pursues its ruthless celebrity news journalism.

There’s no such thing as everlasting love (according to science” says The Atlantic. Interesting piece about one line of research into “love”. I appreciate anything that busts up the love mythology so prevalent in Western culture, but this article, like so much science reporting, skates over a lot of nuance that presumably exists. It reminds me of a forum post I wrote two decades ago declaring love is “a trick of the light” – I stand by that post, inasmuch as I remember what I said, but suffice it to say I have been steadily adding nuance to my understanding for twenty years since.

And finally… a ranking of all 118 sweaters seen on Twin Peaks. As my brother put it, “An intersection of obsessive, cult, and pointless that may be the most perfect snapshot of what the internet is all about.”


Reading comics with my grandfather


Heroine Linky

Maire shares her top ten heroines from YA fantasy, her top seven feminist villains, and her top seven feminist supporting characters.

Via Ben S, the history of the original run of Star Wars comics from Marvel. They have a goofy rep because of the green talking bunny rabbit alien, but they did some interesting stuff as they went along.

That Spinoff list of NZ non-fiction had very little Māori content in it. The site follows up with a Team Brown remix.

Smiling slaves and the real censorship in childrens’ books.

A search engine that digs up the appropriate screen captures to go with any Simpsons quote.

via Hannah Shaffer, Worst Draft: “”Worst Draft is a minimalist word processor that removes the two biggest roadblocks for writers: editing & distractions. Users will be unable to delete anything more than a few most recently typed words, and they will also be unable to access any other applications without first closing Worst Draft.”

via Jenni, Anil Dash writes against the internet wisdom that is “don’t read the comments”

via Debbie, the Melbourne Museum has a great computer animated video of the destruction of Pompeii.

via Fraser, the secret of the writing on Poe Dameron’s jacket in the new Star Wars film.


Just hanging

“Going viral” is such a weirdly unpleasant phrase for content spread on the internet. Like, the metaphor works of course – except for the bit of the metaphor that equates a funny youtube video with getting really sick. Ah well, I guess it won’t be too long before the association between “viral” and “sickness” becomes so obscure it becomes a pub quiz question.

(Of course there will be pub quiz nights in the future. They existed in the past as well. What do you think all those mysterious hooded strangers did to pass the time between handing out quests to brave adventurers?)

I had a wee taste of virality last week when my 200-word roleplaying game “Holding On” suddenly started getting shared around Facebook and Twitter by people in the roleplaying hobby community. And I’m being a bit silly by even using the v-word, because the community is small and the section of it that shared my game was a tiny subset of that – this Facebook post had eighty-plus shares, this tweet had around a hundred. I have no idea how many people actually saw it, but I scanned through many many comments, and I was contacted by a few people saying “hey, is this yours?” Very gratifying.

The game is a funny little thing. Two people play, and one of them is hanging over an abyss. The other is holding on to them so they don’t fall. It was intended to work as a metaphor for any situation where someone is slipping away forever, but primarily as a very literal representation of the subject matter: someone is hanging on with nothing below them but a very, very long fall.

This isn’t the first time I’ve played with this imagery. Many years ago I wrote a very short story called “Hanging Tough” in which some teenage guys are trying (and failing) to impress some teenage girls by, you guessed it, dangling themselves over an abyss. I intended this as a shorthand caricature of the kind of dumb risktaking engaged in by Those Foolish Youths – again, a metaphor, not something real. Somewhere in the back of my head was that scene in The Lost Boys where they hang on to the underside of a rail bridge and one by one lose their grip, dropping into the mist below. Of course, Kiefer and his gang could fly. Real people wouldn’t so easily take that sort of risk – even for Those Foolish Youths, this is surely a step too far.

And then those photos started coming out of Russia.



Oh heck. I can hardly even look at them.

Anyway. I’m not really going anywhere with this. I guess the takeaway is, hanging over an abyss is some potent stuff, and I’m pleased I made a game about it. That’s right, I have the lucrative “perilous dangling” subgenre all sewn up! Yay for me.

Those climber pics are from here. Rolling Stone talked to these climbers in 2014.

You can find the game Holding On, and some designer’s notes, at my Taleturn site. (Taleturn is where I put all my game/story/interactivity stuff. Check it out, and follow me on Twitter…)

And you can find the story “Hanging Tough” in the anthology Urban Driftwood, which is now available free in PDF from Dan Rabarts’s site.

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CIA Linky

Via alastair g: a 1980 CIA research paper, by their Deception Research Program, on facts and folklore about deception [PDF link]

Here’s a reading list for me: the 100 best works of New Zealand non-fiction. Many of these I’d never even heard about!

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes a new shortread following up his hugely impactful Case for Reparations. The immediate context is Bernie Sanders making statements ruling out consideration of reparations; the body of the piece is showing how reparations might actually be undertaken in a meaningful way. The true message, to my mind, is how already the entire content of Coates’s reparations article has been forgotten – that piece forcefully said that reparations is not just about long-dead slaves, but also about structural injustices inflicted on millions of living people. The cultural narrative about reparations is very locked up and it will take effort to shift it! Anyway, read Coates kicking tail: The Case for Considering Reparations.

At the bottom of Dangerous Minds’ piece on the dumped original soundtrack for The Exorcist is a great little video compiling interviews with people coming out of screenings. A marvellous few minutes!

An advice columnist is sent a scenario from a Seinfeld episode, and takes it seriously. Everyone seems to be taking this as a huge faux pas by the columnist, but that is silly. There is nothing wrong with this. Seinfeld was famously about the minutiae of modern manners; advice columnists are principally there as an entertaining diversion. It’s all good.

And finally, The Chickening: