America is threatened by a cult gap

March 7th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Did you ever expect to worry about a shortage of cults?. Ross Douthat summarizes an argument from Peter Thiel:

Not only religious vitality but the entirety of human innovation, he argues, depends on the belief that there are major secrets left to be uncovered, insights that existing institutions have failed to unlock (or perhaps forgotten), better ways of living that a small group might successfully embrace.

from the main blog –

Free willy: when you need to pee, you stop believing in free will

March 6th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

When you need to pee, you’re less likely to believe in free will.

Ridiculous as that may be, it fits into a consistent pattern. If you’re tired or horny, you (on average) believe less in free will. Likewise if you’re epileptic or suffer panic attacks.

The researchers are keeping their evidence secret, so let’s generalize a bit. The more you are at the mercy of your body, the less likely you are to imagine yourself as choosing your own destiny.

I’ve no idea how free will was defined (again, because paywall). But it fits perfectly into the wider story of how the belief in autonomy and free choice correlate with privilege. So you have billionaires convinced they have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, while thanks to learned helplessness, if you’ve spent a lifetime being shat on, you probably expect it to keep happening whatever you do.

from the main blog –

Tax morale

March 5th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Would you dodge taxes, if you were sure you could get away with it? Absolutely you would, according to standard economic theory:

In the benchmark economic model, the key policy parameters affecting tax evasion are the tax rate, the detection probability, and the penalty imposed conditional on the evasion being detected.

But that doesn’t match reality, argues this paper on so-called “tax morale”. All but the slimiest of us have some inclination to pay up. If we didn’t then tax revenues would be far, far lower than they currently are.

Some economists have attempted to measure this. One way is to look at what gets paid in the absence of enforcement. There is absolutely no enforcement of the church tax in Bavaria, but 20% of people pay anyway. Or you can assume that migrant entrepreneurs bring attitudes to tax with them. In the US, there’s an 8% gap in tax evasion between Nigerian-owned and Swedish-owned companies.

from the main blog –

March 4th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Robert Gooding-Williams uses the term “skeptical melancholy” to describe the white/masculine Modern subject’s alienation from sensuous affect. I’ve talked about it here and here. “Receptivity” is the opposite of/cure for skeptical melancholy. It is the ability to be moved by something, and is required to perform similarly moving works. To be really brief and reductive, you could say that skeptical melancholy is the attunement only to propositional knowledge, whereas receptivity is the attunement to extra- or non-propositional knowledge (what musicologists call the “drastic”).

All America wept

March 4th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

The Japanese slang phrase zenbei ga naita… means, literally, “all America wept”. But young Japanese actually mean “It’s nothing special” by the phrase. Japundit explains:

“When many U.S. films open in Japan, they are accompanied by posters claiming that American viewers were moved to tears. But such films have little emotional impact on viewers here. So Japanese filmgoers have learned, apparently, to disregard such promotional claims as largely meaningless.”

via Momus

from the main blog –

The House of Death

March 3rd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Because it’s never a bad day for some William Blake:
Blake: The house of death

from the main blog –

No more acid

March 2nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

LSD has gone the way of space exploration. The psychonaut is now an object of retrofuturism just as much as the astronaut. They’re relics of a time when we could believe in progress and exploration, whether of inner or of outer space.

I’ve never been able to work out why that is. So many aspects of the counterculture have made their way into a mainstream which has become inclusive to a fault. You can blame it on drug busts, on the rise of alternatives from MDMA to cocaine.

But I can’t quite believe that explanation. I think that somehow the acid culture was too modernist, too rational. The appropriation of the Dow slogan “better living through chemistry” shows as much — this was the continuing pharmaceutical research into areas where others feared to tread. Huxley and Leary were believers in progress, in infinite possibilities which could be revealed by crossing the frontier of the mind.

It’s that optimism which seems so out of joint today. Even the people who do drop acid treat it more as hedonism than shamanism. Few people consider the drug as a means to self-discovery — and those who do will find themselves looking back to 40-year-old texts for guidance, since there are so few people writing similar tracts today.

from the main blog –

A little poptimism

March 2nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

My filter bubble can sometimes be rather too effective at removing pop from my life, driving me to youtube binges to work out what on earth an Iggy Azalea is, or why people are talking about a Lorde who isn’t Audre. And, of course, to stay enough in touch to party with the High Court Judges — a clique which, inexplicably, still hasn’t lent its name to a psychobilly outfit.

Tove Lo, Habits. I like this a lot. It’s your standard despair-driven hedonism (“You’re gone, and I got to stay / high all the time / to keep you off my mind”). But this incarnation, unusually, makes the griminess feel real — “I eat dinner in my bathtub”.

Sia, Chandelier. And here’s another take on the Self-hating party girl, one that somehow didn’t connect with me. Perhaps it’s that the suicidal despair of the chorus (“I’m gonna swing from the chandelier”) isn’t echoed in the deflated-sounding presentation. Then there’s a video that’s clever and interesting, but not affecting — Lady Gaga meets Home Alone, a mime-artist ballerina bouncing off the walls.

OneRepublic, counting stars. I like it — country-infused pop at 120bpm, christianity with a touch of rebellion, a video of cheering up the old folks at a prayer meeting. It feels like a toned-down take on Kipling’s If (“Old, but I’m not that old / Young, but I’m not that bold”). I can’t quite believe “Make that money, watch it burn” is a shout-out to the KLF. Wouldn’t be wonderful, though, to see these crooners triumphantly self-obliterate themselves in the footsteps of the Justified Ancients?

Ylvis, What does the fox say? This is such gloriously silly fun that I can’t quite believe it isn’t from the 80s. To be paired with Chinese star Rollin Wang’s even more bonkers zoological offering, Chick Chick

from the main blog –


March 1st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

I have an entirely clichéd adoration of Ginsberg’s Howl. I remember spending the winter of 2009 in a state of undirected euphoria. Somehow whenever I stepped out into the Berlin snow — unusually long-lasting that year, giving the streets a kind of crisp unreality — it was this poem rattling around in my head. It was the perfect reflection of a certain mood in me, in the city, in the communities I was ricocheting between. Tangled, manic, anguished, hopeful, terrified, frustrated and frustrating, and above all energetically, forcefully intense.

who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in 
              Paradise Alley, death, or purgatoried their 
              torsos night after night 
       with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, al- 
              cohol and cock and endless balls, 
       incomparable blind; streets of shuddering cloud and 
              lightning in the mind leaping toward poles of 
              Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo- 
              tionless world of Time between, 
       Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery 
              dawns, wine drunkenness over the rooftops, 
              storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon 
              blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree 
              vibrations in the roaring winter dusks of Brook- 
              lyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of mind, 

Here’s the full thing.

from the main blog –

A story from the line at McDonald’s

February 28th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Me: okay so my sexuality’s a complicated deal so let’s just call me queer as hell
Friend: nono I wanna know can’t you explain it
Me: well ok mainly I am asexual which means I don’t want to do the do nor do I long for it, so it has nothing to do with lack of confidence or anything like that, I simply don’t find anyone sexually attractive
Friend: right right
Me: but I’m also bi romantic. The sexual and romantic attraction are different, and I still fall in love and want to have physical contact with my partner, I just don’t need the hanky panky
Friend: right cause you have a girlfriend that’s pansexual right
Me: exactly and as long as we’re both happy with not doing the rumba naked, that’s a valid relationship
Friend: I get it, I get it… I didn’t know the entire sexual and romantic orientations were different
Me: yeah I know it was an eyeopener for me when I found ou-
Lady behind us in line: excuse me so sorry but I couldn’t help but overhear but I didn’t know half of what you just said and I was just wondering what that thing your girlfriend was is, pansexual?
Me: *awkward glance at friend* oh uh I’m not an expert or anything and uh ok so basically it’s similar to being bisexual, but there’s less value in what gender the one you’re attracted to is, at least as I understood it. So a bisexual would be attracted to a person despite their gender, a pansexual wouldn’t really care at all in a way uh I’m sorry I’m bad at explaining
Lady behind us in line: that’s alright I can look it up myself later you gave me a general idea! So where did you find out these things, you’re pretty young?
Me: well, Internet. Once you’re a bit confused about what you might be you usually go looking for explanations…
Lady behind us in line: so uh in theory… It’s fine if you don’t know, I just want to check with you… Is there a thing called aROMANTIC? like you’re asexual, is there a equivalent to the romantic orientation you mentioned?
Me: oh yeah, absolutely! You can be both asexual and aromantic, or aromantic and heterosexual, literally all combinations are possible!
Lady behind us in line: *smiles LIKE REALLY GODDAMNED GENUINELY* thank you so much, I did not know that. *fishes up phone from pocket* now if you excuse me, I’m going to call my mother and tell her I’m not crazy for never having been married or stayed with one guy for long despite being 50+ but still has three children! *steps out of line and walks off while dialing*
Friend: wow that was… Amazing
Me: see how happy she got? That’s the power of right information.
And that’s why I’ve been smiling since this happened.

February 28th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

You wonder why the children of America are so obsessed with death? You wonder why rock groups that look like corpses and zombie comic-book heroes are so goddamn popular here? It’s just the same way your Victorians loved their tombs and seances and murders. The American Empire is dead and does not know it.

Grant Morrison – (Comic: The Invisibles)

Demographic Intuition

February 27th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Most of us have pretty bad intuition about the relative populations of the countries of the world. I certainly do, despite my many attempts to improve.

Paul has found this map, which scales the world according to population:

My own approach has been lots of time staring at Wikipedia’s various listings of countries by population.

That’s a start, but it still leaves out the dimension of time. Why…

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Links without context

February 26th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Mississippi schools aren’t allowed to teach how to use a condom. One has resorted to an inspired workaround using socks.

Booking fees for A-list music acts. Supposedly you can get Coolio for <$30,000.

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Work on supertramp

February 25th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Can you keep a few dozen brilliant-but-disorganized geeks pointed in the right direction and collaborating productively? Supertramp is a very loose network of geeks and activists, linking up people who are working on mapping out political and economic power, and we’re looking for a cat herder to keep us in line.

The basic idea is this. My work on the Investigative Dashboardmirrors what Miguel Paz…

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Save the world: stop writing C

February 25th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Save the world: stop writing C

Francis wants to stop building insecure software. As a start, he is pledging not to use C/C++ for new projects. Choosing a different language for your work may not inevitably lead to safe code, but at least it’ll reduce the number of gratuitous buffer overflows we are geneating everywhere. And, well, you have to start somewhere.

[I’ve not signed, because I can imagine a few circumstances where I…

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Inequality: blame assortative mating and O-Ring production

February 24th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Inequality: blame assortative mating and O-Ring production

Tyler Cowen blames inequality on the tendency of the smart and rich to hang around with one another:

a common set of factors is driving inequality: equality of opportunity,  assortative mating, O-ring production, increases in the demand for talent driven by the leveraging of talent through technology. The forces are similar and so are the results, the money elite, the monetary elite, the power…

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Total closing tax haven subsidiaries

February 23rd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Total closing tax haven subsidiaries

Total, the French oil major, is closing its subsidiaries in tax havens. At least, that’s how the PR runs. So far there is nothing official on the website, and their statement to Le Monde is anything other than definitive. ‘Tax haven’ can mean anything you want it to, as can closing a ‘certain numnber’ of subsidiaries.

Still, it’s a step in the right direction, and PR moves can inadvertantly lead…

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February 23rd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

There is nothing actually legitimate about Fox News (or MSNBC for that matter) and young people know this. They don’t trust news organizations because news organizations have given them no reason to be trusting. These channels exist not to inform but to uphold the biases and values of particular ideologies. Ideologies and values, by the way, that very few young people embody. Even when they try to strike a balance, they do it by pitting different perspectives against each other in staged arguments. But neither perspective looks familiar to most people under the age of 40, so they just tune out.

This complete lack of objectivity and representation in cable news has degraded the legitimacy of news media as a whole. Young people have absolutely no faith in people sitting at desks on television anymore. It’s gotten so bad that the most trusted news show among people under 40 is on Comedy Central. The Daily Show, it should be noted, spends as much time mocking the news media as it does talking about the news, further decreasing young people’s trust of the news. The news is losing an entire generation.

Hank Green. Holy Shit, I Interviewed the President.

Background: Green is one of the three YouTubers that Google and the White House arranged to interview President Obama for the State of the Union address. Over on Medium he writes about the blowback he and his cohorts received from legacy media, and explores how traditional news organizations have lost the trust of younger news consumers.

For example:

Legacy media isn’t mocking us because we aren’t a legitimate source of information; they’re mocking us because they’re terrified. Their legitimacy came from the fact that they have access to distribution channels and that they get to be in the White House press pool because of some long-ago established procedures that assumed they would use that power in the public interest. In reality, those things are becoming less and less important and less and less true. Distribution is free to anyone with a cell phone and the legitimacy of cable news sounds to me like an oxymoron. The median-aged CNN viewer is 60. For Fox, it’s 68.

The Fox/MSNBC machine is degrading a generation’s opinion of all news media. Young people watch Jon Stewart make fun of Fox News and they think “That’s what ‘news’ is” so they disengage. This isn’t just bad for journalism, it’s bad for America. I might venture to say that it’s terrible and dangerous and frightening for America. How does a democracy function with no credible system for informing its citizens?

Check it. It’s well worth the read.

(via futurejournalismproject)

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

February 22nd, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

[cross-posted from Edgeryders]

This classic essay has come up in a few conversations I’ve been having recently. It was written in 1970 in the context of feminist organizations, but it’s still a painfully accurate description of what can go wrong when groups try to abolish formal structures.

I’m going to paste some of the key passages below. But I strongly recommend reading the whole thing. As…

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February 21st, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink


A metal conlang, with features like:

  • bløød, dëvil, and saẗan as copula forms
  • <öyster> is “blue”
  • n-diaresis, occurring only on <spin̈al> “to tap”
  • verbs are marked for how heretically you are performing the action, with the unmarked form beign “extremely heretically” – with this a hereticity hierarchy, where maximally heretical constituents can’t be passivized or relativized
  • the language cannot be spoken, only screamed hoarsely
  • a base-666 number system of course.