Monthly Archives: August 2016

The delicate dance of a writer

This is the delicate dance you have to dance as a writer: at the core of it, you’re toying with people’s emotions. You have to walk a line between respectful and irreverent, between suspenseful and just plain cruel. For a writer, it’s almost impossible to hold characters sacred and get anything done. They might get put through the ringer, get killed off, endure terrible tragedy, or get written out entirely. You might undo that all later. (If you’re a comics writer, someone else is going to if you don’t.)

It’s a hazardous, stressful line to walk, and every one of us will plunge right off it at some point. We’ll make a choice we won’t know is ill-advised or careless until someone points it out, whether it’s a watchful editor or a wrathful fan.

–Dan Swensen, Sacred Characters and Necessary Desecrations


Ah, science. Do you never fail to disappoint?

So what’s the bottom line?  Could it be another society sending a signal our way?  Of course, that’s possible.  However, there are many other plausible explanations for this claimed transmission – including terrestrial interference.  Without a confirmation of this signal, we can only say that it’s “interesting.”

–Seth Shostak, A SETI Signal?

If you’re a nerd who’s even vaguely interested in such things, the breathless coverage in various media outlets of the radio signal discovered by Russian astronomers will surely give you heart palpitations. There is a real chance that it’s a broadcast from an intelligent species billions of light years away. (Squee!) There’s even the possibility that the nature of the signal might suggest a civilization that is (or was, I guess, at the time of broadcast) more technologically advanced than ours. (Skuh-weeeeee!) Leave it to the astronomer community to dash our hopes with a healthy dose of rational skepticism. As Shostak explains, the likelihood of this signal being definitively alien in origin (that is, deliberately sent out by another sentient species) is, if I may say, astronomically small.

The big deal, as I understand it, is that if—IF—the radio signal is definitively determined to be artificial, then that means the alien civilization that sent it either a.) has the power to broadcast it everywhere in the universe or b.) has targeted us specifically. If (a) is true, the extraterrestrials’ tech level is to humanity’s as a space shuttle is to a hansom cab; if (b) is true, then they’re looking right at us.

Given the possibilities, it’s not a net negative if that radio signal turns out to be a false positive–and Shostak’s scientific puncturing of the hype balloon may be more reassuring than disappointing.

Racializing eco-catastrophe

Through it all Zimring convincingly argues that the mainstream American imagination contains two great anxieties: an accelerating knowledge that the systems that give us things like Hondas, iPhones, and burgers are environmentally disastrous; and a frantically repressed sense that this catastrophe falls hardest on people of color.

–Ryan Boyd, “Book Review: Clean and White by Carl A. Zimring”

“Gawker delenda est.”

But observers seem eager to push the wrong message about that brokenness. The scary part of the story isn’t that the occasional vengeful billionaire might break the system and overwhelm even a well-funded target with money.  Such people exist, but getting sued by them is like getting hit by lightning. No, for most of us the scary part of the story is that our legal system is generally receptive to people abusing it to suppress speech. Money helps do that, but it’s not necessary to do it. A hand-to-mouth lunatic with a dishonest contingency lawyer can ruin you and suppress your speech nearly as easily as a billionaire. Will you prevail against a malicious and frivolous defamation suit? Perhaps sooner if you’re lucky enough to be in a state with a good anti-SLAPP statute. Or perhaps years later. Will you be one of the lucky handful who get pro bono help? Or will you be like almost everyone else, who has to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect your right to speak, or else abandon your right to speak because you can’t afford to defend it?

–Ken White, Gawker, Money, Speech, and Justice

“Let’s just say when I started using… I was your height.”

You need to know that Sam plays a gnome bard ineptly attepting to score what may or may not be an illicit substance (he doesn’t know) to really appreciate this, but the total cast crackup is worth commemorating in its own right.

Via The Helvetica Is Crisp As Fuck.

Environmental imaginations: providential, utilitarian, ecologial

The important category in After Nature is one Purdy borrows from Lawrence Buell: “environmental imagination.” The environmental imagination is the “everyday metaphysics” (7), all the beliefs and essential metaphors with which any people perceive, account for, and in turn, shape their natural environment. Historically, Purdy argues, Americans have moved through three modes of imagining their environment. First was the “providential.” The New World was a chaotic waste which God intended its Old World immigrants to shape into a garden. This way of thinking predominated through the end of the nineteenth century, when industrialism and a growing population presented social and environmental problems of vastly greater scale. An emerging “utilitarian imagination” largely replaced the providential. According to the utilitarian perspective, natural resources could be managed by the procedures of rational science. This was part of Progressives’ re-thinking of the American project, “a technocratic approach to social and economic life that turned political questions into scientific ones” (179).

After World War II, and especially beginning in the 1960s, the “ecological imagination” began to take hold, aided by the rise of the holistic science of ecology, the recognition of an interconnected web of life, and a persistent discontentedness with the failures of modernity, which included the plain facts of environmental deterioration. This third mode proved a watershed. The early seventies saw a brief consensus during which laws were passed to clean up the air and water. Despite some successes, however, bad news about the environment continued to mount. The so-called culture wars that followed can be explained as a conflict between “constituencies of the new ecological laws and those that remained invested in earlier American approaches to the natural world” (213). This is a way to organize thinking about the last forty years of American history that recognizes the importance of an environmental turn. Although Purdy is not so explicit, a reader can readily identify in those “constituencies” still devoted to the providential and utilitarian modes of imagination the Christian fundamentalist and neo-liberal branches of the American right.

–Robert Greene II,  A Case for the Artifice of Politics: Jedediah Purdy’s After Nature

Taliesin, that’d kill all of us.


Via They Are Definitely Not Worth You.