Heyo, it’s a new year and a new decade!
By now, I’ve learned not to ever say a damned thing about how I’m going to write more or that I’ve got more blog posts waiting in the wings–that’s such a recurring theme in my writing that I made a tag for it here on the blog. So I won’t do that. Instead, I want to share a little bit about what’s been going on for me lately.
✨ Life Updates
- This was our first full month in our new house! I’m still getting used to thinking of myself as a homeowner; when my dad and I met for lunch the other day, he proposed we meet at my house and it threw me for a loop. Oh right, I have a house!
- I have a 3D printer! As a Christmas gift to myself, I bought a Creality Ender 3 Pro, which is known in 3D printing communities as an awesome budget machine. I’m looking forward to making inserts and bits for my board game library, little things for around the house, and whatever else I can think of.
- My home server is up and running! Since last year, I’ve been working to set up my own home server so that Rachel and I can move some of our data away from third-parties and instead manage it ourselves, and at the end of last year, with the help of a project called YunoHost, I got it off the ground! The apps I’ve installed so far include Nextcloud (a personal Dropbox-style cloud app), Calibre (to store, organize, and access our ebooks), and DokuWiki (a lightweight wiki we’re using for shared notes). I’m gonna be playing with this a lot more this year.
- I’m testing a self-hosted private social network! My intention is to open it up to my friends this spring. Watch this space.
- I’ve joined NISEI! Remember that series of posts I made last year about their communications strategy? Well, with that under my belt, I applied last year for their Media Pipeline Coordinator position. I’m proud to say I was selected. It’s such an honor to be part of the team providing support to the best game ever!
What have I been reading?
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Rachel and I recently finished watching the HBO Watchmen series, which I mostly adored, so I figured it was time to revisit Moore and Gibbons’ original comic.
This book always holds up. The central questions, like who should we entrust with power? and what does the superhero myth actually mean?, are as relevant today as ever, as is, regrettably, the palpable fear of nuclear war. (This year got off to a great start, huh?) Thanks to the MCU, there’s been no shortage of superhero films in recent years, but I don’t think it’s coincidence that two of the more thematically compelling hero flicks of the last 20 years, The Incredibles and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, both engage with similar questions.
Watchmen is also a shining example of the medium. It’s tempting to view comics through lens of other forms of media, like novels, visual art, or movies, but as comics theorist Scott McCloud observed in his fantastic book Understanding Comics, comics are their own unique form of art and can do things no other medium can. Watchmen uses this to great effect, using structure, juxtaposition, and even reader expectations as not only enhancements to the story, but fundamental components of the narrative. Incidentally, this is why I think the 2009 Watchmen film stumbled, but the recent HBO series excelled: the film foolishly attempted to directly copy the language of the comics, whereas the HBO series, while obviously inspired by the comics, used the far more appropriate language of cinematic television.
I could, and probably will, reread this every few years and find something new to appreciate. It’s a masterpiece.
Recommend to: comic fans, poli-sci or sociology students, and damn near everyone else
Utopia for Realists, by Rutger Bregman
Look, I really want to make 2020 a good year. I know the deck is stacked against me, what with (gestures exhaustedly at everything), but dammit, I want to fight the despair. I want to cultivate hope and actually take things into my hands.
That’s why I chose to start my year with a decidedly optimistic book about making a better world. Bregman’s thesis is that in the last 50 years or so, we’ve lost touch with the idea of Utopia. We’re still striving to improve, but in an amoral way, with no guiding ethic or sense of what’s right. We talk of “progress”, but not why we’re progressing or what we ought to progress toward. Bregman argues for several different humanistic policies, such as universal basic income, open borders, and a much shorter workweek, but more than that, he argues that we should practice making moral stands again.
I quibbled with some of the nitty-gritty bits of Bregman’s argument and rhetoric, but on the whole, I thought he made an excellent case. A couple of years ago, I linked to a short essay that made a similar call on the Left for an actual moral stand. Let’s dream boldly, not just about what we can do, but what we ought to as well.
Recommend to: any progressive in need of some hope, democratic socialists and the demsoc-curious
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
Like Saga, another of my favorite modern sci-fi tales, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is a story about family. It follows the crew of a wormhole-punching construction ship, the Wayfarer, as they rove across the galaxy for one big job.
The plot is secondary in this book, and while that’s normally a criticism, it isn’t here. The book shines because of its heartful depiction of the makeshift family on board the Wayfarer. The crew really is a family, and through bite-size adventures, we see them grow together, support one another, fight with each other, and all the other things that families do. There’s an overarching plot, sure, but Chambers knows when to let it take the back seat so that the relationships can have center stage.
I also adored the imaginative anthropology. The book takes place some time in the future, when humans have successfully left Earth and joined other spacefaring sentient races in the galaxy. Chambers seems to delight in describing each race’s peculiarities, adding texture and color to her universe. My favorite alien race are the Aandrisks, human-sized reptilians who are effusive with physical affection and tend to form large chosen families instead of pair-bonding.
No idea why that would resonate with me.
It’s a charming and enjoyable read through and through. The sequels, A Closed and Common Orbit, and Record of a Spaceborn Few, are on my list for later this year.
Recommend to: fans of Saga, fans of Firefly, Aandrisks in human disguises
- At Eater, Chris Mod writes about kissaten–traditional Japanese cafes–and his quest for the original pizza toast. It’s a beautiful piece about hospitality and the changing face of Japanese culture.
- Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs has a, erm, timely reminder about how to avoid war propaganda.
- Kyle Piira explains why and how he quit using Google products. I’m in a similar boat.
- There’s some real strong push lately from the U.S. government to break encryption in the name of “security”. This is so fucking bad. Even setting aside the godawful privacy implications, encryption is the backbone of so much of our everyday interactions online. Here, let the Electronic Frontier Foundation explain why this ought to be stopped six ways to Sunday.
- Speaking of digital privacy, a company called Clearview AI made headlines this month for their facial-recognition product, which has a database of billions of photos taken from social media and can be used to identify just about anyone. It also seems to have troubling ties to white nationalist groups and is trying to sell its product to authoritarian regimes. THIS IS FINE NO I’M NOT WORRIED YOU’RE WORRIED
- C’mon, Spencer, end on something uplifting… uhhh, Cards Against Humanity bought ClickHole. And they’re transforming it into a majority employee-owned company. That’s good, right? but of course Cards Against Humanity creator Max Temkin has been accused of sexual assault
I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker last month.
It was real bad.
Sage Hyden of the YouTube channel Just Write has an excellent video (above) that explains most of my frustrations with it. There’s also Jeannette Ng’s article on it. And, what the hell, let’s link back to Film Crit Hulk’s piece from seven years ago (wait, is that right?) on convoluted blockbusters as well as his more recent piece on The Force Awakens to provide some sort of critical context for what I’m talking about here.
In short, Rise of Skywalker was everything I’ve grown so weary of in modern blockbusters. It was an hours-long case study in telling rather than showing. It abandoned meaningful character development for cheap nostalgia and shallow affectation. It gave us moments–oh god, did it give us moments–but it never earned them.
Anyway, the video above has a more thorough critique of the film. Give it a watch.
“Spencer, when are you going to stop sharing every new Philosophy Tube video?”
I dunno, maybe when Olly stops making them so damn good? This one’s a sharp look at data and privacy and hey weren’t we just talking about that a few paragraphs ago
Also from the BreadTube hopper, ContraPoints shares Part One of a series on cancel culture and internet toxicity. There’s been a lot of kerfuffle around Contra lately, and I think she does a pretty thorough dissection in the front half of this video on the ways “canceling” can rely on distortion. This thread from user Clarity Flowers on Mastodon adds a lot more: the nature of certain social media platforms intrinsically leads to amplification without relation. The text of a message can travel far further than its context, affecting people who have no meaningful avenue for recourse against the original author except via force–dunking, callouts, “canceling”, etc.
I think that’s it for now. Tune in next time, whenever that may be!