Keeping up with the Jones. After an artistically creative and personally devastating period in LA (full-cream milk, red peppers, and cocaine are a balanced diet, right?), Bowie went into hiding in Europe. Low is meant to meant to suggest “keeping a low profile”. He failed. Keeping a low profile would necessitate a bad album, and Low is simply unforgettable.
They “There’s old wave, there’s new wave, and there’s David Bowie” In a record store, they might say “there’s David Bowie, then there’s Low”. Nomimally the first of the so-caled “Berlin Trilogy” (despite parts of it being recorded in France), Low doesn’t quite sound like anything else he’s done.
Side A has songs, bending punk rock, art rock, . Bowie has seldom written better songs, and Eno’s technical wizardry makes the music seem otherwordly. This is most noticeable on “Speed of Life”, which has varispeeded delay that sounds like strobing flashes of light hitting the Hubble telescope from a distant cosmic object.
The songwriting is sparse and free. Entire songs are threaded together with simple ingredients: a single hook, or rhythm, or texture, but are all the more impactful for it. Lead single “Sound and Vision” has no words until the halfway point, and they’re just minimalistic automatism. No references to the Kabbalah or homosexuality. Just Bowie looking at blue light through his window, waiting for ideas.
“Be My Wife” surprises with familiarity. It’s a little jarring to hear a conventional verse/chorus pop song. The harmonica-driven instrumental “A New Career in a New Town” spins away the remaining grooves much as “Speed of Life” began them: in adventurous fashion. Side A is an amazing achievement for Bowie, for Eno, and for rock.
It is also Low’s worst side.
Side B deeply, profoundly beautiful. People often refer to it as “the instrumental side”, which isn’t right, as only “Art Decade” is truly wordless. But they’re brilliant, unforgettable pieces of music, and showcases just what a genius Brian Eno was.
The dominant ambient piece is “Warszawa”, evoking a city of rust and memories, ancient fumes pouring from its skin. Futuristic Minimoog lines counterpoint church bells and religious chanting in an strange language from another world. It’s six minutes long: hermetic, cthonic, and almost impenetrable upon first listen. You have to peel it back like a palimpsest, and I’m still not sure I fully get it. David Bowie used to play this live. As a set opener, no less!
“Warszawa” was written by a four year old. Well, the first three notes, anyway. David needed to attend court to square away some matters from the Los Angeles fiasco, leaving Brian Eno to try and come up with something. Tony Visconti’s four year old son wandered into the studio, discovered the piano, and plonked out three notes – an A, a B, and a C. Suddenly inspired, Brian Eno dashed to the boy’s side and completed the melody. I don’t see Visconti’s son credited in the album booklet. The tyke should sue.
The album’s remaining pieces gently come down from this crescendo. “Art Decade” is chilly and still, its melodic ideas frozen like images under glass. “Weeping Wall” has very busy instrumentation, its elements sometimes clashing and other times working in harmony. “Subterraneans” is deep, slow, and forbidding. If the album was a day, this would be the deepest watch of the night.
There’s bonus tracks, too, if you get the right version of the album. “Some Are” seems like a marriage of the two halves of the album, while “All Saints” is extremely harsh – industrial ambient rock as corrosive as drain cleaner. Neither of them would obviously fit anywhere in Low, but they should be considered part of it all the same.
You’ve heard about this, or will: James Gunn was dismissed from the production of Guardians of the Galaxy 3.
First, condolences. I don’t often talk about this, but I was fired from a multi-million dollar movie production too. To get technical, I was “fired” in the sense of never being hired for one, but still, the wound is fresh.
What led to his firing? Some tweets, years old. Some are innocent, their context snipped away by sélecteur Mike Cernovich (a far right figure who apparently wanted Gunn fired). A couple were clearly jokes.
This scandal has provoked opinions, most of them bad. So far, nearly everything I’ve read about the firing of James Gunn is united in missing the mark.
“Why joke about that sort of stuff?” Why not joke about it? People joke about all manner of things. “It’s offensive!” Thank you, @JudenGrinderPepe1488, for being the voice of moral guidance we sorely need. “It trivializes pedophilia!” No, it doesn’t, dumbshit. It’s transgressive humor, which means it relies on shock and outrage. If pedophilia is trivial, the joke does not work.
I realise that many people don’t find Gunn’s humor funny, and don’t comprehend how anyone could. Let me attempt an explanation: when you joke about pedophilia, the goal is not to get a laugh but to provoke a shocked “ew!” response in your audience, which is isomorphic to humor in the minds of some people. In the same way, people eat chili peppers, not because capsaicinoids taste great, but because the burning sensation on your tongue is pleasurable. Maybe you don’t find it funny. This is because you’re trying to read a language without the necessary vocabulary. I think jazz is unlistenable, but this isn’t jazz’s fault: I’ve been trained to process music in certain ways that, unfortunately, have welded my brain shut to Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Your sense of humor was shaped by things, too, and when you judge something as unfunny, it judges you back.
You should still understand that firing people for jokes is wrong. After all, someday a person with power won’t understand one of your jokes.
But there’s an even more annoying sentiment being expressed, mostly from the political left. They are attempting to finesse some sort of culture war story where where unprincipled right wing conservatives are getting leftists fired in bad faith, something that would never happen in reverese because only the left has standards and decency and honor and (heavy breathing commences).
This narrative collapses under five minutes of investigation, but that isn’t the point. Cernovich did not fire Gunn. He does not own Disney, is not on their board of directors, and has no power over them whatsoever.
Disney fired Gunn.
Twitter’s remedy is “don’t pay attention to trolls like Cernovich”, which isn’t a solution at all. Bad faith actors are everywhere, and someone else will pull the same stunt tomorrow. Playing whack a mole with individuals is a waste of time in an ecosystem this vast: and Gunn-esque firings will continue to happen until we think systemically.
This requires a sidetrack into another topic: computer viruses.
In my lifetime, I have seen an interesting shift in who we blame for viruses on the internet.
In the 90s, we blamed the creator of the virus. When your computer got infected, you felt personally slighted, as if hax0rkid69 did the equivalent of leaving a bag of flaming shit on your front porch.
In the 00s, a shift happened, and we blamed the user. It was grandma’s fault for not recognizing that the .jpg had a hidden .exe at the end of it. Partly it was the fact that the era of personal “you got pwned by hax0rkid69!” attacks were over. Viruses relatively bland and anonymous, as if they’d achieved sentience and were programming themselves, and most had goals of marketing or theft rather than blind destruction. Mostly, it was learned helplessness. There were so many that trying to drop the hammer on individual virus creators was futile. The only way to stop them was for grandma to learn how to use her damned computer.
But in the 2010s, another shift happened. Nobody blames virus creators, or grandma. Just as we accept that viruses exist and will never go away, we also accept that incompetent users exist and will never go away. If your defense model relies on everyone exhibiting pluperfect competence, you have failed as a security engineer.
Now, we blame the system.
Scott Alexander recently commented that Apple’s MacOS contains an autocorrect that works on medical terms (such as changing “duloxetine” to “fluoxetine”). Apple fans arrived to point out that this can be very easily switched off…and the backlash was amazing, and inspiring. It’s not the responsibility of several million end users to navigate around Apple’s potentially life-threatening incompetence. The responsibility rests with the creators of the system. What makes more sense, solving a problem in O(n) or O(1) time?
This is an evolution of thought that should be applied to bad-faith actors getting their political opponents fired. Blaming Cernovich is bass-ackwards – the equivalent of getting mad at a script kiddie who infected your computer. Blaming Gunn is equally counterproductive. He would still have his job if he hadn’t sent those tweets, but he couldn’t have known those tweets would cost him his job when he sent them, just as grandma can’t reasonably be expected to check her emails for .exe attachments. Additionally, “those tweets were unacceptable but James Gunn deserves a second chance!” is a subcategory of “blaming Gunn”.
The only people handling this correctly are the ones blaming the big mouse.
Gunn had the misfortune to work in a system that is both increasingly risk averse and sensitive to PR scandals. This isn’t unreasonable: PR scandals are one of the few things a big corporation cannot control. Fortunately, there’s a ready solution: make it so that firing people for Twitter jokes leads to an even bigger PR scandal. That’s a risk companies need to be even more averse to.
This is a 1983 Canadian post-apocalyptic science fiction fantasy musical adult* cyberpunk neo-noir animated furry i hope i die
The plot is incidental (and embarrassing); a pair of cartoon animals save the world through the power of rock. It’s based on a 1978 Nelvana TV special called The Devil and Daniel Mouse, but updated to be edgy and dark and far too serious. The songs are pretty thin, and guitars are wielded more often as weapons than as instruments.
But there are good moments, too. Some nice animation, and occasionally great character design. Unfortunately, it’s part of animation’s most onerous trend: Humans with Dog Noses. Who started this? Carl Banks? The Beagle Boys were obviously cartoony, but here we have straight-up humans with dog noses. It looks ridiculous, and undercuts the gritty premise.
Dog noses are the first of many questionable artistic choices. The supporting characters are drawn like funny animals, but the main characters are drawn realistically. They don’t seem to exist in the same world, and when we see them together, the contrast is all you can focus on.
My favorite part of the movie is everyone’s favorite part: the villain Mok. He steals the show with one of the most innovative character designs I’ve ever seen in an animated movie: a pastiche of Mick Jagger, Lou Reed, and Thin White Duke-era David Bowie. His face is an unimaginably complex manifold of vertices and angles, blending the feminine and masculine (and canine, but I’ve made my point), and the animators deserve kudos for keeping all of that ridiculousness on model. The movie suffers greatly whenever Mok’s not on screen, although there are fun computer-generated visuals and Debbie Harry does the best job she can.
Mok (“the only Ohmtown rocker to go gold, platinum, and plutonium in one day!”) is seeing his commercial success wane, and hatches a plan to summon a demon from hell so he can…I dunno. I seriously have no idea what he’s trying to do, but we never understood what David Bowie was trying to do either, so there you go.
He kidnaps the female singer from a shitty glam rock band, because only her voice can complete the satanic ritual. Her dislikeable male co-singer has to rescue her along with some bumbling comic relief characters, who are more like comic constipation. Mostly, the movie succeeds in making you groan and cringe, such as when we find out they’re playing at Carnage Hall in Nuke York.
Bootlegs credit the film to Ralph Bakshi, which is false, yet also true, because this sort of movie probably wouldn’t exist without him. The success of “Wizards” and “Fritz the Cat” ushered in a few brief years when studios gave a bit of rope to animated films that weren’t obviously for children.
The rope had apparently played out by 1983, and Rock & Rule feels tampered with. The Gibsonian cyberpunk atmosphere is leavened with moments of wacky slapstick that could have been spliced in from Goof Troop (they couldn’t, for chronological reasons, but the vibe is similar). In particular, Mok’s henchmen ride around on rollerskates, which might have been an effort to save money on animation. When your characters are on wheels, it doesn’t matter if they slide around on the frame.
If a studio meddled with Rock & Rule, this is understandable. The film is confused and hard to market, and I’m still not sure who it was for. But it didn’t make any money even with all the commercial compromises, so why did they even try? Go for broke on your crazy post apocalyptic rock musical furry whatever! I’m reminded of this exchange from Karate Kid: “I’d get killed if I go down there!” “Get killed anyway.”
* (“Adult” means two fully-clothed characters feeling each other up, implied drug use, a Satanic pentagram, some intense imagery, and one character calling another “dick nose”, which if true would still be an improvement over a dog nose.)
I don’t know if the third Quake is a better game than I and II, but it’s certainly less of a game. They cut away any story mode, focusing it a laser on its deathmatch experience. You run in circles, trying to kill enemies more times than they kill you. The sarcastic way people described Doom and Quake is now a literal reality.
The result is a first person shooter of incredible purity. Playing Quake III Arena is like breathing pure oxygen – liberating, and destructive to your health. As soon as a stage loads, your mind enters a trance state, and your body falls away. Only three things remain: a left hand on the WASD keys, a right hand clicking the mouse, and an eye orchestrating the violence. The circuit sparks and crackles, the connections fusing together, and when the match ends, it takes a few seconds for the hands-eye unity to remember it has a body.
The game was meant to be played with other people. It has a single player mode, but it’s not a good one and you sense the game is laughing at you for picking it. You play against “bots”, which aren’t smart but are difficult in an abusive fashion. Turning up the difficulty means they gain split-second reflexes and superhuman accuracy – they simply never miss with the railgun, which isn’t fun.
As with past Quake games, there’s a game-inside-the-game, and mastery of competitive online play requires exploiting oddities in the code like rocketjumping (surfing the blast of an exploding rocket), plasma climbing (scaling walls with blowback from the plasma cannon), circle-jumping (pirouetting to add massive velocity to your next jump), and more. The developers would probably spit out their Adderall-laced coffee if they saw what modern players do with Quake III.
A game like this isn’t about content, but about balance. While Doom’s juice came from “yay, cool weapon” and “yay, cool map”, Quake III’s design requires an analytical approach: “are the weapons equally strong, or does one dominate? Are the maps laid out in a way that leads to fair gameplay, or can you just camp a spawn spot and fight off all comers?” Single player is about indulging orgiastic power fantasies, while multiplayer is about fair play and rules. It’s hard to get both right with the same game engine, and maybe it was for the best to ditch a story mode.
The graphics were great, almost to the point of undercutting the game’s minimalist ethos. This game reduced your Riva TNT to sludge, and that’s not watch. But the lighting, shadows, and all looked very good for the time, with the only competitor being Unreal Tournament.
Thomas Aquinas once said “I fear the man of a single book.” The idea is that you can be unstoppable by doing one thing very well, and Quake III Arena does indeed do one thing very well. “It’s just mindless violence!” – some developers tried to dignify their games away from that, but id Software was apparently taking notes for their next design document.
A cloud of iridescent energy moves across the galaxy, destroying all in its path. As it approaches Earth, a haggard-looking James Tiberius Kirk bullies Starfleet into giving him control of the Enterprise, so he can investigate and hopefully stop it. Incidentally, did James go through boot camp? Hard to imagine a guy called Tiberius doing push-ups and getting yelled at by R Lee Ermey. When you’re born with a name like that, they pretty much have to promote you straight to Captain.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is great, if in a troubled way. It’s like a titan, ready to collapse under its own weight. The philosophical method called “structuralism” seeks to understand things through their relationship to other things (eg, a ship’s mast can only exist if there are sails and a hull, otherwise it’s just a wooden pole). Likewise, Star Trek: TMP can only be understood in the context of its own difficult creation.
Let’s start at the beginning. Once, there was a television show called Star Trek. It wasn’t popular, and it was soon cancelled. But we live in a crazy world with no brakes, and “unpopular + soon cancelled” is no barrier at all to eventually becoming the defining science fiction series of the silver screen.
How did this happen? The same way Velvet Underground became popular: they sold a few thousand copies, and all of those people started a band. Star Trek’s audience was tiny, but it was also full of scientists, grad students, civil rights activists, and who other people who wielded greatly outsized influence on the nation’s taste. This megaphone-wielding minority soon had the show firmly established in syndication, and a slow critical reappraisal of the show began. Star Trek was often campy, but never cynical or insulting. The writing was often broad, but was never boring. Gene Roddenberry was brilliant at directing attention away from the show’s weaknesses (its budget) and toward its strengths (screenwriting, and Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley’s acting).
With voltage gathering for a continuation for the series, Paramount Pictures and Roddenberry began working on a pilot. It was a mess. Writers were commissioned, and then their scripts rejected. Actors were hired, and their parts written out. Sets were built, then stripped down. I’m stunned that Burbank’s air was declared safe to breathe after so much burnt cash.
Finally, just weeks before shooting was due to start, Close Encounters of the Third Kind hit the box office like a wrecking ball. Paramount panicked and issued a change of plans: the next version of Star Trek would be a motion picture, not a television show! There was not enough time. The production was thrown into chaos, with the planned pilot adapted a two hour movie, underpinned by a script that was rewritten as they went along.
The result is a odd movie, stretched and deformed. It’s a Star Trek television episode viewed through a funhouse mirror: you can recognise the shape, but it’s 50% wider than it needs to be. The opening sequence is thrilling: three Klingon ships are evaporated in an impressive visual effects sequence. Then we get an hour of “character develoment”, meaning James T Kirk butts heads against the Enterprise’s dull new captain, while the plot spins its wheels and goes nowhere. We also meet a female alien called Ilya, who talks and talks while setting records for uninspired character design. I’ll buy that a man with pointy ears might be an alien. Ilya’s literally just a woman with a shaven head. You can find plenty of aliens like her at the local slam poetry meet.
The film’s strengths, ironically enough, are its visuals: something that was never a strong point with the original show. Douglas Trumbull and a young John Dykstra slather the frame with luminous rainbow hues (Trumbull previously worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the film owes a lot visually to that one, including a “smash cut from rainbow fluorescence to stark white” moment that matches 2001’s Star Gate sequence). The more practical effects are beefed up as well. A tiny Burbank sound stage is make to look like an absolutely massive cargo bay thanks to forced perspective (those tiny figures in the background? Children.). I think this is the first time we’ve seen a Star Trek space battle where both ships are composited into the same frame (as opposed to a shot/reverse shot of the Enterprise firing and another ship blowing up.)
The story is a bit perfunctory, and the imagery seems to transcend the characters until they’re reduced to spectators, gaping at the wonders of the cosmos. Maybe that’s the attitude Star Trek always tried to evoke. More likely, it’s a disguise for the fact that this was supposed to be a TV pilot, and they just plain didn’t have enough story.
I once saw a film called American Movie, about a pair of young indie filmmakers. One of them has a memorable monologue: “There’s no excuses, Paul. No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse. No one has ever faced a black screen that says: ‘Well, if we had these set of circumstances, we would’ve shot this scene… so please forgive us and use your imagination.’ I’ve been to the movies hundreds of times. That’s never occurred.”
He should have seen Star Trek: TMP. It has excuses. Many of the visual effects (although stunning) don’t serve a purpose beyond “we don’t have any actual story to put here, enjoy these flashing abstract colors”. Big chunks of the film are a laser light show in space, intercut with shots of the crew looking awed. For a while, you share their awe. But then it feels like it’s time for something to happen.
Calling a movie “The Motion Picture” sounds either presumptuous of horribly underconfident: you’re either suggesting that it will be the definitive one, or the only one. In the case of ST:TMP, I can’t even call it A Motion Picture, as it’s been recut and re-released many times. The film is now legion, I’m not sure if the original version is exists today in a purchasable form. Although it’s a different sort of Star Trek, I enjoyed it a lot.
(It’s worth noting that Orson Welles voiced the cinematic trailers for this movie. One year later, he’d be voicing Manowar songs, and commercials for frozen peas.)
The Book of Genesis is a 224-page graphic novel by noted cartoonist Robert Crumb, based on the book of the same name by noted deity God. It’s literally the full text of Genesis, painstakingly hand-lettered in (and around) cramped panels of Crumbian imagery. It’s all here: the famous stories, the less famous stories, and even the “Jokshan begat Dedan, who begat Ashirum, who begat…” parts. Not a verse has been cut, no matter how boring or inappropriate for the comic medium.
Nothing like this has been done before, and hopefully nothing like this will be done again.
While reading The Book of Genesis, I kept asking myself: what’s the point? What am I supposed to get out of this? Crumb spent four years working on a product with no entertainment value at all. Maybe he feels pride in being the first person to adapt Genesis unabridged as a comic book, just as the first astronaut to land on Pluto will feel pride, despite it being a dull lump of rock.
So why doesn’t it work? Biblical-themed comics tend to either be didactic, cloying efforts by believers (Jack Chick’s tracts being the most famous example) or angry reactionary polemics by atheists (see Jesus and Mo and a thousand other webcomics). I assumed Crumb – who has perfected body duplication technology so that he can be a fly in every jar of ointment – would be in the second group, and that the Book of Genesis would be full of gleeful blasphemy.
Instead, it’s exactly what I’ve described: a comic version of Genesis. Not a single other adjective applies – perhaps not even “good” or “bad”. This is a huge problem: the stories of Genesis are so familiar and famous that artists have stripped them to their bones. If you’re attempting to tell (and sell) the tale of Noah’s Ark or Jacob and Esau once again, you damned well need a second adjective!
Despite doing the art, Crumb leaves no trace of himself in the book. Does he like the stories he’s writing down, letter by letter for fifty straight months? Does he hate them? What emotions do they inspire? Is he realizing any spiritual truths? Or is he growing even more sure of his decision (at age sixteen) to become an atheist? I have no clue. I’m not Crumb’s biggest fan but I understand why he’s liked: he has a style, and it’s a compelling one (nobody else could have written Fritz the Cat, for example). But he approaches this project with all the verve of a manga letterer making a thousand yen a page. There’s no creative elan to be seen here.
His imagery is trite, cribbed from Michelangelo, Ignatius of Loyola, and Cecil B DeMille. God has white hair and a beard. He creates the earth like a wizard casting a spell in a Saturday morning cartoon. The Garden of Eden looks like Bambi. The Ark is a large floating shoebox. There are some unintentionally funny parts. During the genealogies, he needs to come up with a visual element, so he just draws headshots of what these dozens of people might have looked like. It looks like the fighter select screen in an SNK fighting game.
Crumb’s form constantly works to undercut him. The Bible’s stories are big and epic, and they would have benefited from double-page spreads, not tiny panels. Again, there’s unintentional laughter. During the flood, we see drowned people and animals, floating face-up in the boiling sea. It would have been a striking piece of art, except it’s too small. They look like toys bobbing in a child’s bathtub.
If I could guess at Crumb’s purpose, it was to provide a comic that contains no exegesis or interpretation whatsoever. The mere act of editing a work, by definition, changes it, so by leaving everything in, he was free from the charge of distorting the Bible. However, Genesis is quite a long book, and cramming it into a comic makes it virtually unreadable. So much text crowds the page that it induces claustrophobia. Combined with Crumb’s signature art style (itchy, hairy, and uncomfortable) and you have one of the most unpleasant experiences I’ve had so far in a graphic novel.
Occasionally, he takes a few small liberties. Potiphar’s wife is depicted as a harridan, not remotely beautiful. The city of Sodom is obviously (and anachronistically) Babylonian, with Ishtar Gate inspired architecture. The passages at the end where Crumb discusses some of the stories are quite interesting, but again he keeps his feelings close to his chest. And that’s something nobody wants to see from Crumb.
The Book of Genesis is a little like a sculpture of the Brooklyn Bridge made of toothpicks, more interesting for its existence than its function. “For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished” (Mt. 5:17-18). Well, it’s been accomplished. And now I will move ahead to never thinking about it again.
An investor once gave advice to a man invested in a speculative bubble. “Enjoy the party, but dance near the door.” If you own bitcoin, litecoin, or ethereum, Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain will make you want to dance near the fire escape. Author David Gerard argues (successfully, I think) against virtually every technology derived from blockchains.
His view can be summarised as “blockchains fail at solving nonexistent problems.” They are speculative and sexy, making them flypaper for con artists, but that’s not the point – even good-faith implementations don’t work.
No major company utilises blockchain-based technology at scale. Ten years after the Satoshi Nakamoto paper, and after five years of loud media hype, cryptocurrency has few visible uses except as an asset (and perhaps it’s already time to remove “except as an asset” from that sentence). In light of this, dramatic fiascoes like the Mt Gox collapse seem more like irrelevant sideshows, distracting from the pervasive pointlessness of the technology. The problem isn’t “suppose your money is stolen.” It’s “suppose it isn’t. Then what?”
The book covers fifteen years of cryptocurrency, from the cypherpunks to the Satoshi whitepaper to the rapidly deflating bubble. It mixes tales of hilarious Wolf of Wall Street-style misadventures with serious analysis of the mathematical and economic weaknesses of blockchains. Bitcoin was supposed to be decentralised. In practice, it is chokepointed by a handful of big exchanges, subjecting their users to increasingly onerous KYC requirements. Bitcoin was supposed to limited to 21 million coins. In practice, any keyboard equipped with Ctrl, C, and V keys can fork the coin, defeating the purpose. Bitcoin’s tamper-proof ledger is frequently cited as a strength, but there are times when you want to tamper with the ledger. Transactions might be made by mistake, for example. The difficulty and risk of bitcoin has all but deep-sixed its small economy of legitimate users, leaving a small number of defiant “HODLers”, convinced that wide adoption is around the corner and things will be better tomorrow.
Gerard also discusses blockchain-based “smart contracts”. Again, they’re hip, and happening, but don’t appear to actually solve any problems with real world contracts, which have always been interpretation (what does “anticipatory breach” mean?) and enforcement (how do you punish anticipatory breach if it happens)?
A famous example: Robin Williams voiced the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin, he stipulated that the genie’s likeness not take up more than 25% of the space on any poster associated with the film (he didn’t want to be typecast as a cartoon character). Disney famously screwed him by making the Genie take up 25% of the space…and making the other characters significantly smaller. Williams joked that they drew Mickey Mouse with three fingers so he couldn’t pick up a cheque. How would putting his contract on a blockchain have helped Robin Williams?
These case studies, and many more, give the impression that blockchains aren’t a viable asset so much as a melon dropping towards the pavement. The book is comprehensive, and well written. Certainly out of date date by now, but that’s hard to avoid – in fast-moving fields, a book can easily be out of date before it reaches publication.
The most interesting parts (which could have been elaborated on more) were the mental psychographies of bitcoin’s users. Cryptocurrencies are a selection filter for unusual brains. The concept is futuristic. The very name sounds Gibsonian. They massage your preconceptions and ideologies: you’re John Galt, Johnny Mnemonic, and . Sadly, they’re also attractive to scammers: the concept is complicated enough that you can bamboozle laypeople, but not so complicated that you can’t fake the jargon with a little practice.
I’ve seen bitcoin evangelists in action. They’re like robots. They probably aspire to be robots – robots that don’t need to eat or sleep or do anything except refresh market depth charts twenty four hours a day. Their arguing styles are almost thrilling in their casuistry and dishonesty. “Blockchains might be used for x” is equated to “blockchains are used for x”, which in turn is equated to “blockchains are the best solution for x”. Sometimes they bust out tu quoque arguments. “Fiat money is imaginary, too!” I don’t follow the logic. All money is worthless…so buy bitcoin?
But they’re making money. Or at least, they used to, and they’re convinced they will again, if they weather the storm of negativity and FUD stirred up by the enemies of freedom. In short, they’ve fallen prey to self deception. “I have invested in bitcoin. This can’t possibly be a bad decision, because this would mean I am stupid. And I’m not stupid, so investing in bitcoin was smart.” I think many of them will look back after the crash and wish they could erase every single post and Tweet they ever typed about bitcoin. But that day is not today.
When the Hindenburg fell, it fell hard, billowing fire across many acres. By then, its failure was obvious, but for the people on board this knowledge came too late to save them. Why not get ahead of the curve? Why not stay clear of the Hindenburg altogether? Attack of the 50 Foot Blockchain has all the information you need not to throw your money into the blockchain bubble, or at least to be very cautious if you do.
Remember how people said that Judas Priest is old? Obsolete? Yesterday’s news? Irrelevent? Remember how this was thirty years ago?
Judas Priest is now so cartoonishly old that it’s difficult to know how to relate to them. They formed a year before the first Black Sabbath album, and their story encompasses every single rock cliche in the book. The young, scrappy upstarts (the first album), the creative prodigies (the next few), the complacency and artistic rot (the few after that), the inspirational rally (Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith), the immediate collapse into self-parody (Turbo and Ram it Down), the even more inspirational comeback (Painkiller), the years in the wilderness following the loss of their singer (Jugulator and Demolition), the awkward picking up of pieces (Angel of Retribution), the self-indulgence Spinal Tappery (Nostradamus), and now we have their eighteenth album, Firepower, for which no storyline seems to apply.
The album’s firepower risks being overshadowed by the fireworks happening behind the scenes. Glen Tipton simultaneously revealed that a), he will not be touring with the band, and b), that he has Parkinsons, thus precipitating a). Additional controversy was provided by former guitarist KK Downing, who started rumors that Glen didn’t even play on the album. You know there’s a problem when your gay singer isn’t the most dramatic person in the band any more.
Firepower is hard to draw a bead on. On one hand it embraces nostalgia, mostly for the band’s Killing Machine and Painkiller sound. The title track and “Evil Never Dies” are both quite fast, and feature a downtuned approach to the angular E minor riffing that characterised Painkiller. But “No Surrender” and “Firepower” are quite consonant and radio-friendly, to the point of sounding like something from Rob Halford’s solo albums.
There’s no experimentation, and little blues (which is something I’ve always wanted Priest to revisit).
This contrast is found in the production job, which finds the band’s venerable early producer Tom Allom paired with veteran of the loudness wars Andy Sneap, who brickwalls Judas Priest relentlessly and leaves the listener little room to breathe among the overcompressed guitars. The overall package is entertaining and powerful, and even benefits a little from its fetishistic excess.
I wish it was shorter, but I also can’t pick which songs should be cut. They all have appealing moments, and good performances. Special attention must go to Halford, who sounds ridiculously good. The credits assure me the band still has a bass player, and I will take them at their word. Glen Tipton’s soloing (if it is really him) feels a little compromised. Probably the worst case is “Necromancer”, where he sounds like he’s wearing oven mitts. Ritchie Faulkner is more confident and poised, and strangely now one of the stronger points of the band.
As the final notes of “Sea of Red” fade like a bleached photograph, I’m left with a strange feeling: that this will never end. Judas Priest have always depicted fantasy in their lyrics and album covers. Perhaps the most fantastical was Stained Class, which depicted an android with a projectile embedded in its head. It’s not fantasy because of the android. It’s fantasy because it suggests Judas Priest can die.
Bitcoin (as conceived by the vaguely Galt-like figure of Satoshi Nakimoto) was supposed to be the next evolution of money. What were the earlier evolutions?
Once, money didn’t exist, and nobody needed to it exist. Early man was apparently a fission-fusion society, with all of its members able to provide the means of their own survival.
Then our brains grew bigger, our toolmaking more sophisticated, and a problem emerged: some new skills took a long time to learn. It was no longer possible for one person to be good at everything. We began to specialise – some dug storage pits, some wove nets, some fashioned spears. Humanity went from being freestanding pylons to a truss-frame bridge, each member relying on the other members to not fall down.
We began to trade our skills, establishing the first economy. Contrary to common belief, there isn’t much reason to think early man made use of a “barter” economy, with goods traded directly for other goods. The more common scenario was likely a economies based on gift-giving (as is seen in hunter gatherers today). Either way, with lots of gifts, and lots of giving, everyone received what they need.
But barter and gift based economies have a weakness: some things can’t be easily swapped or traded. If I make hats and you make houses, how are we supposed to transact? Do I get a house and you get a hundred hats? Do you get a hat and I get a half a retaining wall? Suppose you can’t begin building my house for six weeks, when the weather improves, but you want your hat right now? Is there any way we can conduct business?
Yes, but first we need a way of storing value. Suppose we take all the pebbles from a beach, and distribute them evenly among the tribe. If I make you a hat, you give me a pebble. If you build me a house, I give you a hundred pebbles. If you can’t build my house for six weeks, then I have assumed risk (you might not build the house), so maybe you’ll agree to only take eighty pebbles as payment for your work. Skilled and valuable people will be rewarded with lots of pebbles (proxies for hats, and houses, and fish). If your supply runs low, then perhaps it’s a sign that you’re taking more from the tribe than you are giving.
The system works so long as there are a fixed number of pebbles in circulation. It breaks down instantly if I walk further down the coast, discover a new beach nobody knows about, and put hundreds of pebbles in a wheelbarrow. Now my store of pebbles no longer matches my input of labor to the tribe. The market is distorted, people will lose faith in it, and the stability goes away. Maybe a fish is worth one pebble, maybe a thousand.
The requirements of money are manifest: it must be rare, hard to fake, and testable. In other words, you have to be able to trust it.
Money in the United States is issued by the Federal Treasury, and has sophisticated anti-counterfeiting measures, including a 3D security ribbon, a pair of matching serial numbers, and a watermark visible under UV light. It is hard to copy. I’m reminded of how Egyptian pharoahs would engrave their accomplishments on limestone, and sometimes they’d chisel out the names of the old pharoahs and replace them with their own. The Ramisside Dynasty ensured against this by carving their achievements in five inches deep into the stone. Trust is the heart of everything.
For centuries, most of the world used precious metals and stones. In other parts of the world, work-based currency was used: Oliva carneola snail shells painstakingly ground down to size, and threaded through with beads. They were labour intensive to make that nobody could crash the market with sudden injections of volume.
But using physical items as money has its own problem, and it’s a sneaky one that doesn’t seem obvious at first: deflation.
Economies usually grow. This is a very predictable fact about them. Populations increase (adding extra labour input), technology improves (adding a labour multiplier) and infrastructure improves (facilitating trade). And if there’s a fixed number of snail shells in circulation, each of them becomes capable of buying more and more product.
The result? People start hoarding snail shells, because if they spend them, they’ve traded an increasingly valuable item for a flat line. The economy slows down, because not enough people are actually using the currency.
In recent centuries, most countries have passed from a metallist system (where money is backed by precious metals) to a fiat system, where pieces of paper are valuable essentially because the government has decided that they are. This allows fine-tuning, and intricate control. If the economy is deflating, the government can introduce more money.
The only issue, again, is trust. How much do you trust your government? Do you think they’ll look out for your best interests? And even if they do, how much longer do you think your government will continue to exist for?
The fiat system seems to work. The grass grows and the trains arrive on time. But it’s hard not to feel like Wile E Coyote running off a cliff into empty air.
Bitcoin was supposed to be the next evolution of money. Unfortunately, at some point this new transitional form ended up at the bottom of a tar pit. More later.
Dillon Naylor is an Australian comic artist. His most remembered comic strip is Da’n’Dill, which I’m still uncomfortable in my ability to pronounce. It’s the verbal equivalent of a missing stair.
Da’n’Dill comics were endemic to Australia’s mid-90s landscape. They appeared in showbags, and were syndicated in newspapers. They were like a disease, apt to infest any blank piece of paper. Everyone read them. The concept was a riff on Mork and Mindy’s “aliens in suburbia”, but with a critical change. Naylor understood that comedy doesn’t come from insanity, it comes from conflict, and instead of a saccharine little girl, he made the Mindy character a thin-skinned, teeth-grinding nerd who was constantly having his plans foiled by the dumb, well-meaning aliens.
Naylor’s comics were funny. And they seemed even funnier when you were riding a sugar high on the train home from Luna Park. There are legends about how casinos hyper-oxygenate the air, to induce euphoria and compulsive gambling in their patrons. Naylor had this same racket all sewn up with the under twelve set.
Penni in Vegetaria is another of Naylor’s works. The setup is cute: it’s dinner time, and Penni doesn’t want to eat her greens. While hiding from her parents, she discovers an alien spaceship under a pile of leaves. She presses buttons, and is whisked away to a far-away planet inhabited by a race of giant sentient plants. The vegetable and fruit races are at war, and Penni is swept up in their conflict.
The story is safe, and layered with moralistic overtones. But there’s also some classic Naylor subversiveness: such as a funny visual gag involving a WWII-style POW camp (the prisoners are tomatoes, of course, because nobody’s sure which side they’re on).
Naylor’s art is wonderfully grotesque and expressive. Australian writers (Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman, Andy Griffiths) have always excelled at making twisted and disturbing nightmare fuel that actually isn’t objectionable at all, and Penni in Vegetaria is no exception. The comic itself is printed on incredibly thin A4 pulp, which might be a result of pro-plant lobbying. It’s pretty short and Naylor might have taken the concept further, if he’d had more pages (it’s a disappointment to see the fruit and vegetables fight each other with human weapons, rather than in some funny plant-based way. Also, I just know that Queen Broccoli was busy planning the Final Solution to the Tomato Problem.)
I’m not sure if there were more Tales from the Ovoid, or whether there’s any connection to the Da’n’Dill universe. Memory tells me that Penni is the sister of the aforementioned nerd, but this might not be true. It’s a pretty fun comic, and might be worth tracking down. Luna Park closed in the middle of the 90s, but then came back. Perhaps Naylor’s work is overdue for a similar renaissance.