Sunday Spectacle: What Should Humans Do?

THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE: I’m always interested in what Bruce has to say. His closing talk at SXSW this year is a real stemwinder. After warming up with a review of this year’s hot topics at South-by he takes a look at some possible UBI (Universal Basic Income) scenarios before entering into a full-on critique of our current moral cowardice and waning humanity. While Bruce thinks and writes a lot about things and ideas, these talks are always deeply about the human experience and what we can learn from history.

The Future: History That Hasn’t Happened Yet: Bruce Sterling Speech at SXSW 2017


OUR CREEPY PRESENT: I’m old enough to remember when every toddler didn’t carry around their own black mirror (i.e. smartphone or computer-gadget pacifier). It looks like the black mirror generation will be followed by the AI generation. How millions of kids are being shaped by know-it-all voice assistants.

“Toy giant Mattel recently announced the birth of Aristotle, a home baby monitor launching this summer that ‘comforts, teaches and entertains’ using AI from Microsoft. As children get older, they can ask or answer questions. The company says, ‘Aristotle was specifically designed to grow up with a child.'”


REAL PEOPLE: AV Club pointed me to these re-edited ads. Go to the link and watch all three!

“Chevy’s latest ad campaign relies on “real people, not actors” being absolutely flabbergasted at just how amazing the company’s cars are. So the folks at Zebra Corner decided to inject some actual reality into the campaign with a little help from no-nonsense Boston consumer “Mahk.” Unlike his fellow real people, who are blown away by every new reveal about Chevy, Mahk is skeptical about just why he’s supposed to be impressed by some giant doors and an award he’s never heard of.”

SHOULD I BE READING INDEPENDENT COMICS?: I don’t (think) I know anyone who reads comics, or at least I never have conversations with anyone well-versed in the current independent comic scene. Comics Alliance series “Should I Be Reading…?” is a tremendous resource when it comes to locating high-quality, independent comics online and in print. So much good stuff here, and so much of it is available to check out online. There’s a year and a half of regular reviews here. Bookmark it and check back often.

“When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With ‘Should I Be Reading… ?’, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.”


MODERN HERMITING: Excerpt from The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel about a modern-day hermit who lived in the wilds of Maine for 27 years avoiding human contact.

“He perched at the edge of the woods and meticulously observed the habits of the families with cabins along the ponds. He watched their quiet breakfasts and dinner parties, their visitors and vacancies, the cars moving up and down the road. Nothing Knight saw tempted him to return to his former life. His surveillance was clinical, informational, mathematical. He did not learn anyone’s name. All he sought was to understand migration patterns – when people went shopping, when a cabin was unoccupied. After that, he said, everything in his life became a matter of timing. The ideal time to steal was deep in the night, midweek, preferably when it was overcast, best in the rain. A heavy downpour was prime. People stayed out of the woods when it was wet.”



Sunday Spectacle: What Caught My Attention Last Week

I’ll see if I can make this a weekly feature.


STORY: The biggest thing for me this week was posting “The Conscience Switch” on Thursday. Check it out and let me know what you think. (And share the link if you like it!)

The seed for this story came as I lay in a hypnagogic state, partially napping before attending a Friday happy hour. It is an attempt at the Troutian/Vonnegutian morality tale. I read biographies of both Tesla and Alexander Graham Bell to add some verisimilitude. Bell really did make raspberry vinegar, and it’s completely possible they could have crossed paths in Colorado during the time indicated.

“All morning he watched reports of soldiers abandoning their posts, drone operators walking away from their consoles, billionaires donating substantial sums to charity, pundits recanting their hate speech, criminals turning themselves into the police, high-level politicians resigning their positions, priests and rabbis and pastors and imams admitting they didn’t believe in God. Every moment, someone was clearing their conscience.”


TROLLS & COURAGE: Lauren Duca, editor at Teen Vogue, is a complete badass. Unfortunately, that comes with a steep price. In her essay “To Trolls, With Love” she reflects on the desire to kick against the pricks, and to withdraw because of the avalanche of hateful abuse. If you read it, or follow her, send her some love and solidarity. @laurenduca

“I’m a warrior goddess, who can weather the worst of the misogynistic treasure trove, calling out explicit sexism, and slicing open stealthier versions, usually with a witty aside about your poor use of grammar. (Do they not teach contractions anymore, or… ?) I’m also human. I don’t know if this means I’m a “triggered snowflake,” but I’m not embarrassed that mean things make me feel bad. Burying pain under a too-thick layer of irreverence can only dull the feeling for so long. I can take it, and I will continue to take it, in part because a presence online is part of my job. That doesn’t mean it’s OK.”


PHOTO MANIPULATION: This Is Colossal points to these great photo manipulations by Antoine Geiger.

Antoine Geiger photography


MOON: There is now more confidence in the age of the moon. It’s about four-and-one-half billion years old.


FAIRY TALES: Mari Ness starts a new column about fairy tales over at with a look at the woman who coined the term, Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy, aka Madame d’Aulnoy.

“Along with others, Madame d’Aulnoy took distinct advantage of these possibilities, using her tales to comment obliquely on court life in Versailles and (as far as we can tell) her own experiences, specifically focusing on the intrigues and dangers of court life.”


OUR CREEPY PRESENT: Ambrosia is back in the news. Creepiest pseudo-science ever.

“Just off a winding highway along the Pacific coast in Monterey, California, is a private clinic where people can pay $8,000 to have their veins pumped with blood plasma from teenagers and young adults.”

I first heard about Ambrosia last August when Vanity Fair linked them to Peter Thiel.

“Given Thiel’s obsession with warding off death, it comes as no surprise that the Silicon Valley billionaire is interested in at least one radical way of doing it: injecting himself with a young person’s blood. On Monday, Jeff Bercovici of Inc. magazine published part of a year-old interview with Thiel, in which the venture-capitalist explains that he’s interested in parabiosis, which includes the practice of getting transfusions of blood from a younger person, as a means of improving health and potentially reversing aging.”


JOKES: I made up a joke! — Sign in my post office says they will start accepting the ruble as a form of payment on January 20.


SPIRITS: It’s not really absurdly complete, but there’s some interesting information about how environment and barrels affect the taste of whiskey. An Absurdly Complete Guide to Understanding Whiskey


POETRY: @Limericking tweeted the following —


ART: This underwater exhibit by Jason deCaires Taylor came through one of my feeds this week. I first saw these images a couple of years ago, but am completely enamored with the concept. They iinspired one of the stories I’ll be posting later this year.

Jason deCaires Taylor exhibit


WORDS: Carrie Frye at Black Cardigan asked her readers for their favorite words of 2016. Here’s what I sent her:


Abderitic is a neologism coined by Immanuel Kant in his essay “Is the human race constantly progressing?

He argues there are three potential futures for humanity.

“The human race exists either in continual retrogression toward wickedness, or in perpetual progression toward improvement in its moral destination, or in eternal stagnation in its present stage of moral worth among creatures.”

“The first we can call moral terrorism, and the second eudaemonism …, but the third we can term abderitism because, since a true stagnation in matters of morality is not possible, a perpetually changing upward tendency and an equally frequent and profound relapse (an eternal oscillation, as it were) amounts to nothing more than if the subject had remained in the same place, standing still.” — David D.

David D. also pointed to gynepunk, as his “new to me” word and “microbenevolence” as one he coined himself this year.


STATE OF THE WORLD: Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky on the State of the World 2017.

Back again for another twenty-first century edition of the WELL
State of the World! Who’s gonna collapse first: us pundits, or
“the World”?

On the face of it, this is the worst condition the SOTW’s world has
ever yet been found in. I do hesitate to bluntly state that,
because whenever you tell Americans a harsh truth nowadays, instead
of pragmatically taking some hands-on action to cash in (as was once
their wont) nowadays they tend to empty a bottle of Oxycontin and
float out on a paisley tide of weltschmertz.

I don’t intend to mince a lot of words here, as that is not our
tradition, but I would start by strongly urging you prize your
existence in 2017. Life is precious and shouid be valued, for it’s
easy not to have it. Besides, despair is an act of intellectual
arrogance. Despair implies that you’ve got it all figured out,
while the only sure thing about 2017 is a forthcoming boatload of
unheard-of surprises.

Although everybody expressed shock and surprise at world events
during 2016, I saw little evidence that anybody actually changed
their mind much yet. Scarcely anybody broke a filter-bubble;
positions simply hardened all around.

You’d think that having your 2015 weltanschaaung reduced to 2016’s
gonzo cartoon-status would cause everybody to undergo some healthy
reassessment of ground-state reality. But, no. Nowadays, that
sends confirmation-bias into overdrive.


EDITORIAL: I’m as confounded as anyone over what to do next or how to deal with what looks to be a weird and disturbing near future. But, if I was compelled to offer a little advice, here’s something I did in 2016 that is working for me.

Around spring or summer of 2016 I took a closer look at what I was reading. I sort of assumed I did a reasonable job of reading women and people of color, but when I took a closer look at the authors I unthinkingly gravitated toward I realized they were almost always white males. White males that typically shared my lefty/inclusive sensibilities, but white and male nonetheless. I decided to make a conscious effort to read more women and people of color. Instead of picking up Charlie Stross I picked up Nalo Hopkinson. Instead of reading China Mieville I read Carmen Maria Machado. I looked at my twitter feed and culled out a lot of white males I didn’t know and started paying attention to anyone who wasn’t a white, able, and male. I deliberately added diversity to my information diet.

It’s not much, I know, but it is something. I want to be a better listener, and to be a better question-asker. I want more knowledge about the world that isn’t my world.

It isn’t always easy. Those authors, my ‘favorite’ authors, are a comfort zone. It’s a cocoon I’m familiar with. In this new environment I find myself confronted with critiques I don’t fully understand. It takes time and effort to dig deeper and figure what those critiques mean instead of dismissing them and moving on to my next bon-bon of entertainment. Inside my own head I have to tell myself to shut up and listen. When I don’t understand something someone who doesn’t look like me is saying, I force myself to slow down and and take the criticism seriously. I read and research and think.

And, it’s working. Not quickly. Not completely. But I’m better now that I was this time last year. I still don’t have any answers, but I think I understand the questions, concerns, and critiques better than I did.

This year I’ll continue to do the same, and maybe be a little better for it.


ZORRO: And to conclude – Here’s Zorro!