Category Archives: Thoughts

Revisiting Nine Inch Nails’ Year Zero Ten Years On

Nine Inch Nails’ album Year Zero was released in April 2007 to the excitement of many, myself especially. I’ve been listening to NIN for over twenty years so in normal circumstances it would’ve been welcome, but the idea of a dystopian concept album criticizing our government’s actions at the time held extra purchase. I purchased both singles (Survivalism and Capital G) on the day they were available, as well as the album. Savagely critical of George W. Bush’s administration (among others) Year Zero felt like a revelation then. And given the election of Donald fucking Trump and its upcoming ten-year anniversary I decided to jump deeper into it and see how it holds up. Concept set in 2022 the album is startlingly accurate for what looks to be our path rather than a decade aged.

Year Zero’s first track is the non-lyrical song Hyperpower. It’s a savage introduction packed tight with menace and shouting voices. It’s also eerily reminiscent of the Hate Song in Orwell’s 1984 complete with a “savage, barking rhythm…that resembled the beating of a drum. Roared out by hundreds of voices to the tramp of marching feet, it was terrifying.” Hyperpower begins, as most 1984-type marches, not with collective action but the sinister directions of a leader. The guitars cut in, then the chants. As the chants continue the tension of a counterguitar ramps up tension until a third guitar sample cuts in. The track, the march, has reached a tipping point and become an emergent phenomenon zagging across all previous narratives and signifying the terrifying loss of control. All hell breaks loose. There are screams and corrosive feedback. Then a gasp of silence.

For just a beat or two, and then The Beginning of the End cuts in with a raw, driving drumbeat. Reznor sets it up with smooth warnings. “Down on your knees you’ll be left behind/this is the beginning/Watch what you think, they can read your mind/This is the beginning.” The pace is relentless – the song starts with the fear of being isolated from society but immediately begins to show how toxic and dangerous that society’s become. Immediately we’re left feeling alienated, as the song’s subject no longer recognizes their own reflection. The idea that society’s progressed is questioned, and the dishonesty by which we survive – “We think we’ve climbed so high/Up all the backs we’ve condemned. We face no consequence/This is the beginning of the end.” There’s a clear corollary in the Bush years to our actions as a nation-state but this reads much darker in the wake of Trump’s election. The assumption of lack of consequences has become microcosmic but in an extremely distributed way, now applicable to personal actions – thus the rise of mosque and synagogue vandalism, attacks on people of color, the public adoption of and evangelism for Nazi ideology. And in each case the idiot feels entitled to act with no consequence.

From the first line the song introduces consequences, though (“you’ll be left behind”). Being left behind doesn’t seem so bad until you realize you’re forced to give up what’s left. And Reznor then addresses a predatory society in which you take what you can in a zero-sum game, depriving others haphazardly. The venture capitalism and financial engineering of the Bush II era holds no candle to what we’re seeing now as far as bold and heartless vultureism, the cynical money-grabs of mortgage and payday lenders, the lies we depend on for derivatives market securitization and the ad-revenue model of the internet. But the song ends on a note of warning – that our personal cognitive failure to see the consequences of our actions really is the beginning of the end. That seems born out by so many events.

The next track -and the most popular, Survivalism – continues the emphasis on predation and societal ego but focuses in particular on ecological issues.

“I should have listened to her
So hard to keep control
We kept on eating, but
Our bloated belly’s still not full.
She gave us all she had but
We went and took some more
Can’t seem to shut her legs
Our mother nature is a whore.”

Survivalism starts with and regularly revisits an incessant, distorted buzzing as if an angry swarm lay just beneath the surface. That threatening drone is cut off only by the chorus, which switches from “we” to “I” as the chorus addresses engagement with society at a personal level.

“I got my propaganda
I got revisionism
I got my violence
In hi-def ultra-realism
All a part of this great nation
I got my fist
I got my plan
I got survivalism”

The song begins with ecological devastation and has now moved to the I. The swarm is momentarily obfuscated as we follow Reznor’s rabbit hole from a collective, diffuse responsibility to the immediacy of a particular subject’s contributions and withdrawals from society. The first five deal with selfish and destructive comforts the subject has had to surround themself with in order to get by: propaganda, revisionism, flashy simulated or simply relayed real-world well-detailed violence, nationalism. But the song then pivots to consequences. The subject’s comforts won’t be as effective considering the trajectory of the nation. A collapse approaches. So the subject self-soothes with the idea that they’ll survive through force, wits and savagery.

After the first chorus we see society descend into chaos; sirens, rifles, marching, global fuckery. Self-deception after a loss of faith regarding their original beliefs which have been traded for this barbarist ideology.

Survivalism ends after the subject is given one last chance to move towards society and environmental health again. That chance is spurned. While Bush II EPA and climate change steps were appalling, after an attempt at remedying them we are confronted by a different monster and his minions. A monster that appoints the head of the EPA a man who has sued it over a dozen times and takes actions against national parks that tweet about climate change. His followers closely fit the pattern of the song – self-deceiving environment exploiters who cling to propaganda, revisionism, depicted violence and the fantasy that they will persist and even thrive in the case of a societal collapse.

Me, I’m Not presents an internal conversation in which the subject initiates changes internal and external, again finds themselves sort of disbelieving what they’ve become. It feels like they’re a small part of an avalanche that’s careening faster and faster down a mountain. And having considered this darkness within, they make a conscious decision not to stop.

Capital G presents a fascinating foresight to Trump voters and current circumstances. It presents as the slow, simplistic, proud confessional of someone who pretty much knows and admits that his vote enabled war crimes. It highlights the tension between rejecting any kind of responsibility for their own circumstances (financial exploitation, climate change, voting mistake) while demanding accountability of others.

“I pushed the button and elected him to office, and
He pushed the button, and he dropped the bomb
You pushed the button, and could watch it on the television
Those motherfuckers didn’t last too long
I’m sick of hearing ’bout the have and have-not’s
Have some personal accountability
The biggest problem with the way that we are doing things is
The more we let you have, the less that I’ll be keeping for me.”

The song provides more and more interesting corollaries to our present circumstances, such as trading all your previous morals and ethics in order to stand behind a powerful figure. In doing so they’ve forgotten their original fortitude and dignity, ending up on their hands and knees just to appease the boss. It’s a piece-by-piece buildup of both Trump supporters and the Republican party leaving behind any previous scruples and lowering themselves to menial, humiliating service and aggressive atavism. But there’s an explicit warning in the midst of this to the presumably horrified listener: “There’s a lot of me inside you/Maybe you’re afraid to see.”

My Violent Heart continues the idea of a movement initiated by the broken but in truth a consequence of the society at large, now reaping what they have sown. The Great Destroyer stands as a sickly sweet discussion on surveillance and the inner struggle of someone fully conscious that they’re thoroughly different than the regime and both afraid of and anticipating their own magnificent power.

The parallels continue. They’ve not only held up over time but deepened in the midst of the last three months and specter of the next four years. It’s just that Reznor’s projected date of 2022 was… optimistic.

Post-inauguration Podcast List

Now that Trump has been sworn in it’s more important than ever to seek out valuable and credible information sources. In that spirit I suggest the following podcasts to subscribe to and prioritize to stay up to date and well-informed on current and emerging national security, domestic and foreign policy issues.

Arms Control Wonk – The nuclear weapons, arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation podcast. Companion to the popular Arms Control Wonk blog (www.armscontrolwonk.com). Hosted by Jeffrey Lewis & Aaron Stein. – Arms control experts discussing timely current events topics in the areas of and with the benefit of their expertise. Great for dispelling misinformation and pointing out bad reporting.

Intelligence Squared and Intelligence Squared USTwo great sources for lively discussion and debate, great for expanding the perspectives you consider.

LawfareCompanion podcast to the Lawfare blog, often with talks or panel discussions on national security issues.

Rational Security – A weekly discussion of national security and foreign policy matters hosted by Shane Harris of the Daily Beast and featuring Brookings senior fellows Tamara Cofman Wittes and Benjamin Wittes. – I often disagree significantly with the views put forth here but they’re always intelligent and well-informed and listening and engaging with the views is always beneficial.

Newsletter just shipped

The seventh issue of my newsletter on security, technology, society and other issues just shipped! You can sign up for it over here. In it I talk about rolling dumpster fires, drones, and my big fear about artificial intelligence – not that it will be super smart, but that its stupidity will be weaponized.

Check it out when you get the time!

Some Bits and Pieces

via @m1sp,

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via @robertloerzel,

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via @science_hooker, @lornalou92‘s ‘A Scot’s Lament for Americans, Oan their election of a tangerine gabshite walloper.’

via @museumarchive, a 6th century Buddha statue found in a Viking grave in Sweden.

via @valaafshar, what happens when you toss a pot of boiling water in -25 degree air.

and via Bill Tozier, an intriguing question that’s gripped my brain since he asked it:

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And to finish off for the evening: Kate McKinnon opens SNL by singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” That broke me a bit in a lovely and haunting way.

Colour out of space, touch out of type

Fun, fascinating realization while writing about something totally unrelated this morning. So, I’ve known for a long, long time that I have synesthesia – it’s a lifelong neurological mechanism where sensory input in one arena reliably triggers sensation in another. For instance, the most common form is for certain letters or numbers to appear in particular colors. But synesthesia can affect spatial orientation, physical sensation like touch and texture, sound and taste.

In my case, words both written and spoken have an immediately tactile quality – touch, pressure and texture.

I’m now in a work environment where roughly 50% of my patients speak primarily Spanish, and while I have a very basic grasp of Spanish I’ve been hesitant to engage with them and instead rely on coworkers that can translate. Part of that is that my Spanish has atrophied, but another big part I couldn’t put my finger on until this morning as I sat writing about sensation in an entirely differently way.

It’s been so long since I regularly used or was exposed to Spanish that I forgot it has an entirely different tactile quality than English for me – it triggers totally unique physical sensations. And I’ve not felt them regularly for at least a decade and a half. This connection came to me in a split second and fits so perfectly with my physical experience of being in a Spanish-speaking environment again.

I took four years of Spanish in high school, had excellent teachers and enjoyed it very much but even before I knew about synesthesia recognized that it “felt” different than English. My post high-school experience with Spanish consisted mostly of translating Spanish poetry into English for fun and to keep the Spanish fresh in my brain, but also for the pure physical/neurological experience I derived from it. I also watched Spanish-language TV a bit to keep my listening skills sharp but that felt different and I did it less.

I was writing about color and texture in painting this morning and it all just sort of clicked.

Thinking Machines Thinking Of Machining Us

(This is the featured meat of this week’s newsletter, which just went out. If you want to subscribe you can find it here.)

 

Thinking about artificial intelligences a lot lately. Our thinking about machine thinking feels like it’s matured significantly over the past six months or year, entered a new phase. Most of the conversation seemed stuck for a while on fears like Bostrom’s paperclip maximizer – the idea that an AI programmed even to a trivial task could be dangerous because it thinks machinistically. That, programmed to create paperclips, an AI would consider humans detrimental to its programming because they might unplug it, and also humans are made up of a lot of atoms that could be better served assembled into more paperclips. The logical issues with overblown fears like the paperclip maximizer are astounding – first and foremost, it pretends we can think non-biologically about how an AI will approach biology, or really any task. The argument invalidates itself by wrapping around the idea that we can in no way conceive of how AI will “think.” But, apparently, we can know enough to be afraid of it. In fact, we can guess enough about its possible thought processes to consider it an existential threat, according to Bostrom!

The idea that non-biological intelligences will “think” in ways totally alien to us is not new, but I’ve seen it explored a lot more lately, and with a lot more depth. It’s entering more conversations about AI in general and our interactions with it in particular. Take AlphaGo, for instance – Google’s deep learning program devoted to playing the board game Go. AlphaGo’s faced four matches with the second best Go player in the world, winning the first three (the fifth has yet to be played). The ability to watch and analyze in detail human-AI interaction can produce some astounding insights, and in this case seems to point to an entirely new way to approach Go gameplay.


Delving into the idea of nonbiological artificial intelligence in a different way is Injection, a comic written by Warren Ellis with stunningly beautiful art by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire. Injection’s relatively new – issue 8 comes out this week – but quickly becoming a favorite comic of mine thanks both to the art and the wonderful ways in which Ellis intertwines things like technology, philosophy and folklore. It involves a crossdiscipline team of varied experts including Brigid Roth, a hacker and programming phenomenon who, well, had a bit of fun with the Turing Test…


Injection goes much, much deeper into the issue of machine intelligence, in fascinating ways. And I’m excited to see where Ellis takes it, especially given the richer environment. We might be ready for this conversation. We might. Injection approaches it in a great way, though – through a lens not necessarily but not unlike horror. And as Eugene Thacker (who I talked about in the last issue of this newsletter) states, horror is a way to think about the unthinkable, a way to process past what might be the limit of human thought. Using horror to approach nonbiological intelligence – a form and function of “thought” that we cannot comprehend – is nothing short of perfect, a sort of speculative machine intelligence metacognition.

I Blame Zimbardo

People continue to be flabbergasted that the anger behind Donald Trump’s support has not burned itself out yet. It must, they often insist, consume itself and leave former supporters gripped by boredom, lackadaisical, having spent their energy in acts of political catharsis before averaging out and backing a candidate of more substance, closer to the aims of the Republican Party. This is true for observers on both sides of the aisles and they’re both thoroughly wrong. It’s the kind of thinking, oddly enough, that led to the hallucinatory 2008 and 2012 predictions widely circulated within the Republican party (though both parties are guilty of this at random times) that they were about to win the presidency – a disconnect from the ground-level reality behind campaigns.

To offer a more grounded view of Trump’s supporters than I did in my previous post (regarding philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, Trump and Dante’s Inferno) let me turn to one of the most basic parts of any Psychology 101 curriculum for decades.

The support behind Trump is the Stanford Prison Experiment writ large with all the ethical and methodological issues still intact.

In 1971 psychology professor Philip Zimbardo began a two-week experiment in the basement of a Stanford University building in which students were divided up into guards and prisoners. Guards were given uniforms, batons and mirrored sunglasses to avoid eye contact. Prisoners were forced to wear uniforms with their prisoner number on them, and referred from there on as that number. Guards policed the prisoners in their cells and a few other confined areas, ensuring they acted “appropriately” and punishing displays of defiance.

By the second day both groups began to assume their assigned roles in big ways. Guards became much more authoritarian and began to target and torment prisoners in various ways. Prisoners began to defy that authority, act out, block access and respond with anger, hostility and hopelessness. Steps such as the removal of clothing or the refusal to let prisoners empty the “sanitation buckets” in their cells were taken, stripping prisoners of essential dignity. The entire experiment spiraled into a mountain of increasing ethical violations until a graduate student assigned to interview prisoners objected to the conditions.

It took less 6 days for the experiment to go so badly that it had to be terminated. Both prisoners and guards identified so deeply with their roles that they treated each other savagely. Six days.

I spent a few hours looking at the Trump corners of twitter and facebook today (for two good samples, check Mitt Romney’s facebook page and then go search “Mr Trump” on twitter – diehard supporters love using the “mister”). Reviewing the rhetoric of Trump supporters brought me to a conclusion: this is the Stanford Prison Experiment inscribed on presidential politics, graffiti’d like a vulgarity scratched on a lamppost. Trump supporters see themselves as prisoners and want to be the jailers, but in the meantime assume the roles they feel they’ve been forced into.

Zimbardo’s instructions for guards before his experiment began are preserved publically and quite on point here:

“You can create in the prisoners feelings of boredom, a sense of fear to some degree, you can create a notion of arbitrariness that their life is totally controlled by us, by the system, you, me, and they’ll have no privacy … We’re going to take away their individuality in various ways. In general what all this leads to is a sense of powerlessness. That is, in this situation we’ll have all the power and they’ll have none.”

And this is exactly what you see in the complaints of Trump’s political base – they are both bored and fearful, and feel that the world has exacted some terrible price upon their individuality and personal agency. They bemoan the total control that they perceive the government to be exerting and at the same time identify with it, often wanting to exact similar or worse upon their own enemies. To repeat: they’ve assumed the roles of powerless prisoners but fantasize of themselves as the jailers, using sadistic violence, vitriol and privilege manipulation to control and punish those they see as weaker. Shows of force are highly extolled virtues – everything else is met with sneering contempt (I’m again reminded of the Warren Ellis character presidential candidate Bob Heller – you can find a few relevant panels at the bottom of this post).

They have the anger of those who feel their dignity is assaulted every day, and so take on the mantle of the Undignified. No amount of dialogue or statesmanship is going to make a bit of difference in that case – it’s why appeals to presidential dignity like Romney’s today will be met with Trump explicitly saying Romney would’ve given him oral sex for an endorsement in 2012, for instance, to the raucous applause of his supporters and enthusiastic approval from his political base.

The Republican leadership – any leadership, really, but the Republican in particular – has no idea what to do with this. This kind of self-identification isn’t just a sort of fad-anger that can be redirected or tamped. And surely bringing people like Mitt Romney to try and stamp it out only fans the flames – in him they see another captor, an establishment jailer who they nonetheless picture themselves in the role of. They want to be successful capitalist so badly, the Bain Capital executive, the man in the pressed suit. But that desire to be Romney can’t become conscious and so is sublimated back into the unquenchable anger of a population that feels it’s been forced into indignity and barbarism.

They’ve been given a role, and they will play it until the experiment’s over. That they don’t see Trump as another jailer – one that’s bankrupted numerous legitimate business and crushed countless people much closer to the level of the supporters – is an artifact of fantastic marketing on Trump’s part. As long as he feeds the anger he gives them the only sense of agency they have.

The War On Users

This piece just went out in the weekly newsletter, along with breach, robot and TSA news and some breaking news about a voter information breach. You can subscribe to the newsletter here or read the current issue here.

A few weeks ago I send myself an email. Because oddly it’s still the easiest way to move individual files from one device to another. I send it without subject or content, just the attachment. A few seconds later the email hits my tablet but I can see even without opening the email that there’s content.

What’s this, then?

Opening the email I find that my antivirus attached a signature at the end of my email advertising itself. “This email was scanned by Avast Antivirus and is safe!” or some similar foolishness. Of course, never having authorized the program to attach signatures to my email I was more than a little curious and annoyed. Digging into the program I found that since I had updated the program engine that day it added a function to attach its own signature to my emails and then automatically opted me in without so much as a courtesy notification. This kind of thing, of course, is not the way legitimate software acts. This is the stink of malware. So I abandoned the antivirus I’ve used and recommended for years and wondered just what the hell they were thinking.

Avast’s egregious fuckery falls into place with a dynamic that’s seized the technology world and undone decades of careful work: put simply, it’s a war on users. User loyalty is no longer a prominent dynamic, nor is usability. Nearly every service I use now puts things in between me and what I want to get done. Apple’s Music app reworked the user interface to advertise its own junk before you could actually get to a place to play your music that you had on your device. Google Play Music now does the same thing, spawning me into the “Listen” screen where they want me to buy their streaming service. It takes me an extra few clicks to just get to my damn MP3s. Twitter’s begun destroying its own usability by displaying tweets out of chronological order in timelines.

There is a war on users and what suffers is not only our productivity and efficiency but really the enjoyability of the platforms pulling these shenanigans. I shouldn’t have to paw through three different screens just to get to the music I bought through your app. I know you have new streaming services or some exclusive concert you’d like me to listen to. I don’t care. We spent three decades perfecting user interfaces according to User Experience (UX) guidelines – make things simpler, easier, faster. And we’ve undone that in the span of three years just to badger people into buying extra crap.

I had a nightmare once that coin-operated video game arcades never existed as we know them (and I have fond, fond memories of spending hours in Hampton Beach arcades feeding in quarter after quarter). In the nightmare you only got to the games after watching a revenue-generating advertisement and then passing through a series of screens “offering” extra paid services of the arcade. We got what we paid for but only after we saw what they wanted – and we all accepted it.

The war on users goes beyond UI and UX considerations. It’s obstructionist product placement. Word-of-mouth is no longer the goal for these services. They demand captive ears and eyes. And short of building our own platforms we suffer at their whims.

This is the future. Things should be getting easier for us, right?

Fucking with the Data Gods

First of December and my head’s still stuck in early AD, maybe even late BC. Still thinking about one of the images from my last post – namely, pre-Christian Britons depositing weapons and riches into lakes to honor and impress the gods. It hit me after writing about that in one context (projecting Fiction Conditions) that it serves well in another. I’m taken right now by how well it describes our current approach to data.

As valuable as it is, we toss our data in lakes with all the rest. We toss it in as tribute to the Data Gods in exchange for the hope that they’ll grant us favor, extend useful services, light a path towards prosperity and productivity. And we offer data to project current or idealized status as well – instagramming delicious-looking meals, vlogging the unboxing of expensive gadgets, curating and authoring tweets to portray a certain image. Young people broadcast pictures of themselves holding wads of cash. Older people curate their daily activities and accomplishments for others to marvel at. We’re projecting to peers rather than the gods, but the latter could hardly fail to take notice. I’ve not yet seen a social media algorithm tailored to call people on their bullshit.

(That’s what we’re supposed to do, I suppose.)

Our idealized or weaponized self-data joins the rest in the lake and, as Briton axes, the lake itself is conquered by Romans and sold off to speculative entrepreneurs looking to recover, sort and profit off the contents. They do this in the hopes that they’ll eventually be the conquering Romans – and then the gods themselves, having preempted the established order by lighting just the right signal fire on just the right hill. We’re the Postconquered. We thought we were giving to the gods and gave ourselves to the Romans instead. Who promptly sold us to the Shkrelis.

George Dyson’s SALT talk had a great image, that of canoe construction. Canoes are built in one of two ways: in environments with little wood, only the frame is built from wood and a skin is stretched over it. In wood-rich environments canoes are dug out from larger blocks of wood reflecting the resource abundance. We now approach information in the latter way, carving information out of much larger blocks.

Now that we take such an active role in that, even our dugout methods produce data. As does, of course, commercial activity. And we now seem to be incentivized to keep making canoes and keep engaging in transactions not for the commercial value but the data value. The details are more valuable than the material-driven profit. We’re on the radar screen of the data gods and it only refreshes when we produce more data – so they want us to keep producing data for data’s sake.

I’m left thinking, in the end, of Gemma Galdon Clavell’s charge from FutureEverything 2015: get acquainted with your data-double and then sabotage it.

Imagine an entire nation of lakes sold off on the speculation that they contain insight-heavy riches only to discover they’re little more than mud and oil-slick mirages. The few services tossed our way – the Gmails, the Twitters – crumble as they realize the lakes are fouled, the data spurious. But not immediately. Much like the whole online ad business seems to be built on flimsy, deceptive foundations big data could persist for a while. Could fool itself and the tiers of business that filter down from the hilltop.

Until a reckoning. Or until a disruptive signal fire is lit for all to see.

Geldon Clavell’s charge in mind do we continue as the Postconquered data sources, or do we begin to fuck with the gods?

Competing Magics and Fiction Conditions

Leaving my mid-Manhattan hotel to write at the Starbucks across the street: almost a smart idea.

Almost because: it is blasting Christmas music on November 29th. An impossibly young-sounding baby wails from the lower level trying to make its discomfort heard over the louder wail of festive saxophones.

I hear you, kid. I hear you.

Headphones are an option for me of course. One I’ve chosen. But there’s a problem: I’m primed to attend to underlying patterns and background stimuli. With that priming background music pops out from behind whatever I have playing.

I attend to the background. It’s a defense mechanism since that’s where my comfort lies. Conversations filter through even as I try to meld into the wall. Festive saxophones switch out for playful trumpets and well-meaning crooners intruding on my playlist.

Every time Christmas comes around I end up thoughtful about the period when Christianity overtook Paganism, especially through Briton eyes. The pagans saw it as a landscape of competing magics, according to archaeologist Barry Cunliffe among others. That war all but ended as Saint Patrick defied tradition to light the signal fire on the Hill of Slane first – rather than that on the Hill of Tara, as an insult to the primacy of the pagan nobility of Tara.

Magics never stop competing. They change and morph and adapt – or they’re not magics. More than fifteen hundred years after Patrick’s king-of-the-hill game I am surrounded by the recent trappings of his faith – now manifested in a jolly piano tune about travel, snow, something about a fire. The front window of this Starbucks is pasted with holly and mistletoe decals. Someone somewhere is upset that my coffee cup is red and lacks overt deference to the upcoming holiday.

Most people don’t give a shit.

Magics never stop competing, especially in New York City, I’ve found. This is my second trip here in three months – and the twenty years before that. The personal enterprise and entrepreneurship on display still hasn’t ceased to amaze me. Every corner in Manhattan someone else trying to make it work, but even more than that, trying to make it look like it’s working. The appearance, the display, the forward-looking optimism that whatever magic they’re weaving is working. That the mere portrayal that it’s working adds to its arcane power and future momentum.

British writer Warren Ellis recently charged an audience to act like they live in the Science Fiction Condition – “like you can do magic and hold séances for the future and build a brightness control for the sky. Act like you live in a place where you could walk into space if you wanted.” Britons have excelled at that kind of projection for ages. They used to toss all manner of weapons, coinage and other riches into various lakes not just as religious tribute but as a forward-looking projection of how they wanted deceased to appear in the afterlife. Not to indicate current status – but to display their own sort of Fiction Condition even to the gods.

And as magics go, so this went – the conquering Romans later sold interests in British lakes to entrepreneurs looking to recover their riches. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords may be no basis for a system of government, but it seemed to work fine as a basis for speculative investment. It can’t be any sillier than the securitization of mortgage clearing-house fraud that exploded in 2008, anyway.

Paradigms change – entire worldviews – and we’re all still looking to show the future how great we are there, even if we’re not quite there yet.

Someone a few tables over is talking about an app they’re building. The speakers are promising good times to come through happy, sentimental jazz. I’m maintaining my own Fiction Condition for the moment.

And still wondering what lake to drain for my treasure.