Comet Fragments

It’s about time to clear out some links. In an sorta related note, I’m kinda thinking about bringing back a blogroll on this site. It was probably one of the things I enjoyed most about the old one. Only thing is. it seems pointless. I read so few blogs these days. But I don’t know, maybe a blogroll would get me reading more. Dunno. Anyway . . .

Why the environment needs a shorter working week: There’s a lot of reasons for a shorter working week. Not least of which is that a life of pleasant and creative leisure spent among beautiful things just seems like something we should all be striving towards. I mean, having to pin that goal to the survival of the planet is a bit depressing. Not as depressing as people who think society should be producing jobs and work but, still, it seems like symptom of an atrophied imagination.

First Ever Body Maps of Hallucinations Created: I just like maps of hallucinations, sensations, imaginary maps, maps of imaginary things, so on and so forth. Here there be dragons.

South Korea under Compressed Modernity: Just a book I want but Routledge so, you know, yikes! But I guess it’s like

The condensed social change and complex social order governing South Koreans’ life cannot be satisfactorily delineated by relying on West-derived social theories or culturalist arguments. Nor can various globally eye-catching traits of this society in industrial work, education, popular culture, and a host of other areas be analyzed without developing innovative conceptual tools and theoretical frameworks designed to tackle the South Korean uniqueness directly.

The conceptual tool is something called compressed modernity and, yeah, I’m curious.

Critical distance: redistributing Korean criticism: Keeping with South Korea for a moment, this is an interesting piece, though it’s a bit all over the place and academic for my tastes. I’m not totally sure what its point is, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

There Is Nothing Normal about One Million People Dead from COVID: This should probably all go without saying. What a world that would be!

Reading on a smartphone promotes overactivity in the prefrontal cortex and lowers reading comprehension, study finds: I think the argument about what’s better, screens, ereaders, or print was one of the dumbest arguments I’d ever seen until well . . . All the other ones? One side talked about “dead trees” and the other “the smell of books”. One side seemed to negate content while the other negated the senses. None of it seemed like a thing worth arguing about. But I personally hate reading on screens. Can’t retain it. But this study actually has some recommendations about how to correct for some of that. So useful? Maybe.

COVID has scientists rethinking how night owls work and sleep: Long and short of it is night owls did pretty well once they were able to set their own hours. I think this is an underexamined part of the whole mess — that is, some of the changes that are often treated as a bad thing were often, for some people, a pretty good thing. Some people prefer wearing masks in public and benefit from it. Some people, myself included, benefitted from more things moving online. Moving forward, I think we need to understand some of these benefits so that we don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. But, you know, we’ll probably douse the baby in gasoline if The Shareholders can turn a buck on it.

Not everyone is ready to unmask: Along those lines, an interesting piece on how many South Koreans like wearing a mask as a way to dodge lookism.

Comet Fragments

The temperature has dropped off the side of a cliff and I’m all caught up on school. It’s time for another link dump. So let’s get started.

The mysterious black hole of the Pacific Ocean: Apparently, this is just an optical effect, which is good because for a second there, I was concerned about the state of the world.

Hundreds of three-eyed ‘dinosaur shrimp’ emerge after Arizona monsoon: And there’s really nothing to worry about at all. Just try to ignore the three-eyed dinosaur shrimp. They’re just part of the beauty and wonder of nature. Fucking nature. At least, humans have their shit together. There’s still that, right? Humans?

Are US booster shots sapping the world’s vaccine supply?: I wish the ethical case was enough to get the rich countries to stop hoarding vaccines, get off their asses and start sharing the vaccines and the capacity to make them but, well . . . So maybe self-interest?

“If the coronavirus continues spreading anywhere in the world, it has the capacity to spread everywhere. Every new infection provides the virus with an opportunity to mutate, potentially generating a new variant—like the Delta variant, first identified in India in early 2021.”

This whole situation is fucking disgusting.


A letter to a refugee child who must ‘survive’ in a new country: This was really very touching. A lot of people are really being put through it these days and a lot more will be in days to come. (I have some bad news — these are still The Good Old Days.) So it’s nice to see someone reach out to help someone who is in the same situation they once were, even if it’s just with words. It’s much better than the usual approach of kicking out the ladder you climbed up, pouring boiling oil down on anyone trying to scamper up after you, then setting everything on fire because, well, why should anyone ever have anything easier than you?

South Korean Workers Dress Up As ‘Squid Game’ Characters To Protest For Labour Rights: There was a one day general strike in South Korea. Probably goes without saying (I hope it does anyway) but I’m on the side of the strikers. I hope they get everything they’re demanding and more besides. It’s good that people fighting for more than the shit they get.

Because like — what the fuck? We’re not a bunch of goddamn prey cows for the rich to feed upon. And it’s well past time the rich learned that. Again.

Aside from the strike itself, a thing that cheered me up (well, that’s a bit strong – let’s say ‘gave me some hope’) is the appearance of Squid Game at the strike. Basically, since that came out, I’ve seen it primarily talked about as a success story, heard about the craze it’s started, and seen it turned into shopping. That’s a bit depressing.

I mean, it’s basically impossible for an anti-capitalist piece of art to be more successful than Squid Game and yet it became a SUCCESS story and started shopping crazes. For someone like me, who has a pony in that race with their own book (TECHNICOLOR ULTRA MALL – SHOP NOW!) that’s just totally depressing. So seeing Squid Game being used in a strike rather than a shopping campaign? Seeing it being used to communicate the problems in a way that’s paired with action?

Good stuff.

Hurts So Good: The Culture and Science of Pain on Purpose: Speaking of good stuff.

My copy of Hurts So Good by Leigh Cowart arrived the other day. But, being a shallow fucker, I waited for my new bookmark to arrive before digging in.

I’ve known Leigh for . . . Phew, yeesh . . . A long time now. Leigh is one of the only people I know from the internet that I’ve ever had a skype conversation, let alone multiple ones, with. They’re a really fucking good writer and they have been for a long time. I can’t think of anyone who deserves to sell a book more than Leigh. So I was expecting the book to be good. I was not expecting it to be great. And I think this is a great fucking book.

It’s one of the best popular science books I’ve ever read. I don’t even know if I’d call it that. If it’s popular science, then it’s popular science for freaks not geeks. But it’s much more than that. It’s not a simple “explainer” but a really personal and powerful piece of writing. It delves into the question of masochism. Of all types and on all sorts of levels. It made me laugh and it made me wince. It made me think about things, including myself, in new ways.

One difference between a first rate book and a third rate book is a first rate books provides more questions than answers and a third rate book provides more answers than questions. Rather than an answer, the book has questions. The attempt to answer these questions uncovers a lot about science, sex, society, and even the duck billed fucking platypus – if you can believe it. The fucking platypus! I’ll never look at those fuckers the same way again.

That, to me, is the sort of writing I like. Something that starts with a question and then digs, just fucking digs, right into it. Shit that starts with an answer? Bores me.

Above and beyond its humor, its power, and its gruesome bits, Hurts So Good is an honest and profound inquiry into machoism. If you ask me, honesty is the most important quality of any piece of art — so important that even lies are allowed in its pursuit. And honesty is a quality that is too often lacking in art, writing, or anything these days. Maybe all days. All times. Here to never forever. But Hurts So Good is honest. And it’s fucking great.

So go buy it.

(I’m pretty happy with that bookmark too.)

Comet Fragments

One of my favorite progressions during this pandemic has been a set of ads on government TV. At first, early days, we were told to exercise. It was a thing we could do to stay fit and maintain our mental health while we stayed inside. Now, the ads are about exercising quietly. Not thumping around on the floor at all hours of the night. Helping to build a quiet a environment for your neighbors. It’s just such a clear example of adaptation in progress and the new problems created by yesterday’s solutions. You can just so clearly see what has gone wrong. Everyone staying sane is making everyone crazy. Shit happens, I guess.

Things from Albin Ljunghusen on Vimeo.

Anyway . . .

Degraded, And Not In The Fun Way: Just a short thing about the lack of decent exploitation or B-Movies, the spaces that created these things, and, what’s worse, the co-option of these movies by corporate America.

What’s not fine is the insidious effort to fill this vacuum by the very forces that cleared it out. The major studios, having funneled all of Earth’s money into their coffers through an annual handful of multi-hundred-million-dollar franchise-related paydays and/or the boardroom jockeying of venture capital, now want only for critical respect and the street cred of coolness. As the fanbases of superheroes and their ilk try their darndest to demand these markers of validity, raising an uproar every time a tentpole dips below the Certified Fresh line on Rotten Tomatoes and tweet-swarming those with the temerity to diverge from this enforced consensus, the films themselves have begun to meet them halfway. A troubling trend has taken shape, in which conglomerate output affects the appearance of exploitation and its adjacent traditions, without any of the underlying motivations or aesthetic daring that might threaten mass marketability. 

Rust (City) Never Sleeps: A short science fiction story by Paul Graham Raven written in the style of an ethnographic report. I liked this story. Aside from the content, part of the reason is, I tried to write a story in this style a few years ago –stepping back from a frustrating novel to attempt this approach– and did not meet with much success. It’s good to see someone make it work. Not an easy trick to pull off and it’s well executed here.

A Black Market for Rare Succulents Is Emerging Across the Globe: Succulents are being poached and sold on scales that imperil the species and biodiversity. I mean, you’d think that growing a succulent, some of the most inoffensive plants around would be a pretty benign thing. Doesn’t seem to be evil. Just growing a sedum or whatever. But you might be surprised. You might not. People have gotten carried away. Everything is so fucked up. Like, when there’s black markets in plants that don’t even induce The Creeping Bleak or send you into a conference call with the mechanical elves, things are fucked up.

What Does The Return Of The Unnecessary Belt Say About The State Of The World?: I don’t know exactly. It reminds me of Odo. Remember when he brought his belt back? But apparently the return of the unnecessary belt isn’t just to impress Major Kira. Instead

According to Dr. Carolyn Mair, a cognitive psychologist who specializes in fashion, we’re currently experiencing a similar zeitgeist to the early aughts, which was marked by fear of unknown advances in tech, global economic and political problems, and terrorism. Those fears remain present today, but with the added stressors of a pandemic. 

As a result of a sort of over-practical reaction in Year Zero of The Worm, people are now getting a little more frivolous. A little more fun and free. As for me, while I can’t see myself wrapping a belt around my waist if I don’t need it (but, these days, who knows, YOLO?, I guess) I’ve never understood the big attraction to strictly utilitarian items used in strictly utilitarian ways. That concept always reminds me of that weird sort of sub-theme in a lot of science fiction of a certain type and era, where no one wears ties because ties are pointless and people in the future are rational. And they’re all like: Ties? What mad superstition!

But could be something to it. Satan help me, there have been days lately, where I have seriously considered throwing a tie on over my t-shirt like I’m 17 again. So if ladies or whomever want to start wearing belts over naked bellies, not like I give a fuck.

Most of the power sector’s emissions come from a small minority of plants: Here’s a thing I find frustrating. Every problem we have feels so totally unmanageable and yet:

The study finds that many countries have many power plants that emit carbon dioxide at rates well above either the national or global average. Shutting down the worst 5 percent of this list would immediately wipe out about 75 percent of the carbon emissions produced by electricity generation.

Like, obviously more needs to be done to correct climate change, but fixing these plants just seems like such a relatively simple, straightforward, and impactful thing to do. A decent place to start, at least. It doesn’t seem like mission impossible. But, instead, we get straight-faced bullshit proposals like moving industry into outer-space. I mean, fix these plants, plant a shitload of trees, and move off coal and oil. These “solutions” reminds me of an addict with their increasing baroque convolutions to explain why they’re doing the thing at 10AM.

The WHO is right to call a temporary halt to COVID vaccine boosters: I would hope that we could find some way to have both boosters and stop hoarding vaccines. But, in the meantime, the important thing is that the wealthy nations stop hoarding vaccines, to distribute them to countries that need them, and ease up on the copyrights.

Choosing an unknown but potentially incremental benefit for a person in a wealthy country over a massive, life-saving one for a person elsewhere in the world is a losing strategy, because new variants will inevitably arise in places where the spread of COVID-19 continues unabated.

This whole mess requires some sort of global response. The necessity of a coordinated global response when dealing with infectious diseases is pretty much the whole reason the WHO exists in the first place. Nationalism is utter shit.


Comet Fragments

There are no good choices:

“The burden of decision-making and risk in this pandemic has been fully transitioned from the top down to the individual,” says Dr. Julia Marcus, a Harvard epidemiologist. “It started with [responsibility] being transitioned to the states, which then transitioned it to the local school districts — If we’re talking about schools for the moment — and then down to the individual. You can see it in the way that people talk about personal responsibility, and the way that we see so much shaming about individual-level behavior.”

And not just with the pandemic, imo. This shifting of responsibility has happened all across American life for some time now. I mean, it’s neoliberalism in a nutshell.

California wildfires: why a gender-reveal party got the blame, but shouldn’t have: I figure we can all pretty much agree that gender-reveal parties are just the worst and pyrotechnics are not a thing to do in the middle of fire season but

But blaming one person, one party, one poor decision or one freak accident avoids the necessary reckoning with collective responsibility. It moves the blame to individuals, giving the most powerful perpetrators of global heating – a roomful of chief executives and their corporate empires – a free ride. It also erodes the sense of urgency that’s vital for tackling climate change.

How Big Oil Misled The Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled: Speaking of that roomful of people

It may have sounded like an environmentalist’s message, but the ads were paid for by the plastics industry, made up of companies like Exxon, Chevron, Dow, DuPont and their lobbying and trade organizations in Washington.

Industry companies spent tens of millions of dollars on these ads and ran them for years, promoting the benefits of a product that, for the most part, was buried, was burned or, in some cases, wound up in the ocean.

Documents show industry officials knew this reality about recycling plastic as far back as the 1970s.

Life in the Forever Fires: Toward Serenity in an Apocalypse: About those boiling frogs

Here is what they don’t tell you about the frogs: prior to the experiment, each specimen was lobotomized. The parts of their brains that would sense distress, or danger, that would trigger their reflex to jump to the glinting edge of the pot and, if they were lucky, escape to the cool safety of the countertop: these were gone. And so 2020 came to California, and the sky filled with ash, and I was left wondering whether I still had the parts necessary for survival.


Comet Fragments

FC Seoul apologizes for putting sex dolls in stadium: Seems like a football club populated its pandemic emptied stands with sex dolls. My main takeaway here is just some weird sort of nostalgia — this whole story just seems like perfect vintage The Grumpy Owl blog topic. My other thing is that I’m happy the sex dolls are wearing masks but I have to believe that’s more to cover their suggestive mouths than to prevent disease considering they’re, you know, inanimate objects. Kind of weird we don’t think about our mouths more. Like, we basically shove food into some sort of facial sex/breathing/eating hole, that food gets chewed in, then it gets dumped into an internal meat bag where it’s soaked in acid, and none of this is even considered the weirdest or most disgusting part of eating.

Canadian Forces Snowbirds jet crashes in Kamloops, B.C., killing 1, injuring another: Speaking of vintage Grumpy Owl content, this example of that weirdly precise brand of Canadian incompetence that occurs at the exact intersection of tragedy and farce also has to be a competitor. Basically, the snowbirds, which are some pathetic attempt for Canada to showcase its military might (?!) and it’s unquestionable and famous dominance over the air (!) ended up crashing while doing fly-overs as part of its “cross-country tour to raise people’s spirits during the COVID-19 pandemic.” This shit is just so stupid. At the best of times, the snowbirds are crap propaganda for a thing that’s not even real or even important and they can’t even do that right. And these military jet tricks to raise morale? Fucking ludicrous. What a waste of money, now a life, and everyone’s time. Just scrap that shit. Has anyone ever looked at the snowbirds ever, in the history of the snowbirds, and felt their morale boosted?

Irish support for Native American Covid-19 relief highlights historic bond: In 1847, right after The Trail of Tears, the Choctaw nation somehow raised and gave money to help the Irish during The Great Potato Famine. Now, COVID-19 has his the Najavo and Hopi pretty damn hard and the Irish people are trying to return the favor and giving money here and you can too. I don’t like to get all judgey about people but I feel like if you even have a drop of Irish blood, you need to send some cash here. And, if you don’t have any such blood and you don’t send some money, I don’t ever want to see you drunk, wearing some fucking leprechaun hat, singing along with The Pogues on St. Patrick’s Day again. Consider those privileges revoked. So if you got something, give something. Pay your debts.


Comet Fragments

News roundup.

The writing moment: Three difficulties with writing in this time of upheaval: Coming via Paul Raven, this piece talks about the difficulties of writing and thinking about society at a time like this. For my part, I’m enjoying reading sociological work –some of it seems like sci-fi artifacts from some strange planet– and on the other, I’m currently taking a class in Meso American art history. There’s a lot about the Aztecs that suddenly seems a lot more comprehensible and resonant. Oh, and happy mother’s day.

The Hammer and the Dance: Why Reopening Now Will Kill: Look, we all want shit to be open. But there is a way of getting to the point where you can do that and it’s an uncertain and difficult way and, until you do that at least that much, there is just no way to reopen, and even if you do that much, it is difficult and maybe impossible. It’s the hammer and the dance.

If we reopen now, without nearly enough testing and virtually no contact tracing, we will have to lock down again once the next wave of the pandemic hits. We might be facing many months, possibly even years, of seeing cities and states open up their economies, followed by another eruption of cases, followed by yet another lockdown.

Coronavirus: Lessons From Asia: I had hoped that, by this time, some version of common sense (never very common but that’s another story) would prevail and that everyone would be learning from each other. Like, Europe and NA would see what happened in South Korea and China, learn from that, come up with something even better, that the next countries would learn from, and the response would just build and build, getting smarter at every step of the way. That’s not really how things turned out. But this short documentary has a pretty good overview of the different responses in Asia and what has happened. I would say though, the South Korean response is also a lot like Taiwan’s. You should probably view both of these countries as representing different components of the same response.

Live from WHO Headquarters – COVID-19 daily press briefing 11 May 2020: One thing that I really thinks helps to deal with this –not only in assessing local claims but also in keeping your head– is clear communication from people who actually have some idea what the fuck they’re talking about. It’s a little boring and dull but that’s kind of how it should be.

And, if you don’t have time for that whole thing, free up just a couple of minutes just to watch this bit of it –starting at 47:52– where so-called “herd immunity” is discussed.

Why Humanity Will Probably Botch the Next Pandemic, Too: An interview with Mike Davis about the whole mess. I really like Mike Davis. His book “City of Quartz” is about the best history of LA that you’ll ever read and, really, should be read by anyone and everyone. (Oddly enough, I think it was Paul Raven who first recommended this book to me – so thanks Paul, and it took me years to get around to reading it, as does, but I did, which I usually eventually do.) He really nails LA, fucking exactly, with that book.

The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months: If you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic or just to have a little hope — this is a good one. A sort of real life Lord of the Flies happened and the kids were alright. They acted decent.

But the general reaction to this makes me wonder if I have some problem with my basic reading comprehension. Like, everyone is saying that Lord of the Flies is some broad statement about “human nature” in general that this incident disproves its thesis. That Lord f the Flies is about a descent into barbarism and out of civilization, where the human soul is supposed to be shown. I never read it that way. I always read Lord of the Flies it as a critique of British society, and the kids as not so much descending into being “primitive” but re-inventing their perverse civilization from the ground up, rendering not their souls but that civilization naked — in all its monstrosity. Seems that I often get the totally wrong message out of books. That said, I usually prefer my reading.


Comet Fragments

Building dense cities was California’s cure for the housing crisis. Then came coronavirus: This perspective that LA’s sprawl and car dependence has protected it from COVID 19 is one that I’m starting to see again and again. Frankly, it is some of the plain dumbest shit I’ve ever seen in my life.

Like, it’s right in the article:

Highly populated cities in Asia, including Seoul, South Korea; Tokyo and Hong Kong, have seen a fraction of New York’s cases. The same is true for America’s next densest big city, San Francisco, which issued a shelter-in-place order nearly a week before the East Coast metropolis. As of Saturday, the Bay Area city had reported only about 1,300 confirmed cases — compared with more than 8,450 in the city of Los Angeles.

It’s just like – hey motherfuckers, obviously density is not the problem. And as for building LA dense, far as I could see, that project largely consisted of putting seven story luxury condos near subways, thus forcing working people to live at greater distance from it, and turning public transit into a fucking amenity. I love LA but the place is fucking bonkers. And I’ll never get why America always believes the solutions are the problems. Ass backwards bullshit.

‘Heads we win, tails you lose’: how America’s rich have turned pandemic into profit: Fuck these people. Seriously.

The Essential Workers America Treats as Disposable:

The system does discriminate. So people working from home now, bored and frustrated that they have to home-school their kids, they have no idea how much death and illness is rampant in the communities that we represent. And that is deeply disgusting.

Therapists Are Teaming up to Give Free Sessions to Essential Workers: This story was shared out by my old union and I’ve got to say . . .

Look, I’m in favor of everyone getting the help they need. But I’m also wary of the role psychology, filtered through HR departments and business productivity courses, plays in propping up some of The Evil Bullshit. It too often confuses health with productivity and locates what can be A REAL FUCKING PROBLEM in the worker’s psychology. As it does so, it removes politics, absolves the bosses of any blame, and pathologizes what might be a totally correct reaction to a completely fucked up situation. It often puts workers on some misguided and trrite project of “self-improvement” rather than direct them towards political action. When cashiers are suffering from PTSD, yes, they need treatment. They probably also need their workplaces re-organized. They need to get rid of the source of the trauma.

Having said that, if you need the help, get it. Some of this stuff is damage control and, god knows, there’s a lot of damage. I’m just saying, the causes of this damage must also be dealt with. And those causes are not in your head. They are real.

Safety: Bosses Want to Fix the Worker, Unions Want to Fix the Job: Along those lines.