Still putting out


There’s a strange way in which today’s capitalism is repeating in reverse the early capitalism in which although workers are, in reality, wholly dependent on capitalism, they are formally – legally and ideologically – treated as independent contractors. This spurious reconfiguration of the worker as entrepreneur unites informal workers in the third world and precarious workers in the first

This is something that struck me very strongly when reading The Making of the English Working Classes. Industrialisation


with outsourcing. Or rather, with


, which Weber describes like this:

The peasants came with their cloth, often (in the case of linen) principally or entirely made from raw material which the peasant himself had produced, to the town in which the putter-out lived, and after a careful, often official, appraisal of the quality, received the customary price for it. The putter-out’s customers, for markets any appreciable distance away, were middlemen, who also came to him, generally not yet following samples, but seeking traditional qualities, and bought from his warehouse, or, long before delivery, placed orders which were probably in turn passed on to the peasants.

This is the system which was gradually absorbed into factory-based textile production — and with it the destruction of previous social life, and the structuring of life around the working day.

Now, as with so much else, we’ve taken a loop around from centralised production, and are replaying the pre-industrial system at an octave’s difference. That means opportunities to recreate social life, to escape the homogenous regimentation of the factory — but also a return to the forms of exploitation most present just on the cusp of the industrial revolution.

Hence there’s plenty of reason for politicised microserfs to turn back to history, explore how the peasants of the 18th century were — and weren’t — able to assert themselves against the putters-out.

[crossposted to the art of thinking praxis]

Fiction Suit: comics and the politics of the pseudonym

[warning: 600 words of indulgent waffle on identity politics]

I’ve never been good at pseudonyms, collective identities, self-reinvention. Nonmetheless, I consider them a Good Thing at a fundamental level. Your identity, or mine, is the accretion of social conformism, gender roles, the acceptance of our own position in society. You can try to unpick it, layer by layer, but the chances are you’ll never get to a ‘real you’.

Or you can take the shortcut: choose another identity, put it on, change it once it’s no longer useful. Be Luther Blissett, be Spartacus. Be your friends, or your enemies, or some combination of them all.

steerpikelet just gave a wonderful interview, where she defends political action without a true name:

Anonymous is its own separate thing, an anarchic and brilliant thing, but the wider concept of anonymity itself as a political statement – whether online or offline – is gaining more and more ground as a way of rebelling against a political culture that not only seeks to root out unsavory elements with surveillance but which mandates individuality as a form of rigid conformity. Think about it: it you grow up being commanded to self-actualise, to be the best individual you can be, to define yourself by buying things, to be yourself and find your special centre and compete with your neighbors and colleagues, then choosing to be anonymous is an inherently revolutionary act, quite apart from the organising possibilities the phenomenon offers. Plus, there’s a growing sense that there is a great deal of power in the collective, in sharing a sense of solidarity, symmetry and protection in anonymity.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Laurie writes this in an interview with a comics blog. If there’s one area that comics have picked over in every possible regard, it’s the secondary identity. Start with a world that has Clark Kent/Superman as the mainstream, where almost every hero wears a mask or leads a double life. Then in the 80s, along come Alan Moore and friends, devote their considerable talents to picking apart every aspect of the superhero identity. The Guy Fawkes mask now identifying Anonymous is just the smallest part of this.

The climax of this tendency, to my mind, is Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. A cell of superpowered freedom fighters draw their personalities by lot; each necessary identity is filled by a different person each week. Characters live under layers of assumed identities, brainwashing themselves at each level to forget the next layer. Heroes and villains turn out to be the same groups, veiling their consciousness in order to play out their roles. The end result is reminiscent of, say, Shaiva Tantrism. By the end, it seems that everybody is part of the same identity: a character in a dream, a player in a video-game, the ‘fiction suit’ with which God walks the earth, or part of a hyper-dimensional being.

Yes, this is part plot device, part stoner esoterica. But it’s also a guide to discarding the unwanted parts of your past, and to acting as a group not based on prior hierarchies. And, as Laurie suggests, to dodging surveillance. When government and corporations devote so much energy to tracking and correlating our behaviour, it becomes almost a matter of duty to thow a spanner in the works. That is to adopt some identity not linked to a passport and a birth certificate. To dream a fiction suit, be it, share it, discard it, and move on to the next identity.


In less wanky news…

I’ll be in London next week, Thursday to Sunday. Then off to Bristol for a couple of days.

Let me know if there are things I should be going to!

Firefox switch to tab

FF4 has a feature by which, when you try to open a second copy of a page, will flip to the existing tab rather than re-opening it.

This drives me crazy.

I usually have several dozen tabs open, across multiple screens, some not visible. When I re-open a tab I want it to appear right in front of me. Not (as happens now) to be brought to the front of a window I can’t even see.

this blogpost offers some solutions, most of which don’t seem to work.



seem to work is adding some junk to the end of the url. A hash should do it, or in extreme cases a hash followed by some random characters.

More B&T

More B&T:


the creation of random geopolitical blocs is kind of fun. I mean, if you group Mexico with Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt and Moldova then you have MAYHEM; as indeed you do.

Libyan nukes:

Actually, come to think about it there seemed to be a fair amount of ritual involved in Libya giving up its nuke programme.

Step one: Libya buys a bunch of stuff from the Khan network

Step two: Libya hands it over and renounces its programme

Stepo three: Welcome to the international community! Here’s a guy we jugged earlier.

I always wondered if step one was taken in anticipation of taking step two.

On Torygeddon

it’s important not to get paranoid about this. Just because the management of the economy resembles something from a political science textbook about the period of destabilisation engineered to lay the groundwork for a coup doesn’t mean that it’s actually happening that way.

On Tunisia: “

It obviously wasn’t a twitter revolution, or a wikileaks one for that matter. It was a “man burning himself alive in despair” revolution. The only thing digital about it was when he flicked his bic

Empire numerology: “

So, Britain as superpower, 1759-1945. US as superpower, 1919-2008. USSR as superpower, 1945-1989. Clearly there’s a pattern here; each new power lasts approximately half the length of its predecessor. ..Unfortunately, this only gives the Chinese from 2008-2033 or thereabouts. Which sounds about right for a really serious demographic/elite incompetence crisis. India and Brazil only get 12 or 6 years, and at some point in the 2050s the world order starts to move like a singulatarian’s fantasy

ad-hoc webserver from the shell

Here is a neat trick to make the current directory hierarchy available online:

$ cd /tmp

$ python -m SimpleHTTPServer

Serving HTTP on port 8000 ...

Quickly creating a shell script

Suppose you want to create and run a short script. It’s often faster not to bother opening up a text editor. Instead, use shell history to write a file, then chmod and execute it:

$ cat > /tmp/

#!/usr/bin/env python

print('hello world')

$ chmod a+x !$

chmod a+x /tmp/

$ !$


hello world


The Hijab is anti-european

Azerbaijan has banned wearing hijabs in schools.

In a move some say is

designed to bring the secular predominantly Muslim country closer to Europe

, Azerbaijan follows a number of other countries in banning religious head scarves in schools. It also follows the closure of several mosques late last year under a new law on religion.

Don’t you feel proud of the European export of tolerance?

[there’s a very similar dynamic behind Turkish regulation of the hijab, and Turkish secularisation in general]

Qatar arms to Libya

The New York Times reports that:

for the first time

, Qatar put the question of supplying arms to the rebels on the table, but no agreement was reached.

Well, not really for the first time. Qatar has been pushing for arms shipments to the rebels for a long time:

“If they will ask for weapons, we’re going to provide them,” the amir, who is on a visit to the United States, told CNN in an interview. [xinhua, 15 April]

And the New York Times itself has reported on the rebels receiving foreign weapons, and speculated that Qatar is one source of them.

Kenneth Rexroth

Bruce Sterling, Kenneth Rexroth. Rexroth was columnist in the San Francisco Examiner, through the 1960s. Elegant, thoughtful, panoramic. While I don’t


share Sterling’s enthusiasm (“

there are no blogs this good

“), there’s good stuff here:

Looking back, it seems now that most of our crises have been crises of talk. We have been able to take it out by abusing each other. That is just dandy. Nobody pushed those banks of buttons over the U-2. The Chinese have not invaded Laos or Taiwan. The Marines have not landed in Cuba. The Congolese seem to be tiring. The UN proved able to cope with Khrushchev.

Who knows? We may talk ourselves out of the woods yet.