Russia without Putin: apocalypse tomorrow

Putin didn’t pull any punches before last week’s presidential election. He came up with the most extreme attack ad imaginable. It’s called

Apocalypse Tomorrow

, and it does what it says on the tin:

The story is pretty obvious from the pictures: the fate of Russia without Putin. By March, the liberals and the fascists have allied to form a government. Activists divide up Russian corporations between them. There are strikes, hyperinflation, famine, riots. An Islamic Caliphate forms in the North Caucasus. Georgia invades, takes over the 2014 winter olympics. Opposition leader Navalny flees to the US, where his memoir wins him both the Nobel Peace and Literature prizes. Russia, meanwhile, is in a state of civil war.

Wagner and Bakunin: the odd couple of political pyromania

Wagner and Bakunin, friends and comrades, fighting together on the barricades in doomed rebellion against the Prussian army. It seems comically incongruous. Hitler’s favourite composer — the fervent nationalist and anti-semite — allied with the anarchist firebrand. But it was the case — and Wagner, at least, was deeply affected by their short time togeher.

Bakunin, wanted by the Austrian authorities for his role in the 1848 Pan-Slavic Congress, was hiding in Dresden. Here Wagner, then conductor of the Dresden orchestra, had chosen to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in a show of liberal sympathy:

Michael Bakunin, unknown to the police, had been present at the public rehearsal. At its close he walked unhesitatingly up to me in the orchestra, and said in a loud voice, that if all the music that had ever been written were lost in the expected world-wide conflagration, we must pledge ourselves to rescue this symphony, even at the peril of our lives

Three weeks later, Bakunin would burn down the Opera House.

By that point Wagner was overawed by Bakunin and by revolution, to the point of being filled with “strength and freedom” on the destruction of his workplace. It was ugly anyway, he rationalised.

The Opera House was a victim of was the Dresden May Uprising, one of the last aftershocks of the revolutions of 1848. Its aim was to force the Prussian king to accept a constitution. To Wagner, it appealed to his mythic sense of German nationalism. Bakunin didn’t much care about Dresden or German nationalism — but he loved nothing more than a good fight.

So Bakunin and Wagner both joined the rebels, each in his own style. Bakunin jumped straight in, won over a public meeting, arranged defence, stayed with the rebels even when they had obviously failed, was consequently arrested and spent eight years in jail. Wagner hesitated, wrote articles, made weapons, stood watch, got off lightly ,and fled to Zurich.

Given the circumstances and Wagners own ideals, it’s no surprise that Bakunin made such a great impression on him. His extreme and nihilistic politics (“dreadful ideas”) mattered little, personal energy much more:

I was immediately struck by his singular and altogether imposing personality. He was in the full bloom of manhood…. Everything about him was colossal, and he was full of a primitive exuberance and strength.

in this remarkable man the purest impulses of an ideal humanity conflicted strangely with a savagery entirely inimical to all civilisation

Bakunin, in short, embodied the epic personality which Wagner would spend a lifetime trying to describe. As his opera Tannhauser was described by Baudelaire:

On the satanic thrill of an indefinite love soon follow ecstasies, raptures, victory cries, the groans of gratitude, and then a wild howl, accusations of slain victim and the nefarious hosanas of the bucher, as if the blinde brutality taking in the drama of love, always place and the pleasure of the senses, would lead to an inescapable satanic logic, to the daylights of the crime.

Steampunk Opera

The Steampunk Opera blog is full of oddball historical episodes from the 19th century. It’s the perfect period for them: newspapers seeking out the most dramatic half-truths, ready to be further fictionalised in the penny dreadfuls. And traumatic social upheavals often lead to some truly bizarre shit.

There’s Spring-heeled Jack, a batman villain with — literally — a spring in his step. Supposedly he would bounce over walls, attack men and molest women, then leap away again. On one occasion, he stopped long enough to breathe blue fire at one of his victims.

Also the interesting idea of teenage boys being less bloodthirsty than adults:

Thus penny dreadfuls began the shift to the youth market. Sweeny Todd and Varney the Vampire continued to sell well and heaven knows, boys ate their adventures up with great relish also, but despite everyone’s assumption that the working class youth was out of their minds with lust for the high gore content of the penny bloods, the truth was that they perferred high adventure and heroism with protagonists they could identify with over the murderous content that had thrilled their fathers.

Links and snippets

Eleanor Saitta on depression and group psychology among activists:

I watched people see-sawing back and forth between spectacular hopes for the future and deep despair — the sense that we can do anything, that the future is ours to remake as we wish, and the sense that there’s no way forward, no escape from this pit we’ve dug ourselves into. As people get together into larger groups, the despair seems to be shed as a function of group cohesion, leaving behind a hope that is frankly irrational until a sudden tipping point hits and it breaks.

Far from the first time Laurie Penny has written about anorexia, but one of the better ones:

[anorexics] lash out by doing only what is required of them, to the point of extremity. Work hard; eat less; consume frantically; be thin and perfect and good; conform and comply; push yourself to the point of collapse. It is no accident that eating disorders are often associated with obsessive overwork and perfectionism at school, in the workplace or in the home. We followed all the rules, sufferers seem to be saying – now look what you made us do.

Jay Owen on mobile phone privacy:

Your mobile phone leaks….

Take location. In exchange for offering Google Maps as a free service, Google extracts the price of knowing where your phone is at all times, even when the app isn’t running. Your home and work addresses are easy to identify (your habitual locations at 3am and 10am respectively). These can be cross-referenced against MOSAIC (market research company Experian’s consumer classification) or Zoopla house price records to transform location into income and demographic data, allowing users to be sold as micro-targeted ‘market segments’ of high value to advertisers.

debt and morals

John Holbo on markets and morality:

the Plato I was teaching was, to a surprising extent, about debt, reciprocity and, generally, the convertability of moral into monetary categories, and vice versa. Euthyphro on piety. It’s ‘care of the gods’, which – this is his final suggestion – turns out to be the capacity to enter into healthy exchange relations. Meno on whether being good boils down to getting your hands on the goods. Cephalus, the old man, launches the mighty ship, Republic, with the thought that justice is ‘speaking truth and paying debts’, which morphs into the lex talionis thought that justice is payback – doing good to friends and harm to enemies. Plato, like Graeber, is really really concerned to shred this stuff, if he can.

Penny Gaffs

Penny Gaffs

” were small, informal theatres which became very popular in English slums from the 1820s:

The pieces which would be presented here can be related to several of the dramatic forms which developed mostly outside the patent theatres, and which could evolve and be critical to degrees forbidden to “straight” plays: these included burletta and assorted dramatic pieces presented at the minor theatres and fairgrounds, pantomime, and the entertainments of strolling players…. A penny gaff was usually a shop adapted as a theatre in which an entertainment comprising sketches, songs, farces and drag acts would be presented when enough people were assembled.

Most of the internet is recycling a small set of eyewitness accounts. Here is a trio of full articles:

It was not a commodious building, nor particularly handsome, the only attempt at embellishmentappearing at the stage end, where for the space of a few feet the plaster wall was covered with ordinary wall paper of a grape vine pattern, and further ornamented by coloured and spangled portraits of Mrs. Douglas Fitzbruce in her celebrated characters of “Cupid” and “Lady Godiva.”

Here’s another overview.

Self-doubt: placed by culture, removed by mad science

Brain manipulation via electricity.

Sally Adee does what makes Wired actually good, underneath the manic trend-jumping and the boosting of dubious shiny gadgets. She takes a cyberpunk-seeming story, explains it is already happening, and points out social implications.

The cyberpunk story goes like this. Putting some electrodes on your brain can double the rate at which you learn. Why? Because it turns off the inner voice that constantly tells you how much a mess you’re making of life:

Me without self-doubt was a revelation. There was suddenly this incredible silence in my head; I’eve experienced something close to it during 2-hour Iyengar yoga classes, but the fragile peace in my head would be shattered almost the second I set foot outside the calm of the studio. I had certainly never experienced instant zen in the frustrating middle of something I was terrible at.

And once you realise how much self-doubt drags us back, you can’t help but wonder where it comes from:

could school-age girls use the zappy cap while studying math to drown out the voices that tell them they can’t do math because they’re girls? How many studies have found a link between invasive stereotypes and poor test performance?

Crazy bastard Lyotard

Apparently at some point Lyotard was channeling Warren Ellis:

The English unemployed did not have to become workers to survive, they – hang on tight and spit on me – enjoyed the hysterical, masochistic, whatever exhaustion it was of hanging on in the mines, in the foundries, in the factories, in hell, they enjoyed it, enjoyed the mad destruction of their organic body

Blacklists in the construction industry

Shocking. The UK’s major construction firms maintained a blacklist of troublemakers to be denied work — radicals, trade unionists, or simply workers who pointed out on-site safety issues. According to the investigator at the Information Commissioner’s Office:

the relationship between the Consulting Association [which maintained the blacklist] and the police and security services appeared to have been nurtured when the organisation went under an earlier guise as the Economic League, at a time when the state was keen to liaise with major building firms to discover as much as it could about Irish construction workers amid the threat of IRA terrorism.

Of course this stuff just gets easier and easier as time goes by. I’d bet money that some counterpart to the Consulting Association is right now identifying troublemakers from facebook or linkedin, selling their names to one employer or another. Perhaps the police are collaborating, perhaps they aren’t — it maybe matters less than it once did, as police records are only one information source among many.

Community organizing in London

Community Organizing, a system of social campaigining, concentrates attention on linking local residents into a political group, identifying their common interests and turning these into the goals of campaigning.

It is most associated with the civil rights movement in the United States, where the work of Saul Alinksy was crucial in giving it shape, both through his direct involvement in campaigning and through books such as Rules for Radicals. More recently, Barack Obama’s involvement gave it greater prominence.

Unlike many USian ideas, this went decades without really taking root in the UK. Perhaps this is a result of it targetting local communities, rather than the free-floating trend-following activist international. Perhaps not.

But now it’s starting to change. Citizens UK are pushing community organizing in London and beyond. They’ve had impressive success in forcing the Living Wage onto the political agenda. There’s even a MA Course at Queen Mary.

For me to judge community organizing based on books and the internet seems entirely alien to its principles. Still, I can’t deny loving some Alinsky’s combination of community-building with tactically-planned attacks on the powers that be. In his words, “

The enemy properly goaded and guided in his reaction will be your major strength.