How fast is a fast train?

Faster than you think. Literally faster than you remember if you’ve ever taken one. But before we get to that, some figurative and also quite speedy trains.

Like the parade to ban books, or move on from horrifically disgusting violence in schools. These, too, move much faster than we imagine, even as we wait for something or someone else to slow them down or stop them. But it’s a tightly constructed set of deliberate steps that brings the fast trains, whether as transport or societal degradation. In the case of the latter, the stage has been set by the Republican party through decades of vicious stinginess for infrastructure and social programs, proffering the glories of low taxes and toothless regulation of everything from the stock market to the water table. The forms of efficient and affordable transportation enjoyed by people in our so-called peer nations around the world are as unknown in the U.S. as a public toilet and it’s much better if we stop being coy about all of this.

The need to acknowledge where society is falling short, who it is catering to and why is a matter of great urgency.

Image: B line trams in Grenoble, France, last week. Author photo.


That’s [ALSO] an acronym.

But, it’s missing a ‘K’, and if we are curious about whether revolutions are possible, we could try Hong Kong, wherever it might be that we have previously failed:

Hong Kongers marched again on Sunday, chanting “five demands, not one less” as the city’s anti-government protests approached their six-month milestone.

Demonstrators have been locked in a stalemate with the local government since early June amid protests initially sparked by a bill that would have enabled extradition to mainland China. On June 9, a million people marched through the financial center to demonstrate their opposition. Approximately 2 million people marched in protest a week later.

While Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has since retracted the bill, fulfilling one of the five demands, critics regarded the move as too little, too late. Social unrest in the city has since taken on broader anti-government sentiment as protesters push for greater democracy in Hong Kong.

Government opposition was fueled by anger with police conduct as well as how Lam’s administration dealt with the protests, Ma Ngok, associate professor in the department of government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told CNBC.

“The government hasn’t actually responded, so a lot of people think they just cannot give up on the protest” Ma said.

Despite efforts to crush defuse the protests, they are showing no signs of abating – whether they might be abetted in another question. But the strange power of democracy carried over into the recent elections, where pro-democracy candidates won unambiguously as a almost three million voters rejected pro-establishment candidates.

No one seems to have told protestors that their tactics are not working.

Image via Adbusters.

What does Gilets jaunes mean?

Rumblings on the hustings, the corporate global economic order has Always been predicated on sacrificing the working class. Always:

It’s obvious now, however, that the new model not only weakened the fringes of the proletariat but society as a whole.The paradox is this is not a result of the failure of the globalised economic model but of its success. In recent decades, the French economy, like the European and US economies, has continued to create wealth. We are thus, on average, richer. The problem is at the same time unemployment, insecurity and poverty have also increased. The central question, therefore, is not whether a globalised economy is efficient, but what to do with this model when it fails to create and nurture a coherent society?

In France, as in all western countries, we have gone in a few decades from a system that economically, politically and culturally integrates the majority into an unequal society that, by creating ever more wealth, benefits only the already wealthy.

The change is not down to a conspiracy, a wish to cast aside the poor, but to a model where employment is increasingly polarised. This comes with a new social geography: employment and wealth have become more and more concentrated in the big cities. The deindustrialised regions, rural areas, small and medium-size towns are less and less dynamic. But it is in these places – in “peripheral France” (one could also talk of peripheral America or peripheral Britain) – that many working-class people live. Thus, for the first time, “workers” no longer live in areas where employment is created, giving rise to a social and cultural shock.

Switch out France périphérique for the Rust Belt. They are interchangeable, except that the former has not, as yet, voted straight fascist and retains the habit of taking to the street – as well as tearing up parts of it to throw at the police. It’s how different cultures tackle the same problem: the left-behindness, debt, low pay, high taxes, inequality, and ignorance upon which the limited successes of late capitalism depend. It’s certainly not pleasant, but people have long-understood this and attempted to warn us from the dragons – Dr. K, Joe Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty – nor it is unrelated to the bizarre vortex we’ve been documenting here for ten(!) years. And the Gilets jaunes are not solving this problem. But they are making us look, and we’re not even used to that.

Image: Author photo of a different type of inundation, near Pont Neuf, 2016

People Staring at Computers


Interesting confluence of media, technology and art in this Wired article:

In “Thoughts on total openness of information,” Dan Paluska brainstorms about the possibility of posting all your “personal” information online, asking what the repercussions would be. What if people could see every bank transaction you made? Or read every email you wrote? I started answering these questions for myself with “keytweeter,” a yearlong performance starting in June 2009. Keytweeter was a custom keylogger that tweeted every 140 characters I typed. Over that year, I learned a lot about myself and what “privacy” means. I learned that every conversation belongs to all the parties involved, so I put disclaimers in my emails. I learned that I was more honest, with myself and with others, when I knew everyone could see what I was saying.

After keytweeter, I started working on a project with Wafaa Bilal called “3rdi.” He told me he wanted to implant a camera on the back of his head that would upload a geotagged image to the internet every minute, as an exploration of “photography without a photographer.” So I worked with Wafaa to create a system that made this possible. As a professor at NYU, he had some trouble while at school due to privacy concerns. They came to a compromise where he would keep the camera on, but covered. This performance also lasted a year, over the course of 2011.

After working with text for “keytweeter,” I started exploring visual equivalents. One experiment, “scrapscreen,” made a scrapbook from your screen over the course of a day: every mouse movement “tore away” that part of the screen and saved it to a continually overlapping image. Another experiment, called “Important Things,” captures every click as a 32×32 pixel icon in a massive grid.

Later that year I worked with interactive artist Theo Watson on an extension of “Important Things,” called “Happy Things,” which took a screenshot every time you smiled, and uploaded it to the web. We got pictures from all around the world, with people smiling at everything, from cat memes to the Wikipedia article for Nicholas Cage.

Sometimes this kind of work is associated with “human-computer interaction,” but this term makes it sound like we’re interacting with computers, when in fact, most of the time, we’re interacting with each other. I like to think of it as “computer-mediated interaction.”

In mid-May, 2011, I took a timelapse using my laptop’s webcam to get a feeling for how I looked at the computer. After a few days of recording, I watched the video.

Jobs and the Mac


Green Boy came in last night before a game a ping pong. “Have you heard?”

I had not, and so he broke the news. He had just written an essay on the Steve Jobs last month for school, on someone you admire, and I could tell he was quite moved by the passing, though not enough to spare me any quarter at all in our ping pong match. But it was moving, refreshing in a way, to see him effected by this stranger’s passing. I see where today many millions feel the same. It’s a strange sort of collective response to individual experience. Here’s mine.

Just after Mrs. G and I tied the knot, as two writers with no money looking to quit our jobs and pursue something (else) absolutely foolhardy, one of the first things we did was to buy the Powerbook 165C, along with the Stylewriter II printer, which together cost an even fortune. Unbelievable. But our two other friends with laptops at that point swore by them, and so we dove in. I was oddly proud of the thing, though even then it really couldn’t do much. But I was getting it because of what I was convinced I could do. Hmm.

But on our subsequent move to New England to begin mostly unrelated though closely held literary pursuits, that thing was indispensable. A year later we moved to Europe with not a single thought of a backup or that the the pB would let us down in any way. And it didn’t. Always a Cadillac, in the kleenex sense of the word. I didn’t even know it was dual voltage and fretted needlessly over frying it. But never fear. Someone had thought of that. And if it wasn’t Jobs, it was somebody he saw at least once a month. I could go into the kids’ music/play room right now, pull the 165 out of its dusty bag under a desk and boot it up, and I’m sure it would turn on immediately. Offering (begging?) me the opportunity to contribute some further hewing to my oeuvre.

A couple of years later we upgraded with one of the limited edition graphite iBooks,which frankly looks hilarious but works like a charm. I could dig that one out and fire it up, as well. And it would work. Maybe that’s the point; I’ve kept these machines (not the printers) not because I still use them, but I’ve never really even thought of getting rid of them, which is maybe a nostalgic angle on sustainability, but… they still work and could if they were called into the ‘hot zone’ of my fiction haze. With a modem, I could even write this damn blog on ’em! Sure, we have MBpros and all now, desktops and fancy monitors. But the pattern was set back then with that use and, frankly, dependability of those machines not to let me down – even and especially if I didn’t (quite) know what I was doing (yet). I put five novels and a few plays into those things and gotten more than my share of joy/misery back out. And looking for more.

I can get as eye-rolly as anyone about their marketing techniques and Jobs’ amazing ability to create in us the need for something we did not know we needed. And I still don’t know what the iPad is for. BUT, the catch is that these tools – and they are only tools – are all quite amazing, and feel like they were developed by someone who loved them and loved to use them. As opposed to some entity that seemed to loathe the end-user (not mentiPoning any nCames). Of that, we can know Jobs was innocent. But I know his tools transformed my work life (carbons?) in ways that even I have seen change, and that were quite unimagined just a few decades previous. And for that I say Merci and R.I.P.