Francis’s news feed

This combines together some blogs which I like to read. It’s updated once a week.

August 18, 2018

The Creation Of New Worlds Examined Thru Myth by Ian Welsh

Let us speak today of how a new world is created. Let us do so by examining a creation myth: the Norse one.  Here it is, in part.

Odin, Vili, and Vé killed the giant Ymir.

When Ymir fell, there issued from his wounds such a flood of blood, that all the frost ogres were drowned, except for the giant Bergelmir who escaped with his wife by climbing onto a lur [a hollowed-out tree trunk that could serve either as a boat or a coffin]. From them spring the families of frost ogres.

Earth, trees, and mountains

The sons of Bor then carried Ymir to the middle of Ginnungagap and made the world from him. From his blood they made the sea and the lakes; from his flesh the earth; from his hair the trees; and from his bones the mountains. They made rocks and pebbles from his teeth and jaws and those bones that were broken.


Maggots appeared in Ymir’s flesh and came to life. By the decree of the gods they acquired human understanding and the appearance of men, although they lived in the earth and in rocks.

Sky, clouds, and stars

From Ymir’s skull the sons of Bor made the sky and set it over the earth with its four sides. Under each corner they put a dwarf, whose names are East, West, North, and South.

The sons of Bor flung Ymir’s brains into the air, and they became the clouds.

Then they took the sparks and burning embers that were flying about after they had been blown out of Muspell, and placed them in the midst of Ginnungagap to give light to heaven above and earth beneath. To the stars they gave appointed places and paths.

The earth was surrounded by a deep sea. The sons of Bor gave lands near the sea to the families of giants for their settlements.

(This continues on, if you wish to read the rest, and what came before, follow the link.)

The important part here is that to create the new world the sons of Bor destroyed the old one: they destroyed the most important form of life in the old one, their ancestor, the gian Ymir. In destroying it, they committed a genocide against the dominant form of life in the world, the giants.

Not all creation kills so many, but all creation is destructive. For the new to be created, the old must die, and the new is created out of the corpse of the old.

Democracy is born when the nobility lose their power. The industrial world is born when peasants are forced to leave the land (violently, usually) to go to cities to work in factories. This process is always one that makes them unhappy, even when it is mostly voluntary. You can see it in the Chinese happiness statistics: Chinese who left their villages for the cities are less happy than those who stayed in the villages.

And while some villages survive, they are not what they were. Many do not survive, they no longer exist: often they are paved over or turned into agricultural land.

The vast sweep of industrialization destroyed many cultures: they were lost. It destroyed many peoples, they died or were so assimilated that they no longer exist. Hundreds of languages were lost, we no longer know how they were spoken. Species went extinct, and that process continues, many more will go extinct.

A new world was created. Many celebrate it. There is an entire genre of writing which says “this is the best it’s ever been and it’s just getting better” (because idiots think trend lines don’t reverse), but even if you think it’s true (and there’s a lot to it, though less than its exponents think), it was born in blood and the extinction of previous realities.

The New China was created from the old China, and according to many in China, there is a pervasive sense of loss among the Chinese: a knowledge that most of the old culture was lost, and something important was lost with it. Most indigenous American cultures were wiped out, those that remain were badly injured and much was lost. Even in Europe vast amounts of culture and language were lost: what we call, say, French, is the old Parisien French dialect, and pretending it is a dialect is close to a lie: much of what was spoken elsewhere in France was not understandable to a Parisien. The same is true of every major European language: a particular language, perhaps a dialect, was elevated by government action (forceful, often violent action) to the status of “the language.”

This is true with respect to Mandarin in China, which has wiped out or reduced multiple other languages. There is currently an effort to do this with respect to Hindi in India, and the effort is abetted by government action, often enough violent.

New realities are born not just in blood, but in death.

Consider the myth of Zeus.

The first thing that Zeus does is kill his father. His father had been eating all his children.

This is what hegemonic realities, hegemonic systems, do. They kill other possibilities. Many people have tried to create alternatives to capitalism, they have all failed. They have been eaten. The most recent left wing large attempt in the Western world was the Hippies. They failed.

Basically the Hippies either succeeded at capitalism, and by doing so became capitalists, or they refused to play the capitalist game and were forced out. The hippy homeland was California, but they don’t live there any more. The remnants fled to Vermont and Santa Fe and some other cheap areas because they couldn’t afford to live in California any more.

Those who could afford to, who kept up with the Jones’ or who became rich, stopped actually being Hippies. They became Yuppies or multi-millionaires. They became capitalists. The ur-rule of capitalism is to make money. If you decide what to do based on how much money it makes  you start being a member of the capitalist reality (whether or not you wind up “owning capital”) and you stop being a member of an alternate reality which challenges capitalism.

Capitalism: the father of hippies, ate the hippies. If you become successful using capitalist rules you can’t defeat capitalism, you become part of that system.

So, when you want to create a new reality, a new system, you often have the kill the old one. As in the Zeus myth. It is the old system which gave birth to you, and you kill it. Feudalism was killed by people born of Feudalism. Capitalism will be killed by people born of capitalism. The only other way it can work is that outsiders conquer a society, but even that is often deceptive: Rome fell to the barbarians only after Rome had completely rotted from within. Augustus would not have recognized late Romans as much resembling those he ruled.

New worlds, new realities, can only be born in the destruction of the old world.

Because that destruction often entails much suffering and death, often we put off the creation of the new until the old is completely untenable. But by doing so we usually make the transition much worse than it would have been otherwise.

Capitalism needs to end. It needs to end because it has failed the climate change problem: it didn’t deal with a problem so catastrophic it will forseeably kill a billion or more people and which might end in human extinction. Capitalism knew this was likely to happen, capitalism didn’t just not deal with it, but capitalist institutions fought (and are still fighting) to conceal that it would happen and against doing anything.

So capitalism needs to die or be heavily modified. It was clear by the 90s that this was so, and we did nothing.

This won’t stop it from dying.

It will, however, make its death throes and what comes immediately afterwards much worse.

As with the giants, when Odin killed the giant Ymir, we will die in a flood of blood when capitalism dies.

But that is a choice we have made.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

Why I’m Not Worked Up About “Fake News” And Why I Am by Ian Welsh

So, there’s a lot of BS about fake news. Trump claims that most stories about him are lies (most of it isn’t, some of it is), the media claims that Russians are spreading fake news (yes, like everyone else) and so on.

And, I mean, this is bad. But I find it hard to get super worked up about it.



This sort of thing is just routine. The vast majority of news stories about Corbyn either misrepresent, or lie.

Meanwhile the New York Times systematically lied about Iraqi WMD to justify the Iraq war.

In the 2004 election, the New York Times held back a story on mass surveillance because they were concerned it would cost George Bush the election. Given how close that election was, the New York Times probably did make sure Bush won by withholding true information from voters.

Lie when it supports right wingers. Withhold true information to protect right wingers.

And, mostly, just don’t cover stories they don’t want people to know about.

The media is owned by very rich people. The journalists who work for the media serve the interests of those very rich people.

It takes a special sort of stupidity to think that the media is immune from the rule that people who hire people expect their employees to serve their interests and make sure that they do.

If you want the media to have at least a chance of telling the truth, you need individual outlets to be small: you need there to be many many outlets and it needs to be cheap to own and run one. In such circumstances, while it will still run towards serving the rich, it won’t serve the super-rich as much as it does today, when a few conglomerates control almost all the media.

Any sector which is a private sector oligopoly (like the media) will obviously serve the interests of the wealthiest in society.

The current conglomerates, online, include Facebook and Google, both of which need to be broken up, and the search industry needs to be rigorously regulated, since it decides who sees what. ISPs, without network neutrality, may also take on the role, and obviously network neutrality needs to be reinstated.

Since ISPs provide no value except as a pipeline, they should be regulated as utilities or simply bought by the government. If regulated, their profit should be fixed at 5%+central bank interest rate, or something similar, no stock options and other such nonsense should be allowed, and any profit over that number should simply be taken away by the government. (This will, indirectly, encourage them to build more infrastructure, but you can also do as was done to utilities in the 50s and 60s and specify how much is to be spent.)

ISPs should never be owned by other companies, if allowed to remain private.

Social media is likewise a commons, and should be regulated as such. The way they are currently engineered they operate as dopamine depleters, and research shows that happiness decreases in direct proportion with engagement to social media. They will have to be forced to stop playing dopamine games, get rid of most of their algorithims, and give control over timelines explicitly to users.

All of this may seem like a lot of work, or an “intrusion”, but we can either control our own lives as voters and members of the public, through government, or we can allow private interests who care only about the benefit to a few people to do so.

So, while in one sense I’m not upset by “fake news”, on the other hand, I am: by the control of a few major companies over who gets to spew what propaganda at the public.

Control the major media (and economic) actors, or they will control us.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


(Why US Leadership Stinks & Drones Don’t Work) Leadership in organizations people believe in by Ian Welsh

The assassination strategy the US pursues is interesting, not in what it says about the US’s foes, but what it says about the US’s leaders.  Al-Qaeda’s “#2” man has been “killed” so often that it’s a running joke, and Taliban leadership is regularly killed by assassination.  Bush did this, Obama really, really does this.  Probably a lot of them are BS, but it’s probably safe to assume that a lot of leadership is killed.

The Taliban is still kicking the coalition’s ass.

Leadership isn’t as big a deal as people make it out to be, IF you have a vibrant organization people believe in.  New people step up, and they’re competent enough.  Genius leadership is very rare, and a good organization doesn’t need it, though it’s welcome when it exists.  As long as the organization knows what it’s supposed to do (kick Americans out of Afghanistan) and everyone’s motivated to do that, leadership doesn’t need to be especially great, but it will be generally competent, because the people in the organization will make it so.

American leaders are obsessed with leadership because they lead organizations where no one believes in the organization’s goals.  Or rather, they lead organizations where everyone knows the leadership doesn’t believe in its ostensible goals.  Schools are lead by people who hate teachers and want to privatize schools to make profit.  The US is lead by men who don’t believe in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.  Police are lead by men who think their job is to protect the few and beat down the many, not to protect and serve.  Corporations  make fancy mission statements and talk about valuing employees and customers, but they just want to make a buck and will fuck anyone, employee or customer, below the c-suite.  They don’t have a “mission” (making money is not a mission, it’s a hunger if it’s all you want to do), they are parasites and they know it.

Making organizations work if they’re filled with people who don’t believe in the organization, who believe that the “leadership” is only out for themselves and has no mission beyond helping themselves, not even enriching the employees or shareholders, is actually hard.  People don’t get inspired by making the c-suite rich.  Bureaucrats, knowing they are despised and distrusted by their political matters, and knowing that they aren’t allowed to do their ostensible job, as with the EPA generally not being allowed to protect the environment, the DOJ not being allowed to prosecute powerful monied crooks and the FDA being the slave of drug companies and the whims of politically connected appointees, are hard to move, hard to motivate, hard to get to do anything but the minimum.

So American leaders, and indeed the leaders of most developed nations think they’re something special.  Getting people to do anything, and convincing people to do the wrong thing, when they joined to actually teach, protect the environment, make citizens healthier or actually prosecute crooks is difficult.  Being a leader in the West, even though it comes with virtually complete immunity for committing crimes against humanity, violating civil rights, or stealing billions from ordinary citizens, is in many respects a drag.  A very very well paying drag, but a drag.  Very few people have the necessary flexible morals and ability to motivate employees through coercion required.

So American leaders in specific and Westerners in general think that organizations will fall apart if the very small number of people who can actually lead, stop.  But that’s because they think that leading the Taliban, say, is like leading an American company or the American government.  They think it requires a soulless prevaricator who takes advantage of and abuses virtually everyone and is still able to get them to, reluctantly, do their jobs.

Functioning organizations aren’t like that.  They suck leadership upwards. Virtually everyone is being groomed for leadership and is ready for leadership.  They believe in the cause, they know what to do, they’re involved.  And they aren’t scared of dying, if they really believe.  Oh sure, they’d rather not, but it won’t stop them from stepping up.

So Obama kills and kills and kills and somehow the Taliban is still kicking his ass.  Al-Qaeda in whatever country you care to name has its #2 killed every few weeks, and somehow there’s always another one.  Because these people believe.  There’s always another believer, if it’s a functioning organization, and on it goes.

The declaration of the Haqqani network as terrorists made me laugh.  You read about them, and this is what you discover–the founder was a minister in the Taliban government.  So, let’s get this straight.  His country, which he is a minister in, is invaded, and 10 years later he’s still fighting.  And he refuses to negotiate with the US, because hey, he figures he’s winning.

Imagine if the US was invaded, occupied and a puppet government was set up.  A cabinet minister escaped, went underground, and set up a resistance network.  What would you call him?  A terrorist?  Sure, if you’re the occupying power.  If you’re a citizen?  Well, maybe not, eh?  Sure he fights nasty, but the nation which kills so many civilians with drones can’t really cast the first stone, can it?

And one day, they’ll probably kill him.

And it won’t make any damn difference.

Originally published Sept 11, 2012. Back to the top.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.

White helmet by Ian Welsh


The Assad regime in Syria is ghastly, and I have no truck with the sort of leftism or anti-imperialism that lionizes it as some kind of grand resistance against imperialism — it is of the same sort of moral absurdity that attempts to paint Russia as anything other than a weaker rival imperialist competing with the USA, as though it were a kind of moral paragon.  You can make a case for or against a multipolar world in utilitarian terms (more stable or prosperous in some sense?), you can have ideological content preferences among the different imperialism flavours, but ghastly regimes are still ghastly and military imperialism always involves mass suffering.  Whose catspaw the Assad regime is does not make it more or less criminal. Someone who wants its overthrow is not automatically an ideological fellow-traveller of ISIS.

On the other hand, I also have no patience for the neoconservative/liberal hawk tomfoolery that uses the ghastliness of the Assad regime (and the horror show that encompasses its victory for anyone who is seen as an enemy of the regime) as a reason to wash away the utter failure and downright evil of the intervention in Iraq.  (Is this “virtue-signalling”? I’m under the impression that in some quarters, if you’re anti-Assad, you must be an interventionist.) I am not a pacifist, so in principle I accept that there is a case to be made, under very abstracted conditions, for a stronger military power to intervene to prevent suffering in another country.  In practice, the conditions under which this leads to a better outcome are very rare if they ever occur at all.  The risks of creating a worse situation in Syria, given the experience in Iraq, are extremely high.  The vested interests are strong, the risk of making a bad situation worse from a direct overthrow of the Assad government are overwhelming for that and other reasons.

Which leads me to the question of the White Helmets.  I gather that a lot of people on the “anti-imperialist” side view them as propaganda catspaws of imperialists.  The reason for this seems largely to be that they operate in areas held by forces opposed to the regime (this to me is perfectly legitimate — how could a rebel trust the government to conduct rescues?), organizational and media help is offered by foreign entities with vested interests in the overthrow of the Assad government (again, to me legitimate — I would accept such help if I were opposed to the regime and in dire straits), and they receive foreign funding (ditto).  None of these indict the organization to me — victims of Assad’s attempt to retake forces held by opposition groups are going to need rescue from someone and frankly, publicity.

Now it appears that a large number of them have been given asylum by Israel en route to being distributed to other countries, as Assad looks to retake most of all of Syria.  If they stayed, surely they would face criminal proceedings (or, probably, much worse) from the Syrian government.  But a lot of anti-imperialist (pro-Assad?) commentators, including/especially on the left, seem to view this as a further indictment of the White Helmets. Naturally, there is considerable moral inconsistency in Israel’s action, to say the least, but that is not an ethical quandary for those who are fleeing Assad.

What are they supposed to do? Stay and face Assad’s torturers (which he definitely uses)?

It should generally be possible to accept the legitimacy of opposition to Assad, including (especially!), rescue of his enemies, while criticizing the vested interests that might seek to take advantage of his overthrow.

August 17, 2018

Fans, eh? by Feeling Listless

TV At what point did you decide that you were a Doctor Who fan with a capital F? This question won't necessarily be relevant to everyone reading this, although given that I have some clue as to this blog's constituency or at least the three people who've been sticking with it during the silence (Hello Twitter followers), it's perhaps not entirely off piste. Go on, when? If asked, I always give the answer that it's when the Eighth Doctor met Charley in Storm Warning, which allows me to bore people off about how good the Big Finish audios are.  But in truth it had been brewing for a while between visiting the exhibition at the Dapol Factory in Llangollen and then watching or listening to as much material as was available between UK Gold recordings by a relative and borrowing BBC audio books from Liverpool libraries.  Pop culture fandom is really something which creeps up on you, something speaks to you about it which makes you then in turn want to talk about it with other people.

Doctor Who's fandom was impossible to miss as a concept, partly because it seemed like a logical  progression given both Star Wars and Star Trek had them too, but it was really in the pages of the party circular that the extent of it, the mass, became most obvious, not to mention subsequently the web, notably Outpost Gallifrey (ask your Dad).  But it's not until reading Paul Cornell's anthology of fanzine extracts, Licence Denied that I really understood the longevity and depth of it.  Suddenly I realised that the authors of all those books I'd glanced at in Waterstones and even bought, weren't just for hire but had long been fanatics of the series.  The acknowledgements page alone is a who's question mark cover tank-top of everyone you probably follow on social media.  My key take away, other than that Graham Williams the producer of some of my favourite stories was hated in the late 70s, was that these were my people and still are.

Which is why the new Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition, The World of Doctor Who, is such a joy.  Effectively an update of the Cornell book, twenty years on with less in-jokes and inevitably a greater sense of optimism, it charts the chronology of TARDIS followers from the 60s through to the present day, stopping off in between to provide potted histories of conventions, fanzines and fan productions (licenced and otherwise) usually with the kinds of technical details about organisation, production and distribution that we adore.  Given that I missed almost all of this before the pre-internet 00s, all kinds of mini-controversies are finally explained -- Ben Cook's interview with Keith Miller cheerfully watching water flow under the proverbial until it flows into a valley drawn on pavement of London's South Bank.  It also says something about this longevity that contributors to Paul's book also turn up here in a paid gig.

It's also a reminder that fans, especially of a programme with this longevity and who are the reason it literally still exists, have always had a sense of entitlement.  For some this manifested itself in them actually taking control of the series, of the narrative, and for others it's been to scream at those same people for not making the version which is in their heads.  There's a brill cutting from Doctor Who Bulletin in which Ian Levine remonstrates about the state of the show in the latter parts of the JNT era, despite the fact he was a "consultant" only a couple of years before.  Seeing some of this writing, I've wondered if my own caustic reviews, especially of Capaldi episodes don't have a similar invective tone.  But even if that's true, for the most part its because I want the series to be the best it can be and keep to its core philosophies.  Well that and trying to be funny even if that's an endeavour for which I rarely succeed.

The closest I ever got to writing for a fanzine was Behind The Sofa, the group blog which ran for five years in the last decade (yes, sorry, BTS died eight whole years ago) otherwise I've generally squeed all over this place. I've always been slightly (slightly?) reticent about networking with other fans offline.  Despite what everyone says, I'm especially scared about attending a convention in case seeing or meeting stars or creators of the show compromises what's otherwise been a relatively solitary relationship between me and the show.  If someone has an off-day, I'd be afraid that it'd change how I enjoy the text.  But this magazine's made me wonder - would it be so bad to be able to go to a place and meet people who actually share my interests, where I'd have something in common with everyone there and actually understand the reference?  Would I have to cosplay, or would a Clayton Hickman t-shirt do the trick?

This special is a reminder that despite also enjoying film and considering myself a Shakespeare "fan", this silly old series is the one thing I can't stop returning to.  Apart from it being amazing even when it's rubbish, the stuff of it, the everything, the immensity, that it has all of these facets, that you can love all of it and some of it and yet still consider yourself part of the tribe and that its originating "studio" only partially has any control over this is what makes it pretty unique.  That's why when older fans lose their temper about the youngsters (or whatever patronising phrase they've chosen this week) not really understanding what the show is about or its history, it's a collective act of amnesia of how they originally approached the series.  Those youngster are the franchise's future and the reason why it'll still be going after we've all had our ashes scattered from a TARDIS shaped urn at Wooky Hollow.  If the show has to have taught us anything, it's that embrace change protects its future.

August 16, 2018

link:** by Feeling Listless

Social Media For a few weeks now, since buying this new(ish) PC, with its ability to run more than the basic columns in Tweetdeck, I've been pondering how I can set up a column which just features Tweets from users with a particular keyword or search term in their username.

In other words, have something which features all the BBC accounts without actually having to laboriously maintain a list or follow the corporation's own infrequently updated lists.

After much headscratching and googling I've found this:


And then applying a "verified user" filter on the column.

This is by no means exactly what I wanted. It only features links back to the website, not the general chatter I was hoping for.

In the olden days, before Twitter turned off that bit of their API, I would have been able to feed this search into ITTT but this will do for now.  Plus it has the flexibility to allow for:


And to combine them:

(link:**) OR (link:**)

So could could have a film column:

(link:**) OR (link:**) OR (link:**) OR (about a hundred other things)

All of which also has the benefit of including users other than those connected with the magazines so that if a link is a especially popular it'll bubble up more often than it might from just the originating feed. 

Subscriptions (feed of everything)

Updated using Planet on 18 August 2018, 04:48 AM