wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Irreal life top 10, late January 2023.

  1. Still Mastodon. It’s quieted down as the panicked #TwitterMigration has slowed, leaving people wondering what the hell they’re doing on a service that provides none of the twitch-speed algorithmic coercion of Twitter and all of the one-to-one accountability of an old-school BBS. What remains turns out to be its own thing — a ‘social’ media network that honestly doesn’t deserve those scare quotes. Clicking the Donate button on our server’s webpage I felt a rush of affectionate nostalgia, reminded so strongly of using Plastic and Metafilter back during GWBush’s first term in office. Mastodon has that energy and that potential, not least because its open and still-evolving platform makes room for innovation (how about choosing your own recommendation algorithm?). If it fails it’ll be fondly remembered as a beautiful experiment. Same if it succeeds, I hope.
  2. ‘You have to be with other people, he thought. In order to live at all.’ (Philip K Dick, Do Androids…?)
  3. What We Do in the Shadows. I never saw the film, and checked out the TV show just to see Matt Berry — only to discover (after the usual, slightly stilted pilot) the most perfectly balanced ensemble comedy in years and years, a sweetly humane study of a semifunctional Staten Island vampire family with a poisoned edge befitting its odd mix of Kiwi, UK, and USA sensibilities. (It’s one of the most sexually progressive shows on TV too, maybe in mainstream TV history.) All five leads could carry their own shows; Berry and Natasia Demetriou, as Laszlo and Nadja, are my favourite onscreen couple ever. And the expansive, empathetic love story of Nandor the Relentless and his familiar Guillermo is as compelling as Sam and Diane. I’m rewatching it, this time with my wife, grateful for its irresponsible lightness and unexpected emotional weight; we laugh embarrassingly loudly several times each episode. A gift.
  4. Hawaii. ‘Island time’ is real. For an East Coast neurotic like me there’s a couple-day adjustment period, but by your fifth or sixth mai tai it all starts to make sense. Preposterously expensive and necessarily parochial in certain ways, for reasons of geography — and with the usual dark colonial history — but the complexly, matter-of-factly integrated present-day culture of the islands gives me hope.
  5. VALIS. PKD’s career was spent exploring themes that eventually (predictably?) overwhelmed him late in life. His hallucinatory/visionary experiences of Feb/Mar 1974 drove him to write his 9,000-page ‘Exegesis,’ from which several novels partially (never fully) escape; after his publisher asked for edits to his first concerted attempt to fictionalize those experiences (published posthumously as Radio Free Albemuth), he instead poured out this first draft in two weeks. Less a novel than an obsessive elaboration and criticism of his own breakdown and reconstruction in the wake of the ‘2-3-74’ events, VALIS splits PKD in two to stage a confrontation and then collaboration between more and less skeptical parts of his psyche. Which is to say it’s a spiritual confession — genre with unanswerable question mark at the center — a funny one at that, and gets away with being monumentally, monomaniacally boring by being incomparably brave in its self-inquiry. Everyone should regularly experience art where there’s no way of determining what it would mean for it to be ‘good.’
  6. Clash Royale. One important but poorly understood bit of Terrible News this terrible decade is that for many many people, ‘video games’ increasingly means mobile games — a commercial sector of very nearly pure and perfect exploitation and mindless sugar-snack pleasure. Because mobile-gaming time is budgeted in 5- and 10-minute increments and largely happens during brief moments of ‘downtime,’ deep thinking doesn’t come into it, indeed can’t. Clash Royale looks like a thinking game (there are ‘cards’) but what scares me is the realization that, for most good players, ‘strategy’ means spending their 3-minute games in a more or less threatening holding pattern until they can pop off a combo. Indeed, that’s all ‘strategy’ means in a broad range of games. Which makes sense, since that’s how typical players spend their workdays and schooldays too — waiting anxiously for a chance to really live. I hate this pay-to-win game with a screaming hatred, and have poured years of my life into it over the last two months. No more.
  7. Bob Marley and the Wailers, Sausalito, Halloween 1973 on KSAN. Because of the incredible reach of Island’s ubiquitous Legend compilation (25M copies sold!), when casual listeners think of Marley they hear the refined sound of his mid/late-70s band, with the I-threes on vocals sweetening the mix and psych-blues guitar washing over or through. No shame in that — the post-1974 Wailers were among the great bands of that decade. But Marley was a hit even before white audiences and stoners picked up on what was going on, and stayed real even after they did. This crew (minus Bunny Livingston) is tight-loose from the gun, with impossibly fluid chemistry and a percussive funk sound sweetened only by Wire Lindo’s organ. Marley’s incredible charisma comes through as always, but without guitar solos or the ladies’ gorgeous vocal harmonies the group ‘merely’ sounds like an all-timer party band — their connection to the source still unmediated. Timeless somatic intelligence.
  8. ‘Outside the cars are beeping / Out a song just in your honor / And thought they do not know it / All mankind are now your brothers’ (Regina Spektor, ‘Human of the Year’) A nice idea, maybe the nicest idea — ‘you are not alone’ — and the first episode of the astonishing Mike White/Laura Dern collaboration Enlightened climaxes with Dern striding with rediscovered purpose toward an uncertain fate as Spektor’s voice broadens and grows, her left hand’s own rising stride matches Dern’s; the actress’s face betrays just a moment of uncertainty and then she looks up past the camera into private light, ‘Hallelujah’ sings the young woman and means it, and Laura Dern’s smile is everything and wise like daybreak; she looks beyond us into herself and sees—
  9. Drafts folder. Museum of you, no wall text, each room an unrecoverable moment. Please step this way, here we have an untitled work dated late 2022: ‘Your eyes will be drawn to what represents life for you (though not only that)’ — no punctuation in the original. But we’re not able to be so free, are we, ladies and gentlemen.
  10. DC charging. The reduced range of electric cars relative to gas, and the sparse availability of charging stations in parts of the country, makes travel with an EV weirdly old fashioned. Planning a drive down the coast with friends quickly turns into a search for waystations, like old Pony Express. Puts a certain kind of idiot nerd in mind of Star Wars of course; in that fictional universe the fastest way to send information across the galaxy is by courier, and news spreads slowly. Ugh, why do I know this shit.
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Irreal Life Top 10, Thanksgiving 2022.

irreal life top 10, thanksgiving 2022.

This is a thing I do sometimes. Title and form after Greil Marcus, tone from elsewheres.

  1. ‘Inclusion.’ Like harm, it’s been defined out of any recognizable meaning by the hall-monitor class of self-styled ‘progressive’ types: you are now as ‘included’ as you feel, and if you can’t instantly see why that’s a problem then I’ll assume you’ve never interacted with humans before. (Hint: I can’t change your feelings, and am not even allowed to assess them for myself — so how can I possibly know or change your inclusion-status, for the better or worse?) The new discursive fashion is to claim that Mastodon (q.v.) is insufficiently ‘inclusive’ because its decentralized, federated — i.e. hyperlocal — structure militates against ideological orthodoxy and the empowerment of a ‘protected’ class. The actual content of the ideology in question doesn’t matter; this rhetorical arrangement is a trap laid by the ascendant self-appointed nationwide HR department.
  2. Mastodon. A slow-moving, high-friction, decentralized/federated halfway point between IRC and Twitter, with a number of built-in checks on ‘virality’ and several judiciously chosen ‘missing features’ (e.g. no equivalent to quote-retweets). Most bourgeois complaints about it boil down to ‘I don’t want to start my Twitter clout-farming over from scratch, and I’m not computer-literate enough to manage the minor irritations built in to this platform’; one common variant is to complain about decentralization making it impossible to set up a status-seekers’ corporate nanny-state like Twitter became. Holds infinitely more promise than Twitter ever had, and is a bigger pain in the ass than IRC — indeed, Mastodon will be a nice low-intensity break for many people, me included, but it won’t (in its present form) get anywhere near Twitter in terms of scale or reach, partly because of the macrocommunity’s desperate longing for paternalistic moderation. That said, the chance to start over is priceless. And make no mistake, that’s what’s happening: a brief bad chapter in USA cultural history is ending. Something else is starting, and we might get to decide what it is.
  3. Alice Coltrane, DIVINE SONGS. I’ve been on Journey in Satchidananda and Ptah, the El Daoud for years like every other fan of weed music, but reached midlife before getting hip to Alice’s own midlife music. She spent the decade after her husband’s death raising her kids and keeping John’s music moving to the next place, but not too far beyond — still in a recognizable ‘spiritual jazz’ subgenre for the most part. Jazz people knew she was serious (see Ethan Iverson’s obituary) but partly because of the ambivalent-at-best consensus about Trane’s post-Love Supreme work, for years Alice was unfairly presented to tyros as the Hippie Widow, a curious footnote to her husband’s final act. Thankfully Alice’s music from that period has been more broadly reconsidered since her death, and she’s now correctly understood as an important psychedelic artist and heavy jazz player in her own right. This collection of homemade devotional songs goes way beyond her 70s work, though, into an astounding fusion of deep blues and rapturous New Age synth-colours(!) — not quite jazz but so what. Religious music isn’t normally this hip. Heroic, fully realized personal expression from a faithful seeker. (Geeta Dayal wrote a great piece for the Grauniad about the Luaka Bop reissue of Alice’s ashram tapes back in 2017; Geeta earlier wrote a beautiful personal essay about Satchidananda for the 2007 Marooned anthology.)
  4. Rian Johnson, GLASS ONION. The sequel to the perfectly executed Knives Out is the smartest agitprop you’ll see this year, a thrilling and funny and unexpectedly harrowing story about privilege, power, and the ideological limits of the drawing-room mystery. Both films are ‘secretly’ about minor(ity) characters whom fans of Doctor Who would identify as ‘companions’: Ana de Armas in Knives, Janelle Monáe here. (Spoilers follow.) Playing a character uncomfortably named after Sandra Bland, Monáe is deliberately underwhelming in the first half of the movie in order to set up its manic second half, which she then carries almost singlehandedly — where Knives Out slowly shifted focus to de Armas’s character while maintaining a relatively familiar formal character throughout, Glass Onion daringly breaks genre-narrative frame to embed a second story about the (fantastic) hero-detective Daniel Craig ceding power to Monáe’s haunting/haunted character. (Maybe that’s why The Last Jedi was doomed — Johnson’s story about handing story-control to a ‘nobody’ was misshapen by the fact that Daisy Ridley’s winning Rey was an empty vessel for wish-fulfillment, both the most powerful being in the story-universe and its sympathy-magnet. The deck was stacked for ideological reasons at the expense of story.) Onion‘s ending is a brazen progressive carnival that’s also perfectly satisfying in genre terms; longtime readers may pick up on the significance of me using ‘progressive’ without scare quotes. It’s that serious. Johnson means every word of this masterful film — he’s completely in command, from sly script to expert ensemble direction. And not for a second does this fiercely political artwork devolve into lecture. It’s just really, really good at everything it sets out to do — even the Breaking Bad homage is funny. And get this: the villain is Elon Musk! I’m sick with envy. See it in theaters so they keep throwing money at Rian Johnson.
  5. Kanye West, ‘Monster.’ Obama was right to dismiss him as a jackass and it’s sad that he’s genuinely lost his mind (rich asshole/fools getting divorced do tend to), but West’s self-consciousness and extraordinarily fertile musical talent made for a run of albums that’ll stand the test of time and deserve to. ‘Monster’ will stand the test of time because, after Kanye spits an ordinary verse with one extraordinary pharaonic couplet and Jay-Z tries for the millionth time to remind everyone he has nothing to say (we believe you Shawn dear), Nicki Minaj throws herself a patently insane debutante ball with an Eminem-level guest shot. The final lines — ‘Now look at what you just saw, this is what you live for / AAAHHH! I’m a motherfuckin’ monster!’ — are pure unvarnished truth, both perfect cathartic narrative resolution and sufficient justification for the rest of her career, none of which has been remotely interesting because Kanye West she’s not. (Ever notice how you can tell an arts-school grad from a mile off?)
  6. DARK. Turns out the thing Lost was missing wasn’t meaning or sense or courage or convictions, but rather a hilariously bad English dialogue dub. This German show is a total waste of a superb premise on pure puzzle-box cliffhanger design, or so it seems from the half-season of melodramatic deferral and scriptwriter onanism I was able to tolerate before realizing I actually like meaning, sense, all that shit. (Spoiler: the cave is a time-travel portal, which you’ll guess from the pilot.) Imagine a miserable, contemptuous version of Stranger Things and you’re halfway there. No need to go further.
  7. Emacs 29. The most impressive piece of end-user software yet written is nearly a half-century old and still embodies an anticapitalist philosophy of freedom which is more dangerous now than ever — that’s why it’s routinely derided by Right-Thinking pseuds just shrewd enough to know that one synonym of ‘dangerous’ is ‘unemployable.’ Version 29 is a massive update to a program that remains far more modern than it looks, radically designed and thoughtfully maintained; that there’s no other software comparable to it is heartbreaking testimony to what was lost when the movement for liberatory personal computing was strangled and devoured by the ascendant industry for personal computers. The fundamental problem with Emacs, from the perspective of the ‘mainstream,’ is that its development isn’t driven by greed; there’s no ‘therefore,’ that’s the problem itself. Freedom is a sickness. Eppur si muove.
  8. Tom Petty. Who’s more overrated? Billy Joel? Jay-Z? Pink Floyd? The fucking Doors?
  9. Hakim Bey against ‘curation.’ ‘The parallel term in sufism would be “journeying to the far horizons” or simply “journeying,” a spiritual exercise which combines the urban & nomadic energies of Islam into a single trajectory, sometimes called “the Caravan of Summer.” The dervish vows to travel at a certain velocity, perhaps spending no more than 7 nights or 40 nights in one city, accepting whatever comes, moving wherever signs & coincidences or simply whims may lead, heading from power-spot to power-spot, conscious of “sacred geography,” of itinerary as meaning, of topology as symbology…travel as the antithesis of tourism, space rather than time.’ (from T.A.Z.)
  10. ‘Protect me from what I want.’ An insightful, if perhaps somewhat politically naïve, essay from Tim Bray calls for bottom-up development of recommendation algorithms for ‘social’ media — and intriguingly suggests incorporating a platform for creating and sharing such algorithms into Mastodon and the ‘fediverse.’ But I’m left with the suspicion that ordinary human minds are constituted such that it’s (all but) impossible for someone to design his own ideal recommendation algorithm — he can satisfy his articulable conscious desires, maaaaybe, but the deep-down stuff will presumably elude expression and understanding by definition. Which leaves me wondering, perversely, whether it’s possible for our own deep desires to be unearthed and played upon without exploitation. Feeling strongly but not simply is the least we can do, so I’ll end here for now.

twitter thoughts, change thoughts.

We don’t choose who changes the world.

We only get to decide: Is it me?

Epistemic status warning: I haven’t been sleeping well, I lost the thread partway through and grabbed a different one and who knows whether anything holds together, these are preliminary thoughts, yes this is what my preliminary thoughts come out sounding like, no I’m not so attached to any of this shit that I don’t wanna hear intelligent disputation about it I’m just pompous you see, everyone says so. –wgh

Like a lot of people (within a narrow demographic band) I’ve been thinking a lot about Twitter. Over the last decade it’s eaten more of my time than any other meaningless distraction. It looms large in my daily experience, for bad reasons. It also was instrumental in getting me the 33-1/3 gig, and introduced me to a bunch of people I consider ‘online friends’ — a weird category and worth unpacking some other time. It entertained me. It destroyed my attention span.

I’m happy to see it go.

Everything good about Twitter was intimately bound up in everything bad about it — crucially, Twitter was not a ‘social’ network in a meaningful sense. Facebook is a ‘social’ network of sorts: you log in and have brief text conversations with your Facebook friends. They’re probably not your real friends, but your Facebook connections theoretically map onto real connections, and if Facebook usage tends to devolve into grandpas-sharing-memes, well, some of us are old enough to remember when commercial email was new and rare (and expensive) and email usage devolved readily to grandpas-sharing-chain-emails. Facebook in practice is a bad version of something good, owned by a cruel idiot, surveilled and manipulated into paranoid stupidity, monetized out of any real value — but under its shambling corpse is an older model of online sociality that might, in an alternate universe, have been something good for our species.

Twitter was never that. It was designed to be bad.

Most Twitter use worked on the ad-supported broadcast model, with ‘social’ interactions having even less importance or usefulness than the infamous blog comments sections you weren’t supposed to read. No one is under any illusions about this except ‘knowledge workers’ who got their only taste of status and visibility through Twitter: journalists, academics, political-media figures, et al. Facebook destroyed the economics of journalism, but Twitter hollowed out journalistic work itself; CNN is the cancer that ate American politics but Twitter represents its metastasis; online life has degraded over 25 years to a long game of hotornot.com but Twitter was built around that model. A lot of mistakes and bad intentions went into Twitter: thumbs-up without thumbs-down is profoundly stupid design that did great harm, the ‘you might like this…’ algorithm is clever but evil (i.e. ad-centric), engagement-only metrics are merely stupid/evil — Twitter was never a successful business and won’t be now, but its managers behaved in ordinary business-predator ways, iteratively ruining not only the one good thing about the site (its initial proposition: an RSS feed of your friends’ group text messages in reverse-chronological order) but everything superficially attractive about it. Prior to Elon Musk’s takeover of the service, Twitter was a shitshow, a ‘social’ service where it was impossible to have a sane conversation except by calving off an invite-only space (at which point you were almost certainly better off in an IRC channel or near-equivalent, e.g. a Slack/Discord instance).

The most popular Twitter accounts were pure publicity feeds: Obama, Musk, Bieber, Ronaldo, Taylor Swift, Modi(!), and for some reason the official Youtube account(??). The only remotely real human being in the top 50 accounts of all time is Musk himself. (For mental-health reasons he should have had his account taken away, but what can you do.) Interacting with humans was possible, but once a Twitter feed reaches a certain size it’s almost impossible to control what you’re seeing, at which point normal/healthyish people defocus and stop interacting almost entirely — making it very difficult to actually get the attention of any big account unless you were (1) big yourself or (2) a dedicated status-chaser, in which case (1) was your goal anyway. The network was built around status, attention, ‘engagement,’ which is why both malicious users’ unceasing river of bullshit and the company’s constant clumsy censorship (including well-documented shadowbanning) were inevitable. ‘Advertisers don’t want to be on “free speech” Twitter’ is a common observation among pseuds now, but the primacy of branding on Twitter was always the problem — ask anyone who made the mistake of looking to Twitter for political ‘news,’ and found nothing but court stenographers’ self-promotion…

Twitter was designed to be bad because it never had a way of making money except selling ads, and it predictably deformed around its revenue source. Pay-to-play networks can’t be ‘social’ in any meaningful sense.

That’s why I won’t miss Twitter. ‘Friends share SMS status messages to coordinate get-togethers at SXSW’ is a fine weekend web-dev project. ‘Tens of millions of people wake up and mindlessly scroll through broadcasts from strangers’ is obviously nothing but a distraction engine which is why status-seekers and advertisers liked it and everyone else routinely derided it as a stupid time-suck to which they were addicted and for which they’d consequently make every excuse in the book.

Hence the the current wave of melodramatic, performative Twitter nostalgia, a combination of resistance to change, justification for what everyone sane has long understood to be a destructive addiction — and branding, branding, branding. Twitter’s weird approach to virtual identity has had corrosive effects, and we’re seeing predictable celebrations from the people who’ve adopted it, ‘benefited’ from it, and now face the horrifying prospect of turning back into people.

the bird that could’ve flown

We don’t choose who changes the world.

Musk is a terrible human being, but he’s the only person with both the means to take Twitter private and the lack of impulse control to try it. And since Twitter is bullshit for a host of reasons which boil down to it being a publicly traded corporation chasing after ad money, this means that Elon Musk is the only person alive in a position to fix Twitter. He will fail, he is publicly failing right before our eyes even as I type — but think about what he could have offered to the world:

An open invitation, backed by $50,000,000,000 of funding, to take Twitter’s massive, frankly astounding network infrastructure and build something new on top of it.

Imagine having the keys to Twitter. What would you do? What would you pay hundreds or thousands of engineers to build? If you didn’t have to answer to shareholders or anyone else, if you had an effectively unlimited amount of money and a readymade infrastructure and the attention of the entire online world, with billions of users waiting to see what you’d do next, and if you could (for a minute) have had your pick of nearly any software developer on earth — if you actually cared about implementing the dream of an ‘Internet town square’ and could skip the entire startup-bootstrapping process and present your idea full-grown to the rest of our species — can you imagine what you’d do?

If you had more money than God and were deluded enough to think of yourself as an excellent tech-corp CEO instead of a lucky conscription-dodging legacy admit with a fake résumé, and someone handed you the keys, would you pass up that opportunity?

Musk just bought the right to deploy literally any software project he wants at Twitter scale. imagine what he could do. He’s making bad choices because he’s stupid, but what if he weren’t? If someone told you tomorrow, ‘You now own NASA. Do what you want,’ would you hesitate for even a second before putting people on Mars or something? I bet you would, and honestly that’s probably good. But Elon Musk, a dipshit conman so insecure he lies about his bachelors degree, demonstrably wouldn’t hesitate. He keeps actually doing insane things, his money protects him, and some of them — like brute-forcing the launch of the entire electric-car sector — will change and indeed improve human life to a degree we can’t yet fully comprehend.

We don’t get to choose who changes the world. We only get to choose to try it ourselves, or not. No one reading this, I imagine, will ever be in a position to effect change at Twitter-scale. But one reason for that is simple: no one reading this is actually committed to even trying for that goal.

Musk looked at Twitter, like so many of us, and thought: What else could this be? Because of his limitations, he came up with dumb answers and is tripping over himself to implement them in the dumbest, most destructive possible ways. He’s going to destroy Twitter by accident — and then one of the worst, most influential business executives in history will own billions and billions of dollars of digital infrastructure, with which he can do whatever the hell he wants… Tell me, if that guy offered you $200K/yr to build something else using Twitter’s tech and reach and userbase, would you take it?

Wouldn’t you?

elf-actualization

A ‘self-actualized’ person is someone who lives intentionally, no longer in denial about her nature, her plans and impulses and desires aligned, or at least resolved. Unlike most people she’s…really here, not denying or escaping or sublimating but actually struggling with this moment, this world-in-progress as it actually is. You can ‘skip ahead’ to something that superficially resembles self-actualization by being a Musk/Trump-style piece of shit, having so much money and so few actual friends that you lose connection to humanity, but real self-actualization is peace, which isn’t the absence of conflict but rather the presence (or rather, the process) of harmony and resolution. Musk obviously isn’t a peaceful man, but he’s now in a position to act with almost total impunity, to honour his full self (if he had one). This is capitalism’s shitty simulacrum of peace, the glittering lure: it’s a bad thing that does good things by accident. Musk is late capitalism is human form, a trust-fund baby who uses his money solely to make increasingly large bets on a future that can’t be built any other way, not because they’ll help you and me but because that’s the way his ego is deformed, and everything good that comes of Musk’s predation and exploitation is a side effect.

This is capitalist ideology in a nutshell: your selfishness delivers benefits to us, greed increases freedom as a side effect (presentists and attention-dysregulated readers, cf. Sam Bankman-Fried and all of ‘effective altruism’ and indeed ‘rationalism’). ‘Trickle-down’ economics is just saying the quiet part of capitalism out loud, the rich need to get richer because ‘greed works,’ and it remains not just the social-ideological model of Silicon Valley but the psychological basis of the whole corporate world. That’s the deep-down justification — and note its reflection the current outbreak of Twitter-nostalgia, howls of longing for a world in which endless monologues into the void could take the place of the real (taxing, risky, slow, meaningful) communication that entities like Twitter have themselves destroyed, oh well…

Most people with delusions of grandeur accomplish nothing — but everyone who does anything grand will have, at moments, such delusions. Successful people tend not to get swept up in them, tend to avoid getting high on their own supply; peaceful people learn to avoid this trap entirely. But an awful lot of world-changing people are fucking nuts! And they get someplace legible and impactful to the rest of us by chasing their foolish notions and schemes and visions long past the point at which anyone else would have stopped. Do you think ‘Kim Kardashian’ is a good idea? Does anyone? Christ no. But even a product idea that bad can make a billion dollars if the people pimping it are clear-eyed about what they want and ruthless about pursuing it. That’s the ugly lesson that presumes the late-capitalist cult of accumulation, and it’s the weak vile analogue to the most beautiful idea, that no human is too far fallen to find peace through clarity, intention, and focus — right thinking right action etc., as somebody once said. We don’t get to choose who changes the world or how it’s changed, except that we get to choose (we must choose) to enact and embody that change ourselves. Which is the last thing the bosses like Musk want, and which is why the real questions to ask about Twitter — or about own your inexplicable and misguided decision to know and even care about the ‘Kim Kardashian’ line of near-human beings — are ‘What do I need?’ ‘What do I want?’ ‘What am I doing?’ Maybe you stay connected to the distraction-engine, sucking down toxic fumes and remaining in the fog of ‘Twitter brain’; maybe you turn off the TV when the Kardashian-family infomercial comes on; maybe we finish this goddamn manuscript; either way, the only healthy act is an intentional one, the thing Twitter was built and administered to take away from you, which can only come about through an alignment of means and ends and opportunity and luck (a superstitious nickname for ‘opportunity’).

There’s a universe, maybe not yet born, in which Twitter developed in accordance with a clear vision of a global ‘town square’ rather than an advertising platform trading in private user data. Elon Musk had the opportunity to bring it into being right here, right now, and he didn’t because he’s stupid and undisciplined.1 But he has some combination of traits which gave him that opportunity in the first place. And while we shouldn’t strive to emulate him — though I could live with being richer than Croesus — we might pay attention to the thing he superficially resembles, and take some lesson from his ongoing rise/fall.

And then stop paying attention to him altogether. Musk has stolen enough time from our species. He’s destroying Twitter, literally as I type, and it would take him and his several years to build something worthwhile on its ruins. To hell with them. Meanwhile an unexplored country is visible beyond. Maybe it’s easier to find peace in a new world outside the old. Maybe, with all the time that quitting Twitter is gonna free up, you’ll have a few minutes in which to try.

I’m @waxbanks@mstdn.social for the time being, waxbanks most places I’m found online, tell me something new.

addendum

I want to add: Yes, Musk wanted not to buy Twitter and tried to get out of it. He’s impulsive and seems to’ve backed himself into it. I don’t think that’s incompatible with him having delusions of grandeur about running the place, or even ideas about what it might be; I’m sure they intertwine nicely with his persecution complex as Twitter burns down.


  1. ‘Wait I thought he was a “hardcore” sleep-at-the-office type?’ No, you’re thinking of the people he pays to buttress his reputation. Musk explicitly announced his intention to hand the Twitter reins over to a more committed CEO after completing the acquisition — and he’s notoriously both an impulsive micromanager and an absentee landlord with no attention to detail. Have you ever actually ridden in a fucking Tesla? 

Twitter was a distraction engine.

Twitter is (was) a distraction engine — its sole function, to steal attention. Bad at selling ads but bad at everything else too.

It’s good for the human species that Twitter is going away.

My prediction is that for a time, regular Twitter users will all just be better off — less ‘doomscrolling,’ less ‘killing time’ by starting at our phones. More Reddit, maybe, and (less likely) more Facebook. Surely more Instagram (which is practically the same thing).

Eventually a replacement will arise.

Mastodon is not a drop-in Twitter replacement — it is intentionally designed (e.g. by lacking quote-tweets) to prevent virality and to militate against shallow engagement, which are Twitter’s main features. Twitter is for distraction; Mastodon is for conversation. People aren’t used to that, which’ll get in the way of Mastodon uptake.

Good riddance to Twitter and its idiot owner.

Online presence.

I’m waxbanks most everywhere online:

Twitter: @waxbanks.

Mastodon: waxbanks@heads.social.

And here.

I don’t use Facebook.

Greatest line of dialogue ever.

‘My motherfucker’s so cool when he goes to bed sheep count him.

On switching from D&D 5e to old-school play (this is dumb nerd stuff, please ignore).

My answer to an r/osr question about coming from D&D 5e to OSR:

Having done both in the last few years:

5e feels like slightly too much game for me. I’ve no interest in ‘gamist’ tactical combat, which is Hasbro’s preference — 4e was chess++, and much 5e (especially on Roll20 and equivalent) tends in that direction. B/X wants you playing fast and loose, maybe with a map but definitely with the ‘fiction-first’ approach that people misidentify as a storygame/’NuSR’ innovation. Once you’re playing on a grid you’re too far from the fiction for my tastes. Others feel otherwise.

False precision creates ambiguity and tension, opportunities for haggling — little things, but the game is full of little things. 5e is infamously falsely precise: look at how many stupid fucking clarifications and FAQs there are for what’s supposed to be a rough’n’ready adventure game ruleset. Why is Jeremy Crawford forced to spend so much time on Twitter assuaging the anxieties of young players? (The real answer is partly generational, and therefore considered rude. Let’s not.)

The 5e skill system feels like it’s a few pounds overweight; it imposes on play clumsily at times. A small example: the other day my dwarven cleric had a chance to recall some geological knowledge during a dungeon crawl. The DM wanted to call for a skill check to adjudicate that moment — but felt that INT/History (the ‘stonecunning’ class feature) didn’t quite make sense. The class feature is written juuuuust prescriptively enough to get in the way, like the spell descriptions. It worked out fine on the night of course, slowed play for 15-30 seconds or something — but the night is only so long, you know? Those decisions pile up. (FWIW, I’d have ruled it a roll-under INT check with Advantage, or an auto-success, but our DM is good and it’s his table.) There’s not much point in playing 5e if you don’t use the rules, even when they say both too much and too little at once. So the DM had to think about the right skill check, because the rules insist that you think about it, and we had this brief moment of uncertainty about a rule that doesn’t need to exist in the first place.

5e is too often full of such moments — when you try to give the character sheet what you think it wants instead of just flying. In my experience, B/X isn’t that way: you say yes, or roll the obvious ability check (perhaps using the hidden skill system), or roll the obvious-with-a-bit-of-practice saving throw. To my eye, the stat check/saving throw system is good at catching what’s tossed to it, while imposing minimal cognitive burden during an already extremely cognitively demanding game.

Settings and situations are easier to roleplay than plots — well, ‘plots’ are arguably impossible to play anyway, cf. the early Forge insight about the Impossible Thing. When players call for ‘story’ and ‘plot’ it seems to me they actually want rich situations with legible stakes in an interesting, interactive setting, and they want their choices to matter. (Will Wright, as I recall: a game is a series of meaningful choices.) Latter-day WotC/Hasbro adventures usually fail here: they tend to be unimaginative or thin, with illusionist ‘choice’ disconnected from the setting/stakes, in boring settings. (WotC has no great writers left.) It’s no surprise that they’ve made great money wrapping 40-year-old adventures in new trade dress (and punishingly dull art). Simple rule of thumb: an adventure that presumes to tell you what the players will or must do is incorrect.

(For the opposing view, Ken Hite: ‘”Railroading” is a pejorative term for an adventure in which something is actually accomplished.’)

The old-school gold-for-XP rule is a great setup for a certain kind of adventure, because the rulebook doesn’t presume to tell you how to solve problems — it poses a challenge (find treasure) and trusts you to have (make) fun completing it. XP for combat is widely understood even by previous adherents to be merely dumb; ‘milestone XP’ is better for lame mainline use cases, but its hidden purpose is to drive players toward the pre-written, agency-denying ‘plot.’ That’s a thing I intensely dislike about 5e: its attitude toward ‘experience,’ which flows from its focus on character ‘builds’ — which the designers of the game halfheartedly disavow.

So that’s some of how I feel and some of what I think. 5e is too much game in the wrong places, and not enough in others. Its writing and art are dull and its adventures trip over themselves. B/X is lighter in the hand, quicker at the table.

The important part of ‘organized religion’ is organization.

Without the structured intellectual engagement, community participation, and beneficial narrativization that come with organized religion, what use is it? It’s not the god parts that matter, not the metaphysics it’s the devotion — and the social dimension, which has been the x-factor all through human history. Something has to bind us together.

At the moment, nothing does except freighted things — nationalism, media spectacle. Moral panics and fads (inverse moral panics: moral frolics). As technology defeats geography, we lose the community elements of all our social forms. Religion’s power to cross geographic boundaries without eliding them is too important to dismiss. ‘New Beyoncé album’ doesn’t actually do it, you know? Media fandom existed in the 19th century and all through the 20th, and look where it got us.

Irreal Life Top 10, Labor Day 2022.

Working so hard for those clicks that I’m spelling it ‘Labor’ instead of ‘Labour,’ whaddaya think of me now. Nothing irreal about this but there’s no changing the series title now.

  1. Cherry Brown, Kailh Silver. Having made everyone’s second choice of keyswitches (Cherry MX Browns) when I bought my keyboard, and now having bad RSI for the first time in many years, I ended up switching this weekend to Kailh Speed Silvers while casting about for possible fixes. The keyswitches are the spring-loaded mechanism below the cap; you don’t see them and they’re what matters most in terms of keyboard feel. Cherry Browns are ‘tactile,’ i.e. there’s a bump in the key travel which you can feel; Kailh Silvers are linear switches, with no bump, just continuous resistance. I’m making an effort not to ‘bottom out’ or move the keys through their full travel as I type, sacrificing that incredibly gratifying THOCK sound on the altar of hand fatigue. I thiiiiink it’s working? Kailh Silvers are made for gaming so they actuate when you breathe on them, feather-light; the upshot is that I’ve moved fatigue from wrists to biceps, which is fine, and the experience gives much less sensual pleasure. It’s like I’m aging in reverse. I’ve got some Kailh Coppers coming, I think — short travel, light high actuation, tactile feel. Might not be worth it, but they’re not expensive. (I think I got 110 of them for $30, anybody need some keyswitches?)
  2. Harry Potter music. John William’s scores for the first three movies establish a soundworld on the Star Wars model (grounding fantasy doings in symphonic somaticism and familiar leitmotif) which seems inevitable in retrospect, even obvious: brass fanfares and low-string ‘mystery’ themes and the perfect ‘Hedwig’s Theme’ for initial Hogwarts impressions in the tween coming-of-age films, shading into richer darker colours as the generational story deepens and complicates. The third and best-by-a-mile film gets a very fine score from Williams, full of stark contrasts, eerie textures and shapes (the scansion on the witch-song is fucking strange), and several clever transformations and elaborations — check out the wide variations on Hedwig’s theme throughout the finale, ‘Mischief Managed!’ It’s all characteristically Williams in Spielbergian-wonder mode, though he stretched impressively for the Azkaban score. The rest of the series got a different composer every film or two, though: Patrick Doyle, Nicholas Hooper, Alexandre Desplat. Results were mixed. Doyle’s Goblet of Fire score sounds like him and like Hogwarts, though not quite like Williams (without thinking about it, my sense is that the audibly Scots-Irish Doyle seeks/gets a very different brass sound in particular; damn I used to love his Frankenstein score), Hooper’s scores go for whimsical mimesis (the best moment in Phoenix has no music, but his ‘Weasley Stomp’ is a useful reminder that Williams was very much an American tourist in Rowling’s imaginary Britain), and by Deathly Hallows Desplat conjures a diffuse melancholy hardly recognizable as Potter-related, which unfortunately fits those movies well. Unlike, say, the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings scores — which flow together into impossibly rich macrocompositions — the Potter soundtracks stand apart from one another, sonically and thematically, and I’m not tempted to throw them all on for a long day’s listen. But amidst the stupidities of the Rowling-related cultural conversation, it’s nice to be reminded of how skillfully executed these ordinary movies are.
  3. Nuns on the run. On Adam Roberts’s enthusiastic recommendation I’m reading Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner that Held Them, the generations-spanning novel of a 14th-century English convent; after 250 pages I’m comfortable calling it the equal of any novel I’ve read in years. I keep wanting to compare it to Le Carré, his subtly barbed humour and skillful interweaving of the individual psychology of desperately focused people and their historical moments too vast to get ahold of, or even know about — only Warner writes men and women with equal mastery, which places her beyond Le Carré in at least that regard. The nunnery feels perfectly real, though the inside of that physical location is barely described (while the local countryside is vivid and clear); the women and men in the community are human beings, fully realized and empathetically, humanely rendered. Just an inspiring, perfectly executed novel. I’m sick with envy.
  4. Firefly. As preparation to run my Traveller-plus-Jedi RPG campaign with the lads, I threw the two-part Firefly pilot on the ol’ TV, and was reminded that Joss Whedon did the best, most perfectly realized work of his life while balancing three TV shows. Firefly is a masterwork in the classical sense, a carefully controlled showcase for every skill its chief maker had learned (though let’s not discount the contributions of his expert cocoreator Tim Minear). Whedon’s never been funnier or wiser, never worked successfully on so many levels at once. But even with inspired scripts and searching direction/production, the show might’ve fallen down without a star on the order of Sarah Michelle Gellar (or Gandolfini/Falco, Bryan Cranston, Julia Louis-Dreyfus), someone Whedon could count on to make sense of his characteristic tonal whip-pans and wild register jumps. Here Whedon lucked into a partnership with his most gifted male performer, the fucking Canadian Nathan Fillion, who gave the performance of his life in a role as rich as Buffy Summers — and then, with a sly character actor and ensemble comic (and born Western hero) at the top of the call sheet, the Firefly team surrounded Fillion with an oddball cast of equally multifaceted performers, literally any one of whom could easily have carried a spinoff. Special mention to Alan Tudyk, a comic virtuoso, and the astral projection known as Morena Baccarin, who slowly unfurled maybe the broadest range of talents in a talented cast. (Bonus points to a young Christina Hendricks as Saffron; watching her flirt with Baccarin in ‘Our Mrs Reynolds’ is one of the greatest experiences of my human existence.) The fact that this show existed at all is one of its fallen medium’s rare blessings; the fact of its cancellation is just another fucking crime. The sequel-feature Serenity is an overstuffed and hurried valedictory that boasts several classic Whedon sequences and a magnificent climactic showdown between Captain Tightpants and the impossibly charismatic Chiwetel Ejiofor; it’s a nice consolation but can’t touch the original series. Few shows can.
  5. ‘Effective altruism.’ Mostly the same sort of fraud as ‘AI alignment’ and indeed ‘rationalism’ writ large, starring mostly the same sorts of people. @chaosprime definitively sums up on Twitter: ‘Weird that EA converted on a focus that is addressed by nerds getting tons of money to 1) sit in rooms thinking big math thoughts all day then 2) telling other nerds what to do’.
  6. Harvard undergrads. They neatly illustrate, by contrast, how dowdy Cantabridgians are during the sparsely populated summer months; on the other hand, they manifestly couldn’t find their dicks with two hands and a dick map.1 Harvard Square in late August is trying for those of us who find privileged teenagers not just the worst but the most boring thing on earth.
  7. Frisell. How many artists are so powerfully and equally committed to both the gentlest moments of beauty and vulnerability and the weirdest psych-sonics? Listening to his debut In Line (recorded 40 years ago this month!) is one of those improbably deep experiences, where there seems to be too much detail to permit entry, much less immersion — too much pick and prickle — yet the sound slips across and around and then opens into something deep and enveloping, a whole soundworld in less than 45 minutes. Frisell is like Fillion: confident, unassuming, deep feeling, so’s you might not notice his virtuosity. I’ve enjoyed every note I’ve heard him play, but this album (maybe not surprisingly, as it’s half solo/overdubbed tracks) feels close to the bone. And Eicher’s production is just what the young seeker needed, of course.
  8. House of the Dragon. Unnecessary — and after the catastrophe of the latter seasons of Game of Thrones, faintly embarrassing — but Fire and Blood, the mock-scholarly Game of Thrones ‘prequel’ it’s based on, startled me years ago by being a joy to read and (fannishly) contemplate. It’s central to GRR Martin’s grand project and obviously dear to his heart, and you might read it instead of watching the show. Then again, I said that about Game of Thrones itself. Then again, I was right.
  9. Provisionality. Louis CK describes his creative technique in an interview: ‘When I develop material that’s in tough places, I have a method: I say the worst version, and then usually, they don’t like it. But I listen to that. I listen to the “Ugh,” and there’s a sound in it… Either I’m gonna take that “ugh” and I’m gonna play with it, or I’m gonna find a way around it… I need to hear the dissent… Sometimes I’m like, “I don’t want to upset these people tonight.” But I know there’s a bit in this that they’re going to like. And I work on it and work on it, to the point where everybody likes it… Every bit that I have that’s a great bit, started as: nobody wants to hear it.’
  10. Oscar and Basie. Peterson was a skillful host of his variety/interview TV show, and the Count was a wonderful guest, but their wordless opening duet is something more than entertainment: it’s a privilege to see an old master simply enjoy himself in the loving company of a younger master. Peterson’s adoration of Basie is evident, as is Basie’s love and admiration for Peterson. Their relationship to one another is their relationship to the music. It’s beautiful. There’s a moment in the video when a closeup of Peterson’s astonishing hands dissolves to a similar shot of Basie’s, gently stroking the piano keys like they’re his wife’s tired fingers and hands. Not much room in noisy transient modernity for quiet moments like this with a cherished elder, listening close to his life’s music. This is one of things jazz is for. This is what it is.

  1. Metaphorically speaking. 

On Hasbro D&D.

Someone asked on Reddit:

Is every 5e adventure [clumsy and/or unimaginative]? Honestly, I’m willing to take one more chance. But then, which one should I try? Is there at least 1 good 5e adventure?

To which I’d say:

WotC/Hasbro doesn’t have any evocative writers or trailblazing designers in its stable anymore, I think. Their job is to maintain ‘IP’ and it goes as well as you’d expect. The D&D brand is carefully protected and corporate-committee-managed, therefore the Product is all boring and ordinary — but it was that way all through 4e times as well, and nearly all 3e stuff is bloated disposable crap too. (The most interesting WotC output is the design of 4e, which is superb but isn’t actually good at being D&D.)

As has been pointed out over and over, paying RPG writers by the word for big vanilla hardcovers is a recipe for disaster — which WotC/Hasbro and Paizo demonstrate, the former more humiliatingly than the latter. See for instance the Fizban’s something something Dragons book, which is an unimaginative fucking disaster.

The essential problem with 5e D&D is that it tries to satisfy customers and shareholders instead of ever actually doing something new or beautiful or weird or even just fun. The lamest LotFP book displays more courage and conviction than the best WotC product, because it’s meant to inspire creativity rather than allay anxiety. It’s childish to mistake comfort for confidence.

All this said:

  • Curse of Strahd is ‘Ravenloft with stuff’ — this is fine, the new stuff included, and easily the best 5e adventure I’ve read, though there’s no reason to spend $50 or even $30 on ‘Ravenloft with stuff’
  • Descent to Avernus has good setpieces to offer if you put in the work to connect them up and give it weight; I really enjoyed playing in our campaign but would never run it
  • Lost Mines of Phandelver is a genuinely excellent introduction to vanilla, lowest-common-denominator D&D, and also gets graded on a curve by OSR types who figured 5e would be trash
  • The Wildemount (Critical Role) book is a good example of WotC’s B/B+ aspirations: nothing about it is interesting, it’s a corporate tie-in product inspired by a TV show, but the production values are nice and it does exactly (only) what you’d expect

The single best Hasbro D&D product is, of course, the Encyclopedia Magica, a late-20C 4-volume set from TSR which renders nearly all 5e material not just obsolete but gutless.