Friday, 7 April 2017

Links 7/4/17


After the revelation that the Syrian government used chemicals (and possibly nerve agents) in an attack that claimed civilian lives in a rebel-held area, the US launched missiles at an airfield near Homs (from which the attacks were said to be conducted). This is the first strike against Assad's government forces by the US, following a campaign that was focused on destroying ISIS forces. Russia, which supports Assad's government, was informed prior to the attack to ensure that no ground forces would be killed (also, here's an article from the end of the Obama Presidency on Syria and how it will be regarded in the context of Obama's foreign policy legacy). 
Another aspect to this story is that at the same time as the airstrikes were launched, US President Trump was meeting with Chinese President Xi, an ally of the Syrian President, in an already diplomatically precarious climate (mainly because of questions regarding the status of Taiwan and the future of North Korea). 

The LA Times published a very long essay on Our Dishonest President that is suitably terrifying.
What is most worrisome about Trump is Trump himself. He is a man so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where his presidency will lead or how much damage he will do to our nation. His obsession with his own fame, wealth and success, his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of his scorched-earth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped get him elected. But in a real presidency in which he wields unimaginable power, they are nothing short of disastrous. 
In a year where the focus has shifted on the devastation that prescription painkillers are wreaking on entire communities, this is an excellent article on a related monster: why, in spite of the fact that there is an incredibly effective way to battle widespread homecooking of metamphetamines (making pseudoephedrine containing products prescription only), this kind of legislation tends to die in its infancy (yes, the answer is big pharma). 

This is a portray of Australian conservatism and right-wing populism (and the always questionable, ideologically incoherent and dangerous alliance between the two), and an attempt to place it in an international context. 

Pop Culture: 

A good few months for television: The Expanse and Underground (in which everyone is fantastic, but the addition of Jasika Nicole is particularly great) are both fantastic in their second seasons, and soon, both American Gods and The Handmaid's Tale (here's Margaret Atwood on the meaning of her book in the age of Trump) will debut (and Wynonna Earp and Orphan Black, for a final season, will return). 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is 20 years old, and Tara Maclay deserved better.  

Always good to read through and be inspired by the Dazed 100 (maybe while listening to this

In spite of its other shortcomings, humanity is making serious progress towards developing a blacker black (also, jfc). 

This review of The Social Network by Zadie Smith is seven years old but is one of the greatest film reviews I've ever read. 
 Lanier is interested in the ways in which people “reduce themselves” in order to make a computer’s description of them appear more accurate. “Information systems,” he writes, “need to have information in order to run, but information underrepresents reality” (my italics). In Lanier’s view, there is no perfect computer analogue for what we call a “person.” [...]
We know that having two thousand Facebook friends is not what it looks like. We know that we are using the software to behave in a certain, superficial way toward others. We know what we are doing “in” the software. But do we know, are we alert to, what the software is doing to us? Is it possible that what is communicated between people online “eventually becomes their truth”? What Lanier, a software expert, reveals to me, a software idiot, is what must be obvious (to software experts): software is not neutral. Different software embeds different philosophies, and these philosophies, as they become ubiquitous, become invisible. 
The New York Review of Books: Generation Why?, November 25, 2010

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