The Dark Side

The moderators told me it’s a place where the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views. One auditor walks the floor promoting the idea that the Earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee, who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: “I no longer believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack.”

Chloe cries for a while in the break room, and then in the bathroom, but begins to worry that she is missing too much training. She had been frantic for a job when she applied, as a recent college graduate with no other immediate prospects. When she becomes a full-time moderator, Chloe will make $15 an hour — $4 more than the minimum wage in Arizona, where she lives, and better than she can expect from most retail jobs.

The tears eventually stop coming, and her breathing returns to normal. When she goes back to the training room, one of her peers is discussing another violent video. She sees that a drone is shooting people from the air. Chloe watches the bodies go limp as they die.

She leaves the room again.

From here. The story of those who moderate content on Facebook is haunting and infuriating.

Zeroes And Ones Will See You Through

I’ve had this website for years now; it was a weird side site at first, somewhere personal for me to write things for fun — remember fun? —  while I also had a theoretical “work site,” since taken over by a German squatter for some mysterious reason. And it was fun; a place to just ramble and dissemble without the audience I’d built up on Twitter or the pressure (or focus) of one of my professional outlets.

Then, years later than everyone else, I discovered Tumblr, and more or less migrated there for both the ease of the platform and also the social side of things — it felt like an inviting cross between this site and Twitter, and who wouldn’t want that? I more or less abandoned this site, unintentionally; I rarely had enough time to write something up for here, and Tumblr seemed more appreciative of shorter posts.

Cut to now, post-Tumblr becoming a wasteland and also somewhere obsessed with wrongfully declaring everything porn. My Tumblr love feels, if anything, more misguided than my Twitter addiction, and I find myself upset at the missed opportunity to make more of this site, which I own and control. There’s something to that last part, especially; I feel like the “Don’t use someone else’s platform, that way you don’t control your content” conversation repeats itself every couple of years or so, but I’m finally listening.

(The number of people who left Tumblr and talked about downloading all their content and posting it elsewhere was fascinating to me; I imported all my Tumblr posts to this site and am slowly working through that, curating the stuff worth keeping and deleting the rest.)

So, I’m here again, still rambling and dissembling, but on my own terms. Is this what anyone else wants to read? I doubt it, but it doesn’t really matter — it’s something that feels good to be doing once again, and something that makes me feel in control of my digital life even in a small way. That’s enough.

Bad News Stuff

Quasars arise from supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies; they are the brightest objects in nature, and can be seen clear across the universe. As standard candles, quasars aren’t ideal because their masses vary widely. Nevertheless, the researchers identified some regularities in the emissions from quasars, allowing the history of the cosmos to be traced back nearly 12 billion years. The team found that the rate of cosmic expansion deviated from expectations over that time span.

One interpretation of the results is that dark energy is not constant after all, but is changing, growing denser and thus stronger over cosmic time. It so happens that this increase in dark energy also would be just enough to resolve the discrepancy in measurements of the Hubble constant.

The bad news is that, if this model is right, dark energy may be in a particularly virulent and — most physicists say — implausible form called phantom energy. Its existence would imply that things can lose energy by speeding up, for instance. Robert Caldwell, a Dartmouth physicist, has referred to it as “bad news stuff.”

From here.

“I Could Have Burned Your Fate In The Sand”

I didn’t hear the T-Rex version of “Life’s A Gas” for years; I knew it from an Alex Chilton cover that — maybe it was on a bootleg, or on a live recording off the radio or something? I remember that I didn’t come by it honestly, if that makes sense, and I remember to this day how lazy and scuzzy it sounded. I think Teenage Fanclub were being Chilton’s backing band, and the whole thing sounded near-shambolic, which just made it so much more compelling to listen to, over and over and over again.

I remember going to record stores and toying with the “Electric Warrior” CD over and over again, as well, wondering if it was worth the money just for that one track. (This was before my interest in Bolan set in, and back when I was poor enough that buying a CD was a commitment that I didn’t make easily.) It never seemed fully worth it, and so it was years later when I finally heard the original version of the song, with Bolan’s ethereal vocals feeling the very opposite of Chilton’s, with the pristine guitar feeling light and airy compared to the version I knew.

The original version of the song, to this day, feels almost like a ghost, or perhaps like a skeleton or structure that exists as much in its absence than what is actually present. I feel, when I listen to it, as if I am following that guitar line through a physical space, through the bones of the song. It feels spacious.

This despite the lyrics of the song, which are almost comically lackadaisical, bordering on depressed: “I could have placed our love in the sky, but it really doesn’t matter at all, no, it really doesn’t matter at all…” It’s a proto-slacker song, perhaps, made decades too early. Something that, almost fittingly, I never got around to actually properly listening to until it was easy enough for me to do so without expending any significant effort. Maybe Marc would have approved.

And, Doggone It

So, I asked for a raise from one of my outlets.

(I would have asked for a raise from more than one, but I suspect doing so from the second might have ended with either a no or, worse, a “What if we paid you less instead?” which, as surreal as it sounds, is what happened last time I tried.)

The entire notion of asking for more money is a fraught one for me, tied up with issues of self-worth and selfishness and the like; the very idea that I could think, “You know, I do so much for you guys and it’s actually much more than it used to be, I think I deserve to be paid in such a way that reflects that,” comes with a sense that I somehow have ideas above my station and deserve to be swatted down for it. It’s not a good way to be, I know — I’m in therapy for a number of reasons, after all — but it’s there and I have to deal with it nonetheless.

All of this was exacerbated by the way in which I had to ask, which saw me screw my courage to the sticking post and make my case to my immediate supervisor and then, following his okay, have to make my case in more detail, with an argument for why I’m worth it, to his boss. (Admittedly, my imposter syndrome has to deal with the fact that I have been approved once already, but still.) It’s this weird, awkward experience that forces me to wrestle with my own insecurities multiple times, with me thinking, Actually, never mind, I’m fine, the whole time.

I’ve not heard back, yet, as to whether or not I’ll get the raise. It’s the limbo part where decisions have to be made and balances have to be checked and I’m here, feeling simultaneously anxious and self-consciously proud for having raised the subject it the first place. But if I don’t get it…? That’ll be awkward.

Are We Still Capable of Such Smallness?

Are we still capable of such smallness? The minuscule human figures in a Thomas Cole painting, dwarfed by overwhelming mountains and an engulfing sky, once embodied an American ideal, the purposeful melting away of individuality in order to attain some higher awareness, or to join in a collective or simply to find space to think. With our societal volume dial turned all the way up (and possibly broken), so many of us overexposed and all too present, does quiet any longer have this pull, or does it just make us itch for our phones? And if we can still shut our eyes and cover our ears, become details of the landscape, should we? Is it morally acceptable at this moment? What’s waiting for us beyond the noise if we try?

From here.

“Stepped Out Of My Zone”

There are times where it feels as if I’ve outgrown the chance to discover new music. It’s not true, of course, and new favorite songs still appear in my life on a fairly regular, if somewhat slow, basis. But there was once a point where it happened all the time; I was listening to more music then, for one thing — the radio seemed like a constant companion, and there were clubs to go to, concerts to see — and it felt like I’d trip over something I’d never heard before but grew obsessed with on a weekly basis, if not more.

All of which is to say that the experience of hearing “Elevate” by DJ Khalil at the end of Spider-Man:Into the Spider-Verse was this thing that was at once revelatory and comfortably familiar, in a way.

It’s music as onomatopoeia, the song itself. The riff feeling like tension itself, building and building with every repeat — elevating, of course — while the lyric of the chorus underscores that feeling, explains what you’re listening to: “Gotta go hard/I ain’t got time to waste/I gotta go high/I gotta elevate.”

(The callbacks work to that effect, too; Gotta go hard being met with another, more urgent gotta go hard. It builds the tension even further; ain’t got no time.)

And each verse works off that specific tension, but the song never relaxes, despite that. The whole thing feels amped, excited, exciting; it matches the energy of the (amazing, thrilling) movie it belongs to and the more, leaving you with your head spinning and your feet itching to move. It’s utterly compelling, completely catchy. I left the theater wanting to hear the song again immediately, and listened to the song repeatedly over the next few days, each listen just upping my desire to play it again and again. Elevating.

Every Film Is Political

Every film is political. Most political of all are those that pretend not to be: “entertainment” movies. They are the most political films there are because they dismiss the possibility of change. In every frame they tell you everything’s fine the way it is. They are a continual advertisement for things as they are.

From The Logic of Images by Wim Wenders. Not just films, of course.

Vote For Me And I’ll Set You Free

I’ve been thinking about “influencers” since watching that Netflix documentary about Fyre Festival recently; the notion of holding such social currency that a recommendation from you has monetary value to others. I’m egotistical/realistic enough to know that I’m a quasi-influencer in the world of comics — at least, insofar as what I write about in outlets can be influential — but no-one has ever tried to pay me for that purpose. It’s something that makes me uncomfortable, anyway, the idea of me recommending some random comic and it becoming a thing, and I do it far less often than I might otherwise for that very reason.

(Also, I tend to recommend things that are niche, if not downright obscure, which arguably devalues my nascent influencer status. This might be unintentional self-sabotage, I wouldn’t like to say.)

Still; I cant quite get my head around either the influencer or the influenced. What is the appeal? That you too could be like this person if you like what they like and buy what they buy? Is it aspirational in that sense, or simply the effect of fandom and wanting to understand and share your hero’s tastes? Is there a hope that, if you follow in their cultural and capitalist footsteps, they’ll know and like you more, or that you’ll share their inexplicable power, somehow?

All of this was in my head as I watched Fyre, distracting me from the (genuinely staggering) story of mismanagement and enabling and greed, because even as the festival got shoddier and more pathetic as it edged closer to existence, I couldn’t shake this one thought: All of the attendees kind of deserve this for falling for it in the first place.