on #backtothefutureday a quote from David Autor

‘I was at a conference and an executive from McKinsey got up and said, “Your washing machine today has more processing power than the entire Apollo moon project.” He meant this to demonstrate the great rate of change and the fantastic progress, and to me that just said, “Diminishing marginal returns.” My washing machine is not going to the moon’

David Autor, MIT (from here)

The End of World Cinema (Common House, Bethnal Green)

EndoftheWorldCinemaThe end of the world will come, no doubt, with a whimper and not a bang. But the disappointing reality of catastrophe, its everyday-ness, it’s lack of entertainment value, leaves us cold. Which is why in place of the slow violence of the end, The End of the World Cinema presents a monthly double feature of some of the best (and worst) apocalyptic films to ensure your final days are nothing less than spectacular. Apocalypse, the end of humanity and the world, disaster, catastrophe, and popcorn.

Schedule – films start at 7pm

July 28th: Running Man vs The Hunger Games
August 25th: Mad Max 2 vs The Quiet Earth
September 29th: I am Legend vs Monsters
October 27th: Soylent Green vs Delicatessen

Where: The Common House, Unit E, 5 Pundersons Gardens, E2 9QG

J.G.Ballard – ‘no great novel has been written in English since – Catch 22’

The much missed J.G.Ballard wrote back years ago after we asked him to speak at a CCS workshop on Cultural Fictions:

BAllard letter

Thank you for the invitation, but I’m afraid that age and the pressures of work mean that I have to decline.

But I wish you all the best – I’m not sure whether you see me as inside or outside s-f, and either way a victim of its overreaching success. In fact I think you’re rather stretching definitions if you include recent novels like Super-Cannes and Millennium People as s-f. But calling something s-f is a traditional way of defusing the threat, and academia, especially the Eng Lit departments, has a lot to feel threatened by – its beloved mainstream is now a parched riverbed – no great novel has been written in English since – Catch 22? – more than 40 years ago. I wonder why?


JG Ballard

(transcription SF, thanks)

The B-Movie Mind Tricks of David Cameron

What kind of psychosis must it be? David Cameron was already a jittery jumped up bugaboo before he squeaked into power with his austerity for Britain plans carefully wrapped in a not very well disguised Big Society cloak of invisibility. Then the students surrounded Tory Party Headquarters, inundated the roof, and the Police line stood an watched – beset themselves with threats of cuts, playing a long game. David will have been shouting down the phone apoplectic, demanding Met chief Paul Stephenson deploy his forces to protect the HQ from the riff raff. Several hours later, a few arrests – surprisingly few for a major security incident at the Death Star.

Just over a week later, the Police tactic was pretty transparent when a droid police van was left in the middle of Whitehall to be trashed in what both sides of the anarcho-cop line probably felt was a justified  show of cathartic rage. It certainly made for good press photography, but when soon after the Galactic Prince and his ride were taunted by a raiding party in the high street, there would have been more shouting: where were the police. For all the talk of massive numbers of coppers drafted in from far-flung counties, Cameron will have been on the phone again demanding to know how Stephenson could let this happen?

This pattern becomes farce when we consider the events of August, 2011. Police surely by now know the routine when it comes to deaths in custody. They have set up, after all, the judiciously names ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission and no doubt have rules and procedures to follow for just the sort of circumstances that appeared to be at stake in the death of Mark Duggan. There will be those who think it was incompetence, those that imagine far more sinister plots, but it certainly seemed that the deployment of Police that day, and even more so in the evening and night in Tottenham was, shall we say, lackluster. The next day, despite talk of still greater escalation of the defense shield for London, general chaos. Only when the rebels formed an alliance and targeted richer suburbs like Ealing did we see Cameron get to use the force in the way he will have wanted all along. Of course he was elsewhere on the planet at the time, flying in on day three to join task force Cobra. On touching down at the airbase we can be sure he was breathing heavily, seeking revenge:

‘Acting Metropolitan police commissioner Tim Godwin has hit back at the government’s criticism of his force’s handling of the riots, saying ‘people will always make comments who weren’t there” (Guardian August 12, 2011)

What we have seen under Cameron is a power play with people’s lives: this inconsequential ‘little too short for a storm trooper’ wannabe Darth PM has control issues and little understanding of wider machinations. The cast includes a media led axis of manipulation with an Emperor orchestrating from afar, inconsequential and futile opposition ‘leaders’, and the liberal democrat C3-PO protocol officer. This space opera has cast the wrong lead, Cameron does not have Jedi training, his destructive use of force just gets people killed, his mind tricks are more suited to Sideshow Bob than any Jedi capacity. In this version the wookie is already an ewok, Hans Solo is encased in Jello but still can’t get out, and Princess Leia is more worried about her horses than the destruction of the News of the World/Alderaan (give her to Jabba). I could go on…

I only wish this were an allegory, but I am afraid it is the game plan of the Tories. Fear is the path to the dark side. This bumbling danger must be airlocked, since despite his apprentice-like appearance, his fooling around with force still amounts to a defense of Capitalism as usual, and even if this time it is cloaked in robes of cheese, the Big Society fiasco is still putting gold in the wizard’s pockets . Do we really want to endure more of such nonsense ? We could say we don’t need to see his identification … that he can go about his business… But laugh it up fuzzball, no, that would be the sunday matinee and its only a fiction. Time to switch to the news channel again.

Whittington’s Cat notes for Panto Terror (redux)

Punch and Judy (redux from 27.08.08). The grim and glum reality of opportunism is today more and more prevalent, more and more accessed, acquiesced, more or more or less bad, worse than before. We are confronted on all sides by both overt and covert ‘research’ groups, by think tanks and lobbyists, who have decided – in a climate of total war – that we need to attend to (the control of) the global public sphere. The tanksters are interested in ideas, in projects and in strategies, they are interested in the management of feelings, the orchestration of responses, they are interested in refining a certain clarity of message. They bring us bread and circuses – both stale.

Their boosterism says nothing. The climate they encourage thrives on the sentiment of abstract disengagement – alongside the promulgation of procedure and the ‘dictatorship of the secretariat’ – they persuade us that we abjure our interest or involvement in political questions because a) things are too complex and b) complexity needs to be controlled.

These people are sceptics who rail against scepticism. They present themselves as those who present answers, but the way they do so cynically narrows the space of answers to a tightly controlled furrow. The engagement they favour is disengagement except on their own studiously abstract terms. There is no room for the questioning of sceptics in their cynical world.

And then they sometimes claim they are for democracy – but not broadband democracy or open debate – rather a pay-per-view, programme management, narrowcasting, niche-market democracy. Their democracy excludes debate, questions, objections and alternatives. They have long ago vetoed the possibility of thinking outside the box, for there lies danger, difference, a multiplicity that cannot be corralled. The box must always have a brand mark, a slogan, a font or a strapline – sometimes just a colour (the colour is always drab).

They promote their insights as research, as scholarship, as traditional values and as wisdom – but they are faceless, passionless, automatons – going though the motions (jack boots are not far away, but they forgo them for frequent flyer miles and airport lounge privileges).

I do of course think there are more than two sides – the lines shift and the players change, sometimes swapping, sometimes double agents. But there are some, the best you can say of them is that while they are one of ‘them’, they do at least talk like ‘us’. We should carefully watch these ones especially.

Who are they? In fact they are us. Turn again Dick Whittington, Turn again.


And why Dick Whittington? – see here for both the real and the Pantomime story, where a cloth-merchant adventurer pilfers some gold, travels to the orient to get rich, and returns to London to become Mayor. OK, this all happened 700 years ago, but the cat seems to have nine lives. These are notes for Pantomime Terror – inaugural on 30/09/08 (5.30, IGLT Goldsmiths).