‘Condemned’ features images taken in seven African countries including Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria.
The last 24 hours have been an emotional roller coaster. I woke up yesterday to find that a friend of mine – Aaron Swartz – had taken his life. My Twitter feed went into mourning – shock, sadness, anger, revenge. I spent the day talking with friends who were all in various states of disarray. I watched as many of them poured out theirhearts on their blogs, a practice we’ve all been doing for over a decade. And yet, I couldn’t find the words to express what I’ve been feeling. When I tweeted yesterday about being angry, well-meaning friends and mental health experts who didn’t know Aaron wrote to me about how I couldn’t be responsible for someone’s depression. This made me want to scream. I decided to write this blog post instead. It is raw and imperfect, but that’s where I’m at right now.
For better or worse, I’ve known a lot of people over the years who have committed suicide. I’ve watched people struggle through serious depression and then make that choice. Having battled my own demons, I understood. Part of why Aaron’s death hit me like a rock is because this time it was different.
There’s no doubt in my mind that depression was a factor. I adored Aaron because he was an emotional whirlwind – a cranky bastard and a manic savant. Our conversations had an ethereal sense to them and he pushed me hard to think through complex issues as we debated. He had an intellectual range that awed me and a kitten’s sense of curiosity. But when he was feeling destructive, he used his astute understandings of people to find their weak spots and poke them where it hurt. Especially the people he loved the most. He saw himself as an amateur sociologist because he was enamored with how people worked and we argued over the need for rigor, the need for formal training. He had no patience for people who were intellectually slower than him and he failed to appreciate what could be gained by a university setting. Instead, he wanted to mainline books and live in the world of the mind.
I’ve known Aaron for nine years and I both adored him to pieces and found him frustrating as hell. In recent years, our connection grew more sporadic because I loved the ups but really struggled with the downs. But when the arrest happened, I grew very worried about him. We decided never to talk about the case itself, but amidst brainjams, we’d joke about him finally getting his degree in jail as a way to relieve the pressure. I promised to curate an educational plan built off of great pieces of scholarship and told him I’d send him a printout from JSTOR each day. I knew he was struggling, but he was also a passionate activist and I genuinely thought that would see him through this dark period.
What made me so overwhelmingly angry yesterday was the same thing that has been boiling in my gut for the last two years. When the federal government went after him – and MIT sheepishly played along – they weren’t treating him as a person who may or may not have done something stupid. He was an example. And the reason they threw the book at him wasn’t to teach him a lesson, but to make a point to the entire Cambridge hacker community that they were p0wned. It was a threat that had nothing to do with justice and everything to do with a broader battle over systemic power. In recent years, hackers have challenged the status quo and called into question the legitimacy of countless political actions. Their means may have been questionable, but their intentions have been valiant. The whole point of a functioning democracy is to always question the uses and abuses of power in order to prevent tyranny from emerging. Over the last few years, we’ve seen hackers demonized as anti-democratic even though so many of them see themselves as contemporary freedom fighters. And those in power used Aaron, reframing his information liberation project as a story of vicious hackers whose terroristic acts are meant to destroy democracy.
Reasonable people can disagree about tactics and where and when a particular approach pushes too far. Like Lessig, I often disagreed with Aaron about his particular approach to freeing the world’s information, even if I never disagreed with him about the goal. And one of the reasons why so many hackers and geeks spent yesterday raging against the machine is because so many people in power have been unable to see past the particular acts and understand the intentions and activism. So much public effort has been put into controlling and harmonizing geek resistance, squashing the rebellion, and punishing whoever authorities can get their hands on. But most geeks operate in gray zones, making it hard for them to be pinned down and charged. It’s in this context that Aaron’s stunt gave federal agents enough evidence to bring him to trial to use him as an example. They used their power to silence him and publicly condemn him even before the trial even began.
Yesterday, there was an outpouring of information about his case, including an amazing account from the defense’s expert witness. Many people asked why people didn’t speak up before. I can only explain my reasoning. I was too scared to speak publicly for fear of how my words might be used against him. And I was too scared to get embroiled in the witch hunt that I’ve watched happen over the last three years. Because it hasn’t been about justice or national security. It’s been about power. And it’s at the heart and soul of why the Obama administration has been a soul crushing disappointment to me. I’ve gotten into a ridiculous number of fights over the last couple of years with folks in the administration over the treatment of geeks and the misunderstanding of hackers, but I could never figure how to make a difference on that front. This was a source of serious frustration for me, even as SOPA/PIPA showed that geeks could make a difference.
So here we are today, the world lacking a prodigious child whose intellect scared the shit out of everyone who knew him. He became a toy for a government set on showing their strength. And they bullied him and preyed on his weaknesses and sought to break him. And they did. All for the performance of justice. All before he was even tried in a society that prides itself on innocent until proven guilty. Was depression key to what happened on Friday? Certainly. But it wasn’t the whole story. And that’s what makes it hard for me to stomach.
There is a lot of justifiable outrage out there. Many people want the heads of the key administrators who helped create the context in which Aaron took his life. I completely understand where they’re coming from. But I also fear the likelihood that Aaron will be turned into a martyr, an abstraction of a geek activist destroyed by the State. Because he was a lot more than that – lovable and flawed, passionate and strong-willed, brilliant and infuriatingly stupid. It’ll be easy for folks to rally cry for revenge in his name. But not much is gained from reifying the us vs. them game that got us here. There has to be another way.
What I really hope comes out of this horrible tragedy is some serious community reflection and a deep values check. Many of the beliefs that Aaron stood for – the liberation of knowledge, open access to information, and the use of code to make the world better – are core values in the geek community. Yet, as Biella Coleman astutely dissects in “Coding Freedom”, this community is not without its flaws. Nor was Aaron. He did things his way because he believed that passion and will and action trumped all. And his stubbornness made him breakable. If we want to achieve the values and goals that are core to the geek community, I don’t think that we’ll ever make a difference by creating more martyrs that can be used as examples in a cultural war. As we collectively mourn Aaron’s death and channel our anger into making a difference, I think we need to look for an approach to change-making that doesn’t result in brilliant people being held up as examples so that they can be tormented by power.
From the Life goggles,
thoughts of Aaron Swarts..
As we’ve discussed, in Batman Begins 1960s-style full employment and antipoverty programs lead to skyrocketing crime while in The Dark Knight Rises 1980s-style tough-on-crime policies and neoliberal economics lead to a revolt of the economic underclass. The films are mirror images, one about the failure of liberal policies; the other about the failure of conservative policies. In this sense, The Dark Knight is truly the final film in this nihilistic trilogy, documenting the hopelessness of anything outside that usual left-right struggle.
From the start, the city is torn about how to handle the Batman, who has inspired a wave of second-rate imitators. Some believe it’s wrong to be idolizing a masked vigilante, but most (including the new DA, Harvey Dent) approve of his results.
Dent is doing his own part to lock up the criminals, working inside the system. He’s arrested all the mob bankers (except Lau) and is now going after the gangsters themselves, starting with mob boss Maroni (who took over for mob boss Falcone). But while the prosecutions bring him a great deal of political attention, they don’t seem to achieve much in the way of concrete results — new gangsters spring up to take the place of whoever Dent arrests.
Dent decides the only way to win is to go big — really big. He arrests everyone at once, on charges that are unlikely to stick. Dent doesn’t care that he’s breaking the rules, as long as it solves the problem. He cites the Romans who suspended democracy to protect their city. (Although, as Rachel points out, they ended up losing democracy.) “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Dent explains. He hopes to take up Batman’s mantle, but do it from inside the system.
But, as the mayor explains, Dent isn’t just taking on his own sense of ethics, he’s taking on the entire system: “the mob, politicians, journalists, cops — anyone whose wallet’s about to get lighter”. If he fails, both of their careers are over.
Just as Dent is frustrated with the justice system, the Joker is frustrated with the criminals. He tells them they need to go big: they need to kill the Batman. He offers to do it for a sizable sum of money, which the gangsters eventually agree to. The Joker is obsessed with the homo economicus of game theory (from whence his name?): when the gangsters ask why he needs the money to kill the Batman, he explains “Like my mother used to tell me: if you’re good at something, never do it for free.”
The film opens with the Joker hiring five men to rob a mob bank: Dopey silences the alarm, Happy shoots him and drills through the vault, Grumpy shoots him and empties the cash into duffel bags, a bus runs him over, Bozo shoots the bus driver. Finally, Bozo pulls off his mask to reveal he’s the Joker. This is a classic pirate game and, just as in the theory, the Joker gets to keep almost all the cash.
Batman eventually tries to track down the Joker by threatening the gangster Maroni. But it’s no use, as Maroni explains: “No one’s gonna tell you anything—they’re wise to your act—you got rules. The Joker, he’s got no rules. No one’s gonna cross him for you.” This is a straightforward application of game theory’s Davies-Folk theorem: the rational thing is to seem irrational so your opponents can’t count on you doing the rational thing.
Alfred sees this quickly, because it reminds him of a story from his own past:
I was in Burma. A long time ago. My friends and I were working for the local government. They were trying to buy the loyalty of tribal leaders, bribing them with precious stones. But their caravans were being raided in a forest north of Rangoon by a bandit. We were asked to take care of the problem, so we started looking for the stones. But after six months, we couldn’t find anyone who had traded with him. … One day I found a child playing with a ruby as big as a tangerine. … The bandit had been throwing the stones away. … Some men just want to watch the world burn.
Note the parallels. In Alfred’s story the entire status quo (including the local government and tribal leaders) is totally corrupt: the official plan is to bribe people. But the plan is defeated by someone even crazier, someone willing to steal the money but not interested in keeping it for himself.
Sure enough, when the Joker finally does get his hands on the money, he merely lights it on fire.
Meanwhile, Dent’s ethical compromises begin to grow and grow. When he kidnaps one of the Joker’s thugs, he tries to threaten information out of him. This is something Batman does routinely, but Batman reminds Dent that Dent can’t get away with that sort of thing — it’d destroy his credibility as an insider.
In a climactic scene, the Batman finally confronts the Joker in the middle of the street. The Joker knows Batman lives by just one rule (“I will not be an executioner”) and encourages him to break it and kill him. But Batman can’t bring himself to do it, he swerves at a key moment and ends up smashed while the Joker survives. (Yep: the Joker has just won the game ofchicken.)
When he comes to, the Joker tells Batman that despite nominally working outside the system, he’s actually just the system’s pawn:
To them you’re a freak like me. They just need you right now. … But as soon as they don’t, they’ll cast you out like a leper. … Their morals, their code… it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. You’ll see—I’ll show you…
You have these rules. And you think they’ll save you. … [But t]he only sensible way to live in this world is withoutrules.
Gordon arrests the Joker and takes him to the major crimes unit, only to find the Joker claiming Gordon does not actually control the unit — his people actually working for mob boss Maroni. “Does it depress you, Lieutenant, to know how alone you are?” he asks (a classic principal-agent problem).
The Joker has kidnapped both Dent and Rachel and set them both to blow so that Batman can only rescue one (opportunity cost). Batman goes to rescue Rachel but the Joker has switched their addresses and he actually ends up rescuing Dent1. Rachel dies and Dent loses half his face, becoming Two-Face.
Reese, one of Bruce Wayne’s employees goes on TV and threatens to reveal the identity of the Batman, but the Joker calls in and asks him to stop. “I had a vision,” he says. “Of a world without Batman. The mob ground out a little profit and the police tried to shut them down, one block at a time… and it was so… boring. I’ve had a change of heart.” He threatens to blow up a hospital unless someone kills Reese. (He has thus constructed a trolley problem: people must decide whether it’s better to let the 100 die or kill the 1.)
At the hospital, the Joker explains things to Dent:
Do I really look like a guy with a plan, Harvey? I don’t have a plan… The mob has plans, the cops have plans. … Maroni has plans. Gordon has plans. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer, I show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.
It’s the schemers who put you where you are. You were a schemer. You had plans. Look where it got you. … Nobody panics when the expected people get killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics. Because it’s all part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, everybody loses their minds! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos, Harvey? … It’s fair.
This pushes Dent over the edge. He starts going after everyone responsible for killing Rachel: He starts with Weurtz, who kidnapped him. Weurtz gives up Maroni, who points to Ramirez, who helps him get Gordon’s family, who naturally gets Gordon.
Batman, meanwhile, is also crossing lines. In his attempt to find the Joker, he has turned every cell phone into a spy device. Even he admits this might be too much power for one man to have.
The Joker scares the city onto its two ferries. Once the ferries are in the middle of the water, he cuts their power and gives them both a button to blow up the other ferry, thereby constructing a prisoner’s dilemma (one boat is filled with real prisoners). The passengers discuss and vote. One of the prisoners makes a Ulysses pact and credibly commits by tossing the detonator overboard.
The Joker also took a busload of people from the hospital to the Prewitt Building where, through the window, you can see Joker’s thugs with guns holding hospital people hostage. Gordon rushes in to get the thugs, but Batman discovers the thugs are hostages and the hostages are the thugs. (The Joker is illustrating “The Market for Lemons”: if the Joker is making it easy for you to kill his henchmen, why should you believe they’re actually his henchmen?)
(Batman saves the hostages (dressed as thugs) and stops the SWAT team and takes out the thugs (dressed as hostages). Neither of the boats decides to blow up the other and Batman prevents the Joker from triggering the failsafe.)
He then goes to rescue Gordon, who is trying to stop Dent from killing his family. Dent explains his new philosophy:
You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time. You thought we could lead by example. You thought the rules could be bent but not break…2 you were wrong. The world is cruel. And the only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.
Throughout the film, we’ve seen various desperate attempts to change the system by ignoring the usual rules: Batman originally thought he could inspire change by being a cultural exemplar, but only ended up causing a bunch of kids to get themselves hurt by dressing up as him. Dent thought he could clean up the system by pushing righteously from the inside, but ended up cutting more and more ethical corners until his own personal obsessions ended up making him a monster. The Joker had by far the most interesting plan: he hoped to out-corrupt the corrupters, to take their place and give the city “a better class of criminal”.
And the crazy thing is that it works! At the end of the movie, the Joker is alive, the gangsters and their money launderers are mostly dead, and their money has been redistributed (albeit though the deflationary method of setting it on fire). And, as we see from the beginning of the third movie, this is a fairly stable equilibrium: with politicians no longer living in fear of the gangsters, they’re free to adopt tough anti-crime policies that keep them from rising again.3
The movie concludes by emphasizing that Batman must become the villain, but as usual it never stops to notice that the Joker is actually the hero. But even though his various games only have one innocent casualty, he’s much too crazy to be a viable role model for Batman. His inspired chaos destroys the criminals, but it also terrorizes the population. Thanks to Batman, society doesn’t devolve into a self-interested war of all-against-all, as he apparently expects it to, but that doesn’t mean anyone enjoys the trials.
Thus Master Wayne is left without solutions. Out of options, it’s no wonder the series ends with his staged suicide.
- I’m actually not sure which game this is supposed to be. It’s a bit like the poisoned goblets game in The Princess Bride, but I can’t find a name for it in the literature. ↩
- These two sentences are in the shooting script but got cut from the film version: “You thought we could lead by example. You thought the rules could be bent but not break…” ↩
- This also explains why the law-and-order crowd seems so miffed about succeeding — it wasn’t actually their policies that succeeded. ↩
First off, go see Looper. One of the best movies I’ve seen. Spoilers follow.
OK, let’s start by explaining how a looper’s career is supposed to look. You get hired as a looper, spend your time sitting in a corn field shooting people, eventually shoot yourself and get a big payday, live off of it for thirty more years, then get kidnapped and sent back in time and shot by yourself. Notice that this is a stable timeloop: young you grows old, goes back in time, gets shot by young you, who grows old, goes back in time, gets shot by young you, who grows old … etc.
But time travel doesn’t eliminate free will. We see this with the case of Seth (Paul Dano / Frank Brennan). Instead of shooting Old Seth, Young Seth decides to let him escape. This too is a stable timeloop: young Seth grows old, goes back in time, escapes, lives in hiding while young Seth grows old, goes back in time, escapes, lives in hiding while … .
But other characters have free will too: young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) decides to give young Seth up. The gang cuts off one of young Seth’s fingers, pushing him into a new timeloop: young Seth gets caught, loses one of his fingers, goes back in time, escapes, while young Seth gets caught, loses one of his fingers, goes back in time, escapes, etc. With each new choice by the gang to let old Seth change young Seth’s future (and thus old Seth’s past), we head into a new timeloop, where old Seth has a different past (and thus different memories and different missing limbs).
In the first main timeloop (shown second in the movie, via a flashback), young Joe shoots old Joe, goes to China, becomes an unusually-talented agent of violence, finds true love, is kidnapped and sent back in time, and gets killed by young Joe, who goes on to do the same thing. This too is a nice stable timeloop.
But on one of these runs through the loop, old Joe manages to overpower the guards and, while he does go back in time, he manages to keep young Joe from killing him. He escapes into the field, finds the location of young Cid, then comes back to shoot Cid’s mother while Cid escapes into field and stows away on a train. Cid grows up to be the Rainmaker and Joe grows old. Cid’s henchmen murder old Joe’s wife but are overpowered by old Joe, who goes back in time to try again to kill Cid, who again escapes to become the Rainmaker and kill Joe’s wife. This too is a stable timeloop, although we see some of it only in speculative flash-forwards (I’ll explain why in a moment).
Which timeloop are we watching? Well, we’re watching the story of a particular instance of Joe, who we’ll call Movie Joe. Movie Joe only exists, however, because of a choice made by Flashback Joe (the Joe we see in the flashback that begins when Movie Joe is falling from his apartment). Flashback Joe is born, grows up, decides to give up Seth, closes his own loop, grows old, overpowers the henchmen, goes back in time, knocks out Movie Joe, hunts down Cid, and is about to kill Cid’s mother.
But Flashback Joe is not the protagonist of the film. The protagonist is Movie Joe. Movie Joe is born, grows up, decides to give up Seth, fails to close his loop, goes to protect Cid. Normally, young Joe fails and heads into a timeloop where Cid stows away on the train and becomes the Rainmaker. But Movie Joe somehow is able to foresee this future and concludes the only way to prevent it is to kill himself. Since he dies there, he never grows old and never goes back in time, leading to a timeline where Flashback Joe doesn’t ever exist. Note, this is not a stable timeloop (because Movie Joe only kills himself to stop Flashback Joe, who can’t exist if Movie Joe kills himself) but instead just a garden-variety timeline. In this timeline, presumably, Sarah keeps Cid from growing evil and everything ends happily ever after.
A 125 foot hallway lined with fifty wooden signs, hand-painted with text. As the viewer/participant walks down the seemingly endless hall, weaving between the signs, the text acts as an internal voice, “It’s too late to go back now, but the end seems far away…” The “you” in text realizes that you’ll be walking down this hallway for the rest of your life. And like life, the hall is filled with indecision, disappointment, boredom and joy – and it does end.
English in one direction, Japanese in the other.
Commissioned by the Yokohama Triennial, 2008. In the collection of The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan.
- Facebook Message from an awesome artist friend. K.S. 🙂 – Epic with Wax! and has an incredible brain. smile for the day, thank you, for making my boots a little lighter.
“My word for the year is inspired by you! Spending time with you always leaves me longing to be more audacious! So now I am going to be more aware of trying to bring more audaciousness into my life and my work. Thank you for being such an inspiration. Xxx”
K, poses a Question.. what’s your word for the year?
entropy. first word that came to mind. – quantity specifying the amount of disorder or randomness in a system bearing energy or information.
the greater the entropy, the less available the energy.
Perhaps. It should be Lucid? . Like my belt says. Or ADVENTURE TIME!
. Adventure time.
Recovery the Flood Objects Project
past three Am into the year 2013.. it sounds like a horror movie when voiced out loud. viewed David Attenborough’s Program First Life on the amazing fossil-ed life of trilobites.So glad they got to preserved like that, I guess being buried alive has it’s advantages. Ah-may-zing. an art work in themselves. no wonder they are expensive. Go well with my fire trucks.
Somewhere in Portland, there’s a very old building, and that very old building has a very, very old basement. An incredible basement, a video-game-level basement, a set-decorator’s dream basement.
And when you walk past the janitors office, with the wonderfully decked halls…
And tromp down a sunken hallway…
You find a old room. Mostly empty, dusty, and dead quiet.
And then you start to look closer at the walls.
And you start to see things.
(You see that Brown didn’t often pay his dime for coffee.)
(You see that a lot of calculation was done right on the wall.)
(You see that World War I was front and center on everyone’s mind.)
(You wonder what was being tallied, and if it was better to win or lose.)
(And you learn the tongue-in-check “rules” of the room.)
And eventually, you crawl behind a corner, and discover a bundle of conduit.
View original post 219 more words
Since I was seventeen I thought I might be a star. I’d think about all my heroes, Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix… I had a romantic feeling about how these people became famous.
Amazing tribute to
Margaret true Blue, red, Orange, lemon,some Australian’s tell a story of living an Authentic life of living bush, she lived an artisans life in the pigment ingrained in her soul, among the brushes, in her work. if a woman could live steady the gum tree, free in work, lived in the compositions and played, died and breathed as she saw fit. That is what it is to be happy and content I think. Championed the palette. of the colours, of the misted the eye hand evoked thought and composition was elegant and free radical e. and she Ugh.. was my kind of Ideas Lady. my new kind of old landing. I wish I had A hand shake from her.
Cheers to you and All the Places and plains that your Brain and Life Goggles took and and will continue to take us too. Thank you for being extraordinary amours of infinite dints and imperfection And seeing everything everywhere! not just in of flowers and blooms and paint just the composition of people and places but being able to lasso the adjectives and nouns Illumination the trajectory and project life.. I appreciate you. so. so. so. much.
http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artists/margaret-olley/cardtimeline.html?eventTitle=Woolloomooloo with bottlebrush, 2000
http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artists/margaret-olley/cardtimeline.html?eventTitle=Pink lilies and ginger jar, 2010-11
http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artists/margaret-olley/cardtimeline.html?eventTitle=Cornflowers and wine decanters, 1994-95
http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artists/margaret-olley/cardtimeline.html?eventTitle=Poppies and checked cloth, 2008
http://www.abc.net.au/arts/artists/margaret-olley/cardtimeline.html?eventTitle=Dies in Sydney, 26 July, 2011