Thursday, June 20, 2019

Videogame Nerding -- The Epic Continues

James Rolfe, creator of the epic and uproarious Angry Videogame Nerd series, delivered this classy thank-you to 3 million fans for supporting his 15 years of independent videos:



These interactions between digital artists and fans are far more historically significant than you might think. In an age of unparalleled political regression, videogames and its ancillary art-forms (podcasts, machinima, live-action comedy) have been revolutionizing the entire production, consumption and reception of transnational media. Since 2013, the AAA-tier studios and giant media corporations have been losing their chokehold over videogames, and by 2017, Infinite Fall's Night in the Woods marked the moment that open insurrection broke out among the studio artists. This insurrection is now spreading to every branch of the videogame industry.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

From Bolivarzilla to Kleptopia

Reuters has this scathing investigation of the rubble of Venezuela's energy-rent populism, a sad tale of how Venezuela's elites sabotaged Chavez' goal of national development.

It's worth emphasizing that the Chinese companies aren't to blame for the disaster. Rather, elites milked grifted state contracts and bribed officials to look the other way. The Chavez and Maduro governments promised development for all, but delivered the privatization of state energy-rents on behalf of the wealthiest few.

The fundamental lesson progressives and citizens should take to heart is this: the strategy of "sowing the oil" is broken. "Sowing the oil" has worked in only one nation: Norway, which was already a wealthy industrialized nation to begin with. It has failed everywhere else. In retrospect, "sowing the oil" was the final chapter of the oil nationalizations of the late 20th century. These latter were supposed to bring modernization, but produced nothing but massive corruption, broken economies, and despotic petro-colonialisms everywhere from Iran and Iraq to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

The entire planet needs to abolish energy-rent capitalism and replace it with a green energy commons -- green electrons from solar, wind and storage, green mobility from batteries, and green buildings for the world's cities. This is especially important for the countries of Africa and South Asia, which are going through their rural-to-urban demographic transitions and will benefit the most from the green energy revolution.

Friday, May 3, 2019

When Corporations Kill

Airframes which were faulty, because profit.

FAA regulators who wouldn't regulate, because profit.

Safety designers who weren't allowed to design, because profit.

Airline pilots who were never told crucial information, because profit.

A mission-critical system relying on ONE SINGLE SENSOR, because profit.

Until there were hundreds of dead people.

Darryl Campbell delivers an devastating expose of Boeing's crimes-for-profits for The Verge.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

May Day

A slightly-belated May Day-themed video from indie Youtuber Super Bunnyhop, all about class struggle in the field of interactive media:





Monday, April 29, 2019

Land of Lakes

Anand Malligavad and a group of fellow citizens are on a mission to restore the threatened wetlands of Bengaluru (Bangalore), one lake at a time:


The Lake Revivers do more than just clean up polluted waterways. They work closely with local residential and farming communities to rebuild each lake as an eco-system. After landscaping each lake back into existence, volunteers and neighbors plant diverse trees and shrubs to restore the lake's natural biodiversity, and help farmers to install tube-wells -- each lake helps to recharge the water table, enabling farmers to grow bigger crops. It's an amazingly successful project, and a timely reminder of India's astounding potential. (Note that if you'd like to contribute, donations are accepted here).

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Lorelai

The latest horror videogame masterpiece from Rem Michalski is here. As the Viera would say, mark ye well these pixels of glory:




If any of you fellow proletarians have any loose change, get it now on Steam. To paraphrase the best line of Metro: Exodus, if we audiences don't support our greatest artists, who will?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Sony Santa Monica: Industry Class Act

Good studios thank you for being a fan. Great studios acknowledge their debts to the entire fan community for their creativity, their caring, and their sharing:



Saturday, April 13, 2019

Gender And The Fight Against Revanchism

Michael Weiss has delivered the best single take-down of Assange, that criminal fraudster, serial data-grifter and appalling human being, whose sojourn in the Ecuadorian embassy was just one long dodge to avoid appearing in court on charges of sexual assault (the Reporters Committee has the details of Assange's US indictment, which may or may not come to pass -- the short version is, he's no journalist, he's just plain scum).

It is striking how all of the post-2014 revanchisms, from the authoritarian kleptocracy burning down my own country, the United States, to the thugocracies looting Brazil, Hungary, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, all the way to bags of sleaze like Assange, all share one characteristic: they all hate women.

This is no accident. I'd argue misogyny is to contemporary revanchism what anti-Semitism was to the 1930s Fascisms -- the wholly fictitious Other blamed for the dysfunction and misery of a broken economy, rather than the plutocrats who broke the economy in the first place. 

While the revanchisms are terrifying, their failure to gain even the slightest traction among young people all across the world speaks volumes about the depth and scope of today's nascent anti-capitalist resistance. In fact, women such as Sarah Kendzior, AOC and Greta Thunberg have stepped up to lead when we Big Men of the 20th Century Left -- I'm old enough to merit a heaping dose of self-criticism here -- did nothing but deliver tiresome four-hour talks about obscure plenums and make ghastly attempts to pretend some horrible postcolonial despotisms were somehow not the genocidal state capitalisms they indeed were from the very beginning. 

The age of the Big Men is over. And now we know that Karl Marx was more right than he could ever know, because we either end capitalism and create a peaceful, fair, and egalitarian world-commons, or else we go extinct. 

I will do what I can to write the critical analyses and histories the world needs to point itself in the direction of Green Life instead of Carbon Death: star-charts to navigate the storm-tossed seas of Exponential World.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Water is Life: The New Delhi Remix

For decades, the region of South Asia has been struggling against the same political revanchism which has blighted other nations, a.k.a. the bigotry, fear-mongering, and the scapegoating of minorities by kleptocratic elites. Yet the ordinary citizens of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have also been doing some wonderful and amazing things to make their communities better.

Citizen journalist Dhruv Rathee reports on New Delhi's restoration of a local lake, transforming what was once a pestilential and polluted wasteland into an eco-friendly water treatment plant, a scenic public park, and a source of civic pride (be sure to click on the CC button for the English subtitles):


 

"Delhi's Amazing Lake Revival! | Ground Report by Dhruv Rathee". January 27, 2019.

Friday, March 22, 2019

This is How You Crush Kleptocratic Fascist Scum...

...like a grape:



(From the fine folks at Some More News.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Games for the 7.7 Billion

Two landmark announcements from the world of videogames: first, Scott Benson and Beth Hockenberry, two of the creators of the brilliant Night in the Woods, have formed a videogame cooperative called The Glory Society (their feed is here).

The videogame industry, like every other media industry, is a place where amazingly creative artists and fan communities are locked in struggle against toxic business models and ruthless corporate oligopolies. One of the best ways for those artists and communities to resist those models and oligopolies is to democratize the production of videogames.

For videogame artists, this means supporting crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, using software projects such as Unity, the world's leading open source videogame engine platform, and creating worker-owned videogame cooperatives (it is worth noting that Valve itself is run on cooperative principles).

The other major news is Google's announcement for Stadia, an online service which will let players play their games on any device which runs the Chrome browser. It is an online service, which means there's no box to purchase, just online experiences to jump into.

Stadia achieves this feat by running the game somewhere on Google's immense worldwide server network. Players connect to their game via Chrome, and can use any input device they wish -- an XboxOne or PS4 controller, a mouse and keyboard, etc. In theory, this should remove much of the pain and suffering involved in playing videogames, ranging from hardware and operating system compatibility to making backup copies of game files (there is the added bonus that Google's servers are 100% powered by renewable energy). We'll have more to say about this in the next issue of Uplink, which will be up this Friday.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

26 Years Of Neoliberal Hell in Four Tweets

Matt Stoller hauls out the Serious-Sam-sized flamethrower and torches the plutocracy's puppet politicians (entire thread is here):

1: Tim Geithner was bailing out banks not because there was 13 dimensional chess going on but because that was his goal. Obama lied about trying to claw back AIG bonuses because he was a liar who lied to get what he wanted, which was a plutocracy run by Ivy League elites. Simple.

2: Bill Clinton lied routinely to push plutocrat-friendly policies because he was a liar who wanted to help rich people. He thought that was the right thing to do, and he was also incredibly greedy. This isn't hard.

3: Obama was a bad President. Bush was a bad President. Clinton was a bad President. These are people who believe they and their friends are better than you, which is why they have money and power and you don't. It's not that hard to understand, it's just hard to accept.

4: In terms of a generational divide, while Obama/Hoyer/Pelosi were fucking up foreclosure policy, @aoc was LIVING THROUGH A FORECLOSURE. You think they have different views of banks? Thank God for millennials, who see markets and commerce are always 100% politically constructed.


Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Yakuza: The Interview

Top-notch interview with Takaya Kuroda (voice of Kiryu) and Daisuke Sato (producer) of Sega's superb and long-running Yakuza videogame franchise, courtesy the fine folks at IGDB (incidentally, the very first voice you'll hear is Doug Cockle, voice-actor of Geralt of Rivia):



Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Union of Europeans

Yanis Varoufakis, messenger from a more fortunate stub, delivers this fiery message to the 515 million citizens of the European Union:


Varoufakis: "[Back in 2016] I could've gotten up on the stage [in Berlin] and could have said, 'this European Union doesn't work, let's disintegrate it. I will now catch a flight of Aegean airlines or whatever -- Lufthansa -- and go to Greece and I'm going to fight there for socialism. And you [Germans] do this here. And then let's exchange notes at some point.' If I had done that, the people in the Volksbuhne would have been grossly disappointed because suddenly they would feel that they're alone. That they are Germans that must fight the German establishment as Germans. And we would feel alone in Greece because we would have to fight the Greek oligarchy as Greeks alone." 
"What we said instead was: let's all get together and fight our oligarchies together, through a common program of change. And that means we are not going to give away the European institutions that are unreformable to those that use them against the many. We're not going to say, the European Investment Bank: do away with it. We're not going to say, the European Central Bank, ah, well, shut it down. We're not going to say that all the various achievements of parliamentarians in Europe, trade unions in Europe, to create some kind of protection of the environment at the European level, at the level of labor markets, that we're going to give them all up." 
"No. We're going to take them over. And we're going to take them over and put them to use, press them into the service of genuine solidarity against the big business cartel, we're going to take them and turn them against both business-as-usual establishment, which is creating the crisis that is feeding the Salvinis [i..e revanchist fascisms], and against the Salvinis."  [4:34-6:23 in video]

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Red Candle Hits It Out of the Park

World-class Taiwanese developer Red Candle, creators of the spine-tingling horror-survival tale Detention (2017), are back with their next horror-themed videogame, Devotion (the trailer is here). The setting is Taiwan in the 1960s, and that's all we can say, because it's just. That. Good.

If you have the funds, you can support the studio by purchasing an official copy on Steam, PS4 and Xbox.

For those of you who are aspiring creators or digital artists, check out Tiff Liu's post on the studio's creative process behind Detention.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The City and History

These days, I find myself thinking a lot about cities and history. After all, the whole world looks increasingly like Britain during the 19th century -- a landscape plagued by vicious plutocrats and the predations of the klept (William Gibson's wonderfully apt term), economic immiseration and ecological disaster.

It is also a landscape full of astonishing cultural dynamism, technological innovation and political ferment. Today, the local contradictions observed by Marx and Engels in Britain, Belgium and the northern United States have become truly planetary, to the point that yesterday's Chartist, abolitionist and trade union struggles speak directly to the democratic mass mobilizations of the billions against the billionaires.

Yet our accounts of the rise of transnational media, transnational audiences, the digital commons and transnational politics have been missing a crucial piece of the puzzle. This is the fact that the world has urbanized on an unprecedented scale over the past forty years. Where things happen is just as important as how and when they happen.

For the sake of comparison, British urbanization went from about 19% of the population in 1800 to about 50% by 1860, while world urbanization went from 37.2% in 1973 to 55.3% in 2018 (UN data).

This story is much bigger than just China. The rest of Asia and Africa have been urbanizing as well, and large countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria and Thailand now have majority urban populations. This massive shift has transformed the countryside, as the number of all human beings who work in agriculture has dropped from 43.2% in 1991 to 26.0% in 2018 (World Bank data). At the same time, many rural communities now have access to smartphones, the internet and consumer goods.

Given decades-old trends in fertility rates, demographics and urbanization, our world's population will stabilize at around 9.5 billion people in 2050. Two-thirds of us will live in cities, and less than 5% of us will work in agriculture.

One small sign of this transformation: the first mass shipment of electric buses to Kolkata, India. Battery-powered rickshaws have started to appear here, and it's likely that a local retrofit industry will emerge to convert existing hydrocarbon vehicles into electric devices.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Polonization of the World-System

Polish thinker Jan Sowa nails the contradiction of contemporary revanchism:

When I look today at the chaos and indolence of the Trump administration or the mess that Brexit generates in the UK I cannot help but think of it as a bizarre "polonization" of world politics. I’ve seen this before! Steve Bannon looks, talks and acts (including the red nose and generally alcoholic look) as if he were an advisor to the Polish right-wing government of Jan Olszewski in 1992 not to the US president in 2017. Poland—and the entire region of Central-Eastern Europe—is undeniably in the mainstream of European and world politics. Even more: we are a kind of avant-garde! Not because we have advanced so high, but because capitalism in its neoliberal incarnation has brought politics so low.

There is a dialectical recoil to this revanchism: the majesty and wonder that is The Witcher 3.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Reflections on India

When I first arrived in India, I was overwhelmed. The country was so complex, had so many different languages and cultures, and embodied so many complicated histories. And so I began to read and learn everything I could about India, in as many languages as I know (French, German, English). I also started to learn Bengali, a magnificent language spoken by nearly a quarter of a billion people, which is just one of the hundreds spoken here.

Since then, I've managed to visit a few other Asian nations -- Singapore, South Korea and Thailand -- in order to begin to understand what Asia's high-income, upper-middle income and middle-income economies look like, what kind of societies they are, and how they function. These trips were especially valuable because they gave me an intra-Asian metric to understand India, a metric which wasn't the United States or one of the wealthier nations of the European Union.

I've been enormously impressed with the economic energy, political savvy, and cultural sophistication of every single country I've visited. Asia has some of the most remarkable artists, intellectuals, literatures and culinary traditions in the world, to the point that I cringe whenever I realize just how provincial I was when I first arrived in Kolkata (prior to 2017, I'd traveled around Europe and the Caribbean, but had never visited any Asian nation).

However, all of this new knowledge has a price tag.

That price tag is a responsibility to the truth.

One of Gandhi's most profound insights was the saying "satyamev jayate", which means "the truth will prevail". The truth is indeed mighty, yet Gandhi would be the first to acknowledge it is also fragile and vulnerable. Because the truth can be damaged, destroyed or suppressed. To properly grasp the truth, we must be willing to pay the price for defending the truth -- by rejecting lies, deception and deceit.

Knowing what I know, I cannot in good conscience remain silent any longer about what is going on in India.

I know full well that the repressive arm of the authorities (more on this in just a moment) may descend on me at any time.

That is the price tag of the truth.

Because the truth isn't simply the telling of true things. It is grounded in the fundamental principle of solidarity: the notion that other human beings can seek out and discover the truth for themselves, that all 7.7 billion of us on the planet are fellow participants in an amazing adventure, the democratic co-shaping of human destiny.

But the painful truth is that India is in deep, deep crisis.

It's true that every single nation on Earth is experiencing a crisis these days, as the old economic models break down, and as plutocrats everywhere run roughshod over democracy. But India's crisis matters more than that of any other nation, due to its continental size of 1.3 billion people and its extraordinary internal diversity.

The truth is that India is one of the most polarized, unequal and hierarchical societies on the planet, and this polarization and inequality have been intensifying with breath-taking speed.

The truth is that India is where the richest of the 2,000 billionaires extract the labor of the poorest of the 7.7 billion.

I don't say any of this out of anger towards India. Quite the reverse: I have the greatest love and respect for the ordinary people of India. They are an extraordinarily talented and gifted people. They've treated me with the utmost kindness and respect, and I will be forever grateful to their hospitality.

But the truth is that India's rural farmers -- and it's worth emphasizing that two-thirds of all Indians live in the countryside -- are in an appalling state of immiseration.

The truth is that India is one of the youngest nations in the world, but tens of millions of youth cannot find jobs.

The truth is that India's tropical location and dependence on the monsoon cycle make it terrifyingly vulnerable to climate change.

The truth is that India's growth has fallen from 9% in the late 2000s to 7% today (a measly 5.6% in per capita terms), while the investment rate has plunged from 41% in 2009 down to 31% in 2017.

So what is the government doing about all this?

Lying about GDP growth rates, censoring the internet, jailing human rights activists, underinvesting in renewable energy (India's total investment in renewables was literally one-tenth that of China last year), and delivering bogus "post-truth" budgets:




In short, as the crisis gets worse and worse, India's political elites have responded with ever more brazen revanchism, while its economic elites engage in ever more brazen looting.

The national train is headed straight towards the abyss.

To paraphrase Walter Benjamin, the upcoming national elections this April or May are the very last moment the people of India can pull the emergency handbrake of 21st century history and ward off catastrophe.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Chiang Mai

Recently I had the good fortune of visiting Chiang Mai, an exquisitely beautiful city of approximately 1 million residents located in the far north of Thailand. Nowadays, Chiang Mai is renowned as one of the foremost artistic, educational and cultural hubs of Thailand, a country which transformed itself from dire poverty in the 1950s into a middle-income nation. Chiang Mai's roads, infrastructure and public buildings do appear to be well-developed and maintained at a very high level, although I cannot speak for the condition of Thailand's rural regions.

What did strike me about Thailand, and this is something I'm more sensitive to after my sojourn in India, is that there is a core dignity to Thai daily life, a steadfastness or integral quality to its people. I suspect (but of course cannot prove) this has everything to do with the fact that the country was never subject to Western European or Japanese colonial domination. It's something subtle but pervasive, the way that ordinary people are not automatically afraid of the police or higher officials, the way Thai tourists interact in an offhand and relaxed way with ordinary street vendors, and the way Thais in general are tolerant of foreign visitors from all over the world (again, this may just be Chiang Mai, so I'm happy to stand corrected by readers better informed than I).

By the way, the majority of tourists who come to Thailand these days are from mainland China, and it was fascinating to see Chinese families walking around town, snapping photos and sampling the local mango and sticky rice (highly recommended, if you've never had it before) just like their European and American counterparts. Believe it or not, the expansion of intra-Asian tourism is extremely important for the geopolitical stability and further development of East Asia and Southeast Asia, regions which are just beginning to overcome the legacies of colonialism and the tensions of the Cold War. Tourism could become one of the main drivers of Asian integration, similar to how it helped Europe overcome its terrible past to create the largest single zone of democracy and prosperity on the planet.

Here's one of Chiang Mai's well-kept public squares:




Buddhism is pervasive in Thai culture, and one sees temples, shrines and monks throughout the city. Here's a temple located in an ordinary urban neighborhood:



This next shot shows one of the intersections just north of the old city, which has been turned into a flower-laden miniature theme park. Note the brick structure on the left, which is a remnant of the fortress wall which once surrounded the old city.   




According to the historians, Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 by the Lan Na polity, a regional empire which existed for hundreds of years until a series of wars with neighboring Myanmar forced it to become a vassal state of the Thonburi dynasty in 1776. All that is left of this dynastic history are remnants of the brick walls which once surrounded the four sides of the old city. The walls are visible next to canals with tree-lined sidewalks, former protective moats turned scenic landmarks. The city authorities have turned the moat into an urban walk, replete with potted plants and pedestrian bridges:




One of the highlights of my stay was visiting the Flower Festival, an annual event where horticulturists and flower-sellers gather to showcase their creations. Here's a shot of the public park:




 Here's one of the floats:




The floats are amazingly creative. Check out this giant monkey comprised of flowers -- the King of all Kongs:



Another float:




The public park next to the Flower Festival:



One last shot of the park: 




Finally, this shot of one of the best little cafes in town:


 Chiang Mai's street food culture is fantastic, as are its restaurants. I should note the city also has some excellent museums and used book shops.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

By The Light of Stars

Veteran Polish rapper Adam Ostrowski hits it out of the galaxy with "All My Life":




(I've translated the lyrics into rough-and-ready English, available as this .srt file -- if you don't know how to use VLC to play .srt files, click here).