Review: Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget


You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto
Jaron Lanier

Lock-in is apparently a concept well known among engineers, but I was unfamiliar with it until this book. It’s worth thinking about. Basically, the concept is that in large complex systems, simple, often arbitrary, decisions can have long lasting effects, which when compounded, can limit the possibilities for future use of the system.

The example Lanier gives is midi. A tool which was originally intended to assist in the control of keyboards by computers is now so ingrained in all electronic music, that it has limited the ability of artists to rethink the way music sounds on the internet thereby “locking in” the way we hear most music. It’s a compelling concept, and one I’m thinking about a lot in my own work, where I’m attempting to be more thoughtful in my decisions to allow for greater flexibility going forward.

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Review: Flynn and Gerhardt’s The Silent Brotherhood: The Chilling Inside Story of America’s Violent, Anti-Government Militia Movement


The Silent Brotherhood: The Chilling Inside Story of America’s Violent, Anti-Government Militia Movement
Kevin Flynn
Gary Gerhardt

The first on the scene book about the “the Order”, a white supremacist criminal gang that robbed banks to fund the white power movement and was involved in the assassination of liberal radio DJ Alan Berg. Told is a kinda trashy style, the book is still a very useful look into the formation of a relatively successful (though eventually doomed) white supremacist criminal cell.

 

Founded by Robert Jay Matthews at his rural Washington state farm, the group existed for approximately three years, before being taken down with the use of a government witness. All its known members are now in jail or dead. In the time that it was functioning, the Order raised millions of dollars for white supremacist organizations, and killed at least one man. While white power organizing has become much more sophisticated since the days of a group of men plotting shit in a barn, this book features many of the same themes (and some of the same people) as we see today.

 

Recommended for those interested in understanding the enemy.

 

 

* aka “Silent Brotherhood” or the “Bruder Schweign”.

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Review: LaValle’s The Changeling

A book that starts out as a heartwarming tale of parenthood, turns real dark, real fast, and ends up a surreal exploration of a world of monsters, cults, and heartbroken parents in New York City.

Kinda about parenthood, kinda about race and difference, kinda about the role of social media, and kinda about the immigrant experience. All and all pretty spectacular. Some of the best writing about what it feels like to be a new dad that I have ever read, some of the most disturbing scenes of grief. Written with a love of New York City and subtle type of immigrant and racial justice politics.

A great book, if you can buy in on some supernatural elements, but fair warning, some of this can be tough going for parents of young children.

Recommended.

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Review: Ferris’s Tools for Titans


Tools for Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers
Tim Ferris

I’ll confess to being a fairly regular listener to the Tim Ferris podcast. While Ferris can be annoying at times and the whole can smell like techbro city, he is a good interviewer and his guests are often interesting people I would have never run across otherwise. This book is a collection of excepts from those interviews but distilled down to lists and bites and devoid of the kind of personal energy that comes through in the podcast.

While there’s some good bits in here, you’re much better off just picking the episodes of the podcasts that interest you.

Not recommended.

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Review: Soundtracks to the White Revolution: White Supremacist Assaults on Youth Music Subcultures

Soundtracks to the White Revolution: White Supremacist Assaults on Youth Music Subcultures
Devin Burghart, editor

Almost more of a pamphlet than a book, this is an overview of the various genres of neo-fascists / white power music. I grew up in punk rock / underground music scene, and am, unfortunately, deeply familiar with many of the bands and scenes discussed here. Definitely dated now (this one came out in 1999), but still full of valuable information for people who know nothing about this phenomenon. If you come to this one already knowing about Skrewdriver, Boyd Rice, Burzum and Death in June, you’ll probably find this pretty basic. If those names don’t ring a bell, then there’s a lot to learn in this little book.

Recommended for the enthusiast

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Review: Militias in America 1995: A Book of Reading and Resources


Militias in America 1995: A Book of Reading and Resources

Institute of Alternative Journalism

I spent much of my twenties working, and volunteering in various bookstores. There’s much I don’t miss about those days the low pay, the drudgery, the customer service; but there are other parts of that life I remember fondly.

One of those parts was being so close to the book world that I could pick up things like this, a self published collection of investigations into the militia movement by a group of journalists who took a long, hard look at what was then burgeoning and important part of the ultra-right.

This came out in 1995 in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombings and dives deep into the world that produced Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Many of the important journalists investigating the ultra-left are featured here including James Ridgeway (who wrote Blood in the Face). Incredibly timely at the point of publication, but now largely a historical piece in the puzzle that brought us to where we are today.

Recommended for the anti-racist researcher.

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Review: Palmer’s Seven Surrenders

Seven Surrenders
Ada Palmer
The second book in Ada Palmers incredible Terra Ignota series. This one picks off exactly where Too Like the Lightning ended, and moves along at a blistering clip through scores of plot revelations, and extended explorations into the nature of gender, the place of violence in society, the complexities of competing duties, the nature of divinity and more.

I can’t get enough of these books. The world Palmer has built is incredibly complex and nuanced and I fear I’ll never get to see as much of it as I’d like to. The books are overflowing with ideas sometimes, almost too many to keep up with, and the writing is clean, clear, and often funny. If I have a quibble, its that at times it feels rushed. Palmer has so many plot points to tie up that reveals happen at a breakneck speed and not always with the level of pre-work I’d like to see.

Still and all, there is so much here. Including real insights into what the future might look like, and fascinating explorations about how we might view our own history in coming eras.

Recommended (for a certain type of big idea SF loving) enthusiast.

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