Sunday, 28 February 2021

HE DID THE MASH, IT CAUGHT ON IN A FLASH [284]


Lately, I have been waking up extremely early on Saturday mornings. With the work week done, my mind turns to writing the next “Gatekeepers” article and will already be running through what the next subject will be, or what I should include.
 

This week, it became increasingly obvious what I should be writing. Hasbro has announced their “Mr Potato Head” line of toys will be renamed to simply “Potato Head,” with Mr and Mrs Potato Head as parts of the lines. Instead, this was interpreted as Mr Potato Head itself being made gender-neutral, and Piers Morgan was triggered into his usual Twitter tirade about woke virtual-signalling imbeciles, because “woke” uses fewer characters than “politically correct.” Perhaps everyone should be made to provide their own potato once more.

 

Meanwhile, American Republican politicians Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rand Paul – the latter named after Ayn Rand – were both rebuked for comments aimed at transgender people, repeating the usual mischaracterisations and talking points, into which I cannot be bothered to repeat, except to say that Dr Rachel Levine will become United States Assistant Secretary for Health because she proved herself to be supremely qualified for the job, and does not stop being transgender because other people decide they can live in a world that excludes things they don’t like. I wish I could do that; I would be much happier.

 

I had already decided I was going to write that transgender is not postmodern, although I feel like just saying that and leaving it there. I shouldn’t have to explain it any further than that. I don’t need discourse to explain away my own existence as a transgender woman, and if you think you do to make your own life easier, then how am I the one who has problems?

 

Anyway, transgender isn’t postmodern because transgender is older than postmodernism. I also do not need an argument about how “transsexual” became replaced by “transgender,” because it does not preclude its earlier existence. Pointing out logic does not rationalise something out of existence. Even more obviously, I don’t think transgender people that existed before even the coining of the term “postmodernism,” like Albert Cashier, Joseph Lobdell, Billy Tipton, Mark Weston, Lili Elbe, Christine Jorgensen and the Public Universal Friend – put all these names into your nearest search engine – had any problems with reconciling their existence with those of anyone else, let alone what each individual believed at any particular point.

 

And yet, I somehow left out the following from something I wrote a couple of weeks ago:

 

“Gender isn’t constructed, but an individual who desires gender re-assignment surgery is to be unarguably considered a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa). The fact that both of these cannot logically be true, simultaneously, is just ignored (or rationalized away with another appalling post-modern claim: that logic itself – along with the techniques of science – is merely part of the oppressive patriarchal system.)”

 

Somehow, I wrote an entire article about Jordan Peterson a couple of weeks ago without mentioning the above statement, from page 315 of my copy of “12 Rules for Life,” in the section for rule 11, “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.” (The italics are his.) A few sentences earlier, Peterson talks about the “insane and incomprehensible postmodern insistence” that gender is constructed, and the moral imperative for this is to make all outcomes equitable. Yep, somehow, I just focussed on his misreading of Jacques Derrida.

 

What Peterson wrote does not change anything I have said. Historical precedence overrules present-day ideology, and I can sleep at night. I prefer to take the example of Alan L Hart, a transgender man best known for pioneering the use of X-ray photography in detecting of tuberculosis, saving many lives, who completed his transition in 1917. Three years later, Hart’s surgeon Joshua Allen Gilbert, wrote, “Let him who finds himself a tendency to criticize an to offer some constructive method of dealing with the problem on hand. He will not want for difficulties. The patient and I have done our best with it.”

Sunday, 21 February 2021

COME ON, MAKE IT MAC TONIGHT [283]


This article is my first to have been written on my new computer, and therefore about why I took what amounted to a calculated leap of faith into spending a large amount of money on a tool to help me work better and more creatively. The leap of faith is hoping that the most obvious decision to make was also the right one.
 

My current computer is a Lenovo tower PC, a former display model bought in December 2015 from PC World. Its processor, an Intel Core i3, is really only suitable for web browsing, and while it could probably cope with making basic videos, what I need now was something more professional – video and audio production, 3D graphics, photography, things that require as much processing power as you can find. I could have gone for a Lenovo ThinkCentre, or an HP EliteBook, but in the back of my mind, I knew that PCs are not the industry standard for what I want to do.

 

What I bought is an Apple Mac mini, the first desktop computer to use their new Apple M1 system-on-a-chip processor. The company is moving away from using Intel chips to using ARM-based processors made to their requirements, just like similar chips found inside iPhones and iPads, but tests users have made after buying them have shown they are so much faster at rendering video and processing on-screen graphics, Intel-powered PCs have difficulty keeping up with them – “snappy” is a word often used in reviews I have read. 

 

There is never any shortage of people online telling you how good their products are, but what Apple seems to have done this time is create a desktop computer that can genuinely command the premium paid for their name. The new Mac mini replaces a model using a newer version of the same Core i3 processor in the computer I am replacing, but sold for twice the cost.

 

Once I finished setting up my Mac mini, I realised the premium is not just being paid for the computer, but for the escape from Microsoft Windows. After over twenty years of PC ownership, from Windows 3.1 to 10, ownership of a Mac appeared only to be for those that could absolutely justify their decision for buying one, whereas Windows-powered PCs are so ubiquitous, choosing to go elsewhere is to choose compromise.

 

However, in the light of what the Mac mini can offer me personally, staying with Intel processors and Microsoft Windows is its own compromise. Apple’s operating system, macOS, only has to work for the computers it is designed to work with, rather than needing to work with any and all computers, so the program only needs to take up as much space as is actually needed. A nice side effect of this tighter control, and other security measures, is not needing to buy anti-virus software. 

 

I am taking the transition from PC to Mac slowly in case that, if a problem does come up, I can address it easily. For example, I can connect to work remotely on macOS, but we use Windows at work, and Windows expects you to use a two-button mouse, which Apple has never made. You have to supply your own mouse and keyboard for a Mac mini, but if you decide to buy an Apple Magic Mouse, remember to look up how to enable a virtual “right click,” or keep a PC mouse on standby, in case you have to go back to old ways. 

 

It also turns out that software compatibility can be artificially enforced: I already bought and downloaded Microsoft Office 2016 for my PC, and thought I could move it to Mac until the next new version is released, but it turns out that the program for which I own no physical copy can only be downloaded for PC, which wouldn’t have mattered at the time. I had thought the Rosetta 2 program Apple provide to translate Intel-based programs to their new processor would bridge the gap, but no, because I didn’t originally specify “for Mac” when I bought it, I can’t have it at all. 

 

The biggest lesson in switching computers has been the face that software is not really something you own anymore, as if it ever was. From just buying the licence to run a program you need, the standard is now to subscribe to a suite of them. The Microsoft Office issue was solved by subscribing to Microsoft 365, which was cheaper than I imagined – although this could be economies of scale due to how many people still need Word, Excel and PowerPoint – while Adobe’s Creative Suite is more expensive, although the likelihood is you are only buying the use of these because you need them for work, not to play with in your spare time. This has led me to explore what you can download for free, like the Photoshop competitor GIMP, and the 3D graphics program Blender, both open-source and provided by foundations dedicated to keeping them free to use. The Mac mini’s compatibility with iOS mobile apps means that LumaFusion, the video editor that has been used to piece together “Gatekeepers” videos for YouTube, can now take advantage of the faster processor.

 

I have never spent so much on a computer before this one, so I intend to make the most of what the Mac mini can offer me as someone who wants to expand what they can do creatively. With that hope in mind, no better computer has been made for the job.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

YOU GOT MORE RABBIT THAN SAINSBURY’S [282]

 


This is going to be a short piece about why the name of Jordan Brent Peterson has barely appeared in my writing of the last five years, and why it probably won’t appear again.

There is certainly no point in my presenting a long analysis of what the Canadian clinical psychologist believes, and what is contained in his 2018 book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” because this has been covered exhaustively elsewhere in reviews, columns and videos. I am not planning to cover his sequel book, “Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life,” when it is published in March 2021, because that would involve having to buy a copy of it.

Most likely, anyone who has also heard his name has already formed their opinion as well, and I am not planning to change anyone’s mind, so I can focus squarely on my own reasons for not wishing to engage with his thinking.

I already own a copy of “12 Rules for Life,” the success of its release meaning I could find a paperback copy in my local supermarket for £2.99, but I tried to read it, and I don’t think it was for me. It states pretty straightforward rules such as “stand up straight with your shoulders back,” and “be precise in your speech,” symbolises order as make and chaos as female, and used lobsters to explain how human social hierarchies are formed. The analysis and reporting of the book were pointing towards addressing a crisis in young men, so I had no reason to look any further.

The section where Peterson completely lost me is on age 306 of the paperback edition, titled “Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx.” I had never encountered Marxism being mentioned alongside postmodernism up to then, and even though he mentions that key postmodernist figure Jacques Derrida referred to his ideas as a radicalised form of Marxism, he wasn’t precise enough.

Derrida referred to his signature “deconstruction,” understanding the relationship between text and meaning, as being a radicalised form of the spirit of Marxism. Derrida’s book “Spectres of Marx” (1993) is about how the ideas of Marxism persist almost like a ghost, haunting Western society from beyond the grave. Derrida coined the term “hauntologie” in this book, pronounced the same in French as ontology, the study of existence, being and reality, and hauntology is now used as a shorthand for when a culture cannot escape its own past.

However, Peterson has created the term “postmodern neo-Marxists,” and is popular enough to make that term stick among those that take his own words as gospel. I’m not sure why he spent as long as he did on it in the book as he did – Derrida said he didn’t like “de facto” Marxism, as in Communism, but Peterson goes on about how postmodernism is someway of resurrecting Marxism, and... isn’t one of Peterson’s rules “pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)”? This culminated in a debate against the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, titled “Happiness: Marxism vs. Capitalism,” where Žižek requested the names of the “cultural Marxists” Peterson had been talking about, there were no names.

The Jordan Peterson industry means there is now an ecosystem of books, videos and online content to which you can subscribe, which makes me think of Ayn Rand, another person I have little time for. There is also no shortage of people who could defend and explain his writing to me, which also makes me think of Ayn Rand. Even among professors of the University of Toronto, I would take Marshall McLuhan over Jordan Peterson.

Sunday, 7 February 2021

MAYBE TOMORROW I'LL FIND MY WAY HOME [281]


I have two reasons why I believe the idea of “the future” ended in 2003.

Firstly, Concorde was withdrawn from operation by British Airways and Air France. Supersonic passenger air travel has been a thing of the past for almost twenty years.

Secondly, the BBC cancelled “Tomorrow’s World,” a science and technology series that went out in prime-time, for a mass audience, demonstrating innovations from computers and the CD player, to the breathalyser and bulletproof vests.

You may argue that neither of these stayed viable – a downturn in air traffic following the 2001 terrorist attack on New York, and a change in demands of “luxury” air travel the Concorde could not be modified to meet; or a downturn in the ratings of “Tomorrow’s World,” along with new technology being incorporated into the BBC News show “Click,” formerly named “Click Online”.

Both have joined the museum of what was considered “the future” – an example of Concorde can be found at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, alongside the Space Shuttle Enterprise; and “Tomorrow’s World” lives on as an archive used to mark where progress has previously been made.

Postmodernism does not aspire to the same earnest drive for progress that characterises modernism. Postmodernism is more concerned with how we see the world, and while its characteristics of fragmentation, collage and nostalgia do not require new material, anything that does come along will simply be added into the mix. Innovations may come, or refinements can be made, but there is nothing to suggest that the world of 2050 will be as radically different to that of 2021. “The Jetsons” was set a hundred years from when it was made, but as I sit in 2021, I don’t see flying cars and cities in the sky becoming commonplace in the remaining forty-one years left, although the robot maid could be a close-run thing.

However, I do not believe the de-emphasis of progress can be blamed on postmodernism. A kind of contentedness arrived in the Western world after postmodernism became part of the cultural background. Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book “The End of History and the Last Man” hypothesised that the end of the Cold War in the previous year meant that liberal democracy had effectively won, and while events still occur, the progressive procession of “history” has ended. Meanwhile, “capitalist realism,” as popularised by Mark Fisher in his 2009 book of that name, takes a German term originally describing commodity-based art, redefining it as the notion that corporate capitalism and neoliberalism are now so dominant, there is no visible alternative to them. While it might not have been the kind of future we envisaged, it may well be the one we were destined to have.

This tends to be characterised by overt recycling in popular culture. For example, the music instrument manufacturer Roland sells a drum machine, the TR-8S, that for all the advanced programming and sampling features included, exists mainly as a new version of their original 1980s drum machines like the TR-808 and TR-909, working in similar ways to achieve the same effect, because music from the 1980s and 90s remain popular. I cannot honestly say what popular music will sound like ten years from now, because it endlessly refers to itself, perhaps from the moment Jackie Wilson’s “Reet Petite” became the UK Christmas number 1 single in 1986.

This may be the sort of conclusion that would still be made before the year 2020 began, as the emergency caused by Covid-19 accelerated the advent of human behaviour we still thought would be more commonplace in the future: working from home, communicating by video calls, the hastened end of brick-and-mortar retail. New medical innovations in vaccinations and personal protective equipment may be one thing, but these are innovations we needed and expected to occur. Envisaging a future of flying cars and unlimited leisure involves an element of force to enact the change, closing the gap between reality and the imagination.