Friday Reading S10E04

It’s back. My weekly newsletter of … stuff I found hidden down the back of the internet’s sofa. Subscribe to it here.

Some solid work from the FT here – which you may need a subscription to read, sorry, journos gotta eat – where an investigation showed that some of the most prolific reviewers of products on Amazon in the UK appeared to be profiting from their reviews. Essentially they were getting freebies on the promise of giving them glowing 5* verdicts, posting the reviews, and then flogging the freebies off as new on eBay. Amazon deleted 20,000 reviews after they were shown the evidence.

Extinction Rebellion stopped a few newspapers getting delivered last weekend and people LOST. THEIR. SHIT. It was apparently “an attack on free speech”, rather than, say, “a minor inconvenience”.

“An attack on free speech” seems to have an incredibly broad definition these days. Mostly being shouted by people who I can hear very very loudly and clearly.

Having said that though, there’s something odd about XR, and without going all Godwin’s Law on you in the newsletter, that is a bit, well, weirdly cult-ish. A bit like the anti-mask lot in Trafalgar Square the other week. I enjoyed this piece that was doing the rounds, drawing parallels with how hippies, ecology campaigners, and the QAnon followers all share a common thread of things that were promoted by the Nazis.

Nazi Hippies: When the New Age and Far Right Overlap” – Jules Evans

The only thing I’d criticise it for, is it doesn’t draw the direct line between how the whole ragbag of QAnon beliefs are just remixed coded versions of the same old same old antisemetism.

QAnon is an End of Days death cult, like Isis, like Nazism, like the Jim Jones cult. It is radicalizing people and ruining their lives through social media — people you may know and love, like the woman from Texas arrested last month for attacking various passersby in her car because she said they were pedophiles. Her social media feed was full of QAnon posts about Satanists trafficking children. She’d been red-pilled, and is now going to prison.

Why, yes, I am obsessed with conspiracy theories and bad faith actors on the internet, thank you for noticing. I enjoyed this from Time magazine as well: “How conspiracy theories are shaping the 2020 election — and shaking the foundation of American democracy“.

The truth wasn’t reported, they said, and what was reported wasn’t true. This matters not just because of what these voters believe but also because of what they don’t. The facts that should anchor a sense of shared reality are meaningless to them; the news developments that might ordinarily inform their vote fall on deaf ears. They will not be swayed by data on coronavirus deaths, they won’t be persuaded by job losses or stock market gains, and they won’t care if Trump called America’s fallen soldiers “losers” or “suckers,” as the Atlantic reported, because they won’t believe it. They are impervious to messaging, advertising or data. They aren’t just infected with conspiracy; they appear to be inoculated against reality.

Talking of the US election I found the abstract of this paper fascinating: “Projecting confidence: How the probabilistic horse race confuses and demobilizes the public“. They say that they have demonstrated that “forecasting increases certainty about an election’s outcome, confuses many, and decreases turnout. Furthermore, we show that election forecasting has become prominent in the media, particularly in outlets with liberal audiences, and show that such coverage tends to more strongly affect the candidate who is ahead.”

Unfortunately I can’t read it because like the FT, the journal is behind a paywall – apparently academics need to eat as well, how selfish.

Someone asked on social media what the stupidest thing you ever believed was and I remembered that once when I was little a fire engine went past and my mum said “Let’s hope it’s a false alarm” and I said “Why would you call for a fire engine if you didn’t want a fire?” because I thought you summoned them to start fires. Then I realised actually the most stupid thing I ever believed was that the internet was going to be a revolutionary force for good around the world. [See blog posts passim]

Cracking paint job on a disused lighthouse sparks outrage as people argue they should always be left white. It’s looks fab though.

This video is brilliant. Bridget Barbara buys a medieval manuscript leaf. It’s one sheet of music in Latin from around the year 1470 but her sheer enthusiasm for owning it, and finding out more about it, is absolutely infectious.

*whispers anxiously* stop touching it without gloves tho

The Theremin is named after Lev Sergeyvich Termen, who invented it. Here are two things I didn’t know.

  1. He actually called it the “etherophone”
  2. He didn’t die until 1993

Anyway it was the 100th birthday of the theremin this year (probably*) and here’s some more stuff about it: WQXR – the Theremin at 100.

(*No really, there’s actually disagreement about when it was invented)

Genuinely NSFW, a bit of archaeology on the fact that you could get hardcore pr0n on the BBC Micro. Admittedly at a not very high resolution, but there you go. You never had this sort of filth with ZX Spectrum users. As John Hoare puts it “A testament to mankind’s propensity to twist any new technology into a wanking tool.”

Still in retro-computer world, but very much safe for work and indeed, rather wholesome, here is the 8-bit cover version of Nirvana’s About A Girl that you never knew you needed.

3…2…1… FIGHT!

The 20 greatest home computers – ranked! for the Guardian by Keith Stuart

(Aside from the fact the obvious answer is going to be, whatever it was you had at home or school at the time and fell in love with…)

I love Fall Guys so much. I’m dreadful at, obviously, it but I laugh all the way through it. My old chum Alex Hern interviewed the team behind it.

I’ve enjoyed dipping into this Spotify playlist – Motorish by Andrew Male. It’s over 6 hours of pre-1977 “proto-motorik tracks from outside Germany and ‘before punk broke'”

A fabulous essay on Simon Larbalestiers classic Pixies record cover images and their back-stories.

I’ve got a new single coming out on 18 September, available from all good digital pop stores etc etc. To celebrate I’m doing a live-streamed gig. I’ll see you at 9pm on Thursday 17 September, up in my loft. Well, you won’t be up in my loft, but you get the picture…