writing

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Today’s Climate Forecast

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/07/2022 - 5:52pm in

And onto today’s climate forecast,
where we can expect to see a prolonged spell of inaction,
interspersed with patches of hazy promises
across many areas. 

Over Westminster and other centres of government,
a build-up of hot air will cause inactivity
to soar to record levels over the coming days,
in spite of the high pressure.

Elsewhere, a front of chronic misinformation
will sweep in from the east,
bringing with it a band of climate change deniers
and the chance of scattered falsehoods,

while powerful gusts of idiocy and ignorance
look set to blow across social media.
Outbreaks of ‘We just got on with it in 1976’
and ‘It’s called the British summer, mate’ are likely.

In summary: unsettling.

Days Like These – available to pre-order

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 06/06/2022 - 8:08pm in

Tags 

Book, poem, poetry, writing

I’m delighted to tell you that my new book ‘Days Like These: An Alternative Guide to the Year in 366 Poems’ is now available to pre-order from your local, friendly bookshop.

It’s publishing in October, just before tea time.

It contains a poem for every day of the year, each one inspired by an event associated with that day – from the invention of television to World Bee Day; from Ada Lovelace Day to the founding of the NHS; from the death of Agatha Christie to the beheading of Charles I.

It’s taken me a few years to compile this. There are quite a lot of days in the year, I have discovered – typically at least 365 – which means a lot of poems.

Subjects I’ve written about along the way include: quarks, morse code, Wittgenstein, Blue Peter, bananas, unicorns, Barbie, the unification of Italy, the Rubik’s Cube, water, Scrabble, Waiting for Godot, the moon, Jane Austen, Esperanto, beer, Matt Hancock, Lego, kindness, Countdown, and Elvis.

All pre-orders are very gratefully received, not least because they can help both the publisher and the booksellers understand the demand for a new book and plan accordingly.

Thanks for your support!

Mentioned in the New Yorker!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/05/2022 - 8:30pm in

It’s not every day one is quoted – not just mentioned but quoted! – in a publication as eminent as The New Yorker, so you will forgive me for adding it to the scrapbook. The article, a review of Elizabeth Popp Berman’s new book ‘Thinking Like an Economist: How Efficiency Replaced Equality in US Public Policy‘ has me mentioned next to the late great David Graeber. We are the obligatory econ-hating-lefties in Idrees Kahloon’s ‘war on economics’ (see left) but still. I’m very glad to be in Graeber’s company, too.

And here we are – the evidence. I’ll lay my hands on a paper copy soon!

The line itself comes from a blog I wrote for the LSE back in 2014, following the publication of my book I Spend therefore I Am (Viking, 2014, republished by Penguin as A Richer Life, 2015, and now available for less than a fiver, so knock yourself out). The book ruffled a few feathers among reviewers, just as Elizabeth Popp Berman seems to have done, and the blog was something of a reply to critics. Here it is:

Economics is itself one of the biggest problems we face today

“Most scholarship is… not going to live forever. Is it therefore not worth doing?”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 27/04/2022 - 11:28pm in

Writer B.D. McClay was prompted to ask the question in the above headline by remarks from Jason Stanley (Yale), who on Twitter said, “I would regard myself as an abject failure if people are still not reading my philosophical work in 200 years. I have zero intention of being just another Ivy League professor whose work lasts as long as they are alive.”

Stanley is not the only philosopher who has as an aim and standard for their work that it have an influence well into the distant future. (Stanley might have talked about his work being read in 200 years, but he probably didn’t mean just 200 years—presumably he’d be upset if his work lasted 200 years but then was completely forgotten a day after that.) I recall one established philosopher telling a group of graduate students at a workshop, “I am not writing for today; I am writing for posterity,” and others in various conversations over the years taking as their goal to have their writings talked about through the ages.


[Kano Sansetsu, “Old Plum”]

The desire to leave a mark on posterity, to seek immortality through one’s works, can be a powerful one. Its danger is the theme of fiction from ancient myths up through today’s literature. Here’s a character summing it up in a rant to his son in Steve Toltz’s marvelous 2008 novel, A Fraction of the Whole:

“Humans are unique in this world in that, as opposed to all other animals, they have developed a consciousness so advanced that it has one awful byproduct: they are the only creatures aware of their own mortality. This truth is so terrifying that from a very early age humans bury it deep in their unconscious, and this has turned people into red-blooded machines, fleshy factories that manufacture meaning. The meaning they feel becomes channled into their immortality projects—such as their children, or their gods, or their artistic works, of their businesses, or their nations—that they believe will outlive them… The irony of their immortality projects is that while they have been designed by the unconscious to fool the person into a sense of specialness and into a bid for everlasting life, the manner in which they fret about their immortality projects is the very thing that kills them… This is my warning to you… So what do you think?”

“I have no idea what you just said.”

One needn’t understand the lethality of the desire for immortality literally— it may just be that pursuing its satisfaction may involve sacrificing the actual goods of your life for the merely possible goods of your work’s afterlife.

Whether, as the storytellers insist, the quest for immortality is congenitally ironic, there remains the question: is “being important in the distant future” a standard to which we should hold our work, our projects, or ourselves?

I don’t think it is. On this, I find myself largely in agreement with Brooke Alan Trisel, who takes up the matter in the thoughtful “Human Extinction and the Value of Our Efforts,” (2004). Trisel writes:

The problem in allowing an unrealizable desire, such as immortality, to become part of a standard for judging whether our efforts are worthwhile or important is that it predetermines that we will fail to achieve the standard. Furthermore, it can lead us to lose sight of or discount all of the other things that matter to us besides fulfilling this one desire.

Since there is no way to satisfy the desire for quasi-immortality, one may fall into a state of despair, as did Tolstoy. Furthermore, because the desire may be concealed in the standard, the person may be unable to pinpoint the source of the despair and, consequently, may be unable to figure out how to overcome it. The person may believe that he or she has a new perspective on life that suddenly revealed that human endeavors are and have always been futile, when, in fact, the only thing that changed was that this person increased the standard that he or she had previously used to judge significance. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize when an unrealizable desire, such as the desire to have our works appreciated forever, has infected our standards and, when it has done so, to purge it from these standards. The original standard that we used to judge significance was likely realistic and inspiring before it became corrupted with the desire to achieve quasi-immortality.

Suppose that there is a god who created humanity and who told us that our efforts would be “significant” only if we create works that will last forever. Suppose also that humanity will not last forever and that we live in a universe that will not likely last forever. Thus, there is a clear, “objective” standard for judging whether our efforts are significant. If this were the standard handed down to us by this god, would we try to achieve the standard, or would we reject, as I believe, the standard on grounds that it is unreasonable, assuming that we were not compelled by this god to try to achieve the standard? Ironically, we are free to choose a reasonable standard to judge what is significant, yet some people unwittingly adopt, or impose upon themselves, a standard that they would reject if it had been imposed upon them by an external entity.

Though Trisel writes about the impossibility of immortality, the points are almost as compelling when read as being about the unlikelihood of being thought important in the distant future.  I recommend the whole essay, an ungated version of which is available here.

Instead of a direct longing for immortality (or distant impact), one might think that the standard we should hold our writing to is not that it be read through the ages, but rather that it have some other qualities that, as it turns out, make it more likely to be read through the ages. One might hope that one’s work is wise, for instance, and think that if it is wise, it will be discussed for generations to come. If that’s the case, it seems it would be better to focus on and articulate which qualities we have in mind, rather than one’s impact on posterity. One reason for this is that there are less desirable qualities that might contribute to a work’s longevity, such as it being maddeningly unclear, or especially evil. Another is that we may wish to avoid holding ourselves to standards the meeting of which is largely out of our control; I can’t dictate what future generations do, but maybe I can make what I do good in some way—and isn’t that enough?

There are a constellation of issues here about which I’m sure there’s a variety of opinion. Discussion welcome.

(Note: this is not a discussion about Jason Stanley or his work. Comments about him will be deleted.)

Please Use My Writings And Quotes, With Or Without Attribution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 23/04/2022 - 10:35pm in

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/509009de09d897e0b3a0b0561b1d343e/href

This is just a quick article to remind everyone of my standing offer to please use my work however they like, and that it isn’t necessary to attribute any words I’ve written to me if you don’t want to.

I think a reminder is due because lately I’ve been seeing more people take me up on this repeated offer on social media, with people sharing quotes I’ve made without putting my name on them or sharing screenshots of my Twitter posts but cropping my name off of them, and I want to make it clear to everyone that I am fine with this and think it’s great.

I have probably the coolest readers of any online writer in the world (not to brag or anything), and sometimes they get upset when they see somebody sharing something I’ve said without giving me attribution. So I’d just like to make it clear to everyone that what they’re seeing is perfectly fine, and I’ll explain why.

body[data-twttr-rendered="true"] {background-color: transparent;}.twitter-tweet {margin: auto !important;}

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Firstly and most importantly, it’s fine for people to share my work without attribution because I don’t do what I do to get rich and famous, and I’m not in this to have people stroke my ego. My sole objective here in this space is to do what I can to help expand human consciousness and bring awareness to dynamics which threaten the survival of our species, and to get good ideas circulating in an information ecosystem that is severely polluted with very bad ideas. Anyone who shares my work, with or without attribution, is as far as I’m concerned helping to facilitate this goal.

And sharing my work without attribution can actually often facilitate this goal a lot further than sharing it with attribution, in my experience. I’ve seen words I’ve written share far better online without my name attached to them than they did when I originally said them, and it makes sense that this would happen if you think about it. I’ve got a negative reputation in many online circles because I’ve said things that are offensive to pretty much every political faction at one time or another, so there are a lot of people who’d be more inclined to share a cool idea or quote that doesn’t have my name attached to it than one that does. If the words are helpful then it shouldn’t matter what name is attached to them, but it often does matter and if removing my name from them helps circulate those words then in my opinion that’s an objectively positive thing.

Secondly, it’s fine for people to share my work without attribution because it doesn’t hurt me financially or professionally at all. Because of the entirely gift-based model that my crowdfunded project here is based on, I don’t get any more money by people coming to my website or clicking my articles, so I’m not losing anything when they don’t. My patrons tend to be people who’ve noticed over an extended period of time that I put out work they like and want to support, not people who just saw a quote they enjoyed once.

When I first announced my policy of letting everyone use my work for free a number of people expressed concern and responded as though I was doing something dangerous that might be detrimental to me. And I guess it makes sense that people would be a bit alarmed by something so far outside the norm, but I’ve had my content-sharing policy in place for three years now and have never once had a bad thing come of it. All that’s happened is a bunch of platforms have republished my work and a lot more people have been reading my articles, which from my point of view is beneficial because my articles are well-sourced and truthful and my ideas are good.

body[data-twttr-rendered="true"] {background-color: transparent;}.twitter-tweet {margin: auto !important;}

function notifyResize(height) {height = height ? height : document.documentElement.offsetHeight; var resized = false; if (window.donkey && donkey.resize) {donkey.resize(height);resized = true;}if (parent && parent._resizeIframe) {var obj = {iframe: window.frameElement, height: height}; parent._resizeIframe(obj); resized = true;}if (window.location && window.location.hash === "#amp=1" && window.parent && window.parent.postMessage) {window.parent.postMessage({sentinel: "amp", type: "embed-size", height: height}, "*");}if (window.webkit && window.webkit.messageHandlers && window.webkit.messageHandlers.resize) {window.webkit.messageHandlers.resize.postMessage(height); resized = true;}return resized;}twttr.events.bind('rendered', function (event) {notifyResize();}); twttr.events.bind('resize', function (event) {notifyResize();});if (parent && parent._resizeIframe) {var maxWidth = parseInt(window.frameElement.getAttribute("width")); if ( 500 < maxWidth) {window.frameElement.setAttribute("width", "500");}}

Lastly, it’s fine for people to share my work without attribution because that’s just the kind of world I want to live in. Where ideas and information flow freely, where people don’t feel the need to cling tightly to their creations and inventions because they’ll starve if they don’t have enough imaginary numbers in their bank accounts, where creators don’t constipate their creativity by continually fighting for control over old ideas that aren’t even alive and inspired for them anymore, where patents aren’t used to suppress human development and innovation for the profit of a very few. Where we’re all creative geniuses in a constant state of inspiration flow, pouring our unique gifts out into the world for the benefit of the whole with the confidence that we’ll all be taken care of by the collective.

I try to make my whole life a kind of sigil for the world I’d like to see emerge in the future, and my work here is very much an extension of that practice. If I can also help to create that world by setting a good example, so much the better.

So please do use my work in whatever way you want. Make tweets, memes, articles, flyers, zines, posters, signs, stencils, books, merchandise, whatever. Put my name on it, put your name on it, or make up some fictional name and attribute it to them. Use all of it or use parts of it. Keep it as is or change it. Do it for free or do it to make money. The words aren’t mine, they’re yours to do with as you please.

And feel free to bookmark this article so you can show it to anyone who tries to tell you different.

___________________

My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. All works co-authored with my American husband Tim Foley.

Bitcoin donations:1Ac7PCQXoQoLA9Sh8fhAgiU3PHA2EX5Zm2

Remembering OutWrite

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/03/2022 - 11:00pm in

Tags 

writing

Audience members at OutWrite 1998. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation records at Northeastern University Library’s Archives...

Read More

Great Opening Lines of Philosophy Articles and Books

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/03/2022 - 12:36am in

What are the best opening lines of philosophy articles and books?

We’ve compiled lists of philosophy’s most beautiful passages  and philosophical works with good, witty, or clever titles before, but, if memory serves me right, we have yet to solicit suggestions for great opening lines of philosophy articles and books. So let’s hear some.

Ruminations on what makes for a good first sentence are welcome, too, but what we’re primary looking for are examples of them. Have you ever experienced, in the words of Allegra Hyde, “love at first sentence”? Or if not love, infatuation? What are philosophy’s most beautiful, captivating, clever, fun, shocking, or otherwise noteworthy opening sentences?

 

 

Writetyper

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/02/2022 - 8:52am in

Tags 

Tech, writing

Data URI Scheme
Live edit text in your web-browser

Just a quick post to remind myself of the data URI scheme. This is something I should be incredibly familiar with given my history of work but I am mostly clueless.

This morning I have been helping my partner compose a bunch of words. The process has involved lots of to and fro with temporary swathes of text which I have quickly edited before sending back. I found using the data URI scheme to be a quick and efficient method to hammer out text without flipping between apps and windows.

Everything is in the browser. I pasted the code below into a new tab in my browser and just started typing

data:text/html, <body contenteditable style="font: 2rem/1.5 monospace;max-width:60rem;margin:0 auto;padding:4rem;">

So bloody easy.

Footnote:

the title of this post is taken from the code word used to get infinite lives in Jet Set Willy.

The bathroom in Jet Set Willy
Only when you complete the game do you find all the amenities

You had to type it in whilst in the room with the toilet under the stairs and the door to the master bedroom guarded by Maria the housekeeper who was angrily tapping her toes. Maria would not allow you entry until you had cleaned up after the previous nights wild party.

A Night In with Brian Bilston

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 21/01/2022 - 8:32pm in

Tags 

event, poem, poetry, writing

If the above doesn’t sound too dull or terrifying a prospect, you might be interested to know I’m doing an event with Fane on 3rd February.

I’ll be reading some poems from ‘Alexa, what is there to know about love?’ and having a chat with the brilliant Ian McMillan.

More details – including how to get hold of a ticket – are here:

https://www.fane.co.uk/brian-bilston

Alexa, what is there to know about when the paperback is coming out?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/01/2022 - 10:22pm in

I’m delighted to receive some advance paperback copies of my book ‘Alexa, what is there to know about love?’. It publishes on 3rd Feb and is available to pre-order.

I’ve taken a photo of it next to a plant because that’s what book bloggers sometimes do if a cup of cappuccino is unavailable.

Photo of a book next to a plant

It’s available through all the bookshops, particularly the independent ones. The book may or may not be appropriate for Valentine’s Day or be put to a variety of other sundry uses.

I’ve also attached a few poems from it, what always used to refer to as ‘bonus promotional content’.

Pages