Weekend Reads: Mars, Enya, Lil Nas X, Reflections on Blogging

Recommended weekend reading material for May 22, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

Back in February, NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars. And earlier this month, China successfully landed their own rover on the Red Planet. These are obviously monumental accomplishments but does our continued exploration of space raise any ethical, political, or legal issues?

Those who advocate for human space exploration make a number of arguably unexamined assumptions. These include the idea that travelling to other worlds is inevitable, that the drive to explore is somehow in our genes, and that technological advancement is equivalent to moral progress. I have heard it said that we will learn to exist better on Earth using techniques developed for living on Mars. “That’s a really cute thought,” Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical particle physicist and cosmologist at the University of New Hampshire, told me. “But figuring out how to settler-colonize the United States didn’t help us live in a more ethical global community.”

A Jeopardy! contestant was recently accused of making a racist hand gesture, and hundreds of former Jeopardy! contestants won’t believe otherwise.

I should stress again that these are smart people, who were in general more polite than the journalists who reluctantly take my calls most weeks. And that, I think, is the point here. The contestants’ investigations of Mr. Donohue had all the signal traits of a normal social media hunt gone awry — largely, that you assume your conclusion and go looking for evidence. And they followed the deep partisan grooves of contemporary politics, in which liberals believed the absolute worst of a Trump supporter. But they also contained a thread of real conspiracy thinking — not just that racism is a source of Trumpian politics, but that apparently ordinary people are communicating through secret signals. It reflects a depth of alienation among Americans, in which our warring tribes squint through the fog at one another for mysterious and abstruse signs of malice.

Confirmation bias is a helluva drug.

With nearly $13 million raised, Frosthaven is one of Kickstarter’s most successful tabletop games. The game’s developer, Isaac Childres, recently posted about efforts to make the game more inclusive.

First of all, you may be thinking, “What does real-world cultural sensitivity have to do with a made-up fantasy world?” Well, back when I first sat down to create the world of Gloomhaven, my naïve self was right there with you. My general thought process was, “I am creating my own fantasy world completely divorced from reality, and so I can do whatever I want with the peoples in this world. There’s no risk of harming anyone, because it’s not real.”

This is a big problem, however, because nothing is created in a vacuum. Everything we do is stamped with our own biases and influences. And while the intent may be to not harm, our biases have a tendency to cause harm anyway.

He’s offering full refunds to any of the game’s backers who might be offended by his newfound “wokeness.”

Joel Heng Hartse writes about the music of Luxury, arguably the best priest-fronted indie-rock band you’ve never heard.

What is more fascinating about Luxury, though, is that they manage to almost by definition be the world’s most Christian band (lead singer Lee Bozeman once claimed Luxury was “the only Christian band”) while not sounding anything like what most people would think of as a Christian band. No songs about Jesus; no positive, “family-friendly” lyrics; no altar calls—in fact, it’s quite the opposite: Luxury’s songs are frequently about sex, sadness, and regret.

Read my review of Luxury’s excellent Trophies album.

Brian Coney has put together a comprehensive guide to the music of Enya.

As a quick descriptor, “new age” can catapult you to visions of pan pipes and ropey meditation CDs. But when it comes to the music of Enya, it almost feels respectfully fitting — self-referential even. Multi-tracked and drenched in reverb until they become something else entirely, heavy hitters like “Orinoco Flow” and “Only Time” double as portals to Enya’s literal brand of new age at its most transportive. If the deft pizzicato of the former or the cosmic wanderlust of the latter doesn’t resonate with you on some level, you surely have no soul.

Lil Nas X’s video for “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” was roundly criticized by conservative viewers for its Satanic imagery. But Nathanael T. Booth argues that Lil Nas X’s video is just the latest in a long artistic tradition that includes the likes of T.S. Eliot, Herman Melville, and… Carman.

Carman’s fantasy involves cowboys and gunshots, but the delight in grotesquerie that pervades his music videos is no less perverse than Lil Nas X’s enthused gyrations, not to mention the already-fetishistic quality of the cowboy mythos, a mythos Lil Nas X has already exploited. Carman berates the devil and shoots him; Lil Nas X makes love to the devil and then kills him. Both enact an erotically-charged dance, putting them in a direct tradition that encompasses Ahab, Gatsby, Ellison’s Invisible Man — all rebels both successful and unsuccessful who dared to strike through the mask.

Related: I’ve written at length about the impact and influence of Carman’s music.

When it comes to massive online resources, you’ve got sites like Wikipedia, IMDb, and AllMusic — but don’t forget about Discogs.

Discogs is the largest database of recorded music in the world. This global community of music fans just surpassed an impressive milestone: 3 million collectors cataloged more than 500 million of their music releases on Discogs.com — nearly double the number of releases logged in 2019 alone.

I’ve found Discogs to be an invaluable resource, especially when writing about fairly niche genres, like “city pop.”

The humble hyperlink is what makes the World Wide Web possible. But over the years, linking to websites has not been without controversy or complications.

Over the years, lingering questions have remained. DMCA, for instance, is used in a sort of automatic roundtable of link removal throughout the Internet, the practice of DMCA takedown notices reduced to an art form that most popular platforms are forced to participate in. Other questions also remain.

For instance, if you embed a post from social media, and that post has an image in it, are you violating the copyright holder of the person who took that image (Goldman v. Breitbart). If you link to a set of images in your image search, without linking directly to downloadable images, is that an example of fair use? (Perfect 10, Inc. v. Google, Inc.). If you link to a person, and defame or slander them in the process, is that actionable under defamation?

Cory Doctorow reflects on 20 years of blogging and what he’s learned along the way.

When it comes to a (my) blogging method for writing longer, more synthetic work, the traditional relationship between research and writing is reversed. Traditionally, a writer identifies a subject of interest and researches it, then writes about it. In the (my) blogging method, the writer blogs about everything that seems interesting, until a subject gels out of all of those disparate, short pieces.

Blogging isn’t just a way to organize your research — it’s a way to do research for a book or essay or story or speech you don’t even know you want to write yet. It’s a way to discover what your future books and essays and stories and speeches will be about.

Via Kottke.

Finally, one question continues to haunt scientists: where did the anus come from?

Bodily taboos have turned anuses across the tree of life into cultural underdogs, and scientific ones too: Not many researchers vocally count themselves among the world’s anus enthusiasts, which, according to the proud few, creates a bit of a blind spot — one that keeps us from understanding a fundamental aspect of our own biology.

This post is available to everyone (so feel free to share it). However, paying subscribers also get access to exclusives including playlists, sneak previews, and podcasts. If you’d like to receive those exclusives — and support my writing on Opus — then become a paid subscriber today for just $5/month or $50/year.