While writing this newsletter I listened to:
Smog - 'A River Ain't Too Much to Love'
Peter Jefferies - 'The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World'
Alan Hull - 'Squire'
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week of 06 November 2019

Regarding the upcoming UK election, I’m starting to drink the Kool-Aid. By Kool-Aid, I mean: optimism. I think this might be the most fascinating election I’ve ever lived through, as most American ones are grotesque spectacles but not really fascinating; here, there are so many variables, and it’s so hard to make predictions, that I’m genuinely just excited to watch the campaigns unfold.

(Tangent: the phrase ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ is pretty fucked up if you think about it –– at best it treats as casual and at worst it makes light of the Jonestown mass suicide, in which over 900 people died. And it wasn’t even actually Kool-Aid brand, but Flavor Aid, so the poor Kraft Heinz corporation has suffered 40 years of slander through this colloquialism. Just kidding, fuck them.)

I began from a position of extreme pessimism, as it seemed on paper that Johnson was going to establish a solid majority and use it to not just ram through a hard + awful Brexit, but to inflict another administration of barbaric cruelty against the people of Britain (or at least the ones who did not attend public schools). On the other side, Labour has a platform even more beautiful and radical than their last one, which includes abolishing public (private, in American parlance) schools entirely. There’s clear good and evil sides here, and the stage is set for a fantastic drama, with everything seemingly stacked against Labour, such as a hostile media, a supposedly resurgent Liberal Democrat party, and Brexit fatigue –– which could make a victory all the more incredible.

Once the campaigning began, I started to feel my spirits lift. For one thing, the Tories have a ton of obstacles, especially now that Farage’s Brexit party is contesting many if not all seats. On day one, Corbyn was out there literally naming the names of billionaires that will be penalised under a Labour government. Having only lived under centre-right or far right governments in my lifetime (until Antti Rinne became prime minister of Finland earlier this year), I’m genuinely thrilled to see the leader of a major national political party not afraid to say what he is against, to make enemies, and to wage pure class warfare. (And he named Mike Ashley specifically, whose crimes surely go beyond being tight-fisted as owner of Newcastle United, but I'll assume Corbyn is mostly angry because he couldn’t sign a better striker than Joelinton.)

Of course, one should never underestimate the British electorate’s ability to make terrible choices. But as remote as I am, two timezones away and largely trying to monitor the mood from my bubble of Twitter and leftist news sites, I am already starting to sense a shift. Corbyn is a genuinely talented campaigner, and Labour’s policies, when presently fairly and not through biased poll questions, are actually extremely popular.

There’s a great podcast I’ve been into recently called Trashfuture, a bit like a British version of Chapo except explicitly organised around the theme of ’tech pessimism’ (a phrase that I’ve been in search of for a long time, which describes my own feelings). Their latest episode, which I highly recommend, looks at the upcoming election with an infectious optimism, one that seems to believe that voters will see through the Lib Dems for being the fradulent assholes they are, and come to understand the Labour position on Brexit, which is actually pretty goddamned straightforward despite what everyone thinks.

One of the very first lines in that episode is that this is your chance to literally save lives by ending austerity (cause Boris’s promise to increase spending isn’t credible in the slightest). These are high (and hyperbolic) stakes perhaps, and I don’t get a vote anyway, but this is going to be a hell of a trip, and I have to believe that things can finally get better.


Ben Lerner’s latest novel, The Topeka School, is a major step forward for him. It’s been reviewed to death so I don’t need to add to the praise, but I was really struck by how he found a way to grow beyond the so-called ‘autofiction’ of his first two books and write a very now, very contemporary work that interrogates the psychological undercurrent of today's culture war, but while being set in the late 90s. I’m the same age as Lerner and the novel’s thinly-fictionalised character, but my own late 90s have been constructed more from subsequent decades of historical and cultural analyses than from my actual memory. The novel threw me back into high school, where I had to merge my own experience of adolescence with my understanding of the social/political situations then and after; the novel didn’t confirm my previous mental rendering as much as reimagine it, slightly askew. 

Not too many films have jumped out at me since I last wrote here, but I also haven’t been watching many. TV keeps on flowing, but the only real standout has been Lodge 49. Lodge 49! Lodge 49! It’s the first television series that ever motivated me to email the network to express my appreciation and beg them to renew it, though I immediately felt stupid after doing so and I’m sure they’re gonna cancel it anyway since no one watches it.


My favourite website died last week. For the past decade or so I read Deadspin every day, and came to feel as if the writers and editors were almost like real friends who I actually knew, not just through my familiarity with their work but through the continuity of reading it daily, and growing with them. (I do not actually know any of them). After Peter Thiel and Hulk Hogan destroyed Gawker, it was only a matter of time before it would all collapse, but still, the way it happened was insane and totally unnecessary. There’s been plenty of coverage of it, none of which really raises my spirits about the possibility of such a wonderful thing ever happening again. 

I cannot understand how journalism is supposed to exist under a capitalist enterprise seeking to maximise profit. I know people think Deadspin was all nonsense posts about poop and bears, but they did some genuinely amazing journalistic work, and wrote with a collective viewpoint, which is what will truly be lost (as the writers and editors, who will likely find other media jobs, will have their voices now dispersed). I know I’m almost 40 years old and I should have a better understanding of how the world works, but can someone explain to me why I should think that public interest and private profit-maximisation can function in harmony? Because it seems insane to me.

What did y’all think about n+1’s essay on the ‘professional managerial class’? I’m not sure if this term is useful anymore, or if constructs like this ever are. It seems to provide an all-too-easy explanation for the woes of the left during my lifetime. Yet at the same time, it’s pretty convincing.

I’m on my way to Riga now, where I’ll be doing a short residency at the Free Riga Lastadija complex, attempting to help design some a credit-value system for the various initiatives contributing to the overall Free Riga project. If anyone is in the area get in touch; I’ll be there til the 16th, at least.

Take care,

John W. Fail/Icewhistle website
Not copyright  2019 No Culture Icons, 

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