Skip to content

Karl Marx’s great-great-great grandson is doing parkour outside McDonald’s

May 27, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-05-27 at 3.14.44 PM.png

That cherubic blond guy holding the skateboard? He’s a “direct descendant of Karl Marx“, according to Rachael Burford of the UK’s Surrey Comet.

I’m a little late to this story, but a couple of years back he spent a week sleeping rough with two of his mates to raise money for homeless people. Which of course is precisely the sort of mealy-mouthed humanitarianism Marx dismissed as bourgeois meddling.

It turns out the apple has rolled pretty far from the tree:

Mr Marx says he flirted with his great-great-grandfather’s socialist ideals, but ultimately decided that they did not work in practice. Kingston’s McDonald’s has been the group’s base.

That would be their base for their epic parkour busking squad.

The teenagers became friends through their shared interest in free running, the art of acrobatically jumping around urban environments, and have been doing “back flips for money” to buy food.

Mr Marx, who teaches gymnastics, said: “The public reaction to us hasn’t been too bad …”

Fuck yeah comrade!

Invisible, Soft, Green

April 29, 2017


I’m obsessed with the adjective quiz questions on this educational site, which are full of existential doubt and despair.


I want to meet an invisible, soft, green alligator. It sounds a lot like Chomsky’s colorless green ideas that sleep furiously, his example of a grammatically correct nonsense statement.

But this little guy is definitely my fav.

Screen Shot 2017-04-29 at 12.54.47 pm

How To Outrun A Katamari

April 17, 2017


I’ve been working on a bunch of troll articles for WikiHow.

Here’s a preview one of them:

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 8.53.14 pm.jpg

“How To Outrun A Katamari”


And another:


“How To Be More Recursive”

A revised typology of Internet memes

March 21, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 1.01.14 pm

Fan theories

March 21, 2017


Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?



Anna is the Grand Duchess Anastasia who’s hallucinating after being shot by the Bolsheviks in 1918


Pride & Prejudice
Kitty in Pride & Prejudice is Lydia’s cat that’s why everyone ignores her and she has no personality she’s a cat

A meta-trolley problem

March 21, 2017


I wasn’t aware of the trolley problem meme when I tweeted this back in April 2016:


A runaway trolley is about to create five Trolley Problems.
Do you pull the lever and divert it, so that it only creates one?


It ended up being shared a lot on Twitter and Facebook, and was eventually featured in this New York magazine piece. I haven’t quite decided whether little social media microprojects like this are a distraction from my “real work” or are, in fact, the real work itself. I’ve made a couple more since then. An election-themed trolley problem:


Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 5.44.47 PM.png

Hey third-party voters in swing states! You’re in a real-life Trolley Problem. 


And a Trolley Problem fan theory:

Screen Shot 2016-12-27 at 5.45.17 PM.png

Fan theory: the Trolley Problem is happening in the mind of one
of the five victims tied to the railway track; the lever doesn’t exist.


Which, when you think about it, explains why the scenario is so implausible.

My own private multiverse

March 21, 2017


I found an artist on Fiverr, alysserin, who draws 1950s-style advertising mascots. So of course I decided to request a quantum multiverse. I think she totally nailed it. And the emails it came with were pretty good too:

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 9.22.47 pm

Pep talk

March 19, 2017


Back in 2011, I wrote a little pep-talk for Lily Tomlin as an opener for the live telecast on Foxtel. Kinda dorky but she did ask me to write a couple of jokes for her to say later in the telecast, so there’s that. She even ended up using one of them.

In a few minutes, we’re going to walk, ride, skate, salsa and cha-cha-cha down Oxford Street in front of 250,000 people. And when we get out there I expect each and every one of you to do your duty.

I want to see the kinds of public displays of affection that can still get you arrested in over 70 countries … You have the right idea, sir.

I want to see lots of hogging the limelight and basking in your own glory.

I want to see girls being boys, and boys being girls, and people being whatever kind of people they damn well like. I want to see waxed eyebrows and hairy armpits, and bare asses winking at the moon.

I want sequins and glitter and feathers and faux fur – I want to feel like it’s raining craft supply stores out there.

But most of all I want you to ignore everything I just said because tonight’s about not caring what other people say!

Back in 1978, at the first Mardi Gras, 56 people were arrested just for standing up for their rights. The world’s a much brighter place now but there’s still a lot of dark corners where our sisters and brothers are facing violence and discrimination.

Which is why you need to you put away that bushel you’ve been hiding your light under and get ready to shine. The other 364 nights of the year might be their nights … but this is our night!

So ladies and gentlemen – I want you to give me an L! (RESPONSE) Give me a G! (RESPONSE) Give me a BLT! (RESPONSE) Are you ready to do this? (RESPONSE) I can’t hear you? (RESPONSE)

The social life of bots

December 23, 2016


socialbotsWhat happens when we chat with a bot on Twitter, Kik or Grindr? Is it a form of social interaction? Do such interactions weaken the boundary between human and machine, or fortify it? And is it possible for a bot to be social with other bots? Grant Bollmer and I look at some of those questions in a chapter written for this new book on socialbots edited by Rob Gehl and Maria Bakardjieva.

Does theory exist?

December 18, 2016


screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-12-28-20-pmI spend a lot of time around “theory”, in the sense used by irritating grad students which I will define below. But does it actually exist? Perhaps, in distinguishing “theory” from other kinds of reflection and critique, we are like the pre-modern physician insisting that yellowish-black choler is fundamentally different from blackish-yellow melancholer, when today we call both simply “bile”.

Social theory does not aim to explain society, according to a definition suggested by Kenneth Allan. It is not sociological. Rather, he says, the aim is to comment on and critique society. And the same could be said of cultural theory as distinct from, say, anthropology. In critical theory, of course, this critique is the central purpose.

But what, then, distinguishes a theory of art from an opinion about art expressed by a working class man in an Australian pub in response to a news story about a $2 million Gerhard Richter painting purchased with taxpayer’s money (“What a bloody bunch of wankers, my blue heeler’s dick could paint a better picture”). Both are commentary or critique, after all.

Is it possible that even President-elect Donald Trump could be a theorist?

As that tweet suggests, I think it’s possible to rewrite many of these commonly-heard opinions about art, and society in general, in the language of academic theory. By changing the form but not the core propositions of the argument, the supposed “philistine”would be transformed into an intellectually exciting provocateur? Or at least that’s a hypothesis I plan to test next year.

Perhaps the point is not that theory doesn’t exist as a category, but that every critical utterance is a theory. In 1996, Thomas McLaughlin published a book about “vernacular theories” like the Christian anti-porn movement and new age spirituality. But he was careful to insulate these from the true, rigorous theory of the academy, as pointed out by Horn Sheeler et al. in their critical book review.

I want to go much further.

I think there might be no essential difference between vernacular and academic theories in truth value or importance or even complexity.

And I think non-human utterances are kinds of theories too, such as the squealing, struggling and biting of pigs as they are herded onto the killing floor at the abbatoir.

Indeed, I think sentience itself form of theorising.

Rather than a conception of “theory” that privileges only those expressed in the language of high-status academics, a symbolist metatheory that is focused on the semiotic features of the utterance, maybe we need a sentientist metatheory that pays attention to the inner life of the individual concerned.

Which would also be one that orients us to the interests and worldviews and angry critiques of those who are not middle-class academicians.

Wittgenstein said we wouldn’t understand the lion if it could speak to us. I suggest that both human and non-human animals have already been uttering complex and challenging ideas for a very long time in their words, expressions and gestures.

Their theories may be difficult for us to parse, but then so are the theories of dead Frenchmen.