Deep State 101: A primer and prescription

Every nation worth its salt has a deep state, a loose network of rich and powerful players who ratify, veto or formulate state social, economic and military policies. Whether monarchy, dictatorship, or constitutional republic, no government worthy of the name lacks for a shadowy unelected élite with hands on the tiller and in the till, influential persons with inherited or recent wealth, upper crust social connections, and old school ties, often found sitting on boards of directors and golf carts in isolated settings.

Like Sand Hill Cranes, they are rare and difficult to spot in their habitats, seamlessly blending as they do with their inaccessible surroundings. Amongst themselves, however, they are highly convivial. Partial to receptions, they bibulate and circulate as they joust over canapés. Not to worry they are but degenerates just killing time, important things get done under the buzz. Small talk can have big consequences and decadent environs make deal-making a sport. Continue reading “Deep State 101: A primer and prescription”

Innovators, Mind Your Mother

This article is an excerpt from a book in progress, titled The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants. Silica is the name I have given to the technosphere—the totality of human artifacts constructed over eons by human beings that allows us to survive and improve our lot. Except that things don’t necessarily get better in every way. To underscore how technology drives us as much as we drive it, I have personified Silica as sort of a demigod-in-waiting, a female force of nature I also call Stepmother Earth, who’s not quite sentient but quickly becoming so.
Continue reading “Innovators, Mind Your Mother”

Guest post: How Cambridge Analytica wants to bend your mind

If you are upset that in behalf of Trump’s campaign, Cambridge Analytica siphoned  personally identifying information on 50 million Americans from Facebook to microtarget voters, chances are that you may be missing the point about what they do and what it signifies. They are involved in psy-op electioneering on at least five continents similar to their efforts for Trump. Their data revelations are consulted in military and intelligence operations around the planet and their gluttony for personal data knows no bounds.

To get a handle on how these machinations play out, take a look at Roberto Gonzales’ (chair of the anthropology department at San José State University) recent article in CounterPunch, which shines a light on how CA and its parent company operate; by no means a complete accounting of the technologies or aims involved but enough to make you lose a few hours of sleep.

The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections

Read it, and let me know how happy you are now to expose yourself to social media. The task ahead for the citizenry, as I see it, is to immunize ourselves to behavioral manipulations, regardless of source or intent.

The Daily (or whenever) Eruption


Archive

Evolution As a Team Sport: Thursday 4/5/18

Chances are you are a cultural, political or economic malcontent if your eyeballs have come to rest right here. You probably worry about what it might take to set society on a sustainable path, so here’s a suggestion.

Teacher, author, media critic and activist Douglas Rushkoff has been tracking the digital revolution for decades and knows what has made it go so terribly wrong. He’s said so in books like Present Shock and Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus and at innumerable meetings and interviews. The nub of most of our problems, he asserts, are bugs in how public corporations are programmed, causing them to strip-mine value from society, stupefying, surveilling, and stiffing the public. He’s a tireless advocate for generative social and economic arrangements that create value for local and online communities rather than extracting it to faraway investors.

For several years, he has been working to build a community of the like-minded online. Team Human has a couple of hundred members who pony up $5 to Patreon to network with Douglas and one another. It’s quite an interesting group, reminiscent of The WELL, an Internet community gathered by Whole Earth Catalog refugees like Stewart Brand, Howard Rheingold (in conversation here), John Perry Barlow, and it’s still going strong after 35 years. (WELL stands for Whole Earth ‘Lectric Link.)

Every week or so, Team Human issues a podcast. Douglas riffs on some topic for ten minutes and then interviews some interesting folks from technology, the arts, or some innovative community. He’s just finished writing a book on that project that will come out next year.

It may seem like all this is to Rushkoff’s greater glory, and perhaps it is. I don’t have a problem with his success because I support what he stands for; Team Human is simply its latest efflorescence. On its Slack site (members only) I’ve encountered some curious good-hearted characters, along with their ideas and endeavors. Completely civil conversations snake around communitarian topics to which Rushkoff often adds his two cents. As one team member said, “If even 2ppl connect on TH and make something happen, that, imo, is a win.”

If you’re feeling lonely online, consider alternatives to the toots, tweets, and trolls of solipsistic social media, whether down the block or out on the Net. Involve yourself in something bigger and get a piece of the action.

Continue reading “The Daily (or whenever) Eruption”

One Regime to Rule them All

It is considered bad form for journalists to refer to the US government as a “regime.” Apparently, that moniker is reserved for our country’s enemies, of late Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Maybe Myanmar too; that’s still being sorted out. But what is a regime, really, and is it really true that we don’t have one here? Continue reading “One Regime to Rule them All”

Guest Post: We the Sheeple

Even if you’re already convinced that the United States of America is a rogue nation under financial-military-industrial overlords, it’s well worth reading Jason Hirthler’s article in this weekend’s edition of CounterPunch, We the Sheeple: the Blind Reading the Blind, if only for the revealing quotation in its opening paragraph:

Shortly after the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, made a candid confession to the Army Times, “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.” Amid the general bonhomie of the military interview, Powell nicely encapsulated a central truth of empire: it doesn’t want peace. Never did. Imperialism, the monopoly stage of capitalism, is based on conquest. Peace is little more than an aftermath in the imperialist vision. It is the dusty rubble-strewn silence that descends on Aleppo when the jihadists have been bussed out. It is the silent pollution of the Danube when the NATO jets have flown. It is the quiet that settles on the Libyan square once the slave auction has concluded. Peace is an interlude between the birth of avarice and the advent of aggression. Little else.

Read the rest on CounterPunch.

One must also appreciate his spot-on assessment of the function that corporate media serve in legitimizing suspicions of uncooperative regimes and aggression on them, papering over the devastation created by US aggression, and fear-mongering terrorism while pretending it isn’t blowback. Depressingly few Americans understand how our empire works. It takes a while for it to sink in because we the people have been systematically deceived about America’s role in the world since the founding of the Republic. Hirthler’s superbly written diatribe is a badly needed civics lesson in how that works today. Read and share widely.

How Technology Stakeholders Lose

An excerpt from a work in progress, a book called The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants, a set of essays that looks into what we can expect from this strange brave new world.

Our addictions to technology, especially of the digital sort and especially among the young, are manifest, but they aren’t entirely technology’s fault. Nor are they just the result of falling unto temptation, although practicing a bit more mindfulness and self-discipline wouldn’t hurt. Few of us ever asked for this stuff. We got it whether we wanted it or not, dreamed up by inventors and shoveled at us by the marketplace, packaged to titillate. And even what we think of as the good stuff often has a seamy underside that tries to hook us and then takes what it wants from us while we’re mesmerized. Technology won’t be denied, but the particular shapes it takes are fabricated by other forces that may not have our best interests at heart. Here are two stories of how our economy shapes the tech scene that in turn shapes us.

The Water Cooler Has Ears

For starters, you might not know that online social media is older than the personal computer. Forty years back, you only needed a computer terminal, a modem, and a telephone to participate in collaborative messaging apps called electronic bulletin board systems (BBS). They ran on minicomputers, were noncommercial, and staffed by volunteers (called SysOps). Some relics of that era still exist, but as the Net unfolded, BBS’s begat Usenet, then Reddit, Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. piled on, demonstrating that computer users crave real-time online contact—the core social media value proposition. But sooner or later, almost all proprietary social media platforms succumb to Wall Street discipline to monetize our personal data, relentlessly upgrade, piling on features we never wanted or needed, and stalk us wherever we roam.

Continue reading “How Technology Stakeholders Lose”

Will Drive for Food and Sex

Q: How did the “sharing economy” become a predatory landscape?

A: It’s simple; Capitalism is a predatory beast. Corporations will appropriate idealism, deceive customers, cheat workers, and squander good will in a New York Minute if doing so accrues value to shareholders and executives.

As Dean Baker wrote in CounterPunch several years ago, “… in their exuberance over the next big thing, many boosters [of the sharing economy] have overlooked the reality that this new business model is largely based on evading regulations and breaking the law.” He’s right about the criminality but his piece paints sharing with too broad a brush.

There’s an old Russian proverb that Trump and his minions should take to heart: “A fish rots from the head.” It’s redolent of the kind of moral decay that sets in when CEOs mistake market share, earnings and valuation for virtue. The stench that now pervades the entire economy is overpowering to everyone who doesn’t have a financial bubble to wall it out. Continue reading “Will Drive for Food and Sex”

What Would Henry Do?

[Dug out this 2006 essay from my archives because it seems to apply as much now as a decade ago. Only the technology has moved on, not the human species.]

Dedicated to Peter Balen

If life has you feeling more overwhelmed and less able to cope all the time, it might not just be encroaching senility, the accumulation of bad chemicals in your body, or even 9-11. Consider what might connect such random areas of interest as

  • Prescription drug programs
  • Retirement planning
  • Airline deregulation
  • The blogosphere
  • School vouchers
  • Globalization

Continue reading “What Would Henry Do?”