Even if no one you know catches it, you’ll start to worry if you’re not already flushed with paranoia. At first, everything seemed normal. It was hard to understand all the attention given to it when it was half way around the globe. We’ll be ready for it when it comes, you thought. Wasn’t Trump telling us it was less concerning than the Flu. So confidant was he that he barred the WHO test for the virus that is used all over the world. Why didn’t he just put a tariff on it, like everything else? Instead, he encouraged pharma friends to develop tests and vaccines (based on publicly-funded research, as usual) that they could make dear and make a killing (literally). It’s the economy, stupid, not the citizens. All the smart people are investing in drug companies, medical suppliers, and collaborative web platforms. Continue reading “Business as Unusual: Notes on a pandemic”
Douglas Rushkoff Wants Us to Rewind
Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff (W.W. Norton, 2019, 256 p. hardbound), ISBN 987-0-393-65169-0, $23.95. Also available in eBook and audiobook formats.
The entities called computers were originally human beings, people like the accounts clerk Bob Cratchit in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In the mid-20th century, computers were (mostly) women who worked calculators and slide rules, tasked with tabulating data and solving numerical problems. Nowadays, says Douglas Rushkoff, computers run us as extensions of applications that abuse us for fun and profit. Rushkoff has had it with the soul-sucking “innovation economy”; to retrieve the human agency and dignity that technocracy has usurped, he proposes not a revolution but a renaissance of pre-industrial, even pre-enlightenment, societal values. Rushkoff emerged as an early member of the digerati, but has since been a longstanding critic of those who control digital media and manipulate its users, not to mention capitalism itself. Now a professor of media studies (CUNY Queens), public intellectual, and podcast host, he’s quietly assembling an army of change agents. Their mission is to “challenge the operating system that drives our society” by organizing the (better-educated) masses to throw off their (block) chains by imagining and building human-scale alternatives to giant financial institutions, public corporations, and their enablers. Given how overarching and well-wired global capitalism is, that’s a tall order, but Rushkoff asserts that the battle can be won if we stick together. Continue reading “Undoing Dystopia”
Public Displays of Perfidy: Tuesday 2/25/2020
Every time I’ve been interviewed on TV as an author and publisher, I’ve cringed upon viewing the finished product. Methinks I don’t look good, don’t talk good, and my watery eyes wander—in short, Mr Malaprop meets Mr. Magoo. But whatever; it is what it is, and I am who I am, so get over it, I tell myself.
And so I do, and so it happens again. But thankfully, my recent bid for media fame went a bit better this time. In January, I was interviewed by producer/host Kameel Nasr on Cambridge Community TV for his show New England Authors. Every so often, Nasr puts out conversations with fiction and nonfiction writers, scientists, humanitarians, physicians and other local notables. On this occasion, he quizzed me for 20 minutes about the genesis of my novel Turkey Shoot, the motivations of its protagonists, and by extension my own. We also touched upon the sequel I’m writing. (See below.)
Last Year, my town switched vendors to boost garbage collection to new heights of automation. Within a month, its new contractor had distributed two massive two-wheeled receptacles to every household: a black one for non-recyclables, capacity 64 gallons, and a bigger blue-and-green one—96 gallons, large enough to stuff a couple of non-dismembered bodies into — for recyclables. The town instructed residents to wheel out their bins and line them up at the curb on pickup day, front facing the street, with lids closed. As you can see, we dutifully obey, each creating his or her no-parking zone. Continue reading “Talking Trash”
Remember good old Barney Frank, the loudmouth former legislator from Massachusetts’ 4th District? (Even after 50 years in the Bay State, he still talks Joisey.) He’s gay and proud (having first outed himself privately in the late 70s and then publicly in 1987), and still sports a progressive patina that over time has become a tad tarnished.
He first showed up on my radar as a twenty-something grad student at Harvard’s Kennedy Institute of Politics who ditched his dissertation to work for the Mayor of Boston. He soon entered politics as a state rep, taking a law degree from Harvard while he served his west-of-Boston suburban constituency. By 1980 he was a Congress-critter, and by the time he bowed out in 2013 he had risen to Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee (demoted by the 2010 mid-terms to Ranking Member). Unless it happened in High School, he never lost an election. Continue reading “Franking Privileges: Barney and the Jet Set”
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”
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.
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.
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.
As promised, on Thursday the Senator from Coal and Tobacco released his chamber’s close-to-the-vest health care bill, and you know what? It isn’t actually a health care bill. It’s a government spending and taxation bill that incidentally screws up access to health care. Differing from the House’s American Health Care Act bill only in detail, it so severely limits Medicare spending as to totally undo almost all of the limited good that Obamacare instigated. Even the establishment-happy Senator McCaskill was moved to observe that it would remove life support from elderly and disabled Missourians and force the sick into emergency rooms in a state already losing rural hospitals. To her credit, she told off Chairman Orrin Hatch from her perch on the Finance Committee the other day, but of course nobody who matters cared.
Having noted that there are seven billion human beings now weighing down the planet, most struggling for subsistence, the question that keeps corporations up at night is “How can we turn these poor wretches into consumers?” And more often than not the answer is “tether them with technology that we’ll constantly monitor and update.”
Due to the dispersed nature of talent and resources, high-tech expertise nests in niches, nooks, and crannies in all sorts of places, pursuing separate goals that may or may not be related. To maximize the market potential of up-and-coming makers and capitalize on it, corporate chiefs, technologists, government policy makers, non-governmental organizations, and academics have learned to meld minds to find ways and means to get the downtrodden up to speed in the digital economy. Many hard-striving institutions of higher learning have assumed the guise of problem-solvers-to-the-world to hone the bleeding edge of innovation to razor sharpness, and no one does it better than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Continue reading “Go Solve Yourself”