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Monday, February 02, 2009

Update! New blog!

I've been spending most of the last year doing things other than writing. Having spent quite some time posting here rather lengthy piece sometimes several times a week, I suppose I needed a break. Well, the holiday is over and I'm back to writing again, only this time I'm doing it at another site. Most pieces will be in the same format as the others but I'm hoping to do some collaboration and also to do more straight research format pieces that break out of the blog style.

There are two new pieces posted up already from me and this time I've got some help from a comrade, so the burden shouldn't be as great. There might be other contributors, so check there for other voices from the insurrectionary milieu. Thanks to everyone who visited this site and read my work. I enjoyed the feedback and discussion. You can still reach me at the same email address. So, please head on over to the new site and start reading!

Check it out here:
Fires Never Extinguished

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tasers and Torture: Technology and the Expansion of Police Power

Hardly a newscycle goes by these days without two seemingly contradictory things happening: a police officer praises the “less lethal” TASER as his savior in a tight spot; and, someone gets killed or seriously injured by a TASER. It isn't unusual for this second case to occur in circumstances that shed considerable doubt on the first case, whether because of the nature of the victim (young, old, incapacitated, restrained, etc) or because of the victim was either justified in their actions or attempting to comply with police orders. What's behind this phenomenon?

Police cite the TASER as a critical weapon filling a gap in their arsenal between the billy club and the handgun. Rather than engage a suspect in close combat, cops say, the TASER allows them the flexibility to take someone down at a short distance without risking serious injury to either the officer or the arrestee. This is supposed to be more humane than merely beating or shooting someone, especially if there is some doubt as to the criminality of the victim's actions, such as when police merely desire compliance (although police rarely concede such doubts publicly). Likewise, this is alleged to be safer for the officer, who the media and police agencies almost universally portray as constant targets of violence.

But what's the truth of it? We can start by debunking two notions that underlie the case used to justify TASERs. First of all, when we get right down to it, policing isn't a very dangerous job. When ranked by the rate of on the job deaths and injury, cops don't even rank in the top ten, showing up far below truck driver, roofer and farm worker, among others [1]. Jobs we all do every day without the benefit of TASER protection (from our boss, for instance). Indeed, a recent study cited in the New York Times showed that cops are much more likely to die by their own hand than by a so-called “criminal” [2].

Secondly, the truth is that police don't use less force when they have TASERs. If TASERs were serving as a substitute for other forms of violence, or as a deterrent, we would expect the number of uses of force to drop. According to a well-documented study by Amnesty International, however, when police forces get TASERs, their propensity towards violence actually increases [3]. TASERs actually increase police violence. Indeed, Amnesty International specifically pointed out that precisely because of the short distance attack that TASERs make possible, police increasingly use them to compel obedience rather than for actual law enforcement.

Why is this? It's because the police are a tool of class oppression. They are like soldiers, only deployed here at home, enforcing the will of a small elite that is rich and powerful. As the army does in Iraq, so do the police here at home. They are defenders of the status quo, which happens to be one in which folks like us don't have much power while the elite they are defending have a lot of it. For instance, when the bank comes to enforce your foreclosure or eviction, who shows up? The police, of course, toting their TASERs and guns. But when's the last time you saw the cops TASER a yuppie in the rich part of town? That'll be the day!

So, since the police are really a domestic army, not public servants, why would we expect that giving them more weapons (i.e., TASERs) would reduce the level of violence? That's counter-intuitive. For instance, if we gave the army a new weapon, would we expect them to be less violent because of it? Clearly not. The TASER, then, is a way for the police to increase their ability to efficiently project their power or, more accurately, the power of the elite in general (the ones who make the laws and pay for the politicians, for example), onto folks like us – people who want to create our own lives and not bow down before people who don't have our best interests at heart. This explains the vigorous defense of TASERs by police agencies despite the fact that they are used too often and remain quite deadly in many circumstances [4]. They're not concerned with reducing violence. They're concerned with projecting their power.

Thus, it's obvious that all the rhetoric about TASERs doesn't match up with reality and in fact obscures a very fundamental truth: the rich and powerful want to control us so that they can get richer and more powerful. TASERs make it easier for them to do so, especially because police can hide their violence behind the cover of TASERs bogus claim of being less-violent (a claim they continue to make even as the deaths mount). But, once we see through that lie we are ourselves armed to make our arguments against the deployment of TASERs. If we want to be free, we must limit and ultimately challenge the ability of the police to project power onto us. And that means opposing TASERs and the class society they defend.


[1] “America's most dangerous jobs”, CNN Money. com, 9 August 2007

[2] “Suicide Bigger Threat for Police Than Criminals”, New York Times, 8 April 2008

[3] “USA: Excessive and lethal force? Amnesty International's concerns about deaths and ill-treatment involving police use of tasers”, 30 November 2004, accessed at http://www. amnesty. org/en/library/info/AMR51/139/2004

[4] “Police defend use of Tasers”, Knoxville News Sentinel, 4 December 2007


I contributed this article to the July issue of Modesto Anarcho.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Damn Near Seven Years of Failure: The Phoenix Anti-War Movement and the Ritual Cult of Defeat

In the process of getting ready to write something new about the anti-war movement here in Phoenix, I re-read my past writings on the topic. Looking them over, I realized, why bother? Nothing has changed. Ritual and ineffectiveness still dominate the movement, as do activists who need the war to justify their management of others (to get votes, to build organizations or just to massage their own egos). A fear of shaking things up and a conservative attitude towards tactics prevails.

Failure, rather than success, has become the benchmark for the movement. To continue losing, to continue to stand impotent before the forces of the elite war machine, has in fact become a sort of measure of success in its own right. We're still here, and we're still against the war, seems to be the message, ignoring the fact that as long as that's true, the war must also still churn mercilessly on, devouring both American and Iraqi alike (although one in substantially greater proportion than the other). After all, you can't be against a war once it's over.

Heavy on symbol and low on substance, the movement in Phoenix has become a candle-holding caricature of itself, at war with imagination and as a result completely unable to conceive of any action other than to repeat its own failed mistakes of the past. Nearly seven bloody years of war have passed and still the local liberal anti-war movement has yet to claim anything remotely approaching a victory, having instead allowed itself to be diverted into dead ends like electoralism, petitioning and moral witness.

Literally, the movement here has engaged in the exact same protest almost since the day American bombs started pummeling Iraq: show up at Senator McCain's office, hold some signs and deliver a petition. The movement's success is judged in terms of honking horns rather than concrete results. Initially, there were street protests and some enthusiastic energy, but those days are long gone. The vampires of the liberal left have sucked all the blood from the movement, leaving behind a lifeless, mindless corpse incapable of creative action.

And why not? This was a predictable result of allowing these liberal ghouls to get their cold hands on the movement in the first place. Squash and marginalize the militants, that was their first goal, then manage the rest. And so the fire of the anti-globalization movement went away and the candles of the anti-war movement came out. It was predicted at the time, by anarchists and other radicals in town, who argued against liberal leadership of the movement. And so it has now come to pass and what we're left with is an anti-war leadership morally and organizationally invested in the continuation of the war. To varying degrees they have been duped or acted as enthusiastic movement-slayers but either way, they offer no solutions to our predicament. And how could they? They caused it.

And yet support for the war dwindles along with the attendance, even here in conservative Arizona. This sheer fact alone, that the population is much more anti-war now than ever before while at the same time the numbers showing up at anti-war rallies has generally and noticeably moved in the opposite direction, should give everyone pause. Unsurprisingly, the increasingly marginal rallies and boring tactics have not worked, nor have they inspired new blood to join the movement with fresh ideas. If the goal is to stop the various imperialist wars waged on the world by the United States, then the Phoenix anti-war movement has been a colossal failure. This fact must be faced up to.

My advice now is the same it has been for the last seven years. Either way, at some point we need to start evaluating whether we want an anti-war movement to end the war or just to sooth our consciences. One is based on solidarity with other people and the other is an exercise in First World privilege at best or default imperialism at worst. One empowers people and the other empowers politicians and the other slimy managers of social change. One shakes the halls of power and imposes change on the criminal ruling class, emboldening ourselves in the process, while the other slinks in on all fours and begs for a hearing, further empowering the parasitic liberal activists and their political allies.

So, if you want a good look at the anti-war movement today, have a look at my piece from last year, entitled "So Many Candles, So Little Fire: The Sad State of the Phoenix Anti-War Movement". Truthfully, you could go back and read any of the many articles I wrote or the fliers I handed out on the topic over the past many years and get the same points, because nothing has changed since then either. If anything, the anti-war movement has become even more entrenched in bad habits and bad thinking, its leaders even more managerial and its ideas even more bankrupt.

Further, its analysis has regressed, no longer recognizing the central interests of Capital behind the elite's desperate aggressions abroad. This failure has allowed capitalist politicos like those in the Democratic Party to infuse themselves and exploit and neutralize the movement. Lifestylist, thinly veiled calls for what amounts to a liberal interventionist green empire free of fossil fuels have replaced demands for the dismantlement of the empire.

The gains of the anti-globalization movement, which inspired so many of us not leastwise because it had settled so many of the issues that now bog down the anti-war movement, have faded into the past, both in terms of tactics and analysis. Unlike the anti-globalization movement, the anti-war movement lacks contact with other domestic movements, and as a result it has withered on the vine intellectually, cannibalizing itself and squandering its potential. The truth is, the anti-war movement has become a reactionary force, recuperating past militant movements, neutralizing them and purging them from the collective memory.

Indeed, the obsession of the liberal anti-war movement elite with the coming attack on Iran betrays it's own impotence, as they religiously consult the bones over breaking news of impending attacks, belying their own failure to create a movement capable of stopping them before they begin. The anti-war elites fret over the machinations of their political adversaries and openly plot to replace them. Indeed, if the anti-war movement managers are not able to stop the attack on Iran, it will be hard to come to any other conclusion than to declare the national anti-war movement dead on arrival.

Where are the blockades and destruction of war-related property? Phoenix has plenty of war profiteers. Where is the call for shutting down the whole of elite society until troops are withdrawn (not redeployed) and guarantees for Iran's people are issued? Indeed, where is the generally white and affluent anti-war left when other movements here in town ask for solidarity? Where is the anti-war left when migrants and immigrants take the streets in defense of basic human freedoms? Where was the anti-war left in Jena, Louisiana, not to mention in downtown Phoenix on Mayday 2006?

Further the movement is still mired in infantile anti-Bush and anti-Republican thinking, forgetting the right's many willing accomplices on the left. There are clear reasons why the liberal left prefers to frame things this way, but we have to ask ourselves if it really represents reality and if it's a strategy for stopping America's ongoing war against the world. Indeed, the tendency of the anti-war left to ignore the situation in Afghanistan almost entirely, marking time instead by the invasion of Iraq, betrays the pro-imperialist logic of this mindset by setting Iraq into a special category - a war somehow gone wrong or for the wrong reasons - rather than a continuation of imperial global strategy.

But in the end, if we can't evaluate the anti-war movement on it's ability to hamper or end the war, just what measure should we use? Useless votes? Lip service from politicians? The elevation of local anti-war leaders to elected office, like Kyrsten Sinema, who managed to ride the early anti-war wave for her own personal political gain? Politicos like this can't help us make the kind of radical changes that are necessary to stop the Iraq and other wars. The activists, politicians and other professional managers of social change (after all, whither the anti-war activist without the war?) have had their time. Militance and direct action are the watchwords of the day now.

There is no argument they can make against us. They can't say now is not the time, because it's been damn near seven years and there have been more than a million deaths in that time. They can't say wait for the next election, because we've given them three national shots at the ballot box ('02, '04, '06), including going on two years with liberal control of Congress. They can't say we must persuade more people because more than half the American population want out NOW, not later. It's time for the movement to wake up and realize that when the activists urge passivity, it's not because it's a successful tactic, but because it does not disturb their own positions in the movement. And, in the end, what's the difference between that and supporting the slaughter themselves?

If we have one advantage here in Phoenix, it is the total lack of an organized communist left. Many, many hours of very hard work, often including direct action at their meetings and rallies, consciously directed by anarchists militants, has kept the Valley free of authoritarians of the leftist variety, and we are all better for it. In other cities, authoritarian communists and socialists destroy movements in ways similar to liberals, with common front tactics and marginalization of militant, critical voices and often direct collaboration with the police. Often, however, their organizing is more insidious because their language is seductive to folks looking for something more radical than what the liberals have to offer. Local anti-war militants should take advantage of this fact and act to make irrelevant, through our own creative action, the liberal anti-war leaders in town.

The time is now for militant action. Pick a target and shut it down. Build solidarity and fight for and with others. Link the war to other local struggles and leave room in your organizing to support them unselfishly. Militants must challenge the dominant cadre in the movement and seek to broaden the space for resistance. Politicians and activists must be driven from the movement (they had their chance) and our actions must develop strict criteria for evaluating our success. Let's take the power into our own hands. The time is now.

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wi-Fi's Golden Promise and the Jackboot of the State

The Chicago Times reported last week that the city has linked up all the high school surveillance cameras into a network that feeds into the city's 911 headquarters, forming a network of 4500 cameras. Already, the city's transit cameras and some private business cameras have been similarly routed to police headquarters.

Here's the thing about this article: the real news isn't the cameras being linked up. That's scary enough if you care about freedom and privacy, but it's not the real interesting bit about this. The part to pay attention to is not the cameras streaming to the 911 center, but that they can now stream to cops in their patrol cars.
In an emergency, arriving officers also will be able to view real-time images from the cameras on screens in their squad cars.

'The key is getting the information to the police officer in that car," said Mayor Richard Daley.'
How is this accomplished? The article doesn't say, but if it's like other cities, I'll bet it's with Wi-fi.

The spread of wi-fi across city landscapes has vastly increased the ability of the police to project force in their war against the poor (which is what policing is). It allows them to deploy units strategically and with increasingly pinpoint precision, which of course also increases the ability of the ruling class to impose their version of order (exploitation, prison, povery, etc) on the rest of us. Meanwhile, we are fed the lie that wi-fi is a great boon to humanity. At worst, the detractors will say it is neutral. But is something that increases the power of the ruling class to stomp our faces into a bloody pulp "neutral"? I don't think so.

Of course, knowing this perhaps now you'll look at Tempe's much-hyped neighborhood wi-fi plan a little differently now. Tempe, as you all know, is at the forefront of municipal wi-fi. At the time it was, as such things always are, boosted as a convenience for the neighborhood and the downtown business set, while in fact it was a foundation for the coming police state. But you already knew this if you read my blog, because I warned about this in 2005. Of course, folks thought I was a crazy Luddite then...

Still, poor marketing may have bought us a little time here in Tempeasy: the roll-out of Tempe's wireless police state hasn't gone as smoothly as planned. Last month the Republic reported that both Tempe and neighboring Chandler's wi-fi projects have foundered thanks to poor marketing. At it's peak, Tempe's plan only pulled in 800 subscribers and currently it's being offered free to those who can manage to pick up a signal. If the company currently running the project pulls out, Tempe may takeover the network.

Now that things aren't turning out quite as planned, city bureaucrats are reassessing the progressive spin they put on municipal wi-fi. As reported in Computer World last month:
Dave Heck, the [Tempe's] CIO, remembers how municipal Wi-Fi advocates talked about wireless networks as shining beacons that would bring Internet connectivity to the masses. But that kind of optimism is nearly gone in Tempe, and the city's network is dead in the water.

On Dec. 28, Kite Networks Inc., a division of Gobility Inc. that had been operating the network in Tempe, cut off connections and pulled the plug on its customer service phone line and Web site. Heck said subscribers have been hounding city officials to restore the Wi-Fi service. But the city's leverage over Gobility is limited, he added.

"Obviously, the city never thought this would happen, or we would have never gotten into it," Heck said. "People are pointing fingers, with some citizens thinking [the city] had more involvement than we did. Nobody could have foreseen this."
With the failure of the business end comes doubt about the government projects as well. Last year, as an in kind substitution for rents Gobility offered the city free access for fire and police, but the project's rocky future may put the elite's short-term plan for increased policing power in jeopardy, although, knowing it's potential utility in the war against the poor and working class, they continue to defend the system.

In Philadelphia, which is experiencing a similar situation as Tempe, the project is defended in both policing terms and for the so-called progressive benefits it will bring to poor people (aside from the heavier foot of the police state, I assume). Craig Settles, the author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless, who has written about Philadelphia's wireless experience put it this way:
Mr. Settles insists wireless can help the Nutter administration attain its goals.

"It puts more police on the street," Mr. Settles stresses, "when they don't have to go back to the station to access data and write their reports. They can do mug shot six packs. They can obtain witness identification in the streets.

"When paramedics respond in Houston and Corpus Christi, they can bring up patient data and send data and photographs ahead to the emergency room. There is more effective medicine going on in the ambulance that way. They can coordinate their efforts so the emergency room can be a better responder and treatment can move more quickly.
Settles sounds a bit desperate as he pleads with us:
"You have to use the technology," Mr. Settles emphasizes. "The wireless technology gives you the ability to work ex-offenders through some sort of computer training program."

Mr. Settles is an unabashed cheerleader for Wireless Philadelphia and its mission to bridge the digital divide with low-cost computers and training for low-income households in Philadelphia.
"Some sort of computer training program?" Like prison, perhaps? What a joke.

Sure, we're told, this will help poor people, too, even as it polices them. Indeed, the real purpose of municipal wireless becomes apparent when we consider a recent article in Information Week. Aside from subsidizing gentrification and business, we're reminded by Firetide's company spokesman (the company responsible for the wi-fi project in Los Gatos, California) that, "It's free to residents wherever they can get a signal." But what else is free?
Late last month, Firetide reported that its wireless mesh system tied a video surveillance network of cameras to the West Palm Beach Police Department in Florida. Deployed in the toughest neighborhood in the 100,000-resident city, the network is aimed at helping deter gang activity, drug dealing, and prostitution. Mesh nodes are connected to Wi-Fi-enabled laptops in police cruisers.

West Palm Beach's police communications manager Michael Cambisios said the Firetide network enabled the police force to "reach into areas not accessible by fiber or cable, extending resources without increasing manpower."
There: you couldn't have it put more clearly. Wireless is what the army calls a "force multiplier" and it's bad news for the poor and working class who, we know, never get anything for free from the elite (except a prison cell or a military uniform, perhaps). When the elite begins holding out freebies to us, we had best think twice about the deal we're getting. Municipal wi-fi is a net loser for us, and we need to recognize it as such. When the uprising comes, don't forget to take out the wi-fi. It benefits them far more than it helps us.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Montel Williams, Heath Ledger and 1.2 million dead Iraqis walk into a bar...

Montel Williams was interviewed on Fox about Heath Ledger's death and he threw a fit because the media was fawning over Heath while ignoring the deaths in Iraq. But which deaths did he mean?
Montel Williams: "How many people have died in Iraq since January one? "

Fox Host: "It's about 20"

Montel Williams: "No its not about, it is 28"
But, in fact, if Montel, a former Naval Intelligence officer, had bothered to check he'd know that actually according to "Combined figures obtained from the defence, interior and health ministries 541 people were killed in Iraq last month". Montel gets it wrong because he's only counting Americans. To him Iraqis don't count. Imagine that! Americans killed in Iraq count more than Iraqis killed in Iraq, many of whom have been killed by Americans in Iraq! Bizarre!

But why is this? Montel has swallowed this "support the troops" crap which divorces the actions and mission of the soldiers from our support for them. Our support stops being conditional and becomes the patriotic price of admission to the public debate on the war. It depoliticizes the debate and makes it harder for us to understand what's really going on in Iraq. Thus, it matters not that US war dead have been killed trying to impose on Iraq the imperialist vision of a small global elite based mostly in Washington, New York and London. But isn't that a big difference? For instance, if you're killed breaking into someone's house, are you a victim to be honored? Likewise, if you kill someone randomly in a mall, that's murder, but if you kill them as they force their way into your bedroom with a gun, that's self-defense.

Indeed, echoing Montel's misguided sentiments, a recent article posted on Reddit.com cleverly retitled an AP piece "Five Heath Ledgers Die In Iraq" in an apparent attempt to draw attention to US war deaths, which are indeed continuing to mount every day. Like Montel, it seems safe to presume that the author of said alternate title thought the dead soldiers to be more worthy of mention than dead Heath Ledger. But, really, when you think about it, perhaps Heath Ledger might actually be more worthy of our praise than those five more or less willing tools of foreign occupation. After all, rather than joining the Aussie military and heading out to do his patriotic duty in Iraq, Heath Ledger was out protesting the war in Iraq in 2002, well before the invasion.

In an interview just before the war, Heath Ledger slammed the war and his own country's then-Prime Minister, John Howard:
"I think John 'Coward' should just grow up," he said while watching the war on Iraq unfold on television.

"He's so subservient to this guy (US President George Bush) and they're sending 250,000 troops over there, why should we send our 2000, it makes no difference.

"We've got nothing to do with it, we've got to grow up and be independent.

"All of a sudden we're an aggressor, we're part of this, we're supporting this aggression, and it's ridiculous, we shouldn't be."

Ledger said it was strange to be publicising a movie in the midst of war breaking out.

"It's surreal for me to be sitting here, talking to you and giving an interview while they're dropping 3000 bombs on Bagdad," he said.

"It's really hard to sit here and be happy about a movie opening, 'cause it just makes you realise the insignificance of this, it means nothing in comparison.

"The one thing I do have is the opportunity to be heard and it's something that the average person can't stand up and say 'Hey, we shouldn't be doing this.'

"It's just my opinion, but I think it's the right one. I don't think war is the answer to anything.

"It's a very, very sad day."
But the US media will hear nothing of that sort of criticism, even as the war drags on and Americans increasingly turn against it. Discussion on the war is carefully managed, sometimes leading to quite ridiculous results.

Two weeks ago the New York Times ran an article on the rising trend of US soldiers returning home and committing murders. Screwed up from combat and forgetting that US law only condones the killing of civilians when it's done under the US flag overseas, sometimes US troops return home and start killing random civilians and less-random loved ones. The Times put the total at 121 US soldiers/murderers.

And you never heard such a sympathetic treatment of a cold-blooded killer in your life! Throughout the piece, the victims of the various murder sprees are stripped of both identity and humanity, referred to as "gang member[s]" or left entirely unidentified. In fact, in one case a soldier's participation in the murder of an Iraqi civilian is then used as an excuse for his later murder of two American civilians after returning home. All three victims being poor and likely people of color (if we are to take the Times' application of the code word "gang member" for what it likely really means), they are unworthy of equal status with their murderer in the eyes of both the reporter or the newspaper. And even when the victim is treated sympathetically (when it's a relative, for instance), we are reminded constantly of the poor, broken-minded status of the pathetic killer.
Clearly, committing homicide is an extreme manifestation of dysfunction for returning veterans, many of whom struggle in quieter ways, with crumbling marriages, mounting debt, deepening alcohol dependence or more-minor tangles with the law.

But these killings provide a kind of echo sounding for the profound depths to which some veterans have fallen, whether at the bottom of a downward spiral or in a sudden burst of violence.
Try finding that kind of sympathetic reporting about an Iraqi insurgent killing a US soldier in the Times. Or of a "gang member" killing another American. Never, of course, will you see it. This despite the fact that it should hardly surprise anyone when soldiers who kill abroad tend to become violent at home. Perhaps the arbitrary geographical lines we use to separate murderer from war hero are a bit harder to navigate on the ground than newspaper publishers in New York would like to believe. Things are always clearer from the head-spinning heights of the ivory tower.

But, of course, now we know that over a million Iraqis have died as a result of the US invasion of Iraq (and that doesn't count the half million kids alone killed by US sanctions in the 90's and another 100,000 Iraqis killed in the first Gulf War!). Think about that: before the invasion Iraq had somewhere around 27 million people, so if that proportion of deaths were to happen here, it would mean nearly 15 million dead Americans. Do you think Montel or the Times would ignore that? You know Montel falls asleep every night counting every one of those dead troops and probably the folks killed on 9/11, too.

In fact, contrary to Montel's nationalistic whining about alleged American ignorance of US deaths in Iraq, a poll taken last year asked Americans to estimate the number of US dead, which they did quite accurately, missing the actual figure at the time by only about a hundred (the total was then 3100). That's pretty close given the rate of casualties. But, when it came to Iraqi dead in the war, they consistently underestimated it by many factors compared to even the US government's low ball figures!

Notice how, even though Montel's position is easily refuted -- just watch any local news for the regular roll call of local fallen so-called "heroes" (apparently all it take to be a hero is to be killed in an imperialist war) -- his statements are encouraged, because they reinforce the jingoistic atmosphere and rally people behind the flag by focusing on our so-called collective losses (even though the gains from the Iraq war will not be shared collectively, either with regular Americans or with the Iraqis). This even though they are couched as criticism of the media, which they are generally loath to consider. That's because it's actually criticism that subverts criticism. It's disinformation that aids the imperialists' war in Iraq.

But this is not an indictment of Fox News, per se. What it really reflects is the shared common ground between conservatism and liberalism. Constantly portrayed to the American public as antagonistic philosophies, they are in fact the twin bastards of capitalism and empire, and as a result neither is equipped with the analytical tools necessary to come to grips with the heart of the issue: imperialism. Unable to name the source of the problem, those who adhere to these two bankrupt philosophies can only pour out more sappy, empty justifications for war and its willing executioners in the field.

Talking heads argue aggressively about victory and whether it's possible while the true question -- what victory really means (US hegemony) and whether that is indeed desirable -- is left completely off the table. It cannot be articulated within the current context. Meanwhile, millions continue to die and the American people, trapped between these two bloodthirsty kissing cousins, remain unable to see a way past the war and, therefore, unable to come to terms with their own complicity and the true aims of the elite when it comes to Iraq. Without breaking from this nationalistic worldview and the cross-class alliance it creates, the reality that for there to be a just outcome to the war in Iraq, the US elite and its war machine must be defeated there, will continue to elude the American people and the great tragedy in Iraq will continue to unfold, until the oil runs out.

And then woe be unto any remaining nations still sitting on our oil.

Watch the video for yourself. Pathetic nationalism in full display:

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Progress in Iraq: Mobile Death Labs Come to Iraq

So, weapons designer Anh Duong has developed a mobile lab (it's inflatable!) chock full of high tech identification gear, such as a retina scanning devices, computers and a satellite uplink to Washington, DC. She hopes to make more efficient the decision-making process that soldiers go through every day: "Do I let him go? Keep him? Or shoot him on the spot?" Those are her words.

While the deployment of mobile high tech death labs in Iraq (set for 2008), something we've actually seen recently in China as well, is truly a sad development for humanity, I think the interesting part about this article is the way this new technology is being praised by the elite media for the way it brings more specific death to Iraq. And in a very real sense, it's being pushed as a progressive development in war-fighting.

As Robert Parry reports for Consortium News (drawing on a previous Washington Post article on the subject):
Duong justified this biometric-data program as a humanitarian way of singling out “bad guys” for elimination while sparing innocent civilians.

"I don't want My Lai in Iraq," Duong said. "The biggest difficulty in the global war on terror – just like in Vietnam – is to know who the bad guys are. How do we make sure we don't kill innocents?"
Duong, a 47 year-old refugee from Vietnam, seems to have drawn all the wrong lessons from America's imperialist wars. Driven by some twisted sense of gratitude to the country that laid indiscriminate waste to hers, she claims the experience growing up in Saigon under the shadow of Viet Cong rockets drove her on a quest to develop means of killing that avoided the massacre of innocents she had seen in her youth.

Explains, Duong in the Washington Post piece:
"My life is payback: I'm indebted to the soldiers and to Americans," she said. "I was enraged when I found out how Hollywood portrayed my American heroes and my American friends as women- and children-killers. How dare they?" As a teenager, Duong went to see "The Deer Hunter." She walked out in the middle.

Duong is still angry, though no longer helpless. "I'm here because in Vietnam, we ran out of bullets. I don't want to ever be in that position again," she said. "By building bombs, the other guys realize they shouldn't mess with us. If you have a gun, I have a bazooka. If you have a grenade, guess what? I have a bomb."
Despite her explanation, becoming a bomb maker for the US government still seems like an odd conclusion to come to in those circumstances, but what strikes me perhaps even more is her complete lack of a critique of bureaucracy and data entry -- especially for a public servant! If she had ever worked punching numbers into computers for the US Post Office like I have, she might be a little less enthusiastic about the efficiency of her new mobile techno-death-marvel. Some tired teenage soldier, hopped up on amphetamines and barely able to read, accidentally enters a 5 instead of a 6 and all of a sudden you're lying in a pool of your own brains and blood. Progress indeed!

Of course, efficiency in killing isn't the only benefit the mass application of repressive technology in Iraq will bring to the Iraqi people. Mass incarceration, too, will soon come to Iraq (again), and US occupation forces are now planning to more than triple the number of Iraqis in detention facilities, in large part made possible thanks by the new technology.
In effect, the Bush administration is transforming Iraq into a test tube for modern techniques of repression, which already include use of night-vision optics on drone aircraft, heat resonance imaging, and firepower that is both deadly and precise.

The new techniques represent a modernization of tactics used in other counterinsurgencies, such as in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Central America in the 1980s.

In Vietnam, U.S. forces planted sensors along infiltration routes for targeting bombing runs against North Vietnamese troops. In Guatemala, security forces were equipped with early laptop computers for use in identifying suspected subversives who would be dragged off buses and summarily executed.

Now, modern technologies are updating these strategies for the 21st century’s “war on terror.”

The U.S. news media mostly has reacted to these developments with gee-whiz enthusiasm, like the Post story about Duong, which breezily depicts her complicated life as a devoted mom whose personal history as a Vietnamese refugee led her to a career developing sophisticated weapons for the U.S. government.
Truly frightening, but, nevertheless, we should pay attention because Iraq's present foreshadows our future if we don't do something about it now. These technologies will come home, if they haven't already. First in disaster areas and riots. Or perhaps first in malls and on street corners. Or maybe first at sporting events and in police cars.

And the story of the mobile death lab also presents a lesson we had best not ignore about the way technology is so often presented as progressive when in fact it merely further tightens the death grip of the elite class on society. We see this at home with the broad application of Tasers and surveillance cameras. Crime fighting will be more efficient and less bloody, we are told, but we never ask just who is being policed and why? Or how they might be different from those doing the policing.

After all, who are the bad guys Duong wants to kill anyway? Without getting into their specific politics, when you get right down to it aren't they really just folks standing in the way of the American elite's imperial project in Iraq? They're folks with the nerve to think that they, not some distant imperialist in a beltway think tank, might more deserving of making decisions about what goes on in their country. The good guys, on the other hand -- according to Duong's imperialist formulation -- are the ones who stand passively by or even support the destruction and dismantlement of their country for the benefit of a small elite in the US. Truly a reversal of logic.

Now, perhaps we do understand Duong's perspective. She was against those in Vietnam who resisted imperial domination and she's against them now in Iraq. In a bizarre case of Stockholm Syndrome, Duong has embraced the country that wanted so much to keep Vietnam within the imperial domain that it was willing to mercilessly kill 2 million of her countrymen and women, often in brutal massacres like My Lai, creating the chaotic conditions that set her and her family fleeing into the arms of the US military in 1975. Of course, it's worth remembering, since Duong is so focused on carrying out specific killings as a path towards so-called success in Iraq, that the US used quite discriminate murder in Vietnam as well, such as that organized through the infamous Phoenix Program of assassination, which murdered more than 80,000 Vietnamese quite specifically.

And yet, to her, in true imperialist fashion, it's the resisters that must be eradicated, not the oppressor. When resistance to foreign domination is eradicated in Iraq, apparently, freedom will finally ring for Iraqis. It's the imperial project of the far off overlord, the goals of which we dare not name in polite company, that is the all beautiful good, and the resistance of the dominated, who's goals we also obscure lest we sympathize, that is the ultimate evil.


Despite all her hand wringing about finding a better way to sort out the bad guys from the good guys, hasn't Duong really just come full circle? Remember the old Vietnam era soldiers refrain, as reported to the Winter Soldiers investigation in 1971:
The way that we distinguished between civilians and VC, VC had weapons and civilians didn't and anybody that was dead was considered a VC. If you killed someone they said, "How do you know he's a VC?" and the general reply would be, "He's dead," and that was sufficient.
Vietnam. Washington. Iraq. Washington.
Some things never change.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is the Internet killing the planet?

Over at BLDGBLOG earlier this week there was an interesting article on the environmental impact of servers. It's something most folks don't think about (and neither do IT people, apparently, since a huge majority of them expressed stunning ignorance of their industry's contribution to climate collapse).

The writer at BLDGBLOG cites a recent piece from the New Scientist that revealed, among other interesting facts, these tidbits:
"Computers are seen as quite benign things sitting on your desk," says Trewin Restorick, director of the group. "But, for instance, in our charity we have one server. That server has same carbon footprint as your average SUV doing 15 miles to the gallon. Yet, whereas the SUV is seen as a villain from the environmental perspective, the server is not."

The report, An Inefficient Truth states that with more than 1 billion computers on the planet, the global IT sector is responsible for about 2% of human carbon dioxide emissions each year – a similar figure to the global airline industry.

The energy consumption is driven largely by vast amounts of customer and user data that are stored on the computer servers in most businesses. The rate at which data storage is growing surpasses the growth in the airline industry: in 2006, 48% more data storage capacity was sold in the UK than in 2005, while the number of plane passengers grew by 3%.
This massive increase in storage capacity, demanded as it is by capitalism, the state -- and the technology itself -- is having disastrous effects on the planet, as we found out today (again!) with the release of yet more dismayingly catastrophic news about the environment. While we certainly can't lay the all the blame for the rapidly increasing onset of global warming at the feet of the tech industry, I still find it curious that we have had exponential growth in computer power (and the resulting computerization of everyday life) at the same time we have seen a major escalation in the pace of ecological collapse.

Ironically, thanks to technology we are able to record the facts of our own planetary demise with unprecedented accuracy at the very same time that the technological system is driving us off a cliff. As one NASA climate scientist, Jay Zwally, said, "The Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming. Now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died. It is time to start getting out of the coal mines." Zwally worked in coal mines as a kid, so maybe he's someone we should listen to. "The Arctic is screaming," said another scientist.

And the pace of neither seems about to slow any time soon. Recent Bureau of Labor Statistics projections for job growth in the computer industry certainly foretell a continuation of this trend with job growth in the industry centering in data handling specialties:
The report, released Dec. 4, said network systems and data communications professionals will make up the single fastest-growing occupation between 2006 and 2016. That category will grow by an estimated 53.4 percent, followed closely by computer software applications engineers, whose ranks are expected to rise 44.6 percent in that time span.

Strong growth also is projected in computer systems analysis, 29 percent; computer software engineering, 28 percent; database administration, 27 percent; and network and computer systems administrators, 27 percent.

The news is not as good for computer programmers and computer operators, who were among the occupations with the largest projected declines - 4.1 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively.
Environmental scientists increasingly point out that we are in a ecological feedback loop.
Melting of sea ice and Greenland's ice sheets also alarms scientists because they become part of a troubling spiral.

White sea ice reflects about 80 percent of the sun's heat off Earth, NASA's Zwally said. When there is no sea ice, about 90 percent of the heat goes into the ocean which then warms everything else up. Warmer oceans then lead to more melting.
Likewise, we are in a feedback loop with regard to information technology. As storage capacity increases, it creates more demand for data, which in turn requires more storage. Indeed, where would such ambitious projects like IBM's S3 surveillance system, soon to be deployed in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics (and in Manhattan), be without the massive storage permitted by modern computer systems and servers.
The S3 system, developed by IBM's T.J. Watson Research Center, combines existing network and video surveillance infrastructure with state-of-the-art Information Technology, according to IDG News Service.

"Physical security and IT security are stating to come together," said Julie Donahue, vice president of security and privacy services with IBM. "A lot of the guys I'm meeting on the IT side are just starting to get involved on the physical side."

When the S3 system is deployed in the Beijing Olympic Games, it will scan video images of city streets looking for everything from troublemakers to terrorists. The S3 uses analytic tools to index digital video recordings and then issue real-time alerts when certain patterns are detected.

It can be used to warn security guards when someone has entered a restricted area.
Perhaps now we can see a big reason why the US is projected to require a dozen new power plants just to keep up with the growth of the server industry into 2011. The exponential growth in data handling and storage is also an exponential growth in the power of the elite class. No longer content with police records and prisons to track its mortal enemy the poor, excluded and working classes, the elite have embarked on a massive expansion of their power under the guise of supposedly neutral technology. Lacking an analysis of the class power of technology and blinded by elite arguments about "connectivity" and "family and friends" calling plans, nearly everyone has missed this massive accumulation of power in the hands of a very small elite. And all made possible by computer technology.

But it's not just security applications, of course, that are sucking up energy and pumping CO2 into the air. Indeed, we have the capitalists who perhaps are most enthusiastic about the coming Age of Omniscient Capitalism. The tech vanguard of Google and Facebook have both made headlines recently for their perhaps overzealous (for now) attempts to accumulate and harness the vast amounts of data that circulate on the internet about each of us. Not aberrations, as some liberals and libertarians might claim, these stockpiles of information are the direct result of the technology itself.

Indeed, one shocking innovation the personal computer has brought to us all is a massive increase in our ability to suck up not just data but actual resources. The globalization and consumerism we all now take for granted (whether we like it or not) is a direct result of computerization. Likewise, the growth of the Internet has opened opportunities for virtual accumulation that has increased the cost to the real world, not least in terms of ecological destruction.

Over at Rough Type there was an interesting analysis of the energy consumption of avatars in popular social networking world of Second Life. Crunching some numbers reveals that an avatar -- a virtual, often quite wishful thinking version of a real participant -- consumes more energy as an actual person in most Third World countries. In fact, one avatar uses as much power as a real Brazilian.

The vast amount of data and the demands to transmit that data (and the energy necessary to do it) that are required as part and parcel of the Internet and operations like Second Life seem to offer proof that we can take the effects of the technology on our environment as a direct result of the technology itself, not an exception to the rule. In that case, isn't it fair to ask the question: is the Internet killing the planet?

According to BLDGBLOG, the answer would seem to be maybe, but it doesn't have to be that way. S/he situates the locus of the archival instinct in ourselves, not in the technology, although s/he questions its utility in the long run. Thus, s/he thinks we could perhaps just record less data and thus avoid our dismal fate. However, in the process, s/he asks some great questions.
However, couldn't we also just store less information, save two or three – or four – hundred fewer emails, stop being mouse potatoes and go outside for a walk, leaving our servers turned off in the darkness?

Sure – or we could build our server farms in Iceland, where geothermal and hydroelectric power is easy enough to find.

In any case, I can't help but wonder if the ecological effects of this archival instinct to preserve the past at any cost – whether we store something inside air conditioned warehouses full of books that no one wants, or in the well-lit galleries of potentially unnecessary new museums, or even out on server farms somewhere in the rainy hills of Oregon – are really worth it.

And I can't help but suggest that they're not – even if that means I'll no longer have a place to save BLDGBLOG.

But we are making the earth unearthly, through the knock-on effects of global climate change, in order that we might hold onto the human past for another generation – reading old books, preserving films, saving emails.

So is the anthropological project of preserving ourselves really worth its environmental effects?

Are we saying that the planet may soon become unrecognizable, even uninhabitable, because of runaway climate change, and yet at least it'll have lots of really great archives...?

Is this the long-term historical irony of humanism – with its museums and libraries, its institutionalized nostalgia – that all these air conditioned warehouses and rural server farms don't represent the indefinite continuation of the humanist project but, rather, that project's future ecological demise?
Interesting, but there is a cost inherent in the technological mode of data storage that is not similarly built into other methods, not least of which, from the perspective of the elite class, is the ability to access it on a whim -- to cross reference it and to track and modify it according to new information. Similarly, whatever the cost to the environment of making the books and warehouse in the first place, a warehouse full of books does not need to be replaced every few years to keep up with the pace of data storage and transmission.

As we continue to speed towards the Age of Omniscient Capitalism, propelled as it is by two main forces, the elite's desire for control and the technology's capacity for storage and transmission, we will increasingly find ourselves facing the answer to this question. Can we divorce our increasingly critical ecological situation, not to mention the ever more tenuous state of what the liberals and libertarians wistfully lament as our "lost civil liberties," from the technology that delivered it to us?


Speaking of massive stockpiles of data, consider this Wired article on DARPA's plan to record, store and analyze everything we do, from emails to what you read to where you go to grab breakfast.
"The Pentagon is about to embark on a stunningly ambitious research project designed to gather every conceivable bit of information about a person's life, index all the information and make it searchable."
Of course, while they'll certainly assure us that it's for our own good, you have to wonder: could that amount of data be used for anything OTHER than nefarious ends?

Read it:
A Spy Machine of DARPA's Dreams

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Some people fight back. Remembering Indian resistance in the Southwest.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Drug running by intelligence services resurfaces again.

Plenty of evidence has linked the CIA and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies to drugs trafficking over the years. Most people in the US don't remember Burmese warlord Khun Sa. Sa was the CIA's longtime heroin pusher in Southeast Asia. He was the guy who used to run heroin during the Vietnam War in conjunction with the CIA's infamous Air America Airlines. In that particular situation, the heroin was shipped to Vietnam where it was sold to GI's. That money was used to fund illegal operations in the country like the Phoenix Program, which claimed thousands of lives through assassination and other nasty methods.

More recently, famed and now dead by suicide reporter Gary Webb wrote extensively on the CIA-crack-Contra connection in the 80's. Webb's exhaustive reporting revealed how the government was bringing in crack cocaine, targeted at Black communities. That money was then turned around and used to fund the Contras illegal terrorist war against the people of Nicaragua. At that time, the assistant director of the CIA was Robert Gates and he was the one tasked with investigated -- and exonerating -- the agency of all charges surrounding drug smuggling, which he did faithfully. Gates is now the Secretary of Defense.

Now, drug money is perfect money for running covert operations because it's hard to track. One thing we know about the current wars is that the CIA and other government agencies have long-standing ties to jihadist and Al-Qaeda organizations and individuals. This extends back to the US creation of the Islamic jihadist movement to counter Soviet forces in Afghanistan right through to the false flag attacks of September 11th. We also know that increasingly the intelligence services have been supporting these groups again. Sy Hersch has written about it recently for New Yorker, among other publications.

And we likewise know that since the US invasion of Afghanistan the poppy crop, which was all but eliminated under the Taliban, has resurged, thus opening up again this tried and true revenue stream for covert operations. So perhaps it should come as no surprise to us that, as ABC news reported, former northern Takhar province chief of the border police, Haji Zahir Qadir (the man that President Hamid Karzai had planned to name as head of the entire country's border police) was recently caught with more than 100 kilos of heroin in his car.

Is history repeating? Or did it never end?
Mysterious Jet Crash Is Rare Portal Into the “Dark Alliances” of the Drug War
Paper Trail for Cocaine-Filled Plane that Crashed in Yucatán Suggests Link to U.S. Law Enforcement Corruption in Colombia

CIA "rendition" flights as cover for drug smuggling: Did the Inspector General discover the Agency's dirtiest secret?

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Technological end run leads to re-runs.

I generally support striking workers, and I'm quite sympathetic to the position of the writers on this one, especially since this appears yet again to be a case of the elite using technology to upend workers power on the job not least by attempting to cut workers out of the profit they are due by redefining the means of distribution. In essence, these new technologies have been applied as a means to do an end run around writers' traditional relationships to production.

And not for the first time. Part of the reason that writers are out this time is precisely because they feel like the transition to cable and VHS both undermined their power to challenge the boss about the distribution of the profits from their labor. In essence when the bosses brought in those new technologies, they transferred power from writers' hands into their own, and billions of dollars along with it. Writers vow not to be fooled again.

Typical of a ruling class that likes to obscure the political-economic content behind a news story, the media has treated the transition to new technologies not as an attack on workers power, but as a natural phenomenon, generally referred to in the passive voice. For instance, when they remind us that "technology revolutionizes the way entertainment is delivered." Or when, as the International Herald Tribune reports it:
The strike would pit union writers, whose position has been eroded by reality television and galloping technological change, against studios and networks that are backed by big corporate owners like General Electric and News Corp., but are also unsure of the future.
As if technology is a force that drives itself, independent of the will of the elites that fund it, develop it, distribute it and apply it. Can we really say that the "big corporate owners like General Electric" would have invested billions in new technology if it would have empowered their workers interests over theirs? Even in the IHT article, while some class analysis seeps in, the fundamental myth of neutral or naturally progressing technology is maintained. But without understanding the class nature of technology, we cannot understand the writers' strike.

Nevertheless, I do have to express some solidarity with the caller to NPR the other day who asked if the writers will start writing better quality shows when they return. That would be nice. It does feel weird supporting a striking worker who writes for Touched By An Angel. It's kind of how I feel when I hear that defense industry workers have walked out. If they're just going to go back to doing what they were doing before the strike then I have to wonder which side I'm really on this time. After all, if TV stayed in reruns, maybe less people would watch it.

Although, of course, while technology is a ruling class weapon, we are sometimes able to use it to some small benefit towards our own ends. This exception doesn't invalidate the rule, however. On that note, enjoy this short bit produced on the picket line by striking Daily Show writers.

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Monday, November 12, 2007

A brief description of my recent trip to Mexico

Having visited Mexico a few times in the last year and having met up with the Other Campaign twice in Magdalena (most recently in early October), I have become more and more interested in the Zapatistas and revolutionary struggle in Mexico. I certainly have followed and supported them over the many years since their 1994 uprising brought them to my attention, but revolutionary organizing in Mexico only truly captured my political attention recently, in particular with the release of the Sexta document and the exciting Other Campaign. Whereas before my support was largely symbolic, in the last year, thanks to organizing with local Indigenous collectives and the immigrant/migrant movement, I have been engaged to participate directly in solidarity, which has been truly exciting.

I think a primary limitation on my participation early on came from not knowing Spanish. Now, however, I can speak it pretty well, and that has facilitated exploring my interest in revolutionary politics on the other side of the border. As I become increasingly convinced that the opportunity for revolutionary change in the US in quickly diminishing -- probably forever -- it has been truly inspiring to see up close what revolutionary struggle really looks like.

The first visit I took to Magdalena was inspiring. It was during the Sonora leg of the Zapatistas listening tour. It was open to anyone and the camp was quite packed. Quite a lot of Northern gringos milled about and watched, as did I, while Subcommandante Marcos and other Indigenous and civic leaders took notes on the particulars of social struggle in the state. The stories I heard from local elders and organizers were both heart-breaking and inspiring and seeing leaders from the various movements actively taking notes and listening to the complaints and ideas of the base was interesting indeed. As an anarchist, of course, I am generally skeptical of leadership, but the process I saw taking place went some distance to re-assure me that I wasn't seeing leadership as we have rightfully grown to distrust it here in the US.

For the second trip down to Magdalena this October, I took a more active role, doing support and fund-raising through a collective in which I participate and sending money down to Mexico via a collective of Indigenous youth (Yaqui and O'odham) with whom we were working. Then, tagging along with them, I headed down for the regional Indigenous encuentro as an observer and a supporter.

The meeting was smaller this time, with only a handful of whites observing. The first day opened with a speech by Marcos and others, and that was followed by a series of report-backs on local conditions and struggles from the various groups attending. The news was largely sad, spanning the range from displacement to murder and attacks by paramilitaries and police, although the collective that I have worked with was able to report to the gathering that they had successfully shut down a toxic waste plant that had been spewing filth into the air and cancer into the bodies of folks on the reservation for decades. It was one of the few bright spots, but I was proud to have been a small part of that victory, so it was good to hear the applause erupt from the assembly upon hearing the news. While people spoke, supporters actively took notes on large sheets of paper. Though the news was sad, the strength of everyone there, sharing their experiences together with the aim of building a revolutionary movement in Mexico was palpable. Sad stories, perhaps, but not told by defeated people.

The next day was made up of more report-backs and finally a vote and discussion on the proposed document as it had been hashed out. As an anarchist I have of course always firmly believed that people have it in themselves to run their own affairs in a democratic fashion. The concept of "Democracy" in the US has always been an extremely limited and elitist one, so it was particularly inspiring to see Indigenous peasants and farmers -- folks that arrogant Americans would never consider capable of practicing such a high form of self-organization -- engaging in democratic practice far and beyond that which exists here in the North without the "benefit" of college educations or high school diplomas.

Indeed, in all likelihood the pathetic sort of democracy we have here in the US depends precisely on the limiting of the imagination and authoritarianism accomplished by the school system to function -- not because such institutions make true democracy possible, but precisely because it limits it and excludes participants, forcing actors in the system to make pragmatic demands and to accept the authority of politicians and the recuperation of social struggle through institutions of the state and capital and its various non-profit accomplices.

We returned to the US and sailed through the border without incident. As it doesn't exist for capital, so it likewise doesn't exist for me. Not so for our Mexican comrades organizing so urgently even now for liberty and equality, ironically, precisely so that fewer of their fellow Mexicans will have to flee north into the exploitation and precarity of life in the US.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

If technology is so great, then where are all the E.T.'s?

This may not seem like the kind of question you would expect discussed here at Phoenix Insurgent, but bear with me for a moment. Why is it that despite the self-confident promises of the techno-philiac transhumanists, the constant reassuring of better things to come from our technology-loving elite and their scientist cadres, not to mention the treated-as-inevitable prognostications of the wizened researchers and science fiction writers alike -- why is it that despite all this so-called common sense about the benevolent and promising nature of technology we don't see any evidence of other high technology or space-faring civilizations anywhere in the universe?

This might be a just a thought experiment, but it sure does make you wonder doesn't it? I mean, the universe has had somewhere on the order of nearly 14 billion years to produce all the millions of space shuttling races that we see portrayed in our science fiction classics. Certainly the universe, given the myth of technology, must at least be populated with hundreds of iPod wearing slime, gas, carbon or silicon-cased creatures by now. Yet where are they? In all the years we've been listening to the skies, we haven't detected so much as a stray podcast from them.

Isn't this a bit surprising? After all, doesn't the ideology of technology as we are force fed it from day one in this society instill in us a religious-like faith in progress as manifested through our many microchips and machines? Like Jesus returning to pluck us from our Earthly hell and deliver us to paradise, we all take for granted that humanity will someday get its planetary shit together and, thanks to its technology, head off-world towards the heavens and paradise, where we'll all somehow finally manage to build an egalitarian world of mono-color jumpsuits and prime directives (and all without ever having to overthrow the bloody capitalists and politicians that have kept us from doing so up to that point - if that doesn't reveal this faith in technology as a tool of the elite than I don't know what does!). Yet despite scientists' allegedly strictly adhered to method of evidence-based research, we are left to assume that the very same science and technology which, so far, has yet to solve even the most basic problems of distribution of wealth and power, and both of which in fact adhere themselves quite willingly to existing power structures like the military and the university-corporate system, will somehow develop a heretofore undiscovered mechanism for solving all our problems in an egalitarian way - all while ceasing to cause new problems and eschewing the accountability of all except their capitalist and government masters. In other words, we're supposed to ignore all the evidence to the contrary and trust the scientists that it'll all come out all right in the end, even though there is no process for ensuring it will do so. In fact quite the opposite.

So, if it's so true (and ignoring Dennis Kucinich's midnight close encounters), how do we explain the strange absence of our celestial brothers? Said another way, where is ET?

Well, let's set aside for a moment whether there could even be something called an egalitarian technological society and consider instead what other forces might conspire to keep the universe barren of galactic civilizations and what that might mean for us. Indeed, some may be familiar with the Drake Equation, which Dr. Frank Drake developed in 1960 in an attempt to figure out just what was the likelihood of the universe spawning intelligent life that could reach out to the stars. It attempted to get a handle on a variety of variables, some quite mundane like how many stars will have planets that could support life and how many civilizations will develop the technology to communicate with us (so we can become aware of them). Interesting stuff, for sure. Alluded to, but not spoken outright, however, is perhaps the most important part of the equation: how many technological civilizations actually survive technological civilization itself? The equation doesn't get too specific on that point, opting to couch things in general terms: "L is the length of time such civilizations release detectable signals into space." In other words, how long a civilization can avoid destroying itself (or, less likely, I suppose, dodge comet impacts). That such formulations are left to euphemism and the abstract says a lot about the miasma of self-denial afflicting scientists living in the midst of the Cold War and under the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of, well, scientists (who created the bombs to begin with, of course). Such investigations are at their heart, speculation, for sure. However, as the equation suggests, there are some knowables, and they may more broad-ranging in scope than mere atomic destruction or a meteor impact.

For instance, recent news suggests that it's not just the bullet of nuclear holocaust that we must dodge if we are to make it to the stars. Technological existence has slower but no less lethal weapons in its arsenal, too. Consider the UN's recent report on climate change, which frames itself as a last warning to humanity else we face the catastrophic collision of total ecological collapse and the steadily building crisis of over-population. As reported in the International Herald Tribune recently,
The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage on the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report issued Thursday by the United Nations.

Climate change, the rate of extinction of species and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the threats putting humanity at risk, the UN Environment Program said in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.

"The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns," Achim Steiner, the executive director of the program, said in a telephone interview. Efficient use of resources and reducing waste now are "among the greatest challenges at the beginning of 21st century," he said.
What if all civilizations faced similar inevitable crises, not despite but precisely because of their technological nature. Consider that experts have increasingly been forecasting disastrous wars over shrinking access to resources in our near future (perhaps, some contend, we are already witnessing such conflicts in Darfur and the Middle East). Indeed, a recent military think tank report suggests an increasingly willingness of reactionary elements to take these threats seriously and are already preparing for the war of the technological world against the planet of slums. Seen Children of Men? That's one vision of what we could be facing.

Then, of course, we have peak oil, which is also in the news today, as several oil-producing regimes (perhaps not to be trusted) have declared that they cannot guarantee increased production as global supplies shrink and demand rises. Likewise, China announced this week that it will reach peak oil production by 2015. Throw in increasingly virulent diseases or mutated old ones, and you have a good idea of the kind of dangers that technological society creates for itself, ironically limiting its own ability to make good on its promises and deliver us safely into the celestial bosom.

Quite impressive, really, when you consider that of 100,000 years of human history, industrialism has only really been at it in a serious way for a hundred or so. And there remain large sections of the planet's population and land that are not yet incorporated into the industrial system of production! Just wait until the entire planet is under industrial domination - if we ever get there. What would that success mean for our survivability?

All this talk is a round-about way of pointing you to Dr. Michael Byron's quite interesting recent article entitled Peak Oil and the Fermi Paradox. In it, Byron explores these very factors as they relate to the Drake equation and the likelihood of there existing any ETs out there at all. He asks,
If other civilizations exist, then it would seem reasonable that at least some would be more advanced than ours, and would presumably be able to travel to nearby star systems. After a few millions of years they ought to have colonized the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Radio astronomers have been searching ever since Frank Drake undertook the first scientific search for extraterrestrial civilizations with Project Ozma back in 1960. Yet there is no sign of extraterrestrial civilization anywhere in our galaxy. The silence across the galaxy has been deafening. So where are they?!
To which he responds that perhaps the conditions necessary for a civilization to reach interstellar heights are rare indeed - and self-limiting. Maybe developing a galactic civilization is more of a window of opportunity, not a guarantee that comes merely from avoiding immediate self-destruction. Perhaps, he wonders, in our case we had our chance to escape our Earthly bondage and have now let it slip by, distracted as we were by the Cold War and other misadventures.
The bottom line is clear: our civilization could have expanded off planet and established itself among the moons, asteroids, and in the case of Mars, even planets of our solar system. Except that we didn’t. Instead we had the Cold War, we had the Vietnam War, while Soviet Russia had its Afghan War, etc. In just the past half decade, a fraction of the monies that will ultimately be squandered on the futile Iraq war (trillions of dollars) could have, if directed by a pragmatic visionary such as Robert Zubrin, bootstrapped our species out into the solar system.

Without our realizing it, the window of opportunity for humans to expand into our solar system is rapidly closing. With all of the multiple crises which are bearing down upon our civilization—peak oil, climate change, capture of our government and our economy by rapacious, undemocratic corporate elites, etc., I do not believe that we will (pun intended) rise to the occasion.

Across our galaxy this story has likely played out multiple times during the last two billion years or so in which intelligent life might plausibly have evolved. The core problem is that the window of opportunity for solar system expansion is so very brief, that of the small number of planetary civilizations which have probably emerged in our galaxy thus far in its history, none have succeeded in taking advantage of it before the window slammed shut forever.
Interesting indeed.

Of course, I would hasten to add that in all likelihood, even a society that would successfully navigate through this window of opportunity to the stars would suffer the great tragedy of creating a civilization overwhelmed by high technology to such an extent that, if it did support human life, it would be highly unlikely to support freedom in any form that we would find recognizable. After all, as I pointed out above, the assumption that a high tech society that made it to space would be a free one is just that - an assumption. And one that flies in the face of the available evidence at that. Further, who's to say that we wouldn't just do to the universe what we have done to the Earth. As Byron puts it:
At a deeper level I have come to the conclusion that perhaps even the vast resources of our solar system are themselves ultimately limited. If a solar system wide civilization were to emerge, it would likely grow to a population of hundreds of billions. If such a civilization were to merely be an expanded version of our present day civilization, it seems likely that we would just end up consuming or destroying utterly irreplaceable resources on not just a planetary scale, but rather upon a solar system wide scale. This is not good as these resources could be put to effective use by a more culturally evolved civilization—unless they had already been senselessly trashed by cultural primitives such as ourselves.
In that case, then, perhaps it's better that we missed the window.

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News of the week

The fires in California put lives at risk as immigrant workers stay away from shelters out of fear of deportation.
Evacuations raise deportation fears
Flames were only one worry for some illegal immigrants in the fire zone. Equally scary were the crowded roads and evacuation centers, heavy with law enforcement officers, including U.S. Border Patrol agents. Some wondered if they would be deported if they went to shelters.

"We decided that we wouldn't go because they ask for your name and everything," said day laborer Jose Salgado, waiting for work off the 5 Freeway near Rancho Santa Fe.

His friends working in the nearby tomato fields had different concerns, he said: "They didn't know if they would have a job when they got back."

Disasters can magnify the marginalized status of people here illegally. Seeking help can mean taking risks, and decisions can be informed as much by rumor and miscommunication as by facts and actual events.
As if that wasn't the point to begin with. Liberals and even some on the right will fret over how we can 'fix' our 'broken schools' when in fact the schools are performing quite as planned. The bad news is that kids that dropout are for the most part setting themselves on a path towards lower wages and higher incarceration rates, but the positive side is that these kids are engaging in a massive decentralized resistance movement against the incarceration system of compulsory schooling. Lacking an alternative movement of students taking their education in their own hands after dropping out, however, the future looks bleak for them.
1 in 10 schools are 'dropout factories'
The highest concentration of dropout factories is in large cities or high-poverty rural areas in the South and Southwest. Most have high proportions of minority students. These schools are tougher to turn around because their students face challenges well beyond the academic ones — the need to work as well as go to school, for example, or a need for social services.
We're running out of last chances. Although the ecological collapse brought on by capitalism (generally euphemistically referred to in Newspeak as 'climate change' so as to protect the guilty) is now officially on the public agenda here in the US, the form the discussion takes is twisted by capitalist power and the modern economy's demand for unending consumption. While the US (very) slowly greens its policies, it merely exports pollution and direct responsibility for the catastrophe to places like China and India.
UN issues 'final wake-up call' on population and environment
The human population is living far beyond its means and inflicting damage on the environment that could pass points of no return, according to a major report issued Thursday by the United Nations.

Climate change, the rate of extinction of species and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the threats putting humanity at risk, the UN Environment Program said in its fourth Global Environmental Outlook since 1997.

"The human population is now so large that the amount of resources needed to sustain it exceeds what is available at current consumption patterns," Achim Steiner, the executive director of the program, said in a telephone interview.
Technological capitalism must know everything about everyone. As we move steadily towards the age of omniscient capitalism, we can point the finger of blame solidly at technology itself, which contains within it the logic of authority, tracking and enumeration. The authoritarian future that awaits us isn't a result of technology gone wrong -- it is technology's logical conclusion. Technology is an ideology of the ruling class. The more we begin to understand it that way, the better we will understand the way power in the future will be wielded by the ruling class against us.
Technology, the Stealthy Tattletale
A technological revolution is making it possible not just to track down escaping bank robbers but to find missing things and people far more quickly and precisely than ever. The change is powered less by new technologies than the artful combination of existing ones, mainly the Internet, cellphones and G.P.S. satellites. In some cases, the new devices linked to these systems can even detect a theft before it happens.

“This stuff is coming down the pike very soon,” said Jim Van Cleave, vice president of Spectrum Management, which has developed tracking systems for commercial and covert uses since 1980. “The number of potential applications is mind-boggling.”

The enclosure of public space continues as the age of omniscient capitalism draws ever nearer, sold under the twin banners of security and better service. Of course, the truth is the elite just want to know what we are doing all the time so they can farm us for profit and keep us from knocking them off their golden perches of privilege.
Camera feeds to police sought
High-tech surveillance cameras capable of providing real-time feeds to police could be coming to parks, playgrounds and business districts in Baltimore County.

The county would join Baltimore City in using cameras to deter crime - an approach that has drawn the ire of some privacy and civil liberties groups.

One Baltimore County Council member wants officers in patrol cars to be able to download digital images from Webcam systems at shopping centers and public places, and county police say they are interested in the idea.
As loath as anyone is to say it out loud, our capacity to bring force to bear against the police in certain situations is vital to maintaining our ability to organize to achieve our own ends as a class. As the elite's foot soldiers, the police, get more power - whether defensive or offensive - our power and autonomy diminishes. This makes the power of the elite more secure and therefore further enhances our levels of exploitation. These technologies must be opposed for that reason.
Super-strong body armour in sight
A new type of carbon fibre, developed at the University of Cambridge, could be woven into super-strong body armour for the military and law enforcement. The researchers say their material is already several times stronger, tougher and stiffer than fibres currently used to make protective armour.
Not that anyone likes being depressed, but it certainly wouldn't be completely out of line to say that if you're not at least a little depressed - or pessimistic - given the current global direction, then you're not paying attention. Happiness will be mandatory in the future, despite what other emotions the really existing political situation may evoke in you. But will the state have to mandate it? After all, who doesn't want to feel optimistic? As the article points out, optimistic people do better, so won't there be ample pressure from individuals themselves to prime their optimism centers? On the other hand, maybe what the revolutionary movement needs is to look a little more on the bright side of life.
Brain regions responsible for optimism located
"Understanding healthy optimism is important because optimism is related to mental and physical health and to success. We can have people who are not necessarily depressed but have different levels of optimism," said another of the researchers, Tali Sharot of University College London who was at NYU when the study was conducted.

Phelps said the research team is not saying these are necessarily the only brain regions involved in optimism. The researchers said they examined how the brain generates what some scientists call the human "optimism bias." "Humans expect positive events in the future even when there is no evidence to support such expectations," the researchers wrote in the journal Nature.
I thought work was always a treadmill. But seriously, I was at a library booksale the other day and there was a book that caught my eye entitiled, "Work: opposing viewpoints". I got a little excited for a second but it was a college textbook, so there was nothing criticial about it at all. Nowhere in it did it question work itself or any of the fundamentals that modern society takes for granted. Likewise, you can see here that this research comes so close to the truth but rather than advocating for the abolition of work, it injects more science into the mix. Thanks, doc, but I'll pass on that medicine.
Product combines workstation, treadmill
Levine said his research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle is unnatural. The key to fighting obesity and many other health problems is to keep people from spending their days desk-bound.

"Over the last 150 years, we've become chair-imprisoned. We are behind a screen all day at work. We are in a car or bus getting to and from work. And in the evening, we are in a chair watching television or surfing the Internet," Levine said. "We've gone from being on our legs all day to being on our bottoms all day."

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