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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Orange betrayal and the pathology of the obsessive compulsive technocrat

Those still considering the effectiveness of the anti-Bush unity strategy of World Can't Wait/Revolutionary Communist Party may do well to read this article from the Guardian. The piece focuses on the aftermath of the much-hyped Orange Revolution in the Ukraine a year ago, which toppled a sitting president and replaced him with another, in this case pro-Western, candidate. A year later, the energy and hope that characterized the insurrection is largely gone, and the reality has set in.

"We wanted to live in a new democratic country without corruption and vote fraud," said one of the revolution's early participants. "It turned out our new leaders acted the same old way as their predecessors," he continues. And what happened once the old regime was toppled? "We expected the bandits who led the election fraud would be put behind bars but that didn't happen because of political deals behind the scenes."

A recent poll out of Ukraine confirms that this view is widely held:
More than half of Ukrainians believe that President Viktor Yushchenko and his government have failed to live up to the promises of the Orange Revolution, according to a poll released Thursday.

In the nationwide survey of 1,993 people by Kiev's Razumkov center, 37.5 percent of respondents said Yushchenko's team had fulfilled no promises at all, and 20.6 percent said the government acted contrary to its slogans from the Orange Revolution [my emphasis].
"We hoped for better, but it turned out like always," says Max, a Taxi driver. A revolution needs to set its goals beyond the mere replacement of one regime with another; we need to get the system in our sights and take aim, and that means getting beyond the naive, middle class analysis of opportunists like the RCP and WCW.

In other foreign news, the AP reports that two bombs went off in Mexico City today. Both devices were planted in front of Spanish-owned banks and, while one failed to detonate, the other blew out windows and damaged computers. A note accompanied the successful bombing, claiming responsibility by a group calling itself "Barbarous Mexico Revolutionary Workers' Commando."

In an e-mail to The Associated Press the group cited "neoliberal reorganization and capitalist expansion" as motivations for the action, as well as denouncing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and American corporations like Wal-Mart and McDonalds.

On the subject of neoliberal reorganization and capitalist expansion, several stories today feature the spread of technological domination into previously ignored areas. In a Reuters article, Rebecca Harrison asks, "Can technology ease Africa's woes?" Though tech companies may be jumping the gun a bit, their eagerness to assimilate the Third World into the sphere of technological control is obvious. Arthur Goldstuck, head of South African technology research company World Wide Worx skeptically puts it this way: "Bridging the digital divide is a non starter if we haven't even crossed the literacy divide." But the elites remains optimistic.

In the First World, non-profits are gearing up to distribute cheap, hand-cranked laptops to children in the Third World. Backed by corporations like Google and rich people like Rupert Murdoch, the project hopes to open in six markets in February and March, requiring participating governments to purchase one million or more computers each. The stated goal is all about the kids - schoolkids, specifically. "We designed the device to perform many roles," said the leader of the One Laptop Per Child nonprofit group, Nicholas Negroponte. "Learning should be seamless." Just how the computers will aid in learning, of course, is left unspecified, which is just par for the course when it comes to technology, the very nature of which is presumed to be inherently progressive despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Likewise, back at home, the steady integration of everything and everyone into the technological web continues. Going with the school theme, TMC.net reports that Appleton, WI, is expanding its use of technology in the classroom to include "a greater emphasis on accountability as to how technology is used as a learning tool." Dale Hanson, the director of instructional technology plans to "'blow the top off' the possibilities for enhancing instruction." And the attitude of the school board? "'The bottom line, to me,' said board member Jeff Knezel, 'is that teachers have to be willing to go along with this and work on this.' Some things at school never change.

Also here at home, Google plans to move ahead with its scheme to wire up its whole home town of Mountain View to the internet, and Cingular Wireless has unveiled the first cell phone marketed for children under 12. Reports teleclick.ca,
The trick in advertising it of course, is to appeal to parents, letting them know that there is a safe and efficient kid-friendly alternative to fully fledged cell phones. To achieve this, Cingular has taken out ads in a variety of major publications, including Parenting Magazine, Good Housekeeping, and People.
Because, as stated before, the ideology of progress and technological change are so wedded together in modern ideology - both left and right - many people find it hard to make arguments against the spread of technology, especially when it is couched in terms of enfranchising those left out or poor. But it's important to remember that the true ideological part of an argument is the part that those in disagreement leave unstated, unargued. The fact that both left and right agree broadly on the necessity, even inevitability, of technological progress, ought to give those of us interested in liberty and autonomy serious pause. Technology as we know it is a system of social control, and spreading it to the poor and disenfranchised under the steady guiding hand of the corporates, technocrats and bureaucrats is no more a progressive act than is the spreading of McDonalds or prisons.

As if to remind us, USA Today ran a story this week about the spread of GPS in workplaces. One case in the article involved a local television station that equipped their newsvans with the tracking devices.
"We're concerned about the possible misuse of the information that these systems can supply," said Gene Maxwell, head of Local 16 of the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians. "In particular, we wanted to make sure that it really wasn't going to be used as a disciplinary tool."

The station, which had no comment about the move, assured the union the GPS system was intended only to improve efficiency and worker safety, Maxwell said.
But, there's no way to use GPS "to improve efficiency and worker safety" without using it as a disciplinary tool. Certainly, no boss will use the information merely to make polite recommendations about employee behavior. And, of course, the point is that the technology limits the space on the job for workers' autonomous action (which is why the boss will love it so much). Beyond the obvious invasion of privacy, the technology severely limits collective organizing, which often has to be done behind the boss' back, as well as opportunities for the reclamation of time through slacking and the reappropration of workplace resources, both of which are necessary to resistance movements and just plain being a human being in this oppressive system. The implications beyond the workplace are dealt with in limited fashion in "Tracking the Wild Teenager--Spy Tools for the Whole Family," recently posted on PCWorld.com.

Continuing with technology, Anna Salleh reports in her article, "Airport security keeps eye on left luggage," about the emerging technologies for visually tracking people and items in crowded spaces. In her story, researchers are working on a system to
allow security staff to tell the difference between a suspicious abandoned suitcase whose owner has left the building and a suitcase whose owner is queuing for coffee two metres away.
...The technology uses software with security cameras that can identify when a strange stationary object, like a suitcase, appears in an otherwise familiar scene.
On a related note, Judy Skatssoon also wrote about a similar camera technology in August. "The system uses behaviour recognition software to identify unusual activity, such as shifting around on a bus," she reports. "[Barney Glover, of Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia, which is working on the system] acknowledges the technology raises privacy issues but says it could help prevent crime and terrorism, such as the recent London bombings."

Designers hope to integrate the technology with facial and unattended baggage recognition systems like the one above. Of course, while aimed at resistance-driven crime, the technology does nothing to stop the crime and terrorism of politicians or capitalists, whose villainy either takes place in backrooms or has long since been legalized through the elite monopoly on power.

Perhaps creepiest of all, developers see the technology spreading into homes:
Behaviour recognition technology also has implications for monitoring the elderly or people with disabilities in their home.

Glover says the university has also devised a system where "anxiety" levels are built into a house.

"The house gets anxious if an abnormal event continues," he says.

"Eventually it reaches an anxiety level where it sends an SMS to a carer and says, 'grandma seems to be sitting on the floor beside her bed and isn't responding to the prompts from the house, please intervene'."

Glover says the most sophisticated forms of the technology are expected to be available within the next 10 years.
Well, as long as we're all safer, right? The obsessive-compulsive desire of technocrats to tag and monitor every action, item and space in existence seems scarily pathological to me.

Finally, on the looming apocalypse newswire, we have a few briefs worth considering. First, we have the "America's Next Top Disasters" as ranked by Wired Magazine. Second is a story reporting that "Australian researchers have confirmed they have scrapped 10 years of research into genetically modified peas because the altered version caused lung inflammation in mice." Lastly, LiveScience.com reports that a "new study reveals one of the largest glaciers in Greenland is shrinking and speeding to the sea faster than scientists expected. If it continues, Greenland itself could become much smaller during this century and global seas could rise as much as 3 feet." Time to buy some waders.

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