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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Audio that inspired me on the road

1. Ashanti Alston via A Radio Project
First of all, I should say that I spend a lot of time in a van because of my job. To fill up my time, I download a lot of audio and music and listen to it on the road. Thank ye gods for the A Radio Project, amongst others, for keeping me sane these last few years of doing delivery work. I recommend it to bored workers everywhere.

And it was on A Radio's site that I ran into a great talk by former Black Panther turned anarchist Ashanti Alston. Recorded in 2004, Alston's comments cover his experience in the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army, his time in prison and his political work since getting out. His thoughts on anarchy are pertinent and insightful and I recommend this audio highly. I'm not entirely sure, but I think I saw him speak in Denver at the 2002 anti-Columbus Day events. Wherever it was, it was equally interesting then. The link below is for part 1. Part 2 is an engaging q & a with the audience.

Listen to Ashanti Alston's talk (Quicktime).

2. NPR covers the hi-tech LAPD
So, aside from downloading talks and music, and since radio sucks in Phoenix, when not listening to mp3's I spend some time listening to NPR. That's about the only thing (barely) worth listening to on the radio, with the exception of La Voz Del Inmigrantes, which runs on 740 AM each morning. We do have a liberal Air America station here, but it's pretty ideological, so it's hardly ever worth checking out. NPR generally disappoints, but at least it's middle of the road. Anarchists know better than to consider that unbiased, though.

Anyhow, I happened to be listening to what should be the ironically named All Things Considered today for a bit, and I heard a piece by reporter Robert Siegel about the new hi-tech LAPD. It's an interesting piece for a couple reasons. First, it discussed some of the new tech devices they are deploying - in the Rampart division, of course. It shouldn't surprise us that the cops plan to test this stuff out on people of color.

The technology in question includes license plate readers and biometrics, all deployed on patrol cars. Siegal seems quite interested in that. But the report is also interesting for the questions that he doesn't ask. Siegal apparently couldn't really think of much in the way of serious critical questions to ask about the tech, which says so much about the ideological nature of technology.

It kind of reminded me of the time Ira Flatow did a feature on the future of the airplane and listed all the potential uses of current research in the area. After listing off a bunch of great things that we can all certainly hope to benefit from equally in all respects (sorry for the sarcasm), he ended, almost as an afterthought, with the exclamation, "Who knows, it might even have military applications!" Really? You think so, Ira? The military is only the biggest investor in airplane technology. They might have some plans for it. That's what you call an ideological disconnect with reality. And that happens a lot with technology.

But to be fair, Siegal does make the obligatory reference to "big brother." And he does ask if cops plan to include folks who don't pay tickets or register their cars in the searchable database of the networked car-scanning technology, which implies - though it does not state clearly - the potential hazards of this technology. Of course, we know they do, since the cops have done that with other databases before. Plus, cops consider such traffic stops vital to their ability to wage war on the poor and prosecute their paranoid war on terror.

But, since the ideological view of technology that dominates treats all downsides as aberrations, afterthoughts or curiosities, Siegal fails to follow up when the officer replies with the ominous, "We're not pursuing that angle at this time." This is the LAPD! And the Rampart Division at that! Why no follow up on a question about potential abuse of power? That's because tech, even when it's potential negatives are obvious, remains wedded ideologically to the idea of progress. Because of that, Siegal cannot see, even as he flirts with it, that technology is all about power. And all about the people in power.

At one point, the officer points out that with enough of the car-mounted cameras, cops could potentially track back criminals movements throughout the day.

"The options are endless," he says at one point. Indeed.

Listen to it here.


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