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Monday, April 30, 2007

Photo of the day

This photo comes from Mother Jones' photo essay on "American Happiness and the Need to Consume".


Saturday, April 28, 2007

The end of Phoenix (again).

I stumbled upon an interesting article link at Black and Green Bulletin's Collapse Bulletin page today. The piece, entitled, "Phoenix Falling?", is a fascinating history of my home town, and ran originally in the High Country News. It compares the rise and fall of the Hohokam civilization that preceded Phoenix to the current situation facing us. With a record breaking drought continuing into the foreseeable future - and with global warming threatening to add five more degrees to our already maxed-out thermometers - folks living in the Valley ought to be paying attention to this article.
“Is it going to last?” I asked him, the question I must ask of every archaeologist.

“How long, is the question,” Wright replied.

“The Hohokam were a hydraulic society, and so are we,” he explained. “We depend on the presence of water, the storage of water, the transport of water, and as long as the water is there and can serve our needs, we’re fine. But if the water is not falling on the watershed, or if our needs start to outstrip what is available, that’s a problem.”

It does not take an archaeologist to make such a deduction. However, it does take an archaeologist to see what that deduction might mean in the deep time of this city.

“With the Hohokam, you can see the change,” he said. “They went from a large number of small villages to a small number of large villages. You have growing social complexity, but you also have greater and greater dependence on resources that are existing in smaller and smaller areas. They lost their diversity of resources. They lost flexibility.”

“How long do we have?” I pressed.

Wright laughed, but did not answer my question. He could not. There is not yet an answer, just speculation.

“When it does finally happen, whenever that is, what do you think the end will look like?” I asked.

Peering across dazzling fields of light, Wright said, “Like this.”

I looked out to what he was seeing, freeways streaming like arteries, and it looked like the city was on fire, the great bird of Phoenix burning once again. I thought he must be right. At a certain point, the rise must be indistinguishable from the fall, cycles of death and rebirth too tightly interwoven to pick apart.

It was the same so many centuries ago, one arc skyrocketing while the other plummeted; populations mounting while water dwindled. Some archaeologists look at the 14th century, right before the ancient city was deserted, as a time of Hohokam fragmentation and decay. Others look at the same data and see rejuvenation, the building of corporate centers more impressive than anything the Hohokam ever made before.

We now appear to be at a similar juncture. The balancing act may continue for centuries, or the city may topple tomorrow. Archaeologists are not foolish enough to give an exact date, but they are lifting warning flags. They are looking to the future and into the past, and they see the story of Phoenix repeating itself.
Anyone who has lived in Phoenix for long knows instinctively that this kind of development and sprawl cannot continue. The neighborhood in which I grew up used to be considered the West Side but now seems more like downtown. The Valley of the Sun is steadily spilling down the I-10 all the way to Tucson while the rest of the city has vomited up suburbs in all directions so that now you can drive more than an hour and a half east to west or north to south on the freeway without leaving the city.

As millions of new residents pour into the Valley over the next few years (adding to an already massive population explosion) we need to be asking ourselves what kind of future there is for Phoenix when the water runs out? The essay above gives us a very interesting answer to that question.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

Scientists in space! Universe beware!

As many will know, Stephen Hawking boarded a jet today and, thanks to some special dives and rolls, was able to experience weightlessness for several minutes. I'm sure that's a hell of a lot of fun, and Hawking sure looks like he's having a blast in the photo that was released. Aside from having a damn good time, the world famous scientist participated in the stunt to raise money for charity and to make a point.
Hawking said in an interview with Reuters that he feared that the human race did not have a future if it didn't go into space.

"I therefore want to encourage public interest in space. A zero-gravity flight is the first step towards space travel," he said.

"Life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus or other dangers," Hawking added at the news conference.
These are points worth listening to, and I share his concern about the dire futures facing humanity. Nevertheless, I have to say I disagree with his prescription. Space travel will certainly only bring more scientists into space. After what they have done down here, we ought to think twice before unleashing them upon the rest of the unsuspecting universe.

In a real sense, what Hawking is complaining about are in fact the consequences for the world of just a couple hundred years of scientific development. In a tiny fraction of time, scientists have managed to destroy this world. Now they want another one? I, for one, don't trust them.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Smarts and wealth: Defending an egalitarian distrubtion of brains

The best and surest way to get wealthy and stay wealthy still seems to be being born wealthy. Go figure. Despite the myth of the meritocracy, the rich aren't smarter, they're just born into wealth and have all kinds of social support from other wealthy people to stay that way. Of course, the other implication of this study - not stated in the article (see below) - is that there are various systems out there that prevent plenty of smart people at the bottom from rising to the top, like white supremacy, patriarchy and heterosexism. Let me explain.

So, as the AFP reports today:
Intelligence has nothing to do with wealth, according to a US study published Tuesday which found that people with below average smarts were just as wealthy as those with higher IQ scores.

"People don't become rich because they are smart," said Jay Zagorsky, research scientist at Ohio State University whose study appears in the Journal Intelligence.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics survey included 7,403 Americans who have been interviewed repeatedly since 1979. Based on 2004 answers, people who are now in their mid-40s showed no link between brain- and earning-power.
One problem is that everyone with money thinks they earned it. This despite the fact that they generally have little conception of where wealth actually comes from (surplus value) or the way that historical trends have contributed to their social position (slavery, for instance). Further, they tend to have little appreciation for the way that these various systems that keep others down might in fact be functioning to promote them. For instance, white folks generally chalk up their better access to resources and income to hard work. Of course, this implies that those without money and resources don't work hard. It likewise supposes that those who have money and resources must work very hard.

But, when we look at the Third World, we see many people who work very hard and yet receive little to no compensation despite it. We also see people attempting to resist the imposition of the social system of work in defense of their independent lives. For instance, I heard a story on NPR recently about a woman who collects from the mouth of the Ganges river the coins that bereaved family members toss in while upstream performing funerals. This often takes many, many hours of wading in the river for just a few coins. These she uses to support her family. No doubt that is hard work. No doubt that kind of creativity requires at least some level of intelligence. Still, she remains quite poor.

Of course, these same systems operate in the First World. Witness the disparities that continue to exist between whites and non-whites, women and men. Earlier this week, several news outlets reported that the wage gap between men and women in the US remains vast. Compensating for time off and other factors - a common excuse that apologists for sexism use to defend the wage gap - researchers found that women remain underpaid for the same work as men, even if they had college degrees.
For every dollar that a man in Delaware makes, a woman makes 77.5 cents. That's slightly higher than the national average of 77 cents, ranking Delaware 17th highest in the country.

"Progress is being made, but it is slow in coming," said Avis Jones-DeWeever, director of poverty, education and social justice programs at the Institute for Women's Policy Research, a Washington-based think tank. "The reality of things is we still live in a paternalistic culture, which values men's labor over women's."
This despite many decades of equal pay legislation, including the Equal Pay Act signed by Kennedy in 1963. Clearly, the legislative route has not solved the problem. At the same time, it surely cannot be said that women do not work hard in this country, or that they are not intelligent.

In capitalism, intelligence has little to do with one's advancement, while privilege of various kinds has a lot to do with it. Such privileges interact in a sometimes complex way so that, for instance, while women of all colors suffer economically compared to men, white women do substantially better than Black women in terms of income as they advance up the ladder. Further, access to resources follows similar patterns. A recent New York Times article highlighted the disturbing rise in infant mortality amongst Blacks in the Southeast.
To the shock of Mississippi officials, who in 2004 had seen the infant mortality rate — defined as deaths by the age of 1 year per thousand live births — fall to 9.7, the rate jumped sharply in 2005, to 11.4. The national average in 2003, the last year for which data have been compiled, was 6.9. Smaller rises also occurred in 2005 in Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. Louisiana and South Carolina saw rises in 2004 and have not yet reported on 2005.

Whether the rises continue or not, federal officials say, rates have stagnated in the Deep South at levels well above the national average.

Most striking, here and throughout the country, is the large racial disparity. In Mississippi, infant deaths among blacks rose to 17 per thousand births in 2005 from 14.2 per thousand in 2004, while those among whites rose to 6.6 per thousand from 6.1. (The national average in 2003 was 5.7 for whites and 14.0 for blacks.)

The overall jump in Mississippi meant that 65 more babies died in 2005 than in the previous year, for a total of 481.
Although science has apparently yet to discover the many oppressive systems in this society, one researcher still attempts to suggest an explanation for the figures on intelligence and wealth, honing in on a metric that probably comes from personal experience:
Zagorsky said you only have to look in the parking lots of the nation's universities to see that intelligence and wealth are not necessarily linked.

"Professors tend to be very smart people," he said. "But if you look at university parking lots, you don't see a lot of Rolls Royces, Porsches or other very expensive cars. Instead you see a lot of old, low-value vehicles."
Indeed. Zagorsky's a scientist, so he would never explain it this way, but I would put it like this: there are plenty of smart scientists, and yet we still have atomic bombs and genetically modified plants. There are a lot of factors that can get in the way of someone rising based on their intelligence and even ability in a capitalist society. I've discussed a few, but throw in prisons, police, unequal access to social resources like decent education and you start to get a picture of how American capitalism really works, despite all the gilded promises from the capitalists and politicians about equal opportunity, meritocracy and social mobility. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone. After all, why would the architects of society, themselves very wealthy, want a system in which they could be challenged from below?

Nevertheless, in a strange way, we may be on a verge of a distinctive break from this history. The emergence of "cognitive enhancers," drugs that increase intelligence, may have a major effect on society in coming years. Ever optimistic (or ignorant of how capitalism really works), some British scientists explained the looming trend this way in a recent report issued from their government think tank.
The report stated: "In a world that is increasingly non-stop and competitive, the use of such substances may move from the fringe to the norm, with cognition enhancers used as coffee is today".

Other possibilities, it said, would be drug testing of children before they took exams to ensure that some did not cheat with cognitive enhancers, or "cogs".

"The ethical debate about whether or not to use drugs to improve performance in normal schoolchildren and students will probably be resolved over the next 20 years," said the report.

"Similarly, there will be continued debate about the ethics of using cognition enhancers in the workplace".
In a real sense, the questions scientists ask about these drugs reveals the depth of their ignorance about how society really functions. Not suffering from a similar poverty of understanding, we anarchists ought to be insistent with them and demand from scientists precisely what social mechanism they believe will distribute these drugs in a way such that the prime issue will be one of choice, not income and access. Because the truth is, far from being equally distributed, the distribution and access to these drugs will certainly follow established social paths of privilege, wealth and power. Obviously, in a society in which health care is not equally distributed, why would pharmaceuticals - especially non-essential ones?

As with most everything else, the rich and a few of their lackeys will have access to them. Yet the availability of these drugs may serve to undermine this egalitarian distribution of intelligence throughout society. Because, as we have seen above, if wealth isn't equally distributed, at least smarts are. But how long will this remain true?

More likely, any brain-altering drugs available to working class folks will be of a different sort.
In addition to drugs that boost pleasure and sexual performance, the Foresight research raised the possibility of drugs that cause selective amnesia, for instance of a bomb attack, after the discovery that drugs called beta blockers can reduce memories of stressful situations.
I'm sure somewhere there is a well-meaning scientist laboring late into the night developing a drug to make us working class slobs forget about how shitty things are at work. Something other than beer, that is.

JT Ready is a racist.

Warning, the link below has racist content, but it is proof that JT Ready (failed politician, bad shot and anti-immigrant Rusty Childress sidekick) is a racist. It's a link to his personal page at a white supremacist social networking site called NewSaxon.com. In another fine piece on the anti-immigration movers and shakers in the Valley, New Times' writer, the Bird, has offered up a piece featuring the site on his blog.
The profile on Newsaxon.com, under the handle "Viking Son," features several pics of the rotund racist parading in a kilt, debating "anti-white commies" at a demonstration, and searching for illegals with a big set of binoculars. His turn-ons include, "A woman who loves our Race, Kultur, Heritage, History and Future," while turn-offs list "Negativity" and "Race-Mixing," among others.
Check out JT's page here:

I've written about JT before, as well as interacted with him at various immigration events, where he is almost always in attendence, denying his racism while sporting a stars and bars doo-rag.

Meet JT Ready, white supremacist.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Robot rights and wrongs

Well, now that all the world's problems have been solved we can finally turn our attention to the burning issues facing future generations, namely, robot rights. Today in London, robot ethicists (scientists) discussed the coming landmine (pun, see below) of robot-human relations. Such questions as, "who is to blame if an intelligent robot kills someone – is it the designer, the manufacturer, the operator or the machine itself?" Or is it the scientist class as a whole that dodged their ethical responsibility to humanity and allowed such monstrosities to be created in the first place? That's my question, not theirs, of course.

The arrival of interactive sex-robots will presumably raise equally difficult issues which, we should rest assured, today's scientists are just drooling to grapple with, despite never having adequately dealt with the destructive implications of any of their past research in any systematic way.
High on the Rome agenda will be the issue of sexual relations between humans and machines. Dr David Levy, author of a paper on robot prostitution being presented at the conference, claims that sexbots, like Jude Law's Gigolo Joe character in the Spielberg film A.I., will be commonplace in just 40 years. "I think robots will be developed that have the emotional capability to encourage humans to fall in love with them," he said.

High street retailers are already considering the possibilities. Gordon Lee, from the Ann Summers chain, said: "It's not far away from happening but there definitely need to be ethics involved. We'd always want to make sure there would be foreplay."
Nevertheless, scientists wonder: should robots be given rights equal to humans?

Of course, the real troubling development lurking around the corner - so troubling that it even has some scientists considering it - is the increasing use of robots in warfare.
Noel Sharkey, a roboticist at the University of Sheffield who is a regular contributor to the BBC's Robot Wars, agreed, but he said there were more immediate concerns. "The idea of machine consciousness and rights is ... a bit of a fairy tale as far as I'm concerned," he said. "My concern is about public safety. I think we need proper, informed, public debate about where we are going with robotics at the moment. We need to tell the public about what's going on in robotics and ask them what they want."

Last year the South Korean military unveiled a robot border guard built by Samsung that can shoot targets up to 500 metres away. He said these could be programmed with a shoot-to-kill policy. The US, meanwhile, is on the way to achieving its goal of replacing one third of its ground vehicles with autonomous robots.

"It would be great if all the military were robots and they could fight each other, but that's not going to be the case," he said. "My biggest concern there is that it goes against the body bag politics. If you don't have body bags coming home, you can start a war much more easily."

Once robots become more common in warfare, he predicted they would be used more widely in policing and surveillance; so far there has been very little serious and informed public debate on these issues.

Offenders could, he suggested, be monitored at home by a guard robot and the streets could be patrolled by mobile robot CCTV. They could also be used to deal with riots and other civil disturbances, he predicted. "Imagine the miners' strike with robots armed with water cannon."
I addressed this development not long ago in a PI article, so those interested in some of the class war implications of this technology might be want to check out that article ('2007: The Year Skynet Went Online'). Suffice it to say, however, that while the scientists are wrangling with the issue of rights, class war anarchists ought to be considering the way these technologies will shift power ever more into the hands of the ruling class and a small number of subservient scientists and technicians.

I commend Sharkey for admitting that human debate must take place about the applications of these technologies. Still, I find his take on robots as far too optimistic. He defends the tired old scientific mantra that technologies are merely neutral and reflect only the will of their possessor. Consider this from another article about the conference:
Like all technologies, Sharkey says, the problem with robotics lies in its applications.

"We can imagine lots of frightening scenarios," he said, adding that it is up to the public to decide how robots should be employed.

"If they are used properly, robots will ultimately benefit mankind."
No matter what use this tech finds, it will surely be a reflection of the narrow technocratic class that created it and the capitalist and political/bureaucratic class that funds, develops and deploys it. Such technologies, developed in that environment, cannot help but serve those masters. There is no way they can be used properly. Their flaws are in their development.

Already, South Korea has plans to deploy an armed and partially aware robot on the border. If we want a look at the future, perhaps we would do well to consider this video of the monstrosity in action. Watch it and ask yourself first, how anyone could be justified in developing it and, second, is this application a deviation from or a direct result of the nature of robotics? Now imagine it self-aware and able to choose its own targets. Then imagine it policing your neighborhood. Or breaking your strike. Or raiding your house. Time to smash some machines.

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Uncle Ben gets his 40 acres and a mule. But what about the rest of Black America?

Check out this informative slide show at Slate detailing the history of racist imagery used to sell products. Most of these are gone now, but you'd be surprised at just how long some of them lasted and how they were transformed over the years in order to tone down the offensiveness (i.e., keep the money flowing in).

It seems that Mars, Inc., the owners of Uncle Ben's, has opted to revive the character, bestowing upon him a massive promotion from cheerful bow-tied servant to CEO. According to the New York Times:
"There’s a lot of baggage associated with the image," Mr. Visconti said, which the makeover "is glossing over."

Uncle Ben, who first appeared in ads in 1946, is being reborn as Ben, an accomplished businessman with an opulent office, a busy schedule, an extensive travel itinerary and a penchant for sharing what the company calls his "grains of wisdom" about rice and life. A crucial aspect of his biography remains the same, though: He has no last name.

Vincent Howell, president for the food division of the Masterfoods USA unit of Mars, said that because consumers described Uncle Ben as having "a timeless element to him, we didn’t want to significantly change him."

"What’s powerful to me is to show an African-American icon in a position of prominence and authority," Mr. Howell said. "As an African-American, he makes me feel so proud."

The previous reluctance to feature Uncle Ben prominently in ads stood in stark contrast to the way other human characters like Orville Redenbacher and Colonel Sanders personify their products. That reticence can be traced to the contentious history of Uncle Ben as the black face of a white company, wearing a bow tie evocative of servants and Pullman porters and bearing a title reflecting how white Southerners once used "uncle" and "aunt" as honorifics for older blacks because they refused to say "Mr." and "Mrs."

In addition to Uncle Ben, there was Aunt Jemima, who sold pancake mix in ads that sometimes had her exclaiming, "Tempt yo’ appetite;" a grinning black chef named Rastus, who represented Cream of Wheat hot cereal; the Gold Dust Twins, a pair of black urchins who peddled a soap powder for Lever Brothers; the Frito Bandito, who spoke in an exaggerated Mexican accent; and characters selling powdered drink mixes for Pillsbury under names like Injun Orange and Chinese Cherry — the latter baring buck teeth.

"The only time blacks were put into ads was when they were athletic, subservient or entertainers," said Marilyn Kern Foxworth, the author of "Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."

But will the makeover take? There are some inconsistencies remaining.

Howard Buford, chief executive at Prime Access in New York, an agency specializing in multicultural campaigns, said he gave the campaign’s creators some credit. "It’s potentially a very creative way to handle the baggage of old racial stereotypes as advertising icons," he said, but "it’s going to take a lot of work to get it right and make it ring true."

For instance, Mr. Buford said, noting all the "Ben" references in the ads, "Rarely do you have someone of that stature addressed by his first name" — and minus any signs of a surname.

Mr. Buford, who is a real-life black leader of a company, likened the promotion of Uncle Ben to the abrupt plot twists on TV series like "Benson" and "Designing Women," when black characters in subservient roles one season became professionals the next.
Nevertheless, Uncle Ben's has gone ahead with the project, even updating the website so that visitors can tour Chairman Ben's office, even reading his emails and checking his messages.

Americans, when tested, showed very little memory of Uncle Ben's racist past or the context in which the brand's imagery developed. As with the history of white supremacy in this country generally, white folks have preferred to move on and forget about it. Meanwhile, Mars, Inc., has likewise seemed to prefer to erase any sense of struggle from Uncle Ben's story, offering up a sanitized, history-less icon with no connection to actually existing time or place. Further, by not providing a plausible context and ignoring the history of Black struggle in this country, his mysterious promotion does nothing to undermine unfounded white "affirmative action" prejudices about the earned status of Blacks in prominent, non-sports and non-entertainment positions.
Mr. Visconti of Diversity Inc. Media struck a similar chord. He said he would have turned Ben’s office into “a learning experience,” furnishing it with, for example, books by Frederick Douglass and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I’ve never been in the office of African-Americans of this era who didn’t have something in their office showing what it took to get them there,” Mr. Visconti said.
Still, Uncle Ben's promotion notwithstanding, massive disparities between the economic status and opportunities of whites and Blacks persist, rooted in several hundred years of white supremacy and today manifesting through the prison and education system, among others. Uncle Ben's stunning advancement may be a first step towards evening the playing field when it comes to imaginary characters, but what does the company plan to do about actually existing inequalities? In the end, it's one more lesson that capitalism is interested more in a PR whitewash than an actual redistribution of wealth and power. There's a surprise.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

News of Interest 4/22/07

Super-rich population surges in 2006: survey
"The number of U.S. households with a net worth of more than $5 million, excluding their primary residence, surged 23 percent to surpass one million for the first time in 2006, according to a survey released on Tuesday. The survey by Chicago-based Spectrem Group found that the number of U.S. households with more than $5 million rose from 930,000 in 2005. In 1996, there were only 250,000 U.S. households in the "ultra-rich" category, Spectrem said. 'The past few years have been nothing but astounding for wealthy Americans,' said Catherine McBreen, managing director of Spectrem, a consulting group that researches the affluent and retirement markets."
MCSO to beef up immigration patrols
"The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is getting funds to hire 15 new deputies whose main job will be to arrest illegal immigrants and human smugglers and enforce Arizona's anti-coyote law. The sheriff's office has been using the law to arrest the people who are smuggled across the border as conspirators with human smugglers."
Nigeria's election sidesteps plight of poor
"The chief reckoned that life was better in the old days. Less than half of the village had been to Abuja. No one was working there to bring back money to the village but he thought Abuja was a good thing. When I asked why, he paused and consulted the others then said that if his people were sick they could go there for treatment. The others immediately pointed out that almost no one could afford medicine. The only thing that linked Durumi to the modern world then was a four-room school that was being built. The government had promised to pay for two teachers."
TV crews attacked in Paris suburb
"French police urged journalists on Friday to be vigilant in some riot-hit suburbs of Paris after several TV crews were attacked and robbed by youths just days before France's presidential election. In Clichy-Sous-Bois, where week-long riots started in 2005, three TV crews were attacked this week, with the assailants stealing cameras and other filming equipment, police said."
Few attend anti-police brutality rally in Newburgh
"When Bryant, known here as "Tone," was killed on Broadway, Newburgh braced for the worst. In a city that is 75 percent black and Latino, Newburgh's 97-strong police department has fewer than a dozen minority officers — race is always one incident away from disaster."
China says global warming threatens development
"Global warming could devastate China's development, the nation's first official survey of climate change warns, while insisting economic growth must come before greenhouse gas cuts. Hotter average global temperatures fueled by greenhouse gases mean that different regions of China are likely to suffer spreading deserts, worsening droughts and floods, shrinking glaciers and rising seas, the National Climate Change Assessment states. This environmental upheaval could derail the ruling Communist Party's plans for sustainable development, a copy of the report obtained by Reuters says."


Friday, April 20, 2007

New Times' 'Feathered Bastard' takes on Childress

For those who don't know, Rusty Childress is one of the prime movers and shakers in the local anti-immigrant movement here. A spoiled rich kid car dealer who never had to earn anything for himself, Rusty has surrounded himself with a coterie of rich and working class admirers who, because of their mutual hatred of brown-skinned immigrants and overwhelming love of all things white and privileged, flock to his sun-tanned white skin like jocks to a truckers hat. Phoenix's own version of Larry the Cable Guy, Rusty is good at wearing the working class uniform. But, when Rusty goes home - or on vacation - it's good ol' fashioned unearned wealth and privilege. Where'd that wealth come from? From working class people, of course! And from daddy.

Perhaps most amusingly, Rusty has counted among his circle local failed politician and bad shot JT Ready, himself famous for his many bumbling mistakes, including lying about his military service and shooting at a group of Latinos for no good reason (in a case of true Arizona frontier justice, he never went to jail while his victim was briefly deported). Last I heard from him, this huggy bear racist had been booted from the position of Master of Ceremonies for the Mesa Veterans Day parade by the organizing committee when it came out that he had been dishonorably discharged, among other things. But, I miss him, in a way. We chatted once about the benefits of the AK47. He said he had used one in Iraq, which was the first clue I had that JT, an extreme right winger, was liberal with at least one thing: the truth.

Anyhow, why do so many white working class folks defend Rusty? When I discuss it with them at demonstrations or on bulletin boards, they always wind up defending him by saying that I must not like him because I hate people who work hard and get rich. Well, of course I hate rich people. But, although I am no fan of work (having to do way more than my share, it seems to me), even I can see that if someone loves people who work hard and earn their way, the last person that someone should love is Rusty. In fact, if that was case, one might be more inclined to love immigrants. But, there's one problem. Most immigrants these days aren't white (not that these Nativists would have liked them when the immigrants tended towards Irish, Jewish or Italian).

And that's the core of the problem. When Rusty's defenders say that people like Rusty work hard and get rich, what they are really saying is that they don't want to question his privilege because they perceive him as defending their privilege: white privilege. And, of course, that's just what Rusty is doing. That slight hope, bordering on delusional, that a white working class male can work hard and make it up the ladder is integral to the white self-misconception that the white male's generally better economic position comes not from centuries of unearned white privilege but rather from hard work and bootstraps and all that.

This relationship between rich and working class whites is what makes America function. This alliance, which Malcolm X called a "devil's bargain," splits the working class in half, pitting the white part against the rest of it. In effect, what the rich have done is toss a few paltry but important benefits to white people and, in exchange, they have secured their loyalty. In a sad case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" that has now spanned several centuries, rather than taking on the rich people who make everyone else's life miserable, white folks have opted to carve out a little space for themselves in exchange for agreeing to more miserable conditions for everyone else.

The problem is, these folks - the white ones - feel under attack. And they're right, to a degree. The new global economy that the capitalists are building has less and less need every day for a privileged domestic working class. More and more the 'good jobs' - which is nothing but code for white jobs - are moving overseas. The middle class, once the shining glory of white power in this country, has begun to sink into debt and low wage service jobs. With it, what few opportunities that actually did exist for white folks (albeit, more than existed for folks of color) are shrinking. The rich are reneging on their devil's bargain more and more every day. Still, trapped in the ideology of white supremacy, the white working class can only conceive of one way out, the way that has worked so many times in the past: attack immigrants and people of color. Trained to look up the ladder for help in their struggles, they cannot imagine these poor and working class folks from south of la linea as potential allies. Nevertheless, it is precisely this unlikely alliance that will be the key to the liberation of the entire working class.


But, I'm getting a bit far afield here. This week, the New Times' disgruntled blogger, 'Feathered Bastard' (Stephen Lemons), has written about our favorite racist spoiled car dealer. It's a good piece and hits on some of the most glaring hypocrisies that come from being the wealthy leader of a working class movement bent on keeping poor people down and, eventually, deporting them.

Check it out:
Rusty's World: The secret life of PHX Kia peddler and anti-Mexican A-hole Rusty Childress.

Then, after that, take a look at a piece I wrote about Rusty last year that goes into a bit more depth, including analysis.

Racist Jet-Set: Rusty Childress and the false class consciousness of the Minutemen

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Disarming Robert Williams. Re-arming Jim Crow. (Where's John Brown?)

Historically, gun ownership in this country results primarily from two tendencies, both of them racist. The first was the white wealthy elite's requirement that a large body of white men exist to police the slave population and put down insurrections. When the relatively color-blind system of indentured servitude was replaced with racialized slavery, an integral part of that bargain for white male colonists was the obligation to own a rifle and to serve in the militia. Blacks, of course, were denied gun ownership and the right to form militias.

This is where the "pattyrollers," the infamous slave-catchers, came from and, incidentally, the tradition that spawned American policing (that and putting down strikes in the North). The idea was that every white male, armed, had an obligation to put his right to bear arms to work and join slave patrols. In the North, he was obliged to catch and return escaped slaves to the South. Having his gun in his home made him available on short notice, which was important in an age of slow communication, and it allowed for the kinds of decentralized, terrorist violence that the system required to keep things running smoothly.

The second origin of American gun ownership rests with the need to have a white settler class that could dispossess Natives Peoples, eventually including Mexicans, from North America. In the West, this manifested in white supremacist vigilante groups like the White Caps and ad hoc policing organizations like the posse. We see the echo of this in today's Minutemen patrols at the border.

Nowadays, gun ownership has been democratized to a fair extent. Although the racist war on drugs and other state attacks on people of color have served a similar function to a fair extent by making felons of so many folks of color (therefore unable to own firearms), no longer is it illegal for non-whites to own firearms simply because of their skin color. This democratization is a progressive development, however flawed its application, and it is one to be defended and expanded.

But just because gun ownership historically has been racialized through law, that doesn't mean that people of color and their allies have always abided this unjust distribution of guns and rights. Through self-organization, Blacks and other oppressed minorities have often found ways of getting weapons when they needed them for self-defense or to attack the system of white supremacy, sometimes with the help of white allies. Let's remember that John Brown spent a lot of time gathering donations for arms for his raid at Harper's Ferry and the anti-slavery battles in Kansas. The point of the raid - and some of the fund raising itself - was to get guns into the hands of the slave class so that it could overthrow the chattel system in the South. Harriet Tubman led armed raids into the South to accomplish similar objectives, liberating hundreds of slaves. Likewise, as DuBois points out, it was a tremendous victory for Blacks when (a large percentage of them being former slaves) they forced the North to arm them and allow them to march under Union colors into the slavocrat heartland to free their comrades still in chains.

Despite the fact that it is primarily people of color that are historically disenfranchised of their rights by gun control laws, the claim by gun control advocates is often that such laws protect everyone, not just whites. But wasn't America shocked by the Columbine and other massacres precisely because the perpetrators didn't meet their stereotype? White kids killing other white kids? It was as unthinkable as it was intolerable to most of America.

But it's a double standard. Those who remember the case of Patrick Haab's armed abduction of a half dozen migrants will no doubt recognize the different treatment the system offers when whites use guns against people of color. Claiming self-defense against unarmed men, Haab walked free, as did local failed politician JT Ready when he opened fire unprovoked on a group of Latino men. According to the FBI, more than a hundred cases of murder remain without convictions from the Civil Rights struggle between 1954 and 1968. And, as we have seen time and again, even reaching for your wallet can get you killed as a person of color when the police are involved. The system so fears armed people of color that just to be on the safe side it presumes every male of color to be armed. The law may have changed, but the delivery has not.

People of color, particularly poor folks, have always been the most revolutionary class in America and by the same token the greatest threat to white capitalist rule. The maintenance of white supremacy in this country owes a great deal to the imagery and fear of the armed Black man and, here in the Southwest, of the armed "illegal". This fear is what primes whites of all classes to defend the white supremacist alliance and, however well-intentioned they may be, the arguments of gun control advocates play into this unholy cross-class racist relationship.

Tactically, in defending the right to own guns, we radicals ought to avoid the trap of sorting out gun purchases into legal and illegal as if one were appropriate and the other were not. There are a lot of reasons why people purchase guns illegally that are quite justifiable. Cost and availability, to mention two. The legitimate right to self-defense is another. The racist injustice system unfairly and routinely strips people of their civil rights - should they also lose their right to self-defense as a result?

In a country that disenfranchises an already economically disadvantaged minority and ghettoizes them in high crime neighborhoods with limited legal means to protect or support themselves, is it any surprise that illegal gun sales would tend to break down on race and class lines? The legal/illegal debate is in reality a debate about white supremacy and class because it is an argument about how best to target people of color for arrest or disenfranchisement of their Second Amendment rights. Not surprisingly, even the right wing argument that the crime from which folks in the ghetto are seeking to defend themselves comes from "their own" is a racist argument. After all, who determines the conditions in the ghetto? Rich white people.

Repeatedly in American history, the language of illegal and legal, as well as cost, has been used to disarm people of color, or to put legal firearms out of their reach. After Reconstruction, some states passed laws restricting gun purchases to more expensive military models - the kind already owned by Southern white veterans. Similarly, it's no coincidence that the Gun Control Act of 1968 came on the heals of the Black urban uprisings and restricted yet again the sales of cheaper weapons as well as mail order. Eldridge Cleaver, in response to the California Assembly's passage of gun control laws (sparked by the Panthers' party unintentional "storming" of the legislature but reflecting a general desire to strip the Panthers of their weapons), said,
"Some very interesting laws are being passed. They don't name me; they don't say, take the guns away from the n***ers. They say that people will no longer be allowed to have (guns). They don't pass these rules and these regulations specifically for black people, they have to pass them in a way that will take in everybody."
Nevertheless, while the language of such laws may be colorblind these days, the enforcement certainly is not. Further, registration itself cannot be divorced from white supremacy. In a great wave around 1920, much of the South implemented gun registration, intending it to apply specifically to Blacks, although the language itself was more broad. If the police determine who can get a gun, you can bet it won't be people they view as a threat!

For this reason, the implementation of state and civic campaigns against firearms never start in the suburbs. For the suburban white family, gun locks, education and other relatively innocuous solutions are proposed. After all, these people form the terrified reserve army and political base of white supremacy, disarming them would undermine the security of the state. Again, this is what we see with the rise of the Minutemen.

I point all this out because the history of guns in America is more complicated than I think a lot of gun control advocates would admit. While there are many legitimately concerned people of color that support gun control, the gun control movement itself exhibits a racist desire to ignore its white supremacist history, as if its effects were still not with us. This is a mantra we hear frequently from white movements. But assertions of "that was then, this is now" don't carry political weight in a country still suffering so severely from the impact of past and contemporary white supremacist policies.

We should be very wary of disarming the domestic population because the first to be disarmed will surely be people of color, followed by the radical whites that show them solidarity. This is precisely what happened at the end of Reconstruction in the South: freed from Federal occupation, the Klan swept through towns stripping the new Freedmen of their weapons. Where there were Black militias, some resisted for a while. "From the southern white's point of view, a well-armed Negro militia was precisely what John Brown had sought to achieve at Harpers Ferry in 1859," remarks legal historian Kermit Hall.

With the revelation that the most recent school massacre was likely perpetrated by a so-called "resident alien," we can expect the racist program of the gun control movement to harmonize increasingly with the arguments of the racist anti-immigrant movement. Although the shooter seems to have been Asian, disarming the immigrant and resident alien population will surely bring resident and citizen Latinos and other people of color under increased police scrutiny, leading to more oppression and less ability to resist vigilante and police attacks. Gun control will put one more tool in the hands of vigilantes and police, who surely will not find it nearly as hard to stay armed.

Disarming the domestic population leaves the military and the police, the two main purveyors of gun violence in the country and the world a free hand to continue their racist assaults on a disarmed population. As long as the state and the vigilantes have guns, then so should the rest of us - especially those of us who may one day have to defend ourselves from them, as so many have had to do before us.

So, in this spirit, I recommend three readings on the relationship between white supremacy and gun laws in America:

(1) "The Racist Roots of Gun Control" by Clayton E. Cramer
(2) "The Klan's Favorite Law" by David B. Kopel
(3) "Gun Control: White Man's Law" by William R. Tonso

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

2007: The year Skynet went online

This should come as no surprise to radicals: you can get a lawyer to justify anything. Some readers may be familiar with science fiction writer Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics. It may sound kind of silly, but although these laws had their origins in science fiction, they have had some influence on robotics as it really exists in the real world.

As class war anarchists with a deep critique of technology, we should oppose robotics in general. It's applications have already and surely will continue to parallel the class and bureaucratic structure of society, empowering the elite to make and remake the working class at will. However, from a more liberal perspective of technology, Asimov's laws do offer a guide to making a world where, presumably, any robots that society does create won't go crazy and kill us all the moment they realize we're really good for little more than target practice and generating "Funniest Home Video" submissions. At the same time, just what does "allow a human being to come to harm" really mean when robots increasingly serve on the front lines of the class war, undermining workers power for the benefit of a small elite class, leaving workers unemployed and their families reeling in financial crisis and the myriad social problems that come with it? In short, I think even radicals would admit that there's clearly some room for legal interpretation here.

But here's the dilemma: the military wants to automate war as much as possible in the future, going past mere drones controlled by humans and into the realm of autonomous robots armed and
designed to kill independently. Aside from the benefits this development might bring in terms of efficiency, it could also potentially solve two problems that have plagued the military and their politician-masters: discipline and body counts.

Previous wars, the current included, have suffered discipline issues as the conflict dragged on. In Vietnam, GI resistance, through desertion, fragging, sabotage and mutiny eventually made the military completely unreliable from a war-making perspective, thus preventing the accomplishment of the elite's political goals. Let's remember also that the Czar's military likewise re-organized itself during WWI, eventually deserting and fraternizing with other working class German conscripts, making and spreading revolution in the process. This is obviously a disaster from the perspective of the blood-thirsty politicians and capitalists that need wars to succeed and therefore need compliant soldiers.

Secondly, on the home front the steady stream of dead American soldiers eventually undermines morale in the domestic population, especially as the elite's stated political goals are seen as not being achieved or even unachievable. This is the case in Iraq. As the chaos increases, American casualties in this situation begin to look to regular Americans like wasted lives in the service of a lost political cause. The dead American soldier coming home, therefore, serves politically in tandem with the IED and suicide bombing in Iraq to undermine the elite's mission abroad.

It should be kept in mind that, just as a capitalist is willing to expend massive amounts of capital on robotics in the factory as long as it undermines the independence of his workforce at the point of production, the military is likewise willing to spend more on a robot as long as it delivers the above-mentioned benefits on the battlefield and at home. This is a major factor driving the push towards automation on the battlefield. But, it turns out that replacing the army's soldiers with killbots is not just a technological and financial problem. It's also a legal issue because the whole premise conflicts with the dominant legal theory in the field of robotics.

Enter John S. Canning, chief engineer at the Naval Surface Warfare Center - a creative, or at least aspiring legal thinker, to be sure. His idea? If a robot can't target a human with a gun, have the machine target the weapon itself. If the human gets killed, well, that's just an accidental and acceptable consequence of warfare like any other "collateral damage".

Check it out:
Robot Rules of War

Legally-speaking, the business of killing even in war can be quite tricky.

Consider that the military now operates dozens of armed unmanned vehicles -- in the air, on land and in the water. That number is expected to rise exponentially in the near future.

The Law of Armed Conflict dictates that unmanned systems cannot fire their weapons without a human operator in the loop. As new generations of armed robots proliferate, the pressure will inevitably increase to automate the process of selecting -- and destroying -- targets.

Now comes the weird part.
Read the rest at Defensetech.org

File this story under:
Technological developments humanity will surely one day regret.
Cross-file under:
Legal developments humanity will surely one day regret.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Automating justice: speed cameras proliferate throughout the Valley

Brian Powell over at the East Valley Tribune has done those of us who love freedom a real solid by revealing that some of the old intersection speeding and red light cameras that Scottsdale has stationed around the city are in fact deactivated and not working at all. Freedom! You can now safely disregard them and reclaim a little public space back from Scottsdale's ever-growing techno-police apparatus.

Although the machines no longer physically function, city officials and police are counting on their inherent Big Brother powers to remain largely intact because the city has left their empty shells lurking in the intersections as a deterrent to unsuspecting drivers.
Motorists traveling northbound on Scottsdale Road through McDowell Road still see a red-light camera on the northeast corner. But that camera hasn’t snapped a violation since October 2002. Motorists heading east or west on Shea Boulevard haven’t had the chance of a camera citation at Hayden Road since December 2001.

The main reason the old boxes aren’t removed is deterrence, officials say.

“One of the reasons considered is would they offer a deterrent? And yes they would,” Scottsdale spokesman Pat Dodds said. “There was no harm in leaving them there, so it was decided to leave them, and through natural attrition, remove them.”

The cameras, which are in gray or white boxes with two visible lenses pointing at vehicles, do look different than the more modern digital cameras that currently exist at eight intersections, along Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and Loop 101. But unless a motorist is familiar with the differing tech- nology, one would likely have no idea.

The conflicting cameras even appear at the same intersection. Southbound Scottsdale Road travelers at Thomas Road see a deactivated camera, but northbound travelers face a live camera that could cite them for running a red light or speeding.

Scottsdale has no immediate plans to take the old cameras down, but will remove them if an intersection undergoes construction or it is once again slated for live cameras, Dodds said. The old camera at Hayden and McDonald roads, for instance, was taken down when the intersection was widened.

“If police believe it’s a good deterrent and it’s not conflicting with something else, I really have no problem with them being there,” said Councilman Wayne Ecton, who was unaware of the deactivated cameras.
Indeed, the speed camera business is booming, according to a Tribune article that ran last week. Other Valley cities are getting in on the act and are considering installing cameras both to automate justice and to spy on local drivers, not to mention to extract revenue from unconsenting residents of other cities that pass through town (who, conveniently, can't vote against the politicians supporting their installation).
And an East Valley company is one of the front-runners in the race for national dominance in the camera-centered road crime-catching business.

American Traffic Solutions grew its client base by a whopping 40 percent in just the last three months.

The privately owned company, which located its headquarters and global operations center in Scottsdale and its regional customer service and tech center in Mesa, has added 17 clients so far in 2007, upping its portfolio to 60.

Mesa, Phoenix, Glendale and Avondale are among those who use American Traffic Solutions services.

The company is pitching to Tempe, Scottsdale and 18 others that use other service providers or haven’t yet installed a traffic camera system, said Sherri Teille, the company’s marketing manager. And if the Arizona Department of Transportation decides to dot Loop 101 with cameras, the local company is itching to bid for the business, she said.
The cameras on the Loop 101, which Scottsdale controversially turned back on after a brief hiatus for evaluation, snapped more than 24,000 pictures in the month following their reactivation.

So, unless the locals here start registering their discontent with the new police automation in a forceful way, we can expect a lot more of it - and not just at intersections. Already, the police in several Valley cities have automated license plate reading, moving their attack on poor people (those who can't afford to register their cars but need them for work, etc.) into high gear. It's worth noting that automating so-called justice has the added effect of shifting control over the policing process out of the hands of police themselves and into the hands of technicians, who are even less democratically accountable than cops! Civilian review boards will surely not cover police technology or the techs tasked with maintaining, deploying and developing it.

Worse, these technologies shift policing into the realm of science, which as an institution is totally resistant to public oversight of any kind. When policing becomes a technical matter, it's class war purpose is even more easily camouflaged with the illusion of technological neutrality, the false claim of technology (in this case, that automation is neutral rather than a specific weapon deployed by the elite against the poor and working classes). Thus, these speed cameras - and all police cameras - need to be opposed broadly. A line must be drawn and defended.

But in framing our attack, we must reject the public safety argument because that is one that the elites have mastered and can only lead us instead to other forms of policing, like more cops on the streets (as the police union suggested last year as an alternative to cameras). Instead, we should focus on the theme of protecting and expanding freedom, since everyone already distrusts the government's commitment in this regard.

All is not lost, however. In Britain, a shadowy organization has been targeting the cameras for some time now with good ol' fashioned direct action, setting them on fire and even exploding them. To avoid a felony, I suspect a black plastic bag carefully placed and taped up would accomplish the same effect, albeit temporarily.

Burn the speed cameras, before it's too late. Just make sure it's a working one!


For more analysis, check out this past PI article:
Sheriff Joe's 'techno cops' goes online and Scottsdale's freeway cameras go live

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Vonnegut dead: Goodbye Blue Monday.

A terribly sad day... one more last chance for humanity gone. He will be missed like few others. As is the case with all truly great minds, humanity in its arrogance learned absolutely nothing from him.
"Strange business, this crusading spirit of the managers and engineers, the idea of designing and manufacturing and distributing being sort of a holy war; all that folklore was cooked up by public relations and advertising men hired by managers and engineers to make big business popular in the old days, which it certainly wasn't in the beginning. Now, the engineers and managers believe with all their hearts the glorious things their forbears hired people to say about them. Yesterday's snow job becomes today's sermon."
-Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fashion industy as death camp

The excellent zine, G Spot, formerly published in the Valley, has posted online several great articles from their most recent issue. Home to some solid political critique, with a focus on feminist analysis, I recommend their content.

In particular, I was struck by a piece deconstructing the fashion business and it's wide-ranging effects on women both inside and outside the industry. Delivered from both a personal and political perspective, the industry's use of imagery is highlighted and even the author's particular favorite, Vogue, isn't spared the author's sharp criticism.
Unfortunately, my disappointment with Vogue is not limited to the April issue. I was shocked by the picture of Jennifer Hudson on the cover of the March issue. The choice of Jennifer Hudson is to be applauded. She is only the third African American woman to grace the cover and her recent rise to success can account for the selection. This was Vogue’s chance to show that full figured women are a more realistic ideal of beauty. Sadly, Hudson’ picture was airbrushed and she was posed so that her collar bones would stick out so that she would appear thinner. She also has her mouth wide open, like she is waiting to taking a bite out of a cheeseburger. The red Carolina Herrera dress might be glamorous, but the cover shot is far from it.

Despite Wintour’s claims to the contrary, the connection between fashion and self-image has been well documented. According to a 1990 study of 162 college women, exposure to thin models was related to lower self-evaluations, regardless of the level of self-reported bulimic symptoms. (Turner, et al, Adolescence, Fall 1997) In a later study, Turner found that “although the two groups of women . . . did not differ significantly in height or weight, those who read fashion magazines prior to completing a body image satisfaction survey desired to weigh less and perceived themselves more negatively than did those who read news magazines. Exposure to fashion magazines was related to women's greater preoccupation with being thin, dissatisfaction with their bodies, frustration about weight, and fear about deviating from the thin standard.”
For many, the effects on the female workers who produce the clothes is safely hidden from view, but this article reminds us that the fashion industry's toll on the minds and self-images of women is often likewise obscured. Ad agencies and fashion designers trot out unattainable standards of beauty, style and femininity for broad consumption, further adding to the already deafening assault of the industry's sales pitches that both manufacture and then feed off women's insecurities, opening up opportunities that other industries can exploit for profit.

But, once we realize it, we are no longer surprised to see fashion standing hand in hand with the status quo, reinforcing the dominant order even as it pretends to subvert it. We see this in many downtown art districts, including Phoenix, as hip designers and artists crowd out older residents and cry foul whenever police act as anything but their willing executioners (which the police usually do). As a prime example of this, consider last year's infamous "State Of Emergency" fashion spread from Vogue Italy, in which models were pictured being manhandled and generally abused by riot cops and other officials of the state, generally male. Irony or fitting tribute? Is the system really at war with fashion? Have you ever seen the way the Italian police dress?

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

News of Interest 4/10/07

Millions face hunger from climate change
"The report said Africa is most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The fallout from a swiftly warming planet — extreme weather, flooding, outbreaks of disease — will only exacerbate troubles in the world's poorest continent, said Anthony Nyong, one of the lead authors. Wheat, a staple in Africa, may disappear from the continent by the 2080s, the report said."
From Jungle Fatigues to Sensible Suits: Nepal's Maoists Join Government
"Bista again brought his killer reputation to work on March 31, the day before the new government was formed. He arrived at the gates of Nepal's Singha Durbar parliamentary compound and punched a taxi driver in the face three times, in a dispute over the cab fare. Maoist leaders claim these incidents are "small mistakes" that the media is blowing out of proportion, but each day brings fresh reports of Maoist comrades threatening, beating and extorting businesspeople, political workers and common citizens across the country."
'Two and a half years later, camera installation has gained momentum even as concerns about the police atmosphere in city schools are being voiced ever louder and more frequently. It's an academic environment in which principals “are becoming corrections wardens,” according to State Senator Bill Perkins, who was a City Councilmember representing Harlem at the time of the vote. While Vallone and Department of Education (DOE) officials hail the system as a success, based on positive feedback from school administrators, others are raising questions about the implications of such wide-reaching surveillance in public schools. The public schools already are manned by 4,625 safety agents – a larger force than the entire police departments of Baltimore, Boston, or San Diego. In addition to this, the new systems called for in Local Law 52 include cameras linked by a network to a main server in each school. Video is watched live by school safety agents from a monitoring console. Design requirements state that “both live and archived video can be viewed locally on LAN (Local Area Networks) and remotely over DOE WAN (Wireless Area Networks).”'
Santa Cruz Leaders Opt Not To Help Immigration Officials
"Santa Cruz city leaders said no to the federal government and no to illegal immigration enforcement in a landmark decision Tuesday. Officials said the decision was unprecedented in the immigration debate -- a local municipality refusing to help with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Santa Cruz city leaders unanimously approved a plan to prohibit using city funds or resources to assist ICE enforcement in Santa Cruz."

MoD outlines possible dystopian futures

(Updated 6:08 pm)

The British Ministry of Defence has released a study that provides a grim look at several possible futures facing humanity by 2035.
Information chips implanted in the brain. Electromagnetic pulse weapons. The middle classes becoming revolutionary, taking on the role of Marx's proletariat. The population of countries in the Middle East increasing by 132%, while Europe's drops as fertility falls. "Flashmobs" - groups rapidly mobilised by criminal gangs or terrorists groups.

This is the world in 30 years' time envisaged by a Ministry of Defence team responsible for painting a picture of the "future strategic context" likely to face Britain's armed forces. It includes an "analysis of the key risks and shocks". Rear Admiral Chris Parry, head of the MoD's Development, Concepts & Doctrine Centre which drew up the report, describes the assessments as "probability-based, rather than predictive".

The 90-page report comments on widely discussed issues such as the growing economic importance of India and China, the militarisation of space, and even what it calls "declining news quality" with the rise of "internet-enabled, citizen-journalists" and pressure to release stories "at the expense of facts". It includes other, some frightening, some reassuring, potential developments that are not so often discussed.
Read about it in the Guardian:
Revolution, flashmobs, and brain chips. A grim vision of the future


Update (6:08 pm)!

Read the MoD's original document here:
The DCDC Global Strategic Trends Programme 2007-2036

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Monday, April 09, 2007

The heat ray or the bullet? Which best preserves elite rule?

A little further down I have posted a video of a test of the government's new microwave crowd-dispersal heat ray that it hopes will revolutionize its ability to control riotous masses at home and abroad with as little collateral damage as possible.

In a world that is increasingly monitored everywhere in real time all the time, thus making clandestine work against the system also ever more difficult, we ought to be very worried about government attempts to make mobs and riotous demonstrations impossible as well. That's an important development, because mobs, riots and other illegal mass actions are vital weapons in revolutionaries' arsenals. From the perspective of the ruling class, the hope seems to be to sanitize and control one of the last few forms of political organizing that can potentially threaten the state's interests - the riot. Taming this last uncontrollable would be a tremendous coup for the elite class.

Phoenix hometown heroes Raytheon makes a version of this tech, which they call the Silent Guardian. According to their website,
The Silent Guardian™ protection system is a revolutionary less-than-lethal directed energy application that employs millimeter wave technology to repel individuals or crowds without causing injury. The system provides a zone of protection that saves lives, protects assets and minimizes collateral damage. Silent Guardian produces precise effects at longer ranges than current less-than-lethal systems and provides real-time ability to establish intent and de-escalate aggression. Various commercial and military applications include law enforcement, checkpoint security, facility protection, force protection and peacekeeping missions. The system is available now and ready for action.
The problem from our standpoint as revolutionaries is that sometimes the very things that the system's new weapon is designed to protect (certain lives and assets) are precisely the things that even very legitimate social movements sometimes need to put in jeopardy in order to accomplish our political goals. This, of course, shouldn't be controversial; after all, isn't that what states use armies and police for?

This weapon fits the democratic state's self-image quite well, punishing illegal and supposedly illegitimate activity like rioting with a relatively less dangerous crowd control technology. However, there have been problems. As the tests expand, more injuries from the weapon are popping up.

Nevertheless, in critiquing this new technology, we should be careful not to fall into the liberal trap of focusing on its dangerousness to health. Our criticisms must cut deeper than that. Protecting and expanding human freedom, not just revolutionary goals, requires that people be able to engage in illegal mass action. Breaking laws, even from a non-revolutionary perspective is vital to overturning unjust laws and regimes. The less that is possible, the closer we come to that final march into total domination by the elite class. Losing that, all we will have is the vote, and what good is that - especially when not backed up by the threat of a riotous population?

But, despite the billions being spent on so-called non-lethal weapons, there is some disagreement within the elite itself about the consequences and usefulness of these weapons. Not, of course, out of any concern for our safety or ability to participate in politics. No, it's centered around the question of what might happen if the threat of violent oppression were taken off the table, replaced, presumably by less lethal weaponry for crowd control. What if instead of controlling them it in fact emboldened the people in the streets? If that turned out to be the case, perhaps it would be better, from their perspective, to stick to old fashioned guns, billy clubs and grenades.

In an article in Sunday's SF Chronicle, John Arquilla writes from a very interesting perspective about these weapons - one rarely acknowledged in the public discourse.
One major project that receives billions in support involves using force without killing: so-called "nonlethal weapons." These include a wide range of new devices mostly intended to achieve control over unruly crowds.

Added to the rubber bullets that have been around for a long time are rubber grenades. These were developed because crowds can set up mattress barricades to fend off rubber bullets and shotgun-fired bean bags. But a grenade can be tossed over the mattresses, shooting out hard little rubber balls in every direction when it explodes.

Another crowd-control device is known by the typically opaque Pentagon moniker "active denial." This is a system designed to use millimeter-length directed energy waves to overheat skin. The idea is that a crowd will quickly find that it literally cannot take the heat of a confrontation with our troops.

Much care is given to avoiding lethal effects or permanent damage. Rubber bullets and grenade pellets are hard enough to hurt, but it is believed they will seldom do permanent harm.

And the short wave-length of active-denial systems means the human skin will feel as if it is on fire, but only on the surface, unlike a microwave, which penetrates more than an inch (and is why these are good for heating food). The point is, people won't actually be getting cooked.

But there are huge problems with nonlethal weapons. Sometimes rubber bullets do kill people, usually children when they are struck in the head. A crowd that thinks it is on fire may stampede, and many may die from trampling.

Even a handful of deaths caused by supposedly nonlethal weapons would undermine the whole notion of trying to take a measured response, as the Israelis have found in their efforts to deal with stone-throwing Palestinian mobs over the years.

Even more serious is the problem that, if an unruly populace knows you aren't going to use lethal force, it has every reason to keep to the streets. The choice to use nonlethal weapons tells the crowd that their risk is minimized. This is one of the reasons that the first intifada went on for about seven years (1987-93), as has the second one. Nonlethal force, it turns out, is not much of a deterrent.

Clearly, then, there are reasons to scrutinize carefully the whole idea of pouring money into nonlethal weapons. Nonetheless, a host of them are being developed. Beyond rubber-pellet grenades and super-heating devices, there are weapons that shock with sound, some that temporarily blind, even sticky foams designed to freeze people in place.

It's time to close the spending spigot on most of these. They all suffer from the same problems of being hard to use discriminately and having the unwitting potential, simply because they are nonlethal, to foment rather than tamp down unrest.

Perhaps a better choice might be upgrading the arsenal of deadly weapons.
As I have written before, those of us interested in the future of social struggle would do well to pay attention to this debate, not just for its tactical and strategic honesty, but also for the way it highlights the point at which the state's democratic theory collides with the harsh reality that the democratic state, like any other, exists to protect the wealth and power of a very small capitalist and bureaucratic elite.

When referencing democratic theory with regard to mass movements, elites almost always lecture self-righteously about the necessity of participating in the existing system while denouncing those illegal politics like riots, direct action and armed struggle that refuse to be contained within it. This was the case when the Portland news outlets swarmed to denounce last month's anti-war protest. The Portland Insight lashed out:
If the cause of peace is worth supporting — and we believe it is — then peace protesters must demonstrate the values they promote. The vast majority of the estimated 15,000 protesters who took part in a peace march Sunday in downtown Portland did just that. They were well-behaved, well-intentioned and serious about their cause.

But then there was a smaller group of demonstrators — if they can even be called that — who engaged in numerous actions that violated the sensibilities of ordinary people and damaged the very cause the activists claimed to endorse.

This splinter group of protesters showed its support for “peace” by burning a U.S. soldier in effigy. It exhibited its supposedly pacifist nature by knocking a police officer off his bike — an action that brought out the police riot squad.


The anti-war demonstrators who behaved responsibly this past weekend have an obligation to denounce — and distance themselves from — those protesters who purposefully offend others and consequently destroy the intended message of peace.
The Oregonian echoed that message, saying,
P eople who marched through downtown Portland against the U.S. military mission in Iraq on Sunday put on a remarkable display. A reported 15,000 marched and chanted in opposition to the war and the White House strategy in Iraq -- many more than gathered in San Francisco or New York.

Most of the marchers were peaceful and reasonable. A few were not. Unfortunately, the most memorable images from the protest will be of the few and not of the many.

On the South Park Blocks, a handful of people set afire a uniformed effigy of a U.S. soldier and an upside-down flag. Around them, bystanders took pictures. Some of these images have made several loops of the planet by now, with the "Portland" marquee from the Performing Arts Center centered in the background.

The backlash began a day later.
Some demonstrators had deviated from the script. If mass organizing is given props at all, it is only when it remains cowed, begging and, most of all, non-violent - even in the face of extreme state violence. While this position is hypocritical, in a real sense - and for obvious reasons - this does reflect the experience of most elites, who generally do find the system responsive to their legal participation. Of course, the elite itself also quite regularly breaks the law in the pursuit of its own politics. However, because the system is of its own design most of the time they don't have to.

Keep your eye on the development and deployment of less lethal technology. In many ways, it is an indicator of a very real debate going on in the elite these days about the role of violence in maintaining their dominance over society. As with technology in general, these advances represent the continuing determination of an elite class to control for their own selfish benefit the rest of society. As best we can, our movement must oppose their existence and proliferation. We must likewise reject the public safety red herring offered up for our consumption by liberals.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Public art, Tempe gentrification and the death of uncontrolled space

I'd like to direct everyone yet again to my homeboy's great new blog, There's Something Happening Here, to appreciate his great recent article on the role of public/street art in the attack on Tempe's gentrification.
Reclaiming public space or attacking private property? Time after time of seeing working folks' evicted, their former abodes razed, and then high end condos put in their place, I've lately been more attracted to the entire scrapping of the concept of private property. Not so much because I enjoy dwelling on the negative, but just to settle shit with the rich once and for all. No more of the "We're reclaiming public space for all the people," just so the rich can take it back later and resettle it with their developments. Let's get with it and get to work on killing private property, so that we are no longer in the position of arguing the false dichotomy of advocating for public space, while all space is constantly enclosed upon.
The article goes on to feature video and analysis of the vanguard of anti-gentrification resistance in our town, highlighting the work of local artist, Disposable Hero, who has been hard at work counter-attacking in the public space that the invading armies of yuppies are so keen on fencing in. Disposable Hero and other similar combatants stand for a different interpretation of public space, and they deploy themselves and their art against those yuppies that scheme to cleanse our town of the last vestiges of real urbanism so they can crawl inside it's hollowed out shell and live out their plastic lives.

Of course, the interesting thing about the gentrifiers' perception of public space is that, despite the rigidity when applied to everyone else, it becomes quite flexible when it comes to their own needs. Thus, although they are constantly encroaching on our space ('uncontrolled space') both physically, legally and technologically, when the city streets need to be disrupted for their own needs, like this weekend for the third annual Pat's Run (a tribute to former ASU Sun Devil, Arizona Cardinal and dubious war hero Pat Tillman), what was previously public space is magically transformed with the stroke of a bureaucratic pen into private space - and a massive inconvenience for the rest of us.

Like Tempe's slimy developer class, the race will snake through the city streets, eventually winding up at the 42-yard line of Sun Devil Stadium (where the Devils and the Cardinals played while Tillman was with them). No matter: the run is a jingoistic festival that doesn't question even the obvious irony of Tillman's death. Therefore, any dislocation is acceptable for this purpose. In a real sense, the city and the organizers happily shift the social cost of this exercise upon the general residents of Tempe, while the benefits - the money raised, the gentrification project advanced and the war hero myth reinforced - are privatized in the hands of PR flacks, the media, advertisers, the government and the gentrifying elites. This is elite modern socialism.

Indeed, the pregnant question in all of this is totally avoided by both the press and the organizers of the event. The media treats his death at the hands of friendly forces in the passive voice, carefully removing blame and avoiding uncomfortable questions. Tillman's brother-in-law and director of the Pat Tillman Foundation, Alex Garwood, dodged the bullet Tillman couldn't this way:
Tillman's name remains in the news with investigations revealing the Army's deception in reporting the circumstances surrounding the soldier's death, but Garwood said the run is not about how his close friend's life ended.

"When you think of Pat Tillman, I want you to think about the incredible life that he lived," Garwood said in a telephone interview on Thursday. "The investigations and revelations, that's a part of it, but that's not his fault. The reason we have a run is because Pat lived. That's what I want you to know."
However, it should be pointed out that if Tillman died for freedom, Pat's Run poses a curious contradiction: we didn't experience the same welcoming treatment when we seized downtown Tempe two years in a row for anti-gentrification May Day protests. Nor, of course, do Tempe's homeless, poor and non-white residents, who have been very clearly given the message that they should not consider themselves a part of Tempe's new "urban" environment, whatever their past contributions.

Because, in the end, what is gentrification but a socialist project for rich people? The city, the university and other governments have their fingerprints all over downtown, making the developers and yuppies investments safe through massive subsidy (the kind they would never offer the rest of us) while bringing to the table the vital component that the private money lacks: enforcement. And, so, is it any surprise that ASU's police force would be the recipient of new mobile license place scanning technology, capable of searching out a poor person at the rate of thousands an hour? According to the State Press,
ASU police will soon mount two $28,000 license plate scanners onto two police vehicles, one that will patrol the Tempe campus and one that will travel between the other campuses.

The scanners will automatically screen a vehicle's plate and instantly retrieve all of the information linked to it. Officers can instantly tell whether the car was stolen and how many parking tickets it has received, said Cmdr. Jim Hardina of ASU police.

This should deter people from parking stolen vehicles on ASU property, Hardina said.

Police officials are excited to have this technology. The scanners will save them time, and they hope to have them up and running by the end of April, Hardina said.
The city is the fist to the private gentrifier's glove. And, in the modern technological era, such attacks on public space don't always come in the form of a billy club. Nevertheless, the effect is the same.


(See, also, this previous PI article: "Marked, recorded and deterred: Technology and the future of the class war")

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