Tag Archives: Politics

Woolgathering Wednesday

When I first moved to North Dakota from the Detroit area back in 2008, I knew I was undertaking a very unlikely journey. Up until the moment I decided to accept the invitation to move to another state and give myself a chance to make a fresh start almost two thousand miles away, I thought I was never going to leave Detroit. I’m fine here, I would tell myself and others. I had received multiple solicitations to move out to California before and had turned them all down for various reasons: high cost of living, earthquakes, the probability of sliding off into the ocean being somewhat higher than in Michigan . . .

But things had changed, you know? I finally saw an opportunity to get away from a negative cycle that had kept me from truly functioning as an adult. All the conditions were right, and so I rode the wave all the way out here.

Since arriving I have seen a remarkable change in the social profile around here. Where once I noticed that it was rare to see a black or brown person around town, the area is now teeming with people who have moved here for varying reasons in the intervening years, whether because of the economic crisis, war in the Middle East, oppression in Africa; or just because in this land of opportunity, at the right time, North Dakota was the place to make a new start. And it’s not just foreign people of color, but people from all around the country. From all walks of life. Different races and religions and all the things that have some people putting stickers on their cars that say “Welcome to North Dakota — now go home!”

For shame.

Everyone has their journey, and some of the best ones break down the boundaries that we build for ourselves and those that others have built. And it’s so sad to see the escalating media coverage of all that is negative in the world, from the plague of shootings that seem to have come out of nowhere to the general unrest that continues to plague the cradle of civilization. And somehow, while many of us have shut down and continue to isolate ourselves most vocally in our self-fulfilling paradigms, modern society seems to have transformed the human race into a fluid. One that’s crashing in waves on the shores of the first world. The proof is evident all around us. There’s a 2012 novel that was made into a 2015 film called Look Who’s Back that opens up the eyes to sentiment regarding, among other things, the mass immigration of Turks into Germany. The subject matter shows no age, I’m sorry to say.

There’s also the recent divorce of Britain from the European Union, something that one person oh-so-cleverly called “Brexit”, and now that ungainly portmanteau will likely see not only the insides of history textbooks, but the Oxford English Dictionary as well. And while I have no opinion either way, I believe that the British used their rare chance for a popular vote and I don’t blame them one bit. After all, I always wish the popular vote would bring some results in our nation. But one of the major arguments behind the whole affair is that the EU is too lax on immigration and allows too many immigrants in. I can’t say Brexit is all bad, however, considering my 401k is finally making significant upward moves for the first time in over a year.

And there is the ever-present sentiment against illegal immigration in the United States, Donald Trump’s trumped-up promise to build a wall along the Mexican border being only the tip of the iceberg. Under the twinkling ocean of our society looms a ginormity of sentiment that lays the blame for everything from lost jobs to climate change at the doorsteps of anything un-American.

The evidence is all around that the world is a giant machine lubricated by a fluid of humanity. Our journeys take us where they will, but wherever we begin we leave something behind and wherever we set foot we leave the indelible marks of our passage. This world, being thus enriched with each passing day, acts largely like the mythically ubiquitous, ungrateful millennial that popular sentiment currently tends to demonize in our social media feeds. And hey — no society can grow richer under the banner of a single heritage. While an area might retain its distinct flavor with just a little effort on the part of those who care about where they came from, it’s ridiculous to think that pushing newcomers away will make us any safer from the damage we might do to ourselves.

After all, it’s where we are going that counts.

Looking for a way to crash into a new blog post? Take a look at this one-word prompt from the Daily Post — maybe it will move you.


How can we break down the walls of American oppression?

Disclaimer: this is a reproduction of a train of thought I had Sunday morning while washing dishes in advance of preparing brunch. It’s not meant to be a formal argument. I may be right or wrong, justified or way off base, or simply paranoid. In any case, open and polite discourse of all persuasions are welcome in the comments section.

Bringing down the Berlin Wall

I have listened to some podcasts lately that either deal with, or touch upon, the subject of the Berlin Wall. The basic history goes like this: after World War II the allied power divide Germany into four regions among the U.S., Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. The whole idea was to reconstruct Germany into a self-sufficient, non-threatening nation through the use of reconstruction efforts, but the Soviets refused right off the bat to play nice, and instead turned the Eastern portion of Germany into a Soviet state with future plans of taking the rest of Germany too. About three and a half million people in East Germany decided to get out of Dodge before the Berlin Wall was erected. After that, anyone could come in, but East Germans could not go out — although they weren’t above rappelling down the sides of buildings adjacent to the wall to do so.

Fast forward to the 1989. After decades of tension, mounting political pressure, and the leadership of more liberal minds in the Soviet Union, they decided to let East Germans go wherever the heck they wanted to go.

The natural assumption was that the East Germans wanted through that wall, but unsurprising to anyone familiar with the helpless, frustrated rage of the long-oppressed, they started tearing it down by hand. Germany found itself whole again just a year later. Western Europe was whole again, and it seems as though everyone took some practical lessons away from this — including the American government, which may have found a chink in the Communist armor that gave them a cogent standpoint on this business of maintaining a totalitarian regime under the guise of a state in which all men are equal.

It’s obvious that they had been doing it wrong the whole time.

How did Communism come down?

It wasn’t long after the fall of the Berlin Wall that we saw an about-face in Russia’s government as well; the breakup of the Soviet Union and the transformation from Communism to Democracy was a big deal, but after the better part of a century, what had convinced them to pull the trigger? Was the same kind of political pressure that brought down the Berlin Wall also responsible for changing the Iron Curtain, or was the Wall’s destruction in fact a precursor known to some as a prelude to the end of Soviet-style Communism?

In either case, I can almost imagine that there may have been a conversation at some time between the Soviets and the West whose argument boiled down to this: Communism is going to get you nowhere. You run it the way you should be running a state, but Communism is the wrong way to go because you’re making the majority of your people miserable, and when it comes to a head they will revolt and take you down, and guess what? We will be there to help them when they inevitably ask us for assistance. This Cold War is coming to a close, and its death knell will resound from within. Now is the best time for Russia to consider democracy, because there is nothing to lose. You see the technology that we have and that on the horizon. That technology will enable Russia to become a state in which you can enjoy the same level of power while the majority of the people are able to prosper, and if you do this we will stand by you and make sure that it works. The people can have what they want, and you can maintain the status quo. The newly-liberated nations of the former U.S.S.R., in the meantime, will require assistance to develop into healthy nations of their own, and you can only benefit from those relationships.

A surveillance device in every pocket

The technology in question has become as ubiquitous as any clairvoyant politico could have hoped. A surveillance device in every pocket – or rather, in every hand, and one so compelling that most people can hardly put it down. Wouldn’t it be great if I never got lost on the way to my bankruptcy hearing in Detroit? Wouldn’t it be handy if I could check the price of my small-cap fund periodically, just to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake by splitting off ten percent of my target-date retirement fund (which only takes two days to change?) How is the weather going to hold up for that Labor Day picnic?

In the face of unstable and uncertain paradigms that often shift against prophetic prose, we turn to our devices to give us up-to-the-moment information as the best weapons we have against the uncertainties of the stock market and the weather. It’s as practical as getting street directions, and so these uses become the hooks that drag us deeper.

This is technology that has already overturned empires: the GPS navigation device. The handheld video game. The 35mm camera. The microcassette recorder. The pocket radio. The pocket television. The paperback novel. The spiral-bound notepad and the #2 pencil. The black book. The day planner. The pocket calculator. The humble compass. Even a deck of cards! And just like the empires of old, these items remain to this day, but they’re overshadowed by the new, younger technology. It’s convenient, it’s ultralight and portable, and it lends more utility to every facet of life than there ever was before.
Our mobile phones are the utopian dream of the past generation, but they are not inviolate. That is a fact that has been brought to our attention and has wholly affirmed our gnawing suspicions recently. We now know that our government’s security agencies keep detailed records of every transmission made on our devices. Every phone call, every text and tweet, every picture of your girlfriend’s boobs or the Chinese takeout you had last weekend (or both) is stored for future analysis. It creates a web of surveillance that not only covers the entire American nation, but it actually spreads beyond the borders and stretches out into the larger world. Unlimited power.

This wealth of information allows the security agencies to trace out the network of a threat to the Nth degree, creating a specter that innocent civilians will be caught and implicated in the wrongdoings of a seemingly innocuous person, the entanglement with whom could potentially ruin a person’s life and reputation. How this plays out in the future remains largely to be seen, but allowing that kind of access is opening a door to that kind of oppression.

What really ties this all together are the common social paradigms in which we function online: the communities, or as we call them in the popular vernacular, the social networks. Facebook, undoubtedly the top player in this domain, has recently changed the access rights of their applications to allow access to more features of the device than previously requested, and this caused a lot of furor on the Internet about what Facebook is doing behind our backs. Are they watching our every move? Can they hear everything we say, even while the phone is in our pockets?

Again, time will show how this plays out, but I suspect that what Facebook is really after is to provide the same functionality with messaging that we have on normal computers, which are slowly fading into the background of our lives. Because of the private nature of our mobile phones (whose hardware and software architectures have been designed from the beginning with security in mind, unlike those of standard computers) demands that we give permission to an application for the use of a specific feature – say, the camera, or the microphone, and even the address book – there’s no way we can send a picture in a message or pull up a contact and message them from there if the app is disallowed from using that feature of the device. Thus, permission is required to use those features.

This is not to say that all of our gripes with Facebook are mere conspiracy theory. The way the newsfeeds are managed and geared toward advertisers rather than our social connections is terrible. Some people don’t like the targeted advertising, while others don’t mind. Facebook is obviously in bed with the people who actually pay for it to run, and that should come as no surprise. These are things that have nothing to do with the real issue, which is that every bit of information that flows back and forth from your device is potentially being handed to the government for storage and future analysis, and social networks across the Internet only serve to lubricate the sharing of this information. Our lives are greased lightning that is easily bottled for future reference.

Watching the waves ripple out . . .

So in a sense, the social networks are only doing what they have to do to operate in a world where we demand access to them for free, but at the same time they play our personal information right into hands whose motivations are as clear and unpredictable as the weather. With the owners of those hands always ten steps ahead of the common man, we fear what we do not yet understand, and rightfully so. It’s ironic that in this way we find ourselves in the same group as some (recently late) foreign governments.

Social networks are a hotbed for public sentiment. We learned this well during the series of uprisings in the Middle East that are now collectively called the Arab Spring. Both Twitter and Facebook, among others, were instrumental in sustaining protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Some of these were more successful than others, as we know that the unrest in Syria continues unresolved for the opposition groups, who are now starting to turn on each other.

As dominoes fell across the epicenter of humanity, we saw the power of the mobile device in every pocket. News flooded out uncontrolled, and from all perspectives. The powers of the Middle East found themselves unprepared for a fight against a resistance that was unprecedented in history in that it was powered not by the flaming rhetoric of a single person, but by a technology that kept the herd united in purpose and confidence in their scope.

Is it a mere coincidence that this is what the American government would have liked to see?

In politics, there are no coincidences. In this realm where every move is strategic, where every player is trained to outthink, outmaneuver, outsmart, outwit, and outtalk their opponents, it’s hard to believe that this wasn’t part of the larger plan even if the timing of its occurrence was coincidental. Where before the mission of the American government seemed to be to spread democracy to every corner of the world in any way necessary to facilitate access to scarce resources, we now understand that the power of the mobile device in every pocket is that people can demand democracy for themselves, they can demand to bring about positive change in their own societies that will elevate the standard of living for the majority of their nation’s peoples. For a little bit, the government sat back and watched the Internet do part of their work for them. When the call for support came in, they debated and ultimately sent in help where they deemed it was necessary.

They weren’t forcing democracy on anyone at that point. How much easier is that? We watched the triumph of the young over the old as the technology of the mobile Internet toppled existing power structures that were based upon power so oppressive that the miserable populace rose up in a bid to break that power and create a better life for themselves, and guess what? We were there to help them when they inevitably asked for assistance. This is the disaster that the Soviet Union avoided by converting to the religion of democracy, and compared to them the Middle East is cupcakes – in part due to the power of the mobile Internet.

The “problem” with American democracy

The thing about our brand of democracy is that there’s a low-level and a high-level of knowledge regarding how it works, where the majority of us are brought up to understand the high-level because it’s as simple as it gets. Every citizen gets a vote for those in office, and then those in office administrate our nation in the popular interest. Bam, that’s democracy. The low-level is what we have to learn for ourselves: we vote, but our vote doesn’t always count. There’s an unresolved tension between the popular vote and the electoral vote, because everyone’s votes for public office are funneled into a much smaller (and more manageable) voting body that can choose to vote against the popular vote. Our elected officials tend to legislate and dictate in favor of moneyed and corporate interests. Any pretense which can be found to employ the military is used to do so. Thus we find both our political and military establishments are enslaved to big money and corporations in what can at best be called a nominal democracy – a democracy in name, but at any given time it can be something else.

This is what the government is selling the world powers: a twenty-five cassette Tony Robbins’ Personal Power of nation-building. Some governments resist, thinking that upsetting their traditional ways is tantamount to destroying their civilizations and thus their own personal ways of life. In effect, they believe that American democracy threatens their totalitarian grip and their wealth, not to mention what the people would do if the military were not there to protect the most terrible of them. The smart ones give in, understanding that making their people happy on a superficial level will do much to keep the big boys in power. From that position, they can keep playing the nation-building game, which enables them to be part of the world’s feng shui flow of goods, services, and technologies and puts more money directly in their pockets.

In short, they call it democracy, and they give it enough lip service to keep us more or less happy. The poorest people in America have access to things that the poorest people in the world can only dream of, if they even bother to dream anymore. Still, the lowest level of poverty in America seems to run counter to the much higher level that it should be, and this points to the tensions within our brand of democracy. In a more ideal democracy, our nation would have the money to help those unable to help themselves lead something approximating a normal life while getting those who could help themselves on a steady enough ground to do so. It does this to some extent, but it falls short much of the time because the resources that aren’t there are being funneled into the interests of the privileged few.

This brand of democracy – the nominal sort – short-sells a future in which there should be more power on a personal level, but it can never be there while it serves a relative few with enough money to work it to their advantage. The growing web of a surveillance device in every pocket helps both the government and their big money sources in different ways, while serving little in the way of real political utility to the people at large, who rightfully should have it now and into the future.

If this is the Democracy we’re selling to the rest of the world, when will we get a chance to elevate ourselves above it? Will we be the first, or will someone with a new way to play the game come along?

We are a sophisticated and relatively well-educated nation of individuals who hold the ability in our hands on a frequent basis to effect social change for the better, and yet we are hamstrung by the bottlenecking of power to do so. In the run-up to the 2016 election, why is it that we have no way of voting from our phones? Why can’t we eliminate the Electoral College and vote directly over the Internet using mobile phones, personal computers, and public kiosks, and watch the vote tally up the evening of November 4th from our chosen media consumption device? It has the potential to be faster, more reliable, and more accurate than existing methods. Naysayers point toward potential weak points in such a system as though there are systems that do not have weak points, while ignoring the weak points that exist in our current voting system. I maintain that the weak points of a popular digital vote are not only surmountable, but they’re able to be effected quickly and with much less expense than the current system – the problem being that a true popular vote threatens the existing power structure of American democracy, and so they choose to suppress such technology as would facilitate that.

This is the nature of American oppression. We as a people do not oppress other nations, nor do we steal their resources for our own profit. This is done by and large by a government that is funded mostly by rich men and corporations with their own motivations, none of which are likely to be world peace, the elevation of the common man, or the public good. We find ourselves attached to it, like serfs in a medieval feudal society, and like cogs in a machine.

It’s hard to detach ourselves from what we view as “normal”, especially when everything is so well-integrated into our lives, but the onus falls on us to tear down this wall brick by brick and unite the two sides that have been held apart by mutually exclusive interests: the people, and the government that operates under the pretense that it is “of the people, by the people, for the people”. One hundred percent of our tax money should work for our benefit, otherwise we should not have to pay taxes to a government that is funded by wealthy corporations and individuals. In that case it should be free, like Facebook, because just as with Facebook we have little to do with, and even less control over, what the government does.

That is, unless we choose to come together and tear down the wall.

Who’s Afraid of Google?

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past fifteen years, I think you may have heard of Google. The Silicon Valley tech giant that started out with a single page and a few ideas on how to deliver better Internet search results seems to have its hands in everything these days; not just search, email, mapping, and the whole catalog, but also self-driving cars — and as it turns out, flying drones.

Yes. Google means to purchase a drone manufacturer called Titan Aerospace.

But wait – put those worst-case scenarios out of your mind; Google plans to use these drones to provide Internet service, power, and improved real-time aerial mapping — or so they say. But hey, my experience with the company over the past fifteen years and my gut tell me I can trust them more than the United States government with this technology.

This past weekend I was listening to the Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know audio podcast, wherein host Ben Bowlin suggested that a possible future of governance might rest with corporations — not in a shadowy overlord kind of way, but in a future in which we might actually want to live.

Luxembourg: powered by Google.” I thought it a little funny, but it made me wonder whether that wouldn’t be better than the system we have – the one that keeps progressing through ever more sticky pools of stagnant party-driven rhetoric instead of administering policy that benefits the nation and its people in a fair and just manner. Could Google run the federal government?

Should it? Is it possible that a well-meaning mega-
corporation, with its resource and talent pools – not to mention a single style of leadership across the board – could outperform the doddering party politics of today? Fix the federal budget and Social Security? Find a solution to address the size of our military that will satisfy people on both sides of that fence?

Could you imagine that? Creative brainstorming over foreign policy. How to deal with this country’s transgressions or that one’s dangerous pollution levels? Let’s pin a bunch of ideas and talk about it — find a synergistic solution together, something we can realistically do. Domestic policy? Hey, let’s do a round table, I’m buying the protein smoothies!

To be honest, I’m at least a little interested in hearing more about the idea. After all, who’s afraid of Google? I bet they could do a lot to help this country move forward . . . a lot more than our current President, who for all his effort can get nothing done while having to deal with the barrel of moneys that is the Senate.

What do you think? Is there a way to evolve beyond the current system of government? Do corporations seem like the logical way (whether we like it or not?) Would you vote for Google, or do you have some other corporation in mind? (Please, no United States of Wal-Mart!) Let us know in the comments!

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The Archduke has his say: a Saturday Jams special report

America. Capitalism. Religion.

You people take way too much way too seriously.

Get over it.

With special thanks to Mme. Ross, Franz Ferdinand, Pope Francis, and all the honest minimum-wage workers out there who just want to live without struggling.

This post was prompted by today’s Daily Post prompt.

Surf Report: surf tweets of the week

I thought I would try something new. I figured out how to insert tweets directly into a post using the “Add Media” button, and so I thought I would share some of the amazing tweets I have seen this week with you. Let me know what you think – I might mix it in with future surf reports or make it a regular feature.

Surfing = the sport of kings?

Here’s something I didn’t know existed:

This was so cool I had to make it the wallpaper on my phone:

I heard it coming and yet it caught me unawares!

So for the last several days I have been hearing talk on the local NPR channel about that famous speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. – the one titled “I Have a Dream.” I’ve actually learned more about that speech by hearing about it on the radio than I ever did in school, even though I was raised in the Metro Detroit area and despite the fact that Dr. King was such a popular dude in our area that he had his own holiday that we got to take off of school every year.

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his &qu...
Dr. Martin Luther King giving his “I Have a Dream” speech (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know, in fact, that today – August 28th 2013 – is the 50th anniversary of the delivery of that speech? If you haven’t heard yet and you do not hear it today, then you certainly heard it from me, didn’t you? And with the delivery of that speech, Dr. King joined the handful of the most famous notables who declared that all people should be free and enjoy the rights associated with American life; including Thomas Jefferson, who was the first to introduce that into an American legal document when he wrote in the Preamble to the Constitution, “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Despite the fact that he is rightfully disputed to this day to be an exploitative slave owner, he did write that and most certainly felt it at one time, even if it was suppressed in the interest of business. Jefferson was, after all, a slave to his own pleasurable life and did his best to hold onto it. Abraham Lincoln, hailed as the great emancipator, runs much in the same vein; he helped shape modern America by introducing an amendment to the Constitution which led ultimately to the abolition of slavery in America. It wasn’t the most popular choice to make, nor was it something he rushed to do – but it was something he ultimately decided would help save and preserve the fractured Union; in other words, abolishing slavery was a tool for saving the nation.

Dr. King was naturally different, because he was black and the fight for civil rights was one that he ended up leading to America’s front door, declaring that freedom had not yet been claimed by all Americans. His speech invoked the words of both Jefferson and Lincoln, bringing them forth from the hollow past of history to stand at his side as he grabbed national attention with his speech.

Photograph of a reproduction of the Emancipati...
the Emancipation Proclamation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And it’s interesting to note that I could easily post the entire Declaration of Independence if I wanted to, or the Emancipation Proclamation – and sure, it’s because they’re old documents. But I am not ready to reproduce more than the title of Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech because it turns out that it is protected under copyright law. Now that’s a trick. According to what I heard on NPR, Dr. King copyrighted his speech to help fund the civil rights movement, and when he was murdered five years later, the copyright passed to his estate, and in the time since they have actively defended their copyright, which does not go away until 2038. Because of this it might be difficult to find a transcript online of the speech, so we might not even know what it says. Apparently I can pay thirteen dollars to get a copy from Amazon, but I can’t just read it online.

Is that really fair? Shouldn’t such an important piece of history be considered in the public domain? I certainly think so, but what do you think? Let us know in the comments.

Oh, and the link below to the Miami Herald claims to be the full text of the speech. If you are interested, print it out while you can, or at least hit the print button at the bottom of the article and save that. I think we have a right to be able to read it.

Do I really think political correctness is necessary?

No political correctness
No political correctness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let’s be honest: I have no idea when this thing about political correctness started. It was nonexistent when I was a kid in the 80’s, and by the time I was in high school in the 90’s it was making itself known. This is PC, that’s not PC. It began to guide the way America talked, the way they thought, the way they bristled at an infraction of the politic’s sensibilities.

To this day I’m still not sure what constitutes PC. I know I’m not supposed to say the n-word to describe a non-white person; the r-word for a person with intellectual disabilities; and several word for homosexuals. That’s fine, I prefer not to hurt feelings anyway. I don’t know if the use of PC language really gets in the way of getting things done. But is it possible that the whole PC movement is more of an umbrella for several non discrimination campaigns, some of which may have enjoyed more success up to this point than others? Then maybe we could just prune it a bit; we’ve been fairly successful in conforming a lot of language toward gender neutrality – they’re not mailmen, they’re mail carriers. They’re not firemen, but firefighters; and policemen are really police officers, and lawyers and doctors are still big-time pickpockets – no change there.

Let me change direction here. Who does find the concept of political correctness useful?

Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustrat...
Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustration d’une antisèche Español: Ilustración de una chuleta Deutsch: Illustration zum Schummeln (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder if the issues will ever go away, and so why should we care to constrain official language? It seems that in so doing, all we really achieve is to give politicians a cheat sheet on saying things more nicely. I say take away their crib notes and see if they start to come off like the sharks and psychopaths that most of them undoubtedly are. Then maybe we can get back to electing people who will work together across party lines to make this country sing as one again, instead of constantly falling apart like a house of cards over this little thing or that major infraction of privacy by Federal agencies.

PC? Do we really think this is about avoiding harming anyone’s feelings, or is it more likely that politicians threw themselves a safe script right under our noses? Is that how these guys are getting into office? Why can’t we all just get along?

This post was prompted by yesterday’s Daily Post prompt