In March of 2015, George Church (whose accomplishments in biology (and visions of the future) are too numerous and significant to for me to recap here, so just go read about ’em here or here or here) & I sat down to talk for about an hour an a half on topics ranging from the Stuxnet cyberwarfare weapon to civilization (and its foes) to surgery on Mars. I edited the discussion into four segments of 17 or 18 minutes each, conveniently gathered here for your edification, amusement, and enlightenment. As a special bonus, at the end of this blog I’ve included the new Foreword to my novels that George was generous enough to write, just in time for the SynbioBeta Conference taking place in San Francisco this week, where I’l be hawking my wares, as is my wont.
It’s 2015, Martin Luther King, Jr. has been dead for nearly fifty years, and it’s only natural, if sad, that his work and message have become appropriated by the engines of consumerism, capitalism, complacency and historical revisionism. Time passes, people forget, old people die, new ones arrive on the scene. MLK jr was twenty or thirty years gone before today’s hipsters were even born. Heck, even Steve Jobs, who appropriated MLK’s image to sell Apple consumer electronics, is fast fading into the rear view mirror. Steve who? And so Martin Luther King jr becomes a literal figure head, and like the head on a penny in circulation for fifty years, he becomes tiny and smooth.
But the smoothing out of M.L. King is not only a natural consequence of time. It’s a consequence of the way his story has been told by Powers that Be. In the the consensus narrative, King was a man to whom history gave a great challenge, in the form of the Montgomery bus boycott launched by Rosa Parks’ famous decision to not relocate to the back of the bus, and who rose to that challenge and went on to become a great and transformative leader, and true and uniquely American hero, and ultimately a martyr.
That story is fine, so far as it goes. But what it leaves out is the history of black people in America organizing and working courageously to advance their own interests, to secure rights or at least their physical security, during the entire period from the end of the Civil War until 1955. And thus Rosa Parks becomes a naive simple seamstress unaware of what she was doing, and King becomes a Moses figure, a man capable of reaching out to all Americans, a man whose eloquence and courage could open the eyes of (white) people of goodwill who somehow were ignorant of the realities of the racial divide in America until Boston University-educated Dr. King brought it to their attention. Dr. King is sui generis, one of a kind, who launched the whole Civil Rights Movement.
What this gets wrong is that Rosa Parks and the Montgomery boycott did not just come out of nowhere; their success and national reverberations, largely attributed to Dr. King, would not have been possible without the groundwork done by black organizations, most significantly the NAACP. That boycott was 56 years in the making, at least, and it took root because of networks established over decades by thousands of brave people, a fair number of whom died in the cause. The “King as Moses” theory thus allows people conveniently ignore the true history of the Jim Crow south and the far from benign north. King was a great man and it is entirely fitting that we have a national holiday in his honor. But we can honor his legacy not by repeating stock phrases about content of character, but by actually learning a little history. If we want to complete Dr. King’s work, a cliche to which virtually every American claims to embrace, we can only do it by looking at our situation honestly, and that means learning our own history, even the unpleasant parts. I highly recommend Patricia Sullivan’s Lift Every Voice, a history of the NAACP, as a good place to start. You can find my review of it here.
Separating Dr. King from history, making him a saint and “hero”, only trivializes and renders impotent his true message. He deserves better than that. We owe ourselves more than that.
Well, what I mean is, I’ve finally set up JohnSundman.com as a place to discuss, promote, wax ecstatic about, and, mainly, Real Soon Now, sell direct to you, dear friends, my hackertastic philosopho-literary tales of the technopotheosis. It’s not nearly as nice as it soon will be, but on the other hand it does exist, which is (as my pal Gary Gray will attest) something.
TOO-ALSO, my ancient chef-d’oeuvre Acts of the Apostles has been cloned, and the new instance has thereafter been given an oil change, face lift, new transmission and a stern talking to and rechristened Biogigital: A Novel of Overmind Emergent. For the next month you can get it (ebook only, DRM-Free) from Unglue.it. So please do check it out.
Alas tis true, as my dwindling parish of Wetmachine readers well knows, all two of you, that I’ve sadly neglected my home site here at Wetmachine over the last few years. The reasons for this neglect are many and various, and mostly bullshit. So I’m not going to go into them because I’ll just confuse & piss off my own self. I do feel bad that I’ve posted here so seldom in recent years (and grateful to my fellow Wetmechanics who’ve kept the lights on & the water bill paid in my absence). But I shan’t promise to post more, although that’s my intention, inasmuch as I’ve made similar promises before and broken them, which is kind of debilitating to me, even if nobody else notices. BUT ENOUGH OF THIS NAVEL-NOODLING, WE’RE HERE TO TALK UHRO.
Now listen, I’m not going to educate y’all about blessed St. Urho; that’s why God created the Internet & its idiot bastard offspring Google (google), Microsoft (bing), and Yahoo (who cares) (and too-also its not so idiot nor illegitimate stepchild DuckDuckGo); that is, so you can look St. Urho up yourself. I’m only going point out that March 16 is, by longstanding (all the way back to the 1950’s) tradition, St. Urho’s Day, dear to Finnish-Americans everywhere, and March 17 is St. Patrick’s Day, dear to Irish Americans almost everywhere (although not so much in places where people have gotten sick of all the St. Patrick’s day bullshit, another tale altogether).
Wherefore thus obviously to people like myself of Finnish-Irish heritage (with a minor in Swedish-Scottish), this name-day pairing is doubly sacred. As in, “make it a double”. Or, as I said in an earlier and somewhat more eloquent post a few years back before my brains went on vacation,
That special time of year, when St. Urhu’s day elides into the name-day of St. Padraic, is again upon us. Longtime readers know that here at Wetmachine we have a special place in our hearts for this great Finno-Irish-American festival–mainly on account of I started this site and I’m a Finno-Irish American, of which there ain’t too damn many offer dere, as my late Grandfather “Pop” used to say.
Wherefore let it be known that the logical Urho-Padraic menorah was lighted this year at Wetmachine. Selah.
in the business of Control, not the business of Watching.
The two go hand in hand. See, for example, this essay by Cory Doctorow
For courage, take a moment to read the transcript of the late, great Pete Seeger’s testimony before the House Unamerican Activities Committee. “Who I associate with is none of your business.” Really, read it, it’s inspiring and eye-opening.
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.
The NSA “metadata” sweeps are all about collecting exactly the kind of information Seeger mentions, and it leads, inevitably to the kind of state harassment and terrorizing that Cory Doctorow wrote about.
Call your representatives today.
In the immediately prior post, Harold Feld reflects on ten years of blogging at Wetmachine.
Go read that post; it’s short & fun & informational. I’ll wait for you below the fold, where I offer some further reflections on Harold’s reflections. Read More
He’s had it with you people! He’s tired of you people!
Just like Ann Romney in 2012!
I guess us people are just too irritating.
Stay tuned, we’re working on something more substantive. It does take us people a while to get ourselves organized, sometimes.
[Editor’s Note: Because I’ve published books under three middle names and created a variety of fictional “John [$variable] Sundman” personae, I find myself in the unusual position of stating that the obituary that follows is for a quite real person, my father, who died last Monday. The newspaper obituary is here. A longer version follows below the fold, with a few comments by me at the end of it. You’ll note that my father’s father was also named John Sundman. I suggest we blame him for any confusion — jrs.]
John E. Sundman
I just pledged $7 to Jeremy Bornstein’s kickstarter project.
My reasons for so-doing after the fold.
Here’s a four-minute video that chronicles — in a not strictly chronological order — the building of the new San Francisco-Oakland bridge.
Yes, I know the bridge is 24 years late and billions over budget, that many parts of it were made in China, that the story of its building includes lots of venal politics and outright corruption.
But damn, it’s a beautiful accomplishment! Just imagine if we had done projects like this all over the country since the Big Motherfucking Ratfucker-Bankster Implosion (BMRBI) began in 2008! Imagine if we were ruled by decent people instead of “austerity is the answer for everything” knaves & eunuchs (a phrase I borrow from Ezra Pound, btw). Imagine if we put as much love and passion into building our country as we put into blowing up other peoples’ countries!
Ah, well, I’ll get back to gloom and doom in a little bit. For now just dig the video and marvel at what human people can accomplish when we work together.