Wetmachine Blog: “A Republic, if you can keep it”

Separating M. L. King from Historical Context to Trivialize, Appropriate, Diminish his Work

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.

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The NSA & other USIAN “Surveillance” entities are actually

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.



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Governor Christie Channels Ann Romney

He’s had it with you people! He’s tired of you people!

Chris Christie yells at teacher

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.

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A Bridge to Somewhere

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.

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Out of the mouths of babes— my prescient conversation with former FCC Chair Kevin Martin about NSA/Telecom surveillance

So a few years ago the FCC held a hearing (at Harvard University) on Net Neutrality & yours truly attended same (and the reception with FCC members following thereafter) & wrote a post about it on this very site Wetmachine. In light of all the Snowden/NSA/telecom stuff in the news, I thought to bring attention to this little reportage, of a conversation between me and then-FCC Chair Kevin Martin about collusion between the US government & telecom providers, warrantless surveillance, and all that:

So we talked about net neutrality and participatory democracy for a while. And then another fine fellow came along and joined the conversation (he was wearing a funny T-shirt that had a picture the old OSI stack model, with two additional stacks, “Financial” and “Political” with a little notation pointing to the “Political” layer saying “you are here”.) The conversation got onto the subject of GPS information in cell phones, which the FCC mandated.

Martin said, “I told those guys for two solid years to come up with a plan, but they never did. So I acted.” He talked about testimony from 911 call centers that 40% of their calls could not be responded to because they didn’t know where the caller was. But OSI-guy and I wanted to know about privacy considerations. Why, my neighbor with the cool T-shirt wanted to know, couldn’t the phones be programmed to only send geographic information when a 911 call was made?

Martin said that phone companies were legally enjoined from sharing private information, including GPS. I said, “why should we believe them? Why should we believe a word the telecom companies say? They lie and lie and lie, and expect immunity for it.”

Martin repeated with the regulatory and judicial history of how private information had been let out, had been used by stalkers, private investigators, etc, but now all that was now illegal.

I said, “That’s not my point. I’m concerned about them sharing the information with the government. They’ve been spying on all of us without warrants for years!”

Martin said something like “national security, law enforcement, those are different areas altogether.”

And I said, “What, and the law doesn’t apply?” but he didn’t hear me, as several people were speaking at once.

I don’t have anything else to add, other than a tip o’ the cap to my esteemed Wetmachine co-blogger Harold Feld for his coinage of the term “Cassandrafreude”, that feeling you get when you get to say “See, didn’t I tell you?” when something bad, which you have long been warning against, actually happens.  I expect that many of you won’t be able to read the original citation, above, on Harold’s Livejournal blog, so for added Cassandrafreude pleasure, see his recent Wetmachine entry
Associated Press is shocked –SHOCKED — To Discover Government Cannot Be Trusted With Power to Spy
where he pretty much predicted everything that Mr. Snowden has since brought to an even wider audience than Wetmachine enjoys.

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The “Meme Hustler” hustler: Evgeny Morozov’s Stupid Talk about Tim O’Reilly

[note: I wrote the following post one Sunday afternoon nearly two months ago. It was no great shakes, but I was happy to have finally written something to break out of my Wetmachine doldrums. I set it aside to jell overnight, intending to re-read, put in links, give it a once-over the next day before posting it. However on that next day,  Monday , the bombing attack at the Boston Marathon occurred, and publishing this  little essay was clearly inappropriate. Time has passed & I’ve finally gotten around to re-reading and putting in the links. It’s no longer as timely as it was, but in any event, here it is. . .]

Evgeny Morozov is a guy with a soapbox and a schtick.

His soapbox is his position as a “go to” authority on technoskepticism — that is, he makes his living pointing out, to any who care to listen, The Folly of Technological Solutionism (which phrase I italicize because it’s also the subtitle of his latest book, whose primary title is To Save Everything, Click Here).

His schtick is finding influential people who embrace (or appear to embrace) this philosophy of technological solutionism and taking them down a peg or two.  And he’s really good at peg-decrementing — which probably accounts for the prominence of his soapbox, which includes positions at prestigious academic institutions (Stanford, Georgetown) and think tanks, and regular appearances in prominent publications (New York Times, Foreign Affairs) and a TED fellowship.

Consider, for example, Morozov’s hilarious (and quite well-deserved, in my opinion) evisceration of former San Francisco mayor, and current Lieutenant Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, in a Bookforum review of Newsom’s book Citizenville:

 

In a flourish [in the publisher’s catalog] as logical as it is grammatical, we learn that “Newsom’s quest to modernize one of America’s most modern cities—and the amazing results he achieves—form the backbone of this far-reaching book.”

Alas, this dubiously signifying nonsense does not let up between the covers of Citizenville. To say that Newsom’s ruminations on technology and politics come in fifty shades of bullshit is to give this all-too-representative study in online civic boosterism too much credit. Newsom’s bullshit is solidly and tediously monochrome.

 

The essay gets only more brutal from there. I loved it when I read it; I actually exclaimed “YES!” out loud a few times, which seemed to startle my fellow passengers on the New Jersey Transit train from Penn Station to Chatham, New Jersey. When he’s on target, Morozov can be brilliant, funny, and merciless.

Recently Morozov turned his attention on Tim O’Reilly, the founder of  O’Reilly Media (formerly O’Reilly & Associates), the so-called visionary whose careers first as a publisher of books on computer technology and then as impresario of various conferences that bear his name catapulted him to international prominence as a commentator on where technology is, or might be, taking us as a nation and even as a species.

To put it mildly, Morozov doesn’t care much for O’Reilly. In fact he seems to reserve for O’Reilly a disdain much more intense than that which he evinced for the poseur airhead Gavin Newsom. In a recent piece in the smugly iconoclastic magazine The Baffler, (“The Meme Hustler — Tim O’Reilly’s Crazy Talk”) Morozov goes after O’Reilly like an angry Rottweiler.  Or more accurately, he goes after a caricature of O’Reilly like a caricature of an angry Rottweiler. I really enjoyed Morozov’s take-down of Newsom, and O’Reilly (“Saint Tim”) is, frankly, an object of veneration in some circles who could stand a little ribbing. I’m a Walt Whitman kind of guy in that I don’t have much tolerance for the veneration of  popes, Dalai Lamas or Steve Jobses; Whitman enjoined us to “tip your cap to no man”, and I’m down with that.  So I wouldn’t mind seeing St. Tim taken down a notch or two, just on general principles. I had done a 30-second skim read of Morozov’s essay when it first appeared in The Baffler and it looked promising, so I was looking forward to actually reading The Meme Hustler when I found the time to do so. I found the time yesterday.

Man, what a disappointment. What a pompous, shallow, unfair, error-filled and hysterical piece of dreck. Essentially, I found The Meme Hustler stupid and baffling. It made me angry. I explain why below the fold.

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Farewell Aaron, and thank you

On behalf of the Wetmechanics of Wetmachine, I express our condolences to the family and friends of Aaron Swartz. I did not know the man, but I know of his work, for which I am deeply grateful. Aaron’s contributions benefited me personally, because I cherish and depend upon a free and open Internet, and he championed the same causes that we tend to champion here on Wetmachine. But in a much larger sense his work benefited everyone who believes in democracy, fairness, and civilized society. He was evidently not a perfect man, which should come as no surprise, since as far as I know there is no such thing. But he fought the good fight in search of a more just world. His heart was good, and he was effective. By that I mean he was a doer, not a pundit. We need more people like him.

Cory Doctorow has written a very beautiful and nuanced remembrance of Mr. Swartz. I recommend you take a few moments to read it if you haven’t done so already.

We wish for the family and friends of Aaron Swartz whatever solace they may find in the knowledge that he was loved and appreciated by people of goodwill all over the earth.

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things, My Thoughts Exactly, Software, Wetware | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Bullet Dodged; Cannon Now More Clearly in View

Long-time readers of this site who aren’t “only here for the Harold” have surely noted that Wetmachine has not offered much more than Harold over the last year or so. That in itself is not a bad thing, as Harold is a fantastic blogger, and I would read his posts whether I were a Wetmachanic or not. I can’t speak to why some of our other contributors have fallen silent. However, I myself am a Wetmachanic, and I haven’t posted but a few short essays for quite a while now. And I’ve been wondering why that is, for truly, I love and am proud of this site and my role in it. For months and months and months “new post on Wetmachine” has been at the top of my weekly to-do list. And yet. . . nothing. I don’t suppose that looking into my navel makes for compelling reading (imagery!), but y’know, this is part of my pulling myself out of the hole, I hope.

Part of the deal has been, for want of a better term, a kind of PTSD; a delayed reaction to the 2006 — 2008 horrible years, during which time I lost a brother to ALS and a sister to cancer of the brain, saw my wife, son, and both my daughters in hospital with serious illness, waged an endless defensive battle against the IRS (in which I prevailed, miraculously), got laid off, joined the millions of geek greybeards who couldn’t find work nowhere, nearly lost my house to foreclosure more times than I care to think about. . . and more — some of it worse than the foregoing, actually.

But on top of all that, I think the terror of Obama not getting re-elected was weighing on my soul more than I knew. Now, I’m no Obama fan-boy. It was his hypocrisy on the FISA bill (when he was a Senator) that finally got me to quit the Democratic Party for good. But at least with him in office, I felt, and feel, that there was some chance our nation and civilization might go on, and maybe one day once again set its sights on the quaint concept of Liberty and Justice for All. So now, to my great relief, to my astonished relief, my fellow citizens have voted Mr. Obama back into the presidency and 55 Democrats and progressives into the Senate — and nobody was able to steal the victory. Really, I don’t think I had experienced such relief since I emerged from a giant overhead tube courtesy of Hurricane Agnes of Long Beach Island, New Jersey, in 1972. Had the Romney/Ryan pair been elected, had Republicans won the Senate. . . well, I can’t imagine I would be writing anything now. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan were the most horrible men to lead a major-party ticket since, I don’t know — does the Confederacy count? The mere contemplation of where we would have been with those guys in charge fills me with abject dread. And those of you who’ve been around this place a while know how well I do dread.

But now, dear friends of Wetmachine, the smoke of our little election clears, and we see looming before us the tsunami of climate change ( how’s that for imagistic writing?). And we see it’s a threat more ominous than anything humanity has faced since Hitler. So I’ll be back to join Harold, rolling up my sleeves again. Writing about the rise of the overmind, technoparanoia, self-publishing and my usual hobby-horses. But mostly I’ll be talking about how to save the world, or more correctly human civilization, by dealing with climate change. I don’t claim to be an expert in this field any more than my father was an expert in military or world affairs when he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944. But he saw what was what and joined in to do his part. As our mainstay Harold says, stay tuned. . .

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things, My Thoughts Exactly | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Pussy Riot nails their theses to the doors of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

You may have heard of the recently concluded trial in Moscow of three members of the feminist-politico punk rock collective known as Pussy Riot. (I first heard of Pussy Riot through Amnesty International, whose mailing list I’m on.) The trial has concluded, and now Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samoutsevitch await the verdict, and presumably, sentencing, on August 17. They face up to three years in prison for the crime of “hooliganism”. They’ve already spent six months behind bars, some of which time they were on hunger strike. From Wikipedia, here is an account of their action which brought them to their current incarcerated state:

On February 21, 2012, as a part of a protest movement against re-election of Vladimir Putin, three women from the group came to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, crossed themselves, bowed to the altar, and began to perform a song. After less than one minute, they were escorted outside the building by guards. The film of the performance was later used to create a video clip for the song.

In the song, the group asked the “Theotokos” (Mother of God, i.e. the Virgin Mary) (rus. Богородица Bogoroditsa) to “drive Putin away”. The song also describes the Russian Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow as someone who believes in Putin rather than in God. Kirill showed open support for Putin as a candidate before the presidential election.

I urge you to read the closing statement from Ms. Samoutsevitch. It is a document of great subtlety and insight, and read by a woman of obviously great courage. Below the fold, a few observations on this closing statement.

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Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things, Memology, My Thoughts Exactly | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

Meanwhile, Back in the Real World — Hunger on Martha’s Vineyard

Dear Wife is in Philadelphia for the “Beyond Hunger: Real People, Real Solutions”  conference. Right about now she’s sitting on a panel about “hidden hunger” in communities that are perceived to be affluent.

Below the fold, a draft of her introductory remarks.

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