Wetmachine Blog: I Fear These Things

Synthetic biology legend George Church & I talk about science and civilization

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.

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Also posted in Memology, podcast-my-thoughts-exactly, Wetware | Comments closed

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.



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

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.

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Software | Comments closed

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", 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", 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", 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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The Keystone XL Pipeline — A project IG-Farben would be proud of

You’ve heard of the Keystone tar-sands pipeline by now. You may not have heard that the Reactionary Right in the U.S. Senate is attempting to revive it yet again, after their last gambit failed.

We must not let this happen.

The Keystone XL Pipeline is planetary arson and intergenerational crime on an unprecedented scale.(PDF)

The arguments in its favor are all specious. At best, they are ignorant. At worst, they are dishonest and immoral.

Let me just address one of these arguments: jobs. Proponents of the pipeline say it will create jobs for Americans. And surely it will. Construction jobs that will disappear once the pipeline has been built. The permanent jobs created by this project will be in Canada. More importantly, since the pipeline itself is immoral, all jobs associated it will be morally tainted. The Holocaust created jobs too, remember. There were good jobs for chemical engineers and plant managers at IG Farben, where Zyklon-B gas was manufactured for shipment to Auschwitz and other well-engineered murder factories and crematoria.

If you find this rhetoric over-the-top, I respectfully suggest that you read up on the climate-change impact of this one project and ponder its implications. And then consider the risks of permanent damage to the Ogallala aquifer.

Please sign this petition now, and then pick up the phone and call your Senators. It won’t take long, and stopping Keystone is at least as important as stopping SOPA, PIPA and ACTA.

 

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Firefighting, My Thoughts Exactly | Comments closed

Micro-Atrios Post to Say I’m Still Here and just you wait, because shit is fucked up & bullshit.

As I’ve mentioned earlier once or twice, one of my favorite bloggers is Atrios of Eschacton (you can google him up as easily as I can put in the links). He blogs about politics and economics, mostly, with some cultural analysis and commentary on urban planning and transportation from time to time. I like that many of his post are what I call dog-bark yelps; one of his typical blog titles (followed by a link to some distressing news about the state of our nation (USA) is “Shit is fucked up and bullshit.”

I have a lot I want to blog about. So much that I get in my own way and trip over myself and end up posting nothing for distressingly long hiati (hiatuses). I have bunch of things half0-written & queued up, but I think my next post will be about some of the remarkably subtle and insightful things my friend Geraldine Brooks said the other night in an informal talk about the American Civil War in general, and her novel March in particular. I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about the Civil War lately, and about how it was the result of 76 years of putting off until tomorrow dealing with the fact that slavery was incompatible with the ideals on which the country was founded.

In 2012, the whole world is, it seems to me, in a situation akin to that of the nation of the United States of America was in 1858 or so. There is a great reckoning to come. Where slavery was the great obvious problem to be resolved in the Civil War, the issues now before us are pan-human economic justice and survival of the planet Earth as a habitable place for all of us. The probability of a happy resolution of both of these issues will be apparent by how the SOPA/PIPA abomination fares in the U.S. Congress, and whether the XL pipeline is built. These will be crucial indicators –which is not to say determinants–of where we are and whither we are tending.  In the USA it became tragically apparent that the solution of the problem of slavery (and with it the preservation of the Union) could not be solved without war, war and death on a scale barely conceivable at the time and still hard to comprehend today, 150 years later. But something vastly worse awaits us if we keep putting off until tomorrow the problems that now confront us.

Shit is still so fucked up and bullshit. Damnit, Atrios, you are so right on the money.  Anyway, this is a place-holder diary entry to say happy 2012, and may we all be happy and prosper until the Mayan calendar ends and methane plumes erupt from beneath the arctic seas and the permafost melts to a depth of 20 metres and earth becomes Venus.  I’ll try to post more soon. I expect my tone will become increasingly abolitionist and strident as time passes, but let’s hope that it all works out.   Leave  a comment! Let’s get 2012 of to a nice, friendly, low energy start!

 

 

 

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", General, Memology, My Thoughts Exactly | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

Cyberpunk Pioneer John Jurek’s nanotech-powered programmable KaeLF Skin finally arrives

Photo from Endgaget of nanotech "artificial skin"

Jurek's KaeLF Skin seen in the wild

 

I see from Engadget that some wacky scientists at a “defense”-related (quasi?)-governmental research laboratory have invented a “cyberpunky” electronic skin using nanotechnology:

Researchers working for the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab have figured out how to create relatively inexpensive “electronic skin” comprising carbon nanotubes enriched with semiconductors. Their process involves an enriched single walled carbon nanotube (SWNT) solution embedded in a honeycomb pattern of hexagonal holes. . .

The article goes on to say that this is a development reminiscent of the novels of William Gibson et al. But Gibson’s not the cyberpunk author that this story brought to my mind. I thought of John Jurek, whose 2000 self-published novel KaeLF Skin was about just such an artificial skin and the various fun and vicious uses it could be put to.  If I remember right, Jurek’s KaeLF Skin was invented at a quasi-governmental research lab — perhaps even Berkeley itself; I can’t seem to find my copy of the book right now to fact-check. But in any event, much of the book concerns Berkeley Laboratory-type doings. The Engadget article could have been ripped from KaeLF Skin’s prologue, that’s how close Jurek’s book is to this story.

I forget how John and I discovered each other’s books, but since we had both written and published cyberpunky thrillers based on nanotech themes, we agreed to do a book swap: he sent me an iUniverse (printed) copy of KaeLF Skin and I sent him a copy of my Acts of the Apostles.  He wrote a glowing review of my book for the Midwest Book Review,(alas, since confined to oblivion), and an abbreviated version of that glorious review for Amazon. I wrote a positive but somewhat less glowing review of his book and posted it on Amazon. After that we exchanged emails for a few months, and I remember that he was pretty down about the poor reception that his book gotten– like most self-published novels KaeLF Skin didn’t sell many copies and got few reviews.

My original review of KaeLF Skin, which I posted on Amazon, is below. Read More »

Also posted in Memology, My Thoughts Exactly, Wetware, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed
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