Wetmachine Blog: Memology

Meme-spreading and mind viruses

St. Urhu & St. Patrick Together Call us to Our Great Heritage

Ah, Wetmachine, my child. How I have neglected you. You, who have been so much a part of my own renaissance, deserve a renaissance of your own. Perhaps you shall have it, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let us rather do the least we can do to uphold our most sacred Wetmachine traditions, one of which being the observation of the annual elision of the name days of Saints Urhu and Patrick, a happy pairing that brings pride and joy to all of us Finno-Irish Americans. Whatever your heritage, dear reader, welcome. And take courage, because for the duration today and tomorrow, at least, we are all Finno-Irish!

And now, to save me the trouble of writing something new, here’s a recycled Wetmachine Urhu-Patrick piece from days gone by.

That great annual harbinger of spring, that mid-Lent quasi-Catholic dual name-day celebration for two saints (at least one of whom probably existed), that diphthong of drinking excuses, the elision of St. Urho’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is again upon us. This, more than even the setting of the clocks ahead, gives us to know that we have survived another winter.

Now, it’s well known that Irish Americans can be very loud and unsubtle about celebrating their (our) heritage of leprechauns and bullshit artists and crooked politicians from South Boston and great singers like Ella Fitzgerald. And so of course everybody in America and around the world knows that tomorrow is Evacuation Day, I mean St. Patrick’s day, in honor of the great Romano-British Christian missionary who returned to the land of his captivity and bondage as an apostle of peace and went on to drive the serpents into the sea, (or maybe not), and so Guinness will be consumed, and cabbage, and yea, Harp Lager too, begorrah.

Alas throughout much of this country that is not the upper Midwest, the name day of St. Urhu, who drove the grasshoppers from Finland (today, March 16) is sadly neglected, to the point that we can  expect virtually no mention of it by color commentators in television broadcasts of today’s NCAA basketball games. But let it never be said that Wetmachine has forgotten the confabulated patron saint of the Finno-American diaspora (of which I am a proud member), the great St. Urhu, whose famous utterance Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen (grasshopper, grasshopper, buzz off why dontcha?) still stirs our hearts everywhere.

Statue of St. Urho in Minnesota

That saintly collusus!

It’s OK to mark this day without alcohol, but consumption of traditional all-starch foodstuffs is encouraged. So if you can find some Karjalanpiirakka, go for it.

Also posted in General, infotainment, My Thoughts Exactly | Comments closed

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 I Fear These Things, podcast-my-thoughts-exactly, Wetware | Comments closed

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.

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

Few thing are sacred here at Wetmachine, but St. Urho-Patrick’s day(s) is one of them.

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.

Also posted in General, infotainment, My Thoughts Exactly | 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, I Fear These Things, My Thoughts Exactly | 1 Comment (Comments closed)

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.

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

Staring at Jeremy Bornstein staring at me

I just pledged $7 to Jeremy Bornstein’s kickstarter project.

My reasons for so-doing after the fold.

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Also posted in General, My Thoughts Exactly | Comments closed

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

Happy Finno-Irish-American Weekend, Y’all

That great annual harbinger of spring, that mid-Lent quasi-Catholic dual name-day celebration for two saints (at least one of whom probably existed), that diphthong of drinking excuses, the elision of St. Urho’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day is again upon us — and on a weekend, no less!

Now, it’s well known that Irish Americans can be very loud and unsubtle about celebrating their (our) heritage of leprechauns and bullshit artists and crooked politicians from South Boston and great singers like Ella Fitzgerald. And so of course everybody in America and around the world knows that tomorrow is Evacuation Day, I mean St. Patrick’s day, in honor of the great Romano-British Christian missionary who returned to the land of his captivity and bondage as an apostle of peace and went on to drive the serpents into the sea, (or maybe not), and so Guinness will be consumed, and cabbage, and yea, Harp Lager too, begorrah.

Alas throughout much of this country that is not the upper Midwest, the name day of St. Urhu, who drove the grasshoppers from Finland (today, March 16) is sadly neglected, to the point that we can  expect virtually no mention of it by color commentators in television broadcasts of today’s NCAA basketball games. But let it never be said that Wetmachine has forgotten the confabulated patron saint of the Finno-American diaspora (of which I am a proud member), the great St. Urhu, whose famous utterance Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen (grasshopper, grasshopper, buzz off why dontcha?) still stirs our hearts everywhere.

 

Statue of St. Urho in Minnesota

That saintly collusus!

 

It’s OK to mark this day without alcohol, but consumption of traditional all-starch foodstuffs is encouraged. So if you can find some Karjalanpiirakka, go for it.

Also posted in General, infotainment, My Thoughts Exactly | Comments closed

Laying Claim to Sundman’s Law

It was a longstanding premise, or assumption, or rule of thumb that I had carried around with me for a decade or two before I formulated it concisely while employed at the late, great, Laszlo Systems, progenitor of the ahead-of-its-time-and-now-sadly-forgotten OpenLaszlo platform.

If I’m not mistaken, my friend Benji Shine was with me when I boiled it down to its essence, viz:

Never upgrade any tool in the build chain, ever.

This rule can be extended to email clients.

You can put this on my tombstone if you like, if I have one, and if Dear Wife says it’s OK to do so. But in any event I want credit for it. Whenever you’re in a situation when some wet-behind-the-ears kid is insisting that you upgrade to Python 19.34.2.1 or PHP 212.3.2 or COBOL 23004040.293949.22, just say “no” and cite Sundman’s Law. Somewhere, Sundman will be smiling.

Also posted in My Thoughts Exactly, Software | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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