Wetmachine Blog: My Thoughts Exactly

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.

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Hardware | 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", I Fear These Things, Software | 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.

Read More »

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", Memology, 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, Memology | 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", I Fear These Things, 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 | 1 Comment (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 Memology, Software | 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.

Read More »

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things, Memology | 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.

Read More »

Also posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", I Fear These Things | Comments closed

Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen — another economical reposting

Don’t know why I’ve fallen into a Wetmachine non-posting funk; trying hard to get back in the swing of things. But even though I haven’t posted anything in a month or so, I’ll be Dang-blasted if I’ll let St. Urhu’s day go uncelebrated here. Attention must be paid, after all.

I don’t think I can say it any better than I did last year, (or the year before. . .) so without further ado, our best Wetmechanical salute to brave St. Urhu, who drove the grasshoppers from Finland, the land of my (some of) my fathers. And mothers.

Grasshopper, Grasshopper, buzz off why don’t ya?

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.

 

Ode to Saint Urho

Ooksie kooksi coolama vee – Santia Urho is ta poy for me!

He sase out ta hoppers as pig as pirds – Neffer peefor haff I hurd tose words!

He reely tolt tose pugs of kreen – Braffest Finn I effer seen!

Some celebrate for St. Pat unt hiss nakes – Putt Urho poyka kot what it takes.

He kot tall and trong from feelia sour – Unt ate kala moyakka effery hour.

Tat’s why tat kuy could sase toes peetles – What krew as thick as chack bine neetles.

So let’s give a cheer in hower pest vay – On Sixteenth March, St. Urho’s Tay!

P.S. The Irish, sure, will take care o’ temselves on the morrow; of that I’ve do doubt.

Also posted in General, infotainment, Memology | Comments closed
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