Archives for : September 2014

ELLO: A FINE HOW-DO-YOU-DO

With Facebook threatening to delete the account of users who don’t go by their real names, many people—including, most visibly, drag performers and their sympathizers—are abandoning the site and jumping to Ello, the new player on the social media landscape. But they’d be better off looking before they leap. Turns out Ello’s promise of an ad-free, privacy-first paradise is just a chimera: the site was developed with seed money from venture capitalists, which means its subscribers are merely investments to be sold later, when their market value is worth harvesting.

This is great news for Panjea, whose own social-media arm is waiting in the wings to embrace the disgruntled and disaffected—many of whom already have Panjea email and web accounts. Unfortunately it’s this very familiarity that will keep people from looking too critically at Panjea’s own financial backing. The tech giant is notoriously secretive about its investors, but given that its advisory board is heavy on congressmen, governors, and other bureaucratic types, it isn’t too hard to drawn conclusions. When I’ve got the hard goods (and I’m spelunking as we speak), I’ll let you know. In the meantime, maybe it’s time to cut back on social media and cultivate an outdoor hobby. No one can spy on you or profit from you when you’re planting chrysanthemums. Not yet, anyway.

GUN CRAZY

My longtime readers know I’m a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. They also know I’m adamant about the difference between freedom and license. Having the right to bear arms in America doesn’t mean you have to bear arms…and it sure as hell doesn’t mean ginning up your sense of machismo by swaggering around school playgrounds with your Sig Sauer M400 assault rifle banging against your hip. Video blogger Next Level BS takes a look at the lunatic way Open Carry fanatics seem determined to turn the rest of the country against them—and gut the Second Amendment in the process. (He’s also got the goods on Christian evangelicals’ victim complex, the revenge porn craze, and more.)

 

EBOLA: MANDATORY VACCINE ON THE WAY?

I’ve grown suspicious of the hysteria over the recent Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, whose shrillness and intensity has seemed out of scale to the actual threat to the U.S. I’ve wondered: am I wrong, or is there something else driving it? Now we’ve got some compelling evidence that a consortium of government, agribusiness, and big tech is plotting to make a killing on mandatory inoculations of an Ebola vaccine—once they’ve whipped up national panic to the point where we’re all eager to overlook the clear violation of our civil rights.

Let’s remember that influenza actually has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans—and yet we’ve managed to bring it under control without mandatory inoculations …respecting the autonomy of those who maintain serious doubts about the safety of flu shots. Even the polio vaccine is recommended, not compulsory. That’s the best of America. Mandatory Ebola shots would incontestably be the worst.

FULL CORT UPDATE: GOLIATH GOES DOWN

I’m delighted to report that in Full Cort Press’ staring contest with Granville High, the good guys have triumphed. Granville blinked, Full Cort is reinstated, and her school-wide Digital Detox idea has even been greenlighted—it’s scheduled for Wednesday.

It’s a small victory on the scale of things; but it’s a reminder of a principle we need to reaffirm every now and then. That old paranoid refrain—“Who watches the watchmen?”—has an answer: we do. They may stalk us and harass us and intrude on our privacy, but we can face them down and hold them to account. We won’t always win…but we’ll never win if we don’t fight.

Let the battle continue.

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, HIGH-SCHOOL STYLE

I’ve got a long list of websites that I check out each week; so it’s taken me a while to cycle back to Full Cort Press, the high-school blogger who recently proposed a school-wide Unplug Day for Granville High. First, the administration rejected her proposal, on the grounds that they already had a “strict no use mobile policy” which made an Unplug Day unnecessary (George Orwell would’ve loved that). Full Cort responded by staging a lunchroom address which was swiftly shut down—triggering a “whisper campaign” that resulted in a mass classroom walkout at 2:30 that afternoon. Full Cort then busted the administration for creepily monitoring her blog—at which point they threatened her with suspension unless she gave it up entirely. The result?…As of this week, Full Cort is suspended indefinitely.

There’s something galvanizing about this story…it’s like a small-scale replay of the past hundred years of Big State vs. Little Guy. Here’s hoping the fascist wannabes at Granville High are the Goliath this time around. But you have to wonder: are they really so tone deaf to human freedom, so ignorant of every mass movement, every culture hero from Gandhi to Lech Welesa…

…Or is this really about something else? Is the fact that Full Cort took aim at Internet addiction the pertinent factor here? Who are our schools really serving: our communities and our kids—or Silicon Valley? Has our school system quietly become a factory to produce high-end consumers of Big Tech and Big Auto and Big Everything Else?

And is Full Cort Press paying the price for having shown us the man behind the curtain? Food for thought.

ANOTHER JOURNO UNPLUGS

If the idea of Unplug Day rattles you, consider journalist David Roberts: he went off-grid for an entire year. Here’s his frank, funny, and highly inspiring recap of what he suffered, and what he gained. The whole thing’s worth reading—but here’s a sample that may have you squirming in recognition: “All my in-between moments, the interstitial transitions and pauses that fill the cracks of a day, were crowded with pings. My mind was perpetually in the state that researcher and technology writer Linda Stone termed continuous partial attention. I was never completely where I was, never entirely doing what I was doing. I always had one eye on the virtual world. Every bit of conversation was a potential tweet, every sunset a potential Instagram.”

He also links to a new app, Freedom, that lets you actually block your Internet for a set period of time—a kind of will-power substitute. Not sure I’d have the guts to commit. While I’d love to detox—to sidestep the invasiveness and privacy-creep of the Internet—I’d worry about what the feds and elites and one-worlders would get up to while my back was turned. But that’s my pathology, not yours.

THE CASE AGAINST UNPLUGGING

After my last post, which made an impassioned case for digital detoxing, I’ve had some additional thoughts. Being a contrarian by nature, and a skeptic from bitter experience, my usual inclination when confronted with any new social movement is to ask: who’s benefitting? And where are the opposing arguments? I’ve belatedly applied that to the Unplugging movement. Still working on the former …but I’ve had better luck with the latter, uncovering the first voices to point out the things the Unpluggers get wrong.

I’m still a proponent of breaking our thrall to our digital devices. But I’ve got a better understanding now of why that’s not such a cut-and-dried issue. That’s my job as a sentinel of liberty: to keep asking the hard questions—especially about my own convictions. Beliefs that aren’t challenged become ideologies…and ideologues are who we fight, not who we are.

THE CASE FOR UNPLUGGING

The urge to stay constantly connected has overtaken our culture. People talk about addiction to their phones—but what if it’s more an addiction to consumption? What if spending all day chatting on social media and cruising news sites is no different from compulsive shopping, or bingeing on junk food? And for those of us who consider ourselves digital watchdogs, is our complete immersion in the safeguarding of liberty paradoxically robbing us of real agency in our own lives?

I’m always telling people to wake up and look around them—to see what’s really going on in their own backyards. We can’t change the world by pointing and clicking alone—we need to engage with other people, in real time, in real space. So I’m giving props today to a couple of new movements that are aimed at restoring balance to the postmillennial life. Chief among these is a National Day of Unplugging coming up in March 2015. You can begin “training” for it by hitching onto the Digital Detox movement—which actually hosts retreats, if you’ve never gotten over your grade-school camping days. Or you can host your own, more localized Unplug Day like blogger Full Cort Press is proposing at Granville High School.

Me, I’d go nuts a full day without my phone. And someone’s got to be on deck, in case the Feds choose National Unplugging Day to abolish the Constitution and set up an imperial monarchy or something. But for the rest of you: the choice—as always—is entirely yours.

IS MI5 SUBVERTING SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE?

Tomorrow Scotland, the feisty little brother in the United Kingdom family, holds a referendum on whether to remain conjoined to England and Wales, or to sever 300-year-old ties and go its own way. Predictably, the English ruling class has gone into a tailspin; even the supposedly apolitical Queen Elizabeth II was sufficiently rattled to suffer a slip of the tongue.

From my point of view, this is just the chickens coming home to roost. Take a look at a recent poll, which shows that 26% of Scots think MI5, the British secret service, is actively trying to undermine the vote. You don’t get that level of paranoia without earning it; and it seems fairly clear that Westminster’s panic is less about loss of national unity than loss of cash and resources they’ve been using for their own benefit.

A larger worry for one-worlders is whether Scottish independence could trigger a wave of similar secessions. The obvious question for Americans is, could it happen here? Unlikely, as none of our fifty states had prior experience as an independent nation. Though I gotta say, if Texas or Florida wanted to leave the party, I’d be tempted to hold the door open for them.

DIGITAL DETOX: A CLEAN BREAK FOR YOU, CLEAN WATER FOR OTHERS

Full Cort Press, the high school blogger whose savvy and spirit have given me some much-needed hope for GenNext, is one week into her self-imposed digital detox—and instead of merely articulating the many ways in which it’s altered the pace and pattern of her days, she has, characteristically, found a way to make it beneficial for others as well. She’s linked to The UNICEF Tap Project, which ingeniously turns your minutes away from your cell phone into clean water for Third World children. I’ve downloaded the app myself. For one of my three phones, anyway. Yeah, I’m gonna be a tough nut to crack.