Archives for : September 2014

ASSANGE ANSWERS YOUR QUESTIONS

As I post this, Julian Assange is on Gawker answering readers’ questions (it’s part of the P.R. push for his new book, When Google Met Wikileaks). As you can imagine, it’s pretty rousing stuff. Example: “One thing you can do, which is quite simple, is treat companies like Google and Facebook as the corporations they are. Lots of people – especially on the left – are aware of the ways in which corporations are exploitative and harmful. But there is a disconnect when it comes to Silicon Valley. Lots of people refuse to buy Coca Cola, but they don’t see any problem with having a Gmail account. I think that is changing lately, but we need a movement to divest from these corporations—which destroy privacy—and to build an alternative internet that isn’t as actively harmful to human interests.” A call to action if ever I heard one. Here’s hoping Apple, Panjea, et all, are quaking in their boots today.

SUPERHERO MOVIES: A CULTURAL BAROMETER

One of the best insights into a society’s mental state is through the pop culture it produces. In that sense, America has declined dramatically since 1977’s Superman: The Movie, in which Clark Kent’s father teaches his powerful son to be guided by duty and love of country. In last year’s Man of Steel, Clark’s father teaches him to hide his powers and fear the government…and with good cause, we soon discover. And here’s the screenwriter of the mega-popular X-Men franchise summarizing its postmillennial appeal: “There’s always suspicion of large organizations in immense amounts of power, whether it’s a corporation or a government, or an evil society of mutants. Especially when they are all working together.” Slam-dunked that one, X-guy.

BAR CODING REVEALS SOMETHING FISHY ABOUT SUSHI

Hat tip to Full Cort Press for this one: a couple of teenage girls used DNA bar coding to uncover a faux sushi scam. Of the samples they collected in New York restaurants and supermarkets, about 25% were mislabeled. And here’s the kicker: they weren’t doing it for investigative purposes…the crazy kids just get a kick from using genetic fingerprinting technology! If more Gen X’ers took up research-oriented hobbies instead of Angry Birds or illegal mp3 downloads, big-industry criminals wouldn’t be able to get away with quite as much petty larceny as they do now. Well done, girls! Have a nonalcoholic malt beverage on me.

FEDS VERSUS YAHOO IN USER DATA TUG-OF-WAR

Yahoo has released a cache of 1,500 once-secret documents that reveal the US government strong-armed the company into turning over user data. Part of the feds’ coercive tactics was the threat of a $250,000 daily fine if Yahoo didn’t deliver the goods.

Yahoo had to “fight every step of the way” to avoid complying, according to the company’s general counsel—ultimately mounting a unsuccessful legal battle. The company warns that communications by US citizens are now open to NSA seizure…US citizens like you.

Still feel like the NSA is there to protect you? You’ve obviously got your head in the clouds.

Or maybe just in the Cloud.

THE U.S. PRESIDENCY: A GAME OF THRONES

As the presidential campaign gears up, and both Gov. Angela Lovett and Sen. Clancy Tooms start the long carnival process of mudslinging and character assassinating, it’s worth remembering that whichever candidate wins the Oval Office, the 1% will be very well represented. Ostensibly a representative institution, the American presidency is in fact a kind of popularity contest for elites. Which explains why every American president has come from British or French royal bloodlines. American democracy: it’s a great idea. We ought to give it a try sometime.

APPLE AND THE ILLUSION OF FREEDOM

As the world gears up for another major announcement of hot new Apple products, it’s worth remembering why tech companies keep upping the ante this way. True, it’s partially down to the increasing pace of innovation, and yeah, you gotta tip your hat to that; human ingenuity at its finest. But the darker side of the deal is that financial institutions and the elites who own and run them, actually benefit from keeping you in perpetual debt. So while the amazing new Apple devices give you the illusion of greater freedom and control, in fact your credit card is keeping you enslaved. There’s a solution, of course: there always is. And it begins with awareness.

A BLOGGER GOES OFF THE GRID

Full Cort Press, the high school blogger whose clear-eyed post about Facebook impressed me last week, just took it up notch. Appalled by the expulsion of a student who refused to surrender his phone after being caught texting in class, FCP made a token nod to civil liberties (which is where the rest of us freedom lovers would have planted our flags), then changed tack and wondered at the severity of an addiction that prompts a student to place his entire education in jeopardy. Recognizing that her generation is particularly afflicted, FCP has put herself on a full digital detox—liberating herself from the machines that had become her master. (And yeah, she does recognize the irony of announcing this in a blog post.) I’ll keep you apprised of her progress.

SHARPE: COVER BOY FOR LOVETT’S CORPORATE RUN

Last month I reported that Governor Angela Lovett had hired media guru Kevin Sharpe as her presidential campaign’s “senior strategist and media advisor.” This week Sharpe’s grizzled mug graces the covers of both Time and Wired, where he’s been dubbed “The Architect” for his role in strategizing Lovett’s path to office.

But read the articles and you’ll find something interesting: the only description of Sharpe’s role is that of masterminding the campaign’s online component—and the only specific contribution he’s credited with is…managing Lovett’s page on the Panjea social network.

Sharpe’s past ties to Panjea and its CEO, Victor Ignacio, aren’t widely known—but they’re known well enough for this move to be considered flat-out brazen. We’re being put on notice: democracy is in the hands of the tech titans and their corporate cronies, and this election is about only two things: (1) information, and (2) how to monetize it. When these people get control of the Oval Office, your  citizenship will effectively cease to exist, except as a rhetorical concept. Better get out there and use it while you still can.

SCHOOL PRIVACY STANDARDS: NOT MAKING THE GRADE

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that schools collect data on their students; it’s been done, almost reflexively, since Dickens’ time. What’s new is that the digital revolution has provided schools with vital new ways of using that data to help kids learn. Unfortunately they aren’t equipped to analyze the data themselves, so it all gets shipped to third-party contractors…which means your child’s detailed profile ends up in the hands of people in no way accountable to you. And you know how safe anything is once it’s released into the wild, wild web. Accordingly, here are some tips onwhat you can do to protect your child’s privacy.

BREAD AND CIRCUSES FOR THE NUCLEAR AGE

The Roman emperors knew how to keep their subjects happy and complacent while they stripped away the freedoms they enjoyed under the early Republic. They called it “bread and circuses”—meaning, give away free grain and throw lavish games in the arenas, and everyone will be too engorged and too engrossed to notice what you’re up to.

The leaders of the modern era have turned this principle into a science, terming it “the engineering of consent”. Here’s a brilliant summation of the ways global mind control not only enslaves you, but actually makes you happy about it. Something to think about next time you’re binge-watching the latest hot TV series, or popping another dose of your favorite antidepressant, or falling down the rabbit hole of social media—or anything else that provides instant, mindless pleasure so that you don’t lift your head and notice what’s going on in your own backyard.