Friday, October 26, 2007

Television, Contradiction, and Social Manipulation

Often, when I enter a bar or a club to which I haven't previously been, I count the number of television screens. I frequently find the high tally somewhat disconcerting. I've entertained a number of possible explanations for the ubiquity of television screens in social gathering places, which range widely in character.

Some time ago I settled on a somewhat concrete biological explanation. In 1927, Ivan Pavlov described what he called the "orienting response," which is basically a physiological reaction to novel stimuli. This reaction is why, if there is a television in the periphery of one's vision, it will draw one's attention, even if one is otherwise engaged in an interesting conversation. Television, because of the types of motion it depicts, and the frequency of edits it employs, activates this "orienting response" continuously.

As described in the February 23, 2002 issue of Scientific American:

"Typical orienting reactions include dilation of the blood vessels to the brain, slowing of the heart, and constriction of blood vessels to major muscle groups. Alpha waves are blocked for a few seconds before returning to their baseline level, which is determined by the general level of mental arousal. The brain focuses its attention on gathering more information while the rest of the body quiets."

What this means is that when one sits in front of a television, one's body becomes relaxed. One's mind creates a positive association between the presence of a television screen and physical relaxation. When one stops watching television, one's mind, furthermore, creates a negative association between the absence of a television screen and the return of one's body return to its previous state of physical arousal.

Armed with this piece of information, I concluded that the ubiquity of television screens in bars subconsciously contributes to the sense of relaxation felt by patrons.

I recently read about a UCLA study which used fMRI scanners to observe the brain activity of television viewers. The subjects in the study were observed while they watched the advertisements run during the Super Bowl. What the researchers found was that many of these ads produced reactions of fear and anxiety. Researcher Said Iacoboni noted that "the amygdala, which is a kind of a threat-detector region of the brain, was much more active compared to other brain regions."

So if the formal properties of television have the effect of keeping audiences physiologically relaxed enough to stay put, the content of broadcast television can be used to simultaneously elicit an opposite emotional reaction.

This insight prompted in me a further re-examination of the more subtle effects of broadcast television. Beyond the contradictory effects that exist between the television and the individual viewer, there exists within broadcast television a mountain of contradictions. This can be seen especially clearly if one considers broadcast television both as a continuous stream of video content and as a series of discrete programs.

When one watches television, one is subjected to numerous advertisements juxtaposed one against the other. These advertisements often try to coerce audiences into doing very different things: spend your money here, no, don't spend your money there; like this person, no, don't like this person; support this cause, no, don't support this cause; do this, no, don't do this. Each advertisement might promote a worldview oppoite to the previous advertisement, or might promote a worldview contrary to the worldview of the scheduled program during which the advertisement is run.

There may be a tendency among individual audience members to "tune out" these contradictions, to dismiss them simply as motivated by the business interests of others; but the fact remains that many people still watch, and what they watch still has an effect.

Numerous studies have been conducted to examine whether television desensitizes individuals to violence; I have seen no study which examines whether television desensitizes individuals to being given contradictory statements, or which examines whether television desensitizes individuals to the distortions of reality that characterize much of advertising and marketing. The fact that researchers are using brain scans to evaluate audience reponses suggests these effects might be quite calculated.

If such a desensitizing effect in fact exists, and people are every day trained to ignore or dismiss lies and contradictions, how might this affect a population's ability to make sound judgments and informed decisions? If television manipulates viewers emotionally while disengaging reason and discernment, might this in part be used to account for the paranoia surrounding the threat of terrorism, which comes at the expense of the threat posed to individuals by drunk drivers and gun violence?

I can recall watching, some time prior to the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq, a Public Service Announcement which ran during a Sunday morning political talkshow. The PSA was part of the War on Drugs, depicting a teenage girl purchasing a bag of marijuana. The PSA traced her purchase back to some brutal Mexican druglord, with narration that ran: "Here's Jane, here's Jane's bag of marijuana, here's Jane's drug dealer, here's the supplier for Jane's drug dealer, here's the smuggler who supplies the supplier, and here's the druglord who murdered an innocent family to supply the smuggler." Beyond the fact that most of the marijuana consumed in the United States is produced domestically, I couldn't help but think - as somebody who has never owned a car - about the format of the PSA transposed onto the structure of the oil industry: "Here's Jack, here's Jack's sport utility vehicle, here's the lower-middle-class owner of the gas station Jack frequents, here's the wealthy oil industry executive with his mansion and his summer home and his private jet, here's the Washington lobbyist who makes it all possible, and here's the brutal dictator on the other side of the globe who profits most."

Of course, we've now deposed Saddam Hussein and imposed our Republic's brutal colonialism in order to liberate his former subjects. So where's the contradiction?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Domestic Surveillance in America

There seems to be a lot of indifference in the United States regarding domestic surveillance. Perhaps this indifference is a result of a citizenry distracted by the war in Iraq, or because most people feel that they pose no real threat to the government (and therefore do not fear what government employees may seek to learn about the private lives of US citizens). Many people simply may not see how domestic surveillance affects them. Many people may simply desire anything that resembles protection from the nebulous threat of terrorism.

Wired News has published a description of the FBI's domestic surveillance capabilities, to which I posted the following comment (and immediately subsequent to which, the entire commenting feature for the article disappeared). I think these are concerns that every American citizen should consider with respect to the surveillance capabilities of the US government:

Maybe you do nothing wrong and have nothing to fear because you don't mind it when social engineers manage us like cattle.

Maybe you do nothing wrong and don't care if other people see all the personal details you reveal about yourself through your search history. Visit and see if you still feel that way.

Maybe you do nothing wrong and don't mind if a fascist government seeks to suppress or intimidate innovative thinkers who challenge the philosophical premises of successful business models with which government interests are entangled, and you are content to spend your days in a cube and your nights bowing down to the American Idol.

Maybe you don't mind if a foreign government hacks into our surveillance network and uses it against us, at your expense.

Maybe you don't mind being drafted into the War on Terror so long as you don't have to know about it.

Maybe the possibility of all those private contractors with access to your sensitive information doesn't bother you.

Maybe you care more about convenience than justice or liberty.

Maybe you're a terrorist.

Maybe it doesn't matter whether or not all your communications are surveilled because the potential for abuse is enough to make you self-censor any criticisms you may have of a government obsessed with stifling dissent.

Maybe you vote and are willing to boycott the two party system by voting for yourself, because that way you can both register your discontent and help verify the statistical accuracy of our voting system by demanding to see your vote in print after the elections.

Maybe you think our next President will spend every waking hour reversing Executive Orders, Presidential Directives, and un-litigating the last six years.

Maybe you wish the Revolution had never happened, and want to reinstate the Crown.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gitmo '07 for Fun and Profit

In response to Great Britain's formal request that the United States release five British residents from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, US officials have reiterated that the United States does not want to be the world's jailor.

This is an odd position to take, if one is representing the United States in an official capacity at a time when the United States is seeing dramatic growth in prison populations.

One out of every four people in prison is in the United States. That's no minor accomplishment for a Nation that represents a mere 5% of the World's population.

The USA is #1 in incarcerations, beating out Russia and China. Even if China is under-reporting, the United States is still running in good company.

Whatever cause or purported intent one invokes to account for this phenomenon, the effect disproportionately impacts Black Americans in a variety of ways. For example, 13% of adult Black men cannot vote because of their conviction history.

The Guantanamo Bay detention facility puts a friendly Hollywood face on America's attitude towards imprisonment, but the conditions described as existing there should not seem especially shocking to American sensibilities. Prisons are an awful -- and central -- part of the American Way of Life. For some people, keeping other humans imprisoned is the way to The American Dream.

Americans tolerate a lot of things: not too many inconveniences, but a great many injustices. That prisons represent a struggle against a criminal class is clear. That prisons represent a cultural problem far more significant than street crime is not nearly as often made clear in the popular media.

Prisoners are made by laws. Laws are expressions of cultural values. There have been many generations brought up with the indoctrination of human captivity: what cultural values do Americans hold so as to make so many disrupted lives seem worthwhile, and even lucrative?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Letter to a Representative from a Disaffected Patriot

Dear Sen. X,

With all respect, I appreciate your sincere desire to serve the Nation and our fine State of residence, but I have serious doubts as to whether this can at all be accomplished through political affiliation with the Two-Party System as presently constituted.

When I wrote to you expressing my dismay at the Vice President's arguments concerning the legal classification of his Office (relative to the system articulated by the US Constitution), my concern was not for the timely reconciliation of rhetorical positions among various interested parties.

Perhaps, when I wrote you, my concerns were expressed in a simplistic manner. The content of my correspondence contained only a citation from a White House press conference (referencing the Vice President's recent claims about the legal status of his Office) and the statement "THIS IS FLAT OUT UNACCEPTABLE." The correspondence was not particularly intended to elicit a direct response, but rather to serve as a means by which I, an engaged citizen, might communicate my perceptions to one of my elected representatives in the Federal Government.

You wrote back, "our democracy is not perfect." My concern, Sir, is not whether our Democracy is perfectly implemented, but rather, whether it presently can be said to exist at all.

You wrote, "our government does successfully balance the many interests and concerns of our diverse nation in a manner that is representative and fair," but I see violence in the streets comparable to a theatre of war, increasing numbers of high school graduates sold into indentured servitude to procure funding for college, orchestrated disinformation campaigns by the Federal Government designed to keep the citizenry ignorant or perplexed, more incarcerations than any other country, state socialism for corporations and the fascist sheepherding of individuals. I hear politicians twisting language to serve their ends. I see high crimes and misdemeanors in the White House.

You wrote, "the process works because there are public servants...dedicated to the ideas of democracy." This assumes the existence of an effective means by which Democratic ideals might be implemented; I see diminishing evidence to support the validity of this assumption.

An Administration installed on contentious grounds, which of late appears to have abandoned even the facade of legitimacy, does little to mitigate my concerns. Under such circumstances, neither does a reply from an elected representative to the effect that I ought not worry because this will work itself out do much to instill confidence that our Democracy is functioning as intended.

I regret to inform you that you will not receive my votes in the future. This is due in no small part to your affiliation with the Two-Party System, as I see increasing evidence of late that this System is not operating in the service of individual US citizens. I will use all peaceful and civilized means at my disposal to persuade others of my position.



Monday, June 25, 2007

Practical Electromagnetic Mood Management

How might covert interests acting as a parasite within an authoritarian regime -- with access to trillions of military research dollars annually -- construct a centrally-directed, practical, electromagnetic mood manipulation apparatus that can be implemented by distributed means?

I'm going to sketch something out for you step-by-step:

Spend some time at, and think about whether it's not a little bit like reading somebody else's mind. Then think about what commercial advertisers and the National Security Agency are doing with your searches, and think about the possibility of electromagnetic Google Advertising for the psyche.

What sorts of electromagnetic fields might be useful in this context?

To start thinking about this, we have to first understand something called "stochastic interference." In this context, its relevance is related to the idea that discrete randomness can create the appearance of global statistical continuity.

Here's a useful analogy:

1. We know that some types of electromagnetic radiation cause cancer

2. We know that the radiation from powerlines probably doesn't cause cancer

However, we also know that:

3. The radiation from powerlines (in the countryside and in your walls) is pervasive

4. The radiation from powerlines is not EXACTLY 60hz

Point 4. is important. If we view the 60hz Alternating Current on the power lines as a signal, we must recognize that there will be some noise on the line. Because the electrons "traveling" down the power lines interact with the material of the powerlines, the powerlines will resonate at different frequencies. The 60hz AC signal will bleed into other frequencies.

So we can accept points 1. and 2. above, but we should also ask: can we get cancer from the radiation emitted by power lines PLUS all the other sources of electromagnetic radiation in our environment? Can the radiation from powerlines interact with LOCAL radiation sources to produce cancer-causing radiation?

Scientists who study "stochastic interference" study these sorts of problems.

So what sorts of electromagnetic fields might be useful for practical electromagnetic mood management?

It turns out that there are all sorts of devices in your environment that can produce very specific types of electromagnetic radiation, which can be made to stochastically interact with a global signal.

Tempest for Eliza, a piece of open source Linux software, will allow you to use a conventional CRT monitor to broadcast an AM radio signal. You can broadcast MP3's to your radio from your computer monitor!

Now think about how close people sit to computer monitors all day, and examine some of the patents recently issued to Hendricus Loos.

Now imagine the capbilities of the previous two links delivered to you in secret (either as a virus like the FBI's Carnivore system, or else built into your commercial software at the request of a central government).

What would the goal of such a system be?

Well, think about clocks. We often think about clocks as tools used to measure out the day. But from the perspective of systems theory, clocks are also a way to synchronize the behavior of large numbers of humans, who are not otherwise in direct contact with oneanother. Clocks are pretty amazing, really.

We all know we've found all sorts of great uses for clocks. They're especially good for industrialists.

Systems theory tells us that many diverse types of organized systems can be found to exhibit the same mathematical behaviors. The math for thermodynamics, optics, entropy, and image compression is all related.

I wonder what other sorts of uses the NSA has for this patent on synchronization methodology.

How might electromagnetic radiation be put into the environment in sufficient quantities and with sufficient control to affect a mass manipulation of mood?

It turns out that there are all sorts of suitable facilities under the control of central governments. Consider the US Government using HAARP and ELF transmitters such as that at Clam Lake to broadcast a range of acceptable mood alterations. Devices in your local environment with processing capabilities, such as your cellphone or your computer, may then generate radiation that cancels out or enhances certain resonances in the ambient environment. The appropriate signal for a local device to generate can be selected algorithmically according to your Internet browsing behavior.

Regarding the Implications of MySpace Link Filtering

Perhaps the days of the "Googlebomb" are drawing to a close.

MySpace has begun to re-code outbound links from user pages in an effort to mask the URL to which these links refer.

Outbound links from MySpace pages are being redirected through in a move that is perhaps related to MySpace's recent advertising agreement with Google, and directed towards ensuring that MySpace spam doesn't interfere with Google's PageRank algorithm.

People who have grown up with Google might not recognize what a dramatic improvement it represented, compared to earlier Internet search engines. Previous to Google, many search engines essentially ordered results according to the frequency with which a user's search phrase appeared on indexed pages. Yahoo, the pre-Google Internet search authority, wasn't strictly a search engine, but took a "brute force" approach to presenting the Internet in an ordered manner (focusing its efforts on creating a human-edited directory, rather than on developing sophisticated algorithms for sorting indexed pages).

Before long, spammers learned to exploit the page-sorting algorithms commonly used by search engines by filling pages with invisible text that wasn't really relevant to a user's query.

In response, various improvements were made to popular methods of relevance ranking. But the big breakthrough in Internet search technology responsible for Google's success was really a psychological insight.

The basic psychological assumption that underlies Google's PageRank algorithm is that humans defer to authority; the more humans defer to a particular source, the more authoritative that source is considered to be. Thus, the page that comes up first in a Google search is the page that has the most pages linking to it under a given search phrase. Each time a page links to another, that link is considered a vote in favor of viewing the link's destination as authoritative.

Thus, the ability of MySpace spammers to produce large numbers of links that are indexed by Google represents a threat to Google's (economically successful) definition of authority.

The point of indexing and algorithmically analyzing web pages for the purposes of an Internet search is to uncover patterns in the collected data. Search engines seek to identify the same types of patterns that human cognition would identify. In a very direct sense, Google's algorithm can be viewed as a statistical description of certain aspects of human behavior. And what is dangerous about the MySpace link redirection scheme is that it seeks to "edit" the observable results of human behavior in order to make the collected data fit the mathematical descriptions upon which Google's business model is based.

Whether this is evidence of a central authority administered by distributed means or is evidence of an "invisible hand" may become clear insofar as whether or how such link redirection schemes proliferate.

The benefits of such a scheme to a central authority should be evident to anybody sufficiently acquainted with distributed systems, cognitive science, systems theory, or the current political situation in the United States. If the emergent features of Google's algorithms can be considered as presenting authoritative accounts of opinion (as in the case of the "failure" Googlebomb) as well as authoritative accounts of fact, then the manipulation of the algorithm may be able to effect the manipulation of opinion (and thereby, the perception of fact).

If MySpace spam is a problem for Google, wouldn't it be easier for Google to exclude MySpace profiles, and index only official MySpace content? Is Google's advertising agreement with MySpace a buyout, rich-guys-scratching-eachother's-backs-and-the-public-good-be-damned, or subsidized (directly or indirectly) by interests in the US central government?

The significance of MySpace link redirection may be more subtle, however. This may be evidence of "flocking behavior" among powerful corporations, whose behavior is entangled with and constrained by political interests. The financial interests of various types of organizations may be converging on certain types of social interaction.

It is also important to consider whether such a link redirection scheme can be used as a form of censorship.

However one wishes to account for the appearance of this practice in our present online environment, it will be vitally important for the preservation of personal liberty that those private individuals whose trade subsists in free expression - everybody from the scientist to the artist - be allowed to carry out his or her work in the absence of censorship. Developments in online communications are having a profound impact on culture and social organization. Censorship has a ripple effect in these types of social systems.

In any event, it will be important to watch whether or how such link redirection schemes proliferate.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Weaponization of the Magnetosphere

I recently came across some lumbering bit of bureaucratese called "Radiation Belt Remediation."

Previously, I had only heard the word "remediation" used in the sense "to repair," as in "environmental remediation," and so my first thought was some concern that, like our air, fields, and waters, we screwed everything up real good in our magnetosphere too.

There seems to be an aspect of doublespeak in this term, however. An article called The Atmospheric Implications of Radiation Belt Remediation implies that “Radiation Belt Remediation (RBR)” describes "studies...being undertaken to bring about practical human control of the radiation belts."

The charged particles in our upper atmosphere have been the object of scientific and military research for many years. Projects from Starfish Prime to HAARP have sought to understand and manipulate various properties of the Earth's electromagnetic fields.

But it would appear that RBR is not so much a "program" as a "doctrine" or a "goal." Institutional goals and doctrines have a strange life of their own: a new President every 4-8 years has little effect on most of the day-to-day functioning of the government; a lot of bureaucrats spend their whole lives behind the same desk.

Because it is not a program, but rather a more general sort of institutional goal, it is an organizing principle for many programs. There are all sorts of studies underway at various facilities around the world probing various aspects of the earth's electromagnetic fields.

I suspect that facilities like HAARP and the Clam Lake ELF transmitter work in concert, using constructive and destructive interference to generate local effects from global signals. That is, I suspect these facilities function together as a system - like a radio telescope array - about which different researchers make different types of observations.

I imagine some scientists use this system to influence the magnetosphere, to observe and model how the magnetosphere responds. They probably use all sorts of advanced computing technologies in the process. There are probably lots and lots of military dollars involved in many different places, with dual-use projects left and right.

The military is clearly interested in the ability to manipulate the earth's electromagnetic fields. What, specifically, might the military's interest be?

It turns out there are all sorts of military applications for the earth's electromagnetic fields.

The most straightforward application is communications: a part of the atmosphere can be used as a temporary antenna in much the same way as the ionization trail of a meteorite can be used as a temporary antenna. The advantage of such a technology has to do with security: if an adversary doesn't know where a signal is going to come from, it is more difficult to detect and decode that signal.

Some applications have to do with defense ("defense" in a literal sense, not in the American sense in which "defense" is a euphemism for "war"). If you can focus a large amount of energy at one place in the atmosphere, you can use this energy to heat a column of air. Such a mechanism may be sufficient to disrupt the course of a ballistic missile.

Some applications have to do with offense. A powerful, focused, electromagnetic pulse can disrupt communications or disable a power grid. Some applications may be oriented towards the weaponization of space.

Beyond the twisted irony in the doublespeak of the word "remediation" in this case, I find it extremely troubling the extent to which persons in my government are willing to turn EVERYTHING AROUND ME into a weapon.

Does anybody know who these people are and why they should be trusted? Do they really know what their experiments are doing to our planet?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

Why the President is a Puppet

To understand why the President is a puppet, it is important to think of the President as primarily a communications hub. The volume of sensitive information passing across the President's desk makes the President a valuable intelligence-gathering target.

This is why the President is always surrounded by so many people: it is important to pass information directly from person to person because, for many communications, the use of communications technology is a counter-intelligence liability.

The President probably doesn't carry a cellphone all that often. Since the FBI can access your cellphone's GPS chip, or can remotely activate the microphone, so can some disgruntled Nokia or AT&T employee. The President needs to have many person-to-person communications for security reasons.

The content of the communications with which the President is entrusted contain implicit or explicit instructions regarding how the President ought to behave. Either a piece of information is not to be divulged, or it may only be divulged under certain circumstances. Every communication the President receives says either "do this" or "don't do this," and the President is entrusted with skillfully discerning and faithfully following these instructions.

In many instances, specific phraseology is important. Between the nuances of jargon, inner-circle meetings, and the spin-doctor's propaganda marketing prescription, one word or a few letters can make a world of difference to different people. "At the end of the day," "make no mistake," "going forward," "support the troops," "family values" -- people pledge allegiance to these terms. The President needs to identify which phrases serve as proper nouns, which as verbs, which as convenience, which as ornament; and the President needs to know how to act accordingly.

In many instances, the President may not know what a specific phrase means to a specific group of people, although the phrase may fit quite comfortably inside a sentence of otherwise ordinary speech. The President just follows orders. It was no excuse at Nuremberg, but it's how our present government operates. This is why third-party candidates have difficulty breaking into Washington politics: third-party candidates are outsiders who don't know what phrases motivate various interests, or which phrases tell various interests "I understand what you really want, and I'll help you get it." The consolidation and perpetuation of this pass-phrase system is why the central government seeks to expand its influence into local realms.

Most of the Administration doesn't turn over every four years. The phraseology and popular parlance of various departments have a life of their own, to which any new President must adapt. The concept of "Homeland Security" was already in use among various military circles in the 1990's. This is a concept which has lived in the Administration for years. Sami G. Hajjar discusses "homeland defense" in the 1998 report, "Security Implications of the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East." The Department of Defense Advanced Concepts Technology Demonstration program proposed the Homeland Security Command and Control several months prior to September 11, 2001. Although I can't recall ever thinking of my country as my "Homeland" until after 911, it would seem a good number of military professionals have been working out this doctrine for some time. The Department of Homeland Security is not something the President thought up in a pinch, it is something the President assembled for entrenched political interests. The President may not be fully aware of the scope of the communications he issues, but one thing is clear: whenever the President talks about "homeland security," there are groups of people all over the place who behave according to decades of doctrinal development.

And so the puppet is also a puppeteer, albeit one with a limited understanding of the drama that is unfolding. And so this is why a Washington outsider would serve the American people better than a career politician from the ranks of the political aristocracy: an effective outsider would need to ask all sorts of people what they mean when they speak, whereas a Crown Prince who has lived his life immersed in the secret incantations need not understand them to see how they are used.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Preemption and the New Kind of War

I was reading a little bit about the US Cold War nuclear planning in the 1960's, and came across these two facts, which really struck me:

1) A PREEMPTIVE nuclear war would attack 1000 targets with 3000 warheads;


2) A RETALIATORY nuclear strike would attack 700 targets with 1700 warheads.

These two facts struck me because the attitude that informed this war planning seemed counter-intuitive at first. If somebody hits you, and you're going to hit back, don't you want to hit them with everything you've got?

Part of the difference in the scale of attack is certainly due to war planners anticipating some portion of our capabilities being disabled in the case of a retaliatory strike. But the numbers are incredible: in a full scale preemptive strike, 3 nuclear warheads were to be delivered to each target. That's a lot of redundant destruction. Which got me thinking about the character of preemptive strikes in general.

If you're going to hit somebody first, and you don't know whether they've got a black belt in karate, or a knife, or if somebody's got their back, you drop them quick, and make sure they don't get up. Go for the knees, the throat, the eyes, the groin.

A preemptive strike means targets are hit that don't really need to be hit, because a preemptive strike has a lot of strategic redundancy.

Which got me thinking about the attitude of "our leaders," who launched a preemptive war in Iraq, as part of a larger campaign in our New Kind of War. "Our leaders," who rose to prominence during the Cold War, who built their house of cards during the Cold War, find great value in preemption. Whatever THEY're trying to get at now, it's worth an awful lot to them (look out Iran).

Right now, we're reorganizing our Federal Bureaucracies left and right for the War on Terror, spending blood and dollars hand over fist in our Central Front in the War on Terror, using National Security Letters to draft private citizens into the War on Terror. Imagine what the War on Terror costs in terms of administrative overhead alone. Screw bullets, there are bureaucrats to pay. We're going to be paying this off forever...


The War on Terror is a preemptive war. The United States has not seen terror anything like what Northern Ireland or Israel have seen. More people dead in Iraq than on 911. More people dead in car accidents every year than on 911. More people shot to death in the ghetto every year than on 911.

We don't re-organize our society because of car accidents, we build more roads and make it cheaper to drive than to use mass transit.

We don't re-organize our society because of inner city violence, we copyright rap music and sell it to white teenagers who play violent video games and manufacture more guns and sell Army surplus AK47's and crack to gangsters and keep the white kids hooked on speed for their attention defect disorder. We make thieves because the wealthy have more money than they know how to possibly spend. We make weapons for peace, use copyright to sell people their culture, we tell people our culture is a culture of peace and we put them in debt and put them to work and brainwash them into USA #1 because YOUR reality is entertainment for some monarch or oligarch.


If the War on Terror is a preemptive war, and the War in Iraq is at all part of the War on Terror, it may not really matter what happens in Iraq.

There's a war on for your mind. Propaganda is marketing. If they don't hook you in with Iraq, they've got something else in the pipe, be sure of it.

Monday, June 04, 2007

2008 Elections - USA #1

The best thing that might come to the United States from the War in Iraq is not oil, but an opportunity to examine the collective hallucination of USA #1 that makes our people so easily manipulated.

Think for just a minute: we denied blacks and women suffrage for most of our history, and now everything is run by corporations. The dollar has subverted the vote. When have we ever been THE GREAT DEMOCRACY? To what do we lay claim with our attitude of moral superiority? We were just as willing to destroy the planet as the Soviets, for the sake of a claim to victory in the Cold War.

We are started quite young. Once the hallucination of USA #1 takes hold, various "leaders" can lay claim to accounts of how and why USA #1 came to be, and what we can do to ensure that USA #1 continues.

Of course, everybody wants USA #1 to continue. USA #1 feels good for Americans. USA #1 is good for China. But it's a lie, and one that Democrats are just as willing as Republicans to exploit.

What is a vote for Barack Obama? We feel good to have overcome slavery. What an odd thing to feel so good about. As though it were ever sensible to keep humans in such brutal bondage. It is like we are children making our first marks in ink on paper, at once celebrating the completion of our latest and greatest novel. Preposterous.

What is a vote for Hillary Clinton? We prefer that the Revolution had never taken place? Give us back a Monarchy? Sure the Democrats can be tough on Terror. When Bill Clinton signed CALEA, he did just as much to get the permanent war started as George Bush did by signing PATRIOT.

What is a vote for a Republican? They align themselves with the 1/4 of Americans who "don't believe" in evolution, have never heard of global warming, don't know whether New York is east or west of the Mississippi, and can't name more than two or three other nations currently in possession of nuCLEAR weapons. Republicans are scoundrels, all of them, to exploit such people on such a scale.

Two-party rule is broken, and we should not continue to legitimize it.

In such a political climate, the only way to be sure you're not voting for a Fascist is to vote for yourself. Unless, of course, you ARE a Fascist, in which case you should write in "America Jones" wherever you vote next.

Surveillance Society for Fun and Profit

I'm looking at this satellite image from Google of the US Embassy in Baghdad, and it occurs to me this world must be totally mad. 8-year-olds have access to technologies that, 50 years ago, only the CIA had.

I call up D to express my utter amazement at the state of affairs here in this Earth-World, and he replies quite casually that it's because the people in charge fear no man or woman.

What will you, human, be able to do in 50 years with your computer? This is a good question to ask when you wish to consider what your government can do with their computers today.

Consider street-level surveillance. The new Google Street View is provoking all sorts of reactions, ranging from fascination with the new feature's novelty to outrage at the new feature's intrusiveness. The ability of governments to surveil citizens at the street-level far surpasses what is offered by Google Street View.

Imagine typing any person's name into a database, and automatically being able to watch him or her everywhere he or she goes. All those private surveillance cameras everywhere - in ATMs, in stores, in bars and resturaunts - are not so private. All electronic devices give off electromagnetic radiation that can be detected and decoded. All those private surveillance cameras are really un-secure wireless cameras. It is possibe to geolocate an individual camera based on slight differences in the time at which its signal is detected at different locations. This geolocation information can be correlated with the GPS data transmitted by your cellphone tracking device.

Whether a scheme like this is currently in use or not, it is not far-fetched. Authoritarian regimes have an interest in making the populace at all times aware of the possibility of surveillance. If nothing else, this makes the populace more likely to self-censor.

Of course, many people are not too worried about the threat of constant surveillance. Many people break no laws. This is fine.

But if we are, in fact, watched so closely, it is because we are managed like cattle.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The War in Iraq is a Decoy

We are told that the War on Terror is a New Kind of War, and that the War in Iraq is the central front in this War.

Why is it, then, that our government and our media go to such great lengths to paint us a picture of a conventional war, when we are in reality engaged with an unconventional enemy?

The War in Iraq has nothing to do with the War on Terror, except insofar as it serves to distract the public from the erosion of civil liberties in the United States, and from the careful establishment of legal precedents by a rogue Administration bent on paving the way for Fascist rule.

One advantage of this approach is the fragmentation of opposition. We have been told there would be more fierce opposition to the War on Iraq were there a draft; we are not often told that the War on Terror does, in fact, have a draft.

One reason we have not heard more about the War on Terror's draft is that those who are drafted are not allowed to discuss it. This means that the 150,000 or so persons who have received national security letters since the start of the Iraq War, and who have been compelled to become agents of the national intelligence infrastructure, are silent warriors in this New Kind of War, with no citizens to rally around them.

Who are these people? What are their duties? To whom do their duties pertain?

We cannot know the answers to these questions. How then can we know that the Constitution is being upheld? How can we be informed voters, or claim to participate in a Democracy with our votes?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Failure in Iraq?

Our multi-headed National Strategy for Victory in Iraq is organized around "Eight Pillars." These "Eight Pillars" represent distinct strategic objectives, each with a "corresponding interagency working group."

Considering that Islam is defined in large part by a doctrine called "The Five Pillars," I fear it may be difficult to underestimate the negative impact of this verbiage in our battle to win the "hearts and minds" of the Muslim world. Islam, according to Huston Smith, "joins faith to politics, religion to society, inseparably."

Are "The Eight Pillars" of our National Strategy some bit of cultural insensitivity, or worse yet, a sick joke by the planners of this occupation? It would seem, if nothing else, the use of such religiously-loaded language is profoundly unhelpful in the context of a religio-political people under military occupation, as the Qur'an states: "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).

Imagine how you would feel if a foreign occupation of our country was guided by "The Thirteen Commandments."

Paul Wolfowitz has asserted that our mission in Iraq is "not a crusade," although we can perhaps forgive those in the Middle East who may believe otherwise: our President has himself used that very term, and the Administration consistently frames the violence as religiously-motivated, even as we push our "Eight Pillars" on these people. Our strategy to "isolate enemy elements from those who can be won over to the political process by countering false propaganda" would seem to amount to imposing a heretical doctrine on a subjugated people, while marketing this heresy as salvation.

Although we undoubtedly possess the raw military strength to "bomb Iraq back into the stone age," such a move would be politically suicidal for much of Washington. As General David Patraeus put it, "there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq." At present, we would seem also to lack a viable diplomatic or political approach.

Among the top goals of the National Strategy is the reform of Iraq's economy, "which in the past has been shaped by war, dictatorship, and sanctions." The United States of America is in no small part responsible for the war, dictatorship, and sanctions that shaped Iraq's economy in the past, and we have done almost nothing to bring about meaningful reform. We have only brought more war, caused more damage to Iraq's infrastructure, and propped up a puppet government in a fortress far removed from Iraq's citizenry.

While the politicians in Washington warn us against the risk of failure in Iraq, it is important to recognize that our present conflict is itself an acknowledgment of our previous Iraq policy's failure. This acknowledgment compounds the failure of our previous policy by failing to rectify our previous mistakes.

We need to dramatically alter our direction if we are to stop compounding our own mistakes. Our current policy is simply to add fuel to the fire and stir the pot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Poem for Lulabell, Sweet Petunia

green to the cripple’s wilderness,
a newcomer sees ash as soil...

where abominations of
animate stone lie senseless
before the sea, far beyond the
deep worn grooves tread into
the earth by the sleepwalkers
muttering in their sleep, as if
to their sleeping brethren,
following one another endlessly
past the same dark horizon...

were the moon to rise, they
would follow its light away
from the sun, if only to prove
what others before them
have proved perfectly well.

just one could stop and hold
up an eternity, cause endless
marchers to climb up out of
their trenches, bring them

to stand at the threshold of the
mechanical hall of mirrors, to
listen casually as the crack
of doom shocks the airwaves.

when the wise man blames
the fool, and the fool does
blame the wise man, leaving
each to babble oath below
the burning rivers,

as many living souls as leaves
on trees shall yield their hold
on boughs and through the
early frost of autumn fall,

blind prey unto the blue-eyed
terror between the framers
of meanings, formless
yet everywhere, animate
amidst the static emblems
of a virus creed...

until some of the morning, when
broken records of phantom
histories might yield a strange
light falling, symmetries of the devil
and the emergent efficiencies
of flame...

weaving silence and discourse
while white snow flies in midsummer,
and the moon ablaze in the water
at noon sows discord from the
only sounds after prayer.

for only sound remains, a melody
amidst the machine and my
heartbeat, a shock of thunder
to disturb the haunted church
music infused with a pious fury

at the inarticulate dementia
that is salvation for the blind,

who demand that time shall
yield to the sufficient and convenient
brutalities of our profane sciences
of need...

leaving a trail of puberties and
constellations across surrendered
visions of extroverted rodents,

all their conscientious fascinations
and inhuman suppositions, weather
forecasts, divinations, and salient
tenderness abandoned for an
abyss that dissipates gradually...

enduring in silence or ignorance
the midnight bloom of the saintly
mathematician’s treatise on the soul,

a concrete echo set free from
the ghostly image of the builder,
slain by the architect’s hand.

once more these vacant dreams
abide beside the grotesque adornments
of perverse determinations, delights in
slights and envies, indulgent to no end...

such that only those overcome by the
opaque terrors of conviction remain,
befriended to the tangled mountains,
like sculptures, when toppled by the wind.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What Are We Really Doing in Iraq?

The Admministration has given the Citizenry of the United States of America varied and malleable rationale for our invasion and occupation of Iraq, ranging from false pretenses to revisionist propaganda.

While the Executive refuses to relinquish its ideological crusade, and the Legislature squabbles over the political ramifications of sparing thousands upon thousands of soldiers and civilians unnecessary suffering, We Citizens, strong-armed into funding this war, are deprived by Our Federal Government of all but the most basic figures regarding the true human and economic costs of this man-made disaster.

The Administration and its Neocon allies have played the Press like a fiddle, and the Press has obediently followed along.

Who really benefits from this war? Is it really right to view the Iraq conflict as "a war" in the singular sense of the word?

Are We an occupying force confronting a nationalist insurgency?

Are We fighting terrorists in the Global War on Terror?

Are We fighting a proxy war in an ideological standoff with Iraq's neighbors?

Are We peacekeepers working to quell sectarian violence?

Are We a police force suppressing opportunist criminals?

Are We liberators there to cast off Sunni fascists?

Are We a scapegoat for Shi'ite bitterness after the 1991 uprising?

Are We in the middle of a pan-national conflagration of Anti-American Arabs upset about the situation in Palestine?

What We are doing in Iraq?

When Our Government fails to give Us clear answers, We often turn to the free Press. Yet We must be wary that, if the fallout from the recent Walter Reed scandal is to serve as an indication of a free Press's power, it must also serve to warn Us of the power of a manipulated Press.

As so many of Us watch in horror and dismay while the Administration discusses open war with Iran, We, as Citizens, must take it upon ourselves to write Our Press, Our Senators, and Our Congressional Representatives; it is not enough to vote periodically. We must clearly express Our feelings about the current state of affairs, demand forthright governance, and prompt action. And as We find Ourselves in the midst of a psychological war waged against Us by the Administration, We must seek out alternative sources of information with which to arm Ourselves against that most potent weapon, ignorance.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

On the Importance of Media Literacy

We teach our children to spell, we teach them to take tests, we teach them about the imperceptible atoms and molecules that make up the material of our world, and yet we teach them next to nothing about the media that saturates their daily lives.

Who has Tom Cruise married most recently? How many children does Britney Spears have? Why do we know these things and how does this knowledge affect us?

What does it mean to see, every evening, all the conflicting interests of television programs and commercial advertisements juxtaposed one against the other for hours on end?

I firmly believe that, even as we teach our children the language of daily discourse, it is equally important to teach them the language of motion pictures.

Much of our cultural discourse is carried out in this second language, and given the number of television outlets in our country -- in homes, in bars, in storefronts, on busses, and now on telephones and computer screens -- literacy in this second language is more important than ever to appreciate the responsibilities of citizenship and informed consumer behavior.

The basic language of the motion picture dates to Soviet times: the montage theory of Sergei Eisenstein is the foundation of almost every edited motion picture sequence. His theory was built upon the work of Lev Kuleshov, who was in turn deeply influenced by Ivan Pavlov's view of Behaviorist psychology.

These names are a part of history, but they also live with us every day. These names are as important to understanding our culture as the names of Plato, Aristotle, Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. These names have shaped our civilization in dramatic ways.

We now live in an age when multinational corporations, who pledge no national allegiances whatsoever, depend on Eisenstein, Kuleshov, and Pavlov for their revenue as much as they depend on Henry Sheffer and Alan Turing for the ability to manufacture consumer electronics. As citizens and consumers, we must ensure that all of our children share an equal entitlement to the heritage of these names, that these names do not remain the sole purview of the profiteers behind the curtain of our collective televised understanding.

As much as we depend on John Locke for our concept of liberty, and as much as we depend on Mahatma Gandhi to inspire us to struggle for peace, we depend on our educational institutions to provide our children with the means to succeed in this world. While we concern ourselves that no child be left behind in our schools, we must concern ourselves with a literacy of media, lest we leave behind a whole generation. As it stands, there are few teachers who understand the language of the media, and this is to the great detriment of our nation.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hidden Costs of the Iraq War

Advancements in battlefield medical care have reduced the number of deaths suffered by wounded U.S. soldiers relative to previous military conflicts. As a result, large numbers of soldiers are returning home with debilitating medical conditions.

Official U.S. Government figures list the number of severe battlefield injuries at 10,535 soldiers. This number, however, does not reflect the full extent of severe injuries suffered by soldiers. Some 18,704 soldiers suffering from infectious disease have thus far required evacuation by air transport. This is in keeping with figures from past wars, which often see greater numbers of soldiers succumb to disease than combat injuries.

Furthermore, these figures do not reflect the casualties suffered by the 100,000 civilian contractors currently serving in Iraq. Some 800 contractors have been killed in Iraq and 3,300 wounded. It is probably safe to assume that a large number of contractors have also suffered from infectious disease.

We are often asked to support our troops in Iraq, an assertion that plays off the good nature of citizens, who don't want to see fellow citizens hurt or killed. This assertion, which really equates to a plea to support our continued military presence, is dishonest: the same politicians who ask us to support our troops have themselves failed to do so in their vainglorious pursuit of a war predicated on a lie. This war demands an enormous investment in future medical care, and if we are to consider our troops to be fellow citizens and human beings, we must carefully consider what it means to support them.

It has become quite clear to me that the best way to support our troops is to ensure they have access to adequate medical care, and for our politicians seek a diplomatic victory in this conflict.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Rationale for the Iraq War

One reason President Bush gave as justification for an invasion of Iraq was the imminent threat that Saddam Hussein would give weapons of mass destruction to Al Qaeda.

Our inability to locate these weapons is often attributed to a failure of intelligence. However, the threat of Saddam Hussein giving WMDs to terrorists represents a deliberate effort to mislead the American public.

The most obvious problem with the Administration's rationale is that Al Qaeda viewed Saddam Hussein as an enemy. Saddam Hussein was the head of a secular regime, which did not require women to wear a burka and which allowed women to go to college.

Furthermore, Saddam Hussein was a dictator, and a dictatorship is about control. Why would a dictator in possession of a WMD yield control of such a device by giving it to an enemy?

Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before we invaded, and we are now deploying the same types of weapons on the battlefield which we, as grounds for our invasion, accused Iraq of attempting to acquire. This is untenable. Our colonial occupying force is actively breeding the very sentiment we ostensibly sought to confront.

While we worry about the rise of Fascism abroad, we omit the threat of Fascism in our Homeland (Fatherland, Motherland). We must be vigilant against Fascism both here and abroad.

  According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Taxation Without Representation

The reason the National Security Agency wants to read your email is because they are trying to use algorithms to detect terrorist activity. This invasion of privacy is based on the assumption that terrorists use the Internet in ways that are statistically distinct from the ways ordinary Americans use the Internet. In order to statistically detect online terrorist activity, the governmet needs a large sample of "normal" Internet use.

Although this may seem reasonable when we are confronted with an indistinct enemy, fighting on ill-defined battlefields, this really amounts to an unconstitutional indirect tax. Just as the Federal government incorporated FEMA into the Department of Homeland Security to hide the cost of creating the largest bureaucracy in the history of civilization, the government's use of private citizens' Internet service for surveillance purposes is used to hide the true cost of the War on Terror.

When the government compels private corporations to comply with national security directives, without compensating these corporations for the cost of implementing such directives, the cost is passed on to consumers.

Because the Administrative branch of government refuses to inform Congress as to the nature of these programs, these programs amount to taxation without representation.

Beyond violating the 4th Amendment right to protection against unwarranted search and seizure, this practice also violates the 5th Amendment, by effectively situating military operatives within private homes, taking private property for public use, and opening up the potential to compel private citizens to, in effect, unwittingly testify against themselves. Not only do these practices appropriate private citizens into the Federal intelligence infrastructure without compensation, but citizens are furthermore charged for this.

Our current Administration has a constitutional duty to either halt these programs, or to fully inform Congress as to their nature. In lieu of such disclosures, we as citizens have a duty to remove these criminals from office.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Art is Not the Tablescraps of Commerce.

Julio García Espinosa has argued against the refined “reactionary” arts, and for a revolutionary art which is “no longer interested in quality or technique.” By this he does not mean to assert that aesthetics should not be a concern for those devoted to artistic exploration, but rather, that an aesthetics of “art for art’s sake” is insufficient when confronted with an aesthetics of hunger.

Espinosa recognizes that art possesses “its own cognitive power,” while asserting that this power resides not in elite academies, but in art’s potential to express the diversity of culture as a whole. He rejects claims that art must be seen as either “committed” or otherwise, purposeful or self-serving, and suggests that art might be liberated from these arguments if it is viewed as an activity fundamental to daily life.

Only if art is regarded as a life activity, produced by all for the appreciation of all, can it be a pure and uncommitted activity, while at the same time serving to further revolution.

Only if every man and woman has incentive to become a man or woman “of culture” can the artist be freed of struggling at the margins of society, and thereby allow art to diffuse from the domain of the elite to the domain of the many. Because revolution is an ongoing process – one which is never complete – revolutionary art ought to address itself to this incompletion. An art wholly entrenched in timeless institutions cannot change as culture changes. Only a popular art can do this: an art which fails to engage the popular idiom will fail to reveal the processes by which a society expresses and transforms itself. At the same time, it should be noted that a revolutionary art demands an awareness of the materialist histories against which the reactionary arts define themselves.

A revolutionary art is an assertion of Life. Art is a basic human activity, like eating, sleeping, or making tools. Only when it is controlled by elites does it only yield its pleasures by engaging “the functionality (without a specific goal) of our intelligence and our own sensitivity.” Such a condition undermines the role of art as a basic human activity. The elites who control distribution thereby dictate the terms of production, and transform art into employment. When art is regarded by industrialist societies as employment, it becomes subject to Fordist pressures to specialize; a specialized art as employment demands the full devotion of an artist, too often to the exclusion of other human endeavor.

The dissolution of contemporary controls over the means of artistic production and distribution demands not just a democratization of these means, but also a decentralization of them. Art must be free to express what it finds wherever it finds it, and must not be relegated to illustrating statements that “can also be expressed through philosophy, sociology, [or] psychology.”

To the industrialist, an artist engaged in developing a style is engaged in a process of branding his or her self. The industrial artist cultivates an image, and uses this image to engage the markets of spectacle.

To give one’s image to commerce is to surrender control of how one’s image is used. This is the basis of the commercial arts. To use images for commerce is often to analyze, reduce, and reproduce them, appropriating conventions from the fine arts.

The commercial potential of art relies upon the conventions of the fine arts, which supply the commercial arts with the material history by which artistic expression is rendered identifiable as a sequestered facet of our culture. The commercial arts exploit copyright to manipulate the conventions of the fine arts (which are produced by consumers of commercial art). Current definitions of copyright are political tools to secure the profitability of commercial art (do you assume a political message whenever you see an advertisement?).

Industrialists have this interest in reinforcing the illusion that art is an elite practice: scarcity creates value.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Diversity in American Politics

I feel like race is something that everybody in America has to live with, but which many people feel as though, in order to discuss it with anybody but close friends, they must go out on a limb. There are a few things that can be said about race with reasonable certainty: race is first and foremost a cultural and linguistic construct because genetic variation is continuous among the human population. Genetically, skin color is about as meaningful as hair color.

Then there is the sand of time, the ocean of language, the tree of life, and the dollar. Sometimes there is harmony, too often discord, always this beat of a collective march towards something greater. Blind marchers and marchers who see, sleepwalking or awake but dreaming, never too long complacent with complacency; in America, by and large, people get along so long as they are left alone.

American culture has this paradox: we say the Civil War is over and that we live amongst ourselves in peace; yet judging by the number of gun deaths here, a foreigner may be hard-pressed to say there is not a war underway.

Is politics really war without bloodshed, or are there bodies in the streets? Why are these deaths not shown on the news like the faces of soldiers brought home from Iraq in flag-draped coffins?

I would argue that cultural diversity contributes to much of the beauty in American society. I would also argue that it continues to contribute to much sadness. I will not argue for a beauty of sadness, but I will speak to the transformative power of sadness, and for the nobility of a just struggle.

The democratic struggle begins and ends with a voice; the interim need not see bloodshed, but too often does. What is the struggle of democracy, if not to end political bloodshed?

Too many of our political struggles end in complacency: polarization in American politics is a rhetorical illusion, which suggests that, for example, Democrats and Republicans exist at opposite ends of a continuum. Yet these two parties encapsulate the diversity of neither American culture nor American politics. There should be not one black party, but multiple; not one conservative voice, but many; and many revolutionary voices to define the centrism of their parties.

The United States of America is a republican democracy, with constituencies that believe in fiscal conservatism, liberalism, communism, and anarchism. Those constituencies interested in the pure pursuit of power leverage their influence to engineer self-reinforcing social systems, such that most citizens can only participate in politics if they vote to reinforce the illusion of polarity.

Our government collects so much information about us, and makes so many decisions based on derivative information, that the Democrat/Republican/Yes/No vote we are offered (depending on the most popular spin) is drowned out by all the other votes we make with our consumer habits. It seems to me that if we had a greater number of viable parties in our politics, we could express more articulately what we would like to see in our government. Politics could become a forum for popular discourse, rather than an elitist form of oppression.

But democracy starts and ends with the people, and a diverse body politic is not something a government can give a people, like a government might give people safe food, national security, or roads.

This election season, Americans have a number of viable candidates seeking the Presidency. If John Edwards, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Ron Paul, and Mike Huckabee stopped competing for candidacy under the same two parties, and sought instead to represent other parties in our upcoming Presidential election, Americans could use their votes to help create viable third parties. A third party candidate only needs to earn 5% of the vote in a Presidential election to qualify for federal matching funds the following season. Viable third parties could create a situation where, if a candidate wins the Presidency with one third of the popular vote, the President will have no choice but to cooperate with other constituencies in order to get anything done. If we continue under our current two-party system, we have rule not by the majority, but by the handful of Representatives willing to vote across party lines.

Perhaps a vote should be viewed as an investment in democracy rather than as a payday wad to blow uptown. A vote for a third party candidate is an investment in American cultural and political diversity. If you don't vote at all, the government won't hear what you have to say.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Who is Being Brainwashed?

Regarding recent articles on government "mind control" in The Washington Post and on Wired:

An important area of operation for contemporary intelligence gathering agencies is data aggregation: collecting information from multiple sources and creating meaningful connections between these disparate sources of information. Increasingly, this is being carried out by government agencies with the cooperation or coercion of private infrastructure. The intrusion of military intelligence operations into the private sector is especially troubling because it represents the ability, facilitated by the Web, to not only appropriate private citizens and organizations into a federal intelligence infrastructure, but also to manipulate these individuals and organizations for obscure motives (given our present state of government secrecy).

Consider the potential of combining the functionality of MySpace with that of Google, if the actions of users are mapped to a set of IP addresses or a MAC address:

The value of MySpace for intelligence purposes extends beyond the content of individual postings or personal data stored in a user’s profile. Every time a MySpace user does or does not click on a MySpace porn bot's solicitation, the result of that user’s decision is recorded. The way in which users respond to eachother’s social cues, the way blog posts are categorized, and the frequency or methodology with which one seeks to extend one’s social cluster are not only recorded, but furthermore represent a psychological model of that individual user.

Google also keeps track of user behavior. This data, which is recorded for advertising purposes, can be used to reveal word-by-word accounts of how users view language, associate specific terms, and, in a sense, what users are thinking about.

If intelligence agencies have access to user logs for both MySpace and Google, they have, on the one hand, a psychological model to describe an individual, and on the other hand, a semantic database to explain that individual's decision-making. This information could be combined to not only predict how individuals will respond to various stimuli, but to provide stimuli whereby certain behaviors are likely to be provoked. Such a semantic-behavior model could be tested by inserting specific search results into a list returned by Google and recording if and how a user responds.

Other, more direct methods of manipulating individuals have been investigated. Several recent patents issued to Hendricus Loos discuss a variety of ways in which, for example, the electromagnetic radiation emitted by cathode ray tube monitors can be used to manipulate an individual’s central nervous system.

Beyond the potential for illegal government experimentation or sadistic behavior on the part of rogue contractors, the proliferation of these technologies and the diffusion of these abilities into private hands will present to law enforcement a new and serious challenge. Frightened governments, faced with a problem which they have no idea how to detect or mitigate, may be part of the reason why people complaining of “mind control” are actively marginalized.

It would seem that governments concerned with serving the interests of their citizens would want to halt such research, assess the state of things, and begin to make disclosures. How can citizens ensure that their interests are being served if they cannot discuss the actions of their own government?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Game Show and the Collective Good

The television game show provides an interesting perspective into the American psyche. In considering why viewers tune in -- what the attraction is -- two possibilities make themselves pronounced: either the psychological desire for the game show originates in witnessing conflict (expressed as competition), or it is a matter of vicarious enjoyment projected into the individual winning money.

If the answer is the former, then in a sense it matters little to the viewer what prize is being fought over. For example: in Spain there is an annual horse race, which has been run every year by the same families for generations upon generations. The families compete, but the goal is not to win the race by coming in first: rather, the goal is not to come in second. The goal is predicated on the assumption that if one places twenty-third, one was never in the running; but if one comes in second, one’s defeat becomes a crushing blow. So some families -- different families every year -- engage in all manner of schemes to see that one family or another is certain to come in exactly second. Furthermore, I imagine, they all wind up drunk together in the end, affably, if not beautifully engrossed in some harlequin melodrama. Yet my point was simpler than all this: the desire game shows satisfy, under this first interpretation, is the desire to witness conflict, no matter what the object.

The other interpretation posits that we like to watch contestants win money because it provides a way for viewers to imagine themselves winning money. This is reasonable enough, but the question ought then to be asked: if given a choice, would viewers strongly prefer to watch contestants winning money, or might they prefer to watch contestants compete on behalf of positive social initiatives?

As viewers aren’t really given a choice in the matter, we are left with a non-empirical discussion of cultural influences. But the question is worth asking because the asking illustrates that, in a culture which professes the value of choice, there are some very basic choices we just aren’t given. There exists the potential for television viewers, with their collective marketing pull, to actually help heal the world simply by imagining themselves doing so. Does this sound absurdly utopian? If so, why?

Why is the object of the game show always personal enrichment? Why can’t people in our culture receive vicarious pleasure from watching a contestant accomplish good deeds? Why don’t contestants play for rebuilding efforts in Lebanon, a library in Ghana, a college scholarship fund for high school seniors in Detroit, or startup capital for a micro-lending bank in South America? Are game show producers afraid of offending the political sensibilities of their audience by supporting international humanitarian efforts, more than by the ethics of the companies that sponsor their broadcasts? The studio audience could vote on a number of local, national, or international charities and nongovernmental organizations to mitigate any perceptions of bias on the part of producers...

Or we could all stop waiting for governments and private corporations to solve our global problems for us -- the organizations upon which we depend seem too often too busy with political infighting to adapt to constituencies in a timely manner. There have got to be enough individuals -- winning more money every week on game shows than the people who made their clothes will see in a decade or more -- who have gained enough material profit from their five minutes of fame that some modest organizational efforts on their part (or by advertisers on their behalf) could yield some real collective good.

Or maybe the problem isn’t any lack of a cultural desire to see good done, but that we Americans are kept so much in want of... everything.

In the President’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning in October 2007, funding for domestic programs (which include veteran care) is set to increase less than the rate of inflation, while funding for the Pentagon (excluding ongoing war costs) is increased more than three times the rate of inflation.

Although the White House has in the past boasted that its budgets offer “successful pro-growth policies,” there is ample evidence to the contrary. Furthermore, two facts remain unaddressed: first, our economy cannot grow forever because we live on a planet with limited resources; and second, neither typical Americans nor the domestic programs upon which we rely are seeing any of this growth. Economic growth is not inherently beneficial and these policies cannot be accurately characterized as successful.

At least we have enough advertising to constantly remind us how much we want, and to inform us of all the choices we have...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Texture and Object: on Grounding Channel-Surfing as a Visual Motif


The aesthetics of Modernism can generally be characterized by a formal preoccupation with novelty, polyphony, fragmentation, and the breakdown of Rationalist moral order. No doubt the advent of popular sound and image recordings, widespread division of labor, and capitalist largesse were contributing factors to this re-evaluation of form in Western art; these influences were culturally pervasive. But industrialization also ushered in a broader cultural re-orientation associated with consumer behavior. Individuals, to procure their daily necessities, turned their attention to the acquisition of products garnered by market labor, rather than the acquisition of commodities garnered by agrarian or clerical labor.

Industrialization has changed the way our culture assigns value both to employment and to the compensation for one’s employment: we now seek to procure, primarily, products with our employment, whereas prior to industrialization, we would seek commodities primarily.

Commodities are more or less un-differentiable between producers: two individual wheat farmers each supply the same commodity. Suppliers of commodities compete by finding ways to increase output while decreasing cost, and attract customers by out-pricing competitors. Products, however, are differentiated from one another by a type of culturally-assumed object status: through a combination of packaging, advertising, and novel design features in the product itself, producers employ a variety of cultural signifiers to construct a symbolic identity for their product. Producers of products compete not on the basis of cost economics, but on the clarity with which the product's symbolism is articulated. The symbolic nature of the product is what differentiates Heinz tomato ketchup from Hunt's. It is moreover irrelevant that the symbolic qualities of a product may bear little direct relationship to the material qualities of a product, as the product is not strictly a material object.

Within industrialized nations, the impact of this reorientation pervades daily life: among other effects (such as the commodification of time and the acceleration of urbanization), it alters the assumptions underlying the behavior of individuals seeking to acquire their basic necessities. Contrary to the benefit-maximizing behavior economists prescribe for rational agents, consumers in industrialized societies consistently purchase products with the most appealing packaging or advertising, rather than those which provide the most product for the least amount of currency; given these circumstances, one must either acknowledge that industrialization causes humans to behave less rationally, or one must accept that in some manner the product has a different type of value than the commodity.


A profusion of products in simultaneous collision on store shelves provided the cultural context necessary for the eventual popular appreciation of collage; more significantly, perhaps, the object status of the product also provided the context necessary for grounding the appreciation of Modernist art in terms of the art object.


In Classical traditions the closest analog of the art object is found within various craft movements; this comparison, however, can serve only as analogy. Classical traditions distinguish art-objects from craft-objects by appeal to the utility value (or intended utility value) of a given object, while the cultural reorientation associated with Modernism by and large dispenses with this distinction: hence the appropriation of ceremonial African masks by cubism, the appearance of industrial design programs in art academies, and the placement of consumer products in museum halls by the likes of Marcel Duchamp.

To describe this cultural reorientation in dialectic terms, the Classical mode of artistic expression can be characterized by an evaluation of texture, while the Modern is characterized by an evaluation of object status. Classical aesthetics therefore rely upon the vindication of tradition (the cultural and artistic texture within which an individual artwork is situated), while Modernist aesthetics rely upon the vindication of the critical statement (the critical framework an artist employs to justify a particular approach to the art object).


The dialectic is especially evident in urban architecture: Classical architecture is concerned with the creation of continuous spaces and the integration of buildings into these spaces, whereas Modern architecture is concerned with the creation of buildings as self-referential symbolic objects.


Architectural spaces are a function of the visual harmony or local continuity of facades, the relative positioning of buildings, and the socio-economic functions of adjacent spaces. The texture of architectural spaces furthermore relies upon clear distinctions between what is public and what is private, consistent visual cues to distinguish the various cultural and economic uses of individual buildings, and the role of monumental structures within these spaces. Spaces are imbued with meaning in virtue of their integration with adjacent spaces, the cultural history of those spaces, and how they function in concert with the surrounding environment to promote or discourage different types of socio-economic activity.

Even such monolithic structures as cathedrals, in the Classical tradition, are integrated into the texture of surrounding spaces: the Piazza san Marco in Venice incorporates the san Marco Basilica into a public market plaza, symbolic of the church as a place of gathering, and of the importance of spirituality in daily life. The church and the plaza generate traffic for one another, while differences in architectural detail demarcate the distinct purpose of each of the plaza's components.

The integration of the San Marco Basilica with the Piazza can be seen in contrast to the Milwaukee Art Museum's recent extension, designed by Santiago Calatrava. The Milwaukee Art Museum extension is separated from the city by an urban park, a bluff, a bridge, and a four-lane separated highway; is more of a sculpture than a building with a facade; and stands in opposition to large amounts of open space all around it (the lake, the park, a parkinglot). The Museum stands as a singular object, visually distinct from nearby structures; the building's sculptural qualities signify the Museum's role as a purveyor of aesthetic experience; and the international renown associated with the name of the building's designer advertises the cultural importance of art.


While the Classical tradition generally expresses a worldview concerned with man's position in a greater order (be that order divine, rational, moral, or iconographic), the Modern tradition represents a worldview wherein nature is objectified, and then made subject to culture and technology. In the Modern tradition, man may have escaped the arbitrary constraints of an incomprehensible and unassailable cosmos, but is instead condemned to contend with the arbitrariness of other men. Thus Modern urban architecture seeks to do violence to the city, which is the natural environment of Modern man: to create buildings which, viewed as the products of individual architects, each represents a unique vision of comfort and safety amidst the symbolic wilderness of sensory chaos and moral decay often attributed to the city.


The object is a socio-cultural construction defined in opposition to other objects, while texture relies on the iterative amalgamation of historical continuities. The manipulation of texture then involves the creation of a void amidst a plenum (the harvesting of fields in agrarian economies), while the manipulation of the object involves creating tangible solids amidst a void (the construction of factories on farmland claimed by industry).

Competition among products and the opposition of one object to another finds expression in the conquest and subjugation of texture. Much as the Victorian fixation with automatic writing sought to liberate the mystical truths of the unconscious from the conventions of Rationalist tradition, and the Dada sought to destroy art in favor of a utopian purity of artistic expression, the building as object in Modern architecture seeks to destroy historically-motivated modulations of clearly demarcated public and private spaces. Modern architecture would fragment the city into an agglomeration of equally disparate building-objects, each of which interacts little with the historical and geographic topography of the surrounding urban landscape: extreme examples of this disposition are Disneyland and Las Vegas.


With the advent of the motion picture came the conquest of the whole of art history: dance, music, theatre, painting, literature, architecture and photography were all made raw material for this new medium. Film co-opted and encapsulated the formal and critical conventions of all these art forms, wrought from this quintessence a new sort of art object, was considered by the Soviet propagandists as a substitute literacy, and was soon granted its own a priori qualities (such as montage) ready for exploitation.

Furthermore, film provided an idealized mode of expression for the Modernist preoccupation with novelty, polyphony, and fragmentation. The first quarter century of film history can be characterized as a period guided by the pursuit of novelty -- in terms of formal experimentation, theoretical exploration, or technological innovation. Sound films such as Howard Hawk's Scarface reproduced a variety of spoken mannerisms with a verisimilitude unrivaled even by Mark Twain's most faithful renderings of dialect; Man Ray's Emak Bakia, meanwhile, approaches the image with a kaleidoscopic array of stylistic devices reminiscent of James Joyce's "little telephone book" (which has been described by critics as "a novel to end all novels"). Early animators like Ladislaw Starewicz exploited the fragmentation of time by which film renders the illusion of continuous movement, while Maya Deren combined the frame with the illusion of continuous time to fragment space.


Film has been readily granted the status of art object as much for the cultural context in which it was developed as for the manual manipulability of the material itself; the ethereality of video-based motion pictures, however, framed a new critical debate.

Critics seized upon the featureless strip of magnetically-coated plastic as evidence that video is different in kind from film; critics such as Nicky Hamlyn saw digital video in particular as posing a challenge to High Modernism's critical notion of medium specificity, since the exact same video image can be stored or retrieved using a wide variety of physical means. Critics became unnerved at being unable to localize the video object, in light of the video image consisting of immaterial "ones and zeroes" (or, in computer science terminology, ordered collections of abstract truth values). Hamlyn voiced alarm that the same "ones and zeroes" used to record a video image can be output as sound through a speaker, or on paper as text. Bill Viola asserted that the video image is not really an image at all because it is built up by phosphor dots illuminated -- very rapidly -- one row at a time.


Efforts among critics to distinguish video from film often focus on undermining the object status of video imagery. Artists addressing the critical response to video have generally sought either to contextualize video within the realm of conceptual art (where the video image becomes an instance of some critical thesis, a token object of some aesthetic type), or else to construct a physical context for video imagery with installation (wherein the video image is visually parsed as an object in space). These artistic approaches do not, however, directly address the problem video poses for the notion of medium specificity.

One solution is to deny the validity of medium specificity as a critical concept, which might make a fine home for video, but would complicate historical analysis of the relationship between art and technology. If medium-specificity is a valid concept (which seems to be the case, historically speaking), and Modernism is as much a set of stylistic concerns as it is a historical epoch (as much contemporary architecture would seem to imply), then a medium-specific analysis ought to be relevant wherever the stylistic concerns of Modernism are found.


Throughout the Renaissance, as the widespread adoption of oil painting on canvas dramatically diminished the popularity of the fresco, the new possibilities of the new medium reshaped the appearance of art. From today's perspective, the distinction between fresco and oil may seem to be less than fundamental to a critical evaluation of Renaissance painting (which is more often described in terms of the introduction of perspective rendering, or the influence of Giotto). Since critical discussion of video, however, often pays disproportionate attention to whatever minute or tautological details can be used to distinguish video from film, it is worth noting that fresco and oil treat paintings as art objects just as film and video treat the framed image as an art object; the cinematic experience is designed to visually isolate the projected image, to thereby provide the image a spatial, object gestalt.


An alternate approach would be to treat television as a commodity, to take an inventory of the formal features of television, and to create a product using this formal vocabulary. A result of this approach is channel-surfing as a visual motif: the incorporation of a variety of stylistic devices, picture qualities, production standards, and thematic concerns, presented in a rapidly changing format, with repetitive structural elements.

The visual and thematic field created by channel-surfing is morally and ethically ambiguous in virtue of the panorama of interests and intents presented by the producers of different programs, advertisements, public service announcements, public proclamations, and political campaigns; but from this ethically-ambiguous perspective, television comments upon itself, the world, and its relation to the world, as it simultaneously influences how individuals perceive television and the world, feeding back into itself... like a baroque minimalism... or a mannerist modernism...

* illustrations from Collage City by Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter.