The Vietnam War

Watched the first episode (of 10) of The Vietnam War, a film by Ken Burns & Lynn Novick. It clearly showed how world events and U.S. politics resulted in our involvement and how badly we fucked things up. I kept thinking, “Why don’t I know this?” But it was current events or much of my early life and filtered through the media propaganda machine. I don’t expect to fully understand any important event until Ken Burns and his collaborators have time to make a documentary.

Money talks. Bullshit walks.

From Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

“Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.”

This is why you can buy off a Taliban war lord or a United States Congressman. Money talks and bull shit walks. And for the most part, money doesn’t really exist:

“The sum total of money in the world is about $60 trillion, yet the sum total of coins and banknotes is less than $6 trillion. 7 More than 90 per cent of all money – more than $50 trillion appearing in our accounts – exists only on computer servers.”

It’s mostly in our heads. Or our collective consciousness, if you prefer. Packed in there with all the other imaginary concepts so many are willing to kill and die for.

The age of the masses is over

I’ve long suffered from the romantic notion that when things get “bad enough,” the people, the masses, will rise up and change things. That if enough people took to the streets, they could effect change. And while that pretty much held true in the 20th century, it might not in the 21st. Historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“Generally speaking, when you look at the 20th century, it’s the era of the masses, mass politics, mass economics. Every human being has value, has political, economic, and military value, simply because he or she is a human being, and this goes back to the structures of the military and of the economy, where every human being is valuable as a soldier in the trenches and as a worker in the factory.”

“But in the 21st century, there is a good chance that most humans will lose, they are losing, their military and economic value. This is true for the military, it’s done, it’s over. The age of the masses is over. We are no longer in the First World War, where you take millions of soldiers, give each one a rifle and have them run forward. And the same thing perhaps is happening in the economy.”

Professor Harari expands on this in his conversation with Daniel Kahneman (and in his book). Another idea that really stopped me in my tracks:

“Looking from the perspective of 2015, I don’t think we now have the knowledge to solve the social problems of 2050, or the problems that will emerge as a result of all these new developments. We should be looking for new knowledge and new solutions, and starting with the realization that in all probability, nothing that exists at present offers a solution to these problems.”

Professor Harari’s book made me really consider — for the first time — that humans won’t always be around.

“It is doubtful whether Homo sapiens will still be around a thousand years from now.”

But whatever comes next will be and I’m cool with that.

Something new is happening

As it becomes increasingly difficult to know what’s ‘true’ and ‘accurate,’ I find myself depending (not he right word but close enough) on how something is said. Am I just talking about style or tone here? Perhaps. Anyway, Bruce Sterling (On Social Media Jihads) never disappoints.

“People are gonna kill ISIS because they want those oil wells back, not because ISIS is sort-of okay at social media and pushing viral atrocity videos. […] When you’re a top terrorist, you don’t really want to “wreak havoc” anyway. Mostly, you want to create a failed state, a place like Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, where you can take over at gunpoint and live it up in the narcotics, weapons, and oil biz.”

And this gem on U.S. foreign policy:

“It doesn’t matter how much data the U.S. military or U.S. intelligence has: They attack the wrong people for made-up reasons and they’re also [a] terribly ineffective occupation power.”

As for the Internet as a global brain uniting all of mankind…

“People don’t realize that the old-fashioned global Internet of the 90s is segregating into radicalized filter-bubbles, but it is, and fast. People are used to the Free World idea, they think the huddles masses behind the Chinese Firewall and the new Russian firewalls want to get out and be rich and happy at the West’s shopping mall. But the Chinese, Russians, and even the Greeks tried that, they don’t like it, and that’s not what is happening any more. Something new is happening.”

Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War

pay-any-priceI’m not sure how anyone can have much hope for the future of America by the time they get to the last page of this book. Every institution fails. The military. Congress. Our courts. The White House. The Free Press we were once so proud of. Greed and corruption, up and down the line. Risen introduces us to some good people who tried to do something but they all paid (are paying) a high price and the bad guys are still winning.

People tell me we live in a democracy or a republic or something and we can change things at the polls but I don’t think I really believe that. Thousands (or millions?) of Americans in the street might make a difference but I’m not sure how. Maybe if they took to the streets and just stayed there, but I don’t see that happening. A meteor that takes out everything inside the Beltway?

I wish I could imagine a happy ending. If you can, please share it. I’d really like to hear it. And you know what I’d like to see? I’d like to watch the faces of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as they read this book. Each in a room by themselves, sitting in their favorite chair. Just a close-up of their faces (from a hidden camera across the roo). I could watch an hour of that.

The transistor radio

From Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators:

radio“Transistors were being sold in 1954 to the military for about $16 apiece. But in order to break into the consumer marker. Haggerty insisted that his engineers find a way to make them so that they could be sold for less than $3. They did. He also developed a Jobs-like knack, which would serve him then and in the future, for conjuring up devices that consumers did not yet know they needed but would soon find indispensable. In the case of the transistor, Haggerty came up with the idea of a small pocket radio. When he tried to convince RCA and other big firms that made tabletop radios to become a partner in the venture, they pointed out (rightly) that consumers were not demanding a pocket radio. But Haggerty understood the importance of spawning new markets rather than merely chasing old ones. He convinced a small Indianapolis company that built TV antenna boosters to join forces on what would be called the Regency TR-1 radio. Haggerty made the deal in June 1954 and, typically, insisted that the device be on the market by that November. It was. The Regency radio, the size of a pack of index cards, used four transistors and sold for $49.95. It was initially marketed partly as a security item, now that the Russians had the atom bomb. “In event of an enemy attack, your Regency TR-1 wiU become one of your most valued possessions,” the first owner s manual declared. But it quickly became an object of consumer desire and teenage obsession. Its plastic case came, iPod-like, in four colors: black, ivory, Mandarin Red, and Cloud Gray. Within a year, 100,000 had been sold, making it one of the most popular new products in history.”

“More fundamentally, the transistor radio became the first major example of a defining theme of the digital age: technology making devices personal. The radio was no longer a living-room appliance to be shared; it was a personal device that allowed you to listen to your own music where and when you wanted—even if it was music that your parents wanted to ban.”

Openly Secular

“The Air Force was ready to end a man’s military career because he would not submit to its religious demands. To secular Americans, requiring an oath to God is like asking a Jewish airman to swear, “So help me Jesus” or a Christian to say, “So help me Allah.” More »