Distraction

I’m re-reading Distraction by Bruce Sterling. Published in 1998, it is/was frighteningly prescient.  Here are a few of my favorite excerpts (does that first one remind you of anyone?).

“He’s like a not very bright child who can be deceived and managed, but not reasoned with.”

“The American national character realty wasn’t suited for global police duties. It never had been. Tidy and meticulous people such as the Swiss and Swedes were the types who made good cops. America was far better suited to be the World’s Movie Star. The world’s tequila-addled pro-league bowler. The world’s acerbic, bipolar stand-up comedian. Anything but a somber and tedious nation of socially responsible centurions.”

“It always offended him to hear his fellow Americans discussing the vagaries of “white people.” There was simply no such thing as “white people. That stereotype was an artificial construct, like the ridiculous term “Hispanic.” In all the rest of the world, a Peruvian was a Peruvian and a Brazilian was a Brazilian— it was only in America that people somehow became this multilingual, multinational entity called a “Hispanic.”

“Political reality in modern America was the stark fact that electronic networks had eaten the guts out of the old order, while never finding any native order of their own. The horrific speed of digital communication, the consonant flattening of hierarchies, the rise of net-based civil society, and the decline of the industrial base had simply been too much for the American government to cope with and successfully legitimize.”

“Knowledge is inherently precious even if you can’t sell it. Even if you can’t use it. Knowledge is an absolute good. The search for truth is vital. It’s central to civilization. You need knowledge even when your economy and government are absolutely shot to hell.”

Less white and Christian than ever

Just forty years ago 81 percent of Americans identified as white and Christian, the majority (55 percent) Protestant. Today only 43 percent identity of white Christians, 30 percent claiming Protestantism.

America’s youngest groups are non-Christian: 42 percent of Muslims, 36 percent of Hindus, and 35 percent of Buddhists are under thirty.

While the old guard is aging, the religiously unaffiliated is ticking up. Fifty-eight percent consider themselves secular, with 27 percent claiming to be atheistic or agnostic. Sixteen percent state they’re religious while claiming no particular affiliation

When it comes to education, the three biggest groups of post-graduate degree holders are Unitarian-Universalists (43 percent), Hindus (38 percent), and Jews (34 percent). Researchers note that one-third of Muslims hold a four-year college degree, compared to one-quarter of white evangelical Protestants.

Source: Big Think

“It’s just Nazi”

“I also don’t get when they call them neo-Nazis. What does the “neo” part mean? Something innovative and new? It’s just Nazi. They wear 88 pins, they chant German Nazi slogans. If it sounds and looks like a Nazi, assume it’s a Nazi. One more thing — they call Trump a Nazi-sympathizer. Why be so generous. What distinguishes a sympathizer from an actual Nazi?”

— Dave Winer

An unfunny Woody Allen

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan calls Donald Trump “Woody Allen without humor.” Ouch.

“The president’s primary problem as a leader is not that he is impetuous, brash or naive. It’s not that he is inexperienced, crude, an outsider. It is that he is weak and sniveling. It is that he undermines himself almost daily by ignoring traditional norms and forms of American masculinity. Continue reading

Two movies about politicians and politics


The playlist above includes seven clips from two movies: Frank Capra’s 1939 classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Jimmy Steward, jean Arthur, Claude Rains); and Dave (Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella and the brilliant Charles Grodin). I’ve posted all of these clips but thought they’d make a nice, tidy playlist.

PS: the tiny horizontal lines with the pointer in the top-left corner, indicates a playlist of several videos.

Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever

From Matt Taibbi’s beautiful tribute to the founder of Fox news.

“Ailes made this the hate-filled, moronic country it is today. We are a paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we’re that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.”

TMZ: “Ailes fell at his Florida home 8 days ago and hit his head. We’re told Ailes fell unconscious and his condition went downhill. Our sources say he was put into an induced coma and died Thursday morning.”

When every conversation is recorded

You might have seen a story about an embarrassing recording from 2016:

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post.

I don’t care much about the exchange but I would like to know more about how the recording was made. Surreptitiously, one would think. Perhaps a smartphone in a jacket or shirt pocket? Doesn’t sound like the sort of gab-fest reporters would be invited to so it was one of The Boys. Did he know something embarrassing would be discussed? Did he record every such discussion… just in case? And if one guy is doing this, doesn’t it follow others would as well? Every question spawns three more.

Are there meetings where the Alpha Dog demands everyone put their phones in a basket which is placed in another room? Does everyone get a pat-down?

I started the recording app on my iPhone and put it in my pocket (mic up), to see what kind of audio quality I could get. Not bad. Good enough to end a career.

Let’s say I turn on a small jamming device that prevents recording within a 10 foot radius. Could someone on the other side of the room capture so

The “useless class” and a new quest for purpose

I was so impressed by Yuval Harari’s latest book it took me three blog posts to event touch on a few of his big ideas. In an article in The Guardian, he expands on a couple of (related) ideas: Basic Income and religion-as-virtual reality. He wrote at length about both of these in Homo Deus but I think the Guardian piece is new (not excerpts from his book).

I agree with Professor Harari that some kind of Basic Income is inevitable. It’ll happen because the wealthy will see it as the best (only?) way to protect all their shit. And what will we all do when we don’t have to have a job? One possibility is virtual reality.

For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions.” […] What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions such as Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender” and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas, and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka heaven).

I really can’t see a flaw in that comparison. Unless you count, “Yeah, but Heaven and Hell are real and Grand Theft Auto Six is not.”

When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and the Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere.

Whoa. The two big holy books as VR devices. And how about a game we all play?

Consumerism too is a virtual reality game. You gain points by acquiring new cars, buying expensive brands and taking vacations abroad, and if you have more points than everybody else, you tell yourself you won the game. You might object that people really enjoy their cars and vacations. That’s certainly true. But the religious really enjoy praying and performing ceremonies, and my nephew really enjoys hunting Pokémon. In the end, the real action always takes place inside the human brain.

What does it all mean?

The end of work will not necessarily mean the end of meaning, because meaning is generated by imagining rather than by working. Work is essential for meaning only according to some ideologies and lifestyles.

As one who has not worked for the the last four-and-a-half years, I’m here to tell you it is not necessary to give your life meaning.

William Gibson Reimagines World After 2016 Election

“Agency,” Mr. Gibson’s next novel, which Berkley will publish in January. The story unfolds in two timelines: San Francisco in 2017, in an alternate time track where Hillary Clinton won the election and Mr. Trump’s political ambitions were thwarted, and London in the 22nd century, after decades of cataclysmic events have killed 80 percent of humanity. In the present-day San Francisco setting, a shadowy start-up hires a young woman named Verity to test a new product: a “cross-platform personal avatar” that was developed by the military as a form of artificial intelligence. Meanwhile, characters in the distant future are interfering with the events unfolding in 2017, through technological time travel that allows them to send digital communications to the past.”

New York Times book review »