Where I’ll put collected pieces from the Prague Post.
Failed States of Conscience
Last year saw the publication of the first sizable waves of what promises to be a coming tsunami of ‘data driven’ apocalyptic narratives detailing the accomplished ravages of latter day technology and shouting out the horrors to come, perhaps no matter how humanity responds now. Some stand-out examples include, Thomas P. Keenan’s Technocreep, which describes the all-pervasive penetration of the technological into every facet of our lives and posits that we may have already reached the point of no return in the symbiotic dialectic between man and machine; and Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction paints a similarly abysmal future, arguing that we may have so fouled our own nest that humans are now irredeemably on the path to extinction. Andrew Keen’s The Internet Is Not the Answer, while certainly dire in its analysis and outlook, does at least offer up a token hope and point to solutions, even if they are unconvincing.
Keen’s thesis really can be neatly summed up by laying out the Question and then expanding on its implications. He asks: “What can help us create a better world in the digital age?” Originally, he says the answer was the Internet. Citing New York Times columnists and assorted economists, Keen describes an almost-idyllic late 20th century American middle class, citing what New York Times columnist George Packer calls a period noted for “state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organization,” as well as publicly funded research; in short, a system that the Internet might have helped tweak and fine tune. But now, Keen sees that all as an exploded dream, and cites innumerable examples of how the Internet has been usurped by the usual greedy, unregulated controllers of our collective destiny.
Book Review: Chameleo by Robert Guffey
OR Books (2015)
Available in print and e-book
Hamlet’s Ghost and the Mouse-Trap Empire
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, a melancholy Hamlet tells his stoic sidekick, Horatio, and by the time you exit – if you can exit – this Five Act Hotel California of tragic truths and consequences, you damn well believe him. Stuff happens, and there are spaces and places in the fissures of human consciousness where we don’t mean to go, but there we find ourselves: weird places; undine spaces of horror illuminated by mere hints of occult wisdom; what Freud called The Uncanny, where Thanatos and Eros mud-wrestle in the dark and our minds are the small stage on which they do their existential porn.
That’s how I felt reading Robert Guffey’s memoir Chameleo: A Strange But True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction and Homeland Security.
The simple narrative drift of the tale goes like this: Dion Fuller, a down-and-out heroin addict living in San Diego, allows a guy named Lee to crash at his pad during a ‘rave’ (turns out Dion allows pretty much anyone to crash at his pad), blissfully unaware that Lee is an AWOL Marine from Camp Pendleton down the road, who has apparently stolen from the base valuable assets, including a Department of Defense (DoD) laptop, a dead Iraqi general’s pistol, and, of key interest, 21 night vision goggles.
A highlight of this year’s Black History month will be the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X in Washington Heights, just north of Harlem, gunned down while he was delivering one of his firebrand speeches to a rapt crowd. In the wake of Ferguson and all the other thousand bullet points of darkness and slow deterioration that have settled upon the Black experience in America since his death in 1965, for many African-Americans the February 21st commemoration will no doubt represent a new appreciation for the militant values Malcolm espoused.
For a few days, political rhetoric will abound, conspiracy theories will make colorful re-appearances, white hands will ring dem black bells, and as with the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution the mainstream media will stim sentimental tears down well-fed cheeks for a news cycle or so, then it’ll be back to baton and macing Dixie to keep her in line. However, I’d like to eschew all that jazz and instead talk about what Malcolm X and I had in common.
‘The scribe,’ he said sarcastically. So they were reading my work again, and of course they had suffered the fate of all snoops — they were upset by what they had discovered.
– Peter Carey, Amnesia (2014)
ringer, n. 2.Also called: dead ringer a person or thing that is almost identical to another
It’s easy to misconstrue what we see. So easy, in fact, that eyewitnesses are not regarded as terribly reliant conduits of reality and their testimony in a court of law is routinely regarded as suspect. It’s not much better for what we hear (or think we hear). Many years ago in Abu Dhabi, in my IB English class, I conducted a Chinese Whispers session as prep for a novel we were about to read (Camus’ The Stranger). By the time my very brief message got around from ear to ear, from student 1 through 19, it had changed dramatically. Aside from linguistic and locution issues, we often bring what we expect or want to perceive into the perception and communicate accordingly.
Misconstruing is not limited to the phenomena of everyday life, but is a problem for science as well. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, for instance, states that formulating an absolute truth about a phenomenon is problematical because the object of our scrutiny is altered by the scrutiny itself.
Last year saw muted celebrations in commemoration for the 25th anniversary of the demise of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the Velvet Revolution, which seemed back then the first tiles to fall in the reverse domino effect that signaled the collapse of totalitarian communism and the triumph of democratic republicanism and the free market.
Havel called for a new global humanism and for awhile was the toast of Harvard elites and the think tanks of Washington, D.C.
Western bankers and corporations lined up, like gold rush conestogas, in gleeful anticipation for all the loot and booty to come, and which soon windfell, even as Boris Yeltsin repeatedly did the “vodka locomotion” on stage after stage, in lieu of leadership cluefulness. It all ended badly; leave it at that.
A lot of people don’t know it, but when Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, was a young man he attended a high school in Switzerland, where, among other things, he developed a taste for Western fast foods and a certain degree of proficiency playing point guard for the school basketball team. As with the other kids on the team, he also developed a love of the NBA and its stars. Like just about everyone, Kim was in awe of Michael Jordan’s on-court skill set.
Rating 7.5 (IMDB)
Directed by Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen
With James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang
When Kim took over the reins from his deceased father, it was hoped in the West that the young man’s exposure to freedom and capitalist consumption would lead to a greater appetite for both, and a rapprochement with Washington. Surely that was the expectation when Google’s Eric Schmidt and Joel Cohen, along with globalization executive Bill Richardson – all of whom have strong ties to the State department – visited North Korea in January 2013, just before the release of the Schmidt-Cohen futuristic tome, The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, hit the bookshelves. One can readily imagine the trio pushing the inevitability of open markets, and trying to ‘honey trap’ Kim by suggesting that if he were to adopt the Google surveillance system Kim could appear to ‘open up’, while continuing to exert total control through algorithms and all-pervasive surveillance. “Works for us,” Schmidt might chirp.
Looking ahead to 2015 with a bit of trepidation
It’s that phase of the cycle when most Westerners turn the lights off on the passing year and enter into the new one full of resolve and keen for rejuvenation. Frankly, I don’t know many people who have succeeded in getting past January before falling back into bad habitude.
I know I made it as far as Lent once, before my resolve dissolved in the first new anxiety storm that came my way and I ended up the year like a fat Marlon Brando, like Kurtz in ‘Nam with that Buddha body at the end of Apocalypse Now, chanting down the year with, “The Horror, the horror.” Always we’re looking for release, only to find reincarnation and the same old, same old suffering and desires.
Lest we remember …
Perusing the Prague Post‘s headlines the other day, I was darkly amused by the Czech Republic’s growing pariah status vis-à-vis the United States. In the “Bloom wears off Czech-US relations” piece, there was expressed by US officials deep imperial disappointment at the Republic’s refusal to accept an anti-nuclear weapon battery just outside Prague, with the requisite stationing of US occupying forces to safeguard it, of course. How could any nation refuse to garrison an exceptional and indispensable soldier from Freedonia? Think of it.
by Peter Carey
Available from Penguin and online retailers
Anyway, the reason for my amusement was because, at the time, I was reading Peter Carey’s new novel, Amnesia, and key to the story is what happens when a client nation state falls out of favor with Uncle Sam: change comes suddenly and shockingly. As Duane Clarridge, the CIA meat cleaver who helped oversee the Allende ouster in Chile 1973, would say, “We’re not going to put up with any nonsense.”
I’m a Socrates kind of guy myself; like his giddy gaddy style, his ‘show me the money’ approach to belief; and I think maybe I understand his hemlock manoeuvre all too well. After all, democracy’s not for everyone, right?
But Diogenes! Now there’s a man who’d a handled this digital age rather effortlessly. Don’t get me wrong: Socrates and his relentless deconstructions were a hoot, but Diogenes had gumption and attitude. Debasing his Daddy’s dollars; strutting around with his daytime lamp looking for an honest man; homeless and sleeping in a ceramic jar (I once spent a winter’s night in a Goodwill box reading the Portable Nietzsche–does that count?); and generally revelling in his counter-culture ribaldry; he was a jester with a gesture the Romans later called digitus impudicus. O, one wakes up smiling at his antics and wanting to crow, “Up yours, too, Diogenes!” Brothers in arms, as it were.
In this year of remembrance we look back at Abbie Hoffman, who died 25 years ago and has been overlooked among all the other celebrations
These past several months have seen the Western remembrance of passionate things past, 25 years ago – the Tank Man and Tiananmen Square uprising, the goofy breach of the Berlin Wall, and the heady promise of the Velvet Revolution, among others.
These mostly symbolic historical gestures have in common the leit motif of human passion, the yearning for better days ahead, and the latent threat to authority that is people power. Alas, the excitement of their commemoration lasted about as long as the new digital news cycle. The party balloons have all gone flaccid for events that, after all, ended badly.