Category Archives: Technology

The Reality Brokers (or the rise of the Automagicians)

In the case of both Big Tech and governmental surveillance agencies, undergirding a commitment to the inevitable and imminent time after-Earth is the appeal of science fiction aesthetics, concepts and projects, all aimed toward the new goal of having new places and opportunities to conquer, colonize and dominate post-Earth.
— Sarah T. Roberts, b-20, August 2019

We live in a society where capital is highly concentrated, with most commodity production carried out by companies whose fates are largely shaped by financial investors. The commodities they produce, whether material or immaterial, are made available to us in a global marketplace, delivered through complex value chains in whose operation our own unpaid labor as consumers is increasingly implicated. Information and communications technologies have so affected the spatial and temporal division of labor that for many of us the boundaries between “work and private life are inextricably muddled and few relationships are unmediated by them.
— Ursula Huws, Labor in the Global Digital Economy, December 5, 2014

It’s popular to refer to digital platforms as town squares, but the shopping mall is a more apt metaphor: they are built to approximate the participatory feel of an open market, while their corridors are ruthlessly designed for the purposes of encouraging consumption and maximizing profit. Depression, anxiety, hate-mongering, fear, and conspiratorial untruths are all acceptable outcomes so long as they are expressed, consciously or otherwise, in the service of growth.
— Evan Malmgren, The Baffler, 2018

Your whole life will be searchable.
— Larry Page (quoted in Douglas Edwards’ I’m Feeling Lucky), 2011

At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx’s old image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human’s experience.
— Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism, January 15, 2019

The endless public appetite for apocalyptic film and TV is tied into the fantasies of reconstruction. Even the various zombie franchises are really just reconstruction stories (albeit with a huge real estate porn appeal). I want to quote Sarah T. Roberts article again, because she covers several factors that seem increasingly embedded in contemporary thinking.

In the billionaire kingmaker class, Musk is not alone in his post-Earth predilection. Indeed, he is one of several of his echelon looking cynically to science fiction and the après-apocalypse, fantasizing about outlandish ways to spend–and make–profits via projects that deepen long-standing commitments to Western supremacy and colonization, albeit with a futuristic bent. At the 2016 Republican National Convention that heralded the political ascendency of Donald Trump, PayPal billionaire and Gawker/journalism foe Peter Thiel (Thompson 2018) hailed the conquest of Mars as a worthier endeavor than wars in the Middle East. In doing so, Thiel inadvertently showed his ideological hand by invoking both as equivalent games of conquest (Daily Beast 2016). Other projects in this vein include Biosphere 2 (once the province of former Trump advisor and professional propagandist Steve Bannon), HI-SEAS, Apple’s new “Spaceship” headquarters, and the NSA’s Star Trek-inspired control room, all of which posit various offworld-oriented technological solutions to a dying future. It is a future in which capitalism has already played out the dissolution of democracy and social equalities, favoring a libertarian fend-for-yourself approach for those who remain– and those who remain, according to these projects, are overwhelmingly White, wealthy able-bodied people of the Global North.
— Sarah T. Roberts (Ibid.)

Roberts also touches on Apple’s new *campus*, which is shaped like a flying saucer and seems designed mostly to keep undesirables out as much as employees in.

Roberts again…

The spaceship aesthetic and panoptic/open floor work spaces reinstate order and hierarchy through structural and embedded surveillance while suggesting freedom of movement and action. Ample amenities are designed to keep workers on-site and productive, ideally for longer than an eight-hour workday, recalling the company towns of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Not to be outdone, both Google and Facebook have announced employee housing near their expansive campuses (Stangel 2017), in partial response to extraordinary housing costs in Silicon Valley (created by the demand from their own workers).

There is also the new NSA control room, which merges sci-fi aesthetics with Benthamesque practicality and Biosphere 2 which borrows directly from science fiction. This is a long sort of introduction to what I see as an increasing anger and frustration in western white populations that is born of the unshakable sense that white modernity is coming to an end. There is an increasing global awareness that U.S. (and EU..but the EU is hugely divided in this respect) hegemony is unravelling. The global ruling class share the same goals but have mostly allowed or been served by U.S. leadership in terms of international financial institutions and the U.N. and just by U.S. military dominance. But today there are growing areas of the planet that are openly rejecting the white supremacist capitalism/imperialism of the U.S. (and its proxies, Saudi Arabia and Israel primarily. Yes I know there are huge contradictions in that, but I will get to those). The effects of Hollywood in all this are almost incalculable. The future is built with Hollywood image and narrative, and increasingly so is the present. Narrative thinking today is tied in with Hollywood screenwriting in a near total manner.

And the effects of the internet, social media, and in general screen addictions and indoctrination have yet to be fully calculated. And this segues into the realities of content moderation. And, again, a crash course on this is to listen to a lecture of Roberts here or watch here.

And remember, too, what Andre Damon at WSWS wrote in 2018:

Social media is monopolized by a few gigantic corporations. And that concentration of control is going to obviously be exploited for more profit.

…let’s start with a shocking fact: bad behavior happens on the internet. It occurs in real life, too, of course. But there is a special quality to the depravity exhibited on social media that is particular to that domain. On the one hand, it is unthinking, and in the case of Twitter, this goes along with the character limit. But it also demonstrates a psychopathic character contradiction: an obsession with self-perception by others in combination with a disturbing lack of empathy toward many of those same others from whom one is seeking, implicitly or explicitly, validation. For many researchers, this behavior is not merely expressed on but actively shaped by social media. In a meta-analysis of seventy-two studies, the psychologist Sara Konrath and her research team found that empathy levels among college students are 40 percent lower today than they were twenty years ago — a development they attribute to, amongst other things, the “rising prominence” of “media use in everyday life”: “With so much time spent interacting with others online rather than in reality, interpersonal dynamics such as empathy might certainly be altered.
— Benjamin Y. Fong, Jacobin, 2018

There is a correlate here, found in that same Sarah Konrath study:

One especially relevant program of research finds increasing levels of narcissism in American college students from the mid-1980s until late into the first decade of the new millennium, using similar cross-temporal methods as in the current study (Twenge et al., 2008; Twenge & Foster, 2008,2010).Dispositional narcissists have inflated self-views, especially on agentic traits such as power and intelligence (e.g., Campbell, Rudich, & Sedikides, 2002). Although narcissists are extraverted, they think of others primarily in terms of their utility rather than as interdependent relationship partners (Campbell, 1999). When narcissists’ egos are threatened by rejection or an insult, they tend to aggress against the source of the threat (e.g., Bushman & Baumeister, 1998; Konrath, Bushman, & Campbell, 2006).
— Sarah Konrath, et.al., Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta Analysis, Personality and Social Psychology Review 2011

Whether it’s Twitter or Snapchat or whatever, the overriding quality associated with each platform is limited space for expression and impermanence. Snapchat is designed to literally disappear before your eyes. Twitter is particularly pathological in that it is all but impossible to have discussions, or debates there, but excels at individual declarations of fact — the users own sense of ‘fact’, that is. It has been noted by several studies about social media that those who engage in prolonged use tend to increasingly feel real life face to face interaction as persecutory. My own experience of Twitter and Facebook is that it directly breeds paranoia. And for dissident or radical left voices that paranoia is already well established, usually. It’s hard to be a socialist in America and not feel paranoia.

The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.
— Mark Fisher, Vampire’s Castle, 2013

Now Fisher is a contested figure, and with good reason (for all this insight he remained a strangely reactionary voice, and that contradiction may have been impossible for him to live with). But what he describes in Vampire’s Castle is very much to the point here. And one of the tactics of social media attacks is to stigmatize in isolation (a sort of form of essentialism). And this is akin to the bullying that high school students suffer from, too, a bullying that has led to spikes in suicide and self harm. It is ridicule that borders on arbitrary. One is tried and convicted on social media for crimes of the past, often, and, of course, often for crimes that never took place, and often for non-crimes. Mischaracterizing one’s opponent is the classic technique of the fascist right, but today it is cropping up more and more often on the left. But the new essentialism is also perilously close to conspiracy theory at its very worst. I know people, very smart people, in fact, who literally believe that entire outlets or groups or institutions — having hundreds of members — are in the grip of secret cabals of fascists. A thought mechanism that mirrors classic antisemitism. And speaking of antisemitism, the rising and continuing anti-semitism on the left is meeting with less and less resistance from the left who feel encouraged to conflate zionism and Jewishness.

Now the new aesthetics of the new doomsday scenarioists of online polemics, and in real life (the doomsayers who are billionaires) are the aesthetics of 1970s science fiction, if not 1950s science fiction. It is remarkable how durable the style and codes are of stuff like The Day the Earth Stood StillRed Planet Mars, or the original War of the Worlds. And more, 70s films like Andromeda Strain or Dark Star. Even very good and rather un-Hollywood films such as Man Who Fell to Earth have shaped the current sense of what the future means, and more, what apocalypse looks like. Just look at the art/design layouts and images used in stories about global warming or the fear mongering of the overpopulationers. Tell me it’s not nearly always from science fiction and/or is not racist. That a global environmental crisis is being packaged by media as if it were an early John Carpenter film should cause concern.

So three things I sense are related here. One is the damage of screen addictions, and, perhaps more specifically, social media. And the manner of expression that is wed to the alarmist’s sense of environmental crises. To deal with the real and material crisis would require a capacity to think in ways that social media and screen habituation have discouraged if not erased. The psychological affect of decades (now) of internet coercions and indoctrination — overt and incidental — and the very damages of just over-exposure to the technology itself are huge and perhaps nearly irreversible. Internet societies are more rigidly hierarchical than society itself. It is just masked better. The second issue is the issues of synthesizing time, narration, and loss of literacy. And the third is the dying death throws of global capital and its desire to perpetuate itself even if it means mass death, and the fantasies of this capitalist ruling class, expressed in regressive tropes of kitsch science fiction and space colonialism.

There is also a strange inversion, one that is nearly dialectical, actually. On the one hand the so called advanced West, the hyper capitalist neo-liberal West and its major telecom and digital corporations, are at work 24/7 in surveillance and data gathering. And both of these activities are usually illegal. Those same mega corporations (with intimate ties to western governments) are in the business of *hiding* the production processes that build those smart phones and lap tops on which, and with which, the bourgeoisie of the west amuse themselves. The devices that these corporations spy on and steal from — these devices are not the product of immaculate technological conception. The mythology of the information age has, as one huge factor, maybe THE hugest factor, the presumption that all of this digital technology was just divinely created and fell to earth. The invisibility of the draconian assembly lines and factories of the global south that produce and assemble these mythic devices is both an intentional practice and one those firms know is deceitful. They hide it because it would be offensive to the consumers of these products. A consumer base increasingly exhibiting a green awareness (sic). Not to mention the even more draconian waste sites where disposal of these devices take place, in countries such as Philippines, Bangladesh, Ghana, and Indonesia.

This does not even touch on the mining and earth extraction of rare earth minerals such as coltan (from which niobium and tantalum are taken), yttrium, lanthanum, and terbium.

According to the Minerals Education Coalition, a baby born in the US today will use up 539 lbs of zinc, 903 lbs of lead and 985 lbs of copper during his or her lifetime, not just in phones but in other gadgets and appliances too. In terms of environmental drain from every smartphone that’s made, you can add the oil used to produce plastics, the sand used to produce glass, and so on. ( ) Of the 83 stable and non-radioactive elements in the periodic table, at least 70 can be found in smartphones. According to the best available figures, a total of 62 different types of metals go into the average mobile handset, with what are known as the rare Earth metals playing a particularly important role. Of the 17 rare Earth metals, 16 are included in phones.
— David Nield, Tech Radar, 2015

My sense is that most Americans could be convinced to give up nearly everything to ensure a livable safe future…everything except their screen gadgets.

Larry Page of Google has used (and coined) the word *automagical*. It’s the perfect word for contemporary thought. The west thinks automagically. But that sounds benign, and nothing about the trends in contemporary behavior or thinking is benign. Zuboff quotes John Searle about the nature of *declarations*. Searle wrote:“A declaration is a particular way of speaking and acting that establishes facts out of thin air, creating a new reality where there was nothing.” This is highly relevant to the social media user. This is, in fact, that on which Twitter is based. It is the speech of Kings and overlords, of pharaohs. It is also how cops talk to suspects (i.e., everyone not a cop). Most importantly it is the speech of institutions. It assumes authority.

Zuboff also notes that this sort of authoritarian speech and grammar is the province of Google, and of Google’s unprecedented power. That said, it is power of a unique and perhaps unprecedented kind. For if conquistadors issued declarations that indigenous peoples were to be vassals…WERE already so…the threats behind such declarations were made clear. Google doesn’t have to do that. No giant information and telecom giant has to do that. The threat is assumed. The threat is implanted.

Google’s stores of behavioral surplus now embrace everything in the online milieu: searches, e-mails, texts, photos, songs, messages, videos, locations, communication patterns, attitudes, preferences, interests, faces, emotions, illnesses, social networks, purchases, and so on. A new continent of behavioral surplus is spun each moment from the many virtual threads of our everyday lives as they collide with Google, Facebook, and, more generally, every aspect of the internet’s computer-mediated architecture. Indeed, under the direction of surveillance capitalism the global reach of computer mediation is repurposed as an extraction architecture.
— Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism

Everything one does is turned into code. And that code is returned to the user (as Zubhoff writes) through the filter of *intelligent algorithms*. And if that sounds like *smart bombs*, it’s because it is, and that is, to put it mildly, disquieting. Anytime intelligent or smart are used in titles or branding, the opposite is usually true. Much as the use of *freedom* in any NGO title signals State Department front group. But the issue that runs alongside the literal monitoring of everything one does is the now third generation effects of the information age on the young. The bullying of social media is only one symptom. Mental illness is now almost expected of teenagers. In the U.S. and U.K., in particular, the anxiety, paranoia, and feelings of hopelessness are endemic. And, of course, this cannot be treated by the institutions that have caused it. At best the establishment simply finds new warehousing drugs to give them. The burden to conform is enormous for teenagers and made worse by the pathologies of social media and internet habituation.

Deleuze and Guattari saw schizophrenia as the presentation of capitalist illness as it approached the 1980s, and later Christian Marazzi suggested bi-polar disorder as the new inner logic of financialized capitalism. Then today the post post modern new feudalism presents as autism, a condition first brought to awareness by a Nazi doctor. If teenagers today suffer debilitating anxiety, and a generalized fear of ‘doing’ anything lest it appear in Snapchat later in the afternoon, the result is an increasing cognitive paralysis. One teacher I know said several different high school students have confessed their inability to act or speak, answering questions etc, that even that inability and low grades is better than internet shaming and stigmatizing. Older twenty somethings, out of school and usually unemployed, wander their American neighborhoods in what amount to semi conscious trance states. Another teacher, in suburban LA, said his small college has decided to let student homeless sleep in their cars at one end of the school parking lot. After the school board passed this measure they were startled to learn that over 20% of the student body were, in fact, living out of their cars and sleeping in the school lot.

The western economies, and this is certainly true of the U.S., are propped up by militarism, stock market manipulation, and the ongoing theft of public funds and social services.

Cutting across this are the pathologies and social violence of social media.

Social media is designed for comparisons and coupled to the narrowed limits for written expression, the function of image becomes disproportionately important. But the interpretation of image is equally or more important. The idea of popularity is implanted in the system by the owners and operators of that system. The capture of eyeballs is also the capture of consensus. This is particularly true for the young.

The empty debate on the spectacle – that is, on the activities of the world’s owners – is thus organised by the spectacle itself: everything is said about the exten­sive means at its disposal, to ensure that nothing is said about their extensive deployment. Rather than talk of the spectacle, people often prefer to use the term ‘media’. And by this they mean to describe a mere instrument, a kind of public service which with impartial ‘professionalism’ would facilitate the new wealth of mass communication through mass media – a form of communication which has at last attained a unilateral purity, whereby decisions already taken are presented for passive admiration. For what is commu­nicated are orders; and with perfect harmony, those who give them are also those who tell us what they think of them.
— Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, 1967

Orders, declarations. The desire to punish, the desire to be right. The isolation and atomization of social media users contributes to this sense of priesthood and specialness — by which I mean that when one writes, for publication or just as a diarist, the activity is hugely different than writing for social media. The isolation and contemplation of the writer at his keyboard becomes a manic anxious isolation, a cruel imposed isolation that sits in stark contrast to contemplative creation. The rapidity and constant reinforcements that are built into social media are there to keep the attention of the user, for such attention is money, is profit.

What is interesting is how so much of the opinion expressed by the left today is expressed in terms of masculine power or just a replication of militarism’s scorched earth policies. Carpet bombing — from what is now North Korea, terror bombing Belgrade, shock and awe, or bunker busters in Tora Bora, or the war crimes of Fallujah, the endless atrocities inflicted on the global south — the war zone sensibility of racist domestic police forces in the U.S., this is all mirrored and reproduced on social media. Social media has become a laboratory for aggression. But in tiny ever shrinking platforms. Carpet bombing in 280 characters. The sense of shrinkage and enclosure, of foreclosure and agitation, these are design elements. (Why do Silicon Valley CEOs not allow their children to use smart phones? Why do those children go to device free schools?)

The only way that socialist and radical political voices can engage on social media — it seems to me — is to find ways to disrupt the hegemonic orders of the Spectacle. Social media is designed to create a craving for attention. At any cost. Unconscious cravings. This is why the tribalism of likes and blocking and *friends* is so constantly reinforced.

In one sense the mega corporate owners have insured that class is replaced by individualism, identitarian relations and presentation.

When Twitter began the limit for a tweet was 140 characters. The average tweet at that point was 34 characters. Twitter increased the tweet count to 280 characters but the average tweet is now only 33 characters. I suspect this reflects the trend toward inarticulate semi-languages. The trend toward quick scans rather than patient reading.

Critical theory’s effort to restore subjectivity and resist domination rightly leads to the search for and rejection of all tendencies that cause the subject to introject and reproduce his own domination.
— Amy Buzby, Subterranean Politics and Freud’s Legacy, August 14, 2013

Social media, perhaps above all else, encourages obsessive repetitions. Obsessive compulsive disorder is expressed in pure form as Twitter or Snapchat or Facebook. The repetitive behavioral action of keystrokes mimics something industrial, something also nearly manic. And in this sense the bi-polar metaphor remains rather apt. But the emptiness of the screen, the temporal limits, the erasure of lasting meaning, all feel autistic. The social media addiction eventually neutralizes meaning altogether. Trump is oddly the perfect Twitter user. Lies, contradictions, more lies, repeating the lies, and on and on. All without meaning.

All social media rage is reproducing personal pain — at one level. It is also, on another level, reflecting the trauma and violence of the society in which the users live. The compulsive Twitter user, or Facebook troll — and in a sense perhaps everyone shares troll like characteristics simply by virtue of using these platforms — are caught in a habituation cycle of need and pseudo gratification. But addiction metaphors miss the broader point here. Internet use is often likely compulsive, and perhaps constitutes a habituation, but rarely reaches the level of addiction (addictions must produce serious real world consequences for the addict). What is the most disturbing aspect of social media and internet use overall is ideological and educational. The internet, and in particular social media, have damaged cognitive abilities, and have incrementally created two (now) generations (if not three) of people who cannot think outside very narrow cyber structures. Ideologically because the internet is in the business of constantly grabbing your attention and trying to keep it; and information is dispensed via attention grabbing mechanisms and strategies. No internet platform is free of the profit motive, remember. And cyber profit is based on an attention economy. The click bait model can be expanded to anything. And the repetitive nature of social media usage reinforces a tendency already present in western capitalist societies. And, of course, class enters in this discussion exactly here. The loss of employment opportunity and social mobility encourages a recourse to social media and the internet to replace community.

It is also important to distinguish between the attention economy and newer participatory attention economy or what Boutgang labeled Cognitive Capitalism. (see Mackenzie Wark’s analysis here

Cognitive workers are in a sense entrepreneurs, are in a sense people who invest their knowledge, who invest their singular ability and in this sense the relationship, the integration between work, cognitive work and enterprise; and enterprise has a materialistic foundation. But at the same time this kind of integration has produced an ideological effect and a kind of psycho-pathogenic effect on the social forces of cognitive labor. ( ) The Prozac economy and the Prozac crash. The integration of cognitive work and recombinant capital has produced a kind of euphoria, of hyper-excitation and has produced a demotion, an erasing, a forgetting of the physical, the erotic and the social body of the cognitive worker. We have been taken in this kind of irrational exuberance and we have forgotten that we have a body – that we are a body. So the cognitive worker in this kind of hyper-excitation completely or partially has been forgetting the relationship to the society and the relationship to the physical body.
— Frano Berardi, Market Ideology, Semiocapitalism, and the Digital Congitariat,

Berardi’s (Bifo) article is worth reading in its entirety here.

In 1995, 10 years into the history of mobile phones, penetration in the UK was just 7%,” according to Professor Nigel Linge, of the University of Salford’s Computer Networking and Telecommunications Research Centre. “In 1998 it was about 25%, but by 1999 it was 46%, that was the ‘tipping point’. In 1999 one mobile phone was sold in the UK every 4 seconds.” By 2004, there were more mobile phones in the UK than people – a penetration level of more than 100%. ( ) The way that handsets themselves were marketed was also changing and it was Finland’s Nokia, which had been fighting hard with Motorola and Ericsson for dominance of the market, who made the leap from phones as technology to phones as fashion items with the Nokia 3210 device.

“The Nokia 3210 is iconic because it is the first phone that deliberately did not display any sort of external aerial,” explains Linge. “Nokia in the late 1990s cottoned on to the fact that the mobile phone was a fashion item: so it allowed interchangeable covers, you could customise and personalise your handset.”

In 1999, the film The Matrix was released, which featured Nokia’s 8110 handset prominently. Nokia followed it up with the 7110, which was also the first device to fully exploit the new WAP mobile data service, the fore-runner of the 3G services of today.
— Richard Wray, Guardian, 2010

Hollywood again. The future again. One might argue The Matrix is the most influential film in history — not because it’s any good, it’s not, but because it consolidated several threads of style and futuristic fantasy and presented them in an appealing package, one that also appealed to the new automagical thinking. The reality today is that global capital can draw upon a reserve of global labour regardless of national borders. As Ursula Huws notes in Labour in Contemporary Capitalism, 2019:

Even when casualised labour is not carried out by their direct employees, it is carried out within the scope of the increasingly elaborated value chains which these companies control.

And this casualization and global context has generated enormous resentment against migrant workers, especially in areas of industrial decline (per Huws). Hence the rise of the far right parties across Europe today. And the theft of social benefits, stuff like unemployment payments, are increasingly hard to actually receive and when received are provincial and conditional. The point is that the internet has transformed human life in its entirety. And often, maybe nearly always, for the worse. Shoshana Zuboff (Ibid.) has the final word here, for this is what all of this discussion is trending toward:

The prospect of guaranteed outcomes alerts us to the force of the prediction imperative, which demands that surveillance capitalists make the future for the sake of predicting it. Under this regime, ubiquitous computing is not just a knowing machine; it is an actuating machine designed to produce more certainty about us and for them.

This is largely what Debord saw happening too. The profit from reliable forecasting and prediction means that creating the future is the best strategy — if you make the future you can predict it with some certainty. People need to realize, I think, that EVERYTHING online is manufactured reality — it’s not real, it’s pseudo real. And marketings job is to convince you that pseudo real is REAL REAL. And if the result of this is increased mental illness and pathological degrees of aggression, and industrial levels of anti-depressant use, well, so what? Global servitude is the dream of the new reality brokers. The ruling class believes in their own fantasies (courtesy, it seems, of science fiction movies) but they are determined to control our dreams and aspirations. And unless one starts to examine all of this in terms of class, there is little hope to stop this dream of global hegemony. The mantra must be, *question everything*.

One Woman’s Research on Aquatic Bioinvasions, Seaweed, Wave Energy

Symbioses — prolonged associations between organisms often widely separated phylogenetically — are more common in biology than we once thought and have been neglected as a phenomenon worthy of study on its own merits. Extending along a dynamic continuum from antagonistic to cooperative and often involving elements of both antagonism and mutualism, symbioses involve pathogens, commensals, and mutualists interacting in myriad ways over the evolutionary history of the involved ‘partners.’

— Gregory G. Dimijian, “Evolving Together: The Biology of Symbiosis”

It’s about being really committed. I tell students who are not any smarter than their peers that this takes hard work … to work on one question for five to seven years.

— Sarah Henkel on what it takes to study for and gain a doctorate in marine sciences

One never knows the waters a science-based article will dip into when a writer features one of OSU-Hatfield’s multidisciplinary researchers. Scientists look at very focused questions while naturalists and generalist ecologists look at systems from a broader range, but that interplay is less friction than analysis. As a journalist, my job is to dig deep and find those connections.

For Sarah Henkel, looking at how human-made structures affect what happens at the bottom of the sea is both fascinating and important to all human-activities in and around marine systems.

However, one scientist’s invasive species is another scientist’s opportunistic species. She’s got creed in the study of the benthic zone (what’s happening on the ocean’s bottom) and wave energy.

In her office at Hatfield, Sara and I recognize that the world of ecology is evolving due to innovative research and new questions scientists and policy makers are no longer afraid to ask.

She’s not atypical – a smart scientist who is open to fielding a wide-range of inquiries.

Because of the heavy footprint humans have put upon the environment in the form of cutting down entire forests and jungles, as well as geo-engineering the planet through fossil fuel burning and all the chemicals released in industrial processes, newer challenges to both our species’ and other species’ survival end up in the brains and labs of scientists.

To say science is changing rapidly is an understatement.

One Floating Piece of Debris Can Change an Entire Coast

For Henkel, she wonders what the effects of one pilon, one mooring anchor, and one attached buoy have on ecologies from the sea floor, upward.

The ocean, once considered immune to humanity’s despoilments, is as far as its chemical composition and ecological processes fragile with just the right forcers. HMSC is lucky to have dedicated thinkers like Sarah Henkel working on questions regarding not only this part of the world, but globally.

Students working with Sarah gain varying knowledge she’s accomplished through transitions from inland girl growing up in Roanoke, Virginia, where creeks, deciduous forest and terrestrial animals enchanted her and her sibling, to marine scientist in Oregon.

“Ever since I was in third grade, I knew I was going to be a marine biologist,” she says while we talk in her office at Hatfield. When a child, she visited a “touch tank” at a museum near her home and was completely fascinated with the horseshoe crabs.

Posters of benthic megaflora – seaweed and eel grass – adorn her office walls at HMSC. We’re talking about kelps like bull whip, feather boa, deadman’s finger, witch’s hair, studded sea balloons, and Turkish towel displayed on posters.

Image result for Oregon seaweed poster
Symbiosis, Cooperation, Opportunism, Invasiveness? That is the Question.

While we talk about kelp/seaweed, she shifts to invasive species like Undaria pinnatifida which hitched onto debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Over a dozen species on a worldwide list of invasive species were on broken dock moorings that washed up near Newport. Three — Undaria pinnatifida, Codium fragile, and Grateloupia turuturu — are particularly hazardous.

Image result for tsunami wreckage Newport Oregon

Some of Henkel’s work looks at one gene expression, say, in Egregia menziesii, to uncover how the species responds to various conditions. Some big issues dovetail to Undaria pinnatifida playing havoc in Australia and New Zealand.

Her fundamental question is how can certain invasive species establish niches in very different waters from where they evolved. Looking at temperature and salinity tolerances as well as desiccation limits of species helps cities, states and countries manage opportunistic invasives that not only thrive in new places, but push out endemic species.

East Coast-West Coast: Transplantation

Henkel’s a transplant herself, from Virginia, with a science degree from the College of William and Mary. She tells me that she was lucky to have gotten into a gifted and talented high school program where she attended half a day every morning, then getting bused back to her home school in the afternoon — for three years.

“It [Virginia Governor’s School] was set up like a college, with professors and curriculum more like college-level courses.”

She then transplanted herself to California State University–Fullerton in 2000 to work on a master’s degree. Then, further north, to UC-Santa Barbara for a doctorate in marine sciences.

The final thrust northward was in 2009, to OSU, where she has been ever since.

We laugh at the idea of humans also being an invasive or transplanted species: She brings up a place like San Francisco Bay which is considered by scientists as a “global zoo” of invasive species with as many as 500 plants and animals from foreign shores taking hold in Frisco’s marine waters.

“Scientists think there are more invasives in San Francisco Bay than there are native species.”

She, her husband Will, and their six-year-old live in Toledo because, as she says, “there’s no marine layer to contend with and Toledo has a summer up there.” Mountain biking is what the family of three enjoy – from Alsea Falls, to Mt. Bachelor and Mt. Hood.

If We Build It, Will They Come, Leave or Morph?

“The biggest issue facing wind and wave energy developers in the environmental arena is the high level of uncertainty regarding environmental effects will be difficult to reduce that uncertainty.” – Sarah Henkel

After her Ph.D, from UC-Santa Barbara, Sarah sent out more than a dozen applications for professorships and research positions to universities.

What got her into the OSU Family was her work at a California-based Trust looking at decommissioning offshore oil platforms.

“What sorts of animals are living on platforms? Do you cut them off at the top to allow navigation and then preserve whatever’s grown on it?” Artificial reefs are attractive in increasing species like corals, sponges, fish and crustacean, but she emphasized that’s mostly done in tropical locations. Henkel says she was a strong candidate for OSU because of the school’s work on the effects of wave energy equipment and lines on the ecosystem up here off Newport.

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The marriage between Henkel’s knowledge of benthic ecosystems and the need to understand not only what the moorings of wave energy machines do to fauna like boney fish, crabs, and other species, but also what happens to the mechanisms that are immersed in water as they capture the wave energy was perfect for OSU.

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She points out wind turbines also have anchoring systems and superstructures; however, the actual energy-capturing mechanisms are high in the air as opposed to wave energy devices.

Wave Energy, Blue Energy: No Slam Dunk

“The industry recognizes the value of looking like they are being good environmental stewards,” she says, pointing out her ecological expertise melds well with the industry’s ideal of sustainable, renewable clean energy.

Her role with the Pacific Marine Energy Center is to coordinate all the science concerned with the ecological effects of wind energy – both the siting, building, and operation of any wave energy array.

OSU is looking at wave energy while the other members of PMEC are studying tidal energy (University of Washington) and river energy (University of Alaska).

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The idea of studying sediment changes caused by anchors and structures located on the bottom – at the grain size level – may not be considered “sexy” when one thinks of marine biology; however, for Henkel the benthic zone is where it’s at.

“The classic question for artificial reefs is attraction versus production: Can there be more fish overall with this additional habitat, or is that artificial habitat attracting fish away from natural reefs?”

The permitting process for the wave energy site off Newport has been both Byzantine and slow, and it’s ironic that in her 10 years at OSU, she’s not had any opportunity to do the field observations and data collecting she was hired to head up. In that decade, Henkel said a 1/3 scale wave energy device was put into the ocean out here for seven weeks.

Henkel is not stuck in limbo, however, since she is conducting research into other aspects of the benthic region with far-reaching implications for our coastal economy.


Crabs on the Move

When we think of the Dungeness crab, most realize it’s Oregon’s leading commercial seafood product; it brought in an estimated $75 million in 2018. Henkel posed a question that many crabbers have had in their minds for years: How far will crabs travel in search of food?

In 2018, Henkel and a colleague from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration superglued acoustic tags onto legal-sized Dungeness crabs near the mouth of the Columbia River and off Cape Falcon.

Acoustical receivers helped the team learn the frequency and distance crabs moved in rocky versus sandy habitat – data that, again, will help understand possible impacts of wave energy testing on marine reserves.

Those 10 tagged crabs in sandy environs near the Columbia left the region within a week; the transmitter, at a price of $300 each, went with them.

Most know that crabbers prefer sandy areas for their pots because of fewer entanglements compared to rocky bottoms.

“It’s interesting because I’ve done a lot of sampling of benthic habitat and there just isn’t a lot of food down there,” Henkel told Mark Floyd of OSU. “There’s usually only very small worms and clams, yet there’s an enormous crab harvest each year and most of that is from sandy-bottomed regions.”

Good science means marching on, so another 20 crabs were tagged and then dropped in waters near Cape Falcon, a rocky benthic zone. Her findings were surprising: “Four of those crabs left the region right away, while the other 16 stayed an average of 25.5 days. One stayed for 117 days.”

“Even though it’s a small sample size, it’s clear that habitat can influence crab movement,” Henkel told Floyd. “The crabs in the rocky areas had more to eat, but they often also have mossy bellies, which may not be as desirable commercially. Commercial crabbers like to target migrating crabs in sandy areas that tend to have smooth bellies.”

Chemical Outflows Studied

Other interesting projects she’s been involved with include a 2012 study of marine species living in Newport waters to see if the Georgia-Pacific containerboard plant outfall pipe, located 4,000 feet off Nye Beach, may be exposing some marine life to contaminants.

In fact, it was the City of Newport that requested OSU researchers look at a variety of species, including flatfish (speckled sand dab), crustaceans (Dungeness crab and Crangon shrimp), and mollusks (mussels and olive snails) because they might be bioaccumulating metals and organic pollutants at different rates.

Henkel and colleague, Scott Heppell, found contamination of those species was not at levels of concern: “There was some concern that metals and organic pollutants may be bioaccumulating in nearby marine life. We tested for 137 different chemicals and only detected 38 of them – none at levels that remotely approach concern for humans.”

New Student Archetypes: Funding at the Whim of New Anti-science Administration

We discuss what characteristics current science students possess compared to when she was a young undergraduate science major in the late 1990s. “We see a lot more students who want their science to matter … they want to be studying things that will improve society.”

This social awareness also has created more collaborative and supportive learning environments, she stresses. “When I was a student, we had the attitude that we didn’t want anyone to see our data until we publish it.”

Now, she emphasizes, there is so much data coming in from all angles; for instance, one project can get 1,000 photos a minute just of one marine species in its habitat. Part of the sharing may stem too from being more socially conscious and concerned than the cohorts for Henkel when she first started school.

Other concerns are tied to this recent shift in administrations – from Obama to Trump. There was a lot of support for renewables under previous administrations, but now under Trump so much is up in the air for scientists working on research projects tagged as “climate change” or “renewable energy,” even those research projects around species protection.

Two large grants the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management manage are at stake.

The Scientist’s Toolbox: Adaptation

To adapt, Sarah says, wave energy research is now looking at developing, promoting and deploying small machines near navigational buoys and aquaculture operations, where batteries die in six months; in the case of aquaculture, automatic feeding machines run on batteries, but with a wave-energy generating device supplying constant power, there would be no gap in the power.

On top of that, thousands of research and navigational buoys in our oceans have batteries that need constant replacing and disposal. Wave energy at the sites would be a constant energy source and reduce waste from battery disposal.

Making lemonade – new breakthroughs in blue energy — out of lemons – subsidies and tax breaks in the billions for the oil industry but none for blue energy – is also part of the scientist’s philosophy.

Sarah’s big takeaway when talking about the power of the Hatfield campus is that students get to work with other agencies and collaborate on real projects. “Not many students can be destined for a job in the Ivory Tower,” she said. Seeing other scientists from other agencies in different roles gives students at HMSC so many more avenues for career paths.

Henkel may be a sea floor expert, but she still knows that looking at how seabirds react to/interact with wind turbines and wave energy fields is important, as is studying the electromagnetic frequency fields created by blue energy generation.

She’s on a mission to get down to the granular level of things, but in the end, each little piece of the puzzle is hitched to the big thing, called the ocean!

Sick of being a Guinea Pig

Some corporations and governments have used the US public as guinea pigs in uncontrolled experiments conducted without the public’s approval. They were often gambling with our well being when they introduced new products or conducted risky tests. In contrast, there were usually few risks for the CEOs or government officials in charge of these unacknowledged experiments.

If serious harm occurred, it was often very difficult to link the harm to the product or action due to: 1) the long lag time for the development of many diseases; and 2) other possible causes. Moreover, any damages awarded to the injured parties were usually small compared to the product’s profits. The damage awards were viewed simply as a cost of doing business. However, for the victim or his family, money was poor compensation for death or for a disease or disability.

For example, executives of cigarette companies misled the public about how addictive cigarettes were and the horrific damage they caused. Corporations paid fines, but not the executives. Note cigarettes are still on the market.

In the years before the financial crisis of 2008/2009, Wall Street introduced complex investment products that were marketed as being very safe. Unfortunately, rating agencies and regulators abrogated their responsibilities. As a result, these really risky products led to the crisis in which millions of people in this country alone lost their homes and jobs. None of the corporate leaders on Wall Street went to jail for these crimes, and many even received large bonuses.

Exxon began research on climate change about 40 years ago and an internal report concluded that results could be catastrophic and that burning of fossil fuels was a key contributor. Later Exxon shifted its strategy to opposing action on climate change. Due partly to Exxon, the necessary transition from fossil fuels has still not occurred. We are already seeing the impact of a changing climate and it’s likely to become much worse.

More recently, all Boeing 737 Max planes were grounded after two of them crashed killing everyone on board. The Federal Aviation Administration, despite concerns about the process, had allowed Boeing to perform some of the safety inspections. Apparently major problems with the flight control system and its instructions were missed. Will the Boeing CEO and other officials face trial or pay any fines?

There are numerous other products for which corporations misled the public about their safety. Truth and public responsibility have frequently taken a back seat to excess greed. Making matters worse, political appointees chosen to head regulatory agencies often gave priority, despite strong objections from the dedicated staff, to corporate interests over the public interest.

Given this past record, isn’t it finally time for the US to act proactively when a new product is developed, that is, to follow the precautionary principle? If there are legitimate concerns raised about a product, more testing must be performed before the product can be marketed. After all, it is far better to prevent the marketing of a product than being forced to deal with its possibly irreversible impact when it’s shown to be harmful.

Currently, there is a huge push for 5G (fifth generation) technology by the telecommunications industry. According to the industry, 5G offers greater bandwidth than 4G by using the largely untapped much higher portion of the millimeter wave spectrum. Due to its increased speed, 5G is touted as facilitating the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT), that is, it will allow smart appliances, self-driving cars, etc. to connect to the internet and to talk to one another. 5G will likely complement 4G for some time. Perhaps more importantly, 5G will also be a major new revenue source for industry.

Because the higher millimeter wave frequencies don’t travel very far, tons more microwave antennas will be required. These antennas will be much smaller than those for 4G and will be ubiquitous, for example, on street signs, traffic signals and utility poles. However, privacy and surveillance issues may become even more of a concern with 5G given that these antennas are so close together.

The Federal Communications Commission under its Chairman Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney, has adopted rules essentially removing most of the control by local governments to approve or deny placement of cell towers or to consider health or environmental effects for placement. However, on August 9th, a three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals for Washington, DC Circuit ruled against the part of the FCC deregulation that exempted telecoms from considering the environmental and historic preservation reviews for the placement of 5G antennas.

5G also raises new concerns about health as there are few independent studies documenting its safety. Moreover, some independent studies recently have suggested that the health risks are of concern.

During a February 6, 2019 Senate Committee hearing on 5G, telecommunications industry representatives replied to a question from Senator Richard Blumenthal about industry support for independent health and safety studies. The response was: There are no industry backed studies to my knowledge right now.” Blumenthal replied, “So, we are flying blind here on health and safety”.

Isn’t it time to say no to being a guinea pig? Demand that the FCC and Congress stop the rollout of 5G until independent studies demonstrate its safety.

In addition, given the huge societal changes that are rapidly occurring as a result of the steady stream of technological developments, shouldn’t we say whoa and discuss the implications before going ahead? People, not corporations and their new technology, should determine our future.

Questioning the Extremely Online

This essay is in regard to a crime that too often goes unmentioned when the conversations turn towards political analysis, the contemporary journalistic scene, and broader social critique: the crime of being extremely online.

What does it mean to be extremely online? It mostly is as straightforward as it sounds. Generally, activities such as spending too much time on the web, scrolling through social media feeds out of habit, checking email or notifications dozens of times a day, all are symptoms of the extremely online person. Particularly, too much smartphone use is a devastating problem.

There is also a more specific version, which both mainstream journalists and alternative media commentators employ on both the right and left: constantly posting every news update; sharing a gazillion times every day each and every version and opinion on a current event/post/tweet about the lead news stories of the day, whether it is something interesting about global warming or something as ignorant and banal as the president’s tweets; prognosticating about the presidential election a year and a half before it happens;  using dubious polls or statistics to bolster weak arguments; and basically reacting to every media spectacle with behavior including, but not limited to, juvenile tantrums, posturing, faux outrage, jaded cynicism, pompous virtue-signalling, ironic detachment, and narcissistic self-aggrandizement.

Quite a few alternative media commentators tend to replicate and mimic the 24/7 spectacle that is mainstream news. That is to say, many have internalized the messaging style; the hyper-fast response time to current events…generally speaking, the norms of mainstream commentary and thus bourgeois values are being internalized. The more time spent posting for an online following on social media, the stronger the pull of an affinity to a certain type of power. Digital hierarchies become hardened, and the bourgeoisification of the web intensifies. As we shall see below, even those who identify as anti-capitalist or socialist are not immune.

The types of online behaviors regarding political debate exhibited above may be the exception, but with the expansion of social media along with its hyper-stratified tendencies, it may soon become the norm.

What research has shown is that digital literacy creates a path towards more open attitudes towards digital technology, which can be called Technophilia.1 This research points towards entertainment as one of the key drivers in promoting positive emotions and behavior when using digital technology, which results in a positive feedback loop leading to more intense and rewarding use.

If you extrapolate from this a bit, I’d suggest that the top online influencers in various political schools of thought will be more predisposed towards promoting digital technology, simply because they are benefitting from it financially. We have a situation where the most popular commentators are economically tied to social media, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that their naïve optimism regarding the power of digital media will not stop there, but rather, the naivety extends to industrial society as a whole.

The social media environment creates a logic of its own, just as most modern technology does. One obvious materialist analogy is to the medical industry. As long as for-profit companies are allowed to dominate pharmaceutical and research endeavors, the logic of the system will mean that more people are made sick, anxious, depressed, etc., to make more money for corporations. With social media, the logic of its internal dynamics precludes nuanced, informed, lengthy public deliberation in favor of sound-bite quotes, sloganeering, and focusing on personalities, along with the most shallow forms of identity politicking. Its logic depends on divisive, sensational, hateful, and ultimately fascistic rhetoric dominating political discourse.

Since the scope of Technophilia broadens and intensifies with continued use of labor-saving devices made under exploitative conditions, it ultimately results in many self-proclaimed anti-capitalists falling under the sway of propaganda emanating from mainstream technological society, as we shall see below.

Class is never taken seriously in our society. In many rural areas around the USA broadband internet access is still out of reach, and is expensive for many poor urban Americans as well, creating a digital divide. Thus it is no wonder that the rich and middle-classes are more “open” towards the web and smart-phone use. They derive more pleasure from them in terms of entertainment, increased digital literacy, and monetary success. The flip side of being more open is being more immature and blind to dangers, however. In contrast the poor and working classes respond to the digital life-world with more skepticism, as the above study indicates.

My contention here is that this digital literacy creates a new form of “digital spectacle” for technophilic Westerners on both the political right and left, especially for the middle classes. The elite implicitly understand that in a society based on artificial scarcity, only a certain amount of online influencers can vie for position in digital media. The professional and managerial classes, and their children ensconced in privilege, all too easily fall under the sway of the competitive forces in online media as well.

The poor and working class understand that in regarding to digital media, they are getting crushed under the weight of start-up costs, social capital which is either unobtainable or sleazy to get, and various online fees and hurdles to make it in a new rigged game of digital society. The digital divide is becoming a chasm, because it too it based on market forces.

As alluded to above, election cycle mania, the fascination with polling data, as well as fixation of GDP, job growth, and many other factors which the mainstream media focuses on are now internalized across the political spectrum, included much of Western Left analysis. This isn’t to say that socialists overly reliant on statistics and polling are wrong; simply that it’s mostly ineffective, as the tone is technocratic, academic, and is filled with the jargon that turns off the average citizen, even some of what is written here. I am not immune, this is a self-criticism as well, as the lack of engagement and overly analytical framework extends throughout journalism and academia across the entire social body.

Most of this behavior has been internalized and learned from mainstream media, which creates a market and manufactured interest in nonsensical statistics and banal news trivia, as Neil Postman points out:

Statistics create an enormous amount of completely useless information, which compounds the always difficult task of location that which is useful to a culture. This is more than a case of ‘information-overload.’ It is a matter of information-trivia, which has the effect of placing all information on an equal level.2

Once data becomes transmuted into a sort of holy substance, it is wielded by both the political Right and Left as a weapon: statistics back their cause and any deviation from the issue is irrational and illogical. This sets the table for false binaries and political polarization across the spectrum of political thought.

What being extremely online has done is given the very few big “influencers” in mainstream media as well as alternative spaces huge egos and warped their ability to think critically. This is most clearly seen in our “troll in chief”, Donald Trump. Time, space, and perception are distorted and it has led to a predictable and unimaginative online discourse.

When a post appears on social media, often if you know the contributor and some of the followers/friends, you can glean and predict what the reaction is going to be and who is going to say what. Depending on the news of the day, I can guestimate what the “takes” will be of my various friends and those I follow. I admit this can be sometimes comforting given the horrendous news we deal with daily. However, it also kind of implies that real people are reacting, thinking, and forming commentary algorithmically, as if our thoughts now mimic apps like Spotify and Pandora which play tracks from one’s favorite musicians; or at least similar artists which won’t offend the listener’s taste. How banal and horrifying all at once.

With podcasts or Youtube videos, as well as message boards, one can see political commentary forming a script, where individuals rattle off reels of their “greatest hits” of points, observations, and reflections, rather than engaging with the subject matter. No matter how hard we try, social media can never replicate oral traditions and real-life conversations. Dysfunction is baked into modern capitalist-based digital communication.

How being extremely online works to the advantage of the few at the expense of the many is easy to ascertain. We are told we are living in an “attention economy” and the extremely online predicate their behavior on this premise, even those who ostensibly identify as anti-capitalist. The extremely online mimic the 24/7 blather of mainstream media discourse, because nothing is too insignificant not to post, nothing too small not to get out in the lead as being “on top of” any given issue or current event. This is the sort of competitive striving absolutely essential to capitalism.

Outrage, shock, compassion, repulsion, empathy, and even “rational, objective” sober media analysis vie for our attention spans, and the extremely online prey upon those among their followers who due to loneliness, emotional issues, or escapism already spend too much time online, and are thus more vulnerable to screen addiction, sensationalist appeals, fear-mongering, gossip, consumer trends, etc.

Of course, the mainstream outlets have been deeply complicit, as it suits their financial interests. As seen by the CNN executive during the 2016 election gloating that the insane coverage of Trump was horrible for the country, but good for their bottom line, or something to that effect.

As for the reaction time of news sources, and thus political commentary, it may strain one’s memory to recall, but only twenty years ago any major news stories that broke after the evening news broadcast did not appear until the next morning, nearly an eight to twelve hour delay

Now, every media outlet is constantly bombarding us with every update and crisis in real time. The main reaction to this (notwithstanding the many sincere alternative media, community-level, and individual critiques) in the collective consciousness is shock and numbness, and it only compounds daily.

Now, many leftists tend to unconsciously mimic the same tendencies of mainstream media. This is done by copying the tactics of mainstream online influencers who use marketing, PR, and advertising firms to get ahead. This is done by pandering to the crowd and reacting to every Trump and establishment faux pas, whether Democrat or Republican. This is done by opportunistic virtue signaling and online activism viewed as a substitute for in person organizing. The virtual becomes more real than the real. Egos become more tied to the digital social environs, a derivative of a derivative.

Apparently the twisted logic is that if the extremely online use social media as a way for exposure and fame, it’s worth it. Social media becomes a tool, a means to an end to uproot the system. The downside tends to be that we become instruments of social media itself, not a new phenomenon in Western Civilization.

Posting dozens of times a day on social media simply is not in anyone’s best interest. It is in the best interest of capital, however. Why else would one post 30, 50, a hundred times a day if not to create an attention economy around oneself, to gain digital “followers” whose gaze will be diverted from possibly more important issues closer and dearer to their hearts…as well as to one’s family and friends, one’s material reality and ability to help the vulnerable and those in need close to them.

What should be obvious is every moment spent online is time away from the natural world and thus a huge time-suck where we exist as zombified, trance-induced crazy people for more information, useless updates, more drivel-data and bits of trivialities that do not change a thing.

Being online means being on the grid and the computing power needed to keep our information superhighway running is increasing like a runaway train. Despite the relatively low cost of powering one’s individual smartphone and computer/laptop/tablet etc., the internet via server farms, cell towers, etc. uses approximately 10% of the world’s total electricity consumption and the total energy use for the web increases by about 20% each year. The rollout of harmful 5G technology and internet of things only will accelerate the technological dystopia we’re enmeshed in.

Regardless of what technophiles and delusional people want to think, modern industrial civilization is a fad. We are going to have to go through an extended period of degrowth and lowering our power consumption and that will have to include less internet use. Most especially, too much smartphone use must be addressed head-on. Smartphones need to go away, for good, and it’s not too hard to imagine a workable society without them. It existed twenty years ago.

This should be simple enough to understand, but again, chronic habitual internet use and social media creates a form of addiction which leads to denialism. For those that do partake in nuanced forms of online discussion, in message boards or even in comment sections, yet limit, self-reflect, and moderate your use, congratulations. This is not directed at you. This is written is response to the serial social media addicts. For those in this group, I’ll posit that one of the root reasons for this malady is that our addict-Left comrades unconsciously identify with the system.

This isn’t meant to sound callous, these people are suffering to different degrees, and I do empathize. Boredom, loneliness, and lack of in-person human connection are endemic to our culture and these factors shouldn’t be minimized when understanding addictive behavior.

Part of the problem is the speed of society now. It’s understandable, people want to keep up with events and chime in with their two cents. It’s a human reaction. Part of the problem is also that the people who have convinced themselves they are part of the solution remain part of the problem. Mainly, because they are unable or unwilling to critically examine the technophilic ideology at the heart of the capitalist-based internet.

The “Left-opinion makers”, as the Situationists were wont to call them, thus fall hopelessly further into the spectacle.

Caveat

Social media use is not a horrible thing in and of itself. Although much of its use tends to replicate competitive and hierarchical relations, there are alternative visions of what the web could be like. Internet and social media companies could have been, and should be now, directed through public funding and non-profit models decades ago to engage and educate working class people, to provide jobs and new opportunities, and to raise the consciousness of the public sphere. This could easily be done even within the confines of a social-democratic system.

What we have now is a web and social media landscape that is largely, but not completely, irredeemable. Again, this does not mean one should completely ignore it, only that social media should be seen as a vessel to get people out of their homes and into the streets: like we saw in Tunisia, in Egypt and many other nations during the Arab Spring.

I don’t know if this metaphor is useful at all, but social media could be used as a sort of liberatory portals or gateways, networks to awaken the masses from their slumber, to take them out of the virtual and into the “natural” world. Web and social media technology can be used to “tune in” people to serious movement-building, to Marx, to environmental protests, to issues like climate change and nuclear war, through digital communication; but eventually there has to be a period when citizens step through to the other side and “drop out” to take the struggle onto the public squares. The thing is, many of those involved in just such struggles seem hopelessly “addicted” or too enamored with the power of internet technology itself, much like what has happened with the fetishization of the internal combustion engine, the printing press, the personal computer, and many other examples.

The Professional Bloviators

Sadly, quite a few self-professed anti-capitalist public intellectuals seem to be ensnared by bourgeois ideology today. Many rightly view our political and economic systems as hopelessly corrupt, yet still cling to the privilege, perks, and soapboxes offered by their academic positions (tied to student and faculty exploitation, which is either conveniently unmentioned or under-emphasized), viewing their own credentials as somehow a basis for a true and fair meritocracy, as if academia is somehow above the vagaries of blind chance, sheer luck, white privilege, and jockeying for power.

Any academic worth their salt should be either heavily insinuating, or outright stating to their students, that college is a huge waste of time and money, depending on how much “free speech” they can actually afford to say without getting canned. Universities function today as huge indoctrination camps to train the next generation of good “liberals” (or good Germans, it might be more appropriate to say) who will never question or threaten to overturn the system: the professional-managerial upper-middle class technocrats, financiers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

Thus, even some dissident academics manage to paint themselves into a corner with ineffectual arguments backing the college system, turf wars, theatrical posturing, lack of engagement with the working class, etc. This has all been said before, but again, it may be worth repeating. For instance, in 2011 in the US there were some “socialists” and “anarchists” supporting the US/UK/French bombing of Libya, and a few who equivocated and vacillated, citing the responsibility to protect civilians, parroting State Department propaganda. Oy vey.

The internet and social media has accelerated this trend, making things worse among the wider population, as even those with core anti-capitalist ideas fall into internecine bickering. This is peak aspersionary politics, or passive-aggressiveness if you prefer, which apes wider bourgeois culture. To recast Allen Ginsberg’s opening line of Howl for today, and I only mean this half-jokingly, we can think of something like: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by social media.” Some Left twitterati self-identify as being “extremely online”: brazenly, unashamedly, and unreflectively revealing the depths of their own screen addictions.

Aldous Huxley described the brain as a “reducing valve”, yet I’ve not heard a fully-encompassing phrase for the situation created by a digital milieu where web algorithms which reinforce harmful beliefs and behavior, prey on our addictions, amplify hatred, sow discord, polarize media and community; by devices that seize and sustain our attention long after we realize it no longer serves our interests; by neurotransmitter hijacking, empathy-deadening, critical-thinking atrophying smartphones and media built explicitly to mine us for money, use our thoughts/photos/creativity/etc. as free content while social media companies and those who advertise on the platforms make billions, and generally to simultaneously distract, outrage, and numb us. “Limbic capitalism3 is the closest term I’ve come across, but perhaps the more brutal, if less artful, phrase is more apt: mind control.

There is less and less nuance and space for radical dissent as many left-leaning alternative media and social media influencers close ranks and offer only very mild criticism of social democratic policies. Again, the striving is self-evident, is it not?

These are symptoms of unhealthy minds, formatted/manipulated/brainwashed to choose between false binaries no matter what contradictions follow from the starting premises of whatever topic is at hand. For instance, take the so-called socialist opportunists who offer very mild public criticism of the Green New Deal, or those who don’t mention the huge cuts in military spending needed to give the deal teeth, so as not to seem confrontational or radical, or perhaps to save what’s left of their perceived (yet, worthless) reputations. In other words, their take is: we don’t have time to build real socialism. Let’s form a coalition with the new social democrats, as if that didn’t end in complete disaster over 100 years ago.

Paths Forward

Now, of course it’s true that reform can indeed broaden and deepen the prospects for revolution, and it is not an either/or proposition, as Rosa Luxembourg explained so well. Yet, we cannot let the crass opportunism and striving for attention on digital media to enact important reforms derail us from steeping workers, students, minorities, and women in the rich intellectual tradition woven by the anti-capitalist Left.

Right in the introduction to the Social Reform or Revolution, Luxemburg states: “The entire strength of the modern labor movement rests on theoretic knowledge.” Despite big advances in the last three years, clearly there is a need for the deep type of work involving the framework for constructing and advancing a truly emancipatory Green New Deal, as well as fighting for open borders, the abolition of prisons and police, and the military-industrial complex.

Anything less than a systematic and intersectional approach will do a huge disservice to the movement and will replicate the cloistered, privileged milieu which unduly benefits the extremely online and their techno-utopian backers.

Reform is welcome because it can lead to tolerance, and its eventual byproduct, solidarity. Solidarity is a radiating emotional, behavioral, and intellectual stance from which flow social bonding and necessary healing mechanisms for our culture. The main ideals of environmental, social, and economic justice revolve around solidarity. Which gives us space to breathe, and here I’m reminded of Eric Garner’s last words. The minorities and the poor in this country have been suffocating for centuries. With no mass base, even the good intentions of those in Congress, such as the “Squad” who advocate for redistributive measures, will be for naught.

If some of today’s US socialist “thought leaders” are so spineless to feign from even mentioning how the prospect of renewable energy corporations left in the hands of private control will end in utter disaster, or to simply pretend it won’t, there’s not much left to say to these people. Then there are US socialists who advocate insanely for nuclear power. Forget theoretical knowledge.  This is basic common sense.  Nuclear energy is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. If there is intimidation by peers, or simply self-censorship, or to maintain a lifestyle by promoting such anti-life policies on the Left, well, it’s entirely understandable, predictable, and wretched. It’s also an abdication of responsibility: clearly these are bourgeois stances.

To sum up, pointing fingers at the ruling classes’ blatantly obvious sociopathic tendencies provides the convenient scapegoats and diversionary tactics from confronting the holes in many of our own thinking

Back to theoretic knowledge for a minute. First, we have to take into account the anti-intellectual climate here in the US. One encounters quite a few semi-influential figures, especially on the right but increasingly in anti-capitalist outlets, which are quick to criticize French postmodernists, or the Frankfurt School, or various strains of thought which are deemed too obscure or weighty.

There’s no time for theory is one of their complaints, because it is too time-consuming or turns off too many people. So whatever is too complicated for the gate-keeping digital left-liberal editors is thrown by the wayside, but it ain’t clear where this process is headed other than an even more dumbed-down society. What is clear is we are dealing with lightweights.  It’s pretty paternalistic too, because the subtext seems to be that regular people are just too dumb to be introduced to “Theory” and serious academic work.

The other side to this is that many of the same people who are wonderful at explaining theory or offering political critique, many of the “the Left opinion makers”, have absolutely no environmental or ecological knowledge base. You wouldn’t trust them with a shovel; never mind on a factory floor, a communal farm, starting an activist movement or union, or organizing a cooperative. The materialism part of the equation never kicked in. It’s a function of middle-class squeamishness that needs to be squashed.

Another point I want to mention is the US and UK analytic preference for social critique and philosophical investigation, in contrast to the continental style. And I cannot emphasize enough that the dominant Anglophone trend is to turn socialism into an equation, a formula. Put another way, to offer models of governance and even to organize in the technocratic style. Not only that, but to uncritically accept a model for the future based on unrestrained use of technology, with very little understanding of environmental impacts,  conservation, or basic ecology in general.

We see this techno-fetishism in some of the ideas floating around such as “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”, notably Aaron Bastani’s recent work of the same title. Bastani is close to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. And look who gives a plug for the book, Bhaskar Sunkara. And if you follow these connections down the rabbit hole you’ll see Sunkara’s most recent work gets a plug from Ezra Klein of Vox. So there are all these ties from UK socialists to US democratic socialists to elitist technocratic liberals. And what is in common is a shared naivety regarding technology.

Again, ideas around degrowth are never discussed by the automation admirers. It’s clearly a total dismissal of the idea to preserve their own affluence. Total energy use in the West will have to decrease immensely. The economy, which is inexorably tied to energy use, will have to contract. Nearly all large buildings will have to be retrofitted to remain cooler in the summer and warmer in winter using natural insulation methods. Many large office buildings, skyscrapers, malls, etc. will simply have to be abandoned because there is no way to heat/cool them even remotely efficiently. Modern agriculture will have to be dismantled and converted to decentralized permaculture community-worked gardens.

None of this is even mentioned by the automators. This is because their thinking, their ways of being online, have already started to slip into the manner of the automaton. Which many people acknowledged, where Brzezinski dispassionately saw it as an inevitability of modern life, and famously Marcuse saw it as a downright horror in his One Dimensional Man.

The majority of the world can see through all of this talk of AI, robot, quantum computer, 5G drivel. Most people understand, even if they cannot quite communicate their ideas as coldly or eloquently as the technophiles, that the mind cannot be reduced to a mechanical device or a computer processor. As below, so above, society cannot be viewed or treated as a factory floor for renewable energy powered robots to bring us to some Jetsons or Star Trek lifestyle.

The opportunities for control and manipulation of minds have already grown at a frightening pace in the past fifty years. Even further automation would simply open up more avenues for alienation and exploitation. Here’s how. A pro-automation society would be more open to new hierarchies created by divides among the digitally literate, could empower the pharmaceutical companies to create dangerous new drugs to control moods and perception, could open up more geo-engineering of the planet, to more spying and tracking of individuals, and generally more of the full-spectrum digitization of our lives.

This isn’t to suggest that those among the extremely online don’t have any good ideas, or that the FALCers don’t either. It’s simply a reminder that some of these people are being very naïve in regard to the future of technology, some are materially benefitting from the current toxic social media environment and are therefore biased, and others do not realize the internal logic of the system which engenders some of the very barriers they wish to destroy. In most cases high technology acts as a drug, with an intelligence of its own, and once you’re on the ride you don’t control where you’re going to get off.

  1. Ronit, Purian, “Technophilia: A New Model For Technology Adoption” (2011), UK Academy for Information Systems Conference Proceedings 2011, Paper 41.
  2. Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books, New York, 1992.
  3. Courtwright, David. “How ‘Limbic Capitalism’ Preys on our Addicted Brains”, Quillette, May 31, 2019.

One “Little” Legislative Crime that Keeps on Giving

NOVA: If this region—New Orleans, the wetlands, and all—were a patient in the hospital, how would you describe them? At what stage are they?

IVOR VAN HEERDEN: Close to death.

[…]

There is the potential for extremely high casualties—people not only killed by flying debris, drowning in the soup, but also just imagine, how do we rescue the survivors? Unlike a river flood, it doesn’t come up and go down. The water stays. And it stays for months and months and months. How do you rescue all of these people? If there’s 200,000 survivors, you get 20,000 out a day, that’s 10 days. So how are they going to hang on? You know, this is one of the big nightmares: how do you rescue those survivors? What are they going to need?

They’re going to need to be detoxified. And this is Louisiana—it’s 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 100 percent humidity. Putrefaction and fermentation go on very, very rapidly. So those folk are going to be surrounded by the proverbial witches’ brew of toxins.

Photo: Ron Mikulaco, left, and his nephew, Brad Fernandez, examine a crack caused by an earthquake on highway 178 Saturday, July 6, 2019, outside of Ridgecrest, Calif. Crews in Southern California assessed damage to cracked and burned buildings, broken roads, leaking water and gas lines and other infrastructure Saturday after the largest earthquake the region has seen in nearly 20 years jolted an area from Sacramento to Las Vegas to Mexico. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

I have talked about (written in a hundred articles and blogs) this single moment in a political prostitute’s career that defines not only the inhumanity of that person, but also his/her backers, his or her “people,” and those who continue to pad pockets with bribery money.

Little W Bush voting to vote down legislation for making chemical companies to put into their mixes of poisons chemical markers (only in 12 common/major poisons) that would help medical experts treat poisoned youth, babies, and adults when coming into an ER catatonic or seizing. He did the veto because the chemical purveyors lobbied, threw money at candidates of whoring support, and to PR spin-masters who lie lie lie to confuse the public. Those built-in lifesavers would cost some money. Profit Profit Profit Prostitution Prostitution Prostitution.

Remember Emmett Till, and his mother Mamie, and seeking a civil rights investigation into her son’s torture-murder-dismemberment from that bastion of Presidential Prostitution, Ike Eisenhower? That crappy general wouldn’t even open Emmett’s mother’s letter, or thousands of letters supporting an investigation into her son’s murder. No response from that five star mercenary:

Mamie Till-Mobley telegram

Photo credit: A telegram from Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to President Dwight D. Eisenhower requests justice in the investigation of her son’s death. The White House did not respond. [Image courtesy Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, eisenhower.archives.gov)

Will Ike rot in hell (haha)?

It doesn’t have to be an “elected” official that paves the way for the pimps of Wall Street, Big Energy, Big Everything, that so-called “Complex,” tied to the coined Military Industrial Complex, to wrest control of the people’s futures. Take EpiPen, and that head of that Big Pharma company —

She was the first woman to take over a Fortune 500 company. She lied about her MBA. And, her father is a senator and former governor of West Virigina — Heather Manhcin err Bresch. These people are emotional, economic, spiritual tyrants —

Heather Bresch
Happy and bribed multi-millionaire, maybe a cool half a billion now!

Bresch’s time at Mylan featured confusion back in 2008 when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found that she hadn’t earned enough credits for the MBA listed on her résumé. In the end, West Virginia University rescinded a degree it retroactively awarded—but turned out, Bresch didn’t need it to keep her post.

More recently, Mylan disclosed that it is among a group of generics companies facing price-fixing allegations from dozens of states, and federal prosecutors are investigating the issue on their own. Mylan’s president, Rajiv Malik, is among the executives personally named in the lawsuit, although Mylan has stood by its president.

But Mylan first became something of a household word back in 2016, when the EpiPen pricing controversy broke. News surfaced that the drugmaker had been hiking prices for years on its lifesaving epinephrine injector to the point where many parents had a hard time paying for their back-to-school packages. Lawmakers struck up investigations and consumers blasted the drugmaker’s motives.

Bresch, for her part, defended Mylan’s pricing by pointing to the drug pricing and rebating system in the U.S. Along with the EpiPen fiasco, Mylan paid $465 million to the federal government to settle claims it underpaid Medicaid rebates.

Again, the EpiPen, which is required for more and more people today as we are a society with broken immune systems — largely caused by plastics in our food, pesticidees in our bread, herbicides in our cereal, lead in our water, and a bombardment of gene-spliced crap in our foods, like that old fish gene in tomatoes . . . forget about nanoparticles in our beer and beef! The entire food system and general living systems in the USA have been so adulterated that more and more children I teach are in school with major food allergies requiring an EpiPen, which should be free, but instead it went up to $600 a shot under Bresch’s misleadership, and she was touted as the highest paid Pharma CEO, male or female, in the land. Mis-Fortune 500!

One action speaks volumes!Image: A pharmacist holds a package of EpiPens epinephrine auto-injector

Think of your own communities and your own legislative districts or states, or regions. Think of that group of prostitutes allowing fracking and earthquakes; coal ash ponds made of crumbling earth and over-spilling. Think of all those CAFOs — confined/concentrated animal feeding operations — polluting the air, land, soil and watershed/water table with billions of gallons of blood, aborted animal fetuses, urine, shit, antibiotics, fungicides, and nitrates, to name a few lovely by-products of that crispy bacon burger or tender chicken nugget with cheddar cheese or big ass T-bone! How many commissioners, state ag bureaucrats, leading scientists with leading universities /lie/lied, cover up/covered up, spin master/spin mastered confusion to the point that you are now there, living a virtual chemical and chronic disease hell?

One decision that puts health, welfare, safety of a community in jeopardy or, in fact, creates those diseases, hazards, injustices, well, that is the defining moment of any single man’s or woman’s humanity, or lack thereof. You think citing “well, in politics, it’s about compromise after negotiation after compromise” as the way democracy run for, by, because, in the name of the rich is going to fix it? After those prostitutes turn thy cheek and see-speak-hear no evil when it comes to the greater good of supporting and propping up and turbo charging the terrorists’ regime — Capitalism’s quadruple profit schemes!

One stupid remark, as we get in all the presidential debates, both sides of the political feedlot manure pile, and if the remark is steeped in injustice, seeking the power of money and inside trading (as all lobbying efforts at the predatory capital level engage in), then there should be hell to pay.

You got the head creep in the head office (POTUS — Perverted Occupant of the US), with so many lies, crimes, incompetencies and the like defining NPD Trump, but alas, the harbingers of money — networks, newspapers, all the Little Eichmanns and boot-lickers with bended knees or backwards flips awaiting Trump’s economic, environmental, international buggering — they are defined by their own prostitution and whoring and pimping.

But it’s all about compromise — how many millions will lose school lunches or measly food stamp benefits? Compromise across both aisles. How many millions are on the brink of houselessness because of that fine group of prostitutes and pimps in the landlord category gouge and gentrify and gut families into eviction hell? Compromise at your local state legislature.

One decision exposed paints a thousand other crimes hidden or about to be perpetrated:

Ask about health care at a summer cookout, and you’ll likely get an earful about how drug corporations are gouging us, leaving many families to choose between buying medications or putting food on the table.

Why? Because corporations put profits before patients.

Look at a corporation like Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, which raked in $480 million in profits last year and paid its chairman $97.6 million, all while raising the price of the medication to more than $600 per dose.

And take Michael Pearson, the former CEO of the drug corporation Valeant, who put it bluntly: “The capitalistic approach to pricing is to charge what the market will bear.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing from people around the country who are terrified that the health care repeal now before Congress will put life-saving medications even farther out of reach for them and their families.

From Alaska to Alabama, people are worried sick about being able to get insulin for diabetes, blood pressure drugs, and prescriptions for panic attacks, ovarian cysts, lupus, celiac disease, thyroid cancer, hemophilia, and many other conditions.

So how many hundreds of gallons of herbicides are acceptable for humanity, wildlife, flora and fauna, fetuses? Which compromise will your cancer-inflamed aunt or developmental delayed/disabled child applaud and say, “That’s politics . . . haha”? Oh, those Poison Papers:

The “Poison Papers” represent a vast trove of rediscovered chemical industry and regulatory agency documents and correspondence stretching back to the 1920sTaken as a whole, the papers show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press. These papers will transform our understanding of the hazards posed by certain chemicals on the market and the fraudulence of some of the regulatory processes relied upon to protect human health and the environment. Search instructions for the Poison Papers.

Which of these culprits will rot in Hell? Right! Getting down to headlines:

ROUNDUP TRIAL: MONSANTO USED FAKE DATA TO WIN OVER REGULATORS

TRUMP’S EPA IS UNDERMINING NEW LAW TO REGULATE CHEMICALS

The game can’t be won by George Carlin wannabes, the Jon Leibowtiz “Daily Show” Stewart or the Stephen Colbert crap. Funny as hell is like Nero Fiddling While Rome Burns — Laughing all the way to the bank for those media mucksters, but diluting thought and intellect, those Daily Shows . . . har, har, har!

But in a chaotic society, where we throw millions at a millionaire, like, what’s his name, Anderson Cooper, or where we listen to the third grade debate (sic) antics of idiotic debate (sic) moderators (faux), well, none of these realities are brought to the fore, since America, even in this hateful iteration, is a play nice kinda place, or at least the medium is the message, since there is a cabal of few controlling 95 percent of media, 95 percent of all communication and education platforms. These chosen people will not tolerate anything outside the discourse, outside the controlled opposition, paid for and militated by the same chosen few.

Back to my neck of the woods. Living in a town where the forest meets the sea, as the PR spin puts it. I spend a lot of time on the Highway 101 working as a journalist, environmentalist and family advocate for a new gig I just got hired for to lead in Lincoln County.

That beautiful Pacific, hard-edged Oregon coast, blustery winds, amazing crags and reefs and hard escarpments into the sea. That Highway 101 right up against the near tide line, with tens of thousands of visitors in their RVs and cars, renting beach houses for a span or all summer. The town of Newport is 10,000 residents, but some warm sunny summer days, up to 50,000 from around the USA and world.

So, that big emblematic moment in this state, Oregon, not the liberal bastion portrayed by Holly-dirt or the oh-so-tragically-hip Media?! WE have their names, these culprits who call themselves representatives. Sure, there they are in living color, with their districts in bold. Imagine, Oregon’s Little Eichmann Politicians-Prostitutes voting DOWN an Early Warning system for Earthquakes and Wildfires.

If there is a hell (haha) then these will burn in it, but not in the mindset of the Chamber of Commerce or Developers or Real Estate or Construction or Hospitality felons! Read and weep!

Researchers were shocked when nearly $12 million to expand ShakeAlert and AlertWildfire — early warning systems to help detect significant earthquakes and wildfires — unexpectedly went up in smoke last month, just days before the end of the legislative session. Money for the projects was included as part of a larger funding package, but was stripped in a last-minute amendment.

Disaster preparedness has continually been a focal point as Western states are poised to enter the hottest and driest months of wildfire season. And two massive earthquakes in remote areas of Southern California this month reminded the public it’s only a matter of time before the next destructive quake hits.

“We don’t know when the next big earthquake or wildfire will strike, but we know it will happen at some point,” said Douglas Toomey, a seismologist and earth sciences professor at the University of Oregon who helps run both early warning detection systems. And Oregon is “woefully” unprepared, he said.

Here, my lite article on Oregon State University’s marine sciences center in Newport, 13 miles from mile current tsunami vulnerable home:

BRIDGING THE DIVIDE

Again, this is a lifestyle and tourist-travel-stay-and-eat-and-buy magazine, where I make a few shekels:

The next big one

For some, maybe the glass is half empty, especially when considering just when, how big, how long and specifically where the next earthquake will occur along the San Andres Fault and Cascadia Subduction Zone.

For Chris Goldfinger, geology and geophysics professor, it’s not a matter of “if,” but when. He was pretty clear that an 8.0 or above magnitude quake has a 37 percent probability of hitting our Cascadia zone in the next 50 years.

He was quick to criticize the Coastal Caucus, comprising of the eight legislators from districts along the Oregon Coast, who, on June 24, voted down a statewide tsunami zoning code which would have prevented some public services, hospitals, schools, fire and police facilities from being built in tsunami zone sites.

The final activity for the day was a tour of, ironically, a new building that was designed and is currently being constructed to withstand some level of tsunami, with design features that incorporate vertical evacuation from the lower floors to the roof. Then, contingency plans include horizontal paths to avoid tsunami inundation, including Safe Haven Hill west of Highway 101, about a mile from the campus.

Thomas Robbins, from the architecture firm who designed the building, Yost Grube Hall, pointed out other design features that make this new building sort of a model for other structures, including deep-soil mixing to stabilize the ground under the building.

“Augers went down a hundred feet,” Robbins said. “Then thousands of cubic yards of grout [27,380] were injected. We designed this as state of the art, for functionality, safety and aesthetics.”

The expected growth in resident students, up to 500 in 10 years, has necessitated university housing plans — dorms — to be built on higher ground, away from the Hatfield, out of tsunami zones. There was and still is controversy about siting this new building in a tsunami inundation zone.

The OSU Marine Science building under construction, April 2019. It’s on a sandbar at sea level in Newport, Ore., and can be overtopped by the largest of the modeled tsunamis, as well as battered by the NOAA ships docked just to the left out of the frame. It’s not often you can take the “after” picture ahead of time, but this is what it may look like after being destroyed by the next tsunami. Credit: Chris Goldfinger.

Photo credit: The OSU Marine Science building under construction, April 2019. It’s on a sandbar at sea level in Newport, Ore., and can be overtopped by the largest of the modeled tsunamis, as well as battered by the NOAA ships docked just to the left out of the frame. It’s not often you can take the “after” picture ahead of time, but this is what it may look like after being destroyed by the next tsunami. Credit: Chris Goldfinger.

Here, one of the outlier scientists I quoted in my “lite story” and for whom I am seeking a longer story to discuss the bastardization of the science, or what many call engineer-stitutes — the American Society of Civil Engineers, who blew one thing after another, including NOL, Katrina.

– I had this man on my radio show in the early 2000s in Spokane, where he visited one of the colleges where I taught, Spokane Community College, Ivor van Heerden

breach

Photo credit: Breaches like this one (middle distance, beyond the bridge) on the 17th Street Canal caused the extensive flooding. It was not simply a matter of Katrina’s storm surge overtopping the levees. (Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans District)

Prof. Chris Goldfinger, Ph.D., Oregon State University

ASCE models: Simplistic, no peer review, no publication

Oregon, however, already had high-end tsunami models. By comparison, the ASCE models are simplistic, a first cut at best, that failed to incorporate the geologic, geophysical or geodetic data. They did not attempt to “balance” the slip along the subduction zone so it made sense in terms of the total budget of motion between the two colliding plates, failed to use the latest geologic evidence, and did not test the models against the geologic evidence of tsunami run-up. The ASCE models and sources were never peer reviewed in any serious way nor published. In fact, it remains pretty hard to ferret out exactly what ASCE did, as there is no documentation to speak of. At a meeting where the results were presented to Oregon specialists including me, they were heavily criticized. But the process was already complete, and our comments were not incorporated.

So in the end, Oregon was sold this package to replace the 1995 law, and also to cut DOGAMI out of the picture. Legislators wanted to shoot the messenger, as so often is the case. Now Oregon will have two sets of tsunami lines, one in the new building codes, and one from DOGAMI. They are not the same, and don’t serve the same purpose. Nonetheless, the DOGAMI lines are defensible, published and available to all, while the ASCE lines are not in the same league. But many in the Oregon legislature became convinced that they were improving things, while others pushed the pro-development agenda, and others appeared to be confused about exactly what they were signing due to the press of other business.

Worse than the tsunami models is that now there is no statewide uniform guidance or law to govern what can be built in a tsunami zone. Decisions will be made by local building inspectors who decide which risk category a project belongs in, and these people, in my honest opinion, are easily influenced by politics. While a given city is free to go above and beyond the codes and place things in safe locations, it will also be free to do dangerous things if the local politicians push it. To some extent this was always true, and fixing that was a problem a state task force was working on when short-circuited by the legislative attack on DOGAMI.

A stealth war on science

It gets worse. The bill that passed last week was done in stealth mode, under the radar, when all news was focused on a climate and carbon tax debate. It was attached to another bill very late in the session, and had no real discussion, hearings or debate. Even if some of the supporters were well intentioned, some are conflicted with strong pro-development agendas. As Rep. David Gomberg, a Democrat who represents the Central Coast, stated many times, tsunami protections were costing people money (a dubious claim at best), thus the attacks on the existing law and on DOGAMI.

In the end, the result may well be measured in lives lost for the simple cause of profits for developers on the coast.

When Warriors become Saints

As I sit on the small balcony on the top floor of an old house in the working class neighborhood of Alfama in Lisbon, Portugal, it is early evening, the time for wine and voices wafting on the fragrant breeze through the twisting cobble-stoned streets.  The National Pantheon (Panteao Nacional) stares me in the face.  I stare back, and then look up to the heavens and to the cross that is silhouetted against the blue sky.  It crowns the Pantheon’s massive dome.  On its façade stand three statues, only one of which I can see clearly.  She is Santa Engracia, a Christian martyr from before the period when the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized and legitimatized Christianity, transforming the cross into a sword. It was her church before the state found it acceptable to convert it into a space to glorify its secular saints and its military and political prowess.

Rome never dies, although it falls in different guises but is resurrected by the human urge to dominate others.  The savage complicity between church and state perdures through the ages.

Wherever you go, the monuments and statues glorifying humanity’s violent history are always presented as a form of liberation. Tourist attractions. Generals, princes, and kings atop horses, brandishing swords and guns, “grace” squares and monuments as a reminder to the common folk of who is looking down on them and to whom they should look up, or look out.  Yet even when they do show obeisance to their “masters” who rule them from the heights, the commoners are left out of the spoils of empire, and if they object, they are taken out without hesitation.

On a clothesline outside the windows of the house across the street where a woman peeks out, the pants and underwear humbly sway to a different tune, a sad Fado moan that seems to ask: What has happened?  Has it always been like this?

I am tempted to tell the underwear it has but realize its job is to cover-up, not expose the truth.

Rilke, a German language poet of most delicate sensibilities, asked from one of his castle abodes provided by one of his many rich lady friends:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me

Among the angels’ hierarchies?
And even if one of them
Pressed me against his heart
I would be consumed in that
overwhelming existence.

But down below, the omnipresent graffiti on the walls is a bit less circumspect.  It shouts: Fuck the elites! (Translation provided)

The old poor murmur their prayers and the angry young spray their rage on every canvas they can find.  Both seek hope outside the museums and mausoleums erected by the wealthy to glorify themselves.

And fate answers: It’s the same old story, a fight for love and glory.  Those seeking glory, the rich elites, the powerful with the guns in all the countries across the planet, with a few exceptions, smash the lovers and the humble people as they struggle to keep faith and hope alive. Who will liberate them?

Who among the elites will hold the arm of the old Portuguese woman on the one crutch as she teeters on her struggle up the steep hill to the little grocery store?  “Orbrigada – Deus te abinҫoe” is her response to a stranger, whose heart aches.

Here in Lisbon there is a famous tourist attraction, Castelo De S. Jorge, a massive hilltop castle and fortress overlooking the city.  Built by the Moors in the eleventh century, it was conquered by Dom Afonso Henriques, who became the first king of Portugal, and began what is so nobly described as “its golden age as a home for the royalty.”  Royals are always noble, and castles and mythic saint/soldiers like St. George intimate friends.  It is a marriage made in hell.

The Spaniard, Ignatius of Loyola, was a soldier seriously wounded in war at the age of thirty.  He subsequently underwent a religious conversion. He founded the Jesuit order eighteen years later and was sainted in 1556, sixty-six years after his death.  Having been educated by the Jesuits, I vividly recall the motto of my Jesuit high school that adorns the school seal, Deo et Patriae, a not so subtle reminder of how my priorities should be linked.  I have failed that test, just as I failed a freshman mathematics exam, probably because I couldn’t figure out what two plus two equaled, since I was reading Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground at the time and might have thought it was five because I believed I was free and not what Ignatius urged Jesuits to be – “as if a dead body” in obedience to the Pope.

The so-called rational ones have brought the earth to the point of extinction with their instrumental rationality and their diseased souls.  We are living in the Crystal Palace that Dostoevsky so mocked long before the crystal turned digital. One plus zero may equal one in such a glass house, but such counting will not protect us from the whirlwind we have conjured from the smart man’s equation of E=mc

Only a spiritual equivalent will save us, as James Douglass has so eloquently argued in his slim but powerful book, Lightning East to West: Jesus, Gandhi, and the Nuclear Age, where, taking up Gandhi’s suggestion, he argues that there is a spiritual equivalent to Einstein’s law of physical change that we must discover that will allow for a radical transformation of society and the world.  Douglass’s country is the world.

I, however, am reminded of a very different Jesuit-trained American (one among many), who has passed the American indoctrination exam “admirably” and who has worked assiduously for God and country and followed that American motto of “In God We Trust” when he recently led the CIA in its holy wars under President Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner – John Brennan. Was his excuse he was just following orders, “as if a dead body”?

I think the dead children in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen and so many other places he helped to destroy would not buy that excuse. Yet Fordham University thought to honor him.  Is this what the Jesuit motto means: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salutem (for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humanity)?

Has Fordham ever heard of the Nuremberg Trials?

In the men’s room of St. George’s Castle, there is a wall dispenser selling M&Ms.  Imperialism and colonialism take many forms.

It is hard to say what’s new since humanity’s savage history just rolls along.  The technology changes, but people do not. Spray paint is about 75 years old, about the same age as nuclear weapons, both products of WW II.  One leads to “Fuck the elites,” while the other says, “We are the elites and see what we can do to the Japanese.”

War spurs technological development like nothing else, and as the brilliant French social thinker Paul Virilio has shown with his war model, “history progresses at the speed of its weapons systems.” Modern societies, with increased technological speed, the administration of fear (terror), and digital gadgetry, are engaged in a battle for people’s minds through technological perception management.  Virilio makes it clear, following on the work of his fellow countryman Jacques Ellul, that built into the technology is the “integral accident,” by which he means that every new technology creates its own potential “accident.”

While most people welcome new technology because they have been conditioned to think only in scientific and positivistic terms, they fail to see the price to be paid.  The nuclear bomb, nicknamed “The Gadget” by its one-dimensional, sick scientific inventors, is an accident waiting to happen, unless human madness first leads to its intended use once again.

Or unless we can first discover the spiritual power to eliminate what we have created.

Now we have what Virilio calls the “information bomb,” the glut of information that overloads people’s ability to think clearly or to concentrate, but a boom to the elites who think they are in full control of people’s minds and the technology they promote.

On the ramparts of Castelo De S. Jorge, the tourists snap photo after photo with their cell phones, failing to realize that these memories they are “shooting” from the heights where canons once shot the infidels, have imprisoned them in a dungeon as deep and dark as the one in the castle below their feet.

Visiting castles, like so many trips into the past, can awaken one to the truth of human history or put one to sleep.  It is usually the latter.

The Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gassett, who lived here in Lisbon for a year after fleeing Franco’s Spain, said it best:

The only genuine ideas are the ideas of the shipwrecked.  All the rest is rhetoric, farce.

We are all shipwrecked now, not just the Portuguese sailors long lost at sea never to return to home despite the lament of the Fado singers.

If we are to make this earth our home again, we had better learn to sing a different tune.  If not, we will be eliminated by accident or intent, and no one will be singing for our return.  It is a harsh truth, but quite simple.

In the Foz district of Porto, Portugal on the Atlantic, in the park and on the beaches, children play and laugh and the music of their voices rises into the air to remind me that they are our hope on this dark and tempestuous sea on which we are shipwrecked, hoping to find our way home.

Dostoevsky said it well: “The soul is healed by being with children.”

Can we hear their voices, singing?

Pay for Success Finance Preys Upon the Poor

One of the biggest things we’re up against, and something few people are talking about, is social impact investing and pay for success finance. Within the hollowed out shell of the welfare state, which admittedly was always inadequate and used for purposes of racialized social control, global finance has built a new machine that will use predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, and wearable and screen-based technologies to monitor the global poor and profit from their misery.

This effort is being carried out in partnership with the non-profit sector, higher education, think tanks, and global foundations. Many involved identify as liberal, even progressive. Successful resistance will require stopping Trump, the Koch brothers, and ALEC, as well as a corporate, militarized Blue Wave that has every intention of stabilizing late-stage capitalism with technocratic “evidence-based” solutions. Make no mistake; this is a fully bipartisan enterprise.

Outcomes-based contracts are this machine’s operating system. Contracts employ pay-for-performance agreements that reimburse service providers IF they produce specified success metrics. These metrics are narrowly defined and chosen for their ability to be gamed. Contrived solutions offer up fake “success” to enrich investors at the expense of vulnerable populations. Think standardized test scores as success metrics for education or fit-bit step counts for preventative health.

This machine requires a steady supply of people labeled deficient by those in power. Like batteries in the Matrix, the poor are meant to be the fuel. The machine does not care for their actual wellbeing; its sole purpose is to maximize profit. In that it is similar to the capitalist Western medical model where Big Pharma opts for chronic disease management over research leading to cures. Pay for success will not empower the poor, but instead manage them and harvest their data, indefinitely.

The infrastructure for this system was put in place in the years leading up to the financial crisis of 2008.  After toxic mortgages imploded, financiers needed another way to keep global capital circulating. It had to be even bigger than real estate debt, since global wealth continues to become more and more concentrated. The next BIG target would be financialized public benefit systems. Through financialization, resources are siphoned from the real economy into the financial sector where demands for short-term profit lead to instability, overwhelming debt, income inequality, and wage stagnation.

To justify this shift, proponents of pay for success insist governments will never have sufficient resources to care for their people. Services MUST be outsourced. This in turn opens up vast global markets for speculative investment in human capital. The big money isn’t to be had running human services, which are admittedly hard to turn a profit on, but rather in the trade of debt associated with providing those services. Such a development isn’t surprising, given the power finance and technology interests like Alphabet and Goldman Sachs, hold over elected officials. Governments have been captured, and as hostages of transnational capital, they’re compelled to go along with this brutal scheme.

After its fin-tech makeover, the new welfare state will essentially function as a maze into which poor people are forced by social work navigators. Technologies will track, predict, and influence behavior. The digital dust the poor generate as they attempt to negotiate punitive bureaucracies will flow to social sector dashboards, informing hedge fund bets in real time. With their varied portfolios of trauma, vulnerable populations will replace real estate in the lead up to the next Big Short.

Investors don’t put money in markets they expect to dry up. Thus logic dictates turning poverty into a global investment market will only increase poverty. Social impact markets require an ever-expanding supply of people deemed cheaply fixable according to the terms investors set. The fixes offered aren’t meant to materially improve lives long term. That would require redistribution of resources, something unthinkable for the likes of Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg. While poverty may be reduced somewhat, it is an essential feature of the design. For pay for success to thrive, homelessness, addiction, mental illness, hunger, violence, unemployment, broken families, and uncertainty must remain the norm. Hedge funds hate stability, and they’re the ones driving social impact investing. If everyone had enough to live a stable life, the gambling would have to come to an end.

Vulture philanthropies seeded this market. After many grant cycles the non-profit sector has been conditioned to impose toxic solutions without question, collecting the data needed to justify venture capital’s profit taking. Having been integrated into the machine, these partners in crime are tasked with managing populations that black box algorithms have identified as “at risk.” These artificial labels will, of course, be disproportionately applied to Black and Brown communities. The system demands broken people. Broken people are the raw material. As a result, the system is incentivized to manufacture data and create as many broken people as hedge funds require to keep global capital in optimal circulation.

Social sector workers are also part of the human capital pipeline, caught in this web along with the poor. The system intends to extract as much data and impose as much surveillance as it possibly can, which is why those administering harmful solutions must get creative in identifying others with whom they can organize. This shift will be catastrophic for educators, healthcare providers, therapists, and social workers across the globe. Effective resistance will need to unite people across diverse workplaces.

The United Way is a partner in these efforts as is Strive Together out of Ohio. They’ve identified a permanent underclass for “collective impact” processing called ALICE: Assets Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. These are the households of the working poor: children with unstable housing, indebted college graduates, workers living paycheck to paycheck, patients with chronic illness, disabled veterans, the elderly. Pay for success “solutions” will process them as commodities via ed-tech, tele-health, tele-therapy, and “smart” housing.

Soon large segments of the population will find their life choices subject to digital engineering, forced onto prescriptive pathways, jumping through hoops into which structural racism has been embedded in computer code. Smart phones will play a major role as benefits are moved to online platforms and linked to digital identity. It is the phones with their biometric capacity that facilitate transfers of value and data and enable tracking and analysis of impact. Phones will be the minders of the poor. Those with phones can have no expectation of privacy.

Such systems are being piloted on unhoused people in Austin now with backing from Bloomberg Philanthropies, a major impact investor. The state of Illinois also has a working group setting up Blockchain birth certificates and is looking to digitize SNAP benefits so coded nudges can be used to push “good” food choices. As the poor have their welfare inputs evaluated against their economic and behavioral outputs, the rich will sit on the sidelines placing bets. Either way the rich win, because there’s always someone willing to take the short position.

Beyond financialization of human life, these data-driven systems also legitimize increased surveillance of large segments of the population, especially Black and Brown communities already subject to militarized policing. Resisters will be viewed as insurgents and subject to violent counter insurgent interventions as we saw in Ferguson and at Standing Rock. Wearable and screen based technologies and interoperable data systems, like Project Unicorn headquartered a few blocks from here, will feed a vast network of signals intelligence to monitor the behavior of the poor, predicting the likelihood of push back. The Minerva Research Initiative was set up by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for exactly this purpose. It’s not hard to imagine the impact such intelligence will have on resistance movements.

So, what does social impact digital surveillance look like?

It looks like behavior tracking apps for low-income mothers.
It looks like play tables that video record toddlers and score their social behaviors.
It looks like online preschool.
It looks like brain wave monitoring headbands and executive function enhancing video games for students.
It looks like wearable tech that tracks vital signs for substance users.
It looks like online cognitive behavioral therapy for prisoners.
It looks like fit bits and Internet of Things pill caps for Medicaid patients.
It looks like “smart” supportive housing with integrated IoT monitoring.
It looks like tablet-based overseas monitoring of seniors.
It looks like virtual reality death simulation training for hospice workers.

Once you peek under the hood, you realize what a grotesque business social impact investing actually is. These tools are built on 400 years of racial capitalism. It is the Doctrine of Discovery with Blockchain replacing double-entry bookkeeping and smart phones and digital identity systems replacing shackles. It is a system that arose in tandem with cloud-based computing, broadband, 5G and the Internet of Things. These advancements are inextricably inked to the interests of the US military and intelligence community, which is why we must recognize that as much as we have come to rely on our devices, true liberation will never come through digital channels. It can’t; our opponents run the cloud.

We’re living through a period of orchestrated mass confusion and distraction. Some are sitting like frogs in simmering pots, distracted on their phones as the steam billows around them. Others are forced to play real-life games of Frogger, heads down, crossing dangerous highways, dodging crises right and left with little opportunity to see, let along plan for, what is coming.

South Africa and Australia have piloted public benefits on Blockchain linked to digital identity. The state of Illinois is looking into it as well. We need to stop them politically and we must develop alternative networks of support outside existing government and non-profit structures. We need to get out of our simmering pots and look up to the horizon. We need to do it soon.

The Monkey’s Face

The more reified the world becomes, the thicker the veil cast upon nature, the more the thinking weaving that veil in its turn claims ideologically to be nature, primordial experience.
— Theodor M. Adorno, Critical Models, Columbia University Press, 1963

Year after year
On the monkey’s face:
A monkey’s face.
— Basho (translated by Earl Miner)

Nature contains, though often unnoticed, an extraordinary amount of human history.
— Raymond Williams, Culture and Materialism, 2005

It is obvious that an imagined world, however different it may be from the real one, must have something — a form — in common with it.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, May 1, 2007

What I am seeing of late is that the Climate Crises is destroying environmentalism. What I consider real environmentalism. The Climate discourse is quickly being taken over by monied interests whose desire is to save capitalism before they save the planet. They fly (in jets, often private) to conferences in which avacados (or whatever) are flown in from California (or wherever). And there is aristocracy, literally, in attendance. It feels almost required. The British or Dutch Royals, if we’re talking carbon footprints, are tracking in with size 12 Florsheims– while the indigenous activists who toil and are persecuted in places such as Honduras, or Colombia, are not invited. They are of another way of life, the life of actual concern for nature. These conferences are a kind of ceremonial environmentalism.

And the branded progressives of the Democratic Party, Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, feint to the left with tepid rebukes to the establishment, but quickly tack to the right with praise for blood-drenched ghouls like Madeleine Albright and even Gloria Estefan, whose father, in fact, was a bodyguard for Batista. Who “fled” Cuba (meaning fled the evils of communism) and thereby should be seen as a role model of some sort for young liberals and (yes) environmentalists… because brand loyalty being what it is, etc etc.

Meanwhile back at the conference, there is the issue of packaging. And I want to examine the packaging industry for a moment. Everything comes in a package. That is mass production at work. You can buy small yogurts that amount to five spoonfuls and then you must throw out the plastic container. The world is awash in plastics. And not only are plastics destroying the oceans and marine mammals and fish, pliable plastic is downright poisonous to the human beings.  And this has been known for some time now. I first read about BPA and the effects of plastics in the early 90s.

CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.{ } According to one study, the pesticide atrazine can turn male frogs female. DES, which was once prescribed to prevent miscarriages, caused obesity, rare vaginal tumors, infertility, and testicular growths among those exposed in utero. Scientists have tied BPA to ailments including asthma, cancer, infertility, low sperm count, genital deformity, heart disease, liver problems, and ADHD.

— Mariah Blake, Mother Jones, 2014

And yet, like Big Tobacco did for years with cigarettes, the packaging industry has buried this information. People overwhelmingly eat from containers made of pliable plastic.

The toxicological consequences of such exposures, especially for susceptible subpopulations such as children and pregnant women, remain unclear and warrant further investigation. However, there is evidence of associations between urinary concentrations of some phthalate metabolites and biological outcomes (Swan et al. 2005; Swan 2008). For example, an inverse relationship has been reported between the concentrations of DEHP metabolites in the mother’s urine and anogenital distance, penile width and testicular decent in male offspring (Swan et al 2005; Swan 2008). In adults, there is some evidence of a negative association between phthalate metabolites and semen quality (Meeker & Sathyanarayana) and between high exposures to phthalates (workers producing PVC flooring) and free testosterone levels.

— Richard Thompson et al, Royal Society of Biological Medicine, 2009

Ah, the fertility drop off, which would be an elegant segue if I didn’t want to stick with packaging just a bit longer.

The new Climate Crisis…or Climate Emergency, feels increasingly distant from radical environmentalists of an earlier time. And I think part of the problem in wrapping one’s head around this crisis is that one has to tie together so many different topics: Fertility, mental health, dropping literacy, infrastructure neglect, pollution, militarism, Big Agra and Big Pharma, as well as digital technology and the psychology of contemporary westerners. A psychology mediated in huge part by lives increasingly spent staring at screens. And rather than expend the effort to actually connect these threads I find most people gravitate toward a simplistic and generalized position on the environment. And that position feels increasingly shaped by a marketing of fear.

The question then is how to frame a climate discourse that is not predicated on narrow almost tribal loyalties, and not deferential to the institutions of western capital. I mean, presuming that the earth actually does face mass extinction over the next fifty years (or, pick a date, say a hundred years) then one would want a sober clear dialogue with those who best know what is going on to make the earth warmer (and I think even so called deniers grant that earth is getting warmer… and the question would be how much warmer, for what reason and with what consequences. ) The problem is, who does know best what is going on? I see, increasingly, movie stars or celebrity politicians, or just celebrities, joining in the new branding of *climate emergency*. Why there is Mark Rufalo and Don Cheadle. There is Arnold with Greta. There is Barry with Greta. The world increasingly is presented as if Annie Liebovitz photographed everything for us. And I can find you the scientists who now have claim to their kind of celebrity, and I can find those who contradict them, even if they are not so called sceptics.

Now as I research this piece I run into sites where I have to subscribe to read the article. New Scientist, for example. Someone explain how that works…we are looking into the possible termination of human life, right? But you want to charge me a subscription fee?

I digress. Okay, now, I want to again note the invaluable work that Cory Morningstar has done. And rather than excerpt her detailed research on who is behind the various co-opting measures that western Capital has employed in creating the new narrative on the climate emergency, I will just link to her latest article here.

I mean honestly, Coca Cola is going to help save the planet? If you only read the Global Shapers section you will arrive at a pretty clear idea of how this all works. My point is that once you have The Climate Reality Project, Coca-Cola, Salesforce, Procter and Gamble, Reliance Industries, Oando, GMR Group, Hanwha Energy Corporation, Rosamund Zander and Yara International *investing* in saving the planet, you know something is wrong. The *Climate Emergency* is coming to obscure a host of other environmental and social problems. A recent report on links between fracking and cancer seems to get only minor attention. Or the aforementioned plastics problem — which does get attention from the perspective of ocean pollution but far less to none in terms of human and especially infant health. When there is a clear and recorded drop in IQ scores and when educators bemoan the state of academics and student skills, and when there are spikes in early onset of Alzheimers and autism and for that matter depression and anxiety, the scope of what can be included under the label of *environment* increases dramatically. This is not to even begin discussing U.S. Imperialism and the defense industry.1

And I am not even going to get into the effects of Depleted Uranium here.

The U.S. military hides statistics on its petroleum usage and its disposal of chemical waste, and, of course, the severe consequences of all the current ongoing U.S. wars (see Cholera in Yemen just for starters). The socio-political landscape is seeing the rise of global fascism as well as a continuing migration of wealth to the very top tier of the class hierarchy. Homes are being built with servants quarters for the first time in over a hundred years. It is a return to both Victorian values and social structure and in a wider sense a return to feudalism. The homeless camps that circle every American city speak to the extreme fragility of the social fabric in the West today. A fragility that is both planned and exploited by the ruling classes. The environment includes those people sleeping on the sidewalks of American cities. It includes a terrorized inner city black population, terrorized by ever more openly racist police departments (militarized under Obama) that routinely abuse power and often simply execute the vulnerable populations — populations that are growing.

And, of course, the dependency of the population of the West on its smart phone use. A new generation is always coming out and replacing the perfectly fine earlier generation of phone. Apple, Samsung, et al are massive polluting agents. So called *e waste* is gigantic. And it has accelerated the mining for rare earth minerals. Where is the discussion about this on these new green conferences? The idea of a future is still based on something like the old cartoon show The Jetsons. It is the entrenched belief in technology to solve everything, including global warming it seems.

Here another link to Wrong Kind of Green and the investment in fear.

The target demographic is youth. And the Greta phenomenon is the first volley of that campaign. The Gates Foundation is busy indoctrinating and grooming the young in Africa. Microsoft does the same: see here.

As does the U.S. military.

But “Climate Works” is quite simply behind nearly everything to some degree.

The issue of credibility looms as significant here. While I think everyone agrees that the planet is getting warmer, the marketing apparatus of global capital exaggerates and sensationalizes nearly everything. Extreme heat in India, dozens of deaths in Bihar. Well, the poor die in Bihar all the time, and in the past they have died from heat, too. New Delhi has had brutal heat for a hundred years in May and June. Now it’s getting worse. And there is little question it will continue to worsen. But articles are written as if they were scripts for Hollywood disaster films. The Raj used to move to the hill stations in summer to avoid the heat on the Indian plains. The poor are always the first to suffer when anything happens. Even when the exceptional event does occur it is hard to trust its exceptional qualities. And this might well be the final state of brain lock to which the Spectacle has brought us.

There is a growing conformity of opinion and a moral indignation that follows should one disagree, or even, often, simply ask questions. I have several times been referred to the NASA climate page. And I am shocked, really. On the page is one article on how the U.S. Navy is preparing for global warming. I mean the mind reels, honestly. Should I believe without question what NASA and the Navy tell me about the environment? The Navy, you know, the ones who torture and murder dolphins and whales.

Here is another side bar follow up on the military.

Let’s take the IPCC, whose voice and influence is far reaching here. They authored the *Climate Bible*, and are widely respected and endlessly quoted. Who is the IPCC?

The Panel itself is composed of representatives appointed by governments. Participation of delegates with appropriate expertise is encouraged. Plenary sessions of the IPCC and IPCC Working Groups are held at the level of government representatives. Non-Governmental and Intergovernmental Organizations admitted as observer organizations may also attend. Sessions of the Panel, IPCC Bureau, workshops, expert and lead authors meetings are by invitation only. About 500 people from 130 countries attended the 48th Session of the Panel in Incheon, Republic of Korea, in October 2018, including 290 government officials and 60 representatives of observer organizations. The opening ceremonies of sessions of the Panel and of Lead Author Meetings are open to media, but otherwise IPCC meetings are closed.

The IPCC is a child of the UN. It is, of necessity, a political organization. And as such there are a host of very suspect relationships involved. The most obvious is that poor countries are given technology and training, and money often, by the UN. Or rather, these gifts are largely administered by the UN. The developing nation must follow the UN guidelines and answer to the UN. This is a bit like the environmental version of economic austerity. There is also the fact that climate skeptics are now simply stigmatized and ridiculed. Usually by non scientists, even if said skeptic IS a scientist. Such is the desire (nearly pathological desire) for consensus in the West today. The point is that the IPCC is both political, western-based and UN-funded, and the UN uses the work of the IPCC to chart its climate course and allocation of funds. The UN, itself, of course is U.S.-based and does nothing to offend its host.

The IPCC has direct and significant ties to the WWF, Greenpeace, and the Environmental Defense Fund; in other words the corporate green opportunists. There is massive financing behind these groups. The IPCC also has had numerous accusations lodged against it regarding dodgy definitions of peer review (and for the record, peer reviewed material is actually no more likely to be true than non peered review material.(See Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, here.

And just to cover more of who runs government organizations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is headed by retired rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet (lead administrator) while the Chief of the NOAA is Neil Jacobs, previously chief Atmospheric scientist for Panasonic Avionics {sic} (and still to be confirmed the CEO of Accuweather Barry Myers). The previous head of the NOAA, appointed by Obama, was Jane Lubachenko who called the IPCC an embarrassment. Just to keep your score cards up to date here. Also…the NOAA is tasked with managing U.S. satellite programs (through sub-organizations — The Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service — NESDIS) who collects data for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, among others. There are several sub-sub-services like National Coastal Data Development Center. The point being this is, again, the U.S. military in good measure. And most intelligent people I know distrust most everything that the military says, and with good reason — they have a long history of lying through their teeth.

And this ties into the notion of personal responsibility. Solutions to our environmental crisis have been reduced to “life style changes” which have also become the en vogue activism of the day. It is a line of thinking that is accepted and even endorsed by corporations, banks and neoliberal governments because it poses no real challenge to their power or their ongoing destructive practices. To the mainstream, tweaking one’s lifestyle is all that is needed. Buy an electric vehicle or use a bicycle. Don’t take a plane on your vacation. Buy reusable bags. Choose organic only. Go vegan. Buy reusable straws. While there is nothing wrong with doing these things in general, they must be understood as individual choices that are based on privilege and that have little impact in addressing urgent crisis our biosphere is facing right now.

What they do manage to do is deliver an added punishment on the poor and working class, people who are struggling to make ends meet. It places an unfair level of guilt on ordinary people whose impact on the environment is relatively negligible compared to the enormous destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry, mining companies, plastic and packaging production, shipping and the military industrial complex. Seldom (if ever) questioned are the basic foundations of the current economic order which is driving the decimation of the biosphere for the benefit of the wealthy Davos jet set.

— Kenn Orphan, Counterpunch, March 2019

Again, a difficulty in grasping the environmental crises in its entirety is that there are literally mountains of material to read and absorb. But it is clear that the U.N. (on Rockefeller land by the by) is really not to be trusted. It provides, at times, a platform for revolutionary voices, but more often it works against change. The very existence of the Security Council is a working definition of anti-democratic. Speaking of Rockefeller, here is another bit of sidebar history.

One of the interesting details from Ralph Richardson, circa 1976, is the interest of the foundation in ‘weather modification’. That’s fifty years ago now.

I mean, make of that what you will. And this also again raises issues of credibility. There are countless activists who claim geo-engineering is going on, that HAARP is behind it, and that chemtrails are evidence this, etc. For anyone who is not a scientist there is simply no way to verify or disprove any of this. It sounds crack-pot, though I can’t honestly tell you it is. But it does cause one a momentary shudder to note that the Rockefeller Foundation was interested in weather modification over fifty years ago. But my point here is broader, in a sense. I have written several times (and on my blog often) that contemporary life in the West feels unreal, that people in general exhibit almost trance like inabilities to reason or think or calculate. And I think that addiction to screens, to digital technology, to the internet itself (and I am as guilty as anyone) has led to a serious erosion in autonomous thought. And accompanying this erosion is a particular American brand of self righteousness Even on the left. This is a society of acute group think, and of shaming and stigmatizing. Dissent is, we know, actively attacked by the surveillance state, and censorship is growing on all fronts, and on the left I feel a chilling embrace of Puritanical moralism. The Climate Crises…maybe that should be in quotes….is becoming a nearly religious movement in which heretics are to be digitally burned at the stake.

Why is there such a growing hostility to credulity? Why do people seem not to care in the least that most of the world’s largest corporations are *investing* in climate cures. Not donating to climate cures but investing in them as business opportunities. And alongside this overarching investment in global warming is a recruitment and indoctrination of youth. The military is only one branch of the marketing that targets the young. Microsoft and the Gates Foundation proudly trumpet their target demographic; poor kids of the global south.

Now there is another discussion here, and oddly enough the arch conservative Aussie journalist Andrew Bolt distilled it a few years ago…

It’s that global warming is an apocalyptic faith whose preachers demand sacrifices of others that they find far too painful for themselves. It’s a faith whose prophets demand we close coal mines but who won’t even turn off their own pool lights. Who demand the masses lose their cars, while they themselves keep their planes. It’s the ultimate faith of the feckless rich, where a ticket to heaven can be bought with a check made out to Al Gore [to purchase offsets from a company he owns]. No further sacrifice is required. Except of course, from the poor. ( ) If the planet really is threatened with warming doom, why don’t you act like you believe it?

— Andrew Bolt, The Herald-Sun, November 17, 2010

Now Bolt is a profoundly reactionary voice, but he’s not entirely wrong here at all. Or rather he is wrong about global warming, but he is not wrong about a new cultural cultic following of armchair nihilism.

I have had people tell me it’s selfish to have more children. I have had them tell me to stop flying, or to stop eating meat (actually I’m already a vegetarian). But the point is this sort of individualistic nonsense masks a certain very stark hypocrisy. The problem is that this is not an individual problem. So two things seem to be ignored: the first is that industrial civilization has been going on for a long time and it began to hurt the planet and atmosphere from the first day. And two, this historical long range amnesia is connected to the Hollywood-fication of all thinking. People literally perceive the world as if Dwayne Johnson was going to rescue it. . You get the idea. Angelina Jolie now delivers speeches at the Council on Foreign Relations. She is going to run for office (or, is, cough, thinking about it). American politics is a clown show operating at the lowest possible common denominator.

The point is that environmental destruction has been going on a long time. And the industrial revolution intensified the harm and civilization never looked back. The greenhouse emissions theory may or may not be completely true or accurate. But it also doesn’t matter, really. Society itself is unravelling. People are sick, depressed, even increasingly suicidal — and the U.S. seems to want to wage even more war. The madness of this is stupefying — and it again underscores the need for a political vision that begins with a platform that says STOP WAR. All war, all of it. That men like John Bolton or Mike Pompeo are in positions of authority, that such men can manipulate their power to create military conflict speaks to the utter and absolute depravity and decadence of the Capitalist system (of course, in a wider sense Bolton and Pompeo are just following the mandate of the ruling class, something they learned and perfected long ago). Capitalism cannot survive. I have no idea if the planet can survive, but I suspect it will, though with rather substantial damage and suffering. But the hierarchical profit-driven capitalist system cannot. The new feudalism is here, already, but it’s not sustainable. And western capital is helping with the rise of new ultra nationalist fascist leaders across the planet. Nature is, I believe, more resilient than mortals think. Humans may not survive each other, however.

Then there is this:2

Again, there is always a question of credibility, of who to believe, and to remember these are models, computer models, and hence open to error, and behind any such numbers are the always lurking racism of the West, and sexism. But the Pew report does suggest that, as Roger Harris put it, the overpopulation ideologues may have just woken up to a demographic winter. By 2100 white people will be a stark minority in the world. Might this have anything to do with Bill and Melinda Gates obsessive birth control measures in Africa and India? Make America white again!

The climate emergency is disproportionately pushed by three or four mainstream outlets. I’m just noting this, really: the Guardian UK, Globe & Mail, The Independent, and Washington Post. And the Guardian can criticise what they see as institutional hypocrisy on the part of the World Bank for funding coal-burning sites but they say nothing against U.S. NATO aggressions, and they repeat the lies of the U.S. state department and Pentagon, as well as Israel, and this nowhere registers as cognitive dissonance (and honestly, George Monbiot, he who cares so for the planet, is also among the most egregious apologists for western Imperialism one can find).

…capitalism is not a natural and inevitable consequence of human nature, or of the age-old social tendency to ‘truck, barter, and exchange’. It is a late and localized product of very specific historical conditions. The expansionary drive of capitalism, reaching a point of virtual universality today, is not the consequence of its conformity to human nature or to some transhistorical law, or of some racial or cultural superiority of ‘the West’, but the product of its own historically specific internal laws of motion, its unique capacity as well as its unique need for constant self-expansion. Those laws of motion required vast social transformations and upheavals to set them in train. They required a transformation in the human metabolism with nature, in the provision of life’s basic necessities.

— Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View, May 2, 2017

Wood earlier notes Marshall Berman’s ideas of the Enlightenment’s inherent duality; a desire for universality and immutability, contingency and fragmentation. And that this was somehow a response to the ephemeral and ever shifting perspectives of modern life, aka Capitalism.

That duality feels more like schizophrenia today. Or bi-polar disorder. The shifting ephemeral experiences and shocks that Walter Benjamin described with Paris are now dulled computer-generated flat screen cut-out dolls.

I am reminded of a succinct capsulation of Mike Davis’ book Late Victorian Holocausts by William Wall on his blog…

Davis makes a convincing argument for seeing these late-Victorian famines in places as diverse as India, China, Brazil, Ethiopia and Egypt, as structural products of capitalism, the result of a nexus of improved communication by railroad and telegraph; the destruction of pre-existing communitarian (and therefore anti-capitalist) balances such as the ”iron granaries” of China; the demand for raw materials and foodstuffs to feed European industrial development; a fanatical belief in what we now call neo-liberalism but which was then called laissez-faire; the desire to exploit the labour surpluses that occurred when starving peasants abandoned land and moved to industrial centres; endemic racism (‘it would be a mistake to spend so much money to save a lot of black fellows’ – commented Lord Salisbury) combined with the Malthusian dogma that famines were a gift from God to keep human reproduction within the limits of our capability to produce food.

Pertinent at this moment, I think. Oh and food… it is worth pointing out the realities of food waste at this point.

Our calculations show that food surplus is increasing and food deficit is decreasing globally (Figures 2 and S4). Between 1965 and 2010, the food surplus grew from 310 kcal/cap/day to 510 kcal/cap/day, and the food deficit declined from 330 kcal/cap/day to 120 kcal/cap/day (moderate PAL). The amount of surplus food is increasing especially in most of the OECD countries, e.g., food surplus in the United States has increased from 400 kcal/cap/day to 1,050 kcal/cap/day between 1965 and 2010. Food availability has increased over the last few decades, whereas biophysical food requirements have remained almost constant.

— Diego Rybski and Jürgen P. Kropp, Environmental Service and Technology, 2019

and

Americans waste an unfathomable amount of food. In fact, according to a Guardian report released this week, roughly 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away—some 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually, an amount constituting “one third of all foodstuffs.” Wasted food is also the single biggest occupant in American landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency has found.

— Adam Chandler, The Atlantic, 2014

There is more than enough food, in other words. But here is a very short primer on food dynamics…

The early 1900s saw the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides, innovations that have become a hallmark of industrial crop production. In just 12 years, between 1964 and 1976, synthetic and mineral fertilizer applications on U.S. crops nearly doubled, while pesticide use on major U.S. crops increased by 143 percent. The shift to specialized monocultures increased farmers’ reliance on these chemicals, in part because crop diversity can help suppress weeds and other pests.

Chemical and pharmaceutical use also became commonplace in newly industrialized models of meat, milk, and egg production. Antibiotics, for example, were introduced to swine, poultry, and cattle feed after a series of experiments in the 1940s and 1950s found that feeding the drugs to animals caused them to gain weight faster and on less feed.  By 2009, 80 percent of the antibiotic drugs sold in the U.S. were used not for human medicine but for livestock production. (  ) Largely as a result of consolidation, most food production in the U.S. now takes place on massive-scale operations. Half of all U.S. cropland is on farms with at least 1,000 acres (over 1.5 square miles). The vast majority of U.S. poultry and pork products comes from facilities that each produce over 200,000 chickens or 5,000 pigs in a single year, while most egg-laying hens are confined in facilities that house over 100,000 birds at a time.

— Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future, 2016

Obesity has tripled since 1975 according to the WHO. In 2016 close to two billion people worldwide were clinically obese. There has also been a dramatic increase in childhood obesity. Capitalism is a system that only considers profit, you see. It does not consider our health, our quality of life, and certainly not planetary survival.

Food industry monopolists are behind the dismal economic reality of rural America. According to data compiled by the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2012, the four largest food and agriculture companies controlled 82 percent of the beef packing industry, 85 percent of soybean processing and 63 percent of pork.

— Anthony Pahnke and Jim Goodman, Counterpunch, 2019

Globally, what Vandana Shiva calls food imperialism, is also bankrolled by the same corporate forces and money that are coopting the Environmental movement. Cargill, Pepsi Cola, Bayer, Uniliver, Syngenta, Dupont, et al… (oh and Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos) and this form of cultural imperialism also tries to erase history, as do all Imperialist projects.

The industrial west has always been arrogant, and ignorant, of the cultures it has colonised. “Fake Food” is just the latest step in a history of food imperialism. Soya is a gift of East Asia, where it has been a food for millennia. It was only eaten as fermented food to remove its’ anti-nutritive factors. But recently, GMO soya has created a soya imperialism, destroying plant diversity. It continues the destruction of the diversity of rich edible oils and plant based proteins of Indian dals that we have documented.

Women from India’s slums called on me to bring our mustard back when GMO soya oil started to be dumped on India, and local oils and cold press units in villages were made illegal. That is when we started the “sarson (mustard) satyagraha“ to defend our healthy cold pressed oils from dumping of hexane-extracted GMO soya oil. Hexane is a neurotoxin.

While Indian peasants knew that pulses fix nitrogen, the west was industrialising agriculture based on synthetic nitrogen which contributes to greenhous gases, dead zones in the ocean, and dead soils.

— Dr. Vandana Shiva, Counterpunch, 2019

If there is a possible future, it is one without corporations. Which means, really, a classless society, and that means, really, communism or socialism. It means, as I have said before, that equality is the real green. The climate discourse today is often mediated by those arrogant voices of both right and pseudo left America, the bullying aggressive believers in “science” … the belief in science by non scientists. And honestly, many scientists today are very narrowly focused and rather myopic outside of their specialization. The best scientists I have known are those most suspicious of their profession or practice.

For Thomas Kuhn, scientific hypotheses are shaped and restricted by the worldview, or paradigm, within which scientists operate. Most scientists are as blind to the paradigm as fish to water, and unable to see across or beyond it. In fact, most of the clinical medical students I teach at Oxford, and who already have a science degree, don’t even know what the word ‘paradigm’ means. When data emerges that conflicts with the paradigm, it is usually discarded, dismissed, or disregarded.

— Neel Burton, MD, “The Problems of Science”, Pyschology Today, 2019

Now, the flip side of trying to interrogate science is overcoming the blatant anti-science propaganda put out by the far right, and more significantly, perhaps, by the oil industry (Lee Raymond, when he was CEO of Exxon, spent huge amounts of money to propagate climate denial papers and disinformation). The Koch brothers donate huge amounts of their vast fortune to further an anti science right wing propaganda, as does Rupert Murdoch and the heinous FOX news empire.

Everything is political. Science is political. Our emotional lives are political. I just think it is important to remember that. The system wants the population both confused and at odds with each other. And remember too that social media is almost by design a toxic environment. The negative is rewarded and reinforced. And it has resulted in a populace that is highly defended (and resulted in more withdrawn and isolated people, especially among the young). An already aggressive society is now more aggressive

  1. J.D. Simpkins, A Staggering Number of Troops are Fat and Tired, report says, Military Times, October 3, 2018.
  2. Anthony Cilluffo and Neil G. Ruiz, “World’s Population is Projected to Nearly Stop Growing by the end of the Century“, Pew Research Center, June 17, 2019.

The American Dream Is Alive and Well – in China

Home ownership has been called “the quintessential American dream.” Yet today less than 65% of American homes are owner occupied, and more than 50% of the equity in those homes is owned by the banks. Compare China, where, despite facing one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, a whopping 90% of families can afford to own their homes.

Over the last decade, American wages have stagnated and U.S. productivity has consistently been outpaced by China’s. The U.S. government has responded by engaging in a trade war and imposing stiff tariffs in order to penalize China for what the White House deems unfair trade practices. China’s industries are said to be propped up by the state and to have significantly lower labor costs, allowing them to dump cheap products on the U.S. market, causing prices to fall and forcing U.S. companies out of business. The message to middle America is that Chinese labor costs are low because their workers are being exploited in slave-like conditions at poverty-level wages.

But if that’s true, how is it that the great majority of Chinese families own homes? According to a March 2016 article in Forbes:

… 90% of families in the country own their home, giving China one of the highest home ownership rates in the world. What’s more is that 80% of these homes are owned outright, without mortgages or any other liens. On top of this, north of 20% of urban households own more than one home.

Due to their communist legacy, what Chinese buyers get for their money is not actually ownership in perpetuity but a long-term leasehold, and the quality of the construction may be poor. But the question posed here is, how can Chinese families afford the price tag for these homes, in a country where the average income is only one-seventh that in the United States?

The Misleading Disparity Between U.S. and Chinese Incomes

Some commentators explain the phenomenon by pointing to cultural differences. The Chinese are inveterate savers, with household savings rates that are more than double those in the U.S.; and they devote as much as 74%of their money to housing. Under China’s earlier one-child policy, many families had only one heir, who tended to be male; and home ownership was a requirement to score a wife. Families would therefore pool their resources to make sure their sole heir was equipped for the competition. Homes would be purchased either with large down payments or without financing at all. Financing through banks at compound interest rates doubles the cost of a typical mortgage, so sidestepping the banks cuts the cost of housing in half.

Those factors alone, however, cannot explain the difference in home ownership rates between the two countries. The average middle-class U.S. family could not afford to buy a home outright for their oldest heir even if they did pool their money. Americans would be savers if they could, but they have other bills to pay. And therein lies a major difference between Chinese and American family wealth: In China, the cost of living is significantly lower. The Chinese government subsidizes not only its industries but its families—with educational, medical and transportation subsidies.

According to a 2017 HSBC fact sheet, 70% of Chinese millennials (ages 19 to 36) already own their own homes. American young people cannot afford to buy homes because they are saddled with student debt, a millstone that now averages $37,000 per student and will be carried an average of 20 years before it is paid off. A recent survey found that 80% of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck. Another found that 60% of U.S. millennials could not come up with $500 to cover their tax bills.

In China, by contrast, student debt is virtually nonexistent. Heavy government subsidies have made higher education cheap enough that students can work their way through college with a part-time job. Health care is also subsidized by the government, with a state-run health insurance program similar to Canada’s. The program doesn’t cover everything, but medical costs are still substantially lower than in the U.S. Public transportation, too, is quite affordable in China, and it is fast, efficient and ubiquitous.

The disparity in incomes between American and Chinese workers is misleading for other reasons. The “average” income includes the very rich along with the poor; in the U.S., the gap between those two classes is greater than in China. The oversize incomes at the top pull the average up.

Even worse, however, is the disparity in debt levels, which pulls disposable income down. A survey after the 2008-09 credit crisis found that household debt in the U.S. was 136% of household income, compared with only 17% for the Chinese.

Another notable difference is that 70% of Chinese family wealth comes not from salaries but from home ownership itself. Under communism, all real property was owned by the state. When Deng Xiaoping opened the market to private ownership, families had an opportunity to get a home on reasonable terms; and as new homes were built they traded up, building the family asset base.

Deng’s market liberalization also gave families an income boost by allowing them to become entrepreneurs. New family-owned businesses sprang up, aided by affordable loans. Cheap credit from state-owned banks subsidized state-affiliated industries as well.

“Quantitative Easing With Chinese Characteristics”

All this was done with the help of China’s federal government, which in recent decades has pumped massive amounts of economic stimulus into the economy. Unlike the U.S. Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing, which went straight into big bank reserve accounts, the Chinese stimulus has generated new money for productive purposes, including local business development and infrastructure. Sometimes called “qualitative easing,” this “quantitative easing with Chinese characteristics” has meant more jobs, more GDP and more money available to spend, which in turn improves quality of life.

The Chinese government has done this without amassing a crippling federal debt or triggering runaway inflation. In the last 20 years, its M2 money supply has grown from just over 10 trillion yuan to 80 trillion yuan ($11.6T), a nearly 800% increase. Yet the inflation rate of its Consumer Price Index (CPI) has remained low. In February of this year, it was just 1.5%. In May it rose to 2.7% due to an outbreak of swine fever, which drove pork prices up; but this was a response to shortages, not to an increase in the money supply. Radically increasing the money supply has not driven consumer prices up because GDP has increased at an even faster rate. Supply and demand have risen together, keeping consumer prices low.

Real estate prices, on the other hand, have skyrocketed 325% in the last two decades, fueled by a Chinese shadow banking system that is largely beyond regulatory control. Pundits warn that China’s housing is in an unsustainable bubble that will pop, but the Chinese housing market is still more stable than the U.S. subprime market before 2008, with its “no-doc no-down” loans. Chinese buyers typically put 40 to 50% down on their homes, and the demand for houses remains high. The central bank is also taking steps to cool the market, by targeting credit so that it is steered away from real estate and other existing assets and toward newly-produced goods and services.

That central bank intervention illustrates another difference between Chinese-style qualitative easing and Western-style QE. The People’s Bank of China is not trying to improve banking sector liquidity so that banks can make more loans. Chinese economists say they don’t need that form of QE. China’s banks are already lending, and the central bank has plenty of room to manipulate interest rates and control the money supply. China’s central bank is directing credit into the local economy because it doesn’t trust the private financial market to allocate credit where local markets need it. True to its name, the People’s Bank of China seems actually to be a people’s bank, geared to serving the economy and the public rather than just the banks themselves.

Time for More QE?

 In early April, President Trump said in one of his many criticisms of the U.S.  central bank that he thought the Fed should be doing more quantitative easing (expanding the money supply) rather than quantitative tightening (shrinking the money supply). Commentators were left scratching their heads, because the official U.S. unemployment rate is considered to be low. But more QE could be a good idea if it were done as Chinese-style qualitative easing. A form of monetary expansion that would allow Congress to relieve medical and educational costs, grant cheap credit to states to upgrade their roads and mass transit, and support local businesses could go a long way toward making American workers competitive with Chinese workers.

Unlike the U.S. government, the Chinese government supports its workers and its industries. Rather than penalizing China for that “unfair” trade practice, perhaps the U.S. government should try doing the same. China’s legacy is socialist, and after opening to international trade it has continued to serve the collective good, particularly of its workers. Meanwhile, the U.S. model has been regressing into feudalism, with workers driven into slave-like conditions through debt. In the 21st century, it is time to upgrade our economic model from one of feudal exploitation to a cooperative democracy that recognizes the needs, contributions and inalienable rights of all participants.

• Article was first published on Truthdig.org.

Homo Sapiens: Not a “Machine”!

There is no such thing as “my body.”  I am a human organism (Homo sapiens), synergistically comprised of organs, tissues, and fluids.  Reciprocally interacting, deviation-reducing processes maintain an essentially balanced “steady-state.” Biologist Walter Cannon, referring figuratively to this “wisdom of the body,” coined the term “homeostasis.”  Thus, when any disruption occurs, the organism makes the necessary corrections: up-to-99% of bodily “ailments” are eventually self-correcting and self-repairing.  The very word “dis-ease” still suggests such overwhelmingly temporary disruptions of the norm (the steady-state).  (The cybernetic metaphor, terribly over-extrapolated these days, is somewhat applicable: deviation-reducing, “negative-feedback.”)

Yet the dominant “medical model” remains, even today, Cartesian: the “mind” (formerly “soul”) engages in cognitive functions of perception and “thought” — all the while encased in a material integument (“the body”).  This body, then, is deemed a “machine”–and like any machine, subject to “dysfunctions” and “breakdowns.”  If the much-maligned auto mechanic — now equipped with computerized “diagnostic” equipment! — sometimes recommended unnecessary repairs, so our “doctors” now use an impressive array of blood-tests, X-rays, and “scans.”  What could be the cause of your symptom?  Difficult to say for sure — since there are now some 13,000 identified “treatable conditions”!  Still, some “irregularity” is often detectable (despite the high-frequency of “false-positives” and “over-diagnosis”!).  (As to the latter, one remains a bit skeptical about “pre-cancerous” lesions and such.)

Why — like other mammals and primates — move about, eat when hungry, walk, dance, lift, climb, carry — all beneficial to organismic well-being and resilence — when one can have a worn-out (or atrophied) “part” simply replaced (knee, kidney, heart–eventually, brain?).  “Spare-parts” are available; no need to be a healthy (i.e, whole) human organism moving and acting in a field of ever-shifting, open-air perceptions, sensations, feelings.

This persisting Cartesian dichotomy has also promoted a kind of grandiose delusion: “hyper-cerebral,” physically alienated techno-wizards offer up a vision of a near-future world wherein the annoying limitations and demands of “the body” may be circumvented. Even 20 years ago, “Singularity” promoter Ray Kurzweil was already proclaiming this forthcoming “Age of Spiritual Machines”!  Faux-”feminist” Donna Haraway offered her preposterous “Cyborg Manifesto”; after all, simply because the human female ovulates and lactates — like other primates — it doesn’t mean that these troublesome “limitations” cannot be transcended (through the “liberating” power of technology, of course!).

What of the elemental joys of kinesthetic awareness?  Proprioceptive sensation?  The primal delights of touching and feeling?  Even the “aches-and-pains” which, however bothersome, remind us that we are alive?  Such technologists, presumably of stunted sensibility and repressed desire, evidently see no experiential loss.  They, instead, envisage a world of limitless power and control: “immortal,” dis-embodied intelligences which, having long ago left earthy pleasures behind, may soon leave the Earth altogether.