“The gift-based economy had been a hippie dream, nice for exchanging information of no value, worthless itself for selling and buying anything worth buying and selling.” — K.W. Jeter, “Noir”
Awhile back an author and thinker named Richard Florida wrote articles and penned a book about the “rise of the creative class,” a demographic of young urban professionals who would be ferociously attractive to dying cities that have lost their industrial/manufacturing base, and what these cities would have to do in order to attract them. While there’s been some impressive debate about whether or not Florida’s thesis has proven true, and what cities are really benefiting from this push, one thing that’s clear to me is that the “creative class” — journalists, writers, programmers, Web designers, graphic artists, traditional artists, musicians, and so on — need all the help they can get.
Note: This is the third in my series of answers to Jamais Cascio’s challenge to futurist thinkers, to discuss scenarios about what the world will be like. This one, as the title says, is the one where things get worse.
“There’s a hardware solution to intellectual property theft. It’s called a .357 Magnum.” — K.W. Jeter, “Noir.”
I recently finished reading Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not A Gadget,” a self-described manifesto against what he calls the “cybernetic totalism” of the Internet age, embodied through social media, Wikipedia, and the like. Lanier, a virtual reality innovator, computer scientist, lecturer, and all-around genius, is hardly your typical Internet critic, so I was compelled to give the book a read. It’s a strong polemic for about the first two-thirds, where he decries technologies such as file-sharing for robbing musicians of their livelihood, social networks like Facebook for robbing the Web of its individuality, and Internet culture in general for robbing modern interaction of maturity, reducing us all to anonymous “trolls.”
He tends, like most, to fall apart when it comes to concrete solutions to these issues, preferring instead to wax rhapsodic about everything from cephalopods to using computers to recognize smells, but some of his points rang true for an avowed techno-optimist like me. And it gave me pause to think about some issues that passed my desk recently and why it’s important to pay attention to them.
I saw this on Friday, but had a busy weekend and didn’t get to reviewing it until now. The plot, as you’ve probably gleaned from the trailer, is pretty simple — Denzel Washington as a serious badass roaming a war-torn America, carrying a mysterious book that people, such as Gary Oldman’s corrupt small-town despot, will kill for. The movie itself is both more and less than I expected–the Hughes Brothers spin an awesomely shot and visually slick tale that melds the archetypes of the lone gunslinger, the masterless samurai, and the postapocalyptic nomad into a single narrative that satisfies for much of its length, but eventually collapses under the weight of too much implausibility.
Major SPOILERS beyond the cut. Don’t read if you haven’t seen it yet.
Usually when my birthday rolls around, I never ask people to get me presents. I’m perfectly capable of shopping for myself, and I always feel bad asking people to buy things for me, especially when I know times are hard and, bluntly, I make decent money while others do not.
But this year is the big 3-5, and unfortunately, my birthday proper falls on a Monday, so I can’t really celebrate it the way I’d like to. And, again being blunt, I’ve had a tough year and feel like being indulged. So, to wit, here are my Amazon and Barnes & Noble wish lists. I’ve prioritized the stuff I really want, and I believe both stores eliminate items from lists as they’re purchased, so there shouldn’t be any missteps if you guys trample all over each other trying to get me crap.
If you’re in a more charitable mode, there are numerous organizations I support that would benefit greatly from a donation in my name. They include Open Left, The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, Wikipedia, The Free Software Foundation, Causecast, and Charity Water. I also have several causes on Facebook you can donate to.
Whatever you choose to buy for me or donate in my name is greatly appreciated and will make my impeding slide into senility that much more enjoyable.
I’ve been a customer of yours for just under a year now. In that time, I have been mostly pleased with your service. Unlike the vast majority of your customers, I’ve never had a long-term outage (touch wood), or serious issues with my Internet or cable — the former being essential, given that I work from home and rely on steady Internet for my job. Your customer service has generally been pleasant and helpful the few times I’ve called them. Even when you pulled a bonehead move like threatening to phase in metered broadband, and I went in hard on you, I was still willing to break bread and see it from your perspective. The representatives of your company I’ve talked to on Twitter have been pleasant, forthright, and honest about what they do and where they stand vis-a-vis company decisions. I even supported you when Rupert Murdoch tried to hold you hostage over transmission fees for Fox content, if only because I think he represents a greater threat to the free flow of information.
That’s why a recent email I got from your company really pissed me off.
A refreshingly gory, gritty, & non-sparkly take on vampires, “Daybreakers” envisions a world very much like our own, set in 2019, where a bat-transmitted virus has turned the vast majority of the world’s population into vampires. SPOILERS beyond the cut if you haven’t seen it yet.
Because most of the free world has seen this movie already (judging by its $1 billion take at the box office), and you can essentially figure out the entire plot from the trailers, I was tempted to not even bother reviewing it. But because YOU DEMANDED IT, here are some general thoughts about this most audacious and complex of theatrical enterprises. Mild SPOILERS beyond the cut, just for the two of you on Earth (or Pandora) who haven’t seen it yet.
I was a casual “Dr. Who” fan as a kid. I’d catch the show on weekends and loved Tom Baker’s style, but never kept up with the show on any significant level. Thus, when the new series was announced, I wasn’t all that jazzed about it. Periodically I’d catch episodes on SciFi, but it wasn’t until about halfway through David Tennant’s second season that I really started paying attention to the show. Most of that credit can be laid at the Converse-clad feet of Tennant himself, who invested the Tenth Doctor with a unique charm, spirit, liveliness, and pathos that made him a definitive Doctor for the modern era, and probably the most definitive since Baker himself. As Tennant said in the short charity special where he meets his prior incarnation of the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davidson), “You were my Doctor.”
That partially accounts for the pomp and circumstance surrounding Tennant’s departure, I think. He is the Doctor for a whole new generation of viewers, after all. But the rest of it belongs to Russell T. Davies and crew, as the people who reinvigorated and rebuilt the ol’ TARDIS for a brand new era. I think that’s why “The End of Time, Part 2″ has such an air of finality through it. We know, of course, that the Doctor will simply regenerate and go on, but we also know that the RTD era is over.
So was the finale worth it? Did it live up to the hype? MAJOR SPOILERS beyond this point, so don’t read if you don’t want to know or haven’t seen it yet.
For my first blog post of 2010, I wanted to comment on two very good, but very different, essays I read this week. Both take a look at what the Obama administration has accomplished in terms of activism and messaging, but they come to very different conclusions.
.You’ve probably heard about the “Detroit bomber” and his bungled attempt to blow up Flight 253, and the Transportation Security Administration’s draconian crackdown on international flight as a result. Here’re a couple of key things to learn from this:
- The point of security failure was with TSA itself. By the admission of DHS secretary Janet Napolitano, the current system designed to nail people of interest didn’t work. Abdulmutallab was already on the infamous “terrorist watch list” (albeit for what seems to be a pretty specious reason), and yet he wasn’t denied entry to the flight or queried prior to boarding. He was carrying dangerous and easily detectable chemicals on his person, and yet got by both human and automated security screenings. The “watch list” failure is not surprising to me — it’s a case of “garbage in, garbage out,” where you get so many false positives and innocent people added to the list that it’s easy to let someone like Abdulmutallab pass by. And if there wasn’t proper equipment at the airport to detect the chemicals he was carrying, where were the security teams?
- Punishing the passengers won’t inspire them to act. Abdulmutallab was taken down because people like Jasper Schuringa thought fast and acted faster. This has been a core tenet of improving flight security advocated by experts like Bruce Schneier for years. So how does the TSA react? By making international flights even more unpleasant for passengers. Do they really think that any terrorist or bomber will wait for a specific hour to decide to blow up the plane or take hostages? Or that they won’t wait until January 1st, 2010 to mess around? Or that the next incident won’t happen on an all-domestic flight? All this will do is make passengers more resentful of the TSA and less willing to cooperate — which assumes they’ll be willing to fly at all, which can potentially harm the already-sinking airline business even further.
- Fighting the last war won’t prevent the next one. Since 9/11, we’ve turned airports into armed fortresses, full of invasive security measures that delay our flights and invade our privacy without measurably improving security. As this week has shown, all it takes is one point of failure in the chain for a potential bomber to wreck someone’s day. Rather than spending more and more money on onerous things like “full-body scans,” shouldn’t we be putting more effort into investigation and identification of suspected terrorists or saboteurs before they get within 50 miles of an airport? Or is it simply easier to throw money at contractors to build expensive machines while hiring agents at minimum wage with little training to be our last line of defense? If history is any indication, the government is going full-bore on the latter option, which means we can expect more incidents like this in the future.
- Civil liberties abuses and privacy violations will continue under Obama. As generally crazy and off the reservation as I find Lew Rockwell, he made a good point recently. Our national discourse has understandably been occupied with things like the economy, health care, and climate change prevention, but as a result, we’ve let a lot of focus on the importance of fighting for civil liberties slide. Apart from a few people like the peerless Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler, we haven’t been talking about things like the PATRIOT Act, REAL ID, invasive bordersearches, and yes, airport security measures. And organizations that fight these fights on the regular — like the ACLU and the EFF — are hurting for money now more than ever. We need to remember that though Obama has made strides in repealing the potential police state that was coming to life under Bush/Cheney, he still supported reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act, and failed us on the FISA overhaul when we needed him the most. Once this sort of power is given to authority, it rarely gives it back — no matter who is actually wielding it. And the more we accept that — the more we complacently give in to the idea of security cameras, unauthorized searches, and massive information databases as a way of life — the easier it gets to abuse the power further.
If there’s one silver lining in the black clouds of these unfriendly skies, it’s that the increasing backlash against flight rules should encourage more investment in high-speed rail and public transportation in general, as well as increased advocacy of virtual conferencing for business needs. But that doesn’t help the people who want to travel internationally just for vacation or personal reasons, and I expect it won’t be long before we see more incidents of train stations being attacked, as in Madrid a few years back. And so the cycle will continue.