August, 2011


11
Aug 11

DEMOCRACY UNDER ASSAULT

BRADBLOG reports on how at least one of the Wisconsin recall elections might have been tampered with. This does not bode well for the 2012 elections for President and Congress, and not just for Wisconsin. Right wingers are showing themselves to be very willing indeed to cheat on the vote count.

Brad outlines how democracy is under assault:

As discussed, democracy is now under direct assault, very generally, in at least three and seemingly insurmountable areas:

**Access to the polls (Photo ID restrictions, etc.)
**Overseeing tabulation of votes (E-voting issues)
**Corporate control (Citizens United and the obscene flood of corporate $ bastardizing the entire electoral/democratic system)

Luckily, we were able to solve all three of those issues in 28 minutes of commercial-free radio, the archive of which follows below for your listening pleasure…

You can hear his solutions if you go to: BRAD’s COLUMN, scroll down and click on PLAY.


10
Aug 11

Come on baby, Eat the Rich…

My posting’s title is from the Motorhead song (here it is on youtube ) …The song came to mind again while reading this article on the psychological bent of the wealthy. They are, we’re told…selfish people. Try to contain your surprise.

The research paper was called “Social Class as Culture: The Convergence of Resources and Rank in the Social Realm”. And here’s an interesting quote from one of the authors of the paper: “…the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class ‘ideology of self-interest.’” Too obvious to bother with? But it’s interesting how unconscious this behavior seems, how unrelated to reason. Social empathy, after all, is not just emotional–more than anything it’s rational. Caring for the under-privileged is caring for the society as a whole, it creates a healthier world which, ultimately, benefits everyone including the rich. Empathy important for the health of a society–and that makes it rational. And yet the researchers tell us: “We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way…Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”

Notice the term prosocial. Does that sound frighteningly…like socialism? Don’t cringe! It means pro people, really. You don’t have to be socialist to be pro people.

I can hear some of my libertarian acquaintances shruggingly responding: Selfishness is only natural. But the researcher states, “upper-class rank perceptions trigger a focus away from the context toward the self….”

The word context is significant. If you’re not seeing context you’ve got a bottleneck in your information flow. It’s really all about a narrowing of perception, not a recourse to survival instincts. If you don’t see the full context, your perceptions are narrowed; you’re engaging in an irrational close mindedness. What seems to them to be cold rationality is actually purblind irrationality.

The news article summarizes: “Because the rich gloss over the ways family connections, money and education helped, they come to denigrate the role of government and vigorously oppose taxes to fund it.”

So again we have a narrowing of perception, of consciousness. The rich are not seeing themselves. Take Mitt Romney, for example–born into money, with every advantage, but pretending he made it on his own and demanding that the poor do the same. Wealthy plutocrats like Romney are mentally editing out the perception of their front-loaded privileges…and that leaves them free to make irrationally selfish political choices.

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9
Aug 11

A Black Man Killed by Racists and for CNN “THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT!”

I watched a doubly disturbing report on CNN this morning about a black man in Mississippi who was beaten, for a lark, and then killed–he was run down, on purpose, by idiot cracker racists in their big ol shiny pick up truck. “I just ran that nigger over,” the white teen said proudly, meeting with his pals at a fast food franchise.

Tragic, you bet your ass. A man was murdered for fun, out of a racist impulse. And the idiot cracker racist young man, damaged by his idiot cracker racist parents, will (I hope) go to prison for life. So his life is destroyed too. In fact, his parents should be going to prison with him.

It’s good that CNN covered the story–but I was also disturbed by the style of CNN’s coverage, especially the music they worked up for the report. It was sinister, movie-style music–because it isn’t about their saying, “this is tragic”…which is something they did convey…it’s about making it entertainment. It becomes CNN’s “movie of the week”. It shows a stunning lack of good taste and a lack of respect for the family.

True, for centuries newspapers blared dramatic headlines, but reputable television news reportage shouldn’t be done that way.

And actually working up sinister sounding movie-style music for this coverage…that’s crossing the line with a bounding leap! They’ll have a special logo for the incident, too, like a television series title, as they do for all their big, tragic stories.

It’s almost as sick as racist violence.

Here’s an article about this murder.

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9
Aug 11

IF YOU WANT TO POST A COMMENT HERE…

…then click on the title of the blog posting you want to comment on, scroll down to bottom of my blog entry, and use the form. We’re going to figure out a way to make commenting easier.


7
Aug 11

TIME FOR TABOO

We need some new taboos…and I’ll suggest some in a moment.

Social taboos have great power. Some are pointless. Some are silly superstition. But some taboos are quite useful and necessary.

I myself am grateful for the taboo against general public nudity. (A consensually agreed-on nude beach or nudist colony is a fine thing, I’m sure, I’m all for them.) The general taboo (reinforced by law) against public nudity spares me the sight of repellant nude bodies, and insures I’m mostly undistracted by the attractive ones. Driving, I’m less likely to rear-end the car in front of me, so long as we maintain the taboo against public nudity.

There is a taboo against boorish behavior in restaurants, theaters, and other establishments–I’m all for that one.

More important is the taboo against abusing children–such taboos are enforced by law, but the laws were catalyzed by taboos. That taboo, sadly, doesn’t always work. Perhaps it’s not reinforced enough in our society.

We need to strengthen that taboo–and we need to create some new ones. We need a strong, powerfully reinforced taboo against abusing the environment. It’s true that people frown on poisoning a stream, and trashing up a beach, and there are feeble laws against such acts, more in some places than others. But there doesn’t seem to be a really strong, fiercely held, universal taboo against polluting. The power of a truly universal social taboo is much more ingrained and effective than a mere law enforced by fining. With conditioning at home and school, I see no reason why we can’t use the power of a truly universal, firm, deeply instilled taboo to save the Earth.

If it’s a real, potent taboo–not just some fine and a headshake of disapproval, CEOs whose corporations toxify water, or food, or the land, would be shunned. Caught polluting, the culprit should be literally treated as a pariah. People should react to them in horror, even gagging at the sight of them.

They should be refused entry into respectable public places, should be shunned by friends and family, until they cease poisoning the environment (which is poisoning people, by extension).

The same process could be used to control the maltreatment of animals, the exploitation of the poor in sweatshops, and the sabotaging of the democracy in the media (eg, news media that repeats lies).

Taboo should be studied as valuable sociobiological phenomena, and healthy taboos should be implemented. They’re more effective than fining. They go to the heart of that social animal we call the Human Being.


7
Aug 11

Through Black Glass: Reanimating Lost Cyberpunk for the 21st Century

[this article, about the history of my cyberpunk novel BLACK GLASS, William Gibson, and how it all reflects on today's world, was originally published in H+ magazine]

By John Shirley

Early 1980s, I was sitting in my West Hollywood apartment with William Gibson and a certain movie director who had some buzz going…more than one kind of buzz. We were talking about adapting a story from Burning Chrome for this guy — a story that was as cyberpunk as anything is — and my defining recollection is how frequently the director excused himself to the bathroom only to come back sniffling, trembling and talking with even more rapidfire megalomania than before. Besides adapting the story, I pitched him a script, which was then rather blandly called Macrochip, based on some idea sessions Bill Gibson and I had, and that Peter Wagg (producer of Max Headroom) had optioned. And I remember that this director, who enjoyed macho posturing, said, “Just as long as it’s got big fucking balls!”

The director didn’t use our script, nor get back to us about Macrochip, and Gibson’s career became stratospheric (Gibson earned it, by dint of talent and hard work). He was soon occupied, say, helping “Mick and Keith” with their stage design for a major tour, and didn’t have a lot of time and… we never did anything else with the story. In the late 1990s I made a feint at turning it into a novel, which I called Black Glass, but by then my writing had sidestepped into a kind of urban fantasy and I wasn’t thinking cyberpunk.

But last year, gazing about me at the great wide world, I remembered Black Glass and was inspired to finish it — because Black Glass dramatizes technology as metaphor, a phenomenon coming clearer every day.

Not that technology as metaphor is new. Going way back, there was the symbol of the steam train chugging across the plains, literally the embodiment of industrialization imposing its badass steel wheels on the natural world. In Lang’s Metropolis and Chaplin’s Modern Times, machines were metaphors for the mechanisms of plutocratic repression. But sometimes we miss the corollary, that real-world technology itself is metaphor, quite outside of drama, as much as that steam train was. Technology is an innately dramatic expression of our condition.

Think back to when technologies were imposed on us that passed labor along to the consumer — when we all began doing unpaid work for corporations. Customer service personnel were replaced by programs that required us to press 1 if we wanted this, 2 if we wanted that, 7 if we wanted to scream. We now do the work of gas station employees, conducting the money transaction ourselves, filling our own tanks. Supermarkets started self-service lines where you and a laser scanner do the checkout person’s job, and airlines now make us check ourselves onto flights at a touch-screen station. It can seem like we’re serving the machines at least as much as they’re serving us.

But it’s the corporations we’re serving. All that technology is, itself, metaphor for our submissive relationship to the multinationals.

Recently a news story from Tokyo flickered through internet news pages: A 43-year-old Japanese piano teacher’s sudden divorce from her online husband in a virtual game world made her so angry that she logged on and killed his digital persona, police said Thursday. The woman has been jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer…

The lady identified with the virtual world so thoroughly that her online reality had become more real to her than the “meat” reality. I know: happens every day. But how very metaphorical indeed…

Now, the underlying story and premise of Black Glass was conceived in an era when cyberpunk writing was more about the existential poetry of science-fiction, more about the sheer sociological drama of technological impact, than about the possibilities of technology or glorying in prediction. We took a step back from it all.

Late 1970s and well into the ’80s, Bill Gibson, Bruce Sterling and I used to correspond. (using physical “snailmail” letters, in those days.) Around the time Neuromancer was published, I wrote to Gibson speculating on how using a word processing program would affect prose writing. He wrote back to me, as always, on a manual typewriter:

“If someone’s going to have style at all, they’ll reach a point where the recording medium is ‘transparent’ anyway… My aversion to the thing is pretty mild… computers per se bore the shit out of me, all that techtalk and the furious enthusiasm of the hobbyist… I think I’ll probably get one before I need to have one…I think a processor might affect my style for a little while…”

Yet he invented the word ‘cyberspace’ on a manual typewriter. We weren’t very deep into technology then — we were deeper into observation, and experience. Cyberpunk writers were influenced by James M. Cain as well as Alfred Bester, and Black Glass reflected that. Gibson was typically all about “the street’s uses for technology” and I was about two-fisted men and women struggling with repression in a near-future dystopia. But was that even relevant anymore, when I returned to Black Glass in the year 2007? My sensibility was more or less hard-nosed pulp, with surreally artistic overtones, the way that punk rock is largely structured noise elevated by the poetry of defiance. That’s not very Neal Stephenson or Cory Doctorow — guys who personified the 2007 paradigm to me.

Yet when I looked around at the great wide world of 2007, I found Black Glass in it. The novel is a futuristic cyberpunk tale about a man emerging from the four-year dormancy of a special prison where his mind was shut down and his body was ordered to work for the state. On release, this ex-cop, Candle, gets embroiled in a fight with one of the 33 corporations that control the world, ’til both he and the corporate overlords are blindsided by an unexpected nemesis: a ‘mindclone’. More properly: this is a ‘semblant’ program — a program that sends an indistinguishable realtime animation of you to virtual conferences, say, or takes webcam calls for you. It knows what you’d say and says it for you, and no one’s sure if it’s really you or not. But a new ‘multisemblant mindclone’ composed of certain powerful men and women, combined into one program, degrades into a psychopathic personality that takes on a life of its own… and in the background street rebels allied with Candle operate a Black Stock Market using cloud computing.

The consciousness-suspension prison is an obvious metaphor with perpetual relevance; the struggle with the big guns of the Fortune 33 is everyman’s struggle in the 21st century; and semblants are an extension of the mind-state that woman in Tokyo was in when she got arrested. We shift our center of identity into digital representations. We overlap with our technology. And sometimes that’s a useful enhancement — other times it only magnifies what’s wrong with us, as with hackable e-voting machines.

And then there’s that Black Stock Market—what’s more relevant in the age of bailouts? So Black Glass was relevant. I just had to update its tech, environmental and cultural references and recognize that my pulp-inflected metaphor may be at the pop end of art, but it’s vitalized by the pointed honesty of its symbols. In the updated Black Glass, Candle stalks through the mordantly named “Autopia,” where people live in improvised structures composed of abandoned gasoline-engine cars. He negotiates “Rooftown,” a towering shanty complex populated by refugees from the great swamp of global warming. The street has its own uses for things, and Candle uses technology exclusive to the rich and powerful, a flying self-driving car, to infiltrate his enemy’s restricted skyscraper compound.

It all came together — because technology itself is metaphor, and when I look around at it, I find that technology is speaking to us. Technology itself is telling us stories. Only, you’ve got to have the nerve to tell them. And there’s one thing Black Glass has for sure…

It’s a “pulp novel of ideas”—with big fucking balls.


6
Aug 11

SPLATTERPUNK UTOPIA…a taste of the blood I spilled at io9

Here’s are a few quotes, selections, from an article I wrote, which io9.com is running–Splatterpunk Utopia.

This is the age when the splatterpunk genre, in film and fiction, has given way to “torture porn”-a derisive term used by critics of films like Saw. Me, I’ve written some quite extreme fiction. Some of my writing-like the novels Wetbones (from eReads, currently) and In Darkness Waiting (Infrapress)— appears to have been among the progenitors of “splatterpunk”, or so I’m told. Some of my fiction is collected in a new book, In Extremis: The Most Extreme Short Stories of John Shirley (Underland Press). But I feel confident that even my darkest writing, at its most grotesque, is not salacious; that it is a kind of meaningful protest, a wakeup call—that it at least aspires to be art.
[snip]
… I think it unlikely that the basest splatterpunk films, torture porn, or even violent videogames spark the rising violence we’re seeing in people. Allow me to dismiss one objection that people glibly fling about regarding the contemporary bubbling up of startling viciousness in surprising numbers of people-the notion that “this kind of thing always happened, it just wasn’t reported in the 1950s and 60s before the age of the 24 news cycle”. No, I promise you, any insane act of astonishing violence would have been widely reported in newspapers across the country-and was, on the rare occasions when it happened-with a technology we had at the time. It was something called “telegraphy”. News was sent “on the wire”. We didn’t actually have to use talking drums.

Perhaps wildly violent entertainment media encourages a hardness, a mean jadedness -but clearly the Columbine killers committed mass murder because they were damaged by something other than media. Common sense tells us that a young man who beats his parents brains in and then calls his friends to a beer party doesn’t do it because he watched House of 1000 Corpses or the remakes of Halloween —nor because he enjoys playing the very splatterpunk F.E.A.R. 2 videogame.

[snip]

…But I suspect it’s more to do with a toxic cognitive dissonance, with a poisonous shame—and fundamental emotional disconnection.

Read the full article, with my conclusions, at io9 Magazine...


6
Aug 11

LIES LOVE NOISE

The Republicans caused the US debt crisis, by holding the economy hostage, and they caused a downgrade in the Standard and Poor rating of US bonds–and now they’re blaming President Obama for this unprecedented downgrade (from AAA to AA). They caused it, yet they’re saying he caused it. They’re flagrantly, blatantly lying.

The Republicans launched the Afghanistan war. They’re now calling the increasingly unpopular war, Obama’s War.

The Republicans refer to Obama’s Recession–and blame it on him. A recession caused by Republican deregulation and a Republican President.

The world is afire with noise. Media noise. Most of it is babbling; much of it is pointless opinionation designed to fill up air time. With so much commentary, so vast a load of media output to input, liars can make their declarations and get away with it. They know that even if they’re refuted, the public will have heard them, and only a relative few, in all the noise, will hear and process the refutation of the lie. Lies love noise.


5
Aug 11

Shouting over the shouting; drowned out by people shouting over the shouting

Everyone’s talking at once.

On cable tv, on the news and on the internet; on radio and on cell phones. Tweeting, texting, blaring their messages. A million flickers so that the cumulative glare makes nothing visible; a billion posts, shouting in print, makes nothing audible.

I don’t know if anyone listens to my voice in this blog, one blog in a billion–I feel like it’s a voice drowned out by all the others and most of them feel that way too…

But I’ll be stubbornly talking right out loud anyway on MENTAL RADIO this saturday, the sixth, at NOON. It’ll be an interview, it’ll be commentary, it’ll be…I’m not quite sure. But they have a cool website.

[the live interview is now done but presumably they have it preserved at their website somewhere...]


5
Aug 11

If Obama is not re-elected we’ll all get what we deserve

Newser opines that Obama may lose re election after all: “Nobody expects the numbers on jobs, housing, or economic growth to improve much between now and the election. Obama can argue, correctly, that it’s not his fault, but historically presidents in these conditions lose big.”

It also notes that Obama “prevented an economic collapse, saved the auto industry, reformed health care, and cracked down on Wall Street—but there’s little evidence that any of it resonated with voters.”

Voters are confused by the culture of argumentative punditry that has taken over cable news. Worse, since the corporate owners of major news media are not happy with Obama–he threatens to increase their taxes to a reasonable level–they won’t allow real reportage of his accomplishments. Most people are too lazy or overwhelmed to find out on their own what he’s accomplished.

And of course there’s flat-out distortion of the facts about Obama’s Presidency on talk radio, and at places like Fox News. Indeed, there’s a good deal of outright lying at Fox News and Foxnews.com.

Some of the left-leaning websites are just as dishonest: claiming health care reform was a sham–just because it hasn’t yet accomplished quite all they’d demanded–and wildly exaggerating civilian death tolls in Afghanistan (Obama has worked hard to end accidental civilian deaths from US forces). They also ignore Obama’s efforts to end both wars. Our part in the conflict in Iraq is almost entirely over and will be completely done quite soon…but they ignore that, just as they ignore Obama’s recent reduction of troops from Afghanistan. He plans to get out as soon as possible and has a timetable for that process.

They also claim he’s gotten us into a “third war”. But clearly we’re not in a war in Libya. We engaged in a some minor enforcement of a no-fly zone, that’s all.

As we move closer to the election, people on both sides of the ideological fence will insist Obama has accomplished “nothing”. They don’t look for the real facts. They repeat the latest mantra chanted by their favorite pundits.

And as a result we may end up with a Republican President in 2013.

If, say, Senator Bernie Sanders were to run for the Dem Presidential nomination, I’d have to support him. Because he’s been correctly declaring that we still haven’t worked seriously at keeping jobs in America or breaking up the banking hegemony or reforming campaign finance. I’m not sure any President can accomplish those things with the political waters as poisoned as they are now. But Sanders would try.

We won’t get a chance to vote for Sanders. Obama will get the Democratic nomination. Fortunately, Obama is a good man, a President who’s steering the country slowly but surely in a better direction…and at the very least he would veto any lunatic tea party bills that came his way. He would hold the line.

But I’m starting to fear that between the right’s propensity for dirty tricks in preventing Democrats from voting, their outright cheating at the ballot box, and the failure of the left to support the only decent man who can hope to be elected in 2012–Barack Obama–we may find ourselves the slaves of the new corporate fascism…