April 20th, 2010

BBC: Human technology vs. nature

Updated below.

Here in Anchorage we have to listen to BBC on Public Radio for most of the late night hours. The eruption of a volcano in Iceland has disrupted human activity that is reliant on recently developed technologies. The folks at the BBC don’t seem to get it. Simply, nature trumps man. How ironic that the BBC can’t seem to mention that we humans have built an unworkable system. Rather than focus on the cascading technological failures caused by a natural event in Iceland the BBC can’t go beyond reporting effects. How odd.

We have created for ourselves some unreal views of nature and our relationship to nature. Technologists hate to say they got it wrong. We have convinced ourselves, and our media trumpets the view that our technology has outdone nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

See for example:

Winner, Langdon. Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-Control as a Theme in Political Thought. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992.

Ellul, Jacques. The The Technological Society. New York, NY: Random House, 1964.

Update: 2010 April 28

I think Joe Bageant’s take is grounded in reality,

Thanks to technology and layers upon layers of mediation by TV, movies, the Internet, etc., gadgets and manufactured imagery, we all live many steps removed from reality. Collapse is symbolized to each of us in different ways. To some it would be the sustained malfunction and lack of access of the Internet, which is surely coming……

I have come to think the price of admission anywhere in the world, (except in America and Europe, where enough dough will get your ass kissed in any circles) is service to others. We have been indoctrinated by an earth devouring capitalist system to believe otherwise. Believe that giving only depletes. And that mankind and civilization came about through kings and warriors and “great men.” But the essential glue of man the social animal has always been on cooperation and sharing. That an endless stream of elite thieves have always managed to steal the fruits of that cooperation does not matter. And the best that is in man still rests on the same fundamentals — cooperation for the greater good of all.

Most of the folks here in the U.S. can’t imagine a “cooperative economic model.” I think it’s been “programmed” out of most folks here in the U.S. – cooperation is a model that few U.S. citizens have ever encountered over the course of their lives. Too bad for all of us.

April 15th, 2010

Didn’t I see you naked on The Internet?

Updates follow.

As a U.S. Senator running for The Office of President of The United States Barak Obama voted to remove a provision from FISA legislation that provided immunity to telephone companies that had willingly provided access to the National Security Agency (NSA), without Court issued warrants to the telephone conversations of US Citizens. The amendment that was defeated would have removed civil immunity for the telephone companies from FISA and allowed citizens to hold telephone companies (telcoms) responsible and subject to Civil Action in our courts. Then Senator Obama contradicted himself when he went on to vote in favor of the FISA legislation which included civil immunity for the telephone companies that had violated Federal laws; thanks President Obama – nice flip-flop. The violation of our rights by the telephone companies, The Bush Administration (via NSA) and the United States Senate has come to be known as the “warrantless surveillance program.”

The problem with giving up our Civil Liberties is that we give up those rights in drips and drabs and become accustom to the “new ways.” 40 years ago I know people who would have brandished a gun and shot out the security cameras that now look at us everyday. Now days we don’t give those cameras a second thought. When was the last time you willing gave out your Social Security number – perhaps because somebody told you they couldn’t do something for you without it?

This case, filed in Federal Court this past Tuesday by a Pennsylvania family may or may not be adjudged true:

“A Lower Merion family has set off a furor among students, parents, and civil liberties groups by alleging that Harriton High School officials used a webcam on a school-issued laptop to spy on their 15-year-old son at home.”

If it turns out to be true it is an example of how much we’ve given up to live in a “safe world.” Even if it turns out not to be true it demonstrates, in my opinion, how paranoid we have to be to live here in these United States.

If you use email in these rather twisted times, remember that somebody else is probably reading the words you write. If you make a phone call there is a good chance that somebody unbeknown to you is listening to the words you speak (maybe a computer equipped with voice recognition software is transcribing your words), or at the least the numbers you have dialed and the numbers you have received calls from have been data mined for analysis (probably using billing information). If you make a purchase with a credit or debit card you are being tracked. Big Brother is among us.

Oh, and just for fun here’s a tune that you might enjoy though I know that my co-conspirators here at The Ptarmigan Nest have heard it many times.

Update I (2010 Feb 24): Shut down Webcam use, judge tells school district

Update II(2010 April 15) John P. Martin reports on The Philiadelphia Inquirer website, “Lawyer: Laptops took thousands of images.”

The system that Lower Merion school officials used to track lost and stolen laptops wound up secretly capturing thousands of images, including photographs of students in their homes, Web sites they visited, and excerpts of their online chats, says a new motion filed in a suit against the district.

More than once, the motion asserts, the camera on Robbins’ school-issued laptop took photos of Robbins as he slept in his bed. Each time, it fired the images off to network servers at the school district.

Back at district offices, the Robbins motion says, employees with access to the images marveled at the tracking software. It was like a window into “a little LMSD soap opera,” a staffer is quoted as saying in an e-mail to Carol Cafiero, the administrator running the program.

“I know, I love it,” she is quoted as having replied.

Update III You can’t make this stuff up: Lower Merion report: “Web cams snapped 56,000 images.”