Monday, June 3, 2013

Geeks, and the Havoc They Wreak

Welcome to Monday (a k a Terror Tuesday Eve). Well, we finally have all the proof we ever needed to show that They Really Are Out To Get Us. The following announcement has been popping up with odd regularity on the New York Times homepage lately: 


Truthers be told, my first thought on seeing this ad was that it was a plug for a new work of fiction by Friedman, something rip-offingly speculative, a cross between Schrodinger's Cat and the pulpy new Dan Brown best-seller. My second thought was that some Onion-inspired prankster had actually hacked the Times site and inserted Friedman the Illuminatus as a practical joke. (In case you haven't heard of The Illuminati, it's a nefarious cult of secretive plutocrats who are secretly plotting to create a New World Order. Actually, I thought they were being pretty blatantly gauche about taking over the world. But whatever. For the uninitiated among you, Gawker has published a handy guide to the bright bulbs of Conspiracyville.) 

My third thought, as I clicked on the Friedman ad, was: "Holy Crap! This is totally effing real!" Tom Friedman, resident millionaire free trade techno-babbler of the Times, is headed out to San Francisco later this month to host a $495-a-ticket (just reduced from $995) event on the New World Order. That he did not preface the title with Brave was probably just an oversight on his part.  

It gets even stranger. Friedman's column did not appear in yesterday's Times. And filling in was none other than besieged Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who must have slipped a mickey to Times editors for allowing the publication of a such a scathing piece of anti-Friedmanism. It's all about the creepy rise of Silicon Valley as a global political power, and the banality of Google's no-evil evil, as evidenced by a new book by its founders. Technocratic imperialists are taking over our lives and our world, joining corrupt governments to destroy the hopes and dreams of entire peoples through a campaign of mass, soft-power control. But unlike most conspiracy theories, this one, like the Friedman Festival of Fascism, seems all too real. Assange writes: 
“Progress” is driven by the inexorable spread of American consumer technology over the surface of the earth. Already, every day, another million or so Google-run mobile devices are activated. Google will interpose itself, and hence the United States government, between the communications of every human being not in China (naughty China). Commodities just become more marvelous; young, urban professionals sleep, work and shop with greater ease and comfort; democracy is insidiously subverted by technologies of surveillance, and control is enthusiastically rebranded as “participation”; and our present world order of systematized domination, intimidation and oppression continues, unmentioned, unafflicted or only faintly perturbed.  

Look no further than Obama's paradoxical White House. This administration, the most secretive in recent memory, prides itself on its transparency via such illusory populist ploys as its occasional "Google Hangouts" and "We the People" petition website. And as Edward Luce describes it in another chilling piece published in today's Financial Times, the president literally gets away with murder and other civil liberties assaults precisely because he comes across as such a nerdy, harmless geek who wouldn't hurt a fly. He is protected by the Silicon Shield, much as Ronald Reagan was protected by the teflon of his own bonhomie. According to Luce,
One of the geekocracy’s main characteristics is a serene faith in its own good motives. It is not hard to imagine how much greater the US left’s outrage would be over the drone programme were it carried out by George W. Bush or Mitt Romney. When Mr Obama asks Americans to trust that he evaluates every target on his “kill list”, most acquiesce. That pass is also extended to Mr Obama’s “signature strikes”, which select targets by probability based on often sketchy information. But there is a world of difference between zapping a known target and taking an educated guess. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that Mr Obama’s reputation for being a nerd shields him from tougher criticism. Call it geek exceptionalism.  

It's no accident that, along with Wall Street and Hollywood, the president's biggest fundraisers were held in Silicon Valley, close neighbor to the site of Friedman's upcoming Brave New World convention. Obama's campaign database is the stuff of legend. Google founder Eric Schmidt, whom Assange eviscerated in his op-ed, is a defacto member of the Obama Administration. It turns out he was more intimately involved than we thought in constructing that massive database, having personally trained and recruited the geeks who creep, data-mining the personal information, habits, loves, beliefs and search histories of what is believed to be every registered voter in America. Joshua Green of Bloomberg has the scoop: 
(The) team pursued a bottom-up strategy of unifying vast commercial and political databases to understand the proclivities of individual voters likely to support Obama or be open to his message, and then sought to persuade them through personalized contact via Facebook (FB), e-mail, or a knock on the door. “I think of them as people scientists,’’ says Schmidt. “They apply scientific techniques to how people will behave when confronted with a choice or a question.” Obama’s rout of Mitt Romney was a lesson in how this insight can translate into political strength. 

Green also confirms what many of us had long suspected -- that the information about private citizens that the Obama campaign was able to glean will also now be shared with predatory insurance companies to target potential enrollees in Obamacare. Your past medical history, prescriptions, allergies, proclivities, visits to websites for info on your hemorrhoids and other worrisome symptoms -- it's all likely there in the Obama Database to help the corporations pick and choose their subscribers and set their rates. 
Illuminated yet?
If not, Thomas Friedman explains it all in the video embedded in his New World website (linked above) You can actually hear him, see him in the flesh, previewing what the Times is actually going to charge you money to endure:
“And my view is that this is changing every job, every workplace, every industry, every job. and we’re not talking about it. Yet we’re all living it and feeling it...If you don’t start every day asking, ‘What world am I living in?’ you’re going to get in a lot of trouble.”

In the real world, the court martial of Bradley Manning begins today, and Occupy is making a comeback.  


Jim - South Florida said...

Bear in mind we're extremely dependent on geek-built tech! Turkish protests coordinated and reported on via Twitter depend on Erdogan not shutting down Twitter. I'm surprised it hasn't happened already.

You, I and the others who read your blog do so at the pleasure of our Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who long ago sold their corporate souls to the U.S. Security Establishment. When Occupy becomes too successful (read: Threatening), your username and password may suddenly stop working, and your ISP's outsourced tech support people won't tell you why. Then who ya gonna call?

Technology is herding us into a virtual corral the government can lock down at any time. Or worse. See "Chinese chicken farm" for example.

For anyone who still has the ability to do dial-up access, the old tech of the BBS circumvents the Internet. I'm not throwing away my old modem. Meanwhile, beware of Geeks bearing "gifts."

Outsida said...

I wonder if this all might lead to a power struggle/gang war someday between the MIC, which has its tentacles Lockheed-ed into the government at all levels, and the Geek Gang which is catching up at lightning speed.

Jim - South Florida said...


I doubt it. The way these things usually go, the Big Corps buy out the Smaller Corps. Don't think we'll see a remake of West Side Story starring lawyers in suits. We're more likely to have Facebook-Google-Lockheed Inc., with eyes everywhere.

Denis Neville said...

“We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“The world is no longer round.”

“Flathead,” Matt Taibbi's review of Friedman’s The World Is Flat, is one of the most entertaining pieces I have ever read:

“Man travels to India, plays golf, sees Pizza Hut billboard, listens to Indian CEO mutter small talk, writes 470-page book reversing the course of 2000 years of human thought.”

“The significance of Columbus’s discovery was that on a round earth, humanity is more interconnected than on a flat one. On a round earth, the two most distant points are closer together than they are on a flat earth. But Friedman is going to spend the next 470 pages turning the “flat world” into a metaphor for global interconnectedness. Furthermore, he is specifically going to use the word round to describe the old, geographically isolated, unconnected world. He will literally travel backward in time, against the current of human knowledge.”

“Four hundred and 73 pages of this, folks. Is there no God?”

Friedman’s latest buzzword is “hyperconnectivity.” From The Next New World Forum website:

“While we were sleeping, something really big happened over the last decade. While we were focused on post 9/11 and the subprime crisis, something really big happened in the plumbing of the world and by the plumbing I mean, basically, the technological platform on which innovation and education and companies all rest. So back in 2004 I wrote a book called The World Is Flat, and the argument of the book is that the world was getting connected. Well, I would argue that in the last 10 years, while you were sleeping the world went from connected to hyperconnected.”


Tom Tomorrow, “Thomas Friedman Private Eye,”

Friedman is “the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity.”

Zee said...

@Jim-South Florida...

I'm afraid you probably have it all too right:

"Technology is herding us into a virtual corral the government can lock down at any time."

Only those who "live completely off the grid," and that means living in isolation and producing their own food and water, too, might conceivably remain outside the "corral."

But then, probably not for too long once the security state has firmly clamped down on the rest of us.

Then those who are still hiding out in the hills and caves can then be hunted for sport using using drones and satellites equipped with advanced surveillance capabilities.

Resistance just may be futile at this point.

Call me paranoid, but we keep hearing from our government that "cyber-warfare" is the next great threat that the U.S. faces.

What better way to convince us proles that we need the security state more than ever, than to take away our technological conveniences for a certain period, blaming it on the Chinese or the Iranians?

Zee said...


RĂ©: "Thomas Friedman, Private Eye."


Zee said...

On the other hand, some of us seem determined to use these new technologies to commit (career) suicide even before the government can corral us with them.

This from today's Albuquerque Journal :

"UNM Prof: Obese need not apply"

“Dear obese PhD (sic) applicants: if you didn’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation,” UNM associate professor Geoffrey Miller wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

“The University of New Mexico administration and faculty were surprised by Dr. Geoffrey Miller’s tweet. We are deeply concerned about the impact of the statement, which in no way reflects the policies or admission standards of UNM. We are investigating every aspect of this incident and will take appropriate action,” according to the school’s statement.

Buh-Bye, Professor Miller

Will said...


A little Social Media Darwinism is like chicken soup for the soul. Like that young, soon-to-be-former employee of Taco Bell recently posting a pic of himself on facebook licking a stack of taco shells. Idiots.

Zee said...


Social Media Darwinism!


Thanks, Will!

Suzan said...


But you knew that. (And that it came from his marrying up.)


Tom Friedman, resident millionaire