Wednesday, December 4, 2013

And the Band Droned On

I'd missed the much-ballyhooed Amazon infomercial on 60 Minutes Sunday night, being so enthralled with CNN's Death is Fun and charity extravaganza specials as I feverishly engaged in my standard seasonal Luddite activity of hand-crocheting Christmas gifts for friends and family.

So, after reading in the headlines that Amazon will make humans even more redundant than they are already by using drones to deliver packages, I felt compelled to play catch-up and watched the replay of Charlie Rose fellating interviewing yet another multibillionaire with a mission. In this episode, the rich guy is Jeff Bezos, that turbocharged Brave New World combo of internet retail whiz kid and mass media mogul.

Suffice it to say that Rose gushing, in his intro, that he'd been "granted unprecedented access" to the inner workings of Amazon gives us our first clue that this is not going to be the hard-hitting anti-capitalist exposé that 60 Minutes used to be so famous for. They've been blurring the line between shilling for the military-industrial complex and journalism for quite some time now. And this segment did not disappoint. Enter the drones publicity stunt, just in time for Cyber Monday. From the transcript:
But during our visit to Amazon’s campus in Seattle, Bezos kept telling us that he did have a big surprise, something he wanted to unveil for the first time…
Jeff Bezos: Let me show you something.
Charlie Rose: Oh, man…Oh, my God!
Jeff Bezos: This…
Charlie Rose: This is?
Jeff Bezos:…is…these are octocopters.
Charlie Rose: Yeah?
Jeff Bezos: These are effectively drones but there’s no reason that they can’t be used as delivery vehicles. Take a look up here so I can show you how it works.
Charlie Rose: All right. We’re talking about delivery here?
Jeff Bezos: We’re talking about delivery. There’s an item going into the vehicle. I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.
Charlie Rose: Wow!

To give Charlie credit, he does elicit the fact that besides plans to fill the skies with delivery drones in the not so distant future, Bezos is right this minute building a "private cloud" for the CIA --  because for some reason it doesn't want to be on the public cloud. But Rose doesn't even say "Wow!" or ask a follow-up question. Wow.

Needless to say, the delivery drones are getting an outsized share of media attention and are fodder for comedians. I had already been feeling faintly nauseous from the other news of the week: the horrific train derailment, the obsession with the Obamacare website and the media's head-rolling guessing game, the bankruptcy of Detroit seemingly giving new impetus to the nation-wide gutting of public pensions and the safety net. So, when Maureen Dowd posted a very witty column on "Mommy, the Drone's Here," I kinda snapped. My response:
How can you tell that fascism has finally come to America?
When the ruling elites refer to us as consumers instead of citizens. When health insurance reform is couched in terms not of wellness but of neoliberal aggression.
We get War Room briefings on the status of the ACA tech surge. They're "ruthlessly prioritizing at private sector speed and velocity and efficiency."
They're talking about our health as if we are mindless drones ourselves, seeking out the best deals for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that have become products to be bought instead of basic human rights.
And don't get me started on "60 Minutes." One week they spread the lie that people on disability are cheats, another week they showcase "philanthropic" billionaires who want to privatize our schools, cut our safety net, and repatriate their own offshore stashes of cash at no cost to themselves. And just in time for CyberMonday, free advertising for another billionaire retail/media hybrid. We pay for the privilege of hearing the rent-seekers yammer, while our own voices are drowned out.
People were killed and maimed because the government couldn't be bothered to install a safety device on their train. Next month, more than a million people will be kicked off federal unemployment insurance. Detroit went bankrupt, and Illinois cut public pensions on the same day.
And the news regales us with Amazon drones, and a website, and Black Friday sales riots. It's more Orwellian than Orwell.


Zee said...

First, I'm rolling on the floor laughing my ass off that the Obama administration is preening itself over finally acting at “private sector speed” to save ObummerCare! Is this a tacit admission that “government sector speed” is equivalent to “a turtle in molasses on a very cold day?”

Don't answer that. I've worked with the government, and they are slow, slllooowww, sllllllloooooowwwwww. Right now, I'm trying to figure out where the USPS—I know, I know, not truly the gum'mint any more—has lost a parcel of mine. May take me weeks to do so.

Shoulda used UPS, but that wasn't an option with this particular vendor.

Second, there is a cure for “octocopters” overflying your hot tub and mine:

I have my shotgun. Do you have yours?

Finally, when I reflect on that expensive, 1986 piece'o'crap Chevy Scottsdale, heavy-duty, 3/4 ton pick-up truck that I bought to haul my perfectly good, lightweight, American-made, in-the-box camper—the truck that constantly overheated and whose gas-tank-shifting electrical system could spontaneously leave one suddenly without gas on the Interstate, or without any gas at all under any circumstances until it damn' well decided to switch tanks,—well, I find it hard to work up any sympathy for the straits in which The Motor City finds itself these days.

Instead, I thank God for the Japanese automobile manufacturers who forced Detroit to take a look at its so-called “quality,” and to improve thereupon. Maybe, in another ten years and several hundred thousands of miles driven, I'll dare to turn in my reliable Japanese cars for those built in Detroit.

We'll see. If Detroit is still around.

Zee said...

Also, I see that some consideration is being given as to whose heads should roll in the wake of the ObummerCare roll-out fiasco.

How about all of 'em, starting with the Big Guy at The Top, who was too busy speechifyin' to see if his "signature achievement" even worked?

Oh. I guess that's just too much to hope for.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

The sad thing about the crash and burn of Detroit is that executive decisions - executives that are LONG gone and got 100% their golden retirement packages - are why the American auto industry failed. The guys and gals working on the assembly lines didn't care which cars or trucks they were building - big or small, hybrid or gas guzzler - and they had absolutely no say in the decisions around engineering that caused all the problems you complain about in your comment, in your comment, Zee. Yet, THEY are the ones who don't have viable employment now and they are the ones whose pension fund have been raided and they are the ones whose contracts concerning retirement were not honoured.

Zee said...


With all due respect, I have to differ with you on your opinion that the defects of my Chevy Scottsdale were solely the responsibility of the designing engineers or corporate executives of the day.

If those building today's cars are noon-time drunks and drug users, well, maybe they were the same or worse in 1986:

Just my humble speculation. If you have proof to the contrary, well, I'm always prepared to listen.

Pearl said...

Privatization and the Affordable Care Act via
> @sharethis

Cirze said...

But Orwell warned us it was coming.

Back in the 40's.

And it's here.


(Will the citizens awaken before the drones start dropping their bombs?)

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I have no proof, Zee, but I know how hard teachers I have worked with fought "no child left behind" (which has done nothing BUT leave children behind)- not because they were lazy and didn't want to work, but because the testing instituted measured airy -fairy, vague learning instead of measuring things like reading comprehension, vocabulary development, a sound foundation in the basic algorithms and practical problem solving. So the curriculum to prepare the kids for the test followed suit and we were not even allowed to teach the basics anymore. The point is, we teachers - the workers in the trenches who actually care about the kids - had absolutely no say in curriculum decisions. And now there is a metaphorical train wreck in public education and guess what? They aren't blaming corporate test designers, text book publishers and curriculum architects (who often are the same corporate entity, like Pearson publishing). They are blaming the very same teachers who wanted a more reasonable and practical curriculum. So no, I have no data about the workers who worked on the assembly line that designed your truck, but I do have an idea of what it feels like to have no power whatsoever over decisions dictated by those who THINK they have it right and don't. And many people think teachers are lazy and stupid people who couldn't do anything else. While I know that is not your opinion, your stereotype of drunk and drug addicted assembly line workers somehow strikes the same cord.

Let's face it, Detroit had two forks in the road starting around 1975. They knew fossil fuels were a finite resource and instead of putting their engineering in the direction of competing with Japanese imports - its not like engineers didn't see what the Japanese were doing that was working so well - and making smaller cars - or perfecting the electric car - they threw their lot in with the oil companies and built giant gas guzzlers. I blame the management for the downfall of the auto industry in America.