Just came back from seeing the Oz movie at Khalydia Mall in Abu Dhabi. The movie itself was visually glorious and a more than competent piece of story-telling, as one would expect from Sam Raimi. It is also undeniably a festival of sexism, racism, and ageism cleverly packaged so as to make the viewer feel rather as if the recognition of those failings in so “innocent” a package–wink-wink–is entirely the fault of the viewer.
At least in the popular press the language most often used to talk about the apparent spread of drug-therapy resistant strains of infectious bacteria is the language of war, violence, and militarization. A recent article by Jason Koebler for U.S. New & World Report (23 Jan. 2013) is fairly representative of the genre. Titled, ”Humans Losing War Against Antibiotic-Resistant ‘Superbugs’,” it casts under-funded efforts to develop new antibiotic drugs in the language of human-bacterial battle. “Humans are quickly losing the fight against bacteria as so-called ‘superbugs’ continue to develop resistance to some of the last effective antibiotics,” writes Koebler, “leading some scientists to worry about the possibility of untreatable bacterial infections.” Continue reading
Biocultural approaches to the study of human behavior, institutions, and circumstances promise to be among the most powerful tools ever developed. But as the technology for gene sequencing has thus far vastly outstripped the interpretive science of meaningfully mapping genes to human scale outcomes, there is a lot of over-reaching.
David Nather at Politico has written a nice polemic (“Drones: Tough Talk, Little Scrutiny“) taking American lawmakers to task for posturing and hot air–at best–in response the current moment of awareness regarding drone warfare, indicting them with their own words.
“The idea of having 535 commanders in chief decide the target is ridiculous,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, who plans to introduce a resolution next week supporting the drone strike program. “It should reside with the commander in chief to decide who is an enemy combatant.”
Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says he’s fine with the drone strikes even though he was one of the lawmakers calling on the Obama administration to release the legal opinions.
“This has been a huge value-added in disrupting al Qaeda events. And guess what? Sometimes Americans have joined that organization to kill Americans. That’s their choice, not ours,” Rogers said in an interview on MSNBC Wednesday.
Whereas more critical lawmakers seem to be most concerned with scoring points on the principle of oversight and congressional responsibility.
Below is a privately distributed piece of writing by my cousin, Dan Shea, artist, activist and Marine Corps veteran. I was moved by his reflections and put in mind of so many conversations I have had with veterans in recent years, reflecting on war and its human aftermath. Published here on my blog by permission. –Steven Gardiner
General and Specific
“If the truth be told, the less the world knows about a place, the easier it is to generalize about. Are not all ethnic and religious conflicts, Muslim societies, underdeveloped economies, terrorist movements, and failed states fundamentally alike, especially in poor countries? Unfortunately they are not, and assuming that they are imposes a uniformity that is deceptively dangerous” (Thomas Barfield 2010, Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History, Princeton University Press).
Of all of these, the “terrorist movement” is probably most alien, and thereby easiest to generalize, when in practice the shared use of terror as tactic is almost absolutely devoid of meaningful information. It tells us nothing.
Renting and Selling
Sadly, or at least sadly for me, many of my previous Xenophilia posts are more-or-less permanently lost, including some of my commentaries on David Graeber’s brillian book, Debt: The First 5000 Years. I have, in the interim, modified my workflow to make sure this doesn’t happen again, even if the blog itself explodes.
Black Hornet, The
For the last several years robotics companies such as Norway’s Prox Dynamics AS have been developing tiny, helicopter-like drones for military and law enforcement surveillance. Known as personal reconnaissance systems, this new generation of miniature UAVs hit the mediascape the last few hours, as the British army announced the newish technology.
According to the Economic Times (4 Feb 2013), “British army has unveiled a tiny ‘game-changing’ drone that fits easily into the palm of your hand and may give an edge to troops in the war against the Taliban.”
Given that the annals of technology are littered with pronouncements of “game-changing” developments. In prudence we should examine such claims with skepticism. Yet in my on-going efforts to think about the use of drone tech in warfare and “security” applications, I begin to visualize an altered sensory and cognitive environment of violence and control the consequences of which have only been hinted at in Philip K. Dick stories.
The Black Hornet drones now operational with the British in Afghanistan seem like toys. It must be very play-like to control such a vehicle using a joy-stick or a tablet, or in the near future a goggle set-up that leaves the hands free and overlays the world as seen by human eyes alone with a secondary digital rendering that ands a wealth of data, tagged as information, as friend and enemy, neutral and target and danger.
While the potentials for abuse and invasion of privacy are obvious, what I am most wondering about is the way in which this now actually emergent technology will affect cultural and consciousness, specifically the ways in which it will inflect our sense of interaction with others. The capacity to “see” over horizons, around corners, behind us, above us, expanding our sensory bubble in heretofore unrealized ways will change our sense of the normal, for those using such technologies.
Will such capacities be limited and regulated to the battlefield and law enforcement? This seems unlikely. Media corporations, local governments, and private individuals will use versions of this technology in unimaginable proliferation within a decade (I predict)–micro drones that fly, hover, crawl, linger, and otherwise hang-out, feeding streams of video, audio, and data to massively distributed indexing software that will bind us up in a denser and denser cartesian grid from which there will be no escape. Unplugging won’t help, our very physical being, with its “biometric” signature, will identify us, and we will have to learn to dance in this world, and the dances we will dance–it seems that we should all pay close attention to the would-be tune callers!
Liberal Arts, No Regrets
It sounds a little like something from The Onion, suggested headline: “College Professor Listens to NPR on Way from Morning Coffee, Decides to Write Blog Post.”
If only I rated being mocked by The Onion!
Stranger than satire, I’ve had several conversations about college, going to college, kids going to college and so on the last few days, while visiting my family in Portland, getting ready for the new semester at my job back in Abu Dhabi. Driving from my morning coffee in the town of Sandy, Oregon (near where my mom lives in Boring), I heard a report on post-college jobs on WEEKEND EDITION SATURDAY (“Study Says Many College Students Underemployed After Graduations“). The report was an interview with University of Ohio economist Richard Vedder, indicating that many college grads end up working as “sales clerks, waiters, janitors and other jobs that don’t require a college degree.”
Once in a job interview at a liberal arts college I spent a half-hour or so with the college president–not a typical experience at larger institutions, but it does happen at smaller institutions. The president was affable but relatively conservative, at least in the context of a liberal arts college, and he was interested in my work, much of which has to do with gender and the military.