Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Where I Stand

December 20, 2016

I’d originally intended to write this piece after Clinton won the election to explain why I couldn’t vote for her. I’m writing it anyway. It’s meant to explain where I stand culturally/politically.

I was born into a mainstream “moderate to conservative” (I put the words in quotes because I think they’re deceptive) Democratic Party household. Eugene McCarthy’s near upset of Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary inspired me to leave the fold. I became what would be described today as an “ultra liberal.” Then, with the election of Richard Nixon, I dropped out psychologically and philosophically, switching my allegiance to the counterculture. The change coincided with my deepening disillusionment with Western civilization and ideas.

In its early days, the counterculture was divided into two fundamental factions: the spiritual hippies and the New Left politicos. The essential difference was that the hippies believed you had to change yourself before you could change the world, while the leftists believed you had to change the world before you could change yourself. I sided with the hippies. By the time I was 20 I completely dismissed mainstream American culture. I saw it as dying. At the same time, the hippie image and philosophy were being diluted and destroyed by the Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll crowd, who were not hippies, but looked like them. I ended up dropping out of the counterculture—dropping out of the drop-outs—and landing on the streets of North Beach, where I continued my search for what is “really real.” It wasn’t exactly a deliberate move, but neither was it an accident. I didn’t find all my answers there, but I did find many. And I came to a solid understanding that America really was in a death spiral, something that’s quite apparent now.

I remained a complete outsider—no home, no job, no ID—until the wild parrots came into my life. By getting involved with two creative projects, the book and the film, and having to present them to the public, I got pulled back into the System. (Both projects happened naturally. They were not calculated.) But I remained essentially a counterculturist disillusioned with the counterculture—not to mention the System. My return coincided with 9/11, so in 2008, I was happy to be seduced by Obama. But he turned out to be more of the same—a so-called centrist Democrat. I vowed then that I would never get fooled again. The only individual I could imagine ever supporting was Bernie Sanders. He was from the edge of the counterculture, its political side, so he felt close enough to where I stood. But I never thought he’d run, and when he announced, I pretty much ignored him. He started saying things that for so long had needed to be said, and I was amazed by how many responded to him. I was riveted throughout his campaign. But the establishment Democrats had no intention of allowing him to succeed.

Since the advent of computers the Empire has become corporate and global in nature. (That’s obvious, yes.) I am adamantly opposed to the Empire, which is indifferent to everything save money and power. Its massiveness has made it the biggest threat to world peace, a healthy environment, and a sane life. Hillary Clinton, like her husband, is a supporter of the Empire. She made it clear that she would use military power to keep the Empire in place and thriving. Trump, who is a genuine sociopath (that needs to be understood), is more like a domestic terrorist. He will fail because of his ego. The Global Empire demands an ability to work with others, something he is incapable of doing because of his “disease.” He’s going to cause a great deal of harm to his fellow Americans, but it’s difficult for me to think of Trump as objectively worse simply because he is more of a threat to me personally. If I did, it would make me indifferent to the suffering of those who Clinton would have squashed in her effort to maintain the Empire, which, like America, is also in its death throes. Both Clinton and Trump are devotees of Mammon. They simply had different constituencies supporting them in their quests for power. Mammon has no principles.

My allegiance remains to the counterculture, which needs to revive itself and develop greater maturity. There is no hope for the established institutions of the modern world, which are completely off-base philosophically. I don’t care about economics, politics, or science, all of which now serve as tools for ambitious egotists. The only thing I’ve ever cared about is love. It’s the only thing that has never fallen away from me.

Is There a Place for Technology?

July 19, 2014

Today I was perusing the New York Times web site and came upon an article about “what role poetry plays in a technologized world.” The full article belonged to the premium level of the web site, so I was only able to read the teaser. But I thought, “That’s backwards.” The root of existence is utterly pure—pure poetry. It’s the place where there is no commerce, desire, anger or lies. It’s the pure playing out of what really is. We have arisen from that, as has everything else. The poetry is karma, which is not reward and punishment, but cause and effect. Karma is the events that arise, in part, from the decisions we make, some of which are less pleasant that others. And karma is inexorable. As Stephen Gaskin once said (I’m paraphrasing), “Karma can be compared to taking a swing at a golf ball in a fully tiled bathroom. It’s going to get you.” Technology, along with a bunch of other of our creations, has been leading us away from an awareness of the purity of reality. Technology is not reality. It’s virtual reality. If we don’t reduce our obsession with the distraction, we’re going to suffer greatly for it. So the real question is what role technology might play within the pure poetry of the universe.

The Future of the Book: An Introduction

June 14, 2014

This is my first entry on a subject that I want to address: the future of the book. It’s something that matters to me very much, of course. Many internet enthusiasts maintain that the book is dying, which I think is naive. The book is suffering right now, but it’s not going to die. The internet will die before the book ever does. I’ll go into why I think that’s true in future posts. For this first post, I want to look at a brief exchange in an interview with the poet and ecology activist Gary Snyder that I saw on YouTube. This extract confirms a hunch I’ve had about one of the beliefs of cyber-intellectuals, a belief they tend to keep in the background. I’ve put into italics the specific point that I’m referring to.

Interviewer: Do you think that there is any literary vocation, in the largest sense of the word—literary, not poetical—one that may be assumed by so-called prose writers?

Gary Snyder: Maybe. I don’t know. The publishing business is falling apart. Books are not selling. Bookstores are closing. Everybody is saying the Internet is the new thing. What do you think? It’s your generation. What do you think is going to happen?

Interviewer: I think we will still need literature for some reasons.

Gary Snyder: By literature, you mean books or do you mean writing?

Interviewer: Writing.

Gary Snyder: Is it okay for writing to be online?

Interviewer: Honestly, I do think so.

Gary Snyder: Do you think writers should be paid?

Interviewer: Um… Well, that’s a difficult issue.

Gary Snyder: Well, you can’t be a writer if you can’t make a living.

Interviewer: Yeah, that’s true. Um…

Gary Snyder: Unless you want to be an academic, but that’s not a real writer.

Interviewer: But would you say it’s just to write for a living? To earn money?

Gary Snyder: Whatever you do you have to earn enough money to feed your family.

Interviewer: Okay. So you’re a pragmatist.

Gary Snyder: Of course I’m a pragmatist. I’m a grown up. You know? I’m an adult. I know that I have to feed a family.

The interviewer is around 20 years old, a student in Krakow, Poland. I’ve looked into him a little. He’s an urban technofile. I’ve long had the sense that the real attitude of these people toward writers, musicians and other “content providers” is that they should be doing their work for free in their spare time, that to make a living doing creative work is elitist. I feel that my hunch has been confirmed here — “Well, that’s a difficult issue.” For cyber-intellectuals, the internet fanatics, the most vital aspect of the digital lifestyle is gadgetry. You need content to give the gadgets something to do, but that’s secondary. This is another example of form over content — the medium is the message — which is backwards. We live in a backward, or an upside down, era. (I’ll do a future post on Marshall McLuhan, of whom I used to be a big fan.) Listening to the interview, when the interviewer agrees with Snyder’s assertion that you can’t be a writer if you can’t make a living at it, he’s not being sincere. It’s merely a tactical retreat. A grown man has challenged him over something he has not thought through, so he backs off. But his real attitude, which he’s not willing to push too hard here, is one of the most widespread that those who write books, make films, take photos, or make music have to deal with nowadays: Your work should be free, and if you’re not willing to give it to us, then we’ll simply take it from you. Can someone offer support for this idea? I’d be interested in hearing from you.

You can watch the entire 25-minute interview here.

Venturing into the Future

April 19, 2014

A couple of days ago, Judy and I drove north to Eureka to screen her new film Pelican Dreams for some wildlife rehabilitators who helped with the project. (The film isn’t ready for release yet. She still has a lot of color correction and sound work to do. But she has achieved what’s called “picture lock,” meaning there won’t be any more changes to the visuals.) The screening was an interesting experience. It was held in a creative performance space—actually an old warehouse at the edge of town. When we got there the entrance was surrounded by homeless people who were either sleeping or just hanging out. We carried our gear inside (projector, screen, laptop, speakers) and  discovered that the power had been shut off by the utility company for nonpayment. Someone had forgotten to send in the check. The warehouse is divided into two spaces, and on the other side of the wall an industrial punk band was rehearsing. We got their attention during a break, and they let us run an extension cord over to their side. We were able to draw enough juice to power the projector and our small speakers. So that audience members could find their way to their seats, we lit the winding hallway into the theater with candles. The band had paid to rent the space where they were rehearsing, so they weren’t willing to call it a night. We had to run the first half of the film over the sound of their pounding drums, howling vocals, and buzz-sawing guitars, which were just on the other side of the wall. Somehow it worked. Everybody accepted the situation for what it was. I was most amused by two women in their seventies who ran the gauntlet of homeless people outside the warehouse, picked their way through the candle-lined hallway, and watched the show with the punk band playing behind the wall. They could have been old hippies, but they didn’t look it. Whatever they were, they were unruffled by it all.

I was thinking later that this is how the future is going to be. We’re going to live through a time where the availability of energy is unreliable. In this particular case, it brought people together. Everyone had a good time.

The Word from Japan

April 16, 2014

I got confirmation this week that I’ll be signing a contract soon for a Japanese edition of The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. The book will be published by a company called Tsukiji Shokan. It will be my first overseas edition. The job of translating the book hasn’t been started yet, so it will be some time before the book comes out. This is a most welcome development. I needed some good news. Judy and I are hoping that we can interest someone in broadcasting the film, which, oddly enough, already has Japanese subtitles. Several years ago, a Japanese woman living in the United States who loves the film wanted her brother to see it, but he speaks no English. She volunteered to do the work of creating subtitles so that he could watch it. Unfortunately, we’ve never been able to interest any Japanese broadcaster in showing it. Maybe we can now. It would certainly help book sales.

In other news: Judy and I had houseguests this week from Japan, Shoji Kihara and his daughter Akiko. Shoji is an anti-nuclear activist whom Judy met 35 years ago when she was working on a film about the survivors of the atomic blasts in Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Nagasaki Journey). Shoji’s parents were survivors of the Hiroshima bombing, and Shoji has made a lifelong commitment to ending nuclear power. While he was here, Shoji showed us a DVD that a Japanese photographer made of the dead zone around the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. It was genuinely haunting. All that’s left of Fukushima is abandoned homes and businesses and sickly-looking animals—cows, dogs, pigs, cats, and chickens—wandering around looking for food. No one should be able to discuss the merits or demerits of nuclear energy without seeing something like this. It’s a large area of the planet that’s permanently off-limits, like Chernobyl. The reality that the photographs document gives the abstract debate over nuclear power some badly needed perspective. It’s quite likely that there are going to be more areas like this in the future given the number of power plants in the world.

Finally, I’ve decided that I’m going to start studying Japanese. I like learning languages, and I’ve always wanted to learn one of the Asian languages. But I’ve never been able to decide between Japanese and Chinese. It can’t be an intense study, not while I’m working on Street Song. But I’ve already ordered a book and I’m going to at least make a start.

Who Can Keep Up?

April 3, 2014

I’m often weighing in my mind various topics to write about here. Lately, most ideas tend to revolve around the insanity of the times we live in. The work on my book makes it difficult to get to most of my ideas. Every now and then I’ll come up with something that I actually do want to write about—some stunning new absurdity—and just as I’m all set to sit down and get to work, something even weirder and more appalling comes along. This happens constantly. I can’t keep up. Is there anybody who believes that things are actually going quite well? I’d like to hear from you. I’m not really pessimistic, not for the long haul, at least. But for the short term, my observation is that this society is losing its mind, and at an ever accelerating pace. It’s all about ego and money. An egotist can never be satisfied. He can never have enough money or enough power.

We Don’t Want to Know

March 20, 2014

Yesterday I was returning home on my bicycle from an anti-growth rally, rolling quickly downhill, when a runner suddenly burst out into the street from between two parked cars. She was simultaneously running and talking on her cell phone and didn’t see me. I came very close to hitting her. It strikes me as a near perfect image of something I see happening.

I believe we’re heading for catastrophe. Not just America, but this whole global system that we’ve promulgated — insisted upon, really. Everyone’s hooked now. They talk about revolutions in communication, finance, energy, education, entertainment, and blah blah blah. Everything is happening very, very quickly. We’re making all these changes without carefully considering them. Anyone who would suggest that we slow it down and think it over first is a Luddite. It’s inevitable that one of these so-called revolutions is going to get us. You can’t keep running forward blindly, obsessed with your gadget, and not have a big accident at some point. For example, if cell phones do cause brain cancer, it’s not something most users — let alone manufacturers — want to know. Most people dismiss any evidence that suggests this is happening without even looking at it. This is what always happens before a catastrophe: People become deaf to warnings. This is happening with climate change, the weirdness of the financial world, energy usage, as well as our addiction to technology. I don’t know where it will come from, but something is going to get us.

How Dark Can It Get?

March 11, 2014

I saw this startling comment attached to an article about America’s secret courts and the “War On Terror” in today’s New York Times.

First, frighten the population into thinking that another attack is imminent.
Formalize the process, calling it The War On Terror. This ensures that it’s a never ending open ended conflict, as it’s a war not against an enemy, but against an idea. You can’t destroy an idea, and so the war can go on forever.
Then, tell the people you need more power and control to keep them safe. Reassure them with the lie that it’s temporary.
Issue secret orders allowing spy agencies specifically forbidden to operate on domestic soil to operate on domestic soil.
Sign into a law a decree allowing the leader to have citizens suspected of terrorism to be arrested and detained forever without benefit of counsel, or failing that, to be assassinated.
If they complain, point out that if they haven’t done anything wrong, they have nothing to worry about.
Set up secret courts that make secret laws that make the illegal things you’re doing legal.
Stonewall any attempts to rein in the military/spy axis. Give them all the money they want with weak or no oversight. Let them grow sufficiently powerful that they answer to no one.
I grew up under a totalitarian Eastern European regime, and can see very little difference between how that was run, and where we’re headed. Very little.
This was not the America, the beacon of freedom, I signed up for when I studied to become a citizen. As soon as I retire, I’m gone. There will be blood in the streets here in less than a decade.

Agreeing with Gates

November 3, 2013

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Bill Gates. I think there was a time when he was striving to be the richest man in the world and he was incredibly arrogant then. But he seems to have let go of that. I see that in a recent interview with the Financial Times he said:

“PCs are not, in the hierarchy of human needs, in the first five rungs.”

That takes my breath away. I’m so pleased that someone like him can see that and say it. And then there was this:

When asked by the Financial Times whether Internet connectivity is more important than, say, finding a vaccination for malaria, Gates responded: “As a priority? It’s a joke.”

“If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” he added.

And

“I certainly love the IT thing. But when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.”

I think this should all be obvious by now. I’ve seen life before computers and life after computers, and I much preferred life before computers. I still don’t have a cellphone and I am perfectly content without one. Their centrality in people’s lives is a temporary thing. It has to be.

I’ll return to this topic again in the future and with a deeper perspective. This blog is so distant from my mind these days. The book has a strangle hold on my brain right now. Not a bad thing, of course.

Chilling

July 7, 2013

In case you haven’t seen this, here’s an article from the New York Times that everyone should read.