December 31, 2013
Everyday Rebellion: Interview with Filmmakers Arash and Arman Riahi

Yosef Brody, Truthout:

I had the opportunity to sit down with Arash and Arman Riahi at the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) in November, where Everyday Rebellion had its world premiere and won the 2013 Audience Award. 

The brothers talk about their film, their upbringing and the technical activism platforms they are creating.

August 26, 2013
Why ‘Elysium’ Is Worth Seeing: Hollywood Art as Sociopolitical Critique

Neill Blomkamp’s ‘Elysium’ imagines a 21st-22nd-century future for humanity that builds on an ambivalent vision first described by NASA in the 1970s and formally supported by the White House three years ago.

I first posted this short piece below in April, 2010, after Pres. Obama announced his medium-term plan for off-world colonies in a speech at NASA, in effect the most articulated U.S. plan to deal with climate change up to that point. It shares themes with the film and uses the same, gorgeous NASA/Stanford drawings that the film uses as set design.

'Elysium' cleverly embeds thoughtful sociopolitical critique into explosive and escapist entertainment. Not enough Hollywood films walk this line. By extending contemporary real-world issues just a few generations into the future, the film strikes close to home in a way that many science-fiction films do not, implictly asking us to question today's most important real-world political decisions. Minimal suspension of disbelief is required in order to accept Blomkamp’s world as representative of the alarming general direction we seem to be headed in, and for that alone it makes a welcome contribution to the culture. In its dark, cautionary, almost comic book-style depiction of where current policies and technological change are leading society, it presents us with a trajectory and premonition—more extreme inequality and oppression, humans increasingly merging with machines, a completely ravaged Earth—that feels all too real.

While a new—and tragically-flawed—U.S. climate change policy was unveiled by Obama this June (scientifically speaking, it does not go far enough or quickly enough to prevent likely catastrophe in the coming decades), the incredible plan described below for extraterrestrial colonization remains the official longer-term American vision.

Solar System or Ecosystem?

In a speech to NASA on Thursday, Obama unveiled a bold, new climate change policy for the United States.

Apparently realizing there is no viable consensus on earth science to be had among America’s state-corporate leaders, Obama appears to have gone straight to Plan B: He’s pulling out the national credit card to hire aerospace corporations to help conquer the solar system, mine for treasure, and scout potential new homes. The first manned missions to asteroids, and then Mars, should pave the way to the first human space colonies in the second half of the 21st century.

"Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite."

—Barack Obama, April 15, 2010

Images from 

NASA had been looking into colonization and resource mining for decades before Obama gave these ideas the full weight of his support and moved up the schedule. For example, NASA’s recently updated Space Settlements website explains that since the Earth will some day become uninhabitable, masses of ordinary people will, at some point or other, have to make the move to “a nice place to live” on orbiting spacecraft and/or celestial bodies. Orbital colonies are envisioned as “California beach town”-style communities with “fantastic views” and “great wealth,” while those on asteroids, the Moon, and Mars offer unlimited living space:

"The asteroids alone provide enough material to make new orbital land hundreds of times greater than the surface of the Earth, divided into millions of colonies. This land can easily support trillions of people."

Among other advantages to getting off Earth, according to NASA: Space pilgrims “might prefer to live away from ‘non-believers,’” new social and political structures can be developed more easily than they can on Earth for those who might “wish to experiment,” and penal colonies would effectively become escape proof. If NASA is correct, once humans begin breeding extra-terrestrially, the Earthling population may eventually find itself in the minority. In frank and unsettling terms, the reasons are explained:

"Those that colonize space will control vast lands, enormous amounts of electrical power, and nearly unlimited material resources. The societies that develop these resources will create wealth beyond our wildest imagination and wield power — hopefully for good rather than for ill."

With future prospects for a global agreement on climate change looking effectively buried with the grand failure at the Copenhagen summit and the international splintering that has taken place in its aftermath, I’m afraid this may be the most realistic climate change program the US is likely to get this year.

Yet, it’s not too late to act collectively to save life on Earth!

Join the world’s largest organized grassroots movement at today.

July 3, 2013
Encryption Works: How to Protect Your Privacy (And Your Sources) in the Age of NSA Surveillance

Helpful info on how to protect your communications from the Freedom of the Press Foundation:

The whitepaper covers:

  • A brief primer on cryptography, and why it can be trustworthy
  • The security problems with software, and which software you can trust
  • How Tor can be used to anonymize your location, and the problems Tor has when facing global adversaries
  • How the Off-the-Record instant message encryption protocol works and how to use it
  • How PGP email encryption works and best practices
  • How the Tails live GNU/Linux distribution can be used to ensure high endpoint security

June 25, 2013
Top Ten Ways US TV News are Screwing us Again on NSA Surveillance Story (Iraq Redux)

Juan Cole, University of Michigan:

US television news is a danger to the security of the United States. First, it is so oriented to ratings that it cannot afford to do unpopular reports (thus, it ignored al-Qaeda and the Taliban for the most part before 9/11). Second, it is so oriented toward the halls of power inside the Beltway that it is unable to examine government allegations critically. US television news was an unrelieved cheering section for the launching of the illegal and disastrous Iraq War, which will end up costing the taxpayers many trillions of dollars, which seriously wounded 32,000 US military personnel (many of them will need help the rest of their lives), which left over 4000 soldiers, Marines and sailors dead, and which was responsible for the deaths of on the order of 300,000 Iraqis, the wounding of 1.2 million Iraqis, and the displacement from their homes of 4 million Iraqis (out of a then population of 26 million). In 2002 and 2003, Bush administration leakers and ex-generals led the television reporters and anchors by the nose. The corporations were all for the war, and they own the news. Where on-screen talent was unwilling to go along, such as Phil Donohue or Ashley Banfield, they were just fired.

Now, corporate television news is repeating this shameful performance with regard to the revelations by Edward Snowden of massive, unconstitutional government surveillance of Americans’ electronic communications. The full failure to do proper journalism was on display on Sunday (when, unfortunately, critical voices such as Rachel Maddow are absent). Here are the propaganda techniques used to stack the deck on Sunday:

1. Focus on the personality, location, and charges against the leaker instead of the substance of his revelations.

2. Smear Snowden with ad hominem fallacies. His transit through Moscow was held up as a sign of disloyalty to the United States, as though nowadays American business people and government officials don’t transit through Moscow all the time. The US ships significant amounts of military materiel for Afghanistan through Russia. Is that treasonous?

3. Focus on politicians making empty threats against China and Russia for not being sufficiently obedient to the United States. The US can’t do anything to either one that wouldn’t hurt the US more than it did them.

4. Ignore important breaking stories that impugn the government case. For instance, The Guardian broke the story Saturday morning that the NSA PRISM program was small compared to the TEMPORA program of GCHQ, its British counterpart, which Snowden alleged has attached sniffers to the fiber optic cables that stretch from New York to London, and is vacuuming up massive amounts of email and telephone conversations. A Lexis Nexis search in broadcast transcripts for Sunday showed that no US news broadcaster mentioned TEMPORA or GCHQ. This was true even though the NSA has 250 analysts assigned to TEMPORA and even though that program sweeps up and stores exactly the kind of material (telephone calls, emails) that President Obama denied were being collected.

5. Skew the guest list. Television news interviewed Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), Rep. Peter King (R-NY), Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and a gaggle of retired FBI and CIA figures. All of them without exception were cheerleaders for the Iraq War. Glenn Greenwald was virtually the only voice allowed on the other side. He was cut short on CNN and was at a disadvantage on television because he was on the phone from Rio. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Al Gore, Steve Wozniak, Pierre Omidyar, and a whole host of figures supportive of Snowden having told us what is going on were not invited on the air to balance the hard liners interviewed.

6. Accuse journalists of treason for reporting Snowden’s revelations. This was the absolutely shameful tack taken by David Gregory on Meet The Press, when he asked Greenwald, “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” The “to the extent” and “aided and abetted” language isn’t journalism it is shilling for the most despicable elements in Congress (and that is way over on the despicable scale).

7. Ignore past government misuse of classified information. Television news has studiedly avoided referring to Dick Cheney’s outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA field officer (and therefore outing of all the CIA field officers who used the same dummy corporation as she did as a cover,as well as all local informants known to be connected to that dummy corporation). Television anchors seem to think that the government is always trying to ‘protect’ us and is on the side of the angels, and sidestep the question of whether secret information can be used for private or shady policy purposes. Plame, by the way, is warning about the intelligence-industrial complex.

8. Continually allege or allow guests to allege that Snowden could have taken his concerns to the NSA or to Congress internally. None of his predecessors had any luck with that approach. Even sitting senators of the United States of America like Ron Wyden have been muzzled and cannot conduct a public debate on these abuses.

9. No one on television has discussed how many of the 850,000 analysts with access to secret databases containing your information work for private corporations such as Booz Allen Hamilton. That is, they aren’t even government employees. And, how much lobbying do these intelligence contractors do of Congress?

10. Focus the discussion on the alleged criminality of Snowden’s disclosures instead of on the obvious lawlessness of programs such as Tempora, which sweep up vast amounts of personal information on private individuals and store them in data bases. As Noam Chomsky has said, the way to distract the public in a democracy is to allow more and more vigorous debate about a more and more narrow set of issues. By narrowing the debate to “how illegal were Snowden’s actions?” instead of allowing the question, “how legal are the NSA’s actions,” the US mass media give the impression of debating both sides of a controversy while in fact suppressing large numbers of pertinent questions.

June 7, 2013

Democracy Now:

"A Massive Surveillance State": Glenn Greenwald Exposes Covert US Military Program Collecting Calls, Emails

The National Security Agency has obtained access to the central servers of nine major Internet companies — including Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo! and Facebook. The Guardian and The Washington Post revealed the top-secret program, codenamed PRISM, after they obtained several slides from a 41-page training presentation for senior intelligence analysts. It explains how PRISM allows them to access emails, documents, audio and video chats, photographs, documents and connection logs. “Hundreds of millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions – in fact, billions of people around the world – essentially rely on the Internet exclusively to communicate with one another,” Greenwald says. “Very few people use landline phones for much of anything. So when you talk about things like online chat and social media messages and emails, what you’re really talking about is the full extent of human communication.” This comes after Greenwald revealed Wednesday in another story that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. “They want to make sure that every single time human beings interact with one another … that they can watch it, and they can store it, and they can access it at any time.”

February 20, 2013

Are you ready to become a superintelligent and hyperconnected proto-cyborg?

Google recently released a second video promoting their Google Glasses, scheduled to hit the mass market in early 2014. (Here’s their first marketing demo.)

With any new technology that we adopt it’s wise to ask ourselves not only what we gain but what we lose, both as individuals and as a society. For the Google Glasses, the full answers to these questions will remain elusive until the (fun!) experiments begin, and especially after use becomes normalized. But here are a few things I imagine might be issues of concern as we integrate augmented reality (AR) glasses into our lives. Some of these are intensified versions of existing concerns, while others will be totally new:

1) Privacy—When the Internet is worn on the face and used throughout waking hours, when you and others are impulsively recording your actions and immediately uploading them to the cloud, the issue of privacy protection from states, businesses, and others with an interest in your data (aka your personal life) is likely to become even more important than it is today.

2) Relationships—If adopted as an everyday technology, how will Google Glasses change how we relate to others, both those in our physical vicinity and those far away? We will soon have the ability to experience, in a much more intimate and sustained way, our waking hours with a loved one across the world, or across town. What will this mean for people directly in front of us? As we think about the next commands to send to Glass, and as our attention is interrupted by new information appearing on the tiny screens in front of our eyes, we risk becoming more experientially detached from our immediate physical world. When facial recognition technology—which already exists—gets added to AR glasses, which it eventually will, we’ll have to deal with a whole new set of privacy concerns. For example, whatever information exists about people on the web today will be available in real time, as we interact with each other. We can expect to know much more about new friends, acquaintances, and colleagues than we do now. Nameless strangers on the street will start to be googled. (Can you say, “OK glass, google that person?”)

3) The End of Loneliness?—New media technology is changing how people experience loneliness. Soon people will have the ability to remain continually connected to their online social network from the time they wake up to the time they fall asleep. It’s possible this may not be a good thing.

4) Mental Health—How will the ability for constant online connection through the visual field affect cognition, emotional experience, psychopathology including anxiety and depression, and child development? As we become expert web surfers—as when we do anything repeatedly—our amazing brains physiologically rewire themselves to adapt to the specific demands of the new behavior; we both gain and lose certain capabilities. Scientific research already shows that the simple availability of modern digital distractions negatively affects memory, comprehension, attention, and concentration. When we become expert Glass users, our brains will likewise rewire themselves and we will gain and lose other capabilities. Exactly what will be gained and what will be lost remains to be seen.

5) Information Overload—If you already feel overwhelmed by information, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

I’m still trying to decide whether this product appears more awesome or more scary overall. Does it present a kind of landmark, a technological fork in the road where (for the minority on the planet who can afford them) some of us will decide to move that much closer to physical merger with gadgets, while others will choose to stay with traditional notions of being human? Maybe it’s too early for that conversation (it’s coming eventually, and possibly sooner than you think). What we can say for sure is that if AR glasses are adopted on a scale wide enough to turn them into a cultural phenomenon, they will—like other major media technologies—change society and individuals in unpredictable ways.

Stay tuned…

December 21, 2012

This video report from the FT takes a corporate perspective on the best ways to encourage people to give up their personal information.

How comfortable are you with sharing your information with big business?

Financial Times:

Business is struggling to cope with an avalanche of valuable information from ‘big data’. Ravi Mattu, FT business life editor, talks to eBay and the designer of the iPhone about using good design to persuade consumers to give up their data and the benefits that brings.

December 4, 2012
Apple Censors Drone War: Company calls political app 'objectionable and crude'

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting:

The Internet makes it easier to share and publish information that Big Media won’t publish themselves. But that doesn’t mean powerful companies still won’t try to control access to that information.

Apple recently rejected—for the third time—the Drones+ app, a tool for iPhones that adds a location to a map every time a drone strike is reported. The database of drone strikes is maintained by the well-respected Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Our friends at RootsAction are stepping up to protest this act of censorship. If you think Apple should stop trying to shield its users and customers from the reality of U.S. warmaking, then please add your name to this petition.

August 21, 2012

Beyond the SuperPACs: “Nonprofits” Tied to Karl Rove, Koch Brothers Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare

Democracy Now!:

With the presidential election less than three months away, Republicans and Democrats are blanketing the airwaves with campaign ads. Much has been written about the super PACs behind these ads, but far less is known about social welfare nonprofits [or "dark money PACs"] that are far outspending super PACs on TV advertising in the presidential race. As of August 8, these nonprofits had spent more than $71 million on ads mentioning a candidate for president, whereas super PACs have spent an estimated $56 million. And, unlike super PACs, these organizations enjoy tax-exempt status and do not have to disclose the identity of their donors. A new investigation by ProPublica reveals how these nonprofits are exploiting their special tax status to mount a secretly funded, permanent campaign. We speak to investigative reporter Kim Barker.

August 8, 2012
‘Bank of Dave’ touts loans and sense

FT: David Fishwick, started his own lending institution, the “Bank of Dave,” for a BBC television show after becoming infuriated with the banking industry. “If you rob a bank you go to jail. If a banker robs you, they get a bonus,” he says.

August 7, 2012
What are Obama's and Romney's plans for the future of the Internet?

With the translation of the Declaration of Internet Freedom into 63 languages, the U.S. Presidential candidates need to clarify their positions on the future of the Internet. The next president will have an enormous amount of power to determine where we go from here.

July 29, 2012
Pressed for Time? Take a Minute to Feel Awe

LiveScience: If you’re feeling pressed for time, try hiking to a mountain vista or listening to a masterful symphony. New research suggests that the resulting awe may leave you feeling less rushed.

Experiencing awe makes people feel as if time is plentiful, according to a new study to be published in the journal Psychological Science.

June 17, 2012
Rhyme & Reason: My new column for Seymour Magazine

The creative process, universal and ubiquitous, remains largely mysterious. In the coming months, this space will be dedicated to a wide-ranging exploration of this process in an effort to foster reflection about, enhance, and cultivate artistic creativity.

May 31, 2012

Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center and co-author of the new book Networked discusses recent behavioral changes in mobile online media usage for different groups and what it all means.

May 30, 2012
Are you a Facebook addict?

Facebook’s business model, it should come as no surprise, involves getting users as hooked as possible on the web’s premier walled garden. The more time users spend clicking, sharing, liking, and posting status updates, the more profitable Facebook becomes.

So if you feel that you spend more time on Facebook than you want, this is hardly a coincidence. It’s the preferred result of sophisticated corporate research and development, the goal of which is what industry insiders call “stickiness”.

Is it possible you’re dependent on the online blue and white to an unhealthy degree?

To test this question objectively, Norwegian psychologist Cecilie Andreassen at the University of Bergen has developed the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale. Her research, published last month in the journal Psychological Reports, using this new scale has found some interesting results, including that people who are anxious and socially insecure use Facebook more than those who score low on these traits.