Things Fall Apart, BBC Radio 4, BBC Sound, written and presented by Jon Ronson, produced by Sarah Shebbeare and Sam Peach

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/m0011cpr

Jon Ronson has the kind of job I’d like. He meets interesting people and writes books that are worth reading. Here over eight episodes and around four hours he investigates the culture wars in American where he lives. They’re happening here in Britain too, with the little Trumpet Boris Johnson lying about Brexit to get elected and pretty much lying about everything else. But this is America, where the lies are bigger and more stupid. What strikes you when listening is the power of the Christian Evangelic movement. And how such nasty fuck-ups have come to represent the life-affirming words of Jesus Christ, taken off the cross and his face rubbed in shite. No vision of a risen man, but attempts to keep others down where they belong with the other wretched strangers, carrying no luggage, the fathers of the nation in exile. About suffering, Christ was never wrong. William Blake, the strangest of men, but in his poem suggested Every Thing That Lives is Holy, but that was written before the father of lies was born, Donald J. Trump and elected President. Politics is one of the oldest tricks in the black books of history. But there is bitter black hope.  Tammy Faye Bakker did perform a minor miracle. Jon Robson reported he received his greatest feedback after that Podcast. My notes are below. Don’t bother reading. Listen to the broadcast. But I know from experience those that listen to the broadcast are those that don’t need to listen to the broadcast. I’m tired of that wretchedness and repetition. Things fall apart.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) The Second Coming.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosened and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction; while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi.

[Spiritus Mundi>World Spirit]

1000 Dolls.

Cultural Wars: everything people yell at each other.

Buffalo, New York.

1960-70s. Switzerland. Fundamentalist commune Frank Schaeffer. Francis (father). Shelter. How Christians should engage with modern art. Eric Clapton. Billy Zeoli, Christian channels. Evangelical. Directed niche documentary. How Should We Then Live?

Satre’s relativism: help an old woman across the street or run her down (slippery slope argument)

Human fetus, unborn baby. Roe v Wade 1973, unborn child considered not to be a person. Ear shift. Christian evangelic not-yet-in the field of abortion.

Make last two episodes about abortion. Me and Jeannie were teenagers. We’re having the baby. We love her.

Showed to audiences of 15-20 000 eg Madison Square Garden.

Mass audio-cassette machines. Francis Schaeffer sensation in evangelic word. My da’s book selling 5-1 of contemporary fiction.

Frank take what the evangelics didn’t want to think about. Give me a piece of family business.

Second series, all about abortion. Ghost children. 1000 dolls anti-abortionist doctor standing in the Dead Sea. Slaughter of the innocents. 

Dad’s last books sold a million.

Second tour, no one came.  Launched a crusade. Out of ego and belief. Trying to get abortion on the agenda. Editorial board of Christian magazine. We’re not pro-life.

New York Post. Strange avante-garde film. Picketed by anti-feminist movement. Turned up and picketed by evangelical women, not because they were pro-choice, but because they other. Local news also turned up.

East Coast snobs. Us v Them.

Muscling in on their issue.

Pickets and protests became enormous. Abortion clinics bombed. Shot. Kopp.

The man who killed my uncle, Barnett (Bart) Slepian,  was Kopp.

Part of the job. I know we’re not taking care of children we do have. They stopped doing it. No way is a bunch of idiots bullying me out of my job.

They followed his kids to school. Amanda,  October 8th 1998.

All of them began with Scaefer documentaries. Jim Kopp, supposed to be a doctor. Schizophrenic by 17, became religious. Couldn’t become doctor.

Fan, Kopp travelled to Switzerland. Francis Christian manifesto. If you’re a Christian, act like it.

Oct 1998. Travelled to Buffallo New York. Went to Synagogue. There was this ping. I think I’ve been shot. Bullets. Children between ages of 7 and 15.

Frank long gone from the movement. Jerry Falwell. The Moral Majority. I’d just take them out the back and shoot them. (Homosexuals).

So uncool and so ugly.

Cut 20 minutes, show-reel. Agent, off and running. 1982-1986 directed 4 films.

Ripples, Last 30 years trying to undo the damage.

Publishing memoir, Crazy for God.

My father and I have blood in our hands. I have no words…I am ardently pro-choice.

Rev Rusty Thomson. Operation Save America. We go to exposed areas where child sacrifice and

I believe it is more of a man’s issue, to protect, guide and care for children.

All that changed with Donald Trump’s election 2016.

Installed 3 judges to Supreme Court.

Activists joined ‘Stop the Steal,’

Some of our leaders were there. A great opportunity. Set up a powerful sound system.

Abortion. Culture wars. Ambitious kid wanted to make it in Hollywood.

Sept 2021. Texas allowed to cut off abortions after six weeks. Schaffer ripples.

2) Dirty Books.

A writer living in America.

Origin stories. Pebbles causing ripples.

Complicted interesting people stripped of nuance and weaponised

US, Spring 1968.

Martin Luther King protesting racism and Vietnam war. Rejected conformity of 1950s.

Alice Moore moved with 5 children to West Virginia, St Albans, most churched place in US. Pastor husband. School having sex-education programme. Cut-away of woman and man. Complained to Superintendent of Schools. Nothing you can do about it. We’ll see about that. They needed something in the inside. Signed up for school board. Focussed from the start.

June 1974. New school textbooks. None of us had read and reviewed them. Had 325 delivered to my house and started reading them.

Christian Evangelics tended to live separate lives. 2000 came to the meeting. Their children were being taught angels didn’t exist.

Everything about war was negative.

Contextual ethics. That’s there’s no answer. Jim a pastor. She took over. It was all black and white. God said it> I read it.

Suspicions. Why did publishers introduce them in Virginia? Conspiracy theory.

She was invited on local tv.

Poem about making love on a bus. Roger McGough. Moral sentiment, you can’t just give way to your feelings. BBC colleague.

Special thanks to Roger McGough. For her ambiguity, nuance, didn’t matter.

That’s what really woke things up. Alice’s following grew. Boycott of schools. Picketed businesses.

Textbooks removed. They won.

Jim Lewis, Pro-text-book pastor.

Eldridge Cleaver. Black Panther movement, who has been convicted of rape.

But he was featured in one book. His misdeeds didn’t explain why other black author’s books were rejected. Langston Hughes.

Ron English asked to represent black authors.

Her support came mainly from poor white communities. The Hollers. What you heard rather than what you heard.

Twitter prompt, read an article before sharing.

Not being heard. Respected. It could have built common ground.

Why would some

Dick Gregory. Was committed to non-violence. Former comic. Flatfoot. Sit down. Sensation. Appeared on Tonight Show 1960s. Full time activist. Not OK for him to be OK sitting in a hotel room and simply sending a cheque. Struggling with how white his world had become. Sat down and told us the family came second to the movement. You’re taking me off the front line.

1964 wrote memoir. Contentious language. ‘Nigger’. Memoir, 10 years later on her list.

I can’t remember specifics. Where the BPanthers were talking about killing the pigs

1974, KKK, Rev Marvin Horn, on steps with them.

I never saw a Klan member.

Alice getting death threats.

Shot fired. Bill fired a weapon. Who survived.

Oct 18th, 5 shots fired at school bus. No children aboard. Bombed school.

Midway Elementary School. Dynamite before sunrise.

Levity in Alice’s voice. Skip first shot by pro-text book advocate.

Martin Horn jailed for 3 years. School returned textbooks.

I had to remove books and they were all burned up in basement. Unused. You have to get rid of them. 

27% take the bible as the word of god.

One book on banned list still causes turmoil. ‘Nigger’, Dick Gregory. These were from my own collection and she was fired.

Textbook wars. Causes more uproar.  

Just like Alice wasn’t interest in intention, but impact. To dominate social justice.

3) A Miracle.

Watershed and harmony in brutal cultural war.

20th Century, Evangelics kept away from mainstream society. 1970s Francis Shaffer and Jerry Falwell. Satellite TV Old time gospel hour. Vast audience. Jimmy Swaggart.

They didn’t try to entertain. Until one did. Pzzas. Tammy Faye Bakker. Steve Peters.

Odd and awkward and surprising.

Tammy Faye Bakker. Poor. No movies. Son James. Met Jim at Bible college. Eloped and preached. Children’s puppets.  Fans of modern trends. PTL. Jim and Tammy show. Only network.

Jerry Falwell wanted to rule the world.

They were on all the time. Mum 10 broadcasts. Dad 6 broadcasts. TV pledge drives. Heritage USA. Theme Parks. Christian Walt Disney. Passion Play every night.

Evanagelists appalled. Telly Tubbies supported gay agenda because Tinky Winky’s antennae was like a gay pride symbol.

Tammy anxious and upset. Feeling of not being enough. Overdose on medication. Jay was 11 then. He knew what to do. He rebuked her hallucinations. ‘I rebuke you in the name of God’.

Brooklin schoolteacher died of unknown disease. Rare form of ‘cancer’ AIDs. End of 1981 131 died. End of 1982 12000.

Aids and herpes,  Jerry Falwell. Reagan silent to please his political action group. The Moral Majority.

Mum did interview with somebody that had aids. Sept 15th 1985. Steve Peters.

What a brave thing. Now you’re going to show you’re an openly gay pastor with AIDs. Given Rev Steve Peters, still alive 2021.

What brought him? Christian pastor’s worst were Jerry Fallwell and Jimmy Swaggart. They’d talk as if homosexuals were paedophiles. They’d come and take your children.

1982. All manner of disease. 1984 full-blown AIDs Near Death Experience. They revived me. 2 weeks before Tammy Faye interview.

Try to reach an audience more of us LGBT couldn’t reach.

‘Tammy is sick and is cancelling the show’. I later learned that was a lie. Camera crews fears. Satellite hook-up.   Both ear-pieces keep popping out.

Have you ever had a sexual experience with a woman?

I’ve necked. But my orientation was towards men.

When she started in with haven’t you given women a chance?

When you found out you’ve had AIDs. I’ve experienced remission.

Did you feel lonely? Everybody so deadly frightened. Same air.

Asked not to use toilet. Served on paper plates. Steam-cleaning cups I’ve used.

How sad.

I remember after the interview was done. I hadn’t done very well. I thought nothing would come of it.

I knew she was doing something radical. (her son)

Steve got home and forgot about the interview. Troy Perry. 1000 people stood up and cheered. Steve heard from Tammy’s people too. Apparently, people phoned up and said she had a son that she thought was going to hell, but now she knew he was going to heaven.

She sent me this song. Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle. Don’t give up. Remember you’re not alone.

I’d sing along and got my miracle. I was blind and now I see.

I dunno, I know a lot more faith than me, that didn’t survive. One in a million chance, why not believe and act accordingly. I set out and did all the right things. Laughter therapy, diet, etc.

I am one in a million.

Two years and the Tammy empire crumbled. Jim jailed for financial theft.

She took Jay, her son, to hospices and to gay parades. Extraordinarily helpful. Same-sex marriage.

Emily Johnson, aural history, it had a huge impact. A more accepting world.

Tammy showed you could be gay and Christian.

Tammy died 2007.  I knew she was getting an eviction notice from her body, because I’d been there. How ironic she’s the one to die first.

Steve heard the enemy talk in a calm cultured environment.

4 Believe the Children.

We can lose all reason.

What happened to turn so many Americans so irrational during the 1980 and 1990. There is a cultural war for the soul of America.

Anathemas of Pat Buchanan, Republican Party.

The idea that gay men and women can have the same rights…

Abortion.

Radical feminism.

Discrimiation against religious schools. We must take back our culture and our country.

Bob Erdogan The left had won. And taken over the media.

Cultural running away from them.

Bob Larson. Arizona. Death Metal bands, blood lust and…

Culture war and liberals they should be left alone.

Is there some diabolical scheme, plotted in hell himself. Radio show from listeners. Killing babies. Eating human flesh. Secret cabals abusing children. Dead cats nailed to pulpits.

I saw myself as a reporter. Bob wanted to spread the warning and novel ‘Dead Air’.

You had intergenerational occult. Passing a woman or child through a dead horse and takes away from…

QAnon, derived from same spring.

Bob Larson. Numbers of people telling me the same story. You can’t go to a ceremony. They’d do things so bizarre. You’d not been

John Trott critic v Bob Larson on Larry King show. If it’s true. Where’s the evidence. 90% US population, Christian.

Ramarez, report on Satanism. Highest ever ratings.

Police: we have kids being killed, cattle mutilated. Child abduction.

Kelly Michaels live in Pennsylvania. 1985.

Just out of college. Artistic bent. Lived 20 minutes from New York.

Where you aware of Satanic panic?

I was aware of some case in California. McMartin case were satanic case where children claimed underground tunnels and…

Daycare centre. Took the job. Stepping stone for life. WeCare DayCare. Accountants. Lawyers> Moderately affluent.

Better paid, and different job in another daycare centre.

3 detective. Investigating child abuse in WeCareDayCare.

Complaint about mother, doctor’s office. That what happened at school. But not with thermometers. Good cop. Bad cop.

We can take care of this if you admit it. They seemed satisfied and drove me home. I thought it was wrong. A reasonable if bizarre event.

One child told them about making poo-poo and pee-pee cakes and then they were all at it.

Six-year old taken from school.

Frequent talk of abduction and satanic rings.

Mothers that used to stay at home and now at work.

They said I’d played the piano naked and making them drink urine off the school floor for 150  days. It took two years. It took that time to convince parents that this could have happened. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention.

Guilt about abandonment to centre and guilt involved. Horrified about lack of awareness. 245 accounts of abuse against over thirty children.

All over America this happened to different carers.

‘We Believe the Children’ movement.

Children very calmly answering questions. Absence of trauma, meant more trauma.

August 1998. First charge. Taking temperature rectum. Thrown out. Then the guilties began.   Sentence 47 years in prison. Aged 27.

I was taken to punishment wing. I couldn’t process of crimes that no only I didn’t do, but didn’t happen.

2 years later. Harper’s Journal. Kelly Michael innocent.

Journalists who prided himself

Case overturned. Ambiguously

Parents faded back into life. No apologies to Kelly.

Bob Larson, I didn’t have an axe to grind.

The world’s most foremost expert in the occult. I do exorcism.

I survived this..I was accused of abusing children. It’s so injust, but I can’t do anything about it. I’m this nice little church lady. And they can’t believe it.

Professional people, but under certain conditions, they can succumb to moral panics (more easily). And the media. I was shocked. Surely The New York Times will say something.

They didn’t.

Social Media shaming. When something terrible happens. Steamroll reality and facts.

We’re all primitives.

Escalators of cultural wars, Christian right. With the internet it moved online.

5 A Scottish Jewish Joke.

A war who the internet belong to?

1980s before the World Wide Web. Brad Templeton. Epiphany, use computer to talk to other people. Usenet.

Central square. Your computer calls other computers.

Brad Software company. He was in his 20s. Audience, more elite (needed to access through colleges).

Brad, 1982, Full stops in email address. That shows how it begun.

Set up own message board.

Rec.Humour. Funny. 24 K subscribers. Jokes. One a day.

Automated programmes. Approved joke. Pick one at random and send it out. First person to be publicly shame because of something he did online

Kristlnacht. Night of Broken Glass.

Scotsman and Jew having dinner. And the Scotsman pays for it. The next day, headlines, Scottish ventriloquist found strangled?

Jonathan < shared flat with Amir. He clearly was affected by. Something important about the date. But the date was set at random.

LookingGlass Software. But running my own software company.

Next turned to the Usenet Community. But almost nobody took his side.

Amir my parents emigrated from the UK.

If something like that was left unchecked…

We hatched a plan. Hit the University of Waterloo through bad press.

Lousie…I thought this was a very important story. I read these jokes and I heard my stomach turning. In traditional media you can go to someone.

The way I described that joke…University of Waterloo system used to send racial jokes.

1980s, Italian and Jewish and in a struggle to be taken seriously. Made me feel marginalised and denigrated.

UseNet.

Brad: An actual Nazi contacted me.

University suspended Brad Templeton account.

Brian Reid. What a fool, they think they can ban? It was uncensorable. Built into design. Brad’s page, up right away.

Stanford University.

Campus in 80s. Progressive. Conservative. Eric Charles. Conservative. I don’t understand why anyone would join the military. And I was in the military.

Are you a conservative that wants your voice heard?

Peter, quiet (cold and calculating). Lamenting political correctness.

Standford polarising.

Do you believe in freedom of speech of not.

Jean Genus? Scottish Jewish joke. I thought it was funny. Then the whole hoo-ha. John Sack. Director of Stanford Data Centre.

How Stanford respond? Ban the joke or let it stand?

Town and gown. Birth of Silicon Valley. Navigation of shoals of how much to do for people. Engineers of the internet. Steering the ship?

Brad’s page, banned. Rationale. Stanford’s freedom of expression…

John McCarthy. Founder of Artificial Intelligence.

What kind of man was he, I’m not going to answer that. He attacked my mother. Eugenics. Personal. Speech codes online

Gathered 100 000 signatures online.

John Sacks> John McCarthy’s argument (break things and move) we’re reaching the limits of free speech, lets run into it and test it.

2012 Free Speech wing of the Free Speech party (i.e. Twitter).

Brad, because of this kerfuffle. One of the mostly widely read on the internet.

Peter> went off to Wall Street. Thiel. Started PayPal.

Dave Ruben report. Peter Thiel.

Louise De Amato. White lives matter? March? Torn apart on Twitter. What happened to him, happened to me.

John Sack, who tried to get Brad’s jokes banned, thinks he was hemmed in by binary thinking.

6 Many Different Lives.

She asked if I was a woman? And I said, yeh. And she said Michigan is for women born women only. And you have to leave.

Nobody in this story intended for these things to lead to hatred.

Rebecca. Mixed race babies, unfamiliar. Race of familiar black. Race white. Mother black.  wrote The Colour Purple (Alice Walker).

Alice and Melvin’s goal to embody ideas. Vagaries of marriage. She moved to San Francisco and two years in Washington. My mum partnered with afroAmerican. Father, Jewish woman.

Wizard of Oz, auditioned and was given the part of the wicked witch of the North. I fancied a white boy. Brian North.

Back in black life. More accepting on the whole. Black relatives call me a ‘cracker’. Demonic, based on their horrendous treatment of black people. Part of whiteness. Moving from world to world like different planets.

Gloria Steinem was her godmother. New wave of feminism. 2nd phase of feminism. Betty Friedman’s book. 1963. Women had been struggling alone. Protesting for change. Equal rights. To have a job. To have respect. Won Roe v Wade 1973.

I had grown up in very feminist community. Propaganda against feminism incredibly strong. Called lesbians. Wouldn’t shave their legs. Whether lesbians should be included etc. Extremist movements. Post-feminism.

UCLA, intersectional feminists.

How can we re-define what the movement is?  I am not a post-feminist. I’m third generation feminism. Third wave.

They accused us of matricide. As if we had been replaced (murdered). We’ve been talking about this forever. This is not new.

Umbrella to gather under. For example, sexuality

Judith Butler, rethink gender categories. Trans-positive.

One is not born a woman. One becomes one. Simone de Beauvoir.

Isn’t tied to societal facts, but women’s movement should open up these categories.  

Mitch fest? Michigan fest. 1981 Overwhelming impression was breasts. Women removed their tops and shirts.

Lying on small bamboo mat. And smiling

Campsite for and built be women. Some partying. Some overthrowing patriarchy.

Nance Barcholder?  Mitchfest 1991.

I’d been cross-dressing over the years, but I knew I wasn’t gay. I went to see a therapist. I want to be a girl. Gender reassignment 1983.

I wasn’t go to come right out as trans. Went next year. Nancy’s friend, went away. A couple of women came up and they said we need to talk to you. This festival is for women only. Are you a women?

I said yes.

She asked, if I was transsexual. And I said, it was none of her business. I had a driving licence. I had a work record. And here I was being rejected.

Laura comes back and we drive away. We fly back to New Hampshire Bay Window, Boston magazine.

Acknowledged there were other transsexuals. But they didn’t ask gender.

Janice conducted survey. 75% felt they would have been very happy to be there. Following year, where we set up camp, across the road. Went back next year. Camp Trans. Hundreds of people came out.

Most festive goers are open-minded. Atmosphere of love and joy will bring us together.1995 Camp Trans escorted onto the land.

Camp trans and Mitch Fest under own group.

Pre-op, shouldn’t they be allowed into Mitchfest, because they couldn’t afford it? Point of division.

Mitch Blyh? Angry emails about Mitch fest no allowing trans into their festival. They wanted a name. Trans-Exclusionary-Radical-Feminist.

How TRANS people should be recognised. Self identify. Not having the medical establishment in Britain for example have you live as a woman for two years before gender reassignment surgery.

Mitchfest shut down. 1992. Became associated with exclusion. Third wave become fourth wave.

Rebecca? All experiments need to be rigorously accessed. 

Tone set by both sides, Alienation?

7 A Secret Behind a Fake Wall.

Edges of Hollywood. Isaac Kappy.

Filled with people imagined they’d been abandoned. Takes us

Wendy Kappy, mother born New Mexico.

Probducing acting.

Best friend ross. Hung out. Get on our bikes, cruise around. Monster Pools. Champagne Bikeride. Picked up.

Breaking Bad. Thor. Paid pet-store clerk.

He wanted to be a star and famous. Saw himself that way. Looked like could happen. 2011, Albuquerque industry died. Left and went to LA. Competing with 100 times number of people.

Issac struggled to find work. New best friends. Paris, Michael Jackson’s daughter. MacAulay Caulkin. He’d been a conspiracy theorist. About 9/11 being an inside job.

2016, during primaries.

He was a Bernie Sander’s supporter. They did all they could to stifle him. Felled by conspiracy. Took steps down rabbit hole.

Pizza Gate, secretly sex headquarters delivered children for sex and to eat.

Alex Jones, Pizza Gate is real.

December 4th  2016, family Pizza joint and opened fire. Admitted there were no dungeons. Intel. Not 100%

Then something happened.

Ross: I don’t know if I got the whole story. It’s a little uncomfortable, to talk about that. The incident. Tallies with March 2017. Confided with them, that certain people in Hollywood part of world-wide conspiracy. They told him he was right. And if he wanted to become a famous man. He had to come and rape the child behind a fake wall.

I got asked to join the Illuminati.

During the weeks that followed. Hollywood friends disturbed him further. He truly believed they had a child in a dungeon.

Came to Albuquerque. Stayed for a month. Breakdown.

After sitting on his secret for 8 months. On Alex Jones. Names his well-known friends. After that experience I tried to black it out. This is not a media stunt. I believe it.

When you go on Alex Jones and even he debunks your information.

Started posting periscopes online. Life links. QAnon. Trump had a masterplan to eliminate the Illuminati and Satanist child abusers. Narcissists.

Diagnosed with being a narcissist. Posted online. Paranoia. In LA asked a group of police officers to arrest him for his own safety.

Naming with no evidence, continuing names of Hollywood stars, with zero evidence. Went online. QAnon started re-posting his videos.

Ross: He got worried and stopped going out.

Answering questions from QAnon fans. Once I found out about PizzaGate…Maybe I’ll be back later.

Set off to visit his parents. He went over a bridge and died. Flagstaff, Arizona. Two men tried to save him. Fell backwards.

Ross talked to him last time. He apologised for things he’d done.

Incident happened around 7.30am. We were informed about 4.30pm.

Lowest things, people obtained pictures of his corpse and posted them online. YouTube refused to remove them.

May 13th 2019.

But this isn’t where his story ends.

Lin Wood said he’d been murdered. John Ziegler writing about him for decades.

Been deformation Covington Kentucky, as  if they were taunting native American, wearing Trump hats. Racists. Outrage.

Other videos questioning narrative. Lin Wood got settlement for kids.

They were out there going after those young boys. Cause celebrity among Trump world.

I though he was fantastic. Very logical. But in 2020, after Trump went overboard. Avalanche of insanity.

Bush, Clinton, Obama involved in child sex abuse and murder.

Kappy was about to heroically deliver the tape to Trump before he was murdered.

He’d been working to try and get the election changed.

Trump’s official lawyers told zero chance of getting elected.

Outside lawyers. Came in. Insane solutions. Lin Wood. Online elements. Read the same stuff online. Information silos.

Jonathan’s story inside Trump’s head.

Sidney Powell, information conspiracy. Trump puts her on mute. Then unmutes and asks her what are we going to do? Sometimes we need a little crazy. So what are we going to do?

Insurrectionists, support Stop the Steal.

Lin Wood any attempts to connect them to insurrection are nonsense.

It’s good v evil.

Trump allowed this destabilising farce because sometimes you need a little crazy.

8 A Mock Slave Auction.

How the school text book wars have become so pervasive we can’t escape them. So You’ve Been Publically Shamed,  Jon Ronson.

Traverse City, Michigan.

Naeve Walston? aged 16. Last April 2021. Hey, Snapchat? my friends trying this group. Late at night. texted. This is really bad. You were in it. You were sold?

Invite only. SnapChat.

92% Travis City White.

Auctioned for $100 but went for $3.

Some of the stuff being said. Good for cotton. Cherry picking. All blacks should die. Eugh and gross.

1.2million slaves sold 1760 -1860.

I’ve lived a sheltered existence. Kinda tension when slavery was mentioned. Never experienced racism in LA. Wow, this town isn’t a friendly as I thought.

Scheduled school board meeting. Just regular meeting. 7 school board meeting sit in circle. 3 minutes questioned by public.

Not an isolated incident. Paul Sinclair, educator. Mr Sinclair, but as soon as I walk out the door, black man. Stopped 13 times in a month by police.

2 page draft resolution. Immediate opportunities to learn about racism. Anti-hate learning.

School board meetings no longer modestly attended.

Identical scenes across America but fundamental change.

‘God loves you, but I’m not judging you’ (but I am).

Let’s look under the hood…CRT (Critical Race Theory) shorthand for all racist ideas. Tucker Carlson.  Robin DiAngelo White Fragility.

John McWhirter. Nobody

Robin DiAngelo white role in systemic racism. Death threats. Single mum. Living in car. Feed of clothes of house us. Mom became sick. Cancer. Don’t tell anyone. She died when I was 11.

Went to college when she was 28. Career centre. Divesity training. Go out into field. Typically, 100% white. Meanness. Any suggesting racism was systemic.

Origin moment. Essay. Then book.

Fragility how little it takes to cause offence.

2018. Black Lives Matter. Books sold in droves. New York Times bestseller. George Floyd’s murder. That’s the narrative. But it had already been in the top 10.

I signed up for one of Robin’s workshops. Bowled over for couple of hours. Seas of white faces. Statistics. 93% white what shows we see. 82% school teachers.

Unsure, living in car. I knew it was better being white. How can you measure that? White priviledge. Eg Opiod addiction

Robin. How are we going to help people with opioids? How are we going to criminalise these (black) crack addicts?

If you are white your opinons are going to be superficial and ill-informed. Devote years to study and practice. Everyone’s opinion aren’t equal.

Dick Gregory ‘Nigger’.

Dean fired/suspended. Student pushing for dismissal. All that mattered was the impact.

Robin: I think intentions irrelevant? What we’ve got to focus on impact.

We emailed her, the gist of what I offered that student.

Dick Gregory, where the willing to engage in academic discourse?

I tell Robin about Traversee sister.

‘Yes, our ancestors made mistakes…’

Let’s move on.

Robin, oops. I made a mistake…

Being silenced. I’m going to go the biggest elephant in the room. People with investment in the status quo.

Anger, in Traverse City, people being told they need to be good in a different way.

Isn’t Robin’s fault. 1300 CRT mentioned on Fox News.

Trump mentions it again and again. Something to rally against.

Naeve. We acknowledge racism and we’re going to do everything we can. No teaching of CRT.

Fudge. Appease divided community. Many echoes of past repetitions pulling more and more things into its orbits.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed?

How we should be more empathetic. Fleeting mentions of bestiality and porn-shoot. As with Roger McGough, an optional book.

Two teachers suspended for putting the book on the reading list.

Biggest ambition, culture  wars not becoming culture wars. After Tammy’s episode, so many messages of support.

Greg Palast, How to Steal the Presidency and Get Away with It (scorecard) 2000-1

Al Gore, of course, won the 2000-1 election, but an unfamiliar word entered the lexicon – chad. An appeal to the Supreme Court called for a recount of the votes in Florida.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_v._Gore

Palast shows that following the 2000-1 Presidential election stories of African American voters being targeted, racial profiling, that excluded voters from the electoral roll weren’t fake news, but fact. He had a copy of two CD-Rom disks from the office computer of Katherine Harris, Florida Secretary of State. 57 700 potential Democrat voters named as felons. Purged from electoral roll in the run up to the election. 90.2% innocent of any crime.  Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush spent almost the entire Republican budget on a computer hunt for black voters. What Governor Jeb Bush did was illegal. He later ran against Trump for leadership of the Republican Party. I guess he’ll be back for another try.

My favourite quote here was Trump telling Rupert Murdoch he was running for the Presidency and Rupert Murdoch telling him, ‘no, you’re not’. That’s power Without the backing of the Murdoch corporation and Fox News, of course, there’d be no President Trump.

Ironically, former Governor of Florida, George W. Bush had a prior drink-driving conviction (misdemeanour) therefore he shouldn’t have been allowed to vote, for himself, or anybody else. That purge would have added or subtracted one vote to the 500-600 chads he won the election (minus the 57 700 he’d have lost by).

We all know how the moron’s moron did it. What he did was not illegal. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook  took what was for him chump change,  most of the Republican candidate’s budget of around $44 million, and matched it with expertise. With Russian bot farms churning out memes and disinformation, Trump rode a wave of discontent all the way to the Whitehouse by winning the Electoral College, but not the popular vote. Hillary Clinton won more votes but lost the election.  

Florida signed a $4 million contract with DBT Online merged with ChoicePoint of Atlanta to purge voters. Cambridge Analytica https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cambridge also involved in the Brexit debate tried to keep their methods secret, claiming it was private and commercial information, but were outed by Guardian journalists.

Nothing new from the Trump handbook, with Mark Zuckerberg again handling Trump’s funds for re-election.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/02/trump-us-election-disinformation-russia

https://www.channel4.com/news/revealed-trump-campaign-strategy-to-deter-millions-of-black-americans-from-voting-in-2016

The historian and author Robert A. Caro magisterial (unfinished) biography of Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) offers another tale of straight forward electoral cheating. Caro juxtaposes LBJ’s fight for a senate seat with ‘Mr Texas’ Coke Stevenson.

Nobody much is interested in Box 13, or that old stuff called history. The guys in the photograph LBJ showed a hostile reporter are Texans that stole enough votes and stuffed them into Box 13 so that LBJ could become a Senator in the 1948 race. A race Mr Integrity Coke Stevenson won. He was diddled. LBJ became Senator and, his gamble he’d be a heartbeat away from the top job of President paid off when President John F. Kennedy was killed in Texas.

That’s the traditional way of doing things in American politics. Kamala Harris will be the first female President.

Robert A.Caro’s advice was turn every page and do the maths. Four years ago I thought Trump could win. I no longer think that now. ‘Power corrupts’ argues Caro, ‘but it also reveals’. What it has revealed about Trump is an unclean spirit channelling hate for his own gain. Or in other words of psychobabble: a psychopathic narcissistic personality with low intelligence.

Trump is not leading the dis-United States to disorder and disaster. Any politician can do that from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Trump is the disaster. The risk of Armageddon is lessened with him gone.  Everything Trump touches turns to shit is the closest thing to the truth I’ve heard about the 45th President. We can sleep in our beds more soundly with him gone. That’s a starting point. Not a finishing point. Go Joe Biden. Go. There can be no neutrals in the American election of the 46th President. Mankind depends on it.

Chasing the Moon, a film by Robert Stone. A Place Beyond the Sky (part 1 and 2)

gil scott heron.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0006vrs/chasing-the-moon-series-1-1-a-place-beyond-the-sky-part-one

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0006vrv/chasing-the-moon-series-1-2-a-place-beyond-the-sky-part-two

This six part serial set at the height of the Cold War tells us everything we need to know about the relationship between politics and technology. United States triumphalism that they had won the war, although unofficial acknowledgement some fading nations and bankrupt colonial powers such as Britain might have helped, were undermined when the USSR launched Sputnik 1 on 4 October 1957.

‘Kaputnik’ was one American newspaper headline. By 12th April 1961 the USSR was a man and a dog ahead. I can’t remember the name of the dog, but Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin was a Soviet pilot, cosmonaut, and national hero. As well as being a test pilot he was small, which meant he could fit inside the capsule. He’d be on the front page of every newspaper in the world and he was discovered to be photogenic, which helped. What makes this documentary watchable is we also get the Soviet perspective. Sergei Khrushchev, whose father Nikita, led the Soviet Union during this era, gives us some insider information on what was the right stuff from over there.

Newly elected President John F Kennedy was looking for that big idea that would win the ongoing propaganda war against Communism, in general, and the USSR in particular and reasserts the dominance of Capitalism and its superior technology that had produced the atomic and hydrogen bombs. Lyndon B Johnstone then a senator had bemoaned the fact that the Soviet had taken four years to produce an atomic bomb of their own and a mere nine months to produce a hydrogen bomb. He made no mention of the helping hand of Soviet spies stealing their blueprints. Now with Sputniks in the skies, one commentator remembered drills and practicing hiding under school desks. Soviet satellite technology was aligned with the threat of nuclear capability to create a moral and existential panic.

Congress approved an initial budget of $1.7 billion, or $10 for every man, woman or child in America, on the understanding that the flag flying on the moon wouldn’t be the hammer and sickle but the stars and stripes.

NASA were reliant of an team of German scientist and former Nazis, led by Werner von Braun who developed the V1 rocket that bombed London. The Saturn rocket that successfully launched astronaut on 20th February 1962, a marine colonel named John Glenn and orbited the Earth was a bigger, souped-up version of the V1. Rocket flight hasn’t changed that much. Essentially it’s a pencil nib on top of a three or four storey casing of highly explosive fuel. The trick was to keep the astronaut, and later astronauts that went to the moon alive, and bring them back. Even with national prestige at stake, with budget overruns JFK was considering scaling back NASA’s budget and America’s ambition. He even proposed a joint mission to the moon with the USSR.

As we know this didn’t happen in his lifetime. And a new word entered our consciousness, software. Programmers such as Margaret Hamilton designed the on-board computer system that allowed the Neil Armstrong to utter those immortal words, ‘The Eagle had landed’. A computer system and memory so basic it wouldn’t power a modern calculator.

‘Whitey on the moon’ was Gil-Scott Heron’s take on it. Captain Edward J Dwight test pilot and a black kid didn’t make the grade. No accident. No malfunction. Not much has changed in fifty years.  The moron’s moron and friend of the KKK in the White House is keen on picking up Ronald Reagan’s hyperbole and aborted Star Wars programme. The military industrial complex that swallows sixty-percent of the US budget, but can’t find a nickel or cent for welfare, for the poor.  Different planet now, same rules apply.

 

Reporting Trump’s First Year: The Forth Estate, BBC 9pm, BBC iPlayer, director and producer Liz Garbus.

reporting trumps first year.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0b8lfjh/reporting-trumps-first-year-the-fourth-estate-series-1-1-the-first-100-days

The twin problems of Donald J Trump are entwined. Firstly, he is Donald J Trump. Secondly, he is in office as President of the United States.  This four-part documentary follows reporters in the New York Times as they cover the newly inaugurated President. Much of news in online before it reaches print, as is shown here.

Too late. Trump moves faster than any documentary crew and we already feel we know everything we need to know about him. What should be must-see viewing is in reality a yawn fest.

The Fourth Estate and New York Times, in particular, also have a bit of catching up to do. Dewey defeats Trauman, for example, was a banner on the Chicago Tribune, 3rd November 1948. But Harry S Trauman was elected President. A victory none of the print media that helped set trends then saw coming and for many of the same reasons they assumed Hillary Clinton would follow Barack Obama as the forty-fifth President. They didn’t look closely enough at what was happening on the ground.

The comparisons end there. Harry Trauman was a humble working-class man of the people, who took his nation through the years of the Korean War. Let’s hope there’s not another war, and that’s not a given with such a narcissistic psychopath in charge of the most powerful nation on earth’s armoury, or God help us, Armageddon is a possibility.

The Observer front page on the same as day Garbus’s documentary is shown on BBC 2 leads with the headline UK rabbi in genocide warning to Trump. A sidebar announces ‘Dehumanisation has ended in atrocities. May urged to attack child separation policy.’ We all know what happened on the United States and Mexican border. As we all know about Cambridge Analytica stealing data, Russian interference in the election, gaming Facebook and allegations of Trump being human.  Children at the border were separated from their parents. Some of them filmed crying in child-proof cages. One version of this and I can’t be sure of this because I originally heard it on the radio, while driving, was these were child actors. I’d guess that came from Kirsten Nielsen, one of Trump’s mouthpieces. It was even by Trump standards an incredibly stupid thing to say. The picture of a naked nine-year-old girl, Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt, burning from Napalm during the Vietnam War led to a similar world-wide backlash. Trump’s eventual step back is partial and grudged, awaiting applause for his humanity.

Trump builds walls and hides behind them, but he loves the camera to be on him. Ronald Reagan, that old B-movie actor from before the Cold War era, knew when to stop acting. He stepped back from his anti-Soviet rhetoric and didn’t go ahead with planned Nato manoeuvres in 1983, when the Russian’s believed they would come under attack. It was on par with the Cuban Missile Crisis.   Trump cannot stop being Trump.

I had plans to write a longer piece around William Empson’s seven types of ambiguity. I’d sketched some ideas working on Trump’s seven types of idiocy. But really, that’s an underestimate. Trump always surprises us. Not in a good way. A human magnet for misery and for all that’s wrong in the world. Watch this programme if you want to learn about the New York Times. As for Trump…I’m weary, weary of him, but it’s impossible to look away.  That’s the whole point of Trumpism.

Imagine: Marlon Brando, BBC 2 – On the Waterfront, director Ella Kazan, 1954 and Steve Riley’s award-winning documentary, Listen to Me Marlon.

brando.jpg

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bfww6

I spent three and a half hours with Marlon Brando, which is quite a long time for an old buddie like me without falling asleep, especially on a Saturday night, when there’s football on, and I’ve not got a beer in my hand, but I don’t feel that it was time wasted.

I’ve watched On the Waterfront before. Don’t ask me when, or what it’s about, that’s a bit like asking me if I’ve read a book, and I say yeh, and then can perhaps pick out some detail that has sellotaped two neurons together with sufficient force to constitute working memory. In this case, it’s Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) telling his brother ‘I could have been a contender.’ There’s universality about that line that sticks, an everyman truth that if we did the right thing and stuck at it, we’d get our just rewards. It’s a morality play and the American Dream, writ large on Malloy’s face and nothing and no one is going to stop us.

The film is black and white, but that’s not what makes it dated. Johnny Friendly (Lee J Cobb) is mobster that runs the docks and what he says goes and without him no ship gets unloaded. He’s corrupt because unions are corrupt and, with kickbacks, stop people from working for a fair’s day pay. Yankee Doodle I say to that, because I remember mobsters, I even remember unions, but this notion of a fair day’s pay that really was an 1950’s invention. Offshore tax free havens for money laundering such as the British Virgin Isles, Jersey or London hadn’t even been invented. All right then, London had been invented.  Shoreman lining up for a job, if their face fitted, they got a job, if it didn’t they never. No change there, as far as I can see. I ask myself who the villains would be now? Ask yourself that question too.

Then there’s the question of loyalty and ratting on your friends. Johnny Friendly tells Terry to go and spy on those that want to do things differently, the disgruntled masses that don’t want to pay kickbacks to workshy loafers in their chapel that give nothing back but take everything. Strangely familiar too. That’s not ratting, or grassing, because you’re really for us or against us, and these people are different. That was a theme Ella Kazan was all too familiar with. In Arthur Miller’s marvellous autobiography Timebends he tells how Kazan was asked to appear before the Hoover inspired witchhunt House of UnAmerican Activities to talk about his friends, associates and work colleagues. Someone like B-part player, Ronnie Reagan was delighted to do so. As did Kazan. Miller, his former friend and associate, didn’t. Kazan’s knowledge about ratting and stool pigeons came first hand.  (http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/navasky-chap7.html)

I get it, I really do, and Marlon Brando, the youngest actor to receive an Oscar for best actor got it too. Hollywood was open for business and Marlon Brando was the new star and the bright young thing that offered something different from traditional male leads. He was lucky. ‘I arrived in New York with the clothes on my back,’ Brando tells the listener. ‘Luck Be A Lady Tonight,’ Guys and Dolls. Brando was hot as Sarah Palin in snow boots. Watch him being interviewed by two young and attractive presenters. It makes your toes curl with embarrassment. But a magazine cover asked ‘Could there have been an Elvis without Brando?’ Another way of putting this is could there have been a John F Kennedy without Brando? JFK didn’t even like wearing hats, that’s how hip the first Catholic president was.

Brando sought a new self, away from the razzmatazz of Hollywood in Haiti. There wasn’t just a Mutiny on the Bounty. He found that the old self didn’t go home. The old self was home. ‘Give me the boy and I’ll give you the man,’ is the Jesuit epigram in Apsted’s 7-UP series.  Luck isn’t always a Lady. A son that kills his half-sister’s boyfriend and is convicted of manslaughter and his daughter that commits suicide.

Brando’s life becomes what he says he most hates – a soap opera. If he didn’t become an actor he claims he would have made a good conman. The world’s greatest actor. Imagine how he felt having to audition for roles such as that in The Godfather. That’s like Muhammad Ali, being called Cassius Clay, and  having to audition for the boxing ring. Then I realized that Ali did have to, when he came out of prison. Brando supported King and the black right’s movement. He was an activist for social justice. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine what he thought of Donald J Trump.

Actors come and go. Brando’s tapes include him boasting about being paid $14 million for twelve days work on Superman. Then, there’s Macbeth’s soliloquy, all actors seem to have it in their portfolio, even the best actor in the world but if you want to hear the real thing then listen to Anthony Hopkins sending up his Shakespearean friends on Parkinson, most notably that other best actor in the world Laurence Olivier. Even the mad Conrad’s Kurtz, in Apocalypse Now would recognise the sentiments.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

S.E Hinton (2000 [1967]) The Outsiders

outsiders.jpg

It’s almost fifty years since The Outsiders was published. ‘The Original Teenage Rebel Story’ proclaims the tag on the cover. I’m sure William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had the same banner headline, but in yeh olde worlde English. Hinton was only seventeen when she wrote it. And like fourteen-year old  Ponyboy, the first-person narrator, you can imagine her trying to impress her English teacher and scrape a better grade by turning a suggested five page exercise into a 218 pages of prose and a coming-of-age story that shows how American society is prejudiced against the poor and it’s rules and regulations favour the rich. A* for effort Ms Hilton.

Ponyboy is a ‘greaser’, his hair is ‘longer than a lot of boys. Most greasers ‘rarely bother to get a haircut’ and the grease their hair. East side is where the greasers live and hang out. ‘Greasers are almost like hoods, we steal things and drive old souped up cars’.  The Socs go to the same school but live on the West side and drive ‘tuff’ cars and wear ‘tuff’ clothes such as blue madrass shirts, but don’t have a tough life. Ponyboy is philosophical about the class differences, ‘I’m not saying that either Socs or greasers are better; that’s just the way things are’. Greasers pride themselves on how tuff and tough they are and stick together. And Socs do the same. When they meet in a rumble it’s the greasers that cop the blame, but they won’t back down, not for anybody.

Plotting is a big hitter. Bob the bully Soc, for example who busted up Johnny, the greaser, early in the narrative later pays a high price. Johnny knives and accidentally kills him trying to protect Ponyboy who’s being beaten up and half drowned,  but Johnny finds redemption by breaking his back, being badly burned and setting the world to rights, before melodramatically dying  saving some wee boys that are trapped in a derelict church that is burning down around their heads. In turn that drives a fellow greaser, super tuff Dally who looked out for little Johnny, over the edge.  Death by cop, which has a familiar ring to it.

Ponyboy explains it to himself and to the reader in a simple way. ‘Dally Watson wanted to be dead and he always got what he wanted.’

There are no blacks in the novel and it’s a male world with girls adding little more than decoration. It’s family that counts most. And with his mum and dad killed in an autowreck, Ponyboy acknowledges how hard it is for Darry, his twenty-year old brother, who works two jobs, to keep the family together. Happy-go-lucky Soda, who is sixteen, has dropped out of school, but is happy working in a garage. He  adds to a choir of voices that demand something different from Ponyboy. Twobit, one of their friends, for example, acknowledges that to be a greaser demands that ‘you get tough and you don’t get hurt’. But  for Ponyboy this translates differently. He demands that he get on and get out, give them something to be proud of. ‘Get smart and nothing can touch you.’

Hinton’s veiled coda is education is the route out of the greaser ghetto. That truth did hold true at that time, but like the idea that Bob the bully’s parents loved him too much and let him away with too much and if they’d loved him less and thrashed him more he wouldn’t have turned out the way he was and wouldn’t have died—well, these are ideas of a certain epoch. The American dream of working hard and playing hard and the world playing fair with you, died right there and then, at the cusp end of the sixties. Since then the tuffs are The Socs of society who have pretty much wiped the floor with the greasers in society. A sad but simple truth a rule for the rich and a rule for the poor, but as Ponyboy knows who rules and we don’t want sympathy, we just want to get even.

As Randy explains. ‘You can’t win, even if you whip up. You’ll still be where you were before – at the bottom’.

Yep, that sounds about right. Roll on super-tuff Reagan and Soc it to the rest of us greaser chumps.

Martin Ford (2015) Rise of the Robots

ford rise of robots.jpg

Robots are pattern-recognition machines who have grown arms, legs and visual awareness. Each time we take a step, for example, we are continually falling. Robots face the same problem, but they have not had tens of millions of years of evolution to solve it. Moore’s Law comes into effect here. Computing power which provides the software for computer hardware; robot’s arms and legs and eyes (these are anthropomorphic attributes) doubles every eighteen to twenty-four months. Software engineers are coming up fast against the physical limitation of the materials used to encode machines. With the development of quantum computing that problem seems –temporarily- to have been solved, but few people can explain the mechanics. Martin Ford’s analogy of driving speeds highlights where we’ve come from and where we’re going. Imagine you’re in a car he says, driving at five-miles-per hour (mph). Drive for a minute. 10mph. fifth minute, 80mph. Imagine you’re on the twenty-seventh minute. We’re approaching the speed of sound. Then the speed of light. That’s Moore’s law. That’s where we are.

Another way of looking at it is to think of the brain power at Los Alamos around 1944 when plans were being developed to develop the first atomic bomb. Most of the great Western minds of maths and physics were working on the probability of different scenarios and outcomes. Unless you were a future Nobel winner, you were probably working in the canteen. Now that kind of mathematical grunt work could be done by a ten-year old boy or girl with an iPad. What direction are we going in? Think in terms of a continuum.

Where we are now, I’d guess is similar to the place where the Crow Indians were in Jonathan Lear (2006) Radical Hope: Ethics in The Face of Cultural Devastation; a place and time before the white man came, before around sixty million migrating buffalo were indiscriminately killed,  and with the mass cull went their food source and way of life. Lear writes of the Crows, but he might as well be writing of the Greek, the Roman, the Holy Roman, our own sense of the possible and the impossible: ‘The inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture’.  Martin Ford suggests we are at endgame and the chess analogy is appropriate.

Graphic evidence comes from games. It was no great surprise when IBM’s software Deep Blue beat world chess champion Gary Kasparov over a six-game match. While the possibilities in chess are quantitatively enormous, we tend to think of it being on rails. Daniel Kahnerman (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow uses the example of a chess master looking at a chess board, and intuition will suggest the best move for him or her to make. That’s thinking fast, but it takes years of training. Software such as Deep Blue travels all the lines of the board at speeds faster than human thought. Speeds that we think of as simultaneous.  And if it makes a mistake it learns from it. Software does not forget. Given such enormous computing power it seemed inevitable that the machine would beat the man.

IBM’s success on Jeopardy! was a different level of success. Deep Blue had been taken off the rails. The brute force of computing power was competing in a general knowledge quiz with idiosyncratic questions and an idiosyncratic format. Computers don’t do spontaneity or intuitive thought over a wide range of subjects. Yet Watson, IBM’s software, triumphed in two televised matches over Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in February 2011.

At one end of the continuum humans become grey gloop. Nothing is wasted. Eric Drexler one of the leading proponents of this theory suggests the combined effect of nanotechnology and increasing computer power to develop their own heuristic, and innate ability to shape the world in their own image, human will be little more than feedstock. If this sounds a bit corny (pun intended) then the co-founder of SunMicrosystems, Bill Joy, article in 2000, ‘Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us’ runs through the existential dangers of cross fertilisation in the fields of genetics, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence. Nobel winner Stephen Hawkins has also signalled his belief that this is a real danger. And Nick Bostrom (2014) in his New York Times Bestseller, Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, argues the future is already here. We’re nurturing artificial intelligence and like a cuckoo’s egg it will outgrow the nest, feed on the hominoid family, and colonise space in its search for perfection.  These Jeremiah voices seem more science fiction than science fact. But look around you. Self-driving cars, drones and rocket back packs. Not in the pages of comic books, but on our roads and buzzing in the air.

Ford identifies other trends that any moderately sophisticated pattern-recognition software would immediately identify. One of them is climate change. He talks about the declining price of solar panels, technological innovation and government innovation. Or what the British Prime Minister called ‘all that green crap’ while withdrawing funding in the areas we really need to invest in.

Money flows unevenly from the rich to the poor. The only place it sticks is with those with money or capital. That’s another trend or pattern. Ford suggests the evidence points to a longer-term trend in which  the five percent who claim ownership of the world’s wealth, and in particular the moneyed-class in the richer nation, those who have cannibalised the wealth of the other ninety-five percent, then the one percent will cannibalise the wealth of the other four percent. Winners take all. Losers take the fall.

“The last capitalist we hang shall be the one who sold us the rope.”
― Karl Marx

Marx was wrong of course. Let us look at the data.  Losers are not sold the rope, only leased it and have to pay economic rent for their funeral. The triumph of capitalism is it is the only game in town. Communist China and Russia, for example, mirror the inequalities of the West. Martin Ford offers sobering statistics. An Oxford University report published in 2013 suggests 50% of US jobs will be automated. And a parliamentary report in the House of Lords in 2015 estimate 35% job losses in the UK. The flight to higher education with the promissory note of a well-paid job at the end of it is the same sort of myth building as, from a different era, Tony Benn’s ‘white hot heat of technology’ changing and modernising society. Thirty percent of employees are currently overqualified for the job they are in and while wages have declined in the last thirty years, the cost of education has more than doubled from £22 billion 2007/8 to £46 billion 2012/13 and that trend looks to continue.  This is one form of credit poorer members of society have access to and they are signing up in record numbers, both in the UK and the US. But not only is their grade deflation, but those printing presses we call universities, some of which  are more equal than others, can demand a premium for their gilt-edged qualification, in a race which our leading universities largely exclude the poor from entering. It would be interesting, for example, to look at what Oxford University defines as those in need of such a leg up. But this is hardly surprising when social housing is defined as costing up to £450 000. And our public-school educated Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, boasts of conducting ‘the most sustained squeeze on public spending for one-hundred years’. Back in 1918 the upper classes contact with the working class was likely to be a master and servant relationship, and as an employer. Those that owned the land owned the people on the land.  But in a contemporary global market as Ford notes, if cognitive ability follows the usual bell-shaped distribution curve, and India and China’s top five percent of intelligentsias adds up to around 130 million, almost double the population of the UK. Technology, based on deep neural learning models makes the universal translator inevitable. See, for example, Megaphoneyaku digital megaphone developed by Panasonic in 2014, which translates whatever language is bellowed into it according to the setting required.   If the offshoring of university graduates and teaching programmes move online, as they are likely to do, then the current crop of graduates will find it even more difficult to find paid work commensurate with their education. Software such as Geekie, launched in Brazil in 2011 because of a shortage of teachers, delivers the whole high-school syllabus, monitors pupils and designs courses based on individual responses and aggregate scores. A movement into higher education and universities with their expensive living costs seems inevitable.  It also seems to me likely that health care assistants will be the add on element of general health care practices with all the heavy lifting done by machines designed like Geekie to have the knowledge element built in and modified and upgraded with each interaction.

A trumpet it a wind instrument. It has the highest register in the brass family, which brings us nicely to Donald Trump and Trumpetism. We’ve had the bit player and actor whom Betty Davis called little Ronnie Reagan getting to play the role of US President. Then we had George Bush senior and then junior getting on the same horse. Anything is possible in the good old US of A. It’s dressed up in frontier ideology and the analogy of a rising tide of wealth lifting all boats. But as Chrystia Freeland says in Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich, ‘the super-rich don’t like to talk about rising income inequality’. The rising tide lifting super yachts that leave the rest stranded in their wake. They like to talk about the Kuznet’s inverted U-curve, how as societies become more complex and productive, high inequality peaks at the top of the U and falls. Wealth generated by a nation’s better-educated workforce is able to get a bigger slice of the national pie in terms of wages is proven to be a short-lived myth. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, using historical data going back to the eighteen century from twenty countries showed that the thirty years following the Second World War was a golden age in which wealth re-distribution did take place, but it took two catastrophic world wars for that to happen. Piketty and Ford both suggest the fallout from the golden age is toxic for all but the gilded few, and aligned with climate change and the rise of the robots it’s a good time to be rich. For the rest of us…man the lifeboats.

Quote

Kurt Vonnegut: President of the United States.

lkurt vonnegut “From the Collection of the Artist.”

Kurt Vonnegut turns up in the most unlikely of places. I’m not familiar with his writing, but I’m reading a book by Michael Lewis Liar’s Poker in which the author quotes Vonnegut below to describe how the bond market works to distort reality, and  to make it seem normal, a theme the everyman Billy Pilgrim’s character stumbles into in his Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5.

 There is a magic moment, during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who has to receive it has not done so. An alert lawyer [read bond trader] will make that moment his own, possessing that treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it and passing it on.

This bring to mind the way coinage used to be debased when it was precious metals made out of a substance equal to value of the currency, for example, either gold or silver, and it was an offence against the king or ruler to shave a coin. Now New York and London Stock exchanges are one of the greatest industries, in monetary terms, devised by man, and when it fails thousands of billions of pounds of public money needs to be spent to keep the foul-smelling water of commerce drinkable for the rest of us.

In Slaughterhouse 5, Billy Pilgrim finds himself in a shop that sells porn, but he’s more interested in a badly written sci-fi book used as a front to make it seem like a respectable book store. The book is written by an author he knows and admires Kilgore Trout. The narrative in Kilgore’s book matches Pilgrim’s own experience of being abducted by the Tranfalmadorians and is about a man and woman kidnapped by extra-terrestrials and taken to another planet, Zircon-212, and put on display in a zoo. He has another of his epiphanies that underpin the wisdom of the book.

These fictitious people in the zoo had a big board supposedly showing stock market quotations and commodity prices along the wall of their habitat, and a news ticker, and a telephone that was supposedly connected to a brokerage on Earth. The creatures on Zircon-212 told their captives that they had invested a million dollars for them back on Earth and it was up to them to manage it so that they would be fabulously wealthy when they were returned to Earth.

The telephone and the big board were all fakes of course. They were simply stimulants to make the Earthlings perform vividly for the crowds at the zoo…

The Earthlings did very well on paper. That was part of the rigging, of course…The news ticker reminded them that the President of the United States had declared National Prayer Week and that everybody should pray. The Earthlings had had a bad week on the market before that. They had lost a small fortune in olive oil futures. So they gave praying a whirl.

It worked. Olive oil went up.

Billy Pilgrim’s ability to transcend time and travel backwards and forwards showed him the fickle fiction of such fortunes. He followed the traditional path to wealth by marrying the obese boss’s daughter nobody else wants to marry, including Billy.

But there is a prophetic touch in the car stickers Billy Pilgrim passes sporting the message Reagan for President. Vonnegut’s novel was published in 1969. He had no way of knowing that the friend of Bonzo—and I don’t mean George W—would actually become President. Not even Vonnegut could have imagined that.

To take a further jump in time and imagine a woman President in Hillary Clinton –perhaps? Vonnegut imagined a world in which the fire-bombing of Dresden with conventional weapons with a power more lethal than the atomic age of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime and unjustifiable. Hillary Clinton’s big message and big sell to the American people that the American future depend on equality of opportunity and is certainly far more left wing than the big two political parties in Britain offer:

To ensure a child born in the hills of Appalachia or the Rio Grande valley grows up with the same shot of success as Charlotte [Clinton] will.

Vonnegut’s character, Howard W Campbell, an American playwright that aligned himself with the Nazi Party strips the hubris of such messages to the bone.  Campbell writes a monograph that Billy Pilgrim gets to read. The reader looking over his character’s shoulder gets to read it too and assess its validity.

America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor and urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humourist Kin Hubbard, ‘It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.’ It is in fact a crime to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor, but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone one with power or gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters…asking this cruel question, ‘if you’re so smart how come you’re not rich?’

Their most destructive untruth is it is very easy to make money. They will in fact not acknowledge how hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those without money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have to do less for the poor publicly and privately.

I’m beginning to believe that Vonnegut and Billy Pilgrim were time-travellers and they’ve jumped in their spaceship and landed here in April 2015. If Vonnegut can pluck Billy Pilgrim from the ether, the Tranfalmadorians and their zoo, then perhaps we can pluck Vonnegut from death and elect him President of the United States, or even Britain. I’d vote for him.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole