My last note was something that, I think it’s safe to say, would certainly be considered to be very lengthy by “blog” standards by most people. I can just imagine how some people would react. That’s just not done, mister! Why, it took minutes to read! Be brief! Cut to the chase! Sum it up in 500 words or less!
Setting aside the actual contents of the piece, there might be an important point t consider just in the subject of what sort of attention span is involved in a lot of communication now, or, at least, what passes as “communication”. The ongoing phenomenon of Twitter “tweets” and the buzzing cloud of little typed brain farts within a maximum limit of 140 characters, not words, 140 characters, is arguably a demonstration of an ultimate worst case. Having just said that, I then think about the way many people now seem to sunk into an even deeper hole, where words are just too much work, and at some point, “written” communication degenerates into what effectively becomes random incomprehensible grunting, using little preformed graphic images, what used to be called “emoticons”, and nowadays are commonly called “emojis”.
That might be a bit of a side road diversion, but it is relevant.
As long as the last posted note might seem to some people, it was still really only a rough skim, skipping around among a whole list of items that are worth extended examination by themselves, barely scratching the surface. You can almost look at things as a kind of large collective living ecosystem so saturated with toxins that it is unable to distinguish between those and air, water, and nutrients.
In the daily noise on the web, someone posted a link to an opinion/editorial piece in the New York Times. The thing has the title Why Don’t Sanders Supporters Care About the Russia Investigation?”. This thing should be instantly regarded with deep suspicion by people, almost by instinct. Just the title, alone, right off the bat, should have people backing up thinking “wait a minute, what?”.
Immediately, there is a set group declared and defined. What’s the group? Sanders Supporters!
What does that neatly defined group think and do? They don’t care about the Russia Investigation!
Oh, golly gee, wasn’t that simple?
Hey, you Sanders Supporters! Why aren’t you getting with the program and joining the lynch mob?! Are you a Trump supporter or something? Maybe you’re a Russian agent?!
There are at least a few paragraphs that do have some value, so I will stick those in here.
Some believe that Russian meddling is, at best, irrelevant to the needs of working-class Americans, whom Democrats should focus on: Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation, has chastised Democrats, saying, “Focusing on Trump’s ties to Russia alone will not win the crucial 2018 midterm elections, nor will it win meaningful victories on issues like health care, climate change, and inequality that affect all of our lives.”
Others say that the investigation is an overhyped, “neo-McCarthyist” conspiracy theory. The journalist Masha Gessen, for example, wrote in The New York Review of Books that it was “distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues” and at the same time “promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.”
Noam Chomsky has said that Russian interference in the election is “not a major issue” and that Americans’ obsession with it is making our country “a laughingstock,” especially considering the United States’ reputation for meddling in other countries’ politics. Moreover, many who oppose American hawkishness feel that the Russia scandal helps keep tensions alive with an old Cold War enemy.
For supporters of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, “Russia” can seem like Hillary Clinton’s convenient excuse for her failings as a candidate. In the words of Glenn Greenwald, Russian interference “explains otherwise-confounding developments, provides certainty to a complex world, and alleviates numerous factions of responsibility.”
Those few paragraphs actually sum up quite a lot fairly well, but the article in question, I think it’s fair to say, essentially takes all that and treats it as “aren’t these people silly misguided fools?”.
It has obviously been an ongoing theme here, for some time, to talk about a whole collection of items, of whole subjects, that are so broad and expansive, so complicated, convoluted, and intertwined, that it becomes a bit of a challenge to even label it simply, other than perhaps something like “political lunacy”. Even skimming around runs into the problem I had with the last note, thinking “how many people will not even bother reading to the end, because they think it rambles on for so long?”, while it seems like every topic leads into interconnected gnarled knots of other items, with each and every one of them being a convoluted clusterfuck of confusion and bad “information” of propaganda and misinformation and misdirection to fight through.
While all that rages and swirls and, figuratively speaking, sucks up all the oxygen in the room, it can get a little disturbing to think about what gets badly neglected and ignored, and what gets massive loads of attention.
I just discovered an item more or less by accident, as I saw a link posted on the web pointing to a page on The Onion website. I thought it was purely a joke, a fictional item for purposes of a little fun. I was curious, and upon checking this out quickly, I found a whole array of search hits pointing to genuine news items. For realz, dude! Bill Gates bought a vast tract of land in the middle of the Arizona desert to create what is being called a “Smart City”.
That would be what, exactly?
That is a slightly facetious and rhetorical question, of course. It is fairly easy and obvious to get a whiff of the general aroma of what this would be all about.
The Onion is as great as ever, and in their satirical piece on this, they included one of their regular stylistic modes of including fictional “person on the street” quotes. If you know The Onion you know the template, they include the same photos of people in every one of these, with different names, and a hilariously stupid occupation listed for each of them. One of the fake quotes was:
“When I think of a desert city built hundreds of miles from a reliable water source, I think smart.”
In one f the real news articles, someone was quoted as saying that the land involved was “about 45 minutes west of downtown Phoenix”. A problem is staring you right in the face that might seem trivial, but it drives me nuts. How far is it? It’s “45 minutes west”? A minute is a unit of measurement of time, not distance. How fucking simple is this? People do this all the time!
This is not trivial item, some petty obsession in being pedantic. This is an obvious sign, an indicator that is not subtle. A weird component of this is that I suspect that in a way, it might be subtle for some people, in the sense that it is so plainly obvious and simple that if you ask somebody “what’s wrong with that statement?” they might look right past it, thinking they are being asked to solve some tricky puzzle.
I really do encounter this kind of thing all the time, somebody referring to a question about “how far away?” in units of time. This silliness has become so unbelievably common (touching on the subject of what becomes “normal” again) that when it comes up, the people doing this might very possibly think of you as quite an odd person for pointing it out and insisting on an answer expressed as a distance.
This is important, being an absolutely fundamental simple matter of communication of basic information that is, presumably, important, but there is a slightly more worrisome aspect to this. I am not just talking about the annoyance of people thinking you are being a petty pendant, the kind of stupid “well, aren’t you Mister Fussypants?” kind of reactions. This strange quirk is a close relative of another problem, involving people misusing words, and then other absorbing that by repetition, until so many people are misusing the word that the word itself becomes disabled for common use because, in the cases of so many people, that word does not mean what they think it means.
This stuff is not trivial.
Part of what is so disturbing about this kind of thing is that in so many cases it is clear that the misunderstanding of miscommunication of something is not a case of a particular person being too dim to understand it, but, instead, something spreading in some ugly form of osmosis by people just going along with some nonsense, even if it’s just plain wrong.
This is veering off down a side road into an entire subject worthy of discussion. So, getting back to the “distance in minutes” silliness, there is an oddity about that which should get more scrutiny. There does not seem to be much happening in terms of questioning presumptions. I suppose one item is the fixation on time above all else, but there is something very basic here.
If you move from one place to another, there is some distance. Measurement of time is not a measurement of distance. The time involved is related to distance, and velocity.
If someone travels between point A and point B, expressing how far it is in units of time makes no sense. It only can be considered as sort of making sense if you assume that they will be moving over that distance at a given average velocity. If somebody thinks the proposed and imagined “Smart City” is “45 minutes west of Phoenix”, I can only assume, because this is never stated, that somebody is thinking of a trip between these places as being done by riding along roads at an assumed speed in some motor vehicle. In the present, that can also be assumed to almost always be in a vehicle with motive power provided by a petroleum burning internal combustion engine.
So, what if that journey is being traversed by horseback? What about travelling there by bicycle? What if you hike it? In all cases it’s the same distance. How long it takes to travel depends on situation, and situation can vary and change.
The idea of this “Smart City” starts to immediately seem not so smart when you give some thought to the presumption of endless easy petroleum fueled transportation, along with the obvious matter that The Onion pointed out.
The obvious presumption to be made about the Bill Gates Smart City is that it is supposed to be “smart” in terms of a basic premise that it will be all about massive implementation of all sorts of digital electronics controlling everything. I can probably make some good speculative guesses about what might be involved, as can you; Digital electronics everywhere with computers of various kinds in everything, all sorts of embedded controllers, everything connected to everything via the internet and WiFi radio communication connections, mobile phone “apps” for everything, and, you have to presume, all sort of Microsoft software. That last part alone is a little scary, considering the massive bloat and chronic dysfunction of Microsoft programming. To be fair, they have done some great software. I am actually using Microsoft Word at this very moment. Even the relatively good stuff generally, almost inevitably, runs into problems, and that is a subject that could run on extensively. Narrowing the focus to Microsoft operating system software gets into a whole jungle of dysfunction.
When I looked a little further, another article turned up that presents a slightly different picture, compared to the breathless PR blurbs, and it looks like the project in question is much less about some Bill Gates “Smart City” vision than it is simply another real estate developer deal to create an uber-outer-suburban zone miles away from everything.
In short form, it basically appears to have all the characteristics that gradually turned the United States into the massive petroleum glutton it became over the decades following World War II. What, exactly, is “smart” about the project is a major question. As The Onion joked, with a basis in solid reality and rational thinking, creating such an endeavor far away from water in the middle of some of the most arid desert in North America is more like a symptom of insanity than “smart”, and it should also be obvious that it completely ignores any rational grip on reality in terms of petroleum resources, depletion and diminishing returns, and massive overconsumption.
It appears that in any version of this you find, the vague notions of “smart” revolves around ideas of “digital infrastructure” and autonomous self-driving cars. Raise the issue of petroleum problems, and I suppose that a lot of people diving headfirst into fantasies about Bill Gates creating a wondrous new techno-utopia would be likely to respond and regard any such issues as solved within seconds, involving something about simply changing over to electric cars and trucks and “clean/green/alternative/renewable” energy. Never mind how that would actually work, and the fundamental matter of imagining some new model ideal civilization that starts by sticking it in the middle of arid desert, far away from anything and everything, and, then, arranging the place itself spread out all over in something like the typical suburban sprawl arrangements that have created so much in the way of serious issues over the recent decades.
But, like, dude, your refrigerator will have an IP address! It’ll be so awesome!
What might constitute a “smart city” is a very good subject of discussion. Having that kind of discussion and having it be something like being intelligent might be a tough task. Working through anything like this is an especially tough task given the general atmosphere of toxic raging lunacy we have swirling around now.