Samuel Adams started the Revolution because he didn’t have Twitter

Summary: We don’t eat kippers for breakfast because Samuel Adams didn’t have the temptation of running the Revolution by Twitter instead by snail mail. Social media are a powerful tool for organizations, but no substitute for them. The delusion of a self-organizing crowd appeals to people seeking easy low-commitment ways to reform America. Perhaps repeated failures will eventually teach us this. This is the 3rd in this series.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Contents

  1. High-tech failed revolutions.
  2. Why social media isn’t a magic bullet for politics.
  3. Organizations: a key to successful reform.
  4. Other posts in this series.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  High-tech failed revolutions

Contrast this with the color revolutions which began with such promise — easy, fast revolts using Twitter! — but most of which ended with such disappointment. Techies hoped that social media facilitated self-organizing networks that would reach critical mass, somehow producing complex political change.

Consider the Orange Revolution in Ukraine: protestors overthrew an elected government (the vote certified as fair by domestic and foreign observers) with the aid of western intelligence agencies (working through various NGOs), resulting in a rise of neo-Nazi groups and civil war. It’s a story as common as dirt.

Social media can effectively mobilize public support, but that’s a snare. Not only do movements created by social media lack a leadership structure, their flat communications networks tend to suppress the rise of leaders. Social media networks center on nodes: people with connections to many other people. The skills needed to become a node are not those of leaders. Most of all a node is an individual, a leader is one who assumes some personal responsibility for the movement (that is the sine qua non of leadership).

Except when used by an organization, social media excels at creating mobs (especially flash mobs). As we saw with Occupy, mobs are easily misled into folly. As we saw with the Tea Party, they’re easily led to aims quite different to those they intended (born in opposition to bank bailouts, they helped elect the most bank-friendly Congress since 1932 (as Chairman Bachus explained).

What have we to show for the movements of the past decade? How many of the “Twitter revolutions” on the the following map accomplished much?

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What if the Founders’ generation read the news as we do?

Summary: Each day the internet washes up piles of information for us. We have tech allowing us to sort out what we want to see — operationally useful information for work and politically pleasing information about politics. Today we discuss why the information superhighway of political news so seldom affects our action. Fortunately the Founders’ generation read the news with more engagement, or we’d be signing “God Bless the Queen” before watching cricket.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

This is a followup to What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?

Fool's Paradise

We appear to have entered the final stage of this political cycle. After decades of their slow growth in power — aggregating more and more of our wealth and income — the 1% have begun the equivalent of the third stage of battle: the pursuit of a broken enemy to crush the remnant of opposition and consolidate victory. Every day’s news brings more evidence, such as the shocking stories shown below from this weekend’s news.

These are of interest not as news in the conventional sense, since they tell us more about what we already know (pouring more water on a rock does not make it wetter). That’s why I no longer write posts giving interesting links. There are so many other sites doing a better job providing such entertainment to the outer party.

These stories have value as indicators where we are in the evolution from Republic to plutocracy. I doubt they have any other utility, excerpt in a technical sense (e.g., to people professionally involved in these areas). But at the end are some conclusions you might find of interest.

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Review of “Oblivion”: Of Cruise and Nothingness

Summary:  Today Locke Peterseim reviews Oblivion, another attempt by Hollywood to bring science fiction to film. It shows their love of imagery — of the glossy finish — over the substance of the story. That’s sad, because we can learn much from the alternative perspective provided by hard sci-fi.  it’s another in our series of Sunday posts about the movies. {1st of 2 posts today.}

Oblivion poster

Of Cruise and Nothingness

By Locke Peterseim.
From the film blog of Open Letters Monthly.
29 April 2013

Reposted with his generous permission.

Ah, the tyranny of “cool ideas.” Any young, imaginative genre fan (be it of sci-fi, Westerns, crime, or romance) no doubt had school notebooks festooned with doodles and descriptions of ideas birthed along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be really, wicked-awesome, cool, gnarly if…,” followed by descriptions and drawings of Ligers and their ilk.

Written by Karl Gajdusek and Michael DeBruyn from a story by director Joseph Kosinski (Tron: Legacy, Oblivion is intended to be a “hard sci-fi” post-apocalyptic mind-bender thrill ride starring Tom Cruise.

But what ends up on screen is a lovely mishmash of “cool ideas,” most of which, frankly, are kinda cool, but none of which adds up to much other than a nostalgia trip through dozens of other sci-fi films of the past few decades.

Hopping around the late 21st-century blasted, burned-out Earthscape (there was an alien invasion or something) in a sleek, sexy airship, Cruise plays Jack Harper (aka Capt. Strong Name!), a technician tasked with keeping giant hydro-rig machine things and a fleet of attendant robo-drones running while the rest of the humans have scooted off to a New World utopia on Saturn’s moon Titan.

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What if Samuel Adams tried to start the Revolution by blogging?

Summary: What is the point of individuals publishing about politics and geopolitics on the internet? These writings — seen as a collective project — tell us much about the current state of the Republic. This post looks at the internet (of which the FM website project is a microcosm) as a mirror of America and draws some useful conclusions. This concludes with the question in the title.

Samuel Adams

Contents

  1. Surveying the scene.
  2. An alternative path to reform.
  3. Results so far.
  4. Reflections on failure.
  5. Other posts on this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  Surveying the scene

Some, like Mish (Mike Shedlock) at Global Economic Trends and Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism have built profitable websites providing information to communities on the Right and Left respectively.  Perhaps the most successful of these is law professor Glenn Reynolds, who has built a mass audience as the Instapundit. Some bloggers have transition to successful careers, building  their audiences into businessess (e.g, Matthew Yglesias, Ezra Klein). Many academics (e.g., economist Brad Delong and attorney Eugene Volokh) write as a natural extension of their professional work. There are thousands of other websites doing variations of these on a smaller scale.

These are tremendous accomplishments. However, what is the service they provide? They provide entertainment and catharsis for the outer party plus self-expression for the authors. The outer party is politically impotent, but likes to believe themselves otherwise. So they write posts or comments, consume information (becoming well-informed). In effect they become fans cheering and booing political actors.

These websites — posts and comments — seldom point to ways for direct political action, beyond voting or (rarely) contacting elected officials. It’s no longer in many (most?) American’s world view that we have responsibility for the actions of our government, which would mandate our involvement — or even that we have the power to run America, which would imply political action as a personal priority for each of us.

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The real significance of our drone war, and why you’ll hear little about it in Campaign 2016

Summary: Nothing shows the decay of the Republic like our drone wars, almost mindless killing — now including execution of Americans by Presidential decree. To see how accustomed we’ve become to these steps to a new regime, this post looks at a typical story in the New York Times plus an analysis of it by an eminent law professor. Then I draw some obvious but alarming conclusions.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

The King rules that you must die.

Lettre de cachet

The New York Times gently reports that a new “Terrorism Case Renews Debate Over Drone Hits“. Excerpt:

Mohanad Mahmoud Al Farekh, who was arrested last year in Pakistan based on intelligence provided by the United States, came after a years long debate inside the government about whether to kill an American citizen overseas without trial — an extraordinary step taken only once before, when the Central Intelligence Agency killed the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.

Mr. Farekh’s court appearance also came as the Obama administration was struggling to fashion new guidelines for targeted killings. The decision to use an allied intelligence service to arrest Mr. Farekh has bolstered a case made by some that capturing — rather than killing — militant suspects, even in some of the world’s most remote places, is more feasible than the orders for hundreds of drone strikes might indicate.

… The Obama administration’s discussions about the fate of Mr. Farekh, who used the nom de guerre Abdullah al-Shami, began in earnest in 2012, and in the months that followed the C.I.A. and the Pentagon ramped up surveillance of his movements around Pakistani tribal areas.

… But the Justice Department, particularly Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was skeptical of the intelligence dossier on Mr. Farekh, questioning whether he posed an imminent threat to the United States and whether he was as significant a player in Al Qaeda as the Pentagon and the C.I.A. described. Mr. Holder and his aides also thought it might be possible to capture Mr. Farekh and bring him to trial.

We have to love this nod to the nature of “news” (aka pravda) in New America, where everything we need to know is classified secret — and anyone other than government officials giving us this information is a spy (giving info to the government’s enemies — which includes us). We not only should believe what we’re told but also be content with what little we’re told. They tell us all we need to know.

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Complaints about air travel are the cries of a dying middle class

Summary: The airline industry is a tale of New America. Deregulation, cheap fares allowing more people to travel but with increasingly poor service and rising complaints. It’s an oft-told story of stupid people unaware of the consequences to their behavior. But that’s a shallow view that misses the real significance of these trends.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Airlines in the past

 

Contents

  1. Unexpected fruits of deregulation.
  2. Interpreting the whining.
  3. It’s the cry of a dying middle class.
  4. Conclusion: expect more of this.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  Unexpected but logical fruits of airline deregulation

The rollback of the New Deal began with deregulation of the airlines (except for safety) — done by the President who began the conservative revolution, which his successor accelerated: James Carter. This allowed far more people to fly, people formerly limited to buses, trains and cars.  The unexpected side effect: service has slowly and steadily deteriorated. (There are 25 years of data from the Airline Quality Ratings database run for DoT, with many studies of it by experts such as Dean E Headley — but I can find no analysis of the trend over that period — probably for the obvious reason).

Why has service deteriorated while traffic rose (from 191 billion passenger-miles in 1980 to 580 billion in 2012)? It wasn’t the speed of the increase. In the 20 years before deregulation traffic rose over twice as fast as in the 20 years afterwards — with the airlines still providing excellent service. It’s not that the airlines are rapacious and greedy — their industry has an ugly combination of high volatility (in technology, competition, and revenues) and low profitability. During the dark days after 9/11 it was said that the industry had accumulated no net profits since the Wright brothers.

The answer is obvious: customers give their business on the basis of flight convenience and cost. Carriers give people what they want: cheap travel. Since they have no wizards, that means bare bones service — with cycles of cost-cutting, each one clipping off cost and satisfaction. The next cycle features a new class more crowded than economy.

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We have so many wars because we support them. Nothing changes until that changes.

Summary: We have found so many wars, small and large, since WWII that it’s difficult to count them. Since 9/11 we’ve accelerated our game, with our military intervening across the globe. Why are we doing this? The answer is easy to see, as this post shows.   {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Personal note: Years ago I talked with one of the designers of Africom, who told me it would become one of DoD’s growth areas. I thought he was daft. They did 546 military “activities” during 2014.

Bombs for Peace

Contents

  1. We’re usually excited about the next war!
  2. We love the war once it starts!
  3. Which is the war party?
  4. The people responsible for this situation.
  5. For More Information.

 

(1)  We’re usually excited about the next war!

How many Americans supported our military actions before they began? We turn to Gallup to see our history.  Strong support after 9/11 to invade Afghanistan; moderate for Iraq #1; low for Kosovo, Syria and Iraq #2. Gallup described the return to Iraq as “direct military action in Iraq to support the Iraqi government against militants there.”

Gallup polls: support before eachwar

(2)  We love the war once it starts!

Shepherds don’t poll the flock before deciding what to do. Nor do our leaders care about our opinion when starting wars, except with the opposition so strong that we might strike back at the ballot box.

Let’s look at the past 30 years of Americans’ support of wars after our leaders have started them. Strong except for Grenada and Kosovo (over 50%) and Libya (under 50%).  Gallup described our latest intervention as “military action the US is taking in Iraq and Syria against Islamic militants, commonly known as ISIS.” S

Gallup’s surveys show that support varies by how closely the question matches the public’s “hot” button (as carefully produced by propaganda). Pavlov’s dogs responded to a bell, not a buzzer or gong.

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