Archive for June, 2013

Living In Public

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

 The internet offers us phenomenal advantages over the pre-online era, such as the ability to compare various restaurants before ordering food and allowing for independent media resources like Can the Man.  This has drastically changed the ways we live our lives, especially our social communities.  For example, interaction on social media now tends to trump person to person relationships.  How many times have you been out with a group of friends when someone is so absorbed with their phone that they become an outcast from the actual experience?

The internet is a powerful tool of consumption.  It determines not only what kinds of foods we like to order, or what books we buy, but catalogues this information.   Through our internet habits we create a virtual profile which is used by advertisers to gain an understanding of who we are as consumers and how to market to us in the most efficient way possible.

Internet use allows government agencies like the NSA to gain personal information about citizens by raking through our data.   Sophisticated computer programs can sift through a large amount of information in an astoundingly short time.  We live in an era of information harvesting that was unfathomable when letters were the only way for long distance written communication.  The internet is not only making it easier for companies and governments to learn the intimate details of our lives, it has also changed the nature of relationships.

We Live In Public is a film that documents how the life of Josh Harris changed the landscape of communication in the internet age.  Harris performed an experiment in 1999  in which he invited participants to inhabit a “virtual hotel” where they lived in pods with a video camera watching them 24-hours a day.  Each pod was equipped with a TV monitor and a screen that could be turned to individual channels monitoring each resident of the hotel.  Everything in the hotel was free: food, lodging, booze and even trips to a gun range in the basement.  At first the people seemed elated to be part of a fantastic relationship as their collective realities unfolded, at no financial cost.  Many of the “guests” quickly shed their inhibitions and were openly shitting while carrying on discussions with other people.  Over the course of a couple of weeks the mood of the place changed and the subjects became more animalistic.  In one case the inhabitants sat around the dinner table beating their fists on the table demanding their food.  As things devolved they began to complain of feeling alienated from each other and from themselves, although they were living in a community with many other people.  The experiment was an eerie glimpse into a digitally enhanced future devoid of basic privacies that we have taken for granted in the past.

The notion of privacy has changed over the course of human history, but never as rapidly as it has in the past decade.  I cringe to think about the extent of information filed away about me in various government agencies, and with numerous advertisers.  Sometimes it seems that the only security is in being conspicuous, I guess that’s the paradox of the world we live in.









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Turkey and the Distracted Media

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013




Civil outrage in Turkey over the past several weeks has sparked intense protesting against measures to demolish a historic Istanbul park to make way for a shopping mall. Turkish protestors have likened the aggressive land upheaval to the US government demolishing parts of Central Park to put up another behemoth shopping structure many of us do not need.  Although the initial flash of protest seemed legitimate and peaceful, the Turkish government chose to respond with shrewd retaliation.  Using tear gas, water cannons, and physical force, riot police have managed to keep the protestors at bay while the discontent rages on.  As an internet spelunker, I’ve come across plenty of photos of injured or dead protestors which are just now making international news.  Images of tear gas canisters lodged in body parts, or skin blasted away by corrosive high power water cannons stay with me long after I leave the page.



The protests in Turkey are different from the numerous other uprisings in the Middle East, as these protests were not initially aimed at a tyrannical or oppressive leader.  The citizens are a  collective population choosing to show their feelings toward an issue that would change their lives.  Instead of being met with reason and political discourse they have been punished and beaten for their resistance to authority.  The government has arrested doctors suspected of aiding protestors and controlled the exposure of the uprising to the rest of the country, resorting to violence as a first response.  Thousands who began protesting the construction of a shopping mall have now shifted their focus to the overbearing rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.  The Prime Minister denies any claims that he is increasing his authoritative role in the government, but such a claim is difficult to believe when the response to protestors grows more violent by the day.  The Turkish government is also making assertions that those joining in the protests are “nut-jobs” and are rioting without any real justification.  (A similar tactic to the right-wing media response in our own country to the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement). Why is it that standing up for cultural tradition over consumerism be weighed as an act of lunacy?  The protests themselves have gone uncovered by Turkish media, yet the utilization of global media like Twitter and Reddit have allowed for the word to spread like wildfire.






The media is constantly hunting for the next big story that concerned viewers will suck up every second of, and there has been no shortage of these stories over the last few months.  The news industry pays more attention to the cultural drivel and social gossip of the world than significant events. Imagine the countless hours devoted to any Lindsay Lohan arrest instead of something worthwhile.  Due to the endless struggle of media machines to drum up ratings, the focus is constantly shifting towards whatever will grab instantaneous public attention.  After our initial interest wanes, and our pseudo-sympathetic response wears off, we move to something else.



Just recently the country was hooked on the devastation caused by the gigantic tornado that ripped through Moore, Oklahoma.  Now, you can hardly find anything in the news about it.  Destruction gets the ratings, reconstruction gets none.  What is happening with the Boston Bomber?  What have we done about the IRS investigation?  How long do we pretend to care about anything?  All of these stories spark outrage for a few days, then something else comes along and distracts us completely.  CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC choose to highlight the bad news, because that is what puts butts on the couch.  Granted, there are some bright spots in news-based programming, but the majority of it is a superficial moneymaking beast that is constantly refocusing the public’s attention on something trivial.



When we watch reports on someone who lost their house in a tornado, a leg to a bomb, or sight to tear gas we come to appreciate what we have even more.  Governments can no longer hope to control their populations entirely in this age of technological wonder and innovation.  While the Turkish Prime Minister attempts to quell rumors of protests and uprising, the committed protestors are taking to social media and the internet to reveal their side of the story.  No longer do media giants control the news, they’re instead feeding off the corporate teat and filtering down the necessary bits to the masses.


Watch the recent VICE Short on Turkey here…




-Spencer James-

Praying for Fortunes

Sunday, June 16th, 2013



“They never call for prayer at the stock exchange.  They want it in the schools. Why do you think they want it in the schools? Because they have a captive audience, they want an audience they can mold and form.”  -Christopher Hitchens


This quote from Hitchens seems to be at odds with our envisioned secular nation.  Who are “they” and why are “they” calling for prayer in the schools?   From what I can tell “they” are the Man and the Man runs the stock exchange.  It is obvious from the Occupy movement that a large portion of the population is fed up with the actions of the “One Percent” but how can so many people be outraged at the one percent while our status quo maintains itself?  It seems that the wealthy minority can rule because they are masters of manipulation, they play skillfully upon the emotions of the masses, using their media bull-horn. 


At many different times throughout the course of U.S. history religious doctrine has been used as a tool to shape the actions of the people. For example religious overtones and sentiments have been used to great effect in allocating voters and democratic support as was exemplified by George W. Bush in his election campaigns.  An underlying message stemming from the Protestant roots of this nation is that if you work hard you deserve to be rewarded for your labor.  Many have taken this message of self-reliance to pursue capital gains at the expense of others.  This connection is a fallacy that only serves to prop up our national system of uneven wealth distribution.  Materialism appears now as the supreme central goal in people’s lives, yet the bible is filled with lessons of the dangers of extreme wealth accumulation.  Perhaps none of these are more enduring than Jesus’ assertion that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  We could be so bold as to say Jesus sounds like a socialist.  It makes one wonder how he would fit into our world today.


It was once said that “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”  Why does it seem that a collective distribution of wealth is a terrifying and often derided idea in the United States? The indoctrination into this kind of thinking for many children begins at home, and then is perpetuated in the school system.  They are constantly conditioned to be civilians who each play a role in the economy, maintaining the status quo.  People are driven by the dream of working hard and attaining great wealth, because they have been told since childhood that great wealth is attainable.  What is the result?  A few hundred families control more than 40% of the nation’s wealth while millions of others maintain this grossly unequal situation, while striving to make their own fortunes.


Can we exonerate the greedy masses who follow their siren song because they do not want to change the system?  The capitalist system draws power from the false idea that everyone has the right to strive toward opulence. The rich are who they wish to emulate because that is what they want to be. 



Can Cenk Uygur’s Wolf PAC Save Democracy in the United States?

Sunday, June 9th, 2013


I appreciate Cenk Uygur contributions to the U.S. media, his journey as the founder of The Young Turks has been extraordinary because he speaks his mind.  I may not agree with everything he says but he certainly makes many valid points.  He says that he has no greater dream than “saving the democracy” in the U.S.  But how does one “save democracy”?  Is democracy threatened in this country? He contends that the U.S. democratic system is broken and the greatest contributing factor to its demise is money in politics.  His answer: The Wolf PAC.


It is easy to see that in many ways democracy is not working in this country.  Forget the failure of our system to instate the popularly elected candidate Al Gore in 2000, because of an arcane electoral system, which is vulnerable to political meddling.  Time and again measures supported by the vast majority are not reflected in congressional actions.  For proof look no further than the recent battle over gun laws in congress.  Shockingly 90% of the population is in favor of background checks for people who purchase guns, yet the background check bill was defeated in the Senate.  The National Rifle Association is a notoriously powerful group with an extensive lobby in Washington and they draw a great deal of their sway from buying politicians.  The NRA’s clout is the dominant force contributing to the defeat of the background check bill.  When something that the vast majority of voters support is voted down by our elected officials it is a clear indication of a broken system.


“Super PACs” are political action committees that pool unlimited contributions for campaigns from individuals as well as groups such as labor unions and corporations.  Although political action committees have been a factor in U.S. politics for decades, the ability to pool unlimited money, which can come from corporations, is a new wrinkle in the system stemming from two major Supreme Court rulings.  Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and v. FEC, both in 2010, have greatly changed the political landscape, making money the most important facet of our political system.  As a result, Super PACs played an unprecedented role in the 2012 Presidential election.  Although Super PACs were a factor in the 2012 election, they have an even greater impact in congress.


 Super PACs have altered our system to the degree that the more dollars contributed to a candidate’s campaign means that a group (such as the NRA) or individual (think Sheldon Adelson) can have a louder voice than the average citizen, drastically altering the political landscape.  How much do contributions actually matter?  The congressman who has more money wins the election 93% of the time!    This means that the political system is not based upon the will of the majority, a central component of democracy; it is rather based upon the power of the dollar to influence elections.


As a result, 89% of the country believes that “there is way too much corporate money in politics.”  But what can the average citizen do to take action against this unjust distortion of our political system?  Searching for a possible answer Cenk Uygur has worked to form his own super PAC, called the Wolf PAC to combat money in politics.  The narrow goal of the Wolf PAC is to pass a 28th Amendment to the U.S. constitution, quoted below:


“Corporations are not people.  They have none of the Constitutional rights of human beings.  Corporations are not allowed to give money to any politician, directly or indirectly.  No politician can raise over $100 from any person or entity.  All elections must be publicly financed.” 


This makes me wonder if the political system can be saved, or at least improved by this kind of measure.  Below is the YouTube video of Cenk Uygur’s initial discussion of the Wolf PAC.  You can visit the official website at and decide for yourself.



What is Good

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013


The brilliant philosopher Robert Pirsig was haunted by the idea of quality, or, what makes something intrinsically better than something else. Pirsig surmised that human beings subconsciously assign value to everyday objects based upon our inherent tastes and predispositions, and that ultimate quality is only a subjective notion. Pirsig’s introspective struggle with quality can be found in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book that underwent significant rejection before becoming something of a literary marvel. The question that irks me now is, “What is good?”  This question delves deeper than just objects or ideas.  The discussion of quality also permeates into the realm of the mainstream media and entertainment. Every billboard, commercial, television show, or song has the approval of someone no matter how distasteful you may find it. From where I stand, the “good” has become so muddled in the veins of media, entertainment, and life that it has become increasingly hard to find.



The bar for good entertainment has lowered drastically in the last few years, thanks in part to society’s fascination with reality television and talentless music “sensations.” Despite being one of the greatest artists of all time, Michael Jackson holds the record for singles from one album with none other than the “face and tits” act of Hollywood that is Katy Perry. It is disturbing that the world rejoices in the rednecking-goodtimes of Honey Boo Boo and the drunken mishaps of spoiled twenty-somethings. Our definition of good entertainment has become directly connected to what is financially valuable entertainment. No longer do the entertainment suits praise talent, but rather what can be successfully marketed to the American public, and almost nothing sells better these days than pretty, plastic-infused faces.



As a writer I find it sickening that novels like 50 Shades of Grey and Twilight have been the literary powerhouses of the last few years. Neither of these texts deserve the widespread fame and fortune they’ve garnered, they are unequivocally juvenile in their writing and unimaginative in plot. Yet society votes with their wallets, and thanks to the overwhelming public response to these works, sales have skyrocketed despite the absence of literary talent,  paving the way for dozens of spin-offs and cloyingly tacky bestsellers. Blockbuster movies are retreads of old flicks, or simply the sequel to a previous film that raked in millions. To reaffirm these claims please take careful note of the coming cinema attractions this summer. If we continue to support a world devoid of quality, what will we be left with? Nothing more than a heaping pile of junk that keeps the reputable content buried under big-budgets and impossible odds.



It almost seems like an implausible feat to gain recognition in a society that fails to praise artistic vision over tabloid gossip writing. When I see or hear about the things people are spending time doing or watching, I die a little inside. True, every person is entitled to their opinion, and that is what makes the idea of quality so damn confusing. What I deem as having absolutely zero quality, Twilight for example, can be alternatively viewed by a fawning teenage girl to be the best book she’s ever read or ever wants to read. So what does that mean for me?  Most writers have dreams of grandeur, of writing a bestseller, but when your target audience isn’t preteen girls or lonely middle-aged women, what is left? When entertainment industries learn what sells, the whole idea of “quality” is tossed right out the window and all that matters are dollar signs. If we don’t strive to redefine quality in our culture, we will be left incapable of discerning good from bad.  Ultimately becoming slaves to a money-grubbing entertainment industry that couldn’t care less about the product they sell to the masses.



-Spencer James-