“In Max Fisher’s authoritative and devastating account of the impacts of social media, “The Chaos Machine,” he repeatedly invokes Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The 1968 movie, in which a supercomputer coldly kills astronauts on a ship bound for Jupiter, was in Fisher’s thoughts as he researched the book. Its stark, ambiguous aesthetic is perfectly poised between the utopian and the dystopian. And as a story about trying to fix a wayward technology as it hurtles out of control, it is beautifully apt.”
New York Times, Aug.17th, 2021
Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America
By Eyal Press
“Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Toll of Inequality in America,” a disturbing and necessary new book by Eyal Press, describes with great empathy the lives of workers who do jobs that they themselves find morally horrifying. Press acquaints us intimately with the trauma suffered by a participant in a drone strike who watches a child slowly reassemble his father’s exploded remains into human shape; by a worker in a slaughterhouse who is nuzzled affectionately by pigs only to have to kill them moments later; and by a psychologist who is supposed to provide therapy to psychiatric patients in one of the correctional facilities where America often confines the severely mentally ill, but instead witnesses daily brutality including a homicide so gruesome it will be seared in any reader’s memory.
From NYBooks.com April 13th 2021
It wasn’t always this way for Mark Zuckerberg. These days, we take almost for granted that when there’s organized political violence in the world, there will be an apparent Facebook connection—whether it involves groups and pages that played a part in fomenting the Capitol insurrection in Washington, D.C., or the social media incitement of genocide in Myanmar, where the military, which backed that effort to eliminate the Rohingya, has now seized power in a coup. These days, the platform is routinely associated in the public mind with secretive extremist hate groups, divisive foreign propaganda, sick conspiracy theories with cultlike followings, and forums for plotting armed uprisings against legitimate governments. Many critics have come to see Facebook itself as a threat to liberal democracy.
From Justsecurity.org, November 18th 2020
Donald Trump has never been known for his visionary foreign policy and yet his presidency will leave the world transformed. In an age of disinformation, the precise nature of the changes he has brought about in global affairs can be elusive, particularly when those changes have resulted from his administration’s clandestine negotiations with Russian officials and businessmen. While America has been focused on the ways in which the Kremlin interfered to support Trump in the 2016 election, too little attention has been paid to what Moscow intended to get out of a Trump presidency or indeed what they got.
From NYRDaily, May 13th 2020
America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has exposed a shocking lack of preparedness for public health emergencies. But it has also revealed what must be, for the aspiring strongman in the White House and his coterie, a more embarrassing fact: if America were to move in an authoritarian direction, it would be shedding international allies in order to enter into a competition with nationalistic authoritarian states that it probably can’t win.
From NYRDaily January 15 2020
US Attorney General William Barr’s defense of unchecked executive authority in his recent speech to the Federalist Society had an unpleasant familiarity for me. It took me back to a time in my life—during the late 1990s, as a graduate student in England, and the early 2000s, teaching political theory in the politics department at Princeton University—when I seemed to spend altogether too much time arguing over the ideas of a Nazi legal theorist notorious as the “crown jurist” of the Third Reich.
It has become evident over the last few years that the wealthiest individuals in Europe and America, who we’re used to thinking of as anti-state libertarians, have in fact abandoned free markets in favour of state-supported monopolies; they wish to be oligarchs
On the Russian model of what is known as “state capitalism,” businesses that are strategically essential to the state receive various forms of state protection, including the absorption of economic risk. The billionaire owners of those businesses move their enormous profits off-shore and very little financial benefit accrues to the Russian people, so deep inequalities are endemic.
From Byline Times, 27 November 2018
From NYRDaily, August 27th 2019
On July 24, 2019, a buoyant Boris Johnson swept past crowds shouting “Bollocks to Brexit! Bollocks to Boris!” and was ushered into the hushed splendor of Buckingham Palace. There, he shook hands with the antique, bejeweled Queen Elizabeth II, and became the prime minister of Great Britain, elected not by popular mandate but by members of his Conservative Party. That same day, on the other side of the Atlantic, a frail and reluctant Robert Mueller took his oath before giving public testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, and later the House Intelligence Committee, on a controversial and difficult twenty-two-month-long investigation—made more challenging by multiple witnesses’ lying under oath—in which he had painstakingly examined Russian interference in the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
From NYR Daily, 13th September 2018
“This summer, the fifth anniversary of Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance passed quietly, adrift on a tide of news that now daily sweeps the ground from under our feet. It has been a long five years, and not a period marked by increased understanding, transparency, or control of our personal data. In these years, we’ve learned much more about how Big Tech was not only sharing data with the NSA but collecting vast troves of information about us for its own purposes. And we’ve started to see the strategic ends to which Big Data can be put. In that sense, we’re only beginning to comprehend the full significance of Snowden’s disclosures.”
From nybooks.com, March 21st 2018
Apparently, the age of the old-fashioned spook is in decline. What is emerging instead is an obscure world of mysterious boutique companies specializing in data analysis and online influence that contract with government agencies. As they say about hedge funds, if the general public has heard their names that’s probably not a good sign. But there is now one data analysis company that anyone who pays attention to the US and UK press has heard of: Cambridge Analytica. Representatives have boasted that their list of past and current clients includes the British Ministry of Defense, the US Department of Defense, the US Department of State, the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and NATO. Nevertheless, they became recognized for just one influence campaign: the one that helped Donald Trump get elected president of the United States. The kind of help the company offered has since been the subject of much unwelcome legal and journalistic scrutiny.