Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Gunshot Detection Systems in Schools: Recipe for Disasters

Gunshot Detection System in Schools: Recipe for Disasters
Peter Schultz

OK. Let’s think about this development for a little while, viz., that Brockton High School in Boston got a gunshot detection system as a gift from one of its alums who sells these systems on the east coast.

The system has an alarm and detects where the shots were fired, that is, which room in the school, and within seconds alerts school officials and each and every police person in Brockton. The police are to respond as if there was “an active shooter” on the loose, not someone who is suicidal or someone who has taken hostages. The detectors are battery operated. Sounds like it is as good as it gets, especially because as the salesman said, “It takes human beings out of the situation.” So what could go wrong?

First, it is really useful to have all the police in Brockton notified, and being expected to respond? Sounds like a possible SNAFU situation to me: Situation Normal All Fucked Up. I don’t’ know how many police there are in Brockton but the possibilities for screw ups increase as the number of officers involved increase. Where would all these officers meet? Who would take charge of them and direct them effectively? How would the SWAT officers interact with the other officers?

Second, the detectors pinpoint where the shooter is, allegedly. Actually, they only pinpoint where the shot or shots were fired, not where the shooter is because shooters are capable of moving, shooting and then moving. That is, this technology creates a picture, as it were, but there is no guarantee that that picture is accurate because like all technologically generated pictures, these are only virtual pictures. Mistaking virtual pictures for real pictures could lead to some pretty terrible outcomes, like mistaking innocent students for the shooter or shooters.

That the picture is merely virtual and not real is confirmed by the fact that the police are to assume that the shooter is “active;” that is, is not suicidal and not holding hostages. But what if the shooter is suicidal or holding hostages? If that’s the case then the police will be responding to a situation that doesn’t in fact exist; they would be responding to something like a mirage, something not real. If the shooter had hostages and the police didn’t know that, the danger to the hostages would increase. And if the shooter were suicidal, not homicidal, treating her or him as homicidal could guarantee that the shooter’s “suicide” would be successful, that is, suicide by cop. In other words, these situations are far more complicated than can be conveyed by such technological tools as gunshot detection systems.

And this is what happens when humans are replaced by technology. Technological tools don’t have what humans have, namely, imagination. Without imagination, these tools are essentially blind to the situations they are allegedly assessing. Without imagination, it is extremely difficult to assess situations realistically, although because we are so enamored of technology these days we have forgotten that imagination is absolutely essential for being realistic, for being in touch with what I like to call “real reality.”

The very last thing that should be done in dealing with situations like these is to remove human beings from dealing with them, or subordinating the judgment of human beings to machines. In every situation where either of these things is done, from drone warfare to facial recognition systems, the results are eventually but always inhuman. After all, why would you expect anything else when you take the human element out of the real world? With humans taken out of our situation, only the inhuman remains. Why is this so difficult to understand?

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Being Civil

Being Civil
Peter Schultz

            Joe Biden has been defending himself against charges of racism, occasioned by his work with such segregationists as Senator Eastland of Mississippi and Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina in years past, by arguing that he was being “civil” and, thereby, was able to agree with these senators and get some things done in D.C.

            And that makes this a good time to think about the idea that being civil is the best way to do politics. Biden – and others too – tend to think that being civil is what we should all aspire to in our politics, but this is far from clear, for at least the following reasons.

            First, civility privileges the reigning political arrangement. That is, the powers that be, whether they be segregationist or capitalist, are put in a privileged position when people are being civil or thinking that civility is the only way to be properly political. Biden, by being civil in working with segregationists, could not challenge the prevailing racist political and social order in existence at that time. All he could accomplish at most would be to modify the prevailing racist order without undermining it or overturning it. Thereby, his actions would implicitly fortify the legitimacy of the prevailing racist system. And just as surely his actions would lead to civil unrest, incivility on the part of those who thought, as any thinking person would, that a racist political and social order is fundamentally flawed and should be overturned.

Second, as the above implies, being civil is not being just. When a person is being civil, justice becomes a subordinate, a decidedly secondary concern. “Why can’t we all just get along,” although a seemingly heartfelt and common sense appeal, ignores that we can’t all just get along because some are being treated unjustly, even inhumanely, in a segregated or racist society. Behaving civilly is not behaving justly and civility alone does not lead to justice or a just society. In the face of racism, the kind of racism that existed when Senator Eastland and Senator Thurmond were alive almost demands that people concerned with justice behave uncivilly; that is, demands sit-ins, marches, and organizations dedicated to black power. To tell those acting in these ways to behave civilly is to tell them to accept the injustices they are being subjected to, to tell them that the racist political and social order that exists is legitimate.

By reminding us that he acted civilly, Biden is then reminding us that he was, at least then, quite content to accept and legitimate a racist political and social order. In my neighborhood, that makes Biden a racist.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Is Trump the Democrats' Target?

Is Trump the Democrats’ Target?
P. Schultz

            Frank Bruni has written an article in the NY Times entitled “Donald Trump Will Pick the Democratic Nominee” in which he argues that the Democrats are so focused on defeating Trump that even if Trump loses his “DNA will linger.” And he argues that “Trump gets credit for the Democratic primary’s defining aspect, which is the sheer number of candidates — 23.” This has little to do with the clashes within the Democratic Party and everything to do with “his underwhelming approval rating [so] that if ever a sitting president looked vulnerable and if any year appeared ripe for a Democratic takeover, that president is Trump and that year is 2020.”

            Seems to make a lot of sense except for the fact that the Democratic Party is in the midst of an uprising by “insurgents” like Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, and even Mike Gravel. And as Bruni unintentionally points out, so much of what is happening may be seen as the result of the mainstream Democrats like Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden trying to hold on to their control of the party. To wit:

“… the congested field is suffocating qualified aspirants who would otherwise find oxygen. It’s putting an extra premium on viral moments and supersize conceits. It’s privileging celebrity. All of that will factor into who prevails, and all of that is because of Trump.”  

            Moreover, Joe Biden, apparently the leading Democrat for the nomination, is talking like all he wants to do is restore “the good old days” in the party: “the essence of Biden’s strategy and message . . . boil[s] down to this: Electing me would mean that the past four years were a bad dream, like that kooky season of the 1970s television series “Dallas.” It would restore Obama (in absentia), resume the arc and renounce this dance with the devil, who could no more drain the swamp than tell the truth. Nostalgia is the new revolution.”

            So, it may be said, as Bruni says, that the Democrats’ behavior is suffocating “qualified aspirants,” read “insurgents,” and their leading contestant for the nomination wants a restoration. A restoration based on what? Nostalgia. And it is worthwhile to ask: Is this behavior aimed at Trump, who of course presents no threat to the rule of Pelosi, Schumer, et. al., or is it aimed at those like Bernie, et. al., who would, if successful, take control of the Democratic Party? For me, it is the latter that makes the most sense.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

American Politicians: The Good? The Bad? The Ugly?

American Politicians; The Good? The Bad? The Ugly? 

Do most Americans have any conception how despicable, how ugly their politicians are and have been? In what is called “the Age of Trump” reminders are needed.

Here’s what happened after Ted Kennedy drive off a bridge near Martha’s Vineyard and let a young woman, Mary Jo Kopechne drown: “The Kennedy political operation went into high gear, spiriting the party attendees off the island before reporters could find them, and forming a hedge around Kennedy himself. He secluded himself at the family compound in Hyannis Port while an army of advisers and lawyers spent days plotting how to respond.” [Camelot’s End, p. 69]

Then Kennedy addressed the nation and made himself out to be the victim: “I was overcome, I’m frank to say, by a jumble of emotions: grief, fear, doubt, exhaustion, panic, confusion, and shock.” Poor guy! “All kinds of scrambled thoughts - all of them confused, some of them irrational, many of them which I cannot recall, and some of which I would not have seriously entertained under normal circumstances - went through my mind during this period.”

Thoughts, many thoughts, he can’t recall but knows he had! All his thoughts “confused”! Some “irrational!” Poor guy! So victimized by letting a young woman drown! Has Trump ever surpassed this sniveling, whining, self-pitying statement by Ted Kennedy? He probably has. But let no one say Trump, although thoroughly despicable, was our first major politician to be so.

Americans, like other human beings, can turn away from how ugly their society has become. So it is good to remind them of this ugliness, to remind them there is nothing, absolutely nothing extraordinary or exceptional about them or their society.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Trump and Russia: Why Doesn't Trump Get Real?

Trump and Russia: Why Doesn’t Trump Get Real?
Peter Schultz

            President Trump is more than willing to call Russiagate a hoax, composed of essentially baseless accusations that are being used to undermine his administration. Nothing surprising here. But it is surprising that Trump has not said what would make his claims even stronger, viz., that Russiagate is just a continuation of a neo-conservative project to render Russia a relatively powerless nation that could have little impact in the world and especially in the Middle East.

            As Max Blumenthal has argued in his latest book, The Management of Savagery, charging that Russia was “a foreign evil that supposedly controlled the White House,” the Democratic Party was turned “into a paranoid war party,” thereby serving to facilitate “a quiet neo-conservative campaign set in motion over a decade before” whose goal was “to encircle the largest and most militarily powerful nation in Eurasia and gradually transform it into a toothless, economically dependent vassal of the United States.” [276-77-] This project began with “the wholesale looting of [Russia’s] state assets by ‘the Harvard boys,’ who were imposing “shock therapy” under the watchful eyes of Lawrence Summers. Boris Yeltsen was the “American-installed president” and Russia’s poverty rate rose from 2% to 40%, which eclipsed that of the Great Depression in the US. The looting was hailed in D.C. as “free-market reform” and “liberalization,” but was stopped once Vladimir Putin took over from Yeltsen.

            This led to increased pressure in D.C. “for a confrontation with Putin’s Russia” and “while Americans were transfixed by Bush’s ‘war on terror’ drama, a bipartisan coalition was quietly coalescing to confront the resurgent Russia menace.” [279] With the approval of vice president Cheney, Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, “sent troops into the semi-sovereign Russian territory of South Ossetia, claiming it as his own.” [279] The invaders were clobbered by the Russian counterattack. But this led to a bipartisan congressional denunciation of Putin for having the gall to resist what was essentially a NATO aggression. And to make matters worse from D.C.’s viewpoint, Putin was only too willing to call out the U.S. and its proxy war for regime change in Libya where, according to Putin, “under the pretext of protecting civilians. . . it’s the civilian population who dies during airstrikes against (Libyan) territory.” [280] And more generally, Putin charged the U.S. with being the cause of “global destabilization” and with creating “new human tragedies and new centers of tension.” [278-9]

            The neo-cons continued their project, arousing war fevers when Putin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where the population had voted to join the Russian Federation. Fighting broke out and the Pentagon supplied the Ukrainian military quietly but the neo-cons knew, as William Kristol pointed out, that “All that’s needed is the rallying. And the turn around [among the people] can be fast.” As Blumenthal says: “That moment would arrive amid the 2016 general election, when allegations of Russian hacking dominated headlines and triggered Democratic Party outrage.” [283] The rest is history, as we know and, of course, as it continues.

            But why doesn’t Trump put this hoax in its political context? It is puzzling insofar as it would allow Trump to strengthen his case that Russiagate is a hoax or is part of a political project that should be considered, at the very least, controversial. But perhaps it is the controversial aspects of the neo-cons “Russia project” that Trump does not want to bring up insofar as that would necessitate making American imperialism controversial. Better to go on acting like an insecure, somewhat addled old white male than to take on and rattle our Orwellian oligarchy.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Memorial Day 2019: The Republic Is Dead

Memorial Day 2019: The Republic Is Dead
Peter Schultz

            The United States republic is dead, its need for secrecy being the cause of death. This need began in the midst of the assassinations of JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, and RFK, along with the massive COINTELPRO program run by the FBI, which also centered around the assassinations of the Black Panthers, et. al., and the American Indian Movement. Also to be included is the American war in Vietnam, begun covertly, expanded surreptitiously, and included a massive assassinations program, the Phoenix program, that killed thousands of Vietnamese civilians. Of course the invasion of Iraq in 2003 required secrecy as well as there was no real cause of war. And it too included assassinations as one of its most important tools during the surge and otherwise. The assassinations and secrecy continued ala’ Obama’s drone “wars.”

            Accompanying this deadly secrecy, the American people are encouraged – and expected – to “rally round the flag” by honoring our “heroes” who do the killing, thanking them for their “service.” This is what passes for patriotism today, and is pretty much indistinguishable from blindness to the fact that the republic is dead. Along with some “subversive” Americans and many foreigners, the republic has been assassinated. All it needs is a proper burial. Memorial Day would be a good day to start the republic’s funeral by remembering that those who have died for the republic have, contra Lincoln, indeed died in vain.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Today America Has Become the Nightmare

Today America Has Become the Nightmare
Peter Schultz

            In reading L. Fletcher Prouty’s book, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, I read this quote from Arnold Toynbee, written in the NY Times in 1971, but still and maybe more relevant today.

“To most Europeans…America now looks like the most dangerous country in the world. Since America is unquestionably the most powerful country, the transformation of America’s image within the last thirty years is very frightening for Europeans. It is probably still more frightening for the great majority of the human race who are neither European nor North Americans, but are Latin Americans, Asians, and Africans. They, I imagine, feel even more insecure than we feel. They feel that, at any moment, America may intervene in their internal affairs, with the same appalling consequences as have followed from the American intervention in Southeast Asia.
            “For the world as a whole, the CIA has now become the bogey that communism has been for America. Wherever there is trouble, violence, suffering, tragedy, the rest of us are now quick to suspect the CIA had a hand in it. Our phobia about the CIA is, no doubt, as fantastically excessive as America’s phobia about world communism; but in this case, too, there is just enough convincing guidance to make the phobia genuine. In fact, the roles of America and Russia have been reversed in the world’s eyes. Today America has become the nightmare.” [pp. 230-31]

            Suffice it to say about Prouty’s book that it is concerned with arguing that John F. Kennedy was aware of these dangers and sought to corral the CIA and the US policies of waging limited war throughout the world. And as a result, Prouty argues, Kennedy was assassinated. Seems rather extreme to me but then so does how the US behaves today throughout the world.