Archive for August, 2013


this week’s idiocracy moment – aug. 21

august 21, 2013

Each week, I post an example that shows how we are approaching Mike Judge’s vision in his film Idiocracy. The movie shows how a society with wayward priorities, including corporatization of our government, commercial scientific research and hostility toward intellectualism, leads to an overall dumbing down of the population.

Here is this week’s moment:

In Idiocracy, water has been displaced as the life-giving liquid of choice by sports drinks, because they are filled with “electrolytes.” What are they? What do they do? Nobody knows. But as the main product of the eponymous corporation Brawndo, which bought out the Food and Drug Administration, everything from water fountains to irrigation systems (but not toilets) dispenses “Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator!” Why is this stupid? Because water is about water – it’s about hydration and nutrients that you can’t just replace by adding electrolytes to any liquid, especially a dehydrating beverage like beer. But that hasn’t stop scientists from wasting resources and brain power to try. Next up, non-polluting gasoline!

Australian scientists brew “hydrating beer.”


toward an idiocracy

Mike Judge’s movie Idiocracy came out in 2006 and largely flew under the radar, at least compared to the success of Office Space. I first saw Idiocracy in 2008, when I was living in Burundi. I could see Judge has an amazing ability to simplify without being simplistic. His movies offer landscapes that reward repeated views and explorations because his details are subtly incisive and biting; they are often the main source of commentary. Shiny polyester clothing that we pull out of dispensers? Fast food from vending machines? Rounded corners on all the buildings to protect us from ourselves? Wow, wow and wow. But the best part is the very direct premise loaded with implications. In short, the world is getting universally dumber because our breeding habits are exacerbating inequalities like social class, wealth and intelligence, and we as a society are focused on the wrong priorities. The most average person alive today would then become the smartest person in the world five hundred years ahead.

Even though Judge extrapolates far ahead to arrive at this dystopian future, his analysis begins now, and many of the signs, literally, are around us. The insidious creep of corporations sponsorship to show up on everything from stadia to subway stations to events to research projects, the unchecked privatization of basic services like education and healthcare, the obvious breakdown of effective representative government – these changes add up to Judge’s Idiocracy.

So in addition to blogging about media matters, development issues and my dog, I’d like to introduce a weekly post about how we are moving closer and closer to Mike Judge’s Idiocracy. Here is a current example.

In Idiocracy, the very average protagonist, played by Luke Wilson, stumbles into a movie theater, and this is playing.

Ass1 Ass2

Judge suggests movies are getting worse and worse, and who needs dialogue, plot or characters when you can have trashy and pointless images like a gratuitous (Oscar-winning!) bare ass? Occasionally it farts.

And we love it. We love it because it sucks and we as an audience have been dumbing down our tastes for decades. It’s so bad, it’s the best. Sound familiar?

Enter Sharknado and all that it represents.

A quick sweep online reveals numerous headlines with phrases like “so-bad-they’re-good” or “in praise of bad movies.” Some extol the virtues of occasionally consuming low-grade garbage because sometimes it’s so bad, it’s good. Like fast food?

Here’s an article in celebration of “Sharknado-bad” movies:

This Wired piece tries to dissect the phenomenon intellectually:

Clearly, entertaining “bad” movies have been around as long as cinema, but Judge’s point is a question of standards, and ours, he suggests, are very slowly but steadily eroding when it comes to movies, much like other, more important areas of our lives. Maybe things will start to change when we start demanding that change. Otherwise, it’s just more of the same – or worse.

*** As a bonus, I’ve also been mentally tracking over the years the prescience of the movie Demolition Man, a very very loose adaption of Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World. So far, it has predicted:

– Arnold Schwarzenegger will become president. –> He’s already governor.
– People will be teleconferenced into and attend meetings with their faces appearing on monitors. –> Skype
– Taco Bell will be the main food supplier in a post-apocalyptic society. –> Extrapolated out to fast food in general and this is not too far off.
– Cars will become self-driving. –> Google car
– Wesley Snipes might kill us all –> pending…

Here’s an old New York Times article hailing the modest genius of Demolition Man.


there needs to be an app for that

August 6, 2013

My article about mobile technologies assisting the fight against sexual violence in conflict zones ran in the Global Post a couple days ago. Here are a couple links that I wanted to attach to the article to give it more context.

First, about Syria, there have been two major features of the international community’s (lack of) action that I wanted to highlight: political gridlock and weak leadership. These factors exacerbate or even sustain the ongoing violence against civilians, largely committed by the ruling regime.

On the political gridlock:

On failed leadership:

The other two links elaborate on the “problematic” U.N. mission in the Congo with specific case examples. The second article cites a damning case of the U.N. not even aware of a mass atrocity 2 km from its base, highlighting a total disconnect from the community it purports to protect.

Peacekeepers gone wild in the DRC:

Report of mass rape near U.N. base:

I think it’s important to emphasize my article for the Global Post is not a technology-will-save-us-all piece. Rather, this seems a case where technology can and must come in to compensate for larger institutional failures. Ironically, technology could potentially provoke those institutions to act, as with documentation of rights abuses, but its nature as a citizen-driven informal method also guarantees it will encounter major obstacles before it can considered useful to those institutions, either as data or evidence. The fight against sexual violence, especially in conflict zones, can use all the tools and ingenuity it can find, but really, civilians shouldn’t have to resort to that, and agencies like U.N. bodies should consider bolder, even forceful approaches if it wants to really “fight” sexual violence. Smartphones have so many less productive applications that people should be enjoying.


a bay full of pigs?

August 4, 2013

I posted this article on my Facebook wall the other day about Guantanamo Bay prisoners reading “Fifty Shades of Grey.” It sounded incredulous to me, and I recalled remarks about straitjacket-tight security at Guantanamo Bay from a friend who had represented several prisoners there. In a word, he said, “Bullshit.” (See below for excerpts of the Protective Order governing procedure at the facility.)

Here’s what he said in his second comment: “They always blame the attorneys. We give our clients books. The military screens them. Things that are not approved get tossed. The mil is very clear about what’s not allowed. Erotica, books with racy pix on the cover, plainly not allowed. And we can’t simply hand this stuff to our clients – all of it gets submitted to a mil screener. So if copies of these books are in the GTMO library, they are there because the government put them there.”

The irony in the Reuters report is remarkable. We have a suggestion that men, who are often subjected to vise-like restraints, are reading trashy novels about women who are liberated through bondage. Supposedly, these men believe the Koran is the only sacred text – but they’re happy to add “Fifty Shades of Grey” to the list?

My astute friend Anna pointed out that it’s not just weird to suggest the prisoners are reading these books, it’s emasculating. Popular perception suggests middle-aged women are the main readers of the series. So this might be another tactic to break down these men through sexual humiliation. Or maybe we should add middle-aged women to the terror watch list for sharing sympathies with alleged terrorists (hence “The War on Women?”). Or maybe the prisoners find true redemption in realizing (mild erotic) torture can lead to some benefit after all.

Maybe the real story in all this is that there is no story at all, but through an act of reporting, Reuters managed to conjure one up and fool everyone – almost. In the comments section below the story, there is a strong hint from a reader named “BriannaReuters”. There is no suggestion this person works for Reuters, but he or she does seem to have some knowledge of the situation, and it appears the comments attributed to Representative Moran might have been based on a joke by the commander at Guantanamo – and Reuters just didn’t bother to check on that.


Which is to say, that is a mind-blowing revelation! Maybe Congress is partly mired in internecine warfare because the press gives a platform to any legislator willing to hurl incendiary remarks regardless of their factual basis. That in turn riles up all sides to dig a little deeper into their trenches and resist cooperation.

Maybe it’s time someone called “bullshit” on all of this. Surely, our satirists-in-chief will cut right to the ridiculousness of the Reuters’ article…but no! Even the Colbert Report did a segment on this story!


It’s a sad day. When purveyors of fake news report on actual fake news, the astonishing outcome is that the news might just become real.


*** UPDATE *** – August 5, 2013:

Some follow-up details from the Habeas attorney quoted above:

“First, I don’t have any independent knowledge of these specific books except to say that there are only two sources of library materials at GTMO that I am aware of: Habeas counsel and the US government. I bring books to my client all the time. I have to fill out a detailed form, submit the book to both my Habeas escort (a minder) and the DoD “privilege review team” for screening. I never see it again.  If the book is rejected, we presume it gets tossed. We are warned that books containing sexually explicit subject matter or covers are not allowed, as are books about politics, certain current events, violence, etc. I once submitted an Arabic translation of a classic academic book on the French Mandate for my Syrian client; it was rejected.

We are not allowed to leave anything with our clients when we see them. We are screened and wanded before going in to the camps. Guards search all of our papers, page by page. 

And we are aware that in the few instances where prisoners were found with contraband reading material, the likely source was their CIA or DoD interrogators, using the material as an incentive to talk.

I think they may be in the protective order. I will look when I get into the office.

Of course, the military makes a lot of it up as they go along….

One last thing:  I believe stories like this get reported to denigrate the men down there, make them look pathetic, vane, weak.  Not that they’re all bastions of high character, but there has for some time been this narrative to portray them as stone cold killers and simultaneously as immature kids.”

*** Excerpts from the GTMO Protective Order about visitation procedures:

(Full version here: 09-11-08 Protective Order)

“Upon receiving legal mail from counsel for delivery to the detainee, the privilege team shall open the envelope or mailer to search the contents for prohibited physical contraband. Within two business days of receipt of legal mail, and assuming no physical contraband is present, the privilege team shall forward the mail to military personnel at GTMO in a sealed envelope marked “Legal Mail Approved by Privilege Team” and clearly indicating the identity of the detainee to whom the legal mail is to be delivered. The privilege team shall return to the sender any incoming mail that does not comply with the terms of paragraphs 12.a and 12.b of these Procedures.

*          *          *

Contraband is not permitted in JTF-Guantanamo, and all visitors are subject to search upon arrival and departure. Examples of contraband include, but are not limited to, weapons, chemicals, drugs, and materials that may be used in an escape attempt. Contraband also includes, but is not limited to, money, stamps, cigarettes, and writing instruments. No items of any kind may be provided to a detainee without the advance approval of the Commander, JTF-Guantanamo.

*          *          *

Upon arrival at JTF-Guantanamo, security personnel will perform a contraband inspection of counsel using metal detectors, as well as a physical inspection of counsel’s bags and briefcases and, if determined necessary, a physical inspection of counsel’s persons.

*          *          *

Counsel will meet with detainees in conference facilities provided by GTMO. These facilities are subject to visual monitoring by  closed circuit TV for safety and security reasons. The only other method of visual observation available is for the door to remain open with military police sitting outside the door. No oral communications between counsel and the detainees will be heard.”

Click below to receive an email notification when I post a new entry.

Join 36 other followers

August 2013
« Jul   Sep »