The Daily DeX: News Notes And Quotes 05/015/2019

The Daily DeX curates the most compelling news, opinion, narratives, data, polls, arguments, and dot-connecting. It’s ammunition for weaponizing our sense-making networks. Load up.

Today on The Daily DeX: Surveillance China is a blueprint, optimism of the third kind, weaponized empathy, fake news in the desert of the real, and Ginsu’s revenge.

+“How China Turned a City Into a Prison” | The New York Times

“We visited Kashgar several times to see what life is like. We couldn’t interview residents — that would have been too risky for them, because we were constantly followed by the police. But the restrictions were everywhere. … Every 100 yards or so, the police stand at checkpoints with guns, shields and clubs. Many are Uighurs. The surveillance couldn’t work without them. … Muslim minorities line up, stone-faced, to swipe their official identity cards. At big checkpoints, they lift their chins while a machine takes their photos, and wait to be notified if they can go on. … The police sometimes take Uighurs’ phones and check to make sure they have installed compulsory software that monitors calls and messages. … For Uighurs, the surveillance is even more pervasive. Neighborhood monitors are assigned to watch over groups of families, as in this photo. An army of millions of police and official monitors can question Uighurs and search their homes. They grade residents for reliability. A low grade brings more visits, maybe detention. … Surveillance cameras are everywhere. In streets, doorways, shops, mosques. Look at this stretch of street. We counted 20 cameras. … Chinese companies are earning a fortune selling this surveillance technology. They make it sound like a sci-fi miracle allowing the police to track people with laser precision.”

→The impact of surveillance technologies on culture, politics, and even our values has been my jam for a long time. Of particular interest are the accelerating transitions from science-fictiony possibilities that horrify us to everyday realities that tame us. For instituting such breathless control, China provides the blueprint for what it’s leaders cynically call “managed democracy.” As I’ve written before, whatever Orwellian tactic emerges in China does not stay in China. It propagates to other totalitarian regimes across the globe. We’ll even see a slow totalitarian creep in “open” societies like Great Britain (which doesn’t have strong free speech and personal privacy protections) before we see it here. Thanks to a virtually unregulated tech sector, the American version will be brought to us by major corporations that fatten 401Ks, and small, shrouded research firms that spin themselves as techno-utopians. The difference between China’s brute force authoritarian control and its American cousin is that the latter will be more subtle and opaque—a soft (or “inverted”) totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin called it—that produces capital as well as control by harvesting then leveraging even more of our data than it does now.  

+“The Blind Optimism of ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind'” | Film School Rejects

“In the film, Roy’s obsession with the invaders ultimately costs him his marriage and family. After making contact with the outsiders, he essentially regresses and becomes a child again, much to the detriment of those closest to him. The film ends with him embarking on a grand adventure into space to find commonality with humanity’s alien counterparts. His destiny is bigger than his family. At the same time, his arc can also be interpreted as a man having a breakdown and becoming an absentee father. For all the film’s positive utopian themes, the characters’ willingness to recklessly abandon his responsibilities is quite chilling.”

→Framing sci-fi movies (particularly those about alien encounters) within narratives of personal responsibility is as myopically “human” as one can get. To me, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind is about people who realize “the alien” within themselves and only hurt others by not fulfilling their destiny. Roy is more alienated than any other character in the movie. He’d actually be a worse father if he’d stayed on this rock. 

+“The Militarization of Empathy” | Counterpunch

“These examples are the tip of mainstream media’s militarizing of empathy. Military families, separated by America’s so-called “global war on terrorism,” are suddenly reunited – briefly — in surprise homecomings. These emotionally charged reunions lead viewers to tearfully identify strongly with the families — and by extension with our government’s global warring. Or, viewers’ joyful identification with reuniting military families serves to lead them not to think about America’s endless warring. The result is the reinforcement of patriotic allegiance and amnesia. Here empathy is militarized in the service of America’s pursuit of world domination.

The surprise military homecomings stir viewers’ hearts, deflecting their attention from contrary realities created by the U.S. military. The soldier-father who surprises his second-grade daughter at a school assembly, and brings cheers and tears to everyone’s eyes, distances attention from the horrors created by former president George W., Bush’s falsely-based, bipartisan-supported, criminal invasion of Iraq.”

+“Fake News Is Getting a Big Boost From Real Companies” | Mother Jones

“The conclusions reached by GDI suggest that major brands’ advertisements are unwittingly fueling the disinformation ecosystem. While many groups and individuals spread inaccurate stories online to influence, manipulate, or troll the public in service of a political goal, others are simply in it for the money. Companies, often without realizing, will purchase ads that end up placed on sites that get high volume by pumping out low-quality and misleading news, inadvertently funding them and incentivizing the spread of misinformation for profit-seeking click bait groups.

The hyper-polemic stories that both categories of sites push out, GDI found, often garner much higher rates of traffic than less sensational, reported news stories because they are “generally unconstrained by truth or reality” and “their focus on negative emotions” can drive rage clicks.

“Low-quality online outlets are siphoning ad money away from quality ones and the audiences they attract,” GDI wrote in its study. “The result is that there has been—and will continue to be—a sharp drop in revenue to quality news publishers. Not only has the increase in disinformation overwhelmed the spread of high-quality information, it has also made quality journalism less financially viable.”

Despite their findings and analysis, the full scope of the problem isn’t yet clear. In their report, GDI noted that currently, “there are no reliable estimates of the size of the disinformation market in terms of the ad dollars and merchandise that support it,” though the organization says it plans to attempt an approximation.”

+“Secret U.S. Missile Aims to Kill Only Terrorists, Not Nearby Civilians” | The Wall Street Journal

“The U.S. government has developed a specially designed, secret missile for pinpoint airstrikes that kill terrorist leaders with no explosion, drastically reducing damage and minimizing the chances of civilian casualties, multiple current and former U.S. officials said.

Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have used the weapon while closely guarding its existence. A modified version of the well-known Hellfire missile, the weapon carries an inert warhead. Instead of exploding, it is designed to plunge more than 100 pounds of metal through the tops of cars and buildings to kill its target without harming individuals and property close by.

To the targeted person, it is as if a speeding anvil fell from the sky, the officials said. But this variant of the Hellfire missile, designated as the R9X, also comes equipped with a different kind of payload: a halo of six long blades that are stowed inside and then deploy through the skin of the missile seconds before impact to ensure that it shreds anything in its tracks.

Details about the secret weapon and its deployment were confirmed by more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials. Its development and use haven’t been previously disclosed, though its existence has been the subject of speculation.

The R9X is known colloquially to the small community of individuals who are familiar with its use as “the flying Ginsu,” for the blades that can cut through buildings or car roofs and kill the target. The nickname is a reference to the popular knives sold on TV infomercials in the late 1970s and early 1980s that showed them cutting through both tree branches and tomatoes. The weapon has also been referred to as the Ninja bomb.”

→Less lethal violence tends to lead to more violence.


Where are your hammers for these nails?

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