My review of "The Birthday Party," Harold Pinter's 1957 play about enigmatic and dangerous visitors to a sleepy seaside boarding house , somewhere in England. Carey Perloff's last directorial appearance with ACT, at least as artistic director.
On the burgeoning New York skyline in 1910, Ezra Pound wrote "Here is our poetry, for we have pulled the stars down to our will." Echoes of both Futurism, and the coming of Fascism, can be heard here, but that's not the point here. Buildings are, however. Skyscrapers represented the new dynamism of New York as the new Rome. Something similar could be said about the San Francisco skyline now, with mighty tech competing with Wall Street for international recognition as the "real" center of power in the US, and worldwide. On the NY skyline Henry James wrote: "Skyscrapers are the last word of economic ingenuity only till another word is written. The consciousness of the finite, the menaced, the essentially invented state twinkles in the thousand glassy eyes of the giants of the mere market." Giants of the mere market that have now overtaken SF. But for now the market is more than mere as the stock markets climb ever upwards. It would seem that Pound has triumphed, and that James' fears are fangless. The Salesforce Tower is an example - the gleaming phallic master of the downtown, a symbol of the magic marriage of big data, consumerism and sales. No longer the death of a salesman, rather his rebirth with glasses, pipedrain trousers, coding, posing as a nerd.
Russia-gate, the Paradise Papers, Google, Twitter and Facebook lawyers appearing before Congress, Experian’s and now Uber’s security breaches; is not exactly news that not only are our lives not our own, but that our virtual selves are more “real” than we are, and more easily compromised. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that what we regard as the real individual is now a corollary, an adjunct to the virtual you. And who shapes this virtual you? All players on the internet, from the big companies to snarky, insidious and often quite damaging trolls. But the main point is that the virtual now dominates the material you (I hesitate to use the word “real,” as it in itself is fraught with multiple meanings). But what do we know about these big tech companies that seem, now, to run everything? Who controls them, or are they, as these companies like Facebook and Google would like you to believe, a collective of like-minded hackers, with no ideology except creating a new economy and world based on sharing and disruption? Who are they? Can they be compromised? Looks like it, judging from the recent events mentioned above. That we the public bought the idea that big tech was in perfect command of their domain is perhaps more galling, but most of us suspected all along that they were entirely fallible.
They are potentially more compromising (and compromise-able) than we are, despite the apparent fact that those who run the virtual economy are not entirely in control of their domain. Yet at the same time, virtual and “real” businesses, corporations and individuals conceal earnings and wealth offshore to evade taxation, set up phony online personas in order to execute political agendas on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (for Russia as well as other countries), identity theft is rampant as we, or I should say each of us, becomes just a collection of data points, gathered solely for marketing or surveillance reasons, or simply the dangerously vanilla-sounding “data collecting.”
My own thoughts and observations merely second more in-depth analysis offered by Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times on “the Frightful Five,” Sean Parker, Tristan Harris and others, who are all deeply concerned about the imperious power Google (now Alphabet), Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and Apple now wield, often largely unregulated, remaking business, social systems and economies in a way perhaps not seen since the heyday of the corporate barons of the late 19th-century, often disregarding workers’ rights while heralding their own progressivism, making huge profits while often hiding billions offshore (re: Apple and Ireland). And god forbid you are a woman or over 35, for you will not find much interest in Silicon Valley, no matter your qualifications.
The image up to this point for the Fearsome Five and their legion of acolytes, would-be’s and pretenders, is of a new age of fearless creativity, made possible by collaboration, open-sources and sharing, all over seen, oddly enough, by a coterie of autocratic white men. This is the apogee of the Age of Apollo, where those who bought the ruse that big tech was comprised of free-spirited hackers who wanted to subvert and disrupt in order to create a free and open society based on sharing and equality, of a world without borders of governments. So what do you get when the “subverters” become the chiefs of industry, when they created business models centered upon evading regulation whenever possible, when they have harvested data on their users, when they park profits in offshore banks, when they have espoused an agenda of equality and sharing, but amass billions for themselves while often paying workers mediocre salaries and working them so hard that most only last two or three years? It’s the emperor’s new clothes: that content you are endlessly funneled toward by Facebook, Google, Amazon Twitter et all, may ultimately be the seed of your discontent.
I receive every day, as most of us do, more email messages from those looking for contributions for political campaigns or organizations than I care for. Give once and you're on the list. In my case, a left-leaning group, whose identity I won't reveal, as anonymity would be more flattering. In listing the crimes of the Trump administration, the writer asked "how many more shoes will drop?" Good question. Traditionally the options are limited. So the answer to the rhetorical question, in this case, would be just one. Which would be fitting, as I believe the original metaphor is "waiting for the other shoe to drop," Meaning that one, telling, damning incident has happened, and it is apparent that a subsequent, equally if not more incriminating event is more than likely to transpire. But through everyday use, as happens in language, but it would seem particularly through the internet, words and metaphors, catchphrases and jargon proliferate spread, more rapidly than ever. Hardly a novel observation, but when it comes to how many shoes we allegedly now have, perhaps we should remember that shoes fall from feet, and I don't know about you, but I still have just two.
Two different radio talks caught my attention recently, and both, in their ways, to my way of thinking, summarize the somewhat retrograde times we live in. Or perhaps they reflect a natural cycling through of thought, one indicative of the multi-tasking immediate gratification culture common to our IT dominated times, and another which displays perhaps the desperation of academics to find new material, or new spins on old material.
A TED talk late one night a few weeks ago while driving across the Dumbarton Bridge, the moon burning orange through Wine Country smoke, caught my attention and irked me more than a little. The speaker – male, and I never quite caught his name – asserted that collective research, I guess like agile development, fast, shared, done in weeks or months rather than years, had demonstrated that individual, years-long research had been relegated to the dustbin of history. I have tried to track him down on the TED website, to verify what I heard, but have failed. He was adamant, assured that collective intelligence had outstripped the ability of the individual. I refer to it as “agile thinking,” cribbed from the idea of agile development in IT, which stresses collectivity, chunking projects into small segments, adaptability, and above all else, speed. No multi-year projects here: think weeks or days, not months. And no DIY: that is hopelessly retro, the sign of an out of touch mind. Google, which by its own admission has all knowledge in its domain, is the new research platform – fun, collaborative, pompous, and more than a little impressed with its own importance
Then, probably a little over a week later, I listened to Neal Conan, in a Sunday night rebroadcast of “Talk of the Nation.” He hosted Yale Professors Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro, discussing their new book The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (Simon & Schuster), in which the co-authors posited the early Enlightenment Dutch political theorist Hugo Grotius as guiding light of liberal politics, stemming from his thoughts on natural law, and international law. The authors contend that it was Grotius, not later Enlightenment or 18th-century thinkers, who laid the ground for outlawing war, and recognizing states’ right for existence, and self-determination. No mention made of Rousseau’s denigration of Grotius as little more than an apologist for monarchy, and a then-recent champion of the concept of might-is-right. Conan offered no challenge to this neo-con revisionist spin on the Enlightenment. Perhaps he didn’t know much about Rousseau or the Enlightenment. But the idea that a states’ might validates its right to rule would mean that most of the 20th- and 21st-century independence movements of colonial countries were invalid, and that imperialist Europe of the late 19th and early 20th centuries formed the most natural state of government. Or that Tibet and Catalunya, for example, have no right to independence. Or that Thoreau’s arguments against the Mexican American War, or against the imperious power of the majority, should be ignored, as they run counter to a states right to power.
Just some random thoughts I wanted to finish jotting down ….
Reading various media reactions and opinions on the passing of Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner, reactions vary between lauding the man as a pioneer of liberating sexuality in America, to condemning him as the paradigmatic sexist pig. I would judge him as more of the latter, because he succeeded in mediatizing an image of himself as the former, while monetizing a rigidly male-heterosexual sexuality into a minor empire.
Did his magazine offer substance along with the primarily white, very middle-class vision of male heterosexuality? Just enough to validate the magazine. Did this intellectual substance bleed over into other Hefner enterprises? Aside from charities, no. Did Hefner himself generate any of this intellectual material? No, like any media mogul, he just knew how to use other people, and their ideas, to his advantage.
And what about his, and Playboy’s role, in liberating American sexuality? Playboy, seen in other countries like France, was still a fairly prudish and conventional magazine. If Hefner hadn’t done it, someone else would have – he just beat everyone else to the punch. When the real sexual liberation movement of the 60s came around, Playboy quickly looked like a straight-laced relic, a phallocentric empire serving to publicize a very limited view on human sexuality. And Playboy, and Hef pretty much stayed frozen in that limited public space since then, with Hef becoming a parody of himself. And that’s how we should remember him and Playboy. Much like any media mogul, he found a niche and exploited it for as long as he could, and stayed with it far past any point of relevance, and surrounded himself with young, beautiful women, some of who had successful lives thanks to the leg up he had provided them (pun intended), and some who died. Like Dorothy Stratton. Other, more adventurous explorations of human sexuality, in media, happened throughout the 20th century, and before. Hef was just the first who figured out how to make a media empire out of sex, a Marquis de Sade minus the BDSM and any philosophical trappings, and a Marquis made for timid, puritan, WASPish 1950s American middle-class sexuality.
The Washington Post - thank god for the WaPo and the Times - ran an article this morning on the Mnuchins, Steve and his wife Louise Linton. For those not following the continued foibles and attempted larceny by various Trump administration stooges, Steve-o is the Secretary of the Treasury, worth 300 million thanks to his hedge fund and Hollywood producer background. His wife, Louise, a trophy-blonde and roughly 30 years his junior, makes Marie Antoinette look nuanced with her tone-deaf, ultra-elitist faux pas. She mocked the less fortunate than her (which would be around 99.9% of the population) on social media, topping it off by commenting sarcastically on criticism of her using government funds for personal use, "Adorable! Do you think the U.S. govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.” Turns out she wasn't joking - according to the Post, the couple did request use of a private US government jet for a honeymoon trip to Scotland, France and Italy at $25,000 an hour.
That's entitlement for you, and the Trump regime to a T. The Mooch, Mnuchin, gold plated toilets, weekend golf, grab-'em by the you-know-what: has there ever been a more reprehensible collection of con-men, grifters, sycophants and capitalist pigs in charge of a country? This collection of thieves makes the court of Louis XIV look like a worker's collective (I know Marie Antoinette was Louis XVI's wife, but by that time the Bourbon court was actually more sympathetic to the commoner that was the Sun King and his entourage). Here's her original Instagram post flouting her lifestyle of the rich and famous, payed for by the citizens of the US:
Turns out we've been paying for all of this, while her husband hides millions in off-shore accounts and is in charge of the administration's efforts to re-write the tax code. You better believe that all corporate America, and the uber-wealthy, will get off like thieves under his plans. No way - we need to make sure that the wealthy pay more than they have been, with fewer loopholes and keeping the estate tax in place.
The photo below shows hurricanes Irma, Jose and Katia all fully formed in the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Hurricane experts say that they have never seen three such large and powerful hurricanes all at the same time. The sheer forces of nature and energy needed to form three such large and powerful weather systems at the same time, all in one area of the world's seas, points to larger fores at work, as many experts have noted, and warned of.Climate change is making hurricanes more powerful for longer periods of time. They need the energy from the warm, humid air above tropical oceans to keep up their strength. A hurricane begins as a tropical storm, when winds coming from different directions converge. Warm air rises around the storm’s center and cools, and the moisture condenses to form clouds and rain. Condensation releases latent heat, which powers hurricanes. If the layer of warm water isn’t at least 200 feet deep, a tropical storm could die before gaining hurricane strength.
The potential for destruction is also greater because warmer temperatures mean the air can hold more moisture, so hurricanes produce more rain, causing more floods. Rising sea levels also lead to greater and greater surges after a storm.
Now it looks like Tampa, a city that many have warned is a hurricane disaster waiting to happen, will bear the main brunt of Irma, after she slams first into the Keys, which will be completely submerged. God speed Florida.