Modern Conquistadors

In the first pages of Matthew Restall’s history, “When Montezuma Met Cortes,” the author reports how Spanish invaders reacted when they first saw Tenochititlan (Mexico City) on a fateful day in 1519.

According to Restall, the “conquistadors” were astonished by the beauty and grandeur of Tenochtitlan—so amazed that many thought they were dreaming. Diego de Ordaz, the first person from the Old World to actually see this “other new world” described “great settlements and towers and a sea, and in the middle of it, a city very grandly built.” Ordaz was so amazed by what he’d seen that it appeared to have caused him “fear and astonishment.”

Cortez was different story. Though also blown away by the marvels he saw, “Cortez imagined how perfect such a city could be, were it saved just for Spaniards. It’s location on an island in a lake was noteworthy not just for making the place ‘very beautiful’…but because it could allow the conquistadors to create a segregated urban environment—with Spaniards living ‘separate from the natives, because a stretch of water comes between us.'”

Even before the invasion of the New World by the European Powers, the belief that gold and brute force gives those who control both the right to do whatever they want, with no regard for anyone but themselves — that notion was well established among the ruling classes. In fact the “right” to “buy” or seize whatever one has the MEANS to take, including land, labor power and resources — that doctrine, the so-called “right” to private property, REMAINS the fundamental basis of nearly every constitution, court, political and economic system in the world, including ours.

Temple Street

They gather

as the sun sets

The moon rises

and it beckons them

But they pay it no mind

knowing nothing of the sky

the stars nor the sun

Seasons come and go

but their earth is sealed

by concrete

For them

the nights are hot or cold

The sea rises

sultry gusts rush

and their bodies ache

They rub against one another

a ritual without shaman

and struggle to free themselves

from skin they have outgrown

Males strut and posture

chests heaving

eyes glaring

They butt heads

The competition is fierce

Dominance is temporarily asserted

territory established

marked by urine and blood

Males and females pair

They breathe in the sky

Hearts pound

carnal madness in their eyes

The moonlight is hot and wet

Before sunrise

skulls will crack

teeth will shatter

hair will burn

As the ritual concludes

a million stars race across the sky

like sperm in a womb

Their earth will move

dust and gas and molten rock

And for a moment

just a breath

they will feel alive

copyright

Digital Bedbugs

Scientists have recently mapped the complete genome of Cimex lectularius at the exact same moment that corporations have created digital bed bugs, tiny devices able to do far more than just suck your blood: They can spy on you.

But that’s not the only thing in your home that may have eyes, ears and more: Even your door lock may provide the key for big corporations to access your personal privacy, according to a new study entitled, Don’t Panic: Making Progress on the ‘Going Dark’ Debate.

The report by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, reveals just some of the technology already doing undercover work for tech companies.

“Appliances and products ranging from televisions and toasters to bed sheets, light bulbs, cameras, toothbrushes, door locks, cars, watches and other wearables are being packed with sensors and wireless connectivity,” the study reveals.

All these devices can be “connected to each other via the Internet, transmitting telemetry data to their respective vendors in the cloud for processing.”

It turns out that every cloud does have a silver lining — for big business and spy agencies, at least.

The list of corporations developing merchandise capable of snooping on their customers is a virtual who’s who of the world of high tech.

“Phillips, GE, Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Tesla, Samsung, and Nike are all working on products with embedded IoT (Internet of Things) functionality.”

The scale and extent of these new spying technologies go far beyond the dark inventions of an Ian Fleming or a Iain Banks, and mask real potential for sinister use.

These technologies include: “Sensors ranging from gyroscopes, accelerometers, magnetometers, proximity sensors, microphones, speakers, barometers, infrared sensors, fingerprint readers, and radio frequency antennae,” all created “with the purpose of sensing, collecting, storing, and analyzing fine-grained information about their surrounding environments.”

Ironically the initial goal of the report, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, was not to reveal the extent of corporate spying but to “begin to work through some of the particularly vexing and enduring problems of surveillance and cybersecurity.”

Toward that aim the “group” brought together “security and policy experts from academia, civil society, and the U.S. intelligence community.” During what they described as a “public debate,” they explored concerns by the NSA and other spy agencies that new encryption technology on cell phones and other devices might prevent them from monitoring communications by terrorists and other criminal groups.

After rigorous discussion, the majority of participants agreed that focusing on the use of encryption devices “does not capture the current state and trajectory of technological development.”

“A plethora of networked sensors are now embedded in everyday objects,” the findings state. “These are prime mechanisms for surveillance.”

In one of the few mentions of the potential perils of such developments the Harvard group acknowledged that these technologies “raise troubling questions about how exposed to eavesdropping the general public is poised to become.”

Yet with an ebullient and dangerous detachment, the report suggests the “‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) promises a new frontier for networking objects, machines, and environments in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

“When, say, a television has a microphone and a network connection, and is reprogrammable by its vendor, it could be used to listen in to one side of a telephone conversation taking place in its room – no matter how encrypted the telephone service itself might be.”

“These forces are on a trajectory towards a future with more opportunities for surveillance,” the report concludes matter-of-factly.

As if to reassure the NSA and other spy agencies that they need not fret about lost reconnaissance due to encryption devices, the Harvard group asserted “The audio and video sensors on IoT devices will open up numerous avenues for government actors to demand access to real-time and recorded communications.”

The study findings do suggest that the “Internet of Things” devices could pose a threat to civil liberties, especially for those who live in “totalitarian societies.” However the participants did not include a definition of a totalitarian regime, and for good reason: Given the current state of affairs, the United States of America would likely fit the description.

The report cited examples of the dangers of IoT technology that have already appeared in the media.

According to the document, “In February 2015, stories surfaced that Samsung smart televisions were listening to conversations through an onboard microphone and relaying them back to Samsung to automatically discern whether owners were attempting to give instructions to the TV.”

The study went on to report that, “A statement published in Samsung’s privacy policy instructed users to ‘be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of the Voice Recognition.’”

Another case involving an “in-automobile concierge system,” was also described, one that “enables the company to remotely monitor and respond to a car’s occupants through a variety of sensors and a cellular connection.”

You have probably seen these devices promoted by car manufacturers on TV. Through a cellular connection a driver can speak with a company representative who can remotely monitor the car’s computer and, through software, start the auto if the car key is lost, diagnose mechanical problems, or dispatch a tow-truck.

According to the report, during the course of an investigation the “FBI sought to use the microphone” to capture conversations between “two alleged senior members of organized crime.” A federal court in Nevada required the company give access to the FBI, and though through appeal the Ninth Circuit “disallowed the interception on other grounds,” it “left open the possibility of using in-car communication devices for surveillance provided the systems’ safety features are not disabled in the process.”

Even “Hello Barbie!” dolls now have the functionality to provide intelligence for companies. Mattel manufactured a doll that “interacts with children by recording their conversations with a microphone, processing it in the cloud, and sending verbal responses through a speaker on the doll.”

There’s more: “Devices like the Nest Cam record high resolution video with a wide-angle lens camera broadcast over the internet to account holders…. The Nest Cam can also exchange data and interact with other devices, such as Nest’s thermostats and smoke detectors, which themselves contain sensors and microphones.”

Stating what is both fact and a warning, the report reveals, “Law enforcement or intelligence agencies may start to seek orders compelling Samsung, Google, Mattel, Nest or vendors of other networked devices to push an update or flip a digital switch to intercept the ambient communications of a target. These are all real products now.”

 CONCLUSION

The billionaire owners of firms like Google claim they take “great care” to ensure the technology they develop “will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line.”

Clearly the opposite is true.

It is of utmost importance that freedom-loving people understand that many of the tools they are using to promote social change and organize resistance have a dual nature. Social networks and digital devices provide a means to reach a vast audience and to help organize progressive movements. However, they are also a major source of both political and economic power for billionaire class.

What’s more, and this is crucial: In these times when fascists have come out into the open, seek the highest office in the land and organize other reactionaries and militia groups, we must keep in mind that if they were to gain power, the internet and all related devices would provide an extremely sophisticated means of identifying and locating the opposition. It would also provide them with means to create and distribute propaganda that would have a far greater reach than anything ever imagined by Hitler and Goebbels.

All the more reason for progressives to resist, using tools of the internet, but more important — good old fashioned grass roots organizing.

copyright © 2016 J. P. Bone

 

 

 

The Second Time I was Executed

By J. P. Bone

One dark winter night I stood alone in the vestibule of a vast cathedral. Columns of marble lined the aisle like sentries, towering toward the heavens until they vanished in the darkness.

A brilliant ray of light beamed down from the night sky illuminating a gold-handled broadsword that hovered in mid-air at the crossing. The sword thrummed, alive and angry.

In the still darkness of the cathedral’s nave the blade began to pitch, whetting its edge on a glowing Möbius strip; it began to flip and rotate as if wielded by a swordsman approaching an adversary, whirling and thrusting forward, light flashing, the frigid night air sliced into perfect pieces that fell silently.

I watched, mesmerized, as the sword made its way down the nave until it confronted me, alone in the vestibule. A fierce celestial light flashed from the blade which resounded with a blood thirst.

From high above a voice asked: “Do you want to live or do you want to die?”

I was beside myself, glancing from side to side, gazing skyward, astonished and without words.

Again a mighty voice boomed down from the heavens: “Do you want to live or do you want to die?”

The whole thing seemed ludicrous to me.

“I don’t care,” said I.

The sword sliced through the cold night air moving so fast I could not follow its path, returning to the place it occupied in less than a heartbeat, as if it hadn’t moved, thrumming still, a brilliant light glistening through a delicate rose-colored film.

A bitter chill gripped me and I reached out my hands to be sure they were still there. At that moment my severed head tipped off my neck and fell into my open hands.

Looking up I could see my headless body still standing, though unsteady. I gazed upright into the darkness of night and asked: “Why did you do that?”

For a moment there was no sound, just the silent cold stillness of death. Then an answer: “You said you did not care.”

 

copyright © 2016 J. P. Bone

 

Just the factoids, Ma’am

We sent our very high tech internet reporter, Deranged Danny, on assignment to Sal Si Puedes, Arizona, to determine if undocumented workers from Latin America force wages down for American citizens — charges leveled by Donald Trump and others.

 

D-dot-Danny, as he is known, visited a street corner where immigrants gathered in search of work early one sizzling-hot morning. This is his report live! on IoT!

 

“Hello, everyone, D.Danny here with an e-report for the millions of freaks seeking dollars and sense and other advice on their favored device from a truly divine geek sublime. Today we’re doing an awesome story with real social impact so keep your other apps open as you grip your smart phones and bone-up watching those holograms shimmy and shine!

 

“Today’s question is: “Do undocumented workers drive wages down?’

 

“Holy crap, dude! watch out for that old lady crossing the street!” D.Danny shouts as a teckie — mesmerized by her smart phone and most unmindful — races her Prius through a stop sign. “Jesus, that was close!” D-dot declares. “You nearly nailed her! Awesome!”

 

D.Danny wipes the sweat from his brow.

 

“Okay, like I said, it’s an awesome morning here in Sal Si Puedes, one of the fastest growing towns in Arizona.”

 

Danny covers his mouth with his left hand, forgetting his google watch is set to pornify.itt. He whispers into his collar phone, asking his boss: “Is it still kosher to call places by their Spanish name? I think I saw a tweet from Trump about that…” He listens carefully to the response, pushing the white earplug deeper into his cavernous ear. Nodding his head with enthusiasm at the answer, he replies, “Awesome, Mr. Suckerberg, sir! Thanks a billion!”

 

Turning back to the camera, an app on a friend’s Google contact lens, D.Danny begins again:

 

“Sorry about that, hashtag-heads, tweetdopers and whoopeebook junkies of the universe. As I was saying a group of undocumented Latinos arrived early in the morning at this very un-awesome street corner way out here in the suburbs of Trumpland, a place where contractors and other businessmen routinely go to hire day workers. Be ready to ‘share’ and poke ‘like!’”

 

Three Anglos pull up in ten-foot-tall turbo diesel one-and-a-half-ton pickup truck, the anti-personal grill in front emblazoned with the brand name: Road Kill. Two giant Anglos leap from the monstrous vehicle, quickly pivot, and with supreme caution — as two slaves might carry a king — dutifully lift their boss out of the cab and carefully set him down on the pavement. A group of Latino workers gathers around as the boss adjusts his cowboy hat, narrows his eyes, and haunches his frail shoulders.

 

“Hola, amigos,” he says. “My name is Frederic Kingsley van Biene, the Third. You can call me Bossman. Now. How many of you have experience roofing?”

 

All the workers raise their hands.

 

“Awesome,” he says, thinkin to himself: easy money. Frederic Kingsley van Biene, the Third, looks them over carefully like a judge evaluating livestock at a state fair. “I will pay each of you $12 an hour to do a roof today. Is that cool or what?”

 

There is a muffled commotion as the workers talk it over in Spanish. The Bossman seems perplexed, and turns to his foremen. “Maybe you should offer a buck more?” one of the foremen says, his suggestion offered with a timid upward inflection. Frederic Kingsley van Biene, the Third, removes his brand-new spotless cowboy hat and scratches his pallid bald head.

 

The laborers push one man forward as their spokesman.

 

“Ah, well, mister Bean, we all talked it over,” the spokesman says. The bossman grimaces. As the worker grips his sweat-stained cowboy hat, rolling and squeezing the rim, he swallows hard and continues: “Well, it’s like this: we must insist that we be paid less than that — it is far too much!”

 

Frederic Kingsley van Biene, the Third, is bewildered. He rolls his eyes back as if to read a screen on the inside roof of his brain. A grin forms across his pot-marked face.

 

“Well, you’re right, dudes, it’s true. I don’t imagine any of you have papers. I mean why the hell would you be hanging around on this incredibly hot street corner at this impossibly early time of day in this God-forsaken place looking for a job if you had papers? And honestly, I don’t care about any of that. In fact I much prefer to, ah, help hard working people from south of the border, you know. Viva Frank Zappa! and all that. But I’ll pay you $11 an hour, though it is way more than I need to, you being Mexicans and all — I mean it’s cool, you know, because, well, this is a kinda dangerous job. It’s a two-story house, you see, and one side of it overlooks a cliff with, well, a darn good drop. About a hundred feet. And the roof is very steep, too, you know, nearly a 38-degree angle. Now no worries, I’ll be providing you with the most modern ladders. They’re cool looking, too. Also I’ll provide you with awesome safety equipment — a thirty-foot rope and a pocketsize copy of the New Testament.”

 

“What about the tar?” one of the foremen ruefully asks the boss, hand shielding his mouth.

 

“Oh, that’s right, I nearly forgot to mention that. Doing a roof, as you all surely know, includes working with tar. No biggy, really. I mean it’s hot. Well ya gotta boil it before it’s soft enough to put on the roof, you know, and even in this heat it takes a while to melt tar so you can use it. Just make sure that you keep your gloves on. If you don’t have gloves, no worries, I’ll provide you with a cool pair. I’ll just deduct it from your pay. Anyway it’s because the job is just an itsy bitsy bit dangerous that I’m willing to pay you ten bucks an hour — before taxes, of course…”

 

The spokesman for the workers, a man who speaks and fully understands Arizonian English, briefly consults with his fellow laborers. After a moment, he responds:

 

“We have talked it over, and — no disrespect! But we won’t work for any more than the minimum wage!” he says with righteous conviction. “It’s only fair, you know. Heck for twelve dollars…”

 

Ten,” Frederic Kingsley van Biene, the Third, interjects.

 

“…Yes well for ten dollars an hour you might — maybe, you know, though it’s a stretch, but times being so tough, you might be able to hire a gringo for that much, though you really would have to pay taxes for them. So we only agree to work for — well at the max the minimum, which here in Arizona is eight dollars and five cents an hour.”

 

The other workers nod their heads up and down in support, a few slapping their leader on the back. “We want to drive wages down for our North American brothers, you know!” the leader asserts.

 

“And for our North American sisters!” adds a Latina worker in the back of the crowd. “In fact, whatever you are going to pay the men, I insist you pay me a dollar an hour less!”

 

“Well,” Frederic Kingsley van Biene, the Third, says, “that is awesome!” And the bargain is struck.

 

The camera turns back to D.Danny, who is slipping his index finger up and down his smart phone, gazing at a stream of photographs with a lecherous grin before he realizes he’s being filmed. He turns to the camera:

 

“Okay, so now we know the facts: Mexican workers do drive wages down…

 

“If you want to watch the entire video, go to comodify.net, enter the bit coin algorithm, and for fifty bits you can see the whole show. Just swipe yer phone across your temple chip so we can send you daily updates!” he says, and with his left hand hiding his lips whispers, “and swipe your data…” And with a mega-sized celebrity smile, he wraps up: “Excellent! This is D.Danny saying have an awesome day!”

 

copyright © 2016 J. P. Bone