Know this: Steve Jobs stripped bare, Downton politics, stupid computers, Russian riot grrrls etc.Downton Abbey has been up for discussion lately, as the second season is released on DVD. First in the New York Review of Books, the question was asked if the series had -- like the aristocracy it portrays -- jumped the shark. Who cares, the answer seems to be. "It’s a large sentimental contraption, coming at us, as the first trains came at us in the early Age of Steam, with a man in front, waving a red flag as if to say: you have been warned." In a different piece by Aaron Bady, we are reminded that the nobility have, by this period, outlived their function and that is apparent in the American woman whose money keeps Downton running: "This lord has no peasants: Grantham’s house is powered only by the one-time donation of an American woman who wanted to live in that house, with that title, and that illusion of permanence, and who still does. Which is one important reason why [Lord Grantham] never seriously considers trying to break the entail: his condition of possibility is the money that allows him to play house in the way that he does. His wife didn’t want a real aristocrat; she wanted a modern simulacrum. After all, if this show were set in the early 1600’s, then yes, perhaps it would be a little strange for him to be such a great guy. But that’s probably because, in the early 17th century, the perks of being an aristocrat were things like raping the servants’ daughters and taxing your indebted tenants until they went broke and you could throw them off the land to starve. That’s what real class antagonism is, the relationship between the powerful who use their power to benefit themselves and the weak whose subjection to it makes them objects of exploitation."
Speaking of exploitation, there was a strong response to the Australian Gonski report into school education this week, with ABC economics correspondent Stephen Long writing that the present funding arrangements flatter a wealthy plutocracy: "It seems to me there are fairly obvious conclusions to draw from the data in the Gonski report and what one can extrapolate from it. Firstly, the public money that goes to elite private schools is subsidising the sons and daughters of the plutocracy. Secondly, government schools (and quite possibly many Catholic schools) are significantly underfunded. It is also clear that the decline in Australia's school performance on international rankings coincides with a skewing of Federal Government money away from government schools and towards independent schools - instituted by the Howard government and continued under Rudd and Gillard. Gonski is politically astute, and the report's language is diplomatic, but the implication of his recommendations is clear: elite private schools should receive less public money, while schools with a high proportion of students from disadvantaged backgrounds should get far more. Funding should follow need, and remedying educational disadvantage should be a priority." Long also challenges fellow journalists to resist the opposition's cheap claims that this is "class warfare". I am not holding out hope. "The Opposition is reportedly planning to slur the Gonski review as an attack on 'middle Australia.' This is absurd. No self-respecting journalist should accept it, and every attempt by the Opposition to mount this claim should be rebutted with the facts. The sad truth is that the "class warfare" is being waged in the opposite direction - as public money disproportionately subsidises wealthy schools, while the disabled, the disadvantaged, and sons and daughters of low-to-middle income earners are left to languish in underfunded schools denied a fair share of the pie."
Missing from this recent Der Spiegel piece about the unruly Russian generation that has grown up under Putin: Russian riot grrrls.
In Der Spiegel's stead, others have taken up the explanation of how and why and when Pussy Riot formed. "In January," Jon Savage reports, "they were arrested after minutes of performing in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square. The members were taken to Kitai-Gorod police station nearby and charged with public order offenses and disobeying the police, which carries a fifteen day sentence." Meanwhile, Index on Censorship reports that the band have also played in underground railway stations, "but this week’s 'concert' brought them real public attention after they performed what they called a punk prayer 'Mother of God, send Putin away' in Moscow’s biggest Orthodox Cathedral." Punks!
All this takes place, of course, in a general atmosphere of protest and dismay -- the history of which you can have delivered to you in chronological order via 1, 2, 3 and 4 parts.
Is the internet a person? And does it deserve rights? Nicolas Mendoza works it through in his saucily titled, "Metal, code, flesh: why we need a 'rights of the internet' declaration." In a tangentially-related piece, the stupidity of computers is the topic of David Auerbach's essay for n+1. "Computers are near-omnipotent cauldrons of processing power, but they’re also stupid. They are the undisputed chess champions of the world, but they can’t understand a simple English conversation. IBM’s Watson supercomputer defeated two top Jeopardy! players last year, but for the clue 'What grasshoppers eat,' Watson answered: 'Kosher.' For all the data he could access within a fraction of a second—one of the greatest corpuses ever assembled—Watson looked awfully dumb."
From the stupidity of computers to the stupidity of Steve Jobs. A review for Reuters, looks early on, to play the man -- but it does turn to substantive issues. In a stinging review, Jobs comes across as, well, nasty, stinky and stingy. Jobs had a "contempt for human life." We learn that his approach to labour and wages is pernicious, while the suspicious, secretive atmosphere in Apple HQ is not the collaborative wonderland it seems from the outside.
In a more wide-ranging and considered response for The New Republic, Morozov asks "was Steve Jobs a philosopher who strove to change the world rather than merely interpret it? Or was he a marketing genius who turned an ordinary company into a mythical cult, while he himself was busy settling old scores and serving the demands of his titanic ego?" His review plunges into the ethos of the company, its shallow design inheritance from the Bauhaus. Morozov arrives at the conclusion: "Apple’s most incredible trick, accomplished by marketing as much as by philosophy, is to allow its customers to feel as if they are personally making history—that they are a sort of spiritual-historical elite, even if there are many millions of them. The purchaser of an Apple product has been made to feel like he is taking part in a world-historical mission, in a revolution—and Jobs was so fond of revolutionary rhetoric that Rolling Stone dubbed him 'Mr. Revolution.'" That said, "Jobs claimed to have liberal leanings, but he chose to live in an intellectual bubble that was decidedly pre-political. In that bubble, there were only two kinds of people to be reckoned with: producers and consumers. Norms, laws, institutions, politics—none of that larger context matters. Jobs was a revolutionary, but a limited one; and never did so limited a revolutionary create so vast a revolution. Linking Apple to the historical process (Hegel comes to Palo Alto!), and convincing the marketplace that the company always represented the good side in any conflict, broke new ground in promotional creativity. Jobs turned to the power of culture to sell his products. He was a marketing genius because he was always appealing to the meaning of life. With its first batch of computers, Apple successfully appropriated the theme of the decentralization of power in technology—then also present in the deep ecology and appropriate technology movements—that was so dear to the New Left a decade earlier. If people were longing for technology that was small and beautiful—to borrow E.F. Schumacher’s then-popular slogan—Jobs would give it to them. Apple allowed people who had missed all the important fights of their era to participate in a battle of their own—a battle for progress, humanity, innovation. And it was a battle that was to be won in the stores. As Apple’s marketing director in the early 1980s told Esquire, 'We all felt as though we had missed the civil rights movement. We had missed Vietnam. What we had was the Macintosh.' The consumer as revolutionary: it was altogether brilliant, and of course a terrible delusion."
Would you take a forgetting pill if you had a particularly traumatic memory that needed erasing forever? "In the past decade," neuroscience populariser Jonah Lehrer writes for Wired, "scientists have come to realize that our memories are not inert packets of data and they don’t remain constant. Even though every memory feels like an honest representation, that sense of authenticity is the biggest lie of all. When CISD fails, it fails because, as scientists have recently learned, the very act of remembering changes the memory itself. New research is showing that every time we recall an event, the structure of that memory in the brain is altered in light of the present moment, warped by our current feelings and knowledge." It's all very interesting and the advent is imminent of the pill that can apparently stop negative emotions attaching to traumatic experience. Never mind that this is something Freud wrote about over a century ago -- neuroscience typically pretends its "breakthroughs" are without precedent, rather than merely finding a material, neurological basis for what we already know. Still: wow, a pill. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind.