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Category: nonfiction

Undoing Dystopia

Douglas Rushkoff Wants Us to Rewind

Buy Team Human from an indie bookstore

Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff (W.W. Norton, 2019, 256 p. hardbound), ISBN 987-0-393-65169-0, $23.95. Also available in eBook and audiobook formats.

The entities called computers were originally human beings, people like the accounts clerk Bob Cratchit in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In the mid-20th century, computers were (mostly) women who worked calculators and slide rules, tasked with tabulating data and solving numerical problems. Nowadays, says Douglas Rushkoff, computers run us as extensions of applications that abuse us for fun and profit. Rushkoff has had it with the soul-sucking “innovation economy”; to retrieve the human agency and dignity that technocracy has usurped, he proposes not a revolution but a renaissance of pre-industrial, even pre-enlightenment, societal values. Rushkoff emerged as an early member of the digerati, but has since been a longstanding critic of those who control digital media and manipulate its users, not to mention capitalism itself. Now a professor of media studies (CUNY Queens), public intellectual, and podcast host, he’s quietly assembling an army of change agents. Their mission is to “challenge the operating system that drives our society” by organizing the (better-educated) masses to throw off their (block) chains by imagining and building human-scale alternatives to giant financial institutions, public corporations, and their enablers. Given how overarching and well-wired global capitalism is, that’s a tall order, but Rushkoff asserts that the battle can be won if we stick together.

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Yes, Virginia, there are conspiracies—I think

You know those little green-and-white USDA Organic labels you find on organic produce? What if someone told you that their adhesive transmits a powerful drug into the edible that over time can render humans sterile? It’s true, they say; they’ve seen the lab reports, and go on to assert that this is a plot by USDA and agribusiness interests to decimate nutritionally savvy people as a way boost sales of poison-laden GM food products.

Insidious beyond belief, you think. You’re pretty sure it’s a crock, but your doubt gene says “What if…?” and you decide to check it out. You email people to ask if they’ve heard it and some of them do the same. Someone finds a truther blog with a long discussion thread about it and lets you know. Alleging scientific credentials, certain discussants proceed to hypothesize about the chemistry and physiology of the attack vector and argue about that. Others point to connections between certain USDA political appointees and Big Food. The rumor has become a thing, and even if you post refutations that get shot down, you’re now part of it.

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Unleashing My Inner Jihadi

A Geopolitical Memoir

WikiMedia
DoD photo by Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air Force, from

For a big, strapping nation like the United States of America to be obsessively fixated on foreign-born evildoers is really quite strange, especially given that it has so many of its own. Other than 9/11, all terror attacks in the US since 2000 that weren’t thwarted or aborted involved firearms. Even if you include mass shootings that didn’t receive the Government’s Terrorism imprimatur, how many mass killings can you cite that were committed by undocumented aliens or foreign infiltrators?

Not that there aren’t foreigners who have bones to pick with America. According to Statista, nearly 200,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives due to the US invasion, the ensuing resistance, and subsequent conflicts with ISIS invaders. From the start of the Iraq War in 2003 under GW Bush to his exit from office in 2009, 105,000 Iraqi civilians were killed, peaking at nearly 30,000 in 2006. During Obama’s first term, civilian deaths totaled 93,300, hovering at less than 5000 per year.

When ISIS stormed into Iraq in 2012, deaths escalated; 20,000 in 2014, remaining above 13,000 until steeply declining to 2500 in 2017. US Military deaths for those 15 years totaled 4541, peaking at 904 in 2007. Overall, 44 Iraqi noncombatants fell for every American soldier who died there. This is the so-called Price of Liberty, paid by innocent Iraqis, traumatized veterans, bereaved military families, and American taxpayers, at the further cost of eternal vigilance over everyone by our intelligence agencies.

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Lights! Camera! Aristotle!

Having written a subversive action novel focusing on the lives and times of a cell of terrorists that some early readers indicated would make a great movie, I gave the project some thought and soon concluded that my story was a natural for film adaptation. It has a simple, linear plot with subplots to spare, featuring appealing, interesting characters, and mostly set in real places I didn’t have to make up, sharply limned in luminous detail.

Suspecting that there was more to writing for movies that I needed to know, I straightaway dove into the turbulent and treacherous waters of screenwriting, only to surface gasping over how ginormous and competitive, how overflowing with talent, copy, and potential productions the screenplay marketplace is. Not to mention the secondary markets for script consultants, synopsizers, agents, contests, how-to books, DVDs, webinars, and software products pawing at you to help you write screenplays that sell. Emerging from my brief and bewildering dip into these waters, it was close-up clear that to navigate a course to celluloid I needed to consult sage practitioners of this elusive art.

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The Spy Looking over My Shoulder

Learning from John Le Carré

John le Carré at the “Zeit Forum Kultur” in Hamburg on November 10th 2008. CC 3 Attribution: KrimidoedliKr

I owe David Cornwell, a.k.a. John Le Carré, big time. He has led me from the literary wilderness to the promised land of Almost Fit to Print. Without his unbeknownst tutelage, I would never have gotten even this far. This is my humble homage to his humbling genius.

When, nearly three years ago I set out to write a novel about a multi-ethnic leftist international conspiracy from the perps’ point of view, I had urgent motivations but knew nothing about genre. As I spend much more time writing than reading for pleasure, there are a lot of books that might inform mine I’ve managed to miss. Truth be told, my literary tastes gravitate to non-fiction, mostly research material for articles. Over six decades, I doubt I’ve read more than 100 novels that weren’t assigned in some long-ago class. A year could pass before picking up a new one, rarely a thriller. I had but the vaguest idea of how to proceed after conjuring up quirky characters and a wisp of a plot in a land I had never visited. It would have to be a thriller, that much I knew. Having read few but seen a lot of spy movies, I figured I knew enough to do this.

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