Curtain Raiser

Life Will Find Its Way, Colltalers

Fear has many cheerleaders, and the newly U.S. National Security Advisor-designate John Bolton is one of its most strident. After many tries, he may finally lend a key position in the administration, and a cautious word for it could be, be afraid, be very afraid. But not by much.
His nomination by Trump may have been last week’s worst news, in an endless string of bad-news weeks, but it’s tempered by other equally unsettling stories. Consider Facebook: it was disclosed that it played a part in the nauseating result of the 2016 election. Surprise, surprise.
Also, in this all around disturbing time in an America we’re being asked to get used to, there was another home-grown terrorist, who’d been killing black people by sending them bomb-packed parcels. The white Christian supremacist left a chilling confession on video and blew himself up, but the Austin police still calls him, ‘a challenged young man.’ Thank goodness, then, that in the end, the kids saved the week.
Hundred of thousands of Americans took the streets Saturday in the March For Our Lives, following the lead of what one expects to be a new crop of young, highly politically engaged, American kids, forged in the horror of surviving another gun massacre at their high school.
Unlike what happened too many times before, and even some more ever since, the Parkland, Florida, students picked this as an issue to sink their teeth on, or die trying: to ban assault weapons and pass sensible gun regulations. And they got started by a beautiful, multi-city, March.
But let’s get back to fear, first, since there’s always plenty of it every time the Trump administration makes a move. This time, it may’ve topped itself by naming Bolton, whose middle name seems to be ‘Hawkish,’ and the last, ‘War Monger.’ But his nomination shouldn’t be taken as unexpected. After all, here’s George W.’s Ambassador to the U.N. who wrote a hostile book on the institution while still on duty there.
He’s also unapologetic about the lies that led the U.S. to invade (and still remain in) Iraq, oblivious to the thousands of American and Iraqi lives lost in the adventure, and favors bombing Iran, the biggest beneficiary of that American tragic error, and North Korea. Any questions?
In other words, he’s your typical dangerous lout, who vociferates against the ‘enemies’ of America, preaches a unilateral credo of obedience to its interests, and is an all-together colossal bore. Like his boss, however, he never served the military when he’d a chance, and neither sent a kid of his to any of the paranoid consequences of his rants. In some ways, he reminds some of another world class thug: Stephen Bannon.
That may be a good thing, if you hold on to your gagging for a sec. Bolton, like Bannon, is a divisor. As such, he feeds on division and strife. But just as often, their ambition trips them up. There’s one point when they try to subdivide the indivisible, and wind up clashing with the bigger rotten fish who hired them. That’s when they, like Bannon, get their behinds bounced, and that’s what we hope it’ll happen to Bolton.
Speaking of Bannon, he was the founder, along billionaire Republican donor Robert Mercer, of the now infamous Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm hired by Trump in 2016. Using a proprietary algorithm, it gained access to the personal data of 50 million Facebook users.
It’s now clear that it was the other leg to kick the doors of the White House, along Russian hackers. The thing that’s really vexing about them, though, is that, while both shady and unethical, these enterprises did not essentially break any law; they simply used Facebook as they could.
Let’s break this down a bit. The social network with over a billion users has become an all too powerful factor in our lives, and not for too Kosher a reason. It’s a for-profit business and will do anything to increase its earnings, finding loopholes, and likely sticking its paws in the pot when no one is watching. But the fact is, we, the users, grant it permission, and alleging ignorance is never a good strategy to save face.
The #deleteFacebook campaign has a point, as do claims to regulate it and make it much more accountable of things done with its system. The main quagmire to facebookers, though, is how to be judicious and thorough and make the hard choice of either live with or without it. For to quit it means what many now regard as unacceptable: missing out on what the remainder billion is doing, or be forgotten by them.
That’s an illusion, of course, but so are movies and games, and most are not prepared to quit them either. What Analytica did, like all those phantom Russian groups, was to bundle our ‘likes’ into weapons of manipulation, to have us act as they intended, without even realizing it. The bottom line was, it not just made us all look like dopes, it also helped one to get elected U.S. president. Blame them but it’s our fault.
That’s the end result of having our virtual lives, constructed with such care and embellishments, exposed to millions of strangers with ulterior motifs. That being said, it doesn’t mean that one of the most deceiving public figures of our time, Mark Zuckerberg, is exempted of any guilt.
‘They are not victims. They’re accomplices. Businesses that make money by collecting and selling detailed records of private lives were once plainly described as surveillance companies,’ tweeted NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, now exiled in Russia. He is, of course, right.
Readers of this newsletter are aware of our bias toward Snowden, and how diametrically he stands in opposition to Zuckerberg. Born within a year of each other, they’ve both succeeded on their ways. But while one still pretends to be a 12-year-old, playing with his toys, the other is still paying an enormous price for following his conscience. Facebook’s damage is unlikely to be punished as Snowden’s flaws have been.
That’s why to witness such a display of conviction, moral compass, and passion, as shown by the teenage survivors of the Parkland carnage, fell as refreshing as a new dawn after a storm should. It’ll take resilience, education, resourcefulness for it to grow stronger as we wish. But above all, it’ll take our support to translate it into change. If America overcomes its obsession with guns, it will indeed feel like a new dawn.
‘Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet,’ said Stephen Hawking. That’s wise in more ways than one: Heavenly Palace, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1, is expected to plunge into Earth between Friday and April 3. Keep your sights up and don’t give up. WC


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