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Porches…

February 27, 2017

My grandfather’s lament was that Nature no longer cared about the fate of man. That It no longer interfered – to guide or to oppose.

He said he could still hear it whispering, but (as he smoked from his pipe) h  said he no longer had the language to speak or to listen. He said that it seemed like everyone today only wanted a piece of the end of the world. Glory, glory, hallelujah! And all that other bullshit, he would say.

I was twelve years old in those days when we would sometimes sit on the porch together. I was usually too busy chasing my brother around the yard, or playing baseball, or climbing the tree in my grandfather’s yard, to bother just sitting on the porch. It was so boring!

But then something started to happen to me around the age of 12. I’d catch glimpses of his face as I came out of the house, or when I raced around the corner of the house, as I sat on a limb in the tree and watched him smoke his pipe through the leaves.

He started emerging out of the hazy form of my formless grandfather, to take on a person-hood that I had not seen before.

One day it just seemed to dawn on me that my grandfather had brown’ish skin – why hadn’t I noticed this earlier?

One day I realized that he was the same man who was also the soldier in the WWII picture that hung on the wall in my mother’s bedroom.

It was much later before I knew my grandfather was 1/2 Mohawk. When I was a boy it was still considered abhorrent to openly admit that there was “Indian” blood in the family.

Now I watch an Ancestry commercial with my mother and people are scrambling, hoping, to find any trace of Indigenous blood in the old family tree. My 76-year-old mother wants to know when “Indians became cool?”

I mumble some stuff about post-colonial hipster neo-colonial access to previously colonized peoples, but she stops listening and goes back to watching her curling match.

2

 Excerpts from “Letter to Silicone Valley”, by Kate Crawford, visiting professor at MIT, and NYU, and principal researcher at Microsoft Research. (Harper’s Magazine, Feb 2017)

“In 1880, after watching a train conductor punch tickets, Herman Hollerith, a young employee of the U.S. Census Bureau, was inspired to design a punch-card system to catalogue human traits.

The Hollerith Machine was used in the 1890 census to tabulate markers such as race, literacy level, gender, and country of origin. During the 1930’s, the Third Reich used the same system, under the direction of the German subsidiary of International Business Machines (IBM), to identify Jews and other ethnic groups. Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s first president, received a medal from Hitler for his services…Within in the decade, IBM served as the information subcontractor for the U.S. government’s Japanese-internment camps…there was both profit and glory to be had in providing the computational services for rounding up the state’s undesirables…

Ginni Rometty, the current CEO of IBM, was the first to make her position clear, in an open letter in which she congratulated Trump on his victory and offered to “work together to achieve prosperity.”

Peter Thiel, the chairman of Palantir and a board member at Facebook, offered advice, as well as his own employee’s time, to assist the president-elect on defense…Not everyone has been so quick to cooperate, though. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter – who was not invited to the White House – swore to use his position to speak truth to power and to work for the common good…

It is difficult to take a public stand, and it can come at a cost. yet the decisions made by individual engineers and programmers matter. An IBM employee has already quit in response to the company’s support of the Trump administration.

And some tech workers have signed a public pledge to refuse to build tools that could be used to assist mass deportation.

If this gesture seems small, it’s worth remembering that back in the 1940’s, when everything looked hopeless, the Resistance leader Rene Carmille sabotaged the Hollerith infrastructure in occupied France by leaving the eleventh column of the punch cards, which indicated Jewish identity, blank.

Carmille has been described as the first ethical hacker.

When the unreasonable demands come, the demands that would put activists, lawyers, journalists, and entire communities at risk, resist wherever you can…Provide end-to-end encryption in as many of your services as possible…

History also keeps a file.

3

Intro to the poem Remainers, by Graham Frost. (Harper’s Magazine, Feb. 2017)

When I went out to kill myself

I thought only the world

could possibly be more thorough-

hear me out miracle,

my first first sentence in a year-

and soon thereafter felt

not loved exactly, but dreamt of,

and called up afternoons

that in their moments had meaning.

 

 

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