To all the folks like, “This Presidential primary race is unprecedented!”

I humbly remind you of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s…

When, after a decade of deregulation and rising wealth inequality exploded in a market collapse and a decade of economic depression, lowest-common-factor politics produced two options: fascism and socialism. While Germany elected Hitler, we elected Roosevelt, who, deemed a socialist, brought us the New Deal.

#history

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Your Tumblr Feed Burns Coal

Calling it the “cloud” invokes  a light, airy space where nothing really exists except as water vapor. In fact, as Ingrid Burrington explains in The Atlantic, the industrial and electronic infrastructure that houses the cloud, where individual Internet users as well as public and private institutions increasingly store their files, including photos, video, music, documents, and metadata, is a physical infrastructure of enormous servers and physical cable network that consumes vast quantities of mined precious hard metals, consumes and pollutes water, and runs on on and off-grid electricity produced by coal, natural gas, and green methods like solar and wind. Beyond the private servers that private and public institutions use to store their files, the proliferation of personal cloud-based computing and online research and reading is driving companies to invest in bigger, faster, and more environmentally damaging server farms.

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Servers | Ethan Pines for the New York Times

James Glanz wrote from Santa Clara in 2012 that “a yearlong examination by The New York Times has revealed that [servers as] this foundation of the information industry is sharply at odds with its image of sleek efficiency and environmental friendliness.” Burrington points out that every time you visit a webpage or read a feed that draws content from a stream, you receive signals from several different servers that could even be housed on separate continents.

Sometimes I think of this environmental toll when I scroll through my tumblr feed, which looks like this

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and this

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and sometimes like this

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all while the TV show I am streaming on my laptop plays commercials. When I’m done scrolling and watching, I go plug my laptop and my phone into their chargers, where they draw more electricity from the grid which, where I live, PG&E claims draws half of its power from green sources.

(I figured out how generators work while researching this post. Basically something has to make a copper coil spin really fast through a magnetized space, which generates electricity. The spinning can come from water or wind turning physical blades, or from an engine combusting coal or natural gas to boil water into steam which then turns a turbine which spins the coil.)

But beyond the environmental impacts of using electricity, I think what is most obscured to us as Western technology users is the reality that every piece of electronics we use is made out of rare earth minerals that are largely hacked out of the earth by hand. That these incredible technological products keep getting better and faster (thus enabling them to draw more electricity and receive data from more servers) even as they remain affordable to us global consumers is a result of exploitation at every level of the chain of production. For me to be able to afford a new tablet and for that tablet’s manufacturer’s stock to also rise by collecting profit on the sale, the miners need to not be paid enough; the factory workers need to not be paid enough; the transport workers who ship the pieces around need to not be paid enough; and the parts themselves need to not be priced highly enough. High enough for what? For all parties involved in producing the tablet to retain enough of its value to afford the damn thing, just like I can.

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the Gehry-designed Guggenheim Bilbao in Spain, which is covered in titanium – via architecturaldigest.net

Incredible amounts of rare earth minerals are pulled from the earth in infinitesimal quantities on an unfathomable human scale every day. Tin is mined out of mudpits in Indonesia. Coltan, which is used in almost all smartphones, cell phones, and laptops for its unique ability to hold an electric charge, is mined by hand in the Congo and increasingly mined in Columbia and Venezuela; it is described as a “conflict mineral” and a “strategic mineral,” which means–it causes war? It is worth war? People not in the Congo and Columbia are so obsessed with it that they will accept eternal war as a condition of receiving their coltan?

Did you guys read this New Yorker piece about how Peruvian miners chip gold by the flake out of the Andes in Peru? (It was really good.) Appreciating the preciousness of precious metals really underscores the grossness of Frank Gehry’s ugly aluminum buildings.

And then, on top of everything else, when our insatiable desire for new things and investors’ insatiable desire for stock prices to go up demands that hardware manufacturers push out new products that replace the old ones, we throw them away, and create e-waste that fills landfills or, when incinerated, dirties our air.

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E-waste in Lagos, Nigeria | Margaret Bates, via technology.org

Sometimes when I spend too long scrolling through Facebook or Tumblr I feel gross because I know I don’t need to know more about what outfit Rihanna wore when she left her New York apartment yesterday. But in fact, there is a deeper ethical reality behind the metallic taste in my mouth: these new media habits of ours, which have supplanted the more sustainable habit of picking up a dictionary with the electronic choice of asking MerriamWebster.com, actually waste electricity, waste water, waste air, and waste people’s lives. There is actual environmental value in playing the guitar, reading a book, going for a walk, or continuing to argue about something instead of Googling it. Because, to put it concisely, your Tumblr feed burns coal, and the teens who mined the minerals in your smartphone were paid even less than the twentysomethings who assembled it.

You can read an expanded version of this post on Medium.

On White Girls Being Dredged From the Woods

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Steven Avery’s mugshot, via hellogiggles.com

Last night, my boyfriend and I started watching Making a Murderer, the new Netflix documentary series that suddenly everyone is talking about the way last year everyone talked about Serial. It’s a drawn-out real-life series that explores the contradictory story of Steven Avery, a maybe-maybe-not murderer and rapist.

As we settled into bed to watch the show, Ryan said, “I think he’s an accused rapist.”

“I think he’s a murderer,” I replied.

This was a coded conversation. Over the past year or two of must-watch TV, I’ve developed (and communicated) a real aversion to shows scripted around the same boring sex crime, where a young white woman’s mutilated body is unearthed from the elements, from woods or water or some grimy basement. In fact, my boyf and I have come to share–several times now–a moment of recognition and resignation when we realize that another of the shows everyone is raving about is, at its core, about investigating the disappearance, abuse, rape, and death of some white woman who is never a character but instead plays the canvas that the white guys in the show get to puffer up their masculinity around. How trite.

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Kyle Chandler in Netflix’s Bloodline

Thank you True Detective, thank you Lake of the Woods, thank you Making a Murderer, thank you Bloodline. That last one was hard to take. I thought this show was about a family trying to hold their hotel business together against the creepy rising waters of the Everglades? Oh, and also Kyle Chandler, the town detective, has to slowly pull a pale Latino woman’s mutilated teenage body from the dark dikes, then lay her out on a table so that the camera can slowly, slowly pan over the gruesome makeup this actress with no speaking lines spent so much time receiving, so we can see how much empathy he has, give him a good excuse to look real torn up. Fun. He looks upset about it

It’s not that I don’t want sexual assault stories told. I’m a survivor; our stories are important. It’s that these stories aren’t really about us. They’re medeival, hero’s stuff, chivalrous men discovering, protecting, avenging. The rape victims never matter in TV stories about rape.

***

In several pieces of writing about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, I’ve suggested that America’s ongoing fascination with the Kardashians’ penchant for dating Black men is rooted in a hundred-year-old lynching narrative in which white women are continually at risk for defilement and death by oversexualized, dangerous Black men. Peep the assault scene in Birth of a Nation, Woodrow Wilson’s favorite movie, in which the white woman character dares to open her family’s gate and immediately makes herself vulnerable–neigh, responsible, even–for being chased off a cliff by a unrestrained postbellum Black man.

In an essay for The American Reader I wrote a year ago, I considered the seeming absurdity of the Kardashians’ total domination of pop-media spaces that previous summer, even as news of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, and the protests that followed, spread (with little help from major news networks) around the globe. I argued that “cumulatively, what we are watching is a dissimulation of a lynching, where the murder happens in one corner of our screen while our coy rationales withdraw into the manifolds of popular culture.” That is, if we zoom out a bit from the individual television programs and look at the wider picture, what we see is a hypermediated recycling of the same story that was told under Jim Crow to justify lynchings, a story about the threat unrestrained Black men pose to white women’s bodies. The obsessive fixation with stories of white women’s despoilment on TV is a Pavlovian bell ringing through cultural history, calling up our country’s worst memories and worst arguments as it tenaciously fights against progress–against police reform, against prison abolition, against integration of the public schools, against affordable college, against the payment of college athletes, against anything that could allow a Black man to walk freely around in the open air in a neighborhood where a White girl might open her gate–a resistance as powerful as the one culture waged a hundred years ago when Black activists fought to protect their own from being murdered for an endless list of insipid excuses.

 

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Cultural fear-mongering on the cover of Star

One of the most surprising things about Making a Murderer is how, in the second episode, we see Steven Avery become a cause celebre for criminal justice reform in Wisconsin in the 1990s. Ah yes, the plight of the blue-eyed blondie who looks like every other blue-eyed blondie in Wisconsin demands the attention and sympathy of state lawmakers. I couldn’t help thinking what a diversion this had to be of justice-based activism in Wisconsin, when the face of wrongful incarceration is a smiling white guy, in the state that has been ranked the actual worst for Black Americans in the nation. HuffPo actually named Milwaukee–the regional capital of the area where Making a Murderer takes place–as the worst city for African Americans in the nation. Yet Steven Avery becomes the face of criminal justice reform, a face so compelling that without being sued or threatened, state lawmakers tried to rustle up a 6-figure settlement for him.

Can you imagine government functionaries producing reparations for a person of color without any external pressure to do so?

And then, in the second episode, we get another dead, raped white girl, a twenty-something, actually, who only talks once because mostly she’s missing or dead, laid out in the woods somewhere waiting for us to imagine what cruelty she experienced, waiting for white men to argue their goodness and integrity over the backdrop of her naked ass.

Netflix originals are cool and all, but where is the network that is ready to tell the real, diverse, systemic, important, exciting stories that this planet is brimming with? Stories of war, migration, agriculture, drugs, extortion, exploitation, mining, slaughterhouses, activism, revolution? From the perspective, goddamnit, of someone other than the white men who are invariably running things? I’m ready to watch them–and I think I’m not the only one.