Author Archives: davidbanks

We Are More Than Our Brains

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NPR launched a new show this month called Invisibilia that “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” The show’s hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller are great personalities and the show is beautifully edited in a way that doesn’t reach the Reggie Watts-esque soundscape of Radiolab nor does it stick closely to the dry public radio persona that has been lampooned countless times. I was, however, really disappointed when I learned that the huge topics under investigation in this show would only be understood through “psychological and brain science.” There are a lot of different disciplines that can be brought to bear on huge topics like “ideas” so why are we getting another show that confuses humans for brains? (more…)

#OpCharlieHebdo is a Terrible Idea

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On January 9th, people donning the symbols of Anonymous promised a “massive reaction” to the shooting deaths of over a dozen people in Paris. Posted to YouTube and Pastebin under the hashtag #OpCharlieHebdo, Anonymous proclaimed, “It’s obvious that some people don’t want, in a free world, this sacrosanct right to express in any way one’s opinions. Anonymous has always fought for the freedom of speech, and will never let this right besmirched [sic] by obscurantism and mysticism.” Obviously what happened in Paris was a despicable act and I have little sympathy for the perpetrators but their actions weren’t random. What happened in Paris is the beginning of a fight between fanatics who hold polar opposite views on free speech and the battle lines being drawn are dangerously close to the ones that outline the War on Terror.  (more…)

Neither Here Nor There

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Just seven days in and 2015 has already given us two tough events to deal with: the bombing of an NAACP office in Colorado Springs, Colorado and a shooting in Paris that seems to have targeted the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. Out of what seems to be sheer luck, no one was killed in Colorado but 12 people are reported dead from the shooting in Paris. Both events are tragic, scary, and infuriating, but only one seems to be getting front page mainstream news attention. (more…)

My Top False Blog Post Starts of 2014

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There are lots of posts that start but often go unwritten. Some don’t even make it past the first sentence. They just sit in the posts list in WordPress or in a Google Doc until I pronounce them trash. Here, in order from phoning it in to most profound (in memoriam of David Letterman’s Tonight Show, or is it the Late Show I don’t even care enough to Google it), are my best false blog post starts of the year.

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Attention Topographies and Small Town Protest

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Every year my little city of Troy, New York holds a kind of Dickensonian Renaissance festival called The Victorian Stroll. The Stroll has been going strong for over 30 years and it affords an opportunity for lots of white people to dress up in period clothing that matches the surrounding buildings and ––as some have recently demonstrated–– their retrograde race politics. Even police officers don those funny dome-shaped hats and long wool coats that make it seem as though they’re ready to beat someone up over taking too much gruel. A few really great activists in the area organized a #Shutitdown solidarity event at The Stroll and I was there to capture video. The video above is a nice summary of what we were able to accomplish. (more…)

Mediating a Torture Report

photo of George W Bush smiling wearing a cowboy hat with text overlaid that reads "The CIA's record keeping was so shoddy, "they lost track and they didn't really know who they were holding."

Earlier this week the Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, more commonly known as just “The Torture Report” was declassified and made public and like many people I downloaded it. But given that it is a 525-page behemoth of documented state violence, most people are going to understandably look for summaries and analyses, letting other people do the hard work of pulling out important passages from the heaping pile of passive voice and bureaucratic jargon. While the report is deeply disturbing, the mainstream attention it has been getting is somewhat heartening. What might have dominated, but ultimately fallen out of, a couple of rapidly shifting news cycles has exploded over my Tumblr dashboard and Twitter feed in a constant stream of tiny, comprehensible bites of war crimes. Consuming national disgrace in small pieces isn’t necessarily new, it is the primary way the public learns about abuses of power. (more…)

Anti-Consuming Ferguson

A tweeted picture of predominantly white faces with their hands up in a mall. Tweet reads: Back in #macys "hands up, don't shop" #blackoutblackFriday #boycottblackfriday #blacklivesmatter. tweet by @seanick_

This one time I got to meet Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir. They’re fun people with a knack for spectacle. The Reverend dresses up in all white to match his brilliant, platinum pompadour, and leads people into a mall or a busy street corner to preach and sing about the evils of consumer society. A small group of us exorcised a Bank of America ATM which was a great diversion for reaching around and unplugging it. All in all it was a lovely afternoon but today I’m nervous about the way people who look like me (white) are organizing around this topic. Given that it is prime time for shopping, it also means it is an excellent opportunity to protest the intricate tapestry of social norms and institutions that make up present-day consumerism. It is certainly true that lots of people should probably consume less than they do, but the activism around consumerism is often tin-eared and tone deaf when it comes to issues of class and, as we are seeing this year, race. (more…)

What Would a Better Technological Society Look Like?

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One of the most dangerous misconceptions about our present political climate is that it is broken. That too many “bad apples” have achieved high-ranking positions and it s their greed and malfeasance that is to blame for rising inequality and state-sanctioned violence. Overcrowded prisons, rapid gentrification, industrial disasters, and predatory banking practices aren’t bugs, they’re features of our current historical moment. Even if CEOs and presidents wanted to end any of these problems tomorrow, they could easily be sued or even jailed for threatening their bottom lines. And while we should never hold critics to the impossible standard of “come up with a better system” it never hurts, from time to time, to play Minecraft with words and come up with some replacements for the current way of doing things. What would a vastly better technological society look like? (more…)

Stop Interviewing Snowden, or Encryption, Plus Rights Does not Equal Justice

 

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Edward Snowden is a very smart and courageous person. He has a brilliant mind for identifying important information and deciding who should know it and when–– what is typically called “operational security” or OpSec. It is the kind of rarified skill that quickly earned him a top spot in a private intelligence corporation before achieving the dubious honor of best known whistle blower. That being said, I have one simple request for media outlets: stop interviewing Snowden. (more…)

A Few Notes for STS on Big Data

In the 60s there was this flourishing of  _________Studies Departments across Western academe. Women’s Studies, Cultural Studies, American Studies, Urban Studies, African American Studies, and Science and Technology Studies set up shop in large Universities and small colleges and slowly but surely created robust intellectual communities of their own. These interdisciplinary fields of study sought to break apart centuries-old notions about the noun that came before “studies.” It was a radical idea for the social and behavioral sciences that now seems somewhat banal; focusing an entire department on a subject, rather than a method or tradition, allowed researchers to focus on pressing issues at the expense of traditional methodological barriers. One could easily argue that this approach produced some of the most influential academic and popular writing of the 20th century. The 21st century has seen an unfortunate decline in these institutions and the complex problems they sought to investigate and mitigate have come roaring back in uncanny ways. (more…)