Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Edward S. Herman (1925-2017)

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

RIP Edward Herman, who co-wrote a book that’s now more important than ever


We need a new ‘Manufacturing Consent’

Edward Herman, the co-author (with Noam Chomsky) of Manufacturing Consent, has died. He was 92. His work has never been more relevant.

Polls show Trump would win a repeat of last year’s election – a year later, we are dumber, and more divided, than ever

Manufacturing Consent was a kind of bible of media criticism for a generation of dissident thinkers. The book described with great clarity how the system of private commercial media in America cooperates with state power to generate propaganda.

Herman’s work was difficult for many to understand because the nature of the American media, then and now, seemed at best to be at an arm’s length from, say, the CIA or the State Department. Here is how the book put it:

“It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent.”

The basic thesis of Manufacturing Consent was that propaganda in America is generated through a few key idiosyncrasies of our (mostly private) system.

One is that getting the whole population to buy in to a narrative requires the sustained attention of the greater part of the commercial media, for at least a news cycle or two.

We don’t censor the truth in America, mostly. What we do instead is ignore it. If a lone reporter wants to keep banging a drum about something taboo, like contracting corruption in the military, or atrocities abroad, he or she will a) tend not advance in the business, and b) not be picked up by other media.

Therefore the only stories that tended to reach mass audiences were ones in which the basic gist was agreed upon by the editors and news directors of all or most of the major media companies.

In virtually all cases this little mini-oligarchy of media overlords kept the news closely in sync with the official pronouncements of the U.S. government.

The appearance of dissent was permitted in op-ed pages, where Democrats and Republicans “debated” things. But what readers encountered in these places was a highly ritualized, artificially narrow form of argument kept strictly within a range of acceptable opinions.

Herman and Chomsky stressed the concept of worthy and unworthy victims. In Manufacturing Consent, written during the Cold War, the idea was expressed thusly: One Polish priest murdered behind the Iron Curtain earned about a hundred times as much coverage as priests shot in Latin America by American-backed dictatorships.

The Polish priest was the worthy victim, the Latin American priests unworthy.

So Americans learned to be furious about atrocities committed in Soviet client states, but blind to almost exactly similar crimes committed within our own spheres of influence.

The really sad part about the Herman/Chomsky thesis was that it didn’t rely upon coercion or violence. Newspapers and TV channels portrayed the world in this America-centric way not because they were forced to. Mostly, they were just intellectually lazy and disinterested in the stated mission of their business, i.e., telling the truth.

Rollingstone for more

Edward S. Herman: Master of dissent (1925–2017)


One of the greatest and sweetest media critics ever, Edward S. Herman, has passed away. Ed was the main author of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, written with Noam Chomsky—the 1980s masterwork that exposed how elite US media typically function as propaganda organs for US empire and militarism.

In 1984, when I was part of a lawyers’ delegation monitoring an “election” in death squad-run El Salvador, I remember a gaggle of progressive attorneys at the Salvador Sheraton tussling with each other to get their hands on a shipment of hot-off-the-press copies of Demonstration Elections, Ed’s devastating book (with Frank Brodhead) on the US “staging” elections as PR shows to prop up repressive puppet regimes, from the Dominican Republic to Vietnam to Salvador.

He also wrote or co-wrote such classic works of political and media criticism as The Political Economy of Human Rights (with Chomsky); The Real Terror Network; Beyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda; and The Global Media (with Robert McChesney).

A longtime friend and supporter of FAIR, he wrote “By Any Means Necessary: The Ultra-Relativism of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page” (9–10/95) and “Good and Bad Genocide: Double Standards in Coverage of Suharto and Pol Pot” (9–10/98) for FAIR’s magazine Extra!.

FAIR for more

Edward S Herman: Scholar whose radical critiques of US media characterised the fake news caricatured by Trump


Noam Chomsky, co-author of ‘Manufacturing Consent’, told The Independent Herman was an ‘inspiration’ to those following in his footsteps in media studies, ‘exposing hypocrisy and lies’

In 1973, during the final throes of the Vietnam War, publisher Claude McCaleb was summoned to the office of William Sarnoff, his boss at Warner Communications in New York. According to McCaleb, an incensed Sarnoff attacked him for one of the works he was about to publish, calling it “a pack of lies”. Sarnoff announced that the book would not be released, and ordered the destruction of the Warner catalogue listing it.

The book was Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda, a blistering critique of US foreign policy in Vietnam and elsewhere. The authors were Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky, neither of whom cared to ingratiate themselves with America’s media elite.

Herman, who has died aged 92, would never attain the fame that befell his frequent co-author Chomsky. But he gained widespread recognition in financial academia for his illuminating studies of power and money, and on the radical left for his persistent deconstruction of the propagandistic filters through which mass media perceive, and present, the world.

Independent for more

Thank you, Ed Herman


Edward S. Herman died on November 11, 2017, at the age of 92. Fortunately, it was a peaceful death for a supremely peaceful man. In all he did, Ed Herman was a tireless champion of peace.

Ed Herman could be considered the godfather of antiwar media critique, both because of his own contributions and because of the many writers he encouraged to pursue that work. Thanks to his logical mind and sense of justice, he sharply grasped the crucial role and diverse techniques of media propaganda in promoting war. He immediately saw through lies, including those so insidious that few dare challenge them, such as the arrogant presumption by the U.S. War Party of the “right to protect” and the “need to prevent genocide”, to justify the oxymoronic “humanitarian war”.

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Donald Trump says recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will bring peace – it will do quite the opposite

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017


Israeli flags fly near the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on 5 December 2017 PHOTO/AFP/Getty

I was called by an Irish radio station in Dublin to respond to President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. What did I think was going on inside the US President’s mind, I was asked? And I replied immediately: “I don’t have the key to the lunatic asylum.” What might once have seemed an outrageously over-the-top remark was simply accepted as a normal journalistic reaction to the leader of the world’s greatest superpower. And re-listening to the speech that Trump made in the White House, I realised I should have been far less restrained. The very text of the document is insane, preposterous, shameful.

Goodbye Palestine. Goodbye the two-state solution. Goodbye the Palestinians. For this new Israeli “capital” is not for them. Trump did not even use the word “Palestine”. He talked about “Israel and the Palestinians” – in other words, of a state and of those who do not deserve – and can no longer aspire to – a state. No wonder I received a call in Beirut last night from a Palestinian woman who had just listened to the Trump destruction of the “peace process”. “Remember Kingdom of Heaven?” she asked me, referring to Ridley Scott’s great movie of the 1187 fall of Jerusalem. “Well it’s now the Kingdom of Hell.”

It’s not the Kingdom of Hell, of course. The Palestinians have been living in a kind of hell for a 100 years, ever since the Balfour Declaration declared Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, when a single sentence – in which our beloved Theresa May takes such “pride” – became a textbook for refugeedom and the future dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs from their lands. As usual, the Arab response this week was sickening, warning of the “dangers” of Trump’s decision, which was “unjustified and irresponsible” – this piece of fluff produced by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, the so-called protector of Islam’s two holiest places (the third being Jerusalem, although he didn’t quite manage to point that out) – and we can be sure that in the coming days many an “emergency committee” will be formed by Arab and Muslim institutions to deal with this “danger”. They will, as we all know, be worthless.

But it was the linguistic analysis of Noam Chomsky when I was at university – he later became a good friend – which I applied to the Trump speech. The first thing I spotted was, as I mentioned above, the absence of “Palestine”. I always put the word in quotation marks because I don’t believe it will ever exist as a state. Go and look at the Jewish colonies in the West Bank and it’s clear that Israel has no intention that it should exist in the future. But that’s no excuse for Trump. In the spirit of the Balfour Declaration – which referred to Jews but to the Arabs as “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” – Trump downgrades the Arabs of Palestine to “Palestinians”.

Yet even at the start, the chicanery begins. Trump talks about “very fresh thinking” and “new approaches”. But there is nothing new about Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, since the Israelis have been banging on about this for decades. What is “new” is that – for the benefit of his party, Christian Evangelicals and those who claim to be American supporters of Israel – Trump has simply turned away from any notion of fairness in peace negotiations and run with Israel’s ball. Past presidents have issued waivers against the 1995 Jerusalem Congress Act, not because “delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace” but because that recognition should be given to the city as a capital for two peoples and two states – not one.

Then Trump tells us that his decision “is in the best interests” of the US. But he can’t explain how – by effectively taking America out of future “peace” negotiations and destroying any claim (admittedly dubious by now) that the US is an “honest broker” in these talks – this will benefit Washington. It clearly won’t – though it might help Trump’s party funding – since it further lowers American power, prestige and standing across the Middle East. Then he claims that “like every other sovereign nation”, Israel has the right to determine its own capital. Up to a point, Lord Copper. For when another people – the Arabs rather than just the Jews – also want to claim that city as a capital (or at least the east of it), then that right is suspended until a final peace comes into existence.

Yahoo for more

Will Congress bless internet fast lanes?

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017


IMAGE/Getty Images/Yagi Studio/Ars Technica

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gets ready to abandon a decade of progress on net neutrality, some in Congress are considering how new legislation could fill the gap and protect users from unfair ISP practices. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers seem to be embracing the idea that they should allow ISPs to create Internet “fast lanes” — also known as “paid prioritization,” one of the harmful practices that violates net neutrality. They are also looking to re-assign the job of protecting customers from ISP abuses to the Federal Trade Commission.

These are both bad ideas. Let’s start with paid prioritization. In response to widespread public demand from across the political spectrum, the 2015 Open Internet Order expressly prohibited paid prioritization, along with other unfair practices like blocking and throttling. ISPs have operated under the threat or the reality of these prohibitions for at least a decade, and continue to be immensely profitable. But they’d like to make even more money by double-dipping: charging customers for access to the Internet, and then charging services for (better) access to customers. And some lawmakers seem keen to allow it.

That desire was all too evident in a recent hearing on the role of antitrust in defending net neutrality principles. Subcommittee Chairman Tom Marino gave a baffling defense of prioritization, suggesting that it’s necessary or even beneficial to users for ISPs to give preferential treatment to certain content sources. Rep. Marino said that users should be able to choose between a more expensive Internet experience and a cheaper one that prioritizes the ISPs preferred content sources. He likened Internet service to groceries, implying that by disallowing paid prioritization, the Open Internet Order forced more casual Internet users to waste their money: “Families who just want the basics or are on a limited income aren’t forced to subsidize the preferences of shoppers with higher-end preferences.”

Rep. Darrel Issa took the grocery metaphor a step further, saying that paid prioritization is the modern day equivalent of the practice of grocery stores selling prime placement to manufacturers: “Within Safeway, they’ve decided that each endcap is going to be sold to whoever is going to pay the most – Pepsi, Coke, whoever – that’s certainly a prioritization that’s paid for.”

That’s an absurd analogy. Unlike goods at a physical store, every bit of Internet traffic can get the best placement, and no one on a limited income is “subsidizing” their richer neighbors. When providers choose to slow down certain types of traffic, they’re not doing it because that traffic is somehow more burdensome; they’re doing it to push users toward the content and service the ISP favors (or has been paid to favor)—the very behavior the Open Internet Order was intended to prevent. ISPs become gatekeepers rather than conduit.

As ISPs and content companies have become increasingly intertwined, the dangers of ISPs giving preferential treatment to their own content sources—and locking out alternative sources—have become ever more pronounced. That’s why in 2016 the FCC launched a lengthy investigation into ISPs’ zero-rating practices and whether they violated the Open Internet Order.

Electronic Frontier Foundation for more

Trump’s error on Jerusalem is a disaster for the Arab world … and the US too

Monday, December 11th, 2017


Palestinians in Rafah protest on 6 December against US plans to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. PHOTO/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

Every time it seems Donald Trump cannot outdo himself, he does it again. Now he has announced that his administration will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, reversing nearly seven decades of American policy. This step will have multiple negative ramifications, many impossible to predict.

Jerusalem is the most important of the so-called final status issues that have been repeatedly deferred during the Israel-Palestine negotiations because of their extreme sensitivity. Trump has ploughed into this imbroglio like a bull in a china shop, zeroing in on the most complex and emotional issue of all those connected to Palestine.

Jerusalem is undoubtedly the most important aspect of the entire Palestine question. It has been central to the identity of Palestinian Muslims and Christians as far back as the founding moments of both religions, and has become even more so as the conflict over Palestine has become fiercer.

The rivalry over this holy city is exacerbated by the fact that the same site – the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, the Temple Mount to Jews – is sacred to both. Because of its explosive nature, this is an issue that no Palestinian politician, and few Arab leaders, would dare to trifle with.

For someone such as me, whose family has lived in Jerusalem for hundreds of years, Trump’s announcement does not just mean that the US has adopted the Israeli position that Jerusalem belongs exclusively to Israel. He has also retroactively legitimised Israel’s seizure and military occupation of Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 war, and its imposition of discriminatory laws on hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living there. The damage he has done will be permanent: the US cannot undo this recognition.

This act completely disqualifies the US from its longstanding role as broker, a position that Washington has monopolised for itself. So much for the pitiful “peace plan” that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was cooking up and hoping to impose on the Palestinians.

Trump’s action signals disdain for the opinion of the whole Arab world. Whatever Arab dictators and absolute monarchs may tell the Americans they depend on, the Arab peoples are unanimous in supporting the Palestinian position on Jerusalem. Their inevitable reactions to this move will impinge on vital US interests all over the region. As secretary of defense James Mattis noted in 2013: “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of [Central Command] because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

The Guardian for more

Yemen: Ten myths about Saudi war of aggression debunked

Monday, December 11th, 2017


Why is Yemen not being described as a Holocaust. Why are the western governments and media refusing to use the H word when they use it so liberally to demonise target governnments or nations? Even Bana Alabed used it in her Tweets that were written for her by her mother, with western PR agencies as the “hidden hand”.

Former US Represenative at the UN in New York, Samantha Power, employed the H word regarding #Aleppo where US backed terrorists were the ones carrying out atrocities against Syrian civilians. Cynical use of the word to reinforce the US’ own whitewash of terrorism in Syria.

The same degree of terrorism is happening in Yemen, only now the H word is not employed because the US coalition wants to whitewash the daily war crimes committed by the Saudi coalition, supported & endorsed by the US, EU, UK and UN.

Call it what it is! Yemen is a Holocaust and it is being committed by our regimes in the west who are fully cognizant of their own criminality & that of their client state coalition which has been waging a genocidal war of aggression and attrition against the Yemeni people for more than 1000 days.

The following report from Randi Nord of Geopolitical Alerts debunks 10 of the mainstay myths that are being promulgated by the colonial media in the west to muddy the waters on Yemen and distract from the Saudi coalition ethnic cleansing-project reality:

1: Not A Civil War

A civil war would indicate that Yemenis are fighting other Yemenis for control. This in itself is wrong.

Yemen’s resistance (which includes Ansarullah, the Republican Guard, and others) is currently fighting Saudi-backed mercenaries on the ground. This includes many Sudanese and U.A.E. soldiers as well as privately-hired Blackwater mercenaries.

It can’t be a civil war because Saudi Arabia and their allies are an invading force occupying Yemen shipping in foreign fighters.

2: Not a Proxy War

Well, on the one hand, it is a proxy war, but the only proxies are the ones backed by Saudi Arabia and their allies.

Yemen’s resistance does not receive outside support and is not fighting for any foreign power– they simply want to self-determine and control Yemen free of foreign interference.

For the conflict in Yemen to be a proxy war, another foreign power would have to be manipulating Yemen’s resistance and this simply isn’t the case. (More on that later.)

3: Not a Sunni vs Shia Conflict

If any news outlet boils the war in Yemen (or any war, really) down to a mere Sunni-Shia conflict, you should immediately stop reading that outlet.

This argument, first of all, ignores all other factors and power structures boiling a conflict down to mere religious differences. It’s just plain ignorant.

Yes, Yemen’s Ansarullah movement was founded by Zaydi Shia Muslims. But it includes fighters and politicians from several sects and religions who simply don’t want foreign powers controlling their country. Plus, calling Saudi Arabia Sunni while ignoring their intolerant and violent Wahhabi ideology is a disgrace to all peaceful Sunni Muslims.

4: Saudi Arabia has Always Wanted Political and Economic Control of Yemen

A look back at the last century of Arabian history tells you all you need to know about the Saudi’s intentions in Yemen.

During Yemen’s 1962 revolution, Saudi Arabia supported the Royalists fighting to keep Yemen an Imamate. They knew that an independent Yemen would turn into a strong country– just south of their border– which would become a competitor.

Even back then, a Shia-led Imamate was preferable to a Yemeni republic from the Saudi’s perspective. Yemen is still the only republic on the Arabian peninsula.

Such is still the case today: Saudi Arabia cannot stand to see a pluralist, economically-viable, independent republic on the Arabian Peninsula.

5: The Houthis (Ansarullah) are NOT an Iranian Militia

The Saudi’s behavior in Yemen is genuinely gruesome and repulsive. How can the United States and their friends in Europe possibly justify militarily supporting this war of terror?

Ah yes, Iran, of course. Unfortunately for the imperialists, there isn’t evidence to back this accusation.

In fact, all of their “Iranian influence” claims end up leading to dead-ends such as ambiguous boats in the gulf or unidentified smuggling routes via Kuwait.

Not only do Ansarullah, Yemen’s resistance, and Iran all deny a relationship, but there isn’t evidence to suggest they have one.

Yemen’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee based in the capital Sana’a has the equipment to manufacture and develop their own weapons.The former President Saleh was a previous U.S. ally who received significant military aid during the early “War on Terror” years.

So there’s no shortage of weapons in Yemen. And has the media forgotten the Saudi-imposed land, sea, and air blockade?

6: Al Qaeda is a De Facto US Ally in Yemen

21st Century Wire for more

Barbara Ehrenreich: Worker abuse is rampant, and sexual harassment is just the start

Monday, December 11th, 2017


ILLUSTRATION/Lisa Larson-Walker PHOTO/Betsie Van der Meer/Getty Images

Barbara Ehrenreich has written extensively about the impossibility of getting by with low-wage work in the U.S. and the everyday indignities workers in the U.S. face on the job. In her best-selling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, Ehrenreich wrote about her yearlong experience of going undercover as a low-wage worker. In a follow-up, Ehrenreich explored the world of middle-class white-collar jobs and the insecurity and humiliation of the jobs available to workers who did everything they were supposed to do to live the American dream. She’s also written about the growing inequality between rich and poor in This Land Is Their Land and the false promises of “positive thinking” in Bright-Sided. Ehrenreich is the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which promotes journalism about inequality in the United States.

Last week, Ehrenreich chimed in on the ongoing revelations of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry with a tweet:

Our current sex harassment discussion is woefully class-skewed. Too much about actresses and not enough about hotel housekeepers.
— Barbara Ehrenreich (@B_Ehrenreich) November 9, 2017

I asked her to expound on the conversation she wishes we were having and the cases not being covered. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.

Haley Swenson: Did you have a particular case in mind that wasn’t being covered when you wrote your tweet?

Barbara Ehrenreich: Well, one case that comes to mind was the allegations against Dominique Strauss Kahn made by a hotel housekeeper. But I was also thinking about the numbers found by the hotel housekeepers union in Chicago, Unite Here. They found a shocking number, almost 60 percent of hotel housekeepers, reports being sexually harassed on the job. They go up to somebody’s room and there’s no one else there, and some guy tries something or is there with no clothes on while they try to do their jobs. This is routine.

And the other big category of workers we should talk about are waitresses. A waitress has to be prepared basically all the time to hear remarks on her body. And I have experience with that. I worked as a housekeeper for [Nickel and Dimed] and earned $6/hour. But I also worked as a waitress for the book, and I was a waitress when I was in my late teens. I was much prettier then—though I’m not sure what that has to do with it. It happened all the time. The worst thing is a pat on the butt. And waitresses talk to each other—we’ll say, “Hey, watch out for that one,” but it’s thought of as just a part of the job. It’s like, “Well, do you want a tip?”

“You know, they can do pretty much what they want to you, and if you want the job, you just shut up.”
—Barbara Ehrenreich

The other thing we need to start talking about are just everyday instances of harassment that don’t meet the standard of sexual harassment that happen to people in their jobs. I wrote about this case in my book This Land is Their Land, where a sales company would motivate their employees by spanking both men and women who didn’t meet their quotas. They’d stand them up at the front of a room and use a giant ruler. And it was brought to court by a woman, but it was decided this wasn’t sexual harassment because it was happening to both men and women.

There was another employer I wrote about in Bright-Sided that was actually waterboarding employees who didn’t perform well. As part of a motivational exercise, a salesman was held down and had water poured down in his mouth and nose. You know, they can do pretty much what they want to you, and if you want the job, you just shut up.

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Weekend Edition

Friday, December 8th, 2017

Palestine – from Balfour to Trump

Friday, December 8th, 2017


IMAGE/Cartoon Movement

A mural resembling the work of elusive artist Banksy depicting President Donald Trump wearing a Jewish skullcap, is seen on Israel’s West Bank separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. PHOTO/Associate Press/The Express Tribune

in 1917, a monster named Balfour declared:

“His Majesty’s government view with favour
establishment in Palestine
of a national home for the Jewish people,
and will use their best endeavours to facilitate
the achievement of this object,
it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done
which may prejudice the civil and religious rights
of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine,
or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews
in any other country.”

James Balfour was foreign secretary of Britain
the then super power of the world

thus began a tragic century of

refugee status
territorial loss
security checkups
emotional anguish
physical hardships
constant conflicts

but Palestinians had one hope
their little future independent Palestine
made up of Gaza and West Bank
would have East Jerusalem as their capital

but 2017 saw another monster called Trump
who kicked the tired/wretched Palestinians
by announcing to move the US embassy to East Jerusalem
and thus ended the centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration

B. R. Gowani can be reached at

Not every kid-bond matures

Friday, December 8th, 2017


Millennials taking a selfie PHOTO/CommScope

Millennial habits so often mocked and belittled in the press are the survival strategies of a demographic “born into captivity.”

On a recent visit to my parents, my mother asked me whether I want to have kids. Being 30 and single, an uncle to a niece and a nephew through both my siblings, I’ve started to get questions from older generations about my plans to reproduce. This began later for me than it does for women and is a fraction as oppressive, but to be honest I’d thought male privilege would shield me from it entirely. When this defense failed, I forestalled a line of inquiry from my mother by talking about climate change. Even as I said it, I knew it was an already hackneyed form of stonewalling. You can defend any uncertainty these days by evoking melting ice sheets and disappearing permafrost.

But she’d never heard anyone take this tack before—at least not since her own generation’s “population bomb” version of the same story. “That,” my mom said slowly, “is so heavy.” Over the course of the rest of my visit, she mentioned it to others my age for confirmation, to others her age in incredulity. “Gabe says nobody in his generation wants to have kids because of climate change. Did you know about this?”

How could the gap between us be so great? What seemed to me such a commonplace as to be evasive and impersonal appeared to my mother as a serious human quandary—which in fact it is. I’m more politically optimistic than my mother, yet I was taken aback to realize how much darker the future seems to me than to her. Then I remembered: she’s a boomer, I’m a millennial, and this is the song of the season.

There hasn’t been a generational divide this pronounced since the 1960s. The flareups that have occurred have been aftershocks of the 1960s—as in the 1992 confrontation between World War II veteran George H. W. Bush and draft dodger Bill Clinton with the wife who didn’t want to bake cookies. Generational analysis rarely got beyond generic psychobabble: The “greatest generation” were stoic, laconic survivors, boomers the spoiled offspring of Dr. Spock, et cetera. The actual “life chances” of the generations were not meaningfully different, and politics did not line up with the generations. Clinton’s best generational slice of the electorate in 1992 was the senior vote, but he performed pretty evenly overall, winning between 41 and 50 percent in every age category. Neither party enjoyed any significant preference from the young or the old in particular.

N+1 for more

Welcome to the era of the AI coworker

Friday, December 8th, 2017



Last fall, Google Translate rolled out a new-and-improved artificial intelligence translation engine that it claimed was, at times, “nearly indistinguishable” from human translation. Jost Zetzsche could only roll his eyes. The German native had been working as a professional translator for 20 years, and he’d heard time and time again that his industry would be threatened by advances in automation. Every time, he’d found, the hype was overblown—and Google Translate’s makeover was no exception. It certainly wasn’t the key to translation, he thought.

But it was remarkably good. Google had spent the better part of 2016 reworking its translation tool to be powered by AI—and in doing so, it had created something unnervingly powerful. Google Translate, once known for producing stilted but passable translations, had begun producing fluid, highly accurate prose. The kind of output that, to the untrained eye, was nearly indistinguishable from human translation. A 15,000-word New York Times story hailed it as “the great AI awakening.” The engine quickly began learning new tricks, figuring out how to translate language pairs it hadn’t encountered before: If it could do English to Japanese and English to Korean, it could figure out Korean to Japanese. At last month’s Pixel 2 launch, Google took its ambitious agenda a step further, introducing wireless headphones that it promised could translate 40 languages in real-time.

Since IBM debuted its pioneering machine translation system in 1954, the notion of a flawless machine translator has captured the imagination of programmers and the public alike. Science fiction writers have seized upon the idea, serving up utopian visions ranging from Star Trek’s Universal Translator to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s Babel Fish. Human-level translation—fluent prose that captures the meaning of the source text—is a holy grail of machine learning: one of the “AI-complete” challenges that, if conquered, would indicate that a machine had reached a human level of intelligence. The fanfare around Google’s advances in neural machine translation implied that the grail was within reach—and, along with it, the moment when human workers become obsolete.

But translators have long been on the frontlines of AI-induced job panic, and they aren’t worried. In fact, some are delighted. For those that have seized on the potential of AI tools, productivity has skyrocketed, along with demand for their work.

Think of them as the canary in the white-collar coal mine. At the moment, they’re still singing. As deep learning burgeons, many industries are coming to grips with the fact that AI is indeed capable of tasks that were once regarded as deeply human. Unlike drivers and warehouse employees, knowledge workers aren’t in immediate danger of being displaced. But as AI becomes an essential part of their workflow, their jobs are changing—and there’s no guarantee that today’s helpful AI tools won’t become a threat in the future. This presents workers with a choice: Set aside your ego and embrace your new AI coworker, or get left behind.

Wired for more