Archive for December, 2017

The Interregnum Mile: Chapter Nine

Posted: December 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

CHAPTER NINE
(for Don B.)

English stood by his carving station, in astute attention, over-compensating for the nervousness he feared his body would reveal. If he were ever caught…. He couldn’t even think about it. He turned his attention to the steaming roast beef, hot under the yellow food lamp. The smell made him nauseous.

The Romer Onyx banquets were always quite an extravaganza, whenever they were launching a new project or product. All the executive Board, stock holders, and stake holders would gather like well-heeled and well-mannered vultures, chattering around one another in self-indulgent adoration of their very existence.

The last time they had held a gathering this big, with long rows of buffet, more suited to a king’s coronation than a stock holders meeting was the day they launched the data pods. English remember how the R.O executives cooed and crowed over their creation, and how it would “revolutionize the relationships” between capital (aka their money) and the producers of their capital (the communities) through seamless portals of data mining.

While large percentages of the globe continued to operate under the sway of this partnership –of- domination –through- surveillance, more and more decolonized cities were cropping up, following the example of Interregnum City. Romer Onyx’s control, and profits, weakened with every city that unplugged. If this spread of meats, salads, desserts, and ice sculptures that English had been charged with coordinating for today, was any indication, whatever it was they were launching next, which must have taken them decades to construct, was going to be even bigger.

English eyed Ryder protectively, who was at the far corner, dressed as a waiter. Nervousness leaked off of him. His movements were mechanical, forced, and stiff. He did not carry himself like someone who had been trained as R.O wait staff. English hoped the CEO’s would be too full of themselves today to notice the odd looking waiter who could barely pour glasses of water without shaking.

Mr. Parks, in his crisp dark blue suit made his way to the podium at the front of the ballroom. Mr. Parks had been CEO of Romer Onyx as long as English could recall, which was now over twenty years. He must have risen through the ranks as a very young executive groomed for world domination. How else does someone else to get to become as powerful as him?

English had started working with the company as a young widow, desperate to provide for his two children, after the loss of their mother. Back then, no one fully understood what R.O was doing to their communities in the name of “progress.” Once the community members realized how R.O was controlling them, English had wanted to quit, but it was Pops who convinced him to stay on, and be a source of necessary information. Given how the community had rejected their partnerships with R.O., English was surprised that Mr. Parks was willing to keep him on a Chief Chef in charge of all food distribution for the company and their neighborhood “partnerships.” Mr. Parks had simply said, “English. You’re a good worker. I don’t want to have to bother retraining someone else. You just keep doing a good job and we will be just fine.” It was a simple as that. English saw firsthand how R.O used access to food and water as instruments of control over desperate communities.
English chuckled to himself. Over the last ten years or so, Mr. Parks clearly had forgotten who English was, and where he’d come from or he would have never allowed him to be present for this current unveiling. Of course, part of his job was to be vetted for security clearance. English had dutifully moved out of Interregnum City and into the R.O established living quarters. It was comfortable enough…as long as you didn’t ask any questions. Which English never did, publicly at least. He had quietly worked his way into the wallpaper, so to speak. He excelled at going un-noticed. English knew he would have to remain so until he could reach Pops with news of what he was learning.

“Excuse me,” Mr. Parks called with authority through the podium microphone. “Please, have a seat. May I have your attention?”

The room of about forty people (mostly grey haired white males) obediently took their seats. Mr. Parks announced, “We’d like to begin our program for this evening. I think you’ll be quite pleased with what we have to present to you. It’s going to revolutionize the face of our community relations.” English had heard that before.

English and Ryder caught one others attention from across the room. Ryder had to lean against the wall to keep from falling. The fabric of waiter jacket was hot and itchy, and the sleeves agitated his wrists. He wanted to claw his way out of it. Oh god, what could be worse than the data pods? he asked himself. English tried to give him a weak smile of assurance as if to say, “Hang in there. It’ll be ok.”

“I’d like to introduce you all to our top scientist, Dr. Caldwell, who will be sharing with you his latest work. I think you’ll be quite pleased.”

Not likely, English thought as he stirred the large silver tray of mashed potatoes.

The large movie screen behind Mr. Parks lit up, as Mr. Caldwell rose to the sound of polite applause, and he walked up toward the podium. An image appeared on the screen which read, “The future of bio-data.” Next to it was a picture of a field of corn, and next to that another picture of a smiling family of four, all seated around a computer screen as if looking at something happy.
What the…? English wondered.

“Thank you,” Dr. Caldwell began nervously. He was a short portly man with unkempt hair that looked like it hadn’t been washed in days. He was a cliché of his scientific field. Probably hadn’t been out of the lab in years. English doubted that this man had any personal relationships or family whatsoever.

“As you can probably guess, I am not very good at public speaking.” A light wave of laughter floated over the room. He smiled. “So, I will get right to the point. I don’t want to be the only thing that stands between you and that amazing buffet of food R.O has provided for us today.” English felt self –conscious, as all eyes turned to him for a brief moment. He looked down and quickly stirred the tureen of soup, avoiding eye contact with the audience.

Dr. Caldwell clicked the remote, and another screen appeared– large over his head. It said: The future of biometric data. You are what you eat.

Click. New slide.

“We all know what happened twenty years ago after the development of data pods was so painfully rejected by some of our sister-cities.”

Ryder was stacking cups and napkins at the coffee station. He kept his back to the audience. An image of the destroyed data pod of Interregnum City came on the screen. There were murmurs in the crowd.
How did that get that image? English wondered. It seemed like R.O could do anything. Maybe they were gods, after all.

“So,” Dr. Caldwell interjected, trying to regain the attention of the crowd, “One of the problems we encountered was that the data pods, though efficient for their time, proved to be too external. Too out of our immediate control.”

Next slide: A magnified picture of a very tiny microchip…or something like that. Whatever it was, English had never seen anything like it. The Black Hatters had never talked about anything like this. You could see that, as the thing was placed next to someone’s thumb, as if to give the viewer a sense of scale, it was smaller than the size of a tip of a splinter underneath the skin.

“This… is ‘cyber-sky-supplement’ or CSS for short,” Dr. Caldwell pronounced this as if he were announcing the naming of a newborn child. His child. “CSS is the new face of biotechnology that will allow us to create immediate and direct relationships between our products and the data we need to continue our work. In this age where knowledge, or data, is capital, failing partnerships like the one’s started with Interregnum City, and more happening each week, we need a new way to interface with our sources of data that require no middle-man. Data pods were a middle man. But without them, how do we continue the necessary flow of knowledge in order to continue our work? We provide everything from quality of living improvements, financial services, food distribution, medical care… we provide everything to our partner communities. But, as you already know, we need their data to provide these services. We need their body metrics to create new medicines and manage healthy providers. We need their educational data to distribute individualized school services. We need their social, behavioral, and emotional data to ensure our investments in their businesses are not so risky that we face another financial collapse. While it hurts us that certain communities” he toned with disgust, “would refuse our services, maybe we need to rethink how we create these partnerships. As we are now learning, not everything can be serviced through cyber space alone. Outsourcing to the data pods exposed us to risk. Relying on good faith agreements with communities to participate prove insufficient. What can replace the middle man? Answer? We go back to the source. After all, without humans, without our very bodily existence, none of this matters, anyway.”

Slide: An image of a human body resembling the famous work by Leonardo Da Vinci entitled Vitruvian Man.  Ryder recognized it from one of Keesha’s art books. He wondered about her and where she was right now. With her mom painting some happy mural he assumed. He wished she were here because as Dr. Caldwell was unveiling his monstrous masterpiece, all Ryder wanted to do was to cry in her arms.

“The CSS is so microscopic it is odorless and tasteless. It is virtually, no pun intended,” he stops to laugh at his own cleverness, “undetectable.” Once inside the human organism, it begins to move from a fabricated piece of artificial intelligence into something that learns from the human body, and transforms into an organic entity that evolves into a functioning part of the living organism itself. It is not necessary for the survival of the human organism such as heart, but functions on a more superfluous basis like the tonsils or the gallbladder.”

English felt the gravity beneath his feet fading away. Everything around him whirled in a free fall. He braced himself against the table. Ryder has seated himself in the darker corner at an empty round table. No one was paying attention to him. All eyes were glued to the screen. Jovial murmurs were replaced with total silence. The room felt like a cemetery at midnight.

“Our technology has allowed us to develop the CSS so that all internal sources of data, sources which once relied on external vehicles of transmission by way of computers and cell phone and surveillance networks attached to the data pods, can now be brought to us directly and immediately. Big data is “NOW” data. Data that cannot be interrupted through external chains of command.”

One man seated at a table in the middle of the room raised his hand. “But…” he fumbled for the right words. “Is it safe?”

It was clear from his facial expression that Dr. Caldwell was expecting this question.

“Yes” he said emphatically. “Yes. It is. It was born out of earlier work with GMO’s. We thought, we can genetically modify the food, but can we create food materials that can genetically modify the human? And what can we do with those genetic modifications? So, we all know the science on GMO’s. I won’t go into those critiques against it. Nothing bad can be proven.”
Nods of approval erupted in the room.

“So, the CSS pairs GMO science with cyber Intel. The CSS is a consumable piece of artificial intelligence that learns from its host until it becomes a seamless part of the organism itself, which also transmits data through the cloud back to the original source, which is Romer Onyx. To your question– is it safe? In addition to relying on our work with GMOs we have engaged in trial runs of this process.”

What? English couldn’t believe this. They’ve experimented on humans already? How did they get participants willing to do that?

As if on cue, Dr. Caldwell explained, “We created contractual arrangements with our pre-natal medical unit and women who were searching for ways to bear a child. Through the fertility and in vitro fertilization center, we identified women who agreed to allow R.O to provide them with the means to conceive and carry to a child to full term so long as that child was inserted with CSS material within the DNA materials used to produce a viable fetus.”

Dr. Caldwell paused. He knows this is a lot to process, even for the executive board of the most powerful technologically advanced corporation on the globe.
“We’ve been tracking their progress now for about fifteen years.”

“You’ve been doing this for fifteen years, and never told any of the Board?” one bearded man demanded incredulously. He was either angry or confused, but from where English stood behind his carving station, it was difficult to tell.

“We had to keep this completely top secret until we had worked out all the bugs.”
What a funny term for life altering, perhaps life-ending mistakes, thought English. Bugs.
“While there were some miscalculations about how to manage the CSS once inside the fetus, especially as the human host moves through levels of maturation, we seem to have isolated the problems with our technology. Now we can go to scale.”

“Scale? But … how?” the same bearded man, asked more incredulous than before. “We can’t just go around inseminating women with CSS- infused DNA to produce children who are carriers of this data system!”

Click. New Screen. Dr. Caldwell pointed at the large image.
“Through the primary sources of human survival. Food and water. This can work easily with our existing sister-cities who already buy food and water resources through our distribution centers. Their contractual agreements state that we are permitted to alter the genetic composition of our foods, without disclosing this information to them, because biosecurity demands that we keep such information secret. Similarly, we have agreements that in exchange for ease and comfort of all the resources we provide, sister communities willingly give over their personal biodata anyway. Since the addition of CSS to all our food and drinking water resources complies with both contractual agreements, no further disclosure is necessary. We are doing this to better care for and control surveillance of our sources of capital. Who can fault us for that?”

The man seated next to the incredulous man scratched his chin. “Yes, but,” he blurts out, “What about the off script communities? The ones who destroyed the data pods and exist free of any outsourcing except with other off-script communities? They grow and make their own food. They drink their own water. What about them?”

By this time, Mr. Parks has returned to the podium, standing next to Dr. Caldwell. He leans in to the podium microphone. With deliberate slowness he says, “Well. We will just have to do to their food and water sources what they did to our data pods.”

English felt his body fall to the floor and everything went black.

STORY SUMMARY:

Ryder, Keesha, and Deacon, three lifelong friends, now in their teens have been named the leader-futures for Interregnum City, the first city to decolonize itself from the script of corporate enslavement. The city has gone “off-script.” They, along with their friends and families take the reader into a hopeful landscape of what might yet be possible if, and when, communities embrace the revolutionary power of the collective will, imagination and love. It is fiction of hope; representing any city in America and set in an unknown future time. This is a tale of what could be. Ryder, Deacon and Keesha confront obstacles such as the looming data pods built along the Interregnum Mile, and their secret discovery of the terror that lies waiting for their community if they cannot stop the colonizers secret mission in time. With the help of Ryder’s Uncle Kelley, Deacon’s grandfather Pops, and Keesha’s mother Susan, these three youth lead their city on a mission for reclamation, resurrection, and resurgence.

CHAPTER EIGHT

The heads of lettuce peeked meekly out of the dirt, edges tipped downward in disapproving fashion. “This is not how we are supposed to feel!” they seemed to be saying. Pops was frowning too. He seemed to be in silent agreement with the whole crop of the community garden. They were all in physical despair. The last round of “eruptions” (no one knew what to call them because their origins of cause were still unknown) seemed to set off a chain of physical events in Interregnum City. This chain of events included a sudden downturn in the garden, which merely two weeks ago was ready for a robust harvesting, and now wept and crumbled back inward toward the soil from where it came.

Certain city blocks complained of their tap water turning a yellowish-brown at the faucets. In other segments of the city, buildings (previous solid and unwavering in their construction), were now weak at the foundations and dozens of families evacuated until they could be re secured. Something was growing underground. The strange “booming” sound was impossible to ignore. But what? And why?

Pops knew instinctively that Romer Onyx was behind this. It had only been two weeks since Keesha, Ryder and Deacon had gone “underground” (a phrase he found darkly funny given the circumstance), and today in this very garden was his intel meeting with his “insider.” Through brief visits with Deacon late at night inside the tunnels, Pops learned that Kelley and Kesha were quietly tapping into the RO data base through Susan’s computer while Keesha also spent time with her mom painting murals across the string of abandoned buildings littering the outskirts of RO property. The land owned by R.O was larger than many of the surrounding cities. Over the course of thirty years, R.O had grown into a world unto itself. Meanwhile, Ryder was working with Pops “insider,” taking him under his wing, disguised as a RO employee.

The air was hot and dry. It hadn’t rained for days. Pops stretched his legs from beneath the wooden bench situated at the far corner alongside the dying rows of beans and peppers. What would happen them? To all of them, if they couldn’t stop Romer Onyx from whatever it was they were doing? He hoped that English would have some answers … finally. The cryptic messages from Deacon, who spent more hours running Intel back and forth through the tunnels than he did in the deli, were difficult to understand. His long hours of absence were sorely noted by his mother, too. “Where has that Deacon gone off to now, Pops?” she would ask, with annoyance.

“Sent him on a long delivery run,” Pops would reply.

Lips pursed, eyes narrowed, Deacon’s mom would say, “Hmmm. Sure, Pops,” as if she knew something else was afoot, but just chose not to ask.

Running the store kept her occupied enough without getting caught up in “whatever this was” that Pops and Deacon had going on. Let them have their secret project, she told herself. She trusted her father implicitly- whatever it was, he had his reasons she was sure. Besides, since the community garden has started failing, inexplicably, their sources of fresh produce for the shop were in short supply as well, and they were barely hanging on these last few weeks. It felt as if the community might run out of food if something couldn’t be done.  They’d be forced to buy from outside sources, a thought that sickened her. Half the community would rather starve than have to outsource their food supply to the likes of companies like Romer Onyx, which controlled all the factory farms that lay just over the horizon of their city limits.

Pops shifted his seat, his back was getting sore leaning on the hard wooden surface. Then he saw English turn the corner at the flower stand, pass through the gate, and stroll through the midsection of the garden toward him. He wore a weary expression. Pops nodded.

He allowed English a moment to settle in beside him on the bench and the two sat in silence for a few seconds. The heat felt as heavy as the silence. Pops gave a deliberate sigh. “Yeah, I know,” English replied as if reading his thoughts.

“How long have we known each other?” English asked, his gaze looking steadily outward into space. Pops paused as if considering the answer to complex mathematic problem.

“’Bout fifty years I suppose now,” he replied.

“So, have I ever lied to you?”

“Nope. Never.”

“Have I ever seemed…?” English searched for the right words, “Mentally unsound to you?”

Pops stomach tightened. What was it exactly that English had to tell him? How bad was this Intel going to be?

“Nope, my friend. You are as right as rain,” Pops assured him.

His friendship with English went back to when their families lived next door to each other, row home by row home, sharing stories and lemonade on the stoops on hot summer days, and Sunday dinners on cold winter evenings. As they grew from teens to adulthood, English’s sister Delia became the object of Pops’ affection, and eventually, Delia became Pops’ wife. His brother-in-law English was his most trusted friend, even after Delia passed suddenly from cancer when their daughter still very young. English became a second father – helping to rear is his niece, and her son Deacon, in his sister’s absence.

Although he missed her terribly every day, a part of Pops was relieved she never had to witness the destruction of their community and their family networks at the hands of R.O. Toward the end, Delia was too ill to any pay attention to the stories of what the tracking and surveillance the police and justice system (both outsourced to R.O) was doing to their young people. Before they were even out of school, like indentured servants or enslaved people of their ancestry, children were indebted to R.O. and companies like it in exchange for the education these companies had paid for. Public education was completely eradicated and replaced with charter schools, owned and managed by technology moguls who promised skills and employment. But it became clear, underneath their slick promises of money and jobs, what their community offered in exchange was more than they bargained for.

First, centuries before, they had been starved economically nearly out of existence by these same financial “wizards” who, after leaving the communities in near-shambles, re-entered the neighborhoods with promise of “hope and repair.”  At the time, it hadn’t seemed like a bad deal. Besides, what were their other options? It wasn’t so bad at first. Things seemed to get better. At least, while Delia was alive. Then R.O revealed the price of their agreement. “Philanthropic investments” in social goods and services in exchange for continuous surveillance.

They tried to endure it. What choice did they have? But after 20 years of being fed up, they found another option in going off script. Complete divestment from the corporate powers that had for centuries sought, not to destroy them, but to use them, for their own purposes.

Looking over the garden, and then at English, Pops wondered if they were again under attack. Or, perhaps not if …but how.

English asked, “And how long have I been passing along Intel from R.O?” His blue eyes looked grey in the garden sunlight.

Pops paused again. His debt for the risks English had been taking, working for R.O undercover and secretly passing along whatever information he could glean, while working as the food coordinator for the R.O kitchens, was invaluable to the community. If R.O. ever found out their secrets were being leaked by their trusted kitchen supervisor, there was no telling what might come of English. Other Romer Onyx “leaks” had tried (and failed) to give Intel to Interregnum City. No one quite knew what happened them.

Pops thought about Ryder’s father, Reverend Booker, who had gone missing ten years after the decolonizing revolution. Booker’s Intel had been the corner stone of the community’s capacity to decolonize themselves. Without his work, they’d still be in electronic chains. And then, on the morning they were celebrating their ten year anniversary of the revolution, as Kelly and the Black Hatters stood atop the Data Pods now laying like slain beasts of the fields, as dead as the heads of lettuce in this garden; that same day, Reverend Booker simply vanished. No note. No trace. A devoted father and husband doesn’t just walk away like that. But no Intel out of R.O ever gave clue to where he might have been taken.

Pops hoped that whatever English had to tell him, might include news about the Reverend.

“You’re going to think I am the far side of madness when I tell you what I heard just two days ago from the top brass at R.O,” English said anxiously.

Pops felt the knot in his gut tighten even more.

“Go ahead,” he said, “I want to know everything.”

“It happened when I was in charge of the buffet for their annual investors Board meeting a few days ago.”

What followed defied all capacity for disbelief Pops had ever had.

To be continued in forthcoming Chapter Nine….

I was appalled when an educator/activist/author friend of mine, shared with me over coffee, that University of Maryland College Park, in partnership with real estate mogul Edward St John, contracted with prison labor for the creation of their shiny new building:

MCE Helps Furnish New Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center at UMCP
On Thursday, May 11, 2017, the University of Maryland dedicated the new Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center. Named for Baltimore-based developer, philanthropist and 1961 alumnus, Edward St. John, founder and chairman of St. John Properties, the 187,000-square- foot space, which includes 12 classrooms and nine teaching labs with a total of 1,500 seats, will elevate the culture of collaborative learning on campus.
Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) was responsible for designing, manufacturing and installing a variety of products used in the new building.”

Agenda University System of Maryland see item:
A-2. Maryland Correctional Enterprises  –  Edward St. John Teaching & Learning Center – Furniture $1,345,599.00UMS/UMCP Prince George’s

The contract is also presented on MCE’s Fiscal Year statement.

Maryland Correctional Enterprises (MCE) is the state’s own prison labor company. A semi-autonomous subdivision of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), MCE commands a workforce of thousands of prisoners, paid just a few dollars per day. MCE workers make far less than minimum wage, earning between $1.50 and $5.10 for an entire day’s work.

Most of us are familiar by now with the concept of a school-to-prison pipeline, but  here it is, a prison-for-school pipeline, or better yet, prison-for-profit (all hail 21st century slavery alive and well) in the name of “education reform.”

It might be  a “great day” for Ed St John and U of M, but I doubt its a great day for the forced laborers who did the work.  The new center will “transform teaching and learning” but it will not transform systemic oppression or racism. In fact, it benefits from the fruits of oppressive labor. This is not the only time that U of M, or other institutions of higher learning have used prison labor. That is a deep seated problem in itself that warrants our attention. As one news article states, “”Maryland is just a symptom … of how the prison industrial complex affects African-Americans and poor people of color nationwide.”

What I choose to focus on here is the irony of the scope and purpose of the St John education building and education legacy itself through the use of prison labor, especially for an organization such as the Edward St John Foundation which says: “Our mission is based on the strong belief that ‘education has the power to transform lives and strengthen communities.’”

Also ironic is that the new center is touted as being “designed to serve as a national model of collaborative learning and to create new spaces enabling students to launch their own business enterprises.” Will the students who attend those classes learn about how for-profit-prison industry is a boon to corporate moguls who profiteer from the incarceration of low income people of color as a “business enterprise?”

Edward St. John is also a big donor to KIPP schools, known for their “zero-tolerance” discipline tactics which ironically funnel more students into the prison pipeline than do public schools. But it doesn’t stop with KIPP. St. John is also the developer for a new charter school in Frederick County: The Frederick Classical Charter School. Clearly, St. John did his homework about the uber-profits that can be made by corporate venture investments into school “reform” like charters.

So, let me re summarize this succinctly once more for the cheap seats in the back: Corporate philanthropists like St. John use $ and power to influence education reform policies, and build their own charter schools, which create racist zero-tolerance policies that expel or suspend children of color, who wind up in the correctional facilities that build the higher education buildings where students will be taught to support education reforms that support the same philanthropists.

Any questions?

As his company credo says: Doing Well By Doing Good. It’s clear he’s doing “well” …  but is he doing “good”?