The United States of Fear

June 20, 2013

Tom Friedman has outlined his latest installment in the ideology of fear, backed by his fellow mainstream writer, Bill Keller.  Friedman tells how us how he stops his worrying (or at least, worrying about the wrong things) and has learned to love Big Brother, and Keller says he is making an “important point”:

Yes, I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened. But I worry even more about another 9/11. That is, I worry about something that’s already happened once — that was staggeringly costly — and that terrorists aspire to repeat.

I worry about that even more, not because I don’t care about civil liberties, but because what I cherish most about America is our open society, and I believe that if there is one more 9/11 — or worse, an attack involving nuclear material — it could lead to the end of the open society as we know it. If there were another 9/11, I fear that 99 percent of Americans would tell their members of Congress: “Do whatever you need to do to, privacy be damned, just make sure this does not happen again.” That is what I fear most.

So, here in the Republic of Fear, we appeal to the best in our citizens,their abject terror of something bad happening.  The print by James Gillray at the top recalls an earlier historical episode of the Security State, the British effort to root out atheists, freethinkers, and revolutionists in its midst.  Gillray was paid by the Tories, but he couldn’t help seeing how ridiculous they were, despite his politics. 

Bad things do happen all the time, it’s true, although usually to other people, but surely those terrorists are targeting me!  It follows, that we must cast principles by the wayside and go all out to provide security.

This security apparatus doesn’t do a very good job, although it never ever makes mistakes.  A recent FBI review of 150 shootings by agents concluded that every last one of them was perfectly justified.  That beats the NYPD hands down!  The NSA, CIA, etc. did a great job of preventing the Boston bombing, and we all know how well the CIA did before 9/11 (See Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower).  Was a lack of data the problem?

The head of the NSA has testified that the snooping has foiled 50, yes 50 terrorist plots. I’m sure he has a list, and it seems to have grown since the uproar started.  Not many details offered, however.  All top-secret.  I wonder…  Another acolyte of the Security State has argued for the necessity of gathering all of our phone records by saying, “If you are searching for a needle in a haystack, first you need a haystack.”  Is this really the best way to protect our country?  It’s remarks like this that made the phrase “Military Intelligence” an oxymoron.

Once they have this data, mistakes will be made.  They have been made already.  Sometimes with dire consequences, such as rendering suspects to countries that are willing to torture them without limit (Syria’s no longer good for that, however.) or just upending their lives because a name appeared on a list somehow, like the lawyer in Washington state who converted to Islam after he married a woman from the middle east.  Ah…the price we pay for liberty!

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Stop and Frisk: A Modest Proposal

May 19, 2012

In NYC, there is a lot of discussion of the NYPD policy of “stop and frisk.”  They tend to stop young men of color, and have done so at an annual rate that equals the entire young African-American and Latino population of the city.  For this, they have  netted a few arrests, and the smoldering animosity of an entire generation of young men.  Seems rather inefficient, don’t it?

I would like to advance a modest proposal, in the spirit of Mr. Swift, that will be familiar to all aficionados of sci-fi stories and films, and that would make this approach to crime fighting very productive:

Simply provide every citizen with an identify card that contains a computer chip with a GPS and encoded ID info.  Police can scan people without stopping them, and interrogate them if they are without their papers.  Other countries do this (minus the technology.)  Also, the  movements of every citizen could be tracked and interrogated by the police, and compared with real-time data on crimes.  “Sir, you were at that drug store at 11:32 p.m. when a robbery occurred.  Please come with us...”  (Oh, yeah, you’re not white either…)

Just to keep it all on the up-and-up, there’s no reason for this data to be secret.  The social network Big Brothers of the world might be persuaded to cooperate in this brave new adventure in positive social engineering by posting all the movement data on every citizen.  We would have the same data as the cops, and could keep tabs on everyone!  Think of the adulterous affairs that would be nipped in the bud – a boon for family life!  Drug use among teenagers would probably take a hit from vigilant parents.  Facebook and Google would find ways to make billions of dollars off ad revenue for lawyers, counselors, drug programs, and the like that would be tightly focused.  Imagine!  You are arrested, and lawyers are waiting for you at the station, eager to represent you!  Surely, a positive development for civil rights.

Maybe some day we can go the next step of implanting the chips in newborns.  All under the beneficent gaze of the supervising corporate entities, keeping us entertained with spectacles, as in Rollerball.   Sometimes, these days, I feel we’re almost there.


Newlyweds

January 6, 2010

 

Life in the 17th century royal courts was a highly regimented affair.  The ruling class had a lot of rules to play by!  No, not a free and easy existence.

Here’s a snippet from the memoirs of Saint-Simon about the marriage night of Phillip V of Spain, Louis XIV’s grandson.  He left France to take the Spanish throne, precipitating the lengthy Wars of the Spanish Succession – Blenheim being a glorious victory for Louis’ opponents, led by Winston Churchill’s ancestor – and searched about for a bride.  He was about 18 – he found a suitable Savoyard duchess.  She was 13.  I have added some italics.

After a long and disagreeable supper, the King and Queen withdrew. Then feelings which had been kept in during supper overflowed. The Queen wept for her Piedmontese women. Like a child, as she was, she thought herself lost in the hands of ladies so insolent; and when it was time to go to bed, she said flatly that she would not go, and that she wished to return home. Everything was done to console her; but the astonishment and embarrassment were great indeed when it was found that all was of no avail. The King had undressed, and was awaiting her. Madame des Ursins was at length obliged to go and tell him the resolution the Queen had taken. He was piqued and annoyed. He had until that time lived with the completest regularity; which had contributed to make him find the Princess more to his taste than he might otherwise have done. He was therefore affected by her ‘fantaisie’, and by the same reason easily persuaded that she would not keep to it beyond the first night. They did not see each other therefore until the morrow, and after they were dressed. It was lucky that by the Spanish custom no one was permitted to be present when the newly-married pair went to bed; or this affair, which went no further than the young couple, Madame des Ursins, and one or two domestics, might have made a very unpleasant noise.  [Unlike the French custom, which was to have witnesses present in the room as the newlyweds ‘enjoyed’ their first sexual intimacy, and the consummation of their marriage.  After all, the father of the heir must not be in doubt!]

Madame des Ursins consulted with two of the courtiers, as to the best measures to be adopted with a child who showed so much force and resolution. The night was passed in exhortations and in promises upon what had occurred at the supper; and the Queen consented at last to remain Queen. The Duke of Medina-Sidonia and Count San Estevan were consulted on the morrow. They were of opinion that in his turn the King, in order to mortify her and reduce her to terms, should not visit the Queen on the following night. This opinion was acted upon. The King and Queen did not see each other in private that day. In the evening the Queen was very sorry. Her pride and her little vanity were wounded; perhaps also she had found the King to her taste.

The ladies and the grand seigneurs who had attended at the supper were lectured for what had occurred there. Excuses, promises, demands for pardon, followed; all was put right; the third day was tranquil, and the third night still more agreeable to the young people. On the fourth day they went to Barcelona, where only fetes and pleasures awaited them. Soon after they set out for Madrid.


Privacy Screen?

February 18, 2008

Patio Privacy Screen

If you feel as if you’re living in a fish bowl when you’re lounging on the patio, we’ve got the solution. This simple, airy screen will block all but the most persistent prying eyes.

With all the fun and excitement about the Internet – social networking, blogs, websites, instant messaging – it’s easy to forget that big organizations are probably collecting a lot of information on you. I only recently started actively managing my cookies. (I have no interest in having Amazon.com managing my shopping experience online.) Along with the growing body of stories about outrageous e-mail gaffes by people who don’t know what Reply-to-All means, there are stories about relationships being torpedoed, job interviews fizzling, love affairs being discoverd because of Googling, Facebook, MySpace, and other public and not so public postings.

In an opinion today in the New York Times, Adam Cohen (yes, you’ll have to enable cookies and register to see the whole article) relates:

In a visit to the editorial board not long ago, a top Google lawyer made the often-heard claim that in the Internet age, people — especially young people — do not care about privacy the way they once did.

I suspect, rather, that the implications of the Internet keyboarding hasn’t hit them yet, hasn’t been brought him to them in a clear and brutal way (lucky them) and not that they just don’t care. Either that, or they just haven’t thought of it yet, or don’t understand the technology. As Cohen says next:

It is a convenient argument for companies that make money compiling and selling personal data, but it’s not true. Protests forced Facebook to modify Beacon and to ease its policies on deleting information. Push-back of this sort is becoming more common.

Well, I hope so.

And while we are on the subject, I just don’t get the economics of the Web! Google makes billions off of its advertising offers, but I have not yet clicked on more than a single handful of ads on the Internet in my ten years or more on the Web!! I don’t get it. I know that I may not be representative, but I have found that adds on Google are worthless: I am a very directed shopper. I know what I want, and I search for it. They say the Internet isn’t free because we pay with our attention, but who’s checking to see if we are paying?

When I have tried to do research on this point, all I find is confusion and debate. Is this another example of everyone doing it (advertising on the Web) because everyone else is doing it, and you cannot afford to be seen not doing it? Is anyone benefitting from it – besides Google? Is this consumer-chatter-clutter the price we have to pay for the use of the Internet?