Sunday, June 16, 2013

Who dunnit?

I'm just going to say right off the bat that I'm not going to talk about Edward Snowden and his somewhat bizarre decision to seek asylum in Hong Kong, which is still a part of China, "two systems" or not, and how China has even more pervasive surveillance than the United States with no legal restraints on how it's used.

It would lead me to talking about how the institution of universal surveillance with questionable oversight and weakened legal protection is probably not a way that we should want the United States to emulate China. How according to someone who should know, Ai Weiwei*, the United States is doing precisely that, except that our citizens live under a rule of law that shields us from the worst impulses of the state.

*Chinese contemporary artist who helped design the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing and later ended up getting a hood over his head at the Beijing Capital Airport and dragged off to a semi-legal three month detention. The charges brought afterwards were tax evasion

Then, how the erosion of our Constitutional principles and the outsized influence of money in our political system is leading the US ever further down a road of increasingly seamless integration of state and corporate influences, where profit is the ruling principle, and power is only limited by the amount of it one has and one's willingness to use it. But if I say stuff like that without presenting some evidence, I worry about sounding like a candidate for a Reynolds Wrap chapeau.

And, I just read this very interesting and persuasive article about how metadata is a means of social engineering that could be used as "a tool for a plutocracy." For example, your opinions, buying habits and tax bracket might make getting credit just slightly more difficult. Or slightly more expensive.

The author of this particular piece is Jaron Lanier, an American computer scientist and internet visionary who popularized the phrase, "Virtual reality," and has written critically of "Web 2.0." Among other things, he refers to the so-called "Wisdom of Crowds" as "Digital Maoism," which is the kind of thing that I would like to say but fear would get me labeled as an out-of-touch elitist. 

But I'll say that there's a problem with creating "all the infrastructure a tyrant would need" and "counting on having angels in office," as this cogent piece in The Atlantic puts it:

...we're allowing ourselves to become a nation of men, not laws. Illegal spying? Torture? Violating the War Powers Resolution and the convention that mandates investigating past torture? 
No matter. Just intone that your priority is keeping America safe. Don't like the law? Just get someone in the Office of Legal Counsel to secretly interpret it in a way that twists its words and betrays its spirit. 
You'll never be held accountable.

And, that what I'm thinking lately is, if you want to understand what has happened to the American economy and why we are where we are politically, approach it like a murder mystery. 

In a murder mystery, somebody gets killed, and the central question is motivation. 

Who benefits?



  1. Lisa, Since it is Father's Day, I won't say that the data collection everyone is bemoaning is LEGAL under the Patriot Act, but I will say that that same law caught MY FATHER--the World War II combat Marine who fought and suffered for his country on Saipan and Okinawa and then was sent for six months to China in 1946--where the US failed to adequately feed him and his fellow Marines. Under the "Patriot Act," his bank closed his account because, having been born at home in a coal town in 1914, he had no birth certificate to prove himself an American.

    1. God god, Annamaria, that is terrible.

      Well, another China comparison -- in China, they have what people sometimes refer to as "A rule of LAWS" -- a system where the laws are written so that they can be applied as the authorities wish, to punish or sanction a person as need be. That doesn't sound like what happened to your father, who instead it seems got caught up in bureaucratic rigidity. But, still.

  2. Good Luck, Lisa with the release of HOUR OF THE RAT.

  3. And another good luck wish - break a leg. or is that just for actors?