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Friday, June 07, 2013

Recuperating (Oh, Yes, and Also the Surveillance Scandal)

I guess Fridays are going to be teaching-intensive recuperation days. I'll admit I also find it rather hard to blog about the spy scandal which is the only thing people seem to be talking about -- I've spent the last ten years assuming exactly this was going on (since it was exposed as happening thenabouts and nobody stopped it and so why it would have stopped is a bit mysterious to me and meanwhile the NSA conspicuously kept adding thousands of employees who were obviously doing this -- I mean, what the hell else would they be doing?), and I was rather perplexed that people weren't more upset about it than they seemed to be and I assumed turning this around would have to be a generational effort, presumably taking place after the global war on feeling scared by brown people finally ends when I'm ninety or whatever. But now I realize that people just forgot this was happening (apparently including people who reported on it and elected officials who are repeatedly briefed on it) or were in serious denial about it and are now terribly upset. They should be upset, obviously, after all they should have been upset before, and maybe their upset now -- perplexing though it is after all this apathy about it -- means that something will be done to turn this around sooner than it otherwise would. That would be nice. Of course, Obama is blowing smoke when he says he welcomes this healthy debate -- he obviously really welcomes this debate like he welcomes a hole in the head, inasmuch as he keeps, you know, prosecuting everybody who is trying to actually have the debate he says he welcomes. On the other hand, I can't say I think he is all that terribly wrong when he says none of this should be particularly surprising (as I said, I'm certainly not surprised) and that all of this was stricto sensu legal (in the way so much evil crap is legal these days). I can't say this changes my larger assessment of the Obama presidency particularly. I can't even remotely get into the headspace of those who claim this vindicates conspiracy fantasies in which Obama is a dictator or demon or possibly robot villain yielding wistful contemplation of alternative timeline McCain or Romney Presidencies. Certainly no adult person can be surprised to discover that even a comparatively more progressive President than available alternatives is reluctant to relinquish powers that have accrued to the executive in a period of dysfunction in the other branches, surely? One day when congress has fewer evil insane greedhead death-cult white-racist patriarchal pricks in it one hopes it occurs to some of them to balance the powers again. I can't say that seems to me a higher priority than more renewable energy infrastructure investment or more progressive taxes or getting Medicare expansion in more states, but, hey, that's just me, I suppose. Anyway, as I said, I'm recuperating from teaching and can't say I am as exercised as others seem to be about the latest scandal. Weekend blogging to resume soon.

Rachel Maddow provided a nice overview last night of what I mean when I say we already knew much of this, appended here. It occurs to me that as someone who wrote a dissertation on privacy and digital media during the Bush years perhaps I was a bit more obsessively aware of all this than other folks, come to think of it.

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jollyspaniard said...

Assange and others have been saying as much for donkeys years. It's more of a confirmation than a surprise.

jimf said...

Remember the media brouhaha a few years ago about "Carnivore",
the FBI's e-mail snarfing program?

Of course the ill-chosen name, which rather defiantly alluded to
the function of the software (at least it wasn't "Omnivore" ;-> ),
was quickly scuttled, but does anybody really think the
**system** went away?

I wonder if this scandal will give a second wind to the cypherpunks
(probably not). Of course, encryption doesn't help you when you're submitting
a Google search. On the other hand, I think I've heard about
software you can install on your PC that will randomly submit
searches to Google containing terms expected to ring the bell on spy
systems: names of terrorists, terms related to military
hardware, weapons manufacture and sales, child pornography,
that sort of thing. I wonder how the Feds would react after
they hauled you in for questioning and you claimed to have
installed such a thing. Probably not too well. ;->

Time to re-watch _Enemy of the State_. I wonder if it's
on YouTube. ;->

jimf said...

> Time to re-watch _Enemy of the State_.

Speaking of movies, remember that thriller _Three Day of the Condor_
with Robert Redford and Faye Dunaway?

Redford is a CIA agent who has accidentally and unknowingly
acquired evidence of an illegal high-level operation, so his
bosses hire Max von Sydow to bump him off (along with the
rest of his station, disguised as a "literary historical society"
in a brownstone in Manhattan. Redford is out getting lunch
at the time, so he misses the mayhem, but then goes on the

At the end of the movie, after Redford has spilled the
embarrassing secret to the New York Times, the
assassin von Sydow ("Joubert") warns Redford ("Turner"),
in his chillingly cultivated Max von Sydow voice,
that his life is still in danger:

Turner: I'd like to go back to New York.

Joubert: You have not much future there. It will happen this way.
You may be walking. Maybe the first sunny day of the spring.
And a car will slow beside you, and a door will open,
and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car.
And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open
the door of the car and offer to give you a lift.

Turner: You seem to understand it all so well. What would you suggest?

Joubert: Personally, I prefer Europe.

Turner: Europe?

Joubert: Yes. Well, the fact is, what I do is not a bad
occupation. Someone is always willing to pay.

Turner: I would find it… tiring.

Joubert: Oh, no — it's quite restful. It's. . . almost peaceful.
No need to believe in either side, or any side. There is no cause.
There's only yourself. The belief is in your own precision.

Turner: I was born in the United States, Joubert. I miss it
when I'm away too long.

Joubert: A pity.

Turner: I don't think so.


[Joubert pauses, then holds out a gun to Turner]

Joubert: For that day.

One of the amusing things about that movie is that Redford's
station is engaged in looking for secret messages in published
literature (trade books, magazines, etc.). And the OCR and
data analysis is shown being performed on an old DEC PDP-8.

A PDP-8!!! With DECtapes!!!

Dale Carrico said...

Of course the cypherpunks were always hilariously deluded, rather in the way gun-nuts seem to be, fancying they can out-gun or even topple the state with their fetishized tools. For me, the issue has always been less my susceptibility to scrutiny (which I have always more or less assumed) as the capacity of authorities to impose reductive and injurious interpretations of the results of their scrutiny. This might have something to do with time spent in the closet back in the day. Definitely the "answer" seems to me to involve more democracy, not symptomatic retreats from it into hyper-individualist or police-state fantasies, which seem to be rather the order of the day. As far as movie reccs go, it's also not a bad time to we-watch The Conversation, which has the benefit of being a decent movie.

jimf said...

> it's also not a bad time to we-watch The Conversation,
> which has the benefit of being a decent movie.

Yes, that is a terrific movie. Amazing how the recorded
line "He'd **kill** us if he had the chance." changes
to "He'd kill **us** if he had the chance."

And Cindy Williams seems so. . . innocent! ;->

jimf said...

Oh, and let's not forget _Missing_. Suit-and-tie conservative Jack Lemmon
learns late in life and to his horror the utter naivete of his erstwhile pious
faith in the honesty and goodwill of the legitimate authorities of
his own government, after his left-wing idealist son goes missing in
a banana republic whose repressive regime is backed by the U.S.
He's aided in this life lesson by his daughter-in-law Cissy Spacek.

(From Wikiquotes):

Beth Horman (Cissy Spacek): And what are the basics? God, country
and Wall Street?

Ed Horman (Jack Lemmon): You know what I mean.

Beth Horman: I know, I know. God bless our way of life!

Ed Horman: Oh, a very good way of life it is, young lady,
no matter how much people like you and Charles try to tear it
down with your sloppy idealism. I can no longer abide the
young people of our country who live off their parents and
the fat of the land and then they find nothing better to
do than whine and complain.

Captain Ray Tower, USN: I don't know what happened to
your kid, Ed. But I understand he was a bit of a snoop.
Poked his nose around in a lot of dangerous places where he
didn't really belong. Now, suppose I went up to your town,
New York, and I started messing around with the Mafia.
I wind up dead in the East River. And my wife or my father
complains to the police because they didn't protect me.
They really wouldn't have much of a case, would they?
You play with fire, you get burned.

U. S. Ambassador: We're not involved, Mr. Horman. Our position
has been completely neutral.

Ed Horman: That is a bald face lie, sir. How can you say a
thing like that when you have army colonels, you have naval
engineers, they're all over Viña del Mar.

U. S. Ambassador: Please sit down. Look, it's very obvious
you're harbouring some misconception regarding our role here.

Ed Horman: What is your role here? Besides introducing a regime that
murders thousands of human beings?

U. S. Ambassador: Let's level with each other, sir. If you hadn't
been personally involved in this unfortunate incident, you'd be
sitting at home complacent and more or less oblivious to all
of this. This mission is pledged to protect America interests,
our interests.

Ed Horman: Well they're not mine.

U. S. Ambassador: There are over three thousand US firms doing
business down here. And those are American interests. In other
words, your interests. I am concerned with the preservation of a
way of life.

Captain Ray Tower, USN: And a damned good one.

Ed Horman: [Staring out the window] Maybe that's why there's
nobody out there.

U. S. Ambassador: You can't have it both ways.

Dale Carrico said...

Oh, yes, Missing is an amazing, wrenching movie!