Every move you make

1 08 2013

Move along, people, nothing to see here.

Yeaaaah, not so much:

Because who wasn’t reading those stories [about the Boston bombing]? Who wasn’t clicking those links? But my son’s reading habits combined with my search for a pressure cooker and my husband’s search for a backpack set off an alarm of sorts at the joint terrorism task force headquarters.

[snip]

What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.

Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.

A million things went through my husband’s head. None of which were right. He walked outside and the men greeted him by flashing badges. He could see they all had guns holstered in their waistbands.

“Are you [name redacted]?” one asked while glancing at a clipboard. He affirmed that was indeed him, and was asked if they could come in. Sure, he said.

They asked if they could search the house, though it turned out to be just a cursory search.

[snip]

Meanwhile, they were peppering my husband with questions. Where is he  from? Where are his parents from? They asked about me, where was I, where do I work, where do my parents live. Do you have any bombs, they asked. Do you own a pressure cooker? My husband said no, but we have a rice cooker. Can you make a bomb with that? My husband said no, my wife uses it to make quinoa. What the hell is quinoa, they asked.

They searched the backyard. They walked around the garage, as much as one could walk around a garage strewn with yardworking equipment and various junk. They went back in the house and asked more questions.

[snip]

They mentioned that they do this about 100 times a week. And that 99 of those visits turn out to be nothing. I don’t know what happens on the other 1% of visits and I’m not sure I want to know what my neighbors are up to.

45 minutes later, they shook my husband’s hand and left.

[snip]

All I know is if I’m going to buy a pressure cooker in the near future, I’m not doing it online.

I’m scared. And not of the right things.

Hey, if Michele Catalano, her husband and son weren’t doing anything wrong, well, then, no harm, no foul, right?

Right?

~~~

h/t Melissa Jeltsen, HuffPo;  *Update* on the men-in-black, see this piece by Philip Bump of the Atlantic Wire (tip to Sullivan’s Daily Dish on Bump bit)





Can you hear me calling you?

11 06 2013

Howza ’bout a quickie?

Personal experiences, privacy, disclosure, spying, blah blah: When I was in college I worked for The Daily Cardinal, the radical campus newspaper.

The editorial editor was always a Marxist (almost always of the Trotskyite persuasion, although the brilliant and scary Karen once referred to her “Stalinist friends”), and the former editor (who the staff loved when he was editorial editor and hated as editor-editor) was prosecuted and imprisoned for failing to register for the draft. Oh, and one of the bombers of Sterling Hall (mentioned a few posts back) had worked at the Cardinal before heading underground.

So: It was not inconceivable that mere association with the Cardinal was enough to land someone on a a government list somewhere.

I never worried too much about it, even though I was quite active politically (anti-nukes, anti-apartheid, US-out-of-Central-America, etc.): I just didn’t rate. I joked that if the FBI did have a file on me, then they were wasting their damn time.

This, then, is the flipside to my flipping out about privacy: I don’t rate, so if the NSA is scooping up information on me, they’re wasting their damn time.

I’m all over the place on this NSA thing. I hated and hate the PATRIOT Act, and think any scandal over snooping is due to the fact that it’s policy, that it’s been stamped RIGHT ON! by Congress and the courts. I get why journalists and pundits (and I) are banging on about this—journalists and pundits (and I) like disclosure of governmental activity—but I’m more flabbergasted by the flabbergast of those journalists and pundits than I am by this particular bit of governmental activity.

I mean, what the hell did these people think we were getting with the PATRIOT Act and FISA and deferential courts?

And there ain’t no surprise about Obama, either: He made clear when he was running the first time that he was going to hit the national security thing hard, differentiating himself from Bush in seeking to legalize data seeking.

Any scandal is that this is all SOP, and insofar as the majority of those polled seem just fine with it all, t’ain’t no scandal at all.

I may be in the minority on this—I hate the info dragnet—but I also understand the general shrug on this: most folks just don’t see or feel any effects from this. And hell, back in the day when I might have had some, small, reason to think there might be eyes on the crowd I ran with, even then I noticed no effects.

Damn, this is getting too long: lemme truncate it. One,  I’ve long assumed any electronic transaction was not confined to private wires, so the latest bit is less revelation than confirmation. Two, in sucking up every last bit of info about every last person, I find a kind of safety in numbers—I and tens of millions of my fellow Americans (and hundreds of millions of my fellow Earthlings) don’t rate. Three (and this requires an argument I’m not going to give, because already tl;dr), I’m more worried about corporate than govt info-hauls precisely because I think corporations are more likely to use the info than is the govt.

Finally, what matters more than the info-haul is the mindset behind the info-haul but I am not going to get into it tonight because this post is not the 3-or-4 grafs I was thinking it was going to be and it’s time to go to bed.

So, whomsoever may be reading this (wink, wink): nighty-night!





The rest is silence

9 06 2013

Say nothing.

I am, as you may have guessed, a talker, someone who always has something to say and almost always knows how to say it. I can be quite obnoxious—always something to say—but also useful in social situations. And as a professor who glances at rather than reads her notes, the ability to float words into air comes in handy.

Like a lot of talkers, I can be unnerved by spaces without sounds. I almost always have the radio on, and in class I’ve had to force myself after tossing out a question to wait one, two, three or more beats for a student to grab it, rather than reeling it back in immediately. I’m a pushy broad who has to restrain herself not always to push so hard, to give time to the laconic to make themselves heard.

Yet whether despite or because of that need for words, I know the force of silence.

When I was an undergrad I went into therapy, briefly, with a psych resident, J. She was. . . fine, I guess, but I was pissed off and messed up and deeply, deeply ambivalent about therapy. I was abashed at my need to talk to someone, so—I could see this only in hindsight—cast about for any reason not to talk.

J. gave me that reason.

Not on purpose, of course. It’s just that she had this rule that she would follow no matter what: the client had to start the conversation. Well.

The first coupla’ sessions I’d wait a bit, and then start in. J. would follow up, but too often in that Interviewing-101 kind of way.

Me: I’m just, I’m always worried what people are thinking of me, like I’m doing something wrong.

J: So you’re feeling kind of judged, huh?

(I don’t know if that’s exactly what I said, but I do remember, for whatever memory is worth, her saying that exact phrase back to me.)

It got worse from there. There was a large plant next to the loveseat on which I sat, and while I could see J. concentrating the hell on me as she shifted from one attentive position to another in her office chair, I’d  lean back, finger the leaves of that plant. And say nothing. Five minutes. Ten minutes. By our later sessions, I was silent for 20, maybe even 30 minutes.

Did I mention that, because she was a resident under supervision, all of our sessions were taped?

I was an asshole, and while some of the jerk things I did while I was messed up were due to my being messed up, this wasn’t one of them. I knew I was being an asshole, knew that she’d have to go back to her supervisor with that half-blank tape—knew that by not talking I had power over her—and I enjoyed it. You gotta rule about who talks first? Yeah, well, here’s what you can do with that rule!

I did, finally, put an end to it all. I don’t remember if I thought, Okay, quit being a jerk or This ain’t working or some other mashup of decency and practicality, but I knew that this particular therapeutic relationship was stillborn.

The ambivalence over therapy remained, even throughout two good, if difficult, therapeutic relationships (as well as a number of abortive ones), but in those good relationships I tried not to be an asshole, tried (not always successfully) not to use silence as a weapon. I did more often use it as a shield, but in a decent therapeutic relationship you learn—well, I learned—that the person sitting attentively a few feet away from you might just want to help, and that the best way for that attentively-sitting person to help is to tell her how you need help.

And thus the ambivalence, all the way through: The need beyond desire to tell, and not tell, on myself. Was it revelation or betrayal? The urgency of that question faded, but never entirely went away.

All of this is a verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry long prelude to my own disquiet with the social admonition to reveal oneself. Now that I’m no longer so neurotic that I worry much about what people think of me—mainly because I folks have better things to do than think of me—I wonder about the social pressure to display oneself, be it on Facebook or Foursquare or whatever. If you don’t know me, what should it matter that I’m not visible to you? (And if you do know me, well, there are other ways to get in contact with me.)

Most folks I know who are on Facebook like it because it’s a great way to connect with or keep up on friends, and thus don’t really get my unease with the platform. It’s just a. . . thing, nothing more.

I don’t see it that way, of course. Yes, on one level it is just a thing, just a handy tool to stay on top of relationships, but on other levels it’s a signal of your interest in others, a scripted performance of oneself, a marker of one’s willingness to go along with social expectations, and, of course, a vast database for a corporation to mine for profit. To choose not to participate is to set oneself apart as an object of suspicion.

Think that’s too much? I don’t want to hang too much on example, but. . . I’m going to hang a lot on this interchange between Farhad Manjoo & Emily Yoffe on Slate:

Farhad: . . .That question came up in the context of a debate about online dating. I said that if you’re going to set up a date with someone and you can’t find anything about them on Facebook… I’d extend that to other social networks. If you can’t find a photo of them and there’s no photo on the dating site either, then you should be suspicious. That person seems to be trying to hide something.

Emily: We’re all trying to hide something, Farhad.

Farhad: Well, the person might be married or have a girlfriend, or in some ways trying to hide their activities. I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk case. I don’t think that’s necessarily the situation, but I would be a little bit suspicious.

But to the letter writer’s question beyond dating, I think that it’s better to have a social networking profile for a couple reasons. You are taking control of your online life then.

[. . .]

And if you don’t have [an online presence], I think people will judge you based on that. . . .

I’ve looked at the numbers for Facebook. If you look at the demographics, it’s not like only young people have Facebook. It pretty much cuts across most demographic lines, and from what I can tell, also socioeconomic lines. They have a billion people around the world. Lots of people are on Facebook and I think you’re kind of judged now, for better or worse, if you don’t. [emph added]

Manjoo is a tech fanboy who is puzzled by any criticism of tech which is not about glitches or efficiency—he does not get the concept of social-techno-coercion—and thus ought not be considered a general representative of all social media users.

But he ain’t alone, either. Consider Senator Lindsay Graham’s response to concerns about the NSA’s vacuum-cleaner approach to electronic information: “I don’t have anything to worry about because I’m not talking to terrorists.”

And there it is: If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be afraid to show—with the barely concealed implication, If you don’t show, you must have something to hide.

Do I have something to hide? Like Emily Yoffe, I’m of the belief that “We’re all trying to hide something”, that it’s normal to keep a few things to oneself and not something which has to be justified.

It’s also normal to want to share oneself, not to hide away everything. Even as I’m a non-Facebooker, I am a blogger, and I call and text friends and colleagues and regularly go out in public. I’m a private person in society, someone who believes one ought to be able to be both private and social as she sees fit.

 

To bring this back around, not all or even most of my political beliefs can be traced in any direct way to my personal experiences, but my views on privacy and sociality are most definitely jacked into something deep inside of me. Even as I write that “I’m a private person in society” I fret over the tension contained within that assertion, wonder if it is possible to be both without betraying either the private or social side of me.

In the end, I think I ought to be the one who decides whether to speak, or not. More than that, the conditions under which I choose to speak ought not unduly pressure me one way or the other. I get that there will always be some pressure, but there should be freedom, too.

And if not, well, I like to talk, but if you tell me I have to talk, I’ll enjoy your frustration as I lean back, and say nothing.





Every move you make

25 05 2013

I know I don’t speak for everyone, but for me, the freedoms enjoyed by artists and journalists are worth possible breaches of privacy.
-Kathy Ryan

So said the journalist (or artist), not the person whose privacy is breached.

Given my rants against Google Glass and Facebook and the general hoovering-up of every last bit of ourselves in the name of Big Data, it is no surprise that I consider someone taking a photograph of me in my home an offense against all that is Good and Holy.

I draw lines between private and public, lines which, in practice, can be difficult to maintain. I want to reveal what I want to reveal and nothing more, but, of course, in the writing of this (now-less-than-) pseudonymous blog I say things about myself of which I am completely unaware.

I know that, but I choose—I choose—to do it anyway.

But sitting in my apartment on a cool spring day, drinking coffee and doing crosswords, no, I do not choose to have you record me, take something from me.

When I enter a public space I am aware of myself as being “in public”. I’m not much concerned I’ll be recorded—I am unremarkable in appearance—but I recognize, however gruffly, that if someone snaps a pic of me there’s little I can do about it. And even if you do grab me with your camera, I’ll almost certainly remain anonymous, in the background or a (drab) bit of the local scenery.

And, in any case, if I am in public so too are you: there is a symmetry of risk in our interactions.

(This is among the reasons I am leery of CCTV and apparatuses like Google Glass: the asymmetry of risk, which makes the person watched vulnerable to the person watching. And no, telling me I can even the score by recording back is not a sufficient answer, not least because such a response would force me deeper into a regime to which existence I object.)

In my apartment, however, I am not “in public”, windows be damned. That you can see me and I can see you is, of course, where the blur comes in, but part of living in a city means you maintain a set of manners in which the blur serves to protect privacy. I might see you playing your guitar and you might see me dancing, but we each let it go, unmentioned.

That we leave our curtains open as we strum or dance or eat or play with the dog or tickle the baby doesn’t mean we’re putting ourselves on display; it just means we want some light.

Yes, some people do put themselves on display, and within (generous) limits, that’s fine; that one person is an exhibitionist, however, does not mean the person next to her is.

This is, for me, theoretical. I live in an un-hip section of Brooklyn where few people would be so foolish as to think they could point a camera in someone’s window without consequence. I certainly wouldn’t advocate violence against that fool, but if the camera were, ah, rendered inoperable, well, them’s the risks you take.





If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice

6 03 2013

Do you become more or less of a crank the more real your anxieties become?

I’ve joked that I’m a privacy crank (even as I realize the, ah, complexities of worrying over privacy on a public blog), but I’ve felt pretty confident that I’d be able to balance my antipathy to any kind of tracking with desire to participate in a full social life. I accept cookies in order to access certain websites, but periodically clear my cache and browser history; I have a cell phone which I can use to text and *gasp* talk, but which doesn’t have a GPS. I search on Google, but not while I’m signed in to my job-related Google account (which, outside of work, I never use).

And I live and work and ride the trains of and walk around New York City, which has CCTV mounted in train stations and on the sidewalk. I don’t like the surveillance cameras, but as a small and plain person, I doubt very much that I’m camera-candy.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

But it seems as if the chances of being both social and private are dissolving in the corrosive effects of a culture which wants only to “share” and technologies which enable such sharing. As Mark Hurst points out, while one could try to minimize the omni-info maw of social media, a technology like Google glasses sucks you in—whether you want to be so sucked or not:

Remember when people were kind of creeped out by that car Google drove around to take pictures of your house? Most people got over it, because they got a nice StreetView feature in Google Maps as a result.

Google Glass is like one camera car for each of the thousands, possibly millions, of people who will wear the device – every single day, everywhere they go – on sidewalks, into restaurants, up elevators, around your office, into your home. From now on, starting today, anywhere you go within range of a Google Glass device, everything you do could be recorded and uploaded to Google’s cloud, and stored there for the rest of your life. You won’t know if you’re being recorded or not; and even if you do, you’ll have no way to stop it.

And that, my friends, is the experience that Google Glass creates. That is the experience we should be thinking about. The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience – it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change. [emph in the original]

Y’know those illegal cell-signal blockers? Would they work on something like this? If not, someone is working on countering this, right? Right?

Because, at some point, if you can’t legally opt out of this surveillance without opting out of society, those of us who want to be around other people without being subject to their tracking techs might want to consider, mmm, other ways to remain free social beings.

. . . . Yeah, I really am a crank, aren’t I?





This is what you’ll get when you mess with us

20 02 2013

Could it have been the wrestlers?

You know, the ones I dated, the ones for whom flirting/foreplay usually involved a hold, escape, reverse, and/or pin?

Good times.

(Pause as I take a breath, smile vaguely, and remember. . . .)

Okay. Where was I? Oh, yes, defense.

What, you didn’t get that from the opening? Yes, one very good thing (among other good things) about dating wrestlers was that I learned how to get away from wrestlers. For almost every move there is a counter-move, and as the smaller and less muscular of the pair I had to rely on those counters if I didn’t want the, ahhhh, match to end too soon.

TMI? Sorry.

Anyway, I figured out awhile ago that I am much more comfortable on defense than offense. In argumentation I can go either way (although, even there, I’m quite happy to let you go first), but in most things, I’m thinking more about how not to get clipped or caught out than how to pull ahead.

No, this hasn’t necessarily worked out well for me and yes I’m trying to take more risks, blah blah, but for once I’m not going to veer into ontology and instead remain coasting along the concrete.

Toward drones.

What, you didn’t see that veer coming?

Okay, this post at Crooks & Liars got me thinking that drones will almost certainly fly in the skies of our ever-advancing surveillance state:

So far only a dozen police departments, including ones in Miami and Seattle, have applied to the FAA for permits to fly drones. But drone advocates—who generally prefer the term UAV, for unmanned aerial vehicle—say all 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are potential customers. They hope UAVs will soon become essential too for agriculture (checking and spraying crops, finding lost cattle), journalism (scoping out public events or celebrity backyards), weather forecasting, traffic control. “The sky’s the limit, pun intended,” says Bill Borgia, an engineer at Lockheed Martin. “Once we get UAVs in the hands of potential users, they’ll think of lots of cool applications.”

Cool applications, my ass.

One guy mentioned that the solution to drones is more drones, but in the civilian sphere, that makes no damned sense. No, in addition to trying to beat back these suckers with laws, we should also consider how to fuck with and otherwise frustrate ‘em.

In theory, drones can offer unblinking eye-in-the-sky coverage. They can carry high-resolution video cameras, infrared sensors, license plate readers, listening devices and other high-tech gear. Companies have marketed drones disguised as sea gulls and other birds to mask their use.

I know zip about how these craft communicate with their pilots, but that communication could be disrupted, correct? And would it be possible to set some kind of electronic barrier around one’s household that would mess with the drone’s sensors?

Electronic monkeywrenching, is what I’m suggesting.

There are real political and ethical issues with any kind of monkeywrenching, but my cranky self can’t help but pay attention to and wonder about ways for those with less power to mess with the levers operated by the more powerful. It’s akin to James Scott’s notion of weapons of the weak, but more (c)overtly confrontational; in any case, the point is to evade claims of others to you.

I don’t seek to evade all claims—hell, as a civic republican, I think my fellow citizens may make more claims on me than they already do—but those claims must be legitimate. And I readily grant that some of the uses of drones might in fact be legitimate, but it seems to me that legitimacy must be granted rather than assumed.

In the land of the CCTV and moneymoneymoney, I am not optimistic. So bring on the jammers and wrenches—and maybe, for those gull-drones, a slingshot.





Come out, come out wherever you are

26 07 2012

I’m half-out as a bisexual.

Andrew Sullivan has been banging away at the fact that the late Sally Ride chose not to come out as a lesbian while she lived, and getting a fair amount of push-back from readers; he’s holding firm.

My first reaction to his original column was What a dick.

I read his column every day and link to it with some regularity, so I’m not unfamiliar with his habit of making everything about him. (It’s annoying, but it’s his blog, and, frankly, I’m probably even more guilty of the Me! Me! M-Fucking-E ME! approach to blogging. So.)

Anyway, that initial reaction was along the lines of He really doesn’t get how hard it is for women in male-dominated fields; sexism piled with homophobia might have been too much. I modified that reaction somewhat as I considered that she could have come out after she left the space program, could have come out in the past few years, and that maybe it would have been better had she been as out to the general public as she apparently was with intimates.

Still, I think Sullivan does discount both the dynamics of sexism and temperamental differences regarding revelations about one’s private life. He implies that she labored in the closet, and that now we know that her real lesson to young lesbans was and is: duck and cover.

But we don’t, in fact, know that this was her lesson. Just because she wasn’t out in a dramatically public way doesn’t have to mean that her “real” lesson was “hide away”. There is, after all, a difference between discretion and shame.

As unfair as I think Sullivan is in his autopsy of Ride’s relationship to her public persona—he didn’t know her, didn’t know her motives—I do nonetheless have to wonder about my own half-outing.

I could be cute, I suppose, and say that as a bisexual I could only be half-out, but what I really mean is that I’m out to some (all of my friends in New York & some of my colleagues, some of my non-New York friends), not to others (family, students), generally ambiguous in reference to any (hypothetical, sigh) partners, and will answer truthfully if asked directly by someone who I don’t think is crossing any lines in the query.

Who I don’t think is crossing any lines: This is the kicker, isn’t it? What if a student would ask? A boss? Would that person be crossing a line?

Or should I be the one who crosses the line by coming out to, say, my students and everyone I work with? I have no fear of discrimination at work, and no great worries of adverse reactions from my students, but I haven’t come out fully at the office or in the classroom* in part because I don’t think it’s any of their business. I like my privacy, and I don’t think openness in some areas of my life requires me to display every aspect of my life.

(*There’s also the matter of the appropriateness of revealing personal information in the classroom. I do offer bits from my life if they’re relevant to the subject at hand, so it’s not out of the question that my own sexuality would be relevant in some discussions; just coming out a propos of nothing—Hi, I’m your professor and I’m bisexual!—would manifestly not be the way to go.)

But—and here is where Sullivan and everyone else who argues for the urgency of coming out makes sense to me—by not saying anything, I allow others to draw false inferences of my sexuality, a falseness under which I may duck and cover and which has social implications. I am uneasy, still, with the inferences others may draw if I come out as bisexual, even as I am also uneasy with the assumption by others that I’m straight.

My reasons for not slamming that closet door behind me, then, has less to do with social opprobrium than my own fear of the personal reactions to a personal revelation. I don’t think anyone in my family would really care all that much, or, to be honest, really be surprised—any surprise might be that I’m bisexual and not a lesbian—nor do I think that the few friends who I haven’t told would care much, either; if they would, their distress would likely center on how long it took me to tell them, not what I told them.

And, of course, that it’s been a number of years since I’ve become bisexual only makes the conversation now even more awkward: Why didn’t you say something earlier?

Sigh.

I struggle with what to reveal and what to tuck away in so many things; unlike almost every other of those things, however, this one is not just about me.








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