We do what we’re told, told to do

30 07 2013

A criminal hacker criminally hacking a criminal hacker site: perfect.

I’m a cheapskate, so I rarely see movies in the theaters, but I’m thinkin’ I might get out the crowbar to see Elysium: divided society, Matt Damon, subversion, breaching the gates—sets me lil’ lefty heart aflutter!

So what does this have to do with HackBB and the so-called Dark Web? Well, it seems that so many techno-dystopias are predicated not just on an extreme divide, but also on a criminal space through which the untermenschen traverse to get to the high society or the denizens of the overlord society may slum for pleasures or sins or openings not found in their clean space.

I don’t know if that’s what happens in Elysium, but I’m bettin’ there’s some kind of passing going on.

As for other portrayals, Neo traded sims (is that right?) on the down side, Tom Cruise’s character got new eyeballs in the alleyways of Minority Report, Winston met Julia in the slums, Ethan Hawke’s character traded up to a new life in Gattaca, and on and on.  These netherspaces are dangerous, but also allow for freedoms not allowed in safer places; they might be dangerous precisely because they are free.

Dangerous and free: down- and up-side side, all in one.

We Americans like to celebrate the wholesome goodness of freedom—libertarians and anarchists, most of all—leaving a consideration of the ambiguities of liberty to scolds and scholars. Any problems with such freedom are laid on the character of those who “abuse” or “take advantage” of it, those who don’t know properly how to live freely.  Freedom is good for good people (of which we inarguably are) and bad for bad people.

So, how to preserve freedom for the deserving? Take it away from the undeserving. And how do you know who’s undeserving?

Welllll, that’s where things get tricky. You can define certain behaviors as crimes, and define those who commit those crimes as undeserving of freedom, but if you seek to stamp out every possible crime, you end up classifying everyone as a possible criminal—from whom it is acceptable to take away their freedom because: criminal!

If, however, you don’t want to treat everyone as a possible criminal, you have to tolerate a certain amount of crime. The obvious parallel is Madison’s observation that liberty is to faction what air is to fire: the only way to eliminate the problems of liberty is to eliminate liberty—an intolerable prospect, to Madison.

Even societies which are themselves intolerant of liberty allow spaces in which residents may act against the law, if only to vent harmlessly (and privately) a dissatisfaction which might otherwise be directed against the governing powers. Unless a regime is capable of stamping out every last discontent—and thus far in modern societies, only North Korea seems to have approached this goal—it has to figure out instead how to channel those discontents away from the center.

In free societies, there has been a similar kind of “blind-eye” sensibility for a whole variety of crimes (gambling most obviously), coupled with the creation or allowance of red-light districts to where other types of crime might be confined—and surveilled. It’s not that a security service is able to track every shady act in the shady zones, but that they know where to go if things get out of hand.

Which brings me back around to the Dark Web: A key feature of crime areas is that they are at least somewhat open to the police, but as encryption and anonymizing software like Tor have spread, it makes it difficult for the police to follow the criminals.

This is a problem.

Yes, it’s a problem in an obvious way: it allows child pornographers and identity thieves and the whole rotten lot to flourish. But it’s also a problem in a more insidious way, insofar as it allows private and public authorities to cast suspicions on any who don’t care to have their data dissected by corporations or cops. Because criminals hide their activities, then it must be the case that anyone who hides her activities is a criminal.

I’ve banged on about the privacy-shredding implications of this before, but here I’m making a slightly different point: As some kinds of crime and criminals become harder to follow, those who are tasked with following them are granted greater and greater leeway in their efforts to track them down. The deserving free must be protected from the undeserving, but as it becomes harder to identify the undeserving, the deserving themselves are scrutinized.

Thus some of the deserving-free readily hand over their freedom in order to signal their status as deserving, while others protest they ought to be able to retain both their status as deserving and their freedom, and still others say, screw it, if you’re going to treat me as a criminal, then I’ll throw my lot in with the criminal. That latter group might try to pass as deserving, making no overt protest and perhaps making a show of their adherence to the rules, but otherwise tolerating and perhaps taking advantage of the opportunities in the underworld.

The police might go after the protesters—they are visible, after all—but in doing so they are really attempting to get at criminal and their fellow-travellers.

Consider the approach of the FBI to environmental protesters in Seattle:

An attorney who’s working with local climate-change activists who’ve been approached by the FBI said activists were approached again yesterday. “They told him [the activist] that they wanted to talk to him because they were afraid that someone was going to get hurt in the course of the coal-train campaign,” she said. “They said something to the effect of, ‘we are afraid that someone is using the climate-change movement for nefarious purposes to hurt people.'”

As The Stranger’s Brendan Kiley points out,

It appears in this case that the FBI is not trying to solve a crime related to coal-train protests. Instead, agents are dropping by the homes of climate-change activists to express concern that they, by virtue of their activism, are involved in something that might become criminal. Or maybe they’re just trying to frighten people away.

Either way, it sounds like stop-and-frisk for environmentalists.

The mere (f)act of dissent is disreputable, and dissenters to be judged not on their arguments but by the (f)act of dissent itself, which, in this case, is seen merely as a cover for criminality.

Grrr, this post is getting away from (now you appreciate those quick hits, don’t you?), but I’m trying to make sense of trends toward both greater division and increased social-securitization.

No, I don’t believe that the US is a dystopian totalitarian state, nor do I think we’ll become one in my lifetime. But it seems that as more and more people find it difficult to support themselves above the line, they’ll dip below it in order to survive. And as more and more people dip below, the security state will grow in order to capture and segregate them from those above, which will lead to greater efforts to pass or to avoid capture, which further justifies the extension of the security state.

At some point, everyone becomes a suspect, guilty until proven innocent.

I’m amused by the HackBB story because it seems to me a clear case of, well, just desserts. But as much as I’m discomfitted both by the folks who make a living on the Dark Web and the hysteria it sets off in the security apparatus, it might, like other dodgy neighborhoods, be one of the few places where the innocently-guilty may live freely. The danger provides the freedom.

If so, it might be the case that the only thing worse than its existence would be its extinction.

~~~

h/t Andrew Sullivan, Daily Dish

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Give it to me once and give it to me twice

30 07 2013

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell: “It’s hard — I suppose the force of circumstances — for instance, not to accept gifts. Now, the broader gifts, of maybe letting someone use your house at a lake, private travel, I think those are things that are of fair discussion.”

Ah, Guv, no, it’s really not that hard.

Just say no.





Quick hits, instead

30 07 2013

Y’know, about a minute after I created the “itty bitty” category I reconsidered, then thought, let it ride.

Yeah, well, the ride is ending. I still like the idea of toss-off posts (and considered renamed the cat “toss-offs”), but didn’t like the whole cutesy thing.

As a small woman, I really don’t like the whole cutesy thing.

So, I’m reverting to what I called them when I collected ’em in a whole “stray bits” post: “quick hits”.

Says what I want it to, sans cute.





And they would kill me for a cigarette

29 07 2013

So on what planet is the appropriate response to an obstreperous 95-year-old to shoot him with a beanbag gun?

Do I need to mention that an obstreperous 95-year-old man had already been Tasered? And that an obstreperous 95-year-old man who had already been Tasered might not be able to withstand the force of a lead-shot-filled “pillow” fired by a 12-gauge shotgun at a speed of 200-300 feet/second?

That he might, in fact, die from the resultant injuries?

But AbsurdBeats, you say, the old man was WIELDING A CANE and a SHOEHORN (?!) and a FOOT-LONG  BUTCHER’S KNIFE?  How else are trained professionals supposed to act in the face of a obstreperous 95-year-old-man who was refusing medical treatment and threatening—I say threatening!—them with a FOOT-LONG BUTCHER’S KNIFE?

I mean, it’s not like those highly trained protectors of the peace had any other options in the face of such imminent and overwhelming danger.

Similarly, you might argue that that we can all sleep better tonight knowing that the police’s first response to a man retrieving cigarettes from his own car is to shoot at him seven times*.

After all, a concerned neighbor had called the police, so, really, can you blame them for not waiting for him actually to turn around before emptying their pistols in his general direction?

Safety first, after all.

*No, the real question is: Should we feel better or worse that the police shot at him seven times and only managed to him once, maybe twice, in the leg?

~~~

I don’t know how Radley Balko tracks this shit without going insane.





Don’t stop believin’

29 07 2013

So Mitt Romney apparently does not understand how video works.





Days of open hand

29 07 2013

Peggy Noonan was a helluva speechwriter.

Her Challenger speech for Reagan was masterful, and she wrote a line I have repeatedly and delightedly stolen her the line “the soft bigotry of low expectations” [which, in looking up to confirm that this was written for George HW Bush, was actually written by Michael Gerson for George W Bush! Man! Still, great line.]

Didn’t like her politics, didn’t like the presidents she worked for, but I do respect her ability to craft a political speech.

Her skills as a pundit, however: no.

She gave the American public her prediction that Romney would win the 2012 election, based on the “vibrations” she got from his rallies, and stated that the non-White House IRS scandal was “something [she’d] never seen in her lifetime.”

This from a woman who was in the White House during the Iran-Contra debacle.

Anyway, Charlie Pierce likes to call her Our Lady of the Magic Dolphin, but guest post-er at his blog, Heather Horn, offered up an even better name: Trelawney.

I’m with Hermione—and Horn—on this one.





Listen boy I’m getting tired of you

28 07 2013

Anthony Weiner is an idiot.

Yes, for the obvious reason of thinking he could get away with sending crotch shots (solicited and not) to and sexting with women not-his-wife, but also for thinking this latest revelation was No Big Deal.

He did intimate, in that long groundwork-for-a-comeback piece in the New York Times Magazine that there were  more sexts out there and they might surface, but as others have pointed out, he also implied that these, uh, indiscretions were looooong behind him.

Hence the more-damning-politically idiocy: He didn’t come clean when he had the chance. Had he said, in the long ground-work-for-a-comeback piece, that it took him awhile to get himself under control, that the sexting continued through the summer of 2012, he would have opened himself to  tough questions about his habits and appetites, questions he managed to duck when he resigned his Congressional seat and retreated to private life.

But in taking that opening, he would have inoculated himself from the derision which attends the latest revelation, forestalled the contempt attendant on the lies about the extent of his crotch-shotting, and thus might still have had a shot at becoming mayor.

I guess he still does, but this past week that shot became a whole lot longer.