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

Courtesy. Professionalism. Respect.

15 11 2011

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images

No comment: a roundup

25 09 2010

The Texas State Board of Education adopted a resolution Friday that seeks to curtail references to Islam in Texas textbooks, as social conservative board members warned of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation’s publishing industry.

Huffington Post


“Thai women are a lot like women in America were 50 years ago,” said Mr. Davis, before they discovered their rights and became “strong-headed and opinionated.”

“The women now know they are equal,” said Mr. Davis, a retired Naval officer who has been divorced twice, “so the situation is not as relaxed and peaceful as it is between an American and a Thai lady.”

New York Times


The Obama administration urged a federal judge early Saturday to dismiss a lawsuit over its targeting of a U.S. citizen for killing overseas, saying that the case would reveal state secrets.

The U.S.-born citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, is a cleric now believed to be in Yemen. Federal authorities allege that he is leading a branch of al-Qaeda there.

Washington Post


Mr. Dooley said the F.B.I. broke down Mr. Kelly’s door around 7 a.m. and gave a search warrant to his companion. The warrant said agents were gathering evidence related to people “providing, attempting and conspiring to provide material support” to terrorist organizations, and listed Hezbollah, the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The warrant also authorized the agents to look for information connected to the Freedom Road Socialist Organization and to unnamed “co-conspirators” and allowed them to seize items including electronics, photographs, address books and letters.

Mr. Kelly is known in Minnesota as a prominent organizer of the Anti-War Committee, a group that has protested United States military aid to Colombia and called for the removal of American soldiers from Afghanistan.

During the Republican gathering in 2008 he was a primary organizer of a march that drew thousands of participants.

Mr. Kelly was also served with a summons to appear before a grand jury on Oct. 19 in Chicago. The order directed him to bring along pictures or videos related to any trip to Colombia, Jordan, Syria, the Palestinian territories or Israel, as well as correspondence with anyone in those places.

New York Times

No no no no no no NO!

11 08 2009

People in favor of health care reform are not fascists.

People opposed to health care reform are not fascists.

President Bush was not a fascist.

President Obama is not a fascist.

Governor Palin is erratic, thoughtless, and ignorant. Not a fascist.

Karl Rove is manipulative, smug, and truth-impaired. Not a fascist.

Benito Mussolini: fascist.

Adolph Hitler: fascist.

Francisco Franco: fascist.

Fascism: (from the Latin fascis, or bundle) a movement which arose in Italy, designed around the notion of the corporate (as in corporeal) state, such that the unity of the state is comparable to the unity of the body, in which each member has a specific role to play, subordinate to the whole. It is not necessarily anti-semitic nor blood-obsessed, but, given its emphasis on the superiority and unity of the state, those designated as in any way opposed to or a drain on the health of the corporate body will be considered an enemy to be expelled or eliminated. It is a movement opposed to Modernity (as a set of ideas based on individual reason, liberty and equality), although it often makes claims of its unique ability to move society forward, into a more spiritual and robust future, and led by a strong and visionary leader. In both theory and practice it is militaristic, anti-rationalist, and often mystical, and tends toward approval of spontaneous outbursts of violence against enemies.

So is there no reason to be concerned about the rhetoric those who claim that Obama is a nazi-fascist-communist, or about the violence of some of that rhetoric? After all, members of Congress have received death threats, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs have ‘joked’ about poisoning Nancy Pelosi’s wine and staking Howard Dean, and it is not too much to note that the election of an African-American man has undone more than a few people.

But pissed-off and violent ignoramuses do not a fascist movement make. Yes, they can do great damage—see Timothy McVeigh, or Eric Rudolph, Paul Hill, or the murderer of George Tiller—but one doesn’t have to be a fascist to do great damage.

That’s the point, isn’t it? There are plenty of people who are not fascists who are nonetheless threats.

Most, however, are not even threats. Some, like Beck and Palin, are twits. Some, like Gingrigh, are opportunists. Some—such as those who don’t want government interfering with Medicare—are uninformed.

But some just don’t like the plan. And they get to say so.

Dissent is patriotic—remember?

It’s not going to stop, so just give up

18 02 2009

At what point does one give up? And what reasons for such up-giving?

This is (for this post) a political and intellectual question, rather than an existential one: At what point does one give up engaging across the political spectrum?

Hm, actually, it’s even narrower than that: At what point do I stop reading someone with whom I often disagree?

And what if the reason is that I don’t think this blogger is as thoughtful as I thought s/he was? What if I think s/he’s not as smart as I thought she was?

I’m a snob—that’s not the issue. No, huh, I guess one more refinement: How do I figure out if my weariness/irritation with a blogger is due to political differences or intellectual ones?

There are all kinds of blogs and books and magazines I don’t read because I think they’re stupid, and I’m not bothered by that. (See snob comment, above.) I’m interested in argument, and if all a blogger can do is impugn, malign, sputter, and/or channel the Party Line, then I won’t be interested—I’ll be bored. It’s not about agreement or disagreement, but engagement.

But what of those cases in which disagreement and a suspicion of thoughtlessness are tangled? Giving up on a leftist blogger doesn’t bother me, because the reason for such abandonment is clear: this person bores me. If I stop reading a rightist, however, I have to wonder if it’s because I’m too close-minded to deal with the argument.

I think it’s important to read outside of my political zone, not only to keep myself sharp, but to remind myself that those on the other side are smart, have good arguments, and are almost certainly not allies of Satan. Yes, I might get irritated or even yell at the post as I’m scrolling through or responding to it, but as long as I’m challenged, such irritation strikes me as reasonable—we do disagree, after all.

What if, however, the argument in the post is unreasonable, such that no reasonable response is possible? I get that that’s going to happen on occasion or with certain issues (the blogging equivalent of ‘oh, that Harry, you know how he gets’), but there are times I wonder if  the blogger doesn’t get that s/he’s posting a shitty argument.

Such as, the blogger sets Standard A for her side, Standard B for all those not on her side—and refuses to recognize the double standard. When he refers to evidence in support of his position, but ignores counter-evidence. When she deliberately distorts the positions of the other side, and complains when her own words are pulled out of shape. When he throws a bomb into the argument, then points at others for fanning the flames. Or, as she’s tossing that bomb, sighs that she’s soooo tired of dealing with explosions.

I’m only occasi0nally bothered by such strategies among political actors and campaigners—the point is to win, not to persuade. And while there’s a hell of a lot of unfairness in politics, mainly having to do with unequal access, there’s no such thing as (legal) unfairness among candidates. If you can’t handle the other side’s (mis)representations of your views, then get out. Strife and campaigns go together, so prepare not only to be bloodied, but to bloody. That’s how you deal with unfairness: You fight back.

But at the level of argumentation, where the point (arguably!) is to persuade, you can’t fuck with the rhetoric. Or, you can, but only at risk of being called a fuck-er.

Okay, so where does all this lead, vis-a-vis the not-so-thoughtful opposition? How do decide if the problem is with the thoughtlessness or the oppositional-ness?

I guess I provided myself with my own answer: when the person is fucking with the rhetoric. But even that doesn’t always help, not least because there are also fundamental differences at play. I might think she’s skewing the grid, but from her perspective, the lines are all straight. She’s not cheating—I just don’t get it. And I want to get it.

Dammit. I don’t know my way around this.

I’ll keep reading, I guess, until I can’t. How’s that for a set standard?

You don’t send me flowers

17 02 2009

But how about some underwear, or, as undies are referred to in India, ‘chaddi’? Pink, please.

In response to a recent attack by Sri Ram Sena (Army of Lord Ram) on women at a tavern in Mangalore, India, the Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women organized the ‘Pink Chaddi’ campaign. The idea was send as many pink chaddi to Pramod Mutalik, one of the leaders of (or main inspirations for, it’s not clear to me) of Sri Ram Sena, as a way of celebrating Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day, you see, is against Hindu values. As are malls, which are havens of handholding. And, um, dating.

Yes, yet another Defender of the Faith, seeking to impose its piety on the bodies of women—literally. If you haven’t already seen it, there’s a video of the Sri Ram Sena punching and kicking women who dared to bend their elbows at a Mangalore pub.

Various politicians—with the notable exception of  women and child development minister Renuka Chaudhury—murmured about the pub attack, but otherwise found it advisable to say not much of anything.

So the women themselves stepped up. Nisha Susan, spokeswoman for the Consortium, said “It’s a choice between ignoring a group like Ram Sena or responding to its activities. We have decided to give it attention, but it is attention which it will not like.”

Hence the pink chaddi.

In addition to the delivery of the chaddi to Muktali, the Forward Women urged women to do a Pub Bharo action, i.e., to hit a tavern and raise a toast to Indian women, record the event, and send that photo or vid to SRS as well. Finally, ‘After Valentine’s Day we should get some of our elected leaders to agree that beating up women is ummm… AGAINST INDIAN CULTURE.’

Now that’s a protest. Mockery, underwear, toasts, and mass action.

FFI: Pink Chaddi Campaign on Mutiny.in, and the Consortium on Blogspot.

Note: The BBC noted that members of another group, Shiv Sena, were arrested for numerous assaults on couples:

Six arrests took place in the northern Indian city of Agra, home to the Taj Mahal – the monument built by Emperor Shah Jehan in memory of his beloved wife.

The protesters used scissors to cut the hair of overtly romantic couples in a nearby park, superintendent of police VP Ashok said.

“The six belonging to Shiv Sena group were arrested for causing a breach of the peace,” he told The Associated Press news agency.

Meanwhile, the AFP news agency reported that five members of the same group were arrested in Delhi for threatening couples in a park.

Many couples had their faces blackened in western Aurangabad and northern Bijnaur, Reuters reports.

Such disruption of Valentine’s Day by hardliners is becoming an annual event, and police this year were on high alert.

Another group vandalised a shop selling Valentine’s cards and raided a restaurant in Indian Kashmir looking for romantic couples, the AP reports.

Protestors also burnt flowers and Valentine Day cards to mark their protest.

I prefer the chaddi. Hell, I prefer pub-going, loose and forward women every time. . . .

God, cops, and, oh, God and cops

8 01 2009

He wouldn’t shake my hand. He said something about ‘respect,’ but it wasn’t clear if he were asking me to respect his wish not to shake my hand, or if he were demonstrating respect for me by not shaking my hand.

I smiled and said ‘Okay’, but, hmmmm, not so okay.

No hand shaking because he’s a man and I’m a woman. A dick, and I get a handshake. No dick, no shake.

So what’s the big deal? He showed me the apartment, didn’t he? He wasn’t unkind or unwilling to deal with me: he simply didn’t want our hands to touch. Different standards of personal boundaries, that’s all.

And on one level, that’s true. I like handshakes, but hugs, not so much. And I certainly don’t want someone feeling me up by way of introduction. Boundaries and preferences.

Perhaps had he not mumbled ‘respect.’ Again, it’s entirely possible that he was demonstrating his respect for me—but I don’t think so. When a man fears my hand, simply because it’s a female hand, I don’t respect that fear. No, I’m not going to force someone to shake my hand—duh, boundaries—but respect that fear of a female touch? Nope.

Oh, but this was about his religion, his relationship to God, and had nothing to do with me. Except that I was there, and I wasn’t feeling particularly respected.

So what do you do in these situations, where respect for the other seems to require a disrespect for oneself? Is there an equitable behavioral solution?

So we don’t shake hands. Perhaps that’s the best we can do.


How many people have been ‘justifiably’ killed by police—i.e., how many victims of disputed deaths (i.e., clearly those not immediately involved in criminal violence) have had their demands for justice unheard because the police were able to claim self-defense—before the advent of mobile technology?

What would have happened to the police officers on trial in the Sean Bell shooting in NYC had someone had video of the events that night? Would anyone have taken Michael Mineo (allegedly injured and sodomized by police in Brooklyn subway station) seriously had video not surfaced which corroborated at least part of his claim against the police? What about what happened to Christopher Long, the Critical Mass bicyclist in Union Square who was charged with assaulting an officer—only to have those charges withdrawn after video clearly showed the officer assaulting the bicyclist? What about all those Republican National Convention protesters freed after film footage effectively erased police justifications for those arrests?

And now, Oscar Grant, the young man shot to death by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police New Year’s day. Would there be a vigorous investigation absent the cell phone video of the shooting? And what of allegations that BART officials sought (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to confiscate any images of the shooting? And police claims that Grant was not cuffed while he was shot—while witnesses dispute this? Perhaps it was an accident, perhaps the officer didn’t mean to shoot Grant. But what the hell was he doing drawing his weapon on an unarmed man on the ground? (And what does it mean for the supposed professionalism of police forces if they kill citizens accidentally?)

I’m not necessarily a fan of the deployment of recording technologies in the public realm. I like my privacy, and while appearing in public does, of course, mean just that—appearing—I think of myself as ‘passing through’: I get to come and go. Recording techs freeze that passage, making permanent what I have always assumed evanescent.

And closed-captioned television (CCTV) as deployed by police and security forces? Nuh-uh. Yes, it’s supposed to make us all safer, help the police catch the bad guys, serve as a deterrent, and hey, it just might. But who the hell is in charge of those nifty CCTV cameras? Who controls that footage? Who decides who has access to it, what is kept, and what is deleted? Is CCTV for the public’s protection—or the police’s?

Still. Video techs in the hands of individual citizens may aid in just the kind open subversion of the security state ideology that’s needed. And no, I don’t think the US is a police state (cf. the bit, below, on Shirin Ebadi and Iran) but the security state ideology, which demands that all other values bow before the shield, is corrosive of an open society. The notion that anything goes as long as one is made secure may—may—make us citizens safer from one another, but it sure as hell doesn’t make us any safer from those security forces.

And it sure as hell doesn’t have anything to do with justice.

Justice does need security, and citizens in an open society need a competent—repeat, competent—police force. Citizens with video techs can’t make the  police more competent, but they can at least expose incompetence—and worse.


Shirin Ebadi, kick-ass activist, is coming under even more pressure from the Iranian government.

According to the LA Times, young thugs from the Basiji Militia, which has connections to the Revolutionary Guard, attacked Ebadi’s home and shouted ‘Death to the pen-pushing mercenary.’

(An aside: Death to the pen-pushing mercenary? Really? That’s the best they could do?)

Police were called, did nothing.

Ah, the security state. . . .


Hamas is full of shit, and shits. They’re totalitarian gangsters, providing much-needed basic services to the Palestinians of Gaza in return for using ‘their people’ as shields in their war against Israel.

Hamas leaders may call themselves freedom fighters or the resistance or martyrs for God, but what do they have to offer those they seek to liberate but a more correct (i.e., non-Jewish, non-Israeli) violence, a more correct oppression? They’re mobsters, performing the same ‘services’ for Gazans that Italian, Irish, Russian, Chinese, etc., organized crime syndicates have done for their immigrant communities.

Remember the scene which opens the first Godfather? ‘I believe in America’, the man tells Don Corleone, before he goes on to beg for help in seeking vengeance for his daughter’s rape. The police can do nothing; could the Don help? The man is berated: why didn’t you come to us first? But the Don will help, in exchange for a favor. . . .

The analogy is inexact, but it works well enough: in the absence of trust in the legal authorities, one will turn to whatever enforcers are available. And in the absence of any countervailing authority, those enforcers are as likely to subjugate as protect—will subjugate in the course of protecting—their communities. It’s an illicit version of the security ideology, mirroring claims of the necessity of violence and the suppression of dissent.

So Hamas is a Palestinian mob. Hell, it’s worse than a regular mob, not least because it directly endangers Palestinian civilians by firing rockets and weapons from within civilian areas. Hamas knows Israel will retaliate, will shell and bomb and shoot into neighborhoods and schools and homes and kill Palestinian civilians—deaths which can then be blamed on Israel. But Hamas, too, is at fault.

Note that I say ‘too.’ The Israeli government knows exactly what Hamas is doing, and they point repeatedly to evidence of Hamas’s tactics. But this hardly absolves Israel of responsibility for civilian deaths. To state that ‘Hamas fires rockets at civilians on purpose, and we do so only incidentally’ doesn’t quite wash in the face of hundreds of Palestinian dead and thousands wounded. How many times can you say ‘Oops, sorry’? Or ‘Sorry, but. . .’? No, Palestinian civilians matter as little to the Israelis as they do to Hamas.

I have read (and heard on the radio) a number of comments by Gazans blaming Hamas for the destruction, but that hardly means they love Israel. They are a hostage population, used and abandoned.

So what the hell to do? Even if Israel manages to weaken or even destroy Hamas, then what? What happens to the people of Gaza? To the blockade of the territory and immobilization of the people? What about the Occupied Territories and Jerusalem? There are still the competing claims to the land, competing claims for justice, for security. There is still the intransigence and hostility of most of Israel’s neighboring states.

What a fucking mess. So the Israeli Defense Force wins by pounding Hamas and Hamas wins if it survives the pounding and everyone else loses. Death all around.

. . . . ‘Yes, but whose deaths matter more?’


A re-thought on God, hands, and respect: Opponents of same-sex marriage complain that advocates are trying to force respect for these marriages, and running over any concerns over the sacred nature of matrimony and the moral and social disorder indicated by open same-sex relationships.

I guess I get their distress. To respect same-sex relationships is to disrespect their own beliefs, and themselves. Why should respect only run one way?

Again, in cases where respect for A requires disrespect for B, tolerance may the best one can hope for. I don’t respect your beliefs, and you don’t respect mine, but we’ll recognize that each gets to retain her beliefs.

The difficulty with marriage, of course, is that it involves the law—another discussion. And I don’t want any laws on the proferring or withholding of hands.