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Nederlog

June 29, 2015
Crisis: Orwell, Spying, Greece, Jay&Scheer, Chelsea Manning
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
 
   -- Benjamin Franklin
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
"
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton















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 Sections

            Introduction
1. Orwell’s Triumph: How Novels Tell the Truth of
     Surveillance

2. Why we are resigned to giving our data to corporate
     spies

3. Greece crisis could be a Sarajevo moment for the
     eurozone

4.
Robert Scheer: ‘Imperialism Is a Loser’ (Part 5 of 10)
5.
Chelsea Manning: SCOTUS’ Same-Sex Marriage Ruling
     Doesn’t Rule Out Need for LGBT Movement


This is a Nederlog of Monday June 29, 2015.

This is a
crisis blog. There are 5 items with 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about Orwell and novels, but was rather disappointing; item 2 is about an article by John Naughton about why so many say to little while they are spied on so much, that was mostly reasonable; item 3 is about an article on The Guardian about the developments in Greece; item 4 is about an interview with Scheer, where there
was - alas! - no text (so I summarized); and item 5 is about a fear stated by
Chelsea Manning, that I think is quite realistic.
1. Orwell’s Triumph: How Novels Tell the Truth of Surveillance The first item today is an article by Sam Frank on The Intercept:
This starts as follows:
When government agencies and private companies access and synthesize our data, they take on the power to novelize our lives. Their profiles of our behavior are semi-fictional stories, pieced together from the digital traces we leave as we go about our days. No matter how many articles we read about this process, grasping its significance is no easy thing. It turns out that to understand the weird experience of being the target of all this surveillance — how we are characters in semi-true narratives constructed by algorithms and data analysts — an actual novel can be the best medium.
Really now? For example, what does the first statement say? What is it "to novelize our lives"? And is this what the "government agencies and private companies" are trying to do? Novelizing our lives? (Rather than stealing everything they can in order to control us, and by subtle manipulations
rather than by direct force?!)

I am asking because I do not know. I know what "to novelize" means: "to put into the form of a novel", but I don't think that my life is being made into fiction,
though I am quite willing to agree that what "
algorithms and data analysts" may concoct about me very probably is much more like fiction than like fact - but I don't know, for I don't know what is being collected nor how this is admini- stered, nor how this may be used later, nor who will have access to it. Again, I don't have a "weird experience of being the target of all this surveillance": It is all happening behind my back, on a level I can't see, for purposes that I never consented to and that I also never was asked about.

So all in all this seems to presume far too much and none too clearly. And I also reject the last statement: Precisely because so much is hidden, and so very much
is kept secret, I do not think "
an actual novel can be the best medium": I want the truth much rather than a piece of fiction about an imagined "truth" that does not really exist as depicted by the perpetrators.

Here is a further slice of vagueness:

We give our data to Google and Facebook freely, in exchange for ever-better information; the hidden cost is that we become complicit in our own surveillance. Two years ago, just days before the first of the Snowden NSA stories appeared in The Guardian, Julian Assange reviewed The New Digital Age, co-written by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. The book celebrated the prospect of Silicon Valley joining forces with the military-industrial complex — and Assange accused the authors of having “updated and seamlessly implemented George Orwell’s prophecy.” Assange concluded, “If you want a vision of the future, imagine Washington-backed Google Glasses strapped onto vacant human faces — forever.”
No. I never gave my data to Google and Facebook (and see item 2). I try to avoid both as much as I can, among other things because I don't like them at all and I know they steal anything they can, without asking any consent, and not "in exchange for ever-better information", for I never asked "ever-better information" from them and indeed I also don't want it. Also, I resent being made "complicit in [my] own surveillance": I am against mass surveillance, and I have never been asked whether I would consent to "my own surveillance": all my data are being stolen without my having any say in it, so far as I know.

There is also this:
While Orwell’s totalitarianism is militaristic, Eggers’s is consensual, as the sharing economy intrudes, invited, into every empty space. Orwell’s famous slogans, “WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH,” are recast as “SECRETS ARE LIES. SHARING IS CARING. PRIVACY IS THEFT.”
Well... Orwell was opposed to totalitarianism. I take it Eggers also doesn't like it, and the paradoxes he proposes are also stated in terms of the ideology of those in power.

They also are fundamentally false, and they treat those who accept them
as if they are toddlers facing nanny who tells them (anonymously, from God knows where) that the toddlers have no right to know, but nanny is all-powerful and has ruled that, for totally known toddlers who use these services, nanny holds
that “SECRETS ARE LIES. SHARING IS CARING. PRIVACY IS THEFT.” - but
"nanny herself" (the big internet corporations) is deeply secretive, very private, and doesn't share anything it can keep secret.


Here is the last paragraph:
There remains much to write about surveillance, much to novelize. Following Kafka, I can imagine a great novel that would capture, moment by moment, what it feels like to live as if innocent in a world without privacy, a world in which the algorithms assume that we are all already guilty.
Well, anything can be "novelized". But I am not much interested in novels about "algorithms" that "assume" things (much rather than their progammers), and I would first like to know the truth before turning to fiction - and in fact Edward Snowden only revealed data he could find about only one of sixteen heavily funded secret instititions that the American government uses in secret to find
out things.

We need to know a lot more before we can confidently make fiction about it.

2. Why we are resigned to giving our data to corporate spies

The next item today is an article by John Naughton on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

‘The business model of the internet,” writes the security expert Bruce Schneier in his excellent new book Data and Goliath, “is surveillance.” States engage in it for their own inscrutable purposes and – as we know from Edward Snowden – they do it on a colossal scale. But the giant internet companies do it too, on an equally large scale. The only difference is that they claim that they do it with our consent, whereas the state doesn’t really bother with that.

A big mystery for those of us who worry about the long-term implications of surveillance is why internet users seem generally to be unconcerned about this.

Yes, indeed. Here are three remarks.

First, the link is a good one: it is well worth reading. Second, while it is true that
"the giant internet companies" (...) "claim that they [surveil everyone with our consent" that is a blatant lie: I never was asked anything, nobody ever made me an offer: it was and is all stolen. [1] Third, I agree with the question, indeed to the extent that I agree there is a "big mystery" there.

Indeed, here is part of an answer supplied by Bruce Schneier, in the linked article:

Surveillance is the business model of the internet for two primary reasons: people like free and people like convenient. The truth is, though, that people aren’t given much of a choice. It’s either surveillance or nothing and the surveillance is conveniently invisible so you don’t have to think about it. And it’s all possible because laws have failed to keep up with changes in business practices.

In general, privacy is something people tend to undervalue until they don’t have it anymore. Arguments such as “I have nothing to hide” are common, but aren’t really true. People living under constant surveillance quickly realise that privacy isn’t about having something to hide. It’s about individuality and personal autonomy. It’s about being able to decide who to reveal yourself to and under what terms. It’s about being free to be an individual and not having to constantly justify yourself to some overseer.

Yes, indeed: Quite so (and quite in contrast with the fictions served to the readers in the first item).

John Naughton is trying to explain the mystery, and has two ideas. The first is this:

But on the whole, across the world, internet users seem relatively unfazed by what’s going on.

Why is that? One explanation is that most people have no idea of how internet and mobile surveillance works, and – as the saying goes – what people don’t know doesn’t bother them. There’s something in that (...)
Yes, I agree. Also, there is a factor that John Naughton doesn't mention: The computer and the internet, both of which are quite intricate pieces of technology, have been adopted far more rapidly and on a far greater scale than any other piece of technology - which also means that by far the greatest part of its users
hardly know what they use nor how it works. [2]

And I think actually that is a major handicap, because both the government (that spies on everything we do, and tries to get everything we do) and the big internet corporations (that spy
on most we do) can and do always refer back to the vast majority that doesn't know programming and knows very little about computers as "wanting" and "supporting" and "consenting" to their views about what computers are for (basically: for spies - "The Internet Of Things" - that know and record everything anyone does, to help the government do its things, and the corporations do their things), and who swallow their propaganda as if it were true and credible, simply because most don't know.

The second idea John Naughton has is this, and is presented in explicit contrast with the idea that most users of computers simply don't know the dangers they
are being exposed to:
These conditions do not apply in industrialised countries, however. And it would be patronising to assume that every internet user – except for the occasional geek – is a mug. Some people do read the terms and conditions to which they have to agree when signing up to use “free” internet services. They fully realise that “if the service is free then you are the product”. And yet they persist in using it. Why?
I am sorry, but that is mostly nonsense. I suppose I am one of those that Naughton would classify as an "occasional geek" (I am using computers daily since 1987; I can program decently or well in at least seven languages - Basic, Pascal, Prolog, Smalltalk, Assembly, C++, Python; I got an excellent M.A. and an equally excellent B.A. in another study; I have a very high IQ) - but I simply have no information (other than supplied by Snowden, basically) about the governments and corporations that spy on me, without ever asking any consent; I know in fact only a little about what they are doing; and all I can do - supposing I want to connect to the internet - is trying to avoid corporations like Google and Facebook (which I do, and maybe encrypt my mails). [3]

And that is essentially the same for everyone, however clever and informed, as long as they do not themselves work for the NSA or have a very high position on Facebook (that seems to cater to the billions that can't even master html): You do not know as much as 1% of the many things you ought to know and should
know if this were a matter of free consent rather than secretive forced stealing. And because everything is done in secret, you also do not know what you must know that could protect you.

But here is a last bit that refutes the lies that the big corporations use. It is based on a study done by
the Annenberg School for Communication in the University of Pennsylvania. I added some bolding:
They concluded that internet companies are misrepresenting a large majority of Americans by claiming that people give out information about themselves as a trade-off for benefits they receive.

The findings also suggest that users’ willingness to provide personal information to web services cannot be explained by ignorance. Instead, the researchers propose a different explanation – that “a majority of Americans are resigned to giving up their data – and that is why many appear to be engaging in trade-offs. Resignation occurs when a person believes an undesirable outcome is inevitable and feels powerless to stop it. Rather than feeling able to make choices, Americans believe it is futile to manage what companies can learn about them. Our study reveals that more than half do not want to lose control over their information but also believe this loss of control has already happened.”

And that seems correct - and indeed also ties in with my own findings that far more people are totalitarian or followers or groupthinkers than would admit it.

So all in all I think there are (at least) five reasons that make for massive spying with few protests:

  • the vast majority of computer users simply are ignorant and naive about what computers are, how they work, and how they are programmed, and know little more than how to work various common interfaces that deliver what they want;
  • the small minority of computer users that understand computers and programming (1 in a 100 at most) do not get any knowledge about the massive spying that the governments and the corporations have loosened on them, and can do little but warn, avoid and encrypt;
  • the governments and the corporations can do as they please because almost everyone is denied any knowledge about the real facts about spying, who does it, what they are using, and what they are looking for, while also
  • there are hardly any real laws in place about computing, data gathering, and spying by internet, and such laws as have been introduced largely were introduced by governments to make their spying easier.
  • Most users who do understand that they are spied upon are resigned to it
    because they know that the only "real choice" they get is between not using their computer on the internet (and not using a cell phone) and between using it and being spied upon.
These five points at least clarified some - for me - about the fact that there is massive spying on everyone while there are (relatively) few protesters.

3. Greece crisis could be a Sarajevo moment for the eurozone

The next item today is an article by Larry Elliott on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

A hundred and one years ago on Sunday, gun shots rang out in a city in southern Europe. Few at the time paid much heed to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife as they drove through the streets of Sarajevo. Within six weeks, however, Europe was at war.

Make no mistake, the decision by Alexis Tsipras to hold a referendum on the bailout terms being demanded of his country has the potential to be a Sarajevo moment. The crisis is not just about whether there is soon to be a bank run in Greece, although there is certainly the threat of one. It is not just about whether the creditors overplayed their hand in the negotiations, although they did. It is about the future of the euro itself.

Yes, I agree. There is also this:
The Greek government will also be making contingency plans for exit from the single currency. Tsipras and Yannis Varoufakis, his finance minister, say that is not their wish or intention, but if the result of the referendum backs the government’s stance it is hard to see any alternative.
And there is this on the Greek experience:
The stance taken by the troika has been wrong-headed but inevitable. Greece has seen its economy shrink by 25% in the past five years. A quarter of its population is unemployed. It has suffered a slump of Great Depression proportions, yet the troika has been demanding fresh tax increases that will suck demand from the economy, stifle growth and add to Greece’s debt burden.
Yes, indeed - and in fact "the troika" consists of Lagarde, Juncker and Draghi, none of whom was directly elected by any European, but who behave as if they own Europe, and can do with it as they please.

There is more in the article, which is interesting, and we will learn a lot more in the coming week.


4. VIDEO: Robert Scheer: ‘Imperialism Is a Loser’ (Part 5 of 10)

The next item today is not an article but a video, introduced by a brief article by Alexander Reed Kelly on Truthdig:
The problem I have is that I did cover the previous four items (the last one is here) but unlike these first four interviews Alexander Reed Kelly writes:
A transcript of the conversation is not yet available. We will place one here if and when it becomes available.
That is a considerable pity.

But I did see the interview (mostly for lack of the text: I read a whole lot faster than speech) and so I offer you a list of the subjects that were discussed in this part 5:

- the stopping of the American draft (by Nixon) gets discussed
- and the influence of corruption, followed by one problem for the elite:
- Lennon as a considerable nuisance to the elite (objecting to war etc.)
- The elites had a major PR problem: How do we manipulate the population
- The whole professorial class got bought out with tenure and good salaries
- China is discussed (which now is richer and more populous than the US)
- and the nation state is discussed: For Apple and for Google the nation state is
  an embarassment
- For Robert Scheer militarism is an anachronism
- and there are great dangers in the myth of empire (that the founders of the 
   American Republic also were against)
- militarism is a looser, and
- Snowden made a crucial change.

I think that is a fair summary of the contents, but it is merely that. And I did find it interesting, without agreeing with everything.

5. Chelsea Manning: SCOTUS’ Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Doesn’t Rule Out Need for LGBT Movement

The last item today is an article by Kasia Anderson on Truthdig:
This starts as follows:

In an essay published in The Guardian after the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, Chelsea Manning traced the arc of progress on the issue of LGBT rights, starting from the moment California’s controversial Proposition 8 (a statewide ballot proposition eliminating the right of same-sex couples to wed) was passed in 2008 to Friday’s stunning SCOTUS victory.

However, the point of Manning’s piece was not to celebrate the milestone and call it a day. Far from it.
And I think Chelsea Manning had a point, and formulated it well:

But I worry that, with full marriage equality, much of the queer community will be left wondering how else to engage with a society that still wants to define who we are – and who in our community will be left to push for full equality for all transgender and queer people, now that this one fight has been won. I fear that our precious movements for social justice and all the remarkable advancements we have made are now vulnerable to being taken over by monied people and institutions, and that those of us for whom same-sex marriage rights brings no equality will be slowly erased from our movement and our history.

[...] despite our successes and our participation in the struggle for LGBT equality, there are still queer and trans folks who struggle every single day for the right to define themselves, to access gender-appropriate healthcare and to live without harassment by other people, the police or the government. Many queer and trans people live – and lived – in our prison and jails, in our homeless shelters, in run-down houses and apartment buildings, and on the corners of every major city. Marriage equality doesn’t help them; and the potential loss of momentum for trans/queer rights after this win could well hurt them.

Yes, indeed. Also, I suppose Manning is right: Most ordinary homosexuals (to
use that term [4]) are quite ordinary people, apart from having a sexual preference that the majority lack, and I suppose Manning is likely right in assuming that
all the remarkable advancements we have made are now vulnerable to being taken over by monied people and institutions, and that those of us for whom same-sex marriage rights brings no equality will be slowly erased from our movement and our history
But we shall see.

-----------------------------------------------------------
Notes

[1] Also, the extent of what is stolen was only revealed to me 26 years after I started using computers daily (in 1987), and 19 years after I started internet, by Edward Snowden.

[2] And I think that is the plain and literal truth. (In case you disagree: In how many programming languages did you program? And how many books on programming did you read?)

[3] Here is a remark about "Some people do read the terms and conditions to which they have to agree when signing up to use “free” internet services":

That sounds like baloney to me. First, I have only very recently heard about precisely one person - the first in 19 years of internetting! - who did try to read the contracts supplied by Adobe, Microsoft, Apple etc. It took him several weeks. Second, these contracts are generally totally unreadable and indeed seem often (I did look at some of them) designed to be unreadable. Third, these contracts are
far too complicated for nearly anyone who is not a lawyer to judge reasonably, and also tend to be transnational. Fourth, in most cases all you can do is refuse to do what you did before, and give up a part of internet.

[4] For I don't much like the English term "gay" for "homosexual". Indeed, I also don't like "homosexual", "homophile", nor indeed "heterosexual" and "heterophile", nor the abbreviation "LGBT", but I also agree these are only terminological difficulties. Being Dutch, I use "homosexual", which is too long but is descriptive.

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