Bear with me here for a minute, and this rant will get to the point.
I was trying to explain the government shutdown to an Italian friend of mine last night (“so have you fixed the Silvio problem yet?” was my first-pass attempt to not talk about US politics before getting drunk enough to keep it from depressing me; I failed). I’ve come to realize that a successful overturn of the ACA by the petulant child wing of the Republican party would be an act of illegitimacy on the order of the appointment of George W. Bush as president by the Supreme Court in 2000.
So I complain about a lull in the news about the more-or-less complete compromise of the Internet by the National Security Agency et al, and then this goes and happens.
One of my old standard interview questions for people applying for jobs with some responsibility for information security was “are you paranoid”? When the lighting was good, and my eyes bugged out just right, this could be a little scary. It’s time to retire this question, I think, because the answer would seem to be “no, I am clearly not paranoid enough”, unless the applicant shows up to the interview in a tin-foil hat.
This is the fourth post I’ve started on the pervasive, indiscriminate, uncontrolled surveillance of electronic communications by the ministries of state security of the North Atlantic world. I stopped writing each of the last three either because the rant got too paranoid, or further revelations showed that the rant was not yet too paranoid enough.
But the stream of new information seems to have dried up a bit, as the news cycle has distracted itself with something called a Miley Cyrus, whatever that is, so I’ve had a chance to catch up a bit. And as a researcher in network measurement who left a job funded by security-academic-industrial-complex money to move to Europe to work on a project seeking to apply technical privacy guarantees to network monitoring systems (which ironically was named PRISM, and which I must forevermore footnote on my CV as “no, not that PRISM”), I feel I should make some statement on all of this. So here it is, predictable and unoriginal though it may be:
Pervasive surveillance is anathema to a functioning democratic society, and nations which do not exercise effective civilian oversight of their state security apparati end up being controlled by them.
I’ve learned, after something happens in America, to wait a few days, first for the inaccuracies inherent in the twenty-four-hour news cycle to be spun out, then for the inaccuracies introduced by the inevitable political spin to cancel each other out, then for the inaccuracies introduced both by textual and cultural translation into the German-language media to at least settle down to a consistent-if-subtly-incorrect picture of what, exactly, it was that just happened, before I try to discuss it here in Switzerland. This is different in America, I explain, or that in the English-speaking world, we don’t have a word for whatever, Prohibition this, Puritans that, let’s not even talk about how the Second World War began in 1941, and so on.
I can’t explain this.
I’m not voting in the 2012 Presidential election. From a pure-fandom point of view I suppose you could say I’m for Obama, and I’ll probably raise a glass to his victory should it come, but in the end that wasn’t compelling enough to jump though all the various hoops necessary to get an absentee ballot as an emigrant American. And the only thing I’m sure I want four more years of is life in Switzerland.
On December 7, 1951, the New York Times – then as now as close to a paper of record as you’ll find in America – devoted a relatively limited amount of space to the tenth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy, which drew the United States into the Second World War: an editorial noting the occasion, and an article noting that a ceremony would be held in Pearl Harbor to note the occasion.
I opened the NZZ am Sonntag (the Sunday edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the paper of record for German-speaking Switzerland) today to read of yet another threat from Switzerland’s current favorite comic-book supervillain: Starker Franken.
I’ve finally given up arguing politics. The way the game seems to be played is indistinguishable from arguing whose football team is better. If I were slightly more cynical, I’d develop a market for jerseys with elephants and donkeys on them and make a killing. It’s even better here in Europe, where most political parties have nice, bright colors, so much the better for mascotry.
Got yet another SVP (Swiss People’s Party) flyer stuffed in the mailbox yesterday, outlining what passes for their platform for the April cantonal elections, which is a straight cognitively-dissonant mix between xenophobic nationalism and classical liberalism. Schweizer wählen SVP, it says: Swiss people vote SVP, the implication being that all the other parties are for people who are somehow less than Swiss. The party somewhat disappointingly leaves the question of the impact of the rather stark protectionism implied by disengagement from Europe on the freedom of markets and Switzerland’s competitiveness unanswered. I get the impression this is because actually attempting to answer such a question would require nuance, which doesn’t fit onto a triple-folded A4 flyer in 36-point type underneath the picture of the scary foreigner. (You’d hope they’d be smart enough to realize, at least from the mailboxes, that they were advertising to a building full of binational couples. But alas.)
It is not yet completely clear the extent to which the Revolutions of 2011 were run on Facebook and Twitter, but to say they have not been instrumental would, I think, be disingenuous. Like Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs, the body counts in Vietnam, or CNN in Kuwait, from the American standpoint the social networking protocols have removed one more layer of separation between the reality of these revolutions, and those watching them. The key here is that they are also used as a primary communications medium for those taking part.
Now is perhaps not the time to point out that they’re doing it wrong.