Filed under: General Musings, tech, Science Fiction, BoingBoing, movies, Society, Government, Constitution, Cory Doctorow, ACLU, Privacy, Civil Rights
Intrusive governmental surveillance is a staple of Science Fiction, and was part of the horror of Communism during the Cold War. Just about every spy movie set behind the Iron Curtain showed it, and of course the fictional world of George Orwell’s 1984 was predicated on a complete lack of privacy.
We do not live in a totalitarian society. I was behind the Iron Curtain during the 1970s for a brief period, and saw what it was like first hand. And say what you will, 1984 did not become a reality.
But we are living in an “endemic surveillance society”. And it is as bad here in the US as it is in China and Russia. That is the conclusion of Privacy International‘s 2007 International Privacy Ranking. From the report:
In recent years, Parliaments throughout the world have enacted legislation intended to comprehensively increase government’s reach into the private life of nearly all citizens and residents. Competing “public interest” claims on the grounds of security, law enforcement, the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration, administrative efficiency and welfare fraud have rendered the fundamental right of privacy fragile and exposed. The extent of surveillance over the lives of many people has now reached an unprecedented level. Conversely, laws that ostensibly protect privacy and freedoms are frequently flawed – riddled with exceptions and exceptions that can allow government a free hand to intrude on private life.
At the same time, technological advances, technology standards, interoperability between information systems and the globalisation of information have placed extraordinary pressure on the few remaining privacy safeguards. The effect of these developments has been to create surveillance societies that nurture hostile environments for privacy.
Actually, while we are grouped in the tier of worst countries (along with China and Russia) when it comes to protection of privacy, our score is slightly better than both of them. This doesn’t give me a lot of comfort. Take one look at the map they have created, and you’ll shudder too.
Filed under: tech, Predictions, Publishing, Humor, Comics, Kindle, Jeff Bezos
(Hat tip, ML!)
Filed under: General Musings, Violence, Society, Government, Constitution, NYT, Terrorism, Bruce Schneier, Preparedness
That’s the description applied to most of the Security Theater (Bruce Schneier‘s excellent term) nonsense at our airports by a commercial airline pilot writing at the NYT Blog Jet Lagged. From the piece by Patrick Smith titled “The Airport Security Follies“, in which he discusses the fact that current security procedures are nothing but a sham:
No matter that a deadly sharp can be fashioned from virtually anything found on a plane, be it a broken wine bottle or a snapped-off length of plastic, we are content wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and untold hours of labor in a delusional attempt to thwart an attack that has already happened, asked to queue for absurd lengths of time, subject to embarrassing pat-downs and loss of our belongings.
In the end, I’m not sure which is more troubling, the inanity of the existing regulations, or the average American’s acceptance of them and willingness to be humiliated. These wasteful and tedious protocols have solidified into what appears to be indefinite policy, with little or no opposition. There ought to be a tide of protest rising up against this mania. Where is it? At its loudest, the voice of the traveling public is one of grumbled resignation. The op-ed pages are silent, the pundits have nothing meaningful to say.
* * *
As for Americans themselves, I suppose that it’s less than realistic to expect street protests or airport sit-ins from citizen fliers, and maybe we shouldn’t expect too much from a press and media that have had no trouble letting countless other injustices slip to the wayside. And rather than rethink our policies, the best we’ve come up with is a way to skirt them — for a fee, naturally — via schemes like Registered Traveler. Americans can now pay to have their personal information put on file just to avoid the hassle of airport security. As cynical as George Orwell ever was, I doubt he imagined the idea of citizens offering up money for their own subjugation.
Oh, I don’t know about that last point. Orwell understood quite well that almost any system is susceptible to the creation of an elite class – and in this case if you’ve got the money you can buy out of some of the pointless security hassles of flying. But the rest of the piece is a very powerful indictment of the stupidity of the current system, by one who knows how it functions from the inside. And, as the passages cited indicate, the piece is an indictment of us as well, who have been willing to trade off our dignity and civil liberties for just the illusion of security.
(Cross posted to UTI.)
Filed under: Writing stuff, tech, Science Fiction, Health, Violence, Guns, Society, Flu, Science, Flu Wiki, Emergency, Preparedness, Survival
As I have mentioned previously, I enjoy shooting. And I carry a concealed weapon (legally – by permit and where allowed by law) pretty much all the time. This isn’t paranoia, just a simple recognition that we live in an unpredictable and sometimes dangerous world. That same mindset applies to preparations for any kind of small-scale disaster, whether natural or man-made. If you live in the Midwest, you understand that power outages occur due to weather (tornadoes in Spring, Summer, and Fall, ice-storms in Winter), and that you may need to be self-reliant for days or even a couple of weeks. I’ve long abided by the Scout motto of “Be Prepared”, and while you wouldn’t find a years worth of supplies and a generator cached here, we could manage pretty easily for a period of a couple of months. That’s not too far off what is recommended by both the government and independent health agencies. As I’ve discussed, the onset of a pandemic flu may well cause a disruption of normal economic activity for a prolonged period, and I cite such a disaster as the background for Communion of Dreams.
Anyway, in an accident during one shooting trip this fall I managed to slice open my right thumb pretty well. I had ridden out to the family farm where I usually shoot with one of my buddies, so didn’t have my car, which contains a fairly complete first-aid kit. And, as it turned out, my buddy didn’t have any kind of first aid supplies in his car. We improvised a bandage from stuff in my gun cleaning kit, and things were OK. When I got home, I added a real first aid kit to my ‘range bag’, and didn’t think much more about it.
Then, a couple of weeks later I was back out at the farm with my BIL. We were walking the border of the property adjacent to a state park and marking it as private, since a lot of people don’t bother to keep track of where they are and we’ve had a lot of tresspassing. At one point down in a secluded valley my BIL and I paused for a breather, and just out of curiosity I checked to see if I had a signal for my cell phone. Nope. Hmm.
Now, it was nice weather, just a tad cool and damp when we set out. But it was November, and the leaves were slick in places where a fall could easily result in a twisted knee or a broken bone. I got to thinking – if I were on my own, what did I have with me that I could use in the event of an emergency? Oh, I had plenty of stuff in my car – but that was the better part of a mile away. What did I have on my person?
In truth, I was in better shape than most people would likely be in such a situation. I always have a Leatherman multi-tool on my belt, a small LED flashlight on my keychain, and a pistol and ammo. But still, since I don’t smoke I’m not in the habit of carrying matches or a lighter, I once again didn’t have any first-aid items, et cetera. I had stuck a small bottle of water in my jacket pocket, but that would hardly last long. I could probably cobble together some kind of splint or impromptu crutch, but it would be a challenge to get out of such a situation on my own.
When I got home I got to doing a bit of research about emergency survival kits. Google that, and you’ll come up with about 30,000 hits to sites offering everything from bomb shelters to equipment for first responders. Not particularly helpful. I decided to take a different tack, and started to think about what I wanted to have in a kit small enough that I would *always* have it with me. I set my goal for constructing a kit which would fit into an Altoids tin, since that is small enough to easily slip into any pocket.
This problem has been tackled by others, and there are actually some such small kits for sale that’ll run you upwards of $50. I looked over the commercially available kits, saw what others have done to solve the problems inherent in such a project, and came up with the following:
What you see there is:
- Surgical Mask (can also be used as a bandage)
- Fresnell lens for magnification or starting fires
- 20mm bubble compass
- Single-edged razor blade
- Suture pack (curved needle mounted with suture thread)
- Band-aids & steri-strips
- Antibiotic packet
- Emergency whistle
- Superglue (repairs, fabrication, wound sealant)
- Cotton tinder tabs
- Water purification tablets (can also be used as antiseptic)
- 30′ of Spiderwire (15 lbs test)
- Safety pins
- Small ziplock bag for water
- Benadryl (anti-histamine, sedative)
- Anti-diarrheal tablets
Yes, it all fits in the Altoids tin. Just. It is not entirely satisfactory, as I would have liked to have a large piece (say 18″x24″) of heavy-duty aluminum foil, a couple of garbage bags, some lightweight steel wire, maybe some duct tape or heavier cord. But it is a pretty good start – any small kit like this is by necessity an exercise in trade-offs. (Edited to add 06/01/08: I wrapped about 15′ of 24ga steel wire around the mini-lighter in a single layer, tightly wrapped. Takes up almost no additional room, and will be easy to unwrap for use.)
In searching out the items I wanted (difficult to find items linked to my sources), it became clear that in some cases I would spend more on shipping for some of the components than I would for the actual items. So I made one such kit for myself, and another half dozen to give to friends. That got the cost down to under $10 each (not including the cash, obviously).
Your best survival tool in any situation is your brain. But it doesn’t hurt to have a few advantages in the form of useful items close at hand. With this small kit, and what I usually have with me anyway, I am reasonably well prepared to deal with most situations that I can envision. And I thought that since I went to the trouble to construct it, I would put the information about it here for anyone else who might have some use for it.
Filed under: General Musings, Predictions, Press, Science Fiction, Violence, Society, Flu, Pandemic, NPR, Politics, Religion, Nuclear weapons, Daily Kos
But I want to chat here about this morning’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan. Why? Because it ties in with Communion of Dreams a bit. And because I think that the news really should be examined more widely than in just ‘political’ or ‘news’ forums.
First, the Communion connection. [Mild spoilers to follow next paragraph.]
In the “history” of the novel, following the chaos of the world-wide pandemic flu, I have an unspecified regional nuclear war in Asia. The characters reference it in terms of the state of things in China and Chu Ling’s health. I kept the specifics of it rather vague, since I see about a dozen different ways that such insanity could easily occur, involving China, India, Taiwan, Japan, North and South Korea, and Pakistan. And, once started, such a regional conflict could easily draw in more than the initial combatants, depending on exactly what the alignment of allied countries was at the time. This would further cripple the economic powerhouses of Asia, and could be part of the motivation the Japanese would have for seeking to establish a colony on Mars.
OK, that’s fiction. I actually worry that reality could be worse. Worse? Yeah – rather than ‘just’ a regional war, this could precipitate a wider war, or draw in the U.S. in our current paranoia about Islamic fundamentalism.
Now, why do I say this? I’m not an expert on Pakistan’s political situation. In fact, I’d readily admit that I do not understand even all that I know about Pakistan’s current political situation – and what I know is quite limited. But Pakistan is only one part of this puzzle. At least as important are other components – the deteriorating relationship between the US and Russia, a global recession on the horizon, ongoing tensions of every variety in the Middle East, and our own jingoism and aforementioned paranoia here.
To sum it all up, I’ve got a bad feeling about this. It is the exact same sort of feeling I had when I heard of another assassination of a political figure several years ago: Ahmad Shah Massoud. It’s doubtful that you recognize the name. But maybe this will ring a bell:
Massoud was the target of a suicide attack which occurred at Khwaja Bahauddin on September 9, 2001. The attackers were two Arabs, Dahmane Abd al-Sattar and Bouraoui el-Ouaer, who claimed to be Belgians originally from Morocco. However, their passports turned out to be stolen and their nationality Tunisian. The assassins claimed to want to interview Massoud and set off a bomb in a belt worn by the cameraman while asking Massoud questions. The explosion also killed Mohammed Asim Suhail, a Northern Alliance official, while Mohammad Fahim Dashty and Massoud Khalili were injured. The assassins may have intended to attack several Northern Alliance council members simultaneously. Bouraoui was killed by the explosion and Dahmane was captured and shot while trying to escape. Massoud was rushed after the attack to the Indian Military hospital at Farkhor, Tajikistan which is now Farkhor Air Base. The news of Massoud’s death was reported almost immediately, appearing in European and North American newspapers on 10 September 2001. It was quickly overshadowed by the September 11, 2001 attacks, which proved to be the terrorist attack that Massoud had warned against.
The timing of the assassination, two days before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, is considered significant by commentators who believe Osama bin Laden ordered the assassination to help his Taliban protectors and ensure he would have their protection and cooperation in Afghanistan. The assassins are also reported to have shown support for bin Laden in their questions of Massoud. The Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Mujahideen leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an Afghan Wahhabi Islamist, have also been mentioned as a possible organizers or assisters of the assassins. Massoud was a strong opponent of Pakistani involvement in Afghanistan. The assassins are said to have entered Northern Alliance territory under the auspices of the Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and had his assistance in bypassing “normal security procedures.”
So, there it is. An earlier attempt on Benazir Bhutto raised suspicions that the Pakistani security forces were involved. The method of attack was similar this time around, and only different from the assassination of Massoud in scope. Pakistan is struggling with democracy, martial law had just been lifted (and may actually be declared again by the time I am done writing this), there are known elements in the Pakistani government which are supportive of the Taliban (and Osama bin Laden), and they have nuclear weapons.
When I heard the news of Bhutto’s assassination this morning on NPR, I flashed back to that moment in September of 2001 when I heard of Massoud. And a chill ran up my spine.
Ah, yes. Here’s another little footnote in the ongoing story of how your civil rights are slowly being eroded, as we move into the new and improved Police State of America:
If you’re ticketed by Green Bay police, you’ll get more than a fine. You’ll get fingerprinted, too. It’s a new way police are cracking down on crime.
If you’re caught speeding or playing your music too loud, or other crimes for which you might receive a citation, Green Bay police officers will ask for your drivers license and your finger. You’ll be fingerprinted right there on the spot. The fingerprint appears right next to the amount of the fine.
Police say it’s meant to protect you — in case the person they’re citing isn’t who they claim to be.
Ah, yes, it’s “for our own good”. And don’t worry – the police department has issued an assurance that the fingerprints will not be entered into any kind of database.
No, of course they won’t. We can always trust our government to protect our civil rights, can’t we?
Merry Frickin’ Christmas.
(Cross posted to UTI.)
Filed under: General Musings, Feedback, Promotion, Writing stuff, Society, Connections, Publishing, Daily Kos
Just thought I’d take a moment and do a little meta stuff this morning.
First off, over 6,250 have now downloaded the novel. The pace has slowed somewhat in the last couple of months, with just 5 or 10 people a day downloading it. Still, I find that encouraging, given how little effort I have put into trying to promote the book. If you know someone who enjoys SF, send ’em a link to it – a cheap and quick Christmas gift, if you want to just send them the .pdf of the the book. I figure eventually this will help me get the book published, so the more downloads, the better.
A little more surprising to me is how popular this blog has become. Typically, I get between 50 and 70 hits a day now, and the total is over 10,500 views, and that doesn’t include people who get an RSS feed. (If you do read this by RSS, either drop me a note or leave a comment, would you? I would like to have some sense of how many people do, and the WordPress software doesn’t let you know that.) I don’t get a lot of comments, which surprises me a bit, given how my posts (and cross-postings) elsewhere tend to generate discussion. But that’s OK, as there has been a slow but steady rise in readership and linkage from other sites. Sure, it’s nothing like UTI or Daily Kos, but still, I’m pleased that my random wonderings do regularly draw readers.
And yes, I do a lot of random wondering about things. Just a glance to the left will show you that – there are 239 categories. And this will make post number 241. For a blog which started out with the ostensible goal of discussing my novel, it has turned into something else almost entirely. But that’s OK – as I told a friend via email this morning, this allows me to keep my intellectual and writing skills somewhat sharpened during this time when my attention span is compromised by the demands of care-giving. If you figure my average post runs something like 500 words, I’ve written another full-length novel here – but given my current lack of ability to really concentrate and plan, a novel would be out of the question presently. This helps keep those other writing skills fresh, and that’s about the best I can hope for.
So, thanks for coming by. And Merry Christmas to you and yours.