Communion Of Dreams


Pick your future.

This one’s fiction ( Specifically, from Chapter XIV of Stranger in a Strange Land ):

The man said, “What is your interest in Gilbert Berquist?”

Jubal answered with pained patience, “I wish to speak to him. See here, my good man, are you a public employee?”

The man barely hesitated. “Yes. You must-”

“I ‘must’ nothing! I am a citizen in good standing and my taxes go to pay your wages. All morning I have been trying to make a simple phone call-and I have been passed from one butterfly-brained bovine to another, and every one of them feeding out of the public trough. I am sick of it and I do not intend to put up with it any longer. And now you. Give me your name, your job title, and your pay number. Then I’ll speak to Mr. Berquist.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Come, come! I don’t have to answer your questions; I am a private citizen. But you are not. . . and the question I asked you any citizen may demand of any public servant. O’Kelly versus State of California 1972. I demand that you identify yourself-name, job, number.”

This one’s nightmare (NPR interview with the mayor of Portland):

“But the difference between local and federal law enforcement is that we have clear policies, clear directives. We have a complaint process. We have an independent accountability and review system.

With the federal government, they won’t even identify who they are. We don’t know why they’re here. We don’t know the circumstances under which they’re making arrests. We don’t know what their policies are or what accountability mechanisms there are, to the point where even the U.S. attorney here in the state of Oregon is calling for an investigation, wondering, where was the probable cause to pull these people off the streets into unmarked cars?”

Of course, Heinlein’s book is set in an alternate “future”, so I suppose there’s still time for us to get there …

Jim Downey



Penny for the Guy?*

Hmm. Perhaps it’s time to invest in companies which make those Guy Fawkes masks

Even better, we can set up an investment fund which holds stock in companies which make yarn, knitting needles, Maalox, poster board, magic markers, etc. Just to hedge our bets, it should also look at firms which deal in security consultation, drones, police & military equipment, private prisons, and so forth. Pity there’s no way to own stock in the ACLU.

Oh, and I wish I held the copyright on 1984

Who’s in?

 

Jim Downey

*



It’s a mystery.*

Some more ‘quick hits’ …

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here’s a very good article about the nuance of what you can/should call a book, and the sort of question I have had to dance around countless times when people have asked me what was the “oldest book” I’ve ever worked on:

What is the Oldest Book in the World?

The past few days I have been preoccupied with a deceptively simple question: “What is the oldest book in the world?” Having done some looking around I can now report that while somewhere on this planet, in a vault or a cupboard, lies the oldest surviving book, it is actually impossible to say which one may be branded as such. Bear with me.

 

* * *

A light bulb in our kitchen blew out, and needed to be replaced. Routine, except that this bulb was in a fixture on the ceiling in the part of the kitchen where the ceiling is 12′ (I live in an old house). Still, no big deal — we have a tall enough step ladder so it’s just a minor hassle.

So I set up the ladder, climbed to the fixture, new CFC bulb in hand. The fixture is one of those old kind that have been used for 50+ years, with a glass sphere hanging from a metal ring, more or less enclosing the whole thing. You back out three set-screws, drop the sphere, clean out the various small flying bugs which have gotten into it over the years, replace the bulb and then put the sphere back.

And there were some small dead flying bugs. But there were also several large crickets. Dead. And one small live one.

How the hell did they get into that fixture?

 

* * *

Anyone who thinks we’re not living in a partial police state just hasn’t been paying attention. To apply William Gibson’s classic phrase in a rather darker way: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal agents wrongfully strip-searched a New Mexico woman at the El Paso border crossing, then took her to a hospital where she was forced to undergo illegal body cavity probes in an attempt to find drugs, according to a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in El Paso said the unnamed 54-year-old U.S. citizen was “brutally” searched by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in December 2012 after being selected for additional random screening at the Cordova Bridge in El Paso when a drug sniffing dog jumped on her. The woman was returning from a visit to a recently deported family friend in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, the lawsuit said.

Agents quickly stripped searched her and did cavity searches but found no evidence of drugs, court documents said. But the woman was transported in handcuffs to the University Medical Center of El Paso, the lawsuit said, where doctors subjected her to an observed bowel movement, a CT scan and other exams without a warrant.

Via BoingBoing.

 

* * *

Enough for now, except to note that this is blog post #1,600 and we’re rapidly closing on 100,000 hits to this blog! Yay!

Have a good weekend!

Jim Downey

*Reference this.



That’s it. I give up.

I’ve complained a number of times recently about how revelations of spying and other government activity from our reality keep messing up my efforts to depict a growing dystopian society in St. Cybi’s Well.  It’s happened again, and I’m gonna just give up on the effort to try and stay ahead. I swear, it’s like my ideas keep bleeding over into this existence.

What am I talking about? Well, here’s a passage from what I call the “Prelude” to St. Cybi’s Well, which I wrote months ago:

He turned the hand-held on, did a quick check to make sure it had the software and apps he’d asked for. Everything was there. He’d pick up a burner phone later, and swap the SIMM card into the hand-held. He turned off the hand-held, dropped it into a special pocket inside his vest – one which was RF-blocked. He had another such compartment in his satchel. These, like the wallet/holster, were prohibited items and grounds for arrest in the States, but while they would raise an eyebrow in the UK they weren’t technically illegal.

Got it? For the world of St. Cybi’s Well it is *illegal* in the US to own a wallet or have a pocket which is hidden from government surveillance.  For me, this was one way to draw a distinction between that society, and our own.

Well, guess what is in the news today:

There is a truly bizarre case out of Ohio where Norman Gurley, 30, was arrested for having a hidden compartment in his car. However, there were no drugs or guns or anything illegal in the compartment. Indeed, there was nothing illegal in the car or on Gurley. However, just have a hidden compartment in your car can now be charged as a crime in Ohio.

*Sigh*

 

Jim Downey



“It’s Philip K Dick’s world; we just live in it.”*

Speculation about what technological change can do to society is at the very heart of Science Fiction.

It also works pretty well for other cautionary tales:

We now know that the NSA is collecting location information en masse. As we’ve long said, location data is an extremely powerful set of information about people. To flesh out why that is true, here is the kind of future memo that we fear may someday soon be uncovered:

Sorry for the light posting the last few days; the latest viral thing going around managed to get more of a grip on my body than I would have liked. But the work on St. Cybi’s Well continues to go well.

 

Jim Downey

*From this comment on MetaFilter. The whole discussion is worth reading.



Toxic Security Administration.

I’m not sure which is more depressing: that this happened, or that I find it completely unsurprising that it happened.  What’s that? This:

…a harrowing story from Aditya Mukerjee about his recent attempt to fly from New York to Los Angeles. After being pulled aside in the security line, he faced hours of interrogation by uncommunicative officials from several different agencies. When he was finally cleared, his airline, Jet Blue, wouldn’t let him on the plane anyway. When he got home, he found evidence that it had been searched.

The entire sickening story, told by the man it happened to, can be found here: Don’t Fly During Ramadan.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve almost given up even mentioning the absurdity of the TSA’s latest actions. Like the revelations about what the NSA has been doing, it seems like there is really little point in it. I just keep filing away the latest news items and go back to adjust what is included in St. Cybi’s Well. Because no matter how egregious the violations of our civil liberties, there’s always someone to come along and say that they’re happy to have the “security” which is being provided.

 

Jim Downey

 



Reflecting (on) reality.

Any work of literature is, to some extent, part of the society in which it was written, and needs to be understood within that context. Whether you’re talking The Bonfire of the Vanities or On the Beach or Life on the Mississippi  or just about any novel you care to name, it is, to some extent, a reflection on the culture surrounding it.

Writers react to the events around them. Even science fiction authors like yours truly. We really can’t avoid it.

I mentioned events in Boston the other day.  Just a blog post. But it is some measure of what has gotten my attention. So it would be safe to assume that to some degree it will show up in St. Cybi’s Well. And it will. But perhaps not exactly as you might think.

Almost five years ago I wrote this:

This is nothing more or less than the peace of the gun. This is the abrogation of civil liberties as a solution for incompetent governance. Of course people like it – let things get bad enough that they fear for their lives more than they value their liberties, and you can get people to do almost anything.

Now, I don’t think that what happened in Boston was anything like what led to that blog post about HELENA-WEST HELENA, Ark. in August of 2008. In that instance, it was chronic problems with crime rather than a couple of domestic terrorists which brought about de facto martial law.

And I think that the police agencies involved in determining who was responsible for the attacks, and then seeking the suspects in a major metropolitan area did a very professional job. Just compare it to another recent dragnet and you’ll see what I mean.

But I keep coming back to that earlier blog post. Why? Because seeing a major city shut down, and then para-military operations going house to house searching for a suspect, gives me pause. I certainly can’t fault the police for taking precautions intended to protect their own lives and the lives of citizens. SWAT equipment and tactics have been shown to be very effective.

Yet …

… I feel somewhat like the owner of a couple of highly trained and massive guard dogs, who has just watched those dogs chase off/control a threat. There’s a satisfaction in watching them do the task so well. But there’s also a nagging fear that maybe, just maybe, things could be bad if they ever decided that they no longer wanted to obey commands.

Nah – no need to worry. That has never happened before.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



Privacy: R.I.P.

This is getting a bit of news attention, so it isn’t completely normalized in society yet, but I think that is just a matter of time:

Could employers begin asking for Facebook passwords on applications?

For all the good it can do, social networking also has its share of downsides. Putting personal information of any kind on the internet raises plenty of privacy concerns on its own, and handing over your username and password can be like giving away the keys to your very identity. But if you’re in the process of seeking new employment, that may be exactly what you’ll have to do.

The image below is a snapshot of an application from North Carolina for a clerical position at a police department. One of the required pieces of information is a disclosure of any social networking accounts, along with the username and password to access them.

That was last November 30. This was yesterday:

Govt. agencies, colleges demand applicants’ Facebook passwords

* * *

In Maryland, job seekers applying to the state’s Department of Corrections have been asked during interviews to log into their accounts and let an interviewer watch while the potential employee clicks through wall posts, friends, photos and anything else that might be found behind the privacy wall.

Previously, applicants were asked to surrender their user name and password, but a complaint from the ACLU stopped that practice last year. While submitting to a Facebook review is voluntary, virtually all applicants agree to it out of a desire to score well in the interview, according Maryland ACLU legislative director Melissa Coretz Goemann.

Student-athletes in colleges around the country also are finding out they can no longer maintain privacy in Facebook communications because schools are requiring them to “friend” a coach or compliance officer, giving that person access to their “friends-only” posts. Schools are also turning to social media monitoring companies with names like UDilligence and Varsity Monitor for software packages that automate the task. The programs offer a “reputation scoreboard” to coaches and send “threat level” warnings about individual athletes to compliance officers.

Given how many people increasingly rely on social media outlets such as Facebook or Twiter for routine communications, this is just a very small step from requiring access to email.

Far-fetched?

Look how commonplace drug-testing policies have become in schools and workplaces. That started out as being only required for sensitive jobs or in the case of some kind of accident/criminal event. It’s to the point now where such testing is being required for access to welfare programs, and is considered absolutely routine and non-controversial in many workplaces.

Or think about the widespread use of surveillance cameras. Again, they were initially used only in high-security situations. Then they became commonplace in banks. Then to monitor intersections. Then for general use in public areas which were supposedly “high crime.” Then just generally, to the point where in many cities you’re under constant observation, and can be tracked from your home to just about anywhere you go.

Then there was the recent news that the FBI was trying to recover all of their 3,000 GPS units used to track “suspects” under their warrantless monitoring of vehicles. Police Drones. Echelon. Routine searches of cell phones. And God help you if you want to cross the border. Or even just travel here inside the US.

Yeah, tell me again how it’s far-fetched to think that employers will routinely demand access to not only your social media accounts but to your email and other communications.

Jim Downey

(Prompted by MeFi, but of course this isn’t a new topic for me.)



I am the maker of rules.*

The Miami-Dade Police Department recently finalized a deal to buy a drone, which is an unmanned plane equipped with cameras. Drones have been used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan in the war against terror.

* * *

MDPD purchased a drone named T-hawk from defense firm Honeywell to assist with the department’s Special Response Team’s operations. The 20-pound drone can fly for 40 minutes, reach heights of 10,500 feet and cruise in the air at 46 miles an hour. “It gives us a good opportunity to have an eye up there. Not a surveilling eye, not a spying eye. Let’s make the distinction. A surveilling eye to help us to do the things we need to do, honestly, to keep people safe,” said Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus.

This quotation, slightly altered, is inscribed on a plaque in the stairwell of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

(CNN) — If you get arrested in California, better hope there are no incriminating texts or e-mails or sensitive data stored on your phone.

On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that police in that state can search the contents of an arrested person’s cell phone.

Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the ruling contends that “The loss of privacy upon arrest extends beyond the arrestee’s body to include ‘personal property … immediately associated with the person of the arrestee’ at the time of arrest.”

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Metro anti-terrorism teams will immediately start random inspections of passengers’ bags and packages to try to protect the rail and bus system from attack, transit officials said Thursday.

Police using explosives-screening equipment and bomb-sniffing dogs will pull aside people carrying bags for the inspections according to a random number, Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn said. The searches might be conducted at one location at a time or at several places simultaneously. If people refuse, they will be barred from entering the rail station or boarding a bus with the item, Taborn said. The inspections will be conducted “indefinitely,” he said.

You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.”

If you’ve ridden the subway in New York City any time in the past few years, you’ve probably seen the signs: “If You See Something, Say Something.”

In Washington, D.C., Metro riders are treated to a recording of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano urging them to report suspicious sights to the proper authorities.

Now, Wal-Mart shoppers across the country will see Napolitano’s message in a video as they stand in the checkout line.

“We are expanding ‘See Something, Say Something’ in a number of venues,” Napolitano tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “It’s Wal-Mart, it’s Mall of America, it’s different sports and sporting arenas, it’s transit systems. It’s a catchy phrase, but it reminds people that our security is a shared responsibility.”

All this means that the people of any country have the right, and should have the power by constitutional action, by free unfettered elections, with secret ballot, to choose or change the character or form of government under which they dwell; that freedom of speech and thought should reign; that courts of justice, independent of the executive, unbiased by any party, should administer laws which have received the broad assent of large majorities or are consecrated by time and custom. Here are the title deeds of freedom which should lie in every cottage home. Here is the message of the British and American peoples to mankind. Let us preach what we practice — let us practice — what we preach.”

In ancient times, Gorgon was a mythical Greek creature whose unblinking eyes turned to stone those who beheld them. In modern times, Gorgon may be one of the military’s most valuable new tools.

* * *

This winter, the Air Force is set to deploy to Afghanistan what it says is a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon Stare, which will be able to transmit live video images of physical movement across an entire town

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

Bryce Williams wasn’t expecting to walk through a metal detector or have his bags screened for explosives at the Greyhound bus terminal near downtown Orlando.

But Williams and 689 other passengers went through tougher-than-normal security procedures Thursday as part of a random check coordinated by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

The idea is to keep off guard terrorists and others who mean harm, thereby improving safety for passengers and workers. There was no specific threat to the bus station on John Young Parkway south of Colonial Drive.

I can’t help but feel that we took a wrong turn somewhere.

Jim Downey
*Of course. Cross posted to dKos.



The real point is . . .
October 9, 2010, 11:44 am
Filed under: ACLU, Civil Rights, Government, MetaFilter, Privacy, Terrorism, Wired

OK, news of this has been making the rounds:

Caught Spying on Student, FBI Demands GPS Tracker Back

A California student got a visit from the FBI this week after he found a secret GPS tracking device on his car, and a friend posted photos of it online. The post prompted wide speculation about whether the device was real, whether the young Arab-American was being targeted in a terrorism investigation and what the authorities would do.

It took just 48 hours to find out: The device was real, the student was being secretly tracked and the FBI wanted its expensive device back, the student told Wired.com in an interview Wednesday.

* * *

Afifi’s encounter with the FBI ended with the agents telling him not to worry.

“We have all the information we needed,” they told him. “You don’t need to call your lawyer. Don’t worry, you’re boring. “

Most of the discussion I’ve seen about this has revolved around the government’s right to attach such a device to a vehicle without a warrant or the implications that there is some kind of internet-monitoring protocol in place which caught the posting of the image of the device on Reddit. Valid concerns, though I don’t find it surprising in the slightest that either thing is happening in our current security environment.

But the real point is what someone on MetaFilter said in a discussion on the topic:

All other things aside, when the government says “you don’t need to call a lawyer”, you should probably call a lawyer.
posted by davejay at 10:33 PM on October 8

Yeah, exactly. Why in the hell would you believe such a reassurance? And that’s just in terms of your personal interest. There is also a broader public interest in calling in the lawyers: this sort of crap has to be challenged. There are legitimate security concerns in this world, but just taking the government’s word for it is very dangerous. I’m glad the ACLU has decided to get involved, according to the article. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Jim Downey