Political scientist and sf fan Henry Farrell (previously) argues persuasively that the dystopian elements of our everyday life are best viewed through the lens of Philip K Dick (whose books repeatedly depicted a world of constructed realities, whose true nature was obscured by totalitarians, conspiracies, and broken computers) and not Orwell or Huxley, whose computers and systems worked altogether too well to be good parallels for today's janky dystopia. Read the rest
Shortly after George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he received a letter from his onetime high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley, who had published Brave New Work 17 years earlier. Here are Huxley's comments, via Letters of Note:
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Wrightwood. Cal. 21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell,
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals --- the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution --- the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology --- are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful.
The Orwell estate filed a bogus copyright and publicity right theft against an inactive Cafepress store where no one had ever bought one of the "1984 is already here" shirts or tea-towels on offer from film critic Josh Hadley. Read the rest
14 bits of interesting trivia about Nineteen Eighty-Four, including the fact that he was under surveillance for his communist sympathies while he wrote it. Read the rest
If you own a Vizio TV that's updated recently, beware: its firmware adds "Smart Interactivity," a cute name for spyware that records your viewing choices and inserts additional "bonus features" (ads) into your viewing. Read the rest
A magesterial longread from Hans de Zwart of the Netherlands' Bits of Freedom steps carefully through all the ways in which the modern technological landscape focuses on ubiquitous surveillance for the purposes of social control and increased profitability for corporations. Read the rest
There are no effective legal limits on when and to whom police can disclose unproven charges against you, 911 calls involving mental health incidents, and similar sensitive and prejudicial information; people have been denied employment, been turned back at the US border and suffered many other harms because Ontario cops send this stuff far and wide. Read the rest
The NSA is supposed to be America's offshore spy agency, forbidden from spying on Americans. But as an important article by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Nadia Kayyali points out, the FBI, DEA and other US agencies have closely integrated the NSA into their own efforts, using the NSA's mass surveillance to gather intelligence on Americans -- as Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide discloses, the NSA isn't a stand-alone agency, it is part of an overarching surveillance state. Read the rest
Writing in the Guardian, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison recounts the events that led to his decision to shutter his company in August 2013. Lavabit provided secure, private email for over 400,000 people, including Edward Snowden, and the legal process by which the FBI sought to spy on its users is a terrifying mix of Orwell -- wanting to snoop on all 400,000 -- and Kafka -- not allowing Levison legal representation and prohibiting him from discussing the issue with anyone who might help him navigate the appropriate law.
Levison discloses more than I've yet seen about the nature of the feds' demands, but more important are the disclosures about the legal shenanigans he was subjected to. In fact, his description of the legal process is a kind of bas relief of the kind of legal services that those of us fighting the excesses of the global war on terror might need: a list of attorneys who are qualified to represent future Lavabits, warrant canaries for the services we rely upon; and, of course, substantive reform to the judicial processes laid out in the Patriot Act. Read the rest
ODNI's no leak writing policy means I have to chose btwn assigning relevant material & not putting cleared students in untenable positions.
— matt blaze (@mattblaze) May 9, 2014
When James Clapper banned intelligence agency employees from discussing or acknowledging the existence of leaked docs (including the Snowden docs), he made life very hard for university professors like Matt Blaze, a security expert whose classes often have students with security clearance.
My own books -- which deal with leaks like these -- are taught at West Point at a course whose instructors include a member of US Cyber Command. I imagine a rule like this would make future inclusion on the curriculum difficult, if not impossible.
David Miranda is journalist Glenn Greenwald's boyfriend, but he's best known for being detained under the Section 7 of the UK Terrorism Act while changing planes at Heathrow. The cops held Miranda for nine hours, the maximum allowed under law, without access to counsel, using powers intended to allow the detention of people suspected of connections to terrorism. But it was clear to everyone that Miranda wasn't connected to terrorism -- rather, the UK establishment was attempting to intimidate people connected to the Snowden leaks through arbitrary detention and harassment.
Now that Miranda's lawyers are chasing down the people responsible, we're getting a more detailed picture of the process that led up to Miranda's detention. Before a Section 7 detention takes place, British cops have to file a form called a Port Circular Notice, and several drafts of the Notice used to detain Miranda have come to light.
The final draft argues that Miranda should be detained under terrorism law because "...the disclosure or threat of disclosure is designed to influence a government, and is made for the purpose of promoting a political or ideological cause. This therefore falls within the definition of terrorism."
In other words: thoughtcrime.
Section 7 originated under the New Labour government, and was refined and perfected by the Tory/LibDem coalition. Read the rest
In a 1944 letter to Noel Willmett, George Orwell laid out the thesis behind his next book, Nineteen Eight-Four, railing against the inevitable rise of Stalin, Anglo-American millionaires and "all sorts of petty fuhrers" who will prosper by means of anti-democratic caste systems. He explains that he supports going to war against Hitler as the lesser of two evils, but makes it clear that the great threat to the world is authoritarianism and its attendant systematic falsification of history, accepted by the intelligentsia so long as it is being undertaken by people on "our side." Read the rest
The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Mark Rumold has detailed analysis of yesterday's story about the bizarre, misleading way that the NSA uses the word "targeted" in discussions of "targeted surveillance." It comes down to this: the NSA and its defenders continue to claim that the organization only spies on foreigners when they're off US soil, and not on Americans or people in America (why this should comfort those of us who are neither Americans nor in America is a mystery to me).
But they harvest every word read and written on the Internet, including private communications, and scan it to see if it matches the name of someone they're looking at -- say, Vladimir Putin. Anyone whose communications contain the name or other details of the foreign target can also be spied upon, and the NSA says this doesn't constitute domestic spying. So they're not spying on all Americans, just every American who's ever mentioned the name of a foreigner -- and to accomplish this, they read every word everyone writes, but they're using a computer to do it, so it doesn't count. Read the rest
Someone using the City of Melbourne's IP block has been introducing biased edits to the Wikipedia page for Occupy Melbourne, attempting to erase the record of council's resolve to remove Occupy, and trying to smear the Occupy protest by removing the adjective "peaceful" from the page. The edits were made anonymously, but Wikipedia publishes IP addresses for anonymous contributors, and the IP address in question, 22.214.171.124, is registered to the city.
Proof of attacks on Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page, attempts to change history and evidence in on-going federal court cases. More importantly the edits were made during the last week of MCC’s 2012 elections. A quick tidy up of MCC’s image just before the election. Anyone who didn’t think Melbourne City Council (MCC) was (and still is) opposed to Occupy Melbourne either has their head in the sand, is plainly lying or delusional.
The smoking gun, proof Melbourne City Council is behind the IP address 126.96.36.199 editing Occupy Melbourne Wikipedia page. The timing of this edit is far from coincidental. 21st October, the one year anniversary of the brutal city square eviction and just days before the 2012 Melbourne city council elections, where Robert Doyle sought and gained re-election.
The Humanist's Anthony Lock on why Christopher Hitchens' overwhelming hatred of totalitarianism puts him squarely in Orwell's tradition of leftist apostasy: "Try as best as you can, he challenged us, to not allow one belief to squander clear thinking about another ... [or] a kind of worship whereby anything deemed negative against the topic or person, even the act of criticizing, is illicit. This is totalitarian, he warned: a control over one’s head and what can be said, creating corrosive preconceptions." Read the rest