surveillance capitalism

…anything that leads people to have greater concern for privacy – and that makes them want better control over their own data – is quite literally taking money out of the pocket of Google and Facebook.  And yet, as long as Google and Facebook collect this data, they can be subpoena’d for it or otherwise compelled to hand it over by whatever legal instrument exists.  Therefore, Google and Facebook have to kneecap the NSA as quickly as possible – not because the NSA is a flagrant violator of the rights of citizens, but because they’re ultimately the competition.

The surveillance society arrived five or six years ago, and we all signed up for it without thinking too hard about what it meant.  Now you get to spend the rest of your life either deciding you don’t care and it probably won’t affect you, or otherwise looking over your shoulder…forever.

– March 28, 2014

Apple shouldn’t have backed down. Their latest ad shows why they need to keep doing what they’re doing. If Apple’s attempts to protect privacy break the ad industry, tough shit. There is no right to surveillance. If the courts are going to rule that the program that Fast Eddie Snowden blew the whistle on was illegal, how bad is what every advertiser on the Internet does? News sites are unreadable for pop-over ads and airplay video and chum boxes. Facebook didn’t even make any bones about racial targeting until last week; what else are they doing?

Break them. Break them all.

in faciem meam

The monkey’s paw is the archetype. You make a wish, and it get interpreted in the most literal and damaging way possible. Wish for your loved one’s suffering to end, and they die. Wish for vast wealth, and find yourself a drug lord with the DEA on your back. Wish for something you want, and get it in a way that makes everything worse. You’re not even supposed to tell your wish when you blow out the birthday cake candles, because then it won’t come true. All the stories work out like this. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. King Midas. Making a wish only gets you misery, so be content with what you have and accept your lot in life. 

Down South, they are pushing ahead with football for all they’re worth. A thousand C-19 cases at the University of Alabama, sixteen just among the Auburn football players, or even the plethora of issues at Vanderbilt – none of it is enough to make people say “hey let’s call this off,” even after the Big 10 [sic] and Pac-12 already have, along with just about everyone below FBS level (including the MEAC, the Ivy League and more). At some level, there is some kind of primal need driving the SEC and its cousins in the ACC and the Big [sic] 12 [sic], and if I had to narrow it down, I would attribute it to a line that literally came to me in a dream:

Football is huge down South because it’s the most violent thing to which the Scotch-Irish can legally affiliate themselves as tribes.

And this is where you have the problem Vanderbilt football cannot escape. Only private school out of 14 in the SEC (which in retrospect never should have grown beyond 10 once Tech and Tulane decamped). Does not have the same sidewalk fan culture as any of the other 13. Plays in a metro area where there are actual major league professional teams competing for the dollars less than five miles away. Overshadowed by other teams in the same school in a way unlike any other SEC team bar Kentucky. Vanderbilt football’s fans are few but mighty, but it’s still not on a scale with even the Kentucky or Mississippi school football fandoms. And as a result, Vanderbilt doesn’t generate the kind of income necessary to punch at equal weight with those programs. And as a result of that, Vanderbilt doesn’t have the kind of success on the field that would change minds about what Vanderbilt football is.

And yet. In 2017, Vanderbilt’s football budget was $22.15 million. Which ranked it…44th in the Power 5. More than TCU, more than Oklahoma State, more than Mizzou, more than West Virginia or K-State or Georgia Tech or Purdue. There are other programs having more success for less money in our own damned division. So clearly, it’s not enough to spend money – it has to be spent well. Granted, most of these programs have probably been spending more for longer, and don’t have as much ground to make up as Vanderbilt – but nevertheless, it reflects cold reality: merely shooting money out of a firehose won’t get this done.

It’s a catch-22 and a vicious cycle: Vanderbilt football will never be taken seriously until it is successful, and Vanderbilt football will never be successful until it is taken seriously. Not only by the fans, not only by a college football media that classifies teams based on how good they were in the sportswriter’s youth, but by its own university administration. And one of the things that matters there is finding a coach who can have some modicum of success without immediately flying the coop for bigger and better things. David Cutcliffe has been at Duke since 2008, David Shaw at Stanford since 2011, Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern since 2006. All have had more than six wins in the regular season and none has taken off for another gig after three years. Vanderbilt ought to be able to find a coach who can at least see a full class of recruits through to graduation without having to accept four-win seasons as the cost of doing business.

A decade ago, we wished for better. We wished that we could at least be good enough to win more than we lost. And we got that, for three years, and then wound up right back where we started, layered on with creeping damage to the culture of the program and the bitterness of knowing that it was possible to do better than four or five wins. But even at the peak, Vanderbilt’s best success in a century added up to 8-4, beating the arch-rival, and being under-slotted for a non-prestige bowl bid.

You don’t want to just accept what is. You want to dream, you want to hope – but in the end, there’s a reason they say “be careful what you wish for.”

wot no platform

They literally could not be bothered to have a platform for the Republican National Convention. How lazy do you have to be not to type out ten simple words?

“Freedom from consequences, for white conservatives, and absolutely nobody else.”

I mean, what else could the message be? When you have a series of blowouts with badly blended makeup – some actual criminals, some only crime-adjacent – blathering about nepotism on a night where two Tr*mp spawn were speaking and blathering about corruption on a night when the Third Lady wiped her ass with the Hatch Act.

The thing that makes me scared about this election is the extent to which they aren’t even hiding it anymore – and nobody in the GOP cares, and no one in the news media will hammer the topic. Shut down the post office to occlude postal voting? Sure. Give a political speech from the Rose Garden? Why not. And the constant bleating of the Sabbath Gasbags: “no one outside the Beltway cares.” No, nobody inside the Beltway cares, and nobody outside the Beltway realizes what is happening because the White House press corps is too hip and inside to explain it. The willingness of Washington elites to shrug and say “all in the game, yo” will destroy American democracy in the long run.

the klept

But the other thing that springs to my mind – especially looking at Christine O’Donnell’s newfound trouble with her election cash – is that sometime in the last twenty years, talk-show hosts and their anointed candidates became the new televangelists. Whereas in years past, the stereotypical person of a certain age would send the whole Social Security check to Oral Roberts, now the money all goes to Cash4Gold and SarahPAC. And for much the same reason – if you can trade cash for salvation, temporal or heavenly, you have to make that deal, right?

Dec. 30, 2010

 

The current administration, when you think about it, is almost an inevitable endpoint. I have argued previously that a core part of the Republican mission in the last 50 years, ever since Kevin Philips wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, has been to weaponize ignorance in defense of wealth. Set against that, the Trump movement makes perfect sense, because it has taken things to the logical extreme endpoint: the weaponization of racism in defense of personal wealth.

The delicious irony of Steve Bannon being pulled off a boat by US Postal Inspection Service agents like some kind of Arrested Development pastiche merely points up what I said ten years ago: this is the new televangelism. The same people who would have shipped their money to Oral Roberts to keep God from calling him home gladly pivoted to shipping their money to another brand of asshole hucksters (Anal Roberts?) who would assure the salvation of their faith: give us your cash so we can use it to shit all over the brown people. And meanwhile, pockets were lined and backs were scratched and metaphors were abused. And it’s worth asking why the Attorney General fired the DA for the Southern District of New York and tried to insert his own replacement, given that the ultimate replacement was the lady reading out the indictments this morning. (History will record that Bill Barr is the most corrupt defender of the Trump machine, and he must be pursued in the After if we ever have one.)

And so here we sit, looking at a GOP whose purpose and mission has been turned entirely toward the protection not of wealth in general, but of the Trump Organization and the constellation of grifters and con artists that orbits it. The Republicans are going to have to be made to wash the slime off before being allowed back into polite company, never mind actual power, and I suspect there are plenty of people who would love to do so on their side. But I’m gonna need to see contrition, penitence and a little bit of “NOT IN THE FACE” before I’m willing to regard any elected Republican as other than a stooge for the hustlers.

the newer world

None of the alternatives seem to work. The various chat options work as chats but not much else. And alternatives like Cluster or Cocoon or micro.blog/Sunlit don’t really work…because we’re already committed to Twitter and Instagram. It’s not going to be possible to get everyone to change apps until everyone changes apps. Like Hemingway’s bankruptcy, it happens two ways: slowly, then quickly.

Signal is probably the best example of this. It’s a viable replacement for WhatsApp, cross-platform and ad/snoopware free, and I have two or three ongoing chats there. And honestly, it seems to be the one app you can convince people to add. Every week or so another name appears, “so-and-so from your Contacts is on Signal” and the arc grows a little larger. Until Apple opens up iMessage to Android, it’s the only cryptographically sound way of doing chat that is safe across ios, Android and MacOS (I cannot speak to its efficacy on Windows). If only it worked with CarPlay.

If only there were some master reader app. I could have some people’s Insta, some Twitter, maybe even a random SnapChat or TikTok going into a single feed. This was the promise of RSS, and it fell apart quick because the social media model relies on everyone in one app (all cross-posted to Facebook as it happens).

TikTok is interesting, though – separate it from its Chinese parents (who are shady AF, irrespective of whether they have done shady things yet) and you have the first legit challenge to Facebook since Instagram and one FB is powerless to merely buy. They cloned it, of course, as they do with anything they can’t buy. But it is a threat to FB and to YouTube, which is as much a social medium and engine of radicalization as anything on FB despite the fact nobody is holding Google to the fire. And that alone makes TikTok interesting in a way that hasn’t been possible for years now.

I suppose in a lot of ways it’s about just having something else. Twitter is trash, Facebook is evil (as are all its properties) and I’m too old for Snapchat and TikTok. I just want something to keep up with my friends that doesn’t make me feel like part of the problem.

the frog boil

So in the last two weeks, it’s become readily apparent that the post office is being deliberately sabotaged. To what end, who knows – after all, given the demographic that makes the most use of mail-in balloting, it seems as if this administration is sandbagging itself. But that’s not the point, not by a long shot. The point, as it has been for four years, is to flood the zone with shit to create an atmosphere in which you can’t knock down all the offenses. It’s like a hockey game – you can stop 41 shots on goal, but if they took 42, they score. 

The effect of this has been to slow-boil the American concept of democracy. Four years ago, the active sabotage of the post office to manipulate the integrity of mail-in balloting would have been an outrage. Now, after the Muller investigation, the failed impeachment, the constant daily sideshow of self-dealing and corruption and the ongoing politically-motivated incompetence in the face of a pandemic, it almost gets a shrug. Which is the point. Nobody can keep up with the crimes, the violations of political norms and traditions – shit, that orange fucker will probably stand on the White House lawn to accept his re-nomination and people will just let it go.

And now we probably have QAnon coming into the House of Representatives in more than one place, based off the results of the Georgia primaries and the likely outcomes elsewhere. Which means that even if we somehow battle through and win the Presidency, even if by a miracle we get control of both houses of Congress (forget about 60 in the Senate; the filibuster will just have to go and we’ll have to figure out how to live without it), we will still have a rear guard of the most paranoid, most conspiratorial, most batshit loonball insane redneck-gnostic modern Republicans to deal with, aided and abetted by those who think they can profit by exploiting the madness. And they will still have their amen corner on Fox, on OANN, on Sinclair stations, on AM radio and all over social media.

We have to correct our national values system. We have to make all of this Not Okay again. We have to put up the guardrails again with concrete jersey-walls instead of orange barrels. And the Republican Party is going to have to accept that they went wrong, that they poisoned the well, and read the tinfoil hat lunatics out of power and out of the party and live with being a rump faction of the Not Crazy Party, and let that be our political division for a while. Crazy vs Not Crazy.

I mean, the Democrats did their part. They nominated an old white male for President and backed him with a person who makes the dirtbag left see spots and scream. We met halfway. It’s past time for the GOP to do the same and show some fucking contrition and make good on repairing their mistake.

It’s Satanic Panic all the way down

“This is what happens when cynical politicians welcome support from hate-groups and radical fringes and whackaloon conspiracy nutters. First they cynically welcome support from the fringe, hoping to manipulate and control it. Then they come to seek out that support. Then they come to rely on it. And then they become part of it and it becomes part of them. Mitch McConnell probably still thinks he’s pulling the strings, that he’s the puppet-master who’s using QAnon believers for his own political ends. But now they’ve got strings on him as well…”

Fred Clark, as always, nails it.

Thoughts on Kamala Harris

1) it’s good to have at least one person in the race who isn’t gonna eligible for Social Security before the next term is up.

2) I would rather stand in the way of a Caltrain than an AKA from Howard.

3) I am amused that the right is calling her a radical militant while the left is calling her a cop. I am less amused that every ticket with a woman on it has always lost. And if we’re honest, the people voting against her because of who she is would probably approve of a white male with the same record of what she’s done. The streak has to break sometime, right?

4) In my lifetime, every race until 2008 had one person on a ticket from a state with a star on the Rebel flag. Since then, Tim Kaine is the only one. This is a good development, if only because…

5) …she’s the first Californian on the ticket since Reagan. The Golden State probably has reason to feel hard done by these last thirty-six years. In the era when California was a safe Republican state from 1968-88, they had two Presidents. It’s been a stalwart Democratic vote ever since, and this is the first time they’ve had a look in.

6) It’s absurd that Kamala didn’t make it to Iowa when the likes of Yang and Bloomberg did. Error corrected.

7) To all accounts, Biden’s advisors tagged Harris as too aggressive and too ambitious, and he deliberately chose her anyway. He chose a person who went right at him in debates. He’s not afraid to be questioned and not afraid to be corrected. That cannot be overrated at this point.

8) One of the reasons I liked her for the ticket originally was because I knew the existence of a smart, sharp, attractive woman of color would cause Dolt 45 to experience a blue screen of death. Based on the first presser, this is clearly the case. I’ll be interested to see if it continues.

9) I’ve been dreading this pick, despite hoping for it, for the same reason one sits curled on the couch in the late 3rd quarter with a lead, afraid to move for fear of a jinx. But for whatever reason, I feel…hopeful? This is a ticket with two punchers. And it’s time to start swinging.

Kamala Devi Harris, age 55, of Oakland California, Howard ’86, Hastings ’89, Alpha Kappa Alpha…you have less than three months to help save the world.

God

The universe is a chaotic and unmanageable place. This is a fact, and it is indisputable. There are a handful of things that can be made to work reproducibly – gravity, mainly, most of practical physics and simple mathematics – but for the most part, we live in an anarchic realm that we have to try to force some kind of order upon.

For thousands of years, we have attempted to bolt some handles onto an idea. The handle is called God, and the idea is that there is some kind of order required of us – not just to survive in society, but to co-exist with other people. The details may vary from belief system to belief system, but at heart, God is the name we give to the idea that nobody is above an ass-kicking. Some higher judgement exists, too abstract to anthropomorphize, but we know it when we see it. God is in the iceberg. God is in the pathogen that gets a billionaire sick. God is in the indictment for tax evasion. Thus the frequent concept of God as father, because who else is our earliest notion of ultimate authority? At least if you were raised in the South in the 1970s, anyway.

And God is the thing that Silly Con Valley denies when it places itself above the judgement of the market, above the dictates of the law and above the obligations of humanity. The notion that you are so big that you can no longer be expected to take responsibility for yourself? Above God. The idea that your company’s value should not be measured by what the open market will pay for it or the collective value of its goods and services? Above God. The belief that the state and federal governments and their duly elected representatives have no jurisdiction to question or regulate you? Above God. 

Irony of ironies, it’s the belief system of the modern GOP. Man was created in the image of God, and the GOP has returned the favor by creating God in their own image: as the ultimate dominion over other people. It’s a doctrine of selfishness, of celebrating ignorance and stupidity, of “I don’t know, I don’t want to know and I don’t have to know.” And as such it is a torpedo shot at the entire value system of my upbringing. And framed thus, it extends well beyond the Republican Party. It’s the belief system of venture capital in this country. It’s the belief system of every big-media Status Quo Warrior who is outraged that their opinions are not above reproach or question by mere Muggles. 

It’s often said of the Golden Rule that it exists in most every religious system in some form or another. I generally prefer to express it as “do you KNOW there’s other people” but it might be more accurate to phrase it as “does it matter to you at all that there are other people.” When you see this administration running roughshod over the norms of a functional democracy, over the precedents of our electoral system, over the very idea that they are subject to the judgement of any electorate other than handpicked supporters or that there are any consequences to their actions, what they announce in full voice is “there is no God.”

And when we let them do it – when we let them promulgate utter bullshit, when we let them deceive without question and lie without consequence, when we say we shouldn’t be the arbiters of truth and that the free market should decide questions of fact and that reality is open to interpretation – we say there is no God. At some level, God is the idea that there is an actual difference between right and wrong, even if we don’t always have a clear view of what it is. God isn’t the right, God is the difference. The distinction. The notion that you cannot just believe what you want unchecked by things that are demonstrably true. God is there when you claim not to believe in gravity, and step off the Empire State Building only to find that gravity very much believes in you.

God, in short, is in the idea that there is such a thing as “what we owe to each other”, in TM Scanlon’s famous formulation. The Enemy is in the reply “nothing.” And the Enemy is alive and well in America, and in 2020 must be fought. And if I am to be just one finger on the hand of this God, I only ask that it be the middle one.

30 years ago today

Not hard to see the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as the precipitating event of our modern world. Without that, there is no 9/11, and no groundwork for Trump. The evolution of cable news, the deification of the military in American culture, the cauldron that is the modern Middle East… all from one land grab.