I just looked up at the calendar and realized that I’ve been fairly absent from the site for a little while. Time gets away from me, but I haven’t been idle. I’ve been working pretty obsessively on some new things for you, and I’ll pass along a little more useful information on that just as soon as I can…
George Orwell published 1984 sixty-four years ago yesterday, which makes that great novel around 10 years older than I am. Orwell then passed away at age 46 —- largely as a result of the personal struggle to produce that book —- and so he was 8 years my junior when he died. Those two facts just about cover any valid comparison I would ever presume between myself and this author or his work.
A lot of novels have been held up against Orwell’s 1984, including my first one. While it’s a fine compliment, I’ve yet to find a book for which that’s actually an apt comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I really love Circumference of Darkness, but to call any contemporary work of fiction “a modern 1984!” is to overlook the truly timeless nature of the original. There’s simply no need for a modern 1984; that novel is and always will be as current as tomorrow.
Among other things, my book (finished in ’04) predicted the rise of a technocratic surveillance state in the aftermath of 9/11. (Don’t look now, but that’s well underway.) Orwell’s book, on the other hand, documented a fundamental drive toward tyranny in the hearts of those who seek power, and painted a vivid picture of the world these people would create if given the chance. The technology that’s bringing Big Brother into our lives is a recent development; the tyrants have always been with us, and always will be.
Update: The EFF produced a timeline of these recent surveillance developments. I hesitated to include the link earlier since their site was getting hammered, but heavy traffic makes a statement of its own, so here you go: Timeline of NSA Domestic Spying
There was a time when it wasn’t so hard to be an anonymous whistleblower, though it’s always taken guts. You could make a call from a random payphone (to drop a dime on some evil-doer), mail a package of sensitive documents or photographic negatives in a plain brown wrapper, or arrange a face-to-face meeting with a couple of courageous, principled reporters in a parking garage.
Nowadays just about everything you do leaves a trail — you’re leaving one right now. That bread-crumbing is by design, of course. And while each of the scores of entities who track you for marketing (and other supposedly benign) purposes may not yet be cc:-ing your casual interests to Homeland Security, those terms-of-service you agreed to might not rule it out in the future.
If you ever do decide to report on the crimes of some powerful entity, we’ve all been assured by current events that (unless you’re very careful) it probably won’t be long before you’re identified and possibly charged for your trouble. It’s not getting better; our current administration (the most transparent in history, according to the brochure) has already prosecuted far more whistle-blowers than all previous administrations combined.
DeadDrop is an open-source software system conceived by the late Aaron Swartz to provide a very secure, anonymous digital drop-box for anyone who might need one. The New Yorker has now launched their own implementation and others will certainly follow.
It’s a start; secure protocols are made to be broken, and you can bet the back-rooms are buzzing with well-funded initiatives to break this one. Nevertheless, I’m hoping for the best. As a general rule, and within the bounds of true national security, of course, I think more truth in our lives is far better than less.
I’ve been a long-time subscriber to Bruce’s newsletter and have always found every issue to be a wealth of timely insight and intelligence. In response to the recent and developing revelations on our elected government’s latest overreach, he’s written an essay on the critical role of transparency and accountability in a free society.
As we respond to the threat of terrorism, we must remember that there are other threats as well. A society without transparency and accountability is the very definition of a police state. And while a police state might have a low crime rate — especially if you don’t define police corruption and other abuses of power as crime — and an even lower terrorism rate, it’s not a society that most of us would willingly choose to live in.
In my opinion, it really doesn’t matter who’s in office, which co-opted party they’re aligned with, or whether or not they really believe they’re doing what they’re doing for our own good. I think that power was specifically dispersed in our founding documents for a very good reason: many people, given power, immediately set about to get more and more. In government, the endpoint of all that blind ambition is never going to be more liberty for the people.
The press, of course, is meant to be our first line of defense against the abuse and unchecked expansion of power. Unfortunately that can make principled reporters into targets. The truth matters, though, maybe more than ever, and it’s a critically important time now for those with the courage to seek it.
I have a lot of hobbies, but in recent years I haven’t been very good at making time for them. In trying to change that, I’m building a gift for a friend, and while I don’t know how many of you are also tinkerers, you might find it momentarily interesting.
The most recent book I’ve worked on (details to come) at one point features a device called a foxhole radio. Well, I love to build radios, so I thought I’d put one of these together as a gift for a colleague.
These little sets were so named because they were often cobbled together on the battlefield. The Cornell design used a razor blade, a safety pin, and a pencil lead for a detector and everything from a metal clothesline to a barbed-wire fence for an antenna. The most resource-intensive part was the tuning coil, and here’s a picture of the one I wound by hand last night.
I’m going to post a picture of the finished product when it’s done, whether you like it or not. And, if you’d like to build one of these for yourself, here’s a fine source for kits.
As promised, the completed radio:
I was as surprised as anyone to discover that this receiver actually works, and I only cut myself once on the razor blade. It does need a good solid ground connection, and the tuning is not what you’d call selective. But come on now, it’s kind of a wonder, even if a nostalgic, old-fashioned one.
Those of you who’ve read Seven Seconds will recognize this mental image from a scene late in the book. Coincidentally, Wired Magazine has just come out with an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-HAARP article this week, and I thought you might find it interesting.
from Noah Shachtman, at Wired
Tomorrow, for one day only, the military will grant the public access to Haarp for the first time since 2007. Today, I’m getting a sneak peek. I say my name into a call box. The gate draws to the left. Ahead, against the slate-gray sky, resting on a small hill surrounded by trees, is a windowless six-story building: Haarp’s control and power center. Inside, five 3,600-horsepower diesel-electric generators, each powerful enough to drive a locomotive, produce the energy that Haarp channels into the heavens.”
Well, it certainly was at the time, but not anymore.
“The Biggest Scandal Ever” was the New York Times headline on May 29, 1990, referring to the Savings and Loan bailout. Half a trillion dollars was the high-end estimate of the theft from the taxpayers; that figure sounds almost quaint by current standards, doesn’t it?
It is scandalous, all agree, but unlike any earlier scandal. By any measure, it is the largest by far. Forget the relatively puny bailouts of Chrysler, Lockheed and New York City. (Even the Marshall Plan, which bailed out Western Europe 40 years ago, cost a mere $65 billion in today’s dollars.) A greater outrage is that most of the perpetrators will escape.”
Almost 20 years later, though, just as we’ve managed to make a modest dent in dutifully paying down the S&L bailout with our hard-earned tax dollars, we find ourselves on the receiving end of another fleecing, this one 20 times as large and maybe 20 times as scandalous.
Take a stroll through the numbers here at CNN’s Bailout Tracker. As we lose half a million jobs a month, as the virtual nationalization of banks and major industries continues apace, and as we realize that the real shock waves of this crisis are yet to hit us full-force, look through those 10.5 trillion dollars in commitments and see if you can find the part that’s supposed to get us out of this in one piece. If you find it, drop me a note and I’ll post an update. Good luck with that, though; as of a few months ago our elected representatives had “no idea” how your money was being used.
Speaking of those elected to represent us, US visitors can go here to find those names and numbers. It seems to me that it’s a good time to find out if they’re part of the solution, or part of the scandal.