Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for February 13th, 2007

Making the Internet easier to police

Posted by metaphorical on 13 February 2007

I find myself looking for a good working definition of a police state. Wikipedia’s isn’t bad:

In a police state the police are not subject to the rule of law in an emergency and there is no meaningful distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive.

What occasioned this lexicographical search is a story last week, “GOP revives ISP-tracking legislation.”

All Internet service providers would need to track their customers’ online activities to aid police in future investigations under legislation introduced Tuesday as part of a Republican “law and order agenda.” 

Employees of any Internet provider who fail to store that information face fines and prison terms of up to one year, the bill says. The U.S. Justice Department could order the companies to store those records forever.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, called it a necessary anti-cybercrime measure. “The legislation introduced today will give law enforcement the tools it needs to find and prosecute criminals,” he said in a statement.

Of course, we could also arm the police with and armored personnel carriers, nuclear-tipped rocket launchers, and attack helicopters. Surely there’s at least one criminal out there who can’t be caught if the police aren’t given all the weapons of a modern cavalry division. So what sorts of evil-doers are we talking about here?

Supporters of the proposal say it’s necessary to help track criminals if police don’t respond immediately to reports of illegal activity and the relevant logs are deleted by Internet providers. They cite cases of child molestation, for instance. Industry representatives respond by saying there’s no evidence that Internet providers have dragged their feet when responding to subpoenas from law enforcement.

Child molestation? We’re apparently going to abandon the entire Internet as a haven for privacy and free speech to crack an indeterminate, perhaps miniscule, number of child molesters. I don’t mean to diminish the consequences of child molestation in any way, but will we actually avert enough of them to justify the legislation being contempated? I not only doubt it, but I doubt the sincerity of those who wantonly trigger the natural fear of every parent for the safety of their children.

Terms like “child molestation,” “pornography,” “cybercrime,” and “cyberterrorism” are catch-phrases intended to evoke a sense of evil, without offering the listener any genuine sense of a danger that merits a rational response. They are the criminal-code, homeland-security versions of what Orwell describes as the problem of “meaningless words.”

Meaningless words. In certain kinds of writing, particularly in art criticism and literary criticism, it is normal to come across long passages which are almost completely lacking in meaning. Words like romantic, plastic, values, human, dead, sentimental, natural, vitality, as used in art criticism, are strictly meaningless, in the sense that they not only do not point to any discoverable object, but are hardly even expected to do so by the reader.

Proponents of this legislation cannot provide any kind of analysis of actual patterns of criminality that will be ameliorated by legislation of this kind. They cannot provide any sense of proportionality, a weighing of the benefits and losses of turning the Internet into a police state.

There’s that phrase again. I, for my part, can’t be so cavalier in throwing around potentially meaningless phrases. Hence the lexicographical search.

Back in 2002 Rep. Ron Paul took up the question, “Is America a Police State?” Paul is not exactly a poster child for Bleeding Heart Liberalism—he’s a libertarian Republican from Brazoria county in Texas. See if this sounds at all familiar:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in language, Orwell, politics, technology | 1 Comment »

In case of radiation attack, watch your head

Posted by metaphorical on 13 February 2007

BlueAthena pointed to the site SafeNow.org today. It’s a hilarious reinterpretation of the “universally understood” signs being allegedly used by the Department of Homeland Security’s ready.gov site (though to tell the truth, I can’t find them there).

They actually get funnier as you move down the page. Here’s an example:


After exposure to radiation it is
important to consider that you
may have mutated to gigantic
dimensions: watch your head.

Safe for work, except for the laugh-out-loud-factor.

Posted in language, Orwell, politics | 5 Comments »

One artist’s view of Iraq

Posted by metaphorical on 13 February 2007

Posted without comment, two collections by the artist Trek Thunder Kelly: iPod Ghraib and Target Iraq.

Blogger MarkBrand says these were briefly unfindable via search engines and may have been briefly removed. I have no idea if that’s the case, but you can see where they would piss some people off.

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Hey, what’s this bird, this falcon that everybody’s all steamed up about?

Posted by metaphorical on 13 February 2007

  Gutman: Well, sir, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.

  Spade: Swell. Will we talk about the black bird?

In the Life-imitates-art-imitating-life department (via Boing Boing):

Maltese Falcon swiped

An official replica of the Maltese Falcon used in promo photos for the 1941 film has been stolen from John’s Grill in San Francisco. The statue was nabbed out of a locked cabinet where it was on display with signed Dashiell Hammett books and other rarities.

(For those who’d rather spend two hours reading a “summary” of the movie, there’s an exhausting exhaustive summary here. For those who’d rather just watch it, the IMDB page is here, and the fast track to Netflix is here.)

And in the neighboring Further-irony department, there’s a $25,000 reward for the replica, which of course is far more than Sam Spade ever got for finding it.

But then, this is the stuff that dreams are made of.

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