Friday, June 7, 2013

Shocked By The Shock

"We're extremely fortunate
not to know precisely
the kind of world we live in."
--Wislawa Szymborska

While I don't pretend that I'm not usettled by the revelations that the NSA can, will, and has amassed the phone records of Americans (not by name or content), I am certainly not surprised.  At the very least, in a country obsessed with a terrorist attack on its mainland, the notion has often been in the back of my mind.  And if it wasn't in the back of yours, too, then really you haven't been paying much attention.

My school has cameras everywhere.  The cameras were put up for everyone's protection, especially the students and their property.  When something bad happens, like a theft, then someone starts looking through the video to see if he can identity the circumstances of the crime and to identify the perpetrator.  But guess what?  If you walk past one of those many cameras, as those of us who work there do many times every day, then you are going to be caught on film, too.  And, guess what?  If the video reveals that you are doing something unsavory while the viewer is researching the other crime, your actions are going to be dealt with.  Guess what?  It isn't going to take a court order to allow the school to deal "legalistically" with the consequences of your actions.

Do you really think that this situation is specific to my school?  Or to your government and your Verizon phone account?  Really?  When cameras monitor your driving speed and your desire to make it through a yellow light?  When cameras high on telephone poles keep watch over ghettos and other urban areas?  Did you not watch 24, where Chloe could tap into every integrated system in a building or city to help out Jack Bauer?  Did you not watch The Wire?  Do you think that stuff is made up?

Are you really so shocked that your government would gather information on citizen telephone behavior?  You thought that only happened in grocery stores that track your purchases and spit out coupons based on what they know you are most likely to buy?  Or online, where book and music sites suggest new offerings to you based on what they know that you like?

You thought that even though Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was very public about his desire to do away with privacy as we know it that what you did or posted online on his site or elsewhere wouldn't matter?  That all of those websites or apps that you changed your privacy settings for or allowed access to this or that or linked your Twitter account with you Instagram account and gave them or someone else access to all of the photographs on your phone or to your contacts had no implications of a societal shift?

Just how LINKED-IN are you?

And did you misunderstand Mr. Obama that badly?  Or did this side of him not fit your liberal vision?  My brother, who lives in Chicago and who has followed him for a long time has always contended that Obama has never been anything more than a centrist?  Are you still hanging your hat on campaign promises issued in 2007?

 Did you never watch Robert Redford's The Candidate?  You don't know what happens to people when they get elected?  Some call it the corruption of power.  Maybe.  Just as often, though, and in Mr. Obama's case, I call it finding out the realities of the job.  Uh, Mr. Truman, there's something we need to tell you and it's about a really big bomb and a lot of time and money has gone into it and it can save American lives and, oh yeah, we want to see what it can do.

I wish the Obama administration was as transparent as promised.  In the modern world, in the digital Information Age that we live in, transparency will get you second-guessed in the short term and crucified in the long-term.  I wish that weren't so.  I don't offer that as an Obama excuse.  He could have given it a shot.

But I also know Republicans have tried time and again to brand him as "soft on terrorism."  Well, that's out the window, folks.  You've got a better chance of proving his mother was a monkey.  Republicans have gone after him about leaks coming from within his administration.  I don't think we'll be hearing much of that one, either.

Did you forget about Obama's "ground game," how he won his two elections?  His organization had intimate voter information about each district and the people within that district and so they knew exactly who to focus on and how for Election Day.

Oh, yeah.  And let me go historical on your ass for a second.   Have you never heard of the "Alien and Sedition Acts?"  If not, go all the way back to 1798 and John Adams, our second president, who used those acts to deals with some of his enemies, and then how Thomas Jefferson, our third president, condemned them and did some pardoning, but then used the acts for his own purposes.  Ad speaking of Mr. Jefferson, he must be chuckling at his own wisdom right now, for it was he who said,  "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Well, we haven't been very vigilant, have we?  What's never been dealt with is that we are the "stupid" in James Carville's famous note-to-self: "It's the economy, stupid."  We are the ones who, if we are reasonably, economically comfortable (and just us, not our fellow citizens), then we will give most everything else a pass.

The world has gotten very complicated, my friends, and ignorance or stupidity is no longer going to cut it.  A black and white outlook is not going to cut it, either.  There are too many hard choices with complicated consequences.  Our president does not give a crap what we are texting to our friends, but he also neither wants to appear to be weak nor to give his political opponents ammunition.  While he seems to have done so anyway, the fact that you and I were not in the conversation to decide whether safety or personal liberty is more important is our fault.  And no one else's.  Shocking, I know.



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