Tuesday, February 21, 2017


What follows is a link to the trailer for a movie called  “The Wolf,” featuring Christian Slater.  It explains in dramatic  terms our risk from Big Data.  That is, we’re not talking about a predatory animal here, we’re talking about the most dangerous nonhuman unrobot in our future: statistics.  Algorithm numbers mean predictability means controllability.  Credit cards are one means among others.  Some suggest Trump won the election using Big Data to target and empower his constituency with seemingly personal messages.


This is not an Netflix Original film.  It is an extended advertisement for secure HP printers.  (Watch it on YouTube.)  You don’t even have to be personally online to be hacked.  This secret monitoring is more slick and effective than demanding the passwords of your cell phone, computer, or iPad when you board a plane or cross a border — even if your device happens to actually belong to NASA as just happened.

It is legally forbidden to demand the check-out records of a library because it reveals the mind of the checker-outer.  This dates back to when the bad boys who intended damage would check out books about bombs.  Or even before that when the biggest danger in the world was seen not as Islamists but as Marxists.  Who would read “Mein Kampf” except bad people? 

Suppose the community were urban or academic, sophisticated about computers and legitimately studying dangerous topics.  One simply goes online and seemingly (to oneself) is “secretly” downloading the directions for maybe an atomic bomb.  Except that a person obsessed that way is unlikely to realize that the computer’s connection is revealing to authorities who you are, where you are, your history, your Dark Web contact for acquiring illicit uranium, and so on.  Things you don’t even realize CAN be known — like your fondness for Twinkies, which you really ought to buy in bulk, but rather pick up at Safeway where the cash register reports the small purchase.

Groceries bought at major chains are recorded on the internet at the same time that your check is validated by “asking” your bank if you have enough money and deducting that amount at the same time.  Now that credit cards have built-in chips, they can record and communicate far more information.   I can think of no more effective way — not even raiding corporate information like whether you are insured or what’s on your rap sheet anywhere in the nation — to control citizens en masse than by controlling — not even their credit card actions — but their food supply.  (And their meds.) When even the mom-and-pop stores and gas service stations use “smart” cash registers, computers could sort through for all categories.  Even now hunting and fishing license applications can find delinquent dads who are behind on child support.

Overpopulation is one way to beat this system, in the same way that a certain kind of bamboo in China produces so much seed simultaneously that no number of rodents or insects can consume them, and then stops making seeds for long enough that the predators die of starvation.  I mean, if every conversation that criticizes the government is recorded, who is going to filter the actual words?  An algorithm.  According to the assumptions of the person who designs the algorithm formula.

Groups of people have figured this out and systematically stockpile enough food supplies to last a very long time.  Some of them are worrying about floods or drought. While law enforcement chased marijuana growers, the food hoarders were converting the advice for surviving atomic war into recommended caches of food  — and water, though that’s tough in a climate cold enough to freeze liquids.  It also stockpiles paranoia, both against authority figures and against neighbors who might want to share or simply raid.  These are not dynamics that support democracy.

When I switched from mostly Netflix to watching old movies on YouTube, I became aware of how much of the incoming Big Data to my screen is as controlled as what is reported back to them.  Unless I knew the specific name of a film, YouTube guessed what I might want to watch and only showed me that option.  Sometimes they made a faulty guess or I entered something somewhere else (credit card or Amazon or simply a Google search) that triggered a film or essay I had not known about.  Usually irrelevant and uninteresting, but once in a while rather alarming.

Not so much “alarming” in terms of a threat, but rather opening up a category I hadn’t known existed.  Often they were tagged according to categories of criminality.  Most people don’t realize that criminality is not about black and white, though the best laws draw boundaries that can be defined and proven in court.  They don’t think about the consequences of criminalizing something likeb littering, much less giving officers power to arrest and confine for the crime of “walking while black” or “driving while Native American.”  

However, a certain class of businessmen resents very much any kind of regulation or inspection that cramps their style.  Working for the Bureau of Buildings in Portland made it vividly clear that even though the codes and requirements builders had to obey were meant for safety and sound construction practices, they were highly resented and evaded as much as possible because they cost money.  That was practical and realistic.  The manipulation of them or, even more potently, the control of fees, taxes, export duties, and so on could be used as weapons to route profit into certain pockets.

Cops say they need a law against acts like littering or spitting or even suspicion of mental disability to use in gray areas meant for the greater good.  Anyway, if people are offended by chickens or potholes, they shouldn’t have to put up with them.  Chickens carry flu, don’t they?  Potholes destroy automobiles, don’t they? 

Bob used to say two things that he learned from being a ground-level judge.  One was that if you do things that are bizaare and unexpected enough, no one will suspect you.  Thus Jonah Bar Jones could kill and eat the neighborhood boys without notice.  The other thing was that you can do anything until someone pushes back.  Even if a practice is illegal and there is a law on the books, if no one complains there is no investigation likely, much less formal accusation.

Using the “Cloud” for information storage is no more safe than individual home systems unless they are off the internet and STAY off the internet.  Paper is still more secure, but not if it is produced on a spying printer, as this little advertising film shows.  Best round up your pencils and pens.

Because twice I’ve worked jobs that were meant to address bad behavior (animal control and building permits) and because I’ve often lived in communities that were on the edge of subsistence, I see things that nice standard “safe” people never imagine.  It was a ministry handicap if the task was to preserve the illusion of safety.

One of my seminary classmates used to say, “You have the mind of a troll, Mary.”  He also was fond of remarking,  “This would be a nice place if you could get rid of all the people.”  He left the ministry under a cloud because of endorsing conspiracy theories about 9/11, the ones that proposed CIA involvement.  Luckily, it was about time for him to retire anyway.  He wrote about American fascism.

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