Friday, November 1, 2013

We Apologize for the Interruption in our Interrupted Programming

Not much call for blogging these days; most of the interesting Data Blogging Topics(tm) have been around the Snowden NSA leaks, and I've been trying to slog through a number of other things at work, so it's hard to find the energy to get invested in it.  But, I wanted to stop by the blog and give you a brief update, to the assembled masses who may read this later (and, I have found out the hard way, blogs left unattended can come back and bite you in the ass.)

When the Snowden/NSA leaks first started coming out, the scope was pretty limited.  Phone call metadata logging was the big topic, and my comments were primarily technical in nature.  My decision to not express a particular opinion on the politics might have been construed as a tacit approval, or at least a lack of outrage, and I think the latter was probably not far off.

In the meantime, however, a lot more things have come out, such as the fact that the NSA has p0wnz0red the entire internet, and we've been eavesdropping on foreign heads of state and American citizens for essentially no reason.  So, I wanted to update, for clarity, my feelings: this is odious, unamerican, and a fundamental breach of the public trust.  The excellent New Yorker article about Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, indicates that we're still just seeing the tip of the iceberg; the only limiting factor is how fast the journalists can process and understand the documents they've been given*.  If you want to read more, the incomprable Bruce Schneier is your go to source, and I truly couldn't hope to add anything.

Sadly, in my search for hyperbole to compare this with, my mind goes back only as far as the buildup to the Iraq War, and it's hard for me to draw a comparison really: it's apples to oranges.  The Iraq war was a breach of the public trust in a fundamental way, but it involved a lie which resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 humans.  It's hard for me to draw a meaningful comparison there that doesn't minimize those deaths.  But the consequences of fundamentally weakening the internet is hard to grasp, in both its scope and consequences.  The ripples from this tidal wave will continue to leave marks in the sand well into the next generation, and only time will tell.

*The article refers also to Rusbridger's memoir in which he interleaves his Herculean work publishing the Snowden leaks with his year long struggle to master a particularly difficult work by Chopin.  I immediately thought, "He must not have any children," but of course, we find out, he does.  It is times like this that I am reminded of the late great David Foster Wallce's characterization of Wilhelm Leibniz in one of my favorite books ever written, "Everything And More: A Compact History of Infinity".  He describes Leibniz, one of the inventors of the calculus, as "a lawyer/diplomat/courtier/philosopher for whom math was sort of an offshoot hobby", which he tags, in typical David Foster Wallace fashion, with a footnote, saying only, "Surely, we all hate people like this."

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