December 11th, 2013
Why do campus cops need a tank? Huh, you may be asking yourself? What the f**k is going on when campus cops have one of these?
Well, it’s not really a tank. It’s ‘an MRAP; that is, a $500,000, 18-ton, mine-resistant, ambush-protected armored vehicle of a sort used in the war in Afghanistan and, as Hunter Stuart of the Huffington Post reported, built to withstand “ballistic arms fire, mine fields, IEDs and nuclear, biological and chemical environments.” ‘ Just the thing for those football game parties that get out of hand.
It turns out that the US government has been busily arming national police with war surplus vehicles and equipment. This has all sorts of unintended consequences, as this article and the one embedded in the post point out. It makes for some scary reading, especially if you consider the panopticon surveillance practices of the NSA and other government organizations.
By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where “the war on crime” and “the war on drugs” are no longer metaphors but bland understatements. There is the proliferation of heavily-armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war. (All of this is ably reported on journalist Radley Balko’s blog and in his book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct. It’s also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter.
December 10th, 2013
I’ve always thought that tweets were pretty straightforward – 140 characters with a bit of data attached, but it seems I was mistaken. As Paul Ford from Bloomberg Business Week explains in this article, the content of the tweet is actually only a small part of what goes out over the Internet. There are actually 31 JSON-encoded data fields attached to those 140 characters.
You know how the National Security Agency collects “metadata” about the phone calls Americans make? Well, that’s what these fields are, except instead of metadata about phone calls, this is metadata about tweets. In fact, those 140 characters are less than 10 percent of all the data you’ll find in a tweet object. Twitter’s metadata is publicly documented by the company, open for perusal by all and available to anyone who wants to sign up for an API key.
This metadata contains not just tidy numerals like “25” but also whole new sets of name/value pairs—big weird trees of data. A good example is in the “coordinates” part of the tweet. This value contains geographical information—latitude and longitude—in a format called GeoJSON, a dialect of JSON that’s used to describe places. This can seem complicated at first, but it’s actually awesome, because it means that simple-to-understand formats such as JSON can express some pretty complex ideas about the world. GeoJSON isn’t controlled by Twitter; it’s a published, open standard. Twitter has added another field, called “place.” Places are not just dots on a map but “specific, named locations.” They include multiple coordinates—they actually define polygons over the surface of the earth. A tweet can thus contain a very rough outline of a given nation. A few tweets can, with some digital fiddling, serve as a primitive atlas. And through some slightly complex math, they can reveal how far one tweeter is from another. Tweets also have a “created_at” field, which indicates the exact time at which they were posted.
December 9th, 2013
So after more than half a decade of Progressive Conservative government under Stephen Harper, it’s come to this – Canada is no longer cool. So says the Economist, and for good reason – see Friday’s post for just one example.
When The Economist declared ten years ago that Canada was “cool”, with its mix of social liberalism and fiscal rectitude, it was a startling idea. A country whose constitution soberly calls for “peace, order and good government” was portrayed as a moose wearing sunglasses. Then came the fiscal crisis and there were the Canadians again, with a rock-star central banker strutting the world stage because Canada’s banks stood firm while those elsewhere tumbled down.
Sadly, in 2014 Canada will revert to type, and not just because Mark Carney has left to head the Bank of England. The United States and others are emerging from the financial crisis and will outpace Canada economically. And the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper will focus on entrenching (before the 2015 general election) policies that are decidedly uncool, such as promoting exports from Alberta’s tar sands while doing the minimum on climate change, and backtracking on the social liberalism that The Economist found so refreshing a decade ago.
December 6th, 2013
It seems that big data, big media, and big energy have managed to accomplish by stealth what they failed to do the first time after much public outcry. Our government is set to introduce legislation to ban cyberbullying that will go far beyond that one purpose, and they’re also trying to sneak ACTA through the back door, as well as gut what few remaining environmental protections we have.
A few links for your education:
I probably should have titled the post “Fascism by stealth” because that’s where all this is headed.
December 5th, 2013
A friend pointed me to YouTube for a documentary called Nukes in Space – The Rainbow Bombs, about the high-altitude nuclear tests that the U.S. carried out in the 1960s. And listed in the side bar were a whole bunch more. I’ve only watched one of these so far, The Engines that Came in From the Cold – The Soviet Moon Program, and it’s great, with lots of information and footage I’ve never seen before.
Here’s a few more:
And there’s many more.
December 4th, 2013
“At worst he personally ordered it done and chose the people who executed the plan. At the very least he fostered an attitude within the party, chose the managers of the people who committed these crimes and completely and utterly failed to exercise any oversight, supervision, or leadership. In the end it doesn’t really matter where his actions or lack of them fall on that scale. He is the leader and a leader is responsible for the actions of the people he leads. If he had a right or honourable bone in his body he would admit that and resign immediately”.
Stephen Joseph Harper to Paul Martin during the Gomery inquiry.