The Orwellian School

High schooler Blake Robbins filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit against his school, alleging that the Lower Merion School District had taken hundreds of secret photos of him over a two-week period. His family discovered this when a teacher accused Robbins of dealing drugs based on one of the photos.  Forbes (see link).

My first question is, does this school district teach George Orwell’s “1984”?  What do they teach about it?  What do they tell students about sick, totalitarian, repressive, intrusive, voyeuristic minds that have nothing but contempt for the privacy rights of any individual?

How the hell does this not result in criminal action?  Because the school district’s asserted intent was “good”?   How the hell does this not result in a police investigation in which it is determined which individual employee or group of employees at the school board decided to secretly spy on their own students, in their bedrooms, and retain the obtained images.  How the hell did these people not get arrested?

A student named Blake Robbins was photographed “dealing drugs”.  He says he was sharing candies, not pills, and the police never charged him, but Mr. Robbins wondered why the police ever thought he was dealing drugs.  Well, they had a photo, which the school district had given them, showing Mr. Robbins “dealing”.

The school denied any active spying, saying that security software activated for laptops suspected of being stolen kicked in automatically, and took photos every 15 minutes. That defense, while reasonable, was made shaky by the school’s possession of over 56,000 Webcam shots.   Forbes (see link below).

Forbes points out that the school district’s biggest mistake was not telling the students that the school district would be spying on them and taking photos of them in their bedrooms.    Forbes says, “if they had, they likely would not have gotten into so much legal trouble of the civil variety”, while pointing out, again, that there was no criminal charges filed.  The prosecutors “declined” to press charges.

You would think the school district had shot some people with a licensed gun: recklessly, with negligence, or in sheer stupidity– it doesn’t matter: they would be immune because Americans believe that of all the things in the world you could be liable for in terms of causing death, destruction, or mayhem, one of them is not ever going to be a gun.

Robbins successfully sued the school board.  He won $600,000.  Then his lawyer took $425,000 of that– the cost of seeing justice done.

How the hell, was this lawyer not also arrested?

The Forbes Article

The Secret Constitution

The one thing people need to understand about the U.S. Constitution is that it does not have force. The government has force. So in that sense, the Constitution says exactly whatever the government says it says.

That is why no “constitutional” government ever violates the constitution. If the president does it, then it’s legal, as Nixon said.

The government puts on a dance of the seven legal veils, now you see it, now you don’t, appoints some compliant pussies to a secret court, strong-arms a few congressional representatives into complicity, beats its breast and weeps copious tears about how the greatest intrusion into citizens’ private lives is “constitutional” and legal and you should see how many terrorists we are catching! Except we haven’t caught anybody, yet. Except, it’s a secret. We can’t tell you because then we would have to have trials and facts and evidence, and we shouldn’t have to bother, because everyone knows the guys were caught were guilty, even if the only evidence is the compromised testimony of a corrupt informant.

Given the esteem with which Congress is now held by the American people, it is rather preposterous for defenders of the extensive surveillance conducted by the U.S. Government to keep tooting about Congressional oversight– it’s all okay, some congressmen and senators knew about it– as if that makes it constitutional. I’m not putting words into anyone’s mouth here: tonight on the PBS News Hour, that is exactly what some former general or admiral said. That’s like saying that the man who broke into your home at night and read all your mail was wearing a police uniform. Therefore, it was not a break-in.

Then you have the absurdity of Government spokesmen, including Obama himself, and Diane Feinstein, saying he would “welcome” a debate about the issue of the Government keeping a log of all your phone calls. But first, let’s string up the guy who let the cat out of the bag.

If the government had ever publicly announced that it was going to pass legislation enabling it to collect the data they are now collecting about all of your phone calls (and e-mail messages, and Facebook posts– let’s not fool ourselves), there would have been such an uproar that it would never have been passed, and they know it. The only reason about half the population right now approves of the measure is, firstly, because there are a lot of stupid people out there who don’t really give a damn about privacy or freedom, and, secondly, because it it was never proposed and discussed first. The results of any kind of discussion of this kind of extensive surveillance plan is a foregone conclusion: it would have been howled into oblivion. First the leaders, the lawyers, the constitutional experts, the civil rights activists would have spoken, and then the generals, the authoritarians, the nanny-state advocates, and the old white senators would have spoken.

And maybe then even some of those conservatives who wail like hysterical little wussies about intrusive government when it tries to pass a safety regulation or limit carbon emissions would have realized that Government surveillance of your phone records is a far greater threat to freedom than Obamacare ever was.

If the U.S. decided to kill Edward Snowden, can a drone reach Hong Kong? Ah, but the U.S. would never do that, would they? Well, they wouldn’t, but it’s instructive to consider why not. We send them to Pakistan all the time. What’s the difference?

Well, Pakistan is relatively powerless. They can’t do anything to us when we violate their airspace. China, however, obviously can.

Next, you’ll say, but Edward J. Snowden is an American Citizen! They can’t assassinate him, can they? Well, they probably won’t, now that he has gone public. They can’t disappear him now, I think. But if you can justify obtaining and storing millions of private phone records, and killing alleged American terrorists abroad, why not kill someone who is just as much of a “threat” to national security?

Aside from the fact that it’s too late.

Just to repeat what I’ve been saying for a long long time: there is no “war” on terror and there never was. This is a lie.

It could only be true if it were possible to prove that there would ever be circumstances in which we did not have any attacks that could be labeled as “terrorist” and held as justification for “war”. If you go back 30, 40, 50 years, you will find that there never was such a time. (Read your history: the air plane hijackings, the bombing in Beirut, the first World Trade Center attack, the Oklahoma bombing, etc., etc.) Therefore, the government is essentially arguing that we are always at war, therefore, “extraordinary” measures are always justified. There fore they are not justified. Therefore, the government is building a police state.

During the entirety of the “troubles” in Ireland, Britain never enacted laws giving the government the powers it gave itself after 9/11. We’ve been hoaxed by authoritarian officials who will never not try to aggregate as much power and authority as a conscientious citizenry will allow it.

The question is, do we even have a “conscientious citizenry” any more? It appears that the government– especially the Bush/Cheney regime– has succeeded in frightening people into submission. The people should be ashamed of themselves.

The Sentinelese: Leave us Alone

The Sentinelese live on an island at the west-ward tip of the Great Andaman Archipelago, which is in the Bay of Bengal, due east from India. You do not want to visit this place.

They don’t want us and they won’t have us. It is rather shocking to read, in this day and age, that there is yet an aboriginal culture that resists homogenization. Homogenization? They don’t even want to get to know us. When a pair of fisherman inadvertently drifted into their waters, the Sentinelese killed them. A helicopter was sent to retrieve their bodies: the Sentinelese drove it off with bows and arrows. Go away. The bodies remain unrecovered.

I find the existence of the Sentinelese reassuring. I don’t like the thought of travelling to the most obscure, distant corner of the earth, slashing my way through dense jungle, climbing through volcanic rock and vale, only to come upon a native child wearing a Nike swoosh and listening to music on his headphones, watching survivor on his portable satellite TV. The Sentinelese, surprisingly, don’t want any contact with our culture. Even more surprising is the fact that India, which has nominal control over the islands, has chosen not to press the point. This is in utter defiance of the sad, long history of encounters between different cultures, one of which is powerful and rich. Usually, we want to kill and enslave them.

They tried. They left gifts of cocoanuts. The Sentinelse accepted the gifts and refused to act grateful.

It was when they killed the fishermen and drove off the helicopter that the Indian government decided it was best to leave them alone. I think they should get some kind of big international prize for this decision.

They don’t want our medicine, our appliances, our toys, not even our agriculture (they fish and harvest native fruits from trees). They don’t want us to enlighten or frighten or amuse or confuse them.

They want to be left in peace.

Spam Spam Spam Spam

I am deluged with 10-20 spam a day. I hate spam with a passion. It clutters up my electronic mailbox the way analog spam clutters up my real mail-box– and wastes my time. My first act, when reading my e-mail, is to delete, delete, delete.

The worst thing about spam is that these people are annoying you at your expense. They are quite literally parasites. You pay for your e-mail account, and you pay for the cost of accessing the internet. For some people in Europe, who actually pay by the minute, spam can actually be quite costly.

The solution is real simple– if someone would step in and require it. Every major e-mail program should be required to install a default filter. The filter simply rejects all spam. How will it know what spam is? All companies using email for advertising will be required to clearly mark spam with a couple of bytes in the header of each message.

Now wait a minute– we’re talking about the internet here. The government can’t even stop people from downloading “The Matrix” in DivX;) format from some server in Russia. How is it going to shut down spammers who don’t use the required bytes in their headers?

Well, if they think they can shut down the illegal copying of music files by shutting down Napster, they certainly ought to give it a try.

On the other hand, if they realize that shutting down Napster is a gesture that is utterly devoid of the slightest possible real impact on the downloading of pirated music… they ought to simply admit it and get on with things.

The truth is, they could do it. It would be quite simple. Every ISP in the country would be required to install filters to prevent spam from getting through. Foreign ISPs that allow spam through should be blocked from transmitting to or receiving from North American or European ISPs.

A better solution, a more refined version of this: require all ISP’s to acquire certification from an authoritative body. This body only grants the certification to known, reputable ISP’s who agree to abide by a code of ethics which prohibits, of course, spam.

When a mail is sent by this ISP, it includes code in it’s headers indicating that it is certified: the mail is accepted. It should work like public/private key encryption.

Consumers can be offered the option of signing on with certified ISPs and can then acquire mail programs that filter any mail that does not come from a certified ISP.

If someone really wants to connect to the unfiltered internet, so be it: allow it. But the rest of us can benefit from some controls.