Saturday, June 12, 2010

Internment, Immigration, Colloidal Suspensions

I don't know that much about the internment of Japanese-Americans during WW2. This is a placeholder post... it's along the same themes. Some day I will read about it in more detail and have something to say about it. Spies, enemies of the state, you can add those things to the list under "the use of language to make it OK." Of course during WW2, we actually were at war, so you can take the false positive/true positive equation against the backdrop possibility/likelihood that we did have actual true saboteurs and spies running around. But supposedly we're at war now as well. It's a colloidal suspension of war particles spread equidistant across what feels like a tall glass of peace. Colloidal suspension is something that has been on my mind and I want to come back to. We don't have big brother - we might have a colloidal suspension of "breakout capability" for surveillance, which will be utilized on an as-needed basis. There is a Frontline that I need to cite here. It was a big influence on me. There will be no massive government database on everyone. It's like the Stephen Wright joke about the sand collection. The databases are all diffuse. But they all use social security number as a primary key. Should the government want to know something, they look around for a databaser who happens to track that, do a join on social security number with whatever tables they themselves are keeping. The network is the computer - the breakout capacity becomes the secret program.

Note how important it becomes to be computer savvy. I have been giving Josh Marshall a lot of shit for being so starry eyed about technology because he takes it at its word. He writes about technology in the language with which it wishes to be written about, the language of the PR flak, which seems to me like a double standard and an abdication of the deep, skeptical analysis of the language of political PR flaks and "bamboozlers." The reason why this is relevant to my themes is, take an iPad and pretend you are asking the questions about true positives and false positives in the implementation of the death penalty. If you're going to say that new technology is cool and beneficial, you should acknowledge what it would be like if that technology was the cause of, or implicated in, false positives. I'm thinking of breathalyzers, lie detector tests, anything used as critical evidence that could be the difference between life and death. You must base your value judgements for this stuff on how good they are - what the TP/FP ratios are like - not on coolness! And even when you are basing your value judgements on efficacy, I don't think the track record is very good. See the case of Amazon erasing that kid's copy of _1984_. I need a post on that, actually. Take the erasure of 1984 as the acceptable cost for what it gets us in return. Maybe you could say it was a deliberate false positive, like killing your Enemies List. That would be if Amazon wanted to shut down Orwell's ideas. Or you could say it was an accidental false positive, if they just had a computer glitch or I don't know why. The point is, buying in to technology on its own terms I think estimates the TP/FP ratio wrong.

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