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An extraordinary atmosphere of sullen, baffled evil, as the year opens.
January 6, 2014 11:37 AM   Subscribe

The State of the World 2014 Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowsky have started this year's WELL-based review.
posted by doctornemo (22 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
jump to the end for this

On the ground in the USA, it's surprising how blasé (outside EFFish
geekdom) has been the response to NSA surveillance and new maps of the
panopticon, slightly revealed by Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. It's not
that we don't want or even expect privacy. It's more like a state of
shock, the reality of growing persistent domestic surveillance is
somehow distant an unreal. It's like we're watching the Man from
U.N.C.L.E., the bad acts are bad video, some sort of fiction imposed by
deus ex Tom Clancy. We have the same response to the careful
dismantling of government and whole sections of the former middle class
- it's a film by Frank Capra, or maybe Judd Apatow. A cheesy bit of
cinema that will somehow resolve itself, credits will eventually roll,
we'll step out of the fantasy and into the light of day, and everything
will be fine, just fine. But what we're watching is not cinema, but a
maleficent YouTube video gone viral, shot by rabid weasels with an
infected Android, looping constantly like Einstein's definition of
insanity. We've dozed off watching it, fallen into nested dream states
fed by networks of fantasy, no clear way to consciousness.

Another way to see it: slammed by a firehose of information, it's hard
to know anything, to be other than intellectually numb and detached
from any sense of broad existential danger.

posted by The Whelk at 11:47 AM on January 6 [3 favorites]


Why hadn't I heard of the Serbian turn around before this? Its like a country was told by a political party, hey we'll fix things! Then they were elected. And things were fixed. And the country ticked along nicely.

Must go against some narrative.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:58 AM on January 6 [2 favorites]


On the ground in the USA, it's surprising how blasé

Is it surprising?

I want to read and enjoy this every year but the formatting always looks like crap in Instapaper.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:18 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm just warped by living inside the Beltway, but I would not say that the blasé reaction to the NSA leaks is because of "shock", but rather the opposite. A very common reaction seems to be "well, no shit the NSA is reading everybody's email...it's the NSA".

But perhaps, as Sterling says in post 5, "pessimism [in] public affairs is just a kind of arrogance."
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:19 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Kadin2048: "Maybe I'm just warped by living inside the Beltway, but I would not say that the blasé reaction to the NSA leaks is because of "shock", but rather the opposite."

Agreed - from outside the Beltway - along with "it's some high-techy shit we can't possibly affect."

And we can't, until enough voters get riled up to make this an election issue. Major changeovers in Congress OR a POTUS who campaigns on curtailing NSA powers are the most likely solutions (over the current SCOTUS slapping the NSA down).
posted by IAmBroom at 12:34 PM on January 6 [1 favorite]


Serious question to Mefite journalists: Are you being schooled by your employers on how to keep data safe? Effective uses of secure communication methods, what really makes a good password, how to and why to encrypt your data, beyond mere password protection on your OS logins?
posted by IAmBroom at 12:36 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


Also, are the Serbian "Radikalni" of whom Sterling writes so glowingly these guys? Because, um, they do not seem like really nice people. I'm glad they've improved tax collection and all, but his comments seem to fall into the same category as "and boy do the trains sure run on time!!"
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:38 PM on January 6


Must go against some narrative.
The Radikalni do genuinely radical things, by local standards. They
make people pay taxes. They inspect things. They punish corruption.
They negotiate with former enemies, sign treaties and build
infrastructure. They feed the living and they bury the dead
Yep, that's a narrative we shouldn't hear. A government that does the things that a country needs to be healthy and functioning? Better not let North American voters get any ideas.
posted by nubs at 12:40 PM on January 6


Sounds like socialism to me.
posted by entropicamericana at 12:44 PM on January 6


Kadin2048 - it looks to me like the Serbian Parliament is being run by a coaltion under the Serbian Progressive Party. The one you link to doesn't appear to be getting more than 4% of the vote, unless I misread that election result for 2012.
posted by nubs at 12:46 PM on January 6


Also, are the Serbian "Radikalni" of whom Sterling writes so glowingly these guys?

No, they're a moderate, center-right offshoot: The Serbian Progressive Party. They're pro-Euro, while retaining ties to the United Russia party (Putin's party), which is interesting.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:48 PM on January 6 [2 favorites]


So they're a moderate, center-right, progressive, radical party? What's that make us?
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:29 PM on January 6


Absolutely nothing! Which is what you are about to become.
posted by stenseng at 2:03 PM on January 6 [3 favorites]


"...They're pro-Euro, while retaining ties to the United Russia party (Putin's party), which is interesting."

Maybe the price of freedom to act in that part of the world is acknowledging the local 800 pound gorilla. Just acknowledging that Serbia and Russia are long time allies and they'll still be friends in the future.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:37 PM on January 6


Pilgrims of the Round World by Bruce Sterling
posted by kliuless at 4:36 PM on January 6


I look forward to this every year. Chairman Bruce is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. Even when he's misguided ("Gretchen, stop trying to make 'spime' happen") he's entertaining.

(Appropriately, the last Sterling book I read was Zeitgeist)
posted by thedaniel at 4:47 PM on January 6


He wrote that Tea Party was 1,000 times more successful than Occupy. Since he is more naturally aligned with Occupy I'm inclined to trust his opinion.
posted by saber_taylor at 6:30 PM on January 6


Mind you, that's an excellent sci-fi idea, "Singularity," it was great of Vernor Vinge to come up with that concept, everybody knows what it is now, the Singularity, even long-haired duck hunters in backwoods Louisiana know what a Singularity is. It's cool and rare when science-fictional thinking becomes genuinely popular.

There are some gems in there.

They are still prosecuting war criminals from the Yugoslavia breakup and massacres and ethnic cleansing and it was near twenty years ago. Karadžić was living under a false name in Belgrade until his arrest in 2008 so they have at least one government department which wasn't running too efficiently up until then.
posted by bukvich at 6:49 AM on January 7


Karadžić was living under a false name in Belgrade until his arrest in 2008 so they have at least one government department which wasn't running too efficiently up until then.

The CHC/SNS took power in 2008.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:46 AM on January 7


IAmBroom: Are you being schooled by your employers on how to keep data safe?

No, although I'm not a journalist. I work for a large organization that keeps lots of data about employees and clients. I'm not allowed to remove a shortcut from my desktop, but when I bring up USB security practices or password safety (neither of which we do, basically at all), I get a nice pat on the head from IT and a diversionary explanation about why they don't want to annoy the users. WTF? Never mind though because SHAREPOINT! will fix everything.
posted by sneebler at 7:46 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


> I get a nice pat on the head from IT and a diversionary explanation about why they don't want to annoy the users.

Some will recall the ILOVEYOU email worm. When it appeared the hospital where I worked had recently hired a network/internet security person--its first--who found his hands pretty much tied by the reluctance of higher-ups to inconvenience users (especially doctors, all of whom are easily annoyed and all of whom generate revenue for the organization.) Well, the head of the mainframe section ("mainframe" = AS400) of our IT department received a copy of the ILOVEYOU email, and opened it. Among his Outlook contacts was a mailing list that was used for announcements like planned AS400 downtime notices that should go to everybody, all employees from the CEO on down. So that's who ILOVEYOU propagated itself to from his account.

Not everybody opened their copies. I looked at mine, went "hmmmmm", saved it to a USB drive and opened it at home on a stand-alone sacrificial PC just for curiosity's sake. But the only people who actually had advance warning and had the mail quarantined were our new security guy and the two people who worked for him, because their section was the only place they had the authority to put the precautions they wanted in place.

In the aftermath they found they had considerbly freer hands when it came to recommending mods to all the outfit's computers.
posted by jfuller at 8:50 AM on January 7 [1 favorite]


> You can't click a box to grant amnesty to that ex-military gay guy who likes to change his name so as to spite his jailers.

Low blow.
posted by bukvich at 9:10 PM on January 8 [1 favorite]


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