Hi, and Merry Christmas. I’m honored to have the chance to speak with you and your family this year.
Recently, we learned that our governments, working in concert, have created a system of worldwide mass surveillance, watching everything we do.
Great Britain’s George Orwell warned us of the danger of this kind of information. The types of collection in the book — microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us — are nothing compared to what we have available today. We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go.
Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person. A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalyzed thought. And that’s a problem, because privacy matters. Privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.
The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together, we can find a better balance. End mass surveillance. And remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.
For everyone out there listening, thank you, and Merry Christmas.
December 26, 2013 archive
Dec 26 2013
Dec 26 2013
A reprint from 2007 but as true today as it ever was.
From Wikipedia’s entry on the American Revolutionary War
Early in 1775, the British Army consisted of about 36,000 men worldwide… Additionally, over the course of the war the British hired about 30,000 soldiers from German princes, these soldiers were called “Hessians” because many of them came from Hesse-Kassel. The troops were mercenaries in the sense of professionals who were hired out by their prince. Germans made up about one-third of the British troop strength in North America.
On December 26th 1776 after being chased by the British army under Lords Howe and Cornwallis augmented by these “Hessians” led by Wilhelm von Knyphausen from Brooklyn Heights to the other side of the Delaware the fate of the Continental Army and thus the United States looked bleak. The Continental Congress abandoned Philidephia, fleeing to Baltimore. It was at this time Thomas Paine was inspired to write The Crisis.
The story of Washington’s re-crossing of the Delaware to successfully attack the “Hessian” garrison at Trenton is taught to every school child.
On March 31, 2004 Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed a convoy containing four American private military contractors from Blackwater USA.
The four armed contractors, Scott Helvenston, Jerko Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague, were dragged from their cars, beaten, and set ablaze. Their burned corpses were then dragged through the streets before being hung over a bridge crossing the Euphrates.
Of this incident the next day prominent blogger Markos Moulitsas notoriously said-
Every death should be on the front page (2.70 / 40)
Let the people see what war is like. This isn’t an Xbox game. There are real repercussions to Bush’s folly.
That said, I feel nothing over the death of merceneries. They aren’t in Iraq because of orders, or because they are there trying to help the people make Iraq a better place. They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.
Now I think that this is a reasonable sentiment that any patriotic American with a knowledge of history might share.
Why bring up this old news again, two days from the 231st (237th) anniversary of the Battle of Trenton?
Warnings Unheeded On Guards In Iraq
Despite Shootings, Security Companies Expanded Presence
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 24, 2007; A01
The U.S. government disregarded numerous warnings over the past two years about the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shooting incidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation or oversight, according to government officials, private security firms and documents.
Last year, the Pentagon estimated that 20,000 hired guns worked in Iraq; the Government Accountability Office estimated 48,000.
The Defense Department has paid $2.7 billion for private security since 2003, according to USA Spending, a government-funded project that tracks contracting expenditures; the military said it currently employs 17 companies in Iraq under contracts worth $689.7 million. The State Department has paid $2.4 billion for private security in Iraq — including $1 billion to Blackwater — since 2003, USA Spending figures show.
The State Department’s reliance on Blackwater expanded dramatically in 2006, when together with the U.S. firms DynCorp and Triple Canopy it won a new, multiyear contract worth $3.6 billion. Blackwater’s share was $1.2 billion, up from $488 million, and the company more than doubled its staff, from 482 to 1,082. From January 2006 to April 2007, the State Department paid Blackwater at least $601 million in 38 transactions, according to government data.
The company developed a reputation for aggressive street tactics. Even inside the fortified Green Zone, Blackwater guards were known for running vehicles off the road and pointing their weapons at bystanders, according to several security company representatives and U.S. officials.
Based on insurance claims there are only 25 confirmed deaths of Blackwater employees in Iraq, including the four killed in Fallujah. You might care to contrast that with the 17 Iraqis killed on September 16th alone. Then there are the 3 Kurdish civilians in Kirkuk on February 7th of 2006. And the three employees of the state-run media company and the driver for the Interior Ministry.
And then exactly one year ago today, on Christmas Eve 2006, a Blackwater mercenary killed the body guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi while drunk at a Christmas party (the mercenary, not the guard or Vice President Abdul-Mahdi who were both presumably observant Muslims and no more likely to drink alcohol than Mitt Romney to drink tea).
Sort of makes all those embarrassing passes you made at co-workers and the butt Xeroxes at the office party seem kind of trivial, now doesn’t it?
So that makes it even at 25 apiece except I’ve hardly begun to catalog the number of Iraqis killed by trigger happy Blackwater mercenaries.
They say irony is dead and I (and Santayana) say that the problem with history is that people who don’t learn from it are doomed to repeat it.
Dec 26 2013
On the day after Christmas…
- In feudal times the lord of the manor would give boxes of practical goods such as cloth, grains, and tools to the serfs who lived on his land.
- Many years ago on the day after Christmas servants would carry boxes to their employers when they arrived for their day’s work. Their employers would then put coins in the boxes as special end-of-year gifts.
- In churches, it was traditional to open the church’s donation box on Christmas Day and distribute it to the poorer or lower class citizens on the next day.
Take your pick.
In the world of retail Boxing Day is the day everyone brings back all the crap they got for gifts that they didn’t want or is the wrong size or the wrong color or that they shoplifted and now want full retail for instead of the 10% that the local fence will give them.
Now fortunately for me I never had to work the counter during this period of long lines and testy, hung over sales people and managers dealing with irate customers who think that making their sob story more pitiful than the last one will get them any treatment more special than what everyone gets.
- Is it all there?
- Is it undamaged?
- Did you buy it here?
Bingo, have some store credit. Go nuts. Have a nice day.
What makes it especially crappy for the clerks is that you don’t normally get a lot of practice with the return procedures because your manager will handle it since it’s easier than training you. Now you have 20 in a row and the first 7 or 8 are slow until you get the hang of things.
As a customer I have to warn you, this is not a swap meet. If they didn’t have a blue size 6 on Christmas Eve, they don’t have it now either EVEN IF THE CUSTOMER RIGHT AHEAD OF YOU IN LINE JUST RETURNED A SIZE 6 IN BLUE!
It has to go back to the warehouse for processing and re-packaging. Really.
So if you braved the surly stares today you have my admiration for your tenacity. If you waited for the rush to pass my respect for your brilliance.
But don’t wait too long. It all has to be out of the store before February inventory so it doesn’t have to be counted.
Dec 26 2013
This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
December 26 is the 360th day of the year (361st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are five days remaining until the end of the year.
On this day in 1776, Gen. George Washington wins first major U.S. victory at Trenton
At approximately 8 a.m. on the morning of December 26, 1776, General George Washington’s Continental Army reaches the outskirts of Trenton, New Jersey, and descends upon the unsuspecting Hessian force guarding the city. Trenton’s 1,400 Hessian defenders were still groggy from the previous evening’s Christmas festivities and had underestimated the Patriot threat after months of decisive British victories throughout New York. The troops of the Continental Army quickly overwhelmed the German defenses, and by 9:30 a.m.Trenton was completely surrounded.
The image of ragged farm-boy Patriots defeating drunken foreign mercenaries has become ingrained in the American imagination. Then as now, Washington’s crossing and the Battle of Trenton were emblematic of the American Patriots’ surprising ability to overcome the tremendous odds they faced in challenging the wealthy and powerful British empire.
The Battle of Trenton took place on December 26, 1776, during the American Revolutionary War, after General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River north of Trenton, New Jersey. The hazardous crossing in adverse weather made it possible for Washington to lead the main body of the Continental Army against Hessian soldiers garrisoned at Trenton. After a brief battle, nearly the entire Hessian force was captured, with negligible losses to the Americans. The battle significantly boosted the Continental Army’s flagging morale, and inspired re-enlistments.
The Continental Army had previously suffered several defeats in New York and had been forced to retreat through New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Morale in the army was low; to end the year on a positive note, George Washington-Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army-devised a plan to cross the Delaware River on Christmas night and surround the Hessian garrison.
Because the river was icy and the weather severe, the crossing proved dangerous. Two detachments were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington and the 2,400 men under his command alone in the assault. The army marched 9 miles (14 km) south to Trenton. The Hessians had lowered their guard, thinking they were safe from the American army, and did not post a dawn sentry. After having a Christmas feast, they fell asleep. Washington’s forces caught them off guard and, before the Hessians could resist, they were taken prisoner. Almost two thirds of the 1,500-man garrison was captured, and only a few troops escaped across Assunpink Creek.
Despite the battle’s small numbers, the American victory inspired rebels in the colonies. With the success of the revolution in doubt a week earlier, the army had seemed on the verge of collapse. The dramatic victory inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.