Lunaya Pravda

29 December 2006

Enjoying crisis - I don't get it

The more I hear some freedom-minded folk discuss the gloom and doom they're certain will befall the U.S. (and this post doesn't address whether any particular doom is likely), the more I observe that a significant number of them take some pleasure in fantasizing about an impending collapse. Is it just me, or is their glee a bit, well, disturbing?

They smugly send around every single article about economic, medical, environmental or social disaster they can get their hands on. They're overjoyed at every op-ed piece and scientific report which suggests we aren't prepared for this or that crisis. They repeat every conspiracy theory they've ever heard - specifically those regarding foreign efforts to destroy the U.S. - even if logic just doesn't bear those theories out. And finally they brag about their own preparations, which, while often wise, may still be inadequate and leave them in just as much of a pickle as anyone else.

While I think the U.S. is making her bed, and may someday soon have to lie in it, I personally take no pleasure in the knowledge of the numbers of people who may end up starving and homeless in an economic collapse, or sick and dying in some pandemic, or destroyed in some catastrophic terrorist attack. Perhaps some of these folks have it coming, karmically speaking - particularly those who've kept their finances a mess with no thought to the future - but to me, that doesn't justify dancing around and celebrating their possible misfortune.

Could it be because of the nearly irresistible temptation to point a finger, laugh, and say "I told you so?" Would these same folks, say, point and laugh at a beloved family member who, after smoking for years, develops lung cancer? Perhaps they sound so much like children anticipating Christmas Day because of the tendency for freedom folk to feel so superior to others for their beliefs and preparations. Whatever the motivation, I really can't say I understand taking pleasure in the possibility of others' misery, particularly not misery on the scale they're predicting.

The irony in all this is that these folks are just as much the purveyors of fear as the mainstream media are. Look at today's news sources. Aren't we always being told of this violent skirmish, that potential outbreak, a new terrorist threat, some economic woe, a significant rise in crime, impending environmental disaster, or a deadly consumer product? The news routinely packages and sells the fear, and isn't that the same mode of thought being pushed among the freedom community? What, precisely, do we gain from those we consider kindred spirits telling us to "Be afraid. Be very afraid."?

One of the toughest things people often struggle with is to push through fear and live with confidence. Community-building and networking with the like-minded helps that, but not when those within want to build fear and misery into the community's very foundation.

I'd rather not see the end of the world as we know it, knowing how much suffering and unpleasantness (including my own) it might entail, but sadly too many of these freedom folk appear completely unable to grasp the concept of empathy.

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20 December 2006

Earning and stealing

Thought this little tidbit from an NPR story on the rise in violent crime was... amusing.

"There's clearly a growing number of people who have no future in our economy," Blumstein says. "There are basically three modes of earning income: One is to have a job, the other is welfare. The third is theft."

Clearly there's a reason Mr. Blumstein is a criminologist, not an economist. First, I'd quibble with calling welfare and theft "earning income", since earning implies one is deserving of the money through conduct of fair exchange. ("You give me money, and I'll take it" is not a fair exchange; nor is "You earn the money, and I'll spend it.") Second, where does that welfare money come from? Taken from those who earn. It matters not one whit that the money changed hands twice istead of once.

There are only two methods of gaining income, Mr. Blumstein. Earning and stealing. There is no third.


12 December 2006

Murder investigator: take babies' DNA

DNA swab ... Should samples from babies be added to the National Database?

Britain's most senior murder investigator has called for DNA to be taken from babies.

Commander Dave Johnston said it would build up a database to SOLVE crimes and PREVENT others.

He said samples could also be taken from Britons renewing passports and from migrants arriving here. The head of the Met Police's Homicide and Serious Crime Unit, went on: "We have 300,000 unsolved cases where we have taken a profile at a crime scene but have not yet matched it.

"As well as solving crime, it would really make someone think twice about committing crime if they knew their DNA was on a database.

"There is also a compelling case for taking DNA from people when they die, so that we can cleanse the database."

And this is from the nation in whose footsteps the US follows when it comes to invasive surveillance techniques. Comforting, isn't it?

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10 December 2006

U.S. has most prisoners in world

Tell me again how we're the land of the free? How we're not living in a police state?

US has highest prison population, incarceration rates

A U.S. Justice Department report released on November 30 showed that a record 7 million people -- or one in every 32 American adults -- were behind bars, on probation or on parole at the end of last year. Of the total, 2.2 million were in prison or jail.

According to the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London, more people are behind bars in the United States than in any other country. China ranks second with 1.5 million prisoners, followed by Russia with 870,000.

The U.S. incarceration rate of 737 per 100,000 people in the highest, followed by 611 in Russia and 547 for St. Kitts and Nevis. In contrast, the incarceration rates in many Western industrial nations range around 100 per 100,000 people.

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06 December 2006

Book Review - The Traveler

I've been intending to write up my thoughts on my most recent fictional reading - John Twelve Hawks' The Traveler - for some time. Life intervened, things got busy, and I found myself wanting to reread the novel almost as soon as I finished it the first time around, so I put my write-up off for a bit. But I find myself with a spare moment, so here goes.

When I first heard about The Traveler (thanks, Powells employees) and added it to my future reading list, I was completely unaware of the controversy surrounding the information - or rather, the lack of available information - on its author. "John Twelve Hawks" struck me as being some overly-spiritual native American name, and not for a moment did I suspect it was a complete pseudonym. Not so odd, as writers go... many use pseudonyms, or have done so in the past.

Hawks' complete biography is often little more than one sentence telling us the writer "lives off the grid." His publishers at Randomhouse say he contacts them only using a untraceable satellite phone and utilizing a synthesizer to disguise his voice. He says he has no plans to go public, either, and that living off the grid, while not easy, isn't as hard as one might imagine. Marketing ploy or not, it adds a bit of intrigue to what is being billed as the first part of a science fiction trilogy.

Through man's history, the Travelers have come and gone. Travelers are people who, most often through genetic inheritance, can project the energy from their bodies into different realms - parallel universes only recently speculated to exist through the mathematics of quantum physics. Throughout their existence, Travelers have shown a propensity to stir up trouble - Joan of Arc and Jesus, among others, are speculated to have been Travelers - leading uprisings and defying the paradigm of the powerful.

Also through history, a group calling themselves Harlequins have been protecting the Travelers from those in power seeking to destroy them. Harlequins begin training in defensive tactics as children, usually trained by their Harlequin parents; most prominent of these weapons is the sword, and each Harlequin has one. They live off the grid, and in modern times, employ many tactics to avoid detection, something becoming more and more difficult as technology advances to facial recognition, DNA detection, and RFID.

Seeking to destroy both the Travelers and the Harlequins are the Tabula (from the latin tabula rasa). The Tabula (who call themselves The Brethren), are a select group of people in power. Not the figureheads we see in the news, but rather the puppeteers behind things, the Wizard of Oz-style men behind the curtain. The Tabula believe that he who controls the information can control the population, and rightfully, anyone who can demonstrate a reality other than their own could become a formidable threat to their power. Their past plan of action has been to hunt down and kill every known Traveler, and the information age has helped to accelerate that process dramatically. Today, no Travelers are believed to exist, their entire existence having fallen into the category of urban legend for most.

Jeremy Bentham's proposed prison, the Panopticon in which the prisoners never see their guards and never know exactly when they're being watched, is a paragon of virtue to the Tabula. As such, they are striving to create just such a prison throughout the world, one where everyone is constantly under surveillance. Just because the prisoner doesn't see the prison walls doesn't mean they don't exist, and the information age has provided them with the means to place that goal within reach.

The Tabula have quite an array of tools at their disposal for tracking the citizens of almost any industrialized country. They write release computer viruses (one with the threatening nickname "Carnivore") that pass in and out of networks connected to the Grid, gathering information and sending it back. They can gain access to surveillance cameras, both private and public, anywhere in the world. Their computers sift through driving records, GPS, finances, phone calls - every electronic record ever stored. They falsify records in order to use the unsuspecting public to hunt down their quarry. And they are learning to genetically modify animals, creating vicious monsters called "splicers" which can heal their wounds almost instantly and will fight to the death to kill their prey.

The few remaining Harlequins discover the existence of two brothers, the sons of a known Traveler. The Tabula also know of these brothers, and are seeking to find them. A race begins to see who can track these men down first and discover whether they have the ability to cross over as their father did. The Harlequins want to bring these men to a Pathfinder, a sort of spiritual guide who trains Travelers to cross over. The Tabula have developed a new plan, one seeking capture rather than kill, to use a Traveler's ability to cross over for their own twisted purposes of social control and subjugation.

Most often, when I think of science fiction, I think of something set hundreds of years into the future, where everyone has a flying car and a condo on the moon. But The Traveler is set in our time, with RFID and video surveillance and proposals to chip every man, woman, and child on the planet, making it that much more appealing.

This novel certainly appealed to the tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist in me. It points out all the trappings of living in a surveillance society, and how easily those in power can avoid the rules when it suits their own ends. The Tabula have no difficulty manipulating situations to give themselves the upper hand, much as government today does. And it points out how easily tempted society is by giving up an inch here and an inch there, all the while selectively ignoring the miles we've given up along the way.

Its protagonists convey the message of the importance of avoiding all the distractions - the wars, the fads, the celebrities, the diseases - put in front of us to keep us sidetracked and navel-gazing inside the Panopticon, and indeed make some of us crave the protection promised by the surveillance society's supporters. And while it doesn't highlight any particular religion, it emphasizes the significance of at least some spirituality if one desires to avoid those distractions.

There is much to be gleaned on many levels from this novel, and I suspect many freedom-minded folk will enjoy this not just as a work of fiction, but for its anti-government commentary on the world in which we live. I eagerly await the next trilogy installment.