Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let Us Reason Together -- Year End Edition (1)

This has been quite an exciting year, hasn't it?

Nothing quite like it has come down the pike in quite a long time, and how all the various elements fit together, providing they do, is yet to be seen.

The highest profile "news" story was of course the Summer Splash of the Snowden Thing. Pssst: The NSA is spying on you..." Yes, it is. Well, maybe not on you personally, but then again, maybe yes, on you.  Personally.

We already knew that practically anything we did on the Internet was an open book to spooks and marketers, we've known it for years. Sometimes we've even made use of that knowledge to freak out both the spooks and the marketeers, sometimes with hilarious results. So it was passing strange, in my book, that the Summer Story of the Century became such a cause célèbre throughout the latter half of the year. Of course, the drama of it all, the cat-and-mouse, the jajaja, the personalities of the players, and the government response all made for an excellent narrative, and that's what media sells these days, so it will probably continue for quite a little while to come.

The entry of "Pierre" Omidyar into the fray, by setting up a high profile media shop specifically for Greenwald's continued... erm... pleasure ... added a whole other layer to the frolic and frenzy. (I should note that I use "Pierre" in air quotes because of a wonderful interview (the interview has been reclassified "unlisted," so sharing is discouraged) Alexa O'Brien did with Stanley Cohen regarding the PayPal 14, who plead out on really nasty charges brought by "Pierre's" PayPal against them for interfering with their work product.  Or something. Cohen uses air quotes throughout when mentioning "Pierre" and given the fact that the man himself doesn't have much of a public persona or profile, it seems appropriate to follow in the tradition...)

This media firestorm (which I indelicately called a "Summer Shark and Missing White Boy Story" throughout its summertime incarnation) led to a rather remarkable Study Group and Report by insiders commissioned by the White House and released the day after the President invited the highest ranks of the Silicon Valley nobility to meet with him and reason together on what should be done now with regard to the Surveillance/Security State under which we are all privileged to live. Praise Be and Bow Down.

After reading the Report, I came to the conclusion that much of it had been pre-prepared and that the upshot of it all is to move the discomforting aspects of mass surveillance out of the purview of the NSA and put them into other cubby-holes where they can be better monitored or at least left to fester. Or something . 

Whatever the case, there is no indication whatsoever that any of the powers usurped by the Surveillance/Security State will be curtailed let alone abolished. 

Now it should be noted that in all the firestorm and frenzy over the Snowden Thing, there has never been even a hint of interest by the principals, Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras, et al, of loosening the grip of the Surveillance/Security State on the masses. Hardly. All they EVER wanted, they have said over and over, was an "informed debate" over the issue of mass surveillance, and having now had that debate, Snowden now asserts his goal has been accomplished. 

All righty then.

That was quick and efficient, wasn't it? Don't you feel better? I sure do. /s


"One Nation, Under Surveillance...." ♫That's America to Meeeeeee....

Surveillance of the whole population is not going away, no matter what; who controls it and what is done with the data will be adjusted to better comport with the interests and desires of the SV nobility. You -- and I -- will have nothing substantive to say about it. Have a nice day. Terms and conditions apply.

Assuming for the moment that I am correct and the Surveillance/Security State will not be compromised or go away in our lifetimes, but that it will be reconfigured for the comfort and convenience of Our Betters -- as all things always are -- how would one prefer to be surveilled? Would you prefer surveillance conducted by and for the government or by and for corporate interests?

That's the choice, the only real choice, we're being offered.

Myself, I don't much care for either alternative, but as in the case of elections, we don't really have an option, and unlike elections, we can't really opt out -- without completely altering one's lifestyle and location, and essentially disappearing. Well, that may be the option many choose in the not too distant future, but so far, we're not quite there yet.

The upshot of the Snowden Thing, it seems to me, is that in the near-term surveillance of the Rabble will be undertaken by and on behalf of corporate interests (and let's not forget that "Pierre's" eBay and PayPal are huge and global players in this endeavor) with ever greater restrictions put in place on government access to this data. Basically, the idea will be that the private sector will track and compile data on everyone (as they do now) and that only when the private sector interests suspect evildoing by an individual will their data be turned over to government for pursuit and prosecution. This is pretty much the current eBay/PayPal model as it is, though according to Mark Ames, eBay/PayPal is quite amenable to turning over user data when governments suspect the evildoing by users. It's all very merry. And according to some eBay/PayPal users, part of the business model for these outfits is routine closure of accounts and theft of assets. Oh my! Could it be? Apparently it is, but my accounts with PayPal have long been empty, so I wouldn't exactly know.

Now I say that "no surveillance" is the correct approach, at least as an interim measure, but my Betters tell me that is not on the table for consideration. The only thing we get to choose from is whether the dominant party in the Surveillance/Security State shall be the "government" or corporate interests. With the intent of diminishing "government" participation to the extent possible, to be involved only at the beck and occasional call of the corporate sector.

As handmaidens to corporations, we already know how useless to the People our governments have become. There is no sign at all that this will change, and there is no sign at all that either Snowden, Greenwald, or "Pierre" have any interest in changing it. If anything, the signs are they wish to ensure the continued diminution of "government" in the face of corporate power. 

So.... what do we do about it?

That question will have to wait for the New Year for deeper consideration...

Episode 105: Tilo Jung Interviews Alexa O'Brien Re: "Pierre"

It was largely through Alexa's Twitter exchanges with "Pierre" (we don't know who is actually Twitting for Omidyar, but it is likely not himself) that the world and WikiLeaks learned, much to its amazement, that PayPal was not "blockading" WikiLeaks at all, pfft, what an idea, the very thought of it made "Pierre" shudder. Figuratively. Alexa and WikiLeaks probed and probed, but got no satisfactory response regarding this remarkable revision of history. All "Pierre" would say is that WikiLeaks should try setting up a PayPal account again, because there would be no "blockade." WikiLeaks apparently demurred. So it's on them, if they don't use PayPal, not "Pierre," for he is manfully not -- at all -- athwart the barricades.

In this episode of Jung und Naiv, the intrepid but disinterested Tilo interviews Alexa O'Brien about this and other matters of potential interest. I thought the close was priceless: she has enormous respect for Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras. Unmentioned is Greenwald. Skewer thrust, perhaps?

There is also a longer interview with Ms O'Brien mostly regarding the Manning revelations and trial.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Mark Ames Explains It All For You

"Yeah, but... what do we do about it?"

One of the most often heard complaints about Greenwald's longstanding rage against government -- almost never corporate -- abuses of power is his determined failure to provide any course of action or recommendations for effective remedy.

Which is not to say he hasn't provided any outlets for frustration, far from it. He's been instrumental in setting up or participating in all sorts of supposed political action outfits, and is always encouraging donations to them as a means of Being Effective Against The Man, but exactly what they accomplish is subject to dispute. Certainly the very expensive efforts engaged in to bring down Blanche Lincoln and Joe Lieberman didn't accomplish what was being touted by a long shot. For the most part, Greenwald simply demurred when asked what he thought should be or could be done about all the many things he was OUTRAGED!!!!!™ about.

Mark Ames now at Pando.com has few qualms about either raging at The Man or suggesting remedies for the many OUTRAGES!!!!!™ We, the People endure at the whims of Our Betters.

In his latest, he runs through some of the less-known history of the NSA and previous revelations about its, erm... overreach.

Actually, I knew a bit of it, but he goes into much more detail than I was aware of previously. It's not so much surprising as it is confirmational and disheartening.

These agencies are rotten to the core, steeped in their own Original Sin and so far as can be determined, they cannot be reformed.

The Report I read in the days leading up to Christmas makes many, many recommendations about how to reform the NSA and other agencies that have overreached but it never suggests that the powers which have been assumed by them should be abolished. Instead, the recommendations are to transfer them to more appropriate locations within the surveillance state apparatus or outside it to a private entity.

This, as Ames points out, has been done before, only to later discover that the Hydra has regrown its heads and is more powerful and invasive than ever.

So, what to do about it?

Unfortunately, this time Ames has no solution -- nor much snark about it, either.

He's as stumped as anyone else.

So what happened to the abolitionists?

Oh Yes They Can -- Or Zombie Lies That Never Die

One of the persistent myths that we hear all the time in connection with the Snowden Thing is that corporate surveillance is Oh So Benign whereas government surveillance is the Epitome of Evil because "only government has the power to arrest, incarcerate, and kill you."

This is utter unadulterated horseshit, as anyone who has lived in the real world for any length of time, or anyone who's read a book or two (what are books?) for that matter, ought to know all too well. In fact, I look for this line of "reasoning" nowadays, because I figure this little bit of corporate nonsense spew comes straight out of "Reason" magazine as well as the other Corporate Libertarian stink-tanks, of which there are many, almost too many to count.

Corporations very much can engage in arrest, incarceration and execution, with or without the let of the State, as they have been doing since their origin. Letting the private sector do it, after all, washes the hands of government for such wet work and nasty business which was one of the advantages of creating the corporate sector in the first place.

But these powers and authorities are no historical artifact, never employed today. Far from it. Many towns and some cities in the US have privatized their police forces, and every corporate facility is guarded by private security forces, many of which are armed and are authorized to use deadly force. This is not The Government, this is Corporate, through and through.

The idea that these private forces would only act to protect from some crime in progress on their own property, as any private citizen has the perfect right to do, is naive in the extreme. It's based on fantasies, not fact. The corporate sector, but not necessarily individuals, conducts surveillance, investigation and arrest at will, simply because it can. The notion that they don't or can't is absurd, and the notion that they only do it for "benign" commercial purposes -- to learn what your purchasing wants are and offer you goods and services to meet those desires -- is deep in error. They want to know everything about you in order to control you.


"Just like the government."


They can and do arrest one -- with their private armed forces -- whenever it suits them. Surely you've seen suspected shoplifters being cuffed and hauled into the interrogation rooms beside the entrances to Target and other major retailers. That isn't being done by undercover police, that is being done by security personnel employed by Target or whatever. The public police may be called and the suspect may be hauled off to jail, but the apprehension is done by corporate cops. This can happen on suspicion.

There are extensive "crime fighting" private surveillance and investigation networks, some with global reach, which can and do look into every aspect of a targeted individual's life -- without warrants, let it be noted -- and which can produce complete dossiers on anyone. Those dossiers can be and are sold to interested parties, including governments, but they are typically produced by request of and payment by corporate sector interests (such as insurance companies and the like) for the purpose of making some poor sod's life miserable, a sod who has displeased some corporate master or other.

Corporations work hand in glove with (public) law enforcement agencies which in effect serve at the pleasure of the corporate sector and as an extension of corporate power and authority. This is perhaps their most insidious measure because the appearance is that a (public) law enforcement agency is in charge of surveillance, investigation, apprehension, and arrest of an individual when they're not. They are acting at the direction of and with information provided by a corporate entity. They are taking action as extensions of corporate power and authority. This is so utterly routine, most of us take it for granted, but all by itself, it puts the lie to the notion that corporate surveillance is "benign." It isn't.

There are private courts which exist in many cases to ensure that individuals do not have the right to adjudication of complaints against corporations in courts of law, but must submit to corporate-courts instead. Some of these private courts, however, exist to handle parts of the (public) justice system's "overload." In other words, they have all the powers and authorities of Government courts, though they are not Government, and they are not answerable to the People.

Just so, there are extensive private corporate owned and operated prisons, which also have all the powers and authorities over inmates as any Government Prison might have, if not in fact more, and yet they are not Government and they are not answerable to the People.

We could go on and on detailing just how pervasive corporate control of citizens and governments is in this country, but the point I'm making is that the claim that corporate surveillance is "benign" because corporations don't have the powers of arrest, incarceration and life/death over individuals is a lie, straight out. In many cases, they do, and they use it.

And of course, there is the model private sector quasi-government enforcement agency, the so-called Mafia. Someone will run around screaming, "But that's illegal!!!!!" Yes? And?

NOTE: This post leaves aside the whole corporate subversion of national sovereignty issue embodied in the proliferating free trade agreements and intellectual property protective measures being bruited in various fora as we speak -- fora that are closed to the public, of course. In many of these cases, government power and authority is specifically ceded to corporate interests, which are then authorized to act as if they were government, without let or hindrance.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: Yasha Levine at Pando.com expands on the premise of this post with plenty of examples of corporate ability have people... erm... put away. It's a nasty business. And he points out that Young Snowden, like nearly all his partisans, dismiss the problem of corporate surveillance with an airy wave and a jolly, "Corps can't kill ya!" Ha. Utter horseshit.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Delivery That Doesn't Come

As we know, millions of Americans are still waiting for the delivery of Christmas gifts. I'm one of them.

A gift was ordered a couple of weeks ago for pre-Christmas delivery via FedEx. To date, it still isn't here, though supposedly it left Albuquerque at 4:00am today for delivery... sometime.

We know not when though "Saturday" was listed as the "probable delivery date." Maybe. Who knows?

I loved the excuses UPS and FedEx had ready: "there was so much bad weather and so many more people ordered stuff online we just couldn't get your stuff to you before Christmas. Too bad, so sad."

Contrast that with the unofficial Post Office motto:

"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." - Herodotus, 503 B.C.

Perhaps UPS and FedEx will assure us they'll do better-- promise --once the Post Office goes out of business.

FedEx has been the worst, airily proclaiming that the company "experienced no major service disruptions in the week before Christmas despite heavy volume. Every single package is important to us, and we will continue to work directly with customers to address any isolated incidents."

.. so what? Big deal. Get over it.

At least UPS has had the balls to apologize, but still, it seems perfectly obvious what happened.

The private sector delivery services decided that maximizing profits were more important that customer service, and so they didn't hire enough people and they didn't contract for enough extra vehicles to handle the expected holiday volume of packages quickly and efficiently enough to get them to their destinations as promised, and they didn't bother to accurately update their customers on the whereabouts of their items. But they charged full price -- and even a premium -- for inadequate service, and even if they wind up refunding some shipping charges, they will still make out like the bandits they have decided to be.

It's that simple.

What we will find after this experiment in making people miserable and getting away with it is that in the future, "guaranteed delivery" will mean, "maybe" -- sorta/kinda -- in that ballpark, give or take ten days. But if you pay enough and have a private account, anything might be delivered within the hour.

Two tiers.

Don't you see?

Ho ho ho, the yoke's on us.

UPDATE:  Ho ho ho, little did I know.

The Package, this package which was ordered for Christmas delivery, didn't arrive until December 30, and I had to go pick it up. At the Post Office. It was ordered from Vermont Country Store on December 17, and was shipped by them, they said via FedEx Ground, on December 18. Expected arrival, December 23. It took a week longer and I had to pick it up because it was actually shipped via FedEx under contract to the Post Office, and that the shipper of record was the Post Office, not FedEx, although the tracking information was via FedEx. In fact, there was no sign on our end that this was not a regular FedEx shipment. Apparently the package was delivered to a sorting facility in Denver on Dec 20 where it then sat until Dec 26, when it left for Albuquerque, where it arrived on December 27. It went out from Albuquerque on the way to our local Post Office on December 28 (as we were informed it would "probably" be delivered Saturday Dec 28 -- after sitting in Denver for almost a week), but the local Post Office is closed on Saturday. There is no home postal delivery in this area; we have to go to the Post Office to pick up our mail. FedEx, of course, ordinarily doesn't home deliver on Saturdays unless with specific instructions. So even if it had been shipped via FedEx alone and not under contract with the Post Office, there would have been little or no chance of receiving it on Saturday, Dec. 28 in any case. The tracking information was updated on Monday, Dec. 30, to read "Delivery exception -- see your Post Office to pick up or call to reschedule delivery." First we knew that the Post Office had anything to do with it. I go to the Post Office, and sure enough, there's the package, with no sign whatsoever that FedEx had ever handled it at all. All the labels, everything, say USPS. Very intriguing. I knew that the Post Office used FedEx when volume is high, but I thought the point of doing so is not to delay but to expedite shipments. (The Federal Government uses FedEx rather than the Post Office for sending many -- we might even say most -- paper communications between offices. It's a very cozy deal for FedEx.)   In this case, it seemed the delay in Denver was quite deliberate, one might say strategic, on the part of FedEx, for the Post Office would receive the blame, no?  Of course....

Friday, December 27, 2013

Stretch Goals: Young Snowden Comes Again

Ack! Emmanuel Goldstein Lives!@!

By now perhaps, everybody who's interested has read Barton Gellman's extended pre-Christmas interview with (and paean to) Young Snowden in the WaPo, and many have probably also seen Snowden's Alternative Christmas Message to Britain. (How very.... erm, Alt-Royal of him, né?)

The message is strong and rather clear, if you listen with cocked ears and pay attention to nuance and verbiage.

While many wonder about the subtext in the Intelligence Community Review Panel Report, which is really quite a radical document when you get past the fact that it's come out of the government itself and most of the panel members are tied directly into the Surveillance State, the subtext running rampant through the Snowden "availabilities" is glaring, and to many, it's pretty obvious.

We could go back to Snowden's initial interviews in Hong Kong with Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald, but I would dearly love to have been a fly on the wall of the interviews he gave to Guardian editors in New York before that. That was when The Story of the Century (as it has been dubbed by some wags) was solidified and massaged into its soon-to-be world wide media firestorm form. Listen carefully to what Rusbridger and Gibson say to Charlie Rose about meeting with Snowden in New York before he went to Hong Kong, how they decided to make this the story it's become, and notice how Greenwald practically doesn't figure in it at all. It's almost as if Greenwald were little more than a pawn in a much larger game the Guardian was playing.

But as we make note of these things, let's be clear about British media, including the Guardian. They don't always tell the truth. Part of the British media culture is fantabulism, what we would call "making shit up." We saw some of this more openly than usual during Rusbridger's flailing accounts of the "Government" ordering the destruction of computers at the Guardian which supposedly contained the Forbidden Snowden Materials, a story which suddenly "appeared" out of nowhere amid the report of the somewhat theatrical detention of David Miranda at Heathrow. After withholding the story for months, Rusbridgers accounts of what had happened (and his phony "evidence" thereof) simply stank to high heaven, to coin a phrase, and if they were intended to do anything but distract from the Miranda story, it seemed to be for a specific audience's entertainment. (I would say it was a fabricated incident that was intended either to cover up something else or to make clear to the Authorities that the Guardian was no longer in possession of any pertinent Snowden material -- if it ever had any to begin with.)

It may well be that the Guardian never had possession of the Snowden documents, that no media outlet has ever had possession, and that the documents have only been in the possession of a handful of journalists, Greenwald, Poitras and Gellman among them.

So what have the ongoing theatrics been about?

Well, of course, they are necessary for marketing purposes. You cannot keep the story in the public eye for very long without a dramatic arc. So it has been. But at the same time, there has been remarkably little revealed that wasn't already pretty well understood by those who care about matters of surveillance and privacy. It was already well understood, or it should have been, given all the stories in the media  (including frequently in Greenwald's columns) about it prior to the Snowden Emergence, that one literally has no privacy in electronic communications and has very little privacy in any other kind of communications. "Rights" to privacy are a matter of government and private sector whim, the amount of money one has, and one's ability to thwart the all-pervasive Surveillance State under which more and more inhabitants of the earth now live. Every bit of one's life is liable to become part of the Surveillance State's data hoard, and there is essentially nothing most individuals can do to prevent it.

Public and private sector data acquisition and storage on every one of us for all kinds of purposes has been built in to the architecture of the Internet, and it's not going away.

This was known in general years before Young Snowden's advent, something that's been pointed out repeatedly but is routinely scoffed at by Snowden/Greenwald partisans in and out of the media. "Yes, but..." is the typical opening the scoffers use, "you didn't have documentary proof until Snowden came forth, so you actually knew nothing. Bow down."

This, of course, is horseshit. The presence or absence of documentary proof in these situations -- especially when there is all kinds of other evidence to draw on, including reams of testimony -- has little effect on the truth of the matter. In fact, relying on documents to the exclusion of testimony, which became the MO of the Snowden camp, can rapidly obscure the truth. Which may have been the point all along.

As I saw what was going on, I became more and more alarmed. The obsessive focus on the NSA in the summer's stories was obscuring the truth about the extent and pervasiveness of the Surveillance State. Surveillance by the private sector is the aspect that affects most people directly, daily, and constantly. Local and other law enforcement surveillance, not directly connected with the NSA data accumulation, is the next level of surveillance that has a broad effect on individuals. There are many other forms of government surveillance that affect individuals all the time, from the IRS and state and local taxing authorities, to the Social Security Administration, to the Census Bureau and Post Office. This government surveillance activity is going on all the time and can have interesting and sometimes severe consequences on individuals and as well as whole communities.

At no point during the obsession with NSA surveillance was the pervasive extent of public and private surveillance made clear in the major mass media outlets hawking the Snowden Revelation stories. It still hasn't been. Now and then, there would be brief mention of law enforcement and private sector cooperation with the NSA (though how it worked was never entirely clarified), and occasional mention would be made of FBI overreach and misbehavior, but beyond that, practically nothing was said about the Surveillance State as a whole and how it interrelates and interacts to affect and control so many people's lives.

So much was being left deliberately unsaid, it seemed to me the point of the firestorm was to enable something (I knew not what) to take place in the shadows, protected from view by the glare of the NSA scandal spotlight.

Comes Snowden in his Gellman interview and he seems to be acknowledging there was "something else" on the agenda.

Yes, well. That was obvious.

But what was/is it?

Let us examine. There is this term, for example, that Snowden uses in one of his more widely quoted quotes:

““For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember,
I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.Washington Post

And what, we may ask are these "stretch goals" of which he speaks?

Well, there's no way of knowing what he's referring to exactly, as he seems to speak in koans and technobabble when not declaiming a prepared text, but the term "stretch goals" is something to be wary of. As I understand it, it's a business term that is a way to demand the impossible from staff, primarily sales staff, as a means to ensure "creative" thinking about problems. So if all we are looking at now are "stretch goals" -- the mission having been accomplished -- then perhaps he's describing the motivation for this whole affair.

As has been pointed out a number of times, neither Snowden nor Greenwald have ever called for the abolition of the Surveillance/Security State, far from it. All they've ever said they wanted was for the public to be well informed enough about the surveillance they are under to have a "debate" about it. Greenwald said a couple of weeks ago that the "debate" has happened (though how it could when 90% or more of what actually constitutes the Surveillance State has been largely ignored), and Snowden is now claiming his "mission" is complete.

The Surveillance State "debate" has led to a number of proposals in congress, and to an extensive report to the President regarding recommendations for "reform" of the intelligence community. Apparently, that's all that the makers of this hoo-hah ever wanted from the  public disclosure of some of the NSA materials Snowden took but says he no longer has.

Of course there is the little matter of Omidyar's Baby HuffPo -- which may or may not ever see the light of day -- and what it will be devoted to, but at this point, what its function may be in realizing Snowden's "stretch goals" is anyone's guess. From outward appearances, it may have nothing to do with them.

According to what I have recently read, the Omidyar First Look Media Project was initially incorporated in Delaware in August, well before Greenwald and "Pierre" say that they came together for this very purpose. Because incorporation takes a while, especially in a case as complex as the Omidyar project, it's likely that the project was greenlighted sometime in the spring or even earlier, which would be about the time that Snowden went to work for Booz Allen in Hawaii and began collecting documents about the NSA's overreach. Just as a side note "Pierre" has a home and a media outlet in Hawaii. Whether Snowden was aware of it, I don't know, although I assume everyone in Hawaii knows about it.

Wouldn't it be something if this whole thing was engineered by "Pierre" -- whose companies are supposedly tied in rather intimately with the Security/Surveillance State in somewhat unusual and surprising ways -- as an exercise in Billionaire Power over government?

Oh. My...

And the "stretch goals" of this exercise would be???

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Comes Again

Polaroid Christmas Tree

We spent a couple of hours up in Santa Fe yesterday participating in the Annual Canyon Road Farolito Walk, a tradition we have adopted it would seem, just for the joy of it all. Tens of thousands of area residents and tourists fill narrow and often dark Canyon Road from adobe wall to adobe wall, making for some tricky maneuvering to get from place to place. Some of the galleries are open for the evening, serving biscochitos and hot cider, but many are only open for "private parties" -- parties that look to consist of no more than a handful of clients, each one hoping to be persuaded that this or that painting or sculpture is perfect for their abode or garden or to give as a gift to someone deeply loved.

Santa Fe has produced galleries on an industrial scale. I've overheard tourists complain that "there's nothing but galleries!" in the City Different's historic district, and if you expect to find anything but galleries along Canyon Road, you're probably going to be disappointed. Well, there are a few expensive restaurants where the movie stars and ricos eat out of an evening from time to time between galleries, so there is that.

Galleries mean artists and art-making on an industrial scale as well, and I've had more than a few misgivings about that. It means that much of what is in the galleries is essentially the same. Not just the same sorts of art, but done in the same styles, the same sizes, the same prices, the same display techniques, etc. Often enough, the galleries will even show the same artists. Meaning whoever is huge at the moment.

We do have our favorites, however, and even though most of the galleries in Santa Fe are practically indistinguishable from one another (as is the case in practically every art market) there are some that stand out.

Among those we visited last night are the Chalk Farm Gallery, Lone Dog Noise Cat, and Ed Larson's Art, as cheery a studio/gallery as I've ever seen.

Chalk Farm was showing "Polar Express," which was kind of fun. It is a supremely gorgeous place, unique in Santa Fe and probably among galleries anywhere, very welcoming, embracing you might say.

Lone Dog Noise Cat is a relatively new gallery on Delgado Street off Canyon Road, and it had to have been the hopping-est place of the night, people coming and going constantly and everyone enjoying the "neo-ab-Original" art and the glee and welcome of the gallery proprietors. The gallery dog Angus was having more fun than practically anyone, while I  had to pose for pictures with some of the gallery visitors due to my Santa-esque appearance. It was fun, and by golly if Ms Ché didn't find a piece she wanted as a Birthday present. Sure enough, she is now the happy owner of a genuine and beautiful hand-made work of Native American art. Heh. The artist himself, Todd (Lone Dog) Bordeaux, sold her the piece and made her day with a whole string of Indian jokes.

There was lots of food at Ed Larson's, tamales and biscochitos, lots of cider, and plenty of charming folk art, all of it done by himself, jamming the place from floor to rafters, and much of it less "folky" than one might expect.

There wasn't as much caroling along the walk this year but there was plenty of conviviality and good cheer,  while the farolitos burned joyfully. At one stop along the route, a stroller asked of the gallery proprietor about the "flying farolitos" which were banned by the fire department two weeks ago. The proprietor seemed to take it in stride, just one of those things, you know, that happens sometimes, he said as he lit his earthbound luminaria, one of several placed around the gallery grounds.

We left before the crowds got too dense, but not before the sky dazzled us once again with the brilliance of the late December heavens, and the smell of pinon wood fires penetrated our clothes and my Santa beard.

There was less caroling this year and no snow or flying farolitos, but as we headed back home, we passed through the little town of Galisteo. In front of the church, Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, burned a half dozen luminaria, as the Christmas Eve bonfires are called in this part of New Mexico, and the road leading to the church was lined for what seemed like hundreds of yards with glowing paper farolitos. The scene was charming and breathtaking at the same time...

Only in New Mexico.

Feliz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


They Might Be Giants - Istanbul (Not Constantinople) from They Might Be Giants on Vimeo.

Complex systems and the need to stampede...

As I got near the conclusion of "The Report," visions of the Nature of Government began swirling in my brain, and the very Byzantine nature of the Intelligence Community was most definitely highlighted.

If the various elements of the National Security/Surveillance State have been running roughshod and rogue, it's plain to see why. It is in the nature of the beast. Without appropriate and rigorously enforced restraints, they will run wild, there is no way around it.

After 9/11 what minimal restraints they had been under were released, and we now live with the consequences. Reining them back in may prove to be more difficult and problematic than even the panelists on the Review Committee, all of whom have plenty of Deep State experience, recognize.

The key recommendation of The Report is the overhaul and reform of the NSA, essentially re-creating it from the ground up.

Clearly, from this recommendation alone, it's obvious that the Agency has seriously overstepped its bounds and authorities. What Snowden revealed, which seems now to be barely the tip of a very deep bottomed iceberg, barely scratched the surface of what this rogue agency has involved itself in. From the evidence in The Report, it appears that the NSA has violated the trust of the highest levels of the Government itself, and thus must face the consequences.

Seemingly it got that way almost by accident, but it was driven by ethos of the Cheney Faction within government, a faction that recognizes no bounds to its authority in law and custom and which seeks to impose as complete a system of quasi-dictatorial rule as possible. It would appear that the NSA has been seeing itself as the lead agency in that quest. This ethos, such as it is, all goes back to Nixon. Sigh. Will we never be free of it?

But make no mistake. It is in the nature of governmental systems to be this way, especially the more complex they become. It's almost unavoidable. Thus, of course, the key recommendation is to break up the NSA, to curb its tendency to overreach and to apply more rational control over its activities.

A good thing, right?

In a sense, sure. The problem is that once a system like the NSA is allowed to run free as it apparently has been for more than a decade, and once that system has developed extensive tentacles into both the government and the private sectors, as apparently the NSA has, it becomes nearly impossible to reform or remove it without affecting and perhaps damaging the rest of government.

The Report provides a roadmap forward, but it may not actually be possible to follow through. This is due in part to institutional inertia which can become self-perpetuating. Barring a serious and potentially devastating power play within the government (which may indeed be taking place), it may be too late to intervene in the metastasizing Surveillance State.

We may be stuck with what we've got.

I have a few more pages to go before get to the end of The Report, but I'm neither reassured nor hopeful given what I've read so far.

 This logo/graphic appears on page 269 and 270, Appendix B, "Overview of NSA Privacy Protections under FAA 702/EO 12333"

As an aside, could the Target hack be related to the NSA lashing out at the idea of being curbed? Ohhhhhh......

Monday, December 23, 2013

Continuing to Slog Through "The Report"

I realize I'm not offering up commentary on specific recommendations or details of The Report at this point. It's partly due to the structure of The Report itself, heavy on conclusions at the outset, then quite dense (for this kind of thing) with details to back them up. What I've been trying to do is understand the subtext that flows through the whole thing and get a better idea of what's (perhaps) really going on.

The Snowden Thing is obviously the trigger mechanism for this Report, but where Snowden fits in the whole assembly is still somewhat obscure. I've had my doubts about the "genuineness," shall we say, of his whistle blowing from the outset of the summertime media frenzy over the story mainly because of the way it was being packaged and marketed and due to the rather surprising reluctance of the any of the participants to get into anything particularly substantive regarding the omnipresent Surveillance/Security State they were supposedly exposing.

The story had the earmarks of a Limited Hangout, purposely engineered by a faction within the Security State in order to hamstring or undermine some other faction.

Focusing almost exclusively on the NSA when there are dozens if not hundreds of elements to the overall apparat of surveillance and security in this country alone, most of them much, much closer to the day-to-day lives of individuals and affecting them much more immediately and stringently, was a "tell" for me that this set of revelations and the summertime media frenzy it engendered was not what it seemed and was being sold as.

There was clearly a background and backchannel within the government itself that was directing this story.

I saw it as a likely contest between the CIA and the NSA for Security State Pre-eminence, and I mentioned several times that there was a curiously silent Spook in all of this, one John Brennan, recently selected head of the CIA -- the very agency Snowden came out of before going to the NSA (or so the story went.)

The overall point of the stories was clearly to diminish the powers and authorities of the NSA -- some of which it had arrogated to itself contrary to law and custom  -- but not to get rid of them altogether. Instead, the idea seemed to be to put those elements elsewhere, either in other agencies or in the private sector.

This is clearly the intent and upshot of the recommendations in The Report. In no way that I can discern are the powers and authorities of the Surveillance/Security State diminished by the recommendations, nor are their validity and utility disputed within the detailed narrative. Their application by the NSA is, however, clearly recognized as a problem. Time after time, the NSA is singled out for criticism for overstepping its authorities, violating court orders, lying to oversight bodies and so on. If this is not a "rogue agency," I don't know what is.

On the other hand, there is no sign I've found in The Report that the powers and authorities that the S/S State holds should be diminished or removed. They should merely be better monitored by courts and "policymakers" (which is a whole other kettle of fish) and -- importantly -- should be redistributed among extant agencies (mostly unnamed).

The Report does take pains to point out that the NSA is only one aspect of the S/S State, and that it is not the primary element in many ways (though obviously it would like to be). This is something that the media (in the person of Greenwald) nearly completely ignores, but it is something that more and more other media have come to recognize -- slowly and timidly, but still....

The Report also goes into great, almost exhaustive, detail about some of the Programs that have caused so much heartburn during the past six months, much more detail about them than appeared in the media. For The Report to be so open about the Programs -- when the Agency has a history of being so secretive, and even the Snowden Revelations didn't get into such a level of granularity about them -- indicates to me that there has long been some kind of urge within the S/S State to reveal itself as fully and clearly as possible, an urge which heretofore, the NSA has opposed and resisted.

Well, they can't do it now.

An internal shake-up is underway.

But will it be more the cosmetics? Time will tell.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The 6th World

The 6th World Screen grab
Recently over at Ian's Place there's been quite a little hoo-hah over Ian's rather dire warnings about the Our Fate if We don't colonize Space. His presentation is couched in the familiar formulae of Western -- I would say "Anglo" -- colonialism and imperialism, and as is my wont, I take exception to it.

I realize Ian grew up in a colonialist/imperialist household, as he says his father was a minor functionary in the British Raj as India threw off its colonial shackles at the end of the 1940's, when with considerable bloodshed and dislocation, Pakistan divorced from India.

Yes, well. From what I've read Ian say about it, I get the impression he -- or his father -- believe India and Pakistan would have been better off under continued British rule and it was a mistake for them to insist on complete independence from the Raj.

I've read many British colonialists and imperialists who claim essentially the same thing. To me, it's an utterly bizarre position, but to many of those most directly involved -- especially in the context of Pakistan's separation from India -- it makes perfect sense to assert that a better world was possible under a benign British rule than the jibbering natives could ever hope to have on their own.

We sometimes hear the same claim made about how the United States might be better off -- certainly more civilized! -- if it had not become independent of Britain, and we see the same premise expressed in Africa (with the singular exception of the Union of South Africa -- which serves as the counter-example) when the former colonial powers send their troops to "restore order" among the always restive Natives.

Colonialism and imperialism are the problem, and more of it is not the solution.

We attended a Navajo film festival in 2012 as part of the activities during Indian Market Week in Santa Fe, and one of the films we saw was called "The 6th World." I really liked it because it showed such a different approach to the question of establishing a human presence Out There, in this case on Mars. The pioneers may have used the terminology of colonial expansion and empire, but they were doing something else entirely. Something most Anglos can't even imagine.

Compare and contrast with the Zubrinite vision of Mars colonization...

Slight Diversion: Nothing to See Here,"Moving On..." and At the Ballet

Let It Snow Let It Snow Let It Snow...

Yesterday, we attended the ballet and a Science Café in Albuquerque.

The ballet was a reprise of "The Nutcracker in the Land of Enchantment" presented by Festival Ballet Albuquerque that we'd attended last year. It was really a delight, and in many ways a distinct improvement over the previous years' presentation in that it appeared to be more "finished", more securely designed, more cleanly danced, and so on. It also seemed that the choreography had been refined throughout. The orchestra was stupendous. I cannot say enough in praise of the Figueroa Music and Arts Project orchestra  which accompanied the work and which appeared to have doubled in size over last year's orchestra. They were marvelous. All in all, it was a delightful Holiday outing that we will probably make into one of our ongoing traditions of the Season in New Mexico. 

Prior to the ballet, however, we attended the final New Mexico PBS Science Café for the year at Los Poblanos. We love Los Poblanos. So does practically everyone else in Albuquerque and the region. For the Science Cafés, attendees are arriving earlier and earlier, to the point where it is becoming almost silly, crack of dawn silly. The staff tries to prepare, but they're usually in the midst of getting ready when the first wave arrives, hungry for Los Poblanos' highly regarded pastries and breakfast treats, and desperately in need of coffee. Well, yesterday, they didn't have the coffee ready when the first onslaught arrived, and there was a continuing Coffee Crisis that actually delayed the presentation for a good fifteen minutes while all those who didn't get any coffee to begin with were served. Oh my! Some wag said, "Well, if you're going to come to these things, you really oughta stop at Starbucks first!" Fun-knee.

But Coffee Crisis aside, the presentation was about the "Amerithrax" case -- you remember? -- back in September-October-November of 2001. Right after the 9/11 attacks. Yes, that one. Sandia Labs in Albuquerque played a fundamental role in identifying the strain of anthrax that was used in the "Amerithrax" attacks (so dubbed by the FBI), and so one of the participants in the identification process, whose name unfortunately escapes me at the moment (NOTE: It was Paul Kotula, warning! warning! warning! 41 page pdf), was on hand to discuss how they did it.

It was fascinating. More and more, he said, The Labs are getting away from nuclear weapons science and technology and into forensics, diseases, and atomic physics and research. He said that less than 40% of their work now involves nuclear weapons, and he expects that proportion to continue to decline, while The Labs diversify their activities. The "Amerithrax" case was an important instance of The Labs' diversification which helped spur a continuing forensics operation.

As we recall, the anthrax attacks took place shortly after the 9/11 incidents, while Congress was considering the PATRIOT Act, which just happened to be sitting on the shelf ready to go when those planes were flying into buildings in New York and DC and into the ground in Pennsylvania. It was  period of high governmental hysteria, and the anthrax attacks seemed tailored to increasing that hysteria to the maximum by targeting media and Senators who were reluctant to agree to the sweeping law enforcement and intelligence sector legal changes encompassed in the act, changes we're still living under and (as in the case of the Snowden Thing) still learning the meaning of.

Interestingly, the FBI apparently say that the motivation for the anthrax attacks had to do with forcing increases in government science lab budgets, nothing directly to do with the PATRIOT Act at all. I haven't read the FBI report that was finally generated after the suicide of the (second) Prime Suspect, Bruce Ivins, a scientist at the Ft. Detrick Lab in Maryland whose work with anthrax was well known and very highly regarded in the field. Of course, he was a weirdo who dressed funny and eventually killed himself, and that was one reason it was easy and convenient to pin the crime on him, after getting nowhere except in trouble for unwisely fingering Stephen Hatfill as the culprit. Oh my.

While it wasn't really a topic of discussion, as the presentation was essentially about how The Labs and a cadre of scientists were able to positively identify the strain of anthrax used in the attack down to the lab and the very flask it came from (Ivins' flask as it happens). But there are still significant mysteries, ones that likely will never be resolved, in part because the FBI has closed the case, and many of the loose ends have been left dangling.

For example, how did the anthrax used in the attacks acquire the molecular signatures of iron and tin between the time it was removed from the Ivins flask at Ft. Detrick and its use to cause injury, death and chaos during the period immediately after 9/11? Why was there no sign of anthrax contamination at Ivins' house, despite the fact that there had been a number of incidents of contamination at the lab where he worked? What was his motivation for the crime -- assuming he committed it? Was there anyone else who had access to the flask?

We were told with absolute certainty, however, that the anthrax used in the attacks was not weaponized, contrary to many of the media reports about it, reports mostly generated by a fundamental misunderstanding of what The Labs had actually found. Yes, well. That's often how it goes with media and science, but it seemed to me that the "weaponization" aspect of the anthrax was being promoted by the FBI right along with a number of their other (convenient) errors.

There are lots and lots of unanswered questions about the "Amerithrax" attacks, and we will probably not learn the truth of what happened in our lifetimes if ever. The key understanding, however, is that whoever perpetrated the attacks, and there are reasons to believe Ivins wasn't the one,  it most certainly was an inside job, a classic incident of domestic terrorism, used for perfectly political purposes, which increased hysteria within the government at a time of crisis and panic. These attacks -- which conveniently went on throughout the period of PATRIOT Act debate in the congress and media -- were almost immediately "forgotten" after the passage of the PATRIOT Act, and the FBI seemed to be dragging its feet investigating the matter. The FBI report referenced at the meeting yesterday -- people with questions about the attacks were referred to it repeatedly by Our Scientist -- was produced in 2009 or 2010 if I recall correctly, and it was subject to a good deal of questioning and ridicule at the time for its obvious gaps and misdirection.

As Our Scientist pointed out, the anthrax attack was a very ineffective way to commit terrorism, at least if you want to create maximum terror, death and damage among the public. He described in fairly graphic detail how he would have done it, were he to have been responsible for the attack. I thought this was a bit odd until I realized that the man who stands accused -- and posthumously convicted without trial -- was a peer and colleague of Our Scientist, though they were at different labs. Of course the attacks were obviously not intended to affect the public as much as they were intended to stampede the government and media into accepting the draconian measures in the PATRIOT Act, and these attacks were stunningly effective in accomplishing that end.

We're still living under the consequences... consequences we may never free ourselves from.

The Amerithrax attacks worked perfectly in that regard, could not have been better...

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Oh What A Tangled Web

Now that I've got about half way through the Report (see posts below), it's clear that the Review is intended do a number of things simultaneously, the first, and perhaps most important to the purposes of the Government, to expose and detail insofar as possible what sorts of domestic and international intelligence gathering have been authorized and under what authorities they are conducted, and to describe insofar as possible how those authorities have been implemented, which includes plenty of instances of overreach and worse.

The Report seems to be organized and presented as a point-by-point response to the Snowden/Greenwald revelations and demands, and to a surprising -- or perhaps not-so-surprising -- degree, it concedes the points that Snowden and Greenwald make: that the NSA and other branches of the intelligence community have taken upon themselves authorities they don't really have, they have been repeatedly told to reform and/or desist by courts, their provisions for privacy protection are inadequate or nonexistent, their structures are open to abuse, and their mission is compromised by their own actions as well as those of people like Snowden and Greenwald who went to the trouble to expose to the public aspects of what was really going on that the agencies would prefer that people (including Congress, Courts and the President) not know.

The recommendations of the Review Group are actually quite startling, given the vilification heaped upon panel members for their close connections with the Security/Surveillance State. It was assumed, after all, that this panel would go out of its way to protect and defend the actions of that State, no matter what. This they have not done at all.

The Report goes into much more granular detail about the missteps of the Surveillance State than most of the press has been able to get into, and the recommendations reflect the panel's interests in reducing to the extent possible further missteps. Many of those missteps involve actions outside the legal authorities of the agencies involved, but clearly, part of the problem has been the laws themselves, and the over-generous interpretation of those laws and authorities by the heads of agencies over quite a long period of time.

This has been allowed in part because no one fully knew what was going on, as the agencies concealed their activities from the public and the oversight bodies that were supposed to be monitoring them. Consequently, many of the recommendations have to do with timely information about what is going on and how it is being done, not simply by stating "we are in compliance," but requiring extensive and more detailed reporting not only to Congressional oversight bodies but to the public as well. The agencies would consider these requirements to be onerous punishment, but too bad. This country has had far too much experience both recently and throughout its history with certain agencies of government spinning out of control and harming more than helping the nation. Reining in rogue agencies is a constant challenge and necessity.

While one of the recommendations deals with the transfer of bulk collection and storage of telephone meta data from the government to the carriers or a separate third party private entity (for a fee of course for the private entity or entities which shall hold the data for a specified period), I haven't yet found what I suspected I might: that the recommendations would foster and feature even greater levels of privatization of the Security/Surveillance State than already exists.

The upshot of the recommendations instead seems to be to significantly curb and constrain the actions of the Security/Surveillance State on its own account and to bring it into a narrower, more targeted and much more accountable (to the public) framework within government, rather than spinning off its activities to the private sector.

Of course, I may still run into rationales to further privatize the intelligence/surveillance operations of government, but so far, I haven't.

As a side note, most if not all of the information the government seeks in connection with the Security/Surveillance State is relatively easily available from the private sector -- which has a vast, growing and intrusive surveillance apparatus in place. Were government agencies forbidden to collect this information on their own (none of the recommendations suggest any such thing, btw), little or nothing would prevent them from getting the same sort of information -- or even more complete information -- on the open market. So even a prohibition on direct collection of surveillance data by government could be circumvented quite easily.

There have been rumors that the President will accept all of the recommendations and that most of them will be implemented. There are counter rumors that say just the opposite, that the Report goes too far, and the President will reject most of the recommendations.

What I find interesting is that this Report is apparently written in response to Snowden/Greenwald, it accepts their reading of the situation with regard to the NSA's overreach and the inadequacy of legal restraints on its activities, and it recommends some relatively harsh corrections. This suggests to me that there has been a "Snowden Faction" within the Security/Surveillance Apparat for some time (whether or not Snowden knew of it or was acting independently) and they needed some sort of engineered crisis in order to a) present their case, and b) press for reform. In other words, these recommendations and much of the study that brought them forth were pre-prepared awaiting only the crisis to be presented.

But in the meantime, what a tangled mess the Security/Surveillance State is revealed to be in this report.

What a full on mess.

I've always been an abolitionist when it comes to these sorts of things, and this report makes clear (to me at any rate) the reasons why.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Progress? Has the Time Come?

Having spent the better part of the day yesterday on The Report (see post below), I'm still plowing through it today, but so far, my initial impressions are confirmed rather fully. The whole thing is an argument -- essentially a legal brief -- for reigning in and enhancing oversight of the NSA, almost exactly along the lines of Snowden's and Greenwald's objections to NSA domestic (and foreign, but I haven't got to that part yet) surveillance as highlighted in the series of Bombshell Revelations over the summer.

Isn't that interesting?

Well, it should be.

The composition of the panel that did the review and came up with the Report (Richard Clarke,  Michael Morell, Geoffrey Stone, Cass Sunstein and Peter Swire) was fiercely criticized by Snowden/Greenwald fans for including a former CIA acting director and Cass Sunstein,  (aka: The Devil Incarnate) as well as a number of  other usual suspects. It was expected that the panel would therefore whitewash the NSA's programs and recommend post facto legalizing everything they've been doing. But it turns out not to be that way at all.

In fact, the panel uses the opportunity presented by the Snowden/Greenwald revelations and the presidential directive to "review" intelligence operations to dig relatively deep into the Intelligence community as a whole -- not just the NSA -- and make observations and recommendations regarding the way that community behaves in the Post 9/11 world. Its observations and recommendations are aligned almost exactly with the perceptions and demands of Snowden and Greenwald. In other words, the panel seems to see the revelations over the summer as a means to engage the administration and the public in a discussion of "proper" reform of these agencies which have been out of control for most of the years since 9/11.

The time has come.

Now of course I'm not a reformist when it comes to the intelligence community. I don't believe it can be "reformed" -- due to its intrinsic nature. It may be possible to abolish and reconstitute it, but even then, the abusive nature of the enterprise is bound to reassert itself, especially if -- as now -- the intelligence community is so deeply intertwined with corporate interests as opposed to the public interest.

I haven't got far enough into the report to suss out just how much the recommendations serve the private sector corporate interests which have always had a strong hand within and  over the intelligence community, but I have little doubt that the Report skews heavily toward those interests -- while calling them the 'public interest.'

Unfortunately for the public, this seems to be the direction Snowden/Greenwald want "reform" to go, by institutionalizing the primacy of corporate interest over the public interest as expressed through government.

But there is still quite a lot of the report I haven't read. I am not a speed reader, and I'm trying to find dots which may ultimately be connected to understand what this whole hoo-hah as been about.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Been Reading the Report

You know, this one. (308 page pdf)

Interesting to say the least, and hardly what one might have expected given the hoop-lah and hoo-hah over the summertime.

At least from the cursory view that I've been able to give it so far, it appears to be a nearly complete capitulation to the Snowden Faction among Our Rulers.

Very interesting indeed.

Well, I intend to read it more closely and will evaluate my initial impression anon.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"[He] shall not seek and [he] will not accept..."

The histrionics surrounding the spitballed notion that Young Snowden might receive amnesty in order for the Spooks (of which he is one, let's not forget) to persuade him to return to this country with the "rest" of his hoard of NSA secrets is interesting.

When the notion was first floated on the CBS Evening News last Friday, few seemed to notice. If I hadn't seen the "60 Minutes" segment which was presented on the CBS Evening News during which the idea was floated, I doubt I would have known about it until Monday, as I've sworn off "60 Minutes" for cause.

It's a fairly radical idea coming from the desk of someone charged with dealing with the Problem of Snowden and His Hoard, but there you are. We live in interesting times. The discredited leaders of the Agency are all in a dither over it, running around with their hair on fire denouncing the Very Idear as nonsense and perfidy and a terrible precedent, yadda, yadda. Which I'm sure it is, but at this point -- unless arrangements that we know not of have already been made -- it's an "idea" being run up the flagpole to see what the response will be, it is not an offer.

Outside the Agency, the keening and garment rending is just as strong, especially on Team Greenwald's bench where the idea is being met with fierce resistance and denunciations. Of course if Snowden counter-defects back to the USofA, it could be interpreted as a slap in Greenwald's face for so crassly cashing in on the Hoard. Which leads me to wonder. Has a deal been attempted? In other words, are Spooks in contact with Snowden directly? Oh my goodness if they are. Would he be willing to follow through with the request of his father's (I believe it was) that he be granted legal amnesty in order to return to the USofA and escape from the clutches of the Putin Security State, and not be prosecuted at home?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Carry Me Back: Memories of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks and a Christmas Show Last Night

Dan Hicks says he has always had a thing for Christmas as far back as he can remember, and when you get up in years like we are, that's no easy task. Remembering, that is.

We haven't seen Dan for quite a long time, maybe ten or fifteen years or so. The last time I remember seeing him was at an outdoor gig in a park somewhere in or near Sacramento, but I can't remember exactly where or when, though I can recall taking pictures and even possibly a few short videos at the event. But I don't remember where they are. Memory gets complicated.

I remember him performing Kollege of Musical Knowledge at Harlow's in Sacramento, but I'm almost certain I didn't attend. Did see Asleep at the Wheel there, and remember Dan was either going to be there or had recently been, but I can't remember actually being there for his performance.

Then there was the all too brief bookstore appearance (was it a bookstore?) somewhere out in the Sacramento suburbs, before or after the park performance, where we got a bunch of CDs signed. But where or when it was exactly, I can't recall.

Back in the 70's, when we were living in San Francisco, we'd routinely go over the Golden Gate Bridge to Mill Valley and see Dan and the band at Sweetwater and/or the Old Mill Tavern. I'm pretty sure we saw them at both venues. They'd also play in San Francisco at a small venue off of Pine or Polk Street, but I don't remember the name of it. It was within walking distance of our place, though, so that was cool. We also saw them on occasion at a tiny venue on Haight St, the name of which escapes me. We saw them at Winterland and the Fillmore in San Francisco, and at the Palms in Davis as well.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Some Occupy Stuff

Nathan Schneider has been flogging his book, "Thank You, Anarchy" since September. He was on Democracy Now!

and did a Book Salon at FDL today:


and has written a number of Occupy themed articles and posts for a range of publications including Waging Nonviolence, and his own blog, The Rowboat.

I certainly had my differences with him during the Occupy heyday, but he seems to have come around to a much more positivist view than he had then. It's difficult to describe, but these days, as he talks and writes about how Occupy developed and evolved, he seems to recognize just how deeply rooted in community this Movement has become, and how evolution has strengthened it.

Also, as an aside, but it may be an important one, Nathan seems to be a genuinely nice person, something increasingly rare in today's media landscape.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Postscript on Previous Posts Regarding the New Mexico Museum of Art and the Stories It Tells

An Early Photo of the New Mexico Museum of Art, c. 1917
The image above was featured on the cover of the January, 1918 issue of Art and Archeology Magazine, and it's one of the first widely distributed pictures of the New Mexico Museum of Art, a building which appears to be nearly identical today.

Recent picture of NMMOA (from WikiMedia)
Part of the ethos of Santa Fe Style seems to be to preserve things "as they are" forever, which is a curious ethos when you think about it, especially in this land of mud and wind and endless sunshine. The Museum is consciously built in Santa Fe's New/Old Style. It's not built of adobe but of burnt brick and concrete with a cement stucco coating.  It's a near duplication of the New Mexico Pavilion at the Panama Pacific Exhibition of 1915 in San Diego, California, which in turn was styled after the Acoma Pueblo Mission Church originally built in the 1600's -- with a few other elements thrown in for variety. (Specifically, the second floor balcony on the facade of the St. Francis Auditorium is taken from features found on a number of other Pueblo mission churches.)

Acoma Mission Church, c. 1914

New Mexico Building, Panama Pacific Exhibition, San Diego, 1915
The New Mexico Building in San Diego's Balboa Park still exists (as the Balboa Park Club), though it has been expanded and remodeled over the years.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Final Episode in This Five Part Series of Educational Talks at the New Mexico Museum of Art

Herding, Jaune Quick to See Smith, 1985 -- Albuquerque Museum of Art and History Collection

  • December 2: Artists for Art’s Sake
Retired Curator of Art at the Albuquerque Museum, Ellen Landis, will take us through the important artist movements of the 1980s and 1990s and their impact on institutions like the MOA and Spanish and Indian Markets.

Oh? Is that a fact?

I left this final talk in the series with a distinctly bad taste in my mouth.

It appears that Ms Landis, in the fullness of her former position, simply could not find more than one or two Indians or Spanish artists during her tenure at the Albuquerque Museum whose work was worth collecting or showing, and she still bridles at the criticisms she received for her, shall we say, blind spot(s). She was particularly stung by criticisms that she neither showed nor collected works by Albuquerque artists, of whom she apparently thought not at all -- unless they sucked up to her sufficiently to be noticed.

Her attitude struck me as exhibit one for why parts of the curatorial profession have such a poor rapport and reputation with artists and the public.

Her discussion of "movements" was a discussion of artists as individuals whose works she noticed. About half of whom have apparently disappeared or left the field. Whatever became of them she knows not, less does she care.

Taking Pictures, New Mexico Photography as Art; New York, New York, It's A Hell of A Town!

A corner of the Casa Ché Camera Collection

On to the next talk at the Museum, this one featuring Kathrine Ware, Curator of Photography, discussing the Growth of the Galleries, starting with Stieglitz in New York. 


  • November 18: Growth of the Galleries
Curator of Photography, Katherine Ware, will chronicle the impact that Photography has had on New Mexico art history, from photographic surveys to commercial galleries.
While Kathrine gave quite a nice presentation, it focused practically not at all on New Mexico, and as always, it left out Carlos Vierra, who -- as The First [Anglo -- though he was actually a "Portagee", from California, no less] Artist in Santa Fe -- made his living as a photographer, and who had a studio directly across the street from the Museum wherein we were meeting... sheesh.

I don't know why there is such a blind spot about Vierra at the very Museum that he himself practically caused to come into being and that he graced with murals and that he photographed over and over, and that he was part of practically all his life in New Mexico, but there you are. If I didn't bring him up, I doubt he'd be mentioned at all.

There is a story there, but I don't know what it is.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Consequences: The Incident on Highway 518

This is video of the protest in Taos led by Patrick Trujillo over the assault by New Mexico State Police officers against Oriana Farrell and her family, an assault which included three shots fired by Officer Elias Montoya at Farrell's vehicle as it sped away.

Officer Montoya has been fired.

This is almost unheard of in police annals these days, as practically any act under color of authority by police is considered "justified" by investigators, no matter how egregious and/or deadly.

However, from the video it seems clear that State Police Chief Kassetas is serious about an internal review and investigation of what happened that day in October on Highway 518, and about taking appropriate, timely action. This in itself is almost unheard of these days, as internal police reviews often take months or years, and it's almost a miracle if they don't justify police conduct.

This time, an officer actually lost his job as a consequence of his actions in firing at the Farrell vehicle.

Interestingly, however, the "problem officer" in the district was not said to be Montoya (though there had been other incidents concerning his use or display of firearms) but DeTavis, the original officer who confronted and argued with Farrell -- and who apparently terrified her and her children so much that they repeatedly fled.

Farrell has been arraigned and released as has her 14 year old son who was also charged in the incident. They are supposed to return to court next April, but what will happen between now and then is anyone's guess. Some reports have suggested that they will move to New Mexico or California from their home in Memphis, but so far, that is not really clear. Farrell has a great deal of support from the Memphis community, and though her actions in the incident appear to have been ill-advised, she may ultimately be exonerated.

The surprising thing is that one of the officers involved faced any consequences at all, and that the police chief not only met with the protesters personally but also spoke publicly on camera with them and about it.

Is it a trend?

Tile Houses, The New Mexico-California Connection, and UNM-Albuquerque

We lived a few blocks from this house in Sacramento. The video truly doesn't do it justice. I took some pictures of it myself, but what has become of them, I don't know. It was long enough ago, I'm not even sure I used a digital camera. Maybe one day, I'll find them. Then again, maybe not. I never knew more than the sketchiest information about it, nor did I ever know who owned it or why it was covered in such elaborate tile work. It's not just the house itself. The whole property is covered with tile and sculpture, making the site in its entirety a work of art. I was told that the project was being done by an instructor at the nearby community college, but who, exactly, I never found out.

There's a tile house in Albuquerque as well, though I'm not exactly sure of its location. I have the address, but I've never been out to Beverly Magennis's Tile House, and the owners (Magennis's daughter and son- in-law) are said to be less than keen to have visitors pass by or drop in, even though the house is an Albuquerque Cultural Resource site.. It seems to be the way with those who make tile houses: make spectacles of the house, then hide. Magennis taught ceramics at UNM for many years, and she spent eleven years tiling her house in Albuquerque before she moved out. One day, no doubt, it will be open to the public to gawp at, but for now...

Beverly Magennis was featured in the next talk on "The Artists' Century" at the New Mexico Museum of Art. Beverly Magennis is highly regarded you see. She would be featured again in the last talk in the series, but first some commentary about this one:

  • November 4: UNM / Albuquerque
Retired MOA Curator of Art, Joe Traugott, will discuss the important moment in NM art history when “art moved south” from Santa Fe and Taos to Albuquerque. Learn how the GI Bill and the growth of Albququerque changed the face of NM art history.

On the Passing of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013 (Creative Commons)

Of course he was a towering figure, a complex man, and a public hero. But the hagiography of Nelson Mandela is somewhat disturbing, not unlike the media outpouring following the death of Ronald Reagan -- or even recently the death of actor Paul Walker.

Wait, wait, I keep saying, this is celebrity myth making in overdrive. Is this really honoring the dead, or is it make-believe about the dead?

It was hardly a shock when news of Mandela's passing reached these shores. He'd taken ill quite some time back, and his recovery never seemed likely. His family and many of his admirers had long since accepted the fact that he was old and subject to the limitations of the old and frail, and in the end, his passing would be a blessing on him. Those who have dealt with end of life issues for loved ones know that the period is an emotional roller coaster. Staying centered is sometimes difficult. On the other hand, for many of those whose life is ebbing away, the end can be a welcome respite from the struggle to hang on.

What I've noticed about so much of the hagiography of Nelson Mandela is a nearly complete neglect of the story of the end of his life, and an obsessive focus on his "peacemaking" with his white tormentors.

Practically every picture I've seen of Mandela during the period since his death has shown him hobnobbing with some white politician or pooh-bah; on occasion, there will be other black faces among those with Mandela, but for the most part, it's just him and some white person.

There's nothing wrong with this on the surface, but it's a very incomplete picture. Worse, it's propaganda for an agenda, one that "unites the races" on behalf of... the oligarchy/kleptocracy that rules us with rod and staff. Let's not fool ourselves. Just as the stories and legacies of Gandhi and King have been expropriated by and for the ruling class, so now will Mandela's be.

This is perhaps a necessary thing, for if the masses were to understand the depth of feeling and the revolutionary nature of Mandela's efforts in South Africa, the rising of the oppressed and exploited majority around the world would be nearly impossible to suppress. By transforming Mandela into the Elder Peacemaker Between the Races -- and ignoring all the rest of his life and legacy -- and by making myth around that single aspect, the  Overclass seeks to maintain control of the restive rabble who otherwise might take courage...

I don't know whether it will work this time, though. Mandela was, it seems to me, both wiser and subtler than most of those who seek to maintain power over us now.

His spirit may yet have some surprises in store for us all...

Rest in Peace, Old Man, you did more than most mortals.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Art In New Mexico? Who Sez? Where? Why? Starving Artists Edition

Carlos Vierra, painter of New Mexico scenes, c. 1917
On to the next talk at the New Mexico Museum of Art's series, "New Mexico: The Artists' Century."

  • October 21: Depression and War Years
Independent Scholar, Lois Rudnick, has organized a session including presentations by Kathy Flynn of the National New Deal Preservation Association and Tey Marianna Nunn, Visual Arts Director at the National Hispanic Culture Center.
Now, this talk was really outstanding, I thought, in part because it got into aspects of Art (Big A) in New Mexico that I'm intrigued with and drawn to, including the Transcendental Painters and the extraordinary works of Hispanos during the Depression and War Years -- and before.

The premise basically was that were in not for New Deal programs (almost too many to list), Art (Big A) in New Mexico would literally have withered away. The support that had previously existed was scant to begin with, and when the Crash came, artists would have starved if not for the PWA, WPA and Kaune's (a well-known Santa Fe grocery store that extended credit to artists who stuck it out.)