Thursday, February 09, 2006

Big Corporations Versus Big Brother

A persistent Internet rumour (and not like the "e-mail tax" hoaxes) says that large corporations, mostly media and telecommunications companies, are trying to make the Internet less free, less open, less democratic, and more like television with fewer moving parts. The Internet they envision is one of nearly endless professionally-produced content (good news for me in my other life as a professional content producer, perhaps), downloadable at the click of a mouse at ever higher speeds, but there's the rub: The power to upload, the most important power of the open, democratic Internet, will be restricted to corporations and those in their employ.

According to this article in The Nation, "those with the deepest pockets -- corporations, special-interest groups and major advertisers -- would get preferred treatment. Content from these providers would have first priority on our computer and television screens, while information seen as undesirable, such as peer-to-peer communications, could be relegated to a slow lane or simply shut out." (Emphasis mine.)

The article, published under the somewhat histrionic title "The End of the Internet," mentions that white papers put out by the usual telco suspects (Comcast, BellSouth, and Verizon among others) "are developing strategies that would track and store information on our every move in cyberspace in a vast data-collection and marketing system, the scope of which could rival the National Security Agency."

Funnily enough, according to the Christian Science Monitor (a paper I honestly don't read all that often; I've just had occasion to cite it twice recently), the US Department of Homeland Security is also planning and implementing a huge data-mining operation, ostensibly to track information patterns indicative of terrorist activities. One of the named sources in the article, director of the National Visualization Analytics Center Jim Thomas, claims that a component of the overall system, named Starlight, has already helped to foil terrorist attacks, but conveniently declines to mention any specifics on the grounds that they're classified.

On first glance, one might think the two paradigms currently locked in the power struggle to be our ultimate plutarchs (that is, corporations versus big government) seem to be working in tandem, but there is a conflict here. The corporate version of the ubiquitously data-mined Internet depends entirely on their controlling access. They don't want to see what you have to say, they want to see how you respond to what they're giving you -- and, most importantly, buy what they have to sell you. They want to track your surfing habits, track your online spending habits, see what movie trailers you download, and what music you order from iTunes. As with television's Nielsen ratings, none of that depends on your participation in the medium's production.

The governmental vision of the Internet, with its ubiquitous sub rosa surveillance, depends entirely on individuals' having the power to upload content to the Internet. In their version of the Internet, one would be absolutely free to upload anything one wished, as long as one didn't mind doing so in a complete lack of privacy. Everything "from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports" would be compiled in a huge, cross-indexed database, endlessly searching for ostensibly terrorist patterns. However, for this system to work, there must be blogs and open Google searches and participatory Internet content. (How else to trap out those terrorists lurking everywhere about?)

Given that contrast, it'll be interesting to see which, if any, of these visions prevails. The answer to that question, if it actually comes out to one or the other and not some bizarre hybrid of both, or neither, or something entirely else (I hate false dichotomies), will be a pretty good indicator of what our collective future culture will look like, even for those of us who don't live within the United States' borders.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Prime Minister is The President's (and friends') Bitch

Here I thought I was going to have to do some serious research on the subject, after having seen circumstantial evidence in Murray Dobbin's The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen and Linda McQuaig's All You Can Eat: Greed, Lust, and the Global Economy. Apparently someone has already done the research for me, and it's dismal indeed:

CRAP Ties to the US Right-Wing Machine and the Usual Gang of Idiots

You will note that apparently Stockwell Day, former Reform Party-cum-Canadian Reform Alliance Party laughingstock, former Bible-beating preacher, and hanger-on of various white supremacists and Holocaust deniers is apparently a Concerned Woman for America. Gee, Stock, for a former debutante with political aspirations, you look pretty good in drag. No wonder there was a petition afoot to get him to change his name to Doris.

These assholes don't even try anymore, do they?

By the Numbers

152: Number of executions presided over by George W. Bush as Governor of Texas
Source: Sister Helen Prejean, The New York Review of Books, Alan Berlow, The Atlantic Monthly

2752: Number of people killed on September 11, 2001
Source: CNN

2461: Total number of coalition military casualties in Iraq, 2253 of which are US soldiers

~28 000 - 100 000: Estimated number of civilian casualties of the invasion of Iraq
Sources: Iraq Body Count, BBC article on the Lancet study of invasion-related deaths. According to the Christian Science Monitor, no information is available on Iraqi military casualties, since death information is classified by the Iraqi government.

326: Total number of coalition military casualties in Afghanistan, 261 of which are US soldiers

~1000 - 3000: Approximate number of civilian casualties of the invasion of Afghanistan
Sources: A Dossier on Civilian Victims of United States' Aerial Bombing of Afghanistan, Marc W. Herold, Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, quoted in the New York Times

~1400: Approximate number of people killed by Hurricane Katrina and aftermath (3200 still missing)
Source: Insurance Journal

~70 000: Approximate number of women in developing countries who died because of back-alley abortions, in part because of the US-mandated "global gag rule" prohibiting organisations which receive US funding to promote, recommend, prescribe, or provide abortion services.
Source: The Guardian

70,708: Population of Mountain View, California, 2000.
Source: US Census figures, Demographia

94,673: Population of Boulder, Colorado, 2000.
Source: US Census figures, Demographia

128,283: Population of Alexandria, Virginia, 2000.
Source: US Census figures, Demographia

180,480: Population of Reno, Nevada, 2000.
Source: US Census figures, Demographia