Innovative dystopias

An essay by Matt Stoller called “Profit-Driven Surveillance and the Spectrum of Freedom” on Naked Capitalism looks at the way that analytics, real-time tracking, and the for-profit prison and debt industry combine to produce a dystopia: “In fact, whether you are tracked because you get a discount on your auto insurance or whether you have broken some arbitrary rule or fit in a non-mainstream class of person, innovation in technology and autocratic organizational forms means that there will be a whole new category of constraints on freedom.”

There are innovations in injustice that could accompany these products. Traditional illicit corporate profit-taking has been about denying certain products to segmented groups of people – segregation in housing, lower quality of medical care for ethnic and gender groups, predatory lending etc. But technology has now opened up a new model of profit-taking – if a company knows where you go, who you talk to, what you buy and eat, and your medical history, then it can charge you premium pricing by denying you exactly what *you* want. It can bypass your ethnographic group, and focus on tolling off component parts of what you as an individual want.

Imagine a new financial product targeted at people who have defaulted on debt and have a history of avoiding debt collectors. It’s a new kind of credit card, by a bank, which offers a reasonable rate of interest. You don’t have to put up cash or collateral. You don’t have to pay on time. The catch is that the financial institution requires that you wear a small tracking device on your ankle, so that their debt collection department knows where you are at all times. And if you violate the terms of service, the device blares out messages from debt collectors, wherever you are. The device could also be set up to blare out messages whenever you enter a “restricted zone”, say, a shopping mall or a store that the bank has put off limits to you.

Or imagine that a corporation decides that new employees must wear one of these for the first 30 days of employment, to ensure that he or she isn’t tardy, and to more accurately clock people in and out of work. The technology exists, and is being marketed, by private corporations. And it is being used by private corporations everywhere in America, to track tens of thousands of people. I drew this example from a specific device that could do this is called the ExacuTrack One) – the web page describing its technology leaves open all sorts of chilling possibilities. The reason you haven’t noticed is because these products are tracking prisoners, ex-felons, and people on parole.

Profit-Driven Surveillance and the Spectrum of Freedom: “We will offer electronic monitoring services in every state.”

Paul Krugman on science fiction’s relationship to economics

In this long interview with Wired, Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman talks about the relationship between science fiction and economics. Krugman says he was inspired to pursue economics by Asimov’s Foundation series (he’s written the introduction to a forthcoming commemorative edition) and praises Charlie Stross for the economics work in The Family Trade books.

Wired: In the movie Star Trek: First Contact, a character asks Captain Picard how much it cost to build the Enterprise, and he replies, “The economics of the future are somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves, and the rest of humanity.” What do you think about that?

Krugman: I will say, even with all my science fiction-y stuff, that in economics … it’s not that things never change, but they change much more slowly — the underlying principles change much more slowly — than most people imagine. You can read John Maynard Keynes or Irving Fischer from the 1930s, and except for a few archaic turns of phrase it looks like they’re describing what’s happening right now. My friend — and actually fellow science fiction fan — Brad DeLong at Berkeley, actually says that Walter Badgett’s book from the 1870s about financial crises reads better than most of the articles you’ll see in the popular press these days.

It’s true that the laws of economics are really quite different for the 21st century than they were in the 15th century, because we didn’t really have many of the features of a market economy back then. And maybe by the 24th century it’ll be different again, but I’m not so sure about that optimistic view of Captain Picard. One thing I think we see is that greed has a way of breaking through, no matter what we do on other fronts.

Economist Paul Krugman Is a Hard-Core Science Fiction Fan

(via Making Light)

Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter publishing memoir

John Edwards’ mistress Rielle Hunter is publishing a memoir.

NYC exhibition evokes Claude Monet’s flower garden

Claude Monet’s beloved flower and water gardens in the north of France are world-famous. But for those unable to visit the artist’s iconic home, a trip to the Bronx over the next several months will offer a taste of Monet’s indisputably radiant living masterpiece — a riotous display of color, plant variety and landscape design.

Queen spends day at races as jubilee events begin

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrives for the Epsom Derby at Epsom race course, southern England at the start of a four-day Diamond Jubilee celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne Saturday, June 2, 2012. The queen will celebrate Saturday at the Epsom Derby, a highlight of the horseracing calendar, and on Sunday she will lead a 1,000-boat flotilla on the River Thames. Monday's festivities include a pop concert in front of Buckingham Palace with Paul McCartney and Elton John, and festivities climax Tuesday with a religious service, a procession through the streets of London and the royal family's appearance on the palace balcony. (AP Photo/Sang Tan)It was a royal day at the races, as Queen Elizabeth II watched a horse with the courtly name of Camelot win the Epsom Derby on Saturday — the kickoff to a four-day celebration of the British monarch's 60 years on the throne.


A wonderful photo contributed to the Boing Boing Flickr Pool by Ben Lepley, who explains that this is his cat Yoshimi Minski, “sleeping in the semi-mummy position.”

How book publishing learned from music’s digital mistake

Rob Reid writes in the WSJ, praising publishing for getting behind ebook publishing by licensing books for electronic formats, rather than boycotting e-readers, as the music industry boycotted MP3 players in its early days, and suggests that publishing may fare better than music because of it. I agree with Reid that publishing has generally handled the digital transition with more grace than record labels, but I think it’s worth pointing out that publishing did commit many of hte same blunders as the record industry — notably using DRM (which drives piracy instead of sales), and embracing proprietary formats (which locks their products to vendors’ platforms).

This doesn’t necessarily make publishers the Einstein to the music world’s Ozzy Osbourne. Publishing had music’s dismal example to learn from. It is also easier to see the digital light when a game-changing product is released by a major partner and customer, even if Amazon inspires more dread than comfort among publishers. Of course, things haven’t gone perfectly smoothly: In April, three publishers—Hachette Book Group, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins—settled a Justice Department lawsuit alleging they conspired to raise e-book prices. (HarperCollins is owned by News Corp., as is The Wall Street Journal.)

Publishers face many challenges today, and some may be existential—Amazon’s dominance, for one, and the potential for authors to sell directly to readers. But as one industry executive wryly observed to me after ticking off a list of his industry’s perils, “at least we’re not self-immolators.”

What To Do When Attacked by Pirates

(Thanks, Rob!)

Canadian politician: My internet spying bill would help us catch serial killers like Luka Magnotta

The Toronto Sun today reports that “politicians and their aides in Ottawa have been shocked by the gruesome killing” attributed to Luka Magnotta. But not too shocked to exploit it for their own political gain! Buried in a story about how the missing accused serial killer will face charges of “Criminal harassment” for sending dead body parts to lawmakers, in addition to all the murder and ass-cheek-eating and corpse-sexing stuff:

On Friday, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said his so-called Internet snooping bill would help police investigate the shocking murder and dismemberment of a man in Montreal.

“Certainly, that’s what the police have told me – that the powers in Bill C-30 are very relevant to this type of investigation in terms of either determining who the individual is, or determining the whereabouts of an individual,” said Toews on Friday in Winnipeg.

Bill C-30 would force Internet service providers and cellphone companies to give police information about customers’ online activity on request, creating a storm of privacy concerns that have left the bill stalled in the Commons.

As Cory wrote recently, the C-30 bill was a very very bad thing, and it appears to be dead.

Maybe police should reach out to Encyclopedia Dramatica for assistance.

Just FYI Luka Magnotta is still editing his own ED article to this day. He corrected the date of the murder this morning.

— Encyc Dramatica æ (@ED_Updates) June 1, 2012

using a proxy obviously.

— Encyc Dramatica æ (@ED_Updates) June 1, 2012

Why, sure, Toews’ argument that unprecedented warrantless surveillance would help us catch Awful Bad Guys makes perfect sense. BB commenter TMWaH says it perfectly:

Except that Magnotta made all of his sociopathic tendencies very, very public. He posted videos of animal torture, journals about necrophilia, and how-to guides for “vanishing” from police. He wore his evil on his sleeve, and yet, nobody tried to investigate him BEFORE he killed anyone.

Vic Toews is deluded if he thinks that a spying bill would stop people like Magnotta. What law enforcement needs is a better method for analyzing data and putting it to use, not terabytes of stolen e-mails to comb through.

Austerity obliterates transparency: budget cuts mean cuts to Canada’s Freedom of Information

A reader writes, “Yet another voice calling attention to the ever narrowing access to information in Canada as the Harper Government repeatedly thumb their nose at the Canadian Access to Information Act.” And the CBC’s Meagan Fitzpatrick reports:

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault reported today that the federal government’s budget cuts could jeopardize a “fragile” access to information system that has been improving… Legault said the access to information areas within government departments tend to be vulnerable when there are cuts and she has already heard from some requestors that they’ve been told their files are being delayed because of cuts.

Budget cuts threaten access to information, watchdog says

Austerity obliterates history: Canadian heritage docs no longer available through interlibrary loan

A reader writes, “Canadian heritage documents that used to be accessible through inter-library loan will be no longer accessible. If you want to access documents of Canada’s history, be prepared to do some traveling, and even at that, those documents may no longer exist since standards of preservation may be compromised. This is of particular concern since the Harper government has revealed revisionist tendencies in the past.”

From Laura Mueller in Nepean/Barrhaven Local Community News:

“Unless something is done soon, Canadians are at risk of losing key parts of their historical and cultural record,” Harder wrote to Minister James Moore. “Preservation of our country’s heritage is not something we can afford to sacrifice.”

The Ottawa Public Library system relies on the national library for key Canadian heritage documents accessible through inter-library loans.

“It’s going to have a huge impact on inter-library loans,” said Jennifer Stirling, OPL’s manager of service and innovation. “(The archives contains) Canadiana that just can’t be replicated elsewhere … it’s very sad to see this happen.”

Here’s the national campaign to save Canada’s archives.

Federal archive cutbacks impact local libraries, Canadian heritage archives will no longer be accessible by inter-library loan