I’m serving on the advisory board of the Voice of the People project, which is developing innovative (and scientifically valid) ways to allow “Members of Congress to hear from a representative sample of their constituents on key issues facing Congress.”
What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded. When extremists feel that insulated from playing by the traditional rules of our system, if we do not defend those rules — namely majority rule and the fact that if you don’t like a policy passed by Congress, signed by the president and affirmed by the Supreme Court then you have to go out and win an election to overturn it; you can’t just put a fiscal gun to the country’s head — then our democracy is imperiled.
In essence, the hard-line faction of the House GOP is demanding the following, as recent NYT, WSJ, and WaPo articles, apart from today’s, have made clear:
EITHER the Administration must undo the main legislative accomplishment of the president’s time in office, which he passed despite filibuster resistance four years ago and which the Supreme Court has since held constitutional;
OR ELSE all other business of the government will be halted, and the full faith and credit of the United States will be called into question, with unknown but likely bad world-financial consequences.
This is not what either John Boehner or Mitch McConnell says he stands for. I have no doubt that Obama could ultimately strike some compromise with even McConnell’s filibuster-happy Senate Republicans and any kind of normal Republican majority in the House. In the end Democrats would complain that Obama had caved, Republicans would complain about Beltway insiderism, but some deal would result. Yet enough of today’s absolutist House members think in exactly these Either/Or terms that normal compromise is simply impossible. Compromise itself is as much their stated enemy as is Obamacare.
Emphasis mine. For the most part, a two-party, dual-ideology system works so that you can have extreme factions on either side, they can come together, compromise on something, and some measure of good and fairness can come of it. That’s how politics and lawmaking has worked in this country for 200+ years. But what are you supposed to do when enough of one side of an argument would rather see this country burn to the ground than to compromise at all? How is that anything short of terrorism?
It may come as a shock to some of you that most gamers today can not finish the original Super Mario Brothers game on the Famicom. We have conducted this test over the past few years to see how difficult we should make our games and have found that the number of people unable to finish the first level is steadily increasing.
This year, around 90 percent of the test participants were unable to complete the first level of Super Mario Brothers. We did not assist them in any way except by providing the exact same instruction manual we used back then. Many of them did not read it and the few that did stopped after the first page which did not cover any of the game mechanics.
We watched the replay videos of how the gamers performed and saw that many did not understand simple concepts like bottomless pits. Around 70 percent died to the first Goomba. Another 50 percent died twice. Many thought the coins were enemies and tried to avoid them. Also, most of them did not use the run button. There were many other depressing things we noted but I can not remember them at the moment.
Furthermore, we asked for suggestions on how to improve the game. A majority of them wanted the game to be easier and they suggested many ways to do this. Some of them wanted a mandatory tutorial while others wanted more ways to kill things besides jumping on them. We explained that Mario could shoot fire balls with the Fire Flower power-up, but then they wanted Mario to start with more weapons like a sword or a gun.
Some of the people seemed to be unaware that this was an actual old game that existed as they asked if the retro-style graphics were supposed to be a throwback to old Nintendo games. Some missed the point of the questionnaire completely and said that the graphics and music were terrible and needed to be improved in order for the game to sell. They also wanted a deeper storyline and voice acting.
So, as a stockholder, you should be relieved to know that our games are easier in order to attract a wider audience. As a gamer, you might feel a little sad, and you should be. It is quite sad.
“A lot of the stuff going on just isn’t very ambitious. ‘The thing about the advertising model is that it gets people thinking small, lean,’ wrote Alexis Madrigal in an essay about start-ups in The Atlantic last year. ‘Get four college kids in a room, fuel them with pizza, and see what thing they can crank out that their friends might like. Yay! Great! But you know what? They keep tossing out products that look pretty much like what you’d get if you took a homogenous group of young guys in any other endeavour: Cheap, fun, and about as worldchanging as creating a new variation on beer pong.’”—Play-companies and the value of a hard day’s work
Quoting this in full because I think every word is important (and Tumblr’s formatting is nicer than a Pastebin doc):
It came out today that the US government’s signals intelligence agency, the NSA, has been collecting mass call records of US citizens from (at least) Verizon. The order, way broader in scope than many thought could exist, is for call metadata only - things like source and destination phone numbers, cell towers, time, and call duration.
Now, this sounds pretty troubling - it’s mass surveillance! However, if you’re anything resembling normal, your next thought might be “Well, hey now. What do I care if the NSA knows who I call? I’m not a terrorist and I’m certainly not important. If this can be used to catch bad guys who want to blow people up, why is that a problem?”
This is a normal and logical response. The problem is that it’s really, really dangerous. I’ll explain why.
Most people, when faced with the spectre of surveillance, immediately point out the fact that their life is effectively unchanged in the face of government surveillance. They’d be totally right. The government doesn’t really care about your individual activities- provided you’re a median person.
The problem only arises in edge cases, which is probably why this has been allowed to proceed as nauseatingly far as it has.
Imagine you’re a member of a group being marginalized on a large scale by society: a black man in 1950, a homosexual in 2010, a staunch communist in 1954. In any reasonable society, we require equal protections and rights from the government for all people who are not engaging in criminal behavior.
Now think about the fact that, in the first steps for change, it is an exceptionally difficult battle. The machinery of society is aligned against you. It seems hopeless to even begin. You may recall that Rosa Parks was immediately arrested for what she did.
To remain strong, you have to prevent society from fighting you directly, at least at first. No individual or small group can stand alone against society - it’s too large.
The solution is to operate anonymously, in secret. Spreading a simple message of liberty and equality can be scathingly difficult when society wants things to stay the way they’ve always been.
The US Supreme Court wrote, in 1995:
Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse.
Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express
critical minority views … Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny
of the majority… . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the
Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect
unpopular individuals from retaliation … at the hand of an intolerant society.
The FBI wrote a letter to Martin Luther King telling him to commit suicide. The Attorney General of the US (Bobby Kennedy) personally authorized the FBI to put him under surveillance. They later threatened him with publicizing his extramarital affair (that they’d found as a result of the surveillance) if he didn’t stop his civil rights work.
Anonymity is a prerequisite for large scale positive migration away from inequality, injustice, prejudice, tyranny, and discrimination.
To remain anonymous requires secrecy. You must be able to keep your identity a secret.
Keeping a secret requires privacy. Privacy is a prerequisite for anonymity.
In a condition where everyone is ubiquituously surveilled, you cannot have privacy.
Therefore, in a world where everyone is under surveillance, without privacy, there can be no truly anonymous speech. Without truly anonymous speech, it becomes impossible to move our society forward toward change for the better.
Most people don’t change the world. You and I probably won’t ever change much of anything. We must, however, ensure safety (via the anonymity that privacy can provide) for those that do. It’s a tiny fraction of society, but it serves a vital function for all of us.
You may not have anything to hide, but some do, and for entirely legal and heroic reasons.
If we don’t fight to the last to protect our right to privacy, if only for their sake, then I daresay our society will then rightfully deserve the state of affairs that will result.
In one scenario, Kinect used its facial recognition to scan a room full of people and note if there was someone in the room it didn’t recognize. It then told the console owner that there is someone in the room it didn’t recognize and asked the new person to identify themselves.
Sounds familiar, but I can’t quite put my finger on it…
"Americans should not be subject to fines and criminal liability for merely unlocking devices and media they legally purchased," said Rep. Lofgren in a press release. "If consumers are not violating copyright or some other law, there’s little reason to hold back the benefits of unlocking so people can continue using their devices."
Lofgren’s bill attracted enthusiastic support from activists and advocacy groups that had been lukewarm about previous unlocking bills.
"This is the only piece of legislation so far introduced that legalizes both cell phone unlocking, but also the underlying technology for cell phone unlocking," said Derek Khanna, a conservative activist who was fired from his job on Capitol Hill for advocating copyright reform.
"This legislation is exactly what the digital community was asking for," he told us in a phone interview. "It’s exactly what the small cell phone providers were looking for. Unlike the other legislation, it actually solves the problem."
Sane copyright reform? Probably means it’ll never pass.