Gripping drama, potent activism—guest blogging about Oliver Stone’s Snowden biopic over at BoingBoing today.
"The movie succeeded splendidly as popular entertainment. But there’s another level worth discussing, too. "Logically, it shouldn’t particularly matter who Snowden is. His background, his formative experiences, his motivations, his life—none of these is relevant compared towhatwe’velearnedfrom him: that the US government developed and deployed an unprecedented and illegal system of mass surveillance, foreign and domestic; that the head of the US intelligence apparatus was lying about this system in sworn testimony before a Senate oversight committee; that the NSA has been subverting the very encryption standards upon which Internet security—banking, shopping, medical, everything—depends. And so much more. In the face of government actions as toxic to democracy as these, who brought the actions to our attention seems of distinctly secondary importance. "And yet, I know as a novelist that we humans are wired to focus more on who than we are than what. If I can get you to care sufficiently deeply about my characters, for example, I can afflict them with only the most trivial travails and you’ll still be entertained. Conversely, if you don’t care about my characters, I can put in play the fate of all of civilization and you probably won’t even finish the book. There’s something about our species that makes us understand “what” at least partially through the prism of “who.” This is why so many people give the candidate of their preferred party so much latitude to violate their own party’s stated principles. When your party’s the one doing it, it just feels different. "So it's no surprise that..." Read the whole thing over at Boing Boing.
The other day, I stumbled across an excellent documentary called Deep Web, about the Ross Ulbricht/Silk Road prosecution. I'd followed the story somewhat at the time, but not closely, and the film illuminated a lot of aspects worth considering--including the societal and individual costs of drug prohibition; the dangers of prosecutorial overreach; and the ways people try to create communities beyond governmental intrusion and inanity. Fascinating and highly recommended.
My Op-Ed in Time Magazine Urging Obama to Pardon Snowden
From my op-ed in Time Magazine urging Obama to pardon Snowden: "In other words, Snowden followed his conscience. Authoritarians might condemn such a choice. Americans should celebrate it. After all, in his seminal essay “Civil Disobedience,” Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.” And indeed, if people were intended to only and always obey the law, why would we have been given the power—and burden—of conscience? Similarly, if the president were intended always to hew to the law even at the expense of justice, why would the founders have vested the office of the president with the power of pardon?" Read the whole thing here. And please consider adding your name to this worthy effort.
We're Winning the War, But Will Never Actually Win
Guest-blogging today over at Boing Boing: If you were the government and wanted to maintain a state of perpetual war, how would you go about it? First, you'd need an enemy, of course, but that part would be pretty straightforward. After all, if the US government could convince the citizenry that Iraq was the 9/11 enemy but that Saudi Arabia was our friend when nineteen out of the twenty 9/11 highjackers were Saudi, it's fair to say that just about anything is possible. But the next part would be harder. On the one hand, you'd have to claim progress in the war so that the citizenry would maintain its support for the war. On the other hand, you couldn't actually defeat the enemy, lest the war end. That is to say, you'd have to maintain a longterm, delicate balance: we would always be winning in the war, but would never actually win the war. With that balance in mind, your propaganda would likely be some version of, "Today, our military forces have achieved a significant victory. Of course, the enemy is insidious and resilient, and there is much hard work still ahead." Which brings us to the latest in All The News That's Fit To Print... Read the rest over at Boing Boing.
The Assassination Complex: A Long-Overdue Window into America's Vast Killing Machine
Based on dramatic revelations from a post-Snowden whistleblower and written by Jeremy Scahill and other Intercept writers, The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Programprovides a long-overdue window into America's vast killing machine: who makes the decisions on who will be killed; how those decisions are made; how the strikes are carried out; most of all, in a thoughtful foreword by Edward Snowden and afterword by Glenn Greenwald, the implications for a democratic society of all this due-process-free, non-battlefield killing.
In addition to its substantive appeal, the book is beautifully laid out and includes numerous graphs, photographs, and text inserts that render some of the more complex aspects of the topic (such as the communications infrastructure and other logistics of drone strikes) easy to follow. The inserts on the Orwellian language of drone strikes were particularly good. Did you know the military laments the difficulty of killing far-away people as "the tyranny of distance"? It takes a special sensibility to refer to obstacles to killing people as a form of "tyranny," but those are your tax dollars at work. Also, when an intended target is killed, that's called a "jackpot," but when an unintended target is killed, that's called an "EKIA," or Enemy Killed in Action. So no matter who is killed, the government always wins. It's both amusing and dispiriting to consider that the people behind this "heads I win, tails you lose" nomenclature also probably roll their eyes at the notion of children getting a "participant" ribbon just for entering a competition, with no need to actually win anything. I'm a little surprised the book has received only four Amazon customer reviews since coming out ten days ago. I have a feeling the relative paucity might have something to do with Americans not wanting to know about the tyrannical powers our government has arrogated to itself and now exercises in secret, with no accountability or meaningful public debate. The attitude seems to be, "Do whatever you think you must to keep us safe; just don't tell us the disturbing details, lest we have to grapple with the legality, morality, and effectiveness of these far-reaching policies, and accept responsibility for them." There are a lot of things that might be said about such an attitude. "Consistent with the long-term health of a democracy" isn't one of them.
By the way, another bit of establishment publishing propaganda is the notion that the publisher is losing money until the author earns out. This bit of bullshit is intended to make authors feel guilty and beholden about their advances. But it isn’t true, and here’s a quick logic experiment to prove it:
Imagine a scenario in which the author receives a 99 percent royalty. The author would earn out her advance very quickly, right? But the publisher would make almost no money and remain in the red long after the earn-out.
Conversely, imagine a scenario in which the author receives a 1 percent royalty. The author would probably never earn out the advance, but the publisher would quickly recoup its investment and make bank after that.
And in fact, superstar authors typically receive advances so large they’re designed not to be earned out, but function instead as a de facto higher-than-normal digital royalty rate (the technique is a way of evading the digital royalty “most favored customer” clauses that are common in publishing contracts). And even though these huge advances never earn out, the publisher still makes money.
So while there might be some loose correlation between the author earning out and the publisher making money, the notion that they’re one and the same is false and misleading. Publishers typically start to make money on a book before the author earns out, and even if the author never earns out at all.
Last week, while on tour promoting The God's Eye View, it was a thrill and an honor to appearonDemocracy Now! and The Young Turks, two great shows that have had a huge influence on my political outlook. We talked about the Apple/FBI standoff; why abolishing the CIA isn't a radical position;why Clinton's rhetoric, votes, and policies qualify her as a Neocon; and why subsequent events so often prove my novels (depressingly) prescient.
There are a lot of terrific blogs out there on the world of writing, but Heart of the Matter isn't one of them. HOTM primarily covers politics, language as it influences politics, and politics as an exercise in branding and marketing, with the occasional post on some miscellaneous subject that catches my attention.
HOTM has a comments section. Sounds simple enough, but as even a cursory glance at the comments of most political blogs will show, many people would benefit from some guidelines. Here are a few I hope will help.
1. The most important guideline when it comes to argument is the golden rule. If someone were addressing your point, what tone, what overall approach would you find persuasive and want her to use? Whatever that is, do it yourself. If you find this simple guideline difficult, I'll explain it slightly differently in #2.
2. Argue for persuasion, not masturbation. If you follow the golden rule above, it's because you're trying to persuade someone. If you instead choose sarcasm and other insults, you can't be trying to persuade (have you ever seen someone's opinion changed by an insult?). If you're not trying to persuade, what you're doing instead is stroking yourself. Now, stroking yourself is fine in private, but I think we can all agree it's a pretty pathetic to do so in public. So unless you like to come across as pathetic, argue to persuade.
3. Compared to the two above, this is just commentary, but: no one cares about your opinion (or mine, for that matter). It would be awesome to be so impressive that we could sway people to our way of thinking just by declaiming our thoughts, but probably most of us lack such gravitas. Luckily, there's something even better: evidence, logic, and argument. Think about it: when was the last time someone persuaded you of the rightness of his opinion just by declaring what it was? Probably it was the same time someone changed your mind with an insult, right? And like insults, naked declarations of opinion, because they can't persuade, are fundamentally masturbatory. And masturbation, again, is not a very polite thing to do on a blog.
Argue with others the way you'd like them to argue with you. Argue with intent to persuade. Argue with evidence and logic. That shouldn't be so hard, should it? Let's give it a try.