Open Thread: Snowden and the Unasked Questions

There’s a sub-branch of linguistics where the experts search for the words that don’t exist in a particular language — sometimes because certain subjects are considered too dangerous to speak of directly. From the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog, “New study: Snowden’s disclosures about NSA spying had a scary effect on free speech”:

.[I]t’s difficult to judge the effect of government-spying programs. How do you collect all the utterances that people stopped themselves from saying? How do you count all the conversations that weren’t had?

A new study provides some insight into the repercussions of the Snowden revelations, arguing that they happened so swiftly and were so high-profile that they triggered a measurable shift in the way people used the Internet.

Jonathon Penney, a PhD candidate at Oxford, analyzed Wikipedia traffic in the months before and after the NSA’s spying became big news in 2013. Penney found a 20 percent decline in page views on Wikipedia articles related to terrorism, including those that mentioned “al-Qaeda,” “car bomb” or “Taliban.”

“You want to have informed citizens,” Penney said. “If people are spooked or deterred from learning about important policy matters like terrorism and national security, this is a real threat to proper democratic debate.”

Even though the NSA was supposed to target only foreigners, the immense scale of its operations caused many to worry that innocent Americans were getting caught in the dragnet. A Pew survey in 2015 showed that about 40 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that the government was spying on their online activities.

The same survey showed that about 87 percent of American adults were aware of the Snowden news stories. Of those people, about a third said they had changed their Internet or phone habits as a result. For instance, 13 percent said they “avoided using certain terms” online; and 14 percent said they were having more conversations face to face instead of over the phone. The sudden, new knowledge about the surveillance programs had increased their concerns about their privacy.

Penney’s research, which is forthcoming in the Berkeley Technology Law Journal, echoes the results of a similar study conducted last year on Google Search data. Alex Marthews, a privacy activist, and Catherine Tucker, a professor at MIT’s business school, found that Google activity for certain keywords fell after the Snowden stories were splashed on every front page. Both in the United States and in other countries, people became reluctant to search for terrorism-related words such as “dirty bomb” or “pandemic.”…

The Wikipedia data suggest that the Snowden revelations had a noticeable impact on people’s Wikipedia behaviors, says Penney. “I expected to find an immediate drop-off in June, and then people would slowly realize that nobody is going to jail for viewing Wikipedia articles, and the traffic would go back up,” he said. “I was surprised to see what looks to be a longer-term impact from the revelations.”…

Of course people will find a way around the Forbidden Terms — people always do, whether it’s Siberian nomads referring to Grandfather (Bear) or devout Jews not speaking the name of their god — but wasn’t there a time when “Watch what you say, watch what you do” was righteously mocked as un-American?



Yet another Tuesday primary results thread

Be excellent to each other as the primary results come in tonight.



Late Night Long Read: “At Sea with America’s Largest Floating Gathering of Conspiracy Theorists”

Jezebel‘s Anna Merlan, “Sail (Far) Away”:

… [Sean David] Morton is a radio host, among other things. Here he was one of the lead organizers of Conspira Sea, the first annual sea cruise for conspiracy theorists. While the ship looped from San Pedro to Cabo San Lucas and back, some 100 of its passengers and I would be focused on uncharted waters, where nothing is as it seems. Before we docked again, two of them would end up following me around the ship, convinced I was a CIA plant.

Elsewhere aboard, people’s vacations were already exuberantly underway, the cigarette-browned casino bustling. Those of us in the conspiracy group were crammed into a dim, red-carpeted conference room in the bowels of Deck 6 to hear Morton, a Humpty Dumpty-shaped man with a chinstrap beard and an enormous, winking green ring, explain our mission.

“Conspiracy theorists are always right,” Morton told the room. He spoke with the jokey cadence and booming delivery of his profession; he’s basically Rush Limbaugh, if Rush Limbaugh claimed to have psychic powers (Morton practices a form of ESP known as “remote viewing,” which he says he learned from Nepalese monks). It was a bit of a pander, since the room was filled with conspiracy theorists.

“In 40 years,” Morton added, “as many people will believe a bunch of Arabs knocked down the World Trade Center as will believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.” A lot of people nod…

There was Helen Sewell, a British astrologer, and her husband Andy Thomas, a conspiracy researcher. There was Jeffrey Smith, an anti-GMO activist with no scientific credentials and a previous career in “yogic flying.” There were Sherri Kane and Leonard Horowitz, a team in both research and life, who were there to tell us how the media and the CIA control the gullible populace.

There was Laura Eisenhower, the great-granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a fact that sometimes would seem significant and sometimes would not. She explained she was there to show us how to get beyond “the seven chakra system that’s been implanted within us,” and a bunch of other similar phrases I found hard to follow. There was Nick Begich, the son of the late Alaska congressman John Nicholas Joseph Begich, a low-key, sweet-natured guy who believes the government is controlling both the weather and people’s minds with the use of a research program called HAARP.

Near Begich was Winston Shrout, who runs a staid-sounding financial advice company called Solutions in Commerce, dedicated to the idea that the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve have us all literally enslaved. A few seats down was Dannion Brinkley, who’s from South Carolina, and who has died and been to Heaven three times. Death, he told us, is not, in fact, real.

Most notably, there was Andrew Wakefield, the British gastroenterologist who authored the now-infamous 1998 study that suggested there might be a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Jenny McCarthy was breathed into being because of Andrew Wakefield…

Spoiler: These people are (at best) generally unhappy, not to mention very lightly hinged. But, as Douglas Adams would say, mostly harmless.”



Workplace safety and worker rights at all workplaces

Just saw two interesting articles on labor safety and organization.

In Florida:

Alexa Rohlsen says she danced at a strip club to pay her way through cosmetology school, but these days, it’s been a struggle….

When she injured herself falling off the stripper pole, she had no insurance and so she was on her own when she had to go to the hospital.

In Great Britain:

The production company behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens is being prosecuted over the incident in which Harrison Ford broke his leg….A spokesperson added: “By law, employers must take reasonable steps to protect workers – this is as true on a film set as a factory floor.”

Work is work, and people should be able to work safely in all jobs.



Late Night Open Thread: Meanwhile, at the Malheur Loon Refuge…

The Oregonian, just after 11pm EST:

The ragtag remnants of the armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge started to give up their ground Wednesday after calls from supporters, Congress members and even their arrested leader to abandon the 26-day takeover.

Confusion reigned at the windswept bird sanctuary that has served as the hub of an anti-government protest that captivated the country 30 miles outside this high desert town…

Jason Patrick, a former roofer from Georgia, had stepped in to organize the estimated 10 or so people who remained at the federal reserve after the arrest the day before of leaders Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne and the killing of occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum…

Patrick said people in the compound met overnight to vote on whether to abandon the refuge or stay, and the majority voted to stay. He spent time on the phone with “Chris,” the negotiator who had spoken with Bundy, and insisted the “redress of grievance” that the occupiers had submitted must be addressed.

But Patrick was among those who apparently were on their way out Wednesday evening, supporters said. His departure couldn’t be independently confirmed. He didn’t answer calls to his cellphone…

More details (and probably updates) at the link.

Previously… Read more



Balloon Juice Survival Bunker Standoff Watch: Day 1 (Updated at 12:45 AM)

I know Anne Laurie is working up a new post from checking the dashboard, but since we’ve got two aging posts and breaking news, this’ll do for both an open thread and a discussion of ongoing events until she finishes and hits publish.

Ammon Bundy, his brother Ryan, another unnamed Bundy brother, Ryan Payne, and a number of other militia folks have now occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters buildings. The Bundys have stated that they are prepared to stay there for years and that they are prepared to use violence if any attempt is made to remove them. So we now have breaking and entering into a Federal facility, criminal trespass, and terroristic threats. (h/t Paul W and Kelly in comments).

Here’s the link to Oregon Live’s update. They’ve just updated at 9:15 PM local time with the following statement from the local sheriff:

Statement from Harney County Sheriff Dave Ward: ‘After the peaceful rally was completed today, a group of outside militants drove to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, where they seized and occupied the refuge headquarters. A collective effort from multiple agencies is currently working on a solution. For the time being please stay away from that area. More information will be provided as it becomes available. Please maintain a peaceful and united front and allow us to work through this situation.'”

Here’s the link to what the Feds had to say about what the Hammonds were actually accused, tried, and convicted of.

Here’s John Ritzheimer’s Youtube video (h/t LGF commenter Backwoods Sleuth):



Speaking of Children Killed With No Accountability

senseless

Every time we drop a bomb or launch a drone strike to achieve our big win in the war on terror du jour, we create more terrorists and lose our way as a nation just a bit more:

A group of Pakistani artists are hoping to generate “empathy” among US drone operators by placing giant posters of children meant to be seen from the air in the country’s troubled tribal regions.

The project, titled #NotABugSplat, has released a photograph, itself taken from the air with the use of a mini-helicopter drone, of a poster laid out in a field that shows the face of a girl who lost both her parents in one of the controversial strikes in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

“Bug splat” is said to be a term used by drone pilots based in the US to refer to how victims look when seen through video cameras.

“We tried to replicate as much as we could what a camera from above will see looking down,” said one of the artists of the collective, who did not wish to be named individually.

“You will see how tiny people are and they look like little bugs, we wanted to highlight the distance between what a human being looks like when they are just a little dot versus a big face.

“One hope is that it will create some empathy and introspection.”

And these kids weren’t even in a park with a toy gun, which would make them an actual legitimate target for use of force.