Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Hastings and Snowden

The problem with the "surveillance state," a term Michael Hastings used, and one in which, given the current NSA scandal, is that even if Michael Hastings' premature death wasn't a conspiracy, and I don't think it's absurd to use the term when discussing the FBI or CIA, if you know the history of these organizations (Chile, anyone?), you're liable to wonder if it was. I mean, when we have to really stop and contemplate whether or not our government secretly murders an American citizen while he's driving, we are in a bad way! It's like being in a relationship where you suspect your partner is cheating. If you don't trust your parter, you probably shouldn't be dating him/her. (Advice for all the girls asking, "Should I leave him?") However, our relationship with our government is not as easy to break - to say the least.

I don't know if he was assassinated or not. We know he stated shortly before his death in an email that the FBI was investigating him, though they have recently denied so doing. (Read more about the conspiracy theory here. Also, please note, conspiracies do happen. Read the email here.) I don't think the FBI, for instance, is beyond killing American citizens without a trail. (Our government has done that a number of times using drones.)  A more obvious assassination is likely the shooting of the Chechen immigrant linked to one of the Boston bombing suspects on May 22. (Law enforcement officials revealed the suspect was unarmed and the victim's father makes a great point that "there was no reason a handful of trained officers could not subdue a lone young man without killing him," cited from here. But don't worry, the FBI is investigating the FBI.)

But that's not the point. The point is it's difficult today not to be fearful and/or suspecting of the government if you are a reporter or just a regular person, knowing they have your whole life essentially recorded and all it takes is for you to (knowingly or unknowingly) piss off the wrong person who has access to your "book" in the "library" of data the NSA collects from everyone. Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, made a brilliant point in his Hong Kong interview. It's an opinion I've shared for quite some time. To paraphrase, it does not matter whether or not you have done or will do anything wrong. The people who say "I have nothing to hide" do not understand the power of the government with regards to this "library." Everyone has something to hide. It's called being human. Even if we don't do anything wrong, there are some things that we, nevertheless, don't want everyone to know. That's why we all (OK, most) take a shit with the door closed. And say you're Jesus and haven't done anything wrong. It is not difficult to imagine how a false narrative may be created. It is not difficult to, say, make you out into a racist because of some stupid joke years ago or make you look like you're cheating on your significant other by having a phone call or email to a past lover or current friend taken out of context.

This deception can be used against whistleblowers, journalists, or even political opponents. If there are no checks and balances to this immense power, then, since power is corrupting, it is very likely, I'd say absolutely certain, it will happen. (Obama, and others, have stated that a warrant is necessary for the NSA to access a specific person's "book," his/her life online. However, in 33 years, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has denied only 11 surveillance requests of 33,900. (Read more about this here.) More simply, there is no check to the NSA's power! That is what should scare you shitless. If it doesn't, I'm afraid you don't understand. That is not to say that we should live in fear, only that we can't help it.

The reason why Hastings and Snowden did what they did, oppose who they felt were tyrants, their own government, is that they wanted to encourage public discourse; "the public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong," Snowden stated. Everyone would have to agree, I would think, that it's hard to decide whether or not you agree with what your government is doing (regarding your privacy or killing Americans or unidentified people abroad, say) if you don't know.

So I think to show support to and solidarity with these brave men, your job is to talk and think and when you have something to say, say it. And, lawfully, "stand up and fight to change things."

Friday, June 21, 2013

What/How I Read, 3.0

Welcome to the third installment of What/How I Read! As stated in previous posts, I don't like to read one thing at a time but rather read multiple books (e-books, book books, fiction, non-fiction, etc) according to categories. These categories, the number of them, and how many books I read per category are always subject to change, either because I've discovered a better way (hopefully) or life circumstances have changed and changing my reading habits has become necessary.

You can compare my first and second reading posts to see how I have evolved, transhuman in the making!

Literary Fiction: Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki

I nice book so far. Very simple, direct language. I'm a fan of Japanese lit, Japanese culture/history/language really.

Genre Fiction: I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

Not as good as I'd hoped. But written a very long time ago. I consider this research for something I'm thinking of writing.

Philosophy/Science: The Singularity Is Near by Raymond Kurzweil (a long book!)

Endlessly fascinating, though I'm starting to doubt Kurzweil, as brilliant as he is, is sane.

Self-Help: How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Self-help books have improved the quality of my life. I am a fan! This one is as practical as you can get. It's about making decisions - that's all life is really about!

Other: Bible by ? (a long book! I stopped reading this for some time but now plan on finishing it)

A little boring.

Then there's biweekly readings. These are in addition to the weekly reading above; and they alternate so that every week I'm reading from one of the two lists:

Week 1:

  • My Read Later folder on Instapaper
  • A read later pile I have of magazines, handouts, etc

Week 2:

  • Google News articles
  • An alternating choice between: digital subscriptions and short anthologies
  • A few pages from a writing book; currently reading: The Craft & Business of Writing edited by Lauren Mosko

As you can tell, I'm still reading some books even from a couple of years ago. From these, I've been reading a few pages at a time.

You can also check out my Goodreads page and friend!

Friday, June 14, 2013

On "Experiencing" Murakami's Norwegian Wood

WARNING: SPOILERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Murakami has stated in an interview, sorry can't remember where and am paraphrasing, that he can't relate to people who only read books, not experience them. Fitting, because this is how I felt reading Norwegian Wood (2000; the translation since I can't, yet, read Japanese).

I think the first person narrative, which Murakami is proficient in, helps the novel be more immersive, for obvious reasons, as opposed to third person. But really I struggle to articulate why NW was more an experience than a read.

Certainly, the characters are all realistic, interesting, and quirky: Toru, Naoko, Midori, Nagasawa, Hitsume, and, especially at the end, Reiko. (Kizuki isn't really developed for an obvious reason - he dies in the beginning.) My favs: Midori (as a reader), Naoko (as a writer).

I really wanted Toru to be with Naoko in the end. Apparently, according to this Paris Review interview, I'm in the minority. Toru was in love with Naoko, and while he later falls for Midori (he "chooses Midori," as Murakami states in the interview), honestly, I don't buy it - in the sense that I don't think his feelings are equal with those he felt for Naoko, which he displays and explicitly describes throughout the novel. Midori is nice (sensual, outgoing - really all that Naoko isn't), but Naoko is who Toru fell hard for and for whom he obsesses over. (Let's also not forget that Toru could easily masturbate thinking about Naoko but could not when thinking about Midori.)

But I think also the focus on human relationships and concerns (death, friendship, love) helped me experience the novel.

On the negative side, I think Toru, especially when interacting with others, is too passive, not showing much, if any, emotion. I found myself often surprised when he showed an emotion or preference when talking with others because I wasn't getting that sense at all from him.

Most memorably, and most symptomatic of experiencing the novel, I found myself crying in bed thinking about Naoko's death, the helplessness of Toru. Poor Naoko suffers for the entire book, trying to heal, trying to love, and then Toru falls for someone else and she kills herself, never to be "violated" again. I felt horrible, really. And that's when I realized I was taking this book way too seriously.

Definitely a great book, gave it five stars on Goodreads for the straightforward writing, human concerns, great characters, and one very sad experience. In fact, I'm not sure if I forgive Murakami yet for killing that poor girl Naoko.

Favorite quotes from the book:

"I want you always to remember me. Will you remember that I existed, and that I stood next to you here like this?"

"Don't feel sorry for yourself. Only assholes do that."

"'How much do you love me?' / 'Enough to melt all the tigers in the world to butter.'"

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Poem: 26 / You Exist

26 / You Exist

I confess
you exist
I don’t always let you know
I’d like to forget
you smoke
I breathe
you chase
I live
we’re meant to be
you decide
when I’ve served my time
you can
you know
I can’t
fight back
treat you
like you
don’t matter
detain you
enforce my will
for a change
take you away
like you do
too many
I wish I could
teach you
make you
you were never really here