I have a brand new home.
I have a brand new home.
I had meant to hold this article until the new website was up, but we're having more technical problems than we anticipated, so I'm going to put this up here and now. My thanks to Guppie for his help in researching this. You can find the full text of the law in question here.
There's a lot to be said for the White House's latest tactic in the health care battle. Unfortunately, I gave up using most of those words years ago, so I'll have to limit myself to facts. The White House posting that started it all was supposedly about facts; ironically, it offered nothing in the way of facts, only reassurances that the President was not going to do all the horrible things that the evil Republicans were saying. Reassurances, and a chilling invitation to inform the White House of any
fishy health care reform information that might come up in
emails or through casual conversation.
Well, Mr. President, I have some facts to share in return. Starting with this gem: your administration's actions are blatantly illegal. Ladies, gentlemen, czars and czarinas, try to follow along as I demonstrate.
5 US Code §552a: Records maintained on individuals. This law was passed in 1974 as the Privacy Act, and it controls the government's gathering, storage, and analysis of info on individual citizens. It is meant to prevent any gathering or storage of information on citizens that is not absolutely necessary. No, Mr. President, falling poll numbers don't count as an emergency for the country. Now, let's dig a little, shall we?
Things are pretty dull for the first half of the Privacy Act, but they really start to get interesting around this point:
(e) Agency requirements
Each agency that maintains a system of records shall--
(1) maintain in its records only such information about an individual as is relevant and necessary to accomplish a purpose of the agency required to be accomplished by statute or by Executive order of the President;(emphasis added).
In order to even establish an information system of this kind, the organization (in this case the Executive Office of the President) must have a relevant objective set by law. According to the latest info from the White House, no such Executive Order has been issued. Nor has the President signed any law created by Congress directing and authorizing the collection of this information. Frankly, that's enough to shoot the whole thing down the crapper, but only if one cares for obeying the law. Well, further down the rabbit hole we go.
(3) inform each individual whom it asks to supply information, on the form which it uses to collect the information or on a separate form that can be retained by the individual--
(A) the authority (whether granted by statute, or by Executive order of the President) which authorizes the solicitation of the information and whether disclosure of such information is mandatory or voluntary;
Now I have to admit, this one is a bit of a cheap shot. Since the administration doesn't have the authority to collect the info, it obviously can't state
the authority [...] which authorizes the solicitation. Tough for them, because that still makes it even more illegal. The next lines dig a little deeper still:
(B) the principal purpose or purposes for which the information is intended to be used;
(C) the routine uses which may be made of the information, as published pursuant to paragraph (4)(D) of this subsection;
One of the creepiest things about this whole thing is that there is never any mention of what they will do with the information. Even if one trusted in the benevolence of government, there is still that curiousity,
Why do you want to know? And whether anyone is curious or not, the law is plain: they have to tell you.
I'm going to lump a couple things together now for brevity and clarity's sakes. On a similar note to the last, we find these:
(e)(4) subject to the provisions of paragraph (11) of this subsection, publish in the Federal Register upon establishment or revision a notice of the existence and character of the system of records
(r) Report on new systems and matching programs
Each agency that proposes to establish or make a significant change in a system of records or a matching program shall provide adequate advance notice of any such proposal (in duplicate) to the Committee on Government Operations of the House of Representatives, the Committee on Governmental Affairs of the Senate, and the Office of Management and Budget in order to permit an evaluation of the probable or potential effect of such proposal on the privacy or other rights of individuals.
I have checked the Federal Register myself - there is no sign of such a notice. I have no confirmation on whether or not reports were submitted to the House, Senate, and OMB, but given how quickly the situation escalated it seems unlikely that such deliberation would have had time to process.
Now we come to the tour de force, subsection (e)(7):
Each agency that maintains a system of records shall [...] maintain no record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment unless expressly authorized by statute or by the individual about whom the record is maintained or unless pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity;,p>The very core of the First Amendment is the right to openly disagree with your government - or anyone else for that matter. Speech is exactly what the administration plans to monitor and track (albeit clumsily), and that is very simply and clearly forbidden unless there is a clear law enforcement issue. The law is blessedly unambiguous on this point. The issue of law enforcement comes up again in two later parts, subsections (j) and (k). Each section states that an information system can be exempted from these constraints on certain grounds. Those grounds are primarily law enforcement-related, though exceptions for the physical safety of the President are also mentioned. Is the White House going to make a law enforcement issue out of this? I doubt it, given that they haven't bothered to go through any of the other legally-required channels. If they do make a law enforcement issue of it, it will likely have nothing to do with complying with the Privacy Act. Even if they did, the law still requires them to announce that it is being exempted. This is a blatant assault on the First Amendment, and an insult to the decency and intelligence of the American people. I leave you all, and especially you Mr. President, with this last quote:
(i)(1) Criminal penalties
Any officer or employee of an agency, who by virtue of his employment or official position, has possession of, or access to, agency records which contain individually identifiable information the disclosure of which is prohibited by this section or by rules or regulations established thereunder, and who knowing that disclosure of the specific material is so prohibited, willfully discloses the material in any manner to any person or agency not entitled to receive it, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000.
(2) Any officer or employee of any agency who willfully maintains a system of records without meeting the notice requirements of subsection (e)(4) of this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined not more than $5,000.
The law will out, one way or another. By hook or by crook, they take our liberty. By word or by rope, we take it back. Oyster out.
I stopped by Bill Whittle's corner of Pajamas Media today for the first time in months. I just finished my three month hiatus on news and politics, and I'm trying to ease myself back in without going crazy. He had some interesting things to say, about well-meaning tyrrany and the danger of continually doing for others what they can do for themselves. Then he said some things that hit me like a fencepost to the head:
The Book of Matthew it says that not a sparrow falls without God knowing it. For most of my adult life I’ve believed that all that we see is all that there is: just bone and skin and feathers. I believe absolutely that little Howie’s perfect form is the result of millions of years of evolution and natural selection… in fact, millions of years ago, Howie’s ancestors were three times my height and mine were about his size. Bottom rail on top now, huh Howie? [...] Howie’s brain – charitably – is about the size of a pea. Mine’s about the size of a cantaloupe. [...] But if there’s that much difference between a pea and a cantaloupe, how is it that I once believed that there is nothing beyond the perception of a cantaloupe made of grey jelly?
That right there took me aback. You see, I've known Bill Whittle for a few years now (only through reading him, I don't move in such prestigious circles yet) as a passionate moral atheist. He believes in doing the right thing because it is the right thing, because we are happier and more successful when we are free and kind and cooperative. He quoted a few times Carl Sagan's invisible dragon argument about the non-existence of the supernatural. I still loved what he had to say, in part because he never had the vicious attitude of the "evangelical atheists" as I call them that I often encounter in libertarian circles. He has always been happy to live how he wishes and let others do what they wish even while telling them they were probably wrong.
But this? This is different. He's seen something to change his perception. I haven't gone back to catch up, to see if this is the first sign or one of many that I missed over the last three months. But he continues:
The distance between Howie and me – between the pea and the cantaloupe – may not be much less than the distance between myself and a greater being who’s perceptions and powers are as far beyond me as mine are beyond Howie’s, and who may in fact note the fall of every sparrow. And if he does, I hope he takes special note of this one. I hope he will lift him – and all of us, too – up and out of the four dimensions of space and time the way I first lifted Howie out of his broken nest, and for the same unlikely reason that this hairless primate cares for this little bird: because he can.
That is a beautiful sentiment from anyone. It is all the more poignant because it was unexpected. God is great, trite as that sounds, and I am grateful that He forgets no one. Praise God because He does not forget us, even when we forget or even ignore Him. Because He loves all His creations, and His children most of all. Because He will stretch His hand out all the day long, waiting for us to accept it. Praise God because we can always come home. Even when we didn't know we had left.
I've been reading Nassim Taleb's Black Swan lately, and slowly beginning to wrap my head around its implications. Black Swan explores the impact of unlikely and unexpected events, which he refers to as (surprise!) Black Swans, and the foibles of human nature and physiology that make us so vulnerable to them. That's actually a gross oversimplification, but despite the complexity of its subject the book is easy to read and superficially easy to understand. That is, it is easy to understand the concepts; it is not so easy to comprehend all the implications of those concepts and perspectives. There are two parts to the world, Taleb explains, Mediocristan and Extremistan. These are not geographic locations, nor are they philisophical positions. They are a metaphorical division of the events and activities of life. Things that are inherently predictable are in Mediocristan. He applies it especially to careers. Jobs in Mediocristan would be things like mechanics, accountants, grocery store clerks, people who have a predictable income based on a predicted amount of work. There are actually few events in Mediocristan now. As our world as become more complex (not to mention faster) most things function in ways we can't really anticipate, making up Extremistan.
I won't try to recreate the whole book here, you can read it yourself. It's worth the time and then some. Here's what I want to get to: the arts have usually fallen into Extremistan. Public opinion is not predictable, though there are an awful lot of people who have fooled themselves into thinking that they can and fooled others into paying them to do so. For a long time the artistic professions had a few winners and hordes of losers. Not because the losers didn't work hard, or because they weren't talented, or produced poor quality, though of course many of them fit some or all of those descriptions. There are and were people who produce good work and don't make it, don't break out and become stars. That's part of why I decided years ago against a music career. I had talent and drive and connections, but I didn't want either end of the existing, narrow spectrum: I didn't want to be a superstar, and I didn't want to starve. When I was in high school, those were the only visible options, and they didn't appeal. So I relegated music to a hobby and went of to learn how to make a living.
Enter a flock of Black Swans. First was the power of the Internet. No one saw it coming, but it has obviously revolutionized the way we interact with the world and one another. Most obviously because you're reading this right now! We're still discovering the potential and implications of the Internet after years of using it. It continues to grow and evolve, spawning other Black Swans. One of these has been the impact on the mainstream music industry. The titans are falling, and its not a dozen Olympians but a swarm of tiny gods who step up to take their place. The filesharing issue is mostly dead, and the pirates are mostly fallen. But before they fell, they lasted just long enough to show the world that the big businesses weren't impregnable. They were vulnerable and prone to panic. They looked weak. That set off the slow but inevitable decline of the major labels. The synthesized superstars of the last couple of decades are fading fast, each one lasting less time than the one before. The public can go online and get whatever they want now, why would they swallow crap being force-fed to them by the labels? Try the Lefsetz Letter if you want an up close view of that process in action. That's where I first began to catalyze these ideas. The superstars are gone. The last real superstar, I think, just gave up the ghost this week. Their era is over. No one is going to take their place, I think. The age of stars is done, the age of musicians is just beginning. The old channels don't work anymore, but that's a good thing. We are headed for a level field, and that brings me to my point. Music is moving from Extremistan to Mediocristan. It's not an all or nothing game any more. The transition isn't done, but I think it's mostly inevitable at this point, unless there's some other Black Swan revolution in the mean time. The labels are still oblivious, fighting to keep this Black Swan from happening, but it's too late.
All this gives me hope, because at the same time I was figuring all this out, I was beginning the thrilling and painful process of unearthing my own music. It's been a long time since I focused on music, and many of my skills are rusty. I'm a long way from my 10,000 hours. But I'm on the horse, because I see a revolution on the edge of town (much closer than the horizon) and I want to ride it. I want to take the opportunity to make music I love that would never have gotten anywhere in the old paradigm. To take folk and rock and electronica, run them through a blender and see what comes out. To create something and have people hear it. It can happen now in ways I never dreamed just a few years ago. So, what are you going to make of the new world?
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Robert A. Heinlein.
I have been giving a good deal of thought lately to manliness, what is means to be a man, particularly what it means to be a strong Christian man, and what my proper role and demeanor as the head of my family should be. Heinlein's quote deals mostly with the practical rather than the philisophical aspects of manhood, but they reflect an underlying understanding of a man being diligent and able in whatever might be entrusted to him. Food for thought, fraters. Food for thought indeed. Oyster out.
"Human beings don't breed well in captivity."