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Notions: The Shutdown

Notions is a weekly column that delves into what did, what should, what could, or what needs to happen in the world of technology and pop culture.


Notions will return next week, when half of the American Government stops acting like a petulant child.

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Mapped: The 7 Governments the U.S. Has Overthrown

By J. Dana Stutser, Foreign Policy

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 6.04.55 PMJ. Dana Stutser breaks down the confirmed U.S.-backed coups that led to the removal and replacement of governments in seven countries.

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“I Am Sorry That It Has Come to This”: A Soldier’s Last Words

Daniel Somers, Gawker

The fact is, for as long as I can remember my motivation for getting up every day has been so that you would not have to bury me. As things have continued to get worse, it has become clear that this alone is not a sufficient reason to carry on. The fact is, I am not getting better, I am not going to get better, and I will most certainly deteriorate further as time goes on. From a logical standpoint, it is better to simply end things quickly and let any repercussions from that play out in the short term than to drag things out into the long term.

A heart-wrenching letter from a soldier to his family, written shortly before he took his own life. This needs to serve as a major wake-up call to our governments that we are not doing enough to help those who suffer from mental illnesses. Nobody should ever have to feel this way.

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The Prism

Jill Lepore, New Yorker

Questions raised this month about surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency have been met, so far, with much the same response that Duncombe got from Graham in 1844: the program is classified. (This, a secret secret, is known as a double secret.) Luckily, old secrets aren’t secret; old secrets are history. The Mazzini affair, as the historian David Vincent argued in “The Culture of Secrecy,” led to “the first modern attack on official secrecy.”

In the wake of the recently unveiled NSA scandal, Jill Lepore contrasts our current situation with 1844, when the British government was accused of opening people’s mail.

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When Power Corrupts

“I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs. My team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards. But my assessment, and my team’s assessment, was that they helped us prevent terrorist attacks. And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and without looking at content — that on net, was worth us doing. Some other folks may have a different assessment of that.

But I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy, and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society. What I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity.”

That was President Obama, speaking on the data-mining and surveillance program PRISM, the homo erectus stage in the evolution of our loss of privacy. Much has been said about PRISM, its legality, and its effect on privacy and our country over the last few days. More information will be made known to the public by some exceptional journalists over the next few weeks and months. But there is a much larger, underlying issue with PRISM and programs like it that can’t be solved by great journalism or whistleblowers, and that is the undiluted power that corrupts so many of our elected officials.

Continue reading

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U.S. mining data from 9 leading Internet firms; companies deny knowledge

Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, Washington Post

The program, code-named PRISM, has not been made public until now. It may be the first of its kind. The NSA prides itself on stealing secrets and breaking codes, and it is accustomed to corporate partnerships that help it divert data traffic or sidestep barriers. But there has never been a Google or Facebook before, and it is unlikely that there are richer troves of valuable intelligence than the ones in Silicon Valley.

Canada is looking more and more appealing every day.

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The $2.7 Trillion Medical Bill

Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times

Americans pay, on average, about four times as much for a hip replacement as patients in Switzerland or France and more than three times as much for a Caesarean section as those in New Zealand or Britain. The average price for Nasonex, a common nasal spray for allergies, is $108 in the United States compared with $21 in Spain. The costs of hospital stays here are about triple those in other developed countries, even though they last no longer, according to a recent report by the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that studies health policy.

And yet, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, has been brought up for repeal votes 37 times by House Republicans.

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SOPA: A Word of Warning to Congress

Article first published as SOPA: A Word of Warning to Congress on Technorati.

Congress, you are playing with fire.

You are trying to control something — that you don’t even understand — that should not be controlled by any government.

You are attempting to pass a bill that will accomplish something that only you have been able to do — unite Democrats and Republicans against your asinine behavior.

Not to mention you are overlooking what could be your biggest mistake in attempting to pass this law — forgetting about your ‘Anonymous’ friends, who, when I spoke to them were not very happy about your recent endeavours.

Any bill that is compared to censorship laws in China and Iran, should not even be considered.

I won’t knock the concept, it is correct, people should not pirate movies and music, but the way you are attempting to fix it, will cause far more damage than the made-up $100 billion in losses the economy takes from IP theft — which is impossible to calculate.

The very people (or funders in the case of SOPA creator Lamar Smith, who has been getting consistent donations from tv/film/music industry over the last ten years) you are trying to protect — companies like Sony and Universal — have been caught pirating movies.

And if you think this bill will stop The Pirate Bay, your sadly mistaken. Congress has this amazing ability to overestimate its power. This isn’t something that you can just pepper spray. Oops.

Go back, learn about the Internet and how it works, and do something that you don’t normally do — think with your head, not with your pocket, and create a bill that won’t make Occupy more than just a nuisance.