The NSA Surveillance Dictionary

I meant to include this wry article in my previous post on surveillance, abuse of power, and abuse of language, but then I decided that it deserves its own post. Rather in the spirit of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, Philip Bump proposes that we bear in mind the NSA Surveillance Dictionary when trying to understand and write about surveillance. For example:

data (ˈdeɪtə): A lot of people unfamiliar with secrecy semantics use the term “data” to refer to a group of points of information. That is wrong.

Data is content. It is what is said in a communication. It is not information about the communication. That is metadata. Got it?

If not, please refer to the congressional testimony of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Asked by Senator Ron Wyden if the NSA “collect[s] any type of data at all” on Americans, Clapper responded no. Because, he said, he was thinking about the question only in terms of Wyden’s previous question, which dealt with how the NSA gathers emails and internet content on non-Americans. He wasn’t thinking about the metadata that the NSA collects on every phone call that takes place through every American phone provider — metadata which includes the phone numbers and length of the call. That isn’t data, it is metadata.

And therefore, by this definition, Clapper was hardly wrong at all.

Chu’s solar power regrets

Michael Giberson

From The Onion:

WASHINGTON—Sources have reported that following a long night of carousing at a series of D.C. watering holes, Energy Secretary Steven Chu awoke Thursday morning to find himself sleeping next to a giant solar panel he had met the previous evening. “Oh, Christ, what the hell did I do last night?” Chu is said to have muttered to himself while clutching his aching head and grimacing at the partially blanketed 18-square-foot photovoltaic solar module whose manufacturer he was reportedly unable to recall… According to sources, Chu’s encounter with the crystalline-silicon solar receptor was his most regrettable dalliance since 2009, when an extended fling with a 90-foot wind turbine nearly ended his marriage.

What, no Solyndra jokes?

Secretary Chu responded on Facebook:

I just want everyone to know that my decision not to serve a second term as Energy Secretary has absolutely nothing to do with the allegations made in this week’s edition of the Onion. While I’m not going to confirm or deny the charges specifically, I will say that clean, renewable solar power is a growing source of U.S. jobs and is becoming more and more affordable, so it’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.

Reading between the lines here, in particular, the claim “renewable solar power is a growing source of U.S. jobs,” I think we can conclude that the solar panel’s manufacturer has even more damning photos in a vault somewhere.

The Onion:

The Onion: “Hungover Energy Secretary Wakes Up Next To Solar Panel”

How does solar power work?

Michael Giberson

Many people are confused about how solar power works. Here is an illustrated explanation:

"I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me."


(HT to Nicole S. Thanks Nicole!)

On the U.S. President’s role in economic highs and lows

Michael Giberson

SMBC on the president and the economy:

[HT to Rick Weber for the heads up.]

Giberson calls for one-year moratorium on hospital admissions pending analysis of risks associated with nosocomial infection

Michael Giberson

I read recently that as many as 99,000 deaths per year in the United States are linked to nosocomial infection (also known as hospital-acquired infection).

I’m outraged, obviously, and relying on the precautionary principle I am calling for a minimum one-year moratorium on hospital admissions so the healthcare industry can bring an end to nosocomial-linked deaths and engage in further scientific study. Answers to the questions about the human and ecosystem health impacts involved will only come from scientific research.

The following statement is made available to news and media outlets:

“When it comes to hospital admissions,” Giberson said, “our guiding principle for public policy should be the same as the one used by physicians: ‘First, do no harm.’ There is a need for scientific and epidemiologic information on the health impacts of hospital admissions. Frankly, no one should admit even one more more patient before we have the scientific facts. There are health care needs in our communities that must be met safely. The reality is that the healthcare industry has not done nearly enough to finance the needed research effort.”

[Yes, I am mocking this announcement, see news story here. N.B., I’m not mocking their concerns for potential health issues, I’m mocking the idiotic recommendations. -MG]

Onion: fruit, vegetable, or economics rag?

Michael Giberson

What is the deal with Yahoo Answers? Someone asks whether an onion is a fruit or vegetable, and the voted “best answer” says “An onion is a bulb.” What?

Also, I’d be remiss in not sharing this:

Continued Existence Of Edible Arrangements Disproves Central Tenets Of Capitalism

WALLINGFORD, CT—Upending more than two centuries of free-market theory, leading economists across the globe announced Thursday that the fundamental principles of capitalism had been “irrefutably disproved” by the continued existence of the designer fruit-basket company Edible Arrangements.

According to experts, the Connecticut-based franchise, which arranges skewered pieces of fruit into displays vaguely resembling floral bouquets, has defied all modern economic models, expanding continuously for the past decade despite its complete lack of any discernible consumer appeal.

“In theory, the market should have done away with Edible Arrangements long ago,” said American Economic Association president Orley Ashenfelter, who added that one of the crucial assumptions of capitalism is the idea that businesses producing undesired goods or services will fail. “That’s how it’s supposed to work. Yet somehow, despite offering no product of any worth whatsoever, this company not only makes payroll every week, but also generates strong profits.”

“It’s mind-boggling,” Ashenfelter continued. “I honestly have never even heard the name Edible Arrangements mentioned in conversation before. Seriously, has anyone?”

Upon examining the so-called Edible Arrangements paradox, economists worldwide have abandoned many of the ideas that have dominated economic thought since the time of Adam Smith, arguing that the forces of supply and demand are powerless to explain the company’s 45-piece line of officially licensed NASCAR-themed fruit bouquets.

There’s more. Not not-from-the-Onion.

I was reluctant to dump Adam Smith et al. until the sentence about the “45-piece line of officially licensed NASCAR-themed fruit bouquets.” If true, then mind boggling.

(If you really want to know, click here, but trust me this is a red pill/blue pill moment. There is no going back and you may not want to know how deep the rabbit hole goes.)



Think globally, solve locally?

Michael Giberson

Among the casualties of yesterday’s rolling blackouts in the ERCOT power system was a Texas A&M University conference dedicated to helping solve global energy challenges.

Via the Texas A&M News and Information Service:

Texas A&M System Gearing Up To Help Solve Global Energy Challenges

COLLEGE STATION, Feb. 3, 2011—The Texas A&M University System is fine-tuning its game plan for playing a leading role in helping solve global energy challenges, with expert input provided by a host of authorities from both the private and public sectors.

Texas A&M’s lineup of researchers in a variety of fields—ranging from its high-ranked petroleum engineering department to an oceanographer who gained widespread attention for his environmental findings from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico—huddled with key representatives from such entities as the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Public Utility Commission, Texas Railroad Commission, the Argonne National Laboratory and ExxonMobil.

It all played out at the 2011 Energy Forum conducted by the Energy Engineering Institute. …

The 300 conference participants were blind-sided with an up-close and personal experience about dependability and reliance on energy—energy in the form of electricity and lighting. Just as the concluding luncheon for the forum was set to begin, College Station fell victim to the statewide “rolling blackout” prompted by the unusually cold weather and resulting high demand for energy. The result was an unintended candle-light luncheon.

Speaking with the help of a hastily rigged small lectern light, the luncheon speaker, Texas Railroad Commission Chair Elizabeth Ames Jones, recounted the history of oil in the Lone Star State and praised its ‘vibrant and healthy energy industry.”

… Ironically, the lights came back almost immediately after Jones concluded her remarks.

(I’ll have more about the ERCOT’s rolling blackouts tomorrow. -MG)