Raised by wolves

Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett is back, reinstated, in C. J. Box’s latest thriller

CJBoxWolfPack

This one’s a breakneck thriller; a week of non-stop action that catches up Joe and nearly everyone around him.

C. J. Box is one of the few best-selling authors who is skeptical about overreach by the Federal authorities.  In a conversation between a game warden and two FBI agents, we get this

“Are you threatening me?” she [the game warden] asked.  She said it calmly but it felt like shout.

“We don’t threaten,” Pollock [an FBI agent] said. “We don’t need to.”

“We’re the FBI,” Sandburg said unnecessarily.

….

He said, “If you lie to us about anything, we can put you in federal prison.”

Pollock grinned.  He said, “have you heard of Martha Stewart? Scooter Libby?  Bernie Madoff?  Michael Flynn? All of them went down for lying to FBI agents.”

“You didn’t even take notes…”

“We don’t have to,” Sandburg said. “We heard you, If need be, we’ll write up what’s known as an FD-302.  What is that, you ask?  An FD-302 is a form that summarizes our conversation here and what our impression are of this exchange We’ll write up the fact that you lied to us.  The 302 will be the basis when we testify in court that you willfully withheld information from us that was easily verifiable.”

Box gets in another dig a bit later in the story

“Right now, as we speak,” she [a senior FBI official] continued, “the Department of Justice has indicted four of five Sinaloan-affiliated gangsters…It’s imperative you realize where we’re coming from and why we place such importance on the issue.”

Reed [the local sheriff] sniffed and said, “And here I thought you guys in DC spent all your time rigging presidential elections.”

Lots of good guys, bad guys, assholes, and really, really bad guys.  I don’t do spoilers, but some folks get just what they deserve.

 

Advertisements

The War Against Big Brother

Today I begin a series of posts of observations and comments about what I call cyber fascism, the harnessing of ubiquitous information technology to impose political, commercial, and social control over much of the developed and developing world.

My first real inkling of the enormity of our situation came as I prepared material for a course I teach in statistical methods, where we discuss the ethics of experiments with human subjects, informed consent, and data protection and privacy.  I quickly learned that despite well-intentioned efforts like The Belmont Report or the ASA’s Ethical Guidelines, the world of data privacy is pretty much the Wild West, rife with confidence men, bandits, snake-oil dealers, and robber barons.  But this was just the tip of the iceberg; privacy encroachments linked to a worldwide cultural affliction.  Witness

  • the Chinese “social credit” system
  • viral “outrage mobs” on Twitter
  • tabloid “tell all” behavior and cyber-bullying on Facebook
  • creepy “recommendation systems” on Amazon
  • third party data mining of user data from Google and Facebook
  • Google’s evolution of “sucker lists” into “behavioral prediction markets”
  • and more…

All of these are manifestations of small groups (I hesitate to use the term “elites”) to exploit and control societies for their own purposes, without concern for the privacy or welfare of the individual.

My current reading and “go to” resource is Shoshanna Zuboff’s startling new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism  (good recommendation from Fortune‘s Robert Hackett here).

ZuboffBook

Zuboff  focuses on one aspect of cyberfascism, the industrial exploitation of personal data in market economies (with Google the primary mover).  As Hackett notes, the phenomenon is much larger than this, and raises the spectre of a new totalitarianism around the world.

I’m certainly not the first to see this situation. Like a fish, I spent most of my life unaware of the water.  But the water has changed, and now it wants to change ME.  It’s time to sound the alarm.

After all, whether the state captures industry, or industry captures the state, don’t they all become fascists in the end?

Larry the Barbarian

Over at Monster Hunter Nation, Larry Correia puts us hip to a delightful and creative approach to F&SF book covers: incorporating the author as a cover character.  This one of L.C. and wife rocks it:

LarryTheBarbarianIf you’re not tuned into Larry’s worldview, you can get the 2-minute summary by clicking to the adjacent blog entry “Hoon for America: Manatee Party Stickers Now Available.”  And I concur: get off my lawn. Except you kids, you keep the porch pirates and daytime burglars away.

His Last Bow

The late Michael Crichton was a colossus among popular novelists, and spun off movies as quick as I make wisecracks:  The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Jurassic Park, etc.  He was also an insightful social commentator, with observations like his Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect.

Turns out he left a literary lagniappe in his papers, the historical western novel Dragon Teeth.  (Read the review for a skeptical take on posthumous novels.)

DragonTeeth

The Introduction:

As he appears in an early photograph, William Johnson is a handsome young man with a crooked smile and a naive grin.  A study in slouching indifference, he lounges against a Gothic building.  He is a tall fellow, but his height appears irrelevant to his presentation of himself.  The photograph is dated “New Haven, 1875,” and was apparently taken after he had left home to begin studies as an undergraduate at Yale College.

A later photograph, marked “Cheyenne, Wyoming, 1876,” shows Johnson quite differently.  His mouth is framed by a full mustache; his body is harder and enlarged by use; his jaw is set; he stands confidently with shoulders squared and feet wide–and ankle-deep in mud.  Clearly visible is a peculiar scar on his upper lip, which in later years he claimed was the result of an Indian attack.

It only gets better, as our hero gets embroiled in the famous Cope-Marsh dinosaur rivalry in a truly Wild West.   I found this one on the Barnes and Noble discount table, hardback cheaper than paperback.  Read it!

 

Mrs Sherlock Holmes

Was the nickname given lawyer-detective Grace Humiston when she became prominent in New York’s 1917 Ruth Cruger murder case.  The fascinating story is told in Brad Ricca’s biography Mrs Sherlock Holmes, which is as gripping and surprising as any great detective novel.

MrsSherlockHolmes

In an interesting episode, the wife of  suspected murderer Alfredo Cocchi is being questioned

Wallstein kept his questions focused on the police activities in the case. … She [Maria Cocchi] silently stuck out her hand and produced a white card.  Wallstein took it and turned it over.  It read:

Take care of Alfredo Cocchi.  He’s O. K.  BILLY EYNON

When Wallstein read the tiny card out loud, the crowd nodded and the reporters wrote. Everyone knew that Billy Eynon was an active motorcycle cop.  Wallstein was very familiar with these types of cards, though he wished that he were not.  The holder of the card could show it to any motorcycle squad member who had pulled him over for speeding and walk away without a ticket.   (p. 221)

Sketchy stuff.  What’s more, 103 years later, the NYPD Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association is still handing out cards like this.  Better yet, you, too, can get one on EBay!

Seven Pillars

Wisdom hath built her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.  –Proverbs 9:1

I just finished Stephen Stigler’s The Seven Pillars of Statistical Wisdom, and I’m daunted–and embarrassed that I waited so long to read it.  Stigler gives us a structure and taxonomy to statistical thinking* that gives us the “big picture” of statistics.

StiglerSevenPillars

Quite a difference from the descriptives-to-inference-to-models approach that most textbook authors follow.  This is making me rethink how I approach my introductory courses, especially those for statistics majors.  I’m starting with a baby step: adding the (inexpensive, paperbound) book as a required reading in my statistical research methods class.

*the 7 pillars: aggregation, information, likelihood, intercomparison, regression, design, and residual (and that’s just the table of contents!)