This week – last week

peace in paris

This week I’m reading about the attack on Paris. I don’t need to tell you about it. The media is full of front-line news on continual loop. It’s got that feel of 9/11 about it, but closer to home.

Last week I was reading Reportage, Cemetery of Lost Souls, photographer Giles Duley on the Greek Island of Lesbos, where many refugees end up on the beach. Some die, as the image of the Syrian boy that went global show. Perhaps it softened Western European perceptions of refugees a little, and for a short time, but most live. On that day 3rd November 2015 an estimated 7000 men, women and children had landed. Two men and two children had drowned. An Afghan father, with baby in arms, tries to find a place to for his wife and child to sleep. Here we are in the familiar world. When the father asks at a local hotel for a place to stay it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s shown round the back to a stable and a couple of guys riding camels appear with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. That doesn’t happen. The proprietor explains there’s nowhere left. Families are sleeping where they fall and they can’t even offer blankets. The father’s response is poetic, ‘Touch me, am I not human too?’

The answer of course is he’s not. Shylock says much the same thing to Salerio in The Comical History of The Merchant of Venice (although I can’t say I see much comedy):

   I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

Solerio describes Shylock as, ‘A creature that did bear the shape of a man’. In the same way David Cameron, accidentally, on purpose, described refugees across the channel as ‘a swarm’. Swarms aren’t human, but something that needs to be contained. Shylock is a creature that is kicked, spat upon, and beaten. Shakespeare understood power. There’s been a shift in power and perceptions of what needs to be done. The disturbing news that Isis terrorists posed as refugees, at least one with a Syrian passport, passing through the Greek island of Leros in October and from there into mainland Europe, is a godsend to the far right. Overnight Angela Merkel and Germany’s humanitarian response to the movement of three million refugees is called into question, as is her leadership. Razor wire and border controls are the new real-politik. Poland’s new right-wing government have refused to play by the rules and take the 160 000 refugees that were to be re-located in their country as part of a pan-European agreement. As all those tens of thousands refugees hunker down in whatever shelter they can find tonight they will find that the Muslims are the new Jews. In this more bitter world, right-wing voices demands its pound of flesh. They will pay and keep paying, because what other choice do they have?

Citizenfour, Channel 4, 11.05 pm.

edward snowden

I missed the beginning of this programme, ironically because I was online. I spend too much time online. I’ve nothing to hide. Well, nothing much to hide. Here you have it. Everybody has something to hide. We can laugh now at the old-fashioned-spy networks of neighbours spying upon neighbours. You keep expecting Michael Caine to pop up in a John Le Carre thriller. It’s funny. An Orwellian world. Everything you say and do censored by the invisible other. Perhaps in North Korea we think. Think again.

Laura Poitras’s Oscar-winning documentary follows Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald’s meeting with Edward Snowden in Communist Hong Kong and Communist Moscow. There we have it. Casting is destiny. The equivalent of Michel Caine going the wrong way through Checkpoint Charlie and back into East Germany. Edward Snowden is a spy both the CIA and FBI are on his trail. Here he tells us why.

It’s old new. Not very important. Not on any of the major channels, given a late television billing. Edward Snowden worked for the National Security Agency (NSA). He worked for NASA on software and as a solution consultant for the CIA. He’s white. A smart man. You can imagine he was very well paid and had an easy life. Yet he says ‘I believe in the rule of law’. He steals documents which were published by among others The Guardian which show clearly that the only law which matters is what a small elite group of believe to be in America’s interest. Angela Merkel the Chancellor of Germany’s phone, for example, was tapped. We can give a wry smile to that.

After all Angela Merkel isn’t American and she might have some connection with the 9/11 bombers that brought down the Twin Towers. The legislation brought in after 9/11 makes every non-America suspect. Patriots will understand that organisations such as the NSA will do everything necessary to protect the American people and American interests. Those Americans that don’t believe that are also suspect and they should be investigated. Nick Bostron in Superintelligence gives an example of machine logic. In its quest to create the perfect paper clip a computer takes control of the resources of the earth and its surrounding planets and produces nothing but paper clips because using a Bayesian algorithm nothing can ever be certain. The next paper clip might be the right one. In the same way Britain allows its ally to use its citizens and its resources to spy on others. All of the major corporation and hardware companies design their products so that NSA can gain access their data.

The metadata we produce leaves a clear pattern of what we do and who we are. It can be accessed remotely and content can also be read. Edward Snowden is saying that is not any kind of democracy he recognises. The NSA has files on 1.2 million Americans. Think of the resources needed. Think of the resources wasted. Operational overhang. Glen Greenwald was arrested and detained at Heathrow airport under the Detention of Terrorism Act. Obviously he’s suspect. That next paper clip might be the next one. That next paper clip might be you.