Transparency Is the Thing This Century

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Sat, 2013-01-12 18:55 -- John Batchelor
Saturday, January 12, 2013


Spoke to John Bolton, AEI, in re the Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Eric Schmidt of Google embassy to Pyongyang, North Korea, and we puzzled as to what to say about this scale of diplomatic stunt.  The still photos and the video (above) are propaganda gems for the DPRK.  John Bolton opines that a charitable explanation is that Eric Schmidt is naive of the international threat presented by the nuke-armed and ICBM selling North Korean predatory state.  Bolton adds (mp3 file above) that Eric Schmidt waited until he was in Beijing before he called for the DPRK to allow the Internet for its brutalized citizens.  The darkness of the DPRK also illustrates the semi-darkness (militant twilight) of the PRC, which has recently imposed new restrictions that are well beyond the Great Firewall of the last years.  There is the additional farcical twist that the PRC policies drove Google from China two years ago.  The Schmidt remarks, and the Bill Richardson led expedition, stand as hallmarks of the folly of appeasement by celebrities.  (George Bernard Shaw tried this with the Soviets in the 1930s and dented his jovial reputation by providing cover for Stalin's Ukraine famine.)  I follow a generous rule with celebrity folly: The first time it's accident; the second time it's coincidence; the third time it's darkness visible.  Creatively self-promoting Governor Bill Richardson struck out as a geopolitical thinker a long time ago.  Eric Schmidt has two strikes to go.  (Still, the Pyongyang Richardson-Schmidt video above reminds me of Hanoi Jane Lite: the North Koreans at the desktops are wearing their coats, because the hall is unheated.  This looks like the Dictator's UnMusuem, filled with artifacts from a culture that cannot ever be.  The pose (left) with DPRK soldiers staring at an Internet screen, with the photos of the two previous Kim family brutes on the wall, is rubbish agitprop, a photo created by the North Koreas to distribute to their pals in Beijing for a laugh.  The whole video performance is an inside-out Potemkin Village -- wherein the visitors are the make-believe exhibit.  Is this rogue-slumming by billionaires?  Would Schmidt visit Moscow 1934?)


Transparency is the Thing This Century.

Below find a video that is both sad and compelling of the Internet freedom pioneer, Aaron Swartz, who we learn is a suicide these last hours at 26 years-old.   I learn from Matthew Lynley WSJ that Aaron Swartz was a principal in the development of RSS as well as an early voice at Reddit.  In this video (below), Aaron Swartz speaks of the U.S. Congress meddling with internet transparency.  Aaron Swartz's remarks are convincing and matter of fact visionary.   The connectivity of the world wide web demands total transparency.  It is the folly of states that some (PRC, DPRK and so forth off the shelf dictatorships) aim to strangle the web.  It strikes me as the work of men who believe they can build a sand wall to keep out the waves at the beach.  The wise Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing writes that Aaron Swartz's suicide isn't inconsistent with indications that the deceased suffered with what Doctorow says was depression over a time.  Other reports mention the ongoing Federal investigation of the hacking of copyrighted documents. The Aaron Swartz death is all the more of a loss, because it is the Gen X and Millennial generations (Swartz was on the cusp of both) that need to reorganize the planet for a kind of transparency that overcomes all bounds, that prospers best when joined with imagination and wit.  The "We the People" petition at the White House to build a Star Wars "Death Star" at more cost that there is worth on this planet ($850 plus 15 zeros) is a wonderful example of what the Internet can do for thinking about governance.   Do politicians pay mind to petitions from thirty-five thousand people who want a Death Star project to create jobs?  Correct.  The transparency of the exchange -- the White House responds dryly, "The administration does not support blowing up planets" -- is a glimpse of how the Republic may well adapt to increasingly unfettered information.  The droll will be rewarded; the earnest will be encouraged; the adventurous will be watched; the candid will be applauded; the phony will be mocked; the brutal will be rejected.  RIP Aaron Swartz.  At the same time, I am confident that the Swartz vision of the coming supremacy of transparency is -- h/t Guy Fawkes Day-- legion.