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“Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free”

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 12:24

Here's the audio of my closing keynote speech at last Friday's Dconstruct (this was the tenth Dconstruct; I'm pleased to say that I also gave the closing speech at the very first one!).

You can hear audio from the rest of the speakers too.

Starred review in Kirkus for INFORMATION DOESN’T WANT TO BE FREE, my next book

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 10:21

My next book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, comes out in November, but the reviews have just started to come in. Kirkus gave it a stellar review. Many thanks to @neilhimself and @amandapalmer for their wonderful introductions!

In his best-selling novel Ready Player One, Ernest Cline predicted that decades from now, Doctorow (Homeland, 2013, etc.) should share the presidency of the Internet with actor Wil Wheaton. Consider this manifesto to be Doctorow’s qualifications for the job.

The author provides a guide to the operation of the Internet that not only makes sense, but is also written for general readers. Using straightforward language and clear analogies, Doctorow breaks down the complex issues and tangled arguments surrounding technology, commerce, copyright, intellectual property, crowd funding, privacy and value—not to mention the tricky situation of becoming “Internet Famous.” Following a characteristically thoughtful introduction by novelist Neil Gaiman, rock star Amanda Palmer offers a blunt summary of today’s world: “We are a new generation of artists, makers, supporters, and consumers who believe that the old system through which we exchanged content and money is dead. Not dying: dead.” So the primary thesis of the book becomes a question of, where do we go from here? Identifying the Web’s constituents as creators, investors, intermediaries and audiences is just the first smart move. Doctorow also files his forthright, tactically savvy arguments under three “laws,” the most important of which has been well-broadcast: “Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and won’t give you the key, that lock isn’t there for your benefit.”

Read the whole review

The End of a Whatever Era

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 10:15
It looks like this blog is no longer the first term that pops up when you enter the word “Whatever” in Google — it’s been supplanted by a YouTube channel of the same name. Thus ends a decades-long domination by Whatever of the word on the world’s pre-eminent search engine. All glory is passing. How […]

View From the Hotel Window, 9/7/14: Los Angeles

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 09/07/2014 - 17:09
I am in downtown LA! Which has apparently come back quite a bit these days. Good for it. I love LA. Off soon to get In-N-Out before my event tonight (well, 5pm) at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. Hope to see you there.

I See This View a Lot These Days

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 09/07/2014 - 12:45
The airport. There are individual variations depending on the airport, mind you. But the gist is the same. It’s interesting to think that this particular assemblage of these particular people will never happen again — that the airport is always different. Heraclitus would probably roll his eyes at me for the observation, but that dude’s […]

High-school English study guide for Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Sun, 09/07/2014 - 02:15

Neil Anderson from the Association from Media Literacy has produced an excellent study guide for my novel Homeland (the sequel to Little Brother) -- Anderson's guide encourages critical thinking about politics, literary technique, technology, privacy, surveillance, and history.

I'm immensely grateful to Anderson for his good work here. I often hear from teachers who want to know if there are any curricular materials they can use in connection with my books, and several of them have shared their own guides with me, but this one stands out as an unusually comprehensive and thoughtful one.

7. Word Meanings
Because communications technologies are central to Homeland‘s plot, the novel contains many tech-oriented words that might be unfamiliar to some readers. Because Marcus is a young adult, some words are specific to young adult culture. Explain how readers could use context to infer the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Some words that you might use for inferring meanings include:

*Faraday pouch

8. Representation

Marcus Yallow, Homeland’s protagonist, is a male. But there are several female characters: Ange is his girlfriend, Masha is an ally, Carrie is an enemy, and Flor is his campaign office boss.

Does Homeland represent a good balance of male and female characters or is it biased? Why?

Are the male and female characters fairly represented? Explain?

Homeland also includes representation from multiple racial/ethnic groups. Joe is African-American, Ange is Asian, etc.

How might this inclusiveness add to the novel’s authenticity and pleasure?

Some people think that it is important for audiences to see themselves represented in the media texts that they consume; that it helps them enjoy the texts and validates their own existence.

Does it really matter whether Homeland‘s characters represent a range of racial/ethnic groups?

Would the story be equally interesting and entertaining if all the characters were from only one racial/ethnic group?

Imagine that Marcus, Ange, Joe and Carrie are from other racial/ethnic groups, or that their genders are switched.

How might those changes influence readers’ responses to the story?

Homeland Study Guide [Neil Anderson/Association for Media Literacy]

300 (and more) flat-out evil lies

Contrary Brin - Sat, 09/06/2014 - 16:04
Frank Miller’s Sin City follow-up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, has apparently bombed at the box office. Has this lemon -- plus the epic failure of Miller’s The Spirit -- marked him as a “Hollywood one hit wonder?” Well not quite.  Miller had his hands in many pies. Still, one can trace a big, common theme.

In almost every work, his message is the same: “Give up on civilization; there’s no such thing. Democracy is a farce, all civil servants are inherently corrupt and your fellow “citizens” are sheep. The only justice you will ever get is from the muzzle of a gun or the edge of a sword. So pledge your souls to the righteously violent.”

And yes, I deem this noxious. But one Frank Miller franchise, in particular, ticked me off more than the others. Not because of his obsessive hatred toward America and its enlightenment experiment. (He’s entitled; it’s a free country, after all.) But because this series features a fountain, a flash-flood, a veritable tsunami of outright and deliberate lies. 

Orwellian-scale falsehoods that seek to teach a generation of semi-literate viewers his vile version of history.  

== The earlier "300" lie-festival ==

My evisceration of “300” — Miller’s 2007 collaboration with Zack Snyder — exposed one blatant falsehood or omission after another, attempting to convince you that down is up and day is night. 

For example, in portraying ancient Spartans as noble fighters for freedom, Miller and Snyder never hinted at their legendary brutality toward their Helot slaves, several thousand of whom carried luggage and wine for King Leonidas’s three hundred Spartan bullies, into the Thermopylae pass. Slaves who were then thrown into the front battle line, with spears but no armor.  (Real hoplites did not expose their abs, but went into combat covered, tip-to-toe. It’s those never-mentioned slaves who fought half naked.) 

Miller wrote out entirely the 2,000 Thespian volunteers (farmers and shopkeepers) who stayed with Leonidas to the end, but who were inconvenient to “300’s” nonstop rant against citizenship, propagandizing in favor of military rule by tyrants.

I concluded my piece on “300” (years ago) by fantasizing how great it would be to see a film about the Persian Wars from an Athenian perspective! Showing not only their spectacular victory at Marathon but their fantastic second feat, that very same day. Running 26 miles in full armor to face down another army, by nightfall. What epic cinema that would be! 

Then moving on ten years to show the brave stand of citizen volunteers against Persia’s huge navy in the Artemesium Straits, their fighting retreat, after the Spartans let them down at Thermopylae. Plus the deft way Athenian women handled the evacuation of their city, and the bold skill with which their great admiral, Themistocles, lured Xerxes’s fleet into a trap, at Salamis.

I mused publicly about that epic tale, hoping someone might make that film, partly for the sheer dramatic excitement of that story — one of the greatest of all epics in the West — but also as a clear answer to Frank Miller’s fabrication-propaganda …

… little realizing that Miller and Snyder would, after my essay came out, decide to tell that side of things themselves!  

Alas… in their own way.

== The Rise of a Farce ==

All right, I finally rented that sequel — 300: Rise of an Empire”having waited till I could do it in a way that, while legal, sent as little cash as possible to Frank Miller.  Moreover, sitting down with popcorn at my elbow, I felt cognitive dissonance! We all have, within our human natures, many conflicting impulses.  The trick is to be aware — and wary — of them.  

Hence a real part of me hoped that Miller and his partner, Zack Snyder, might have seen the light, or had some kind of awakening.  After all, here they were, about to tell another side of the Greek-Persian wars.  A side that I had urged someone to tell, after “300’s” travesty of slanders.  A side of the story that they suppressed earlier — how Athenian “bakers, tradesmen, farmers and poets” won all the important victories that preserved the seed of Western Civilization. 

In my denunciation of that first “300” travesty, I showed that Leonidas would never - in real life - have sneered at the victors of Marathon.  And he would have at minimum turned his head, during his own battle, at least once, to give a nod of grudging respect toward the heroic Athenian fleet, guarding his flank, holding out much longer than his own pathetic three days.  

Perhaps now Snyder and Miller were about to correct it all! Or so I hoped. (Note: Miller's comic book Xerxes has yet to be finished or handed-in.)

And yet, I admit that another side of me - (all too human) - does like to be proved right. Hence for honesty's sake, when I watched 300: the Rise of an Empire,” I kept careful track of any redeeming qualities. Let’s start with those.

== Some truth, this time! ==

Proposed cover of Xerxes - uncompleted1) At least the sequence of major historical events was correct.  The gross outline of things that some grizzled Miller fan might dimly recall from high school world history class:

- that Athenians wrecked the first Persian invasion sent by Darius, at Marathon.

- that Xerxes swore vengeance on those who had humiliated his father.

- that Xerxes ordered built a great rope-linked bridge across the Bosporus, so his giant army could march into Greece by land.

- that a mostly-Greek queen named Artemesia did serve Xerxes, with some distinction.

- that a mostly-Athenian, vastly-outnumbered fleet battled the Persian navy to a standstill in the straits, not far from Thermopylae, and that they retreated only when Leonidas failed there.

- that Xerxes took and burned Athens.

- that his fleet was lured into the passage at Salamis, where the Spartans arrived, at last, to help, and where the Persian Navy was largely destroyed.

- that this victory enabled a united Greek force to eliminate Persian ground forces at Platea.

That sequence correlates in both film and history. On can argue that Snyder and Miller had to do that much. Too many in their intended audience would notice, otherwise.

2) Okay, I must admit another redeeming moment. Just showing the Bosporus rope and pontoon bridge was way-cool. And it happened, a spectacular accomplishment of parthian engineering, no lie.

3) To my shock and disbelief, Snyder and Miller actually allowed Themistocles to point out… twice! … that his force was largely amateur, not professional fighters — fishermen, merchants, farmers and poets.  Two brief moments of actual retraction-rebuttal vs. the relentless ranting against citizenship that made the first “300” flick little better than an ode to Leni Riefenstahl. Unfortunately, those twin glimmers never go anywhere. And Miller-Snyder still set things up so that Spartan professionals wind up saving the amateurs’ hash.

That’s pretty much all the quality that you’ll find in “300:2”  A sequence of basic bullet points that Miller had to follow, because his audiences aren’t completely ignorant. Plus a way-cool bridge…

… oh, and action!  Lots and lots of eye-candy, distracting action! 

Ships ramming ships! Slow-motion stabs and decapitations! Ab-flexing and homoerotic kill-em-all prancing! Hey, I can wallow in that stuff as well as the next guy.  I was able to put down my pencil and enjoy the wowzer visuals. (Heck I have to confess: I even pay to see Transformers flicks!) As I said, we are many people, inside of each of our complex heads… and one of me is forever-twelve!  So give let me give this thing an 8.5 score when it comes to gleeful, gladiatorial choreography.

Oh, and the infamous sex scene between Artemesia and Themistocles? Sure. It never happened, but why not? Kinda rough, but consenting adults and all that.  Probably the film’s most creative and memorable moment.

And so, we complete our list of good aspects assigned to 300: The Rise of an Empire. None of which even begin to stack up against the litany of noxious, disgusting, batshit-evil other-crap that filled this monstrosity to overflowing.  Starting and ending with a gusher of outright lies.

== 300-plus fibs ==

I’m not the only one to call-out this franchise for “inaccuracies.” Let’s start with an excerpt from WikipediaPaul Cartledge, a professor of Greek culture at Cambridge University, noted that the film contains historical errors. For example, Darius was not killed as depicted as neither Xerxes nor Darius were present at the Battle of Marathon. Artemisia in reality argued against sailing into the (Salamis) straits and survived the Persian Wars. The Spartan navy contributed a mere 16 warships to the Greek fleet of 400 warships in the ending battle scene, and not a huge army.”  
The History vs. Hollywood site is no kinder: “Unlike in the film where Artemisia (Eva Green) demands that Xerxes order the Persian fleet into Salamis to finish off the Greeks, the real Artemisia had actually advised the Persian King Xerxes against the battle, arguing that it is not wise to engage the Greeks at sea.”

From the same site: “Was Artemisia's family murdered by Greek hoplites, after which she was taken as a slave?… No. This backstory for Artemisia was invented by Frank Miller and the filmmakers to explain the motivations behind Artemisia's ruthless thirst for vengeance in the film.”  
A blogger, Bob Dekle, summed up his own objections far better than any of the standard critics: …”Aside from the bleak scenery and the gallons of spilled blood, I enjoyed it. The movie did not, however, even make a feeble attempt at being an accurate retelling of the history of the Greco-Persian War.  This is unfortunate, because the history of the Greco-Persian War as recounted by Herodotus is a much more interesting story populated by much more interesting people than the cardboard characters who populated the movie.”  

While we're at it, here's a link to an extensive article by Alex Pappademas on  Frank Miller's Dark Night.

Fair sized indictments. But way too mild. I will not be so kind.

== It wasn’t like that… at all ==

Some of the lies in this film are somewhat understandable, when you can at least see the propaganda point that Frank Miller wants to push. For example, in the real battle at the Straits of Artemesium there was no trick with a barge-fulla-oil. Themistocles and the Athenians weren’t routed, but fought a well-ordered retreat, after Leonidas let them down by losing the Hot Gates.  

But you can see that Frank Miller can’t leave things that way. He cannot allow the Athenian merchants and fishermen to seem more effective than his beloved Spartans. They must be just as soundly defeated as Leonidas. It is a lie, but at least one with a (vile) purpose.

Likewise, at Salamis, Themistocles is shown rowing out with his few survivors to perform a final gesture of macho defiance, just like Leonidas, instead of coolly and carefully springing the strategic and tactical trap that (in real life) changed the world. Moreover, while amputating the historical Athenian-allied fleet down to a pathetic remnant — a damsel-needing-rescuing — Miller expands the measly, 16 ship Spartan contingent at Salamis into a triumphant armada, arriving in the nick of time to save the foppish Athenians’ hash.  That is no mere quibble.  His central aim in life is to proclaim the futility of citizenship and to extoll the primacy of take-everything lords.

Again, Miller’s reasons for telling these outright falsehoods this are evil reasons… but at least he had reasons for those lies.  

Other betrayals of fact, however, left me deeply puzzled.

== Lies without any purpose at all ==

Not only was Darius not at Marathon (as we’ve seen), but when he died (of natural causes) he made a reluctant Xerxes vow to take vengeance on Athens. That vow and its consequences would have been just as dramatic as the utterly-reversed father-son interplay created by Miller.  It’s one thing to reverse history if you have a point to make. But why do it, when it serves no purpose?

Likewise, for Xerxes to impetuously order the cautious Artemesia into the channel at Salamis would have not only been historically accurate, but made far more sense for the characters, dramatically.  Her film character had every reason to be the wary one!  (As she was, in real life.) Making her the impetuous-imperious one was unnecessary and… weird.

Yes, the Persians torched Athens to the ground. But which portrayal of that event would make better cinema? Showing them slaughtering the population in yet another (yawn) atrocity? Or portraying the skillful way Athenian women snuck everyone out of town, right under Xerxes’s nose, leaving him only wooden timbers to burn? Ashes upon which returning citizens would soon build a beacon -- the beacon -- of civilization?

Time and again, Snyder and Miller chose to do that… to reverse a true-history that was already plenty-dramatic! Leaving one head-scratching and asking… why?

The same goes for all the mystic claptrap. Does Xerxes have to be Artemesia’s leering-silly puppet and a mumbo-jumbo-mutant god-king?  Hey, I didn’t mind the sea serpents… much… though Annalee Newitz at io9 riffs hilariously about them... but are they necessary? Don’t they imply that : “none of this ever really happened; it’s just another Hollywood fantasy”? 

Must you mutate this conflict - one of the foundational epics of our civilization - into the equivalent of “George Washington, Exorcist”? With King George in the role of Lucifer and Benedict Arnold as a talking-flying snake… that has laser beams mounted on its head?  (Come to think of it, that’s a great elevator pitch!  A real winner, in today’s Hollywood. Get agent on phone.)

Let’s go back again to Marathon, at which Themistocles was only a common foot-soldier.  The Athenian bakers and poets would never have stood a chance against Darius’s Immortals in leap-n-slash, showoffy-dance-cavort style combat. Anyway, we saw the Spartans doing that in the first flick. Been there, done that.  So how about letting us see what really happened? Farmers and potters lowering their spears, shoulder-to-shoulder in a thin blue line, pushing forward against a great mass of professionals that outnumbered them ten to one? Rushing just in time to fill gaps in that wavering line? Swerving to confront cavalry charges, grunting and shoving death all the way into the surf, until the invaders were overcome… and then…

…and then — almost without pause — turning around to run those grueling 26 miles, and confront a second force before nightfall? Did Spartans ever come close to equalling such incredible… 

…oh, but I’ve said all that, before.

== The aim and the Lesson ==

Summing up, we must divide the falsehoods spewed by 300: The Rise of an Empire into those two categories.  First are lies that served Frank Miller’s purpose — to undermine confidence in our Athenian, citizen-centered civilization.  It is an ambition that Miller shares with science fiction author Orson Scott Card — a message that Card also pushes relentlessly, in all of his works, but especially in a recent book called “Empire.”

Democracy? Citizenship? An open society of laws and flawed-but-improving justice? Institutions and occasional public servants that sometimes do their jobs and that we can criticize and tweak, until they get better? Or, at least, the aspiration for such a nation and society? To achieve perhaps someday? 

These hopes are declared inherently futile by Miller and Card, who always, always prescribe: “find yourselves a demigod to admire. It’s your only hope.”

(I admit that Card spins out demigods who are less brutal, more conflicted and tormented, than Miller's, perpetually wringing their hands -- before always deciding to take over... for our own good, of course.)

Okay, I understand the lies in 300 and 300:2 that actually served Miller's propaganda purpose. But the other, second category of deceit is more telling.  Lies that served no purpose. That didn’t even preach the author’s (evil) message!  Lies made the tale less dramatic and interesting! 

Lies that could only have spilled forth out of habit, a reflex for preferring any falsehood, always, over truth.

== An escape clause ==

Oh, but is there an out? An escape clause? 

There is! Right there, in “300:II”! An excuse for every drooling fabulation and reversal of fact.

The film begins and ends with a narration by Gorgo, the widow of Leonidas, a pep talk for the benefit of her Spartan horde.  

This implies that every exaggeration or historical anomaly is her fault! It is only natural that she would put a superstitious, Spartan spin on things, all the way to sea serpents! And demeaning those Athenians, proclaiming that her own armies saved their bacon.

 Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s all Gorgo’s fault.

Alas, even this doesn’t help with the TITLE of Miller’s flop: “300: The Rise of an Empire.”  Huh?  What empire arose from this story?  

Oh, sure, across the next 50 years, Athens would gradually climb ever-higher, invigorated by democracy, emboldened by commercial and technological innovation and stimulated by leaders like Pericles, the George Washington of his time.  But that Athenian “empire” (it would become flawed, vainglorious and foolish, in time) isn’t even hinted at, in the movie. Hence one has to wonder, were the makers of this thing stoned, the entire time?

That is easy enough to believe.

== Enough ==

There are so many flaws, so why must I flog a flop and dismal failure?

Because we need to lift our heads — as consumers — and demand better.  

One can have vivid action without lobotomization.  We can have movies that are true to their subject matter (e.g. history) without being dry or boring. Indeed, some historical events make great drama! Especially if you simply retell what actually happened, with truth and heart. Have a look at ZULU, or Ted Turner’s GETTYSBURG, or THE CROSSING.

The question arises again and again “why lie about any of it!”   

One can easily hear the whispered reply of the makers of this wretched mess.

“Why lie?  Because we can!”

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

What I Did With My Post-Event Time Last Night

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 09/06/2014 - 11:55
There was a hashtag going around last night on Twitter called #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly. And I thought, hey, I can do that. An archeologist fails to get an important religious artifact into a museum. #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly— John Scalzi (@scalzi) September 06, 2014 A rambunctious extraterrestrial plays hide-and-seek with the exasperated crew of a starship. #ExplainAFilmPlotBadly— John Scalzi (@scalzi) […]

Excerpt from my story “The Man Who Sold the Moon”

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Sat, 09/06/2014 - 01:05

Medium have published an excerpt from "The Man Who Sold the Moon, my 36,000 word novella in Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, a project to inspire optimism and ambition about the future and technology that Neal Stephenson kicked off (see also What Will it Take to Get Us Back to the Moon?).

“Hey,” someone said behind me. “Hey, dude?”

It occurred to me that I was the dude in question, and that this person had been calling out to me for some time, with a kind of mellow intensity — not angry, but insistent nonetheless. I turned around and found myself staring down at a surfer-looking guy half my age, sun-bleached ponytail and wraparound shades, ragged shorts and a grease-stained long-sleeved jersey and bare feet, crouched down like a Thai fisherman on his haunches, calf muscles springing out like wires, fingertips resting lightly on a gadget.

Minus was full of gadgets, half built, sanded to fit, painted to cover, with lots of exposed wiring, bare boards, blobs of hot glue and adhesive polymer clinging on for dear life against the forces of shear and torque and entropy. But even by those standards, surfer-guy’s gadget was pretty spectacular. It was the lens — big and round and polished, with the look of a precision-engineered artifact out of a real manufacturer’s shop — not something hacked together in a hacklab.

The Gadget and the Burn [Cory Doctorow/Medium]

View From the Hotel Window, 9/5/14: SF, Plus Stuff, Plus Open Thread

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 09/05/2014 - 13:10
The view out my hotel window is not hugely inspiring today, unless I want to do a San Francisco version of Rear Window, but on the other hand I get to stay in this hotel room for three whole days. Which is three whole days on not having to wake up early to catch a […]

Publishing: Not a Zero-Sum Game

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 11:01
A Twitter rant I’m storing here for posterity. There’s in the second tweet it should read “sells more than me” and not “sell me than me.” Also, it should be “a profoundly stupid way,” instead of “a profoundly way.” Errors, man. I'm going to a quick multitweet rant about something. You have about 30 seconds to […]

Free cybersecurity MOOC

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 02:31

The Open University's "Introduction to Cyber Security" is a free online course -- with optional certificate -- that teaches the fundamentals of crypto, information security, and privacy; I host the series, which starts on Oct 13."

The course is designed to teach you to use privacy technologies and good practices to make it harder for police and governments to put you under surveillance, harder for identity thieves and voyeurs to spy on you, and easier for you and your correspondents to communicate in private.

I'm a visiting professor at the OU, and I was delighted to work on this with them.

We shop online. We work online. We play online. We live online. As our lives increasingly depend on digital services, the need to protect our information from being maliciously disrupted or misused is really important.

This free online course will help you to understand online security and start to protect your digital life, whether at home or work. You will learn how to recognise the threats that could harm you online and the steps you can take to reduce the chances that they will happen to you.

With cyber security often in the news today, the course will also frame your online safety in the context of the wider world, introducing you to different types of malware, including viruses and trojans, as well as concepts such as network security, cryptography, identity theft and risk management.

Introduction to Cyber Security

Today’s Nice Bit of News

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 00:58
I found out today that Lock In will appear on the New York Times Hardcover Best Seller list. This makes Wednesday officially a good day. Hope yours was equally good.

Snowden, Sousveillance and Social T Cells

Contrary Brin - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 21:04
==Another look at Snowden==
Wired has a long form interview with Edward Snowden: The Most-Wanted Man in the World. A must-read... as far as it goes. Only keep ahold of your ability to parse complexities and contradictions, because my reflex is always to point out aspects that were never raised. I refuse to choose one "side's" purist reflex.  So should you.
Let's start by stepping waaaaaay back.  I speak elsewhere in terms of social T Cells — preening bachelor males who (in every known society, across recorded time) are seen doing risky things to get noticed — it's darwinistically advantageous for a non-alpha male! Because it has (across millions of years) elevated some of these risk seekers to alpha status. To do this requires a kind of daring, prideful ego and a willingness to throw the dice. 

Many harmful men do this… but also heroes. Indeed, it was best parsed in a song: “Every hero was once… every villain was once… just a boy with a bad attitude!” — or so sings Meat Loaf (brilliantly)

 in Bad Attitude. 
And just to be clear, we all have known young women who also fit this pattern, throwing caution to the wind, tilting at a windmill or plunging ahead to explore some darkness. Their courage is even greater, in fact, because Darwin is not standing behind them, pushing.
Ah, but different societies have chosen to harness this very human tendency in varied ways.  Most filled the ranks of their armies and navies with these adventurers, and made sure there would be enough fighting or exploring or risky trading to keep them busy, far from the capital. (Perhaps ravaging some other nation's capital.) We cannot afford such waste, in a nuclear age. And yet, our Western Enlightenment (WE) society - and especially America - have engendered a strong mythology of ego, anti-conformity and individualism, amid a population in which most of these young folks are frightfully well-educated. A combination that any other culture would have deemed very dangerous.

Now why would we do such a thing?  Ponder it a bit. Then combine it with the relentless memes that pour across almost every Hollywood film or popular novel or song... Suspicion of Authority, reverence of eccentricity, individualism, fascination with diversity and the other...  Can you even count the number of recent YA films that scream contempt at conformity, calling it a fate worse than death? these messages are so pervasive that nearly all of us have absorbed the memes into our bones. They are so taken for granted that we no longer even notice the relentless propaganda for these values, and instead concoct a notion in our mind that we invented these things.

Combine all of that and you get something so perplexing and counter-intuitive that almost no one has noticed or commented on it -- that our society seems almost perfectly tuned to engender brash, eager critics who avidly zero in on anything they can possibly find to criticize about their own society! 
YOU -- in your avid political opinions and suspicions toward some conniving elite or another -- you exactly fit into this pattern.  Indeed I say that with utter confidence that it applies (whatever your simplistic position on the lobotomizing left-right axis) to nearly all of you reading these lines, right now. Half of you are convinced you are heroic resisters against an oppressive establishment that is supported by the other half.  And vice versa.

 To be clear, across the entire span of our species, this has never happened before -- for a society to preach: "you, our children, grow up eager to criticize your own tribe and all its elders!"  Name another example! It may never happen again.  It may have happened this time only by accident. There are many cultures around the planet who believe this meme-complex is insane.
 Or else, it is crazy... like a fox.
== Applying T Cell theory to Snowden ==
To be clear: we need these 'T Cells' as we rush into a technological future.  There are so many pitfalls, snake pits, quicksand pools, mine fields and failure modes, between us and Star Trek, that the only conceivable way that we can evade the killer errors is by unleashing millions of avid, immune-system "cells" to sniff and hunt down every possible mistake.  Even when they prove wrong -- or to be exaggerating -- the light they shine is cleansing.  
This is not a fault-free process. In many cases -- like anti-vaccination fetishism or cretinous climate denialism -- the result is very real harm.  But the price is worth it, because in some other cases, this pattern saves us. And the alternative tried in 99.9% of other societies -- top-down hierarchical control -- nearly always resulted in horrific statecraft and inevitably lethal blunders.

Which brings us to Edward Snowden.  Perhaps you can see now why I approve of him much more than I do Assange or Manning whose revelations - when you look closely - were mostly boring minutia that did not rise to the level of "whistle blowing." Snowden actually shook things up… though frankly -- if you can get past your purist reflexes -- it becomes clear that he is a very mixed deal. Possibly a Russian spy from the start, certainly an egomaniac without much sense of proportion.
Indeed, his revelations showed us very little that was actually illegal at the time…

...though he did us a great service, by prompting us to re-examine what should be legal!  A conversation that I have pushed hard -- in The Transparent Society  and elsewhere -- for two decades.
In fact, I do not care much about Edward Snowden's two-bit, sophomoric rationalizations (unctuously presented to us in WIRED as sagacious wisdom) or his “big picture” perspectives, which tend toward the cartoony, simplistic, exaggerated and banal.
What I care about is civilization learning the right lesson from all this. Which is that SNOWDENS WILL HAPPEN!
They may often be individually obnoxious. But they are also - in general - the overall a sign of a healthy civilization that is creating enough whistle blowers and exposing itself to frequent doses of cleansing light. These T Cells are manifestly like a necessary, recurring fever — one that saves us from far worse illnesses.

1) The lesson to citizens is to find ways to encourage the T Cell phenomenon by supporting whistle-blowing protections... but at the same time not to get carried away in every individual case.  If a climate researcher is exposed fudging data, that does not discredit all of science; it chastens scientists to watch their peers. There are many bad cops, doing bad things opn the streets -- so enhance transparency with cameras... while remembering that the majority of decent cops will be our best allies against the bad ones.  And if the NSA has gone too far, remember that's what we asked them for, when we panicked, earlier.  So let's correct that Snowden-revealed error by cranking up supervision.  On the other hand, calling this country "North Korea" only torpedoes your credibility.
But there's another constituency that needs to understand the T Cell phenomenon.  They must learn this lesson well.

2) The lesson to bureaucrats and sincere civil servants and members of the Protector Caste is not: "how can we prevent the next Snowden?"  You can't.  The real lesson is: 

"How can we create so much trust that citizens will still work with us and let us do our jobs, even when (inevitably) our files leak some embarrassing things?"
Even better: 

"How can we encourage a worldwide secular trend toward openness, because that is the sole condition that would bring true Victory."
What’s key is to make society so robust and honest and trusted that it can deal with such fevers calmly, without institutional panic or reflexive vengeance, or turning millions against their own, freely elected institutions.  That is how to play to our strengths.  But it requires almost un-human levels of maturity.

== Offending everybody ==
Yes, I am  the best-worst example of all.  In my militant moderation and ornery contrarianism, I side with no sides!  No matter what your political stance, I have doubtless offended every last one of you at some point, in this missive. And I am about to do it, once more, by yet again pointing at middle ground.

In this case, Snowden cannot get off scot free — a true civil disobedience hero and follower of Gandhi would not expect to! If the issues really are as profound as he preens -- and if he truly did this out of love of country -- then the consequences to himself should be his last concern.
 On the other hand, I look at him as an example of intemperate adolescent courage… the kid who screams “you fools, can’t you see?” and spills a corporate filing cabinet onto the street. (We've all seen the movie plot, a zillion times.)  

If Snowden isn’t punished at all, there will be chaos. But “making an example of him” can also go way too far.  And if that happens -- (listen carefully, bureaucrats) -- then the system will lose, badly.

He needs to serve some time.  
But I want him out by Christmas, next year. All right, the year after that. Maybe one more, during which someone ghost-writes him a book.  And do not pity the rest of his life, preening on the talk show circuit. This is a brash T Cell who already has it made.  He'll be an alpha at parties for five decades.
Come on home, Eddie.  It's what King and Gandhi would have done.  And how you're treated will either prove my point... or show us flames on the horizon.

== Lagniappe: What Government knows vs What Government Does==
We should ask which is more important: what government knows, or what it might do to us? Intrinsically, you can never be certain what elites see or know. But actions can be observed and held accountable, by insisting that all watchers be supervised, answering top-down surveillance with "sousveillance," the habit of a brash citizenry monitoring from below. Only category three seeks this precious win-win: preserving both freedom and safety. See my article: Check NSA Surveillance with Citizen "Sousveillance."
Instead of railing against that fact that there will be more Edward Snowdens, let's revamp whistleblower laws, in order to encourage in-house correction of bureaucratic errors. This would also let us calibrate where future Snowdens fall in the wide range from traitor to hero.
Sousveillance isn't just a response to surveillance, it is the wellspring of freedom.

* Excerpt from The Transparent Society
Human Nature and the Dilemma of Openness: "The vital thing to note... is that the new style-social immune system thrives on passion, and even large doses of overwrought ego, but that hatefulness and self-righteousness are less beneficial. Viewed over the long turn, they  are often early signs of metastasis by a promising T-cell. Its transformation from potential savior into a virulent kind of predatory parasite. That's probably all right. As long as we live in a relatively transparent society, other T-cells will often swarm in to neutralize the danger....Is it too much to hope that someday perhaps all the angry young men and women will finally see how valuable and integral they are to a society they claim to despise? Would we spend so much time, effort and money training them to be rebels, if that were not the case?". . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Today’s View From the Hotel Window, 9/3/14: Seattle

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 09/03/2014 - 14:54
It’s always nice when you’re near a library (it’s that space age-looking building on the right, there). Tonight: University Bookstore! 7pm! You should be there. And so should everyone you know. Gather them up when you come for the show. Tomorrow: Mountain View, at Books, Inc. It’s going to be great.

View From the Hotel Window, 9/2/14: Denver

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 16:53
I’m back on the road, and here’s what the road looks like today. Not too bad. The hotel room I’m in tonight has a jacuzzi. I feel like I should listen to some smooth jazz or something. In any event: Denver! Come see me tonight! 7pm at the Tattered Cover Bookstore on Colfax. Here are […]

The Big Idea: Cherie Priest

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 08:51
You’ve heard the nursery rhyme, but do you know the real story behind Lizze Borden? Does anybody? This is the jumping off point for Cherie Priest and her novel Maplecroft, which follows the infamous Borden after the real-life events that made her notorious. Do you dare follow? CHERIE PRIEST: Like countless others in the last […]

Today’s New Books and ARCs, 9/1/14

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 17:47
Hey, look, it’s September, and here are the books and ARCs that came into the Scalzi Compound while I was on the first leg of my tour. See anything here you like (I mean, aside from the signed limited hardcover edition of Unlocked)? Share in the comments (which are open for a couple of days).

Podcast: Petard from Tech Review’s Twelve Tomorrows

Craphound (Cory Doctorow) - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 12:55

Here's a reading (MP3) of the first part of my story "Petard: A Tale of Just Desserts" from the new MIT Tech Review anthology Twelve Tomorrows, edited by Bruce Sterling. The anthology also features fiction by William Gibson, Lauren Beukes, Chris Brown, Pat Cadigan, Warren Ellis, Joel Garreau, and Paul Graham Raven. The 2013 summer anthology was a huge hit -- Gardner Dozois called it "one of the year’s best SF anthologies to date, perhaps the best."


For Those of You Who Have Read Lock In and Wish to Discuss It

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 09:34
The good folks at Making Light have created a (spoiler-laden) discussion thread for it. Just click this link to go there. Two things to be aware of: 1. The discussion thread there has several spoilers for the book, so if you haven’t read the book, don’t go there unless you’re willing to have the book […]
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