Annals of Literature: The Palantir Mistake

The technology company Palantir Technologies may or may not have been part of the NSA’s currently publicized surveillance program “PRISM.” Right now it looks like a confusion among names. But considering their established relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense, the “Intelligence Community” (love the phrase), and their long-known relationship with the CIA, it wouldn’t be surprising. Leaving aside their PRISM possibilities, let’s look for a moment at the company.

Their current homepage splashes a story about combating human trafficking. Rich liberals hate human trafficking right now, a lot. What’s to like? They also sent “Philanthropy Engineers” (I did not make this up) to Oklahoma to fix things with computers in some way. Take a moment now to look through their website. They’re Google-smart and clearly successful, and it looks like a great place to work. Plus, strong ethics. Just look at the mission page. Not only are they committed to saving lives and fixing diseases, they have an explicit mission to preserve civil liberties. Very explicit.

If the CIA is a big customer and investor, you’re the darling of the Department of Defense, you advertise your usefulness in the fight against terrorism, and you’re making a pantsload of money off this, how can you possibly have any “commitment” to civil liberties? What do you do for the CIA, tell them what the mountains are like in Afghanistan? Or how likely it is that Suicide Bomber #53 will show up at Bagram next week? Who do you think you’re fooling, other than yourselves?

Also, “Palantir” is a funny word. Why would you name your company that?

J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel The Lord of the Rings is a nerd Bible, the original sword & sorcery fantasy. After Peter Jackson’s films, everyone knows it. In the novel, the Palantir is a crystal ball. “Kingly” people with appropriate credentials can stare into the Palantir and see all over the world. There are my enemy’s armies! Looks like the harvest is going well! Oh heck, is that a pirate ship? Send the cavalry!

Unfortunately, the major antagonist and bad guy has got hold of one of these things and because he’s kingly and a demigod too, he exerts influence. The bad guy can mess with another Palantir customer’s  visions and distort them, showing only bad news, twisting images, creating paranoia, and wrecking morale. A key plot point involves a good guy king spending too much time looking into the Palantir like bad daytime TV and getting so depressed about his war with evil that he commits suicide, nearly killing his son as well, and dies in flames clutching the thing. It is literally an epic fail. Another powerful character slides into 100% nasty evil partly because he gets trolled by a hijacked Palantir. He gets his town wrecked by angry anthropomorphic trees and later is stabbed by his assistant. One sees a pattern.

Another smarter kingly type picks one up to mess with the antagonist a little and scare him, and then doesn’t use it any more, because the thing is dangerous. Why pick it up, even during a war, if you don’t have to? It’s unreliable now and will lead you to make bad mistakes and give up the fight. It’s not useful any more. That’s the end of that!

I understand that nerds use words that are “cool,” or even entire ideologies that seem “cool,” without thinking about the meaning of, well, anything at all. Happy Star Wars geeks get together and march in parades as the civilian-murdering, robotic, and incompetent adversaries from the movie, for example. What the hell? Oh, right. It just refers to something. Meaning is not important.

In this case, though, it’s just too damn good. The generous, progressive, socially involved, and brilliant philanthropy engineers at Palantir are one and the same with the surveillance state. Whether or not their Prism is the current PRISM, they’re both key vendors and and investment for the U.S “Intelligence Community.” These are the people who tell the President who should be drone-murdered, which civilians are threats to national security, who’s going to try to blow us up, and who is being troublesome. There has been the occasional misstep here, which is mentioned even in the news.

Our government has in its hand a Palantir, some of which is provided by the eponymous company. Look into it and you’ll see enemies without and within, plots, revolutionaries, malice concealed as dissent, and an unending future of unstoppable terrorism and necessary war. The one thing you won’t see is the sign that says “STOP! This is stupid and evil. Get a grip willya?”

So far the national Palantir has been bad for everyone. Be smart, kingly types, and throw the thing away, and throw away the war on terror as well.

And by the way: that company should change its name once it has the guts to dump its most important customers. If they read more, they’d make fewer branding mistakes and kill fewer people.

What We Look Like Now: Law Enforcement

moose a leeny

Deputy Jon Tomer received the top award at the ceremony, accepting both the Medal of Valor and Purple Heart for responding to a call at an apartment in Aliso Viejo.

“I’m hoping I didn’t do anything more than any other cop would have done,” Tomer said after the ceremony. Because of an ongoing investigation into the incident, he could not comment specifically on the actions he was recognized for.

Secrecy, being an instrument of conspiracy, ought never to be the system of a regular government. — Bentham

I know what I need

To master the challenges of the future, I require a Hyper Lethal Mini Robotic Attack Helicopter or two.

Enjoy the breathless prose of the war-machine lover:

Developed to be utilized as a tactical hunter/killer unmanned helicopter (mini-helicopter) a.k.a. unmanned combat armed rotorcraft (UCAR) for search-and-destroy missions and convoy security/force protection missions, the weaponized NRI AutoCopter Explorer robotic helicopter is a high-tech, high-speed, hyper-maneuverable and highly-weaponized harbinger of death and destruction from above–for the enemy, that is. It will be able to fly in in on enemy targets–both ground and aerial targets–at over 100 mph and engage those targets with forty (40) 12-gauge shotgun rounds or various types of 3-inch (3”) fin-stabilized FRAG-12 HE (High Explosive) grenade rounds at 300 RPM (Rounds Per Minute) out of the twin-AA-12s. The operator/pilot will be able to fire each gun individually or both guns simultaneously, depending on the situation. Oh, and did we mention that it (AutoCopter Explorer) will also be easily transportable in the back of your van (or SUV)?

Of course because of various dumb rules I can’t get one, so they’ll just be sent to suppress urban uprisings abroad and at home. Ho, hum.

Government as TV Movie: Gonzo tries to strongarm Ashcroft

It’s not just that they insisted on violating the law and the Constitution. It’s not just that they tried to pressure the Attorney General to approve it when he had already refused. And it’s not just that they did it while he was ill and not acting as Attorney General.

They did it at night in his hospital room, causing the acting Attorney General and the director of the F.B.I. to go lights-and-siren through the nation’s capital and run upstairs to the hospital room and stop them.

And then tried to refuse a witness to the discussion afterwards.

And then, after Ashcroft had walked over the whole deal, they got what they wanted anyway because Gonzo got the job.

How close are we to a coup, anyway? Who’s got five bucks on it?

Reference: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/15/washington/15cnd-attorneys.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin