Everyday entropy: secret addiction

Americans’ collective interest in spying is not a security interest.  Nor is our interest in keeping our own secrets.  A nation of 300 million people can neither be hurt nor protected by anything that is small or weak enough to be kept secret.  The fantasy of a secret message holding ultimate power – the apple, the ring, the curse –  is so old and intrenched that it is impossible to say whether it is a cultural artefact or cognitive instinct.  The addiction to information, particularly the idea that secret information is somehow more true or more powerful than common knowledge, transcends any rational basis or discussion.  At first, of course, secrets are powerful, but only up to the constraints of thermodynamics and transmission. No secret will reverse entropy or stay secret after it is put into practice. Nevertheless, from Alchemy to religion to science, throughout history and across cultures, the idea persists that there is some hidden knowledge that ties it all together: a secret that transcends entropy to bring the unlimited possibilities of information into a physical form.

The thing is that there is no secret. Momentum and information are conserved absolutely.  If you have a decent map of the configuration and momentum of parts in your environment, and an understanding of how it might evolve, information can do nothing more for you.  Entropy may behave mysteriously at times, but it can’t be made into a secret, and it can’t be kept a secret.  Magic shows work because the magician knows something about the configuration of his or her space that the audience doesn’t know, but magic only works where the magician is in control of the information.  Once the information is out, if anyone is allowed to investigate the actual entropy of the trick, the show is over.

This was the 2007 financial collapse, explained in depth in the May 2006 issue of Harper’s Magazine.  All of the issues were well known to anyone who wanted to know them.  The only secret was that the kingpins of finance had no understanding of entropy, and couldn’t believe that their system could change.


Voyeur’s Motel: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/11/gay-talese-the-voyeurs-motel

He bought the property for a hundred and forty-five thousand dollars.

Foos said he began watching guests during the winter of 1966. He was often excited and gratified by what he saw, but there were many times when what went on below was so boring that he nodded off, sleeping for hours on the shag carpeting, until Donna woke him up before she left for the hospital. Sometimes she brought him a snack (“I’m the only one getting room service at this motel,” he told me, with a smile); at other times, if a particularly engaging erotic interlude was occurring in the room below, Donna would lie down next to him and watch. Sometimes they would have sex up on the viewing platform.

At times, I could almost picture Foos rubbing his hands together, like a mad scientist in a B movie: “I will have the finest laboratory in the world for observing people in their natural state, and then begin determining for myself exactly what goes on behind closed bedroom doors,” he wrote.

I asked him why, since he had spent half his life invading other people’s privacy, he was so critical of the government’s intelligence-gathering in the interest of national security. He reiterated that his spying was “harmless,” because guests were unaware of it and its purpose was never to entrap or expose anyone. He told me that he identified with Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who illegally released government documents alleging that, for example, U.S. intelligence agencies were tapping the cell phone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

“Snowden, in my opinion, is a whistle-blower,” Foos said, adding that instead of being prosecuted Snowden should be praised “for exposing things that are wrong in our society.”

He considers himself a whistle-blower, too, even though, so far, he hadn’t revealed anything to anyone except his wives and me. Asked which “things that are wrong” he wished to expose, he said, “That basically you can’t trust people. Most of them lie and cheat and are deceptive. What they reveal about themselves in private they try to hide in public. What they try to show you in public is not what they really are.”


Michael Flynn’s Fall

By David Ignatius Opinion writer April 27

“James J. Angleton, the CIA’s legendary counterintelligence chief, was secretive to the point of paranoia when he was at the agency. But when he left in the 1970s, he couldn’t stop talking to journalists and others about his conspiracy theories. Some other former CIA officers are similar: They work the press or lobbying clients the way they used to work their agency assets.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, one of Flynn’s mentors, got fired as commander in Afghanistan after he and his staff made inappropriate comments to a Rolling Stone journalist. Gen. John Allen, a much-admired commander in Afghanistan, got involved in an email correspondence with a would-be Florida socialite that led to a Pentagon investigation, which derailed his appointment as NATO commander. Gen. David Petraeus, perhaps the most celebrated commander of his generation, pleaded guilty to improperly sharing classified information with his biographer, with whom he was romantically involved.

Each of these people served the country in remarkable ways. But looking at the difficulties they encountered, one senses a pattern. Senior command is a world unto itself. The tribal culture that envelops all our military and intelligence personnel is especially tight for our most secret warriors.

Michael Flynn’s fall tells a much bigger story.”


I was not shocked by the fact that the NSA had been spying on everyone they could spy on. In addition to having learned the lesson of history, I also accept the reality of the principle of Totally in Everyone’s Business. This is the principle that all states endeavor to get totally into everyone’s business to the degree that their capabilities allow. Or, put another way, states endeavor to spy as much as they possibly can. The main limiting factors on the totality include such factors as technology, competence, money, and human resources. Ethics and law are generally not limiting factors—as history clearly shows. Since I was aware that the NSA had the capacity to spy on American citizens and world leaders alike, I inferred that they were doing so.

There is also the fact that snooping, like cocaine, is addictive and it requires ever more to satisfy that desire. In general, people do like to snoop and once they get a taste of snooping, they often want more. As with any addiction, people can quickly become reckless and a bit irrational. This could be called the principle of addictive snooping. So, once the NSA snoops got to snooping, they really wanted to expand that snooping.


“Eavesdropping is a foray into uncharted psychological territory: the “unauthorized” ways that ordinary people use their senses to achieve important personal goals—intimate experience, personal power, and social control.  It illustrates our abiding attempt to understand the human story, and thus to understand what life is, and what one’s own life could be.”

Eavesdropping: An Intimate History by John L. Locke  (Author)

Who among us hasn’t eavesdropped on a stranger’s conversation in a theater or restaurant? Indeed, scientists have found that even animals eavesdrop on the calls and cries of others. In Eavesdropping, John L. Locke provides the first serious look at this virtually universal phenomenon. Locke’s entertaining and disturbing account explores everything from sixteenth-century voyeurism to Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”; from chimpanzee behavior to Parisian café society; from private eyes to Facebook and Twitter. He uncovers the biological drive behind the behavior and highlights its consequences across history and cultures. Eavesdropping can be a good thing–an attempt to understand what goes on in the lives of others so as to know better how to live one’s own. Even birds who listen in on the calls of distant animals tend to survive longer. But Locke also concedes that eavesdropping has a bad name. It can encompass cheating to get unfair advantage, espionage to uncover secrets, and secretly monitoring emails to maintain power over employees. In the age of CCTV, phone tapping, and computer hacking, this is eye-opening reading.
The Guardian revealed how GCHQ bugged the communications of wide range of targets which on the face of it had nothing to do with protecting the nation’s security. They included intelligence that would benefit large British companies, including the oil giants and banks, as well as the internal communications of those companies. GCHQ even bugged the pope.
Parents snooping


“Kids are desperate to flee from their parents’ spying, reports the Wall Street Journal. In a piece about “Tweens’ Secret Lives Online,” the Journal tracks the online lengths kids are going to in order to get away from their stalkerish parents.

Digital anthropologist danah boyd told me last year that teens then were fleeing from Facebook to Twitter to escape the prying eyes of adults. WSJ journo Katherine Rosman says that Instagram is now one of the tools kids use to exchange messages in a semi-public way (where the public doesn’t include nosy adults).

In cataloging all of the sites out there where the kids go these days, Rosman writes: “It’s harder than ever to keep an eye on the children.” Um, what?

The digital age does offer a plethora of new digital spaces for kids to hang out, but it has also offered up a ridiculous number of tech tools for parents to watch kids as they hang out. I think Rosman is absolutely wrong. It’s easier than ever to keep multiple eyes on children. In fact, I suspect parents are growing addicted to spying on kids given the ease of monitoring what they’re doing, who they’re talking to, and where they are.

You can give your child a phone and then monitor their text messages with Mobile Watchdog and track their whereabouts using Location Labs technology. You can put a monitoring box in your teen driver’s car that sends you information about how they’re driving and where they are. You can put spyware on their computers to monitor their Internet use or simply use your computer’s built-in tools. You can force them to download Facebook apps that will alert you if they’re talking to strangers or using questionable language. Or you can friend them on Facebook so you know exactly who’s in their friend group and how they talk to each other. Or you can join the creepy 61% of parents who have secretly logged into their kids’ accounts without their permission. One day soon, helicopter parents may be able to buy a drone that just follows their children 24 hours a day.

Safely, a company that provides monitoring software that parents can put on their kids’ phones, did an analysis of how often parents using their product around the country check their children’s whereabouts. Most parents using their software geolocate their kids about 100 times a month. But in a small town in Missouri, extreme users check their kids’ location 7500 times per month. Maybe it’s time to change the motto there from The Show Me State to the Show Me Where You Are State.

That is mind-blowing. Those parents are tracking their kids 250 times per day. Given that kids are probably out of their parents’ sight for 10 hours at most per day, that’s 25 times an hour.


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