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December 2015

Welcome to the year 2054

[It’s New Year’s Eve, time to determine who will play for the college football championship. Please enjoy this re-post from Oct. 14 and remember that China is getting more repressive by the week.]

Coming to a country near you …

China has rolled out what might loosely be considered a database of credit scores. The main criterion is the ability to pay, and every citizen gets a number from 350 to 950 that goes up or down.

But the Chinese system is based on far more than household finances. According to Rick Falkvinge at Privacy Online News, the government also wants to track what its citizens are buying, and whether those goods fit with the regime’s thinking.

In other words, China-made appliances would make you a more desirable citizen. Video games would be frowned on.

Also, the scores of friends influence yours. Hang out with people trash-talking the authoritarians and your score goes lower. Eventually your Internet access might be limited and your choice of careers limited.

Mr. Falkvinge puts things in perspective: “The KGB and the Stasi’s method of preventing dissent from taking hold was to plant [secret agents] in the general population, people who tried to make people agree with dissent, but who actually were … arresting them as soon as they agreed with such dissent.”

He concludes: “The Chinese way here is much more subtle, but probably more effective still. … What China is doing here is selectively breeding its population to select against the trait of critical, independent thinking.”

Now consider that our government collects every e-mail and all the information on the Internet, 24/7. Now I’ll steal a point made by Mr. Falkvinge: In terms of Orwell’s famous novel “1984,” at this point we’re in about 2054 … and going forward rapidly.

The droning will drone on

Few know that tracking terrorists or (possibly) innocent victims in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan has become the equivalent of a video game.

Four former Air Force drone operators have sent an open letter to President Barack Obama and are giving interviews to promote a movie documentary about the subject.

Michael Haas, a former senior airman, told The Guardian of London about teams of three staring at computer screens an air base outside Las Vegas, tracking insurgents and sometimes killing them remotely.

Airman Haas: “Ever step on ants and never give it another thought? … You start to do these psychological gymnastics to make it easier to do what you have to do – they deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job every day – and ignore those voices telling you this wasn’t right.”

(Disclosure: My personal assistants had an exterminator spray for ants, which makes them international war criminals, I suppose.)

Airman Haas told of operators coping with drone duty by drinking and using drugs, as well as using un-PC terms like “cutting the grass before it grows out of control” and “pulling the weeds before they overrun the lawn.” Children were referred to as “fun-sized terrorists.”

The drone operators also rehashed the familiar arguments that U.S. foreign policy is killing a handful of terrorists along the way while creating many more in the long run.

What’s the answer? My nomination can be found at ClicheSite.com: You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

R.I.P. Joe Strauss

One of baseball’s pressbox personalities has passed away, so I turn to my assistant, Tom Whitfield:

Joe Strauss, never averse to sneaking a downer of a story into a newspaper over the holidays, has done it for the final time. It was his obit, published last weekend in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Richmond native. Leukemia. 54.

Joe was a tireless reporter and columnist, liked by all, save the occasional baseball executive who thought he should worship the home team. Before joining the P-D in 2002, he worked five years in Baltimore, reporting on the Orioles and helping the Sun shape coverage for a new era.

P-D Editor Gilbert Bailon: “Joe never shrank from giving his opinions, whether to newspaper management or to baseball managers. His sharp wit, clever turns of phrase and vast knowledge of sports made him a treasure as an employee and as a writer respected by our readers.”

Joe’s first baseball beat was in Atlanta in the late 1980s. The Braves were finishing last every year, and Joe chronicled how and why they stunk. Even in his 20s, his baseball insights were keen. At this early juncture, all those insights led to overwrought prose. Said one colleague: “His breezy stuff reads like a tax bill.”

After the 1990 season, the Journal-Constitution decided to change baseball writers, with little thought as to Joe’s replacement. At the same time, WSB-AM cut the Braves loose. Horrible team, no problem. The heartburn kicked in when …

The Braves carried Atlanta’s best sports story ever to extra innings in the seventh game of the World Series. As the story built, Joe’s insights were missed.

After covering baseball in the ’96 Olympics, Joe was off to Baltimore and St. Louis, integrity intact, to be appreciated by more sophisticated sports sections and fan bases. R.I.P.

The P-D obit: http://tinyurl.com/hx6mno9

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