David Westerfield

Theology, Culture, Technology, Reviews, and Other Commentary

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The Establishment versus the Leaks

In 2010, John Naughton, writing for The Guardian had this to say in relation to Wikileaks dumping the trove of documents it obtained on Iraq:

What WikiLeaks is really exposing is the extent to which the western democratic system has been hollowed out. In the last decade its political elites have been shown to be incompetent (Ireland, the U.S. and U.K. in not regulating banks); corrupt (all governments in relation to the arms trade); or recklessly militaristic (the U.S. and U.K. in Iraq). And yet nowhere have they been called to account in any effective way. Instead they have obfuscated, lied or blustered their way through. And when, finally, the veil of secrecy is lifted, their reflex reaction is to kill the messenger.

As Simon Jenkins put it recently in the Guardian, “Disclosure is messy and tests moral and legal boundaries. It is often irresponsible and usually embarrassing. But it is all that is left when regulation does nothing, politicians are cowed, lawyers fall silent and audit is polluted. Accountability can only default to disclosure.” What we are hearing from the enraged officialdom of our democracies is mostly the petulant screaming of emperors whose clothes have been shredded by the net.

Which brings us back to the larger significance of this controversy. The political elites of western democracies have discovered that the internet can be a thorn not just in the side of authoritarian regimes, but in their sides too. It has been comical watching them and their agencies stomp about the net like maddened, half-blind giants trying to whack a mole. It has been deeply worrying to watch terrified internet companies — with the exception of Twitter, so far — bending to their will.

But politicians now face an agonising dilemma. The old, mole-whacking approach won’t work. WikiLeaks does not depend only on web technology. Thousands of copies of those secret cables — and probably of much else besides — are out there, distributed by peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent. Our rulers have a choice to make: either they learn to live in a WikiLeakable world, with all that implies in terms of their future behaviour; or they shut down the internet. Over to them.

Whether you agree with dumping as much data as was dumped on Iraq (I happen to believe that much data was reckless, though I’m still uncertain as to what actual damage was done to the national security state other than embarassment), still the points made above come full circle in light of the NSA revelations.

“All Your Data Are Belong to Us” – NSA

Not sure what to say. I’ve suspected this for years. I’ve seen evidence, read multiple leaks of data, read reports of people who used to work within the national security state, deeply concerned about where things were headed, read statements by insiders/whistle-blowers willing to risk their careers to expose what this functional fourth branch of government has become. It’s all not surprising and yet very much so because it confirms suspicions. There’s a part of you that hopes you’re wrong.

Keep in mind, this is one operation that has been exposed. There are likely many more. The reports from 2006 in which NSA was secretly setting up listening posts within AT&T CO’s to siphon data off for analysis was a huge red flag for me in my support of the Patriot Act. I didn’t find out about this until a little later, maybe 2007, but it was at this point I became deeply concerned and started researching more. I came across sites such as Cryptome and Wikileaks

I’ve seen people say, “There’s no way they could store all those voice calls,” clearly people with no idea of the concept of compression or general audio and voice technology. Yes, they can store it all. What do you think Bluffdale is for? They’re running out of space and need yottabytes worth of data. So yes, they can snag and store everything. I like political pundits who have no background in IT weighing in on what the NSA’s capabilities are. I digress.

Here is a list of some of the key articles, for future reference:

NSA Snooping: Nothing New Under the Sun… Yet Still Just as Concerning


The infamous AT&T San Francisco central office secret NSA room.My, how easily we forget history. Even recent history. 2006 wasn’t that long ago, when an AT&T technician outed the National Security Agency’s program to install Narus data siphoning devices in the AT&T central offices. At the time Bush was president. Conservatives ignored all the noise about warrantless wiretaps from their political opponents and explained it away as necessary for the war on terror (oddly enough as our own president did today). I even held that view until these revelations. Then I became concerned. Little did the conservatives realize the civil libertarians (and concerned liberals) were right all along: this will be used, not for outsiders, but for us (much like DHS, but that’s another story, though eerily related).

Now Obama is president and the tables are turned. If we go back and read the articles in which the media was (rightly) concerned about President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping as it relates to the Constitution, we see it takes on a whole new meaning now that Obama is President and conservatives are being targeted. Whether it’s Bush or Obama though (who, on this point at least, are one in the same), we are coming to find out that we’re all civil libertarians now. The government has way too much power for the good of us all. And it will never lessen its grip without a fight.

That it has been revealed Verizon has tracked (eh hem, is tracking, eh hem) millions of calls only reveals the tip of the iceberg. It goes much, much deeper and broader than that.

Below is a list of some of the stories, videos and testimony from the early to mid-2000’s forward in which all of this was brought up over and over again: NSA is siphoning and storing our data. All they can get their hands on. They siphon it, mine it, store it, create data cubes off of it, make it searchable, sort it, analyze it, report off of it. What I know from the IT world of data storage, searching and analysis, applied to private data in this context, is frightening. And now NSA is fixing to launch their Bluffdale data center in which yottabytes of data will be stored. It’s a Brave New World. Big Data isn’t just a concept in the corporate IT world, but rather very much a part of data acquisition, storage, reporting, and sorting theory by the government.

What more can be said to show this government is out of control? Not sure what else can be done, short of a serious crisis to get us to wake up. The cultural rot, the malaise, the lack of incentive, the entitlement, the willful ignorance, and most of all, the loss of gospel-truth taking hold in people’s hearts. Saddening situation.

Lord help us, seriously, if there is ever a serious crisis causing dislocation. Emergency legislation waits in the wings. You know I never have understood over the years when I talk to people about these things how they can just flippantly say, “Yeah, I’m sure they’re listening to everything,” almost in disbelief. And I reply, “No seriously, they’re siphoning our data,” so as to emphasize the fact that it is happening, I’m not talking in hypotheticals. Unfortunately it will take a series of crises to get people to wake up to the seriousness of what we’re facing politically, economically, socially, spiritually.

New Boards of Canada: Tomorrow’s Harvest – Reach for the Dead

Wisdom By Joseph Pulitzer: The Republic and the Press

“Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. The power to mould the future of the Republic will be in the hands of the journalists of future generations.” – Joseph Pulitzer

Sentimental Christianity: “All Sins Are Equal”

I sincerely believe this particular euphemistic phrase and others like it were born out of an earnest desire to show that in the eyes of God, our sin is sin. It’s an empathetic gesture from one sinner (though saved by Jesus’s work) toward another sinner who doesn’t know the Lord to say, “Hey, I’m like you and I’m not leaving myself out of this equation.” It’s a way to gain common ground with another person so they might hear the gospel. And in some sense it’s true: we’re all leveled before the judgment seat of God’s holy stare and it only takes the committing of one sin. We’re all culpable and liable to judgment. No question. Part of me does wonder how much of this is the evangelical spirit desiring to eschew the rough edges of truth because they are offensive. The doctrine of hell and eternal punishment is not a popular concept in our culture, let alone that God would be sovereign in the dispensing of His mercy in light of that. But regardless, let’s just say for arguments’ sake the motive is good.

The problem is this just simply isn’t true, at least on its face, which is likely how most people hear it; they probably don’t think further about it within our tweet-size discourse in the West. Different sins have different judgments. We don’t necessarily know what they all are or how they are met out. But Jesus makes it clear to Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (John 19:11). Some may object and say, yeah, well, that was the Jewish Sanhedrin and they were betraying Jesus. But the principle is still the same and applies throughout. Some punishments receive greater weight, even in the law. Some sins deserve greater judgment than others and therefore some sins are indeed worse than others.

Peter Schiff is (Hopefully Not) Right, Again

A Niebuhr Kind of Day

Update: To her credit, Rachel Held Evans has come out and apologized for jumping the gun and assuming the worst about John Piper’s motives. I still maintain this brand of evangelicalism is on the Downgrade, but it’s good to see her admit a wrong committed and seek reconciliation (based on a number of tweets to that effect). http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/forgive-me


I fail to see how Rachel Held Evans theology (and others like her) escapes this assessment of liberal theology in the 19th and 20th centuries by H. Richard Niebuhr:

“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” – H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America.

The “universal acid” (Mohler) of skepticism and doubt eventually swallows up every doctrine of Scripture. Just ask Shelby Spong or Marcus Borg, they’ll tell you what they think. “Did God actually say ______?” (Gen. 3:1). This is the fundamental root of all sin, a doubting that God would actually speak clear truth in love toward us. What could be more loving than God giving us His words, preserved through centuries for our salvation? Maybe giving His own Son to suffer in our stead? Then again, penal substitutionary atonement is probably interpreted as “divine child abuse” (Chalke) to her. (Mohler)

For the postmodern, everything having to do with Scripture is vague or unclear and left to interpretation and therefore any interpretation is a go, or at the least entertainable, even though multiple ecumenical church councils over many centuries may have denied it, since that was merely their interpretation. But don’t worry, Rachel Held Evans and crew are here in their vast knowledge and research to rescue you from… Christianity, with its archaic, repressive doctrines and symbols that need a liberal, feminist, egalitarian, postmodern, 21st century makeover. James White is right to say that every generation must fight its own version of the Downgrade Controversy. This is ours and it’s here.

Interesting how the explanation of why Piper tweeted what he did and his response to what can only be described as cynical, hyper-emotional, unthinking criticism didn’t seem to make the presses though. But so goes Rachel Held Evans. Whatever fits the meme that Reformed people or conservative evangelicals in general are bad people, I guess. Smear the character, don’t actually engage the argument or the position. Sounds like far-leftist politics is invading the theological world. Eh, whatever gets blog hits right? Celebrity leftist evangelicalism at it’s finest, letting the Xian PR machine take over. Boy did this get her some traffic.

Also interesting to note is that Evans cites a sermon by open theist Greg Boyd after updating her blog post. Explains much. “Escaping the Twilight Zone God

Evans represents a brand of evangelicalism that sits atop shaky ground; building a house on the sand. It’s been a long time coming and looks to be giving way. In my absolute frustration at what I read from her and other likeminded individuals is utter sadness. Once emergent theology started blending more with average evangelical churches, it was only a matter of time and tilt of the slope. Unfortunately it won’t end well.

Douglas Wilson gives Rachel Held Evans a well-deserved response for such sloppiness and avoiding the glaring problem that remains: http://dougwils.com/s16-theology/rachel-held-evans-denies-the-cat.html. Don’t miss it.

Gosnell Versus “Clean Abortions”

The babies “born alive” that were murdered by Kermit Gosnell are the same babies alive in the womb, everyday, who silently scream and fight for their lives when viewed on ultrasound. Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t stick your head in the sand about what happens during an abortion. Know what you’re supporting.

Secular Mind Sacrilege

If your overarching (or inadvertent) goal is to be liked by the world as a believer, you will inevitably have to pare off the rough edges of truth, as Spurgeon called it, and do massive editing to make the message more acceptable.

The gospel is an offense, in particular, that blood would be required by God for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22) and at that, His own Sons’ blood. This doctrine, penal substitutionary atonement, has been called “divine child abuse” from some within evangelicalism (Steve Chalke in particular, though many seem to agree with his assessment). This heart-truth of the gospel is absolute sacrilege to the secular mind.

There’s no way around it: what we believe about the truth of God’s Word, and actually, the fact we believe it speaks truth at all into the world, is itself an offense, let alone the doctrines contained within that it speaks to.

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