Monday, April 22, 2013

Beantown Irregulars

Calhoun's Calhoun's for April 22, 2013

Sherlock Holmes would have been delighted. When in need of information fast, he would send word to his Baker Street irregulars, a gaggle of street urchins who, for a pittance, would quickly fan out and scour the hidden warrens of London and swiftly bring back bits of intel which Holmes would piece together into a case-solving clue.

In the case of the Boston Marathon bombing, police called for their irregulars: seventy bazillion bits of film/fotos from surveillance cameras, cell phones and video cameras in the hands of the public, all of which contained bits of intel shot before, during and after the event, all taken from every direction.  Specially trained law enforcement started the Herculean task of sifting images until two likely suspects came up.  Those photographs were then broadcast over social media, television and print and suddenly the game was afoot and everyone in the entire wired world became Sherlock Holmes in hot pursuit.

It was a loopy sci-fi moment:  "1984" in reverse, but this time WE were Big Brother.  And we were pissed off and empowered and in hunting mode.  It must have been a spooky moment for the two Chechen brothers, with their gentle Byzantine ikon eyes: One moment anonymous and the next --- WTF??!!  Nowhere to run, except to ground -- or hide in a boat -- and wait for the wrath that was about to descend.

Several years ago, when street surveillance cameras first appeared, various civil libertarians raised red flags.  Wicked Government was taking away our Freedom!  Big Brother was coming!  But before the arguments could be formulated, technology and culture bypassed the discussion itself.  Big Brother had already arrived and he was everywhere .  But this time he was the Citizens themselves. And their iPhones.

And I suspect, in their arrogance and ignorance, the Tsamaev brothers never gave a moment's thought about the one unique thing about our contemporary society: There IS no privacy anywhere anymore.  Too many hi-tech phones in the hands of a cohort that documents its existence every single moment of the day with snapshots -- pictures of what they're eating, shots of a sidewalk, a street, a car passing by -- cameras, cameras everywhere, all clicking away and posted to social media, and all filled with little bits of intel just waiting for Sherlock's call. If you live in America, you've probably already been "tagged" on Facebook, and FB images live forever, and facial recognition software is getting better and better each year. Truly, we are all in the databanks now.   

And suddenly, the Second Amendment starts looking a bit anachronistic.  Who needs armed vigilantes to protect a free peoples against predation by criminals and terrorists; all you need are cell phones, social media, a well trained police force, and a vigilant, cooperative citizenry that refuses to cower and be rendered helpless by fear. Screw Big Brother, said Boston. WE are Big Brother, we're our brother's keeper and nobody is going to get away with killing any of our own or screwing with our town.

Which is what happened in Beantown and surprised no one who knows that tough, scrappy, wonderful place.  

Sherlock would be pleased.  


Anonymous said...

your BEST column yet, ann.

Power to the People.



Billy Dunne said...

A very impressive show of force, use of surveillance, and good old-fashioned American ingenuity and stick-to-itiveness.

Now members of the G.uns O.ver P.eople want to hold Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant, all but eradicating his 5th amendment rights. So I guess the constitution wasn’t brought down from the mountaintop by Moses after all. Or maybe just certain amendments, like the second, were. The others are negotiable.

There were 17 deaths by terror last year in the US. There were 30,000 deaths by gun.

If you’re keeping score, to the Repugs and handful of Dems who pray at the altar of the NRA, 3 deaths by bomb trumps 20 kids killed by a gun. Anytime. Anywhere. Anyhow.

My heart goes out to everyone affected by the violence in Boston. And anyone affected by violence in general.

But this is one f’ed up country.

Sandra Gore said...

Crime detection by crowd sourcing...

Anne R. Allen said...

Brilliant post, Ann! The Baker St. Irregulars are one of Conan Doyle's most enduring literary inventions and you're so right that iPhones have made us all "irregulars".

And thanks for the clever tie in to the gun crazies recent assault on sanity. They really are living in another century. A quick-witted kid with an iPhone does much more to protect society than any number of QuickDraw McGraws with homes stocked with weapons of war.

Churadogs said...

Billy, Here's a really odd thing. The Repugs wear their little flag pins and bray about the constitution, but they seem to have absolutely NO confidence in that same constitution when it comes to justice under law. Like they don't believe our system works so they'll substitute "military" justice or just kidnap people and spirit them away like they're living a failed state with no laws except those of their own making. It's so strange -- the very people claiming to be patriots have NO belief in or faith in their country or its system of governance. That's really creepy. Especially since too many of them have been working overtime to ensure the failure/gridlock/death of that same government. Bad, bad, bad.

And, yes, we do need to all be Baker St. Irregulars, both on the lookout for crimes, including the hijacking of our government,since a vigilant Citizen who actually is part of a valued Commons is the only thing that will keep our democracy.

So, Fire up those cameras, boys, and keep a sharp eye on your Congressperson. The game's afoot!