What surprises us now?

One of the precepts of the our project is that it is normal for a small country with a harbor to welcome a vessel from another country. This is despite the fact that there are criminals who live in this country who may be planning to cause some death. I like Mexico as an example, but Ireland in the 1970s would also do. In both cases, large numbers of people are, and were killed as the result of armed gangs getting their hands on powerful weapons shipped over their borders.

We seem generally to agree on how these problems are best resolved, though we’re spectacularly bad at living up to our convictions. But in neither case would we have suggested placing the civilians under occupation and abrogating their human rights for 20 years.

Similarly, it was normal for four students to have lunch together at the local Woolworth’s store in Greensboro North Carolina in 1960. That lunch counter is now preserved as a Museum piece, and it reminds me that only 12 years after Woolworth’s prevented their Black customers from buying lunch, I went to work for the same company in Toronto, oblivious to the connection.

Oblivious is a nice way to be. It allows you to get on with your day.

That’s why we’re being secretive. We’re careful about our conversations. For example, this morning I thought twice about showing you a picture of Karen’s boat luggage. I decided against it.

You should be under no illusion that anyone who really wants to know what we’re up to, where we are and what type of hydraulics our steering system uses, has known this for at least several days. Thanks to the power of text search and analysis, there are also a couple of packet sniffers sending this text to a natural language processor and scoring it for significance. (I also hope that some student of literature, hunting for a PhD subject, is planning to analyze the effect of generalized spying on styles of literature, in the way that Russian scholars now study the forms of literature under Soviet oppression. As Shandy would have done, I digress.)

And this is why you won’t see Karen’s boat luggage: it’s packed in a cast-off beach bag with a silly beach-bag pattern on it. The person who left it here will remember where. And that person’s name and email address is easily available to anyone who has access to an electronic reservations system. Finding the former owner of the bag is the sort of filtering problem that a young intern researcher, with a false Facebook identity for several languages, would delight in solving. So yes, it would be just another node in the semantic graph, but it won’t be mine.

Today in Athens there will be a press conference that, among other things I suppose, will discuss the problem created by someone who has filed a complaint against the Americans. Their boat is not seaworthy, the complaint argues, so they should not be allowed to leave the harbor. The government of Greece already has too many fish to fry and may react with the arbitrary finality of someone who has been working too long in a hot kitchen.

Obliviousness would have permitted them to say, “We were busy, we didn’t know, sorry, won’t do it next time, how are the olives?” Now, however, they have to explain, in a court, that a harbor master does not normally have the authority to prevent a vessel from leaving unless they can show cause that it will sink in the mouth of the harbor and restrict access by other vessels. That will take some time. The French went through this a few days ago, and now two French vessels are on their way. My best wishes to the Americans in Athens this morning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>