Monday, September 28, 2015

Citizenfour

In her Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, Laura Poitras exposes the extent and impact of our government’s domestic spying operations.  Her documentary focuses on Edward Snowden, and includes many of the things you’d expect to see in great filmmaking.  For example, there is the early congressional testimony of an NSA bureaucrat who repeatedly denied that the government intercepts our emails, phone calls, texts, and google searches.  But later, another NSA bureaucrat testified and tried to spin it: The NSA does not intercept such data “wittingly.”  It does so “inadvertently, perhaps,” but not “wittingly.”  (This type of statement makes the testimony of cigarette company executives — “I believe that nicotine is not addictive” — appear truthful by comparison.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Race matters in eyewitness identifications

By now, most people have seen the video of former professional tennis player James Blake being roughed up by a New York cop in a case of mistaken identification.  (If you’re familiar with names like Agassi, Sampras, and Federer but haven’t heard of Blake, the guy was not a superstar but he was legit; he earned more than $1 million in prize money alone in 2008.)  And once this video surfaced, several worthwhile issues have been raised, including police brutality, police cover-ups, and disparate treatment of minorities.  But two topics have largely been glossed over.