Permanent Record by Edward Snowden, hosted by Jeanne, June 17, 2021

From Jeanne:

Hi everyone

Thanks to everyone for the great evening, it was wonderful that everyone could make it to our first in-person book club since the pandemic shut down our world, I was thrilled to be hosting it here. It was definitely a team effort to make that meal, cooking with Josee has been the one thing I’ve been able to contribute to the community during Covid and a thing I could do to feel a little less helpless in face of the overwhelming need and suffering all around us. Thank you Josee for making that possible and for the great experience…. even when we faced those mountains of pots and bowls to clean after the meals were packaged!!!

I appreciated the thought and discussion everyone put into this book and the issues. It is challenging material and I am proud of us that we choose such books as this for our reading and that we can dive into discussing them openly together. And What a PLEASURE to discuss in person!! I’m grateful that we could continue our meetings over zoom, but delighted that we can have many conversations at the same time again!!

I found the second reading of Snowden brought me more thoughts about the issues some of which I’ve jotted here:

(With a little corollary now that I’ve edited and read it back to myself: This is an essay/list of my opinions about Edward Snowden and his story. It is not related to our discussion. I take this opportunity to espouse my thoughts because Karen asked for my summary for the blog and, although I’m sure she didn’t expect this, it seemed like I had a lot to say once I got started. I reserve the right to continue to think more also which is a sign of a good story. And although my thoughts might sound like I unqualifiedly approve of everything he does I mostly am trying not to get stuck in the leaves and lose the tree. So here you go, good luck reading the whole thing, maybe have a glass of wine with it, lol) 

1. I am impressed with his eventual self-confrontation when the confirmation that his worst fears about what his government was doing were proved true beyond any doubt, with his choices, his decisions and his follow through in actions. How many of us in his position would ignore, or run away from finding the proof of our fears in order to preserve our illusions about our government (or at least not have to face our fears head on), to preserve our lifestyle, our family’s wellbeing etc.. ?  And would we ignore what we found in order to do no damage to the government, security agencies and military that are the perpetrators but supposedly protecting their citizens. Imagine with this data what McCarthyism could be like… 

To me, whatever else he was and whatever anyone thinks of his choices, he has made it possible to live with himself and walk around with his head up knowing that he did what he thought was right for a bigger purpose than himself. I think a lot of people who face tough choices like that choose to take the ‘safe’ route, but they whittle away at their humanity and inner feeling of personal value when they make choices based on personal safety, status quo or any other reason that goes against what they know in their heart and gut to be right. We judge the actions of other people based on our own criteria, and the bottom line is No One will ever make a choice and take action on it that will be unanimously agreed on. To be honest I don’t know if I’d have the guts to do what he did, but I think I would lose respect for myself if I convinced myself it was okay to do nothing so I feel he was stuck between a rock and a hard place and he chose to confront the issue head on. To me this story is similar in essence to the story of the Good Samaritan, or the traveller who moved the rock in his path rather than go around or turn back. 

2. Our federal, provincial and, to a somewhat lesser degree, municipal governments, our military and bureaucracies have become autonomous creatures that are not reactive to anything except feeding themselves. Like the gypsy moth caterpillars they are consuming everything in their path without regard to sustainability or values other than greed and self-preservation. There is no accountability or responsibility to the country and citizens they were created to serve. The contracting, sub-contracting and incredible waste of resources and the tax dollars that ordinary people work for is criminal by any other standards. The biggest tragedy of all this is that we feel more and more helpless. Are we doomed? If this continues it will be like the trees. The leaves are coming back after being stripped by the caterpillars but they are not back as strong and healthy as their first magnificent, trusting growth. They are more tentative, they are dipping into their stored energy and hopefully these new, weaker leaves can gather enough energy to survive for the winter. It was scary to watch the big oak trees and most of the forest being decimated and I wonder how many more onslaughts they can weather before succumbing to this army set in motion by human arrogance and manipulation of a system designed to have checks and balances. 

3. Personal rights vs the rights of the state are subject to a lot of controversy. I think this is a subject we will never agree on the nuances and extent of how much power government should have and whether people like Snowden, Martin Luther King, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela … the list goes on, are committing acts against their government or are justified in speaking up for citizens, against government abuses and for marginalized groups of people. The books and stories I read seem to be kinder to them in history than during their lifetime and in the immediacy of their actions. I suspect that some of you may disagree with whom I’ve put together on this list, but these all meet the criteria of doing what they feel is right in a nonviolent action and staying true to their belief at a great personal cost. 

4. We, the readers, have choices now:

 We can make the story about him and his country and/or fellow citizens and judge him and use this as a reason to do nothing, or something. 

 We can make his decision and action redundant because we are being spied on all the time by the social media monoliths and corporations who use our private info for their material gain. And do nothing, or something

 We can literally make up anything we want about him and the story to justify doing nothing or something.

 And does it matter if we, the individual, do nothing, or something anyways??

5. Sadly for my peace of mind after reading this book twice, doing nothing is not an option. At the very least I have started changing my passwords, will continue and I am looking into some options for communication independent of the big bad companies. 

I am and will continue to talk about this book and recommend that people read it.

I choose to be inspired by Edward Snowden’s story. I hope that this story gives me the courage to do and say I feel in my heart is right for the greater good no matter how much it might inconvenience me, make me uncomfortable or make my life difficult (even my family’s too and beyond (especially if there comes a time when liberal views, independent thought and speaking up for environmental and social justice issues becomes demonized…  1984)), and no matter how much my head argues and justifies any other course of action. 

I believe the world needs more of us to stand up to the bullies and abusers and speak out for everyone’s rights. I believe that the silent majority of people are good and care and that individuals can work within communities to empower all of us to stand up and be heard. And when people are informed, given a means, learn to silence the judge inside themselves, get motivated to work together in small groups, miracles can happen.

Here is the Edward Snowden password YouTube link:

Here is the link for Edward Snowden message to Canada about his Guardian Angels

Here is the link for the recipe for Tahini Sauce

Tahini Dressing Recipe | Minimalist Baker Recipes

From Karen: The book club gods were with us again last night.  The weather was fine, the conversation was LIVELY (both personal catchup and discussion related to the book), and the food was delicious.  A wonderful way to inaugurate our in person meetings. (I checked the blog and the last time we met in person was April 16 2020 at Moira’s for Washington Black) Thanks Jeanne and Josee for the magic you created in the kitchen.  The Wellington outreach program is fortunate to have your help. 

And now on to Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record.  I admit I did not relate to Edward Snowden though his story raised important questions.  Yes, he is incredibly technically smart but I wanted to read more about the moral ambiguity of what he faced while working for the government.  Data privacy is complicated and controversial. Governments and corporations collect our personal data without impunity.  More data equals more power.  We live in a society where every action is seen “as a data point to be analyzed and traded like currency.” (From The Atlantic)  There needs to be balance and oversight – but how and by whom, is the troubling question.   

Great to meet again in person and debate our book’s themes together.  Thanks Jeanne for hosting.  Looking forward to seeing you all at Moira’s in September.

From Bev: Thank you Jeanne for suggesting this book. As Karen says it raises some very important questions and his revelations pose more questions than answers. Knowledge is power and have our governments given away their moral duty to protect their citizens? Or is the transformation in technology just too rapid for the elected to deal with and it is easier to contract it out not really understanding the consequences of doing so? Or has the military industrial complex usurped government to increase their power and wealth. And in this day and age we are daily grappling with what is moral/ethical.

Snowden is an interesting study. He comes from a historical American lineage. His family has a long history of serving in the military at high levels. He struggles with conventional learning and buries himself in the solitary world of computers. What child at age 6 would take apart a computer game to see how it works and then almost independently put it back together and the only thing that stopped it from working again is not knowing how to re-sodder the mother board. Brilliant but not charismatic/personable. So many geniuses seem to lack the ability to relate personally and so he may not engender a lot of sympathy.  Good books keep you asking.  Great meal Jeanne and Josee. And great work with the Wellington Square/ Burlington Food network.

From Laura: Jeanne, what a great topic to fan the flames of our first live and in-person meeting! Not that it needed any combustible materials, 😆. Although I am somewhat over-the-top about privacy issues, I have to admit one of my daughters and her husband have the same approach as Karen’s experience- meh- and the other just shrugs her shoulders. I myself feel it is a losing battle most of the time but still remain on the defensive side of the debate. Anyhoo, it was wonderful to rub elbows with everyone, and thanks to you and Josee for an incredibly delicious meal, for the second servings, and for sharing the info about the food programs at Wellington Square and other churches. 

I hope the in-person meetings can continue, and look forward to Moira’s date. Another thought-provoking book as well. Best wishes to everyone for continued good health. ❤️

From Ann: It was so great to see everyone and the humm of conversations made me feel more normal again- it’s been so long!   The meal was fantastic (and the take home meal was a great treat too).   I found the book thought provoking and also troubling because unless a ton of us “regular” people do something about it there is no reason to think things have really changed and it is hard to believe the government about anything really. A dilemma for sure. I think one thing I will do is check out my passwords though. That is certainly doable!   Thanks again.

From Jill: How lucky we were, to be able to finally get together and catch up with each other at long last! The ambience, wine and such delicious food made it one of the happiest evenings for me in months! Many thanks Jeanne for suggesting such a thought provoking intense read. I certainly learned a lot, and was quite in awe of Snowdon’s brilliant mind and his capabilities. Technology boggles my mind at the best of times and reading about him, and listening and reading everyone’s comments helped me to realize even more there are powers beyond our control whether we like it or not. 

Jeanne and Josee those many months of providing food for so many is admirable. What would many people do without volunteers like you and many others? I have just finished my leftover portion for lunch, yum! and wonder, would it be possible to have recipes for the chickpeas, sweet potatoes and the veggy mix? 

From Jane: Wonderful to see everyone, including Arthur, in real life. Loved hearing the buzz around the table – all the conversations and catching up. I did find this a challenging book and I appreciate the discussion led by Jeanne. As someone who had a career in technology there is a lot for me to think about – Just because we can build it – should we? And who is going to be the grownup in the room that helps protect the client from themselves. The US and the world was so shocked by the intelligence failures of 911 that they definitely over corrected and did not put in appropriate checks and balances.

I guess my issue is that I am not sure what we do about it now.  I will think about this book for a long time.  Thank you Jeanne for choosing a thought provoking book and for the amazing meal – we (and the community) are lucky to have you and Josee.  Stay well all and see you on September 16th at Moira’s.

From Moira: Sorry to have missed you all during the pre- Bookclub social but it sure was nice to see you around the table, thoroughly engaged in the Snowden interview. Jeanne, Could you send me the link to the interview that you were showing when I came in?

Thanks to both Jeanne and Josee for a delicious meal and bonus leftovers! I commend you for your volunteer work.

Snowden’s book makes me wonder how someone with a brain like his can stand to live in a world and try to communicate with the likes of the rest of us and yet he does an admirable job trying to do just that. I think a person who views most information in terms of 0 and 1 and can categorize it as such, does not have much trouble deciding the moral right or wrong of an action- both his and the governments- and that he would feel compelled to set the record straight regardless of the cost to himself. He did weigh the cost to himself and felt badly for his family. I am happy that he is living safely in Russia with his partner, whom I also admire, for her perseverance. 

I hope we see and hear more from Snowden in the future- we really need a guy like him working on OUR side. If you haven’t see the Netflix show, The Social Dilemma, it is a must.

The Social Dilemma focuses on how big social media companies manipulate users by using algorithms that encourage addiction to their platforms. It also shows, fairly accurately, how platforms harvest personal data to target users with ads – and have so far gone largely unregulated.

From Erin: Thanks Jeanne (and Josee)!  Adding my appreciation for all your hard work preparing a creative and lovely meal for the community and us 🙂.   Absolutely delicious and I think if I learned to cook more vegetarian/vegan meals with such amazing flavours, I truly wouldn’t miss meat.

I must admit today I’m walking around feeling a combination of guilty for living the way I do, and also scrutinized (as I walked around the golf course with my smart phone in my bag) wondering if I should ditch the cell phone, ditch the laptop, and go back to a Bell hard-wired land line with an answering machine-of the old rewind tape recorder variety.  It doesn’t really feel like an option anymore… for someone who wants to continue to be part of the world community. I too feel stuck in a dilemma?  What to do???  My trust in the government is waning… an entirely separate issue from the Permanent Record cached on the web, in that it seems public service has become a mechanism (for most not all) to get a piece of the action (access to tax dollars) and fleece their pockets, either while in office or later….   The contracting, sub-contracting business has me livid, and I have no idea what can be done about it.  It seems to be the way of the world… get someone else to do the dirty work, so you can keep your hands clean and be absolved of any responsibility, criminal or otherwise…. or sometimes, it’s just a way to pay workers less than government jobs that enjoy good benefits, job security and a pension.

My apologies for my ramblings… a very thought provoking and Orwellian book… 1984 is here… the timing isn’t that far off… didn’t Edward Snowdon say 1989 was the beginning of the internet?  

Thanks again Jeanne and all you wonderful women!

From Josee:   What a beautiful evening we shared! It was so very nice seeing you all and being able to hug, to chat and to be together after such a longer absence.  I cannot add to what has already been said. So many good points, ideas, opinions have been brought up. What an extraordinary group of women you all are. Edward Snowden will remain in our thoughts for quite sometimes. I’m quite sure. 

I’m still chuckling at Edward Snowden’s video replies that Jeanne showed us about « passwords «. How my Mom at 91 must think our world has changed.  Happy Saturday, take care

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