Like most consumers, I associate the phrase “thank you” with Citigroup THANKYOU Marks, which the financial-services giant uses in its customer rewards programs. When I hold the door open for a little girl and she says “thank you,” I suffer a moment of confusion. How has this child become employed by Citigroup, and why has my act of courtesy earned me THANKYOU Mark rewards? But then I remember that, oh yeah, trademark violations have diluted the THANKYOU Mark brand to the point where people started using it in non-rewards point contexts. It’s the kind of infringement on intellectual property that has become too common in the modern world. Fortunately, Citigroup has fought back against such lawlessness by filing suit against AT&T for using “thanks” and “AT&T thanks” in its own marketing materials.
Using documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Times wrote Saturday that the NSA’s ability to spy on US internet traffic “has relied on its extraordinary, decades-long partnership with a single company: the telecom giant AT&T.” NSA documents praise AT&T’s “extreme willingness to help” and remind contractors visiting the company to be polite, since “This is a partnership, not a contractual relationship.” I think we can all agree that a partnership between one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies and the federal government to secretly monitor our communication is an exciting direction for America to go. As if this relationship did not smack of corporatocracy already, there’s this refusal from an AT&T spokesman to discuss any of the findings: “We don’t comment on matters of national security.” It’s subtle, but it’s the subject of today’s Close Reading.
I’m not trying to scare you, but it’s worse than people know. Put together all of the problems you can think of: that, by definition, is the realm of the known, and how things are is worse than all of that put together. I’m not trying to scare you, but the sum total of all the bad things in the world, plus your imagine, almost certainly underestimates how bad things really are due to the limiting factor of awareness. Right now, people you don’t even know about are doing bad things in secret. I’m not trying to scare you, but however scared you might be at this moment is almost certainly insufficiently scared, although we just don’t know. Today is Friday, and every shadow teems with grues. Won’t you stumble around in the dark with me?
It is a known fact that a lot of assholes have more power than you. Mitch McConnell, Ke$ha, Pat Robertson, bone loss, the fundamental economic problem, Steven Tyler, tooth decay—pretty much any of them could, at a whim, do things to your life that you could not undo. The forces arrayed above us are mind-boggling. Think of your boss at work, and then try to think of every person who could pay him to fire you. The situation is terrifying. Paradoxically, even though most of it is because people arranged everything before you got here, it will only get worse as you age. Until right at the end. Right at the end, you will attain to a position where no one has any power over you whatsoever. In the meantime, you can say whatever you want. It’s Friday, the weekend approaches as Sherman approached the sea, and they’ve got the guns but we are funnier. Historical primary source document after the jump.