Results from Our First Annual DHS Creative Writing Contest

Earlier this summer we announced our first Department of Homeland Security Creative Writing Contest, and we’re long overdue for publishing the results. They’re finally here! But before showcasing the awesome writing submissions, we should say a few words about the current state of big government surveillance.

The big news of the day: CISPA is dead! The Cybersecurity Act of 2012 (S.3414; the senate version of CISPA) was defeated by filibuster in the Senate. That’s a big victory over government cyber-surveillance, at least for now.

On the downside, NSA dragnet surveillance continues under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). According to the Office of the Directory of National Intelligence (ODNI, the overseer of intelligence agencies), "it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people whose communications have been reviewed" by the government. Remember that our writing contest dealt with the DHS — a different agency than the NSA. How many three-letter government agencies does it take to spy on an American?

Finally, Kudos to twitter for following in Google’s footsteps, and issuing a transparency report. In the first six months of 2012, twitter received 849 government requests for user information. Of those, 80% (679 of 849) came from the united states. Twitter turned over information for 75% of the US requests. Perhaps Google could take a lesson from twitter (Google satisfied 93% of US government information requests, according to their latest transparency report).

The Contest Submissions

Time for the good stuff. The challenge was to take the list of keywords from the DHS’s social media monitoring program (see pdf, pages 20–23), then write a short piece that has nothing to do with national security, but uses as many keywords as possible. Here’s what people sent in. Can you pick out the keywords?

From Jo of Winchester:

Damn! I am in quarantine because I got infected with norvo virus drinking mudslides in Tijuana

Southwest Airlines sucks. Stuck in San Diego and all I want is to get to Tucson to see la familia

I love that I live Salem and we have homegrown pirates. I wonder if they are recruiting!

Reading an amazing book about public health and multi drug resistant TB in Somalia, so glad we have smart people with the WHO, training homegrown providers to combat this pandemic!

I wonder if the DHS has informed the CDC about this new infection caused by something called norvo virus

Jo also quips about the term “norvo virus”, which appears on the DHS keyword list:

I do love the fact that there is actually no such thing as “norvo virus” there is Norwalk Virus aka norovirus but definitely no norvo virus.

I suppose that’s a DHS oops :)

From Terra:

at dress rehearsal at the theater today, the explosion of boos from the audience in the facility was toxic. people running from the theater had to control themselves and be civil as they burst out. in our opinion, the plot is a bomb and mayhem and riots on opening night are expected as audience members scramble to get their money back. we believe that the lead actor will be the latest casualty in this disaster of a performance. due to the expected unrest in the case, we would have thought that the strategy would be to retain more security personnel, in anticipation of the death of the run of this disaster of a theater piece, because we anticipate that people will by dying to leave and would perhaps “kill” for a cab in an attempt to flee. in total, the entire effort is a waste of theater infrastructure. and i recommend greater policing of public arts funding to ensure that we force better quality. use of public funding in this manner is a crime. even though the media came to shoot, that was not an indication that the initiative in this worthless exercise has any value. the entire thing is a threat to our civilization. if we don’t stop this kind of waste, it will breach not only public trust, but will incite civil unrest. i expect that this will blow up into a huge incident, as smaller arts collectives complain of their destruction because of lack of funding. when a small art house can have a huge hit, with home grown resources, and a large funded facility like what i saw today crashed and burned, it makes you wonder why we get any traffic at this huge facility. whether arts authorities are listening or not, they should take this as a warning. arts funding is in crisis. and the emergency is magnified when disasters like this are allowed to open. they should all be blacked out and blow to smithereens.

From M.L. Browne, Winchester, MA:

I was riding my bike when a dog came from nowhere on a side street and attacked my right leg. I crashed and he ran off. I felt the burn up my bloodied leg. Since bacteria and infection from bites are so nasty, I called the CDC. They said treat it, wrap it, ice it for relief, and report the incident to the police. I did what they said, but I wish the damned dog had at least barked a warning before he bit me.

Finally, from Monica (aka femmevox):

What kind of nutcase names her pet Pekineses Ricin, Sarin, Anthrax and Salmonella? Someone in love with the plague, or with a sick sense of humor. And I had to walk them.

Teaching The Tempest to my ESL students is a disaster. Or a riot! Google translates it The Storm, half the students mistake Caliban for Taliban, while the smart kids burst out laughing.

Help! His Trojan burst, this flood might be a disaster! Or a warning. I’ve got to find my power, get out before I’m stranded in some brownout of a life.

Big twinkles to everyone who sent in submissions.