Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

2014 has been a hell of a year! Lot's to say, looking forward to 2015. Wishing the best to every single person who reads this! Peace and Love y'all!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Been down after the election and some other things. Maybe I need to write more. There are certainly enough unfinished ideas rattling around. Tremendous respect for those who manage to post every day or on a regular scheduled despite jobs and family. I have ambitious goals for the near future and they may or not come to fruition, but I feel VERY burnt out. I have quite a bit of vacation saved up and should likely take some just to avoid this continued sense of a constant swim to save and keep just a little bit of money. IF there is going to be more to life than this, I'm going to have to make it happen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

An open letter to all voters:

To my Democratic Friends:

Let's do this. Let's get every vote out there this election cycle. Pundits be damned, projections be damned, polls be damned, everything but the will of the voters can take a back seat. This is the final two days of the election. We've registered new voters, fought against sneaky ways to steal our votes, raised money, fought tremendous amounts of new "Dark Money" now that Citizens United has legalized bribery, we've set up tremendous Get-Out-The-Vote efforts with volunteers and hard work, let's put every thing we have to get to that goal line. Doesn't matter if there is rain, snow, corporate media lies, long poll lines, new obstacles or whatever that tries to get in our way. We fight on. We don't give up. We work DAMNED hard. Every vote deserves to be cast and counted. We're Democrats. Let's do this for "We the People".

To My Republican Friends:

We take to heart that we are a Republic, not a Democracy, and as such individual votes really don't matter. Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Forwarded Emails and Shared Posts on the Facebook inform us that there is just tremendous voter fraud out there so our votes don't matter anyways. Those are the most trusted news sources, so they wouldn't lie or exaggerate the problem no matter what those Liberals say. It's dangerous out there, our friends at the NRA and Fox tell us so. Ebola, ISIS, the Knockout Game, Al Qaeda, Rap Music, Gun Grabbers, Twerking, Benghazis, Crooked IRS Agents persecuting Conservatives, FEMA Coffins, Urban Thugs, Matrimonial Gays, Legal Stoners... It's too dangerous to go outside. Plus Obama is a "tyrant"! Do you think tyrants care about who we vote for? Let's keep our names off Obama's lists, let's not vote. Really it's Patriotic when you think about it... everyone gets one vote? That sounds like Socialism. Let's spend Election day the way we spend most days, sharing sort-of-racist pictures on the Facebook and being angry for no particular reason.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Things I Wish the President Would Do Just to See What Conservatives Would Do.


Since the election of President Barack Obama, we've been told to expect everything from having our guns seized to Fema Camps to Stock Market Crashes and making Conservatism illegal on the internet and so on... none of that crap has happened or even come close, but every time the President has a nice dinner with his wife, chooses one event over another, engages in any normal activity, or just acts human - the Conservatives I know have a fit like he has imposed martial law. Just for their reactions, part of me wished he would do the following:

1) Put himself on Mount Rushmore, but twice as big as the other presidents.

2) Rename every "Ronald Reagan Avenue" into "Cesar Chavez Avenue".

3) Do every press briefing in a grey hoodie.

4) Fly to the Border and personally adopt a refugee child for El Salvador. Name his "Marx Jihad Obama".

5) Hire Stephen Colbert as his press secretary.

6) Participate in a Civil War Re-Enactment. Choose to play "General Sherman" and re-enact the March to the Sea.

7) Find someone who posts they just know the president is going to take their guns. Wear a cat burglar outfit and break in to his house and actually steal every single gun that person owns. That way it would be true for at least one person.

8) Randomly cite the Koran in perfect Arabic. And the Communist Manifesto in the original German.

9) Detain the next White Supremacist / Sovereign Citizen found with a bunch of pipe bombs in Guantanamo Bay.

10) Go on an actual "turn off my cell phone and y'all don't know where I'm at" vacation. Biden can run things for a few days.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"Why?" and "Because." Tools for argument and understanding.

Radiation causes cancer.

Which is why it has warning signs

This statement is true, false, and somewhere in between depending on your understanding of the verb "to cause".

As an introduction, in the most stringent sense of the idea that Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas and Paul Hume used to define "cause", the above is a false statement. Not everyone who develops cancer is exposed to intense amounts of radiation. In another sense of the word, the above statement is entirely true, Radiation exposure can be a contributing factor to whether or not one develops certain kinds of cancer. Finally, there is the more common sense of the word "cause" that we utilize in the English speaking world in which we would all agree with that statement.

You can learn about how radiation from sources like Radon, UV light and Nuclear Fallout have been found to contribute to cancers such as Lung, Skin, and Leukemia here, if you so choose.

Long ago, a chain of thinkers from Aristotle to more modern brainiacs tinkered with the notion of what it means for one thing to "cause" another. They developed some wonderfully specific criteria that have helped guide research in physics for some time. However, the strict causality that works great with questions of physics turned out to be far too inflexible to apply to other fields, where many many factors are at play that may not be possible to isolate to a standard that would satisfy Aristotle, Hume, or Newton. As such we have roughly three, often overlapping, ideas that we may be expressing when we say "X causes Y". Most Formal Logic textbooks and such will break it down into several clauses as follows:

"Oh boy! A list of stuff!


Necessary: Condition B cannot occur without A, meaning that for every instance of B, there will be an observed instance of related A. Rain cannot happen without moisture in the air, for example. Moisture is Necessary for rain.

Sufficient: Condition A will ALWAYS be followed by B. For every instance of condition A, B will certainly occur. Heating liquid water at one atmosphere of air pressure is sufficient bring it to a boil.

Contribution: Condition A will, absent other factors, lead to more of B. Drought conditions during growing season will cause lower crop yields. There are a number of situations that could make this not occur for each and every type of crop and farm that exists, and many other factors can come into play (irrigation, GM crops, expanding acreage, etc...) but it is generally true that drought contributes to poor crop yeilds.

Good examples involve water, I guess

In physics, computing, and pure abstract logic, we see many instances of the necessary and sufficient clause. Thousands of tests can be done on a sample to get certainty of causality for a phenomenon regarding it being necessary, sufficient, or both to measurements like 0.9999 certain. If/Then statements, flowcharts and such are great examples of cause it its purest form.

But when talking about environments with more variables we cannot control, in messy real world situations involving things like people, or (gasp!) groups of people, we tend to utilize the Contribution concept of causality.

On some level, if you have grown up and been educated in the West (or most of the world at this point) you have internalized this if not learned it formally. When someone on Facebook links to a headline stating "Exposure to violent images causes violence", short for a study concluding something like "Repeated exposure to violent images throughout childhood correlates to increased violent behavior." and someone inevitably comments "I watched murder porn all day every day as a kid and I turned out fine..." or "Cavemen killed each other, and they never had murder porn..." we tend to feel something is wrong with that. Violent imagery is neither necessary nor sufficient to predict all instances of violent behavior, but in two similar groups, the group with the higher exposure is likely to engage in more violence.

If you let your kids watch this shit, you are a terrible person.

Too often people stating Contribution levels of causality are met with disagreement from those who demand Necessary or Sufficient levels of causality before they will consider the premise. People and groups of people are too complex to expose to the kind of rigor that would "prove" causality at that level. For decades the assertion that "Smoking causes lung cancer" was held back by demands for the kind of causality and statistical certainty that simply does not exist when examining contributory impacts on things as complicated as living organisms. For an example, here is a paragraph from "" that argues smoking does not cause lung cancer:

"Smoking is but one factor that can increase the incidence of lung cancer. Over 20% of all lung cancers occur in nonsmokers.1 Smoking by itself can not cause lung cancer. The process of developing cancer is complex and multifactorial. It involves genetics, the immune system, cellular irritation, DNA alteration, dose and duration of exposure, and much more.2 Some of the known risk factors include genetics, asbestos exposure, sex, HIV status, vitamin deficiency, diet, pollution, shipbuilding and even just plain old being lazy.2 When some of these factors are combined they can have a synergistic effect, but none of these risk factors are directly and independently responsible for "causing" lung cancer!"

"So fuck y'all!"

What made me feel the need to write this was an discussion I was having with a friend of mine about the availability of firearms and homicides. Some states and nations who have systems in place to limit access to firearms (especially for those with criminal histories or mental illness) show lower rates of firearm deaths than other places. There are many, many, other factors (population density, age distribution, poverty, efficacy of a mental health system, even climate and geography) to consider, but using all 50 states as a sample, states with looser gun laws tend to have more gun fatalities, with the correlation being found to be (r^2 = 0.42) which is a rather high correlation with social science studies with a sample size of 50. The study does a great job of reiterating "Correlation alone is not causation" and including case studies (like my home state of Missouri) where specific loosening of firearms related laws (like we had in 2007 eliminating our State's universal background checks) specifically contributed to specific murders. Laws are, of course, only one part of availability - firearms are sold illegally and stolen all the time.

It's a good study, but available in PDF form because academics are allergic to plain html for some reason - you can check it out here

Of course, as with smoking and smoking-related-illnesses, some argue that only "necessary and sufficient" can be taken into account when talking about this particular item. If humanity were as lab-controllable as chemical samples, we could likely do that. 99.999% certainty would be wonderful when discussing when we have to make hard choices about what we do in our society, but we are unique and complicated creatures and that isn't going to happen any time soon.

Making good social decisions saves lives and makes our lives better. This often requires utilizing the Contribution level of causality and ascertaining what level of contribution. Physician John Snow in 1854 saved many, many, lives by showing statistics linking exposure to fecal water to contracting cholera. Not EVERY incidence of cholera came from contaminated water (one baby seemed to get it from an infected diaper) so it wasn't a necessary condition, and not everyone who drank the contaminated water displayed cholera symptoms, so it wasn't sufficient. But is WAS contributory to cholera and by decreasing the flow of shit-water into people's mouths, he saved many lives. His story is an interesting read.

John Snow: Bad Mother Fucker

When talking about groups of people, the contributory level of causality is generally what we mean when we say "X causes Y". More people understanding this would raise our level of discourse.

*Note 1*I would love to shrink this to a more terse piece as a witty answer to every variation of "Well, I drank shit water and I didn't get sick" that would leave the reader with an understanding of Necessary, Sufficient, and Contributory... but that will have to come another time.

*Note 2* Wikipedia actually has a pretty great starting out point for the history of the concept of Causality, from Aristotle to the Modern Day.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

We think people sexualize guns because people sexualize guns.

Crap like this is why we think gun people have a weird sexual thing about guns.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The never-ending deadly clown tragedy.

First Note:This post started with a much lighter tone when the situation had not yet turned as tragic as it has become.

Second Note: Been with the wife and my new child these last few weeks. Proud father of a wonderful baby boy! Blogging has been light, focus has been elsewhere, SO MUCH STUFF has came and went since then. The security vulnerabilities in IE, The recently released hacker "Weev" trying to make a hacker-sploit Startup or Hedge Fund (or this might be a BEAUTIFUL example of trolling, we will see). Huge decisions by the Supreme Court have come down regarding race, admissions, campaign finance, and searching your cell phone. The FCC may have just ended Net Neutrality as we have known it. And so much more.

This man is the gift that keeps on giving

But I am not saying anything on any of that right now. I am mesmerized by the gift that keeps on giving that is the Bundy Ranch standoff. This started as Cliven Bundy's long term status of not paying his bills or respecting the law regarding his cattle using land that is not his own without any kind of payment received for twenty years and continuing to have them trespass on Federal land on a daily basis. That is a VERY clear moral no-no. The agents informed Cliven Bundy that the next time his cattle trespassed they would be seized. Cliven responded with threats of lethal force and as such tactical units were dispatched.

The combination of guns, cowboy hats, and faux patriotism proved intoxicating to the least admirable members of America and his home became a camp for armed Anti-American drifters. After the BLM thoughtfully backed off, the inevitable happened.

#1) Two state chapters of Americans for Prosperity (the Koch Brother's political group that orchestrated "Tea Party" events which advocates for right wing cultural issues and the Koch's corporate agenda) decided to promote this cause as "Lone armed white person against the big government blah blah blah jack booted thugs etc...". Remember, there was NO merit to his case at any time in the last 20 years.

#2) Every right-wing grifter and his brother gets of the Cliven Bundy bandwagon. Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, those and many more jump in with support...

Truly a hero of our times, taking cover while civilians without flak jackets just stand around next to him and film.

#3) This situation escalates. More armed-and-weird people show up from across the nation to point their rifles at law enforcement agents and use their women as human shields. Supporters get down right Messianic about Cliven. The BLM decides to avoid slaughtering any American to seize Bundy's trespassing cattle. Bundy likely feels invincible. Rumors (with literally nothing behind them) state that Bundy not paying his bills for 20 years isn't the real issue it's a conspiracy involving Senator Reid, Solar Power, Chinese Communism, and the United Nations. (Illuminati and Reptilians to follow)

#3)The "Pro-States Rights, Anti-Obama, Conspiracy Theorist, Pro-Gun, and so on" guy was given too much time to ponder things on the microphone and said things that are pretty much unforgivably racist in any context:

“They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

#4) The great back-away began. Politicians who supported him claimed to never do so, supporters began to split hairs about supporting his noble cause of trespassing against his personal racism. Cliven himself does the standard "I blame the Media for twisting my words" and then posts a photo of him with a black person. Americans for Prosperity scrubs the posts that promoted his cause. The bigger, more corporate supporters back away and Cliven is left with only his menagerie of armed paranoid malcontents. Cliven's supporters eventually do what the most ignorant of racists would do in this situation, prove that he cannot possibly be racist because he has been photographed by a genuine black person (he didn't burst into flames or anything)

Clearly a racist can't possibly pose with a person of a different race!

#5) Oh, the gift keeps on giving! While the savvy grifters move on to their next cause (Sarah Palin had an NRA convention to speak at), the less savvy continue to defend the indefensible. The contortions they have to twist into to make the guy that said "they put their young men in jail because they never learned to pick cotton" into a non-racist are AMAZING. 2nd and 3rd tier paid mouthpieces (like Dana Loesch, but some rather prominent names stick with him for a few more days.

#6) The armed paranoid folks with nowhere particular to be? They're still hanging around. They make the community exactly as comfortable as you would think. Reports of them acting as de-facto law enforcement, setting up checkpoints, intimidating residents and visitors, carrying weapons of war all over the place and such happens. Without a BLM presence to point weapons at, Oath Keepers and Militia Members and such begin to "diversify" their efforts. The gunned up folks keep talking up conspiracies about the constitution being suspended and an imminent drone strike.

#7) The Armed Factions split. The "Oath Keepers" promote a rumor from their "inside source" that Eric Holder (The Attorney General) had authorized a Military Drone Strike against the Bundy compound, which, aside from the fact that isn't how the chain-of-command works... is somehow believed by the Oath Keepers. The other Militias working at the compound reject the crazy bullshit (which is claimed to come from someone inside the DoD - which I guess answers to the Attorney General in his world) as crazy bullshit. The Oath Keepers are kicked off of the compound, too crazy and paranoid for a convention of armed paranoid people. A guy going by "Booda Bear" who is the "Head of Security" for the ranch releases a statement kicking out the Oath Keepers and manages to work in "I swear by the white skin..." which can never not sound creepy no matter what is before or after:

"... now we all have that thought of the fight of freedom and fighting against tyranny and this government that's trying to repress us but ta pull out of town and to go to hotels and say you did it for security -- that's coward, that's coward. My guys sleep in the dirt out here, we're on shifts for 14hours a day and trying to make sure that this family [welfare-king Bundy] stays safe and secure ... and just so everybody knows, as Booda, head of security for the Bundy Family I can swear on the white skin that covers my ass there will not be an Oath Keeper -- there WILL NOT BE AN OATH KEEPER allowed to set foot on the internal ranch property."

He also was rather sane in his evaluation that if a drone strike was being prepared against someone like the Bundy menagerie of armed idiots, only about five people on the planet would be aware of this in advance, and NONE of them would anonymously call up an OathKeeper hotline (it exists!) to give them details. Rather logical thought from a guy camping in the desert to promote Bundy's right to trespass.

There is a vote taken an unanimously the Oath Keepers are kicked out. Like any good meeting of guys pretending to be soldiers pretending to fight a war.. they have to threaten murder: "’re lucky that you’re not getting shot in the back. Because that’s what happens to deserters on the battlefield.".

Good stuff.

This is taken from a video where you get to find out that local Republican organizers cancelled meetings to come out in support of Bundy... because OF COURSE.

#8) All their failures are blamed on the government. The Oath Keepers release a statement blaming their promotion of a drone strike as government "Psy-Ops" as opposed "We listened to some GIJOE-wannabe who just makes shit up" for believing the crazy bit about the drone strike. They blame "plants" in the militia movement for them getting voted out after their crazy bullshit. They put out a press release that reads like a journey through the mind of the modern paranoid.

"The info we received stated that Eric Holder of the Department of Justice had okayed a drone strike on the Bundy ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada, within a 48 hour period over the weekend of April 26/27, 2014....That, fortunately, turned out to be “dis-info” – a false rumor...Oath Keepers is tremendously happy that nothing happened and that this was a bad tip, a piece of “dis-info”, a “psy-op”."

E. Stewart Rhodes (The Head of the Oath Keepers who made the above statement and formed Ron Paul staffer for what that is worth) goes on to attack the Militia folks in the harshest terms possible for Militia type people:

"...steroidal psycho-pathic dreamwish of little boys playing “Army” in the fields near the house forty and fifty years ago, who somehow retained that aloofness and swapped it for a job with a badge or uniform and a gun and a retirement plan that could be counted on, or worse, in some cases, self-proclaimed “officers” who never bothered to go into the military when they grew old enough to enlist, or never made the police force."

He calls out Militia types for what they are, which means a phony soldier called out other phony soldiers for being phony. This is like a hipster calling another hipster a hipster... this is a pretty grievous attack in the pretend-army community. You can read more about the leader of the Oath Keepers here, and HEY they accept BitCoin for donations so you know they are a (self-link) collection of brilliant intellectuals. Some of the guys are straight up begging for cash.

Many of these guys are STILL out there, and hopefully they'll go home to whatever they do at home before they up and shoot someone. We can only hope that after a few weeks of wearing fatigues and camping and pointing their rifle at people they got whatever it was out of their system and can go home and do something productive with their lives for a while.

Relaxing at home and Rand Paul rallies when not defending trespassers

This whole thing quickly seemed to confirm more than a handful of stereotypes about the Militia Movement/State's Rights/WAYYY into guns crowd.

Easy to manipulate by shady billionaire funded groups. Always at least adjacent to racists. Paranoid to a fault. Believe WAY too many things they hear from anonymous sources. Blame their own failures on the government.

The only way any of this makes sense to me is if a group of right-wing political activists wanted to test if they could summon an armed mob from all across the U.S. for a cause with literally no merit just based on hyperbole, lies, paranoia and the right wing media. It looks like they can. If the Koch Brothers are ever convicted of anything, expect this mob to believe whatever conspiracy is put out there and to come protect them.

Truly, defenders of the common man

It did not, of course, end there. Bullies - those who use force legitimized by only their own ego to make others give in to their demands - they tend to respond to any and all capitulation by engaging in more aggressive tactics. Sadly, this happened with two individuals who made their way to the Bundy compound:

They murdered two police offficers and another individual, adorning their victims with a Gadsen flag and announcing a revolution. Video came out showing their time at the ranch. Those who they rallied with have since then (of course) claimed minimal to no support of these people.

Nevada City and Georgia have since also had armed conflicts with "Sovereign Citizens" and Cliven Bundy fans that were horrible.

My final thought: When we legitimize and enable this horrible conspiratorial world view, we lay the foundations of the next crazy shooter. As paranoid delusion becomes more common as a belief system, expect to see more of this.

Post Note, researching this has given me many, many links to peek into the mind of paranoid people. There are MILLIONS of people who believe we are days away from FEMA Camps, Sharia Law, U.N. Occupation, Socialism, and that every crazy shooting tragedy is a "false flag" operation by the illumineworldorder. It's pretty terrible in there.

*This is flowing into my next post, why the gun culture is noise and what that means.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The rightful role of the loyal opposition...

It's a damned shame the right-wing keeps the noise/hate machine turned up to "11" all the time. Now that there is an actual scandal, the ones whose rightful place should be pointing out shortcomings of the current Administration, they cannot shine a light on where efforts to fix the problem need to go as they are used to keeping all the lights on all the time at their highest setting.

People who have spent the last five years jumping on bandwagons like "Birth Certificate! Grabbing our guns!! IRS!!! Ben Ghazi!!!!" have a routine about repeating or insinuating clearly false allegations in hopes of creating a general sense of villiany about their target... and they simply do NOT know what to do when actual wrongdoing has taken place. Already the elements of the noise machine (Fox, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Americans for Prosperity/Koch Bros), Crossroads GPS/Karl Rove) are already using the VA, and the current malfeasance some of the employees engaged in, as a general attack against everything from Obamacare, to the Obama Administration in general or simply the idea of Government providing functions to its citizens (and Veterans).

This isn't some fictional problem media folks invented that makes a handy attack on politicians one does not like. This is a systemic problem that eternal hearings and demands for resignations will not fix. This is an actual problem that needs a unified leadership and serious resources to overcome to fulfill the promise that our nation made to it's veterans.

The Right Wing noise machine is flawlessly engineered to generate noise. It seems to be wholly unsuited to carrying a signal. A damned shame, there are times when something like it is needed.

Saturday, May 17, 2014


I haven't been posting these last few weeks. My son was recently born and, while I am the happiest man alive, time has been scarce. I should have something new up Monday.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Congratulations to those we've championed!

Congratulations Weev!

This has been a great week for those who believe in a more open world, freedom of speech (the kind that actually gets prosecuted) and our freedom to explore and learn about the tools we use.

A few days ago, Andrew "weev" Auernheimer, who I wrote about as an example of a hacker unjustly punished by a system he was an embarassment to, was released from Federal Prison after his conviction was overturned by the Third District Court of Appeals (on a technicality of jurisdiction, but whatever).

Congratulations to weev, congratulations to his legal team, congratulations to the E.F.F. and everyone that donated to the legal fund. Congratulations even to GoatSec. This is a big deal, even on a technicality, and ESPECIALLY if new charges are not brought. Andrew is out and reportedly enjoying himself, attending a party in NYC with Glenn Greenwald and associated freedom advocates. The young man is fully nerded back up, on twitter and such.

This is truly a good thing as there is no reason that man should be in prison.

Speaking of Greenwald, he has such been awarded The Pulitzer Prize, shortly after being officially given his Polk Award for his reporting (which he stated should rightly belong to Edward Snowden, still in Russia). This means the Edward Snowden revelations and how they have been released to the public have won the most prestigious awards in journalism. Making this known to the public has been validated by press experts as a tremendous accomplishment and something to be celebrated (and not a crime). Mr. Greenwald felt free to come home to the United States after months of hesitation regarding just how "free" journalists are.

And based on statements our heads of National Security have publicly made, he was understandable in being hesitant to come home. It is likely a little harder to imprison a Pulitzer Prize winner than just another journalist.

This has been a very educating week for a bunch of folks about rights, privacy, deep state, and freedom to speak. The Heartbleed exploit was make public... AND the fact that the NSA kept this exploit secret for years so it could use it. Those actions made EVERYONE'S systems less secure just to enable ease of access. Honoring the work the Guardian did with Snowden, the release of weev, the publicity of the exploits in the code that can be used on any of us... these are all pushing things in the right direction.

I am going to embed Andrew's interview with RT. He is very much in the spotlight now and is using that to raise awareness of others targeted by a malicious culture of prosecuting hackers and an unjust law that allows it to happen. He mentions Schwarz and Keys and what they went though and how he isn't pleading or backing down (even though he still may be prosecuted).

Feel free to watch weev's interview, I am just very happy:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Snooping Diminishes Our Lives.

Not as funny as Chase and Aykroyd

One of the most annoying statements made defense of privacy is this:

"What do you have to worry about if you don't have anything to hide?"

And sometimes that shuts down the discussion. It shouldn't. I have come across many good rebuttals, such as "Okay, may I go through your wallet, bank statements, and cell phone right now?" and "Diaries have locks for a reason." and "I want my house key back." But those are not the complete answer.

The deeper, though not most snappy, answer is as such:

People always being watched live diminished lives.

USA Today reported on a Harris Poll recently done that stated 47% of Americans changed their online habits because of revelations regarding the NSA and online spying. Any time you take what a secret agency may or may not think of your actions into account before making a joke or commentary or even having contact with an individual... you are living a diminished life.

In my work overseas, something I have struggled with is trying to relate to the mind set of people who have lived their life in a totalitarian state. There are societies were it is assumed (and certainly legal) for the state to intercept any and all communications you may have. There are societies where a letter the the editor of the local paper or a campaign sign in your yard can land you in secret detention facility or cause you to be disappeared. This impacts people's minds and culture and gradually goes from being perceived as a crime against human rights as just a thing that happens. Of COURSE the agents of our sovereign leader disappeared Uncle Dave, did you see those letters he wrote about the leader? What did he expect?. People normalize this state of affairs and self-censorship becomes the norm.

Totalitarians NEED that self-censorship in order to maintain and grow their power. The police state cannot detain, execute, or even attend to everyone who has a disagreement with those in power. Most of the potential dissidents and activists out there have to be defeated before they ever put a pen to paper or clear their throat.

Our current leaders are by no means dictators.... The two hundred misleading, derogatory and semi-racists JPEGS in your Facebook feed attacking our president without reprisals are a pretty good sign of that. (In addition to an entire news network doing the same, with a thriving bumper sticker industry and the occasional billboard)

A real dictator would not allow this shit

But despite the relative freedom of our dumbest citizens to make fools of themselves, there IS a chilling of free speech that is even more necessary to our republic than racist JPEG files.

Edward Snowden has no plans to return to his home nation. Neither does Julian Assange. Chelsea Manning will be imprisoned for decades. Jeremy Hammond, who let us know what a bunch of crooked bunch of right-wing loons Statfor was (while still soaking up tax dollars) and how they were spying on private citizens at home and abroad... He has been sentenced to ten years in Federal Prison. Barret Brown, who wrote about and shared revelations that security and intelligence firm HB Gary was also generally incompetent in their field and full of paranoid delusions and willing to act outside of the law to target Americans, that poor soul sits in prison awaiting a sentence of up to 100 years in Federal Prison. Aaron Schwarz, who had created the RSS system that we all love, committed suicide at the young age of 26 after being persecuted by the Feds over sharing Academic Journals.. Heck, even little fish like Andrew "Weev" Aurenheimer is serving nearly four years in the Federal pen for finding a security vulnerability in AT&T services for the iPad and then, instead of using or selling this, sharing it openly so AT&T could fix it. He left us with this:

"[The Feds] worry a lot more about civil disobedience than my grandma getting robbed. They worry about the social integrity of their people staying in power...”

-Interview with Forbes

(Disclaimer, Weev is a friend-of-a-friend, so I might have a soft spot for his case)

How can you not love someone who has a profile pic from SNES Shadowrun?

Since their revelations, The President has addressed the NSA's over-reach, Stratfor is taken a little less seriously in some circles, HB Gary's CEO resigned after being exposed as petty and incompetent and some of HB Gary's partners in illegal activities have been exposed. Heck, AT&T even responded to Weev's warnings and fixed their security holes (and then pressed charges.)

The world we live in is a better place for what they have exposed.
That's true.

Others are afraid to contribute because of how these men have suffered.
That's true too.

I have written before that you can tell what information actually threatens an institution by what kind of response it brings. It should tell us something that you can rant all day about FEMA Camps and Gun Confiscation and the New World Order without any fear of reprisal... but if you show that those getting rich off of the Security State are useless, petty, incompetent and violating our constitutional and personal rights, if you demonstrate that the emperor has no clothes... you will end up in Jail.

Most of us will never be prosecuted like these gentlemen have. But 47% of us will change SOMETHING we are doing because of how we are being watched. People behave differently when they know they are being observed. This is not a new idea by any means, as Jeremy Bentham wrote in the 1700s as he conceived the Panopticon Prison:

"It is obvious that, in all these instances, the more constantly the persons to be inspected are under the eyes of the persons who should inspect them, the more perfectly will the purpose X of the establishment have been attained. Ideal perfection, if that were the object, would require that each person should actually be in that predicament, during every instant of time. This being impossible, the next thing to be wished for is, that, at every instant, seeing reason to believe as much, and not being able to satisfy himself to the contrary, he should conceive himself to be so"

The purpose of the Panopticon wasn't to observe everyone in it all the time, but to lead people to change their behavior as if they were. Does this same ability to see into our online lives make us change our behavior? For about half of us the answer is yes, and that number is likely to increase as more revelations come to light.

We are in a once-in-a-generation discussion about how far secretive government agencies and their attached secret corporations should be peering broadly into our lives despite the fact that they cannot prove doing so has ever stopped a terrorist attack.. If we do not limit this beast, it will continue to change our culture and diminish the choices we feel free to make further.

Our culture should not be a prison

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Everyone is a socialist come April 15th

When April 15th rolls around, everybody become a socialist.

From January to April of each year have been working as a tax preparer at a little kiosk in the Midwest. In that time I have done taxes for people doing rather well, people barely scraping by, hourly employees, landlords, small business owners, tipped employees, salaried employees and people in other situations it takes longer to explain.

One thing is true about every single client I prepared taxes for: Not ONE of them has turned down a tax deduction or tax credit they have qualified for. Every single person - when it comes time to pay taxes - has preferred I choose every legal option on their return to owe the minimum amount possible or to get back as large of a refund as possible. Not ONE person has said "Can I pay in an extra 100 or so to help lower the national debt?" or such, or refused to take an energy/home loan interest/student loan interest/higher education/child care tax credit based on some principle of "I don't believe the government should be paying for X."

The rest of the year we all might be fiscal libertarians or such, but come April 15th, everybody's a socialist.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A sincere apology to my Conservative friends.

You wisened fellows deserve my respect

I have been wrong about so very much, and you have been so very right... It's about time I offer a heartfelt apology to my conservative friends and praise their prescience on so many things. Looking back, if only we had listened to them in these past few years we would be so much wiser.

I offer my sincere apologies

Years ago you told me the Federal Budget Deficit would explode and grow each year under the stewardship of President Obama, and you guys were pretty much on the mark. You looked over the numbers and trusted your guts and sure called that one right.

You told America that allowing gays to openly serve in the United States Military was a horrible mistake, that it would destroy morale, dissolve unit cohesion, and hollow out our forces as our service people would leave in droves, and you were absolutely on point with that one. Clearly our military has never had a more devastating issue or difficult problem than allowing its gay members to openly serve.

You warned us that legalizing pot would have a devastating impact on the health, saftey, and livilihood of the residents of those states who had decriminalized it. You told me that the "Tough" approach on drugs was our only hope against this plague, and now that we can see the fallout we know that there has been an unambiguous explosion in violent crime in Colorado and Washington have taught us all not to ignore your warnings, and the hellish smoldering remains of Colorado after the "Last Bag of Cheetos" war of 2014 stands as a reminder of just how necessary the war on drugs is.

4/20, Never Forget

You predicted that the Affordable Care Act / Obamacare was going to result in everything from a doubling of unemployment to Government Death Panels. You told me that the kids wouldn't sign up and that the efforts to provide affordable health insurance to millions would fail. Boy, were you guys ever right on that one. We should have just given up on that goal since it took some effort and the goal of helping several million Americans get access to health care was just silly.

You gave dire warning about the slippery slope of Gay Marriage, and you pointed to your most prominent moral think tanks showing how it would lead to everything from bigamy to marrying horses. You claimed it would destroy traditional marriage. You guys were certainly right. In the states that have recognized gay marriage, straight marriage is no longer a thing. Polyamorous human-animal marriages are common, dogs and cats living together, the whole bit. If only we had listened to you.

You informed us that President Obama would conspire with his environmentalist cronies to destroy the United States' oil production, that it would be impossible to explore and drill for oil unless we had a leader who embraced the "Drill, baby, Drill" ethos - and looking at the state of the Oil Production in the US today, you sure were right.

Our economy was one place where you were perhaps the most right of all. The stock market since President Obama was re-elected has been devastated.

Perhaps your greatest concern, and perhaps the place were we liberals were the most wrong was in the area of Gun Control. You guys were quick to predict that President Obama was going to utilize the massacres in the past few years in Newton and Aurora to seize firearms in this nation and disarm us all. Some of you even speculated that these were "false flag attacks" to create a grab our guns pretense. If only we had listened to you, the "Total Firearms Seizure Act of 2013" wouldn't have happened, the Second Ammendment wouldn't have been repealed, and U.N. Troops wouldn't have gone house to house seizing every single legally owned American Firearm. It was tragic and unfolded exactly as you have been predicting for the last thirty years. Why, last year no guns at all were sold in the United States and Obama has left us unarmed as never before.

Mr. Heston's casket was opened, his fingers pried open, and his rifle seized

I apologize for ignoring your sage advice. From letting me know that Gold was the safest investment, to letting me know I should really have really gotten in on Bitcoin about six months ago. To even letting me know that I should invest in assault rifles, as they would continue to increase in value during the impending bans.

I should have learned my lesson ever since the Conservatives were so bravely right about the necessity of our military intervention to seize WMDs in Iraq and the ease of which that military operation would be carried out... these are some of the smartest, best informed, open minded and prescient people our nation has ever known and I apologize for ever doubting you guys. I am sure your NEXT prediction will be as right as your track record over the last few years.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

They're right, they are just answering a different question.

My personal opinion: these leaks have caused grave, significant and irreversible damage to our nation and to our allies. It will take us years to recover..."

"We’ve got to handle media leaks first."

-Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the N.S.A.
Remarks to Georgetown University, 2014


In his opinion, the most dangerous is....the group which consists of people who are "20-something, sitting in pajamas and slippers, still living with their mother in the basement, who are mad at the world, who want to do what you and I can not understand and certainly can not perform."

Gen. Michael Hayden, former director C.I.A. and N.S.A., former Director of National Intelligence
Currently working for Motorola and the Chertoff Group
Speech at the National Bank in Bucharest, 2014

They are right. The "Greatest Danger" are hackers and journalists and they are right to fear them. What is different is what Joe and Jane Average consider a "Danger" and what the men who live in the world of Deep State truly fear.

Whistleblowers, hackers, journalists all have the power to expose what someone else was trying to conceal. If a set of lies fuels the gravy train that you and your associated have build careers on and which you plan to profit more from in the future, then any truth that challenges that lie is your "Greatest Danger". More than any carbomb or suicide vest some very specific truths threaten to destroy the "world" of certain men and their associates.

I will never stop stealing this panel from Tom Tomorrow

A long time ago, in what feels like a past life, I studied and practiced the art of propaganda for the United States Army which at the time was called Psychological Operations, or PSYOP. I took to it like a fish to water, they offered ample study materials but I wanted more, I studied more about persuasion, about belief and motivation and what really drives people to action. I read fundamentals, I read Bernays theories of Propaganda, I read little red books by Mao and Guevara, and little pamphlets by Franklin and Thomas Paine. I dove deeper into related fields neurology and graphic design. I learned about the power that words and symbols and narratives and ideas can have on the actions that we take, how people dedicate and even sacrifice their lives for them. I learned that the biggest bombs and biggest missiles were all built years before I was born and that the new arms race was being fought for human minds and souls.

Part of my job was to gather, analyze and estimate the impacts of propaganda (ours AND the enemy's). One lesson I took away from this is that the arguments or symbols or ideas that are believed to pose the greatest threat will draw the greatest and most rapid response. Most propaganda comes and goes with little response, but the things that make a target drop what they are doing and focus on answering from the highest levels right then and there - those are the things they believe will have an impact.

I have previously written about how the thing that we have lost with arguments regarding the recently leaked programs and "balancing" privacy and security is how the most broad and unconstitutional of them have never been shown to have caught a single terrorist. What bigger threat to their continued existence than to expose that particular fact?

The area surrounding the District of Colombia has the highest median income of any metropolitan area in the United States. While many groan about the salaries of Federal employees and lawmakers, these are tiny drops in a rather large bucket. The money that funds the wave of new wealth in the D.C. area is money from contractors, often National Security contractors with the clearances, backgrounds, and connections to make truly gigantic amounts of money filling "needs" we believe our government has.

Dear Disney: Please do not sue me.

Companies like Booz Allen Hamilton (who employed Edward Snowden on N.S.A. contracts), the Carlyle Group (which owns Booz Allen Hamilton), The Chertoff Group (founded by former Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff and currently employing former NSA/CIA director Michael Hayden)... these all make a handful of people behind the secret surveillance community known as Deep State VERY rich men.

These companies donate millions to the corrupt campaign finance and influence system that keeps lobbying firms and political consultants very, very, rich. These companies keep the pipeline open to welcome public servants and lawmakers onto their payrolls after they complete their service (and maybe throw a contract or favor their way while in office). I have written about this before.

Recently Senator Diane Feinstein has been a news item by going public with the fact that Senate computers were hacked to delete CIA files relevant to an ongoing investigation of the CIA by the Senate. What files and what report? The Senate report regarding the network of "Black Sites" and "Rendition" and "Enhanced Interrogation" (or Torture) that supposedly was a necessary program to keep us safe from Terrorism.

Remember the first half of Zero Dark Thirty was mostly this.

The Senate was closing in on pinpointing the exact number of crucial intelligence items discovered by this network, in relation to stopping terrorist attacks on the U.S. The number they were getting close towards? Zero, or close to it. Specifically they concluded "that the CIA program had yielded little or no significant intelligence."

My bad y'all...

Again, this is the kind of secret that shuts down sites and ends contracts. This required a response. (The head of the CIA during the relevant time of investigation was Michael Hayden.) This report - and the threat of it reaching the kinds of people who might reject the program that hurt our reputation around the world, threatened our core values, and likely violated our constitution and various treaties if it did not yield a damn thing. This is the report that inspired individuals to invade the computers of the Senate Intelligence Community and delete evidence. I assure you if the people doing this were wearing Guy Fawkes masks there would be a bipartisan call for them to be pursued to the ends of the Earth and penalized to the fullest extent of the law.

But they are not. Hopefully, somewhere in the mind of a senior Senator the idea is brewing "Since they were not reigned in from doing this to ordinary Americans, of course they would utilize these tools on us." A series of events have led us to a once in a generation national discussion regarding the powers, funding and secrecy we allow "Deep State" to have.

We will hear arguments about Privacy versus Security, we will hear nightmare scenarios about captured terrorists and hidden ticking time bombs (never happened), we will - and of this I am 100% certain - hear the Snowden leaks/revelations used as evidence that the companies making these tools need to be paid billions of additional dollars to "repair" the effectiveness of a program which has (in regards to mass collection) NEVER CAUGHT A SINGLE TERRORIST. In all of this we need to keep that one piece of signal among all the noise - These programs cannot display they produced ANYTHING, let alone the kind of vital and consistent operational advantage to justify their existence.

Hell, just the financial cost alone (let alone the moral, human, or constitutional cost) should kill these programs in an era where we are told we as a nation cannot afford our levels of such things as Food Stamps and Veteran's Pensions.

How much military pension funding would you cut to preserve an unconstitutional program that has never caught a terrorist? What about education funding? What about roads, or bridges or medical research or food for the hungry? How are the to build all those new mansions in and around the D.C. area unless you fund our multi-billion-dollar boondoggles that protect no one. For that matter, how long does a person need to be imprisoned for leaking details about programs that never caught a single terrorist?

Their most secret, horrible, and expensive activities protected no one. This is the secret that threatens them. Are hackers and leakers and journalists "The Greatest Danger"? If your asking about the danger to their unaccountable riches and power, then you are DAMNED right they are.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hilarious thought...

Thought: Most of the people who just lost their savings in the crash of the biggest BitCoin exchange on the planet are 100% confident that they know how to run the economy better than the officials doing it.

(Some background) So, Bitcoin, which if you want to know can be learned about here, has been a thing for a few years.

It has some rather innovative solutions to an ongoing problem - namely that all online commerce requires putting funds or credit in an account somewhere (Paypal, Visa, etc..) and then providing that information to a vendor who charges a proper amount to that account based on the information provided. This creates the problem of identity theft, since the data with account numbers, codes, etc... is stored somewhere and can be stolen.

BitCoin was about creating a system by which the data itself transmitted was the value, and where the transmission of the data transferred ownership from one party to another. Utilizing designed scarcity, cryptography, Peer-to-Peer networking and at least four other economic and technical buzzwords it created a system that accomplished this to some degree.

Some of us noted that the first adopters of BitCoin were, for some reason, Libertarians... in fact the Libertarian Party is the ONLY party which has created a mechanism to take BitCoin donations on it's website. Noted writers have been observing the relationship between Libertarian ideals and BitCoin enthusiasts. The most recognizable names involved in BitCoin to most people were the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame. BitCoin's primary use as a currency (and not as a speculative store of value) has been buying drugs over the Internet. from a guy operating from a pseudonym taken from an 80s Movie.

Truly, an icon of trust on many levels

Regardless of the ideas and technical background behind BitCoin, many of us who were intrigued by the notion looked at the nest of criminality and gullibility massed into this scheme and knew that many, many, people were going to be manipulated and taken to the cleaners to benefit a VERY few winners who manipulated the system. The investors with shadowy histories, the built in secrecy and lack of accountability, the fact that it was popular with Libertarians - who happen to be the most gullible group of human beings that have ever lived. People have just - in a day - lost anywhere for a few dollars to their life savings - and most of them talking about it online are (somehow) not learning anything about markets, security, or legal frameworks and accountability from any of this.

And these are, for the most part, the same people who will tell you the banks that haven't crashed in nearly a century are "a scam" or that treasury bills that have never failed to be paid out in the entire history of the United States are "worthless" and that they have better ideas than the staff of the Federal Reserve or the U.S. Treasury.

Hey, who could have guessed... just a couple months ago Ron Paul was speaking praises of Bitcoin, but yesterday, after the crash he gave an interview on Fox News where he defended its existence but casually mentioned that he never put a penny of his own money in the stuff. Ron Paul is the Con Artist in this game, not the mark.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Why we cannot respect our elders...

This smug asshole is the embodiment of willful and
hateful ignorance hiding as "folksiness"

Seriously, fuck this guy.

Respect your elders. It's one of the most sacred and shared traditions across the world. It's mandated by most rules of etiquette, it seems to be a foundation of a civilized society as it encourages us to be receptive to the lifetimes of collective knowledge our forerunners held...

But this generation of elders makes it damned hard to hold them in any kind of esteem. The smug turd pictured above is Don Martin, who has recently had some Facebook/Meme fame from some ignorant commentary he wrote to a local paper who had the bad judgement to print it. You may have already seen this is you have friends/family who follow Facebook Groups like "White History Month" or People Who Believe What Fox News Says" or "Hives of Scum and Villiany". The piece goes as follows:

...Heavy Sigh

There are two points I want to address here:
#1) This man just told a story about how he left a loaded gun accessible to minors and anyone else.
This is a horrible thing to make light of, letting kids have unsupervised access to weapons with no training or preparation is a terrible thing to do. Hundreds of kids die needlessly in our country each year, because worthless fucks won't secure their damned weapons. I know this is just some bullshit fantasy story by an crusty old fuck, but it is still a pretty horrible thing to gloss over.

#2) This man is arguing against NOBODY.
I've been a fairly liberal fellow for a long damned time, and that means I've come across my fair share of individuals who advocate stronger and smarter gun control laws. I have spoken to hundreds of gun policy advocates in my political life and - during those several decades - I have met precisely ZERO people who have professed a belief that guns, absent a human operator, kill people.

Well, maybe this one exception

This man is having an argument against imaginary opponents who are stating something they have only said in his imagination, and is smugly proud of himself for winning that fight. It would be as if someone bragged to you about winning a fierce physical battle against a severely disabled man who they bested in a dream they had once. Whether talking about gun policy, social programs, military interventions, crime prevention, or tax laws... there are individuals who strongly argue against positions they pretend their imaginary opponents had, and then they congratulate themselves for winning.

It looks like this.
(Note: Clint Eastwood may have been having some fun
at the Republicans expense by doing this bit.)

Now, let me give you some background on my position. I've lived for years in Rural Missouri and have been shooting in some fashion since grade school. I have a silly and unjustifiable number of guns and may very well buy some more. I was taught to fire a pistol by a former member of the U.S. Armed Forces in Europe Pistol Team who also happened to be an Infantry Sergeant AND my father. I carried a weapon for a while as a body guard, as a contractor in Iraq, AND as a soldier in the United States Army for two tours of duty. I've qualified from "passed" to "expert" on a variety of weapons and even coached others on ranges for certain weapons. I am by no means an expert, but I am not unfamiliar with weaponry nor its purpose....

...That being said, firearms are tools designed to kill things from a distance. Some of these weapons are designed to kill animals (We call this hunting), and some of these weapons are designed to kill human beings. There is much variety based on what you wish to kill, from how far away, how many targets you may have, what weight you are willing to carry, and many other concerns. There exist shooting sports not focused around killing - but traditionally those events (such as skeet shooting) existed to prepare hunters for the hunting season or soldiers for war - only recently have those taken on a life of their own competitively.

Ancillary purposes exist for firearms, but those are derived from their primary purpose. For instance you can deter attacks with firearms, because of the firearm's understood lethality. Firearms are not a tool that fails when it's use leads to injury and death, rather, that is their purpose. This is no great secret, in fact, many of us were trained on understanding the lethality of firearms and - therefore - the respect and care we should utilize regarding handling and accounting for these tools. Don Martin was in the Marines - unless military training was different back in his day than in more recent times - he should be fully aware that his rifle wasn't issued to him to be a cane or tentpole, but rather an instrument of directed violence.

Baby boomers, despite their outward appearance, were not BORN old and withered

I was curious about Don Martin after reading the letter, but with a name and the small town he is from a man is easy to find. Like most people who write letters to the local paper in 2014, Don has a blog (or several). You can read them here. His writings indicate he seems a nice enough and respectable fellow in his personal life. Father, husband, solid career, veteran... he has made some good choices and seems curious enough to still be in classes well into his retirement years. The man seems to have a happy life he has worked hard for and - in that - I wish him happiness.

But there is also a side of him engaged in public commentary, and it shows he has been afflicted by the same mental disease that has claimed so many of our elders. He has a chronic case of smug conservatism. He has his links to people calling state budget officials "Socialist" for the mildest of policy changes. He links to deceptive drivel like The Drudge Report. He has the standard anti-Union, anti-Teacher, anti-State smears blaming budget shortfalls on (supposedly) highly compensated teachers, police, corrections officers, and so on. There is a reasonably good chance that his friends and associated get a deluge of forwards about the need to cut food stamps, working people's pensions, education, environmental protection, and so on. There is a decent chance he promotes a conspiratorial and paranoid notion of government that prevents reasonable discussions. Somehow he has fallen into the abyss of conservative swill that has nearly halted our ability to respect an entire class of our elders.

Go ahead and hit "share". It probably checks out.

I want to have a healthy respect for the wisdom of the generation that came before me. I really do. But you lose some of that each time you hear one of them who can't explain aggregate demand tell you how to improve the economy, or hear one who can't explain the difference between the "debt" and the "deficit" tell you how to balance the budget, or listen to one who has never set one foot in the Middle East tell us how to "straighten things out" over there. The "Greatest Generation", the one who has personal memories of FDR and Eisenhower, of a nation that fully committed to difficult choices, of sacrifices abroad AND at home for the cause of Liberty... they are dying off. Our current group of elders have lived much of their lives on the successes their parent's generation fought for. Social Security and Medicare... these are programs from the New Deal era. Working, mostly Union men and women had to go to the streets to fight for the worker protections that existed when this generation entered the workplace. It is easy to praise the virtues of unregulated capitalism when the hard work of your predecessors protects you from its worst predations.

David Mitchell is a great comedian, and often great comedy comes from a great insight into human conundrums. One of these is that it is hard for him to respect the latest generation to turn elderly. I am sharing that below.

I like the summation of comparing the Greatest Generation to the next couple as such "They didn't beat Hitler... ... They presided over our long slide into mediocrity"

That kind of summarizes how generations following "The Greatest Generation" have held up. The fact that we collectively call their parents "The Greatest Generation" without their protest is a sign they don't plan of having a similar legacy. For a couple of centuries the United States expanded, or was at least open to admitting the willing as members states. The last state admitted to the Union was Hawaii in 1959. It isn't like we don't have options (D.C., Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands) The vast majority of Americans alive today have never seen the flag have a different number of stars in their lifetime. The last Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1992, after being submitted in 1789. The "Living Document" has not changed since I have been a legal voter. Our largest corporation (Wal Mart) grows its fortune not by developing some innovative new product or service, but by keeping wages for most of its workers at or below the poverty line.

I recently wrote on how we are sold bullshit by way of social media, but I don't think that people who promote bullshit realize the respect they lose when they take their place on the bullshit pipeline. This goes double for the times when they "argue with the empty chair" which is as bad as the bullshitting. Any discussion of how we can keep the violent or mentally ill from getting extremely lethal firearms? That degenerates into "Guns don't kill people" childish nonsense. Any discussion of a collection of pressing issues becomes the same. On issues where there is a clear generational divide (Allowing gays to openly serve in the military, allowing the decriminalization of Marijuana in some states) it looks like the apocalyptic fantasies our elders had were exactly that, fantasies.

There is a lesson here I hope my generation takes in. Bullshit kills respectability. Smugness kills respectability. Technology allows an accountability for one's words more than ever before. It also enables Mark Twain's "A lie can travel around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes"(*) more than ever before. A deluge of "noise", of distraction and deception bombards us as never before. Taking the time to cut through it and promote only what is true is a more stand out respectable trait than ever. We live in a world that is, and will, face a gauntlet of challenges to us - both public and private - that take everything we can to meet. We DO NOT have time to argue with chairs or Straw Men. Those before us have wasted enough time with nonsense, it's going to be up to us to restore that path to greater and better things.

I leave you with this, from the comic geniuses at SMBC Theater:

*-Mark Twain, Selected Writings of an American Skeptic

Friday, January 24, 2014

Privacy vs. Security, a Noisy Question.

A noisy question. Surveillance, resources, privacy, and asking the wrong things

Better shovel some more on there if we ever want to find that needle.

A quote you will see many times, especially if you live part of you life on the Internet and CERTAINLY if you discuss technology, surveillance, or politics online is this:

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
- Benjamin Franklin, 1775.

It is often shortened or paraphrased as such:

"Those who give up liberty for safety, deserve neither"
- Some guy on Facebook, all the time.

This quote implies there is some kind of trade off between one's Liberty and one's safety, as if increasing the communications, people, and property open to searches and seizures will make us more safe. This mindset is ingrained even more today than in Franklin's time - as recent revelations regarding the NSA and other agencies have made clear. The same conceptualization is made today, one of a "balance" between protecting our private affairs on one side and preventing terrorist attacks on the other. The White House spokesmen speaks speaks in such terms and even the Libertarian/Republican CATO institute discusses the issue in the same way.

The problem is that this conceptualization is, at least relevant to the programs recently brought to light, entirely wrong.

If you are asking the question "How much privacy am I willing to lose to mass surveillance in order to gain security from terrorist attacks?" or if you are asking "How many more terrorist attacks am I willing to allow to happen to our nation to prevent our government from engaging in mass surveillance?" you are wrong either way. These questions are "noisy" - they only serve to distract us from what we SHOULD be asking.

These questions imply that if we surrender our privacy then we automatically gain safety or at least a framework that could make us more safe. The evidence - as far as we know it at this time - leads us to believe the opposite. From the Civil Liberties Oversight Board Report:

"Based on the information provided to the Board, we have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation"
-The Final Report of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. (underline mine)
-Go read the Whole Thing

This implies that the safety gained from this sacrifice of our privacy for this particular program was Zero. That significantly changes the equation about how much privacy should be sacrificed because zero times any amount is still zero. Despite all the shows about NCIS super-hackers or Ex-CIA agents with A.I. best buddies... the number of real world plots that were stopped with this nonsense seems to be Zero.

Sorry I spent so much money on this cool spy scope
Sorry I watched you all this time without y'alls permission
Sorry I didn't catch any bad guys doing this stuff. My bad.

And, in a world of limited resources, every Law Enforcement or National Security penny spent on the Program to Observe Ominously but Prevent Few if Any Real Terrorists is one less dollar spent on resources that HAVE been proven to catch real terrorist and prevent actual attacks. Or... funds could be spent elsewhere on things we are desperately behind on (Education, Infrastructure) or could even not need to be spent at all to ease burdens on taxpayers or reduce debt.

A less noisy question would be "Has this program been necessary to stopping even one terrorist attack in the last several years?", which - if answered by the same rubric as the way the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board interprets it, is "No." Earlier claims had been made that 54 terror attacks were stopped by mass surveillance, but that started to seem fishy as those making the claim had little, if any, evidence to back up that claim.

That question only began to demand an answer after the Snowden leaks. And, sadly, we are all worse off for in not being asked long ago. We were all under the spell of "Losing Security vs. Losing Privacy" when the reality was "Losing NOTHING vs. Losing Privacy", which is a much easier choice. I was as guilty as the rest of us for assuming that if THAT much money and THAT many resources had unfettered access to ALL of communications of EVERYONE, they would surely catch a real terrorist now and then.

A friend of mine once joked a few years back that the various contractors that supplied "Intelligence" and "Analysis" to the Department of Defence and various other Three Letter Agencies were - first and foremost - a giant government welfare program to ensure 0% unemployment for former spooks and some types of us ex-military folks, and that if they occasionally found actionable intelligence or genuine insight that was just icing on the cake. He was joking, but now we can see how much closer to the truth he was than he thought.

Isn't preventing this all worth it?
(Tom Tomorrow made this joke months ago.)

Questions can be "noisy". They can generate as much, or more, disinformation than information. They do this by implying statements in the way that they are asked. A famous example would be "Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?" which implies a history of spousal abuse. Another "noisy" question that has been asked is "How long would it take country X to have nuclear weapons?", again, this question implies the existence of a program well on its way to producing a nuclear weapon - when in truth ANY industrialized nation could produce nuclear weapons in a few years time. The United States developed the first Atomic Bomb - a concept not even proven possible at the time - in less than four years, using technology from more than sixty years ago.

The noisiest questions completely shut out the questions tuned in to the signals we should be listening for. Questions about how much value you place on security and on privacy are mostly opinion - anyone can chime in with their opinion, values, or analysis at any time. We can ask that question and divide into our Hippie and Fascist camps and yell at each other all day long without one second of research. The other question: "Did any of this crap accomplish anything other than making a few contractors super rich and wasting our agents' damned time?" required specific knowledge that only a few were allowed to have and which they were prohibited by law (classified) from being able to share with the general public. The noisy question was the easier to get answers to.

For what it is worth, the report itself discussed the fallacy of "Privacy vs. Security" and how its implications muddied the waters of our discussions about mass surviellance. Also, for the record, I am not opposed to surveillance as an activity... targeted surveillance has caught criminals and stopped horrible plots many times in our history, it is just the "lets spy on EVERYONE" method has a ZERO in the win column.

On an unrelated note, did you know that 70% of the Intelligence Budget is spent hiring private contracting firms, and that those firms have put MILLIONS of dollars in the PACs of the Congressmen specifically tasked with overseeing those very firms? It's true! . Hey those ugly black-and-white with red text attack ads aren't going to pay for themselves! One of those on the Senate Intelligence Committee was Saxby Chambliss, and he used his sweet security contractor money to fund an attack ad against his opponent Max Cleland, who lost several limbs serving in Vietnam if that stuff is important to you.

Attacking the patriotism of that disabled Vietnam Veteran was worth every penny.

And, for what it's worth, for the last five months some folks from Anonymous have been on the case of promoting just how much of a money game the mass surveillance apparatus is. They've been putting together videos detailing how leaders on the take misbehave, such as Senator (and former House Member) Chambliss explicitly misinforming TV audiences about the capabilities of the NSA programs while serving on their oversight committee AND taking hundreds of thousands in contributions from the very firms making millions on his watch. I've talked before about the legalized bribery nature of money in American politics and the Senator from Georgia does a great job of illustrating this at its most blatant:

Someone is making a fortune selling Guy Fawkes masks

My takeaway from this is going to be:
#1) Ask the right questions
#2) Think about the implied assumptions of the questions we all ask each other.
#3) Never underestimate the power of cash and secrecy to hide waste.

It will be good to see how this discussion takes place. Will the same people that want Edward Snowden tried and imprisoned for his crimes demand the same of those running programs also determined to be crimes? Will people still accept the "Privacy vs. Security" dichotomy without questioning its assumptions? Will Anonymous members ever change up their style beyond basing it on a movie from 2005 (that was based on a comic book from 1982)? Time will tell. At the very least, let's not let "Privacy vs. Security" slide into our conversations without questioning it.