Monday, March 19, 2012

Total Information Awareness and Crime Reporting Apps

== From the Transparency Front ==

Total Information Awareness?   NSA (the National Security Agency) is building a mammoth electronic spy center in Utah. The $2 billion Utah Data Center, to be completed by Sept. 2013, will be five times the size of the US Capitol. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher and analyze torrents of information flowing through the world’s communications databases— with an ability to handle yottabytes of data. Much of it international but a fair amount obtained by sifting intra-U.S. phone and email traffic.

What does this have to do with transparency and freedom and all that?

Only this.

Our protectors of online liberty, ranging from the ACLU and EFF and Privacy NGOs all the way to European Privacy Bureaucrats, are all very well-meaning - but clueless if they think laws, regulations and procedures will prevent elites (over the long run) from seeing anything that they want to see, or knowing whatever is within reach to know. Why? It's simple and basic. We’re monkeys!  And a powerful monkey will not let you prevent him from seeing. Name one nation in all of human history where the elites allowed this to happen.  One.

On the other hand, we can prevent the mighty from becoming tyrants by looking back!  If we master the arts of sousveillance or watching the watchers, then no matter what they know about us, there will be limits to what they can do to us.

The chilling thing about the new NSA facility is not how much better it will let government “protectors” see, in order to better protect us.  The scary thing is that there won’t be officers of a uniformed and independent Inspectorate, roaming the halls on our behalf, making sure that protection is the only thing going on.  Or better yet, dozens of randomly chosen citizens (with security clearance) whose universal-access badges give them the right to poke their heads in any door and ask any question.

Inconvenient?  Irksome?  Will the protectors complain?  Tough. We need to demand that price! In exchange for their omniscience, they must surrender any chance of omnipotence, by letting us wrap them in chains of accountability. A chain we can yank, to remind our watchdog THAT he is a dog... lest he start thinking like a wolf.

==An App for Reporting Crime==

Want to report a crime, terrorist alert…or just snitch on your neighbors? The new Suspicious Activity Reporting Application, a crime-reporting app for your Smartphone, lets you snap a pic, and anonymously voice your suspicions to authorities. Developed by the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security, the free app is available through Itunes. “The longer you wait the less accurate eyewitness information becomes and evidence fades,” said Thom Kirk, Director of the West Virginia Intelligence Fusion Center. “Enabling the information to be sent at the time the activity is taking place will not only improve the accuracy of the report, but also improve the ability of the authorities to respond quickly.”

Is this an aid to community policing or a way to harass your neighbors; a powerful tool against terrorism or the next step toward Big Brother?

Or rather... clearly if we all have this, then Big Brother becomes impossible!  But (as I explore in The Transparent Society) might this lead to a nation and world filled with oppressive little brothers?  With nosy neighbors bullying each other, or tyranny by a perfectly democratic 51%?  I show good reasons to believe we may evade this pitfall too!  But not if we remain mired in civil war.

== Sci-Tech Miscellany ==

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding Boston Dynamics’ development of a prototype robot called the Cheetah. (Recall Boston’s incredible robot donkey... and the satires it inspired?) The cat-like bot managed to gallop 18 mph on a treadmill, setting a new land speed record for legged robots. (The previous record: 13.1 mph, set at MIT in 1989.) The company has a prototype human-like robot in the works called the Atlas that can walk upright and use its hands for balance while squeezing through narrow passages on surveillance or emergency rescue missions.

Smart lighting: Philips has a system being widely used all over the world now with some statistics to back it up.  They have just one camera in each light, facing straight down, with the light around the camera (concentric). The result is a computer vision system with mesh-based computing that estimates the number of pedestrians, cyclists, etc., and their speed and direction of movement, and predictively adjusts the light outputs on all the lights, to optimize for the activity detected by the vision system. One result is a 75% reduction in energy usage with no noticeable reduction in light output.

Ah, but will all lamps on public streets and areas then come equipped with cameras?  (As I already portrayed in EXISTENCE.) Oh, what they'll see... and report.

Meanwhile.... more sci-tech miscellany! 

A radical Japanese biplane design flies supersonic airspeeds without the sonic boom. Misoru (sky in Japanese) uses two wings to reflect shock waves back at each other, zeroing out the pressure shockwaves.

NASA has released a mosaic of images covering the entire sky as observed by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE).

A gorgeous visualization of the Universe – dark matter and all.

== The Ideal Language for Human Speech? ==

In our increasingly interconnected, global economy, we will need to communicate effectively with the rest of the world. What is the best language for this generation to learn? By the numbers, Mandarin Chinese seems an obvious choice. Spanish or Japanese may be essential for international business. We will also need more interpreters of Arabic... A fascinating question, as humanity is busy re-erecting the Tower of Babel.

Of course English is today's lingua franca (an ironic term) for business and science.  But soon, we'll all carry translation devices that will make the question at least somewhat moot.  So what is my long term answer to this question, in my role as a science fiction author? Over the long haul... my candidate?

Hawaiian.   Really.  In a hundred years, translation and computer assistance will be automatic/invisible, conveying both surface meanings and underlying gloss and nuance.  Meaning will become separated somewhat from the sonic specifics, or even which language has the most speakers or largest vocabulary or greatest catalogue of literature. Hence, we'll choose the language to come out of our physical mouths by one criterion only.

Beauty. The sounds, themselves.  And by that token, there is only one truly beautiful language.  You cannot say anything in Hawaiian without it sounding just perfect. Any man or woman would choose a Hawaiian-sounding name. It's what our descendants will speak, whether to each other or to machines or to aliens, even to dolphins.

Aloha.

==Scientific nomenclature?==

Okay so is YOUR last name a piece of scientific nomenclature? "B. mori fibers were made up of two brins of irregular shape embedded in a proteinaceous coating. Failure occurred by fracture of the brins, whose fracture surface presented a fine globular structure corresponding to the ends of the nanofibrils of 1–2 lm in length and 100 nm in diameter, which form the B. mori silk brins according to the analysis of the brins by atomic force microscopy."

== And finally... two related items... 

Disphoria, Normopathy, and Aporia… Ten Psychologica states you’ve never heard of…and when you experienced them.

And,,, The best bottled water ad, ever?  Well.  It ain't Hawaiian.  But Kamehameha would've liked it.


64 comments:

SF said...

That Wired article was really, REALLY interesting, as good as many scifi plots cos its all true. To everybody who for the last ten years said this kind of thing was not even worth fighting because either people would die before giving up their Privacy or because its technically not feasable - eat surveillance cake. Its here and NOW. Lets find somebody accountable and start holding their feet to the fire.

David Brin said...

Discreetly, without posting it officially or publicly, you folks can download my TedX Intuit talk - another of my rapid-talk dumps of info and insights into a very limited time frame. Don't spread the URL too widely.

http://www.yousendit.com/en_US/theme_default/images/emailimages/g_YSI_logo_email_67x38.jpg

Rob said...

That's a link to the YouSendIt logo, there, David.

bobsandiego said...

You do realize David you've just stumbled into a classic Hollywood action/thriller plotline?
Regualr people, walking the halls of the Data Mining complex learn what must know be known and no are on the run from corrput agent, danger, death, and sex around every corners, lots of explosions, firefights,and chases later, they save the world and live happly to a nice rock score.

David Brin said...

Bobsandiego... cool concept.

Rob try this to get the download:

David Brin said...

The "Best of the Web Today" column in the on-line Wall Street Journal loves to make fun of certain newsaper headlines, usually with a rejoinder or a pun that completely reinterprets the content of the article.  Every so often they have a really good one. Today they had four pretty good ones. I think the first one is perfect ... This headline, from Dale McFeatters syndicated column on March 16 about the change of leadership in China, set up the punchline so beautifully ...

Hu and Wen Leaving. China Asks: What Next?

David Brin said...

Trying again for that download of my Intuit speech:
https://rcpt.yousendit.com/1418797486/1715d281609968cb8b776764d87cba2f

RandyB said...

David,

Continuing from last week...

I'm sorry this is too long but you gave me five points. The links are just for references. You don't need to read any of them.


"In fact, every single one of these points was not only never proved... they have all been actively DISproved.

"So stop quibbling over slaps across the face and whether bad music is "torture." It's all just rationalization and diving into minutia to evade the core points. Your side has justified the tearing down of barriers that protected us all. PROVE all five of those assertions!"

I was asking for clarity and reality. That's necessary in any discussion about pragmatism.

For example, you said that we should face an existential crisis before we resort to torture. But suppose I were to flippantly characterize your position as opposing face slaps and music except in an existential crisis that would mean the end of all life on earth?

That would not be clarity. I would be muddying the waters.

You'd quite properly say that's not the kind of existential crisis or the types of interrogation methods you're talking about, and you'd ask that we discuss reality. Well, that's all I'm asking here.

This is really unnecessary, too. You can make your argument just as well by saying you oppose harsh interrogation even if it doesn't reach the limit of torture. My asking about face slaps and music was so that we'd know where we stand (some here do oppose even that). When someone opposes them, too, they should just say so. The word "torture" muddies the water.



"Anyone demanding that the US federal government be empowered with new powers to secretly seize human beings and abuse them, contravening both international treaties and the Constitution, out of some kind of "urgent necessity" bears a burden of proof:

"1) that we face an existential crisis requiring such "pragmatism" to overcome "idealistic" rules of universal rights."

These aren't "new powers" at all. But I'll get to that later.

For just a moment, temper the "'idealistic' rules of universal rights," and that the threat was really worse than people remember, and we're pretty close on this one. That's why I didn't use the nuke scenario in my comments.

I wouldn't wait for a literal existential threat, although that's beside the point.

Since I'd go so far to say that a more serious crisis should be required before we resort to real torture, you'd think I should stop here. But, as the other points will describe, I don't agree this is what's been going on.


(Continues over several posts...)

RandyB said...

continuing...

(Note that I'm responding in a different order.)


"5) that such a dive into rationalizing excuses for cowboy bullying and "24" tactics is not, in itself, profoundly impractical. Or that the "idealists" aren't - indeed - the practical adults in the room."

It's not rationalizing to ask where the legal lines are, and then to say that we can work within them.

Here is real torture: Twelve pages of captured drawings, starting with drilling hands and severing limbs. (You don't need to see them; I'm just making a point.)

Now here's a bunch of left-wing activists giving a waterboarding demonstration to someone who volunteered.

Did he volunteer for the items in the first link? Of course not. Like everyone else, he knows the difference between rough stuff and real torture. He can handle the rough stuff.

As I'll explain later, it is still legal under the new 2006 rules to limit a detainee to four hours of continuous sleep at irregular times each day. Why is that not torture? Because we know that not all uncomfortable treatment is torture. Is it "rationalizing" to say that?

You would need to acknowledge that a line can be drawn. Once you say that, it's just a question of where you draw that line. The Bush administration was willing to draw that line. They had to.

RandyB said...

continuing...

Here's where it starts to get interesting...

"4) that such pragmatic exceptions to our ideals weren't already being handled, discreetly, carefully and effectively by the skilled "James Bond types," allowing us to get occasional glimpses into dark places without damaging our overall pride in being - at the wide-open and general level - the 'good guys."

You're saying that enhanced interrogation (and it sounds like you're even accepting torture itself) is perfectly fine as long as it was the CIA doing it, and the public didn't find out about it. With the CIA only having about 100 prisoners, and only 1/3rd of whom got enhanced interrogation, and most of those were of the slapping-around variety, that's a small enough number that I'd call it a pragmantic exception.

The reason we know about it is that the CIA wanted to stay within the outer bounds of legality. If they hadn't stopped to ask for legal and medical guidance then the world would be none the wiser. Apparently, you'd have been fine with it.

It's really a sliding scale, and people will differ where the acceptance level ends. When John McCain famously opposed the CIA waterboarding, he also said he opposed restricting the CIA to the Army Field Manual. President Obama eventually did restrict the CIA to the FM, but he started by leaving it open to the Attorney General. I suspect it'll probably stay this way until we need something more serious. It only takes another executive order, and that can wait until we resume capturing high-value terrorists again.

Someone mentioned Truman and Eisenhower before. I found this in my old links: "Presidents Truman and Eisenhower were exceptionally aggressive advocates of procedural freedom of action for the CIA in the 1950s. President Truman reportedly provided Bedell Smith, CIA director from 1950-1953, a blanket and undated presidential pardon when concerns about legality began to trouble Smith. A 1954 report on CIA covert activities determined that “[h]itherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, long-standing American concepts of ‘fair play’ must be reconsidered.” The report was a concise summary of President Eisenhower’s views. The security threat was acute, and absolution before the law almost total." -- "Interrogation Law" by William Ranney Levi, Yale Law Journal (still available via this link).

That's a pretty good link. It describes the legal history of both military and CIA techniques.

RandyB said...

continuing...

I do realize that the CIA's program was only one target of the complaints.

Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were military facilities. They had their own enhanced interrogation program. It did not include waterboarding, sleep deprivation, or even a much deserved slap on the face, but they did do the more tame items like standing or kneeling for as long as four hours, sleep management, separation from their friends, yelling, light control, and music. What of that?


Military interrogation may be where you and I most disagree, but it isn't new. This comes from the William Ranney Levi paper I linked above: "Physical pressure more coercive by degree than any military interrogation techniques authorized since 1973 -- post-9/11 included -- was also made possible by the flexible strictures of the Geneva Conventions. Standing, as a stress position, was authorized for use on prisoners of war. Interrogation policy promulgations advised interrogators that “[w]hen the subject refuses to cooperate, the interrogator becomes very angry. He may order the subject to stand at attention while being interrogated.” No time limit was placed on this technique. An additional technique identified as “harassment” was considered legally available and was authorized by policy before 1973. This technique took several forms. Sleep deprivation without limitation was included:
"[a] subject may be called for interrogation at any time of the day or night, questioned for a few minutes and then released only to be recalled shortly thereafter. This treatment is continued until he realizes that the harassment will continue until he finally decides to cooperate with the interrogator."

Note he says it was more coercive than under Bush and Rumsfeld.

RandyB said...

continuing...

But if you want all detainees to get the same treatment, regardless whether or not they respect the laws of war (yet another open invitation for them to use children as human shields), then you're out of luck. The newest Army Field Manual gives detainees an easier time but has a section just for unlawful combatants. It still allows separation and four hours of sleep for non-POWs. I don't know if the four hours of standing or kneeling remains on the list. I find it hard to believe that would comfort anyone here if it's not.

A lot of people think the Guantanamo detainees spent their entire days with their hands chained to their feet. But they have regular cells inspected by the Red Cross. Most of them live together eight men to a cell. There are pictures here for those who think they've each been chained in a hole.


Was there ever abuse beyond the rules? Yes, it happened. Military guards and interrogators had sometimes been caught going too far, and then disciplined for it. They were disciplined without any prodding by the press or the politicians. Nobody is surprised that mistakes or crimes will happen or that people will sometimes go too far. There was a public uproar only because different groups had different reasons to whine about it.

Note that most of the abuse cases in Bagram and Abu Ghraib involved guards, not interrogators.

Critics like to compare that to the Lord of the Flies, where some guards got carried away with their power. But those critics of American policy were and are subject to the same influences. They started preaching about their opposition to "torture," and, just like those guards, they began to feed on their own visions of superior moral authority. Eventually, they'd heap the same scorn for playing Christina Aguilera music as they would if Americans had gouged someone's eyes out.


If you're still worried that some might possibly be innocent, then you need to talk that over with Hypnos, who excuses their unwillingness to wear uniforms or to identify themselves as what they are. If the far left really cared about these things, they would talk it over with their jihadi friends.

RandyB said...

continuing...

"4b) that in fact the CIA has not been HARMED in its ability to do these things rarely, covertly, by all the attention that has been brought to this matter by the outrageous over-use of such tactics."

Overuse? The U.S. had captured tens of thousands. Again, the CIA's enhanced interrogation was used on about 35 detainees.

And whose fault is all that attention? After the left pushed speculation about these things into the opinion press, the Democrats came along to give it life.

Britain secretly held thousands of prisoners in London during WWII. It didn't damage their overall pride. Their reputation was built on the war's victory. BTW: Andrew Sullivan gushed about that secret prison because the British interrogators prided themselves on not using torture. He didn't realize that their definition of "not-using-torture" was similar to the Bush administration's.



"2) that the measures like rendition, secret-endless detention and torture truly are "pragmatic" and deliver benefits vastly outweighing the costs."

Rendition is a CIA function, and not too common, which I think implies it's part of the "James Bond" type of operation you approve of.

Bush administration defenders of rendition have said they get agreements with other nations that they will not use torture. Was it crazy to take these countries at their word? Hell, yes! I can only imagine they got too chummy after getting cooperation when the War on Terror began. (This isn't to say I automatically believe those nations did use torture on these prisoners. They probably did, but maybe they didn't. The prisoners will say they did regardless.)


Is rendition pragmatic? Not if we're kidnapping people from a friendly country without that country's knowledge. I would oppose that, too, except in more urgent circumstances. But when does that happen?

A lot of the rendition (probably all of it) was in consultation with the other governments we nabbed them from. When the CIA nabbed an Islamist in Italy, they were working with Italian intelligence. Would it really have been more "pragmatic" if they had done it quietly, without calling the Italians, and then killed the terrorist when they were finished with him?


Is detention without trial legal? Yes. Is it just some accidental legal loophole that's never been used before? No. The Supreme Court already ruled on it.

I could point out that detention doesn't have to be endless. It's only "indefinite" because we don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. They've been getting annual reviews for a long time. But that's a legal point.

Detention wasn't endless for all the detainees who've been freed or released for trials in their own countries.

If you read Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, you'll see it ends with a statement encouraging the parties to make agreements that would expand the rights of the detainees. Those who befriend the cause of the detainees have had over ten years to pursue this with the jihadis. They didn't care.


We don't get everything we want. I didn't like the Supreme Court's ruling that requires Common Article 3. If Justice Kennedy had ruled the other way, the appeals court ruling would have stood, making it that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply at all. But I can't have everything. Likewise, the critics didn't get everything they wanted either. Detainees can't have POW status (which was never going to happen) or full civilian trials, and they can be held for as long as necessary in accordance with the laws of war. We all have to live with the Court's decisions. I'd call that being pragmatic.


You've said this was "tearing down of barriers that protected us all." In reality, waterboarding was the only technique that was new.

RandyB said...

continuing...

"3) that those costs won't include devastation to our international reputation, the boosting of enemy recruitment, and getting the federal government used to Big Brother type behaviors."

I no longer buy the "international reputation" argument. America's critics have many reasons for hating us. They started criticizing the war before Guantanamo even opened. (I remember when some people said we should stop bombing during Ramadan.) The same activists who tell you that they oppose torture willingly partner with groups that support terrorists.

We were even criticized because the 15+ year-old juvenile detainees (called "child soldiers" by their defenders) were housed with adult detainees. That's in spite of the fact that this was a longstanding policy (before Bush) that comes right out of the Geneva Conventions. They will criticize us no matter what we do.

Detention without trial isn't new, and we're not the only ones who do it. Until a few years ago, the British, Canadians, and French also held detainees without trial, and (unlike us) this was on their own soil. It's limited to four years in France, and the British are rewriting that policy for next time. Here is one example in the U.K. It has a picture of cute kids protesting, tugging at your heartstrings. Here is another article about the same guy after he was released. He was killed by an airstrike in Afghanistan. Keep in mind that the terrorists killed a lot more innocent civilians than American troops, and that includes kids. No telling whether he managed to get any of that done before his demise.

So, when you wonder about our international reputation, who are we supposed to impress? No matter what their politicians say, it can't be the British, the Canadians, or the French. It can't be the leftists who attend "peace" demonstrations with jihad supporters, or join organizations that link with them.


I don't buy the enemy recruitment item either. Terrorists use real torture. Arab governments are famous for it. The jihad's prospective recruits may or may not be smart enough to understand that, but there will be recruiting propaganda for them regardless what we do. And they will get plenty of help from our critics.

I don't see how the federal government can get used to Big Brother type behaviors because of what the CIA and the military do. We'd be more influenced by what other western countries do than what the CIA does.



The bottom line is that the U.S. did nothing new, except waterboarding, and other countries are no different.

Again, sorry this is too long. The links are just for reference. You don't need to read them.

infanttyrone said...

But those critics of American policy were and are subject to the same influences. They started preaching about their opposition to "torture," and, just like those guards, they began to feed on their own visions of superior moral authority. Eventually, they'd heap the same scorn for playing Christina Aguilera music as they would if Americans had gouged someone's eyes out.

Dude, run a diagnostic, Stat.
Clearly someone hijacked your train of thought and tortured your rhetoric while you weren't paying attention.

Ian Gould said...

"Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were military facilities. They had their own enhanced interrogation program. It did not include waterboarding, sleep deprivation, or even a much deserved slap on the face, but they did do the more tame items like standing or kneeling for as long as four hours, sleep management, separation from their friends, yelling, light control, and music. What of that?"

what abotu the multiple documented cases of rape of both male and female Abu Ghraib prisoners, Randy?

Were they "well-deserved"?

David Brin said...

RandyB... are you serious? You gave us paragraph after paragraph that had no discernible semantic content, and call that a rebuttal? Seriously. There was zero actual logical or discursive content to your first missive except to say some thing like "it really was a big-existential threat back in 9/11..."

....and totally wuss out on supporting it.

Dig this. We won that "war" the day it began, when the rebels on flight UA93 proved Osama bin Laden wrong about american manhood. We did need to go do some butt-kicking and kill Osama. But spend TRILLIONS? Ruin Pax Americana in the process? Abandon habeous corpus? Bullshit.

Dig this further. Our parents in WWII suffered worse losses than 911 weekly, yet felt shame over the much lesser breaches inflicted on Japanese Americans. What crap.

Gawd, I looked over the rest of your postings and they were more of the same, evading abso-freaking lutely every single clear-cut point that I raised and going back to "it's all relative and sliding scale!"

I'm done... and truly disappointed.

Please don't dump endless reams of such crap here. Till you learn to argue with logic and reason. And FAR more efficiently.

David Brin said...

PS let me reiterate. RandyB clearly thinks he was being logical. It was so utterly illogical that I felt tempted - out of contrariness - to actually step up and take HIS SIDE just so it would not be represented so incompetently.

Sorry man, you are welcome here. But ... oh lord...

Jumper said...

Of course "make them stand at attention" means break their ribs if they don't.

On another topic, I think someone needs to build a bipedal robot that can do one thing really well: survive being knocked off its feet and able to quickly get on its feet again. (Okay, that's two things.) Seems to me that research would be incorporated into a module used in more complex robots later. But you have to start somewhere, and by focusing on that one ability, I think there would be real progress (and grants!)

Lorraine said...

OK, this is a shameless plug for one of my projects, and I trot it out every few months, but if there is to be a serious effort at database-type sousveillance there will have to be brainstorming. All the ideas on the subject that I can come up with are at http://scratchpad.wikia.com/wiki/Pubwan . Those who want to add to the repertoire are please, please, please encouraged (as it is a wiki) to add their own ideas and of course refine whatever of value might already be there. All hands on deck when it comes to sousveillance! And of course, kitchen test some of these ideas.

Lorraine said...

Oh, speaking of apps for dialing 911 or the equivalent, perhaps a more bottom-up approach to whatever such calls are actually appropriate may be realized with the 'Voluntero' project. I'm admittedly turned off by the "anarcho"-capitalist tone of the rhetoric surrounding the project, but it seems to be a sound idea.

Carl M. said...

Climate science from the Onion?

http://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickmichaels/2012/03/19/climate-science-from-the-onion/

This is why better educated Republicans dig in their heels about global warming. (Not that they are necessarily right, only that there factors other than energy company conspiracies and/or psychological dysfunction involved.)

LarryHart said...

In a previous comment thread, someone asked the rhetorical question of what benefit would accrue to the Saudis from the Keystone Pipeline.

In response:

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/03/20-1

http://www.commondreams.org/view/
2012/03/20-1


Second, take a look at the map of the proposed pipeline. Its target is the refinery world of Port Arthur, Texas, which is focused on exporting oil via the Gulf of Mexico. Refiners in Texas on board to process tar sands crude include Royal Dutch Shell, the Saudi government, and the French oil company Total.


[emphasis mine]

RandyB said...

David,

Fine. This went along too long for me, too.

But you really shouldn't say things that are factually wrong if you're going to toss my (admittedly in need of editing) semantic content. There can be no "abandonment" of habeas corpus if they've never had it before. No overseas wartime detainee has ever had habeas corpus. It's not something the Bush administration took away.

As I linked earlier (in other words, not my personal opinion), Truman's and Eisenhower's Cold War policies were much more harsh.



Ian,

Crimes committed by guards are a different subject than interrogation methods that are authorized. This should be obvious but I guess it's not.

Kelsey said...

RandyB,

Just another reminder, but comparisons of the behavior of the US to behavior by other countries or individuals will earn you negative points.

Stop using that argument if you want anyone to take you seriously.

Kelsey said...

I'll add pre-9/11 administrations to the list too.

LarryHart said...

RandyB:

Crimes committed by guards are a different subject than interrogation methods that are authorized. This should be obvious but I guess it's not.


One of the greatest Yogi Berra lines I ever heard went: "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there is."

In theory, you are correct that unauthorized actions by individual guards is a different thing from administrative policy.

In practice, it depends on how much of that "unauthorized" action is in fact encouraged off the books so as to allow plausible deniability to those in charge.

Is the "unauthorized" abuse by guards part of the implicit threat of the prison experience, in the way that prison rape is part of the implicit threat of the criminal justice system for civilians? When you hear about such "unauthorized" abuses, what pops into your head? "That mustn't be allowed to continue!"? Or "That's what they get for being terrorists!"

sociotard said...

a great video about Romney
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxch-yi14BE

RandyB said...

Kelsey,

So, what you're saying is that we should compare the Bush administration's actions to an ideal that no nation has ever had to operate under before, including ours, and probably since.

That explains everything.



Larry,

"In practice, it depends on how much of that "unauthorized" action is in fact encouraged off the books so as to allow plausible deniability to those in charge."

That would make perfect sense if the military was a graphic novel.

No one encouraged rape, or anything close to it. Everyone knew the kinds of rough treatment that was on the list. It was written down, and posted on a board. Everyone also knew what would get them in trouble.i

LarryHart said...

RandyB said to Kelsey:

So, what you're saying is that we should compare the Bush administration's actions to an ideal that no nation has ever had to operate under before, including ours, and probably since.


My first answer was, "Yes, exactly.

"Comparing yourself to a better ideal is how you continually improve yourself. That's a goal that conservatives are usually in favor of, except for the unfortunate implicit admission that if you improve yourself, you weren't perfect to begin with.

"On the other hand, considering yourself to be of sterling character simply because a bunch of bad guys have always been a little bit worse than you--that's a race to the bottom."

But on further reflection, I don't even have to go that far into fantasy land. My more realistic answer is:

"No, it would be sufficient to live up to the realities of the George Washington or FDR administrations."

Jumper said...

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2010/11/19/rspb.2010.1890.abstract

The more sober and perhaps more interesting article on obsesity, which asks more questions that it attempts to answer, likely therefore the more rational study.

Tacitus2 said...

I've been avoiding the topic of torture. It is icky. But a few thoughts.

-Torture is a tactic of the weak. It is targeted not against the subject of torture who will probably tell you any damn thing and get you more confused. It is targeted against the next mope caught, so that out of fear he might blab something of use. It is terrorism.

-We, being the strong, have generally more effective weapons at hand. Tapping electronic communications has helped us more than any interrogation.

-The PR points lost by torture probably outweigh the rare instance where useful things are learned. How many dead in a prevented attack against how many dead following revelations of Abu Gharib..

-There have always been a small number of cases where horrid things are done that we never knew about. In this day and age word gets out.

-A byproduct of all this will be a revival of the "No Quarter" policy. Prisoners are a liability not an asset. They are hard to keep anywhere, they are poker chips to be traded for US hostages. Anyone really think there was a chance in hell we would have captured Bin Laden?

-I recommend "A Savage War of Peace" by Alistair Horne. It was torture that lost the French a chance for a fair settlement in Algeria. Horne btw was invited to the White House for a long chat with W. GWB is described by Horne as a thoughtful, well read person who might well have been a good president under other circumstances. And the message given was "never resort to torture".

Tacitus

RandyB said...

Larry,

I think you can ask for an idealistic approach without denigrating the Bush administration for choosing the method that we've used just a few decades before -- especially when the new methods haven't even been used yet. If you'll remember, President Obama chose to focus on killing rather than capturing. (Not that I'm complaining that much.)

That leads into Tacitus2's points. I disagree with his characterization but I agree where he says, "A byproduct of all this will be a revival of the "No Quarter" policy." We're already seeing this, although never by giving such orders (which would be illegal). As I recall, the last high value targets who have been captured were interrogated by the Pakistanis.


Maybe I'm wrong but I'm not aware of President Washington being particularly easy on the Whiskey Rebellion.

Which FDR? The one who pulled Japanese-Americans into relocation camps?

I guess Truman and Eisenhower are no longer among the go-to examples.

infanttyrone said...

RandyB,

Maybe I'm wrong but I'm not aware of President Washington being particularly easy on the Whiskey Rebellion.

Per Wikipedia:
With 15,000 militia provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Washington rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurgency. The rebels all went home before the arrival of the army, and there was no confrontation. About 20 men were arrested, but all were later acquitted or pardoned.

Maybe you can produce written records that detail what was done (without written authorization, natch) to the rebels by executive-branch-groupies in the intelligence services of the day...
or maybe you can show that Wiki has it all wrong...
until one or the other happens, I'd say you're wrong big-time.

But look on the bright side - you may have uncovered the first 20 or so cases of jury nullification in the USA.

sociotard said...

A very disturbing privacy problem:

http://news.yahoo.com/job-seekers-getting-asked-facebook-passwords-071251682.html

When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.

In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person's social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.


I cannot see any way to make this transparency "reciprocal"

Yes, the applicant can simply refuse, but not everyone has that option. I for one, BS in engineering notwithstanding, am in the position where I can't refuse any position I am offered because I am that desperate.

RandyB said...

infanttyrone,

That's good enough for our purposes here. I don't know what I was thinking of but I'm not the one who brought up Washington.

I'd have preferred using Eisenhower and Truman as examples anyway.

Hypnos said...

Carl, if that article is the reason better "educated" conservatives are skeptical of global warming, they should not be called deniers (which is what they are), they should be called idiots.

Christ.

Here, let me play this game:

Medicine is bullshit. Proof:
https://lirias.kuleuven.be/bitstream/123456789/282526/3/MO_1007.pdf

Physics is bullshit. Proof:
http://informahealthcare.com/doi/abs/10.1080/000164800750000621

I am willing to entertain honest skepticism. I pride myself on being a skeptical environmentalist.

But I have never met a self defined global warming "skeptic" who rose above that level of base idiocy.

Meanwhile, climate scientists continue being their own best skeptics and critics, as all scientists in all fields are:
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature10847.html

I'd like to see anyone make a compelling reason for why we need ignorant, politically motivated amateurs perusing climate science.

David Brin said...

Lorraine cool! My biggest sousveillance dig is the lack of a secondary way for our cell phones to keep functioning in a crisis when the towers are down or pre-empted by govt. Peer-to-peer text-passing is a must.

Carl, that Forbes article is drivel. No one was claiming that the CO2 makes you fat result was conclusive. There is room in science for PRELIMINARY or indicative studies that say "here's a tentative trend that someone ought to study more extensively."

In other words, like nearly all the "better educated Republicans" you are talking about, these guys know JUST enough to spout Crichton-isms that are actually deeply, deeply ill-informed about real science.

LarryHart is right. Keystone as a political matter? Absurd! Right now, the Canadians have to sell their oil to American refineries. With Keystone they can bypass the US completely. And Yanks should want this... um... because... ???

David Brin said...

RandyB at last says something discursive and not content-or relevance-free.

"There can be no "abandonment" of habeas corpus if they've never had it before. No overseas wartime detainee has ever had habeas corpus. It's not something the Bush administration took away."

Malarkey. COmplete and utter malarkey. Wartime detainees in the US were always handled with sensitivity to the fact that necessity must trump rights only in a systematic way that contains elements of due process and tradeoffs against necessity that were kept to a (perceived) minimum.

Sure, we later look back at the Japanese-American internment as having chosed the WRONG balance between these things. But even at hysteria's height, the seeking of that balance was ongoing and sincere. And we were under VASTLY worse peril, taking vastly more damage at that time than ever during the "war on terror."

Interned Germans, Japanese and Italian nationals had red cross access, access to attorneys and to an inspector general. They could write and walk and exercise and garden. Families were kept mostly together. Above all, these things were discussed with an eye always to keeping the constraints to the minimum level "necessary." This example does not support your point, in undermines it profoundly.

Moreover, you have answered none of my five main points. Cutting thru the blather, there were ZERO sentences of yours that actually addressed even one of them.

"So, what you're saying is that we should compare the Bush administration's actions to an ideal that no nation has ever had to operate under before, including ours, and probably since."

Bah. Absurd. Let's instead compare Bush to any other US administration except Buchanan's, as an example of utter and relentlessly perfect destruction of the United States of America. RandyB I defy you now to name one unambiguous statistical metric of national health that improved under those (at-best) morons. Indeed, name more than one that did not plummet.

No President in living memory was hated as much by the generals and admirals, the scientists, teachers, professionals indeed nearly every caste in American life that knows stuff.

The 2000 Supreme Court virtually assassinated our country. Certainly it shot us in both kneecaps.

David Brin said...

Great Romney "stand up" video!



Tacitus, torture can do one thing. It is not for confessions or confirmation or any other thing... except on very rare occasions it can get a guy to spill NEW information to investigate independently. But that's not the point. It should not be on our official "plate" at any level or in any way. Hypocritically (but practically) I am willing to live with knowing that we have some skilled professionals in dark places who VERY discreetly and very rarely do what "must be done" in an imperfect and sometimes (rarely) lethally dangerous world. Skilled people who know exactly what it is NOT good for.

Skilled people who know that doing it too much, and letting it become a matter of public notice, is exactly what morons would do, harming the ability of secret service professionals to do rare cases well.

rewinn said...

The subject of torture fanboyism having been thoroughly well-chewed, let me weigh in on the last issue: if, on rare occasions, it may be wise and/or patriotic to do that which is illegal, how do you do it?

The answer is shown by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and the greatest hero in all of Martian history, as recounted in Heinlein's "Double Star":

1. You break the law.
2. You admit it.
3. You suffer the consequences.

The reasons for this are twofold:
(A) your duty is to uphold civilization, and that means those who do illegal acts suffer the consequences;
(B) if you evade the consequences, then you or someone like you will break the law and do the deed for less than perfect necessity (as we saw throughout the first decade of this century.)

It is a hard rule. The important ones always are.

David Brin said...

REwinn I show TWO examples of that in EXISTENCE!

RandyB said...

David,

We're mixing several things up here. You're thinking of their overall rights and protections, which is different than habeas corpus.

When I said no overseas wartime detainee has ever had habeas corpus, I wasn't kidding. Justice Scalia said exactly that: "Today, for the first time in our Nation's history, the Court confers a constitutional right to habeas corpus on alien enemies detained abroad by our military forces in the course of an ongoing war."

The Supreme Court gave it to them anyway (Guantanamo only, not Bagram detainees) in a split decision, overruling the appeals court decision, and so we're stuck with it. It doesn't help them much, though, as the Supreme Court still didn't give them a right to a trial.


"Interned Germans, Japanese and Italian nationals had red cross access, access to attorneys and to an inspector general. They could write and walk and exercise and garden. Families were kept mostly together. Above all, these things were discussed with an eye always to keeping the constraints to the minimum level "necessary." This example does not support your point, in undermines it profoundly."

Guantanamo detainees have had access to the Red Cross inspectors since 2004 -- even though it's not legally required under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. (I could find you an authoritative link if you wanted one.)

I don't see your point about the other items either. Guantanamo detainees can also write and walk and exercise and garden. They even wrote a book of poetry. (That book is old, a lot of them are out, and at least one of them went back to rejoin the jihad.)


"Let's instead compare Bush to any other US administration except Buchanan's, as an example of utter and relentlessly perfect destruction of the United States of America."

I don't want to get hung up on another subject. The item you were responding to was about interrogation and treatment of detainees, not the general quality of the state of the country at that time.

The Japanese-American relocation and internments were very different from Guantanamo. They took thousands of whole families without any individual suspicion of an association with the enemy. Every Guantanamo detainee had a tribunal to show an association with terror by a preponderance of the evidence, which is the standard right out of the manual (last updated in 1997, which was before the Bush administration).

Just imagine if, instead of taking 100,000 Japanese-American men, women and children, FDR had only detained 799 men who were genuinely suspected of an association with the enemy. That would be very different.


"Moreover, you have answered none of my five main points. Cutting thru the blather, there were ZERO sentences of yours that actually addressed even one of them."

Sure I have.

You said this: "4) that such pragmatic exceptions to our ideals weren't already being handled, discreetly, carefully and effectively by the skilled "James Bond types," allowing us to get occasional glimpses into dark places without damaging our overall pride in being - at the wide-open and general level - the 'good guys."

I said this: "You're saying that enhanced interrogation (and it sounds like you're even accepting torture itself) is perfectly fine as long as it was the CIA doing it, and the public didn't find out about it. With the CIA only having about 100 prisoners, and only 1/3rd of whom got enhanced interrogation, and most of those were of the slapping-around variety, that's a small enough number that I'd call it a pragmantic exception."

Maybe you don't think 33 to 35 detainees (out of tens of thousands of prisoners captured), and only 3 actually waterboarded, could be a pragmatic exception.

I'll concede they were long answers.

matthew said...

Rewinn wins the thread. His examples are the meat of the matter, the heart of the beast.

One thing to add: remember that the president has the ability to pardon. So, when our hypothetical James Bond is forced by a convoluted 24-like ticking bomb scenario to use the instrument of last resort, torture, JB may be pardoned of the offense. This way we keep the rule of law, the moral high ground, and the ghosts of the japanese we executed after WWII for using torture- waterboarding, if you remember- those ghosts don't need to haunt us either.

infanttyrone said...

sociotard,

I'm not in the job market, so I haven't had to try this, but why not set up a second FB account ?
Make it realistic with selected friends & family.
I know there are plenty of folks playing a variety of games on the FB platform who have multiple FB accounts in order to get in-game advantages over players who only have a single FB account.
If grannies playing Farmville can do it, an engineering grad should be able to pull it off.

David Brin said...

I said you didn't make any SENSE. I didn't say that you didn't answer. Take the following drivel:

"You're saying that enhanced interrogation (and it sounds like you're even accepting torture itself) is perfectly fine as long as it was the CIA doing it, and the public didn't find out about it. With the CIA only having about 100 prisoners, and only 1/3rd of whom got enhanced interrogation, and most of those were of the slapping-around variety, that's a small enough number that I'd call it a pragmantic exception."

No... that is NOT what I was saying. You clearly do not have even a scintilla of a clue what I was saying.

Jon Roth said...

I recommend that people interested in the subject of interrogation read "How To Break A Terrorist" and Kill or Capture" by Matthew Alexander, a man who has interrogated several terrorists, members of Al-Qaeda, etc. He's lived the ticking time bomb scenario several times and makes it clear from his experience and observations: torture costs American lives. It usually shuts prisoners up, it gives bad information when it doesn't shut them up, and it provides a ton of recruitment for the enemy. He also mentions books showing that our most effective techniques going back to World War 2 (at least) were non-coercive. They got results.

Unlike our host, I don't think it's "pragmatic" to let some "experts in the dark" decide what is okay. No transparency? No accountability? Whatever happened to "there is no evil that is not made worse by secrecy"? I'm surprised that anyone living after Nixon, "A legacy of ashes", and the entire Bush administration can ignore history's biggest lesson: "Any power that can be abused, will be. Any excuse for government secrecy will be applied to anything the government wants covered up. Any excuses made for 'national security' will ensure that *every* corrupt little secret will be declared a matter of national security." "Just Trust us" is the worst instruction to take from any government. I don't believe that sunlight is a perfect disinfectant. I don't believe that transparency is the cure for everything, but I don't see any other trustworthy alternatives at this time.

Jon Roth

Ian said...

"Ian,

Crimes committed by guards are a different subject than interrogation methods that are authorized. This should be obvious but I guess it's not. "

Except, of course, when the guards and their immediate superiors insist that they were acting with the tacit or explicit knowledge and approval of senior officers.

The Chinese communist Party insists that torture and other forms of coercion are strictly illegal under Chi8ense law and that if they do occur they're isolated incidents which occur without the knowledge or approval of senior party or state officials.

Do you believe them?

The Abu Ghraib guards at the centre of the abuse cases were repeatedly praised by CIA staff and by senior Army officers for "getting results" and told to "keep on doing whatever it is you're doing because it's working."

After World War II, Nazi officers were sentenced to prison for acts of their subordinates which they had no direct knowledge of because of the military doctrine of "command responsibility" whereby officers are responsible for maintaining minimal standards of conduct and discipline amongst their subordinates.

There is at least prima facie evidence of command responsibility for crimes committed by US personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq going up to senior levels.

LarryHart said...

Tacitus2:

-Torture is a tactic of the weak. It is targeted not against the subject of torture who will probably tell you any damn thing and get you more confused. It is targeted against the next mope caught, so that out of fear he might blab something of use.


Agreed. And I'll add one more point. Torture is not an effective way of getting confessions of truth, but it is a very effective way of getting FALSE confessions. Want to invade or bomb a country we have no evidence against? Torture someone until they "confess" a connection between that country and 9/11. Want an excuse to execute a particular individual? Torture someone into fingering that individual as a terrorist.

This goes beyond the realm of morally wrong or tactically wrong into the realm of evil.

David Brin said...

Jon Roth... the general world trend toward ever-greater accountability and transparency has no greater friend than me. I agree with everything you said.

Still, we are cavemen, fumbling toward Star Trek. Our progress is uneven and it will STOP if Western Civilization stops.

We look forward and work ceaselessly toward a day when there will need to be no more "pax" empires. But till then, Pax Americana must survive... to become the last pax imperium, ever.

An idealist, I refuse to let my idealism blind me for the need for quiet tactical victories by practical and highly skilled men and women who must go to dark places and stanch far, far darker deeds by those who would bring us crashing down.

Yes, the secular trend toward a more open world is the one thing worth fighting for. That - and nothing else - will ensure ultimate victory of a sane human civilization.

But I'll not self-righteously declare that we are already there. We're not. So long as our professionals are ten standard deviations better than the enemies they fight, then I will grimace in pain at the thought of what they do. But I am willing to shine light judiciously. In stages.

David Brin said...

Anyway, you miss my point. Which is that such men and women have had their jobs made far harder by the Bushite morons. There are no silver linings to Guantanamo or our move toward openly embracing darkness.

Hypnos said...

Interesting statement there:
"Our progress is uneven and it will STOP if Western Civilization stops."

The fate of humanity is determined by Western civilization. I think the jury is really still out on that, and at the moment I see the judgement leaning towards the opposite: humanity will be doomed by Western civilization's yeast-like mode of expansion bringing about overshoot and population collapse.

Western civilization set the tune with the collapse of the Roman empire. When we collapse, we leave ashes behind. The Chinese empire never overshoot its limits so drastically that it brought about complete collapse. There was always a sustainable core that maintained Chinese civilization at a pretty high standard.

So what is the best model - the West's competition drive race towards Star Trek or oblivion, or the more tempered, collective endeavour of Asian societies, never letting individuals get too far ahead of themselves, avoiding the tragedy of the commons and overexploitation of resources? (I am oversimplifying massively here and civilizations never actually live up to their idealized form, but it help set the discussion).

The West has always claimed that its progress was synonymous with global progress. That was never true if you actually look at history - starting with how utterly racist enlightenment thinkers were. Their ideal of universal human rights never included Africans.

And Western expansion begot massive impoverishment of the countries colonised, starting with what were at a time the wealthiest civilizations in the world, Mexico, India and China.

Now that wealth is starting to be sucked out of the West and into emerging powers (really the old colonies finally taking their revenge) we are hearing cries for dumping a lot of venerable Western institutions such as free trade, while support for Western-style liberal democracy drops to new lows.

Quite premature to be calling for the end of history, no?

Hypnos said...

Let me make another example. The International Criminal Court of the Hague has recently delivered its first sentencing - of an African warlord.

All of its proceedings are in fact against African warlords.

Is this useful? Several African countries have well established local traditions of justice and courts, going back hundreds of years, that are very different from the Western model of doling out "punishment" for crimes. Many of them - for example the Gacaca courts which are trying genocidaires in Rwanda - are based around the concept of compensation and reconciliation, rather than punishment and imprisonment.

The core of the process is the confession, the truth telling. A similar process was enacted by Mandela, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission for South Africa, which probably avoided civil war and slaughter on an unprecedented scale.

By contrast, international (Western) bodies like the ICC have a negative impact and cause the unravelling of peace processes, as happened for example with Kony and the LRA, whom suspended peace talks after the indictment by the ICC.

Ian Gould said...

"All of its proceedings are in fact against African warlords."

Yes, because only African states have referred cases to the ICC.

In the case of the former Yugoslavia, for example, states had the option of either referring war criminals to the ICC or to the Hague Tribunal, they chose ot refer them to the Hague Tribunal.

Additionally, several non-African countries where there appears to be at least superficial evidence that would justify referrals to the ICC, including Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar,Iraq and Afghanistan are not signatories to the treaty that established the ICC and the Cort therefore has no jurisdiction.

Ian Gould said...

"By contrast, international (Western) bodies like the ICC have a negative impact and cause the unravelling of peace processes, as happened for example with Kony and the LRA, whom suspended peace talks after the indictment by the ICC."

Why do you assume that unlike all the other times that Kony has entered into peace talks will continuing to commit mass murder, this time he meant it.

Ian Gould said...

"Our progress is uneven and it will STOP if Western Civilization stops."

Define Western Civilization.

Ian Gould said...

"I recommend that people interested in the subject of interrogation read "How To Break A Terrorist" and Kill or Capture" by Matthew Alexander, a man who has interrogated several terrorists, members of Al-Qaeda, etc. He's lived the ticking time bomb scenario several times and makes it clear from his experience and observations: torture costs American lives. It usually shuts prisoners up, it gives bad information when it doesn't shut them up, and it provides a ton of recruitment for the enemy. He also mentions books showing that our most effective techniques going back to World War 2 (at least) were non-coercive. They got results."

This is precisely why Israel has given up coercive interrogation.

Ian Gould said...

"And Western expansion begot massive impoverishment of the countries colonised, starting with what were at a time the wealthiest civilizations in the world, Mexico, India and China."

Two points for the boosters of "Western Civilization" to ponder:

1. When the first Portugese and Spanish sailors reached Mumbai, they described it as "a city more beautiful and more wealthy than any in Europe" and commented in particular on the total absence of beggars.

2. As late as the 1830's, the Europeans had no manufactured goods that were able to compete on the Chinese market. Tee Opium Wars occurred because Opium and silver were the ONLY British goods the Chinese were interested in buying.

The British on the other hand were desperate to get their hands on Chinese manufactured goods including in particular silk and porcelain because of the massive European demand for them.

It was only after the British effectively took control of large parts of China and imposed taxes on Chinese manufactures to pay reparations (which British imports were exempted from)that the British were able to compete.

Chinese supposed technological and political inferiority to the west comes down to a single factor:the Qianlong emperor (1711 to 1799) was virtually senile for the last 20 years of his reign.

Had the Chinese throne been held by someone with the capacity of Meiji or Rama the IVth, we'd now be talking about the virtues of the Pax Sinica, and I at least would probably be mentally translating this discussion into my native Hanyu

gmknobl said...

Sure, they can and will see what they want. That's is a problem even if you think it isn't? Why? Because they will abuse any power given, even with safeguards. It is not a question of if but when they will abuse their power. Preventing the looking, or at least making them stop and ask someone else is this okay (which used to be called getting a warrant) is simply one brief stop in trying to prevent abuse.

The problem now is that safeguards are being removed, such as requiring a warrant, such as requiring congress to sign off, such as throwing them in jail if they do things without asking, legally, first. But even then, the penalties must be so severe, including substantial jail time and truly substantial monetary/property fines, that this chills the impulse to violate our trust. As I said, the safeguards are largely removed now and those that aren't are being dismantled.

Yes, we know people will look at things that they shouldn't. Everyone knows this about pornography for instance. It is not so much that they look. Put a stumbling block in their way though, that is a good, if ultimately futile effort which serves as a reminder to those who want to abuse things what can happen. But make the penalties truly harsh and that will help.

Now the problem will be to actually prosecute those who do abuse power. And that, especially in a corporate/fascist government, is next to impossible.

Hypnos said...

Quick OT: who was saying that US nuclear liabilities are fully funded by utilities escrow funds?

Obviously, they aren't.
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/science/earth/as-nuclear-reactors-age-funds-to-close-them-lag.html?_r=1

David Brin said...

Hypnos quotes me: "Our progress is uneven and it will STOP if Western Civilization stops."

Then Hypnos adds: "The fate of humanity is determined by Western civilization. I think the jury is really still out on that, and at the moment I see the judgement leaning towards the opposite: humanity will be doomed by Western civilization's yeast-like mode of expansion bringing about overshoot and population collapse."

Well... fair enough... except. Not. In all ways not. Absolutely and positively not.

Only one civilization even created systems of law that over-ruled men. Only one created a diamond shaped social structure or effective processes of reciprocal accountability (that are always imperfect and always under threat.

Only one liberated women and thus freed them to control their own fertility, resulting in self-chosen drastic lowering of birth rates , just as effectively as the east's (China's) example of draconian one-child limitations. (Though I admit that worked, too.) Only one took on ancient habits of racial and gender and other bias, turning instead toward notions that individuals should be judge solely on their own account and not their parents.

Only one made the future a major agenda item, with the assumption that things will NOT be the same for our grandchildren. And that might, just might, be a good thing.

There are also extremely problematic aspects to Western culture. Individualism can tip over into manic solipsism and egotism. It can unleash shortsighted consumerism and greedy short-sighted waste of resources. Jared Diamond in COLLAPSE does not see good prospects for us and prefers eastern style hyper-conservative autarchies with a strong environmentalist basis... like the Tokugawas banning the wheel in Japan. If sensible and enlightened westerners do not win their current culture war, one can easily picture Diamond's scenarios coming true.

So? It just means we have something to fight over... and for.

It is pure mythology to claim non-western nations were better, overall, re the environment. China today is an ecological disaster area and there were frequent mini-collapses across the rule of prior dynasties.

Sure, Mexico and India were richer, RELATIVELY, before contact with the west. They were also extremely stratified, with 99% of the population living in grinding poverty and no hope of change. You call the Aztecs admirable in any way? What happened to them was still wrong... by our present standards. But not (ironically) by the standards held at that time by the Aztecs or Moghul emperors, who were just as ruthless as the states that conquered them.

It is the rise of our present day standards... by which we regret the crimes of Cortez... that shows why the West must continue strong for another generation. Those standards underly the dream of Star Trek and NO ON else ever promulgated them. They are the standards you applied in criticizing (somewhat rightfully) the faults of the west.

They are the standards under which we will improve... and without them, no one will.

David Brin said...

New blog so continue on the next section.


onward

LarryHart said...

I see Dr Brin has already added a new post, but I don't want to contaminate that one with old threads yet. But this had to be posted today, the day after the Illinois primaries.

I work 30 miles from home, and I pass through many different towns and cross a county line on the way. So I see several different taxing jurisdictions which affect gas prices. As such, I know where I'm going to find the cheapest gas and the more expensive gas. There's a station close to work in DuPage county that is typically 10 or 15 cents cheaper than the stations closer to home in Cook County. But when prices shoot up 25 cents overnight, for some reason, the one close to home lags the rest by a day or so. Thus, if I notice (as I did Tuesday morning) that the "cheap" station is suddenly going for $4.49 instead of the $4.24 of the previous day, it's an early warning system to buy my gas at home that very afternoon, before the price at my home station also rises.

This time, it was weird, though. As I said, Tuesday gas by work went from $4.24 up to $4.49. That price increase was also reflected in stations closer to home, so I know I didn't just dream it or misread the sign. However, Wednesday morning, a mere 24 hours later, it was back to $4.24.

It was a quarter a gallon higher JUST on the day of the Illinois primary elections.

Could that have been done on purpose for some reason?

rewinn said...

@Hypnos asked (...and I apologize for being late to reply...):
"...Is this useful? Several African countries have well established local traditions of justice and courts..."

On this matter, we may take the word of the Africans themselves, who are generally speaking very glad of the outside help.

I have spoken personally with individuals active in some of these cases, e.g. defense counsel in one of the Rwandan trials, and you should not be surprised to hear that given the very very very messy situation on the ground, the locals are happy to have some 3rd party come in with no ax to grind. If local justice systems were up to the task, they wouldn't refer the cases out. When literally everyone in the country is related to someone who killed and/or was killed, finding a resolution that enough people will consider just is important not only for abstract considerations such as justice, but for life-and-death considerations such as future peace. It is not Western imperialism that brings the ICC in (...although who knows? maybe there is some of that too ...) but rather locals asking for solutions.