Friday, July 10, 2015

The Era of Light...

First an announcement looking ahead..  Stephen W. Potts and I have just handed in to Tor Books 140,000 words of short stories – plus some insightful essays – that explore our near and far futures, in the coming era when cameras are so cheap they'll be almost everywhere.  Chasing Shadows will take you on a ride with thirty of todays finest SF authors, like Cat Rambo, Nancy Fulda, Bruce Sterling, Ramez Naam, Kathleen Goonan… plus a few classics by Robert Silverberg and Damon Knight etc.  Watch for it in early 2017!

And following along that theme…

Growing use of body cameras by police has led to a dramatic fall in brutality, a top U.N. rights expert said in June 2015. Surprise. Surprise. When police know they are on camera they behave differently and police brutality drops sharply. (Nicely summarized in this cartoon by R.J. Matson.) Here is a report on what has happened since body cameras were introduced. 

Oh, but progress is in fits and starts. Why do you think I had to go to a television network in India to find this story?

The lesson here: a watchdog without a leash becomes a wolf. “Town Where U.S. Marshal Smashed Citizen’s Camera Rakes in Millions from Federal Forfeiture Rules.”  The lesson here is clear. We are winning this fight for freedom and accountability and professionalism on our streets.  But victory won’t come cheap or easy.  We must all be video warriors. Better yet, video citizens.

Are we done with the transition to full police accountability?  Not at all.  The process is just underway.  Here's a disturbing (and of course one-sided) anecdote:  

Take, for instance, the individual who filmed the choking of Eric Garner, Ramsey Orta. Orta has been in and out of Rikers since that tragic day. Speaking with VICE, Orta, who was friendly with Garner, decided to start documenting police misconduct in the summer of 2014 around his heavily-policed neighborhood of Staten Island. But since Garner’s death, Orta and his family allege that police have zeroed in on him, following close family members as well as his girlfriend. Police charged Orta with gun and drug possession as well as armed robbery. On April 6, the Free Thought Project wrote about Orta’s imprisonment. His case went viral, and soon a GoFundMe campaign had collected over $54,000 to free him. Orta was released on April 10.”  

Let’s bear in mind that Orta was already very much operating in shady-side activities.  The balance in all of this can only come out when juries are exposed to all facts, vigorously and adversarially investigated.  But news reports - even tendentiously slanted like this one - are part of that back and forth tug. And police supervisors are going to have to think carefully.  As will we all. 


But police will also use cameras to increase their own safety: the Explorer is a softball-like camera that can spot danger, sending photos back to a smartphone -- before emergency workers enter a potentially hazardous zone.

And let me reiterate. Sousveillance is something about which we must be utterly militant... while remaining calmly moderate. Citizens must demand the right and power to supervise our public servants!  But we do not have to get into their faces, screaming "pig!"  A majority are skilled, dedicated folks doing a very hard job. Our aim is to make that a vast majority.  An overwhelming majority. And that will happen sooner if we make it clear that we want the good cops as allies.

== And light will flow ==

Leak after leak after leak after leak... when will you get the hint, and learn to surf this wave, instead of futilely trying to conceal?

The resumes of over 27,000 people working in the U.S. intelligence community were revealed on Thursday in a searchable database created by mining LinkedIn.  Transparency Toolkit said the database, called ICWatch, includes the public resumes of people working for intelligence contractors, the military, and intelligence agencies.  The group said the resumes frequently mention secret codewords and surveillance programs.”  Our civil servants will have to adapt to such times and supervision is called for.  This is not my preferred method, by far. 

Only consider.  We learn of so many of these events.  How many have we never found out about?

Fact-checking In Nepal: “To weed out false rumors that can waste precious time, (aid workers) elnist local volunteers to use an experimental Web tool to crowdsource rumor verification as quickly as possible.”  Rumor control can be a huge thing in our era, a new Web platform called Verily .   “Users can go to Verily’s website and read short tutorials on simple, established ways to verify things like the source of an image or the date and location of a report on a social network. They can answer yes-or-no verification questions about reports, provided they supply a piece of evidence supporting their answer—a corroborating photo, for example. Users can also share verification requests with their own social networks.”   

This is more important than it sounds, folks!  It is a key ingredient for the kinds of Smart Mobs I describe in Existence

== Reasonable Expectations ==

Why do intelligent pundits always, always do this?  In the Christian Science Monitor, Dan Geer addresses “The reasonable expectation fallacy…” making some excellent points — then collapsing into the very same error that he criticizes.  Greer writes

“In the Supreme Court case Kyllo v. US, defendant Danny Lee Kyllo, a marijuana grower, argued that police use of a thermal imager to discover the high-intensity lights growing marijuana in his garage constituted a search for which a warrant was necessary. The Court held: "Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment 'search,' and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant."

Greer notes, “Read that carefully – the requirement for a warrant exists solely where the device to be used to gather photons is "not in general public use." As anyone knows, what the government and only the government has today, the rich will have tomorrow. What the rich have tomorrow the lumpen proletariat will have it the day after tomorrow – it is general public use that removes any prohibitions on use by government or other institutions....“Now consider the thermal imager. Fifteen years ago when Kyllo was decided, the devices were not in general use," continuing, “This is the point: No society, no people need rules against things that are impossible. If your personal "expectation of privacy" is based on the impossibility of observability or even the impossibility of identifiability, then your logic, like that of the Supreme Court, is temporary and weak. A long view in the face of rapid technologic change is far harder.”

Yes, indeed, technology will advance far beyond the foresight of today’s pundits. The real choice we face is whether to let this fact panic us into attempts to ban the new methods — which will only guarantee their use in secret, by elites


...or to embrace them and use them to do “sousveillance”… looking boldly back at elites. The latter approach, explored in my book The Transparent Society, is precisely the one that got us our narrow, recent renaissance of freedom — one that is always under threat.

Alas, Mr.Geer then veers away from sense into nonsense: “The ability to delete yourself from the Web doesn't really matter. What really matters in the age of advanced surveillance is the right to not be correlated. Technology is always watching and capturing you, but the correlation is where the danger lies. Laws can change that, but only if enacted soon.”

Whaaa?  Laws… against… correlation? Against a mental process? One that is accelerating faster than Moore’s Law? Pray, tell us what law will stymie elites from doing all their looking and correlating, in secret?  Can you name one time, in the entire history of our species or planet, when such a law actually worked?

This is fundamental: It is impossible to police what others think and know, because you can never verify that someone else does NOT know something.  

What we have proved possible is to regulate what people DO with knowledge.  Actions can be observed, deterred, even prevented by law, sometimes.

Has Mr. Geer been paying any attention at all? To the cop-cam trend that has altered citizen relations with authority and nearly all for the better?

If your dread is that elites or neighbors will know stuff about you, then welcome to permanent hell. A hell of your own fantasy.

On the other hand, if your aim is to be left alone and not physically interfered-with… to be empowered with tools of knowledge and correlation to catch anyone who’d abuse you... and to potently shout “MYOB!” (Mind Your Own Business) knowing that what they know about your non-harm-doing activities cannot be used to limit you in any way, because you can look-back and hold others accountable?  

Then welcome to a world of enhanced and ever-growing freedom.

== Info Monopolies and Competition ==

We still have time, before flat-open-fair competition is ruined by its own fruits..

A fascinating and well-written explanation of how info-monopolies combine with better analytics to put the squeeze on both modern consumers and producers.  Welcome to the new capitalism… and these are the GOOD guys, compared to old-style, parasitical monopolists.  

Blatantly, there need to be serious discussions about the next set of reforms to the social contract.  Not socialist radicalisms!  But tweaks that maintain healthy, flat-open-fair competition. 

The irony? Folks on the left demonize “competition” even though it is the engine of the wealth they use to make a better world. 

Meanwhile the right (insanely) thinks you get flat-open-fair competition by “reducing regulation.”  When, in fact, the only competitive arenas that ever worked well — democracy, science, recent markets, courts and sports — only work when very much regulated!  Indeed, careful regulation enhances flat-open-fair competition.

== Art as a Weapon? ==

“For decades in art circles it was either a rumour or a joke, but now it is confirmed as a fact. The Central Intelligence Agency used American modern art - including the works of such artists as Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko - as a weapon in the Cold War."

Ooookaaay.  Though the rationalization and the effects are hardly what one would call Orwellian: “…this new artistic movement could be held up as proof of the creativity, the intellectual freedom, and the cultural power of the U.S. Russian art, strapped into the communist ideological straitjacket, could not compete.” 

 A case where – ironically – the symbolism and the thing itself amount to the same outcome, offering little grist for paranoia.  

What? Will we find out that the 1950s golden age of science fiction was also CIA supported?  Filled with memes of tolerance, diversity, innovation and individualism? Yes, scifi bolstered the western zeitgeist!  Whereas, in the USSR it was tightly controlled, with the few stars of Soviet SF having to express their social thoughts between the lines.

Oh, but art will always be impudent.  Activists have had a hard time sending their message to the G-7 leaders, who were tucked away in a secluded Alpine valley guarded by thousands of police.  So Greenpeace decided to project its demands onto a nearby mountain.  The environmental group used green lasers to beam the words "G-7: Go for 100 percent renewables" onto the side of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak.

Still, is government always bad? Over heavy Republican opposition… the FCC will continue subsidizing the expansion of broadband into under-served communities.

== And finally ... Zero Sum Games ==

CCTV NATION is a location Based Augmented MMO Game created by Open Realities Inc. "Watch the watchers! Surveillance tech is around you! Choose a side: Security vs Privacy!" -- This Kickstarter game (now finished and not funded) aims at a practical purpose as players crowdsource-input locations of surveillance devices. "The outcome of playing CCTV Nation will be an Open Data map with all security cams and mobile networks on it." 

My reaction? Well, I start with irritation at the zero-sum notion of a tradeoff between two things we absolutely need, both security and freedom. I have been battling this dismal (and disproved) notion for a quarter of a century. It is simply false.  See The Transparent Society.

On the other hand, I can see its utility in game-play mode… at least at the lower levels of play.  I’d hope that more positive sum subtlety builds, as the designers pull you in…

But the overall goal?  Using play — outdoors and active and location based — to create a crowd-sourced database of info for citizens?  This is the heart and soul of the “smart mob” methods I described in both EARTH and EXISTENCE! Sure, this particular database will be rendered moot, as cameras keep getting smaller.  But we can keep up, if we develop habits of a Sousveillance Society.  And although I know almost nothing about CCTV Nation, I have to admit I find the concept and plan way above average.
                                               

59 comments:

Eric said...

I don't believe there are many cops at all who don't cut more slack to their fellow officers than other citizens. If you haven't busted a bad cop, you are one.

Paul SB said...

That Explorer rolling camera could save lives, and in ways you might not be thinking. I had a friend back in my home town who was a paramedic, and he had some pretty entertaining stories to share. He told me once of arriving at the scene of a shooting, but being told he and his partner could not go in to get the victim of the shooting because they had arrived before the police could come and look for the perp. They had to literally drive around the block for half an hour while the victim bled, waiting to get the all clear from law enforcement. Curt told me that this sort of thing happened often, but that usually the police were able to clear the area faster than this case. If the paramedics had one of those cameras in the ambulance, they could check for danger and likely be able to administer care more quickly.

Bright red is probably a bad color choice, though, for a stealth device...

David Brin said...

Getting good cops to cull the bad ones... and good teachers to simplify firing bad ones... and breaking up conniving cabals of CEO golf buddies... this runs upstream against basic human nature. As does our entire Enlightenment Experiment. It is why some critics of the EE are simply unable to look at it and SEE it. They are human and find it difficult to even envision positive sum games.

Alex Tolley said...

Growing use of body cameras by police has led to a dramatic fall in brutality, a top U.N. rights expert said in June 2015.

Can anyone actually find the UN report this is story is based on?

I like the idea behind Verily. Their digital detectives pages is useful education.

Paul SB said...

Dr.Brin, teachers have no power whatsoever to get rid of the bad ones. It's siege mentality all the way, given how bad educational administration tends to be. The unions are as bone-headed as they are because they know any inch they give to admin will lose a mile of territory and several decades of progress. It's a pretty intractable situation, and most teachers I know get it, but they still support the unions because admin will go fire happy on everyone of they don't. They already get away with some pretty substantial embezzlement, nepotism and graft. I have no way of knowing if the situation is similar with police. The Sherman Antitrust Act tried to deal with the conniving cabals of big business, but with limited success. I'm not saying it's hopeless, but sometimes what looks simple to an outsider is just missing the details that make it very, very difficult.

San Diego Comic Con? Don't you have to take out a second mortgage to afford tickets? I used to go to sci-fi cons when I was in college, but tickets were less than a day's wage back then. Once when I was in grad school I ran into a fellow student at the local Star Trek convention. She swore she wouldn't tell anybody if I didn't.

David Brin said...

I get some passes to Comicon, in exchange for being on panels. A perk my kids made great use-of...!

Paul, Teachers could make deals with parent groups etc for new firing criteria. Take five stakeholder groups. Administration, teacher-peers at a school, testing results, parents and kid feedback. If any two "indict" a teacher, then the normal, slow evaluation gets into gear. Any three and it is fast-tracked. Any four and you are outta here, rapidly.

Paul451 said...

Combining the Chasing Shadows anthology news with the "my first SF" from the last thread: My first SF book was one of three differently themed "Boy's Own" books I was given one birthday or Christmas. The "Boy's Own Space Adventures" book was a collection of SF short stories by various authors. I was surprised to find that my school library had books by the same authors... some guys called Clarke and Heinlein and Asimov...

On bad cops: I agree with Eric that no cop can call himself "decent and professional" (**) if he's ever turned a blind eye to the corrupt and the bullies. Yes it's hard to stand up to the bad guys, but you're a cop, if you can't, who can?

One of the biggest issues, IMO, is that while Grand Juries in the US hand down indictments in around 90% of cases brought before them, they fail to do so on 90% of cases where the accused is a cop. As others have noted, Grand Juries pretty much do what the Prosecutor wants, so it is pretty obvious that the Prosecutor doesn't want to charge police.

It's clear that you need an independent specialist prosecutor for all cases involving police misconduct.

(** Aside: Whenever anyone (particularly right wing talking heads) wants to deflect attention from police misconduct, they always tell us not to allow "a few bad apples" to tarnish the majority of police. I always find it ironic that the very phrase "a few bad apples" comes from the folk-wisdom "a few bad apples spoil the bunch", ie, the very phrase comes from a cultural warning telling us the opposite, that ignoring "bad apples" causes them all to turn rotten. I think the bible has something similar, the tolerance of evil corrupts the souls of good men.)

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin, I love this suggestion! Now the question is, who can we tell who might listen, take it seriously, and have the power to introduce legislation? The times I have written to my representatives and senators just got form letters back. A couple years ago, when the superintendent at my district grafted all the textbook money for construction projects benefiting his son's construction company, someone anonymously leaked it to the local newspaper. Although no one knows the source of the leak, our union rep, who had 17 years of tenure, suddenly found that his position had been eliminated (proving that Admin can get rid of teachers if they really want to - though teacher shortages often mean they keep marginal teachers on the payroll rather than risk having classes taught by substitutes).

Have fun at the con! If you happen to run into a guy named Andy Runton, please deck him for me. On second thought, don't do that, but if you wouldn't mind politely inquiring as to why he hasn't put out any new volumes of his charming children's stories called "Owly" in years, I'm sure my kids would at least appreciate an answer to the question. Maybe it's his publisher's fault...

LarryHart said...

Paul451:

Whenever anyone (particularly right wing talking heads) wants to deflect attention from police misconduct, they always tell us not to allow "a few bad apples" to tarnish the majority of police. I always find it ironic that the very phrase "a few bad apples" comes from the folk-wisdom "a few bad apples spoil the bunch", ie, the very phrase comes from a cultural warning telling us the opposite, that ignoring "bad apples" causes them all to turn rotten.


In modern parlance, the phrase is almost always used in the opposite sense. As in "Don't let a few bad apples spoil the bunch." Whereas, you are correct that the only way not to let them spoil the bunch is to remove them.

LarryHart said...

PaulSB:

Have fun at the con! If you happen to run into a guy named Andy Runton, please deck him for me. On second thought, don't do that, but if you wouldn't mind politely inquiring as to why he hasn't put out any new volumes of his charming children's stories called "Owly" in years, I'm sure my kids would at least appreciate an answer to the question.


Small world.

In the mid 2000s, I used to attend a small-press comics convention in Columbus, OH called SPACE. Andy was there a few times, and his "Owly" was one of the few comics available there which was suitable for my then-small daughter. For many months, "Owly" was her favorite bedtime story, which is quite a trick considering it is entirely pictoral with no dialogue.

Paul, you might even appreciate that Andy won the "Gene Day Award" at SPACE, which was presented by Dave Sim.

Small world indeed.

Paul SB said...

Larry, maybe if Dr. Brin runs into him, he could get Mr. Runton to draw him a Startide Owly...

Alex Tolley said...

OT. Florida is successfully getting the courts to prevent gerrymandering. Districts will need to be redrawn.

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/07/10/voter-rights-win-big-florida-court-rules-against-gop-gerrymandering

Jonathan S. said...

You mistake the meaning of the phrase. In a barrel of apples, if you find a few bad ones, that means the rest are on the verge of spoiling; they don't themselves cause the rest to spoil, but they do serve as an indicator that you've maybe let that particular barrel sit too long. Thus, it's not really directly applicable to humans, much like many other "old sayings" that treat humans as a mass.

Eric, in order for your statement to be correct, the "bad" cops would have to constitute a fairly sizable fraction of the police forces as a whole. In many cities and towns, it's not impossible to imagine that most officers never encounter the bad guys among their number, and thus have no opportunity to discover and arrest their own miscreants. And the attitude that these men and women, who may never have even known anything untoward was happening, are necessarily complicit in such activity seems rather unhelpful.

Jumper said...

Cross contamination from damaged spoiled fruit can spread to adjacent fruit.
http://tinyurl.com/o8osjrv
In addition, the flavor of otherwise fresh stored apples will be awful from soaking in that aroma over time, even in cool storage. That's "spoiled."

David Brin said...

This is the only place I could have this discussion. But I wonder about a new type of war. The Afghanistan Taliban has lately been fighting a strong new branch of the Islamic State taking root there, with many Taliban defections. In the last few weeks, BOTH groups have suffered major losses to US air strikes. Two facts that are interesting on their own. But when you combine them...

...Might Taliban and Daesh be mainly attacking each other by asking the americans for laser designators and targeting each others' meetings? That's not preposterous SEPARATELY. But in this case BOTH sides may know that their foe is using the US to kill them, yet they continue to use the US to kill their foes. In which case the US military is more like an act of nature. You hope to harness it against your real enemy better than he can harness it against you.

I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, even in sci fi.

Paul SB said...

I remember stuff like this coming up in discussions of Eric Wolf's World System's Theory, though obviously without reference to lasers and drone strikes. I don't remember when Wolf died, but he was a Holocaust survivor, so his work is not exactly new. My copy of Europe and the People Without History was published in 1982, but I'm sure it's a reissue (all my books are packed right now for a change of address). Peripheral nations often fight each other much more intensely for access to the Core, and try to play Core nations against their enemies. I had a friend in grad school who used Wolf's ideas for a Masters Thesis on relations between polities on the periphery of the Aztec Empire. If you are interested, the other big name in World System's Theory is Immanuel Wallerstein.

David Brin said...

Obama the first sitting president to visit a federal prison. Alas, he is not visiting convicted felons named Bush, Cheney and Bush, who harmed the country as if that was the plan, all along. http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/USA-Update/2015/0711/Why-Obama-will-be-the-first-president-to-visit-a-federal-prison

David Ivory said...

That image of Greenpeace projecting its message onto the side of a mountain...

http://cdn.eaglefordtexas.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2015/06/green-peace-stuff-620x330.jpg

Tony Fisk said...

In which case the US military is more like an act of nature. You hope to harness it against your real enemy better than he can harness it against you.

Let's see. The Taliban are Shia, while Daesh is Sunni. They bear about as much love for each other as the Irish orange and green.

Both sides should know they are not on the US military's Christmas card list (the nice one, at least), so what would have prompted them to deliberately invoke a 'Shaitan ex machina'? An initial act of desparation on one side that bore fruit, which resulted in the other side scrambling to equalise?
Negative Sum thinking does seem to be in vogue in some parts.

Paul451 said...

Jonathan S,
"You mistake the meaning of the phrase. In a barrel of apples, if you find a few bad ones, that means the rest are on the verge of spoiling; they don't themselves cause the rest to spoil,"

Actually they do. Damaged and overripe fruit releases ethylene gas, which triggers rapid ripening in other fruit. This effect is particularly strong in a sealed container, such as a traditional barrel. Even worse in modern plastic wrapped boxes. There's been a lot of research in developing techniques to manipulate this mechanism to control ripening (ethylene-absorbing plastics to slow ripening in transport/storage, bottled ethylene gas to speed it up just before shelving.)

While ancient peoples wouldn't have known the mechanism, they would have seen the effect of not removing overripe, bruised, or damaged fruit from a store.

(They would also have seen how unpunished wrong-doing results in the corruption of otherwise decent people. In modern parlance, "broken windows".)

Paul451 said...

That said, your own analogy is still apt in another way. If we can see signs of corruption, chances are it represents widespread abuse that we can't see. If only a handful of officers were "bad", we'd never see it publicly. They'd be drummed out quietly, rarely coming to widespread notice.

David,
Re: Daesh vs Taliban summoning the Greater Satan down upon each other.

It may be clever CIA guys in the field playing them against each other (or them playing the CIA guys **), but it may also be as simple as their mutual skirmishes simply making them more visible to US satellites, making it easier to track combatants back to strongholds, etc.

(** That's the big risk in these arrangements. The local warlords will use access to US air attacks to punish villages aligned to the wrong warlord. Helps the corrupt, harms US relations in the region, etc.)

Paul451 said...

David,
Re: Obama visiting a prison.

This follows his plans to pardon non-violent drug offenders. Apparently they are looking at issuing more pardons in a couple of weeks than have been issued by Presidents in the last couple of decades.

The problem is that thousands are being sentenced to excessively for every one pardoned.

I've wanted to see a President use the pardon power to return some power to judges that was taken away by the various mandatory sentencing laws. Essentially, an application for clemency on a criminal's behalf by a sentencing judge and only by the sentencing judge is automatically granted by the sitting President. (In reality, all applications go through review by the Justice Dept, before reaching the President's own staff. This would be the same, looking for obvious additional alarm bells, like in-prison violence, gang association, etc. But failing that, the application is granted. Unlike conventional pardons, which are agonised over.)

This would be very deliberately be made distinct from other, more traditional pardons; intended to address broader "injustice". Two parallel streams, with one potentially releasing thousands of prisoners per year. You could imagine retiring judges (especially those retiring into teaching) going through their old cases and doing mass applications for every case where they were forced to issue an excessive sentence.

(This is not a new idea. I came up with it independently in response to one of the hand-wringing "being President is hard" episodes of The West Wing, and it was apparently an old idea even then, although obviously not known to the writers.)

Laurent Weppe said...

* "Let's see. The Taliban are Shia, while Daesh is Sunni. They bear about as much love for each other as the Irish orange and green."

clap...
clap...
clap...

The Taliban are an extremist deobandi sect, a Sunni school of thought built upon the postulate that its worldview is so self-evident that anyone who disagree with them is inherently wicked.

The only Shia in Afghanistan are the Farsi-speaking Hazaras, a group which the Taliban have oppressed, starved and comited pogrom against.

Jumper said...

I found the art-as-subversion article a bit warped. Abstract expressionism might have been discussed by strategic people, and promotions okayed, but to say it was all some sort of plot takes away the credit for the art from the artists themselves. It's also sort of an echo of the yahoo-ist belief that "my kid could do that" expressed by confident know-nothings who seem determined to have opinions on stuff they don't understand.
Most conspiracy theories fall apart when looked at by thinking people. They usually require some sort of loyalty to a cause which is so rare it really doesn't exist. Or the idea that with money you can hire a criminal who is consciously willing to die for you. Good luck with that!

Jumper said...

I disagree that cops don't know who the ones on the take are, or the ones who cross the line. Who has proof, though? I think honest cops just talk themselves into a moral position which includes justifications: "I don't do it; so that's enough to keep my own self-respect" and "I have my suspicions but without proof it's just gossip and so thereby unfair to raise open questions" so the gossip they actually do among themselves gets coded in their own conversations. Ironic eyebrow-raising; that sort of gossip.
I have a little bit of experience on that side of the fence, even if it was just a security job on campus reporting to our boss, a cop. Granted it's a limited experience, but the social setup was there. One thing people don't often get is the social isolation cops experience. Even on campus, with me as a long-haired liberal, some people got hostile when talking about us student security patrollers.
A few years later at a high-school reunion I met my old friend and neighbor from across the street, my age, who had joined the sheriff's department. He told me as soon as he joined, every friend cut him off. Being of my generation, he didn't care about pot smokers, but he said NO ONE would talk to him except curtly. He was a sweet guy and I was kind of sorry for his experience, not realizing the extent of the forces which drives cops into their walled-off lifestyle. I had only had a tiny taste of it working security.
Ever since then I've tried to talk to cops as regular people if there's a circumstance that makes it possible. I advise everyone to. It's something we can do to keep the cops on the side of ordinary people. Don't freeze them out.

Alex Tolley said...

@Jumper. I agree with you regarding cops and society. I knew a married couple where the husband was a cop, and his only good friends were other cops, even when he retired.

However this problem occurs in other professions too. Doctors are well aware of their dangerous colleagues, but do not report them. Almost any hospital you can shake a stick at will have knowledge about which doctors are good and which bad, and who the medical staff will approach for treatment. This is one area where internal data collection and exposure of that data to the consumer will be valuable. Doctors have resisted this, but it is inevitable IMO. Ideally incompetent and poor quality doctors will be forced to retrain or leave the profession. It won't happen by their colleagues doing anything.

From limited knowledge, doctors, like cops, will circle the wagons when faced with a problem, such a s a lawsuit over a botched operation.

Smurphs said...

Wow. Trying to inject some actual JUSTICE into our criminal justice system is a wonderful thing. We can get a big bang for our Federal budget dollars with just a handful of judges and lawyers reviewing these cases.

That said, given the inherent zero-sum game that is the Federal budget, I would rather spend the money on justice for Bush, Cheney, Bush, or colluding oligarchs, or corrupt politicians. It'll never happen, I know. It's hard enough to get a murderous cop indited, let alone convicted.

Still, I have hope.

Alex Tolley said...

I always though "rotten apples" was about mold, not over-ripeness. Fruit that goes moldy quickly are berries. Once a few start to get mold, you have the choice of inspecting each one carefully before eating, or throwing out the batch. If you don't do this, the mold rapidly spreads.

It was the analogy of transmission of "rottenness" that Robert Axelrod used as a model for social systems where he showed that without social vigilance to keep "bad actors" at a low level, the whole social system rapidly becomes corrupted and irreversibly so, that is, a few "good actors" cannot reverse the endemic corruption.

But this applies in a wider social sense, so one can see why behaviors thought "deviant" are punished, and the oppositiom to "deviancy" being acceptable.

Alex Tolley said...

As Laurent points out, both the Taliban and Islamic State are Sunni Muslims.

Alfred Differ said...

@Alex: My own personal knowledge says some of the doctors don't circle the wagons. I've got a friend who will happily skewer the quacks he sees. The problem he runs into is there is rarely enough evidence to push criminal charges. The public is enamored with a lot of quackery, so charges wouldn't stick very often even if you can get the police to investigate. Things have to get pretty bad before charges stick through to convictions.

Regarding ISI(S/L/etc), it is worth remembering that they are filling power vacuums in some locations. It doesn't really matter who was there before. Power draws a lot of men.

Are we hitting both sides? Of course.
Are we letting them think they can play us? Duh! This is standard US strategy.

LarryHart said...


Obama the first sitting president to visit a federal prison.


Why do I find it disturbing imagery that the only black president is the first to go to (a) prison?

And I wish he'd have chosen the penetentiary at Lewisburg, PA instead, since my brother lives in that town (no, not inside the prison).

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

The Taliban are Shia,...


No, they're not.

Are they?

Alfred Differ said...

Regarding flat-open-fair competition, I want to throw in one point some of us liberals who ally with libertarians care deeply about. Remember this when you want to peel us away from the nuttier members of our clade.

US law comes in three forms. The first is 'social rules' where most everyone agrees to obey them in a voluntary manner. These show up in common law countries AS the body of common law. People who disobey these laws are seen as cheaters by most members of society, so protecting them from consequences runs the risk of angry mobs forming to bring their pitchforks and torches to a 'celebration.' These laws emerge from from voluntary cooperation in our social orders. They also evolve.

The second is 'legislation' where the agreement to obey they is often dependent on how capable government is in enforcing them. Some legislation is written to back up the first kind of law by ensuring government is authorized to enforce punishments on cheaters. The rest of it translates roughly as imposed social rules where the supporters have the necessary majority to create the rule, but not enough to ensure voluntary cooperation. These laws appear as designed attempts to fix social problems. They emerge after problems occur (usually), but they are more closely related to Creationism than to Evolution.

The third type is 'directive orders' aimed at guiding the acts of government. Go build that road, field that army, tax the people to pay for it all, and hold the next election. They are what they have to be for the government to operate in the manner it is authorized to operate.


I'm deeply supportive of the first type of law and highly suspicious of the second type. There is no doubt the oligarchs cheat and we have a pretty good idea how they do it. Writing legislation to properly define cheating and the related punishments gets my full support and tax money. Writing legislation to prevent future problems like those we've noticed gets my tepid support. I'll be looking carefully to find arbitrary interpretation risks since those allow the most insidious form of cheating to occur. When feudalists capture government, they cam do so through arbitrary rule back doors that bypass our vigilance against the other modes of cheating. If you want new legislation, be careful about these back doors. They are damn difficult to remove later since advocates of edits can easily be mistaken for advocates of the cheaters the legislation is meant to punish.

Finally, all the directive orders cost money. If there isn't a high degree of support for the activities, the taxation required to pay for them begins to take on the taint of theft by the majority who could get these orders passed. Road building has a great deal of support, but bridges to nowhere don't. A community park might have lots of support, but a state-level egg market advisory board might not. Think about these things (and say so) and you'll sway classical liberals toward your causes.

Jonathan S. said...

"This is the only place I could have this discussion. But I wonder about a new type of war. The Afghanistan Taliban has lately been fighting a strong new branch of the Islamic State taking root there, with many Taliban defections. In the last few weeks, BOTH groups have suffered major losses to US air strikes. Two facts that are interesting on their own. But when you combine them...

...Might Taliban and Daesh be mainly attacking each other by asking the americans for laser designators and targeting each others' meetings? That's not preposterous SEPARATELY. But in this case BOTH sides may know that their foe is using the US to kill them, yet they continue to use the US to kill their foes. In which case the US military is more like an act of nature. You hope to harness it against your real enemy better than he can harness it against you.

I don't think I've ever seen anything like it, even in sci fi."


Maxim 29: "The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy. No more, no less." - from Howard Tayler's Seventy Maxims for the Maximally Effective Mercenary, as cited in the webcomic Schlock Mercenary

Paul SB said...

Alfred, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the possibility of moving from a representational to a direct democracy. Modern communication technology makes it possible, as a majority of the populations in the wealthier nations have internet access and could vote by email or web site. That would make legislative bodies crafters of legislation but not responsible for passing their legislation into law. Of course there are some obvious problems that would have to be dealt with very carefully, like vigilance against hacking and disenfranchisement for those who lack internet access. But on the positive side, it could allow ordinary citizens to introduce legislation, requiring only a caste of people familiar enough with legalese to craft the wording of bills (which would require more vigilance, to ensure those people are not cheating), in addition to taking some of the corruption out of government. There would be no point to have lobbyists spend huge sums trying to sway votes in the House, the Senate, Commons or whatever legislative body if there was no way to buy votes.

Paul SB said...

Laurent, you said "The Taliban are an extremist deobandi sect, a Sunni school of thought built upon the postulate that its worldview is so self-evident that anyone who disagree with them is inherently wicked."

Isn't that pretty much what almost all religions teach? I have been to a lot of different religious institutions, studied their holy books, and most of them basically say that they are right about everything and that anyone who doesn't go to their church are evil, baby-eating heathens (yes, they eat babies, they even showed me recipe books) who belong in Hell. The ones that did not say that I could count on the fingers of one hand, and have enough fingers to hold my coffee cup. Probably the reason one group goes genocidal and others do not has more to do with the strength of the institutions that would stop them from doing so. But I have spent very little time in other countries, so maybe my experience is different from other people's. I'm not suggesting anything about what you (or anyone else) believe, just making a general statement.

Laurent Weppe said...

*"Isn't that pretty much what almost all religions teach?"

When you talk about "what religions teach", you talk about hermeneutics, and since every old enough religion counts among its practitioners people who theorized and/or apply in their day to day life a live & let live approach, no, its not.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Alfred/Paul

The best novel about "direct democracy" that I know is Joan Vinge's "Outcasts of Heaven's Belt"

On "more direct" - I like our system

Proposed legislation is published on the web
We all get to make comments
The draft + the comments go back to the committee

A final draft is released for comment and put before parliament

The other thing I do like is that legislation has a "purpose statement"
This makes it easier for the courts to enforce the actual intent of the legislation

The only trouble here is that this process can be short circuited by "Urgency" - and too much legislation recently has been through the "Urgent" path

Alfred Differ said...

PaulSB: I'm not a big fan of democracy in its raw form when it comes to legislating. Liberty and Democracy are often in conflict when there are social problems to be fixed, cheaters to be punished, and tiny minorities with unpopular views that don't actually harm anyone. Liberty thrives best under weak, divided government with the obvious requirement that other power blocs have to be equally weak and divided against each other.

Raw Democracy enables a large power bloc I fear. Followers of the Fashion of the Moment. I don't fear the fashion or the people. I fear their inclination to design our society. I'll tolerate small, pragmatic fixes because they might work. If they don't, we probably have a chance to escape their dire consequences before too many people get hurt. It is the utopian scale changes that I'll resist even if they are intended to fix a problem I want fixed. For example, we don't really need the sex offenders name and address lists do we? Just chip everyone including our kids and then keep track of where the sex offenders are. Oh joy! Ubiquitous Law Enforcement is right around the corner as is the death of our civilization.

I DO want more people deciding what goes on when it comes to legislation and directive orders, but I'm more inclined to support David's expert caste as our representatives for this. I'd favor enlarging the US House until there are about 10,000 reps. I'd favor enlarging the US Senate to about 400. I'd favor splitting the Legislative Branch in two with one side responsible for writing legislation that backs law and the other for writing directive orders. The law writing side could be small with long terms, tax raising authority, but no re-election options while the directive side would be large with short terms, tax spending authority, and majority rules in most cases.

If I ignore my fears, though, I'm still in favor of keeping most of us out of government. Let the expert caste take on the work if they want it. The rest of us should be thinking and operating like market participants. Our civilization depends on it.

David Brin said...

While I agree with Alfred that the popular masses should not write law, they should be empowered to command that the legislature come up with a law, within a year, to implement a general concept... e,g, start backing out of the goddam drug war. This command to the legislature is a far better idea than the way we now circulate referenda that the citizens have not read in detail and that may contain poisonous inclusions.

After a year, TWO bills are then passed and offered to the public to choose between, one passed by a majority in the legislature and one by the dissenting minority. Voters can choose FIVE options by preferential ballot (ordered choice). Either the majority's version (most likely) or the minority's version, or simply "never mind" or "try again." Or finally... no confidence, firing the legislature and calling elections.

Anonymous said...

Paul, Teachers could make deals with parent groups etc for new firing criteria. Take five stakeholder groups. Administration, teacher-peers at a school, testing results, parents and kid feedback. If any two "indict" a teacher, then the normal, slow evaluation gets into gear. Any three and it is fast-tracked. Any four and you are outta here, rapidly.

Are you counting parent and student feedback as two separate sources? Seriously? And given how administrators are judged on test results…

Kid is doing very little work in Brin's physics class. Marks reflect that. Kid tells parents it's because Brin is a crappy teacher. Parent's know kid is smart, because all parents know their kids are wonderful, so it must be Brin's crappy teaching that's causing the low marks. This starts the process. Kid does poorly on a standardized test, because they don't care. The process is accelerated. Parents are big fish in the PTA, and make the principal's life hell as long as Brin is teaching there, so principal has a real incentive to not have Brin teaching there…

David Brin said...

Sorry, nonsense. A good teacher will have other parents and kids who survey positive, canceling out the negatives. Such feedback systems already are at work at universities.

Are you seriously telling me that if four out of five stakeholder groups -- test scores, administration, parents, peers and kids -- hate a teacher he should not just GO AWAY? Seriously? That's your assertion?

We had a "science" teacher at out middle school who everyone hated, kids, parents, peers, administration. But he knew if he just kept showing up and made no serious mistakes, he could do an awful job and safely collect pay and pension benefits.

All right smart guy, what's your proposal?

Paul451 said...

Paul SB,
Re: Direct (electronic) democracy.

If you have that level of involvement, another alternative is to have "continuous elections". This has been mentioned here before by one of the regulars. People assign their vote for a representative (or assign voting power to those representatives), but can change their assignment at any time. This gives you a continually shifting balance of power, on the whims of public sentiment. During debates on contentious legislation, this would serve as a defacto direct democracy, while allowing the normal boring daily grind-work to not require the active participation of a majority of the public.

But it means losing the anonymous, secret ballot. And that potentially allows abuses. (Employers requiring you to show your vote, even if it's technically against the law; the law won't be enforced if their faction is in control because of that abuse.) But confining the "continuous election" to the legislative branch, thus retaining anonymous-secret-ballots for the executive, might offset that risk enough.

Alfred,
"I'd favor splitting the Legislative Branch in two with one side responsible for writing legislation that backs law and the other for writing directive orders. The law writing side could be small with long terms, tax raising authority, but no re-election options while the directive side would be large with short terms, tax spending authority, and majority rules in most cases."

Interestingly, this is close to the traditional British idea of an apolitical long-term stable public service guiding and advising the short-term political caste. Unlike the US system, where the public service is run by short-term political appointees. Interestingly, in Britain and the rest of the Westminster nations (such as my own), there has been a constant push towards the highly politicised US system. (Usually by the supposed "conservative" parties, who perceive a conspiracy against them whenever they don't get their own way.)

Tony Fisk said...

Taliban orientation noted.

Alfred Differ said...

@David: Neat idea. It probably needs refinement for a State with two legislative houses that can be split and another for when they don't respond in a timely way to the command, but it beats one of the issues I've had with our referendum process here in CA. When we write those things and put them on the ballot, I feel we are acting as an impromptu legislative house. That means the Executive and Judicial branches can act as our equals if we truly respect divided government. Legislating ABOUT them breaks that division and shouldn't be done by majority rule unless we want to convene some kind of constitutional convention. We saw this with Prop 8 when our governors were unwilling to defend it in court. If we intend to act as a legislative body, we should accept the limits on our power that come with divided government, right? If we use your command idea instead, we are acting as The People. That avoids the whole mess by making it clear in court that our actions fall under some kind of use of amendment #10 to the US Constitution. We reserve certain rights... etc, etc.

Nowadays, whenever someone suggests direct democracy is a good idea, I just point to Prop 8 as the poster child representing my fear. Stripping someone's liberty with a majority vote is a concept that should never had made it onto our ballot, let alone as a state constitutional amendment.

Alfred Differ said...


@Paul451: I would actually want to avoid de-politicizing the law writing house. What I would want is to decouple the politics associated with with law writing and directive writing. The biggest threat of corruption occurs on the side of the legislature where money is spent, so that's the side that needs the shortest terms and the heaviest work to divide the power blocs. The law writers are more likely to be traditionalists and idealists more focused on memes than money. Stability is useful when it comes to common law, so the threat of corruption is likely small and replaced by the threat of assassination. Decoupling the politics that way, I feel, makes it less likely we will vote for corrupt people in the hope that they'll defend a piece of the common law. The money that would corrupt anyone will most likely be drawn to the house responsible for spending.

I'm cribbing a bit from one of Hayek's last books. He described the basic split to consider and I've played with a refinement. None of this is likely to happen at the US federal level, though. The next time we set up a state government is when it could be tried.

Jumper said...

So, with inevitable surveillance coming, is the secret ballot doomed?

Anonymous said...

@Jumper:
It would take Google or Facebook all of a few microseconds to accurately predict my voting preferences. In theory I can imagine situations requiring a secret ballot, but I have a hard time truly caring. If the ballot had a box to check that would publish my decisions, I would check it off without thinking twice. It is nice to take for granted that I live in a civilized system, plus I am quite open about my progressive political beliefs. I might feel differently if I was against gay marriage AND didn't others to know of my bigotry. But then I would be like the dweebs on the Catholic Vote video making it's rounds on YouTube.
-AtomicZeppelinMan

Paul SB said...

Laurent,

"When you talk about "what religions teach", you talk about hermeneutics, and since every old enough religion counts among its practitioners people who theorized and/or apply in their day to day life a live & let live approach, no, its not."

Glad to hear it, though I don't seem to be fortunate enough to meet these people myself. I haven't even heard the word /hermeneutics/ since I was in college - all I ever hear is /Truth/. But on hermeneutical issues, I am probably scarred for life by my upbringing, so maybe I should just shut up about such things.

Duncan, you are the second person here in the past few months to mention Vinge's first novel. I'm curious, but I think it's out of print right now. I couldn't find it in local libraries and have been combing used book stores. May summer is rapidly dwindling, though.

Alfred, your concern about the "tyranny of the majority" (as Mary Renault put it, in "The Last of the Wine" a novel about our ancestral democracy of Athens. I'm surprised I didn't think of that myself at the time I asked. The idea of direct democracy is fraught with problems, and that is a major one, though many of the problems of direct democracy are just as valid for representational democracy. The old Jim Crow laws makes that apparent. But I suspect we will see more of a movement toward it over the century, which is why it might be worth discussing possible solutions.

Dr. Brin, the scenario outlined by our anonymous poster must look preposterous from outside the teaching profession, but I can see places where it could easily happen. I'm not arguing that people like your middle school science teacher should be allowed to keep their jobs, but a lot of the factors that go into the career are just not salient in the minds of those who aren't stuck in it. That scenario could easily play out in communities where strong biases characterize the local culture. This might be class biases, as in affluent neighborhoods where wealthy parents frequently try to sue teachers who don't give their children grades they don't deserve. Such highbrows, if given the ability to rate teachers, will consistently give teachers low scores simply because they belong to the servant classes and are assumed to be idiots regardless of actual performance. The other case would be where racism is commonly held in the community. My first teaching assignment was in a neighborhood that was very poor, mostly immigrant, with one ethnic group comprising 85% of the population. Most of them (both students and parents) simply assumed that all Caucasian people are racist, regardless of actual performance. If they could evaluate the teachers in their schools, the results would be pretty predictable. But the biggest problem would be new teachers. The current tenure system means most new teachers get fired after their second year, unless they teach in areas where there are serious shortages. Anyone who has been through the two-year ringer knows that all the training utterly fails you and most people have absolutely horrible years. Many successful teachers begin their careers in exactly these places because anywhere else they would be fired before they could get some tenure protection. Without this miserable gauntlet to pass through, the country would simply run out of teachers in under a decade, especially now when huge numbers of baby-boom teachers are retiring.

Don't get me wrong, I love your idea of having multiple sources of input for teacher evaluation. It's just that the system is complicated, most of those complications are not widely known (and most of them are of the elephant-in-the-room variety), and any changes will have to be done carefully and with input from multiple stakeholders.

David Brin said...

Paul SB I appreciate your thoughtful and well-spoken reply... my mother taught in inner city schools in LA for 30 years. I heard plenty. Nevertheless, you offer no suggestions. I tried to spread the authority among five diverse sets of stakeholders, in order to cancel out impulsive bias. If you have a better way to weed out the bums, I would like to hear it... though under a future blog.

Jumper, as usual, you (everybody does this) never consider sousveillance. That transparency helps us to CATCH THE VOYEURS who would violate our few remaining but most precious zones of privacy... eg. the polling booth.

This reflex of surrender and resignation depresses me.


onward

Alfred Differ said...

A tyranny of the majority IS my major fear, but even if we find ways to divide ourselves and check our power, there is still the issue of becoming accustomed to the use of coercive power. Every problem will look like a nail after we all become hammer wielders. The vast majority of what we've learned to do that serves the civilization we've built comes from our activities in the markets where coercive power is not allowed for the average participant. If we wish that to continue, we need to remain the kind of human most of us are. We need to remain reluctant to coerce and maybe even a little ignorant of how to do it well. No problem will look like a nail that way.

David Brin said...

Alfred it saddens me that you do not look at your OWN reaction as a phenomenon. And you don't think millions -- even a majority -- of your fellow citizens share the sentiments of your paragraphs? That they don't fear homogenizing tyranny by a 51% of Little Brothers too? Maybe as much as they fear Big Brother?

EVERY modern trend shows Americans leaning toward tolerance of diverse eccentricity and having low tolerance for unnecessary coercion. The same values you express. But All of them do what you just did. Sigh and assume their sheeplike neighbors aren't allies in this fight.

Blue Heron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Heron said...

Interesting discussion about the CIA promoting western modern art as an arrow in their cold war quiver. Have you ever heard of Colonel Al Hubbard? He was known as the "Johnny Appleseed" of LSD, doled out at least six thousand hits of acid in the fifties and sixties as an ergot apostle while working for the OSS, Canadian Special Services, the United States Justice Department and the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Then there is the MK - Ultra deal, which presumably everybody is familiar with. Why did our government seek to psychedelicize its citizens and were they conscious as to the enormity of the adventure?

Alex Tolley said...

EVERY modern trend shows Americans leaning toward tolerance of diverse eccentricity and having low tolerance for unnecessary coercion.

What? How on earth do you explain the extremely low rate (low single digits) for grand jury rulings to charge police behavior for a court. Are you saying that these rates were even lower in the past? All I see from this is apparently high tolerance for police coercive behavior, coercive as in resulting in deadly force.

Alex Tolley said...

California referendums are the nearest to direct we have in this state. While they have resulted in some bad laws, they are also one of the few ways to get something done that the state legislature won't even touch. They can also be stupid - as the recent [failed] attempt to putting a "shoot gays" proposal on the ballot.

The TTP/TISA/TTIP debacle shows what a mess representative government can be when it is bought off so that it no longer represents the people.

Either representational government must represent the people, or the rules or architecture must change so that it does so. Almost any system can be corrupted, but we need checks and balances as a recursive process, but one that doesn't become unwieldy.

Alex Tolley said...

Watching the watchers: Oakland seeks control of law enforcement surveillance

Oakland seems to be "getting it" with independent civilian oversight over surveillance. Hopefully they won't be gamed like the NSA has gamed Congress,

Jumper said...

Anonymous assumed it was all about him, or that I was worried that it was all about me. No, I live in the South where there's still a remnant of bad apples (!) who would fire a black man for voting at all, not to mention voting for the "wrong" party. I will grant this is fading, and I don't see it widespread. (And I would guess that sort of power-crazed idiot is not limited to the South, and yet is also rare.) There are various organizations where people who participate want their votes secret. And a lot of people just like it. Not to mention, there remains a large amount of people who aren't participants on the internet and their vote remains somewhat of a mystery no matter how their demographics are sliced and diced. Women especially, who vote contrary to their husbands.
But scenarios where the information gets released are, I grant, somewhat implausible, and I assume will remain illegal.

Eric said...

Jonathan S, I respectfully disagree. Everyone breaks traffic laws:

http://www.slu.edu/Documents/law/Law%20Journal/Archives/LJ56-2_Mason_Article.pdf

" As numerous commentators have observed, the number and
scope of traffic regulations is so extensive that the police can in practice find a
perfectly legitimate traffic-law basis for stopping any car they choose, just by
following it for a few blocks.53"

53. See, e.g., Paul Butler, The White Fourth Amendment, 43 TEX. TECH L. REV. 245, 252
(2010) (“On a ride-along with an officer of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police
Department, I play a game that my cop friend invented called “Stop that Car!” I select a car—any
car—and the officer finds a legal reason to stop it. It never takes longer than three or four blocks
of following the car. There are so many regulations that it is virtually impossible for a driver not
to commit an infraction.”).