Friday, June 14, 2019

On privacy and Surveillance Capitalism

I stored up for a bigger one, this time, in a topic wherein I actually know something! Though yes, in background we have worries about a looming U.S.-Iran war, which I've warned about since November 2017... and more recently... asking you to make sure your neighbors know terms like "Saddam's WMDs," "Tokin Gulf Incident," "Gleiwitz," and "Reichstag fire." (And see what Navy vet Jim Wright says about this recently, here.)   

Over the long haul, our way out of these messes will almost always be more light. Exposing the wicked. Which brings us to...

== Fear of exposure ==

Harvard Prof. Shoshana Zuboff’s new book - The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power - is a massive overview of the major quandary of our age. It's reviewed by Noah Smith at Bloomberg, who begins by citing a simplified view of my own Transparent Society. (In fact, a world awash in light won't end privacy. It is (I assert) the only possible way that citizens will be able to preserve some privacy.)

Zuboff's book is also reviewed in the Guardian – and yes, I’ve been asked my reaction. Here's a substantial and worthwhile extract from that review:

“Surveillance capitalism,” she writes, “unilaterally claims human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioural data. Although some of these data are applied to service improvement, the rest are declared as a proprietary behavioural surplus, fed into advanced manufacturing processes known as ‘machine intelligence’, and fabricated into prediction products that anticipate what you will do now, soon, and later."

Zuboff thus  connects to the recent works of Yuval Harari, who foresees a future society driven and propelled by "dataism." Back to the Guardian review. 

"Finally, these prediction products are traded in a new kind of marketplace that I call behavioural futures markets. Surveillance capitalists have grown immensely wealthy from these trading operations, for many companies are willing to lay bets on our future behaviour.”
Reviewer John Naughton continues: 
“While the general modus operandi of Google, Facebook et al has been known and understood (at least by some people) for a while, what has been missing – and what Zuboff provides – is the insight and scholarship to situate them in a wider context. She points out that while most of us think that we are dealing merely with algorithmic inscrutability, in fact what confronts us is the latest phase in capitalism’s long evolution – from the making of products, to mass production, to managerial capitalism, to services, to financial capitalism, and now to the exploitation of behavioural predictions covertly derived from the surveillance of users. In that sense, her vast (660-page) book is a continuation of a tradition that includes Adam Smith, Max Weber, Karl Polanyi and – dare I say it – Karl Marx.” 

(An aside: on a recent flight from DC, I sat across from a teenager who was reading Das Kapital. Old Karl has been re-awakened and is flying off the shelves, worldwide. And this resurrection was achieved by the gluttonous outrages of an oligarchy that seems bent on behaving exactly as KM described.)

== Simplistic, but with cause ==

Summarized in this interview, Zuboff correlates past episodes of rapacious colonialism with the way major data corporations treat us. Good line: Once we searched Google, but now Google searches us. Once we thought of digital services as free, but now surveillance capitalists think of us as free.

“Demanding privacy from surveillance capitalists,” says Zuboff, “or lobbying for an end to commercial surveillance on the internet is like asking old Henry Ford to make each Model T by hand. It’s like asking a giraffe to shorten its neck, or a cow to give up chewing. These demands are existential threats that violate the basic mechanisms of the entity’s survival.”

"At its core, surveillance capitalism is parasitic and self-referential. It revives Karl Marx's image of capitalism as a vampire that feeds on labor, but with an unexpected turn. Instead of labor, surveillance capitalism feeds on every aspect of every human experience."  She examines several major organizations -- notably Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft -- that are in various stages of developing a "technologically advanced and increasingly inescapable raw-material-extraction-operation." In the end, "surveillance capitalism operates through unprecedented asymmetries in knowledge and the power that accrues to knowledge." 

== And just like Marx... this model has fatal weaknesses ==

While describing valid complaits about info-greed by capitalists, Zuboff misses the key point that all elite accumulations of power will do this, trying to arrange for information to flow upwards, as it did into the manors, castles and cathedrals of old. This is monkey behavior; you see it in chimps. Hence, when she reflexively shouts "They're looking at you!" she and almost every other privacy paladin ignores the only possible conclusion from this tome:  that being seen is inevitable

Seriously, what is it she aims to accomplish with her book, with all its alarums, if failure of all constraints and freedom is unavoidable?

Time to step back. Maybe take a whiff of how our ancestors were treated when past elites similarly knew everything of any importance about those toiling below them in the villages and fields, when the aim of collecting "data" about the peasants (via priests and local gossips and by torture) was not about "selling them stuff." It was about life and death. About eviction from your hovel, or being levied into a hopeless war. It was about starvation.

Sure, elites always had imbalanced advantages when it came to surveillance  and it's worrisome, as it always was! But it's what they can do to you that matters. And right now what they can do - the plaint of Zuboff and most privacy paladins - is intrusively try to sell you stuff. 

Now, there are reasons why that business model is doomed, but that's beside the point. The way to limit what the mighty can do to you with your information is not to limit what elites know. There is not a scintilla of a chance that can happen and no example across the history of our species when it ever actually occurre.

The solution is not to (impossibly) blind elites, but to strip them naked, so that - no matter what they know about you, they hare severely hampered at using it against you.

That remedy has actually been used effectively, across the last 200 years. I give example after example, in The Transparent Society. 

== The reflex is addictive ==

Alas, Our earnest and sincere paladins of progress and freedom keep issuing hysterical screams "They're LOOKING at you!" without ever offering even a glimpse at the only remedy that can possibly work.

This power to shape behaviour for others’ profit or power is entirely self-authorising. It has no foundation in democratic or moral legitimacy, as it usurps decision rights and erodes the processes of individual autonomy that are essential to the function of a democratic society. The message here is simple: Once I was mine. Now I am theirs.

Yet the author displays stunning contempt for the masses:There can be no exit from processes that are intentionally designed to bypass individual awareness and produce ignorance, especially when these are the very same processes upon which we must depend for effective daily life. So our participation is best explained in terms of necessity, dependency, the foreclosure of alternatives, and enforced ignorance.”

Mind you, I agree with the overall call to action: “Our societies have tamed the dangerous excesses of raw capitalism before, and we must do it again….  We need new paradigms born of a close understanding of surveillance capitalism’s economic imperatives and foundational mechanisms.” 

Um sure. But doesn’t that imply that the solution is either state paternalism or else leveling the playing field?

Alas, the inevitable tilt is toward the former:  “GDPR [a recent EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU] is a good start, and time will tell if we can build on that sufficiently to help found and enforce a new paradigm of information capitalism.”

Except… does she point to a single paternalistic privacy protection or restriction that has ever effectively limited the data-aggrandizement processes that she decries?

In spurning other suggestions, Prof. Zuboff commands that the tide go out: “For example, the idea of “data ownership” is often championed as a solution. But what is the point of owning data that should not exist in the first place?” 

“So what is to be done? In any confrontation with the unprecedented, the first work begins with naming. Speaking for myself, this is why I’ve devoted the past seven years to this work… to move forward the project of naming as the first necessary step toward taming. My hope is that careful naming will give us all a better understanding of the true nature of this rogue mutation of capitalism and contribute to a sea change in public opinion, most of all among the young.”

Vague, vague, vague arm-wavings after a 900 page, well-documented call for resignation and despair, avoiding any look at the one thing that ever worked. The only thing that can.

== A fictional perspective ==
Someone report back on this new novel - Golden State, by Ben H. Winters, author of the alternate history, Underground Airlines. As reviewed on NPR: The world as we know it has been destroyed, and though we never find out exactly how, it appears it had something to do with a pandemic of lies. In the Golden State, lies are against the law, and the main enforcers of the truth are known as Speculators. If it's against the law to lie, it must also be against the law "to hypothesize, to imagine versions of what might have happened. But when you are trying to solve, for example, a suspicious death, sometimes it is necessary to hypothesize so we can try to follow the leads and crack this case. So to do that there are individuals within the Golden State, a special sort of law enforcement officer who has license to speculate."

It doesn’t sound remotely human or plausible – like those absurd films and tales abut dystopias that ban emotion – but perhaps an interesting thought experiment about a type of transparency.

And finally...

The object of the videogame DietDash is to travel through the aisles of a supermarket and avoid sugary foods. While it’s not an exciting game, overweight people who play it win in real life by losing up to 3.1 percent of their bodyweight after 8 weeks. The game was developed at Drexel University and researchers there are seeking recruits for a newer, highly gamified version of the shopping simulation.  Huh.


David Brin said...

Over on FB Mark Edward Minie cited: "Back in 1971 on the program The Name of the Game a scientist being interogated in 2017 reviews what led to the total collapse of the ecosystem and the destruction of the human habitable about 40 minutes...

woof, I remember this.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Re: Golden State -- if lies (fiction) are outlawed, you just killed one of the biggest moneymakers of all time, the ability to tell stories. No Epic of Gilgamesh, no Hunchback of Notre Dame, no Atlas Shrugged, no Heart of the Comet. No movie industry, no publishing industry, except in tiny regulated gardens. It's one thing to not have a concept of lying (see Galaxy Quest); it's another beast entire to forbid humans from doing what they've been doing since they huddled around campfires on the veldt.

Alfred Differ said...

(from last thread... and it partially touches this one)

Treebeard pointed out that Israel and the Saudi Kingdom did more to entangle us in the Middle East and that I was reflexively blaming Russia. I think it is worth a moment to examine each player's motivations on the international stage.

1. The US typically balances forces in theaters where it is not sensible to deploy our military forces. For example, if northern Europe were ever likely to unify under one government with cooperating cultures, we would probably have to object. Our interventions in the wars of the 20th century can be viewed as efforts to prevent this from starting, though we prefer to cast them as fights for freedom. In the Middle East, our objective would be to prevent anyone from effectively taking over. In this view, our intervention in Iraq (early 90's) makes some sense. Saddam was going to be in control of a LOT of oil and there was no doubt he was willing to fight to control more. There is a balance to be struck between China and the nations near it too and we usually try for that.

Our effort to de-conflict with Iran makes geopolitical sense in terms of this balance/chaos. We benefit more if no one can squash any of their rival neighbors... easily. A lack of wars tends to encourage market stability and we like that. We get even richer than we already are that way.

SOMETIMES we have to go kick someone in the head, but most nations have a decent idea of what causes us to do that. They understandably avoid it... mostly... if they do not see themselves as our direct rival. Most nations have avoided adopting that attitude, but some have not.

2. The Saudi's have a special role with the US because of our hostility for Iran. They lose that special place if we de-conflict with Iran AND have to face a neighbor they cannot squash easily. For the Saudi's, it make perfect sense to keep up the heat between us and Iran as long as we can't blame them directly for it.

3. Much the same can be said for the Israeli's. Special connection and special history with us. They lose some of their power if we begin to treat them like any other regional force to balance against the others. Therefore... they want to keep us entangled and hostile to Iran.

4. Iran itself is an interesting case. Most nations have as their primary geopolitical objective the defense of their territory. Not so with Iran because they are a mountain fortress. Saddam was much more willing to bleed his people than most of us and he didn't take Iran either. Iran's primary objective deals with the diversity of people and culture within its border. Keeping them from siding with an external enemy is a seriously big concern. Achieving that is easiest done by demonizing the external enemy so all internal groups see the danger of not cooperating. The US effort to deconflict with Iran, therefore, but the lie to the story of us being demons. Some within Iran, therefore, want us to remain hostile to them, but not SO hostile as to knock over their apple cart. Some don't want that, though, and that's Iran's problem in a nutshell. They aren't unified against us unless we help them by being utter assholes.

5. Finally, there is Russia's interest in keeping us entangled in anything that might divert our attention while they recover their Soviet era territory and/or influence. Wars in the middle east will do just fine. Political discord at home will do just fine. Pretending to be the superpower they once were helps alarm some of our doves (who are oddly red colored) and that does just fine too. Doesn't really matter what it is that distracts us as long as they get to work at the tasks of recovering their losses.

It is easy to go on and on about this stuff, but the nutshell version is pretty simple. Many players would like to keep us entangled and hostile with respect to Iran. We shouldn't.

Alfred Differ said...

If you have to have a license to speculate, you live in a thought-controlled police state. That means the most likely cause of the collapse involved the people currently running that state. 8)

Regarding the emotionally loaded term "surveillance capitalism", I think it makes the authors point pretty clear without adding more explanation. It's an attempt to construct a cultural cruise missile. Use that term and it will bend the way you think about the topic.

David Brin said...

Alfred your #1 seems illogical, even paranoid. The modern EU was encouraged and fostered by the Marshallian American Pax.

We benefit in no way from the Middle East's status quo. An Arab-Israeli rapprochement would help us in every way.

The Saudis are scared of Iran, maybe, but vastly more scared of their gulf shiite arab population, which is why they ordered Bush Sr (damn him) to betray the shiite arabs of southern Iraq, lest they form a state. Iran is exploiting those fears, sure. But an Iran that had aa modernist renaissance of democracy and science would be worse for the Saudis.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

If you have to have a license to speculate, you live in a thought-controlled police state.

That takes me back to an old Cerebus story arc in which an obvious take-off on Oscar Wilde was arrested for writing without a license. Not a publishing license, but a license to write. The story's punchline and the crime he was arrested for was, "No artistic license!"

scidata said...

There's a tendency to attribute domestic goings-on to various factions (eg 'civil war' narrative), but external stuff to nation-state interests. Gatherings of more than 1M people are seldom homogeneous. Things are likely to be more 'psychohistorical'. Logical analysis, even when thoughtful and sincere, falls short.


Alfred Differ said...


The modern EU is an alliance+, but there is no real risk of actual unity, so we don't have to be heavy-handed. Each member nation retains some fiscal sovereignty and they are obviously willing to defend cultural identities. Our geopolitical interest in maintaining this diversity/division isn't a thing born of hostility. It's just that the only entity that could ever oppose us (other than us doing in ourselves) is a unified northern Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. In the early part of the 20th century, Germany was the potential unifier by force. In the second half it was Russia. Neither outcome would have been in our best interests even if both nations hadn't been so hostile to the people they subjugated.

The Marshall Plan was both a Good Thing To Do and a Smart Thing To Do both for liberty AND our geopolitical interests. It helped us erect a defense so Russia could not run the table after WWII AND help our friends recover faster.

As for the Middle East status quo, I agree, but that doesn't undermine my point. Wanting a balance of regional powers and wanting a particular balance of those powers aren't the same. We'd benefit from a more peaceful balance, but again there is little chance of actual unity over there... even without the Israeli's in the mix.

The Saudis should be scared of Iran. There are few places on Earth that are natural geo-locations for empires, but Persia is one of them. It's hard to attack without splitting the people who live there against each other. Only the British ever really pulled that off. What we should be striving for as a balance to Iran doesn't involve acts using our power, though. The smarter path is to get the Turks back into the mix. That's where the historical counter-force originated and it splits the entire Middle East between them. In that world, the Saudis would be demoted, so they should not stand by and let it happen. Deconflicting with Iran is a necessary step for us in that direction, though.

Alfred Differ said...

hmm... Alexander pulled off a take-over of Persia too. Two examples in 2000 years only helps make the point, though. War with Iran (involving us) is stupid. 8)

Chris Heinz said...

My feel on the ship explosions in the gulf are that it is probably the Israelis. Iran is the last powerful functioning Islamic state in the mid-east. Lebanon, trashed. Iraq, trashed. Syria, trashed. All used to be threats to Israel, no longer. Iran is the last threat left. The Israelis don't like threats. Must be time for some shock and awe, and another 200,000 or more civilian deaths on our hands ...

Larry Hart said...

Chris Heinz:

Iran is the last threat left. The Israelis don't like threats.

That's why I never get whey they don't seem to mind Saudi Arabia. I'd have thought an Arab country right there on the peninsula would be the greater threat.

Scott said...

Chris your argument boils down to Israel did it because it's a bad thing and Israel is bad. There's literally no connection or evidence to back up your speculation. It's irresponsible at best.

Larry they did mind Saudi Arabia for a long time, but they seem to have developed a large number of friendly contacts. It help them them they have a number of enemies in common. You might notice that Saudi Arabia has become much more supportive of Israel lately compared to the era of the first gulf war.

matthew said...

The "Arab-Israeli" rapprochement is their mutual amazement that the GOP is so willing to do their bidding. Both nations also are heavily implicated in meddling in our elections.

It's been clear for years that the hardliners in both nations are working together on other projects as well, not the least is trying to convince America to remove Iran from their their mutual threat list.

In fact, *all* the fundamentalist Abrahamic religions are working together against American instrests. Add in Modi in India, and the Orthodox Church support for Putin and we see a pattern of non-modernist fundamental religions working in concert to bury the concepts of the Enlightenment.

They know that their time to try and rule *forever* is now. And they must suspect that the power may soon be gone from their fingertips because they are acting hastily and stupidly. Desperation measures. This should give us hope.


The offers to educate me on the joys of appreciating Laffer and Von Mises are appreciated, but, alas, I do not have the time to beat my head against the wall of libertarian, ahem, thought. Alfred, it would have been fun .

David Brin said...

My "classic" blog-rant about how to test your favorite conspiracy theories... and those of your opponents... is now reposted on Phil's Stock World. Use these nine questions to parse which ones are dismissible as jibbering nonsense... Iranian limpet mines planted ten feet above the water line by a nation that can't benefit in any way, in the most-surveilled waterway in the world.

Any notion that Israelis (or the CIA) would do this so bluntly and dumbly is nuts.

Tony Stark said...

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Jon S. said...

"Any notion that ... (... the CIA) would do this so bluntly and dumbly is nuts."

Depends. Has Donnie been able to appoint any leadership in the CIA? Because it's exactly the sort of thing his people would think of as terribly clever.

According to the owner of one of the ships, however, his sailors report seeing something flying toward the ship, which struck them well above the waterline, thus ruling out torpedoes. I don't know where Iran stands on cruise-missile development - but I do know we recently sold the Saudis a whole bunch of military gear, puportedly to use on the Yemeni.

Correlation does not indicate causation... but sometimes it does nod knowingly in causation's direction while giving an exaggerated wink.

locumranch said...

Our fine host continues to equivocate between amoral fact & moral truth, arguing (in effect) that these disparate & non-homologous concepts are somehow one & the same in the most progressive of all possible worlds.

And, so, he natters on about 'exposing the wicked', 'pillaging the elites', 'stripping them naked' and 'leveling the the playing field' which SOUNDS like a great idea until one considers that the term 'wicked' invokes a mutable unfixed subjective value judgment, the terms 'elite' and 'them' refer to anyone positioned more than 1 standard deviation above the mean, and the term 'leveling the playing field' involves pandering to the lowest common denominator.

Like most first-world western WEIRD-os, he forgets that HE IS the 'wicked elite' poster boy who needs to be exposed, pillaged, stripped naked and leveled face-first into some Khmer Rouge rice paddy, at least according to 80+ percent of average & below-average humanity.

The WEIRD (Western; Educated; Industrialized; Rich; Democratic) Elites continue to insist that they speak for the human majority, even though the WEIRD contingent represents a statistically insignificant human minority.

Wickedness is in the Eye of the Beholder.


scidata said...

Wickedness is not in the eye of the beholder. It's an objective state of affairs manifested by intent and action. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps surprisingly, I too have criticism for the scientific 'elite', but it's not anything like a conspiracy theory about a cabal aiming for world domination. It's almost the opposite - why is physics stuck in a rut? Are they just plain lazy? Why do many billions of dollars worth of experimental equipment fail to find what they theorize? Where are the breakthroughs? It seems that theory is fading fast in the technological world of wonders.

I fear that Machine Learning is becoming a crutch. ML is -NOT- a synonym for AI. We are getting lost in math and beauty/elegance/symmetry. Am I wrong? (I hope so)

Lloyd Flack said...

Locum, do you have any idea what statistically insignificant means? It does not mean unimportant. It refers instead to a signal that we cannot distinguisg from the noise.

Larry Hart said...

@Lloyd Flack,

Are you kidding? "Signal that we cannot distinguis[h] from the noise" is his specialty.

Lloyd Flack said...

Well, yes.

David Brin said...

Like all members of his romantic, zero-sum cult… (and yes, members of the far-smaller and currently less harmful, but still-dangerous far-left cults)… poor locum assumes that symbols and metaphors are real. Because I know I am being warred upon by those who would Khmer-rouge all smart people, and I call them “wicked,” he assumes I would do to them (and him) what they are clearly in process of doing to us (and me).

No, lad, you are the one with murderous intent. Your Khmer metaphor was direct, intentionally redolent with genuine violent threat. It is what you WOULD do to me and all of us, if you could. Your problem is that you cannot imagine your opponents seeking entirely different end results, despite 250 years of history showing we operate on 3+ dimensions, for your two.

Colorblind, you howl cluelessly about “blue.” A flatlander, you scream metaphors about up and down that bear no relation.
scidata: “Why do many billions of dollars worth of experimental equipment fail to find what they theorize? Where are the breakthroughs?”

We are open. At NIAC we fund a small project on the Mach Effect. Cold Fusion and Em Drives get derision, but also experiments. Is it our fault that the billion dollar experiments have so far confirmed the Standard Model to fifteen decimal places?

David Brin said...

I said on FB: My friend (and RASR) investment guru John Mauldin knows something is wrong. He does try. He knows the US right has gone insane, but keeps trying to couch it in terms that "balance" the blame. This time he refers to how the brilliant economic pundit Michael Lewis has just finished a seven-part podcast called Against the Rules. Lewis "begins by talking about referees, specifically the referees who toil at NBA games. Later episodes deal with the “referees” in financial markets, courts of law, civil society, and government."

Now you know I am one of the folks most avidly pushing Adam Smith. Competition is great! But as Smith reiterated, competitors will cheat. They always have, across 6000 years. We largely solved the problem through careful regulation. I've long said that of our five great competitive arenas... DEMOCRACY, MARKETS, SCIENCE COURTS and SPORTS... the last one proves the point. And I am glad to see the brilliant Michael Lewis working it.

Sports would collapse without close regulation. Science mostly successfully self-regulates with fierce reciprocal accountability, but some institutions are required. Courts are meticulous, but can be poisoned with 3rd rate judges (a top GOP priority.)

Democracy and markets must have cheating-prevention controls, as our parents knew, in the Greatest Generation. And since Reagan, tearing down (not updating) those cheating-prevention tools has been the towering top goal of the GOP. As generations of cheating-prevention regulation are ripped away from Democracy and Markets, we are seeing both of them in freefall collapse.

Alas, John M. then tries to get away with the last stand of RASRs -- Residually adult-sane Republicans -- crying out "Both sides are at fault!"

It's not true. It is not even remotely true.

"But the overarching theme on both left and right is that the “referees” are no longer fair or impartial."

Baloney. Democrats and members of every sane clade and every fact using profession denounce blatant, utterly-proved, volcanically evil cheating by foreign enemies and their local quislings.

Republicans screech about "rigging" as a *tactic,* a smoke grenade, a howl to point away from the billowing flames of their own cheating and outright treason. Like sneering "fake news!" while it is Fox that lies and refuses all rebuttals. While refusing every attempt at fact-checking services, evading wagers and slagging science, they denounce journalism even in principle.

Those are not the same things. Except at the level of a few cherry-picked anecdotes and loopy campus lefty-flakes, there is no equivalence to hide behind.

(Example: blue states institute paper ballot, auditable elections while red states buy no-audit machines from companies with Russian ties. How do you call that equivalent?)

A RASR who also loves America and civilization and honest-competition and hope for a decent future has one option. Help kill the Republican Party dead.
In the confident assurance that the Democratic Party, after restoring the Rooseveltean contract of the Greatest Generation, and science and active leadership solving real problems, and restoring accountability... will then break apart (as always).

The new "right-ish" party - the Adam Smith - wing will be pro-entrepreneurship! While also believing in facts, justice, equality, facts, honest elections, facts, science, competitive markets and facts. It will be everything you want. But first you must help us slay a vampire elephant.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: Is it our fault that the billion dollar experiments have so far confirmed the Standard Model to fifteen decimal places?

No, of course not. Unless the Standard Model is incompatible with a Theory of Everything. Then we may be verifying that 2=2 to ever increasing accuracy. Having read Asimov's Neutrino book when I was 20, I hoped that progress would be made towards answering some of the mysteries by now. Statistical significance is a small god to worship.

john fremont said...

Sports would collapse without close regulation

I immediately thought of the NFL appointing substitute referees a few seasons ago in 2012 and the outcry that came from the fans. There was a viral video clip of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers telling the referee " we could've used you guys last week".
The week before the Green Bay Packers had lost to the Seattle Seahawks on a dubious call and the fans were having none of it.

“Let’s remember who we are dealing with. We’re dealing with an NFL that locked out the players,” Rodgers said. “This is an NFL who gambled on some low-level referees, including the guy who makes the most important call last night, who has never had any professional experience.”

The NFL quickly brought the professional referees back because of the fans. I bring this episode up to friends and acquaintances that if they want better government you need to be like NFL fans and tune in every week. As Jim Wright puts it, if you want a better country, you gotta be better citizens.

DP said...

I remember that "Name of the Game" episode, watched it when I was 12.

Does anyone remember a TV show which was a fake newscast about the environmental collapse of the country broadcast around the same time? It ended suddenly with the screen just going black.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

"But the overarching theme on both left and right is that the “referees” are no longer fair or impartial."

That's a hard one to argue. When one side is able to be impartial or compromising, and the other isn't, then the other side can plausibly (inside their own bubble) assert that our referees are prejudiced against them. The way Jews were prejudiced against Nazis in the 1940s. "Hitler wants to destroy Judiasm, and Jews want to destroy Naziism, so both sides are intransigent."

Loc once suggested a compromise on the order of "How many millions of Jews would you let them kill? Three million? Two?" and our refusal to accept such a compromise as proof of intransigence on our part.

How do you break through that barrier to communication?

scidata said...

Larry Hart: How do you break through that barrier to communication?

Ding ding ding. That is the right question.

I see only a single path to victory for the Confederacy:
- promote ignorance and division long enough to allow oligarchs to make their rule permanent

I see at least three paths to victory for the Union:
1) convince Confederates of the error of their ways
2) everywhere increase the ratio of scientifically literate / illiterate
3) build an insurmountable lead in science & technology

Many in this group are all about #1. I'm all about #2. Asimov's "Foundation" was all about #3.

Treebeard said...

There's no grand, all or nothing, now or never war for the future of the world. Where do some of you guys get this silly idea? It seems like you have this model stuck in your head that the universe must bend in a certain direction at the same rate forever, or it's time to start panicking and making wild claims (“6000 years of horror, every child was buggered by priests, your party wants to Khmer Rouge me, evul Russkies are [fill in the blank]”, etc). But sometimes these things just happen; for example, the low-hanging fruit of scientific breakthroughs may be mostly picked, but this isn't a cause for panic, nor is it the result of a conspiracy. Your panic is an artifact of a false worldview. Extend this principle to politics, and see what happens.

Larry Hart said...


3) build an insurmountable lead in science & technology

Don't we have that already?

But the trick is leveraging that into a socio-political advantage. Otherwise, sure we know stuff, but we can't get permission to do anything about it.

Back in 2010, the rabid right-wingers were threatening to boycott both the (2010) census and flu vaccinations. If only they had done so in more numbers.

David Brin said...

The war-fetishists – ranging from the Trump White House to Riyadh present no evidence that Iran was responsible for the recent tanker explosions, nor any reason why Iran would deem such folly to be in their interest. They do cite a video in which a boat from Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard pulls alongside Kokuka Courageous at 4:10 p.m. Thursday. The Iranians reach up and grab along where a purported limpet mine could be seen in the photo. They then sail away. Analysts say Iran, if involved, wouldn’t want investigators to find an unexploded mine because they could check its serial numbers and other attributes to trace it. But… um… is that the only explanation?

Iran is one of the sovereign nations with shared responsibility for international routes in the Straits of Hormuz. If they saw a dud mine – or something like it – attached to a ship where they had just finished a rescue mission for escaping crew members, might they… um… have wanted to remove the damned thing to prevent further explosions? And to investigate the culprits themselves? As is their duty under law? Isn’t the removal exactly what a responsible party – indeed the US – would do under those conditions?
The bizarre notion of planting limpets in plain sight way above the water line, when all ships passing through the straits maintain heavy lookouts, is plainly bizarre. It suggests many things e.g. that a showy fire was the objective, not a sinking in the straits. In this miasma, we know one thing. Who wants and needs war. The Trumpists and Saudis above all. Some Israeli factions. And remember there are NO end games to such a war in which Putin isn’t the eventual winner.

WMDs hurrah! Those who believed Bush are the very folks who are rushing to believe this nonsense. Tell them about Tonkin. Gleiwitz. Remember the Maine.

David Brin said...

"There's no grand, all or nothing, now or never war for the future of the world. Where do some of you guys get this silly idea?"

From 4000 years clearly recorded and another 2000 imputed; whenever your god-damned feudal lords took power they crushed all flat-fair-open-creative systems for their own cheating benefit. Every time. So yes, it is absolutely all or nothing. If we prevail, you and locum get to continue your yowling whines for feudalism in cushy comfort. If you prevail, those of us fighting for the future will be killed, dead and all such thoughts crushed.

You are exactly the reason why this is now or never.

Paul451 said...

David mentioned Isaac Arthur's videos in the last post, Isaac returns the favour at the end of his Black Hole series of videos, by making Earth his "Book of the Month" via his sponsor Audible (an audio book site).


Just to be contrary, an "it could be Iran" scenario:

The only faction within Iran that might want to spoil normalising relations of Iran, spoil rapprochement with Europe especially, it would be the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Isolation lets them play up "loyalty" to them as loyalty to nation. Increased tension with the Great Satan improves their ability to brand moderates as US puppets.

The negative is that their senior commanders are rich and comfortable, they are not terrorist-types willing to live in isolation in return for the idolisation by a few. War would destroy them.

But, importantly, senior types launder their money through the same places as Russia (and Trump), there are likely closer ties between the Russian oligarchs and the Guard than between Russia and the government proper. So if anyone in Iran was likely to be suggestible to whispers and false promises by Russian manipulators, likely to believe they can play the game close to the edge but not fall over, it would be them.

Russia benefits in the ways already suggested, but keeps their hands clean. Bolton's people get to correctly blame Iran (if falsely blaming the actual government), especially if they dribble out fragments of evidence over the coming months.

Alfred Differ said...


Physics isn't stuck in a rut. I've got a growing pile of books on my desk about the quiet revolution that has been underway in quantum mechanics since I left school. I was taught the "shut up and calculate" method that is incredibly accurate, but lacks a satisfying ontology. It would appear Bell and the people who pursued the EPR paradox had a lot more success at their work than I realized and now I have to play catch-up. Obviously any underlying ontology must allow for predictions that are known to actually work at very high precision, but it would appear it doesn't have to respect locality / seperability assumptions we make in classical physics.

This stuff underpins the work going on with quantum computing. It's all about entanglement. There is a lot more to it than I was ever taught.


the low-hanging fruit of scientific breakthroughs may be mostly picked

That is as laughable now as when the classical physicists in the 19th century thought we were largely done with physics except for the detail. Then they looked at that detail and discovered the kind of weirdness that led to solid state electronics and lasers. Then they looked at more detail and discovered REALLY weird stuff that demonstrates that no modern computer can possibly simulate quantum physics. Basically, there is classical computing and there is quantum computing. They are fundamentally different things.

Nah. There is a lot of low hanging fruit for us to reach, but it appears much of it has mind-altering substances in it. 8)

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: I was taught the "shut up and calculate" method

That is the horror that has betrayed scholastic QP almost from the start. When I end my posts with "Calculemus!", it's certainly not to echo or promote this horror. It's intended only as a tip-of-the-hat to Leibniz, wherein you'll find the first inklings of Asimovian psychohistory, and perhaps even computational psychohistory. I'm not a gushing 'fan boy' of either person though. Gushing is undignified and unscientific.

I don't expect or demand that some ontology is produced capable of fitting within a human mind (and certainly not my scrawny brain). Science is not defined as the set of all scientists past and present. This is not a jealous excuse for vulgarization of science. Rather it's a placeholder for Artificial General Intelligence, which will usher in the true age of science.

Larry Hart said...

Happy Father's Day, all to whom that cognomen applies.

I hope the rest of you (excluding Tacitus and raito in Wisconsin) are having better weather. Here in Chicago, it's foggy and rainy, and the high is supposed to be 61. I haven't heard if that's a record, but it's gotta be the coldest Father's Day I ever lived through, and I can see sixty approaching in the windshield.

If I can find good enough odds in Las Vegas, I want to bet on snow in July this year. Sure, it's unprecedented, but since when is that any kind of obstacle?

Larry Hart said...

Back in my college days, the quad preachers would say, "When you're in Hell, you'll wish for a day like this." I'm not sure about that. I think maybe we are in Hell and just don't realize it. Like any good story, it explains a lot.

scidata said...

Larry Hart: it's gotta be the coldest Father's Day I ever lived through

During my time working up near Lake Cook road years ago, I used to quote Toronto temperatures in Celsius (maybe -10 to 25). Several people pitied me for that :)

David Brin said...

Scan through the offerings on Netflix/Amazon/Hulu etc and realize there's not enough humans to watch all that shit. We aren't in heaven/hell or a simulation. We're in a sweatshop making TV for export to aliens. Oops did I just do like INCEPTION, drawing attention to the dream?

Larry Hart said...


Are you in the Chicago area? It at least sounds like you were once.

locumranch said...

I despair when when our 'scidata' advocate confuses wickedness, goodness & morality for "an objective state of affairs manifested by intent and action";

I despair when scientific, intellectual & bureaucratic elites attempt to promote their agendas through the promotion of (poorly) targeted anti-elitism;

I despair when Pro-Labour & Democratic Party wonks abandon the tried & true pro-union policies of nationalism, immigration restriction & tariff in favour of toxic anti-union globalism;

But mostly, I despair when our so-called best & brightest conclude that the sociopolitical laws of science, causality & effect do not apply to statistical outliers like themselves.

Call it by what euphemism you will -- La Terreur or Pol Pot Luck -- but rest assured that I will be right there beside you, my shoulder touching your shoulder, as we kneel together in abject humiliation, covered in mud and await the average & below-average judgment of the 80+ percent human majority.


It's called 'hubris', an ancient Greek term signifying excessive arrogance, conceit and pride in accomplishment which cometh before a fall. Most commonly used to refer to excessive pride in individual accomplishment, the term 'hubris' also applies to the doofus who takes excessive pride in SOMEONE ELSE'S accomplishment by donning the Union Kepi & bragging about the derring-do of the Greatest Generation: Doofus, meet Hubris.

David Brin said...

Your "despair" saddens me, slightly. But we are used to the cause. You are simply unable to think in... or even imagine - either colors or a third dimension. A grayscale resident of flatland, you can only see things in zero-sum, B&W terms. And hence you never even deny it when we ask if you want us dead. You assume that's what your side will do to us, if they win. And yes, they will.

Incapable of thinking otherwise, you cannot squint and envision that we do NOT think the same way.

No, what saddens me much more is your stunning incuriosity. I had dinner with a blind man the other day, a brilliant judge. He can "envision" the world and navigate it better than you. And he asks about the colors he cannot see.

scidata said...

@LH: I'm in Toronto, but I worked a lot in Chicago and DC/VA around the turn of the century (corporate trainer).

@locumranch: Please don't despair. My thoughts and opinions are of little consequence. I admit that I don't fully comprehend most of what you're on about. What I was getting at was simply that 'eye of the beholder' is a vast over-anthropomorphization when applied to objectively, obviously, bad states of affairs such as oppression or wickedness. And I use the Confederate-Union allegory purely in an attempt to fit in and be understood here. I've previously admitted that it's unfamiliar to me. I'm Canadian. Confederation has quite a positive meaning up here.

TCB said...

"Scan through the offerings on Netflix/Amazon/Hulu etc and realize there's not enough humans to watch all that shit. We aren't in heaven/hell or a simulation. We're in a sweatshop making TV for export to aliens."

Funniest thing Dr. Brin has said in a while. Might be true, but def funny.

Larry Hart said...


I'm Canadian. Confederation has quite a positive meaning up here.

It's not the concept of confederation per se that has a negative connotation here. It's specifically The Confederacy which were the bad guys during our Civil War. They dare to hold themselves up as more patriotic and more American than the states which...whatayacall...didn't secede from the union. Go figure.

I'm in Toronto, but I worked a lot in Chicago

Hey, I honeymooned in Toronto. Wouldn't mind living either there or in Vancouver if you guys would accept American refugees.

Paul451 said...

"We're in a sweatshop making TV for export to aliens. Oops did I just do like INCEPTION, drawing attention to the dream?"

It's only dangerous if enough of us accept it for it to infect too much of that export product. Then and only then do they need to hit the big reset button.

[Aside: If IFF is used for "if and only if", can we do that with THENN? NOWW? HEREE?]

David Brin said...

We keep hearing whines from neo-Confederates that it was oppression to keep the Union together by force and that scession was about states' rights. I demolish the latter point devastatingly in a piece cited below. (Southern bands of irregular cavalry shredded northern states since 1852, radicalizing them, as the treason spread by Fox News is radicalizing us, today.) But let's focus on that oppression part. The Jefferson-authored U.S. Declaration of Independence (USDI ) makes clear that states and people CAN ethically separate themselves from a no-longer tolerable union with more-dominant others, even if that means breaking earlier solemn oaths. But the Declaration also emphatically demands that such othbreaking bear a steep burden of justification, by strong grievances and repeated, blanket refusal by the dominators to negotiate redress. You don't break solemn oaths unless the entity you swore loyalty to refuses to negotiate in good faith.

I examined a 1778 copy of the USDI on the wall of my recent hosts, the Adamses, in DC, and discovered something interesting, which I'll relate below. But the essential lesson is that the Confederate secessionists of 1860-61 styled their declarations as following Jefferson's mold, when they were diametrically opposite! Actually read the secession documents of S.Carolina etc., filled with whines and yowls about how northern states refused to crush free speech or suppress abolitionist newspapers and were conspiring to limit the spread of sacred slavery across the Americas. And yes, "Slavery" is touted glowingly and explicityly 37 times in the SC document, so yes, it was about slavery.

But key is this: Jefferson speaks of the relentless efforts by British Americans to send delegations and negotiate with king and Pariliament. Ben Franklin tried for close to a decade, to no avail. In contrast, the 1860s secessionists broke their solemn oaths (and yes, they had sworn loyalty to 'The United States' VASTLY more often, across previous years, than ever to their home states) without sending a single delegation to talk to the incoming President-elect Abraham Lincoln. Not one.

In other words, there is no evasion of the pure fact that their grievances were either imaginary or downright evil... and they broke their solemn oaths without a scintilla of honorable intent or behavior. That makes them traitors, pure and simple. And what their heirs are achieving now, with treasonous betrayal of the U.S. to foreign despots and mafiosi, is something a long time coming... getting 21st Century Americans to remember this fact.

Now for that amazing thing I saw, among the listed indictments against King and Parliament, in the USDI. Take a look at this:

"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.'

Yes there are also clauses that indigenous peoples might object to. I've spoken elsewhere are how our journey - expanding horizons of inclusion - was only just beginning. But this one above is rich in irony, and I wonder if anyone has mentioned it.

As for states' rights... what malarkey! The South owned and operated the federal government from 1830-1860 and used it as a bludgeon against northern peoples, radicalizing them till they voted for Lincoln, impossible just a few years earlier.

Larry Hart said...

My daughter took AP US History this past year, and over Father's Day lunch, she related how almost the entirety of it was rife with a recent clade of immigrants declaring the next wave of immigrants to be "swarthy", "not really white", and a threat to the national character. Ben Franklin decried the influx of Germans to Pennsylvania in such terms even before the Revolution. Those same Germans then slammed the Irish, who went on to do the same to Italians, Jews, and Eastern Europeans in general. And to mangle Tom Leherer, "everybody hates the Chinese".

It would be humorous were it not for the real-world damage that sort of thinking leads to.

locumranch said...

You are simply unable to think in... or even imagine - either colors or a third dimension. A grayscale resident of flatland, you can only see things in zero-sum, B&W terms[DB].

Do I defend my residency in this flatland by describing how our women are straight lines, our working men are triangles, our professional men and gentlemen are squares (to which class I myself belong) & our highest classes possess sides so numerous that they are effectively circular, or do I merely point out how obtuse & derivative this insult is?

Instead, I will accept this obscure reference as high praise, a tacit admission by our fine host that perspective-based subjective value judgments reign supreme in this vast post-modern western cultural wasteland wherein we all reside.

And, thus, I can only laugh when he declares one group or another to be 'downright evil' or 'treasonous traitors'.

And hence you never even deny it when we ask if you want us dead[DB].

I confess to the charges, but plead mitigation. These thoughts are constructive criticisms. Pyramidical. I try to suppress these thoughts, but they leak out in Second Level through the head-wound of my third death. I was imperfectly repaired. No. That is not true. I think what I think! I hate you all. I hate you all. I hate you all. Especially me.


David Brin said...

Yipe! When challenged, he... actually,,, lifted... his... gaze. Dimly and through a dyspeptic glass, darkly. And yet. For a moment there... underneath all the pain and 2D colorless rage... I sensed a man.


"It would be humorous were it not for the real-world damage that sort of thinking leads to."

Oy what a dismal and awful way to look at it! OMG can't you see how we grumbled and snarled as we KEPT MOVING FORWARD? And by "we" I mean some of us, while others (including Ben Franklin) were 90% eager to expand horizons of inclusion? Vistas that are obvious to us now were grindingly hard for our ancestors. My liberal parents did not understand Stonewall, but could squint and (amid revulsion) agree. Our grandchildren will look back on us as barbaric... heroes who overcame barbarity just enough to rise a little more. And make them.

scidata said...

I'm not 100% in the MOVING FORWARD camp (a bit too spiritual for me), but I agree with the grandchildren and widening vistas thoughts.

The most rapidly evolving thing I know of is the immune system. With constant exposure to novel germs, it can, almost hourly, update its software and memory. Likewise, 'barbarity' trains the instruments of its own demise. Evolution doesn't have a directional arrow, but that's ultimately its greatest strength. Such a relentless, tireless bucking bronco is difficult to break and domesticate.

One species has begun to crack this nut however. History really began with agriculture and artificial (non-natural) selection. I wish Asimov had been less of an ideal gas chemist and more of an evolutionary biologist in writing "Foundation". Dr. Brin's story came much closer to the mark. I think Alan Turing might have nailed it if he had lived. He was pieces of Leibniz + Laplace + Asimov rolled into one.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Oy what a dismal and awful way to look at it! OMG can't you see how we grumbled and snarled as we KEPT MOVING FORWARD?

Well, sure, if you mean that Germans, then Irish, then Italians, Jews, Poles, etc become part of "us", that's a good thing.

It's too bad that being part of "us" seems to necessitate finding a new out-group to punch down upon.

Alfred Differ said...


I hadn't really made the Leibniz connection. Been a while since I've read the material (more than once), but I do remember being moved... in different ways each time as I was older and had different experiences to relate. 8)

I DO expect an ontology for a physics theory to be an actual physics theory. They aren't necessary for empirical models like Kepler's model for planetary orbits... if you ignore the other crud he added to provide the actual ontology. Aristotle's cosmology had an ontology that supported a geocentric astronomy that could predict planetary positions reasonable well... for a while. Our quantum theory from the first half of the 20th century, however, avoids this component. In my opinion, that reduces it to 'not a theory' even though it is wildly successful in terms of accuracy.

I also expect a physics theory's ontology to be understandable by someone in junior high school. They might not be able to wield the mathematics at that age, but the ontology should be pretty easy to grasp. The only scrawny brains that wouldn't be able are either injured, illiterate, or too young as of yet. EVERY other physics theory with a full ontology CAN be grasped by that age, so I'm not pushing the envelope here. Aristotle's cosmology had a finite, spherical universe with a center and everything in it knew its place. Not that hard to grasp. General Relativity has curved space and we use rubber sheets and heavy spheres to provide analogies. Not that hard to grasp until the kid is taught that time is one of those directions that can bend. If they've ever tried any psychedelic drugs, though, they CAN imagine this.

Quantum physics as it was taught to me focused upon the epistemology and avoided the ontology. The argument was that Bohr dealt with all that and it didn't need any more attention. The know-ables were good enough, so why worry about the be-ables? Well... turns out there are different quantum theories that produce viable models and essentially the same know-ables but with different ontologies. What now? Turns out one of them is actually deterministic which completely blows up what I was taught. It's a hidden variable type theory Einstein might have liked... except it blows up locality too. Urgh. He wouldn't have liked that at all.

Anyway, all I'm trying to offer you is a glimmer of hope regarding our field. It isn't stuck. If you find the right author with popularizer skills, you can see some of what's going on. For entanglement, for example, you could start with Louisa Gilder, move on to Tim Maudlin, and then try to slog though journal papers or D'Espagnat's book and see just how far you can go. Somewhere along the path you'll get stumped, but I think before that happens, you'll see that a revolution is underway.

TCB said...

Underreported here in the States: a document dump has roiled Brazil with evidence that the conviction of Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, popular left-socialist President of Brazil, was a scam. Lula appears to have been railroaded to prison on trumped-up corruption charges that cleared the way for far-right Jair Bolsonaro to win election. The judge overseeing his case is now Bolsonaro's Justice Minister.

Alfred Differ said...


I think maybe we are in Hell and just don't realize it.

Heh. If I recall my history lessons correctly, that was one of the early Christian ideas to be declared a heresy which led to an early group having to be 'dealt with appropriately.' 8)


Moving 'forward' is forward in the sense of increasingly freeing each other from our illiberal inclinations to control the forces around us. If you do something with the potential to harm me, I'm initially tempted to force you to stop. Fortunately, I know better than to do that, though. Applying force against you can be worse than dealing with what you choose to do. I foreclose options for the future with force.


I don't hate you. I've hated people before, but the longest duration for one person was about one year. My feelings fizzled after that and I don't hate them anymore. Even 'pity' tends to fizzle out for me. I simply don't like doing it and that's enough to stop me.

David Brin said...

"It's too bad that being part of "us" seems to necessitate finding a new out-group to punch down upon"

And again I ask you to go meta. Step back from the obvious. (And what you say is obviously true.) But look in a mirror.

You were trained to be critical of your own nation's imperfections. Name a popular film that didn't preach suspicion of authority. Our attention is on the faults... as it should be. But we need to look in the reflection, now and then. YOU are testimony to our main agenda. Learn to see what patriots you are by criticising.

And ponder what that means about us. It is at least as meaningful as the specifics you are criticising.

Alfred Differ said...


It's too bad that being part of "us" seems to necessitate finding a new out-group to punch down upon.

How far do you have to reach to find that punch down group for you?

If you think any of your neighbors apply, think carefully about how you ACTUALLY treat them instead of how you think about them.
If you can't think of anyone, think carefully about people you turn away from when they are in need.

The improvement occurring with the generations involves both distance and infilling.
[Look at the kids around you and ask that same question.]

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

And ponder what that means about us. It is at least as meaningful as the specifics you are criticising.

I'm with you here and always have been. My criticism about newly-assimilated groups punching down and barring the gates against the next one is more a criticism of human nature than of America per se. I'm not an America-hating lefty. My beef with Republicans is not that they are patriotic--it's that they claim the mantle of patriotism while betraying it in all specifics.

What I'd like to see is a breaking of that cycle--of newly-accepted groups declaring "America should accept you as it accepted me." Growing up, I assumed that Jews would be the natural group to lead that charge. It pains me personally to see that not being the case.

In a way, the dynamic seems to be similar to that of fraternity initiation--each incoming member has to suffer humiliation for the pleasure of the older members, which they endure willingly only because of the promise of getting to be the tormentor later on. As Alfred once pointed out, breaking the cycle would require martyrs willing to take the hit without passing it on. And as I then responded, that reportedly happened once.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

Look at the kids around you and ask that same question.

No argument there. My daughter's generation will save the world if we leave them one.

Howard Brazee said...

I'm a huge advocate of a transparent society—where what the government does is transparent to the people. I'm even willing to give up some of my privacy for the benefit of giving up all of the state's privacy.

scidata said...

Raptors parade happening in Toronto - some signs: "Kawhi for Prime Minister", "PREHISTORIC", and "Together for one day, this is for the world", which has special meaning in one of the most diverse cities on the planet. A glimpse of the future hopefully.

@Alfred Differ - nice thoughts on QP ontologies. Very encouraging.

David Brin said...

>>What I'd like to see is a breaking of that cycle--of newly-accepted groups declaring "America should accept you as it accepted me."

Ponder. Should those who noisily resisted progress be emblematic of ers when PROGRESS HAPPENED? We recall german americans hating on Irish etc. Who then became established and hated on... Tell me, would this chain have happened if not for a MAJORITY, most of the time, who wanted that noise to stop?

Today we wring our hands over neo-nazi rallies... that are surrounded by 10x as many counter protestors. And yes, from 1870 to 1930 it seemed the other way around. Though in that time women got the vote and Wilson (a racist at home) established the world's vision of self-determination.

>> Growing up, I assumed that Jews would be the natural group to lead that charge. It pains me personally to see that not being the case.

Bah. Name an NGO fighting for justice. Scan the names of its top officers.

And yes, we made these kids. We R Grr8

Darrell E said...

Christ. One of the good ones died yesterday. Likely no one here ever heard of her but in the interests of slowing her disappearance from the universe . . .

Grania died

Alfred Differ said...

"America should accept you as it accepted me."

I've met people who have said essentially that. One I remember said 'will' instead of 'should'.

Groups of people tend to cover all possible opinions they could hold individually. There is an evolutionary advantage in that. Still... diversity is a fringe effect. Look to what the core beliefs are to see what the pressures on the fringes are.

Treebeard said...

It's funny to hear you talk about your cultural agenda. I've heard someone use the term “jewhad” for the kind of “holy war” that many of you guys like to fight, which always seems to involve changing the culture, demographics, ideology etc. of other people's nations according to your values and historical experience, but not necessarily those of the people who live there. It's this evangelical mindset, that some self-chosen group knows what is good for me and the whole world, that really rankles me. It also has a lot to do with why America has been perpetually at war since its inception, starting with the natives and expanding globally. But I don't think it's gonna get too far in Asia against older civilizations without a history of Abrahamic exceptionalism and evangelism. I certainly hope not.

Alfred Differ said...

America is a barbaric culture. News at 11:00.

Yah. We already knew that. Barbarians are the ones who build empires.

China IS resilient. Its metastability helps in that regard. They have a LOT of practice dealing with outside pressure and have survived it all. No doubt they will survive us too, but I sincerely doubt they will do so unchanged. Their adoption of some of our methods is carrying with it some of our attitudes. First generation adopters are likely immune, but their children won't be. Since those children will be richer, it will matter.

Naum said...

David, curious on whether you've read the Zuboff book (*Age of Surveillance Capitalism*) or just responding to reviews? I think most reviews and even a extended YouTube (where I found & viewed) chat dialogue with Naomi Klein don't come anywhere close to doing the book justice. I think she has trouble summing up her argument in a brief missive which admittedly is problematic).

What her book does (and it was a slog, mostly because it conjured up metaphors for darkness, even if book is not a apocalyptic / dystopian forecast) is give *names* and define paradigms for this new age -- i.e, *what industrial capitalism did with physical nature, surveillance capitalism did with human nature*. It seems you're looking at it in the same rubric you wrote in *The Transparent Society* -- but it is not the threat of an Orwellian overarching authoritarian *control* but the realization of a BF Skinner behaviorist utopian dreamscape -- repeatedly, it's stressed that the adage that "if you're not paying for a service, but you're the product" is off the mark -- it more that you are the carcass that is being scraped for ML algorithms to push / nudge future behavior. Yes, this has always been desire of marketing / advertising, etc. but now we have tech that do this on a scale hitherto unimaginable and in microseconds. And that most measures (as you would agree with, from reading you) just tap the surface & will be met with much better & organized (or "flow around") big tech stack response (including things like GDPR).

The exploration of Skinner was chilling to me -- before I switched to Computer Science, was an aspiring Psych student and read all of Skinner's works -- *Beyond Freedom and Dignity*, *Walden 2*, etc. -- & Skinner was derided by peers and his vision of behavoirist utopia scoffed at & mocked. But yet in 21C, what Google, Amazon, Microsoft (late to the game but certainly shifted gears in this direction) are doing is exactly the dream of Skinner -- & yet we're sleepwalking into it, or just accept as default our powerlessness in this.

Odd, that I checked this out from the library & there were like 7 or 8 copies on the shelf. Meanwhile, if you wanted a copy of (the dozen plus) Jordan Peterson *12 Rules for Life* there was a waiting list...

David Brin said...

Thanks Naum. An insightful and thought provoking comment. I would assign a gray ditto to respond in depth... if I weren't drowing. (Need to blurb Stephen Wolfram's book now.)

But yes, the notion that humans, even very very smart ones, might be controllable - either by a centralized state (China's clearly-stated aim), or by a restored feudal oligarchy (as described in Existence and happening now), or in incidental ways that aren't intentionally designed but simply emerge out of the very nature of any Google/Amazon collective -- or Yuval Harari's "dataism" -- is of great concern. No one cares about that more than I do.

The Skinnerian conditioning problem is about more than the luscious sanctimony highs fed to the populace by Fox -- and by the social justice industry (to be fair.) It goes to more pervasive things. I care about someone whose vast potential has been ruined by video game addiction, for example. So I'm very well aware of this danger. Look at how my own productivity has been partly ruined by postings like the one I am making right this moment, to a community I respect, but who do me no palpable or immediate good?

I know the odds are against any naturally evolved race rising above these things. But we have some flukes working for us and we must try. And what I do know is that Even very articulate and well-annotated jeremiads like Zuboff's aren't as effective as they should be, when they utterly ignore the only thing that has ever worked.


At the opposite extreme, there's nothing to say about the ent's slip into dizzy screeching. There are no overlaps between the capering strawman crafted in his mind and any of us. So just shrug.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: a community I respect, but who do me no palpable or immediate good


Blurbing Wolfram is like describing the Mandelbrot set as Z->Z²+c

Jon S. said...

"Blurbing Wolfram is like describing the Mandelbrot set as Z->Z²+c"

In fairness, Coulton acknowledged that he was actually describing a Julia set, but "Mandlebrot Set" fit the song better.

scidata said...

@Jon S.
Yes, that was one funny video. I just grabbed that algorithm from my 2011 piece on computational psychohistory, still wrong, but sincere and original at least.

Tacitus said...


For Father's Day good wishes, many thanks and of course, reciprocation. All doing well.

Per your inquiry the weather in Cheeseistan was a bit cool but no complaints.

Regards the tanker incidents, friend Occam would suggest the simple answer warrants much consideration. Iran does not bother to try and influence US behaviour, but attacks that damage the economy of Persian Gulf neighbors and world oil consumers who are supporting sanctions against Tehran would seem fair motivation. There are prior incidents of mine attacks that are pretty clearly Republican Guard work.

Naturally, if you caught some of the folks placing them they would be insulated from any official standing. Just simple fishermen, yep. It is the way of states that seek influence by proxy fighters, and even those skeptical of this claim surely must admit that Iran uses them aplenty.

I'm pretty sure the limpet mine that was taken off that tanker had already been examined and its provenance determined. Me, I'd have added a switch that set it off half an hour after it was pulled from the hull.

But extreme caution is warranted. Iran would like nothing more than heavy handed bombing of "innocent fishing villages". It is probably what this is all about. Step up the port security. Add more escorts and mine sweepers. A report went to the UN, maybe they'll do something useful.

If attacks start happening in open water we have a bigger issue. Perhaps it would be time to revive Letters of Marque and Reprisal...

Hard to see that Israel wants a war just now, they have things largely going their way. And Trump likely sees himself cruising to reelection so long as he does not repeat the folly of GW Bush and get into a middle east war. The man is crude but I don't think politically stupid.


Tacitus said...

Fun fact. In the months following Pearl Harbor the Goodyear blimps were pressed into service for antisubmarine patrol. Since they were civilian craft on a military mission protecting marine commerce, they were issued Letters of Marque authorizing them to use force!


matthew said...

"The terrible thing about Hell /
Is when you're there you can't even tell /
And as you go through this life you love so /
You could be there and not even know

But you say so what I'm doing just fine /
The irony is that it's all in your mind /
And that's why hell is so vicious and cruel /
But you'll just go on an oblivious fool"

-Phish "Shafty"

From some gentlemen that know something about the mutable nature of time.

Larry Hart said...

Tim Wolter:

And Trump likely sees himself cruising to reelection so long as he does not repeat the folly of GW Bush and get into a middle east war.

Really> I would think he'd see a war as just the thing to boost his popularity. Like it did for W. I mean, sure Bush was unpopular by 2008, but he couldn't be re-elected then anyway.

matthew said...

Netanyahu needs a war with Iran as badly as Trump and the Saudis do.

His corruption charges are coming for him unless he can convince his coalition to pass laws to protect him from his own past actions. Rope-a-doping the USA into another war would shore up his support among his supporters.

Whoever it was that claimed the Israelis could not be involved in such a clumsy pretext has entirely way too much faith in the Mossad, who must work through deniable channels the same as every other intelligence agency.

And David, in the main post, you call the scow in the mine-removal operation Iranian, as if that had been proved true. Could you point to the proof of that assertion that you have seen? All the honest reporting I've seen on the matter points out that there is absolutely no proof that the scow is Iranian. If that has changed, I would like to know it.

Paul451 said...

Would Netanyahu want an actual war, though? Potentially as messy as Syria? Or does he just want the distraction of sabre-rattling and heightened tensions, but with the Iranian government intact?

David Brin said...

Tim, you are being cogent and interesting. Only note:
1- The Iranians wouldn’t seek to block the Straits if they were still selling oil through it. So this whole thing is a result of Trump/Bannon/Pompeo/Bolton withdrawing from the perfectly Okay Iran nuclear deal.

2- Fishing villages? Trump will order tomahawks to make big colorful explosions for his base you yell yippee at. Nothing strategic, but flashy enough to provide what all parties want: Satisfaction for the Saudis, giving the mullahs an excuse to crush Iranian modernists, a world enraged at US bullying, a distraction for Trump and ultimate raking it all in, for Putin.
3 – In fact DT is a coward and has shied away from war several times.

Matthew fun song!

locumranch said...

Little does Naum realise that he has wandered into a pre-scientific cesspool of moral relativism, cognitive bias & operant conditioning wherein sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions makes one truth.

Repetition is the key in cognitive bias, especially in the case of inherent contradiction:

(1) If it's assumed that Donald Trump is a liar, then it follows that everything he says must be a lie, unless he confirms that he is liar, then one must assume that he must be telling the truth.

(2) If it's assumed that the New Confederates are haters, that it follows that its advocates must be filled with hate, which is why my false admission of hate -- stolen ibid from George Saden (Zardoz, 1974) -- was so readily & eagerly accepted but any denial of hate is always thought a lie.

All & all it's just another brick in the wall wherein the possibility of pudding becomes inconceivable if you don't eat yer meat.

And, so it is with Iran, a nation prone to belligerence (according to official narrative), but one that in no way benefits from this attack in the Gulf of Oman, which is also the case for ANY nation subject to potential retribution.

And why, exactly, must one assume that it was a NATION that fomented this rather ineffectual attack on some oil tankers?

Exxon Mobil is the primary beneficiary of higher gas & oil prices. As an effective 'foreign power', it has also been pulling Putin's strings and interfering in US Elections for years & years.


Tacitus said...


Random lobbing of ordinance in place of actual decisive action is as you point out all to common a recourse. And as I point out, likely just what Iran, or elements within Iran, are hoping for. It is a tendency that must be resisted on that basis alone.

But as I was trying to convey, this latest dust up is in some ways easier than Iran backed proxies in (Yemen, Syria, Gaza, fill in the blank). This is effectively Piracy. Or if the level of cut outs and intermediaries has been sloppily done, Privateers.

From Roman times to the coastal waters of Somalia mercantile nations have always found effective means to counter pirates.

I'm not a big fan of summary justice but Execution Dock on the banks of the Thames provided salutary examples that could be replicated with an overlook of sunnier climes...

Or maybe we need to revive those programs where dolphins patrol around harbors. Know any likely recruits!?


Larry Hart said...

A very profound observation (emphasis mine)...

Black Americans did not abandon liberal democracy because of slavery, Jim Crow, and the systematic destruction of whatever wealth they managed to accumulate; instead they took up arms in two world wars to defend it. Japanese Americans did not reject liberal democracy because of internment or the racist humiliation of Asian exclusion; they risked life and limb to preserve it. Latinos did not abandon liberal democracy because of “Operation Wetback,” or Proposition 187, or because of a man who won a presidential election on the strength of his hostility toward Latino immigrants. Gay, lesbian, and trans Americans did not abandon liberal democracy over decades of discrimination and abandonment in the face of an epidemic. This is, in part, because doing so would be tantamount to giving the state permission to destroy them, a thought so foreign to these defenders of the supposedly endangered religious right that the possibility has not even occurred to them. But it is also because of a peculiar irony of American history: The American creed has no more devoted adherents than those who have been historically denied its promises, and no more fair-weather friends than those who have taken them for granted.

scidata said...

Re: Piracy

Several nations have invested heavily in fully autonomous ships. The main gains are in efficiency and cost reduction (no scurvy crew). They're also faster, smaller, quieter, and well shielded. There are no people to threaten, extort, or control. Surely there's enough there for a good SF writer to build a space opera around. Just trying to provide some palpable or immediate good.

David Brin said...

LarryHart, that's a fine paragraph, though it leaves out the most important clade... the majority of those who already had rights, who participated - sometimes tepidly or tacitly - but often with some vigor - in the ongoing process of inclusion expansion. It was faith in the good-hearted majority - that their all-too indolent and lazy goodwill could eventually be marshaled for reform - that sustained persistent hope in those Asian, Latino, Black, Gay and other oppressed groups, stoking their courage and will not to give in to despair. Often - time and again - they were betrayed by that tepidly empathic indolence... till the children of those indolent liberals Stood up and helped fulfill the promise.

Alfred Differ said...

And why, exactly, must one assume that it was a NATION that fomented this rather ineffectual attack on some oil tankers?

Locumranch makes a fair point here, though I think his extension into possible accusations against corporations is a stretch. The most likely version of history that I think would conform to his question is a particular faction within Iran doing the deed against the tankers. We already know that Iran's primary geopolitical objective involves solidarity at home. It is difficult to achieve and requires harsh tactics at times. We might be witnessing, therefore, and internal struggle made visible with external attacks.

Howard Brazee said...

Ships (and trains) have been more and more automated with smaller and smaller crews (and stevedores as well).

Ilithi Dragon said...

So, a comment on Transparency and one of the fundamental reasons behind why privacy laws don't work (and why Dr. Brin's Transparency is the best way to ensure privacy), because it is something that I CAN talk about, couched in terms of security, which is something I know a thing or two about. (Also, I'm still alive! Just busy.)

The issue of unwanted surveillance is an issue of security. That's a "duh" no-brainer there, of course, but it must be said because so many so-called privacy experts and data security experts forget, ignore, or don't understand the most fundamental concept of security, and forget critical security principles.

To properly understand how security works, any and all types and forms and categories of security for any thing, you must understand the most fundamental principle of ALL security measures, ever.


The reason why there is no such thing as a 100% perfect/impenetrable security system or measure is because every single measure of security ever devised is merely adding layers of inconvenience to access the thing you are trying to protect. No matter how inconvenient you make a thing, there will always, eventually, be someone, somewhere, who will be willing and able to expend the effort to overcome that inconvenience.

Now, it is important that you do not underestimate the power of inconvenience. It is the fundamental principle that all security measures are based upon, after all.

And inconvenience is a VERY powerful thing, because of biology, and physics, particularly entropy.

Human beings are inherently lazy. That is not a criticism of the human species, it is a fact of being alive. ALL living creatures are inherently lazy. This is because there is no such thing as an unlimited supply of energy, so energy reserves and supplies must be reserved. We have a fundamental, biological imperative to be lazy. All living things do.

Inconveniences increase the amount of energy, or effort, required to accomplish, achieve, and/or obtain things, and we are strongly programmed to avoid any unnecessary inconveniences - because unnecessary inconveniences waste effort, unnecessarily.

Now, there are a lot of things that are worth suffering inconveniences for (this is why we're not all motionless carpets of moss or slime), but everyone has a limit to how much effort they are willing to expend to overcome inconveniences, varying by thing.

For example. I have a fancy block. I don't want anyone to touch or take my fancy block.

If I leave it out in the open, where anyone can see it, walk by it, touch it, or pick it up and walk away with it, the inconvenience to do so is negligible.

If I put my fancy block in a locker without a lock on it, the level of inconvenience is increased. To know my fancy block is even there to be taken, people either have to have already known of my fancy block, or they have to go and look inside the locker to see if there are any fancy blocks inside of it.

I can further increase the inconvenience by putting a padlock on the locker. Now, a padlock is not that difficult of a security measure to bypass. You don't even need bolt cutters - a pair of open-end wrenches and half-decent grip strength can break most padlocks, even so-called "high security" padlocks. BUT, you have to suffer the inconvenience of carrying around bolt cutters or a pair of open-end wrenches, or going to retrieve them. Put that locker in a building where the locker itself is out of sight, or make the locker a safe, put a lock on the house, put a moat of lava around the house, all of these things just add additional layers of inconvenience. They can all be bypassed, with sufficient effort, but the effort required to do so is a huge deterrent.

And if you want to do so without being seen or detected, that's even more of an inconvenience.

The need for discretion is a VERY powerful inconvenience, after all.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Which is where Dr. Brin's Transparency comes in, and why the Reciprocal-Accountability and sousveillance are such powerful tools: Social and cultural norms and ethical/moral standards create the need for discretion to do things that violate those norms and standards. Reciprocal-Accountability and sousveillance exponentially increase the effort required to achieve that discretion, thus making it EXTREMELY inconvenient to perform acts that violate social and cultural norms and ethical/moral standards.

It won't completely PREVENT them, there will always eventually be someone willing and able to exert the effort required to overcome those inconveniences (or who think they are), and there will be some people who don't CARE about being discreet (and so that whole swath of inconveniences just doesn't apply to them), but it is a very powerful set of inconveniences to discourage unwanted actions, including unwanted breaches of privacy.

This all ties in with DETERRENCE, which is the most effective focus of security measures, because the best security measures are not ones which prevent people from successfully carrying out an attempted breach; the best security measures are the ones that deter people from attempting the breach in the first place. Any attempt made has a non-zero chance of succeeding. Every attempt NOT made has an exactly zero chance of succeeding.

Dr. Brin's Transparency is very much a system of DETERRENCE, by exponentially increasing the EFFORT required to overcome the INCONVENIENCE of DISCRETION.

A fun little side-note on that, when it comes to deterrence-based security measures. How functional and effective your security measures actually are is often less important than how effective they APPEAR to be. Just LOOKING like a hard target goes a very long way to deterring attempts to breach your security, and is really the only thing that actually deters those attempts. You can actually be a hard target, but not look like it, and you're not going to deter a damn thing (unless your method of deterrence is one of not looking like a target at all).

The reason why this works is because we are intelligent creatures that look for inconveniences to avoid, makes us more successful because we can better avoid unnecessary inconveniences, and thus unnecessary expenditures of effort/energy. This also has the side-effect of making us susceptible to the APPEARANCE of inconvenience that might not actually be there.

Now, this won't stop the people who are determined to try, but it WILL drive them to expend more effort than would have otherwise been necessary, making them easier to detect, or at the very least, costing them more than it otherwise would have.

This brings us to another fundamental principle of security, that so few people I've seen discussing privacy and transparency ever consider: Defense-in-depth.

Most security experts will admit that there is no such thing as a 100% perfect system - any system can be broken into, bypassed, hacked, blown-through, or whatever, with sufficient effort. OR, somebody will find a fluke or flaw or vulnerability in the security measure that allows them to bypass it.

This is why any competent security manager or planner will eschew a single, near-perfect barrier in favor of multiple lesser barriers.

One security barrier can eventually be overcome, or bypassed, or have a vulnerability exploited, and if that's your only layer of defense, you're done. See Lessons Learned: Bananas.

Multiple layers of security that are, individually not extremely strong, are far superior and more effective because of statistics. One single check can be bypassed. The odds of that happening are decidedly non-zero.

Ilithi Dragon said...

Multiple checks, however, are much harder bypass, and much less likely to be, because even if each individual check has a significantly higher non-zero chance of being bypassed, say, 5% compared to 0.01%, the odds that the intruder would also bypass a SECOND, DIFFERENT layer of security that has the same odds of being bypassed are now 0.25%. And a third layer with a different method and the same odds, and the odds of bypassing all three are now 0.0125%. A fourth layer makes it 0.000625%.

Statistically, multiple layers of lesser, cheaper protection can quickly provide much more defense against undetected breaches than a single, expensive, nigh-impenetrable layer.

Those layers also provide defense against DETECTED breaches, which the single-layer system does not. With a single layer, once you've breached, even if you're detected, you're in.

With multiple layers, not only do the odds of detecting a breach go up, you now have the ability to respond with greater security measures to detected breaches before they have fully bypassed or penetrated your defenses, dramatically increasing the effectiveness of responsive security measures.

Yet, most privacy proponents champion single-point-failure privacy laws, laws that also provide selective inconvenience which particularly favors those who have concentrations of power that allow them to bypass or ignore laws, and will have similar effectiveness against abuse to the effectiveness of the Gros Michel banana's immune system against the Panama Wilt.

Transparency, Reciprocal Accountability, and sousveillance are required, and effective, because they provide multiple layers of inconvenience with substantial defense-in-depth (with all the different ways that surveillance and abuse of surveillance can be detected and reported) that also exponentially increase the inconvenience of maintaining discretion.

No other proposed solution has come anywhere close to providing similar effects.

matthew said...

Thanks Ilithi D, I appreciate your take on transparency as a function of multi-layer deterrence. It's a valuable insight that, if not original, then at the least I missed seeing until now.

Speaking of valued lurkers coming back to talk, is donzelion still around here? Or have they moved on like so many others?

David Brin said...

Hey hey. Ilithi Dragon is back! Now will someone trawl past postings for clues in order to find Catfish n’ Cod and drag him/her/them/it back here? And yeah, where’s donzelion? Any others you guys miss? Try a googl search?

Yes, inconvenience is a powerful aspect for all the reasons you state. I put it a little differently… If we (and out institutions and NGOs are shining light on the mighty, it reduces the number of henchmen they can trust and the size/volume of their conspiracies.

(Hence the refutation of locum’s rave about it being Exxon doing the Gulf stunts. Moscow and Beijing and Riyadh have national protections against light and whistleblowers. A corporate thing isn’t impossible. But Putin and the Saudis are vastly, vastly more likely.)
Alas, inconvenience is also the bane of security, since lazy people cheat on their passwords and 2nd factors. And inconvenience has wrecked most experiments in micropayments (see my essays on that: I know the solution.)

Stay safe down there Ilithi. And God bless the US Navy.

Alfred Differ said...

Defense in Depth

to these I've learned one must also add these


I'm a DoN contractor and we are taught that all the defensive layers are worth squat if no one is watching for breaches. They happen. When they do, IF they are detected, the next layer might not be breached.

Even with all that, though, there must be a promised threat of consequences. Very inconvenient consequences. Preferably worse than the value the adversary gets from breaking in.

Our host covers these bases in his book and even points out that Detection is where our defenses can be most improved. If I know you are trying to discover my childhood bed-wetting experiences, I might be able to relay to you the dire consequences of public release BEFORE you do so. 8)

Tony Fisk said...

@Alfred, Ilithi covered that in 'deterrence'. As he says, it is the biggest factor in making transparency work, where it theoretically manifests as "shame". I say 'theoretically' because it's painfully absent from the current political landscape.

Speaking of laziness and obscurity, I must tell a little tale against myself. I was once working on an internal system that required people to log on. Simple trapdoor encryption would do, I thought, and simply used an encrypt routine provided by the PHP library.

Some time later, I poked said routine a little more closely, and discovered it was only dealing with the first two characters in the password: Someone could use 'TWeedledum' and 'TWeedledee' to access the same account! The laziness on my part being not investigating more closely to begin with. The obscurity being in what security measures were actually in place. It wouldn't have done for that little football that gets booted around the White House, but was not ultra-catastrophic in the context. Even so, I had a discrete chat with our system folks, and we came up with something a little more robust.

Alfred Differ said...


Yup. I caught that part. Works best for people who don't want to get caught. Citizens of other nations might not care much about our legal system, so I argue for something a bit more extra-legal... but not so much as to get myself into trouble. 8)

As for crypto libraries, it is best to know their pedigree. If you don't know their source of randomness or don't know why you should, it is time to hit the books. If you don't know how resilient they are when attackers have access to one or more things like the cyphertext, past examples of plain and cyphertext pairs, the algorithms used, and so on, it is better to get the books AND a mentor. I wish I had, but I shouldn't share the stories explaining that. 8)

Still... reading the list of known (released to the public) exploits of crypto systems will keep one busy.

scidata said...

First rule of crypto...

Larry Hart said...

Regarding inconvenience as a deterrent or barrier...

I posted this before, but at a a previous employer, they put in very expensive revolving doors designed to only let one person through at a time after that person "badged in". The idea was to prevent piggybacking or holding the door open for someone who might not have official permission to enter.

But there was a huge outdoor courtyard with many doors into the building from there, and none of these had that sort of extra security. You did have to badge in, but someone on the inside could easily let anyone else into the building from the courtyard, and in good weather, it's fairly easy to wait for someone to open a door to go in or out and simply walk into the building before that door closes.

The courtyard was easiest to get to from inside the building, after one has already badged in. However, it was quite possible to get there from outside--you simply had to walk around a large enclosed parking lot or vault a five foot wall from inside that lot. So to me, that always seemed to represent the worst of both worlds relative to security and inconvenience--employees who are allowed in have to go through layers of inconvenience which are nonetheless insufficient to prevent the motivated and determined mischief-maker from gaining access.

Larry Hart said...

The snark is making it to mainstream media:

Incidentally, as long as the other trappings of a presidential campaign—debates, rallies, heavy TV advertising, cattle calls, etc.—are being visited upon us a year earlier than is really necessary, the Orlando Sentinel decided to get a jump on the competition, and to make the first newspaper endorsement of the campaign, a mere 504 days before Election Day. One might wonder how that is possible, given that the Democrats don't even have a candidate yet. No matter, however, because the Sentinel's endorsement is: Not Donald Trump. That technically means that the Democrats could nominate Satan, the Unabomber, Santa Claus, Hillary Clinton, a talking donkey, or Forrest Gump, and that individual would already have more newspaper endorsements than the President does. And to make it worse, the Sentinel is a Republican paper. With the exceptions of 1964, 2004, and 2016, it has endorsed the Republican every time for six decades. It's going to be quite a campaign.

Alfred Differ said...

First rule of crypto...

Heh. I think the real reason people don't talk about crypto is they think it is hard. It isn't. It's not complex either. It IS detailed and gets 'mathy' if you want to pursue security proofs, but mostly it just LOOKS hard.

What's hard to do is use it well... because it is an inconvenience. That's why apps designers are supposed to be folding it into our lives for us. Is anyone still using a browser that doesn't complain at us when we use http instead of https? Got an open wifi connection point at home? (check your thermostat) Do you regularly patch all apps that can communicate with the world? Inconvenience can be managed. You can bet the exploiters are doing the same thing with their tools. 8)

Larry Hart said...

The New York Times tells us what we already know (emphasis mine) :

Beyond that, in their ferocious defense of the president, Trump supporters are signaling that decency is a form of weakness, that cruelty is a welcome and highly effective political weapon and that the low road is the preferred road. At one point, Republicans were willing to tolerate Mr. Trump’s brutish tactics and reprehensible character as the price of party loyalty; today many of them seem to relish it. They see the dehumanization of others as a form of entertainment

Alfred Differ said...


An unfortunate fact of professional life is that the mischief maker often is an employee. We refer them as Insider Threats. They don't have to show up with guns and shoot up the place. Lazy insiders undermine the inconveniences of each defense layer or bypass them completely and intentionally. Even when they aren't walking out the door with the company's IP on a thumb drive, they can be making a hash of security procedures.

Those man-traps only work if people understand why they are in place. If you are ever so unfortunate as to have someone show up and shoot up the place, you'll find people will use the man-trap properly. They'll understand its purpose by then. Short of that, training helps get a lot of people on board, but you have to scare them a bit to get the percentages up.

Jon S. said...

Re: convenience and security, I suddenly hear Pink Floyd in my head...

If you negotiate
The minefield in the drive
And beat the dogs and cheat the cold
Electronic eyes
And if you make it past the shotgun in the hall,
Dial the combination,
Open the priesthole,
And if I'm in I'll tell you
What's behind the wall

In my case I use a moderately secure network firewall, and another on the wifi (the thermostat isn't online, despite its occasional protests), and am further defended by the simple fact that if anyone does make it in, "what's behind the wall" just isn't all that interesting or lucrative.

TCB said...

There's a nice comment in the back of Shea and Wilson's Illuminatus! which explains the difference between a cipher and a code. The example went something like this: You might intercept a secret Illuminati message in the Zwack cipher (that's a simple substitution cipher the lodges actually used, about 240 years ago) which decrypts to say "The Rising Hodge is coming". Unless you were privy to their internal affairs, you would have no idea who or what the Rising Hodge was.

US Navy intel were up against a problem like this before the Battle of Midway. Having broken Imperial Japanese Navy crypto, they knew an attack on AF was imminent. But where was AF? They thought it might be Midway, and let the Japanese intercept a message that Midway was having a water shortage. Sure enough, the IJN crypto soon had a message that AF was short of water, and the US carriers sailed to intercept.

Tony Fisk said...

One of the methods used by British Intelligence to obtain the daily Enigma code keys was as simple as checking the highly predictable forecasts from German weather stations, and sending a mosquito on a quiet day to bomb some minor facility. (This was shown in "The Imitation Game" as a breakthrough revelation, but it was bog standard procedure: people had been doing this stuff long before Cumberbatch.)

WRENs doing the routine decoding got quite familiar with the German swear words often used as keys for Wehrmacht messages. They were very touched by a caring edict from German High Command forbidding the practice so as to protect proper young lady operators (in Berlin) from being exposed to such language.

As David has often inferred, the length of your RSA keys may be necessary to keeping messages safe, but they are not sufficient.

David Brin said...



Larry Hart said...

Tony Fisk:

One of the methods used by British Intelligence to obtain the daily Enigma code keys was as simple as checking the highly predictable forecasts from German weather stations, ...

There's a historical novel by Robert Harris called Enigma which uses a lot of that material as backstory. Although the plot of the book is fiction, the backdrop is Bletchley Park in 1943, and I learned a lot about that period from details in the book which I later confirmed from other sources to be accurate.

Larry Hart said...

sorry...we've already moved onward


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