Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Right to Record Police

Last year I touted the most important civil liberties event (so far) in the 21st Century, when top U.S. courts (Glik v. Cunniffe) ruled that citizens have an absolute right to record their interactions with police in public places, and the Obama Administration issued a declaration supporting this ruling as "settled law."  I went on to say that the matter would continue to be at issue, at the level of the streets, with many cameras and cell phones "accidentally" broken… until that phase of resistance ends the way it must, with more bystander-cams catching -- then deterring -- the breaking of cameras. And of course all of it was portrayed in both fiction and nonfiction 25 years ago.

RightToRecordPoliceMoreover, the mighty will keep coming up with chess moves, some motivated by nascent tyrannical impulses but also by the best of (blinkered) intentions. For example, what good will your recording do, if you cannot transmit it away from your current location, for safekeeping?  

Heed this: Police can now switch off iPhone cameras and wi-fi: "Apple has recently patented a piece of technology that would allow the authorities and police to block data transmission, including video and photos, whenever they like. All they need to do is decide that a public gathering or venue is deemed “sensitive” and needs to be protected from externalities…. Apple has patented the means to transmit an encoded signal to all wireless gadgets, commanding them to disable recording functions."

Before you react with unalloyed paranoia and loathing, do consider the rationalization. Understand that the Professional Protector Caste has very good reasons to fear what bad guys can do with cell phones during a crisis, triggering bombs, for instance, or reporting where first responders have clustered.  The ostensible reasons are real. But so are our reasons for finding this worrisome. And as usual, there are win-win solutions that no one mentions. Could you come up with some?  I sure can.

OPoliceThePolicenly, now comes the next step.  We should not have to aggressively shove cameras in the faces of cops, to let them know an age of accountability is here. Moving a step closer to a more Transparent Society -- federal Judge Shira Scheindlin prescribed an important experiment, when she found the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk methods unconstitutional“The City’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” the judge concluded. To rein in this practice, she ordered “a trial program requiring the use of body-worn cameras in one precinct per borough, a community-based joint remedial process to be conducted by a court-appointed facilitator, and the appointment of an independent monitor to ensure that the NYPD’s conduct of stops and frisks is carried out in accordance with the Constitution.”

For solid justification of this right to record: Take another look at the Sixth Amendment: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial duty…and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor…" I call this the Transparency Amendment -- for the real bulwark of freedoms the passive "right to remain silent" but the assertive right to "compel testimony" on our behalf, even from reluctant witnesses. The logical extension of this is a universal ability to record our interactions with authority. 

==Experiments in Transparency==

Watched Cops are Polite Cops: Reason Magazine ran a pretty good discussion of this experiment in transparency and accountability.  Implications are explored… though the author seems unaware of recent rulings giving citizens a universal right to look-and-record back.

And California governor Jerry Brown has just signed a bill requiring that companies inform consumers when their data has leaked or been hacked.  Social Security numbers, addresses, personal details and passwords have all been pried loose or spilled with regularity, and seldom have the hundreds of thousands of exposed people been told.  Now at least you must be... and we'll all see how incredibly often this happens.  And you are surprised?  And you expect that any system humans design will be totally reliable?  Or reliable at all?  Again, there are alternatives.  Transparency -- catching those who would use our information against us -- is a measure that will work with technological change.  This bill is a welcome step in that direction.

== Rewarding whistle-blowing henchmen? ==

cameras-smallerSome great ideas need to gel a bit, before getting attention.  Take my 20-year old (and relentlessly-futilely pushed all that time) idea for a series of whistleblower incentives to help shine light on bad things. From my “Eye of the Needle” or EON list of great projects for billionaires. The "Henchman's Prize" is one of my personal favorites - a million dollars plus a new identity for whoever blows the whistle - with full evidence - on the 'worst' concealed plot or scheme that year!  How could this not shine light on something heinous every year? I suspect nothing could more cost-efficiently help poor nations curb corrupt kleptocracies, converting to diamond-shaped patterns... or help developed nations maintain their healthy accountability systems.  See: The Transparent Society.)

Now some attention is being paid to a simplistic version that would only apply to one  -- and not the most worrisome – variety of henchmen-turned-whistleblowersA series of prizes for government employees who risk their livelihoods to shed light on U.S. government abuse might be one way to provide an incentive for more whistleblowing. It needn’t just be one big prize. Think about a foundation that might give out multiple prizes, at all levels of government. Yes, it would need to be pretty well funded.”

Um…. Duh? There are dozens of other necessary traits that this proposal would need, that the article seems to have left out, like ways to liability-shelter the prize-givers, how to ensure the system contains no political or national biases and spreads the love around… and so on.

Above all, we need a set of sliding scales to work from, recognizing that not every henchman who betrays his bosses is an unalloyed hero.  For example, while some leaks have been moderately bracing and debate-stimulating (Edward Snowden), others have been hugely over-rated in importance/consequence (WikiLeaks), and only few of the recent spills (e.g. Swiss banking secrecy) have risen to the level that I would call true whistle-blowing of actual illegality.  Sorry not to be following the romantic rush to call every leaker a "hero"! But it just doesn't work that way, and a mature sliding scale really is needed.

Make no mistake!  We need to encourage a secular trend toward a more open world!  But let's keep a sense of proportion along the way, or the whole whistleblower approach will never gell into its true potential.

A final note on this: want a whistle blower who has made vastly more real difference than Julian Assange?  Swiss bank leaker HervĂ© Falciani says "he faces constant risk and worries about his safety. The French government has provided three bodyguards.

government“I am weak and alone,” Mr. Falciani said, as three round-the-clock bodyguards provided by the French government looked on with hard stares. The protection was needed, he insisted, because he faces constant risk as the sole key to decipher the encrypted data — five CD-ROMs containing a list of nearly 130,000 account holders that may be the biggest leak ever in the secretive world of Swiss banking.  He is in high demand these days, having cast himself as a crusader against the murky world of Swiss banking and money laundering. Once dismissed by many European authorities, he and other whistle-blowers are now being courted as the region’s governments struggle to fill their coffers and to stem a populist uprising against tax evasion and corruption.”

Dig it. We need light sent in all directions. And the aim is not to so cripple government that it ceases to be our tool, capable of shining light at other, cryptic elites.

== The encryption mythology: busted again ==

When I first started writing The Transparent Society, attending EFF and Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) and gatherings of hackers, I tried to understand the incredible transcendentalist faith that so many in the community were devoting to encryption, portraying it as a panacea for all privacy concerns and the sure route to protecting all freedom against would be oppressors.  I am technically trained and grasped all of their arguments... only then I asked:

"Have you studied Bakunin?  or any of the other anarchists or other rebels against tyrannical systems, across 6000 years?  Lenin? Machiavelli? Mao? The Gestapo's tactics in the ongoing cat-vs-mouse game that is played for keeps by rebels against secret police?  Can you list the two dozen or so general types of methods used by the Czar's forces, or the KGB?"  Not one of them had read even a scintilla of background on a subject that (they claimed) fascinated them!  Not one.

Nor could they show how strong encryption of their internet access, from email to IP addresses to physical location, would thwart more than four or five of the ancient methods.  Nor how they could ever be sure that the encryption was actually working, in a world where the powers that be can create false internet IDs as easily as you can and create personas that build cred as fast as you do.  Indeed, would you bet your house that even a majority of the personas on Anonymous aren't NSA fronts?  Really?

Now comes this word: "The National Security Agency is winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age, according to newly disclosed documents."

Anyone shocked (shocked!) by this never read The Transparent Society.  Nor even a sliver of human history.  Cowering from power does not work! The only thing that has a chance to work - while we still have some political leverage - is light. Torrents of light, aggressively applied to ALL centers of power, and not just government. (Indeed, govt is one of our principal methods for shining light onto other power centers!)  Light that need not blind our civil servants, or even deny them short term tactical secrecy, to do their jobs.

But light of accountability, nonetheless, to remind the watch dog that it is a dog and not a wolf.

Postscript: Pro-publica offers an apologia that cogently discusses their reasons for revealing the NSA's decryption program.

==A step toward "Smart Mobs"?==

The Internet Response League seeks to call gamers to civic duty. IRL’s first project is to develop a plug-in for World of Warcraft that will notify gamers in the virtual world when real-world disasters break out and ask for help. Gamers would be asked to tag data and other simple but brain-labor-intensive tasks.  Dang, it's took long enough. See my story "The Smartest Mob" for where this might all lead.

Five myths about the NSA... by a guy who should know.  For example: " The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act forbids the NSA from targeting U.S. citizens or legal residents without an order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court." Ah, but the rub is the secret/potemkin nature of that FISA "court" which could be redesigned to contain adversarial processes by ombundsmen who are vetted, but chosen by us, to act on our behalf.  Oh… and fix the darned inspectors general!  There are dozens of measures that could help restore our confidence, without crippling the Protector Caste from doing their jobs.

Alas, instead, after the New York Times exposed the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program in 2005, Congress amended the law to weaken the court’s oversight. "Rather than individual warrants, the court can now approve vast, dragnet-style warrants, or orders, as they’re called. For example, the first document released by the Guardian was a top-secret order from the court requiring Verizon to hand over the daily telephone records of all its customers, including local calls."

What might be going on without supervision? Who can know?  One of the more lurid accusations going around is that the NSA and/or other agencies are already engaged in wholesale blackmail of public officials and/or aristocrats or other major figures... exactly as I warned both publicly and in fiction.  I am not yet ready to credit this rumor as anywhere near 50% likely... we still have too many sincere members of the Professional Protector Caste (PPC) who at least tell themselves they are working for democracy's good... and something like this could only be rationalized by terminally delusional or even evil men. Still, the temptation is there.  It is a failure mode that will flower into full stench, if not now then someday, so long as we fail to develop means of full accountability, while still letting the PPC do their main jobs.

But there are places where folks actually seem to get it!  The Right to Know Act of 2013: California wants companies to disclose everything they know about you.   (Someone report in on rumors that the big database Company Axcion is taking a bold move toward getting YOU involved in managing your own information.)

== More Transparency News ==

A new browser-widget called "Balancer" takes a corrective measure that I long ago predicted, in EARTH -- by offering the user a wide variety of perspectives on important issues, and not only those that the user happens to agree-with.  Balancer keeps track of the political leanings of your surfing history – and suggests ways to even out your habits. Alas, if you deem this a valuable service, you are already one of those who needs it least.

Ever heard of IPv6?  It is ready to go, allowing the Internet to address vastly, vastly more sites and devices.  Says Internet pioneer Vint Cerf: "My concern is that the (current) address space is 32-bits. It can only support 4.3bn terminations. We thought it would be enough in 1973, but as of 2011 the original internet space is exhausted." So why has the internet not migrated to IPv6 given that in 1998 the IETF adopted the 128-bit internet address space to expand from 4.3bn to 340 trillion trillion trillion devices? IPv6 is not pervasive, he says. While IPv6 software is installed on operating systems and routers Cerf says: "The ISPs have been reluctant to turn it on. This is a constant debate because IPv6 is the only way to expand the address space."

Vint goes on to discuss many of the challenges facing the Internet, on the 40th Anniversary of his invention -- with Robert Kahn -- of the TCP/IP packet-based network protocol.

In other news...Facebook will no longer allow you to opt out of their Facial Recognition Database -- as long as you have posted a profile picture.

And... this interesting article introduces (to me, at least) the term of elite panic, a state where regular citizens behave cooperatively while elites (government, business, religious leaders, lose their collective cool to paranoia. It describes - alas - a great deal of our recent past.  Indeed, back when I decrypted the Tytler Calumny, I realized that the people often behave far more wisely that the elites who tell themselves how smart they are.

Nor is this the only step forward.  Take another harbinger of things to come. The Seattle Meshnet project creates a completely alternative “internet” with sparse but growing coverage thanks to radio links set up by local hackers. Meshnetters can talk to each other through a channel that they themselves control.  Each node in the mesh, consisting of a radio transceiver and a computer, relays messages from other parts of the network. If the data can't be passed by one route, the meshnet finds an alternative way through to its destination. Another meshnet in northeast Spain now has more than 21,000 wireless nodes, spanning much of Catalonia.

An alternative: Hyperboria is a virtual meshnet because it runs through the existing internet, but is purely peer-to-peer. This means people who use it exchange information with others directly over a completely encrypted connection, with nothing readable by any centralized servers.  Read up about this, but you are seeing only the tip of a big iceberg.

== And the miscellany corner ==

Accusing Google Glass users of being either "glassed-out" zombies or else deliberate "glassholes" -- take this fairly typical Atlantic-style grouchitudinism"Rather than being ransacked by the undead set forth by vodou bokors, tomorrow's cities might be ravaged by the unabsent, set forth by the contemporary practitioners of dark and light magic -- companies like Google itself. Even so, whether undead or unabsent, the Infected or the Wearers, all zombies may share one thing in common: they build their armies by devouring human brains."  Wow. Somebody’s little luddite must have misplaced his binky.

Economist Robert Higgs has noted the existence of a “ratchet effect” related to the growth of state power: while a crisis may be invoked to justify the expansion of the state’s reach, curiously enough, there’s little or no contraction in state power after the crisis abates. People with power are loath to relinquish it. They can be expected to embrace any opportunity to acquire more power greedily, grasping it with both hands.

And finally, cop-blocking -- kind 'o inspiring... though be careful if you do this. Keep your sense of proportion and humor.

More on Transparency in the Modern World


Watts said...

A minor footnote that might be at least worth pointing out: Apple's patent on disabling camera/mic recording in phones is not actually implemented in any current shipping hardware, and if I recall the patent correctly, it is actually a hardware change, not a software one; I believe it's an infrared receiver. The patent's main examples relate to museums and concerts that want to prevent recording and photography, and the observation that it could also be used by police is presented almost parenthetically. While there aren't any large corporations I'd say have particularly good track records on privacy, Apple is one of the least worst, which sometimes tends to get lost in the noise about "walled gardens" we often see in the tech press.

At any rate, I've long found your observations on privacy and transparency fascinating, and pretty on-target; your observation in this post that while we need to shine a light on government, government is also one of our best tools for shining light on other centers of power is something that seems to have been really lost in the current Snowden-driven debate. I wrote a bit about this a couple weeks ago on my blog, in a post called "Privacy and Presence."

Jonathan S. said...

I guess I'm safe from the Facebook thing - my profile picture is of one of my Champions Online characters, Dr. Destiny. (That's Randall W. Destiny, Ph.D. in Applied Metaphysics from the University of Michigan Millennium City.) And if Dr. Destiny turns up somewhere, we've got bigger concerns than our privacy - his world includes things like the cyborg dinosaur Mega-Terak, the flaming giant gorilla Qwyjibo, and the ultimate evil of Doctor Destroyer...

Tony Fisk said...

I bring all mongeese to the attention of our Skynet masters! (of course, it's a matter of following strands of silk...)

It grieves me to see people like groklaw's Pamela Jones 'getting off the internet' in the wake of NSA revelations. I wonder if she has read 'Transparent Society'?. Too late to ask now...

Anyone read Egan's 'Zendegi'? Interesting depiction of civic action in a near future Iran. (
Features meshnets. Got him a working holiday,anyway!)

A minor point/blind spot: I'm not sure that a new identity is such a great whistleblower incentive now. How long do you think a mask would protect people like Edward Snowden?

Anonymous said...

The facebook thing is a yawn as well.

"You can control whether we suggest that another user tag you in a photo using the 'Timeline and Tagging' settings."

If I'm reading the changes correctly, that's staying in. If you're opted out now (as I am) you should stay opted out. You can do that here:

As for the Apple patent, if, as Watts said, this is an infrared-triggered thing, a little tape will thwart that easily. Unless it's received by the main camera or through its window.

David Brin said...

Good point Tony. WHistle blowing vs the govt is best protected by being very much in the public eye. But blowing big time on the Mafia or Monsanto or the sovereign wealth funds? Thanks but I'll take the new ID as well, please.

David Brin said...

Dang Watts... that was a deeply thoughtful blog of yours. Thanks for sharing it. Made me think.

rewinn said...

Dr. Higgs' "Rachet Effect" seems similar to, but less inclusive than, Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine".

FB's facial recognition thingy seems also a yawn, since last year I had an interesting conversation with an attorney specializing in defending Americans charged with illicit travel to Cuba. One of the easiest ways to get caught is to upload a vacation photo to facebook (...or have someone else on your tour take a photo with you in it...) for government trawler to gather in their net. You might refrain from such pictures yourselves but you cannot control everyone you meet unless you wear a mask.

Travc said...

I've got to disagree with you regarding the lastest NSA revelations. I'm with you 100% about 'privacy' vs 'the right to be left alone', but the NSA has *undermined* online encryption and authentication.

This isn't the NSA breaking encryption in the 'cracking' sense... it is breaking in the 'destroy' sense.

Read the Guardian article:

The NSA has influenced crypto standards to weaken them. Even worse, they have infiltrated tech companies and inserted vulnerabilities and backdoors into implementations.
These vulnerabilities will be discovered and exploited by others, not just the NSA. Security through obscurity is not security.

Think about that the next time you want to buy something online, check your bank balance, or electronically sign a document.

PS: A few additional points.
- The budget for this is ~$250M per year, 12.5x the Prism program.
- We've known the NSA had built dedicated machines for breaking (as in cracking) encryption for a while. However, it is still expensive/time-consuming so that isn't a big problem (it has to be targeted and requires lots of resources). Undermining the encryption systems is a different matter entirely.

StephenMeansMe said...

In the wake of this NSA/Snowden thing, I'm even more glad I picked up "The Transparent Society" (and this blog!) when I did... especially when I read this latest headline about the "war on encryption," the first though that popped into my head was: "yes, and what else did we expect...?" Lots of money and a mandate to crack codes and slurp up information, and we're shocked that the NSA is pocket-lining or arm-twisting for backdoors?

If anything these revelations are increasing my confidence in the "more sunlight" strategy. Though I would like at least a "mail envelope" analogue of encryption for private stuff. But personally I would love to have an NSA-level of data on myself, for self-knowledge and self-improvement purposes. And maybe I'd share, in the interest of national security. Not too much to ask, eh?

@Watts, I really liked that post. I had a similar analogy to your Star Trek one with respect to this data-and-metadata collection. It's really not too much different from getting to know your local shopkeeper with whom you do regular business. It's just machine-mediated (though for how much longer will machines merely mediate...?) and so you could get similar results just by sitting in a coffee shop week in week out and writing down what you see and hear.

Somehow the more things change, the old methods stay potent.

The other striking thing about the NSA revelations is the colossal level of restraint, given the capabilities and pressures, seen in the various audits. Relatively few mistakes, quickly addressed. Worthy of a small bit of faith towards the protector-elites, I think... but not enough to avoid some more light.

Tony Fisk said...

Undermining encryption engines is not new. See the DES controversy of over thirty years ago

Travc said...

Tony Fisk said...
"Undermining encryption engines is not new. See the DES controversy of over thirty years ago"

Yep, but there is a difference. They have reportedly been successful on a large scale.

Honestly, I'm surprised Brin didn't see the implications here.

Online identity requires encryption.
Undermining online encryption undermines authentication. Without mostly trustworthy authentication, there can be no effective accountability.

My concern isn't about a loss of secrecy, it is about the undermining of the infrastructure which mutual accountability (and commerce!) depends on.

Unknown said...

David, what we need is not "citizen oversight". What we need is citizen undersight (sousveillance).

No amount of oversight will fix the problem. We need reciprocal transparency (veillance), not just more surveillance!

David Brin said...

Steve Mann, honored to have a co-coiner of "sousveillance" here. I generally agree with you. But frankly, when it comes to the Professional Protector Caste I am willing to allow that they have many needs for "tactical secrecy" and our supervision methods must take those needs into account. Which is why I suggest dramatically altered inspectors general, adversarial (if still secret) FISA courts (with some special transparency tricks), and citizen Grand Juries that, while cleared and sworn to secrecy can still go anywhere, see anything and ask any question on our behalf.

For MOST of govt, outside the PPC, I want fiercer sousveillance that is direct and from below... WHILE unleashing govt to shine light on OTHER elites.

TRAVC, you clearly aren't thinking through even a scintilla. I never said the NSA would CRACK all encryption. I said that they would YAWN over such methods and find workarounds. I said it in 1997 and have been proved correct every step of the way.

Acacia H. said...

Off on a science-related topic, Dr. Brin, here's an article about a possible shift in direction for interstellar winds which could result in an increased number of cosmic rays reaching the inner solar system.

For some reason I'm reminded of a favorite scifi story of yours where Earth left a region of space which diminished our intelligence. ;)

Rob H.

Travc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Travc said...

David Brin said...
"TRAVC, you clearly aren't thinking through even a scintilla. I never said the NSA would CRACK all encryption. I said that they would YAWN over such methods and find workarounds. I said it in 1997 and have been proved correct every step of the way."

If anything, I think I may have thought this through too far (sort of ad absurdum). There is no disagreement over the NSA 'working around' strong encryption. However, I'm rather disturbed by the potential side-effects of how they have apparently gone about it.

Encryption isn't just used to keep information hidden. It is also critical to verifying the source (and if it has been modified).

By crippling common encryption implementations, the NSA is doing more than just observing. They have made it easier for other entities to intercept sensitive info and masquerade as others.

I may well be blowing the degree of harm out of proportion, but given the potential effects, I don't really think so. It isn't about some myth of unbreakable strong encryption, it is about the general trustworthy-ness of authentication/identification systems using decent encryption.

PS: How do you prefer to be addressed? David, Dr Brin, He-who-must-not-be-named, ...?

PPS: reCaptcha is annoyingly difficult. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Travc said...

On a lighter/sillier NSA note...
Maybe they built a practical quantum computer and put Snowden out there to provide cover disinformation.
Ok, that is really unlikely, but it would be cool and a better use of the >$800M they've spent so far on Bullrun.

Tony Fisk said...

Thing about encryption methods is that no-one knows that there isn't an easy workaround.

Identity keys are *not* used to encrypt messages... they would become too exposed to statistical attacks (like the Germans using Enigma code for stock standard and predictable weather reports) What usually happens is that an easy to use 'one off' key is used to encrypt message, and then that key is sent encrypted using the receiver's public key.

Several techniques in play: RSA prime products, mobile elliptical integrals... (drawing this from memory of what Marcus du Sautoy had to say in 'Music of the Primes')

matthew said...

Paul Krugman on the "wonk gap." Or "how the Republican party stopped believing in experts." Krugman Best pull quote "Modern conservatism has become a sort of cult, very much given to conspiracy theorizing when confronted with inconvenient facts." And, yes, we heard it here first, but now we hear it in the NY Times.

locumranch said...

"The only thing that has a chance to work - while we still have some political leverage - is light. Torrents of light, aggressively applied to ALL centers of power, and not just government ... But light of accountability..." (DB)

It's hard to argue with anything David has to say about surveillance and/or sousveillance. Better information, superior knowledge & more 'light' is ALWAYS a good thing when it is applied to any type of research, informed consent or political process. Unfortunately, his oft-used 'light as power' analogy is little more than a literary equivocation because light is NOT power in any real, concrete or Maoist sense unless we are talking about scattering cockroaches, destroying imaginary vampires or designing a photoelectric cell.

But we're not battling vampires, cockroaches or photovoltaics here. Our real foes, the monied oligarchs, are proud of their power, so much so that they seek the spotlight. They want to be noticed, admired & envied. So, they flex their political muscles with impunity: They spend outrageous sums on peccadilloes like newspapers or spacecraft; They place themselves & their businesses aove the law; they flout moral conventions with 'bunga bunga' parties & Weiner images; and they openly purchase justice for themselves & their cronies. And, ironically, they ARE much admired & envied by the general public for these proclivities.

Power is more than 'light' or perfect information. It is the willingness to arrogate authority -- what Nietzsche called the 'Will to Power' -- yet even this 'Will to Power' is NOT real power without some sort decisive action, potential threat or probable consequence (what David ambiguously refers to as 'accountability').
Power is the ability to effect decisive physical change. And, as Mao says, it comes from the barrel of gun. It is potential violence.


matthew said...

A recent Bruce Schneier blog post calls for something very similar to what I think should be done about the NSA revelations: bring in massive oversight. Conspiracy Theories and the NSANot as conspiracy-related as teh title would indicate, this is mostly a call for a Church-style independant investigation, with full security clearance and the right to discuss publicly the findings in order to design proper oversight. This is the proper response to the overreach we are seeing: a recalibration of what we allow, after a period of investigation and reflection.
Oh, and while I agree with some of what locumranch says about light (light does need force of law and public opinion to be effective) I disagree strongly with one statement. Rupert Murdoch has shown in no uncertain terms that newspaper ownership is not a vanity project or "peccadilloes." Even in our day of vastly decreased importance of newspapers, you can still bend public opinion massively with one, and they are a necessary corner block to a media empire. See the recent election outcomes in Australia for a prime example.

Acacia H. said...

I will say this. I find it absolutely surreal that this morning I typed a whimsical post on Facebook prior to having read the news.

"I just thought of an alternative to military strikes to Syria. And no, it's not the immediate deployment of Congress to Syria on the ground. ;)

Syria could easily disarm this problem immediately by stating elements within its military illegally used the chemical weapons. Assad should turn these upper-level military officers over to the United Nations and state he is going to eliminate his arsenal of chemical weapons... by giving them to the Russians immediately.

Russia (with United Nations observers) will then immediately go in, despite the fighting, and remove all the chemical weapons (which will then be destroyed). Vola! The Russians have a diplomatic solution, the chemical weapons are no longer a part of the equation, Assad can claim to save face, and the U.S. doesn't need to attack militarily.

(Naturally this won't come about. But it's a shame as it would be smart on all sides.)"

What do I find when I go onto the news sites later but learn that Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-the-cuff remark that was similar (except without putting people on trial for war crimes) and it was immediately glommed to by Russia and Syria and is now seriously being considered an alternative to U.S. military strikes. (This may also end up increasing Kerry's presidential credentials; I'm not sure the Republicans could Swiftboat him again if he managed to keep the U.S. out of conflict with Syria by convincing the Russians to take control of Syria's chemical weapons. Though it would depend on if Hilary Clinton was truly disinterested in running. And while I personally detest Kerry, I suspect a President Kerry would have far fewer problems getting Republicans to agree to his agenda than Obama would... even if he pushed Obama's policies wholesale in his own presidency.)

Rob H.

sociotard said...

If Syria does hand its chemical weapons over to the Russians and no US bombs drop, I'll start a petition for Obama to hand Putin his Nobel Peace prize.

David Brin said...

Robert's idea appears to be in play!

-Travc, Captcha is better than moderation. So far I have been able to leave this comments section un-moderated longer than any other well-known person I've seen. Why? Because you guys are mostly grownups and trolls find our depth boring!

My point re the NSA is that I told the transcendentalist encryption mystics back in the 1990s that their religion would not make them wild west cowboys roaming unseens and unnoticed by the mighty. The mighty leave these guys alone because the mighty don't care. Twenty years they have flounced and preened a methodology that doesn't and cannot work.

Call me any of the polite names. David will do fine.

And yes, one-time pads combined with steganography are probably crack proof. As I said, that's not a very important fact.

Locum I never said that defeating an oligarchic putsch would be easy. Light give us a chance… like the lists of donors to PACs.

Acacia H. said...

Sociotard, it wasn't Putin who leaped on this. It was another Russian official. That said, if this works out (and I'm doubtful, the beat of wardrums is still quite loud) then I'd say EVERY diplomat involved (including Kerry) deserves kudos for it. And I don't consider this "my" idea as I very much suspect when I posted my comment at 9:46 EST that Kerry had ALREADY said this. It was just a very odd coincidence.

But then, most coincidences are. ;)

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

I still don't understand how war in Syria becomes a "win" for Obama if we bomb and a "loss" for the prez if we don't. When he first pushed for war, I thought that was what he HAD to do because otherwise Republicans would portray him as a wimp. If Congress says "no", it seemed (to me) a win-win for the President. He gets to NOT go to war, and Republicans can't blame him for that fact.

How a Congressional "no" turns into a DEFEAT for Obama, I'm at a loss to understand.

I think it's turned into a pro-Obama/anti-Obama issue just becase it's been portrayed that way long enough that perception has overtaken reality.

On another forum, I once chided a pro-Bush religious conservative with the assertion that we'd never have elected a black president with a Muslim name except for the incredible Bush-weariness of the public. So if he hated having Obama as president, he had Bush to thank. In a similar vein, we might have Bush to thank for a war-weary public who wants no part of a new one.

Sorry if I'm mostly rambling. These months with seven-or-more letters in their names are getting to me already. :)

Alex Tolley said...

The Guardian's reporting of the chemical weapons idea

It is a good idea which could defuse the situation. What I find laughable is the various parties spinning this to take credit for the idea.

It really doesn't matter who had the idea, or how it was created, what matters is that it can be executed effectively so that the Syrians metaphorical feet are held to the fire.

David Brin said...

See this silly riff that Anekin Skywalker's real dad was Watto... Oh malarkey!

Dig it. Palpatine and Amidalah come from the SAME inbred Naboo aristocracy. They are freaking cousins.

Now consider. Tatooine is doirectly along the trade route from Naboo to Coruscant. It is why QuiJon goes there. (The notion that Jedi/republic currency can't buy things on Tatooine is another Lucasian howler.)

Hence Tatooine is also where a refugee from Naboo might wash up. In other words, Mom is also from Naboo and another Nabooian aristocratic mutant.

All you need is whom she was fleeing from. Um duh? Palpatine?

Loook, young Skywalker... I am your Grandfather!

The galaxy torn to shreds by a family spat in a single horrible mutant human clan. And now the Palpatine- Anekin relationship is explained...

Tim H. said...

Are you suggesting a lot of suffering could've been prevented by..."Incesticide"?
Oh, and that lovely cosmography animation you linked to looked like Douglas Adams' "Total Perspective Vortex" coming true.

Tacitus said...

It is starting to look as if some variant of Robert's plan will come to pass.

Good in an overall sense. It is never wise to go to war without the support of at least your own nation.

Kudos to those on both sides who stood up for what they thought was the right answer. Lets not forget those who voted present or otherwise weasled out.

This puts Russian prestige on the line. If, and I am being a cynic here, a few canisters got missed, it would bring the wrath of Putin down on Syria if they made him look bad by using them.

I still wonder how many canisters of sarin have Iraqi labels on them. This would radically increase the motivation of Russia, and indeed of the Obama admin, to find some way to quietly sweep this problem off the world stage.

Probably at some point soon al-Assad and his chief of chemical weapons will make the mistake of being in the same room together and somebody never to be identified will discretely push a small red button...

No kudos to the Obama admin for their handling of this issue. Being at best evasive and more likely deceptive on Benghazi has cost them credibility. Not with their partisans, but with the wider political world both here and abroad.

I give Obama a C. If we ever get to see his college transcripts I suspect it is not his first.


Acacia H. said...

If I get a Nobel Peace Prize out of this, I'm never going to forgive you guys. *grumbles*

It's not my plan. It's just a coincidence! ^^;;

Rob H.

sociotard said...

A question for the Mr. Transparency who lives in California:

California poised to implement first electronic license plates

Okay, this is still pretty far out timewise. The present bill just lets the DMV run some pilot tests with companies that make electronic license plates. (computer screens that only ever give license plate information, unless it says "stolen" or "expired" or "okay to park in lot X" or an advertisement)

One of the concerns is that it would be durn simple to use this to collect data, like where your car is. Assume these screens become the norm and apply your thesis that if Elites can collect our information they will.

How would we make this reciprocally transparent? Let everyone look at the collected data? Notify people when the database is analyzed? I'm not even sure what constant notifications of datamining would look like, other than really annoying.

I just want to see how specific I can make you get.

sociotard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sociotard said...

I move to appoint Robert UN Ambassador.

Acacia H. said...

You're dethpicable.

matthew said...

The police already know where your car is. Center for Investigative Reporting on license plate databases That bird already has flown the coop. Electronic license plates are no big change from the current, unsupervised, probably unconstitutional status quo.

And asking for college transcripts from our President is seen in many circles as highly racist. As in, our black President could not be smart enough to graduate from an Ivy League School without affirmative action helping him out. I sincerely hope that meme is not what is driving the question about his grades. Care to elaborate on the comment?

Syria had a large depot of chemical weapons before either of the Iraq wars, if the insinuation is that they got them from Iraq. Syria admitted having chemical weapons in 1990 and 1998. The Nonproliferation Review 1997.
If you are claiming that the lack of WMD found in Iraq is due to the weapons being shipped to Syria, thus justifying the Iraq war after the fact, remember that we knew that Iraq had WMD - they were used in the Iran Iraq war and against the Kurds, both with US prior knowledge and with US firms supplying the ingredients to make the chemical weapons. WP on iraqi chemical weapons use and CIA forewarning

The only dispute is whether the chemical weapons were destroyed during the UN sanction period or not. The WMDs used to justify the attack on Iraq and drum up hysteria in America (especially Congress) were primarily nuclear in nature (remember "yellowcake" or the aluminum tubes?). The search for Saddam's WMD only centered on chemical or biological weapons after the whole outing of Valerie Plame and Ambassador Wilson's "What I Didn't Find in Africa" op-ed.

matthew said...

The House V. Napolitano lawsuit revealed today how the DoJ is using border searches of electronic devices to circumvent the need to get a criminal warrant to read emails it wants to inspect. Documents Shed Light on Border Laptop Searches on ACLU blog. Basically, if the DoJ (or DEA, or Military Justice, in this case) wants to read your email or the contents of your hard drive, they will put you on a "lookout" in the Advance Passenger Information System, and if you travel internationally, they will seize your electronics (laptop, cellphone) and use the border crossing to check you out.
I cynically note that this program could be very easily used as a cover for the sort of data collection that we now know was being done by the NSA. "We need to show that we got the data by another means to protect our intrusive data collection by non-legal means."

David Brin said...

Tacitus you work SO hard to keep up the "Dems are just as bad as we were" riff. Yup Benghazi was as bad as what the Bushes did DAILY. Uh huh.

Alfred Differ said...

Russia is probably out of its league when it comes to securing chemical weapons within Syria. There is a lot of tonnage to secure in areas the rebels readily contest and it doesn't take a genius to realize the rebels benefit from a US attack on Assad.

Russia is not the global power it once was. They need to appear that way, but it is a bluff the US calls if we attack Syria.

David Brin said...

Frankly, I see Assad as wanting to keep Russia friendly and he'd cooperate to at least maintain an illusion of Russian effectiveness.

But we should insist this means REMOVAL of the gas from the Middle East. It would be a win for us, depriving Assad AND his successors of this horrible stuff. And we spent decades helping Russia build modern gas destruction facilities.

Tacitus said...


Melanin has nothing whatsoever to do with this matter.

CITOKAE, Dude. We not only have a right to critique our President we have a duty as citizens so to do. Alleging that those who engage in this activity are either racist, stupid or both is nonsense. Example: Ed Asner was asked the other day why those in the entertainment industry, who had been so critical of the Bush foreign policy, were largely silent. He said they were afraid of appearing "anti-black".

I think our host who just the other day was seeming rather keen on the notion of firing a few days worth of cruise missiles, can recall harsh words he has spoken regards past Presidents. "Drunk driving C student" sound familiar?

I mention Benghazi as an issue that helped lose conservative support for middle east adventures. And to the extent that it suggested a fundamental unseriousness in pursuit of same, something that might give the impression in places like Damascus that perhaps bad behaviour may not be punished to the fullest extent

But I will toss David a bone today. I know how hard recent events have been on those who are loathe to apply criticism to Obama for fear of, well not sure what.

I think his general disinclination to get mired in places like this is wise. If only he could better tune his words and his actions. America's ability to project power and influence around the world is probably less than in times past. It takes a very good poker player to win with a weak hand.

Better than average one might say. Or is that racist too Matthew?


Alfred Differ said...

Removal would be cool, but if it is UN guided, someone has to provide security for the people transporting tons of these weapons. That can't be Assad as he can't secure much of the region. It can't be the Russians unless we wait for them to move a lot of troops into the region. Even then, it isn't clear Russia can do the job absent intervening fully in the civil war. They will get bogged down securing chemical weapons when the rebels attack them. What do we do then? Financially support Russia's actions? Heh. 8)

Securing transport or on-site destruction of the weapons requires significant boots on the ground and a strong enough financial committment to keep it up for months. The US could do it, but we don't want to do it. I doubt the Russians CAN do it at this point.

LarryHart said...


I mention Benghazi as an issue that helped lose conservative support for middle east adventures. And to the extent that it suggested a fundamental unseriousness in pursuit of same, something that might give the impression in places like Damascus that perhaps bad behaviour may not be punished to the fullest extent

But I will toss David a bone today. I know how hard recent events have been on those who are loathe to apply criticism to Obama for fear of, well not sure what.

As an unabashed liberal, I have to admit that I'm stumped by the politics of this Syria crisis.

I mean, when (in the last 30 years or so) have self-identified conservatives been against ANY war? We lived through eight years of anti-war congresspeople having to reluctantly be hawks because anything else would "look weak" to both voters and terrorists.

How in heck can Republican congresscritters now come off as politically strong by "denying" President Obama a war?

I'm not being purpusely obtuse to make some kind of sarcastic point. I honestly don't get what's going on here.

Do Republicans "win" by allowing a dictator to get away with using (in their own terminology) WMDs?

Do Democrats look weak on foreign policy if they want to confront Assad, but congress (and the public) won't LET them?

Would miring us in yet another long war in the Middle East be a political VICTORY for Obama?

Seriously, I don't get it.

matthew said...

Obama does not want to go into Syria, yet in order to preserve the Imperial Presidency of the last 8 presidents he has to be seen to be acting. By making threats of aerial bombardment he is projecting US power without spending too much political capital. Now, if he can get away with threatening to use the imperial power and not have to use it, then so much the better. Going to a hopelessly partisan Congress for permission while knowing that he would most likely lose, is a smart move. Reserving the right to move unilaterally, even over the wishes of Congress preserves his power. Jeez, you guys ever read Machiavelli?

Regarding racism and the Presidents' grades... Bush was a C student by his own admission, and a drunk driver as proved in a court of law. Obama was the president and editor of The Harvard Law Journal. I guarantee that those honors do not go to a "C" student, and to suggest otherwise requires exceptional proof. Alleging that he only got his position due to the color of his skin is flat out racist and any attempt to color it otherwise, without some solid evidence, is extremely suspect. Exceptional claims (such as a mediocre student running TJOHL) require exceptional evidence.

Furthermore, you have seen me post *extremely* critical things about the presidents' policies, so I feel very confident that any defense of our President that I mount is not in the name of partisanship. It is calling out noxious behavior for what is is.

sociotard said...

I mean, when (in the last 30 years or so) have self-identified conservatives been against ANY war?

The last time a Democrat was getting the US involved in one.
G.O.P. Opposition Forces Dole to Delay Vote on Bosnia

As I recall, some of the opposition claimed the war a case of "wag the dog" to distract the public from the lying about blowjobs.

LarryHart said...


Quite right. I should have specified "any war in the Middle-East"


I sort of see the president's motivation for ratcheting up the threat against Assad. The part I don't get is how Republicans see it as a "win" for themselves politically if they successfully stand athwart him. In your scenario (and I agree it is plausible), they'd actually be handing Obama a win--he gets to act tough without having to back up the threat. I'm mystified at how this gets to be played as a crushing defeat for the prez.

David Brin said...

Tacitus, I don't recall anyone accusing you of racism but if someone did, I disown them. You are a gentleman.

Indeed, I will say something "racist" -- that BHO would never have been elected if he had an angry bone in his body.

As for other things:
Benghazi is just an excuse. The mad right would choose any excuse to proclaim "he's not MY president!" In sharp contrast, democratic congresses ALWAYS negotiate with and defer to GOP prexies, even when they are blatant traitors like the Bushes.

Benghazi was "mistakes and bad shit happens". Geez what do you want? Compare it to an entire battalion of US Marines blown up in Beirut because they couldn't even bother to post any guards?

BTW, I never called Bush a "drunk driving C student." I give him full respect for getting off the sauce. My sole complaint about GWB was that he was an outright traitor who - on Bandar's orders - did everything in his power to enrich his friends and to betray and destroy the United States of America… and th eoutcomes of his presidency bear this out. Other than that, I truly have little against the man.

Larryhart, the excuses of maniacs like Cruz, to be bellicose UNTIL it would mean actually supporting your nation's president, are symptomatic.

Tacitus said...

NOXIOUS and by implication racist. Oh, my.

Lets see. I said that I gave him a C for his performance to date on Syria. This is my opinion so I don't see how you can fault me on it. Recent polls are pretty much along the same lines.

In a bit of snark I suggested that his fabled college transcripts might show a few other less than perfect marks. And this is

As to self admitted C students, I was being polite. I understand Pres Obama has admitted in his biography to some youthful substance follies.

Show me where I have implied that anything Barack Obama has attained in life has been given him for less than deserved reasons.

whose ability to hear dog whistles is non existant.

Acacia H. said...

It looks like I don't have to worry about a Peace Prize after all. :P ;)

Russia is upping the ante. They want to force the U.S. to promise not to use force in order to bring about a toothless declaration that Syria is eliminating its chemical weapons. At which point Hassad can say "it is not safe at this point to take the chemical weapons out of storage because the rebels could get it and poison more people" and then he'll use the poison again, claim the rebels did it, and thumb his nose at the U.S. some more. And having promised through the U.N. Security Council not to use force, the U.S. would legally be unable to do a thing about it.

What should prove interesting is the Republican response to this. Are they going to allow Russia to disempower the United States in this situation by voting down authorization to use force? Will they back the President? Will they take the coward's route out and in one large group vote "Present" so they can claim the Democrats backstabbed their own President? (And then use this as an excuse to try and peel black voters away from the Democratic Party because the Democrats "betrayed" a black president?)

It is also becoming clear to me that Russia wants this civil war in Syria. No matter what the U.S. does in this situation, we'll come out the worse for it. If we don't act, then we're a paper tiger with no teeth. If we act, then we're illegal aggressors trying to overthrow yet another government.

Though I also wonder if this is a massive smokescreen in Russia itself to try and distract its own populace from the ongoing abuses of the Russian elites. If transparency were to suddenly come to Russia, I suspect you'd hear a lot of anger... and then see blood in the streets as the elites find themselves facing a new Russian Revolution. The only problem is that whatever takes the place of the current government risks being just as corrupt and distorted.

Rob H.

Tacitus said...

Your analysis is cogent. If the Peace Prize thing does not work out there may still be a job as Sec of State for you.
I feel like acknowleging those who stand by their principles in defiance of convenient politics. Kudos to John McCain and to Code Pink. They are what they are.

David Brin said...

Tacitus I hope you aren't implying that *I* called you racist. Please say the name of the person you are complaining about. We all like you here.

Tacitus said...

See Matthew's post a few above mine. But if I misconstrued his intent I will freely apologize. Just to be on the safe side I was only setting the phasers to "Assad annoying" levels!


David Brin said...

The gulf between the richest 1% of the USA and the rest of the country got to its widest level in history last year.

The top 1% of earners in the U.S. pulled in 19.3% of total household income in 2012, which is their biggest slice of total income in more than 100 years, according to a an analysis by economists at the University of California.

Also, the top 1% of earnings posted 86% real income growth between 1993 and 2000. Meanwhile, the real income growth of the bottom 99% of earnings rose 6.6%.

The richest Americans haven't claimed this large of a slice of total wealth since 1927, when the group claimed 18.7%. Just before the great crash and Great Depression... so much for the notion that Oligarchy assures prosperity and good management. In contrast, the flattest American society -- just after FDR -- featured the longest boom, the most vigorous startup entrepreneurship, the fastest-rising middle class... and all of it with labor unions and high marginal tax rates.

The greatest irony? The people who are bringing all of this about claim to adore the "greatest Generation" - our parents who overcame the Depression and crushed Hitler and contained communism and started the hugely successful worldwide boom under protection of the American Pax... and got us to the moon and invented so many cool things that we got rich enough to make every export driven nation prosperous.

Funny thing. That Greatest Generation adored Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the flat-but-dynamically entrepreneurial society they built together. Oh, but they were the fools and Rupert Murdoch knows so... so much better.

David Brin said...

The gulf between the richest 1% of the USA and the rest of the country got to its widest level in history last year.
The top 1% of earners in the U.S. pulled in 19.3% of total household income in 2012, which is their biggest slice of total income in more than 100 years, according to a an analysis by economists at the University of California.
Also, the top 1% of earnings posted 86% real income growth between 1993 and 2000. Meanwhile, the real income growth of the bottom 99% of earnings rose 6.6%.

The richest Americans haven't claimed this large of a slice of total wealth since 1927, when the group claimed 18.7%. Just before the great crash and Great Depression... so much for the notion that Oligarchy assures prosperity and good management. In contrast, the flattest American society -- just after FDR -- featured the longest boom, the most vigorous startup entrepreneurship, the fastest-rising middle class... and all of it with labor unions and high marginal tax rates.

The greatest irony? The people who are bringing all of this about claim to adore the "greatest Generation" - our parents who overcame the Depression and crushed Hitler and contained communism and started the hugely successful worldwide boom under protection of the American Pax... and got us to the moon and invented so many cool things that we got rich enough to make every export driven nation prosperous.

Funny thing. That Greatest Generation adored Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the flat-but-dynamically entrepreneurial society they built together. Oh, but they were the fools and Rupert Murdoch knows so... so much better.

Travc said...

On Syria...
I heard some reporting (single source as far as I can tell) that Putin and Obama briefly discussed the idea of Assad giving up his chemical weapons (CW) on Sat. So maybe Kerry's remark wasn't quite as "off the cuff" as it seemed at first.
There are also a few congress-critters who have a draft bill along the same lines... so it isn't an original idea either.

Russia has a real interest in neutralizing those CW. The rebels in Syria include groups alined with anti-Russian separatists and even some anti-Russian separatists themselves. I'm certain that this is also one of the factors behind Russia's staunch support for Assad (there are other factors of course).

As for the thread of US strikes causing this potential diplomatic opening... yes and no. The threat of strikes has drawn a lot of focus onto Syria, that has made a big difference no doubt.
However, Syria doesn't have huge stockpiles of CW to suppress insurrections. The CW stockpiles are a strategic defense against Israel and the US.

I hypothesize that the strong resistance domestically in the US to the prospect of even a limited military action against Syria is an important factor in Syria's decision to give up their CW stockpiles (assuming they are actually willing).
The fact that it is obvious that the US public really doesn't want to attack Syria undermines the need for those CW (at least in the short term, which is all Assad can afford to think about at the moment.)

Travc said...
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Travc said...

On the NSA thing...
I agree that "remain unobserved" sense privacy isn't a reasonable goal (and quite possibly counter-productive to "right to be left alone" privacy), but...

If the NSA is reading SSL encrypted traffic from US persons without an individualized suspicion, IMO they are pretty clearly violating the 4th amendment's implied right to privacy (as interpreted by the US courts).
SSL is explicitly about creating a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The difficulty is finding someone who clearly has standing to bring a suit. Maybe a honeypot (or a few) could be used to get evidence of the NSA doing the deed.

Which reminds me...
One potentially useful way to find some of the NSA sponsored vulnerabilities is to use honeypots. The sorts of exploits they would reveal would probably be limited to network and machine (not stuff like SSL), but that is still useful. The "honey" should be easy to come by... Just pretend to host copies of the Snowden docs or some other secret about the NSA;)

To reiterate/summarize one final time (I promise):
My main concern is the NSA reducing my security by undermining encryption and authentication via the intentional introduction of vulnerabilities.
Someone doing harm to me via online identity theft (for example) is a hell of a lot more likely than my being injured in a terrorist attack. In so far as the NSA has apparently been enabling (to an extent) the former in the name of combating the latter, I'm pissed.

PS: I'm not seriously complaining about reCaptcha. It is useful and actually clever/cool.
It is just odd that I'm normally pretty good at that sort of pattern/spatial thing, but reCaptcha (and not other Captcha and Captcha-type things) causes me grief.

matthew said...

Tacitus - Read carefully, nowhere did I call you "racist." I responded to your call to see Obama's transcripts and allowed you a chance to clarify your statements. I did say that the meme calling for Obama's transcripts is "seen in many circles as highly racist." That is not the same as calling you personally a racist.

I brought up your mention of Obama's college transcripts because it is a "thing," like birtherism. It warranted a debunking by FactCheck, see Obama's 'Sealed' Records. It got a lot of play in the last election thanks to a candidate for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump. I get a variation of the meme posted to my Facebook wall about once a month even now, a year after the election.

You say that you cannot hear a dog whistle in your response. I take you at your word, but be aware that other people will hear the dog whistle. That is why I asked for you to elaborate on the statement.

Sorry for any hard feelings this may have caused.

Tacitus said...


No hard feelings.
These are odd times politically.


Jumper said...
Clarifies the motives of those screaming "Benghazi."

Acacia H. said...

And now, countering the anti-intellectualism of the Murdoch Oligarchy, we have Science By Social Network. This is maybe the best way we'll manage to undo the damage of Murdoch and his crew - by making science fun for grownups... through the use of social networking and good old-fashioned fanboy/fangirl enthusiasm. :)

Rob H.

Paul451 said...

Massive black holes get even larger by feeding on (quantised) space-time itself.

No, I don't understand any of that. But... isn't it awesome!

(delebly: Viseble, aparant to the i.)

Paul451 said...

"The difficulty is finding someone who clearly has standing to bring a suit."


They are rapidly increasing the proportion of traffic between their data-centres around the world that they encrypt. It doesn't change Google's requirement to comply with National Security Letters, but it is meant to make it harder for anyone (say, the NSA) to spy on Google traffic via third parties, such as by monitoring transnational interconnectors, without Google knowing.

...all ironically while facing possible wire-tapping charges over their sampling of unsecured Wi-Fi by Street-View cars. (And I guess the above suggests that even Google needed to be shocked in order to learn to "secure your Wi-Fi".)

matthew said...

Now for something completely different. Tim Minchin's "Storm" A very funny cartoon about the defense of the rational, at a social event.

LarryHart said...


Kudos to John McCain and to Code Pink. They are what they are.

Hmmmm, not sure if I agree or not.

I can see giving brownie-points for staying true to one's principles: for example, McCain keeping faith with the fact that he's always in favor of war, even though in this case, he's agreeing with the man who defeated him in 2008.

On the other hand, it's a staple of comedy to have characters who will always do the same thing mo matter what the circumstances. George W Bush took "never admit you are wrong about anything" to new heights, and I don't see that as a positive trait.

There's also something to be said for learning from mistakes.

I'm not entirely disagreeing with you, but just saying I'm not sure it's that simple.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

The richest Americans haven't claimed this large of a slice of total wealth since 1927, when the group claimed 18.7%. Just before the great crash and Great Depression... so much for the notion that Oligarchy assures prosperity and good management. In contrast, the flattest American society -- just after FDR -- featured the longest boom, the most vigorous startup entrepreneurship, the fastest-rising middle class... and all of it with labor unions and high marginal tax rates.

Dr Brin, I've learned in the past several years that there's a semantic gulf that is difficult if not impossible to overcome between those who hear what you just said as a danger signal, and those who hear the exact same facts and thing that's getting closer to an ideal world.

I doubt many FOX News viewers would dispute the facts as you've laid them out. But they'd say that the 1% are acquiring more wealth because they are the producers of wealth, and that the 99% look enviously at that wealth and wish that they could get their undeserving hands on it.

Likewise, they'd react in horror to "labor unions and high marginal tax rates" and say a prayer of thanks to St Reagan for saving us from that abomination.

I wish I knew better how to bridge that gap of worldviews that makes debate and even simple conversation almost impossible.

Tim H. said...

A shame indeed that faux watchers don't realize the intent of the new deal wasn't to destroy capitalism, but to save it, and it would be far cheaper in the long run to have a "Newer Deal" than to wait for the crash that makes it obvious we need it. "Buy them books and all they do is chew on the covers."

Tony Fisk said...

Larry, you may be right, but note that Brin carefully lays it out: these extreme disparities in wealth occur *just* when the economy tanks most spectacularly!

Meanwhile, I'm trying to give our new govt time to settle in. However, 'first acts' such as dismissing a well qualified nominee for a consul job just because he's a former ALP premier, and vows to shut down a successful (ie profitable) business model that funds renewable energy... a little vindictive? Bah! I think the conservative brand is tainted by cronyism the world over.

Abbott's vow to scrap the carbon tax is going to take a little longer than a couple of weeks to bring into reality, and I personally think he will get a very bloody nose out of it. There is a way he could move it forward quickly or retire it with grace, though: hold a referendum on the issue. (Sorry, claiming a mandate for a policy you haven't campaigned very strongly on doesn't cut it!)

...Although I can see the temptation to trigger a double dissolution, given the weird make-up for the new senate! It is a triumph of the power of 'one' and above the line voting!!

I'm not sure what it means, but it's interesting that the discussion around voting reform has so far tiptoed around the obvious solution: preferential vote above line rather than just having a '1' and hoping the 'Animal Justice' or 'Liberal Democrat' parties have preferences you agree with!

matthew said...

This is an interesting first: an Anonymous "operation" that does not involve hacking or DDOS attacks. Salon on new Anonymous Operation. Details the support from intelligence contractors to various Senators.

Is Anon trying to go legit? Managing a legal political awareness campaign? One to watch.

matthew said...
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matthew said...
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matthew said...

Sorry for multiple posts, the captcha kept saying I got it wrong, but apparently was putting the posts through.

Acacia H. said...

It should be interesting to see if this pans out in the electoral cycle... be interesting to see a bunch of the current Republicans be booted out for Libertarian-leaning politicians.

A new poll shows that Republicans are embracing Libertarian principles. Now if only they'd embrace the one where they'd not try to regulate women's right to an abortion....

David Brin said...

Indeed. It is depressing what gets called "libertarian" these days. Apparently it means just one thing: hate all government. hate all government, all the time. hate all government by of and for the people. Just hate all government.

Especially hobble govt as the only force that could have let the people stand up to oligarchy.

g downs said...

David Brin needs to apologize to John Michael Greer. That stupid and insulting comment you made at last week's Archdruid report was inexcusable. Were you drunk, or are you always such as asshole?

I've never read anything as ill-informed and frankly stupid at that site, and I've been reading it for seven years.

You techno-weenies beat all, I swear.

TheMadLibrarian said...

g_downs: huh???
Please do us the favor of providing a direct link to said ill-informed commentary. It took me some searching to find, and even then I am not sure it is what you intended to point at. It doesn't seem significantly crankier than many of the other comments on that site.

oumessf: New Middle Eastern vat-grown taste treat! Enjoy!

Alfred Differ said...

Hate all government indeed. I'm actually registered Libertarian (one of the rare former Democrats) and I'm dismayed at how quickly many of them used the 'hero' label for people revealing classified information.

Government DOES have a useful purpose, but the anarchists are so loud you can't hear the rest of us. 8)

matthew said...

Salon's takedown of modern libertarianism. Are libertarians hypocrates? Some of the 11 questions are worthy, some are symantec manipulation.

matthew said...

Love how my auto-correct spelled "semantic." That's a laugh.

sociotard said...

To be fair, it is almost exactly what David posted in the comments section here in the last post, and those comments were in response to a link archdruid's blog on that page. I think our guest can be forgiven for not posting a link, especially as he knew David would know what post he was talking about.

I'd also like to point out that Archdruid had some valid responses in that comments section, to which David never counter-responded. A pity. David doesn't seem to much like debate and discussion.

sociotard said...

Oh, and the following thread on the XKCD forum is worth following for the libertarian debate. Smart people on both sides. I find myself pushing to really think about alien points of view and valid holes in arguments.

End Government Funding of Science?

Acacia H. said...

Bullpucky. Dr. Brin does respond to valid arguments. But there's no need to respond to mysticism and defeatism. No matter what he said, Dr. Brin would end up considered a bully, unless he rolled over, exposed his throat, and said "you're right, I'm wrong, just kill me now."

And even then he'd probably have hate piled on him.

Rob H.

sociotard said...

Did you watch the 'debate' he had with Yudowsky? It was awful. Nobody actually addressed one anothers points. They all just talked past each other.

You see a lot of that here. Brin implies that archdruid doesn't know anything about photovoltaics, archdruid actually responds to that and explains his expertise in that field. Brin never fires back.

TheMadLibrarian said...

In the commentary section of the Archdruid Report, there were over 600 comments; I only found one from Dr. Brin, but there may be others. Dr. Brin and Guest may know to which exact comment Guest refers, but I'm not a regular and haven't been following along. The bits I have read so far haven't enticed me sufficiently to do an in-depth reading. Seagull posts have to have some meat to them before I devote time for a followup.

fratle: puerile yammering

Tacitus said...

An apology.

With the wonders of google I looked back and indeed David, you seem never to have used the term "Drunk Driving C student". It was a favorite phrase of a now banished fellow and in the back and forth it is easy to get mixed up.

Also, going back those five or six years I see that your opinions - many of which I do not share - are remarkably consistent.

Points where they are earned...


David Brin said...

I looked at the tenor of the responses to my comment on the arch-druid (AD) site and realized simply that -- "life is too short" to deal with a pack of such incredibly illogical people. Amid howls about my "discourtesy" (none of which was especially harsh or unusual), almost no one addressed the core points that I raised.

AD had:

1) cribbed his entire scenario from Olaf Stapledon... not a bad thing, unless you fail to mention OS even once.

2) His scenario depends entirely on the same assumption made by apocalypse junkies from revelations to Marx to Rand... that the masses are as stupid as slime molds, that across hundreds and hundreds of generations, i t is inherently impossible that a civilization might arise with an average intellect one tenth as great as that of the sagacious and mighty seer... arch-druid.

3) I don't give a damn whether AD claims to have "worked in solar energy." His failure to notice the plummeting costs and rise of efficiency of photovoltaics is not mere oversight. Extrapolated just ten years, we'll be at a technology that might be recreated in small craft workshops, even if society collapses. In a mere semi-collapse, tens of thousands of such workshops would be making panels for villages...

...and those panels accumulate, so the next generation builds on that power level... so that No Matter how slow the recovery, it would rise and rise. Until a society with decent birth control would be able to meet all its electricity needs and have surplus for ambitious endeavors.

This scenario might have a flaw, but right now it looks like the baseline that cynics must deal with... and it is only one of dozens of such technological game changers that - once a threshold is passed -- would make it very hard to prevent the renaissance of industrial/scientific civilization.

But none of this merited the admitted tone of anger in my guest posting. What merited it was the blatant tendentiousness of AD's schadenfreude Jeremiad of baleful doom. His hand-rubbing glee over the inevitability of failure for ANY potential variant of human civilization, while ignoring all of the factors that might empower a decent, positive sum society to prove him wrong...

...while he wallows in pleasures and tools and connections that would have seemed the powers of a god. Tools and pleasures and connections that are gifts AD never earned, but received - gratis - from earlier innovators, who had to overcome their own cynics in order to take civilization where no man has gone before.

sociotard said...

Recall for a moment your position in the "Human Immortality" debate?

AD was doing the same thing, but for the species level. His point was less that humans are short-sighted and destined for failure, and more that all species go extinct. His cynicism show in that he thinks humans will be less successful than Sharks or Crocodiles, but I think the point he was making was Dumbledore-like: species death will come to humanity, and that is right and natural. extinction will come for all species, as it ever has. And Dumbledore never struck me as a cynic.

Tony Fisk said...

Just be glad it didn't substitute 'hippogriff'!

Ian said...

"You make very good sharks, Mr. Garibaldi. We were pretty good sharks
ourselves once, but somehow, along the way, we forgot how to bite.
There was a time when this whole quadrant belonged to us. What are
we now? Twelve worlds and a thousand monuments to past glories.
Living off memories and stories, selling *trinkets*.

"My god, man. We've become a tourist attraction. 'See the great
Centauri Republic -- open 9 to 5, Earth time.'"

"Nice shark, .. pretty shark."
-- Londo to his drink in Babylon 5:"The Gathering"

Judging by Syria, America's forgotten how to bite

Edit_XYZ said...

"AD was doing the same thing, but for the species level. His point was less that humans are short-sighted and destined for failure, and more that all species go extinct. His cynicism show in that he thinks humans will be less successful than Sharks or Crocodiles, but I think the point he was making was Dumbledore-like: species death will come to humanity, and that is right and natural. extinction will come for all species, as it ever has. And Dumbledore never struck me as a cynic."

What a joke of an argument:
There's no credible reasoning given for how humanity will go extinct.

Species evolve - which is quite different from going extinct.
In a very real sense, LUCA never went extinct, but lives today through the biosphere. Dinosaurs are around us right now - we just call them birds. Very few species in history actually went extinct.

Obviously, the appeal of AD's argument lies not in his reasoning (that's third rate - at best), but in the fact that he spins a story that makes the readers feel cool and superior to their fellow humans.

sociotard said...

This is a hoot:

NSA center uses Star Trek mimicry to sell surveillance proposals

When he was running the Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a “whoosh” sound when they slid open and closed.

Acacia H. said...

And this has just made me decide that Internet Anonymity needs to end. Seriously, this is just wrong on so many levels. And it's their anonymity that lets them get away with it. It's so easy to call people names when you don't have to face them and their friends in person.

I can understand the political ramifications... but let's be honest. The government will find you if they want to. You can't protect yourself forever if you're using the internet to post secrets or anti-government rhetoric. Claiming anonymity protects them just allows this subculture of hate to continue to thrive.

Rob H., who signs his comments because he's long felt he shouldn't hide behind anonymity.

occam's comic said...

As far as David Brin apologizing for his comment, I don’t think that it is necessary, and it does not appear that John Michael Greer (the Archdruid) thinks that it is necessary either.
The AD thinks that David responded the way he did because they have different religious sensibilities. Here is the critical part from this week ArchDruid Report:

“The hostilities between Christianity and contemporary atheism, like those between Christianity and Islam, are thus expressions of something like sibling rivalry. Salvation from the natural world and the human condition remains the core premise (and thus also the most important promise) of all these faiths, whether that salvation takes the supernatural form of resurrection followed by eternal life in heaven, on the one hand, or the allegedly more natural form of limitless progress, the conquest of poverty, illness, and death, and the great leap outwards to an endless future among the stars. It’s precisely the absence of those common assumptions, in turn, that makes communication so difficult across the boundary between one religious sensibility and another. The gap in understanding that reduced an intelligent man like David Brin to spluttering fury at the suggestion that salvation might not be waiting for humanity out there among the stars is exactly parallel to the one that drove normally tolerant Roman thinkers to denounce the early Christians as “enemies of the human race.”

Still, the fact remains that to a growing number of people nowadays, promises of salvation from the natural world and the human condition—whether that salvation takes the more traditional form of eternal life in a supernatural realm or a more contemporary form decked out with spaceships and jetpacks—fail to evoke the emotional responses they get from participants in the older religious sensibility. It’s not merely that these promises no longer ring true, though in many cases that’s also an issue; it’s that they no longer have any appeal. What stirs awe and wonder in these people, rather, is a sense of belonging and of participation in the great cycles of Nature, an awareness of oneness with life that does not shrink in terror from life’s natural completion in death. What inspires them is not the hope of a final separation from the realities of nature, life, history and time, but a conscious and delighted participation in these realities—not the promise of salvation, but the reality of homecoming. “