aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, November 02, 2007
Teaching the war on the unexpected
Shneir on the war on the unexpected:
We’ve opened up a new front on the war on terror. It’s an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it’s a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested—even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.
Digby’s recent Twain quote reminds us the fight has long been and is likely to be an ongoing one:
Americans too often teach their children to despise those who hold unpopular opinions. We teach them to regard as traitors, and hold in aversion and contempt, such as do not shout with the crowd, and so here in our democracy we are cheering a thing which of all things is most foreign to it and out of place - the delivery of our political conscience into somebody else’s keeping. This is patriotism on the Russian plan.Ã¢â‚¬Æ’- Mark Twain
People are not ants. Or good terrorism sniffers.
If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get amateur security.
I quote from James Surowieki’s 2005 O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference talk. He begins with the observation that “not all forms of collective action are created equal” and that “if you use the wrong kind of collective action or if some of the perils of collective action are not dealt with you can actually end up with worse solutions.”
Ants are the model of what works. They very effectively mobilize “dumb agents” who individually act with very little intelligence, yet by following very simple rules and paying attention to those around them they come up with stunningly intelligent outcomes:
So interaction [for ants] is the key to intelligence. Now, the message of this talk if there’s one line you can take away from it is that human beings are not ants. And the reason we are not ants is that we do not have the biological programming in us...that ants have which allows this kind of interaction to produce intelligenceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
In fact for human beings, interaction for us is incredibly problematic, especially when it comes to group behavior. Under certain circumstances...if there is too much interaction among human beings and if it’s the wrong kind of interaction, groups end up being less intelligent than they would otherwise be.
So the more we talk to each other, the dumber it is possible for us to become.
One reason is that human beings herd. We have a tendency to stick with what others are doing. We like the comfort of the crowd; and it’s a legitimate way to appear reasonable.
Another reason is that we imitate. He mentions the social science experiment of people looking up when they see others looking up on a street corner. We look up because we assume that if lots of people are looking up there very likely is something worth looking up at. That imitation is a way of learning.
But imitation is also the dynamic behind an Information Cascade. In making a choice, at a certain point it becomes very difficult for anyone to not do what everyone else is doing. At that point, the Tipping Point, the group choice becomes the rational choice for anyone and everyone, even if there is contrary information available. At this point people are not thinking for themselves, so the result can be that quality has nothing to do with the choice made. Thus the group as a whole has become less intelligent.
Bruce Schneir knows all that. He says our attempt to turn citizens into terrorism sniffers has become an unfortunate war on the unexpected. And his is an intelligent prescription for just what we should do to fight it:
We need to do two things. The first is to stop urging people to report their fears. People have always come forward to tell the police when they see something genuinely suspicious, and should continue to do so. But encouraging people to raise an alarm every time they’re spooked only squanders our security resources and makes no one safer.
We don’t want people to never report anything. A store clerk’s tip led to the unraveling of a plot to attack Fort Dix last May, and in March an alert Southern California woman foiled a kidnapping by calling the police about a suspicious man carting around a person-sized crate. But these incidents only reinforce the need to realistically assess, not automatically escalate, citizen tips. In criminal matters, law enforcement is experienced in separating legitimate tips from unsubstantiated fears, and allocating resources accordingly; we should expect no less from them when it comes to terrorism.
Equally important, politicians need to stop praising and promoting the officers who get it wrong. And everyone needs to stop castigating, and prosecuting, the victims just because they embarrassed the police by their innocence.
Causing a city-wide panic over blinking signs, a guy with a pellet gun, or stray backpacks, is not evidence of doing a good job: it’s evidence of squandering police resources. Even worse, it causes its own form of terror, and encourages people to be even more alarmist in the future. We need to spend our resources on things that actually make us safer, not on chasing down and trumpeting every paranoid threat anyone can come up with.
This essay originally appeared in Wired.com
EDITED TO ADD (11/1): Some links didn’t make it into the original article. There’s this creepy “if you see a father holding his child’s hands, call the cops” campaign, this story of an iPod found on an airplane, and this story of an “improvised electronics device” trying to get through airport security. This is a good essay on the “war on electronics.”
PLEASE SEE ALSO: Trapped in the war on terror.
On Gore inventing the Internet
CNet’s Charles Cooper rates Al Gore’s tech cred much higher than many of his noisy readers. I’m with Chris!
Along the way he quotes Vanity Fair on Gore’s invention of the Internet:
On March 9, 1999, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer conducted an interview with Gore shortly before he officially announced his candidacy. In answer to a question about why Democrats should support him, Gore spoke about his record. “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative"—politico-speak for leadership—"in creating the Internet,” he said, before going on to describe other accomplishments. It was true. In the 1970s, the Internet was a limited tool used by the Pentagon and universities for research. As a senator in the 80s, Gore sponsored two bills that turned this government program into an “information superhighway,” a term Gore popularized, and made it accessible to all. Vinton Cerf, often called the father of the Internet, has claimed that the Internet would not be where it was without Gore’s leadership on the issue. Even former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich has said that “Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet.”
The press didn’t object to Gore’s statement until Texas Republican congressman Dick Armey led the charge, saying, “If the vice president created the Internet, then I created the interstate highway system.” Republican congressman James Sensenbrenner released a statement with the headline, delusions of grandeur: vice president gore takes credit for creating the internet. CNN’s Lou Dobbs was soon calling Gore’s remark “a case study … in delusions of grandeur.” A few days later the word “invented” entered the narrative. On March 15, a USA Today headline about Gore read, inventing the internet; March 16 on Hardball, Chris Matthews derided Gore for his claim that he “invented the Internet.” Soon the distorted assertion was in the pages of the Los Angeles Times and The Boston Globe, and on the A.P. wire service. By early June, the word “invented” was actually being put in quotation marks, as though that were Gore’s word of choice. Here’s how Mimi Hall put it in USA Today: “A couple of Gore gaffes, including his assertion that he ‘invented’ the Internet, didn’t help.” And Newsday’s Elaine Povich ridiculed “Gore’s widely mocked assertion that he ‘invented’ the Internet.” (Thanks to the Web site the Daily Howler, the creation of Bob Somerby, a college roommate of Gore’s, we have a chronicle of how the Internet story spiraled out of control.)
Belatedly attempting to defuse the situation, Gore joked about it on Imus in the Morning, saying that he “was up late the night before … inventing the camcorder.” But it was too late—the damage had been done.
Remember how Al and Tipper were the models for the Love Story movie couple after the jump.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
$200 Ubuntu Linux PC Now Available at Wal-Mart
Everex’s TC2502 gPC is the first mass-market $200 desktop computer, featuring a custom distribution of Ubuntu Linux and headed for selected Wal-Mart stores.
"It’s $200, with no gimmicks or subsidies," Everex spokesman David Liu said.
The gPC aims to joins a popular gang of low-end economy computers leading into the holiday season, such as Asus’ $300 EeePC Laptop and VIA’s $600 Nanobook. Unlike these machines, however, Everex’s latest model is a full-size desktop, and $100 cheaper than even the slightest models from Dell or HP.
Touted as a "green" machine, it has a 1.5 Ghz VIA C7 CPU embedded in a Mini-ITX motherboard, 512MB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. Normally, this would simply mark it as unacceptably low-end for use with modern software. By using the fast Enlightenment desktop manager (instead of heavier-duty alternatives like Gnome or KDE), the makers say it’s more responsive than Vista is, even on more powerful computers.
Why so big?
Even at the low end, however, image is everything. The gPC is built using tiny components, but put inside a full-size case because research indicates that Wal-Mart shoppers are so unsophisticated they equate physical size with capability.
The machine is, technically, little different from sexier, geekier basic models like the Zonbu, only pitched to a different crowd. It does, however, offer a complete, upgradeable system for the lowest possible price, making the gPC a great candidate for home file/media servers and other "experiments." Everex says it wants advanced users to "play with it" and make suggestions for further development.
Can Obama dance back into our hearts
Here’s Barack Obama dancing his way on to “Ellen” Monday
Chris Craine tells us Obama’s recent statements on civil unions put him far out in front of Hillary or John Edwards and that during the Ellen appearance he said:
“You know what I would do is immediately set up a civil union that is equal in federal rights so that all the states, all the rights that are conferred by the states are the same for gays and lesbians, same sex couples as for any other couple,” he said. “In terms of marriage, what I would do is I would say each religious denomination can make their own decision.”
Interestingly, in the Mark Halperin speech I just mentioned, he suggests that Obama dancing with Ellen may be less helpful than we think.
Dancing with Ellen doesn’t make him look presidential and Halperin believes his single greatest challenge is to convince the American people that he is ready to become president:
I think Oprah Winfrey can help him raise money, it can help him become better known… but I think in an odd way she’s not good for him, she may even be bad for him because she’s a pop cultural figure. Any coverage of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey is going to be about celebrity and electability and treating him like a member of the book club. That is not his problem. He’s exciting and he’s a celebrity… She undermines what I think his problem is. He would be better off, I think, being endorsed by retired generals than by Oprah Winfrey.
Even if Halperin’s right (and I think he is) dancing with Ellen may have been helpful at diminishing the impact of McClurkin.
More on dynasty: Bush - Clinton - Bush - ?
The LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin hosted Mark Halperin, Editor-at-Large and Senior Political Analyst at Time Magazine, on September 18 on the topic of Bush - Clinton - Bush - ?
Halperin opens with a description of the different approaches of the Clintons and Bushes, and with them, the Democrats and Republicans.
He tells us that when he interviewed Bill Clinton for his book he learned that Clinton believes the country is closely divided, not deeply divided. Clinton believes we are a nation pretty much in sync and that our divisions are caused by the chattering classes and exaggerated by the media.
When Halperin interviewed Carl Rove he found that he and George Bush very much believe that we are a deeply divided nation. Here’s ow they see the role of politics:
...the point of power and the presidency is to get in there with whatever minimum requirements you need… whatever it takes to get into power and then change the country in the direction you want to change it to. To take that division and to push policy to more reflect where you think country is and where you think it should go.
Halperin says that’s the main question the candidates today have to answer as they configure their campaigns.
So what’s his answer to the title question? He sees a Democrat as inevitable and Clinton as more than likely (and gives voice to the possibility of Jeb Bush following her for an astounding 36 years of a Clinton or a Bush). He says she’s learned well the lessons of both the last Clinton and Bush campaigns.
But, he adds, “This is going to be a close election.”
Could it be Obama? His biggest challenge as demonstrating to the American people that he will be ready to become president from day one. And winning Iowa.
RELATED: Closely Divided or Deeply Divided?
Telco money talks terror
Two pieces yesterday arguing against allowing telecoms to be sued for breaking the law. Both cry 9/11. Jay Rockefeller in the WaPo; Carter Administration Attorney General Benjamin Civilleti, Dick Thornburgh and William Webster in the WSJ.
Top Verizon executives, including CEO Ivan Seidenberg and President Dennis Strigl, wrote personal checks to Rockefeller totaling $23,500 in March, 2007. Prior to that apparently coordinated flurry of 29 donations, only one of those executives had ever donated to Rockefeller (at least while working for Verizon).
In fact, prior to 2007, contributions to Rockefeller from company executives at AT&T and Verizon were mostly non-existent.
But that changed around the same time that the companies began lobbying Congress to grant them retroactive immunity from lawsuits seeking billions for their alleged participation in secret, warrantless surveillance programs that targeted Americans.
Then there’s this on the WSJ authors:
The authors of the piece may have reached this conclusion in good faith, but their conflicts of interest need to be disclosed. Civiletti is a Senior Partner in the Washington law firm Venable, which represents telcos. Similarly, Thornburgh is affiliated with Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, also a telco law firm. And Webster is with Milbank Tweed, also a telco law firm. It may have had no effect on their views, but its disclosure is necessary to maintain journalistic ethics. Not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal choose not to disclose these facts.
Do we really honestly doubt that money talks?