Saturday, July 31, 2010

Revival of irrationalism?

I haven't been closely following the furor over the proposed Islamic Center in NYC, but now that the ADL has come out against the building of the center, I'm starting to think this is something more than the regular nationalistic posturing.

From their statement, their opposition is based on nothing more than vague conspiracy theories (the ADL should be sensitive to such defamation). But from a NYT article, one particular quote caught my attention:

“It’s the wrong place,” Mr. Foxman said. “Find another place.”

Asked why the opposition of the families was so pivotal in the decision, Mr. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor, said they were entitled to their emotions.

“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”

According to the NYT article, most of the opposition to this project comes from outside of NYC...from nationalist demagogues who want to absorb the WTC site into their holy-war mythology.

So, Foxman is saying that we should embrace this nationalistic irrationalism, and allow one group of people to push around another group because we sympathize with the trauma felt by the pushers. Well, I'll let Foxman in on a little secret -- there's lot's of trauma in the world, and very little of it gets into the national news. If we single out certain victims because everyone noticed and shared in their trauma, then we are not being compassionate, we are playing politics. And it is the ugliest and worst kind of politics -- the same kind that gave us the Nazis.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Symbolism for President!

The content below was originally published at Freedom Democrats back in August of 2008. It came to mind due to a good essay about racism and race-based voting that I commented on over at the Libertarian Standard.

The below pro-Obama video is funny in the "turn your own arguments against you" kinda of way. I don't have a whole lot to say about the theme behind it, except to point out that electing a President is largely about symbolism. Modern Presidents are as much (or more so) a symbol as an administrator. The act of voting is purely symbolic.

Why shouldn't we consciously choose symbolism, especially when the real substance is hidden behind smoke and mirrors?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The threat of cyberwar (roundup)

There has recently been a good bit of media coverage of the issue of "cyberwar". An article at the Economist gives a good overview of the debates regarding the threat of cyberwar and what America and its allies are doing to prepare. They describe two basic levels of cyberwar -- espionage and sabotage:
The next step after penetrating networks to steal data is to disrupt or manipulate them.
Since so much of this discussion is focused on surveillance and secrecy, I'm going to include recent articles on those topics. I won't provide any substantial commentary, just some choice quotes.

NPR has an article covering the concerns of cyber-alarmists; James Gosler describes the challenge and our inadequate preparation:
"You can have vulnerabilities in the fundamentals of the technology, you can have vulnerabilities introduced based on how that technology is implemented, and you can have vulnerabilities introduced through the artificial applications that are built on that fundamental technology," Gosler says. "It takes a very skilled person to operate at that level, and we don't have enough of them."
Gosler estimates there are now only 1,000 people in the entire United States with the sophisticated skills needed for the most demanding cyberdefense tasks. To meet the computer security needs of U.S. government agencies and large corporations, he says, a force of 20,000 to 30,000 similarly skilled specialists is needed.
So basically, every smart person in the US should work for the CIA/NSA. That's a bit of exaggeration, but Gosler is still suggesting a massive allocation of resources to the field of cyberdefense, a large portion of which will involve secret government agencies (for a sense of scale, there are about 30,000 science and engineering PhD's awarded each year in the USA).

For all the hype about the threat from China, the Economist has this to say:
Western spooks think China deploys the most assiduous, and most shameless, cyberspies, but Russian ones are probably more skilled and subtle. Top of the league, say the spooks, are still America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ, which may explain why Western countries have until recently been reluctant to complain too loudly about computer snooping.
Of course the USA is still the best at cracking codes and spying on communications (rember the establishment of warrentless wiretaps from the NSA). But that doesn't mean we should let down our guard. Here's a long but telling quote from the NPR story:

The cyber manpower crisis in the United States stands in sharp contrast to the situation in China, where the training of computer experts is a top national priority ...

The Chinese government, in fact, appears to be systematically building a cyberwarrior force.

"Every military district of the Peoples' Liberation Army runs a competition every spring," says Alan Paller of SANS, "and they search for kids who might have gotten caught hacking."

One of the Chinese youths who won that competition had earlier been caught hacking into a Japanese computer, according to Paller, only to be rewarded with extra training....

Some members of Congress, eager to follow China's example, are now promoting a U.S. Cyber Challenge, a national talent search at the high school level....

Last year's preliminary Cyber Challenge game was won by a 17-year-old from Connecticut — Michael Coppola — who was smart enough to hack into the game computer and add points to his own score.

... the competition judges were so impressed by Coppola's ability to hack into the computer game that they actually rewarded him for changing his score.

"It's cheating," Michael says, "but it's like the entire game is cheating."

Indeed. People who know how to cheat will soon be on the front lines of cyber defense...

So,the ethic of these new "cyber-soldiers" is to do whatever it takes to win (Just one more way that the USA emulates the People's [sic] Republic of China). They are even rewarding "soldiers" who attack non-target computers as part of their strategy. As they say, the "whole game is cheating". So much for the myth that there can be rules in war...this seems morally equivalent to Germany marching through Belgium to attack France, or Hamas launching rockets at Israel from within urban areas. What is the chance that these "cyber-warriors" will flinch at taking over your personal computer to use it as a weapon against their enemies? Not much different from the Russian mafia with their bot-nets.

Well, I'm out of time, but here are a couple of other stories to think about:

The American security apparatus is out of control, and now includes almost a million people with top-secret security clearance. Soon enough, there won't be anything special about having security clearance -- what will make you special is if you don't have security clearance. To paraphrase Noam Chomsky: covert actions are only secret from the domestic population.

For some context, Kevin Carson has been expounding on how the National Security apparatus is becoming involved (or can be expected to get involved in) in all sorts of traditional law-enforcement activities, from the drug war, to copyright infringement, and just harassing dissidents.

Update: I should mention that this was inspired by a post at "The Ruling Class" blog, called, of all things, The Ruling Class.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

from Confessions of a Community College Dean: When Students are Homophobic

Confessions of a Community College Dean: When Students are Homophobic

This is an interesting little story about how a teacher (and school administrators) should respond to bigotry from students.

The comments are pretty good also (aside from the partisan sparring over whether conservatives/Republicans are bigots). My only contribution is to point out that everyone has power....even "subordinates". Power is a diverse and dynamic thing -- not a simple and static hierarchy. It can be direct (physical threats) or indirect (social influence). Indirect power can be formal (a landlord being able to call the cops to evict a tenant) or informal (defaming someone's character).