Thursday, May 15, 2014

Thin Blue Lifeline.

I saw one of those uplifting, good news type stories in my news feed today:

Police officer picks up tab for the groceries a desperate mother tried to STEAL to feed her struggling family

I re-shared it for a couple reasons.

First, it's awfully popular to hate on the police. I understand that what they do is often unpopular, and very few of us ever have or take the opportunity to have a pleasant encounter with the thin blue line. In a larger sense, this is true of everything we do. We can be model employees, but a single fuckup is what our bosses will tend to remember. So it is important that we take time to remember that these individuals have taken a job that they know is unpopular, that doesn't pay well, and is dangerous, almost universally out of a sense of service. It is also important to remember that most of them retain that sense of service and community; and to remind ourselves in positive ways why it is that such a profession exists. The watchman doesn't just repel dangers, but checks in to ensure our well being. Which leads to my second reason:

This is exactly what the police ought to do.

I'm not saying buy groceries for folk, that was an act of charity above and beyond the duties of an officer. But it is an indicator of how the officer ought to view their role and act within that role, and that role is as a member of the community.

I've heard people wax nostalgic about the days when the cops that walked a beat in your neighborhood knew your name. I am wary of nostalgia, but this is a worthwhile goal. It fosters a sense of connection between the officers and their charges. It enhances community appreciation of the police. It means that there are enough police to have them walking about and knowing their areas and the people within them.

I'm writing about this news item here for a third reason. A while ago I opined on nullification, and made the point that while the police ought not to have de jure powers of nullification, the realities of law enforcement give them such powers de facto. This good news story is an example of this de facto nullification: the law requires that the woman, a thief, should be arrested and punished; in most cases the law is perfectly logical and therefore should remain standing. However, the officer took the time to consider the situation and chose not to enforce the law, because in this specific situation the effect of doing so would have been beyond negative. This officer, rather than act without imagination, did the right thing without the waste of time, money, and paper that would go into legislating every conceivable exception that can or ought to be made to the law.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spy Games

If you asked me what the most myopic thing in the news today is, I'd give the outrage over this as an answer:

US coping with furious allies as NSA spying revelations grow
US should accept limits on spying on allies
Spying on Allies Fits President Obama's Standoffish Profile

The majority of news sources are treating the "revelations" that the US spies on its allies as some sort of bombshell, as though international relations were conducted between preteens who still get shocked when they find out their friends talk about them behind their backs.

And so, in this "Hollywood Tonite" approach to International Relations, we are treated to surprise when it is revealed that Germany is still talking to us and has a delegation of intelligence professionals en route to the US.

They speculate, in their ignorance, that it is to discuss getting the US to knock it the hell off.

That is total bullshit, and I think any reasonable adult who steps outside, gets a breath of fresh air, and forgets the hype, can understand why.

NPR gets it:
4 Things To Know About Spying On Allies

Everyone spies on everyone. It's an accepted and expected aspect of international relations. Society is a bit weird, though, and holds a bit of a double standard. So while Barack Obama and Angela Merkel may have assumed (or even explicitly known) that they were being spied on, there has to be a bit of a public shit-show for the plebes when "embarrassing" revelations are made.

Chancellor Merkel shakes a finger at President Obama, and in a few weeks, everything quiets down and the world moves on.

At least, that would be the case if it wasn't for some very REAL embarrassments that didn't change the situation slightly.

Embarrassments like these assholes:

The US spying on allied countries is no big deal until the very instant the US starts having problems containing its classified information, because information taken by spies tends to be of a classified nature - that is, it's not just American secrets that are at risk.

So this hubbub over American indiscretion is not entirely disingenuous. There IS a big problem with the US spying on our allies. But it has nothing to do with Chancellor Merkel feeling invaded. It has to do with feeling exposed.

My guess is that the German intelligence envoy is not going to spend most of their time discussing how much less spying the US can do on Germany - though in a grand scheme of things it would be advantageous to do so - but rather inspecting US security protocols to ensure that German secrets are adequately protected.

They will also likely take some time to work out what German secrets have already been compromised so that the German government can get a head start on some PR and damage control. The French, and any other allies, would be smart to make similar assurances for themselves. Given the close-knit nature of Europe, they may be piggy-backing on the German mission. It would be more prudent for them to see to their own business, though, and I expect visits from our NATO partners will be coming soon. Once everybody's asses are sufficiently covered, this little debacle will simply fade from public consciousness.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"This Man's Army"

There are an unbelievable number of preventable, serious breaches of honor and integrity occurring in the military.

Snowden worked at NSA for less than a year and took the job with the intention of leaking information.

In the entire clearance process, not ONE person managed to make him as a fraud.

Manning showed countless signs of being unhinged. Not one person in his chain of command did what was necessary to stop him before it was too late. Not one person who in-processed him made him as a confused and tormented individual. Instead, we handed him a clearance.

The Army is going to try and make this about individuals, but there are critical failures within the Army itself that are going unaddressed. As we speak, there are half a thousand students going through AIT to become Intelligence Analysts. By the end of the year, the majority of them will be handling sensitive information. Nowhere near that proportion of them is actually mentally and/or psychologically qualified to do that job with the attention to detail and gravitas it requires. They are being permitted to do things which they ought not to be because the Army is willing to cut corners to fill the demands of a war that is all-but over.

Manning, Snowden, and Hassan are guilty and deserve punishment. None of what I've said is intended to exonerate them. But let's not forget that the blame for the damage they have done does not rest solely with them.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Some Sense Regarding Syria

Given my line of work, I've been keeping abreast of the Syrian Civil War. My coworkers and I have formed some ...unpopular opinions about the best course of action.

To wit, we're rooting for Assad.

This is not because he's necessarily a great guy. We joke sometimes that he should get a nomination for Time's "Man of the Year" because he has managed (despite the claims every few weeks to the contrary) to avoid using his chemical stockpile in his efforts to maintain order in the country, and by extension maintain stability in Asia Minor.

That last little piece is what is most important here. In case you've been entirely ignorant of world affairs the last two years, the entire Middle East is in a bit of an uproar. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, and Afghanistan are either in the midst or on the brink of what we'll euphemize as "major paradigm shift"

In many cases, this is not necessarily a good thing. I'll talk more about it in another post, which will focus on Egypt, but suffice it to say that we, as a nation, have some very simple and idealistic notions which often serve to act counter to our best interests as a nation.

Were it not for the Syrian government's connections to Iran and Hezbollah, I firmly believe that our internal debate about which side (if any) to choose in the Syrian conflict would have been ended months ago in favor of Assad.

Syria was one of the most stable countries in the Levant. They had a mostly secular government which, due to its composition of a minority sect, served to protect the rights of both Sunni and Shia Muslims within the country. Sympathies towards Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas comprised a known element which could be accounted for, which both the United States and Israel did.

The Syrian opposition represents not only an unknown quantity, but an unpredictable one. The rebels are not a unified group, but a loosely affiliated cluster of dissident organizations who have little in common but a mutual interest in the destabilization of the Syrian region. Many of the groups have terrorist support. Many of them are openly anti-US. These are important considerations for any aid: There is no way to control which aspects of the Syrian Opposition get support, but the Syrian Military, which is an organized and homogenous force, CAN offer that security. There is no way to know which faction of the Syrian Opposition will attain power should they win; but we know from experience EXACTLY how the Assad regime will behave.

To oversimplify, the Syrian conflict boils down to the old dilemma of "the enemy you know" versus "the enemy you don't". This is an oversimplification because we know, at least in part, a bit of the enemy we have in the Syrian Opposition, and it is an enemy that no country - not even Iran - has an interest in handing control of a nation and its resources.

The US Government has been wavering on the subject of intervention in the Syrian Conflict. Due to the pressures and misguided sympathies of an uninformed and capricious public, we have been supplying marginal amounts of aid to the rebels. But it is best that we remain uncommitted in this conflict, and deal with whoever the victor is from a neutral position. Fortunately, it appears the victor (absent US, NATO, or UN intervention) will be the standing Syrian government. They have the military hardware, the air supremacy, and funding from some of the greatest military powers in the world on their side. By withdrawing from the Syrian conflict, we all but assure Assad's victory and can resume diplomacy in the Middle East status quo ante.

And finally, someone in the US government has seen and heard reason, and has spoken in its favor.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Difference Between Retreat and Tactical Withdrawal

In a disappointing turn of events today, Brad Manning was acquitted of what was arguably the most important charge leveled against him: Aiding and Abetting the Enemy.

This means that he has dodged a minimum mandatory life sentence, though this could (and arguably, should) be a matter of semantics. The full weight of the crimes for which he has been found guilty carry a combined sentence of well over a hundred years.

This is assuming that the sentences are not served concurrently.

As my opening statement made abundantly clear, I have no love or respect for Manning. I remain hopeful that he spends the rest of his life behind bars. Furthermore, I am hopeful that his acquittal on the charge of primary importance was politically motivated to create advantages for the preservation of Information Security.

Edward Snowden is currently seeking, and has received a limited version of, political asylum. The Russians, who currently hold his fate in their hands, have so far protected him on two grounds: First, that they feel the United States have been unduly harsh on perceived whistleblowers (no doubt a reference to the trial of Manning). Second, that they have no extradition treaty with the United States. While this second point will require some considerable political maneuvering, the first provides the crux of whether or not Snowden will receive asylum.

By acquitting Manning, the issue of leaks has been depoliticized. Manning and Snowden are now simply at risk of punishment for crimes which the whole world, themselves included, admit committing. Intelligence is a sacred lifeline for all nations, and no self-respecting government can brook a threat to the security of their secrets.

This is surely not lost on the Russians, whose protection of Snowden has no end other than the pique of the United States. However, all nations have a public face to present, and so in order to be the guardians of order and righteousness which they proclaimed in their issuance of partial protection to Snowden, they will be put in a tough spot by the news that Manning is officially not a traitor. If they do not return Snowden, the grounds for asylum are also now clearly not present, and Snowden may have to find himself in places where less political power can be brought to bear in his defense.

A similar case may also be found in Julian Assange, who has managed to hide himself away in an embassy in London lest he face extradition. The whole of Europe, who fretted over the injustice of his possible fate as a spy in the United States, now has no reason to worry and therefore no reason to sour relations with the United States over a single muckraker, hacker, and thief.

All told, I am hopeful that my disappointment will turn into a greater overall victory as we are able to thoroughly and without hindrance persecute and prosecute these traitors and spies who proclaim "anti-secrecy" and once again establish the rule of law and order in our Intelligence communities.

"I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are."
-William Tecumseh Sherman

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Void of God

Trying to hijack science as proof of religion is an old trick.

Inescapably, though, it is a non-falsifiable claim, and therefore not rational. But it is comforting to those who hold the belief.

But the only bearing comfort has on science is in ergonomics.

The old religions have had to move perpetually backwards. God used to live on the mountain. When we reached the top of the mountain, and God was not there, God went to the clouds and the sky. And when we went to the sky, and God was not there, God went to space. But God has not been found in space, he has not been found in the sun, or on the moon, or in the caves or on the ocean floor. He has not been found in the cells or in the atoms or in the spaces in between the atoms. He has not been found in the solar system or in the galaxy. He has not been found in the light matter, he has not been found in the dark matter, he has not been found in the wavelengths or in the echoes from the beginning of time.

There is not one touch of the divine upon anything in this universe, and those who need to debase the human experience and human progress by attributing it to some designer have been forced to ignore evidence, or to banish their gods to ever more remote places in the vain hope that science will not reach there, or that when it does, maybe, perhaps, THIS TIME they will find God. They have been forced to bend over backwards to claim credit for god when it is the glory of man which they should revel in, the glory of our civilization, the wealth that we reap for the struggle and adversity that we have overcome.

It is a perversion.

And it is not rational; nor is it desirable in any sense. The churches and the cults can say all they want how grand the design of the creator is, but ultimately, deeply, they know they are clinging to the flotsam of the false hope they peddle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Religious Right comes to grips with rejection?

In response to this article:
Religious right comes to grips with rejection - by Steve Benen

I'm not much of a Maddow fan.

She's better than, say, her idiot colleague Olbermann, but she's still far too obviously, unapologetically, unflinchingly biased for me to take her seriously as a reporter. The MSNBC crowd is just as guilty as the Fox crowd in my mind. So when I saw this article appear on her blog, I flinched a little.

The author of this article hedges his bets here, though in the end he's still a little more optimistic than I think is justified.

Ultimately, we all want to believe we are on the winning side of history, that we are part of something important or that will be remembered well. You don't see people preparing for their life as a zombie in the zombie apocalypse; the last few centuries have been riddled with warnings that we live in the "end times" because it's just not exciting or compelling to be living somewhere in "the middle".

Nonetheless, I am inclined to be optimistic with him. The last several years have seen a progressive rejection of religious influence in our government; by the courts, the congress, the presidency, and the electorate.

This is indeed a good thing: the hallmarks of religious thought are anathema to progress, whether they manifest as religion, superstition, or conspiracy theorism. If the religious right is truly preparing to give up the fight then we will be at the end of one dark age in American politics and, potentially, at the dawn of a renaissance. The Republican Party has many things to offer America, and without the baggage of fundamentalist Christianity it is possible that we could once again reap the benefits that conservatism has to offer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Men of their Word

Collected from my exploits on the internet: This was taken from a discussion of George Carlin's suggestion that if soldiers were to stop "showing up" to wars, then war would end. The discussion turned to the oath that every soldier takes to obey his orders, and whether or not a person should be reasonably expected to live up to that oath.

One more point of context, else some of my arguments will likely make no sense: This discussion was taking place in a Libertarian group.

"You need to be more specific , as I think an oath to an institution that theoretically exists to protect a collective abstraction is questionable"

What about non-competition or non-disclosure agreements? What about being contracted in any manner? Your signature on a contract is an oath to be bound by the terms of that contract. You ARE honor bound, as well as legally bound to abide by the terms of that contract.

Even if the other party in that contract is some Corporation or Organization or Government or any other "collective abstraction".

If I suddenly "Don't feel like" finishing paving your driveway, for instance, am I justified in leaving? Or are you justified in holding me responsible for *what I said I would do*? At the end of the day, what will a jury say? That a man who doesn't "feel like" being "forced" to be as good as his word should be allowed to just up and walk out; or will they determine that I am somehow responsible for the completion of the work, whether I do it myself or end up paying for someone more responsible than I to do it for me?

Or consider it in terms of something a goodly number of people here are likely familiar with:

"I, [your name here], do hereby certify that I do not believe in or advocate the initiation of force as a means of achieving political or social goals."

Many people here doubtless signed their names to this pledge. Some of them even did so in sound mind and with witnesses. Such an oath is meaningless if people can say:

"Today, I don't feel like abiding by the non-aggression principle. Tomorrow maybe, but today it is inconvenient and perhaps I may even articulate that it is inherently immoral for me to swear such a thing or even for someone to claim that I be even remotely expected to abide by its language"

You simply CAN'T have a civilized culture without people being expected to maintain their oaths. Unless you're one of those "state's rights" folk who considers slavery "civilized". The Responsibility side of "Freedom and Responsibility" comes in many forms: one of those forms is being able to honor a promise, a contract, or an oath.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Trouncing of a Denialist Truther

I apologize for the spelling errors in this one, but I felt that in the name of integrity I should leave the comments to which I was replying intact. This was a reply to an especially grievously retarded Denialist I encountered in the midst of a debate on 9/11 "Truth".

‎"They determind the official report did not add up and they looked at the info they had and tried to see what conclusions could result"

This is the definition of confirmation bias. You just admitted that they knew what conclusion they wante...d to reach, then they actively looked for evidence SPECIFICALLY to support that conclusion. That is not scientific.

"...but nothing is absolute."

If nothing is absolute, then neither is your statement that nothing is absolute.

"Science its self is flawed and almost everything is theory"

Ahhhh yes this one. You hear it from the religious and the magical thinkers all the time, because they don't understand what exactly science is.

Science is not a God-surrogate. Where a god or religion will claim to have all the answers, science readily admits that there are things to learn. The entire point of the process is a constant and cumulative re-assessment of what we claim to know. Science seeks to create a model of the universe, and through a careful - cautious, even - and rigorous process that model gets consistently more accurate.

People use the word "Theory" as though it implies doubt. What people mean when they say "theory" is closer to what a real scientist would call a "hypothesis". Scientists, however, are much more precise with their language. When a scientist says "theory" it means that whatever being discussed is a model for a phenomenon that accurately and consistently predicts the behavior of a system. What we know of gravity is "just a theory," yet I know if I drop my coffee cup IT WILL fall, and while doing so it WILL accelerate at a rate of 32f/s/s until either drag = gravity (which we call terminal velocity) or it hits the ground.

Besides, if science IS indeed flawed - and I will say right here that it is not, because if it were then the scientific process would have discovered such an error and corrected for it - then you must accept that the conclusions reached by Truthers using so-called scientific methods can be flawed, especially as they were constructed by lay-people instead of scientists. To insist upon a margin for error as an argument against one side and to ignore it on your own is not scientific.

"They have limited information to go off of"

So do scientists. Nobody happened to have any equipment set up in the towers to record the event - no high speed cameras, no accelerometers, nothing. Yet the scientific community has overwhelmingly supported the orthodox view of the events of that day. Of course, there are always outliers, even in the scientific community, but to focus on the extremes of the bell curve is to ignore the whole. And excluding evidence in favor of using a couple of outliers out of context is the epitome of "not scientific"

"the government is capable of getting away with anything" and "The government is not going to give free reign to anyone"

I love this one. This line of thought proves beyond any other how much more Truther thinking aligns with religious rather than scientific thought, because while in scientfic thought we don't generally see absolutes, we encounter such characters all the time in religion. I call this particular character the Omnipotent Malefactor, and this is what reason does to him:

The Omnipotent Malefactor takes many guises in conspiracist thought - the Illuminati, the Elders of Zion, the Lizard People, Zenu - but most are forms of "The Government" or "The Man". The Omnipotent Malefactor has these qualities: it is infinitely powerful, it is monolithic, it is impersonal, and it thrives on acts of evil and hubris. It is responsible for all the evil in the world and yet, despite its power, it tends to prefer to work in secret. It can do anything, it can prevent anything, and it commands millions - if not billions - of thralls. And interestingly, despite its infinite power, money, and influence, it always makes some mistake which reveals its hand in the evil in the world; some little details that only a small group of miraculously enlightened and free people recognize and will use to fight this all-powerful, all-evil being.

Examine that construction closely. We have an all powerful entity for some reason intimately interested in and connected to the events of our dust mote in the cosmos and a small group of people who have recieved "Truth". Stripped of names, dates, places, you would be right in assuming that conspiracism is a religion, the same in content, methodology, and mindset as any of the Abrahamic faiths. There is God, steering world events for good or ill, his angels and ministers to help work his will (for some reason) and a church, who despite never seeing, nor hearing, nor having ANY evidence whatsoever for his existence claims to not only KNOW he exists, but to know his nature, his methods, and sometimes even his innermost thoughts.

And I'll say it here, as an aside, to keep with the theme of my essay: Religion is NOT scientific.

But like many religious constructs, we reach an interesting conclusion. Like all ideas centering on omnipotence, we have the inevitable issue of how one reconciles free-agency with that power. That is, if our Omnipotent Malefactor really is so powerful that it can "get away with anything" then it is powerful enough that nothing exceeds its will.

If the Omnipotent Malefactor makes "mistakes" then it is surely not all powerful - id est, not omnipotent - and cannot "get away with anything" and the entire argument falls on its face. A simple and effective way to prove that line of thought wrong, but not very entertaining. What it means, of course, is that if this entity makes mistakes, then we have to examine the entire Malevolent enterprise with an eye for error.

What happens when you allow such massive mistakes that even an idiot like Alex Jones can see them? The entire thing falls apart. There would be no conspiracy, because the sheer scale of the conspiracy would require that at some point PRIOR to execution that a mistake would occur that would doom the entire thing. We see this in conspiracies MUCH smaller ALL THE TIME - at some point the payoff for selling out the conspiracy outweighs the payoff for carrying it out. The larger and more complex the conspiracy, the more time it takes to pull off, the more likely a traitor becomes. Even if there is not a traitor, simple human nature, expressed so well in Murphy's Law, is such that the more complex an enterprise of any kind becomes, the more likely it is that somebody or something will screw up. While smaller conspiracies can and sometimes do manage to avoid or survive such mistakes, a conspiracy as large as the one that the Omnipotent Malefactor would have had to construct in order to make it appear that Muslim Fundamentalists hijacked planes and flew them into three buildings (for some yet unknown, yet highly conjectured and delightfully malevolent ends) would have suffered BOTH problems MULTIPLE times and the conspiracy would have collapsed in upon itself.

Since it evidentally did not, as no traitors have come forward nor were any mistakes apparently made in the preparatory phase, we must assume that either the Omnipotent Malefactor actually IS Omnipotent, in the full and literal sense, or does not exist at all.

Perhaps, like Jehovah, this Omnipotent Malefactor is a vain entity. In that case, then the Truthers are also its unwitting servants, thralls and sheep like the rest of us, whose purpose is to point at the Omnipotent Malefactor and say "Oh you! I see what you did there! Gee Whiz, was that a grand show of power! By Golly, was that evil! But Darn, you are so good at being secret that nobody caught you! That must be because you're SO powerful!" I especially like this idea, because it makes conspiracists the biggest shills of all. But unfortunately, I do not believe in the Omnipotent Malefactor, and so the conspiracists are simply idiots.

But there is yet another layer in this Malevolent onion, and the one most likely to draw a tear. In order for there to BE a conspiracy of the type proponed by Truthers there MUST be an Omnipotent Malefactor behind it. Because of the capacity for error otherwise introduced, the Omnipotent Malefactor MUST be at least functionally Omnipotent to such a degree that nothing escapes its will. Without such an entity, we are forced to believe less extraordinary explanations for the events of early September, 2001, because without such an entity such a complex conspiracy could not come to fruition. Without an Omnipotent Malefactor, the Truth movement is simply wrong. But if the Omnipotent Malefactor exists, then by definiton nothing - absolutely nothing - can be done about it. Even the Truthers are part of its evil plan.

Yes, the last layer is that the inescapable conclusion that we reach when looking at conspiracists is that they are either hopeless - subjects all to the whims of the Omnipotent Malefactor - or they are wrong.