Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Guilt By Assosciation

I was perusing a rather interesting link about a programming language that AT&T created that is particularly useful for doing data mining on collections of human interactions. Like people calling one another ...

It might be a little surprising, but I have no issue with AT&T doing this. They not only did not hide this information, but published a research paper on it, and released a publicly available version complete with a developers guide.

Of interest to privacy advocates is the following quote:
A 2004 paper published in ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems shows how Hancock code can sift calling card records, long distance calls, IP addresses and internet traffic dumps, and even track the physical movements of mobile phone customers as their signal moves from cell site to cell site.
Again, what we are seeing is capability transparency and I am ok with that. Just remember that quote when you think that your movement is anonymous (and that was several years ago). Newer phones have gps capability built in anyway, which is far simpler to use ...

So what is pissing me off? This comment is:

So, what's the problem with a little data mining? Since the telco owns the call records, and you don't, they can mine all the data they want, and give it to whomever they want. If you don't want the telco to know you are calling hookers, or pushers, then don't call them.

It's not called the Public Switched Telephone Network for nothing!


Ok, so here goes. I am sick to death of these Ann Rand reading libertarian dreaming chronic masturbators*. We are a society of laws which describe what a corporation can and can not do with public information that they have been granted access to by the FCC. What does Public Switched Telephone Network mean anyway?? This is the same stupid thoughtless 'daddy knows best' attitude that started us down this long dark road of corporatist neo-fascism. Who the fuck came up with the stupid idea that corporations are somehow better at getting things done?

A corporation maximizes shareholder value. They do not particularly care about you rights, or your cat or your privacy except in that class action lawsuits might infringe on the bottom line. If you believe that google really acts in a 'do no evil' manner, you are far less cynical than I.

There is too much work to do for me to go on, which is probably for the better.

(*as an aside, this word spellchecks to 'bushmasters', 'masterstroke' and 'burgomasters'. Go figure.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Now that highway's coming through
So you all gotta move
This bottom rung ain't no fun at all
No fires and rockhouses and grape-flavored rat poison
They are the new trinity
For this so-called community
See how we are
Gotta keep bars on all of our windows
See how we are
We only sing about it once in every twenty years
See how we are
Oh see how we are

X. See How We Are

Things have been a little busy as of late, so time has been limiting my ability to complain. Sad really. I am skipping any discussion on the sa
d topic of "Islamofascist Week" being celebrated on campuses as an expression of intellectual freedom, until I can think of something meaningful to add to the dialog. Till then I will dream of David Horowitz's head on a stick.

One of the more interesting things I have run across is a perfect expression of what is really being protected by the Justice Departments increasing use of nat
ional security rubric in hiding non-security related issues.

Just think about this the next time that you see a 'security redaction'.

Original document section (click on for readable image):

After the proposed redaction was removed:

So what exactly are we being protected from?
"The danger to political dissent is acute where the Government attempts to act under so vague a concept as the power to protect 'domestic security.' Given the difficulty of defining the domestic security interest, the danger of abuse in acting to protect that interest becomes apparent."
This is a quotation from a supreme court decision. A public decision in a public document. Feel better?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Flogging redux

Some time ago (almost 2 months to the day), I put up a post that described my visceral anger at a democratic majority handing over changes to the FISA statutes. This made the little veins in head and neck throb and pulse rather alarmingly.

Not much better now.

Well anyway, several very smart and well informed individuals put together an informed version of much the same thing. From the abstract:
The civil-liberties concern is whether the new law puts Americans at risk of spurious -- and invasive -- surveillance by their own government. The security concern is whether the new law puts Americans at risk of illegitimate surveillance by others. We focus on security. How will the collection system determine that communications have one end outside the United States? How will the surveillance be secured? We examine the risks and put forth recommendations to address them.
The very short version looks like:
We see three serious security risks that have not been adequately addressed (or perhaps not even addressed at all): the danger that the system can be exploited by unauthorized users, the danger of criminal misuse by a trusted insider, and the danger of misuse by the U.S. government. Our recommendations are based on these concern.
It is currently posted as a draft, but is quite an enjoyable read. Much of what I wanted to originally express is written here, but without all the grandstanding and salty language.

Must go - there is homework to finish ...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Reason and Science, those flowers of mankind

Scoff at all knowledge and despise
reason and science, those flowers of mankind.
Let the father of all lies
with dazzling necromancy make you blind,
then I will have you unconditionally.
Gothe, Faust

I have been reading and thinking about the relationship that both the Left and the Right have with science, Reason and the Enlightenment and have a few words to say. This post will lack even the caustic fun that torture and proto-fascism seems to bring out in me, so I apologize ahead of time. On the other hand, this is an important topic to me and reflects real problems that exist both in and out of academia.

The relationship that society as a whole, and The Academy in particular has with the general box of thinking known as Science has been changing over the past few decades. This is significant to me for many reasons. For myself, the impartial questioning and rationalism represented by Science exists as the single most powerful weapon against the ever present tide of authoritarianism (and the Irrational which it represents). Since the time of the Enlightenment, there has been a constant tension between the good old days of godhead kings, and the dorks who want to make this planet covered in smelly apes just another dirty ball of rocks circling just another mid-size sun.

This is the classic conflict that most people think of with Religion vs. Science. It is well understood and has been described in some gruesome detail by people both smarter and more articulate than myself. We move on.

Likewise, the maddening influence of politics in the current generation of scientists has been gone over in some detail - for example by Chris Mooney's "The Republican War on Science." The term 'war' here is not a misnomer and can accurately be used to describe the current relationship. The tension between the two sides here is absolutely natural given that fact based thinking is antithetical to most ideological systems. I shall reluctantly put down that knife as well.

So what remains?

There exists today a growing hostility from both the left and the right within academia toward foundational science. The orchestrated movement against science and rationality is described in a book that I have been reading - "The Flight from Science and Reason", edited by Paul R. Gross, Norman Levitt and Martin W. Lewis. There are two significant thrusts described in the book (which is a thick collection of articles and presentations).

The first is a direct criticism of the idea of a meaningful value for the scientific method and impartial observations and facts. They just simply don't exist. The second is pseudoscience. What I mean by this is the sad state of affairs where you get fuzzy ideas dressed up under the guise of real science. Hahahaha!! There, I said it.

The very idea that facts are contextually embedded within some sort of social construction seems to me to be a definitive case of philosophical negligence. It can be fun in that creative philosophy paper writing sort of way, but when it comes to deciding if the speeding car is going to clear the intersection before I go through, the burden of proof needs to be a little more reality based. I suspect that even the most die-hard anti positivist looks both ways before they cross the street.

In a nearly unrelated note, my personal favorite example of things going quite wrong for the social constructivest's is the Sokal Affair. Stealing directly from wikipedia:

The Sokal Affair was a hoax by physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated on the editorial staff and readership of the postmodern cultural studies journal Social Text (published by Duke University). In 1996, Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, submitted a pseudoscientific paper for publication in Social Text, as an experiment to see if a journal in that field would, in Sokal's words: "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."[1]

The paper, titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"[2], was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue of Social Text, which at that time had no peer review process, and so did not submit it for outside review. On the day of its publication, Sokal announced in another publication, Lingua Franca, that the article was a hoax, calling his paper "a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense", which was "structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics" made by humanities academics.

This is getting too long so I need to just get to my point...

There are real consequences for Science caused by this growing anti-rational movement. While the academic popularity of postmodernism seems to be waining, the seeds of dissent from an intellectual foundation which is reality based grow on and on.

An interesting example (abet somewhat dated), is the initial draft for the National Science Education Standards from 1991. In an appendix designed to clarify contemporary views on the philosophy of science, we find the following:
Two competing paradigms of science have been the focus of disageement among historians, philosophers and sociologists. The older, referred to as logical positivism, is characterized by arguments for the objectivity of scientific observation and the truth of scientific knowledge. A more contemporary approach, often called postmodernism, questions the objectivity of observation and the truth of scientific knowledge.
After the assertion that science is "the mental representation constructed by the individual", the section ends with the following:
The National Science Educational Standards are based on the postmodernist view of the nature of science.
The section was removed when the reviewing commitie freaked out with some members resigning in disgust, but the same social constructivist view seems to be prevelent in the document even after editing. Acording to Holton (as I have not read the document myself!)
Nowhere appeared a statement that scientists seek to find regularities in nature, or to discover and explain new phenomena or laws, or to reach sharable and testable insights about the lawfulness and order in the natural world. By these proposed standards, Marie Curie did not discover radium, she "constructed" it.
I could go on and on, but I will stop now. As I see it, this is just another step away from a social order based on rational discussion and order of law. I will continue this argument at some later post since this is already far longer than any sane person would read.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tin Foil Hats (I)

With the revelation (to me anyway) that AT&T had a contract with the NSA pre 9/11, a few things have fallen into place.

First a little information about what has come to light based on alligations in a series of lawsuits against AT&T for allegedly turning phone records illegally over to the NSA. According to the allegations in the lawsuit:
The project was described in the ATT sales division documents as calling for the construction of a facility to store and retain data gathered by the NSA from its domestic and foreign intelligence operations but was to be in actuality a duplicate ATT Network Operations Center for the use and possession of the NSA that would give the NSA direct, unlimited, unrestricted and unfettered access to all call information and internet and digital traffic on ATT's long distance network. […]

The NSA program was initially conceived at least one year prior to 2001 but had been called off; it was reinstated within 11 days of the entry into office of defendant George W. Bush.

An ATT Solutions logbook reviewed by counsel confirms the Pioneer-Groundbreaker project start date of February 1, 2001.
Assuming that this is true, we have the following data points:
  • AT&T made arrangements to allow the NSA access to a major switching facility in San Francisco. This arrangement is from what I understand, illegal.
  • This agreement pre-dates 9-11.
  • Under several versions of the updates FISA telco companies are being given retroactive immunity from prosecution for illegally sharing data with the government. Probably other patriotic things as well. This is an acknowledgment that what the telcos have been doing is illegal.
  • AT&T recently announced an interest in developing technologies relating to piracy:
Earlier this month, about 20 technology executives from Viacom, its Paramount movie studio and other Hollywood companies met at AT&T headquarters to start devising a technology that would stem piracy but not violate privacy laws or Internet freedoms espoused by the FCC, the “Times” reported.
So here is my idea:

The NSA can no longer gather data using the 'historical' ways of doing buisness. There is too much public exposure and (more significantly) if the FISA blanket is not put in place the CEO's and their winged monkies will be torn to pieces by the angry shareholders. Under the guise of attacking internet piracy, a whole new monitoring infrastructure will be put into place. And we will have the vast powers of the FCC to protect our basic freedoms. Joy.

That's all.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cephalopod Awareness Day

Almost missed it, happy cephalopod awareness day! Rock on invertebrates!


I am going to make this quick, as there is another longer post about the movement against science and rationalism in the editor. This is so excessively stupid, that I must rid my mind of it.

The head of Science at the London University's Institute of Education said the following:
"I am not convinced that something being 'non-scientific' is sufficient to disqualify it from being considered in a science lesson."
This is fucking flat out stupid and wrong. This is flat earth blathering nonsense. This is making my head hurt.

Oh but wait, there's more!
"The days have long gone when science teachers could ignore creationism when teaching about origins," he said.

Instead, they should tackle the issue head-on but in a way that does not alienate students, he argues in the book, Teaching About Scientific Origins: Taking Account of Creationism.

It will come as no surprise to anybody that the speaker (Professor Michael Reiss) happens also to be a priest.

Let me make this short and sweet. There are many groups to the left and to the right who want to use the rubric of Science without the responsibility that goes with it. This is not how Science works. If you want to sit at the grown up table, you right fucking have to play by the rules.

More later.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

War Pigs

Chapter 23: Where our semi-anonymous hero tries to prevent his semi-anonymous head from literally spinning off his body and bouncing off the ceiling as a response to excessive disgust and anger. Again.

The question at hand is simple. What needs to happen before you think that we have a real problem with the current administration. Really think about it. Most of the people I know who are reading this (all three of you!) share in the belief that there is something unseemly about the current state of affairs with the government. There seems to be no real debate about:
  • Suspension of Habeas Corpus for citizens on the decree of the executive branch
  • Human rights abuses - like killing and torture. Crimes against Humanity.
  • Illegal War(s)
  • Ignoring Congressional over site
  • Illegally monitoring US citizens communications
  • Fiscal impropriety
  • No responsibility for failed actions
This list is in no order, and represents small fraction of the Crimes against the Government and Citizenry of the Unites States and indeed the world.

So what? I have been down this road so many other times you are probably beginning to wonder if I am capable of breaking out of this rut. Probably not, but I do have a point. Let me start with:
“I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote.

The ranking Republican on the panel, Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said Thursday night in a statement that the committee had been briefed on the administration’s “legal justifications” for interrogation.

Mr. Bond said he understood that the administration did not want to turn over the opinions themselves because they had confidential legal advice.


My question to you is: who are these people? "Confidential legal advice" rather offends me. From what I understand, this represents the attorney client privilege (which this administration has been quite comfortable in ignoring for other people) which exists between an individual and their lawyer. In this case it would be between one (sub) branch of the government and their legal staff where communications probably indicate a desire to commit illegal acts. For the rest of us, that would probably be felony conspiracy - and not the tinfoil hat kind either.

What is really being said here? in summary:

One 2005 opinion gave the Justice Department’s most authoritative legal approval to the harshest agency techniques, including head slapping, exposure to cold and simulated drowning, even when used in combination.

The second opinion declared that under some circumstances, such techniques were not “cruel, inhuman or degrading,” a category of treatment that Congress banned in December 2005.

Administration officials said Thursday that there was no contradiction between the still-secret rulings and an opinion made public by the Justice Department in December 2004 that declared torture “abhorrent” and appeared to retreat from the administration’s earlier assertion of broad presidential authority to conduct harsh interrogations.

These are word games that they are playing. The Justice Department (sigh) declares torture abhorrent and then secretly says that you can waterboard people in freezers because it is not cruel.

It is the smug condecention of this which angers me so.

Everything these morons touch falls to dust, except the money taken out of our pockets. That I am afraid seems to be the only thing incapable of tarnish. I do not have an answer for the question posed.

I leave you with this.
Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

Masters of War
Bob Dylan