We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

On whistleblowers

High-level whistleblowers know when they come forward that they’re sacrificing their national security clearance, likely their jobs, and quite possibly their freedom. Set aside for a moment what you think about the actions of Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden. Imagine you have a top-level security clearance, and you discover in the course of your work evidence of illegal government activity. Even going through the proper internal channels carries risks, and aren’t likely to change much, anyway. (Thomas Drake, remember, actually went through the proper internal channels to expose government spying — he was prosecuted, anyway. He now works at an Apple store.) Would you risk your career, your lifestyle, your family’s security, and possibly your freedom to expose it? How serious would it need to be for your to consider going public? It needn’t even be something as dire as national security. I’ve seen and reported on countless law enforcement officers whose careers were cut short (or worse) when they reported wrongdoing by other cops, or more systemic problems within their police agencies.

Radley Balko.

This is an issue that is unlikely to go away regardless of which political party holds sway in major Western powers. For all the talk about “freedom of information”, “transparency” and the like, the benefits of silencing awkward people are too great. And what is particularly hypocritical about all this is that governments routinely like to lecture banks, for example, on the need for their staff to sound the alarm about would-be money launderers.

Balko has interesting ideas on how to reduce the costs to those who sound the alarm.

Total surveillance means absolute power

It has been less than 42 years since a US President ordered his minions to break in to the opposition party’s headquarters in an effort to conduct espionage directed at undermining them.

Now, thanks to the NSA, no one would need to physically break in to anything — a few calls would be sufficient.

People keep talking about the current NSA scandal as though privacy was something intended to keep your neighbors from finding out you listen to embarrassing music — an understandable desire but ultimately of no great importance. To believe that is why people need privacy is to completely misunderstand what is at stake here.

Richard Nixon really existed, and was really elected to office. The problem is not a hypothetical one.

Consider just for a moment what an unscrupulous President, like Richard Nixon, equipped with the information already available from the NSA could do to his political opponents, to reporters trying to find out the truth about his activities, to anyone he thought of as being “in the way”. Consider how much easier it would be for such a President to find his enemies given what the NSA has already built.

Total Surveillance Means Absolute Power.

The surveillance systems that have been developed by the NSA are too dangerous for us to permit to exist.

nixon-resigns

(39 years ago almost to the day.)

NSA outrage fatigue

A new story from The Guardian, barely twelve hours after the last set of revelations: “NSA loophole allows warrantless search for US citizens’ emails and phone calls”.

Yes, this one is indeed far worse than the previous ones, unbelievable as that might seem.

Explaining why to those not following in detail is almost not worth it any longer, however.

A friend of mine long ago coined the term “Outrage Fatigue”, the condition in which so many awful actions by a set of State actors have been revealed that one can no longer hope to track the entire list of their offenses and crimes in one’s head.

I have long since passed that point for the Obama administration in general. Imprisonment without charge, war crimes, coverups, the silencing of whistleblowers and dozens of other acts have become so numerous that I cannot hope to remember them all.

However, I have now passed the point where, even as a putative subject matter expert, I could hope to remember even everything that has been revealed about just this one scandal.

It is painfully clear that the contempt of the Obama Administration and its minions for the rule of law is near total, that their contempt for the truth is near total, and that one’s confidence in anything they say in public whatsoever should be precisely zero.

The price to US businesses of NSA snooping

Fears over NSA surveillance revelations endanger US cloud computing industry:

American technology businesses fear they could lose between $21.5bn and $35bn in cloud computing contracts worldwide over the next three years, as part of the fallout from the NSA revelations. Some US companies said they have already lost business, while UK rivals said that UK and European businesses are increasingly wary of trusting their data to American organisations, which might have to turn it over secretly to the National Security Agency, its government surveillance organisation.

Of course it is highly unlikely that GCHQ or its French and German counterparts are actually any less intrusive, but that said, I suspect the budget for these organisation would not keep the NSA’s staff in Cheetos and RAM upgrades, so on that basis alone I suppose your data is probably safer anywhere but the USA.

But the perception that the USA is the very worst option in the First World from a security perspective is now going to be very hard to change, whatever the truth of the matter. I did see this coming.

Samizdata quote of the day

No one has willfully or knowingly disobeyed the law or tried to invade your civil liberties or privacies… There were no mistakes like that at all.

General Keith Alexander

This is either delusion of omniscience and infallibility, or psychopathic contempt for truth and for the ‘little people’ who are imagined to believe whatever the great and powerful Oz says. Either way, it makes him a candidate for a straitjacket, not running an uncontrolled global para-state.

NSA catches cab driver sending $8,500 to Somalia

NSA Nabs Cabbie!

Yes, folks, you heard it here first! The NSA, in the midst of a full-court press to capture our hearts and minds, has revealed the secret of one of its most important cases. It managed to catch a cab driver who was sending $8,500 to Somalia. Countless lives must have been saved in the process!

With impressive results like these, it is obvious why we need a Stasi-like total surveillance state, at a cost of [redacted] billon dollars per year.

Lavabit shuts down

Lavabit was, until a few hours ago, a secure email hosting company with something over 400,000 customers. One of their users was (apparently) Edward Snowden.

They have shut down, apparently because they refused to assist in spying on their own clients, as similar companies such as Hushmail are reputed to do.

Unfortunately, US law now makes it a crime to discuss requests from our masters for “assistance” of this sort, so we can only assume that this is what has happened. Presuming the guess to be true, I commend them for their sense of honor. Many would not ruin themselves when faced with a choice between keeping their promises and obeying the authority of a police state.

Quoting their “goodbye” page:

“This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

Samizdata quote of the day

If Snowden had gotten things his own way, he’d be writing earnest op-ed editorials in Hong Kong now, in English, while dining on Kung Pao Chicken. It’s some darkly modern act of crooked fate that has directed Edward Snowden to Moscow, arriving there as the NSA’s Solzhenitsyn, the up-tempo, digital version of a conscience-driven dissident defector.

But Snowden sure is a dissident defector, and boy is he ever. Americans don’t even know how to think about characters like Snowden — the American Great and the Good are blundering around on the public stage like blacked-out drunks, blithering self-contradictory rubbish. It’s all “gosh he’s such a liar” and “give us back our sinister felon,” all while trying to swat down the jets of South American presidents.

These thumb-fingered acts of totalitarian comedy are entirely familiar to anybody who has read Russian literature. The pigs in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” have more suavity than the US government is demonstrating now. Their credibility is below zero.

The Russians, by contrast, know all about dissidents like Snowden. The Russians have always had lots of Snowdens, heaps. They know that Snowden is one of these high-minded, conscience-stricken, act-on-principle characters who is a total pain in the ass.

Bruce Sterling, who I think has his own head up his arse half the time (my god he is still clinging to the Climate Change shtick and is thus as credulous as many of the people he is inclined to mock)… but Sterling is nevertheless always a fun read because in addition to being half wrong, it is also (generally) half right.

Yes Jimmy, ‘porn filters’ are ridiculous, but…

… this is not really about porn, other than very tangentially. And it is not even about pederasty or terrorism or any of those nasties that we tend to agree are Rather Bad Things and which get trotted out at the first sign of opposition to the rapidly coalescing Panopticon. No, it is about exactly the same things that induced the Chinese state to put the so called Great Internet Wall of China in place.

It is about political control, pure and simple, which a very substantial number of people support. Indeed most people who works in a government job think what they do is sufficiently important to justify having any information that they want about you.

So Jimmy, this is not really about porn at all.

Put the boot in, Guido!

When I read this

THE country’s top political blogger, Paul Staines – better known as Guido Fawkes – has threatened to sue Tory MP Claire Perry after she alleged he had “sponsored” a hack attack on her website.

… I was moved to say that this Perry is very much in favour of Guido using the courts to kick the living hell out of that Perry, the thuggish ‘Honourable’ member for Devizes.

Put the boot in, Guido!

So I suppose we are about to see how credulous people really are

The dependably nauseating David Cameron is demanding a massive infrastructure for internet censorship… oh to protect the children, of course.

And also of course, this is not really about porn… that is a bare faced lie. It is about political control. The state wants to easily be able to log what you look at and to easily block access to whatever it deems ‘unacceptable. The notion any government can be trusted with the infrastructure to control what people can see is madness.

A slightly more temperate post about unwanted contact

Before being overwhelmed by phone-induced homicidal rage the other day, I had intended to discuss a subject that has been interesting me lately, namely how difficult it is to specify in advance rules for social interaction. More specifically, I was pondering how hard it is to lay down rules for dealing with unwanted contact. Cold calling is one form of that; what are traditionally described as “unwanted advances” are another.

The problem is that word “unwanted”. To say, as the organisational psychologist quoted in this article does, that “An unwanted advance is a form of injustice”, strikes me as unfair. We are not telepaths. Quite often the only way one can find out that unwanted contact is unwanted is to ask, that is, to initiate unwanted contact. On the other hand while we may not have telepathy, we most of us do have empathy to help us guess in advance when advances might be unwelcome. Phone sales companies know to the fifth decimal place exactly how likely their calls are to be welcome. They know that the first four of those decimal places are filled by zeros, scumbags that they are. Few men asking a woman out have quite such a large database of prior results upon which to draw. I’m glad I’m not a guy! That last breath before you open your mouth to begin the sentence that might get you rejected cruelly or rejected kindly must be painful.

So I pondered, and while pondering hopped from link to link, as one does, and I came across a really interesting article in Gawker from July 7th which encapsulated several relevant issues. It describes a bitter row in the community of atheist activists. Given that I was out of sympathy with both the parties to the row when it came to politics (both of them are left wing progressives, one I already knew to advocate coercion reaching quite deeply into private lives and the other is a radical feminist) and religion, I was better able to think about the issues rather than the individuals.

Then a nagging feeling that I had read about something very similar a couple of years ago led me to finally notice that the post was not from July 7th 2013 but from July 7th 2011.

Then I slapped myself round the side of the head and said, “what does the fact that these events happened two years and a few days ago rather than a few days ago matter?”

You are now commanded to read the article that I linked to above by the then-editor of Gawker, Remy Stern, on pain of not understanding what on earth I am on about. It puts the case for “Skepchick” (real name Rebecca Watson) in her “Elevatorgate” dispute against Richard Dawkins well if a little one-sidedly.

You are also commanded (on pain of only getting one side of the story) to read post by Alison Smith called “Take back the elevator” which was the most persuasive argument against Skepchick’s position that I read, particularly where she talks about “Leap of Logic Number Two”.

The reason why many people, particularly women, immediately sympathised with Skepchick in the incident is described by commenter “Ivriniel” to Remy Stern’s Gawker article:

To anyone who doesn’t understand why Rebecca Watson was uncomfortable, let’s put it another way.

It’s late at night, and you get into an elevator alone, oh, let’s say in a parking garage. A stranger gets on with you. As soon as the door closes, the stranger asks you for money. You’re now in a confided space with a stranger who wants something from you. You do not know how they will respond if you turn them down. It’s different than being asked for money on the street, because at least on the street there are other people around, and you have the choice to walk away, or even run away if things become threatening. You’ve had that option taken away from you.

Yes, there are buttons in the elevator you can press for help, however, if things get violent, the stranger will do everything they can to keep you away from the buttons.
Yes, the guy who approached Watson in the elevator was harmless. But she had no way of knowning that. Not everyone has the luxury of going through life assuming that everyone’s intentions are benign.

On the other hand, the lift wasn’t in a parking garage, it was in an atheist convention in a hotel in Dublin. I have never been to an atheist convention, but I have been to many science fiction conventions full of the same sort of clever but dorky guys. Indeed, while taking the lift to bed in the wee small hours at one SF convention I recall being invited round to someone’s hotel room for talk and coffee. That memory is why this story caught my eye. In my case the invitation came from two guys, one of them moderately famous, and I did not doubt that coffee meant coffee. (I politely declined because it was late and I was exhausted.) In the context of an event whose main purpose is talk the probability that a request for a talk means what it says is higher than in other situations. And even if it was a coded request for sex, that is neither a crime nor a threat, and the overtone of menace because it happened at 4 a.m. is much reduced since conventions tend to be nocturnal anyway. Having said that, the elevator man would still have shown more tact to have approached Ms Watson somewhere else and some other time. I won’t go on layering “buts” and “on the other hands” because there are a lot of layers there. You see what I mean about the difficulty of specifying rules that cover all situations?

Below is another comment to that thread, this time forcefully supporting Dawkins, from Joel Rubin. My eye was struck by the line ” Just because you’re a “feminist” doesn’t mean people have to let you have the elevator to themselves, doesn’t mean you have the right to completely avoid human interaction on a personal level.” Some commenters to my earlier post, Rob Fisher, Joebob and Ben, made a similar point that having a front door or a phone, or in this case going to a convention in a public place, is to some extent giving permission for others to peacefully initiate contact, so long as it is not pursued if demonstrably unwelcome. Mr Rubin wrote:

Okay, Dawkins went overboard with the hyperbole, yes, but everyone else did too.

Here’s where the flaw lies: Rebecca Watson. Yes, you. Don’t go online an publicly disparage a person who respectfully and politely asked you for coffee. I don’t care that you were in an elevator, I don’t care that you were alone, I don’t care that you just finished up a feminist speech—none of that matters.

What matters is this: The man asked you for coffee, and you declined. That was it. He did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG. But you decided to use a public forum to act like an asshole about it, and someone else called you out.

I don’t give a fuck if you “felt offended” by basic human interaction—that just makes you hypersensitive. Nothing in what you told us he said “sexualized” you in any way. And then responding to Dawkins with this nugget: “[To] have my concerns—and more so the concerns of other women who have survived rape and sexual assault—dismissed…” was absolute bullshit.

He wasn’t talking about rape, or sexual assault, he was talking about the fact that you overreacted and belittled a person who, by all accounts, was respectful and direct in asking you to coffee. YOU BLEW IT UP to something it shouldn’t have been.

Just because you’re a “feminist” doesn’t mean people have to let you have the elevator to themselves, doesn’t mean you have the right to completely avoid human interaction on a personal level. Just because he asked you for coffee and conversation doesn’t mean you were hit on, propositioned, or had to “survive rape and sexual assault”—it means you were asked for coffee.
You, dear, give humans in general, and feminists in particular, a bad name. Because you know what? It was insensitive for Dawkins to use the oppression of some women in the way he did—it was trollish and overboard. But HE MAKES A SOLID POINT, one that I probably would have made myself—you are flailing for attention and belittling a person for no reason.

The problem began not when a person talked to you in an elevator, or when another person used excessive hyperbole to prove a point—the problem began when you sensationalized and mocked a person who didn’t deserve it in a popular forum. It was arrogant, and rude.

I take issue with the part where Mr Rubin says, ” I don’t care that you just finished up a feminist speech—none of that matters.” The speech to which he refers was not just generally feminist. In it Ms Watson specifically said she did not like having passes made at her at these conventions. The man who asked her for coffee in the elevator was in the audience for that speech. That does matter, actually. He should have listened. Even if he did not intend to make a pass, it should have been obvious that his approach was likely to be read as one. She had just asked people not to do that.

In the end I incline to Skepchick’s side of this particular argument about this particular incident, by a degree or two. Remember that her initial video did not denounce the lift guy, it just advised men in general “don’t do this”. I would second that advice. But the scales are almost even. I am not convinced of Ms Watson’s general reasonableness, which is relevant. Judging from her internet profile, either she has had the remarkable ill fortune to be repeatedly taken in by apparent friends and allies who in the end turned out to be misogynists, or she has a hair trigger.

Screeching sound! Skid marks! Smell of burnt rubber! I am letting myself get pulled away from the point, which is not how nice anyone in the story is but how very difficult it is to specify whether it is right for one human being to ask another human being for something when the request itself might be offensive.