|Switching Pronouns, Cannibalistic Llamas, and Other Gender Assumptions
||[May. 23rd, 2013|04:35 am]
After this post goes up, Laurie and I will both be at WisCon, in Madison, Wisconsin, one of our two annual breaks from blogging. So we’ll be back sometime next week.
Benjamin Rosenbaum’s has things to say about writing and gender. Rosenbaum has been trying to write a novel that uses extrovert/introvert as the genders, and still uses he/she as the pronouns. He’s been running into trouble:
See, I figured I’d created wholly new genders for this future society. Bail and Pale; extravert and introvert; a Kirk gender and a Spock gender, if you will. I’d divided up the pie of gender anew, replaced our gender ideology of “hard” and “soft” with a different one of “fast” and “slow”.
I made the Bails “she” and the Pales “he” (mostly because invented pronouns are hard to pull off, on a line level, at novel length) — but this was, I thought, a relatively arbitrary assignment. It could be inverted just as easily. The point was partly to destabilize the reader, to make them aware of their assumptions, of how they inevitably read “she” and “he” through a certain filter — and then to keep upending that. And this part of the experiment did, I think, have some moderate success.
But. As noted — there was also a good deal of fail.
When I began revisions for the third draft, I tried flipping the genders, making Pales “she” and Bails “he”. (It’s actually not as trivial to implement this as you might think; it’s not just a search-and-replace. This is because, annoyingly, “her” maps to both “him” and “his” — you have to decide, on a case-by-case basis, which one you mean. Similarly, “his” maps to both “her” and “hers”. It took a day of fiddling, but finally I had everyone’s gender swapped).
I suggest you do the experiment sometime, with something you’ve written. It’s mind-blowing. Maybe particularly because I’d set myself up for a fall, by imagining I’d written Pale and Bail outside our associations of gender.
The same characters, with the same in-world genders, taking the same in-world actions, read totally differently in terms of reader sympathy. I’m hard put to say more without spoilers, but actions which, when Fift was a “he”, seemed rash but self-evidently necessary, somehow suddenly, now that Fift is a “she”, seem bizarre and selfish. Shria’s Bailish sexual forwardness, when she was a “she”, seemed provocative but also stimulating, attractive; how that he’s a “he”, it seems predatory and gross. Switch the pronouns on “proud, rebellious teenage male” and you get “mentally ill teenage girl”; switch the pronouns on “manic pixie dreamgirl” and you get “asshole”.
Author Kameron Hurley, writing at A Dribble of Ink, speaks directly to Rosenbaum’s problem:
I often tell people that I’m the biggest self-aware misogynist I know.
I was writing a scene last night between a woman general and the man she helped put on the throne. I started writing in some romantic tension, and realized how lazy that was. There are other kinds of tension.
I made a passing reference to sexual slavery, which I had to cut. I nearly had him use a gendered slur against her. I growled at the screen. He wanted to help save her child… no. Her brother? Ok. She was going to betray him. OK. He had some wives who died… ug. No. Close advisors? Friends? Maybe somebody just… left him?
Even writing about societies where there is very little sexual violence, or no sexual violence against women, I find myself writing in the same tired tropes and motivations. “Well, this is a bad guy, and I need something traumatic to happen to this heroine, so I’ll have him rape her.” That was an actual thing I did in the first draft of my first book, which features a violent society where women outnumber men 25-1. Because, of course, it’s What You Do.
Hurley’s quote above is part of a superb article challenging what she calls the “women, cattle and slaves” narrative. Really, you have to read the whole thing, but I’m going to quote some additional choice bits to encourage you to do just that:
I’m going to tell you a story about llamas. It will be like every other story you’ve ever heard about llamas: how they are covered in fine scales; how they eat their young if not raised properly; and how, at the end of their lives, they hurl themselves – lemming-like- over cliffs to drown in the surging sea. They are, at heart, sea creatures, birthed from the sea, married to it like the fishing people who make their livelihood there.
Every story you hear about llamas is the same. You see it in books: the poor doomed baby llama getting chomped up by its intemperate parent. On television: the massive tide of scaly llamas falling in a great, majestic herd into the sea below. In the movies: bad-ass llamas smoking cigars and painting their scales in jungle camouflage.
Because you’ve seen this story so many times, because you already know the nature and history of llamas, it sometimes shocks you, of course, to see a llama outside of these media spaces. The llamas you see don’t have scales. So you doubt what you see, and you joke with your friends about “those scaly llamas” and they laugh and say, “Yes, llamas sure are scaly!” and you forget your actual experience.
Half the world is full of women, but it’s rare to hear a narrative that doesn’t speak of women as the people who have things done to them instead of the people who do things. More often, women are talked about as a man’s daughter. A man’s wife.
I just watched a reality TV show about Alaska bush pilots where all of the pilots get these little intros about their families and passions, but the single female pilot is given the one-line “Pilot X’s girlfriend.” It wasn’t until they broke up, in season 2, that she got her own intro. Turns out she’s been in Alaska four times longer than the other pilot and hunts, fishes, and climbs ice walls, in addition to being an ace pilot.
But the narrative was “cannibalistic llama,” and our eyes glazed over, and we stopped seeing her as anything else.
This is how rocket scientist Yvonne Brill gets an obituary about her beef stroganoff, later edited to wonder how she could be both a great mom and a rocket scientist. How a software engineering professor of my acquaintance gets introduced as “she makes great tiramisu” while her male colleagues are being introduced by their specialties in the field.
Nearly forty years ago, Samuel R. Delany was writing about the same struggle. In a long thoughtful essay from 1975 (not available on line) called “The Scorpion Garden,” (in The Straits of Messina, a Delany essay collection), he says:
Having constructed a scene in a book where a man and a woman must have a physical fight and the woman win, rereading it three days later I notice that I have written the whole six pages without a single declarative sentence beginning with the pronoun She followed by an active predicate! (Needless to say, there are many such sentences that begin with He.) All through the scene, although he occasionally reels from her blow or the like, she never actually hits him.
If deeply committed writers have been struggling with these problems for the nearly 40 years since 1975, and are still struggling, what does that say about everyday discourse? Media representation? Comparable storytelling issues involving people of color, disabled people, any marginalized group?
I am deeply grateful that Rosenbaum, Hurley, and Delany (and many others) are traversing this road and sharing their obstacles with us. Seeing how hard they work to defy the omnipresent cultural narrative is inspiring. Embedded cultural expectations are not permanent, but they last an awfully long time, and I believe it’s effectively impossible to see from inside the culture whether change is happening or not. But if it is, these are the people helping make it happen.
|"The Global Cyber Game"
||[May. 22nd, 2013|05:05 pm]
This 127-page report was just published by the UK Defence Academy. I have not read it yet, but it looks really interesting.
Executive Summary: This report presents a systematic way of thinking about cyberpower and its use by a variety of global players. The urgency of addressing cyberpower in this way is a consequence of the very high value of the Internet and the hazards of its current militarization.
Cyberpower and cyber security are conceptualized as a 'Global Game' with a novel 'Cyber Gameboard' consisting of a nine-cell grid. The horizontal direction on the grid is divided into three columns representing aspects of information (i.e. cyber): connection, computation and cognition. The vertical direction on the grid is divided into three rows representing types of power: coercion, co-option, and cooperation. The nine cells of the grid represent all the possible combinations of power and information, that is, forms of cyberpower.
The Cyber Gameboard itself is also an abstract representation of the surface of cyberspace, or C-space as defined in this report. C-space is understood as a networked medium capable of conveying various combinations of power and information to produce effects in physical or 'flow space,' referred to as F-space in this report. Game play is understood as the projection via C-space of a cyberpower capability existing in any one cell of the gameboard to produce an effect in F-space vis-a-vis another player in any other cell of the gameboard. By default, the Cyber Game is played either actively or passively by all those using network connected computers. The players include states, businesses, NGOs, individuals, non-state political groups, and organized crime, among others. Each player is seen as having a certain level of cyberpower when its capability in each cell is summed across the whole board. In general states have the most cyberpower.
The possible future path of the game is depicted by two scenarios, N-topia and N-crash. These are the stakes for which the Cyber Game is played. N-topia represents the upside potential of the game, in which the full value of a globally connected knowledge society is realized. N-crash represents the downside potential, in which militarization and fragmentation of the Internet cause its value to be substantially destroyed. Which scenario eventuates will be determined largely by the overall pattern of play of the Cyber Game.
States have a high level of responsibility for determining the outcome. The current pattern of play is beginning to resemble traditional state-on-state geopolitical conflict. This puts the civil Internet at risk, and civilian cyber players are already getting caught in the crossfire. As long as the civil Internet remains undefended and easily permeable to cyber attack it will be hard to achieve the N-topia scenario.
Defending the civil Internet in depth, and hardening it by re-architecting will allow its full social and economic value to be realized but will restrict the potential for espionage and surveillance by states. This trade-off is net positive and in accordance with the espoused values of Western-style democracies. It does however call for leadership based on enlightened self-interest by state players.
|DDOS as Civil Disobedience
||[May. 22nd, 2013|11:24 am]
For a while now, I have been thinking about what civil disobedience looks like in the Internet Age. Certainly DDOS attacks, and politically motivated hacking in general, is a part of that. This is one of the reasons I found Molly Sauter's recent thesis, "Distributed Denial of Service Actions and the Challenge of Civil Disobedience on the Internet," so interesting:
Abstract: This thesis examines the history, development, theory, and practice of distributed denial of service actions as a tactic of political activism. DDOS actions have been used in online political activism since the early 1990s, though the tactic has recently attracted significant public attention with the actions of Anonymous and Operation Payback in December 2010. Guiding this work is the overarching question of how civil disobedience and disruptive activism can be practiced in the current online space. The internet acts as a vital arena of communication, self expression, and interpersonal organizing. When there is a message to convey, words to get out, people to organize, many will turn to the internet as the zone of that activity. Online, people sign petitions, investigate stories and rumors, amplify links and videos, donate money, and show their support for causes in a variety of ways. But as familiar and widely accepted activist tools -- petitions, fundraisers, mass letter-writing, call-in campaigns and others -- find equivalent practices in the online space, is there also room for the tactics of disruption and civil disobedience that are equally familiar from the realm of street marches, occupations, and sit-ins? This thesis grounds activist DDOS historically, focusing on early deployments of the tactic as well as modern instances to trace its development over time, both in theory and in practice. Through that examination, as well as tool design and development, participant identity, and state and corporate responses, this thesis presents an account of the development and current state of activist DDOS actions. It ends by presenting an analytical framework for the analysis of activist DDOS actions.
One of the problems with the legal system is that it doesn't make any differentiation between civil disobedience and "normal" criminal activity on the Internet, though it does in the real world.
|Surveillance and the Internet of Things
||[May. 21st, 2013|11:15 am]
The Internet has turned into a massive surveillance tool. We're constantly monitored on the Internet by hundreds of companies -- both familiar and unfamiliar. Everything we do there is recorded, collected, and collated -- sometimes by corporations wanting to sell us stuff and sometimes by governments wanting to keep an eye on us.
Ephemeral conversation is over. Wholesale surveillance is the norm. Maintaining privacy from these powerful entities is basically impossible, and any illusion of privacy we maintain is based either on ignorance or on our unwillingness to accept what's really going on.
It's about to get worse, though. Companies such as Google may know more about your personal interests than your spouse, but so far it's been limited by the fact that these companies only see computer data. And even though your computer habits are increasingly being linked to your offline behavior, it's still only behavior that involves computers.
The Internet of Things refers to a world where much more than our computers and cell phones is Internet-enabled. Soon there will be Internet-connected modules on our cars and home appliances. Internet-enabled medical devices will collect real-time health data about us. There'll be Internet-connected tags on our clothing. In its extreme, everything can be connected to the Internet. It's really just a matter of time, as these self-powered wireless-enabled computers become smaller and cheaper.
Lots has been written about the "Internet of Things" and how it will change society for the better. It's true that it will make a lot of wonderful things possible, but the "Internet of Things" will also allow for an even greater amount of surveillance than there is today. The Internet of Things gives the governments and corporations that follow our every move something they don't yet have: eyes and ears.
Soon everything we do, both online and offline, will be recorded and stored forever. The only question remaining is who will have access to all of this information, and under what rules.
We're seeing an initial glimmer of this from how location sensors on your mobile phone are being used to track you. Of course your cell provider needs to know where you are; it can't route your phone calls to your phone otherwise. But most of us broadcast our location information to many other companies whose apps we've installed on our phone. Google Maps certainly, but also a surprising number of app vendors who collect that information. It can be used to determine where you live, where you work, and who you spend time with.
Another early adopter was Nike, whose Nike+ shoes communicate with your iPod or iPhone and track your exercising. More generally, medical devices are starting to be Internet-enabled, collecting and reporting a variety of health data. Wiring appliances to the Internet is one of the pillars of the smart electric grid. Yes, there are huge potential savings associated with the smart grid, but it will also allow power companies - and anyone they decide to sell the data to -- to monitor how people move about their house and how they spend their time.
Drones are another "thing" moving onto the Internet. As their price continues to drop and their capabilities increase, they will become a very powerful surveillance tool. Their cameras are powerful enough to see faces clearly, and there are enough tagged photographs on the Internet to identify many of us. We're not yet up to a real-time Google Earth equivalent, but it's not more than a few years away. And drones are just a specific application of CCTV cameras, which have been monitoring us for years, and will increasingly be networked.
Google's Internet-enabled glasses -- Google Glass -- are another major step down this path of surveillance. Their ability to record both audio and video will bring ubiquitous surveillance to the next level. Once they're common, you might never know when you're being recorded in both audio and video. You might as well assume that everything you do and say will be recorded and saved forever.
In the near term, at least, the sheer volume of data will limit the sorts of conclusions that can be drawn. The invasiveness of these technologies depends on asking the right questions. For example, if a private investigator is watching you in the physical world, she or he might observe odd behavior and investigate further based on that. Such serendipitous observations are harder to achieve when you're filtering databases based on pre-programmed queries. In other words, it's easier to ask questions about what you purchased and where you were than to ask what you did with your purchases and why you went where you did. These analytical limitations also mean that companies like Google and Facebook will benefit more from the Internet of Things than individuals -- not only because they have access to more data, but also because they have more sophisticated query technology. And as technology continues to improve, the ability to automatically analyze this massive data stream will improve.
In the longer term, the Internet of Things means ubiquitous surveillance. If an object "knows" you have purchased it, and communicates via either Wi-Fi or the mobile network, then whoever or whatever it is communicating with will know where you are. Your car will know who is in it, who is driving, and what traffic laws that driver is following or ignoring. No need to show ID; your identity will already be known. Store clerks could know your name, address, and income level as soon as you walk through the door. Billboards will tailor ads to you, and record how you respond to them. Fast food restaurants will know what you usually order, and exactly how to entice you to order more. Lots of companies will know whom you spend your days -- and nights -- with. Facebook will know about any new relationship status before you bother to change it on your profile. And all of this information will all be saved, correlated, and studied. Even now, it feels a lot like science fiction.
Will you know any of this? Will your friends? It depends. Lots of these devices have, and will have, privacy settings. But these settings are remarkable not in how much privacy they afford, but in how much they deny. Access will likely be similar to your browsing habits, your files stored on Dropbox, your searches on Google, and your text messages from your phone. All of your data is saved by those companies -- and many others -- correlated, and then bought and sold without your knowledge or consent. You'd think that your privacy settings would keep random strangers from learning everything about you, but it only keeps random strangers who don't pay for the privilege -- or don't work for the government and have the ability to demand the data. Power is what matters here: you'll be able to keep the powerless from invading your privacy, but you'll have no ability to prevent the powerful from doing it again and again.
This essay originally appeared on the Guardian.
|Security Risks of Too Much Security
||[May. 20th, 2013|11:34 am]
All of the anti-counterfeiting features of the new Canadian $100 bill are resulting in people not bothering to verify them.
The fanfare about the security features on the bills, may be part of the problem, said RCMP Sgt. Duncan Pound.
"Because the polymer series' notes are so secure ... there's almost an overconfidence among retailers and the public in terms of when you sort of see the strip, the polymer looking materials, everybody says 'oh, this one's going to be good because you know it's impossible to counterfeit,'" he said.
"So people don't actually check it."
|Breakfast: Not Sexier than Before, but Funnier than Ever
||[May. 20th, 2013|05:54 am]
Laurie and Debbie say:
Having a product called “Sexcereal” is funny enough.
Seriously promoting it as being full of foods that make you sexy is funny enough.
Having different versions of it for men and women is funny enough.
But honestly, the folks behind Sexcereal are in the wrong business. Hollywood pays big bucks for people who can be this hilarious:
Once upon a time, not that long ago, before there were drugstores on every block, when you wanted something to nourish or heal you, you simply walked into the woods and gathered the plants, herbs and spices that after thousands of years of human trial and error proved their medicinal worth. That’s the purpose of food and that’s what SEXCEREAL is – a food with purpose.
Forty years or more ago, the mother of one of Debbie’s friends used to say that in the days of hunter-gatherer societies, between harvesting food and avoiding predators, people probably weren’t thinking about multiple orgasms. Besides, we thought the purpose of food was nutrition and satisfying taste.
It isn’t clear that the makers of SEXCEREAL know this, but the history of breakfast cereal is tied to the history of promoting sexual abstinence. In the late 19th and early 20th century, men whose names are still household names today (Graham, Kellogg and Post) created corn flakes and grape nuts as part of a health food craze tied to the Seventh Day Adventists, who are also celibacy advocates.
While the name of our cereal, SEXCEREAL, may be utterly progressive to some, shocking to the more puritanical, SEXCEREAL is really just a simple throwback food product and concept. We did our research, collected the ingredients and put them together in a pouch and created a cereal that nourishes you both north and south of the equator.
*ahem* “north and south of the equator”?
The name of the cereal is … well, not subtle, but neither progressive nor shocking. Perhaps “silly.”
SEXCEREAL is the world’s first gender-based cereal, because men and women are biologically different and therefore often require different nutrients to keep us functioning well where and when it counts the most.
Men and women may be biologically different in some minimal ways, but nutrition is not one of them. As we’ve written before, even major worldwide sports organizations have been forced to admit that there is no scientific way to tell who is a man and who is a woman.
SEXCEREAL is also a cereal-celebration of love and intimacy, the ties that bind, which is a great soundtrack to any breakfast. How often can you celebrate just protein and fiber? Of course, with SEXCEREAL, you can do that as well.
Do they mean a soundtrack to breakfast like Meg Ryan’s famous faked-orgasm-in-restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally? Or the cheerful crunch of two people preparing for the big sex event? Or are we “celebrating protein and fiber” in the sense that Catholics celebrate mass?
Don’t buy SEXCEREAL; nominate their copywriters for comedy awards.
Thanks to Robert Gonzales at io9 for the pointer.
|Border Wars: Disturbing Photographs
||[May. 17th, 2013|06:02 am]
As I said in my blog War Photographs: Disturbing Images
I’ve been thinking about beautiful photographs of dreadful things for a long time. They make me viscerally uncomfortable. I’ll look at the front page of a newspaper and react positively to a beautifully composed photograph, and then I realize it’s of fighters shooting guerrillas and someone is dying in the corner of the photo and I react with quick anger. Not all of this kind of work is beautifully composed, but I’m reflecting on the work that is. There are many exceptions.
I’m still thinking about it. These are beautiful and exquisitely composed photographs from another sometime war zone. The one on our Mexican border. These are disturbing in subtler ways: some of them only obvious in their backstory. You need to know what they are to understand the disturbing connections. People are dying by these walls.
A section of the controversial US-Mexico border fence expansion project crosses previously pristine desert sands at sunrise on March 14, 2009, between Yuma, Arizona and Calexico, California. The barrier stands 15 feet tall and sits on top of the sand so it can lifted by a machine and repositioned whenever the migrating desert dunes begin to bury it. The almost seven miles of floating fence cost about $6 million per mile to build. (David McNew/Getty Images)
From The Atlantic’s In Focus:
The border between the United States and Mexico stretches 3,169 kilometers (1,969 miles), crossing deserts, rivers, towns, and cities from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. Every year, an estimated 350 million people legally cross the border, with another 500,000 entering into the United States illegally. No single barrier stretches across the entire border, instead, it is lined with a patchwork of steel and concrete fences, infrared cameras, sensors, drones, and nearly 20,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents. As immigrants from Mexico and other Central and South American countries continue to try to find their way into the U.S., Congress is now considering an immigration reform bill called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The bill proposes solutions to current border enforcement problems and paths to citizenship for the estimated 11 million existing illegal immigrants in the U.S. Gathered here are images of the US-Mexico border from the past few
A suspected drug trafficker stands, caught in the weeds on the bank of the Rio Grande River at the US-Mexico Border, on April 11, 2013 in Mission, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)
Mauricia Horta Fuentes, 36, stands for a portrait along the fence marking the US-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico, on June 23, 2012. Fuentes, who lived and worked in the United States for years, drove up to a roadblock in Escondido, California, in September, 2008, on her way to pick up kids from school. Since then she has been cut off from her children, and has been forced to create a new life in her old country. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
U.S. Border Patrol agent Sal De Leon stands near a section of the US- Mexico border fence while on patrol on April 10, 2013 in La Joya, Texas. (John Moore/Getty Images)
I don’t have conclusions about this conversation I’m having with myself but I expect it will express itself at some point in my work. (The fuller conversation is in the blog linked to above.)
|Bluetooth-Controlled Door Lock
||[May. 16th, 2013|01:45 pm]
Here is a new lock that you can control via Bluetooth and an iPhone app.
That's pretty cool, and I can imagine all sorts of reasons to get one of those. But I'm sure there are all sorts of unforeseen security vulnerabilities in this system. And even worse, a single vulnerability can affect all the locks. Remember that vulnerability found last year in hotel electronic locks?
Anyone care to guess how long before some researcher finds a way to hack this one? And how well the maker anticipated the need to update the firmware to fix the vulnerability once someone finds it?
I'm not saying that you shouldn't use this lock, only that you understand that new technology brings new security risks, and electronic technology brings new kinds of security risks. Security is a trade-off, and the trade-off is particularly stark in this case.
|Transparency and Accountability
||[May. 14th, 2013|10:48 am]
As part of the fallout of the Boston bombings, we're probably going to get some new laws that give the FBI additional investigative powers. As with the Patriot Act after 9/11, the debate over whether these new laws are helpful will be minimal, but the effects on civil liberties could be large. Even though most people are skeptical about sacrificing personal freedoms for security, it's hard for politicians to say no to the FBI right now, and it's politically expedient to demand that something be done.
If our leaders can't say no -- and there's no reason to believe they can -- there are two concepts that need to be part of any new counterterrorism laws, and investigative laws in general: transparency and accountability.
Long ago, we realized that simply trusting people and government agencies to always do the right thing doesn't work, so we need to check up on them. In a democracy, transparency and accountability are how we do that. It's how we ensure that we get both effective and cost-effective government. It's how we prevent those we trust from abusing that trust, and protect ourselves when they do. And it's especially important when security is concerned.
First, we need to ensure that the stuff we're paying money for actually works and has a measureable impact. Law-enforcement organizations regularly invest in technologies that don't make us any safer. The TSA, for example, could devote an entire museum to expensive but ineffective systems: puffer machines, body scanners, FAST behavioral screening, and so on. Local police departments have been wasting lots of post-9/11 money on unnecessary high-tech weaponry and equipment. The occasional high-profile success aside, police surveillance cameras have been shown to be a largely ineffective police tool.
Sometimes honest mistakes led organizations to invest in these technologies. Sometimes there's self-deception and mismanagement—and far too often lobbyists are involved. Given the enormous amount of security money post-9/11, you inevitably end up with an enormous amount of waste. Transparency and accountability are how we keep all of this in check.
Second, we need to ensure that law enforcement does what we expect it to do and nothing more. Police powers are invariably abused. Mission creep is inevitable, and it results in laws designed to combat one particular type of crime being used for an ever-widening array of crimes. Transparency is the only way we have of knowing when this is going on.
For example, that's how we learned that the FBI is abusing National Security Letters. Traditionally, we use the warrant process to protect ourselves from police overreach. It's not enough for the police to want to conduct a search; they also need to convince a neutral third party -- a judge -- that the search is in the public interest and will respect the rights of those searched. That's accountability, and it's the very mechanism that NSLs were exempted from.
When laws are broken, accountability is how we punish those who abused their power. It's how, for example, we correct racial profiling by police departments. And it's a lack of accountability that permits the FBI to get away with massive data collection until exposed by a whistleblower or noticed by a judge.
Third, transparency and accountability keep both law enforcement and politicians from lying to us. The Bush Administration lied about the extent of the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. The TSA lied about the ability of full-body scanners to save naked images of people. We've been lied to about the lethality of tasers, when and how the FBI eavesdrops on cell-phone calls, and about the existence of surveillance records. Without transparency, we would never know.
A decade ago, the FBI was heavily lobbying Congress for a law to give it new wiretapping powers: a law known as CALEA. One of its key justifications was that existing law didn't allow it to perform speedy wiretaps during kidnapping investigations. It sounded plausible -- and who wouldn't feel sympathy for kidnapping victims? -- but when civil-liberties organizations analyzed the actual data, they found that it was just a story; there were no instances of wiretapping in kidnapping investigations. Without transparency, we would never have known that the FBI was making up stories to scare Congress.
If we're going to give the government any new powers, we need to ensure that there's oversight. Sometimes this oversight is before action occurs. Warrants are a great example. Sometimes they're after action occurs: public reporting, audits by inspector generals, open hearings, notice to those affected, or some other mechanism. Too often, law enforcement tries to exempt itself from this principle by supporting laws that are specifically excused from oversight...or by establishing secret courts that just rubber-stamp government wiretapping requests.
Furthermore, we need to ensure that mechanisms for accountability have teeth and are used.
As we respond to the threat of terrorism, we must remember that there are other threats as well. A society without transparency and accountability is the very definition of a police state. And while a police state might have a low crime rate -- especially if you don't define police corruption and other abuses of power as crime -- and an even lower terrorism rate, it's not a society that most of us would willingly choose to live in.
We already give law enforcement enormous power to intrude into our lives. We do this because we know they need this power to catch criminals, and we're all safer thereby. But because we recognize that a powerful police force is itself a danger to society, we must temper this power with transparency and accountability.
This essay previously appeared on TheAtlantic.com.
|Remembering a Geek Feminist Ally: David Notkin, 1955-2013
||[May. 13th, 2013|06:28 pm]
[cross-posted from Geek Feminism]
No marginalized group can move forward without allies, and all of us have the opportunity to be allies as well as need allies. So it behooves us to look at what high-integrity, committed ally work looks like. And that’s why I want to tell you about my brother.
When David Notkin’s son Akiva was about two years old, he was fascinated by all games played with balls. (At 15, he still is.) We were on a family vacation together when David and I walked with the toddler past a ping-pong table, and Akiva instantly wanted to see what was up. I asked David why he thought Akiva was so much more interested in balls and ball games than his older sister Emma. David said, “I don’t know. We treated them exactly the same; it must just be something about him.” Having heard this from dozens of parents over the years,and rarely having found a response which had any constructive effect, I just let it go.
Years later, unprompted (if I recall correctly), David told me that he was no longer sure that was true. He had started to spend time with and pay attention to the serious feminists who advocate for more women in technology and the STEM fields, and he had done some listening and some reading. He said, “I think it’s perfectly possible that we responded to Akiva’s interest in balls differently than we would have if it had been Emma.” I had, and still have, very little experience with anyone changing their mind on these topics.
Melissa McEwen at Shakesville differentiates between what she calls the “Fixed State Ally Model” and the “Process Model,”
In the Process Model, the privileged person views hirself as someone engaged in ally work, but does not identify as an ally, rather viewing ally work as an ongoing process. Zie views being an ally as a fluid state, externally defined by individual members of the one or more marginalized populations on behalf zie leverages hir privilege.
The kind of shift that David made about his son’s interest in ball games is as good a step into the Process Model as any.
In this flash talk, given at the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Summit in Chicago in May of 2012, we see more commitment to process in ally work.
In this talk, David says nothing about what women want, how to bring women into the field, or really anything about anyone except David. instead, he describes the reasons to take another step on an ally’s journey, and advocates a way for teachers and professors to take that step, by voluntarily stepping into a learning situation where they are in the minority. As he says in the opening frame, he’s in a room full of brilliant women. As he doesn’t say, he knows he has nothing to tell them about being female, or being female in the computer science world, or anything else about their lives. What he can share is his own efforts to understand what it’s like to be marginalized, without taking on the mantle of the marginalized.
The NCWIT talk came in a deceptively optimistic period for David; he had spent the end of 2010 and virtually all of 2011 in cancer treatment, and his scans were clean … until June. In February of 2013, a few months after David’s cancer had spread and he had been given a terminal diagnosis, his department held a celebration event for him. Notkinfest was a splendor of tie-dye, laughter, and professional and personal commemoration. I hadn’t really followed his trajectory as an ally and mentor to women and people of color, and I was amazed at how many of the speakers talked about his role in making space for marginalized groups.
Anne Condon, professor and head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia told a longer story about Mary Lou Soffa, (Department of Computer Science, University of Michigan), who couldn’t be there. Dr. Condon said,
Mary Lou is a very prestigious researcher in compilers and software engineering, and probably the most outspoken person I know. Once a senior officer from a very prominent computing organization proudly unveiled a video about opportunities in computer science. Now in this video, all of the people profiled were white males, except for one little girl.
Mary Lou in true fashion stood up and she did not mince words as she told this senior official what she thought of that video. When she was done, there was total silence in the room. And then one voice spoke up, questioned the choice of profiles in that video and spoke to the importance of diversity as part of the vision of this organization.
And that person was David Notkin.
The speaker list at Notkinfest, aside from Dr. Condon, included somewhat of a Who’s Who in increasing diversity in computer science, including:
- Martha Pollack, soon to be Provost for Academic and Budgetary Affairs, as well as Professor of Information and Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan, who has received the Sarah Goddard Power Award in recognition of her efforts to increase the representation of and climate for women and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering.
- Tapan Parikh, Associate Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, and the TR35 Humanitarian of the Year in 2007. (check out his TedX talk on representing your ethnic background).
- Carla Ellis, member and past co-chair of CRA-W, the Computing Research Association’s Committee on the Status of Women in Computing Research , past co-chair of the Academic Alliance of NCWIT. On her web page, Ellis says: “In my retirement, I will be pursuing two passions: (1) advocating for green computing and the role of computing in creating a sustainable society and (2) encouraging the participation of women in computing.”
Notkinfest was David’s next-to-last professional appearance. Here’s what he said at the open reception:
It’s important to remember that I’m a privileged guy. Debbie and – our parents, Isabell and Herbert, were children of poor Russian Jewish immigrants, and they were raised in the Depression and taught us the value of education and how to benefit from it.
Mom, especially, taught us the value of each and every person on earth. I still wake up and – You know, we have bad days, we have bad days, but we have plenty to eat and we have a substantive education, and we have to figure out how to give more back. Because anybody who thinks that we’re just here because we’re smart forgets that we’re also privileged, and we have to extend that farther. So we’ve got to educate and help every generation and we all have to keep it up in lots of ways.
When I spoke at his funeral, not three months after Notkinfest, the main thing I did was repeat that plea.
|The Onion on Browser Security
||[May. 10th, 2013|06:49 pm]
At Chase Bank, we recognize the value of online banking -- it’s quick, convenient, and available any time you need it. Unfortunately, though, the threats posed by malware and identity theft are very real and all too common nowadays. That’s why, when you’re finished with your online banking session, we recommend three simple steps to protect your personal information: log out of your account, close your web browser, and then charter a seafaring vessel to take you 30 miles out into the open ocean and throw your computer overboard.
And while we're talking about the Onion, they were recently hacked by Syria (either the government or someone on their side). They responded in their own way.
EDITED TO ADD (5/11): How The Onion got hacked.
||[May. 10th, 2013|11:47 am]
From a FOIAed Department of Transportation document on investigative techniques:
A "mail cover" is the process by which the U.S. Postal Service records any data appearing on the outside cover of any class of mail, sealed or unsealed, or by which a record is made of the contents of unsealed (second-, third-, or fourth-class) mail matter as allowed by law. This "rnail cover" is done to obtain information in the interest of protecting national security, locating a fugitive, or obtaining evidence of commission or attempted commission of a felony crime, or assist in the identification of property, proceeds, or assets forfeitable under law.
Seems to be the paper mail equivalent of a pen register. I'd never heard of the term before.
EDITED TO ADD (5/11): Here is a 2002 NPR interview on mail cover, based on
Irreparable invalid markup ('<a href"http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]
<p class="ljsyndicationlink"><a href="http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/05/mail_cover.html">http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/05/mail_cover.html</a></p><p>From a FOIAed Department of Transportation <a href="https://antipolygraph.org/documents/dot-oig-special-investigative-techniques.pdf">document</a> on investigative techniques:</p>
<blockquote>A "mail cover" is the process by which the U.S. Postal Service records any data appearing on the outside cover of any class of mail, sealed or unsealed, or by which a record is made of the contents of unsealed (second-, third-, or fourth-class) mail matter as allowed by law. This "rnail cover" is done to obtain information in the interest of protecting national security, locating a fugitive, or obtaining evidence of commission or attempted commission of a felony crime, or assist in the identification of property, proceeds, or assets forfeitable under law.</blockquote>
<p>Seems to be the paper mail equivalent of a pen register. I'd never heard of the term before.</p>
<p>EDITED TO ADD (5/11): <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1140959">Here</a> is a 2002 NPR interview on mail cover, based on <a href"http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=900005529986">these</a> <a href="http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=900005529705">two</a> articles.</p>
||[May. 9th, 2013|08:54 pm]
http://sgt-rock.blogspot.com/2013/05/atlanta-braves.htmlDo you have some online accounts with security, like banking, email, or shopping, that use logon name and password, but then they also have you give answers to some “secret security questions?” You know, like a pet’s or girlfriend’s name, or the street you grew up on, favorite high school teacher, or TV show, whatever.
One account I have asked me a cute one: “Name the sports team you love to see lose.” Seriously, that was their question. Lol.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating The only sport I’m really into is: Co-Ed Wrestling.
But some years ago, when stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, Mrs. Rock & I were actually genuine baseball fans. We lived on the base in family housing, about a mile from the gold depository, in a two story end-unit townhouse, plus full basement, in case of tornados. Seriously. We also had cheap cable TV, with HBO, and stations from LA, Toronto, Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, etc, etc., plus ESPN, and the networks.
Well, we were big Dodger fans back then, and watched lots and lots of games. This was in the days of Steve Garvey, Steve Sax, Steve Howe :-), Mike Scioscia, Dusty Baker, Ron Cey, and of course our hero, the man, Fernando Valenzuela. Later, Orel Hershiser was a hero, too.
And it sure irritated me to see the Dodger’s big rival, the Atlanta Braves, call themselves “America’s Team” on the Turner Station, Channel 17. Some nerve. I’m in America, and they’re not my team, so WTF? Therefore, although I must admit they were a pretty damn good team back then, I liked to see the Braves lose, even it if wasn’t the Dodgers beating them.
And so that was my "secret" answer on [I’m not saying what site]: Atlanta Braves.
Well don’t we all have our own “Atlanta Braves” at the poker table? You and I both want to win, want to beat the other guys, sure, but aren’t there a couple guys you *really* like to beat? Or maybe guys you just *really* like to see lose, even if it’s not you that beats them?
Like, for instance, Lenny Whiner, from Florida, playing 40/80 at Bellagio during WSOP the last three years running. Actually I’m just guessing at that last name, but here’s a guy that, well, I don’t know, it just makes me smile inside when somebody sucks out on him and he gets all steamed up and acts like a baby.
Then there was TWA (Tall White Asshole) in the 40 game at Commerce last July, a curly hair guy we’ve seen several times, Vegas and LA, along with his hot (?) GF with the inked neck. He was teasing and torturing the dealer by mucking as far away from her as possible, making her reach, then next time more or less throwing the cards at her, and asking “How’s that? Any better?” So did he get on my Atlanta Braves list, and become someone I will like to see lose? Sure.
But then it turns out that, sometimes, I’m the other guy’s Atlanta Braves! Lenny, for example, doesn’t speak to me, pretty much ignores me. But he sure will smirk when he sees me take a beat.
And here’s something a little hard to admit, kind of puzzling, but looking at it objectively, well, it's true: Here at Diamond Lil’s, if you polled all the regular 20/40 players, most of them wouldn’t name anyone in particular as being their Atlanta Braves.
But it used to be, for those who did, I think the name given most often would have been: Sarge. I know, right? I couldn’t believe it either! I never dissed anyone, don’t get ugly or arrogant, don't gloat when I win, and sure as hell don’t deride bad play when they suck out on me!
But there was this small clique in the DL 20 game, all guys from [redacted], who pretty much didn't speak to me, and would openly discuss how much they wanted me to get beat, even to the point of occasionally “cooperating” with each other by whipsaw raising a little when I’m caught between them. Those moves tended to backfire on them more often than not, so I didn’t really mind too much. :-) But for sure, I was their Atlanta Braves.
The good news is that there's been a big thaw in all that. Seems like NOT taking the bait, and NOT getting into arguments, ever, and being excruciatingly polite if there's a dispute and I'm involved, and remembering to STFU if I'm NOT involved . . . all that paid off. I just treated them all with courtesy, and a little respect, even when it was a one-way street. Eventually, then, it becomes, grudgingly perhaps, a two-way street. Well, in most cases. Sadly, not all. But I'm working on those too. I still wonder what I did to get on these guys’ shit list. Misbehave? Hardly. Insult, disparage, or otherwise disrespect anyone? Never happen.
The Theory of Relativity
Imagine if the best college baseball team in the state went up against a typical little league team from your town. College boys gonna kick ass, right?
Now imagine that same college team versus the N.Y. Yankees. Whose ass gets kicked now?
So when you ask if a particular guy is a “good, winning poker player," it’s kind of like asking if those college boys are a good team. The answer has to be: “Compared to who?” It's relative.
On a good day in the DL 20/40, I feel like a college team, up against mostly little leaguers. On a bad day, in Vegas or LA, I feel like I ran into MLB. And for my Bellagio WSOP side action trips in 2010 & 2011, I had lots of bad days.
The problem? Both times, my performance was exceptionally poor for that single most important component of a winning poker strategy: Game Selection. Ego, over-confidence, and the adrenaline rush of "Hey, this is Vegas!" combined to help me find the courage to sit into games five times bigger than I play at home, and to completely blow off, and ignore, how they were also way tougher. Sure, there were a couple ding-dongs here and there, now and then, but mostly VERY tough guys in those games.
So I was outclassed, and I knew it, and yet I played anyway, and both times blew in a couple weeks the BR I had built up over a year at home. Doing that once is bad enough, but that I did it twice, two consecutive years, is, well, I don't know the word. Pathetic?
So last year, for our WSOP 2012 Vegas trip, I played only the 40/80 side action, 23 straight days, then went on to Commerce for another 10 days of 40/80, and this time didn't blow the year's BR, although neither did I grow it much. Then we came on home, and finished the year playing at DL.
Seems reasonable to me, and you've probably heard this too, that a good pro, in a game like the DL 20/40, should win something like 1 big bet per hour, that a VERY good pro might win 1.5 BBPH, and that a long term win of 2 BBPH in pretty much any limit hold game would be, well, exceptional.
Now that I'm turning pro, I need to know which of those categories I fit into, right? So I was planning to go back to keeping detailed session records, starting May 1. And since then I did play at DL every single day, but I got lazy, and didn't keep track after all. And that's a real shame, too, because if I had, then I could know just exactly how many dollars per hour I've lost so far this month.
Sometimes the situation, or the "Personality of the Game," makes you want to play a hand differently than you normally might. An extreme example that comes to mind for me was about a year ago, when I cold called a preflop raise, in the cutoff, with Queen Jack offsuit. Never did that before or since, but in that particular exceptional situation, the most *dysfunctional family pot you ever did see, I just had to do it.
( * like a Wheel of Fortune "Before and After")
Last night another exceptional situation came up, but I spaced and didn't recognize it quite quickly enough. UTG open-raises, and I'm right behind him with pocket fours. Just as I'm releasing my hand, I can see at least two guys behind me gonna just call the raise. And the Personality of THIS Game, with these particular guys, was multi-way, 5, 6, 7 guys seeing every flop, most often for just one raise. I remembered all that a split second too late, and thought to myself, "Damn, coulda, woulda, shoulda made an exceptional call this time!"
Then, when the flop came J 4 4, I was sure of it. :-(
- - -
More posts in draft, coming soon, now that I have time. Can I get some comments? I live for comments. Thanks.
||most recent entries