Toward Totalitarianism: Digital Millenium Copyright Act, attack lawsuits

The original intention of the DMCA was to prevent copyright infringement. According to EFF, "the DMCA and DRM (digital rights management) have done nothing to stop 'Internet piracy'." Rather, the DMCA has become a threat to fair use, competition, innovation, free expression, and scientific research.

In MGM vs. 321 Studios, the DMCA was used to attack backup software, the research-oriented discussion of cryptology, and competitive innovation.

In Universal vs. Corley, a movie studio sued journalists who posted a link to DVD decryption software that had been posted on the Internet, making it difficult to even discuss the topic as a news story.

In Felten v. RIAA, the recording industry association threatened to sue academic researchers who had discovered and wanted to publish a paper discussing weaknesses in the cryptographic system used in the industry's recently standardized digital rights management.

Toward Totalitarianism: Patriot Act

The USA PATRIOT Act was passed shortly after the 9/11 attack in 2001. It removed restrictions on law enforcement's use of surveillance and investigative techniques, potentially jeopardizing traditional civil liberties, privacy, and democratic traditions in the US, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

According to EFF, the PATRIOT Act allows the US government to monitor citizens' web surfing, access ISP records, wiretap citizens and their associates. The provisions of the PATRIOT Act are not limited to terrorism, only requiring that a government investigator suspect that a person is engaged in illegal activity to justify surveillance, wiretaps, and other intrusions. The PATRIOT Act makes it easier for foreign intelligence organizations to spy on Americans.

While eliminating or reducing privacy rights for citizens on the one hand, the Act creates more secrecy for government activities, making it more difficult for citizens to hold their government accountable. Under PATRIOT, government investigators are authorized to use "sneak and peek" warrants to enter private premises without the permission or knowledge of the occupant and without informing the occupant of the search in connection with any federal crime, including misdemeanors, whether or not such crimes are related to terrorism.


Toward Totalitarianism: watch lists

John Graham writes about the experience of discovering himself on the "national terrorist No Fly Watch list." He can't find out how his name got on the watch list. He can't appeal his status. He can't get his name removed from the list. His career speaking on civic action and leadership around the world is potentially threatened since "plane travel is key to my livelihood." He compares such measures to Pinochet's Chile and Germany
in 1930.

Even government employees and members of the US armed forces are being delayed and hassled because their names appear on watch lists.

Schneier has written on the problem of false positives, which is exactly the problem exemplified in the stories referenced above. Watch lists raise the personal price of travel, leading to loss of privacy, loss of control of one's movements, even loss of one's reputation. Soon the price of travel will be prohibitive for most people. Remember how citizens of Iron Curtain countries couldn't travel freely during the Cold War?

Toward Totalitarianism: ePassports

The US government has mandated that US passports will contain radio frequency identification (RFID) chips by the end of 2006.

According to the Department of
State website
, the chip embedded in the cover of the new ePassports will contain the holder's name, birthdate, gender, birthplace, passport issuance and expiration dates, passport number,
and image of the holder. The claim is that the anti-skimming device and basic access control technology incorporated into the passport will prevent unauthorized access to the information encoded in the chip.

However, Bruce
encourages his readers to renew their passport now to get a low-tech non-RFID-enabled version before they become unavailable. He points out that short-term attempts to crack or clone the RFID passports have had some success. While the State Department claims that the chips will only be readable from a few inches, what determines the distance is the power and sensitivity of the reader, and that the passports have been read at much longer distances. Schneier points out that the security measures in the passport (which Schneier deems inadequate) have to last for the life of the passport -- ten years.

Do you want to avoid the identity theft risks associated with having your passport information read illicitly? Don't get a passport. Need to travel outside the US? Too bad. Remember how citizens of Iron Curtain countries couldn't travel freely during the Cold War?


Toward Totalitarianism: Automated Targeting System

The Automated Targeting System assigns a "terrorist threat score" to each American traveling abroad. Almost everything about your score is secret. You can't know what it is or how it was determined. You can't appeal it. It will stay in US government records for 40 years and may be shared with federal, state, local, and foreign governments, NGOs, and domestic or foreign private contractors, just not with you. Want to keep your information out of the database? Don't travel abroad. Remember how citizens of Iron Curtain countries couldn't travel freely during the Cold War?


Chain letters come to blogging

Seth Godin has posted a non-z-list. Looks like Mack Collier started the fun here.

Sooner or later, this approach will start exhibiting the same issue as a chain letter or other pyramid scheme -- the folks at the top will get lots and lots of clicks, but once a quarter to a half the available population is participating, there won't be enough clicks to go around.

Of course, no "real money" is involved, so it's okay, right? Well... maybe. On the other hand, maybe clicks are the new currency. Where do you want your clicks (eyes, attention) to go? What do you want to recommend to your friends?

Perhaps you trust Seth enough that you're willing to look at the blogs on the list he posted, even though he admits that he hasn't had time to look at them all. I prefer to post my own list of favorite blogs. I have looked at and enjoy these regularly:

Schneier on Security
Martha Barnette's Orts


Why the US should not be the world's bully..., er, I mean policeman

11. Throwing our weight around just pisses everyone off, even our allies.

10. Now they don't just want us to leave, they want us to clean up the mess we, er, I mean, the insurgents have made.

9. There's no consensus on what democracy means. Is it voting for one's leaders? Is it voting for electors who choose one's leader's? Does it include an independent judiciary? Who says? I'll show you democracy you lame brain... See what I mean?

8. There's no consensus on what freedom is. Does it mean freedom to do what you want? Wear a burka? Kill infidels? Worship as one pleases? Wear miniskirts? Be gay? Get AIDS? Use drugs? Visit prostitutes? Be a prostitute? Make fun of one's leaders? Make fun of other people? Make fun of oneself?

7. How do you tell an insurgent from a freedom fighter?

6. We can't afford the human cost -- lives lost or disrupted, emotional fallout, lost productivity -- both for ourselves and those we "help".

5. We can't afford the financial cost.

4. We can't fix political situations others have created. Only the people involved in the politics can resolve political problems. How would US citizens feel about another country attempting to impose a different form of government in the US?

3. We can't satisfy ourselves that our own elections are free and fair. Why would anyone trust us to run theirs?

2. It never seems to take long for those we "liberate" to go from gratitude to radicalized terrorists, the ungrateful wretches. I just don't get that.

1. Most of us are too fat to fit into the uniform.



A story is a sequence of perceptions, not events. An event is indescribable. A perception, like a description, is from a particular perspective.


Same behavior, different outcomes?

I wonder how this event was different from this one?

In the first (most recent) story, an elected city councilman who held an alleged thief at gunpoint was himself arrested because the police saw him pointing the gun at the suspect. In the second (older) story, a state senator held four teens he suspected of having broken into a warehouse he owned at gunpoint. The story says he "brandished" the gun and told the suspects to "put their hands up", then gave them chocolate chip cookies. It doesn't say anything about the state senator pointing the gun or what the arriving sheriff's deputies saw.

I guess the moral of the story is, if you're going to hold someone at gunpoint, don't let law enforcement see you pointing the gun, and give your suspects chocolate chip cookies.


How many times did you vote?

How many times did you vote?

Once? Twice? Zero? For most of us, there's no way to know.

I pointed this out to my wife as we left our poll yesterday evening. Her response: "Why does that matter? We've never been able to tell in the past."

True. This has been a weakness in US election practice for a long time. What would be a sensible solution?

I'd like to receive a printed copy of my vote with a unique code on it. The vote tallying process could then populate a website where I can look up my code and verify my vote. I should also be able to 1) download the vote data and satisfy myself that it has been counted correctly, 2) not see any personally identifying information connected to any vote.

Several issues would have to be address: How do I know that the data I get from the website reflects real vote data (as opposed to data someone made up)? How do we adequately secure the vote verification website? How do we ensure that the website has enough horsepower to support the traffic it will receive? How do we ensure against redirection or phishing style attacks (in which the attacker persuades the voter to believe data from a bogus website)? How do we protect the vote verification website against denial of service attacks?



Natural processes tend to be circular. The byproduct or waste of one organism becomes the fuel or food for another. Everything produced by one process gets consumed by another.

Artificial processes tend to be linear. Waste plastic and hydrocarbons have no natural consumers. Recycling is an attempt to close the loop and reuse the waste materials we produce, but it takes a lot of effort and attention, something that tends to diminish compliance.

To live in a truly sustainable way, we need to find ways to make our processes circular without requiring a lot of effort.

An experiment of one

What I used to eat:
  • quarter pounders with cheese
  • other kinds of hamburgers
  • French fries
  • Combos
  • full fat potato and/or corn chips
  • fried or grilled chicken
  • weight: 260 (height: 6 feet)
  • typical blood pressure: 140/95
  • BMI: 35.3 ("severely obese" according to the BMI calculator at http://www.bariatricedge.com)
What I eat nowadays:
  • steel cut oats (.5 cup for breakfast)
  • frozen fruit (berries, melon, mango, peaches, grapes, pineapple)
  • frozen vegetables (carrots, snap peas, brocolli, asparagus, etc.)
  • fresh fruit: grapes, apples (in season), melon (in season), citrus, etc.
  • fresh vegetables: kale, spinach, sugar snap or snow peas, carrots, edamame (green soybeans), cherry tomatos
  • dried fruit: apricots, raisins, etc.
  • boiled potatos (with ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, yum!)
  • beans
  • Subway veggie sandwiches
  • weight: 195
  • typical blood pressure: 109/70
  • BMI: 26.4 ("slightly overweight" according to http://www.bariatricedge.com)
I'm still hoping to get my weight down to around 184, which would give me a BMI of 25 ("healthy" according to http://www.bariatricedge.com).



Check out Clifford Pickover's "ESP Experiment". Pretty amazing, huh?

Well, watch this! I can do it, too, and you don't have to click anything!

Pick a letter from the list below and say it out loud:


Got your letter? Okay, now scroll down....

Look at this list:

1 2 3 4

Hey, presto! I've removed your letter!

Okay, okay, so I removed *all* the letters. I *did* remove yours, didn't I?

Look back at Pickover's site. The first list of cards are:

Khearts, Jclubs, Kspades, Qdiamonds, Qclubs, Jdiamonds

Depending on which "eye" you click on, there are two "exit" lists with "your" card "removed":

beta1: Qhearts, Kclubs, Jhearts, Qspades, Kdiamonds
beta2: Kdiamonds, Qspades, Jhearts, Kclubs, Qhearts

Notice: NONE of the cards on the first list appear on either of the exit lists.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Pickover's experiment is the set of responses it gets (well, the set of responses he has posted, anyway). They range from simple mystification to extremely complex hyptheses attempting to explain the "result". Some respondents clearly "get it" while others appear to "get it", but offer jargon and obfuscation to play along with Pickover's misdirection. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between a response from someone who was honestly tricked and is offering a hypothesis to explain the mechanism of the "telepathy" and someone playing along with the illusion. (My wife suggests that Mr. Pickover may have simply made up *all* the responses.)

Perhaps the funniest responses are the ones that say, "Nope, you screwed up. My card was still in the final set." The only way this could happen is if the person simply got confused and remembered, for example, Qdiamonds as Qhearts. (Or lied, my wife points out.)

Could it be that *all* our religious, metaphysical, spiritual explanations are this kind of over-explanation of simple changed lists?


Musings on The Shape of the World

The legal system is always behind. It can only respond to what has already been done. An act must be committed before it can be recognized as contrary to the public interest, eventually defined as a crime, as being against the law (the law being simply what someone has decided is in the public interest).

Historic trends, like agriculture at the dawn of history, trade during the Middle Ages, the Industrial Revolution, commercialism in the 1800's and early 1900's, the Information Revolution, and, most recently, globalization, cannot be resisted effectively. There are (at least) three responses one can make: futile resistance, attempted exploitation, or attempted shaping.

These historic steamrollers tend to flatten those who resist them. The nomadic hunter-gatherers who declined to join in the agricultural revolution were pushed out to the least desirable land, treated as uncivilized, and sometimes harassed or killed. The gentry who tried to control or limit trade in the Middle Ages found themselves outflanked -- if trade were disallowed here, it sprang up over there. The Luddites who violently resisted the Industrial Revolution are now a historical footnote.

In each revolution, some managed to exploit the trend of things effectively. Some became fabulously weathly by understanding the dynamics of the new way of things and aligning themselves to profit from it. Marco Polo, Henry Ford, and Thomas Edison are examples of those managed to ride the wave of their respective revolutions and won big. Others tried but failed in one way or another.

In every revolution, there was the opportunity, not always taken, to moderate and shape the effects of the revolution to help those displaced by it find their way in the reconfigured world.

- The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman
- Protecting America's Health by Philip J. Hilts


Another Example

Over a period of years, several commentators have documented that since airlines have started allowing passengers to print their boarding passes at home before leaving for the airport, boarding passes are easy to alter. Bruce Schneier documented the problem here in 2003 and Andy Bowers of Slate, documented it here in 2005.

But nothing was done about it. More recently, in an effort to focus more attention on the issue and get it fixed, Christopher Soghoian, a graduate student at Indiana University, set up a website that made it easy to forge a boarding pass for Northwest Airlines. (Boing Boing story is here.)

So do we fix the problem? No! Of course not!

Far from thanking Chris and calling for the security hole to be fixed, Congressman Edward Markey of Massachussets calls for the arrest the student. (Boing Boing story here.)

Hours later, the student was visited at home by FBI agents who ask him to take the website down. He complies. (Boing Boing story.)

Chris chose to spend that night somewhere other than his home. When he returned the next day, he found that his house had been ransacked and computers and other belongings removed. (Boing Boing story.)

The system is broken. Instead of addressing problems, it harasses the messenger.

It seems to me there are several problems with this:

  1. The problem doesn't get fixed.
  2. Innocent people trying to do the right thing and help out get punished.
  3. This "whack-a-mole" approach to problems is not scalable. What if two or three hundred geeks put up such websites? Would the FBI have the manpower to intimidate them all into silence?

The System Is Broken

From Knoxville News Sentinel:

Student uses 19 guns as visual aids in speech

McMINNVILLE, Tenn. - A student at Motlow State Community College may get a reprimand instead of a grade for a speech about weapons at school that included a relative pulling out 19 guns as visual aids.

The student intended her speech to show how easily guns can be concealed and brought on campus. During her presentation at the McMinnville campus Tuesday, a male relative revealed the 19 guns he had hidden on his body and in his backpack.

Motlow officials are investigating.

Don't fix the problem. Rather, punish anyone who points it out.


Who Calls the Shots?

This, it seems to me is the fundamental difficulty with "government building". What does the US do when their proteges make decisions the US mentors find distasteful or inappropriate?

The US can back away and turn the situation over to the Iraqis, as the US say they want to.

Or they can continue trying to make everyone "do right." So far, the result has been chaos and loss of life. Wonder what it will be like next week?


We Won't Have Peace Until We Master Forgiveness

Reuters reports that Johann Leprich has been released from a county jail in Michigan.

Mr. Leprich was a concentration camp guard at Mauthausen in 1943 and 1944. He failed to mention this when applying for entry to the US in 1952 and was naturalized as a US citizen in 1958. His citizenship was revoked in 1987 and US authorities prepared to deport him. He left the US of his own volition, moving to Canada, although he apparently returned to the US at times over the next 16 years.

In 2003, US authorities arrested him at his home in Clinton Township, Michigan, and he has been in jail ever since awaiting deportation. Since no other nation will accept him and he had been held for 34 months longer than is allowed by US law for prospective deportees, he has been released under an agreement in which he must wear an electronic monitor and report to US authorities weekly.

He's 81 years old.

He says he never killed anyone personally. Presumably his work as a guard enabled the killing of victims in the concentration camp. On the other hand, he was trying to survive, too. If he had refused the position at the concentration camp, he would have been forced to go to the front. He says he was forced into the German Army in the first place.

What purpose is served by persecuting such people? To ensure that an event like the Holocaust never happen again? It already has, and is happening -- in Rwanda, in Serbia, in Palestine. Wouldn't it be better to apply the resources spent pursuing Leprich and people like him to fostering peace in the world's hot spots?

It's going to be difficult to achieve peace unless we learn to forgive.


Even Selfless is Selfish

Why would one pursue "a truly selfless view of the world"? We don't do things we don't get benefits from. We do things to feel good about ourselves, to witness (even if only in our imagination) another's pleasure (because it pleases us to do so), or just because we want to (and we're satisfying a desire).

Can you do something other than what you perceive as the "best" choice available to you? You get to define best and you get to make the choice. Give me an example of someone choosing something other than what they regarded as best at the moment of making the choice.

Here's a Slate article making essentially the same argument.

The Walmart Monoculture

A ruthlessly hyperefficient competitor, like Walmart, can put everyone else out of business. The result is a monoculture, which likely to be less stable, robust, and healthy than a diverse ecosystem.

John Quarterman points out the vulnerabilities of monocultures.

According to http://www.walmartfacts.com, Walmart is "the nation’s largest private employer" and "the world's largest retailer."

Virginia Postrel comments on the unexpected impact of Walmart on the US economy.


No more privacy?

Susan Barnes quotes Oscar Gandy's assertion that we probably do not have any privacy anymore. She mentions that he called for "an agency that will be charged with ensuring the survival of privacy."

I predict that the first thing such an agency would do, would be to collect everyone's private information, in order to "protect" it.


We're Shooting Ourselves in the Foot!

Safety is an important emphasis where I work.

Over the past few years, we've had a couple of celebrations of having worked a million injury-free hours that involved having managers serve the rest of us apple pie and ice cream. I wonder how many heart attacks were accelerated, or cases of heart disease worsened, by those celebrations.

Another example: a popular restaurant is serving "pink ribbon" bagels that contain hydrogenated (i.e., "bad") fats and animal products (milk components) to raise breast cancer awareness and as a means for customers to contribute to breast cancer charities (a portion of the proceeds go to the charities). To what extent do you suppose the hydrogenated fats and milk components contribute to cases of breast cancer?

Yet another example: I've heard that conferences for doctors generally serve steak for lunch and dinner. A quick Google turned up some examples here (a pdf) and here (another pdf). If you'd rather not download the pdf, Google's HTML versions are here and here. Here is the June/July issue of the Women's Heart Foundation Newsletter featuring a Grilled Strip Steak as their "Recipe from the Heart".


The Declassified NIE Key Judgments

From the declassified NIE Key Judgments:

Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism. This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support. In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.

Would this make the "Muslim mainstream" a weapon of mass construction?


"Until you stop eating us, humans will continue to die from vegetables contaminated with E. coli."
- the Cows and Chickens


Culture of Ignorance

When I was a child, my parents raised me on meat and dairy, Southern Christian fundamentalism, and dysfunctional family values. There have been times when I have felt angry about this. There have been times I have realized that they were doing the best they knew how, given their own upbringing and environment.

How is it that a culture so inept at teaching its children how to take care of themselves physically and psychologically has become the dominant culture of the world? Why is there so much obesity, chronic disease, mental disturbance, alienation, intolerance, and dysfunction in societies that seem to have mastered technology? If Darwin was right, it would seem like a culture getting so much wrong would be dying out rather than thriving and taking over the world.



What are the options?

It seems to me impossible for people from the US to create a democratic (or any other kind of) government in another country. Iraq will wind up with whatever kind of government people there decide on. It may be democtratic or totalitarian. It may be Islamist or secular. In the long run, the US government and military can't dictate what kind of government it will be.

The whole purpose of the US presence in Iraq, as I understand it, is to stand up the kind of government the US thinks Iraq ought to have. The larger the role the US plays in standing it up, the more dependent I think it's likely to be on US support and enforcement.

Sooner or later, the US will have to get out of Iraq. When that happens, the people of Iraq will decide what kind of government they're going to have. It may be that a few will impose their will on the majority. If that's what happens, it will be because the majority allowed it. It may be that a tolerant, open-minded government will arise because the majority of the Iraqi people decide that that's what they want. Either way, it won't be up to the US.

It seems to me that there are basically two options open to the US:

  1. Stay in Iraq trying to prop up an artificial "Western-style" "democracy" for a some period of time, spending vast amounts of US money and lives, and then leave and see what happens, or

  2. Leave now and see what happens.

Either way, in the long run it comes down to leaving and seeing what happens. It can be the long, painful, expensive way, or the shorter, painful, less expensive way. Which way would you prefer?

Support our troops -- bring them home while they're still alive.