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".