TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Law. Show all posts

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Generation X Goes Back to the Future 6: I Want to Appropriate You


Transgender 'Woman' Objects to Man who Wants his Age Changed Legally from 69 to 49 (12 November 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

The march to liberate us from biological social markers and replace them with politicized, constantly variable, cultural markers continues. Transgendered people have argued that gender is an oppressive social label even more than it is a biological one; they campaign for freedom from that oppression, turning gender into a malleable, liberated construct. They gain a lot of momentum from this, generating endless rights controversies in increasingly convoluted identity politics.

Dutch Baby Boomer and positivity guru Emile Ratelband wants to make hay while the sun shines. Ratelband, who is 69 years old, has been told by his doctor that he has the body of a 42 year old. Using the legal precedents established in the courts by transgender rights campaigners, Ratelband has argued similarly that age is an oppressive biological and social marker. It's time to decide how old you are by how old you feel, rather than being socially identified by rigid biological markers.

Ratelband legally petitioned to get his age changed to 49 years of age, so that he can get more dates with women on Tinder. The trans proponent in the above interview was appalled. Can't you just fib on Tinder? He/she said. Everyone does.

There is grand irony in the notion that a Boomer wants to join the ranks of Generation X. But Ratelband won't have that honour yet, since the Dutch district court in Arnhem presiding over the case ruled against him on 3 December 2018, and prevented him from legally changing his birth date from 11 March 1949 to 11 March 1969. Ratelband vows to appeal.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Death in Panama


Image Source: The Daily Beast.

There is an Internet sub-genre devoted to investigating what has happened to missing people. One of the most disturbing recent cases of this kind captured the attention of bloggers, Redditors, Youtubers, and forum members.

"Lisanne Froon, aged 22. Picture taken on April 1, [2014] the day of her disappearance. Cellphone data, found in their backpack, revealed that attempts to dial 911 were made some 2 hours after this photo was taken. There was no reception. The last attempt to dial 911 was 10 days after their disappearance." Image Source: imgur.

This was the case of Kris Kremers and Lisanne Froon, two Dutch college graduates, aged 21 and 22. In March 2014, they traveled to Boquete, Panama for six weeks to learn Spanish and do volunteer work with local children. Then they disappeared during a day hike in the forest near the town.

At the time of writing this post, the debate on this case at the German forum, Allmystery, was nearly 600 pages long. One of the related Reddit threads is here. The police investigation focused on the girls' disappearance its effect on the local tourist industry. This post and a subsequent post will ask about the much larger context of this case, including the Panama Papers.

Image Source: Kris Kremers/Facebook/imgur.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Defend the Right to Repair


Image Source: LA Times (Hat tip: The Outer Light).

The tech giants have moved one step closer toward criminalizing anyone who refurbishes or recycles old electronics. The hypocrisy of Silicon Valley companies came into sharp relief as a US federal appeals court in Miami ruled to imprison a tech waste e-cycler on 11 April 2018.



HLN LIVE Recycler Eric Lundgren - Stands Up For Repair and Recycling! (2 May 2018). Video Source: Youtube.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

New UK Export: Police State Tools


How BAE sold cyber-surveillance tools to Arab states - BBC News (20 June 2017). Video Source: BBC via Youtube.

NSA in a box: on 20 June 2017, BBC reported that a UK firm, BAE systems, exported nation-wide surveillance and decryption tools to Arab states, notably the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco. The BBC reporter found that this exported technology will potentially be used against the UK. Takeaway quote: "You'd be able to intercept any Internet traffic. If you wanted to do a whole country - go ahead!"

Image Source: BAE Systems.

The 52nd International Paris Air Show is on now from 19 to 25 June 2017, with reps talking about everything from commercial jets to quantum entanglement. The aerospace industry increasingly considers military applications in space. Jane's reported that BAE is there, seeking to expand its custom for fighter jets in Belgium and Finland. Despite political tensions between Trump's America and a liberal Europe, on 18 June 2017 Defense News stated that US military industry reps were sanguine: it's "full speed ahead" between Europe and the USA when it comes to aerospace and arms deals. While the event is on, you can watch a livestream from the Paris Air Show here.

Le Bourget roundup Day 1 (20 June 2017). Video Source: Youtube.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Drone Precedents: Point and Click


The unmanned drone MQ-9 Reaper, made by General Atomics, designed in 2001, first introduced into use by the US Air Force in 2007. This photo is from Afghanistan. Image Source: US Air Force via Defense Update.

This is the third in three posts on discrepancies between declared meaning and hard reality and the problems those gaps cause in emerging Millennial history. Today's post focuses on warfare. The 2014 documentary Drone, directed by Norwegian director Tonje Hessen Schei, summarized the change from a critical perspective. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom reviewed the film in 2015:
"The international community has stressed that drone strikes involve killings without due process that are violating international law and human rights, most importantly the right to life. There have been strong concerns that drone operations do not gather sufficient information to establish legal targets, resulting in indiscriminate killings. The precision of drones, so fondly asserted by their supporters, is a myth.

Someone who knows all about this crude reality is Brandon Bryant, a former US Air Force drone operator diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who is now speaking out to the world on what he experienced during his time flying drones. In the documentary, he describes the light-hearted, often nonchalant, atmosphere in the control room, half a world away from the people they were targeting, and how he himself grew more and more jaded for each strike."
The documentary (available at time of writing, here) sounds an alarm on drone development; the film regards drones as an international, not purely American, problem; and it criticizes the Republicans and especially the Democrats for their endorsement of the drone programme. The narration opens with an interview with Brandon Bryant, as he reflected on how drone operation dehumanized him:
"I didn't really understand what it meant to kill at first. It was horrible. Sometimes it plays itself over and over again in your head, so much that you, you just imagine who these people were. We sat in a box for nearly twelve hour shifts. I [was] typically on the night shift. It was quieter. All the lights were usually off, except for the light coming from the monitors. It was so weird just being able to watch people's lives. ... I remember watching a wedding. I mean, these were people enjoying themselves. These were people celebrating, like, a wedding. You know? Like - but someone in that wedding was a bad person, and at that moment, they were celebrating. It's just weird, like, I'm watching this person, and this person has no clue. We're the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate Peeping Toms. No one's going to catch us, and we're getting orders to take these people's lives. It was just - point and click."
Bryant claimed most of his fellow drone pilots did not view their operations that way, and some threatened him when he came forward to criticize drones. At the other end of engagement, civilians sitting under drone attacks regard them as despicable and illegal. Lawyers in Pakistan have taken drone attack cases before their courts as criminal extrajudicial killings. But the paper trail disappears when it reaches the American government's doorstep, due to the confidentiality of unidentified authorities and top secret status of intelligence officers. In 2015, The Guardian called "Obama's drone panopticon" a "secret machine with no accountability." In the old military system, information can pinpoint those who violate military laws and court martial them. In the new military system, information disappears.




The verdict on conventional warfare from 2001 to 2008: Abu Ghraib prison torture in 2003 Image Source: Progressive Charlestown. The Senate committee report on torture was published on 30 December 2014. Image Source: Christian Science Monitor. Wife at the grave of an American soldier. Image Source: The Daily Call. Approximately half of veterans (over 1 million former military personnel) returned home to suffer PTSD, drug problems, convoluted governmental support, unemployment in the Great Recession, and other difficulties. A homeless veteran in Houston, Texas. Image Source: IFTBQP. Wiki: "In 2013, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were committing suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes."

Barack Obama's drone programme grew out of a catastrophic evaluation of George W. Bush's conventional wars. The Americans faced huge criticism and problems over their handling of the War in Afghanistan (2001-2014) and the Iraq War (2003-present). Abu Ghraib prison, torture, and Guantanamo Bay became ugly mirrors which the big media held up to show a proud nation its shameful inhumanity. The media and experts challenged the justifications and WMD premises for the war. Bush's conventional war was also astronomically expensive. In 2004, Osama bin Laden stated that one of al-Qaeda's aims was to provoke the USA into military conflict to the point of bankruptcy. He almost succeeded. Critics blamed the 2008 meltdown partly on the cost of war. In 2013, Reuters reported that the Iraq War and its related aftermath could cost USD $6 trillion over the next four decades, including interest.

Enter the drone, a comparatively cheap, recessionary weapon. In 2015, The Daily Dot reported that Obama requested roughly USD $561 billion in defense spending for the following year, with a growing portion devoted to drones or drone research, to around USD $5 billion by 2016. This was the projected cost of 'soft defense' with a 'small footprint': "While controversial for a variety of reasons, the drone program was supposed to usher in the era of a slimmer, smarter military for the U.S." Bard College has a Center for the Study of the Drone, which broke down America's annual drone budget for 2016 (here) and 2017 (here). According to one PBS opinion piece, the Democrats paid for the drones by printing money, as part of recessionary quantitative easing.

So, Obama declared: war is peace. Drone technology effectively continued Bush's Middle Eastern military policy in a different style. Single, targeted drone attacks became more widespread, akin to drone bombing. The Intercept dug through leaked classified drone papers, especially those for Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan in 2012-2013, and found large numbers of civilian casualties. For all the earlier concerns in Iraq and Afghanistan, this was a troubling shift in operational perspective. The Democrats' policy obscured reality, and was conceptually, politically and philosophically dislocated from the reality it created. This war continued mostly out of the public eye, behind a façade of peace. The film Drone maintains that the sympathetic Democratic rhetoric of humanitarianism and frugal economy held the moral high ground over the sabre-rattling of hawkish Republicans. However, the Democrats' withdrawal of troops and peaceable rhetoric cynically, strategically - and progressively - continued the war with drone technology and mercenaries, who replaced American soldiers on the ground.


Blackwater gained public attention when four of their mercenaries were ambushed, killed and burned on a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq, on 31 March 2004. It took two military battles for the Americans to take the city. After the victory in December 2004, the Marines signed the bridge with their Latin motto. In the photo above, 3/5 is the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment of the Marines, also known as the Darkhorse. From 2005 to 2011, investigative reports linked birth defects in Fallujah to the US Army's use of white phosphorous. The incident showed how unconventional mercenaries and weapons overlapped with conventional forces and the media. Images Sources: Mount Holyoke University; flickr.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton condemned the Bush State Department's employment of the military contractor Blackwater. But a 2014 HuffPo investigation found that shortly thereafter, Clinton's State Department stepped up hiring of private armies; her office promised Blackwater (now known as Academi) USD $500 million in mercenary contracts. In 2010, Wired reported that Clinton's State Department signed a five-year contract worth over USD $10 billion with a mercenary umbrella group called, 'International Development Solutions,' which included Academi-formerly-known-as-Blackwater. In 2014, there were rumours that Academi and an affiliated, Barbados-based company, Greystone, were active in the Ukraine. Other Blackwater shell companies, like Paravant, have grimly ironic names (a paravent is a portable bedroom privacy screen). According to Wired, here are a few other names Blackwater, its subsidiaries, or related merc companies have taken on to shed baggage:
  • Total Intelligence Solutions
  • Technical Defense Inc.
  • Apex Management Solutions LLC
  • Aviation Worldwide Services LLC
  • Air Quest Inc.
  • Presidential Airways Inc.
  • EP Aviation LLC
  • Backup Training LLC
  • Terrorism Research Center
  • Xe Services LLC
  • Worldwide Protective Services
  • AAR Corp.
The employer-reviews Website, Glassdoor, has employees' reviews of International Development Solutions; one reads: "Great pay. Travel is awesome. [But y]ou're away from home quite often." Darker parts of the story emerged in 2016 about an embryonic private air force (here and here), while ex-Blackwater CEO Erik Prince aided in China's quiet imperial conquest of Africa. One blog devoted to overseas military contractors calls them "the best kept secret of the wars." Contractors and drones allowed war to disappear (largely) from the media; conflict faded into the background behind the term, 'deniability.' Regardless of the winner in the American presidential race, this approach will continue. The current foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump is Joseph Schmitz, a former Blackwater executive.

Even more than before, politicians separated cause from effect and meaning from reality. This policy created two contemporary historical narratives, the politicized metahistory, and the factual course of events. The misleading image of a kinder, gentler government became easier to cultivate, because warfare was conducted through several degrees of separation and obscured political responsibility. Drone argues that Obama disapproved of Guantanamo Bay, so he solved that problem by killing suspects with drones, thereby avoiding the public relations mess of capturing, incarcerating them and facing scrutiny over that process. Critics in Drone maintain that this policy by-passed international and national legal systems (as opposed to violating them, as the Bush administration had). Other critics assert that the same policy encouraged the rise of ISIS. Drones are one of the reasons why ISIS are so keen to provoke the Americans back into boots-on-the ground, hand-to-hand combat in the Middle East. In their eyes, a bloody human clash is the true contest between societies, and remote-piloted drones are the weapons of cowards.

Purported drone killing (12 November 2015) of 'Jihadi John' aka Mohammed Emwazi (born Muhammad Jassim Abdulkarim Olayan al-Dhafiri), a Londoner who beheaded several high-profile western captives for ISIS, including American journalist James Foley on 19 August 2014 (see my post on Foley's beheading here). ISIS confirmed Emwazi's death in January 2016. The gamer who posted this video on 13 November 2015 rejoices in the killing. This is likely the wrong footage, revealing public difficulty in confirming the details of drone warfare. According to the Daily Mail, Emwazi was killed on a street while talking on his cell phone. Video Source: Youtube

The psychological orientation of drone battle is different from conventional warfare. One army sits, thousands of miles away from the arena of action. Their engagement is virtual, disconnected from direct combat, and they target enemies dispersed among a civilian population. The documentary observes that human operators of drones will soon be replaced by computer algorithms, thus making the targeting of undesirable individuals in the world nearly fully automated. Proponents of algorithmic pilots argue that an algorithm is more objective than human drone operators. At present, the human decision to assassinate an individual or group depends on intelligence analysis and a chain of command. The intelligence is gathered through governmental monitoring of private citizens' information, combined with international intelligence tips - including, the film asserts - from the European Union, whose governments have not criticized Obama's policy on drones.

In DroneColonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, remarked that the advent of drones changes the legal connotations of war, and positions the soldier as more murderer than defender of his or her society. Drone operations demand a different kind of recruit, from soldiers who are physically, organizationally and strategically trained for combat, to soldiers who are computer gamers. The US military has developed unmanned airplane computer games to ferret out and attract drone pilot recruits at as early an age as possible. From Wilkerson in Drone:
"It's a very different youth group that we're dealing with, that we're forcing into this environment of killing. And it's a very different form of killing, when you're in Nevada and the people you're killing are ten thousand miles away. We have something in the armed forces that we call the 'warrior ethos.' You destroy that when you go out and kill people and you're totally invulnerable. I think the drone business, the distance imposed, amplifies this a hundredfold. And the distinction between killing for state purposes under just war theory and killing for state purposes with no vulnerability is, I think, the difference between killing in a way that is recognized and legalized, even, and murder. How did we get to the point where we're no longer warriors, we're murderers for the state?"

Friday, June 24, 2016

Time and Politics 20: Brexit


The statue of Winston Churchill at Westminster. Image Sources: The Atlantic and The Telegraph.

Although the blog is on a break, Brexit is a momentous historical event. It made me think of a quotation* from the Younger Pitt: "Depend on it, Mr. Burke ... we shall go on as we are to the Day of Judgement."

Perhaps. Although the UK will not leave the EU for two years, Irish and Scottish support for the European Union may lead to the reunification of Ireland, the separation of Scotland, and the break-up of the United Kingdom. Because the campaign became so dark, ugly and tragic, culminating with MP Jo Cox's murder, I will not comment at length on the arguments for one side or the other. I can see both points of view, because the Brexit debate confirms trends I have observed here while researching posts on the economy and the cultural impact of technological change.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Infosec and the Totalitarian Principle


The Intercept: "New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear and Self-Censorship" (28 April 2016). Image Source: The Intercept (Hat tip: Edward Snowden).

On 26 April 2016, the political commentator Fareed Zakaria, host of CNN's main foreign affairs programme, GPS, debated ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden for NYU Wagner's Debates of the Century, on whether the American government should have access to privately-held technology and private data. Debates of the Century:
"Some people believe the recent dispute between the FBI and Apple over a locked iPhone marks the return of what privacy advocates called the 'crypto wars' of the 1990s, when federal authorities tried and failed to mandate government access to most forms of electronic communication. Although the FBI managed to decrypt the iPhone at issue without the company’s help, Apple and others are racing to build devices and messaging services that no one but their owners can unlock. The legal question remains unresolved in Congress, where competing bills have been introduced, and in dozens of cases pending in state and federal courts.

Law enforcement agencies believe their vital mission requires compulsory access, under valid court order, to any device or communications stream. Leading technology companies (backed by some other U.S. government voices) say they cannot meet law enforcement demands without undermining customer security and privacy against hackers and foreign adversaries. Edward Snowden and Fareed Zakaria disagree on which course better serves society at large. Should companies be required to break into their own encrypted products, and should they be allowed to sell encryption that no one can break?" 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Hallowe'en Countdown 2015: Remote Camera Hacks


Image Source: Time to Break.

Digital home invasion. Stick that Post-it over your laptop camera, because here is a real life premise for a found footage film if I ever saw one. In July 2015, a hacker sent a woman in Toronto, Canada photos of her sleeping with her partner, taken through the camera of her boyfriend's computer. Police were unable to protect the couple after the captures were posted on her Facebook account. VICE:
It was the end of a long day, and Chelsea Clark and her boyfriend had settled in for a Netflix marathon on his laptop. "We were for sure watching Adventure Time," says the 27-year-old bartender. "Pretty normal Wednesday night stuff." Yet the couple's rather unremarkable, rather intimate evening soon became anything but.

Logging into Facebook after work the next day, Clark says her blood ran cold. An anonymous account had sent her a series of photos of the couple's evening, seemingly taken from the laptop's camera. "They were so freakishly intimate," she says.

"Realy,cute couple [sic]" was the only message.

Terrified, Clark immediately called the Toronto police. "It felt so invasive, like someone was in my house with me." ...

The images were taken using her boyfriend's PC laptop, a computer Clark says she never uses. "It's just for video games and occasionally we'll use Netflix on it," she explains. From there, the perpetrator managed to make the link to Clark, hacking into her Facebook account and adding himself to her contacts to send the images. "I have my privacy setting set so that no one can message me except friends," she says of her Facebook account. "So when I got an unknown [message] I thought it seemed weird," she says. "I went into history to see when [the user] was added and it was just before the messages were sent."

Cyber security expert Eric Parent says the context suggests the perpetrator knows the couple. "Or we're dealing with someone who took the time to understand the relationship between these two people," says Parent. "And that takes digging, since it's not because I saw you on a webcam that I know who you are."

The (now-deleted) Facebook profile used to send the photos offers little insight into the perpetrator's identity (Mahmoud Abdo seems to be an incredibly common name, and is likely a fake). Alongside profile pictures featuring Heath Ledger as the Joker or strange motivational sayings, the person followed a variety of soccer club pages and belonged to a group called "Spammers and Hackers." The user's location is listed as Cairo, Egypt. ...

Parent warns that hacking a webcam is relatively easy. "If you have access to the physical computer, all you need is some tech knowledge and a USB key and you're done," he says. Remote access, he explains, requires some form of user involvement. "Something has to be clicked, a doc has to be opened," he says. But all in all, it's a relatively simple hack that can be hard to detect. "It's very difficult to protect yourself from this type of attack because the stuff that we do normally, like opening email, is stuff that just happens," says Parent. "The best thing you can do is to have security software, keep everything up to date, and cross your fingers."
Also in July 2015, a Canadian man heard an eerie voice screaming obscenities and shouting "Wake up baby! Wake up baby!" at his infant child. The voice came from the hacked baby monitor in the nursery. In late 2014, several reports noted that a Russian-based Website, Insecam, streamed thousands of hacked security cams and Webcams in the USA, UK, Canada and Australia. These articles fine tuned the growing paranoia that nothing on the Internet is private.

Image Source: VICE. See another report on this case, here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Time and Politics 14: Who Now Remembers the Annihilation of the Armenians?


Image Source: BBC.

Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who now still speaks of the annhilation of the Armenians? These were Hitler's words to the German military forces on 22 August 1939. In this speech, he ordered them to invade Poland and exterminate the Polish people. He insisted that the Poles were expendable, not just at that moment in an act of war, but that they could be completely wiped from the pages of history. The monstrous idea behind Hitler's imperial vision - he who writes history controls politics, society and the future - applied deadly lessons from World War I; it was recognized by other world leaders and thinkers at the time. In one sentence, the German leader summarized his clear, conscious awareness that history could be altered, and it was on that basis that one could do anything to anyone to achieve near-infinite aims.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian genocide. Source: imgkid.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Syria's Conflict and Ancient Plunder


One of at least 18 Odyssey mosaics reported stolen from northeastern Syria in early 2013. This is a detail of Odysseus tied to his mast, resisting the sirens. Despite reports, conflicting information originally places this mosaic in Tunisia, not Syria. Image Source: Past Horizons.

Since 2011, reports have circulated that Syria's classical heritage is being ruined or plundered by the conflict in that country. When war began, there were some 78 formal archaeological digs in the country. Then the conflict between the population and the government, followed by the Islamic State, led to an obliteration of Syria's precious past. Islamic State militants, like the Taliban, abhor graven images, although they are still willing to sell the stolen artifacts which they don't destroy. They are not alone on that black market.


Full mosaic: Odysseus and the Sirens at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, Tunisia (2nd century AD). Image Source: Wiki.

On 2 September 2014, the New York Times reported that the Islamic State has set up a nasty sideline selling Syrian archaeological artifacts:
We have recently returned from southern Turkey, where we were training Syrian activists and museum staff preservationists to document and protect their country’s cultural heritage. That heritage includes remains from the ancient Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic periods, along with some of the earliest examples of writing and some of the best examples of Hellenistic, Roman and Christian mosaics.
In extensive conversations with those working and living in areas currently under ISIS control, we learned that ISIS is indeed involved in the illicit antiquities trade, but in a way that is more complex and insidious than we expected. ...
ISIS permits local inhabitants to dig at these sites in exchange for a percentage of the monetary value of any finds.
The group’s rationale for this levy is the Islamic khums tax, according to which Muslims are required to pay the state treasury a percentage of the value of any goods or treasure recovered from the ground. ISIS claims to be the legitimate recipient of such proceeds.
The amount levied for the khums varies by region and the type of object recovered. In ISIS-controlled areas at the periphery of Aleppo Province in Syria, the khums is 20 percent. In the Raqqa region, the levy can reach up to 50 percent or even higher if the finds are from the Islamic period (beginning in the early-to-mid-seventh century) or made of precious metals like gold.
The scale of looting varies considerably under this system, and much is left to the discretion of local ISIS leaders. For a few areas, such as the ancient sites along the Euphrates River, ISIS leaders have encouraged digging by semiprofessional field crews. These teams are often from Iraq and are applying and profiting from their experience looting ancient sites there. They operate with a “license” from ISIS, and an ISIS representative is assigned to oversee their work to ensure the proper use of heavy machinery and to verify accurate payment of the khums.
In addition to the looting, ISIS seems to be encouraging the clandestine export of archaeological finds, which is primarily centered on the border crossing from Syria into Turkey near Tel Abyad, an ISIS stronghold. There is reason to suspect that ISIS has approved and encourages the transborder antiquities trade.
To control history, especially to squander or erase it, is to control the future. There are some 10,000 archaeological sites scattered across the country. All are now vulnerable.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Time and Politics 11: Lessons in Crypto-Anarchy



Does the predominance of the Internet mean that we can, and will, live in a great, stateless society? On 12 March 2014, BBC's show HARDtalk interviewed Cody Wilson, Gen Y enfant terrible of 3-D printed gun on the Web fame, about the rise of crypto-anarchy.

Wilson expresses a perspective coming from a generation that has grown up without reference points outside of technological immersion. HARDtalk interviewer Stephen Sackur's uneasiness was evident. Wilson displayed cheerful enthusiasm and faint condescension as he dished out life's tough new truths for HARDtalk's viewers, whom he obviously presumed were out of the loop. Wilson was eloquent, voluble, intelligent, and not nice at all. Or perhaps he only meant to appear that way. He has had a media makeover over the past year; for all his disdain for the MSM, he loves publicity.

Wilson dismissed 20th century liberal values as a catechism of control, murder and inefficiency, a grand moralistic delusion which enables state, social and economic oppression. He off-handedly referred to Obama as a "grocery clerk" (in a sly nod to Kurtz's dialogue in Apocalypse Now, Coppola's 1979 version of Heart of Darkness). Wilson's aside spoke volumes: how far will he take us up the river? As far as he - and we - can go. He was giggly and laid back, but make no mistake: he was deadly serious.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Quote of the Day: Kim Dotcom


Kim Dotcom launched his site Mega in January 2013. It's now worth NZ$210 million. Image Source: Toronto Sun.

German-Finnish Internet enterpreneur Kim Schmitz aka Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload and Megaupload's successor site, Mega, thumbed his nose at authorities yesterday on Twitter. From the Toronto Sun:
Kim Dotcom, one of the world's most wanted cyber fugitives, on Tuesday gloated over a deal that will see a cloud storage firm he founded while on bail listing on the New Zealand stock exchange and valued on paper at NZ$210 million ([CAD] $200.7 million).
The flashy internet mogul, who also goes by the name Kim Schmitz, is fighting a bid by U.S. authorities to extradite him from his lavish estate in New Zealand to face online piracy charges over the now closed file sharing site Megaupload.
The New Zealand government in early 2012 arrested Dotcom at his mansion near Auckland in a SWAT-style raid requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Dotcom is free on bail as he fights extradition although his movements are restricted.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Time and Politics 10: Police State Futures


"Monuments to Kiev's founders burn as anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest in Kiev, Ukraine" on 18 February 2014. Image Source: PzFeed.

According to Plato, the régime that inevitably follows democracy is tyranny (the cycle is: Aristocracy, Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy, and Tyranny.). Wiki:
The Kyklos (Ancient Greek: κύκλος, IPA: [kýklos], "cycle") is a term used by some classical Greek authors to describe what they saw as the political cycle of governments in a society. It was roughly based on the history of Greek city-states in the same period. The concept of "The Kyklos" is first elaborated in Plato's Republic, chapters VIII and IX. Polybius calls it the anakyklosis or "anacyclosis". According to Polybius, who has the most fully developed version of the cycle, it rotates through the three basic forms of government, democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy and the three degenerate forms of each of these governments ochlocracy, oligarchy, and tyranny.
Aristotle defined the cycle as: "the rule of One, the second as rule of the Few, the third as the rule of the Many. It keeps repeating."

Tyranny. It would be so nice if we could just skip that stage. I don't relish the notion of some future Gen Z technocrat perusing this post in 2033, deciding that it violates the latest advisories, and concluding that something needs to be done about future me at three in the morning because of my early 2010s' blog. And so, in light of a day I hope never arrives, today's post concerns how to avoid the establishment of 21st century police states.

Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: PzFeed.

A father and son confront a police officer. Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: Anonymous.

The explosion of the Internet in 2000s gave birth to two great, competing behemoths: statism and anti-statism. On the one hand, there is the potential rise of totalitarian super-states, which will mobilize data-gathering to control their citizens. This is the subject of today's post. On the other, the Internet has fueled a fascination with anarchy and giddy infatuation with libertarianism. Many users on the Web are mesmerized by the lure of stateless chaos and total, Net-driven freedoms; they rejoice in a complete sweeping away of the moribund establishment and the creation of unregulated interactions, whether in communications or trade. That will be the subject of an upcoming post.

You don't need to visit an oracle to understand that everything is in flux, and in this period speeding toward the 2020s, "it's all up for grabs, it really is."

Everything is up for grabs. It's like watching an animated chess board; all the pieces are moving and we don't know where they will land. Reactionary attempts to control, regulate, monitor, misinform, obfuscate around emerging trends are well under way. So are radical counter-efforts. It is impossible to gauge how things will appear when the movement stops. Borders will shift. Struggles erupt between those in power and those seeking power. Everywhere, there are protests and crackdowns. Expect resurgences of radical nationalism, irredentism in places like Crimea, Taiwan, bits of the Middle East  and Africa - and separatism in previously placid places, like Scotland and Quebec. Far-sighted agents rush to anticipate and seize the position of final control after this period of upheaval.

Kiev on 18 February 2014. Image Source: HuffPo.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Chinese Duplicature


An Eiffel Tower over a road in Hebei province. Image Source: Robert Harding/World Imagery/Corbis via WSJ.

In February of this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Chinese fakes, knock-offs, copies and duplicates of western goods, landmarks and famous buildings. It is a great example of how globalization can spawn confusion and cognitive dissonance. A caveat: some critics of related reports assumed that this story was part of an anti-Chinese wave in the western media. Even if it is, it still exemplifies the Millennial taste for twins, doppelgangers and facsimiles.

Venice Water Town, Hangzhou. Image Source: Image Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

In the west, copies are derivative, inferior products. Almost always, respect goes first and foremost to an original inventor, creator, designer or architect. Copies are considered to be disrespectful and unoriginal because they violate the western principles of intellectual and commercial creation and ownership. Those principles derive from John Locke's labour theory of property, "a natural law theory that holds that property originally comes about by the exertion of labor upon natural resources." You own what you create. And if you created it first, then you get the credit for breaking ground first. There are some exceptions, particularly in American cities like Las Vegas.


Luodian Town, a Scandinavian-themed town. Images Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

But generally speaking, in western eyes, Chinese fakes constitute an admission that western creations (and even culture) are superior, and all the Chinese can do is furnish pale imitations of models established by stronger societies.

This is a misunderstanding.

The Wall Street Journal described a theory from author Bianca Bosker, namely, that when the Chinese make copies of another society's best goods and greatest buildings, they are asserting their cultural dominance over the other society. The other society is being symbolically diminished, incorporated and absorbed:
This "duplitecture" is not meant to flatter the West, nor is it a form of "self-colonization." The copies are built as monuments to China's technological prowess, affluence and power. The Chinese have seized on the icons of Western architecture as potent symbols for their own ascension to—and aspiration for—global supremacy.
It is an impulse with deep roots in Chinese architectural tradition, dating back thousands of years. In pre-modern China, emperors demonstrated their dominance by re-creating rival territories within their own: Sprawling imperial parks, which featured flora and fauna assembled from remote lands, buttressed rulers' authority by showing their ability to both create and possess an elaborate facsimile of the known universe.

China's emperors also used copycat buildings to convey their mastery—actual or anticipated—over their adversaries. In the third century B.C., the First Emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, commemorated his conquest of six rival kingdoms by ordering that exact replicas of their palaces be built in his capital. Today, the ersatz Eiffel Towers and Chrysler Buildings symbolize China's power to control the world by transplanting Europe and the U.S. into its domain.
Traditional Chinese attitudes toward replication also help to explain the trend. While Americans view imitation with disdain, the Chinese have traditionally taken a more permissive and nuanced view of it. Copying can be valued as a mark of skill and superiority.
Knockoff of Tower Bridge in the city of Suzhou in Jiangsu province. Image Source: Daily Mail.

The BBC reported on the Chinese mash-up of English municipalities - Thames Town:
As you enter Thames Town, the honking and chaos of Chinese city life fall away. There are no more street vendors selling steamed pork buns, and no more men hauling recyclables on tricycles. The road starts to wind, and then, in the distance, you see what looks like a clock tower from a Cotswold village.
"It has this almost dreamlike quality of something European," says Tony Mackay, a British architect, and the master planner for the Thames Town housing scheme and the surrounding district of Songjiang.
When local officials hired Mackay in 2001, he found farms and ducks here.
Today, there are cobbled streets, pubs and half-timbered Tudor houses. There's even a statue of Winston Churchill, and a medieval meeting hall that advertises chicken wings and beer in Chinese characters. But Mackay is not happy. "It doesn't look quite right," he says. "It looks false." 
Mackay says the architects who took on the designs for the buildings created a pastiche, throwing together different styles, and abandoning authenticity. Some of the half-timbered houses are six storeys high, for example, and the windows on the church just don't look right, he says.
"The proportions are wrong. The use of the different stones is all wrong. It would never be used like that in the genuine English church," he says.
The houses in Thames Town were largely bought as investment properties, so the town has always been quiet. It is only just beginning to develop a real sense of life and community.
To Mackay, the place looks like a film set. In fact, one Western blogger said it reminded him of the film, The Truman Show. ...
But Fan Yu Zhe couldn't care less. ... Fan and his bride Sun Qi Yao look ... deeply into each other's eyes as a photo assistant showered them with flower petals. Thames Town is crawling with young couples who want to have their wedding photos taken here. "I love European football, so I'm very interested in things from Europe," says Fan. "I really hope I can visit the real Thames River one day, sit along the banks, drink a cup of coffee and enjoy the British sunshine."
... Elsewhere in China, there is a replica Eiffel Tower, a mock Tower Bridge - even a recreation of Stonehenge.
Statue of Winston Churchill in Thames Town, Shanghai. Image Source: Bianca Bosker via Atlas Obscura.

I09 reported on China's copycat craze without pinpointing its underlying message. See more copycat buildings from i09 below the jump.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Coming Siege Against Cognitive Liberties


Image Source: Nature.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on how researchers are debating the legal implications of technological advances in neuroscanning:
Imagine that psychologists are scanning a patients' brain, for some basic research purpose. As they do so, they stumble across a fleeting thought that their equipment is able to decode: The patient has committed a murder, or is thinking of committing one soon. What would the researchers be obliged to do with that information?

That hypothetical was floated a few weeks ago at the first meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues devoted to exploring societal and ethical issues raised by the government's Brain initiative (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies), which will put some $100-million in 2014 alone into the goal of mapping the brain. ...

One commissioner ... has been exploring precisely those sorts of far-out scenarios. Will brain scans undermine traditional notions of privacy? Are existing constitutional protections sufficient to guard our freedom of thought, or are new laws required as fMRI scanners and EEG detectors grow evermore precise?

Asking those questions is the Duke University associate professor of law Nita A. Farahany ... . "We have this idea of privacy that includes the space around our thoughts, which we only share with people we want to ... . Neuroscience shows that what we thought of as this zone of privacy can be breached." In one recent law-review article, she warned against a "coming siege against cognitive liberties."

Her particular interest is in how brain scans reshape our understanding of, or are checked by, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. Respectively, they protect against "unreasonable searches and seizures" and self-incrimination, which forbids the state to turn any citizen into "a witness against himself." Will "taking the Fifth," a time-honored tactic in American courtrooms, mean anything in a world where the government can scan your brain? The answer may depend a lot on how the law comes down on another question: Is a brain scan more like an interview or a blood test? ...

Berkeley's [Jack] Gallant says that although it will take an unforeseen breakthrough, "assuming that science keeps marching on, there will eventually be a radar detector that you can point at somebody and it will read their brain cognitions remotely." ...

Moving roughly from less protected to more protected ... [Farahany's] categories [for reading the brain in legal terms] are: identifying information, automatic information (produced by the brain or body without effort or conscious thought), memorialized information (that is, memories), and uttered information. (Contrary to idiomatic usage, her "uttered" information can include information uttered only in the mind. At the least, she observes, we may need stronger Miranda warnings, specifying that what you say, even silently to yourself, can be used against you.) ...

In a book to be published next month, Mind, Brains, and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience (Oxford University Press), Michael S. Pardo and Dennis Patterson directly confront Farahany's work. They argue that her evidence categories do not necessarily track people's moral intuitions—that physical evidence can be even more personal than thought can. "We assume," they write, "that many people would expect a greater privacy interest in the content of information about their blood"—identifying or automatic information, like HIV status—"than in the content of their memories or evoked utterances on a variety of nonpersonal matters."

On the Fifth Amendment question, the two authors "resist" the notion that a memory could ever be considered analogous to a book or an MP3 file and be unprotected, the idea Farahany flirts with. And where the Fourth Amendment is concerned, Pardo, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, writes in an e-mail, "I do think that lie-detection brain scans would be treated like blood draws." ...

[Farahany] says ... her critics are overly concerned with the "bright line" of physical testimony: "All of them are just grappling with current doctrine. What I'm trying to do is reimagine and newly conceive of how we think of doctrine."

"The bright line has never worked," she continues. "Truthfully, there are things that fall in between, and a better thing to do is to describe the levels of in-betweenness than to inappropriately and with great difficulty assign them to one category or another."

Among those staking out the brightest line is Paul Root Wolpe, a professor of bioethics at Emory University. "The skull," he says, "should be an absolute zone of privacy." He maintains that position even for the scenario of the suspected terrorist and the ticking time bomb, which is invariably raised against his position.
"As Sartre said, the ultimate power or right of a person is to say, 'No,'" Wolpe observes. "What happens if that right is taken away—if I say 'No' and they strap me down and get the information anyway? I want to say the state never has a right to use those technologies." ... Farahany stakes out more of a middle ground, arguing that, as with most legal issues, the interests of the state need to be balanced against those of the individual. ...

The nonprotection of automatic information, she writes, amounts to "a disturbing secret lurking beneath the surface of existing doctrine." Telephone metadata, another kind of automatic information, can, after all, be as revealing as GPS tracking.

Farahany starts by showing how the secrets in our brains are threatened by technology. She winds up getting us to ponder all the secrets that a digitally savvy state can gain access to, with silky and ominous ease.
Much of the discussion among these legal researchers involves thinking about cognitive legal issues (motivations, actions, memories) in a way that is strongly influenced by computer-based metaphors. This is part of the new transhuman bias, evident in many branches of research. This confirms a surprising point: posthumanism is not some future hypothetical reality, where we all have chips in our brains and are cybernetically enhanced. It is an often-unconsidered way of life for people who are still 100 per cent human; it is a way that they are seeing the world.

This is the 'soft' impact of high technology, where there is an automatic assumption that we, our brains, or the living world around us, are like computers, with data which can be manipulated and downloaded.

In other words, it is not just the hard gadgetry of technological advances that initiates these insidious changes in law and society. If we really want to worry about the advent of a surveillance state, we must question the general mindset of tech industry designers, and people in general, who are unconsciously mimicking computers in the way they try to understand the world. From this unconscious mimicry comes changes to society for which computers are not technically responsible.

A false metaphorical correlation between human and machine - the expectation that organic lives must be artificially automated  - is corrosive to the assumptions upon which functioning societies currently still rest. These assumptions are what Farahany would call, "current doctrine." We take 'current doctrine' for granted. But at the same time, we now take for granted ideas that make 'current doctrine' increasingly impossible to maintain.

This is not to say that change is unnecessary or that technology has not brought vast improvements.

But is it really necessary for everything to go faster and faster? Do we need to be accessible to everyone and everything, day and night? Should our bosses, the police, the government, corporations, the media, let alone other citizens, know everything we do and think in private? Do we really need more powerful technology every six months? Why is it necessary that our gadgets increasingly become smaller, more intimate, and physically attached to us? Why is it not compulsory for all of us to learn (by this point) to a standard level how computers are built and how they are programmed?

We are accepting technology as a given, without second guessing the core assumptions driving that acceptance. Because we are not questioning what seems 'obvious,' researchers press on, in an equally unconsidered fashion, with their expectations that a total surveillance state is inevitable.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Last Book from the Last Library


Déjà vu: According to historian Susan Wise Bauer, this is: The Taking of Constantinople, 1453 by Palma il Giovane [Iacopo Nigreti (c. 1548-1628), who worked alongside Tintoretto], 17th century; very similar to paintings by two Tintorettos (father and son). Image Source: Wiki [the title is quoted on Wiki as The Taking of Constantinople, 1204, other sources agree].

2012 is a year when many people are thinking about the apocalyptic unthinkable. But this is no new thing.  People have been thinking about the end of the world, or at least of cataclysmic change, for as long as they have been thinking about the world. Most of 2012's fears are couched in terms of war, rogue phantom planets, spiritual, religious, political or cosmic dangers. In the Information Age, the one thing we never consider is that our accumulated knowledge could be obliterated.

The Crusaders' Conquest of Constantinople in 1204, by Domenico Tintoretto ((1560-1635) son of the famous artist (1518-1594, who painted another similar painting). Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale), Venice, Italy, 16th century.

Critics scoff at the 2012 fearful, but the loss of almost everything we are and know is not implausible and should at least be understood in terms of historical precedents.

There is a reason why many dystopian futuristic stories and films commonly have some lone character - a post-apocalyptic historian - who has holed up with the remains of pre-apocalyptic books, paintings and other cultural artifacts. You can see that theme in several modern graphic novels, fiction and sci-fi movies: Logan's Run, V for Vendetta, Ever Since the World Ended, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

The reason these fearful depictions are so compelling is that they are based on historical facts. We possess submerged memories of other times when vast bodies of human knowledge were wiped out, irretrievably and forever.

This post is about the one surviving book that comes directly to us from the last library of the ancient world. Of course, there are many ancient texts that have survived through copies and archaeological reconstructions. But this is apparently the only text which can be directly traced to a collection at the Imperial Library of Constantinople.