Archive for the ‘Sharp thinking’ category

Winner Of The “I Need A (Chocolate) Cigarette After Reading That” Award

October 22, 2014

Chris Kluwe on Gamergate:

Dear #Gamergaters,

Do you know why you piss me the fuck off?

Because you’re lazy. You’re ignorant. You are a blithering collection of wannabe Wikipedia philosophers, drunk on your own buzzwords, incapable of forming an original thought. You display a lack of knowledge stunning in its scope, a fundamental disregard of history and human nature so pronounced that makes me wonder if lead paint is a key component of your diet. You think you’re making piercing arguments when, in actuality, you’re throwing a temper tantrum that would embarrass a three-year-old.

Pieter_Quast_Jansz._-_Cellar_Interior_-_Google_Art_Project

Read the whole thing.  It’s a truly righteous rant.  The man has a gift for invective.  One more brief sample:

There’s this herd of people, mainly angsty teenage caucasian men (based on an informal survey of 99 percent of the people who feel the need to defend this nonsense to me on Twitter), who feel that somehow, their identity as “gamers” is being taken away. Like they’re all little Anne Franks, hiding in their basements from the PC Nazis and Social Justice Warrior brigades, desperately protecting the last shreds of “core gaming” in their unironically horrible Liveblog journals filled with patently obvious white privilege and poorly disguised misogyny. “First they came for our Halo 2’s, and I said nothing.”

I liked his use of the term “slackjawed pickletits” too.

(PS:  I know I’ve been even more conspicuous by my absence lately than my usual absent self.  This is kind of a peace offering.  I promise something at least a little bit more substantive (and hopefully not about Ebola) in the near future.)

Image Pieter Quast Jansz, Cellar Interior, 1636.

For A Good Time In Cambridge: Coco Fusco, Junot Diaz, Ian Condry Edition

October 22, 2013

Hey, all — or at least all of you in reasonable range of Cambridge, MA (Our Faire City).  Day after tomorrow, Thursday, October 24, will see writer, performer and curator Coco Fusco talking at MIT, in an evening moderated by my colleagues, novelist Junot Diaz and Cool Japan majordomo Ian Condry.

The event begins at 5 and 7 p.m in MIT’s Media Lab rm 633. Details and map here.

Fusco’s title, “A Performance Approach to Primate Politics” leads to the meat of her talk — which investigates what “Planet of the Apes” (the original) was really talking about.

Apes_in_a_persimmon-tree

Smart people taking on the world at an angle.  Should be fun.

Image: Mori Sosen, Apes in a Persimmon Tree, before 1821

Deutschland Uber…if not Alles, Then Us

June 7, 2011

David Leonhardt is sounding mighty shrill these days:

After performing worse than the American economy for years, the Germany economy has grown faster since the middle of last decade. (It did better than our economy before the crisis and has endured the crisis about equally). Just as important, most Germans have fared much better than most Americans, because the bounty of their growth has not been concentrated among a small slice of the affluent…

…Unlike what happened here, German laws and regulators have also prevented the decimation of their labor unions. The clout of German unions, at individual companies and in the political system, is one reason the middle class there has fared decently in recent decades. In fact, middle-class pay has risen at roughly the same rate as top incomes.

The top 1 percent of German households earns about 11 percent of all income, virtually unchanged relative to 1970, according to recent estimates. In the United States, the top 1 percent makes more than 20 percent of all income, up from 9 percent in 1970. That’s right: only 40 years ago, Germany was more unequal than this country.

Read the whole piece. Leonhardt points to German benefit reforms that he thinks we should pay attention to, and to the role of government in creating the conditions for economic and social success.

How about the United States?  Well, Leonhardt tries to paint a optimistic picture at the end of his column, but this penultimate thought kind of dashes any foolish hopes:

And us? Well, lobbyists for the mortgage bankers and the N.A.A.C.P. have recently started pushing for less stringent standards for down payments. Wall Street is trying to water down other financial regulation, too.

Some Democrats say Social Security and Medicare must remain unchanged. Most Republicans refuse to consider returning tax rates even to their 1990s levels. Republican leaders also want to make deep cuts in the sort of antipoverty programs that have helped Germany withstand the recession even in the absence of big new stimulus legislation.

Some days, it seems like the only thing to do is stock up on canned goods.  But I’ve got a kid, and I just can’t quite bring myself to abandon all hope. This bit of Leonhardt’s message does stick:  if the Germans can do it, we can’t be wholly without a chance.

Right?

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Sampling Officials, 1662.

Sunday Post on Crypto, Trust, and Political Action on the Web — Outsourced to David P. Reed

September 26, 2010

I’m a lurker (mostly) on a listserv for MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media (C4), which pops up some fascinating discussions about news, social networking, and political life on and through the web.

Recently, there was a flurry of posts on the announcement from the Haystack that work on the system designed to encrypt and obscure the source of internet communications in Iran had halted.

That announcement was followed by the effective end of the project, which had aimed at providing political dissidents secure ways to communicate.

That sequence of events led to considerable back and forth among the C4 community, in part looking at the perennial problem of hype in the tech/software world outpacing reality.

The more significant strand to the convesation (it seemed to me) focused on something else: the underlying issue of whether or not it is possible to produce a genuinely secure set-up that could enable the kind of sunlight the Iranian dissidents sought (and needed) and their supporters outside Iran hoped to provide.

That’s something of obvious (again, to me) importance, especially in the context of the broad privacy-for-connection trade-off we are all committing ourselves to these days.

In that vein, MIT (and much elsewhere besides) computer scientist  David Reed weighed in with the crucial observation, which he kindly gave me permission to post below.

The shorter, just to get you going: computer/information security depends on two factors: the technical/technological and the human.  The strength or lack thereof of one factor does not alter the qualities of the other.  Therefore, no technological approach to information security (on which, in the Iranian case and many besides, lives depend) can provide genuine safety.

Key quote (from David’s conclusion):

Here’s the problem, then: we can’t even *talk about* the technology clearly, because we want to impute properties of perfection, goodness, morality, etc. to it.

And now to the whole thing:

Poking around a bit more on the [Haystack] controversy, let me suggest that it has roots back to anon.fi (the original “Swedish” anonymous remailer).  I (not so publicly) questioned crypto-activist friends promoting anon.fi at the time regarding their promotion of use of that service, given that their was no way they could *personally* assure us that anon.fi was not a trap placed carefully by one or more government or quasi-government agencies.

The response I got was that it was based on public key crypto, and the guy operating it was a “good guy”.

In other words – the crypto (which was undoubtedly strong, and open source) and the “goodness” of the guy were given equal weight, and both had to be working to ensure privacy of communications.  Despite most of these friends, who were well-known political activists, never having met this guy personally!

Here’s the problem, as I mentioned in part in my invited talk at USENIX Security this year:

Humans are prone to the “fallacy of composition”.  That is, there are certain properties of systems that don’t pass from the parts to the whole.  (the parts may all have X, but the system as a whole does not, OR the system as a whole can have X, when none of the parts have X).  Yet it is common for the brain to reason: “because one or more of the parts have X, the whole has X”.

Security is a set of qualities that are not composable.  They just aren’t.

We buy into the fallacy of composition because we (Hilary Clinton, the press, …) want to believe that we can fix a problem merely by using some wonderful “part” – in this case Haystack.

So where I’m going with this is that perhaps before we start trying to find “blame” in this hype-fest, we start by asking the question:
is it possible for someone to supply “security” in the form of an Internet service OF ANY KIND (open source or not, tested or not) that meets the goals?

Because security is not composable, the answer is NO.

So why are we beating up Haystack?  It can’t do the job, and one can tell just by looking at it from the outside – recognizing that any such system entails the fallacy of composition in many, many ways.

Is Tor better?  Not really.  If it had been reported like Haystack, it probably would have been “exposed” in the same way to have weaknesses that are honestly expressed by its own developers.  Would the developers have succumbed to the temptation to provide the “money quotes” supporting the hype?

What if Tor had been used by Iranian dissidents?   Given the weaknesses, surely they were putting their lives at risk due to its weaknesses, just as if Haystack were used.

I’d suggest that there is very little light, and a lot of heat, in the blogosphere and the press about this technology-centric view of political action.

There’s something broken in a world where someone can say with a straight face the phrase “liberation technology”!   Technology cannot be measured in that dimension in general, and if we are talking about the “fallacy of composition”, it applies hugely to the dimension of “liberty” (which has become a right-wing word) or “liberation” (the left-wing word).

Here’s the problem, then: we can’t even *talk about* the technology clearly, because we want to impute properties of perfection, goodness, morality, etc. to it.

To put all this another way, there is an old spook joke about secrecy and security:

How can you tell if a secret is safe?  If only two people know it…

…And one of them is dead.

My thanks to David for his willingness to share these thoughts to an audience beyond the C4 gang.

Image:  Henri Regnault, “The Spy,” 1880.

Scientopia!

August 4, 2010

ScienceBlogs bloggers live on in very spiffy new digs.

Many of my favorites from the old place have reorganized themselves here, at Scientopia.org.

Most wonderful, from my perspective, the interaction/conversation between blogs and bloggers that was one of the best (and occasionally worst) of the Seed Megalith’s science blogging aggregation is reproduced here, with much good fellowship and very sharp intelligence.

An evolution to be watched…

Image:  Anicet-Charles-Gabriel Lemonnier, The Salon of Madame Geoffrin” 1812.

My Contribution to Closing the Enthusiasm Gap this Fall + Some Link Love

July 28, 2010

You’ve all heard, no doubt, that the big advantage the GOP + its tinfoil auxiliaries have this fall is the reported greater enthusiasm for such goals as repealing the non-existent-but-zombie-death-panels than that felt on the Democratic side for, among much else, preventing the return to power of those that got us into our current fix.

Well, there’s lots to do about that, and what follows won’t help much.  But it won’t hurt, either.  Enjoy:

Now, some links for edification, amusement, and perhaps action.  (Don’t miss the one above — Sen. “Diaper” Dave Vitter is a source of never ending wonder.

And in partial response to Vitter’s astonishing fail, check out Atul Gawande’s latest on end-of-life care (and the consequences of the absence of such care). I plan to blog on this a little later, but don’t wait on l’il old me.   The article is essential reading.

I’ve been meaning to tout this for a while but again, as a partial response to Vitter, to the ongoing Jeremy Lord “lynchgate” fiasco, and to a whole range of shenanigans too miserable to recall here (enthusiasm gap, remember) check out Batocchio’s elegant The Five Circles of Conservative Hell.

This is a little self-aggrandizing, given how Jennifer Ouellette begins her analysis, but she’s got a lovely takedown of Amazon anonymous reviewers of science books up at Cocktail Party Physics.

Henry Farrell’s got me salivating over a novel about, among other things, the birth of linear programming.

I’m a few days behind in my reading (days?–ed.), but I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight Kathy Olmsted’s lovely reminiscence about Daniel Schorr.  It’s not the memories that stand out, in fact, as it is the critical assessment of the state of journalism, especially on TV.  Not to give it away, but there are only two cohorts:  Schorr and not-Schorr, and one is vastly different, and better, than the other.

And what would the sultry days of summer without an official celebration of Sex Week.  Carl Zimmer is on the case.

More grimly, Ed Yong, who continues to do so much work that I suspect him of being a collective of at least three symbionts occupying the same meat envelope, writes of the dangers to phytoplankton from a warming ocean.  This is fate-of-the-planet stuff.  Which is why, of course, we should return the party of global warming denialists/defeatists to power.

And with that eternal return of the same (thanks, Freddy!), I’m done for now.

That’ll do for now.

Epistemic Closure, Lantsman Version

May 5, 2010

A digression from the usual themes of this blog:

From JJ Goldberg’s excellent piece in Ha’aretz (h/t M. J. Rosenberg at TPM Cafe), comes this —

Many synagogues actually welcome dissenting views (though that often means welcoming only the dissenting ideas, not the ideas they dissent from).

Heh.

I do recommend Goldberg’s piece, as it is an important corrective to the notion that AIPAC = American Jewish opinion and votes.  (See this post of mine for a look at the kind of derangement that follows from the cognitive dissonance felt by those who feel that one minority view of both Judaism and the meaning of the phrase “support for Israel” is the only possible one.)

And I recommend the piece to myself for the reminder that it is not AIPAC’s fault that it is taken more seriously than it deserves.

I am to blame, and so are those whose views fall into the same quadrant as mine, as long as we, as Goldberg points out, fail to show up to make our disagreement obvious.

Image:  Maurycy Gottlieb, “Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur,” 1878

Megan McArdle is Always Wrong…Completely Outsourced Rate-Spread/Default Risk Edition

April 1, 2010

No one person (except perhaps the stalwart souls here and here) can stand to read Megan McArdle on a sustained basis.  Or at least I can’t.  She is such a reliable source of fail that reading her on a daily or even a weekly basis would do more damage to my productivity and my blood pressure than I could tolerate.

So it is with gratitude that I outsource this smackdown on Ms. McArdle’s inchoate dark mutterings on the possibility that the US Treasuries market is pricing in the risk of sovereign default to much more expert figures than myself.  Here’s DeLong, offering a morsel of that which is dreaded by every aspiring “this-beats-honest-work” right wing pundit — actual data from the world; and here’s Krugman patiently explaining the kindergarten basics of the government bond market to the “The Atlantic’s Business and Economics Editor.” (sic!  How the mighty have fallen…ed.) DeLong’s comment thread is fun too.

To those magisterial defenestrations (gotta use that word from time to time….ed.), I have only this to add.  Ms. McArdle possesses a tic that in various forms is a familiar tell on the right.  When someone over there wants to promote some out-there claim of Democrat-and-or-Obama induced catastrophe that they sense, somewhere deep down, may not actually make any sense at all, they intro their folly with some formulation like the one Ms. McArdle uses here: “it’s not unreasonable to assume…”

Translation:  “I’m know I’m about to say something really stupid, don’t call me on it.”

(Thanks to Tim F. of Balloon Juice for bringing these delightful bits of smackdown to my attention.)

Image: Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin, 1901.

Video Games We Can Believe In: Obama/Xbox Dept.

October 14, 2008

Around the web today, much discussion of Obama ads placed inside the virtual worlds of video games.  This story at Gigaom was ground zero for the news.

Most of the chat is simply acknowledgment of the coolness and breadth of the Obama campaign apparatus.  See e.g. Sullivan and TPM.  But the significance of the move goes a bit deeper than mere cool, and its import extends beyond those one of John McCain’s people derided as “mere” dungeons and dragons types.

First, as the blowback that forced Michael Goldfarb to retract his snideness aimed at the MMORPG crowd illustrated, there is substantial, diverse and dedicated subset of the American electorate who takes what goes on in virtual very, very seriously indeed.

This is where I’d like to shout out to my MIT colleague Henry Jenkins, who really knows this stuff.  Henry, this is a time for Aca-Fan.  The questions — how, why and what-kinds-of messages work (or don’t) inside the arena of digital games is one of the key areas of interest in the emerging field of media studies — or Comparative Media Studies as the MIT-verse terms it.

To the extent that some of us now locate our human experience, and not just our “leisure,” or “entertainment” in contacts with others that are entirely digitally mediated, this interpenetration of meat-space politics into the metaverse is a notable milestone.  Henry — could you please take it from here?

Second, here in the world with which I am personally much more familiar,* this move illustrates again the fact that one side in this election understands something critical about modern technology, and one, by and large, does not.

To be fair, the McCain campaign is not totally out of the digital media wars.  McCain’s big tech move of the day was to send a letter to Youtube complaining that the copyright policy employed by the video-sharing site is too constricting, and impinges on fair use principles in exercising free political speech.

I don’t want to belittle this.  It’s significant that the McCain campaign has expressed a view on one of the major content issues in the developing digital media world.  (I’m not sure how far I trust this conversion to the side of those whom many in Congress view as pirates, but the precedent is now on record.)

But contrast this legal argument about the extension of a well established tradition of law into a novel area with the Obama campaign’s relentlessly disciplined use of the actual technological tools available to advance their cause.

First to be noticed was the impressive peer-peer apparatus mediated through Obama’s national campaign website.  That application has been much discussed,  and each time the campaign extends its reach — to the iPhone, for example — it reinforces fact that Obama and his people have mastered the political applications of technology in a way that the McCain organization has not.

Now, with Obama appearing in Xbox games, I think we can extend the argument to the question of what such mastery implies not just for the campaign, but for an Obama or a McCain presidency.  And here, the Obama grasp of modern technology attacks the the core of McCain’s argument for himself, that he has the  experience the next president will need.

Digression alert: a bit of happy trash reading memory offers some context.  Back in 1971, James Michener published his “hippie novel” — The Drifters.  It ain’t great literature, but it is a document of the times.  I think I read it a year or two after its release, and I don’t remember much except for a tag-line offered as an epigram somewhere in the middle of the book.  Quoting from distant memory, it ran something like this:

My old man says he’s got fifty years of experience.  What he’s got is one year of experience repeated fifty times.

McCain’s got more than one year of adult knowledge under his belt, of course, but the underlying point is obvious.

Consider the areas that both candidates have promoted as targets of both opportunity and necessity for the future of the economy:  clean energy, biotech, communications and high tech always among them.

Consider the problems of fighting small wars against non-state enemies, using the most advanced technical means we can dream up to separate signal — our adversaries — from noise, the background of civilian life within which non-state fighters exist.

The experience you would want, I would think, is not that of someone coming to maturity at a time when a computer was an occult mystery, one which could terrify even the redoubtable Katherine Hepburn into the arms of efficiency expert Spencer Tracy.

Rather, it would seem to be that life history which leaves its possessor comfortable — pro-active –in using tech.

Put it another way:  looking forward, our national security and future economic success both turn on the masterful exploitation of technological opportunity.  The seemingly giddy act of posting a billboard in a virtual playground is a bellweather. It isn’t proof in and of itself, but it offers a powerful hint as to which candidate is best poised to manouver through the circumstances in which we live now.

Games are serious business — and we learn, as we watch Barack Obama and his campaign operate, that on one side at least, we have a choice of some very serious people indeed as the potential leadership of a 21st century nation.

Update: Speaking of campaign mechanics, however — a quick Google News search shows in excess of 200 articles talking about Obama’s Xbox push.  Not a bad real-world, free-media multiplier for what I’m guessing was a non-huge cash outlay to buy virtual world  advertising real estate.

*By choice, this willing procrastinator has imposed an individual prohibition on modern video games to avoid the death of my personal productivity. I topped out at Galaxian, and, to quote Grandpa Abe McCain, I like it that way.

Image: William Hogarth, “Canvassing for Votes,” from the Humours of an Election series, 1754-1755.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Quote for the Day: Junot Diaz/Thoughts to Think in the Midst of Interesting Times Edition

October 2, 2008

I have the very good fortune to call the wonderful writer and generous artist Junot Diaz my colleague (and friend).

A week or so ago, he gave a reading from his now famed-across-the-galaxy novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao at MIT — it was kind of a homecoming after roughly a year of travels and talking in support of the book.

In introducing Junot to the crowd (and the world — the reading will be up on the MIT World site in fairly short order)  Professor James Paradis, head of MIT’s writing program, pulled out one of the less well-known bits of Junot’s work, the 2001 edition of The Beacon Best collection that he edited.

Paradis read a short passage from Junot’s introduction, and the quote so precisely catches the necessity of vigilance and the importance of art — never more vital than at those times when the self-styled “grown-ups” have so decisively lost their way.

Here, expanded, is that passage:

1.

For the last couple of years I — a former five pages a day type guy — have not been able to write with any consistency.  The reasons for my “block” are numerous and not particularly relevant, but as a result I’ve had more time to read newspapers and watch television, more time to notice how the world is being represented by those whom we shall call for simplicity’s sake the powers-that-be.  I’ve been aware since about the Reagan administration of the gap between the world that they swear exists and the world I know exists.  What I hadn’t anticipated  — I guess I should have been reading more Chomsky — is how enormous that gap had become.

…[Junot uses several paragraphs to discusse his experience fighting the New York City Board of Education’s short lived school privatization scheme as a way into, inter alia, his framing of the work he had selected for the collection.  And then…]

5.

During the last week of the anti-privatization campaign, when Edison and the Board of Education and the media and the politicians were turning up the heat, I would occasionally feel myself losign heart.  (There’s only so much exposure to the Official Story one can take before it starts to wear on you.)  I was very fortunate, however, for it was at this same time that I was reading these stories, these essays, these poems.  While those of us against privatization were being knocked about in newspapers and on the news, while we were being erased and distorted into cartoons, I was sifting through journals, printing pages out from e-mail, thumbing through blurred photcopies.  Would you t hink me sentimental if I said that the freshness and originality and humanity of these writers and their work renewed me?  When billions and billions of dollars are spent trying to convince you to see the world in one particular way, isn’t it something like salvation when you discover voices, brave and unwavering, who invite you to see it in another way?

Amen and amen.

Image:  Jan Davidszoon de Heem, “Still-Life of Books,” 1628.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.