“Closing down the Silk Road and arresting its alleged operator has left the FBI in uncharted territory. After shuttering the hidden site, law enforcement went to work confiscating the money and materials belonging to supposed drug kingpin Ross Ulbricht, but this usually routine procedure is proving especially troublesome in this case. The cache of more than 600,000 bitcoins in Ulbricht’s personal fortune are still inaccessible to the FBI. The only way to move Bitcoins out of a private wallet is to have the corresponding private key to authorize the transaction. The FBI has been unable to get through the encryption protecting Ulbricht’s wallet, leaving all those Bitcoins — amounting to roughly $80 million at current rates — out of reach. Based on publicly available data, this is about 5% of all Bitcoins in existence right now.
Chronic electrical surges at the massive new data-storage facility central to the National Security Agency’s spying operation have destroyed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of machinery and delayed the center’s opening for a year, according to project documents and current and former officials.
That, Iain said, was how he’d envisaged the Culture coming about. Conflicts of interest between classes and other groups there would be, but the sheer availability of information and computing power would arm the majority with facts and arguments that would enable them to prove, as well as enforce, their claims. The consequent advance in consciousness would allow the opportunities offered by automation and abundance to be grasped, first in imagination then in reality, and make opposition to their realisation irrational, futile, and weak.
In the debate about NSA surveillance, any surveillance, in the debate about any action government and especially law enforcement may take, the oft-repeated party line goes like this: “I’m not concerned about it because I have nothing to hide.”
This argument fails on a number of levels. The most basic level is that it assumes we each possess perfect information. Perfect information is a concept in two fields that I follow closely: Game Theory, and Economics. Game Theorists study rational strategic decision-making by examining mathematical models of games and how players interact. In game theory a player is said to have perfect information when they possess “the same information to determine all of the possible games (all combinations of legal moves) as would be available at the end of the game.” Chess can be a game of perfect information since all the pieces are on the board throughout the game and all the rules are known ahead of time. Even then, though, most humans don’t possess the cognitive processing paths allowing them to treat chess as a game of perfect information. We’re simply not primed or trained to see all those possible moves from all sides.
A better game to think of in the context of perfect information is tic-tac-toe. Nine squares, two pieces (X’s and O’s), known rules, and much easier for us to process. Processing information (legal moves) in games is best described through using a decision tree (graphical tool where every option spawns a new branch of the tree) or a decision matrix (rows and columns of values that quantize relationships, such as those between choices in a game). The decision tree for tic-tac-toe is a lot more simple than chess since the latter involves sixteen game pieces and sixty-four squares (this is the main reason why it’s a lot easier to teach a computer how to play tic-tac-toe than chess).
In either game you’ve got perfect information if you can fill out the entire decision tree from start to finish. All the possible moves by all players.
Let’s consider a new game to model. It’s a lot more complex. It’s called Being A Citizen.
Before saying “I have nothing to hide” I’d have to say that I possessed perfect information in the context of making that decision. That’s perfect information not only about every past move leading up to this decision but every future move after it. It assumes that all “pieces” are above the board and that I know all the rules to this game. And that’s demonstrably incorrect.
The Foreign Intelligence Services Court approved nearly nineteen thousand search/eavesdropping warrants from 1979 until 2004, while rejecting just four. And their proceedings are entirely sealed and secret from us. Unless, of course, leaking FISA information benefits the Government player. And then it suddenly appears. This, by the by, is what’s called information asymmetry. It takes place in asymmetric games, games in which strategies are not the same for each player but dictated by the power imbalance between players. Remember this concept, it’s important.
At this point we need to remember the structure of the NSA’s information-gathering programs. They’re largely not set up for distributed, real-time analysis of communications. They’re erected for investigative purposes, connecting the dots. Going back into records of previous events as far back as the records go. Which means that once you seemingly violate a rule that you’re not aware of, or once the administration alters its interpretation of the rule to make you a violator, they can now go back through every communication within their grasp and piece it together in any way they desire in order to make you appear guilty as sin.
Without you knowing, at any step of the process.
"But Ian," you’re about to argue, "of course D-NSA Alexander and DNI Clapper lied to the public. FISA’s secret. They had to. It’s classified. Surely you didn’t expect them to expose their own secret programs?". No, I didn’t. I expect secrecy and confidential programs in government; I’d go so far as saying that secrecy is absolutely essential in some areas of government. Arguments about ending secrecy are naive from the outset. Abolishing secrecy isn’t the point.
The point is this: playing a game (read: making decisions) as if I have perfect information when I don’t manifests an inherently flawed strategy. This isn’t about what I expect of Alexander or Clapper, but what they expect from me in adopting “It’s okay because I have nothing to hide.” It presupposes that my interests and those of the government always lie in the same direction. That I know each strategy the government may take, every branch of their decision tree, that the government’s being straight with me, and that it has and will always have my individual interests at heart. Out of these three conditions, the first is ludicrous, the second is (again) immediately demonstrably false, and the third is false in nearly every lesson we’ve seen in history.
The interests of individual and government always have places of divergence, generally because government is full of other individuals all making strategic decisions in the interests of themselves and their ideologies. Our ability to compromise in places is what allows us to form governments. And compromise, while not inherently harmful, often involves finding common ground in the spaces between our original interests. Even moreso when it’s done on a macro, societal scale with the potential to criminalize peaceful protests (like many Occupy sites), pass legislation that potentially criminalizes miscarriage, restricts a person’s right over being secure in their own biological functions, refuses equitable rights to people of different sexual orientation or race or religion or levels extra scrutiny on the tax status of organizations of a particular political persuasion.
"I have nothing to hide" means you’re playing an asymmetric information game like other players would want you to: poorly. Out of some mythical principle you’ve chosen to tie both hands behind your back in order to play a game that the intelligence agencies won’t even tell you the rules to. This is a game you will lose every time. Because not only do other players have more information than you, they also have just about all the power in the situation. And remember what I said above: strategy in asymmetric games is dictated by power imbalance between the players. Relinquishing both your power and your information is not a strategy, it’s a suicide. A strategy is, say, aligning with other players cooperatively to combine your power, such as in protest. Or securing your own information, as in encrypting your data and anonymizing your internet usage.
In other words, when you pursue a rational strategy that harms no one, it’s used against you.
Just how do you think the NSA is approaching this game? To move this from game theory back into common terms: Just how do you think the NSA is approaching this decision-making process?
With your interests in mind?
So yes, I’m going to encrypt my data. I’m going to use Tor when I browse, I’m even going to order an Onion Pi and switch all my traffic over to Tor. I may be a very solid part of the surveillance state, being a police dispatcher for nearly a decade now. But I have something to hide: my communications, my traffic, my likes and dislikes, my entire online identity in some senses. I have something to hide not because I’m a bad person (I’m not) or because we live in a totalitarian state (we don’t) but because I don’t have perfect information and this game isn’t being played fairly.
“Thirty years on, the future will still be boring. I see an endless suburbanization, interrupted by notes of totally unpredictable violence: the sniper outside the supermarket, the bomb outside suburban hypermarket, the madman with the Kalashnikov in McDonald’s. But this random violence is totally without connection to people’s everyday lives. This will lead to a feeling that the world is arbitrary and illogical, insane even. That’s a frightening kind of landscape.”—JG Ballard, 2002, by way of Warren Ellis
“Therefore, the purpose of this written thesis is to interrogate, reveal, and ultimately work to transform radically the intangible effects of the invisible punishing machine on our bodies, minds and souls.”—
“a pattern of local, opportunistic manipulation of a non-disposable complex system that causes a lowering of its conceptual integrity, creates systemic debt and moves intelligence from systems into human brains.”—Venkatesh Rao
The writer Warren Ellis relayed a story about Hypatia of Alexandria. She was a philosopher, an intellectual powerhouse. She also refused suitors with reckless vehemence. Upon one man professing his love for her, Hypatia waved her bloody menstrual rag in his face and shouted “This! This is what you love, young man.”
Hypatia was dragged through the streets and stoned to death by a Christian mob in about AD 415.
Her primary work at that point was the beginnings of calculus, something she’s often not given any due credit for. Mankind didn’t get back to calculus for another thousand years. Take a second and imagine that, right there, the patriarchy and its holy mandate had buggered off and left her to complete her work. That’s scientific achievement one thousand years ahead of the curve. Moon landings by about 1200. Flying cars and jetpacks by…when? 1300?
Ellis uses this story to talk about a world without Christianity. I sympathize, but that’s not quite what I’m about. After all we have to play the hand we’re dealt. What I want to do is prevent the next stoning.
That there’s a war on women in America is undeniable. That it’s fueled by right-wing Christians is also undeniable. I don’t see legislation about male contraception, about condoms or about Viagra. Because God knows if you’re old enough to need the little blue pill that it’s only for procreation. Rick Santorum, one of the GOP frontrunners, espouses these views daily. Mainstream media echoes him constantly. Rush Limbaugh waves his hateful microphone like a Righteous Phallic Bludgeon and I don’t think we need to argue over who exactly his supporters are.
This is all coming to a point: Hypatia was a blueprint for today’s Christian Right. Women are at best empty vessels there to be filled according to this worldview. They’re not allowed to be or fill themselves. And the only thing they can fill the world with isn’t knowledge but progeny, more arrows in the quiver of God.
Woe unto a society that can no longer murder a woman for refusing to populate god’s quiver, right? Need to get back to those Basic Christian Values. No longer acceptable to preach to them through blunt force trauma. So these Taliban for Jesus choose a different stroke instead: pregnancy by legislation. By trying to force their morals into law the options to prevent or terminate pregnancy are ruthlessly narrowed. We are now stoning our Hypatias with semen. Not quite as easy for a woman to do groundbreaking scientific work when she’s pregnant, constantly shamed and has the choice to allow state-sponsored foreign object rape by ultrasound or keep an unwanted fetus.
We can’t kill her anymore so let’s just kill her options. Praise be to god, and population sustainability and personal choice to be damned. Progress be damned. Calculus be damned.
According to the Wall Street Journal, last year Fannie Mae lost 35 cents on every dollar of debt that went through foreclosure. As of a few weeks ago the average underwater mortgage (mortgage where the borrower owes more than the home is worth) on homes worth less than $250K* was underwater by about $70K. If Fannie Mae had helped homeowners by cutting the balance owed by that average underwater amount Fannie would have taken a 30% hit instead of the 35% hit they recorded and homeowners would be in a much better position. Of course, if Fannie Mae helped homeowners they wouldn’t be in a position to auction off to their business partners $320 million worth of foreclosed homes in bulk.
*Might’ve been $300K, memory is failing me right now.
Thinking today about the prospect of governments and corporations quickly latching onto geoengineering as a way to muffle dissent. Technology’s not quite there yet, but pretty close. I vaguely remember something about China pregaming the Beijing Olympics by seeding clouds ahead of time to try and prevent rain during the actual event. Think about the PRC doing that in the event of a mass protest. Or, hell, the US government or UK government doing it, for that matter. Seeding clouds on a day of mass action to make the rain pour down. Wells-Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Monsanto hacking the temperature to make it uncomfortable so that only the hardcore show up. If they’ll do it with tear gas and sound cannons, why wouldn’t they with rainclouds and heat waves or cold snaps? The military applications for weather creation and diversion are many and given how we’ve seen so much military technology turned back around to deal with domestic civil unrest, I can’t imagine this tech will be any different.
Deterrence and Moral Persuasion Effects on Corporate Tax Compliance
Previous studies on tax compliance have focused primarily on the tax-reporting behavior of individuals. This study reports results from a randomized field test of the effects of deterrence and moral persuasion on the tax-reporting behavior of 4,395 corporations in Israel. Two experimental groups received tax letters, one conveying a deterrent message and the other a moral persuasion message. Three types of measures are used to evaluate compliance based on the magnitude of the difference-in-differences of means in 1) gross sales values reported to the authority, 2) tax dollars paid to the authority, and 3) tax deductions. Overall, both deterrence and moral persuasion approaches do not produce statistically significant greater compliance compared with control conditions. These results do not support the ability of a policy of sending tax letters to increase substantively the reporting of true tax liability or tax payments by corporations.However, these results also show that moral persuasion can be counterproductive: Corporations in this experimental group show an increase rather than a decrease in tax deductions, which translates into loss of state revenues. The implications for theory, research, and tax policy are discussed.
Just finished The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson, the second book in the Millennium Trilogy. It”s an excellent follow-up to The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, though it’s easy for me to say that the first book was better. TGWPWF will make the better movie. More action and less setup.
Hard to fully review it without dropping a few interesting spoilers but the basic rundown is that Lisbeth Salander becomes the prime suspect in three murders. In the midst of the manhunt she’s also hunted by a much more insidious foe, though there are enough sinister characters on the police force as well.
Shots ring out. A settling of accounts is sought. Lisbeth becomes a five foot tall, ninety pound human wrecking ball.
As I sat reading the last few pages a thought struck me: Salander gives hope to emotional cripples like me that we can be superheroes too. It’s not just the clean-cut and normally developed among us. Not just the mainstream or the patriotic. There’s no reason I can’t be a superhero. There’s no reason you can’t be one too.
In many states, possession of a shopping cart off the grounds of the store is probable cause for a felony arrest. Shoplifters can be arrested before leaving a store simply for concealing an item, implying an intent to deprive the store of it. Over a billion dollars in customer funds still missing and MF Global head John Corzine hasn’t seen a single pair of handcuffs yet.
“NAFTA’s superhighway is just one part of a plan to erase the borders between the U.S. and Mexico, called the North American Union. This spawn of powerful special interests, would create a single nation out of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, with a new unelected bureaucracy and money system. Forget about controlling immigration under this scheme.”—Ron Paul being Ron Paul. Stop pretending this man is at all sane.