Archives for category: security theater

Governor signs legislation affirming”we hate immigrants, they deserve nothing from us but abuse“.

(Note to self: call Noah. Suggest that he get out of Arizona, even though this means switching to a different school.)

There is much debate in the press about what to do with the prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp. Most people seem to agree on one proposition: “We need to close it, but how?

Well, I’m not an expert in these matters, but one procedure does occur to me: Open the doors.

I mean, if the problem is that there are people in this prison, and they shouldn’t have been put in there, then one solution would be to open the fucking doors, so that anyone who has had enough American hospitality can leave.

“It’s complicated,” folks are saying. “These people are terrorists — we can’t just let them go.”

Oh, it’s complicated, all right — but not for that reason. One of the main reasons to close this “detention camp” (and every other prison run by military personnel) is that we don’t know if these people are terrorists.

I repeat: “these people are terrorists” is not the real problem, because we do not know that these people are terrorists. If we had real evidence against them, we could put them through a real trial and let a real jury decide. But our military has been keeping these people in this despicable place, under the most godawful conditions, without such evidence. For the military, the “problem” is that they “know” that the prisoners are terrorists, although they don’t have any court-admissible evidence. So they want to keep these guys locked up, on the basis of — I don’t know, their gut feelings or something.

But it’s not as if there’s court-admissible evidence, and then there’s another kind of evidence, not valid in a court of law but, for most rational beings, just as convincing. No. We have standards for evidential validity, and they don’t depend on whether a guy was picked up in Baghdad or Baltimore. If you can’t show me some really good reasons why you think this guy committed a crime, then he shouldn’t be in jail. You never should have “detained” him, and you need to let him out, now. You need to let him out now. Let him out now.

From the point of view of the U.S. legal system, if you don’t have some damned good evidence against this man, he is innocent. It’s that simple! So, in that case, he needs to be released now. Don’t you see? It’s immoral to keep him confined even one more minute! What part of LET THEM OUT don’t you understand?

Someone will say, “Well, that’s just silly. You open the doors, and they walk out, and they’re in Cuba. That’s not a good solution!”

How do you know? I bet most of them would rather be in Cuba than in a military prison, hooded and shackled and tortured every day. — Remember? Gitmo isn’t just a cage. It’s a torture chamber. We know that now. It was designed to be a torture chamber by the fascist administration we’ve just recently voted out of office, thank God. Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld demanded that torture be conducted there. “It’s a no-brainer,” Cheney famously declared.

The number one reason that these men are in prison is that the prison helps make the Republicans’ “war on terror” seem more plausible. This exactly the same reason we have so much “security theater” at the airport. It serves to remind us that the “war on terror” is real, and that we’ll never be safe unless we let the Republicans take away all our civil rights, along with all our money. But the “war on terror” is not real. It never was real. It’s bullshit, and it was always bullshit, from beginning to end. Some terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers — yes. And ever since then, the U.S. government has used that attack as an excuse for their violent, deceitful, misanthropic, nihilistic policies. They have done almost nothing to prevent another similar attack. Instead, they have stoked the fires of hatred against this country and waited eagerly for another attack. But the armies of terror who might have come back at us with some new, staggering blow are not there. They don’t exist. The war in Iraq was not fought to bring those people down — that was an excuse, remember? It’s all been revealed, it’s common knowledge! The war was based on lies, we know that now!

The whole thing stinks. It has to end. There was never a good reason for any of these men to be put into a U.S. military prison in the first place. Why are they there? — mostly because the Bush administration declared war on Iraq. And the war was utterly unjustified and utterly immoral. It was rationalized with bewildering lies and prosecuted with bone-chilling fury. It should never have been started. And the people who are in this prison now were picked up as part of the prosecution of the war. If you wanted to set up a situation where perfectly innocent people would be picked up and thrown in jail and tortured, perhaps to the point of death, with no consel, no contact, no recourse, no hope of any kind — if you wanted that, you could not have orchestrated a more perfect setup.

Soldiers in a war they know in their guts is wrong, sent to round up “enemies” in the street. Who the fuck are they going to pick up? How do you find the enemies? You can’t, so you pick up whoever gets in your way or looks at you funny. And when you get them into their cells the shame picks at your nerves and the horror dusts your breath. Why not “soften him up” for interrogation, you’ll ask. None of this matters. We’re all going to Hell anyway, that’s for damn sure. This whole world is sick from top to bottom, left to right, inside to out. None of it matters anymore.

That’s Gitmo. It’s downtown Nihilon. And it was deliberately set up to be that way.

The people in there should not be there. They were captured for unknown but probably spurious reasons, during a war fought for the most evil of purposes. Let them go. Let them go now.

Someone might say, “Well, I kind of agree with you but I happen to know that some of these guys really are dangerous.” I suppose that’s conceivable but 1. I think it’s mighty unlikely, and 2. it’s a risk we’ll have to take. You see, the people who captured these poor sods were military men under the command of some of the most evil men the world has ever seen. The commanders responsible for ordering the roundups are now known to be liars of such passion and versatility that we would be morons if we ever believed anything they said ever again. So, I repeat: we do not know that anyone at Guantánamo has ever committed a crime. If you rounded up a thousand people in downtown Sacramento and put them all in prison, and I wanted you to met them go, you could say, “But there’s a good chance some of them are criminals!” And I would say: “As stated, that is indeed statistically plausible. But the bigger picture is that you just put a thousand people in prison without reasonable cause. That makes you a much, much worse criminal than any of them are likely to be. You are the danger and you are the flight risk, not them. You are the one against whom we have good evidence, not them. So we are going to let them go, every single one of them, no delays, no excuses, no “soul-searching” or “problem-solving” — we are going to let them go right now, and you are going to jail.”

It’s the people who put us into that war who should be in prison. We know what they did. They’ve told us. They are war criminals. The rest of our citizens deserve to be protected from them. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the rest of them should be in jail. For the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, the men who were put into that prison in Cuba should be released immediately. They should not be considered criminals; rather, their confinement is a crime, one of thousands perpetrated by the last administration. It needs to end, not next year, not next month, but right now. No other course embodies the slightest justice.

Going through “security” this morning in the Denver airport I was even more disgusted than usual. Look at this phonepic.

This is one of those ugly plastic bins you have to put your stuff in so it can get “x-rayed.” At the bottom it has a glittering ad for The TSA are selling ad space on the bottom of those bins. Is there no high-traffic enterprise so sleazy, specious or destructive that it cannot find buyers for its captive eyeballs? Who is the amoral opportunist behind this nauseating innovation?

Someone will say: What exactly is wrong with this kind of advertising? Well, setting aside any concerns regarding the ethics of advertising generally, it’s wrong to advertise with the TSA because the TSA is a scam. Zappo’s advertising dollars support the TSA in its mission (otherwise, I think we can fairly assume, the TSA would not solicit such dollars). And this mission has nothing but negative value for the travelers who endure its effects and the taxpayers who fund it. Good organizations do not give money to bad organizations, neither in exchange for valuable goods nor for any other reason. It is unethical to support unethical institutions.

Zappo’s should not support the TSA, and we should not support Zappo’s.

This is not the place to make a detailed case for the fact that the “Transportation Security Adminstration” provides us no real security and we’d all be better off without it. This has been amply demonstrated elsewhere. Let me just remind you of three points.

  1. The TSA has never apprehended a single would-be terrorist.
  2. This is partly because the TSA’s procedures are inadequate to catch any reasonably determined terrorist.
  3. Most important: the TSA’s very existence is based on a lie. The international terrorist organizations from which it is supposedly trying to protect us do not exist. The primary and sole purpose of the TSA is to make this completely fictitious threat more credible.

Every year since 2001, we taxpayers and travelers have been wasting tens of billions of dollars and hundreds of millions of hours on this absurd, insidious charade. I call on Zappo’s to terminate their relationship with the TSA immediately and to issue a public apology. Only if they do this will I stop telling everyone I know not to shop there.

There are many other wonderful places to buy shoes online. These include DSW, Endless (an Amazon offshoot), Gotham City Online, Piperlime (part of the Gap/Banana Republic/Old Navy empire), and ShoeMetro.

What do you think about when you’re standing in that stupid TSA line? Don’t you wish you could announce to everyone, “I personally believe that this whole procedure is bogus, and probably does more harm than good”? — or, “It might look as if I am OK with this perverse charade, but I am only following the rules because, like everyone else, I have no choice”? Well, we can solve your problem.

I got the craziest ever birthday present today, in the mail, from my niece in California. It’s a Playmobil Security Check-In set. One might not have believed that such a thing exists, but there it is on top of the dresser. (Click to enlarge.)

1. DRM is a pernicious pain in the posterior

‘Digital rights management’ is a phrase designed to mislead. Almost everything is digital these days, so the word provides no information. ‘Management’ sounds like a useful tool or service, but DRM is neither. And its purpose is to give the manufacturer, not us, control over the ‘rights’–whose nature is controversial. DRM is a mechanism used by ‘owners’ of ‘intellectual property’ to prevent ‘unauthorized’ copying.

Say you’ve discovered a great new album at the iTunes Store. You want to play it for a friend, because he might want to buy it too. You email him one of the songs. But he can’t play it on his computer. This is DRM.

You’re watching a movie on a DVD in your computer. You want to blog about this great movie. And it would be pleasant for the reader if the post is illustrated with a still from the movie, so you do a screen-grab while it’s playing. The resulting image is completely black. This is DRM.

I tried to watch a DVD of 2001: a Space Odyssey the other day, but it was poorly digitized; the picture quality sucks. My stepson has a PS3, which can play Blu-ray discs, so as an experiment I bought a Blu-ray edition of 2001. This was my first purchase of anything Blu-ray. There was a warning slip in the package:

This Blu-ray disc is manufactured to the highest quality available. It is possible this Blu-ray disc was manufactured after your Blu-ray player. To ensure the best possible viewing experience, your Blu-ray disc player may need a firmware or software update. Please consult your hardware manufacturer’s website for the latest firmware or software version and, if an upgrade is available, we suggest that you follow its installation instructions. (c) 2007 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.

This is the kind of expensive hilarity inherent in DRM. “You might not be able to play the expensive disc you just bought, on the expensive player you just bought, because we’re still trying to fix the crippleware.” What benefits does this development effort have for me? None, it has only costs. It cannot improve the picture, only degrade it. It cannot improve the player, only cripple it. I do not want it. It has been forced on me by a band of jackals and dingbats.

To say that this disc is of “the highest quality available” is misleading. Everything about this disc would likely have been of higher quality, absent the DRM. Warner Brothers can claim to have the highest-quality product available in a crippleware wrapper – but not the highest quality there is.

2. To publish is to make available

DRM is not only irritating, costly, and bug-ridden today; it will so always. DRM cannot work properly, ever, because the very idea is logically incoherent. This is not a technological problem, it is a conceptual problem; it cannot be fixed or sidestepped, because it was baked into the proposal at the very beginning.

Let’s step outside the digital world for a moment. A painting is unique and cannot be copied–I mean not exactly, the way a jpeg can. A painting can be imitated, not copied. A photograph of the painting can be published, but the painting itself, that thing hanging on your wall, cannot. A performance, too, is unique, and cannot be copied. If you sing a song, I can record the sound, but not the intimate, evanescent experience that took place while you were singing.

On the other hand, a recording of a performance can be put into digital form. And anything digital can be copied perfectly, bit-for-bit, through any number of generations.

Therefore: if you don’t like the idea of people making perfect bit-by-bit copies of your performances, all you have to do is to avoid putting them into digital form.

Again: not everything is digital. Physical objects cannot be copied (not yet!), nor can physical events be repeated. No performance can be copied and distributed, but recordings of the performance certainly can; and if you make such a recording, you are deliberately capturing some of the information about that never-to-be-repeated concert and storing it in a form that can be copied and distributed, all over the world, in less time than it takes to play it back.

The Recording Industry Association of America maintains that people should be prosecuted, not only for copying bits, but for just “making them available” for copying. But “making available” is exactly what the recording industry does. That’s its job. That’s what it’s for. Its defining characteristic is that it records things and makes the recordings available. When a CD or an MP3 file is published, it’s available. That’s what the word ‘publishing’ means. What’s more, publishers know perfectly well that this is a digital world and that the tools for copying anything digital are simple, free, and ubiquitous. So if they don’t want their products copied, why on Earth do they publish them in digital formats?

Imagine that there is a trouble-maker who likes to leave his wallet on a park bench, and hide behind a bush, and then call the cops when someone picks it up. Publishing a song, and then arresting everyone who copies it, is the same kind of mind-fuck. You released your precious bits into the global infosphere, knowing perfectly well that they can and will be copied–and then you insist that copying is a crime and anyone who does it is a criminal!

Bits are for copying. You can’t use them otherwise. If you don’t want people copying your “property,” don’t publish it as bits.

For publishers, the fundamental problem with using DRM is not that current methods are lossy, brittle, bug-infested, or expensive (though they are all these things). It is not that their implementation and enforcement raise serious privacy and civil-liberties issues (though they do). It is not even that all these things add up to DRM being experienced, by your paying customers, as an expression of contempt. (Not so good for customer retention.) No, the root problem with DRM is that the concept just totally makes no sense. You cannot publish your bits and prevent their being copied, any more than you can eat a brownie and save it for later. It cannot be done, not by anyone. Not in this universe. All the warts and lesions and poisonous barbs of all DRM technologies follow from this inescapable fact. DRM was a failure before it was even built.

Certainly the software developers should have known this, and probably did. I can picture them telling the publishers, “Sure, we can build this for you. It will be expensive, but we can do it.” Had they had any scruples, they would have said, “We’re sorry, but this thing you want cannot be made. And if we try to make it anyway–or an ersatz version, because the real thing cannot be done–it will just make everyone miserable. Except, of course, the folks who are already accustomed to downloading music for free. DRM will not inconvenience them, only your legitimate customers.”

Look. If you scramble the bits before you publish them, then no one can use them, and no one will pay you for them. So you have to hand out the unscrambling recipe. But as soon as one person has it, everyone can have it, because the recipe itself, like any other string of bits, can be copied across multiple media at the speed of light. Give me ten minutes, and I will print your secret formula on my T-shirt before my next lecture.

To sum up: 1. ‘digital rights management’ would be a poor idea even if it did work, and 2. it cannot work. Any questions?

A couple years ago I was informed during the stupid fucking airport “security” process that I had been “selected” for “additional screening.” Some moments later I was standing in the militarized zone waiting for my personal possessions to be returned to me following their rigorous inspection. A uniformed guard was standing next to me, to make sure I didn’t make a run for it. So pissed off was I that I turned to this guy and asked, quietly, “Man, why are you working for the Gestapo?”

He surprised me. He didn’t shoot me or anything. He said, “Yeah. This place is depressing. I gotta find a different job.”

Having everyone take their shoes off to go through “security” is only slightly less stupid than the war on moisture. So on my last plane trip I tried again to refuse. I watched everyone else meekly obeying and I thought: this is personally demeaning and an utter waste of my time and I’m not going to do it. But when I came to the metal detector a woman in a uniform insisted. “Sir, you have to take your shoes off.”

I feigned astonishment. “I do?”

“Yes, sir.”

Meekly obeying, I put my shoes in a little plastic tray on the conveyor belt. “I don’t understand,” I said. “Why do I have to take my shoes off?”

She beckoned me through the magic portal. “For security,” she said.

I continued to act to puzzled. “I have to take my shoes off… for security?”

“Yes, sir, to make sure you don’t have a bomb or something in there.”

“In my shoes?

“Yes, in your shoes,” she said. Her tone had become contentious. “Don’t you remember? — there was a guy that did that.”

“No, I don’t remember,” I growled. My shoes appeared out of the machine. They had been vindicated.

I do remember, of course. One guy did try it. One guy. And he failed: he was arrested before he could do anything. “But he could have done it! He was in the middle of trying to light the fuse!” He did not succeed, and you don’t know that anyone ever could. After all, no one ever has.

And even if you are certain that the trick “could have” worked (whatever that means), that’s not good enough. Even had he succeeded, it would not thereby have become obvious that every traveler on every commercial airline flight should have to remove their shoes. Don’t we need to ask whether the costs exceed the benefits?

The costs are not trivial. Think about two million people every day taking off their shoes, waiting for them to be analyzed, and putting them back on. Everyone suffers a delay, and that costs everyone money. Everyone risks forgetting their other stuff, or having it stolen, while they’re dealing with their shoes. Many will have bought special shoes to reduce the likelihood of being harassed. And everyone risks the extra delay and the extra mortification of being singled out for a false alarm.

And of course there’s the monetary cost of all those inspectors, and guards, and equipment, and space, and so on.

“But we have to protect ourselves against terrorism!” At any cost? Well, even if you don’t think the money is important, remember: the object of terrorism is terror. Now, which scenario embodies more terror: inspecting everyone’s shoes, or leaving them the hell alone?

BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | UK ‘plot’ terror charge dropped

A Pakistani judge has ruled there is not enough evidence to try a key suspect in an alleged airline bomb plot on terrorism charges.

More evidence that there never was a “liquid explosives” plot.

Dear D.C.,

As you said, our differences are fundamental. Personally, I’m disillusioned about the talks we’ve been having. Even though, as you know, I’ve really enjoyed them — seriously! — it sure looks like neither of us is likely to change the other’s attitude toward the smallest issue.

Today and tomorrow I’m taking “sick/personal days” to get out the vote for Democrats in Maryland. In this election there is, for me, a bare glimmer of hope that some day, somehow, this long nightmare will be over. Oh, it’s still possible that Bush and Cheney will decide that the 2008 elections are unnecessary and declare martial law instead. And even if they don’t heed that temptation, there is almost no limit to the terror and grief they can cause in the next two years, even as lame ducks. Still, even so, I feel a glimmer of hope… and even a glimmer is more hope than I’ve felt in these six terrifying bloody years.

Might we actually climb out of this hell-hole someday? There is still possibly some small chance. Even after the turnaround, if there is one, it will take us decades to recover, such is the unimaginable damage that has been deliberately caused by these people. Still, it is at least conceivable that our children will grow up in an America not controlled by an entrenched kleptocracy and their secret police; it is just possible that our children need never worry that if they say something the President or the President’s watchful minions don’t like, they might be captured and disappear forever and be tortured until they die. How should I warn my children about this, D.C.? It’s impossible — and yet they need to know!

This is not the world I wanted for them. Check the legislation again, D.C. Don’t second-guess it, just read the words. The people running this country have legislated for themselves the “right” to imprison indefinitely, and to torture, anyone they don’t like. It’s that simple! — and how can anyone in the world think it’s a good deal? To cause hideous suffering, just because they want to! — this is the prerogative Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice are claiming for themselves. Why on Earth should they have that, and what kind of people are they, that they would even want it? What is wrong with them?

And then have the chutzpah to say this is a way of protecting the American people!

They are worse than criminals, they are blind, random, pointless, pitiless, destructive forces, like a tornado or a hurricane or a flow of lava. They are the worst thing to happen to this country in a long, long time, and still millions if people respect them and root for them. And if you ask me, all of their supporters are accessories to their crimes. All of them agreed that spending a trillion dollars to invade Iraq and kill half a million people was a good idea.

Thought experiment. If we had really had a trillion dollars to spend — we didn’t, but that’s a whole different subject — had we had a trillion dollars to spend on this “crucial” project, instead of casually blowing away those five hundred thousand people (the vast majority of them perfectly innocent!) we could have given each of them two million dollars. I bet they wouldn’t “hate our freedoms” then!

Torture is never good, and war is never good. Yes, it’s just as you said: we have fundamental differences.

I think that people who carry out torture and war are criminals, and that those who help them do their work are accessories. I think that such people deserve our protest, our resistance, and even our hate. But though we hate their violence, we will not answer it with violence. That is not our way, because we believe that there is almost always a better solution — and I mean better for everyone.

You see, the liberal philosophy is that it would be nice if everyone were happy. Whereas, the conservative philosophy is that it would be nice if all the conservatives were happy; everyone else can go to hell. (Libertarians? Let’s not even go there.) This was Reagan’s astonishing discovery: you can win votes by reassuring your “base” that there is no reason at all for them to care for anyone else. They’ll be so relieved!

Of course you can’t tell them that you don’t believe in caring about them, either. But chances are, they’ll never figure it out. What an innovation! What a boon to the Republican party! As an “elected representative,” you can say absolutely anything, and then do whatever you want. You just plain don’t have to care about anyone, except for your closest, richest friends. This is the Reagan legacy: the promise and the temptation of absolute domination. Of government by the criminal element. Of government where he rises to the top who hesitates the least to hurt others, and who is the happiest liar.

Torture is evil. Torture is practically the definition of evil. And our administration stands up in public and demands the liberty to use it ad libitum! Don’t they know how sick that makes them look? Do they really not care, perhaps because they are insulated from all harm? But what about when they’re no longer in power? Won’t they be vulnerable to prosecution then? — and don’t you think that exactly this consideration is tempting them very much to stay in power, no matter what it takes? Isn’t that what they’ve been doing all along? What could ever give us the confidence that they would moderate their power in any way?

Right now we are “this close” to losing everything that ever made the United States a good idea. And everyone who voted for Bush — especially those who did it twice — should be begging forgiveness from the rest of us for buying into Bush’s lies and helping him try to destroy our country.

But I’m a generous person — more generous than any Republican can even imagine — and for each and every one of y’all I have a friendly proposal. Vote only for Democrats for the next six years, and we’ll forgive you. Why? — because we believe in being good to people. To all people. In other words: we’re Democrats.