29, 2014
Crisis: Responsibility, NSA, On Dissent, Militarizing Police
   "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone.
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next

1. How to wrest control of our data from spies and their

2. NSA Collected Data on Millions of Americans Just to
     Investigate 248 People

3. Greenwald: NSA is Attack on our Dissent
4. Bracing for an Attack by Veterans

About ME/CFS


This is the Nederlog of June 29. It is an ordinary crisis log.

It also is the Nederlog of a sunday, and crisis items tend to be scarce in weekends, but I have found four items and they follow. Also, this is one of the days on which I disagree somewhat with all writers I deal with, though the nature and extent of my disagreements differ:

1. How to wrest control of our data from spies and their networks

The first item is an article by John Naughton on The Guardian:
This starts as follows:
Just over a year ago, after Edward Snowden's revelations first hit the headlines, I participated in a debate at the Frontline Club with Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary who is now MP for Kensington and Chelsea and chairman of the intelligence and security committee. Rifkind is a Scottish lawyer straight out of central casting: urbane, witty, courteous and very smart. He's good on his feet and a master of repartee. He's the kind of guy you would be happy to have to dinner. His only drawback is that everything he knows about information technology could be written on the back of a postage stamp in 96-point Helvetica bold.
This means - everything Sir Malcolm Rifkind knows about information technology "could be written on the back of a postage stamp in 96-point Helvetica bold" - that the dear Sir Malcolm does not know anything about the very subject he is the chairman of.

And that in turn means Rifkind must be totally incompetent, except as a legalese type that defends the doings of the GCHQ anyway. It so happens that I tend to agree somewhat, though I suppose Sir Malcolm meanwhile knows at least a few smithereens about bits and bytes.

Also, I mostly reject the view Naughton has of Rifkind, which comes to this (and I do not quote all):
It was clear that Rifkind knew little, if anything, about the capabilities of machine intelligence, data mining, network analysis and all the other stuff that computers do with big data. So, for him, it made perfect sense to regulate only the actions of intelligence officers in relation to surveillance data. And it's why William Hague thinks that the fact that we're "only" collecting metadata and not "content" means that there are no grounds for concern about bulk surveillance.
I think that is either too kind or too naive about Rifkind and Hague: I think they know considerably more, and in fact I think they are simply lying, being politicians. Naughton says:
The argument that although Google's algorithms "read" your emails in order to decide what ads to place alongside them, they're not really reading them, is part of the same genre. So is the contention that the decision to refuse you a loan is not anything personal, just an impersonal decision made by an algorithm. And so is the claim that just because your clickstream – the log of all the websites you've visited – is collected by the NSA, it doesn't mean that the spooks are spying on you.

This is legalistic cant and we could change it at a stroke by updating our legal conceptions of agency.
I agree this is "legalistic cant", but it is complete bullshit for another reason than Naughton seems to think:

Precisely the same completely false lies could have been applied 50 years ago by a fraudulent accountant about the metal cash registers, without any electricity, that were then in use: "No, I did not do anything: the cash register did not work - don't sue me: sue the makers of the register. It's no fault of me, it's the fault of the tools I used, and therefore my firm profited so very much! It's got nothing to do with me! I can't even do arithmetic!"

They were not, because they are obvious nonsense. Sir Malcolm Rifkind's nonsense is of the same kind (and he knows it): The cash register and the computer "run algorithms" and are not human, and "therefore" - even while everybody uses or used them to base their decisions on, and even while everybody knows that cash registers and programs are made by humans - the
cash register and the computer are to blame, and not the humans using or abusing or programming them.

That is utter bullshit, and so is this:

The lesson, says Chopra, is clear: "If you want to violate internet users' privacy, get programs – artificial, not human, agents – to do your dirty work, and then wash your hands of them by using the Google defence: there is no invasion of privacy because no humans accessed your personal details."
I do not believe anybody who works at Google who is not completely an idiot believes "the Google defence":

The output of these programs reaches me - "Recommended for you", on Youtube - and I am a human; it was produced by humans; it was programmed by humans; I very probably can read and understand these programs if they were submitted to me; it is used for, against or on humans; humans profit from these programs; and so to shift the blame on to the program (rather than the programmer and his employer) is total and complete bullshit, that tries in fact to appeal to a kind of magical thinking: "We are not responsible for the programs we wrote, because programs are tools: Blame the tools, not the programmers!".

So no: I do not think we need "notions of software agency and responsibility". We also do not need to consider
"notions of a hammer's agency and responsibility" for being the tool of murder: that is all complete baloney. The hammer and the programs are tools, and the human beings using them are responsible for what they do with them and what they do.

Computers do mathematics, and are programmed by humans, and those who make and owe the programs and run them are responsible for their doings, precisely as an accountant is responsible that his sums are correct.

2. NSA Collected Data on Millions of Americans Just to Investigate 248 People

The next item is an article by Spencer Ackerman that I found on AlterNet but that originated on The Guardian:

This starts as follows:

The National Security Agency was interested in the phone data of fewer than 250 people believed to be in the United States in 2013, despite collecting the phone records of nearly every American.

As acknowledged in the NSA's first-ever disclosure of statistics about how it uses its broad surveillance authorities,  released Friday, the NSA performed queries of its massive phone records troves for 248 "known or presumed US persons" in 2013.

The first question I have is of course: But why should I believe the notorious liars of the NSA? Indeed, Spencer Ackerman says, on page 2 of his article:

Some privacy advocates expressed scepticism about how genuine and accurate an account of NSA surveillance the report actually provides.

"The ODNI report calls itself into question by saying they're providing numbers, but immediately saying those numbers are only true to the extent the intelligence community believes it can release them without compromising sensitive information," said Amie Stepanovich of the digital rights group Access.

"The numbers could be much greater, and made to look smaller because of what the intelligence community calls preserving intelligence programs.

Yes, indeed. Overall, my response is that I disbelieve the numbers and I disbelieve the NSA, and the only way to stop my disbelief is complete honesty - which no one will get (who does not belong to the top of the NSA) as long as the NSA is running.

3. Greenwald: NSA is Attack on our Dissent 

The next item is an article by Diego Ibanez, who is an activist with Occupy Wall Street, on Common Dreams, though it originated on Waging Nonviolence:

This starts as follows:

“Good people don’t hide; bad people have to hide because they are planning evil things like trying to bomb this auditorium,” said Glenn Greenwald during a presentation at Carnegie Hall in New York City earlier this week.

He explained that he took that line from former CIA director Michael Hayden, who kept on repeating that warning during a debate in Toronto a couple months ago.

Well... it certainly shows "good" does not mean the same in Hayden's and in Greenwald's mouth - indeed, for Hayden a person is good by and large to the extent the person does not think for him- or herself, and accepts the government's lies, while for Greenwald a person is good by and large to the extent the person does think for him- or herself, and does not accept the government's lies. At least, that is the inferences I think are justified, on average. 

Diego Ibanez also says:

As Greenwald explained, Snowden was a 29-year-old who had a loving girlfriend, a well-paying job and parents and friends who loved him. The idea that he would throw that all away was incomprehensible to the media and elites, who Greenwald described as “soulless.” So, according to Greenwald, they quickly assumed that the whistleblower must have psychological problems, and went on to diagnose him as a “fame-seeking narcissist.”

Perhaps. But I think it is more probable that as soon as it was known that Snowden was the man who revealed the NSA, it was decided he had to be painted in the darkest possible lights, not because he was "incomprehensible to the media and elites" (though indeed he probably was), but because the NSA had to hide so very much, and the human characteristic to bad news is to try to kill the messenger and to deny or invalidate the bad news. And that is what happened.

Then Ibanez says:

This, Greenwald says, is a fundamental problem that goes beyond Snowden. Instead, it speaks to a too-common view that dissent is a form of mental illness, and that submission to the status quo is indicative of a healthy state of mind.

Yes, but Ibanez does not quite seem to understand this. I will briefly explain it here, because I am a philosopher and a psychologist:

First, there really are very few real and recognizable mental illnesses - not more than 10 or 20. It is true that the DSM currenty distinguishes over 400 "mental disorders", but these are mostly selected so as to be able to sell expensive pills to people (for that is what psychiatry does and is, financially speaking) and they have no rational justification, and indeed their "diagnoses" are explicitly not based on any theory. (For more see e.g. On Psychiatry 2: On confusions and misunderstandings concerning the DSM-5)

Second, whoever does not dissent with a lot he or she faces in the present Western society must be so awfully dumb as to be close to an idiot. (I do not say - nor do I think - that all dissent is wise, valid or true, for clearly that is also false; I am saying that Western societies are evidently quite bad in quite a few ways, and that it is natural and laudable to dissent - as the Bible said: "Do not follow a multitude into evil" - and indeed this was always so in any democratic, free and open society, and was not seen as a problem but as an asset.)

Third, "submission to the status quo" is not "a healthy state of mind" but is a sign that either one is quite stupid or one is quite rich: One can be perfectly happy, adjusted and submitted to the status quo in modern Western society, but if one is not rich, the inevitable conclusion must be that one is quite stupid. (And yes, there are many stupid people. But even these are probably in majority not so stupid as to desire to be submitted to the status quo in everything.)

4. Bracing for an Attack by Veterans

The next item is an article by Jim Hightower on Common Dreams:

This starts as follows:
From 1776 forward, Americans have opposed having soldiers do police work on our soil. But in recent years, Pentagon chiefs have teamed up with police chiefs to circumvent that prohibition.

How? By militarizing police departments.

Through the little-known “military transfer program,” the Pentagon now ships massive amounts of surplus war equipment to local cops. This reflects a fundamental rewiring of the mindset now guiding neighborhood policing.

Police chiefs today commonly send out squads brandishing heavy arms and garbed in riot gear for peaceful situations. Recruiting videos now feature clips of SWAT-team officers dressed in black, hurling flash grenades into a home, then storming the house, firing automatic weapons. Who wants anyone enticed by that video working their neighborhood?

As a city councilman in rural Wisconsin commented when told his police were getting a nine-foot-tall armored vehicle: “Somebody has to be the first to say, ‘Why are we doing this?’”

Actually, there is a perfectly rational explanation, although I do not think Jim Hightower sees it:

The perfectly rational explanation for the militarization of the US police forces, namely by giving them a lot of heavy military equipment, and also by changing their gear, is that the US government is preparing for suppressing major uprisings of the American people. 

Moreover, the reason that they are expecting
major uprisings is that they want to continue with giving more and more people less and less money (always saving for the rich, who are the few who profit, and profit ever more) - and indeed there will be uprisings if people do not have sufficient money to buy food and water and housing.

And I do think that is the explanation.


[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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