Archive for June, 2013

Let’s bring up the obvious re: Edward Snowden

Posted in Politics and Society with tags on June, 2013 by melendwyr

The vague suggestions that Edward Snowden is actually a Chinese spy have become something more, as government officials now claim to fear that he will defect to China.

Here’s the thing:  regardless of whether his claims are true or not, they’re clearly credible enough to do damage to the US spying program.  So every time someone questions his credentials, motivations, and qualifications, it makes the people who put him into a position where he was capable of inflicting so much damage look that much worse.

If his lack of schooling is noteworthy now, why wasn’t it sufficient to keep him out of an analyst position?  If he’s being courted by  China,or was turned while he had access, whose bright idea was it to let people who could be so bought be placed in such potentially vulnerable places?

And if he was recruited by China *before* being put in place… Well.

If he’s already working for them, he’s already where he’s safe.  If he’s not, perhaps trying to arrest, extradite, and Bradley Manning him might just drive him into the arms of the Chinese.  It wouldn’t be very good for his message, admittedly, and would give the US a sort of limited plausible deniability.  Or at least a distraction to keep the public from focusing on what’s happening (and I’ve already heard many suggestions that this scandal is being used to take attention away from immigration concerns).  So if Snowden’s motivation is what he’s said it is, it wouldn’t be his first choice.  But sufficient personal fear tends to induce people to make less than optimal choices, isn’t it.

It will be very, very interesting to see what Snowden releases next, as he claims to plan to.  At this point, I’m not sure whether it matters much whether he’s a Chinese operative, now or in the past.  The revelations about ‘our side’ are worth learning even if they come from erstwhile enemies.

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Curious Choices

Posted in Blogging with tags , on June, 2013 by melendwyr

One of my favorite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, recently found that she couldn’t access her blog on MySpace.  So she sent out a message to a fanbase discussion list warning that the site might have been hacked and asking if anyone knew what might be going on.

Turns out the explanation was something completely different.  MySpace just decided to delete all of the old content.  Not abandoned things, not accounts that hadn’t been logged into.  Entire content groups are just… erased.

Intentionally alienating the few loyal users of your old services doesn’t strike me as a way to get lots of enthusiastic users of your new services.

The Government has your phone records

Posted in Doom, Politics and Society with tags , , , on June, 2013 by melendwyr

No, really, they do.  It’s  not a paranoid fantasy.  And they’ve probably been doing it for years.

Since many of the sites reporting on this will not even be looked at by the sort of person I’ll be having to force this information on, I’ll just link to the BBC‘s version.

Let’s review:  without a warrant, the NSA has given a court order for Verizon to turn over the phone metadata – that is, all of the information about a phone call with none of its content – of millions of people.  And forbade anyone involved to say anything about it to anyone.

Under the banner of fighting terrorism, the records of millions of people – who cannot be considered to be suspects or even suspected of assisting terrorism – are being examined by the US government.  And as it’s suspected this is a regular event stretching back years – all the way to the passing of the PATRIOT Act.

A response to James

Posted in Blogging, GIGO on June, 2013 by melendwyr

From the thread about Bertrand Russell and the Ship of Fools; I’ve decided to expand my response to James into a thread of its own.  The quoted and italicized parts are from James, formerly of the comment thread.

“You believe that Bertrand Russell presented this argument.”

No, I’ve read the argument attributed as being presented by Russell.  Whether he originated the argument, or repeated a pithy formulation he encountered from someone else, I don’t know – and I don’t care.  I do care whether he ever used the argument, but only because I’ve said he did (and can’t find the attribution, which I had on-hand at the time I wrote the post).  If I hadn’t said that, I’d care only to the degree that it affects the perceived reliablity of the source.

One of the big problems I have with ‘philosophy’ is its focus on WHO instead of WHAT.  I care about the prepositions, not the individuals who happened to speak them first.  Identities provide academics with a deep fund of arbitrary information that cannot be logically derived – and thus they can profitably develop expertise that others can’t easily duplicate.  But that doesn’t make the information useful or valuable.

Forget me and my claim.  Let’s say we can demonstrate beyond refutation that Russell repeated the argument instead of creating it.  Now:  what difference does that make to its validity?  What strengths does it create or destroy, what weakness?

As far as I can see, absolutely none.

“Understanding the origin of an argument and its context provides tremendous help in the proper interpretation of the argument.”

It really doesn’t.  It can give insight into whether there were layered arguments – for example, Newton’s famous statement about standing on the shoulders of giants develops some interesting implications if you know he used to taunt his rival about his height, but those implications lie in the relationship between the primary meaning and a possible secondary one.  It changes the main meaning of the statement not at all.

If Hooke had been a very tall man, perhaps Newton would never have made that famous statement.  But would the statement have been any less, or any more, true in itself?

Internet may lead to elimination of silent letters

Posted in Things You Should Read with tags , on June, 2013 by melendwyr

Or so linguist David Crystal suggests.

The article is interesting, informative, and quite short.  But that’s not why I’m recommending you take a look at it.  The comment thread associated with it is fascinating.  The visceral responses – whether for or against – are tempered with more-thoughtful responses, equally mixed between approval, disapproval, and a detached neutrality.