Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brave New World circa 1991

In 1991 two things happened. Well, several things but two really important things. Linus Torvalds created a kernel inspired by Minix and Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet. Sort of. Both did nothing more than build on the past, just like everyone else who creates something, but they each gave us something that would inadvertently remake the world.

I won't give you a history lesson here, you can go right over to Wikipedia and read the history of the Internet and Linux. My point here is the present. In response to the surge of information sharing unprecedented in history governments and private organizations struggled to cope, regulate and understand the new world emerging. At first only industrialized nations could access the web, but as hardware became cheaper and second hand hardware more prolific, and with the help of free and open source software like GNU/Linux the people in the world were meeting each other anew.

Content owners and middle men panicked at the ability of people to share and governments recoiled at the ability to learn. Misinformation and malware spread, too, but open software and the non governmental nature of the web countered this. Even while copyright laws became harsher and trade treaties more draconian, distribution outpaced the best of legal strategies. The web was open and there wasn't much that could be done about it. Authoritarian countries have had some success but the advent of software like TOR and proxies on top of satellite internet connections have hampered their regimes greatly.

But now the UN is taking steps to take over the web from private organizations. They think they can monitor and control it, as the US government has tried to do for years. Unfortunately they still misunderstand the creation that has been unleashed. Any computer running any operating system can now communicate with any other computer. All content is tradable and sendable. The UN and FBI have focused on DNS, the system that allows us to type in names to go to websites instead of numerical addresses, but DNS is just a convenience. Already most of the web is the "Dark Net," unconnected to DNS servers and completely unregulated. Many illicit activities take place on the dark net, but so do many activist activities. Whole scale shutdowns of internet nodes can temporarily keep a nation offline, such as in Syria or the Great Firewall of China. While extreme, this method does still work.

But not for long. Projects like are working on mesh networking. If there is power and working hardware in a region, people can communicate. They can move in and out of the web, the dark net, and the mesh. The more the governments of the world try to stop information now, the more layers will grow around it. Government sponsorship created the web but it has long since left their control. TOR protects activists and byzantium works on keeping them online. The greatest tool for information sharing is only now starting to grow into maturity and it will be the end of authoritarian regimes, corporate overreach and hidden politics. Wikileaks spies on governments and shares anything it finds, bitcoin offers secure and unmanipulated currency while linux has opened a world of tools that can be used to build as many webs as are needed to keep ahead of those who would suppress information.

If I were an authoritarian government, NGO or multinational corporation right now I would be trembling in fear.

Logic Priest

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guns, Penises and Revenge

American culture seems obsessed with revenge, guns and dicks. Masculinity is increasingly tied to packing a gun (substitute penis) and the bigger the better, of course. One of the most prolific and politically active arms of the military industry are gun manufacturers. Decades of lobbying and ads and cultural manipulation have led to more guns sold than ever, despite the decrease in the overall crime rate gun owners supposedly need protection from. Hell, everyone from Mother Jones to CNN has the ad from the Bushmaster rifle the shooter in Conecticut had:

Lovely, right? Aside from the sexism, this ad is a blatant promotion of the violent revenge fantasies played out in every action movie and television show. Americans want to be the vigilante, avenging perceived wrongs. Most won't act on them, but I don't think the ones who do are all that different from the ones who don't. Maybe they just got pushed a little too far, were a little to isolated or were a little on edge from life events. Think how many regular office employees with no history of violence get laid off and show up armed.

But we as a culture cannot face our own demons. When a white gunman kills 20 children in a school his mother worked at, we call him "crazy" and a "lone nut." We stigmatize mental illness and then blame it. Now the man in question may or may not have had some diagnosed disorder, but it is statistically irrelevant. The rate of violence among the "crazies" is the same as the "normal" people. It is just an excuse, a dodge from actually examining our gun laws and violence obsessed culture. We have spent too long building arms and worshipping war and revenge to simply fix it, but it would be nice to at least talk about it. A little introspection goes a long way.

Instead we have Fox claiming that it is too early to talk about gun control, then five seconds later saying guns couldn't be to blame because crazy people and because other ways to die exist. They bring up various bombers and such while ignoring the rarity of such incidents. We always fall back on absolutism. If something doesn't work 100% of the time then it may as well never work, right?

There has been a lot of examination on why blaming mental illness is a terrible thing, on why we call out white terrorists as "lone nuts" while simultaneously calling non white terrorists what they are. But at its heart, the problem really lies in our inability to talk about the problem itself. Any way to otherise the violence and defensively fall back to our culture of gun worship we will take. We have problems. And they are very closely tied together. The same military complex that gave us the cold war, the Iraq war, the missile buildup and gun culture gave us these shootings. It gave us our religiosity and fundamental fear of science and distaste for environmentalism and feminism and every other positive ism. It leads even self identified skeptics to be irrational and in the end, it prevents us from introspection. It all ties to that. We cannot look inwards.

Logic Priest

Edit: Read the hell outta this.

Shiny toys

So I ordered 3 Raspberry Pis last week, hopefully I will get them soon-ish. They seem to always be on back order. I already have a million projects in mind including a rack mounted micro server stack and robots of the quadrotor variety. So in this political free post I won't say anything about any shootings or centrists posing as liberals or Fox-splosions or even the War on Christmas™. Perhaps another post.

Logic Priest