Thursday, April 14, 2005

Identity theft has been in the news lately, what with several companies giving peoples' credit card and social security numbers out by the thousands. (Security expert Bruce Schneier says these guys are taping a "please regulate my industry" sign to their backs).

Outsourcing has also been in the news. Including call-center outsourcing. Including outsourcing of credit card call centers.

Which allows for great economies of scale in these sorts of enterprises. Since prevailing wage rates are lower, a dollar can bribe a great deal more Indian workers than it can Americans. And lo, the era of outsourced identity theft has arrived!

But, fear not for the country. It's not a national security issue. Because a foreign intelligence service (like, say, India's own) would never find records of strategic interest (like, say, our government officials' records) through channels like this. They're a former British colony. It wouldn't be cricket.

Comings and goings:

The Halogens' final show is a week from next Saturday. I'm not sure this will ever be really released. Pity.

Isabella has returned, with another tale of life in her private wartime:

We carve our way into the rest of the world. Clear spaces for ourselves and kill anything dangerous or even annoying that finds its way into our terrible umbra of influence. This is no small thing and living in the middle of the jungle reminds one of just how persistent "nature" is in the absence of constant vigilance. I could be my father speaking, with different contexts perhaps.

One random Tuesday night our generator died...

Is she for real? If you like the story, should you care?

And now, for no variety, a themed link dump.

I don't like John Bolton's management style. Nor am I a big fan of his foreign policy views. He doesn't really believe in using U.S. power to end genocide or promote democracy.

But it is ridiculous to say he doesn't believe in the United Nations. This is a canard spread by journalists who haven't bothered to read his stuff and by crafty politicians who aren't willing to say what the Bolton debate is really about.

There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that's the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along.

Bolton's "management style", as revealed in his confirmation hearings for the post of U.N. ambassador also includes attempting to fire a CIA analyst who tried to keep him from lying in public speeches. Dubya's crew doesn't much like the reality-based community. It interferes with their fantasy-based politics.

Of course, the nice thing about fantasies is that everyone gets to choose their own. At Pacific Views, Natasha is writing about a reporter from perhaps fifteen years hence who simply makes up stories. Outrageous, of course. But more outrageous than the erstwhile heroes of the New York Police Department trying to get people jailed for made-up crimes during the Republican convention?

But you can't always tell whether something is fantasy. Before the war, Paul Wolfowitz said we'd need a few tens of thousands of troops in Iraq to manage the occupation -- something much smaller than the 100,000 invasion force. In the event, this has proved a fantasy; the entire invasion force is still there, and two years after the invasion, it is still engaged in heated combat. But when right-wing blogs say that things are going "well", that is, of course, not fantasy, but unassailable fact.

Conversely, when Matt Welch and his French wife, who have experience with the health care systems in both America and France, say without hesitation that they'd rather be sick in France, Matt's libertarian colleagues at Reason correctly see it as fantasy. It goes against their ideology, so how can it possibly be right?

O'Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

'How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?


'And if the party says that it is not four but five -- then how many?'


The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston's body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O'Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever ...

"You are a slow learner, Winston," said O'Brien gently.

"How can I help it?" he blubbered. "How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four."

"Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane."

George Orwell, 1984

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Billmon's dreams are getting weird again. But if his vision of Jack Abramoff and a crazed Tom DeLay dishing out pork to corporate bigshots in a sleazy Texas diner strikes you as over-the-top, you just haven't been following the news about Republican governance. He doesn't have them putting so much as one silver dollar into a political contributor's rare coin collection.

Dubya campaigned on the promise that Republican governmenance would look responsible. And it does. He always wears a suit in the Oval Office...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Chinese government is doing its damnedest to develop its technology sector. Last week, the Chinese PM was in India, trying to lure Indian companies to move into China. And they are certainly doing the same to American companies -- you may recall that Cisco's CEO is taking orders from the Chinese government in more ways than one:

Cisco has also moved the manufacturing of many of its products, which is done under contract with other companies, to China at the request of Chinese government officials...

"Our contract manufacturers, at my request, and candidly at the request of the leaders in your country, began to move our contract manufacturers here to China," [Cisco CEO John] Chambers said.

For many years, our own government had a very successful strategy for doing the same thing. Computer science research grants -- funded largely through the DOD's Advanced Research Project Agency (sometimes ARPA, sometimes DARPA) in effect provided the seed ideas and training for the people who would then go off and fund companies like, among others, Sun and Cisco. (It's an idea that goes back to the beginning of the computer industry in this country -- the ENIAC was a World War II project, and IBM really learned how to build reliable electronic computers on the SAGE project).

Our current leaders know better:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at the Pentagon - which has long underwritten open-ended "blue sky" research by the nation's best computer scientists - is sharply cutting such spending at universities, researchers say, in favor of financing more classified work and narrowly defined projects that promise a more immediate payoff. ...

The shift away from basic research is alarming many leading computer scientists and electrical engineers, who warn that there will be long-term consequences for the nation's economy. They are accusing the Pentagon of reining in an agency that has played a crucial role in fostering America's lead in computer and communications technologies.

Isn't that nice? One possible objection to this line of argument: The U.S. government spent money; the Chinese are seeking investors. First off, I'm not sure that's entirely true -- if the Chinese telecom infrastructure, for instance, a major Cisco client, isn't technically the government, then it might as well be. Second, in SAGE and even the ARPAnet development -- what turned into the Internet -- the government got a tool for its own uses in return for the technology. And third, even if you look at this simply as an investment in the future development of the society, looking at the way things turned out, it certainly looks as if the government can be a pretty sharp investor at times, whether or not libertarians believe it...

Monday, April 11, 2005

To this point in my life, I have never been seriously tempted to join a terrorist organization. But when the name generator for Unitarian Jihad dubbed me Brother Torch of Reasoned Discussion, I must admit feeling a certain, well, fellowship...
Google Maps now has satellite imagery. Which has all sorts of uses. Dave Shea, for instance, remarks here on how much easier it is to find clear cut areas in his local forests through the use of Google Maps.

But the technique has its limits. The roofs of the White House, and nearby buildings, turn out to be featureless blobs of a strange, solid color (as pointed out in comments here). And here is a more interesting case. Ignoring the dummy zip code, the location is the Pentagon's secret whatever-it-is at Groom Lake, Nevada. Zoom down far enough, and all you get is a GIF saying that "we don't have imagery for this zoom level at this location". Clearly, someone's been busy with the magic paintbrush.

The objective is obviously to protect these facilities from prying eyes. But past a certain point, you have to wonder what is being protected here, and more importantly from whom. Anyone capable of really using information about the secret weapons du jour presumably has their own source for higher resolution (and likely, more recent) satellite imagery of this particular garden spot. The people who don't get to see it are the people who merely pay for it. Us.

Which is a security philosophy that appears to be very much in evidence, these days. The National Academy of Sciences was recently asked by Congress to look into vulnerabilities in nuclear power plants. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission stonewalled them on critical information, claiming that security was the reason. But assessing the security efforts was the whole reason for asking the question -- and the final report was certainly going to be censored anyway. What's really going on here is that the "homeland security" crew is protecting themselves -- from investigation of what turns out to be seriously flawed work, as shown by even the partial information that the NAS investigators were able to get.

But protecting American intelligence services from investigations is serious business. Just look how hard the FBI is working to protect itself from translator Sibel Edmonds' allegations that intercepts describing Turkish espionage were effectively suppressed by a translator who was a mole. And there's more where that came from. (via King of Zembla).

After all, if we got the impression these agencies were incompetent, and shot through with enemies of the state, why would we ever let them review bank records without a warrant?