Posted by: B Gourley | July 12, 2013

Snowden’s Muddled Message

Edward Snowden is once again the headline leader. The man some consider a whistle-blower and others think a traitor is trying to gain temporary asylum in Russia. His U.S. passport having been suspended, Russian asylum seems to be his only immediate path out of the transit lounge of Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow. A few countries in Latin America have agreed to offer Snowden asylum and he has expressed interest in taking Venezuela up on the offer, but without a passport he is stuck like Tom Hanks’ character in Terminal Man.

The request for Russian asylum is problematic in that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that asylum wouldn’t be considered as long as Snowden was still leaking. While Snowden said he has no interest in hurting the U.S., he is still talking about U.S. intelligence activities and seems unlikely to give up giving up information.

When the revelations of this story initially broke in the Guardian, I was outraged by the allegations being put forth by Snowden. In essence, Snowden suggested that Americans’ electronic communications were being spied on without warrants and without specificity. While lawyers and politicians love to play word games, the Fourth Amendment is clear and concise. Where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, searches require a warrant that says who is involved and what’s being sought. In short, the Constitution doesn’t allow fishing expeditions.

The damage control by the Administration and the Intelligence Community in subsequent days was even more infuriating. The message seemed to be, “We want to have an open debate about all these nifty protections that are in place to make this all legal, but, alas, that’s all classified.I’m not saying you should just trust us, but–yeah–just trust us, ya-da-ya-da-ya-da.” I’m suspicious of a government attempting to expand its power; I abhor a government that tries to do it under the cover of darkness.

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, had been asked the following question by a Senator during his testimony, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”

Clearly the answer to this question, in light of the Verizon revelation was, “yes.” However, Clapper answered in the negative, and then added a qualifier “not wittingly” that didn’t help improve the truthfulness of statement, but should have been a red flag that the Director was trying to play some type of semantic game. Clapper later went on a Nixon-esque / Clinton-esque defensive about how his answer was the “least untruthful.” Of course, to suggest that the Verizon data was “unwittingly collected” strains credulity.

When General Keith Alexander of the NSA (among others) testified, he said that he had three points. First, that the programs had yielded positive results, or–in other words–the ends justified the means. Second, that the programs in question were “limited, focused, and subject to rigorous oversight.” Third, privacy and civil liberties are protected by the programs. However, he seemed to only want to talk substance about the first point–that is, what ends justified these means. I found it disconcerting that Gen. Alexander could tell us something about which cases had positive outcomes as a result of these programs, but not about the processes and protections required to draw specific information from the vast pools of data being collected on Americans. The former being the kind of information that could have negative security ramifications, the latter could only embarrass politicians. Secrecy is needed to protect assets and methods, but shouldn’t be a tool of protecting dubious legal practices. Al Qaeda doesn’t get a leg up by knowing the legal process required to access data generically.

The testimony was full of what would be objected to as “leading questions” in a court of law. For example, Alexander was asked if there was “any switch that could be flipped to allow analysts to eavesdrop on communications.” This makes for nice ass-covering when it turns out that they, in fact, have to type a command into a command line. “No, we never lied. We were as truthy as can be, there is no switch– we had the switches replaced with buttons decades ago.” Alexander repeated the “flip a switch” phrase back in his reply so that they were all on the same page.

As sad as any comment made was when Alexander said, “Further, as the Deputy Attorney General noted, virtually all countries have lawful intercept programs under which they compel communications providers to share information about individuals they believe represent a threat to their societies.” At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I remember when America prided itself in being a leader in liberty rather than saying, “look we aren’t doing anything that Russia and China aren’t!”

Telling me that you had success due to these programs isn’t enough for me. If you said, “hey, we put everyone of a particular religious persuasion in jail, and we foiled x-number of plots,” should I be reassured or outraged. I would argue the latter.

Telling me that other countries have such programs doesn’t satisfy me. I think the U.S. should seek to be on the leading edge of freedom and not happy slouching around the middle of the pack.

Telling me that a given database has only phone numbers and metadata and no identifying information doesn’t really inspire confidence. It turns out that there’s this nifty thing called “the internet” that allows one to look up people’s names from a phone number. You’re going to tell me that no one is going to google the number they’re looking for information about?

If the government wants to reassure the public, they need to have transparency in legal processes and not hide behind a veil of classified information.

I’m not comfortable with the collection of vast stores of information on citizens. Even if there are some protections that are working for the moment, all that information will just be waiting for some moment of weakness, some rally-around-the-flag moment, during which people are willing to flush all they hold dear down the crapper in exchange for a promise of security.

Having said all this, I’ve had a bit of trouble retaining sympathy towards Snowden as he’s muddled his initial message about unconstitutional actions. When he started releasing information about how the U.S. was spying on China, his message became lost. Of course the U.S. is spying on China, and they upon us. That’s the nature of the game in an anarchic international system. Yes, it’s a political embarrassment; coming as it did when the President was attempting to give China “the old what for” over the issue, but spying on other countries in order to keep one safe is part of what is expected of a government. (Yes, even on allies. You can be certain Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom are spying on the U.S.) I take as a given that other countries might try to read my email if they think it has any potential benefit to them. However, they haven’t been granted a monopoly on the legitimate use of force against me. I expect my government to serve to protect me from any dire consequences of other country’s snooping. In fact, I have held jobs where other countries may have eavesdropped on me (not because of the work I did, but because of with whom I was in contact.) The potential for nefarious activities by a foreign country are just not the same as they are for domestic shenanigans–for most of us at least. There is less incentive to try to manipulate a random Joe for political or material gain across borders than there is within.

If Snowden is driven by his love of freedom, why has he headed in the direction that he has. Even if everything he says is absolutely true, the U.S. is still vastly more free than either Russia or Venezuela (e.g.Freedom House ranks the former as “not free” and the latter as “partially free.”) (There is some doubt about whether what Snowden says is true, but as the government hasn’t really delved into details or engaged in any contradiction that is not riddled with carefully censored qualifying words, one cannot tell.)

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Posted by: B Gourley | June 12, 2013

The Snowden Dilemma

As I–and everyone else– follow the slew of articles on Edward Snowden, I saw the following quote from Lord Acton:

Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.

I agree wholeheartedly with Acton’s statement. The debate revolving around the former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor raises some intriguing questions. Once upon a time, I held a security clearance–not a particularly high one–but nonetheless a promise to keep the secrets I was exposed to in the process of my job. I took that clearance deadly serious and recognized its value and importance. However, I had it easy. I never faced any great moral dilemma over keeping my promise. Snowden’s situation was quite different.

What does one do when one sees one’s employer engaging in behavior that is illegal and/or unconstitutional under the normal definitions of words as we commonly use them. That is, the government has creatively taken words like “facility” and “targeting” and put an Orwellian twist on them to make a wild violation of U.S. citizens’ reasonable expectation of privacy in order to lawyer the program into one that some might define as “technically” legal. (e.g. the Washington Post article said that huge sets of information data were labeled “facilities” [suspected involved in terrorism] in order to justify all that information being handed to the government.) Of course, the national security leadership has been singing a refrain of “we don’t target U.S. citizens.” What is left unsaid is that while they don’t “target” U.S. citizens they come into a lot of information on citizens because: a.) they have a very low standard for determining likelihood of foreignness, and b.) they are collecting information on individuals regardless of whether they are suspected of anything.

So if you are Edward Snowden, you are a low-level employee. Your superiors don’t give a damn what you think about the legality of the program. You can’t complain to anyone because no one who cares is cleared to hear it, and those who are cleared to hear it have a vested interested in maintaining (if not expanding) the intrusions.  What would you tell Snowden if you were his friend, and not a complete stranger with your own feelings on the subject? That’s a tough one.

Secrecy may be necessary in some cases, but I’m uncomfortable writing the government a blank check. Officials will say, “it’s not a blank check, we have internal and external oversight.” First of all, the idea of “internal oversight” is not particularly confidence inspiring. That’s a little too much like “Otis” from the Andy Griffith Show letting himself in and out of the drunk tank as he saw fit for my taste. Second, how can any of us know that a judge acting on a FISA warrant treats it with the same seriousness as a case in which their decision will be open to public scrutiny? I don’t know, but I don’t hear of a lot of warrants in, say, bank robbery cases in which the phone records of millions of people unsuspected of a crime are to be handed over for a period of months.  Yes, finding and uncovering terrorists is more difficult than building a case against terrorists, but still I have reason to be skeptical because–as Lord Acton said, “Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice…”

Posted by: B Gourley | March 21, 2013

Drones over Des Moines: or, UAV’s in the Heartland

This post was also featured on my website, Tao of Loafing.

Source: Wikipedia; User: Dammit

Source: Wikipedia; User: Dammit

National Geographic has an interesting and well-timed article in this month’s issue called The Drones Come Home. I say well-timed because of all of the attention that Senator Rand Paul’s recent filibuster received. Senator Paul was filibustering the nomination of John Brennan as CIA Director, but his true purpose was to bring attention to the lack of transparency on policy regarding the use of drone strikes on U.S. soil. You’ll recall from your Civics classes that the 5th and 6th amendments (supported by other laws) require legal due process be conducted before anyone gets, to use the mafia-esque term, “whacked.”

The impetus for all this discussion of drones is the Obama Administration’s 2012 direction to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to open the skies to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) by September 30, 2015.

It should be noted that the use of armed drones for execution missions is only the most dramatic of many legal issues that will arise with the proliferation of this technology. The National Geographic article devotes more space to the use of drones by state and local law enforcement than they do to that of the Federal government.

Some other new legal considerations will include:

Searches:  I suspect that well before any government is terminating U.S. citizens at home with such devices, they will be using them for surveillance and investigation (i.e. spying.)  The Constitutional standard is that law enforcement can act on any evidence that can be seen from a place they legally have a right to be. So if you’ve got a stolen car in your front yard, they can arrest you.  However,  if the police get an anonymous tip that there is a stolen car in your backyard under your deck, things are trickier. They can ask you to see your backyard, but you can say no. They can ask a neighbor if the neighbor will allow them to look from the neighbor’s property onto yours, but, if that’s unsuccessful, they’d better be able to impress a judge sufficiently to obtain a warrant.

However, what  happens with UAV’s? Now the law enforcement officer can be parked perfectly legally on the street while his “eyes” are hovering over your backyard.  Your property rights overhead are not established (unless you are getting a check every time Delta flies over your house–I’m not.)

Extensions: What about peaking in through your window with an aerial telephoto lens? What if it’s not law enforcement, but rather the Neighborhood Watch? What if it’s not even the Neighborhood Watch, but rather the crotchety retiree at the end of the block who has self-appointed himself neighborhood watchman because he’s bored to tears… and more than a little bitter?

Sovereign Immunity: Many governments have laws that prevent you from suing them. So what happens given a scenario suggested in the National Geographic article, the government’s UAV falls out of the sky and it’s rotor-blade slices open the jugular of your four-year old daughter as she is innocently playing in the sandbox in your back yard?

There are many who are concerned that this technology is not perfected. The military is having its share of problems, and they are spending billions on UAV’s. Imagine what will happen when local governments, corporations, and other cash-strapped entities begin flying more low-budget versions?

Personal No Fly Zones: Despite the tenuous legal situation regarding the “airspace” over one’s head. You know that, sooner or later, someone will try to enforce a no-fly zone over their property. So what happens when a person sees that Sheriff’s department UAV peeping through their window, and they blast it out of the sky with a 12-gauge shotgun?

Of course, there will be a whole new wave of issues that will arise as the autonomous UAV’s are perfected. By “autonomous” I mean ones that don’t need a remote pilot, but are more “fire-off and forget.”

This post was also posted on my site, Tao of Loafing.

Today is the two-year anniversary of the tsunami that swamped parts of eastern Japan. Among the ongoing effects of this event was a re-chilling of attitudes toward nuclear energy–undoing a thaw that some swore was imminent. The tsunami hit the Fukushima-Daiichi plants and knocked out generators that were needed to run the coolant pumps with the power lines down. In the days after the disaster, the release of radioactivity and explosions of built up hydrogen presented some of the most prominent news stories.

Japan obtained about a third of its energy from nuclear prior to the event. All reactors were shut down in subsequent months, at no small cost to their economy. Eventually, a couple of plants were brought back on-line, providing only a fraction of the electricity of the country’s full fleet of 50+ nuclear plants.The Japanese had plans to add another 15 plants to their reactor fleet at that time, plans that have since vanished.

Even China, the world’s most prolific builder of nuclear plants as of late, had a brief moratorium on nuclear power plant (NPP) construction. However, China seems to have regained its ardor for nuclear power. France, of course, won’t be dissuaded either. However, for much of the rest of the world, doubts remain.

Pictures may be worth a thousand words.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Power Reactor Information System (PRIS)

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Power Reactor Information System (PRIS)

Source: IAEA PRIS

Source: IAEA PRIS

Source: IAEA PRIS

Source: IAEA PRIS


The Nuclear Renaissance and International Security

Edited by Adam N. Stulberg and Matthew Fuhrmann

2013, Available Now

Buy this book

ONLINE RESOURCES
Contents

Contributors

Introduction

Posted by: B Gourley | February 12, 2013

5 Minefields of Armageddon in 2013

National Land Image Information, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation & Tourism, Japan

National Land Image Information, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation & Tourism, Japan

This was also posted on my website, Tao of Loafing.

1.) Ever heard of the Senkakus? What about Diaoyus? If not, you should look them up. When you’ve been wearing a gas mask for the 33rd day straight, you may want to know about the chunks of rock in the East China Sea that we tripped into nuclear winter over. Simmering tensions between Japan and China have been flaring up over these islands of late. So you’re probably wondering who lives there who’s so important that it’s worth wandering through a minefield that could trigger World War III. If you answered, “absolutely no one,” give yourself a prize.  They’re uninhabited. It’s not the islands themselves that anyone gives a rat’s as about, it’s the ramification they have for underwater drilling rights.

The reader may accuse me of hyperbole. (Shh! Dont tell anyone, but– of course– that’s what I do.) After all, China has a boldly stated “No First Use” policy. That is, they claim they will not use nukes in a first strike. Given that Japan isn’t a nuclear weapons state (NWS), there doesn’t seem to be much risk. Except that a.) Japan lives under the U.S. nuclear umbrella;  b.) Japan is the non-NWS that could develop nuclear weapons in the shortest time imaginable — they have the material, infrastructure, and technical know-how (okay, Germany is in the same bag); and c.) see #2

KimJongUn3

2.) North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. This presents a risk because: a.) it provides an incentive for Japan to build its own nukes (particularly if faith in the US umbrella wanes.) b.) [and more importantly] Kim Jong Un has too many yes-men, and no one to slap him in his chubby face and say, “are you smoking powdered unicorn horn?” In other words, he doesn’t have a good idea of what he can get away with before the world unleashes a crate of whoop-ass on his sad country. So he wanders in the minefield.

3.) Europe is getting depressed. Fat and happy Europeans are productive and polite. Downtrodden Europeans have been known to swallow some pretty despicable narratives, and– in doing so– drag the world into war. At the moment this seems really far-fetched. These political movements are at best in the political fringe of countries on Europe’s fringe, right? Maybe so. Time will tell.

4.) If America’s economy is crash-landed, everyone is going to be hit by the debris. This will be depressing, see #3 and then multiply globally. Times like these  echo Churchill’s comment, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Any person, company, or government that sees the train coming in the distance but can’t find its way off the tracks can’t be expected to thrive for long.

5.) India and Pakistan, enough said…

Posted by: B Gourley | February 5, 2013

BOOK PLUG: The Nuclear Renaissance and International Security

The Nuclear Renaissance and International SecurityEdited by Adam N. Stulberg and Matthew Fuhrmann

2013, Available Now

Buy this book

This is not so much a book review as a shameless plug (I have a chapter in this book.)

Nuclear energy has had a checkered past. From the 1950’s to the 1970’s, there was a massive build up of nuclear power reactors– granted among a fairly small number of nations. Recent decades have seen a drop off in the pursuit of nuclear power among all but a few diehards. This decline resulted from both accidents and unfavorable nuclear power economics (the former exacerbating but not entirely responsible for the latter.) With increasing desire to combat global climate change, there has been renewed interest in nuclear energy as part of a strategy to slow carbon emissions without crippling energy output. However, to date this interest has not turned into large-scale development of nuclear power anywhere except China. After the Fukushima Daiichi accident, even some diehards (e.g. Japan) are reconsidering nuclear power.

This book considers whether there will be a resurgence of nuclear power, if there is what shape it will take, and what the security ramifications of future nuclear power development might be.

Among the many questions addressed in the book are:

1.) Will the future bring more nuclear energy states, or will any expansion take place only within existing nuclear power states?
2.) Why do states supply other countries with nuclear energy technologies, and what are the ramifications of such supply efforts?
3.) Can an International Fuel Bank be successful in reducing the threat posed by proliferation of dual-use fuel cycle technologies?
4.) Will climate change drive a renaissance of nuclear power?
5.) What effect will an expansion of nuclear energy have on non-state nuclear trafficking?
6.) Are states with nuclear power more, less, or equally likely to get into wars?

If you are interested in these questions, this book is for you.

Posted by: B Gourley | December 28, 2012

2013: A Big Year for Sci-fi

If the sci-fi movies of 2013 reflect a zeitgeist, then we’re shifting from a people who think bad things await the Earth to a people who think we’ll have to abandon the planet altogether. That’s a prevailing theme in the upcoming big box-office movies of the genre. In Oblivion, Tom Cruise plays a drone repairman who at least believes himself to be one of the last people on the planet. In After Earth, Will Smith and his son (in character and real life) return to an Earth devoid of humanity. In Elysium, not everyone has left Earth, but everyone who is anyone has.

There are still a few of the traditional dystopian visions in which some dire fate confronts humanity on Earth. World War Z is a movie adaptation of Max Brooks’ novel that brought the Zombie back to life (admittedly bad pun intended.) It features Brad Pitt battling an ever expanding horde of “fast zombies.” Pacific Rim envisions giant alien monsters coming through a dimensional portal at the bottom of the ocean, and the giant robots humanity creates to battle them. The movie adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s novel Ender’s Game, while largely about the training of the genius Ender Wiggin, also imagines an Earth in peril from an alien threat. Even the new Star Trek movie at least partially abandons frolicking in deep space in favor of confronting an evil genius who threatens Earth.

Oblivion

Star Trek Into Darkness


 

After Earth

World War Z

Pacific Rim

Elysium

Ender’s Game

Posted by: B Gourley | December 20, 2012

Tragedy at Sandy Hook: Invisible in the Supertribe

In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 people (20 of whom were young children), we all wonder how such villainy unfolds.

The debate is dominated by the issue of gun availability because we want the problem to be easy. Too bad it isn’t simple or easy or a “no-brainer.” This time calamity struck deep enough for other proposed solutions to enter the debate, such increasing the availability of mental healthcare. This is progress, and maybe a recognition that we can’t “phone in” a simple solution. Instead of throwing up our hands and saying, “crazy happens,” many are finally considering how mental health might be a point at which such a tragedy could be arrested. With respect to drivers of his crime, Adam Lanza (the Sandy Hook killer) had more in common with Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, Zheng Minsheng, and Mamoru Takuma (mass murders who didn’t use guns) than he did with the average gun owner. I would suggest that if we want to combat such travesties rather than just morphing them in nature, we need to find the locus of the problem– hint: it’s not an inanimate object. If we just morph our tragedy, we may luck out and have the murderers shift to knives (in Japan and China this has resulted in only up to about 8 fatalities per event [with injuries in the 20’s]), but they could shift to bombs (e.g. McVeigh killed 168 and had a casualty toll of close to 1,000.)

The bad news is that recognizing that the problem is mental health doesn’t make the problem easy. Two problems spring to mind. First, as a society we face a structural issue that makes it a challenge to both recognize and preempt dangerous individuals. Second, the individuals involved in these acts are often not insane in the sense of being out of touch with reality or having  brain chemistry imbalances that could be tested and identified ahead of time. Instead they are conditioned into the monsters they become through a combination of stewing (or wallowing, pick your analogy) in their own sadness and isolation and a variation on the tried and true methods developed in the 20th century to teach infantrymen to overcome their biologically-hardwired resistance to intra-species killing  (we’ll get to that later.)

What’s the problem with our societal structure? Desmond Morris, the zoologist known for such cleverly named books as The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo, coined the term supertribe to describe an extra-familial group that was too large for everyone to know everyone else. When one imagines a “tribe”, one might think of a group of American Indians.  Such tribes aren’t generally afflicted by many behavioral anomalies suffered by we the super-tribe dwellers. A tribe often doesn’t even need codified laws because people are conditioned to proper behavior by being integrated into the tribe. Furthermore, there’s  no place to hide (and wallow in negativity) where everyone knows your name. It should be noted that Morris’s ideas are controversial –probably largely because they insinuate that humans are part of the animal kingdom and subject to the same crude, biological imperatives as are other species. All the same, I find his viewpoint compelling.

What does life in the  supertribe have to do with mass murder? It starts with feelings of isolation and inconsequentiality. By the latter, I mean the belief that one’s life is without meaning or consequence.  Earlier I wrote that there was a difference between mad bombers (e.g. McVeigh, Rudolph, and Kaczynski) and the in-person mass murders (gun- or knife- wielders ) The latter are almost always suicidal. The mass murder may or may not have the nerve to do it himself– i.e. he may prefer “suicide by cop.” One will note that cases like that of James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora “Joker” killer, in which the murderer is taken alive are a rarity compared to those that end in suicide or suicide by cop. If one just wants to be dead, why take out a bunch of people who don’t along with you? Such individuals wish to be noticed by the world in a way they never could in their anonymous supertribal existence. In the supertribe even those closest to the murder-to-be are often so caught up in their own existence that the youth has plenty of time to wallow in self-pity and isolation.

I don’t mean to suggest that just anyone by virtue of living in the supertribe might become such a killer. Most people find perfectly innocuous means to eliminate feelings of isolation and inconsequentiality.  (e.g. Blogging and pretending people actually read your blog and care what you have to say, or posting one’s views incessantly on Facebook –also assuming people care what you have to say. JUST KIDDING.) People build themselves into networks in which they believe themselves to be valued, be that family, non-familial groups, or both. Most people build feelings of self-worth through work, school, or extra-curricular activities. Becoming the destroyer requires both letting a negative view of the world take hold and having no one around to shake one by the shoulders and say, “snap the hell out of it.”

Earlier, I made reference to insanity by conditioning. I’m a firm believer that an individual can send himself (or herself) over the abyss by dwelling on negative thoughts. Still, isolation and self-loathing are probably not alone enough  to send one over the edge. What does one do with one’s hands while one’s mind is stuck in this pitiful state. If you’re Adam Lanza or James Eagan Holmes, you may retreat into the world of video games.  How can video games, the vast majority of players of which are completely harmless, contribute to the problem? It’s clearly not that playing video games turns individuals into killers anymore than possessing a weapon turns an individual into a killer.

To explain this theorized connection, I have to take you back to World War II. During that war, a military historian named S.L.A. Marshall studied an interesting problem. The problem was that most infantrymen when facing a clear line of fire to an enemy soldier wouldn’t shoot the enemy. Soldiers in previous wars were the same. Often muzzle-loaded rifles were excavated having many powder and ball loads stuffed in them, indicating that soldiers pretended to shoot and then reloaded. Why wouldn’t a soldier in war shoot an enemy that he is societally justified in killing? Who wouldn’t kill a Nazi? It turns out that the impulse to not kill another human runs deep. (Other species won’t generally kill their own kind either, no matter how much they might kill other species.) In the next few wars, it was found that if soldiers were trained to shoot at something that looked like a human they were more likely to kill than if they shot at bulls-eyes. (This is all detailed in Lt. Col Dave Grossman’s excellent book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society.) From bulls-eyes we went to silhouettes then to pictures of an enemy, and –finally– to advanced systems like the Firearms Training Simulator (FATS) that puts cops and soldiers “in a movie” facing “shoot-or-don’t shoot” scenarios. All this worked great for increasing the effectiveness of infantrymen and, later, police officers. Unfortunately, video games where a kid faces a “shoot-or-shoot faster” scenario  also help our “mixed up youth” get over his evolutionarily-hardwired impulse to avoid intra-species killing.  You’ll note, I didn’t say that violent video games make killers.  A far greater authority, Lt. Col. Grossman, doesn’t say that either as near as I can tell. What he says is that such games lower the barrier for one who is already predisposed towards such activities.

What’s the solution? I suspect it involves not only identifying at-risk youth but putting them into programs that are akin to a tribe and in which they’re put in situations in which they must rely on others and others must rely on them (not a street gang though.) This will build feelings of community and consequentiality. Such youth shouldn’t be allowed to stew in negativity, and left alone for days at a time playing Grand Theft Auto. You’ll note, I didn’t say we should identify at-risk youth and then drug the hell out of them. That’s been tried. It’s a failure. It’s not a chemical issue; it’s a cerebral issue. It’s also a hard issue and requires great effort and brooks no shortcuts. It’s too bad that one can’t view the road untraveled. I think one would find that many other tragedies are averted every year by kids put into Boys and Girls Clubs, karate classes, sports, and the like.

Posted by: B Gourley | December 3, 2012

Quick, Get Marton Gyongyosi a History Book!

Yesterday there was a huge protest gathering in Budapest, Hungary. Over 10,000 people packed into Kossuth Lajos Square at the front of the iconic neo-gothic Parliament building. (It’s not a vast space, so I suspect they were crammed in there.) For those of you who don’t know what the furor was about, it all started when a far (far, far) right politician named Marton Gyongyosi advocated compiling lists of Jews who –in his view– pose a national security threat. It’s easy to see why the [non-slack-jawed yokel] Hungarian citizenry became outraged. Fascists always start by building lists and spewing rationalizations (in this case the rationalization is that the government will tie itself to Israel and get caught up in Middle East conflict.)

It occurs to me that perhaps Gyongyosi and his Jobbik comrades aren’t aware that their fight was already fought, and they lost decisively. In the U.S. we called it World War II, but, however it appears in Hungarian history books, someone needs to make Gyongyosi and Jobbik aware of this. It’s been 67 years, and most of those of their ilk that were around then were hanged for war crimes or are hiding out in South America waiting for hell to get nice and toasty.

I’m not saying it will be easy. Living in the South, I know there are a few that still fail to accept that the Confederacy lost the Civil War. Jobbik might claim the books are forgeries or come up with another elaborate conspiracy theory. Perhaps they could be sent to a Revisionist History Conference in Tehran featuring Ahmedinejad and be left there.

Seriously, we’ve got to get this global economy growing. The nuts are always out, but have a weak economy and people start listening to them.

Posted by: B Gourley | November 20, 2012

Dear NASA, The Suspense is Killing Me

I hope it’s not a Decepticon

NASA scientists claim the Mars rover has made a discovery that, if confirmed, will be “one for the history books.” However, they’re being tight-lipped about what it might be, pending confirmation of their initial findings. What is it? Organic material? A fossil? Dr. Manhattan? No one knows.

NASA is once-bitten-twice-shy having previously discovered methane on Mars only to later find that –in all probability– they brought the methane with them from Florida– perhaps the flatulence of NASA staff driven to beer-swilling by severe budget cuts.

The use of the terms “Earthshaking” and “history books” makes one’s sci-fi imagination go wild. Based on sci-fi, some of the “Earthshaking” discoveries that might be found on Mars include: aliens, ruins, time-travelers, gods, crashed spacecraft, viruses, robots, and little men with big spartan helmets topped with a broom-head wearing a red shirt and –inexplicably– a green skirt.

I’ll settle for organic material of a non-terrestrial bovine nature.

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