Apparently there is an NSA dragnet operation going on with digital data that goes - in part - by the code name PRISM. Information on these kinds of projects comes out in dribs and drabs. Which points to the real problem behind it, the surveillance state is silent, secret and hidden despite being run by a democratic government with checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial.
It also appears that the dragnet operation is large and involves collecting data from the major phone carriers as well as - indirectly - from the large tech companies such as google, facebook, yahoo and microsoft. Again, we don't really know as what little we do know is from a whistle blower and some partial denials by company leaders. As Schneier notes:
We know all of this [the different data collecting operations] not because the government is honest and forthcoming, but mostly through three backchannels -- inadvertent hints or outright admissions by government officials in hearings and court cases, information gleaned from government documents received under FOIA, and government whistle-blowers.
One of the big problems is that the executive, legislative and to an extent the judicial all want it this way. There is the FISA court, but it has only rejected 0.03% of the warrants in front of it. Additionally the 2007 Protect America Act moved much of the electronic snooping away from FISA oversight. So where possible the legislative is making surveillance less visible, more secretive and without judicial oversight. This removes the whole issue from democratic politics and popular oversight.
The surveillance and security state grew rapidly after 911 for spurious reasons but it has been with us since the late 1970s when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed. The PATRIOT Act was largely a rewriting of that bill to include terrorism as part of domestic intelligence and surveillance. Most likely, it is only by constant public and media attention on the repugnant acts and growth of the surveillance state that it will be reigned in. The executive and legislative will not do it on its own.
It was not the Iraq War or its lead up which made me political interested. It was the Australian republic referendum in 1999 which did not pass. Naively at the time I wondered how that could happen. South Sea Republic did not come to life until 2004 as running a blog was prohibitively expensive until about that time. Before then most people wrote on large aggregator sites. In my case that was kuro5hin.
Reading through articles and diaries I wrote in 2002 to 2003 I was much more Australian then. The cultural ethnicism really comes through in the words, sentences and writing. After fifteen years in the United States I am much more American these days. The slow process of cultural assimilation. Most of the writing I did in 2002 to 2003 is through an Australian lens.
I was an immediate Iraq War skeptic. I was no fan of Bush or Howard and that led to me being instantly skeptical of their motives. As it turned out, it was a good thing to be skeptical of the Bush Administration's motives, Howard however was another thing. He followed the 'great and powerful friends' doctrine which nearly every Australian government has before and since. So his policy choices were consistent with Australian government policies. As France, Germany and Canada showed, Iraq was a good one to stay out of. It was a mess.
Howard also managed Australian involvement reasonably well and kept most Australian forces that were involved in stabilization out of the most dangerous areas. Our forward forces that were used were the SAS but even during the later periods it was only a small force and it was politically palatable for the Australian government. If you are going to go to war due to policy, then Howard managed it decently - balancing Australian, American, political and domestic pressures evenly.
Unfortunately my k5 archives only go to back to June of 2002. Oddly enough I was surprised how little I wrote about Iraq. Most of my concern was with technology I was using through work, the Australian political system and Australian defence policy. So any view I held of the Iraq War is coming through a lens of what i thought it was and is most likely tempered by the has happened in Iraq since 2001 and 2003.
From what I remember I opposed it. I did not march in the streets of Washington DC, though I lived in North Virginia during September 11th and the build up to the invasion of Iraq. Again though, I did not trust the Bush Administration, their policies were radical, they showed contempt for process - both congressional and executive - and they were inept and incompetent. This became more obvious as the Administration continued into their second term with Iraq looming as one of the biggest, and then Katrina. However all this was done on the American credit card and without concern for cost.
By 2003 it was safe to say I did not trust the Bush Administration and consequently did not trust their motives for invading Iraq. I did not see the presentation by Powell as the tipping point. I thought it flimsy, but then again, my Australian-ness at the time meant I consumed more global media than just American media sources so maybe that was why I was skeptical of American news sources at the time as well.
My view at the time was that Iraq was an immoral war. Unfortunately for the Iraqis it was conducted by an incompetent Administration who was willing to debase American liberal values to achieve what they saw as a national imperative. That same Administration tortured Iraqis on Iraqi soil. What an absolute pigsty. It was not one of humanity's greatest hours.
An essential part of the Washington and Westminster systems of government are conventions. These are standards of behavior and procedure that is respected by all inside the system. While the Westminster system with its long adhoc history of working government has a lot of conventions the younger and more constitutionally explicit Washington system does as well.
A good example of a convention in the Washington system is when GM and Chrysler went broke at the end of the Bush Administration's tenure. America had already elected a new President, but Obama and his Administration would not be sworn in until January. The convention here - which the Bush Administration honored - was that no big policy decisions are made during this lame duck period. The Bush Administration did a little, but did not make policy on what to do with GM and Chrysler. They left that to the incoming Obama Administration.
Conventions exist everywhere but they are inherently fragile. They only last as long as they are respected and adhered to. Once a convention is broken, it never returns. The convention is gone forever.
Prior to the Hagel nomination for Secretary of Defense it was a convention that cabinet position confirmations would not be filibustered. This is no longer true. The modern Republican Party has been breaking convention after convention in the US Congressional system for the last fifteen years or so. Such as keeping votes open until legislation passes and now filibustering cabinet nominations. If anything it seems like Senate Republicans are making super majorities the new normal:
"We're going to require a 60-vote threshold," Inhofe told The Cable.
Cornyn told The Cable, "There is a 60-vote threshold for every nomination."
Unless the filibuster, anonymous holds and super majorities in cloture are removed everything that flows through the Senate will require 60 votes to even get debated. It will become the norm for everything from Judicial nominations, to Cabinets, etc. Governing will become a problem for the Executive in this environment. Harry Reid messed up when he did reform the filibuster when he had the chance.
The collegial agreement he made with the Republican Senators was not honored. I also have no doubt if the Republicans come into a majority in the Senate they will do away with the filibuster immediately. Just as the House Republicans did away with Democrat's procedure for Pay As You Go as soon as they came into the majority in the House.
It is a shame the Republicans are chewing up conventions and spitting them out. The Washington system survived on the collegial nature of the American political elite. Since the 1990s the collegial nature of the Washington system has been broken and the junking of conventions is part of this tear. The Democrats still seem to be conducting Congressional politics with the belief that the collegial nature still exists. The Republican party does not consider itself so constrained.
Michio Kaku in the video makes an impassioned argument (40 min mark) for the H1B visa in this video. His argument is that science drives prosperity with the internet being the most recent example when a defense technology was given away for free. However Kaku says that science teaching in America is sub par and the secret weapon is the H1B which allows foreigners to work in America. In Kaku's case, he said 100% of the Phds working with him are foreigners on H1Bs.
This is not too disimilar to the American technology industry where large numbers of engineers, QA, release, and ops are foreigners. This is an anecdotal story but for a while at one place I worked I was the token white guy in software engineering and I was Australian. We had two Americans in our team and one had a Chinese surname while the other American had an Indian surname. A lot of the American technology industry is built off the backs of H1Bs from China and India as well.
Kaku has a strong argument. Science and its ability to force us into new forms of social organization has led humanity to its current prosperity. It chips away constantly and improves the quality of our lives constantly. I don't think the US or the world can have enough scientists or engineers.
Last weekend we were in Las Vegas and drove the extra couple of hours out to Death Valley. I use my phone for everything now. It is a pretty essential tool. We decided to drive down under Death Valley first, passing through Topeka. Several times we were the only people on the road and didn't have a phone signal. It is kind of scary. However twenty years ago people drove all over the world without having a phone in their pocket and somehow survived.
We also struck an Apple Maps problem. It could not find the hotel we stayed at on the Las Vegas strip. It kept sending us to the convention center instead. Fortunately the hotel we were staying at was 60-something stories high, with a huge banner on its upper floors and is in a prominent place on the strip so we could ignore Apple Maps.
We couldn't ignore it so much when we were down past Topeka. My wife still has the previous version iPhone which does not have Apple Maps and instead still uses Google Maps. Not only is it superior software, it is more accurate. A couple of times when we had a connection Apple Maps gave bung travelling advice. Not fun we you are around Death Valley.
It is not the first time either. We were up in Wickenburg recently and Apple Maps was as equally as clueless. The problem is loss of confidence. I don't trust Apple Maps anymore. Apparently it is so bad that the Australian Government is sending out warnings about Mildura. Apple makes sexy hardware but their software is pretty crappy as a rule. Maybe Apple Maps will improve but iTunes has been around a long time and it is still pretty poor software in my opinion.
The north side of Death Valley is well sign posted and there is more traffic into the national park. Which makes things safer when mapping software and phone connections are spotty. There are some beautiful natural structures despite there being a long way between things. The photo above is in Badwater Basin which is several hundred feet below sea level. Pretty cool.
Update: Almost immediately after I posted this google came out with their new iphone google maps app. Phew!
More details emerged on Monday about Dick Armey's departure from FreedomWorks. The Associated Press obtained a contract dated September 24 indicating that Armey will make $8 million in consulting fees in exchange for leaving the organization. In an email to Mother Jones, Armey confirmed the $8 million deal, and said the contract was between him and FreedomWorks board member Richard Stephenson.
The moral issue here is that this is money raised from members of the public that thought they were donating to a political cause. Not to line someone's pockets with a golden parachute. Conor Friedersorf outlines the issue in a satirical fund raising email. Morally this should be something an individual chooses not to do since it is aberrant though i suspect amongst those that do this kind of political - and commercial - work it is the norm. Hence the shamelessness.
One of the problems with the US Health System is that politicians are constantly treating health policy as if it is a free market. Policies like exchanges are supposed to improve choice for American health consumers however, the market aspect of it is broken at its most basic level. Finding out what something costs is impossible and in many cases the hospitals and doctors do not know either.
But I followed my doctor's advice, called Newton-Wellesley Hospital and asked for the price of the test. My doctor didn't know, I got transferred to radiology, I got transferred to billing. Billing said they would call me back. They didn't. I couldn't even get a ballpark estimate. ...
When I couldn't get through to Newton-Wellesley, I tried Mass General, which is what we usually hear is the most expensive and best hospital in the country to go to. They were $5,315. That's for an uninsured patient. For one MRI.
But they couldn't tell me what my rate was going to be as an insured patient. They said they didn't have that information. So I hit another wall with another hospital.
When I had shoulder surgery I did the same thing as the insurance I had at the time would pay for 90% of the cost and I would be up for 10% of it. Naturally I was concerned if the procedure was $100,000 then it was going to cost me 10K and I wanted to shop around to know how much I was liable for. I had the same problem as the reporter in this article. I could not get a price out of anyone. The best I could do was being told that I was going to have to pay 10% of the price which I knew already.
There is no price transparency in the US Health system. Consequently it is broken and the policies the government is trying to leverage to make it a free market are not working. The US has one of the most expensive systems in the world. I would prefer that the US adopted one of the working health care systems such as Australia's, France's or Germany's. It would be an improvement. I suspect that Medicare and Medicaid will slowly expand to cover more and more people until the US has single payer but it will probably take another 20 years to do.
I spent a couple of days this week in Seattle. The company I work for opened an office in Seattle earlier this year and it is being populated by more and more engineers many of them convinced to move across from Amazon and other big names.
Seattle is pretty big on coffee. Starbucks, Seattle's Best and Peets all originated in the city. The older downtown area near the docks is full of speciality coffee shops as well. Seattle loves its coffee. The office in Seattle did not have a kevrig machine or a filter coffee machine like most American offices do. It had an espresso machine.
I was shown the mechanism for making an espresso with the machine. It was complicated, you had to bang the puck so that it would be flat and separate from the rubber seal. You also had to pull the handles for set numbers of seconds to make a satisfactory espresso. It was a bit too complicated for me to remember first go.
Anyway, the upshot was that you could start the day with an espresso. Given the environment of old downtown Seattle with its bustling streets and technology companies sited in old 10thC industrial textile factories and warehouses. It was pretty cool. Seattle is a lovely city.
I was recently reading a sci-fi book where the alien protagonists home base was a Dyson Shield. This comes from the Kardashev Scale. Under this scale a Type 0 civilization is one that extracts energy from crude organic sources. That is humanity now. Type 1 harnesses the energy in a planet, while Type 2 harnesses all the energy in a star and Type 3 all the energy in a galaxy.
The video above by Dr. Michio Kaku talks about humanity currently being in a transition between Type 0 and Type 1. A significant milestone for a Type 1 civilization is that its culture, politics and economy have to become global. Kaku sees elements of Type 1 in humanity. The internet he calls a Type 1 phone system. Similarly with rock and roll as global culture. He also argues that he sees Type 0 mentality as well. He considers terrorism a Type 0 response to the Type 1 changes. Ultimately he is upbeat but thinking in terms of Type 0 and Type 1 civilizations does change how you view the modern world and the under currents in it.
So it is looking like the Republicans juiced their own internal polling, 'unskewing' to satisfy what they thought the numbers should be. Josh Marshall is asking if the 'unskewing' that came to life in unskewedpolls.com and Rove's Fox numbers didn't originate in the Romney campaign. Matt Yglesias thinks this ignorance of social science makes the Republican Party incapable of good policy.
The social sciences and the use of statistics have been prominent this election cycle, led by Nate Silver and John Sides, but there have been numerous others as well. To be truthful it is expected as statistics is good at making sense of large noisy systems by taking small subsets of data. The surprise is that the professionals in the Republican Party who are supposedly good at this sort of thing discarded that discipline and fixed the numbers to their liking. But why?
Conservative media is pretty repugnant, largely because they lie and deceive for political purposes. There is a symbiosis there as it is profitable - fox makes a lot of money for Rupert Murdoch - and it seems the audience for that news and type of reporting enjoys it. On cable at least Fox gets really good ratings. it also seems that the Republican elite that run the party enjoy it too and there is a completely closed loop there between the Republican party, its operatives, its media and its supporters. To the point that science and statistics can be ignored if it is outside that loop; that rationality.
I didn't think that these people believed it. I thought they knew they were being dishonest, cynical and understood that they were entertainers as a means to sidestep the ethical and moral issues of deceiving that openly. This suggests the opposite. That they believe it too. Roves melt down on Fox on election night - and he is a big insider - suggests that is true. The Republican Party, including its elites, its base and its operatives have a different rationality to the Democratic Party, to most voters and to America.
One of the concepts of human rationality is that a person who adheres to one rationality finds another totally alien and cannot grasp it. For instance prior to Galileo and Newton the rationality was of that God 'moved' everything and God's creations were at the center of the universe. If you expose someone who has grown up in that rationality to the fact that the sun is at the center of the universe and gravity moves things. They will not believe it. This is why rationality often takes generations to change.
People such as myself who grew up in a post-enlightenment democracy, cannot understand the rationality that would think slavery and inalienable human rights conditional. Yet we have historical proof that a lot of people prior to the 1960/70s thought that was true and some people were better than others. Often for nothing more than the color of their skin.
Maybe a good example of this rationality change is the 'reality based community' quote that has been attributed to Karl Rove from Suskind's book;
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality--judiciously, as you will--we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
The quote is preposterous but given the events of the 2012 Presidential election totally believable that the mind which sees this rationality as possible will reject the empirical rigor of statistics choosing their own reality over science.
I think Yglesias has a point. It brings into doubt the Republican party's ability to make policy in any sensible or empirical manner. Social Science often does redefine what common-sense really is. What seems right from the cultural stomach is often wrong when put under the microscope of social science. Accepting that the data is right is difficult when it goes against every bone in your body, but, science is science. It has given us the 21stC for a reason.
Phoenix Eats Out is the restaurant review site for Phoenix, Scottsdale and Old Town Scottsdale which lists the modernist and contemporary restaurants, taverns and bars in the greater Phoenix area.
This is the list of the most popular restaurants pages from phoenixeatsout.com that have been viewed the most;
Arizona is an outdoor state and has lots of hiking in the city and around the state. Phoenix is unusual for most cities in having several large mountains in the center of the city with great hiking. Anyone who comes to Phoenix has to do the Echo Canyon trail on Camelback and the Summit Hike on Squaw Peak or Piesta Peak. The views of the city, suburbs and surrounding mountains are wonderful from Camelback and Piesta Peak.
For more experienced hikers there is the McDowell Mountains in North Scottsdale that has several difficult and strenuous hikes in Tom's Thumb and Bell Pass. Alternatively, you can hike the highest mountain in Arizona. At 12,600 feet Humphrey's Peak is a long and difficult hike.
Alternate Australian Constitutions
Between 2004 and 2009 this site, southsearepublic.org, was a constitutional blog based on scoop which focused on Australian and global constitutional issues.
One of the strongest aspects of it was the development of constitutions by those involved in the blog. These constitutions are the outcome:
I am an Australian living in the United States as a permanent resident.
I am a software developer by trade and mostly work in Java and jump between middleware and front end.
I originally worked in the New York area of the United States in telecommunications before moving to Washington DC and
working in a mix of telecommunications, energy and ITS. I started my own software company before heading out to
Arizona and working with Shutterfly. Since then I have joined a startup in the Phoenix area and am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I do a lot of photography which I post on this website, but also on flickr. I have a photo-journalistic website which lists
the modernist and contemporary restaurants in phoenix. I have a site on the Australian Flying Corps [AFC] which has been around since the 1990s and which I unfortunately
lost the .org URL to during a life event; however, it is under the www.australianflyingcorps.com URL now.
The AFC website has gone through several iterations since the 90s and the two most recent are Australian Flying Corps Archives(2004-2002) and
Australian Flying Corps Archives(2002-1999) which are good places to start.