Thursday, October 31, 2013

Computers suck - a prescient computer scientist named Joseph Weizenbaum critiques their so-called "intelligence" in 1985

  An amazing computer scientist named Joseph Weizenbaum turned against computers as a general force for good in the 1970's. He led an amazing life - he was a refugee from Nazi Germany as a child, and ended up at MIT. He did in 2008, unfortunately. An excerpt of an amazingly prescient interview from 1985:

Q: Do you think that the computer is creating a technical elite, reinforcing old power structures, or remaking American society?
A: I think the computer has from the beginning been a fundamentally conservative force. It has made possible the saving of institutions pretty much as they were, which otherwise might have had to be changed. For example, banking. Superficially, it looks as if banking has been revolutionized by the computer. But only very superficially. Consider that, say 20, 25 years ago, the banks were faced with the fact that the population was growing at a very rapid rate, many more checks would be written than before, and so on. Their response was to bring in the computer. By the way, I helped design the first computer banking system in the United States, for the Bank of America 25 years ago.
Now if it had not been for the computer, if the computer had not been invented, what would the banks have had to do? They might have had to decentralize, or they might have had to regionalize in some way. In other words, it might have been necessary to introduce a social invention, as opposed to the technical invention.
What the coming of the computer did, "just in time," was to make it unnecessary to create social inventions, to change the system in any way. So in that sense, the computer has acted as fundamentally a conservative force, a force which kept power or even solidified power where is already existed.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Website is Fixable, Obamacare Isn’t

This great article by Peter Schiff explains why "Obamacare" is a real failure, and will adversely affect both US healthcare, and government finances. In fact, it may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, and sends the US economy into recession.

This boondoggle is another reason I am neither a Democrat, nor a Republican. Both parties are in league with horrid special interests, with nothing but their profit maximization as a goal.

The problem with late-stage, pre-collapse democracy, is that the public good is completely ignored. Special interests spend a lot of time and energy gaming the system, and lobbying the government. The public, who have a lot to gain as a whole by opposing the acts of looting by special interests, are feeble in their opposition, because no single voter or family stands to lose that much from a single special interest's coercive goals. When you add up all the special favors doled out to corporations and special interests, however, it starts to really add up. In fact, such special interests and public corruption doomed the Roman Empire. Thus, we begin the slide into the dustbin of history.

Excerpt of Peter Schiff's article below. Click article to read entire essay.

Since Obamacare made its debut, discussions have focused on Ted Cruz' efforts to defund the law and the shockingly bad functionality of the Website itself. Fortunately for Obama, polling indicates that Senator Cruz has lost, at least for now, the battle for hearts and minds. The President has not been nearly so lucky on the technological front. If current trends continue, the rollout may go down as the worst major product launch in history. But given the government's enormous resources, it's safe to say that the site itself will ultimately be fixed. But when it is finally up and running, the plan's many deeper, and more intractable, flaws will come into focus. That's when the fun will really begin.
Put simply the program is built on a mountain of false assumptions and is covered by a terrain of unanticipated incentives. Any cleared-eyed observer should conclude that it is perfectly designed to raise the costs of care and wreck the federal budget. However, like just about every other complicated problem that bedevils the nation, the public has become far too caught up in the politics and has ignored the horrific details.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Our Invisible Revolution

by Chris Hedges

Excerpt below. Click for full article.

By the time ruling elites are openly defied, there has already been a nearly total loss of faith in the ideas—in our case free market capitalism and globalization—that sustain the structures of the ruling elites. And once enough people get it, a process that can take years, “the slow, quiet, and peaceful social evolution becomes quick, militant, and violent,” as Berkman wrote. “Evolution becomes revolution.”
This is where we are headed. I do not say this because I am a supporter of revolution. I am not. I prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy. I prefer a system in which our social institutions permit the citizenry to nonviolently dismiss those in authority. I prefer a system in which institutions are independent and not captive to corporate power. But we do not live in such a system. Revolt is the only option left. Ruling elites, once the ideas that justify their existence are dead, resort to force. It is their final clutch at power. If a nonviolent popular movement is able to ideologically disarm the bureaucrats, civil servants and police—to get them, in essence, to defect—nonviolent revolution is possible. But if the state can organize effective and prolonged violence against dissent, it spawns reactive revolutionary violence, or what the state calls terrorism. Violent revolutions usually give rise to revolutionaries as ruthless as their adversaries. “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote. “And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

The End of Hypocrisy: American Foreign Policy in the Age of Leaks

Must read, if you have a subscription. Even the introduction, though, is revealing as to why US officials are really so angry about Wikileaks, Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden:

The End of Hypocrisy

American Foreign Policy in the Age of Leaks
Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore
HENRY FARRELL is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @henryfarrell [1]. MARTHA FINNEMORE is University Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.The U.S. government seems outraged that people are leaking classified materials about its less attractive behavior. It certainly acts that way: three years ago, after Chelsea Manning, an army private then known as Bradley Manning, turned over hundreds of thousands of classified cables to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, U.S. authorities imprisoned the soldier under conditions that the UN special rapporteur on torture deemed cruel and inhumane. The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, appearing on Meet the Press shortly thereafter, called WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, “a high-tech terrorist.”
More recently, following the disclosures about U.S. spying programs by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency analyst, U.S. officials spent a great deal of diplomatic capital trying to convince other countries to deny Snowden refuge. And U.S. President Barack Obama canceled a long-anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he refused to comply.
Despite such efforts, however, the U.S. establishment has often struggled to explain exactly why these leakers pose such an enormous threat. Indeed, nothing in the Manning and Snowden leaks should have shocked those who were paying attention. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who dissented from the WikiLeaks panic, suggested as much when he told reporters in 2010 that the leaked information had had only a “fairly modest” impact and had not compromised intelligence sources or methods. Snowden has most certainly compromised sources and methods, but he has revealed nothing that was really unexpected. Before his disclosures, most experts already assumed that the United States conducted cyberattacks against China, bugged European institutions, and monitored global Internet communications. Even his most explosive revelation -- that the United States and the United Kingdom have compromised key communications software and encryption systems designed to protect online privacy and security -- merely confirmed what knowledgeable observers have long suspected.
The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. Their danger lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. When these deeds turn out to clash wit...

Link to article.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Fascism comes from the center: not the left or the right. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible. See this video.

 I have to say that the closing of public parks and memorials by the Obama administration is vile nonsense. More park employees are required to keep the public out than would be required to allow access.

Both political parties have become enamored of authoritarianism and the abuse of power.

This young man's defiance should be inspirational whatever your party affiliation is:

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Folly of Empire

The final days of empire give ample employment and power to the feckless, the insane and the idiotic. These politicians and court propagandists, hired to be the public faces on the sinking ship, mask the real work of the crew, which is systematically robbing the passengers as the vessel goes down. The mandarins of power stand in the wheelhouse barking ridiculous orders and seeing how fast they can gun the engines. They fight like children over the ship’s wheel as the vessel heads full speed into a giant ice field. They wander the decks giving pompous speeches. They shout that the SS America is the greatest ship ever built. They insist that it has the most advanced technology and embodies the highest virtues. And then, with abrupt and unexpected fury, down we will go into the frigid waters.

Read the rest of Chris Hedges' essay.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Returning to the 'Real'

Nice essay from James Howard Kunstler:

The virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic 

A paradox of life in these times is the inverse relationship between technological wizardry and the satisfactions of being a live organism in a real place (i.e., on the planet Earth).  It probably boils down to a proposition that the American public is not ready to entertain: that the virtual is not an adequate substitute for the authentic. Eventually it will be a hard lesson to learn.

Poor Substitutes

Ours has been an age of producing ersatz substitutes for just about everything. We call the housing subdivisions slapped up by the production builders “communities” when they are just cartoon simulacrums of a community. The houses within them are called “homes” in order to confer emotional allegiance that they have not earned by being things worthy of our affection in places worth caring about.
The manufactured products we call “food” are visibly poisoning the public in epidemics of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. And the manner in which this “food” is dispensed to solitary “consumers” — from drive-in-windows, microwave ovens, and convenience store racks — has drained all nurturing social ceremony from the act of eating as surely as it has drained out all the nutrition.
Having scores of “friends” on Facebook is not about personal association but is rather a marketing racket for a company set up to be an advertising enterprise.