Has the web just gotten even less anonymous?

According to this video (and this article), there are now services that can pinpoint exactly where a Google search is coming from, down to the exact address. While many of us have known that the search terms we enter in search engines aren’t exactly secret, there has always been the assumption (correctly?) that who is searching for something remains secret. Or at least wasn’t going to be shared with just anyone. Apparently, even that isn’t true anymore.

The ramifications are pretty significant. If you live in a house and not a big apartment building, your identity is pretty easy game with such a tool. Getting embarrassed by more or less targeted advertising (“We found from your searches that you are interested in naked teenagers wearing rabbit ears? Do WE have a deal for YOU!”) is almost the least worry (though if I got a call from the home business woman in the video clip, I’d be furious at having my privacy invaded, rather than show an interest in her stuff!) But there’s even worse possibilities – what if somebody finds our that you are looking for legal advice, or something similarly crucial to be kept private? Information about an illness, or depression for example?

At the moment, the searches seem to only allow tracking back from websites -> via search terms -> to the orignator of the query. But how long until the direction is reversible? Do we all have to become hackers and hide behind sophisticated software just to browse in peace?

Bush racking up the achievements for history

Bush will already be known throughout history as the “Terror President” (though of course his opponents may think of another type of terror than his supporters). Now he’s well on his way to also becoming known as the “Torture President”. In addition to all we already know (and all what even the White House doesn’t even bother denying anymore!) about official policy on torture, Bush is now set to use his executive powers to veto both House and Senate to prevent a bill that restricts the CIA from using torture to extract information.

There we are, in 2008. A president who will go against popular opinion, against his own legislative branch to protect the CIAs right to scar people bodily and mentally. Go, freedom and liberty!

PS: McCain was tortured in Vietnam. Any bets whether he will take a stance on this, or weasel his way out?

How to make America dance to your tune

“I think if we were to do what Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Murtha are suggesting, all we will do is validate the al-Qaeda strategy.”
—Dick Cheney

If you read the above closely, you get it. Al-Qaeda is now choosing US foreign policy. Well done, guys!

Failing badly: Why biometrics and datamining isn’t going to save us from terrorists.

For obvious reasons, security, especially airplane security, is back in everyone’s thoughts and we had a lively discussion here recently about what methods would work.

While editing the wikipedia article about El Al, I found this fascinating article in Atlantic Monthly (pdf) on the web, which, while from 2002, is extremely current. The subject of the article, Bruce Schneier, a computer crypto geek and security consultant, explains why most of the approaches to increased secuity since 9/11 fail badly – that is, once they fail, they fail catastrophically. One example: all the additional biometric identification proposed now for our ID cards would not have prevented Mohammed Atta from flying his plane into the twin towers; he and his compatriots used their real identities. Similar things hold true for the tech-intensive attempts to keep bombs and weapons out of the plane. Once the attacker is beyond the barrier with them, the system fails badly.

A system that fails well, he holds, is instead one that does not depend on the attacker being unaware of it. He cites the awareness that, nowadays, passengers would risk their own life to tackle a hijacker. Knowing about this fact does not help the attacker, but knowing that old-style scanner cannot detect liquid explosives almost did. Armored cockpit doors meanwhile are a classic example of compartmentalization—they contain the failure after it has occured. And as the article nicely points out, methods like containment do not cause the widespread damage to civil liberties the way the data gathering approach does.

The third element he notes is the human one, where we come back to how I found the article. El Al does not (only) protect its planes by bomb sniffers and background checks. They talk to you before you board their planes.

Doctor Ahmadinejad or how I learned to ignore the BOMB.

Iran has the bomb! No, it doesn’t (yet). But would the world be such a different place if it did?

I have wanted to write an entry on that for at least half a year, even before Iran’s current leader came into power. It was supposed to be an advocatus diaboli piece,  in which I would have asked ‘Iran gets the bomb – so what?’

Basically, I have been thinking about proliferation – and how atomic knowledge, after over 50 years, is becoming more and more widespread. In fact, most of the KNOWLEDGE of building a bomb is readily available to anyone, and many hundred thousands of scientists all over the world would be capable of building one, given free access to the materials.

So the logical end result (though not necessarily today, or in 50 years) is that anti-proliferation is going to fail. At some point, every substantial nation may well have nukes, just as any nation in earlier times tried to have battleships or jet fighters.

Yet obviously nuclear bombs change everything. They are kinda EXTREME weapons. Or do they change anything? Arch-enemies Pakistan and India had them for years and years now, without using them. And the cold war probably never turned hot because of nukes (not that it spared the Afghanis or the Vietnamese).

And then there is Iran, which I recently realized I was still very naive about (reading too much Newsweek and then believing you got the whole picture). Turns out that its current president Ahmadinejad was one of the leaders of the movement which sent thousands of children into the war against Iraq as human minefield detonators. Can we hope that such a person will use nukes responsibly (i.e. does NOT use them, except as a threat)?

The article about ‘Ahmadinejad’s Demons’ is here (TNR magazine, free registration required – but well worth it for all kinds of articles). Basically it talks about how he was one of the leaders of the ‘Basji’ movement, which then was a kind of big propaganda machine intended to secure cannon fodder for the front, and nowadays has become one of Ahmadinejad’s main power bases.

An little excerpt (though intentionally an extreme one, I’ll admit): “At one point, however, the earthly gore became a matter of concern. “In the past,” wrote the semi-official Iranian daily Ettelaat as the war raged on, “we had child-volunteers: 14-, 15-, and 16-year-olds. They went into the minefields. Their eyes saw nothing. Their ears heard nothing. And then, a few moments later, one saw clouds of dust. When the dust had settled again, there was nothing more to be seen of them. Somewhere, widely scattered in the landscape, there lay scraps of burnt flesh and pieces of bone.” Such scenes would henceforth be avoided, Ettelaat assured its readers. “Before entering the minefields, the children [now] wrap themselves in blankets and they roll on the ground, so that their body parts stay together after the explosion of the mines and one can carry them to the graves.””

And: “Ahmadinejad revels in his alliance with the Basiji. He regularly appears in public wearing a black-and-white Basij scarf, and, in his speeches, he routinely praises “Basij culture” and “Basij power,” with which he says “Iran today makes its presence felt on the international and diplomatic stage.” Ahmadinejad’s ascendance on the shoulders of the Basiji means that the Iranian Revolution, launched almost three decades ago, has entered a new and disturbing phase. A younger generation of Iranians, whose worldviews were forged in the atrocities of the Iran-Iraq War, have come to power, wielding a more fervently ideological approach to politics than their predecessors. The children of the Revolution are now its leaders.”

The children of the Revolution? Well those who survived by sending others ahead, I guess. That (even if it is quite cycnial) is my hope: that Ahmadinejad is smart enough NOT to use the bomb, even if he truly hates Israel, Iraq and the US so much.

So what do you people think? Can we have more nations join the nuclear club all the time? And can we do something about it anyway?

The middle-east conflict - We’ll take any excuse to avoid peace!

Now for a thematic which is pretty likely to get tempers up, but which nontheless never seems to show up here on SEB: Israel/Palestine.

In this article we see once again, that of both sides neither will restrain itself – and both (this time the Israelis) will take any excuse to continue fighting.

(Abstract: Israel cut off negotiations with the new Palestinian prime minister again, because militants ‘linked’ to his government killed several people).

I don’t claim to have the answer to this long fight, though I will admit that I slightly – oh so slightly – favor the Palestianians, for they have a valid case (a foreign-occupied country) whereas Israel… it’s difficult to say without seeming to defend the horror of a suicide attack. But if today, everyone ceased fighting, the Israelis would still be in the wrong (controlling and opressing the Palestinians) whereas if the fighting stopped, the only wrongs the Palestinians would have commited would be in the past.

And wasn’t it Martin Luther King who said that waiting and peaceful protest alone would never create change? Again, I am not supporting Palestinian suicide attacks against civillians, but I consider their struggle itself a valid fight.

I’m sure that some people will rip into these arguments, but I’d like to hear the opinions, especially of the regulars.

The only way I see is a full withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the West Bank. Then again, Israel has done it’s best to seed those areas with settlers, making this unlikely. I fully expect this war to go on 20-40 years longer. But Israel will lose it for simple demographic reasons.

The verdict is in! Gay marriage endangers the sacred union of straight couples!!!

Finally, there is proof that even west-coast liberals can’t deny. Just ignore the fact that it’s the federal government which doesn’t recognize your marriage license if you’re a straight couple which married during certain times this year in some of those places that decided to allow same-sex weddings.

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. – The Social Security Administration is rejecting marriage documents issued for heterosexual couples in four communities that performed weddings for gay couples earlier this year.

The agency is rejecting all marriage certificates issued in New Paltz, N.Y., after Feb. 27, when the town’s mayor began marrying gay couples, according to town officials.

Certificates issued during the brief periods when Asbury Park, N.J., Multnomah County, Ore., and Sandoval County, N.M., recognized gay marriages are also being rejected.

Susie Kilpatrick, 30, of New Paltz, said the local Social Security office told her that no marriage documents issued after Feb. 27 could be used to establish identity because of the gay marriages that took place there earlier this year. About 125 heterosexual couples have been married since then.

Kilpatrick said her marriage certificate was rejected when she went to get a new card earlier this month so she could take her husband’s name.

“What concerns me is that the certificate is the only way to prove that we’re married,” she told The New York Times for Sunday editions. “If something happens to us, or some other couple from New Paltz, we can’t prove we’re married. We would not be able to draw benefits.”


Build a better Bush

If you’ve always had the secret suspicion that your President is always making faces at you while you’re looking some other war (This is supposed to mean WAY. I mean it. There’s no WAGGING THE DOG HERE!) then you can finally get back at him.

It’s really surprising how friendly The Shrub looks with a goatee. More proof that he is evil, really wink

Is it just me, or has D&D become mainstream?

Heck, here goes another of my ‘I just read this interesting article on yahoo news, and I want to write a post about it’-moments.

Some of you may have noticed that D&D turned 30 this year (I was not aware that it had happened until Gamespy ran a special, but that’s what news sources are for, heh?). So how far has roleplaying come? Apparently enough for the whole article not having anything negative or cautionary in it.

Earlier times, you could always count on such mentions in news containing some warnings about the purported dangers of slipping too deep into the game/into occultism/into worshipping Cthullu or George Bush*. If they didn’t warn about it, they at least mentioned the controversy. Here we have a major news source which totally skips such talk for a positive view of the game that has brought many of us such fond moments.

Well, we do have come a long way from the time my own Grandma asked me about ‘those games’, and when I tried to explain to her that it was okay, she told me ‘Okay, but don’t play too much, okay?’.

*I was just joking about Cthullu. And nobody mention ‘Hastur’, please.


Reverse Discrimination, or why Bigots will always be Bigots

Reading yahoo news earlier, I came across an article about the so-called (or not) ‘African Town’ that is being planned in Detroit. You can read about it here. Using fund and loans by the city which would go only to black enterprises (how do you define black anyway – does the US still use racial typing in their ID’s – please enlighten me).

Now that is already troubling, I’d say. The fact that money is spent on certain groups to the exclusion of others on pure basis of race does not strike me as sensible. If you want to support poor blacks for example, a much fairer way would be to support poor people in general, not making the help dependant on the skin color of the one getting it.

What really shows where all this is going however, are the comments Claud Anderson, the black proponent of this scheme has given about the matter:

He does not use the term “African Town.” He says he is concerned only with the plight of “native black Americans,” or descendants of slaves. In fact, he says immigrants have taken resources away from black Detroit residents and contributed to black poverty.

Meaning: Give the money to US, not to them!

So really, is this guy an ***hole, or isn’t he?