February 23, 2011

Sock Puppets, Astroturf, and Persona Management Software

When Nancy Pelosi made her comment about "astroturf" back in spring of 2009 it offended me but did not surprise me in the least. After all, long before 9/11 the DNC paid for websites which existed for no other purpose than to compare patriotic Americans with Nazis. Also, anyone the least bit familiar with the concept of "server load testing" will know how easy it is to create as many "sock puppets" as they feel they need and then direct those sock puppets to post to any server with an IP address. Overloading a Usenet newsgroup or political forum with multiple virtual users all professing to believe the same thing was one of the very first techniques hackers developed back in the earliest days of BBS forums and dial-up modems.

This is old news. A quick search at Sourceforge.net reveals over four hundred Open Source programs for creating, managing, or otherwise manipulating "virtual users". Every modern version of windows allows you to open multiple "virtual desktops" so if your computer has enough memory and a fast enough processor, there is nothing stopping anyone with a copy of Windows XP or later to have three or four completely different social networking accounts open all at the same time, each with a unique identity. Using Macintosh's Leopard software or Linux it is even easier. Under Linux and X-Windows the only thing limiting the number of unique identities a single person can run simultaneously is their ability to tolerate system slowdown. There is no numeric upper limit, making it theoretically possible for one person to pretend to be everyone in the entire world all at the same time.

Yes, every social network in cyberspace is riddled with fake accounts. No, this is not a problem, nor is it some kind of evil PR campaign. It's just the way it is, the way it has always been, and the way it will always be. So as the cry against "fake accounts" escalates over the next few weeks and people clamor for some defense against "fake internet users" manipulating the political process please keep in mind that this is not a new phenomenon at all. This kind deception has been with us from the very beginning and will be with us until the very end. Regulating it through net neutrality or some other government intervention will only make the astroturf harder to distinguish from the genuine grassroots outcry by passionate supporters of all stripes.

No enemies, only necessities

Cincinnati.com: Bigger Union Protest Expected on Tuesday
Channel 9 News: Unions Rally in Colorado

Rancor is running at all-time high. Partisan politics has become a raging river of boiling anger with battle lines drawn on a basis that is supposedly fiscal but seems to shift with every changing wind.

Reality check time: Total debt per U.S. family is $682,638 and rising steadily

While it is entirely true that around 5% of America's citizens control around 80% of the nation's wealth, even if we combine all of that five percent's total assets and confiscate everything they own it will not be enough to pay off the interest on our national debt, let alone the principal. So we can stop assuming that by somehow raising taxes on the rich we will pay off our debt and live happily ever after.

The rich are not the enemy.
The unions are not the enemy.
The political class is not the enemy.
And the working class is not the enemy, either.

The astronomic debt that we as a nation have spent a century building is the real enemy. If we allow ourselves to keep this insanity going we won't have to worry about Al Qaeda or China, or anyone else, we will implode.

So the unions can stop blaming the rich and the rest of us can stop blaming the unions. With all due apology, and I am truly sorry, union workers in all branches of government are going to have to take steep reductions in pay and benefits. Not only will they have to take reductions in their livelihood, many of them will have to be fired, retired, or otherwise eliminated from the payroll. I suppose if somebody wants to work for free we should allow them to, but I suspect that will be extraordinarily rare.

We have no choice people. We are drowning in debt. Government spending must be halved and it might even have to be cut 60 or 70 percent. How to do that is the responsibility of our elected officials. I can promise you this much, everyone I vote for in every election from now until the day I die will be someone who promises to cut government spending no matter who it hurts.

February 20, 2011

Corruption at the very top?

According to AP Texas News, a plane owned by a financial supporter of Hilary Clinton and President Obama's appointee to the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiation has been impounded in Congo near the eastern border with Rwanda. The man who owns the plane also owns the company that leased the plane for this trip and his brother was the plane's pilot. The Congolese government accuses the people on board the plane of attempting to illegally remove $20 million in gold from their nation along with several million in cash.

Kase Lawal owns both the plane and the company that leased it. His brother Mickey Lawal and a diamond merchant from Houston named Edward St. Mary were onboard the plane. Both of these men were active fundraisers for Hilary Clinton during her presidential campaign and both are described as "close family friends" of the Clintons. Although there does not seem to be any direct financial profit for the Clintons or Pres. Obama, it is still curious that their close friends would be involved. According to the AP Texas article, the two are claiming that a Kenyan company (yes, that's right, Kenya is the country Pres. Obama's father is from) named Vadagama had attempted to defraud them by selling them the gold then moving it secretly to the Congo. When the two took action against Vadagama, it revealed the location of the gold and they went there to pick it up.

So what is going on here? Is this just a couple of rich fools who fell for a version of the ancient "Nigerian scheme"? Does this connect in anyway whatsoever with any plans being formulated by Pres. Obama or Hilary Clinton for their campaigns in 2012? Is this an example of high level corruption or good old-fashioned foolishness? The timing of this little misadventure might be purely coincidental, or this might be one small piece of a much larger strategy by a close-knit economic elite to keep Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in positions of power so that they can more easily manipulate the global market for their own selfish gain.

Someone, perhaps the Congolese, Nigerian, and Kenyan governments or perhaps Interpol itself, needs to conduct a careful investigation into this matter. If it does connect directly back to Pres. Obama and Sec. Clinton, then perhaps even the F.B.I. needs to get involved so that any relevant criminal charges can be brought against them. No one is above the law in today's world. Neither the President of the United States nor a rich oil man born in Nigeria with ties to the President's ancestoral homeland of Kenya have the legal right to defraud a national government and use the wealth gained from that fraud to manipulate politics for their own benefit.

Is this World War Three?

Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya, and even Kuwait have all been rocked with protests since the beginning of the year. In that same time period dozens have died in ongoing drug cartel violence in Mexico. And just in the past few days the streets of Madison, Wisconsin were the location for a face-off between pro-union and pro-austerity demonstrators, including several doctors who violated the conditions of their medical licenses by providing union protestors with written excuses to save them from being disciplined at work.

I don't know if anyone has yet realized the full implications of all this chaos. I don't know if anyone can realize it. The unionized teachers and the oppressive dictators both represent an ideology based on the assumption that people are too stupid, too evil, and too untrustworthy to rule their own lives. The protestors in the streets of Middle Eastern cities, the current governor of Wisconsin, and even the Tea Party supporters who showed up in Madison yesterday, are all fighting for smaller, less controlling, less expansive government. They are fighting to destroy the cultural assumption that social stability depends upon a strong, dictatorial leadership and a dependent "mass" that relies on the benevolence of their leaders.

Granted, there is a certain amount of oversimplification in this interpretation of recent events. After all, exactly how the shake-up in the Middle East will work out is still up for grabs. It is entirely possible that all of the countries involved will wind up with more oppressive governments than they had before. It is also true that the teachers of Wisconsin don't believe their government is out of money, or even if it is, they don't understand why they have to foot the bill for it. The doctors who are providing illegal written excuses for them are doing so because they also don't believe the government is going broke. Personally, I believe it is, which means that from my frame of reference the teachers and doctors are both delusional.

And then there is Mexico. An oppressive, corrupt government is struggling to end violence created by a gang war between half a dozen different cartels. Some of these gangs have more money and better hardware than the national army does! The gangs and the government of Mexico have something in common, however. Both of them are collectivist organizations that believe their members are inherently entitled to greater access to resources than the rest of the Mexican population. They are both more than happy to see Mexico's impoverished and unemployed social class migrate north into the United States while the two of them shoot it out for domination of the country.

When watching tens of thousands demostrate against entrenched dictators in the Middle East while the America people are torn between unionized big government proponents and grassroots small government proponents, I cannot help but wonder at the parallels. In both cases one side of the debate favors a powerful but benevolent tyranny while the other favors minimal government involvement in daily life and greater freedom for the individual.

Back in July I predicted World War Three by fall, spring at the latest. And now here we are, in the midst of the most radical winter of discontent known to history. Chaos is everywhere and in almost every case, collectivism and freedom are battling one another for domination of the human imagination. Is this World War Three? Are we fighting for freedom from tyranny and social engineering? Is this the new face of modern war? Is this a global 1776 with people everywhere struggling to throw off the chains of tyranny and breathe free?

I hope and pray it is! And I hope it succeeds!

Or is it all something else? Is this perhaps an illusion? Is it possible that conspiracy theorists are right and the end result will not be more freedom, but less? Have we all been manipulated by media and entertainment into creating so much chaos that a global dictatorship more oppressive than anything we have ever known can rise to power?

Sadly, there is no way to judge ahead of time what the final product of all this chaos will be. I am hoping for an end to tyranny leading to the establishment of genuine freedom and a moral society. Unfortunately, I have a hard time believing in a utopia of any kind. So I wait, and watch, and wonder. Will a new kind of global society emerge or is all of this merely setting the stage for some kind of biblical armageddon?

February 12, 2011

Raymond Davis, Black Ops, and the Inherent Right to Self-Defense

AP News: Pakistani Police: U.S. Man Committed 'Murder'
Fox News: Pakistani Police: U.S. Man Committed 'Murder'
EU Times: CIA Spy Captured Giving Nuclear Bomb to Terrorists

The first link is the article as it appears at the AP website and presumably as it is received by news agencies around the world. The second is the Fox News presentation of the same article with some minor changes performed by their editorial staff. These changes are an excellent demonstration of how "editorial slant" is applied by different news agencies. Fox removed the mention of Islamist protestors demanding that Davis be hanged, but added a couple extra sentences about his past, quite important ones actually. And then there is the EU Times version of the same story given a flare and expanse worthy of a bestselling novel! Clearly the EU Times takes a very creative approach to "editorial slant".

Ignoring the EU Times report and just going from the basic AP article a couple of things jump to the forefront for me. First of all is the insistence by both the American embassy and Raymond Davis himself that he was being robbed at gunpoint and acted in self-defense. It doesn't worry me in the least that the Pakistani police determined the "robbers" had not chambered a round in preparation to fire, nor does it bother me that Raymond Davis probably shot one of the men while he was fleeing. It does worry me that the embassy has not provided details about exactly what tasks a private security consultant with a background in special forces and experience in a hotbed of East-West tension performed in his official capacity. The accusation that the two "robbers" were actually ISI agents assigned to follow him is curious, but not surprising given his history. If I went to Pakistan the ISI would probably assign someone to follow me and my past is nowhere near as colorful as that of Raymond Davis.

Black Ops are a reality of our world and they will remain so. It does not matter how peaceful the world becomes, Black Ops will always be part and parcel of international relations. There are simply some tasks that must be accomplished in secret, behind closed doors and far from official view. The President himself does not know the full extent of these operations because he cannot. They are too extensive and widespread for any one person to completely grasp. And yes, once in awhile they get out of hand. That is the risk a nation takes when they send men and women so deep into the shadows that they themselves sometimes cannot remember which side they are supposed to be defending. The question, of course, is whether or not something of that nature happened in Lahore, Pakistan on January 27th. Personally, I am inclined to believe not. The incident has become far too public and far too politicized. If this had been a genuine Black Op that went sour no one would know it had ever happened. Nations are not in the habit of airing their dirty laundry to the Associated Press. No, I am inclined to believe that no matter what his official capacity might have been, in this case Raymond Davis was simply a robbery victim with the training and capacity to take matters into his own hands and so he did.

Both the AP and Fox articles mention that rumors have been flying in Pakistan about armed American Black Ops soldiers wandering the streets in plain clothes. Well, let me put those rumors to rest. I am one hundred percent certain those rumors are true and I am equally certain that Raymond Davis was indeed one of those "armed American mercenaries roaming the country". Thugs and criminals of Pakistan need to be aware that attempting to deprive a well-dressed lone American of his pocket change at gunpoint could very well result in a dead thug. By the same token, American thugs and criminals need to keep in mind that well-dressed foreigners in bad neighborhoods in American cities might turn out to be well-heeled foreign operatives doing the same kind of work over here. It happens every single day and it is one of those things that makes crime such a high-risk occupation. You can never be quite sure who it is you're doing business with! The best way to avoid it is to choose a safer line of work, like parole officer, or maybe high school teacher.

This story also brings to light the inherent right to self-defense that every individual possesses from birth. Crooks and cops, spies and school teachers all have the right to defend their own lives. Regardless of whether this was a Black Op gone bad or a simple attempted robbery, everyone involved had the right to defend themselves. Unfortunately, criminals have this right just the same as you or I. On the plus side for you and I, we are far more likely to have the training and skill necessary to be the one who walks away. Criminals generally have neither the time nor inclination to learn how to use their weapons properly. As probably happened here, the criminal fully expects to pull a gun and have the whole world bow down in submission at their awesome armament. It is the right, no, it is the duty of every honest citizen to prove that assumption false.

The question still arises, in this case did the good guy walk away from the armed confrontation or fall to a hail of copper-jacketed 9mm slugs? There is no way for me to judge this based on the limited information available to me. I would hope that the good guy won and the two men (boys?) on the motorcycle were indeed nothing more than desperate individuals with no legitimate way to make a living. The alternative would be too close to the EU Times for comfort.

February 06, 2011

Welcome to the future!

My fascination with androids started in junior high school when I read Isaac Asimov's "I, Robot". Then a few years later "The Terminator" came along and suddenly robots were the bad guys. Here we are almost four decades later and for some reason there are more people in today's world who fear robots than those who embrace them, especially in America. So I was not the least bit surprised when RoboEarth starting showing up in scattered blog posts with wild rantings about Skynet and the end of the world. Well, I have bad news for the technophobes, the future is here and Skynet is already a reality. Now that wireless internet connections require nothing more than a circuit board smaller than a human thumb, it is only a matter of time before everything in our house is directly connected to cyberspace.

Personally, I don't fear Skynet or anything like it. True, it is always a possibility, but anything humanity can create must also incorporate as many of our weaknesses as it does our strengths. Without humans to maintain components that burn out, burn up, and oxidize, a global brain would sooner or later fail. Even a self-aware Skynet could not risk destroying the humanity it depends upon to survive.

On the other hand, there is one thing that bothers me. All of the most innovative robotics companies are in Asia! Kokoro Dreams, for example, is in Japan. They make everything from toys to full-size dinosaurs. Another Japanese company making robots that will eventually be aimed at the consumer market is Honda with their ASIMO robot. ASIMO performs at events ranging from weddings to trade shows, thrilling audiences from all walks of life. Yamaha's HRP-4C robotic girl both sings and dances, opening the way for a near-future in which a robots beats out human competitors for Golden Globes and Oscars. Rather than "The Terminator", it seems to me that "Bicentennial Man" might be right around the corner. Better yet, perhaps even "Futureworld". After all, when it comes right down to it, all it will take is for some bright entrepreneur to combine an Actroid-F with a Real Doll and "presto!" Mustang Ranch will have a new option for their already exhaustive menu of adult pleasures.

I know there are a lot of people out there who are completely repulsed by the idea of sexbots and android prostitutes. Keep in mind that Real Doll has already sold over 10,000 silicone love dolls to customers from all over the world. Although their dolls are beautiful, they don't interact in any meaningful way. Once some whizkid figures out that wireless datalinks mean the hardware and software to control interactivity can be downloaded to a mainframe and RoboEarth can be used to link an entire amusement park of robotic entertainers together in a real-time feedback loop that prioritizes customer desires, all it will take is a group of venture capitalists with deep pockets to build Futureworld followed by a top-flight marketing campaign to get the word out.

The future is here. All the pieces are now in place. Sooner or later somebody will secure the funding and put them all together. I don't know if culturally we are ready for a Westworld/Futureworld amusement park or not. I do know that there are almost seven billion people on planet Earth. Around a billion, maybe two billion, have the resources and the free time to indulge such a park once someone builds it. Even if only one percent of those who could afford such an extravagance actually partake in it, the investors will make their money back tenfold, maybe a hundredfold.

There are, of course, a couple of concerns. Perhaps most important of all is that the rich keep getting richer while the poor keep getting poorer. The economic gap between the top and bottom one percent of the world's people is more vast now than it has ever been and it is expanding expotentially every year. Social unrest created by this gap has already plunged a dozen nations into chaos with "people power" movements shattering the hold of nations as different in character and composition as the old Soviet Union and the deeply entrenched Marcos regime in the Phillipines. Just in the past few weeks Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt have all been rocked with grassroots revolts against oppressive governments. Nations like Saudi Arabia and Myanmar have existed on the brink of similar upheaval for decades, just waiting for the right spark to set them off.

How will all this social upheaval play out as the next decade unfolds? Will capitalism and free trade expand until they truly engulf the world or will jealousy and international rivalry shut down the success that has inspired these movements? Will groups like the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda plunge half the world into a new dark age of religious fundamentalism? Will adultery be a stoning offense in some of the richest nations on the planet while public executions and honor killings become a daily occurence in countries fueled by oil wealth? Whose moral and ethical values will control global culture ten years from now? What about twenty years from now? Will genuine individual freedom be the norm with some people indulging their wildest fantasies while others live austere lives of self-discipline and denial of earthly pleasures and most of us tread a path somewhere in between?

I have a fairly strict personal value system. If a corporation arises that builds a Futureworld-style amusement experience I probably would not patronize it. Unless, of course, they did it right with a variety of experiences available from simple robot servants for those of us who don't need a sex slave to every whim imaginable for those who do. Such a park might tempt me to part with my hard-earned dollars. If I can have something similar to Disneyland while someone else can venture into a robotic Mustang Ranch and neither of us is allowed to impose on the other then an astute park creator could maximize their potential customer base. After all, a truly free market means that every possible non-destructive choice is available provided a price that be set to meet the costs of that experience while allowing a reasonable profit for the provider.

I, personally, advocate maximum individual freedoms. I want our global culture to be a place where religious fundamentalism and wild materialism live side by side in peace and acceptance. I do not want to see the world fall into either a Marxist utopia, an atheist paradise, or a theocracy with roots deep in Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. No, quite the opposite. I want to see a global community where all these worldviews live together, work together, and play together in tolerance and understanding. Our future needs to be a place where children grow up to be adults who make their own decisions based on both the values their parents teach them and the values they develop on their own.

If we can survive the next decade that is. And in all honesty, I am not optimistic.

February 04, 2011

Genuine Tolerance

I have a cousin who is gay. When I was in the Army there was a member of our unit who was gay and on many occasions I defended him against cruelty and homophobia. I still believe homosexuality is a sin. For some reason people cannot understand how I can defend the rights of homosexuals to their lifestyle while pointing out that according to the Bible, it is a sin. Many people feel I am contradicting myself and betraying an internal ambivalence toward homosexuals. I can deny it, of course, but if you are predisposed to believe I am being inconsistent then you will say I am lying and we will be at a complete impasse.

Believe it or not, it is not Christians who give me the most grief over my defense of any individual homosexual's right to their lifestyle. It is atheists and homosexual activists who condemn my blog posts, pour out profanity on my YouTube channel, and rail against me in Facebook discussions. I am often shocked at some of the feedback I get for stating what seems to me patently obvious. It got so bad on my YouTube channel that I finally had to block comments entirely on my videos. The anger, the vitriol, the violent threats against my person by people who don't even know where I live were just too much for me to bother dealing with. And this was from YouTube's most dedicated self-proclaimed liberals and progressives! I don't understand. I thought liberal progressivism was supposed to be open-minded and tolerant?

For my part, I believe every individual is entitled to choose their own lifestyle according to their own internal priorities. I honestly do not have a problem with any individual who is homosexual, communist, a muslim, a jew, a christian fundamentalist, a neo-nazi, a traditional nazi, a progressive, a recipient of transgender surgery, a transvestite, or whatever. As long as you are not behaving violently toward those who disagree with you I don't care what you believe, why you believe it, or how you live your life. There are certainly some of you I don't prefer to have for neighbors, but am I not entitled to feel this way?

On the other hand, if you seek to legislate your chosen belief system as standard cultural practice then I will fight against you with everything I can muster. I will not sit back quietly and let my country be transformed into a Christian theocracy, an Islamic caliphate, a Communist paradise, or a Socialist utopia. I will not let you force a pro-homosexual propaganda campaign into kindergartens, discussions of sodomy into elementary schools, or the benefits of transgender surgery into high schools. What you do with your private life is your freedom but that does not mean the rest of the world must copy you, adore you, admire you, or envy you. If you live in a way that society does not accept then I will defend your right to live that way but I will not help you campaign to make your choices part and parcel of the prevailing culture. You are not entitled to force the world to accept you even as the world at large is not entitled to condemn you. Tolerance works both ways. If you want others to be tolerant of your lifestyle then you must be tolerant of theirs, even if they hate yours.

Society, however, must have laws. The purpose of those laws is to help us live together in peace even when we disagree. Violence, for example, is something that society must legislate against. Laws that set out precise penalties for rape, murder, assault, and intimidation are good laws that must be enforced equally and fairly. Tagging on different penalties according to the nature of the victim, however, is not acceptable. When victims are classified rather than criminals we immediately create privileged and protected social classes and by doing so the legal system itself becomes invalid, opening the door to anarchy. Tacking on five or ten years to an assault conviction because the victim happens to be a child, a woman, a homosexual, a jew, a muslim, or whatever creates just such a privileged class. The only thing such laws accomplish is to create a non-protected pariah class. For some reason every day that goes by the modern pariah class becomes more clearly identified as white, male, Christian, American. This is not tolerance, nor it is diversity. It is, instead, tyranny.

According to an archived article at the New York Times, at a law enforcement convention in Tennessee in 1995 "Federal Nigger Hunting Licenses" and other racist paraphernalia were sold openly and purchased eagerly by enthusiastic attendees. Obviously, this is the opposite of tolerance. When high school students were sent home from school last year for wearing shirts decorated with American flags on Cinco de Mayo, it was exactly the same kind of intolerance! In both cases open, honest debate is buried beneath intimidation and that cannot be allowed in a free society.

No one needs to agree with my lifestyle, not even my wife and children (although it certainly helps when they do!). I don't have to agree with your lifestyle in order to agree with your right to live that way. There are only two things I cannot and will not tolerate: violence in any situation other than self-defense against a physical attack and intolerance toward my beliefs or the beliefs of people around me. Both of these stem from the same set of assumptions, a set of assumptions I have been fighting against my entire life. To be more precise, I have always and will always oppose the idea that any one group of people is for some reason inherently superior to the rest of us and therefore deserving of the authority to order the rest of us to conform to their value system. That is a right no one possesses. Not me, not my critics, not some Iman, not the Pope, not a pastor, not a lawyer, and no politician. No one alive has the right to demand conformity to their individual or group value system.

You cannot force me to believe in Global Warming, Islam, or Old Testament dietary laws, nor can you force me to believe that homosexuality is just as natural and normal as heterosexuality. Nor am I entitled to force my beliefs on you. We can certainly discuss them, we can debate the merits of our opposing value systems and we can do our best to sell one another on our chosen values, but coercion is not an acceptable option. If you use profanity and insults to condemn my beliefs then do not be surprised when I thrown profanity and insults right back at you. If you attempt to twist my arm I will break free and twist yours completely out of joint. If you pull a gun, throw a rock, or swing a punch, I will avoid your attack and return it tenfold. Conversely, if I instigate violence, you certainly have every right to return my violence tenfold.

However, that does not justify terrorism, and it does not justify undeclared war between nations. America had every right to bring down the Taliban and if possible, exterminate them utterly. America had no right to invade Iraq. There may or may not have been some perceived overriding political need, but that is not the same as an individual or national right. Even if Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction, America would not have been justified in invading Iraq until those weapons were used against her or one of her allies.

In Egypt yesterday, the protests turned violent. Pro-Mubarak "protesters" threw rocks and molotov cocktails at the ranks of anti-Mubarak protesters. A large group of Mubarak supporters even rode horses and camels into the anti-Mubarak ranks swinging clubs and swords. Naturally the anti-Mubarak protesters responded with violence of their own and now hundreds of people (and possibly uncounted tens of thousands) have been injured. Some have died. This is not the way to build a free republic. This kind of violence will lead to someone like the Muslim Brotherhood seizing power and that would be bad for the entire world.

That is the real problem with violent solutions. Legitimate self-defense is one thing, unprovoked violence something altogether different. If no one has physically attacked you then you do not have the right to use violence against them. If you do, they will respond, and then it becomes a contest of the strongest. Unfortunately, very seldom in history do the strongest among us turn to be the most ethical leaders. More often than not when someone takes control of a nation through violence they turn out to be despotic and tyrannical. Under a tyrant, everyone suffers.