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Quote for the Moment

So this is a critical moment. We must do all we can to limit the civilizational fallout from this bombing. But this is not going to be easy. Why? Because unlike after 9/11, there is no obvious, easy target to retaliate against for bombings like those in London. There are no obvious terrorist headquarters and training camps in Afghanistan that we can hit with cruise missiles. The Al Qaeda threat has metastasized and become franchised. It is no longer vertical, something that we can punch in the face. It is now horizontal, flat and widely distributed, operating through the Internet and tiny cells.

Because there is no obvious target to retaliate against, and because there are not enough police to police every opening in an open society, either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists - if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings - or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way - by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent.

And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst. If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village.

What do I mean? I mean that the greatest restraint on human behavior is never a policeman or a border guard. The greatest restraint on human behavior is what a culture and a religion deem shameful. It is what the village and its religious and political elders say is wrong or not allowed. Many people said Palestinian suicide bombing was the spontaneous reaction of frustrated Palestinian youth. But when Palestinians decided that it was in their interest to have a cease-fire with Israel, those bombings stopped cold. The village said enough was enough.

~ excerpt from â??If It's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solutionâ? by Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, July 8, 2005

Keeping America Safe From British Novelists

There's a perfectly good explanation for why US Customs refused Ian MacEwan entry to the country. It wasn't because he was dangerous; nor was it because he was deemed to pose some kind of terror threat. Nor was it because someone thought he might be a journalist instead of a tourist. It apparently wasn't even because he disagrees with US climate policy and doesn't mind saying so in public.

It was because he was going to make too much money. It seems the honoraria for his series of Seattle-area speaking ingagements totaled a wee bit too much. So he needed to have a work visa, not a tourist visa.

So they stamped his passport "Refused Entry." "Once that stamp gets in a passport, it's difficult to get it out," said Britain's Consul General for Vancouver, James Rawlinson. "The process of reversing that is not merely a matter of crossing that out. Reversing that requires referrals to Washington, D.C., and the headquarters of the State Department and Homeland Security. It gets rather heavy."

Oh, well -- at least when you're a well-known novelist like Ian McEwan, people [who matter] might miss you.

[via Bruce Sterling's Viridian Note 00440]

No Papers, State To State

Capt. Vasili Borodin: I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck... maybe even a "recreational vehicle." And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?
Captain Ramius: I suppose.
Capt. Vasili Borodin: No papers?
Captain Ramius: No papers, state to state.
[Hunt for Red October]

As a boy, during the Cold War (remember the Cold War?), one of the big filmic signifiers that you Weren't In America Anymore was an official looking character asking for your "papers": Those mysterious documents that people had to carry in those grim gray communiss countries behind the iron/bamboo curtain. They had papers; we had "freedom."

So, sometime soon, we'll all be carrying "real" IDs: No more slipping under the radar, no more living in the underworld. Unless you're "16 and SIN-Less", in which case you'll be invisible.

And so wouldn't be missed.

Toothsome Ironism

Folks sure do some funny things to make other folks think they're hip.

"Toothing" seems to have been a hoax. At least, that's what everybody's stumbling over their shoelaces to declaim. ("Dogging", though -- which differs from toothing in kind only insofar as it doesn't have a "fake" name -- is apparently real. Unless Ste Curran and Simon Byron are going to claim credit for that, too. "Yes, you see, all hedonism is a great hoax. Nobody actually has anonymous or exhibitionist sex. We made that up and you're all rubbish for thinking otherwise.")

What interests me is not the feeding-frenzy around the original "hoax" so much as the feeding-frenzy around its exposure, as people and institutions race to minimize the damage to their egos.

I use scare-quotes on "hoax" because, while I don't doubt the story about how the term came to be, I also don't doubt that people do it. Because, of course, the fact that somebody made it up has more or less nothing to do with whether people actually did it -- after, or even before. But it's officially a hoax, now; ergo, anyone who "believes" it ever happened is a fool. (And, apparently, anyone who dares notice that the ironists behind are prancing about naked is twice the fool. C'est la vie.)

There are some interesting things that often (if not usually) happen during the coarse of a big hoax:

  • The hoaxers have a clever idea that they think is sufficiently outrageous that people ought not believe it. Anyone who did, would be a fool, and therefore would merit ridicule.
  • In a successful hoax, the pranksters then expend no small effort actively duping at least a few people into going along. Documentation of this will later be used to beef up their credentials as Clever Blokes©.
  • People start actually doing the hoaxed thing -- or treat the hoax as sufficiently real that they start re-enacting it. (Making it, like, not fake, eh?)
  • The hoaxer claims credit, usually implying that all the buzz after the fact was entirely totally his doing, and therefore totally fake. (This is done, of course, to make the hoaxer feel important.)
  • The media outlets and members of the public who got taken in on the original hoax stumble all over themselves in the rush to discredit any reports of the hoax-activity. (This is done, of course, to alleviate the sense of foolishness that comes of being "taken in.")

I personally never "bit" on toothing in the sense of blogging about it or expressing moral outrage, etc. That's not becuase I immediately recognized how improbable it was -- quite the opposite. It was because I personally never found it that implausible. Aside from the fact that bluetooth messaging has had well-documented and unexpected use in ad hoc social networking [pdf], I've seen enough amateur hedonists casting about aimlessly in the "culture of death" that toothing doesn't seem that improbable to me -- certainly not in the realm of "throwing a brick at the dancefloor with a love letter attached, and hoping that the person it hits will agree to sleep with you."

I always reckoned the success rates for toothing to be in territory that a party-bar wingman (among the most troublesome of amateur hedonists) could wrap his sodden cognition around: "One in thirty, those are pretty good odds, bra!" Toothing would have poorer odds than one in thirty, to be sure; but the effort involved is less, too. Technology decreases the marginal cost. And as toothing became more "popular" (i.e., the "hoax" spread more widely), a greater proportion of amateur hedonists would leave their bluetooth open, and there'd be a substantial likelihood that toothing would actually work.

And in certain settings, it would most likely work really well. Think bathhouses....

So for me, what's really interesting is that in buying into the "toothing is a hoax" meme -- in accepting that the idea of anonymous sex mediated by text messaging was only ever always merely a hoax cooked up by a couple of bored wankers -- we miss the opportunity to learn whether the activities described as "toothing" ever actually happened. That would be kind of fascinating: Where? How frequently? What were its etiquettes? What did it do to the spread of STDs?

I expect that we would find it's done in dark places with loud music and lots of intoxicants, by people who don't then go home and blog about it. Making it part of that world outside that hip young blogospherians like Byron and Curran often seem ill-acquainted with.

Plogs Will Set Us Free

The Happy Tutor points to jonh @ Wirearchy offering thoughts on project blogging ("plogging" [daypop | google | teoma]).

jonh gets part of the way -- the same part of the way that Jeffersonian-tinged net.libertarians usually get: The tech has the power; the tech will cause changes that can cause changes.

I'll bet that in about five years ... by 2010 ... the use of blogs in the workplace will be widespread. This will require the continued spread of "transparency" in the dynamics of networked organizations, and so will continue to create pressure on core issues like leadership, structure and the processes by which people are managed in an interconnected information-based environment.

Just look at the pressures being faced by Donald Rumsfeld and you'll see an early signal - will leaders be able to lie their way through competitive challenges or major change in organizations ?

Powerful ideas, to be sure.

But as usual for the more optimistic heirs of Thomas J, he doesn't close the loop. The Tutor points out an obvious response:

Well, just look at Karl Rove. Yes, they will lie bigger and lie better. And nets will be the Terrorist tool of choice, demonized. Will the guards at GITMO blog when they return home, traumatized? Or will they take Prozac and wave flags? Did the SS write memoires? The story strong enough to extinguish evidence, leaving only the snow, the trees, and one lonely owl against the night. When the truth is ugly, the mind small, bet on lies. Unless our poets get off their postmodern ass. Where is our Mandelstam or Brodsky?

I would add (and add, ad nauseum, as often as I have to) that there are precious few tools that aid freedom which cannot be used to suppress it.

One error here is mistaking transparency for a technology; transparency is merely enabled by the technology.

Transparency can be shut off -- or, more ominously, controlled. Transparency need not be total, or even nearly total, in order to reap its benefits. The real cluetrain will run on rails paid for by people with lots of money or government influence, and those people will be placing restrictions on the passenger manifest: No bolsheviks allowed.

Gang of Fools

"I'm a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work..." -- Patrick Lang, in Newsday

Cory Doctorow notes at BoingBoing (courtesy Making Light) that Ahmed Chalabi was a puppet of Iran [daypop link | daypop cites]:

"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.

So, let's make sure we understand this: We went to war in Iraq based largely on intelligence provided by an agent of a foreign power.

Conspiracy theories will abound, of course -- we can expect them to proliferate like mushrooms on a wet summer morning. A few I can anticipate:

  • It's a plant by the Chickenhawks to pass the buck to Chalabi. (Counter: But why were they stupid enough to fall for it?)
  • It's a plant by the CIA to pass the buck to the Chickenhawks. (Counter: But why didn't they know?)
  • It's a plant by the military establishment to pass the buck to the Chickenhawks and the CIA. (This one could gain some traction. I don't know from DIA, but it looks like they might have stronger ties to the "uniformed Pentagon" than to the Chickenhawks.)
  • It's all a conspiracy by the liberal media to destroy freedom.

For the record (and to not be a rhetorical bet-hedger like Christopher Hitchens), I think the story is probably pretty much as Newsday shows it: We got out-smarted by a bunch of guys with darker skins than us who worship in ways we're not comfortable with. Like any good con man, they played us -- well, they played the Rummy-Perle-Wolfie crowd. They recognized that zealots will believe anything that supports their desires.

In a nutshell: We got suckered.

[Imperial] Clothing and the Digerati

Gerrit at SmartMobs agrees with Blue Arnaud: Privacy is a lost cause.

We should forget about trying to keep "our data" private; we should make it public, and take care that it is under our control. "This profile can be the basis for the social networking services," Gerritt summarizes.

But he doesn't do it justice. In truth, for Blue Arnaud, it seems to be as much about commerce as about the humans we're profiling:

This user profile has value for companies. Companies can access this profile under a Personal Commons license in a standardised and legal way. Then they can adapt their interaction with a user accordingly. They might even give discount if an user profile is available, as it makes their live cheaper (less marketing cost). This profile can also be the basis of the various Social Networking Services, which can then focus on their business: networking. A userâ??s wishlist and transaction trail is no longer available to just Amazon, but all book shops.

"So be in control again," Blue Arnaud admonishes, like a good libertarian-tinged digeratum:

A user should make this profile explicit, as some users are already doing in their weblog. Make sure that this profile represents yourself (or one of your personae) or otherwise the world might invent your profile and they might guess wrong. And publish this profile on your own website, weblog, whatever. The user becomes a writer and a publisher. This profile information could be published under some Personal Commons arrangement, i.e. personal information that is available to the world.

Beyond the detail, this is no new idea among the digerati; it's really just another variation on that ripe old technophilic anthropomorphism, "information wants to be free", which seems to get tossed around so glibly by people who utterly fail to understand its consequences. The barriers of the personal are eroding every day; that's a good thing, these folks seem to be saying.

They haven't thought it through.

They seem to believe that there will be some kind of real and fundamental trasnformation in the nature of the human animal -- forgetting, as always, that the human is animal, and thus evolved in the real and not metaphorical sense of the term. And that barring truly godlike capacity to restructure our very genome, biology, ultimately, will win out.

We forget the timescales of evolution at greater peril than threatens us for forgetting the lessons of history. Since, after all, Evolution is the most fundamental history lesson of all.

They haven't really used their imaginations. It's a pity; their far flung imaginings prove it's possible. Much like simplistic advocates of total sexual freedom, they have failed to really look inside themselves to ascertain what it would feel like for this world to be true.

Or perhaps they're just technofetishists.

How About An "Observer Effect" Meme?

"They got this guy, in Germany. Fritz Something-or-other. Or is it? Maybe it's Werner. Anyway, he's got this theory, you wanna test something, you know, scientifically - how the planets go round the sun, what sunspots are made of, why the water comes out of the tap - well, you gotta look at it. But sometimes you look at it, your looking changes it. Ya can't know the reality of what happened, or what would've happened if you hadn't-a stuck in your own goddamn schnozz. So there is no 'what happened'? Not in any sense that we can grasp, with our puny minds. Because our minds... our minds get in the way. Looking at something changes it. They call it the 'Uncertainty Principle'. Sure, it sounds screwy, but even Einstein says the guy's on to something." ['Freddy Riedenscheider', The Man Who Wasn't There]

Sam Arbesman's MemeSpread project aimed to chart the progress of a particular (albeit problematic) meme thoughout the "blogosphere", given known sources. Initially seeded on kottke.org, BoingBoing and Slashdot, Only Kottke picked it up; it apparently fared poorly until it hit MeFi, from whence it boomed across the web like one of those evanescant thunderclaps that wash across the blogosphere like a summer rain in the desert.

A Wired News article summarizes the story (though it fails to link to Arbesman's own writeup [pdf]). Aside from a passing reference to the "Hawthorne Effect", though, it doesn't really deal with the difficulty of studying phenomena such as this. It reminds me of a similar project I pitched to my undergrad advisor in 1992, with the idea of pushing out memes via Usenet. (He was uncomfortable with the human subjects concerns -- my experimental design was constructed to avoid observer effects.)

NameBase

Here's a fascinating new resource: NameBase.org, a site that seems to map connections between individuals and "corporate persons" via references in indexed public documents. Not quite sure how they do it, but the maps are fun to look at.

But the results are peculiar. Note, for instance, that the relational diagram for U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte doesn't show a link to his brother, ur-pundit Nicholas Negroponte. (And it's not as though they're out of touch; the last interview I read with Nicholas made reference to the fact that he stayed in John's penthouse suite when he was passing through NYC.) Nor does it show a connection to his boss, George W. Bush (though it does show a connection to his former boss, George H. W. Bush).

Point being, I suppose, that there's more to personal connections than what can be shown from the literature. (More tacit knowlege.)

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