Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Hopes for the First 100 Days

If the U.S. wants to see the change President Obama has been making so much noise about, they must take some control of their government again.

However, many of the policy changes I wish to see happen were implemented by the previous administration under the aegis of President Bush's role as Commander-in-Chief. As such, I hope that Obama, again acting as Commander-in-Chief will alter them. I would like to see the Iraq and Afghanistan wars brought to a close as quickly as possible - the "First thing steaming home" strategy. It took about three weeks to get all of those troops to Iraq, and I would like to see if we can beat that record coming home. I understand Pres. Obama so far isn't headed in that direction, but if he wanted to, he could.

I would also like to see the U.S. imprisonment and rendition camps in Guantanamo and elsewhere closed immediately. Any perceived to be a danger in the future should be given over to their home countries for arraignment and trial. Any inmates who cannot be sent home should be offered asylum in the U.S. unless they wish to go to another country that agrees to take them. Again, not likely to happen that way, but Pres. Obama could order it if he wanted to.

Further, I would like to see President Obama ask incoming Attorney General Holder to investigate and, if necessary, ask for indictments regarding possible war crimes, crimes against humanity, violations of federal laws against torture, and whatever charges might apply. I sincerely hope that Pres. Obama will not issue blanket pardons to anyone for the misdeeds of the earlier administration. Again, he may choose not to do so, but he need not go beyond the executive branch to do so.

So, I'd like to think I'm willing to support change, but change really can start at the top in many ways.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Emergency Exit

I was walking past the Macy's store in downtown Minneapolis (formerly Marshall Fields, formerly Dayton's). Lining the inside of the windows is a glossy, opaque, black sheeting. The black is opened up here and there to display store items: mannequins with the latest fashions, shoes, handbags, assorted consumer products.

Then I noticed the door. It read "EMERGENCY EXIT - ALARM WILL SOUND." The letters read from left to right when viewed from the street, and were positioned in front of the opaque blackness. The words would be reversed and unreadable from inside the building.

This then couldn't be an exit from the building. Is this, perhaps, the emergency exit from the bustle and stress of a modern urban center? Is it an emergency exit from a nation that is declining politically, crumbling economically, and terminally fractured socially? Or is this perhaps an emergency exit from a cold, cynical, and ultimately meaningless world?

Where does it go to?

I tried the door. It was locked. No alarm sounded.

At least it wasn't an emergency.
Roberts and Obama both flub the oath of office.

People who are nervous and excited, at one of the most important events of their lives often have trouble speaking or reading clearly. Especially in front of thousands of people in person and millions more watching via media.

So I'm willing to give them both a pass, and assume the oath is taken as required by the Constitution.

However, I'm going to predict that someone, somewhere, is going to throw a fit. Over the next few months, the "Obama can't be President" crowd is going to claim that because Barak Obama didn't take the oath of office as precisely required by the Constitution, that means he was never sworn in as President. Others are going to claim that he never took the oath, and so isn't going to be bound to it, and is going to become some sort of tyrant. Likely, a few will claim that Chief Justice Roberts deliberately screwed it up, so that Obama wouldn't be sworn in, or so that Obama wouldn't have to adhere to the oath.

I believe that to be nonsense. Eight years of the Bush administration have shown that in this country, the President will freely disregard the principles of the Constitution, its dictates and limitations. And the other branches of government will not call him on it. Obama doesn't need some contrived avoidance of the oath of office to do what he wishes.

I also strongly suspect that if Chief Justice Roberts intended to not swear in Obama, he would have explicitly refused to do so. There would be no reason to intentionally screw it up to set up some sort of legal wrangling - if he'd really wanted to, he would have said something like, "Senator Obama, I cannot in good conscience administer the oath of office today."

We don't need the conspiratorial interpretations today. Never attribute to malice that which is more obviously attributable to human failings.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Addendum to Hyperreality

For a brief time this summer, there existed a program on the Genesis Communications Network titled "the Ron Paul Roadshow". This program was hosted by Chris Moore and Linda Hunnicut from the "Ron Paul RV".

On the first day that this radio show went into production, the Genesis producer inquired if there was a bird of some sort in the studio. He was informed that the source of the apparent bird sounds was in fact Buddy, a small monkey of indeterminant species. Buddy continued to play a small part in the production of each episode of the Ron Paul Roadshow.

Much later, in a discussion at the Genesis studio, the subject of Buddy the monkey was broached. It was observed that there may exist a radio show of the "wacky morning" variety that would employ regular monkey noises. However, Buddy the monkey would not serve well on those radio shows, as he cannot be expected to perform on cue. Therefore, such a radio show usually would employ either a sound board (either physical or digital) with pre-recorded monkey noises, or a human voice simulating monkey noises.

This is an example of hyperreality. A non-physical monkey is experienced by an audience as more real than an actual flesh and blood monkey.

An Allegory of Rivers

Picture a rapidly moving but pacific appearing stream. It winds over the terrain, never ceasing its flow. As the stream flows over its bed, a careful observer notices that its surface is not completely even. Whorls, eddies, ripples and ebbs appear, disturbing the streams otherwise placid flow.

Underneath the surface, all is not so simple. The stream flows over a rocky bad, tumbling and jostling over rocks and logs. Currents bend around obstacles, and the entire stream is shaped by the form of its bed; it bends and twists within its banks. The stream is sometimes wide and shallow, sometimes narrow and deep, and always more complex than it appears on the surface.

Silt runs underneath the sunlight skin, the consequence of water's rubbing further upstream, a process visible only by its consequences. Fish dart here and there, their presence only guessed at by the flash of sun off scales as one surfaces momentarily. Their maneuvers take place in an environment alien and isolated from the outside world.

This stream is a human mind, its surface the visage exposed to the outside world. The whorls and eddies we may see are the consequences of submerged obstacles we cannot. The aim of counseling, then, is not to remove the rocks and logs and physical obstructions of the stream bed – that is too complex a task, and one will destroy the nature of the stream in the process. Only the dead are so uniform. Instead, it is the job of the counselor to help smooth and round the obstacles of the stream bed, so they cause less conflict and confusion as the stream progresses ever onward to a new horizon.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking it elsewhere: Iran and nuclear ambition

[Editor's note: I have been a follower of the Steve Jackson's Games corporate online forum for some years now. Recently, a conversation has been begun there that I'd like to add some outside commentary on. You can find the original conversation here.]

I believe there are a few key points that have been forgotten here:

1) Iran self-identifies as an "Islamic Republic". Its government is to a certain extent a representative democracy, albeit one whose candidates are all vetted and approved by the ruling Theocratic Guardian Council. In the late 1990's, that council was increasingly experimenting with permitting moderate, pro-western candidates to run and win elections. This was in response to thawing Western relations, and a growing educated, pro-Western, pro-secular young adult demographic within Iran itself.
This experiment with political moderation ended in 2002, with a return to hard-line, anti Western and pro-Ayatollah candidates, including current President Achmadenijhad. This backlash was almost certainly induced by President Bush's choice to include Iran in the "Axis of Evil."

2) President Achmadenijhad is not quite the nutcase that the Western and U.S. media portrays him as being. In nearly every instance where he has been demonized for threatening Israel (whose close relation to the U.S. is a matter much too large for this posting), a deeper inspection of the transcript of his remarks usually shows such threats in the context of a hypothetical attack by Israel on Iran. Responding to attack with a counter-attack, while damaging to world peace, is still usually considered the perogative of a nation-state.

3) Gas centerfuge enrichment of uranium is both a step towards development of nuclear weapons and a step towards a non-weapon nuclear power program. This sort of peaceful program is what Iran asserts it is pursuing (whether or not anyone believes it). Iran has been cooperating with the IAEA off and on, seeking the IAEA's certification that their program is peaceful. Unfortunately, with every period of saber rattling by the U.S., Western Europe, or Israel, Iran balks and halts its cooperation. It is entirely plausible that Iran is primarily intedning to move toward nuclear power, with the possibility of developing nuclear weapons as a reserve for if the believe themselves threatened with attack.

4) The current U.S. administration is the primary source of the claims that Iran is intending to develop nuclear weapons. As we saw in the run-up to the Second Gulf War, this same administration main any number of claims about Iraq's nuclear weapons program, a nuclear weapons program that -in retrospect- did not exist, and was asserted not to exist by the IAEA. In fact, as something of a snub to the U.S. and it's administration, the head of the IAEA was later named for a Nobel Peace Prize. In my view, the current Presidential administration (as of this writing, #43) simply does not have the credibility to make any sorts of claims.

So, the blustering in Iran's direction has the appearance of the consciuos villifying of an otherwise indifferent nation. That villification and following provocations are used to trigger a defensive response from that nation. Such defensive measures are used as a justification for further provocations, and as rationalization for already decided upon war plans. We saw all of this in 2003, and there is simply no reason to allow it to happen again in 2009.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Exercises in Identity pt.2: machine entities

The taxonomy of identity currently under discussion can be freely extended to non-human machine entities: computers, software agents, and automatons. While such machine entities do not to date enjoy what we might accept as sapience, their participation in the elements of identity can be easily described.

Although such machine entities do not fall under what might be readily described as biological life, they do have physical, material extension. Let us call these Hardware identity. Many machine entities can be described in terms of Physical-hardware: they are made up of collection of components assembled into a single chassis. At their creation, they are comprised of a single set of physical components. Over the course of their existence, components may be removed and others added. However, such additions and subtractions are made to a collective whole that continues as a single set of components over a certain lifetime. This is a form of unique identity.
At the moment, machines do not enjoy any sort of unique code or specification. So the concept of genetic identity does not seem to apply as it does in biological entities.
Most mass-produced hardware is more or less indistinguishable on its exterior, so biometric identity doesn't normally apply. However, it is not unheard of for individual users to customise their external appearance; this could be interpreted as a form of what we might call physiometric identity.

Modern computers frequently write down certain of their internal states onto permanent digital media. This allows them to, in a certain sense, have a continuity of memory. Indeed, it is possible to remove the physical memory of one computer (it's hard drive or similar) and place it into a different computer. This allows a kind of transference of identity as the continuity of memory preserves a form of psychological identity across a change of hardware-physical identity.
Modern machine entities have never been known to show what might be proved to be sentience or an individual ego identity. Indeed, possession of a singular ego identity may be a sufficient condition for sentience in a human-style intelligence.

Informational identity is in many ways the most significant element of machine identity, as informational identity as a realm has been developed for the convienence of machines. Any machine connected to a computer network has one or more network addresses, Machine Access Codes, Universal Resource Locations, and so on. These are all forms of network identity although in many cases they are assigned to the machine identity from outside, and are can be highly variable. Many machine implementations in exisistence have encoded encryption keys that they require to identify themselves in order to access certain resources. This is a form of codestring identity.

Social identity is a complex issue when applied to machines. Some machines are named, and so can be said to have a nominal identity - I myself am writing on a machine named 'gcn-traffic' - although this is often (but not always) tied into the machines network addressing and thus its network identity. Individual computers and other machine entities are frequently not creative or communicative in a social, human sense. They do not particpate clearly in stylistic or narrative identity. Although if individual machines experience non-uniform quirks in their operation, such that the identity of an individual machine can be determined from its output (as perhaps in the case of an inject printer with a misdirected jet), then they might be said to participate in a form of stylistic identity.
Datapoint identity for machines is largely indistinguishable from codestring identity. The distinction here is that codestring identity for machines exists in specific memory adresses within the machine, places that are queried specifically in order to access those codestrings. Datapoint identity would exist if an external machine quieried an address not reserved for a specific codestring to verify a machine's specific identity; a practice that to my knowledge is uncommon.
Document identity is also underdeveloped for machine entities, although would include warranty cards or repair contracts.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Jewish studies 101 for Conservatives

Okay people, let's go over this one more time. If you want to posit a global zionist conspiracy, let's get the history correct:

In the first century CE, the Roman Imperium instituted a policy of diaspora of the Hebraic residents of Palestine to many other regions of the Empire. As a result, the Jewish people settled in many places in Europe and North Africa. Other Judaic peoples were spread throughout the Near East and East Africa; most were the Iraqi Jews, a result of the Babylonian Exile. Others were the result of various migrations out of Palestine over the centuries since the rise and fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea.

When the Islamic Empire overran the Near East, most of Persia, North Africa, and Spain, it more or less cut the former Roman Empire into two worlds: Christendom and the Islamic Caliphates. This essentially divided the Jewish population of Europe and the Mediterranean in half. The Jews of Northern and Central Europe became seperated from the Jews of Spain, North Africa, and the Near East.

The Jewish people throughout the Middle Ages grow then into two fairly distinct groups. The Jews under Christendom become the Ashkanazi Jews, cut off from the teachings and studies of the great Jewish theological centers of Alexandria and Abassanid Iraq. Those Jews living under Islam become the Sheppardic Jews, who follow different traditions than the Ashkanazi.

Legend holds that a central Eurasian tribe called the Khazar converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th or 9th century CE. Historical confirmation of the exisistence of this tribe is scanty, but it does explain the origin of the Polish and Russian Jews. These people are Jewish 'by adoption' as it were: genetic and cultural evidence suggests that they are not directly related to the Askanazi or Sheppardic Jews.

So, when underinformed talk show hosts proclaim that the Ashkenazi "aren't really Jews, anyway," they are mistaken. The Askenazi are the Jews of France, Germany, Italy, and Central Europe. They are as Jewish as the Sheppardic Jews. I suppose one could make the claim that the Kazar Jews aren't "really" Jewish, a claim I would suggest is foolish. The Khazar certainly self-identify as Jews.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Exercises in Identity pt.1

So, now that various terms of identity have been identified, how are they to be used? One use is in the critical analysis of speculative fiction. A number of examples exist of what may be termed identity crises - situations where manipulation of various forms of identity ensure that specific identities don't match in a traditional human way. Spoilers follow.

1) William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive. One primary character is Angela Mitchell. She is a simstim (simulated stimuli) star and a noted celebrity. She enjoys a consistent identity structure throughout most of the book. The central plot involves a conspiracy to abduct her.
Another primary character is that of Mona Lisa. She is SINless - lacking a government issued Single Identification Number. She lacks a document identity. This is a latent identity crisis in itself. Lacking such a SIN, Mona is unable to assert her identity before any government agencies; she is effectively a non person to such agencies, and her disappearance will not be noted or followed up on.
Mona also superficially resembles Angie, a resemblance that is compounded when a cosmetic surgeon specifically reshapes Mona's appearance to Angie's. This is a crisis of bio-metric identity: two persons who share one bio-metric identity although the sharing is not perfect; Mona's fingerprints are not Angie's, and in fact Mona takes comfort from the fact that upon close inspection and familiarity, Mona's hands do not resemble Angie's.
At the conclusion of the book, Angie has been abducted, brought to the same location as Mona, and has died. The corporation that Angie had worked for succeeds in rescuing Mona and recovering Angie. A representative of that organization chooses to accept Mona as a stand in for the deceased Angie. As the book ends, Mona has replaced Angie in the role of Angela Mitchell's identity.
Mona thus retains psychological identity: she identifies herself as a unique ego, with continuity of memory as Mona. Bio-physical and genetic identity are maintained for Mona - she still exists in the physical body she has always inhabited, with its own unique genetic code. Bio-metric identity is split - superficially Mona now owns Angie's face and other biometric recognition cues, and presumably SenseNet the corporation has erased all of Angie's other bio-metric files and replaced them with Mona's.
Mona has assumed Angie's social identity traits. Mona now owns all of Angie's possessions, and has document (and presumably code-string) identifies as Angela Mitchell. However, one character indicates that Mona differs in stylistic identity from Angie, such that an aware or critically trained observer can detect a difference.

2) William Gibson's Idoru. The idoru, Rei-Tomei is a Nipponese pop starlet, without physical form. Using the terms of identity, she lacks a bio-physical and genetic identity, not owning a consistent physical form. She does enjoy geographic identity, given that there exist any number of holographic projection devices with which she can appear to manifest a physical existence. She does, however, have a unique bio-metric identity. Through doctored photographs and video media, she possesses a unique appearance.
As she has a name, Rei Tomei owns a very weak form of social identity. Presumably, she also maintains a consistent stylistic identity, as all of her musical endeavors are constructed by other people with the intent of maintaining a consistent style. As a corporate person, I presume she owns various codestring identities that the corporation uses to establish her bank records and so on.
Left ambiguous in the book is if she enjoys a single ego-identification. Written and electronic records might be used to maintain a continuity of memory, as well as the individual memories of the persons who create and operate her corporate identity.

3) Steve Jackson's Games GURPS and Transhuman Space. In the universe of both these works, it is heavily implied that personality, sapience, and intelligence (both 'natural' and artificial) are connected to software, rather than hardware. In that universe, it is technologically and metaphysically possible for a personality to change physical bodies through the appropriate techniques.
Such a transference allows a change of bio-physical (and presumably genetic) identity. Depending on how the physical form is constructed, bio-metric identity may or may not change - a personality moving from one artificially constructed body into another with the same bio-metric features will enjoy a consistent bio-metric identity.
Social identity in such a context becomes very ambiguous. Various forms of social identity that are tied to biological identity become fairly meaningless. The only strong consistent measures of social and informational identity become data-point and codestring identifies. Presumably, a single ego-identification would wish to keep these forms of identity unique onto itself, and these forms of identity would have to form the basis of other forms of social identity.