The Opportunities and Risks of Open Sharing

There is an interesting exclusive from WIRED magazine recently that examines a unique international organization, Conflict Armament Research (CAR), that combs through the illicit weapons supply chain that keeps ISIS stocked with deadly weaponry.

There’s also a really interesting subtext of tension that’s present in the piece but not fully illuminated: the tension between how sharing information openly can be a wonderful thing for transparency, but also a dangerous thing in a world of 3D printing, in what is termed in the piece as “the industrial revolution of terrorism.”

Here’s the positive:

Leo Bradley, a retired US Army colonel who once led the fight against IEDs in Afghanistan, tells me that CAR serves as a useful, if perhaps accidental, back door for US officials to publicly discuss topics that are otherwise classified. “We can reference the CAR reports because they’re all open source, and they never reveal US sources and methods,” he says.

Here’s the flipside:

Joshua Pearce, an engineering professor at Michigan Tech University, is an expert in open source hardware (a protocol to create and improve physical objects—like open source code, but for stuff), and he describes ISIS manufacturing as “a very twisted maker culture.” In this future, weapons schematics can be downloaded from the dark web or simply shared via popular encrypted social media services, like WhatsApp. Those files can then be loaded into 3-D metal printers, machines that have become widely available in the past few years and cost as little as a million dollars to set up, to produce weapons with the push of the button.

In other words, freely accessible information and hardware is a double-edged sword. It is only now that we’ve begun to more accurately perceive the risks.

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Was Charles Dickens a perv?

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Portrait of a Young Woman, Samuel Worcester Rowse (1822–1901), Courtesy of the MET

I’ve been a pretty voracious reader most of my life, but will admit I’ve never fully read a Dickens’ book before. I think I’ve tried a couple (Oliver Twist, Bleak House) but never made it all the way through. Though the Artful Dodger from the movie has somehow stuck in my psyche nonetheless, as of course Scrooge has.

In any case, I just finished reading A Christmas Carol, which I found enjoyable, but there were a couple of passages where Dickens describes a young woman that struck me as kind of pervy.

Here’s the first one:

Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

Later on, here’s his description of another young woman:

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed—as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory!

In both these descriptions, the narrator inserts these breathy ejaculations. Not only were they totally unnecessary to the story itself, but when you add in the voyeuristic nature of Scrooge and the reader peering into domestic scenes without the knowledge of those being observed, it becomes even more creepy. As if Dickens is indulging in a momentary bit of a masturbatory fantasy right alongside of the moral journey of his protagonist.

Is this just me? I know he’s writing in a very different era. But . . . well, pretty sure there were more than a large number of women back then who would have said #metoo.

Let 2018 Be the Year

A somber and sober New Year’s reflection on the increasing cynicism this last year of chaos and conformity has wrought.

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Like the rest of you who remain tethered to glowing screens, this year has left me feeling constantly frayed. And like many others, my view of the internet, with its once attendant optimism for the future, has grown increasingly cynical.

I’ve been busy, of course, but peeling away that inevitable excuse, there’s also this to point to for my reticence in writing.

To write, to really write, is to break momentarily free from all that has come before to forge a pathway into the heart of darkness. To rediscover and lay bare the ancient byways that were already there.

But really, we — I — should have known better. Nothing is ever truly proffered for free. Every time we log into a browser, tap into an app, and affix our gaze onto a screen, our every click and swipe and clack of a key is harvested and mined for every last life drop of data. As William S. Burroughs, a professional junkie who would know, once said:

Beware of whores who say they don’t want money. The hell they don’t. What they mean is that they want more money; much more.

It all seems so banal, at first. But what a Faustian bargain it is. We grow not only reliant upon these ephemeral feeds, but addicted. The declension from creator to consumer occurs so subtly that we can almost convince ourselves that we are still creative gods as we color in prescribed, personalized templates administered to us in a drip line from the inner algorithms of a Forbidden City.

Those who control the data, who can mine them for patterns that will narrow the probabilistic outcomes for any given successive moments of time, grow stronger with every reinvestment of attention that we bestow within their encircled domains.

Yet here I am, freely spilling my branded pixels forth onto this particular platform which will be willingly disseminated via instant post grams in the hope that it may gain a stranger’s fleeting approval. So I keep clicking, and feeding, and posturing.

I — we — must still hope for something redemptive. Some Neo love Jesus transmutation that will imbue the raw bestiality of humanity with some kind of higher purpose and meaning.

But I know, we know, you know

that the greatest of power and riches lies within.

However trite, this is a diamond truth forged by star song. So long as this is kept just beyond immediate attention, we fumble in bonds.

Let 2018 be the year in which you and I and we dig closer to the inner flame for longer periods of time for a greater amount of good.

Where have I been? Where has the world been?

It’s been so very long since I’ve posted anything of personally substantive meaning. Where have I been? Where has my heart, my soul, my substance been?

One could easily twist that question right back around to the world wherein we live. Our world has been head suckered down to a bright lit screen. Captivated. Harvested of every life drop of data.

But that’s the world.

My heart and soul has meanwhile been loving every minute I get to spend with my son, who is nearing 7 months at this point. He is a delight to be in the presence of. I draw inward to family.

Writing is also in some ways selfish. Spending time with my son takes clear precedence. And then I’m tired at the end of a long day. Yes, I am getting older.

Complacent, though? No, I am always hungry to be better. My focus shifts from work, to music, to reading, to whatever flits in front of me that seems to be fruitful. But I also seem to be more apt to wait before expending energy on something I’m not so sure will pay off.

I’m working on not wasting my time on something if it doesn’t have any potential future payoff. And if we’re honest, this is what the world, minus the 1 percenters, also needs to work on.

 

Pawns

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Pawn in the Form of an Indian Lady, Courtesy of The Met
“anyone on Facebook is in a sense working for Facebook, adding value to the company. . .
For all the talk about connecting people, building community, and believing in people, Facebook is an advertising company.
. . .even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens.”
 You Are the Product, John Lanchester / London Review of Books

SSC

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“No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, ‘Let there be light!’ You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur.
 
This was summer at Sierra Camp, perhaps no different than any other camp, but every day felt full of life, and of the relationships that give life meaning.”
 
–Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better

A country that can’t ensure the daily operation of Penn Station isn’t a country that can prevent transportation gridlock. A country that contracts out the operations of prisons to the lowest private bidder isn’t a country that can rehabilitate its criminals.

Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better, The Atlantic

Ouch. The truth hurts.