06 December 2013

A disconnected series of thoughts

1) I'm not sure what NSA supporters are expecting from their critics. But here's what I'd summarize as the most plausible cases for criticism:

NSA has lied or deceived Congress/FISA in the past and on a somewhat ongoing basis throughout the series of revelations of its activities. This should lend more credence to critics who are skeptical of claims defending what it is doing on the grounds that what it is doing... is not what it says it is doing in the first place. This position does not require that it is doing whatever it is that critics are afraid it might do, only that it is not transparent to the means of oversight appointed to make sure it behaves such that it is possible to imagine it going more rogue than critics already believed and know it to be doing.

It also lends some credence to allowing private but ostensibly "American" technology companies to disclose the type and number of requests they receive and perhaps to more deeply encrypt their international communities in response to NSA hacking. And in effect defeating the purpose of those efforts in order to protect their customers here and abroad.

The NSA had been running a massive and expanding intelligence programme for almost a decade but hadn't compartmentalized information considered of a crucial nature such that a hired contractor with limited job experience could walk off with huge amounts of data and program information. Had Snowden's interest actually been espionage/treason of the variety many of his most fervent detractors imagine it to be, the damage done could be far, far worse than disclosing this to friendly governments and their people via the press. This suggests the people running the system either don't know what's going on perhaps because they don't care and don't need to, or that they can't know because it's too big to be run efficiently. Or that too much is classified (the argument critics make). There are millions of people with some level of classified access in government or engaged in work related to the government and some hundreds of thousands with access on a level similar to that of Mr Snowden. This is only possible if too much is being classified in the first place and it leaves open the question of how accessible this information actually is when it may be of greatest use given that we have had fairly normal police work style leads on the various attacks that actually occurred under this counter-terrorism regime that were apparently not followed up on within this vast architecture.

It's very possible they built something because they could out of the considerable available resources, and not because they had any particular use for it.

NSA critics maintain that if these programmes are in anyway necessary, there should be something to show for it. Critics of the programme in a position to evaluate it (eg, Ron Wyden or Mark Udall) are not satisfied by the claims being advanced that dragnet surveillance of citizen's metadata and other massive filtering and algorithmic data searches of internet and cellular communication were in any significant way essential to stop attacks, in the past, now, or in the future. Unless these well-placed critics on the intelligence committees, as well as related critics like Sensenbrenner (Patriot Act author), are assuaged and assured that there are significant safeguards of American privacy rights in place, and that these are even necessary utilities to find and identify threats via terrorism (or related forms of disruption perhaps), less informed critics should likewise be skeptical of the "necessary for national security" claims that prevent further disclosures of successes, or failures, of these programmes for a fuller Congressional and public oversight. The "if you knew what I know" argument can only go so far.

A note: events stopped in other countries are not sensible defences of spying on potentially millions of Americans, or for that matter, millions of citizens in other countries. Both seem like enormous wastes of energy and money and time. A second note, spying on foreign leaders, allied or not, I don't care. I don't imagine most critics do. It's not gentlemanly or sporting of us, but that's the game. More to the problem here, it also doesn't seem to have greatly advantaged us in diplomatic pressures within the game of nations and the trade and alliances spawned of it.

Maybe we have incompetent diplomats along with incompetent spymasters.

2) Path of Exile is basically what I might have wanted Diablo 3 to be like. I think I'd to like to see the kickstarter/pay for frills method of game development used more often. It's essentially a mix of all 3 Diablo games but not anywhere near as dumbed down as D3 was. I particularly like: can use skills with any character provided you have the requirements to equip it, which is a throwback to D1 (with a twist), and that the economy isn't gold related. Also, removing the level only requirements from D3 on equipment, with a need to build up stats to use a better weapon or armor. And that it then matters, sometimes a lot, what weapons or armor is used. D3's silly "I'm going to use a spear or a sword or an axe or a wand... to perform the exact same attacks" was just ridiculous.

3) The next Spider Man movie looks awful. Between the trailer, the graphics, and that Orci's involved, I'm skipping it as it looks quite shoddy and messy. Between Lindelof and Orci, there's some seriously horrible writers out there getting major jobs in Hollywood, combined they may have single-handedly destroyed both Star Trek and the Alien series of films for a while by reducing both to incomprehensible nonsense. In a related comic book film note, I've no idea why Wonder Woman doesn't get her own film to start off in and instead is just eye candy for the next Superman movie.

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