Category Archives: News

For US troops, war becomes long, deadly fight to rebuild Iraq

For US troops, war becomes long, deadly fight to rebuild Iraq.
BAQUBAH, Iraq — Two years after President Bush stood under a ''Mission
Accomplished” banner and declared that the United States had prevailed
in the lightning-swift battle of Iraq, American troops labor each day
on a different mission: a slow, painstaking, and often deadly effort to
rebuild the country well enough to leave it. [Boston Globe — Front Page]

Why Current Intellectual Property Law is So Wrong-Headed

Why Current Intellectual Property Law is So Wrong-Headed.

  • Jamie Boyle: Deconstructing Stupidity. It
    is as if we had signed an international stupidity pact, one that
    required us to ignore the evidence, to hand out new rights without
    asking for the simplest assessment of need. If the stakes were trivial,
    no one would care. But intellectual property (IP) is important. These
    are the ground rules of the information society. Mistakes hurt us. They
    have costs to free speech, competition, innovation, and science. Why
    are we making them?
  • This important essay asks,
    and begins to answer, the key question of why IP law has gone so wrong.
    Boyle points out that there's money on the side of a less Draconian
    system than we have — the technology industry dwarfs the entertainment
    cartel — yet the law totally favors the entertainment side. The
    answers, he says, are complex and rife with mythology, pushed on all of
    us by the copyright interests, that skews the result.
    Read it. [Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism, Etc.]

    Victorianization Update

    Victorianization Update. While I was away, the Republicans have continued their push to create a neo-Victorian America with:

    Of course, Victorianization wouldn't be complete without a good dash of hypocrisy. More signs that are becoming a rentier state with abandon… [John Robb's Weblog]

    Failures of Airport Screening

    Failures of Airport Screening.

    According to the AP:

    Security at American airports is no better under federal
    control than it was before the Sept. 11 attacks, a congressman says two
    government reports will conclude.

    The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of
    Congress, and the Homeland Security Department's inspector general are
    expected to release their findings soon on the performance of
    Transportation Security Administration screeners.

    This finding will not surprise anyone who has flown recently. How
    does anyone expect competent security from screeners who don't know the
    difference between books and books of matches? Only two books of matches are now allowed on flights; you can take as many reading books as you can carry.

    The solution isn't to privatize the screeners, just as the solution
    in 2001 wasn't to make them federal employees. It's a much more complex

    I wrote about it in Beyond Fear (pages 153-4):

    No matter how much training they get, airport screeners
    routinely miss guns and knives packed in carry-on luggage. In part,
    that's the result of human beings having developed the evolutionary
    survival skill of pattern matching: the ability to pick out patterns
    from masses of random visual data. Is that a ripe fruit on that tree?
    Is that a lion stalking quietly through the grass? We are so good at
    this that we see patterns in anything, even if they're not really
    there: faces in inkblots, images in clouds, and trends in graphs of
    random data. Generating false positives helped us stay alive; maybe
    that wasn't a lion that your ancestor saw, but it was better to be safe
    than sorry. Unfortunately, that survival skill also has a failure mode.
    As talented as we are at detecting patterns in random data, we are
    equally terrible at detecting exceptions in uniform data. The
    quality-control inspector at Spacely Sprockets, staring at a production
    line filled with identical sprockets looking for the one that is
    different, can't do it. The brain quickly concludes that all the
    sprockets are the same, so there's no point paying attention. Each new
    sprocket confirms the pattern. By the time an anomalous sprocket rolls
    off the assembly line, the brain simply doesn't notice it. This
    psychological problem has been identified in inspectors of all kinds;
    people can't remain alert to rare events, so they slip by.

    The tendency for humans to view similar items as identical makes it
    clear why airport X-ray screening is so difficult. Weapons in baggage
    are rare, and the people studying the X-rays simply lose the ability to
    see the gun or knife. (And, at least before 9/11, there was enormous
    pressure to keep the lines moving rather than double-check bags.) Steps
    have been put in place to try to deal with this problem: requiring the
    X-ray screeners to take frequent breaks, artificially imposing the
    image of a weapon onto a normal bag in the screening system as a test,
    slipping a bag with a weapon into the system so that screeners learn it
    can happen and must expect it. Unfortunately, the results have not been
    very good.

    This is an area where the eventual solution will be a combination of
    machine and human intelligence. Machines excel at detecting exceptions
    in uniform data, so it makes sense to have them do the boring
    repetitive tasks, eliminating many, many bags while having a human sort
    out the final details. Think about the sprocket quality-control
    inspector: If he sees 10,000 negatives, he's going to stop seeing the
    positives. But if an automatic system shows him only 100 negatives for
    every positive, there's a greater chance he'll see them.

    Paying the screeners more will attract a smarter class of worker, but it won't solve the problem.

    [Schneier on Security]

    State-Sponsored Identity Theft

    State-Sponsored Identity Theft.

    In an Ohio sting operation
    at a strip bar, a 22-year-old student intern with the United States
    Marshals Service was given a fake identity so she could work undercover
    at the club. But instead of giving her a fabricated identity, the
    police gave her the identity of another woman living in another Ohio
    city. And they didn't tell the other woman.

    Oddly enough, this is legal. According to Ohio's identity theft law, the police are allowed to do it. More specifically, the crime cannot be prosecuted if:

    The person or entity using the personal identifying
    information is a law enforcement agency, authorized fraud personnel, or
    a representative of or attorney for a law enforcement agency or
    authorized fraud personnel and is using the personal identifying
    information in a bona fide investigation, an information security
    evaluation, a pretext calling evaluation, or a similar matter.

    I have to admit that I'm stunned. I naively assumed that the police
    would have a list of Social Security numbers that would never be given
    to real people, numbers that could be used for purposes such as this.
    Or at least that they would use identities of people from other parts
    of the country after asking for permission. (I'm sure people would
    volunteer to help out the police.) It never occurred to me that they
    would steal the identity of random citizens. What could they be
    thinking? [Schneier on Security]

    Security as a Trade-Off

    Security as a Trade-Off.

    The Economist has an excellent editorial on security trade-offs. You need to subscribe to read the whole thing, but here's my favorite paragraph:

    The second point is that all technologies have both good
    and bad uses. There is currently a debate about whether it is safe to
    install mobile antennas in underground stations, for example, for fear
    terrorists will use mobile phones to detonate bombs. Last year's bombs
    in Madrid were detonated by mobile phones, but it was the phones'
    internal alarm-clock function, not a call, that was used as the trigger
    mechanism. Nobody is suggesting that alarm clocks be outlawed, however;
    nor does anyone suggest banning telephones, even though kidnappers can
    use them to make ransom demands. Rather than demonising new
    technologies, their legitimate uses by good people must always be
    weighed against their illegitimate uses by bad ones. New technologies
    are inevitable, but by learning the lessons of history, needless scares
    need not be.

    [Schneier on Security]


    Another good BW article. Chinese energy inefficiency. China
    spends three times the world average on energy — and seven times what
    Japan spends — to produce $1 of gross domestic product.
    At $100
    oil, what happens to China? Additionally, it's clear that bilateral
    Chinese oil deals will prevent shortages (when they occur). Will the US
    be as lucky? [John Robb's Weblog]