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Feb 042017
 

I could choose to criticise Trump’s stand in immigration from certain countries based on the rights and wrongs of it, because it’s certainly wrong. But firstly there has been plenty written and said about that aspect of it, and secondly those who don’t see how wrong it is are not likely to change.

But even those who do not see how wrong it is may well be able to see just how stupid this move is.

Just to remind ourselves, Trump has temporarily blocked all travel into the USA by anyone holding a passport issued by seven countries which were previously subject to heightened visa requirements. And for good reasons – the relevant countries have more than their fair share of terrorist activity – and it is more than reasonable to check on immigrants to verify that they are not known terrorists.

The first “own goal” is that the new restrictions blocks many people from travelling to the USA who have made their homes there including famous people like Mo Farah (although the ban may not apply to him). How much safer is the US by blocking Mo from entering the USA and going home?  Or all the others in his position?

And let’s be frank – there’s something less than honourable about issuing a visa allowing someone to travel, and then preventing them from travelling. There are people who have planned the holiday of a lifetime and arranged to visit Disneyworld or Disneyland, and all of a sudden they are prevented from travelling.

Now you could argue that if this action decreases the risk to US citizens it is worth taking. But even if it does significantly reduce the risk, I would argue that it is better to accept the increased risk to do the right thing. And in general if you do not accept a slightly increased risk to do the right thing, you are a morally bankrupt person.

But does this decrease the risk to US citizens? To assess that we need to assess how great is the risk of terrorist attacks to the USA, and specifically terrorist attacks from those seven countries.

In fact the risk attributed to terrorism is vastly overrated. Going through the Wikipedia list of terrorist incidents, I get a total of 5 incidents causing the deaths of 50 people (the perpetrators excluded), which includes the Pulse nightclub shooting. If you go back to 2015, the figures are 4 incidents and 23 deaths, and one of the incidents was a christian terrorist.

Working through a similar list of mass shootings in 2016, I get a total of 14 incidents causing the deaths of 56 individuals.

Which is basically saying that you’re about as likely to walk into a terrorist incident as into a mass shooting, and both are really, really unlikely. That doesn’t help much if you are caught up in such an incident, so taking reasonable and proportionate action to decrease that risk is worthwhile.

And targeting refugees fits into the disproportional category; of those 5 incidents in 2016, only one was perpetrated by a refugee (and nobody died).

And now onto the final bit of stupidity: Firing your legal adviser for telling you an executive order is illegal when it is being found so over and over again makes you look more than a bit foolish.  Particularly when you could accomplish almost as much (although in reality more) by simply stopping new visas being issued; especially when the decreased risk from terrorism is marginal at best.

Nov 112016
 

So Trump has been elected as the next president of the USA.

Now setting aside my disbelief for a moment (really? He actually won?), let’s look at some of the reasons why he may have won, and why the poll takers got it wrong.

First of all, the polls were not that far out – whilst they got the winner wrong, they did predict that it would be close. And it was close – Clinton got 47.7% of the popular vote whereas Trump got 47.3%. Yes, Clinton actually won the popular vote, but the US electoral system does not work quite so well when the result is so close. But not bad for a 200-year old system, but perhaps it is time for a long and careful review of the process in the light of modern communications.

In addition, there is also the embarrassment factor – if you had decided to vote for Trump, would you really admit it publicly? On a more serious note, when elections are particularly acrimonious, there is a good chance that a significant amount of the electorate will lie (or just keep quiet) about their choice when asked by pollsters.

Enough about pollsters though, how did he win? Of course everyone wants one simple answer to that question, and there isn’t one. There are many factors as to why he won, and each contributes a little.

The first thing to remember is that there are many stupid people in any population. Nothing wrong with being stupid; some of my best friends are stupid (that didn’t come out quite right!). Really! And it is a fact of life that there are many stupid people – it’s how intelligence tests work. You measure everyone’s intelligence, and those who are below average are stupid, and those who are above average are bright.

Besides, Trump won didn’t he? QED.

And stupid people are easily conned by anyone who tells them what they want to hear no matter how fantastical it might be. And Trump has been telling them what they want to hear – abortion is wrong, he can restore manufacturing jobs (presumably by overturning the laws of economics), making America great again (that one always goes down well, even if America is already great), that climate change is not man-made, etc.

Every time that he pushed one of those buttons, and pandered to every wing-nut grouping out there, he gained more supporters. He either didn’t care or didn’t know that he came across as a cretinous fool, as long as he got some votes.

The second big factor was that although Trump was nominated by the Republican party, he was the closest thing to an anti-establishment candidate of the two major parties (I’ll come to the other parties shortly). Of course he isn’t really not part of the establishment being a billionaire property developer, but he hasn’t previously held public office. And anti-establishment is very popular right now. Given that Clinton was very definitely old political establishment, this could very well be the most significant reason.

And of course there is the economy. Like the rest of the world, the US has just been through a huge recession where many lost their jobs or even their homes. And any ruling party suffers in the wake of a recession. Whether or not the Democrats were to blame, they were going to get blamed by the voters – or at least enough of them to make a bit of a difference.

Next there is of course the poor old sane Republican who has always voted for their party. This time around, they had a buffoon to vote for and although some couldn’t face voting for Trump, a good number couldn’t see any other options.

The reason that some people are blaming are the “other” candidates. Despite the media coverage implying that there are only two candidates, there were in fact nearly 30. If all those who voted for one of the others, had voted for Clinton instead, it might have made a difference, but it seems a touch unlikely that they would have all voted for her. Best guess? They would have divided more or less evenly just like everyone else did.

Having said that, it would be nice if the US had a transferable vote system whereby you could vote for (say) the Green Party, but have your vote go towards another if the Green party didn’t win.

I’m not going to bother mentioning those who couldn’t be bothered to vote. They didn’t vote so they don’t count.

So how about the reaction to Trump’s victory?

It’s almost as bizarre as the lead up to the election: When you’re in a room the morning the results came out, and the two embarrassed Americans both apologise for the US having voted in Trump, you know there’s something odd going on. The reaction has been extreme – not just the usual moaning about having an idiot in charge for four years, but protests, riots, and even a group in California that wants to declare independence. It is sort of understandable (after all, it’s Trump!), but the division in the US today may be almost as damaging as the idiocies that Trump will enact.

On the subject of which, Trump himself probably can’t remember all the rubbish he has promised all over the campaign trail. Of course there are those who will remind him of things he has promised, and probably a lot more besides. But how much damage will he actually do?

The worst case scenario (and there’s more than one) is that he brings about some sort of theocratic form of government (he certainly has supporters who would like to see this), and launches nuclear weapons (Trump with his hand on the launch button? Shudder!).

This is not that likely – there are too many obstacles in the way, including the constitution. And there is just the slightest hint that Trump might not be quite that bad.

His first reaction to the protests was typical paranoia – blaming them on paid activists. But his second reaction was quite sympathetic saying he was pleased that the protesters loved their country so much. Trump probably likes being popular, and there’s one obvious thing to do with a president like that – when he proposes some idiocy, protest. Don’t protest about Trump (however tempting it is); protest about his bad policies.

Of course I might be overly optimistic.

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Sep 122016
 

The title of this post came from a tongue-in-cheek post on a forum I sometimes post on, and this post is not about the NHS nor it is even about socialism.

What it is really about is the over the top reaction you get when anything even tangentially related to socialism crops up anywhere someone from the US can see it. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that this is a variant on Godwin’s law whereby if someone accuses something of being socialist, they instantly win and condemn the “thing”.

To which I want to respond: grow up and think for yourself.

First of all, socialism is not the same as communism and in turn, communism is not the same as the kind of communism as practised by the Soviets. It is possible that communism inevitably leads to the kind of totalitarianism that the Soviets were so keen on, although there are those who disagree. But this is not about what sort of government you have.

It’s about how to run certain things. How do we pay for, and run certain services we have decided are essential such as :-

  • Health care (of individuals)
  • Public health (of society as a whole – vaccinations, sewage, water supply, etc.)
  • Police and justice system.
  • Defence

There are plenty of things that we have historically decided that should be paid for by the community as a whole, and be run by our government (in a very loose sense the community itself), including many of the items listed above. Even the most rabid anti-socialist is unlikely to start bleating about how the government is interfering with the private sector when talking about defence.

Yet suggest something new should be paid for by the community as a whole – such as the health care system – and Americans will start shouting “Socialism” and condemn the notion without looking at the merits.

By all means condemn a new community-funded notion if there are obvious problems with it, but to condemn it because it might be something suggested by a socialist government is ideologically-driven stupidity of the first order.

stack-of-coins-p1

May 142016
 

Pfizer now no longer supplies drugs to be used in the US lethal injection executions. Which means that there is now no major pharmaceutical company prepared to supply drugs to be used for executions. Or in other words even large capitalist-driven organisations that the major pharmaceuticals are find executions so morally repugnant that they want nothing to do with them.

So those US states have a number of options :-

  1. Try to find the drugs from “unauthorised” sources, which basically translates as obtaining drugs under false pretences.
  2. Try to find an alternative method of execution.
  3. Or finally do the right thing and stop executing people.

It’s time the US grew up and joined the civilised world.

B84V1827t1-elderley-man-past-gravestones

Dec 102015
 

So Donald Trump wants to ban muslims from entering the US does he?

Perhaps he really is not only a vicious racist but also as gormless as he looks in the photo (apologies for those of a sensitive disposition). There are others who have covered why banning muslims from entering the US is morally wrong, and if you do not understand why that is so, then explaining here is not going to make things any clearer.

But in addition to being morally wrong, it is also dumb in the extreme. There are two important question to ask when looking at a policy …

Is It A Practicable Policy?

No.

Islam is a religion and is not apparent from someone’s appearance. There is no label on their forehead!

So a policy of restricting muslims would be limited to either asking them. Which would lead to a situation where you were excluding muslims who do not lie about their religion, or in other words you are letting in the kind of muslims that you should perhaps be excluding, and excluding the muslims there is no reason for excluding.

Or you could do some sort of racial profiling, which amounts to not excluding muslims, but excluding light-brown skinned people. Again this will exclude the kind of muslims you do not want to exclude, whilst allowing through ones up to no good.

Will It Accomplish The Mission?

It really depends on what is intended by excluding muslims. If it is intended to portray the US as an intolerant country blundering around with incompetent measures that do more to annoy than to protect, them yes it can be said to accomplish the mission.

If however it is intended to make the US safer from terrorists, then no. Terrorists are more interested in accomplishing their own mission than telling the truth, and will go out of their way to avoid being identified is muslims if they think that this will help in their mission.

There is one small category of terrorists that this may protect against – those who are initially ordinary muslims but who later become radicalised whilst in the US. However having said that, the likelihood that this measure will protect against those vulnerable to becoming radicalised is pretty low.

 

 

Oct 022015
 

In the wake of yet another senseless slaughter in the US perpetrated by a supposedly anti-Christian mindless thug, it is time yet again for the US to contemplate a sensible level of gun control.

The US does not have a problem with gun control; it has a problem with mindless violence. There are other countries in the world where gun ownership is at the same level or even higher than in the US – such as Switzerland. 

But gun control is a sensible measure to take whilst the real problem – a tough problem to tackle – is dealt with. The fact that the US constitution protects gun ownership is a red herring; as the name implies (the Second Amendment), the US constitution is amenable to amendment.

And even that is a bit of a red herring – the second amendment does not protect gun ownership for the purposes of self-defence, playing with guns at a gun range, or murdering innocent animals,  It protects gun ownership for the purposes of making up a well-regulated militia :-

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Gun control regulations that do not prevent gun ownership by members of a well regulated militia are not in breach of the second amendment.

If for example the US brought in laws which required gun owners to be members of a well regulated militia (which as a minimum should ensure that militia commanders are subject to stringent checks), store their weaponds in a militia armoury, and only be allowed to use those weapons under the supervision of militia officers, it would go a long way to preventing senseless slaughters.

The main aim with that is to ensure that gun usage is subject to collective decision making – crowd-sourcing the decision to use the weapons if you like.

If gun usage is controlled by collective decision making, there is less chance of a murderous maniac slaughtering innocent victims. 

You may think that as a UK citizen, this is none of my business, but I dispute that. The victims of this latest senseless slaughter were my fellow humans, and as a human I have the right to stick my oar in. 

Nov 022013
 

Why on earth have we got this new name – Human Trafficking – for the very old crime of slavery and slave trading? Is it some kind of attempt at putting a trendy new gloss on it? It’s not a crime that should have a trendy new gloss; even ignoring the fact that it is the kind of crime that shouldn’t be glamorised in any way, there’s a very good legal reason why we should carry on calling it slavery and slave trading.

Back in the 19th century, the British unilaterally declared that slavery and slave trading would be treated the same as piracy and set about (with the assistance of the US) eliminating the African slave trade. Under the principle of jus cogens they set about hanging slavers, confiscating their assets, and freeing slaves claiming that they had a universal right to punish those who took part in the crime of slavery.

In other words, some crimes are so heinous that anyone is allowed to prosecute offenders no matter where or when the offenses took place.

By keeping the old name for the crime, we retain it’s classification as a crime subject to universal jurisdiction. This opens the possibility of setting up a court – such as the ICC – to prosecute slavers wherever in the world they are, and the possibility of empowering law enforcement units to bring slavers to justice wherever they happen to be.

And after all, the fight against slavery isn’t going too well with more slaves today than there has ever been.

Oct 172013
 

With apologies to all drunken sailors who will no doubt resent – quite reasonably – being compared with a dysfunctional government.

The big news today (and yesterday – different time zones confuse these things) is that the US government has grasped just a bit of sanity and has stepped back from the abyss. Well most of them did, but the lunatic fringe of the Republican party (also known as the Tea Party) still persisted in trying to block the government from doing any work and paying any debts it owes.

But it is only temporary, and unless some more sanity returns to US politicians, we will get to see this mess repeated in January.

Ultimately this is all the fault of a fanatic wing of the Republican party who believe it is their right to undemocratically block the government budget until their favourite hobby horse is taken care of. Obamacare. Whether it is a good or a bad thing, it is a done deal, and it is undemocratic to try to sabotage it without first giving it a chance.

Yes the US has too much public debt, but too much is made of the so-call US ‘debt crisis’. The overall figure is immense to be true – so big that it is impossible to understand; so big that we have clever means to make it understandable, and to understand it in terms of affordability. If you look at the US debt as a proportion of GDP (in other words how affordable it is), you will see that the US is in 35th position (according to CIA figures) with a figure of 73.6% of GDP. Or 9th position (using the IMF figures).

Not a good position certainly, but hardly a basket case.

Now there’s a great deal of sense in reducing US government debt, but not in this way. Simply by stopping US government cheques would cause a catastrophic effect on the US (and world) economies.

Perhaps those with a vote in the US would like to remember this when it comes to voting next time. Your current set of politicians look dangerously dysfunctional; even in comparison to politicians in other countries.

Jun 082013
 

Which is news how exactly? Spying on us is what the NSA and GCHQ are for.

Over the last day or two, we have been hearing more and more of the activities of the NSA (here) and GCHQ (here) spying on “us” (for variable definitions of that word). Specifically on a programme called PRISM which monitors Internet traffic between the US and foreign nations, but not on communications internal to the US.

Various Internet companies have denied being involved, but :-

  1. They would have to deny involvement as any arrangement between the NSA and the company is likely to be covered by heavyweight laws regarding the disclosure of information about it.
  2. It’s also worth noting that they have asked the company executives whether they are involved in PRISM, but not asked every engineer within the company; it is doubtful in the extreme that any company executive knows everything that happens within their company. And an engineer asked to plumb in a data tap under the banner of national security is not likely to talk about it to the company executive; after all the law trumps company policy.
  3. The list of companies that have been asked, and have issued denials is a list of what the general public think of as the Internet, but in fact none of the companies are tier-1 NSP; whilst lots of interesting data could be obtained from Google, any mass surveillance programme would start with the big NSPs.

What seems to have been missed is the impact of agreements such as the UKUSA agreement on signals intelligence; the NSA is “hamstrung” (in their eyes) by being forbidden by law from spying on US domestic signals, but they are not forbidden to look at signals intelligence provided by GCHQ and visa-versa. Which gives both agencies “plausible deniability” in that they can legitimately claim that they are not spying on people from their own country whilst neglecting to mention that they make use of intelligence gathered by their opposite number.

There is some puzzlement that PRISM’s annual cost is just $20 million a year; there is really a rather obvious reason for this … and it also explains why none of the tier-1 NSPs have been mentioned so far either. Perhaps PRISM is an extension of an even more secret surveillance operation. They built (and maintain) the costly infrastructure for surveillance targeting the tier-1 NSPs and extended it with PRISM. In particular, the growing use of encryption means that surveillance at the tier-1 NSPs would be getting less and less useful (although traffic analysis can tell you a lot) making the “need” for PRISM a whole lot more necessary.

As it turns out there is evidence for this hypothesis.

But Are They Doing Anything Wrong?

Undoubtedly, both the NSA and GCHQ will claim what they are doing is within the law, and in the interests of national security. They may well be right. But unless we know exactly what they are doing, it is impossible to judge if their activities are within the law or not. And just because something is legal does not necessarily make it right.

Most people would probably agree that a mass surveillance programme may be justified if the aim is to prevent terrorism, but we don’t know that their aims are limited to that. The surveillance is probably restricted to subjects of “national interest”, but who determines what is in the national interest? Just because we think it is just about terrorism, war, and espionage doesn’t mean it is so. What is to stop the political masters of the NSA or GCHQ from declaring that it is in the national interest to spy on those involved with protests against the government, or those who vote against the government, or those who talk about taxation (i.e. tax avoidance/evasion)?

Spying is a slippery slope: It was not so very long a ago that a forerunner of the NSA was shut down by the US president of the day because “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”. But intelligence is a tool that is so useful that more and more invasive intelligence methods become acceptable. It is all too easy to imagine how today’s anti-terrorist surveillance can become tomorrow’s 1984-like society.

That does not means that GCHQ should not investigate terrorism, but that it should do so in a way that we can be sure that it does not escalate into more innocent areas. Perhaps we should be allowing GCHQ to pursue surveillance, but that it should be restricted to a specified list of topics.

May 182013
 

The strange thing about being involved in information security is the phenomena of cyber warfare.

After all, what does tinkering with computers have to do with real war? Well it depends what all that tinkering leads to, and we simply do not know what would happen in a real war. We are in the beginning of the era when aggressive hacking supports war.

But probably the overwhelming majority of activities labelled as cyber warfare are in fact espionage, or a grey area in between. Any kind of hacking that leads to information disclosure, is espionage rather than warfare. More aggressive hacking – such as writing malware to spin centrifuges into destruction – falls into the grey area between espionage and warfare; it’s too aggressive to be labelled espionage, but isn’t part of a legal war (and yes there is such a thing). In terms of legality, it could well be that such acts are illegal acts of war, but morally justified.

And why is China always the bad actor here? Practically every hacking conference video dealing with cyber warfare drops big hints about the activities of China with little in the way of evidence. There is some evidence that China may be involved in cyber espionage, but as for cyber warfare itself, there is far more evidence for the involvement of the US, Israel, and even the UK; although the rumoured replacement of an Al-Qaeda recipe for a pipe bomb with one for cupcakes doesn’t seem like an act of war, but perhaps an exhibit of the English sense of humour.

Part of the problem is that anyone who reads their firewall logs will find a huge number of attacks coming from Chinese address space. As an example, a quick inspection of the addresses blocked on one of my servers for attempted ssh brute force attacks gives the following table :-

Count Country Code Country
255 CN China
51 US United States …
29 KR Korea (South)
19 BR Brazil
17 DE Germany
15 IN India
13 RU Russia
13 GB Great Britain
13 FR France
11 ID Indonesia

This is not intended to be an accurate reflection of anything other than the number of infected machines trying to brute force accounts on my server.

The high presence of China is an indication of the number of malware infections within China, and the large population of the Chinese. It doesn’t actually say anything about where those attacks originate. Every hacker with enough sense to tie up their shoe laces will be pivoting through privacy proxies, and using armies of infected hosts to send out their attacks. These infected hosts are the ones whose addresses show up in your logs.

Assuming that because these addresses are Chinese means that the Chinese state is behind attacks is faulty logic. There is no reason why the Chinese state hackers (if they exist … although it is almost certain they do) would use Chinese addresses to attack from; they are more likely to be using addresses from the US, Europe, South America, etc. If anything, attacks coming from Chinese addresses indicate :-

  1. Private sector hacking (which is the majority)
  2. Attacks from state groups other than China.

It may well be that China is engaged in industrial scale cyber espionage; it may also be that what people assume are Chinese attacks are in fact other states. After all cyber espionage is probably one of the cheapest ways to get involved; within the means of even the smallest and poorest states.

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