Beyond the Cusp

December 17, 2014

Has the World Gone Crazy? Government Wants to Look and See

 

Thus far this week we have witnessed too many instances of violence from all across the globe with none of it making much sense. There was the taking of hostages in a small eatery in Australia with a wannabe ISIS crazy who amongst his demands insisted on talking to the Prime Minister of the country. There was a Taliban raid on a Pakistani school murdering innocent children with the count approaching one-hundred-fifty and nearly countless more reportedly in area hospitals, let’s pray it does not exceed that number. The United States did not miss out as a former Marine went on a killing spree in Philadelphia northwestern suburb in Pennsylvania murdering his ex-wife and her sister, mother, grandmother and two children of the sister as well as shooting and injuring the sister’s husband. These, as with too many murders reported unfortunately almost daily, are the actions of disturbed minds or people blinded beyond sanity by their cause will remain beyond our ability to understand. Where the twisted reasoning behind any murder may be beyond the ability of our ability to discern and understand, efforts should continue to see if any discerning and identifying character traits or other determining actions and indicators can be discovered such that in the future some of these grisly events can be prevented. We will probably never have the ability to prevent every time somebody goes beyond all societal norms and commits some act of violence tearing a hole in society as a whole.

 

The question we as societies will need to answer is how far are we to permit law enforcement to go both in their abilities to collect information and survey public or even private areas in order to prevent crimes and provide a higher level of safety in their efforts to circumvent crimes, especially crimes of violence. There are already increasing usages for cameras and sound detection equipment in cities throughout the world with London taking the lead as the most surveyed city with sound detectors and cameras placed throughout so that they can see virtually every area of the streets, river, shopping centers, service alleys and probably the darkest recesses and corners throughout the city. Surveillance carried out to such an extent combined with the advancing artificial intelligence advances in computer technology including facial recognition software, gait detection and profiling which will lead to computers monitoring the entirety of these cameras and potentially adding the microphones so that they can discern every spoken word and conversation using software collating the data in order to alert police to suspected criminal acts they determine are imminent. The police would be directed in the hope that their mere presence would prevent the crime and to interdict any criminal act as soon as it occurs or prevent any violent action intervening at the predicted moment such violence might occur. It would be a virtual future crime system used as deterrence and placing police exactly where they might be needed moments before any criminal act. For crimes such as theft or a holdup such a system would likely deter many criminals but then how far would such a system be empowered. Would they use such a system to determine the name of a person crossing a street in other than a designated crosswalk and send them a summons or ticket just as speed cameras and red light cameras do in many cities currently? Such a system would potentially provide a huge increase in revenue which could potentially completely finance the entire police department.

 

If placing cameras and listening devices all throughout our cities and towns is acceptable, then what if the government decides to go further? It would start with a program where the government would give people payment if they were permitted to add any monitoring cameras and sound devices people currently had in their homes and businesses. The program would begin innocently and be voluntary so what would be the harm, people could simply say they have no interest and such a program might make others who would be unable to afford an alarm system with cameras and twenty-four hour monitoring and such a program would be enabling more homes to be monitored and kept safe. What argument could be made that this was not a good thing and it is still voluntary, right? Then the government would eventually see this as now a right they could extend as were not most of the people who had systems voluntarily opting to join the government subsidy. Anyways, anybody now refusing the government mandated monitoring systems and the government including these systems in their extensive monitoring would be proof that you have something to hide. The thing is such a demand would not be instituted until the vast majority of the public had already agreed to this monitoring by the government and nobody had been adversely affected, so where is the harm in government placing monitoring in every home. Such monitoring would keep homes safe from burglaries while people were at work and where would be the harm? There was a time when people would only accept a ticket if it was written by an officer who had witnessed their exceeding the speed limit or running a red light. Nobody would accept a ticket from a camera radar trap and receiving one would result in their going to court and demanding to confront their accuser. Initially this defense was accepted by the courts and then the city council allowed for a regulation, or even passed a law in some instances, that made these tickets legal and no longer permitted the defense of demanding to confront your accuser and thus no judge would accept that defense. It has become common for camera evidence to be considered superior to an eye witness’s testimony. Add facial recognition and cameras can be utilized to identify people beyond any reasonable doubt in most courts. Where these automated law enforcement technologies will end is anybody’s guess. The camera and the microphones are just the tip of the coming iceberg as we can expect explosives detection systems placed in sensitive areas or places where large crowds are expected to form such as malls, ballparks, amusement parks, concerts, fairs and special events as well as whatever devices and data gathering system which have yet to be developed. Many of the larger ports and other commercial shipping and mass travel systems including trains, planes and ships have detection equipment which checks the luggage or shipping containers as well as magnetometers to check the people while visual checks are made of carryon luggage and bags. These detection devices are simply a computerized version of using a dog or other trained animal and currently almost as reliable and their evidence is acceptable in a court as sufficient evidence for permitting an officer to search and arrest any person refusing the search in order to search the person once in custody.

 

There are numerous types of surveillance equipment with abilities which would astound the average person readily available to police departments should they care to make the outlay funds to purchase such devices. There is equipment which can listen to a conversation simply by placing an invisible laser onto any window to the room which the conversation of interest is being held. This technology has progressed to the point that one would need to cover the window with sound dampening screens or external cover such as aluminum storm shutters. There are systems which can see through walls with amazing detail capability. There are systems being researched which will allow governments to monitor people in ways they likely never imagined. People can be tracked by tracking their cell phones. Using your cell phone a person can be located to within ten feet and their cell phone can be activated to listen to any noises or conversations within the ability of the microphone to detect. Even the cell phone camera can be activated though such is often not very revealing as if the phone is in a purse or pocket the video will not reveal much. There are ways to monitor people’s computer usage as long as their computer is linked to a network which has internet connection active or if the computer itself is connected to the internet. The invasions of our privacy which government can potentially utilize if they wish to monitor our lives covertly are astounding and place every individual potentially in a very compromised position even without their knowledge. These are simply implications of the modern world we all reside within. But then in a world where many of us post even intimate information about ourselves on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Vine and others, why would many of us complain or have any problem with the government monitoring our daily activities. Perhaps the government could start their own social media site and simply put videos of some of the craziest things they monitored and maybe also the top ten crimes of the day. The one prediction which can be made safely is that privacy is a quaint idea whose definition is growing ever smaller with every passing new technology. Perhaps any legal definition claiming that we have unalienable rights to privacy, that our homes are inviolable or that our papers, effects and private information are secure from search or seizure without a court order, summons or warrant are simply cute little ideas whose potential possibility is nil in our high-tech world where information rules and those who can best gather information rule. In simpler terms, if one wishes to have privacy they best be prepared to make a sizeable effort to assure that their desire has been attained. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Perhaps this could be adapted to modern times where we add that not only is eternal vigilance is the price of liberty but also the price for personal privacy from government. It could be argued that privacy is necessary to have liberty and to have real freedom. To be honest, it is rightly well worth the effort and allows one to sleep better each night.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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June 21, 2014

Pending Iraq Catastrophe and the Kurds

The fighting in Iraq seems to have garnered quite a bit of attention on numerous fronts. We have President Obama attempting to go the minimal route and basically claim he has sent sufficient Special Forces troops to advise and assist as needed to turn the table and somehow force to make the Iraqi military stand and fight rather than run in flight as they have thus far. The reality is not quite as pretty or honorable but is probably the best option all things considered as far as saving Baghdad from itself. These special units which are being deployed consists of at least one Special Ops Unit who are trained specifically on IT (information technology), networking, and computer sciences and are tasked with destroying, neutralizing and rendering inoperative the massive computer complex, monitoring, as well as data retrieval and storage capable of gathering, storing and analyzing an impressively wide, extensive and complex variety and amount of data. Perhaps this is the smart way to go all things considered. The United States hopefully learned a lesson from their adventurism in Iraq and Afghanistan, namely that you cannot impose by force, coercion or any other implied form of persuasion a democratic governance which will produce a multicultural and acceptive society amongst peoples who are still part of a culture which is tribal, clan based or religiously exclusive such as exists between the Sunni and Shiite Islamic denominations without first reorienting their educational system and then remaining with a heavily influencing if not also heavy footprint residual force for probably close to two generations and maybe far longer as their basic approach and exclusive societal structure has been basically transformed into a system more adapted for inclusive, multicultural based society which can then become an operative democratic society. Establishing a democratic governance in a clan or tribal society can only produce a society in which the predominant faction will gain control over the government and use that power to make their rule permanently entrenched and often will go so far as to eradicate any other sector of the society they perceive as a threat.

 

What has been ignored in Iraq is the slow but steady eradication of the Sunni influences on the government by the Shiites who feel they are entitled to impose their will as a vengeance on the many decades of Sunni oppressions committed on them. They were simply using their control of the government to apply payback for the slights and oppressions they had suffered at the hands of the Sunnis under Saddam Hussein. This treatment by the Shiite government on their Sunni countrymen was restrained for as long as the United States military was present and preventing the majority Shiites from imposing their will and utilizing the government as a large club to oppress the Sunnis which served two purposes, it guaranteed their continued control of the governance and it limited the rights and liberties to their rival form of Islam, the Sunnis. The Shiite controlled government in Baghdad also would have imposed their will in a similar manner on the Kurds except the Kurds formed their own militia which performed the same role as a national army in defending their territories from outside influence thus protecting the Kurds enabling them to establish their own semiautonomous kingdom in the northern areas of Iraq. This has provided the only stable area in Iraq since the removal of the American forces and is the one saving grace which remains and is a credit to the United States liberation of Iraq from the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein. The Kurds are also the only force thus far which has successfully stood up to the invading forces of ISIS even to the point of re-liberating Kirkuk after the Iraqi military stationed there simply evacuated before the advancing ISIS terrorists. Hopefully, when all is said and done and the new divisions of Iraq become somewhat stable, or at least as stable as anything currently can be in much of the Middle East, the Kurds will retain both Kirkuk and Mosul.

 

What would be an even grander vision would be the Kurds declaring themselves free from the dictates and alien government in Baghdad and establish the nation of Kurdistan, something which was presented to them as a promise which was not only never kept but intentionally broken over oil by the British. When the time came to establish the promised area of Kurdish autonomy and nationhood, the British made a new deal for the oil in northern Iraq as well as their already established agreement over the southern oil fields and thus Iraqi leader King Faisal was granted dominion over the Kurdish lands and Kurdistan was erased from the plans and the map. The Israelis are familiar with the British form of promises and honoring said promises as not only did the British take over three-fourths of the promised British Mandate for the Jewish State and in its stead establish Jordan as a gift to the Hashemites, a losers condolence prize after they were removed from their positions in Mecca and Medina, but also to this very day as the British are complicit with the Palestinian claims to Judea, Samaria and Gaza despite their solemn promises that the lands west of the Jordan River, after stealing those lands east of the Jordan River, would be inviolate and forever reserved and part of the Jewish State. If Israel relied on British promises, even Tel Aviv would not be a safe haven kept as promised for Jews to reside.

 

 The Kurds have had their own autonomous enclave for well over a decade starting with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by the forces of the United States. They are sufficiently independent from the influences and controlling reach of the Shiite government in Baghdad that they have begun pumping the oil in their region through a Turkish pipeline to which they have become connected. Their initial shipment under the auspices of their declared governance, the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government, is sitting in the SCF Altia tanker ready to be unloaded tomorrow at the port city of Ashkelon by the Israelis. Israel has reached an agreement to buy Kurdish produced oil which will be piped through the Ceyhan pipeline despite opposition and protestations from Baghdad, obviously, and the United States, Israel has accepted this first shipment and is working to develop further relations with the Kurdish Regional Government. Israel should inform the Kurdish Regional Government that Israel is prepared to recognize the autonomous areas under Kurdish control, including Kirkuk and also Mosul if they should gain control of this city after the Iraqi unrest settles down, as an independent nation of Kurdistan and willing to enter a mutual defense pact promising to assist in the defense of the Kurdish areas should any outside force attempt to compromise their borders and lands. Such an event would controvert the claims from Baghdad that they control the region and that they and only they are permitted to sell all the oil within the Kurdish Regional Government areas.  Perhaps it is time for Israelis and the Kurdish peoples to claim the lands which were promised them at the end of World War I with the setting up of the mandate system under which both the Kurds and the Jews were promised homelands but those promises proved to be fluidic and the Jews saw over three-fourths of their mandated lands stolen and presented to an Arab potentate and the Kurds saw their promise simply dissolve completely as Iraq was given their lands in exchange for allowing the British to control the oil in the previously promised Kurdish lands.

 

The Kurds and Israelis share relatively good relations and share a history replete with broken British promises as major tragedies in their history, making their friendship that much stronger for the shared experiences. These difficult times with Iraq being swallowed by terrorist violence and assaults from the ISIS terrorist forces and the potential for Iranian troops to enter Iraq presumably for the purpose of assisting in the protection of the Shiite government in Baghdad and to repel the ISIS forces who are currently wreaking havoc over much of central and southern Iraq. Why should Iran or the United States have the right to intervene and defend the Baghdad government of Iraq and Israel be prevented from recognizing and promising to assist in the defense of the Kurdish lands in the north should they come under attack from terrorists or other outside forces. Contrary to their opinions, the United States and Iran have not been granted hegemonic control over the entire Middle East or even simply the Iraqi areas claimed by Baghdad. The Kurds have been operating independently for years and have earned the right to declare their independence. Why is it permissible for the disparate peoples who made up what used to be Yugoslavia be permitted to establish their own little fiefdom nations all of which would easily fit within the area controlled by the Kurdish people and the Kurds are forbidden from the same autonomous freedom to have their own lands. Just because President Obama or the State Department does not like the idea does not mean that such is forbidden. The Kurds should simply remind President Obama of his promise that the United States would no longer dictate to the world what they could or could not do and the world would not any longer require the permission from Washington before acting in their own best interests. This time of distress and dire threats is the perfect time to allow the Kurds to establish their own independent nation as their having defended their lands and the reputation of their military forces, militias as they are referred to, being largely responsible for the northern Kurdish defended region being left in peace. If keeping their area peaceful and under its own governance’s control and this serenity being the exception should be reason enough for the establishment of Kurdistan as they are not being protected by the Iraqi army or any other force out of Baghdad, so they should not be governed by those who are unwilling to protect them as they appear to be unable to protect their own or any other part of Iraq. Long live Kurdistan, friend and sharer of similar history and friend of Israel.

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

May 6, 2014

Can We Trust Future Technology?

Whether you call it Artificial Intelligence, the Singularity, Future Tech or any of probably a few hundred specific areas or identifiers of what future challenges are approaching faster than we are preparing safeguards or educating people to facilitate acceptance, and will acceptance even be desirable? Some of the recent big news stories have dealt with data mining and the use of massive amounts of data in predictive technologies. But there are other uses of these exact technologies which we do not appear to be anywhere near as concerned about other sources using these exact same technologies and very likely with less oversight such as charge card companies and retailers. Then there is the eerie side of the education system known best as Common Core which includes large amounts of data mining on the children as a part of their educational experience presumably to be better able to tailor the education system to each child’s predetermined preferences and likely path in life as determined by the data. One of the fears is this information could also be utilized to spy on and make determinations about the student’s home life and might be applied by the government to make determinations which families might be at risk for undesirable behaviors or activities. If you do not think that any of this is a fast approaching problem then try to explain why whenever you do a search for some retail item or make a few purchases online that your computer begins to display advertisements of related and similar items in the pop-up advertisements. This is accomplished through very similar technologies to what the NSA (National Security Agency) and other government law enforcement and spying agencies were accused of applying to the data mining information that caused such an outrage recently. Somehow the fact that Google, Target, Amazon, Wal-Mart and who knows who else including technology companies and advertising agencies are increasingly using to better mold their advertisements and sales promotions in order to increase their revenues by better targeting trends and potential approaching markets. The one truth we all are facing is that as technologies advance and are refined and improved our privacy becomes more threatened to the point where many of us have probably already redefined personal informational privacy downward lowering expectations of remaining anonymous.

 

There are those among us who have already altered our lives to attempt to forestall the onset of completely and totally compromised personal privacy. Some refuse to use Google when they search for items, but is Google actually contributing to the search engine you use instead and thus you still are feeding the Google data mining which they have admitted to using in their research to produce a better Artificial Intelligence software and predictive analysis algorithms all presumably to better serve us in the future. But are their intentions really all that altruistic or could there exist deeper and darker motivations in their use of our search terms and other on-line activities. With Google we are almost completely defenseless against their attempts to gather the data about us as they continue to swallow up new technologies and smaller companies to the point they are almost omnipresent in everybody’s on-line lives. Then there are so many possibilities for character data mining and experimentation which can be incorporated within the plethora of on-line games and interactive on-line experiences and sharing services such as Twitter, Facebook, StumbleUpon, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Flickr, MySpace and other social networking sites even including the one no one admits to ever using any longer, AOL, you know who you are, and so do the data miners. The one good side to using AOL is that the data miners likely refuse to store data on you. Many have probably forgotten but there was a time when AOL was the Google of on-line social interactive media and search engines but that was another time and almost seems like another reality and so innocent and almost primitive compared to Google and the rest of today’s on-line media and social activities. Still, these interactive social media and life sharing sites we provide so much telling information about ourselves that we really do not appear to really be concerned with the amount of information and personal data we provide or how it can and will be used and not necessarily in ways which we would be completely comfortable about. So, where should we draw the line and claim no further intrusions and should these lines apply to private industries and companies or solely apply to government agencies and departments which are presumably restricted from many of these type encroachments into our lives and information by the Constitution. Amendment IV states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” The question will pivot on the definition of what is unreasonable and how invasive would we define an acceptable level of gathering data on us and recording our communications on open networks and public forums. The younger generations appear generally to be less concerned as their lives have been lived with the all-pervasive technology and universal data sharing and personal on-line presence which is openly available to almost any and everybody while those of us who were raised during the ultra-high-tech Etch-A-Sketch era probably fear these technological advances and intrusions far more.

 

The next concern, or at least it should be, is how far will these technologies go and what can we expect future society to resemble. Will we have precogs facilitating the arrest of people for future crime as in Minority Report or will we have to have a special law enforcement department to hunt down artificial humanoid life forms as in Blade Runner or will the future resemble the horrors and enslavement of humankind depicted in the 1927 futurist movie Metropolis. The decisions of how far is too far and what qualifies as unreasonable or too invasive is something which society needs to address and define now and not wait until the technology creates a situation where the consequences are so abhorrent and unacceptable that the decisions made subsequent to this almost predictable coming disastrous circumstance that many beneficial technological applications are made illegal or restricted causing a new problem where avoidable problems are not revealed as a result of the overreaction to the initial misuse of technology. The consequences of upcoming technologies will be astounding even to the most techno-savvy amongst us and quite probably horrifying to those of us less comfortable and acquainted with the possibilities and influences which are coming into existence spawned as a result to the power of information technologies. This will be an even more worrisome situation with the IRS now will not only hold a complete financial inventory of virtually every American citizen but will also have universal access to the health records of the vast majority of American citizens and all should Obamacare actually fulfill its objectives of instituting a single payer government provided healthcare system. Adding this level of data availability across the departments of the Federal Government to the potential metadata collected by the NSA and with the storage and retrievability capabilities of the new data storage complex built on a two-hundred-forty-acre site near Camp Williams outside Bluffdale, Utah, the ability to profile not only every single American citizen but also every individual holding positions of power in every national government in the world along with a sizeable percentage of people simply deemed of interest and you have an incalculable potential for evil pursuits beyond imagination. The coming technological society will be something so beyond anything we can imagine, as the people developing these technologies are far more imaginative than the average person and even if they have only the milk of loving kindness in their hearts, the potential for somebody with nefarious intentions within the companies at the leading edge of these abilities cannot be ruled out, or at least should not be ruled out. The future has the potential to make life enjoyable and promising beyond belief but with such ability it can also turn in a completely opposite direction, and since the government is partnering with these efforts and underwriting much of the research, can we trust the government which includes among their members the most hated politician of your choosing. Imagine the worst example of humanity from the White House or Congress and imagine their having their fingers on every piece of information about everybody and the ability to predict future actions with a believably high level of accuracy and try to find what would be considered off-limits to these politicians. If that does not scare you then you either live the most pure lives ever lived or have no reason as nobody is without sin when it comes to political expediency. I, for one, wish and hope that the future will be all flowers and sweet music but in order to make that so, I also will expect the worst from those with whom we place our trust to make the laws and run the nation and even the world. Watch, verify and constrict government for as George Washington quipped, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

 

Beyond the Cusp

 

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