The Growing Problem of Police Overreaction Against Minorities

This video is must be the millionth video in a growing collection of a Caucasian police officer using what appears to be excessive force against an unarmed (and in this case, under-aged) African-American. This is such a common occurrence that it barely registers anymore.

Anyone who has participated in a military operation in a foreign country will tell you that sooner or later, some members of the occupying force will grow to treat the local with indifference, then hostility, and eventually hatred. The cultural differences become annoying, and those differences can galvanize into a kind of Us-Against-Them mentality. It happened to me on a humanitarian aid mission in Nicaragua, and to a certain extent when I was stationed in Germany. It happens when you are surrounded by people who are vastly different from you, and yet you are sort of discouraged from integrating into the local culture.

I think that this is what is happening to many police officers. When you take away the racial, political, and cultural differences, what remains is an attitude among many cops that they are essentially an invading force. Many of them believe that they are there to force order onto a population that has no concept of law and order. This is different from the problem of the militarization of police forces, because this isn’t just militarizing the equipment and tactics of a police force, it’s militarizing the attitudes, and in some cases the doctrine of a police force.

That attitude is fine for soldiers and marines going down-range on foreign soil, but never for a police officer. A police officer should be part of the community that he or she is policing, not an invader. A police officer should work with the community he or she is policing, and not treating the community as the enemy.

It’s this sort of routine overreaction that makes people, myself included, no longer trust the police. From a tactical standpoint, that’s a terrible place to be in, seeing as how citizens outnumber the police by a significant margin.

Video Games and Depression

Ispidey_skyrim have battled with clinical depression for most of my adult life. The primary reason that I have maintained a weblog in one form or another is that writing is one of the ways that I deal with my depression. I also play video games. Writing and exercise are positive things that help me to feel productive. Video games are a tricky balance. In moderation, gaming helps me vent frustrations, much like exercise does. If I am not careful, however, gaming can go off the rails, and become basically the only thing that I do, outside of the bare essentials like not getting fired from work and keeping the children alive.

About 12 years ago I was working this horrible job as a help desk agent, taking borderline abusive tech support calls from cognitively-impaired corporate lusers. I was completely miserable and when I started playing Asheron’s Call, I slipped into full-blown video game addiction. My work day consisted of working on auto-pilot while surfing Maggie the Jackcat’s website for quests to run and items to craft. I would then stay up all night running various toons through said quests, and crafting said items. I even wrote a blog chronicling my adventures. It was pathetic 🙂 Then suddenly, I burned out on AC and when I stopped playing, I suddenly realized how miserable I was at work, and invested my energy into finding a new job.

A few years later, I got into City of Heroes pretty seriously. I was especially into multi-boxing and at one point, I was running 8 toons at once. Multiboxing turned my altaholism into a superpower. While I logged many hours playing CoH, it was not nearly as life-consuming as AC.

Today, my drug of choice is Skyrim. In many ways it’s less compelling than an MMO, but the story has caused me to have more than a few spiritual and philosophical reflections. One idea in particular is the attitude of many NPCs that the prophecy of the return of the dragons makes the end of the world a foregone conclusion. In the context of the game, if you are going to affect change, you are fighting not only dragons and undead, you are also fighting a culture of apocalyptic pessimism. As a parable for combating depression, I can’t think of a better interactive story.

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The Culture of the Intelligence Community and the Chelsea Manning Debacle

This video is an interesting take on the Manning/Snowden leaks by Joshua Foust. Foust says that Manning’s actions jeopardized a number of diplomatic and military undertakings. It sounds very well reasoned.

Whenever the criticism of Chelsea Manning’s actions flows, the first question that I ask is “What operations were compromised?” followed up by “Tell me just one person, by name, who was put at risk.” I ask this because the leaked materials were 6 or more months old, and Wikileaks states that steps were taken to not endanger people.

I also ask what was compromised because most who criticize the leaks aren’t familiar enough with the materials to have a an answer (certainly not me). I am also fairly confident that no one except for a few high ranking members of the intelligence community can actually answer that question definitively, and those few are not authorized to answer. Such is the nature of state secrets. The logic of our government and military is that we should just take their word for it that they have to operate in secrecy and with impunity because it’s for our own good. This is the crux of the issue: with no sharing of information, how are we to verify these claims? This is also why a national dialog cannot be had on the subject. The Executive Branch is simply unable to level with the American people about the things that they do to keep us safe, and about the things that they keep us safe from.

We, the American people are worried about our Constitutional rights to privacy, to free speech, our rights to due process under the rule of law, and in the case of Muslim Americans, our freedom of religion. The Executive Branch has been steadily over reaching and possibly abusing its power to surveil and detain, and thereby eroding our Constitutional rights under the guise of national security.

Having heard countless talks by federal types at places like Defcon, I have heard over and over again that our concerns are unfounded. The gist of most of it is that there are countless active threats, of a non-specific nature, that cannot be named. While I don’t think that the Executive Branch is lying to us so that it can hurt us, it would be very naive to say that there aren’t budgetary, political, and career management pressures on it to exaggerate the scale of the threats that we face. It is also naive to think that while the Executive Branch means well, there are those within it who would abuse these powers. This is why leaks and whistle blowing are so important, because the military, the intelligence community, and federal law enforcement agencies are bound by law to not discuss these matters.

My argument isn’t that there should be no such thing as national security. Of course there should be. My argument is also not that state secrets are by nature evil. Of course they aren’t. My argument is that there are laws in place to support the mandates for secrecy by the Executive Branch. These laws make a candid and honest discussion about what they are doing and why impossible. The act of facilitating an this sort of discussion is, by design, against the law.

Just because the conversation is illegal, doesn’t mean that it’s not still the right thing to do. Obviously the laws that prevent the conversation have to change, but some of those laws, particularly those that govern surveillance, are actually state secrets as well. If the laws themselves are secret, how are We The People supposed to work to change it?

This is why leaked documents and whistle blowing are important. I call it the “Watchmen’s Dilemma.” In business, there is a phenomenon called the “Innovator’s Dilemma” where a new idea will make a current product or business model obsolete, and so established businesses and markets have make a tough choice: do they endanger their established and profitable businesses with a new innovation, or do they keep doing what works for them, only to lose their share of the new market?

When it comes to national security, the culture of secrecy creates a similar dilemma. Should the Executive Branch (the watchmen) continue to keep the American people in the dark, thereby increasing the public’s mistrust? Or, does the Executive Branch level with the American People, and sacrifice some or possibly all of its advantage when it comes to protecting American interests? It’s a tough decision.

At one point in the video, Foust talks about how the NSA doesn’t have access to the content of our telephone calls, and then sort of glosses over the intelligence significance of mobile phone metadata. Faust is ex-military intelligence and has probably heard of traffic analysis. As a hacker and veteran who served with military intelligence my entire active duty career, I know a little about traffic analysis, but I am including a video of someone who knows significantly more about it than I do, particularly with regards to intelligence services and mobile phones. The video tells the story of how American operatives took a Muslim cleric captive, most likely as an extraordinary rendition. When you consider how much of the story can be told with just mobile phone metadata cross referenced with a paper trail, it makes me want to get a tinfoil hat and become Amish.

My Blog Categories Explained

WordPress has this great feature that lets you categorize your blog posts. I use it to organize posts based on their subject matter. I have a wide range of interests and things that I write about, and viewing categories lets me see which subject seem to dominate my writing.

The categories I have thus far are:

gadgetstuff: These posts are about computers, mobile phones, tablets and other nifty gizmos. I have a dedicated blog for my love affair with phones, so hopefully my curmudgeonly posts about them will not bleed over to here, but I make no promises.

gamerstuff: These are posts about video games, role-playing games, and tabletop games. They are also posts about gaming hardware, industry news that I have something to say about, and Penny-Arcade comics that I enjoy.

geekystuff: These are posts about sci-fi and fantasy books, movies, TV shows, and comics. I am a huge fan of The Lord Of The Rings, Harry Potter, Batman, Doctor Who, and The IT Crowd. I am also really into cartoons like The Simpsons, Archer, Rick and Morty, and The Boondocks.

hackerstuff: These are generally posts about computer hacking, crypto, programming, VOIP, open source software, and networking. It’s also where I talk about Hacker Culture and the history of hacking.

makerstuff: These are posts about DIY projects that I like, the Maker Movement, and the Internet Of Things. I will also occasionally post recipes and other things.

patriotstuff: I use this category to group together my rants on constitutional issues. I don’t really get into politics, or rather, I don’t care much for liberals and conservatives. There are issues on which I would be identified as conservative, such as limiting the reach of government and the importance of small businesses, and there are issues on which I would be identified as liberal, such as my issues with institutional racism and sexism. I am more concerned about issues that pertain to privacy, free speech, net neutrality, equal rights, and to a limited extent, the freedom of the press. When it comes to our mainstream media, I am more of a critic than a supporter.

piratestuff: These posts are generally about criticism of copyright, the media industry, my support of independent media, and the development of new sources of content. I am huge opponent of most American Intellectual Property laws. I am also a huge supporter of new media, streaming video, remix culture, and peer to peer technologies.

I will likely add more categories over time. I will also add tags to my posts when I think that they are relevant.

 

New Blog Smell

Aftecrazy_pills_blogr much consternation, I have decided to stop hosting my own blog. For almost two decades I have run a blog of some type from a Unix or Linux box that I was either an owner or a trusted guest on. For the purposes of blogging, I think that it’s more important to write, than to be clever with servers and code, because no one actually sees that back-end stuff anyway. So in a way, it’s sort of an end of an era, kind of like when I quit using pine to read my email, and switched to gmail.

My most recent blog, which I maintained for 6 years or so, was hosted on the Hive13.org domain. I’m not as active with The Hive as I once was, so it didn’t seem right to keep posting there. Also, I felt compelled to sort of self-censor because of the blog’s affiliation with the hackerspace.

So this is the new blog, now with 10% more blog!