And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby

21 06 2013

Un-able/-willing to think long thoughts, but still wanna say some things; thus:

*Sully’s been running a series on bisexuality (including a rather disingenuous vid of Dan Savage on how he loves the bis), to which I find myself mildly irritated.

Only mildly. I’m a mid-life bi who can’t be arsed to date anyone (or be arsed enough to do whateverthehell I’d have to do to entice someone to date me), male or female, and it’s just so obvious to me that this is a Real Thing that discussions of its existence are, well, irritating.

Most of what’s been said is about men, with the requisite oo-women-are-bendy disclaimers, and gay men who once said they were bi seem to be holding court in these posts, but, I dunno, more bi-straight men and bi-women ruminating on this might be nice.

Don’t know how much control Sullivan has on who writes in, however. (And no, I won’t be writing in, and not just because I don’t want to be another bendy-broad: I just don’t have much to say about my own experiences.)

*Another bit from Sullivan: He posted what what seemed to me two contradictory pieces In the same post) on drone warfare.

The first concerns the tedium of drone surveillance, as well as the clarity of the videos (“A nine-camera sensor nicknamed Gorgon Stare is capable of streaming full video with enough resolution to discern facial expressions.”). Through repeated viewings, drone operators become familiar with their subjects:

“It might be little things like a group of kids throwing rocks at goats, or at each other, or an old man startled by a barking dog,” says Mike. “You get a sense of daily life. I’ve been on the same shift for a month and you learn the patterns. Like, I’ll know at 5 a.m. this guy is gonna go outside and take a shit. I’ve seen a lot of dudes take shits.”

The second bit comes from Sascha-Dominik Bachmann

Keith Shurtleff, the US Army Chaplain and military ethics teacher, aptly summarized this concern “that as war becomes safer and easier, as soldiers are removed from the horrors of war and see the enemy not as humans but as blips on a screen, there is very real danger of losing the deterrent that such horrors provide.”

So my question is this: if the drone operator can see the people with whom he’s become so familiar, how removed is he, really, from the horrors of war? Is he not more aware of the humanity of possible targets than, say, pilots, for whom targets really are “blips on a screen”?

*No, Jordan Bloom, just because “The libertarian says the draft is slavery” doesn’t make it so.

I hold to my civic republican beliefs and consider shared civic obligation of particular importance to a pluralist (pluralistic?) society.

Yes, national service can be a problem, but, done right, it doesn’t have to be. I would favor a mandatory 2-yr paid stint in either military or civilian service beginning within some months of leaving/graduating from high school for all citizens and those who want to become citizens.

Yes, there’s an argument for/behind this, but did I mention the un-able-willing thing?

*George Packer has put together some great posts at the New Yorker on the financialization and Siliconization of our economy, and what it means for all of those folks who just don’t fit on Wall Street or in the Valley.

I borrowed a number of quotes from his “Change the World” piece on Silicon Valley for my summer pol sci class, highlighting the certainty of the tech-heads of their ability to lead [some of] us out of the swamp of politics and into the clean, well-lit techno-utopia beyond.

Can you guess my response to that certainty?

*This fucking guy:

Never, ever, ever, wait for a SIGN before you escalate! You will miss out on the vast majority of chances if you sit around waiting for SIGNS. Men are notoriously bad at reading women’s minds and body language. Don’t think that you’re any different. From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished. It’s a difference in mindset that makes champs champs and chumps chumps.

. . .

Decide that you’re going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.

Should I note for fairness’s sake that if a woman really really really makes super-crystal clear that she’s just not that into you then This Fucking Guy does allow that perhaps you should back off, if only to try again later, er, for safety’s sake?

Didn’t think so.

*Think vaginas are icky?

Fine, whatever. Just don’t be shocked that not everyone shares your belief  that vaginas are “objectively gross.”

(And not that you’ve asked, but I won’t be sleeping with you, either.)

*It’s a bad idea to arm the Syrian rebels. Bad bad bad.

I’m generally opposed to slippery slope analogies, but this is one case where it seems that if the US gives a guy a gun, we see little reason not to give him a cannon, then an RPG, and on and on until we get sucked in or distracted and everything goes to hell.

More to the point, as bad a butcher as Assad is—and he’s bad—the US has shown little-to-no-ability to make these situations better rather than worse.

I was agnostic-on-to-mildly supportive-of the Libyan intervention, but I can’t really tell you why I think this is such a bad idea.

But it is.

*Shall we end on a happy note?

My window-basil is growing like gangbusters. It apparently likes the rain as much as I do.





Cash money, ain’t got no use for you

18 12 2010

No no no no no no NO! No. No no no. NO!

In terms of public safety and national security, the sooner the world moves to a digital cashless economy, the better.

So says Professor Jonathan Lipow. To which I respond, well, you read my first line.

Consider the opening graf:

THE 500-euro note is sometimes called the “Bin Laden” — after all, Europeans may never see the 500 euro, but they know it is out there somewhere. Unfortunately, Al Qaeda’s leader and the 500-euro bill are connected in another way: high-denomination bills make it a lot easier for terrorists to operate.

Got it? A joke about a name actually reveals a deeper reality!

Although, exactly how high-denomination currencies make it easier for terrorists isn’t really explained so much as it is “analogized”:

Organized crime has always been a cash industry. In 1969, the Treasury stopped issuing $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 bills specifically to impede crime syndicates — the only entities that were still using such large bills after the introduction of electronic money transfers.

It is up to the reader to suss out the reason for big bills: My guess is that it’s a lot easier to store a load of cash if that load is a pallet-full rather than a room-full.

In any case, while it is clear that terrorists and other assorted bad guys [and presumably a few bad broads] prefer cash to credit because, as Lipow helpfully points out, one can collect and dispense cash without showing any ID whatsoever(!!!!) it is not at all clear that bin Laden and his henchmen [what a great word, by the way, henchmen: it even sounds sinister] are actually using those 500-euro notes.

But no matter: the point about the mob was just to reinforce that bad guys and dolls use cash, and that the government can make it harder for those bad guys (and dolls) to use lots and lots of cash.

(Did such actions lead to a lessening of organized crime? Well, no, since Lipow himself notes that drug traffickers pile up the cash, only now in $100 denominations. But that’s another column, right?)

(And for another aside: We should be grateful that after distribution about $19 billion in cash in Iraq and Afghanistan,

the military has gradually realized that the anonymity of cash makes it easy for terrorists and insurgents to smuggle in money and make purchases without a trace.

So the Treasure figured out in 1969 that cash was king among the kingpins, but it took the military 40 years to figure this out? Or is that, too, another column?)

Anyway. Lipow then tells us the solution to all these terroristic and trafficking woes is to move from actual to virtual cash, not just cell-phone based but, preferably, “smart cards with biometric security features.” He offers the charming example of the Universal Electronic Payments System:

In South Africa, the technology company Net1 now distributes social welfare grants to almost four million people. It’s simple: with a battery-operated, point-of-sale device akin to a credit-card terminal, money is transferred from one person’s card to another; during the process, the cards download and record each other’s transaction records.

Every few days, employees from the payments system head out to the villages and make their own money transfers, downloading the transaction histories of the cards they come into contact with, which contain the histories of the cards they interacted with, and so on. That data is then downloaded into the company’s mainframe, as a way of monitoring the flow of funds across the cards.

Best of all, the system can function offline and off the power grid, providing a secure means of payment under all conditions and without any geographic limitations. And the incremental cost of executing a transaction via this system is essentially zero. It is a promising model for the global economy.

It’ll be cheap, easy, and fun!

No, what’s important about this system is not any benefit provided to consumers, but that the crooks, absent the ability to accumulate funds off the books, would find their transactions open to audits:

In a cashless economy, insurgents’ and terrorists’ electronic payments would generate audit trails that could be screened by data mining software; every payment and transfer would yield a treasure trove of information about their agents, their locations and their intentions. This would pose similar challenges for criminals.

Because in a cashless economy, there’s no way—no way—these criminals could dodge a (gasp!) audit, amirite? And since electronic systems are by definition impenetrable, there’s also no way that these same criminals could smash their way through or tunnel their way under these virtual walls to hide, steal, or otherwise mess with these currency bytes, right? Right?

I’m snarking on Lipow, perhaps undeservedly—after all, I’m hardly a fan of either Al Qaeda or organized crime—but he hijacks the wheels (and grease) of the economy in service to the omnipresent national security state without a consideration for all of the other licit purposes of real-world currency, or any inconveniences (or worse) to people of that same world without cold, hard, cash.

Following Lipow’s example, I won’t bother actually to spell out all those inconveniences (Matthew Yglesias provides some possibilities in the link, above), but let’s consider some of those “or worse” scenarios.

  • You don’t have enough money to open a bank account, or enough of a steady infusion of funds to overcome any of the fees associated with low-money accounts. As a result, you are shut out of the economy.
  • You lose your e-cash-card (loss, theft, catastrophe) and have no way to access your account. No one can lend you money to tide you over, because the problem is not the lack of money, but lack of access to the money.
  • You are in an abusive relationship and need funds to get away. Abuser is able to track you through your purchases, or in some way interfere with your ability to access your funds.
  • The government doesn’t like you and slams down a gate between you and your money. (Think this can’t happen? Consider what happened to Muslim charities designated in some way as “terrorist”: their funds were frozen; search “muslim charities funds frozen” for examples. Or asset forfeiture when the cops think you’ve committed a crime; see here and here, among others).
  • The government doesn’t like you and pressures financial institutions to block your access to funds; see WikiLeaks.

The thread running through these possibilities? The loss of access, which can inhibit not just your purchases, but your purchase on the economy, your mobility, and your ability to engage in disfavored political activity.

Admittedly, the last three examples  could be used against me just as I used the only-partial-effectiveness of Treasury Dept. actions to halt crime against Lipow, to wit: these things are already happening in the cash-ready world. Unlike, Lipow, however, I don’t argue that this means we should get rid of all e-money and rely solely on cash.

The virtual economy is useful, which is one of the reason that so many of us have moved happily into it, i.e., we were neither suckered nor coerced into doing so. Common currency was developed, as Adam Smith pointed out, as a convenience to both buyer and seller (as well as a way for sovereigns to accrue and maintain creditable wealth), and while some might have grumbled at the loss of commodity-barter, it is likely that most others liked the fungibility and—wait for it—accessibility of currency.

In other words, currency gave its holder options.

This mix of actual and virtual money seems to me to offer money-holders a reasonable array of options. Don’t like holding cash? Go with the debit or credit card. Prefer shopping online? Ditto. Like being able to fish a buck or two out of your pocket to buy a slice of pizza or to toss into a busker’s guitar lid? Cash. Don’t want a store (or another household member)  to track your spending—or know it was you who bought something embarrassing? Ditto. Want the convenience of the card as well as the ability to buy and sell anonymously? Duh, both.

You can do variously nefarious things with cash, of course, as well as have variously nefarious things done to you, but so, too, with electronic monies. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it were more likely for you to be victimized electronically than, um, cash-ically—but I won’t push it.

So we make our choices—sometimes after much thought, sometimes with no thought at all—and do what we can.

I disdain the glib security-versus-liberty equations, not least because they are not necessarily opposites, and don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another; this particular “versus” implies a death-match which doesn’t necessarily exist.

“Necessarily” is the key term: Sometimes they are in relation to one another, and sometimes one does have to choose more risk in exchange for more freedom, and less freedom in exchange for less risk (although, even here, I question whether trading away one’s freedom will result in greater security—but I’ll leave that for another day).

Lipow, however, commits the opposite error: he doesn’t even consider that his quest for security could have any effect on liberty, large or small; in his eagerness to close off the options of criminals, he doesn’t much consider the effects on the options of the rest of us.

“Money’s destiny is to become digital,” he quotes an OECD report. But he and the report’s authors forget that money doesn’t have a destiny.

It has a use.

Which means we should, theoretically, have some say in how it is used.





This is the last day of our acquaintance

27 04 2009

The whole world ending is only an abstractly-sad prospect. A particular person’s world collapsing is acutely so.

Jon Katz at Bedlam Farm has been chronicling the last days of a dairy farm, noting that he had been hoping to persuade the farmer, Jon Clark, to allow himself to be photographed.

Go, look at the photo of Jon Clark, posted at 9:02pm, April 26, and the other shots of the barn and the cows and the emptiness which follows after a man’s life has been tugged away from him.

I grew up in a small town in a dairy farming area. When I was a little girl I wanted so much to live on a farm. I loved animals and the whole idea of haylofts and horses and running through rows of corn.  Then I got older, and my loves shifted to theatre and partying and, oh yes, sleep. Still, when my high school friend K. asked if I wanted to help her with the evening milking at her family’s farm, I said sure. Hey, it’s all automated now, isn’t it?

Ha. Yes, there are milking machines, but each one has to be hooked up to each cow, and each teat has to washed before or after (or maybe both—I don’t remember) to prevent mastistis. Anyway, once you’ve managed to slip the suction cones over each teat, you have to plug the tube running from the cones into the overhead pipe, where the milk is sent streaming down the length of the barn to the milk-collection room. Given my vertical disadvantage, this was a challenge.

Hell, given my clumsiness, the whole operation was a challenge. K.’s family had, I don’t know, a hundred? a few hundred? cows, and the twice-a-day milkings each took a couple of hours (even when they weren’t, um, helped by the likes of me). Then, of course, there was the moving of the cows out of the barn and into the pasture and back again. And checking the chickens and feeding the horses. And the mucking out of the stalls, and the hauling of the piss-and-shit-layered hay out of the barn and into I cannot remember where.

Wheelbarrows: They seem like such a simple technology. Really, what could be harder to push around? Well, add a hundred or so pounds of whatever, and you keep it on the straight and narrow. At one point I had K. in the barrow, and I managed to steer so well she ended up in the shit trough. (Yes, she got me back.)

Farming is incredibly hard work, and family farmers especially always have to be concerned with prices and credit and commodities markets. For those of us who like both to eat and to take care of the animals (or whose products) we consume, paying attention to where our food comes from is not just paying attention to the animals, but to the men and women, boys and girls, who tend to them.

Men like Jon Clark, who loaded his favorite cow Sable into a truck and sent her away.