Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Power Generation and Water

An interesting article at Ars:
"In the US, fully half of the water withdrawn from sources such as lakes and aquifers ends up being used for generating electricity."
This creates a wrinkle when looking at using nuclear power to replace carbon dioxide producing plants - nuclear uses a lot of water.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Waste and Oppression

I don't know what is the worst part of all the NSA revelations: the rampant violation and disregard of the Constitution and the rights of the people, the cover-ups, the arrogance of those in charge, or the waste of money.

A number of articles on Wikipedia reveal this is not all new to Edward Snowden.

According to the Baltimore Sun (link is now dead, but available on the Wayback machine), there was a program called ThinThread which might have been the beginning of the panopticon.  It was not as egregious as the current systems, although I would not say it is legal.

ThinThread was discontinued, in favor of a more aggressive program (Trailblazer).  It continued to monitor everyone, and eliminated any attempt at privacy protection:
"'They basically just disabled the [privacy] safeguards,' said one intelligence official."
"In 2003, the NSA IG (not the DoD IG) had declared Trailblazer an expensive failure. It had cost more than $1 billion."
Also of interest is the man Thomas Andrews Drake.  He was concerned about privacy violations, and sought to protest the Trailblazer program.  He eventually discussed non-classified information with a reporter.  The result?  FBI agents broke into his home and pointed guns at his family.  He was pressured into pleading guilty, and to reveal other potential whistle-blowers.  He was charged, and eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Secret Government Crackdown on the People Having Secrets

A chilling story from Ars:
"'I was faced with the choice of watching it suffer or putting it to sleep quietly... it was very difficult,' he told Democracy Now. 'I had to pick between the lesser of two evils.'
What was that other choice? 'Unfortunately, I can't talk about that,'"
For those not familiar with Lavabit, it was a mail service (like Yahoo or GMail) that used encryption.  You could be reasonably sure that your email was read only by the intended recipient (normal mail is totally open - it can be read by any party on the network between you and your recipient).

The appearance here is that the government ordered Lavabit to share the encrypted mails - or shutdown.  And they chose to shutdown rather than participate in fraud against their customers.

The most shocking thing is that no one can discuss what the government has done.

So, we have secret laws, secret courts, with secret decisions, issuing secret orders which must be kept secret by those targeted.

And all to unravel any attempt by private citizens to keep secrets.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Raising the Minimum Wage

It really worries me when I see the current debate over raising the minimum wage.  This is especially visible in this article at CNN:
"the federal minimum wage has remained frozen at $7.25 an hour, which amounts to just $15,080 a year -- as long as you get paid for any time you take off. That's more than $7,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of four."
This fact is very sad, there's no escaping it.  A nation as wealthy as ours should not be in a situation where a man cannot support his family (assuming a married couple, and 2.2 kids).

Of course, that is not the whole story.

Firstly, we know that many households consist of single mothers.  And many others have both parents working.

Further, only a minority of households are being supported by a minimum wage earner.

Compounding this: one must ask, why should a teenager working a summer job be expected to be paid a wage capable of supporting a household?

Clearly, minimum wage is the wrong tool for the job.

We should be looking for a way of supporting households.  Strong households, with a father and mother.  Where only the father has to work, and can do something meaningful.  Do we really want a nation of telemarketers, waiters, and bureaucrats?

Technology has made it so that only a tiny fraction of people need to work at providing the essentials (food, clothing, electricity, housing).  Yet, we have maintained the mindset of "if you don't work, you don't eat".

Monday, September 8, 2014

NSA and Crypto standards

An excellent article at Ars on the unfolding scandal at the NSA.

The NSA was originally responsible for the security of our nations compute infrastructure (particularl after the events of World War II made it clear how important reliable cryptography is).

The first national standard for encryption was called DES.  And the NSA played a vital role in making it stronger:
"The S-boxes that the government had specified in DES turned out to be resistant to this kind of attack. It was later revealed that IBM's researchers had discovered differential cryptanalysis and told the NSA about it. Rather than undermining the algorithm, the NSA had used the technique to shore up DES to improve its security, then kept it secret."
At some point, it appears the mission changed.
"Specifically, a NIST-approved standard from 2006 was functionally edited solely by the NSA... The algorithm [Dual_EC_DRBG] was extremely slow, and the random numbers it produced were flawed: they had a detectable bias, with some numbers slightly favored over others. With these issues, the obvious response would be to exclude it, but it was kept in at the NSA's insistence."
"As such, it all seems to be a bit pointless. Unlike the NSA's secretive work on DES—which made the algorithm better—the secretive work presumed to have taken place on SP 800-90 has probably made it a little bit worse. Money well spent? Not really."

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Allegorical Hermeneutic

Origen is typically considered the father of the allegorical hermeneutic within the Church.  I have yet to read Origen himself (it's on my list, somewhere), but there seems to be a fair amount of support for this (although Ignatius Insight seeks to modify the view some).

Let's look at what the Copts (a form of Eastern Orthodoxy) have to say:
"Origen's consistent principle of interpretation was: explaining the Bible by the Bible, that is obscure or difficult passages should be explained by other passages, from anywhere else in the Bible. The whole Bible must be allowed to speak for itself, what ever a single text may seem to say; and it must be permitted to speak not merely in its own behalf, but in the name of God." (emphasis in original)
This is an excellent point!  Score one for Origen.
"Origen believes that for only those who have the Spirit of Jesus can understand their spiritual meaning" (emphasis in original)
This could be interpreted harshly (as Gnosticism), but I think that is not necessary.  There is certainly an aspect of Scriptural interpretation which requires first that one is a believer.  There are many non-believers who interpret Scripture, and do so improperly (there are also non-believers who are able to honestly interpret portions of Scripture).
Let's see it in practice:
"Origen sees that, in the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, the fire that bakes the bread of exegesis is the love of God, the inspiration that comes from the Spirit and acts both on the inspired writer and on his interpreter. The bread which the preachers cut into pieces and distribute to the crowd is the spiritual meaning."
Ok, that's just crazy talk! There is nothing about hermeneutics in the feeding of the five thousand.

The problem is, this analysis sounds "deep" and "spiritual". The hearer oohs and ahhs over the power of the imagination of the speaker, The hearer never heard this before - what a powerful revelation, it must be from God! /s

But this can go anywhere.

For example, I could say that the fire that bakes the bread is the wrath of God, poured out on the many who have a passing interest in God but lack saving faith; while the leftovers represent the faithful remnant.

Who is right? How could we know? Whichever feels right? Whichever speaker is more persuasive or politically connected?

The literal method is not immune to uncertainty, but at least the context is going to keep the interpretation within some circumscribed space.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Atheism and Science Fiction

An intriguing article by one of the less depressing SF authors I've read lately (Ken MacLeod).

He claims that most SF authors are not atheist, but I would like to see the numbers...
"If science is the theology of nature – with the wilder reaches of physics standing in for its scholastic philosophy – SF is its mythology, its folklore, its peasant superstition. Television, film, anime and computer games supply the statues and holy pictures, which (this time) really do move."
I'm not sure I agree.  SF is fairly low on the radar for most people (besides the occasional Hollywood blockbuster - which barely qualifies as SF).