The Null Device


Charlie Stross has a characteristically right-on piece about the war on terrorism:

However, there are some issues I agree with him about. Item number one on the list is that Al Qaida blowing people up is Wrong, and should be stopped. Item number two on the list is that it is not acceptable to stop Al Qaida blowing things up by giving in to all their demands, which in maximalist form would amount to surrendering the whole of western civilization to a barbarous mediaevalist fundamentalism. And third on the list is that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party was a vile and repugnant dictatorship (and North Korea doesn't look too good, either). So why did I go on an anti-George W. Bush march on Tuesday, and why do I want to put a foot through the TV screen whenever I see his face?
Declaring a war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11 was good politics for George W. Bush. But it's a misleading metaphor; because war is terrorism by other means, just as terrorism has become an extension of diplomacy by the weak against the strong, to fold, spindle and mutilate Von Clauswitz's famous dictum. If a war against terrorism is to be successful it must be fought in peoples' hearts and minds, with unusual weapons like trust and respect, and a willingness to negotiate with the moderates before our intransigence turns them into desperate extremists.
Insisting that a war on terrorism is a literal war, involving bombers and tanks, is foolish in the extreme. Handing them a victory on a plate -- by surrendering our civil liberties on the altar of security -- is insane. Killing terrorists generates more anger among the communities the terrorists are drawn from, and anger breeds more violence. But negotiation works. It worked in Northern Ireland, where the depths of religious bigotry rival anything to be found in the Middle East. And it can work in the Israel/Palestine mess, if negotiations can be arranged and both sides are willing to back down from their maximalist positions. I doubt negotiation has any chance of working with Osama bin Laden or his closest followers, but as the Ha'aretz interview above suggests, even suicide bombers aren't completely beyond hope.

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A hacker working for a Mafia gambling operation tells his story:

I'm building a secure, online, peer-to-peer, encrypted, redundant bet-processing system with an offshore data warehouse. Ordinary companies would hire a team to put this together; I'm working with one guy. Getting the system up and running is a three-step process. First, eliminate all those incriminating little pieces of paper. Instead of writing down a wager, the operator will enter the bet onto an online form. The whole transaction will be encrypted by a browser and sent over the Net to a server running in an undisclosed country where the laws are more liberal than they are in the US. Essentially, the system acts as a market maker, matching up people who want to take different sides of a sports bet.
The fact remains that I could be pulling in $150,000 as a programmer on the open market. But I make a third of that. So why am I risking a prison sentence or the potential of a lifetime in witness protection for a job that doesn't make me all that rich? Simple: When you start making a lot of money, you get noticed by the biggest bullies on the block - the cops and the IRS - and I don't want that. I like living below the radar. I sublet a friend's apartment and pay his utility bills with money orders that I purchase at the post office or at one of those check-cashing storefronts. Because I get paid entirely in cash, I don't fork over any taxes. When you get right down to it, I'm an idealist. I don't condone the actions of the US government. By refusing to pay taxes, I withhold my financial support. And, truth be told, I like mobsters. They're more willing to accept you at face value. They aren't hung up on college degrees, or where you live, or how many criminal convictions you have.

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In the US, the FBI have been secretly using car navigation systems to eavesdrop on suspects. Under post-9/11 laws, the FBI can compel a service provider to allow them to spy on a customer, and have been doing so with the on-board vehicle recovery systems (which contain a microphone in the dashboard which, conveniently, can be remotely controlled and monitored). Unfortunately, the technique blocks emergency services, and so an appeals court has just limited the technique (which is probably the only reason we've heard of it).

Several questions arise from this: firstly, if the FBI can do this, what's to prevent others with fewer legal safeguards from doing this? (I.e., the CIA/MI6/Mossad/ASIO, Colombian drug cartels, even some of those unemployed Eastern European technological geniuses.) The current system does involve the FBI going through the service provider with a court order, but what's to prevent an agency with more resources (or fewer constraints) from spoofing the service provider's systems, or cracking into them and subverting them from within? And secondly, how many other everyday devices in your home have hidden microphones which can be remotely activated by law enforcement agencies, and which you don't know about because they've never been ruled against?

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The world is in shock today as Michael Jackson was charged with sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy, believed to have been a cancer survivor relying on Jackson to pay for treatment. Everywhere you go there is a stunned silence as people struggle to come to grips with the possibility of Jackson having done such a thing. And with the King of Pop's career in ruins, the world of pop music has been particularly hard-hit, and now faces an indefinite period of anarchy and turmoil.

In other news, Phil Spector has been charged with murder.

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The anti-Bush protests in London have drawn huge crowds, estimated between 100,000 and 150,000; Indymedia reports only scattered incidents of police brutality, mostly connected with police herding protesters into cordons, detaining and photographing them. Which all sounds quite civilised, compared to the S11 demonstrations in Melbourne some years back, or the anti-FTAA demonstrations going on in Miami (also on the Indymedia page).