Tuesday, June 11, 2013

an uncomfortable opinion


I am a moderate man, a man of the left. I am a family man, father to 4 children, born in 4 corners of the world. I am a believer in larger social causes, sceptical of western capitalistic ideologies of individualism. I support socialized medicine, and advocate bicycle paths. I am a Canadian, living in the Netherlands. So I am surprised to discover that everyone needs guns.

Justin Bieber needs a gun. Carly Rae Jepsen needs a gun. Pamela Anderson needs a gun. Shania Twain needs a gun. Celine Dione needs a gun. Leonard Cohen needs a gun. Keanu Reeves needs a gun. Nelly Furtado needs a gun. Jim Carrey needs a gun. Avril Lavigne needs a gun. Margaret Atwood needs a gun.

Not just Canadians. We all need guns. Right-thinking community-minded freedom-loving atheists like myself especially need guns. We should resist any attempt at gun control, gun registration, ammunition monitoring, and anything else that sniffs of restrictions on our natural rights to defend ourselves. We need guns to protect ourselves from conservative religious nut jobs. The NRA doesn’t explain this well.

This is a new opinion for me, two days old as I write. It came upon me suddenly, as I listened to reports of PRISM, the US governments collation and monitoring of our personal network data. Working in the software industry, I am aware of how much detailed personal information can be extracted from such a database. Living in Europe I am often reminded of how badly governments have behaved. Yesterday, in fact, we had to detour around a cordoned-off area of the beach where an unexploded grenade had been found. It is easy for me to imagine a bad government – in Turkey, say, or Italy – using social network data to snuff out sparks of dissent: actual, potential, or perceived.
"According to the documents revealed by Ed Snowden, the US National Security Agency (NSA) has access on a massive scale to individual chat logs, stored data, voice traffic, file transfers and social networking data of individuals. 
The US government confirmed it did request millions of phone records from US company Verizon, which included call duration, location and the phone numbers of both parties on individual call. 
According to the documents, Prism also enabled "backdoor" access to the servers of nine major technology companies including Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. 
These servers would process and store a vast amount of information, including private posts on social media, web chats and internet searches."

In 2001, the Bush Administration amended the American Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to permit warrantless wiretapping. Lawmakers who knew of the program were gagged from publicly discussing the top secret program.

These laws give the US government the ability to identify virtually anyone on the basis of their expressed personal beliefs and opinions. The scope of surveillance extends to other western capitalist democracies. (Of course, citizens of overtly authoritarian regimes already expect surveillance.) Whether exploited or not, these laws provide unprecedented capability for oppression.

The Obama administration recently reauthorized these powers after "extensive debate," a fact all the more worrying because I am disposed to like Mr Obama. I imagine he made the inevitable political choice: If he chose to end the surveillance program he would be held responsible for the next terrorist act against the United States. Reauthorization, however, merely maintains the status quo. I like Obama, but I'm scared of many of the other conservative US politicians. I'm scared of what might happen if the more extreme conservative US politicians were to gain control of the levers of power. In time, inevitably, they will.

I don't like the tradeoffs of my new position against gun control: the increased risk of gun violence on the streets, in homes, and at schools. However, history shows the alternative possibility of ruthless repressive authoritarian regimes is a reality.

I am uncomfortable with my new position against gun control, but it came to me quickly, and so may change just as swiftly. Please dissuade me.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Thursday, June 6, 2013

managing conflict in the workplace

plan your meeting in advance 
On a certain occasion when Father Nicanor brought a checker set to the chestnut tree and invited him to a game, José Arcadio Buendía would not accept, because according to him he could never understand the sense of a contest in which the two adversaries have agreed upon the rules.
-Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

It seems to me the exercise of war is a demonstration of commitment to a cause, the point being to establish that your commitment to a position is greater than the commitment of your opponent. Clausewitz said "War is the continuation of politics by other means". War operates on a mass-psychological level, involving the marshaling of commitment of entire populations.

King George III described the cost of war in terms of "blood and treasure," but the currency of war is ultimately blood. Even treasure is valuable only as long as you (or your people) are alive to enjoy it.

It seems to me the purpose of war is to demonstrate the commitment of a population to a position, and this commitment is reckoned in blood, your own blood. Measured in terms of commitment, willingness to die for a cause trumps willingness to kill.

What if José Arcadio Buendía had agreed to the checker game, and Father Nicanor had won the game, only using a checkers computer app? Would José Arcadio Buendía have considered himself defeated? I suspect José Arcadio Buendía would then have given Father Nicanor a bloody nose. ...and walked away the victor, in my view.

Robotic technologies, such as drones, enable (economically advantaged) warring nations to draw blood without putting their own soldiers in harms way. In my view, this is cheating, like Father Nicanor's checkers computer. The nation using the robotic weapons draws the blood of its enemy, but demonstrates no commitment of its own. In fact, the behavior may be read by its enemy as a demonstration of lack of commitment, just as a shiny red sports car betrays the sexual insecurity of the middle-aged man.

Advanced weapons may make it possible for a warring population to kill every one of their committed enemies with minimal risk to your own population. Reckoned in blood, the technologically advantaged side will have won. There will be no committed enemy blood left.

The terror and the horror of their enemy's advanced weapons may drain the commitment of a warring population to the cause. But having entered the conflict, the warriors have already established themselves as resolute and resigned to the cause. Isn't it more likely the use of advanced weapons will strengthen their resolve to test their enemy's commitment?

War seeks the level at which a society is existentially committed to a position. War is a negotiation, diplomacy by other means. It's a market mechanism to determine value, value measured in identity & existence, value reckoned in blood.

In war, the use of advanced weaponry such as drones is cheating, just as Father Nicanor's chess computer is cheating, just as Lance Armstrong's steroids was cheating. In war as in more structured competitions, victory achieved through cheating is illusory and usually fleeting.

I hope this puts your ridiculous workplace conflict into perspective.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader

Monday, June 3, 2013

i earned some humility today


I'm sorry for not understanding.
I'm sorry for not listening.
I'm sorry for not seeing you already understood I was wrong.
Sorry for insisting.
Sorry for my pride. 
Sorry for my arrogance.
Sorry for not appreciating you.
Sorry for my insulting tone.
Sorry for false modesty.
Sorry for my ignorance.
Sorry for my preconceptions.
Sorry for my prejudice.
Sorry for my insensitivity.
Sorry for doing all of this again.

I apologize in case you blame yourself.
The blame is mine.

I apologize to make myself feel better.
I do not expect forgiveness.
I will fail to change.
I apologize to you.
I apologize to myself.

I am truly sorry.

If you prefer less introspective fare, my other blog is for the more practical and professionally-minded reader