Overreaction and Overly Specific Reactions to Rare Risks
posted by Keito
2012-08-09 21:59:19"Horrific events, such as the massacre in Aurora, can be catalysts for social and political change. Sometimes it seems that they're the only catalyst; recall how drastically our policies toward terrorism changed after 9/11 despite how moribund they were before.
The problem is that fear can cloud our reasoning, causing us to overreact and to overly focus on the specifics. And the key is to steer our desire for change in that time of fear.
Our brains aren't very good at probability and risk analysis. We tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar and common ones. We think rare risks are more common than they are. We fear them more than probability indicates we should.
There is a lot of psychological research that tries to explain this, but one of the key findings is this: People tend to base risk analysis more on stories than on data. Stories engage us at a much more visceral level, especially stories that are vivid, exciting or personally involving.
If a friend tells you about getting mugged in a foreign country, that story is more likely to affect how safe you feel traveling to that country than reading a page of abstract crime statistics will.
Novelty plus dread plus a good story equals overreaction.
And who are the major storytellers these days? Television and the Internet. So when news programs and sites endlessly repeat the story from Aurora, with interviews with those in the theater, interviews with the families and commentary by anyone who has a point to make, we start to think this is something to fear, rather than a rare event that almost never happens and isn't worth worrying about. In other words, reading five stories about the same event feels somewhat like five separate events, and that skews our perceptions.
We see the effects of this all the time.
It's strangers by whom we fear being murdered, kidnapped, raped and assaulted, when it's far more likely that any perpetrator of such offenses is a relative or a friend. We worry about airplane crashes and rampaging shooters instead of automobile crashes and domestic violence -- both of which are far more common and far, far more deadly.
Our greatest recent overreaction to a rare event was our response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. I remember then-Attorney General John Ashcroft giving a speech in Minnesota -- where I live -- in 2003 in which he claimed that the fact there were no new terrorist attacks since 9/11 was proof that his policies were working. I remember thinking: "There were no terrorist attacks in the two years preceding 9/11, and you didn't have any policies. What does that prove?"
What it proves is that terrorist attacks are very rare, and perhaps our national response wasn't worth the enormous expense, loss of liberty, attacks on our Constitution and damage to our credibility on the world stage. Still, overreacting was the natural thing for us to do. Yes, it was security theater and not real security, but it made many of us feel safer.
The rarity of events such as the Aurora massacre doesn't mean we should ignore any lessons it might teach us. Because people overreact to rare events, they're useful catalysts for social introspection and policy change. The key here is to focus not on the details of the particular event but on the broader issues common to all similar events.
Installing metal detectors at movie theaters doesn't make sense -- there's no reason to think the next crazy gunman will choose a movie theater as his venue, and how effectively would a metal detector deter a lone gunman anyway? -- but understanding the reasons why the United States has so many gun deaths compared with other countries does. The particular motivations of alleged killer James Holmes aren't relevant -- the next gunman will have different motivations -- but the general state of mental health care in the United States is.
Even with this, the most important lesson of the Aurora massacre is how rare these events actually are. Our brains are primed to believe that movie theaters are more dangerous than they used to be, but they're not. The riskiest part of the evening is still the car ride to and from the movie theater, and even that's very safe.
But wear a seat belt all the same.
This essay previously appeared on CNN.com, and is an update to another essay.
EDITED TO ADD: I almost added that Holmes wouldn't have been stopped by a metal detector. He walked into the theater unarmed, left through a back door, which he propped open so he could return armed. And while there was talk about installing metal detectors in movie theaters, I have not heard of any theater actually doing so. But AMC movie theaters have announced a "no masks or costumes policy" as a security measure."
Man wakes up from decade long coma and figures he's living in an Orwellian dystopia... asks if he can be a Viking instead.
posted by Keito
2012-07-27 22:46:43War Tard rules again:
"Taking a look around at how scary the world is getting makes me wonder what it'd be like to wake up after a decade-long coma and take a fresh look at the surveillance society that's been coming down the pipe since the 9/11 attacks baptized the new century in crazy. Let's say it's 1999 again and you dropped some windowpane, watched The Matrix, felt like you just witnessed your autobiography and then jumped off the roof of your apartment to see if you are indeed "the one". Bad idea... seemed logical at the time. Anyway, next thing you know you wake up in a hospital bed and everyone around you looks like they stuck with the blue pill because they're wearing that ‘bad test result’ face as they tell you it's 2012 and you just skipped the whole terror decade.
All of it.
Catching up on world history since 1999 would be like reading some dystopian future sci-fi novel by the likes of Orwell or Dick except you're reading The New York Times and it's news and all real. Just a quick scan of early 21st century history would have you longing for the '90s and the happy days of OJ trials and sex scandals in the Oval Office where the corporate spokesman in the suit messes up the intern's dress and not the entire direction of the new century.
The century got defined by 9/11 right from the start and the future was always going to suck if you were a fan of privacy and keeping your shit on the down low. For a coma victim nursing a migraine in 2012, the 9/11 attacks sure would look like some stunt ripped out of one of the shittier Bond movies complete with the perpetrator being an evil villain millionaire living in a cave lair. Sure, it'd sound like the dumbest cliché-ridden plot ever if you tried to sell it to Paramount, but the new reality has a habit of running with the absurd.
Bond villain lair or actual news story? They report, you sigh and take a bong hit.
Quite apart from the very bad idea of a land war in Afghanistan and the necessary resource grab in the Mesopotamian desert, the greatest legacy of the 9/11attacks for the United States will be the terrorism-industrial-complex that sprung up horribly like an erection at a nudist funeral. Just nine days after the attacks the largest merger in US government history occurred when 17 agencies from the Coast Guard to the cops merged into the colossal Ingsoc that is the Department of Homeland Security. 9/11 was seen as a "failure to communicate and connect the dots" on the part of everyone with a badge and a 9mm, so centralization and intelligence sharing in a single giant database was seen as the answer. That, and a few billion dollars to corporations and private contractors to design and run the software
To keep us safe.
US intelligence agencies have always relied on technology to invent their way out of a knowledge hole. Since WWII the NSA and CIA have excelled in the areas of Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Imaging Intelligence (IMINT), which is your run of the mill but tech heavy wire-tapping, code-breaking and picture-taking of your "secret" new missile launch facility. From the U2 spy plane to the SR-71 Blackbird and on to satellites that can read your golf ball from space, IMINT has never been a problem for the skilled genius of US technology. The weak spot has always been Human Intelligence (HUMINT). That's a harder pitch for the US to swing at as it involves spies and agents and assets operating behind enemy lines speaking and acting like natives. The Israelis are the kings of this simply by the demographics of the Jewish diaspora. There are native Jews in many countries and if Mossad wants to know where a nuke scientist's mistress lives, fresh HUMINT is an encrypted email away. During the Cold War, the US relied on Israel for HUMINT in exchange for US SIGINT and IMINT. Post 9/11, mass surveillance is seen by the US as the way to make up for their HUMINT deficiencies, a weakness the US sees as leading directly to 9/11.
In the new sci-fi dystopia, the police state starts with the cop on patrol who is expected to "feed the system" with suspicious stuff that might flag someone as a terrorist. The problem is, Main Street USA isn't exactly a target-rich environment for towel-headed mullahs waving AKs and yelling "Allah Ackbar" every time the local 7/11 runs out of pita bread . In order to justify the billions being spent, the DHS must continually see 'enemies' everywhere. The enemy morphs into the citizenry itself, be it activist, protester or anyone with a beef against the prevailing narrative. The primary weapon of the average cop is the Suspicious Activity Report (SAR), which includes activities like taking pictures, reading maps, driving while looking out the window a lot; pretty much anything about you the average donut guzzler doesn't like. Cop cars are being equipped now with license plate scanners that not only read every infraction of every passing car but also relay this info along with GPS data to the centralized database; something that makes every unpaid parking ticket a shit brick offense.
In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect.
It's no surprise that most of the headline-making F.B.I. busts of terror plots in the US are perpetrated by a bunch of dumb fuck wannabe al-Qaedas who end up sleepwalking into an F.B.I.-produced trap, like stars in some twisted episode of MTV's Punk'd where the G-men supply fake explosives, blasting caps and a party van while co-opting some dip shit Bin Laden fan to drive into the middle of the sting. The mark gets zip ties instead of cameras and there's no explosion except for the thud of the perp's skull against the cell wall of a SuperMax as he trys to figure out why he trusted the 'knowledgeable chemical guy' at Home Depot who turned out to be a bomb tech narc. After you get showcased nabbed, it's a simple matter for the F.B.I. to go on Fox News and tell all their viewers how they are winning the war on a noun. Just recently, we learned the evil doers (still operating under the al-Qaeda franchise) are hiding their 'secret plans' for mayhem inside porn images which is the funniest thing I've heard since that idiot tried to blow up a plane with his boxer shorts.
What ever happened to the smart terrorists?
There are currently 72 DHS "fusion centers" planted all around the US collating and indexing every bit of HUMINT about everyone, trying to sniff out who might want to hijack a cruise ship, blow up a bridge or chuck a flaming shit bomb into an Olive Garden. There's been a ten-year building boom going on around Washington D.C. too as drab-looking four-story buildings sprout up like whack a moles. Beneath these nondescript Cold War commie-looking structures are up to ten subterranean floors of who knows what. Nobody knows how much they've cost – including the US government – because everything is a semi state/ corporate hybrid of melded privatization and black hole money pit contracts hidden under a rug of secrecy in the name of national security. The monitoring of information (SIGINT) between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (ECHELON) is well known but the US seems to be hitting it out of the park when it comes to total communications monitoring of its population. This of course comes in the form of the recently reported super structure under construction in the Utah desert, the Stellar Wind server farm that will basically be 'downloading' the entire Internet every second and sniffing through yottabytes of our emails and faxes and cellphone GPS data searching for the bad guy with a plane ticket to New York and a pipe bomb up his hole.
In the sci-fi dystopia, everyone is a suspect.
And your privacy is the price of your security because what do you have to hide?
Sometimes paranoia is just a heightened state of awareness...man.
Sometimes you need to be a decade out of the loop to truly see the extent of what's gone down. History happens gradually and things only gain context when historians hammer events into a coherent narrative usually long after the fact. Meaning emerges further down the road. For instance, a Weimar Republic German in a similar coma in say 1926 who woke up a decade later would wonder why so many of his countrymen were buying into the crazy bullshit of the angry guy with the mustache. First it was a beer hall putsch followed by goose-stepping militarism and a power-grab later, the Reichstag burned down mysteriously and in no time the German Army were partying on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées thinking "this is awesome but possibly a bad move in the long run if shit doesn't play out well". The nature of history is that it unfolds gradually enough that nobody notices the emergent narrative because they're too busy living in it. By the time the story emerges in context, Army Group South is surrounded by Zhukov at Stalingrad and the Wehrmacht is screwed.
The one thing about the mass surveillance society we're building that would fry Orwell's brain is the nature of information in the Internet age. Sure most governments these days see 1984 as an operational tech manual but we're not just living in an age when just Big Brother is watching; we ourselves are watching each other with the intense fascination of zoo chimps fapping at the banana delivery man. The camera culture is so prevalent and everyone's face so buried in a cellphone that nobody knows what's going on in his or her immediate vicinity. Except of course when there's a car wreck and then everyone's phone is uploading footage to YouTube or, if it's really awesome and messy, LiveLeak.
Part of the sci-fi dystopia is the willingness of the population to be watched.
To be a minor celebrity in the ongoing movie of your own life.
I was voyeuring on some old school friends via Facebook the other day and came across this guy I remember from first grade who used to shit his pants in class just because it pissed off the teacher and made everyone laugh. I remember the teacher washing his underwear and me watching it steaming dry on the radiator as he waved his little cock at the teacher when she turned her back. It was pretty funny when you were seven. Yeah, I went to Catholic school. Anyway, according to Facebook that guy's a plumber now (shit makes sense) and just got a divorce from a wife who took the kids and left him for some douche bag. I know all this because he thought it would be cool to post all this on his Facebook wall and not keep his shit on the down low. It's a law enforcement wet dream. No need for gum shoe field agents anymore, just Google the perp and see where he hangs out and who his friends are.
Orwell's mind would be blown.
Except the cop investigating you or the prospective
employer checking to see if you're an asshole.
Next up to the party: Police Department unmanned aerial drones circling 24hrs a day over every city. Now that's pure sci-fi. It's also handy if you can control the narrative too. That hasn't been a problem so far. The thing with wars these days is that the corporate oligarchy are getting really fucking good at bullshitting. The technology of bullshit is now so ubiquitous that the mass media totality of Internet, TV, cellphones and 24hr news cycles make it easy to beam a consensus reality into the ether of our brave new world. We are all feeder antennae jacking into a whitewash of total information where everything is up for debate. There's no need to hide anything anymore because anything could be true because you read it on the Internet.
Case in point: Libya. All the interventionist narrative needed was a bad guy (Gaddafi); some oil, a possible Euro refugee crisis and some media story about Gaddafi firing back at the guys trying to overthrow him. Basically, he pulled a Kent State with attack choppers; nothing the US wouldn't have done if OWS protesters brought something a little harder-hitting to the party than sleeping bags and a bong and started wrecking some Bentleys. NATO precision bombed Gaddafi's armor and the country got handed over to a rag tag bunch of rebels willing to write favorable oil deals with sleazy Western oil corps. All this went down live on TV without a single sign-waving long hair on a street anywhere. That's when you know you've got serious media penetration and total control of the narrative.
Holy shit! What a time to be alive, right?
That old Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times," sure applies today.
I've often wondered what it'd be like to live in other eras. Personally, I've always fancied a stint as a Viking, you know, sailing around with your mates in a bad ass longship, raping and pillaging in a consequence-free environment but I was born too late for this and missed out on all that awesome Valhalla action. And it looks like I was born too soon to hyperdrive around the galaxy on seed ships discovering strange new worlds and... and raping and pillaging them in a consequence-free environment. Christ, if we humans ever advance to the level of a space-faring species the galaxy is screwed. It'll never happen though because we upright apes will self destruct before we get that far. The technological adolescence hurdle of "fission before fusion" is like a universal failsafe to keep the riff-raff out of the star gate club. Any civ must prove they can live 100 years with nukes and not red button each other back to the Stone Age before they gain access to free energy and 'warp drive'. Right now, we ain't gonna be passing that test.
Let's face it, we just might be the scary bad guys in our own dystopian sci-fi novel that leaves us all wondering...
Who wrote this book?
Everyone is suspect."
Microsoft Makes Skype Easier To Monitor
posted by Keito
2012-07-27 19:51:49"New surveillance laws being proposed in countries from the United States to Australia would force makers of online chat software to build in backdoors for wiretapping. For years, the popular video chat service Skype has resisted taking part in online surveillance—but that may have changed. And if it has, Skype’s not telling.
Historically, Skype has been a major barrier to law enforcement agencies. Using strong encryption and complex peer-to-peer network connections, Skype was considered by most to be virtually impossible to intercept. Police forces in Germany complained in 2007 that they couldn’t spy on Skype calls and even hired a company to develop covert Trojans to record suspects’ chats. At around the same time, Skype happily went on record saying that it could not conduct wiretaps because of its “peer-to-peer architecture and encryption techniques.”
Recently, however, hackers alleged that Skype made a change to its architecture this spring that could possibly make it easier to enable “lawful interception” of calls. Skype rejected the charge in a comment issued to the website Extremetech, saying the restructure was an upgrade and had nothing to do with surveillance. But when I repeatedly questioned the company on Wednesday whether it could currently facilitate wiretap requests, a clear answer was not forthcoming. Citing “company policy,” Skype PR man Chaim Haas wouldn’t confirm or deny, telling me only that the chat service “co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible.”
As reported on Slashdot: "Skype has gone under a number of updates and upgrades since it was bought by Microsoft last year, mostly in a bid to improve reliability. But according to a report by the Washington Post, Skype has also changed its system to make chat transcripts, as well as users' addresses and credit card numbers, more easily shared with authorities."
'Hacker groups and privacy experts have been speculating for months that Skype had changed its architecture to make it easier for governments to monitor, and many blamed Microsoft, which has an elaborate operation for complying with legal government requests in countries around the world.
“The issue is, to what extent are our communications being purpose-built to make surveillance easy?” said Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a digital privacy group. “When you make it easy to do, law enforcement is going to want to use it more and more. If you build it, they will come.’’'