Egypt

Hosni Mubarak has run unopposed in all but one “election” due to the Egyptian constitution making any other candidates ineligible. Finally, after 24 years in office, he permitted a multi-candidate election in 2005. During that election, there was widespread election fraud and intimidation by Mubarak, abetted by the state-run media being completely filled with pro-Mubarak propaganda. After the election, the runner-up (and possibly the actual winner if a real count could have been taken) was arrested and imprisoned for the next four years. Egypt has been operating under emergency law that suspends most of the constitution since 1967, under the guise of protecting the people from terrorists. Under that emergency law, the government can imprison people for essentially no reason for any length of time, parliamentary elections are suspended, and assets can be seized on the word of the President with no recourse.

And VP Biden says Mubarak is not a dictator. Right. Biden’s just jealous.

The Cape

Part Batman, part Dark Angel, part every cop show ever made, and a little bit of Robocop, the new series “The Cape” began this week.  So far, it’s a bit of a cliche-filled mess with one-dimensional characters.  On the other hand, Summer Glau.  Maybe we’ll give it another week to see what they make of the show.

Legend:

Orwell = Lucius Fox (Batman)/Eyes Only (Dark Angel)
ARK = OCP (Robocop)
The Cape = Batman

Gay Security Risk

In the military intelligence community, everyone is given training annually to spot and deal with security risks.  The major espionage cases I’ve seen over the years (Ames, Hanssen, Walkers, etc.) have been committed primarily for personal enrichment.  I don’t think any of those I listed were actually Soviet sympathizers – they just liked money.  There are other, smaller, cases where someone has illegally revealed classified material to unauthorized personnel.  Some of these have been considered espionage, others a mere security violation or classified compromise.  A recent letter to the editor for the Stars & Stripes states a common belief that Bradley Manning is one of those.  I tend to agree, pending actually seeing the evidence, because of Manning’s own statements to the quasi-journalist and hacker Adrian Lamo.

I do question Manning’s motives.  Many of the most right-wing commentators have assumed that Manning was hiding homosexuality and that caused him to get crazy in some ill-defined way and leak massive amounts of information that was probably not being protected appropriately to begin with (why would a lower-enlisted military analyst have access to State Dept cables unless he was working on something for which he had need to know, unless the State Dept cables were woefully over-released within the IC?).  Of course, that leads the conservative mind to say that homosexuals are a security risk, as they were deemed for many years.

But, here’s the thing about gays being security risks – it only applies if they can be blackmailed about it.  If being gay weren’t liable to get someone booted from the military, they couldn’t be blackmailed for it and therefore would not be a security risk because of it.  There is a long-standing understanding in securityland that people are vulnerable to espionage recruiters for many reasons, financial gain being the largest, but the potential for blackmail is brought up as well.  If there’s something in your past you’d rather nobody know, you may do something extreme and shady to prevent it from coming to light.  This is also the plot of some movies, but it happens to be true to some extent in reality.  Some people will leak a tiny insignificant detail to prevent a devastating revelation, and then they have a bigger problem down the road – they’re now blackmailable because of the initial leak and so can be brought into leaking more and more information down the road.

I’m not going to comment much on Manning’s case, as we know very little verifiable truth about it, but the idea that he leaked a bunch of classified and sensitive material because he was gay is just goofy.  From his own statements, he was an idealist who found out that governments are not always perfectly honest with their own citizens and then he decided to help the USA with its truth problem by divulging what he (in his infinite wisdom) deemed fit to release.  As anyone with a clearance would tell you, that boy was doing something he knew could get him put in prison for a long time.  He’s no innocent, no matter what Glenn Greenwald may portray (not that it justifies 8 months in solitary confinement pre-trial by any stretch).

It seems to me that, once DADT is repealed, gays will be much less prone to blackmail than they were in the 1980s, and therefore no longer a security risk.  This will bring the military in line with every other part of the federal government, which stopped considering gays as security risks long ago.

Living in the Digital Future

Just over ten years ago, I bought my first digital camera, a Canon S10. As with most of my big purchases, I bought last year’s model with a lot of research beforehand, and I was very pleased with the boxy little thing. Canon has been my go-to camera brand ever since (with the notable exception of our waterproof camera, as the Canon D10 was just too fugly to love). My most recent is an SX20, a break from my older point-and-shoot roots into a bigger camera with a giant zoom lens. As expected, in ten years the camera became much cheaper and much more powerful. This week, Canon announced their new lineup, and for the first time they have a camera with a suggested price of less than $100. So, just because I’ve got time on my hands, let’s compare my $500 camera from 2000 with the latest $90 camera from 2011.

Feature S10 A800
Resolution 2 Megapixels 10 Megapixels
Zoom 2x 3.3x
Screen 1.8″ 2.5″
Video None VGA
Weight 11 oz 6 oz (est.)
Battery Proprietary $40 NiMH AA
Retail price
(when released)
$700 $90

 

Isn’t it great, living in the future?

Importance of Crypto

I think this recent court precedent really shows the importance of personal encryption.  As in so many of these civil liberties cases, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the person, as he’s an obvious drug dealer.  But, since it’s possible for police to do a pat-down of anyone at a traffic stop, and if “anything in your pockets” is free game for them to search through… Most of us don’t do a lot of illegal things, but we almost all do embarassing things.  As smartphones proliferate, many people are carrying the equivalent of a large filing cabinet of personal documents and photos and videos with them at all times.  Although the police have the obligation to do their utmost within the law to uphold the law, it’s possible that you may want to think about what you keep in your smartphone that you might not want a random stranger to see.  This goes double at border crossings or customs stations at airports – there is a solid precedent that customs agents can pretty much just take all your personal electronics and never give them back whenever you enter the USA.  It seems messed up, because it is.