Category Archives: Poetry

Is “hacking from home” the new air force dropping bombs?

A group called the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy wrote in their 1992 song The Winter Of The Long Hot Summer a rather scathing rhyme about how an air force plays into industrial “proxy” war:

The pilots said their bombs lit Baghdad
Like a Christmas tree
It was the Christian thing to do you see
They didn’t mention any casualties
No distinction between the real
And the proxy
Only football analogies
We saw the bomb hole
We watched the Super Bowl

If bombing from the sky was the proxy violence of the industrial revolution, shouldn’t we look at hacking from home as the logical next evolution of conflict for the information age? Sure beats trying to engineer smart bombs to make the difficult leap into intelligence.

The Washington Post has profiled one such group calling itself partisans. It was formed in late 2020 and has grown to 30 civilians allegedly in Belarus.

…Cyber Partisans are more akin to a digital resistance movement than a “cyber proxy” like the Ukrainian government-backed “IT Army.” The group does not appear to be acting as an intermediary for another government’s interests, and has a history of independent operations against the government of Belarus. With an extensive online presence, the Cyber Partisans also differ from other nongovernmental hacking efforts supporting the Ukrainian resistance during the war, such as Anonymous or Squad303. Though many Cyber Partisan claims remain unverifiable, the available evidence suggests that this is a small group of closely linked individuals with a strong connection to Belarus. […] “Thousands of Russian troops didn’t receive food, didn’t receive fuel, and didn’t receive equipment on time,” noted Franak Viacorka, spokesman for Belarus’ opposition leader.

Denial of service, which led to denial of service, seems a lot like bombing infrastructure like fields to stop production and distribution even though it’s far less destructive.

Speaking of government-backed action, there’s an interesting note about Russian “militarism” in another article.

…the third month of war finds Russia, not the United States, struggling under an unprecedented hacking wave that entwines government activity, political voluntarism and criminal action. Digital assailants have plundered the country’s personal financial data, defaced websites and handed decades of government emails to anti-secrecy activists abroad. One recent survey showed more passwords and other sensitive data from Russia were dumped onto the open Web in March than information from any other country. The published documents include a cache from a regional office of media regulator Roskomnadzor that revealed the topics its analysts were most concerned about on social media — including antimilitarism…

To be fair the United States is not officially at war, so it makes for an illogical target unless being brazenly drawn in (e.g. Pearl Harbor, which technically would be a destructive kinetic attack not cyber). Russia, however, made itself into such an ugly militant aggressor it’s obvious why it became such a very large target of hacking.

The fact that Russia centers its social media strategy on stopping antimilitarism says a lot. Their incompetence at militarism is impossible to ignore, attracting all forms of resistance. They clearly are losing on every front but most notably hackers around the world easily slice and dice their way through a creaky old and corrupt dictatorship.

All that being said, the NSA says it doesn’t like competition.

“I will tell you that the idea of the civil vigilantes joining in a nation-state attack is unwise, right? I really think it is,” the NSA’s Rob Joyce said May 4 at a Vanderbilt University security summit. “As you pointed out, it’s illegal. But it’s also unhelpful, because one of the things we talked about is we’re trying to get Russia to take account for the ransomware attacks and hacks that come out of Russia and emanate.”

Here we go.

First, just being illegal isn’t the high bar some people want it to be. Laws change because sometimes they’re bad laws. In fact, the act of doing something and showing the logic of it can be the impetus to make it legal.

Second, whataboutism is a logical fallacy even in reverse. The world can still get Russia to account for hacks even if the rest of the world engaged in hacks. It’s also a nuanced question of power balance and authorization, such as saying the police can drive a speeding car to arrest someone for driving a speeding car.

Let me just go even further on this point and say Joyce is the NSA, and NOT the State Department, yet for some reason he tries to jump ship.

“This certainly isn’t going to make the State Department discussions with Russia of ‘you need to hold your people accountable’ any easier,” Joyce said Wednesday.

Thank you for your concern, yet it may be entirely misplaced. Joyce may as well be arguing “we shouldn’t advance nuclear weapons because it isn’t going to make discussions with Russia about nuclear weapons any easier.”

Nonsense.

And it only gets worse in that article when a certain CEO adds his voice to Joyce’s.

Kevin Mandia, CEO of American cybersecurity firm Mandiant, at the same summit said random individuals swaying relationships between countries and dictating foreign policy could be dangerous. “You can’t have the private sector influencing the doctrine between nations,” he said. “You don’t have us fighting on air, land and sea without being deputized or part of a force and with an agenda and a mission plan.”

That seems quite the opposite of a narrative he tried to spin back in October 2021.

The CEO of US cybersecurity firm Mandiant said today that he believes the next big advancement in cybersecurity will be the ability of governments and private companies to work together in a “coordinated national and global response” to incidents — not unlike how he said his firm worked with the government in response to the SolarWinds hack. […] Speaking at the Mandiant 2021 Cyber Defense Summit, the executive disclosed for the first time that he called the NSA right before Thanksgiving last year…

To put it together, Mandia is warning you can’t have the private sector influencing doctrine between nations, right after he boasted about jumping on the phone with the government to tell them he’s already engaged in a fight with another nation… as a civilian.

If Mandia is not an example of a random individual swaying relationships and influencing policy doctrine I don’t know what is. His company was founded on the idea that a government could use a proxy in the private sector to do security work of government, right?

I will never forget officials in the U.S. government telling me how legislation was written very specifically to release millions of dollars to Kevin Mandia, who hired former government staff if you see what I’m saying about why he/they don’t want “random” people competing with them in the market.

Mandia and the NSA sound like they’re heavily invested in what Eisenhower warned us to avoid — a Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex — if we’re interested in achieving cyber peace.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the debate of who should hack and from where is this anecdote:

The IT army is reminiscent of volunteers who physically traveled to Ukraine and took up arms, despite enormous risks and warnings from officials. But hacking from home — or at least not from the bombarded and besieged locales of Ukraine — offers a sense of safety the frontlines do not.

Sniper rifles offer sense of safety. Airplanes offers sense of safety. Artillery (e.g. the longbow) offers sense of safety. Drones offer a sense of safety… the list of low risk high impact conflict models goes on and on. The question shouldn’t be how unsafe is the hacker at home, but how different is it from any other celebrated advance in battlefield technology.

One gets the sense that the NSA and Mandia as a proxy see themselves as vaulted innovators that somehow are distinct and unique, without really understanding that they’re focused on the wrong metrics.

Invention is easily overrated, and implementation is often underrated.

Hacking from home seems as logical for an implementation as shooting arrows from the woods was in the 1400s (before defensive hardened steel was deployed), let alone planes dropping bombs.

In any case I’d like to see far more feel-good reporting about hackers at home. I mean it seems only fair considering how other civilian volunteers are being depicted.

For about a month now, U.S. Marine veteran Sean Schofield has been sending dispatches back to Cullman, Alabama, from a place few would volunteer to go.

Since late March, he’s been one of more than 6,000 foreign volunteers from the U.S., Australia, the UK and other western countries who’ve left their civilian lives behind and traveled to Ukraine, aiding military personnel and civilian supporters in mounting a sovereign defense against Russian invasion.

It’s like if you can run a fast 100 meter dash through a hail of bullets you’re some kind of hometown hero, but if you can type a few commands on a keyboard to stop those bullets you’re an anti-social vigilante.

New Chinese Poems Naturally Express Frustration and Dissent

China, not to mention pretty much everywhere else in the world, has a long history of poetry representing encoded or even open frustration and dissent.

A Washington Post correspondent nonetheless wrote a post about surprise at poetry doing what it always does.

Student poetry contest in China becomes unexpected outlet for dissent

Students expressing dissent in poetry is unexpected? That’s like a headline announcing a student cafeteria became an unexpected place for eating.

Over the past week, the more socially conscious entries — a small minority of the overwhelmingly nonpolitical offerings — have caught the attention of Internet users. At a time when the space for debate in China has shrunk as authorities ramp up efforts to curtail criticism of government policies, the student writers have been hailed for their boldness.

“It’s indeed surprising,” said Chris Song, an assistant professor focusing on English and Chinese translation at the University of Toronto Scarborough. “I’m surprised they came out in such a tightening environment where many poems depicting the dark sides of society, or defying the authorities’ general ideology, have been censored.”

Socially conscious is being served as the opposite to nonpolitical. Can someone be socially conscious without being political? I would argue yes, as that’s been the long tradition of humanitarians who try to provide aid and comfort without affecting power — irregardless of politics.

It’s also so sadly typical of a journalist to reach out to a random professor for a power quote, as if the random academic in translation brings a sage view about political dissent and communication security models. Why not ask a professor of English for an explanation of strong encryption since it uses the alphabet?

The only surprise here is that anyone is surprised to find young poets publishing ideas of dissent.

I particularly liked this one:

“What about carrying a bag of chestnuts home/ Being showered by falling leaves/ Sitting sleepily in a school shuttle for two hours to hold hands with your partner?” the author wrote. “The pandemic has made everything into necessities. … Alas, the world of humans is full of unnecessary things.”

But I’d rather see the original Chinese. Translation itself can often be laced with politics, as I’ve explained in my presentations on AI.

Good 1964: “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine”

Irving John Good was giving talks in 1962 and 1963 on artificial intelligence, which he turned into a now famous paper called “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine”. As he put it at the time:

Based on talks given in a Conference on the Conceptual Aspects of Biocommunications, Neuropsychiatric Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, October 1962; and in the Artificial Intelligence Sessions of the Winter General Meetings of the IEEE, January 1963 [1, 46]. The first draft of this monograph was completed in April 1963, and the present slightly amended version in May 1964.

I am much indebted to Mrs. Euthie Anthony of IDA for the arduous task of typing.

That last note really caught my eye. How ironic to be giving thanks to a woman for typing this paper as it was about machines that would remove the need for women to type papers (let alone give them thanks).

It reminds me of the fact that the very poetic term “computer” was used for a while to describe predominantly female workers in the field of data entry (e.g. rocket science). Nobody other than historians today might think of computers as female, even though far too many people today tend to portray artificial intelligence as their idealized woman.

From there I have to highlight the opening line of Good’s paper:

The survival of man depends on the early construction of an ultra-intelligent machine.

What if we reframe this as early evidence of “mommy-tech”, which tends to be all too common in Silicon Valley?

In other words, men who leave their mothers and embark on a successful well-paid career as engineers in technology soon “innovate” by thinking of ways to make machines replicate their mothers.

Self-driving cars are about children being raised thinking their mother should drive them around (e.g. the Lift System of apartheid was literally white mothers driving their kids to school). Dishwashers are popular in cultures where mothers traditionally cleaned plates after a meal.

Is mommy-tech liberating for women? In theory a machine being introduced to take over a task could be thought as a way to liberate the person formerly tasked with that job. However that does not seem to be at all how things work out, because imposing a loss is not inherently translatable to successful pivot into new tasks and opportunities.

If nothing else, more of something obviously is not better when that thing is loss. More loss, more death, more destruction only sounds good in places of privilege where a rebuild or a repeat is even conceivable.

Good kind of points this out himself accidentally in part two of his paper where he calls intelligence entirely zero sum, such that machines getting more intelligent would mean “man would be left far behind“.

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind (see for example refs. [22], [34], [44]). Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control. It is curious that this point is made so seldom outside of science fiction. It is sometimes worthwhile to take science fiction seriously.

Indeed, Wollstonecraft’s daughter invented science fiction (Frankenstein) for a very good reason, which I often explain in my presentations. However, Good’s analysis here is not good for reasons that rarely are discussed.

To my ears, trained in history of power contention, it’s like hearing men who have said women becoming intelligent (e.g. allowed to speak, read, educate) would represent a dangerous challenge: “docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control”.

And it doesn’t even have to be men and women in this “struggle” for domination.

Imagine a context of colonialism or American history of Manifest Destiny, which similarly centered on oppressors keeping “intelligence” of the oppressed under control.

If nothing else you can’t deny that America ruthlessly and systemically engaged in denying Blacks education, as Wollstonecraft very sagely had warned in the 1790s, which most Americans are completely ignorant about in order to keep them docile.

Perhaps containment of intelligence should be framed like filtration of water or direction of energy; rather than holding back we must seek ways to increase output on measured outcomes. It’s not that safety becomes dominant or pervasive, instead that loss is measured properly and accounted for instead of falsely implied as something inherent to gain.

Just like industrialization created an emaciation of male power, a domain shift that scared many into bunk response theory (false power projection) such as fascism, there are men today trying to gin up fear of gains (ultraintelligence) as some kind of loss.

It’s interesting to think about the answers to these power and control problems related to technology and specifically intelligence being sorted out way back in the 1700s, yet today people often frame them as recent or needing to be solved for the first time.

The Other Alamo

A poem by Martin Espada, recipient of the 2021 National Book Award for poetry, and as published in American War Poetry: An Anthology

In the Crockett Hotel dining room,
a chalk-face man in the medaled uniform
growls at a prayer
at the head of the veteran’s table.
Throughout the map of this saint-hungry city,
hands strain for the touch of shrines,
genuflection before cannon and memorial plaque,
grasping the talisman of Bowie knife replica
at the souvenir shop, visitors
in white biblical quote T-shirts.

The stones in the walls are smaller
than the fists of Texas martyrs;
their cavernous mouths cold drink the canal to mud.
The Daughters of the Republic
print brochures with Mexican demons,
Santa Anna’s leg still hopping
to conjunto accordions.
The lawyers who conquered farmland
by scratching on parchment in an oil lamp haze,
the cotton growers who kept the time
of Mexican peasant lives dangling from their watch chains,
the vigilantes hooded like blind angels
hunting with torches for men the color of night,
gathering at church, the capitol, or the porch
for a century all said this: Alamo.

In 1949, thee boys
in Air Force dress khaki
ignored the whites-only sign
at the diner by the bus station:
A soldier from Baltimore, who heard nigger sung here
more often than his name, but would not glance away;
another blonde and solemn as his Tennessee
of whitewashed spires;
another from distant Puerto Rico, cap tipped at an angle
in a country where brown skin
could be boiled for the leather of a vigilante’s wallet.

The waitress squinted a glare and refused their contamination,
the manager lost his crewcut politeness
and blustered about local customs,
the police, with surrounding faces,
jeered about tacos and senoritas
on the Mexican side of town.
“We’re not leaving,” they said,
and hunched at their stools
till the manager ordered the cook,
sweat-burnished black man, unable to hide his grin,
to slide cheeseburgers on plates
across the counter.
“We’re not hungry,” they said
and left a week’s pay for the cook.
One was my father; his word for fury
is Texas.

This afternoon, the heat clouds the air like bothered gnats.
The lunch counter was wrecked for the dump years ago.
In the newspapers, a report of vandals
scarring the wooden doors
of the Alamo
on the black streaks of fire.

Rural American Healthcare During COVID19 Worse Than 3rd World

The entire notion of a “3rd World” is a weird political framing of the world by the French. Economist Alfred Sauvy in 1952 spoke of Africa and Asia being like France’s “Third Estate“.

The vast majority of people (over 90%) in pre-Revolution France belonged neither to a clergy (1st) nor nobility (2nd), had less privileges and were unrepresented in government; this imbalance led to their Revolution.

With that in mind, Politico has an article making it clear that rural Americans are tiny in number and spread out, which leads worse healthcare than in the worst in the world.

“We have a residency program at Guyana, on the coast of South America,” Russ said. “These are the types of things that [I see] when I go down and work in Guyana. We see this for the Amerindian population that are coming out of the villages and need a canoe to get, you know, to a hospital. This isn’t the type of thing that we’re used to seeing in the United States.”

Tennessee lost over 1,200 staffed hospital beds between 2010 and 2020 despite a population that grew by over half a million, according to the American Hospital Directory and census data. Mississippi, with the most Covid-19 deaths per capita, lost over 1,100 beds over that decade. Alabama, second only to Mississippi in per-capita deaths from the virus, lost over 800.

Apparently living in rural America with a need for healthcare is like having a canoe without a paddle.

Or, as Dolly Parton famously sang, life on a mountain in Tennessee is hard.

Didja know corn don’t grow at all on Rocky Top?
The dirt’s too rocky by far
And that’s why all the folks on Rocky Top
Get their corn from a jar

Apparently nobody thought to put dirt in a jar and grow fresh corn. Yee haw.

But seriously those lyrics are about the rural community suspicion of federal government (e.g. prohibition and the history of bourbon, which is basically alcohol encoded as corn in a jar).

They come right after lyrics about killing the federal agents who visited.

Once two strangers climbed ol’ Rocky Top
Lookin’ for a moonshine still
Strangers ain’t come down from Rocky Top
Reckon they never will

As much as scarcity of services may seem like news, also I remember experiencing it myself in rural America for decades. A trip to a hospital was considered a minimum 30 minute drive. Even that was to what felt like an outpost where chance of meeting someone with any clue about science was marginal at best.

More recently when I tried to setup a primary care physician — a step required to use health insurance — I was told there was no availability. Doctors would not accept any new patients because healthcare crisis (COVID19) meant they had zero capacity. At one point the American healthcare “system” advised I try to find the rare Muslim woman doctor because they estimated (without explaining why) she would be most likely to have availability and take new patients.