May 25, 2018

An Old Dog, Scratch, and Python

As a programmer I’m a very old dog – been doing it since 1962. Lately I had to learn some new tricks: Scratch for my grandkids and Python to manipulate some astrophysical data with my son. These days communities grow up around computer languages. When you have a question, you Google it and usually find answers and examples galore. Since both Scratch and Python are popular, there is a great deal of help available for both of them and much contributed code to copy and build on.

This is what Scratch looks like:

Scratch

You drag the little puzzle pieces around to construct a program. It is particularly good for graphic programs: this one controls a robot in a maze. Grandchildren from 7 up were able to use it quickly. Two out of three had already been exposed to Scratch in public schools. Two of these three budding programmers are girls. You can watch the robot here.

And this is some Python:

Python

Looks much more like what I’m used to in a programming language and was much easier for me to learn than Scratch. In other computer languages this process would have had to loop through the values in the arrays radec and c; Python can process a whole array in a single statement. Very cool if you’re a math nerd. This snippet also shows how you build on other people’s code: numpy is an excellent library of math routines and astropy has special capabilities for astrophysics. They were built by volunteers.

As my graddkids and I create capabilities, we will share them as well. That’s part of the learning. Meanwhile feel free to use our code if you need to control a robot or convert radec coordinates of celestial objects to a cartesian grid.

May 17, 2018

The Farm Bill: Where Wealthfare Meets Welfare

The US Farm Bill is bipartisan swamp cultivation at its worst. Democrats and Republicans come together and eagerly and equally trade their “principles” for election support and campaign contributions. Most of the money in the bill is for food stamps (urban votes) but there is plenty of money, mandates, and market restriction to keep agribusiness lobbyists contributing and congresspeople from rural states happy. There is an opportunity in this year’s bill for a bipartisan compromise which makes small steps in reducing corporate wealthfare and reforming welfare.

Perhaps the most egregious example of wealthfare is the complex of import quotas and price supports which keep US domestic sugar prices 84% higher than the world price; big sugar has it sweet. There is even a provision which instructs the Agriculture Department to buy sugar at an inflated price and then sell it to ethanol producers at a LOWER price – talk about pushing all the campaign contributor buttons. Otherwise free-marketeer Marco Rubio from sugar-producing Florida goes through contortions supporting the sugar subsidies similar to those Bernie Sanders used to go through to support gun rights - until he didn’t have to anymore.

Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina has proposed an amendment which prunes the sugar support by undoing the joint subsidy to the sugar and ethanol industries and repealing anticompetitive ”market allotments”.  This will not pass without support from Democrats; too many Republicans (as well as Democrats) are in sugar’s pocket.  Read on; there’s a possible deal to be made.

Republicans would like to strengthen the work requirement for food stamps in the Farm Bill. Food stamp usage keeps going up despite a booming economy and low unemployment. Food stamps are part of a complex of welfare programs which make it more profitable for some to stay unemployed rather than take low wage jobs. Voluntary unemployment is bad for individuals and families and bad for an economy lacking even unskilled workers.

It’s only possible to strengthen the work requirement when there actually are jobs available. That time is now and we shouldn’t miss the opportunity. This measure can probably pass the House without support from Democrats but is likely to be blocked in the Senate where a supermajority of 60 votes is needed.

So here’s the deal: Republicans give up some of the wealthfare benefits for their sugar daddies; Democrats agree to a sensible strengthening of the existing work requirement. Republicans can point to welfare reform; Dems can boast about cutting corporate wealthfare. The Wall Street Journal puts it well: “Republicans would have more credibility on reforming welfare for people if they did the same for politically powerful agribusiness.”

May 14, 2018

Let the Market for Domestic Workers Raise the Minimum Wage in the USA

Ever since at least the time of Queen Elisabeth the First, workers have objected to open immigration on the rational economic grounds that “foreign” workers drive down wages. Employers, on the other hand, have always been for open immigration for exactly the same reason. Employees want the protection of a high minimum wage; employers object that, if wages are set by government rather than the marketplace, some of them will find themselves with costs which put them out of business and that a government-set high minimum wage will reduce employment.

We can solve part of both problems at once and call the bluff of both worker groups and employers. All we need is a tweak to the rules for H-2A (agricultural) and H-2B (other temporary seasonal) workers. Currently an employer must demonstrate that it can’t hire American workers, usually by running an ad and not getting responses and prove that “Employing a worker on an H-2B (or H-2A) visa will not negatively affect the pay or conditions of US workers”. The second condition is usually met by saying that no Americans take these jobs so their wages can’t be harmed.

The Trump Administration has been reducing the number of such visas available. There are more applications than visas so would-be employers must enter a lottery. Famers say crops will rot in the fields; crab canners say they can’t can crab; resorts say they will be short-handed this summer.

  1. Let’s take the limits off the number of temporary visas PROVIDED THAT such jobs must pay at least 150% of minimum wage and must be advertised to Americans at that rate. If there are still no American applicants, bring in foreigners who are willing to work and pay them at least 150% of minimum wage. This assures that the “need” for visas is not created by offering the job at below-market rates. This forces these jobs, many of which are very hard work, to compete with fast food jobs. May lead to higher wages in many fields but that wage won’t be legislated – it’ll be market driven. We may have to pay more for crab and fresh vegetables; tough, that’s what it costs to get workers to can the crab and pick the veggies.

BTW, increasing the supply of jobs available at more than minimum wage helps make the case for strengthening the requirement that healthy adults must work to receive welfare benefits except in some cases where they are sole caregivers. The fact that it is often unprofitable to swap benefits for a minimum wage job has led to an increase in voluntary unemployment which is unhealthy both for the economy and the non-workers; we can and should increase job availability and decrease benefits for those who choose not to work.

May 08, 2018

Incels: Just Say No

The cult of victimhood has reached its reductio ad absurdum with the grievance of the incels, involuntary celibates in case you’ve missed the news. Last month Alek Minassian drove a rented van onto a sidewalk in Toronto and killed ten people in apparent retribution for women who are too mean to have sex with him. Turns out he’s part of a sex-deprived cult.

The Guardian describes the movement:

“…Basically, incels cannot get laid and they violently loathe anyone who can.

“Some of the fault, in their eyes, is with attractive men [nb. “Chads” in their vernacular] who have sex with too many women – “We need to do something about the polygamy problem,” said the Incelcast, an astonishing three-hour podcast about the Toronto attack – but, of course, the main problem is women themselves, who become foes as people, but also as a political entity. There is a lot of discussion about how best to punish them, with mass rape fantasies and threads on how to follow women without getting arrested, just for the thrill of having them notice you. Feminism is held responsible for a dude who can’t get laid, and birth control is said to have caused “women to date only Chads. It causes all sorts of negative social ramifications”.

Incredibly there’s been serious discussion about whether sex is a “human right” which society must provide for. So far I haven’t seen a recommendation except from incels that women have an obligation to help these guys. But Ross Douthot, writing in The New York Times, starts his article: “One lesson to be drawn from recent Western history might be this: Sometimes the extremists and radicals and weirdos see the world more clearly than the respectable and moderate and sane.” Really? The incels see the world clearly? Ross blames the Hugh Hefnerization of our culture for putting the incels in such a pickle.

Robin Hanson, an economist at George Mason University, writes:

“One might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income, and might similarly hope to gain from organizing around this identity, to lobby for redistribution along this axis and to at least implicitly threaten violence if their demands are not met. As with income inequality, most folks concerned about sex inequality might explicitly reject violence as a method, at least for now, and yet still be encouraged privately when the possibility of violence helps move others to support their policies. (Sex could be directly redistributed, or cash might be redistributed in compensation.)”

The trouble is that one might “plausibly” make this argument if one accepts the premise that everyone is entitled to an equal share of everything. The cult of victimhood, which attributes every unequal outcome to some sort of discrimination and oppression, is based on this premise. By this logic, since I’m Jewish and not an NBA star and since there are very few (if any) Jewish pro basketball players, my lack of an NBA career must be due to some sort of pattern of discrimination and I’m entitled to compensation if not a starting position on the Cavs.  Otherwise I might have to get violent.

We are differently abled by both genes and environment. We have different wishes, different desires, and different vices and weaknesses. Some are lucky and some are not. Outcomes will differ when we want them to and when we don’t want them to. We are entitled to equality before the law (there’s work to be done there); we have “unalienable” rights to life, liberty and the pursuit (emphasis mine) of happiness. A humane society works to provide opportunity for what we used to call betterment and cares for the helpless.

But we don’t have a right to demand that anyone like us or do us any favors, sexual or otherwise. We have a right to whine about our fate, as unattractive as that whining is. We have no right to violence because we think we’re unfairly ignored.

May 03, 2018

A Good Use of One-Time Funds

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has proposed using one-time funds from various sources to fill a $58 million gap in the state education budget. Normally using one-time funds to paper over a problem in a spending program which has grown beyond affordability is a bad idea. However, Scott’s proposal is to trade the one-time money infusion for changes which will not only make such bailouts unnecessary in the future but will also both improve the quality of education and reduce its cost. Sound too good to be true? The devil’s in the details and the details depend on the legislature as well as the governor. This effort could easily fail but that’s no reason not to try.

The elephant on the school bus is too many schools for too few students. There has been a severe decline in the number of school age children in the state; but the number of schools, especially elementary schools, has stayed the same. Because education has gotten more complex and because schools are required to deal with more and more social issues, the minimum staff required in even the smallest school has gone up. Put these two trends together and it is no surprise that Vermont has the highest staff to student ratio in the country (4.25 to 1) and the third highest spending per pupil.

If we had the best schools in the country, that might be an acceptable cost. But we don’t. It is impossible for very small schools to provide the type of education which is needed today. A small school can’t have enough teachers to provide excellent education in the basics which all children need let alone a broad curriculum beyond the basics. A small school can’t have different tracks in different disciplines so that students can progress as fast as they’re capable of progressing while getting the help they need in subjects which are tough for them. A small school can’t have diversity.

So why do we keep all our small schools? Partly because the VEA (teachers’ union) doesn’t want to lose the jobs that would go away with school consolidation; partly because a local school is more convenient for children and parents than one further away; and partly because of the Vermont tradition of “local control”, which is now a myth as far as education is concerned. Local control is only meaningful when people are voting on whether to spend their own money. Put another way, if you are a property taxpayer in a “rich” town and have a high enough income to be required to pay educational taxes, is it local control when people in another town vote to spend your tax dollars to keep their tiny school open?

What we don’t have is parental control (except in those towns which support school choice through tuitioning). There is no escape from a local public school which is too small to do a good job except moving or private school. What we don’t have is a high-quality education for all Vermonters despite all the money we’re spending.

Even though the cost of education goes up each year while the number of students declines, the needed school consolidation can never happen fast enough to solve the current year’s budget problem. Therefor the hard choices which school consolidation requires get put off each year.

Governor Scott’s proposed uses of one-time funds coupled with a multi-year mandatory increase in the staff to student ratio is a way to use this year’s budget to start a process which can assure both lower cost and better schools. This approach will only work if there are real teeth in the legislation which “solves” this year’s problem with short term funding and solves the problem for future years with rapid school consolidation. Getting such legislation may be impossible but is a worthy – a necessary – goal.  

April 30, 2018

Trump is a Symptom; The “Resistance” Should Act on Causes

David Brooks wrote in The New York Times:

“Over the past year, those of us in the anti-Trump camp have churned out billions of words critiquing the president. The point of this work is to expose the harm President Trump is doing, weaken his support and prevent him from doing worse. And by that standard, the anti-Trump movement is a failure…”

The “resistance” is ignoring the problems in our country, which led so many of us to vote for obnoxious Trump. Many of these are the same problems which led Democrats to vote for socialist Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Eight years earlier many of the same people who voted for Sanders and Trump gave the Democratic nomination and the presidency to the extremely inexperienced Barack Obama because he represented “change”. Twice the country rejected Hillary Clinton (and John McCain and Mitch Romney) because they are all part of the establishment which is the cause of many of our problems.

Personally, I have little to complain about; America has been good to me and good for me. But I’ve come to realize that “the system” is corrupt in a very bipartisan way. The deck is stacked for certain people, so success for others is harder and harder to come by. No wonder people are angry and afraid.

Examples:

Exhibit Number One: The outrageous bank bailout (TARP) at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of Obama’s. It was Congress’ last major bipartisan act. In normal times the rich get richer; in recessions and depressions the rich get poorer faster, perhaps because they have more to lose. The economic cycle does a much better job of wealth redistribution than politicians. But not last time: the bankers’ gains, ill-gotten or not, were protected; workers lost. Certain unions like the United Auto Workers  (as much a part of the establishment as CitiBank) got bailed out by the “Stimulus Package”. The rest of the country hasn’t really recovered until now.

Exhibit Number Two: The political clout of the National Education Association (teacher’s union) has enabled it to prioritize job salvation for its members over an effective education system. It’s not wrong for a union to try to protect its members; it’s wrong for politicians to conspire with the union to the massive detriment of education for Americans.

Exhibit Number Three: Pensions. In both the public and private sector, employer executives and union executives have conspired to promise workers retirement benefits which will be impossible to deliver but for which the bill won’t come due until the co-conspirators have gone on to their own golf courses. We will bail out some of the private sector workers; there simply isn’t and won’t be enough money to keep the promises made to public sector workers.

Some smaller examples: The perpetual mandates and subsidies for corny ethanol for the good scientific reason that Iowa has the first primary in the nation. The tax loophole for hedge fund managers that neither Republican nor Democratic administrations can ever get around to closing. Government-by-grant: I get you a grant through legislation or influence and you give me a campaign contribution, often in the opposite order. The Export-Import bank whose purpose is to subsidize a few large corporations like GE and Boeing.

Although neither Trump nor Sanders agree that these are all problems, each of them has targeted more of this list than Hillary Clinton did or does. As long as outrages like these continue and as long as Americans are denied the opportunity for an excellent education, a fair shake at upwards mobility, and protection from corporate and union monopolies, people will be – and should be – angry.

As long as Americans are angry and feeling helpless, they will vote for those who seem to feel their pain and share their disdain for the establishment. Fear is a perfect opening for demagogues of both the left and the right. Choices made by fearful people will lead to an erosion of civil liberties. Neither Trump nor Sanders caused the problems which scare people; both know how to harness resentment; neither hesitates to fan the flames of division in their own interest. But they do hear what their supporters are saying.

Those who focus on blind resistance are missing the point that Trump is a symptom, not a cause. If we want to be effective in preventing the rise of demagogues, we must address the problems which give rise to them.

Brooks concludes:

“The main reason Trump won the presidency is that tens of millions of Americans rightly feel that their local economies are under attack, their communities are dissolving and their religious liberties are under threat. Trump understood the problems of large parts of America better than anyone else. He has been able to strengthen his grip on power over the past year because he has governed as he campaigned.

“Until somebody comes up with a better defense strategy, Trump and Trumpism will dominate. Voters are willing to put up with a lot of nonsense for a president they think is basically on their side.

“Just after the election, Luigi Zingales wrote a Times op-ed on how not to fight Trump, based on the Italian experience fighting Silvio Berlusconi. Don’t focus on personality or the man, Zingales advised. That will just make Trump the people’s hero against the Washington caste. Focus instead on the social problems that gave rise to Trumpism.

“That is the advice we anti-Trumpers still need to learn.”

Anti-Sanders people need to learn the same lesson. Think a socialist president is unthinkable? That’s what we thought about Trump when he announced his candidacy.

See also:

Election Analysis: It Was TARP that Boiled the Tea

Confessions of a Stimulator

April 09, 2018

Don’t Give Up Your Contacts

When you give an app or social network access to your contacts, you are giving it access to your friends. You owe it to your friends to protect their privacy as best you can and hopefully they’ll do the same for you. Yes, there are some apps like email, messaging, and voice or video calling which have a legitimate need for contact information. Most don’t and they shouldn’t have access to it.

Yesterday was an all time personal high for unwarranted attempts to get at my contacts. I not only refused them all, I also returned a ring.com security system to Costco because, as soon as I downloaded the Android app needed to use it, the app refused to finish setup until I gave both it and Google Play Service access to both my microphone (maybe justified) and my contacts (not gonna happen). More below on the particularly dangerous Google Play Service.

Here are the attempts to get access which I remember yesterday:

  1. The Android Amazon Alexa app which wouldn’t even let me see the shopping list I had dictated until I told it who my contacts are so I can use Alexa to call them. I don’t want to use Alexa for calling but there wasn’t even a “later” button. Got around it by quitting the app (also not easy to do) and restarting it.
  2. My Garmin vivoactive HR It wants to tell me about email, texts, and calls when I’m hiking. I told it to concentrate on getting my pulse right.
  3. Facebook on my PC (I don’t allow it on my phone). It told me for the zillionth time that I’d have more friends if I’d just upload my contacts. I’m not about to do that to my friends.
  4. LinkedIn on my PC told me I’d get a fabulous job offer soon if I’d only upload my contacts. No thanks; I’m retired. And I wouldn’t hire anyone who uploaded me to LinkedIn.
  5. And the ring.com app.

The ring.com app didn’t ask to use my contacts and microphone directly; it just told me that it couldn’t even set itself up unless I gave Google Play Services access to these things. What is Google Play Services? Google Play Services is a good technical idea gone astray (or rogue). It manages downloads from the Google Play Store and updates (fine); Google says “with Google Play Services, you can authenticate Google services, synchronize your contacts, access the latest user privacy settings, and use higher quality location-based services that use less energy.” What they don’t say directly on the download page is that apps like ring.com which use Google Play Services also apparently get access to what Google Play Services has access to. If I had previously allowed Google Play Services to access my contacts, then ring.com could have gotten access without asking me. Not good and not gonna happen

In continuing my search for security cameras, I’ve been sending a question to tech support at the camera company websites asking what permissions their apps require. So far I’ve gotten no answers but it is still the weekend. I’ve also downloaded some apps to see whether they want me to give permissions I don’t want to give. That’s a pain. App stores ought, as a matter of course, to list all the permissions an app will need if you download it. I’d like to see this information on packaging and online descriptions for all products with their own apps. I don’t want a home security system at the expense of my friends’ online security.

I’m not waiting for the government to manage my privacy for me; I’m not at all sure I want that. We can make online privacy better by being informed consumers and – above all – not compromising the security of our friends by broadcasting our contacts.

See CC’ing Will Get Your Friends Speared for how and why to protect your friends when sending email to a list;

Don’t Believe Caller ID for how exposing your contacts can help scammers effectively scam your friends;

Alexa: The End of a Great Relationship and Your Android Phone is Eavesdropping for my growing paranoia about the Internet of listening things.

April 06, 2018

Say No to Government Censorship - Always

Jeff Jarvis' (@jeffjarvis) twitter description reads: "#resist @BuzzMachine blogger and j-school prof; author of Public Parts, What Would Google Do?" He is almost always right on issues to do with journalism. But I'm afraid his antipathy to Donald Trump (to put it it mildly) may be influencing his judgment. We had the following twitter exchange (btw, I consider Jeff a friend and hope he still feels that way about me). The background is that the Sinclair Broadcast Group ran promos taped by the anchors at the many local TV stations they own which, among other things, complained about "the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country" [I've quoted the full text of the promo way below].

 

 

 

At this point NBC anchor Katy Tur joined the tweetstream.

 

Katy has not answered the questions in my tweet above but is entirely possible she never noticed it.

Below is the KOMO TV version of the script as quoted in the Seattle PI that the Sinclair anchors were "forced" to read in the promos (not in the news itself). I actually don't find it objectionable. There's some puffery but it is a promo. It's certainly true that there is plenty of "fake news", opinion masquerading as news, unchecked "facts" and plenty of sloppy reporting on both the left on the right and even in the middle. But in my PoV, the important point is that it would be terrible, now or in the future, to have the government award licenses based on politics or government opinion of whether a station is practicing true journalism.

"Hi, I'm(A) ____________, and I'm (B) _________________...

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But we're concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media.

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories... stories that just aren't true, without checking facts first.

 

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control 'exactly what people think'...This is extremely dangerous to a democracy.

(B) At KOMO it's our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically 'left nor right.' Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever.

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual... We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day.

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback"

April 03, 2018

Very Bad Web Page – Kill Your Browser!

If you see the web page below on your computer, do not click anywhere on it! It will also talk to you and say your computer is infected. Do NOT call the 855 number given! Do not believe that it comes from Microsoft! You won’t be able to close the window. It is trying to infect you with a virus.  Immediately use control-alt-delete to bring up Task Manager and kill your browser.

Badpage

Do the same thing if you see this dialog:


Baddialog

Mary got there by clicking PayPal in a Google search results page in what was apparently a hacked PayPal ad on Google. I tried in both Chrome and Firefox and was also misrouted to this malignant site. However, the same ad still shows up on Google Search and now leads to PayPal as it should.

Hopefully there’ll be some explanation from Google as to how this could happen. However I cannot be sure that this was not a hijack of a DNS server somewhere in the lookup path. I also don’t know that PayPal ads are particularly targeted. It could have been whatever ad Google served first would have misdirected to the evil site. Be careful!

If you are with law enforcement, the web address displayed still responds. That may be a lead.

UPDATE: The malignant page is hosted on Amazon's AWS according to a lookup of its IP address. I've notified the abuse email address at Amazon.

April 02, 2018

What Should Tower Over the Square?

THE SQUARE and the TOWER: Networks and Power, from the FREEMASONS to FACEBOOK by Niall Ferguson brilliantly explodes the myth that if we just had a big and open enough network, the world would be a wonderful place. If you haven’t read the book, you may want to read my post last week about it before reading this post (The Square and the Tower and Cambridge Analytica). The gist is that revolution without subsequent order looks more like what happened in France than what happened in America during the late 18th century. The “square” of the tile is any one of a number of horizontal networks to which we all belong; the “tower” is the hierarchical structure (city, state, corporation) which goiverns the square.

Ferguson believes that internet-enabled disruption is at the tipping point of causing a world catastrophe if someone doesn’t establish control over the huge networks like Facebook and Google.

“…can a networked world have order? As we have seen, some say that it can. In the light of historical experience, I very much doubt it…

“Globalization is in crisis. Populism is on the march. Authoritarian states are ascendant. Technology meanwhile marches inexorably ahead, threatening to render most human beings redundant or immortal or both…

“…technology has enormously empowered networks of all kinds relative to traditional hierarchical power structure…”

Ferguson deliberately uses the word “networks” to mean three things: physical networks over which data flows, social networks, and networked groups like ISIS who have mastered the use of the first two types of networks. Controlling ISIS requires controlling the networks which enable it. Apparently he also believes that control over these networks should and will thwart the rise of populism (Trump and Brexit, for example) and other threats to hierarchical order.

Of course management of these networks actually is hierarchical, as Ferguson points out: “Despite their appearance as great levelers, social networks are … ‘inherently unfair and exclusionary’. He attributes this to “the tendency for well-connected hubs to get even better connected”.

“…there are now two kinds of people in the world: those who own and run the networks, and those who merely use them. The commercial masters of cyberspace may still pay lip service to a flat world of netizens, but in practice companies such as Google are hierarchically organized, even if their ‘org.charts’ are quite different from that of General Motors in Alfred Sloan’s day.”

Are Google and Facebook management the hierarchical structures (towers) which should manage the unruly internet square? Not according to Ferguson:

“One can argue for and against censorship of odious content. One can marvel that companies and government agencies would spend money on online advertising so indiscriminately that their carefully crafted slogans end up on jihadist websites. However, arguing that Google and Facebook should do the censoring is not just an abdication of responsibility; it is evidence of unusual naivety. As if these two companies were not already mighty enough, European politicians apparently want to give them the power to limit their citizens’ free expression.”

I agree with that! So who should be doing the regulation? It’s a critical question if you’ve been convinced by Ferguson as I have that some regulation is necessary. Remember that the networks to be regulated are richer and more powerful than most countries (and better managed). Ferguson says:

“The alternative is that another pentarchy of great powers recognizes their common interest in resisting the spread of jihadism, criminality and cyber-vandalism, to say nothing of climate change. [nb. The original pentarchy was Austria, Britain, France, Prussia, and Russia who more or less kept the peace in Europe for a century before WWI.]  In the wake of the 2017 WannaCry episode, even the Russian government must understand that no state can hope to rule Cyberia for long… Conveniently, the architects of the post-1945 order created the institutional basis for such a new pentarchy in the form of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, an institution that retains the all-important ingredient of legitimacy. Whether or not these five great powers can make common cause once again, as their predecessors did in the nineteenth century, is the great geopolitical question of our time.”

I think I know the answer to this “great geopolitical question”: NO! The UN is a haplessly corrupt institution; the Security Council a perfect study in dysfunction. Giving the UN the power to limit our citizens’ free expression is an even worse idea than leaving this to Google and Facebook.

If we don’t want to trust the owners of the networks to be the exclusive regulators of themselves; if we don’t think the UN can do the job (hard not to laugh at this suggestion); if we think some regulation is required – from whom should it come? Comments welcome and this will be a subject of a post soon.

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