Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Spinning the Political Compass

A political indoctrination tool turns out to be inaccurate.

Who knew.

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The Political Compass, a popular online quiz, was supposedly designed to remedy the simple-mindedness of the left-right spectrum by replacing it with two axes:  political and social libertarianism vs. authoritarianism, and economic Left vs. Right.  Basically, everything nice you say about big business puts you further to the economic Right — which the quiz equates to a preference for free markets — and everything negative you say about corporate power puts you further to the Left (i.e. collectivism).

Some of the questions have a “have you stopped beating your wife?” quality to them.  For example:  “Because corporations cannot be trusted to voluntarily protect the environment, they require regulation.”  Or “A genuine free market requires restrictions on the ability of predator multinationals to create monopolies.”

This wretched quiz  takes for granted all the worst assumptions of our dumbed-down political culture.  In so doing, like Newspeak, it reinforces all the ways in which our corporatized political culture obscures critical thought.


Friday, May 20, 2011

Encrypted currencies and darknet economies

Bitcoin ushers in the Diamond Age.

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Jason Calacanis and his colleagues at LAUNCH describe it as “The Most Dangerous Project We’ve Ever Seen” (May 15, 2011).  Not only is it “the most dangerous open-source project ever created,” but “possibly the most dangerous technological project since the Internet itself.”  It “could topple governments, destabilize economies and create uncontrollable global bazaars for contraband.”

The beauty of it is there’s no central server network to shut down. Just as with file-sharing, Bitcoin is traded from one desktop or mobile device to another via public key encryption.  So short of catching and prosecuting end-users with harsh punishments, there’s no way to stop it.  And we all know how well that’s worked out for the proprietary content companies.


Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse

The CDC uses zombie madness to present emergency preparedness.

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The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder “How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?”

Well, we’re here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for real emergencies too!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Get a Warrant Before Searching Cell Phones

Make those folks on CSI work a little harder, support SB 914.

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EFF is proud to support SB 914, a bill that requires the police to obtain a warrant before searching a recent arrestee’s cell phone.

The bill is expected to be on the Senate floor soon. All Californians should ask their state lawmakers to support SB 914 and tell law enforcement that if they want access to the personal and private data stored on cell phones, they need to come back with a warrant.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Fight Internet Censorship

Check out "Documenting Tools for Beating Internet Censorship" on the EFF blog.

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Network censorship and surveillance is a booming business. Censorship schemes continue to fragment the Internet and new censorship proposals are constantly introduced around the world, including in liberal democracies. (Lately governments have gotten fascinated by the idea of forcing ISPs to censor particular sites from the DNS, so users can't find them even though the sites are still there.) Censors usually assume that most Internet users don't know how to bypass the censorship (or, often, that many users won't even realize the censorship is going on!).

Unfortunately, the censors are often right, at least in broad strokes: many Internet users get used to censorship and rarely or never try to bypass it. And censorship doesn't always take the form of simply blocking sites and services. But there are still major efforts to beat technical censorship by technical means, and motivated users can generally take advantage of them. Millions of people are at least occasional users of censorship circumvention services, but it's a perennial challenge to broaden this pool and give people the tools to maintain uncensored access over time.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Rationalizing and Reason: Unbelievable Beliefs

Why does the mind challenge fact with fiction?

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The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation—a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information—and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. "They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs," says Taber, "and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they're hearing."


Routine Maintenance: Tracking the Trackers

Rotate your GPS tracking devices every 1000 miles for even wear.

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How to find it? Just get under your car and look around. If you see a black box, give it a yank. If it comes free, it’s probably not factory-installed. Even if you’re not sure what a normal car underside looks like, a surveillance device is going to look out of place. While you’re at it, check the car cushions and unzip your headrests; those are

both fine places to hide a passive device.

More-recent devices not only gather your GPS location data, they send it back out to someone who may be following your movements on the internet right now. Many of them can be spliced right into your car’s electrical system. No batteries and no need for retrieval mean that your shadow can be extra-sneaky when hiding the device. The engine compartment is going to be too hot, and the trunk is basically a metal box, so you can still pretty much rule those out. Start by looking behind the console, and don’t stop until you’ve looked pretty much everywhere else.