To Profile or Not to Profile?

English: Bruce Schneier at CFP 2007: Open pane...
Bruce Schneier

English: Sam Harris
Sam Harris

A thoughtful debate between Sam Harris and Bruce Schneier. In the end, Schneier succinctly summarizes what is wrong with racial profiling:

“There are other security concerns when you look at the geopolitical

context, though. Profiling Muslims fosters an “us vs. them” thinking

that simply isn’t accurate when talking about terrorism. I have always

thought that the “war on terror” metaphor was actively harmful to

security because it raised the terrorists to the level of equal

combatant. In a war, there are sides, and there is winning. I much

prefer the crime metaphor. There are no opposing sides in crime; there

are the few criminals and the rest of us. There criminals don’t “win.”

Maybe they get away with it for a while, but eventually they’re caught.

“Us vs. them” thinking has two basic costs. One, it establishes that

worldview in the minds of “us”: the non-profiled. We saw this after

9/11, in the assaults and discriminations against innocent Americans who

happened to be Muslim. And two, it establishes the same worldview in

the minds of “them”: Muslims. This increases anti-American sentiment

among Muslims. This reduces our security, less because it creates

terrorists—although I’m sure it is one of the things that pushes a

marginal terrorist over the line—and more that a higher anti-American

sentiment in the Muslim community is a more fertile ground for terrorist

groups to recruit and operate. Making sure the vast majority of

Muslims who are not terrorists are part of the “us” fighting terror,

just as the vast majority of honest citizens work together in fighting

crime, is a security benefit.

Like many of the other things we’ve discussed here, we can debate how

big the costs and benefits I just described are, or we can simplify our

system and stop worrying about it.

One final cost. Security isn’t the only thing we’re trying to optimize;

there are other values at stake here. There’s a reason profiling is

often against the law, and that’s because it is contrary to our

country’s values. Sometimes we might have to set aside those values,

but not for this.”

(Sam Harris)

R.I.P. Doc Watson

Doc Watson
Doc Watson

Country Guitar Wizard Dies at 89: “Doc Watson, the guitarist and folk singer whose flat-picking style elevated the acoustic guitar to solo status in bluegrass and country music, and whose interpretations of traditional American music profoundly influenced generations of folk and rock guitarists, died on Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was 89. Mr. Watson, who had been blind since he was a year old, died in a hospital after recently undergoing abdominal surgery, The Associated Press quoted a hospital spokesman as saying.” (NYTimes)

The Most Comma Mistakes

I think I’m good with my commas. It just seems intuitive to me. Punctuation errors have a close relationship to imprecision of thought, but people are not given permission to use their common sense when they are taught grammar and punctuation. There is also, as the article points out, a relationship with voicing a sentence internally while you are writing it. Notice your pauses. Here’s a rundown of how to think about some comma decisions. (Ben Yagoda, NYTimes)

Words to Avoid Online If You Don’t Want to Join the Government’s Watch List

English: Seal of the United States Department ...

“The US Department of Homeland Security has released a list of the keywords and phrases the agency monitors online to find potential threats. Obviously posting “Al Queda” and “dirty bomb” online will get the government to start looking at you real closely, but “pork” and other oddly normal words are also on the list.

In response to a freedom of information request, the department posted its Analyst’s Desktop Binder (a manual for the agency’s security analysts) containing this hotlist. The keywords cover domestic security, HAZMAT and nuclear, health concern, infrastructure security and other threats.

According to the Daily Mail, the Department of Homeland Security says it only uses this keyword list to look for genuine security threats, not signs of general dissent. Nobody wants Big Brother looking over her shoulder—and you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to censor yourself in this way—but if you’re particularly paranoid about the government spying on you, you might reconsider using too many of these keywords together when you post something online. Here’s the full list.” (Lifehacker).

Why Is That Undulating Blob Of Flesh Inspecting My Oil Rig?

‘On April 25, somewhere in the ocean off Great Britain, a remotely operated video camera near a deep sea oil rig caught a glimpse — at first it was just a glimpse — of an astonishing looking sea creature. It was a green-gray blob of gelatinous muscle, covered with a finely mesh-like textured skin, no eyes, no tentacles, no front, no back. It moved constantly, floating up to the camera, then it backed off and disappeared. The camera operator tried to find it, and then, suddenly, out of the darkness, back it came.’ (Krulwich Wonders… )