Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Stay Connected to (U.S. Drone Killings) Metadata

Finally, you can keep up to date with U.S. signature strikes. After being rejected by Apple five times, data artist Josh Begley finally received approval for his app, now named "Metadata+". You can find it on the AppStore as a free download.

Back in 2012, he submitted an app, originally called "Drones+" that would alert iPhone users when and where a U.S. drone killed some people, hopefully enemies. Apple rejected it, but after 4 more resubmissions he finally got approval. The current app says nothing about drones. Apple wouldn't approve an app reporting that our military actually kills people, but would approve one that had no content. So Begley did just that. "Metadata+" is an empty app which promises "real-time updates on national security".

Metadata+ gets its name from the metadata it gathers to report on the killings. Ironically, metadata is also what the military uses to target the killings. According to a former drone operator, there normally is no personal observation of the targets, just metadata from phones or other devices which "geolocates" the target.

It would be nice if we could compare our killings to our enemies' killings, like the Arabs vs. Israelis or the numerous other 'terrorist' attacks that ageless enemies have used to justify response killings. Currently we have JSOC secret military operations in 75 countries with a fighting force of over 25,000, so that would be a lot of metadata. Incidentally, there has been an incredible expansion of our secret military operations since the Obama administration.

As the documentary "Dirty Wars" reports, we could be on our way to forging some endless wars ourselves with so many attacks in so many places. Nothing creates bitter enemies more than having your sons or daughters as "collateral damage." To date, four U.S. citizens have been killed. Perhaps as testament to the accuracy of our metadata, only one of those were targeted.

Interestingly, Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith writes he is also concerned about our greatly expanded secret killing brigades—not over the loss of innocent lives, however, but that "One day JSOC operation will make a notorious mistake that will cause the United States awkward embarrassment….". Snowden, it has been speculated, has just such information, but has refrained from releasing it yet.

Metadata+ iPhone App from Josh Begley on Vimeo.

One last thing: here is an articulate Josh Begley giving his graduate thesis. I put a lot of links in this post, but if you wish the core, I'd recommend watching the Josh Begley graduate thesis.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Pittsburgh: Well, Just Look at You.

I first noticed it in the upward mobility information.  Taken as a whole, America isn't really the land of opportunity.  When it comes to intergenerational mobility, we are close to the bottom of the world's industrial countries.  The UK does worse than we do, but that's because they haven't shed the old class structure that we love so much in Downton Abbey.

But, America is nothing if not diverse.  And, as shown in a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, it turns out that, depending on what part of the country you look at, upward mobility changes significantly.  Thus, Upward mobility is lowest in the Southeast and highest in the Great Plains. The West Coast and Northeast also have high rates of upward mobility.  In any event, to my surprise, out of the top 50 population areas, Pittsburgh was ranked second in the country for absolute upward intergenerational mobility.  

But then more stuff starts popping up.  On February 4, 2014, Politico Magazine published two articles on Pittsburgh.  One item, The Political Makeover of a Rust Belt City, is about the new mayor, Bill Peduto, changing Pittsburgh from an old boys network to a new progressive city.  The second item, The Robots that Saved Pittsburgh, describes how Pittsburgh, after decades of trying to remake itself, now has a new economy, based on a rapidly growing robotic, artificial intelligence, health technology, advanced manufacturing and software industries.  It looks like Pittsburgh is on the cutting edge of everything.

Also from Politico, two photo essays:  From Steel City to Roboburgh, the reinvention of Pittsburgh, and Robots at Work, a visit to CMU's Robotics Institute.

Pittsburgh, yes, just look at you.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dr. Bronowski and the Dangers of Certainty

This meditation, The Dangers of Certainty: A Lesson from Auschwitz, touches on several recurring themes in this blog: (1) the moral dangers of certainty; and (2) science's disavowal of any claim to final knowelge, or as  Jacob Bronowski  says in the old TV show, "The Ascent of Man," science is always at the brink of the known.  It demands that we always consider Oliver Cromwell's plea: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

This was published in a New York Times feature called "The Stone," described as "a forum for contemporary philosophers and other thinkers on issues both timely and timeless."  This online feature is usually worth checking out.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Poetry Sunday - On Poetry That Doth Not Rhyme

On Poetry That Doth Not Rhyme

Deliver me from wasted time
On poetry that doth not rhyme,
And even worse, I prithee ban
Unruly verse that doth not scan.
Presumptuous poets place their faith
In unctuous freedom's flair to saith
Whatever shard doth pierce their head
Without regard to theme or thread.
For florid, free-form composition
Invokes esprit with erudition
To breach beyond harmonious life
Unleashing catastrophic strife
Upon the page, whence tortuous hour
Again I wage uncertain scour,
Unmeasured, of prosodic scraps
In hopes rhapsodic tenor maps
Missed metered lines so broke I rue
The reader-writer pas de deux.
Shake, break, (sigh) concentrate!
'Tis prose so lithe, but such a weight,
Where any line may stop or start
At any length
Unfettered by constraint, their muse
Reins no restraint to feign, confuse,
And all the sundry parts of speech
Are numbly scattered out of reach
Of any sense I can decipher
Without the patience of a lifer.
The best lack all conviction
Apart from thwacking diction.
The worst have artfully a plan
That only God can understand,
And need eternity's extent
To finally agree what's meant.
I know, there's Yeats and Wallace Stevens,
A few more greats who have their reasons,
But genius hath laid bad example
For would-be bards to gad and trample
Nature, disadvantaged pressed
By thought not oft, nor well express'd.

In rhyme no words are left to roam.
Companionship doth lead them home.
None indiscriminately stroll
Aimlessly without a goal.
All poets should consider God
Obeys our laws, and yet we're awed
By lyric power, boundless grace
From fragrant flower to starlit space.
So if you freely write obscura,
I suggest that you secure a
Rhyming dict. and ruling meter
Stick with discipline, and either
Stop, or practice rod and fettered
Laws, like God, until you're better!