February 26th, 2014

green leaves

The inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents

Edited to add: So much for my beautiful observation. Charlie says quite plausibly that he thought security issues were too obvious to be worth mentioning.

A serious security breach was recently discovered at a bitcoin repository, and Charles Stross, who hates bitcoin engaged in some schadenfreude.

The schadenfreude link has an explanation of what it takes to do security programming for institutions that handle money-- something Charlie did for years. It's *hard*, even with the resources of a large organization.

He's entitled to gloat about the current mess, but since I'm not as convinced as he is that governments should be able to keep track of the whole economy, I remembered he'd been downright nasty about bitcoins, but I didn't think he'd mentioned anything about security problems. He hadn't.

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future, but this is an interesting case because Charlie is very smart, has spent a lot of time thinking about what's likely to happen, was looking for reasons to hate bitcoin, and had specific experience which would have given him another reason to hate bitcoin.... and he still didn't see the security problems coming. Alternate theory-- he did see the security problems, and didn't want to give a warning. I have no idea whether he's that sneaky.

I'm going with the honest mistake theory, and trying to figure out if there are ways to find out whether you've missed something important.

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green leaves

The militarization of American police

Radley Balko at a debate with Bill Mongomery, an attorney from Maricopa County, Arizona.

I'm posting this partly because there's a handy summary of the history of the militarization of American police, and partly because it's interesting to watch Montgomery try to retreat to abstractions when the issue is considerable fear, damage, and death caused by excessive use of force by police.

The summary is from 4:40 to 24:00 on the video. here are some high points. A detailed pdf on the subject.

SWAT teams were developed under Darryl Gates around 1966 after the Watts riots, and the idea was to have highly trained armed and armored police units to deal with situations which were already very violent.

Until the 80s, SWAT teams were pretty much used as intended. Reagan's expansion of the war on drugs led to erosion of Posse Commitatus (the principle that the military should not be deployed on American soil) by giving military weapons and training to police departments. The actual military refused to take part in the war on drugs.

As time has gone on, SWAT teams are being used for more and more minor offenses, including regulatory violations (long grass, dubious car parts) and less and less potentially violent situations, even threatened suicides.

In the Clinton administration and thereafter, SWAT teams have been used against medical marijuana dispensaries. Originally, the idea was that drug dealers were dangerous criminals, and the police had to protect themselves. This argument doesn't make sense in regards to fully legal (under state law) and publicly known organizations run by ordinary people.

The castle doctrine is that people have a right to be safe in their own homes, and SWAT teams destroy the property and peace of mind of people who are merely suspects. Sometimes SWAT teams abuse or kill innocent people by either shooting or medical neglect. Flashbang grenades are real weapons.

And to finish, a quote which may have been from Churchill: "Democracy means that when there's a knock on the door at 2AM, it's probably the milkman."

Part 2 of the debate Part 3.

Balko's Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.

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