Re: Drone Operators

1

they should just get kids to do it. tell them it's a video game.


Posted by: Orson Scott Card | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 9:56 AM
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get kids to do it. tell them it's a video game.


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 9:57 AM
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In Soviet Russia, drones operate you!


Posted by: OPINIONATED YAKOV SMIRNOFF | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 10:04 AM
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I don't suppose anyone else ever read G.A. Matiasz's End Time: Notes on the Apocalypse? The author is a long-time columnist for "Maximum Rock n Roll". The book is bizarrely prescient. It's set in 2009, published in early 1994, and he predicts the Zapatista uprising (although he is off by a couple hundred miles) and the growth of drone/automatic warfare. It's pretty chilling in places.

I wonder how the drone operators' long-term experience of PTSD will differ from that of soldiers who saw the war up close? Or that of the torturers? In a few years it's going to be like opening up your pillow case of Hallowe'en candy and picking out all the different flavors of PTSD to rank in little piles.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 10:19 AM
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I'm very sorry for people who have war related PTSD (which includes friends of mine), or any other kind, for that matter. But I am kind of glad that killing people fucks you up. Killing people should fuck you up. It's a fucked up thing to do.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 10:31 AM
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How prescient is the first of those predictions, considering the Zapatistas "went public" (Wikipedia) on January 1, 1994 and used the name of a similar movement in the 1910s? Not that I know anything here.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 10:33 AM
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6: Well, it was published in March or April, I think, so it had been written well back in 1993 at the latest. It's not so much the Zapatista name or brand as that he posited the rebellion at all. A lot of the other stuff is standard SF extrapolation that's too fast or too slow or whatever, but the drone and Zapatista stuff was right on the money.

Also, he has stuff about Indonesia. Isn't it kinda weird how little we hear about Indonesia in the course of a year or whatever? 4th largest population, all kinds of economic and geopolitical significance -- important stuff happens there, and we just never hear about it.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 10:40 AM
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What I remember from ~1994: I bet an astute person paying attention to Mexican politics could totally have predicted the Zapatistas - which is not to diminish the prediction, there weren't a lot of astute and attentive people in the US paying that kind of attention. There were plenty of ripples in indigenous movements that suggested that something big could easily happen - and the thing is, the remoter parts of Mexico have always been effective in resisting central control, there's a whole history of labor and indigenous organizing like in Oaxaca.

Similarly, I knew a lot about current stuff in Indonesia back then, because there was a bunch of activism about East Timor.

It sounds basically as though this writer was basically just a really plugged in guy whose ideology (whatever it may be) didn't get in the way of seeing what was coming. Certainly, I think a lot of people get gobsmacked by effective indigenous resistance because their politics tell them that it can never happen.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 10:52 AM
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1,2: oh sure. now comments are working.


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 11:14 AM
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I need to stop using "basically". Probably also "actually". Maybe also "of course". And "also".


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 11:23 AM
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I agree with 5.

And I'm sorry, but whenever I see the post title on the screen, the auditory region of my brain plays a snippet of Sade's "Smoooooooooooth Operator." And now you shall suffer the same fate.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 11:35 AM
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Not that the OP is insufficiently outraged, but I just wanted to quote and link (re-link?) Living Under Drones to highlight the main psychological victims.

Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.
...One man described the reaction to the sound of the drones as "a wave of terror" coming over the community. "Children, grown-up people, women, they are terrified. . . . They scream in terror." Interviewees described the experience of living under constant surveillance as harrowing. In the words of one interviewee: "God knows whether they'll strike us again or not. But they're always surveying us, they're always over us, and you never know when they're going to strike and attack."
... "Do you remember 9/11? Do you remember what it felt like right after? I was in New York on 9/11. I remember people crying in the streets. People were afraid about what might happen next. People didn't know if there would be another attack. There was tension in the air. This is what it is like. It is a continuous tension, a feeling of continuous uneasiness. We are scared. You wake up with a start to every noise."

Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 12:54 PM
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The human cost of war:

One portrait shows Sgt. David Adams, a young Marine from Wisconsin, using his remaining arm to hold an X-ray of his broken back. Cpl. Zachary Stinson has lost both legs. The face of Lance Cpl. Kyle Carpenter, who was wounded by a hand grenade, looks like cracked porcelain.
Those and dozens more paintings and sketches make up the Joe Bonham Project, created by Fay and showing at Drexel University as part of a new course on how war is portrayed in the media. Many of the recovering Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were drawn in stateside hospitals within weeks of being shot or blown up.
"We're saying, 'Here they are. They're still in the fight,' " Fay said. "They're in a whole different place that people need to know about and hear about."
...None of the soldiers want sympathy, he said. They all want their stories faithfully depicted.

Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 2:47 PM
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There was a guy in my food co-op back when I was in history grad school and in a food co-op who was in engineering who seemed to sincerely believe that if you made it so that machines just fought machines then war would be less deadly. It didn't seem to have occurred to him that people who run militaries aren't likely to use their weapons only on machines. Maybe this is how he justified his work to himself, which appeared to be all about building things with military applications.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 3:05 PM
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11: I hear it more as "smoke on the water"


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 3:09 PM
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Speaking of Indonesia and living with having killed lots of people, did anyone see "The Act of Killing?" (Still in theaters, I think.) One of the most amazing and haunting documentaries I've ever seen.


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 3:41 PM
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14: On the other hand, this is why cyberwarfare is great. If countries want to fuck with each other, let them do it to each others computers instead of their people.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 4:17 PM
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17: yeah, I mean, whatever, what's the worst they could do? Permanently cripple all the sewage treatment plants or blow up a nuclear reactor or take down the power grid or shut down telecommunications or whatever? Big whoop.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 4:44 PM
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Poop.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 4:51 PM
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18: Except the capabilities to actually do that stuff is vastly overstated. Nuclear reactors arent connected to the internet, and no amount of hacking is going to keep sewage from flowing downhill.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 4:56 PM
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20: uh huh.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 4:58 PM
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Also, the strategic value of backing up your toilet is questionable.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 4:59 PM
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So Spike do you legitimately not remember that the single biggest (public) example of success at "cyberwar" (which I actually do believe is way overhyped, but not because it isn't possible) was on a fully air-gapped nuclear facility?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:08 PM
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20.last: I refute it thus! [Urples]


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:12 PM
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The structure hits in the NATO-Serbian war caused quite a bit of misery, if you can believe the Serbian civilians and international observers.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:14 PM
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So the LAX shooter's last name is "CIA 'n' CIA"? Conspiracy!


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:16 PM
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Yeah, I know that. It was a very well executed example of cyberespionage, againt a single industrial target, with years of preparation, using novel techniques that had never really been considered before. But that kind of attack really isn't going to scale, especially now that everyone's learned you don't let your nuclear engineers use flash drives they found in a parking lot.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:26 PM
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But... it sort of is! I dunno. Nothing I ever learned about computer security (and the institutional, human problems therewith) gives me any confidence that, like, learned best practices implemented correctly are ever likely to be common, or a solution to anything. It's ridiculous to throw tons of money at "cyberwar" like it's some problem that can be solved by defense, but in a real war against a first world power -- or for a relatively industrialized nation that we really wanted to fuck with -- it has the ability to cause massive amounts of human misery, and saying "ehh, go for it" strikes me as callous.

tl;dr: I've seen some shit, man. (Thousand yard stare.)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:32 PM
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29

Also, fuck the fucking Republicans and their food stamp cuts.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:33 PM
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Also, fuck the fucking Republicans and their food stamp cuts.

Cutting food stamps now is really, truly, appalling.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:51 PM
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I guess my feeling is that, in general, our civil infrastructure is less techology dependent than it would need to be for cyberwar to have a widely devestaring effect. Theres no percentage in using computers to overheat a nuclear reactor, when it can be resolved by using the manual override on the control rods. If you take out the air traffic control systems, airplanes are not going to suddenly fall out of the sky. And the power grid could go down, yeah, but thats happened before, and we are all still here to tell the tale.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 5:52 PM
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And as for the possibility that cyber-warfare would be turned against military infrastructure, undermining the capabilities of highly advanced/expensive weapons systems, to that, I say "if only."


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:03 PM
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And the power grid could go down, yeah, but thats happened before, and we are all still here to tell the tale.

Sort of? People die in blackouts.

If you take out the air traffic control systems, airplanes are not going to suddenly fall out of the sky

Right, it would be fairly gradual, as they ran out of fuel and didn't have safe places to land.

Theres no percentage in using computers to overheat a nuclear reactor, when it can be resolved by using the manual override on the control rods.

Assuming, obviously, that people catch the problem in time and the manual override is operational and actually manual.

Like, again, really, the lesson you take from stuxnet is "oh, that can't happen again"? You don't think the Natanz facilities were (in theory) designed to have lots and lots of failsafe security measures? Big, complex systems have enormous amounts of computers involved in running them, and they fail all the damn time even when they aren't dealing with an adversary who is actually trying to fuck things up.

Seriously the number of people I know who accidentally stumbled into shit they should never have had access to, that should never have been on the internet, that would have been so bad if they'd been malicious...


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:09 PM
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I mean, happily, panglossian dopiness among nerds on the internet is not going to make what is, as already mentioned, wildly overhyped threat any worse, but this whole "haha whatever go for cyberwar suckers" just sounds to me like "what, rubber bullets? Go ahead and shoot me, stupid!"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:13 PM
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I agree with 5 as well, and am glad to see it writ. From the GQ article:

By the spring of 2011, almost six years after he'd signed on, Senior Airman Brandon Bryant left the Air Force, turning down a $109,000 bonus to keep flying. He was presented with a sort of scorecard covering his squadron's missions. "They gave me a list of achievements," he says. "Enemies killed, enemies captured, high-value targets killed or captured, stuff like that." He called it his diploma. He hadn't lased the target or pulled the trigger on all of the deaths tallied, but by flying in the missions he felt he had enabled them. "The number," he says, "made me sick to my stomach."
Total enemies killed in action: 1,626.

I have to congratulate that guy for speaking out.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:17 PM
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There's no reason to believe that "cyberwar"*, if it becomes effective, will be limited to attacks on non-humans. If you're working on making cyberwar more effective, that's what you're working towards.

You can argue about whether or not cyberwar is or ever will be that effective, but that's doesn't change anything about how it will be employed if it becomes that effective.

*Are the 90s back? "Cyber"war?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:22 PM
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*Are the 90s back? "Cyber"war?

Weirdly more approppriate that most of the uses of that prefix.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:33 PM
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-t+n


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:33 PM
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Sort of? People die in blackouts.

Old shut-ins in top-floor apartments die in blackouts. It is sad, but these people are not particularly valuable targets in terms of military strategy.

Also, 737s are perfectly capable of being directed to land via old fashioned radio communication and binoculars. They used to do that in the olden times. Not saying for sure there wouldn't be any accidents as a result, but I do think there is a pretty good chance of being able to get everyone on the ground safely. And, again, fucking up civilian air-travel infrastructure for some limited amount of time isn't exactly Napoleon crossing the Delaware in terms of a winning military strategy.

Like, again, really, the lesson you take from stuxnet is "oh, that can't happen again"?

My lesson from stuxnet is that valuable military infrastructure was taken out without dropping any bombs on anybody and, crucially, nobody died as a result. Seems like a much better outcome that whatever would have happened if John McCain had gotten to bomb Iran with real live kinetic ordnance, like he wanted.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:40 PM
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Did Snowden say he had evidence of US cyberattacks killing people by taking out systems temporarily?


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 6:49 PM
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Cutting food stamps now is really, truly, appalling.

I totally get what you mean, and I don't disagree. But I do find myself thinking that enacting policies that make it more likely that people will be hungry blurs the line between civilization and savagery, and the timing of such inhumane cruelty doesn't really matter all that much. I've only ever had too little to eat for long durations (more than a few days) twice in my life. Both times were so horrible that I do my very best not to think about them.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 7:40 PM
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Fair enough... I did only mean that the need is so crystal clear and so great that I'm especially squicked by people thinking its at all acceptable.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 7:43 PM
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Yeah, I got that. And I didn't mean to tut-tut you in any way. I just wanted to pile some of my outrage on top of yours.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 7:45 PM
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I just saw a cockroach the size of Godzilla.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:00 PM
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That's enough protein to sustain a family of four for a month. Unless they're paleo.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:02 PM
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Not if he gets you first.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:03 PM
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Pile away, my good man.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:05 PM
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Sure, a cyberattack by itself won't kill a lot of people, but it can make an attack using conventional weapons much more effective. A good example is Israel's bombing of Syria in 2007. Definitely people can die from a brief network outage, if it happens at just the wrong time.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 11- 1-13 8:36 PM
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So Israel used a cyber-attack to temporarily disable Syrian radar systems. That seems more humanitarian to me than the alternate means of achieving that strategic objective - dropping bombs on the radar installations.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 6:07 AM
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There is nothing inherently more humanitarian about attacking networks as opposed to, say, buildings.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 6:15 AM
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Except that buildings are full of people and, as I've argued, the vulnerability of human lives to network disruption is far overstated.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 6:38 AM
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Networks are full of people too!


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 6:43 AM
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On the other hand, god forbid a country have its strategic LOLcat distribution system compromised.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 9:49 AM
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49: I agree that a cyber-attack can be more humanitarian than bombing. But in all of the examples mentioned above, that was intentional: there was a desire to keep a low profile and minimize collateral damage. I don't think that's inherently true of all cyber-attacks, especially when combined with conventional weapons. We've just never seen a cyber-attack that was intended to cause widespread damage.


Posted by: torrey pine | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 11:05 AM
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We've just never seen a cyber-attack that was intended to cause widespread damage.

We haven't seen anything successful. There were massive attempts to cyber-attack Israeli systems the last time they bombed Gaza. But Israel's systems are hardened enough that they basically shrugged it off. They were able to do so largely because they've built up an immunity from dealing with previous attacks. All the attack vectors that had been tried before had been shut down, and the attackers came up empty.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 12:09 PM
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55 was me


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 12:09 PM
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Speaking of Indonesia and living with having killed lots of people, did anyone see "The Act of Killing?" (Still in theaters, I think.) One of the most amazing and haunting documentaries I've ever seen.

It really was astonishing. There was a lot about the way that this movie was made and marketed that really bothered me, and yet it was so incredible that I would still urge anyone to see it.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 12:31 PM
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I think the perhaps better way of making the point is to say that, to the extent that cyber-warfare lends itself to attacks on infrastructure that are targeted rather than indiscriminate, it has humanitarian advantages. Of course, the same is true for drones as compared to conventional or missile bombing -- better targeting leads to fewer indiscriminate casualties.

Whether or not cyber-warfare (for lack of a better term) is actually effective in that limited role, or whether or not it could also deliberately create mass civilian casualties, are things I don't really know. But of course we already have awesome non-cyber technologies for creating mass civilian casualties, if that's the goal.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 12:31 PM
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Whether or not cyber-warfare (for lack of a better term) is actually effective in that limited role, or whether or not it could also deliberately create mass civilian casualties, are things I don't really know.

"Maybe" and "probably" are the answers here.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 12:54 PM
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||

I want to introduce the idea of a Graeber sentence. A Graeber sentence is one that would make the speaker appear a complete idiot when uttered in any context except perhaps ones where it is preceded by "Wouldn't it be stupid if someone said" or something like that.

Via neb on FB, I now offer the second identified example of a Graeber sentence:

"I am struck by the fact that treatises on particle physics never say what shape the particles have, and whether different kinds of particles might have different shapes. In diagrams they are usually depicted as spherical, but such a determination never plays a role in the theories of particles -- unlike questions of charge and mass. Would it matter if an electron had a star shape?"

From Colin McGinn's new book, reviewed here.

|>


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 1:13 PM
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Oh, helpy, I had to dig into the McGinn review to see that you weren't saying that Graeber said that. McGinn said that. I'd rather let Graeber face criticism for things he's said, not make him a representative for anything beyond his own words.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:02 PM
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Sorry that wasn't clear. Anyone can utter a Graeber sentence. The name just comes from the speaker of the holotype.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:11 PM
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I suppose I should call it a Graeber passage, rather than a Graeber sentence.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:12 PM
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That review is new, but the book appears to have been published in 2011.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:13 PM
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My lesson from stuxnet is that valuable military infrastructure was taken out without dropping any bombs on anybody and, crucially, nobody died as a result.

Well, apart from all the assassinated Iranian scientists.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:13 PM
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Yeah: while I appreciate the sentiment, I can't really get behind the specific case of criticizing Colin McGinn by comparing him to David Graeber. (This was McGinn too, incidentally. And somewhere there is an amazing and wonderful review of his book on disgust-- perhaps you know which one I mean?)

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Nadezhda Tolokonnikova has disappeared. Her statement about the hunger strike.
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Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:17 PM
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66: the wonderful review of the book on disgust.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:19 PM
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62, 63: I'd still rather keep Graeber out of it. People have been writing and saying those sorts of things for decades, if not centuries.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:20 PM
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Strange that this bit of foolishness didn't come up in the sexual harassment scandal. Peopled talked about his recent book on the evolution of the hand, but no one I saw mentioned this. I'm actually not sure what McGinn's reputation was built on to begin with.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:21 PM
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I read McGinn's Wittgenstein on Meaning back in the day. He was an active player in the Kripkenstein or no! debate. Whether he was the most discerning commentator is up for grabs, but he hadn't horribly embarrassed himself at that point.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:33 PM
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60: This fails to rise to the stoned undergraduate level of physics speculation.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:34 PM
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Notice how quickly essear tried to change the subject? The only possible explanation: he's embarrassed to admit that physicists have never wondered what would happen if electrons were really star-shaped.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:39 PM
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The disgust book was apparently also published in 2011, by the same publisher. Given the evidence from the reviews of what these books are like, I guess it's not surprising that he can just crank them out at that pace.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:42 PM
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70: I knew there was something by him I read in graduate school. I may have even cited that in my dissertation.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:43 PM
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72: I'm trying to throw competitors off the trail while I rush out a "the Higgs boson is a stellated icosahedron" paper.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:45 PM
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The Higgs boson is an Islamic crescent. That's why it could only be discovered in Europe, not America.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:47 PM
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Shit, I do. In fact, I use an argument from McGinn to back up a move I make in chapter 5. You'd think I'd remember that.

It is hard for me to criticize other thinkers when my own brain is swiss cheese.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:49 PM
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75

I think that surfer physicist dude has you beat on that one.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:50 PM
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74, 77: Yeah. I've gotten the impression that people don't much remember the Kripkenstein or no! debate at this point, but it was a going concern, and it needed to be done. McGinn sort of got points for wading in.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 2:55 PM
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It is worth pointing out that McGinn's ideas on consciousness are just as dumb.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:00 PM
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Also the term "Graeber Sentence" is excellent.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:03 PM
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Really, Tweety, I'd wish to keep Graeber out of it. Branding the style of sentence-making at hand in 60 as Graeberian is just insulting to Graeber.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:07 PM
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Regardless of the quality of Graeber's other work, you have to admit that he wrote a Graeber sentence, and it got past the editor.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:10 PM
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But you fuck one goat up one sentence...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:13 PM
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I can see absolutely zero reasons why Graeber does not deserve the insult.

A crucial aspect of a Graeber sentence is a refusal to admit that anything is wrong with the statement when called on it.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:14 PM
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82.last: you might not be getting why I like it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:30 PM
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No, I do get it. I will say that the mutual bitch-slap between Graeber and Henry over at CT however long ago didn't reflect well on either of them.

I'm out. This cold is really catching up to me.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:34 PM
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The McGinn sentence(s) in question are maybe less overtly stupid than the Graeber ones, in that a less-than-mathematically-literate person could read a bunch of particle physics and never encounter anything that makes it apparent that we know something about the shape of the electron. It's stupid only in that it's ridiculous to think we never considered whether the electron has a shape and he could have cleared it up by asking one of his friendly neighborhood particle physicists. Whereas if Graeber had read even a little bit about Apple it would have been clear his sentence was totally wrong.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:40 PM
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Now I kind of want to put "how do we know the electron isn't star-shaped?" on my final exam, but I'm a little worried the results would be disturbing.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:41 PM
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asking one of his friendly neighborhood particle physicists

From what I know of McGinn's personality "friendly" might have gone by the wayside a while ago.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:42 PM
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Wait, I thought the Higgs boson was shaped like an amplituhedron.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 3:50 PM
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Do you scientists ever even bother to look into those expensive electron microscopes you're always buying? You should have figured out what an electron looks like a long time ago.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 4:04 PM
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93

Who the hell is Graeber?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 4:09 PM
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Could you explain to me how we know anything about the shape of an electron given that it's so small? Googling suggests something about non-round things wobbling, but it would seem to me that there'd be plenty of non-round non-wobbly shapes available. Also, isn't it supposed to be a point, so it wouldn't have any shape at all?


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 4:11 PM
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On the other hand, Debt seems a book more worth reading than Disgust.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 4:12 PM
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92: right, is it a microscope for electrons or not?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 4:15 PM
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96 brought to you by NSF grant 002-11928-Z for making it explicit.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 4:15 PM
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94 Also, isn't it supposed to be a point, so it wouldn't have any shape at all?

Right, as far as we know, it doesn't have any internal structure. We know its spin, which is sort of like its shape-- it tells us how its wavefunction transforms under rotations. In principle it could also have something like a nontrivial radial density profile, but as far as we know so far it's pointlike.

The main point, though, is that knowing its spin precludes things like "star-shapes," which would behave differently under rotations and require more degrees of freedom to describe.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 11- 2-13 4:30 PM
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||
I just discovered a strangely useful thing: a page which extracts notes and highlights from PDFs you upload and returns them to you in useful form. I know there is a Zotero plugin which does the same thing, but this is quick and less faff.
|>


Posted by: Nworb Werdna | Link to this comment | 11- 3-13 2:18 PM
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"Do you remember 9/11? Do you remember what it felt like right after? I was in New York on 9/11. I remember people crying in the streets. People were afraid about what might happen next. People didn't know if there would be another attack. There was tension in the air.

I also was in New York on 9/11 and this is 100% dissimilar to my recollection of what it was like.
And, if you're unlucky enough to live in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa or the FATA, you are far more likely to be killed by a Taliban bomb (or indeed by your own armed forces) than you are by a US drone.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 11- 4-13 2:38 AM
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I dunno. Post earthquake Chch was (and still sometimes is) crazy fucking stressful. Obviously NY post 9/11 was different, and so is the experience of living a drone operations area, but I think the repetitive, random nature of the danger is very very hard to live with.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 11- 4-13 3:37 AM
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As I understand mathematics -- which I did, a tiny bit, long long ago* -- an idea like "shape" has reasonably straightforward meaning in geometries not unlike the one that beings roughly our size, with visual organs perception, reside in (give or take Lakatos and a whole bunch of problems about the purpose of defnition). But the local geometry that electrons and such kick around in (and perhaps fashion) is so unlike ours that the notion of shape, if there's even a scaleable equivalent, would not come in cute and recognisably vernacular categories such as McGinn seems (in this brief extract) to want to find.

*I studied algebraic topology and non-euclidean geometry at college in the early 80s: I sucked at the former but was quite good at the latter (at least visual imagination helped), and it was my best paper in finals (possibly because so few people took it that they kept the questions super-easy).

Roger Penrose! He was the lecturer. He mumbled to himself and had a cute little bald spot very visible if you sat high up at the back, which I always did.


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11- 4-13 5:49 AM
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Also I guess organs of feel iykwimaityd.


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 11- 4-13 5:51 AM
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But the local geometry that electrons and such kick around in (and perhaps fashion) is so unlike ours that the notion of shape, if there's even a scaleable equivalent, would not come in cute and recognisably vernacular categories such as McGinn seems (in this brief extract) to want to find.

Electrons are pointlike. Essear explains this above, and he also by coincidence had been talking about it in this forum a little before I saw this review of the McGinn book (via the nebster.)

Now when essear explained how we know electrons are pointlike, he had to talk about a lot of things that don't normally apply to macroscopic objects. (There was something about charge density and how electrons deflect other particles?) But still there seemed to be a way to translate McGinn's homey language into something real physicists can use. It was also clearly possible to translate the term "sphere" and maybe even "star shaped."

I think there are two levels of stupid in this quote. The first is that the question McGinn thinks no one has asked actually has a straightforward and well known answer. The second is that the question can't really be put in his terms very well.

I still like the Plato's theory that fire hurts because its atoms are pointy.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 11- 4-13 8:10 AM
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11. The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of Helen Folasade Adu. I want to see this play.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 11- 4-13 8:59 AM
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Incidentally, Graeber has gotten into a kerfuffle on Twitter, after other academics criticized him for complaining about having to move out of his New York home when his academic job is in London. I believe there is a colloquial expression involving popcorn for these situations, although honestly I have more sympathy for him than for his detractors, who are scoring pretty goddamned cheap points on it. But wow, this guy can stay mad, garrulously mad, for hours and hours.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 11- 7-13 4:39 PM
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106: One of his chief interlocutors appears to have been a well-known intellectually mobile penis.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 11- 7-13 4:43 PM
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108

Link should have been to here.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 11- 7-13 4:44 PM
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How can anyone ever possibly follow all that back and forth on Twitter? This is a serious question, are people actually able to reconstruct and easily read these conversations? I hate that medium so much.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 11- 7-13 4:54 PM
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108: Oh that changes everything. Definitely taking that guy's side instead.

The irony of academics twitting each another about who is more privileged as the Twitter IPO soars.

109: I guess I can flick "view conversation" on and off until I get the gist, scrolling down fast and then up again slowly? I'd have to try to reconstruct the hand & eye movements. But it's surely only worth 5-7 minutes of anyone's time, and the duration of this thing is off the charts.


Posted by: lurid keyaki | Link to this comment | 11- 7-13 5:00 PM
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