Everything I’ve learned about solar storm risk and EMP attacks, by Chris Said

Source: Everything I’ve learned about solar storm risk and EMP attacks, by Chris Said
RE: “An assessment of threats to the American power grid” | Energy, Sustainability and Society volume 9, by Matthew Weiss & Martin Weiss

When I read this paper, I was stunned. Is the risk of prolonged grid collapse really that high? And is it true that, just as the CDC failed to stockpile masks for a pandemic that we were all warned about, we are equally unprepared for a grid failure that could lead to societal collapse and mass starvation?

To answer these questions, I did some homework. I read congressional testimony, think tank technical reports, a book, academic papers, insurance company assessments, several industry technical reports, and multiple reports in the trade media. What I found was at times contradictory. Somewhat troublingly, both sides of the issue accused each other of bias from financial incentives. Overall, my view is that while some of the EMP and solar storm risk is overhyped, it remains a serious issue, and one of the main tail risks we should be preparing for.

My own view is that while the ‘mainstream’ view is probably correct, and while there certainly has been some fearmongering, I am philosophically aligned with the alarmists. The mainstream belief at NASA in 1986 was that the Challenger was safe. The mainstream belief at Chernobyl in 1986 was that the reactor core could never rupture. The mainstream belief on Wall Street in 2007 was that mortgage-backed securities were safe.

Now that we have seen our preparedness level for Covid-19, who are you going to believe: The people saying “Don’t worry, we have this unpredictable and complex system under control” or the people waving their hands and shouting “correlated risk!” I’m with the people shouting “correlated risk!”, even though they’ll probably end up being wrong.

We’re losing the war against surveillance capitalism | Salon

Source: We’re losing the war against surveillance capitalism | Salon, by Michael Corn

Many headlines call out the demise of privacy, but what they really mean is that some of your personal information is being sold, or stolen, or simply misused. The two concepts are not quite the same. It is reasonable to consider the loss of personal information under the general heading of privacy, but separating the two concepts opens the door to a more effective conversation about how to protect them both.

When we read about Facebook or Google (or our own government) wanting to listen in on your phone calls, read your emails, or review your Facebook feed, we’re talking about privacy, pure and simple. Privacy in this case means freedom to engage in conversation or thought without unwanted or unknown surveillance.

Protecting one’s personal information takes us into a different realm with more everyday practical implications. When I give Google my phone number in exchange for a Gmail or Google Voice account, I’m exchanging my data for a service. And I suspect most of us are fine with this type of value-based trade-off. Google needs to know where to route my Google Voice phone calls or how to text me an alert related to my account. It’s Google’s subsequent reuse of this information where things start to go awry.

What does it mean to see privacy as a civil rights struggle? The collapse of our privacy is exposing each of us to palpable risks: the erosion of the right to pray, to study, to congregate, or to participate in our democracy. In a digital world, privacy is the barrier between civil society and racial, political, or religious profiling writ large. … Privacy violations are a gateway to identity-based targeting, which singles out individuals by race, religion, or gender identity.

Oppression originates whenever one group marks another group as “other,” then uses that “otherness” to isolate, discriminate, and disempower. Often the markers for discriminatory behavior are obvious: darker skin, for example, or observation of gender. But what if every marker of your individuality were known and sold, accessible to advertisers without your knowledge? The potential for manipulation or oppression is palpable, as one could easily use personal information for these suspect marking purposes.

All of the regulations imposed on the major data brokers suffer from one fatal flaw: they reflect a belief that a statutory, regulatory response to this problem can succeed. … none of these proposals fundamentally address when it is permissible to collect personal information and what can be done with it.

Imagine you come to work one day, and find someone has put a nude picture of you on the wall. You quickly have it removed but the embarrassment and anger lingers. Eventually, even that fades — maybe you even move to a new job where no one knows you as “the naked person.” Embarrassing, but you recover. For those who have had their personal information stolen, there is no “but you recover.” It is impossible to fully remove published information from the digital web. Even if you could miraculously convince every legitimate web service to remove your data, you can never convince those who illicitly deal in personal data to erase it. This immutability of stolen personal data is part of the horror of modern crimes such as revenge porn.

This is again why an incremental, regulatory based approach to protecting personal information will always fail: because a wound to our digital privacy never heals. We can’t wait for a loss, then regulate the circumstances that led to it. By then it is too late.

Imagine a world where we didn’t have to figure out how to reign in Facebook. Where creating a set of regulations wasn’t something we had to do, but rather Facebook (or Google, or the furniture store down the street) had to figure out how to operate with the principle that personal information may not be bought or sold. That is, we preserve our privacy by simply forbidding our personal information from being used as a commodity. Would this eliminate the need for statutes protecting our personal information? No, we’d still want to regulate how and when a service provider could ask for and how they must secure your personal data. But we’d have a principled floor — a bright line not to be crossed — eliminating some of the worst abuses.

Preventing the sale of our personal information is the only effective tool left to preserve our civil rights as they are assailed by both commercial and governmental bodies. People are not a commodity, and we need to legislate that it is wrong to imbue humans with attributes we reserve for property. It is deeply saddening that we need to call for laws to say: I am not for sale.

The Importance of India, by Alex Kolchinski

Source: The Importance of India

A significant factor in the power of states throughout history has been sheer numbers. … Of course, many factors other than population influence the power of states, including economic productivity and the strength of institutions. But population is a multiplier for those factors, and a country with a large enough population can exercise comparable or greater power than more developed but less populous countries.

if China succeeds in sustaining its growth trajectory economically and militarily, it will grow to overshadow the United States, wielding the same ~5x population advantage over the US that the US now enjoys over its predecessor power, the United Kingdom. This also means that the repressive and authoritarian Chinese model will increasingly prevail over the free democratic model that America has championed.

However, America is not the most populous democracy in the world. That honor belongs to India.

In a world that is quickly going from unipolar to multipolar, it is worth considering which states will wield influence in the century to come, and on behalf of which values (if any, other than self-interest!) they will wield it. If China rises to heights of power that eclipse the US completely, only India may be strong enough to speak for liberal democracy.

Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy? | Quillette

Source: Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy? | Quillette, by Ross Stitt

If the development of liberal democracy over the centuries has been a story of citizens making demands on the state—for personal safety, freedom, political power, welfare—what does our new age of insecurity mean for the next chapter? What will citizens want more of from their governments going forward? The obvious answer is protection—protection from terrorists, pandemics, extreme climatic events, economic hardship, and war. And today’s high maintenance citizens, products of a culture of market consumerism, will not be backward in demanding that protection.

In order to provide physical and economic protection to its citizens, a liberal democratic state must transgress core liberal tenets like privacy, freedom, and respect for private property. … Democratic politics is the process by which these trade-offs are negotiated. They have evolved over time.

The crucial question is whether or not the dramatic change in the nature and level of threats over the last 20 years, capped off by the shock of the dual COVID-19 crises, will trigger a revolutionary shift in those trade-offs and a transformation of the citizen/state relationship.

Why Tacit Knowledge is More Important Than Deliberate Practice | Commonplace Blog

Source: Why Tacit Knowledge is More Important Than Deliberate Practice | Commonplace Blog, by Cedric Chin

Tacit knowledge is knowledge that cannot be captured through words alone. … tacit knowledge instruction happens through things like imitation, emulation, and apprenticeship. You learn by copying what the master does, blindly, until you internalise the principles behind the actions.

If you are a knowledge worker, tacit knowledge is a lot more important to the development of your field of expertise than you might think.

I don’t mean to say that Hieu or the senior software engineer couldn’t explain their judgment, or that they couldn’t make explicit the principles they used to evaluate the tradeoffs between a dozen or so variables: they could. My point is that their explanations would not lead me to the same ability that they had.

Why is this the case? Well, take a look at the conversation again. When I pushed these people on their judgments, they would try to explain in terms of principles or heuristics. But the more I pushed, the more exceptions and caveats and potential gotchas I unearthed.

Could it — in principle — be possible to externalise tacit knowledge into a list of instructions? … The consensus answer to that question seems to be: “Yes, in principle it is possible to do so. In practice it is very difficult.” My take on this is that it is so difficult that we shouldn’t even bother