Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Against Torture

I have stood in Het Graven Steen in Gent, Belgium. This is an old castle that also contains a kind of museum of torture. Some ominous and horrible devices are shown that use starvation, drowning, stabbing or prolonged discomfort as means of torture. I recall thinking that we were beyond such things. How relieved I felt that as a modern, enlightened culture we would not use or face such things.

I believe the United States has held and should renew and preserve a place of leadership in the world as a society that respects people and is governed by laws that specify and gradually curtail the means of punishment allowable for crimes by the seriousness of the offense.

Maybe in our times, new levels of awfulness have arisen. There are now crimes that I hear of that I never even imagined when I was younger. Sometimes our laws are not equipped to handle these developments in a way that seems satisfying, appropriate or even necessary for our safety.

I must admit, the mentality of those who would attack the U.S. seems, to me, to be less evolved than it should be. It is like our enemies are acting on an instinctive, animal, territorial level driven by primal fear. How else could inhumane and murderous acts be justified? Yet, we should not allow these developments to justify the regression of our own culture. I want to stand up and say that civilized nations are better than that. I think we can use our intelligence to solve complex problems without resorting to torture.

There should be limits on the means of interrogation. No matter what the threat to our national security, debasing ourselves is a threat to our national integrity. What makes our security so worth protecting is our values, our staunch unwillingness to reduce ourselves to the level of those who hate us. How can we say that slowly modernizing cultures should look to us as an example of why they should westernize when we are abandoning our distinctive and precious good qualities?

We need to fight the ignorance of those who do not value human life. We need to keep our values intact to demonstrate the preferability of tolerant, mixed, secular societies, and the glory of the freedom to choose. If we have anything that could be construed as torture in our detention facilities, we should eliminate it now and turn from that path to one of a more enlightened society.

Let us look to the British example of preserving Habeas Corpus in all the world, with no exceptions beyond the seas. Then criminals can be tried and, as appropriate, receive sentence or release. There are other solutions to the worlds problems beyond torture and endless detention.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mac Virus Debate

Those new Mac ads are funny. Sure the Mac is "Better" in many ways. People who use them more get that more. At my office we have this debate all the time. Every time someone gets a virus, I simply have to remind them that the Mac I use still has no virusses. Inevitably the debate engages. "No one uses a Mac" they say, so that's why there are no virusses (viri?) for Mac. Well, this is simply wishful thinking.

I have used every platform as part of my work and personal experience, including the Mac platform. Not to show my age, but I am certain I have had my hands on the keys and my eyes on the screen of every computer platform available to the public. Because I am a "power user" I know every machine has flaws and weaknesses and EVERY platform has crashes. I use a Mac at home and at work (I do use other computers for testing as well) and I know I have experienced some lockups and crashes even on the latest Tiger OS on my dual G5. Bad hardware or software can cause a Tiger G5 to do the "We're hangin' here" thing. What I don't have on my Mac is any virusses.

Now, back in the OS 9 days, I had the occassional virus. Why? Because people try to write them and system weaknesses can be exploited. So why are there no virusses for my Mac running OS X? The reasons are combined. People don't write virusses for Mac because they are harder to exploit. The Mac market is large enough to have a percentage of the 100's of thousands of virusses created...but it has none. Is it because it has fewer users? This is true...but it is only part of the story. It is also less exploitable. That doesn't mean it's impossible, but the security patches are way ahead of attempts to exploit the platform.

See, people want a virus to propogate like wild fire to millions of machines. The Mac market is big enough for that, but the Mac is very much ineffective at allowing rogue code access to system resources. So, the real reason writing a virus for the Mac is unrewarding, is that the system is not as easy to exploit. Thus, the rewards drop right off to zero. Zero is the amount of virusses I have on my Mac.

Sure, the rewards for exploiting the Mac to spread a virus would be greater if the market share were reversed, but the ability to exploit the system would still be just as unrewarding to a virus writer, as compared to the currently popular target. Is it possible that someone will be able to find a way to exploit the Mac for virus propogation? Sure, but that is like the footpath to heaven, not the 96 lane freeway to hell.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Written in a Book

Listening to a radio station in my area which is ultimately owned by a church, I noticed they had a quick two minute anti- Davinci Code editorial.  The station presents itself as a news and traffic station and is said not to proselytize its owner's faith, although I hear an "on message" news or editorial item every 10 minutes on the nines, so to speak. The amazing irony is that the editorial contained the phrase "Just because it is written in a book doesn't mean it is true" as it tried to dissuade people from paying attention to the Davinci Code. I would refer the religious believers back to their own belief in things in books they believe are true. 

To truly understand life and the nature of the universe we live in, we must be ready to accept that things we hold true can be proved wrong by greater understanding. The religious method is to seek to confirm truth by personal spiritual experience. The trouble is, personal convictions cannot be peer reviewed or tested. Was Jesus divine? What is divinity? Is there a God? What is the nature of God?

There may well be a divine creator and many people seem to feel that there is. We will never understand the nature of God when we study our own inventions, like religion. When we seek to expand the edges of human knowledge and understanding with hope and wonder and the most rational, objective scrutiny, then this study of the known or study of knowledge will guide us all to real, verifiable and valueable truth.

What is the study of knowledge? SCIENCE.

Carl Sagan said, "It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas … If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you … On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones."

And that is why I don't place a lot of value on religiously funded editorials. Just because it's on the radio, doesn't make it true. Sometimes you have to follow the money and see who's talking.