Quo vadis? 10

Where are you going, humankind?

The future now being shaped by new technologies seems to scare some of the very people who know most about them.

These extracts are from an article by N.M.Guariglia which we find somewhat incoherent, in that it dodges about from subject to subject, and needs more explanation than is given; but it predicts amazing technological developments and it is grandly eschatological:

The reaction to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was heartening. In just a few days, the American people were able to compel Congress to shut down SOPA, a terrible piece of legislation. My congressmen wrote me saying he was sorry, didn’t know what he was thinking. Of course, on the discouraging side, in order for the people to care or even know what was going on, it took huge Internet companies like Wikipedia, Reddit, and Google to publically protest the would-be law. SOPA and its Senate cousin, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), were at their core Internet censorship bills. Hollywood and the entertainment industry, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) — now run by former Senator Chris Dodd of Fannie Mae-Freddie Mac fame — embarrassed themselves and wasted millions in lobbying for the legislation. In response, we had the largest online protest in history. And it was successful. …

We too are glad of that.

The intent of SOPA/PIPA was to centralize cyber-security under the auspices of the federal government in order to crack down on “piracy” and copyright infringement. In doing so, the American people’s liberty would have been undermined, freedom of information would have been threatened, and existing and adequate copyright laws would have been circumvented and ignored. It would have been a litigator’s dream. Worse, the legitimate issue of cyber-security — more so: the nature of the future itself — would have been entirely overlooked, as it is currently misunderstood.

The nature of the future? Currently misunderstood? He goes on to talk about it in a way that is fascinating but obscure to technological laymen like us:

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the heads of security for Raytheon — very interesting guy. “When ones and zeroes are involved, offense will find a way to win,” he said. Encryption defenses may work for a time; they may even get better. But that will require decentralization. Impenetrable information security will be sustained in a space off the grid. “When we go from mega-, giga-, and terabytes to peta-, exa-, and zetta-, we’ll be entering a brave new world of the infinitesimally small. And then there’s the quantum world.”

Yes, the quantum world. When one considers the future of this century, there are at least three existential threats.

The first is traditional in scope: the possibility of great-power warfare (with China, perhaps). This is least likely, I believe, due to old-established Cold War principles amongst rational actors: deterrence and mutually assured destruction.

More likely, at least in the nearer future, with Iran. The mullahs and many devout Muslims do not, it is said, fear destruction because Islam “loves death”.

The second threat: the probability of a terrorist organization smuggling and detonating a nuclear device in an American city (and the incomprehensible aftermath).

A suitcase nuclear bomb? Yes, such a thing has been spoken of for decades.

And then the third: “GNR.” Genetics (biotechnology), Nanotechnology (quantum science), and Robotics (Artificial Intelligence; A.I). GNR is riding the wave of information technology and its exponential growth. You take 30 steps linearly, you’re at 30. You take 30 steps exponentially, you’re at a billion. This is what’s come to be called the Singularity: the scientifically foreseeable point in the near-to-medium-future in which human beings have created technological intelligences so intelligent — billions of times more intelligent than today’s strongest computers — and so subatomic — as small to an apple as an apple is to Earth — that we will have created nothing less than nano-gods.

Nano-gods?  Because they’ll be so “intelligent”?

These gods will then enter our minds. Probably by way of eye drops.

Gods will enter our brains through our eyes?

Do not misunderstand. There is much promise in this — clearly. But there is also great peril. It is a deeply philosophical discussion. A man either comprehends this trajectory, and prepares for it, or puts it out of his mind. The implications are enormous. Will this transcendence expedite our evolution, or will it destroy our individuality, our liberty, our humanness?

With gods in our belfries we wouldn’t be human in quite the same way as we’ve known human to be, would we? And if all the gods entering all our brains through all our eyes are the same, our individuality would be considerably diluted. As for our liberty – that would depend on the values of our immanent gods.

And how should we prepare for “this trajectory”?

Could either the users or preventers turn tyrannical? Who will guard the guardians? Will attempts to control and regulate these technologies succeed in accomplishing precisely the dystopia we may fear the technologies themselves will create? Will we merge with these intelligences or will they be distinct entities? Does the future need us at all?

Well, at the very least, the way he’s projecting it, the future will need our eyeballs. And our brains to start with, though after that they’d never be the same again.

But whether we keep such intelligence as we have now, or exchange it for the intelligence of nano-gods, it seems we are doomed because intelligence per se is a killer.

Life is rare; intelligent life, infinitely rarer. The silence of the universe conveys “the high probability that advanced civilizations destroy themselves… intelligence may be the most cursed faculty in the entire universe — an endowment not just ultimately fatal but, on the scale of cosmic time, nearly instantly so.

Even for gods? Perhaps we shouldn’t bother with the eye drops then.

There seems to be a sense amongst humanity that something big is right around the corner, something unequivocal.

“Unequivocal” meaning final?

Collectively, we’ve taken to apocalyptic and supernatural assumptions.

Was it not always thus with many human beings?

Nearly half of Americans think the Rapture will happen by mid-century.

Nothing new there.

Hollywood, ironically, has stoked along these ideas. It won’t be found in the Mayan Calendar, but rather in [Carl] Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar. It won’t be coming out of the clouds, but rather into our brains. This is it. This is where we are and this is where we’re going.

Where exactly?

Disappointingly, he does not say. He jumps back to the Sopa and Pipa threats.

Information is power. It is …  an infinite resource on a finite planet. As free people, we should encourage the dissemination of information technologies under one condition: our security and liberty are not endangered. In the future, the government may assume undue authority and force information companies into subservience for authoritarian reasons, or these companies, in trying to avoid total subservience, and in trying to destroy their competition without competing, may preemptively give the government what it wants. This is not free-market capitalism, nor is it humanism. This is a form of fascism. …  SOPA and PIPA were just two more examples of this troubling trend.

This will be the most consequential century in the history of life on Earth. Technology is man’s greatest invention. It is a fine servant, but a most dangerous master. We should neither concede its control to a central authority nor prove to become dependent on it, for we will have sullied both human integrity and individual liberty. The next president, to his surprise, will likely have to address the potentialities of transhumanism, both good and bad, and so he will not have time for the little things our cheap culture will seek to put him through.

“Transhumanism”? Our transitioning into gods? What little things will he not have time for – reducing the national debt? Stopping Iran mounting a nuclear attack?

And how is our culture “cheap”? As compared with what other culture? Or does he mean we would be cheap if we demanded that he address the problem of the national debt rather than oversee our transition into gods?

While we think a little more human intelligence, of the ordering and explaining kind, could have been applied to the composition of the article, we are grateful to the author for the fun it has given us.

It may not inspire us to engage in a deeply philosophical discussion. We confess we do not comprehend “this trajectory”, have no idea how to prepare for it, and will soon put it out of mind. But we’ve enjoyed it while it lasted.

Bargaining with Pakistan 5

What did the Pakistani government, military, and intelligence service know in advance about the American plan to get Osama bin Laden?

In a speculative article, N.M.Guariglia at PajamasMedia raises many pertinent questions, and makes an impressively plausible case that they all knew such a raid was to happen. He suggests why one or two of the three powerful parties, on certain conditions, agreed to let it be carried out without interference.

Did Pakistan know about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden? …

While American politicians wonder whether the Pakistanis were aware of OBL’s hideout — of course they were — al-Qaeda is currently wondering whether the Pakistanis were aware that SEAL Team 6 was on its way to kill their leader. If destroying the rest of al-Qaeda’s hierarchy is the goal, perhaps that is the more immediate question. Perhaps some in Pakistan knew of the hideout, some knew of the operation, and some knew of both. …

What happened from the time we located OBL’s courier and the Abbottabad compound in August 2010 to the night of the raid? Did we not once share this intelligence with someone in Pakistan during these nine months? During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama stated he would intervene in Pakistan to catch OBL if the Pakistanis did not act. Such a policy required waiting to see whether or not the Pakistanis would act.

We knew Abbottabad was a military town. Pakistan’s prestigious military academy is located just yards away from OBL’s compound. In fact, U.S. forces were stationed there in October 2008 (and possibly another time or two). This remarkable WikiLeaks revelation has been lost on most of the American media. One can only imagine OBL smirking from his balcony, sipping tea while observing joint U.S.-Pakistani military training. He was right under our nose — or, more precisely, we were right under his.

Why would we unnecessarily jeopardize the mission and risk a firefight with the Pakistanis without knowing for certain that we might not have to? What if the Pakistanis thought they were under attack from India? That could have sparked a nuclear exchange between the two rivals. …

Some other questions linger. Does this year’s arrest of Bali bomber Umar Patek, also caught in Abbottabad, have anything to do with anything? What about Pakistan’s arrest and eventual release of CIA agent Raymond Davis in March? For months prior to the raid, CIA operatives had a safe house in Abbottabad to spy on OBL. Who knew of this? And why are we revealing the nature of the intelligence we collected at the compound? As for the raid, what was the nature of the firefight? We were first told it was a 40-minute battle and OBL was the last to be killed. Now we are told the only resistance came from the courier living in the guest house, not OBL’s villa. We were first told OBL had a gun in hand. Now we are told he was “reaching” for a weapon. How does it take that long to reach for a weapon? What happened during the 20-25 minute blackout on the operation’s video stream? Why didn’t we take OBL’s wife with us? Why do at least two of the other three men killed during the raid seem to have been shot in the back of the head?

This suggests an execution. The two men that were shot in the back of the head were OBL’s son and another chap, and the guy shot regular-style was the courier in the guest house who engaged the SEALs with gunfire. Was it that we captured these two men but didn’t have enough room to take them with us due to the downed stealth chopper — so we killed them? Does this mean OBL was executed, as well — as his wife claims? … Wouldn’t we prefer to take OBL alive, if we could? That is, of course, unless an arrangement had been made prior to the operation whereby OBL’s death was mandatory.

In many ways, Pakistan is three countries in one. There is the civilian government, the military, and the mysterious intelligence service, the ISI. Each party is suspicious of the other, has divided loyalties within, and collaborates with one against the other … By all accounts, the two most powerful men in the country are Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, head of the Pakistani Army, and Lt. Gen. Ahmed Pasha, head of the ISI. President Zardari is subordinate to the men with the guns.

It stands to reason that at least one of these men, probably two, knew of OBL’s hideout. And at least one, probably two, knew of the U.S. operation to kill OBL. …

Lt. Gen. Pasha met with CIA Director Panetta on April 11 and Gen. David Petraeus, who is set to take over the CIA, met with Gen. Kayani on April 25.

One piece of information, if true, makes it obvious that the military expected the raid to take place:

Abbottabad residents are saying the Pakistani military secured and cordoned off the site on the night of the raid, visiting the homes of civilians and asking them to turn their lights off. …

And, almost certainly, it would have been “impossible for U.S. helicopters to fly to the compound without the knowledge of the Pakistani military”.

So, assuming the military facilitated the raid – why?

Yes, Pakistan was protecting OBL – as they have been, in some capacity, since the 1990s. But when we discovered OBL’s location — thank you Guantanamo, rendition, black sites, waterboarding, and wiretapping – we probably, and wisely, confronted the Pakistanis about it in secret

We caught the Pakistanis red-handed. And that’s when a deal was made. They said: “Okay, you got us. We will give you an hour of peace and quiet to get your man. But he must be killed.” … The Pakistanis did not want an interrogation or trial of OBL to expose their goings-on with the rest of al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Taliban, the Haqqani network, and so forth. Also, this way the Saudis, the Syrians, the Iranians, and the financier network from the Gulf sheikhdoms would all be protected.

What’s in it for Pakistan? They would rather have the American people angry at them for ostensibly sheltering OBL than their own people angry at them for handing him over. We probably accept that logic. We want their nuclear weapons in secure enough hands. Had the Pakistanis openly captured OBL and handed him over to us, or had they openly participated in the raid, the rest of their jihadist clientele would have turned on them — which would have required Pakistan turning on all of them first. And Pakistan would not want that. Why not? India, India, India.

So Panetta goes on television to say if we tipped off Pakistan about the raid, they’d have tipped off OBL to escape. And walah, Pakistan’s street-cred with the jihadists is covered.

What’s in it for us? Well, we kill Osama and dump him in the ocean. That’s pretty damn good. President Obama gets his “gutsy call,” a Hollywood-style takedown of Public Enemy Number 1. He also avoids an expensive, multi-year political circus about how to interrogate, try, and execute the terrorist mastermind. Additionally, we don’t put our fist in the Pakistani hornet’s nest. …

Intriguing questions follow:

If this theory has a grain of truth to it, the remaining questions are obvious. What else did the U.S. and Pakistan agree upon? Foreign aid, “bribe billions,” was no doubt part of it. Was the release of Raymond Davis part of an agreement? Was the nature of a post-U.S. withdrawal Afghanistan part of the discussion? Was the rest of al-Qaeda’s leadership part of the deal, or was the Egyptian-wing of al-Qaeda compliant with the elimination of OBL as the foreign press is speculating? Is this the beginning of a consensus within Pakistan or the beginning of a power struggle? …

Did we kill OBL when we could have captured him? Did we want to capture him but killed him amidst the chaos of the raid? Would we truly execute a man merely to uphold our end of a bargain that brought him to us? I doubt it. And in the event of such a bargain, why wouldn’t we first agree to the terms of condition, but then instead capture OBL if we could, so as to learn everything about his support structure within Pakistan — all the while having the Pakistanis think he was dead? If we’re fooling al-Qaeda with Pakistan, why not also fool Pakistan to learn about al-Qaeda? Perhaps that is why we left OBL’s wife there — so that the Pakistanis could confirm, through her testimony, that her husband was in fact killed?

If so, that’s not a good enough reason to leave her behind – especially as she is saying that her husband was “executed”. (Rightly if he was, but Obama would fear being accused of it.) She would surely have been more useful as a source of information.

It may be that bad bargains were struck.

One thing seems certain: the military knew for years where bin Laden was living and chose not to tell the American government.

How many more “bribe millions”  – in fact, bribe billions – will go to a country that has been paid too much for too long in return for too little?

Shout for freedom 4

In our post below, An unanswered (and unanswerable?) question, we ask what the Western world can do to win the war Islam is waging against it.

The very tolerance and freedom that characterize the West provide advantage to the enemy, but if the only way to defeat the aggressor is to become intolerant and unfree, there would be nothing worth defending.

We don’t think the question is unanswerable, and we don’t think tolerance and freedom have to be lost. On the contrary, they have to be insisted upon.

If Muslims take advantage, as they do, of our freedom of speech to advocate their system which prohibits it, we must argue them down, loudly, publicly, and persistently.

That is what the West is not doing. European governments are doing the opposite, prosecuting critics of Islam.

In America, government policy since 9/11 has been to appease Muslims rather than hold them to account. Great effort is put into propitiating those who claim to be aggrieved, with the result that the jihadists in our midst have become ever more powerful.

In a PajamasMedia column, N.M. Guariglia discusses the policy and suggests how better to deal with the internal and international threat:

There is one silver lining to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: it will eventually force the United States to adopt an international policy on Islam itself. Given his Cairo speech in 2009, littered with historical inaccuracies and undue politically correct praise of Islam, we shouldn’t expect President Obama to take upon himself this task. Perhaps another statesman will. But that it must be done …  is no longer a matter of debate.

The national discourse is petty. Policymakers talk as though the problem were merely 500 terrorists cave-hopping around Waziristan. This is not so. The issue is societal. Europe is on the precipice of cultural implosion. The issue is also imminent. The entire Persian Gulf and Arab Levant is up for grabs. Atomic bombs are in question. Radical Islamists have entrenched themselves in the West’s political mainstream — even into the U.S. government. For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood has had more power within the United States than in Egypt.

Take Abdul Rahman al-Amoudi, a former advisor to President Clinton and the State Department. Amoudi also ingratiated himself to then-Governor George W. Bush. In the months after the 9/11 attacks, Amoudi was one of the Muslim “moderates” championed by the administration. He spoke at the Washington National Cathedral honoring the victims. Three years later, Amoudi was arrested for conspiring to work with al-Qaeda and Moammar Gaddafi of Libya in an assassination attempt on the Saudi king.

There’s Omar Ahmad, founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim organization in the United States. CAIR was involved with the Holy Land Foundation, an operation that guised charity funds as subsidies to terrorist groups. And then there’s Nihad Awad, the co-founder of CAIR. Awad is an operative of Hamas and yet served on Vice President Gore’s commission for aviation safety and security — the irony! — and was invited to stand alongside President Bush after 9/11. Ismail Elbarasse worked with Amoudi and was involved with the Holy Land Foundation. He also conspired with Hamas leader Mousa Marzook and the “Virginia Network,” a cell of Pakistani terrorists.

In 2004, Elbarasse was arrested. Documents seized in his basement revealed the Muslim Brotherhood’s archives for the United States. CAIR is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. The North American Islamic Trust (NAIT) is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Students Association (MSA) is a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Muslim Brotherhood spawned Egyptian Islamic Jihad and subsequently al-Qaeda.

These are just a few of the men running the Islamic mosques, schools, campus organizations, and charities in the United States. They are all avowed jihadists and see no distinction between Palestinian “resistance” and al-Qaeda terrorism. The entire apparatus of U.S.-Muslim dialogue is controlled by our enemies. And we have accepted this — so much so that to acknowledge this reality is political suicide.

It’s time to address this. Embassies have been burned, diplomats and newspaper editors have cowered, cartoonists have been hunted down, film directors have been hacked, operas have been canceled, and books have been taken off the shelf. We are losing the Enlightenment out of fear of offending others. …

In the United States, there were terrorist attempts on Penn Station, at a military recruitment center in Arkansas, on a federal building in Illinois, against other landmarks in Manhattan, and on a Dallas skyscraper. Then there was the Christmas Day plot against Northwest Airlines Flight 253, which would have killed more than 300 people had the al-Qaeda operative been more competent; the Times Square plot, which would have been worse than the Oklahoma City bombing had the operative been more competent; and the Fort Hood massacre, which could have been avoided had we been less afraid to appear intolerant of intolerance. And all this happened in just the past year and a half. They’re here.

There is the prevalent argument that this is not representative of real Islam. Fine. Then let’s at least have a discussion as to what “real Islam” actually is. Surely it makes little sense to define all the good things as real Islam and all the bad things as a perversion of real Islam, no? Can we no longer think objectively? Have we become that terrified into silence?

The truth is this: Islam is not merely a religion. Islam is a complete way of life: theological, political, social, and legal. Islamic law is the literal word of the Koran, which is supposed to be the direct word of God. It claims to be unalterable. …

Even amongst the disparate schools of Islam, there are no distinctions of Islamic law. All of these interpretative matters have been addressed long ago. It is what it is and it cannot be anything else.

“Jihad” is not a yoga-like exercise for internal spiritual discovery. It is the killing of non-Muslims and the enforcement of Islamic rule throughout the world. “Peace” is not coexistence. It is Islamic dominion over the planet. “Freedom” is not individual liberty. It is submission to the supernatural.

Where is the United States to go from here? We ought to shut down the internal jihadist infrastructure controlling the American-Muslim community. We ought to challenge the ten-year plan of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference to stifle freedom of speech, thought, and expression in the West. We ought to more passionately defend the superiority of democratic and liberal values — in ethics, in philosophy, and in practice. We ought to call for explanations on behalf of the Islamic world. What is it they actually believe? What actions are they willing to take on behalf of these beliefs? Rather than tell them what they want to hear, we ought to begin insisting they tell us what we want to hear.

And finally, we ought to devise a foreign policy whereby we officially oppose the inclusion of fascist theocratic movements in new democratic governments — whether Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt [or the elected government in Iraq – JB]— and proclaim our support for true freedom.