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Sam Harris is making the case that there could and should be an entire branch of science devoted to determining human values. He is saying that science can - in principle - discover what we *should* value. This is very different from arguing that science can help us achieve what we already value. That is already obvious, as anyone who has been to the doctor, or benefited from modern agriculture could tell you. Nor is he saying that science can give us insight as to what human beings value, and how their moral reasoning orates. Harris' claim is so bold and ambitious, that if he is right, it will (if a science of values emerges, and is put into practice) transform mankind enormously for the better.
The philosopher Daniel Dennet is fond of saying that Charles Darwin's idea of natural selection is the best idea anyone ever had. I agree with him. However, if Sam Harris is right, then Dennett will have to move Darwin to second place. What idea or set of ideas could be more valuable than a science of value? If there is anything more valuable, it will itself be a subset of the science of values.
Harris' comparison of ethics with the science of human physical health is also very helpful. Many objections to his proposal can be shown to be nonsense when we draw an analogy with medicine. For example, if someone is depressed, we might say that they should take an anti-depressant to make them happier. Critics of a science of human happiness will probably be quick to jump on this and say, well, if drug-induced happiness is what we're after, why don't we all just shoot heroin all day? This kind of objection relies on a far too narrow conception of happiness. By analogy, the same critic would have to argue that we should all be shooting steroids, since a doctor might at some point recommend strength training to a weakened patient.
Before I forget, let me start by complaining that this book's index is inadequate. Try picking out a name (or acronym) from a random page and see if it's listed in the index.
As of this writing, the big news story has been the release of classified and sensitive information by WikiLeaks. I confess that I have not read all the documents posted at the WikiLeaks site, but in all the articles I have read and all the news reports I have heard, the latest trove of information is generally banal opinions by incompetent diplomats. For instance, you certainly have read someone's opinion that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is "risk averse and rarely creative." A report by Canadian Broadcasting (CBC) news said that the spy in Canada obviously watches a lot of television (why can't I get such a job?), because his secret dispatch provides the revelation that several Canadian TV shows portray visitors from the US as greedy and corrupt. (That's news?)
Accusations have been made that WikiLeaks has endangered American lives by identifying specific vulnerable targets in the USA that would profit terrorists to attack. Among those mentioned were the junction centers where foreign fiberoptic cables emerge from the ocean to connect with domestic fiberoptic cables and thus form the Internet. (These centers are also where the NSA is intercepting traffic.) It seems to me that terrorists would prefer to attack targets crowded with infidels (such as the Super Bowl) instead of an automated AT&T switching facility, but if I am wrong, terrorists can find detailed information about these buildings (including specific addresses and descriptions of each edifice) here in James Bamford's "The Shadow Factory." There is an abundance of precise information in this book, it's all wheat and no chaff, so I don't understand the brouhaha over WikiLeaks. I express no opinion as to whether WikiLeaks or James Bamford is doing a disservice and endangering lives by providing such information, but it's all here. (Should I suffer government harassment by pointing this out?)
I can recall the alarm raised by the liberal media in 2002 when word got out that the United States of America has a secret court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also referred to as the FISA Court), but if I understand this book, the NSA is ignoring any and all judicial oversight (secret or not), and everything, all private communication, is being monitored, and the Agency's advanced algorithms are discovering pertinent information -- meaning anything that the NSA has decided may be of interest to them. According to this book's introduction, the NSA is awash in data, and subsequent chapters reveal that eavesdropping has become the primary growth industry in the nation. So many text messages and conversations are being monitored, that half the citizenry will eventually be employed to report on what the other half is saying. We can expect that the USA will eventually have many more informants than ever existed in the late East Germany.
It's a pity that there has been no revised edition of "The Shadow Factory," because at the book's end in 2008, the fight over government eavesdropping was just beginning. In December, 2010, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, in Warshak v. United States, that the government's seizure of E-mail without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment and federal privacy statutes, as well as the Justice Department's own surveillance manual. The impression that I get from this book is that the massive government security complex, the NSA, its ancillary agencies and its myriad of private contractors, will ignore all rulings and continue to monitor everything. They may not reveal that they're monitoring everything and everyone, but they're still monitoring everything and everyone.
Is this a good thing or bad? Bamford is remarkably sympathetic to Michael Hayden, former Director of the National Security Agency and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, as well as most of the other people (both named and unnamed) who have supplied (i.e., leaked) information to him, probably because he doesn't wish to alienate his sources, but he remains generally reticent about the ethics of the fact that any expectation of privacy in the USA has largely evaporated. At no point does he specifically ask the basic question as to whether such a sacrifice is worthwhile. Are we being protected or oppressed by constant government monitoring?
After reading this book, the basic question you need to ask yourself is whether you are willing to sacrifice privacy for national security. Are you? I certainly am. I don't care if the government listens to my telephone conversations, if it means that another 9/11 attack will be prevented. They can have copies of my every text message if it means that the airliner I'm riding in will not be blown-up over Milwaukee. Such a sacrifice seems necessary, and I am willing to make it. Are you?
That's a trick question. I would gladly make such a sacrifice if it actually did bring security to the land, and so should you, but the real lesson to be gained from "The Shadow Factory" is that the type of people who run the spy agencies, men such as Michael Hayden or Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper, Jr. (who, in 2010, was appointed as Director of National Intelligence by President Obama) are incapable of providing you with any benefit, because they are squares. They are the guys who, while in college, avoided the pot party down the hall and instead hit the books. They didn't sleep 'til noon in the arms of a newly-met lover, because they rose at 0600, shined their shoes, and attended worship. (According to the book, Hayden rose even earlier.) They got where they are not because of superior intelligence, but because they followed all rules and clicked their heels, and not only the military but the entire government is infested with such squeaky-cleans. One of the most disturbing pieces of information in this book (pg.106) is how frequently and how severely all intelligence agents are subjected to polygraph interrogation, and not merely to weed out someone who may have sampled cannabis at one time, but to eliminate cynics, the depressed, and anyone who is not wearing a big, yellow smiley face. Being "disgruntled" is cause for virtual imprisonment or exile. That alone should drive anyone with any enlightened values away, but if, by some remote chance, someone who is the slightest bit hip manages to become an insider, he (John O'Neill) or she (Valerie Plame) will become the subject of a smear campaign and be forced out, shunned, stabbed in the back. Another typical example is the disgraced captain of the USS Enterprise, Captain Owen Honors. Has he a sense of humor? Then he must be publicly humiliated! Take him to the pillory!
This is not to say that military men, puritans, and those who walk the straight-and-narrow are wholly incompetent. Their skills and talents are irreplaceable in certain circumstances. For instance, such steadfast and optimistic men as Sir Douglas Haig were essential for organizing the Battle of the Somme and giving the order for troops to climb out of the trenches, and when the Bonus Marchers became a nuisance in Washington in 1932, it took a great patriot such as General Douglas MacArthur to restore order by using tanks and poison gas on the demonstrators and their wives and children and pets.
In fact, men and women of an orthodox mind have but one solution for all problems, be they political, diplomatic or social: GET TOUGH ON 'EM! CRACK DOWN! NO MORE MOLLYCODDLING! ZERO TOLERANCE! Did young Americans develop a fondness for vegetable intoxicants during the Nixon administration? Then the obvious solution was to order a crackdown, a War on Drugs; get tough on the dopers and impose draconian sentences on dealers; spray suspected crops with paraquat. Were there similarly rebellious youths in the 1950? The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency found that comic books were to blame, and a subsequent crackdown forced publishers such as EC to abandon much of their business. The best example of all is, of course, the solution to the fondness men have for saloons and America's chronic drunkenness. Feminists, puritans all, had the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution ratified at their behest, and when its enforcement proved troublesome, a super-crackdown with even-stricter laws was enacted to get tougher yet on the nation's boozers.
We see how effective draconian measures have been in solving our past problems, but now we are faced with the most dire threat against America ever. A large number of people from all over the world, including some within our borders, want to destroy our society and murder us infidels. They were clever enough to exploit the weakest link in our security, airline travel, and kill thousands of us. As always, the reaction of our leaders has been to order a crackdown. It must be understood that when such implements as eyelash curlers were banned from flights, no one seriously thought that they could be used as weapons; the idea is that the more authority flexes its muscles, the safer we'll all be. They might just as well have ordered a ban on powder puffs, because regardless of its practicality, the crackdown itself will be effective in combating terrorism, and we'll obviously be safer if we march in lockstep. That's the thinking.
Did such strict crackdown measures result in airlines that are free from terrorists? Did it stop Richard Reed, the shoe bomber? Did it thwart the efforts of Umar Farouk Abdulmutalla? In August 2009, there was an attempt to murder the Saudi Arabian Deputy Minister of the Interior, Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, by suicide bomber Abdullah Hassan al Asiri who had the explosive PETN hidden in his rectum (known to dopers as "The Keyster Stash"), so we may expect future jihadists to evade airport scanners and patdowns by following his example. In response, the Department of Fatherland Scrutiny will likely order all air passengers to be given full body-cavity searches (searches which are not infrequently carried out at borders today). (Employees of the NSA, CIA, FBI and their relatives will of course be exempt.)
But the biggest crackdown and government-authority-on-a-get-tough-rampage is, if "The Shadow Factory" can be believed, unlimited wiretapping and electronic surveillance, and its effectiveness has likewise been predictable. Monitoring all visits to jihadi Web sites has been an efficient means of entrapping simpletons who posed no serious threat on their own, but did it save people at Fort Hood from Army Major Nidal Hassan or detect the activities of Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square Bomber? It took authorities 53 hours to arrest him after his defective bomb was discovered, and we have apparently been protected more by the ineptitude of bombers than we have by the NSA's universal eavesdropping.
James Bamford is a reporter, and the purpose of this book is not to assess how effectual the NSA's activities have been, but the question nevertheless needs to be asked: we're giving them billions and surrendering our privacy without a whimper -- is it keeping us safe? Does it work? Have sterner measures and government intrusion *ever* benefitted anyone . . . anyone other than the inquisitors and snouters?
The most disturbing thing about this book is that we're asking the wrong people to solve the problem. (If anything, US foreign policy and the CIA's machinations were midwives to the jihadi movement's birth.) Such people lack the imagination to devise anything clever and effective, because they know only getting tough and cracking down on everyone. Another book, SuperFreakonomics: . . . Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, has shown what can be done by creative people, but it's too little, too late. "The Shadow Factory" makes it clear that the Military-Intelligence Complex has already expanded beyond a critical mass, and it's now out of control. Nothing will stop it until it destroys itself and takes with it the United States of America.
I was a little afraid to read this, I was afraid it might have explicit details I wouldn't want to see. It was not that at all, this girl put to pen thoughts and feelings, fears, blessings and many other human emotions that someone in an adverse situation might feel. They were words to hold onto and apply to our lives.
Very good book.
This is the most underated Floyd album and maybe one the most underated albums of all time. It gets better with more listens instead of worse(like The Wall becomes annoying). This album is right up htere with Dark Side and Wish You Were Here. This album reminds very much of classical music, because much of it os instrumental and no song is based on some catchy repetitive hook (which dominates music today). Listen to it a few times before judging it, you'll thank yourself later. Musically as far as Floyd albums go, this album is the opposite of the Final Cut,(minimal synth, little guitar, and very vocally driven), and and lyrically just as good.