Sunday, November 4, 2007

Schneier: "Upon Further Review

The ruling stands."

I'm grateful to two readers who took the time to make extensive comments, thus pointing out places in which my original post might need some elaboration. Having provided a link to the comments in that first sentence, I'll jump straight to a response, which because of its own length, I'm offering as another post, rather than a continuation of the comment string.

Gentlemen, and I mean that sincerely,

First, thank you for taking the time to respond. The dialog is why I'm here at all.

John first. You are an intelligent man. Now put that intelligence to work making a serious effort to separate cause from effect, real problem from other related and co-existent yet somewhat independent problem.

I'll explain. And keep in mind that how much I can say with regard to my own opinion of current leadership is limited by both prudence and law. That said, I think I can address the problems in logic & rhetoric here without necessarily tipping my hand.

The need for vigilance is an effect. But it is an effect, not of "the fulcrum . . . found in the Office of the Vice President, the Oval Office, and the former office of the SecDef." It's an effect of the reality imposed upon us, not even by 9/11, but by the continued existence and planning of the sorts of groups that planned and executed 9/11. 9/11 didn't cause anything. It was a wake up call. It was, itself, an effect of our complacency and hubris. The fulcrum you lament is not a cause of the need for vigilance. To some extent, it's an effect of that need. That fulcrum may exploit the need, politically. That fulcrum may choose to fan the need for vigilance into an unhealthy hypervigilance for political purposes. I'm not denying that--neither the fanning nor the unhealthy aspects of living in constant fear. But Mr. Schneier's ill-thought-out attempts to shift the blame for the inconvenience these new realities impose on us to the very people whose lives, jobs, and consciences are most affected by them, and to lull us back into a business-as-usual complacency by labeling even a genuinely necessary level of watchfulness, as you put it, "a terrorist victory by virtue of forfeit of reason" is every bit as reprehensible a journey to the other end of the spectrum.

Somewhere in between lie both sanity and safety, or at least as much of either as we are going to find in this new world. The responsibility then, of those of us who possess some skill at thought, argument, and persuasion--whose frontal lobes are still fully functional and engaged--is to steer our friends, neighbors, and countrymen toward that rational, realistic, middle ground at every opportunity. I am not a believer that the way to balance lies through competing extremes. The way to balance lies through moving both sides closer to the middle.

Your penultimate paragraph provides its own undoing in the word "potential." "To regard all strangers as potential 'Islamofascists' and every hefty bag as a potential bomb is to bring the real madness of the battlefield home which I thought was the overall objective of why the occupation is continuing." I'll make only a casual note of my disappointment in the rhetorical dishonesty that allows you to employ a line of administration spin in which I know you don't believe to do a bad job of trying to make a point, and move straight to dismantling the point itself: An ever-present awareness of such potential is not madness; it's prudence. I would hope that more than 99% of the time, we'll prudently engage our frontal lobes and conclude that the probability of the potential being reality is low enough to be summarily dismissed. But awareness of the potential is not madness. To be paralyzed by that awareness is, literally. In its most acute form, it becomes agoraphobia. If you really don't believe that prudent awareness is possible without paralyzing paranoia, then you have a much lower opinion of your fellow citizens than I. Again, the key is to constantly make the effort to rationally separate the new realities of our world from the irrational political extremes to which those realities are all too frequently put.

Like our mutual friend Barry, I have long eschewed political affiliation, largely because of my disappointment that neither side seems capable of refraining from whatever willful conflation of cause and effect best serves their own cause at the moment--common sense, mental health, and true national interests be damned.

Mr LandruBek,

I don't think I have missed the point at all. And, while you add some disingenuous extras designed to imply that my disdain for Mr. Schneier extends to everyone who reads his blog as well, which it clearly doesn't, I'm happy to say that you pretty much get mine.

I heartily disagree with your interpretation of Mr. Schneier's post as intending to allow for the subtleties of security in this new century. The very examples he uses seem to preclude that. Further, I am decidedly not a believer that security is a zero sum game. Personally, I find the very concept of zero-sum is a thing that tends to limit thinking. I find it most often employed by those whose powers of reasoning are sadly limited, or else I find it too frequently used to mislead others who depend on those in a position of trust (realizing that I refer to our ideal government rather than that lesser of evils which we usually provide ourselves as voters) to guide them. If you are committed to that concept of security, then, as you say, fine, we now know where we stand and we have little to talk about. But, if you aren't too irredeemably wed to that zero-sum construct, let me try to give you another way of thinking about things.

To think of security in that way would mean that while the bomb squad was dismantling imprudently placed Lite-Brites, they were therefore unable to respond to some other more urgent and real threat elsewhere. I'm not aware of such a threat going untended at that time. The real choice was, I think, to, in an abundance of caution, have the bomb squad respond to this and exercise the unique capabilities they possess, put their training and equipment to some use, or, at some risk of loss of life and infrastructure, let them keep twiddling their thumbs waiting for their pagers to go off. That sir, is not a zero-sum choice. Zero sum implies that to do one thing, I must not do another equally important and pressing thing. Yes, everyone, including those responsible for our security, must always choose between options for how to use their time, but until every option becomes equally urgent, we have not reached the state of affairs implied by your statement that "security is a zero sum game." Succinctly put, you are simply wrong to think that. At least part of my issue with Mr. Schneier, beyond his dismal choices of examples to make his points, is that it seems zero-sum is exactly the way he wishes you, and all the rest of his readers, to think of these things.

You accuse me of thinking of our citizenry as sheep. I don't think of our citizenry in any such broad and limiting way. Some are sheep, some are wolves, some are snakes, and some are eagles. I think our citizenry is, on the whole, quite capable of thinking for itself and for recognizing and reporting potential threats and deciding what merely "different" behavior may not merit further investigation. Mr. Schneier's disappointment that he can no longer don his fishing vest, fill the pockets with modeler's clay, run wiring from pocket to pocket and then walk unmolested through an airport or courthouse, I must sadly admit, exceeds my capacity for empathy.

Your assertion that a tilt toward over-reaction in favor of under-reaction "will hamstring secruity efforts" is not wholly without merit if one takes it as a reminder to security officials themselves to be vigilant against that state of affairs. But your choice to assume it will, in fact, be wholly unchecked, and therefore we must abandon that tilt immediately, is as fine an example of a slippery slope fallacy as a composition instructor might ever hope for. You seem to think that the world is populated by nothing but sheep, security professionals included.

Finally, you are quite right that I deliberately turned the common meaning of CYA for rhetorical effect. That's not quite the same as misconstruing. Had I thought you wouldn't notice, I could be accused of playing unfairly. Apparently though, I give you and all the other readers out there, more credit than you think.

So, for the time being, I'll stand by my original post, and my original opinion that Mr. Schneier's conduct, with his implications that security is a zero-sum game and that citizens are just too sheeplike to simultaneously be vigilant and discriminating and are therefore teetering on the edge of agoraphobia in danger of falling over with every warning to be watchful, is every bit as reprehensible as the alleged fear-mongering of which John DeVille accuses that fulcrum he so detests.