Weekend Reading – 22-23 JUNE 2013

Some quick reading for your weekend:

The best description I’ve found of a certain subculture is in a short story by Ralph Lombreglia in this issue of The American Scholar:

[H]is power with his fans worked only along certain axes, in certain dimensions. If he directly commanded them to stop writing code for the empire, they would not obey. He had tried that. They thought he was joking. If he told them to smash their mobiles, they would giggle at how crazy Bob was. But if he said he wanted to run for e-president, and he needed them to tribe-source him a peer-to-peer voting system, democracy in action on the Net, they would have it up and running in two days because it would just be such a cool thing to do. A people’s electoral bucket brigade.

And then, of course, they would turn out in great numbers for the election, like 100 percent, and they would all vote for Bob, and they would expect their votes to count. And if their votes didn’t count, well maybe then they would stop writing code for the empire. Maybe they’d crap up some of the code they’d already written, too.

Sorta funny. Sorta sad. And probably sorta true. Go read the full story.

The story above also goes well with C.Z. Nnaemeka’s piece on “Big” versus “big” problems on which the tech industry focuses. I noted her piece in an earlier post. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do this weekend.

On the defense side, I recommend Lt. Col. Mark Chitwood’s thesis on merging the Guard and Reserve (also discussed by me here). Obviously, all the opinions expressed in the document are Chitwood’s and do not necessarily reflect anyone else’s or organization’s views. I urge you to read it, comment on it here or to Lt. Col. Chitwood and keep an eye out for more work from him on the subject next year.

(I’ve had the pleasure of exchanging e-mails with both C.Z. and Lt. Col. Chitwood in recent weeks – and learning a lot.)

Also, someone is getting a good deal here:

Israel’s Defense Ministry is asking the US government to guarantee billions of dollars in low-interest bridge loans for a Pentagon-proposed package of V-22 Ospreys, F-15 radars and precision-strike weaponry that it ultimately intends to fund with future military aid from the US.

. . .

Under the novel, Israeli-proposed funding plan, US government guarantees would allow MoD to initiate near-term contracts for advanced, Pentagon-offered weaponry with cut-rate cash from commercial banks. Israel would pay only interest and servicing fees on the government-backed loan, with principle repaid from a new, 10-year military aid package that President Barack Obama — during a visit here in March — promised to conclude before the current bilateral aid agreement expires in 2018.

Israel is slated to receive $3.1 billion in annual Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grant aid through 2017, minus some $155 million in rescissions due to US government-mandated sequester. Those funds, sources from both countries say, have already been tapped to cover payments on existing contracts for Israel’s first squadron of F-35I joint strike fighters, heavy armored carriers, trainer aircraft engines, transport planes and a host of US weaponry.

Basically, they’re talking about the US government assuming the risk of billions of dollars in loans to be repaid by the US government with FMF promised in the out years,” a US source said.

Whoa. How can I get a deal like that? I get my house, only pay a low-interest rate on the mortgage principal for a little while and then repay the  rest with a grant from the very same bank. If only Bank of America were so nice.

Finally, I’m afraid of this:

In all honesty, I don’t think the public at large will make that leap between the government’s spying on us and what big business is using big data for because it has a short memory. How many times has Facebook become embroiled in a “privacy” spat with its users, yet its user base continues to grow? Revenue jumped 37% in the first quarter and daily active users soared 26% to 665 million (monthly users were up 23% to 1.11 billion).

So if you’ve bought shares in large, established big data players like IBM and Oracle, or even smaller upstarts like Splunk and TIBCO Software, don’t worry about selling the stock any time soon. Should more damning news like the PRISM program be revealed, these stocks could be cast in a bad light. But since we’re unwilling to stop broadcasting our most intimate details on the web, there’s going to be a market for that data and for companies to process and analyze it. And perhaps even get in bed with the government to facilitate it. [Emphasis my own.]

I wish the American public had a longer-term memory, as the Europeans seem to. But it disgusts me that this guy thinks it’s perfectly okay for Big Business to be using our data as long as the government doesn’t (unless it’s the cost of doing business, of course):

The risk here for business — aside from the obvious Orwellian implications of this massive level of government snooping — is the public may no longer think the vast collection of data by private enterprise is so benign. What might be a huge investment opportunity could instead be turned into a pariah, and businesses associated with the practice of collecting and processing the massive amounts of data could be shunned by the investing world for engaging in it.

Maybe they should be questioned by their investors.

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