Friday, May 29, 2009

Cyber Wars

On 24 July 2008, Spam King Eddie Davidson [pictured at right] killed himself, his girl friend, and a child after walking away from a federal prison where he was serving a 21-month sentence for charges related to spamming activities.

Today, President Obama announced the creation of a new post, which he called Cyber Czar. This new position would have responsibilty for protecting world computer networks from attacks that cost the economy billions of dollars every years. The only surprising thing about his announcement is how long it took the government to take action.

Imagine if there were gangs of criminals roving the interstate highways, putting up phony signs that divert traffic from its intended course, stopping trucks and carrying off their cargo, and causing delays and traffic jams on a daily basis. Wouldn't the public be enraged? Wouldn't government be forced to step in?

That's exactly what is happening to our "information superhighway." But even though most Americans use computers or rely on their performance in their daily lives, few understand how they work or what dangers lurk there.

The internet began as ARPAnet, a U. S. Deparment of Defense project back in the 1960s. Although security must have been a prime concern at that time, by the 1980s something had gone terribly wrong. Hacking, or breaking into a computer network surreptitiously, was considered by many to be an innocent pastime. The movie "War Games(1983)" showed how a teenager might hack into a top secret military computer. Although the story was somewhat fanciful, still there were many computer users who amused themselves by trying to gain access to various computer networks.

As the Internet exploded, both the opportunities for hacking and the danger from abuse escalated dramatically. Today, there are thousands of hackers, some of them amateurs, but many others professionals employed by governments, who are busily at work trying to defeat the plans that have been laid to protect our data, our websites, and ultimately, our lives. Since computers intrude into every aspect of our lives, they control information that could be used to fire weapons, or prescribe medications, to direct traffic on busy highways, or suck funds out of bank accounts.

Internet Enemy Number One: Spam.
Much of the president's attention is focused on "cyber attacks", where networks are invaded, usually to obtain information, but sometimes to disrupt operations. The most expensive kind of attack, however, is the most common, one which every computer use encounters every day. It's called spam. The propagation of spam, unsolicited email messages, is as sophisticated as any network breakin. In fact, they use the same tools and have developed similar tactics to evade detection.

What does the sending of spam involve? In the first place, the spammer must have some method of gathering millions of email addresses. This may be accomplished by software programs called "spiders" that enter every website on the internet and harvest email addresses, which are later used for spam or sold to spammers. These programs are sold openly on the internet. Greedy and unscrupulous people have sold books and articles about email "marketing" in which they explain how to send spam and make money doing it.
Advanced spamming also uses viruses, trojan horses, and malware. Trojan horses take over your computer and use it to send spam. Malware installs itself on your computer and steals all your email addresses. When a hacker manager to install malware on large computers like government or university databases, it can steal thousands or even millions of email addresses at the same time. This same ability to steal email addresses and take over computers can also be used to steal data, like bank records, social security records, and medical records.

Cyber Wars

During the Cold War, computer programmers employed by governments on both sides of the iron curtain invented programs to disrupt or disable computer networks of the other side. Bulgaria was particularly active in this area, which was related to "cracking", a way of making commercial software available to users who had not purchased a legal copy. So a programmer could make a "cracked" copy of Microsoft Word, for example, and hundreds of people could use the pirated copy without paying royalties to Microsoft. Other programs were also placed on these disks, viruses and trojan horses, which could use the installer as an entry point into a computer.

Since the end of the cold war, programmers trained by their governments in hacking techniques have gone rogue, so to speak, continuing to practice their trade, either for monetary gain or for recognizable sociopathic reasons, which is to say that they want to destroy something because they enjoy doing it. One famous example of this was a Bulgarian called Dark Avenger, who used his programs to attack anti-virus researcher, Sarah Gordon.

Computer hacking lends itself to asymmetrical conflict, where small, relatively weak organizations attack large, powerful ones. Computers are small, relatively cheap, and easily connected to sophisticated systems through the internet or wireless networks. This use of hacking techniques increases the danger associated with cyber crime, much as the use of plastic explosives and hijacked airliners increases the deadliness of guerilla war. The sophisticated weapons systems of technological warfare as practiced by the American army are far more vulnerable to attack by one or two sophisticated hackers than the tanks and bombs of previous wars. America must perforce become better at repelling cyber attacks in order to maintain its military superiority.

Which brings us full circle, because the techniques used to subvert weapons systems (or any other highly integrated system on which lives rely) are the same--viruses, trojan horses, malware--as have been used by less malign hackers since the 1980s. We need our government to begin combatting these threats without delay.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Goodbye Mr. Rose

[Jasper Rose was a professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz during the 1970s and 1980s. This piece appeared in City on A Hill, the UC Santa Cruz student newspaper 20 February 1986. It was written by Douglas A. Erdman, but the views expressed are, of course, pure Jasper.]

The only thing louder than Jasper Rose's bow-tie is the man himself. "My dears," he bellows at 400 students, waving his walking stick wildly over his head, "you must pay attention! I'm trying to teach you something!" They--do, and he does.

A founding member of UCSC, Rose has been delighting students for 20 yars with his flamboyant style and his genuine concern for undergraduates. One out of every eight undergraduates at UCSC is currently enrolled in his Art History 10B, making the class a recordbreaker at 882 students. Yet, at what appears to be the height of his popularity, Jasper Rose is leaving UCSC.

In a recent interview with City on a Hill, Rose refused to discuss personal reasons for his departure, claiming it wasn't "worthwhile going into." A native of England and a graduate of King's College at Cambridge University, Rose bludgeons unsuspecting words with a dignified English accent. "One doesn't resign or retire for a single motive," said Rose, rolling his eyes, his intonation becoming grandiose. "One retires for a great, curious cloudbank of hovering reason!"

Rose was, however, willing to comment on the public ramifications of his retirement. Since 1965, Rose has remained a staunch advocate of "alternative education." While others falter in their commitment to what UCSC was intended to be, Rose stands as one of the last of a dying breed--a voice to be reckoned with. Forthright and articulate, he spoke passionately--often bitterly--about the University he has poured his life into, and why he feels he can no longer stay.

"If you really want to understand," said Rose, "why some of us have succumbed to a certain amount of disappointment, bitterness, and disillusion, [it is because] we had a sense of how vulnerable American undergraduate education was to the vulgarization [and] the commercialization of mass-production, and wanted to make a stand against it. To some extent, Santa Cruz fulfilled an element of its function by, for a while, setting a higher standard, which then became of interest to the rest of the University of California. It was particularly important at a time when mass-production of students was very much in the air." Rose paused thoughtfully, shaking his head. "But, you do sometimes get the feeling that you might just as well be in an egg factory at the present time. That's worrying. Quantity is not the thing that counts. Receptivity, responsiveness, susceptibility, sensibility--are what count."

Among Rose's primary concerns is what he describes as a "dangerous level of hypocrisy" at UCSC. "Something I simply cannot stand which has emerged more and more strongly in recent years," said Rose, "is the tendency for the administration to put out glossy little pamphlets saying how much everybody cares about teaching a UCSC." His eyes glow with outrage at the thought of such obvious fraud. "It should be made perfectly clear that this is not true. There are many professors who teach a very small number of classes and avoid teaching if they can. They're much more interested in administration and should be delighted to get into an administrative post where they're excused from teaching.

"I know a lot of good teachers on this campus who've stuck around as associate professors for years," he continued. "Some of them have now become full professors. I know others who are good teachers and don't get promoted, and they say, 'Well, I'll forget teaching. I'll research my way into the next steps up the ladder.' Chancellor [Robert] Sinsheimer said, I think quite openly, that only on the rarest kind of occasions can excellence in teaching reap significant rewards, unless it's accompanied with excellence in research." Rose shook his head in disappointment. "My view of it fundamentally very different. If you want to talk about your institution as caring a great deal about teaching, you must then be fairly liberal and generous in rewarding the people who teach and teach well."

Rose laments that faculty get punished by non-advancement for being "too interested" in the daily lives of undergraduates. In previous years, professors who spent too much time meeting with students socially and advising them found themselves "cajoled and harassed" about their research. Those who weren't "putting up a show of publishing" were not advanced with the same speed as other professors, he added, explaining that as a result, many faculty today are frightened for their careers if they interact too closely with students. This directly contradicts Rose's personal commitment to personalized undergraduate education.

"The people who don't get advanced," said Rose, "become discouraged. They become known as people of no importance in the University. They don't count much because they're not `nationally visible,' in that terrible phrase." He is clearly repulsed by the thought. "I well recall it being used in a personnel case. A very senior person said, `Oh, we can't advance this person, because he's not nationally visible! And I wrote back, saying, 'I suppose what this campus now wants is local invisibility and national visibility! And I didn't get an answer which denied that."
Rose tries his best to adhere to his commitment to faculty/student interaction. "I'm one of those unfortunate people who are nationally invisible," he said, chuckling with irony. I always make it my business to greet students as I walk about, and talk with them if I possibly can, as it seems only civil to do." He spread his hands wide in question. "One knows that the students belong to the same institution. Why should one put one's head down and pretend they don't exist?"
"In terms of the ambitions and proclaimed ideals of the place," he added scathingly, "the amount of interaction between faculty and students now is pathetic. The number of faculty who said to me quite early on, 'Well, my place with the students is in the classroom; that's where I know how to deal with the students,' struck me as being such an admission of failure, and also a kind of cowardice."

"One of the things that has horrified me is the growth of midterms, which then become quarter terms, and then eighth terms ... this sort of continuous examining of students." Rose shook his
hands in frustration. "If you treat students in this way, you don't have to be specially intelligible, or interesting, or entertaining when you're teaching them. All you have to do is make it perfectly clear that if they want to get some credit, they're going to have to do exactly as you tell them, which I'm afraid smacks to me of anything but a university. It smacks to me of a military establishment. And I do get very frightened about the seizing up of free inquiry:'

ACCORDING TO ROSE,-THERE IS no reason to expect professors to be equally skilled at both teaching and doing research. "One of the biggest and most foolish myths which is perpetuated here is that 'all-arounders' are immensely common." He leaned forward in emphasis. "They're not very common. Actually, the people who are gifted at teaching very often are-not going to be terribly gifted at certain kinds of research. To be gifted as a teacher-requires a certain amount of
gregariousness... teachers are fulfilled by talking and public exposition." Rose's tone showed how obvious he considers this. "If you're fulfilled in that kind of way, you're not very likely to be keen to rush away into an odd corner and sequester yourself from the public world. You may have some good ideas, but the forum for those good ideas is not a learned journal. The forum for brilliant ideas is very often open discussion."

Rose knows better than anyone that gregariousness and genuine interest in under-
graduates add up to enormous popularity. As he explained ,"When the proportions start changing to those who are really interested in students and those who are not, and the student body grows, those who make themselves available to students become mobbed. The issue of showing respect to students is really fundamental. By the late 70s, UCSC's colleges no longer had the power to choose or reward faculty for their respect towards students—or for any other qualifications.

The UCSC reorganization of 1978-79—which Rose refers to as the "disorganization"—dealt the final blow to the concept of collegiate autonomy. Many professors left whatever college they were affiliated with to congregate where their board of study was located. Rose's idea of "tradition and continuity" was crushed. "The healthy interchange of ideas between professors in different disciplines collapsed," he said sadly. "It became clear to me that the sort of things that I represented were things which are not very much wanted by the dominant impulse; that I would have to struggle hard to maintain the sort of things I cared about. There comes a moment when you get tired of struggling ... and I got tired of struggling."

"I think the University has to worry about something which is connected in some way with me," said Rose thoughtfully, "and that is that it does need some people who are ready to answer back. I always think of most American graduate schools as schools of calculated humiliation; they humiliate the people who enter them." He spoke faster, trying to impart the futility. "Those people then go on to become professors, and they are so scared of their own shadows, and they have to wait eight years to get tenure, which is a ludicrous thing. This University needs some faculty who are more ready to answer back, who are ready to take up an independent stance!'
Rose sighs, folding his hands onto his knee. "It also desperately needs some faculty who retain a sense of humor and a sense of fun. When the joy and pleasure run out of an institution, it's
due for a very grim, dull time. I think you might worry about my leaving not as an event, but as a symptom, and a serious symptom. When people like myself leave the University, crying that it has become hard and cruel, the University has to worry. Is it becoming a very heartless and empty place? Because if it is, it's going to have terrible,, repercussions."

Rose never wanted it to end this way, and his sorrow is etched into his features and his words. "I had hoped, and I initially thought of myself about the year 2000, very lottery, as a kind of `Mr. Chips' figure—an elder of the tribe who would occasionally say to an undergraduate, `Very interesting, the early days here, but you're lucky you don't have to put up with that now.' "
Instead, he will retire into the English countryside to paint. "My final decision was made in England. I saw a lovely house that I suddenly realized I could afford, and a number of immediate problems had depressed me very greatly." His voice drops in recollection. "I had deeply lost confidence in the [UCSC] administration. And so I thought, 'I need to do something different.' "

Does Rose see any hope for UCSC? "Not in the near future," he said. "There is still an inheritance, that's true. My son said to me today, 'Come on ... for students who know how to find their way about, Santa Cruz still offers more than almost any other place.' And I'm ready to believe that." Rose nodded his head slowly. "I still think there lingers about it a humane spirit, a sense of humor, some kind of festive quality...they're they're all things that are very badly needed. But another major growth could easily destroy it. It's nothing to be complacent about." His voice became heavy with pain. "Compared with what could be, and indeed what needs to be ... what terribly needs to be..."

His voice trails off. Jasper Rose sits back and considers. "A long time ago I thought about this University, and I thought, 'I'm being defeated.' That was about 1967, I suppose. And I said to myself, `Why are you being defeated? Is it because you're standing up to your neck in a morass, and you can't move your arms?' Because then you don't go on fighting, you get out of the morass, and you find some other place. I think that's the only way to look at it. I have to find some other place in which to exercise what talents I have. And," said Rose quietly, "I'm also tired, my dear."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Jasper Rose, Uniquely Himself

Jasper Rose was a professor of Art History at UC Santa Cruz for many years. During those years, he touched the lives of many people. Oddly enough--probably because Jasper felt modern technology was the downfall of civilization--he has left little trace of his passage on the internet. As shown by the interview in this blog, "Goodbye, Mr. Rose", he believed his talent lay in teaching, not publication, so it is no surprise that he has published little. If you knew Jasper and would like to tell a story about him, please add a comment to this post. I would also like to hear from people who know his personal history, or where I can find that information. Once I have collected this information, I intend to write a wikipedia article about him, or some other appropriate tribute, with the assistance of my wife, Holly, nee Holst.

As of this writing, Jasper is alive and well and living near Bath, England, with his wife and a box of watercolors.
Sketch of a Hay Wain and a dog by John Constable (1821)

Recently, an artist of our acquaintance criticized a friend of mine's ability to draw. This made me remember (a la Proust) a lecture given by Rose about the English landscape artist, John Constable. Rose projected the painting, The Hay Wain, which is a full-size landscape. In 2005 this painting was voted the second greatest English painting, after Turner's, The Fighting Temeraire. So it is definitely one of the icons of art that Rose loved to deflate.

Next, Rose projected a sketch of a hay wain Constable had drawn as a study for the famous painting. He pointed out in what ways the sketch was not very well drawn. Also in that sketch is a dog that is so poorly drawn as to be barely recognizable as a dog. It looks like one of James Thurber's animals. Rose concluded his lecture by saying that anyone in the lecture hall could draw a sketch as well as that one by Constable. And he urged everyone not to be discouraged in their artistic endeavors.

To date, more than 2700 people have viewed this post. Please comment on this post to add your thoughts, positive or negative, about Jasper Rose.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Qi Revolution: Supreme Science Qigong

I just got back from a Qigong workshop that I attended with my wife. Neither of us knew anything about Qigong, so we didn't know what to expect. To say that we were disappointed would be incorrect; rather, we were appalled and disgusted, not by the Qigong instruction itself, but by the instructor, Jeff Primack.

To begin with, the event was misrepresented. The Qi Revolution website declares,
With live music & the most powerful techniques you can’t go wrong.
With the exception of music played by a duo during lunch breaks (when most people were eating lunch elsewhere), all the music was canned.

Primack is a personable young man, but he is about as spiritual as a carrot. He decided to dedicate his life to Qigong, he said, when he realized that “chi was the greatest thing since sliced bread.” There is nothing spiritual about sliced bread, nor about the metaphor he used. He refers to this incident as his “enlightenment”, but it is not that, only a decision taken about his career. He tells how his life has been directed by “miracles”, which he defines as “statistically improbable” events.

Primack found $72 in a bush one day. This he considered miraculous because he had studied the 72 names of God one week previously. But finding money is not an unusual event, or even rare. Nearly everyone has done it. The coincidence of having found $72 only becomes unusual in retrospect. This is a mystical number for the kabbalah, but if he had found $10, he could have considered that the number of commandments; if $3, the number of the holy trinity; if $9, a mystical number for Qigong; and so on, so that whatever amount of number he found, he could have discovered some “meaningful” correlation.

A second miracle he described involved looking out though the window of a house he was considering purchasing and seeing a dolphin jump from the water. Since he lives in Miami, where dolphins leap from the water every day of the year, this can hardly be construed as a miracle.

Primack lectured about spirituality and the existence of what he at first called the “true source”. His discourse was a jumble of Eastern philosophies, primarily Daoism and Buddhism, with many references to the kabbalah and Christianity. He claims to have studied with a “Siberian Shaman”, but a little research indicates that he is referring to Tanya Storch, a professor in Eastern Religions who at that time was teaching at the University of Florida. Storch does not represent herself in published literature as a Shaman. What he seems to have learned from Storch is a syncretistic knowledge of world religion with an emphasis on Daoism and Buddhism as an academic discipline. His understanding, and his explanations, are entirely superficial, however. He sprinkles his lectures with vignettes from several religions. He tells of Shaolin monks who stand “on the edge of a cliff” for hours or days; of monks who meditate for years without sleeping or going to the bathroom.

But Primack did not explain why monks might meditate for years; he only mentioned the fact that they did. Nor did he mention the great sage Bodhidharma, who is famous for having spent years in meditation and who brought zen meditation to China. Bodhidharma is also supposed to have introduced qi exercises to the shaolin monks.

Later on, Primack led the assembly in an advanced Daoist meditation. This meditation included meditation on four organs corresponding to four colors, all of which was to be visualized. He stated that this meditation was usually not taught to beginners, and proceeded to lead it without any explanation whatever. Such meditations are part of yogic teaching, but they are always preceded by exercises to enhance visualization abilities and accompanied by explanations of their esoteric meaning. Primack had three 8-hour days to explain Daoist teachings like this one, but he imparted little information on this subject. Instead, he regaled us repeatedly with slogans like “soy is not a toy... not for your boy” and “beets beat disease”.

Primack calls his Qigong style, “Supreme Science Qigong,” and intersperses his teachings with phrases like, “absolutely scientifically proven”, and with scientific-sounding words like “phytonutrients”, although he never offers any evidence of scientific proof nor an adequate definition of a phytonutrient, making it seem more mysterious than it actually is. But his understanding of science is just as limited as his understanding of religion. He claims that a man in the Himalayas lived 250 years eating goji berries, and that avocado pits are scientifically proven to be full of lifesaving chemical compounds, but he offers no proof for these extraordinary claims, nor have I been able to find corroboration on the web. His interest in these two subjects is not mere intellectual curiosity, since he is selling bags of goji berries at $20 a pound and a heavy-duty blender for $400 on the basis of its ability to pulverize avocado pits. As evidence of the healthful virtues of seeds, he cited verses from Genesis; he then quoted more scripture to “prove” that humans should be living to the age of 120. He left out the part about Methuselah's 900 years... but perhaps even Primack found that Biblical assertion far-fetched.

The Foundation (or Primack) makes a hefty profit on the sale of each blender, probably $150 or more. It is repulsive to see a man who claims to be interested in spiritual enlightenment demonstrating of a blender on stage during a Qigong workshop one day, and the next day beginning his lecture by taking a drink of his concoction and musing, “I wonder what they're eating for breakfast.”
Primack's commercialization of religion is crass. He repeatedly told his audience that they don't need to take notes, because everything he says is in the manual; he sells this “manual”, a set of printed powerpoint slides, for $45. In point of fact, he had a lot of merchandise for sale, all of it grossly overpriced ($95 for a cd; $145 for a book)-- and he managed to mention every item, at least once.
Another “smart” business move Primack made involves the way he got 2,000 people to enroll in his seminar. He used his Master's Degree in Eastern Religion to set up a “class” in Qigong, then invited Florida's Licensed Massage Therapists to take the class under the auspices of the state regulatory board. So 2,000 people came to his event, but many, perhaps most, of them were only interested in getting cheap credits to continue working in the state. This must have been disappointing to Primack, who claims to have trained 600 instructors nationwide, for with that number of instructors, including 130 at the event itself, surely more than 1,000 devotees should have shown up to take a workshop from the master? Even those most impressed by the energy of the convention must doubt how sincere a group of disinterested therapists can be, especially when they are subjected to sales pitches for food products which have no relationship to the course they signed up for. Prices were high and sales were slow, but then massage therapists are not wealthy.
Speaking of other conventions I have attended, I don't recall being confined in a large hall with 2,000 people and little else. Sure, there were tables where we could buy Jeff's merchandise (and only Jeff's merchandise). The floor was bare concrete and pretty unforgiving when covered only by the yoga mats we brought with us. The music was constant, and constantly loud and rhythmic, not what I consider conducive to meditation. Perhaps Primack could have spent a little more of the $200,000+ that the foundation grossed from entry fees to put down a few carpets and have a few “optional” events in smaller meeting rooms, which were available but not used. In fact, the event used less than half the space available, curtaining off the rest. This caused friction at times between people who wanted to place their mats in the same general location.
One corner of the hall was carpeted, with cushions and a shrine, but this corner had room for no more than 10 people and was always full. The people in it may have been seeking solitude or refuge. I recall them looking out with wide, sad eyes.
Since Primak does not believe in starting on time, the people had to wait for 1 to 2 hours at the beginning of each day, and since Primack does not like to stop talking when he has a captive audience, his final presentation of the day ran over from 30 minutes to an hour. He also enjoys keeping people from eating lunch at noon, one day waiting until nearly 3 pm before releasing us for a one-hour break: just enough to get back to the hotel room, eat, and get back to the convention center.
Although many of the people there were new to qigong, the exercises were intense and long. Primack reminds me of a personal trainer who keeps saying, “just one more rep, just one more!” We did not sign up to be abused, however. The long group exercise at the end of the third day, using the “nine breath” method was particularly excruciating. Since we were all holding hands, we felt compelled to continue, despite discomfort and, for some, a strong objection to the prayers that Primack was reciting pretentiously during the exercise. The nine breath method, according to him, is an advanced method that is usually taught only after several years of instruction. There are reasons for teaching subjects in a certain order. It is irresponsible for a teacher to give instructions to novices that may harm them.
On the first day, Primack was careful to speak of the “true source”, by which I supposed he meant the Dao. By the third day, he was directing each prayer to divine father, divine mother, or God. As a long-time student of Asian religions, I was offended by this. My wife took extreme personal offense to being constrained to listen to his “directed prayer” routine. Neither of us is Christian and neither wanted to be part of someone else's religious fantasy, especially since it seemed designed to offend nearly everyone.
On the way out, after the prayer circle was over, I spoke with others who were disconcerted by the event. I saw a couple of women who were too upset to speak and others who were simply discussing their reactions. My wife and I left and did not return for the fourth day of the event.