George Washington on Political Parties

George Washington on the dangers of political parties. I think, it’s obvious when reading, there’s a reason that he’s been held up as an icon of liberty. Sometimes it’s important to take a step back from the status quo and remember that what we assume is the best path forward is not always the most beneficial. Let not the wisdom of ages past be lost…

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Also, a sad hat tip to the good writers (such as Washington above) that conspiracy theorists get their semi-incoherent writing style from. Random Capitalization sure Serves a purpose Nowadays, Doesn’t it…

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Use ECB-Mode Encryption

Very interesting…Especially the little list of some of the companies using such insecure security.

Bob 'n Alice On Security

A number of companies create a false sense of security by using weak encryption modes in their products or services. Customers think they are covered because they’re using cutting edge AES encryption, when in reality the mode of that encryption leaves them vulnerable.

In particular, Electronic Codebook or ECB mode encryption is poor at hiding data patterns, as identical blocks of plaintext are coded into identical blocks of ciphertext. This makes it ineffective at encrypting certain types of data, especially that stored in images or BLOBs.

Here is a well known example of ECB mode encryption at work:

Original

Original

Securely Encrypted

As you can see, in ECB mode the outline of Tux the penguin can still be easily made out despite the encryption. There are a number of alternative encryption modes that avoid this weakness, but the one perhaps most frequently found is Cipher-Block Chaining or CBC mode encryption. It is generally…

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Beautiful and Unexplained Mars Aurora

(Image: University of Colorado)

Mars is quite a wonderful little planet. Obviously, it’s one of the best potential places to find extra-terrestrial organisms (or, at least, fossilized specimens) within the Solar System. Early on in it’s life it would’ve been quite similar to Earth with water flowing on the planet. And now we’re seeing an aurora on it that we can’t quite explain yet (we’ve seen Martian auroras before, but we COULD explain those ones through the same process we can explain Earth’s auroras, namely highly charged particles from the sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field). As Jacob Aron from the New Scientist explains:

The new aurora, dubbed “Christmas lights” by the team because it occurred from 18 to 23 December last year, is different. It was seen in many different parts of the northern hemisphere and at much lower altitudes than previous auroras. “We’re seeing it not connected to magnetic regions,” says Jakosky. “We don’t know if it is occurring only at the places we’re observing, or if it is globally distributed.”

The timing lined up with a spike in electrons streaming in from the sun at high enough energies to penetrate down into the atmosphere, suggesting this had a hand in creating the aurora, but exactly how it occurs is unknown. The MAVEN team is now planning to look at the entire hemisphere when the spacecraft is in the shadow of Mars, facing the sun, but it is a risky move as MAVEN is not designed to look straight at the sun. “We have to be really careful because we have to turn off some protective measures,” says Jakosky. “If we screw it up we’re going to burn out the instrument.”

They also detected a cloud of dust, which was at least 200km’s above the surface, that stayed for the duration the spacecraft had been operating. Perhaps it’s dust that falls from one of Mars’ moons (Phobos and Deimos), or perhaps it’s coming from the random bits and bobs that float through the Solar System (like comets or asteroids) or it could even be coming from the planet itself (although we don’t know of a mechanism that would bring dust from the surface to such heights). But they don’t know, more research and observation are needed.

The beauty of the solar system is wonderful. I can’t wait to find out more.

We Live On A TARDIS (Seriously)

I was watching some Doctor Who before and I came to a surprising conclusion. We actually live on a TARDIS. TARDIS, of course, stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space and it’s (if you’re one of the three people that doesn’t know anything about Doctor Who) the ‘ship’ that the good Doctor uses to traverse the universe.

The Tardis. By aussiegall from sydney, Australia (Dr Who Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It has a few odd qualities about it. For one, it’s ‘dimensionally transcendant’, which means, as the Doctor’s companions almost always point out, it’s bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside. It can travel through time and space and it possesses sentience, of a sort.

So how does the Earth measure up as a TARDIS? Continue reading

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Christopher Pyne Pines For Australian Science (Though Not Enough To Save It)

So I was reading an article on the Guardian about Australian science being squeezed, like a mob boss squeezes a small fruit stall owner, and this particular quote by Pyne struck me:

“The funds for NCRIS only exist because of savings elsewhere in the higher education package.

“The way for Labor to support NCRIS, which they themselves defunded, is to support the higher education reforms.

“Labor needs to stop playing politics and enter negotiations with the government because it will be on the heads of Labor, the Greens and the crossbenchers if it closes,” he said.

It’s a small statement, well, relatively small at least, but the thing that strikes me is that it’s just so…goddamn…political…

You see, Pyne is giving the excuse, or the ‘argument ender’, to his base. He’s saying, “Look, it’s everyone else’s fault if this travesty of a budget cut to Australian science comes to pass! (It’s just coincidental that in order to stop this travesty of a budget cut to science, everyone else has to agree to my travesty of a budget cut to education.)”

This, as I said, is to give his base something to argue back against with people who disagree about his actions. It doesn’t matter, of course, that what he really means is, “I want my education cuts to pass and until they do, I’m going to hold my scythe next to the string that is holding Australian science up! And if, dog forbid, you don’t agree with me before I cut the string and Australian science plunges into this convenient volcano…Well then you only have yourselves to blame!”

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Is Scott Walker Secretly Tony Abbott?

Abbott-Walker Mutant

Scott Abbott, or perhaps it’s Tony Walker…

From a comment on a Dispatches From the Culture Wars post titled Scott Walker Proves His Foreign Policy Chops by raven (raven wrote the following comment, not the blog post):

Walker certainly didn’t do much for Wisconsin. His track record on the economy and budgets is simply terrible.

In terms of recovery from the Bush Great Recession, they rank low, 35. Wisconsin is running a $280 million deficit this year and projected $1 billion for each of the next two years.

Meanwhile the adjacent state, Minnesota has a Democrat governor who raised taxes. They are rated 5th in recovery and running a $1 billion budget surplus.

Walker must have to keep talking about union busting because he’s only done three things, cut state services, trashed the state’s budget and economy, and demolished a few unions.

Hmmm, so not only is Scott Walker’s foreign policy woeful (saying that Reagan busting up the 1981 strike of air traffic controllers was the most significant American foreign policy decision in his lifetime…) but his conservative policies (cutting state services, “incidentally” increasing debt in the service of the rich and attacking workers rights) have sent Wisconsin down the drain, directly next to a state run by a democrat, with liberal (not our liberal…God I hate how they’ve corrupted that word) policies that is in excellent health.

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The One Percent

I recently watched a documentary on youtube called The One Percent, which was made by Jamie Johnson (great grand-son of one of the co-founders of Johnson & Johnson and thus inheritor of mega-wealth) about the extreme wealth inequality that exists in America (and can be applied to almost all countries with Australia definitely being included).

It’s an incredibly interesting perspective on wealth inequality, with Jamie being able to set up interviews with people that probably otherwise wouldn’t talk on camera (his family connections allowed him to talk to some pretty interesting characters, such as Milton Friedman (considered one of the founders of trickle down economics and one of the spearheads of the ‘free market’) and Warren Buffett’s grand-daughter Nicole Buffett who interestingly enough doesn’t have a wikipedia page and was also literally disowned because of her participation in this documentary).

I was surprised at how willing the interviewees where to espouse what I think are their actual real beliefs to someone who they would consider an ‘insider’, though there was definitely a lot of hostility shown to Jamie during the filming. I think that the mega-wealthy understand that the majority of people disagree with their viewpoint, but they simultaneously feel that it’s in humanities (and very much, oh so incidentally, in their) interests that everyone lives according to their worldview because obviously only those who have proved themselves through vast financial gain have the brilliance of mind to understand how to regulate the social system effectively.

But seriously, watch the doco. Watch it! It’s very good and I don’t think you’ll hear the same perspective from many other sources.

On my way out, just as a tiny note of apology, my blogging died for the last few weeks. I’ve been studying wildly for a week of practical cell biology I have to do in Melbourne next week, so my will to blog withered on the vine. I dunno if I’ll be able to squeeze out a post or two during the practicals or not, so maybe I’ll manage a post in a week and a half or something. Anyway, watch the documentary(!):