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December 30, 2016

Defense in depth
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:33 AM * 44 comments

I’m strongly suspecting that New Year’s is going to be a time of listicles and advocacy. Everyone’s going to be at us to support this cause or that, act in this way or that, over the coming year. Everyone has priorities, urgent issues, things they think we should care about most of all.

And that’s cool. Passion is wonderful, and clearly many hands are going to be needed for the work ahead.

But when others have different priorities than you, things slide so easily into guilt-tripping and blame. Accusations of indifference. Spoon banditry. And that’s not so cool; it robs us of energy and joy that we need as a community. Someone 100% committed to Cause A, if persuaded to switch to Cause B, may only have the talents, resources, or passion to give 70%—even after the energy costs of diverting their attention are paid off.

Can I suggest an XKCD-like reformulation? Can we think of this diversity of tactics and causes not as dilution or diversion, but as defense in depth?

I first encountered the term defense in depth in its infosec incarnation, where we use multiple independent means to combat possible intrusions. Run antivirus software and have a strong-password policy and train your staff against social engineering. It’s based on a broader military strategy where you use multiple layers of resources, even weak ones, to bog an attacker down, rob them of their momentum, and leave them vulnerable to counterattack.

It may not be, in the abstract, the best strategy for the time ahead of us—the Wikipedia entry points out that it’s most effective in opposition to a single, focused attack, and we’re facing something much broader-based than that. But given the costs and risks of circular firing squads, given that our strength as evidence-based thinkers and anti-authoritarians will be in nurturing diverse opinions and tactics and then sharing the results widely to expand everyone’s toolkit, it’s the most pragmatic approach to moving in a generally-agreed direction with people with whom we may not always see eye to eye.

A couple of skills for that toolkit, if you’re going to follow this model:

Any more resources? Or am I talking out of my arse here?

Comments on Defense in depth:
#1 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 09:25 AM:

Depth and diversity of response . . . I like it.

#2 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 09:27 AM:

You are very much not talking out of your arse.

One of the things that this brings to mind is that self-care is an important part of successful long-term resistance. You fundamentally cannot help if you have crashed and burned.

#3 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 09:40 AM:

I have a much less adult metaphor in my head: Red Rover.

If you didn't play this as a kid, I shall describe it. Two teams of kids face each other across a wide space (wide enough to get up some momentum if you run across it). Each team stands side-to-side in a line, holding hands. One team chants,

"Red Rover, Red Rover, send [name] right over!"

Whereupon the named kid runs across the space and tries to break through the line of kids holding hands on the opposite side.

If s/he succeeds, s/he gets to pick one of the two people whose grip broke, and take them to join the other team. If s/he fails, s/he joins the opposing team.

The more kids on the team, the harder it is for opponents to break the chain--BECAUSE, the more kids on the team, the easier it is to yield slightly, transmitting the force of the attack along the length of the chain.

#4 ::: jenavira ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 09:55 AM:

I think this is wonderful. I've been working on a similar kind of attitude for the past few weeks.

Like a lot of people, I was a gibbering wreck for the first few weeks after the election, but weirdly enough it was the announcement by the CIA about the Russian hacking that helped me to feel better, because it was a reminder that there were people out there doing their jobs. I disagree with a huge proportion of what the intelligence community does, but there are, nonetheless, huge numbers of people in the intelligence community who are concerned about the future and doing what they can to stop things from getting worse. And because of the nature of their work I will probably never know what it is, but it's happening anyway. I don't have to do everything, because there are other people in the world also trying to stop this trainwreck. (See also, my newfound appreciation for Lindsay Graham, John McCain, and Evan McMullen.)

Or, as the tumblr post says, "pick your battles. pick… pick fewer battles than that. put some battles back. that’s too many"

There are enough of us that we can all fight different battles in the same war, and lessen the burden on each other.

#5 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 10:41 AM:

I spent an hour or two (and about $4500) yesterday making online contributions to Planned Parenthood, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and like causes. These are the people who do the heavy lifting. Even when I'm in despair, I know they won't drop out.

#6 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 10:46 AM:

Theophylact, yes, I wrote larger-than-usual checks this year to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and Human Rights Campaign. Because I can't do much, but this I can do.

#7 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 01:30 PM:

Jenavira @4: And many at the CIA have paid the ultimate price...when you go into the CIA HQ at Langley there is a wall with stars on it. No names, as in many cases because their work is still classified -- but each star is for someone who paid the last full measure of devotion for their country.

Memorial Wall

#8 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 02:18 PM:

Diversity in priorities is vital, precisely because it means that no cause will be ignored or abandoned. Perhaps when someone argues with you about your priorities, it might be useful to respond with language indicating that you welcome their passion for that reason. That you consider them a valued ally even if they're working on something else.

#9 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 05:23 PM:

Milton's Areopagitica argues that diversity of opinion overcomes a monopoly of thought.

#10 ::: generic ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 05:24 PM:

I am seeing multiple people and organizations trying to push priorities in "off" ways. Priorities will be something we'll need to talk about, sometimes.
(Maybe it is just my internet, though. Or maybe it's Upton Sinclair being relevant again.)

#11 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2016, 07:48 PM:

Learned that another member of the county Democratic Party letter to the editor "club" scored a published letter. We're encouraging and coaching each other.

#12 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2016, 12:27 AM:

Abi, your words are yea and amen to me. I've been struggling to find good phrasing for some of these ideas, but I hadn't found any way to speak as positively and useful about what I hope for as "defense in depth". Thank you, very much.

#13 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2016, 06:32 AM:

Bruce, your opinion means a lot to me. Thank you for saying this.

#14 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2017, 12:38 AM:

I'm fearfully looking forward, as a Federal employee. The only thing I keep saying to myself that makes hope is that we are a public safety agency.

I did share with others Mr. Ford's Winter Solstice: Camelot Station because it needed being done. And it fit my mood.

Ooh, sounds like fireworks are going off.

Close enough, Happy New Year's, folks. Persevere and do good. Be kind to one another.

#15 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2017, 09:08 AM:

Defense in depth... Yes...

#16 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2017, 12:32 PM:

I wrote this morning about one of the ways I plan to respond, by promoting and defending our cultural memory. It seemed an appropriate thing to write about for Public Domain Day.

I'll do other things as well, as I've tried to do this past year. But since I have particular expertise in librarianing and computering, it seems like a good focus for my energies. And I'm happy to work with anyone else here, and to hear what else folks are planning on doing.

John Scalzi's New Years' post is also well worth reading.

Wishing everyone a fruitful and joyful new year.

#17 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2017, 02:07 PM:

And Mr. Scalzi's post reminds me of a defense that can feel indulgent but, I think, still counts:

Patronize things and people that bend the arc. For me, most obviously, that's things like:

What's on your list?

#18 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2017, 02:42 PM:

Playing for Change and Fury Road, definitely.

Ursula K. LeGuin's Always Coming Home, for envisioning a sustainable society that could be built on the ruins of this one, if necessary.

Terry Pratchett's writing, for its deeply humane quality.

And the odd catch I get in my throat from watching movie credits (especially credits for animated films) and symphony orchestra performances: the sense of "look how many people had to cooperate for a long time to make this happen".

#19 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2017, 02:55 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 16: In regard to Scalzi's post, it should be firmly noted that Theodore Parker spent a lot of time and effort bending that arc. He was one of the Secret Six who funded John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, and he hid escaped enslaved people in his parsonage, where he wrote sermons with a pistol on his desk, just in case. Few people know Parker these days and lower-case transcendentalist doesn't sound terribly dynamic. I figure he's a great story and ought to be told as often as possible.

(Scalzi underplays, I think, Parker's sense of urgency, but that's a minor point.)

#20 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2017, 04:00 PM:

Arc Benders?

I'll second all of the above. I'll add "The Memory Palace." If you haven't heard of it, start with these two:

Notes on an Imagined Plaque.

The Wheel.

#21 ::: UrsulaV ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2017, 01:11 AM:

@18 - Lila, I am an enormous fan of Always Coming Home. One of the few post-apocalyptic societies I have read that seemed to have a lot of real people in it.

#22 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2017, 02:14 AM:

Defense in depth is great. Three-dimensional defense; not only broad and high but deep. No, four: broad, high, deep, and sustained.

UrsulaV 21: And failure. And conflict. And tragic disease and death.

No, those aren't criticisms. It made it so very real, and showed how the society dealt with those things. "Living with my husband is like eating unleached acorns," says one character, and it's pretty clear what she means.

I loved ACH. Next time I was at a Pagan gathering after reading it, I was in a long toning circle (singing long notes without words), and mine kept coming out "HEYahhhh." Afterwards, a woman came up to me and said "Another person who read Always Coming Home and liked it." We've been friends ever since.

#23 ::: Race Traitor Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2017, 02:16 AM:

Oops, I made a mistake. It was actually a man, though I didn't know that, and AFAIK neither did he, until years later. I was remembering how the event seemed at the time, not informing it with what I now know. I'm not sure if that's a problem, but if so I hope this fixes it.

#24 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2017, 08:02 AM:

One of the many things I like about Always Coming Home is that the Kesh have ritual without gods, which suits me just fine.

LeGuin has a contentious relationship with religion. The Telling reads to me like a thought-experiment: can I invent a religion I respect?

#25 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2017, 02:18 AM:

Abi, I'm delighted to have such warm feeling to send your way.

Oh, hey, I want to recommend some reading to all and sundry for this year: A Paradise Built in Hell, by Rebecca Solnit. This is a book about five natural and man-made disasters, from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina.

What she finds again and again is that a whole lot of people come together in crises. We share and cooperate when there's such visible need, and help keep ourselves and each together in the midst of the mess. She also finds that the most likely perpetrators of violence and chaos are the people who've been accustomed to thinking of themselves as the bosses and are now cut off from their usual chains of command; they lash out in fear and rage. But they are very much the minority.

There are some thoughtful criticisms of some parts of Solnit's work here, particularly in slighting how much difference good rather than bad civic government matters: building codes, emergency preparedness systems, and the like. She admits to anarchist orientation, and even some ideal observer couldn't get everything relevant into one volume. But it's worth noting that the most thoughtful-sounding, careful critics all say "Nonetheless, you should read this, since it's a fine book bringing important truths to light." And it is.

It's really drastically turned around my thinking about chaotic scenes of collapse and what to expect of them, giving foundation and confidence to what had been my occasional drifting hopes for people when all manner of things hit the fan.

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 09:23 AM:

From the "works for some, not for all" dept: I've been going to a Letters to the Editor class at the county Democratic party office.

Three (four?) letters written by class members were published over the last week.

I'm working on one about looming social security / medicaid gutting.

#27 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 01:34 PM:

Stefan Jones @26:

Should you have any questions re: the Social Security/MEDICARE gutting, I worked for SSA for the first three years of my Federal career.

Ryan doesn't want to gut Medicaid, he want to block grant it.

#28 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2017, 01:42 PM:

They're talking about cutting SS by more than 25%. Which is effectively going to gut it, and kill a lot of people.

I'd like that "third rail" to get them now, please.

#29 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 09:48 AM:

Lori Coulson@27

Ryan wants to gut AND block grant Medicaid. More precisely, he wants to block grant Medicaid in order to gut it.

#30 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2017, 01:13 PM:

It's another iteration of "starve these programs, then drown them in a bathtub." The Republicans have never had the welfare of their fellow citizens in mind ever since Nixon.

#31 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2017, 05:50 PM:

P J Evans @ 28
They're also talking about cutting and voucherizing Medicare. The combination of the two will probably mean Eva and I will be forced to cut back on medical treatments & prescriptions. Likely I won't be able to walk without surgery in the next few years, and likely Eva won't be able to get inhalers for asthma. Not immediately fatal, but definitely a reduction in quadlity and possibly length of life.

We live in a blue state, where our Senators and Representative all understand the issues and are fighting as hard as they can. With luck the state will be able to pick up some of the slack. But our situation is not immediate, not the case for much of the country. I'm putting as much money as I can into national organizations like Planned Parenthood, and crowd-funding medical bills of people I know who are in severe straits.

#32 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2017, 08:49 PM:

Won't do me any good, either - I've developed high blood pressure, and while it's relatively inexpensive to treat, it does mean seeing the doctor more often than I want. (And he wants to fix everything, including the much-lower-priority high cholesterol. Depending on how the glucose-tolerance test comes out, that might be easier or harder.)
My sister has type-II diabetes with neuropathy and kidney disease - the drugs she needs for maintenance are many and the collection not cheap. She just signed up for ACA - she hits 65 next year.

#33 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: January 15, 2017, 01:11 PM:

I've been singing hosannas that my main HPB medication FINALLY went generic in November. Which means my cost for a 90 day supply went from $128 to $20. That means I am only on one medication that is still under patent, and while it's not cheap, it's still more affordable than the Benicar...

#34 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker To Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2017, 07:55 AM:

Lori Coulson @33

Wow. I am very glad I was only on Benicar long enough to know it was a bad idea for me. Luckily my BP mods are all relatively cheap, it's the SSRI for my ADD that's so expensive. I'd love not to have to take it, but I'm scared of going back to the memory fog I used to be in. Also, taking it knocked me out of a years-long depression that wasn't diagnosed until afterwards; slipping back into *that* would be really scary.

#35 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2017, 10:44 PM:

Some co-workers and I are going to the protest in downtown Portland on Saturday.

Have my sign ready to go:

#36 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2017, 01:20 AM:

A couple of suggestions for Inauguration Day, culled from Tumblr:

1. If you have a Nielsen box, turn on your TV before the inauguration and tune it to any channel that isn't covering That Thing Where Donald Unironically Copies Dear Leader.

2. If you have Twitter, spend the duration of the ceremony enthusiastically livetweeting something other than the ceremony that you're watching/reading/listening to.

3. Whatever you do, don't mention Donald's Big Show, even tangentially, or click anything about it.

#38 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2017, 12:17 PM:

Today I'm going to go full autistic nerd and spend the evening world-building! I highly recommend the World Dream Bank Planetocopia ( if you are interested in the geography of alien worlds. The worldbuilder draws a lot of aliens with human boobs, but his work is otherwise solid and fascinating. Some of his articles include invitations for input; I'm going to work on a detailed response involving the ecosystem of a world that looks like Earth but with the continents and oceans flipped. Lots of research about how monsoons work, what lives in mangrove forests, etc. Have fun with whatever you do, everybody!

#39 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2017, 01:21 PM:

Oooh, just found another suggestion! If you follow the White House Twitter, tonight is a good night to unfollow it and follow the Obamas' personal Twitters instead.

#40 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2017, 08:50 PM:

Useful to remember:

The gist: If you can't participate in your local women's march tomorrow, watch/blog/tweet the hell out of it and keep not talking about Donald.

#42 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2017, 09:28 PM:

Hm. Prev post eaten by an internal server error:

Also: if you've unfollowed @ POTUS & @ FLOTUS, doublecheck your follows. Not only was I set to follow (even though I explicitly unfollowed last night), but I discovered that @POTUS44 was set to BLOCK. (WTF, Twitter?)

#43 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2017, 09:41 PM:

@John: Thanks for Daphnis! Emailed and tweeted that picture all over.

#44 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2017, 09:44 PM:

@Jaque: Good heads-up. I had to unfollow @POTUS. I was able to see and had been signed up for @POTUS44.

I like Obama's most recent post:

"I'm still asking you to believe - not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours. I believe in change because I believe in you."

Which fits in nicely with Daphnis.

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