Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Paula Deen discussion

Salon has an article on the Paula Deen incident from a different perspective:

"The difference now is that people don’t speak in public what they are thinking and sharing behind closed doors."

In still not sure where I stand on the Paula Deen incident. I don't think that I know enough about what actually happened to form a rational decision. I do believe that racial epitaphs should never be used, but I would be lying if I said I had never used them in the past. I don't personally know someone that hasn't used a racial epitaph at some point in their life.

I do regret my part in extending the racial disparity into the present, but I also believe that people that have sincerely tried to change and make amends for their horrible language in the past deserve the benefit of the doubt if for no other reason than there would be no one left if people weren't given the opportunity to change.

The ultimate goal of rationality

Learning the tools of rationality isn't enough. In order to get anything out of it, you have to have a goal that puts those tools to work towards a desirable end.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

DOMA and Prop 8 fall

This is a note to myself as much as anything. There is no breaking news here. Everyone that cases already knows that DOMA and Proposition 8 were essentially overturned by the Supreme Court.

Proposition 8 was sent back to a lower court due to lack of standing. I believe this will allow the lower court's findings to stand. I don't think there will be any more cases, but since I am far from a legal expert, I don't know for sure.

On the other hand, section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act was ruled unconstitutional. It is gone, never to return again. Unfortunately that doesn't mean everyone can marry, it means that if your state allows you to marry the Federal Government will have to recognize the marriage too.

There are still many questions to be answered, like what happens if you are married and nice to a state that doesn't allow same-sex marriage? I suspect there is another Supreme Court challenge in the making.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Facebook know you whether you use it or not

ZDnet is reporting about the shadow profile of each of us regardless of whether we use Facebook or not:

"Facebook's shadow profile data collection activities came to light Friday when the social network disclosed a bug fix. The security researchers who found the vulnerability, Packet Storm Security, say Facebook is compiling "frightening" dossiers on everyone possible, including people without Facebook accounts."

When computers start to crunch data provided by others it is frightening to realize what they can do.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Are we getting any benefit from the NSA spying on us?

Most of our privacy is gone. We have traded out privacy for benefits from Google, Facebook, and Twitter. What we haven't done is give our government the authority to observe us like lab specimens. We must be aware of what the government is doing before we can decide whether they have gone too far.

One of the worst problems, beside the government hiding from us, is that we are getting lousy return on investment from the information that the government is stealing from us. We are giving up all our privacy to the government and we have nothing to show for it.

CNN reports: "On Thursday, Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, Democrats who both serve on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and have access to the nation's most sensitive secrets, released a statement contradicting [the] assertion [that the NSA's surveillance programs have stopped many terrorist attacks]. "Gen. Alexander's testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA's bulk phone records collection program helped thwart 'dozens' of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods," the two senators said."

For giving up all our privacy we should have a government that catches everything that could threaten us in the entire world. What it looks like, however, is that we could trade the entire NSA program for a few friendly police officers and have just as effective of an outcome.

Fetal pain timeline

I am sad and a little discouraged that lawmakers are so ready to ignore science and victimize women in their mad rush for acceptance from the religious fringe.

The New Scientist reports: "The report concludes that fetuses under 24 weeks must be pain-free, because at that age the wiring doesn't exist to send pain signals from nerves around the body to the cortex, the area of the brain where pain is experienced. At which later point such connections form is unknown, so analgesia should still be considered after 24 weeks, the RCOG says."

An abortion at 23 weeks, a call for compassion

JUDY NICASTRO wrote in the New York Times: "I share my story in the hope that our leaders will be more responsible and compassionate when they weigh what it means to truly value the lives of women and children."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Democrats are winning

... Now if they just don't lay down and take a nap

I'm not sure that the Democrats will be able to pick up any seats at all in the house during the next election. They might be gaining ground now, but that probably won't hold. The only thing that will help the Democrats is if the Republicans continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Fortunately they seem more than willing to do just that.

The only problem is that the Democrats themselves are becoming a real problem. Without the Republican party to challenge them, the Democrats are really slipping toward problems. By the time they actually lose, the Republicans might actually have rebuilt their party to the point where they will control the United States for an extended period of time again.

The Daily Breast on how the Republicans are still fractured with no sign of it changing.

The legality of the NSA's actions.

Is the surveillance of the American people constitutional? I don't know. I was under the impression that it was, but the Washington Post has an article that argues against the constitutionality of the NSA's program.

Does Snowden deserve prosecution?

Glen Greenwald provides a welcome prospective about just who is being hurt by the government's prosecution of Edward Snowden.

Friday, June 14, 2013

From where is safety derived?

Everyone that isn't already set for life needs to read and think about the questions brought up by articles like this. What skills do we have? What skills do we need? What if the skill set needed by society changes after we are already trained -- or retrained? How will our families survive? How will we pay off the debt we acquire if our skills are no longer needed?

It seems too easy for people to sneer at the idea of safety nets, but what other alternative is there? If anyone can think of a better idea for protecting people from an uncertain future, I would love to hear it.

Sympathy for the Luddites -

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Professor Deandre's status still unknown

The step-on-a-piece-of-paper-with-Jesus'-name-on-it professor still hasn't found out if he will be able to continue with his career after a self-righteous student threatened him because he just loved Jesus so much.

Communications Professor Deandre Poole’s status at FAU is still unknown | University Press

Monday, June 10, 2013

Seven years between Bush and Obama

"If you've made a phone call in the past seven years, the NSA almost certainly is aware of it. It knows whom you called, how long you talked and maybe where you were. Seven years -- a period of serene, unbroken continuity between George W. Bush, who was correctly seen as an enemy of civil liberties, and Barack Obama, who was mistakenly taken (by me, among others) to be their friend."

Under NSA's Unblinking Eye | RealClearPolitics

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The NSA whistleblower

It seems like the Obama administration won't have to work too hard to find their latest leak. Edward Snowden has come forward and taken credit for uncovering the NSA's surveillance program against the American people.

It is a shame that someone has to go to such extreme lengths to try to protect the American people from the government that we elected.

It's a good story. I wish Mr. Snowden good luck, and I thank him for the service he has done for our country.

Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind revelations of NSA surveillance

We should have control of our information

I have often been at odds with people regarding privacy. I have always hated the way that the Patriot act has given the government an expanded view into our lives. At the same time, I don't think that all information needs to be kept from everyone. What I think is that we should have control over our own information. We should get to decide who has it, how it is used, and who they can share it with. Do you like the new Google or Apple tools? Is it worth enough to you to share your information with them? Fantastic! If not, then we should have the ability to keep our information to ourselves and away from the companies that just feel wasn't it to make money off of us.

Now government is a little different critter they have a legitimate need for some of the information, but they need to be watched closely because of that need. There should be no way that they can obtain our information completely in the dark. We shouldn't have to wonder what kind of information the government is collecting about us, we should know. We might not need to know how, bout we should know. Without knowing what the government is doing, there is no way we can stand up and say that they have gone too far.

And no, it doesn't matter which party is in control, all government employees should be held to the same standards. It shouldn't matter whether a Democrat or Republican is President any more than it matters whether your mailman is a Democrat or Republican.

America the passive -

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Okay Google, Get To Work

I just finished browsing Forbes website using Chrome beta on my Android phone. It was amazing! When I finished an article I could scroll up a little and a menu of related stories was available for me. I had read about this in the past, but this is the first time that I actually got to try it.

These are the kind of things that I want to be able to do. If someone has to have all my data, I want something in return for it. I want to be shown things that are of value to me that I would have missed on my own.

So far I think that Google has made more progress in this area than anyone else. They may be using my data for advertising, but they are giving me something of great value in return. As long as they don't turn evil, this is an exchange I am more than willing to make.

Link: the problem with metadata

Verizon and the N.S.A.: The Problem with Metadata : The New Yorker

Friday, June 7, 2013

Are You Feeling Secure in the Government's Ability to Maintain your Privacy?

With all the breaking news about servers being accessed and telephone calls being logged by the NSA, I can't help but look at this new potential database of biometric information with a touch of cynicism.

From a Wired article:
Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.
Together in one convenient place for the first time is everything anyone could possible want to track you, steal your identity, check on your government benefits, or any other piece of information about you stored in virtually any computer in the entire world. This database would be the keys to the kingdom.

What could possible go wrong? After all, we know that the government has always handled these types of sensitive information with the utmost privacy and security. Not once has any information ever been downloaded to a government laptop and then been stolen with thousands -- if not millions -- of names and social security numbers waiting to be taken. Not once has a government agency ever been hacked and supposedly secure files been taken directly from the government servers. Federal agencies are much better monitored and regulated than that.

But lets suppose for a moment the Department of Homeland Security has some kind of magic server that could never be hacked even with all the Chinese hackers in the world working on it. And let's further suppose that no employee that isn't authorized will ever gain access to the server and they will never make a stupid, human mistake like leaving their laptops to be stolen. Would that solve the problem?


Programs like this have a tendency to expand. What starts out as an expedient solution to a simple problem has a tendency to grow and mutate to the point where they aren't recognizable any longer.

Back to Wired:
For now, the legislation allows the database to be used solely for employment purposes. But historically such limitations don’t last. The Social Security card, for example, was created to track your government retirement benefits. Now you need it to purchase health insurance.
And purchasing health insurance isn't the only thing you need a Social Security card for. In my area you can't go to the doctor, get any help from the government, get a job, access your bank account through an ATM, verify that you are who you way you are over the phone, or anything else without a Social Security number.

Forming a database with all our information -- including everything necessary for a computer to recognize us -- couldn't possibly be a good idea. Not only should every civil liberties group be apposed to this legislation, every elected official and every voter should be against it regardless of party. There just isn't any good to come out of this for anyone.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Blackberry Messenger: too little too late

It looks like we can strike the Blackberry Messenger from the list of competition for a unified messaging service. They just announced that it won't run on many of the current handsets that the public uses, and I haven't heard anything about it running on desktops at all.

Apple Insider reports:
When it launches this summer, BBM is expected to be a free download, and it will be available for devices running at least iOS 6 or Android 4.0.
 That is a decent portion of the available ecosystem in the smartphone community, but it still leaves many android phones behind.

In the mean time, Google has already released their entry into the messenger race that is in the lead of all the competition. Google Hangouts can run on almost all android handsets, iphone handsets, and can even run on any computer that can run the Chrome browser.

I have used Blackberry Messenger in the past, and I had hoped that it might be a viable messing system for the people I communicate with. But in light of this news, it seems that Google Hangouts is not only the best alternative, but the only alternative.

Hope Remains

... and that's enough for a start.

The Audacity of Hope isn't just a book by President Obama, it is what's left of the Democratic party following some of the possible missteps by the White House. The Republican attack machine has been serviced and is ready for four more years, and the White House seems intent to feed the Republican beast.

Each entry into the conspiracy theorists handbook has about the same credence as the Roswell coverup. Despite this, the Republicans continue to charge ahead in their attempt to paint President Obama as worse than President Nixon. But due to some massive missteps by the White House, about the only thing the Democratic party has left is the hope that President Obama is as clean as we believe him to be.

One of the things that is making President Obama's White House look so bad is the fact that it is constantly shrouded in secrecy. Many of the things that the Republicans are trying to make scandals out of appear so much worse because the White House isn't being transparent. Many of the conspiracies that the Republicans are trying to push could have been sidetracked if the White House had been more forthcoming before some reporter somewhere happened to break the story.

Benghazi? A known risk when working in dangerous territory, and something that should have been studied to make sure future loss of life was minimized. Just as every such incident of similar instances should have been studied in the past as well. Total take on the situation? A slight appearance of inappropriateness due to the way that national security works.

The IRS targeting Tea Party groups? A known problem with large organizations whether they are private or governmental. Other than destroying the IRS, which would flush the United States down the toilet, the only know solution to these types of problems is openness and regulation. We need inspectors watching the IRS to make sure that they are treating everyone fair and equally. I suspect that the Tea Party groups that were targeted deserved to be targeted, but the Democratic groups that were skating around the same tax laws should have been targeted just the same. Openness and a desire to regulate and fix the problem would have gone a long ways toward keeping the American people behind the White House.

Targeting the Associated Press reporters? This one is even more clear than the previous examples. Why is the Obama administration targeting the Associated Press reporters? There is a reason, but since no one discussed it until reporters broke the story, it makes the White House look like they had something to hide. If they were so intent on plugging leaks then everyone in America should have know that they were trying to plug leaks and how important it was to the American people that the leaks be plugged. We should have been given the information so that we would have had an intuitive feel as to whether actions of this magnitude were required.

So far the Obama administration has been virtually spotless in their actions and left the Republicans running around looking like conspiracy mongers. But remember, the goal of the Presidency shouldn't be to make the opposition look like fools, but the further the prosperity of the American people. We don't need an administration that can make the Republicans look like fools, we need an administration that we can get behind. We need an administration that the people will follow even when the Republicans are rolling in the mud. We need an administration that America supports enough to not only vote for, but to stand behind enough that they vote for Democratic senators and representatives so that the Republicans can no longer obstruct the path to the future.

Become as transparent as the campaign promises and show the Democrats, Republicans, and Independents how to govern properly. Trust the American people; they aren't as bad as the Tea Party makes them look. Lead the way to a progressive future and trust the people to give you the House and Senate so we can all get there.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Michelle Obama Makes the Wrong Choice

Despite how things turned out, Michelle Obama made the wrong choice when she made the crowd choose between her and a heckler. While there was almost no chance that the crowd would choose the heckler, Mrs. Obama still allowed the heckler too much control of the event. Mrs. Obama didn't leave a single impression from her speech; instead, the heckler got the only soundbite that made the news.

The Celebrity Cafe stated:
The Huffington Post reports that Sturtz is an activist for the group GetEQUAL. Her decision to heckle was based on the lack of laws restricting federal contractors from hiring based on gender identity. Sturtz told the Huffington Post that she did not initially plan to interrupt the First Lady, but was inspired by Obama's speech to say something.