Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On the heals of a previous idea about putting body cameras on entertainment agents, I feel compelled to suggest another fix -- although this one is more of a social fix for a social problem, thus providing a much needed "balance". Yeah, that's supposed to be funny to those who know me all too well...

What To Do About Russian Election Meddling Using Fake News?

There's a lot of hand-wringing about this subject. In my opinion, part of the solution here is really simple.

Here's a proposed solution, using Facebook as a hypothetical example. The idea centers around reversing the flow of social influence that the peddlers of this propaganda intended.

Facebook and the US Intelligence community, acting on data that is by the day becoming clearer, have the fake news ads and memes. Specifically, they know what ads and fake news stories that were shipped with the intention of swaying opinions in the election. They have also got another treasure trove -- a whole bank of real US citizens that still have the lingering "shares" in the history of their feed.

So what's to stop Facebook from hijacking a user's feed, and putting up an un-deletable, Facebook-driven "post"? One that says, in effect: "NOTE: User John Doe shared the following Fake News ad on their feed on September of 2016. This Post has been traced to a hostile foreign entity." It should appear for at least 2-3 days and after that until they delete the actual post off of their feed. There should be tools visible to the user, such that they can easily delete the fake news post. Again, in either case, this post will appear to all of the users friends for at least 2-3 days. And yes, commenting on the post should be allowed. It should be group commenting, such that all users that were exposed across multiple people will see the commentary.

They should appear in serial fashion in my opinion. Once the user has had the blow of 2-3 days of one fake ad NOTE, the next NOTE will appear. It should happen over and over, in other words, for the special type of repeat offender that got away with sharing propaganda in our last election.

No doubt, this will lead to some people deleting their accounts. In that case, Facebook should continue to leave up the NOTEs for that user, with the added caption "John Doe has since deleted his account.", leaving off the unsaid portion "in shame". No doubt, facebook itself will face a serious backwash of unpopularity. To those that would wring their hands about this hit on facebook's popularity, the simple point that our democracy is being hijacked by a foreign entity should be provided as balance.

In the case of Twitter -- the same thing. The account will "tweet" out an apology text indicating what was linked to their feed.

Reddit is a bit more complex. There are users and there are sub-reddits. For Reddit, whole sub-reddits that were hijacked will do penance, and the user accounts that posted them will be called out in the text. The moderators will not have control -- any post traced to a foreign government will get exposure. It will appear on the feed for that sub, and no moderation tools will be able to remove it.

No doubt, this will make sites like Facebook, reddit and twitter a bit more somber. No doubt, some idiots will cry foul of "free speech" -- no one is not saying you can't share fake news. We're just saying that when that news has been traced to a hostile government, you might end up with egg on your face.

It would be a form of digital penance for the sites that helped Russia sway the election. I'm saying it would be extremely easy to implement. I'm thinking sooner rather than later, as the Russians are all to willing to have another go at this.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

There's a simple technological fix for the Weinstein's of this world, but it ain't pretty...

Often as a tech guy I slide into seeing problems as having fixes rooted in circuitry and software. I'm aware of this internal bias -- more than most people like me. I reflexively laugh now when I think about a tech solution to a social problem, as often I'm so engrossed with the nifty tech being suggested that I miss the silliness of the idea. On rare occasion though, I get to see someone actually implement the idea (better than what I was thinking in all cases).

So bear with me here, while I suggest a technological fix to the Weinstein's of this world.

We are increasingly using police body cameras to keep everyone honest as it pertains to law enforcement. I don't have a good gauge of the interaction, but I'm guessing that more often than not, the perpetrators of crime get caught on police body camera doing stupid stuff at a much higher ratio than the police. We just get to see the law enforcment mistakes more often because it is more newsworthy when it happens. The exception here: The TV show "COPS". There we get to see what a typical cop goes through. I don't know if you watch the show, but the more I watch it, the less faith I have in general humanity. I pity the long hours of mostly thankless work those men and women in uniform have to endure. It's informative, but depressing. I can only watch so much, honestly, before I turn it off and thank God there are people willing to do the work like that because I'd have a lot less patience, I'm certain.

The main point I'm making here is this -- police sit in a valuable service to our society and their actions being recorded, good bad or indifferent, add value. We, as a society, are able to review and improve. I.E., weed out the people that shouldn't have a badge and exonerate the ones that were simply executing their duty when perpetrators attempt to falsely accuse them. The simple truth is that the recordings give us more faith that the right thing is going to happen. It keeps people more honest. It provides a valuable record of activities that might have gone otherwise, ... South ...

Body cameras are proven technology and fairly easy to deploy. And yes, I'm suggesting that if you're an agent, working with people in the movie or TV or related entertainment industries, and you have a modicum of power, you're going to have to register as a particular kind of worker and you're going to have to wear the same stuff we ask the police to wear. Everything you're doing and saying needs to be recorded when it involves vulnerable people. It needs to be stored somewhere in a registered archive that can only be accessed by a governing body when any accusations are made. Any interaction with actors will have to be recorded by your body camera. It will be on at all times and turning it off while in the company of an actor will be taken as a sign of guilt by omission of evidence.

Like I said before, I'm not a huge fan of tech being used to solve problems that are rooted in human or social behaviors. This is a bit of an exception though. I've thought about it, and it makes sense. Just read the headlines -- a lot of people are throwing up their hands like there isn't anything that can be done with this kind of systemic abuse. Well, here's something fairly easy to deploy and honestly I can't see a reason not to do it.

I'm sure some agents out there are balking at the idea, but take a trip through a few abuse stories -- maybe it won't sound like such a crazy idea after all.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A shot of truth from the mouth of a dead man

You should know that I'm going to start this post with a quote from an atheist:

I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or 
grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a 
service and information economy; when nearly all the 
key manufacturing industries have slipped away to 
other countries; when awesome technological powers 
are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing 
the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the 
people have lost the ability to set their own agendas 
or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, 
clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our 
horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable 
to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, 
we slide, almost without noticing, 
back into superstition and darkness.
Hits pretty hard these days. Here's some more frightening text, from an article posted just last week:

This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit

Our cable news driven "Sound Bite" mentality is starting to wear thin -- right through what might have at one time been the logic circuits of our brains.

Chances are you are not aware of your own tilt towards some kind of internal bias. Maybe you think all people of a particular party are wholesome while the rest are enemies of the state. Or of your own belief in Christianity for example. Maybe you stupidly think that everyone who professes a leaning toward say being a democrat is somehow totally in favor of all regulation, no matter how bloated or stupid that regulation is. Spoiler alert -- I lean left, I'm for more regulation of our financial / wall street institutions. Yet still, I'm not about to believe something stupid like "all regulations are great!". I'll leave that judgement for the idiots that have to simplify everything without getting a close look at the real problems.

I have a bias -- you have a bias. Sadly, our biases are not necessarily equal. Let's take science for example. I was describing the general theory of relativity to a Christian acquaintance one day and he interrupted me -- "I don't believe that." His bias toward accepting the general theory of relativity came from an inherent belief that things must be as described to him in the Bible or -- who the heck knows? I sure didn't have the ability to reach into his cranium and force his puny mental faculties into order. I tried though.

Me: Did you use GPS today to navigate anywhere?

Relativity Disbeliever Yeah, why?

Me: Good thing your GPS "believes in the theory of relativity", because it's kinda core science behind how it works...

The point is this -- a bias against scientific discoveries or science in general is forming in our country. People in power are able to set real policy regardless of what is being measured, and Sagan was right on with his prediction. Our biases are being used to build real political action, and it's not good. It's not good for our world today and it sure as heck isn't good for the world our grandchildren are growing up in.

I urge you to find more diverse news sources if you don't understand just how bad it is to "not believe" in things like Climate science -- hell, how about birth control for crying out loud? What just went down in Texas is a harbinger here -- they cut funding for teen pregnancy programs and -- guess what? Yeah, teen pregnancy is higher in Texas. The only good news out of this is that overall the nationwide trend is toward lower teenage pregnancy -- hardly comforting in the context of the desire for some to cut the funding though. So maybe you think people that make immoral decisions like having sex out of wedlock need to be punished? You think you're morally superior by forcing a new kid into the world with a teenage mom? Does that make sense to anyone?

Oh, that's right, we were talking about how the inability to distinguish between what feels good and what's true, weren't we?

Carry on.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Peril Sensitive Sunglasses...

Long ago, there was this guy -- Douglas Adams was his name.

Don't Panic!

I learned about Douglas from my brother Dan. He talked about this crazy story called "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (HG2G) I remember him telling me about it -- a story where the world ends and this one remaining human, Arthur Dent, has to hitchhike his way from there on out. He's one of only two remaining humans in the universe. Read the book (don't watch any of the movies, BTW -- just my opinion).

I remember it distinctly, because at the time I thought: "What a depressing story". Amazingly though, I would eventually read the HG2G. Adams would become one of my favorite authors and his work would have a profound impact upon me. If you haven't read it by now, I sincerely must prod you. You see, it was written before the Internet -- and it supplies cultural beacons and jargon that we take for granted today -- stuff that underlies much of what you perceive as the Internet.

Stuff like universal translation, wireless transmission of data and complete mayhem related to an ever-changing world are so broadly outlined (And more importantly, lampooned) in HG2G.

And then there's the Glasses

One of the characters in the book has a really neat pair of glasses -- they're sensitive to peril. You read that right -- they can tell when danger is near. The character (and here the reference is both descriptive and formal), Zaphod Beeblebrox, wears the glasses because he doesn't want to freak out when peril is near.

So, what do they do? When danger is nearby, the glasses black out the lenses. That way the wearer can't be alarmed by the imminent peril approaching. This works wonders for Zaphod. You'll have to read the book for more on the subject. I can vouch that the story and dialog are legendary.

And then there's this thing today...

I find that there's a moral equivalent to these glasses today. That there's a whole section of the population that's been willingly blinded by obvious peril. That they're wearing these glasses, ignoring the obvious markers for eminent collision with reality.

I just finished watching "The Big Short", for reference. If you get a moment, it's on Netflix, and very much worth the time. The main takeaway from the movie is that there were a very small number of people that could see the eminent collapse of the housing bubble (and all of the derivative instruments attached). No one around them wanted to see what they saw. Very few listened to them. They talked a lot in the movie about how it's very hard to believe in a falacy when you don't want think that the obvious (and depressing) outcome is possible.

The population around them were wearing their glasses. They were willingly closing their eyes and effectively wishing the big money monster away -- all the while, some people with calculators and a willingness to stare ugly reality in the face were bracing themselves for the obvious collision. In the movie, they end up making some cash by the way -- although they portray them as reluctant heroes.

What you have today is similar. You have a group of people that won't face the obvious. They want to believe that somehow the ugly monster in the room is just going to get tamed at the last minute. That the moral deficiencies are somehow worth it in the context of the greater good (to be clear here -- for one brand of belief versus another brand). That the day of reckoning will not come.

These people haven't taken the time to do some simple research into the past track record. They have willingly put their glasses on, ignoring the obvious peril -- hopeful for some magic to make it all get leveled out before the plane crashes into the mountain.

The problem with Peril Sensitive Glasses: They Don't Work

Like the vast majority of the people in "The Big Short", people are going to find out that willful blindness can lead to an embarrassing and surprising failure. As comic as the analogy is, it breaks down rather badly when applied to real-world situations.

Zaphod's Peril-sensitive glasses are about to fail. The light of truth is slowly uncovering more and more things these days. The false narrative that many hoped to project is being exposed. For some, it was a beautiful lie. So much power and promise from something -- just a few minor issues could be overlooked if everyone would just hang onto those glasses! Mind you though -- the glasses are about to fail, still.

I find it ironic, still. I wouldn't know about those darn glasses were it not for some curiosity and some prodding by my brother. I gave up on the notion that the plot lines of the story would be depressing (as crazy as it sounds, HG2G is extremely funny, albeit in a rather dark and chaotic way). I was willing to look past my expectations and I'm richer for it.

I stomped my own pair of Zaphod's glasses, in other words, and never really looked back.

There's more irony here, but I've talked enough. The world is set to make it's own chaotic and darkly humorous story, and that's enough, don't you think?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Is the Pope Catholic and Is There Such A Thing As A Moderate?

I know this is a hard question for some of you to ponder, but imagine if there are more than two sides to an issue. Imagine if it's possible to understand different points of view. That, even in 2016, there are some of us that are moderate in our point of view?

Is the Pope Catholic?

A recent facebook post by one of my more conservative friends made a rather hilarious point -- it showed Hillary and Sanders in graphic form and then said, in a nutshell: How come the party that's for more diversity does not have an African American guy and Woman on the stage, like the Grand Ole' Party does?

Ah, so simple it seems. Let me explain what's going on here. Yeah, it's only my opinion, but after you read through it, I wager some of you will be nodding your heads.

The idea that's being presented here -- that the GOP is more diverse -- It's not a bad point were it not for the basic disingenuity, that the
biggest lump of supporters for the most popular GOP candidate are openly embracing racism and Muslim-o-phobia. And, while we're pointing that out, we may as well mention that the GOP is pretty much waging an open war on less advantaged women's access to health care.

Still, I'm sure my "conservative" friend felt really smug posting this idiocy. What gets under my skin here is that both parties have the tendency to simplify the discussion. Examples abound Dems: It's about race. It's about Wall Street vs Main Street. It's about the "Black Vote". Lets offer "College for everyone".

A lot of talk about making college free without addressing the simple truth that lately a lot of degrees are worthless. A lot of "politically correct" speech without addressing the obvious fact that the whole PC movement has gone way over the top. Face it, Donald Trump wouldn't be getting a lot of attention were it not for people being so tired of PC speech.

What's Wrong with Being Politically Correct?

People are tired of watching what they say. The general population wants someone who will "tell it like it is". Even if it means ignoring the basic reality that the speaker is a horrible person. More to the point, I really think Donald is speaking his mind -- and that his mind is unfortunately a maze of twisty passages that lead to racism and xenophobia.

Then, there's the so-called "other side" of the isle. The Clinton's are making outright shameful jabs at the Sanders' campaign that basically say he's trying to shame the Obama legacy. This is a great political stance -- by twisting Sanders' words on the subject, the veiled suggestion is that his complaints about the growing disparity between the poor, the shrinking middle class and the obviously glaring gap to the people in the top .1 percent -- those complaints are, like, dissing our "black" president. Without the PC movement, I suspect a lot of this would be spotted for what it is -- tripe.

The Pope as Anti-Trump

Then you have the "Anti-Trump" Pope comments.

Look, the first problem here is that for years the GOP has been courting the religious right as part of their voting strategy. This is extremely similar to the way the DNC courts the so-called minority and African-American vote. Similar, but way more dangerous as the following will lay bare.

First, if you're going to go after the religious vote, you're going to have problems running a Mormon candidate. It's going to make things sticky, is what I'm saying. It was great to get the good old church bump when it got W Bush elected -- I'm sure it felt awesome.

The problems this caused though, when Romney entered the fray were many. For one, a lot of hardcore Christians don't consider Mormons as religious peers. (Source: I'm a Christian.) By pandering in this manner the GOP had hobbled itself in unexpected (and wildly strategic) ways.

The we have the problem Pope, he's got some bad things to say about Donald Trump. Now, a lot of American Christians are not Catholic -- but that hardly matters. The Pope, he's a pretty popular guy these days. Pope Francis has been a very charismatic figure and has garnered a lot of admiration that extends beyond your everyday Christian for that matter. When he directly slammed the Donald it was a
subject of ire for a host of the GOP faithful.

"The Pope shouldn't be so damn political" was the general consensus. I have to point this out to those who identify with the GOP: Your party has been pandering to the religious right as part of its political strategy. Because of this, you need to seriously consider any negative statements regarding the holy figure for half of the Christian coalition in the US. That he should suck it up when it comes to his political views, after the GOP has spent all that time "winning" the church vote -- think about the problems this caused. To be fair, the GOP officially didn't really do this -- just a lot of their members who don't seem to "get" the general political strategy as it pertains to their favorite GOP brand.

But hey, you can kind of discount this by talking about how you're really dependent upon the "Evangelical vote". Note that they didn't say
"non-Catholic", since that sounds much more inclusive.

The GOP was playing with fire, and it got burned. They can't control the Pope (or even Trump for that matter). They're kind of in-between a rock and a hard place. This wouldn't have happened were it not for the incongruous religious strategy they pursued for years.

Time to take the lumps and think hard about simply pandering to the public good instead of loading the vote via artificial means. "God Votes with the GOP!" Is the related phrase. Does he really? "God's Own Party" Is it? If so, then probably your thoughts on how the Pope should shut up about political ideas are kinda misplaced.

Maybe take some time to read the verses in the bible about the Good Samaritan, and the parts where Jesus talks about how the meek shall inherit the earth.

Similar idiocy: "The Hispanic vote." Is there such a thing? The assumption is that the Democratic party is pandering to "The Hispanics". This lumps people from Puerto Rico with Cubans, Mexicans and a host of others that speak Spanish. Talk to a few different "Hispanics" though and you may find yourself confused a bit. Turns out that lumping everyone together like this is really not good except for when you're doing exit polling. I'd argue that it's a veiled form of racism, in an oblique way.

Full disclosure here, My Mom is 100% American -- born in Puerto Rico. Before you embarrass yourself, and ask if she's been naturalized, bear in mind that Puerto Rico is a US Territory. That means that my Mom was a US citizen from birth. She, like everyone else born in the US and Puerto Rico, or Guam and other territories for that matter, is a natural born US citizen.

So am I part of the "The Hispanic vote"? -- ask the Dems, and I am. Ask me though, and I'm likely to shrug. I never really thought about it much until lately.

What is this thing called Moderation?!?

Ask how I identify myself and I'm more likely to point out that there used to be this thing in our country called "a moderate" -- a person that has a balanced view of things. Someone who carefully weighs facts. Someone who tries to see more than "both sides" of issues. Note: There are often
many sides to an issue. Ask the right or left, though, and you will get a simplified view of just about any major issue. Often, in the act of this
simplification, the idea gets distorted till it doesn't align with anything in reality.

I'm hardly compelled to vote one way or another. I'm going to make a choice. I will say that I sincerely doubt that Trump is getting my vote, but it's not related so much to the whole "Build a Wall" thing as the fact that I just can't see him being very presidential. He certainly doesn't share my values. I've been married now for going on 3 decades to the same woman.

More to the point, I hardly see how insulting your opposition proves anything but that you make a great reality TV star, and (I hope) not a president.

These days, I'm often seen less as a moderate, but it's hardly due to any change in my political stance. Since the Democrats and Republicans have
both been taking so much PAC and special interest money -- since the Dems have slid so far to the right -- I'm now a "liberal" from most people's point of view.

I've had many discussions with my hard-core Republican friends about this. They can only see one side of a problem (oddly enough, it's often from the perspective of most Fox news pundits). If I point out the obvious logical fallacy of an argument, I get push back like "I don't
know if I agree with that." (when I'm quoting some hard statistic). Or, worse, I get a confused stare. Like "how can that be". They know their talking points -- they simply don't have any real data to back it up.

Half of Americans Are Moochers. Really?

Let's revisit an example from 2012: the whole Half of Americans are the "moocher class". Go and look about this one if you doubt me -- the biggest chunk of this so-called "moocher class" -- retired people on social security. That's my Mom and Dad who worked all their lives, in case you didn't know. The next biggest slice of "moochers" -- people serving in the US military. Seems along the way to building the whole "moocher class" lie, they left out that it was really about who was not paying net positive taxes, which is a bad way to slice things -- unless you're
doing a smoke and mirrors lie job to the public. In that case, it's great to quote stats like this over and over until no one questions it.

And, here's the kicker -- you get people saying this to you, and when you point out the most obvious fallacy about it, they always fall back to ignorance. "I don't think those numbers are right, but I'm not all that familiar with the data.", is the condensed version of what I get to hear when I start to push back on this.

Look, if you don't know the "real numbers" then please do us all a favor and don't spout the repeated lies that you don't know for bullshit as well. If you're going to go on and on about how 50% of the people are not paying taxes and are mooching off the government, and you can't refute the reality behind the lie when it's presented, have the decency to apologize for being ignorant. And do me a favor, if you're in the military and quote this stat, have the decency to "admit" you're part of the "moocher class" you were complaining about. Note: I strongly don't think this to be the case, but then again, I wasn't the one spouting this lie -- a lie that most people now recognize was behind the last big GOP defeat. I say this because of the last few people to repeat this one to me, 3 of them were either in the military at the time or retired from it.

At least go back and study the reality of the numbers and either come back and argue with renewed vigor, or apologize for being wrong. It's called logic and reason -- we got really far as a race of people relying on this stuff for a long time. Maybe continuing the tradition will be a good thing for everyone is what I'm suggesting here.

Another example-- the Iraq war. A lot of people want to talk about that war these days. How it was or was not a mistake for example. I'd like to focus on something very few people seem to care about -- how it was paid for.

The fact is that we ran up a huge debt to wage that war. We did it mostly on the Chinese credit card. This has no bearing on prior wars where the funding was often discussed along with the war. So, for example, war bonds during WW2. God forbid you point out that the Viet Nam war had a "war tax" to pay for it -- that sounds preposterous!

But it's true. Go and look if you don't believe me.

More to the point -- Tell me I'm wrong! Older people reading this will nod their heads -- they had to pay the tax, so they know. No one wants to hear this. They want magical thinking. Wars apparently are free. Building up the military -- that's also something you don't argue about. The money to do that? Must be free.

Fact: Funding the largest military in the world, hands down -- that's not free. (That's the US Military, just in case you had any doubts). It's a huge bill. One that no one seems to think about. Universal health care? Too expensive. War? Free. No one in the media challenges a statement about increased military spending being suggested by the candidates on the GOP fence.

But suggest that you want to finance college tuition (like Sanders has) -- and the questions come out. What a socialist, he wants the US to be like other countries -- I get it. But let's be serious here, the cost of education these days is tanking a lot of kids coming out of college. It's hobbling their real chances of ever building a middle class lifestyle.

By a similar token though, on the left, the idea that a public education is an end-all ticket to success is not questioned.

It should be, because obviously there's something really wrong with the focus of a lot of the institutions. Note: I strongly believe in higher education. What I don't believe: It's for everyone. Another thing I don't believe in -- Higher educational systems that don't produce people that can get a job with their degree. If the school is simply turning out people with 4 year degrees that end up working at the checkout counter at Walmart, it needs to be Shut Down. It certainly shouldn't be getting guaranteed loans for its "students" on the government/
student-indentured-servant dime.

While we're on the subject, I don't believe that politically correct speech is doing anyone any good in this country (something that a lot of Trump supporters are very happy to point out -- and they're right on that one). Also: I don't believe that a lot of the degrees people are going to school for are in alignment with the needs of the market or industry. Somehow things have gotten unhinged and there seems to be no talk of rebooting our educational system and making it functional again.

These are two very different views of the complex idea that is "higher education" -- and get this -- they reside alongside each other in my head!

What about all that Republican Diversity?

So back to the beginning here -- so why, if it's not in the name of diversity was the GOP running Fiorina and Carson? There must be some reason -- what could it be? I gotta note here, the fact that Rubio and Cruz were Cuban Hispanic didn't get mentioned, that would go against the other message of the party at this time. Spoiler alert -- the woman and the African American both drop out of the race, so regardless of how it might appear for debate consumption, the GOP is back to pretty much old white guys in the end.

Here's a thought: There are just some things that Carson can say about Obama (like he's not raised "black" so he just isn't genuine) that would sound really a lot more racist coming from the likes of Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. There are things that Fiorina could say about Hillary Clinton that would sound really sexist coming from anyone else. IMHO -- There's your real reason. I don't believe for a second either of those people could make it to the top seat in the Republican lineup. Not even runner up for that matter.

I certainly don't believe anyone in the GOP establishment thought so either.

But they sure can get away with some really crappy attack material while they are on the "campaign trail" to be president. I'll bet some strategists saw this potential and said "Let's include Carson and Fiorina -- they can run interference and say lies that can't easily be spouted by anyone else.

Will we ever truly see a candidate that could change Washington from the seat of the Oval office? I seriously doubt it's going to happen in our
lifetimes. I wish otherwise. I want my grand-kids to grow up in an America where the Middle Class is not only growing -- it's something to be admired (like it used to be). A bunch of people these days are worshiping money and power, forgetting what an honor it used to be to grow up here in the Middle. The oligarchy that has emerged is dangerous, and it's not going to be a country of opportunity like it was more-so when I was growing up.

I have different views than most these days. I don't think we're in good hands and I don't see how we're going to succeed until we get the money out of politics -- anything else that talks about any other issue is just political pandering. Whether it's to the African American, Hispanic or Women "vote", or whether it's to the idea that it's all about what God wants on the GOP side, our Democracy really isn't one when at the bottom of both parties all you find is a big stack of cash.

Again, two radically different views of our political system. Again, guess what, they're alongside each other (happily) in my head.

Why? Because I'm --get this-- moderate.

My liberal friends are shaking their heads. I've said things that offend them, I'll bet. I'll also wager that my conservative friends are shouting "No, you're a damn liberal!"

Sure. And the Pope's not Catholic -- he's a member of God's Own Party.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Whatever Happened to the 15 Hour Work Week?

I came across an interesting thought recently, and darned if it didn't hit home as to what's happened to up-end our society. The author basically talks a great deal about "meaningless" or "worthless" jobs and the impact on our social well-being. While I don't agree with the term "meaningless" in this context -- lesser value is more likely the term -- I can't help but agree on a fundamental level. Below is the paragraph that hits the nail pretty hard on the head:

Even more perverse, there seems to be a broad sense that this is the way things should be. This is one of the secret strengths of right-wing populism. You can see it in Britain, when tabloids whip up resentment against transport workers for paralysing London during contract disputes: the very fact that the workers can paralyse London shows that their work is actually necessary, but this seems to be precisely what annoys people. It's even clearer in the US, where Republicans have had remarkable success mobilising resentment against schoolteachers or car workers (and not, significantly, against the school administrators or car industry managers who actually cause the problems) for their supposedly bloated wages and benefits. It's as if they are being told: ''But you get to teach children! Or make cars! You get to have real jobs! And on top of that you have the nerve to also expect middle-class pensions and healthcare?''

The piece that you have to understand is that productivity has been on the rise for decades -- and yet middle class compensation and benefits have been on the decline. I can't put it as eloquently as the author (I really have to recommend that your read this one -- the link is at the bottom).

I work with a lot of people who at the end of the day do such meaningful work -- and I see this same group demonized as if somehow their getting paid to do this work at a reasonable rate is a burden to our country. The truth is that their work is some of the most worthwhile work -- like a school teacher or a car mechanic -- because if they didn't do it, our nation wouldn't be what it is today and certainly wouldn't be strong. I think of my friends from high school (one in particular, you know who you are) who ended up as school teachers and how they're certainly not compensated for the value they've brought our lives -- and the difference in pay compared to say, someone who's an investment banker.

While the author of this piece may have not chosen his words carefully enough, he's certainly hit home on the front of the mismatch in value our society has at its core. The end effect is demoralizing and insidious. I'm again thankful that I'm paid to do something I love.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/national/public-service/the-modern-phenomenon-of-nonsense-jobs-20130831-2sy3j.html#ixzz2j6X6Lt2d

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tea Party legislators to enter Combine Demolition Derby

Fresh off the heels of their recent stunt to shut down the world economy, trash the US recovery and play roulette with the government, Congress has staged their next event: Entering the first annual US Congressional Combine Demolition Derby. http://www.ohgizmo.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/05/combine_demo_derby.jpg
Members of congress that comprise the Tea party coalition were quick to explain their reasoning. "Look, there's nothing like slamming some heavy metal together to de-stress after pulling billions of dollars out of the US economy."  Quipped Senator Ted Cruz, who will be judging the event.  "Plus, it's frickin' AWESOME." 

Congressman John Boehner was more descriptive: "Look, you get an adrenalin rush, playing chicken with large heavy objects that are normally meant to be constructive in nature -- there's nothing like it.   The closest we can come to the experience is combine demolition derby."  Sources familiar with his district claim he's chosen a bright orange Allis-Chalmers model, to best match his pallor. 

Others were quick to criticize the action.  "This is a blatant waste of tax payer dollars" quipped house minority leader Nancy Pelosi.  "Although it's obviously cheaper than watching them tank the economy, this is no excuse."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My only complaint with my new Ford ... and it's a Microsoft Product at the core of the problem.

In may of last year I bought a 2011 Shelby Cobra GT500.   It's been a great car with one glaring flaw: Microsoft Sync.

The irony abounds.   I have built my career on non-Microsoft products (Linux, if you must know, but that's hardly a surprise to regular readers of my blog).   All of the desktop and phone products I run have either Linux as their core OS or Android.

So why, after all of this, does my favorite car have to ship with a lame Microsoft product?!?   Ford, please do yourselves and your buyers a good deed -- and end your relationship with Microsoft.   Their logo on your product is tarnishing it.   I've even thought of ways to remove the stupid Microsoft sync logo off of the dashboard (one of my reddit /r/Mustang friends suggested buying a Shelby plaque that -- no joke here -- goes right over it).

The first thing I do when I get a new laptop is -- you guessed it -- remove the Microsoft sticker on the laptop, and find the nearest urinal to affix it to -- looks great on the vertical chrome post underneath the flush lever, by the way.

Seriously -- why Ford?   What the hell were you thinking?   People don't associate Microsoft with quality.   They are very much lately more than ever associating the Ford brand with quality -- this is not a step in the right direction.

Just last week, friends over from Australia -- took them for a ride in the Cobra.   Too bad I couldn't play any of the music I had on a thumb drive in the car -- because Sync was hung tighter than Dick's hat band (Dicks hat band, for those not in the know, is very tight -- something like 2000 PSI at last measurement).

So, some swearing, reading on-line forums, etc -- I finally figure out how to reboot the damn thing in my car so I can listen to some tunes on a trip.   It's the first and only thing that's ever gone wrong with my Cobra.

Ford -- I hope you're listening -- ditch this crap (or at least cover the damn logo) -- it's not rocket science here.   Playing music and picking up phone calls over bluetooth should be one of those features that "just work".

Note:  Microsoft stuff in my not-so-humble opinion here (and I know I'm not alone)  rarely "just works".

Oh, and Ford -- the rest of the car is frickin' awesome!


Thursday, April 05, 2012

Complifying Columbine

*Note: I updated this blog post almost 6 years later in Feb of 2018 to address my horrible grammar, misspellings and rampant ability to randomly compose thoughts.   It should be more readable now.   I did my best to stay true to my original thoughts.  

Recently I read with some interest Death wish: How did America become the land of the high school massacre? and its conclusions.

Besides this obvious (to me) fallacy, the article gets one basic fact wrong, and that's the venue for the shooting.So what if a lot of these shootings take place on college campuses (one of the main points)?  The article seems to leaves out work place shootings, for example. This problem (gun violence) is obviously not just about high school massacres or a simple choice of venue.

But hey, it's simpler to make the shooting seem to be just about one or two problems.  It makes the story easier to digest and it fits nicely on a page. What are a few deaths in a different country anyway?

In any case, I read the article and found myself agreeing with some of the points the author made.
This problem (Columbine-like shootings) has been making me think for years.  The Columbine massacre had a grave impact on me -- positive and negative. How it could have a positive impact I'll leave to the end of this post. It saddened me and immediately made me wonder just what had gone wrong with our society at the time.

Just like all of us remember where we were when important events went down, I clearly remember driving to work and hearing the story on the radio. I remember stopping my car in shock and listening to the story. I remember thinking that something was going gravely wrong with our society and culture.

Americans, like the author of this article, want simple answers to the questions that haunt them. Want to know how September 11 happened? It was Muslim terrorists who "hate our freedom". This has been further simplified: now it's just "Muslims".

I'm sure this kind of journalism sells advertising and attracts valuable eyeballs.   But the tragedies and the dead we bury deserve better than this kind of simplified hack job in my opinion. . This article, like others, offers the reader the satisfying whiff of sanctimonious truth -- but like a lot of seductive copy, it has obvious logical fallacies.

Truly Honoring the Dead

The dead deserve the truth.   Often when something big happens and our news media gets engaged things get simplified. The truth is very complex, but it gets compressed, simplified and dumbed down for mass consumption on the cable and other news networks.

Right after the Columbine massacre, the media kicked into high gear, citing the perpetrators as being a part of something called the "trench coat mafia". This was a story that petered out later as it wasn't all that relevant. Then it was all about how they were outcasts and bullied. Then it was the fact that they played violent video games. Lots of theories came and went as things progressed.  Each simple explanation fell over like a weak straw man as seemingly none of them could explain any of the brutality that had happened.

I myself wondered at the time how two kids could give up so much life.  They gave up their life and that of their classmates for such a short trip to the end.  Oh, and the joy of watching some pipe bombs explode (or not). They weren't all that good at making bombs it turns out.

I began to wonder about how this could happen.  What kind of community were they involved in? What kind of local support group was not functioning that they could get so far off track? What could have been so wrong to let such gruesome events transpire?

People at that time also pointed to our gun culture. For a great illustration of how far we've become desensitized to violence, check out Michael Moore's hack job on the event, Bowling for Columbine -- it's an entertaining piece that focuses on our propensity to violence as well.   Just like the author of the reference article that starts this post it's all about just one issue.

Unfortunately, despite a lot of witty observations, Bowling for Columbine offers very little in the way of conclusion. Or even plot, for that matter. It certainly doesn't do a good job of prescribing solutions.
I'd argue in deep retrospect, Bowling for Columbine makes Moore every bit as guilty of exploiting the tragic dead of Columbine as the rest of the media.

 No, the dead deserve a lot more thought than this. In my opinion the lost souls that result from mass shootings (like Columbine) should suffer no simple answers.  It's an insult that we lost them to such horrible carnage.  Let's not bury them under stupidity and simplistic ideas.

Complify, Complify, Complify

You see, I don't believe this is a simple problem.

I'm not getting paid to offer my opinion here.   My opinion is neither simple or authoritative.   The solutions I propose are (no surprise here) not cheap. This opinion is just something that comes out of my grieving for the dead, and my careful observation at a distance of many of these events. I do not have the credentials to psychoanalyze the killers. I don't have the journalistic background to report on the events. I am not a sociologist.  Full disclosure.  I'm a gun owner, but not a member of the NRA.

Still, I've thought about this for a really long time, and I've been paying attention carefully every time one of these has gone down. I think events like Columbine are the result of a complex collision of vectors. They are events that prove Murphy's law in my opinion.  They are, I believe, an example of the perfect storm of a complex cocktail of destruction.

Here are the vectors that I think contribute to a event like Columbine:

Gun Culture

America does have a gun culture -- it's had it for a long time. It was around back when I was in high school in the 70s, and that was a time of no events like Columbine. Some of my classmates even brought their guns to school -- and left them in their cars.  I don't think that it was a good idea then or now, but it's one ingredient. 

Without the rest of the ingredients, the fire of a shooting event can't ignite.

Violent Guy Culture

Rambo, Arnold [Get Into Da Choppa] Schwarzenegger, James Bond -- the action hero flick where the guy with the gun solves the problem. Yeah, this has gotten more and more intense every year. Now TV is loaded with shows that glorify shooting. And yes, it's desensitizing. I watch some of this crap myself. I loved the FX show "Justified", for example.   It's great TV. The hero's gun is one of the stars of the show. Video games? I love first person shooters and I, as a guy, am not alone. Still, after all of this, I'm about as motivated to go to work packing a revolver as I am to own a new Country Music CD (sorry Country Music fans -- I just can't get into it).

Breakdown of Community

Somewhere along the way to leaving no child behind we've become a society where school is more about containment and making statistical quotas than it is about raising children to be functional adults. My observation is that kids today don't feel connected to their society and local community. I watched this in my own family and have talked to many victims here -- our schools are far less community places than they used to be.

There are exceptions -- some schools are better than others. A lot of schools simply don't deal with bullying the right way. Even the fact that we have this term on the tip of our tongues points to the fact that community is severely lacking in our classroom experiences. Kids don't feel connected to anything. Something at a crucial community level is simply falling apart and collapsing.

The kids are being ground through a process -- not connected at all along the way. The idea that they're a part of something is foreign. People somehow point out problem students like the issue is on the outside of their control space. Parents that should be a part of this same solution point to the school and their kids in the same fashion. Which brings me to the next vector.

TV (Observer) Culture

Our society lacks participants. It lacks people that truly are willing to dive in and solve problems. Teachers think that education just happens. You (as a teacher) go to school, learn a process, present the material like a PowerPoint slide deck, and somehow the result is people on the other side of the school desk learn something.  I'm not saying all teachers are like this.  I'm saying this is a general trend in our society for everything.  I see it as an IT professional.  I see it when I order food at the local fast food joint.   People aren't engaged.  They're performing their jobs the same way they watch TV.

I had some extraordinary teachers. Some very fortunate people these days have this joy as well, but it's less common. I had Teachers that got involved. Teachers that sensed I was lagging or even soaring and could go higher. Teachers that got to know me.

I don't think this kind of involvement in student success is all that common anymore. I don't think it's being rewarded. I think in the haze of statistics and the idea that we're separated from the show (the TV show -- get it?), or in this case, the classroom experience, that idea has become so pervasive that it's part of our cultural disease.

How many times have you been amazed at the bad service you've gotten at a fast food restaurant? The person behind the counter is on auto-pilot. Their minds are not engaged -- they're hitting buttons and observing, when they should be interacting (but I'm cutting them some slack here, it's a job I've done, and it sucks, and it's mindless in its own right). No, the problem that I'm driving home here is that our teachers are doing something similar -- and that it's another vector in the complex mix of potentials that lead to a Columbine-like event.

Drug Culture

I'm not talking about the illegal stuff -- how about anti-depressants? Studies of some of these drugs show that a common side effect is "Thoughts of suicide".

It's this last ingredient that I truly suspect is one responsible for ignition.

Sure, all of the others are present -- they've been here in various states of attention abandonment for years. I've been suspicious of the drugs from the day I heard about Columbine.  I remember listening to the story in my car and thinking "What the hell?, were these guys high on some new drug or something?", but quickly, like most adults, writing this thought off.

What if it wasn't that they were high? What if one of them was in a state of deep rage? A rage like the one experienced by Charles Whitman. This event took place long before Columbine and the broad application of anti-depressants.  It was just as deadly though. It too, was on a college campus.

Whitman had issues as well -- divorce in the family, failure at school and drug abuse (amphetamines). Charles even knew that the rage was wrong, but somehow was so beyond anger that all logic circuitry was disconnected. He was lucid enough to leave a note behind to the coroner.  It was a note asking them to conduct an autopsy to determine how to prevent people like him from going off. As it turned out, he did have a brain tumor.

That kind of rage is hard for most of the rest of us to fathom. What's hard for me to understand is how he was able to be so functional while at the same time being so ruthless as to kill over a dozen people.
I'm starting to get suspicious that it's linked to the "Thoughts of Suicide" "side effect" of the anti-depressants our doctors so readily toss out like aspirin these days.

These "Thoughts" which are likely connected to drugs that weren't so broadly applied just a few years ago (like when I was in high school, for example).  Drugs that are now being passed out by doctors that are part of the TV generation -- and very much a part of our legalized drug culture. One that says there's a pill for everything that ails you. A culture that says these drugs are awesome at addressing our every symptom -- they just might have some minor "side effects".

If you go back over every one of the events in the reference article, and do some minor research, you will find a preponderance of drug prescription to go along with them. One of the two shooters at Columbine (possibly both). The Virginia tech shooter. It will not surprise me one iota if the 43 year old guy in the recent event was on anti-depressants.

Closing down this thread: I don't think it's just the legalized depression drugs that are the cause of the shootings.  It's the mix. Mix access to guns with powerful anti-depressants, a really lacking sense of community (so the person doesn't feel as connected to the people being shot), a sense of rage for [insert injustice here], a guy culture that worships the idea of shooting things as a solution -- all of these things put together are likely the true recipe for a school or workplace shooting event.

To fix this we'd need some sense of the gravity of this problem.

And don't forget:  this is always a problem for someone else. We'd need our government to work properly -- yet Congress can't easily legislate the solution here. We would need big the Pharma establishment involved.  You can bet the big drug companies are going to fight the idea that their profitable anti-depressants are involved. We're talking about a huge a cash cow after all. Don't forget how many commercials they buy on our news networks.   We would need the NRA to stop reflexively saying "no".  We would need to work with mental health networks.  

To truly fix this we need to make going to school akin to being a part of something. Workplaces and schools would need to be turned into places where interactive and constructive dialog with students and employees is rewarded. We'd truly have to have a culture where no child (and employee) is left behind.

I think our violent culture doesn't have an easy fix. Feel free to suggest your own ideas in the comments here-- I'm happy to entertain the ideas.   As Americans, guns have been with us for quite some time.  While I think the idea of letting a teenager bring one to school is crazy, it went on in my high school years without incident. I think in this climate (with these vectors), it's obviously not a good idea. Any attempt to address the gun vector will be met by the NRA and news pundits that will make the problem out to be something simpler than it is and pander to the dumbest minds in the audience.

How Columbine Changed Me

As for myself, sitting there in the car, along the side of the road, I began to look inward. I had lived in a community for nearly 5 years and didn't know my neighbors. I hardly knew anyone except a couple of people from work in the area. That evening, I walked over to my (future buddy and unknown at the time neighbor) Dean's house. Dean had invited me over many times to hang out. That night, I got to know him and his family -- and I didn't stop there.   I worked hard to become a part of my local community. 

Yes, a high school shooting made me a better person.

How could I criticize a culture that was isolationist when I myself wasn't becoming engaged in my own local community?  How can you, dear blog post reader, help this situation? It seems like an intractable problem, after all, and one we're helpless in changing.

I suspect that the first part of solving this complex issue is going to be in realizing that it's not something that can be contained in a 5 second sound byte.  I know that our dead deserve better than simplified sound bytes aimed at making people feel disconnected from this problem. Even more important, by distancing themselves from the issue, the writers of these pieces exploit (and dishonor) the dead by making you, the reader, feel disconnected as well. With this cheap sense of disconnection, you too can feel that it's "someone else's problem" and that it's surely not a part of anything you have control over.

Sure, it's that simple.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Want more Free / Open Source Software in Your Work Life?

If so, you should read my series (part I published today) entitled Being a Free/Open Source Software Catalyst : Part I.

My plan is to cover as much of the social components of this situation as possible. I have a lot of experiences in this arena to share. Stay tuned!