Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'rant'

Solving the Problem in Washington

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Sep 18, 2013 @ 11:30 am PDT

userpic=bushbabyInsert the parenthesis in the title as you wish.

I was reading the news over lunch, and I’m incensed that the GOP is at it again — this time, attempting to tie repeal of the Affordable Care Act to funding the government. They keep trying to repeal the ACA, and they keep failing. Now the ACA isn’t perfect — even in California, we’re starting to see some of limitations of the approach, but at least it is an attempt to solve the problem.

Perhaps this is why I’m incensed: Instead of saying “Let’s fix the ACA” or “Here’s another way to solve the problem”, the current GOP seems to want to just toss it out, and go back to the old approach for healthcare, which was generally agreed to be problematic.

If the GOP in the House really want to get rid of the ACA, they simply need to propose a plan that:

  • Protects consumers from the abuses of the Insurance Industry — such as the problems with preexisting conditions, coverage denials, and coverage caps
  • Ensures that affordable insurance is available to all citizens of the US
  • Controls healthcare costs (which has a direct impact on the budget)
  • Makes Americans healthier

That’s not much, is it? It is not requiring the US to be the insurer. It is not requiring the US to dictate what is covered or what isn’t. It will require insurers to not be capricious and be focused on health. The four goals above, I believe, were addressed by the ACA. If the GOP wants to get rid of it, propose something better. If you can’t come up with something better, then sit down, shut up, fund the government, and do your job addressing the other problems this Nation faces.

[P.S.: The reason the ACA requires everyone to be covered is not because there is a belief that everyone should be insured. It is because the insurance companies indicated that in order to remove limitations on pre-existing conditions, the pool of people paying premiums had to be larger. Insurance works by having the premiums from the healthy cover the costs for the sick, so if the potentially sick pool is larger, you need more premiums.]

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We Are Insignificant | We Are Awesome

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Sep 18, 2013 @ 11:05 am PDT

userpic=chicken-and-eggI’ve been busy this week as a result of a new idea for something at work — that’s why things have started out quiet. Yet there are two other ideas floating around my head begging to get out. This is one of them.

I listen to a lot of science podcasts. In them, I hear discussions about how the dinosaurs lived for millions of years, how the earth and the universe are billions of years old. I then look at us puny humans. As an intelligent species for which we have a record, we’ve been on the planet for what — perhaps 20,000 to 100,000 years. If you want a written record? Under 10,000 years. We are truly an insignificant blink the the life of this planet.

I think about this every time I drive down a street and look at the houses. Will our houses be here in 50 years? 100 years? 200 years? What will Los Angeles look like a million years from now. We don’t have any human artifacts that old. We consider something “historic” when is it 100 years old. That’s one lifetime. We have an over inflated view of our significance.

And yet.

And yet.

Contrast what our civilization looked like at the time of Christ. Compare our civilization to what it looked like even 200 years ago. In the past two centuries, humans have done so much. We have built so much, and we have destroyed so much. We have reshaped this planet for good and for bad in an astoundingly short time period.

Who knows what the future will bring? Consider the differences in society between 1813 and 2013 — a scant 200 years. Look at the differences in society between 1013 and 2013. Between the year 13 and 2013. How can we even guess what our society will look like in the year 3013 or 4013, let alone the year 10,000. If we are lucky enough to last as long as the dinosaurs, can you even imagine a world 400,000 years from now?

We’ve blundered into what we’ve got. We’ve built and destroyed without thought to the long term picture, counting on our ability to muddle through. I’m not sure whether that will be good enough in the future.

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The Role of Criticism

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Sep 14, 2013 @ 8:49 am PDT

userpic=soapboxThe place where I work has as its underlying goal “mission success”. Our goal is to help ensure that the mission (which I don’t need to state here) succeeds, and we work with the parties on both sides to make that happen. This means that we often point out flaws in reasoning or performance. Yet that isn’t criticism, because the goal is not to tear down, but to build up — to help the other parties succeed.

I’ve been musing about this as the service swelled around me last night. It relates to my discussion yesterday about the growth of sadism on the Internet and Internet bullying. It also relates to some discussion on Bitter Lemons (here, here, and here) about the roles of critics, the roles of professional critics, and whether certain individuals have been behaving appropriate.

What is the role of a critic? For that matter, what is the role of a troll? Often, what I see is that the role is perceived to be one that tears down. You’re not a critic unless you can see the flaws and highlight them. You’re not a troll unless you attack and hurt. But does simply identifying problems — whether out of love for the craft or the joy of hating — help in the long run? I don’t believe so.

To me, our goal in whatever we do should be mission success — that is, to ultimately help the mission succeed. If you are at work, you work to make your organization’s mission successful. When I write theatre reviews, it is to make the product better — I try not to just indicate a problem but to suggest (either direct or implied) ways to correct a problem. I won’t say — this show is bad. I will say — this is how this show can be better. The same is true of anything I write. When I wrote about the trolls, my goal was to find ways to make the problem better. When I write up high holyday sermons, it is not to find fault, but to indicate how they can be better.

Far too often, I see folks that believe criticism must be negative. Over at Bitter Lemons, there has been a touch of this — the implication that critics must not only see shows they like, but must have some they hate. I disagree — which is why perhaps I’m not a professional critic. I think that if you are going to write criticism, you must remember to put the adjective “constructive” before it. We must work together to build things up, to make people better, to make society better — to do better in everything we do.

This relates directly to today, Yom Kippur. At services, we enumerate our flaws and failures. We do this not to tear our selves down and belittle us in front of others, but to acknowledge where we can do better, and to vow to — in the upcoming year — work on correcting those failures. I know this has always been a goal for me: acknowledge what works well, work to fix the failures.

Let us work together to battle those whose goal is mission failure — who just want to bring down the mission, who just want to tear down people, who just want to make themselves superior by making others feel inferior. Let work together to make things better.

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Good Trolls and Bad Trolls

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Sep 13, 2013 @ 6:29 am PDT

userpic=soapboxTrolls. Occasionally, they are good, such as the new troll on the new Bay Bridge.  But most of the time — and especially on the Internet — trolls are bad news. The Dearborn News Herald described it best: “trolls are relatively anonymous people who web surf comment sections of websites with the intent of aggravating others with their “witty” remarks. Trolls range from people who think they’re funny to those merely trying to fire up others by being intentionally offensive. Racist comments are often offered up because it is a quick way to offend. The same goes for deliberately ridiculous remarks involving politics, religion, sports and just about every hot-button topic.”.

I’ve written in the past about how attacks in comments bother me. We’ve seen more and more media publications come out against trolls. Using Facebook as a commenting system to address anonymous trolls helps a little, although these folks just create Facebook accounts under a false name and a throwaway email address. Other folks are trying other systems to combat trolls in an attempt to recreate useful comment sections.

What bothers me most is that trolls can kill. Today’s news — and what prompted this rant — was the story of a Florida girl who was found dead after being hounded and hounded and hounded by Internet bullies. These bullies pushed this young girl to the point where she took her own life. This isn’t an isolated story. This article note a number of other people driven to suicide by online trolls (warning: the site is obnoxious and keeps opening a noisy ad video). Despite all attempts to fight it, the culture of bullying (especially on the Internet) is growing and growing. Some are trying to fight it, but isn’t enough.

A report I saw this morning (h/t to Andrew Ducker) gives one possible reason. A new study has revealed that sadism is far more common than we would like to believe. Just as we (ourselves) are good, we want to believe that everyone else is good and does not want to inflict pain. The study shows otherwise. Two studies led by psychological scientist Erin Buckels of the University of British Columbia revealed that people who score high on a measure of sadism seem to derive pleasure from behaviors that hurt others, and are even willing to expend extra effort to make someone else suffer. These researchers recruited 71 participants to take part in a study on “personality and tolerance for challenging jobs.” Participants were asked to choose among several unpleasant tasks: killing bugs, helping the experimenter kill bugs, cleaning dirty toilets, or enduring pain from ice water. Of the 71 participants, 12.7% chose the pain-tolerance task, 33.8% chose the toilet-cleaning task, 26.8% chose to help kill bugs, and 26.8% chose to kill bugs. Consider that. Over half chose forms of bug killing. Participants who chose bug killing had the highest scores on a scale measuring sadistic impulses, just as the researchers predicted. The more sadistic the participant was, the more likely he or she was to choose bug killing over the other options, even when their scores on Dark Triad measures, fear of bugs, and sensitivity to disgust were taken into account. The results suggest that sadists possess an intrinsic motivation to inflict suffering on innocent others, even at a personal cost — a motivation that is absent from the other dark personality traits.

Yom Kippur starts this evening. This is a great time to increase our resolve against sadists on the Internet. Let’s start by dropping this troll moniker and calling them what they are: bullies and sadists. Let us vow not to bully in our conversations, and vow not to give any pleasure to the sadists. I’m open to suggestions on how to fight them.

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Getting It Off My Chest: Videos/Print, Stage/Screen, Attack/Ignore

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Aug 28, 2013 @ 7:18 am PDT

userpic=soapboxSo that I can enjoy my vacation, a few rants I’d like to get off my chest:

  • The Video Generation. What is it with the growing tendency to impart information with videos. There is this consumer columnist in the LA Times who loves to do this, such as this response to a question. This morning, checking work email, there was an item about good practices for VTCs and telecons. How did they convey the information — a video. Videos mean I have to sit through the entire talk. I’d much rather read an article conveying the same information (which would likely be much shorter and a better use of my limited time).
  • Screen to Stage. With the report that Rocky – The Musical” will soon be on Broadway, the usual furor over the lack of original properties on Broadway is back. In my opinion, the problem is not lack of original properties, but slavish devotion to original sources. When Broadway is filmed, it often fails if it is the musical straight on the screen. Stories need to be reworked and expanded for the different screen focus and presentation. Similarly, when properties are essentially unchanged when they move to the stage, why bother to see them? This is what has hurt many a screen-to-stage transition (especially recent ones), leaving them in the middle tier of productions, not the upper echelon. Use the movie as the basis of the story; keep the essential elements, but expand on what the stage does best — revealing innermost thoughts and motivations through music.
  • Syria. The debate is on: Should Obama intercede in Syria?  One side cites Obama’s “line in the sand”, and indicates the US will lose credibility if we don’t do anything. The other side just doesn’t want to go to war again. Me? I’m wondering why we’re debating this. If you look at history, the US involvement in wars that didn’t directly involve attacks on the US started after WWII, when we vowed “Never again” to permit a genocide such as Hitler perpetrated. Modulo a few cold war battles, that’s been the basis of most of our fighting since then: to prevent a government from slaughtering its civilians. Kosovo, Iraq, and now Syria. Is it the job of the US to enforce the moral high ground? If we don’t, can we live with ourselves for standing by idly? There are no easy answers. Complicating the matter is the fact that Syria and Iran have promised to take it out on Israel if we do attack: that’s like the playground bully saying: “I’ll beat up your little brother if you beat me up for attacking my sister”. No good answers, but I do believe the answer is not sending cruse missiles to an indescriminate target where we will be likely to take out civilians. If we can do a surgical strike to either take out Assad or the chemical weapons stockpiles, that’s one thing. Alas, I’m not sure we’ve got that precision.

 

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People Just Don’t Understand

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Aug 20, 2013 @ 7:56 pm PDT

userpic=soapboxWhile eating lunch, my mind kept going back to a post I saw yesterday at lunch from Wil Wheaton titled “How to Turn a Democracy into a STASI Authoritarian State in 10 Steps“. It got me infuriated, because neither the US nor the UK is anywhere near the STASI political apparatus. So I decided to write something up… and then let it sit until the evening were I could review it over dinner. In general, these statements come about because people really don’t know what they are talking about, at least in the detail. So although I don’t know what I’m talking about either, let’s correct what misconceptions I can:

  • Information is not arbitrarily classified for convenience, as Wil’s link implies. Classification requires the original owner of the information to make a determination that release of the information will cause some level of damage to the nation (the level of damage determines the classification). Given that there is a large cost to handling classified information, there is often a push not to classify. However, some cultures and organizations tend to exist in a classified bubble, and routinely classify information when it might not really need it. Often, this is an artifact of poor information technology — if you are working at System High, it is easier to deal with everything classified. Give us true multilevel systems (i.e., systems that can reliably separate data of different levels with appropriate assurance and at reasonable cost), and you’ll likely see stuff float to realistic classifications. But the important takeaway is that information is not classified just to hide it from the public.
  • Understanding classification demonstrates why what Snowden and Manning did was so problematic. It wasn’t per-se the “whistle-blowing” — it was how they did it. If something wrong is being done — where “wrong” is defined as either morally or legally — it should be reported.*  However, the way they did it was a problem. They were not in a position to have the visibility or enterprise view to truly determine the damage the information release could do. They were both low-level. This is not to say that they had to run it up their reporting chain (where it might be suppressed)… but going to the media was the wrong way to do it. They should have gone to their elected representative — House or Senate — to discuss what they were seeing. The representatives are cleared, they have the larger view, and they have the legal and moral obligation to both defend the constitution and defend the nation. Further, there is always someone in Congress just itching to start an investigation of government wrongdoing. Even if you believe in a grand government conspiracy, it is hard to believe all 535 elected congresscritters are equally brainwashed. [ETA: This post shows why what Snowden did was such a problem.]
  • [*: As for whether what has been reported is “wrong”: It may have been legal under some readings of the law. It may even have been in the interest of defending the nation. But at least based on the information disclosed to date, it gives the appearance of being a privacy concern, which is an American issue. Any congresscritter should know that the appearance of wrong can often be worse than anything.]
  • As for the detention of David Miranda — that was the UK’s doing, not the US. The White House had denied it was involved. Of course, Wil doesn’t believe that denial. [ETA: This post (same as above) also shows why Miranda’s detention was not what it appeared to be — that is, the detention of an innocent] This goes to another pet peeve — when did we stop believing our government? There seems to be a belief that all government workers are lazy and inefficient, that all the government does is a lie, that all of government is a waste. This may be an artifact of Vietnam; it may be an artifact of Nixon… but at one point we trusted government, and that trust has been lost and (just like cheating in a relationship) will never return. Part of this problem is Obama’s: Like him or not, he was swept into office on the belief that he was different… that the nation could trust him… and the reality of the position is making him break that trust. He needs to figure out how to regain the high moral ground — and that likely means exerting some moral authority (such as suspending all investigations for a short period except for those revalidated in a normal, non-Secret court, while new privacy protections are put into place).
  • On the other hand, we seem to implicitly trust the motives of big business. I’d be more suspicious of big business (after all, their motive is just to raise the profits for their executives) and less suspicious of government (whose ultimate motive, except for a few bad apples, is protection of the nation — I’ve never seen anyone claim the government is trying to weaken the nation).
  • There seems to be an expectation that government will get it right the first time. Guess what folks… it won’t. Government — as with any bureaucracy — always overreacts. The overreaction is detected, and then overcorrected, and the pendulum swings back and forth, eventually getting closer to right. This happens with everything. In the next year (because government never does anything fast — think about turning a battleship), Congress will work to get privacy restored (although, surprisingly, this will come from the President’s party). Keep up the pressure on your congresscritters.
  • For all the claims that the government has a surveillance state — we don’t (the UK is different, and operates under different rules). Most of the cameras that follow you… are operated by private businesses.  All the tracking of every purchase with a credit card is done by… the banks. All those records of your phone calls… are made by the phone companies. All those requests you make on the internet… by your service providers or Google. The government, if it wants any of that information, must get a request approved (leaving a paper trail) and formally request it. The government, except for the occasional traffic camera, is not watching you. Big Business is (and government is requesting only a small portion of that data). [However… that said, there likely is traffic being monitored directly by the government legally… foreign calls on the international trunk lines… wireless transmissions you are sending unencrypted… and things you do on government websites. [ETA: There are also reports that NSA can supposedly monitor up to 75% of Internet traffic, although it is unlikely to be looking for anything and everything, only specific terms and traffic involving foreign parties — remember, the NSA cannot legally target purely domestic communications by law.]]

There. Now I feel better.

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Shooting Themselves in the Foot

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:40 am PDT

userpic=bushbabyAs usual, while I ate lunch today I skimmed the news. Sigh. The Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot again.

Let me start over. If you know me at all, you know I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Humphrey-ite Democrat. No, that’s not the same thing as being a socialist :-). Still, I think it is important to have a healthy multi-party system in this country — debate on issues is important, and working to find compromise between parties can prevent abuses and find better solutions.

As I result, I’d like to see a healthy, functional, Republican party. Alas, (shakes his head) I read articles such as this: “Obama Proposes Surveillance-Policy Overhaul“, and… sigh… This whole NSA kurfluffle is one place where the Republicans can gain votes. They can jump on their long-time bandwagon of smaller government, and get the government out of this area. They can argue this is unnecessary government intrusion (hell, you know they would complain if it is was being used against conservative groups). Instead, what do we get? Quoting from the article:

In an early indication of the difficulty ahead, some Republicans who have been defending the NSA surveillance program lambasted the president. Rep. Pete King (R., N.Y.), a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the president’s announcement “a monumental failure” of wartime leadership.

“We need a president who defends our intelligence programs, explains them appropriately to the American people, and uses every legal capability in his arsenal to defeat al Qaeda,” Mr. King said.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) criticized Mr. Obama for inadequately defending the programs. “Transparency is important, but we expect the White House to insist that no reform will compromise the operational integrity of the program,” said spokesman Brendan Buck.

So here is the President arguing for more transparency in the process, for a privacy advocate (yes, it’s not everything, but, c’mon, the guy’s not superman). What do we get from the Republicans? An argument to keep up the spying.

This is yet another example of how the Republican party can’t seem to get their act together — they are being torn apart by various internal factions that is destroying their former effectiveness. They only thing they seem to be able to do is vote to repeal Obamacare.  Further, all the attention they get is from overreaction on social issues from a few individuals and states that opens the entire party to ridicule by connection. My advice — get ahead of the game. Show that you can solve problems and lead — the Republican way. Figure out how to propose solutions that are palatable to enough of congress to get it through both houses, and convince the President that your way is acceptable. Lead the way on immigration reform. Lead the way on restoring civil liberties. Lead the way on creating a health-care system that works (that that means fixing, not repealing, Obamacare).

Now, personally, I’d be happy if a strong Democratic candidate won in 2016, and if the Republican partisianship led to Democrats retaking the house in 2014. But for the country’s sake, we Democrats can’t do it alone. Republicans — please — get your act together and learn to lead.

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Catching Up With The Times

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Aug 05, 2013 @ 8:03 pm PDT

userpic=cardboard-safeLate last week, I wrote an article about the NSA in which I noted that we are dealing with a Congress that doesn’t understand technology, and laws that were made for a different time and different technology (at least when understanding what search and seizure mean). Today there was an article in Slashdot that made an even more important point:

John Naughton writes in the Guardian that the insight that seems to have escaped most of the world’s mainstream media regarding the revelations from Edward Snowden is how the US has been able to bend nine US internet companies to its demands for access to their users’ data proving that no US-based internet company can be trusted to protect our privacy or data. ‘The fact is that Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft are all integral components of the US cyber-surveillance system,’ writes Naughton. ‘Nothing, but nothing, that is stored in their “cloud” services can be guaranteed to be safe from surveillance or from illicit downloading by employees of the consultancies employed by the NSA.’ This spells the end of the internet as a truly global network. ‘It was always a possibility that the system would eventually be Balkanised, ie divided into a number of geographical or jurisdiction-determined subnets as societies such as China, Russia, Iran and other Islamic states decided that they needed to control how their citizens communicated. Now, Balkanisation is a certainty.’

The point made here is the statement that the Internet is a truly global network. What’s the problem? Let me tell you.

America’s laws… and America’s security structures and organizations… are based essentially in the period immediately after WWII. 1947 is when the NSA was created. Back then, communication was primarily domestic — there were clear international paths for the NSA to monitor to protect the country. Fast forward to today. We’re dealing with multinational communications companies located who knows where, governed by who knows what laws, handling data from all across the globe. Any Internet traffic stream may contain not only packets traversing from a domestic computer to a domestic computer, but international to international and international to domestic. Further, transportation has made the world smaller, and there are more and more foreign (i.e., non-US) visitors and workers in the US (both legally and illegally). Now imagine you are an agency (such as the NSA) charged with monitoring International traffic — what do you do? Yup. Supposed you are the FBI monitoring international traffic to fight against illegally trafficed material? There is no longer an easy way to just get the data you want from the information stream. You end up collecting it all, and attempting to find that needle in the haystack later.

Understanding this is key to solving the problem. We can see how we got into the legal boat we are in — it is easy to see the arguments that were made to Congress, and how they misunderstood what they were authorizing. Instead of complaining that we are in a “big brother” state and the government is out to get us (which is a lot of what I see), what we need to do is simple.

1. Educate our representatives and leaders about the technology so they understand that which about they are writing laws.

2. Vote for people who understand and agree to work to move the pendulum back to protecting privacy in the new global society. The pendulum swings between being overly secure and not. We just have to keep working to get it right.

3. Stop electing the lawyers and partisans. Let’s get some people who actually understand technology and know how to think critically elected.

The problems we are dealing with here took many years to get to this point. We’re not going to fix them overnight. Slow and steady education… and, as I’ve said before, understanding that we are not dealing with evil, we’re dealing with stupidity and bureaurcracy. If you want evil, look at those multinational corporations.

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