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Archive for April, 2012

Just Spitballing on the New Pro

April 27th, 2012 3 comments

A new Macbook Pro refresh is on the horizon, hopefully sooner rather than later. The shortest historical refresh time is not until June, but I am hoping it’ll come sooner, especially since the last release was only the barest of speed bumps (0.2GHz CPU bump, a slightly better graphics card, 256 MB more graphics memory–nothing else changed in the 15“ model), meaning that is was hardly a ”refresh“ at all. It’s also why I did not replace my seriously aging MBP, long without an optical drive anyway (it broke a year and a half ago) and struggling to keep up with current software demands.

So here I am, straining at the bit to buy a new machine, but I have to wait. I have a lot to look forward to: the new Intel Ivy Bridge CPUs have come out, and the new MBPs are bound to have them.

What worries me is talk about a new, slimmer form factor. It sounds nice, but I’m worried that they might make the Macbook Pro into little more than a 15” Macbook Air. Granted, the Air is nice, but I really need the capacity and ports that a Pro gives.

It’s expected that the new Pro will come without an optical drive; Apple was the first to abandon the floppy, so this makes sense. Sure, a Blu-ray drive would be fantastic, but that’s an extreme long shot. Apple will more likely continue with their direction towards wireless and the cloud. If there’s no optical drive, Apple could save a lot of space.

Ports are another probable cut–but they are also what have made the Pro a “Pro”; cutting FireWire would be a big disappointment for many people, like myself, who still have FireWire peripherals. Apple has a tendency to not give a crap about that, unfortunately.

A bigger potential problem would be if they went with SSD, and chintzed and went with a 256 GB storage solution. I have long been looking forward to increasing my drive space, which is currently 250 GB. A pro model should have more than that (current models have 500 and 750 GB), and I fear that Apple would make 256 GB standard and charge hundreds of dollars to upgrade to 512 GB. Look at the Air–you get 128 GB for the base 13“ model, and pay $300 to get 256 GB. I can easily imagine Apple giving us 256 GB on the 15” and then asking $500 for an upgrade to 512 GB. Even worse, they might make 128 GB standard on the low-end 15“ model, and ask $250 to upgrade to 256 GB, which would really tick me off.

Now, if a 512 GB SSD came standard, that would be sweet. But somehow I doubt it; Apple has been known to disappoint on stuff like this (look at the iPad and how they have refused to bump the SSD memory on those for the 2nd and 3rd generations). As with the no-Blu-ray and early FDD and now probably DVD retirements, they can be dictatorial about what you need and what you will get, as it suits their esthetic sense. SSD will be a big, fat target to chintz on.

What alternatives are there? If Apple keeps 2.5” HDDs, they could keep the rear end of the Pro a similar thickness and start tapering to the front only, which seems unlikely if they really want a slimmer enclosure. Or, if they wanted to improve performance without switching to SSDs, they could try a 2- or even 3-disk RAID array with 1.8“ drives (maybe 2 250 GB drives in a striped array and a third as a built-in ”Time Machine“ backup to address higher failure risks in the striped array).

This seems unlikely, however; HDD and RAID are moving backwards, and Apple likes shiny, futuristic stuff. SSDs look far more likely, meaning my primary hope is that Apple’s huge consumption of flash memory (not to mention their recent acquisition of an SSD manufacturer) allows them to give the best capacity solution for a reasonable price.

But if Apple goes down the ”oh, the Cloud is here, you really don’t need all that storage“ road, I will be ever so pissed.

Late Edit: One other possibility I forgot to consider: if Apple stays with the 2.5” HDD storage solution, they could go for an SSD cache. Given that they don’t go for an ultra-slim model, this actually might be the most likely compromise, allowing for both capacity (perhaps continuing the 500 and 750 GB drives) and speed (with perhaps a 64 GB SSD), with the missing optical drive and a redesigned battery shape allowing them to slim down enough to make a difference in aesthetics.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

New Zimmerman Photo

April 23rd, 2012 11 comments

The media is atwitter again, this time over a newly released photo reportedly showing blood and a wound on the back of George Zimmerman’s head just minutes after he shot Trayvon Martin.

Many of the stories, especially from the conservative media, call the photo a “game changer” and suggest that it could help Zimmerman’s case. A few more responsible reports cautiously remind people that the photos might not mean what people think, and no reports I have seen take any note that the photos may not even be genuine.

An observer who does not think very long or deeply may jump to the conclusion: hey, Zimmerman was telling the truth, so these photos exonerate him. He’s innocent.

However, there are several problems, the last one being the clincher.

Problem #1: where did the photo come from? ABC News, which released it, says that the source wishes to remain anonymous and was very reluctant to release it. That a source may wish to remain anonymous is understandable for that person in a case like this. However, if this photo is to be treated as evidence, the identity of the source is crucial.

ABC claims that the image came from a witness who heard the incident but did not see it, and arrived at the scene just after the shots were fired. Reportedly, there are other photos ABC did not acquire or release. Lacking a specific identification of the source, however, verification of the photo is problematic at best.

Amusingly, conservative sites which, just a few days ago, were treating ABC as completely unreliable, are now taking their claims as rock-solid evidence.

Problem #2: how do we know the photo is genuine? ABC News said that they checked the “embedded” data, meaning the EXIF data. EXIF data is information attached to a digital image file which specifies most if not all of the information available about the image and the device which produced it. EXIF data includes a time stamp, GPS coordinates, identification of the camera and its settings for the photos, and technical information about the image. It is assumed that if the EXIF data shows that the photo was taken at the scene of the killing at the time one would expect, then that would assure us of the image’s veracity.

The problem is that, like any digital information, EXIF data can be altered and falsified. It is not a smoking gun, so to speak. Instead, a critical question is, when, if ever, did police take possession of the image? If they took the cell phone (reportedly an iPhone) at the scene on that night and checked it into evidence, then the data would be more trustworthy. If the police did not take possession of the device immediately, then grave questions arise over the data’s authenticity.

In this case, it seems apparent, though not specified, that the police did not take possession of the device. For one thing, the source, presumably a private individual, had possession of the images; if police had taken the device at the scene, the owner may have received it back, but almost certainly would not have received the images back with it. Second, when the prosecution filed its case, they cited that “Zimmerman’s wounds are not apparent,” which indicates they did not have this photo even as recently as a week or two ago. Other reports have the prosecution saying they have “seen the photo,” but did not specify if it was before or after the charges were filed; if before, then their affidavit claiming no visible wounds would be very problematic to their case.

That means that the owner of the image did not submit the image to the police, or that the police did not accept or log the information. Worse, it means that the chain of evidence is broken, and that the image was “in the wild” for more than a month–more than long enough for the image to be very cleverly faked. For example, Zimmerman could have posed somewhere with the exact same jacket and had the blood applied, then the EXIF data altered. It is not likely, but it is possible. If the data was not handed over quickly, this could raise serious doubts.

Problem #3: pieces that don’t fit. Certainly Zimmerman must have known the photos existed. Over all that time that people were claiming no images existed, why not mention that someone at the scene snapped the photos? Zimmerman probably consented to the photo being taken, and may even have requested it, which might mean he knew or came to know the photographer. Almost certainly he knew they had been taken. Why not get the images and release them himself?

For that matter, although the photographer’s desire for anonymity is understandable, why on earth would s/he be reluctant to release the photos? Any responsible person would have at least tried to hand them over to police. A very responsible person would have done so at the scene, a slightly less responsible one later, probably after they had downloaded copies for themselves. But to keep them until this late date? For what reason?

The witness also reportedly claimed to have seen gunpowder burns on Trayvon Martin’s hoodie. This seems oddly specific–an unusual thing to notice and comment on. Most laymen would not necessarily recognize such a thing, and may not even be qualified to make that conclusion. Was the person trying to say more about this and ABC truncated the statement? Not to mention, would not have blood around the wound occluded any such marks to a casual observer, or even if photographic evidence existed? Is Trayvon’s hoodie still in evidence? Examination would, of course, be revealing as to distance and so forth.

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Next comes the photo itself. It would appear to show a wound on the right side of the head, apparently the source of the lower and rightmost of the two evident blood streams.

However, there is another blood stream to the left of that with no apparent source. Even stranger, the blood in this area appears cut off in what seems to be a void, as if something had been covering Zimmerman’s head. The line appears too sharp for it to have been cleaned off, and there is no visible wound to explain where the blood came from. This would suggest that the blood came from an outside source, most likely Trayvon. This would seem to confirm that Martin was on top of Zimmerman when the shooting occurred. However, this puts into question the source of the other blood stream as well.

Additionally, the void is strangely located, near the crown of the head; a hat would not explain this, unless it was moved forward so as almost to cover the face. What created the void, if that’s what it is?

Then there is the question of how the blood is arranged, and if it is consistent with having one’s head slammed into the concrete several times. A blood expert would certainly have to examine the patterns and all other evidence to suggest how this whole pattern came to be.

Finally, ABC did not release the actual image file; no one aside from them and the authorities are able to examine the image clearly. What is apparent from ABC screen grabs is not enough to thoroughly check for telltale signs of manipulation or other possible distortions.

Problem #4: and this is the clincher–the image is not relevant to Zimmerman’s innocence or guilt. This is the major misconception going around, mainly due to the fact that evidence of Zimmerman’s wounds has been a central point of argument concerning the case. People make the mistaken assumption that evidence of a struggle is the key to the whole case, and if this photo is genuine, that exonerates Zimmerman.

What people fail to realize is that the evidence of wounds was a question, not a key point, concerning Zimmerman’s story. He claimed to have been beaten half to death, yet did not show the signs of it. It was only an inconsistency, however–it was never the crux of the case, never the piece of evidence upon which his innocence or guilt hinged.

If the image is authentic and we find that Trayvon did indeed injure Zimmerman, it only dismisses the supposition that Zimmerman lied about that detail only.

The key elements in the case remain: (1) who instigated the altercation, being relevant to the “stand your ground” defense; and (2) did Zimmerman have justification to use deadly force? Head wounds or not, a bloody scuffle is not justification for shooting someone to death.

The photo answers neither of these questions. If authentic, it may help Zimmerman in his case before the general public and the media, but not in a court of law.

Categories: Journalism, Social Issues Tags:

Enough with the “Invulnerable” BS, Okay?

April 20th, 2012 3 comments

Ars Technica headline:

Mac OS X invulnerability to malware is a myth, says security firm

Following it is an article which lays out how Macs are not “immune” to malware.

To quote two commenters: first, “Duh.” And second, “It’s a myth that there is a myth of invulnerability.”

Another commenter posts that “every single Mac owner” he has ever known claimed their Macs were “immune.” Something tells me that whatever number of people told him this said that their Macs were immune to PC malware, probably specific types that were the subject of conversation.

This is likely the source of the “Macs are invulnerable” myth. I have never heard a Mac user claim this, but people who dislike Macs and/or Mac users claim it all the time. It’s probably from just such cases–“Oh, you were hit by Conficker? Heh, my Mac is immune to that. I don’t even run antivirus software.” The Mac user does not mean “my Mac is perpetually invulnerable to any kind of attack,” but the annoyed PC user hears it that way, and starts spreading the claim.

However, articles like the one on Ars will be around as long as antivirus vendors are. And PC users will continue to perpetuate the “invulnerable” myth despite it’s lack of basis in fact, because it was never about facts, but about wanting to have something with which to attack their sources of annoyance.

As a side note, here’s a quote from a post I put up seven years ago, noting something I have steadily pointed out many times over the years (2006, 2007, 2008, and then in 2011):

So essentially, there’s no evidence that a wave of Mac viruses is headed for your computer. Not that it’s impossible, mind you–Mac OS X is very strong, but not completely impenetrable. It is assumed that at some point, a virus will break through. But it is also acknowledged that cracking OS X with any kind of substantial virus or worm is extraordinarily difficult.

Which remains true–there have been no viruses or worms that have had any success in infecting the Mac community–they are primarily trojans, which are more about tricking the user than they are about defeating the system’s security. That the Flashback trojan was able to infect without getting a password is troubling, however, and hopefully there will be re-thinking on Apple’s part toward eliminating that possibility.

Once again, the Mac is not invulnerable. It’s just safer.

Stepping Up the Lies About Taxes

April 18th, 2012 2 comments
Under the category “The Power to Destroy,” WND is aping Drudge and the rest of the conservative media and rehashing the same fake claim:

ONLY 85 MILLION ACTUALLY PAY U.S. TAXES
41 percent of those filing returns are non-payers

Americans making over $50,000 paid most of the federal taxes that were paid in the U.S. in 2010.

According to statistics compiled from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by the Tax Foundation, those people making above $50,000 had an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent, and carried 93.3 percent of the total tax burden.

In contrast, Americans making less than $50,000 had an effective tax rate of 3.5 percent and their total share of the tax burden was just 6.7 percent.

Egads. This report is full of bullcrap–and it’s getting even more egregious than before.

Drudge was slightly more specific, noting that there were 85 million federal taxpayers. “U.S.” taxes is even more misleading. They are both, however, dead wrong: payroll taxes are “federal” taxes, and all taxes paid to the U.S. and state government are technically “U.S. taxes.” At least previously, they noted that the numbers applied to income tax, though it was de-emphasized; apparently, even that was too honest for them, so now they are making a far more fraudulent claim.

Plus, payroll taxes cap out at about $110,000–meaning someone making a million dollars a year pays no payroll tax on almost 90% of their income, while the “deadbeats” who pay “no” taxes actually pay this tax on 100% of every dollar they earn.

Therefore, a person who made $30,000 in 2010 had to pay a flat 6.2% tax, while Mitt Romney, who made $42 million that year, shelled out a total of… well, almost nothing probably for payroll tax, as the vast bulk of his earnings were not even subject to this tax. Mitt Romney paid nearly 0% (about 6/1000ths of 1%) while a hardworking stiff making minimum wage paid 6.2%! (Actually, 7.65% if you include Medicare taxes–also capped!)

But even if Romney’s $42 million were completely subject to the payroll tax, he’d have paid no more than a grand total of $6,621.60, or roughly 1.6/100th of 1%–because of the cap.

Which is why they dishonestly omit any mention of the payroll tax in the conservative media.

But that’s not all–then there are federal taxes on alcohol, tobacco, tires, gasoline, diesel fuel (adds to shipping and retail costs), coal (adds to your electric bill), firearms, and even telephone service. Most people pay most of those to some degree.

And, all of the above will take a far bigger chunk, percentage-wise, from lower-income earners than it will from higher earners.

Nor is that the end to the dishonesty of the numbers being quoted–books could be written about how much the demarkations, counting tricks, omissions, and number-juggling are being used to create completely false impressions.

Not to mention that all of this ignores state and local taxes, all of which again hit the low wage earners more, especially as wealthy people can move to or even just claim residence in states with the lowest rates.

Suffice it to say that people of low income are being bombarded not just with a far higher tax rate, but with a propaganda barrage designed to make them comfortable with raising their own tax rates even further while giving yet another tax cut to rich people. Or, alternatively, changing to a completely new tax structure which would be even more regressive.

And with far too many people, it’s working.

Categories: Economics Tags:

WTF, Apple?

April 16th, 2012 Comments off

Apple is reportedly trying to be “more secure” about its Apple Store setup. The thing is, they’re going about it in the most idiotic way I can imagine–one which may beef up their security, but at the same time, sets up millions of users to fall for trojans and phishing schemes.

As we are exposed to these schemes more and more, we learn to avoid falling for them by adhering to a few basic principles. There are two which have become engrained the strongest. The first is, when a pop-up appears and asks you to enter your password, be very leery of it, especially if it does not look fully official and could be a scam. That is exactly the method used by the FlashBack malware creators; break that principle, and you open the door for trojans.

Next, when you get an email and it links directly to a “trusted” site and asks you, before anything else, to enter your user ID and password, don’t. Banks will even tell you outright that they never send emails that link you to login pages, and that you should enter the bank’s URL directly. With Safari being vulnerable to counterfeit URLs, the danger is even greater. Break that principle, and you can be suckered into phishing schemes.

And yet, with Apple’s “more secure” tightening of iTunes accounts, they are leading users to violate those exact two principles, setting them up to be victimized by scammers and hackers.

First, in the iOS, when you try to download a new app from the App Store, it will, as usual, take you out of the App Store so you can see the app downloading–a “feature” which is stupid for different reasons.

Here’s the stupid part, security-wise: outside of the App Store app, you get a dialog box which pops up and says, “Security Info Required”; before you can download anything, even a free app, you have to accept it and–despite having just entered your user ID and password to download the app only seconds before, you are prompted to do it again.

When that happened to me, red flags went up–it had all the hallmarks of a trojan (a pop-up followed by an unusual and redundant ID & password request, neither of which I had ever seen before). Nor am I the only one to get this sense–many were baffled by this procedure for exactly the same reasons. It was only after researching on the web that I felt halfway confident that it was indeed genuine; for obvious reasons, I am extremely reluctant to enter my iTunes Store password, and Apple did a piss-poor job of making it seem authentic. All they had to do was make the pop-up appear a second earlier, within the App Store app, and I would have been more confident it was genuine. Even better, they could have gone to the trouble of being consistent, and, like with the iTunes Store EULA, simply prompted you to go back to the App Store app and go through the process. Instead, they made it happen outside any known and trusted app, which makes it more suspicious.

Sure, the chance of an unheard-of trojan popping up just then on my iPad was unlikely–but Apple’s method here violated the principle.

That’s the first ball dropped by Apple. The second: after they require you to enter a backup email address, they send you an email with a link to authorize the email address. OK, I thought–this is the standard thing where you click on the link, they get the message, and tell you “OK, you’re authentic.” That’s how it always works–again, consistency is key.

Instead, the email link takes me to a page telling me to re-enter my iTunes Store ID and password. What the fuck, Apple? Are you people not just stupid, but insanely stupid? I never input IDs and passwords in response to any email link. Especially at a time when Safari is know to be susceptible to URL spoofing.

Essentially, Apple is demanding that users follow a process which you should never, ever follow because it is exactly the process used by scammers to harvest your private information–exactly like they did just a few months ago. Simply on a matter of principle, I refuse to follow that process. Yes, the chances of a scammer sending me a phishing email to the right email address just after I secured my account to that address are exceedingly slim–but anyone who takes security seriously–and I take my iTunes Store account security very seriously–you simply do not enter a password like that in response to an email someone sent you. Even if the link appears legit and the URL seems legit, you never know when scammers are going to find a way to make it look that way.

What Apple should have done is simply accepted the coded email response, like everyone else. Or, if they have such a hard-on to get your iTunes Store ID and password confirmed, do it within an app or again, a site the user navigates to.

But to force users, not once but twice, to follow a route that makes them wide open to malware and phishing attacks in the future?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Filed Under “Petard, Own, Hoisted By”

April 15th, 2012 1 comment

Newt is pissed off because Fox News is biased:

During a meeting with 18 Delaware Tea Party leaders here on Wednesday, Newt Gingrich lambasted FOX News Channel, accusing the cable network of having been in the tank for Mitt Romney from the beginning of the Republican presidential fight. …

“I think FOX has been for Romney all the way through,” Gingrich said during the private meeting … at Wesley College. “In our experience, Callista and I both believe CNN is less biased than FOX this year. We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of FOX, and we’re more likely to get distortion out of FOX. That’s just a fact.”

He’s OK with the network being obsessively biased in favor of conservatives, but is pissed when they are unfair to him. We all know that the man’s not such an idiot that he actually believes Fox is “fair and balanced.” I mean, if the man seriously thinks that Fox News is usually less politically biased than any other network, he’d have to be the blindest dumbass ever. Which he’s not. Which tags him as a whining hypocrite.

Another category to file it under: “Waaahhhhh.” Or, “Irony’s a Bitch.”

Playing the Victim Is a Vote-Getter

April 15th, 2012 2 comments

Nobody in the “liberal” media is going to ask it, and certainly no one from the Obama camp will… but exactly how hard was being a stay-at-home mother for Ann Romney?

Did she clean the house or wash the dishes? Or even cook?

Almost certainly not. In 2010, for example, the Romneys reported have no fewer than four domestic servants, with reports of many more at other times.

Did she take care of the family finances, as many spouses do?

Incredibly unlikely, not with Romney’s fortune. She did probably not delve into finance any further than using credit cards, and probably did not even review the statements.

Did Ann Romeny have to take a second job not as a career choice, but as a means of keeping the family afloat? Did they ever have to worry about health care, or maintain family budgets and the like?

Of course not.

An “anonymous source” claims that the Romney family never used nannies or au pairs, though claiming this through an unnamed surrogate is hardly indicative of wanting to go on the record for such.

Still, even if Ann Romney had no help raising the kids, she would have been free of any other work that stay-at-home mothers are typically faced with.

This is not to say that it wasn’t work–five kids, I am sure, are a handful just by themselves. Nor am I knocking Ann Romney for taking advantage of their wealth to get help; I might have done the same thing. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But to insinuate that Ann Romney worked as hard, or even half as hard, and the majority of mothers today, is, frankly, an insult to all mothers who work their asses off and then some. To equivocate Ann Romney’s total financial security and use of a household staff to mothers who have to take on outside work to make ends meet and do all the household chores in addition to raising the kids is, frankly, something that would tick me off were I a mother of children in middle- or lower-class America. To claim their mantle and take on the role of exhausted mom victimized by that nasty Hilary Rosen, is, at a minimum, disingenuous.

But then, what about the GOP and Romney campaigns these days which is not?

Categories: Election 2012 Tags:

The Shearer Is Hostile to the Sheep, Says the Wolf

April 14th, 2012 1 comment

Republicans most recently alienated women by fighting furiously against allowing contraception to be covered under new insurance plans, and famously denying a woman the chance to speak in Congress on the issue, whilst giving their full attention to a panel comprised entirely of men, all of them religious authorities. This was their statement: women’s health is all about religion, which is ruled by men. When the Democrats got their one female panel member to speak separately, Rush Limbaugh, the Voice of the Right Wing, called her a slut and a whore for suggesting contraception be covered by private health plans. Called to denounce the slurs, the presumed GOP presidential nominee only said that “slut” and “whore” were “not the language I would have used,” clearly implying that he supported the general sentiment.

Even more disturbing are recent right-wing efforts to force women, even rape victims, to undergo a form of rape before they are allowed to undergo an abortion, a legal procedure. This as part of a larger campaign to deny women reproductive rights, a campaign with a history of maligning women.

None of this is new. Conservatives have always fought against women’s civil rights, from suffrage to the ERA to the Lily Ledbetter Act. Feminists, who want nothing more than to allow women to choose whatever they want to do–including stay-at-home motherhood–and to receive equal treatment as men in doing so, have found themselves viciously attacked and dehumanized by right-wingers, reduced to an ugly stereotype and cast as villains against many of the very things they fight to defend.

The conservative, Republican “war on women” has been a longstanding, entrenched battle taken up willfully by the right wing, whose policy and language have been filled with rhetoric which, at best, misunderstands women, and, all too often at worst, is openly hostile to them.

So, according to Romney–famous for not understanding women, or taking up their causes, or speaking to them in a non-condescending manner–according to him, the real war on women is coming from the Obama camp. The two main pieces of evidence? A statistic wholly unrelated to Obama’s policies and actions, and a deliberately misinterpreted quote from a woman wholly unrelated to Obama save that she occupies the same half of the political spectrum–a quote which Obama, his administration, and even his wife all immediately condemned, no less.

The statistics? Technically true in that most net job loss has been among women, but false in that Obama has anything at all to do with that. In fact, ironically, most job losses for women have been in education and government–and Obama actually tried hard to save these precise jobs, but Republicans stripped the bill and were the deciding factor in many of these job losses. Not to mention that Republicans have always been hostile to educators and government workers, even attacking Democrats for trying to hire more people in these areas.

And yet, this is not just supposed to be an equivalency, but proof that Obama is more hostile to women than conservatives are.

You have to admire the balls on conservatives, not just to lie, but to lie as big as that.

Rodney and George

April 14th, 2012 54 comments

The recent case of Trayvon Martin brought an interesting parallel to my attention: that of Yoshi Hattori, the young Japanese exchange student shot and killed by a Baton Rouge homeowner who mistook him for an intruder. In both cases, the victim was an innocent young man. In both cases, there was a state law on the books giving ordinary gun owners permission to shoot people they believed to be criminals. In both cases, there was a media firestorm which failed to give fully accurate descriptions of the events in question.

However, in both cases, the most significant factor, at least to my reckoning, was that the men who wielded the guns failed to act responsibly. Neither did what they were supposed to do. Rodney Peairs, the man who shot Yoshi Hattori, had a right to defend his home–but he violated that precept when he unnecessarily stepped outside his home to actively confront the “intruders.” No matter how it played out in terms of specifics, George Zimmerman made the same error: instead of holding back and allowing trained professionals to do their job, he pursued Martin, and Martin is now dead as a result. In both cases, the men with guns felt the necessity to confront the people they felt threatened by, no doubt emboldened by the possession of their weapons.

Every right comes with a responsibility. We have a grave misperception about the “right” to bear arms, that this right comes with little or no obligation to that responsibility, save for after the fact. Even for something as mundane as driving a car, we require a person to be well-trained and to pass a specified test. After being licensed, the driver must register their vehicles, and maintain the licensing and registration for as long as they own and operate them. The right to travel freely is held even more sacredly than that of the right to own and carry a gun, and yet no one seems to mind the trouble we are required to go to with car ownership.

Suggest that the same level of training and registration be necessary for firearms–devices inherently far more dangerous, devices designed to kill people–and gun advocates start acting like you’re some kind of fascist or something.

Peairs and Zimmerman both owned guns, and they both assumed a right to step beyond their own bounds and confront people they believed to be criminals. That is an explosive combination that will result in the deaths of innocent people. Peairs required no training to be armed in his home; Zimmerman only needed to take a few hours of gun safety courses before he was allowed to walk the streets armed. If either received training which firmly emphasized that they retreat from confrontation instead of seek it out, it certainly did not take.

In my mind, Zimmerman is guilty. Not because I know how the specifics played out, that Martin did not assault him, or anything else. Instead, it was because Zimmerman was the one holding a gun, he did not need to pursue Martin (the 911 call made that clear), and so he bore responsibility.

I blogged extensively on the Yoshi Hattori case back in 2003 because I felt that it had been wildly misrepresented in the media. Some commenters took issue with me because they assumed that I did not hold Peairs responsible for the shooting death of Hattori. This is because I represented the case realistically, and in detail, from Peairs’ point of view, making it clear how he believed that he and his family were actually in jeopardy, and even out in the carport, how he believed that he had given fair warning and had reason to believe the person approaching him was criminal in nature. Nevertheless, I made the strong point that Peairs was fully responsible, and that responsibility stemmed from his decision to open his door, step outside, and confront people he thought were criminals. The moment he did so, he sealed his fate, and bore responsibility for what ensued. The right thing to do would have been to make sure the doors and windows were locked, maintain vigil within the house, and wait for trained professionals to arrive.

There are reasons why they are trained: it is not a trivial matter to confront possible suspects with arms. Police train quite seriously to make that decision responsibly; ordinary citizens cannot be expected to act with the same level of judgment, no matter what they believe themselves capable of. By taking a minimal NRA gun course (which may have had little more than target practice and instruction in safe handling and cleaning of firearms), Zimmerman gained the ability to carry a concealed weapon. As for being a “neighborhood watch captain,” it was only because he was the only one to volunteer. However, his “neighborhood watch” was not one of the thousands of official watch groups or police-trained watch organizations which require background checks, interviews, and 60 hours of training–all of which require strict adherence to rules. Zimmerman, with an apparent checkered past in terms of his temper and work in security, was apparently just waved in to that position by a certain number of neighbors.

This is fully legal, though. And that’s a big part of the problem: as a society which venerates gun rights over safety, we allow and even encourage this idiocy.

We have states where legislatures pass laws which allow people to be armed in bars. I mean, really, how stupid can you get? Pass a law which specifically says that you can go to an establishment which sells an intoxicant which impairs your judgment, and carry a lethal weapon while you’re at it? What, was there are shortage of armed drunks somewhere? What possible reason could there be for such idiocy? The same bars are probably required to take measures to make sure that you do not go out and drive drunk–but the lawmakers thought it wise to encourage the same people to go armed?

This is indicative of a culture which believes that gun possession and use are sacrosanct, and believe there should be no barriers whatsoever to that right.

There is a legal right to keep and bear arms. I strongly hold that this right is not enshrined in the Second Amendment, as is widely believed, but in the Ninth Amendment. However, where the right is written matters little. What matters is that no right comes without responsibility. You may wield rights, but not to the point where they infringe upon the rights of others. And to let a virtually untrained random citizen go on the streets armed thinking he’s some kind of vigilante cop is, almost by definition, a violation of the rights of all people who walk those streets, as their lives are in danger–far more than if an unlicensed driver got behind the wheel of an SUV and drove around your neighborhood. You would feel extremely nervous if you knew that were happening–why not the same with untrained people carrying arms around? Especially when the person carrying the gun is more likely than usual to have a sense of vigilantism and an inflated perception of his judgment in using his firearm.

Anyone who wants to buy a gun for home protection should be required to take at the very least a gun safety course, to store the weapon safely, and keep licensed and registered all weapons in their possession (spare me the “what if a new Hitler rises” bullshit). Anyone wishing to leave their home armed should be required to take extensive training and testing designed specifically for that purpose (not minimal generic safety courses), at the very least as much as is done with cars.

As for Zimmerman, he bore responsibility the moment he walked out with a gun and decided to confront the stranger he saw. He claims that he did not confront, but was blindsided by Martin–an incredible unlikelihood considering what we know, and a story that sounds like it was suggested by a family attorney familiar with the stand-your-ground law more than it was an accurate and truthful telling of how events unfolded that night.

Like Peairs, Zimmerman armed himself and then went out to find bad guys despite having no training qualifying him to do so. In my mind, that is what makes him guilty in the most general sense.

If you carry a weapon, then you must answer to a higher level of responsibility.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Romney’s Lies

April 11th, 2012 2 comments

Kind of hard to deny that Romney’s lying like a bastard when videos like these stack the lies against video proof that they are lies.

The one is more of a he-said-he-said, but still makes the point. “Attacking success,” “apologizing for success” my ass. Pure and utter fiction.

The “new government-centered society” is another recent meme they’re pushing, and just as bogus. They’re really trying to create a public animosity for any government program that does not benefit the wealthy, hoping that it will take root strongly enough so that people will, in the end, condone the deconstruction of Medicare and Social Security, which is really what they’re talking about–and which are anything but “new.” Obviously they believe that if they blame it all on Obama, it’ll be easier to take down. If they’re smooth enough about it, the people cheering for them won’t even know that they’ve been suckered to remove their own health care and pension funding, nor that in the end, their taxes will go up as a result, and spending will still increase.

Categories: Election 2012 Tags:

Was It Worth It?

April 11th, 2012 1 comment

Iraq did not have any WMD. It was not really any threat to us, aside from possible oil price fluctuations (which the war has helped cause anyway). So the only real benefit was to take out Saddam Hussein, who was not really much of a threat, and actually had a role in stabilizing a powder keg of a nation. Yep, he was a bloody dictator and probably a pretty damned evil monster, but also not too much better or worse than a lot of other dictators around the world, and in that particular region, who we have not removed.

Even in light of the fact that there were no WMD–the putative core reason for the war–many conservatives still say it was worth it, and they would have done it all over again.

How about the cost? A minimum of $1.9 trillion, roughly $6100 for each individual man, woman and child in the United States. The actual cost is probably going to be higher.

So, was that worth it? Had Bush been honest in 2003 and told you that, just to remove Saddam, that you and every other American would have to chip in $6100 (that’s $24,400 for a family of four, no group discount)–instead of what he did tell us, that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the “$70 billion” cost–would you have merrily chipped in?

How about if he told you that it would cost an additional 4,800 or more American lives? And that it would kill at least 120,000 Iraqis along the way?

Is that worth removing a single bloody tin-pot dictator?

Would you really do that again?

Categories: Bush and Character, Iraq News Tags:

The Flashback Botnet Trojan on Macs

April 8th, 2012 6 comments

Well, it is finally here–what appears to be the first fairly large infestation of malware on Macs. We expected this, and there will doubtlessly be more. It looks like it is a fairly strong infestation, though it still represents only a small, even tiny fraction on the threat Windows users face every day. It’s also still just a trojan, not a virus or a worm (none for the Mac have ever been found), but appears to be more successful than any previous attack–maybe. If you use a Mac, it is naturally best to check (details below)–but it is also reasonable to have certain doubts about the stories being circulated. Let me give you my own experience on this.

My Own Experience with the Attack

About a week to two weeks ago, I started noticing that every day or two, I would, upon visiting some of my regular web sites, get inexplicably redirected to one of two weird sites. One was a “femalebodyinspector” site, another seemed to be a bogus UStream site (“ustreambesttv”). Both sites had a similar attribute: they had TLDs (top level domains, like “.com” or “.co.jp”) of “rr.nu”–which I had never seen before.

Upon looking into it, I found it was a WordPress hack–one or two blogs I visited regularly were, at least temporarily, hacked with this code that caused them to redirect to the “rr.nu” sites. Having suffered from the “Pharma” WordPress hack myself, I figured it was no more than an attempt to direct web traffic and get various ad revenues. Satisfied that it was not something wrong with my machine, I moved on. About a week ago, I stopped getting the redirects, and figured that the sites I visit had cleared out the hack.

FlashBack, and What It Is

However, now we’re hearing about something much wider, something called the Flashback trojan. Apparently, once you are, by whatever agent, redirected to one of these sites (the “rr.nu” TLD seems the best indicator), your browser may be prompted to automatically download a program which will then try to trick you into giving it your admin password–but even if you don’t give it, the trojan could still run in a limited manner.

It is reported that, once installed, it could attempt to harvest passwords or other confidential information, and may also use you computer as part of a “botnet”–a collection of many compromised computers (often referred to as “zombie computers”) to send spam, participate in swarming attacks on targeted web sites (DDoS), or other unpleasant endeavors. If your computer has been so compromised, you may never even be aware of it–the aim of the hacker is not to disrupt your computer, but to add its power to their network, and collect data on you in the meantime. Disrupting your computer’s operation would alert you and make the malware useless to them.

Apple has released patches to prevent this attack (go to “Software Update” in your Apple menu), but these patches only prevent new attacks after installation, and do not clean up an infected computer.

Are You infected? What Should You Do?

To find out if your computer is affected, you may wish to download and run the “Flashback Checker” app, or, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, follow these instructions (the desirable outcome is to get “does not exist” for both checks).

If your computer is infected, then you can disable the malware (instructions here, but they are not simple to follow), but cannot (at this time–an automated app is inevitable sometime) fully delete it short of a clean re-install of your OS and software. That means backing everything up; making sure you have all your installers, settings, and passwords in order; erasing the hard drive; re-installing the OS and software; replacing all your documents from the backup; and re-inputting all settings and passwords. Which, by the way, is something you should do every year or two anyway. If you have the time and haven’t done this in the past few years, you may want to do it anyway, even if your Mac is clean.

Whether or not your Mac is clean, you should install the updates from Apple. It might also be a good idea to disable Java on your browser in any case (for Safari, open Safari Preferences, click on the Security tab, and deselect the “Enable Java”), or even for your whole computer (see that, as well as Chrome & Firefox procedures as well, on this page). You may also want to start using antivirus software (Sophos and ClamXav are free), but no antivirus is perfect. Though this particular trojan would have been stopped were ClamXav installed, just by its own procedure.

The Story Being Told: Is It Believable?

The trojan is in fact real; there is no doubt about that. The question is, how widespread is it, what are the chances of any one person’s infection, and what threat does it represent?

According to the press release provided by an anti-virus software vendor, about 600,000 Macs have been infected by this trojan. However, it should be noted that these people make money selling people antivirus software. Which means that they have a vested interest in scaring the crap out of people with exaggerated reports–something these companies have been doing for years in the Mac community. The evidence for the claim of 600,000 Macs infected has not been presented, and is being treated with suspicious caution at the present time.

Was I Infected?

So, is my Mac infected since I was redirected to one of those sites? As it turns out, no–I ran the Flashback Checker app and got a clean bill of health, after running the terminal code as well. But if I was redirected to that infectious web site, then why is it that I’m clean?

Apparently, being a nerd helps. Remember, the people running this thing don’t want to be detected, and we nerds tend to be more cautious and apt to catch stuff like that. As a result, this particular malware performs a check before it attempts to install, and if it finds certain software, it self-destructs, it aborts and deletes itself. The software it looks for includes Xcode (Apple’s developer software which allows you to write apps), Little Snitch (an app that monitors activity in and out of your computer and alerts you to anything untoward), any antivirus software, or any other monitor of web traffic. Anyone with any of this software would be more apt to discover the breach and thus defeat the infestation, on their own computers and (as is hoped by this post and others) elsewhere. I have Xcode installed, and thus averted infection.

However, as I did get redirected to those sites, I can attest to the fact that this is in fact real–though I cannot attest to the claims that (a) anywhere near 600,000 Macs have actually been infected, or (b) that the infections actually mean that anything malicious is being done as a result.

What to Do: Bullet List

Of course, the best idea is to be as safe as possible. Here’s what to do:

  • Get the “Flashback Checker” app and run it.
  • If you are infected, and if you can follow instructions on how to use Terminal and manage files, then follow the trojan de-activation procedure.
  • Whether or not you are infected, run your Mac’s software update from the Apple menu and install the most recent updates, if you have not already.
  • Turn off Java on your Mac unless you have a special need for it.
  • DO NOT update ANY software which you did not initiate the update check for–if an app seems to alert you for an upgrade, then close the alert and either open the app itself and do an update from within the app, or navigate manually to the official web site and download the upgrade yourself.
  • Do not enter your admin password unless you are sure that it is actually required, and that you understand why.
  • If you wish, you can install antivirus on your Mac; free versions are here and here .

I would be very much interested to hear if you found an infection–please let me know in the comments.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

None for You

April 2nd, 2012 2 comments

An advertisement seen on the Tokyo subway today:

Noloan

Motto: “No Loan: We’re Just Here to Taunt You.”

Cheerleading for the Freeloaders

April 2nd, 2012 3 comments

Van Jones makes a salient point:

“It’s so amazing to hear the Republican Party now cheerleading for the freeloaders,” Jones said on ABC’s This Week. “They say ‘hey listen, if you dive-bomb yourself into an emergency room, don’t worry about it, taxpayers will pay for it; we have no — there’s nothing we can do to make sure people don’t pay on the front end.’”

“What I don’t understand is, what does the Republican Party want here?” he added. “If we can’t have single payer, we can’t have a public option, and we can’t have individual responsibility, what we’re going to have here is more Americans dying.”

What it comes down to, of course, is that Republicans are simply opposed to just about anything Obama proposes, including their own pet policies–which the individual mandate was. Had McCain won and proposed this, the very same Republicans would all be pushing for it. As McConnell so aptly put, their number one priority is to make Obama fail; everything else, even their own policies, and surely the well-being of Americans, is secondary.

In response to Van Jones, Ann Coulter rather blindly stated that it is, quote:

“a freeloader problem created by Congress” thanks to a law requiring that emergency rooms do not turn down patients.

As if Van Jones had not just pointed out that it has been Republicans who, for the past few years, have consistently suggested freeloader use of emergency rooms as a viable alternative to health care insurance. She’s responding to Van Jones’ criticisms of Republicans encouraging this by saying that it’s a horrible mess created by Congress.

So, either she’s deaf and had no idea what he said, or she wasn’t listening, or she’s joining in on criticizing Republicans, or she’s just dumb as a post.

One presumes, however, that her point is that we shouldn’t have freeloaders using emergency rooms. As Van Jones pointed out, however, lacking the only alternatives–single payer, public option, or the individual mandate–millions of Americans will suffer and die without proper medical care.

Cue enthusiastic cheering from the Republican debate audience. “Americans suffering and dying! YEAHHH!!!”

Categories: Health Issues, Republican Stupidity Tags: