“Acceptable Ads”

October 5th, 2015 Comments off

If you use AdBlock, you may have noticed a pop-up this week:
Aside from the irony of AdBlock giving you a pop-up, this was sure to get your attention because of what it implies. It has attracted a great deal of criticism from people who hate ads almost as a matter of principle, and from people who see this as a sell-out.

As far as I am concerned, though, this seems to be a good thing.

First of all, let’s admit one thing: ads help provide the content you enjoy. I know people have this attitude of “It should be free,” but not everything can be. And if you prefer not to pay directly for your content, then ads are the way to go. I recognize that, and fully support it.

The problem is that ads, almost universally, are powerfully offensive. Not in that they insult you (except, perhaps, for your intelligence), but in that they are intrusive, annoying, and often even invade your privacy (check your browser’s cookie list, and note how many of them are placed by advertisers).

I have used ad blockers for some time now, and I love them. They make my web surfing immensely more comfortable. I often am surprised when I see a browser that does not have ad blocking, at first wondering, “Why are all those ads there?” before I go, “Oh yeah….”

That said, it is not the idea of ads itself I find offensive; it is the way they act that has always been annoying as hell. I am one of those people who cannot relax if there is something moving on a web page, even just a little. It draws my attention to it—which I understand is exactly the point—but it also makes it difficult for me to consume the content of the page, which is the whole reason I am there in the first place.

I have always said: if sites made their ads inoffensive, I would not block them.

This new AdBlock policy may be the answer to that. It was a bit hard to find, but here are the criteria that the “Acceptable Ads” program claims all of its whitelisted ads follow:

  • Static advertisements only (no animations, sounds or similar)
  • Preferably text only, no attention-grabbing images
  • Ad placement:
    • Ads should never obscure page content (e.g. require users to click a button to close the ad before viewing the page).
    • For pages featuring a reading text ads should not be placed in the middle, where they interrupt the reading flow. However, they can be placed above the text content, below it or on the sides. The same applies to search results pages: paid search results cannot be mixed with organic results.
    • When ads are placed above the content of a main page, they should not require the user to scroll down. The available vertical space is likely to be at least 700 pixels. Advertising should not occupy more than one-third of that height. Paid search results on search pages are allowed to occupy more space, but they should never outnumber organic results.
    • When placed on the side ads should leave enough space for the main content. The available horizontal space can be expected to be at least 1000 pixels, and advertising should not occupy more than a third of that width.
  • Advertising should be clearly marked as such with the word "advertising" or its equivalent, and it should be distinguishable from page content, for instance via a border and/or different a background color.
  • Marking and placement requirements do not apply for hyperlinks with affiliate referrer IDs embedded in the content of the page. Additional criteria for hyperlinks with affiliate referrer IDs:
    • Redirects originating from the hyperlink should not present any other webpage than the destination page.
    • In texts, not more than 2 percent of the words can be hyperlinked for monetization purposes.
    • Hyperlinks should not be formatted or behave differently than other links.
    • Hyperlinks should not be misleading, in either content or placement.

The question, of course, is whether or not the ads on the whitelist will really follow those criteria, and more importantly (because you know they will violate the criteria at some point), whether the ad blockers will strictly enforce the policy. There will be not a little financial pressure over time to “adjust” the list and allow a little of this and a little of that; will the ad blockers cave in to that pressure once they become dependent on the revenue?

And that in itself is the only really objectionable feature of the new system: it is paid. The advertisers do not get on the whitelist just by having acceptable ads, at least some get on the list by paying a fee. That, effectively, makes the ad blocking companies, at least a little bit, extortionists. Pay or we’ll block your ads.

I’m not saying that the people who make this service available do not deserve financial reward; I am saying that the fact that the money is there leaves the door open for influence and abuse.

One ameliorating factor in favor of the new policy is that it is opt-out: you can turn the “acceptable ads” feature off, and again block all ads. That, in my book, should nix any criticisms for now… until such time as this feature is removed.

For now, I am glad the feature is there, because it is perhaps the only major force which influences advertising in the direction of being reasonable. I’m leaving this feature on, and will not mind at all if the ads start appearing—and, as I have said, I may even begin patronizing them.

So long as they don’t annoy the hell out of me.

The Obvious Lies

October 4th, 2015 3 comments

HandincookiejarKevin McCarthy, who could be the next Speaker of the House, made a boast on Fox News recently in an attempt to show how well he will serve the conservative cause:

What you’re going to see is a conservative speaker, that takes a conservative Congress, and puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi Special Committee — a Select Committee — what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened had we not fought and made that happen.

Liberal blogs tend to drop the last few sentences, which contain a kind of rationalization: that the Benghazi numbers were not to smear Hillary, but to show what they considered to be the truth about Hillary.

That does not, however, make it okay: it still means that McCarthy was admitting that Benghazi is about bringing Clinton down, and not because there should actually be hearings about Benghazi. He essentially admitted that the hearings are political, even if you believe the rationalization.

Whatever the case, everyone is in an uproar about it because McCarthy let slip something that he should not have. He openly admitted, intentionally or not, that the whole Benghazi hearings are a sham. He has since tried to walk it back, but no one is actually buying it.

The reason I bring this up is not to show up that one case, but to show up an entire practice, of which Benghazi is only one example, and which is far broader and much more significant.

Conservatives have a host of issues and agendas which are, like Benghazi, essentially just political lies perpetrated for political benefit. That’s not the significant point, as such ploys are common.

The significant features are that (1) the ploys are obviously and transparently lies in the face of overwhelming, well-established fact, and (2) conservatives get away with them cold simply by publicly stating that they are not political ploys.

This is modeled along the same lines as the open bribery that now corrupts politics: you can be obvious as hell about taking bribes, but so long as you do it in the official manner and claim that it is not a bribe, you can get away with it. So long as there is the tiniest shred of doubt that your egregious fallacy is something that you may actually believe is real, this doubt automatically wins you complete credibility, allowing you to shape policy, pass laws, and potentially harm millions of people.

Mind you, it is not doubt as to whether or not your “facts” are in any sense real, it is about whether or not you publicly maintain that they are real. It is akin to somebody saying that aliens implanted radio receivers in your dental work and you are getting transmissions direct from God, and so long as you maintain the claim, people have to respect it and allow you to act as if it were real.

This tactic has been applied to a range of aggressive political acts of fraud:

  • Voter fraud: conservatives claim that there is widespread voter fraud, something which has been proven false, but use the claim to create voting laws which are clearly aimed at disenfranchising people who vote against them. We know that voter fraud is rare and that the “remedies” are the real fraud, but we just sit and let it happen.
  • Obamacare: conservatives claim it will bust the budget and destroy jobs, even after it has been working for years and clearly is working opposite to how they claim. We know that Obamacare works and is better than the alternatives, but we just sit and let them grind the government to a halt.
  • Trickle-down: conservatives keep claiming that giving tax cuts to “job creators” and getting rid of various taxes on wealthy people and corporations will create jobs and balance the budget when it is undeniably clear that such policies have done no such thing. We know that higher tax rates for the rich and a better minimum wage for the poor and middle class is a good idea, but we let them shape tax policy in a way we understand is destructive.
  • The Iran Treaty: despite the fact that virtually every unbiased expert guarantees that this is as good a deal as anyone could possibly imagine, Republicans continue to insist that it will destroy us. We know that the treaty is the best thing and that Republicans would be hailing it as a miracle if it had been brokered by one of their own, but we give their lies credence all the same.
  • Climate Change: the jury has been in for years now, the facts could not be more clear, but conservatives continue to fight the idea that climate change is caused by human activity and thus we need to change or else the consequences will only become more and more grave. We know this is true, but allow conservatives to run the legislative show as if everything was reversed.

There are more, but I trust that you can see the pattern: in all of the above cases, Benghazi included, it is completely and utterly clear, provable by actual, settled fact, that conservatives are perpetrating sheer, transparent lies. Not just opinions, not just beliefs, but complete fabrications which they obviously know are fabricated for partisan political purposes.

And yet, Republicans are given the benefit of the doubt and a waiver from the press, the public, and even sometimes from the law itself simply by maintaining the shamelessly dishonest pretense that they are not lying and that their fraud is not a fraud.

It is just as transparent as if a child is caught with his hand in the cookie jar and yet claims that he’s not stealing cookies. And yet, here we are, letting the child stand at the cookie jar, just staring at us brazenly and impudently while he downs every single cookie one by one, and we just stand here impotently because, well, the kid said he wasn’t eating any cookies, so what can we do?

Nor is it just us standing here, it’s the media, reporting the lies as if they could be real, as if it were just a matter of opinion, deathly afraid of pointing out the lie lest the child accuse the media of being biased and cutting off their access. And we’re stupid enough to just stand here and let it all happen.

When did it become so easy to cow everybody?

That has to stop. The media has to stop perpetuating these lies just because they’re afraid to be labeled as “biased” by the liars. And the public has to have more self-respect than to accept the lies simply because we like the outcome or feel like there’s nothing we can do.

Stop being complicit, stop being a coward. Call them what they are, and stop allowing the liars to get away with it.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags: by

It’s Time to Collectively, Publicly, and Definitively Denounce the False Gun Nut Hitler Claim

October 3rd, 2015 1 comment

Tt100805Gun nuts* keep repeating their refrain: privately owned weapons are the most effective bulwark against the rise of tyranny, or its continued reign.

They imagine themselves as patriotic heroes, ready to grab their AR-15s and do battle with the minions of Obama-turned-genocidal-maniac. They believe that the model of a modern American tyranny is a liberal coming into the White House, grabbing control in a military coup (because somehow the U.S. military turned ultra-liberal all of a sudden), and confiscating the guns of the people before rounding up all the Christians and conservatives and placing them in concentration camps (no, not those ones, those are okay, and we actually like these ones) before their eventual extermination.

If a tyrant comes to power in the U.S., it is most likely that said tyrant will represent himself as a true-blue patriot, will drape himself in a flag and profess a profound belief in Christianity, and will have the full-throated support of the pro-gun crowd. The same people fearing being rounded up will appear at rallies, declare others like Muslims to be “the problem,” and will ask when their new leader will “get rid of them.”

Tyrants don’t really care about confiscating your guns. Hitler relaxed gun control in Germany. Saddam Hussein didn’t confiscate guns; Iraqi gun culture under Hussein was more open than our own (ironically, we instituted gun control in Iraq). The people under the Taliban have guns. Most tyrants allow their people to have guns for a very simple reason: most tyrants have the support of at least a majority of their people, and very often it’s the people who have the guns.

Gun advocates are the most likely to vote the tyrant into office; tyrants tend to use the most easily frightened segments of society, those who fear they are losing what they have, and Americans who possess guns, including the more reasonable people, are fearful of losing what they feel is their right.

But here is the irony: when tyrants rise, they will not take the guns. Their first act will be the same as it always is: to control communications. They will take the television and radio networks, and they will try to control the Internet, just as China does. They will monitor phone conversations and Internet activity.

Well, in our country, communications are heavily licensed and registered, right down to ham radio sets. You never hear the gun extremists worrying about any of this. They are, in fact, very often vocal supporters of the government surveilling phone and Internet activity.

When a tyrant rises, their second act will be to identify and monitor the people so as to corral them and control them. Any depiction of a fascist state would be incomplete without a picture of security officers stopping people in public and demanding to see their papers.

And yet, who is it that wants to have the police demand to see people’s papers? Who demands we all get IDs to prove who we are? Yep: the same people who spread the fears that dictators will be confiscating our guns.

When a tyrant rises, their third act will be to control the movement of people. We have traffic cameras everywhere now, and any kind of public or private transportation is heavily licensed and regulated.

And yet, the people who say they are the bulwark against the iron fist of dictators seem completely unconcerned with such facts.

All of this belies the idea that the gun nuts actually oppose dictatorships at all. At best, they believe they will be champions coming to the rescue with their trusty firearms. Like this guy in Texas, who came to the aid of a carjacking victim, his gun blazing—and then promptly shot the victim in the head while the criminals escaped. Then he panicked and scrambled to pick up all his shell casings before fleeing the scene and going into hiding. At worst, they just like their guns and will go to any length, make any claim no matter how bizarre, as a justification to use guns without restriction.

So tell me, Mr. My-Gun-Will-Stop-American-Hitler, if a tyrant has control over TV, radio, the Internet, and the phone system, monitors all communications, controls what you see and hear, knows exactly who you are and everything about you, tracks you everywhere you go and controls your movements—and in addition to all that, wields armed forces with not just rifles equal to yours, but also tanks and artillery and drones and jets and weapons of mass destruction—exactly how do you plan to overthrow that tyrant with your AR-15?

The answer: you don’t. Because you were the guy who voted the tyrant into power in the first place. If you’re one of the extremists, you want the tyrant—that is, you want the tyrant to make everyone else do what you want. But the "tyrant"? He’s your guy. And you’re likely the one standing in front of him blaming all your problems on a group of Americans you hate, calling them “the problem,” and asking when your new leader is going to “get rid of them.”

Tyrants are those who impose their will on others in a way that make others suffer. Well, look at all the people who now lay dead because of how you bent society to your will. And they are just the first wave of your victims should your influence grow beyond the unchecked and uncontrolled proliferation of guns.

More often than not, tyrants come from within.

The Unbearable Hypocrisy of Self-Pleased Liars

September 22nd, 2015 2 comments

SmugpatakiI swear to God, if I hear one more conservative say about the Iraq War, “Oh, you mean the war that Hillary voted for?” and then wear a smug expression like they just won the argument, I am going to lose it. Any person using that particular fraudulent contention deserves a righteous smack in the face.

That statement is the pat conservative response whenever someone points out that it was conservatives who led us to the war, who caused it in the first place—usually after a conservative has blamed Obama for ISIL and the current situation in Iraq. Often John Kerry is cited along with Hillary, depending on the focus of the lie.

The use of Clinton’s vote as some kind of magical Get Out of Jail Free card to absolve conservatives for their criminally devastating actions is nothing less than a facile, asinine, deceptive, self-serving fraud which deserves to be shouted down with not just scorn but scathing fury at the smug dismissal of their complicity in manufacturing a war that has so savagely devastated our nation and laid waste to what little stability there was in the Middle East.

Here are the facts:

  • Were Bush not in office, Democrats never would have chosen to go to war in Iraq—not even a hawk like Hillary would have led us to a war there.
  • Neither Clinton nor Kerry voted to start the war, but insisted that before a war could be waged, conditions would have to be met—conditions which would have prevented the war from starting had the Bush administration not rushed into war, or would have made the war far less a disaster than it was.
  • The Iraq Resolution to grant war powers was presented as a means to negotiation—you can’t negotiate strongly if you don’t have authorization to go to war—and the Bush administration swore up and down that the war powers would be used only as a last resort after every other recourse was exhausted; Bush said, “Approving this resolution does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable.”
  • The primary reason why Clinton, Kerry, and many others believed Hussein had WMD and was a building threat was precisely because we were all working from information from the intelligence community, which was being manipulated by the Bush administration to provide a patently false view of the potential and imminent threat from Iraq.
  • Weapons inspectors, despite some difficulties, were making a great deal of headway and were being effective in finding and arranging for dismantling of what little Iraq had left in the way of WMD support equipment; ignoring this progress and the pleas of the weapons inspectors as well as international voices of restraint, Bush ordered the inspectors out and started the war in violation of his own promise and of the conditions under which Clinton and Kerry gave their approval.
  • Even if Clinton and Kerry had been both virulently pro-war, it would not in the least negate the fact that the Bush administration and Republicans in general were the instigators of the war, and responsible for the disastrously incompetent manner in which it was executed.

So, what is the glibly fatuous assertion supposed to mean? That because Clinton, under the huge political duress of the post-9/11 atmosphere of fear, made a self-serving political calculation and demanded full inspections and international cooperation, that Bush was therefore not responsible for providing the false intelligence which prompted that view and intentionally driving us into the war?

Or that the conservatives who helped drive us into the war are free of guilt because people like Clinton didn’t try hard enough to stop them?

Not to mention: Hillary Clinton has long since publicly announced that her decision was wrong; neither Bush has done so.

Cheney, Bush, and Republicans wanted that war to happen, made that war happen, and executed it disastrously, and bear the primary and overwhelming responsibility for the war and what followed it, and anyone who still supports that war shares that guilt in how it will warp our future actions.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy, Right-Wing Lies Tags: by

Try “Leadership,” “Responsibility,” or Simply “Not Tolerating Extremism.” Take Your Pick.

September 19th, 2015 1 comment

Rick Santorum spoke in defense of Donald Trump’s shockingly tolerant reply to a question which demanded ethnic cleansing in the United States:

[Santorum] told reporters at a presidential forum here in Greenville organized by Heritage Action that it’s not the job of presidential candidates to “police” questions or voters.

“It’s not my job, it’s not Donald Trump’s job, it’s not anybody’s job to police a question. The questioner can say whatever he wants, it’s a free country,” Santorum said told reporters.

Actually, it is your job, if the job you are trying to acquire is one of leadership and responsibility. Any position of authority, in fact, requires that you, at the very minimum, lead those who follow you on the path of at least minimal moral and ethical standards. If you run a playground and the kids start fighting, you are required to stop the fight. If you run a business and you hear one employee planning to sabotage the career of another, you put a stop to it. And if you are running for president of the United States, and your followers begin demanding what amounts to an international war crime, then you bet your goddamned ass you better set the record straight on that. You don’t respond to a call for ethnic cleansing by saying, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, we’re looking into that.”

Santorum here is, at the very least, trying to dodge the minimal responsibility a leader must display—or, at the most, and perhaps just as likely, simply agrees with the sentiment that Muslims should be cleansed from our country.

Either way, neither he nor Trump is showing the kind of responsibility or leadership which is minimally required for any position of authority—which is excellent evidence as to why neither deserves any.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by

Somewhere Along the Line, This Stopped Being So Funny

September 18th, 2015 2 comments

When Kim Davis was jailed for contempt of court after she refused to carry out her legal duties and denied gay couples the ability to exercise their right to be married, her lawyer, Matthew Staver, said:

“What happened in Nazi Germany?” Staver asked on Crossfire, a current affairs program hosted by the Christian Information Radio network. “First, they removed the Jews from government public employment, then they stopped patronizing them in their private businesses, then they continued to stigmatize them, then they were the ‘problems,’ then they killed them.”

A few days later, he followed that up with a similar statement on a right-wing radio show:

“Back in the 1930s, it began with the Jews, where they were evicted from public employment, then boycotted in their private employment, then stigmatized and that led to the gas chambers. This is the new persecution of Christians here in this country.”

As I pointed out when this happened, Staver was ludicrously wrong—although millions of conservative Christians believe it to be literally true.

As it happens, however, something along the lines of 1930’s Germany is happening in the United States right now. However, it’s not liberals putting Christians in jail.

Read this exchange between the front-runner for the GOP, and one of his supporters at a rally:

To kick things off, Trump pointed at a man in the audience: “Okay, this man. I like this guy.”

“We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims,” the man said. “We know our current president is one. You know, he’s not even an American. Birth certificate, man.”

“Right,” Trump said, then adding with a shake of his head: “We need this question? This first question.”

“But any way,” the man said. “We have training camps… where they want to kill us.”

“Uh huh,” Trump said.

“That’s my question: When can we get rid of them?” the man said.

Naturally, Trump immediately saw this as a red flag, and warned his followers off of that particular dangerous line of thought.

No, of course, I’m kidding. Trump did no such thing. Responding to the statement in which Muslims in America were defined as murderous and “a problem” followed by a query as to how we “get rid of them,” Trump responded:

“We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things. You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to look at that and plenty of other things.”

Now, Trump is not being like Hitler or anything; his reply is a generalized, content-free, non-committal reply intended to appease the questioner without really saying anything. However, for a public official, indeed the front-runner for national leader, is presented with an almost unveiled question regarding what is essentially a call for ethnic cleansing, to respond positively in any manner is disastrously, almost criminally irresponsible.

While I still believe that Trump cannot possibly win the presidency, while I still see him as a joke who usefully exposes the radical nature of the conservative base, I am becoming less and less comfortable with his candidacy. I hate to make this kind of analogy, but Hitler also was seen early on as a buffoon, an amateur, easily mocked and dismissed. Nor am I the only one to see uncomfortable parallels. As I just wrote, I do not see Trump as being like Hitler; he is more of an opportunist, jumping on the bandwagon to create a power base. However, his followers are beginning to sound eerily like those who followed any number of genocidal dictators.

As a result, this isn’t as funny as it used to be.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by

Tradition Is Not Always a Good Thing

September 13th, 2015 2 comments

I’m still hearing conservatives argue that one-man-one-woman is the “traditional” form of marriage, presented as logic as to why gay marriage should not be allowed. The accuracy of that dubious statement aside, my question is—and I’m sure it has been asked many times before, but is worth pointing out again—why is tradition a reason for not changing something? Slavery is a tradition as old as marriage; does that mean we should fight to preserve it? “Slavery has always been about one master and many servants! These new laws redefining slavery as unjust are an abomination!”

Clearly, just because something is traditional does not mean it is virtuous or good, just as “the Bible says so” is not a good reason to make civil statute—which is ironically relevant, as the Bible also records and sometimes supports the tradition of slavery as well, an argument used against abolitionists of the day.

Some traditions should be changed in the light of modern—and more rational and compassionate—understanding.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

How Can You… Oh, Forget It

September 13th, 2015 1 comment

6 years ago today I asked, How can you belong to this party and not be horribly ashamed?

Jesus. If I knew then what the GOP is like now, I would probably have had a very different perspective. At the time, I could hardly have imagined them being more insane than they were then.

Now I know better. What scares me is, what will we be looking at 6 years from now? Just thinking about it scares the crap out of me.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by

The ABC’s of Data Deletion

September 13th, 2015 Comments off

Hillary claimed ignorance regarding how the process of “wiping” a hard drive works. That doesn’t surprise me, but the ignorance of journalists in the matter is surprising. Doesn’t anyone do even basic research any more? Here’s the Washington Post—the Post, for crying out loud:

“To make the information go away permanently, a server must be wiped — a process that includes overwriting the underlying data with gibberish, possibly several times.”

Really? A “server” must be wiped? With “gibberish”? Oi. Hold on, I’m about to get into the nuts and bolts of it. If you don’t want to know how erasing data from a computer works, move on—but it’s good knowledge to have, especially if you want to protect your data when disposing of an old device!

First of all, a “server” is not being wiped, the hard drive is. A server is technically not even a computer, it is software running on a computer, and the computer running it is often referred to as a “server”—but the part that is wiped is the data on the hard drive.

Next, “wiped” is not the most technical term, it is at least somewhat vague.

There are four basic ways to delete data on a disk: first, delete it from within a program; second, simply trash the files and empty the trash; third, reformat the hard drive; and fourth, to “zero out” the drive.

The first three ways of deleting data that I described (deleting, trashing, and reformatting) are, depending on the circumstances, recoverable. None of them actually destroy the data; in all three cases, the data remains on the disk, but either (depending on the file system used) it is marked as occupying space that can be taken up by new data at any time, or its directory information is erased so the computer “sees” the disk space as “blank” and therefore it’s allowable to write new data there.

In both of these cases, data stays on the drive until the computer, at some point, needs to save newer data, and decides to use the space taken up by the older data. This happens bit by bit, and depending on how full the drive gets, “deleted” data can remain on the disk for weeks, months, or even years. Data is often only partly destroyed. If the disk used is nearly full, then perhaps most of the data is destroyed as all the space is quickly needed; if the disk is mostly empty, there’s a good chance most of the data still remains, but the data still could be partly or fully overwritten.

That last way to delete data is what the Post is rather cluelessly referring to, and is the only way to securely erase data from a hard drive.

The technical term for this—the one everyone should be focusing on—is to “zero out” the disk. This is a process in which the computer literally writes all zeroes (rather than zeroes and ones) in every single place that the disk contains data. (It does not write “gibberish,” which would be random zeroes and ones.) The “zeroing out” process usually completely destroys the data that used to exist on the disk.

You may wonder why this process is not always used; the answer is, it takes time. When you save data on a disk, it takes a certain amount of time; to actually destroy the data, it would take the same amount of time. Try saving a long video from your smartphone on your computer; it might take a minute. However, you throw it in the recycle bin and then empty that, it takes almost no time. That’s because the data is not being zeroed out. It’s not necessary, and people would be annoyed if emptying the trash took several minutes every time. To zero out a whole disk takes hours.

You may need to consider this the next time you sell, give away, or even throw away an old computer: unless you “wiped” the hard drive in a way that took hours to accomplish, your data has not really been erased, and can be recovered!

So, is the data really destroyed when you zero out the disk? It depends. Remember the post wrote that it must be done “possibly several times.” Older hard drive technology was not so precise, and the marks used to indicate a 1 or a 0 might not be in exactly the same position, in which case overwriting with a zero might not completely cover up all the previous data. (It would be really hard to recover more than just fragmentary data, though.) As a result, older drives would need to be zeroed out many times. Apple has the option of zeroing out the whole drive 7 or even 35 times! Just once can take a few hours, so, well, you do the math.

Newer hard drives are more precise, and may only need to be zeroed out just once. I am not certain, but there may be a way that super-uber-geeks have to still recover that data, but I would bet against even them getting more than just a few crumbs here and there. It’s supposed to be pretty secure—but zeroing-out software still provides for the option of multiple overwrites.

Now, you may be wondering, how can I do zero out my data? If you have a Mac, zeroing out is built in to the OS; if you look in the Finder menu, under “Empty Trash,” there is an option to “Secure Empty Trash”; this will zero out only the data you have in the trash. If you open an app provided by Apple called “Disk Utility,” there are options to “securely erase” whole disks. For Windows, you can download free software that does the same thing. Just search (in a trusted software source) for “zero out utility”.

If you don’t feel like you can do this yourself, get a geek friend to do it for you. If you can’t, then be aware that your data can be accessed by the next person to get their hands on that device.

Zeroing out is what Karl Rove and the GOP did when they tried to destroy 22 million emails they didn’t want the public to see. In 2010, an archive of the email was in fact found—but we still don’t know what was in them, as they are going through a review that has so far taken 5 years, presumably to week out classified material.

And then, there’s another flaw in this now-raging “news” story: the only information is that the company that maintained the server—but obviously not the only ones to have access to it—said that they didn’t have a record of it being “wiped”—but not only does that not mean they didn’t zero it out, it also has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not someone else, like Hillary’s IT guy, zeroed it out. If they were smart, then they would have taken the email archive, deleted the emails they felt were personal, then copied the reduced archive to a new disk, and then destroyed the original archive data.

It appears that Hillary’s email deletion was far more casual—but I’d be willing to bet good money that if the files can be recovered, Republicans will waste no time rifling through every last one they can find and then leaking the juiciest ones, probably completely out of context and even partially made-up to boot, just like they did with the Benghazi emails.

And in the end, this is all about nothing more than an attempted smear job. Conservatives could give a rat’s ass as to whether Hillary actually did anything wrong, and they sure as freaking hell do not give a crap about whether national security was at risk (these are the people who outed a CIA agent for political payback, remember—one of they key issues discussed in emails the Bush White House deleted). No, this is about shooting Hillary down and nothing else.

The press should be ashamed that they’re giving this more than back-page attention.

Categories: Journalism, Technology Tags: by

The Inevitable False Equivalency

September 8th, 2015 4 comments

Davis-StanleyIt was bound to happen: with Kim Davis, conservatives found their false equivalency.

Charee Stanley, a Muslim flight attendant working for ExpressJet, converted to Islam a year after she started working as a flight attendant. A year after that, she learned that she was prohibited by her faith not just to drink alcohol, but to serve it as well. She asked the airline for exemption from the duty of serving alcohol, and the airline reasonably accommodated her.

The accommodation should be simple to figure out: when serving meals, she always does the food end, and not the drink end of the cart. And if a passenger asks for an alcoholic beverage at any other time, she takes the order and hands it off to another attendant. If that causes her coworkers to complain that she’s causing them more work, then she can simply pick up the slack in other duties. Simple.

But then this happened:

It seemed to be working out until another flight attendant filed a complaint against Stanley on August 2 claiming she was not fulfilling her duties by refusing to serve alcohol, Masri said. The employee complaint also said Stanley had a book with “foreign writings” and wore a headdress.

Well, it’s not hard to figure out what happened there. The headdress and “foreign writings” complaint are an unmistakable tip-off: the co-worker, clearly hostile to Muslims, and probably a fundamental stripe of Christian, either was freaked out by a religion they did not understand or just simply was filled with hate. I would gladly lay down a sizable bet that had the attendant asked for an exemption because her Christian beliefs prohibited serving alcohol, the complainer would have had no problem with it. Even if she had a Greek bible.

Sadly, the airline felt that this was more trouble than they wanted to deal with, and responded by rewarding the asshat xenophobe and essentially fired the Muslim attendant—precisely the opposite of what I would have done were I running the outfit.

Not that I am completely on Stanley’s side: if her religious sensitivities make handling the affair too difficult, she has no right to demand the exemption; if the position more or less requires the handling of alcohol and there’s no easy way around it, then that’s the job. If it would have caused too much extra work for her co-workers, again that would be a problem. Stanley didn’t have the right to demand the exemption were it an undue burden for the employer or others on the job.

However, that wasn’t the case: handling the affair was, for quite some time, a simple enough matter. It was only when her hostile co-worker complained that the problem arose. The difficulty issued not from Stanley’s exemption, but from the co-workers personal issues. Stanley was essentially fired not for her religious beliefs, but because of bigotry on the part of a co-worker, which the company unreasonably accommodated.

So the Muslim flight attendant sued the airlines, the issue hit the media, and now right-wingers are gleefully whining about how those hypocritical liberals are coddling the Muslim in what was the exact same situation as Kim Davis, whom those same nasty liberals were savaging.

This is a much different sentiment than what’s been said about accommodating Kim Davis’s religious beliefs at her place of employment. In addition, Stanley’s job duties were known when she took her position, unlike Kim Davis, who had her responsibilities change after the Supreme Court ruling.

Many will state the difference is that one position is a public office and the other is not. This too is flawed. According to Davis’s opposition, the fact she is an elected official changes what’s expected of her, and they therefore believe she should have resigned if she could no longer comply with her duties. However, if we want to talk about the proper way to handle an elected position, let’s discuss what Kim Davis should have faced. There should have been an immediate recall election. Why didn’t her opposition do this? Because they knew she’d likely be reelected. Therefore, does this not infringe on the rights of voters to choose their county officials? The appropriate procedure was circumvented in an attempt for the liberal left to demand their way.

So, let’s look at the objections stated above:

#1: Stanley knew her job requirements when she took her job. Sure; and if her converting to Islam made it impossible to do her duties, then the result would be the same as Davis: live with the conflict, or quit. However, Stanley had an accommodation that was simple and easy to carry out, as was demonstrated.

#2: Kim Davis had her responsibilities change after the Supreme Court ruling. Yep. And if the Supreme Court ruled that headdresses were a health hazard for flight crews and that religious exemptions could not be made, the same would have applied to Stanley.

#3: It is flawed to argue that the cases are different because one position is a public office and the other is not. It is not at all flawed. Davis had to swear an oath to uphold the law, and was not exempt just because the law changed. Also, if Stanley didn’t want to serve drinks, that would not send her to jail.

#4: The proper way to handle Davis’ situation would have been an immediate recall election. Um, no, actually, that’s stupid. That would suggest that the public had the right to judge whether or not Davis could ignore the law; they do not. Had Davis won a recall election, it would have simply landed Davis right back where she was at the start: in contempt of court.

As quickly becomes apparent, the objections are based on convoluted distortions, misrepresentations, and apparent ignorance of how things work, with attempts to dodge the central issues and claim issues where none exist.

Not to mention that there is one major, significant difference that cannot be honestly ignored: Stanley agreed to serve customers with a work-around, while Davis explicitly refused any work-around, and forbade all workers in her office from doing their duties. Davis’ actions would be the equivalent of Stanley forcing the entire flight crew to stop serving alcohol against the airline’s strict orders.

Indeed, Davis was specifically offered an accommodation by the court, exactly like the one Stanley was offered—in this, their cases were the same. The difference was that, while Stanley happily accepted hers, Davis outright rejected hers. Stanley was happy to allow others to enjoy their rights, Davis was intent on denying others their rights.

Do you think I would care one bit if Davis had done exactly what Stanley had done, and allowed people to enjoy their rights under the law while herself avoiding direct participation? Absolutely not. No one would have. Davis could have avoided any problems from the start by doing that.

Liberals have absolutely no problem with anyone of any religious calling receiving accommodations for their beliefs, so long as this does not infringe on the rights of others or interfere with their lives in any significant manner. So come down from the ceiling, conservatives—the hypocrisy is not from this end.

Remember those religious orders that refused to allow their workers to get health care if treatments the orders objected to would be included? They were also offered accommodations, and had they accepted them, there again would have been no big deal. Liberals would have been perfectly fine with that. However, the religious orders instead insisted on denying their workers the right to health care of their choice. The religious orders did not try to accommodate, did not try to keep their hands clean while allowing individuals the right to practice their faith as they wished; instead, the deliberately extended their own participation far beyond what was acceptable, and insisted on controlling the lives of others where they had no right to do so.

That’s the line: affecting the lives of others, denying them their rights, interfering with their lives. Accommodations can almost always be made. It is not the people these Christians disapprove of who are causing the problems, it is the Christians demanding religious control beyond their own right to do so.

The First Amendment gives you the right to free practice of religion, and it gives the same right to everyone else. Yours is not special, it does not extend to covering others you believe you have dominance over.

Categories: Religion Tags: by

Clinton and the Emails

September 6th, 2015 3 comments

First, let me say that I am not a big Hillary Clinton fan. My impression is that she will continue everything Obama is doing that disappoints me, and likely will expand that to even more stuff I won’t like. I see her as another candidate bound to wealth and business, only mouthing platitudes to the middle class but likely not much more. Like Obama, she’ll very vaguely be on our side, but will never lead—she’ll only move when the fruit is over-ripe and then catch it falling and say she was behind it all along.

I would be quite happy if Clinton fell from the race and Sanders were allowed to burst forth; he’s my only actual hope for a candidate.

That said, I wanted to comment on the whole email thing. From what I read (Slate’s account seems well-informed and not apologetic), it’s dubious, at best—but like Benghazi, enough dust can be kicked up to make it look like Clinton was guilty of something, and that’s good enough for Republicans. And while it is possible that something may at some time emerge that could be legally damaging to Clinton, it seems unlikely.

However, even if something emerges showing that Clinton did something more than just fishy, and at least unethical, and possibly even something illegal—as much as I dislike Clinton, I strongly believe that she should get a pass on it. Again, I wouldn’t mind seeing her kicked out, but on principle, she shouldn’t be.

There are two fundamental reasons behind this.

First, laws should not be upheld selectively—and the laws in this case are being applied as selectively as you can imagine. During the Bush 43 administration, non-government email servers were used on a massive scale, involving far more damning investigations (including the US Attorney scandal), and as many as 22 million emails were deleted, roughly 500 times as many as Clinton is said to have deleted. And not only were Rove and several others heavily involved never charged with anything, but Republicans threatened the political equivalent of all-out nuclear war if Democrats, having regained control of Congress in 2006, even thought about investigating the matter. So, as far as I’m concerned, until Republicans first begin a thorough investigation into the Bush email scandal, they have zero foundation for investigating Hillary.

A law is meaningless—worse than meaningless—if it is only applied to politicians of one party, and not the other.

The second reason is related to the first: the investigation into Clinton and the emails is about as purely political as you could possibly get. This is not about national security, this is not about whether or not something wrong was done. This is about Hillary being a 2016 powerhouse, and Republicans hating her guts and wanting to take her down if it is the last thing they ever do. If Hillary were not running, there would be no investigation. Period. And when it comes to investigations designed solely to destroy a political candidate, again, we enter the realm of “much worse than meaningless.” It is, is no uncertain terms, a blatant abuse of power, above and beyond the baselessness and the sheer hypocrisy involved.

Not that that ever stopped Republicans.

When You Love Persecution Way More Than Reality

September 5th, 2015 Comments off

Kim Davis’ lawyer actually said this:

“Back in the 1930s, it began with the Jews, where they were evicted from public employment, then boycotted in their private employment, then stigmatized and that led to the gas chambers. This is the new persecution of Christians here in this country.”

Yes, because back in Nazi Germany, 83% of the German people were Jews, along with 90% of the lawmakers, and all of the highest leaders. The Holocaust then began when one Jewish person violated the law and went to jail because she was trying to force non-Jewish Germans to follow Jewish religious beliefs. You see, it started exactly the same way!

Good analogy. Except for, well, everything. However, this is the new reality for many conservative Christians: in the vast majority, with virtual dominance over just about everything in the country, but if they are not allowed to force everyone else to do exactly what they say, well then, persecution and gas chambers for 83% of the country is up next.

Because if Christians are not allowed the violate the law and deny other people their civil rights in the name of their religion, then how can this be called a “free” country?

All snark aside, this is what they truly believe. For them, the norm is not equality for all, it is religious hegemony of Christianity over everyone else, and anything short of that is persecution of all their kind.

I wish I were kidding.

Categories: Religion Tags: by

A Matter of Perspective

September 3rd, 2015 1 comment

According to reports, in an isolated incident, a single worker at an Arby’s in South Florida refused to serve a police officer who ordered a meal. The manager then personally served the officer, saying that if the employee didn’t want to serve them, they did not have to. Now, police officers in that town are calling for a nationwide boycott of the restaurant until the worker and the manager are terminated.

“I am offended and appalled that an individual within our community would treat a police officer in such a manner. It is unacceptable,” stated PPPD Chief Dan Giustino.

The incident prompted wives of officers to stage a protest at the restaurant.

“I wanna cry. My husband spent 25 years. My son is an officer,” said protester Wendy Sorrell. …

“It is beyond comprehension and deeply troubling that a business would deny service to a law enforcement officer just for being a law enforcement officer. … This is yet another example of the hostile treatment of our brave men and women simply because they wear a badge. It is unacceptable and warrants much more than an apology. …” said Florida and Dade County PBA president John Rivera.

Look. Clearly, this was not good customer service. No denying that.

However, let’s get a little perspective here. A single police officer was temporarily delayed because when they ordered a sandwich, one person did not feel like they wanted to serve them. That is the totality of what happened here. A single act of disrespect. The manager personally served them, and tried to make light of it. That’s it.

And now, you have an entire department, including family members, picketing and staging protests, literally weeping in rage, over how one of their kind was not served a sandwich with respect.

To all of those Broward County police officers and their families now in such terrible pain and suffering, let me ask you this question:

Did it occur to you that perhaps the server in question might have been a friend, colleague, or family member of someone who was stopped by a police officer, arrested for not being respectful enough or because of their race, tased, beaten, humiliated, or even shot and killed?

Because, you see, when a police officer, charged with serving the public, commits acts of violence and even murder like that, police officers in general seem to expect us to brush that off and simply accept it. Only rarely does the officer pay any price for such conduct. And cases in which people are unjustly killed by police officers happen hundreds of times a year, all over the nation. Probably thousands of beatings.

You people all break down in rage over a fucking Arby’s sandwich. Consider how it might feel if that officer, instead of not getting a fast food meal served with the proper respect, had a gun pulled on them by a screaming Arby’s employee, who then shoved them to the ground, beat them, and killed them—and then was cleared of wrongdoing by the store’s manager and was allowed to go on serving people at the restaurant.

Now, that would be a good reason to be apoplectic.

But not being served once, possibly by someone who had been personally scarred by police misconduct?

Here’s the deal: if you expect us to simply accept police officers killing so many unarmed people and not be upset about it, I think you can deal with not being served with respect from time to time.

You know the family of the police officer in Texas who was killed by a man just because he was a police officer? Or that of the one in Illinois? Those people deserve to be angry, they deserve to be weeping in rage. As do the families of people beaten and killed unjustly by police. Their tearful protests I will respect and feel the deepest sympathy for.

But not being served a sandwich?

Get over yourselves.

Categories: Social Issues Tags: by

Your Paycheck Is Not Your Value

September 2nd, 2015 1 comment

Reich is, of course, correct. I remember sitting in on an Econ class and hearing that assertion: remuneration reflects the person’s worth to the company. Which, of course, is baloney.

People are not paid what they are worth, they are paid what they can negotiate. And since unions have been decimated and unemployment is still high, that means businesses are in a powerful position to negotiate, and workers are in a weak position. On the other hand, people high up in the business are in a much more powerful position to negotiate for excessive pay—both the negotiation power and the excessive pay because they either are the ones who decide what pay is, or they hold sway over those people. So the workers are hit hard, and the execs are awash.

But what about the worth of a person to the business? True, a leader can make or break the business much more than could a rank-and-file worker. But then, if a company had mostly rank-and-file and just a handful of executives, they would likely do much better than a firm with mostly executives and only a handful of actual workers. The workers are at least worth what the executives are—and probably much more.

But that’s not how remuneration is decided: it is decided, at least in theory, on who is easier to replace. You can much more easily replace the rank-and-file, so they are valued less. And while you can just as easily replace executives, the illusion is that somehow they are magical in their value and deserve far greater pay.

The pay is certainly not based on what the employee generates. I recall once taking a management position at a conversation school. I was told that my performance for the year would determine if I got the same pay as the person I replaced. Despite having replaced two managers and then innovating a system that saved the school tens of thousands of dollars per year, I was told I would not get the promised pay based on a single mild disagreement I had with someone else in the office some time before, despite the matter never coming up at that time or any other. The idea that you are rewarded in step with what you generate may be true in some places of business, but not, I would wager, in most.

In business, the rule is not “what people are worth,” it’s not “what’s fair,” it’s not “what’s right.” It is, to put it simply, “what you can get away with.”

If businesses are not going to abandon that rule, as is apparent, then why should they expect workers to not begin playing by it?

Categories: Economics Tags: by

Blaming the Firemen for the Fire

August 30th, 2015 1 comment

Another police officer has been gunned down, another black man the suspect. No matter what the provocation, any violence is utterly unjustifiable.

protesters wearing unite not incite shirtsThis killing is immediately being linked to the Black Lives Matter movement, as have other killings of police officers by black men, and is being used to shame and denounce the movement for criticizing police for their actions. Certainly, were the rhetoric of the representatives of Black Lives Matter to rise to the level where they incited violence, that would be objectionable; however, they have been quite careful not to, including using the slogan, “Unite, Not Incite.” That hasn’t stopped the connections from being made, and from various voices among conservatives denouncing Black Lives Matter, calling them “race hustlers,” and accusing them of inciting a “race war.”

Even the sheriff who lost a deputy yesterday said, “when the rhetoric ramps up to the point where calculated, coldblooded assassinations of police officers happen, this rhetoric has gotten out of control.”

You hear about this quite a bit, but you rarely hear anyone point out any actual rhetoric which incites to violence. When such is found, it is usually someone from left field, some unknown person who was cited only because they said something outrageous. The national rhetoric, however, has been clearly against violence, not for it. They condemn acts of violence against police and instigate for less, not more killing. What are they supposed to do—stop protesting the widespread killing of people in their community? Stop pointing out the injustice?

I would like you to reflect for a moment, however, on what would happen if one of the leaders of Black Lives Matter were to react to these killings by saying:

“We will look at an unaccountable, arrogant, out-of-control police force showing contempt for the law, and we know that the time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

And perhaps it would be followed up by NAACP president Cornell William Brooks announcing:

“There may be some connection where police are killing unarmed black men, yet are unaccountable to the public, and it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in violence. No one, including those police officers, including the sheriffs and police chiefs nationwide, should be surprised if one of us stands up and objects.”

I would think that there would be massive outrage and indignation against these people and the entire movement. We would probably never hear the end of it.

Of course, neither the BLM movement nor Brooks said any such thing, nor would they.

The thing is, I didn’t make those quotes up out of thin air. I minimally rephrased two people who did say those things. However, they weren’t black leaders—they were conservative leaders. They were, respectively, then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Republican Senator John Cornyn, back in 2005. They were not talking about police officers killing unarmed black men, they were talking about judges making decisions they did not like. DeLay was reacting to the Terry Schiavo case, and Cornyn was reacting to the Supreme Court overturning a death penalty in Missouri.

DeLay got into some trouble for his remarks, Cornyn much less. The point, however, is that the tragic killing of the deputy in Texas was not due to the Black Lives Movement, nor did their rhetoric make it happen. Conservative rhetoric often flares to the level of incitement, usually over fictional things like Death Panels and Jade Helm (remember when the right-wing nuts fired on U.S. troops?), and when that happens, they feel fully justified and indignant when the fact is noted—recall Sarah Palin’s outrage when her use of gun crosshairs on liberal politicians was called out.

It is hypocrisy of the highest order when the right-wing media, which makes a daily practice of inciting their base into a frenzy, and mostly over imaginary or vastly exaggerated things, to denounce the Black Lives Matter for “inciting a race war” when they specifically denounce violence of any kind.

When an African American movement protests the regular slaughtering of hundreds of unarmed black people each year, and does so whilst carefully warning against violence, this is called “out of control.”

Despite the sporadic and horrible random acts of violence we are seeing, the movement to stop violence is not the one that should be denounced.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags: by

Doing More, Just with Less Flash

August 27th, 2015 Comments off

One of the difficulties of several liberal vs. conservative policies is that the liberal ones are often at a disadvantage in apparent terms.

For example, racism exists in most part silently, whereas Affirmative Action and quotas are out in broad daylight; as a result, AA and quotas are very high-profile, whereas most racism, despite being far more prevalent and influential, hides from view.

This was brought to mind when a Facebook friend shared the story of a man whose life was very clearly saved by gun control. A woman had her gun confiscated by police because she did not have a license (something not required most of the time); the next day, the woman had a psychotic break, and used a knife to attack the writer of the post. He was stabbed twice, but was not seriously injured. Had there not been a requirement for a license, the police would have not been allowed to take her gun away, and the man would be dead. Luckily, this was in a state where a license is required; there are only 5 such states, and 40 have no requirement for permits or licenses whatsoever.

However, this is a rare case: the woman just happened to have been deprived of her weapon very recently, and the police happened to tell the victim about it.

In the vast majority of cases, gun control works in a way in which it can rarely if ever be definitively found to have saved any specific lives. As a result, anecdotes such as the ones above are extremely difficult to find.

On the other hand, when a person with a gun even suspects that their gun helped them, it gets trumpeted all over the Internet. There are endless anecdotes to be found; pro-gun sentiment and venomous spewing against gun control is incredibly pervasive over that medium.

The problem is, most of these are cases where there is an assumption that the firearm saved them, termed DGU, or “defensive gun use.” “That guy looked like trouble,” you will read, “but when I flashed my handgun under my jacket, he got scared and took off!” In such a case, there is no evidence that the gun stopped any actual event—just a feeling. Studies like those done by Gary Kleck include even the weakest data—such as, a man hears a sound outside his house, fires a warning shot, he sees nothing and nothing happens—as evidence of “defensive gun use,” which is then extrapolated to ridiculous effect. Furthermore, you know that most of these anecdotal reports are embellished to make the teller sound more heroic, and that cases in which firearms escalated situations and caused problems, you never hear people report that. This is the kind of “data” which is collected and used by gun advocacy groups to make “studies” which purportedly show that owning and carrying guns saves huge numbers of lives.

The thing is, no such report ever survived peer review intact; most if not all such studies are highly biased with severely flawed methodologies. However, it gets repeated, and strongly punctuated by anecdotal stories like the 83-year-old grandmother who fends off a street gang with a shotgun, or whatever.

It is unlikely that many will be able to report the specific effectiveness of gun control, despite its efficacy; it’s reporting about the dog that didn’t bark. Some criminal with a record for aggravated assault and murder tries to buy a gun, but gets arrested due to a background check. He goes to jail and never kills anyone again. How do the people who don’t get killed by this guy ever know they were saved? They don’t. And therefore, no anecdotal evidence. Or, at least, it is extremely rare, with only scattered stories like the one linked to above.

Despite the lack of persuasive anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of gun control, the figures supporting it are significant and convincing.

Between 1994 and 2010, at least 118,000 gun sales to wanted criminals have been stopped by background checks; during the same time, 1,034,000 convicted felons and 291,000 people with histories of domestic abuse tried to buy guns and were blocked by background checks. In total, over 2,000,000 illicit gun purchases have been stopped, an average of more than 62,000 per year—and that is with many weaknesses built into the program, weaknesses demanded by the NRA and other gun advocates.

The number of criminals trying to buy guns who were arrested because background checks does not seem to be available, but some figures are. For example, a background check instituted in Virginia has caused 1355 fugitives to be caught and arrested over a 20-year period; extrapolated to the population of the entire country, that would be the equivalent of 52,000 fugitives arrested over a 20-year period, about 2600 per year. In addition, the same state, in 2009 alone, arrested 856 individuals for violations related to background checks, which would amount to 32,000 per year nationwide.

So, with checks, every year, 62,000 illicit gun sales stopped, 32,000 arrests for illicit purchase attempts, 2600 wanted fugitives put in jail.

You want to argue that this does not/would not result in thousands of lives saved every year?

The problem is, since it works preventively—and because conservatives have fought hard to suppress any such research or reporting of numbers—it is impossible to say how many have been saved by the relatively weak, loophole-ridden process that we currently have.

Imagine what we could do if we have actual gun control—nationwide, closed loopholes, emphasis on availability to legal owners but with added requirements for safety and proficiency training… not to mention measures to help track down people who actually committed gun crimes.

Categories: Law, Social Issues Tags: by

Anecdotally, Corporations Are Sweethearts

August 15th, 2015 6 comments

It really ticks me off when somebody advocating the “free market” and opposing government regulation uses anecdotal evidence as proof that somehow corporations can be counted on to do the right thing. Here’s Carly Fiorina giving a definitive example of exactly that line of drivel:

I don’t think it’s the role of government to dictate to the private sector how to manage their businesses, especially when it’s pretty clear that the private sector, like Netflix, like the example that you just gave, is doing the right thing because they know it helps them attract the right talent. What I mean by the federal government not having its house in order, the federal government is in a shambles right now.- it’s inept. The night — TSA fails 96% of the time. That’s ineptitude.

You see? Netflix does it! So, no problem! That’s like the people who claim that since Obama was elected president, racism doesn’t exist any more. Besides, I can point to a cherry-picked, completely unrelated government activity that has an unusually high failure rate, so all businesses are pretty fantastic all on their own!

Notice that when citing industry giving paid maternity leave, Fiorina cites only a few companies, but when she points to government failure, she cites percentages. And to top it off, both are examples from the extreme ends of the spectrum that she wants to dishonestly highlight.

There’s a reason that anecdotal evidence, or cherry picking, is considered a logical fallacy. Just because Netflix announced a relatively enlightened policy (the policy does not cover everyone in the company, and does not apply at all to those who work in Netflix’s DVD or customer service divisions) does not mean that “the system is working.”

Even though there is a federal mandate to provide leave for companies with 50 or more workers, and some states, like California, have stronger mandates (which have shown to be overwhelmingly positive for companies), only 13% of workers have access to any kind of paid leave at all. That’s a failure rate of 87%, even after federal and state mandates. Before the mandates? Only 2% of workers had access to paid maternity leave. A failure rate of 98%. That’s what happens without government regulation—that’s how the industry “attracts talent.”

What was that you were saying about “ineptitude,” Carly?

The Secret of Sabotaging Your Own Success

August 3rd, 2015 3 comments

Here’s how you keep wages down: make people who make very little angry at others who are trying to make their lives better.

It worked for Scott Walker in Wisconsin when he successfully cut the legs out from under teacher unions: by falsely claiming that teachers were lazy moochers luxuriating under massive teacher salaries and 3-month vacations (yeah, right), he made enough of the people of Wisconsin believe that the teachers were hurting everyone else and should not be allowed, therefore, to use their unions as a way to fight for better conditions:

“We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots.”

That’s the trick: if someone down below is having some success at making things better for themselves, then instead of making everyone else feel they should also have better conditions, generate resentment against the ones being successful and make them get the same crappy wages and conditions as everyone else.

You have to admit, it’s a brilliant strategy for the corporations: get the people you’re abusing to force others to stand for even more abuse.

It’s happening in places where fast food workers are demanding $15 an hour. Many people in other professions are now apparently grumbling about how “burger flippers” are making more money than people who are trained as professionals in more serious jobs—but the complaints are about how the fast food workers don’t deserve it, and are not about how the professionals should be getting much more.

Which is idiotic. $15 an hour is a sustenance wage, it barely lets you escape poverty. It is not living high off the hog. If you’re an electrician and you’re making less than that, you shouldn’t be mad at the fast food folk—you should be pissed at your employer, and you should be asking yourself, “How can I do the same thing that the burger flippers did?”

That correct thinking is embodied in this brilliant and reasoned Facebook post by one such professional:

I’m a paramedic. My job requires a broad set of skills: interpersonal, medical, and technical skills, as well as the crucial skill of performing under pressure. I often make decisions on my own, in seconds, under chaotic circumstances, that impact people’s health and lives. I make $15/hr.

And these burger flippers think they deserve as much as me?

Good for them.

Look, if any job is going to take up someone’s life, it deserves a living wage. If a job exists and you have to hire someone to do it, they deserve a living wage. End of story. There’s a lot of talk going around my workplace along the lines of, “These guys with no education and no skills think they deserve as much as us? Fuck those guys.” And elsewhere on FB: “I’m a licensed electrician, I make $13/hr, fuck these burger flippers.”

And that’s exactly what the bosses want! They want us fighting over who has the bigger pile of crumbs so we don’t realize they made off with almost the whole damn cake. Why are you angry about fast food workers making two bucks more an hour when your CEO makes four hundred TIMES what you do? It’s in the bosses’ interests to keep your anger directed downward, at the poor people who are just trying to get by, like you, rather than at the rich assholes who consume almost everything we produce and give next to nothing for it.

And that’s the point that everyone should be focusing on. Not how the person below you deserves less than you, but rather on how everyone deserves a decent living. And why you get paid squat while CEOs and shareholders deserve the lion’s share of the profits. Economic theory suggests that because CEOs have such critically important, one-of-a-kind talent, they deserve 300 times more than you. Really?

Sadly, when some CEOs with the right way of thinking actually try to make things better, petty jealousy fostered amongst workers can screw things up. Remember Dan Price, that standout CEO of the Seattle credit card processing firm? The guy who slashed his own salary and benefits so he could give everyone in his firm a “minimum wage” of $75,000 a year?

His business is failing. And you know why? Partially because enough selfish asshats critical to the company’s success were pissed that this gave them less of a raise in pay then people “below” them. That’s right: the boss actually raised the pay of some workers by thousands of dollars a year, and they quit because others who started later got a proportionally larger raise than they did.

Were they happy that they got a raise? Were they happy that they now got paid better than industry standard?

Apparently not. They felt snubbed because someone else was getting the same as them.

“He gave raises to people who have the least skills and are the least equipped to do the job, and the ones who were taking on the most didn’t get much of a bump,” she said. To her, a fairer proposal would have been to give smaller increases with the opportunity to earn a future raise with more experience.

A couple of days after the announcement, she decided to talk to Mr. Price.

“He treated me as if I was being selfish and only thinking about myself,” she said. “That really hurt me. I was talking about not only me, but about everyone in my position.”

You’ll have to forgive me, but that person is a first-rate dick. Seriously? Your boss does you and everyone at your company a solid, he cuts his own pay so he can give you a raise, you’re getting better than other people who do the same work as you… but you get all whiny, drive away customers, and leave your company in the lurch because you resent others who you feel aren’t as worthy as you?

Screw you, you selfish, self-absorbed prick, and don’t expect anyone to buy that self-serving crap about how you were really concerned for others and not justing resentful for yourself. You’re what’s wrong with labor today. You should have been happy that everyone was making a good wage, you should have been grateful to your boss for cutting his pay so you could get better, and you should have worked harder out of that gratitude—so that the company could be more successful, and then you and everyone else could get even more.

Not that this person was the only problem, or the main one: apparently, generosity is not widespread in the Price family, as soon after Dan Price made the wage increase, he got sued by his brother over money issues. Not, the brother claimed, over the wage thing. Right. It’s just a coincidence that the suit came just as Dan Price raised everyone’s wages.

So now, Fox News and many others are reveling in showing how the company that dared pay a decent wage is floundering, as if the boost in wages was the real culprit, instead of selfishness and greed amongst people who just wanted more for themselves and were willing to cripple the company out of spite if they didn’t get it.

Because instead of celebrating the little guy and wondering if the CEO really deserves 300 times more pay than the average worker, instead of noticing that CEO pay has risen 90 times faster than worker pay, we should instead get pissed off because someone who was working 70 hours a week and was still below the poverty line should win a raise that lets them not live in squalor, just barely. We should get angry at other workers because we didn’t get as big a raise. And instead of going to the CEO of the hospital where you work and ask if a small part of that billion-dollar profit the institution made could be directed to horrifically underpaid staff who do all of the critical work—instead, you should fight to shove the fast food workers’ heads back underwater. Just like the people of Wisconsin did when they thought, “My salary isn’t great, so let’s punish teachers!”

No. Instead:

My company, as they’re so fond of telling us in boosterist emails, cleared 1.3 billion dollars last year. They expect guys supporting families on 26-27k/year to applaud that. And that’s to say nothing of the techs and janitors and cashiers and bed pushers who make even less than us, but are as absolutely crucial to making a hospital work as the fucking CEO or the neurosurgeons. Can they pay us more? Absolutely. But why would they? No one’s making them.

The workers in NY made them. They fought for and won a living wage. So how incredibly petty and counterproductive is it to fuss that their pile of crumbs is bigger than ours? Put that energy elsewhere.

Organize. Fight.


Categories: Economics, The Class War Tags: by

Respect the Artist… Don’t Buy the Song

July 18th, 2015 4 comments

message from the RIAAI saw this graphic on Facebook today, and it really cheesed me off. While the message has some truth to it, it is filled with subtle yet powerful distortions.

To say that a cup of coffee costs “pennies” to make is misleading; “pennies” sounds like 5~9 cents, while the actual cost in materials is over a dollar, and the price goes up if you account for costs such as labor, rents, etc.

That a cup of coffee takes “minutes to prepare” is also wrong, because the comparison is with the beginning-to-end song production; to account for coffee production in the same way, from planting to processing to shipping to preparing and to serving, making a cup of coffee can involve hundreds of people over a year or more of time to create. Hell, the graphic even cites musicians’ “practice”! How about farmers’ training? No, if you count coffee as taking “minutes” to prepare, then a song takes only “minutes to sing.”

That coffee is “gone forever after one use” is simply the nature of the product—should we value food and drink less because we cannot eat and drink them endlessly?

Not to mention that a cup of coffee can be made to last for a good half hour, resting in a comfy chair at the coffee shop while reading a nice book. A song lasts maybe three minutes, so a cup of coffee can be worth maybe 10 listens. You may still listen to a song dozens of times, but by the time metric, the comparison is far less severe than it is made out to be.

As for the songs, well, those claims are also exaggerated. Yes, it costs thousands of dollars to record—but after they record it, they can cheaply create endless millions of copies. Divided between copies, the cost comes to… pennies!! Much less than a cup of coffee, to be certain! It may cost $100,000 to record a song, but a best-selling song can sell 10 million copies. That’s about one penny per copy.

It can be used over and over again… but not exactly. First, media types (records, tapes, CDs, digital) change often, and every time they do, the music industry demands you pay full price for the new version. Some people have been made to pay for the same Beatles song half a dozen times. Many of these versions have been discarded when the new ones present themselves, so not a “lifetime” thing after all.

Second, it used to be that you owned the media; you could buy or sell used, you could borrow or lend. You could inherit music from a parent, even. Now, you only own the “license”—the temporary, limited right to listen to the music in restricted ways. And when a music service dies, or if you stop paying, you usually lose access to the music you paid for. You can pay $1 for a song, but you can’t own it for $1.

For you to truly buy and own a song for a long time (maybe a lifetime), you have to buy the CD… which is much more expensive than the coffee.

The final statement, however, is the worst of all, and makes me really angry. The biggest text on the graphic: RESPECT THE ARTIST: BUY THE MUSIC.

Oh, really? Well, aside from the fact that you don’t “buy” it anymore (you pay for a license), the whole “respect the artist” thing is a heaping, stinking pile of bull.

Music labels have for decades abused the artists, and pay them very little or even nothing; most artists make their money from tours and performances, even endorsements, but not from music sales. The artists’ income from music sales is a tiny percentage (divided between the band and their managers & agents), but that’s before the studios first charge the band for almost every possible cost they can force them to pay. For example, although everyone profits from the use of the studio, the artists are forced to pay for that by themselves. In the end, they get little to nothing—literally nothing, very often. Lyle Lovett, for example, sold 4.6 million albums, and got a net of $0. Nothing. Not a single penny.

Indeed, artists are forced to sign long-term contracts and give up their rights, working long and hard for the tiny chance at success, while the music companies rake in all the profits. So, every time I hear the industry shout, “Respect the Artist!” my response is simple: You first.

Here’s the real irony: if you pirate every MP3 you listen to, but go to the concerts to listen to your favorite bands, then you are respecting the artists. That gives them the most profit. I’m not saying you should pirate the music, I am only pointing out that it rarely, if ever, hurts the artist. It hurts the insanely rich recording studios who abuse the artists.

Most artists don’t care if you pirate the music; in fact, the more you pirate their music, the more likely you are to want to see them in concert, which gives them much more profit than if you bought the rights to listen to the song! But the artists can’t usually say that, because they still are bound to the music companies. Some do, however; Lady Gaga, Neil Young, Shakira, Norah Jones, and many others have actually said they’re OK with piracy… and no wonder. It helps them more than it hurts them. Neil Young calls piracy “the new radio.”

Whatever you think of piracy, whatever its legal status, it has no damaging effect on them. When studios condescendingly exhort us to “respect the artist,” it’s like billionaires saying that the estate tax “hurts farmers.” Which is bullshit—and, ironically, actual bullshit does help the farmers. The bullshit in the graphic above, though, helps the artists not even a little. It may even hurt them.

Categories: RIAA & Piracy Tags: by

The Donald, Racism, and the Right

July 6th, 2015 6 comments

The Republican Party has a racism problem. They simply can’t shake it. They wanted to appeal to black voters, and draw them into the fold—but they could not help saying and doing things that offended and alienated that entire part of society. Then they realized that Hispanics are becoming a vital demographic, and again vowed to pull them in—only to quickly revert to form, and drive away even many who are already conservative.

Why? Because the right wing is beholden to its base like nothing else, and its base has a wide swath of racism right down its middle. As has been often said, not all Republicans are racist, but if you’re a racist, then it’s a good bet that you’re a Republican.

Conservatives have denied this for years, trying to dismiss what they can, and blame the rest on extremists and outliers, combined with a generous helping of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. The party does not have a racism problem, they insist. In fact, they claim that racism just isn’t a thing anymore—I mean, hey, we elected a black president, so, racism: gone!

When Donald Trump entered the race, however, he uncovered and laid bare the massive eyesore they all have been trying to deny. Trump now-famously said:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems… they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Far from apologizing, Trump has been doubling- and tripling down on those remarks ever since.

What has not really been remarked upon lately is how Trump’s unrepentant racism has shown up the racism in the party itself.

Consider that Trump, despite making blatantly racist remarks at the very outset of his race, jumped into second place after Jeb Bush, holding 10-12% to Bush’s 16-19%. That in itself is very telling, perhaps to the degree that “despite” is not the right word for the previous sentence—maybe it should be “because.” (Okay, “due to.”)

It’s not as if Trump’s qualifications, ideas, or intelligence dazzled anyone. Nor is it his celebrity, as he was holding at about 2% in the polls before his remarks. Nor is it his general conservative outlook. What marked Trump was his unabashed extremism, and in particular, the racism. A lot of people in the party responded to that. Even Ted Cruz said that Trump should not apologize, adding, “I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific. I think he’s brash. I think he speaks the truth.”

Meanwhile, we on the left are still agog, scratching our heads, asking ourselves, “How can these people take such an outrageously idiotic buffoon so seriously?” Even Sarah Palin can’t bring the magnitude of the stupidity into clear focus. It’s as if some psychopathic clown just walked on to the GOP stage with his pants around his ankles, started swearing a blue streak, and they’re all sitting there applauding, as if it were Dan Quayle spelling “potato” with an “e.” We just can’t comprehend this. We’re just asking ourselves, “Don’t they know how this looks??

What was even more telling, however, was the reaction from the leading GOP candidates. Normally, a comment like that would bring an instant firestorm from all sides. But while the left and the public in general raged… conservatives kept quiet. Except for the ones like Cruz who praised Trump, or Chris Christie, who called Trump “a good guy.”

But for a whole two weeks, all criticism was held back. Marco Rubio, the quintessential Hispanic candidate, took the whole two weeks before saying anything critical. Jeb Bush, claiming many Hispanic family members and trying hard to ingratiate himself with Hispanics, took two and a half weeks.

Ask yourself, why? Why not shoot down a potential rival right away, and score some nice, juicy Sister Souljah points, making it work with the Hispanic demographic? It seems so obvious! Instead, they just stand back, and wait so long that it sounds like they are commenting on history, for cripe’s sake.

The “why” should be clear: Trump said something that a very large portion of the base has been waiting to hear for a long time. Bush, Rubio, and the rest immediately recognized that if they took shots at Trump, they would strongly alienate this core group that they so badly need. So instead they waited until the groundswell became so inevitable that they could finally say something bad about Trump, while still sending the clear message to the base: We’re really okay with all this. Don’t worry.

This is the only reasonable explanation for their reticence—but it very clearly shows that not only does the racist base exist, but that Republican politicians are very consciously aware that it exists, and are eager to pander to that group. This is also why they mouthed ignorance as to what Dylann Roof’s motives were, as if it were some inscrutable mystery. To recognize that it was about race would have been to tie a despicable act directly to the racists—and thereby to their own party.

Time to live up to your very real roots, Republicans. You are not all racists, not by a long shot.

But almost all the racists call your party “home.” And they are there in large numbers, and they have very substantial clout. You simply cannot deny it any longer.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by