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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category.

A simple thought on declining relevancy of social categorization, relating to gender and sexuality

I found myself engaged in a Facebook discussion on a local politician’s personal profile wall. He’d expressed his sentiment that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman, a common view for conservatives from western Pennsylvania. A fairly even number of people posted that they agreed or disagreed, expressing their support for the state representative or vowing never to vote for him again.

A battle ensued and eventually most people left the discussion. I tend to 386 pretty hard sometimes. I did this time, so I kept it going for a few days between myself and one or two other posters.

The original discussion on Facebook was friends-only, and I’ll respect that choice by not posting names or what people said, other than myself. One thing I said that felt profound was this statement, something I’ve kept open on a text file in the nearly a month since this occurred as a way of thinking about its sentiment daily:

It turns out that, when you open your *mind*, your *doors*, and your *heart* as wide as possible, you meet a lot of people who can change your views. Gender isn’t binary: masculine or feminine. Sex isn’t binary: male or female. Nature complicates things from time to time, and whatever created them made them this way. We shouldn’t judge them by placing them into our bins, but rather endeavor to make our bins irrelevant.

Why I am no longer a Republican

This post has been a long time coming, and a long time in writing. I started it August 24, 2012 after reading a Daily Kos blog post entitled “I abandoned the Republican Party!“. While I most certainly am not switching back to the Democratic Party, as the author of that post clearly is, I feel that he or she and I have similar reasons for no longer wanting to associate ourselves with a political organization so corrupt that it would change its own rules at the last minute in order to keep a person from being nominated for its candidate for president.

I used to be a Democrat. I really liked Barack Obama and was among the first wave of people to sign up for this web site before the primaries. His policies were better than those of the Republican party’s candidates. I was largely apathetic about politics, but Obama was something new and different. I saw that “change” as sufficient to receive my support.

Until I read about a certain, relatively unknown Republican candidate who’d run for president in the ’80s as a Libertarian.

I became a Republican in order to vote in the 2008 primaries for Ron Paul, a politician unlike any other I’d ever encountered. Dr. Paul, an OB/GYN from Texas (originally from Pittsburgh!), opened my eyes and changed my entire political philosophy. His adherence to the non-aggression principle and rejection of classification of people made sense and continue to be principles that guide not only my political philosophy, but my every day activities. I’ve read most of his books and find the key points of self-reliance, freedom of economy, volunteerism, and limited government to be sensible policies that can improve our country and the world. I don’t agree with Dr. Paul on all points — he and I disagree fundamentally on education, women’s reproductive rights, and a few other points. Maybe one day I’ll go through his political philosophies one-by-one and write down my dissenting opinions.

I’ve spent an enormous amount of time increasing my knowledge of his political points while trying to understand the other opinions on the issues. This research, along with actions by the Republican National Committee and its franchisees, leads me to believe that I can no longer represent myself as a member of its ranks. I can no longer proudly say, “I am a Republican.” I can no longer sheepishly say, “I am a Republican.” I refuse to suffer it any longer, and chose to sever ties so that I can grow as an educated political thinker.

Herein are my “95 theses”, per-say. I offer these without linked proof because I feel they are evident to the up-on-things reader. I’ll do my best to offer evidence where challenged in the comments, but much of this is subjective observation and may not be documented beyond my own memories and experiences. If I’m wrong, call me out and let’s have a discussion — that’s something that Republicans seem to avoid these days.

  1. The leadership of the party changes the rules on the fly in order to silence a vocal and growing minority within the party, and the affected members are powerless to stop the rule changes in a timely manner. The former is the corruption, the latter is a problem inherent in the party system.
  2. The RNC essentially chose its champion before the votes had been tallied, despite the existence of a credible challenger to that champion with significant support.
  3. The local parties, in many areas, are full of squabbling and disagreement that follows along the candidate lines: those who supported Romney and McCain represent the incumbent forces who are the problem in the party, while those who support Paul squabble over who is more libertarian-than-thou and cannot focus enough to grow and overcome the threat of the incumbency.
  4. The legislators of the party have continually supported with their vote legislation that prolongs military presence and action in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other sovereign nations where our presence is similar to an occupation. We cannot continue to police the world, or use our military as a police force in countries without a functional government.
  5. Building on the prior point, the party consistently supports an increase in military spending, despite it already consuming more than 30% of the US budget each year. We cannot afford to increase our defense spending when we have no traditional threat against which to defend.
  6. The members and leaders of the party choose religious doctrine as their guiding principles, regardless of if that doctrine tramples the rights of others.
  7. The members and leaders of the party ask “What are you?” before they welcome members and ask  “How can you help?” If they don’t like the labels you’ve given to yourself through the groups you entertain, activities you conduct, or philosophies you espouse, you are unwelcome: this party breeds and breathes homogeneity.
  8. The leaders of the party who find themselves in the news are most often cast as bumbling idiots, even in the traditionally Republican media outlets.
  9. The party has become so deeply involved in traditional media that its bias is unavoidable, even to the point of outright lies being presented as facts.
  10. The leaders of the party have tricked the membership into supporting initiatives that serve to make the former richer and the latter poorer by playing on the fears of the latter or fabricating altogether new things for the latter to fear.
  11. The leadership treats the Constitution as guidelines at best, if not ignoring it altogether, except when convenient. This convenience manifests when the Democrats try to affect rights in a way that is actually in line with their political beliefs, and neither party is willing to submit an amendment.
  12. The party stands to see an amendment passed that would institutionalize a religious practice that already has government-recognized equivalents that work just as well, but lack the traditional components – that one be physically male and the other be physically female – that are irrelevant to the interpersonal agreement.
  13. The party desires to reduce the level of charity taxpayers are forced to provide, yet it does not espouse no-strings-attached voluntary charity. If a person does not supply the right answer to “What are you?”, that person does not matter to the party. We must enjoin a culture of voluntary altruism before the safety nets supported by government force can be reduced; another way to make a government program go away is make it irrelevant and unused.
  14. The party legislators would rather enact miles of red tape and conditions, or establish rules that will be changed or broken when convenient, rather than engage others in a discussion about a topic. Avoidance only lasts as long as the patience of those who are avoided. They even stoop to the level of detaining or incarcerating dissenters in order to keep the dissent from being heard.
  15. The party legislators fail to ask themselves, “Will this law make us freer?” when considering legislation. They act only to serve themselves and the people they care about: the people who give them the most money.
  16. Campaigns result to attacking candidates and misleading voters, and even taking out of context one opposing candidate’s comments in video games.
  17. GOP state legislators, empowered with enacting laws describing how elections will be held, result to dirty tricks and poor implementations in order to purposefully disenfranchise voters. As a Pennsylvanian, I’m absolutely ashamed of PA Rep. Mike Turzai’s bragging that VoterID will help Romney win PA. Fortunately, a state judge issued an injunction in time for the 2012 presidential election, but not without being lambasted by the party for being an “activist judge”.
  18. The state parties actively sabotaged the campaigns of other parties’ candidates through illegal Watergate-style tactics. The party should have condemned this, but instead stays silent. Silence in this in acceptance, and acceptance of criminal acts is insufferable. It also actively unreasonably prevented a third party candidate from being on the ballot because his paperwork was submitted three minutes late. Rules are rules, but when tens of thousands of people have signed that paperwork saying that they would vote for the candidate and their wish to have their choice is denied by the incumbents, whose candidate needed only to collect a small percentage of signatures comparatively because of an artificially implied sentiment that, because the party’s candidate garnered some arbitrary percentage of the vote in a previous election, their candidacy is desired and immediately validated, a miscarriage of justice has occurred and those with the power to right the wrong have no incentive to do so.
  19. The party tolerates local officials who throw valid, unprocessed voter registration paperwork into the trash in another state.
  20. The party leaders, politicians, and others engage in a remarkable amount of voter misdirection, suppression, intimidation, and more. It threatens the very way our country decides its direction. It’s so widespread and difficult to record that it’s nearly impossible to prosecute effectively. When someone does get called out on it, they get away with a simple “I’m sorry; I stand corrected” or “A staffer was wrong and has been fired”. These excuses just don’t cut it.
  21. The party fails to abstract its points of contention among members into a central platform upon which a larger number of people agree. 66% is not a consensus: it’s one-third of a party ready to split off into its own party. That one-third just needs the sudden gumption to do so.

The reported treatment of Ron Paul and his supporters at the August 28 RNC convention was what sealed the fate of the RNC in my mind and heart. If an organization dismisses and actively fetters such a sizable contingent of its membership, that organization is no longer lead by its membership. It is lead by a powerful incumbency that acts autonomously with reckless disregard of the membership’s will. The organization is not deserving of these sabotaged members and deserves to lose their minds, their time, and, most important of all to its leadership, their money.

After all, Ron Paul won. Whether or not Romney himself was involved in the unethical behavior that installed him as the nominee is irrelevant. Proving such would only harm him; providing that he was not involved would not affect his reputation in the eyes of those who oppose him. At issue is the simple fact that the RNC leadership actively permitted the rules changes at the convention that prevented Ron Paul from even being nominated for the presidential nomination. Unfortunately, there is no feasible appeal process for an RNC nomination, as those would hear the appeal are among the dishonest and unethical leadership of the party.

I believe it is worth describing the state of this schism within the Republican party as a blood cell nearing division. The party was one unit, one strong cohesive unit. As it has gained mass, it’s feeling constrained. To the external observer, it appears as though there are nearly two individual cells. That cell still believes itself to be one, singular cell and tries to act that way. However, its operation is untenable. In short time, in order to preserve itself, it must divide. The division is inevitable once it started. It’s only a matter of time until the molecules destined for the new cell are ready to depart. I’m ready to depart.

I did not shred that card with a heavy heart. I do not regret shredding a piece of plastic that stands for everything I see wrong with the party. I shredded that card with the intention of finishing the revolution of my heart.

Thus, I have departed. My change of party registration is in the mail. I’m supporting the Libertarian Party, and voting for Gary Johnson. Won’t you join me?

In which I assert that the terrorists won

Originally, this was going to be at the end of my 9/11 memory post. I split it in order to shorten the post and provide some Monday morning reading material for my audience (Hi, Mom, and you intrepid 30 RSS readers, plus Facebook and Twitter folks).

I want to believe that we were attacked, plain and simple. I want to believe that “they hate us for our freedoms” and all the other party lines we Americans are supposed to say and believe. I don’t buy it. That’s not enough. I don’t buy that “our freedoms” have anything to do with it. No group of people is going to start a war over their target’s propensity for debauchery or violation of archaic religious laws. Those pronouncements are reserved for religious courts, not some silly attempted gesture of genocide.

There’s a reason for it. There are lots of reasons for it. Oil could be one. Our interventionist foreign policy and a tendency to arm both sides of a conflict in an effort to win the hearts of the victor could be another. The loser would just stew and turn against us, having not actually been vanquished.

One might argue that the goal of the terrorist attack was to damage one of our primary financial centers. This succeeded, physically. Sure, our economy sucked for a year or two, but economies can recover. We can rebuild buildings, even iconic ones.

I think a wiser one would argue that the terrorists successfully achieved another goal, intentional or not. Our Congress’s reaction was knee-jerk. The PATRIOT act was passed within two weeks of the attack. This far-reaching legislation was aimed at domestic terrorists. I don’t blame Congress for this. It was the first time we’d been attacked in such a violent manner, and they didn’t know what to do, so they decided that we as a country should roll up like an armadillo and think everyone is against us, even those loyal to us and without reason to be against us. We reacted poorly and rashly; we blindly rallied behind this instead of recognizing the erosion of our rights.

The terrorists pulled down our pants when they noticed our belt wasn’t buckled. We armed ourselves in the sandbox and terrorized other kids in order to find the perpetrators and retaliate. We never did actually buckle our belt after pulling our pants back up. We’ve just pulled them up farther in hopes that our armpits will keep them up.

I also want to believe that it was a setup; that it was an inside job someone in power felt necessary for them to attain more power. There’s evidence out there, but it’s obviously not officially recognized. A day or two before the attacks, Sec. Def. Rumsfeld reported $2.3 trillion untrackable transactions (search the page for “trillion”). Is this related? I don’t know. I can speculate, but doing so is an exercise in futility. Nonetheless, I want the truth to be known. The real truth. I don’t know if it ever will be known, if it’s not already. I’m not even sure it matters. What happened, happened. We can’t go back in time. We can only fix our laws to respect our rights, equally enforce the laws already in place, and recognize that doing so may be a risk we Americans aren’t all willing to take. We can only elect the legislators we feel will represent our views and make the laws how we would if we were in the position.

I digress into areas I’m neither prepared or willing to discuss at length. I’m no conspiracy theorist, nor am I devout debunker.

Only recently has 9/11 directly affected me in a directly observable manner. I fly a lot now for work. I did the scanner once, and after sufficient research I decided that I’d rather not subject myself to its convenience. The price is too complex to calculate. The alternative is both less and more desirable.

I’m about to board a plane. Before I get on that plane, I’ll be searched in a manner formerly preserved only for audiences with drug lords and crime bosses, criminals under arrest, and hernia checks at the doctor’s office. I won’t feel any safer. In fact, I will feel less safe. I’ve never felt less safe than when I fly now, and it’s not because of threat of terrorists. It’s because of the threat that my rights can be abrogated with little recourse, unless I’m willing to miss my flight and engage the authorities in a battle of wits heavily stacked against me.

I could just take a train, I know. However, it’s not much cheaper and it’s travel time is clearly much, much longer.

Either way, I’d have to greatly inconvenience myself in order to assert my right to be secure in my person. It’s tremendously frustrating. I just want to exercise my right to travel freely among the several states, secure in my person and free of unwarranted search and seizure unless I am officially detained as a suspect of a crime or intended crime. Clearly, I’ll do neither, so just let me on my plane without inconveniencing me.

I offer my suggestions, as prayers for change are uplifted only by those who cannot conceive of a solution to their problems.

Give pilots and flight crews, if not licensed individuals as well, the tools they need to protect the plane and its passengers from would-be terrorists. It’s the Wild West up there, so those folks can only protect themselves. There’s no law in the air; the law exists only on the ground. There is still good. There is still a right and a wrong. There are good, honest people hamstrung by a suspension of their rights because they might not be honest and good. There must be here a balance, and we have to find that balance in order to address this one aspect of safety.

Adapt the security model to those widely adopted outside of the US. I reference a security model which replaces invasive personal inspection with close behavioral monitoring. There still is a metal detector. There still is X-ray screening of baggage and the occasional private screening when absolutely necessary. Given the choice of a “freedom grope” or heavily armed, highly training guards patrolling the airport, I’ll happily take the latter. Neither should be necessary. What a terrorist has on their person between the outside world and the security checkpoint is nothing compared to what they can acquire and use between the security checkpoint and the gates. Any person with a modicum of security knowledge can understand this.

Openly allow public video and audio recording of security checkpoints. Accountability is the only way to ensure that those in the first line of defense are respecting the rights of travelers. Documenting transgressions and establishing a public way of filing these recording is important, but it must be done in a way so as not to subject the perpetrator of the crime to the court of public opinion before a real trial is held. Security checkpoint cameras are unreliable and poorly placed.

I might have some others rattling around in my head, so I urge you to comment, to engage me in discussion. I won’t hold back, but please engage me with citations.

White blood cells destroy disease, but they can also destroy healthy cells. I want us to be safe from terrorists, but I also want us to be safe from our guardians.

A market for a paranoid level of security on personal mail servers?

A Facebook friend of mine posted a story in the Telegraph about the British government wanting “to track every phone call, email, text message and website visit made by the public if they argue it is needed to tackle crime or terrorism”.

Conspiracy theories and tinfoil-hat-ism aside (“They’re already doing it! Every government! Even the US!”), this lead me to ponder a bit and consider a new market:

Encrypted personal email servers.

I wonder what people would pay for a service like that. Each person gets their own “server”, likely a VPS. Mail inbound or outbound wouldn’t be encrypted at the transport or application level, but perhaps mail to other servers in this network would be encrypted in transit.

Mail stored on disk would be encrypted, but the user would have to input a password in order for the storage area to be accessible whenever the server started up. A caveat would be that the encrypted storage area is accessible while the “server” is powered on–however, the moment it is shutdown, the data would be encrypted and require the user’s password.

On top of all of this, we urge users to utilize PGP encryption on all of their email. PGP keeps the messages themselves secure, and the security on the server keeps them doubly secure.

$35/mo per server up to perhaps 10 addresses? Also use it as a certain amount of file storage through WebDAV or the like?

Help me think out the logistics, folks who are more experienced than I.

Meta note: a series of full posts coming in the next week or two regarding travel–there’s a reason I’ve been silent!

Letter to the Editor: Be fair about FairTax

Update 2010-06-03: This was letter was published in the Tribune-Review on Wednesday, June 2, 2010.

Sent via email 14 May 2010 to USAToday, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Beaver County Times, New Castle News, and the Sharon Herald

Recently, nationally funded ads have mislead Pennsylvanians about the FairTax. These ads claim that the FairTax will add 23% to the cost of everything. This is true, but the ads omit the most important part of the tax reform plan.

What these ads irresponsibly fail to address is that the FairTax would fully rid citizens and businesses of income taxes, federal payroll taxes, inheritance and estate taxes, capital gains tax, social security and pension taxes, and the “marriage penality”. Additionally, it fails to mention a key provision: the prebate, a pre-refund of all taxes paid up to the poverty level, which amounts to $500 per month to a family of four.

Personally, I’d pay about 5% less tax with FairTax.

FactCheck, a nonprofit and non-partisan information verification agency set up by UPenn, agrees, calling these ads “false and misleading“.

While I appreciate the attention to the FairTax, it’s important that people know the facts and realize that they’d have more money to spend because they wouldn’t have any income tax taken out of their paychecks, plus the prebate gives another $500 per month, enough for food, or perhaps a car payment, or an iPad, whichever they deem fiscally responsible for their own needs.

A dream about a St. Patrick’s Day future

I had an interesting dream last night. I dream most nights–in full color and sound, like a movie– but most dreams aren’t worthy of blog posts. This one is.

Obviously, I’ve embellished a little in my written account of it, but the scene and events would tell everything themselves if I could pull the images from my head and put them on YouTube like something out of the first Final Fantasy movie.

The setting was St. Patrick’s Day, sometime in the future by several years. Some friends, Brigette, and I walked into a bar. By the looks of it, it was probably Villa or the Crane Room, but that doesn’t matter. The door was tiny, like it was a ’20s speakeasy trying to be discreet.

The bouncer asked for our ID and our “(something)s”. It sounded like “privates” or “privies” or something like that. “Priv” something. Everybody produced not only their drivers licenses, but another card, as well. We showed them to the bouncer as we passed him, continuing in to enjoy the evening.

Finding no room to sit near the back like we prefer, we found a table very close to the front and within earshot and sight of the bouncer. We got our drinks and carried on.

Every now and then, someone would come in, show their ID to the bouncer, look really pissed off when the bouncer said something, turn around, and walk out of the bar. Sometimes a really drunk, attractive woman would plead with him, or a dude bigger than he would flex and he’d let them in.

I tuned in and listened once to what he was saying to one of the people he turned away.

“Honey, I can’t let you in. Federal law prevents us from serving alcohol to anyone on public insurance. We can’t serve you, and you’re not even supposed to drink. You could go to jail and we could get fined. Sorry, we can’t let you in here without proof that you’re not on public insurance.”

I shook my head and turned back to the conversation. The dream got worse, though.

A few minutes or hours later–it was immediately after in the dream, but who knows how long in the story, a guy in a trenchcoat walked into the bar. The bouncer stood up in front of him, but then the trenchcoat man produced something from his pocket. The bouncer tensed, perhaps thinking it was a gun, but I don’t understand why he didn’t react accordingly. Little did I know that he could see what I couldn’t.

The bouncer stepped aside and the trenchcoat man entered, with approximately four police officers in tow. Some people got quiet, and some people started to get really loud as they quickly tried to disburse.

Trenchcoat man cleared his throat. “Under the authority of the US government, we are federal agents enforcing the Healthy America Act,” he said. “We have evidence that a crime is being committed in this establishment and we have a warrant for search.”

He took of his hat and waved a badge in the air, as if the posse of cops behind him was insufficient proof of his authority and intent.

“We are acting lawfully. Each person must show proof of private health insurance or submit to a sobriety test as the law allows, in order to ensure compliance with the Act. You may recall that it’s illegal to consume alcohol if you rely on Uncle Sam to keep you healthy.”

The bartender made some gestures and left the bar, retreating into a back room with another bartender and a waitress in tow.

The cops started toward the crowd unassumingly. They each pulled out some kind of PDA.

Apparently accustomed to such searches, folks produced their “privies” — a private insurance card — so as not to be subjected to a breathalyzer test and subsequent herding into a paddy wagon. One of the cops and scanned a barcode on each. He walked away after a grunt.

The guys at the table next to us roused the rabble, though and refused to show anything. One screamed loudly about the civil rights and how he should be able to drink in peace without the government asking to see his “license to drink.” He and the others made some gestures and the cop started getting angry. He whipped out a Taser and a bunch of girls not far away screamed.

A mass of people stampeded toward the door. A tiny little door at the front of the bar.

It all went to hell in a handbasket after that. Details unnecessary.

Call my dreaming brain creative. Call it deceptively oversimplified. Call it needlessly worried and say that the government would never do something like that. Call it whatever you like.

I reflect on this dream and wonder if it’s a vision of the future. I make no warrant of clairvoyance. I’m not that type. This is merely a report of a dream I had.

2009 Year in Review: Writing, stocks, coding, and more

I didn’t blog as much as I would have liked to this year, mostly because of my crazy busyness.

Gears logoMy article on how to install Gears on 64-bit Linux continues to see quite a bit of traffic. I even host a copy of Gears, even though it’s likely out of date. Also in the Linux vein, my articles on how to buy DRM-free music online with Amazon MP3 on Linux and Android were moderately popular. I wrote an article on how to add CACert root certificates to Chromium on Linux and it sees more traffic than most of my other posts combined.

Launchpad logoI wasn’t as active in the open source community as I would have liked, but I did make some contributions to Gwibber, Astrid, Celtx, and Lernid. I mentioned the first three in my Launchpad activity update. The latter is a newer development by Jono Bacon. I contributed the entire Esperanto translation less than two days after it was available on Launchpad. I have no way of verifying it, but I think that the Esperanto translation was the first complete non-English variant translation available.

I recently wrote two brief articles on how to automate some tasks on Facebook. One was how to rapidly expunge friend suggestions, and the other was how to select all friends in a friend select dialog.

I met Tom Dickson of Will It Blend? fame at CES last year. He was really cool and friendly.

I also wrote a few articles on politics, my favorite being A Comment on Socialism Defined, a comment left on a friend’s blog, Strike the Root!. I’ll not go into how much I think Obama and his friends have screwed up the country already (it’s not all been bad—he has done some good things). That’s something for another article.

A new hobby this year for me has been stock trading. I’d saved up some money and decided to use some skills I learned in middle school to make a buck or two on the stock market. Ironically, not 12 hours after I blogged about my flagship stock being up near 200%, that stock, SPNG, dropped 27.66% in one day, costing me $23,000 of value on a $10,000 investment in 65 minutes. SPNG 2009-06-12 (Etrade graph)It recovered, and I still made out with a profit, but I learned a very, very valuable set of lessons. I still kick myself occasionally because of this and probably will for a long time. My goal of getting into stocks was to generate enough money that I could pay off my student loans really quickly. I could have paid off more than 2/3 and I didn’t cash out when I should have.

I did meet many, many new people in the stock world, especially Stockguy22 and the Bulls on Wall Street crew. I said goodbye to StockTwits after I was temporarily banned for cheering on Vonage (VG) when it was less than 50 cents, riding it to 80 cents, and cashing out. They called it a worthless, crappy penny stock. A few weeks later, it spiked to ~2.20 and has been above a dollar since. HA!

I got some neat advice from friends while considering the purchase of a MacBook Pro (which I got and love) and the acquisition of a PS3 (which I did get).

Vivísimo logo The biggest changes in my life were in my location and work. I got a new job in March at Vivísimo, a search platform maker in Pittsburgh–I even wrote a post on the corporate blog! I moved in with some friends in May, but realizing we were a little cramped, I moved into a new apartment in July (I didn’t write about that!).

I wrote more than 28 articles for Bob Buskirk‘s ThinkComputers. My favorites were the Masscool MP-1371RS Media Player and QNAP TS-809 Pro network attached storage device. I use the former alongside my PS3 for video formats my PS3 can’t stream from the latter. The NAS has become the central storage hub for all of my computers, replacing the QNAP TS-109 Pro I reviewed two years ago.

BIOS LEVEL was fairly inactive this year, largely because of a major server outage from May to August. I did write an article on the Orbita Mouse, which I still use to this day at work. I did record and post several videos from Ohio Linuxfest 2009, including Linux Journal editor Shawn Powers’s keynote, Jorge Castro‘s talk on building a community around an open source project, and more on licensing, making money from open source, democratized design, and talking to policymakers and legislators about open source. All Ohio Linuxfest videos with a write-up are available on BIOS LEVEL, or on BIOS LEVEL’s Blip.tv channel.

Jon Daniel and I spend most of November cranking out a beta version of Profyle.at, a personal profile directory service. We’re not entirely finished yet, but sign up for our Profyle.at beta and you’ll likely get in! Profyle.at LogoWe want to help people find you on the Internet so your friends and family can follow you on whatever sites and networks you like the most. We pitched for funding and didn’t get it, but were cordially invited to present again during the next round in a month.

Brigette and I are still together, and going strong. We’ve spent most of her winter break together, driving throughout western PA to be with friends and family, too. She’s been working on her web site for her beagle and vizsla show dogs, Glade Mill Sporting & Hound. She’s come a long way, from using a completely WYSIWYG editor to redoing it with a mix of code and WYSIWYG with Adobe Dreamweaver. I’m eager to see what she’s planning for it.

A comment on Socialism Defined

I originally posted this as a comment on Strike the Root!, but thought it relevant enough to be posted here as a full entry unto itself. It might be easier to understand it if you read it in context in the entry “Socialism Defined”. This comment in response to another comment which is very much anti-capitalism.

However, it’s important to consider the value of the land owner to the worker. If the worker were solely responsible for taking care of the land, machinery, and other tools of the trade, then that worker would be far less productive.

Let’s muse upon this. In the ideal situation, the worker creates something of value to others. He continues doing so, using his own equipment, land, and resources. He receives in its entirety all earnings from his labor, and uses those earnings to invest in more land, equipment, and resources. His investment provides income to no one, because he is doing everything himself. He is a producer, not a consumer.

He realizes that if he pays another person to gather resources, to construct equipment, to prepare land, he can spend more time producing the actual product himself. So, he sacrifices a portion of his earnings in exchange for a needed product or service.

He continues to realize the value of relying on others to do the tasks he’d rather not do (vendors) so that he can spend more time doing what he does want to do.

Eventually, he arrives at the point where the only things he does for his enterprise are coordinate these vendors and produce his product. He’s able to find a balance between the earnings he keeps for himself (profits) and the earnings he sacrifices (expenses) so that he can spend the optimal amount of time producing a product.

As in any industry, he’s bound to encounter both competitors and aspiring competitors. He proposes this to them: “I’ll reduce your expenses by permitting you to use my resources. You get more profit because you can spend more time producing and less time coordinating vendors. All I ask in return is a small portion of your profits, as I act as a vendor because I coordinate vendors, and I do the things you’d rather not do, such as care for the equipment, facilities, and land, and I actually sell the product.”

Our man has his first employee, and has become management. In another way, the employee is also the employer, because, in a way, the employee pays the employer to provide the equipment, land, and resources so that the employee can produce the product.

This carries on ad infinitum until our man has become The Man, because he spends more time coordinating vendors and managing employees than actually producing a product. Should not he be compensated for his work coordinating these vendors and selling the product?

The key here is that all of this interaction is willing. If at any point any person is wholly unwilling, it becomes slavery.

Government works similarly. Citizens, or, really, signatories of some agreement forming a government, federation, coalition, or other such body of people, sacrifice a portion of their earnings so that they can pay a vendor to do the things they don’t want to do. These things include caring for the land of the government, and the equipment and resources required to do so. Laws became necessary to protect the rights of citizens from abrogation by other citizens (and, arguably, the choice deities for the realm) and to ensure that the commons of the government fall not into tragedy (see Tragedy of the Commons).

The people who provide these services are vendors to the government. We call them firefighters and law enforcement (police, code enforcers, etc.).

The factor differentiating our man’s enterprise from our model government is that government need not generate a profit. It is merely a cost center financed by those who willingly and gladly pay to have others take care of the things they’d rather not do. In this way, the government is the employee of the citizens, and the government may employ citizens who are vendors.

There’s another observation to be made here: the government is only paying its vendors/employees in return for a service. Also, the citizens are willingly sacrificing a portion of their earnings in order to finance their government, which employs willing vendors, who provide a product (or a service) to the government.

The government can only spend as much of these earnings as it has, but it can request that citizens contribute more. Citizens who are willing contribute more, those who are not willing voice their opinion. Both sides look to the original agreement and successive laws for direction and decide who gets their way: the government or the citizens. If the government gets its way, citizens must contribute more or cease participation in the government.

You can see the problem here. Our laws have been written so that it’s impossible to leave the government because of a disagreement. Instead, we subject ourselves to this oppression, contribute more of our earnings, and hope that we can alter the government so as to reduce the contributions, by an outright reduction or a reduction in the use of vendors employed by the government, thus a reduction in the services which the government provides to the citizens.

The “exploitation of the worker” occurs when The Man takes more than his share and does not provide sufficient value to the employee, and the employee is unwilling or unable to right the situation, or feels that there is nothing wrong with the arrangement when outside observers disagree. It’s a tragedy of capitalism caused by greed, a human factor which can only be controlled through education of moral values (religious and non-religious, although the former seems to be easier to use) and self-determination.

The “exploitation of the citizen”, their sentiment that taxes are thievery, occurs similarly to exploitation of the worker: the citizen is unwilling or unable to right the situation, or feels that there is nothing wrong with government when outside observers disagree.

Fortunately, the government of the United States is set up in a way in which the citizens employ a vendor who represents their interests in the government–a representative and/or senator. Like our man’s enterprise, if the citizens do not like the product of that vendor (here, laws which care for the lands, equipment, and resources of the government, and protect the rights of the citizens), they can choose a different vendor.

Unfortunately, altruism plays a larger factor in government than in our man’s enterprise. If the man realizes that a portion of his business is failing, he can choose to stop producing the product (see the argument of the square wheel versus the round wheel). The government does not have a product, and thus has nothing which it can or needs to stop producing.

However, if the citizens decide that they want to provide vendors with earnings without that vendor having provided any service or product to the government, and direct the government to ask citizens to contribute more of their earnings in order to compensate these vendors who have provided no value through a product or service, these citizens and their government are edging toward socialism.

The justification is that these vendors, who are likely citizens with who are unable or unwilling to provide a service or produce a product, are of value to the citizens or government on some inexplicable, immeasurable level: altruism.

This is all well and good, until a citizen decides that a vendor is not of value and should not receive earnings, as the vendor has provided no value to the citizen, even by proxy of the government.

Our modern government has grown to a size where “exploitation of the citizen” is commonplace because of the peoples’ unwillingness, inability to let their voice be heard; to choose a new vendor who represents their interests and philosophies. They’ve lost hope. Because of this, they call their government thieves, because the government takes valuables from unwilling contributors and redistributes those valuables to those who are unable or unwilling to provide some value in measurable terms.

Regarding the mandated data retention sections of the SAFETY Act of 2009

Sent via e-mail to Senators Specter and Casey, as well as Congressman Altmire, all of Pennsylvania…

Senators and Congressman,

I write in regards to a bill with the short title “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth (SAFETY) Act of 2009”. This bill was introduced with virtually the same text into the House by Mr. Smith of Texas as H.R. 1076 and into the Senate by Mr. Cornyn as S. 436.

While the overall goal of the bill — a reduction in the use of the Internet to facilitate the trafficking of child pornography — is noble, I am concerned that a key section of the bill is overbroad and unenforceable.

The section to which I am referring is Sec. 5, the “RETENTION OF RECORDS BY ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION SERVICE PROVIDERS.” I include the text of the section here for reference:

Section 2703 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: “(h) Retention of Certain Records and Information- A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.”

My interpretation leads me to understand that this section would require any person operating an electronic communication or remote computing service to retain at least two years of logs of temporarily-assigned network addresses.

If interpreted as broadly as possible, this law could require every person who owns an Internet router — a very common, inexpensive, often wireless-capable networking device — to retain these logs for two years. These devices have a very limited storage capacity and generally do not have logging facilities enabled by default.

This law would essentially obsolete every home and small business router, as Americans would be compelled by federal law to buy a certainly more expensive router capable of storing an great amount of log files. This device would also have to be capable of backing up these logs to one or more external devices in order to ensure that the owner is protected from device failures. The price of these new routers would be much higher than the current market price of a router and this legislation would open the possibility of lawsuits against router makers when a router fails to log or retain the logs.

While this procedure is standard rigmarole for computer- and technology-savvy Americans, including information technology professionals, it is a difficult and potentially costly one for those who are not so inclined.

A single power outage or accidental or natural disaster could put someone in a position where they have violated federal law, as they acted as an electronic communication and remote computing service provider and did not retain records as federal law requires.

This is, of course, assuming that the federal agents responsible for enforcing this legislation do in fact police it. Instead, this new data retention requirement will go largely unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unenforced. It will become a law used to convict the ignorant, the careless, and the negligent instead convicting those actually responsible for exploiting children.

I can assume that one or more of you has a wireless router in your home. This law would apply to you, as well. You would need to ensure that your wireless router logs all addresses which it assigns, and you would need to ensure that your logs are retained for at least two years. If for some reason something happened and those logs were lost, you would be guilty of violating federal law.

Moreover, the identifying information contained within these logs is easily fabricated and even easier to masquerade. Two of the three major operating systems can masquerade the most commonly used unique network hardware identifier — a MAC address — with a simple command. A trivial program does the trick for the third. Such a simple fact would easily dismiss a MAC address as evidence in a court test of this entire law, not just the section against which I am campaigning.

I understand that these bills have probably been referred to committees for further exploration. I urge you to exercise extreme caution if this bill comes up for vote alone or as a part of a larger piece of legislation. I urge you to see Section 5 stricken in its entirety on the grounds that it is unenforceable and overbroad.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. If you wish to discuss these or other technology-related bills, my phone is always handy and I’m always willing to share my knowledge.

Colin Dean
Volant, PA

CC: Senator Casey, Senator Specter, Congressman Altmire

Blog reader note: Slashdot links to an excellent summary by C|Net’s Declan McCullaugh entitled Bill proposes ISPs, Wi-Fi keep logs for police.

Another cabinet withdrawl: Sen. Gregg no longer SecCommerce

Senator Judd Gregg, a third-term Republican from New Hampshire, withdrew himself from the Secretary of Commerce post today, citing “irresolvable conflicts” regarding the controversial economic stimulus bill, as well as the upcoming 2010 census.

An GOP insider told CNN that Gregg didn’t want to be a “powerless token” and didn’t agree with many of the economic policies, among other things.

Another Obama appointee falls. At least it’s not for tax reasons, but for policy, principle, and philosophy reasons.