Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 18th, 2014

Why people who care for children are paid less than people who care for animals

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A failure of society.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 8:22 pm

Posted in Daily life

A good story about a Christian church

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Jack Jenkins has a very nice report at ThinkProgress:

ASHEVILLE, NC — It was a rainy October morning when Associate Minister Gary Mitchell half-sprinted up to the glass entrance of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, North Carolina, waving frantically as he approached. He looked excited but slightly out-of-sorts, a white robe flapping over his shoulder and rainbow-colored pastoral stole clenched in his first.

“Can I help you?” Mitchell asked, a smile widening across his face as he swung open the door. I explained that I was a reporter, here to interview the head pastor. He looked disappointed.

“Oh, I thought you might be here to get married,” he said. “People keep walking up, ringing the doorbell, and asking if we’ll marry them.”

The minister raised his stole aloft, grinning again: “I just finished one!”

First Congregational UCC has hosted dozens of same-sex weddings since North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down on October 10 of this year. Built out of stones and mortar and celebrating its 100-year anniversary this past June, the anachronistic exterior of the church belies a cutting-edge theology preached within: over the past three years, the medium-sized congregation has become the epicenter of a burgeoning faith-based movement for LGBT justice in North Carolina, supporting advocates and organizations to help bring marriage equality to the Tar Heel State. Most recently, the church played a crucial role in helping muster faith-based support for the lawsuit that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The story behind General Synod of the UCC v. Reisinger — which was filed by a group of progressive clergy and facilitated by the Campaign for Southern Equality, an LGBT advocacy group housed within First Congregational UCC — is an unusual anecdote within the larger narrative of America’s slow embrace of gay rights. Public opinion has shifted towards acceptance of marriage equality in recent years, but religious groups have remained staunch opponents of LGBT rights, especially within the American Southeast, where opposition to marriage for same-sex couples is the highest in the country. Yet the efforts of First Congregational UCC, the Campaign for Southern Equality, and a constellation of other faith-based advocates in North Carolina paint a very different picture of gay rights organizing, and may offer a glimpse into the future of LGBT advocacy in the South. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law, Religion

Cool flip books

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Take a look.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 7:12 pm

Posted in Daily life

And another thing that would not have happened save for the Internet

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This would never ever have happened before—and in fact it did not.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Business

IMO: The nationwide Takata recall would not have happened without the Internet

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In the old days, the story would have been easy to kill. No more. And isn’t it good to have a government to force the recall rather than having to rely on the company’s moral compass?

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 3:47 pm

Posted in Business, Government

First fringes of the Singularity

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From a must-read article by Jordan Pearson at Motherboard:

“Neural networks can be plugged into one another in a very natural way,” Karpathy told me. “So we simply take a convolutional neural network, which understands the content of images, and then we take a recurrent neural network, which is very good at processing language, and we plug one into the other. They speak to each other—they can take an image and describe it in a sentence.”

And, it works:

Neural net

And you know how the security apparatus will use it: putting names to faces in those ultrafinegrain crowd photos. And given that news media like to take photos of crowds of protesters, some of the work is done for them.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Technology

Cutting-edge paper airplane

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Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 2:45 pm

Posted in Techie toys

It’s Time to Stop Saying ‘Drink the Kool-Aid’

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Very interesting interview with Julia Scheeres, author of Jonestown. From the link (which has now been fixed):

The more I understood what actually transpired in Jonestown, the more offended I became by the notion that Jones’ victims “drank the Kool-Aid.” I felt a duty to defend them, to tell the true story of what happened in Jonestown. The central argument of A Thousand Lives is that Jim Jones murdered his congregants—it was mass murder, not mass suicide. He fantasized about killing them for years before they moved to Guyana and lured them there by making them believe they could return to California whenever they wanted. Once he had them sequestered in the middle of the South American jungle, he refused to let anyone go. “If you want to go home, you can swim,” he told disgruntled residents. “We won’t pay your fucking way home.” I found many heartbreaking notes from residents begging Jones to let them go home, offering to send down paychecks for the rest of their lives, etc. The hardest to read were from parents who, once they realized Jones was intent on killing everyone, were at a loss for ways to insulate their children from Jones’ madness. A third of the 918 people who died in the Jonestown massacre were minors. They didn’t “drink the Kool-Aid;” they had it forced down their throats.

And it wasn’t even Kool-Aid. The poison was mixed with a cheap knock-off called “Flavor-Aid.” That unfortunate phrase has worked its way into the cultural lexicon, but few young people know of its Jonestown origins or how offensive it is to Jones’ victims.

As you’d imagine, the phrase offends survivors. It reduces a mass tragedy to the level of banality. Jonestown residents didn’t willingly drink poison—they were forced to do so. Jones gave them a choice: drink cyanide or be shot to death by armed guards. Living was not an alternative. Many decided to drink the “potion,” as Jones called it, with their families. Those who refused to comply were forcibly injected with it. A 12-year-old girl named Julie Ann Runnels kept spitting the poison out, so two of Jones’ lieutenants forced her to swallow by it by pulling her hair and clamping their hands over her nose and mouth. She did not “Drink the Kool-Aid.” She was murdered—as were all the 303 children who died that night. We need to stop disrespecting Jones’ victims with this odious and wildly inaccurate phrase.

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Religion

An excellent example of how difficult it is to fix a cultural balance once it’s broken

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Our social constructs—organizations, work groups, interpersonal relationships, committees, municipal government—are really rather fragile, it seems to me. A few bad actors can affect the dynamic in a ways that things become unbalanced and spin out of control—the corrupt sheriff who corrupts the judge and prosecutor and soon the town’s culture starts to resemble a feudal arrangement of powerful exploiting powerless in many ways. Or even the smoothly functioning committee that falls apart because of frictions caused by one borderline personality on it.

Look at what Fox News has done to the news industry, for example. This excellent column by Sophia McClennen in Salon is well worth reading:

Jon Stewart has been on the interview circuit to promote his new film, “Rosewater,” but many of his comments have turned to partisan politics and the pundits who encourage them.  Interviewers have not been able to resist the urge to talk about Stewart’s thoughts on the midterm elections, on immigration, and on the legacy of Obama.  But what has been really interesting to watch is Stewart’s comments on Fox News and on commentators like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.

In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Stewart explained that most of Fox News is about fear.  Fox News viewers, he explained, operate in a world where they have a high sense of being persecuted, and this is why, for instance, we will soon see pieces on the “War on Christmas” with commentators standing next to 60-foot-tall Christmas trees.  But not all Fox News commentators are equal in Stewart’s eyes.  He considers O’Reilly to be more like a “Kennedy Democrat” who comes by his views honestly.  Not so with Hannity, whom Stewart describes as “probably the most loathsome dude over there.” He describes Hannity as espousing “pure cynicism”: “Everything is presented in as devious a manner as it could possibly be presented.”

It’s worth remembering that from the moment that Fox News was founded in 1996 the goal was to offer a partisan view of the news.  David Brock and Ari Rabin-Havt in “The Fox Effect” explain in detail how Roger Ailes turned the cable channel into a propaganda machine.  And once the channel launched, all other cable news responded. Few recall that Ann Coulter used to work for MSNBC before Fox was founded.  It’s hard to imagine it in the blue versus red world we live in now.

Three years after Fox News used the slogan “fair and balanced” to promote a channel that had no intention of being either, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Business, Media

What happens when you don’t put bankers in prison when they break the law

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What happens, of course, is that they continue to break the law—because they got big bonuses and suffered no penalties, so of course they are doing it again—it pays to own politicos, to be able to call up Eric Holder and get him to drop a case, it’s all good. Except for the country and the people in it. often employ, then… what? Then I’d feel better

From a good article in Salon by David Dayen:

New evidence over the last month shows that servicers employ virtually the same improper techniques when foreclosing. Instead of robo-signers, they use robo-witnesses, or robo-verifiers; more on them in a moment. Regardless, they are breaking laws and degrading the integrity of the courts to kick people out of their homes, a sad and enduring legacy of the destruction of the nation’s property system during the housing bubble years.

In 22 U.S. states, lenders must file foreclosure complaints with a court, and prove the facts of the case before a judge. But servicers have shown themselves largely unable to perform this seemingly simple task.

During the housing bubble, mortgages were traded so rapidly, with insufficient documentation, that true ownership has been confused on millions of loans. In addition, servicers operate with such thin profit margins and bare-bones staff that they don’t have the resources to retrace the steps of the mortgages, which may have gone through eight different companies or more. So they have resorted to a number of shortcuts to evict homeowners.

When servicers got caught robo-signing, they stopped. But they trained a new set of employees, best described as robo-witnesses. These low-level personnel work for the servicer’s litigation departments, and they fly around the country from courtroom to courtroom. Reading from a script, robo-witnesses claim to have personal knowledge of their employer’s practices, and that they can swear to the legitimacy of the foreclosures. “They’re trained to parrot a script, you could just bring a parrot in,” said Lisa Epstein, a foreclosure expert now working for a defense attorney.

But these robo-witnesses know pretty much nothing beyond the script; they have no insight into the individual cases in which they’re testifying. “They walk into court having read the documents of the case a moment before,” said Thomas Ice, a foreclosure defense attorney in Palm Beach, Florida. Ice argues that it’s no different than robo-signing, just moved into the courtroom. “They don’t give their signature now, they just perjure themselves in court.”

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 1:49 pm

What texting does to the spine

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Texting

By all means, read (and heed) the article.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 1:43 pm

Huh! Openness and honesty turn out to be pleasing to people—even customers

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I found that via this interesting article on the whole McDonald’s Canada campaign. (I think such a campaign would be harder in the US, where executives tend to think openness and honesty are counter-productive to increasing profits, and so finding an executive who remains capable of honesty is difficult. It’s not something you can just turn on and off. That’s practically the definition of dishonesty, in fact: turning honesty off by choice. No one can be dishonest in every statement, and for dishonesty to work, one must be trusted. So the whole art of dishonesty is to be honest except that you can turn it off when it’s to your advantage. And once you learn how to turn it off, it’s hard to unlearn it, because leaving it on is often painful. Much easier to turn it off—and so we have executives like those at Uber. But not just Uber: GM, JP Morgan Chase (in spades and depth), and so on. Police departments and crime reports. Our own NSA and other government agencies. Our president.

Trust, once broken, is damned difficult to regain. And I think Reagan wrecked our trust in government, both in word (“The nine scariest words in the English language: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”; “The government can’t fix the problem—the government is the problem.” and so on) and in deed (Iran-Contra, Oliver North, dope smuggling). Cynicism in a way excuses by expecting the dishonesty we get. Outrage fatigue sets in. We simply accept, become docile. And then another step is taken against us. Little by little. Like herding slow-moving sheep.

But back to the article at the link: here’s a passage from the article:

All of this, of course, is part of a bigger trend in the world of branding toward so-called transparency. Indeed, Google’s Ngram Viewer, which compiles usage rates of specific words and phrases found in millions of books, shows that occurrences of the word transparency have increased by around 200 percent between the mid-1980s to mid-2000s. This spike might be largely due to more talk of how big-name brands (and governments) are attempting to rectify tarnished images in the face of public pressure. “The Internet is giving consumers a lot of power, and there aren’t many secrets anymore,” Glen Urban, a professor of marketing at the MIT Sloan School of Management, tells me. “If you look at the auto industry, for example, used cars used to be a haven for manipulation and consumer victimization, but when eBay started doing consumer ratings and guarantees and escrow payments, the used-car market cleaned up and became trustworthy. A lot of the used-car dealers on eBay are the same dealers that were untrustworthy before, but now they can’t be because they’d get no business. If you don’t have four or five stars, nobody’s going to buy a used car from you.”

A recent documentary titled The Naked Brand, produced by the ad agency Questus, argues the same point. Since countless blogs, comment sections, and Twitter accounts provide an abundance of information, companies are having a harder time keeping their once-private dealings private. Today, ordinary citizens have more access to what’s happening in the world than ever before, meaning corporations can either opt for transparency or crank up their opacity machines. One example of a company that’s chosen the former route is outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia with its “Footprint Chronicles,” a webpage that documents the company’s global supply chain for all to see.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 1:35 pm

Taking a wrench to reality

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From a very interesting review that discusses Cubism:

In his artistic researches, Cézanne had been intent to paw at the boundary between his personal visual sensations and the “Nature” (or “the real world,” as we might now say) that he could walk through and handle and inhabit. I can go beyond that, Braque seems to claim. I can take a wrench to reality. Look, my brush lays hold on the angled planes of the object world, its facets; look, it locates the edges on which Nature must turn; see me unfasten the presented scene, open it up, seize it by a firm and encompassing grip.

I think what has been most lacking in my own appreciation of art has been my ignorance of the process and history: to see what a painting means in itself and in the context (and timing) of its creation. The discussion of Braque’sTrees at L’Estaque, I certainly see more in it—the rebellion evident in the canvas is heightened by the history.

In this general context, I highly recommend seeing Martin Scorsese’s Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Art, Books

Interesting technology: This Indian start-up could disrupt health care with its powerful and affordable diagnostic machine

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Vivek Wadhwa reports in the Washington Post:

Frustrated at the lack of interest by the medical establishment in reducing the costs of diagnostic testing [and the reason is obvious: selling cheaper devices reduces profit—and the point is to make a profit, not help the patients – LG], and seeing almost no chance of getting the necessary research grants, Kanav Kahol returned home to New Delhi in 2011. He was a member of Arizona State University’s department of biomedical informatics. Kahol had noted that despite the similarities between most medical devices in their computer displays and circuits, their packaging made them unduly complex and difficult for anyone but highly skilled practitioners to use [incumbent protection and drive up cost of entry = higher salaries – LG]. As well, they were incredibly expensive — costing tens of thousands of dollars each.

Kahol knew that the sensors in these devices were commonly available and inexpensive, usually costing only a few dollars. He believed that he could connect these to a common computer platform and use commercially available computer tablets to display diagnostic information, thereby dramatically reducing the cost of the medical equipment. He also wanted to repackage the sensor data to make them intelligible to technicians with just basic medical training — the frontline health workers who do the tasks of physicians in parts of the world where physicians are in short supply.

Kahol and his Indian engineering team built a prototype of a device called the Swasthya Slate (which translates to “Health Tablet”) in less than three months, for a cost of $11,000. This used an off-the-shelf Android tablet and incorporated a four-lead ECG, medical thermometer, water-quality meter, and heart-rate monitor. They then enhanced this with a 12-lead ECG and sensors for blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, blood haemoglobin, and urine protein and glucose. In June 2012, they sent this device to 80 medical labs for testing, which reported that it was as accurate as the medical equipment they used — but more suitable for use in remote and rural areas, because it was built for the rugged conditions there.

By January 2013, Kahol’s team had incorporated 33 diagnostic tests, including for HIV, syphilis, pulse oximetry, and troponin (relating to heart attack) into the Swasthya Slate and reduced its cost to $800 per unit. They also built a variety of artificial-intelligence–based apps for frontline health workers and started testing these in different parts of India.

According to reports that Kahol shared with me, in Muktsar Punjab, the number of antenatal care visits increased from 0.8 to 4.1 per mother after the Swasthya was deployed there. The blood-pressure and urine-protein sensors allowed for the diagnosis of a condition called preeclampsia, which is responsible for 15 percent of maternal mortality in India. A year earlier, only 250 mothers were screened for preeclampsia, and 10 were confirmed to be preeclampsic. Because the detection was very late in the pregnancy, eight of these mothers nevertheless passed away. After the introduction of the Swasthya Slate, 1,000 mothers were screened during their third trimester, of whom 120 were detected to have preeclampsia. All were given the necessary care, and there were no fatalities.

In March 2014, the Indian government started a pilot of 4,250 Swasthya Slates . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Daily life

The media in the US is moving toward the position Pravda had in the Soviet Union: A partisan mouthpiece

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Note that I say “partisan” rather than “government.” Some of the media do speak for the government (whoever’s in power), but other media speak for a particular party (Fox News, for example). True journalism, driven by facts, is becoming uncommon, partly because the primary mission is no longer reporting the truth (comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable), but turning a profit. Once the focus moves to money, less attention is paid to what was once the main purpose. The previous post is one good example of how frequently reporting just follows the government line, and Democracy Now! has another under the title “Antiwar Voices Absent from Corporate TV News Ahead of U.S. Attacks on Iraq & Syria.” Their blurb:

A new analysis of corporate TV news has found there was almost no debate about whether the United States should go to war in Iraq and Syria. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that of the more than 200 guests who appeared on network shows to discuss the issue, just six voiced opposition to military action. The report, titled “Debating How — Not Whether — to Launch a New War,” examines a two-week period in September when U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria dominated the airwaves. The report also finds that on the high-profile Sunday talk shows, out of 89 guests, there was just one antiwar voice — Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. We speak to Peter Hart, activism director at FAIR.

Video and transcript at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 12:09 pm

Most media still equate “killed by a drone strike” and “militant,” even when victims are unknown

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The government exercises considerable control over the media, even beyond the sort of direct intervention that kept the NY Times from publishing what they had learned about a massive and highly illegal warrantless wiretapping program inaugurated by the Bush Administration (and, of course, expanded by the Obama Administration). The Obama Administration stated point blank that anyone killed by a drone strike would be considered a “militant” unless and until proved otherwise. Since the strikes are often in remote and hostile areas, such proof is generally unavailable—but our lapdog media follows along, doing whatever is asked.

Glenn Greenwald reports on the practice in The Intercept:

It has been more than two years since The New York Times revealed that “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties” of his drone strikes which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” The paper noted that “this counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths,” and even quoted CIA officials as deeply “troubled” by this decision: “One called it ‘guilt by association’ that has led to ‘deceptive’ estimates of civilian casualties. ‘It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants. They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.’”

But what bothered even some intelligence officials with the agency carrying out the strikes seemed of no concern whatsoever to most major media outlets. As I documented days after the Times article, most large western media outlets continued to describe completely unknown victims of U.S. drone attacks as “militants” – even though they (a) had no idea who those victims were or what they had done and (b) were well-aware by that point that the term had been “re-defined” by the Obama administration intoAlice in Wonderland-level nonsense.

Like the U.S. drone program itself, this deceitful media practice continues unabated. “Drone strike kills at least four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan,” a Reuters headline asserted last week. The headline chosen by ABC News, publishing an AP report, was even more definitive: “US Drone in Northwest Pakistan Kills 6 Militants.” In July, The Wall Street Journal‘sheadline claimed: “U.S. Drone Strike Kills Five Militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.” Sometimes they will turn over their headlines to “officials,” asthis AP report from July did: “Officials: US drone kills 7 militants in Pakistan.”

Since its 2012 report, the Times itself has tended to avoid the “militant” language in its headlines, but often lends credence to dubious official claims, as when it said this about a horrific U.S. drone strike last December on a Yemeni wedding party, killing the bride: “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.” Other U.S. media accounts of that strike were just as bad, if not worse. The controversies over the definition of “militant” are almost never mentioned in any of these reports.

A new article in The New Yorker by Steve Coll underscores how deceptive this journalistic practice is. Among other things, he notes that

the U.S. government itself – let alone the media outlets calling them “militants” – often has no idea who the people are who are killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. That’s because, in 2008, George Bush and his CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, implemented “signature strikes,” whereby “the new rules allowed drone operators to fire at armed military-aged males engaged in or associated with suspicious activity even if their identities were unknown.” The Intercept previously reported that targeting decisions can even be made by nothing more than metadata analysis and SIM card use.

The journalist Daniel Klaidman has noted that within the CIA, they “sometimes call it crowd killing. . . .  If you don’t have positive ID on the people you’re targeting with these drone strikes.” The tactic of drone-killing first responders and rescuers who come to the scene of drone attacks or even mourners at funerals of drone victims – used by the Obama administration and designated “terror groups” alike – are classic examples. Nobody has any real idea who the dead are, but they are nonetheless routinely called “militants” by the American government and media. As international law professor Kevin Jon Heller documented in 2012, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 11:33 am

John Hodgman: ‘The government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates’

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Exactly: the same sort of investment in infrastructure that benefits the common welfare. Eisenhower (a Republican) pushed the Interstate highway system—well supported by the automotive and trucking industries, to be sure—and I would say it has paid off: Interstate highways show the value of a socialized approach in certain areas.

The same clearly goes for (true) broadband networks, which our telecoms don’t want to spend money on—though they will go to considerable lengths to stop municipalities from offering broadband services to their communities. I.e., the telecoms don’t want to do it, but they don’t want anyone else to do it, either.

Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

Long before John Oliver called for an end to “cable company f**kery,” another comedian also named John was beating the net neutrality drum. As far back as 2006, author and actor John Hodgman was using postal envelopes to explain how Internet service providers might let content from Google and Amazon through to consumers very easily while discriminating against content from other companies.

Now Hodgman is back at it. In an essay on Tumblr posted Monday night, Hodgman takes aim at large telecom companies who can “control what is increasingly a mandatory purchase” for many Americans: access to high-speed broadband that connects them to information, entertainment and economic opportunity.

Hodgman has some personal stake in the issue as a performer. Arguing that the Internet helps promote artists and small businesses that drive the U.S. economy, Hodgman added that many of the country’s dominant telecom providers would not be in their successful position today had they not benefited from public resources such as land and wireless airwaves.

The issue has clearly been on Hodgman’s mind for some time. At the end of a lengthy response to a separate BuzzFeed article, Hodgman told his readers he’d be holding an impromptu Q&A session on Tumblr for an hour to discuss Obamacare, net neutrality as well as any other issue his followers thought important. Amid queries on his favorite vegetable (brussels sprouts) and whether to see the movie “Interstellar,” (…yes?) Hodgman saved his longest response for last.

“I believe in capitalism but not monopolies,” Hodgman wrote. “I believe in entrepreneurship and I am not against government efforts to foster it. I believe more communities should invest in their own broadband to break regional telecom monopolies. Personally I believe that the federal government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates. And I believe preferential fast-laning for big companies will decrease competition and quality and ultimately hamper what is poised to be the most important area of economic, cultural, and technological innovation of our time.”

This isn’t far off from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 11:23 am

Uber, a company without a moral compass

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Uber has an interesting business model: use only independent contractors so as to avoid the costs of having employees—thus externalizing costs such as health insurance. For Uber, health insurance costs are picked up by their “independent contractors” and the taxpayer (through the Obamacare subsidies). And Uber is certainly trying to say that any damage done by drivers is not Uber’s fault, so if your driver attacks you, sue the driver, not Uber.

And Uber is offering car loans to its drivers in an interesting variant of the company-store way of trapping employees through debt: the loans are for cars that will have a short lifespan due to how they’re driven, and in the meantime Uber is working to cut driver’s wages, thus binding the chain tighter.

And now Uber has the brilliant idea of engaging investigators to look into the private lives of journalists who report negative information about Uber with the idea of smearing the journalists, getting them fired, ruining their reputations.

Doesn’t anyone see what’s wrong with that picture? Here are some of the articles—read for yourself what a truly sleazy company with no notions of morality will do:

Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists – Ben Smith in BuzzFeedNews, who broke the story. From his article:

Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.

At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers. He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.

Later in the article:

The spokeswoman, Nairi Hourdajian, said the company does not do “oppo research” of any sort on journalists, and has never considered doing it. She also said Uber does not consider Lacy’s personal life fair game, or believe that she is responsible for women being sexually assaulted.

Hourdajian also said that Uber has clear policies against executives looking at journalists’ travel logs, a rich source of personal information in Uber’s posession.

“Any such activity would be clear violations of our privacy and data access policies,” Hourdajian said in an email. “Access to and use of data is permitted only for legitimate business purposes. These policies apply to all employees. We regularly monitor and audit that access.”

In fact, the general manager of Uber NYC accessed the profile of a BuzzFeed News reporter, Johana Bhuiyan, to make points in the course of a discussion of Uber policies. At no point in the email exchanges did she give him permission to do so.

At the Waverly Inn dinner, it was suggested that a plan like the one Michael floated could become a problem for Uber.

Michael responded: “Nobody would know it was us.”

The moment I learned just how far Uber will go to silence journalists and attack women – by Sarah Lacy in PandoDaily. She is the person named as the target of the Uber smear campaign. (She also points out that the Uber CEO has said that he now gets so much ass that he calls the company “Boober.” Classy guy, eh?)

Uber exec suggests muzzling reporters over negative coverage – Brian Fung in the Washington Post

The Smartest Bro in the Room – Ellen Cushing in San Francisco Magazine. A more general picture of the company.

The executive who voiced the idea for the campaign has apologized, but quite obviously only because he was exposed for pushing the idea. It’s quite clear that he has had no serious change of heart, and I would bet that the initiative proceeds, but more quietly.

These guys are sociopaths.

UPDATE: Another good article, this one by Matt Yglesias: “Uber has an asshole problem.”

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 11:02 am

Posted in Business, Media

The DoJ and Congress are begging each other to reform marijuana laws. So why hasn’t either budged?

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Good question. Eric Holder, as Attorney General, could move marijuana out of the Schedule I category (more dangerous than cocaine!!) today, but he doesn’t. Why not? Or, perhaps more important, why does Holder give a pass to the banks that break the law? He knows that JP Morgan committed fraud, but he lets them off the hook with a fine (a large portion of which will be paid by taxpayers and victims) and keeps secret the damning evidence that JP Morgan knew quite well that it was committing fraud and in fact had been informed of that by one of its own lawyers/analysts (who was quickly fired).

That actually provides a clue: Eric Holder really doesn’t seem to care much about the law, but he’s very concerned about getting a cushy job when he leaves the government, so he doesn’t want to annoy the fat cats. But regular people? He doesn’t care.

Christopher Ingraham asks the question of the title in the Washington Post:

The crowning inconsistency of the federal drug control system has always been the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under federal law, which makes it among the Worst of the Worst drugs as far as the DEA is concerned — literally as bad as heroin, and worse than cocaine! Drug reform advocates have pushed the DEA to change its position for years, citing decades of research on the relative harmlessness of weed compared to other drugs — including alcohol — but the agency hasn’t budged, even as public opinion has rapidly evolved.

The Controlled Substances Act, which set up the drug schedules in the early 1970s, explicitly places drug scheduling authority in the hands of the attorney general, and even instructs him or her to “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”

Much to the chagrin and outright befuddlement of drug law reformers, however, outgoing attorney general Eric Holder has repeatedly stated that any changes to the scheduling status of marijuana should be made by Congress.

In an interview with the just-launched Marshall Project, a non-profit news outfit covering criminal justice issues, he said, “I think the question of how these drugs get scheduled and how they are ultimately treated is something for Congress to work on.” This echoes remarks he made in a September interview with Katie Couric, when he said that federal marijuana decriminalization was something for Congress to decide.

As Firedoglake’s Jon Walker noted yesterday, it’s strange that Holder is trying to punt this issue to Congress while the Obama administration is testing the limits of executive authority elsewhere: “It is just mind boggling that while the Obama administration is looking at ways to stretch their legal authority to use executive actions to get around Congress on issues, like the environment and immigration, they would still refuse to move forward on the one issue where they are so explicitly given the power to act under current law,” Walker writes.

The DEA had no problem acting unilaterally to move hydrocodone products up from Schedule III to Schedule II earlier this year. It alsoadded the previously-unscheduled synthetic opiate tramadol to the drug schedule. So Holder’s conspicuous deference to Congress on marijuana is puzzling. . .

Continue reading.

It’s hard to develop much respect for Eric Holder.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 10:48 am

WhatsApp rolls out end-to-end encryption using TextSecure code

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Interesting innovation reported in The Verge by Russell Brandom:

The most recent update to WhatsApp’s Android app includes a surprising feature: strong end-to-end encryption, enabled by default. It’s the strongest security any major texting app has offered, even compared with similar tools from giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. WhatsApp partnered with Open Whisper Systems for the launch, using open source code to build in the new features. It’s unclear when the features will come to iOS, but just reaching WhatsApp’s Android users represents a huge step forward for everyday encryption use.

“End-to-end” means that, unlike messages encrypted by Gmail or Facebook Chat, WhatsApp won’t be able to decrypt the messages itself, even if the company is compelled by law enforcement. The company will set up the key exchange between users, but only the two users will have access to the conversation itself. There are other end-to-end encryption apps on the market — most notably Cryptocat, Silent Text and Telegram — but with over 600 million users across the world, WhatsApp is by far the largest platform to adopt the system.

Open Whisper Systems is best known as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 November 2014 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, NSA, Technology

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