Our Data, Ourselves—Bruce Schneier

In the information age, we all have a data shadow.

With these words, Bruce Schneier opens an almost poetic call to action for people to recognize their data, its vulnerability and the need to take back control of that data from those who amass it, control it and peruse it almost at will. He admits it will be a long, hard slog, and that it would be easy to do nothing, but I think that it’s not only worth the effort, but it may be the paramount struggle in civil liberties this millennium.

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The Cynic and Senator Obama — Esquire — Charles Pierce

There is one point in the stump speech, however, that catches the cynic up short every time. It comes near to the end, when Obama talks about cynics. Obama says that cynics believe they are smarter than everyone else. The cynic thinks he’s wrong. The cynic doesn’t think he’s wiser or more clever or more politically attuned than anyone else. It’s just that he fears that, every morning, he’ll discover that his country has done something to deface itself further, that something else he thought solid will tremble and quake and fall to ruin, that his fellow citizens will sell more of their birthright for some silver that they can forge into shackles. He has come to believe that the worst thing a citizen of the United States of America can believe is that his country will not do something simply because it’s wrong. It would be a mistake for anyone — but especially for a presidential candidate — to believe that the cynic thinks himself wise or safe or liberated. In 2008, the cynic is more modest. He considers himself merely adequate to the times.

Just one of many wonderful passages from Charles Pierce’s article in Esquire. Go, go and read the whole thing!

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The Reality-Based Community: Fair is fair

Reposted in its hilarious entirity, “Fair is Fair” by Michael O’Hare at RBC:

The “worst president ever?” meme has floated from bitter-liberal whining lounges to mainstream venues and plutocrats like Donald Trump, who should know which side their bread is buttered on. This piling-on in the face of the clear facts has to stop if Democrats want to keep a shred of intellectual respectability.
History simply will not support this level of condemnation. Never mind presidents from decades back, here are five contemporary presidents who completely refute the idea that
Bush is the worst:
None of the antiwar protesters arrested in Washington Friday night were
beaten in captivity. Not a single fractured skull or broken jaw. Bush is much more protective of civil rights and free speech than Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe.
Bush has never, ever, claimed to have an herbal AIDS cure revealed by ancestors in a dream, nor touted it to replace anti-retroviral drugs. Bush is much less anti-scientific than
Yahya Jammeh, president of Gambia.
The number of US dissidents killed overseas by plutonium poisoning is zero, and the number
of US businessmen ruined and imprisoned for opposing the government is also zero. Bush is much more respectful of law and property than Vladimir Putin, president of Russia.
Bush hasn’t tried to fire even one Supreme Court justice, much less a chief justice. He’s much more respectful of separation of powers than Pervez Musharraf, president of Pakistan.
Bush hasn’t named a single city, river, month, or day of the week after himself, and aggressive research has turned up no gold-plated colossal statues of him, not even silver-plated. Bush is much less egotistical and narcissistic than Sapurmurat Niyazov, the late president of Turkmenistan.
George W. Bush, better than many presidents; let’s give credit where credit is due.

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WSJ vs. NYT in a subscription model deathmatch

Over at the Freakonomics blog, there was some discussion of why the Wall Street Journal has a subscription wall while almost every other newspaper in America allows free online access to its news product. Author Steven Levitt opined that someone has to be wrong: the WSJ or the rest of the newspaper industry.
I posted multiple comments, not so much because I had a lot to say, but because the comment engine on Levitt’s blog (probably wisely) strips out HTML tags and properly renders multiple spaces as a single space. (No, I have no idea what the comment engine here does. I don’t comment on my own blog. That’d be kinda onanistic.) But my point was that the WSJ and the New York Times have almost inverse pay/free models and good/crappy products. To wit:

New York Times Wall Street Journal
News Pages Spotty (mostly bad) but free Good but costly
Editorial Pages Spotty (mostly good) but costly Bad but free

(One of the nice things about having your own blog is the ability to drill down to the HTML and hand code a damned table when you need to.)
What may be at work here is that the WSJ is an outlier, a special case: a truly national business paper that is unique and can charge for access to its news content because of its intrinsic value. (Well, that and the added value of being from the Wall Street Journal, whose news pages have been above reproach despite the lunacy over at Editorial, probably a far greater achievement than most people realize.)

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Victory Is Not an Option – washingtonpost.com

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush’s illusions from the realities of the war.

That first line of Gen. Odom’s Op-Ed in the Washington Post is really all you need to read. The rest is Odom’s methodical delineation of what’s gone wrong and what we can do to make it right and just how we can get our collective nuts out of the roaring fire Bush and company lit in Iraq (and are trying, like demented, defrocked Boy Scouts intent on a pyromania badge, to light in Iran). That we have a president (and for real nuttiness, see Vice President Cheney on any given day; it’s quite an accomplishment to make Bush look like he’s in touch, but Cheney sometimes manages it) who can’t see past his illusions is bad enough; that we have one whose illusions are killing and maiming American soldiers and Marines (who come back to be treated like shit at Walter Reed, apparently) by the truckload is unforgivable. I don’t care that the right wing will whip up its nut cases with a cry of “It’s retaliation for Clinton!”, we’ve got to impeach Bush and Cheney before there’s a mushroom cloud over Tehran. The American soul has been besmirched enough, damn it!

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The Post-Perfect Storm

Today’s Washington Post may be a weather map to the perfect storm that has hit America.

Upper left: A story about how the government been robbing Peter (in this case climate research) to pay Paul (Mars, bitches!, etc.). I mean screw figuring out what’s wrong with the house we live in, let’s daydream about a trip to Australia by car!

Upper middle: A digital day in the life. I’m always amazed at how amazed professional, top-tier reporters can be amazed by things I’ve known about for months if not years. I’ve ceased to be amazed at their inability to make the leap necessary to take the story from the obvious (e.g., the phone company has tracked phone calls ever since it began charging money for it, i.e., forever) to deeper understanding (it’s the low cost of storage, the consolidation of data, the mining of data, the “national security” backdoors that are so ineptly constructed that they leave portals into people’s lives that a script kiddie could drive a black ice Hummer through that really matter, not that suddenly that we notice how much of our lives occur in public).

Upper right: Bush says after years of running the budget into the ground with a compliant, Republican-run (but I repeat myself) Congress, it’s now up to the new Democratic-run (barely in one house, lest we forget) Congress to change his diaper, clean his backside, exchange any clothing soiled by his excesses, and, for good measure, prevent any further blowouts–all while letting him run amok in Iraq and at home. He needs the Hannibal Lecter handtruck treatment.

Right side, second story: It seems the Iraqi “government” still can’t hold a lynching without screwing something up. Here’s a first step to not embarrassing yourself while hanging people: Stop hanging people. At least bring back the hooded, muscled man with the scimitar and give the beheadings a bit more grandeur, people. Or maybe something more civilized, like not rushing headlong to kill anyone and making sure not only that you have had a fair trial, but fair punishment as well.

Right side, third story: Yes, folks, it’s been five years since the first person was hauled to Gitmo from far off lands, possibly never to return, face anything resembling a fair trial, or otherwise leave the hell on earth America has built next to the Communist Paradise of the West.

And at the lower left: Ladies and gentlemen, one of the things the Post does pretty well, packing a lot of localish crap into a single story on A1. If you’ve driven around here and had to stop for anything other than gas, chances are you got a parking ticket. Along with specious moving violations and other draconian non-moving offenses, this has got to be one of the top revenue sources for local governments in the region.

Metro: Martin Luther King? Look in Metro. He’s not A1 material anymore. Yesterday’s news. Beyond that, today’s Metro section is a prime example of the Post‘s attitudes of “eff local, we don’t need no stinkin’ suburbs” and “Virginia uber alles” (the second prevails if there’s a conflict). Would it have killed them to put a Maryland story on A1 in the Maryland Edition instead of the Virginia parking ticket pastiche? Maybe the big school construction thing? But of course, anyone reading a newspaper is too old to have kids, or too smart to live in Maryland or D.C.

Business: Golly gee, a mirror that has a Web cam and can display IMs. Alert Steve Jobs. (See earlier snark about journalists and technology.) Why the hell, other than the huge monetary impact it has on Big Pharma, is the BioShield (government preparedness for bio-attack) story here? There isn’t even a business mentioned on the section front. Look honey, a navel-gazing newspaper business story (tip to readers: stick to Editor and Publisher, they have a clue about the business without being mired in it), and something about a hotel magnate blogging. Business sections after holidays suck even worse than usual, because that’s when the reporters pretend they’re with the Style section and (usually–there are some fine business writers around, including some at the Post) show why they aren’t.

Sports: Apparently the Sports section’s recipe for survival is 1 part game recap and stats anyone with an Internet connection could have read for 8-16 hours + 2 parts columnists, half panderers and half shockers, + some graphics and agate, most of which has again been available, free, online to anyone interested enough to look for it, plus lots of TV time for Tony “I’ll make you miss Dennis Miller” Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon. I sometimes think the only people who read agate are non-stats freaks following out of town teams.

Health: Decent article on warm-winter caused allergies inside aside, the rest is middling to poor.

Style: Finally, something I’m at an absolute loss for explaining: Yet again, the Style section is far more relevant and important, e.g. today’s coverage of the Appeal for Redress movement, than the “news” sections of the newspaper. Hell, it even does a good job with congressional representation for D.C. But it’s the Style section. The writers, while one of the finest Style section stables in the land, are constrained by the section itself: snappy, scrappy writing in the space allowed by all the Kids Post, funnies, puzzles (not that, heaven forfend, I am advocating a reduction in those three; they are probably the best parts of the paper day in and day out), celebrity trash, television, music, theater, quirky crap and all the other things that help the Style section speak to people with too much free time, free money or both (those latter could be abolished without much crying from me).

So there you have it: Passing of the buck on a monumental scale, not that the story would lead you to any such conclusion; a story far too clueless for consumption in what may be one of the best informed, technologically adept metro areas in the nation; national embarrassment; MLK relegated to Metro because that was yesterday, just like your civil rights; traffic tickets! (please ignore our paltry Metro coverage); well, we have the dysfunctional, blame-everyone-else CEO president, why not cover government in the Business pages; Marriott blogs!; sports is life, Sports section is irrelevant; Style’s got at least two stories that should be on the front page of the paper, much less given the Leeza-Gibbons-in-print treatment. And it’s still a top ten American newspaper, no doubt.

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