That’s a very specific part of the Homeland you’re trying to keep secure…

I’m sure you’ve already seen this because no click bait web site can resist an opportunity to use the expression “panty raid” in a headline: The Department of Homeland Security raided a Kansas City lingerie store and confiscated a batch of panties. The reason for the raid? They were enforcing a claim of copyright violation.

Is it just me, or is that kind of scary? In my admittedly-naive world, DHS does things involving, you know, “homeland security,” or at the very least, things that can semi-plausibly be considered security-related. Raids against copyright violation make the DHS seem like corporate America’s private enforcement arm. I am not comforted by this thought.

This raid, when view in light of the fact that the U.S. is currently negotiating a secret copyright treaty (my take here) with other nations and this treat requires some seriously draconian measures with regard to enforcing intellectual property rights, seems more than a little sinister. I won’t list out any of the slippery-slope scenarios currently running through my mind because they’ll probably sound paranoid, but if the DHS is confiscating underwear, what will they be asked to do when/if this treaty become the law of the land?

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Is there a word for “the opposite of Stockholm syndrome”?

From the outside, I’m sure that one of the more curious features of American politics is the vitriol many poor Americans feel towards government assistance. This is especially curious since so many of these less wealthy Americans are actually on some sort of government assistance. I could cite countless personal anecdotes demonstrating this odd phenomenon, but that’s no fun and it makes me sound bitter. Instead, I’d like to show you how it looks at the state level; as above, so below.

I started with by dividing the states into three buckets: “Red” (Republican/conservative), “blue” (Democratic/liberal), and “divided” (pretty much what it sounds like). I chose a composite of how the states voted over the last 4 presidential elections with states split 2/2 going into the “divided” bucket. It’s not a perfect method, but it passes the sniff test with flying colors. The northeast, the west coast, and the midwest are blue; the deep south and pretty much everything west of the Mississippi fall are red.

Then, I matched this up against the federal spending versus tax revenue by state. That is to say, the amount of money states contribute in income tax and the amount of federal spending by state. I took the net number for each state and then added ‘em up by category (red, blue, and divided). It went pretty much how you’d expect:

Blue states: $357 billion contributed

Red states: -$145 billion contributed

Divided states: -83 billion contributed

Note: They don’t balance to zero because the federal government takes in $130 billion more than it distributes to the states.

Now, remember, one of the key talking points of the Republican party and it’s demented cousin, the Tea Party, is that liberals are taking their hard-earned money and giving to lazy, undeserving bums. Fortunately for its adherents, one of the signature features of American conservative ideology is an immunity to cognitive dissonance. Otherwise, the fact that those awful liberals are ponying up billions of dollars to support good, hard-working conservatives might make them reconsider a few articles of faith, eh?

Dollars (millions)
Blue States Revenue Spending Net
California $334,425 $228,474 $105,950
Connecticut $53,703 $55,947 ($2,244)
Delaware $20,062 $6,247 $13,815
District of Columbia $24,464 $21,148 $3,316
Hawaii $7,140 $10,410 ($3,270)
Illinois $137,068 $61,147 $75,921
Iowa $21,189 $17,944 $3,246
Maine $6,745 $10,645 ($3,901)
Maryland $56,332 $57,329 ($996)
Massachusetts $90,464 $66,838 $23,625
Michigan $68,915 $61,133 $7,782
Minnesota $90,704 $48,375 $42,329
New Hampshire $10,002 $8,126 $1,876
New Jersey $128,052 $61,088 $66,964
New Mexico $8,547 $18,716 ($10,169)
New York $231,880 $134,887 $96,993
Oregon $25,716 $21,804 $3,912
Pennsylvania $120,398 $169,083 ($48,685)
Rhode Island $13,011 $9,806 $3,205
Vermont $4,046 $4,266 ($221)
Washington $59,880 $45,258 $14,622
Wisconsin $46,381 $82,998 ($36,618)
Blue State Total $1,559,124 $1,201,669 $357,452
Divided States Revenue Spending Net
Colorado $46,539 $29,854 $16,685
Florida $141,178 $284,585 ($143,407)
Nevada $15,858 $13,659 $2,199
Ohio $124,731 $63,276 $61,455
Virginia $71,365 $91,133 ($19,768)
Divided State Total $399,671 $482,507 ($82,836)
Red States Revenue Spending Net
Alaska $5,293 $5,034 $259
Arizona $36,769 $53,823 ($17,054)
Arkansas $28,772 $17,844 $10,929
Georgia $74,301 $51,404 $22,897
Idaho $8,669 $10,148 ($1,479)
Indiana $50,994 $92,418 ($41,423)
Kansas $24,729 $13,264 $11,464
Kentucky $27,744 $60,562 ($32,818)
Louisiana $40,185 $54,897 ($14,712)
Mississippi $10,430 $24,450 ($14,019)
Missouri $54,412 $45,127 $9,286
Montana $4,997 $6,168 ($1,171)
Nebraska $23,802 $9,706 $14,096
North Carolina $66,102 $58,297 $7,806
North Dakota $7,562 $28,976 ($21,415)
Oklahoma $30,057 $21,627 $8,429
South Carolina $20,446 $109,910 ($89,464)
South Dakota $6,317 $5,040 $1,278
Tennessee $53,909 $70,282 ($16,373)
Texas $249,912 $198,705 $51,207
Utah $17,658 $11,715 $5,943
West Virginia $6,799 $12,979 ($6,180)
Wyoming $5,305 $2,908 $2,397
Alabama $23,766 $58,475 ($34,709)
Red State Total $878,930 $1,023,759 ($144,826)
TOTAL $2,837,725 $2,707,934 $129,792

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Cracked wins the Troll of the Week prize

I was trying to work up some snark about the embarrassment that is GamerGate, something that would adequately expose the hypocrisy and idiocy of the MRA crowd, but Cracked did such a sublime job of it, I’m just going to sit back and nod in admiration.


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What I Want Ello To Be When It Grows Up

After the initial discovery period of figuring out what Ello is, I’m now trying to figure out what I want it to be and whether or not that’s where the developers are heading with this project.

What I do want:

1. A modicum of privacy and no “real names” requirements.
2. An interface that’s lightweight, intuitive, and pleasant to use.
3. Control over my feed (whose posts I see and whose I don’t, and complete control over the ordering of them).
4. Control over who can see my posts.
5. A decent mobile experience.
6. An interesting community with which to share.

Thinking about it as a whole, what I want is a social netowrk that isn’t as ugly, capricious, and ubiquitous as Facebook. I don’t want everything I do tracked and turned into advertising. I want it to work essentially the same way every time I use it. I want to be able to pick the community with whom I share and interact without having to worry about family or employers peeking in.

I think Ello has #1 ticked off the list and they’re a good way towards handling #2 (so long as you don’t take “intuitive” too seriously). #3 is in a good place right now with the caveat that there’s very little configuration currently available. #4 and #5 are nowhere to be seen at this time although the list of coming features is encouraging.

#6 will be the make or break feature for me. The interactions are what separate social networks from the other stars in my media constellation. My RSS feed, my blog, and my Twitter account all accomplish numbers 1-5 with varying degrees of aplomb. So, without the community, why bother?

The kicker, of course, is that the community isn’t likely to develop and stick around without additional features. We’ll see. I’m committed to sticking around for a while if for no other reason than to try to encourage anything that isn’t Facebook. I hope it works. I’m not holding my breath.

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“encryption threatens to lead us all to a very, very dark place.”

“Are we no longer a country that is passionate both about the rule of law and about their being no zones in this country beyond the reach of that rule of law? Have we become so mistrustful of government and law enforcement in particular that we are willing to let bad guys walk away, willing to leave victims in search of justice?”

Director of the FBI James Comey explaining why he believes privacy should be illegal

If you think I’m exaggerating, please read the article (hint: the subject line is another quote from the article). Reading it, I genuinely can’t tell if Comey simply doesn’t understand what he’s talking about or if simply thinks his audience is stupid. “Criminals and terrorists” would love end-to-end encryption. You know who else would? Credit card companies. More than a few of these massive credit card leaks could have been avoided with end-to-end encryption. He goes on and on about what the “bad guys” want as though those aren’t things that everybody would want. “Oh noes! Terrorists want drinking water!  We must destroy all potable water!” He also fails to mention that, while some “bad guys” (I cannot tell you how badly I hate his infantilizing the conversation this way) would love to see encryption outlawed. Pretty much anyone who seeks unlawful access to your computer, not just law enforcement, would absolutely love what Comey is suggesting.

And let’s answer Comey’s question, shall we? Have we become so mistrustful of government and law enforcement in particular? Why yes, yes we have. Mr. Comey and his ilk have utterly betrayed the trust they were given when they were authorized to fight against these, *cringe* “bad guys.” They’ve lied at every opportunity when asked about the scope of what they’re doing, about the oversight they’re operating under, and who they’re spying on. Why on earth would we trust them not to abuse access to electronic communication? It’s what they do. It’s who they are. I genuinely don’t think they could do otherwise if they tried.

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Sonic black holes are real…and they’re spectacular

(cross-posted from Ello)

This bit of mind-blowing science was called to my attention by @jinxbubbletush this morning and I’ve been down the Wikipedia rabbit hole all morning trying to wrap my head around it. The article describes how scientist have been able to create a sonic black hole and observe Hawking radiation on its periphery. There’s so much in there that makes my head a-splode that I’ve been able to think of little else this morning. What I’ve gleaned so far is:

  • Sonic black holes” are a real thing. When I first read the report, I suspected bullshit because, you know, “sonic black holes.”
  • Even though they’re “sonic”, they exhibit many of the same properties as your garden-variety (as though there were such a thing) black holes.
  • In fact, there are many, many ways to model gravity (using Bose-Einstein condensates, for example) that work remarkably well.
  • The fact that there are so many ways to model gravity suggests that gravity could be an emergent property of condensed matter systems.
  • This whole thing nests neatly with “World Crystal” cosmological model, which is sort of where I step away from the computer and try to get my head back in this little, localized version of reality.

I’m a little surprised that I didn’t find out about sonic black holes from reading @warrenellis because he’s usually on to this kind of weirdness way before I hear anything about it. I suppose it’s technically possible that he has written something involving sonic black holes and I just missed it, but given the amount of shelf-space Mr. Ellis occupies in my library, that seems unlikely.

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Bruce Sterling’s “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things”

I just finished reading Sterlings’s new essay/non-fiction short story/pamphlet “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things” a second time just to make sure I’d properly absorbed it. There’s a lot of content for such a short piece and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in a peek at what is in store for us over the next five years or so*.

Bruce Sterling has always had his finger on the pulse of the near-future, so much so that his fiction has proven weirdly prescient (“Maneki Neko“, I’m looking at you). He’s a gifted writer, but “ESoIoT” is a strangely bloodless read in part because his take on what’s coming next is plausible-to-the-point-of-being-inevitable and not especially optimistic. What we’re being sold is not what we’re going to get, but that won’t stop us from buying it. Whereas some writers might have waxed poetic about what the future ought to be, Sterling simply explains what it will be, why it will be that way, why we’ll go along with, and ultimately why it won’t really matter if we try to avoid it. That’s not a lot of fun, but man, is it ever informative.

I could go on and on (and would if it weren’t such a lovely evening), but honestly, reading the original is well worth a few bucks and half an hour of your time. This is the work of a master wholly in his element and whatever I say, he’ll say more clearly and with far fewer grammatical errors.

Ironically (trust me), “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things” is available on Amazon and iTunes.

* Those of you (which is to say, “us”) who live in a world of analogy would do just as well to just pick up Grant Morrison’s “The Filth” or watch “The Prisoner” again. I love that this would constitute a “spoiler” for readers of a certain mindset.

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Lux Lisbon: “That Stuff Tastes Really Good”

In between being hellishly busy at work and a little medical relapse, I haven’t had too many opportunities to write here (and, c’mon, who wants to write about ebola?). On the plus side, I’ve had a chance to spend a little more time with Twitter. Twitter normally moves so quickly that I can’t keep up with the feed or interact; I just read little snapshots of a feed from time to time on the train.

Last week, I crossed paths with the band Lux Lisbon, and I’ve had ‘em in heavy rotation since. I’m new to this particular party, so bear with me if you’ve heard all this before. Take a listen to what I think is the most “representative” song, Bullingdon Club:

Listening to it reminds just how much I’ve missed “big” rock. You can hear the Springsteen and Killers influences easily enough, but for me, the vocals are better than Springsteen (I think he’s a better songwriter and arranger than singer) and the lyrics are approximately one light year beyond anything Brandon Flowers has turned in.

It’s on their new EP “Get Some Scars” and it’s an impressive collection. The title track gets almost croon-y, and the next tune, “The Devil Got Me Dancing” is a terrific change of pace with Charlotte taking the lead on vocals.  The bonus tracks, an acoustic version of “The Demons You Show” and the live “We Don’t Believe In Love No More” round it out nicely. There’s a lot of range for an EP release.

If you’re interested (and really, you ought to be), here’s a link to download the new EP:

I don’t get too many chances to write about music, but I’ve enjoyed this and wanted to share it with you. Let me know if you like it.

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Laurie Penny on Social Justice (if you’ve already read it, read it again)

This is me throwing my lot in with the feminists.

First, here’s what Laurie Penny has to say: Why We’re Winning: Social Justice Warriors And The New Culture Wars.

Penny is one of those rare people who can articulate ideas and great anger in such a clear, unsentimental fashion that it is very difficult to disagree with her without resorting to obtuseness, metaphysics, or name-calling. This is one of her strongest essays and reading it makes me eager to get my hands on her new book  (Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution).

The mere fact that I don’t know if I can add much to what Penny says won’t stop me from trying.

I’m old. I’m old enough to remember when the term “glass ceiling” was new and women were only beginning to gain a foothold in American businesses. As with any “boys club” that finds itself forced to be more inclusive, corporate management did not take it well. I remember staff meetings held in “gentlemen’s clubs” for no reason other than to exclude the women or at the very least make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. This kind of crap has been around for a long time.

I’ve been a part of it, too. I cringe when I remember some of the things I did to women I worked with, things that “everyone” (meaning “most of the guys) did. I said and did things that would be so beyond acceptable now that I’d be sacked on the spot if I were to do them today.

That’s the point, though: The tide has turned inevitably against our culture accepting that kind of behavior. Even temporary setbacks, like new technology creating a new area for men to dominate and intimidate women, is only an unfortunate blip that can and will be set right.

Unfortunately, we still have a long, long way to go before we can start tossing around words like “equality” at the end of phrases like “We have now achieved…”  A friend of mine recently called my attention to this relatively minor story about a school dress code banning yoga pants.* Dress codes exist all over the place, but for some reason, this particular story made a it’s point very clear in my mind: As a society, we treat differences between the male and female bodies as a way to punish women for being women.

Too harsh? I don’t believe so. The purpose of most dress codes is to shame women for their bodies and treat the women as responsible for how males react to those bodies*. The fact that women are required to cover their secondary sexual characteristics but men are allowed to shamelessly display their beards in public is, if you step back, completely absurd.

Let’s look at the reproductive end of things. It’s still very much a “two-to-tango” situation, but the way we deal with the prospect of pregnancy isn’t remotely balanced. A vasectomy is covered by almost all insurance policies, but this gets almost no press and is not considered controversial. Women’s birth control, on the other hand, is hugely controversial in the U.S. Let’s let that paragon of What It Means To Be An American Male, Rush Limbaugh, weigh in:

“So, Ms. Fluke and the rest of you feminazis, here’s the deal. If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I’ll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch.”

-Rush Limbaugh, responding to Sandra Fluke’s congressional testimony regarding birth control

You’d think it would be the other way around, because, while it does take two to create a pregnancy, only one party is physically affected for a year or so by it. Therein, I believe, we find the reason for why birth control for women is so “controversial:” It puts women on a more equal footing with men. This is why a viagra-smuggler is engaging in slut-shaming. It’s not really about the sex; it’s about the control.

I know it’s cheap to use a quote from Mr. “Sometimes No Means Yes” himself, but he’s still an influential and much-listened-to radio personality. Fortunately, his influence is waning and the number of dead-enders under who take him seriously is shrinking. Limbaugh is, in his own small, sad way, sort of a microcosm of the reactionary assault on feminism. He’s not the voice of “the righteous retaking this country and returning it to its past glory.” He’s the last gasp of a worldview that has long outlived its usefulness. The death throes are ugly, but that’s exactly what they are.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I am extremely pro-yoga pants and I wear them wherever I can, even though I’ve yet to do one…what is the proper unit of yoga? Anyway, the pants are brilliant. You ought to be wearing them right now.

** Well, ok, to be fair, sometimes dress codes are about racism more than sexism.

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Filed under Personal, philosphy, Politics

“De chacun selon ses facultés, à chacun selon ses besoins.”

A quick rant while I try to get my head around some other issues…

My office held an insurance “open enrollment” meeting the other day. I’ll spare you the gory details as to why this particular meeting was held at this particular time. Those are stories to be told over a beer or two, followed by something stronger. Instead, I’d like to briefly discuss the bigger picture, which is just how incredibly absurd the entire health care system in the U.S. has become.

We spent an two hours in the his meeting listening to insurance salesmen go into grave detail describing the merits of the different plans they were offering. It’s really quite surreal listening to scenarios involving your own death, dismemberment or other catastrophic condition reduced to “how much it will cost you to continue living.” If I were to choose plan A, then this type of care would cost more than if I choose plan B, but I would have to pay a greater amount out of every pay check and even then, there are limits and restrictions and caveats and so on.

The dental plan options were the strangest of all; we were told we could choose an expensive plan wherein we could choose our own dentist, but the amount that the insurance would pay for certain services was fixed and would not be adjusted if your dentist charged more. The other option would be to select a less-expensive plan that would also result in lower out of pocket costs, but our choice of dentists would be restricted to a very few “retail” (and yes, that’s the word they used) dentists who were, for all intents and purposes, directly in the employ of the insurance company.

Based on my back-of-the-napkin math, it looks like it will cost about $40,000 U.S. per year to keep me and mine covered under these plans. I’m counting both my contribution and the company’s. That’s a staggering number if accurate. That is how much money it costs to have an insurance plan that will pay part, but not all, of your medical expenses, assuming you go to the right care givers.

TL/DR; We get relatively little for a great deal of cost and enormous complication.

Here’s the fundamental reason I have a problem with the system: A person’s need for health care is unrelated to their ability to pay for it, and there’s no reasonable way of knowing what your health care needs will be in a given year. Some people will inevitably choose a minimum amount of insurance because they’re absurdly healthy and young, but sometimes the dice come up double-zero and you’re done. The salesmen even perversely pointed out that health care costs are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.

Give me a single-payer system any ol’ day. The largest risk pool is the most efficient risk pool, regardless of how much those insurance salesmen mocked the concept. It’s more profitable to pare the pool down and charge people based on their likelihood of needing care, but I really could give two flying fucks for their profit margins. At the end of the day, everyone is going to receive some sort of treatment. The cost for protecting the profit margins of insurance companies is greater suffering by the people who can least afford to miss work, greater risk of epidemics since many people don’t get care prior to visiting an emergency room, and vastly greater cost to taxpayers because they’re picking up the people that can’t afford insurance. If you think that protecting a profit model is worth all of that, then I suspect we’re not going to agree on very much.

And don’t talk to me about death panels unless you want the patented Sir Alex Ferguson hairdryer treatment. Right now, private companies are making decisions as to what health care you’re allowed to have, right up to and including whether or not to “pull the plug.” I’m not saying that the government wouldn’t have similar entities, but don’t pretend like we don’t have “death panels” right now.

Anyone that says “Why should I have to pay for Bob’s health care?” should take a course in empathy, and then, maybe, one in economics. Then they should look in the mirror, because it’s been my experience that people who wear those t-shirts expressing those Randian sentiments tend to be exactly the sort who consume far more health care than they pay for.

Honestly, I’m fine with some people using more health care than they pay for. It is literally impossible to know exactly how much health care you’ll need in a given year, so playing those insurance games of trying to guess what your needs will be are just silly. Just cover everyone under a single payer system and be done with it.

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