Monthly Archives: July 2014

Not sure if ironic or…

Anyone else having trouble with Adobe Flash crashing in Chrome every few minutes?


And yes, you Apple folks can feel a little superior right now.

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Protonmail – Is this what really secure email looks like?

I’ll answer my own question with a definite “maybe” (and a Fry fistful of American dollars). Protonmail’s Indiegogo funding has been remarkably successful so far, easily surpassing the base goal of $100,000. With five days remaining, there is a real chance they could hit all of the “bonus” funding benchmarks and wind up with a formidable suite of products.

The current feature list includes:

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Expiration
  • Unsend
  • Scheduling
  • No Ads
  • Swiss-Based (kind of a big deal if you’re at all aware of U.S. policy)
  • Compatible (with other systems)
  • Zero-access (for the admins)
  • No installation
  • Free forever

I just received my beta invite, so I haven’t had a chance to play around with it yet. I’ve added my Protonmail address to my contact page, and, if all goes well, I’ll move my domain email over to them.

Protonmail is a very important experiment and it has the potential to make internet messaging secure for a while. I’m happy to spend a few bucks to push the project forward a few feet. If you’re interested, check it out, and if you’ve used Protonmail, let me know what you think.

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The Queen City on the Ohio

It would be fair to say that my values are not typical of those expressed in my town’s newspaper. If one were to judge Cincinnati, Ohio strictly on the editorial content of the Cincinnati Enquirer, one might conclude that Cincinnati that the baseball team isn’t the only thing that’s red about this town. The paper leans hard to the right on economic and social issues with a smattering of racial ickiness thrown in for good measure.

As you might guess, they have been unwilling to publish any and all letters I’ve written to the editor. However, as I spend literally several minutes on these things, I’ve decided to go ahead and share them with you, my most favorite reader(s) in the whole world wide web.

Today’s subject is a letter written to explain, in simple terms, Rand Paul’s “Economic Freedom Zone” scheme. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Mike Menkhaus:

What are potential sales if all the income of potential customers is exempted from taxes? Note that the decision about what will be purchased by customers now lies solely within their own purview. Vendors who provide the most desired and needed products and services will be most successful. Realize also that this is not the case for money deducted from income by the government for tax purposes – purchase decisions for that money is determined by bureaucrats based upon what is politically expedient.

There’s a lot more. It’s a marvelous oversimplification of libertarian economic theory. In fact, it was so simply that I felt compelled to fill in a few blanks:

Dear sirs,

I am writing in response to Mike Menkhaus’ outstanding letter to the editor “Simple way to understand Paul’s economic zones” on 24 July, 2014. While I appreciate the simplicity of the examples that Menkhaus cited, I’d like to expand on a couple of points that he appears to have skipped over in the interest of clarity.

Mr. Menkhaus’ example seems to imply that there is a direct inverse relationship between economic activity and tax rates, which is true up to a point. However, history has shown that there is a point at which lowering taxes actually decreases economic growth. This seemingly counterintuitive fact is due to the loss of infrastructure investment (roads, utilities, law enforcement,education) that government spending produces. Without a solid, safe foundation upon which to build, economic growth is stifled.

The other point that Mr. Menkaus failed to mention is that the vast majority of people currently living in these proposed Economic Freedom Zones already pay essentially nothing in personal income taxes. Lowering tax rates in these zones would do very little to increase purchase power or demand. The greatest beneficiaries of these zones would people people who already have a large amounts of discretionary income. A better answer would be simply to cut people who have no discretionary income a check, but that’s another discussion.

This leads me to the final, most obvious point that I’m sure Mr. Menkhaus left out due to space considerations: Lowering income tax across the board so long as it is accompanied by a tremendous increase in capital gains taxes and the implementation of an accumulated wealth tax. If you want to use tax policy to create economic growth, as Mr. Paul clearly does, the best way to ensure that money continues moving is to incentivize people to spend it and create jobs.

I would like to commend Mr. Menkhaus for his outstanding but oversimplified explanation of Mr. Paul’s economic policies. I hope that my letter expanding on his ideas provides people with additional understanding of the details of these policies.

Thank you,

WTF Pancakes
Cincinnati, OH

I’m not really expecting to see it in print, but I didn’t want to let what little work I put into it go to waste. I didn’t mention it in my reply, but I think Mr. Menkhaus deserves kudos for referencing a book that has two “editorial reviews” on…by Ayn Rand and Ron Paul. This circle has now officially been jerked.

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Google+: Coda

Skud wrote a marvelous “alternate universe” version of Google’s announcement of the end to their odious “real names” policy. It’s hard to find an ideal quote to pull from it because it’s all good, but let’s go with this one:

We apologise unreservedly to those people, who through our actions were marginalised, denied access to services, and whose identities we treated as lesser. We especially apologise to those who were already marginalised, discriminated against, or unsafe, such as queer youth or victims of domestic violence, whose already difficult situations were worsened through our actions. We also apologise specifically to those whose accounts were banned, not only for refusing them access to our services, but for the poor treatment they received from our staff when they sought support.

Really, they’re all good and I urge you to read the whole thing. I do feel, however, that Skud missed a couple of points. I’d add something along the lines of:

“We also wish to apologise for the misleading, confusing, and frequently self-contradictory rationales we published to justify our real-names policy. There is no evidence that requiring real names encourages the kind of community we wish to foster, and our encouragement to use pseudonyms that “looked real” was misguided and, frankly, irresponsible. Those excuses were insulting to our users and fostered justifiable distrust towards Google and Google products. Going forward, we will deal honestly with our community, even if the truth is awkward or unpleasant.”

I think that about covers it. Maybe, maybe if Google were to publish something along those lines, I might reconsider having an outpost on G+. I am not holding my breath.

(for a little bit on my experience with Google+, start here)

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If you lessen the value of life…

Just a quick one today. A couple of universities have produced studies on the impact of the “Stand Your Ground” laws. The results were, at least to me, wholly unsurprising. The TL/DR: A lot more deaths and no less crime.

In this case, “a lot more deaths” means 600 additional homicides per year per state. The studies didn’t determine whether or not the additional homicides were “justified” under the SYG laws or not; they restricted the studies to people killing other people.

Another finding that might surprise some folks is that SYG laws did not lead to an increase in gun ownership. I’m not sure if that means anything significant, but I thought it was interesting.

The takeaway is that, if you lower the bar for legally killing other people, then more people are going to be killed. Interestingly, in the increase in homicides seems to be restricted entirely to white males (the killers, not the kill-ees). Again, I’m not terribly surprised.

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Know Your Rights (workplace disucssions edition)

Last week, The Atlantic published an article I believe should be posted in workplaces all over the U.S.: It’s illegal fire or punish people for talking to other workers about how much they make. In fact, it’s illegal to even threaten to do so or discourage workers from talking about their salaries.

This may seem like a big ol’ “duh” but you’d be amazed by how many people don’t this and how many companies routinely make illegal threats to prevent workers from discussing their salaries. My takeaway from The Atlantic article is that the one of the side effects of a pathetically weak labor organizations, or the complete lack of them outside of a few industries, is that workers tend to be in the dark about their basic legal rights as employees.

Why the U.S. is so culturally opposed to strong labor organizations is a subject for a much longer post, but I do encourage any and all of you to share this with as many people as possible. You have a right to talk about how much you make with anyone you please, no matter what your employer tells you.


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Since I Don’t Have Much To Say Today

Here’s a song that brightened up my day:

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Too little, too late: Google+ ends its “real names” policy

Google+ finally saw that light and disposed of their policy requiring users to use their real names on their social network. I’ve written about my experience with G+ and their names policy ad nauseum, but I’ll recap briefly for new readers:

I joined Google+ while it was still an invite-only product. There was a strict real-names policy in place, but it was loosely enforced. Google’s CEO insisted that Google+ was never meant to be a social network even though it looked just like one. I found that the community there was interesting and politically engaged, not to mention G+ has the single most important feature imaginable, so I spent a lot of time there.

The early days of G+ were mostly notable for the nymwars. To say that there were “disagreements” about the real names policy would be an understatement. Google insisted that using real names created more civil communities. Many of us argued back that this view wasn’t backed up by any actual data and that there were a myriad of reasons why pseudonyms were preferable to real names in many cases.

After a couple of years (January, 2012), Google informally loosened up the names policy. They decided that, so long as the name you used looked real, it didn’t matter if it was your real name or not. This was a…curious…change. It flew directly in the face of the stated purpose of the real names policy. However, given that this change occurred concurrently with Google’s more aggressive use of user posts for marketing purposes, it made sense. You could use any name that Google could sell to someone as “real.”

It was around this time that I was banned for violating the names policy. I’d been posting for years and had friended “encircled” and been encircled by hundreds of people. I was, by all accounts, a good citizen there. I petitioned for reinstatement and discovered how Orwellian that process is at Google. If your petition is denied, you’ll receive a form letter. It will only tell you that your petition is denied; it will not give you any hint as to why it was denied or what you can do to correct it.

I faxed every Google office in the U.S. and some in Europe. I engaged friends who work at Google. I got a retweet from Neil Gaiman of all people (thank you sir-you’re very kind to respond to me). One criteria for a successful petition is proving that your pseudonym is your most-common online identity. Ironically, any presence I had on Google+ did not count in my favor. The hundreds of people who knew me by this name apparently didn’t matter.

It was around this team the community started to turn ugly as well. The people who posted on the support forums were, with a few exceptions, nasty and unhelpful. They pointed out that “WTF Pancakes” wasn’t my real name (as if I didn’t know this). They told me that, never in a million years would Google allow me to use that name even if it were my primary online name because they (the poster) didn’t like it, and I was an idiot and an obvious troll for even trying. It wasn’t a great experience.

So, at long last, I deleted my Google+ account. Frankly, the more research I did into Google’s behavior, the less I wanted to be associated with them. They’d made it clear that Google+ wasn’t a social network so much as a honeypot to get people to contribute free information and content for their marketing team to repurpose. I’ve no interest in participating in that.

So, I guess I applaud them for changing their names policy, but I won’t be going back. There’s that whole “trust” thing. My dealings with Google have left me feeling like their services aren’t worth the cost even if they are now, apparently, welcoming me back into the fold. I appreciate the effort and I hope other people benefit from it, but I’m done.


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After yesterday’s trainwreck of a post…

You ever write something, post it, and then go back and think “Geez, that’s a really crummy post?” Today, let’s follow it up with something even more unthinkable:

What I Admire About The Tea Party – by WTF Pancakes

The Tea Party are all about responsive politics. If Republican candidates don’t act on Tea Party priorities, the Tea Party will do everything within their power to oust that candidate.

Look, I find the Tea Party’s positions odious. I disagree with them in almost every possible way. However, in this age of the United States finally waking up to the fact that their government does the bidding of the wealthy regardless of which party is in power and what the voters though they were voting for, it’s admirable to see a political movement that doesn’t settle for the “Well, he’s better than the other guy” calculation.

I recognize that my admiration is tainted a little bit by the fact that the Tea Party is an astroturf operation owned by precisely those oligarchs the government already serves and that their radicalism seeks is radically in favor of the status quo wherein a small group of white males call the shots while women and minorities have to “know their place.” Like I said: The Tea Party’s beliefs are odious. I just admire the fact that they hold politicians feet to the fire.


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The Horror of Morning Awareness

I have a stack of notes on the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, but I’m not in the right headspace to dig in to that subject right now. Instead, I’d like to share some thoughts from my morning commute today:

First and foremost, I’m a roll-out-of-bed-and-get-on-the-train kind of guy. I altered my routine a little today, having a cup of coffee and a small breakfast before leaving the house. As a result, I arrived at work this morning relatively awake and alert.

I’ll try not to make that mistake ever again.

One of the things that makes it possible for me to continue to go to work as early as I do is that I’m not properly awake when I depart. The fog doesn’t lift until I’ve medicated myself with the “coffee” downstairs so, by the time I properly wake up, I’m already here and might as well stick around. Today, however, I was intensely aware of the fact that I was pushing myself out of my nifty little domicile featuring a still-sleeping beautiful girlfriend to go to an office that seemed about as inviting as .

Clearly, I am not what you would call a “morning person.”

However, this strange, unwanted lucidity did come in sort-of handy while I was on the train. I was thinking of Devo. You know, the band, “Whip It”, the silly hats? I recently saw them perform some of their older material and it was a delight. They can still do “raw” decades after they originally recorded this music.

Then I got to thinking about how weirdly parallel their career was to that of R.E.M., up to a point. Their debut albums were considered revelatory, pushing music in a new direction. The follow up records, “Duty Now For the Future” and “Reckoning”, were in a similar style to the debuts but, in my opinion, they were both improvements. “Duty…” was so much colder and harsher than “Q: Are We Not Men?”, and the songs were stranger and more memorable. Meanwhile, the first side* of “Reckoning” was the strongest that R.E.M. would produce until side two of “Out of Time”.**

For both bands, album three (“Freedom of Choice” and “Fables of the Reconstruction”) were stylistic departures that tightened up the original sound and produced commercial breakthroughs. The next records, “New Traditionalists” and “Lifes Rich Pageant”, softened and refined the previous record’s formula and sold by the boatload (curiously, both had melancholy hits, “Beautiful World” and “Fall On Me”).

The parallels after the first four records aren’t nearly as strong, but both bands meandered a bit and their releases became less consistently strong and/or commercials. R.E.M. would still sell well, particularly on “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People”, but Devo’s commercial viability was essentially at an end.

I’m not sure if there’s any meaning to the connections, or if there really is any similarity or of I’m just loopy, but it struck me as interesting if not important. I’ll get back to the snark soon enough, but I just wanted to get this down on virtual paper before I forgot it.

* Yes, I know that by talking about album sides, I’m dating myself. It’s not as if anyone else would.

** Ok, sure, side two had “Shiny Happy People,” which isn’t exactly the apex of their career, but it gets really, really dark after that. “Half a World Away,” “Me in Honey,” and, especially “Country Feedback” cross the line of melancholia into pitch-black depression. It’s a really great record.

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