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Sunday, April 13, 2014

It's Not a Bug, It's a Feature

The latest and greatest from the most transparent administration evar:
This week, it came to light that a small error in the open-source OpenSSL implementation of the SSL encryption protocol opened a gaping hole in the security of hundreds of thousands websites and networking equipment across the Net—and that hole had been wide open and exploitable for years. Passwords could be easily grabbed. User names matching those passwords could be easily grabbed. Heck, userdata could be easily grabbed. The “Heartbleed” moniker attached to the devastating bug seemed all too apt.

And Friday afternoon, Bloomberg reported that the National Security Agency has been aware of and actively exploiting the Heartbleed bug for at least two full years, citing “two people familiar with the matter.”

....

Leaked NSA documents provided to reporters by Snowden have revealed an agency casting a wide—and often domestic—surveillance dragnet, spying on American emails and web searches, gobbling up metadata from smartphones en masse, and even tapping into the internal communication infrastructures of Internet giants like Yahoo and Google.

A September Snowden-supplied revelation revealed that the NSA can easily defeat many of today’s encryption technologies, and in an aside that now seems precognizant, the SSL protocol was then rumored to be a particular favored target for the Agency.
Keep that in mind as you're "choosing" between Candidate Coke and Candidate Pepsi.

Offensensitivity

Perhaps because the majority of the country has changed so much and so quickly on the issue, "gay marriage" is developing a set of meta-issues, and rather absurd ones at that. Now the question is longer whether discriminating against gay couples bears the same nasty whiff that discriminating against interracial couples did 40-50 years ago.

The most recent and persistent epiphenomenon is the martyrdom meme, perhaps best characterized in the self-imposed travails of Duck Dynasty honcho Phil Robertson and Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich, the latter who was forced to resign for his contribution to California's Proposition 8 campaign back in 2008. So now Conor Friedersdorf's correspondent seems to epitomize the sort of person who feels aggrieved at whatever chilling effect is supposed to have taken place, as far as "allowing" what the aggrieved feel is legitimate difference of opinion.

And so it is, to a certain extent. Ostensibly, one of the great strengths of this country is that everyone has the right to be wrong, and even to be an asshole about it, so long as said opinion picks no pockets and breaks no arms. And that's where the problem arises, since in more than half of US states, you can be fired just for being gay in the first place, forget trying for a supposedly meaningless equal right to get married.

Nothing in life is absolute, and this applies to the Bill of Rights as well; you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, and you can't bring an assault rifle into a courthouse. There are balances that are struck all along the way in these sorts of debates, and hey guess what -- the First Amendment doesn't apply to companies and places of work. You can be an asshole, and other people can call you such. That's how it works.

That means that you can -- and should -- be fired from your job if you, say, host a website that advocates race war or features the crushing of small animals for the amusement of fucking creeps, even if such things happen not to be against the law (inexplicably, in the latter instance). You can, in fact, be fired from your job just for saying something impolitic, if your boss happens to feel that said speech costs the company sales and revenue. This is not exactly a secret or a surprise, and yet here you have grown-ass adults genuinely shocked that their sincerely, deeply held spiritual beliefs do not automatically grant them immunity from the consequences of discourse.

That's at least part of the reason why so many of us choose to blog in relative anonymity -- not to completely absolve ourselves from any and all consequences of what we might say out here on the internets, but because we are aware that even if we say something that is logical and accurate, we can still be held liable for it, if it has an adverse (or even a potential or perceived) impact on any organization we might be part of.

This particular issue is an opportunity to examine the idea that one's beliefs, no matter how sincere, do not automatically immunize them from participating in the same verbal scrum as the rest of us. I promise you, the small hint of opprobrium, of "hate" and "fear" as the CF correspondent put it, is a drop in the bucket compared to what "outsider" groups have felt even in the last generation or two, from gays to atheists to civil rights and antiwar protesters.

I think those folks and many others would find the idea hilarious, that someone could say something they have a pretty good idea will hit a significant portion of people the wrong way, and still expect to be exempt from even legitimate criticism (as opposed to, you know, the discrimination and violence that many dissenting groups have routinely faced). It may not be 100% "fair" to ostracize or fire someone for voicing the "wrong" opinion, but it is also not the duty of the rest of society to wait around for these people to start unpacking their ideological baggage, and letting it go, once and for all.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Poetry Corner

Apropos of very little, check out the verses of inspiration from one of Edroso's commenters. That's just awesome right there.

Blast from the Past

In combing through nearly a full decade of posts to assemble a decent compilation of the antics that have transpired here, I'm finding a lot of past nuggets that are worth resurrecting. So call it "Throwback Thursday" or whatever, but here is the first what will be a weekly (or so) revisiting of a classic post.


Atlas Smugged

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Kiss of Debt

The band Kiss (or, as The Army would have it, KISS) occupy a rather odd place in my musician's psyche. During their prime, I never really understood the appeal, comic-book splashes of fake fire and fake blood over cheesy chord progressions and thinly veiled cock rock.

Then they fell for the disco schtick, and even produced a poorly-received concept album, well after the whole "concept album" idea was dead and buried. Too bad, so sad. The smart kids had moved on to Rush, who somewhat ironically had gotten their big break as the opening act on one of Kiss' tour legs at their commercial height.

But as I got into actually playing in front of crowds, seeing what they wanted and what they tended to be attuned to, the whole cheesy package started to make more sense. Every band sells out to some degree, and even total sellouts such as Kiss still had points where they wanted to flex nuts and show chops and such.

Enter Vinnie Vincent, one of the more contentious, prickly folks to inject himself into what is (you'll be surprised to find) a rather people-oriented business. As a kid in the early '80s with a voracious appetite for any and all types of music, and a fairly photographic memory for notable quotes and quirky tics, to me Vincent stood out as the sort of person who seemed to be on a mission to make the blustery wunderkind Yngwie Malmsteen look quiet and contemplative.

As you can see from the embedded solo video from the RS article, Vincent's playing falls under the classic proto-shred grouping of jizz-lobbing, monkey-spanking speed dabblers, who had never heard of "taste" and barely bothered with tone, thinking that some distortion and a furious flapping of fingers would compensate for a lack of imagination and musicality. It's the sort of stuff that made This is Spinal Tap so true to life. At least Malmsteen actually had considerable tone, taste, and melodic sensibility to back up his arrogant demeanor.

Hair metal actually progressed pretty quickly along that decade, in terms of musicianship -- on the one hand, you had shredders like Paul Gilbert, Nuno Bettencourt, and Vito Bratta throwing down innovative, technically proficient melodies; on the other, you had "feel" players like Slash and Mick Mars, who were really great players in the mold of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, but overshadowed by the singers they worked with, and the drama of their bands. I can give you a list of great players from that era, makeup and all, but personally, Vincent would not be on that list. He was a dick in interviews, deliberately so, and again his playing was just a random flurry, a buzzing hive of bees.

Still, musical criticism aside, Vincent's story since getting kicked out of Kiss is interesting, weird, sad, almost poignant.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Teaching Americans Geography

From the WaPo Monkey Cage:
On March 28-31, 2014, we asked a national sample of 2,066 Americans (fielded via Survey Sampling International Inc. (SSI), what action they wanted the U.S. to take in Ukraine, but with a twist: In addition to measuring standard demographic characteristics and general foreign policy attitudes, we also asked our survey respondents to locate Ukraine on a map as part of a larger, ongoing project to study foreign policy knowledge. We wanted to see where Americans think Ukraine is and to learn if this knowledge (or lack thereof) is related to their foreign policy views. We found that only one out of six Americans can find Ukraine on a map, and that this lack of knowledge is related to preferences: The farther their guesses were from Ukraine’s actual location, the more they wanted the U.S.  to intervene with military force.

When we talk about things that are literally impossible to parody, and are really just too pathetic to contemplate, this is what we're referring to. But it explains a lot.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

You know, I get what Steve is saying here, and to some extent I actually agree. But goddamn, at some point the truly librul animals have to by god rear up on their hind legs and demand a genuinely transformative figure, rather than one that merely put on a good show of it on the campaign trail (such as Obama), not to mention a neocon warmonger whose only redeeming trait is that she's not quite part of whatever wretched clown car the Adelson wing of the Privilege party will put together in about 18 months.

In other words, if you want something better, you are going to have to insist on it and fight for it. The self-congratulatory rear-guard rhetorical volleys against the (barely existent) micro-claque of bien pensant pwoggies and Naderista holdouts will do fuck-all in the creeping face of corporate fascism. Citizens United opened the floodgates, and McCutcheon will prop them open -- by 2020, probably well before then, "Democrats" and "Republicans" will be replaced in all but name with more accurate Game of Thrones-sounding terms such as "Sorosians" and "Adelsonians."

This is not schtick, folks, this is fact. Winter has been coming for quite some time, and now it is here with a vengeance. The notion that Obama might give more of a shit than John Boehner or Ted Cruz is useless if nothing gets done in that regard, beyond the usual hand-wringing and cheap DFH-punching.

I mean, what does Hillary being "our best shot" entail, really, a face that's slightly less red in tooth and maw for the remainder of the working class? "Our best shot" at what, and who is the implied we in the word our, anyway? Only the very rich and the very poor have any real representation at this point; everyone else is simply a milch cow for the partaking thereof. People vote Democrat at this point because they think the ongoing predation will be held in at least slight abeyance. The chickens are still voting for Colonel Sanders, mind you; they're just getting a day or so reprieve from their inevitable fate.

These fuckers want your soul, and it's really up to you whether you deed it over to them or not. At least in the past, politics was somewhat transactional; you give me your loyalty and I'll make sure your job stays intact. Now it's more along the line of "give me your first-born and maybe I won't donkey-punch what's left of your job, your town, and your pension fund, because the other guy is even more of a sociopath." So what do we (to the extent that there is a "we" anymore, kemosabe) proles propose to do about any (much less all) of this?

Pissing away precious time and energy rallying against this or that random idiot who says something impolitic about gay people seems a poor substitute for taking back what's left of one's country. On the other hand, as I've been saying, Costa Rica seems quite nice.

#raceforbutthurt

Three things worthy of note this past week, that perhaps aptly characterize the scope and extent of putatively librul activism.

One is the high-tech mau-mauing of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. One of Eich's misfortunes is that he bears an eerie resemblance to a Despicable Me minion; the other is that he contributed $1000 of his own money to the repulsive (and ultimately repudiated) Proposition 8 referendum in 2008, to ban gay marriage in California.

Second is the #CancelColbert Twitter campaign launched against well-known satirist Stephen Colbert. Colbert's deliberately obnoxious and offensive (and, for that matter, rather outdated) sendup of Asian stereotypes, straight out of Mickey Rooney's Breakfast at Tiffany's praybook, rankled a college student with more time than sense on her hands. Hilarity, as it is wont to do, ensued.

Finally, the recent Supreme Court decision to openly legitimize what any sentient observer already knew -- that there is gambling going on at the casino, and rich assholes own and run the political system for their own benefit -- ruffled the Thanksralphers feathers one more blessed time, like a random breeze blowing up their skirts. Fourteen years later and the wound is no less fresh for them.

One tough guy suggested that said decision be branded into the forehead of everyone who voted for Big Bad Ralph way back when. Because everyfuckingthing that has transpired this benighted new millennium, from 9/11 to the Democrats' spineless acquiescence in the Iraq War to the heartbreak of psoriasis, sprang forth from the font of Nader's malignant narcissism.

To which I say, one, bring it, motherfucker, soon as you get your extra-chinned self away from I Can Haz Cheezburger, but you should probably pack a lunch; two, you have a hell of a lot of branding to do, since (repeat after me ad nauseam) almost thirteen times as many registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush than for Nader. Logic would stipulate that even if one construed a vote for Nader as an indirect vote for Bush (it wasn't), surely only a burbling halfwit could misunderstand that a vote for Bush was a direct vote for Bush. Funny how they never ever break out the pitchforks for that one. There's a clue in that somewhere.

But more to their feeble point:  It wasn't Nader's fault that Gore was such a shit candidate he couldn't even win his own home state. Nor was it Nader's fault that, when push came to shove and Florida's dangling chads were hotly contested, Gore decided to demand a recount he thought he'd win (rather than one he probably would have won), and then conceded anyway.

And let's not forget what a soulless ratfucker Holy Joe Lieberman turned out to be. Still better than Dick Cheney, but that's like saying that chlamydia is "better" than syphilis. The endless whinging does not change the stone fact that the Democrats' manifest failures cannot all -- or even much -- be laid at the feet of Ralph Nader. True story.

But let's not rehash the epic travails and endless, heroic quests of the N8r b8rz any more than we have to. Let's look at the larger picture here. The outbursts over Eich, Colbert, the McCutcheon decision, what do they all have in common? An utter lack of focus and perspective, for one. Say what you will about the stupid conservatool outbursts over idiotic things such as Chick-Fil-A and Duck Dynasty, the fact is that when they want to, those fuckers mobilize. It's silly shit, but they show up anyway, at least at first, and at least enough to get picked up and noticed in the lamestream media they so roundly despise.

Certainly Brendan Eich stepped on his own dick by failing to explain himself sufficiently when he had the chance, lamely claiming that he didn't want to be pushed by activists into having to delve into his private political sentiments. But by all accounts, Mozilla runs a pretty clean shop, as far as equal treatment for gays is concerned. Also, too, they won, supporters of gay marriage, and rightly so. The country is coming to its senses on this issue, and will be the better for it. It's not as if Eich played the part of Bull Connor or Lester Maddox, handing out ax handles to thump every hommasekshul in sight. It was a thousand bucks, six years ago.

I submit that if one were of liberal sentiment and potent influence on these here internets, and one wanted to get the most bang for their ideological buck, as it were, one might choose different targets. Targets that matter, for starters. Where are the concerted hashtag efforts to push congress-critters into making corporations pay taxes; where are the #CancelAdelson or #CancelKoch campaigns, with nice laundry lists of the things those assholes own and sell (aside from, you know, people and influence) so that like-minded folks can, como se dice, boycott those motherfuckers?

No. Let's go after some techie slapdick, let's go after Stephen Colbert, let's go through yet another round of urban wailing over Ralph Nader's capital transgressions in the previous millennium. Good grief, from climate change to income inequality to poaching to overpopulation to the oppression of women and the trafficking of children to the open theft of this country's political system, there are a multitude of issues over which one can get one's panties into a death-dealing wad. Yet these other non-issues are the things they choose to get jiggy with, and over.

I'm embarrassed for these people, since they don't have the good sense to be ashamed of themselves. All that righteous anger and technical expertise could and should be harnessed to a team of Clydesdales, instead it's tethered to a yappy, ankle-biting Chihuahua.

[Update 4/7/14: Also, too.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Purity Bawl

Since it's an election year, it's time for the regularly scheduled plaint of the Thanksralphers, that migratory flock of folks whose bleats and peregrinations have somehow never quite clued them to a small but vital fact -- that Democrats don't lose because of third-party perfidy, but because too many of "their" voters end up voting Republican.

It's been repeated countless times in this here blog, but if the stupid "Mumia sweatshirt" schtick still merits play, then this does too:  in the 2000 electoral debacle, twelve times as many registered Democrats in Florida voted for George W. Bush as voted for Ralph Nader. Hokay? The Thanksralphers and DFH-punchers can ignore that all they want -- and they clearly want, since it's been twelve years and I'll be damned if I've ever seen any Dem animosity toward those party-jumpers -- but like gravity and evolution, this is a true fact whether or not people believe it or act on it.

I've come to believe that the folks who continue to indulge in meaningless Nader-baiting have simply made an easier strategic decision for themselves. It's easier to titty-twist the minuscule number of "purists" who supposedly insist on absolute ideological rigidity, than to take a serious look at the much greater number of people who, for whatever reasons, jump over to the other major party.

Or the even larger number of people who look at a corrupt system run by and for the wealthy and connected, understand intuitively that neither party gives a red-hot monkey-fuck about them, and stays home. It's all well and good to insist that even if one is getting by and not in need of assistance, they should at least vote with compassion for those less fortunate, who are in need of this or that government assistance. But uh, if one is looking at, say, literally spending the rest of their natural life paying interest on $200 textbooks because the higher education system is a fucking racket, that person may have different priorities in the voting booth besides ensuring that the alcoholic vagrant shitting on the downtown sidewalk has adequate health care.

There is certainly a difference between the two parties, operationally and policy-wise. These differences have become larger and more apparent due to the polarizing nature of the teabaggers, and their effect on the Republican party. As much of a disappointment as Obama has been to lefties and progressives, I don't think anyone would argue the point that his strategies and outcomes would have been vastly different with a better Congress and Supreme Court. Still probably would have been dickless incrementalism, because that is all our owners will permit, but the intransigence and idiotic obstructionism of the 'baggers has certainly worsened an already bad situation.

But the real problem here is the idea that anyone's vote is "owed" to a political party, as opposed to the party having to make its case for earning your vote. It's dangerous and undemocratic, it has led to the current situation, where the parties are owned and operated by corporate interests, and simply take your vote for granted, promising everything and delivering jack shit.

Hey, whatever floats people's boats, I guess. I could just live without the smug, sneering, condescending attitude that permeates these sorts things, expending far more energy and effort lecturing a tiny portion of voters on their sincere (if perhaps somewhat misguided or impractical) principles, than on the vastly greater numbers who jump over to the other side without a care in the world.

It's important for everyone to keep in mind that politicians, good or bad, are reflective of their constituencies. Somebody keeps voting -- on purpose, even -- for dipshits like Louie Gohmert and Jim Inhofe. Those people are the goddamned problem, not the handful of supposed purity trolls.

Free Downloads Tuesday

Folks, if you want to show some support for our humble efforts here, and not spend any of your hard-earned cash in the process, do me a solid and grab yourself some free downloads this Tuesday, April 1. All four Hammer e-books for Kindle will be available for free download, as will all six Purple Tiger Guitar books (available on the AStore page in the upper right sidebar).

So take a second, drop in and grab some free reading material, leave a review if you're inclined, spread the word, yada yada. As always, your participation and support are appreciated.

[Update 4/1/14 11:15 PDT: Well, that was something. I suppose I could and should do some statistical analysis on this phenomenon, perhaps later in the year with a larger sample size. But today's little free download experiment ran the gamut from sublime to ridiculous -- the 5 main PTG books (the 6th book is actually a 99-cent sampler of one of the other 5) were downloaded over 2,000 times each, with Practice Power going over the 3,000 mark. (To give you an idea, generally a free download day will result in a given book being downloaded roughly 100-120 times that day, around 150 or so on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.) The grand total was just a shade under 12,000 books for the day. Pretty fucking cool.

At the other end of the spectrum, none of the four Hammer books (admittedly, they are dated even before they are published, in terms of content and even titles) even made it out of double digits. There was a time when I would have taken it personally and gotten butt-hurt about it, but frankly, as the two or three people who have checked out Lucky '13 found out if they read far enough into it, this blog will probably close up shop at the end of 2014. There are multiple reasons for this, many of which I've gone over in here from time to time. But the bottom line is a combination of lack of time and lack of response -- in other words, if there were more response, I'd make more time, but as today showed, a guitar site I started less than two years ago, and post to less frequently than I have here for nearly a full decade now, just moved about 200 times as much product. For free.

When you can't even give it away anymore, maybe that's a sign. Maybe I should have put stories and photos of my pets in the Hammer books. We'll touch a bit more in depth on this particular dynamic down the road at some point. I am still hoping to close out strong with three final Hammer books -- an Assholes of 2014 shorty, a 2014 essay compilation (with new intros), and a huge retrospective encompassing the entire decade of the Hammer's run (I'd really like to throw some of the comment dialogues into that last one, one thing that has made this blog stand out over many others is the quality of so many of the regular commenters here). We'll see how the rest of this year goes, but whatever of those I actually do, I will be promoting early and often.