Sunday, May 31, 2009

Can anyone, including President Obama, secure Cyberspace?

President Obama has announced a "comprehensive cybersecurity strategy" for the U.S. Government that includes a 76 page "Cyberspace Policy Review." This policy statement is full of words using "cyber" as a prefix, but what does it really say and what is the real threat?

Apparently, the perceived threat is big enough to establish yet another government agency and another "senior White House official, "who will have broad authority to develop strategy to protect the nation's government-run and private computer networks, according to people who have been briefed on the plan" Washington Post.

In the Preface to the Cyberspace Policy, it states:
The architecture of the Nation’s digital infrastructure, based largely upon the Internet, is not secure or resilient. Without major advances in the security of these systems or significant change in how they are constructed or operated, it is doubtful that the United States can protect itself from the growing threat of cybercrime and state-sponsored intrusions and operations. Our digital infrastructure has already suffered intrusions that have allowed criminals to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and nation-states and other entities to steal intellectual property and sensitive military information. Other intrusions threaten to damage portions of our critical infrastructure. These and other risks have the potential to undermine the Nation’s confidence in the information systems that underlie our economic and national security interests.
My response to this broad accusation is just this; name one incident. The real heart of the issue is in a couple of paragraphs later in the document:
Information and communications networks are largely owned and operated by the private sector, both nationally and internationally. Thus, addressing network security issues requires a public-private partnership as well as international cooperation and norms. The United States needs a comprehensive framework to ensure coordinated response and recovery by the government, the private sector, and our allies to a significant incident or threat.
That's the problem, "Information and communications networks are largely owned and operated by the private sector, both nationally and internationally." It is not that the government is afraid of anything in particular, it is the fact that all that information and communications ability is in private hands that make the President and his advisers nervous.

Let's get to the real issue; the government wants to nationalize the Internet. The entrenched bureaucrats cannot stand the idea the the private sector has any control over anything. Not only do they want to nationalize General Motors, they would like to nationalize everything.

The next bottom line is the usual one, "The government needs to increase investment in research that will help address cybersecurity vulnerabilities while also meeting our economic needs and national security requirements." That's it in a nutshell, nationalize the communications network and the Internet and spend more money.

Look at page "vi" of the Policy Statement at number 4: "Designate a privacy and civil liberties official to the NSC cybersecurity directorate."

Look at the Bibliography. The documents are available in the Cyberspace Policy Review. Read some of the documents. See if you can find one documented incident of "intrusions that have allowed criminals to steal hundreds of millions of dollars and nation-states and other entities to steal intellectual property and sensitive military information."

Here is one example. Carnegie Mellon University, Lynn Robert Carter, "Computing Infrastructure Risk: Issue, Analysis, and Recommendation," December 23, 2008 .
Look at this document. Here is the threat:

1. Spam
2. Distributed computing such as the SETI network.
3. Botnets
4. Unspecified "targets of the the bad guys"
5. Identity theft
6. Morphing still images, voices and videos (i.e. "Die Hard" movie)
7. von Neumann architecture
and so on.

Not one incident is mentioned or identified. I haven't had the time to look at all these documents. How about someone out there showing me where's the beef? Where is the threat to national security other than a worry that the computer network is in private hands?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The myth of computer competence

There is a persistent world view that young people have grown up with computers and are therefore more competent than the "older" folks who use computers. Since I have been doing computer support for almost 30 years now, I have a little bit of a perspective on the age factor as well as overall competence in using computers. So lets look at the age factor in computer use.

I know very few, if any, teenagers who are computer competent other than playing games, sending text messages and perhaps, reading E-mail. Almost without exception, I cannot find one young person who can adequately use word processing (other than in most simple sense of typing a short school assignment), spreadsheet, presentation program or any other every day useful program. One young man I know can write short computer programs, but lacks basic skills of formatting, layout and composition.

So what are we talking about here. Young people mostly use computers like they drive cars, carelessly and without knowing how to change the oil, rotate the tires or even wash the car. Just because someone knows how to turn on the computer or operate a computer game, does not make them computer literate.

I do know younger adults who are computer professionals. They have on the job experience with networks and Internet connections. They can set up a computer and connect it to a network, but often don't know what to do with it past Facebook and or MySpace.

Most of what older people perceive as computer competence deals with learning a few basic instructions, and having the manual dexterity to operate a mouse and keyboard. But I know people in their 80s who know more about computers than a teenager could ever hope to know. The computer support staff I presently work with consists of retired engineers in their 70s who design and maintain a complex computer network of over 50 machines. Younger people may know how to drive through the computer city, but these people know where the wires, plumbing and power come from and go to.

I regularly work with groups of Boy Scouts on the computers working on the genealogy merit badge. By and large, they know absolutely nothing about the computer or how it operates. They often have to be shown how to do a simple search on Google. Just because your teenager knows how to operate the remote on the TV does not make him or her a computer expert. Get over it. Anyone at any age can learn about computers and gain competency. Sometimes, by the time a young person enters the job market, they acquire real computer skills. But even the younger office workers in my office are absolutely lost on the computers if the programs do not operate exactly as they expect them to.

It is time the older people of the world get with the program and take back the high ground of computer use. Let's change the stereotype and start having your grandchildren come to you with their computer questions.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

GaySpeak invades the media

Two recent article reporting developments in California regarding the so-called "Gay Rights" movement show the extent to which GaySpeak has invaded the media. GaySpeak is the transformation of ordinary phrases and words into propaganda to support the Gay Rights agenda to " uproot the present oppressive system with its decaying and constricting ideology, and how we, together with other oppressed groups, can start to form a new order, and a liberated lifestyle, from the alternatives which we offer." (Note: click on the link to see what the so-called Gay Rights movement is really all about).

The first article "Gay Curriculum Proposal Riles Elementary School Parents" although apparently trying to maintain a neutral tone, buys into GaySpeak by using the following terms as if they were not GaySpeak propaganda:

"Gay" used as euphemism for same-sex attraction.
"LGBT" another euphemism to avoid using the more offensive terms.
"sexual orientation stereotypes" is GaySpeak for traditional married couples with families.
"name-calling and bullying" is GaySpeak for any opinion that does not support the LGBT.
respond appropriately" is GaySpeak for supporting the Gay Rights agenda.
diversity, acceptance and understanding" is GaySpeak for supporting the Gay Rights agenda. According to GaySpeak, if you are religious you are not entitled to diversity, acceptance and understanding. For example, back to the Gay Rights Manefesto that views all opposed to their agenda as the enemy.

The second article in the New York Times is entitled, "California High Court Upholds Gay Marriage Ban."

Here it is, a "news" story in the New York Times. All you have to do is read the story and look for the GaySpeak to see the extent to which the media has been hijacked into supporting their radical agenda. By the way, one of the Gay Rights leaders is quoted as saying that "
thousands of gay and lesbian Californians who woke up this morning hoping and praying their status as equal citizens of this state would be restored.” Who do they pray to?

"Gay Marriage Ban" GaySpeak for the Marriage Amendments. Rather than acknowledging the purpose of the Marriage Amendments to protect and foster the institution of marriage, the amendments are propagandized by the term "Gay marriage ban" although there is not one word in the California Marriage amendment about Gay marriage.
"civil unions" the GaySpeak equivalent of marriage.
choose one’s life partner" is GaySpeak for same-sex relationship.
"a committed, officially recognized and protected family relationship" another GaySpeak for same sex relationship.
"Equality California" GaySpeak for a Gay Rights advocacy group.
"Outsider status" yet another GaySpeak reference to same-sex relationship.

It is sad that even a venerable institution like the New York Times can fall for GaySpeak. Professor Karl M. Manheim uses GaySpeak when he states, "The change wrought by Proposition 8 was anything but narrow, Professor Manheim said, and claiming that the word “marriage” is essentially symbolic is like telling black people that sitting in the back of the bus is not important as long as the front and the back of the bus arrive at the same time." Comparing the issue of same-sex marriage to the rights fought for by the Black community is pure GaySpeak propaganda.

The articles quoted are only two small samples of the pervasive nature of the GaySpeak propaganda machine in operation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

When is bad news good news?

In a desperate attempt to put a positive spin on really bad news, the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted in it most recent employment report, that mass layoff events and initial claims for unemployment decreased from March to April. What this really meant was that "Employers took 2,712 mass layoff actions in April that resulted in the separation of 271,226 workers, seasonally adjusted, as measured by new filings for unemployment insurance benefits during the month." BLS. However, if you read a little further in the report, you find that the number of mass layoffs (defined as more than fifty people laid off at once) more than doubled the number from the previous year.

To get a small perspective of how serious things have become and how desperate the present administration is to see and end to the present crisis, you can continue reading to find that the total of mass layoffs from December 2007 to April 2009 was 34,126, while there were 2,712 in April alone, well over the average per month for the entire period.

The important number, the employment rate, hardly rates a mention in the news. The national unemployment rate was 8.9 percent in April 2009, season-ally adjusted, up from 8.5 percent the prior month and from 5.0 percent a year earlier. In April, total nonfarm payroll employment decreased by 539,000 over the month and by 5,240,000 from a year earlier.

Schools and related employers were the hardest hit. Teachers are losing their jobs in huge numbers. Of the 10 detailed industries with the largest number of mass layoff
initial claims, 6 reached their April peak: school and employee bus transportation; construction machinery manufacturing; tax preparation services; discount department stores; professional employer organizations; and hotels and motels, except casino hotels. If you are a teacher who has lost your job you can take consolation in the fact that you are part of the "good news" from your government.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Education -- an attitude not a state

What does it mean to be educated? Why is education desirable or even necessary? Can these questions even be answered?

From my first day at school, it was abundantly clear that some of the other students knew a lot more than I did. Some students were always smarter. Their pencil boxes always neat and orderly. Their notebooks organized with tabs and their reports always looked professionally done. When we took tests, there was always a student who would finish early and turn in his or her test while the rest of us sat there and wondered what all these questions were talking about. Education was equated with achievement. Doing good in school meant doing your homework and getting "good" grades.

When I got into high school, once again, there were the "smart" kids and then all rest of us. We all knew who they smart kids were, they were the ones in the accelerated classes. The ones destined to go on to colleges or universities. Most of us looked forward to the day when we would "graduate" and not ever have to go back to school again. Never have to open another book. Never have to take another test. Never have to learn about anything at all.

Then it was time to graduate and go on. I chose to go on with school. I had no specific goal and no specific course of study. I did not want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a dentist or any of those things. But I also had no job skills. I had no prospects, no family business, no uncle in real estate, nothing to put me out into the working world. But I was different than most, I knew how read and loved libraries and reading. When I got to the usual state university, my first real job was in the university library. During the first two years at the university my grades were average or below. I took a big variety of classes, everything from geology to art history.

Slowly, I began to learn how to learn. I discovered that learning was hard work. Good grades did not come because I was smart, but because I knew the system and could learn what the instructor was looking for. Along the way, I began to understand what it was to be educated. It wasn't knowing any specific piece of information, it was an attitude of learning, a desire to know the answers to difficult questions, an understanding of the process of research and discovery. Learning and education involved reading, not just the assignments, but reading everything.

I slowly learned that I could trade study for credentials. When I had a degree or a certification, other people would assume that I was competent. I even found that people would pay me to do what I had learned in school. But was I educated? By whose standard? By what criteria?

My interests lead me to the sciences and then to law. There were things I would probably never learn, like calculus or medicine. I continued to read, all day, every day. When did I become educated? Did I become educated?

I think that my education and that of everyone else is a process. It is learning to love learning. It is being aware of your world, asking questions, finding answers. It is not knowing any particular piece of information. It is not passing a test or getting a good grade. Education is a life long habit of inquiry and review. It is knowing enough to know you don't know all the answers and taking the time to find out when you don't.

Are today's students coming out of high school educated? Not at all. The percentage of students who come out of high school with a desire to learn and to pay the price in hard work is vanishingly small. Fortunately, somewhere in our system, students still discover how to learn, but it is despite the system, not because of it. While I was in high school, I was taken out of school for a whole quarter to travel with my family. I was given the text books and a list of assignments. Interestingly, that was the quarter when I got the highest grades in high school, when I taught myself and did not have the distraction of the teachers.

Maybe primary schools ought to focus on teaching students to read, write and do arithmetic. What a novel idea. Maybe students need to memorize and copy long passages of material. Maybe instead of cutting funds for libraries, we should be expanding student's access to the world's great literature instead of feeding students modern trash. Maybe we need to teach in school all the things I learned on my own, outside of school.

Think about it. Really, think about it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wikipedia -- the battleground for social and political views

It is probably true that no writing can be entirely objective, however, the collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia, is far from escaping from bias and propaganda. It is supposed that when an interest group is attacked or some cause espoused, that those in opposition will provide the corrections needed to guide Wikipedia back to a centrist position. But what happens if the centrist position is not legally or morally correct?

In a recent blog, US Political Scene, the blogger pointed out that a Wikipedia article on "Waterboarding" was inaccurate and lacking in any proper sourcing. But where are the critics of the methodology? The media has so far succeeded in educating the American people about the "Waterboarding" issue that apparently no one would think to question Wikipedia.

It is interesting that the Wikipedia Waterboarding article has a cross-reference to "toture." However, the torture article starts out with a definition of torture from the United Nations Convention Against Torture, hardly a neutral definition. Later on, in the same article on torture, there is a reference to human rights. The link takes one to the Wikipedia page on human rights. Once again, the definition of human rights is ceded to the United Nations.

Now, I am not commenting on the definition of waterboarding or he definition of torture, what I am commenting on is that the "accepted" definition of these politically and socially loaded terms is being set forth in a forum where there is an expectation that someone will move the article to something approximating a consensus. I do not think that defaulting to the United Nations' definition is necessarily engendering a consensus.

Like the blogger cited above, I too believe that these, and many other, Wikipedia articles are little more than political position papers and propaganda.

Note: As it turns out, the Wikipedia article on human rights is quite involved, but the first part of the article, establishing the tone, refers directly to only a United Nations definition.

Perhaps it is a good time to recognize that Wikipedia is not a "source." It is a commentary. You may rely on it for basic facts (or not) but it is not a reliable source of political or social information from any one's standpoint. It is apparent that Wikipedia may, in fact, be the new battleground for the hearts and souls of the people of the world?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Abortion is not an issue, it is the issue

In his commencement address at the University of Notre Dame, President Obama noted that there were irreconcilable differences between those supporting and those opposing abortions. I will agree on that point, there are irreconcilable differences. The President went on to encourage a dialogue between the two positions. Abortion is not just an issue. Abortion is the issue.

It is not my goal to review all of the legal and social issues on the different sides of the abortion problem. But it is my goal to be clear; under no circumstances will I support any policy, politician, candidate or office holder that supports abortion on demand. There is very little grey in this argument, less than in any other major issue I am aware of. My position is exactly that of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the Church's Website, here is the official position:
Human life is a sacred gift from God. Elective abortion for personal or social convenience is contrary to the will and the commandments of God. Church members who submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions may lose their membership in the Church.
This position is further expanded as follows:
Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, when the life or health of the mother is judged by competent medical authority to be in serious jeopardy, or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. But even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion. Those who face such circumstances should consider abortion only after consulting with their local Church leaders and receiving a confirmation through earnest prayer.
This is not a negotiable position. No amount of discussion will change these fundamental truths. There is no compromise. I will not knowing vote for anyone who supports abortion on demand.

Truly, this position is irreconcilable with the deceptive arguments of the supporters. Abortion is not an issue. It is the issue.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What about my credentials?

In response to a recent post, a reader made the following comment:
I suppose it's fitting that a post about "trivialization" would early on include the phrase "so-called gay rights movement" ... but then you quickly move on from trivialization to demonization ("... all but destroyed the concept of civil rights in America"? Really?). Just curious, James, but what are your credentials when it comes to defending civil rights of any kind?
My first thought was whether or not the reader had read the post at all, or was merely making a stock comment. I had to think a while about why my "credentials" in "defending civil rights" had anything to do with my commentary. Apparently, if you oppose same-sex marriage and Gay Rights you have to have credentials to have an opinion? Then I began to wonder if the person writing the comment, who identified himself by a Hispanic name, had any "credentials?" Perhaps you need credentials to make comments about civil rights also?

After more thought, I decided. Here are my credentials:

I believe the Bible to be the word of God and I believe in the teaching of God's prophets anciently as well as in the latter days.

I wonder if the commentator has taught Constitutional Law? I have. I wondered if the commentator has over 34 years of trial experience in state and Federal Courts? I do. I could go on, but I also wonder about the relevancy of credentials. Aren't we back to the same old tactic of the Gay Rights movement? If you support Gay Rights you have First Amendment Rights but if you oppose Gay Rights, you have no right to speak at all. I think that is what the commentator is really trying to say about the so-called Gay Rights movement.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The trivialization of civil rights

Because of the activists in the so-called gay rights movement, the entire issue of civil rights in America has been trivialized. The important issues of the past, voting rights for blacks, Native Americans and women, adequate housing, safe working conditions, religious freedom, school segregation and the other monumental issues of the past century have been marginalized by a short sighted focus on sexual preference as an issue.

Pathetic attempts to equate the so-called oppression of gays with the sufferings of the Blacks, Chicanos and Native Americans is a smear on the memory of those who have dedicated their lives to the emancipation and racial equality of these minorities.

Gays were never denied the right to work or vote.
Gays were never marched across the country and imprisoned in reservations.
Gay churches were never bombed.
No gay man or woman suffered slavery for being gay.
Gays are not relegated to separate schools, rest rooms or drinking fountains.
Gays were never migrant farm workers.

There is no definition of a "gay person" that relies on anything more than a person's private preference. Some of the leaders of the so-called Gay Rights movement are extremely influential and wealthy individuals who have never been denied anything in their lives.

Here is a quote from the statement of purpose of the Gay Liberation Front:
"We are a revolutionary group of men and women formed with the realization that complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished. We reject society's attempt to impose sexual roles and definitions of our nature."
In another statement of the GLF purpose Martha Shelley in 1970 wrote:
"We are women and men who, from the time of our earliest memories, have been in revolt against the sex-role structure and nuclear family structure."
Does this sound like a statement by an oppressed minority seeking equality and civil rights? At the core this movement is destructive of society as a whole. Its revolting use of the terminology of the civil rights movement has all but destroyed the concept of civil rights in America. When a majority of any state supports such a destructive goal, they are buying into their own destruction.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Living with the Swine Flu -- thoughts on modern disasters

When I was in high school, some of the students who were more mechanically and electronically gifted than I was, figured out a way to tap into the school's clock system. By getting on a table and plugging some wires into one of the clocks in an empty room, they were able to do several things; one was to run all the clocks in the school backwards, another was to ring the class bells out of sequence. As a result, they got the idea to sound a fire alarm. I think security in the empty classrooms was increased dramatically after the third or fourth fire drill, marching all of the students out to the parking lots.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a vastly more advanced system of warning for Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR). They have organized a Global Outbreak Alert & Response Network for the technical collaboration of existing institutions and networks who pool human and technical resources for the rapid identification, confirmation and response to outbreaks of international importance. WHO. In the current outbreak of Swine Flu (now politically correctly renamed Influenza A(H1N1) virus) in the past week, the Level of Pandemic Alert has gone to an unprecedented Level 5.

Now, I am not claiming that someone is "ringing the bells" at the World Health Organization, but I am pointing out the fact that a small input of information from an unexpected source (boys in an empty classroom) can create a huge reaction (entire school out in the parking lot). This effect comes about because the system apparently has no way to evaluate the difference between a "real" emergency and one that is part of the background noise of our complex society.

The latest report from the WHO as of May 3, 2009 showed 898 confirmed cases of Swine Flu (now influenza A(H1N1) infection world wide. There have been 19 deaths reported in Mexico and 1 death in the U.S. Otherwise, there have been no other reported deaths in the entire world.

Now, given the huge incidence of Swine Flu in the last two weeks, what can we find out from the online statistics? First of all according to the Centers for Disease Control, this specific strain of influenza, type A (H1N1) has been reported for years. In the 2007 to 2008 Flu Season, from October 1, 2007 to May 17, 2008 there were 1,020 verified cases of influenza A (H1N1) in the United States alone. Don't take my word for it, check out the source. As of June 19, 2008, 83 deaths associated with laboratory-confirmed influenza infections have occurred among children aged < 18 years during the 2007--08 influenza season that were reported to CDC. These deaths were reported from 33 states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin).

Look at the data! There is no way that the current cases of influenza could have all come from Mexico. Given the fact that this same strain of flu has been infecting people for years, there is nothing about the current outbreak that can differentiate it from the background noise of infection.

When we are standing in the parking lot, how do we know whether or not the alarm was "real" or not? In the case of Swine Flu, before you start wearing a mask outside or cancel your trip in an airplane, you might want to look a little deeper into the alarm being raised.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Who benefits from the Swine Flu scare?

Here is a conundrum, we have a huge avalanche of news stories hyping a global pandemic of Swine Flu, closing schools, stopping airplane flights in mid-course, disinfecting skyscrapers, and scaring old women and children, and where is the substance? After more than a week of a constant barrage of threats and statements, who benefits from this diatribe?

I thought that this was another of those manufactured crisis designed to divert attention from some other more difficult and political issue, but there is nothing much new going on that seems to merit such a huge outlay of drivel. As of May 2, 2009 there are 160 confirmed cases of the flu in the U.S. and there has been one death, a baby from Mexico. But who is benefiting from this manufactured bogey man?

Here are a few thoughts about those who might benefit: drug manufacturers, more allocated government funds, news outlets (paid trips to Mexico?), Johnson & Johnson sells out their inventory of Purell, bloggers, school officials (it gives them something to say that doesn't relate to a budget), mothers (who told their children to wash their hands) and other related entities.

But was that enough to justify the hype and exaggeration? Not really. I think the whole world is looking for an out. Something to justify not going on with business as usual. An excuse for taking a day off. A way to avoid thinking about financial disaster, war and poverty. A good flu scare is just what the doctor ordered to give us something else to talk about for a week or so. Then we can get back to reality (whatever that is).

Friday, May 1, 2009

We are not getting the whole story of the Swine Flu

It has been a long time since I have seen so many older people so concerned about a world situation. I have friends and acquaintances who are worried to go out of their houses because of the Swine Flu reports. At the other end of the age spectrum, a younger friend went to the store to buy sanitary wipes for her family (out of an abundance of caution) and found the store's supply completely wiped out (intentional).

I have one major question, who is benefiting from this absolutely incredible reaction to a disease that hasn't even proved to be serious yet?

Look at the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of May 1, 2009 at 11:00 am Eastern Time, the whole U.S. had 141 confirmed cases of the Swine Flu. Actual flu cases are in the low to minimal range. For example, the weekly Influenza Surveillance Report from the CDC showed 997 positive tests for flu during the 2008 calendar year, which included 804 cases of Influenza A (H1). During 2008, one pediatric influenza-associated death was reported. Did you read about all of this in the newspaper? Did the President comment on the one flu death in 2008?

Look at the statistics. What is really different about the present flu outbreak? Maybe someone felt we needed to forget the economy for a while? Maybe, they needed to stop people coming and going to Mexico? The war in Iraq? Afghanistan? What is really the reason why this flu outbreak is front page news with schools being closed. Please note, there was not one school closed last year because of a flu outbreak.

My opinion is not that there isn't a real disease, it is just that the present reaction is so completely out of sync with the real statistics. Why aren't we getting the real story?