If Data is Collected, It Will Be Mined

Subversives, fugitives and drug dealers have operated under the assumption that all phones are tapped for as long as there have been phones. This is even more the case with today’s digital communication. The safe assumption is that every line is tapped, so when engaging in any form of electronic communication, it’s good to heed the advice given in The Anarchist Cookbook way back in the 1970’s: “If you can’t say it in front of a cop, keep it to yourself.”

So now we learn that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and analyzing all the data they can grab. This should come as no surprise. If the data is there, they will mine it. They always have, and they always will. I’m not saying that it’s right. It’s actually contrary to every sacred principle this nation was built upon. But it is what it is.

Most of us knew all along that the emperor was walking around naked. Now that the official media has finally noticed, they’re going bat-crap crazy talking about it. Let me throw a few random thoughts into this cacophony. Read on

When is a “Scandal” a Scandal?

When a government acts in a way that some consider scandalous, it’s interesting to compare the reactions of opposing parties.

Ten years ago, the Bush regime engaged in a long litany of violations of civil liberties and international law. Their opponents were alarmed with this blatantly illegal behavior, while their defenders shrugged their shoulders and said, “No big deal.”

So now the IRS has admitted to selectively targeting organizations for scrutiny based on a political agenda, and the Justice Department has admitted to seizing the phone records of AP reporters. As a progressive, I am disturbed by this news.

After all, if these acts had been committed by the Bush/Cheney regime, they would be disturbing (although they would be lost in the long litany of alarming acts). So to have these acts committed by “our side” is no less disturbing.

And that’s the difference between authoritarians and progressives. For the right-whinge conservatives, selective enforcement or spying on reporters was OK when their side did it, but when the other side does it their heads explode. Progressives get upset no matter who does it.

So when you’re arguing with a conservative and he brings up the latest “Obama scandal,” ask him where his outrage was when Bush was conducting selective politically-motivated audits, or spying on every phone call and reading every email in the country.

The Wayback Machine – A How-to

One of our discussion participants recently lamented that when a certain web domain went dark, he lost years worth of blog posts that were hosted on that site. My first thought was to check the Wayback Machine, an online archive of content from the past. With the Wayback Machine, you can see the content and styling of a site as it was at the time it was archived by the Wayback system.

Using the Wayback Machine, I was able to point this guy to four pages of complete posts with images and everything… easily 10,000 words of writing he had thought were lost forever. If you want to check the Internet of the past, the simple instructions are after the jump. Read on

Random Cerebral Flatulence

Most newspapers have a 250-word limit for letters to the editor, and for a long time I considered that the ultimate in concise writing. Kind of the way a graphic artist sees a postage stamp.

After many years I have finally given in to the temptation of throwing out an occasional brain fart that fits into 140 characters. So those of you who are on Twitter can follow me at @Obbie_Z. Expect an occasional snarky remark, calling out of bullslop or hypocrisy, and maybe even some heckling from the back of the room.

RoZ intends to follow with an account of her own some time soon, so her voice will rise up again. It’ll be interesting to see what it does to one’s writing when the constraints go from 250 words to 140 characters. This feels like cyber-graffiti, but maybe I’ll feel differently about it in a year.

NCAA – The Farm System for the NBA and NFL

While we’re in the season of watching college students play basketball, it’s time to consider how much of this multi-billion-dollar business is shared with the players themselves.

Major universities each collect millions of dollars from their football and men’s basketball teams (at some schools, hockey and/or women’s basketball are also big money-makers). The cash comes not only from ticket sales, but from lucrative TV broadcast deals and merchandising. Jerseys are sold with players’ names on them, promotional materials with players’ likenesses are published, yet these players aren’t paid a cent.

The NCAA gets rich off the myth of the “student athlete.” But a serious student who happens to be on The Team is likely to graduate with lower grades than a similar student who’s not on The Team. Many other “students” are shepherded thru a program of easy courses designed to keep star athletes “eligible.” Some drop out of school early to grab lucrative contracts in the NBA or the NFL. It’s all a charade.

I have a better idea: Let the college conferences function like the minor leagues in baseball. Let the players put their full concentration into being elite players by not forcing them to go to school at the same time. Pay the players a modest salary and let them make money from merchandising their names and likenesses. Set up a system to keep the pay rates fair and equitable, and have it subsidized by the professional leagues who benefit from this player development system.

Then, for each year a player participates in this manner, he or she is guaranteed a year of full scholarship at the host university, to be redeemed at the time of the athlete’s choosing. So after the athletic career is over, an athlete can focus on getting the education needed to set up the next phase of his/her life.

The recruiter’s big promise to a star high-school athlete: play for our school and you’ll get a world-class education. It doesn’t work that way when the kid is asked to do both at once. Let them make a modest living focussing on their athletics, so they can concentrate on being the best students they can be when their lives in sports wind down.

Marketing the Revolution – My 13 Years at Zendik Farm

“How do you put thirteen years at a commune on a resume?”

I started asking myself that question shortly after leaving Zendik Farm in 1991. Since early 1978, I had been a prominent member of that community and at times a highly visible public spokesman. But after hitching my identity to Zendik for over thirteen years, I suddenly became just another long-haired thirty-something with no money, no job, and a very long gap in my employment history.

During the early 90’s, a friend pointed out that what I had experienced was equivalent to a divorce. I had severed my social and emotional connections with an extended family I had lived with for many years, including a handful of children I’d helped raise who I would never see again. Just as in the end of a marriage, that it worked so well for so long is hard to reconcile with how it went so wrong for me in the end.

Read on

purplearth_s – Our New Theme

Our previous theme (The “theme” determines the “look” of a WordPress site such as this one) was beginning to get a bit stale. So I built a new one.

Over the past few years, I’ve tweaked, fixed, and slapped together themes for dozens of WordPress sites. With a bit of extra time over the past week or two, I endeavored to build a purplearth theme that presents our content aesthetically and usably while introducing features that define a modern web site.

I also wanted to make a theme that didn’t look like a WordPress theme.

After the jump, I’ll talk about the highlights of this new theme, and the thought process that went into it.

Read on

A Second Line for Red (aka Christoper Vogts)

Red (aka Christopher Vogts) 2006Red was a guy whose life overlapped with ours for a period in the late 2000’s. In the gang of activists we hung out with at the time, he was the energetic bike freak with the fiery red beard.

As a student at UW-La Crosse, he helped start a program that reclaimed and rebuilt discarded and abandoned bicycles. While helping us with the last Spokes’n’folks parade in 2006, he connected us with the eight-foot trailer that eventually became ours.

He delivered the trailer with a double-decker bike he had recently built, and took a little time to ride it around in the alley behind purplearth world headquarters.

In March 2010 he hosted us at Nottingham Co-op during one of our visits to Madison. He was happily working at a local bike shop, and the last time we saw him was when he walked with us to the bus stop, carrying our bikes in a cart he built from recycled bike parts.

Since then, Red continued to work in that same bike shop, and embarked on frequent cross-country bike tours. It was on one of these tours that his life ended. On his way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, Red was hit by a van on a highway in Mississippi and he died at the scene.

Being 150 miles from Madison, we couldn’t get there for the memorial (like Red, we don’t have a car), but we thought we’d share the video above, the images below, and links to his obit and a story done by a Madison TV station.

What’s Wrong with Traffic Engineering

They say a picture can tell a thousand words, but this one graphic encapsulates my thoughts on traffic engineering better than I could articulate in many thousands of words.

 A short history of traffic engineering

From copenhagenize.com, hat tip to Tom Vanderbilt

A Lie By Any Other Name

Last night, Paul Ryan gave a speech to the Republican National Convention. We didn’t watch the speech, but we heard that he did a lot of lying, even though very few writers used the L-word to describe it.

This observation is not about the lies themselves (follow the links below for the rundown), but it’s about how major media outlets go out of their way to avoid using the word “lie.”

From The Guardian: “… speech includes glaring inaccuracies…”
Another headline in the same paper: “A round-up of Ryan’s most audacious untruths.”

Steve Benen on The Maddow Blog used the term “demonstrable lies” before going on with his own round-up of alternate wording.

The Huffington Post headline originally was “Paul Tales: Ryan Misleads Again & Again,” and was later changed to “Paul Ryan Address: Convention Speech Built On Demonstrably Misleading Assertions.”

The Boston Globe said the speech “strained credibility,” AP’s headline talked of “factual shortcuts,” the Washington Post‘s James Downie called it “breathtakingly dishonest,” and Brian Beutler on Talking Points Memo wrote of “misleading claims.”

Among the most euphemistic was Wolf Blitzer on CNN:

…although I marked at least seven or eight points I’m sure the fact checkers will have some opportunities to dispute if they want to go forward, I’m sure they will.

In other words, “… a lot of that sounded like bullslop, but I’ll wait for someone else to point that out.”

John Nichols was not afraid to say “Lies” in The Nation.

The biggest surprise came from Sally Kohn writing for the official media outlet of the Republican Party. Her “3 words” (actually, 3 D-words) to describe Ryan’s speech were “dazzling”, “deceiving”, and “distracting”. It’s remarkable enough for a Faux Neus piece to call one of their heroes “deceiving,” but Kohn’s elaboration includes stuff like “the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech,” and “the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth.”

It’s reassuring to see the journalistic community calling “Bullslop!” on all of this bullslop. I just wish they could use the same language the rest of us use. A lie by any other name is still a lie.