My Update Portrait

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Official Disclaimer

The statements in this blog are exclusively the opinion of the author. They are intended for discussion and entertainment purposes only. They are not meant to be news or political doctrine. Their purpose is to provoke thought. If you incapable of an original thought, please stick to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh or other Conservative program.


The Cyber War Has Begun
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Cyberwar

We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces. - Carl Sagan

By now everybody has heard of the cyber attack on Sony Pictures, allegedly from North Korea in retaliation for the Seth Rogen and James Franco farce “The Interview”. The entire corporation was caught up in this including detailed and damaging information on celebrities, intellectual property, privileged corporate information, current employees and former employees. There were 10 terabytes (about 10 trillion bytes) of information that was stolen. The damage is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Information can be restored from backups and insurance is covering at least some of the losses. Sony can still do business, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Despite the news media trying to assess the damage in digital information and dollar losses, there is something much bigger going on here. I am not going to compare it to the Hindenburg, the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor or the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center because no physical lives were lost. However, I think the malicious nature of this attack has shaped the composition of cyber war.

Security experts agree that there was nothing Sony could have done to mitigate this hack. The lives of those caught in the attack will forever be changed. We fell into an emotional and psychological paralysis as a result of this. There are innumerable questions that may never be answered, such as how is this information going to be ultimately used. Who is going to be getting this information? One of the most frightening is what is going to keep this from happening again?

I don’t think there is any better illustration of the psychological and emotional paralysis that has happened to us than the total abdication of leadership that occurred during this attack. Theater chains left the release decision to the theater owners, Sony left the release decision to the theater chains, and ultimately the POTUS claimed that the decision to pull the film from release by Sony Pictures was “a mistake”. This is unusual for me to say, but I think the decision by Sony Pictures was the most responsible under the circumstances and the administration from the Pentagon through the President was unprepared to respond to this attack.

Retaliation for this attack is going to be difficult, at best. North Korea has no civil internet structure so a counterattack would be useless. They are so isolated that sanctions would be ineffective. Bolstering South Korea’s military capabilities would be a somewhat mild response. About the only thing I can think of is to either beam “Team America: World Police” to every TV set in North Korea or electronically disable all of North Korea’s military defenses.

All I can imagine is that this is only the first volley in a series.


Give me Liberty or Give me Death Panels
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Healthcare

People say I make strange choices, but they're not strange for me. My sickness is that I'm fascinated by human behavior, by what's underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people. - Johnny Depp

I made a comment about the community in a prior post. The responses to it were certainly well placed, appropriate and accurate. One thing that attracted me to this forum, besides Livejournal being structured better for discussion than any other site I’ve seen, is because of the global diversity of the participants. It’s true. We don’t seem to be getting posts about America because those that used to post have left for some reason or other. I don’t think it is because of Facebook, Google+ or any other social media because those sites tend to shun political discussion. Maybe it’s because American politics has become an international embarrassment. The President is getting sued over a law that the Republicans have tried to repeal over 40 time and have shut the government down over. It’s not as embarrassing as South Korea, although I think a good fist fight in the House or Senate could raise CSPAN’s ratings.

On to the post at hand. I have always considered myself to be a left leaning centrist and supporter of Obamacare. Nancy Pelosi once said that the Patient Protection and (A)ffordable (C)are (A)ct has to pass in order to see what’s in it. I now finally understand, after 4 years, what she meant. The structure eluded me at first, but I am finally starting to see what it’s all about.

Americans, for the first time, are actually thinking about their healthcare. Provided everyone gets insured, there is no longer a deathly fear of illness or injury because of the catastrophic financial impact upon the afflicted family. Also, with the advent of high deductibles, healthcare plans are no longer being treated trivially. In order for the healthcare plan to work, the afflicted has to participate and become invested in the cost of the healthcare. I believe this is contributing, more than anything, to the reduction in the increase of healthcare costs in this country.

I’m hoping that the ACA will become ingrained as a “too big to fail” part of our government structure much like Medicare or Social Security before the next President comes into office. If necessary, modifications and improvements can be made without tearing apart the one healthcare policy this country has seen since its inception. Considering Republicans have offered no viable alternative, I don’t see any other way forward.


Stem Silliness
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Stem Cells

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former. - Albert Einstein

In keeping with the Monthly Topic, an article I came across a couple months ago caught my eye. We’re all probably familiar with the stem cell controversy for religious and philosophical reasons regarding embryonic stem cells. This controversy has resulted in an executive order ban by George W. Bush on creating new stem cells from human embryos. Fortunately, this ban was reversed by Barack Obama at the beginning of his administration. Contrary to the claims of many abortion opponents, no stem cells are created from induced abortions. They come from embryos that have been rejected in failed fertility attempts and cell lines that already exist.

Now, Harvard University researchers have discovered that they can effectively cure diabetes in rats with embryonic stem cells. The Harvard researchers claim:



“This dramatic result is particularly promising for victims of type I diabetes, a disorder in which the body’s immune system kills off all of its beta cells, but it also potentially offers relief to those suffering with type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes. Many laboratory discoveries take years or decades to yield therapies. The Harvard scientists are more optimistic. With partners at the University of Chicago, they are planning tests on primates, and they hope to begin human transplant trials within three years.”


Considering the pervasiveness and massive healthcare expense of diabetes in this country, I would say that this discovery is epic, to say the least. Like cancer, most people would say that they are familiar with someone in their family or social circle that has been touched by this disease, if not experiencing it themselves.

If there is no other reason than this to continue embryonic stem cell research, I believe this discovery should permanently remove the stigma associated with it. I support continuing adult stem cell research in order to make stem cell therapy more available to everyone, but I do not believe there is a good case to have it replace embryonic stem cell research.


The Unforgotten
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Shocking

Everyone should be respected as an individual, but no one idolized. - Albert Einstein

The European Court of Justice brought into existence Europe's "right to be forgotten" ruling. In a nutshell, Europe wanted to protect citizens from the fact that the Internet never forgets.

The particular case heard by the court involved a Spanish man who was in the press for serious debt problems, but who later climbed out of debt. The court ordered Google, Bing and other search engines to remove his name as a search query that returned the outdated information about his finances. The court ruled that the public should have a right to petition search engines to remove search results for resolved indiscretions that are not a matter of public record.

This has thrown the journalism industry into a panic. They are no longer guaranteed access to references and searches for their news stories with the greatest of ease. As a result, as is the case with the majority of people that are directly affected by a political direction, they are demanding immediate action from somebody else to resolve this issue for them.

The Washington Post Editorial Board thinks it should be our government at all levels that should preserve access to the information they’d like to have to do their jobs with the greatest of ease. Mike Elgan, who is a frequent contributor to Computerworld, a trade magazine for the computer tech industry, believes Google itself should provide a peer-to-peer TOR style shadow network that bypasses government oversight and regulation to provide easy access to the Internet’s “dark internet” underbelly so as to provide convenient snooping on everybody but Mike Elgan.

There is not going to be any fantasy simple or conveniently balanced solution between privacy and security on the internet, no matter how much everybody demands it. No one wants to be responsible for determining where the line should be drawn. And even if someone would, the decision isn’t going to be accepted or tolerated by a substantial number of people.


Obamacare: a Personal Story
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Obamacare

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. - John F. Kennedy

I got health insurance for the first time in 8 years as of January 1 of this year. I, like a lot of older Americans, have a pre-existing condition with a diabetes type 2 diagnosis and couldn’t afford health insurance in a high risk pool at my age. I was unemployed for two and a half years and insurance through my current employer would have eaten up half of my monthly paycheck.

Between my social security benefits and my current paycheck, I am now insured. I signed up though the federal health care exchange for an HMO. Waiting for 2 weeks before the December 23rd deadline helped, and the process was pretty painless. Although the signup failures get highlighted, the successes seem to get lost in the process. I got a policy without any subsidies, so I am on a very typical private insurance plan and pay $560 a month.

The problems with signing up for insurance have been well documented and publicized. I knew what to expect when and was told when it would be corrected. Not so, once I received coverage from a very prominent private insurer. That’s when the confusion and my uneasiness started.

Getting answers from my insurance company is nothing short of a nightmare. Any attempt to call them results in a wait of at least an hour, if I don’t get disconnected. I have an online account with them with a facility to get my questions answered via a contact Email form. I have put in queries for things like payment methods and clarification of primary care physician options. These queries have been stuck in limbo for 2 weeks. One query got a response and said only that it would be referred to the proper department.

After I paid for my coverage (It took a week for the payment to be posted), it took another 2 weeks to receive my insurance coverage card. I am still unable to get answers to my insurance questions. Apparently, there aren’t any competent “navigators” in the private insurance sector. This is their business handling a very costly product. They had years to anticipate a heavy load in their only area of expertise.

For all the public outrage about government shortcomings, I am massively unimpressed with the operation of the private industry sector regarding health care. It appears that this extremely well-known insurance company is more interested in insulating themselves against their subscribers than they are about providing service to their customers.


The Black Hole of Legislation Calls the Kettle Black
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Black Hole

Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban. And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes. - Republican Congressman Peter Sessions

We all know what a black hole is. It’s a swirling mass in the center of the galaxy that consumes hot gases and enlightenment and produces nothing. That would also describe our American Congress, the epitome of dysfunction within our country.

The remaining members of al Qaeda must be dancing in their caves right now. We as Americans have achieved things that they could only dream of. Things like a worldwide financial meltdown, destructive disclosures of our state secrets regarding defense, some unrepentant plagiarist and blowhard named Rand Paul staging a pointless and futile 10 hour rant about our drone program and most recently a near, partial, feel-good, not really, but okay shutdown of our government and virtual execution of our foot regarding our financial good faith with the debt ceiling.

Along comes October 1st and the Affordable Care Act, code named Obamacare. Despite Republican efforts to repeal, shut down, defund, constitutionally reject and hold the government hostage over it; they are falling all over themselves to demand that the government respond to its nascent popularity by commanding that it work flawlessly by decree.

I have been a part of enough large IT projects, including a successful one for the US military, to know that setting a do or die date for a project of this magnitude is a crap shoot at best. Besides, the system wasn’t designed to have to support federal exchanges for 27 states.

Per Computerworld:

The Standish Group, which has a database of some 50,000 development projects, looked at the outcomes of multimillion dollar development projects and ran the numbers for Computerworld.

Of 3,555 projects from 2003 to 2012 that had labor costs of at least $10 million, only 6.4% were successful. The Standish data showed that 52% of the large projects were "challenged," meaning they were over budget, behind schedule or didn't meet user expectations. The remaining 41.4% were failures -- they were either abandoned or started anew from scratch.

Now these same legislators that failed to navigate their own missions enough to keep our government operating are conducting investigations of those who were unable to automate this highly specialized and unprecedented project including that of Secretary of Health’s Kathleen Sebelius. If these Congressmen want to understand the profile of failure, they should assemble a committee and just put a big mirror in the center of the room, because the healthcare.gov team has something Congress doesn't have. A spirit of cooperation to achieve a goal.


National Intelligence
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Secret

Notwithstanding the fact that the most innovative and progressive space we've seen - the Internet - has been the place where intellectual property has been least respected. You know, facts don't get in the way of this ideology. - Lawrence Lessig

This is just a little something to chew on. With the Edward Snowden revelations of NSA surveillance, IRS profiling of the Tea Party and the Department of Justice investigation of leaks publicized by the Associated Press, we need to fast forward into the information age and open a broad discussion on intellectual property.

Whether it is named business strategy, digital media rights, trade secrets, state secrets, patent law, copyright, trademark, or personal privacy; they all fall under the heading of proprietary intellectual property. So for the purposes of this post, they will all be considered together as a unit. Although the property is intangible, it is still a unique product of the owner and is protected by various laws to contain and control the distribution of this property.

With all the rebuttals I have seen surrounding my previous posts about intellectual property, I have only seen two arguments that approach appearing, at least on the surface, compelling.

The first is that intellectual property cannot be stolen because the original property still remains with the author. Try telling that to someone who has had their identity stolen and have had devastating losses because of it. If something is transferred from the owner to another party without the original owners express or implied consent, it is theft. If a tangible item is stolen and then recovered, that does not undo the fact that it was stolen in the first place.

The second is that the laws concerning physical property theft do not apply to intellectual property theft. This is the usual argument from those who are unwilling or unable to comprehend that intellectual property has value, just like physical property does. Your personal intellectual property is traded every time you apply for credit, purchase an item on credit, enter a legal proceeding or apply for insurance. In all these cases, you are entrusting your personal intellectual property to your lender, creditor, lawyer, insurance company or doctor and are counting on them to safeguard it to the best of their ability.

So whether the NSA is collecting phone metadata and internet information to keep us safe from terrorist threats, the Justice Department is trying to find out who is betraying their mission as a result of leaking state secrets by getting contact information from the AP’s phone records or the IRS is trying to determine tax deductible status of the Tea Party movement that electioneered heavily during the 2010 elections; the government appears to be doing its best to do its job without the massive overreach for which they are being accused. Despite claims of oppression by the government, national intelligence and intellectual property rights laws that are already on the books are being prosecuted by the administration.

Edward Snowden is the unprecedented 7th attempt within this administration to prosecute a leaker. With the roguish sanctifications of Wikileaks and the Anonymous criminal organizations, it is no wonder that government leaks are thriving. I doubt that the information that was revealed by Snowden was anything new. The only thing that was revealed is the secrets behind the magic tricks used to keep us safe from terrorist attacks.

TBH, I don’t see why government collection of data on individuals is considered so nefarious to prosecute criminal activity when private sector of collection of data for their own profiteering, including Google photography of your home and facial recognition technology of your children, is considered to be innocuous. I will trust private sector privacy intrusions when their executive board meetings are on CSPAN.

Whether it is at a national level with security requirements down to the individual level with privacy, intellectual property will always be imbued with a sense of ownership. This property, like any property, has no purpose unless it is used and shared in some form. We need to take a serious look at how this is done with intellectual property now and in the future more than ever.


On Gun Defense
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Gunshot

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. - Barry Goldwater

I had been searching for this for, what seems like, years. When gun debates come up, there is always a reference to self defense. I have Googled, Yahoo!ed and Binged and have never been able to see what a clear cut gun defense looked like until I ran across this story in the Washington Post.

I have always given gun rights advocates the benefit of the doubt and thought that the main stream media was unfairly shying away from gun defense cases because of some code of honor, political leanings or liability reasons. When I read this article, I was astonished at some of the things I discovered from it, such as:


  1. This was not a personal assault on the street, but a home invasion that required the victim to retrieve a gun from a safe and hide with her children in an area of this house that she hoped would be out of harm's way. There was no concealed carry involved.

  2. The victim has remained very private about the experience. No talk shows, no interviews, no publicity at all. The only statements made were from the police reports.

  3. All of the boasting has come from outside sources such as the NRA, Fox News and talking head radio shows.

  4. It has become apparent that crime will probably be mitigated and reduced in that neighborhood. Not because everybody is packing firearms, but because crime mitigation procedures such as Neighborhood Watches, a larger police force and security measures are being implemented.

  5. The biggest resulting braggadocio in the neighborhood has been the Walton County Sheriff, Joe Chapman, who was reduced to name calling in court calling the perpetrator a “dirt bag”.

  6. The perpetrator was shot 5 times in the chest and face with a .38 caliber handgun and still was able to escape in his car until he crashed a few blocks later. He survived, was convicted and sent to prison.

  7. The perpetrator was a resident of the community where he committed the crime.

  8. The perpetrator’s wife now possesses a gun to protect herself in what has become an arms race.

A news item like this would be in the best interest of the news media, the gun lobby and the NRA to promote this kind of account. Yet, things like this never seem to make it into any kind of press. Instead, mass shooting tragedies are arrogantly passed off as acceptable losses and any attempts to reduce gun violence are written off as bothersome irritation. It has become dangerously obvious that concern for the security of gun activists' armaments far exceeds their concern for the security of the society in which they live.

The picture that was painted by this incident didn’t follow the Hollywood script types of stories that gun activists like to paint. It is becoming more apparent that the scenarios that gun activists portray are, at best, anecdotal and incredibly rare and the reality invokes images of trauma rather than heroism.

This narrative goes contrary to concealed carry rationalizations. This is a clear cut case of domain protection, and not personal assault. This story reinforces my belief that aside from military or law enforcement professionals, those who arm themselves in public, and mentally and emotionally prepare themselves to take a life suffer from paranoid delusional fantasies. I think it’s worth noting that in the cases of military or law enforcement, their carry is not concealed.

My observations are further supported by the exceedingly zealous views of rabid gun activists who believe that the solution to every conflict is to shoot their way out of it. I am convinced that ordinary citizens that insist on concealed carry for protection are directly parallel to 40 year old male virgins that carry condoms. They will probably never use them, but they entertain a fantasy that their moment can come at any time.

It would seem that the NRA would be better served by representing the vast majority of gun owners who enjoy ownership for hunting, target shooting and domain protection. Instead, they feast on the fringe implementation of paranoid fantasies to justify their cause. The American Civil War is over. It's time we quit treating our nation like a war zone.


Life in the Balance
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Balance

Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it. - George Santayana

I suppose I shouldn’t complain. This is the kind of thing forums like this are made of. The news item that actually brought this to my attention for the first time was the Grimsvotn volcano that interrupted flights, predominately in Europe. There was public outcry that governments would shut down flights for safety reasons because it would inconvenience them. Lately, there has been the same kind of frenzy due to the West Fertilizer Company’s explosion in Texas.

Apparently, it has become the quest. of any institution, whether public or private, to generate as little outrage as possible. In the case of the volcano, would there be less outrage if airplanes were grounded, or if hundreds of lives would have been lost by allowing flights through volcanic ash? Would the dialogue be changed if highly intrusive regulation were imposed upon all businesses at great cost to taxpayers so the West Fertilizer Company’s explosion in Texas could have been avoided? Would justice be served if we put all people on the terrorist suspect list into WWII style Japanese internment camps or in Guantamo Bay; so that the Boston Marathon bombing could have been avoided?

Yes. The choices are extreme to most, but logical to some. The increasingly divisive arguments have morphed from the best solution for a society in general to the best solution for me as an individual. Little to no regard is being given to a sense of balance. Moderation has given way to radical ranting on all sides. Communication technology through the internet and the demand for more transparency in everything, including sensitive issues of national security, has amplified our voices. As a result, the most practical voices are being drowned out by the loudest voices.

Words of wisdom have now been turned into sound bites to be hurled against our political opponents. Patriotism is now nothing more than a political football. Political choices are made by voters based on headlines without any regard for the whole story.

We need to separate the shouting from the dialog. We must act as if our lives hang in the balance. Because they do.


That Was Then. This Is Now.
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Time

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality. – Queen: Bohemian Rhapsody

The term: The New Normal has come to our language in the past couple of years. The phrase defines a change, usually a downgrade, which is expected to be lasting. As a result, The New Normal is an adjustment that is likely to be widely accepted as a standard.

The New Normal is not a bad thing for people that can roll with the punches. It is a healthy coping mechanism that usually follows a period of resignation when something has come to be acknowledged in our society. The problem occurs when The New Normal is written into the equation and is used to manipulate that society into accepting a substandard way of life. This seems to be happening on an incremental basis in America. A couple examples:

Bill Clinton Affair with Monica Lewinsky. This scandal was the basis for an impeachment of a President of the United States. The whole country was whipped into a lather that a President would actually engage in this kind of immoral behavior while in office. Anthony Weiner was disgraced and left his Congressional position after controversial pictures he sent appeared on Twitter. He is now running for Mayor of New York. Mark Sanford disappeared from his office to have an affair with a woman in Argentina. She is now his girlfriend and is running for Congress in the same state that he was disgraced as a governor. The New Normal? You tell me.

Columbine Massacre in Columbine High School, Columbine Colorado. The NRA and gun advocates were all over this incident to blunt the possible gun control fallout from this tragedy. Since then, mass shootings have become a regular feature in the news. The New Normal? You tell me.

The Financial Meltdown of 2008. Although the financial industry can be held culpable for much of this, Republicans and financial institutions have been lobbying heavily to overturn and sabotage any efforts to enforce the Dodd-Frank financial reforms passed in 2010. This is to allow business as usual as it was before the meltdown so that those financial practices, including bailouts, will remain The New Normal. Does this make sense? You tell me.

The Bush Tax Cuts and other administration actions were done on the back of our national debt and was excluded from the budget process until they were budgeted by the Obama administration. Since then, it has been the practice of the Republicans to starve the federal government of any additional revenue and have been trying to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class, the needy and senior citizens while trying to bloat their pet projects like the military infrastructure. The New Normal? You tell me.

Sometimes life will throw us a curveball and change our reality. Nothing illustrates that more than natural disasters. When that happens, we have always been able to adjust to The New Normal until we could recover. That’s how progress, resilience and innovation work. However, when that reality is artificially created to the whims of a few, the result is a society that dies a little at a time until that society’s normal vitality becomes a mere shell of its former self.


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