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June 11, 2011

the internet may not be wearing clothes

Today the news that the IMF has been hacked broke.  Add this to other news that has broken recently and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Internet is an awful lot like splitting the atom — it's a really nifty idea that presents an excellent idea to blow up the world.

Is there an online system anywhere that has not yet been hacked into?  I presume there are, and I presume that there are a couple that are presumed to be invincible, but I'm starting to think that there is no such thing as invincible.  First of all, the tech innovation favors the black hats, I'd say, just on the basis that for every wall built someone builds a ladder one foot taller.  And at least as far as corporate security goes, no matter how magical you think the free market is, the ossified command structures of a business combined with the mundane stresses of a "job" just are not so favorable for flashes of brilliance.

Remember that these innovations are not exclusively tech innovations.  A good deal of the hacks are the result of human intelligence failures, passwords being duped out of flesh and bloods.  A truly secure system is not just a question of engineering, it's also a question of user interface, because users have a slim chance of being idiots, and being both secure and idiot proof is nearly impossible.

And ultimately, entropy wins.  Information may or may not want to be free, but security and impregnability are just not naturally occurring states.  I'm no Malcolm Gladwell, of course, but if you think of the course of history, examples of perfection are generally the result of nature and not the works of man.  The Great Wall of China will be dust someday, and Pick-Your-Favorite-Firewall will someday be porous.

This is not to say that it's time to get Luddite and pull up digital stakes.  But, the Internet went from nothing to something to everything and now a very looming threat in scant decades.  And we get to watch!  Isn't that awesome?

Posted by mrbrent at 12:57 PM

June 10, 2011

please don't quit newt gingrich

Some people are happy that the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign is having so much difficulty.  (Most recently: the wholesale resignation of his campaign staff, which is not so much unprecedented as it is sui generis).  It's easy to be happy for that — Newt is not exactly charismatic, and when bad things happen to bad people, your mood gets a kick in the Schadenfreude and everything seems rosier.

I, however, am not happy at all.  I am looking forward for a Gingrich candidacy that will keep the discourse maximally confused and off-message and generally frustrating to all the candidates who might actually have a chance to win the primaries.  This desire for me is an anxiety for some:

Several Republicans who worked closely with him in the House GOP leadership and knew him well told TPM they were just happy he imploded so quickly before he could do more damage to the GOP primary and Republican policies like privatizing Medicare and reining in entitlement spending.

You see?  If Newt is not a viable candidate, then the only damage he can do is to himself and to his endless array of wives?  Who else could so adroitly call out Paul Ryan before kissing Paul Ryan's ass a half-day later?  Michele Bachmann?  No, the best she can do is be the walking embodiment of shrill.  Sarah Palin?  She's thin-skinned like Newt, but too married to celebrity to ever upset an entire apple cart.  Those other guys?  They have names, right?  I'm pretty sure they have names.

Obviously, Newt won't go quietly, because he is a monomaniac without a whit of introspection (which is why Newt is literally the only human on the planet who thinks that Newt can be president).  But he'll have to go eventually, because he's not about to pay for all of this with his own money.  But me, I'll miss his ego-driven, faux-intellectual, ethically-challenged ass.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:40 AM

June 9, 2011

revisiting ferris bueller

This morning on The Atlantic Alan Siegel says what I always secretly thought — Ferris Bueller was a dick.

I'm not going to pretend that I didn't see and enjoy the movie at the time, that we didn't add some of the lines from the film to our catchprhase repertoire, that I didn't crush pretty hard on Mia Sara.  And naturally twenty-five years is an awful lot for critical distance.  But you didn't identify with Ferris; you were jealous of Ferris.  Says Siegel:

But beyond the occasionally funny antics, Ferris's way of life leaves me feeling empty. There's just not much substance to it. Ferris hides behind his shtick, and he lies. "It is hard to imagine a ranker example of a son trapped in a false, compliant self by his shyness of conflict," [Caleb] Cain writes. "The viewer is distracted from this character flaw by the frequent confessions that Ferris shares across the fourth wall; he always seems to be telling the truth to us, even if he isn't telling it to anyone else in the movie."

If anything, Ferris Bueller was more of a Bugs Bunny-type character — the archetypical "trickster" if you want to get a little Joe Campbell.  Such a character is fine to build a little light entertainment around, but really terrible as an icon of a generation.

Though if you accept the premise that Ferris Bueller somehow did become an icon for this little generation of Gen-Xers, then it's kind of no wonder that we're overly self-obsessed and insecure, as the thing we wanted to be growing up was this glib asshole who gets everything he ever wants without trying and without losing.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:14 AM

June 8, 2011

Apparently, in the dead of a sweltering afternoon, the debit card swipe fee cap that Congress had been debating is coming to a conclusion.  "BANKS LOSE" is the outcome, evidently, swiftly summed up by this sentiment:
It turns out that Wall Street power does know some limits in the Capitol. That limit is Walmart.

Not to backtrack too much, but this was an issue that pitted two lobbying behemoths against each other — The Banks, and then the amassed retailing interests of America.  We normal folk don't really have a dog in that fight, though the extent to which The Banks tried to extort a grassroots campaign into existing by threatening to raise consumer banking fees because of all the money they won't be able to screw retailers out of makes them the default bad guys.

Which makes this one for the good guys!  Except for the fact that retailers aren't exactly good guys.  If you think of it, how can a nation with Walmart as the number one employer have anything resembling self respect?

So this is one for none of the guys.  But it had an outcome, and this was it — in a month, the predatory swipe fees charged by The Banks to the people who sell you things will be subject to regulation.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:21 PM

andrew ross sorkin is questionable

Finally something written by Andrew Ross Sorkin stepped on my last nerve!  I was getting worried: was I not reading close enough?  Am I just too dumb to get the things that should be burning my grits?  No, just like all good things, I had to wait for it.

The offensive piece of offensive is a transparent hit-job on the Levin Report, in the form of a faux-reluctant defense of Goldman Sachs.  It's a slimy little piece, cherry-picking typos to refute and citing unsubstantiated allegations from unnamed Goldman sources about mystery long positions that is supposed to be a smoking gun but comes off more mcguffin, all while raising "questions about the accuracy" and the "sloppiness" of the Levin Report.

But do not go read that!  Read instead Matt Taibbi's reaction, which goes more in depth into Sorkin's/Goldman's allegations, plus also raises a little conflict of interest that Dealbook, the special section/fiefdom that Sorkin edits, may have — Goldman is a "charter advertiser" of the section:

At the very least, Dealbook, if it was determined to take startup money from Goldman, should have stayed agnostic about the great scandals swarming round the company for a good long while. I had heard several times over the winter that some Times reporters were upset about that Dealbook sponsorship deal with Goldman, and now I can see why. If I worked at the paper and saw this Sorkin piece, I would be running through the newsroom smashing sno-globes and turning desks over. What makes it especially galling is that Sorkin neglects to mention the sponsorship situation in his piece.

I had forgotten that!  Here I was thinking that Sorkin was carrying water for Goldman because that is the messy reality of the access he enjoys; being the messenger for the industry is the price he pays for having been able to write/sell his sourced narrative of the financial crisis Too Big To Fail.  But no, it seems that it might be as simple as a breach in the advertising/editorial Chinese Wall.

I'm sorry — I should've established who Sorkin is, up in the lede, in case you're one of the people lucky enough not to care who he is.  Sorkin is a wunderkind financial "reporter" for the NYT who has incredible access to the corridors of power of the financial services industry, which on the one hand gives him great insider reports, but on the other makes him the Court Scribe of the Official Version.

But the way I like to think of Sorkin is segment producer for 1010WINS (which is how Daniel Ellsberg got started, yes?).

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

June 7, 2011

my friend julie, biking across america

My friend Julie, who used to work with me, has a Tumblr that you should check out.  The reason that she's not working with me anymore is that she left the job, to do a bunch of things but initially bike across the country, from New York to some point west I forget.

It's fascinating, especially in the sense that you wish you could be doing what she's doing but you can't.  But also, she's picking up some very important things about America that should be more known:

But what else am I to expect when a Dollar General store, where no fresh products are available, is the closest thing to a supermarket to that town of 152? Now I understand why Walmart is the largest employer in this country. Where else can you get fresh food, a new fishing pole and some new school supplies for your kids in one fuel efficient trip in the middle of nowhere America. For some reason, I held some antiquated hope that farmers and their children at least ate fresh foods, alas that seems more an exception than the rule. I have fully grown cashiers proudly uttering “this is a tangerine right” when they’re holding up a grapefruit. I might have nervously laughed that comment off when the guy said that last week but I just want to cry now. I don’t want to go into some rant about all the ways the medical and agro business is flipped on it’s head in this country but at the moment riding through all this day in and day out and left to reflect upon everything hour upon hour has left me blue….very very blue.

There's uplifting stuff in her feed too!  And pictures!  And videos!  But what she's doing right now is heroic in ways that she does not realize, and I can't wait to see her when she gets back.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:10 PM

June 6, 2011

bad news for christian conservatives

Further to the American Exceptionalism which seems to be an article of faith (and a litmus test) for the Republican Party, yesterday raised the stakes by asserting that not only is Exceptionalism contrary to the tenets of Christian faith, but furthermore:
But the problem even here is that the ends themselves - the greater material enrichment of human beings - is anathema to the Jesus of the Gospels. His radicalism with respect to property is extreme: we should have nothing. Indeed, if we retain anything, we will not enter the Kingdom of God. Now look at Wall Street. Could anything be more alien to that message? Or the engine of economic growth: the desire to better ourselves materially. The structure of modern America is therefore anti-Christian. Its worship of wealth and fame as the greatest of all things - yes, Palin comes instantly to mind - is the antithesis of Christianity.

I'm not a Christian, no, but I was once, and I'm not exactly filled with disdain or anything.  In fact, if you get away from If-I-Don't-Worship-My-Creator-He'll-Get-Real-Mad aspects of Christianity that are problematic, some of the prescriptive morality that you find in the New Testament is not bad stuff at all.  And it's exactly these tenets — charity, tolerance, selflessness — that are absolutely un-Republican if not outright anathema.  (Unless you indulge in Palin-like contortions like 'How can I be charitable unless I am first charitable to myself?' and 'You are intolerant of my intolerance,' which are sadly not that hard to find.

This has not been much of a secret, but I'm not sure if anyone has threaded it together as well as Sullivan.  It is worth a close read.

Posted by mrbrent at 6:07 PM

oh, i know i'll have to watch it eventually

No, not watching either of the Breitbart/Weiner press conferences.

And I'm not even busy!  I could totally get away with it.  In fact, I'm sure that the people in the office that would get cheesed at me for watching the presser(s) will be cheesed at me that I didn't alert them that they should be watching the presser(s).

I'd love to say that this will be the last that we speak of this, but you know and I know that it's a lie, at least by reason of Breitbart's I'm Ready For My Closeup Mr. DeMille! moment.  Which I didn't watch!

Oh God this is so depressing.

Have a safe commute, everyone!  Aren't you glad that afternoon editions of newspapers are a thing of the past?

Posted by mrbrent at 4:31 PM

thanks though, rude stranger

So I have this game-playing system, right, and in the course of monkeying with it yesterday, I see that I set it up using a variation on my email that is not my email. A typo! Not so much a problem, except for the reason that I found out about the bad email by trying to reset the password (to make it a more secure password, natch) (you've probably guessed that it's a Sony).

So now the system is unusable, because it's waiting for a password reset, which reset I cannot effectuate, because the trigger for it is contained in an email that was sent to someone that is not me.  So I figure that the path of least resistance is to email this other account, explain and ask that they forward the email.  Not too much of a hassle, right?  So I do, and I'm more obsequious than usual, and I go to bed hoping for the best.

This morning, the fellow has forwarded — so things are looking up!  On the down side, however, the fellow with the other account was kind of a douchebag about it.

And I am totally old enough to not be shocked when strangers are curt or short or rude to people they've never met and for no reason, but every time I reminded that a lack of grace and manners is the default state (i.e., every time it happens to me), it really hits me kind of hard.

I guess I am an optimist somewhere in my shriveled little heart, with a generally favorable opinion of human nature, and I'm terrified that I'm wrong.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:55 AM

June 5, 2011

really, it's just hard to use santorum and exceptional in the same sentence

This is a key paragraph that Rick Santorum, who is for some reason running for president, gave at the Faith and Freedom Conference in DC yesterday:
"Social conservatives understand that America was a great country because it was founded great," Santorum said. "Our founders, calling upon in the Declaration of Independence, the supreme judge, calling upon divine providence, said what was at the heart of American exceptionalism...'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.'"

The FFC is one of those religious right dog and pony shows, the hoops of which Republicans feel they must jump through.  The above passage is a direct reference to our current president's stated belief that our social safety net is one of the things that makes our country great.  For Santorum, a walking punchline, this is insufficiently pro-American.

The comedy of this is that a man who fundamentally does not believe that all men are created equal (see Muslims, gays, women, Democrats, short people, the left-handed) says that the equality of men is somehow important to him.

But the scary thing is that this is a topic at all: exceptionalism.  I'm uncomfortable with the idea.  It's analogous to one of the reasons that I became uncomfortable with organized religion — each of them imputes that all of the other ones are wrong.  And of the seven billion souls on this planet, only three hundred million of them happen to be American.  And not to put too fine a point on it, only a little more than half of those would fit into Santorum's conception (and that of religious conservatives in general) of a Real American.  That leaves an awful lot of not-exceptional people, and I just don't see how the math works.

It's juvenile, to have the need to be constantly reminded how awesome you are.  If you think of the people you know that may actually be better than everyone else, the one quality that they all have is the fact that they never ever say how much better than everyone else they are.

And if this were a quirk of one candidate, or a flaw of a specific subgroup, it would be different.  But it's not.  it's endemic.  In fact, it's a litmus test, a blood libel so (self) serious that it could be the primary grounds for voting against someone.

And it's all just silly, an accident of birth — a reason why it's hard to take people like Santorum, euphemism or not, seriously.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:48 PM