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Not so cynical about Afghanistan

You know, mostly the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. Afghanistan, I would have said, has been fasttracked.

And then today I saw this.

Afghani man backpacking a ballot box up a mountainous trail in the rain

Ballot boxes were carried by hand and by donkey all over Afghanistan
(Ahmad Masood / Reuters)

Sure, Afghanistan is corrupt and war-torn and sexist and poor. They know that. They know that no election is going to make a big difference all at once. And yet they carry ballot boxes up mountains to small villages because they can see a better world even if they don’t live there.

They may make it.

Which means there may be hope even for the rest of us.

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Search and social: You are for sale

Part of a series on who owns you and what it means.

“Free!” and “ad-supported” don’t belong together in the same breath. They’re mutually exclusive. The web isn’t free any more than the supermarket is free for the cake of soap on the shelf. The soap isn’t paying to be there, and you’re not paying for the web for the same reason. You’re the product. If you mattered at all you’d be getting a cut of the proceeds.

Google made $60,000,000,000, 60 billion, sixty billion-with-a-b, last year. Eighty eight percent of that is estimated to be from advertising. You are the eyes that advertising is buying. Are you seeing royalties from Google for your essential role in this? How about from Dataium ($2 billion profit per year)? Or BlueKai, Acxiom, or Omniture (now part of Adobe)? How about Splunk? (Don’t you just love the cool, we-juggle-at-the-office names?) Or any of the hundred other hidden internet tracking companies all making profit off you? There’s a Firefox extension called Lightbeam that shows just how many dozens, even hundreds, of sites are involved. Forbes had an article that showed an estimate of how much somebody is getting for shoving one banner ad at you. Not what you’re getting. You get nothing. You’re just a thing for sale.

It’s true that the search and social sites make life easier. But they’re under no obligation to make it better.

We’ve lost control over our own lives so completely that most people’s only response is to apply the pragmatism of the damned and ask “Whatchya gonna do?”

I don’t know what to do either. Tactics are never my strong suit. I’m just here to say that we better start realizing that privacy is absolutely essential to any kind of free or comfortable life where rights are respected. Unless you’re okay with a world where your boss knows you’ve been constipated recently, where you see higher prices because of the browser you happen to use, where you find yourself not even looking for information in case you get put on a list somewhere, unless you’re okay with what total surveillance means, privacy — an individual’s right to control her or his own data — is not optional.

There are some tools to help in the fight. A collection of anonymity extensions, useful tips at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Just today I saw this: Privacy Tools: opting out from data brokers. It shows just how much of a career it is to claw back even partial privacy from the leeches.

I know the tips don’t amount to much. They either do little or take too much time. But we have to start somewhere. We have to stop being pragmatic about how little there is we can do and just start doing it.

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Now can we be outraged over apartheid?

More than 30 universities have introduced new rules banning female students from almost 80 different degree courses.These include a bewildering variety of subjects from engineering, nuclear physics and computer science, to English literature, archaeology and business.

The BBC headline for that was Iranian university bans on women causes consternation.

Consternation? Consternation? Consternation? Are you farking kidding me?

This is de jure segregation. This is apartheid. This is shutting down the civil rights and lifetime potential of HALF THE GODDAMN POPULATION.

And what do we get? Consternation.

Then there’s the ongoing hate killings of health workers in Pakistan. The price of prevention. Three more polio workers shot in Pakistan; eight dead in 48 hours. Vaccination workers shot.

All women. All executed for being outside the house while female and doing “Western” stuff.

The only problem mentioned is that Pakistan’s war on polio is imperilled. That is a big problem. No question about that. But it hardly seems like the only one that needs mentioning.

Then there was the atrocity committed against the medical student in India. The headline: Death of India rape victim stirs anger, promises of action. There have since been several more publicized abominations and, I have zero doubt, hundreds not even considered worth mentioning.

So. Lynching. And what do we get? A “struggle to respond.”


Half the human race is deprived, starved, terrorized, and murdered and the problem is that it’s hard to figure out how to respond?

(Update 2014-01-29. I’ve had these links stacked up over a year. More of the same horrors keep piling on top. There will never be a time when somehow I’ll be able to say something intelligent about it. There is nothing intelligent about destroying female human beings.)

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The nanny, the Indian diplomat, and the US authorities

Here’s what I don’t get about this event. I gather the diplomat was accused of some kind of visa violation in underpaying her nanny. Okay. So the State Department looks into it, determines if there was an underpayment and fines the diplomat (or whatever the law says) if there was. Right?

Devyani Khobragade

Consular official Devyani Khobragade
(Wikimedia commons)

No. She gets arrested in a snatch and grab raid on the street in Manhattan, as if she was a drug boss on the run, hauled off to the cop shop, and strip-searched.

I mean, WHUUUUT? Did they think she was hiding the nanny’s money in her underwear? If underpaying your foreign household help brings out the anti-terrorism swat team, most members of Congress will go into hiding.

And the US, instead of falling all over itself to apologize, says they’re talking to India and stressing how important bilateral trade is. Again, whuuut? Translated from the bureaucratese that sounds to me like, “Hey, you get lots of money/weapons/whatever from us. So shut up.”

Does the US really not understand that testerical overreaction like this is stupid?

In the past when I’ve seen people spreadeagled on the hoods of cars for minor traffic stops I’ve thought that the cops were having too much fun playing with their equipment and barking to care how stupid it looked.

After this event, I think it’s worse than that. I think they’ve been doing it so much for so long they’ve really forgotten that normal responsible adults show restraint. Somewhere in the dim corners of what passes for the authorities’ minds, they know that this is what they do to people hundreds, thousands of times a day. They do it to people who’ve run stop signs or stood still on a street corner listening to their ear buds or maybe trundled a shopping cart too far from the supermarket. Almost always brown people.

The US should be apologizing to the diplomat, and also to everybody else to whom they’ve been jackbooted thugs.

That would be a lot of people. Apparently the US has gone so far down that road, they either can’t stomach the size of the apology they have to make or, worse, they don’t even remember anymore that thuggery is bad behavior which requires an apology. [Update: Well, that would be B. "The arresting authority, the U.S. Marshals Service, characterized the strip search as a routine procedure imposed on any new arrestee."]

There’s a final little ironic postscript to this sorry tale. A good part of the Indian reaction has been outrage that a person of high rank has been treated like a nobody. Not realizing, of course, that in the US being brown is enough to make you a nobody.

The real solution is for everybody, Indians, people in the US, everybody to treat people like somebody even if (they think) they’re nobody.

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela voting in 1994
(Paul Weinberg : Wikimedia)

Usually, when some world leader dies, I don’t care. More often than not I even think, “Well, that’s one less lying mug I’m tired of seeing.”

But with Nelson Mandela I felt a stab of sadness, as if he was my friend.

One of our greats is gone. I wish he’d lived forever. Maybe if we live in ways that honor his work, he will in a way.

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Getting rights wrong: the example from Rand Paul

Charles Pierce is down on Rand Paul for babbling nonsense about civil rights.

…the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 [titles] deal with public institutions and I’m absolutely in favor of,” he told Maddow deep in their 15-minute interview. “One deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that.”

What modifications would you like to make? Cleaner “Colored Only” bathrooms? Marble “Colored Only” drinking fountains?

Much of the discussion of Aqua Buddha’s rise to prominence has focused on his political philosophy, and far too little has been focused on the fact that he’s pretty much dumb as a stump.

I’m not so sure, unless it’s in the sense that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

Because all he’s doing is being consistent.

Being a good Randian, he seems to believe that property rights trump everything. If that’s true, then he’s quite right. You can’t tell anyone to respect civil rights on private property. Which means that there would be no real civil rights at all. If the only place you have rights is at the Post Office or on other government property, you may as well use the paper your rights are printed on for bird cage liner.

That is always the result when the hierarchy of rights is not in the correct order. Some rights have to take precedence over others for any of them to mean anything. If, as just one example, you have no freedom of motion, there’s no freedom of assembly, and then there’s no freedom of religion. It’s a complicated issue, but one thing is for sure: if the priority is wrong, you’ll wind up spouting absurdities so fast, everybody will say you’re dumb as a stump.

But if you don’t realize that the root of the problem is getting rights in the wrong order you’re making yourself vulnerable to the same criticism. Obliviousness about the need to prioritize rights is behind way too many modern problems. Pollution, for instance, puts property rights ahead of the right to be free of bodily harm. Compulsory pregnancy puts religious ideas ahead of people’s right to make their own decisions about what to do with their own bodies. And if you’re not physically safe, you’re not actually free to exercise the more abstruse rights either.

That’s the problem with getting rights in the wrong order. They all become meaningless, even the usurpers at the top. It’s a bit unfair to call people who make that mistake dumb as stumps because stumps aren’t that stupid.

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You are for sale (and that’s okay?)

You might as well be a cake of soap on the shelf at the store. The supermarket is “free” for the soap. The soap isn’t paying to be there, and you’re not paying for the web for the same reason. You’re the product.

If you mattered at all you’d be getting a cut of the proceeds.

Google made $60,000,000,000, 60 billion, sixty billion-with-a-b, last year. Eighty eight percent of that is estimated to be from advertising. You are the eyes that advertising is buying. Are you seeing royalties from Google for your essential role in this? How about from Dataium ($2 billion profit per year)? Or BlueKai, Acxiom, or Omniture (now part of Adobe)? How about Splunk? (Don’t you just love the cool, we-juggle-at-the-office names?) Or any of the hundred other hidden internet tracking companies all making profit off you?

In an article about a company that wants to sell people vaults for their personal data, “Fatemeh Khatibloo of Forrester Research said consumers want to know when data about them is collected and stored and by whom, and how it is used.” The Wall Street Journal has a list of how many trackers are planted after visits to common web sites. Dozens. Sometimes hundreds. How many of them do you even know exist, let alone what they collect and how long they store it?

What you want matters as much as what the cake of soap wants.

We’ve lost control over our own lives so completely that most people’s only response is to apply the pragmatism of the damned and ask “Whatchya gonna do?”

I don’t know what to do either. Tactics are never my strong suit. All I really have is one long bellow to SMASH THE BASTARDS.

However, I do know what we should do. We should get our rights back. We should get recognition of the fact that our information is part of our selves. Just as we have the right to control what’s done to our bodies, as in the ancient right of habeas corpus, likewise we have the right to control what’s done to our information. (Also some other posts: 1 and 2.)

Nobody can track you without your explicit consent, and only for the explicit purpose you agreed to. And when you want to revoke the permission, they have to expunge their databases.

Yes, I know that’s so far from current reality as to be ridiculous. But that only speaks badly for current reality. It doesn’t change what’s true.

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The weirdness of the footwashing Pope

You know why it seems strange that the Pope would wash women’s feet?

Because traditionally the idea is to practice humility toward the “least” among us, the powerless, the poor people.

And this Pope was so focused on his message about poverty, he treated poor women like people.

Women can be seen as people.

And that’s what feels shocking.

Sad, isn’t it.

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The Supreme Court doesn’t understand the Constitution

I don’t spend a lot of time keeping up with what passes for thinking in the legal system, so I’ve merely been aware that gay marriage rights have been toiling their way through the system. I haven’t paid attention to the arguments.

MoDo’s article came as a bit of a surprise to me. (Yes, I know, she can be a twit. But she can also write and sometimes I read her. So sue me.)

This is what stopped me short:

“Same-sex marriage is very new,” Justice Samuel Alito whinged, noting that “it may turn out to be a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing.”

Seriously? Justices on the Supreme Court — the Supreme Court for pity’s sake! — don’t understand the concept of rights? You have got to be kidding me.

You don’t have rights because you’re a good human being or because you’ll use them for a higher purpose. You have rights because you’re a human. Period. Gays could all be dykes on bikes without a notion of parenting. That doesn’t change their rights.

And their rights are so clear I’m flabbergasted that it could need explaining, to a Supreme Court Justice, of all people.

Equality before the law is a foundational principle of the USA. Some people can get legally married, therefore all people can get legally married. (See? That wasn’t hard, was it?) What religions want to do about it is their own business, but the law cannot treat people unequally.

Furthermore, questions of rights are very much the business of the Court, and very much not the business of the legislatures or elections. Rights are inalienable, not something for philosophers or average Joes or doofuses to vote on.

Apparently, the Court Jesters Justices don’t even know that.

“But you want us to step in and render a decision,” Alito continued, “based on an assessment of the effects of this institution, which is newer than cellphones or the Internet? I mean, we do not have the ability to see the future.”

Swing Justice Anthony Kennedy grumbled about “uncharted waters,” and the fuddy-duddies seemed to be looking for excuses not to make a sweeping ruling.

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Now is the time for your tears

Women have no voice. Their songs aren’t famous, so the only words I can think of adequate to Steubenville belong to Bob Dylan. And he, of course, is talking about murder, not that stuff which, when it happens to women, is something to joke about.

William Zanzinger killed poor Hattie Carroll
With a cane that he twirled around his diamond ringed finger …
And the cops were called in …
And booked William Zanzinger for first-degree murder

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

William Zanzinger who had twenty-four years …
[And] rich wealthy parents who provide and protect him …
Reacted to his deed with a shrug of his shoulders
And swear words and sneering …
And in a matter of minutes on bail was out walking

But you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

Hattie Carroll … Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane …
And she never done nothin’ to William Zanzinger

And you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Take the rag away from your face
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

In the courtroom of honor, the judge pounded his gavel
To show that all’s equal and that the courts are on the level …
And that even the nobles get properly handled …
Stared at the person who killed for no reason
Who just happened to be feelin’ that way without warnin’
And he spoke through his cloak, most deep and distinguished
And handed out strongly, for penalty and repentance
William Zanzinger with a six-month one-year sentence.

Ah, but you who philosophize disgrace and criticize all fears
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.

One year. One. For the premeditated, prolonged, published, endless soul-destroying torture of a human being.

One damn year.

(The complete lyrics are here.)

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From pet rocks to key

Now they figure this out? Now, when it’s too late? After years of putting women on a par with rocks — in a purely egalitarian sense, of course. Not like the Taliban.

Exiting U.S. general says Afghan women’s rights are key.

Some rights are more important than others

The European Court of Human Rights has been reading my blog! Or, perhaps, it’s an obvious idea if you think about it for even a minute, but that’s a much less fun hypothesis. I’ve been saying forever that some rights have to take precedence. (Most recently here, also here, etc., etc.)

[C]opyright monopoly as such – which is ordinary law in European states – was just defined as taking a back seat to the constitutional right to share and seek culture and knowledge, as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

It’s about time. We’re getting too damn close to that scenario I saw on Vimeo.

War is Peace. Murder is Good.

It’s not war if no Americans are killed.

Americans may be killed at will because it’s all self-defense. There’s a war on, you know.

Only a handful of decades have passed since the soaring words of the Geneva Convention. The US was pleased to think it was leading that charge at the time.

But it’s all over now, Baby Blue.


Flying blind
(Source: US military file photo?)

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Gay conversion therapy doesn’t need testing

Gay ‘Conversion Therapy’ Faces Tests in Courts.

Gay “conversion therapy,” which claims to help men overcome unwanted same-sex attractions but has been widely attacked as unscientific and harmful, is facing its first tests in the courtroom.

Telling someone he can’t have gay conversion therapy is not really different from telling anyone they can’t have assertiveness training. You can do whatever you want with your soul, if you’re not hurting anyone else. Either we can tell each other what kind of sex to have, or we can’t. If not — and I would say emphatically not — then we also can’t tell people to be gay or not to be gay. Their business is nobody else’s business.

Now, that’s at the patient end of the deal.

It’s a different can of worms when someone sets themselves up to get paid for curing gayness (gaiety?). Nobody has a shred of evidence that gayness — or any other manifestation of the gender spectrum — is a disease or needs a cure or that there are any generally applicable ways to transform straights into gays or vice versa. So there are big issues of misrepresentation, false claims, lying to extract money from people, and general con artistry. That’s a crime. Nothing much to test there, either. Require restitution and throw the bums in jail.

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If you don’t control it, you don’t own it

Now can we start refusing to be cattle instead of customers?

Instagram says it now has the right to sell your photos – CNET News:

Under the new policy, Facebook claims the perpetual right to license all public Instagram photos to companies or any other organization, including for advertising purposes, which would effectively transform the Web site into the world’s largest stock photo agency. One irked Twitter user quipped that “Instagram is now the new iStockPhoto, except they won’t have to pay you anything to use your images.”

These services are “free” the same way the supermarket is free for the bar of soap. You’re the product. Of course it’s “free.” The real tell showing your place in the scheme of things is that nobody is offering you a cut of the (huge) profits. If you were an actual human being, you’d have a right to part of them for your contribution.

But you have no rights. It’s all subsumed under property rights. Whoever is making money has the right to trample your privacy, copyrights, free speech, and whatever else suits their bottom line.

You know what? That doesn’t work and can’t work because it ends in total absurdity. Some rights have to take precedence over others or they all become useless. Human rights have to come before property rights. If they don’t, I could kidnap people for a slave farm and there’d be nothing they could do about it because they’re my property, which is more important than anything else. And anybody else could do the same to me. There would be neither human rights nor property rights for anybody. Everything would be lost. If human rights come first, property rights are secure within their proper limited sphere.

Religion is another example. Freedom of religion must be secondary to freedom of speech, movement, and basic human rights like self defense. If it isn’t, then my religion could be to kill your religion. There would be neither human rights nor freedom of religion for anybody.

As I said, getting rights in the wrong order ends in absurdity. It ends in no rights, not even the one usurping the top spot.

If we had a real government, instead of our captured kleptocracy, our rights to our own work would be clear in law, and we wouldn’t have to worry about losing control to some piker holding us up at a chokepoint.

Instagram expropriating people’s cat pictures seems like a picayune thing to get worked up about. But it’s yet one more symptom of an inversion in the correct order of rights. They have no right to do that because money cannot cancel basic rights to your own work. There’s no law against corporations making money, certainly. That’s what they’re there for. But not at the price of trampling more important rights. And that’s not a small thing at all.

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Israel has a right to defend itself

Damage from Palestinian rocket in Ashdod, Israel, not far from the border with Gaza.

pothole-sized damage to road

(Nir Elias, Reuters)

Damage from Israeli strike in Gaza.

smoking crater which has demolished several buildings to rubble

(photog. unknown, Reuters)

Israel, like everyone else, has a right to defend itself. Lethal force against vandalism does seem a tad excessive. (Maybe their big friends and good buddies could explain that to them? On second thought, maybe not.)