Saturday, May 31, 2014

Are Bloggers Journalists?

That really is a good question given the special protections offered journalists. In his latest column entitled Press Credentials Fred Reed takes aim at a recent and incredibly stupid decision by United States District Judge Marco A. Hernandez. In this decision Hernandez lists seven criteria he thinks define a journalist deserving of protection under the First Amendment and the shield laws:

  1. Education in journalism
  2. Credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity
  3. Proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest
  4. Keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted
  5. Mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources
  6. Creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others
  7. Contacting "the other side" to get both sides of a story.

Reed -- having actually been a journalist for decades -- neatly dissects the unbelievable ignorance Hernandez demonstrates in the above. In a blast of pure vitriolic brilliance, Fred offers as a response to Hernandez, "Vete a la chingada, cabrón. No me estés jodiendo", which he translates as, "I appreciate your point of view. I will consider it at leisure[sic]."

I am still laughing at that one.

The Decline and Fall of Detroit

Google and Bing street views form 2008 and 2009 through 2013 demonstrate just how had things are Detroit.

GooBing Detroit

It is saddening really. I can remember how in 1969 I was so proud that American technology put men on the moon and brought them back. In a mere 66 years we went from Kitty Hawk to Apollo. Now, a mere 45 years later, poor decisions and extractive government policies have left some of our once great cities falling into ruins.

H/T to The Unwanted Blog

Thursday, May 29, 2014

What's up with TrueCrypt?

If I try to go to the TrueCrypt website I am redirected to a page at sourceforge: with this ominous warning:

WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues

The page then tells the reader how to migrate to Bitlocker (Microsoft) and has a link to a page for other platforms.

Bruce Schneier has a blog entry on this but there is little information as to why this has happened. The comments section has some ominous speculation including that there was a Lavabit-like "request" from the US Government and the TrueCrypt developers just decided to shut down. Another is that the code review would reveal one or more backdoors in the program and the NSA wants to shift everyone over the a compromised but closed source option like Bitlocker. Bitlocker can do key escrow with Microsoft and, as I recall, nudges the user in that direction. It could just a easily do a key escrow without permission.

On the other hand, it could just be a hoax.

I use LUKS (Linux Unified Key Setup) and DMcrypt for all my encrypted drives so any compromise of TrueCrypt is not directly threatening to my data or privacy. Still, given the number of people who rely on TrueCrypt for data security, this is a little disturbing. My employer's policy is that all company provided laptop are supposed to have their hard drive encrypted with TrueCrypt so this may still hurt a little.

Brady Liars Cannot Figure.

In the wake of the recent Isla Vista atrocity, a lot of emotional rhetoric is being tossed around (This is known as Dancing in the Blood of the Dead or simply Blood Dancing). What is missing are some real numbers -- which comes as no surprise to me. In 2011, the Brady Campaign rated California as the number one state for gun control with a score of 81. At the opposite end of the list set Alaska, Arizona and Utah, each with with a score of 0. The rankings are available here (PDF) .

If the Brady assertion that more gun control means less "gun violence" is really true, then the difference should be evident in the relative statistics for the extremes. From the FBI Uniform Crime Report :

State Gun Murders Population Rate per 100K
California 1,220 38.0 Million 3.2
Utah 26 2.85 Million 0.91
Arizona 222 6.55 Million 3.4
Alaska 16 0.730 Million 2.2

Compared to Utah, California is a veritable axis of gun murders. Even when Arizona and Alaska are factored in, California still doesn't look like the peaceful paradise its strict gun laws are supposed to make of it. Obviously the Brady equation needs work. Or, maybe they should just change their name to something more honest like The Brady Campaign to Promote Gun Violence.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

CNN Cheats on Gun Control Poll

I thought there was something a little suspicious when the numbers didn't increment.

CNN Caught Red-Handed Sabotaging Gun Control Poll!

Update (19:45 PDT): Looks like the "No" numbers are incrementing now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Lying for Gun Control

A recent Op-ed in the LA Times entitled California needs a Gun Violence Restraining Order makes some extraordinary and misleading claims.

Between 1999 and 2010, California reduced its gun death rate 56%, making the state a model for policymakers elsewhere seeking to reduce gun violence. California now has the ninth-lowest rate of gun death among the 50 states, but that isn't something to celebrate in the aftermath of the Isla Vista tragedy.

If California is really the "ninth-lowest" state for "gun death[s]" that statistic is not reflected in the overall murder rate for the state. According to the Uniform Crime Report statistics compiled at The Disaster Center , California has a murder rate of 5.0 per 100,000 population making it the the nineteenth worst state for murder (eighteenth if I exclude the District of Columbia with its 13.9/100K murder rate). The ten best states for murder rates are:

StateMurder Rate

If Ms. Binder was interested in reducing murders and negligent homicides then she would logically be looking at those states with low rates. However, I suspect the author is not at all interested in reducing overall murder but only in the shibboleth of "gun violence". After all, seven or eight of the best states listed above have liberal gun laws meaning they will not fit into the boundaries of her superstitious nonsense.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fire in a Crowded Theater

It's Time to Stop Using the 'Fire in a Crowded Theater' Quote

I came across the above article while searching for something only vaguely related. I am highlighting it here because the common misquote of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes' majority opinion in Schenk v. United States has been a bit of a sore spot with me for years. What Holmes actually wrote was:

The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. [...] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.

This is most often misquoted as simply. "You cannot shout fire in a crowded theater" and is so thoroughly embedded in American rhetoric that some people seem to think it has the force of law behind it. In reality, it was just part of a bad First Amendment decision that has been misinterpreted for decades and was effectively undone by Brandenburg v Ohio over 40 years ago (1969).

I doubt people are going to stop using the misquote when it serves their agenda. However, now you know that they don't know what they are talking about.

Open carry in Carjack City (AKA Detroit).

There are certainly places where concealment of a firearms is a the more polite option -- Chipotle's Grill for example -- but, whenever the open carry versus concealed carry argument comes up, the Internet commandos will always claim a concealed firearm is a "tactical advantage". This is preferred because the bad guy doesn't know you're armed until it is too late. I've always found that argument a little dubious and my inclination is that open carry is a deterrent to an attack happening in the first place.

I know it is not an argument that will be settled anytime soon. Largely, I think, because there are a lot of unspoken assumptions on both sides. However, Greg Champion, a security guard in Detroit where violent carjacking has skyrocketed, offers his own reason for carrying openly.

To avoid becoming a victim, security guard Greg Champion wears a handgun on his hip whenever he's pumping gas.

"I don't want to surprise you," Champion said. "I want you to know I'm armed, and I want you to know I can defend myself, and I want you to go somewhere else."

A man after my own heart: I may not be able to make crime go away but I will try to make it go somewhere else.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Should the NSA Disclose Exploits it Discovers?

A very important part of any attack is the ability to defend against it. One of the reasons for research into chemical and biological weapons is to be ready with a defense if or when an enemy develops them. The United State is far more dependent on electronic systems and networks than most of those attacking us. This disparity causes the MAD approach to favor the enemy.

Bruce Schneier makes a good point that, if there really are a large number of vulnerabilities then each side may be discovering different ones. This means that patching any discovered at this end would close it off from any exploitation but may not affect the ability of the other side to use another exploit. However, that seems more an argument for getting critical infrastructure off the public networks than for keeping the information secret.

Disclosing vs. Hoarding Vulnerabilities

No Guns Allowed Sign does not Stop Armed Robbery

The law may or may not apply to all persons equally but it is clear that laws are only obeyed by the law-abiding. Criminals do not operate under such restraints.

N.C. Restaurant With ‘No Guns’ Sign Robbed At Gunpoint

North Carolina police are searching for three men who robbed a newly opened Durham restaurant at gunpoint Sunday night.

The Pit Authentic Barbecue has a sign posted by the front door that reads “No Weapons. No Concealed Firearms,” according to North Carolina Gun Blog.

The North Carolina Gun Blog report is here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thugs break into cars to steal guns.

Is anyone really surprised at this?

The law makes it plain that a law-abiding citizen cannot carry a firearm in certain places and must leave it at home or in his car. Now criminal are breaking onto cars where they know there is a higher probability of a gun waiting to be stolen.

The only real surprise it it took this long for the thugs to figure it out. It's a good bet that it will take the authorities even longer to figure out what to do about it.

Thieves burglarize cars with gun-related decals

Decals aren't the only thing criminals are looking for, police said they are also going after vehicles parked at places where concealed weapons are not allowed inside like businesses or schools, places where there's a high likelihood gun owners have left their firearms in their car

I'm not likely to bring myself into your building either.

If Chipotle wants to insure that only law-breakers will be allowed to carry guns in their buildings, I don't want to be there when the inevitable happens.

Chipotle: Don't Bring Guns in Our Stores

Monday, May 19, 2014

Illegal to Feed the Homeless?

In truth I can understand how some people would have legitimate complaints about feeding the homeless: If you subsidize a thing you get more of a thing. Still, freedom comes with the risk that someone might do something I don't want them to do.

Cops Raid Private Charity: Feeding Homeless People is Now a Crime

Where Have I Gone?

A few people out there (OK, one person) asked me what happened to this blog. I stopped bothering doing much with it when I was unable to post stuff for a couple of months. As you can see, that's been fixed but now when I try to view things I am redirected to a Spanish language page. Go Figger.

I am not complaining. Google blogs is a free service and I expect it to be worth what I pay for it.


Recently, Rex F. May posted an article entitled. Wading and Dancing with Darwin in which he references Nicholas Wade's book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. I thought he was making too much out of Wade's book and I said so in a comment.

I think you may be taking Wade's thesis too far. The last thirty-odd years of evolutionary biology have shown that the majority of evolutionary change is not adaptational. Most of what happens at the genome level is, in fact, not adaptive but is, at best, neutral. Wade does demonstrate that current science indicates there are measurable genetic difference in populations that can be called "race". What he does not do is demonstrate how this matters at the individual level where natural selection actually happens. Ultimately I think the genetic evidence renders evolution fundamentally anti-collectivist. Groups -- whether called race or religion or whatever, are just a survival tool for the individuals that make them up, not a useful classification tool.

BTW, I found, "You have to have all of Darwin or none of him." in juxtaposition with a quote from Vox Day to be amusing. I assume you do know he rejects all but the wimpiest version of biological evolution. He invokes Darwin when it is convenient but leaves the dance with Ken Ham.

Mr. May replied with Darwin: All or None and seems to be asking for some clarification. I'll try.

This confuses me a bit, and I'd be glad if parabarbarian would elaborate. I may be punching above my weight here, but my concept is that when mutations occur, the adaptive ones tend to spread through the population, while the maladaptive ones tend to die out. And neutral ones may or may not spread, randomly. And I do think the math would indicate that only a tiny percentage are adaptive, but I don't have an instinct for the relative percentages of maladaptive and neutral. I'd think the vast majority would be maladaptive, but someone needs to enlighten me about that.

Naural selection was, arguably, Darwin's greatest contribution to the then nascent theory of evolution. He described a mechanism by which variations in the phenotype between individual organisms can be filtered. In modern terms it means that if an allele increases an organism's probability of producing offspring, the frequency of that allele in the population will increase. Similarly, if an allele decreases the probability of offspring the frequency will decrease. However, I think it is important to recognize that it only works if there is sufficient genetic diversity in the population -- It can only select for what exists. Also keep in mind that natural selection is "blind" to the source of a trait and operates on the individual holistically. Heritable and non-heritable traits alike are filtered for "fitness". A difference can confer a reproductive advantage regardless of whether it is cultural, genetic or a result of an outside force like charity or welfare.

I am not aware of any good studies of how often mutations in humans are beneficial. The perception that most mutations are harmful may simply be an artifact -- we notice a harmful one more precisely because it is harmful. However, studies done with the fruit fly suggest that, if a mutation changes the protein produced by a gene (not all mutations do), about 70 percent of those mutations will have damaging effects with the remainder being either neutral or beneficial. Since natural selection minimizes the spread of detrimental mutations in the population, their impact is minor. Evolution by natural selection is driven by the beneficial changes.

Also, while it's valid to say that evolution takes place at the individual level, but not at group level, nevertheless I think it's fair to say that there is an emergent evolution at the group level, made up of the sum total of individual evolutions. Taking the popular idea that harsh winters in Europe caused individuals to become more cooperative and capable of gratification-deferral in order to survive, this resulted in groups of that sort, with such an ethic, and the culture that developed tended to intensify selection on the individual level for those characteristics.

Over the years I've encountered many different definitions of evolution and I am not sure what definition Mr. May is using here. I said that natural selection happens to the individual but I don't equate the process (natural selection) with the result (evolution).

There is a simple and relatively uncontroversial definition that evolution is the change in a population's allele frequencies over time. This is distinct from the theory of evolution which is a continuously developing attempt to explain how evolution works.

In that sense, evolution can be measured at the level of the group. If two groups that share a common ancestor vary by P number of alleles and I have a good guess about the rate of mutation then I can conclude they diverged Q generations ago. That may be an interesting number for classification but it does not tell me much of anything useful about the individuals within those groups. For example, just knowing a person's group is French Canadian, Ashkenazi Jew or Cajun doesn't tell me if he or she carries the mutation for Tay-Sachs disease. The probability of an individual being a carrier in those three populations is higher than normal but it is only a probability.

Discosure: I am not a geneticist nor am I a biologist. I'm just a dumb 'ol engineer who reads too much. Make of that what you will. I have not finished Wade's new book and it may well be he answers all my questions by the final chapter.