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when “we” isn’t

As I parent, I have to deal with lots of stuff I don’t enjoy: poop, vomit, pee on the toilet seat, regurgitated food hidden in odd corners by my toddler, and … tax news.

Thanks to my rocky childhood, I understood “forced teaming” long before I knew there were words to describe it.

Forced teaming is one tactic predators use to soften their targets’ defenses. Wrote Gavin de Becker in The Gift of Fear: Read more…

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Uncle Instructor

“What’s politics?” my eight-year-old asked me. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot the last week.”

Noooooo, I thought. How can I possibly explain this in a sentence or two that makes sense to him? Do not have the brain power now!

“Politics is …” I paused, searching. “… arguments over how to apportion resources.”

I waited for his inevitable follow-up questions. Instead, my brother, visiting from Oregon, called on his Social Studies education background and continued explaining. “For every dollar you spend, the government takes twenty or forty cents. You get to decide what gets done with those cents.”

Whoa, I thought. That’s a great way of explaining it to an eight-year-old.

“That’s the idea, anyway,” I said. “In reality, the government spends even more than it takes in maintaining a vast military presence in more than a hundred countries, and then its representatives say we don’t have enough money for things like school, health, or food.” I paused, waiting to see if Li’l D would have any more questions.

Nope. Satisfied (enough), he resumed reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid

And I wished, a little, my little brother could be here for more such conversations. So. Much. Easier.

Categories: Family, politics Tags: , ,

What’s a citizen to do about Equifax?

My professional career has revolved around software contracts. Initially, I negotiated and managed them; now I reference them heavily while performing a different kind of work. Throughout, I’ve been especially interested in terms related to Information Security (“InfoSec”).

Some software publishers offer customers fairly robust InfoSec protections. I generally felt pretty good about companies (1) whose starting positions guaranteed specific measures to ensure protection of customer data and (2) who promised some kind of compensation if customer data became available because of the publisher’s software and/or hardware offerings. Such software publishers had “skin in the game,” or incentive to really ensure their customers’ data was protected. Why would they be lax when they’d experience specific, sometimes severe consequences for breach resulting from failure to do so?

On the other end of the spectrum were publishers who offered vague assurances with no guaranteed compensation for any breach. This was the opposite of having skin in the game: “We’ll totally check our software once every other year for major flaws and give commercially reasonable efforts to fix them. If there’s a breach that reveals bunches of your data, we’ll send you cake.” I was much more concerned with these publishers, whose lackadaisical approach to InfoSec practically screamed, “We care more about the money you’re required to give us than your ability to stay afloat!”

This all left me with a keen interest in InfoSec, especially when I saw how much less care companies give individual citizens* compared to paying corporate customers. If corporate customers at the very least got a cake, individual citizens got … nothing. Giving more than nothing would cut into profit margins!

I’ve subscribed and unsubscribed to bunches of InfoSec newsletters over the years. The only one I continue to follow now is KrebsOnSecurity.com. Brian Krebs’s coverage of the Equifax breach is a perfect example of why. He critically analyzes the breach and presents it in language even distant non-experts can follow. More importantly, he lets individual citizens know what they can do to limit their exposure.

If you’re concerned about what to do following the Equifax breach of 143 Americans’ credit data, Brian’s “The Equifax Breach: What You Should Know” is a great place to start. If you’d like more excellent analysis of the breach, I’d suggest “Here’s What to Ask the Former Equifax CEO.” His proposed questions for U.S. legislators to ask reveal a great deal about companies that give prominent indications they care much, much less about citizen data protection concerns than for whatever revenue they can milk from citizens. If protecting citizen data costs money (uuuuugh, maintaining software and hardware is expensive!), they’ll cut corners and hope for the best.

As individual citizens, we don’t have the financial leverage to demand better protections the way individual corporate customers can. This means that it’s critical for individuals to (1) find and use those protective measures that are available to individuals (thanks for highlighting them, Brian!) and (2) consider how re-regulation** impacts citizens’ ability to collectively mitigate citizen costs created when some corporate entities treat InfoSec not as a valuable investment in citizen well being but a drain on profits.

Otherwise? It’s important to remember: Unlike corporate customers, we individuals won’t even get a cake. 

* I originally typed “consumer,” so prevalent is such phrasing in reporting, but I reject that. We individuals are far more than consumers. We are citizens, and are far more valuable than the dollars we spend.

** There is no such thing as deregulation, only reregulation. Changes to regulation typically called “deregulation” aren’t neutral but heavily lobbied for by specific corporate beneficiaries. As Kate Raworth puts it here,

There’s always going to be regulation shaping what can and can’t be done, you’re just shifting the regulatory space. You ask how are those shifts benefiting, or how are the costs and benefits of that shifting re-regulation falling on other people? So financial deregulation actually just shifts the costs and benefits of financial crisis onto a different group of people.

 

starfish

This August has been beautiful. I may well be happier than I have ever been.


Me of last August could not have conceived of this. In a world so full of so much suffering that need never have been, how could joy be permitted? How could hope be reasonable?

Last September, I created a separate blog to learn to speak Politics. I (usually) didn’t want to bore or inflame people here, and beside that, life and politics were two mostly unrelated, easily separable things.

Simply put, I understood the world far, far too narrowly.

By documenting so much of my journey there, much of it was lost here. I helped sustain the illusion that life and politics are separate, and that they can be treated as such without consequence.

What does this have to do with happiness, anyway?

Quite a lot, actually. And explaining this has a lot to do with … starfish.

There’s an inspirational story where a person comes upon someone throwing starfish washed up onto shore back into the ocean. 

“Why throw a few starfish into the ocean when there are so many you can’t reach? What does it even matter?” asks the passerby.

“It matters a whole lot to the ones I throw back.”

There’s good in that story, of course, but it’s only part of the story.

How did all the starfish get there? Was it by natural forces absent humans, or did humans have a role? If humans had/have a role, what role? How do we change the outcome of multitudes of starfish left to dry out and die on the sand? If we treat only the outcome, and only for a few starfish, have we really done much worth praising, or simply forestalled death–for a few–for a few days?

A year ago, I didn’t know to ask such questions. Six months ago, I was pretty certain all was futile, but I kept asking questions in case I could reach a less grim conclusion.

Now, the questions flow easy, and I have a solid understanding of the gargantuan starfish-expulsion machine that lands so many starfish on the shore. It makes the sea pristine and spacious by extracting all unwanted–to it–life from areas it perceives as its domain.

I see the machine and I think, yeah, we’ve gotta throw back as many starfish as we can. Because even if we’re just buying those cast back into the ocean a few days, those could be the days that matter. Those could be the days it takes to break the machine and restore a more natural, kinder order to more living creatures.

Though I’ll slowly move many of my L2SP posts over, it’s not because I still believe all is eternally, hopelessly grim. It’s not because I want you to agree with me, or because I care if you do. 

It’s because a lot of work went from crashing into despair to rising back into hope.

This is where I have chosen to tell my story as it unfolds, so this story–about starfish and salvation–belongs here.

Categories: history, politics Tags: , ,

power to change everything

One year ago, I couldn’t have told you how World War II began. Sure, I’d studied it in high school history classes, but that was more than twenty years ago.

Having immersed myself in history and politics for the last year, I understand more now. Most significantly, I understand how economic distress fueled Hitler’s rise.

Germans were not a uniquely evil people. They were a distressed people, susceptible–in those specific circumstances–to finding both the wrong villains and extraordinarily wrong solutions.

On Sunday, I wrote about how neoliberalism created the conditions for the weekend’s tragedy in Charlottesville.

Yesterday, a dear friend replied that she’d seen the pictures. The racists she’d seen pictured weren’t economically oppressed, but well dressed and clean shaven. They were privileged.

I’d reply today the same as I replied yesterday. That is to say, I’d reply by noting I’m no fan of privilege theory, which conceals (grave systemic failures) much more than it reveals (anything actionable).

But I wondered: How could I express the pain of enduring economic squeeze to those who haven’t yet felt it? Read more…

The meth apartment

A meth lab burned down near my sister’s house a couple of days ago. Two people died and dozens more were displaced.

Many terrible things have happened in my sister’s neighborhood, so that she’s understandably distraught. Her friends are urging her to move, which she very much wants to.

I’m sad for her, and I’m sad beyond her.

About a year ago, I came to the shocking conclusion that history is actually important. I saw that my failure to follow history or politics had left me with a lot of illusions–delusions?–about what my country has been, is, and is en route to be.

I’ve gone through four of the five stages of grief: Read more…

witness

Last night, I cried when someone said “th.”

Of course, I didn’t cry because the sound “th” is especially poignant when spoken aloud.

My tears ran deeper than that.

wpid-img_20110505_180026Many years ago, I ran into Joss Whedon at an L.A. comic book store. I began shaking, realizing who stood to my right. Joss Whedon! Creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel! Two shows that totally shaped my real life!

I told him why I was sad, and asked if he’d mind signing my journal.

He signed.

It was important I have his signature. Read more…

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