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The spirit of letters

So there I was, looking for something to write about, and coming up empty. And as happens so often in both my blogging and my daily life, Wil Wheaton saved the day. He shared a post from Tim O’Reilly which included a link to this on Google+ and some good commentary.

Quoth Tim:

We must remember that the patent system was supposed to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” not to enrich people who know how to work the legal system.

I haven’t read the Wired link there because what caught my interest wasn’t patent trolls, but the strange duality we have between the letter and the spirit of the law. I suppose to a degree this is unavoidable, simply the price of working with words, but it really is a strange thing to me that we see arguments over what a law says versus what it means.

I’ve been told that at least one country includes, after the actual text of a law, an essay explaining the spirit in which that particular law was intended. Can’t remember which one that was, and I don’t even know how I could verify that anyways. But it’s a neat idea.

I was thinking maybe every constitution needs a sort of mission statement, a statement of principles that are the guidelines for interpreting laws when there’s any ambiguity or uncertainty. Which is a nice idea, but I don’t see a realistic way to make it work in a free society. I mean, unless you basically had it dictated by a… I’m going to say “monarch”, you’re going to wind up with a huge document filled with loopholes and things. Which makes the whole concept redundant at best, and probably just more legal chaff clogging things up.

So perhaps what really needs to be kept in mind is that laws are about people, and should be to serve people. That seems to be surprisingly easy to forget, at least for some people.

I’m not really happy with this post, I’d like to think some more and rewrite it. But my deadline approaches, and I’m tired.

Evil Little Thing

I’ve been meaning to post about Jessica Ahlquist for a while now, but I keep feeling like there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said better by someone else already. Still, even if that’s true I haven’t said it yet, and besides this one really pisses me off.

First a brief recap. Several months ago, a high school student named Jessica Ahlquist at Cranston West High School in Rhode Island told the school administration that a big prayer banner hanging in the school was in violation of the Constitution. The administration decided to do nothing, the ACLU got involved, and last week a judge ordered the school to remove it. Since then young Ahlquist has been harassed and threatened to a shocking degree, because she asked her school to comply with the law.

For more details follow the links in that link above.

Last Thursday R.I. State Rep Peter Palumbo was on a radio show where he said that Jessica Ahlquist was “being coerced by evil people”. I’m still trying to work out how evil got into this.  Read the rest of this entry

Evolution Quiz II: Electric Boogaloo

And we’re back! The second half of this silly test gets increasingly surreal, to the point where I’m thinking more and more that this is just a joke and not a serious argument for creationism. Of course, Poe’s Law tells me that I can’t ever know for sure.

Let’s do this.

8. List any of the millions of creatures in just five stages of its evolution showing the progression of a new organ of any kind. When you have done this, you can collect the millions of dollars in rewards offered for proof of evolution!

What on Earth is a “stage” of evolution? I wasn’t aware this was graduated somehow. I suppose you could call a single generation a “stage”, which means that they’re asking for a new organ between, say, you and your great-great-great-grandfather. For extra fun, “organ” probably isn’t as simple to define as, say, gaining a spleen.

Why five? Another apparently arbitrary number, though this is is extra weird because it asks for five of something that isn’t sufficiently defined.

Go back and rewrite the question.

9. Why is it that the very things that would prove Evolution (transitional forms) are still missing?

Welcome to the 21st century. I know, I know, you’re really looking for a crocoduck, aren’t you? Except chimeras like that aren’t predicted by evolution, hell they’d be a pretty solid blow against modern evolutionary theory. Evolution is a very gradual process, and every individual critter is a complete animal in its own right, regardless of its ancestry, or whatever its descendents may turn out to be.

10. Explain why something as complex as human life could happen by chance, but something as simple as a coin must have a creator. (Show your math solution.)

Math solution? Do you really think “more complex” means “more likely built by a creative intelligence”? The first thing we humans do when we want to build something is remove as much complexity as we can. Take your coin example. When we want to make things out of metal, let’s say copper, where do we start? If your answer is “We go to the store and buy some copper”, you aren’t thinking things through. First we need to extract the copper from the earth.

Copper isn’t found in nice, pure lumps. Perhaps the closest we can find to that is the green stone malachite, with is a complex chemical compound that contains lots of copper in it. We can extract the copper from it using a reduction kiln, removing all that complexity so that we can stamp coins in nice pure copper discs.

The complexity of living things is a point in evolution’s favor, unless you want to argue that the creator is a complete moron. (What sadistic lunatic would build the human knee the way it is intentionally?) Living things are not merely complex, they’re unnecessarily so. Making a design weaker than it could be in order to make it more complicated is not a sign of intelligence.

11. Why aren’t any fossils or coal or oil being formed today?

Who says they aren’t? I don’t understand this, would you like us to set up a webcam so you can watch the process? Are you suggesting that the clearly eroded surfaces of, say, the Sphinx in Egypt are no longer being eroded because you can’t see the stone wearing away? Good heavens take a cave tour and look at stalagmites that have grown upward over centuries from calcium particles in drops of water!

If I recall correctly the energy in gasoline that moves your car around was first captured from the Sun by plants living four hundred million years ago. That’s not just older than the dinosaurs, it’s farther away from the dinosaurs than the dinosaurs are from us. I think it’s safe to say that fossil fuels are being used faster than they’re being made.

12. List 50 vestigial or useless organs or appendages in the human body.

No. That’s simply absurd, especially given the apparently arbitrary numbers. You only allow five “stages” for a whole new organ, but you won’t be satisfied with less than 50 vestigial bits? Fuck you.

But I won’t leave you empty handed. Here’s a link to endogenous retroviruses, bits of our bodies that started as viral infections. We’ve adapted to them so well that now they’re a normal part of us.

13. Why hasn’t anyone collected the millions of dollars in rewards for proof of evolution?

I think “millions” is likely hyperbole there. I did find a few sites claiming such prizes exist, the largest cash sum was over a million, but on a site that hadn’t updated since 2002. The only one I was able to find any real information about was Kent Hovind’s $250,000 prize ” to anyone who can give any empirical evidence (scientific proof) for evolution.*”

Kent is currently serving a prison term for tax fraud, but his son Eric might be willing to honor this challenge. Except look at the definition used for this challenge:

“* NOTE: When I use the word evolution, I am not referring to the minor variations found in all of the various life forms (microevolution). I am referring to the general theory of evolution which believes these five major events took place without God:
1. Time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves.
2. Planets and stars formed from space dust.
3. Matter created life by itself.
4. Early life-forms learned to reproduce themselves.
5. Major changes occurred between these diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals).”

Of these, only parts 4 & 5 are relevant to the theory of evolution. Hell, 1 & 2 aren’t even in the field of biology, and 3 is the realm of abiogenesis, which is probably more chemistry than biology. No single example of evidence could demonstrate all that, heck number 1 isn’t even a meaningful statement under the current big bang models as I understand them. (Which is to say, not very well.) It looks like what Kent really wants is to go back to college.

If this is typical of your “millions of dollars in rewards for proof of evolution” it’s frankly not worth it. No point playing if it’s clear that the game is rigged.

14. If life began hundreds of millions of years ago, why is the earth still under populated?

Under populated?! Right, you’re clearly just pulling my leg now. By what bizarre definition is the world under populated? There is life in every crevice of this planet, we have found life in places we didn’t think it was possible for anything to live. Living things have changed the chemistry of the atmosphere on this world, all that oxygen wasn’t there until the plants got to work. There are creatures living in the bottom of the ocean who do not even get their energy from the Sun.

The coldest tundra, there is life. The driest desert, there is life. Down in the deeps where no light reaches and the pressure is a thousand times the atmosphere we live in, we still find life. There is a lake in Antarctica that is frozen over the year round, and yet life survives within.

Oh right, you think everything’s about humans. Well, there are seven billion of us, how many do you think there are supposed to be?

15. Why hasn’t evolution duplicated all species on all continents?

Son of a… I’ve wasted all this time answering a troll, haven’t I!

Well, at least I got some writing out of it. See you next time!

Evolution quiz! Written by someone who does not understand evolution. Or quizzes.

In my search for something to blog about I probably would have thought of this ridiculous test eventually, I’ve seen it before at FSTDT. But PZ posted it today, so I’m jumping on it. (Also, check out PZ’s link to see the evolutionary penis-man!)

So here’s my layman’s understanding of this thing. I’ll take it bit by bit, starting with the introduction.

Students, give this test to your teachers. When they fail it, ask them why they are teaching this nonsense!

I think the real purpose of this thing is right there. Cause trouble in classrooms, because teachers are overworked already and school districts tend to shy away from controversy. Make teaching evolution a hassle and maybe nobody will bother. For some reason creationists always seem to think that if there’s any weakness in evolution that they win by default. And for people who have The Truth!™ they sure seem to think it’s vital that nobody gets a good look at the science.

Teachers, give this test to your students if you really want them to know the truth about evolution!

I’m puzzled what they think anyone can learn from this. Even if evolution were nonsense this test does nothing to demonstrate that, it merely asks a bunch of smug questions in bad faith and assumes you’ll jump over to their side once you can’t answer them satisfactorily. Well, let’s get to the actual questions.

1. Which evolved first, male or female?

So you think that men and women are literally different species? Is that where you’re going with this? I don’t suppose it’s occurred to you that maybe more than one thing can happen at a time?

2. How many millions of years elapsed between the first male and first female?

Zero. Get used to “How many millions of years” questions.

3. List at least 9 of the false assumptions made with radioactive dating methods.

Wait, which side am I supposed to be arguing for again? Actually I think the most common false assumption I’ve seen about radiometric dating is that it’s all carbon dating. I’ve also seen the assumption that we can carbon date fossils or other things without any carbon in them, that radiometric dating is the only way scientists determine age, that scientists believe they can never get an incorrect age from radiometric dating, that underwater snails & similar critters that reuse carbon (and thus date at much older than they are) prove carbon dating doesn’t work. I’ve seen truly bizarre claims that if a single artifact is dated incorrectly then the whole system must be useless, that the possibility of human error means it can’t be trusted, that the lack of human interpretation means it can’t be trusted, and of course Ken Hamm’s insistence that if it disagrees with the Bible it must be wrong, period.

By far my favorite is when they use the Carbon14 test to date something much older than 50,000 years and claim that the result of 50,000 years demonstrates that all radiometric dating is useless. 50,000 years is the upper limit of the Carbon14 test, this is like having a speedometer that only goes up to 65 and insisting that your car can’t go any faster than that. (“No really officer, I was going the speed limit! Your radar gun must be broken…”)

Why 9? This is our first request for an arbitrary number, it will not be the last.

4. Why hasn’t any extinct creature re-evolved after millions of years?

Why in the world do you think one should? Honestly if you think this is likely to happen, you either really don’t understand this theory, or you have a very small-minded view of environmental pressures. Or possibly both, I suppose.

Darwin’s finches went from beaks of many sizes to all big beaks in just a few generations because their environment changed so that big beaks were a serious advantage to getting food. This wasn’t a case of birds magically transforming with sparkly special effects so that they all had big beaks, it was a case of birds without big beaks starving to death.

Now, let’s assume that things change back to the way they were before, where beak size is no longer a significant factor in a bird’s ability to eat. It’s certainly possible that over several generations, the finches would once again have a wide variety of beak sizes, but they wouldn’t be the same as they were before because things are still different. Even if the environment changed back, the birds can’t because they’re not the same birds anymore. The old small beaked birds are gone, their genetic legacy is extinct, so any new small beaked finches would be descended from the big beaked ones that were able to survive before.Whatever varieties they may have, and over time that can get significant, it will not be the same varieties as there once were.

This example is not nearly the same as the question, though, because these finches are all the same species. Expecting a whole species to return of its own accord is simply laughable.

5. Which came first:
…the eye,
…the eyelid,
…the eyebrow,
…the eye sockets,
…the eye muscles,
…the eye lashes,
…the tear ducts,
…the brain’s interpretation of light?

Those are all very complex structures. Probably the beginning of vision was a patch of light-sensitive cells on the skin of sea creatures that probably didn’t have an interpretation of light beyond the simplest sensory input. It certainly wasn’t vision as we know it. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t have brains as we think of them.

6. How many millions of years between each in question 5?

Sigh, once again, more than one thing can happen at a time. You seem to think of evolution as a serial operation, where it works on one thing until it’s “finished” and then moves on to another. Have you noticed that not all animals have all those things? Probably not, these questions are so anthro-centric the author would probably be shocked to learn that cats have three eyelids, or that owls cannot move their eyes to look around but must move their whole heads, or that reptiles have neither eyebrows nor eyelashes.

7. If we all evolved from a common ancestor, why can’t all the different species mate with one another and produce fertile offspring?

Because they’re different species. That’s actually one of the definitions of “species”, that they cannot produce fertile offspring with other species. What, you think DNA is like Lego blocks that can be stuck together in different ways even if you’re combining a Pirate set with a Star Wars one? (Space pirates!)

This is getting really long and I’m only halfway through. Also, stomach’s starting to growl, so I’m going to post this half and go get something to eat. Second half should be up late tonight or early tomorrow, see you next time!

My thoughts on #OccupyLA’s eviction.

I watched it through Twitter and Ustream, switching around between five different video streams. Had a slow, sleepy day because of it, but I think it was worth the missed sleep. From what I could see both cops and demonstrators worked to keep it peaceful, but I really couldn’t see much. Read the rest of this entry

#HeBlowsALot Redux: Apology Denied

Since I’m unable to sleep again, I may as well cover this. Emma Sullivan has apparently decided not to write the apology letter her disgrace of a principal, Karl R. Krawitz, demanded. Here are some links about that.

“At this time, I do not think an apology would be a sincere thing for me to do.”

Good for her! Free speech is everyone’s right, and that means not only the freedom to speak, but the freedom not to.

Especially the freedom not to write insincere, bullshit apologies demanded by some jackass who thinks he needs “damage control”. How’s that damage control going, Karl?

I don’t have much more to say on this, but something Principal Krawitz said in one of those articles stuck in my mind.

Krawitz, her principal, told The Kansas City Star previously that the situation is a “private issue, not a public matter” but didn’t return a phone message from The Associated Press at his home Sunday.

In what way is this not a public matter? Seriously, it was a publicly visible tweet, Governor Brownback and Principal Krawitz are public servants, and Shawnee Mission East is a public high school. Heck as far as I know the only private party involved is Emma Sullivan herself. (And I guess Twitter, but they’re literally just the messenger here.) If that’s a private issue, what the hell does it take for something to be public?

I’ve seen many people on Twitter calling Brownback a bully (and even reporting him as one, hilariously), but really I think Principal Krawitz is far more guilty of that charge. For all I know Brownback didn’t even know about it til the story broke. His staff clearly have the right bullying attitude, but only passed on a complaint.

It was Krawitz who took it upon himself to tell this young woman what she can and cannot say, It was Krawitz who apparently spent more words scolding her than you can fit in a tweet. And it was Krawitz who should have been defending her rights, who should be defending the rights of every student in his care, and decided shallow appearances, or maybe just his own ego, was more important.

Sam Brownback: #HeBlowsALot

From here, via Wil Wheaton. This sounds like a sketch comedy bit. Emma Sullivan, an 18-year old high school senior tweeted, well, this:

Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback apparently has staff watching Twitter for comments about him. I guess that makes sense, it’s probably a good way to judge public opinion. When they saw that one, they passed it on, and eventually Sullivan wound up in the principles office. Read the rest of this entry

Free and brave

So, Congress wants to know why everyone hates them. Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but the reason I hate you, Congress, is because every time I turn around you assholes are doing something like this. (Incidentally, what’s up with the links on that page?)

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), have apparently decided that what’s wrong with America is that we’re not enough like a fascist dictatorship. I wasn’t surprised to see McCain’s name on that, he introduced similar legislation in ’09 or ’10 which would give the President power to declare anyone an unperson without trial or charge, and specifically denied the option of judicial review. Seriously, the man introduced a bill to give the President, and any future president, the power to declare anyone (I think the term used was) an “unlawful enemy combatant”, who could then by held indefinitely without being charged with a crime, or given a trial, or even allowed to petition a judge to review the justice or legality of the detention.

In no free country should any one person have that kind of power. Certainly not one that has the Bill of Rights in it’s highest legal document.

Well, now McCain’s teamed up with another enemy of freedom and found a new approach. They should both be ashamed of themselves. Hell, I’m ashamed that they weren’t booed off the floor, this is my country and these are my countrymen, how could they consider that for even a moment?

The “detainees” taken in this alleged war on terror are a real sticking point with me, no matter which way you go they illustrate the criminal truth about the whole awful enterprise. If we’re at war, then those detainees are prisoners of war and subject to the rules and protections of the Geneva Convention. It we’re not at war, then these detainees are criminal suspects and subject to the rules and protections of Due Process. The term “Unlawful Enemy Combatant” suggests both while claiming neither, as if these people are somehow war criminals without ever being either criminals or soldiers.

I understand that this is a sticky situation where it’s often not clear, but changing the law to broadly strip (more) protections away from everywhere is not the answer here. The law isn’t about making the government’s job easier, it’s about protecting people.

So I was already in a cynical and angry state of mind when I saw this Guardian article about the crackdowns on the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Here is what Naomi Wolf of the Guardian learned when she started asking OWS activists what they wanted.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

Haven’t heard much about that in the U.S. press. In fact most of the news I get about OWS comes from Europe. Maybe the money in the government is in the media, too.

Maybe that’s why Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are sneaking in this obscene rape of the Constitution, it’s a way to protect the money. Or hell, I don’t know, maybe they’re so frightened of the threat of terrorism that they’re willing to take the chance that some president might declare them enemy combatants and have them detained indefinitely, and possibly tortured.

Were I president, and handed that sort of power, the first thing I would do is send troops to detain Congress. Because while Al Qaida may or may not be the biggest threat to our lives, it’s been made abundantly clear that the biggest threat to our freedoms, Congress, is you.

Hey, they noticed!

Congress apparently finally noticed that they’re pissing everyone off.

Sorry, that’s all you get today. If I’m feeling better tomorrow I’ll actually say something for myself.

Rights and citizenship

Not doing well with the writing today. Here’s a link to a transcript of yet another Republican debate. Reading this, I wonder why they bother. It strikes me as nothing but empty pageantry, mere spectacle to get people applauding, not a debate in any sense that I’m familiar with. But there’s some weird stuff going on in there, and one bit of weirdness jumped out at me.

Here’s a quote from Michele Bachmann:

This is one thing we know about Barack Obama. He has essentially handed over our interrogation of terrorists to the ACLU. He has outsourced it to them. Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.

When the bomber — or the attempted bomber over Detroit, the underwear bomber was intercepted, he was given Miranda warnings within 45 minutes. He was not an American citizen. We don’t give Miranda warnings to terrorists, and we don’t read them their rights. They don’t have any.

It would be unfair to suggest that this is typical for a Republican candidate, Bachmann is out there by anyone’s standards. The idea that the ACLU controls interrogations… I haven’t the slightest idea what she’s saying there. “They aren’t letting us torture suspects anymore”, perhaps? But there’s some stuff in there that’s pretty common thinking and I want to address it. Read the rest of this entry

Hang your head in shame, Michigan

Ok seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people? Wednesday the state of Michigan passed “Matt’s Safe School Law“, an anti-bullying measure. (More here)

You’d think an “anti-bullying” law named after a boy who killed himself after constant bullying would require school districts to report bullying incidents, include provisions for enforcement and teacher training, and hold administrators accountable if they fail to act. This law does none of those things. What it does do is say that bullying is justifiable if done out of “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction”. This is an anti-bullying law that protects bullies.

When I try to imagine this from the perspective of Matt Epling’s family I’m not sure if I want to vomit or hit someone.

Over the last year there’s been a lot of attention paid to teen suicides linked to bullying. Most of those were kids who were gay, or at least assumed to be gay by their tormentors. Every time I’ve seen this discussed, there’s been a lot of talk about two subjects: First, how many of the kids were actually gay. Second, whether Christians should hate & persecute gays, or hate them but show compassion, or just treat them like any other person. You know what? It doesn’t matter.

If you’re bullying someone to the point where they feel so trapped and powerless that they resort to suicide, you‘re the villain. What Jesus thinks of your victim changes nothing about the nature of your crime, you are still deliberately tormenting another. Bullying is defined by the act, not the victim. Torturing a terrorist is still torture, lynching Hitler is still murder. The act is what matters here, everything else is just victim-blaming and making excuses.

On the subject of excuses, if you’re a school administrator who’d making excuses for this shit you need to recognize that those victims are children entrusted to your care. Their safety should be your first priority and if bullying is happening on your watch you are failing. Saying “boys will be boys” or similar trite bullshit just compounds your failure by trivializing the suffering of children under your care and a willful attempt to deflect your negligence.

Bullying is wrong regardless of who’s doing it to whom. You should be ashamed of yourself, Michigan.

Topic #266

Yes, it’s another post in the “I’m too lazy to think for myself, so here’s what Daily Post asks about” category. Topic #266 is

“If you could change how schools work, what would you change? What is wrong with how public education for kids is structured? What works well? What specific things about school do you remember, good and bad?”

I think I could sum up everything I would do for the school system with “More funding and better training.” I’ll discuss this a bit and then veer off into related subjects, like I usually do. Read the rest of this entry

To See or Not to See

Today during a discussion it was suggested that a scientific study of a subculture should not be performed because any negative aspects or perceived negative aspects such a study found would be used as weapons by those who stigmatize it. As so often happens in idle conversation the subject moved on fairly quickly, but I found myself thinking about it again and again during the evening. So, since I haven’t written anything in ages, I figure I may as well muse over this a bit.

Interestingly, I’ve realized that it doesn’t matter what subculture this is, so I’ve taken pains not to say it for both anonymity and for what I will call purity of purpose. If you’re reading this and thinking you agree with me unless it’s one specific subculture that you dislike, what does that say about you?

Anyways, the premise that I’m responding to is that a study should not be performed if the results could be used against the subjects. The short version is: I disagree on both philosophical and practical grounds, and will address them in that order. Read the rest of this entry

Gay Marriage

(For more on this subject in general, and the ongoing legal battles over prop8 in particular, I recommend the excellent Prop 8 Trial Tracker)

Last weekend New York passed a bill legalizing gay marriage. I haven’t talked about it here because I kind of felt that everything had been said already, but you know what? They haven’t been said by me, and that’s already bitten me in the ass once, so here’s my say.

If this looks too long to read and you just want to know in simple terms how I feel about it so you can categorize me or something, I’m saying “Marriage bans do nothing but prevent some people from marrying the person they choose. Way to go New York, hope the remaining 44 states follow you into the 21st century soon!” If that’s all you need to know, then there’s no point in reading past the cut. Those of you who want details? Onward!
Read the rest of this entry

Things I learned joining Tumblr

Last night I made a Tumblr thingy. I don’t actually know what half these social networking things should be called, which probably means I’m getting old or something. Anyways it looks like a sort of cross between Twitter & Facebook with a healthy dose of blog that’s set up to share damn near everything. I mean, it has actual predefined templates for posting quotes and chat logs among many others. I’m sure it won’t be long before someone invents something that Tumblr’s not prepared to share for you, but right now I can’t think of anything. Naturally, it’s filled with the most vapid, boring, pointless crap you can imagine. (No, even worse than this blog!)

Lately I’ve been joining social networks out of a sort of weird inertia, like I’m trying to dominate the web by sheer force of personality. (Stop laughing) So it’s unlikely that I’ll be using it to its fullest, but the future’s not yet written, perhaps I’ll decide that Tumblr is what I need and all other sites will take a back seat. (Poppycock! You’ll always be first in my heart, WordPress!)

Since I’m awake, (and my word-quota’s above five thousand again) I may as well discuss the things I learned setting up Tumblr.

While I was poking around for people to follow, just sort of browsing through the categories, I noticed that when I was looking at sites listed as “Political” there’s absolutely no trust there. I don’t just mean on Tumblr, either. Seems like anything that openly discusses politics is automatically viewed with suspicion by me. Claims of impartiality are sneered at instinctively. The only way I’d trust one now is if I kept careful track of it for a while and did some fact-checking & other homework, and who has time for that? Well, me, probably, but I’d rather spend it biking.

The politics sites are at least understandable, as many openly have an agenda. What was really depressing was when I got to the “News” sites and had the same reaction. I think I may be getting cynical. Actually I kind of hope that I’m getting cynical, the idea that such feelings are fully justified has implications that make me uncomfortable.

While I was reading the Privacy Policy (Yeah, I usually actually read those.) I noticed a bit that illustrates very well why my rather awesome pseudonym has more of an internet presence than my real name. I’ll just quote it directly:

“in some cases we may choose to buy or sell assets. In these types of transactions, user information is typically one of the business assets that is transferred. Moreover, if Tumblr or substantially all of its assets were acquired, or in the unlikely event that Tumblr goes out of business or enters bankruptcy, user information would be one of the assets that is transferred or acquired by a third party. You acknowledge that such transfers may occur, and that any acquiror of Tumblr may continue to use your personal and non-personal information only as set forth in this policy.”

I give them credit for being up front about that, and I appreciate the last clause that I quoted there. Things is, I don’t know how binding that really is. Even if the law very strictly states that people who buy databases, who never entered into any agreement with the people whose info is in those databases, must abide by the terms agreed to in the original policy, how enforceable is that? If, say, a spam company buys up a database and spams the hell out of every poor soul that’s in it, how will they ever be brought to account? It seems more like a civil matter than a criminal one, which means the victims must bring suit themselves. How will they know that such a contract was violated? spammers aren’t known for being up-front about their activities, (especially since that one was beaten to death by an angry mob in Russia a few years back.) and corporations rise and fall, and get bought and sold, and collapse and are parted out in auctions constantly. Even if all the facts are clear, that the “acquiror” really seriously broke the rules, how will anyone ever trace the events so that they know which spammer, with what database, that was bound by what contracts so that they can bring suit in the first place?

I’m just not seeing much incentive for the people buying the database to play by the rules, here.

I’d love to see a privacy policy that says something along the lines of “if the company goes bankrupt or otherwise becomes defunct, all personal information will be deleted” but as I understand it that would be actually illegal. It’s considered destroying a corporate asset which should be auctioned off for the benefit of the creditors. I wonder if one could start a non-profit to buy up and destroy such databases. Seems like a public benefit to me.

So here we are. I’ll mess around with this Tumblr thing and see if it’s worth using for itself or just becomes another clone of something else I actually use, like Google Buzz has. It has an option that really intrigues me: The ability to call in from your telephone to make “Audio posts.” My best guess is that an audio post is like a podcast, which is pretty cool. I set that up really quick, but couldn’t think of anything to talk about. I guess I could have said all this, but what would be the point of announcing I have a Tumblr on, you know, Tumblr?

Well, that’s all for now. Tune into tomorrow when I continue my social media junkie phase with Diaspora!

On Death, Conspiracy Theories, and Wars on Concepts.

So Osama bin Laden is dead. When I first heard this, my reaction was “So what? Game of Thrones is on.” Clearly not everyone shared my apathy, and I really don’t understand why. Read the rest of this entry

Challenge 1: Spider Jerusalem Rant

So, my first challenge is to write a Spider Jerusalem style rant. I’m going to put that behind a cut, because it’s going to be long and vile. As a small disclaimer, I am not a professional journalist, so this rant is not well-researched and I cannot back it up the way Spider could. That said this will be honest, however wrong it may be.

Read the rest of this entry

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