Alkahest my heroes have always died at the end

August 9, 2010


Filed under: Religion,Social — cec @ 11:19 am

My local paper kindly reminds me that tomorrow’s moon rise begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and that the associated fasting and prayers begin on Wednesday.

Recently, I was talking to my neighbor, the very kind, interesting and extremely conservative Glenn Beck viewer. While we were talking, he brought up Muslims and his fear that they were trying to take over the country (apparently, religious appropriation of a country is only okay if it’s Christian – but that’s another story). According to my neighbor, no religious Muslim could ever possibly be up to any good. I don’t explicitly recall him calling Islam a false religion, but he very much believed that you couldn’t trust “them,” that they were all radicalized and out to destroy “our” way of life.

At the time, I countered by noting that while in graduate school, I knew several Muslims that were all very good people, moreover, I would be surprised if any of them have converted to a fundamentalist form of Islam. My advisor was a (I believe non-practising) Muslim. One of the best and kindest professors in my department was a practising Muslim – on his office wall, he had a discrete prayer calendar reminding him of the appropriate times to pray. Moreover, there were several Muslim graduate students in my research group, including a gentleman named Hakan.

Hakan was a great guy (presumably he still is, I just haven’t seen him in several years). At the time, K and I lived in a town house a couple of miles from my office, in a part of the city that was growing. Because of the population growth, the city decided to put in a new water pumping station just down the street. Unfortunately, we had plastic piping in and leading up to the town house. When they first started testing the new station, a pipe burst in the front yard. We had a plumber come out, dig it up and fix it. Shortly thereafter, a new spot went and I did the digging and repairing myself. Finally, after the third time, I had enough. I was going to (hand!) dig a trench between the water meter and the house and put in copper piping.

Well, I mention this to my officemates, and Hakan volunteers to help dig the ditch. He came out on Saturday morning and we spent several hours in the sun, digging the trench and tunneling under the sidewalk. After a couple of hours, I asked him if he wanted some lunch or something to drink. He said that he couldn’t – it was Ramadan and therefore, forbidden. I was horrified that I had him out in the sun, digging a ditch while he couldn’t eat or drink. It wasn’t the middle of summer, but I recall it being hot enough that I was worried about his health. Regardless,  he persevered and we got the copper piping installed. Thinking back on it, my understanding is that a part of Ramadan is service and in taking his beliefs more seriously than many people I know, he was both abiding by the fasting requirements of Ramadan and helping his officemate, even if it was physically taxing.

I do understand why people would be concerned about fundamentalism in Islam, I’m concerned about it too. But I’m also concerned about fundamentalism in Christianity and most other religions for that matter. But those who think that all Muslims are radical or that all of Islam is somehow tainted by the radicals, need to spend some time with Hakan or any of the other Muslims that have positively affected by life.

April 27, 2010

What, ahem, WTF is wrong with Arizona?

Filed under: Social — cec @ 9:35 pm

Presumably, most people have now heard that Arizona has passed a new law respecting immigration enforcement.  Reactions, as one might expect, are mixed depending on one’s thoughts on immigration, and more specifically, the potential for illegal immigration.  Mexico has issued a travel warning for its citizens, advising them not to visit the state.  Various AZ mayors have decried the law.  Some right wingers love it, while others hate it, and of course George Will is still an asshole.  And finally, even though the law doesn’t go into effect for another three months or so, we can already see what the future will be like for Hispanics in Arizona.

Honestly, I can’t believe that we’re talking about a state where you might expect law enforcement to request your papers.

I did have a few questions, including what exactly does the law require?  And how will it be enforced?  In a nutshell, the law:

Requires officials and agencies to reasonably attempt to determine the immigration status of a person involved in a lawful contact where reasonable suspicion exists regarding the immigration status of the person, except if the determination may hinder or obstruct an investigation.

Okay, so, how does one form a reasonable suspicion?  Well, good for Arizona, the law further:

Stipulates that a law enforcement official or agency cannot solely consider race, color or national origin when implementing these provisions, except as permitted by the U.S. or Arizona Constitution.

So, I don’t know what is permitted by the Arizona Constitution, maybe all of those forms of profiling, maybe none.  But one final question, given that the mayor of Phoenix doesn’t support the law, how do you guarantee that it gets enforce?  Well, a citizen can sue if there’s a policy that doesn’t support enforcement:

Allows a person who is a legal resident of this state to bring an action in superior court to challenge officials and agencies of the state, counties, cities, towns or other political subdivisions that adopt or implement a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.

Requires the court to order any that a violating entity pays a civil penalty of at least $1,000 and not to exceed $5,000 for each day that the policy has remained in effect after it has been found to be violating these provisions.

A few thoughts:

  1. It’s not clear to me how one forms a reasonable suspicion about the immigration status of the person, except given their ethnic background
  2. It’s not clear to me that ethnic background is even restricted as a category for consideration in the law, based on Latinos being Caucasian and questions about what is permitted under Arizona’s constitution
  3. Given #1 and #2 above, I don’t think people realize how ineffective ethnicity is in determining legal status

Fortunately, statistics gives us a good answer to #3.  For the following, let’s consider that L indicates Latino, and I represents illegal.

Bayes rule tells us that the probability of being illegal given that you are Latino [ Pr(I | L) ] is the probability of being illegal (the prior, Pr(I)) times the probability of being Latino given that you are Illegal (likelihood, Pr(L|I)) divided by the evidence or the probability of being illegal given Latino and given not Latino [Pr(L|I)*P(I) + Pr(L| not I)*Pr(not I)]

so, Pr(I|L) = Pr(L|I) * Pr(I) / (Pr(I|L) + Pr(I| not L))

We can quantify this somewhat, from StateMaster

The population of AZ = 5,939,292

Legal Hispanic/Latino population of AZ = 1,803,377

Estimated number of illegals in AZ = 283,000

If we assume that all illegals are Hispanic, then:

P(I) = 283,000 / 5,939,292 = .04765

P(L|I) = 1.0

P(L| not I) = 1,803,377 / 5,939,292 = .30364

So, the probability of being illegal given that you are Latino is:   .14147 or ~14%.  Which in my mind is no reason to form a suspicion.  Hell, more that 14% of the population are pot smokers, you wouldn’t want to give the police authority to stop and arrest everyone to find that subset who are.


  • The data above are from 2000 and may not be current; however, illegal immigration shows a strong economic correlation and the economy is down compared to the boom year of 2000, so the numbers are probably in the right ballpark
  • I don’t believe that Pr(L  | I) = 1.0.  This says that all illegals are Latinos.  That’s bull.  There are plenty of Asian and European illegals.  Adjusting this probability down will significantly decrease Pr(I | L).  For example, assuming P(L|I) = 0.8 results in P(I|L) = ~.116.
  • The above analysis assumes that Bayes’ law is true, but if it isn’t then we’re all seriously screwed.
  • Finally, I would be uncomfortable with racial profiling even if Pr(I|L) > 0.5.  It’s just not America when the cops stop and ask you for your citizenship papers.  I can think of a few places where that did occur, but won’t risk the Godwin retraction by invoking them.

So, what to do?  I was challenged a few years ago as to my solution to the illegal immigrant “problem.”  My first response is that you are assuming it’s a problem.  After all, studies have shown that low-wage legal and illegal immigrants actually grow an economy.  Moreover, since many pay into Social Security and Medicare, without receiving benefits, that helps those programs.  OTOH, it’s not fair to have them pay in without receiving services; moreover, the social safety net should be expanded to help all those in our community.  So, in that sense illegal immigration is a problem.   However, the solution is straight forward.  Enforce current laws restricting a business’s ability to hire illegals.  Illegals come here due to the draw of jobs.  Businesses love ’em because they often work below minimum wage, and don’t complain about things like OSHA requirements.  Fine – regulate the businesses better and we’ll

March 25, 2010

Crap… I’m the pig

Filed under: Social — cec @ 9:30 am

Old bit of folk wisdom that has served me well over the years:  never wrestle a pig; you both get dirty and the pig enjoys it.  Keeping that in mind has kept me out of all sorts of trouble over the years.  The only problem?  I’m apparently the pig in debates about the new health reform law 🙂

March 3, 2010

Turn about and all that

Filed under: Pique,Political,Social — cec @ 9:38 pm

So maybe in my last post, I was a bit hard on Louisiana because it’s the state I’ve left.  It’s not like we don’t have our own wackos in NC.  Two examples:

  1. One of NC’s representatives, Patrick McHenry (R) has proposed that we put Reagan’s face on the $50 bill.  Maybe for his work on voodoo tinkle on trickle down economics?  Although there is some appropriate irony to giving Reagan the $50… it’s a bill that most people don’t use.  Personally, I’m not rich enough to deal in $50s, $20s maybe.  Hey, if we’re redesigning money, why don’t we give more important presidents more prominent spots.  Jefferson definitely outranks Reagan and he’s on the never used $2 bill.  What about Madison?  The dude practically wrote the Constitution.  Shouldn’t those of who don’t use $5,000 bills get a chance to see him?
  2. And closer to home, the newly minted republican majority on the Wake county school board has succeeded in rolling back a nationally recognized program to improve educational outcomes by ensuring socio-economic diversity.  Sure, I was bussed in elementary school.  It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience of my life, but at the same time, I think that it was good for me as a person to be exposed to other socio-economic groups at school.  Moreover, the program in Wake has demonstrated that it reduces the achievement gap between poor/minority students and rich/white students.  That’s gotta be worth a little time on the bus.

<sigh> Music for the evening: Danger Mouse’s and Sparklehorse’s Dark Night of the Soul and Titus Andronicus’s The Airing of Grievances.  They seem to capture the mood.

Seriously, W… T… F?

Filed under: Political,Social — cec @ 9:15 pm

Every once in a while, something from Louisiana will catch the national attention, or at least the political bits that I care about, and I’m once again reminded of why I’m happy to have left.  The latest?  Apparently, the Bossier Parish sheriff is creating himself a militia.  No really.  It’s called “Operation Exodus,” which according to the sheriff’s press release is an allusion to the biblical Book of Exodus.  I’m not certain if that worries me or makes me happy that it’s not a reference to secession.  I think I’ll go with worry since it’s a biblical reference to secession.

Now, in fairness, the sheriff claims that the program is not a militia, but rather:

The plan, known as Operation Exodus, will provide for self-sufficiency in the event of a manmade or natural disaster or a terrorist attack. Exodus will take local volunteers, train them and use them in response to a catastrophic disaster in the area. These volunteers will work in conjunction with the Bossier Sheriff’s Office to secure and protect viable resources in such an event.

For the record, this is B.S.  The sheriff wants the operation to sound like an adult version of the Boy Scouts where his parish will “always be prepared.”  But I was a cub scout, I’m pretty certain that I would have stayed on for the Boy Scouts if we were going to have access to “the war wagon”  with a .50 caliber  machine gun mounted on top.

Apparently, the militia concerned citizens are mostly past middle age [no!] white [really?!] men [shocked!!].  Women will be given the support roles and apparently, the five black members of the militia operation will be in charge of stepping and fetching [okay, i made that last one up].

The sad part is that things seem worse in Louisiana than they were 16+ years ago when I left.  But maybe I just hear the worst of it from here.  Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the social and political environment until after I left.  That last option has a lot of support: hell, I voted for Ross Perot in ’92 🙂

December 23, 2009

Heathcare reform: a Festivus miracle!

Filed under: Political,Social — cec @ 11:03 pm

Speaking of Festivus, I should note a recent sighting of a genuine Festivus miracle… they still had a quart of Maple View Farms eggnog at the grocery store!

Er, actually, a better Festivus miracle is that today the senate democratic caucus reached the 60 votes needed for their final cloture vote and will vote on healthcare reform tomorrow.  FWIW, the vote could have been held today, but Vitter (R-LA) objected.  The bill also could have been held up until 8pm tomorrow, but republicans couldn’t quite bring themselves to wait that long to get out of town.  So instead, the vote (needing only 50 ayes plus Biden) will happen at 7am tomorrow morning.

A quick note on the bill.  Put me in the camp with folks who wanted something better, but regard the senate bill as a significant step forward.  Specifically, I would love to see something like a single payer system.  People seem pretty happy with Medicare (wasn’t a common teabagger cry: “keep the government out of my Medicare!”?), so gradually expanding Medicare eligibility to younger people, eventually allowing a person of any age to buy into Medicare seems like a good idea.   We would still need to fix the republican Medicare Part D prohibition on negotiation with drug companies, but that’s minor.

Failing single payer, what I really would like to see are controls on how hard the insurance companies can screw you (currently hard enough to make you want to scream “green balloons“), and then provide subsidies to allow more people to buy insurance.  Well, that’s what we got.  Sure, there’s a purchasing mandate – you must buy insurance, but that’s pretty reasonable.

So, it’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a good start and will help literally millions of people and will literally save tens of thousands of lives each year.  That’s a good first step.  There’s nothing that says that we can’t improve the bill over the next decade.  That’s what has happened with every other expansion of the social safety net for the past 60+ years, from social security to medicare.  There is no progressive rapture.  We won’t pass a bill and then be taken up to liberal heaven or achieve social nirvana.  There aren’t 72 hippie virgins waiting for us at the signing of any piece of legislation.  And neither mankind nor its societies are perfectible.  But both mankind and society is subject to continuous improvement.  We can make things better and this bill is another step in that process.

November 5, 2009

gop hcr doa

Filed under: Political,Social — cec @ 11:02 pm

In the most awesome [1] display of legislative ineptitude since they presented a budget with no numbers on April Fool’s Day, the republicans have released their plan for health care reform.  Now, keep in mind that as scored by the CBO, the democratic plan will increase coverage from 83% to 96% of the legal population in the U.S. by 2019 and will reduce the deficit by $104 billion over the same ten years.  Of course, the republican plan was going to be “much better.”  And was it?  Not so much.  Under the republican plan, coverage will increase from, wait for it,  drum roll please 83% to a whopping, um, 83% by 2019.  Well, hey, at least it’ll do more to improve the deficit, right?  Well, not exactly.  According to the CBO’s initial analysis, there would be a $68 billion dollar reduction in the deficit over the next ten years.

Wow!  How do the republicans manage to achieve such amazing results?  Simple, what they lack in sense, they make up for in strict adherence to ideology.  Free market principles baby.  Do they regulate insurance companies regarding rescission?  Nope, instead they would create the same sort of race to the bottom that we have for credit cards.  Ever wondered why most credit card companies are based in either Delaware or South Dakota?  Simple, those states have passed laws that screw consumers.  Since the credit card market is deregulated, Delaware and South Dakota can screw the whole country and not just their own citizens.  Under the republican plan, you would be looking at the same thing for health insurance.


[1] In the 80s, lots of things were “awesome” to me, and I was very serious about it.  Sometime in the past decade, I’ve taken to using the word again, but with 100% more sarcasm.  Things are now “awesome” in the same sense as 80s hair metal bands are awesome: think Winger.

September 9, 2009

Communication and learning styles

Filed under: Personal,Social — cec @ 10:58 pm

A while back I mentioned that K, some associates and I had started up a new non-profit.  Things are going reasonably well.  People have been more supportive than I had thought.  We’ve had about 70 patients so far and we’ve got the systems set up so that patients entered into the database post up to Twitter, along with any Facebook updates.

One thing that I have noticed in working with the others on the non-profit is that learning styles and communication styles seem to be closely related.  You can divide learning styles (among other ways) into verbal vs visual learners.  Verbal learners prefer to hear things explained to them.  whereas visual learners prefer things to be written down.  Based on some of our recent experiences, I think that this plays into communication styles.  And it’s communication styles which are (occasionally) biting us.

We’ve got two people (including me) who have a strong visual preference – we like email for communication.  We have one person who exhibits a strong verbal preference (prefers the phone or in-person communication) and one who has no strong preference either way.  On a couple of recent occasions, we’ve had some missed communication.  Our verbal communicator will say something or mention a project or deadline and expect that the rest of us have kept up.  Our email/visual communicators don’t catch these verbal references and do the same thing with respect to email.

I was talking to our verbal communicator (by phone, of course! – she called me after I emailed her) about this and mentioned that I don’t ever catch the details when she’s talking.  At the last board meeting, she had mentioned a project and I *assumed* that if there were deadlines, they would be sent out in email.  In fact, I don’t ever consider anything to be real until I see it written down.  It’s just how I think.  People might *talk* about a lot of things, but until I see them commit some details to something written (email, memo, etc.), I don’t think they mean it.  After I described this to our verbal communicator, she confessed that she often never reads the details of the email that our visual communicators send.  In other words, in the same way that I don’t give enough consideration to non-visual communication, she doesn’t give enough consideration to non-verbal communication.

All in all, this isn’t the worst problem that a group of people can have.  I think the most important thing is to recognize these differences and to know that if you want to be certain that your message is received, you have to consider the expected medium for your audience.  (shock!)

August 27, 2009

So, this is important

Filed under: Security,Social,Technical — cec @ 11:14 pm

I’m not a big baseball fan.  For that matter, there are few ball sports that interest me.  But, this is important.  If you recall, a few years ago (2004), there was a big furor over steroids in baseball.  The government searched BALCO and found evidence of rampant steroid use by baseball players.  Now I hadn’t been paying attention to this, but there has been an ongoing legal dispute over that search and how it was conducted.

Yesterday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 9-2 decision that restores a great portion of the 4th Amendment’s right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure in an electronic context.

Caveat lector, I am not a lawyer and I’ve never played one on TV.  Moreover, I haven’t finished reading the dissenting opinions and I’m almost certainly missing some of the nuances here.  In a nutshell, the government had evidence, sufficient to obtain a warrant, against 10 players.  Based on this evidence and the warrant, the prosecutors were able to search BALCO for information about those 10 players.  BALCO maintains all records on their computers, of course.

Now, I’ve had experience with these types of searches.  The government never takes what’s just in their warrant.  The defined search *process* always allows them to take the whole computer or the whole hard drive, or more often than not, an image of the whole hard drive.  The reasoning is that information pertaining to the search could be hidden, or their could be some form of booby trap or the data could be encrypted or …

So, the prosecutor in the steroids case took the whole directory in which there was a file containing drug tests of MLB players.  The file itself contained information about far more than the 10 players named in the warrant.  So, rather than taking the 10 rows of the spreadsheet, rather than taking just the one file, the prosecutor took a directory containing the results of thousands of drug tests.

The prosecutor then (as I understand it) went jurisdiction shopping until he found a judge willing to grant a new warrant for information about 104 players, based on the information found in the spreadsheet.  The argument being that once they had access to the spreadsheet, or the directory, or even the computer, the additional information was in plain sight.  Several judges believed that the prosecutor intentionally wrote the process for executing the search warrant in such a way that he could *expand* the scope of the investigation by introducing evidence based on this plain sight doctrine in order to find new players to prosecute.

What’s interesting is that this seems fairly normal to many of us.  Of course the prosecutor will search your whole hard drive, of course they will bring new charges, etc.  The problem is that a) BALCO itself was not the subject of the prosecution, and b) this IS NOT the way things work in the tangible world.  Prosecutors are exploiting the new(ish) electronic domain to gain access to information they wouldn’t have if files were stored on paper.

Apparently (I need to look into this), the relevant doctrine in the physical world is the United States vs Tamura, 1982.  In this case, the object of a search was stored in a file cabinet.  It was not feasible to search that file cabinet in the office, so the prosecutors obtained access to it, with the requirement that they only pull information relevant to their warrant – even if they stumbled across additional criminal information.

The majority in the 9th Circuit decision believe that a sensible application of Tamura to an electronic domain means that information/documents stored in proximity to the information sought in the warrant is *not* in plain view.  And they are correct.  If information in adjacent files in a file cabinet are not in plain view, then neither is information stored electronically in adjacent files, folders or computers.

Explicitly, the justices stated:

In general, we adopt Tamura’s solution to the problem of necessary over-seizing of evidence: When the government wishes to obtain a warrant to examine a computer hard drive or electronic storage medium in searching for certain incriminating files, or when a search for evidence could result in the seizure of a computer, see, e.g., United States v. Giberson, 527 F.3d 882 (9th Cir. 2008), magistrate judges must be vigilant in observing the guidance we have set out throughout our opinion, which can be summed up as follows:

1. Magistrates should insist that the government waive reliance upon the plain view doctrine in digital evidence cases. See p. 11876 supra.

2. Segregation and redaction must be either done by specialized personnel or an independent third party. See pp. 11880-81 supra. If the segregation is to be done by government computer personnel, it must agree in the warrant application that the computer personnel will not disclose to the investigators any information other than that which is the target of the warrant.

3. Warrants and subpoenas must disclose the actual risks of destruction of information as well as prior efforts to seize that information in other judicial fora. See pp. 11877-78, 11886-87 supra.

4. The government’s search protocol must be designed to uncover only the information for which it has probable cause, and only that information may be examined by the case agents. See pp. 11878, 11880-81 supra.

5. The government must destroy or, if the recipient may lawfully possess it, return non-responsive data, keeping the issuing magistrate informed about when it has done so and what it has kept. See p. 11881-82 supra.

As someone who has participated in prosecutorial searches, these strike me as eminently sensible guidelines.  The first states that there’s no such thing as plain view in computer cases – each piece of information is in its own separate space.  To consider otherwise is to allow every piece of electronic equipment in the world to be searched since they are all connected via the Internet.  The second states that the prosecutor shouldn’t be the one doing the search, b/c the searching personnel *will* wind up seeing information that isn’t related to the warrant.  The problem is that since nothing is in plain view (can you tell what does a hard drive contain by looking at the physical device?), an in-depth search is required to fulfill the warrant, but that search will violate the terms of the warrant if all of the information is shared with the prosecutor.  The third states that prosecutors can’t *overestimate* the risk of booby traps, deadfalls, etc. that would destroy data.  There was no reason to think there were such in the BALCO computers and therefore, a full copy of their hard drives was not required.  The fourth is pretty plain – the process/protocol must be restricted to what the government is allowed to find.  And the fifth says that the prosecutor can’t keep things that it found that it wasn’t supposed to have.

All in all, a very reasonable balance of 4th Amendment rights in a digital context – no matter what Orin Kerr might say. Good news on the electronic privacy front… for once.

August 26, 2009

DDoS-ing good policy

Filed under: Political,Social,Technical — cec @ 10:08 pm

In computer security, one of the most difficult and annoying problems is the distributed denial of service attack (DDoS).  The idea behind a DDoS attack is straight forward: the attacker tries to prevent legitimate use of the service by using a large number of other computers.  Usually these other computers have been compromised (hacked) and are following the commands of the attacker.  Such computers are usually called “zombies.”

There are a number of ways to conduct a DDoS attack, but they are typically variations on the following theme.  The attacker instructs the zombies to request access to the service.  But the zombies have no intention of actually using the service, instead, they often forge network traffic so that it’s impossible to tell who is making the request.  Because the zombies don’t want to use the service, they can make thousands of requests without slowing down.  The poor computer hosting the service then sees tens of thousands of requests for access, tries to fulfill the requests and eventually becomes overloaded and dies.  The zombies win.

What makes the DDoS attack so difficult to defend against is that each and every request coming in, looks like a legitimate request.  The problems are: a) the core of the request is a lie (at the direction of the attacker, the zombie has forged the network traffic), and b) the sheer quantity of bogus requests – one or two could be handled easily, 10s of thousands not so much.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing the exact same thing when it comes to creating good policies in the U.S.: a distributed denial of service attack.

The creation of good policies requires discussion.  Ideally, arguments will be presented, the merits debated and evaluated with respect to a set of shared norms, and these discussions will shape the eventually enacted policy.  But on every important issue, this is not occurring.  Instead, we have a group of reactionaries (they’ll call themselves conservatives) who try to prevent the important discussions from ever occurring. Take two issues, global warming and health insurance.

On global warming, we could have a fairly important discussion about the expected costs of global warming, the probabilities of certain events occurring, the expected costs of limiting CO2 in order to limit the effects.  We could discuss the moral issues involved, from the increased rates of disease due to higher temperatures, the possibility of spending more money now on certain social problems, and the moral worth of species that will go extinct because of a changing climate.  There are even scientific questions that remain unresolved.  But instead of having any of those discussions, conservatives persist in lying.  Those lies are then redistributed on Fox News and in conservative publications.  The purpose of the lies isn’t to have a real discussion with respect to a valid scientific point.  The purpose is to attack the very idea that there can be a discussion.  The purpose is to make people believe that instead of global warming being a policy issue, it’s a political one.

A year ago, I was at a family reunion and sat down with my father and uncle who hold advanced degrees in physical sciences (masters and phd respectively).  The topic came around to global warming – perhaps one of them made a derisive comment about it, I don’t recall.  The next thing I knew, these two very intelligent men turned into DDoS zombies.  They brought up a number of talking points that they had heard, but hadn’t actually verified:

  • “Ice cores have shown that temperature rises before CO2 levels.” Historically true, but completely irrelevant.  We know of the causal reason that an increase in CO2 will increase temperature.  A doubling of CO2 will raise the temperature by roughly 3 degrees Celsius.  However, no one has said that the only reason that the temperature can rise is due to CO2 – there are certainly other reasons.  Why temperature rose in those cases is a legitimate scientific question, but rather than discussing that issue, the right uses a misinterpretation of the idea to attack the possibility of global warming.
  • “CO2 only contributes 3% of the effects of greenhouse gases.” Alternatively, you’ll hear that water vapor is 97% or 98% of the total effect.  Nope.  This is a pure, flat out lie.  I spent a few hours trying to track down the source.  It turns out that it’s not a scientific result.  3% never appeared in a peer-reviewed paper.  Instead, someone reviewing one of the IPCC reports decided that the report said 3% (it didn’t) and ever since, right-wing news has thrown around that number to dispute the very possibility that rising levels of CO2 could contribute to global warming.

There were a few other talking points they had and there are dozens more to be found online.  My favorites often come from a site called Watt’s Up With That.  Favorites because they completely demonstrate that people are *actively* constructing lies to deceive the public on global warming.  You read a post there and you go to the original sources that they cite and sure enough, they’ve either taken it out of context or they’ll take the worse of all possible predictions.  My favorite is when the push what amount to linear rather than the actual (exponential) projections of climate change and then argue that because the actual temperatures don’t fall into their bogus projections, climate change is false.

The point is that none of those talking points are serious attempts to debate the science.  They are merely an attempt to overwhelm the dialog with incorrect information in order to delay or kill good policy.  Hell, they aren’t even arguments, at best they are arglets. Fragments of an argument with no real merit.

The arglets against health care reform are even worse.  A handful of people literally make things up and rather than having a discussion about the very real ways our health care system is falling apart, the news media (Fox and others) goes off on these tangents for days.  Consider:

  • “death panels” What a load of crap.  There’s no such thing in the health care bill.  Which is of course, not to say that these things don’t exist.  Every insurance company has a death panel.  Or more accurately, insurance companies consider the amount of rescission activity when evaluating employees, i.e., you’ve paid your premiums for years and when you try to use the policy and the company drops your coverage.
  • “in <scary socialist country of your choice> people have to wait <some large number> weeks for <some medical procedure>.” We hear that one a lot.  Usually, the country is England or Canada, the time is 6+ weeks and it’s a hip replacement.  Of course, this arglet is also untrue, but is interesting in being untrue on multiple levels.  First of course, is the basic lie – delays for surgery. A small nugget of truth – this was a small problem pre-2000, before the British started increasing the amount of money for the NHS.  Then the larger lie – the implication that it’s better here in the U.S. under your insurance.  Then finally, the mother of all lies – that anyone’s even proposing a single payer system like the NHS anyway.  “Oh my god, some other system that no one here is seriously considering has wait times that are as bad as some of ours with insurance, but not nearly as bad as if you have no insurance and have to wait until you’re on medicare to obtain the surgery.”  To borrow a line from a glibertarian idiot – give me a break.
  • Perhaps my favorite recent arglet: “Stephen Hawking never would have survived to be a brilliant physicist under the British system.” Given that he is a British citizen and has always received his health care via the NHS, this is completely crazy, literally divorced from reality, batshit insane.

I could go on and on.  For any topic you can name, there are people promoting lies in order to prevent good policies from being enacted.

Now here’s the part where I tell you the good news based on my DDoS analogy.  Tough – there isn’t any.  There are a few approaches to dealing with a computer DDoS:

  1. Ignore it.  Build capacity so that all requests, legitimate and bogus can be serviced.  This is unlikely to work.  The media has a short attention span, hell they’ve got ADHD.  While the majority of arglets are debunked within minutes of their creation, they continue to live on in the right-wing zombies and the media is incapable of ignoring that.
  2. Identify the source of the arglets and take ’em out.  In computer terms, this often means tracking down the source of the DDoS commands and arresting them.  For dialog, this means identifying the source of the arglets and ignoring them and their zombies.  But then we’re back to solution 1 and the media’s inability to call bullshit.
  3. Ensure that all potential zombie computers are patched, i.e, ensure that potential zombies are innoculated/education against the lies.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in a computer context – too many lazy people with computers that they don’t want to take care of.  And it’s unlikely to work in a political context – too many lazy people who can’t be bothered to conduct basic fact check (or even sanity checking) before propagating a lie.

In short, there’s no way for the current political process to work properly while the right wing and various corporate interests are conducting a denial of service attack.  Unfortunately, the only real solution is to circumvent the dialog and pass good legislation regardless of what’s in the press.  For 16+ years, Bill Kristol has advised the right to prevent such a thing.  “Don’t allow good legislation on health care.”  People would like good legislation and would realize that the republicans were a bunch of lying con men who wanted to shovel government money (aka public funds,  aka your money and mine) to corporate interests.  The republicans have gotten good at this and now the only way to pass decent legislation is to ignore them, which is easier and easier given that they’ve flat out stated that they won’t vote for their own compromises.  Screw ’em.  Health care is too important.  Pass it, pass it now.  If you won’t support a single payer option, then at least give people the choice of a public option that’ll be better, cheaper and more efficient than what we’ve got now.

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