Cory Doctorow: The no-fly list really is a no-brainer

Posted on: Thu, 12/10/2015 - 16:35 By: Tom Swiss

I've been trying to make this point to friends who are firearm prohibitionists. The "terrorist watch list" is a thing that should not even exist; if you have evidence then arrest and charge the person, otherwise leave them alone. That's due process 101. It's sad that so many on both the so-called "left" and "right" are so willing to throw that basic value under the bus.

Indeed, the whole concept of background checks is based on a list of bad guys. But if you have a list of people you can' t trust with access to firearms, you have a list of people who need to be under supervision -- prison, parole, probation, or mandatory psychiatric care. It's the responsibility of those supervisors to keep those people away from guns, not the responsibility of someone selling Grandpa's old hunting rifle at an estate sale.

The no-fly list really is a no-brainer (Boing Boing)

Whatever you think of gun control, Obama's assertion that "Closing the No-Fly List loophole is a no-brainer" is pretty brainless.

The no-fly list, a notorious, secretive, evidence-free zone in which Americans and foreigners alike are denied the freedom of movement based on secret, sloppy evidence that no is allowed to see or refute, is a terrible proxy for "people who should be treated as suspicious."

Washington Post concedes the obvious, style guide OKs singular "they"
Tom Swiss Thu, 12/10/2015 - 16:13

The prohibition on singular "they" always struck me as the same sort of pointless and incorrect overcorrection as the ban on split infinitives (I dare to boldly split them) and terminal prepositions (a sort of nonsense I won't put up with).

The Washington Post Style Guide Now Accepts Singular ‘They’ (Mental Floss)

Proponents of singular they have long argued that the prohibition makes no sense. Not only is it natural, it has been used in English for centuries. It’s in the King James Bible. Authors like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Swift, Austen, Thackeray, and Shaw used it. Before the production of school textbooks for grammar in the 19th century, no one complained about it or even noticed it. Avoiding it is awkward or necessitates sexist language.

Now, in the most recent update to The Washington Post style guide, singular they has been given official approval. Post copy editor Bill Walsh explains that he personally accepted singular they many years ago, but had stopped short of allowing it in the paper. He finally decided to endorse it in house style after coming to the conclusion that it is “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

Other institutions are sure to follow suit.... The news of the acceptance of singular they may cause a little stir, but nobody will notice the change in action, as Walsh says, “I suspect that the singular they will go largely unnoticed even by those who oppose it on principle. We’ve used it before, if inadvertently, and I’ve never heard a complaint.”

How Empathy Makes People More Violent (The Atlantic)
Tom Swiss Thu, 12/10/2015 - 12:55

Pete Seeger wrote years ago:

Well if you want to have great love, you're gonna have great anger
If you want to have great love, you're gonna have great anger
When I see innocent folks shot down,
Should I just shake my head and frown?
Oh, Pacem in Terris, Mir, Shanti, Salaam, Hey Wa.

Well if you want to hit the target square, you better not have blind anger
If you want to hit the target square, you better not have blind anger
Or else it'll just be one more time
The correction creates another crime.
Oh, Pacem in Terris, Mir, Shanti, Salaam, Hey Wa.

How Empathy Makes People More Violent (The Atlantic)

We start by giving people a simple test that measures their degree of empathy. Then we tell them some awful stories, about journalists kidnapped in the Middle East, about child abuse in the United States. And then we ask them how best to respond to those responsible for the suffering....Just as with the genetic study, we found that the more empathic people are, the more they want a harsher punishment.

Politicians are comfortable exploiting this dark side of empathy. Donald Trump likes to talk about Kate—he doesn’t use her full name, Kate Steinle, just Kate. She was murdered in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant, and Trump wants to make her real to his audience, to make vivid his talk of Mexican killers.... Trump and Coulter use these stories to stoke our feelings for innocent victims, to motivate support for policies against the immigrants who are said to prey upon these innocents.

There is a history of this sort of thing. Lynchings in the American South were often sparked by stories of white women who were assaulted by blacks, and anti-Semitic attacks prior to the Holocaust were often motivated by tales of Jews preying on innocent German children. Who isn’t enraged by someone who hurts a child?

Similar sentiments are used to start wars.

Things you should not connect to the Internet, Part LXXIII: Wind Turbines

Posted on: Wed, 12/09/2015 - 14:26 By: Tom Swiss

The "Internet of Things" is mostly a bad idea being pushed by companies that want to control your stuff and snoop on you. Very few systems with physical actuators or sensors should be accessible from the public internet -- maybe an intranet at best. Here's a great example why.

Script Kiddies Can Now Launch XSS Attacks Against IoT Wind Turbines (softpedia)

After presenting the case of a gas detector that had two critical issues in its firmware, a recent ICS-CERT advisory has now drawn our attention to the XZERES 442SR, a smart wind turbine that comes equipped with a Web-based administration panel.

According to the ICS-CERT advisory, this administration panel is vulnerable to XSS (cross-site scripting) attacks that allow even the lowest-skilled hacker to take advantage of them....

...

By exploiting this attack point, hackers can lower the turbine's efficiency, indirectly cutting electrical power to the systems in accordance with its power output. Depending on what kind of systems are connected to the turbine, this can be a nuisance but can also cause a loss of sensitive equipment or even human life.
Script kiddies rejoice, an IoT hack that's n00b-friendly

While ISC-CERT and the manufacturer say that there have been no attacks carried out by this technique until now, the expertise needed to exploit this flaw is at an entry level for any InfoSec researcher.

Study says ending your texts with a period is rude.

Posted on: Wed, 12/09/2015 - 09:15 By: Tom Swiss

I would guess that this perception is also based on the length of the text -- a period at the end of "Yes." is kind of weird for a text, versus a multi-sentence text ("Are you going? I'm heading there now.").

Study confirms that ending your texts with a period is terrible (Washington Post)

To test whether the period had become a social cue within the context of CMC, the researchers presented a small group (126 undergraduates — admittedly not representative of the entire global population, but at least fairly representative of the most prolific texters) with a series of exchanges framed as either text messages or handwritten notes.

...When that reply was followed by a period, subjects rated the response as less sincere than when no punctuation was used. The effect wasn't present in handwritten notes.

Rural America faces rising suicide rates; lower incomes and social disconnection cited.

Posted on: Mon, 12/07/2015 - 17:57 By: Tom Swiss

Small Towns Face Rising Suicide Rates (www.nytimes.com)

Rural adolescents commit suicide at roughly twice the rate of their urban peers, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Although imbalances between city and country have long persisted, “we weren’t expecting that the disparities would be increasing over time,” said the study’s lead author, Cynthia Fontanella, a psychologist at Ohio State University.

“The rates are higher, and the gap is getting wider.”

Suicide is a threat not just to the young. Rates over all rose 7 percent in metropolitan counties from 2004 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In rural counties, the increase was 20 percent.

The problem reaches across demographic boundaries, encompassing such groups as older men, Native Americans and veterans. The sons and daughters of small towns are more likely to serve in the military, and nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in rural communities.

Meanwhile, they're setting people on fire in Baltimore County

Posted on: Mon, 12/07/2015 - 13:31 By: Tom Swiss

Edgewood Man Charged WIth Setting Two People on Fire (www.baltimorecountymd.gov)

...When Fire personnel arrived on the scene, they found that two people had been set on fire: not a vehicle.

The initial investigation into this incident has indicated that the suspect’s vehicle had run out of gas at the location. He had just returned to his vehicle with a container of gas when he encountered the first victim. The suspect and the first victim were involved in an ongoing dispute at work and became involved in an altercation. During the altercation, the suspect then threw gasoline on the first victim and lit it on fire and the first victim punched the suspect in the face. Gasoline that had been lit also went onto a second victim during the incident.

Buffalo buffalo lion? Buffalo buffalo lion.

Posted on: Sat, 12/05/2015 - 23:38 By: Tom Swiss

Our title here is a reference to the famous "Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo" sentence, but besides getting a kick out of being able to draw a tenuous connection from that to this story (and also from the fact that some friends nicknamed me "Zen Buffalo" (for reasons I've never known) at Playa Del Fuego some years back), I like how this video puts a spike in the "fierce carnivore vs. placid herbivore" myth.

Lion is sent flying after bull races to the rescue of buffalo (Mail Online)

'The second lion tried to look for an opening for the death blow to the throat, when another female buffalo started bellowing loudly and calling reinforcement from the bulls.

'The lions had now brought the old female down, and we thought the inevitable would happen.

'But the bull ran right in and dug his horns under the young lion and tossed him in the air - twice.

27 killed in three suicide bombings in Chad

Posted on: Sat, 12/05/2015 - 23:22 By: Tom Swiss

Let's face it: we tend to focus more on people like us. We think about the attacks in Paris and California more than we think about attacks in Africa or the Middle East.

Maybe -- and I know this is a radical idea, literally, but hear me out -- if we thought more about violence in Africa and the Middle East, we could find the common root and solve the problem.

At Least 27 Killed, 90 Injured In Triple Suicide Bombing In Chad (BuzzFeed)

Three suicide bombings on an island in Lake Chad have killed at least 27 people and injured 90, sending the African nation into a state of emergency, according to the multiple reports.

...

Director General Banyaman Cossingar said that no group has claimed responsibility for the fatal blasts, but that authorities suspected it to be the work of Boko Haram, according to the AP.

Sick and twisted fantasies aren't criminal; "cannibal cop" wins in court

Posted on: Sat, 12/05/2015 - 23:06 By: Tom Swiss

To believe in civil liberties means to support people's legal right to do offensive, even disgusting, things. In the absence of proof that Valle was actually preparing to kill his wife, however much his kink makes me squick I have to support his right to have really disgusting fantasies and to talk about them with other people.

‘Cannibal cop’ wins in court again (Washington Post)

NYPD officer Gilberto Valle, better known as the “Cannibal Cop,” has triumphed in court for what appears to be a final time. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit affirmed a lower court’s acquittal of Valle on the conspiracy charge, and reversed a conviction on a charge of improperly accessing a government computer and obtaining information.

Fantasy crimes — even repellent, disgusting, unthinkable fantasy crimes worthy of universal condemnation — are not crimes, it said.

“This does not mean that fantasies are harmless,” Judge Barrington Parker wrote in an opinion. “To the contrary, fantasies of violence against women are both a symptom of and a contributor to a culture of exploitation, a massive social harm that demeans women. Yet we must not forget that in a free and functioning society, not every harm is meant to be addressed with the federal criminal law.”

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