On the Snowden Affair

The USA is outraged that other nations are not cooperating with the extradition of Edward Snowden. The USA is demanding that the other nations follow the law in this matter. The problem with that is the fact that the USA hasn’t followed other bits of international law, particularly in regards to Snowden’s revelations about how the USA swallowed wholesale their network transmissions.

I’m also concerned about how the USA has targeted Snowden more than it has targeted its massive security apparatus. So far, the only real successes of observing everyone’s communications have been in the area of harassing political opponents and blackmailing leaders of rival intelligence agencies. Never mind the criminality of the electronic harvest: consider the cost! Twelve years of this, and it’s only shown that it can bolster a president’s power against only his political enemies. It’s all so useless and inefficient.

Now for the legality of all that… it’s only needed if the USA is not run by the people. 100 years ago, authors of the day were already remarking on the stranglehold major corporations exercised on the USA’s government. It’s gotten worse since then. Consider why the security apparatus is justified: we must catch the terrorists! Why, then, are there terrorists? They hate us?

Well, why do they hate us? It’s not our freedom-loving lifestyle, I guarantee. It’s the way the USA topples popular governments and supports ruthless regimes in the lands of the terrorists. It’s also in the way the USA raises up terrorist groups to further our foreign policy in some lands, and then abandons them when our aims are achieved.

So what are our aims? Not freedom and justice for all – the support for terrorists and dictators on our payroll gives the lie to that idea. Our aims, all too frequently, are to allow our corporations to have exploitative access to foreign markets and resources, particularly in the oil industry.

So, we have terrorists on our case because ExxonMobil, Chevron, and other oil majors are the real Joint Chiefs of Staff. We need a security apparatus ostensibly to protect us from the terrorists, but that same apparatus is turned on we, the people, to keep us from opposing the powers that be. Edward Snowden revealed something of the extent of that security apparatus, and yet the official outrage from the Senate and House is directed at Snowden, not his former spymaster employers.

I could explain what is going on to Russians about my age or older. We have samizdat in the form of Wikileaks. We have defectors in the lands of our political rivals. (Consider: Gerard Depardieu defected to Russia…) We now have evidence that the apparatchniks are in control and their reach is long and broad and deep.

Snowden violated the law: fine. But Snowden violated the law in order to reveal how we in the USA are ruled by some very, very bad laws that need to go away. The fact that the elected leaders of the USA are not taking on the apparatchniks reveals that they themselves are members of that group.

So is the USA going down the path of Communist Russia? Not at all. It’s going down the path of Mexico. From the 1930s forward, Mexico was ruled first by a single party – PRI – and now by their elites. They have peaceful changes of top political leaders who are beholden to major interests. In Mexico, there is a law for the rich and a law for everyone else. Of course, the metaphor is not a complete one.

In Mexico, the people still turn out for major political rallies. In Mexico, the government does not yet harvest everyone’s electronic communications. And, finally, in Mexico, people don’t just talk about taking up arms to oppose an oppressive, non-representative government: they actually take up arms and fight for their rights.

The fact that gun nuts here haven’t yet risen up in actual insurrections shows how America as a whole has lost its spine to resist. And that’s why the apparatus shown us by Mr. Snowden has not triggered an uprising – and why those same gun nuts aren’t being rounded up by the apparatchniks. The gun nuts are controlled, docile, and not a threat. It doesn’t matter if they have guns or not to protect themselves from an overly oppressive government. They have no intention of actually resisting the government. They just want to pretend like they could. Those guns are a safety valve, believe it or not.

The fact that our political leaders can vilify Snowden without wagging a finger at the security apparatus and not worry about losing their seats in the Senate or House is the ultimate punctuation at the end of the Snowden affair. The USA does not respect international law, sponsors terrorists that we manage to get to turn on us, is run by major corporations, uses the threat of armed conflict to cow smaller nations into handing their economy and population over to those major corporations, justifies a massive security apparatus, and does not fear its own people because they are all bark and no bite. That is what the Snowden affair reveals in its totality.

On Government Surveillance

Government surveillance of the people it governs is needed only to prop up a regime that has no legitimate support among the people it governs. It was true long ago, it is true today. Given that our government is made up of unelected bureaucrats and elected officials that are supported – and vetted – by major corporations and lobbies unconnected to the people as a whole, it is necessary that the government place its citizens under surveillance.

How long has this been going on? Look back to the COINTELPRO operations of the 1960s. Not only did the FBI and CIA spy on US citizens in the name of national security, they also engaged agents provocateurs to stage incidents, assassinated leaders of movements hostile to the status quo, and even did some drug dealing of their own to radicalize the antiwar movement. Perhaps the scope of recent revelations seems vast by comparison, but the amount of communications currently ongoing is equally vast.

Given what national security apparatchniks could do back in the 1960s, the current revelations regarding PRISM are merely a logical extension of those capabilities. The question we’re now faced with is simple: what does our government do with that information that it collects every day?

Clearly, it’s not to catch terrorists. The only terrorist captures trotted out to our view are victims of government sting operations – people approached by the government and encouraged by the government to engage in radical, violent activities… and then arrested by the government for falling victim to the temptation it offered. Anyone planning violence on his or her own goes about, unknown to the eyes and ears that are everywhere spying on us, and they carry out their violence with terrible effect. Worse, should the terrorist use a gun, a large portion of the nation will ride to the defense of that gun, if not the terrorist. Most bizarre are the politicians that will swallow whole the justification of national surveillance as a means to fight terror, but who will then strain at the notion of a database of gun owners that could be cross-checked with other databases, say, of known criminals or persons with sketchy mental histories.

So what does the government do with this information? It’s obvious. The answer, which may surprise some of you, comes from L. Ron Hubbard. The guy was no dummy, whatever his faults may have been. Hubbard went after his enemies not with bullets – “the guns only shot the pawns” – but with private investigators. Once you know someone’s sins that he or she would do anything to keep quiet, they’ll do anything for you.

If blackmail wasn’t enough, digging up dirt was still needed to form grounds for lawsuits. “The purpose of the suit is to harass and discourage rather than to win. The law can be used very easily to harass, and enough harassment on somebody who is simply on the thin edge anyway, well knowing that he is not authorized, will generally be sufficient to cause his professional decease. If possible, of course, ruin him utterly.” – L. Ron Hubbard, A Manual on the Dissemination of Material, 1955

And, really, what’s a few million in lawyer fees to the US Government? Or, rather, what’s a few millions of someone else’s money spent on lawyer fees to the lobbies and corporations that dominate the government? That’s the whole point of our government today: it is to protect the powerful in their abuses. Surveillance is needed so that if anyone gets on the radar screen as a serious threat to the excesses of the powerful, such a person can be neutralized with ease. Blowhard television commentators are not threats, by the way. The true threats are people with actual stories to tell.

What’s sad is that those little people with big stories also have little sins in their lives that leave them vulnerable to character assassination in the media. It’s to the point where only Jesus Christ himself could take on the deviltry we call government.

On the Prophet Isaiah

A widely-held view among biblical scholars is that the book of Isaiah from the Old Testament has had three different authors. While such a view can be contended with via scholarly arguments – and such arguments do exist – I argue against that view based upon my faith. Namely, I do not see it as impossible for the book of Isaiah to be the product of one author simply because citations from throughout Isaiah appear in the Book of Mormon. I believe that the Book of Mormon is true, and that the people who wrote it had access to the whole of the Book of Isaiah.

Yes, I know one can criticize my faith as being simplistic: I respond that my faith is simple, that God can and does reveal his will to his servants, the prophets, and that prophetic language can contain notions in it that challenge the notions of what we consider to be normal, causal relationships. So be it. While I could argue about wordprint patterns and symbolic assignments to historical events mentioned in Isaiah, the fact remains that I’ll hold the view of Isaiah as a unitary person, writing the whole of his book prior to the Babylonian Captivity of Judah. I believe in the existence of prophets and their implication that God is involved in our daily lives on an intimate basis, as a Heavenly Father to his beloved children. I’ll hold that view, regardless of whatever scholarly debates may transpire, because my faith is simple and I accept that we have contact with a world largely invisible to us through our own spiritual experiences individually and through our prophets collectively. They are, if I could borrow the concept, part of our sensory apparatus as much as our eyes or ears are.

Wait, Which Terrorists Are Our Terrorists?

Syria is a mess. Assad’s men are being backed by Hizbollah, which the US says are terrorists. The rebels in Syria receive aid and support from al-Qaeda, which the US says are terrorists. Does this mean now that the enemy of my enemy which is still my enemy that is friends of a friend of a friend is my friend in this localized context? And you thought the Chinese were inscrutable… this takes the cake.

And, yes, we’re in cahoots with al-Qaeda on this one, same as we were in Libya. What gives? They blow up our stuff and murder people indiscriminately, but we’re still cool about hooking up with them on projects to get rid of unfriendly regimes in the area? The Saudis are every bit as oppressive as the Assads in Syria, but they’re on our side, so we let that stuff slide. Lean in the direction of Russia, though, and we’re ready to let al-Qaeda go crazy on you.

The US involvement in Syria was bad to begin with. It wasn’t a case of freedom-loving people trying to overthrow an evil ogre. It’s a case of power-hungry baddies (al-Qaeda) in a near-genocidal struggle for conflict with another group of power-hungry baddies (Assad’s Alawites). We really don’t want either side to win, but we know one will.

Well, Russia’s backed Assad’s side, with more than just words. That means Russia has to take the side of Hezbollah and, with it and Syria, Iran. Once again, the conflict in the Middle East is a proxy war for superpower struggles. In this version, though, we seem to have picked up a terrorist organization to do some work for us.

I don’t know if I’m entirely comfortable with that…

Networking with Cats

Take it from me, you do *not* want cats in your production network environment. You especially do not want them in charge of cabling. Heck, you don’t even want them *present* during cabling. Although, I do confess that they make for good temporary heat sinks. They like to sit on warm equipment and soak up the energy. Even so, cats are not good in the server room.

GeoGuessr.com

Need another distraction, but you’d like one you can learn from while doing? GeoGuessr.com is for you. It’ll drop you somewhere in the world and you’re supposed to figure out where you are. You can play hard mode where you guess based only on what you know, or you can guess after using Internet resources to narrow things down.

I like the latter mode, which means I try to pinpoint my location. On the round I just did, I was within 11 meters of one location, but really lost it when I was off by 58km somewhere in New Zealand. I like to wander away from my start point to look for clues. One time, I saw a “You Are Here” sign for tourists that was invaluable.

The best part of this is how I sharpen my location-finding skills while seeing some really neat locations in the world. I love searching for road signs, flags, indications of traffic flow, and other clues to help me know where it is that GeoGuessr decided to drop me.

A Call from the Technical Support Department

Guy calls… Caller ID shows “Unknown Number”… I’m game. I answer.

“Hello.” Already I can detect the Bihari accent. This guy’s from India. “My name is John Peterson.” Lie. “I am from the technical support department for the Windows operating system.” Big lie. “Am I speaking with Mr. Webb?” Oh-ho! He’s got a directory!

“Yes,” I reply.

“We have been receiving notifications of many problems from your computer as you attempt to access web sites. We are calling to resolve those issues with you.” Oh really? I did not know that. How wonderful for him to have called me! “Are you at your Windows operating system computer?”

“Yes.” This promises great fun and sport, I can sense that already.

“What version of Windows Operating System do you have?”

“I have one computer with XP, one with Vista, and one with Windows 7.”

“Are you at your computer?”

“Yes.”

“Do you see, in the lower left corner, a button that says ‘Start’?” I guess that’s how he can make sure I don’t have Windows 8.

“Yes.”

“Please apply the left-click on that button.”

“OK.” And, yes, I did apply the left-click to the start button.

“Do you see a list of options?”

“Yes.”

He then proceeds to read off a list of options that I don’t have because I’ve configured my start menu to be like classic Windows. I know what he’s reading to me is for the default config on Windows 7. I don’t have that here. I tell him that I don’t see those options.

“Do you see a list of programs?”

I click on “Programs” and, yes, I do see a list. Three columns wide. No way am I reading all those off, even if I was a chump. “Yes, a long list of programs. Lots of them.”

“Do you see an option for ‘My Documents’ or ‘Computer’?”

Lucky me, I don’t. “No, I don’t have options for those.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am sure. Those options are not there.”

“Well, let us try a more direct method or way. Look at your keyboard. What button do you see in the lower left corner?”

“CTRL.”

“And what button is next to that? FN?”

“No, it’s ALT.”

“And what button is next to that?”

“The spacebar.”

“Don’t you have a key with a Windows logo on it?”

“No.” OK, so that’s a bit of a lie, but I prefer using keyboards without a Windows key, so since he’s lied to me, I get to play make-believe with him.

“There is no keyboard that does not have a Windows key!”

“Mine doesn’t have a Windows key.”

“You have to have a Windows key! Every keyboard made for the Windows operating system has a Windows key!”

“I’m telling you, I don’t have a Windows key. I’ve been using Windows since 1993, and the keyboards back then did not have a Windows key. My keyboard right now does not have a Windows key.”

“You have to have a Windows key! I am smarter than you!”

“Really?”

“Is your mother there?”

What does he need my mother for? “No, my mother is not here.”

“Are you at you at your mother’s computer?”

“No, this is my computer. My mother does not live here. I live here. This is my computer.”

“This is your computer?”

“Yes, this is my computer.”

“Well, I am calling from the Technical Support Department. Now you must listen to me!”

“The Technical Support Department from which company?”

“I have told you.”

“No, you just said you’re with the Technical Support Department. You didn’t say which company you’re with.”

“I’m with the Windows Operating System.”

“The Windows Operating System isn’t a company. Microsoft is a company. Hewlett-Packard is a company. IBM is a company. What company are you with?”

“I’m with The Geek Squad.”

“Hmm… I don’t have a Geek Squad account. Is this free support?”

“No.”

“So this is pay support? How much will it cost?”

“No, it won’t cost you.”

“Wait, so you’re giving me free support and not free support?”

“Stop confusing yourself! Listen to me! Minor problems we fix for free: major problems, big bucks!”

“So what is a major problem?”

“We will find out! Do you have an icon that says ‘My Computer.’?” Nice redirect, Mr. Non-Peterson. I’ll play along.

“Yes.” Looks like the blind squirrel found a nut.

“Please to right-click that icon and read to me the options.”

I right-click it and read the list, as I see it: “Open, Explore, Search, Map Network Drive, Disconnect Net-”

“Please click the option that says ‘Manage’.” Rude! He interrupted me!

Just as well. I didn’t have a ‘Manage’ option. I told him that.

“You have no ‘Manage’ option?”

“No.”

“Is this a special computer that your employer has especially built for you?”

“No.”

“And somehow, you have the *only* Windows Operating System in the world that does not have a Windows key, a Computer option or a Manage option?”

“It’s not the only one that doesn’t fit that description, you see-”

“Why don’t you go use your mother’s computer, you [obscene gerund followed by an obscene noun]!” And then, before I could reply, he hung up.

Pity. I was wanting him to ask me to click on something so I could rattle off one of the many Blue Screen of Death messages that I’ve memorized.

Oh well, now I have to let my mom know that a very angry Indian chap has ordered me to use her computer. Right before Mother’s Day, too. How thoughtful of the guy!

The Saga of a Test-Taking Man

I make no mystery of it: I love taking tests that I’ve studied for. I appreciate a well-written test with difficult, yet doable, questions. I read up for the test, do labs, do my homework, do practice labs, and then I go for it.

This year, I’ve taken three tests so far. After starting my studies in January, I set a goal to have two CCNA certifications by the end of April. I am happy to say that I attained that goal. Now, I’m planning to do four more tests in the next three months to earn my CCNP-Security. These are tests that have a minimum pass score of 80% and the tests themselves are no slouches. They remind me of the AP exams in terms of depth and difficulty – and if a test-taker knows what he’s doing, they’ll drain him of information. No topic goes uncovered.

As a teacher, I’ve told countless students that reading, study, and practice is the key to successful learning. Now, I have another chance to apply that in my life. I believe I can do this. True belief leads to actions based upon that belief. Therefore, it’s time for some actions on my part. Onwards to the CCNP!

A Business Lesson From Microsoft

Long, long ago, when there was a stock market boom, lots and lots of people wanted to work at Microsoft. Its stock was going ever higher, and the company was famous for its generous stock options. True, there was the dreaded “stack rank” review procedure that turfed out a lot of good people, but, hey, the stock! Look at the stock! People signed on for the ride and enjoyed it greatly.

Then, the stock market turned. MSFT was no longer synonymous with magic or even growth. Microsoft had become a mature industry, and its stock price leveled off after dropping hard in early 2000. Microsoft kept its stack rank procedures, but now, there wasn’t any options fun to balance out the terror of a policy in which a certain percentage of the workforce was to be fired each year, usually because they didn’t have good relations with managers they didn’t report directly to.

Without the incentive to stick around in the form of stock options, a lot of talented people left the company. A LOT. Not all of the talent, but a significant chunk of it. New talent didn’t gravitate to Microsoft. Now, I hear people talking about it they way people used to talk about Novell… how it’s a shadow of what it used to be. It’s not the big industry mover that it was in 1999, that’s for sure.

What could turn the company around? Ideas. Where do ideas come from? Bright people that don’t want to be massacred by a stack rank policy. The problem is that the policy is entrenched, the management doesn’t really listen to the workers when they complain about it, and the company as a whole suffers.

Moral of the story: don’t fire people for the sake of firing people in order to create a false sort of competition between workers. It doesn’t work.

Hungarian Rock and Roll

I love finding music that I like. The latest round of searching took me to Hungary, in the 1970s. There was some great rock and roll there and then. I’m enjoying the bands Locomotiv GT and Skorpio. I’ve even learned some Hungarian so I can know the titles and sing along.

The best thing I take away from this is the joy of self-directed learning. Assign yourself homework to not just enjoy something, but to learn about what you enjoy so you can enjoy it even more.