September 2009

A Bachelors of Journalism From Fontbone University Is A BJ From FU

I have to give a lot of credit to journalists. The ability to consistently write clear, informative copy that’s neither pithy nor verbose can be damn intimidating. Imagine starting your day staring at a blank computer screen that begs for an unique voice; an uncommon take on news items that have been dispensed and commented on by a deluge of sources. When vast amounts of information are available by the mere application of a few keystrokes, serious questions concerning redundancy arise.You ask yourself, what can I add to the already bloated infosphere? Are my feeble attempts at analysis justification for feeding the information overload monster? Am I becoming a Bing commercial caricature? At three a.m., as I stare at a blank computer screen, these questions are causing me some angst. I could open numerous tabs of newsites, blogs, and forums; digest copious amounts of data; drink several cups of coffee and still wonder what the hell to write about. Here’s a thought. I’ll continue in the same vein and write about writing.

When knowledge can be obtained from an infinite number of sources , the old rules of journalism no longer seem to apply. The mere reporting of data has taken a back seat to the interpretation of that data. The journalistic, Dragnet style of “just the facts, ma’am” is no longer warranted or wanted. Facts we have plenty of. Soundbites are no longer enough for a vast majority of the populace. Americans have demonstrated, via the Nielsen ratings, that they want a rational dissection of the issues that have ramifications for their lives. Witness the rise in popularity of such shows as The O’Reilly Factor, The Glen Beck Show, and Hannity.

Conversely, we have seen a steady increase in the number of Seinfeld-type news columns, programs, and websites. These “soft news” sources are like comfort foods. In our chaotic lives, these vignettes of life are reminders that other people go through the same crap that we do; that we share a certain commonality.  Starshine Roshell, a writer for the Santa Barbara Independent, personifies this. Besides having a extremely cool name, Starshine is a very funny lady. I can only hope to be able to write as well as her one day.

Well…my word count tells me that I’m now at almost four hundred. I guess that qualifies as an article. It’s time for a cup of coffee and, heaven forbid, a cigarette. Ciao.

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The Cybersecurity Act

There is an interesting piece of legislation that is presently being debated in the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Written by John Rockefeller(D-WV), Bill Nelson(D-FL)and Olympia Snowe(R-NE), Senate Bill 773 has some chilling  Orwellian possibilities. Anyone even remotely connected with the computer industry needs to read this bill. It  can be found in it’s entirety at: For those of you unwilling to read through pages of abstruse legalese, let me present some of the more curious sections.
Just so we know exactly who or what this bill refers to:

In this Act:

(2) CYBER- The term ‘cyber’ means–

(A) any process, program, or protocol relating to the use of the Internet or an intranet, automatic data processing or transmission, or telecommunication via the Internet or an intranet; and
(B) any matter relating to, or involving the use of, computers or computer networks.

(3) FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AND UNITED STATES CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE INFORMATION SYSTEMS AND NETWORKS- The term ‘Federal Government and United States critical infrastructure information systems and networks’ includes–

(A) Federal Government information systems and networks; and

(B) State, local, and nongovernmental information systems and networks in the United States designated by the President as critical infrastructure information systems and networks.

(a) DESIGNATION- The Department of Commerce shall serve as the clearinghouse of cybersecurity threat and vulnerability information to Federal Government and private sector owned critical infrastructure information systems and networks.

(b) FUNCTIONS- The Secretary of Commerce–

(1) shall have access to all relevant data concerning such networks without regard to any provision of law, regulation, rule, or policy restricting such access;

You can probably read as well as me. This can and will cover all computer networks, giving our government some pretty awesome “big brother” power. Let’s read some more.
(b) MANDATORY LICENSING- Beginning 3 years after the date of enactment of this Act, it shall be unlawful for any individual to engage in business in the United States, or to be employed in the United States, as a provider of cybersecurity services to any Federal agency or an information system or network designated by the President, or the President’s designee, as a critical infrastructure information system or network, who is not licensed and certified under the program.
What constitutes a “critical infrastructure system or network”? Am I going to have to have a license to work for Google?
Now here’s the chilling part:

The President–
(2) may declare a cybersecurity emergency and order the limitation or shutdown of Internet traffic to and from any compromised Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information system or network;
(6) may order the disconnection of any Federal Government or United States critical infrastructure information systems or networks in the interest of national security;
Why do I see a Skynet scenario in the future? If you wish the internet to remain as it is, I urge you to write, call, or e-mail one of  fourteen senators that are on this committee and urge them to rewrite the bill.

  1. Chairman John Rockefeller(D-WV)
  2. Barbara Boxer(D-CA)
  3. Maria Cantwell(D-WA)
  4. Byron Dorgan(D-ND)
  5. Daniel Inouye(D-HI)
  6. John Kerry(D-MA)
  7. Amy Klobuchar(D-MN)
  8. Frank Lautenberg(D-NJ)
  9. Claire McCaskill(D-MO)
  10. Bill Nelson(D-FL)
  11. Mark Pryor(D-AR)
  12. Tom Udall(D-NM)
  13. Mark Warner(D-WA)

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Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves

There are many misconceptions and half-truths about the homeless. As a person that has been in this situation, I might be able to shed some light. It’s time to do some myth busting.

Very few people set out to be homeless and contrary to popular wisdom, very few prefer to be that way. Don’t confuse apathy with choice. Once in this situation, many just resign themselves to it.
There is a very high rate of alcohol and drug abuse among the down-and-out. This is obviously true. However, cause and effect often get confused here. Sure, substance abuse is directly or indirectly the cause of homelessness in many cases, but it is oftentimes the effect of the situation. Think about it. As a “bum”, they are ridiculed, targeted by the police; (which is ridiculous if you think about it. A smart, successful criminal is not going to be living on the streets.); and victimized by predators. Their peers are more than likely substance abusers, so it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

Many of the homeless really are criminals. This is no myth, but there are varying degrees of criminality. There are the sociopathic, career criminals that will spend their entire lives  on the streets; going in and out of prison. Then there are the hopeless drunks that go in and out of jail due to public intoxication charges or open container tickets that they never pay. Unfortunately, many of these drunks end up dying on the streets. Finally, there are the novice criminals. These are people that have recently become homeless due to a period of incarceration. Many of these people were highly successful, but lost it all due to domestic violence charges, multiple dui’s, or something similar. A lot of these people will become career criminals. Yes Virginia, the system really does produce criminals.

Then, there are the homeless that are disturbed. Many of the displaced are mentally ill, but, like substance abusers, the line between cause and effect is not definitive.  There are people on the streets that just can’t take care of themselves and will never be able to live independently. There are borderline cases. These are people who had the ability to live self-sufficiently at one point, but have lost it due to substance abuse or to the stress of being itinerant.  And believe me,  homelessness can be incredibly stressful at times.  Many “normal” people go a little bonkers after being on the streets for a while. How would it effect you if you suddenly found yourself without a home, a car , a job, or even a place to keep your things? How would you like to carry all your earthly possessions on your back? It’s hard to be empathetic if you’ve never experienced it.

No article on the homeless would be complete without some commentary on the “poverty pimps”. These are people and organizations that exploit the destitute. While there are many associations that are legitimately trying to help, others merely go through the motions; doing just enough to maintain their nonprofit charter. Most of these groups started out with good intentions, but have subsequently mutated into something the founders never intended; ( kind of like our country); existing merely for the benefit of the employees. Just take a look at some of the workers at these places. Enough said.

In closing, I’d like to remind people of an old Hollywood adage:” Be nice to people on the way up. You may meet them on the way down.” With the economy in shambles and the apocalypse apparently looming on the horizon, this is advice that we may all want to heed.
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