Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Music Blogging

Peter Gabriel - Shaking The Tree

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Curiously, I was just down there this past weekend, and my college career started there just after the student unrest of the 70s. I must be a bad influence!
2) I'm not sure about the political demands of the students, but I can certainly get behind the "more transparency" bit. Having had more than my fair share of run-ins with the university administrators...I know, what? Me? A troublemaker?...the whole veil of secrecy annoyed me more than anything else.
3) By all means, South Carolina! Please save us the money! But don't come running to us after the next hurricane!
4) No retraction, eh? Ol' Johnnie Mac must have been tapping that!
5) The word "moron" shall now be redefined as "Santelli". Imagine thinking that what diminishes your neighbor is none of your business! I think it's about time the corporatocracy realize the free ride is over.
6) My church did something I can be proud of.
7) Something on the order of two-thirds of the country lives near an urban center. It's about time we had a President who understood this.
8) They really should just be sorry, full stop.
9) The Oscars are this weekend. And while I think Sean Penn will win for Best Actor, Mickey Rourke probably ought to be invited on stage for his moment in the sun as well. I don't normally make Oscar pics, but I think it will be Penn, Winslet, and Slumdog.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Opt Out Privacy

There's an interesting decision in the case of a couple suing Google for invasion of privacy:

A ruling issued Wednesday by Judge Amy Reynolds Hay in a Pennsylvania district court states that Google's Street View mapping service is not an invasion of privacy. Judge Reynolds has dismissed a lawsuit against the search giant and has denied a request for injunctive relief that sought to block Google from publishing Street View imagery.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Aaron and Christine Boring, who contend that Google violated their privacy when a Street View camera car drove past a "private road" sign in their driveway in order to take pictures of their house.

Google countered that there was already a public record photo of the house, filed by the county tax assessor's office, and said this proved that "complete privacy does not exist." Perhaps that's a point, altho I would argue strongly that being forced to file with the county is not the same thing as having a private enterprise drive up your road. This would be much like claiming that, because you get US mail, you should be forced to accept each and every stinking flyer that a car wash decides to litter your property with.
Here's where the argument gets interesting: Google claims (and they're probably right) that they protect privacy on an "opt out" basis, that if you ask them, they will eliminate your house from Street View.
Um, what?
It strikes me that privacy is a little like virginity: once you've lost it, you can't exactly ask for it back. If anything, then, privacy shouldn't be an opt-in right, but an opt-out right.
In other words, Google, no matter how benevolent or benign your purpose may be, it seems to me that the polite thing to do, particularly when it comes to driving onto someone's property, is to ask permission.
The judge's rationale for this boorish invasion by Google? In two words, utterly ridiculous:

Judge Reynolds sided with Google and concluded that the Street View service doesn't meet the criteria for an unlawful intrusion. Case law precedents define an actionable intrusion as one that causes "mental suffering, shame, or humiliation to a person of ordinary sensibilities." Reynolds doesn't believe that sufficient evidence was provided to demonstrate that Street View can cause such damage.

"While it is easy to imagine that many whose property appears on Google's virtual maps resent the privacy implications, it is hard to believe that any—other than the most exquisitely sensitive—would suffer shame or humiliation. The Plaintiffs have not alleged facts to convince the Court otherwise," the Judge wrote in the decision.

The Judge also pointed out that the Borings have not taken steps to have the images removed from Street View through Google's opt-out process and have, in fact, decreased their own privacy by drawing attention to themselves with the lawsuit. They did not file the suit under seal, which would have minimized exposure.

Judge Reynolds, now arguably the stupidest jurist in the States (privacy suddenly looks pretty good, Judge, don't it?), has clearly made a brutish and Neaderthalic interpretation of the law, very much akin to the rape victim being told, "well, hell, don't dress like that, beeyatch!"
Amy Reynolds has compounded the heartache that the Borings (intriguing name, by the way) now feel by basically telling them, "No no, you didn't read my mind and you got the wrong answer."
"Minimized exposure"? By filing a lawsuit, the Constitutional method of handling these things (unless you want us to fly to Google headquarters and picket or worse), the Borings availed themselves of the legal recourse open to them, but that recourse has been held against them because it wasn't perfect enough.
As for the whole case law precedent that "mental suffering, shame, or humiliation" must accompany an invasion of privacy, isn't the simple act of exposure a mental suffering? We're talking about a violation, severe enough that the Borings took it upon themselves to fight back. That act alone ought to qualify as evidence of a mental suffering, unless you are going to claim that somehow this couple is masochistic enough to take on one of the biggest frikkin' corporations in the world and is enjoying their moment in the spotlight.
Judge Reynolds, maybe you need to be back in traffic court!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On The Margins

We all know or have heard of people who live on the margin: it might be by circumstance or by choice, but they tend to live a hand-to-mouth existence, or carefully marshall their resources to survive, day to day, paycheck to paycheck, but turning their backs on society.
I thought about this as I read a follow up to the California budget crisis I discussed yesterday:

As California Senators were literally locked in a budget debate overnight, the chamber's Republicans overthrew their leader because he had agreed to a budget deal with billions of dollars in tax increases.

Dave Cogdill, R-Fresno, was ousted as Senate leader in favor of Dennis Hollingsworth, R-Murietta, who made it clear he opposes raising taxes to balance the budget which is more than 15 weeks overdue.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, made good on his promise to lock senators inside the Capitol after another vote on a budget compromise fell a vote short again overnight. Steinberg said he is prepared to keep the chamber in "lockdown" as long as it takes to approve a budget.

If it lasts long enough, California will soon have a second major fossil discovery. But I digress...
It's been interesting to watch the GOP return to the same failed stance that got us into this mess in the first place: cut taxes, cut spending, and find some way to hope the deficit doesn't balloon while praying this time the economy will boom. Meanwhile, companies across the land are struggling, homeowners in every state in the union are having a really tough time making ends meet, and the worst is yet to come.
After all, if you thought the mortgage crunch was bad, wait until consumer credit hits the fan. Give it another couple of months, I figure.
Now, you know the Republicans have some people who actually have a brain, if only a few, and those voices, while probably being ignored for the grandstanding going on, have some weight somewhere in the smoke-filled rooms of not only Sacramento, but Washington, DC and every other political power center across this land.
So the question is, in the face of the worst economic meltdown in history (not yet, but I have little doubt it's going to happen) and after an election in which they were all but run out of the nation on a rail, why would the Republicans suddenly stiffen their backs and start throwing reason and caution to the wind?
It confuses me, frankly. Yes, you can make the case that the GOP is beholden to the Limbaugh-cheesers, who stink up the place while adding little flavor to anything they touch. But look, even George W. Bush, a man who was about as conservative as they come, considering how he was cheered on by the same knuckleheads who are determined to sink the ship of state(s), repudiated the ultimate conservative playing card: let this shit stink the place out, while the roaches take over.
Even Bush couldn't stoop that low. Even he saw his legacy in peril. Even Bush saw the degradation of a once-great land at the hands of people like Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh and the frightened reactionaries of the Republican party, and stopped short of going there.
The grace of American politics is it runs top-down: things that happen at the Federal level tend to trickle down to the states and then the counties. A repudiation in Washington of failed policies and mean-spirited political hackery will eventually make its way to the rest of us.
Too little, too late, as they say.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If Anyone Denies The Need For A Stimulus Bill...

Tell them to read the news today:
 SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After a frustrating holiday weekend that failed to yield the one vote needed to end California's budget stalemate, the state is poised to begin layoff proceedings Tuesday for 20,000 government workers.

In addition to the layoffs, the state also plans to halt all remaining public works projects, potentially putting thousands of construction workers out of jobs.

"We are dealing with a catastrophe of unbelievable proportions," said state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat from Long Beach and chairman of the Senate transportation committee.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg announced late Monday that lawmakers had failed to find the final vote in his chamber as Republicans refused to support tax increases. He called a session for Tuesday and said he would put the tax provisions of the budget proposal up for a vote, even if they would not pass.

"Sure," they'll say, "it's just 'Tax-and-spendifornia'! The bastion of liberal thinking and left-wing values!"

TOPEKA | Kansas tax refunds, employee paychecks and money for schools are all on hold after a showdown erupted Monday between Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The game of political chicken places state taxpayers, workers and schoolchildren squarely in the middle of a politically charged battle over massive budget cuts.

Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, blocked Sebelius' proposal to borrow $225 million from healthy state funds to cover shortages in accounts used to meet the state's payroll and issue tax refunds.

So Kansas may end up selling apples out of carts any day now, as well.
Keep in mind, when it comes to California, the ridiculous "Prop 13" and how that is now echoing down the corridors of bad governance. For instance, Proposition 13 has probably contributed mightily to the teetering housing market in California, by far the largest state with a continuing depressed housing market that has not responded at all to any of the Bush/Paulson bank bailout.
Too, the ludicrous Prop13 has raised sales taxes and user fees and taxes by exponential amounts in the thirty years since its passage.
Furthermore, it has had the bizarrely liberal effect of giving the centralized state government more say in how cities and localties can structure their taxes and fees, as well as property values. As an example, if a town wants to raise its school tax, it has to do so by a 55% supermajority (this used to be a two-thirds vote).
In Kansas, we have a very different picture. There, the Republican-controlled legislature is trying to prevent the governor, Kathleen Sebelius, from shifting state funds as she sees fit, in order to cover some entitlement obligations and of course, payroll. Clearly, the Grover Norquist school of governance is alive and well and terrorizing Kansans to this day.
Sebelius' reaction ought to be interesting. There are roughly $10 million available and $24 million in payroll, mostly schools and hospitals, and another $20 million in Medicaid payments due this week.
Will she take a page out of Bill Clinton's book and shut down the state, including the legislature? Stay tuned!