Thursday, November 3, 2011

What is a non theist, and why I am one...

Sometimes coming across a good book or three helps you find the language to explain things you already know about yourself. Literature, poised with the power to enlighten inform and change, can also serve the purpose of shining a light on that which you already knew and held dear.
Even my decision to call myself a non-theist (as opposed to using the word atheist) is a deliberate attempt to focus my thoughts and the thoughts of others back on to the meaning of the actual word, so that the taboo's and common misunderstandings of "that other word" are easier to avoid.
I probably owe the clarity of my thinking to three books I've read in recent history, though I preface this to make clear I've since adolescence thought of myself as a non-theist and a secular humanist, long before I ever fully understood what those words and phrases implied. 
Lets start with Richard Dawkins. Though I had followed his work by initially reading excerpts of his two books on biology, "The Extended Phenotype" and "The Selfish Gene" (after which I did properly read his books) it was his book "The God Delusion" that helped me understand within myself better how others could believe in absurd things that I could not. Furthermore, that book helped me stop my "fence sitting" on the subject, making me realize that my placations and silence were serving no useful purpose for me or anyone else.
The next author would be Sam Harris. His is an interesting history, that I can perhaps relate to on some level. It appears he reached his state of epiphany after having studied eastern Buddhist practices for the better part of a decade. Though I never formally studied Buddhism myself, I was strongly exposed to it during the years I studied Aikido, so I was aware of just how enlightening this eastern view of the world and our place in it could be trans-formative to ones character. Though Sam wrote several books on the topic, his last full length work "The Moral Landscape" did much to codify my awareness of where he has been suggesting we go with his premises and arguments. He makes a compelling case for rational inquiry into the nature of suffering and its consequences that separates our need to cede this ground to men in pointy hats.
The final and most recent work that has helped me better understand myself and my own thinking in particular is Penn Jillette's latest book "God, No!" Full of wit, and a considerable dose of anecdotes about his crazy life, he distills what it is to be an atheist and humanist into such logical and coherent (and ridiculously simple) terms that it makes me think what this man could have done if he'd been writing books instead of drowning Teller all of these years. :)
All you have to say, to be an atheist, is to answer "I just don't know" to the whole epistemological question. And when you do, it automatically answers whether or not you believe, because you cannot believe if you don't know. These two sentences should get many agnostics (as I once thought I was) off the fence. 
Once you realize that the existence of deity is utterly unknowable, it gets such a huge and burdensome question out of the way for you, so you can focus on living your life and figuring out what that is all about. The precious gift of life is itself the reward and the point for me, negating any need to believe in ridiculous and divisive things. And contrary to those who might think otherwise, it is not a path to nihilism, rather it is for me a path towards true enlightened existence. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

From The Other Side

As I've blogged about my following of various transparency movements (those being #OccupyWallStreet #Anonymous #Wikileaks) there is perhaps one interesting tidbit I've left out. My older brother is a significant figure in South Carolina's #Teaparty.

Considering that we're family, naturally we don't let politics and philosophy interfere with being family. Or maybe that's not such a natural thing. Our family is unique in some regards. Our mother was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's, so growing up with such a person made sure that philosophical debate about social issues, morality, ethics, and political systems was a given. As such I suppose my brother and I are simply well schooled in our ability to come to loggerheads over an issue and set it aside to eat dinner together, tell jokes, and just be family.

Our differences philosophically are significant. He is a devout christian, and I'm an atheist. He's quite the right leaning conservative whereas I'm far more libertarian/left in my social philosophy. Given my knowledge of other families with such sociopolitical divides, perhaps it is a small miracle we get along so well.

One thing I had to "wake him up" about was just how large #OccupyWallStreet is getting. He's still somewhat convinced that the likes of George Soros and others on the left are funneling tons of money and resources into the movement (and thus in control of it), but I think I did at least convince him that on some level #Occupy is sort of picking up where the #TeaParty left off. Even he begrudgingly admits that much of the #Teaparty steam has been borg'd by the Republican Party (thanks in no small part to the Koch brothers and Newt Gingrich). He met personally with Newt Gingrich a couple of months ago, which more or less convinced him and his fellow senior group members that their group wanted nothing to do with him.

Being a senior and founding member of one of the earliest #TeaParty groups in the country, we've naturally had quite a few discussions over the last few years and I have to admit that many of the things he and his group were claiming about how our economy seems to function were and are indeed largely correct. He does tend to buy into conspiracy theory far more than I do, but I've already blogged about my feelings there. Such conspiracies may be true, but proving them to me seems to be a waste of time and effort better spent on simply dismantling the apparatus around the process itself.

At any rate, after our discussions yesterday I found it quite surprising that a significant, if not major mover and shaker in the #TeaParty and I can agree on so much. Perhaps it's not so amazing though. The apparatus that are broken in our political system are the very ones in the way of real debate, discussion, compromise, and resolution. In other words we both realize, knowing full well we reside at times in near polar opposite ends of the political spectrum, that we can't even get down to the messy details if we don't fix the system first.

  • We both agree that banks too big to fail, should be too big to exist.
  • We both agree that "financialization" is akin to Las Vegas gambling and should be illegal or tightly controlled.
  • We both agree that our government must get back to its Constitutional roots.
  • We both agree that money must be taken out of politics.
  • We both agree in principal that the Federal Reserve must be changed.

I would find it difficult to imagine a #TeaParty member or an #OccupyWallStreet occupier who would disagree with very little if any of the above as clear goals. The minutiae can be debated of course. We both differ on, for instance, precisely what we'd like to see happen to the Fed. And the Constitutional roots of our government? We disagree on the scope of what that means.

But look, here's a hardcore #TeaParty advocate and a rather staunch left leaning #OccupyWallStreet #WikiLeaks and #Anonymous follower who can AGREE ON SIGNIFICANT THINGS.

What this tells me is that once you get past the smoke and mirrors of the press and the plutocracy, we're largely on the same side on most every vital issue. This is the hidden progress in the social landscape of this country that shows perhaps America is waking up. I like that.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ramblings Of An Incessant Thinker: A Broken Country - How To Begin Fixing It

Ramblings Of An Incessant Thinker: A Broken Country - How To Begin Fixing It: A Broken Country Many people I know are utterly fed up with the state of things in our country, and they always seem to ask “how did we get...

A Broken Country - How To Begin Fixing It

A Broken Country

Many people I know are utterly fed up with the state of things in our country, and they always seem to ask “how did we get here?” Everyone has their opinions on this of course, and most are at least somewhat close to the mark in my estimation. The issue I take with most people I know is simply that they still choose to see the problems and potential solutions in a two dimensional manner, at least in the political sense.

More and more I've come to conclude that our two party system is largely broken. And not necessarily because two parties aren't enough either. Rather it is that these two parties represent a nearly unbroken history of political machinations that have distorted the entire political process. Republicans and Democrats still tow their individual party lines when it comes to the sort of standard arguments we expect from them, so little has changed on the surface. What has changed are the underlying processes that drive the system itself.

The Tea Party Movement is one of several recent “answers” to the overall frustration the public feels with the process, but one I feel strongly has misplaced priorities often owing to a naive interpretation of the facts behind our current socio/economic situation. The other significant movements geared towards overall transparency, such as #OccupyWallStreet and #Anonymous seem to get little if any press, and what little they do get is often quite distorted. Both being significantly driven by the revelations of #Wikileaks does make a difference though in how these movements should be interpreted. Why you ask? Because at the end of the day this approach differs significantly from the simplistic finger pointing sort of solutions offered by all other sides.

We live in a complex society, one where individual liberty and freedom are tantamount to most people, even if much of our liberty and freedom in practice today is an illusion. Anyone with a brain can realize that we have huge problems in this country, and even I believe there are significant and distinct root causes for the situation we find ourselves in. What I assiduously avoid however is conspiracy theory. I avoid it, not because some of those theories may not be true, but rather because the real problem is the existence of the machinery of conspiracy itself. I ran across a great article here that really digs into the larger issues at stake, which also paints a much broader understanding of what #Wikileaks is really about. The gist of this thinking however, is that limiting the capability of conspiracy in itself will help us at least begin to gain the transparency we all seek. Only with transparency can we really get a handle on the root problems of our society at a level of detail worth solving.

One other thing is vital to understanding the nature of our situation, and that is having at least a cursory understanding of modern American history. Laying bare a few facts about a couple of specific presidencies has for me codified my thinking in regards to our current situation. And surprisingly, one of those presidencies is not the one most haters of our current government jump on, Franklin Roosevelt. Granted, there has been some rather obvious fallout from the FDR administrations establishment of our current social welfare systems. But this fallout is largely a result of the tampering by later presidencies. How do I mean? Let's take a look at one particularly egregious presidency.

Whenever you mention Richard Nixon, it always seems to bring back the image of the Watergate debacle (or Futurama, depending on the generation you come from, but I digress). However Nixon's administration, as well as the congress serving around him before and after his election, really have quite a lot to answer for. I would bet that few people realize that it was Nixon who was behind the WIC program (Women/Infants/Children), behind the expansion of the Welfare and Medicare programs, or our current system of heavily subsidized agriculture.

Sounds more like a liberal platform than a republican one doesn't it? To understand one must remember what the social landscape was like at the end of the sixties. Inner city poverty was a real and growing problem, and the middle class were being equally hammered by cyclical food pricing issues. What better way to get elected and stay elected than enact programs that REMOVE THESE ISSUES AS POLITICAL ISSUES. We can also thank Nixon for the first real reform of health care in the 20th century through the deregulation of the insurance industry, a reform that has basically destroyed our healthcare system. While we're at it, one must recall the key shifts that took place in our Federal Court system under his administration, which were responsible for the beginnings of the reinterpretation of the 14th Amendment which now gives citizen-like rights to corporate entities.

The other president worth mentioning here is Ronald Reagan. His administration was able to convince much of the political establishment, including many democrats, that trickle down economics was a viable economic strategy. It was during his administration that we saw the vast deregulation of financial institutions, which has led to our current series of debacles. Prior to these two administrations our finance sector largely worked towards building real capital, and making real investments in real things such as manufacturing and infrastructure. Since the Reagan era, our finance sector has transformed our entire economy into one driven by “financialization”, or one that works by making money from money itself. Not only would things like “Collateral Debt Obligations”, “Naked Short Selling”, “Credit Default Swaps”, and Hedge Funds not even exist now had Reagan not done what he had done, they would be illegal today. More importantly the whole process of financialization has made absolutely sure that the only people that can gain anything in our society are the ones who have the money to play.

To be entirely fair here, the three Democratic presidents we've had in this timespan have been as guilty of buying in to the above mentioned situations. Most aggregiously so of Bill Clinton and our current President Barack Obama.

Economists tend to focus on the big picture entirely too much, and this bears out rather obviously when one looks back over the last thirty years. The American economy has largely grown (despite three significant economic downturns) well ahead of inflation during the last thirty years. But when one only looks at a single metric, one often misses important details.

Though our economy has grown much over the last thirty years, that growth has had significant and measurable costs. The relative wealth of the top 20% of earners in America has grown by a factor of four, to represent nearly 86% of all wealth in America. Four hundred of the wealthiest American's have the equivalent incomes of the lowest earning 100 million Americans. Meanwhile those at the poverty level have not only seen their ranks grow, but have seen their effective incomes (when factored against inflation) actually contract. The American middle class, once coined thus because it represented the largest group of citizens, now earns barely 6% of the overall wealth in our country.

In my estimation both sides of the political landscape have got it all wrong, and for all the wrong reasons. Republicans and Tea Partiers want to limit government largely because they think that free enterprise and capitalism can fix everything. I tend to agree that this would be true myself. The problem though is that our finance systems are not geared towards a proper and competitive capitalist market at all. So until our government (the one Republicans and Tea Partiers hate and mistrust) reestablishes the sort of controls and oversight we had prior to the 1970's this sort of thinking will get us nothing but what we've already experienced.

The Democrats hang on assiduously to their social programs, largely because they strongly believe that the government must be in the business of being our societies safety net. I also agree with this assessment, but in the end it is a naïve solution to placate our citizenry that solves nothing. The government simply cannot shore up growing wage inequities through masterful use of the tax code. Such types of redistribution of wealth only strengthen the desire to make our tax code all the messier, and prohibit people on both sides from even remotely considering building a proper tax code from scratch designed for the 21st century. As important, growing reliance on entitlement programs erodes our society emotionally and culturally in countless obvious ways. The government can also not play a huge direct role in fostering innovation or shoring up our countries aging infrastructure, mainly because we have the lessons of history to show us how poorly our government does such things efficiently. The reason why the corporate and financial interests in this country are not investing in these areas is primarily because more money is to be made from all those other financial boondoggles I mentioned above that would otherwise be illegal ones.

Our federal government exists for the sole purpose of drafting laws, enforcing laws, and regulating interstate commerce. Until our government gets back to it's roots here, very little is going to be solved.

*AND* until we enact campaign finance reform to get the money influence out of Washington, absolutely nothing will be done.

So what needs to happen? Regulate our finance sector so that it cannot continue to treat Wall Street like it's Las Vegas East. Restrict and regulate our insurance industries so that they function as actual insurance companies like the did prior to the 1970's. Break up the "too big to fail" banking system because something too big to fail should be too big to exist. Work with the Justice Department to try to reverse the recent 2010 ruling “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which basically gives corporate America carte-blanche to run our political process entirely. And stop getting involved in wars that serve no purpose. Our colonial era-esque military presence in 135 countries has got to go away, not to mention our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. The largest single drain on our federal budget, relative to collected income tax, is the Military and not social welfare as most would have you believe. People forget that one of the largest programs, Social Security,  is fed by an entirely different tax, known as the FICA tax. Social Security will have to be reformed, this is true enough, as it is an unsustainable program as it is currently administered. But lets stop with the lie that it is one of our biggest expenditures fed by income tax, because it is not. Incidentally we can also thank Nixon for the reason why the General Accounting Office plays this stupid game with our budget, because it was in the governments interest then during Vietnam, as it is now, to hide the true cost of war.

Most of our societal problems could easily begin to be addressed if our government simply got back to doing what it is supposed to. Easier said than done I know, but it is where we have to start. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wisdom Is Where You Find It

You can find wisdom in the most unlikely of places, like for instance the testimony of Hermann Goering in an interview before he committed suicide at Neuremberg in 1946. How on earth can a drug addled Nazi general and obvious sociopath have something wise to impart? Because such a man truly understands the nature of war, that's how.

"Herman Goering, at the Nuremberg Trials:

“Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

Full context:"

And history repeats itself...

p.s. There will be some who will totally discount the above, simply because of who it came from. Just realize that we tend to divide pivotal figures in history into either the "good" or "evil" camp as a matter of course, and that this is usually a mistake. My three favorite examples of this phenomenon are Dr. Martin Luther King, Mohandes Ghandi, and Mother Teresa. All three are lauded figures of "good" in 20th century history, but take the tiniest effort at understanding their history and you realize they were simply people that did what their convictions bid of them, and weren't always good or noble in the literal sense.

Dr. King did indeed spearhead the Civil Rights Movement in America, and he used his christian pulpit as a rallying point. But those who know the history of the movement also know his most influential lieutenants were secular atheists, because southern baptists didn't want anything to do with the boat he was rocking. After his death they all magically stepped in and claimed credit of course. His extramarital infidelity is also a matter of history, and well documented, but this sort of thing gets swept under the rug. These truths in no way detract from the good that he did, but they do show that Dr. King was merely a man who was as fallible as the next guy. Incidentally he got his ideas of non-violent protest not from christianity, but from Ghandi.

Mohandes Ghandi spearheaded India's non-violent protest against british colonial rule of India. He however did not get his ideas of non-violent protest from Hinduism but from Jianism, an obscure pacifist religious sect located in northern India. He was also a racist who viewed africans as less than human. This is well documented during his early days as a news reporter in northern africa. He also had weird ideas about chastity and health, which led to his lifelong habits of sleeping with young girls to tempt himself (as part of his interpretation of the Yoga doctrine), and his obsessions with enema's. So yeah, Ghandi was a freaking nutter, but a nutter who in the context of his day did good things for his fellow Indians.

Mother Teresa. Sigh... There's little good I can say about her. Though she won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor in Calcutta, and spent her whole life raising money for the Catholic Church, one must remember that none of the money she raised for the church was ever spent in her hospices. Hospices that lacked even the basics in medical care. She can be lauded for diligently spreading the word of peace and love over the course of her lifetime, but in practice she did almost nothing for either peace or love other than talk about it. In the end she was just a silly woman with good intentions who let her religious precepts hold her back from anything remotely resembling true greatness.

When one takes away the distorting lens of history, and realizes that historical figures and historical moments cannot easily be condensed into a few paragraphs for a classroom discussion, one realizes that it is all too easy to stop looking at historical figures as simply people.

When you do realize that even the best people in history were just as flawed as you or I, you can also realize that perhaps even the worst people in history were just as flawed. And this is what makes the above quote from a monster like Hermann Goering matter.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"God Delusions", Hacktivism, and the FBI six months late to the party.

As CNET (and virtually every other able bodied news outlet) reported a few days ago, the FBI has announced the arrest of 16 individuals who were allegedly linked to "Operation Payback". As you may recall, Operation Payback was an AnonOps DDOS response to Paypal's refusal to process donations to the online activist group Wikileaks which started at the end of last year.

In response AnonymousIRC and Lulzsec released a statement to the FBI today, making it clear how not seriously they are taking statements from deputy assistant FBI director Steve Chabinsky. I won't rehash what was said here, so just click through the links if you need to get up to speed on this.

The part of all of this I find amazing is how utterly this series of events and it's responses flies in the face of what is really happening.

First off, Operation Payback was organized under an entirely different effort than #Antisec. Secondly, did it really take the FBI half a year to track down a janitor and a pizza shop employee (two examples of the 16 arrested) using "script kiddy" tools to participate in a DDOS attack?

Operation Payback required little in the way of hacking skill, apart from the ability to click a mouse, and yet the timeliness of these indictments and the #Antisec response to them are both a clear reality distortion field that the press at large seems to have missed entirely. For those of you who haven't thought this entire situation through lets step back a bit and examine the situation.

The PayPal DDOS, which was just a part of the larger focus of "Operation Payback" was a DDOS, or Distributed Denial Of Service attack, one of the most basic of attacks. A successful DDOS is all about bandwidth and numbers, and requires (in the case of individuals utilizing their own bandwidth against a network behemoth) a LARGE NUMBER OF PEOPLE PARTICIPATING. Far larger than 16 to be successful against a network giant like PayPal. And yet here we are six months later and the FBI proudly announces its progress in arresting less than two dozen people, all of whom seem to possess about as much hacking skill as your average Farmville whore? This is akin to the FBI going after Pablo Escobar and coming back with an indictment of that cousin of yours who wouldn't stop smoking weed and living on your couch, six months after he entered rehab and started working at Denny's. Is the press really this dense?

Curiously enough the combined #Antisec response I linked above sort of just played along with this, so as to have a reason to respond, and I'm sure the above facts were not lost on those guys at all as they lulz their way  to their next activity.

It is going to be an extremely unfortunate next few months for the 16 who have been arrested, as they are now the poster children for the FBI's effort at putting lipstick on a pig in it's "War on Cyberterrorism". They are the hacktivist equivalents of Jammie Thomas, the Minnesota mother who in 2007 was found liable and fined $1.5 million for allegedly using Kazaa to download 24 songs.

I interviewed Jammie Thomas in 2007 for a tech publication I worked for, and found her to be (after the fact) someone who was really on top of the ethical and legal morass she had found herself in. I only hope the victims of this latest legal farce will be able to come up to speed as quickly and effectively as she did. Nothing like being a scapegoat hunh?

The larger point I want to make is to those of us who might decide in future to participate in grassroots "hacktivism". Just be aware of the real risks before you decide to partake in a crusade of any kind. Most of the critical decisions in life are really just exercises in risk assessment, and it's best to do this with information, so that you're feelings are kept in check with reality.

As I've blogged about before on my personal blog, people are far more apt to do things that make them feel good about themselves regardless of whether or not what they are doing is actually doing any good. As one of my mentor's Penn Jillette said "If feeling good and wasting your time is a good idea, maybe heroin is for you."

That's not to say that I think people participating in grassroots hacktivism are stupid or wrong headed, not at all. It's just that I note over and over again in commentary how many of the participants in such endeavors are called "delusional", or accused of having "god complexes". The solution is simply to know, really know why you are a part of something. Be critical, skeptical, do the research, grow your awareness, and do so yourself outside of the influence of others (including me) before you "step aboard the lulzboat".

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Where War Has Gotten Us - A Simple Math Lesson

As we sit today wondering whether or not those in Congress and the Executive Branch of our government will sit down and decide what to do with our debt ceiling, just consider a few inconvenient truths, one only recently come to light thanks to Wikileaks.

We've been at war in the Middle East for twenty years now. A war propagated by neocons convinced that reshaping the Middle East was in the U.S. interest. Think this is conspiracy theory driven fallacy? The Wikileaks dump of over 400,000 diplomatic missives has certainly caused much in the way of public embarrassment for the U.S. and it's allies, but there are a few choice and damning tidbits, like how we gave Iraq the green light to invade Kuwait just to give us an excuse to brand Iraq a threat worthy of invasion. I find it curious how not only the mainstream press but the American public can ignore this damning fact, given that it was revealed on the floor of the House Of Representatives earlier this year.

What does this have to do with a budgetary crisis? Our own General Accounting Office still pegs military expenditure as roughly 20% of our annual budgetary expenditure. The government has been playing this "trick" with accounting ever since the Nixon Administration, from which we also got our modern healthcare system, subsidized farming, and things like the WIC program, all moves to take critical financial issues off the table of political discussion. Thanks a lot Tricky Dick!.

The problem with this lies in the accounting itself, because the GAO includes the Social Security Trust Fund as part of its budgetary calculation. Keep in mind the important but often forgotten fact that the SSTF is fed by FICA taxes and not Income Tax.

If we do a few things the budgetary problem becomes much different. If we take the SSTF, Social Security, and FICA off the table a very different picture emerges. And let's just forget the looming insolvency of the SSTF for now. It is a concern, but not a pressing one in the immediate term.

If we do this and run the numbers against the U.S. Governments own accounting figures, the Military and all of it's obligations end up being around 54% of the annual expenditure. 54% of an expenditure where we are also borrowing roughly 40 cents on the dollar to pay for it.

So the question becomes, why are we at war?

This isn't some juvenile "peacenick" play, hating on the brave men and women serving our country, but a real and critical question about the motivations behind war. Patriotism can easily become foolishness when you're fighting for the wrong things, based on entirely wrong reasoning.

Agree with me or disagree with me as you see fit. Indeed I encourage and want more debate on this subject, just be sure to come up with compelling arguments to explain away the grade school math at work here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Day The Universe Changed

Pretty grandiose title there right? I use it symbolically, but there is also a practical reason why I choose it as the title of today's post. And to be clear, I'm totally plagiarizing the title from an old documentary series made by the scientific historian James Burke called amazingly enough “The Day The Universe Changed”. I encourage anyone with a dose of patience for the strangeness of deep history to watch it.

I watched this documentary series during its first go around, right when I was graduating high school twenty five years ago, and I've taken the lessons learned from this and other experiences to construct my way of thinking about the world.

Perhaps the most important lesson one can bring away from this series or indeed from any deep and critical study of history is that what we institutionalize as right, just, ethical, moral, or true are very malleable concepts.

Human beings are in a constant state of flux where we express our individuality and liberty, alongside our desire for systems, institutions, and rules. Which systems institutions and rules survive are entirely dependent on the desires of individuals expressed both individually or collectively. When systems arise that take for granted their very existence as systems and do so without taking into account the collective needs and desires of individuals within those system, those systems are either modified or abandoned entirely.

Again and again throughout history are examples of systems modified or abandoned for ones that not only work better, but work the way we collectively want them to work. And when these paradigm shifts occur the universe itself changes because our view of the world around us changes.

We've lived now for centuries taking for granted such vaulted concepts as liberty and representative democracy, and many of our views of these things have become quite powerful institutions in and of themselves. Individually and collectively we've also had for an equal amount of time the ability to be critical of such institutions. One need only look at the campaigns of our earliest presidents here in America to see how important an expressive role that the press had and has had over the centuries. But it's equally clear that the nature of things has changed somewhat from the time when we were a tiny collection of colonies in an underpopulated hinterland.

How does representative democracy work in a nation of 311 million people, when it was a concept originally developed to deal with transportation problems in ancient greek city states with populations nowhere near that? How does the citizen become an active participant in such a system in a country where only seven large corporations are responsible for all the news and information we receive? How can we have investigative journalism, oversight, or any sort of watchdog activism in such an environment?

The only way people can make good decisions is to have good information. One can debate all day long what to do with information, but in a vacuum of information we cannot even do that. In many areas of our lives we rely on the transparency of good information, but we can only be assured of that transparency when the information itself is available for scrutiny.

To me, the Anonymous movement is precisely about the nature of information and its transparency. Rather than debate endlessly about where we all might stand politically about what we think about the world we live in, the focus should be on ensuring the transparency of information around us. Institutions live and thrive on their information, and that's all fine and well. But when such information becomes “secrets”, one must not only question the secrets themselves, but the reasons why they are secrets. In a process of critical inquiry secrecy is an anathema. The mere concept of secrecy implies that critical examination is not only unnecessary, it is undesirable.

The only way to reconcile this view against the critical and necessary exercise of logic and reason is to reject it entirely. In this information riddled age we live in, secrecy simply does not work. Not only because it limits the public's ability to know and make reasonable decisions, but also because of the dangers of insularity. Systems that do not embrace critical inquiry are ones that simply fail to work well, or work for any interests other than self interest. We have centuries of history showing us the obviousness of this conclusion.

As is the case throughout history, new inventions become fundamental catalysts for change, often in ways unforseen. From the wheel, to paper, to the printing press, to the rediscovery of geometry and countless other technologies this pattern repeats over and over again.

The internet, and the entire worlds reliance on it as a medium for social, political, and economic exchange is as pivotal an invention as any in human history, perhaps the most pivotal one. And the efforts of Antisec, Anonymous, Lulzsec, Wikileaks, and countless others funneling out of the woodwork as we speak are the tip of the iceburg in a sea change of the very nature of what it is to live on the third rock from the sun.

It is, and as uncomfortable as every other shift in human history has come, the day the universe changed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Arguments Against #Antisec And Why They Are Missing The Point.

If there's one thing we love on the net it is definitely a healthy dose of controversy, and if nothing else, the Antisec movement is giving us that in droves. Many of the concerns raised by people in the blogosphere, the press, and the general public at large seem reasonable on the surface. The issue it seems to me, is that people are easily apt to polarize the issues that arise.

For instance, there are many who feel that these big data dumps are grossly irresponsible, given that they do indeed out a lot of personal information of individuals, such as account names passwords and the like. Also there are many who voice the real fear that the efforts of such blackhat groups are going to lead us careening into a new era of oligarchic control of the very internet itself.

From my vantage point observing how the press and blogosphere is handling this topic, pretty much all negative concerns people express ultimately devolve into the two main points I bring up above. Given that certain assumptions are true, those concerns raised above may indeed be true. I think however one needs to examine the assumptions behind those concerns more carefully before they condemn what is taking place at an ever increasing pace.

The outing of people's personal information sounds like a real serious issue on the surface at least. Given that the idea here is to reveal poor decision making and bad judgement by governments and corporations, it is no wonder that people are inclined to play the sympathy card when those exposed are not corporations or governments. I think the impact of this exposure however is being grossly misrepresented, primarily by a public who just doesn't understand the nature of the world they live in. Let's be frank, our parochial ideas of privacy are an illusion, and have been for quite a long time. For a handful of dollars one can easily and legally find out pretty much anything and everything they'd ever want to know about you anyway. And they can then take this information and do, well, anything they want to with it legal or not. Whether or not anyone would actually care to do this is another matter entirely. So, in reality, these exposures are near non-issues from a personal safety and privacy standpoint, unless of course, you do genuinely have things to hide. If this is so, then you can thank the blackhats for revealing the simple fact that you placed your trust in organizations that either can not or simply will not protect you. Real criminals wouldn't reveal anything, and you'd be finding out about how masterfully you were hacked and socially engineered months down the road when your checks start bouncing. You have been done a favor, so just realize this.

The other great concern voiced is the seemingly real fear that this sort of activity will foster more oligarchic and draconian levels of control of the internet itself. For these folks, who are apparently not paying attention, we're sort of already there. Due to The Patriot Act, The Digital Millenium Copyright Act, and numerous Federal District Court rulings our ability to exist freely as virtual citizens is drastically curtailed relative to our real citizenry, which isn't doing all that well itself either. There are those that argue the internet needs new laws and different types of restrictions, and we've largely fell for that argument already. It doesn't take a genius to realize we treat offline and online content entirely differently under the law, but apparently it does take some genius to simply ask why we have to treat it differently. We've had copyright law of one type or another, as a for instance, for over two centuries, so why do we need to treat a new medium as a special case? This was tried numerous times before, and it failed. It largely failed before with the introduction of such evil techologies as vinyl records, 8-Track tape, the Cassette tape, and the VCR. So why is it different now? The truth of the matter here is a simple one. Governments and Corporations are looking for every excuse in the book to use the internet as an excuse for greater power grabs than they've been able to pull off in the past. And they've succeeded.

When I look at the two primary concerns people voice over the activities of Antisec, and I put those concerns into my admittedly opinionated perspective, I come to one conclusion. Yes, those concerns voiced are valid ones, but immaterial given the nature of the world we really live in.

Things are that bad. It is time we realized this.are that bad. It is time we realized this.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ramblings Of An Incessant Thinker: "Anonymous" "Lulzsec" and what this all means for ...

Ramblings Of An Incessant Thinker: "Anonymous" "Lulzsec" and what this all means for ...: "I've noted with a keen sense of fascination the 'Rise Of The Hacker' within the last year. From the massive leaks of classified U.S. documen..."

"Anonymous" "Lulzsec" and what this all means for us.

I've noted with a keen sense of fascination the "Rise Of The Hacker" within the last year. From the massive leaks of classified U.S. documents and diplomatic cables by Wikileaks, the outing of the Reuters news employees gunned down in Iraq by overzealous troops, and now the steamroller of defacements and information dumps from Anonymous and Lulzsec, it is clear we are transitioning into an interesting era of the net.

Part of the reason why this interests me is from my own personal history. I was a "hacker" back in the day, but this was a "back in the day" when no one really cared. Back then it was all about "War Dialing", exploiting the occasional SSH connection to get into cool BBS's you otherwise couldn't get in to, or making trolls behave in IRC chat rooms (oh how I miss eggdrop wars). I've been on the internet in one way shape or form for 24 years now, so when I say "back" I mean back. :)

For most of the open history of the internet (and I'm not referring to it's progenitor way back in the 60's arpanet when it was really a Department Of Defense project) this place we all love was about as free a realm of inquiry as one could imagine. And along with this freedom it has to be said that it's equally been a messy place. This duality dovetails nicely though with my (and most scholars) understanding of what is implied by the word Liberty. Free expression and liberty are concepts rarely experienced without grief, or at least lots of noise, but this is as it should be.

The internet as we know it has been sort of an anarchic capitalist free for all, and this is clearly what helped the net grow into the juggernaut of absolute necessity it has become today. Problems arise however, when this brand of social and economic politics comes across incompatible systems. The root of the problem today is that the internet itself is not compatible with how much of the world works. This isn't necessarily a bad thing however. As free as we think we are, our society is full of "walled gardens" and disenfranchising socio-economic systems.

So as free as we think we are, as citizens of the most free country in the world, we are not as free as our virtual counterparts on the net. Note how in other countries where even the basic freedoms we take for granted in the U.S. are a pipe dream, the freedom of the net has fostered avenues of expression and change heretofore impossible. One need only pay attention to the news and notice how key and critical a tool the internet has been in the revolutionary fervor in the middle east. When one pays attention to the details however, one realizes that there is something even more fundamental taking place.

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were especially telling because of the true nature of their source. Unlike past bloody uprisings in the region in the last couple of centuries, these were about more basic and fundamental things. Past revolutions in the region were largely about power struggles and ideology, and though there is certainly an ideological underpinning to be had here the real driving force has been something much simpler, that being the need to ameliorate human suffering. Egyptians were rebelling largely because they were hungry and broke and tired of being hungry and broke. Politics, religion, economics, these were all sideline issues when compared to the simple fact that people suffering got tired of suffering.

One of my guiding moral principles is this. Anyone, anywhere and for any reason suffering needlessly is reason enough for me to reexamine my own convictions. Granted, I do have rather well thought out conceptual beliefs when it comes to how I choose to see the world, and I'm the sort of person who will gladly state and debate those beliefs with anyone. The difference is that I've decided it is vital to set aside the potential pettiness of philosophy if it gets in the way of me being able to genuinely care about other people and their plight.

We live in a global community. Concepts like borders are becoming more meaningless by the day, and will one day be utterly meaningless. As scary as this thought might be to some, it is clearly an inevitable outcome. Real human suffering is taking place pretty much everywhere one cares to look, and even so in our own great country. From corporations and governments treating our privacy liberty and freedoms as secondary concerns, to real actual daily suffering by an increasingly larger percentage of our own population, these are legitimate concerns. Ones that are not going away without action.

There is a certain duality to the activities of Anonymous and Lulzsec, which dovetails nicely with the general hacker ethos I've come to know well in the last few decades. Granted it is clear that some of what they do is for street cred and "lulz", but even the motivations worthy of little more than a kindergarten playground fight have deeper and more fundamental meanings behind them.

When Lulzsec hacked the ever loving daylights out of Sony they did indeed expose millions of people during their breach of Sony's security. But they exposed what they did publicly, and did so because this was the only real avenue available to them to point out Sony's shockingly bad security. More to the point they exposed how (and how easily) they did what they did. In this light it is clear that Sony was not taking it's customers security, safety, and privacy seriously. It cost Sony a pretty penny too, with writeoffs for fixing their own stupidity approaching $200 Million U.S. the last time I checked.

GOOD! Sony should have fixed this crap in the first place. SQL injection exploits that any first year security student (or 12 year old with motivation) could have pulled off in their sleep should never have even been possible, had Sony actually cared about protecting and serving it's customers.

We make the mistake of placing too much trust in established systems of accountability, because we are under several mistaken impressions. We assume that we as customers of Sony truly matter to Sony and simply do not want to face the reality that their concern basically ends once our credit card transaction has processed. We assume that there is oversight, but the reality is that oversight is poor to nonexistent. Moreover, given that so many businesses are multinational conglomerates, oversight is often either difficult or impossible at the level of government. We assume that there is transparency and accountability, but we have a government driven by money and it's influence. With the Supreme Court deciding that the 14th Amendment extends citizen-like status to corporations, is it any wonder that our representative government seems to cater to business and not the electorate? It's like that old adage about the Police. The Police are here to protect us, but who protects us from the police.

The very freedom and power of the internet becomes today perhaps the most powerful lever for change. Oversight and accountability at the level of the individual becomes possible. Though it is difficult to have secrecy and privacy online, this goes both ways much to the chagrin of corporations and governments. As we've seen with Anonymous, Lulzsec, Wikileaks, and now a growing grassroots hacking effort globally, secrets can become public knowledge instantly, and in a manner that won't easily go away.

At the end of the day, even if their tactics do not mesh with what is legal, what these groups are doing is not only right and just, it is necessary.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Why Quotes And Statistics Are Dangerous If You Don't Know What You're Doing

Note: As an editorial follow up, and to clarify I offer this initial statement. It is clear that I have an agenda. Anyone who writes anything from their heart has one, even the most neutral of journalists do. What I hope I've pointed out with the below ramblings, is that you have to at least make *some* effort at understanding complex issues before you form opinions of them.

I noted with a bit of irony during a discussion of "values" on a social networking service that most people take their convictions and project them onto the facts around them, rather than use factual truths to develop their convictions. This isn't a new revelation however, just one that has come up quite a lot recently in my discussion with others.

One of the most important principles to live by, in my view, is intellectual honesty. What this does is force one to not only be critical of answers but to also be critical of their own questions. Many people mistakenly get this wrong.

As an example, the SNS network discussion thread was one that started about hatred and the reasons behind it. It then (almost naturally) slid into a discussion about personal beliefs and morality, and inevitably to the question of homosexuality. One respondent made a comment about how homosexuals should just keep to themselves, and then spoke about and linked a statistic from WebMD about the high levels of HIV infections present in the gay community.

What it seemed the respondent was trying to do, and I could be mistaken, was to make some sort of causal link appear between sin, homosexuality, and HIV infection rates. While most who read my blog would probably conclude that I'm firm in my conviction that "sin" is a man-made concept (and a particularly aggregious one), I'm open minded enough to entertain as to whether someone's arguments indicate causality.

One truism of intellectual honesty is that correlation does NOT equal causation. The way intellectual inquiry is supposed to work is like this. You come up with an assertion, say for instance "is bacon bad for you?" What do you do next? The seemingly logical answer would be to find proof that bacon can be bad, but THIS IS WRONG.

In order to guard against our own innate biases, we have to approach an inquiry from the other side and, in my stupid example (because bacon is clearly awesome!!! :D), search for evidence to the CONTRARY. Truths only arise when we eliminate all other possibilities, INCLUDING the fact that we might be deceiving ourselves.

The historical linkage between HIV and homosexuality is tenuous when you look at the larger picture. When you *do* take the time to look at more than one statistic that fits in to your world view what you find is a complex problem with some simple root causes. For instance, though it may be true that, at least according to WebMD, perhaps nearly 1 in 5 homosexual males in the United States is HIV positive, this statistic does not play out consistently everywhere else in the world. Worldwide most people infected by HIV are heterosexual women, with the largest growing group being a tossup between heterosexual females and children (depending on where you get your statistics from, the numbers are very close). More than 68% of all HIV cases worldwide are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On the surface of this, it seems we have a quandry. In our country HIV cases are dominated by homosexual males, whereas elsewhere in the world they are the abject minority. Why is this? What is the common thread?

As we've dealt with the HIV situation for decades now, the common thread is now quite well known and borne out through countless statistical and lineal regression studies. It all comes down to irresponsible sexual behavior. The reasons why these behaviors play out differently in different places in the world are a little complex, but the general gist revolves around religion, cultural acceptance, and cultural exclusion. For instance, in sub saharan africa condom use is almost unheard of, because the Catholic Church vehemently opposes all forms of contraception and has vast power in the region. This stance results in many tragedies, not the least of which is the return to the days of centuries past as nearly 1/4th of the women in the region die from the complications of childbirth, a phenomenon that is far more rare in western countries. Despite the strong religiosity in a country like ours, we thankfully do not always get our precepts about public health from 2000 year old books that were not about medicine and biology.

In America, the situation is similar but plays out very differently due to our vastly superior healthcare, a society largely distracted from the hardships of day to day life experienced elsewhere in the world, coupled with an entirely different set of social taboo's as they relate to sexuality. To those who think America has all the answers, one need only remind oneself of some cruel statistics. We have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the western world, rates that exceed more than half of 3rd world nations. Our education system ranks right up  there with such scholarly peers as Turkey and Bosnia, a statistic we should be ashamed of. School systems are only allowed (when they buy in to federal money for their sex ed programs) to teach abstinance. More often than not these programs (and I've witnessed this stupidity in my own daughters sex ed curriculum) spread misinformation and falsehoods to scare teens into abstinance, a practice that clearly isn't working and is morally reprehensible!

Our approach to sex, sexual identity, and sexual responsibility in this nation has created a perfect storm of sorts. Those who are outside of the politically correct (and morally bankrupt) parochial concepts of heterosexual marriage are marginalized and institutionally given bad advice. This is why those outside of our false sense of normality (teens, the unwed, homosexuals) end up being the recipients of life's ills. This is not to say that these are excuses for 15 year old girls to get pregnant and be happy for WIC and Foodstamps, or excuses for gay males to engage in promiscuous behavior (a behavior that is clearly more driven by being MALE than being GAY).

What it does clearly indicate is this. We have to stop treating sex like it's dirty, immoral, unnatural, and unnecessary. Sex is clearly a need in our lives, and one that is necessary for us to live and live well. The fact that wearing a simple condom, the likes of which have existed for THOUSANDS OF YEARS, makes sex about as dangerous as going to Gamestop in the mall, is a fact we need to embrace collectively. This was a well known fact to the likes of Cleopatra, and was old news 2100 years ago when she used contraception. To those that pretend contraception is a consequence of modern depravity or other such nonsense, well you're just ignorant and denying the truth. Sorry.

People can reliably believe in the wrong things, not only as individuals but collectively, and these wrong beliefs can reliably lead to unnecessary human suffering. Anyone, anywhere in the world, suffering for any reason is reason enough to question your own convictions.

Morally convicting people of what they think and feel is known as a thought crime, and something that humanity has to get rid of. The Nazi's did this. Stalin did this. Some organized religions are still doing this. We have far better issues to be ethically concerned about than people's orgasms and how they obtain them. It's time we grew up.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Death Of Journalism...

I had a friend of mine ask me what I thought about newspapers and their increasing irrelevance in today's world. Given that I spent the better part of a decade writing reviews, articles and op-ed pieces for websites, you would think I'm all hardcore about the power of the web and it's clear challenge to the dominance of traditional journalistic media.

So that I don't come across as a hypocrite, yes indeed the fact that a moderately well informed geek like myself could make discretionary income writing for websites is a phenomena that I could have never indulged in within traditional media. I'm not a trained journalist. Like most traditional disciplines there are barriers to entry, and most of these barriers make some level of sense.

I for instance don't get invited to give lectures on quantum physics. I am after all not a physicist. If I were to be invited to a lecture on subatomic physics and I disagreed with a physicist about the nature of quantum indeterminacy because it is just a weird thing to contemplate, I would hope to be laughed off the stage. So there are domains where facts matter and expertise does count, as well they should.

One thing I learned in the competitive environment of tech journalism is that you had better do your research and get your facts straight. If not people will pour out of the woodwork to call you out on your mistakes or misinterpretations. Naturally some people will pour out of the woodwork just to be trolls, because the internet makes this as easy as having an informed opinion. Like many disciplines then, one can "become" a journalist by trying to be one.

The web does serve to make information more immediate, and this beyond all else is what is and will lead to the demise of traditional media outlets. We are however at a transitional stage where I feel harm is being done to journalism itself. Being able to choose when and where you get your information is a powerful and profound ability we all now have the ability to leverage at our whim. What many of us are not trained for or conversant with however, is the need to be skeptical and critical.

Anyone with $5 can put up a websites, and with effort you can leverage this easily into a place where hundreds of thousands (or more) of people will come to read what you write about. I know this is possible, as I've done this myself on several occasions. However I wrote in a very competitive sphere of interest. Not only was I competing with rival websites for views, I was competing with my readers for their opinions.

In this sense the web has turned us all into "journalists", and engaged us all in the process of being involved in a larger conversation. This is a good thing. Just keep in mind that not all the web's domains of interest fall into these patterns. Many sites attract a following because they take a stand on a given issue, and this stand appeals to like minded individuals. This can also be a good thing, but in this "drum beat" genre of website there is less inclination for participants to examine you critically.

One always should guard against buying into propositions solely because they make you feel good about yourself or what you believe. Penn Jillette said it best when he said "if feeling good and wasting your time is a goal, then maybe heroin is for you."

Before we dismantle our "trusted institutions" utterly (and some of these trusted institutions have become pretty rotten, but that's another topic for another time), let us simply realize that as we all become "citizen journalists" the responsibility to think critically and skeptically for ourselves has increased drastically. It is way not the other way around.

Drama, and how sometimes it follows you...

I've been debating writing about this, at least in a semi public manner like this. It's never particularly wise to share too much about yourself, but there's something cathartic about blogging away that is difficult to deny. Writing for me has always been personal, even when I spent many years writing articles and reviews of *geek stuff* for tech publications. Even in that stale venue I could express my thoughts, and perhaps be a bit entertaining while I did it too. On occasion as well writing in the tech industry gave me the opportunity to op/ed things I felt strongly about such as privacy and the application of law as it relates to concepts like liberty and personal responsibility. So, even being a boring ass reviewer of geeky things did occasionally result in fulfilling and cathartic examples I am proud of. 

This of course is not that sort of journal. This is a far more personal one. Through all of the trials and tribulations I've dealt with over the years you would think I'd be past the need to vent, and I suppose in most senses I am. This isn't me yelling at the wind after all, at least I don't think this is what I'm doing. Rather it's just a process of trying to understand the nature of things around me, especially those things that impact me, and yet, are outside of my direct control. 

To preface, and this isn't a noiseless plea for sympathy, some background is necessary to let you know how I've arrived at this odd place in my life. Anyone brave enough to read my profile will probably *get* the fact that I'm not your average Joe. 

Fifteen years ago I was at the top of my game. Married, with a wife I loved. Two very young daughters. An enviable career. I had achieved much at the tender age of 28 with a high school diploma and one college dropout session behind me. I was corporate director of Loss Prevention for a South East retail chain division. I had the big almost six figure salary, the company car, prestige among my peers, the works. I achieved all of this the hard way working my way up in this retailer from the tender age of 16. Then came downsize number one. A few years later trying to climb my way back up in the company, downsize number two. I go to work for another retailer as a store manager, making less than half of what I did before. Then comes downsize number three. (note: I experienced downsize number four about three years ago, but it wasn't such a big deal...I've gotten used to them...they're like friends now LOL).

The financial strife experienced over this course of time is largely what led to my divorce. Granted, in actuality this merely accelerated my ex's desire to be more unfaithful than she had been, all of which I found out much later but I digress. At any rate I end up unemployed this time for about half a year while I sit back and lose everything that mattered to me material or otherwise. I spend the next year trying to rebuild a life while simultaneously fighting for custody of my kids. Despite mountains of evidence, despite my ex committing perjury twice, she wins and I lose. I'm a realist at heart, so I don't kick myself too long about losing. I'd been prepared for that from the day I took her to court. 

I spent the next couple of years focusing on the basics. Making my life stable, or at least stable enough to not royally suck. This I have achieved largely through accepting the fact that I'm relatively poor and have kids to take care of. I now have an aging parent to take care of as well, but whatever. I focus on doing what I have to do to honor the relationships I value. 

Granted, I did spend a few years engaged in what I refer to as "3D Areal Combat Serial Dating", and though I came out of that phase of mine with a few regrets I learned things along the way. The experiences I've had the last eight years of post-divorceness (is that even a word?) have molded me into who I am today. And I generally like who I am today. 

One of the important ways I've grown, is in developing the realization that anger and abject hatred are truly wastes of time. Dwelling on such thoughts and emotions does little but harm ones self. I have exercised this revelation of mine in many senses. The most obvious and practical one has been my deliberate decision to be cordial and affable to my ex. It's in my best interest, as well as my children's best interests. As deeply as I'm prone to contemplate things, this is a tenet I apply everywhere I can in my life. This is why I make it plain in my profile that I can no longer abide by people who use foolish reasons to hate. It's just wrong headed and damaging, and serves to close your eyes rather than open your heart. 

This does not mean I've turned into a passive fool however. In the case of my ex, she thrives on drama and controversy. I've never shied away from pointing this out to my ex when it was necessary, and I've never pretended to my daughters that I've ever once considered their mother's behavior acceptable. I've gotten a lot of static over the years about my candor with my children, but my decision to be absolutely candid with my girls about everything has worked well for me and for us. This candor goes much further than simply being my opinions of their mother. I'm candid with them about everything, myself included. As such my relationships with my two daughters are strong ones. Not identical ones however. I treat my girls as the individuals they are. As they're now both teenagers, one of whom is about to start college, it'd be foolish to treat them otherwise. 

So why am I writing all of this. Well, we've got some drama in da house!!! And it's a frustrating variety of drama, known as ex stupidity. She's done quite a lot of things I should have been far more frustrated about than I have been. So long as my girls weren't in any sort of crisis however, I let those things be, all the while paying VERY CLOSE attention. She's lived in seven places in the last eight years. Out of those eight years she's been gainfully employed almost two of them. When downsizing hit her current husband (who is also my former best friend from grade school....don't even ask....Jerry Springer wouldn't even touch my divorce), she bounced around a few boyfriends here and there. She and he have stayed married primarily due to the joys of the Earned Income Credit and the extra several thousand bucks it puts in their pockets at tax time. 

So now, her husband is under a criminal investigation, awaiting the outcome of a Grand Jury before indictments come down. She was ordered to have nothing to do with him, and to definitely not have the girls around him, due to the precise nature of what he's accused of. She stupidly violated the order given to her by DSS. She's dodged bullets with them countless times so I can only assume she thought she could again. 

Gratefully my very smart high school graduate daughter had literally just moved in with me so she can get away from her mom-drama and start her own life (as well as start college here). As in a week before all this came to light. Not so gratefully, my youngest nearly ended up in foster care. She was placed with her maternal grandmother (whom I trust) instead of me, when her mother was temporarily stripped of her parental rights. Why was she not placed with me? Because the DSS investigator claims she had to make an on the spot decision, and my ex lied about me having joint custody, saying that I didn't have it. Given that this was necessary and true I suppose I can't fault the DSS investigator. But this has led to a very weird situation that I am not happy about one little bit.

In an interview session with my ex, her attorney (as to how she could have gotten away with using her husbands criminal attorney to represent her in the DSS matter is beyond me), DSS, and myself, I was basically put on trial. Somehow my not being a Christian made me seem less fit than an unemployed perjury ridden ex who despite having all the responsible behavior of a slug, claims to love Jesus. It didn't rattle my composure externally, but it was shocking all the same. I was able to remind everyone in the room, a room that eventually filled with law enforcement and state police detectives, that I was not the person who had violated state and federal laws and a court order. It took some significant gymnastics to steer things back intellectually on course, but I did. 

Now we're in this limbo state, awaiting the findings of a Grand Jury, so that DSS can decide what they're going to do next. And yes, before you ask, I'm expecting to have to lawyer up rather quickly. Not sure how I'm going to afford it though. I'm still paying child support on even the daughter that now lives with me. DSS cannot intervene, so I've had to separately lawyer up over that issue. Given that my child support is about 40% of my net income, it's a necessary first step. My divorce time period, as it coincided with a significant stretch of unemployment, left me incapable of securing loans to finance the impending sleighride. Banks are generally not willing to loan money to people who have had home and auto loans forclosed, but I digress. 

Moral of this story? No matter how hard you try to live a good life and become a good person, things entirely outside of your control can come along to test you. This reminds you that being a good person, and doing good things, even living a good life have little to do with the drama that often can creep up into it. We all have a tendency to let the "bad times" drag us down into a pit of self recrimination.

This is not only a huge waste of time, it is also precisely the wrong reaction. No matter what happens in your life being able to look yourself in the mirror and face who you really are and be good with that is the reward, the ONLY reward. Everything else is just life and it's details. Obstacles are a part of life, and once you realize this fact, they can be dismissed. 

Exasperating though they can be sometimes...