Category Archives: General Comment

Must Reads for Americans: When the Bizarre becomes Logical

After more reports on NSA and tech, these concerning Apple, I decided to include the recent ruling by Judge Pauley in the morning’s reading. I think the ruling should be required reading for Americans. The prior link goes to what appears to be a photocopy of the tezt, which is just about as bad as a pdf for cutting and pasting. One of the significant issues at the heart of the ACLU’s case is the fact that they’re Verizon customers and that the NSA has access therefore to their workflow and communications. We learn this under the Claims section on page 12. The next section has to do with whether or not the ACLU has standing to sue. The government is claiming that the ACLU doesn’t have that status, which is a good move because Verizon has a lot of customers (see page 24), potentially making for a pretty bad-ass class action. I’m a Verizon customer, also, and I also use lots of keywords that might flag me on this blog and in my Twitter stream.

The court argues, using an Amnesty International case wherein Amnesty failed to “concretely” prove “imminent” injury, that the ACLU does have standing to sue because the NSA had indeed captured its data. That’s about all the love the ACLU is going to get  from the Judge, though (and I’m not quite sure after reading the whole thing that he thinks they do have standing). Most of the reporting on the ruling goes to a question of constitutionality. But my reading of the ruling is that the thinking here is much more complicated. Consider this snippet:

Read in harmony, the Stored Communications Act does not limit the Government’s ability to obtain information from communications providers under section 215 because section 215 orders are functionally equivalent to grand jury subpoenas. Section 215 authorizes the Government to seek records that may be obtained with a grand jury subpoena, such as telephony metadata under the Stored Communications Act.

The Section 215 question here is significant. That’s the part of the Patriot Act that requires, say, the FBI to prove that it needs certain info to pursue a case, and that’s where the FISA court comes into the picture. But the distinction for the court is that it’s not the FBI doing the collecting. That activity is limited only to the NSA. (See page 33). I think Judge Pauley is at his best when he explains why bulk collection can be done by the NSA. He argues that “all phone call metadata” is a class of things the FBI might require as “relevant” in an investigation and that to prohibit the collection of this class of things would  “require the Government to determine wrongdoing before issuing a subpoena–but that determination is the primary purpose of a subpoena” (34). And that’s followed by this: “And in the context of a counterterrorism investigation, that after-the-attack determination would be too late.” And, “Here, there is no way for the Government to know which particle of telephony metadata will lead to useful counterterrorism information.”

Then comes the typical Katz case argument about the “presumption of privacy” issue. But I don’t intent to minimize Pauley’s arguments in this regard because he goes into some pretty good analysis against the ACLU on their privacy assertions and their assertions about “sweep” and “bulk.”

But now to the point. This ruling should be read in full and not just by lawyers. There’s more in it than I can go after at the moment. However, reading the ruling leaves me with a bad taste in the mouth, and I think that Pauley is incorrect. Everyone can understand that keeping information from “the enemy” is critical. If the Red Team coach knows the Blue Team’s plays, then there’s no real game to be played, and if the NSA or CIA broadcasted its moves, whatever group or individual who intended harm would alter their strategy, as any criminal would. But it seems to me the judge is writing in the bizarre context or world where a “war on terror” has been unleashed, and outside this context or world–this new “war condition”–his arguments wouldn’t be required. So the real question is, is any of this stuff legal, not just one program or several by the NSA? If the Patriot Act works inside the context of a “war on terror,” then maybe it’s the “war on terror” that’s the problem here.

I did a little reading on the controversial 215 section. Such language is about as bizarre as it gets, so many safeguards, so many “presumed” safeguards that the law of the falling dominoes would seem to be realized. It’s terrifying language, a house made of a million toothpicks. Why, because it sets up a massive “begging the question” argument: it’s constitutional because it’s constitutional, like claiming that something is legal by virtue of it being on the books, and by the way we just need to do it.

For Pauley, we’re caught between a piece of steel and an anvil. But he sets up his own and our problem with all this, the balance between liberty and security.  He writes, first quoting from Boumediene, “‘Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law.’ The success of one helps protect the other. Like the 9/11 Commission observed: The choice between liberty and security is a false one, as nothing is more apt to imperil civil liberties that the success of a terrorist attack on American soil” (52). That’s a pretty big generalization and amounts to telling people what they should fear most. Rising sea levels will also do a number on civil liberties. This language could only be written in the cloud of the “war on terror” paradigm. And that’s what scares me the most about our current NSA mess.

Driving in the snow

When I was much younger, we’d take the cars out in the (rare) snow or heavy rain (not rare) in El Paso, Texas.

To test things.

Did the same tonight for the new tires in Connecticut. Nice. Very very cold. A few inches of the white powder. No donuts.

June 10

Today I’ll be working on more fiction questions for the online course I’m teaching this summer. I’m using the required Blackboard Learn system. Options for assessment are much improved, but the design and management issues are still pretty crude.
Also some touch ups in the kitchen.

I don’t know, I think it’s a question of trust. Or its diminishment. The past exists in memory, artifacts, and, of course, Facebook data. Demos can’t exist constitutionally without trust in the contract.

June 10

Today I’ll be working on more fiction questions for the online course I’m teaching this summer. I’m using the required Blackboard Learn system. Options for assessment are much improved, but the design and management issues are still pretty crude.
Also some touch ups in the kitchen.

The Graphic Story: Thoughts about Technique

Today in the fiction course we covered some of the fundamental techniques in story writing as they are revealed in Hope Larson’s Bear Creek Apartments and Ryan Andrews’s Our Blood Stained Roof. The link to quirky Cartoon Boy wouldn’t work on the college computer for some reason and I can’t remember the method we used to find Andrews, which was a cool find as a plan B, fantastic stuff. All these works are very much worth of study: conflict, complication, irony, resolution, all those fundamentals used by storytellers to entertain the audience.

The final panel of Our Bloodstained Roof is specially interesting because of the way the meaning of the eyes begins to take shape after analysis, reminiscent of James Marshall’s ability to express psychological states with simple dots and lines.

Students of fiction will neglect commonalities across media. It’s not necessary to neglect this. New Media study asks us to look for relations and to study how different creative problems are solved. Andrews understands mis en sine. Larson understands fable. Kerschbaum’s irony sizzles. Even the grad students in MFA programs don’t learn much more than this. No more so than Dostoevsky. The thing we have to improve is our ability to see and penetrate.

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The Story of a House: New Photos

The last few months have seen lots of changes at the house, spurred mainly by the summer hurricane and October 2011 storm. This storm tore up the house and yard pretty well. It revealed things I hadn’t been thinking a lot about.

The house was turning into an anthill. The wasps had taken to hoteling in the eaves, the shutters, and the shakes. In some places the old shakes ballooned out in response to the wasps’ persistent spirit of construction. The sun sides of the house were pealing badly. This was original, 1960’s cedar siding. Not a bad lifetime. After the storm we thought a lot about energy, as we were out of power for several days, like everyone else. We went around about solar but this, even with incentives, proved too expensive. And our anxiety about the property as a whole mounted.

We went instead with a new wood stove insert and a remodel of the exterior (to the chagrin of our flying and pollinating friends). This included new polymer shakes. We wanted to keep the look of the original despite the costs. Also, a sheathing of wood and insulation, a new “lifetime” roof, and a round of new giant gutters and guards for them. We hired Wiley Swain to do the job as he lives right across the street and Susan and I had studied him at work on his own house. His industry is a wonder to see.

He came with several experienced partners, who proved intense and all skilled artisans. The work started at 7AM everyday and ended at 5PM, weather permitting. Not one headache. And we appreciate the attention to detail. They worked fast, clean, and with superior professionalism, and had the whole job done within three weeks, give or take a few days of interrupting weather, which would had cut the time down further. The “gutter guy,” Mr. Higgins, had the spillers up in a day.

I’ve heard that 1k must go into a physical house every year for upkeep–on average. I don;t know who came up with that one. That’s a low ball, if one takes into account cutting the lawn. If true, one might spend half the net cost of a home by the time it’s paid off, more if the mort is a 30 year. We did it all in a month.

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Education in Connecticut: or the $50 Best Buy Trip

A couple of articles of note in today’s paper. Connecticut, apparently, lags in post-secondary education. Kathleen Megan writes

“This is a race at which everyone is getting faster for the most part,” said Higher Education Commissioner Michael P. Meotti. “So your speed is not the key. It’s your acceleration that is the key. … Our speed is going up. … The problem is our acceleration ranks us 34th out of 50 states.”

Meotti said that if the state remains “in the bottom third in terms of our rate of growth” in the attainment of post-secondary degrees, “then we are heading for a really difficult situation over the next 10 and 20 years in terms of the overall quality of the workforce.”

Megan never really explains why “lower education attainment” is a negative outcome and Meotti seems to suggest that simply growing degrees is by nature a good.

Meotti said this rate of growth is especially important for Connecticut because “we are in a sense a higher education-sensitive economy, so for us this is like the oil wells in Saudi Arabia. They do not only need to pump oil, they need to pump more oil. … Our education level of our work force really defines the Connecticut success story of the 20th century. That is in great jeopardy.”

It would be interesting to identify where current and recent graduates are and what they are doing in the state.

But then comes the interesting paradox. Don Stacom writes

NEW BRITAIN — After losing about 50 teachers to budget cuts last year, the city’s financially battered school system faces the prospect of laying off another 100 or more this summer, the board of education said Wednesday night.

The system faces a projected $11 million gap in the coming budget, the result of a staggering reduction in federal grants and the likelihood of bare-bones funding from city government, board members said.

To close about $6 million of that deficit, the board unanimously agreed Wednesday night to cut 105 jobs in the 2011-12 budget – including dozens of teachers along with administrators, school secretaries, vocational counselors, maintenance workers, a computer technician and others. The reductions take effect after the new fiscal year starts July 1.

The final paragraph of the Megan article makes this interesting:

To improve Connecticut’s performance, Meotti said that attention will have to be paid to improving college retention and graduation rates. A key, he said, will be ensuring that when students arrive at college, they are prepared to do the work.

Rick Green mentions the Board of Governors’ report and a blog commenter lists community college graduation rates, calling them “frad” rates, and then blames something called the “education industry” and “shady admissions councilors.”

It’s logical to assume that if a school system has no money to pay for talent and buildings, then talent and buildings can’t be paid for. This, of course, is circularly expressed. If I go to Best Buy with 50 dollar bills, I can’t purchase the 800 dollar TV. But, as a faculty member at Tunxis Community College, it is frustrating to repeatedly read that while a group may want to confirm the existence of quarks, they refuse to purchase the proper collider to do the job, assuming the collider requirement in the first place. I also understand, however, that numerous people are also looking for solutions.

Most people who work in Connecticut education can do the math. But here are some questions:

1. If Connecticut elevates graduation rates to 25 or 100 per cent, what will the graduates do?
2. If high schools see layoffs, will students be prepared for college work? Are they prepared now? Were they prepared in 2007?
3. Who will provide the “resourceless model” of education that will sustain Connecticut’s present and future ecology or will these contributions come only from people who can pay for the privilege?

Often arguments about education attainment are couched in the rhetoric of passive observation. Most people have heard or have said something like this:

Wow, look at that person. He doesn’t know how to spell or behave or do the task assigned or do “fill in the blank.”

Models of good education are everywhere, really. They begin with the person doing the observing, offering the critique, as they are obviously the one in the know. Where did they go to school? How did they learn what they know?

I’d lay good money on the bet that shrinking schools these days will not generate stars at the college level. I might assert this as a fact. But then, so much for the report and what good it might do.