Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Excerpt of Snowden from Reddit AMA - Must Read

Have to share this snippet from the Reddit AMA that Ed Snowden, Laura Poitras, & Glenn Greenwald did yesterday after Citizen Four won the Oscar for Best Documentary.

This is in response to the following question: "What's the best way to make NSA spying an issue in the 2016 Presidential Election? It seems like while it was a big deal in 2013, ISIS and other events have put it on the back burner for now in the media and general public. What are your ideas for how to bring it back to the forefront?"

This is a good question, and there are some good traditional answers here. Organizing is important. Activism is important. 
At the same time, we should remember that governments don't often reform themselves. One of the arguments in a book I read recently (Bruce Schneier, "Data and Goliath"), is that perfect enforcement of the law sounds like a good thing, but that may not always be the case. The end of crime sounds pretty compelling, right, so how can that be? 
Well, when we look back on history, the progress of Western civilization and human rights is actually founded on the violation of law. America was of course born out of a violent revolution that was an outrageous treason against the crown and established order of the day. History shows that the righting of historical wrongs is often born from acts of unrepentant criminality. Slavery. The protection of persecuted Jews. 
But even on less extremist topics, we can find similar examples. How about the prohibition of alcohol? Gay marriage? Marijuana? 
Where would we be today if the government, enjoying powers of perfect surveillance and enforcement, had -- entirely within the law -- rounded up, imprisoned, and shamed all of these lawbreakers? 
Ultimately, if people lose their willingness to recognize that there are times in our history when legality becomes distinct from morality, we aren't just ceding control of our rights to government, but our agency in determing thour futures.
How does this relate to politics? Well, I suspect that governments today are more concerned with the loss of their ability to control and regulate the behavior of their citizens than they are with their citizens' discontent. 
How do we make that work for us? We can devise means, through the application and sophistication of science, to remind governments that if they will not be responsible stewards of our rights, we the people will implement systems that provide for a means of not just enforcing our rights, but removing from governments the ability to interfere with those rights. 
You can see the beginnings of this dynamic today in the statements of government officials complaining about the adoption of encryption by major technology providers. The idea here isn't to fling ourselves into anarchy and do away with government, but to remind the government that there must always be a balance of power between the governing and the governed, and that as the progress of science increasingly empowers communities and individuals, there will be more and more areas of our lives where -- if government insists on behaving poorly and with a callous disregard for the citizen -- we can find ways to reduce or remove their powers on a new -- and permanent -- basis.
Our rights are not granted by governments. They are inherent to our nature. But it's entirely the opposite for governments: their privileges are precisely equal to only those which we suffer them to enjoy. 
We haven't had to think about that much in the last few decades because quality of life has been increasing across almost all measures in a significant way, and that has led to a comfortable complacency. But here and there throughout history, we'll occasionally come across these periods where governments think more about what they "can" do rather than what they "should" do, and what is lawful will become increasingly distinct from what is moral. 
In such times, we'd do well to remember that at the end of the day, the law doesn't defend us; we defend the law. And when it becomes contrary to our morals, we have both the right and the responsibility to rebalance it toward just ends.
For the record, if you have not seen Citizen Four yet, I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Right now it is showing on HBO, but I hope the circulation gets even wider. I may consider hosting a viewing party down the road.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A meat eater walks into a vegan bar...

When engaging in culinary discussions with people, I usually admit casually that I love meat. I prefer local, sustainably raised meat, but I'll admit to being guilty of not really sticking to that principle very well. The idea of being a full-time vegetarian or vegan is just foreign to me. I mean absolutely no disrespect to anyone who chooses to follow that path, it is simply not mine (I won't say never, though). That being said, I fully accept that something needed to change in my 'balance' regarding dietary choices.

My relationship with fruits & veggies for food has always been a tenuous one. For very long time, I would not seek the healthier fare unless guided or cajoled by an external force. My wife gets current credit for that role, and deservedly so. It isn't a fun role to play, but I definitely appreciate her persistence. My Mom always joked that 'the right woman' would get me to love onions and tomatoes. That always got an eye roll from me, but she may have been onto something.

Without going into boring detail, prior to this year my consumption of non-processed foods, especially fruits & vegetables most closely resembled the Standard American Diet (SAD, such a fitting acronymn). Fruit at the bottom of a yogurt container was consumed far more often than pulling a handful of blackberries (which is a shame, because those are my favorite). I promise, the comment I made about SAD is the last 'preachy' thing I will say. The point of this post (finally, he's coming to it!) is to share my experience with trying to make healthy changes in my diet and how a local company is helping me succeed.

So a few months ago, my wonderful wife shared with me her desire to try out a new service called Nourish. This is an extremely unique company that, per their website, is "Charlotte’s only locally-sourced, organic, vegan/vegetarian, prepared healthy food delivery service." For most of my friends, as soon as I uttered the word "vegan or vegetarian", the conversation would end. If it weren't my wife telling me about it, I probably would have had the same reaction. Fortunately for me, we've been toying with more plant based meals, so this service seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to finally bite the bullet and give this plant based diet a serious, consistent try. One big change that has happened for me that kind of set this up was my willingness to discard some of my previous assumptions about my relationship with vegetables. If some of those issues come back up, so be it, but at least give them a try, right?

In full disclosure, the only real expectation I had was that there would likely be at least a few meals that I just ultimately wouldn't like. Doing this was a huge change for me, and I was just trying to normalize my expectations a bit. That's reasonable, right?

Man, was I wrong! We've been using the service since mid-June and the food has been utterly delicious! I won't go through every meal, but I would like to touch on some of the highlights:

The Oats - One thing I neglected to mention is that I'm trying to reduce the amount of gluten (especially processed) in my diet. I don't have a sensitivity or allergy but my readings on nutrition have convinced me its a good goal to have. You'd think the Oats would run counter to this, but they're gluten free! They really get creative with variations between banana bread, carrot cake, apple pie, even peach cobbler. You'd think a veggie version (and thus low or no sugar) would make these less appetizing, but they're scrumptious! I started out feeling a little guilty for eating these, thinking I was cheating, until I read the ingredients. Healthy AND delicious!

Sloppy-Joe Stuffed Portobellos with Cole Slaw - This was arguably my first, "ok, let's see how they pull this off", meals. I LOVE mushrooms, so it had that going for it. I loved sloppy-joes as kid, so I had a hard time keeping my "what, no meat?" bias at bay. To say this meal surprised me would be a grand understatement. This started out as my favorite dinner from Nourish thus far. That title has changed a few times, but this is still in my top-5 dinners.

Butternut Mac 'n' Cheeze with Fried Onion Breadcrumbs - This is probably my current #1 in the dinner category. What red blooded American doesn't like Mac n' Cheeze, right? But wait, this is vegan AND gluten free, so how the heck are they pulling this off? I read the ingredients and I won't bore with the details (maybe in another post), but yeah, they did it, and it is simply amazing. My wife commented that the next time they offer this, we may order 10 to freeze. Yeah, they're THAT good.

Finally, I have to mention The Tarts. Nourish doesn't make these themselves, but they distribute on behalf of another Charlotte based company called The Naked Tart. These are the most delicious 100% natural desserts I think I've ever had. The variety is amazing (this week is blueberry and I can't wait to try it). The only downside is they are a little too good. Natalie loves them more than I do, so I wind up getting to eat less of them. I guess we'll have to order more.

I feel like I've barely skimmed the surface on their offerings. My only, not sure I'd call this a complaint thus far is their variety. Its too much! I had no clue eating this way had so much delicious variety! But, we do run into the problem of wanting more of something (like my #1) and its not on the menu. They are so creative with this stuff its amazing. I know its probably better for me, but I want more of some of this stuff!

So, needless to say my experience with Nourish could not be more positive. I have something in the works with this program but will hold off on details for now. As a theoretical card carrying member of the NMEA (national meat eater's assoc), they have me sold. Meat is still on my menu, but today is my 3rd consecutive day of being meatless, and it doesn't bother me one bit. There's a lot more good food to be had.

Did I mention they deliver?

* I know I didn't list ingredients. I can't find them but I'll try and share some of the current ones I get.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

If I were called on at the town hall...

If I were at the town hall, this is the question I would ask of President Obama:

Mr. President, your predecessor handed to you the keys to the most powerful executive branch in the history of this country, as evidenced by warrant-less surveillance of even American citizens, indefinite detention without due process, indiscriminate killing of civilians with drone strikes, overbroad executive orders, and extraordinary rendition. To your credit, you ended torture and attempted to close Gitmo.

Instead of ending or restraining those extraordinary powers, you've expanded them, including an illegal use of military force in Libya, and an unconstitutional "kill list" that can apparently include US citizens. If you
are elected to a 2nd term, how would you return balance to your branch of government? Mr. Romney, if you win, how would you restore balance to the executive branch?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An answer to lobbyists...but will it work?

Obviously there are a lot of glaring problems with Washington D.C., but one that concerns me the most (ok, maybe not the most, but work with me) is the lack of non-biased input legislators get when making policy decisions outside of their realm of expertise.

Who do these legislators get information from? Professional, highly paid lobbyists who also eventually assist them in lining their re-election coffers. Now, I don't want to disparage all lobbyists, because I do think they provide some valuable information. The problem is, their input in most cases lacks any semblance of balance.

A good example of this was the SOPA/PIPA battle over copyright & intellectual property rights in the digital age. The momentum for this bill that was being largely driven (read: written) by the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America). Luckily, over time sanity prevailed due to a massive amount of consumer activism and some key industry players (like GoDaddy.com) getting pressured to withdraw support. It was actually a great testament as to how the citizenry can mobilize and influence a legislative outcome.

The problem with this effort is that it took a lot of energy from a public that has a hard time keeping their attention on issues like this. That sort of capital can only be used periodically, else you risk losing their attention by crying wolf too often.

So what can be done? I have an idea, but I'm concerned it may far to idealistic to work. The basic concept is  a citizen advisory board, or CAB. It works a little differently between Senators and Representatives, but not it doesn't have to. Here's the concept:

A member of the CAB:

  • Must be a registered voter in the district (for Rep) or state for that Congress member
  • Cannot have been a registered lobbyist within the last 5 years
  • Cannot be compensated, with the exception of any expenses incurred (for example, for travel to DC) for serving as a CAB member
  • Must have demonstrable expertise in the field in which advice is being provided
  • Must sign a confidentiality agreement that stipulates when the CAB member may communicate publicly outside of their CAB member role (not sure on this one, trying to think of means of providing unfiltered guidance while maintaining confidentiality)
  • Can donate to campaigns as an individual, but cannot donate to PAC or lobbying organizations
The duties are pretty simple:
  • When called upon, provide guidance to the Congress member or related staffers on a pending legislative matter for which the member has direct involvement via committee
  • This guidance can be written, verbal, or any viable medium
  • Can (optional) provide guidance to other members of Congress at the request and approval of their home Representative or Senator (for example, when legislation is pending floor vote and is outside of the expertise of the home member of Congress) (ie. a loaner program)
  • May be called upon to provide comment on approved drafts of legislation
So that's the basic draft. The idea is that any citizen can volunteer for this activity to help keep their Congress critters informed on the issues of the day and provide guidance on pending legislation. It is also a means for interested citizens to help create a better decision making process in Congress

I do see a few challenges with this:
  • Lobbyists still control the $$$, and thus have more influence than the CAB member, at least conceptually
  • Smaller states could have trouble fielding experts, but I think the loaner program may help with this
  • How much time can be committed could be an issue, as many of these folks will have full time jobs
  • Managing how CAB members are influenced would need to be reviewed (ie. avoid backdoor lobbying)
  • No clue as to how much support this would have from members of Congress, I haven't even field tested it with my own critters yet. Or if they would even listen to the advice.
Admittedly, this is a very raw idea. So feel free to make suggestions or tear it apart. Naturally, I'd be one of the first to volunteer on issues concerning information technology, security, and privacy.

So whaddya think?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I really don't get FourSquare...

I saw someone I follow on Twitter waste my glance by checking into the following places:

Best Buy
Home Depot

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot? What is the point of "checking in" to these mundane places, and then tweeting about it??? Don't get me wrong, I know part of social media is ego driven. I'm guilty of it too. But I'm also considerate enough not to spam you with irrelevant posts like that. While I know no one is going to find everything I say interesting, I at least put some effort into it.

That said, I have been known to check in on occasion on Facebook when I'm doing something novel (well, at least I think it is), like seeing the Foo Fighters for the first time in concert (awesome doesn't begin to describe that show), or attending a cool exhibit at Discovery Place. I might even check in at a cool restaurant I really enjoyed. That's about it.

This isn't intended to put people on the defensive if they use FourSquare in this fashion. I'd just like to understand the value they get from a site like that. Twitter has become a great resource for me to exchange professional banter while adding random thoughts on sports, politics, etc. It is also a nuisance when everyone is attending the same conference (mostly because I'm jealous because I'm not there), or one of the sports writers I follow is live tweeting a game.

I'm not even sure why I'm ranting on this. Just wanted something to talk about I guess. /shrug

In the end I guess I'm just asking: why do you use FourSquare and what value does it provide?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Itching to blog again...but conflicted

I've had this problem before. I genuinely enjoy writing about lots of topics. Generally they tend to group around the following: technology (lots of sub categories in this one), politics, sports & fitness (including weight loss), horses, spirituality. The first 3 are really the most common for me.

But now I feel like I'm hitting a fork in the road where perhaps I should consider specializing a bit and focusing a bit more on my thoughts surrounding my chosen profession and related subjects. I don't know that I want to do it as some ego boost as much I think it would help me sharpen my saw a bit on the subjects I care about. And, I think it might help invite some people I enjoy exchanging ideas with to take part in the conversation versus 143 character quips on Twitter.

Then, I also have school staring at me in August. I think what I'm leaning towards is dividing my blog and perhaps cross-post technology related entries that aren't quite as narrowly focused on identity and access management, which is my passion.

I'd also like to dabble in the design of the blog a bit, and get it a little more to my liking than a simple blogger site. Brian Katz's blog, is a good example of the kind of design I'd like to have for my professional blog.

Any feedback on this would definitely be appreciated.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Actual Facts About Amendment One

I had mentioned in some prior Facebook posts that I had planned to blog about this issue. I wished I had done so earlier, but school and work have definitely limited my time. However, the election is this Tuesday and I need to get this off my chest.

First, as the title suggests, I'll state the real facts about Amendment One and the concept of same-sex marriage in general. Then I might rant a little, we'll see. First, just the facts...

  1. There is already a statute on the books in North Carolina that prevents gay marriage. This amendment is unnecessary.
  2. Most of the people polled who support Amendment One are unaware of fact #1.
  3. Amendment One is so unique, there's no category for it in the constitution (ie. there is nothing regarding marriage today in it), so it will have to be placed in the "miscellaneous" section.
  4. Domestic partners (a common term for insurance benefits) of public employees are virtually guaranteed to lose their benefits if Amendment One passes.
  5. Amendment One is worded very poorly, and there is no case law whatsoever in NC to deal with the term "domestic legal union".
  6. Amendment One does absolutely nothing to protect heterosexual marriage.
  7. Adoption of Amendment One would force another constitutional amendment to even allow civil unions in this state.
  8. Approving Amendment One would be the first time we've enshrined discrimination in our state constitution.
  9. Opposing gay marriage is a surprisingly bi-partisan issue. A significant percentage of African-American and Latino Democrats support Amendment One.
I have to admit, #9 is the one that annoys me the most. In a country that fought a civil war over rights for people who had no control over their race, some descendants of those those same people would enshrine discrimination into our state constitution against a class of people who have no choice over their sexual orientation.

The Bible is irrelevant in this discussion. Last I checked, most of the laws of Leviticus aren't in the NC constitution either (thankfully). Slavery is also legal and supported in both New and Old Testament. Where's the moral outrage there? Here is a terrific breakdown of the trouble opponents of gay marriage have with respect to the bible. (note: the first link is a trailer to a much longer version).

Gay marriage represents zero threat to traditional marriage. My wonderful marriage of 6 years will not be damaged one iota if some of my gay friends in NC are given a chance to commit to each other in a similar fashion.

Roy Cooper, the Attorney General of North Carolina, summed it up best. Amendment One is "unclear, unwise, and unnecessary."

I'll allow comments if people choose to do so. I merely ask that folks be respectful and address the argument at hand, not the people making them. I said nothing about the folks who support this awful amendment, I hope others will do the same.