A friend of mine who I respect a lot approached me earlier this week to ask if I would look into something that he thought was a scandal. My friend and I have some fundamental disagreements on some political issues, but we respect each other, and I was happy to look into it. The issue he said, was that the federal health insurance exchange website had some "hidden code" in it that meant Americans were giving up their rights to privacy when signing up for health insurance through the website.
“You have no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding any communication or data transmitting or stored on this information system. “
If you are on the end of the political spectrum that believes that the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” is evil, and you don’t have any experience with HTML or the other technologies that make up the world-wide web, then you might think this is some sort of a smoking gun. You might take note of the deer-in-the-headlights look on this poor executive’s face, probably not understanding what she was seeing, and being put on the spot to explain HTML source code, and you might prefer to see it as some sign of guilt.
For those of us who build these types of transactional websites for a living, it’s pretty simple to see that this is a non-issue. Whatever issues there are with the law or its implementation, this is not one of them. Rather, this is just a technical artifact. And it happens way more often than you think.
Well, it seems like it can't possibly already be Thanksgiving time again, but it certainly is. I don't know about you, but the past year seems to have been a blur. At the moment, I'm sitting here with my first cup of coffee, and my beautiful wife Fluffy is expressing her Czech heritage in the kitchen, playing traditional Czech music on her phone while she prepares another batch of kolaches.
I thought I would take a moment to wish everyone a happy and safe Thanksgiving, as well as a meaningful one. In times where life seems rushed, and there never seem to be enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we are expected to do, it can be hard just sort of sit with family and friends and BE thankful. Especially on Thanksgiving morning when we're hurriedly trying to get things prepared for our feast, the stress levels can be high.
But today, I'm going to try, and I hope you will too.
The Dallas Observer reported today that a local area Mom's group called the "Tattooed Hippie Pirate Mommas" tried to make a sizable donation to the Denton County Children's Advocacy Center, but was refused "due to the conservative nature of our organization".
We contacted Children's Advocacy Center Executive Director Dan Leal today to inquire about the rejection, and what the group meant by "conservative", and got this response:
"The Children's Advocacy Center for Denton County appreciated the generous offer made by the Tattooed Hippie Pirate Mommas organization; however, the money was raised with a pin up calendar that could be perceived by some as sexual in nature and our Children's Advocacy Center's mission is to provide justice and healing for children who are the victims of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, we could not accept the proceeds of this pin up calendar's sales because of the calendar's possible perception, and not the hard working mothers who sponsored it."
What do you think? Has CACDC just hurt its cause by making a giant leap from "pin-up" to "sexual"? Why are pictures of women being themselves considered sexual? How does this even have anything to do with victimizing children?
Just a quick note here about some technical difficulties we're currently experiencing on our website: We have experienced difficulties at times with the comment section rejecting comments. This past Wednesday we started having an issue where I couldn't even post blogs because of some sort of security "feature" of our hosting provider, GoDaddy. They fight an ongoing battle to protect their customers' websites against denial-of-service and spam attacks, but somehow their system was mistaking legitimate posts for spam or attacks.
Making matters worse, at GoDaddy's insistence, we updated the version of software that runs this website. After that, there was a brief time we couldn't even log in. There are still a few things on the site that have problems, such as our photo section being inaccessible, as well as various articles.
Hopefully the problems will be ironed out by Sunday Monday Saturday night. In the mean time, if you have tried to post a comment, and not been able to, please understand that we're not censoring you; it's just that the system may be losing them. Feel free to email us in the mean time: email@example.com, and we'll get it posted for you.
We're enjoying our day off here in my household. We've had a great, relaxing weekend, having gone to the rodeo Saturday night, then dinner and a jam session with friends on Sunday, then a trip to the shooting range today. It was really refreshing last night to see the rain roll in, and I was so happy to see the ground all wet this morning.
Our friend Matthew Grimm has a song called "Enemy" which he's made a music video of, and I wanted to share it with you on Labor Day, as we celebrate American labor, and the shared American value that people who are willing to work hard deserve the dignity of a job that can provide for them and their families.
You can find this song on his latest album, "Songs in the Key of Your Face":
We are devastated tonight by reports of the massive tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, and its tragic toll. It comes right on the heels of a recent outbreak of tornadoes last week in North Texas. Though we pray for comfort for those affected, we know that we are all God's hands when it comes to doing the work that comes from disasters like this. Some folks can help directly, and the rest of us can give money to fund their efforts. It's much more efficient and effective that way, even if it doesn't fulfill our own desires to become personally involved.
One of the easiest ways to contribute to disaster relief is with good old fashioned money delivered via modern methods. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, which helps people affected by disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires and tornadoes.
Another thing that we all need to do is to take some time to check our own disaster kits and plans. Do you know what you would do if you were separated from your family, and your home and means of communication were gone? Do you have supplies and equipment to survive a couple of days in your home if first responders cannot get to you? Do you know where in your home that you would go to have the best chance of surviving a tornado? Here is a website that can help you with your plans.
As always, we invite readers to let us know of opportunities to help. Leave a comment.
Regular readers might have noticed a dearth of postings about the local elections this year. That’s partly because of the fact that your editor has been really busy with the day job, and other things, but partly because this year there is less at stake than in past years. I had actually planned to go through each of the major issues and compare the candidates, but early voting is upon us, and I'm not done with that. Since "done" is the enemy of "posted", I'm going to post my basic thoughts on the two races without going into the issues, but I strongly encourage our readers to spend a little time reading the candidates' responses to our issues questionnaires. As always, readers are encouraged to use the comments section to start a discussion about what you think is important in these races.
Place 4: Tierney vs. Gorena - The Re-match
In place 4, incumbent John Gorena is just a flat-out embarrassment to the city, with his idiotic, wing nut conspiracy theories, identity-based politics, and racist statements. At meetings, he is constantly proving that he is not capable of keeping up. He will often ask questions that show he fails to grasp concepts just discussed. On at least one occasion, he blurted out something that belonged in closed session. Often in workshops or retreats he will re-hash and repeat his opinions long past the patience of the other council members, frequently resulting in the mayor shutting him down. While it’s important that all voices are heard, and a proper debate is had, Gorena seems to spend much of his time waiting to say his piece (again) rather than listening. If the facts of the matter support the opposite of his view, he simply ignores them. Gorena has had it explained to him numerous times in numerous ways, for instance, that the city’s debt level is the amount of principal owed, yet since it suits his purposes better to over-state it to make his point about debt, he always cites the principal plus future interest, and lumps together different types of debt, not all of which is payable by the taxpayers of Lewisville.
But Gorena is marginalized. Quite often, he is the only dissenting vote on a given issue, but on occasion, for certain issues - most notably on gas drilling, Gorena and Place 5 Councilman Rudy Durham may vote together. But with gas drilling on hiatus, and the Mayor and three other councilmen supporting reasonable gas drilling regulations, his ability to affect policy is hampered.
Greg Tierney was a very effective councilman, and was mostly on the right side of the issues, as far as I was concerned. I was very disappointed two years ago when he resigned over a DWI. I think that for the most part, he is still on the right side of the issues, so I will vote for him. While he has managed to effectively raise campaign funding, it seems that his campaign has not yet been able to effectively connect. (Campaign signs are numerous, but not very legible, and we have not seen mailers*.) Still, Tierney has built a lot of good will in the community, and has a deep base of supporters. And, we're electing a City Councilman, not a role model.
The Moon landings were faked, Elvis is alive, 9/11 was an inside job, and President Obama is a secret Muslim from Kenya. Oh yeah, and the Department of Homeland Security has bought 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition - either to prepare for imminent civil unrest, or to create shortages so that you and I can't buy any.
That last part is what has been going around in the right-wing-nut blogosphere lately. Of the outlets that link to sources, they all seem to link back to stories on "Infowars", a website run by notorious conspiracy theorist and NRA board member, Alex Jones. What may have given the theory a nudge into the mainstream is when columnist Ralph Benko wrote an editorial that appeared in Forbes magazine, decrying the "purchases".
But the truth of the matter is that in 2012, DHS only purchased a total of 103 million rounds - less than in the prior two years. Responding to a letter from Senator Tom Coburn (R, Oklahoma), The Department of Homeland Security released a list of answers to his questions, including breakdowns of the amounts and ammunition and dollar values spent. The agency says it budgets $37 million for ammunition in FY 2013.
Infowars, et al dismiss DHS's answers based on a flawed understanding of government contracts and the press release of one ammunition company doing business with the government. The writers simply looked at federal contracts that allow for a maximum purchase at a given price, and assumed that the contract was both fully executed, and for the entire maximum quantity. A simple read of the contracts being referenced would provide most readers with an understanding, but these conspiracy sources conveniently ignore the most logical explanations when they don't fit with their theories.
Since there are dozens of types of ammunition in common use with DHS' agencies, and each federal officer or agent has to periodically go through firearms training or re-qualification, it can be difficult to predict precisely the quantity of ammunition needed in each caliber on the timeframes needed for strategic sourcing contracts. So the government typically (based on the contracts we looked at) requests bids on a per-1000-round basis, with a minimum of 1000 rounds, and maximums that may vary. The government only guarantees to purchase the minimum, but holds the bidder to the price up to the maximum. Infowars errantly uses the maximum, since it suits their purposes of furthering their conspiracy theories.
As you can see in the screenshot, each item shows a quantity and a unit. The unit is shown as "MX", meaning that the units are thousands. So multiplying 100 by 1,000 yields 100,000 rounds, which is also clearly spelled out in the description. Watson goes out of his way to multiply the 100 quantity by the 100,000 in the description, ignoring units. He does that with the other items as well, not the least bit bothered by the coincidence of the quantity being 40 in the last line item, and having to multiply it by 40,000.