October 8, 2014
Via A Mighty Girl:

Professional hacker Parisa Tabriz is responsible for keeping the nearly billion users of Google Chrome safe by finding vulnerabilities in their system before malicious hackers do. Tabriz, a “white hat” hacker who calls herself Google’s “Security Princess”, is head of the company’s information security engineering team. The 31-year-old Polish-Iranian-American is also an anomaly in Silicon Valley according to a recent profile in The Telegraph: “Not only is she a woman – a gender hugely under-represented in the booming tech industry – but she is a boss heading up a mostly male team of 30 experts in the US and Europe.”Tabriz came up with “Security Princess” while at a conference and the unusual title is printed on her business card. “I knew I’d have to hand out my card and I thought Information Security Engineer sounded so boring,” she says. “Guys in the industry all take it so seriously, so security princess felt suitably whimsical.” Her curiosity, mischievousness, and innovative thinking are all assets in her business: a high-profile company like Google is constantly in the crosshairs of so-called “black hat” hackers.Tabriz came into internet security almost by accident; at the University of Illinois’ computer engineering program, her interest was first whetted by the story of early hacker John Draper, who became known as Captain Crunch in the 1960s after he learned how to make free long-distance calls using a toy whistle from a Cap’n Crunch cereal box. She realized that, to beat the hackers of today, she had to be prepared for similar — but more advanced — out-of-the-box thinking.While women at still very under-represented in the tech industry — Google recently reported that only 30% of its staff is female — Tabriz has hope for the future: “[F]ifty years ago there were similar percentages of women in medicine and law, now thankfully that’s shifted.” And, while she hasn’t encountered overt sexism at Google, when she was offered the position, at least one classmate said, “you know you only got it cos you’re a girl.” To help address this imbalance, she mentors under-16 students at a yearly computer science conference that teaches kids how to “hack for good” — and she especially encourages girls to pursue internet security work. One 16-year-old who attended, Trinity Nordstrom, says, “Parisa is a good role model, because of her I’d like to be a hacker.”Tabriz, who was named by Forbes as one of the “top 30 under 30 to watch” in 2012, also wants the public to realize that hacking can be used for positive ends. “[H]acking can be ugly,” she says. “The guy who published the private photos of those celebrities online made headlines everywhere. What he did was not only a violation of these women but it was criminal, and as a hacker I was very saddened by it. I feel like we, the hackers, need better PR to show we’re not all like that… [A]fter all I’m in the business of protecting people.”To read more about Google’s “Security Princess” in The Telegraph, visit http://bit.ly/Z6Z5RG

Via A Mighty Girl:

Professional hacker Parisa Tabriz is responsible for keeping the nearly billion users of Google Chrome safe by finding vulnerabilities in their system before malicious hackers do. Tabriz, a “white hat” hacker who calls herself Google’s “Security Princess”, is head of the company’s information security engineering team. The 31-year-old Polish-Iranian-American is also an anomaly in Silicon Valley according to a recent profile in The Telegraph: “Not only is she a woman – a gender hugely under-represented in the booming tech industry – but she is a boss heading up a mostly male team of 30 experts in the US and Europe.”

Tabriz came up with “Security Princess” while at a conference and the unusual title is printed on her business card. “I knew I’d have to hand out my card and I thought Information Security Engineer sounded so boring,” she says. “Guys in the industry all take it so seriously, so security princess felt suitably whimsical.” Her curiosity, mischievousness, and innovative thinking are all assets in her business: a high-profile company like Google is constantly in the crosshairs of so-called “black hat” hackers.

Tabriz came into internet security almost by accident; at the University of Illinois’ computer engineering program, her interest was first whetted by the story of early hacker John Draper, who became known as Captain Crunch in the 1960s after he learned how to make free long-distance calls using a toy whistle from a Cap’n Crunch cereal box. She realized that, to beat the hackers of today, she had to be prepared for similar — but more advanced — out-of-the-box thinking.

While women at still very under-represented in the tech industry — Google recently reported that only 30% of its staff is female — Tabriz has hope for the future: “[F]ifty years ago there were similar percentages of women in medicine and law, now thankfully that’s shifted.” And, while she hasn’t encountered overt sexism at Google, when she was offered the position, at least one classmate said, “you know you only got it cos you’re a girl.” To help address this imbalance, she mentors under-16 students at a yearly computer science conference that teaches kids how to “hack for good” — and she especially encourages girls to pursue internet security work. One 16-year-old who attended, Trinity Nordstrom, says, “Parisa is a good role model, because of her I’d like to be a hacker.”

Tabriz, who was named by Forbes as one of the “top 30 under 30 to watch” in 2012, also wants the public to realize that hacking can be used for positive ends. “[H]acking can be ugly,” she says. “The guy who published the private photos of those celebrities online made headlines everywhere. What he did was not only a violation of these women but it was criminal, and as a hacker I was very saddened by it. I feel like we, the hackers, need better PR to show we’re not all like that… [A]fter all I’m in the business of protecting people.”

To read more about Google’s “Security Princess” in The Telegraph, visit http://bit.ly/Z6Z5RG

October 7, 2014
New Music

kohenari:

After a conversation with some of my students over lunch today, I have to ask:

Is there anyone making good music today who wasn’t also making music ten or more years ago, when these students were ten years old?

LTMC: Here’s 25 in no particular order/genre: Sharon Van Etten, Daughter, Cold Specks, The 1975, Bon Iver, Flying Lotus, Gregory Alan Isokov, The Bronx, Fidlar, After The Burial, Protest The Hero, Between The Buried And Me, The Lumineers, Adele, Sleigh Bells, Kimbra, Banks, FKA Twigs, Lykke Li, iwrestledabearonce, Company of Thieves, Dead Sara, St. Vincent, Kendrick Lamar.

Your mileage may vary with a lot of these, since I’m into everything from acid Jazz to Deathcore.

11:25pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnx1SeB7c0
  
Filed under: music 
October 7, 2014
Jennifer Lawrence, Nude Photos, And The Law

Jennifer Lawrence recently spoke out about the celebrity nude photo scandal, in which nude photos of numerous celebrities (including Lawrence) were stolen and distributed by hackers.  In her statement, Lawrence suggested that the laws need to be changed to protect her and others like her from this sort of behavior:

"It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change,” she said. “Just because I’m a public figure, just because I’m an actress, does not mean that I asked for this.”

Lawrence added that she nearly released a statement when the leak happened, but everything she came up with made her too upset. 

"I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for," she said. 

First, there’s no question that Jennifer Lawrence was a victim here.  But she raises two interesting points: (a) What type of crime was actually committed here, and (b) are there laws against it?

The answer to the first question was, I think, properly answered in the comments section of the article linked above.  

Photos are data. We all have data that we store on devices, with the expectation of privacy. Whether it’s your Social Security number, your checking account balance, your medical records, snapshots of your children, or a photo of you relaxing in your home while undressed, you have the right to share that information or keep it private. To say that private photos of Jennifer Lawrence, nude or not, are any more or less valuable than your SS# is ludicrous. Stealing data of any kind and posting it without permission violates many laws. These celebrities didn’t share them, then wish they hadn’t. This is intellectual property theft and copyright infringement.

As another commenter notes, the man who leaked nude photos of Scarlet Johannson was sentenced to ten years in prison.  He was indicted on nine counts of computer hacking, eight counts of aggravated identify theft, and nine counts of illegal wiretapping.  In that case, he hacked into e-mail accounts rather than cloud data.  But legally speaking, this doesn’t make a huge difference—e-mail data is also stored on third party servers, so it’s still “cloud data” in the relevant sense.  It probably doesn’t qualify as a sex crime, but it does violate numerous laws against theft and invasion of privacy, which can result in a very long prison sentence.  

I bring this up because I worry that Lawrence’s call for a new law will lead an enterprising politician to offer up a bill which creates yet another criminal statute that federal and/or state prosecutors can use as ammunition against people in the Defendant’s chair.  As I’ve discussed many times on this blog, prosecutors often overcharge people with crimes they know they can’t prove in order to scare people into taking plea deals, even if they’re innocent.  A new law would give prosecutors an extra building block to stack charges against defendants who may be innocent, but don’t want to risk getting found guilty at a trial.  There’s no need to do that when we already have quite a few criminal laws on the books to protect people in Jennifer Lawrence’s position.

In short, we already have laws on the books that protect people who have had intimate data stolen from them the way Jennifer Lawrence did. I think Lawrence was calling for the laws to be changed because she thought that what happened to her was legal, but it’s not.  It’s already quite illegal.  Authorities just need to enforce the laws that are already on the books.

October 7, 2014

In which 8-year old Li-sa plays guitar better than you.

12:27am  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnx1SZVOuB
  
Filed under: music 
October 6, 2014
Death With Dignity

Zach Weissmueller tells us about 29-year old Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to take advantage of their Assisted Suicide laws:

Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that doctors predict will end her life within six months, has produced a video in conjunction with aid-in-dying advocacy organization Compassion and Choices meant to explain her decision to end her life with the aid of prescribed medication.

The video is powerful personal testimony in favor of a procedure only legally available in five states. Under Oregon’s law, a physician may prescribe life-ending barbituates to a terminally ill patient who is of a sound mind to make such a decision.

Maynard moved out of California to exercise this control over her own death. She explains the decision to People magazine and offers some pointed criticism of state lawmakers who would interfere in such personal choices:

"Right now it’s a choice that’s only available to some Americans, which is really unethical," she says.

"The amount of sacrifice and change my family had to go through in order to get me to legal access to death with dignity – changing our residency, establishing a team of doctors, having a place to live – was profound," she says.

"There’s tons of Americans who don’t have time or the ability or finances," she says, "and I don’t think that’s right or fair."

"I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice," she says. "The patient can change their mind right up to the last minute. I feel very protected here in Oregon."

I am a whole-hearted supporter of Death with Dignity/Assisted Suicide/Right to Die laws.  I understand that we want people who are depressed or chronically ill to keep hope of recovery.  But if a person’s quality of life is so low that they no longer value existence, society should not force them to carry on—particularly when their chances of recovery are slim to none.  Better they they be allowed to end their life comfortably with the help of a medical professional, than forced to undertake less reliable methods that may just prolong their suffering.

October 6, 2014
Red Cross Volunteers: We Witnessed Israeli Soldiers Execute Palestinian Civilians In Cold Blood

From the article:

Volunteers for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) operations in Gaza have testified to witnessing the summary execution of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers during Operation Protective Edge.

Esteemed journalist Max Blumenthal was given unfettered access to the worst hit areas of Gaza during the summer’s onslaught by Israel.  He provided this testimony to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in Brussels last week, as the world’s leading jurists and civil society members assessed Israel’s culpability for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The executions seemed to fall into two categories: humiliation, and functional.

[…]

Beyond these deaths aimed to humiliate Gaza civilians, or eradicate Hebrew speakers, there were other clear war crimes — including the murder of a mentally disabled man.

At the eastern edge of the central area marked in orange Hebrew letters as “Soccer Field,” I met Mohammed Fathi Al Areer. His home was a virtual cave furnished with a single sofa. In Al Areer’s backyard, four of his brothers were executed. One of them, Hassan Al Areer, was mentally disabled and had little idea he was about to be killed. Mohammed Al Areer said he found bullet casings next to the heads of his family members when he discovered their decomposing bodies.

Read More

October 5, 2014
My cousin is starring in a local production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He posted this photo with the caption: “Men’s Dressing Room.”
Ohh myyyy.

My cousin is starring in a local production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. He posted this photo with the caption: “Men’s Dressing Room.”

Ohh myyyy.

10:31pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnx1STobNZ
  
Filed under: theater art cinema 
October 5, 2014
On Maher, Harris, Affleck, & The Islam Debate On Real Time

For those who saw Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Bill Affleck debate Islam on Real Time, I’d like to make a few remarks about the segment.

First, I think it’s important to remember that Bill Maher and Sam Harris are making their arguments in good faith.  I don’t think their suspicion of Islam is the product of simple-minded bigotry, but rather, flows from a deep concern with very real human rights violations that are common in some majority-Muslim countries.  Affleck was clearly outgunned, because he doesn’t have the academic training necessary to be a good advocate for his position.  Harris and Maher are both seasoned debaters, and Affleck’s green’ness showed.

Second, as a card-carrying skeptic, I’m sympathetic to Maher & Harris’s inherent suspicion of organized religion.   It’s easy to just paint Maher and Harris as bigots and ignore them.  But that would be irresponsible.  As Maher said on his program, he isn’t making up the fact that there’s evidence of large numbers of Muslims holding beliefs that most Americans would find objectionable.  And he’s certainly not wrong that there are Muslim-majority countries where women and homosexuals are treated terribly.  The problem is that Maher & Harris’s position is somewhat unsophisticated, because it doesn’t describe the culture of every majority-Muslim country.  I also think Maher too readily accepts the face value of polls.  At one point Maher cites a poll from Egypt to support his argument that a majority of the Muslims there have troubling beliefs.  But it’s hard for me to take the results of that poll seriously when we saw images of Egyptian Christians and Muslims protecting each other as they prayed during the 2011 protests.  Do these charitable acts represent the majority of the Muslim community?  Perhaps not.  But it does indicate that the Muslim community in Egypt is not as monolithic as the poll suggests.  Maher is smart enough to know this, but he consistently papers over this fact in his polemics against Islam.

Third, I think one of the issues with Maher & Harris’s position is their failure to distinguish between doctrine and belief.  Harris often argues that almost all major religious texts, interpreted literally, lead to horrible results.  I would grant Maher & Harris that, interpreted literally, the Qur’an can be used to justify all manner of cruelty and oppression.  But it seems quite clear to me that—just like every other religion on earth—many Muslims do not interpret the Qur’an literally.  Whether they are correct to do so is besides the point, because this conversation is about what Muslims actually believe, not what they would  believe if they interpreted the Qur’an literally.  Which brings me to my next point.

Fourth, I disagree with Maher & Harris is that the majority of Muslims worldwide actually hold the views Maher & Harris cite as problematic—or if they do hold those beliefs, then I disagree that they would actually ever act on them. The poll data Maher & Harris are relying on conflicts with the testimony and images I have seen in countless news articles from the Muslim world, and with the experiences I’ve had with Muslim people myself.  I understand that anecdotal evidence isn’t worth a whole lot when you’re talking about a global population of 1.1 billion Muslims.  I also understand that Muslims who live in America are probably a lot more liberal than their peers in other, more conservative Muslim countries.  But if that’s the case, then what we’re talking about here is not so much an Islam problem, but a culture problem.  Specifically, a culture problem in countries where strict interpretations of Islam are common (according to the polls Maher & Harris are relying on, anyway).  

Lastly, I think this “culture v. religion” distinction is one that Maher and Harris consistently miss, despite correctly pointing out very real and problematic beliefs that exist in certain conservative Muslim countries.  At the very least, the fact that the most common victims of Islamic terrorism are other Muslims ought to be an indication that Maher & Harris are oversimplifying the issue.  Perhaps Maher  & Harris oversimplify because they are anxious to avoid the paralysis of analysis.  Given what Maher & Harris believe is at stake (“they’ll fucking kill you!”), it’s understandable.  But in this case, I think oversimplification has the potential to do nearly as much harm as it prevents—such as confirming the “West is at war with Islam” meme that fundamentalists are so fond of, or radicalizing and alienating moderate Muslims who might help liberalize the culture of the more conservative majority-Muslim countries that Maher & Harris criticize.

October 3, 2014

image

Today is the birthday of the man who is very important to me.  Stevie Ray Vaughan was born on October 3, 1954.  He died August 27, 1990 in a helicopter crash as he was leaving a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin.  Despite a relatively short-lived mainstream music career spanning about eight years, he is widely considered to be one of the most influential, important guitarists that ever lived.

image

Stevie came into the national spotlight at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1982.  After seeing him play, People’s James McBride wrote:

He seemed to come out of nowhere, a Zorro-type figure in a riverboat gambler’s hat, roaring into the ‘82 Montreux festival with a ‘59 Stratocaster at his hip and two flame-throwing sidekicks he called Double Trouble. He had no album, no record contract, no name, but he reduced the stage to a pile of smoking cinders and, afterward, everyone wanted to know who he was.

Stevie would go on to release five albums, receive numerous awards, and enjoy international success.  Vaughan’s personal life was weighed down by a longstanding dependency on drugs and alcohol which he thought fueled his creative spirit, but also destroyed him physically and emotionally:

At the height of Vaughan’s substance abuse, he drank a quart of whiskey and used a quarter ounce of cocaine each day.  Personal assistant Tim Duckworth explained: “I would make sure he would eat breakfast instead of waking up drinking every morning, which was probably the worst thing he was doing.” According to Vaughan: “It got to the point where if I’d try to say “Hi” to somebody, I would just fall apart crying. It was like solid doom.”

Vaughan would later check in to rehab after a near-death experience in Denmark, where he nearly died due to dehydration.  He got clean and sober, and remained so until his tragic, untimely death at the age of 35.

image

Stevie Ray Vaughan is almost solely responsible for motivating me to pick up guitar.  I don’t share that aspect of myself on this blog very often, but music is a huge part of my life—more important to me than politics.  It is a huge part of my personality and extraordinarily important to me.  It enhances my life in more ways than I can even articulate.  My attachment to my guitar in particular is marriage-worthy.  If I met someone who, for some odd reason, ask me to choose between my guitar of them, it would not be a hard decision.

So Happy birthday, Stevie.  You would’ve been 59 today.  You should have been alive and written so much more music, but the forces that move the universe decided that you couldn’t stay with us.  And I remain eternally grateful for what you gave me while you were alive.  I have been playing guitar for 16 years, and I still haven’t mastered your style.  Thank you for everything.  And if there’s an afterlife, I hope you’re resting peacefully…when you’re not plugged in.

image

8:18pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZMMjnx1SIS8uQ
  
Filed under: srv music 
October 3, 2014
Police Say they Brutalized this Man Because He Went for Cop’s Gun. New Video Shows They’re Lying

FTP summarizes at the link above that the Baltimore police were caught on video beating a Baltimore resident named Jamar Kennedy who was allegedly involved in a fight at a night club earlier in the evening.  The police claim that they beat Kennedy because he tried to go for an officer’s gun.  But video surveillance shows the police beating the crap out of a man with his hands up.  Whatever may have happened prior in time, the force being used in the video was clearly excessive.

This is how a lot of police brutality happens.  The police get pissed off because someone they’re trying to question or arrest does something the officer doesn’t like or spooks them, so the officer rages and uses excessive force.  When the officer calms down, he or she realizes that they stepped over the line, and then writes a “creative” arrest report to justify the level of force used.

The sad thing is that more often than not, it works, because the police officer is the only “reliable” witness to what happened, and without extraneous evidence to bolster the Defendant’s story, most judges and juries will believe the police officer every time.  But once in awhile, you get the evidence you need to prove the officer is a liar, or at least discredit their version of events.  In this case, we see have a video of police beating the crap out of a guy with his hands up.  Even if he’d tried to grab an officer’s gun earlier, it’s clear that he’s no longer resisting.  The purpose of using force on a suspect is to get them to submit to the officer’s authority.  The man in this video appears to be doing that.  But the police continue to beat the shit out of him anyway.  It’s clearly excessive force, and clearly actionable.

When the Michael Brown shooting occurred, a lot of people automatically took the officer’s side, assuming that Michael Brown got what he deserved.  Many of the people who chose not to give the benefit of the doubt to Michael Brown after he was shot in Ferguson did so because they trust police officers to tell the truth.  They trust the police because they think the police have a tough job, and that police deal with dangerous people so the rest of us don’t have to.  

In some cases, that’s certainly true.  But there are Constitutional limits on what the police are allowed to do when arresting you for committing a crime—even a violent one.  And all too often, police lie to cover up violations of the same Constitution they swear to uphold.  Those of us who have chosen to dedicate our professional lives to protecting people from the mistakes and misconduct of law enforcement know that it is very common for police to lie, twist, and omit facts in their official reports in order to justify unconstitutional conduct.  You need not take my own word for it, either.  Plenty of former police officers will tell you the same.

To be fair, I’m saying all this as a person who doesn’t have all the facts, is not a member of the Grand Jury, hasn’t ready all the witness reports, and is therefore unqualified to judge what exactly happened in Michael Brown’s case.  But in our society, people get judged in the court of public opinion long before they get judged in a courtroom.  And the culture of the former necessarily shapes the disposition of the people who enter the latter.  What we are predisposed to believe inherently raises or lowers of amount of evidence we will accept to prove whether something took place.  

So it is important that when society decides to whom the benefit of the doubt should be granted, it is given to the right person.  Because it will affect how we approach these cases when we walk into a courtroom as a member of a jury, or take the oath as a judge.  Who we give the benefit of the doubt to could make the difference between Grand Jurors in Michael Brown’s case choosing to indict Darren Wilson, or choosing not to indict him because they inherently trust him because he’s a police officer.

When deciding who deserves the benefit of the doubt in a case with hazy facts, it is important to remember where the institutional balance of power lies.  Between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, only one of them has the power to falsify official documents to protect themselves from liability.  Only one of them has the benefit of a subculture of obfuscation that attempts to shield its members from liability.  Only one of them comes from a profession that has a history of shooting unarmed Black men under questionable circumstances with little or no consequences.  

So when we’re faced with a case where the facts are fuzzy, and no one can say for sure what happened, we ought to give the benefit of the doubt to the person who does not have the benefit of numerous institutional advantages that give them the ability to control the narrative.  Maybe Michael Brown did go for Darren Wilson’s weapon.  But it wouldn’t be the first time a police officer lied about someone going for their weapon to provide a post hoc justification for excessive force.  It certainly won’t be the last.

The point of all this is that we shouldn’t automatically side with the police in disputed shooting just because we don’t have video evidence that proves they used excessive force.  Not all police lie, but many do.  And many people think that the “criminals” arrested by police have more incentive to lie than the police.  But the truth is that police have equal, if not greater incentive to lie to protect themselves from scrutiny when they violate the law.  If you don’t believe me, just ask the 52.4 percent of the officers who agree that ‘it is not unusual for a police officer to turn a blind eye to improper conduct by other officers.” 

When the majority of officers agree that they are willing to cover up their colleague’s mistakes, we need to have a serious discussion about why people continue to give the police the benefit of the doubt in questionable police involved shootings.  It seems pretty clear to me that it’s not appropriate to do so.

Liked posts on Tumblr: More liked posts »