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Dispatches from taskboy

Below are the 25 most recent journal entries.

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  2011.09.16  09.57
Linksnest: storing social media links for you

Linksnest is a new web tool I have developed to help you collect and manage URLs mentioned by you or your friends on social media sites, like Twitter or LinkedIn.

You can even see your latest collected links as an RSS feed.

It's free to use and I think pretty easy to understand. Please give it a try and tell me what you think.

Mood: accomplished

  2011.06.25  07.55
Event-driven callbacks for Twitter, a proposal

What follows is a modest suggestion to all social media sites with a web service API, but is particularly pointed at Twitter. In this note, let me talk directly to issues I have with Twitter's API, but many of the points raised can be applied to other sites to equal beneift.

Twitter's REST API is quite complete in that it provides access to nearly all the data one sees in a user timeline and profile. However, if one wants to write a tool to monitor changes in a user's metadata, one has to poll the API. That is, the monitor write needs to periodically query every Twitter API call that may hold interesting information. This is ineffecient for both the monitor writer and for Twitter, who has to serve a number of calls with information that has not changed since the last call.

What would be better is for the Twitter API to implement an Observer design pattern. Twitter would identify some number of interesting data modification events, such as the following list:

  • Add/lose a follower
  • Add/lose a friend
  • Screen name change
  • Location change
  • Profile description change
  • New direct message

While not exhaustive, this list of events would make the job of writing a monitor tool much easier. A possible workflow might look like this:

  1. An app registers with a new Twitter API a callback URL and a list of events
  2. When one of the events of interest occurs, Twitter calls the registered URL with a payload that includes the event that occurred and perhaps some domain-specific metadata (i.e. the ID of the follower who joined/dropped)

Because of the volume of users, the Twitter API is very sensitive to producer/consumer issues. I propose that Twitter queue up events and then send out notifications at some reasonable rate, perhaps imposing a callback rate limit. Even with a rate limit, the callback system will provide much better performance for tool writers than polling the API.

Please discuss below.

Mood: contemplative

  2011.05.11  11.14
Beta-testers wanted


Over the past several months, I have been slowly pulling together a project that I hope others will find useful. It is called Nestor.

Nestor is an analytics tool that provides trending information for followers and retweets on Twitter.

The service is free and not spammy. Since authentication is done through Twitter, I don't even collect email addresses.

What I need are users on the system who are not afraid to give me feedback.

I am looking to improve the following areas:

  • User experience
  • Quality of data
  • Improving data visualizations
  • Security
  • Protecting user privacy

If this is something you are interested in, please send mail to jjohn@taskboy.com for a free registration code to get on to the system. Or message me on twitter: @taskboy3000

UPDATE: The registration part has been removed. Just log in with Twitter.

I want to be clear: this is not an open source project. It could become that at some point, but it is not one now.

All feedback is welcome.

Mood: curious

  2011.03.15  13.56
You are getting sleepy

Mood: filtered

  2011.02.13  08.34
Freddie got fingered (wrongly)

This is an abbreviated post of rage directed at those who wish to pin the financial panic of 2008 on Freddie and Fannie. Whether F&F made poor quality loans (they did) did not directly cause the implosion that consumed Mighty Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual and many, many others. That distinction goes to the massive scheme of entangling, unregulated debt insurance known as credit default swaps (CDS).

Credit default swaps are insurance contracts that cover the cost of loan defaults. The trick here is that anyone can buy a CDS on liabilities they do not own. Hence, CDS became the gamble of choice on Wall Street through the 2000s. And baby, the CDS business was a-boomin' until 2008.

Because CDS are private contracts between two parties, we will never know the size of that market, but it has been estimated to be in the trillions.

AIG provided many, many CDS, which is why, when the house of cards that began with Lehman fell, AIG got hit very hard. And at the end of 2008, it looked like the Street would have to pay out those trillion dollars worth of insurance.

Does TARP make sense to you all now?

Break up F&F if you must, but that will in no way prevent another crisis of 2008 from happening. Regulating the invisible CDS market will.

This issue isn't that complex. I'm tired of politicians getting this wrong, even if the error is intentionally malicious.


  2010.12.07  10.45
Jerry Lewis is still alive

Imagine that.

Mood: impressed

  2010.11.10  09.08
On 11/11/2011

Next year, the world will not end, but a sequence will. On 11/11/11, regardless of whether you live in Europe or America, all the bits of the calendar will be turned on. That alone should make it some kind of international peace day. However, this date also triggers some unwanted thoughts in the minds math and computer folk.

For example, this date like a pattern of bits in a byte, which can also be represented by the hexadecimal number 0x3f, or decimal 63 or 2**5-1. And then I think, "I should really refresh my memory on 2s compliment" or "maybe this a netmask to local subnet" or "jeez, there are two whole bits wasted in that pattern."

What I'm saying is that computers have ruined my mind. So having dates like the one above isn't safe for me.

Luckily, this is the last time in my life I will be confronted with such dates. I've lived through the following:

  • 01/01/00
  • 01/10/00
  • 01/11/00
  • 10/01/00
  • 10/10/00
  • 10/11/00
  • 11/01/00
  • 11/10/00
  • 11/11/10
  • 01/01/01
  • 01/10/01
  • 01/11/01
  • 10/01/01
  • 10/10/01
  • 10/11/01
  • 11/01/01
  • 11/10/01
  • 11/11/01
  • 01/01/10
  • 01/10/10
  • 01/11/10
  • 10/01/10
  • 10/10/10
  • 10/11/10
  • 11/01/10
  • 11/10/10
  • 11/11/10 (arriving shortly)

Left on the calendar are the following harrowing days:

  • 01/01/11
  • 01/10/11
  • 01/11/11
  • 10/01/11
  • 10/10/11
  • 10/11/11
  • 11/01/11
  • 11/10/11

So, Nov. 11, 2011 is the last of a pattern that will not repeat this century. Who will ignore the ominous tidings that this date portents?

Mood: calendric

  2010.10.21  12.14
After the GOP takes the House in 2010

There can be little doubt that the GOP will become the majority in the House after the midterm elections. The new speaker of the House will be Orange Man Boehner. What will the next few years look like?

Expect no significant stimulus packages (although Pork will still be served hot'n'fresh from the usual suspects). The rich will get tax cuts. Perhaps the payroll taxes (which affect nearly all of us) might increase.

The problem with government austerity right now is that no one else is spending money. If the government doesn't, public sector jobs will get axed (compare to the UK's estimated 500,000 lost jobs thanks to their recent austerity plan). Without those jobs, tax revenues fall causing more government debt and more economic depression.

The only positive thing about austerity is that it may improve the interest rate at which the government can borrow more debt. Super.

The time for government austerity is when the economy is booming. Tax the hell out of the top earners then to pay down debts incurred during times like this.

So the economy will be depressed until 2012. Obama will get tossed out of office. Don't expect Palin to run -- she's got a great gig as a celebrity and can't afford the pay cut. Whoever the Republicans run should take the White House. Then, tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts -- none of which will help the middle or lower class.

Remember that tax cuts are a government spending program, especially when tax cuts necessitate more government borrowing (which every state and federal tax cut plan I know of today will do).

Many people benefit from federal entitlement programs and no one wants to give these up. As a nation, we are completely screwed.

(Don't construe this as a pro-Dem rant. There are only bad choices facing the voter in 2010 and 2012. Why worry over the differences?)

Update: One more word on the UK austerity measures. It appears that their government seeks to fight unemployment and rising entitlement costs by creating a massive wave of new unemployment that will require more entitlement spending. Solid thinking there, old bean.

Mood: pessimistic

  2010.09.29  07.49
Is the military ready for mere tolerance?

Imagine if a modern senator said:

"At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the 'Racial Segregation' policy. [It is] imperfect but effective."


"At this point there is no reason to rush to judgment for political expediency until we hear from our military leaders as to whether they think it is a good idea to change this policy [of racial segregation]."

The ugly tone of discrimination in those words is obvious. Yet, these are slightly modified quotes from Senators McCain and Voinovich.

Now replace 'racial segregation' with 'sexual segregation' and the moral reason why the current 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy is incompatible with modern sensibilities is highlighted in bold relief.

The military often likes to present itself as a modern, professional organization. In private business, sexual discrimination is illegal. Those companies foolish enough to try it get sued. Why should the military be any different? Is it really too much to ask our paid, professional soldiers not to be bigots?

Those that do not like homosexuals are unlikely to change their feelings any time soon. There is no need for a transition period: end the policy now. Put the argument in racial terms and see how horrible it sounds: "our fighting men need to get used to working with [black people]."

We dishonor our military by thinking that they cannot make this change or that most would not welcome it. Who are we to turn away those who would die to defend our country?

Mood: uncomfortable

  2010.09.04  21.30
LJ vs twitter

As a stream of information that can be commented by third parties, I still prefer to reaf updates via LJ than twitter. I also have realized that facebook is a social lifeline for new parents.


  2010.08.30  20.16
An experiment

I think that much of the content I post on facebook is ignored. Perhaps this lj app on my itouch will help me reach my target audience better?

We will see.


  2010.08.05  20.05
More words to live by

Continuing the theme of words you should know, I present a list of adjectives used to ascribe animal characteristics typically to human behavior. I have starred the ones that are particularly useful to remember, particularly when insulting your friends and enemies.

  • apiarian - bee
  • * asinine - donkey
  • * batrachian - frog
  • * bovine - cow
  • canine - dog
  • equine - horse
  • feline - cat
  • leonine - lion
  • lupine - wolf
  • * ophidian - snake
  • * porcine - pig
  • simian - ape
  • suarian - lizard
  • taurine - bull
  • * ursine - bear
  • * vulpine - fox

An even larger list of these can be found here:

Mood: ursine


  2010.07.09  09.39
A stupid 2nd amendment argument from ... the DailyKos?!

Read the original article now.

The writer, Kaili Joy Gray, argues in the piece above that liberals should defend the second amendment right to keep and bears as vigorously as they do for first amendment rights to free speech. His argument amounts to this:

"[The second amendment] is the right of revolution."

This is to say that the constitution allows its citizenry to violently overthrow the government it describes.

I have never cottoned to this idea and it is not the first time I've heard it.

If you truly intend to overthrow the government, why are you so concerned that your actions are justified by its legal code? Have you not already implicitly decided that the government is illegitimate? You do you seek legal cover for your actions? Will that help you at your treason trial if your revolution fails?

The legalized revolution argument does not follow for me at all. Perhaps you might be worried that without the constitution, the government will take your guns. If you think the government can remove all firearms from all homes, you are not following the news very closely. America's inner cities are full of gun violence.

The government has a decade long "war on drugs" that cannot ebb the flow of pot into quite a few American homes. Why would a ban on guns be more effective? If you really want your revolution, guns will be available.

Assuming that we want to continue with the constitutional government, I do think we need to consider the role of gun ownership in our increasingly urban and populous society. As guns are lethal weapons, they deserve at least as much regulation as, say, cars and perhaps as much regulation as controlled substances. If one must call back to the constitution for justification, I believe you will see that the government is tasked to "promote the general welfare" amongst other things. I think controlling the availability of lethal weapons falls into this category, perhaps more so than even drugs.

The constitution already outlines a number of legal and peaceful ways to change the regime and I would rather we focused on those. The attempt to justify violent revolution with the constitution is sickening and feeble-minded.

Mood: constitutionalized

  2010.06.18  23.13
Yahoo mail account hacked

Dear Lazyweb,

Around 5pm-7pm EDT tonight, a bunch of mail was sent from my yahoo mail account that I did not authorize.

At first, I thought my primary Windows PC had been compromised. After updating to the latest virus
software and scanning my system, I do not believe that to be the case.

I examined the headers of one of the unauthorized emails and found the following:

Received: from (HELO outbound-ss-18.bluehost.com) ( by
mta1031.mail.ac4.yahoo.com with SMTP; Fri, 18 Jun 2010 14:33:19 -0700
Received: (qmail 30150 invoked by uid 0); 18 Jun 2010 21:33:19 -0000
Received: from unknown (HELO box479.bluehost.com) ( by
sfproxy1.bluehost.com with SMTP; 18 Jun 2010 21:33:19 -0000
Received: from n13.bullet.mail.ac4.yahoo.com ([]) by box479.bluehost.com
with smtp (Exim 4.69) (envelope-from <joseph_c_johnston@yahoo.com>)
id 1OPjBe-0004oE-NB for jjohn@taskboy.com; Fri, 18 Jun 2010 15:33:18 -0600
Received: from [] by n13.bullet.mail.ac4.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 18 Jun 2010 21:33:18 -0000
Received: from [] by t8.bullet.mail.ac4.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 18 Jun 2010 21:33:18 -0000
Received: from [] by omp112.mail.ac4.yahoo.com with NNFMP; 18 Jun 2010 21:33:18 -0000
Received: (qmail 65615 invoked by uid 60001); 18 Jun 2010 21:33:16 -0000
Received: from [] by web65602.mail.ac4.yahoo.com via HTTP; Fri, 18 Jun 2010 14:33:16 PDT
Date: Fri, 18 Jun 2010 14:33:16 -0700 (PDT)
X-Identified-User: {2377:box479.bluehost.com:taskboyc:taskboy.com} {sentby:forwarder}
X-Mailer: YahooMailWebService/
X-Originating-IP: []
X-Apparently-To: joseph_c_johnston@yahoo.com via; Fri, 18 Jun 2010 14:33:20 -0700


I have an account with bluehost.com, which hosts taskboy.com. It looks like the mail service there was compromized from there. The spam mail was sent from that box, but not from my account there.

What I can't figure out is how this happened. The hosting box does not have mail credentials for yahoo, but it does forward @taskboy.com to it. I don't send mail from this box so that the yahoo credentials could be caught be a packet sniffer.

It does look like the mail was sent through the forwarder program using my account, but I cannot understand how that happened. The attacker would need to get into my bluehost account and then know my yahoo credentials.

And that's pretty scary if all of those bits were compromised.

However, if you look at the Received header, that IP does not match anything on bluehost. It's a wireless router and I do believe that may have been compromised.
But how that figures into the rest of the attack doesn't make sense to me.

All the other Received lines make it look like a command line program run from my bluehost account using my yahoo account to spam all my contacts in yahoo.

I do not see a login on that bluehost box that would account for this nor do I see a line in .bash_history that looks out of place. If the root account on that box was compromised, one could impersonate my account, but one would still need my yahoo credentials. It is clear, at least, that those were exposed somehow.

If you can help me determine the vector of attack, I'd be much obliged.


Mood: annoyed

  2010.06.18  09.51
A generic response to a defeat in professional sports

[Patton Oswalt in Big Fan]

I am guessing by the lack of riots and hollering that the local sporting team failed to defeat the out of town team for the contrived yearly athletic achievement.

Fie on those out-of-towners and their apparent superior skill at this sporting activity!

Perhaps the event's officiator is to blame for our local sporting catastrophe? If only our players could avoid injury, our local sporting team would have triumphed.

I am confident that our opponents used some underhanded techniques to accumulate the necessary macguffins to gain victory.

I for one take some comfort that in next year's contest, our local sporting team will undoubtedly prevail -- unless the local sporting franchise is sold to another city.

Mood: vicarious disappointment

  2010.06.13  11.26
Several words to live by

The New York Times has compiled a list of the 50 most looked-up words used in their publication by readers. Some of these words, I think you need to know, so I've included brief definitions. These words aren't so off the beaten track as to be ignored. These can really add punch to your blog/tweet/memo/graffiti.

I've added an asterisk next to the words I particularly enjoy.

And yes, I had to verify the definitions on several of them.

  • apoplectic: excitable (prone to fainting via pressure in the brain)
  • * atavistic: a throwback to a previous epoch
  • canard: a hoax
  • comity: mutual civility
  • * cynosure: something that strongly attracts attention or provides guidance
  • desultory: rambling, leaping about
  • inchoate: a process that is just beginning
  • laconic: pithy, using an ecomony of words
  • * obduracy: stubborn inflexibility
  • obstreperous: noisily and stubbornly defiant
  • * opprobrium: infamy or public disgrace
  • peripatetic: traveling by foot (also an Aristotelian)
  • * putative: suspected, but not proven to be
  • * redoubtable: dreaded or awe-inspiring
  • sanguine: optimistic (having a healthy blush to your cheeks)
  • solipsistic: the belief the all of reality is simply your imagination
  • * soporific: sleep-inducing
  • verisimilitude: having the appearance of truth

Overhaul appeared on the original list, which really surprised me. Do people really not know that word? Weird.

Mood: redoutable

  2010.06.02  13.02
Pre-emption is no deterrent

Warning: Policy Wonking

This article is an amazingly poor analysis of the Jihadi threat and the Western world's response to it. I quote:

"To ensure that these vulnerabilities remain well below the existential threshold, however, we will soon have to build a new combat orthodoxy involving deterrence, preemption, and war-fighting options, together with bold new ideas for protective international alignments. We will also have to take a fresh look at arrangements for both active and passive defenses."

Terrorism is not a new tactic. The US is well acquainted with it, as it helped secure our freedom from Britain (see the history of sniping and the British reaction to it for more on this). I do not mean this as a slight against the US. It is a fact, although a slightly obfuscated one.

The US used water-boarding torture (yes, it is torture) during the Spanish American war too, but that's not entirely my point.

The far-reaching disruptive effects terrorist actions like 9-11, the British Underground and the Spanish train attacks says more about the fragility of our infrastructure, the poverty of our disaster planning and the malfeasance of our national risk management than it does for the efficacy of terrorism.

If we put all our eggs in one basket by putting every important banking and financial institution in a 10 block radius, can you really expect our enemies not to exploit this?

What I want to see is a serious, intelligent risk assessment of our national infrastructure and concrete ideas for security it. Risk remediation will be painful, costly and time consuming, the results will be worth it.

We need to mitigate the creation of new terrorists. We need to reduce our vulnerabilities to single, low-tech attacks. We need robust emergency response systems. These steps prevent terrorism for becoming an existential threat.

Pre-emptive strikes are not the solution to Terrorism. Broad international coalitions are not, in themselves, going to stop terrorism. Terrorism is extremely personal and decentralized. Neo-conservatives like Dick Cheney could not believe that 9-11 lacked government backing. He is not used to bootstrapping companies, it seems. Technology has made organizing and logistics incredibly cheap.

We are the architects of the weapons the terrorists exploit. The sooner our leaders recognize this point, the sooner we can replace security theater with real national security.

Mood: irritated

  2010.01.21  19.40
Alphabits: a modest proposal

In these lean times, drastic cost-cutting measures are needed on all fronts to improve the bottom line. To this end, I propose the following lay-offs to the English alphabet, which I have outlined below.

First, let me say that all 26 letters have a great deal of seniority, but surely we can all agree that some letters just aren't pulling their weight while others have been real multitaskers.

No one wants to add to the general misery by contributing to the unemployment problem. However, this proposal will reduce the alphabet to a lean and efficient 19 letters. That's close to a 27% reduction in over head! Think about the time savings in singing the alphabet song alone!

Let's begin with the vowels: A E I O U Y. Vowels are already strong players in the alphabet. However, I think we all can agree that Y simply muscled its way into this group to gain legitimacy. There is no work that Y does that I or IE cannot. So Y is out.

Let's take the consonants five at a time in order: B C D F G. Clearly B is doing a bang-up job and is irreplaceable. The same can be said for D and G. C, frankly, has gotten very lazy over the years. Sure in the early days, the dynamism of soft versus hard C sounds capture our collective imagination. But frankly, other more narrowly focused letters now do these sounds even better than C without the ambiguity. See you later, C and take your unitasking friend F with you. If we need an F sound, PH (e.g. phone) or GH (e.g. cough) will do just phine, thanks.

The next group is: H J K L M. I know that many of you will expect me to ax H. It's often silent and sometimes ignored (e.g. herbs), so why bother? I tell you why: H is a TEAM PLAYER, people. He's a company man. H will remain on-board working overtime to help shoulder the burden of replacing sounds from the weaker letters.

From my name, you might expect that J would get a free pass but you would be wrong. J is simply a mutated I and its soft sound can be handled well enough by G. Hit the road, Jack. The zen-like simplisticy of K is needed for hard C sounds, so it stays. L and M are sublimely unique, yet not rarefied. We'd be Lost in a Maze without them.

We come now to: N P Q R S. Is there a replacement for N? No. The same goes for P (who will see a lot more action replacing that lazy F) and R. S, already very popular, will get even more airtime filling in for soft C. Q is out; 'KW' is in.

Lastly we come to what are (for me) the most iconic letters: T V W X Z. T V and W are all Terrific and Very Well appreciated workers. The same cannot be said for X and Z. These low-performers are easily replaced. X comes in two flavors: soft and hard. The hard X sound can be replaced with 'EKS' combo. The soft X sound is the same as Z. We just don't have the resources for both. In truth, Z is pretty much a solution in search of a problem. A Z sound is a kind of grunted and squeezed S sound. Would going to the Soo be so much less fun than the Zoo? Not to me. Akse X and Z.

Let's review the streamed-lined alphabet for 2010:


There's no need to thank me, America. I was just doing my job.

Mood: grammatical

  2010.01.21  16.06
In over his head?

Obama admits that he may have been over-optimistic about solving the Israeli-Palestine issue:

Obama, who committed his administration to brokering an end to the 62-year-old conflict one year ago on taking office, said Mitchell "got blinded" by early progress on limiting Israeli settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

The former senator "didn't see that it wasn't sufficient progress for the Palestinians".

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was mortified when Obama retreated from his original support for the Palestinian demand for a full freeze on settlement building before talks re-started, and instead signaled that "restraint" would do.

The Israeli situation has replaced "Gordian Knot" in our modern lexicon for describing impossible puzzles. How in the world could Obama have been that naive? W made a very, very similar mistake too, but we already knew that he was an idiot. His father, Reagan and Carter all made a similar assumption that the Israelis and Palestinians want peace. I do not think this is the case. They want each other dead. Add to that murderous intent the political advantages to be gained by exploiting the situation by both groups and you quickly see how childish it is to speak of "peace in the Middle East."

I do not mean to say that people of that region do not desperately seek an end to the violence. I mean to say that the political process does not favor this outcome.

This revelation coupled with last week's MA. senate defeat, added to the slow economic recovery, the lack of Wall Street regulation and his continual retreat in front of the slightest Republican advance has left my confidence in Mr. Obama in tatters.

I like how Obama thinks, but I don't think he's mastered solid political strategy. For a guy that came in with a huge mandate and congressional super-majorities, he has been singularly ineffective at getting things done. The honeymoon is over, Mr. O. Get it done now.

Mood: Slack-jawed

  2010.01.20  10.01
The end of civil society

Edit from March 2011: To my great amazement, Brown hasn't been all bad. Sure, he doesn't like the unemployed. He's not above using political melodrama to get concessions. However, he has shone a willingness to talk to Democrats and even work together with them on issues of mutual importance. I expected worse, but so far, I was wrong.

I live in the great state of Massachusetts, commonly known to the rest of the Union as a bastion of liberalism. Last night's election of Republican Scott Brown should prove to others what I have known for years: most of Massachusetts is actually pretty conservative.

I am not a registered Republican or Democrat. The choice between those two parties is the choice between Evil and Incompetence. In the past, I have sided with Incompetence.

In 2008, Incompetence was given an overwhelming mandate and power to return to sixties-style liberalism. That is, the government should do what it can to ensure a baseline standard of living for as many of its citizens as possible. Universal health care is part of that agenda.

Last night, the home state of JFK said "nuts" to that idea.

Brown was elected as a protest against the Obama agenda. Brown himself looks to be a one-term senator, but you should never bet against incumbency. Brown has been sent to Washington to stop the U.S. from joining the rest of the world's modern economies.

That Obama could not organize the Dems last year to get this done shows how little party discipline exists there. Brown's election is the end of Obama's effective presidency.

The level of pettiness, short-sightedness and ignorance on display last night appalls me. The increasing costs of health care and rising global climate temperatures share a common aspect: they are both dangers that can be seen now but whose effects will not be felt for some time. I have notice that as a group, humans do not anticipate future crises well. Groups are reactionary.

The incompetence and arrogance of the Democratic party in Massachusetts once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Martha Coakley evinced an impressively tin-ear when it came to state politics. She tied herself to national politics in the face of understandable (but misdirected) anger toward Obama. It is more correct to say that Coakley lost this election rather than Brown won it. Coakley helped motivate Republican voters.

Nobody has ever liked taxes. In my lifetime, taxes have gone from being perceived as a necessary evil to simply evil. The root of this belief comes from the disconnect between what people pay in taxes and what they get for it. Until state and federal government does a better job making the connection between taxes and services (and hence a pleasant civil life), I expect anti-tax fever to worsen and America continue its slide in Banana Republicanism.

Mood: exhausted

  2010.01.01  00.01
You will go to taskboy.com

Citizens of the barbaric past!

Do not attempt to eat this page. It is not food, but a message from the future.

I'm broadcasting from the year 2021, where pliant fembots bring me pink cosmos in my nanotech living room.

I do not now, nor have I ever blogged on livejournal. Seekers of the Truth will want, instead, to point their web snorting, user agents of doom to:

Duty now for the future.

Programming Note: You can easily read my taskboy stuff here on LJ by simply subscribing to the Taskboy feed.

Mood: recumbent


  2009.09.26  23.05
Ben Stein lies about Obama

Edit from March, 2011: If I could have known the moronic tempest that was brewing the tiny, black hearts of "tea party" rabble before I wrote this, I would have used all caps. The pace of active revision of history to serve a tiny plutocratic core at the heart of American politics has achieved Langolier speed. Perhaps in a few years, Fox news will be kind of enough to tell us every Monday night what the week's news will be. Now that's efficient!

I should not engage in pig wrestling. Both the pig and I get dirty, but the pig likes it.

I enjoy much of Ben Stein's non-political output, but I do think he speaks less from facts and more from emotion when it comes to economics and politics. Take his American Spectator "We've Figured Him Out". It's full of half-truths, insinuations and F.U.D. Normally, I wouldn't bother much with this kind of nonsense, but there is an increasingly angry, right-wing fringe that needs a reality check. If you don't like Obama's policies, that's a matter of political taste. If you need to invent insane conspiracy stories to support your opinions, you're simply mental.

Armed with wikipedia and the Google, I will try to illuminate the more obvious points of departure from reality Stein (and Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and Fox news) makes.

The red pullquotes are from Stein's article. The blue are quotes from Obama. The gray are from wikipedia

Item 1: Obama hates Whitey

They ignored his anti-white writings in his books. They ignored his quiet acceptance of hysterical anti-American diatribes by his minister, Jeremiah Wright.

Obama is anti-white? I suppose this is a matter of interpretation, but let's review some indisputable biographical data:

  • Obama was born to a white mother (Stanley Ann Dunham of Kansas) and a black father (Barack Obama, Sr. of Kenya)
  • From the age of 9, Obama was raised by his mother's parents, who were pretty durn white
  • When his grandmother died, Obama was grieved

Obama held his grandmother in high esteem, as suggested by this quote from the Huffington Post:

[My grandmother] is one of those quiet heroes we have all across America, who are not famous, their names are not in the newspapers, but each and every day they work hard. They look after their families. They sacrifice for their children, and their grandchildren. They aren't seeking the limelight. All they try to do is do the right thing. And in this crowd, there are a lot of quiet heroes like that, people like that, mothers and fathers and grandparents who have worked hard and sacrificed all their lives and the satisfaction that they get is in seeing their children or maybe their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren live a better life than they did. That is what America is about. That is what we are fighting for.

That doesn't sounds like Huey Lewis or Malcolm X to me. It sounds like John Kennedy or even Ronald Reagan.

As for whatever Reverend Wright is about, I'm more disappointed that Obama belongs to a church at all. All preachers are a little wacko in my book. They all claim to know the will of an invisible man who lives in the clouds. People with that kind of vocation who live under bridges are called "hobos."

And please note that the even Stein tacitly acknowledges that Obama spent years attending a Christian church. That's "church", not "mosque." Stop with the childish "he's a muslim" fear mongering.

Item 2: Ultra-left wing

They ignored his ultra-left record as a "community organizer,"...

This claim is pretty funny to me. You'd think that Obama was Che Guevara or Huhgo Chavez. So far, Obama has cowed more to Wall Street and the tiny, balling Republican minority in Congress than I can believe. But that's just my opinion.

Clearly what's more sinister to some is Obama's "community organizer" record. I know the G.O.P. doesn't like Government, except on paydays when they get their checks from it. I've been told that they are the "Law and Order" party, so you'd sort of think that they might actually want to see more non-governmental, private citizen making positive changes in their communities. But apparently, that's not the case. What was Obama organizing anyway? According to Wikipedia: (Emphasis added by me.)

After four years in New York City, Obama moved to Chicago, where he was hired as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes ... on Chicago's far South Side.

So he and the Catholic church were working together in this "community." I think the last person to accuse the Catholic church of ultra liberalism was Oliver Cromwell.

During his three years as the DCP's director, its staff grew from one to thirteen and its annual budget grew from $70,000 to $400,000. He helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization in Altgeld Gardens.

Obama led an organization to help people get off welfare, go to college and get jobs. That's pretty Republican of him. You don't think the problem Stein has with Obama's record is the tenant rights group, do you? I mean, you'd have to be a total slum-lord D-bag to want to see poor renters get hosed even more badly than they already do.

But, OK. Stein can look at Obama's record in Chicago and call it liberal. That's an opinion. Surely, he wouldn't make a bald-face assertion that's easily dismissed?

Item 3: Obama has no academic achievements

The American people ignored his total zero of an academic record as a student and teacher, his complete lack of scholarship when he was being touted as a scholar.

Obama's academic record, or a portion of it, is cited on the linked to wikipedia pages. But here's a taste:

  • Selected as editor of Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year
  • Became president of the journal the following year
  • Graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law

That's not the record of an academic slouch. That's the record of a superstar. Stein was Valedictorian for his class at Yale. Perhaps Stein's problems with Obama stem from the well-known Harvard-Yale rivalry. Stein's own academic record makes me jealous, but Obama's record is in all ways objectively superior.

Item 4: Obama hates America

Barack Obama is ... not a fan of this country, way, way too cozy with the terrorist leaders in the Middle East, way beyond naivete, all the way into active destruction of our interests and our allies and our future.

Why is it that Republicans, who lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction and Saddam Hussein's linked to Al Queda to get us into a costly and futile war, ceaselessly accuse all Democrats wanting to destroy America? I guess that's what psychologists call "projection."

Not only is there no evidence that Obama "is not a fan of this country," substantial evidence has been presented in this essay and elsewhere to the contrary. If you still believe Obama hates this country and likes terrorists, you're literally delusional. For your good and society's, get on some meds immediately.

Does Obama want to talk with Iran? Yes. That's called diplomacy and it's something that countries run by mentally stable adults engage in frequently and without controversy. Does Obama's willingness to talk to America's competitors mean that he seeks to harm the U.S.? No. On the contrary, you can often learn things from talking to competitors that benefit you and help you anticipate their future actions. Businesses do this all the time. When Bill Gates was CEO at Microsoft and he talked with Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison, no one accused him of treason. Diplomacy can be actually productive.

Item 5: The Stimulus Bill was a failure

The American people have already awakened to the truth that the stimulus bill -- a great idea in theory -- was really an immense bribe to Democrat interest groups, and in no way an effort to help all Americans.

Whether any awakening has been done by any American ever is a matter of debate, but that the stimulus bill has not helped America is untrue. Cast your mind back to the fall of 2008. The biggest financial institutions were either collapsing or about to collapse under the weight of toxic assets and a crippling web of interdependent credit default swaps. A bailout of Wall Street bankers was conceived called the Trouble Asset Relief Program of 2008 that was initiated and passed under the Bush administration. It gave Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson complete and auditless power to distribute $750 billion to whichever institution he deemed worthy. Now for bonus points, which interest groups do you think T.A.R.P. served and which party receives the most money from them? And was that party in power when T.A.R.P. was passed? Do you see a pattern?

But in fairness, Stein specifically mentions the Stimulus bill, referring to the one passed in Feburary, 2009 under the Obama administration. I am not qualified to say whether the stimulus was efficacious or not, but the economists I listen to (*cough* Krugman *cough*) say that it is too early to feel the full effects of it. It does appear to have blunted the free-fall of the U.S. and world economies. At least technically, the Fed believes that the Great Recession is over. So all Americans actually have benefited from the stimulus package already and are likely to benefit from it more in the future.

Was the stimulus a bribe? Certainly, it did benefit a lot of traditional Democratic interests groups. However, I recall the G.O.P. being a bunch of cry babies about the process and not participating in it. I heard them whine about Pelosi shutting them out of the process, but then again, they were the minority party. In American politics, to the victor goes the spoils. Certainly, I learned that in 2000 and 2004 when the G.O.P. gave tax breaks to the obscenely rich, rubber-stamped ugly civil rights intrusions and picked a fight with Iraq.

I believe James Brown said it best in the song Payback:

hey! Gotta gotta pay back! (The big payback)
Revenge! I'm mad (the big payback)
Got to get back! Need some get back! Pay Back! (the big payback)
That's it! Payback! Revenge!
I'm mad!

Item 6: Health Reform is Bad

Now, Americans are waking up to the truth that ObamaCare basically means that every time you are sick or injured, you will have a clerk from the Department of Motor Vehicles telling your doctor what he can and cannot do.

Apparently, Stein doesn't have health problems or he'd be talking about the clerk from his health insurance company who tells his doctor what to do. Honestly, the critics of health care reform have some scifi insurance plan from the future that I've never had. Health care is a bureaucratic apocalypse right now. It needs to be cheaper and more efficient. Why would an honest Republican not want that? Here's a bit of Obama on the "efficiency" of our current system:

More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won't pay the full cost of care.

That sure sounds like invasive bureaucracy to me. However, the bureaucrat isn't working for the government, so I guess that's better in Stein's book.

Finally, I'd like to note that Stein was on Fox news in 2007 happily yapping about the health of the financial market. He thought Merrill Lynch was an "astonishing well-run" company. 13 months later, Bank of America bought Merrill, which was fatally weakened by CDS liabilities, in a shotgun wedding forced by the Paulson. Even more interesting, Thane, head of Merrill, argued at literally the last minute for millions of dollars of compensation for Merrill's top brass.

So, Ben's not so good on predicting the future or frankly observing the present. Oh yeah, he hates atheists too. Still, I'd drink scotch with him anytime he wants and talk about what an ass Jimmy Kimble is.

Mood: angry

  2009.09.21  09.29
For advertisers: code is not a language spoken by developers

I find it vaguely insulting when advertisers create ads targeting developers with copy
that's made to look like pseudo-code. It's not like when I met up with my Perl friends, we speak in a series of regular expressions or a stream of dollar and at signs. When I last checked, developers in the US (the target audience of this ad) are all quite fluent in English. Some of them may even read fiction completely unrelated to computers, even.

I know I shouldn't get worked up over this, but it's like seeing an ad targeting the Latin American market using spanglish: "Tu Quieres A VACATION?! Ay Caramba!"

Mood: bothered

  2009.09.19  13.30
American Atheist

«But Darwin may have done religion -- and God -- a favor by revealing a flaw in modern Western faith. Despite our scientific and technological brilliance, our understanding of God is often remarkably undeveloped -- even primitive.»

--Karen Armstrong Wall Street Journal

I was recently exposed to what can only be called atheist proselytizing on youtube by Fighting Atheist. He is a former southern Christian who, through researching the defense of religion, became an atheist. Like an ex-smoker, he now seems interested in helping his theistic friends "see the light of reason." His story is much like that of Bart Ehrman, who was deep into textual analysis of the Bible (that is, determining what the earliest, "truest" versions of the New Testament actually looked like) when the scales fell from his eyes. These fellows got me thinking about my own atheism and the daily struggle I have with magical thought.

Atheism is one of the most reviled belief systems in the U.S. today. Theists of all stripes tend to tolerate each other (more or less), but reserve a certain mistrust and antagonism for those who do not acknowledge the existence of an uncreated Creator. There can be little doubt that this antagonism is often returned by atheists. Of course, both sides would do well to simply tolerate the other and find common ground where it exists. I believe there is there is more overlap in the total of what theists and atheists believe than divergence.

But then there's that word again: belief.

Theists, of course, have an easier time than atheists. After all, to believe in something is a more comfortable position than to doubt the existence of something. Just look at the US in 2002. It was easier to believe that Iraq was building WMDs than to believe they weren't. To not believe is to doubt. Doubt is based on the absence of cogent evidence. Believe requires no evidence at all. Doubt is a fickle and silent friend while belief is a solid, supportive companion. However, there is more to life than comfort. There is also verifiable truth.

I do not claim to speak for anyone but myself. I find a world explained by cause and effect more congenial to my mental health than one run by magic. However, there is much that I do not understand about our world and the human condition. Religious myths have always been about men, not Gods. The Abrahamic myth stories are more illuminating of human nature than the divine. Used as a tool to understand the irrational way we human behave towards each other, religion is salutory and beneficial.

However, religion and myth cannot be used to override discoverable chains of cause and effect -- that is uniquely the purview of science. To replace science with myth is an abuse of religion and, ultimately, people. Those fundamentalists who seek natural laws out of holy books merely find rationalizations for what they believed before ever reading their texts. It's hard for a rational mind to see religious literalism as anything but a species of madness or self-serving deceit.

There is a saying: "There are no atheists in a foxhole." This is to say that under the looming threat of death, anyone will believe a supernatural savior. While I have not had this experience, I might suggest the following reformulation of that aphorism. As a kid, many of us become concerned that a lurking horror awaits under our beds. Most of us grow out of that notion. However when the conditions are right, say on a stormy and lonely night, this old fear of monster lurking in our homes still comes back to us.

Irrationality is strong component of humanity. It is folly to read too much into it. It is also folly to suppress rationality, since it is our only light in a dark world.

Mood: contemplative

  2009.09.18  20.52
liveJournaling, a new beginning?

I'm considering using LJ for content that I don't necessarily want splashed across the front page of taskboy.com. I'm using the LochJournal client to see if this makes my life remotely easier.

Mood: accomplished

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