Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Uverse outage

So this isn't one of my normal posts at all.

AT&T Uverse is experiencing a massive network failure. I've just been on the phone with Phil who is apparently a supervisor with one of their server teams.

I was talking to him because their customer service during this event has been absolutely terrible and they haven't gotten information out to their customers. I may write something about that tomorrow, but for right now I've got people waiting on some information, so I'm going to try and focus.

I am not a tech guy on this level at all. I'm not a systems engineer. I'm just transcribing the notes that Phil gave me.

Basically, the network has a few relevant junctures. Your house, your box gets connected to the DSLAM. All the DSLAMs in an area get connected to a VHO which basically ends up being a hub for the DLAMs. The VHOs then connect to what was described to me as a big antenna. There has been (probably) a software problem (possibly a firmware upgrade gone wrong) that has clogged up the connection between the VHOs and the antenna. This is making the signal very weak, which is why most service is down, but some people are getting limited service... some of it is managing to trickle through the clog.

Apparently lots of people in Texas already have their service back, and it should start rolling back tonight and tomorrow through the rest of the network. I brought up the concern that because of the nature of the failure, that they would have to manually go to each gateway and clear it up. Phil said this is not the case and that they should be able to handle everything remotely.

He did stress that this should be fixed soon, or at least soon-ish.

I also pointed out that the customer service side of this, both with their public releases and their social media teams have done a very poor job getting information to people, and that it has cost them customers. I urge everyone who has the patience for sitting on hold to do the same. AT&T needs to get on top of their customer service failure and do a better job. It also may be beneficial to your bill if you call them and express frustration without getting angry and yelling at people. Remember, the person you are talking to didn't cause this, and really can't do much to fix it. They might be able to help you out though, so be nice.

alright... that's all the news I have... time to sign off, drive home and go to bed.

peace, love and biscuits.

Also, I told Phil I'd work on getting this out to people. #ReTweetForPhil

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Well Regulated Militia

So, I started writing about gun control about two weeks ago; The Thursday before last to be specific. I was going to talk about reasonable gun control. I was going to talk about mental healthcare. I was going to talk about the whole idea of gun ownership for defense, the statistical risks and all of that. 

I'm not going to do that now. After this most recent shooting, I've been talking to a lot of people. I've been discussing all of those issues at length, and now I'm going to step outside of my comfort zone. This is not going to be a philosophical exercise. It's not going to be ethics and stats and all the stuff I've been doing on this blog. This is a rough draft for legislation. An actual, honest to god, concrete idea. I need help with it though. I'm not a gun owner, nor a particular fan. There will almost certainly be some logistical, logical, and technical mistakes and flaws. Help me fix it, help me make it better. By god, let's do this thing.

So I'm a Merchant Mariner. Technically I am way way way way way Naval reserve. If thing got apocalyptically bad, I could get called up, most likely for supply duty. I only bring this up because it's the general basis for the idea. You see, to be a merchant mariner you have to get licensed by the coast guard. I'm not in the coast guard, but they license me. There is an entire rating structure that everyone who works commercially on boats is required to be a part of. You start out with your Merchant Mariners Document, which basically says "I can pass a drug test, a federal background check, a basic physical, and I like boats." From there it moves up. There are different directions you can go in your ratings. There are classes on basically everything you can think of in terms of the boating world, and different ratings require different combinations of classes, along with practical real world sea time. It's kind of complicated, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

I'm thinking we can do something similar with guns. Let me be clear here, I am in no way trying to ban guns. I am talking about limiting access to guns to people who lack training in safety and proper use of guns. I'm also talking about keeping better track of guns in this country, and adding layers of responsibility to gun ownership, particularly guns that are more dangerous due to capability, capacity, or ability to be concealed.

So now we get into the meat of it. Please help me with this, because this is all hypothetical to me. There is a lot that I don't know, and my theories on a lot of this may be off base. Help me make it better.

The way I figure it, you start at 12 being allowed to use a .22 rifle or a shotgun after completing a thorough safety course. At 12, you are required to have a parent with you whenever you are shooting. You are basically on their license, like a learners permit. At 16, after enough logged experience, another round of safety classes and exams, you get the option of using the .22 pistol and being able to shoot without an adult. At 18 the other stuff opens up.

the handgun tier would revolve specifically around using it for self defense. actual, practical training with regular refreshers on how to use a gun in defense. CCW will obviously be an endorsement in this tier.

the hunting tier, I don't entirely know. I imagine moving up to more and more powerful calibers. again, every five years needing to take a safety refresher.

the combat stuff.... I'm not a big fan of them in all reality but i think it's a compromise point. the second amendment talks about the well regulated militia, and I see this heading in that direction. tactical training, more powerful guns, three round bursts. regular training. with this stuff comes more thorough refreshers, psych evaluations, and a much higher expectation of training.

My big problem is that I don't know exactly how to set up the structure of those tiers. What I'm really asking for on that front, assuming you don't find the entire concept completely unpalatable, is what exactly are the skill sets that one learns as one becomes a better shooter, and how do we measure those skills.

Inherent in all of this is also a national registry. I don't think its unreasonable that the government should be able to know who has a gun, what kind of gun, and how well trained they are. If you want to fall back to the whole "we are all in the militia" argument with the second amendment, this would be critical information should the militia ever need to be called up to action.

Another critical piece to this, to prevent accidents and lessen theft, all guns should come with a trigger lock, and a good gun safe should be required. Now, it is my understanding that the trigger locks are cheap and fairly effective, but good gun safes are very expensive. I've also been told that cheap gun safes are pretty much worthless. So, to facilitate the gun safe issue, they should be subsidized. It is your right to have a gun, but in the interest of public safety, we demand that it be stored safely. To that end, in the public interest, we will help you pay for it.

Then there is the issue of illegal guns. This one's tough. So, the higher you go in the license structure, the more responsible I think you should be. For everyone, if a gun is stolen there is an investigation. If any negligence on the part of the gun owner is found, penalties start to happen. If you're at the basic level and your gun gets stolen, you lose your license for a year. As you move up, you're dealing with more powerful guns, and we have instilled more trust in you, so fines start getting levied. If after you get your license back, you have another gun stolen, you lose your license for life. (this point i could certainly negotiate on, but I'm trying to avoid people buying guns to give to criminals that can't buy them on their own). If no negligence is found, the first time is a free pass. After that the same process starts up. If a gun registered to you is involved in a crime, and you didn't report it stolen, you have a legal and civil liability, and the level of liability is again tied to your level of training and responsibility. Same goes for someone caught with your gun.

And speaking of that, if you are caught with a gun that is not registered to you while in the commission of a crime, mandatory 20 years; no parole, no plea bargain. If police catch a drug dealer, and he is illegally in possession of a gun, 20 years, no question. If the gun has been somehow modified to make it harder to trace, 40 years. This, admittedly, does nothing about the kinds of mass killings that we have seen lately, bringing the whole discussion back up. It would, however, have some impact on the cartels, gangs, and other organized crime. They are, at the end of the day, business people. Let's make it more difficult for them to do their business by taking their soldiers and dealers off the street in a meaningful way. Couple that with some serious prison reform and we can do some damage.

A quick tangent, running on the whole "dealing with the cartels thing" because that is a whole lot of the gun crime. We need to legalize pot. The writing is on the wall, it's going to happen. Let's do it now, and tax it. More money coming in, money not going to the gangs, and less non violent criminals taking up cells. That makes room for the influx of people who will be locked up for a long time due to gun possession.

We also need to deal with gun sales. First off, every gun sale needs to include a background check and a waiting period. I understand that it's inconvenient, but if you need the gun "right now" you're probably need it for the wrong reason. Also, if a dealer is found to be bypassing that law to sell to a legal, licensed gun owner loses their right to sell guns. A dealer knowingly selling to people who can't legally have a gun goes to jail.

So that's the general outline. It's also worth noting that there is nothing in here about mental healthcare other than the psych evaluations for the more military style training. I absolutely think we need a serious overhaul of the mental healthcare system. That is a separate, related issue, and needs fair, solid treatment done to it as well. I'm already biting off more than I actually can chew here, which is why I need help with it. If someone wants to work on that stuff, go for it.

Now, I'm well aware that there are some problems here, and a lot of room for clarification and details. I'm asking for help here. Let's put aside the bickering, the trolling and the hyperbole and try to actually get something reasonable here. No "the blood is on your hands" or "you're trying to take away all our guns just like Hitler." We can be reasonable people.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Illusion of Security

America has a security problem, but it isn't the one we hear about on the news. It's a pretty serious one in my book, and it is one that impacts all of us. It's also a bit of a strange problem.

We're safe, you see. We really are pretty safe. We are also afraid, and react out of that fear in strange, often bad ways.

So obviously, 9/11 is going to be a big part of the background for this one, because it really lead to a lot of where we are today. I feel like I should do the token "inspirational monologue" about it, but that's not the point here, and I think we all realize nothing I am going to say really matters on that front. Let's just say it was a really bad day that has had widespread effects on the world, and move from there.

After the attacks, a lot of things changed fairly quickly. The PATRIOT act was brought to the house and passed before most of congress was even given a chance to read it. Almost immediately this was a controversial law that had a pretty profound impact on American discourse. You had a lot of people throwing around a lot of quotes from a lot of people about the relationships between security, privacy, freedom and my favorite, the old "If you aren't doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to hide." The emotional state of this country got, understandably, a little nuts.

Another big change was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). We had this grand plan of opening up communication between our various security agencies and trying to streamline intelligence. This hasn't really worked the way we hoped. There are also the many many problems with the TSA. Along with the low success rate with internal testing, we are seeing lots of privacy and safety concerns with their newest line of defense, the backscatter scans.

And some of these concerns are due to the very agents who are implementing these security protocols. The supposed last line of defense. If the entire intelligence community fails to catch them before making it to where they can hurt us, then we obviously want the best and the brightest there to catch the bad guys. Of course, all of this is rendered a little silly when you look at the fact that here in the U.S. you have almost no chance of being killed by a terrorist anyway.

When did America get so scared? We used to be the big bad superpower that would shake the world from time to time, and now we're hiding behind ineffective security that makes us feel "safer" without really doing much good.

Humans, in general, are really not very good at dealing with probability. When it comes to risk assessment from an evolutionary standpoint, all this fear makes a lot of sense. We are fairly easily eaten. But when we move this same instinct to the modern world, well, it just makes us a little nuts. We are afraid of being murdered, even though violent crime is on the decline. We are afraid of our children being kidnapped so we shelter them, even though statistically it really isn't a likely event.

And the problem with all of this is that we use these fears as excuses for all kinds of terrible things. We give away our rights in order to protect ourselves. We give up privacy and safety to get a false sense of security. We have militarized our police forces, giving them a new mindset along with new weapons and tools.

I pretty clearly think this is a bad thing, however I'm not suggesting that the response to any of this should be anger. Anger is even less rational an emotion than fear, and I'm all about rational. What we need to do is recognize our own emotional responses, and then think through it. What we need to do is stand up, calmly and rationally, and say "no... it's ok... we're not afraid, and we don't want this."

Send well thought out and calm letters to your congress folks. Go to city counsel and talk to them. Get involved and get things done.

But most of all, keep calm and carry on.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Education and Economics

Economics is meant to play the long game; it just functions better that way. Sure, you can sell short, or flip a house and do very well, but it's very risky and not just to you. This should be one of the lessons of 2008. People ended up gambling on all of our futures, and damn near lost them because of the short game.

We talk about sustainability in the environment all the time, but economic systems need it as well. We need systems that are dynamic enough to adjust to changing times and events, but with a foundation that is solid, and well rooted to prevent collapse. 

We, the people, on the whole are not very good at long games. We like our instant gratification and are easy to panic. It's not good, but it also makes a lot of sense. Our brains really haven't caught up with civilization yet. As flexible and adjustable as our minds can be, we still have those hardwired responses and instincts that are just damned hard to override. When the market takes a down tick, people start selling, pushing it further than it would have gone without the fear response; it's what we do. 

But we need to be more clever than that. We need to be playing the long game.

Right now the U.S. has around $16 trillion in debt. That is a truly unimaginable number. We also have around a $1 trillion budget deficit. Neither of these things are good, by any stretch of the mind; we really need to do something about this.

Now, the obvious answer is to cut spending and possibly raise taxes, though that second part is certainly contended in a lot of circles. On a base level it's like balancing a household budget. Spend less and bring in more, and the deficit goes down; easy as lying.

Sadly, national economics are a bit more complicated than this. We also need to look at things like unemployment and job growth along with GDP, social security, and the social safety net in general. Things get tough very very quickly.

One of the first places we see the tightening of belts is in education. As the author of that piece explains, although real dollars spent in education is going up, its relation to the GDP is steadily dropping; we are investing a lower percentage of our income into education. We have seen it in the cutting of arts programs, music programs and now even physical education programs. We are seeing class sizes grow and school libraries shrink. And it kind of makes sense. On that basic budget model, we have to make a cut somewhere, and education is expensive.

But again, I want to talk about the long game.

There are lots (and lots and lots) of scholarly articles about the relationship between education and crime, and I'm linking you to one of the better ones that doesn't require downloading things. It's pretty simple and even logical; the better educated people are, the lower the rates of crime you see. Now, there are lots and lots of factors that can go into this, including education level of the parents and a whole host of other issues, but education is absolutely a big factor.

Education is also, for some obvious reason, a good indicator of future success. It should come as no surprise to anyone that places with higher poverty rates also have lower levels of education. Now, to some degree this is going to be a chicken and egg argument, which is actually one of the big issues with poverty; it is a cycle. Low income families don't have the same access to education, and educational activities, so the children of low income families are at a disadvantage, so they are more prone to staying poor.

It is also worth noting that low income children are more likely to miss school than their higher income counterparts.

We are also in a place where people with lower incomes, lower education levels, and who are on public assistance are having significantly more children than those who aren't in those social strata. Breaking tone for a moment, I've tried for a good chunk of time to post the link from the census data to demonstrate that, and apparently I just can't. It's a PDF that you can get at If you want to fact check me, search for p20-558 and look at pages 6 and 7.

The effects on the individual are pretty clear. A lack of education increases the likelihood of dependence and future incarceration for our children. This, in and of itself, is obviously a negative, but one could make the argument that it isn't "our" problem. One could make that argument, assuming they didn't look any deeper into the social and financial effects that this has on society as a whole; we should probably do that though.

Right now, the cost of sending a child to public school from k-12 runs right around $10,000 per year per student, though there is a pretty wide variation state to state and district to district.

We, as a nation, are spending about $800 billion on welfare for about 56 million people. This comes out to around $14,300 per person.

And, at least in California, it costs around $47,000 to keep an inmate in prison for a year.

So as it stands, we are spending less on our students than we are on taking care of the consequences of a bad education.  If we could lower the incarceration rate by one person, we could double the education budget for 2.3 students. Higher levels of education also reflect a lower chance of being on welfare and a lower rate of childbirth, which means the social safety net gets less use.

As is almost always the case, prevention is less expensive than dealing with the aftermath, and we are not doing nearly enough prevention. I'm also not saying that we need to just throw money at it. It needs to be a reasoned and rational response to the issue, targeting money into places where it has the highest chance of helping and using methods with the highest returns. I'm not going to go into all that right now, if for no other reason than a hope of getting this posted soon.

I would also like to touch on the argument that all of this support should be coming from the parents, not the government. This is an absolutely fair argument, and I don't disagree. I personally went to public schools in a mediocre school district, but luckily have fantastic parents that pushed me to learn, think, and try more every day to better myself. The problem is that some parents are busy; so busy trying to support their families financially that they can't support their educations. Some parents aren't educated enough themselves to help out. And tragically, some parents just don't care enough. In none of these cases can any blame be put on the children, but it is without question the children who suffer. The "American Dream" is that everyone has a fair shake at life, but we're not actually offering that; we can, however, get closer to it.

The United States became a superpower in the world because of innovation and technology booms, along with some philosophy and political growth that changed the world. If we hope to maintain that position we are going to have to keep pushing in those fields. We need educated, intelligent, and productive people to keep driving this country forward. With innovation and creation comes growth, making the country stronger, reducing our reliance on other countries in every possible way, and strengthening our position in the world.

But regardless of that, if we tactically invest in the youth of the nation, even without all the growth that will come, we can save money and cut the deficit just by giving children the tools to get off, or stay off, welfare, and to stay out of prison.

It's not complicated, but it is a long game.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hey Folks,
        I have been offered the opportunity to contribute to my friend Brendan's blog. As a shipmate and fellow free thinker I both appreciate and support what he does with words and actions. As a graduate student in history I bring a fair amount of critical thinking, and writing skill to the table and I look forward to diving into this mix to help promote thought, and civil dialogue among human beings. Thus far I have not completed a topical entry of any kind and have been serving in an editorial capacity only. I believe my first true post will center on the idea of civilian oversight of police and some of the problems I see with the way things work as of right now.

Jeremy Stolz.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

excuses excuses

So I don't have anything for this week. I've had a bunch of traveling going on, and then some decompression time from the end of the season. Now I'm watching the election. I promise, next monday I'll have something for you.

Monday, October 29, 2012

On Civil Discourse

So I want to start this one with a bit of a disclaimer. There will be a few unpleasant, un-politically correct, or downright offensive words in this post. I try hard not to use them in general, but given the nature of the topic, they will come up in quotations or when I paraphrase what was said. I actually know very little about the demographics of the folks that read this blog, so if there are going to be kids reading it, be responsible and talk to them about it.

I've managed to avoid talking about specific contemporary events so far, but I've been toying with this commentary for a while, and a really obvious example came up, so here we go.

This past Monday was the third presidential debate. I watched it, along with a whole lot of other people; one of those people was Ann Coulter. Now, Coulter is known for being inflammatory, and in this specific instance she tweeted "I highly approve of Romney's decision to be kind and gentle to the retard." This received a lot of attention, but there was only one piece I have read that really speaks to it well in my mind. John Franklin Stephens has written about the use of "the r-word" at some length, and this is a pretty clear example of it.

But this post isn't to denounce Coulter specifically; that was just a useful example.

Public discourse, particularly in the realm of politics, has gotten ugly over the years. My mother talks about watching William F. Buckley and disagreeing with everything he said, but respecting him nonetheless. There was a time when we could do that.

But now everything has gotten polarized to a truly frightening degree and everything is given in apocalyptic terms. If the media is to be trusted at all, large portions of the country believe that if the politician they don't like gets elected president, that it will be the end of the world as we know it. Would you like to know a secret?

That is almost certainly not the case. Things will most likely be ok either way.

Here are some more fun things: Obama isn't a socialist. If you compare his policies to those of actual socialist countries, he's at best a moderate conservative. Also, Romney isn't actually a plutocrat, and for the record, G. W. Bush wasn't/isn't a nazi. Also, no one is Hitler. I'd just like to get that stuff out of the way.

We use terms like this because they evoke emotions, and are easily understood on some base level, but they are wholly inaccurate and we should aim to converse better than that.

I have a confession to make; I am an internet arguer. I argue with people on the internet. I do it a lot. I may have a problem.  And in debates on the internet, it is very easy for things to escalate quickly and get to a point of true absurdity even faster. It's generally not very productive.

And people behave the same way in the real world, too. There are rules to civilized debate and discussion. It's commonly understood that you attack the idea, not the person, and that you articulate it the best you can. These rules have also been disregarded.

Now, please don't misunderstand me. I'm not a proponent for censorship. I don't think that I, or anyone, has the right to tell you what you can or can't say. I just don't think that is ever acceptable. What I do believe in is self-control.

I grew up doing martial arts. Any dojo worth it's salt will teach you that anger is a dangerous and foolish thing. You can also easily learn that from Star Wars. If you fight angry, you will almost certainly fight sloppy, and make mistakes. If the person you are fighting is good, they will absolutely exploit those mistakes and you will lose. If they aren't, in your uncontrolled state you may well do more damage than you intended. This is as true with words as it is with fists, as most of us know firsthand.

Have you ever gotten into an argument, gotten upset, and then hurt someone you loved by spurting out something in a fit of anger? Worse, have you ever been angry and seen that opening where you knew you could hurt them, and you took it because it was there? I think most people have at some point; I know I have. I also know I have always regretted it.

Which is why I have trained not to do that anymore.

If we want to convince people of things we need to be calm and reasonable. If we want someone to see our point of view, we need to demonstrate that point with well thought-out arguments. When you attack someone, they will go on the defensive and the conversation has ended, even if you both keep talking. Words have meanings and word choice is one of the more potent tools we have. We need to learn how to say what we mean.

So if there is a hope for rational discourse, we need to change our own behavior and our own expectations. I know that I am not perfect in this, but I'm trying. I also expect a certain level of discourse from people around me, and simply will not participate if a common level can't be found. Maybe that's a little too "I'm taking my ball and going home," but it's the only move I have. As I said, I can't tell someone what they can and can't say. I can only choose what I will respond to.

Getting mad at someone, insulting someone, hurting someone can feel really good. It's one of the less pleasant parts of human nature, but it is there. Maybe it stems from tribal living, or other hierarchical structures in human development. Maybe it stems from the fact that we are emotional and instinctual creatures before we are rational. I'm not a psychiatrist, sociologist or anthropologist, and I think you would need to be all three to hope to really answer that question.

But the fact that it is real doesn't mean it is the right way to do it. We are social animals, and if you want to succeed, you need society in one form or another so we need to learn to work together.

And that starts with our ability to actually talk to each other. Not to talk at each other, yell or attack... but the ability to actually converse.

And until we decide to make that change, things are only going to keep going down the route they have been following.