'The Interview' and 'I Can't Breathe': Connecting the dots
In his column in the December 28, 2014, San Francisco Chronicle, former mayor Willie Brown wrote the following:
"Sony really kept the movie 'The Interview' under wraps. It never even popped up on the black market prior to its limited Christmas release. Ordinarily, movies hit my favorite DVD street vendor at Fillmore and O’Farrell, who usually has every new movie before they hit the theaters.
"As for retaliation, I have to assume that the recent disruption of North Korea’s access to the Internet was orchestrated by the good old U.S.A., or at least I hope it was. And I hope history will show that the shutdown was on orders from President Obama to give that regime a taste of what is to come if the telecommunication vandalism of North Korea continues."
Willie Brown is a lawyer in good standing in California, but I think he needs to take a refresher course in evidence. Brown accuses the government of North Korea of "telecommunication vandalism." Now, nobody wants to see that government fail more than I do.
(Well, maybe the families of that regime's millions of innocent victims are ahead of me in line on this one. Without a doubt, the criminals currently running that poor country need to face justice and pay for their many despicable crimes against their own people.)
Think about this for a second: What if North Korea wasn't the perpetrator of the Sony attack, or the monsters in charge of that country played only a supporting role in the crime? Excuse my use of a cliché, but couldn't this be a rush to judgment? What if the "real hackers" are still out there? (No, I'm not suggesting we sic O.J. on them.)
Blaming North Korea is comforting, and it fits our preferred narrative. But the doubts are mounting: CNN, Fox News (ptui!), Inquisitr, NPR, Vox, and ExtremeTech all question the U.S. government's claims. The Daily Beast, the Daily Mail, and the New York Daily News make it a trifecta of "Daily"s that assert unequivocally that North Korea certainly did not hack Sony.
The fact is, nobody knows who's behind the attack -- yet. What do you say we conduct a thorough, painstaking investigation, and then once we've collected sufficient evidence to prove our case beyond a reasonable doubt, we press charges against the perpetrators in the appropriate forum?
Nah! What's the fun of that? We'd rather wishfully assume it was done by one of the three members of the Axis of Evil. It's just so convenient!
The danger of fictionalizing the news
We love stories, boy do we! Too often we make the mistake of taking news "stories" as facts. Even when news reports are accurate, they can never cover all aspects of important events. Journalists can report from only one perspective. The news narrative is necessary for us to process the events third-hand.
The problem is, we are too willing to accept whatever we read or see or hear in the media as the alpha and omega of the situation, especially when the media's version tells a story that fits comfortably into our view of the world. Nobody plays the villain as well as North Korea. (Admittedly, Iran, Syria, ISIS/ISIL/whatever, and Boko Haram are all solid evil-doer candidates as well.)
The wishful-thinking approach to news reporting hits a snag when the topic is divisive. Nothing in our society is more divisive than "race." What mystifies me is why anyone still believes there's such a thing as "race" at all.
Way back in the 1970s when I was attending Wayne State University, I took a physical anthropology class. The professor (who's name I have forgotten, unfortunately) explained that in the mid-19th century, a well-regarded scientist determined that there were 187 races on the planet, no more, no less. A few decades later, another renowned scientist found with equal certainty that the first guy was full of beans and there were in fact only 95 races. Early in the 20th century, yet another equally renowned scientist said they were both off: there were actually only 27 races (or thereabouts).
These days, the general consensus is that there are three races. Well, guess what? The general consensus is specifically 100 percent bull. There are no races. (Or maybe there's only one race: human.) "Race" is a cultural affectation with no scientific basis: We made it up, and we can un-make it up.
There are no "black" people, no "white" people, no "yellow" people, no "red" people, no "blue" people, no "polkadot" people. We're all kinda brownish. What's wrong with that?
It doesn't fit the preferred narrative of the power structure and their media minions. They depend on the misconception of "race" to preserve the status quo. They thrive on creating a "them vs. us" scenario. Well, guess what else, folks? There ain't no "them." There's only "us."
Try telling that to law enforcement. A June 3, 2013, article on the Huffington Post reported on a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union that found "black" people in the U.S. were four times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than "white" people, even though both groups use the drug at the same rate.
No, I'm not bashing the police. They are true public servants, and the vast majority chose their line of work out of a sincere desire to serve their communities. As with firefighters and all other emergency responders, whatever they're getting paid, it's not enough.
When we succumb to the "race" narrative, however, we do ourselves a grave injustice. Just as an academic exercise, whenever you hear someone refer to "black" and "white" people, substitute "poor" and "rich." Of course, doing so is no more accurate than referring to people as colors, but it offers one subtext that some people live by, consciously or subconsciously.
The vast majority of Americans are hard-working, law-abiding citizens who want to do right by their families -- and maybe get a couple weeks at the lake each summer. There's nothing newsworthy about this. Where's the conflict that every story needs to create its friction? Where's the good guys-bad guys dynamic? Boring!
Good guys come in all shapes and sizes and sexes. So do bad guys, though I think testosterone may work against us males in this regard. Police are trained to size up people and situations, and then to respond appropriately. Unfortunately, it seems law enforcement policies have adopted the popular-but-inaccurate narratives.
The problem is not the officers, it's their training
In a Washington Post article published on Christmas Day, Yale Law School professors Ian Ayres and Daniel Markovits ask whether police should be permitted to initiate force when confronting misdemeanors and other "non-serious" crimes. Their conclusion: No, they should not.
The authors state that when officers move to arrest someone, their actions must be "proportional to the suspected crimes that underlie the arrests." Michael Brown was stopped for jaywalking. Eric Garner was being arrested for selling individual cigarettes. These are minor infractions punishable by fines, not jail sentences. Current law allows the police to make an arrest based solely on probable cause of a minor crime in a manner that amounts to punishment greater than that imposed by the courts on a finding of guilt for that crime.
The professors point out that "[a]n arrest should not impose a burden greater than a conviction." When it does, the act constitutes "police oppression." The authors propose a change to the rules of engagement similar to a Miranda warning. For minor offenses, police should warn the arrestee that if they don't comply, they are committing a separate crime. If they continue to refuse to comply, the police should secure a warrant from a judge and "make a forcible arrest for both the old crime and the new."
When police initiate force, they are put into a position of controlling a "naturally escalating dynamic that can quickly endanger all concerned." Policy should limit when an officer may initiate force. This creates a "bright line that is much more likely to be observed," according to the authors. They state further that "[p]olice discretion is greatest for minor offenses, and racial discrepancies follow discretion," so the risk of police violence is disproportionately greater for "communities of color."
As beneficial as such a rule of engagement would be, the fact is that children must be taught: When a police officer tells you to do something, you do it -- no questions asked. My father was a police officer. He taught me the three rules to follow when dealing with any law enforcement agent (in addition to complying with their orders):
1) Show them your hands
2) Never raise your voice
3) Always tell the truth
That last one can be a challenge, but remember: The truth isn't always the easiest, but it's always the simplest. If a police officer catches you in a little lie, they're likely to disbelieve everything you tell them.
Don't let other people do your thinking for you
We want to believe the government when it says it has proof that some country is responsible for some violent or criminal act. We want to believe the media when it says the same thing. In both cases, a hefty dose of skepticism is required. Let's see the evidence.
As a peacenik of long standing, I believe we should simply stop hitting each other. Stop glorifying war in computer games and other forms of entertainment. Stop promoting violent sports, especially to children. Live peace, think peace, breathe peace, be peace. I realize this is not a popular concept in current American culture. That's not going to stop me from preaching it. (I confess to enjoying some violent dramas. In fact, Netflix's "Peaky Blinders" is my current favorite. C'mon, season three!)
Of course there are monsters in the world in human form, and the only practical way to remove the threat they pose is by violence. I want to believe these acts can be the exception rather than the rule. War should be considered a last resort, not a cure-all.
Similarly, violence should be initiated by public servants only when there is an imminent threat of serious harm to people or property. Not complying with their orders is insufficient grounds absent probable cause of a serious offense -- actual or imminent.
Does anybody really care who hacked Sony? Does it matter whether the government may have used the hack as a pretext to attack an enemy of longstanding? Does it matter that police sometimes overreact to petty crimes by non-whites in particular? Does it matter that the media often fictionalize news events so that they are a closer match with their audience's skewed view of the world?
Yes, yes, yes, and yes.
ID'ed by your body cam: If you wear a video camera, you can be identified based on only four seconds of the video recorded by the camera. A research paper entitled "Egocentric Video Biometrics" makes that claim, although it must be noted that the paper was not subjected to peer review. Ars Technica's Marek Ziolkowski reports on the research in a December 15, 2014, article.
Financial industry looks to government for cybersecurity guidance: The outlook appears bright for the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, which Congress intends as the framework for collecting and sharing "cyber threat information," as Michael Dodson describes it in a December 15, 2014, post on the JD Supra site. The financial industry in particular is hoping the law will provide guidance on what constitutes adequate protections to reduce their liability for data breaches that put their customers at risk.
Courts are increasingly finding that increased risk of future damage is sufficient grounds for a cause of action against an entity that suffers a data breach after failing to implement adequate security precautions. If the organization can show that it complied with government cybersecurity guidelines, it may be able to avoid liability in the event of a breach of its networks. At present, there are no such guidelines.
Dodson cites several cases in which financial companies had reason to believe their networks were at risk and failed to act, which made them liable for potential damages to plaintiffs whose data was lost. In the past, courts generally required a showing of actual damages to plaintiffs as a result of data breaches. Those days appear to be coming to an end, which increases the need for such guidelines by any entity that collects and stores anyone's personal information.
Yahoo does a 180 on use of Creative Commons images: The December 16, 2014, Weekly explained how Yahoo intended to profit via its Wall Art print service from use of Flickr images that were assigned a Creative Common license when they were uploaded to the service. In a December 18, 2014, article, TechCrunch's Catherin Shu reports that Yahoo has subsequently removed Creative Commons-licensed images from the service. The company also stated that it would refund all sales of such images.
As I stated in the original post, not all of the affected CC licensees objected to the use of their images by the service. They were happy to receive the increased exposure for their pictures and expected no monetary compensation. There was also nothing illegal about Yahoo's use of the CC-licensed images. But Yahoo decided to take a step back and consult with the community before proceeding with its plans. To that I say, "Yippee!"