Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Paying for the privilege of hearing commercials

Years ago, in one of my regularly-scheduled rants regarding the cable/satellite industry, I proposed to turn the business model upside down:

Time Warner, CBS, and everyone else, I want you to pay ME to watch your stuff.

But you'll claim that's unreasonable.

Well, why should I have to pay YOU so that you get the privilege to air commercials in my home? Shouldn't you be paying me so that I will become part of your audience?

Even if you don't go that far, you have to ask - why do you potentially spend hundreds of dollars a month for cable/satellite programming...and then have to sit through commercials on top of that?

Well, this double-dipping into your pocketbooks extends beyond the visual realm.

The has taken a break from its regularly-scheduled coverage of speed camera vandalism to address another automotive issue - Sirius/XM programming.


SiriusXM has become — as far as content — terrestrial radio you have to pay to listen to.

Including the ads.

Which are relentless — and endless....

It is not possible to listen to pretty much any talk channel except Howard (Stern) for more than about 10 minutes without enduring the commercial juggernaut.

And as writer Eric Peters notes, there are plenty of alternatives to Sirius/XM programming - not only free radio, but also podcasts and streaming services.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Doing business with the government - guess who has the power?

While a number of companies (including my employer) do a lot of business with national, state, and local government agencies, other companies would just as soon not bother to do so. Because of red tape and low profitability, it's easier for them to do business with non-governmental customers.

And even those whose products are of particular interest to governments may have a hard time selling to the government - or may have a hard time AFTER selling to the government.

Take Alfred Nobel. Some of you may not know Alfred. I don't know that Bob Dylan ever wrote a song about Alfred, but if he did, it would go something like this:

The merchant of death would ride in his train
And sell his poisons to the rich and the old
And the hobos of Europe would follow behind
And beckon

The whole "merchant of death" thingie arose when Alfred's brother died and a newspaper, thinking that it was Albert who had passed, wrote in an obituary that Alfred made it possible to kill many people very quickly.

One of Albert Nobel's killing inventions was something that he called ballistite. This product, which didn't emit as much smoke as most other products of the time, was something that could be sold in the militarizing Europe of the 1880s.

Since Nobel was living in France at the time, and had lived there for decades, he offered the product to the French government. However, the French were already doing buiness with a French chemist named Paul Vieille who had developed his own non-smoky product, so they didn't want to buy Nobel's invention.

Shut out of his (adopted) home market, Nobel successfully sold the product to the (relatively new) Italian government. After a factory was set up near Turin and 300 tons of ballistite was produced, the Italians asked to purchase the patent itself. Nobel sold it.

As Nobel Media's history of Alfred Nobel states,

These actions did not sit well with France.

So what, one may think. Let's say that Nobel had invented some type of gun, and that he first tried to sell it to Remington. Remington didn't want it, so Nobel sold it to Smith & Wesson. The product takes off, and Remington kicks themselves for missing out on an opportunity.

But things get a little tricky when the losing party is a government, and the winning party is a competing government. And Nobel, living in France, began to have a few problems.

An ugly press campaign aimed at discrediting Nobel was started. Among other things, he was unjustly accused of espionage, threatened with imprisonment, and his license to conduct experiments in France withdrawn.

Nobel left the country for a while, and when he returned to Paris,

...he...took with him all laboratory equipment which had not been confiscated and a few personal possesions, including his mother's portrait, a gouache by Anders Zorn and a part of his library, and moved....

And where did he move?


But he kept his house in Paris, and a few years later he happened to be in Paris when he was making his will. Because that whole "merchant of death" thing had bugged him so, he decided to set up a group of prizes under his name so that he would be remembered for something else. Or, as Bob Dylan would say,

Sweden and Norway are colder than Hibbing
And you wear fancy clothes as the diplomats lie
And the lecturers spin tales of death and of life
Before the reaper bids them goodbye

Friday, November 25, 2016

Specification of pronunciation - GIF, and PNG

In our corporate lives, many of us have to spend time reading standards, and if we're not reading standards, we're at least adhering to them in some way. For example, right now I am using a keyboard that works with an operating system, an application (Blogger), and eventually a browser or email program (whatever one you're using to read this) - and all of them are familiar with one or more character formats, such as ASCII or Unicode. If my operating system suddenly decided to support some other character format, the whole thing would fall apart.

Yes, specifications are important.

But when reading this specification, I was struck by a particular section.


PNG is pronounced "ping"

Now why, oh why, would a specification make a big deal about how an acronym is pronounced?

Two reasons.

First, let me quote from the beginning of the specification:

The PNG format provides a portable, legally unencumbered, well-compressed, well-specified standard for lossless bitmapped image files.

Although the initial motivation for developing PNG was to replace GIF, the design provides some useful new features not available in GIF, with minimal cost to developers.

Ah, GIF. The sordid tale of GIF, LZW, CompuServe, Unisys, patents, and fees has been told many times. Check this or this or this for further information. All of this ended over a decade ago, however, so it's not of real concern.

But there's one concern about GIF that remains to this day - I saw it erupt on Facebook earlier this week. The reason that the creators of PNG specified its pronunciation is because the pronunciation of GIF spawned wars that even a group of patent attorneys couldn't resolve. Take this video that shows what happened when Steve Wilhite of CompuServe fame won a Webby Award.

Yet hard G people still fight the fight today.

But at least the pronunciation of PNG is settled, isn't it? Well, I've already seen one disagreement.

Ping in computer circles is reserved for the tool that uses ICMP packets to check if a system is up and responding

You can't win.

Monday, November 21, 2016

#empogmgmu Part Four: Oleg Atbashian, Virginia Class 6 Felonies, and DEFCON Levels

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Before returning to our discussion about Oleg Atbashian, freedom of speech (and of the press), and the felony charges against Atbashian, I'd like to go off on a tangent about nuclear war.

The excerpt below is from something the American Conservative published in 2013.

Business Insider reports that “Steve Deace, an influential conservative Iowa talk show host” has been making profound declarations that, should the Supreme Court strike down anti-gay marriage laws, “It’s going to raise the issue to Orange Threat Level, it’ll be DEFCON 6…”

Sounds serious, if you don't know what you're talking about. The American Conservative clarifies:

DEFCON is short for DEFense CONdition, and according to the Encyclopedia of the Cold War, “The DEFCON system is divided into five different alert levels with detailed, if ambiguous, descriptions and expected actions by military forces at each threat level.” Mr. Deace’s first error is that DEFCON scales from 1 to 5, not 6. To be charitable, though, he likely knew this and was making an exaggerated claim for effect. What then, is DEFCON 5? Again from the Encyclopedia of the Cold War, “DEFCON 5: Normal peacetime readiness The lowest alert level in the DEFCON system…” DEFCON 5 is as low as alerts go, and is the traditional status for most military forces. Anytime someone threatens to go DEFCON 5 on you or a loved one, then, readily take them up on their offer as amity should shortly be restored.

Alert is raised from there with progressively lower numbers.

In other words, if Deace truly went to DEFCON Level 6, then when Obama came to take his guns, Deace would give them away gladly and give the President a kiss. (But Deace probably wouldn't marry him.)

Deace isn't the only one who is confused about the DEFCON numbering system. Heck, most all of us, including myself, usually assume that bigger numbers mean a greater threat.

Speaking of threats, I previously described how police at George Mason University unfortunately did not arrive in time to stop alleged felonies by the aforementioned Mr. Atbashian. I also noted the significant difference in how various parties are covering this event. Let's start with an excerpt of Atbashian's description:

Since they couldn't find any weapons and our message was protected by the First Amendment, the officers decided to charge us with "destruction of property worth of at least $2,500," which was a "class 6 felony."

The whole episode, which almost sounded like a bad parody of "Terror in the Skies," resulted in blaring headlines like this:

Pro-Israel Artist Threatened with 5 Years in Jail for Campus Anti-Terror Posters

Well, Atbashian is still charged with a felony, and his preliminary hearing will be held at 2:00 local time on February 17. Here are the details of his case, courtesy the Virginia court system website:

As you can see, the right wing media is NOT lying in this case. Atbashian is charged with destruction of property, with a complaint filed by M. Guston, and the charge is a class 6 felony.

Which of course raises the question - what is a class 6 felony?

A Class 6 felony in Virginia is a crime that meets the criteria for the "felony" category with the least of authorized punishments associated with it. Class 6 felony crimes in the state of Virginia include reckless endangerment and violation of a court order.

So if any patriot declares that the state should "reduce" Atbashian's crime to a class 1 felony, the patriot doesn't know what he or she is talking about.

So what's the penalty for a class 6 felony?

Penalties for the commission of Class 6 felony crimes in Virginia include imprisonment of no less than one but up to five years. Fines that do not exceed $2,500 can also be imposed on those who commit Class 6 felony crimes in Virginia.

So the patriots will loudly declare that Atbashian will be thrown in the American gulag for five years. But will he? An article on another potential class 6 felony case (ironically, for anti-Jewish vandalism) states:

This type of crime would result in at least six months of jail time with a minimum of 30 days served.

It all depends upon what the Fairfax County prosecutor wants to do. Because of the First Amendment issues, there's a chance that the prosecutor may even settle for time served (14 hours).

And obviously Atbashian's defense attorney will have some influence over the final outcome.

Stuart A. Sears joined the law firm Schertler & Onorato, LLP, as Counsel in 2013 and was promoted to Partner in 2014. He is an experienced and accomplished trial attorney whose practice focuses on criminal and white collar defense. Stuart’s litigation experience includes representation of individuals in a wide array of federal and state criminal proceedings, including cases involving charges of health care fraud, false claims, money laundering, mail and wire fraud, illegal structuring, and mortgage fraud. He has extensive trial and post-conviction litigation experience in Virginia, Washington, D.C., and the federal courts.

In addition to his trial work, Stuart’s broad experience includes representations of individuals and companies in civil and criminal government investigations. He has recently counseled clients through Department of Justice (DOJ) investigations involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), the False Claims Act (FCA), procurement fraud, and health care fraud. Stuart’s practice also includes litigating complex criminal and civil forfeiture matters at the agency and district court level.

Not sure if any of Sears' prior clients were people who put up satirical posters, but this will certainly round out his experience.

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Friday, November 18, 2016

#empogmgmu Part Three: George Mason University and Freedom of Speech

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I haven't told you everything about the National Students for Justice in Palestine conference at George Mason University. In addition to the conference, and the demonstrators at the conference, and the people who wanted everyone to be in a safe space, there were two more people roaming around campus.

One of these people was Oleg Atbashian.

You may have heard of Atbashian without realizing it. Oleg Atbashian came from the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and reputedly did some artwork there for the local benevolent government. Atbashian eventually made his way to the United States in 1994, where he eventually exercised his satirical event with groups such as Communists for Kerry. Eventually he devoted his efforts to The People's Cube, where he authored a piece on Snopes' founders in 2015. The piece begins as follows.

LOS ANGELES, CA - owners Barbara and David Mikkelson were detained by police today after an unrelated investigation of a editor lead police onto a paper trail of corruption, bribery, and fraud at the very heart of the fact-checking organization.

Evidence obtained by police has revealed that, which markets itself as "the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation," has a history of accepting money and favors from left-leaning and pro-Islamic political groups and individuals for helping them to advance their cause by rigging public discourse with selective fact-finding and deliberate manipulation of public opinion.

Late Monday morning, Brian Williston, a editor, who also doubles as the accountant, found himself at a flea market on the outskirts of Los Angeles. As he was browsing the different tables and tents looking for antiques, an old mechanical piano began playing Dixie's Land, a song that was adopted as a de facto anthem of the Confederacy during the American Civil War and is now considered offensive by some due to its link to the iconography and ideology of the Old South.

The tune sparked an outrage in Williston, who began yelling and cursing those who "would like to bring back slavery and racial separation," and ordering the vendors to "turn off that racist music."

The piece goes on from there, and was enjoyed by many - for various reasons. It turns out that some people who enjoyed the piece don't realize that it's satire.

Snopes CEO was arrested on fraud and corruption charges last year!

People will continue to rely on Snopes for “the truth”. I’ve been telling people about this bias for years. It needs to be broadcast far and wide.

But Oleg Atbashian didn't see anything funny about the National Students for Justice in Palestine, and he decided to...Fight Back.

Whoops, wrong David Horowitz. There's a David Horowitz that runs the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and Atbashian agreed with Horowitz's views about the SJP. Atbashian decided to design a poster for the National SJP Conference.

Source: The Gateway Pundit

So Oleg and someone else went to George Mason to put up the posters. I'll let Oleg tell the story:

This was supposed to be a two-day poster campaign, to counteract the George Mason University hosting an official national conference for Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which is an anti-Semitic organization with well-documented ties to Hamas - a terrorist group whose stated goal is to exterminate the Jews. The GMU poster campaign was conceived by the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

My part in it was to create provocative artwork for the posters and to hang them around the GMU campus, as well as to distribute flyers in order to raise awareness among the students, faculty, and the administration about the true meaning of their support for the SJP conference....

On the second day:

[A]t about 4am, our car was pulled over by a GMU PD cruiser with flashing lights. As we found out later, they already had a description of our rental KIA Optima. Officer M.J. Guston and his female partner, Officer Daniels, requested to see our drivers' licenses, which they took away. Then they inquired if we had any weapons and proceeded with the visual search, noticing our bucket with mixed wheat paste and some rolled posters on the back seat, covered with towels....

They ordered us to give them our car key and to step out of the car. Then we were told to put our hands behind our backs and to spread our legs. Officer Guston then held my thumbs behind my back with his left hand, while his right hand gave me a complete and very thorough pat-down and searched the content of my pockets. He repeated the same procedure with my friend, repeatedly asking us if we had any kind of weapons on us or in the car....

Since they couldn't find any weapons and our message was protected by the First Amendment, the officers decided to charge us with "destruction of property worth of at least $2,500," which was a "class 6 felony."...

They were taken off campus...and straight to jail.

The full, politically correct name of the county jail was Fairfax County Adult Detention Center, but the jailers inside continued to refer to it as "jail." We were put before a magistrate named W. Talavera. Officer Guston repeated his trumped-up charges about the destruction of property, supporting them with a dozen computer printouts....

The magistrate's decision was quick: $8,000 bail for each of us and a mandatory court hearing within several days. As we were led away to be processed into the system, Officer Guston said, somewhat triumphantly, his final words to us: "You can't come to GMU ever again."

Let's pause here for a minute. The First Amendment to the Constitution, the same amendment that discussed George Mason's beloved freedom of the press, also talked about freedom of speech - specifically saying that Congress could not restrict it. As a public university, George Mason University is bound - or should be bound - by that same amendment. Yet Officer Guston believed that a satirist was not protected by that amendment. Some people are concerned by this. Others are not.

14 hours later, the two were out of jail, involved in a hassle with their rental car company, their hotel, and their airline that cost them some money. But now their story is out, and it's being treated differently by various sections of the media.

The mainstream media, to my knowledge, has been silent on the issue. The left-wing Silicon-Valley controlled Washington Post hasn't covered the story, and the right-wing Moonie controlled Washington Times hasn't covered it either, despite the fact that this is a local story.

But there's a lot of coverage from other sources, including a few that I've linked to above. And frankly they're just as bad as the National SJP. Take this Gateway Pundit headline:

Pro-Israel Artist Threatened with 5 Years in Jail for Campus Anti-Terror Posters

Either these people are trying to sell clicks by, um, trumping up the worst-case scenario, or they truly believe that Atbashian will spend five years in a Virginia prison. Either way, it'

As deplorable as Chloe Valdary regards the SJP:

The student organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is prominent on many college campuses, preaching a mantra of “Freeing Palestine.” It masquerades as though it were a civil rights group when it is not. Indeed, as an African-American, I am highly insulted that my people’s legacy is being pilfered for such a repugnant agenda. It is thus high time to expose its agenda and lay bare some of the fallacies they peddle.

• If you seek to promulgate the legacy of early Islamic colonialists who raped and pillaged the Middle East, subjugated the indigenous peoples living in the region, and foisted upon them a life of persecution and degradation—you do not get to claim the title of “Freedom Fighter.”

• If you support a racist doctrine of Arab supremacism and wish (as a corollary of that doctrine) to destroy the Jewish state, you do not get to claim that the prejudices you peddle are forms of legitimate “resistance.”

• If your heroes are clerics who sit in Gaza plotting the genocide of a people; who place their children on rooftops in the hopes they will get blown to bits; who heap praises upon their fellow gang members when they succeed in murdering Jewish school boys and bombing places of activity where Jews congregate—you do not get to claim that you are some Apollonian advocate of human virtue. You are not.

And she continues, claiming that certain freedom fighter of the past would find the SJP to be abhorrent.

Rosa Parks was a real Freedom Fighter. Rosa Parks was a Zionist.

Coretta Scott King was a Zionist.

A. Phillip Randolph was a Zionist.

Bayard Rustin was a Zionist.

Count Basie was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Zionist.

Indeed, they and many more men and women signed a letter in 1975 that stated: “We condemn the anti-Jewish blacklist.

I wonder what George Mason would have said, had he lived to see this.

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#empogmgmu Part Two: George Mason University and Freedom of the Press

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In this second post, I'm going to fast forward 225 years or so, to a university in Fairfax, Virginia called George Mason University - named after the George Mason that I previously discussed. This is a public university, part of the Virginia public university system. In the spirit of its namesake, it declares itself to be inclusive and accessible.

Any university that is inclusive is bound to have a very broad range of interests, and the challenge to any university is the need to allow all of those interests to be represented. And this challenge was certainly faced earlier this month, when the George Mason University Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the SJP's National Conference.


Announcing the 2016 National SJP Conference on November 4th-6th, hosted by George Mason University Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) in Fairfax, VA and the DMV! Our theme this year is "Critical Mass: With Our Roots in Resistance, Forging a Just Future."

Let your fellow SJP members know to RSVP on this page and to share! This will be the inaugural NSJP conference following the introduction of the new national structure. The conversations we have will be important and pertinent to the student movement, so we want to see as many faces as possible! Let's keep growing and building together as we strive for a free Palestine. See you soon!

Conference Information:

(Drop-down menus below the "2016 Conference" header include the registration form for attendees, travel stipend information, solidarity housing/homestay information, etc.)

In Solidarity,
National Students for Justice in Palestine Steering Committee

Now perhaps this may surprise some people, but not all university students are enthused about the SJP's goals. And some people outside of the university are not enthused either.

What? People outside of George Mason University are weighing in on an event taking place at the university? Well, doesn't that make them - OUTSIDE AGITATORS? You know, those people who don't know their place and stick their noses in other people's business.

If anyone knew the trouble that outside agitators could cause, George Wallace certainly knew about it. First off, a couple of facts about Wallace. First, despite Keith Ellison's misunderstanding, Wallace was a Democrat, not a Republican. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, a Republican couldn't win an election in Wallace's Alabama. Second, Wallace's views bounced back and forth throughout his life. Take the George Wallace of 1958:

In 1958, George Wallace ran against John Patterson in his first gubernatorial race. In that Alabama election, Wallace refused to make race an issue, and he declined the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. This move won Wallace the support of the NAACP. Patterson, on the other hand, embraced Klan support, and he trounced Wallace in the election.

When Plan A doesn't work, move on to Plan B. While Wallace didn't change parties like Donald Trump did, he changed positions on issues such as segregation, becoming (for a time) the George Wallace that we all know and hate.

And during his initial terms as Governor, Wallace certainly had issues with outside agitators.

Despite growing conflict over race and civil rights, Wallace wrote [a Michigan resident considering her 1964 Presidential primary vote] that “we have never had a problem in the South except in a few very isolated instances and these have been the result of outside agitators.” Wallace asserted that “I personally have done more for the Negroes of the State of Alabama than any other individual,” citing job creation and the salaries of black teachers in Alabama. He rationalized segregation as “best for both races,” writing that “they each prefer their own pattern of society, their own churches and their own schools.” Wallace assured Martin that Alabamans were satisfied with society as it was and that the only “major friction” was created by “outside agitators.”

Some people, however, disagreed with Wallace and thought that outside agitation was just fine. A few of them changed their minds, however, when Martin Luther King Jr. stopped outside agitating in the South and started outside agitating in places like Chicago.

Fast forward to November 2016 and the National SJP Conference. Such a conference would attract attention of the press that George Mason himself so strongly championed, so Jonathan Bronitsky of Tablet sought press credentials.

On a beautiful, cloudless, and unusually warm November morning, I went to the registration desk and asked SJP communications personnel for comment, but I was told that both organizers and attendees would only speak with “registered media.” I explained to a recent graduate from Tufts University, who was in charge of NSJP’s media email account, that I was a freelance journalist. I gave her my business card and pulled up my website on my iPhone to provide her with a sense of my writings. She was genuinely sympathetic, interested, and instructed that I apply for a credential through NSJP’s website. I did, but my application would soon be denied. The Tufts alumna had indeed explained upfront that approval was unlikely because my request was “the day of” and her organization was worried about infiltration and negative press. She specified that a “right-wing publication,” which had tried to link SJP with Hamas, also sought a credential.

So the National SJP was stingy with its press credentials. Or was it?

Through conversation a few paces outside the conference area, I learned that a reporter from The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, applied for a credential two weeks prior to the event yet was turned down. A reporter with Ha’aretz was approved—but he was not permitted to enter the conference. Conversely, a freelance reporter with Mondoweiss, a progressive and anti-Zionist website, received a credential 11 days prior without even asking for it: NSJP had actually taken the initiative of mailing it. Also, a reporter and a cameraperson with Al Jazeera showed up without advance notice and were swiftly given credentials...

OK, not a problem. Bronitsky may not have been able to get inside the event, but he could certainly ask questions outside of the event - right?

I requested comment from 20 attendees and, unfortunately, all of them declined. I even offered to keep everything “on background.” Some, it was clear, were eager to share their thoughts. But after every time I went up an attendee, an NSJP organizer—whom I can only describe as a “spotter”—would sprint from her lookout post at the conference’s entrance and warn that I was, again, “outside media.”

Shut out of the National SJP conference, Bronitsky went across campus and covered another event.

Mid-afternoon, pro-Israel advocates gathered for the Turning Point USA-organized demonstration at the entrance of the NSJP’s conference. For about 20 minutes, they chanted Zionist slogans, mocked the “illiberalism” of SJP’s brand of “social justice,” and sang “Hatikvah.” They also carried signs that read, “Jewish Lives Matter—Say NO to HATE,” “Know the Truth: BDS = HATE MOVEMENT,” “Say NO to Anti-Semitism,” “HATE GROUP: SJP – HATE MOVEMENT: BDS,” “Why Won’t SJP Boycott Syria, Russia, and Iran?” and “SJP Calls Murder of Civilians ‘Resistance.’” SJP activists reacted by locking arms, facing away, and repeatedly directing each other to “not engage.”

Now if you were to conclude that the Jewish organizations on campus were all behind this demonstration, your conclusion would be incorrect.

Lending credibility to a growing sense that the Jewish-American community’s preeminent organizations are allergic to confrontation were the preemptive actions taken by the Hillel at George Mason University Hillel. It launched a website, “Embrace Diversity,” and held a series of alternative events that promised to “provide safe engaging spaces for Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

Now is this truly a freedom of the press issue? As I've noticed previously, Constitutional protections limit what the government can do, but do not limit what private organizations can do. In the same way that private citizen Donald Trump could yank press credentials on a whim, private organization SJP can refuse to grant press credentials on a whim. The fact that the event was held at a public university does not necessarily mean that private organizations using university facilities have to behave like a government.

You know, I wonder if Donald Trump heads the National SJP. There are some parallels between the two that go beyond their attitudes toward the press. Both love Syria, for example.

But I digress.

We've seen a lot of players on campus - the National SJP, the organizations that actively oppose them, and the organizations that want everyone to be happy and play nice together. One of the latter groups, George Mason University Hillel, posted this as things were starting:

We have learned that offensive Islamaphobic signs were posted on campus yesterday by individuals unaffiliated with George Mason Hillel. George Mason Hillel condemns this act and any efforts to demonize any racial or religious group. We are committed to creating a campus climate where all feel safe and secure, where diversity is celebrated, and where political differences are communicated civilly and respectfully.

Because George Mason is, after all, inclusive and accessible.

Now these signs were not posted by the protesters cited above. They were posted by a DIFFERENT outside agitator.

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#empogmgmu Part One: George Mason and Safe Spaces

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I plan to make a series of posts on the #empogmgmu topic, but a few warnings are in order before I begin.

First, if you are a committed Clinton supporter who gets upset when people say mean things that make you cry, you may not want to read the #empogmgmu series of posts.

Second, if you are a committed Trump supporter who gets upset when people say mean things that make you cry, you may not want to read the #empogmgmu posts either.

In fact, perhaps it's best if no one reads the posts at all, and looks at puppy photos instead.


(Have they all left?)

(Probably not. Reverse psychology and all that.)

Third, this post - or series of posts - is definitely NOT succinct. In part, its longish because it covers a lot of time - over 225 years.

Although it doesn't cover a lot of geography. It begins at a plantation in Fairfax County by the Potomac River, and ends at a jail - I mean detention facility - not too many miles away from that plantation. Although perhaps by the time that I'm done with the #empogmgmu series, I will have gone beyond that detention facility.

But let's go to the beginning, to a man named George Mason. Technically he's one of the Founding Fathers, but he's not a really cool Founding Father like Washington and Franklin and Madison. Why not? Because he ended up opposing the U.S. Constitution.

Backing up a bit, when British North America was a collection of separate colonies, George Mason was a resident of the colony of Virginia. Born in 1725, Mason was a very rich man, and lived in a plantation called Gunston Hall (not too far from where another very rich man, George Washington, ended up living). Mason was active in politics in Fairfax County and in the nearby city of Alexandria, and then was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1759. He was part of the group of Burgesses who objected to the British government's actions in the colonies, and by 1776 he had authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which begins as follows.

I. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

If some of those words sound a little familiar, that's because another rich Virginian plantation owner, Thomas Jefferson, referred to the Virginia Declaration of Rights while writing the Declaration of Independence later in 1776.

But that's not the only thing that was cribbed from the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Here's another example:

XII. That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.

Basically, if I may use a modern term, Mason wanted Virginia to be a safe space where members of the press could function freely, without running into the issues that bedeviled John Peter Zenger.

We'll get back to the Article XII a little later.

Specifically, a little over a decade later, when Virginia and other former colonies had entered into a Confederation - a Confederation that was beset with all sorts of problems. This led a number of men, including Mason, to convene in Philadelphia in 1787 to come up with a new form of government. (Mason had been invited to the Annapolis meeting in 1786, but didn't attend.)

After a number of discussions and compromises among the delegates, the body came up with a Constitution. And Mason, who had been one of the most active participants in the Constitutional Convention, decided that he could NOT support it.

Why not? To Mason's thinking, the government that was outlined by the Constitution was no better than the government that they had overthrown. From Teaching American History:

Mason's refusal prompts some surprise, especially since his name is so closely linked with constitutionalism. He explained his reasons at length, citing the absence of a declaration of rights as his primary concern. He then discussed the provisions of the Constitution point by point, beginning with the House of Representatives. The House he criticized as not truly representative of the nation, the Senate as too powerful. He also claimed that the power of the federal judiciary would destroy the state judiciaries, render justice unattainable, and enable the rich to oppress and ruin the poor. These fears led Mason to conclude that the new government was destined to either become a monarchy or fall into the hands of a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy.

(Boy, Mason was ridiculous. Who in their right mind today things that our government has fallen into the hands of a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy? It's not like we've had two families running the government for the last 35 years or anything like that.)

It turns out that Mason's objections were shared by others. The other delegates, though, rather than rejecting the Constitution altogether, decided to immediately amend the Constitution with some protections for individuals, many of which were derived from the Virginia Declaration of Rights - including its Article XII about freedom of the press.

Mason died just a few years later, in 1792. Although he isn't necessarily remembered throughout the United States, he is remembered in the Fairfax County area of Virginia. At least two educational institutions were named in honor of Mason - Gunston Middle School (formerly Gunston Junior High School) in Arlington, Virginia, and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

I attended Gunston back when it was a junior high school, but I never attended George Mason University. However, it is to George Mason University that we shall turn.

See all the #empogmgmu posts

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Intelligently market yourself for influence beyond your actual numbers - lessons from the Klan, Dan Harper, Tank Man, and Nicole Palmer

A triumph of marketing.

The activities of one group in North Carolina have received attention from all of the media, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Trump people, and all of us.

When the day of the parade comes, protesters and media will swarm to the place to cover the story, and it will be emblazoned all over the news that evening.

But think about it.

A Klan group in California came out to Anaheim earlier this year and got a similar amount of attention - for a protest with only a half dozen Klansmen.

A half dozen.

The North Carolina victory parade will be lucky if it gets more than 100 participants. The media (much less the protesters) will probably outnumber actual Klansmen.

This phenomenon, where a group's influence is disproportionate to their actual numbers, is not limited to the alt-right, the alt-left, or other fringes. Take this protest against Russian bombing in Syria, in which the Telegraph dutifully reported the activities of the protestors - uh, protestor.

In this case, I can't blame for not finding the incident to be newsworthy.

There are numerous examples of viral reactions to limited civil disobedience - the one man facing a tank in China, various Buddhist monks who were on fire for their cause, and others. Some, such as Rosa Parks, were backed by organizations, while others went out on their own.

But why do these people have such influence?

It's not just the marketing - I could put out a press release loudly proclaiming that Brian Eno is Slim Whitman's secret son, and no one would give a hoot. But when the protest elicits emotional reactions - especially emotional reactions when the Klan, Putin, or other hot-button figures are involved - news of the protest will spread far and wide.

Despite their deplorable image, the Klan are no dummies. They knew very well that a simple announcement of a public rally, even without accompanying details, would get the Klan a lot of free publicity. And as that publicity ricocheted around the world, perhaps that would be enough to motivate a guy somewhere to think, "Hey, the Klan really speaks for me."

In fact, the (remote) possibility exists that my writing about this may persuade someone to join the Klan. And even if I were to rightly interject the message that the Klan is a bad thing, this might not make any difference - some people may be MORE attracted to the Klan because of its enemies, including the President-elect, the major political parties, and Empoprises. In fact, here's a fake interview:

Once I saw that Empoprises opposed the Klan, I knew that the Klan had to have something worthwhile to offer me. I mean, Empoprises writes about Brian Eno - a foreigner. The Redcoats are almost as bad as the Yankees, in my opinion.

Obviously, things are much better if you intelligently market yourself for (in my opinion) positive purposes. Take Nicole Palmer:

If someone had told me two years ago that I would have cared for over 30 children while working and raising a daughter on my own, I wouldn’t have believed them, but that has been my life since becoming a foster carer....

The first child that arrived at my door came for a five week stay while her long term carer was away. It was a wonderful experience for us and helped me understand what was involved. Pretty quickly I asked to follow this up by providing some emergency care. After this I felt ready to provide short term care, which is classified as six months or less....

Foster care does come with its challenges and I’ve learned a lot about myself. In one instance I cared for a little girl that couldn’t speak English, but we worked through it together. It was so satisfying to find a way to communicate with her and make a connection. Sometimes I think the biggest challenges have the biggest rewards.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Don't gloss over this one key word in Kenneth Cole's store closure announcement

At first glance, this sounds like a story for my tymshft blog, since it appears to deal with trends toward online retailing. But read the opening of this Bloomberg story carefully:

Kenneth Cole Productions, a fashion house and shoe company founded more than three decades ago, is closing almost all its stores, effectively ending its run as a U.S. brick-and-mortar chain.

The New York-based retailer will shutter its 63 outlet stores over the next six months, Chief Executive Officer Marc Schneider said in an e-mail Friday.

So Kenneth Cole is closing 63 stores. Perhaps this quote, later in the article, will explain why.

“As we continue on our path of strengthening our global lifestyle brand, we look to expand our online and full-price retail footprint across the globe,” [Schneider] said.

Now it's clear. It isn't that Kenneth Cole is closing 63 stores. It's that Kenneth Cole is closing 63 OUTLET stores.

Big difference.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Porch, it is a'changing

To some extent, I can write about whatever I want to on my blogs.

But I actually place some limits on what I blog about. (Although it may not appear that way.)

For example, this is the first time that I have written anything about The Porch.

My employer moved to a new building in the fall of 2015. I've written about the building, but haven't specifically written about The Porch - the term that I use to describe the second floor overlook in our building. Normal people would say that this overlook, and the large windows at the front of our building, give you an unobstructed view of our neighbors in the corporate park - not only Wescom, but also Micrometals and Calvary Chapel East Anaheim.

But that's not how I describe it.

As I put it, I can go out and stand on our porch and take a look over yonder and see the stuff across the road - the metal shop, the chapel, and the little old bank by the corner. I can grab me a cup of tea or coffee from the Flavia machine and just gaze out on the world.

Heck, all I need is a rocking chair and I can just sit on The Porch all the time. Unfortunately, my preferred rocking chair vendor don't got no offices round here - I'd have to take the jalopy all the way to Kingman to get a genuine Cracker Barrel rocking chair.

(And no, don't tell me to go to the website. It's not the same. And I'm not sure if the corporate wifi extends to The Porch area anyway.)

Now this would be the ideal time to post a picture of The Porch - perhaps a selfie with me, a cup, and the metal shop et al in the background. Except that The Porch is kinda sorta boarded up at the moment....

You see, my company does not own the building, and only leases a portion of the building. The rest of the building is empty, which is perhaps what is motivating the building owner to renovate the lobby area, including The Porch. Or, as those fancy marketing people put it,

Currently operating at around 55 percent occupancy, Canyon Corporate Center is set to undergo an extensive capital improvement program aimed to boost leasing at the property. The new ownership will focus on turning the property into flexible, high-bay office space with open features such as skylights and large windows that will cater to companies looking for creative space.

There's all sorts of construction now, and my formerly peaceful oasis has all sorts of scaffolding, temporary barriers to keep you from falling off The Porch, and construction workers scurrying around doing important stuff.

I'm not sure how much longer the construction will take, but we'll see what things look like when it's all finished.

And maybe I'll take one of those selfie things and show all of you the view of the metal shop, the chapel, and Liz's money place.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ignitium and ubiquitous virtual digital marketing

I was searching for information on the unincorporated community of Santa Catarina, Texas and encountered this page.

When I saw this page, I began to wonder, since, according to the Texas State Historical Association, Santa Catarina had an estimated population of fifteen in 2000. Perhaps the community became a huge digital marketing hub in the intervening years, but considering that the last store closed in 1978, where would all of those digital marketing associates get their sushi and latte fixes? (McAllen, Texas, the nearest city with a Starbucks, is about 60 miles away. Kinda hard to get to on a lunch or dinner break.)

I suspect that Ignitium (which is actually based in Spokane, Washington) is engaging in a little search engine optimization by ensuring that any search for a town will eventually hit an Ignitium page.

And I was right - Ignitium has thousands of pages in Texas alone.

And in California, Ignitium has a page for Guasti. As you may know, Guasti is the official home of the Empoprises blogging empire (co-located with the Ontario Vineyard Village Association and KOER Synthetica Radio). So if my blogging empire is based at 1 Empire Way, Suite 2525, is Ignitium's Guasti office in Suite 1700 in the same building?

But even if you're engaged in digital marketing in Santa Catarina, don't worry - Exede provides high-speed Internet to that very city. (And to Guasti.)

And you don't have to worry about radon gas. And if you do die from radon gas, you will be remembered.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Movies - when the World Wide Web isn't so wide

I mentioned this on my Facebook Empoprise-BI page, but there's a slight chance that you didn't see this so I'll mention it again.

As I've previously noted, the introduction of a new technology is often accompanied by grandiose claims by the technology's proponents. For example, when the World Wide Web expanded our worlds beyond the world of CompuServe, people imagined that this would allow us to access EVERYTHING. In such an environment self-styled "founts of all knowledge" (heh) could truly BE founts of all knowledge, since everything was just a mouse click away.

This obviously affected brick and mortar businesses. Why go to the video store, with its limited selection of videos, when you could go online and get EVERYTHING?

Well, guess what? You can't get everything online. And according to Exstreamist and other sources, you're getting less and less.

While the exact number of titles available on Netflix in 2012 is unknown, sources who used to work for the streaming giant have told us it was close to 11,000 movies and TV shows....

We pulled September 2016 title counts from uNoGS in the US, showing that there are currently 5,302 titles available in the US Netflix library including movies and TV shows. What this means is that, over the past four years, the Netflix library has collapsed 50% in total title count since its peak four years ago.

(H/T to the Poke Salad Podcast, by the way.)

So if you're signing up for Netflix under the impression that you can see any movie you want, you're mistaken. But you've probably already noticed this, since there are numerous posts saying "Film [X] will no longer be on Netflix next month."

Netflix has its reasons to do this, because it is developing its own content, and that is preferable to the company rather than negotiating rights with third parties.

But even if Netflix were to change course and go back to hosting 11,000 movies/TV shows again...that STILL would only be a miniscule part of the total content available. According to HTMLGIANT, the total number of movies in 2012 (back when Netflix had about 11,000 movies/shows) was over 268,000. Granted, that's everything - even movies that were never formally released in theaters or on video - but the number still shows that even Netflix has never had more than 5% of the total available content.

And because of rights issues, the actual cost of uploading and hosting movies, and everything else, it's very likely that the World Wide Web - at least the legal part of it - will never contain every single movie.

So no, you can't have EVERYTHING.