I’m so done with newspapers

I haven’t read a newspaper in years, but the hotel I’m currently staying at (while in St. Louis as an adviser for our Model UN club) drops one in front of the door each morning, so I picked it up yesterday morning and read through it during breakfast. The front page story was about the truce in Ukraine, which was exciting news, and I posted a message via GroupMe. Apparently, by the time I got up and read the paper, the truce had already ended.

That’s right. The story printed on the front page was gone before the paper was even delivered.

And fifty years ago, that was fine. We wouldn’t know better until the next day when we got the new paper. But in this day and age, it means the newspaper is worthless. It no longer serves its purpose whatsoever.

For those looking for alternatives, I have a list of sites I frequent for news:

Continue reading

Tennessee Mosque Building Site Burned

Construction had just begun on a worship center for Muslims in Murfreesboro, near Nashville, when arsonists decided to play vigilante and draw the nation’s attention. The arsonists soaked several pieces of construction equipment with gasoline and lit them, destroying one of the pieces of construction equipment and damaging others.

There are a few points that strike me as alternately ridiculous and hopeful.

Spike in Hostility

The center had operated for years out of a small business suite. Planning members said the new building, which was being constructed next to a church, would help accommodate the area’s growing Muslim community.

“We unfortunately did not experience hostilities for the 30 years we’ve been here and have only seen the hostility since approval of the site plan for the new center,” said Sbenaty.

The Muslims here are not newcomers to the community. They’ve been there for thirty years, working and serving and living amongst everyone else. A generation has been raised there.

And who committed the terrorist act? Who burned stuff? It wasn’t the evil Islamic, it was the Christians.

Muslims Support Sharia Like Catholics Support Contraception

“They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group,” Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area, told The Associated Press.

Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators who recently wore “Vote for Jesus” T-shirts and carried signs that said “No Sharia law for USA!,” referring to the Islamic code of law.

Sharia ((I’m not sure what a good source about Sharia would be, so I can’t refer you anywhere to learn more about it. Normally I’d point to Wikipedia, but their article has several warnings up top that it might not be balanced, so I suspect people have been vandalizing it to project their fears and incorrect assumptions into the article. Read it with reservation, and feel free to comment below if you have any questions–I’ll be happy to answer as in-depth as I am able.)) is the Islamic law that supersedes a nation’s law. Iran is founded on Sharia law, making it a theocracy, and many worry that Muslims want to quietly and subtly establish Sharia in non-Muslim countries so they can take over those countries.

Switzerland banned minarets because they were symbols of Sharia to the Swiss, but mosques, worship centers, and Muslims in general are still allowed within the country. What’s more, not all Muslims view Sharia the same way. For some, it is a law for the individual, much like a Christian might hold themselves to the laws of the Bible. And where the Sharia contradicts the United States law, many ignore Sharia.

It’s the inconvenient part of the scriptures that no longer matches our day-to-day life, so just like Christians ignore laws against wearing cloth made from multiple types of fabric or some Catholics still use contraception despite the Pope’s edicts, many Muslims ignore the parts of Sharia that would make life untenable in the USA.

We don’t assume Christians are murderous, cotton-blend hating psychopaths. We didn’t blame the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on a conspiracy hatched by Jews and Christians to kill all shellfish. So why do we assume, with absolutely no proof, that all Muslims want to overthrow our government and institute a theocracy?

This Country Wasn’t Based On Our Christianity

“No mosque in Murfreesboro. I don’t want it. I don’t want them here,” Evy Summers said to WTVF. “Go start their own country overseas somewhere. This is a Christian country. It was based on Christianity.”

If the pilgrims were to see us, they wouldn’t claim us as Christians. We would be heretics to them in every sense of the word.

People go on and on about the founding fathers, who had complex and varied approaches to faith, but we don’t seem to look back any further these days. Yeah, our country was founded (in many ways) by Christians. But they also built in a protection of other religions–without that protection, the Quakers would have had no place in New York, and the Catholics would have never been let in the country.

People aren’t setting fire to Jewish synagogues, so why are they setting fire to Islamic mosques? I could advance some theories, but I’ll keep quiet on that point for now. ((Here at the end, let me share my own frustration-filled assumptions. There are always insecure, ignorant, hateful people in this world. Quakers, Catholics, Irish, Jews, Blacks, etc. have all been targeted by these type of people. Muslims are just the latest and currently easiest target for their hate, and their hate is based on insecurity with their own beliefs and superiority.

It’s a conflict of religious theory. The Christian stance is that their religion is Right, but Islam came along after Jesus and said Christians got it wrong. And if Muslims are living comfortably in our neighbourhoods, working and raising families and worshiping as they wish, what does that say about their religion? Perhaps there’s something worthwhile there after all…

But that thought is anathema. Easier to spew hate and burn stuff than answer for your own faith or lack thereof.))

So what’s hopeful about all this?

The ATF, FBI and Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office are conducting a joint investigation into the fire, Anderson said.

Our national authorities take this stuff seriously. During the Civil Rights Movement, there was state and federal sanction, or at least looking-the-other-wayness, about hate crimes and such. While we may have some vitriolic senators and representatives who parrot the ignorance of their constituents, we have institutionalized protections for people who have been targeted in these ways.

I am confident we will come through this period of gross stupidity and the people trying to oppress others will move on. They’ll die out, get over it, or forget why they ever cared.

But that’s little comfort for those who are suffering now. For them we should pray that they be kept safe, protected, and free.

Pray for our neighbors, both the hate-mongers (that love would fill them and change their actions) and for the oppressed.

What The Guardian’s Banned From Telling You

Reposting for great justice.

What The Guardian’s Banned From Telling You

This post was written by Owen on October 12, 2009
Posted Under: Civil Liberties, Media, News

Earlier this evening The Guardian was served with a gagging order forbidding it from reporting parliamentary business. To quote the article in the paper itself:

Today’s published Commons order papers contain a question to be answered by a minister later this week. The Guardian is prevented from identifying the MP who has asked the question, what the question is, which minister might answer it, or where the question is to be found.

The Guardian is also forbidden from telling its readers why the paper is prevented – for the first time in memory – from reporting parliament. Legal obstacles, which cannot be identified, involve proceedings, which cannot be mentioned, on behalf of a client who must remain secret.

The only fact the Guardian can report is that the case involves the London solicitors Carter-Ruck, who specialise in suing the media for clients, who include individuals or global corporations.

The right to report on what’s said and done in Parliament is traditionally seen as pretty fucking important in a democracy, so in an attempt to aid transparency, the Third Estate can exclusively report that the question is (probably) this one:

61 N: Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of legislation to protect (a) whistleblowers and (b) press freedom following the injunctions obtained in the High Court by (i) Barclays and Freshfields solicitors on 19 March 2009 on the publication of internal Barclays reports documenting alleged tax avoidance schemes and (ii) Trafigura and Carter-Ruck solicitors on 11 September 2009 on the publication of the Minton report on the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast, commissioned by Trafigura.

Trafigura, of course, is the company that was recently revealed to be not only dumping toxic waste into the sea near Ivory Coast, but also trying very hard to make sure no one found out. Why they and Carter Ruck would be so keen for this question not to be revealed I’m not sure, (especially as it’s clearly publicly available), but they have a history of this kind of behaviour.

All the questions due to be asked in Parliament from tomorrow (Tuesday) onwards can be found here, so feel free to have a browse through the rest of them – it’s possible I guessed wrong, though I think it’s unlikely. And please, please re-post this – the more places publish it, the harder it is to justify a gagging order and the worse Carter Ruck and Trafigura will look.

Edit: This guy found it too (and a bit sooner than me I think).

Edit edit: You can download a copy of the Minton Report, which Trafigura is so keen you don’t read, from Wikileaks here. (H/t Chicken Yoghurt)

Twitter for Community News

Twitter is one of those all-or-nothing phenomena that come around once in a while, so I won’t assume that you necessarily know all about it. Though a lot of people have been talking about Twitter, there is still a sizable portion of the population who have no interaction with social networking or media, let alone this particular site, so let me briefly summarize its services.

Introduction to Twitter (skip if you feel so compelled)

Twitter is a one-to-many messaging service confined to 140 characters, the same length as text messages sent from cell phones. People can follow you without your approval (unlike Facebook and Myspace, which require you to accept their “friendship”), which is part of what makes Twitter so good for marketing and communication. It’s easy to connect and requires little maintenance, and when you post a message, it shows up on the page of all your followers.

By the way, I specifically use the word “follow” because that is what Twitter uses. On launch, I have heard that it originally used “friends,” but later changed that because, honestly, who are they kidding? We’re not friends on Twitter, we just follow each other’s updates.

Twitter Search for News

I’ve employed Twitter Search a couple of times in the past to find out what was going on with a particular event, and the instant feedback it provides from other people is really… interesting. I can’t go so far as to say that it is always helpful, though.

Sometimes it is helpful, like last week when I was getting storm updates on the six tornados that were in our area. I didn’t have a TV available, and Twitter is way more responsive and fast than the news websites. In fact, if you can find a local reporter (as I did), you can get updates straight from the source as they roll in. I have also used Twitter to find out about Google outages, mail interruptions, and other major issues.

There are two negative aspects to this, though.

Fact-checking

When you are seeing news updates as they happen, you’re really getting information that hasn’t been verified or clarified. A good example of this from last week was the Twitter message, “OTC closed for the day” from @donwyatt. A few minutes later, he posted a clarification that it wasn’t their main campus, but a different one. I saw this throughout the day where something dramatic would be posted, and then later clarified because things weren’t quite as they seemed. “Roof collapsed, students trapped inside,” is technically accurate, but portrays the situation as somewhat different than it might actually be. ((The roof did collapse, for instance, and I think three students suffered minor injuries, but the rest were fine.))

Moreover, it’s hard to believe everything you see. I wanted up-to-the-second facts about the tornados, but I had trouble trusting everything I was reading on Twitter. Most of these people weren’t professionals, and even for the ones who were, they were just repeating what other people were calling in to the news room. What good is the news if it’s not trustworthy?

Limited scope

I don’t consider my town “small,” per se. I’ve been in small towns, and Springfield with its population of around 170,000 isn’t them. That being said, throughout the storm yesterday, I could only find about 5 people writing online about the storm, and one was a weather service bot. What’s more, if the issue at hand isn’t a major one that affects a lot of people, you won’t find anything. Combining a relatively minor event (say, a single car accident) with a small population of updaters and you’re unlikely to see anything on Twitter.

The problem with relying on Twitter for news is that Twitter users are a very, very small portion of the population. What’s more, they represent a different demographic than most people. Those who use Twitter extensively are still early adopters, in my opinion. This isn’t a service that has gone mainstream the way Facebook or Myspace has. It is being used by a lot of companies, a lot of news agencies, and a lot of writers and nerds, but I’m pretty sure my nieces and their friends aren’t on Twitter.

This means that you’re only going to get a certain take on events, a certain perspective, and you are most certainly not going to hear everythin. Due to not having many people posting, not that much can be covered. A news agency receiving calls and then posting them is one thing, and that’s helpful, but it’s still just a small cross-section of the community.

Full of potential

All that being said, it really made me wonder what else we could be using Twitter for. I really wished my neighbours used it and we had an agreed-upon hash tag ((A hash tag is attached to Twitter messages about a particular topic. You make these up as you go. The idea is that this creates a unique tag for which people can search to make filtering Twitter and finding updates on a specific topic easier. The hash tag for Springfield is #SGF, the same as our airport.)) so I could find out what was happening at home while I was stuck at work. The potential for community connections and up-to-the-second information sharing is huge.

Neighbourhood watches, announcing events, traffic issues, etc… there’s so much this could be used for, and that’s because it is such a simple service. It is simple enough to be applied in a wide variety of areas, but that’s only if you can get a lot of people to sign on and work together. If not everyone is using the Springfield hash tag, I have no way of finding their messages about Springfield. Similarly, if none of my neighbours use Twitter, I can’t search from work to see what’s happening in my home community.

In Conclusion

I hope it catches on more, but in the end, I use Twitter because I enjoy it and find it helpful. I’m not ready to become an evangelist for the service, and I’m certainly not going to go door-to-door trying to get people to sign up.

And while I will keep using it for news, I also recognize that I need to go back the next day and find out what actually happened. Short messages like those employed by Twitter are often referred to as “alerts,” and that’s just what they are. They let me know something is going on, and maybe a bit about it, but that’s never the whole story. It’s helpful, but only as a pointer. We still need to follow that lead and find the truth.

Updated – Why Chrome Concerns Me

Google has recently announced their web browser, Google Chrome, and while a variety of bloggers and news sites have begun reporting on and hypothesizing about Google’s motivation and the browser’s functionality, nobody seems to have any negative concerns regarding Chrome other than its competition with Mozilla Firefox. Some have shared their concern that this will kill Firefox as well as Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which is a fine concern to have, but one I think isn’t major. People who care more about privacy will look at Google’s continuous data mining and give Chrome a miss. Firefox will still be used, and it’s Open Source, so it’ll continue being developed (unless Google buys it…). But again, not my main issue.

My concern is where Google states that Chrome is more than a web browser. Rather, it’s “a modern platform for web pages and applications,” with the word application mentioned 5 times in three paragraphs there. While Mozilla Firefox uses Gecko as its application engine, Chrome will use Webkit (along with Safari and Konquerer), just as Google’s mobile operating system (Android) will use Webkit.

Application compatibility and development could certainly put a dent in Mozilla Firefox’s usage statistics, but more importantly, it sends up a red flag to me. I fear we’ll return to the lack of standardization that was a hallmark of the browser wars in the early to mid 90s. As webapps become more prevalent, I fear web developers will have to begin writing apps to be compatible with Gecko, Webkit, and Microsoft, and that’s simply ludicrous. We are finally achieving standardization when it comes to HTML, and with Javascript, PHP, and ASP we’ve got languages that are understood equally by all browsers.

With Google entering the browser wars and choosing Webkit, it appears that we are establishing a lack of standardization for the future, which bothers me. Moreover, as Google moves more towards web development, with their own web browser in place I fear that they will build something akin to Microsoft’s ActiveX, where their web applications will be even more advanced and powerful, but will require their web browser to achieve that full functionality. I am concerned that Chrome will encourage Google to create proprietary web applications.

Of course, they may stick to their creed of “Do No Evil,” and my concerns may be completely unfounded. But as Google gains more power and popularity, I wonder how far they can push the definition of “Good” before losing the favour of their users. Regardless, I’ll check out Chrome so I can support it, but I doubt I’ll be switching to it full time. I already give Google my email and contacts, but adding my browsing into that… I like to pretend to have at least a little bit of privacy.

Addendum:: Google Chrome is Open Source, as is Webkit, so it’s not like THE END OF THE WORLD if they develop stuff that’s Webkit-only. It would just make me a little sad, and be a step in the wrong direction, I would think. Unless Webkit became a standard (and I’m sure someone will make the argument that Mozilla could always switch from Gecko to Webkit), and no news or rumours have arisen yet that such a move is likely in the web development community… though with both Android and the iPhone using Webkit, it certainly wouldn’t be absurd for Webkit to become so prevalent it became a standard…

Regarding Privacy:: Another update, since I mentioned this earlier. Since I’m in meetings all day, I haven’t downloaded, installed, and tried Chrome yet, but CNet takes a closer look at the Terms of Service attached to Chrome. Of particular concern to me is:

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any content which you submit, post or display on or through, the services.

Since my own content is copylefted under Creative Commons, I don’t particularly like the idea of Google serving up my content in any sort of advertisement and potentially making money from it.

Buckle up, kids

As you might have heard, Missouri State came under attack yesterday. Apparently, though our crack news staff here in Springfield reported on the subject, a lot of people are still confused about what happened, which is essentially that… we came under attack.

From what I understand, someone tried to brute force the campus, which resulted in the same effects as a DoS attack. They were attempting to exploit a vulnerability in older versions of Symantec AntiVirus, of which there were only about 400 on campus (older versions, that is; we’ve got 5000+ computers, most of which are PCs with Symantec AV on them). Once one of those approximately 400 were compromised, a back door virus was installed that presumably allowed access for whomever the attacker was…

Which doesn’t really make sense. The best way to set up a back door exploit is quietly so you can use it over time to find what you actually want. There’s no way to draw more attention than by taking all our damned bandwidth, and guess what? Yeah, we realized it. Networking and MoreNET (our internet service provider) did a fantastic job and got us sufficiently locked down. In the meantime, I’ve spent the last two days updating antivirus clients for the core administration offices. (As did we all in User Support; it’s been a very busy two days.) I also finished the newsletter I’ve been working on for the last couple of weeks, which is quite pretty. It’s already online in PDF, but I should probably wait to link it until we’ve gone to print.

Got there at 7:20 this morning. Shawn and Britt came over to watch a movie tonight, which was awesomely good times, but I’m growing rather tired. Horizontalness, here I come.