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Post-Modern Electioneering: Back to the Future

09-Feb-17 08:11 am EDT Leave a comment
Robyn Urback | Columnist

Robyn Urback Columnist

Written in response to CBC News: “Millennials finally fall out of love with Justin Trudeau after he abandons electoral reform: Opinion by Robyn Urback

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s a member of the vaunted (yes and cynical) Generation-X, I’ve got to just roll my eyes once more….. Millennials are doing precisely what the generations before have done as youth – not voted as a block….at least – not for long.

But if there is really a block here to be won (and – let’s be clear – there isn’t), it would be easy to take yesteryear successes and use ’em again. We need more IT staffers (like me!) to explore service industries like software development or network engineering. And offering a bit of money for vocational training here (alongside some success stories) would really go a long way toward making up for lost ground on the FPP voting fiasco. Trudeau, God bless him, should’ve known better than to try saying “well we tried, but you know in government – you can’t always do what you thought you could before being elected” routine. Even if you believe it, it’s kind of a crappy reason to go back to the public with.

The real worry I have isn’t the loss of some fictionalized Millennial solidarity. It’s the potential for cross-demographic populism and fascism to take hold in this country! And while O’Leary isn’t Trump, maybe the best we can hope for it the short term is that fascism will pass us by and that Trudeau’s over-promise, under-deliver showing so far somehow reverses itself the more experience he gets as our Prime Minister.

I’m about the same age as he is – but it’s obvious to me while he might be better at leading the country than I’d be….his father he is not. And there is plenty for him to learn yet!

Doomsday Clock: It is now 2 minutes before midnight!

30-Jan-17 07:30 am EDT Leave a comment
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efore I had entered high school (back in the late 1970’s), I can remember the periodic ominous warnings of the world’s “Doomsday Clock” scientific group.  And I was greatly relieved (as I’m sure we all were) when the pressures of a looming nuclear apocalypse seemed to disappear with the collapse of communism in what is now called “The Russian Federation”.  We got all the way back to 15 minutes before midnight (or just about) and then with the rise of terrorism it started to creep back toward midnight again.

So now it almost seems shocking to hear the clock is nearly as close as it’s ever been to midnight (surpassed only by periods of extreme political tension when nuclear war between Russia and the U.S. seemed an ever-present threat)!  Last week’s article on the subject is worth a read as is taking a moment for each of us to reflect on what we can do to save our planet.  At the moment, things are looking especially apocalyptic again — climate change, the rise of fascism, threats of war on multiple fronts (as was pointed out over the weekend by the last President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev)…we need to stop allowing apathy and mediocre leadership to drive us all over a cliff.

 

 

 

Police Requests for New Internet Powers Could Cost You Big

19-Nov-16 07:29 pm EDT Leave a comment

datalegislation

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anada’s CBC (a leading media and news organization in the country) promoted a story this past week concerning a very public request to the senior politicians for greater investigative powers.  This was followed by a poll that showed a degree of support for the police requests – seemingly predicated on a desire to curb child pornography among other crimes.  While civil libertarians and technology professionals raised the alarm on hearing this request, there was only limited consideration given to the cost of granting powers of this sort to police – tied largely to the cost of potentially onerous data warehousing by ISPs.  (As a footnote here, I want to cite the case of the UK which, this past week, saw Parliament enact legislation that would be largely in-line with the kinds of legislative change the RCMP would like to see enacted here in Canada.)

“Two parliamentary committees examined this issue.  Then there was the unanimous Supreme Court [of Canada] decision.  What part of ‘unconstitutional’ doesn’t [RCMP] Commissioner Paulson understand?”

Michael Harris, iPolitics.ca, November 25, 2016

Privacy and Internet Commerce

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anadians (and people generally) can still be very reluctant to share their personal information online.  A recent website delivered by The AppRefactory — the Edgewater Tenants’ Community Website — has been off to something of a slow start with the administration fielding questions about why an end-user’s address is needed as part of the signup process.  This is done with the awareness and limited support from the property management company that acts as the landlord which has data about every tenant’s address, yet that same information is not so readily volunteered when it takes digital form.  The information in this case is used to simply verify that an end-user signup request is for a tenant as opposed to some random user from the Internet; in order to ensure that any information a tenant elects to access or share on the site is kept within the tenant community only.  As such it is a measure intended to protect tenant privacy, but there can still be reluctance about sharing it.

This is just an example of how users have adapted over the years to safeguard their privacy.  Yet now the police want measures taken by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to circumvent privacy to such a degree that they will never again be aware of who exactly has access to their information.  (We saw in another article posted this past week how police could access computer records without appropriate authorization or authority.)  And should police officers once again demonstrate how human they can be and make a mistake, suddenly the information they’ve been entrusted with is available to parties unknown.

Such cases, once known to the public (as they will tend to be, thanks to our free press), could easily put end-users further on the defensive about their information.  And, despite poll results suggesting some support for increased police powers, there remains the likelihood the average person in Canada (which, historically, tends to be a person that trusts police authority) hasn’t thought the issue through very thoroughly and certainly not technically.  The regime Canadians will be confronted with, whatever their decision about the powers police should have online, could easily be one business is less well-able to thrive in and would find it harder to operate in without being less able to solicit end-user consent and confidence meaningfully.

And they wouldn’t know it until it really was too late.

New Powers Add Onerous Burdens on All Business (Not Just ISPs)

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he legislation in the UK does not specifically distinguish nor give license to ISPs to operate or grant any special legal distinction to them apart from providers of Internet-facing services generally.  As such it would seem to stand as a matter of law that anyone providing Internet-facing services could be compelled to maintain logs concerning end-user activity.  From a technical perspective, the law wouldn’t be all that meaningful if it couldn’t extend, for example, to providers of Virtual Private Network (VPN) services which are frequently used to both secure corporate communications online as well as anonymize network access to  BitTorrent media sharing sites or “Deep Web” network traffic.

msazurelogoSo the law must apply to businesses using the Internet equally (or at least be seen to apply as such).  And how will the small business be impacted when they’re suddenly required to maintain a database documenting (as the RCMP want) up to two years of end-user activity?  One approach we could use would be to use Microsoft Azure’s service calculator to take a service that uses a very modest 5GB of data monthly to track data transfer activity for a service, numbering just 10,000 transactions.  Without any service connections, charging just for the storage of table-based data only, we get an added cost of $409.00 per month, including a $364.00 Standard Support feature on local redundancy only.  (Nothing could immediately be found on legislative requirements for backing up this data, but a vendor support feature seemed logical to imagine in this scenario.)  That’s a not-so-inconsiderable $4,900 per year and is getting pricey for the average small business.

Now if you run a big business, things get interesting: scaled up to 5TB of data and 1 million transactions, the costs at the same level of support (with local redundancy only) balloon out to $5,223.68 per month or a whopping $62,684.16 per year.

These costs are certainly something to consider when it comes to determining who is paying for all this extra monitoring.  One thing is clear, it won’t be coming out of the RCMP’s budget!

And although this is the costs according to one vendor, it is an industry leader in a space oft-credited with reducing the costs associated with maintaining large warehouses of data (a main selling point behind “the cloud” movement).  One shudders to think how much more onerous these costs could become if one is required by law to maintain hardware and software of their own, in a facility that is solely under their own control.

Final Analysis: Restrain Police Powers Online

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ith passage of the UK legislation this past week, the Government of Canada may be best-advised to stay the course for now and weigh its options again at a later date if it chooses.  While I suspect both in the wake of Brexit and their now police powers law (called the “Investigatory Powers Bill”) will lead the UK (and England in particular) into a self-made socio-economic crisis, there remains the question as to what exactly the impact of their measures will have.  The opportunity here isn’t to regulate early and hopefully stop child sexual abuse — a cause I’m very sympathetic to and have even had occasion to assist police with.  Rather, it’s to gain the wisdom about whether the impacts of these measures will simply drive it further underground or make a meaningful difference (as opposed to being an issue cited simply as a political red herring to grant powers that will be used for other purposes).  To discover whether the economic impact is too burdensome.  And to learn comprehensively if there will be the promised ‘greater good’ worthy of the limits a free and democratic society — a just society — places on itself and its citizens.

Facebook Move May Cause Greater Secrecy About Data (Ab)Use

08-Nov-16 04:04 pm EDT Leave a comment
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ata use in violation of Facebook’s licensing agreement for developers has prompted the company to intervene to halt distribution of an insurance industry app that would have used end-user data (shared by consent) to track social media behaviour and qualify some for discounts on insurance rates.  Facebook claims it has a policy to prohibit such use — but the move raises questions around privacy and whether or not Facebook acted in its own interests; possibly masking a hidden intent to mentize similar apps later itself.  Regardless, one consequence is likely: nothing stops an app developer from not disclosing the true intent behind acquiring user data nor even offering a misleading or untrue rationale for data capture.  This could simply mean England’s “Admiral Insurance” is last case of this kind we hear about.

For more information, see the attached segment from Canada’s CBC News:

We’re Baaaaaack……

23-Aug-16 04:47 pm EDT Leave a comment
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ue to certain issues with the “free” WordPress/IIS host I’d previously been using on and off for the past couple of years, I’ve ended my experimental hosting experience and returned here after all.  A couple of minor articles were deleted — but nothing too critical.

So I’ll resume in the weeks ahead posting here on articles of interest mostly to me, but perhaps to some of you out there as well. 😉  Hope the summer is going well for all!

Ezra’s Error

14-Sep-14 06:27 pm EDT Leave a comment
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Ezra Levant in a typical pose.

Ezra Levant in a typical pose.

bsent context, the Canadian political right has cultivated a new stereotype for itself in the last two decades.  Led astray in the wake of the Great Conservative Cataclysm (the deed of former Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney via Schreibergate), provocateur pundits like Ezra Levant have a new favourite tactic: to use character assassination and innuendo to shape political fortunes when the strength of goals and ideas can’t be found.

And in today’s Sun News’ “Straight Talk” column, a renewed drumbeat of criticism and dogma handed those of us who have a vein somewhere on our foreheads that thirsted to be-a-throbbin’.  Brought to us by way of Twitter: @SunNewsNetwork writes “Trudeau opposes revoking the citizenship of Canadians suspected of being involved in terrorism,” inviting readers to Ezra’s article and another poll that the neocons can use to erode liberties a little further, no doubt.

Funny how the right never seems particularly interested in getting at the truths comprising an issue and instead revert to wordplay masquerading as an unbiased poll (we’re supposed to ignore the leading nature of the question — after all, you don’t want to support terrorism do you?) which then somehow gets quoted in Question Period, in campaign literature or one of those helpful automated phone calls made during dinner.  The article itself turns out to be a tissue of quotes taken completely out of context; and you know there’s some constituency out there inhaling this stuff like a crack addict.  But how bad can it possibly be?  Surely there aren’t that many of ‘em out there…  Oh yah, this is the group running the government right now.

Uh oh!

Yes, there actually are enough people swallowing this stuff hook, line and sinker or people like Ezra wouldn’t have a job, and Harper wouldn’t be Prime Minister.  But Trudeau didn’t say Communist China was his favourite foreign country — it was just China, and he spent a bit of time there earlier in his life. Yes, you can favour decriminalization of drugs without advocating everyone should get high more often!  And taking quotes completely out of context and asking “Pardon?” as if it was Trudeau that didn’t make any sense instead of Ezra himself: this is just not supporting a political view centered on facts, reality or truth.

I don’t know how I will get through the next year if I have to watch the country come unravelled because Conservative politicians using vague ad hominem references, McCarthyist innuendo about views pursuing innocent political debate, or — I swear to God — one more tissue of lies published by Ezra Levant simply because he’s anxious to engage in another inflammatory, disingenuous diatribe on Liberal campaign issues (which aren’t published just yet).

Ezra, if the truth really will hurt the Liberals so much when they go public with their campaign, why are you slithering about the nether regions of what passes for Canada’s political theatre conjuring up demons?  Why not cling to whatever integrity as a journalist you have left and simply await this field day of yours, smiling patiently?  Reducing the political discourse to the degree you do really is bad for the country!

NASA: ⅔ of Earth’s Ice Cap Now Gone!

28-Aug-14 08:35 am EDT Leave a comment
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lthough headed for a low, but not the usual “record low” year of ice loss, NASA has now been able to assemble the available evidence and state definitively that our tiny, blue planet is in the final stages of losing the northern arctic ice cap completely.  A video released on Space.com this morning shows Dr. Thomas Wagner of NASA HQ, Washington, DC discussion various aspects of the NASA’s ARISE mission and the means by which the supporting data was acquired.

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The report is of serious concern, of course.  But I find it pretty remarkable just how incredibly fast the artic ice cap has, first, disintegrated and then virtually melted away.  The only good news in the piece was that the shrinkage this year isn’t a record low….but that doesn’t mean the overall trend (being year-over-year record loss) has terminally halted.  My guess would be that it could be an indicator things might have started to slow down slightly — but it’s too little, too late as far as the arctic ice cap is concerned.

Next, I suspect we’ll be hearing about he subarctic cap disappearing completely.  And…I now wonder if any of it will be left by 2020!

Terry Glavin

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