Monthly Archives: August 2009

False Inconsistency

An AP piece, titled “STIMULUS WATCH: GOP opposes plan then seeks money“, implies that some Republicans politicians are inconsistent because they opposed Obama’s stimulus bill and yet petitioned to get some of the stimulus money to their constituents. The article implies that the mere action of opposing the stimulus bill combined with the mere action of advocating that some of the stimulus money be spent on certain projects (rather than others) is inconsistent. I could see how the rhetoric surrounding both actions could be inconsistent but the article does not go into that direction. Let me repeat myself, the implication is that if a politician opposed the bill but wanted the stimulus money to be spent in a certain way, then this is sufficient to show that the politician is inconsistent.

Well I guess it would sound convincing to someone who never had to manage anything substantial in their life. I think it is perfectly natural and wise to plan for contingencies. A politician could sincerely oppose the bill and yet at the same time sincerely plan for the money to be spent wisely if it so happens that the bill passes. It would actually be irresponsible to do otherwise. A politician’s constituents are not isolated from the effects of a bill because the politician who represents them opposed this bill. The politician should actually make representations so that if the bill passes, his constituents are served.

Now, this does not mean that there are not other opportunities for these politicians to be inconsistent, or to dissemble. If a congressman opposed the stimulus bill and then while campaigning for reelection later claims that a project which benefited from stimulus money owes this benefit to him, without further qualification, then this claim is a misrepresentation. Because then he would be hiding the fact that he initially opposed the bill. However, this scenario is absent from the AP article.

It troubles me to see this kind of sensationalist journalism published. It troubles me even more when people believe it. It fuels a kind of knee-jerk mentality. This is a mentality which divides the world in well delimited and static polar opposites: us vs them, good vs bad. This is a mentality which seeks reassurance of its own worth. This is a mentality which can never be surprised but has already decided the outcome of all situations.

Let’s keep in touch!

Recently, I’ve stumbled upon this little piece of wisdom: “stop pretending that you are going to keep in touch with someone if you don’t really mean it.” The context of this advice was when you run into old schoolmates or workmates, chat for 2 minutes and then exclaim: “let’s keep in touch.”

I find myself in agreement with this advice.  When someone tells me “let’s keep in touch”, I take the statement at face value: that person really intends to keep in touch.   Now, I realize that people often say things they do not mean.   They say things like “Wow! I love your new hairdo.” while thinking “Who’s your hairdresser?  A ferret?”  So it is quite likely that “let’s keep in touch” is a socially appropriate thing to say but that there is no real intent behind it.  As likely as it may be, that’s not the way I take it.  I take it as an expression of real intent.

I’m not the kind of guy who readily keeps in touch with people. So I’d find it dishonest on my part to let the person who says “let’s keep in touch” believe that there’s any substantial probability that we will, in fact, keep in touch.  So my reply to “let’s keep in touch” is usually to point out how in actuality it is unlikely to happen.  And then the reaction I get is similar to the one I’d get if I had just said “away from me, you leper!”

Unscrupulous people stealing financial information

When it comes to securing the data I have on my computers, I take the task seriously. I use Ubuntu and Windows on my laptop.  The Ubuntu installation is fully encrypted.  There’s a performance hit but I feel pretty sure that if my laptop is ever stolen or lost or needs service by a third party, I won’t be at risk of getting sensitive information stolen.  The Windows side is not (yet) encrypted but I do not use Windows intensively or for sensitive tasks so I’m not very worried about that.

Now, when I talk to other people about this, I’m told that I’m paranoid.  If I’m not keeping porn on my laptop, I have nothing to worry about.  If my laptop is stolen, no one will take time to look for banking information.  The techs who perform service are interested searching for porn, not financial details.  Basically, I’m told I’m worrying for nothing. (Now, logically-minded readers will have figured out that the flip side of this bad reasoning is that if I do worry about people snooping through my hard disk, then it means I must have porn on there.)

Well, well, it turns out that a Sky News undercover investigation that technicians do indeed look for financial information on the laptop they service and they try to use it to break into banking accounts.  OMG!  Who would have thunk?

The solution against unscrupulous technicians is to give them a clean drive: a drive which contains no sensitive information.  My point here is not that encryption is the solution but that unscrupulous people are indeed after your financial information.  Encryption is part of the arsenal of tools to protect against that.