Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Fighting the Phishers

 We've all gotten them - the phishes.  The email about a purchase on your Amazon account that doesn't exist, with a link that doesn't lead to Amazon.  And others.  Now they've found my cell phone number and they're texting me with phishes.  In the last 2 days I've gotten 2 texts that claimed to be about my EBT card.  (For the non-Californians - EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer; and an EBT card is basically a debit card you can use to buy food.  It's also called CalFresh, and SNAP, and it's food stamps.  I don't have one.)

Well, at the end of the '90s, I was working in the data center of a major bank, and I was the team lead of the group that set up the bank's first SMTP server, which allowed email exchanges with the rest of the internet.  I saw the first phishes develop, lousy spelling and all.  I've watched them get weirder, but there's always something that isn't right.  In the texts about my EBT card (which doesn't exist), the phone number to call was not the phone number you get when you go to the EBT site.  

I decided to be a good citizen and make sure they knew they were being phished, so I called the real number and waded through the menus until I got a human.  When I told her, you're being phished, she said grimly, "We know."  (If you look at their main page, there's a big "Beware of Scams" notice.)  So I said, OK, I just wanted to make sure you knew, and I hope you catch the bastards.  

There was a brief pause, and she answered in the least "official" tone you could imagine, "You are so right, sister, and I hope they put them underneath the jail!"

I hope I made her day.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

King Charles III

 Queen Elizabeth II is dead, God rest her; and her son Charles Philip Arthur George reigns as King Charles III.  

Why does that name bother me?  He could have decided to use any of his names; his grandfather, George VI, was called Albert Frederick Arthur George, and chose to reign as George.  So if Charles Philip Arthur George chooses to reign as Charles III, why not?  Who was Charles II?  For that matter, who was Charles I?  

I warn you, succession to the British throne depended on primogeniture (who is the eldest legitimate child - a son, for preference; daughters only succeed if there are no sons).  So this gets really complicated.  I've gotten all these details from Wikipedia.

When Queen Elizabeth I died without issue in 1603, the Tudor royal family was extinguished, and the next family with an actual claim to the throne was the Stuarts, represented by James VI of Scotland (1567-1625).  He added the title James I of England and Ireland when he succeeded (1603-1625).  

James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots and her King Consort, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who had a claim to the English throne through a grandmother, Queen Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England.  And when James VI and I died in 1625, his oldest surviving son Charles succeeded him as Charles I.

Charles I (1625-1649) was born in Scotland but moved to England after his father inherited the throne.  His reign was tumultuous and relatively short - he believed firmly in the divine right of kings, and he argued with the English Parliament almost immediately.  For one thing, he believed he could impose taxes without consulting Parliament.  He also married a Catholic (Parliament was heavily Puritan), although he supported High Anglican clerics.  He went to war with Parliament's New Model Army (look up Oliver Cromwell), lost a couple of times, and was tried, convicted, and executed for treason in January 1649.

We've all just learned that the crown passes to the heir immediately on the king or queen's death.  But not in this case; the country was at war.  Charles II was proclaimed King of Scotland by the Scottish Parliament on 5 February 1649.  There was no King of England and Ireland during the period called the Interregnum or English Commonwealth, which was a de facto republic led by Oliver Cromwell.  

Charles II lost the Battle of Worcester to Cromwell on 3 September 1651 and ran to the Continent, spending the next 9 years in exile in the coastal countries facing Britain.  Cromwell died in 1658, producing a political crisis that led to the restoration of the monarchy and an invitation to Charles II to return and rule, which he did.  He was 30.  He ruled until he died in 1685, quarrelling regularly with Parliament about religion, especially after his brother James became a Catholic. He left no legitimate children (but at least 12 illegitimate!).

That was the end of the Charleses, and pretty much of the Stuart dynasty.  James II succeeded his brother Charles in February 1685 and was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, mainly because he was Catholic and had just had a son, which meant he could found a Catholic dynasty.  In 1688 Parliament invited William of Orange (a Protestant grandson of England's Charles I, married to James II's eldest daughter) to invade, which led to James eventually settling in France and William and his wife Mary taking over the throne by invitation, after a not very serious battle.  Neither one lived very long and they were succeeded by Anne, James' youngest daughter) for about 5 years.

But the Stuart dynasty produced one more Charles, who tried to become Charles III in the 1760s:  Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.  He didn't do very well at it but he made a lot of noise.  Just read the Wikipedia article.

At this point I'll quit listing kings.  In 1714, after Queen Anne's death, the House of Hanover was invited to the throne, because the Elector of Hanover was married to the granddaughter of James I and VI and heiress presumptive to the throne.  Believe it or not, the Hanovers are still on the throne.  Queen Victoria was in the Hanover line; the family name changed to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha when she married Prince Albert of that house.  And yes, it's still there - Saxe-Coburg-Gotha became Windsor in 1917, by royal proclamation.  In 1917 it was a little embarrassing for the royal house of Britain to have a German family name.  So King Charles III is of the house of Windsor, once upon a time Hanover.  

But every time I see "King Charles III", I think of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  I wish the new King Charles III better luck than the Bonnie Prince had.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

I Can't Understand Why He's Not Behind Bars

I love the conversations I get into when I'm waiting for something - in this case for a shot, at Kaiser's injection clinic Monday.  (What shot?  None of your business.)  The clinic has a set of chairs to wait in, you only stand in line to register; I started talking to the nice woman in the next chair.  After some brief political rumbles about The Former Guy (we agreed about him), she leaned over and whispered that to me.

I have to agree with her - with everything he's done, he should be in jail, or at least under indictment.  But I do understand why he isn't.

First of all, America has never (thank God!) had a president who behaved like that.  Who assumed that the rules, the laws, didn't apply to him.  (The attempts to declare the 2020 election invalid.)  Who assumed everything in his vicinity belonged to him.  (The multiple boxes of paperwork that should never have been moved to Mar-A-Lago.)  He breaks the conventions and the laws with such aplomb that your first response is, "What the hell?"  It's taken a while for all of us to realize just how bad it is.

But he's used to getting away with stuff, and he always has lawyers in his service who are happy to delay and argue and put things off until everyone gives up.  (Given how he tends not to pay people if they don't get the results he wants, I don't know why they work for him, but they do.)  Also, if he ever goes to a trial, there may be people on the jury who approve of him.  So any case against him has to be absolutely solid - iron clad and proven.  Unarguable.  I believe that's why Merrick Garland's Justice Department is taking its cautious time building the case - because they can't lose this case.  I genuinely believe that if He Whom I Will Not Name is elected president again, we can kiss democracy and the rule of law goodbye.  And I think Mr. Garland knows that.

The founders who wrote the U.S. Constitution built a government that assumed all educated men of good will (that's who they thought would be in government) understood the rules of behavior, the checks and balances, that were laid out in it.  They never in their lives imagined a man like this - who is not educated, who has good will only for himself, who doesn't think he has to obey anything or anyone, and particularly who cannot bear to lose.  

I wonder who would now be Attorney General if Merrick Garland had been appointed to the Supreme Court in 2016.

Monday, July 04, 2022

I Spit On You

 The message in the title is directed to certain members of the Supreme Court of the United States.  SCOTUS has thrown out the Roe vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal at the federal level for 50 years.  And now that the federal protection is gone, state after state is moving to eliminate abortion entirely. 

This is going to kill women.  Lots of women, especially poor and black women.  Women who already have 3 or 5 kids and can't afford to feed any more.  

This decision was made by 5 men and a woman.  I am appalled that a woman could do that to her sisters; but I understand she belonged to a patriarchal sect which believed that women should obey men.  Hence the betrayal - she did what the men wanted.

Full disclosure:  I don't have a dog in this fight.  Yes, hedera is a woman, but I'm well past menopause, and I won't ever have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy.  I'm not affected here.  But I feel for the women who can't afford the contraceptives, who can't afford to feed one more kid, who are underage and can't have a child without blowing away the education that would allow them to feed and clothe it.

The current majority on the Supreme Court is working on eliminating the 19th and 20th centuries, and throwing the U.S. back to the 18th century, when only landowning white men could vote, and women were their husbands' chattel property - along with the black slaves who served both of them.  And nobody who wasn't a heterosexual white male had any rights at all.  Am I overstating?  I don't think so.  Clarence Thomas has already suggested eliminating the court decisions that allowed gay sex, gay marriage, and contraception!

With all that in mind, I repeat my initial statement to the 6 judges of SCOTUS who did this:  I spit on you.  You are a disgrace to your office.

I except the three dissenters.  I do not spit on them; I thank them for their courage.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Guns and Originalists

More mass shootings.  More discussions of gun control.  More worries about it, because a judge recently upheld upheld a California law which would ban the sale of semiautomatic rifles to persons under 21 but was overruled by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, on the "originalist" assumption that "the arming of young adults is a tradition dating to the nation's founding."  This produced an absolutely reasonable letter to the editor a few days later in which the writer made the following arguments:

When the Second Amendment was written, most young people lived in rural areas and had to defend themselves against wild animals and roving bands of marauders, as well as having to hunt for food. Those in the more urban coastal cities had to worry about British invaders. Many had to provide their own weapons to serve in the militia.

Thank you, Joseph Chance of Emeryville; you're perfectly right. But you left out some other important differences between guns in the late 18th century and now.  I found all this information in an interesting site called NCPedia, a North Carolina historical site - I've linked it, and will now summarize what it says.  But do go read it.

In the 18th century, European militaries used muskets.  The British, being the ones we were fighting, used a musket they called a Brown Bess; but all muskets were alike.  The NCPedia site links a video showing how to fire a musket.  They were not rifles because the barrel wasn't rifled.  They weighed 10 pounds.  A 75 caliber musket had a barrel 3/4" in diameter and it could shoot anything smaller than that.  They had no sights.  You just pointed and pulled the trigger.  It was meant to fire at a rank of men, standing next to each other, shooting at you.  Also, you can load a musket in about eight seconds.

American settlers generally used flintlock rifles, although the British had made them illegal.  Rifles had (of course) rifled barrels (which spins the bullet and makes it fly straight), and sights - you could aim them at something and probably hit it.  Or him - that's why the British said they would hang any man caught with a rifle.  The Americans tended to aim at officers, and medics, not just the front rank.

Here's my point:  It takes two to three minutes to load a flintlock.  It was designed for hunting, not fighting.  And it has a lot of moving pieces.  At this point I strongly recommend you go to the site - Firing a musket: 18th-century small arms | NCpedia - and read the section labeled, How a flintlock works, because I couldn't possibly tell it as well as the man who wrote the article.  He does this sort of thing to educate people.

Having absorbed this very brief summary of the guns that were around when the Second Amendment was written, I now urge you to stop a minute and think about modern semi-automatic rifles.  These are not the same as those old rifles, and they don't require anything like the skill and experience it took to shoot a flintlock.  Any idiot can fire a modern semi-automatic, and a lot of idiots do.  Which is why the originalist argument that modern 18 year olds should be able to buy automatic rifles because 18th century 18 year olds had rifles is ridiculous.  Two of the 3 appeals court judges in this ruling were appointed by Donald Trump.  The third was a temporary on assignment from New York, appointed by Bill Clinton.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Because We Say So - Marijuana

Full disclosure:  I don't use marijuana.  I tried it once in college and was not impressed.  I also don't smoke cigarettes; with my tendency toward asthma, I don't like inhaling smoke.  And I no longer drink alcohol.  So I have no stake in this.

But I have always wondered:  why is it, that people can buy and consume booze and cigarettes with no issues, but for decades, if they bought marijuana, they were setting themselves up for arrest and possible prison.  It's not the addictive properties; as far as I know, pot isn't addictive, and alcohol and tobacco are.  Too much alcohol, too much tobacco, will kill you; even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration admits that “No death from overdose of marijuana has been reported.”  I've lost at least 3 relatives to entirely legal tobacco use.

A very interesting post by Becky Little on history.com (Why the US Made Marijuana Illegal) confirms what I remember reading elsewhere.  In the 19th century ("at least since the 1830s"), marijuana was a normal part of the medical pharmacy.  It has real medicinal uses; we've determined recently that it can help with epileptic seizures.  I've seen boxes in museums that were used by 19th century ship's doctors; they have a partition for marijuana.  This was a normal medical tool.  You could buy it in a pharmacy.  And yet, between 1916 and 1931, 29 states outlawed marijuana; and the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (they couldn't even spell it) banned it nationwide, in the face of objections from the American Medical Association!

Given all our recent discussions of systemic racism, I concluded that it was banned in the '30s because it was a drug largely used by people of color - I was thinking about the Harlem Renaissance in the '20s.  I was right about the systemic racism, but wrong about which people of color.  According to Ms. Little, during and after the Mexican Revolution in 1910, a lot of Mexicans immigrated to the United States.  These Mexicans smoked marijuana to get high, and they terrified the good people of the United States, who didn't understand people who were too poor to drink booze to get high.

This has been fully written up by Eric Schlosser in his book Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, but I have to share some of the details because they are hilarious - and sad.  The Texas police apparently believed that marijuana incited violent crimes (it doesn't), including a "lust for blood" (ditto), and that it gave people "superhuman strength" (no, it doesn't do that either).  But people were additionally terrified by a 1936 movie (?!) called Reefer Madness, which warned parents that drug dealers would invite their teenagers to jazz parties and get them hooked on “reefer.”  The Marihuana Tax Act passed the next year, and the feds and the states continued to increase punishments for the substance until the people they were arresting morphed into upper-middle-class white college students, in the late 1960s.

Marijuana is now legal in California, and in a number of other states; and so it should be.  I know people who use cannabidiol for medical conditions, especially cancer treatments.  It's still illegal at the federal level.  

We banned the use of marijuana because we didn't like or understand the people who used it, because they didn't look like us or speak our language, and in spite of the fact that we knew the substance was medically useful.  How stupid was that?  Let's eliminate the Federal ban and go back to the 19th century, but with better technology.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Education in Texas

 One of the people I follow on Facebook is Heather Cox Richardson, a political historian who writes interesting posts about current events.  She wrote one yesterday (10-16-21) on a new Texas law which requires teachers to "present opposing views on controversial subjects." Like racism. And the Holocaust. That's right, Texas teachers may be expected to present "both sides" of the Holocaust. I didn't think the Holocaust had another side, unless you are a Nazi who believes in Aryan superiority - aka white superiority.

Worse, Texas has passed a bill on Critical Race Theory (S.B. 3), which will go into effect in December, laying out exactly what should be taught about what we used to call civics: "the fundamental moral, political, and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government; the history, qualities, traditions, and features of civic engagement in the United States; the structure, function, and processes of government institutions at the federal, state, and local levels.” This new law essentially limits the study of these things to certain specific documents and people.

I don't want to quote her entire essay, it's quite long, but if you are on Facebook, look it up. We should all read it.

What blew me away were the items and people who may not be taught: the writings of George Washington! Anything about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings! The history of Native Americans and of "founding mothers and other founding persons!" Frederick Douglass! I could go on. It essentially restricts the history of the U.S. and its government to the brilliant deeds of a few white men, leaving out anything that might make white men look bad. Like systemic racism, and genocide of Native Americans, and the fact that until the 20th century, married women were essentially their husbands' property.

I stewed about this all morning - really. History is important to me. If we don't know how we got here, how do we know where we're going? And facts are important to me - if you don't know all the facts, you make wrong decisions. But as I stewed, something occurred to me.

These legislators have forgotten the Internet. (Based on observation of various elected bodies, many of the people elected barely know how to send email.) Many of the kids whose education they want to warp have access to the Internet, and know how to use Google, especially after the last year and a half of virtual learning. If you know how to ask the questions, the Internet will tell you anything you want to know, whether the State of Texas likes it or not. I encourage myself that at least some Texas kids may start wondering about what was left out, and asking the questions.