The Misadventures of Quinxy truths, lies, and everything in between!

24Aug/120

How You Define ‘Rare’ Depends on your Politics. The Todd Akin Mathematics.

Asked by a reporter if he supported abortion in the case of rape, Congressman Todd Akin replied with his now infamous quote:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

In those few sentences Congressman Akin managed to offend in not just one but three very different ways:

  • He implies that there are legitimate and non-legitimate rapes.
  • He claims that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare.
  • He doesn't seem to emphasize punishment.

And while most of the political world was quick to shun him, with even his closest allies calling for him to drop his bid for re-election, I can't help but feel annoyed by the mindlessly reactionary responses.  I'm no friend to Republicans, I disagree with most of the claimed conservative values, but I am no more a friend to the Democrats and progressives when they seem unable to look at things rationally and instead seek refuge behind politically correct positions and chants.

I don't think most congressmen belong in congress, and I see no reason to think any differently of Congressman Akin, but that doesn't mean I find his statements worse than they are.

Let's take a look at Congressman Akin's offenses in turn.

Legitimate Rapes

Congressman Akin's statement about legitimate rapes does certainly imply there must exist illegitimate rapes.  Most of the furor surrounding this quote seems to rest on this point.  But while I understand that his statement could suggest the disgustingly archaic viewpoint that women invite, allow, or invent almost all of the sexual assault they report, it seems far more reasonable to imagine he meant only to exclude those who fit this last criteria.  A congressman could make a statement like, "If it's a legitimate robbery then this bill will force the insurance companies to pay up."  without anyone getting even remotely upset.  It acknowledges the existence of the same phenomena, false reporting of a crime.  His poorly phrased statement seems to be trying to address his response at the (majority of) cases where rape was not falsely claimed.

The reality is that some percentage of all reported crimes are wholly false, the alleged criminal act did not occur at all.  The heinous crime of rape is not immune to this deceit.  A few studies have been done to try to determine what percentage of rapes are false but to date there are no universally accepted statistics.  Frequently mentioned statistics seem to range anywhere from 2% to 12%.  The most common figure I've seen on sites supporting women's causes is roughly 6%.  The Violence Against Women journal included a study based on a thorough review of college rape investigations and puts the number of false allegations at 5.9%, as mentioned in this blog entry of the title False Rape Allegations Are Rare.  I've seen many quotes from people on the left saying exactly the same thing, that false claims of rape are "rare".  "Rare" is the key word here, as they are applying it to something which they agree happens roughly 6% of the time.

The phrase "illegitimate rape" should clearly never be uttered because it offends and is taken with historical context to de-legitimize those who have been raped.  But we must as honest men and women acknowledge that a small percentage of rape claims are not true, and must allow others to acknowledge this fact as well, and be able to refer to them in discussion, even when it involves charged topics like abortion.  We cannot simply shout down our adversaries for poor phraseology, those are the chief argumentation tactics of the Rush Limbaughs and the Howard Sterms.

As an aside, I was stunned when I first learned that ~6% of rape accusations were wholly false.  The figure is touted by women as a positive, as though the number was impressively low, which is likely because of the historical context of the public apparently believing that most rape allegations are false.  But I grew up assuming that 99.9% of rape allegations were true, not comprehending that anyone could or would make up such a thing, and so for me to discover that 6% were false was shocking and vastly more than I would have ever imagined.  

Pregnancies from Rapes are Rare

Congressman Akin's claim that women's bodies have some mechanism by which it can prevent unwanted fertilization of an egg is not supported by science or medicine.  While many wish to see it as an evil statement, born of a desire to blame the woman should she become pregnant, such an explanation is not required.  It may be plain but unremarkable ignorance.

What I find most infuriating about the anger at Todd Akin is that it suggests that all those condemning him know so very much better, and I am very sure most of them do not!  Those pillorying him may assume better, may have guessed better, or may just know better how to toe the politically correct party line, but very likely most of them are no more scientifically or medically informed or grounded.

Considering first exactly what he said we find rank hypocrisy coming from many of his accusers.  His claim (leaving out for a moment his incorrect explanation) is that pregnancy as a result of rape is rare.  And in that he is correct if we use the definition of "rare" that all those who are most vitriolic towards Akin are.  Various studies have strongly suggested that 5 - 8% of women who are raped become pregnant as a result.  If we consider that many advocates for women argue that false rape accusations are rare at 6% then surely we would expect them to consider pregnancy as a result of pregnancy at 5-8% to be a similarly rare occurrence.  If they did, however, this aspect of Congressman Akin's comment would not be worth mentioning.  To have useful discussions and dialogue we must be consistent in our use and interpretation of language, to make language or math political is idiocy.

But let's look at his erroneous explanation of why pregnancy from rape is rare.  Taken at its core his statement requires that women are less likely to become pregnant as a result of rape than consensual sex.  On this point he seems proven entirely wrong, studies have only suggested the opposite.  But his (and others') expectation that rape would be less likely to produce pregnancy is easily explained, logical, and almost certainly the common belief until recent studies began to show otherwise.  There are many objective reasons to suspect rape would be less likely to result in pregnancy.  I am sure most of his attackers are no better read on the available studies than he was.  As such, lets consider not his logic, which apparently depended on only one particular doctor's viewpoint, but on the overall expectation which exists to draft most people's expectations.  Included in these facts:

  • Rapists often do not ejaculate.  While exact numbers are hard to come by I saw some things which said that only 10% of the time was semen recoverable from rape victims, meaning the attacker did not ejaculate, withdrew before ejaculating, or wore a condom.
  • Rapists use condoms as often as 10-15% of the time.
  • Stress is widely believed to increase miscarriages and many have assumed stress hormones would interfere with conception, implantation, and fetal development.  Rape marks the beginning of a long and horribly stressful journey back to any sort of normal.
  • Rape is (generally) a single event, relatively short in duration, whereas consensual sex is more likely to be prolonged and repeated.

Taking just the above objective facts a reasonable person would conclude that pregnancy as a result of rape should occur much less often than from consensual un-protected intercourse.  And if we know that the average likelihood that a woman will become pregnant as a result of unprotected consensual sex is 5% then surely many reasonable people would estimate a rape would result in pregnancy at a rate one order of magnitude less than with consensual sex.

That "reasonable" guesstimate happens to be wrong, as has been established in studies, but the conclusion was not the result of stupidity.  There were, however, some key factors that were overlooked:

  • Rapists more often prey on victims during their most fertile years, so the overall rate of pregnancy from one incident of intercourse within that age range is higher than 5%, making pregnancy from rape also higher.
  • Unknown evolutionary forces might be at play giving aggressive males an advantage at fertilizing women.  This is wildly speculative, but has been offered as one possible explanation for what otherwise seems unexpected.  No studies I'm aware of support this as yet.

I don't want to discourage people from trying to understand the world in which they live using the facts available to them.  We should not call the conclusions people come to nor the people themselves "stupid" as a result of a genuine attempt to figure things out as best they can.  People are only stupid when they choose to ignore facts which might have otherwise altered their positions.

Todd Akin is no more nor less intelligent than most of his detractors, no more or better informed.  We must be able to present him with new evidence and only deem him worthy of contempt if he fails to update his view based on superior evidence.

Punishing the Rapists

When I heard the offensive quote what offended me the most was in fact the last part of the oft repeated quote.  He seems to show so little interest in the prosecution of the guilty.   "I think there should be some punishment..." sounds so anemic, as though he feels forced to grudgingly acknowledge some mild punishment is expected.  His statement is something I'd expect a disinterested father saying to a supermarket cashier after his child was caught with a pack of gum he didn't pay for.  If I were of a mind to be outraged by my interpretation of the first part of his quote then this line would absolutely be the nail in the coffin for me.  Not only does he seem to think many victims deserved what happened to them, not only does he not acknowledge the problem of further traumatizing victims and populating the planet with children born from violence, but he proves he doesn't think it's a real crime by barely conceding that any punishment is warranted.  I likely am reading way too much into this portion of his statement, but in part that's my point.  Others who found this quote offensive were apparently willing to give this part of his statement a pass, assuming he really meant something different, or at that this wasn't the worst of what he said, when for me it was.  I have yet to hear anyone even mention this part of the quote in the discussion.

Conclusion

Rape is in no way to be tolerated, and I cannot fathom how our legal system permits the freeing of those who are found guilty of heinous crimes such as rape, molestation, kidnapping, murder, etc.  In my view, society should be forever protected from people who have demonstrated certain criminal tendencies.  Having felt the intense violation and fear that comes from being a victim of far lesser crimes, I can only begin to dimly imagine the horror one might feel as a result of this sort of sexual assault.  I do not support Todd Akin or anyone espousing archaic views about women, sexuality, gender, etc.  I just want to ensure that all of us can communicate about these topics, can freely discuss them without the ignorant, knee-jerk politics or political correctness that only entrenches people further in their ignorance.  Only through that openness is there any hope for them or for us.

29Jun/120

The Mysterious ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland

The other day a significant thing happened, the Queen of England shook hands with Northern Ireland's ex-IRA chief, during one of the Queen's gratuitous diamond jubilee events. It provided me a moment to reflect on just how little I understand about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Despite a fair bit of reading and an ability to regurgitate the basic positions and facts of both sides, what lingers in me is confusion over just what the fighting really accomplished, from inception to resolution. It feels to this ignorant and uninvolved soul like the end to hostility was more a product of collective ennui than radically reformed positions. Northern Ireland got some new autonomy, clarifications, and assurances, but the fundamental and critical question of whether or not Northern Ireland was to break off from the UK and become part of Ireland remained wholly unsettled; this issue was left for future generations to sort out. That the people of Northern Ireland should decide their fate seems inescapably logical and would have seemed inevitable, whether by this bombing-forced peace settlement or some less passionate changes in the political landscape decades from now. And if the fate of Norther Ireland is unresolved in the present in both scenarios, then was this recent conflict and its recent resolution necessary? What really was profoundly new or novel in this achieved peace?

Either way I am happy of the outcome, that normal life has returned to Northern Ireland, and that its people feel better about their lot.

28Jun/121

Health Insurance and the Supreme Court

Our Declaration of Independence clearly documents our unalienable rights as including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Our right to "Life" necessarily requires we have access to appropriate medical care, without which all our other rights are rendered wholly inconsequential.  That our nation, so long a positive example to the world, so long basking in a level of prosperity envied by the world, has this long failed to provide adequate protections for its citizen's health is an outrage.  Fortunately the Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of the universal heath care mandate mechanism, seeing it rightly as a kind of tax, one which can be collected from all  its citizens.  Health insurance is unique among all forms of insurance in that every citizen ultimately requires it.  We may not all own houses, or cars, but we all possess the spark of life, and we all endeavor to keep it lit.

And of course on this day the voices from the right are loud and furious, many asserting as they have before that Obama and this health care law have betrayed our Founding Fathers, betrayed our foundational mandate of limited federal government, and ushered us into socialism.  How conveniently they pick and choose what they see as "acceptable" federal involvement and social aid.  And this is why I find their position hard to take seriously.  The right accepts without question (or at least serious debate) the existence of so many large federal and social concepts whose existence our Founding Fathers did not foresee.  They accept the necessity of a standing army, despite the fact that none existed in the days of the Founding Fathers.  They accept the necessity of the FBI, CIA, state/locality (and federally subsidized) police and fire services.  They accept the necessity of various federal and state education systems, transportation administrations, building code enforcement, vehicle and driver licensing systems.  They accept (if only because they must) the Social Security and Medicare system.  All of those things are relatively fine, but the notion of providing everyone with health coverage is evil, socialist, and marks the beginning of the end of America.  That is absurd.  If the right truly cared about the uninsured they enjoyed quite a few recent presidencies in which they could have taken some action, any action; they chose to do nothing.

27Jun/120

How has our Nation Forgiven its Jeffersons

Thomas Jefferson was an impressive thinker and writer, vital to our American Revolution, but I've never been quite sure how our society should remember him, how we reconcile his good with his bad.  My negative knowledge of the man is limited to his most glaringly obvious, by modern standards, failings: slave ownership and sexual relations (producing children) with one slave in particular, Sally Hemmings.

Many people feel that we must forgive historical men their historical context, asking, "If slave owning was the norm at the time of the American Revolution how can we judge a man harshly for owning slaves?"  The primary difficulty I have with that line of thinking is the use of the "norm" as a measuring stick.  History is replete with examples of barbarous atrocities committed by those observing societal/cultural/historical norms.  If any forgiveness is to be granted our collective ancestors I think it must be based not on what was normal but on what those individuals knew (or should have known) and what they themselves believed (versus what they did).

In the case of Jefferson the question becomes, what did he know and believe about slavery?  Did he know (or should he have known, i.e. was the information readily available to him that) it was wrong to own another human being?  In determining these matters we have the benefit of Jefferson's own words.

Here are a few examples:

"Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, or morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both." -- Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, 1816

And yet despite recognizing bigotry for what it is, he sees black people as inferior, if not by their color than by the situation they are in, as indicated by this quote:

"For men probably of any color, but of this color we know, brought from their infancy without necessity for thought or forecast, are by their habits rendered as incapable as children of taking care of themselves, and are extinguished promptly wherever industry is necessary for raising young. In the mean time they are pests in society by their idleness, and the depredations to which this leads them."

And yet if it were merely their situation and not their skin color, why would he not try and assist them in elevating their situation and restoring to them the necessity of their thought, as others did and would.  He elected not to.

Ultimately he wholly acknowledges the untenable nature of slavery, saying:

"Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free." -- Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, 1821

But instead of helping to hasten their expected freedom, he fought that future.  And while he supported the concept of gradual emancipation, he wanted emancipation tied to deportation, to ensure that his wealth and that of the nation he helped found was not lost to the possible righteous fury of the men "We the People" kept enslaved.  He states it clearly:

"...there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery]... we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. -- Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia

Further, he strongly discouraged his friend and protege, Edmund Coles, from freeing his own slaves in a letter titled "Slavery and the Younger Generation".  Jefferson wrote:

"...the hour of emancipation is advancing, in the march of time. It will come; and whether brought on by the generous energy of our own minds; or by the bloody process of St Domingo [slave revolt], excited and conducted by the power of our present enemy, if once stationed permanently within our Country, and offering asylum & arms to the oppressed, is a leaf of our history not yet turned over."

Coles, unlike Jefferson, freed his slaves, taking them to present-day Illinois, a free territory, and giving each head of household 160 acres of land. Coles even provided many employment to ensure their transition into freedom was successful.  Jefferson could have done this as well, but he chose not to.

And despite Jefferson clearly preferring and planning for a Whites-only nation, and writing about the evils of mixed-race marriages (miscegenation) with words such as, "Their amalgamation with the other color produces a degradation to which no lover of his country, no lover of excellence in the human character can innocently consent." Jefferson engaged in at least one prolonged relationship with a slave, and produced mixed-race children (perhaps as many as six).

And one must not consider his relationship with Sally Hemmings, nor any other female slave, to have been anything less than a form of rape.  How can property "consent"?  How can a woman who has been "rendered as incapable as [a child]" (his words about black people) consent?  She may not have fought his advances, may even have encouraged his advances, but at no time did she have the freedom to do much else.

Jefferson kept hundreds as slaves, and counted very much among them were his lover and his many children; not even upon his death were they freed.  He sought in death as he did in life to ensure that this nation would not quickly release its claim to their bodies and their souls.

And yet most modern folk forgive Jefferson entirely, dismiss his ownership of fellow humans as normal for the times, making him no less worthy of celebration and praise.  And I can't help but wonder, if these people are willing to forgive a man willfully ignoring his informed conscience, his own avowed principles, even to the point of bearing children with a slave and keeping those children in bondage, what then would cause a figure like Jefferson to lose respect?  I can imagine few things worse than slavery and rape.  Would he have needed to rape a child for his legacy to be seriously tainted?  Likely that would not do it either as there is a good chance he did rape a child, at least in the context of our current view on such matters.   His relationship with Sally Hemmings began when he was 37 and she was somewhere between 14 and 17.  She was sent to Paris (as companion to his daughter) at 14 and was pregnant with his child at 17.

And so I suppose little would, could, or has diminished Jefferson in our nation's eyes, and that makes me uncomfortable, less for the past than for our present crop of popular sinners who should feel emboldened, knowing their own legacies will be similarly forgiven.

6Jun/121

YouTube Thinks I’m a Nazi (but I’m not!)

A few weeks back I stumbled across a forum thread on Holocaust Denial.  I'd first read about the topic about 15 years ago when Usenet was the Internet's popular discussion forum.  The years hadn't diminished my fascination with the notion that a militant minority fervently denied events occurred which the majority accepts as wholly factual.  How could there be disagreement about such seemingly self-evident world events (with millions of people involved as witnesses, victims, perpetrators, etc.)?  I'll write more on the topic at some point, perhaps, since I enjoy tracing everyone's ulterior motives and seeing how they influence what should be rational discussion.  But for now I'll just mention the horror that greeted me when I logged back on to YouTube after having watched a series of videos on this topic.  YouTube had apparently decided that I was a neo-Nazi and wanted to helpfully recommend like-minded channels I should subscribe to.  Yikes.

I am pleased, I suppose, that YouTube doesn't play favorites with ideas and allows minority opinions and majority opinions to be heard and subscribed to, but I do wish to god there was a way I could firmly explain to YouTube that interest in a topic does not mean subscription to the idea at the heart of that topic.  As there is none, I'll just have to announce for the benefit of any government, conspiratorial, zionist, etc. agency listening, there has been a terrible misunderstanding, and I am not a Nazi.

^ Quinxy

3Jun/120

Forcing the Equality of Males and Females without Abortion

I've always been frustrated by what feels like the often perverted goal of feminism.  Feminism should be (I think) the struggle for equality (in opportunity, in treatment, etc.).  We should ALL (intelligent, forward thinking males and females) be that sort of feminist.  Too often, though, feminism (the term as used by various groups and individuals) feels reactionary and unequally anti-male.

One of the problems is that certain issues are improperly linked to the feminist movement, such as the requirement that abortion be available.  Fetal rights may historically have something to do with women's rights but as a legal, philosophical, biological matter there is (or should be) no relationship.  A fetus is either a life deserving the equal constitutional protection afforded all other human life or it is not.  If it is deserving then any woman's input is irrelevant and any abortive action is logically prohibited.  If it is not deserving then women can do as they like.  The problem is that the feminist movement knows the answer they want and are thus unwilling to solve the problem they actually have.  Their position is that for women to be equal, for them to have the same opportunities as men, women must not be saddled with the burden of unwanted children.  They know the only guaranteed solution to this problem is abortion (prophylactics being limited in effectiveness and unwanted sexual assault always being a possibility).  But again, the answer to when legally-protected life begins cannot be guided by personal, political, or religious motives.

The problem is that the feminist movement seems to overlook the fact that balancing any equation can be done not merely by altering one side of the equation, but by altering both sides.  Equality for women does not require that abortion be available, altering the other side of the equation can achieve the same equality through the reduction of men's rights.

For example, let's say a female high school student aged 15 is impregnated by a 17 year old high school student.  The feminist argument is that the 15 year old is unequally punished by the pregnancy because her future (statistical) chances of a full, rich life are diminished as a result of (among other things) difficulty completing high school, difficulty proceeding on to college, and resultant difficulty in forming her career.  Rather than solving the problem of equality in this scenario through abortion society could instead impose similar restrictions on the male involved, ensuring that his future is put equally at risk.  Not content to merely ensure the equal damage of both parties, society could pursue a course by which both parties improve their individual and collective chances through action.  One such approach might make the father of any newborn perform X hours of public service and/or pay Y dollars per week (meant to roughly equal the physical/financial demands on the mother).  This legal demand on the father would be mitigated by the degree to which he meaningfully alleviates the burdens (associated with this child) on the mother.  The public service could be a civil works program, government/corporate labor for societal benefit, ideally one in which the human labor generates real dollars, so as not to be a financial burden on the government.  This 17 year old father may be required to perform 45 hours a week of public service for the child's first two years of life (altered after that to reflect the changing impact on the mother).    If he takes exclusive or shared (with shared responsibility) care of the child for 20 hours a week then his public service debt is reduced accordingly to 25 hours a week.  He may alternatively provide monetary support to reduce those hours.  If he refuses to work those hours or pay in lieu of those hours, he is jailed until he is willing to participate.  The mother, along with involved parties and a child welfare agency, determines the volume and quality of the father's participation.

Creating the appropriate civil works program and the oversight agencies involved would be no small matter; this particular approach may be wholly unrealistic.  The primary purpose of my mentioning the specifics of a solution is to show that there are in fact available alternatives which can secure equality between men and women.  The failure to explore, examine, pursue these solutions, by the feminist movement, reflects odd unilateral, ulterior motives which have no place in a society struggling to be free of our inherited, short-sighted prejudices.

^ Quinxy

9Mar/120

If Sandra Fluke is a Slut then Rush Limbaugh is a Dope Fiend

Immensely popular conservative radio talk show host recently Rush Limbaugh used the terms "slut" and "prostitute" to refer to a student advocate for mandated funding of female contraception.  Sandra Fluke's comments before a congress panel can probably be summed as fellow students didn't have a lot of money and providing contraception as part of health care would encourage contraception use, which benefits the whole of society (fewer children born to unfit parents, more people completing college, fewer abortions, etc.).  Rush Limbaugh felt that paying for contraception was equivalent to subsidizing the sexual behavior of these women, and opined that a) they must be having a lot of sex if they need help paying for it, b) accepting money for sex makes them prostitutes, and c) if we are all paying for it then we should all be able to watch, and they should make their escapades available online.

Aside from the obvious misogyny I can't help but observe that health care involves subsidizing prevention and treatment for lots of things upon which we all may not agree, and the notion that sexual activities should be singled out as worthy of debate is wildly hypocritical.  Rush Limbaugh has engaged in a lot of activities which I do not wish to subsidize.  Rush Limbaugh drinks, he smokes, he has abused drugs, he has engaged in sex with multiple women, and he probably eats more and does less exercise than would be ideal.  He no doubt has health insurance and has relied upon it in part for the treatment of many conditions stemming from his activities and lack thereof.  So like it or not money other healthy and right-acting people put into their health care plans has been diverted and will continue to be diverted to pay for the consequences of Rush Limbaugh's bodily abuses.  That is the very nature of insurance, take from the well to give to the sick, regardless of a cruelly detailed exploration of fault.  If Rush Limbaugh were not a talk show host but in the employ of a religious group or of the federal government these health care expenses stemming from questionable activity would be entirely covered.  So why does he (and why do conservatives in general) feel the prevention and treatment of the consequences of drinking, smoking, and drug abuse are ok to subsidize but the prevention of the consequences of sex is not?  It is because he is a hypocrite, pure and simple.  And his abusive descriptions of Sandra Fluke show him to be a very nasty human being, which seems a sad turn.

In the early nineties while in college I often listened to Rush.  I rarely agreed with his politics and was in no way a "ditto head", but I often respected his ability to enunciate his difference of opinion.  Having caught moments of his shows a few times in recent years, I have been surprised to see the direction his discourse has taken.  He was always a bit of a bully but exercised some polite restraint.  Now a seeming mirror of the nasty turn in our nation's political discourse he often seems just plain nasty.   I hope our nation (Rush very much included) finds its way back.

^ Quinxy

9Dec/112

Secure Anonymity with JonDo Live and VMware (or VMware Player)

If you're like me you're a decent law-abiding citizen who feels that privacy is a fundamental right, not merely something we enjoyed by default because technology had not yet found a way to eliminate it.  Fortuntely, technology brings us both problems and solutions.  One such solution is JonDo, a popular and somewhat proven anonymous proxy service.  This article will show you how to create a secure, anonymous browsing platform to ensure your right to free thought and inquiry preserved.

Create the Virtual Machine

First we need to take the ISO of the JonDo Live CD and turn it into a virtual machine.  I'll walk you through those steps.  It's important to note that we are not creating a persistent install here, that's beyond the scope of this article and with JonDo still being beta I'm not sure I'd recommend it.  The install we are building will let you make changes to the file system but those changes would be lost when the virtual machine is rebooted.  We're going to cheat a little and use VMware's snapshot feature to lock in any file system changes we want, and use VMware's host-guest shared folders to let us make some file system changes effectively persistent.  But all that is to come after we do the basics!

  1. Download the latest JonDo Live CD
  2. Verify the hash of the file you downloaded with the MD5 hash listed on the download page.  I recommend Hash Tab for Windows or Mac users.
  3. Create a new virtual machine in VMware.
    1. Choose Typical
    2. Set the "Installer disc image file (iso)" as the JonDo Live ISO file you downloaded. Click Next.
    3. Choose Linux as the guest operating system and Debian 5 as the version.  Click Next.
    4. Choose the name of your virtual machine (e.g., "JonDo Live")
    5. Choose the location where you want the files to be.  Click Next.
    6. Choose a small maximum disk size, I choose 1 GB.  With my current setup I don't even use it.  Click Next.
    7. Click "Customize Hardware".
      • I increased the memory to 1 GB
      • I added a second CD ROM drive, defined as an ISO pointing to the VMware Tools (e.g., C:\Program Files (x86)\VMware\VMware Workstation\linux.iso (if you do this you may need to set the drive as initially not connected otherwise VMware might try to boot off this cdrom device instead of the one with the live image, depending on how VMware orders the drives, you will then just need to connect the drive from the VMware lower toolbar once you've booted into the OS)
      • I removed the floppy drive
      • I set the Network Adapter as Bridged with replicate physical network connection state.
    8. After leaving the customize hardware screen, uncheck the power on after finishing option.
    9. (Optional) I now "Edit Virtual Machine Settings" and on the Options tab I go to "Shared Folders" and create a share which is "Always enabled"; I called my share "shared".  Reminder, this Live CD VM is not a persistent install, so this is where you can keep files/settings/etc. you don't want to risk losing.
  4. Power on this Virtual Machine
  5. When you get to the boot menu choose the "486" option (not failsafe, not 686, and not anything with PAE)
  6. When you boot it may say you have no network connection, click the network icon in the task bar and choose "Auto Ethernet".  You should now have a network connection.

Begin Using JonDo

Your JonDo Live VMware virtual machine is now ready to use!

If you've never used JonDo before the most basic thing you need to know is that you need to start up the JonDo proxy before you can start your web browsing.  To do that just click on the "JonDo" icon.  This will connect you to the JonDo servers.  If you don't have a premium account you'll be given free access, but be warned the free service is extremely slow, and anonymity protection is slightly reduced because your data travels through only two mix servers instead of three.  I strongly recommend you upgrade to premium, because otherwise you will become so frustrated waiting for pages to load that you will abandon anonymous browsing.  Once JonDo has successfully connected you can start Firefox.  The version of Firefox included here is configured with plugins that enhance your privacy by controlling the use of things like JavaScript, Java, Flash, Ads, and Cookies.  Many sites will not work without allowing features such as cookies and JavaScript for those sites, so be warned you may need to adjust these settings as you browse and discover things aren't working.  It is important to allow as little as possible!

Before you go and do a lot of anonymous browsing you really should install the VMware Tools, it will greatly enhance your overall experience of this virtual JonDo machine.

Install VMware Tools (optional)

You are perfectly free at this point to use your JonDo Live virtual machine, but the beauty of VMware is its ability to allow you to flit between host and guest operating systems, effortlessly moving your mouse, sharing your clipboard, exchanging files, and resizing the display.

These steps are a little annoying but a few hours of my working through the issues will hopefully make it easy enough for you.  The reason we can't just directly install the VMware Tools is because it has dependencies which are not fulfilled by the JonDo Live image as delivered.

  1. Go to a terminal window (click the terminal icon on the bottom task bar).
  2. Type "sudo bash" to get a root shell.
  3. Type "apt-get install make"
  4. Type "apt-get install gcc-4.1"
  5. Type "apt-get install linux-headers-`uname -r`".  If you get the error "can't find any package" then the linux headers for your kernel version may no longer be in the repository, you'll need to find a repository that has it and add that to the /etc/apt/sources.list.  If you got an error related to not finding something needed for the install then run "apt-get update" to update its list of packages and re-run the install of linux headers. (See below for more info if you are having trouble with finding the appropriate kernel header sources.)
  6. Type "apt-get install psmisc"
  7. On the Desktop right click the "VMware Tools" CD icon and select "Mount".  Its contents will now be located as "/media/VMware Tools"
  8. Type "cp /media/VMware Tools/VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717.tar.gz /tmp" to copy the tools archive to the /tmp directory (modify the file name as needed to accommodate future versions)
  9. Type "cd /tmp"
  10. Type "gunzip VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717.tar.gz"
  11. Type "tar xvf VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717.tar"
  12. Type "cd VMwareTools-8.4.8-491717"
  13. Type "./vmware-install.pl" to begin the installer
  14. Choose the defaults for everything they ask (just hit enter/return each time)
  15. When it is finished type "/usr/bin/vmware-user" to start up the VMware Tools

Congratulations!  You now have the VMware Tools installed.

Your shared folder is available inside the JonDo VM at "/mnt/hgfs/shared".

Additional Kernel Header Sources

On a recent update of my JonDo Live environment I found that the kernel headers were removed from the default repository and I couldn't seem to find it anywhere...  After some hours I figured out how to solve the problem.  You can manually find the Debian packages for linux headers and then manually install them.  The site which has these archived repositories http://snapshot.debian.org, which you can use to see into the past by specifying a date/time combination to navigate the archive.

The way I located the files I needed probably isn't the best, but here's what I did.  First, I navigate to the root of the dated repository.  For example,  http://snapshot.debian.org/archive/debian/20120806T041225Z/ shows the repository state on August 6th, 2012.  This date was soon after the release of the kernel version I had (found with uname -a).  There are two Debian packages for Linux headers, the "common" and then the architecture specific one.  You will need to manually download both of those files and then manually install them.

First I found the Packages.bz2 file which lists all the various packages.  You'll need to download, uncompress, and view this file.  My dated one was located here: http://snapshot.debian.org/archive/debian/20120806T041225Z/dists/wheezy/main/binary-i386/Packages.bz2.  Manually search that file for a package called linux-headers-3.2.0-3-486 (substitute your `uname -r` entry for the OS version I mention).  You will see a path there that corresponds to a location off the root (e.g., http://snapshot.debian.org/archive/debian/20120806T041225Z/).  That package has a dependency on the "common" header library, so we now need to find that one.  Looking again in Packages.bz2 I found the entry for "linux-headers-3.2.0-3-common" (modify for the version you have) and then download the package from the location indicated.  Once you have them downloaded you manually install them.  Install each by running the "dpkg -i PACKAGENAME.DEB" command, start with the "common" package.

Once you install both packages you can proceed to step 6 above!

 

Making your Environment Persistent (Optional)

After you've gotten everything configured, including importing your existing JonDo account info or creating your premium account, you want to save the configuration work you've done so you won't lose it if the virtual machine reboots.  All you need to do is use the "VM" menu, click the "Snapshot" menu item, then choose "Take Snapshot".  As you likely know, this allows you to return to this exact state of the machine at any future time, complete with the file system, memory, display, etc. exactly as it was at this moment.  Instead of booting or rebooting your JonDo VM you can just revert to this snapshot.  Any files you wish to be persistent and not see reverted or erased you should put in the shared folder you could have optionally created.  For example, I keep things like downloaded files, bookmarks, my JonDo exported credentials, etc. in this shared location (e.g., /mnt/hgfs/shared).

Securing your Data Locally (Optional)

To further ensure your privacy you can (and probably should) make sure your virtual machine files (the files VMware uses to store your VM data) are encrypted, either the files themselves (using Windows built-in encryption option) or, better still, by placing the entire directory inside an encrypted virtual drive, with such products as the free TrueCrypt. Be aware, however, that when you use your virtual machine its RAM will be held in your real, physical RAM and as such it can and will be stored in the host's Windows pagefile.sys, where it could potentially be recovered much later, having been written to disk.  The solution in this case is to encrypt your entire system disk with TrueCrypt, such that the swap file is also encrypted or to use an encryption product like Jetico's container encryption which includes swap file encryption as an option.

Conclusion

It is sad that it's come to this, that we honorable, law-abiding citizens must defend ourselves against the unreasonable invasion of our thoughts and study of our activities, but wishing it was not so accomplishes little.  Hopefully this little guide will have helped you take back some of your privacy.

^ Quinxy

24Aug/110

Big Government, Little Government, Taxes, and Death

I was listening to a conservative political Christian radio show yesterday and the segment was about taxes and the size of government. The host pointed out that in Jesus' time the tax rate was 1% of income (raised temporarily to 3% during war), and how everyone from that era would revolt if they were transported to modern times with our 20-40% effective income tax rates. And the host also pointed out that the American Revolution was fought over a tea tax of about 2-3%, and how surely if the founding fathers were here today they'd be leading a new revolt. It must be "fun" to be a rabble rouser, to have a national audience of like-minded people who are happy to nod along as you erect straw man arguments which you then knock down with self-evident, self-congratulatory arguments. What I really wanted was for someone to call in and make the far more reasonable, truthful argument that tax rate alone is a useless measure of societal success or failure, happiness or misery, good politics or bad. The conservative movement's universal position is that low taxes are good, high taxes are bad, without seeming willing to engage in much discussion about the cummulative or general benefit of all the gradually tacked on social programs which only taxes can effectively fund. The real measure of our success is measured by the overall as well as individual condition of taxable citizens, not merely at what rate their money was being taken from their paychecks.

Taking apart this host's specific references to the past is easy. What were the lives like for the average and individual people in Nazareth or Capernaum around 1 A.D.? They may have been able to keep 99% of their income, but what was the revenue-influenced portion of their life like? Did the average citizen then have a comfortable life: was he only required to work reasonable hours, with reasonable working conditions, with reasonable lifespan, with reasonable lives for the children, etc. My best guess would be absolutely not. I would bet the vast majority of people back then worked long hours, worked jobs which involved considerable risk, had little but survival to show for their life of work, and died early, often after seeing their own children die early. Those citizens being able to retain 99% of their income didn't mean they were able to enjoy that 99%; all of it went to what was often subsistance living.

Our improved lives today are not the result of technological improvement so much as they are the result of the ordered world we've built, the infrastructure our society has maintained through the pooled resources of its citizens organized and implemented by our governments. Strip away our many public programs such as a universally accessible education system, cihldhood vaccinations, emergency medical services, police, fire, social security, medicare, unemployment insurance, worker safety laws, etc. and even with our heritage of modern technology we'd be left in miserable shape, arguably no better off than people 2,000 years ago. And while the comparison between life in 1776 and today wouldn't be as stark, I find it hard to imagine the founding fathers would not have accepted the bulk of the compromise we've had to make with the size of government in order to achieve the more comfortable America in which we live: without their reliance on slavery, on child labor exploitation, on the later exploitation of effectively endentured workers (e.g., Coolies), without the average citizen working until he died, etc.

There is ample room to debate the efficiencies of government, the merits of various programs funded by taxes, the injustice and economic impact of various methods of calculating corporate and individual tax, the possibility of privatizing all that can reasonably be privatized, but to make statements that suggest our system is currently completely broke, that we can or would want to return to a world in which government needed only 1% to assist in improving our world, is brutally helpful.

16Jul/114

Criminals Invoking the Evil Parallel Universe Defense

A thought occurred to me today, at the intersection of my thoughts about the justice system and the parallel universe theory.

We accept certain "excuses" for crimes.  The situations are relatively rare, but they exist.  If you are in an area devastated by a hurricane, with normal food sources cut off, you are effectively allowed to steal food from an abandoned store.  If someone has carjacked your car with you in it and is demanding that you drive at 100 mph you are not criminally responsible for your speeding.  If your life is in danger you may kill in defense of your life.  If you are clinically insane or seriously mentally retarded you will not be held criminally responsible for your actions, whatever they may be.  The point is not so much the specific excuses that are acceptable as the concept that the legal system does not hold people criminally responsible for crimes they did not have the capacity to avoid committing, whatever they may be.

And now we come to the theory of parallel universes.  For those that don't know, a beautiful conceptual way out of quite a few sticky quantum mechanical problems is to imagine that for every situation where multiple events could happen, we avoid the question of why did this or that happen by saying that there exists a parallel universe in which every possible outcome exists.  To bring it to a macroscopic level, imagine you flip a coin.  It lands tails side up.  There exists an inaccessible parallel universe exactly like the one in which you got tails, with the slight change that in that one an identical you got heads.  And in fact there are an infinite number of variations on the theme, tracing out every possible combination of ways your brain could tell your thumb to move, the weather systems could cause the air to gust, etc.  If we imagine that scientists might be correct in this theory then on a macroscopic level there must exist parallel universes in which otherwise "good" people do "evil".  You may be a kind person in this universe but in another you are a homicidal murderer.  This must be, if parallel universes exist.  And so, too, the evil people in this universe manifest themselves in saintly ways in parallel universes unknown to us.  So the quantum philosophical question then becomes, how responsible can any individual be for any actions, when there exists a version of themselves in another universe doing something completely different?

Why couldn't the homicidal murderer invoke the Evil Parallel Universe Defense at his trial, saying in essence, "I am not responsible.  The laws of physics dictate that there must exist some universes in which I am evil, and this happens to be one of them.  In others universes, you, Mr. Prosecutor, you, your Honor, and you, the Jury, are all murderers, just like me.  We are all guilty, somewhere.  I'm no guiltier than all of your collective parallel selves."

Of course, this argument is rendered moot by the fact that every outcome of the trial will exist in parallel universes; and so this excuse must work in some universes, but not in others.   The criminal would just have to hope that his was a universe which not only made him evil but also made his excuse acceptable.  I suspect there's a smaller infinity of those particular universes. 🙂

^ Quinxy

(One final note, I was reminded of a more practical moral dilemma nations face, a situation in which people are "excused" for something because they are in a "fated" situation.  The government, for the good of the people, attempts to control the economy by taking actions to control inflation and unemployment: varying lending rates, controlling the money supply, etc.  Contrary to what you might expect, the "optimal" rate of unemployment is not 0% but something in the nature of 5%.  The government will modify policy to target that number, creating more unemployment if the number is too low, and trying to create jobs if the number is too high.  It's my belief that this artificial manipulation of the unemployment rate, this requirement that citizens be unemployed, morally obligates the government to support those who have been "artificially" made unemployed.  Of course identifying those who are "artificially" unemployed and those who are "naturally" unemployed is tricky, and in a sense meaningless.  It is, therefore, better to support all who are unemployed for a period long enough to mean their continued unemployment is squarely the fault of the individual and not the economy.  And that's pretty much what we do, as a nation, with the unemployment benefits we provide, though I would guess few (if any) would explain its necessity as the fulfillment of a moral obligation created by forced unemployment; but I like this argument because far from it suggesting some sort of creeping socialism, it is merely doing what is morally obligated by the government's own actions.)