Equifax liability

I smell a class action lawsuit!

Equifax Confirms Apache Struts Flaw Used in Hack

the breach was possible due to the company’s failure to patch a critical vulnerability in more than two months after its disclosure. Following the incident, others started highlighting holes in Equifax’s cyber security, including unpatched cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities reported to the company more than one year ago, and the lack of many basic protections.

http://www.securityweek.com/equifax-confirms-apache-struts-flaw-used-hack

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century

I recently plowed through this voluminous tome. Due to its length, I imagine more people have read about it than have actually read it. Still, it was worthwhile.

If you just want the gist of Piketty’s arguments, you might focus upon the Introduction and Conclusion. If you are up for more – including the thorough and exhausting statistical case – the whole tour might be worth the journey.

Piketty creates a compelling case, buttressed by exhaustive assembled historical evidence, that the growing worldwide (and domestic) inequality is not only dangerous, but inherently structural. His argument shows it is built-in to capitalism. Thus regulation and intervention is not only desirable, but necessary to save capitalism from itself (much as FDR did in the United States following the Great Depression).

Piketty’s mechanism to save capitalism from itself involves policies decidedly unpopular with some of today’s “deciders,” though necessary to save them from a fate similar to that Karl Marx might have imagined for their forbears who “sold the rope.” Indeed, the concentration of wealth leads to a concentration of political power and deprivation to those without power such that the system cannot be maintained without significant repression (a la Mussolini, Hitler, Franco) — or it will collapse in violent revolution.

Piketty recommends a tax on capital, including wealth itself as well as inheritance. The irony is that while this is unpopular with those it impacts, it would increase their quality of life as it increased the common good.

The difficulty is that for this to be done effectively, it necessitates much international cooperation, lest nations and regions are played against each other in a bidding war to the bottom.

This is an important book: for citizens and theologians, as well as economists! After all, we don’t want to live in a world where the many suffer (and the earth itself cries out) just so a few can live in regal splendor.

Of course, there are those who think Piketty does not go far enough (see below). For those of us who are persons of faith that bears a certain resonance. We are not inevitably tied to any earthly system, especially one in which “the past devours the future.” Instead, we are looking to the future in hope, with the redemptive possibilities for all creation which God calls us to work towards. (And we need hope, when one considers the trends Piketty reveals!) The recent Papal encyclical regarding the challenge of Climate Change is evidence of Christian hope!

For some more commentary on and summary of the arguments of Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, you might check out the following — or even read the book!
The Guardian: Thomas Piketty’s Capital: everything you need to know about the surprise bestseller.

Piketty’s Capital, unlike Marx’s Capital, contains solutions possible on the terrain of capitalism itself: the 15% tax on capital, the 80% tax on high incomes, enforced transparency for all bank transactions, overt use of inflation to redistribute wealth downwards. He calls some of them “utopian” and he is right. It is easier to imagine capitalism collapsing than the elite consenting to them.

For the case that perhaps what Piketty advocates is not enough, see The Compelling Conclusion About Capitalism That Piketty Resists in Truthout.

The excesses of capitalism are not simply a question of bad management and a political unwillingness to properly regulate it by imposing the right sort of checks and balances, but symptoms of a fundamentally and irretrievably flawed system that tends toward destruction of human and other life.

Happy reading!

Using Social Media (vs. Being Used By) for Your Organization or Business

A few caveats regarding use of social networking. After reading the book referenced below, Social Media is Bullshit (B.J. Mendelsohn); I am coming to some evolving conclusions regarding the place of social media in a communication strategy for non-profits and small businesses (basically anyone not rich enough to drop dump trucks of dollars to purchase “preferred” advertising, etc. on these sites and media).

Social media companies are in business to sell advertising, and even more so to target advertising by aggregating (and often selling) information about their users. In other words, on most all of the social networking sites, YOU/WE are the product !!! … So, for the sake of privacy, we want to be careful what we hand to them.

Proliferation of these kinds of sites fragments the flow of information going out from our organizations, and fragments and erodes our control over information and lists of subscribers. Organizations and businesses need to keep control of our message, and our lists of subscribers!

  • If Facebook has my list of interested subscribers, they can take it away at any time — or use it to sell them junk, which may alienate them.
  • If we have a fragmentation of our communications, important things can get lost in the shuffle. People do not know whether to look on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, … or Where?

Once we ensure we are in control, then there are ways we can use social media sites — vs. them using us.

Probably the best overall policy for a business or organization is to seek to make our web sites a central focus for information and communication, keeping control of our own subscriber lists, and then syndicating information through RSS and social media. We should do this in such a manner that it reminds people that the authoritative source for information is our site. (Likely also the best place to “discuss” is our forums.)

When we do this our site becomes the “canonical,” “go to” source for information. With this established we can then choose to use social media in a targeted manner: we target the sites that are useful to getting our message out by feeding info to them that brings people back to us. People know that our site is the place to get the whole scoop — about which they learn via the feed.

I’m still sorting out the way to focus forums for discussion. These can be done on a web site, or through associated Forums. I think the chief objective here is to avoid the fragmentation of having our conversations spread out among Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. in such a manner that none achieves critical mass. (In many respects, the old LISTSERVs (like OAGC lists) work very well here — although threaded web forums are often easier to read!)

References:

Social Media is Bullshit (B.J. Mendelsohn):
Social Media is Bullshit | St. Martin’s Press
Social Media is Bullshit book site
B.J. Mendelson’s Blog/Site

One good way to syndicate to social media from a WordPress based web site:
Jetpack plugin
“Integration with and automatic posting to your favorite social networks including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Path, and LinkedIn.”

RSS: Wikipedia.org “RSS”

Corporate “Personhood” gave us Citizens United, but can bite those who play with it.

I saw this fascinating article on Religion Dispatches.

My Business, Myself: Piercing the Corporate Veil: Conscience challenges to the ACA contraceptive coverage mandate may bring surprise risks to small business owners

It seems that the same foolish equating of corporations with persons which brought us Citizens United (to bankrupt our political process), may turn on those who assert it seeking a religious exemption for their businesses.

Can business owners assert that their free exercise is being burdened when the coverage mandate is imposed not on them, but on their business? Does the for-profit corporation or LLC have religious beliefs of its own? Does General Motors practice religion? If not, do smaller corporations exercise religion? Or are the small businesses really asserting the religious rights of their owners?

The article discusses how in cases where a corporation becomes an alter ego of it’s owners, the owners become liable for potentially unlimited damages and expenses.

I have long thought that we need a constitutional amendment that defines corporations much as did Justice John Marshall: as limited entities given a charter for some public good, a charter which is revocable should the purpose not be adequately met. It is ludicrous to consider that a corporation should have constitutional rights to “free speech.” It is even crazier to think of corporations as having religious rights and observances.

I’m all for individuals exercising their conscience. We should all have the opportunity to decline benefits with which we do not feel comfortable; but for a corporation to deny us the opportunity to choose how to do so is just wrong. When this is done due to the corporation being an alter ego of its owners, it is just as much an imposition of the few upon the many as Citizens United‘s “one dollar, one vote” is upon the democratic principle of one person, one vote. It is proof of how the godless nonperson corporations must be restrained by real persons.

Public Schools beat private in math instruction!

Wow!

I found this article in the Education Policy Blog about a new study, and must share:
Are Private Schools Better Than Public Schools? New Book Says ‘No’

Teaching methods, teacher professional development, and other factors result in a better outcome in our public schools! And the favorable comparison applies not only to the charters, but to the bona fide private schools as well.

It is often assumed that private schools do a better job educating children than public schools, but a new book, “The Public School Advantage,” which is being published this week, shows this isn’t the case. Here’s a piece the authors, Christopher Lubienski, a professor in the Department of Educational Organization and Leadership at the College of Education at University of Illinois, and Sarah Theule Lubienski, professor of mathematics education in the College of Education at the University of Illinois.

We found that once we account for the fact that private schools serve families with more advantages associated with academic success—things like money and highly-educated parents—we find that public elementary schools are, on average, simply more effective at teaching mathematics. Indeed, demographic differences more than explain any apparent edge in the raw scores of private school students, and by the time they reach middle school, public school students score ahead of their demographically similar, private school peers, with differences ranging from a few weeks to a full grade level, depending on the type of private school.

Effects of the High Stakes Testing Game

I saw this article today: “Testing is Killing Learning” in Salon, and it got me angry enough (again) to share. It’s a good summary of how the battle has gone, and the challenges ahead.

The author, Mary Elizabeth Williams, speaks of pep rallies for testing: “But the ultimate effect had a strangely ‘Hunger Games’ tang to it – a mood of forced, rah-rah reassurance to the terrified children going into the arena, cheered on by those too young to yet participate.”

That image is somewhat humorous – but deadly when it kills the joy of learning! The real challenge is the dumbing down of curriculum – by a program that is ostensibly to boost it! Th irony here is that when kids are exposed to “real” literature and the like they are more likely to be engaged – versus macerated snippets and all-too-often poorly written non-fiction. (N.B. There are non-fiction pieces, and primary sources, that can be quite enthralling.)

But teachers are far from the only ones who feel the effects of the high stakes testing game. My high school teacher friend Ariel says, “My honors English curriculum now contains only two books, instead of the 12 I used to teach. And very few short stories. It’s mostly nonfiction, because that’s what will be on the tests. Any books I teach outside of the curriculum will harm my students’ scores on the tests that evaluate them and my performance. Goodbye, ‘Lord of the Flies.’ Goodbye, ‘Macbeth.’ Goodbye, ‘A Separate Peace.’ Most good teachers are demoralized by the test, and horrified by what it is doing to education.”

And as we know the lower grades also lose valuable teaching time to test prep – as well as a distorted focus:

“Children are getting the message at a very young age that if you pick the right choice between several options you can be successful. That’s not the way to learn, especially creatively. That’s not experimenting or exploring or creating. We’re telling kids that that life is a series of hoops and that they need to start jumping through them very early.”

So who really benefits from all this? According to Diane Ravitch:

And it’s a system that, as Core Standards are being implemented around the country, seems built to fail. “All the passing ratings are going to go down about 30 percent this year; that’s what they’re predicting,” says author, advocate and education historian Diane Ravitch. “The dark view is that they want everybody to fail and they want people to say the public schools stink, so they can push for more vouchers and more charters. I can’t describe what’s going on without thinking that we’re in the process of destroying American public education.”

There is also mention of origins of this the “Texas Miracle,” which later evidence shows was a fraud.

So who really benefits from all this? (reprise):

Pearson Education ….

Ms. Williams mentions a principled retirement / resignation letter from New York teacher Gerald “Jerry” Conti. It’s sad to see. Perhaps he just got too ground down.

So we must continue to “fight the good fight.”

This article was originally titled “Common Core smacks of cyanide?” but it’s really about high stakes testing.

C.C.S. – including Gifted – may face budget cut CRISIS!

I remember the foreboding I felt when I read in the Dispatch about $29 million in cuts for C.C.S.

Then I saw Dr. Gene Harris’ letter, I sensed the pain in her words — and I felt the pain — as she wrote:

Clearly, to extract another $25 million from an already lean budget means that the majority of the impact is going to be realized through staff reductions – equaling more than 300 positions across all levels of the organization.

This is unquestionably a very difficult time. While these recommended reductions fulfill our need to save money, they most assuredly do not make us better or enable us to more effectively support our schools or students.

(emphasis mine — This letter may be found in the March 8 eNewsletter. This may be found here. You can sign up for these here.)

I now have seen some specifics, courtesy of the Columbus Education Association. in their March 11 issue of their newsletter, the Voice, they included a link to a PDF:
DRAFT – Columbus City Schools Recommended Budget Reductions for FY2014 – 3/5/2013
.

It’s ugly!

“Highlights” include:

  • elimination of 5 regional GT coordinators
  • elimination 2 High School Coordinators
  • elimination 1 ECLIPSE Coordinator
  • elimination of 1 Testing coordinator
  • elimination of 1 Secretary

As one summary describes, “There will be no High School or Eclipse Coordinators remaining. There will be one Testing Coordinator that will be reassigned to the Office of Performance & Strategic Initiatives (OPSI). Redistribute work loads to remaining staff and Supervisor.” …
This will leave us with 28 GT positions, down from 55 a few years ago. Your favorite specialist may soon be be gone — or you’ll see him or her much less often.

And that’s only the specifically gifted and talented cuts! There is plenty of misery for all students with concurrent impact on GT kids.

  • reduce a class period in middle and high schools. … a seven-period day
    starting next school year. … seven years ago, (doing this) had a devastating effect on the academic program
    and minimized opportunities for our students.
  • cuts in arts, field trip transportation, library staff, athletics. … “Research shows that an
    increase in physical activity and participation in the arts result in improved academic performance. We can expect a rise in discipline referrals and a decline in student attendance and achievement when these programs are cut.” even for gifted kids

I lay a lot of blame in this to the Columbus Dispatch, who made it impossible to pass a levy last November (during a general election), by their constant churning of the enrollment “scandal” story, as well as constantly hammering the Board, Dr. Harris, and everyone down to the custodial staff. … Add the uncertainty of the C.E.C. (“Mayor’s Commission”) sometimes seeming to work at cross purposes to the Board as the later seeks a new superintendent, and we have a

CRISIS!

Now we need to deal with this ASAP, let our voices be heard, and seek ways to mitigate or reverse the impending damage. What can we do?

Some thoughts:

  1. We need a new superintendent ASAP — according to the Board’s original schedule. We cannot have C.C.S. under the care of an interim leader when action is needed. I do not believe the myth that we can’t get top people due to the “scandal.” On the contrary, we need strong leadership to resolve issues quickly, as well as deal with issues like this budget shortfall and the need to expedite a levy!
  2. We need a levy ASAP! Perhaps we could pass one in a Special Election?! We could cancel the cuts when it passes — or even hold off on them until such. (Implementing these cuts will irretrievably lose good teachers, as imperiled people accept positions elsewhere. They would be unavailable for reinstatement.) … We could press the board to seek an emergency levy. I’m sure Dr. Harris would fight for it until midnight on her last day … and a permanent successor would follow up.
  3. The truth is that cuts like this will hobble C.C.S. This could drive away superintendent candidates — as well as concerned parents of gifted and talented children, and many more.

Some of us (parents, teachers, administrators, Dr. Harris) have been working our tails off on the Task Force for the Future of Gifted and Talented, seeking to come up with some great ideas to extend and improve the programs at Columbus City Schools. These proposed budget cuts endanger everything.

We must fight.

What are your thoughts?

Scott

N.B. The amount of the shortfall roughly equivalent to the gap in funding expected from the state of Ohio.


This post is cross-posted here, on OSApostle, but please send all comments on the P.A.C.E. Home.

Privacy on Business and other email systems

Some recent conversations I have had brought to my attention the need to clarify for my friends and neighbors the situation regarding privacy when using various email systems.

The short version: Do not send anything personal or sensitive in nature to anyone at their employer’s email system. Likewise do not use your own work account to send or receive anything of personal or sensitive nature.

The fact of the matter is that a person generally does not have any privacy rights on the corporate email system. Even the minority opinion that suggests there are some rights suffers the point that it could be cumbersome, expensive, impossible to enforce such.

There is an increasing trend in many businesses to establish policies which greatly restrict people’s freedom when using company-owned machines – or even your own equipment (e.g.) on their network.

Of course, corporate email practices may vary widely. In some cases the policy is on the books for “CYA” purposes, so if you are caught selling child porn the business has a clear right to action. But in other cases there may be snooping up to the point that any normal person would consider creepy. You might have:

  • automated scanning of message content for key words — e.g. your shopping or investigation of medical issues, even things like “union” and “civil rights” (It’s not just prurience they seek!) … AND this scanning can go beyond email to sniffing the very packets of information that show where you browse, your passwords, etc.
  • a supervisor that can log in to your account and see everything that you can see
  • a nosy IT person who delights in finding people’s secrets (beyond the necessary function of administering the network, etc., where ethical IT folks deliberately turn a blind eye to specific content)

Some recommendations for email:

  1. Don’t send anything to or from a corporate account that you wouldn’t like on the supervisor’s desk – or posted on Facebook
  2. If you need to use email at work for anything of sensitive nature, use your own account. This might be a webmail account, or an email client application on your own device. You might want to make sure that you connect in a secure manner – e.g SSL/TLS settings for your application, or the same so you have the “padlock” in your browser. (GMail now prefers https by default). These measures can encrypt content between your device and the server or site to which you connect. Generally that makes your communication secure unless someone has physical access to your device.
  3. If you’re really paranoid, use encryption: GPG or similar. For this you likely need to be using a client program/app.

Plus, if you don’t store large amounts of data in your corporate account, you’ll make it easier for the poor IT person who has to archive all that stuff to comply with regulations for accountablity, etc.

An alternative while in the workplace is to use a webmail service such as GMail, but caveat: “Reading someone’s Gmail doesn’t violate federal statute, court finds

Recycling old, unwanted books (Franklin County, Ohio)

I saw an article in the Columbus Dispatch today with some good information:
Old, unwanted books no longer landfill fodder
Unwanted books by the thousands now being recycled

“… Book-destruction.com, announced a partnership last week with Goodwill Columbus that aims to dent the flow and return more old tomes to pulp. Individuals, schools, libraries and other organizations now can drop off unwanted books at any Goodwill donation center or retail store in Franklin County and know that they will be properly recycled, Grossman said.”

Steve Grossman is president of Creative Green Marketing, a Westerville-based recycling broker and processor.

What do you do with a BA in English?

In these days when everyone is crowing about “STEM,” we hear from the experience of Christopher Dawson, one of my favorite EdTech bloggers, writing in the ZDNet Education blog:

What do you do with a BA in English?

All of a sudden, that BA in English with a minor in theater started to look awfully attractive. I can’t think of a more important “21st Century Skill” than communication, whether written or verbal. A bit of theater? Gee, maybe he’ll be able to think on his feet and improvise and actually glance away from the projector or his feet and talk to his audience, whether that audience is in a boardroom or a lecture hall. There is nothing more disconcerting than watching a business leader reading from notes or delivering a death-by-PowerPoint presentation, droning on about slides that I could just as easily read myself on a set of handouts. Disconcerting because by the time someone is in a position of leadership, they should be able to speak extemporaneously and yet remarkably common.

It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that a degree in English (or communications, or whatever) might just be one of the more useful and relevant degrees a student could obtain, with applications across a wide variety of disciplines. The point of college remains to learn to think (and master beer pong, of course); that can happen with a degree in biophysics just as easily as a degree in the humanities. That liberal arts major, though, just might have better job prospects in a knowledge economy than the biophysics major who avoided English and public speaking courses like the plague.

I’ve always said that engineers are common, but rare is the engineer who knows how to communicate and manage people. There are many corollaries to the assertion that STEM is not THE answer to our concerns about our educational system. (Indeed, there is a growing appreciation of the need for critical thought and the ability to express oneself!)