AMERICA, OR SOMETHING LIKE IT

Here’s a rant I’ve never published because, well, it really ain’t funny. So I’m posting it here. That’s what this blog is for, right?

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Seriously, folks, I’m not sure how much sheer idiocy this country can stand, but I’m afraid we’re going to find out. Here are some true facts about the United States of America.

· We call ourselves, with pride, the land of the free.

o We have a greater percentage of our citizens in jail than any other country. More even than Joe Stalin locked away.

o We’re free, so long as we don’t smoke the wrong weeds, or buy unlicensed drugs, or don’t commit the horrible crime of being poor.

· We recite the words “and justice for all” every day, or at least make our children do it in school.

o If you like your cocaine pure, you’ll get a slap on the wrist if you’re caught. Chances are you’ve got money, too, because that stuff is expensive.

o If you like crack cocaine because it’s cheap and you can afford it, if you’re caught you’re looking at some hard time. (Try not to be poor if you can help it.)

o If you’re accused of dealing illegal drugs, your property can be seized and sold and the money given to law enforcement. If you’re subsequently acquitted, that’s too bad for you because they don’t have to give you back a thing.

Again, look at that set of idiocies. Come on, folks, are you worried about possible erosion of personal liberties due to the threat of terrorism? Well, you should be, because the last point above sounds like a form of terrorism to me. The trouble with all that stuff is that I thought we were supposed to be better than all that. We’re supposed to be an informed electorate too, but just look at what’s happening.

A judge in Alabama gets fired because he violated a Federal court order. He immediately rants on about the “biblical foundation for our laws” and vows that the “fight is just beginning.” If only that were the case. If you can handle it, here’s the truth.

The people who framed our constitution mentioned god quite a bit, but not once in that document. They didn’t think of themselves as Christians at all, in fact. They were, in their own words, “Rational Deists.” They called god the “Primum Mobile” or “Prime Mover” (I suppose the Latin version sounds more intellectual) and believed that once the universe was all set up and put into motion, the creator no longer intervened, but just sat back to see how his invention worked. They had Christian backgrounds, for sure, but I don’t think that a disinterested creator is what Focus on the Family preaches about.

The thing is, our constitution was, to quote the preamble, “ordain(ed) and establish(ed)” by “We the People of the United States of America.” See, we did it ourselves. Sure, they invoked the creator’s guidance (without much hope of receiving it, to judge by their theology) but it was “People” who wrote our government. That’s why we have so many lawyers, folks. With no divine mandate for our government, no holy book telling us what to believe, it’s up to us, the spiritual descendants of Adams, Jefferson et al to interpret what that document means. If that’s not to your liking, may I suggest a nation with an established religion and a government that rules, they say, by divine right. Great Britain, for example, where the Queen’s motto is “God and My Right”, in French of course.

Oh, yes, we fought to be independent from them, didn’t we? Why do you suppose we did that? To get away from divinely sanctioned government, among other things. It’s a tragedy that the world doesn’t conform to our idealistic views of what it should be, but it doesn’t. It’s tragic that other people don’t see the wisdom of our beliefs, but they don’t. They won’t. Why should they? They’ve got wonderful beliefs of their own, and to them it’s tragic that we don’t see the wisdom in their world view. What we’ve got, that nobody else ever had before we got it, is a set of shared rules of, by, and for us humans. God, whatever you see that as being, may be the best thing in the universe. May be the universe for all I know, but no god wrote our constitution. OK?

I think that the entire war on drugs is probably a crock. But, if we’re going to enforce drug laws, why not apply them fairly? I’ll bet a lot of people don’t know how drugs got to be illegal in the first place. Here’s some more true facts, then.

Opium was a favorite drug among Chinese immigrants. The anti-opium laws were marketed as a means to keep the yellow menace “under control.” I wish I was making that up, or at least exaggerating, but it’s simply the truth. Newspaper editorials of the time referred to the Chinese as “the yellow menace.” I like to remember that while I’m eating my sweet and sour chicken.

Cocaine was sold as a danger to society after some poor black guy went crazy and killed a bunch of people. He was using cocaine at the time, so of course we had to outlaw cocaine to protect “our negro citizens” as some people were referred to at the time. From what I don’t know, but to this day the poor black guy smoking crack gets hard time, while the white so-and-so movie star snorting the regular stuff gets put into rehab. Nice how things get better, isn’t it?

That leaves marijuana as the last of the original illegal substances to be made such. Marijuana is a Mexican term for hemp leaves. It means, as if you didn’t know, Mary Jane. Why Mary Jane I have no idea. But, again, there was a dire threat posed to our society by a group of people who liked to smoke a bit of the stuff. Guess who that was? (Save yourself time – guess Latino migrants.)

Now, we have a situation where, in apparent defiance of the constitution we wrote, someone suspected of selling any of the above or one of another illegal drugs can have his property seized without compensation. We have a multi-billion dollar industry devoted to imprisoning record numbers of our fellow citizens. It’s hard to see how the war against terrorism can erode that many more rights, but I’m sure the people behind it will try to find a way.

By the way, we also execute a lot more people than any other country. Killing people to solve problems: a proven way to get ahead. Just ask Joe Stalin, or that Hitler guy. Fine examples for the new America, apparently.

Computer Security

I think, as a public service, I will reprint here a short essay about computer security that’s published on my main web page. You can go to the original article from the front page of the Humor Page linked on my first post, or you can just read this, verbatim from my Humor Page:

A REAL DISCUSSION OF COMPUTER SECURITY

By Steve Fey

No jokes here, and no links back to the rest of my website, either. If you got here from outside, I’m sorry about that. If you got here from my website, just close this window when you’re done.

Actually, even though I make jokes about Apple Computer, and Linux, and Windows worms, the truth is that there are plenty of people in the world nasty enough to use your computer for things like “getting at” some company they don’t like. Some times the nasty program that comes in the mail is only for some guy’s amusement, or he’s trying to impress his friends. Some of these jokers claim that they do it to toughen security, by pointing out weaknesses. Sure they do, and I was just speeding to test your radar gun, officer.

Here is a description of some of what can happen if you actually get infected by one of these programs.

· Your computer can be used by someone else you don’t even know as a source for more mischief. The worm I talk about in the article from January 28, 2004 is one of this type. It mails itself to everyone you know, and then uses your computer to “get at” a company the writer apparently doesn’t like. Nice, huh?

· You may find your computer damaged in some way. This could be something small, like your browser window will now default to “HotSweatyPornCows.com.” It might be that all of the data on your hard drive will be erased. Usually it’s something between those two extremes, but whatever it is, you don’t need it, trust me.

· Somebody may just poke around your computer until they find your personal data, then steal your identity. Maybe you’ve got a file with all of your passwords listed in it, including the one to your bank account? They’ll read that, just before they browse on over to your bank’s website.

YOIKS!

Yeah, huh? But what about Windows versus, for instance, a Mac? There is a difference in virus infection, and that’s no lie. But, you must remember one thing: this is not because a Macintosh computer is inherently immune to viruses! If you think that, then you’re going to be rudely surprised someday because it’s just as easy to write some piece of nasty programming for the Mac as for any other computer. Apple runs ads that imply that their computers are somehow above all that, but the truth is that they say it in such a way that it’s technically not a lie, but it’s misleading. Like President Clinton, they know how to use language to split hairs. All it takes is one evil genius to decide he hates Apple, and your machine is toast. So, if you have a Mac, I urge you to keep reading and heed my advice. That’s because the real reason Macs don’t get a lot of viruses is that they only make up five percent of the computers in use! If that percentage grows, so will the number of Mac viruses.

Linux on a home computer? (Hey, I’ve used it.) You’re probably safe from viruses, because there are so darned few Linux desktops in the world that nobody would be likely to go to the trouble. If you run a Linux server then you already know that plenty of jerks try to mess with Linux, and you probably already know how to protect yourself. I wouldn’t ever let up, if I were you.

SO? WHAT DO YOU DO?

There are two basic things you can do to protect yourself. Buy some software to protect you, and be smart when you use your computer.

Software

The two kinds of software you need are Anti-Virus software and a Personal Firewall. If you have a dial-up connection, you might be able to skip the firewall, but I wouldn’t. They aren’t expensive.

· Anti-Virus Software is a program that has a database of known harmful programs (viruses) and the ability to block them, or oftentimes remove them from your system. That database needs to be kept up to date, which you can do for free if you log onto the anti-virus software company’s website, or usually you can pay a small fee, like twenty dollars a year, and your computer will keep itself updated automatically. That twenty dollars is money well spent. The two biggest sellers are Norton Anti-Virus from Symantec Corp., and McAffee Anti-Virus from Network Associates, but there are others. The key thing to remember is to keep the database current. New nasties are released almost daily.

· A Personal Firewall is a program that screens out other computers or people trying to connect to your computer. Just like the commercial firewall programs used by big corporations, these personal firewalls can be adjusted to admit or exclude various people or machines. New operating systems, like Windows XP or the MacOS X, have personal firewalls built in. With the built-in firewalls, though, you might have to know more about how the Internet works than you’d care to find out in order to make them work just the way you’d like them to. There are some commercial firewalls available that are simpler, like the one called Black Ice, or the one available in the Norton Systems Utilities package. There are some almost free ones available for download on the Internet, but you really do need to know how the Internet works to use them.

Be Smart When You Use Your Computer

This is free, which is usually a good thing. Malicious software isn’t aimed at you personally, it’s just let free to go where it can. That means that you have to be alert for signs that a bit of such stuff has gotten into your system.

· If something seems to download when you first go to a website, then some button appears in a window that says “click here to continue” or something like that, it’s a program that is up to no good. Close the window and run your virus-checker immediately.

· If you don’t know what an e-mail attachment is, no matter how innocent it looks, just delete it. If it’s from someone you know and they really want you to have it and can assure you that it’s safe, they’ll send it again after you contact them, trust me.

· See if you can figure out how to use the filters on your email program. All email programs have some ability to allow or not allow some types of mail, or to set rules about which folder certain mail is going to be put into. Use the rules, maybe putting all the mail from people you know and trust into one folder so you can look at them individually. Then remember that worms and viruses like to pretend they’re someone they’re not. If you get mail from someone you know with an attachment you weren’t expecting, delete it. Then write them and ask about it. Odds are that they’re not as smart as you and they’ve gotten an infected system.

SPYWARE

There is one more thing you should know about security. Spyware is a program that installs itself on your computer and watches what you do, reporting whatever it’s supposed to report back to wherever it’s supposed to report it. There are more than one kind of Spyware. The first you might even want to keep, but that’s up to you.

Cookies are tiny little text files left on your computer by websites. Some of them are just to let the website know that you’re a repeat visitor. Some of them store your logon information to that particular site, which can be very convenient, but is one of the things that guy I talked about above will want to steal. And some of them are gathering information to be used in marketing to you all sorts of things, some of which you might find a tad disgusting. You can adjust your browser to accept different levels of cookies. Mine, for instance, won’t allow them from a site other than the one I’m on, which cuts down on a lot of sneaky nonsense. (Some sites, for money I suppose, “set” cookies for other sites.) And I still occasionally go in and clean out any ones I think look suspicious. A cookie only operates by being read when you connect to a website.

Active Spyware is an actual program. Also downloaded from websites, usually at least, it collects data from your computer, as stated above. This stuff can’t be good. No matter what data it’s collecting, do you want it sent to who-knows-where? These are the sort of programs that can steal your identity and do who-knows-what with it.

You can get rid of Spyware with a program such as Lavasoft Ad-Aware, available for free from the Lavasoft website at http://www.lavasoft.de/. Ad-Aware will scan your system and remove any spyware it finds. (It asks you first if it’s okay to remove what it thinks is bad. This is handy, as a few system items occasionally are mistaken for Spyware.) I’d highly recommend downloading and using this program. It also checks for and loads updates to its database from time to time, just like the virus checking software. If you buy the full version (the free version won’t run automatically), it will watch for Spyware, just like a virus checker watches for viruses, and you won’t ever have to mess with it.

THAT’S IT!

Use a virus-checker, a firewall, and a Spyware remover, and you’ll be as secure as can be expected. Security on the Internet is really just like security in your home. If someone wants badly enough to break into your system, they can find a way to do it. But, nobody who does that sort of thing actually cares about your system in particular. All you have to do is make it relatively less convenient to get into your computer than it is to get into the one owned by that guy down the block with the loud Go-Kart. See? Easy.

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I intended the above to be a part of my computer service blog, but it never hurts to repeat some things.

First Post

Greetings, fellow humorists, readers, writers, curmudgeons, whatever you are. I’m creating this blog for some darned good reasons, to wit:

* I need somewhere to vent my frustration with things political, because otherwise I really can’t be very funny when I write. So, when I get one of those times when what I’m trying to write to post to Steve’s Humor Page just isn’t working, I’ll post some vitriolic stuff here and get it out of my system, at least that’s how it’s supposed to happen.

* I’m interested in writing and communications in general, and this is a way to maybe interact with some other people who also write. In particular I like writing movies, almost as much as I like watching them. Maybe I’ll post reviews here once in a while, too. When somebody buys one of my scripts I’ll post that news really quick you bet!

* I need a blog for a computer repair and training business I’m starting in Henderson, Nevada later this summer, and this is good practice. Any other questions?

I’m developing a bit of web presence. Besides the humor page referenced above, I have a site about creative writing, a site about freelance writing, a site where I can help you with a career change (for a lot less than most places charge), and soon, a site and blog devoted to my newest venture in the Nevada desert, called 4compucare.com. If you’re in Henderson, Green Valley, or South Highlands in Clark County, Nevada and need some help with computers, software, or training about those things, give me a call. (I’ll be in the Henderson Yellow Pages starting September 2004.)

No real vitriol, bitterness, or humor either for that matter. This may be a dull blog, huh? Well, check back. I’ve just published the Humor Page and my energy is low. Just wait ’till next time . . .

😉