Hillary, hackers, threats, and national security

I got a point-blank question in the comments earlier this week: Did Hillary Clinton’s home-made mail server put national secrets at risk of being hacked by our enemies?

Depending on the enemies, maybe marginally. But not enough that any security professional that I know of is worried about it. Here’s why.

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The State Department is just one of many examples of IT gone rogue

Much has been made of Hillary Clinton’s use of her own mail server, running out of her home. It didn’t change my opinion of her, and I don’t think it changed anyone else’s either–it just reinforces what everyone has thought of her since the early 1990s. Then, Ars Technica came forward with the bizarre case of Scott Gration, an ambassador who ran his own shadow IT shop out of a bathroom stall in Nairobi.

The money quote from Ars: “In other words, Gration was the end user from hell for an understaffed IT team.” And it concluded with, “[A]s with Clinton, Gration was the boss—and the boss got what the boss wanted.”

Indeed. And it doesn’t just happen in the government.

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If you’re wondering where those anti-Google ads came from

If you’re wondering why political-style anti-Google ads are suddenly running everywhere, it’s no coincidence. Microsoft has hired one of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s advertising masterminds to try his hand at campaigning against Google.

While it seems to be having some effect on public opinion, its effect on market share and Microsoft’s bottom line will take more time to gauge. But I think in the long term, talking to customers and figuring out why they are walking out of Microsoft stores empty-handed will prove more effective. Read more

How the Republican Party is losing me

I tend to lean to the right. For as long as I understood what it meant to be conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, I called myself a conservative Republican. In college, I wrote a newspaper column for 3 1/2 years brashly titled "No Left Turns."

In last year’s primary, I voted for Ron Paul for a couple of reasons. One, a lot of things he said made sense. Two, at least he sincerely believed in the things he said that didn’t make sense. And three, he’s a doctor. When Ron Paul predictably didn’t get the nomination, I voted against John McCain and for a Democrat, Barack Obama. The main reason was health care.I come from a long line of Republicans. My great great great grandfather, Dr. Edward Andrew Farquhar, helped the Republican Party get organized in the state of Ohio prior to the Civil War. My great grandfather, Ralph Farquhar, worked for the powerful Ohio Republican Marcus Alonzo Hanna. And my dad was three things: outspoken, Republican, and a doctor. Sometimes the order varied.

In 1992, Dad was very much against Hillary Clinton’s health care plan, but he was very much in favor of some kind of health care reform. The system desperately needed it, even then. Rarely did a week go by without Dad getting an angry letter from one of his patients. The story was always the same. Patient comes to Dad seeking treatment. Dad treats patient. Patient gets better. Dad bills insurance company. Insurance company denies claim. Patient can’t afford to pay.

The only variance was the patient’s understanding of what happened. Sometimes the patient was mad at Dad. Sometimes the patient wanted Dad’s help. All too frequently, what happened was Dad just didn’t get paid. The insurance provider–be it Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance–wasn’t going to budge. The patient legitimately couldn’t pay the bill. Dad could press, but if the patient paid, the patient would go hungry. If Dad didn’t bill, Dad wouldn’t go hungry. Dad had a soul, so Dad would do what people who have souls do and just tear up the bill.

Someone had to give a crap about these people. Unfortunately sometimes Dad was the only one.

Dad told me once that if I decided to become a doctor, he would lock me away for seven years. Being a doctor is a family tradition. Dad thought there were better things for me to do than spend my life messing with computers, but being a doctor wasn’t one of them. He wanted me to have a better life than he had.

Dad died of a heart attack in 1994, aged 51. Had the health care system allowed him to practice medicine and stayed out of his way, I’m sure he would have lived longer. Maybe he would have been still been alive when my grandmother and father in law needed him.

Fast-forward to 2006. My wife was pregnant, but having a hard time of it. Extreme nausea was keeping her almost bedridden some days. Her doctor found one and only one anti-nausea drug that would work, a treatment normally given to cancer patients. Our insurance was willing to pay for it once. When her 30-day supply was exhausted, the doctor tried every treatment that the insurance company was willing to pay for, but none of them worked. She fell into a vicious cycle of dehydration and nausea. One built on the other, and she ended up hospitalized.

The drug cost about $80 a week to just buy outright. I bought a week’s supply to keep her out of the hospital for a week while I figured out what to do next. The doctor knew I was unhappy. I asked him if it would do any good to get a lawyer and sue the insurance company. I was serious and he knew it. He said he wished someone would do that, but if it was me, the only thing I’d accomplish would be getting some face time on CNN and meanwhile we still wouldn’t have the medicine we needed.

This is the free market compassion that Rush Limbaugh spouts about. I’ve yet to figure out what’s compassionate about cutting off a woman’s medicine so she has to go into the hospital. The insurance company will pay for part of her hospitalization, but not the medicine that keeps her out of the hospital. Oh, and while she’s in the hospital, she can’t work.

Writing some letters succeeded in getting her the medicine she needed. And my employer, to its credit, changed insurance plans the next year, to something that takes better care of people.

Unfortunately, this year I found myself working for a very large company that operated as its own insurer in order to keep the profits to itself. And that company quickly decided that my wife was using too much insulin and my son was using too many vaccines. Their doctors disagreed, but they’re only doctors. What do they know about profits?

One day, after getting yet another denial claim in the mail, I ran into a former coworker in a parking lot. He asked how things were going. I told him, then asked if my old company had any job openings. A month later, I was working for my old company again, with the only health coverage I’ve ever seen that actually covers what I need it to cover. When they offered me the job, I had to think for a whole two seconds before accepting.

Most people can’t do what I did. On paper, pretty much every health insurance plan I’ve ever had pretty much looked the same. But like I said, there’s only been one that ever covered much of anything.

And pretty much any old insurance plan works for me, because I rarely use it. As long as I visit a chiropractor every six or seven weeks or so, I have no health issues. I could save a lot of money by declining coverage entirely and just paying the chiropractor out of pocket.

But my wife has to go to the doctor more often. So does my son. Me paying into the system and getting next to nothing out of it covers for them, who pay into the system and take back out a much higher percentage of what they paid in.

The only companies who aren’t jealous of health insurance companies’ profits are the oil companies. Since 2000, their profits are up more than 400 percent. But year after year, more and more people find it harder to get health coverage.

The system has a good racket going, frankly. Food companies sell poisonous food to the unwitting (or apathetic) masses. The masses get sick and have to go to the doctor more. Doctors give them pills for their problems, but the problems get worse because they keep eating poisonous food. Eventually they develop diabetes or cancer, at which point the insurance company can cut off coverage.

Everyone makes lots of money in the meantime. Except for the consumer-turned-patient, who pays out more and more every year, then eventually ends up with a chronic and painful disease.

I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy. Not at all. The free market just found something that works really well for the people in power. It’s a beautiful system–for those who benefit.

Unfortunately that same system hurts people. I live with two people it hurts. And the system killed my dad.

Sometimes the market needs a referee. That referee is called regulation. And since the Republican Party isn’t willing to regulate, I voted for a Democrat that I knew would press the issue.

Actually what I expected was for Obama and the Democrats to push some kind of socialized medicine, and Republicans to counter with something like the German system, which is all private but highly regulated. You don’t hear much about the German system, mostly because it works pretty well.

That’s what I favor.

Some people may wonder why I care, since I have good coverage now. But if you think the plan I have will last forever, you’re smoking crack. Eventually the plan will get too expensive. Or the company could get bought out, or it could lose the contract I’m on. There are any number of things that could put me right back where I was a couple of months ago.

I’d much rather fix the system. I might need it someday, but not only that, I actually have a soul, and I’m tired of seeing other people suffering.

If that makes me a moderate rather than a conservative, so be it. If it means I’m no longer a Republican, well, some things are more important than labels and party affiliations.

Take some steps to improve your health today

So Michael Moore has a new movie out, this time taking on the touchy topic of health care. I was a very outspoken opponent of Hillary Clinton’s plan 15 years ago. I’m extremely disappointed that the alternative plans crafted by the Republicans dropped as soon as the Clinton plan died.

I won’t argue that the U.S. health care system is terrible now. I will argue that some of the fault belongs to the person in our mirrors though. (And I don’t want to be rude, but Michael Moore needs to take some personal responsibility too.)The best editorial I ever saw about the Clinton plan was written by Andy Rooney. What he said then is even more true today: We drag our lard butts to the doctor because we won’t eat right, and we complain when the doctors can’t cure our problems which are to at least a certain degree, self-inflicted. Then he twisted the knife a bit, pointing out that Clinton was fond of going to McDonald’s with camera crews in tow. He said something like, “Health care is in trouble. Now excuse me while I go have a triple-cheesy-greasy with double fries. Do as I day, not as I do.”

Now to be entirely fair, society encourages us to eat out a lot. It tells us that’s how to be good parents, it’s a good way to take a load off and relieve stress, and who knows how many messages–most of which aren’t true. Remember, the originator of the message is selling something. Always always remember that.

I remember John C. Dvorak once remarking on his blog, “Someone wants us fat.” Give the little man a big cigar! The food industry wants us fat because we’ll eat more. The drug industry wants us fat because we’ll take more drugs. And once both of them get us up on that treadmill, they stand to make billions. If not trillions.

I still believe, with everything I have, that the American diet (if it can be called that) is largely to blame. We eat a lot of empty food that does our bodies no good, but does plenty of harm. Dad was saying 30 years ago that biscuits and gravy cause cancer. Today, guess what? They’re saying that sausages and gravies and highly cooked fats cause cancer. Sausage gravy does all the wrong things about as well as anything, but hot dogs are another good example.

Fast-food hamburgers may not necessarily cause cancer, but they sure do a dandy job of giving you a heart attack.

Vegetarians say they have the answer, but I’m not entirely convinced vegetarianism is absolutely necessary, nor is it a panacea. I see plenty of vegetarian cookbooks that do nothing but douse the vegetables in butter and cheese. Eat like that, and you won’t be any thinner or healthier than anyone else.

I do believe the main reason healthy vegetarians are healthy is because they pay attention. They look at the ingredients to make sure there’s no meat in there, and if there’s anything in the ingredients that they can’t pronounce, they probably end up putting it back since they can’t prove it didn’t come from an animal. And as a result, they tend to end up eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, breads that don’t have a lot of ingredients in them, and other things that provide a lot of nutrition in their calories.

I’m also convinced this is why most fad diets work initially. If you hopped on the Atkins bandwagon in the early 1990s before it became hugely popular (it had actually been around since the early 1970s), it was entirely possible to lose weight, because you would be limited largely to unprocessed meats and vegetables. But I noticed around 2000 or 2001 that a lot of people were on Atkins and weren’t losing any weight at all on it. Atkins was still saying the same things, but it wasn’t working anymore. The difference? Everyone and his uncle was peddling Atkins-friendly junk foods. Instead of being limited to meats and vegetables you cooked yourself, you could microwave processed Atkins-friendly TV dinners and gorge yourself afterward on Atkins-friendly cookies and ice cream.

People stopped losing weight, their cholesterol soared, and lots of companies made lots of money. Then the gravy train ended, but that’s OK because there’s always another one.

This is a boom for drug companies too. When your cholesterol goes sky-high, the commercials say there’s no need to change your diet. You can just pop an anti-cholesterol pill. What they don’t tell you is that the pill not only lowers your cholesterol, it also wipes out your B vitamins. So now your cholesterol is lowered, but you’re depressed and have carpal tunnel syndrome (just two things a deficiency in B vitamins can cause). So now you need another pill. Funny, the same company that makes the most popular drug for cholesterol also makes one of the most popular drugs for depression.

And that popular drug has some side effects such as abdominal pain and/or headache, sexual disfunction, and other things. But there are pills for that too.

Is it any wonder we never really get better? We take a pill for one thing, and the pill fixes that, but then we get something else. The domino effect starts, and it’s possible to go from being on no drugs to being on five in a matter of months.

About a year ago, my wife was out talking to someone. She mentioned she was diabetic. The elderly gentleman she was conversing with said he was too. They talked some more, and it turned out he became diabetic as a teenager, just as she had. He seemed like he’d lived a long and healthy life to her, so she asked if he had any secrets to share. He did. “Stay away from junk food, and you’ll be fine.”

Good advice. Simple advice. Unfortunately it’s difficult to follow, seeing as every other commercial between the hours of 4 and 8 is for junk food. Most of the rest are for drugs, with the occasional car commercial thrown in.

Here are some starting points my wife and I have picked up from the books of Dr. Mark Hyman.

1. Avoid processed food. Buy your groceries from the outer ring of the grocery store, staying out of the aisles.

2. Avoid high-fructose corn syrup. This ultra-common sweetener is very cheap, but your body doesn’t know what to do with it. Eat lots of sugar and eventually you feel full, but if you eat the same amount of high fructose corn syrup, you’ll only crave more. Is it any wonder food companies love this stuff? It costs half as much, and you eat twice as much. What’s that mean? Profit!

And guess what? Just about anything that comes in a box or a package has lots of it. When I went in search of a loaf of bread that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it, I was only able to find one kind, and that included all of the premium brands that promote themselves as healthy. So what did we do? We bake our own bread in a breadmaker now instead.

3. Avoid trans-fats and hydrogenated oils. Partially hydrogenated is just as bad, it just sounds a little better. This process makes food last longer on the shelf, which decreases costs, but again, your body doesn’t know what to do with it. It raises cholesterol levels but gives no nutritional benefit.

Once again, most products that come in a package have lots of them. Fortunately the tide is turning against this trend. Hopefully it lasts.

4. Eat smaller portions of meat and larger portions of fruits and vegetables. Meats aren’t necessarily all bad, although there’s little question that the hormones and other things the animals are given aren’t exactly good for us. There’s also no reason you have to eat meat at every meal, other than status. I usually have meat at one meal.

Fresh fruits and vegetables give more nutrients than meat and fewer undesirable side effects like higher cholesterol.

5. Eat whole foods that are as fresh as possible. Bleached white flour loses its nutrients. Canned vegetables lose most of their nutrients. Cook fresh, in-season vegetables and you’ll be healthier.

6. Watch the salads. How is it that people can eat salads all the time and still not lose any weight? Look at a McDonald’s nutritional guide and you’ll see most of their salads have as many calories as one of their sandwiches. Or more. They put the same junk in their salads as their sandwiches. It just looks healthy.

And even if you have a simple, traditional salad of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and shredded carrots, watch the dressings. A tablespoon of any of the common, traditional dressings has anywhere from 50-75 calories, and odds are you’ll use at least three of them. Possibly more. You could waste 10 percent of a 1,500 calorie diet on a condiment.

I don’t disagree that there’s something wrong with our medical system. That much is obvious. But the health problems that we’re creating and perpetuating with our current lifestyle would bring any medical system to its knees.

Trust me. The doctors aren’t all happy. My dad was one. He told me that if I ever told him I wanted to be a doctor, he’d lock me in my room for 7 years. Dad didn’t mind being a doctor, but he hated dealing with insurance companies and the government.

One day one of my coworkers was arguing with an insurance adjustor about a medical procedure his wife needed. The doctor said she needed it. The insurance adjustor said she didn’t, and insurance wasn’t going to cover it.

I told him to ask the insurance adjustor where he went to medical school.

Doctors go to school for a minimum of six years. I searched for an insurance adjustor job to see what the qualifications were. A two-year degree was all that was necessary. It didn’t specify that two-year degree had to be in biology or anything else relevant.

The current system is great for the drug industry, the insurance industry, and the food industry. If the system changes, I don’t expect it will get any worse for them. They have lots of lobbyists, and lots of money at stake.

I don’t expect it will get all that much better for us. The best thing for us to do is to take steps to need to use it less.

And ironically, if we use the system less and reduce the burden on it, it should get better.

02/25/2001

A milestone. Yesterday I was at Borders, looking for a book on playing bass guitar. It’s time for me to get serious with that. Computers are boring, writing is boring, so what’s left? Everyone assumes I play an instrument, and, well, I don’t really. I own a keyboard and a bass but I don’t play them.

I didn’t find what I was looking for. But on my way out the door, I spied a computer for looking up book titles. Hmm. On a whim, I did an author search on my name. Up pops my book, on shelf K0020. Really? So I go look. Sure enough, there’s a copy. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen my book anywhere but on my own shelf or at a friend’s house, let alone in an honest-to-goodness bookstore. Extremely cool.

I drove down the street to Barnes & Noble. On the way back to the music books, I passed the computer section. So I stopped at the Windows shelf, looked, and, surprisingly, there was a copy of Optimizing Windows sitting there too. Coolness.

So I went back to the music books in a good mood. And there I found three books on learning bass. I bought them, along with a pocket-sized book of piano and guitar chords since the only thing keeping me from playing keyboards is not knowing what keys to play. Knowing basic chords won’t make me good, but as long as I can plink out the songs I like, I’ll be happy. And the addition of guitar chords will be useful if I ever make good on my threats to get a six-string.

And it’s easier to talk about problems than to do something about them. I’m just gonna drop the gun talk. I don’t find the discussion interesting. If it were on someone else’s site, I wouldn’t bother reading it. It’s all so high on passions and low on original thought, and frankly I expect something to change on the abortion front before something happens on the gun front (and the chances of that are extremely low as well–lower than the chances of my Kansas City Royals winning the World Series on a $43 million payroll). So why am I posting it here? So half a dozen U.S.ers can write in and tell me how right I am and a Canadian and a Brit can write in, dismissing outright any parallel I try to draw as fallacy of distraction, and/or complaining about U.S. culture? To what end?

One good question was raised in all this: Who’s gonna teach kids morals? Well, the parents should for one. But that’s not really enough–even Hillary Clinton (or her ghostwriter) knows that. Others should as well. We can talk about the problems all we want, but that doesn’t do a lick of good. It just gets us all hacked off. So screw it. I’m not gonna waste my time or my keystroke quota (and there is a quota–if my wrists start feeling funny, I quit writing, period). I’m gonna do something about it, and I hope others will join me.

I’m gonna go be a mentor. We’ve got a seminary student at church who takes youth ministry seriously, and he sees it as more than just winning souls. It’s relationship building–lifting weights together, going to movies, being there to talk to… If he’s interested in it and one or more kids is interested in it, it’s fair game. Jesus’ name might come up, and it might not. He’s got his head on straight. What’s this have to do with ministry? Well, you think Jesus spent all his time talking about Law and Gospel? He most certainly didn’t! More than anything else, Jesus was interested in being a brother to people who didn’t have one, or whose brother was a loser. And that’s the model our sem student tries to follow.

And this poor guy’s got 20 kids flocking to him. When he came a few months ago it was 2. Probably next month it’ll be 40. He can’t handle it all. So I’m gonna ask if I can join him.

And if it means I have less time to post here, so what? At least I’m making a difference. Better to do something about our problems than to waste electrons talking about them.

Let’s get back to the basics. If your problem involves a slow computer, let’s talk. I can definitely help you solve that one, and chances are there are a couple dozen people wondering the same thing. If your problem involves something else I may know about (and if you’ve been reading a while or you look on the Top 50 list over there, you can get a pretty good idea what I know about), let’s talk.

Enough of that. How ’bout dem Cubs? Er, wait, let’s talk about the White Sox. Now that Alex Rodriguez makes $25.2 million a year to play baseball, Frank Thomas is dissatisfied with his $9.9 million a year and wants a comparable raise before he’ll report to camp. The White Sox, meanwhile, rather than caving in to his demands, are saying fine, we’ll use Harold Baines in Thomas’ role as DH and part-time 1B.

This is good. A contract is a contract, and when Thomas signed through 2006, he should have realized markets will change. Players sign long-term contracts just in case they turn into .236 hitters–that way, they’ve still got a really nice paying job. Teams negotiate long-term contracts in hopes of getting a bit of a discount in exchange for putting up with the risk of a star turning into a .236-hitting overweight former slugger.

Besides, Frank Thomas isn’t worth Alex Rodriguez-type money. Sure, Thomas is a good hitter. He hits lots of home runs, and he hits for high average and draws a lot of walks. Rodriguez hits lots of homers, hits for high average, draws a good share of walks, but he’s a more complete player. Thomas refuses to play in the field most of the time, and when he does, he plays first base, a non-demanding position where he’s just average at his very best. Rodriguez plays shortstop, one of the toughest positions to play–and he’s considered one of the best at his position. Rodriguez has better speed. And over the past three years, Rodriguez has been the more consistent player. Thomas had a good year last year. But the year before last, he only hit 15 homers. The year before that, he hit 29 homers but only batted .265.

So he’s a one-dimensional player whose consistency hasn’t been stellar. Now in 1994, 1996, and 1997 he looked like something, putting up monster years where he hit more than 35 homers and batted around .350. But with his current attitude, he’s not likely to do that again this year.

Harold Baines is a one-dimensional player who hit .312 with 25 homers in 1999, the last season he played regularly (he was a part-time player last year). Over the course of his 21-year career, he’s averaged .291 with 22 homers. He’s a slight downgrade from Thomas, but he makes a fraction what Thomas makes.

Rodriguez isn’t worth $25.2 million a year. No question about that. But even if Rodriguez were worth that kind of money, Thomas still isn’t in his league. You could almost say Thomas fits between Rodriguez and Baines in the pecking order. And as far as salary goes, Thomas is between the two of them as well–and Harold Baines still makes far more in a year than you or I ever will. He’ll make more this year than a lot of us will see in our lifetime.

The White Sox are right. And even with them in the same division as my Royals, I wish them luck with Harold Baines in Thomas’ place.

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