When Mayor Lovely Warren’s office announced that her Facebook accounts had been “compromised,” they didn’t specify by whom. And we may never know, since they’re not really under any obligation to tell us. But one thing they made absolutely clear is that Lovely Warren’s Facebook accounts are in fact managed by an unspecified but large number of people who are sharing account credentials. That means that, if indeed the account was “compromised,” they didn’t really have any idea who compromised the account themselves.

This is hardly an unfamiliar or uncommon practice in office settings. Among the many and varied jobs I’ve done on my way to becoming a freelance web developer, I’ve done a fair amount of deskside support. And one thing that is universal at every level of deskside support is: everybody shares passwords.

I mean everybody. CEOs can never really be trusted to know their passwords – their assistants do. And if the assistant is out, do you think business stops? No. All those passwords are written down in her desk drawer for just such emergencies.

This habit repeats itself across industries, companies large and small. But what are the consequences of someone breaching security with a shared password? A case before the Ninth Circuit Court asks this very question. The Electronic Freedom Foundation filed an amicus brief in this case, the overview of which is explained in this EFF Article:

David Nosal worked for Korn/Ferry, an executive recruiting company. Korn/Ferry had a proprietary database of information that, under corporate policy, employees could only use for official Korn/Ferry business. After Nosal left to start his own recruiting company, the government claimed he violated the CFAA when he allegedly convinced other ex-employees of Korn/Ferry to access the database by using a current Korn/Ferry employee’s access credentials, with that employee’s knowledge and permission. The district court refused to dismiss the charges, ruling that the act of using someone else’s computer login credentials, even with their knowledge and permission, is a federal crime. Nosal was convicted by a jury, sentenced to one year in prison, and ordered to pay a $60,000 fine and nearly $830,000 to Korn/Ferry in restitution.

The government paints a pretty dire case, but even at face value, what is happening here is fundamentally no different than any CEO – or Mayor – sharing a password. One has an allegedly unethical intent; one has a drearily predictable, utilitarian intent. But both acts are functionally identical.

The government’s position on this makes every night shift help desk jockey the exact same common criminal as the Mayor of Rochester. Has Lovely Warren committed a crime?

As we can see in the Ninth Circuit case and in Lovely Warren’s most recent dust-up, authentication – the act of verifying you are who you say are – is a serious business. What, then, of the declared “compromiser” of Lovely Warren’s account? That member of her team or related party that used Lovely Warren’s credentials to access her account and rail against her detractor? When someone works against authentication and falsely identifies themselves, most of us would call that “hacking,” though the Mayor’s Office has so far avoided that term.

Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute documents the US code on fraud, and it seems to arguably describe what happened in Lovely Warren’s Facebook account, according to reports:

(a) Whoever, in a circumstance described in subsection (c) of this section—
(1) knowingly and without lawful authority produces an identification document, authentication feature, or a false identification document;
::snip::
(7) knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, or in connection with, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law

Certainly, unlawful impersonation of a public figure must be a crime. It may even turn out that sharing passwords is illegal. If a crime as been committed, it behooves the Mayor and her newly-minted head of communications to provide some answers. It’s worth the conventional media in Rochester asking some real questions about this and not letting it go.

Was she hacked? Impersonated? Or did something else go on? And who will ask these questions, or does the whole story get swallowed up and forgotten in the Christmas holiday?

We’ve been getting bombarded by reports over the last few months, at an ever-increasing rate: another reported incident of suddenly cracking windshields on 390, then 490 then even as far out as 104 in Ontario. Is there some lunatic waiting in the bushes, some wondered, waiting for their moment to do malevolence upon an unsuspecting car? Maybe someone with a near-silent air gun that might elude detection?

To test this particular hypothesis – that a pellet or BB gun might be able to shatter tempered glass – I started looking into the ultimate test case. That turns out to be a British-made pellet gun called the Daystate Air Ranger, a .22 calibre pellet rifle capable of firing at 1020 feet per second. Using the heaviest and therefore most destructive pellet I could find in that calibre, 32 grain, and an online impact force calculator, I came up with the following:

(2mv)/t or (2*0.00208kg*310mps)/1sec = ~1.29N

The tensile strength required by Federal Specification DD-G-1403B, which governs the definition of tempered glass, is 120 to 200N per square millimeter. In other words, while crazier things have happened, it is extremely unlikely that even the most powerful pellet gun will crack a windshield. And weighing in at $2000 for a single gun, it’s safe to say Daysiders are probably not that common in Rochester. Your kid’s Daisy plinker is woefully inadequate to the task, and not likely to be a suspect in this case, at all.

So, when all else fails, the best thing to do is look for the most obvious answer. And that answer is: weather.

Our winter was epic, as we all well know. Those of you who are on Twitter (and why aren’t the rest of you?) will be familiar with the great fun we all had with the #Hothchester hashtag:

Temperatures never seemed to go above zero for a month. Then, after an extraordinarily long, cold early spring, we suddenly shot up into the 80’s and 90’s, with barely a moment’s transition. This kind of weather plays havoc with all kinds of materials, but your car has probably borne the brunt of the abuse, spending all of it’s time out doors in the deep freeze.

And the thing is: tempered glass is very strong, but only because it is inherently unstable. The tempering process involves laying thin layer after thin layer of glass in an ever-thickening mat, in such a way that the tension lines in each layer oppose one another at odd angles. The result is that, since one layer wants to split in a direction directly opposite of another, the faults cancel each other out. In the event that something large enough hits the glass and shatters it, those tension lines will cause the glass to shatter into small, smooth-edged pellets that will only cause minor skin lacerations at best.

However, those tension lines get stressed by the shrinking that happens in extreme cold. Follow that up with the beating sun of an unexpectedly intense summer, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of shattered windshields. Any small stone or nut from an overhanging tree could be enough to cause a crack. In fact, the window may spontaneously crack all on its own, as has been frequently reported in the past. Rest assured that when the crack happens, however it happens, it will be loud

Considering the fact that no one has observed a man by the side of the road; a bullet-shaped hole in a windshield; anything more major than a small crack in the windshield. Considering the fact that we can safely rule out pellet guns as a non-lethal, whisper-quiet means to shatter glass. Considering the fact that cracked windshields rarely make headlines in any other circumstance; that a whole industry is built around repairing minor cracks (Safelite, anyone?). Considering all these facts, it really begins to look like a jumpy police force and an overeager media community are making a very obvious problem into a self-propelled mystery.

Research out of Duke University finds that, when presented vignettes of crimes that are more gruesome and violent, study participants were more likely to assign a higher penalty. 17 subjects read 84 vignettes while being observed under MRI scan. The stories presented to the participants were also matched up to crimes in the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Two crimes that would have received the same penalty under those guidelines were painted in more and less gruesome terms. The results were consistent:

While participants accurately matched federal standards for the strong disgust vignettes, they suggested less punishment than the standards recommend for crimes considered weak in disgust.

Parts of their brain engaged in logical reasoning also reflected this bias. Logical reasoning areas responded less when faced with biological descriptions of the perpetrators’ personality and when faced with less gruesome crimes.

This is one of those “well, that was obvious” kind of studies. Everyone – especially prosecutors – understands that a gruesome crime will be treated more harshly than a relatively benign one. And everyone understands that a jury’s verdict can be influenced with a bit of shock and horror. But “obvious” is not a scientific term; what seems obvious is often not the whole truth. In this case, it raises an important question.

If federal guidelines are best followed when jurors are the most disgusted, does that suggest that perhaps federal guidelines are too harsh? Are they established based on the same cognitive bias that this new study explores? One researcher says as much:

“Similarly, many years ago our legal systems were perhaps built with violent, gruesome crimes in mind,” [professor of social psychology and cognitive neuroscience at Duke University Lasana] Harris said. “Therefore legal penalties for crimes better match people’s modern intuitions when the crimes are gruesome. Both factors — the mind of the accused and the gruesomeness of the crime — demonstrate built-in bias within the legal system.”

Adding in the phrase “many years ago,” is a nice nod to diplomacy. But the more likely answer is that the “Law and Order” politicians who tout their tough-on-crime stances for the sake of electoral success are pushing our nation towards unrealistically harsh penalties in the long term.

Starting the 19th of this month, Rural Metro ambulance services along with the Rochester Police Department will begin distributing First Check at-home drug tests. They will have five hundred of the units to pass out at any of the Rural Metro offices, all Rochester City School District high schools with Resource Officers, Rochester Neighborhood Service Centers and RPD headquarters.

The First Check drug test allows users to test a urine sample for the presence of 12 different chemicals, including both 5 prescription and 7 illicit drugs. The list of drugs the test claims to test for is available right on their home page. The test does not state that a chemical is definitely in the system of the tested individual, but rather, declares a result to be a “preliminary positive result,” meaning that the kit must then be sent into the First Check labs for additional testing to confirm the results.

We can certainly applaud the efforts of local businesses and law enforcement to try to curb teen drug use. But the fact is that the American Association of Pediatrics has made the case many times, very strongly, that they do not support the use of home drug test on kids – with or without their knowledge:

The American Academy of Pediatrics has strong reservations about testing adolescents at school or at home and believes that more research is needed on both safety and efficacy before school-based testing programs are implemented. The American Academy of Pediatrics also believes that more adolescent-specific substance abuse treatment resources are needed to ensure that testing leads to early rehabilitation rather than to punitive measures only.

Among the objections the AAP has concerning at-home drug testing are the lack of proper training, the potential contamination of samples and false-positive results, the many variables associated with a medical test and the potentially-abusive environment that might be caused when parents use the tests as a weapon.

I spoke with LaShay Harris of Rural Metro, who points out that the packet Rural Metro and the RPD plan to distribute includes literature that includes conversation-starters, FAQs and the list of drugs the test will check for. The tests, she says, are to start a conversation about drug use, not end it.

People interested in learning more about the program can check Rural Metro’s media page here.

School graduation rates, crime statistics and home values. These are the things that people look up when considering purchasing or renting a home. But along with those issues, parents especially might be inclined to check the local sex offender registry, to see if there are people in the neighborhood that parents would prefer not be around their children.

It hasn’t always been this way: it was only back in 1994 when the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act established the requirement that state law enforcement register sexual offenders. It was the more commonly-known amendment to that bill, Meghan’s Law, that established those registries as public.

But a new study by Alissa Ackerman, a professor of social work at the University of Washington, Tacoma suggests that in the intervening 18 years, those registries have become over bloated and inaccurate. Studying five of the largest state registries including New York, Texas, Illinois, Georgia and Florida, she discovered many registered offenders had either died or moved out of the communities they were registered to.

New York State was the second-worst offender in the list, with a staggering 52% variance between registrants and current locations. Out of 32,930 offenders listed, only 15,950 could be verified. A search of that registry shows 1,387 of those offenders registered in Monroe County.

The search page also includes an explicit disclaimer about the accuracy of the data contained therein that would seem to be at odds with the mission of the database.

DCJS attempts to ensure that the information in the Subdirectory is accurate and complete. However, the information on the Subdirectory is reported to DCJS by other sources. As a result, DCJS makes no express or implied guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this data.

Accuracy and completeness

There are a few obvious problems with a registry including inaccurate information. The first is: if Offender A isn’t where they say he is, then where is he? It would be difficult to argue that the registry “tracks sexual offenders” if it’s not accurately tracking them when they move. The registry offers what they call “Sex Offender Relocation Alerts.” How can the public trust that they’re accurate?

For the person selling their house or renting an apartment, the erroneous listing of a sex offender in your neighborhood could be as bad as actually having one there.

Kristen Munson ( @MrsMunson ), brand evangelist for the rental property search and resource website NewDigs.com, says that requests for sexual offender data are occasional. She stressed that while her company does not get regular requests for offender registry data, the subject comes up enough that the company plans to adopt sex offender registry data into their system sometime this year.

“This is the first I’m hearing of inaccuracies, which would definitely be a concern for us,” she states.

While Mrs. Munson does not have any first-hand knowledge of rentals in jeopardy because of registered sex offenders, she does say, ” I have heard people say they wish they had known, or they wish their landlord had told them that a known sex offender lived in their building.”

DFE attempted to contact the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services for this article. At the time of publish, I have not received any response.

Gary Craig ( @gcraig1 ) at the D & C has some excellent reporting on the career of Chad Rahn, a person whom, despite myself, I find fascinating. In discussing some of the positive comments about Rahn from his fellow officer, Craig notes that:

Some officers who have worked with Rahn say he has the street-wise instincts — if not the ethical judgment — of a solid police officer.

via Chad Rahn’s police career dotted with iffy incidents | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com.

Duly respectful comments from fellow officers, but really: if you have the instincts to know how to be a Good Cop, but lack the ethical judgment to do so, doesn’t that make you the Bad Cop? The report overall paints a pretty clear picture of a kid with control issues. Not unlike a few acquaintances in my early adulthood, to be honest. And I certainly wouldn’t give any of those people a gun and a badge.

There is also this cryptic passage:

-In 2009, Rahn was stopped twice in two days for questionable driving. He was not ticketed, but the Irondequoit police were informed about the incidents.

What is questionable driving? Unquestionably, he must have been driving. So what is in question? Speed? Direction? Choice of vehicles? Blood toxicity? Just asking.

I was just going to post this as a link on Twitter, but there’s a problem: TechCrunch is hosted by WordPress.com, so there’s reason to believe that the site may not be up all that often today.

WordPress.com Suffers “Extremely Large” DDoS Attack.

The linked-to blog article gives no indication what prompted the attack – if anything – and more worrisome: no indication if this is a traditional DDOS or if a WordPress software exploit is responsible. This website, of course, is proudly powered by WP, though I may live to regret that statement by the end of the day.

Interesting and more than a little unsettling information from this article on TheRegister.com. Namely, that WiliLeaks.org may have actively sought out – and found – supposedly secret documents on P2P sites like Limewire. The evidence seems a bit circumstantial, but it does raise a few interesting questions:

The first is: why the hell are there secret government documents online and where do I get mine? Limewire, apparently. Considering the fact that I can’t get a decent-quality bootleg of Genesis on Limewire, I’m frankly put-out that I could get the plans to Marine One, the president’s helicopter, which I have utterly no use for.

There are a large number of security vulnerabilities to be discussed, here, and probably more than I’m aware of. But they’re all bad news because this is a huge breach of security from the government that not only invented the frickin’ Internet, but also invented public key encryption and a raft of other security features in common and entirely successful use on that same Internet.

But here’s another interesting question: if WikiLeaks did in fact search out and find secret government documents on P2P sites, is that even a crime? We can argue about shield laws, journalism and whistleblowers till the cows come home. But none of that is relevant in this case, because the crime of posting the stuff in a public forum was not committed by either a whistleblower or a journalist. Moreover, P2P is not a crime by itself: it’s just sharing information in a public forum. And if it’s a public forum, then the burden of illegality is on those who originally posted the items, intentionally or otherwise.

Put it another way: it’s a long-ago defunct pass-time, but they used to have bootleg conventions at the Village Gate all the time. Guys would come from all over to buy, sell and trade recordings of musicians performing live or of unreleased material. It is certainly a crime to record those musicians without their consent, but once the material is out there, it’s out there. Its public. And you can openly trade it with a bunch of other athletically-challenged nerds in the middle of a dusty former factory with clothslines for walls.

This is one worth watching. You can bet I will be! Stay tuned.

It remains the top Google search for “ACORN video“: FOX News’ credulous “reporting” of the two kids who posed as a pimp and prostitute and entered various ACORN headquarters to ferret out the wrongdoers among them. The scandal as FOX continues to see it – despite overwhelming law enforcement evidence to the contrary – is that an ACORN volunteer is seen on the video confessing to the murder of her ex-husband. But is that where the story actually is? Or is there some other illumination to be gleaned from this whole affair? We’ve seen lots of video taken from the front of the camera, but let’s take a moment to look at who was behind the camera, posing as a “pimp.”

Hannah Giles and James OKeefe, purveyors of thespian sexual favours.

Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe, purveyors of thespian sexual favours.

Meet Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe, the two activists who journeyed into the Heart of Darkness, also known as “The Ghetto.” One can hardly imagine a more appropriate pair to pose as two drug-addicted, hard-bitten inner city thugs with a taste for the sex trade. The video they produced shows the realistic method acting and authentic attire they employed in their subterfuge. Who among the volunteers at ACORN, many of whom have spent their lives in the streets where prostitutes ply their wares, could help but fall for their crafty ways?

After all, nothing say’s “hooker” like blond hair, healthy skin, expensive slut-gear and a full set of teeth. I can see this bad, bad, pimpin’ man screaming now, “Bitch betta have my latte!!”

Only FOX News could be so eager to grind their axes as to fall for this ridiculous scam. The only way anyone would go to these two dolts for sexual favours is if they were looking for a sexual act known as “The Full Milk Toast.” When I first heard about some of the video they captured, I was a little worried. But then I saw the third video – the one with the supposed murderer – and then I saw the kids who tried to pull this off and the whole thing just collapsed under its own farcical weight.

It reveals something far more compelling about FOX News viewers and their concept of what “The Ghetto” is that they would be equally willing to fall for this nonsense. You really do have to be from somewhere at least as snow-white as Utah to believe that:

  1. These two idiots could pass for a “hooker” and a “pimp.”
  2. That dressing for a Cozumel night club and dressing for a night of heavy prostitute work are the same thing: a slut’s a slut.
  3. That anything so exact as a “hooker” and a “pimp” really exists in the world: these are not professions for which you get a certification.[1. Perhaps a CBL? Commercial Blowjob License?]
  4. That “hookers” and “pimps” regularly announce themselves as such.
  5. That “hookers” and “pimps” import their prostitutes from El Salvador; that “hookers” and “pimps” have enough money to fly someone in from El Salvador – coach, one would presume, but even so… – but can’t think of anything better to do with their money than visit ACORN offices in search of cheap rental property.
  6. That the idle question, “how much do you charge,” is answerable with a set list of charges and services, like your local chimney sweep.
  7. That people who commit murder routinely share this information with strangers whom they meet for the first time; that murder in “The Ghetto” is a thing for which such a cavalier attitude is commonplace.

But facts don’t seem to matter much to the executives at FOX News, who continue to allow their “journalists” to spew hate about an organization upon whose head not a single conviction has fallen so far. Neither it seems do facts matter to their audience, for whom FOX News serves as a means to reinforce their beliefs at the expense of reality. At issue is the shared socio-political axe FOX and it’s audience have to grind; not facts or even half-assed observation, either of which would have forbade them to cover this “story.”

What is worse is the lemming-like behavior of the Mainstream Media and Democratic politicians, both of whom are being led by the nose for fear of looking weak on voter fraud. Since when as FOX News ever proven itself to be worth of such unqualified and unexamined sourcing? What major news has the FOX News network ever broken that turned out to be legitimate in any way, apart from being handed interviews and White House leaks by a Bush White House that was friendly to it’s cause?

And all of this built on the “work” of a minister’s daughter and an MBA.

Channel 8’s got a new article up about a former aid to David Patterson getting a plum job working for State Senator John Sampson. This revelation comes as it is revealed that State Senator and turncoat Espada’s son was given a plum as well by the state Democrat’s central staff:

Another Controversial Hiring in Albany.

Well, what do you know? One loser in Albany gets called to the mat and then the accusations just keep on coming. Who could have ever predicted such a thing?

And oh-so loath as I am to compare the crimes of the Albany set, allow me to point out a few things which – on the face of it – don’t appear to achieve “scandal parity:”

  1. You can hire whatever idiot you like. Hiring is not the problem.
  2. In Espada, we have a clear narrative of nepotism and blackmail: dude abandons the Dems, then gets coaxed back, then his kid gets a job.
  3. Who did Sampson bribe? Not saying he didn’t, but where is the crime? We’re comparing nepotism to,.. what? a bad hiring choice.

So perhaps this case gets juicier. I won’t be holding my breath. Meanwhile, I’m sure there are others’ arms being twisted. Better stuff is on the way, no doubt.

I’ve been blogging for at least five years, now. I’ve been doing so right along with a lot of my other Lefty buddies, commenting on and applauding a lot of the same news sources, such as Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and what has become the entire MSNBC lineup. And right along with Bill Mahar, too. I thought I understood what they were saying when we all complained about George Bush, but in recent months, I’ve begun to doubt that.

In recent months, since the Obama Administration took the White House, Progressive talking heads have been consistently pushing on a number of issues. Gays in the military, Guantanamo, the stimulus package and many others. And the common refrain has been some variation of, “with the stroke of a pen, President Obama could end all this…”

Perhaps I’ve lost my mind, but I could have sworn that one of the things we didn’t like about George Bush was… his use of executive orders and signing statements to bypass the will of the Congress? Did I totally misread that? Because now that we have our man in the White House, we want him to employ precisely the same tactics that I recall people decrying as circumventing the U.S. Constitution. And beyond that apparent contradiction, there are a number of problems with executive overrides of this type which are also worth mentioning.

The first should be obvious: if we can turn over all of Bush’s executive hanky-panky this easily, so too can the next president “correct” the Obama Administration. I may be confused about what we Lefties were talking about a few years ago, but I remember my U.S. History and Government class, and this is definitely not what the Founders had in mind. We are not meant to be a cult of personality like Saddam’s Iraq or Kim’s North Korea. Our laws are not meant to be subject to the whims of the most powerful ape in the room. We may like things fast in our modern world, but some things are better left up to the stodgy, old, slow and yes, painfully prejudiced and ignorant Congress.

Secondly, if the president does not get the work done through Congress, Congress can always pass a law that circumnavigates his circumnavigation. Potentially, they can do so in a way that overrides the veto. Remember how Congress’ slowness was a bad thing? Well, with a stroke of a pen, you’ll be counting on it.

Third, in some cases, it’s really not that simple anyway. The president is sitting on a prison in Guantanamo filled with people who have been wrongly imprisoned. People whose basic human rights have been violated, which is a crime which our Constitution is particularly well-suited to prosecute… harshly. In fact, history buffs will know that the entire point of the Constitution is precisely that.

The president cannot simply wave his pen and declare “Do-over!” He cannot free Gitmo detainees without complications. And he certainly cannot do that by, once again, short-circuiting the legal process. The only legally justifiable means of releasing the Guantanamo detainees is by putting them on trial, but since most of the evidence against even those guilty of actual crimes against the United States was obtained via torture and is therefore not admissible, that means both the guilty and the innocent would be set completely free.

The CIA is another sticky wicket. The good and bad news about stable democracies is that the institutions of government – from the Department of Agriculture to the military to the CIA – maintain contiguous operation beyond presidential terms. The Department of the Interior does not suddenly loose all it’s staff and get repopulated every time a new president takes the oath, though it came close in the Bush Administration. It is this contiguous institutionalization of government that provides the democratic stability we enjoy as Americans, not the voting part. There is even an argument to be made that this bureaucratic stability is what eventually ground the Bush Administration down in the end: whistleblowers throughout the government leaked the documents and instigated the investigations that mired the Bushies down for the past three or four years.

But in the case of the CIA, that also means there are bodies buried deep in the vaults of that secret agency that no president has probably ever known about. And even if presidents do, we the public don’t. Again, untangling this web, especially where torture has been used, is not as simple as people seem to think it is. And as we’ve learned from the Bush Administration, the leadership can only push agencies just so far before they earn the ire of career bureaucrats who will outlast them. I’m quite certain that, as a Constitutional law professor, President Barack Obama is quite well aware of the problem torture presents. I’m quite certain that he’s interested in removing the stain of torture from our government – not out of ideological zeal, but out of fidelity to the Constitution he spent his life studying. But this, like much of the damage done by the Bush Administration, is going to take time to put right.

Of course, I understand that we need people to push issues. Just because a president with a D next to his name gets elected does not mean that the things we need done will get done. There has to be pressure on politicians if anything is to be accomplished, especially presidents; there needs to be a loyal opposition, a position for which the Republicans are ill-equipped these days. But we need to be cautious that, in pushing for small changes, we don’t arrive at unforeseen and lamentable large changes. Pressure is one thing, but irresponsibility is quite another.