Monthly Archives: February 2014

Don’t judge a book by its cover

A few weeks ago I commented on the banning of a book on Amazon based largely on what appears to be hysteria.

Mr. V was true to his word and sent me a review copy, which I have read from cover to cover. The contents of the book are beyond the scope of this blog, but I could not leave this matter unfinished.

Verdict: Calling this a “rape manual” is ridiculous; most of the tips are for when she’s in your apartment/in your bedroom/on your bed/naked. The moral of the story is: if you don’t want to have sex don’t go to his apartment, stay out of his bedroom and keep your clothes on. And don’t get offended at a book until you have read it.

He makes his position clear with surprising eloquence here.

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The Second Factor

Or: How to prevent your online accounts from getting hacked.

Every now and them I get an e-mail from someone know, with no message but a cryptic link. That’s right, someone’s e-mail account has been hacked, hijacked or compromised in some way. It is almost always a Yahoo address.

For those of us who just use e-mail to circulate gossip and cat pictures, this is not a big deal.However, if you do your banking online, a hacked e-mail account is a quick way to have your accounts drained.

The problem is that the standard method for resetting your password is an “e-mail loop”. It works like this: you go your bank’s website, click the “forgot your password” link, and a reset e-mail is sent to… your e-mail address… which has been compromised. Now they have the ability to change your password and lock you out of your account. Next thing you know, your hard-earned money is winging its way off to a parts unknown, never to return.

It’s not just banking. Some years ago, my brother found a bunch of bogus auctions on his eBay account, and he had to get in touch with eBay to have them stopped. A few days earlier, while on a business trip, he had used a hotel’s computer to access his eBay account. Evidently the computer had been compromised with a keylogger, which enabled bad actors (villains, that is – not William Shatner!) to get his username and password, and once in his account they could post bogus auctions on his account. If they can succeed in changing eBay’s email address for his account then they could also make off with the money.

So how to stop this? The banks’ came up with the idea of “secret questions”. We’ve all seen this at some time or other; they ask you to answer questions such as “What was your mother’s maiden name?“, etc. But when you think about it, this is just another “something you know”. In other words, it is effectively another password. And since the “secret questions” and answers are stored in the bank’s databases, they too are vulnerable to the kind of “exfiltration” (a posh word for theft of data) that seems to be happening on a monthly, if not weekly, basis,

The banks love this approach for one simple reason — it’s cheap. With security, as with so many other things, there is “Good” security, and there is “Cheap” security. Guess which one corporations prefer. Guess which one works best.

Remember when Bank of America came up with Credit Cards with your picture on it? Ever wonder why they don’t do that anymore? Because they found out that 1) Putting the pictures on the cards cost more than the losses due to to fraud, and 2) most cashiers don’t look at the picture anyway. Which made it 1) Expensive and 2) Not very effective.

The good news is that many big players on the Internet are finally adopting good security. One approach is to use a code transmitted to a cellphone by voice call or text message. The good news is that this approach requires that you have your phone. The bad news is that… this approach requires that you have your phone. If you lose or misplace it, you are stuck until you have jumped through several hoops. And if your phone is stolen and is not protected by a PIN lock, they may be able to crack a whole bunch of accounts at once – the holy grail of identity theft.

Another approach is to use a code generator; a device that generates a unique code each time it is used. This can be done using a hardware device (like the Paypal “Football ” code generator) or a software-based code generator like Google’s Authenticator, which generates a new code every thirty seconds. The cool thing about this is that if a bad guy steals your password, they still can’t get in. And even if they steal the key as well, and is invalid thirty seconds later. I am not even sure if a key can be re-used, but if you are paranoid about re-use (which I am not), you can just wait until it is just about to expire before you use it. Google uses this to secure their e-mail accounts; I used this. If Mat Honen, senior writer with Wired Magazine, had used this approach, the epic hacking of his Apple account could have been easily avoided.

The best security of all requires the use of a dedicated hardware token, such as a swipe card or a cryptographic key. My weapon of choice is a YubiKey – I’ve been using it for some years and it YubiKey guards access to my PayPal account and my password manager.

So there you have it: If you don’t want to get hacked, Get a YubiKey or some other form of hardware-based second-factor authentication. It’s that simple.

Just Say No

It’s that time of the year again. The time that women anticipate and men dread.

Yes folks, it’s Valentine’s day.

All of the decent restaurants have booked up solid for weeks or months in advance. All of the flower-sellers are rubbing their hands together and tripling their prices. And the greeting-card stores are celebrating the bumper crop of yet another Hallmark Holiday selling all kinds of pointless rubbish at vastly overinflated prices (seriously, how can you justify charging $4+ for a folded piece of card?).

But wait! There’s more! When I was growing up, V-day was celebrated by couples. Now here are V-cards for mothers, fathers, children… the list is endless. As my God-son would say “Whas that ‘posed to mean?”. It’s almost like getting a V-day card is some kind of human right.

I have nothing to prove, and I refuse to be dictated to by the culture. Ladies, here’s a newsflash: Men *hate* V-day. We hate the endless testing and the entitlement mentality that I see emanating from so many women this time of year. We hate the way women expect us to run around like rats in a proverbial maze trying to prove our love by trying to live up to some sort of ritual female-devised test.

So I’m not playing. And Her Ladyship agrees with me. We have been together for long enough that we are beyond playing games, and she isn’t impressed by V-day shenanigans. We don’t do flowers or restaurants – neither of us likes crowds, and neither of us are into the herd mentality.

I got her a card a few days ago. Not because I had to, but because I felt like it. I almost didn’t – most of the cards on sale are crap, but I was lucky enough to find a nice one at the third place I looked. How is it that you can buy a card featuring Duck Dynasty’s ZZ Top rejects, but I couldn’t find one with the Patron Saint of Lurve, Pepe La Pew? The collapse of Western civilization can hardly be far away.

V-day is proof that men do not rule the world. If they did, this flummery would soon be declared illegal and replaced with something a little more appropriate. I exhort men to join me in my boycott of this tomfoolery. Just say “I’m not doing Valentine’s day again. It’s stupid.”. And if she starts yammering, ask yourself who is really in charge here.

Consider it a test of your masculinity.

A brief history of Healthcare

Once upon a time, a sick person would go to the local quack, and said quack would prescribe a course of leeches. This went on for quite a while. Many people died as a result of quackery.

Over time, “Leechcraft” became known as “The Healing Arts”, quacks became known as “Doctors”, and hospitals were invented by the church. The process of training Doctors became formalized, and moved from the hospitals to the universities.

And Healthcare got expensive.

Since a stay in the hospital was expensive, the first Health Insurance — “Major Medical”, which insured against the huge expense of an extended stay in hospital — was invented.

And Healthcare got more expensive.

“The Healing Arts” became “The Healthcare Industry”. HMOs were invented, ostensibly “to control the spiraling costs of healthcare” (did it work? You decide). The cost control in HMOs was achieved by giving your Doctor the power to decided whether further treatment was necessary and punishing them for making too many referrals. For those patients who did not want such restrictions, they invented the more flexible (and expensive) PPOs, in which the patient decided what treatment was needed, were invented. Those who could afford it got PPOs, those who couldn’t — also known variously as “The Plebeian Classes” or “The Great Unwashed” — got the leavings.

And Healthcare got more expensive.

We hit hard economic times, and one of the government’s well-meaning but inept responses was to freeze wages. Enterprising employers, looking for ways to incentivize employees without paying them more, introduced Employer-provided Health Insurance, where the employer footed part or all of the cost of health insurance. It soon became so popular that employers who did not offer “Health Benefits” found it difficult to attract staff. Within ten years, Health Benefits were such an integral part of the landscape that it was difficult to imagine a world without it, and it was only a matter of time before otherwise-intelligent people started to believe that Health Insurance was a basic human right.

Even for the uninsured, the vision of employer-provided health insurance was a compelling one; folks with jobs got insurance that paid their healthcare bills, while those without jobs — or those who could not afford insurance — would get free care with the money that was left on the table. A worthy and excellent vision.#And Healthcare got more expensive.

And then came merger-mania. The health Insurance industry was composed of hundreds of companies, some for-profit, some non-profit. As inevitably happens when these two types of businesses compete, the non-profit health insurance firms got acquired by the publicly-owned for-profit ones that were flush with shareholder cash. Over time, the playing field shrunk until there were only a handful of major players left standing.

At the same time, the Health Insurance companies looked at the the money left on the table and decided to grab it for themselves. And so they designed a system where all roads lead to Health Insurance. They introduced a system of Co-pays, Co-insurance and deductibles that passed on the costs to their customers, and created “Networks” of health professionals who were contractually obliged to accept lower payments than they would have liked. As a result, the healers, now doing more work for less money, no longer had the time or resources to give free treatment to the indigent.

And Healthcare got more expensive.#As is often the case when a significant proportion of the population are dispossessed, disenfranchised and disenchanted, the uninsured started looking around for someone with deep pockets to pay their part of the bill. Naturally they turned to the Government, who, having done such a stand-up job with Social Security, Welfare,  and the Post Office, could clearly be trusted to look after the Nation’s health.

And they were not alone: Women pushed for free birth control (presumably so they could slut around at somebody else’s expense) and free abortions (presumably to deal with the “unintended consequences” of said slutting around), and they called it “Reproductive Freedom”.

And there was much rejoicing.

With so many votes on the table, the politicians looked around for a solution. And after several abortive attempts over three decades, they finally came up with a compromise, which one wag described as follows:

…a healthcare plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don’t, which reportedly covers at least ten million more people without adding a single new doctor, but provides for sixteen thousand new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a Congress that didn’t read it but exempted themselves from it, and signed by a president who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes, for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese – and financed by a country that’s broke.”

This great compromise, had the following effects and unintended consequences:

  • It required employers to offer health insurance to all full-time employees. As a result, many employers who could not afford this had to reduce full-time employees to part-time, and in some cases, to dismiss employees outright.
  • To bring more money into the system, it required anyone who had access to Health Insurance whether they wanted it or not. In a landmark case, the Supreme Court actually took unbelievable stance of declaring a Health Insurance premium paid to a private business to be a tax. Those who refuse it will pay fines, and may eventually serve jail time. Time will tell.
  • It required Insurers to abolish lifetime caps, mandated free-of-charge preventative care, required coverage of children through college and into adulthood, and made it illegal for insurers to refuse coverage based upon pre-existing conditions. While these are all good things, they add to the costs of insurance, and it came as no surprise that heath insurance costs shot up. What did come as a surprise was that nobody was able to make the connection between the great compromise and the increased insurance costs.
  • It required all insurers to provide birth control and abortifactants (aka the “morning-after” pill) to women at no cost. This puts businesses that are ideologically opposed to abortion in a very difficult position, and at least one major employer may have to close down as a result.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted — Health Insurance, Pharmaceutical and Medical Industries got the profits they wanted, women got the free birth control and abortion pills they wanted, and large portions of the Great Unwashed got the free stuff they wanted.

And they all lived happily ever after. Except for the working insured and future generations of taxpayers, who will be presented with the bill.

Fairytale or History lesson? You decide.

A high-tech book-burning

Or: When Feminists attack!

This post is for the grown-ups. It deals with a serious subject, and I exhort the kiddies to stop reading now.

I recently heard of an interesting case regarding one Vincent Vinturi. Mr. V is a blogger and an author, who has written several books that are available on Amazon, on subjects as diverse as Masculinity and Meditation. His latest book, “Overcoming Last-Minute Resistance”, is a treatise on how to persuade a woman to have sex with you.

See, I told you it wasn’t for kiddies… You! Stop reading now! Or it’s off to bed with no supper for you..!

*ahem*. Where were we? Ah, yes… it appears that that some people consider this book to be a “rape manual”. They are, of course, entitled to their opinions, but they are wrong. The premise of this book does not fit into the definition of rape. The book deals with the subject of turning a “No” into a “Yes” – by definition, a rapist would simply proceed without asking the question.

To be clear, like most men, I take a clear and unambiguous stand against rape. It is serious, and should be treated as such. But what I have seen of this book doesn’t advocate rape in any way. But broadening the definition of rape, along with the epidemic of false rape accusations, only serves to trivialize a very serious matter.

From a cursory glance at the table of contents, the book advocates separating those women who are genuinely not interested in sex from those who are as quickly as possible. Far from advocating rape, it is about finding out what a woman actually wants, as opposed to what she says she wants.

Here is an excerpt from Vincent’s Amazon Biography that says it better than I can:

“My work is not about ‘picking up girls’. It’s about *mutual* seduction and becoming an attractive human being without the lying, manipulation and misrepresentation that’s polluted our interactions and taken all the frolicking out of our brief time on this earth.”

In a perfect world, men and women would say exactly what they wanted and proceed from there. But grown-ups know that the world does not work like that, and a good thing too – the mystery and games make it a lot more fun. The elephant in the room that women love to play games; everybody knows this. It’s part of the delightful chase that we call “romance”. Some women talk about sex but are really not interested in doing anything about it. They’re called “teasers”, and that’s OK. Others are interested, but not in you, or not tonight. That’s OK too. But there are others who are interested, but shy, or just playing hard to get. They say “No” when they mean “Yes”, and it takes a wise man to tell the difference between “No, I don’t want to”, and No, I want to be chased and seduced.

The feminist solution these days seems to be to require men to ask for permission at every stage of intimacy. This is ridiculous. Not only does it completely ruin what should be a spontaneous and fun act, but it places even more burdens on men who already have to run the gamut of more than 150 points of rejection. This book claims to address that very subject, and aims to help men understand the difference.

One Sara C Nelson, a British Blogger/journalist disagrees. Had it ended there, there would have been nothing to see here, but for some people it is not enough to merely register one’s disagreement with a dissenting opinion. Ms. Nelson (for some reason the “Ms.” appellation always brings to my mind the image of an overweight woman with short hair, comfortable shoes, several cats and no boyfriend)  works for The Huffington Post. She mobilized her employers, who then accused Vinturi of being a Rape Apologist. Not content with that they then left a bunch of fake one-star reviews on Amazon. But wait! there’s more! They then persuaded the publisher to remove the book from its shelves.

What is surprising to me is how a Blogger/Journalist in one country (the UK) can get a book she has not actually read banned in another (the US). Here in the US, free speech is protected, and a cornerstone of free speech is tolerance for dissenting opinion. I find it troubling that someone can get a book banned simply because they have decided that nobody else should be allowed to read it. I am disappointed with Amazon for allowing this to happen. It may even be libel.

I have no dog in this fight. I have no need for the lessons in this book. Mr. V does not need my help; he is selling the book directly from his website. But this kind of childish politically-charged censorship of dissenting opinion does not sit well with me.  I will get in touch with Mr V, ask for a sample  of his work, and see for myself.

Watch this space.