Is that a mouse in your pocket? No, just a bug in your phone

The public service department here at HIPRB directs your attention to this story about the man who discovered software on Blackberrys, Nokias and Android-powered smartphones (but not iPhones) that he claims is logging nearly everything youT26PayPhoneL do on your phone, and sending off a report. The maker of the software, Carrier IQ, denies anything nefarious, says it is just diagnostic software to help its customers “deliver high quality products and services,” and at least one security consultant agrees.

I haven’t thrown my lot in with those who see conspiracies in everything (and you know who you are),  and I’m not so naive that I don’t think that there are people already getting unauthorized access to one or another of the digital footprints each of us leaves as we go about our business. But that doesn’t mean that when presented a credible argument that our privacy is being violated we should just shrug our shoulders and hope for the best.  Tim Worstall at Forbes makes the point:

But to be honest I think the part that worries me the most is, well, how hard is it to hack into this? To access that information if you’re not in fact the network? If it is possible to access this information (and I’d be absolutely astonished if it were not) then this means that absolutely every smartphone running it is vulnerable, to put it mildly, to data theft.

For yes, if you online bank from your phone then the application will be logging that data, pins, ID codes and all.

That’s really not something you want, is it? An application sitting on your phone that records all of these things specifically and exactly so as to broadcast them to someone else?

Here’s the link to Trevor Eckhart’s YouTube video showing what he found and how it works. Then think for yourself.

UPDATE Dec. 1: But wait, there’s more: Al Franken demands answers, and it’s learned that the suspect software is on more phones than was first believed–including iPhones, so stop gloating, Appleheads.

Photo from

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…

The “supercommittee” admitted defeat; it won’t have a blueprint for reducing the nation’s deficit (stories here, here and here).  Is this a bad thing?

Some have argued, no: the first direct result of getting no plan from this committee is that the law which authorized it will now automatically cut $1.2 trillion from defense and non-defense spending over ten years starting in 2013, and that may end up giving us more deficit reduction than we’d have gotten otherwise.  No way to know for sure, of course, but it makes sense.

I mean, there’s no reason to believe that the same members of Congress who thought nothing of threatening government default for political gain this past summer were likely to come to any agreement now, not when the party that controls the House (and virtually controls the Senate with the threat of filibuster) is still holding its breath threatening to turn blue rather than be responsible and discuss the best ways to increase revenue as part of the answer (along with spending cuts and overall economic growth) to getting the federal budget on a healthy path.  None at all.

To believe otherwise would mean, first of all, believing that the sheep people lined up behind Speakers Boehner and Limbaugh have any goal more important that the defeat of President Obama.  They don’t, unless it is the personal destruction of Obama, and anyone unlike themselves.  Second, it means they would have to have the backbone to say no to the no-tax extremists and the campaign contributors.

I read an interesting article making the point that we’re foolish to think that our elected representatives will do anything that makes sense for us, because they’re in place to serve their bosses: namely, the minority of the population who actually vote in the primaries, and the even smaller percentage of the people who pay the bills through campaign contributions both above and below board.  (By the way, read Michael Moran’s piece setting the stage for his blog The Reckoning.)

The other thing to watch out for right now, though, is the cowardly Congress finding a way to back out of the deal it made with itself!  No Congress can pass a law that would prevent a future Congress from unpassing that law; just because it set itself this deadline and mandated future budget cuts as a penalty for failing to meet that deadline can’t prevent the next Congress from overriding all or some part of the threatened budget reductions, and that’s entirely possible for a group that already can’t say no to anyone (which is a big part of what got our budget in this mess to begin with).

Give some thought to Moran’s suggestion: in times of crisis, what if we take control away from politicians and give it to people who know what they’re doing?

A real super-committee – a real committee not only empowered to take the steps necessary to right the American economy, but competent to do so – would include 12 serious thinkers. They might include policymakers like former Fed Chairmen Paul Volker or (the suitably contrite) Alan Greenspan, economists of left and right like Stanford’s John B. Taylor, Yale’s Robert Schiller, NYU-Stern’s Nouriel Roubini, plus a few representatives of labor, small business and capital – let’s say Robert Reich, Joseph Schneider of Lacrosse Footwear, and Warren Buffett, just for kicks. No investment bank chairman, please, and no one facing reelection.

Can you imagine this group failing to come up with a solution? Can you imagine any of them worrying more about the next election than the future of the world’s largest economy? Certainly, they would clash – perhaps over the same tax v. spending cut issues. The difference: they would understand better than any member of Congress that no solution is far worse than a less-than-perfect solution.

I’ve got some great news, and I’ve got some less than great news

The great news is that the sale of the Houston Astros was approved by the Major League Baseball owners at their quarterly meeting today.  The Dreaded Drayton McLane Era in Houston Astros history is expected to finally be smothered with a pillow by the middle of next week; this will do nothing to immediately get us any better players, but it will make a lot of people feel better.

This past May when the sale agreement with an investment group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane was announced, I unburdened myself on the subject of McLane’s star-crossed stewardship of my hometown team.  In retrospect, the only thing I’d change would be to include better examples of how splurging on big name free agents made McLane feel like he was building a champion but really only reinforced his legacy of misguided priorities:

Kaz Matsui.  Woody Williams.  Vinny Castilla.  Sid Fernandez.  Dwight Gooden.  Mike Hampton.  Jason Jennings.  Pat Listach.  Brett Myers.  Russ Ortiz.

I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid and been lucky enough to always live in cities with big league teams, except for a few years as a small boy and then in college, so going to games regularly and seeing all the best players in person has been a big part of my life.  I’ve seen a few really good Houston teams, and I’ve seen quite a few really terrible ones since I first walked into the Astrodome in 1966, but since then the Astros have been my team.  Baseball fans are, among many things, loyal to their team.

But, I got so tired of sitting through season after season of McLane and his minions oh-so-earnestly soldiering on, unable to stop meddling in the baseball stuff they didn’t know about, from scouting to farm system to broadcasting and more, while conniving to get taxpayers to pick up most of the tab for a (beautiful) new playpen and then raising prices on everything we buy when we’re there.  And now to top it all off, the team on the field has turned from a prince into a frog.

So, I’ve got nothing but positive feelings about the old ownership hitting the bricks (not the ones they’re selling for $100).  The new guys could be worse, but I’m willing to take the chance that they’re not.  I’m not so positive about the upcoming opponents.

The less than great news is that this sale turned out, as suspected, to be contingent on moving the Astros out of the National League and into the American League’s West Division.  Probably starting in 2013—the season after next—after more than 50 years with a National League team and before that minor league teams that were associated with National League clubs dating back to the 1920s—Houston will become an American League city.  This bites.

Since the expansions and realignments leading up to the 1998 season, there have been three divisions in each league with five teams in most of those divisions, but the NL Central has had six teams and the AL West only four (I can’t remember why).  In the past few years it seems to have become important to even that out.  The rules won’t let any team owner be forced to change leagues, but the commissioner’s office took advantage of this opportunity and made the league change a requirement for approval of this sale.  The Astros’ new owner had to agree, or walk away from the whole deal.

Now the Astros will be in the same division with the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Oakland A’s and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and play a larger percentage of their games against them instead of against their current NL Central rivals.  Three of the AL West teams are in the Pacific time zone, which means the Astros will play a larger number of road games that won’t start until 9 p.m. Houston time and won’t end until midnight or more.  That will cut into the size of the TV and radio audiences in Houston, hurt ratings and hurt the team and the broadcasters financially.

It will mean a big change in which teams we see come to Houston.  Instead of three visits a year from the Cardinals and Cubs and other NL Central teams, and once a year from the Giants and Phillies and other National League teams, we may see all of them once a year at most. Instead, we’ll get a therapeutic dose of our new AL West buddies and annual drop-ins from not only the Yankees and Red Sox but the Twins and Orioles and Royals, too.  Oh boy.

And as for the idea that the Astros will have a wonderful rivalry with the Rangers…well, that may come to be, but it’s far from certain.  Notwithstanding all the balloon juice emanating from Major League Baseball about the “natural rivalry” between the two teams from Texas, let me presume to speak on behalf of Houston fans when I say, we don’t care about the Rangers.  Don’t hate ’em, just don’t care about ’em.  Never have.  I think Rangers fans feel the same way about the Astros, but I’ll stand to be corrected on that.

And yes, I believe watching a team that plays all of its games with the designated hitter will be annoying.  It won’t be the end of the world, but it won’t add to my enjoyment and excitement, either.  I’m just not a DH kind of guy.  Now it turns out that that will be part of the price I have to pay to get the Old Grocer out of my life and out from that seat behind home plate in the centerfield shot on my TV screen.

Well, things have been worse…did I mention Kaz Matsui?

New information on the Penn State mess may exonerate the graduate assistant of cowardice (unless he’s lying)

Take a minute to check out The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA newspaper that’s been breaking news on the Penn State scandal. This morning it reports that the graduate assistant in the Penn State football program who’s taken a ton of flak from a lot of people (including me) for not doing anything to stop the rape of a child he says he witnessed in the locker room shower may actually have done exactly what he should have done.  The paper has seen an e-mail that Mike McQueary sent to a friend of his a week ago in which he says he did stop the assault he claims he witnessed, and he did report it to police.  The grand jury report, the basis for all public information on the case up to now, doesn’t indicate that McQueary took any action against accused child rapist Jerry Sandusky when he caught him in the shower with a 10 year old, and says McQueary only talked to his own father and then to football coach Joe Paterno about what he’d seen.

If true: good for you, McQueary, and apologies for the unwarranted criticism.


Now all the polices say, uh, nope, we got no record that McQueary reported the crime to us…so sorry.

Ball back in your court, McQueary…

Joe didn’t do anything wrong? Oh yeah, he did

The fact that he is who he is, and that he did what he did, makes it even worse than it already is.

For most of us who are not in western Pennsylvania, this came out of the blue last week: a grand jury indicted a former Penn State University football coach on accusations he sexually assaulted young boys.  When I first saw the story in the paper last weekend, and read that head coach Joe Paterno had been told by an eyewitness that Jerry Sandusky assaulted a young boy in the shower and Paterno had relayed the information to his immediate superior but done nothing else about it, I felt like he should have done more.  But then I turned the page, because I don’t care about college football or Penn State, and because I didn’t want to really think about what was actually going on here.  Shame on me.

By Wednesday, the winningest coach in major college football history had been fired by his university, but he was not the only person in Happy Valley shamed by the incident.  Far from it.  More’s the pity.

Sandusky, the long-time Penn State assistant coach who gets a lot of the credit for the team’s history of turning out great defensive players—especially linebackers—stands accused of being a serial pedophile, of sexually assaulting at least eight boys over a 15 year period.  He also founded a charitable organization called The Second Mile in 1997, which provided services to children in need.

One of the saddest ironies of the sexual abuse charges against Sandusky that stunned and sickened the nation last weekend is that if the allegations that he assaulted eight boys over a 15-year period are true, he may have been allowed to prey on those children in large part because no one at Penn State would go that second mile for his victims.

Sports Illustrated’s Phil Taylor is one of many who’ve made the point: where the hell were all the adults at Penn State who should have done something about this?  I’ll tell you where—they were all busy protecting a wealthy university and its vaunted football program and its reputation, for surely those things were more important than the lives, and the futures, of pre-teenaged children whose parents had turned to Penn State for help.  What is Sandusky accused of doing?  McClatchy summarizes the timeline here, and it shows just how many people at Penn State didn’t stand up for these kids.

Sandusky was cashed out as the team’s defensive coordinator after admitting to having showered with a 10 year old boy, but the school and the coach only took his job away—Sandusky was allowed to keep using university facilities for his charity’s activities.

In 2000 a janitor saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy in a campus football building and told his supervisor, but neither of them called the police.

In 2002 a graduate assistant (a former player; a grown man) saw Sandusky having sex with a young boy and did not do anything to stop the assault that was going on right in front of his eyes; he did not call the police, not even the university police; he went home and called his own father and asked what he should do; and it wasn’t until the next day that he told Paterno what he’d seen.  Paterno told the athletic director, and left it at that.  About this time, school officials told Sandusky not to bring children to the campus any more, although he himself still used the facilities.

Paterno made a lot of his reputation for insisting that Penn State was different from other big college football programs, that Penn State did things the right way—it followed the rules, it graduated its student athletes, and it was successful on the field.  Bull.  Despite the high graduation rate and the championships and the bowl games, we now know that Penn State was just as sleazy as any other program.  Maybe more so.  Ohio State’s in trouble for its players selling equipment to get discounts on their tattoos; Miami is in trouble (again) over impermissible benefits given to players by a booster.  But no one else is in the news for making the conscious decision to protect their own ass by turning a blind eye to the alleged child rapist in their midst.  For years.

Where was the “Hey, you can’t do that” reaction the first time someone saw this man naked with a child?  Where was the unconscious and visceral “stop that” response?  Where was the call to the cops?  Where is the humanity?

Yesterday, Penn State played its first football game in the post-Paterno era.  It lost the game.  But the university community may have taken the first baby steps to recognizing what’s important in life, certainly more important than a university’s bruised ego or loss of financial support.

"It felt like we all banded together. And it wasn’t just about football," said Melissa Basinger, a 2005 Penn State grad who made the trip from Charlotte, N.C. "It was about coming together as a school, and showing the country, world or whatever that this does not define who we are."

We’ll see.