True National Character

There are many scales by which we generally weigh the character of a nation. Some for the better, some for the worse. And there are many measures by which nations aspire to be sized up. Many nations have a strong gross domestic product. Others own a great share of debt owed by other nations. Some have gold and diamonds. Others have a strong and stable government with relatively happy citizens. Still others are medically and technologically advanced. These are all categories that they have striven for recognition within. But to really understand the greatness or the lowliness of a nation, we have to look not at their accomplishments, but at the most unlikely statistics. How do they treat the poor? How do they treat those who are deemed a drain, non contributing… worthless? Whether or not you support abortion or choice, you must recognize that as society goes, life has been cheapened by its allowance. A medical and insurance system that weighs how many “good” years a person has left, how many children they have, who relies on them for support etc. prior to performing life saving medical procedures, cheapens life. A system that allows medically assisted suicide, and the euthanizing of those with severe disabilities, cheapens life.

But what is incredibly frustrating, more so in my view than all of the helpless previously mentioned, is the poor and the homeless. These people, many of them Veterans of our nation’s armed forces who served with bravery, honour and distinction, are viewed not as national heroes worthy of aid, but as a blight on society. People cross the street to avoid having to look them in the eye. People refuse to give them pocket change, because they may purchase booze. Cities plot to decrease their presence by banning them from public parks and lands. Cities install spikes under overpasses and in passageways where they are known to seek shelter in effort to make it too uncomfortable for them so that they will move on. They ban institutions from feeding them. They close soup kitchens over silly health infractions. They forbid their gathering. They ban churches from passing out blankets and coats to them in the winter. This is absolutely disgusting.

Taken as a package, we as a nation, and we as individual persons, are failing. We are not a great nation. We are a morally bankrupt nation. No matter what version of the “Golden Rule” you ascribe to, we are failing. We have lost our respect for life in general. Certain populations are deemed “disposable”. There was another nation that behaved in that manner once, and nearly every nation on the face of the earth went to war against, and defeated them. Gypsies, Jews, Gays, Priests, Catholics, Political Dissidents… And we are absolutely following their lead. No, we haven’t started to pinpoint races or faiths… yet… but it’s only a matter of time. The only way that a nation can truly be great and can be deemed worthy is through its kindness to the needy, to those who can’t give back, and to those unable to fend for themselves. If we as individual people are held to the golden rule standard, how much more so should the nation which represents us?  If we can’t care for the poor, the needy, the helpless, the weak, the homeless, the hungry, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, the minorities – then we as a nation are a blight upon humanity.

Every person of goodwill, must absolutely make it their mission to only vote for candidates that espouse the virtues of love, kindness, and humility. Those who will further the cause of the helpless.  The road that we are going down right now is the road to ruin. We have become a selfish and self absorbed culture. Everything has become about what makes us happy. We have reverted to animals. It’s time that we stand up and be human beings. Caring, compassionate, giving and loving, and uplift all of our fellow humans. We have laws for no child being left behind, but our goal should be, no one left behind.

OpenSource Privacy

I’ve blogged a bit about OpenSource, and Linux – I’ve even convinced numerous friends and family members to join me. CentOS and Debian are my distros of choice, but for many of them, moving over from the Windows world; simpler is better. So I’ve set them up mainly with Ubuntu (shudder) and Mint. My own children use Xubuntu. I get asked a lot – “How do you get anything done since (insert overpriced product here) doesn’t run on Linux? Well, I’ve blogged about that too, HERE. But in the wake of US Programmes for spying on the American public, such as PRISM, just using OpenSource and expecting the lack of anything Microsoft to protect you isn’t enough. I’ve touched on configuring TOR, using Off the Record plugins for Pidgeon and other similar privacy enhancements HERE. But I’d like to take a moment to post on a basic level for beginners, about the very bare essentials in protecting their privacy. Simple changes that they can make without having to do any real major configuration to their system.

For this, you need to be a bit more clever, doing things such as changing your search engine, what browser you use, how you email and how you generally make use of any web based products. Read more about giving the NSA the finger HERE, and opting out of global data surveillance HERE.

The “Opting out of Global Data Surveillance” link should pretty much cover what you need, and for Linux users like myself, this specific LINK in the Opt Out information is particularly useful. But at the very basic level, even if you don’t feel a need to install, configure and make use of TOR, at the very minimal, use Firefox and make either https://duckduckgo.com or https://www.startpage.com your go-to for your searches each and every time you search. StartPage has the obvious advantage as it provides Google search results (let’s face it, we call searching “Googling” for a reason) but strips out your personal information so that Google never receives your IP or has a chance to laden your machine with cookies. That’s not to say that DuckDuckGo isn’t useful, but you will note a HUGE difference in the quality of search results.

As to email, while it does not have anywhere near the bells and whistles of Google/Gmail, I highly recommend Autistici-Inventati. Their service does provide all of the following, free, and naturally they accept donations to keep these services available. Find them HERE. The webmail is plain and uses Roundcube, but it’s free, private and secure. Couple it with Thunderbird or Earlybird (HERE‘s how you secure them), and it’s a win! Also, you can use K-9 on your Android phone for the secure email feature.

There are other email alternatives, of course, aside from even those mentioned in the Opt Out link. A friend of mine on Mastodon (more on this in a bit) recommends ProtonMail. I haven’t tried it to date, and as such, cannot comment on it positively or negatively. I do, however; respect his opinion and assume that if he recommends it, it’s worthy of said recommendation. You can read about his move to Linux HERE. You can also read his writeup on online privacy (in which he touches on ProtonMail) HERE.

Anyway, these are the surface level important bits gleaned from the Opt Out information. You can read more details and customize more of your desktop environment with apps and web services as you desire based on their guide. These presented here are just the absolute BASICS for preserving a shred of privacy in an ever increasingly watched, regulated and data mined digital world.

The last subject I’d like to touch on, is… well… a touchy one. Social networking. I know… you’re old and stuck in your ways. Facebook is just familiar and easy. Twitter is comfortable and doesn’t require any configuration. Well – that may be true, but they’re also undoing EVERYTHING that we are trying to accomplish in the entire preceding portion of this blog post. Facebook caches every single search. Whether for people or for products. Every page you like. Every status you like. Every news story that you read from their web app. Twitter does the same. Everything that you do on either site is monitored, collected, and placed into a nice little package that allows them to serve all of those ads that you see all over in the side bars, and in between posts. Your email… your birthday… all of your relationships. This data is all theirs. You gave it to them. And they USE IT.

There are two different options for Social Networking that I highly recommend. The first is older (if you don’t count OpenSource predecessors) and it is called Diaspora. It’s pretty much got all of the functionality of Facebook, but without the clutter, without the ads, and without fear of all of your data being mined and sold to any and all bidders. I’m personally on https://diasp.org username theophilus79@diasp.org, but they have a large pool of “pods” to choose from, and you can join any of them. They allow you to follow people from other “pods”, but they aren’t ruled by a centralized, authoritarian data miner. I know, it’s a pain getting your family and friends to switch, but persistence does pay off! The second is Mastodon I’m personally on https://mastodon.technology username theophilus@mastodon.technology – as my main account. It’s essentially a fuller featured Twitter, which allows more character input as well. Like Diaspora, it’s broken into “instances” and not all housed in a central server somewhere. You can join any instance that you like, and like Diaspora, follow people from other Instances. Again, no centralized authoritarian data miner granting you the right to use a website in exchange for all of your digital data. Both Diaspora and Mastodon have mobile apps that you can use. Both are well worth a try, and both will help you protect / control your own data. That isn’t to say that either is foolproof, but both by far outweigh the negative aspects of Facebook and Twitter.