Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Computer "outage" disrupts Delta flights

An outage of some computer systems or components on Monday led to cancellations and delays of Delta Air Lines flights.

Once planes and crews are out of position, it takes time to get them back to where they are needed. New crews and/or planes may have to be sent out if the original planes and/or crews have exceeded their safety time limits for periodic equipment maintenance or crew rest. Only today, Wednesday, are Delta flights getting back on schedule and back to their normal capacity.

Last month Southwest Airlines flights were similarly cancelled, delayed, and disrupted for several days after a computer system component failed.

What caused the problems with Delta flights? The "outage" that affected Delta operations has been attributed to an equipment failure that cut power to some components of Delta's computer system. But neither the nature of the problem nor the specific component(s) that were affected have been clearly identified. My guess is that the equipment that lost power was part of the interface between some components of Delta's in-house IT systems including its departure control system (DCS) and flight management system, and the Worldspan computerized reservation system (CRS).

Was this a result of problems with Delta's reservation system? No. Other airlines that use Worldspan had no problems. One thing we know for certain is that this was a problem internal to Delta's own systems (or those of some other Delta service provider) or related to the Delta-Worldspan interface, not to any core or shared Worldspan functionality.

Where would you point the finger of blame? I don't yet have enough information to be sure, but the underlying cause is likely to turn out to be a combination of (1) over-reliance on technology (see more on that below) and (2) the inability of airlines like Delta to make a clear, long-term commitment either to outsource their operational IT systems or keep them in-house. The interface between in-house and outsourced IT systems that failed only existed because Delta chose take some parts of its systems in-house while outsourcing others. Prior to that, Delta's IT systems had been integrated, first wholly in-house and then wholly outsourced to a single company, Worldspan.

Delta has an unnecessarily complicated relationship with Worldspan. Worldspan was originally developed in-house by Delta, but was spun off and eventually acquired by Travelport, a holding company which also bought the competing Galileo/Amadeus CRS. Throughout that time, Delta's systems continued to be operated by essentially the same team of people in the same facilities. But recently, Delta has taken some IT functionality in-house, while continuing to outsource database hosting to Worldspan. Given the changes back and forth between Travelport's Worldspan division and Delta over operational and legal responsibility for elements of the airline's IT systems, it's scarcely surprising that the interfaces grafted on to connect but separate Worldspan and Delta (a digital corpus callosum between the halves of its logical brain) are among the least well-tested and most vulnerable components of the complex and formerly unified system.

Was this a result of airlines using "old-fashioned" computer equipment? No. There's no basis to claims like the headline today in the Wall Street Journal, Delta Meltdown Reflects Problems With Aging Technology. One of the biggest advantages of "mature" software and systems is that they have had time for bugs to manifest themselves and be corrected. Legacy systems are often kept around and preferred because of their reliability. The major CRSs are no exception, and one of the many reasons most airlines outsource reservation hosting and other functions is the extreme reliability of the CRSs.

Can modern airlines operate flight even when their computers are down? Yes. Delta could, and perhaps should, take lessons from the best practices of more reliable airlines like Ethiopian (long one of the world's standouts for operational efficiency and reliability). As I've written about before, I travelled without incident with e-tickets on Ethiopian flights and connections that operated on time with a full passenger load even when the power had been out for almost two days at the place where we started our trip. Not having manual backups such as printed passenger manifests and paper tickets is a deliberate cost-cutting (and reliability-cutting) choice by airlines like Delta. This week's events show why I think it's the wrong choice, even if it saves a couple of dollars a ticket. And whatever the reasons for Delta's choice to take that risk, the airline has to take responsibility to passengers for its consequences. Delta gambled that its computers would never go down, and it lost. Now it needs to pay up.

Do government "security" or passenger permission requirements prohibit airlines for operating flights when their computers are down? No. Since 2006 airlines have, by default, been required to get permission from the US Department of Homeland Security before issuing each boarding pass. But while some of the permission procedures are secret, the Consolidated User Guide issued to airlines makes clear that there are multiple levels of fallback "outage" procedures (beginning on page 89 of the user guide) that allow airlines to operate flights and board passengers even when their computer systems are down -- as long as the airline still have access (e.g. through printed backups of passenger manifests, or through paper tickets) to lists of names of ticketed passengers by flight. (An unredacted version of the extremely interesting DHS Consolidated User Guide was apparently leaked and posted online without fanfare in 2010 by PublicIntelligence.net, but I only recently noticed it.)

Why couldn't Delta "endorse" my ticket to American Airlines, if Delta's flights were cancelled and American had empty seats? (1) Because Delta couldn't retrieve your electronic ticket in order to endorse it to another airline if Delta's reservation system was down (the ability to have paper tickets endorsed to another airline is one of their major advantages over e-tickets), and (2) because Delta and American ended their decades-old interline ticket acceptance agreement in 2015. As I predicted in 2005 when the process was just beginning, airlines have been steadily cutting back on interline agreements, retaining only those within "alliances" and deliberately making themselves unable to interoperate with members of other "alliances" or assist their passengers in case of disruptions to flight operations. Airlines lie and claim that alliances allow them to offer more flights to more places, but the termination of interline agreements between members of rival alliances is clearly detrimental to passengers' interests. This week's events were the first major demonstration of the consequences.

What are my rights if I had tickets for a flight that was cancelled? Delta wants to keep your money, of course. So it is urging passengers to apply the "credits" for cancelled flights to future Delta flights. But you are legally entitled to more: According to Delta's own domestic and international conditions of carriage, you have the absolute right to a full and unconditional refund which you can then use to buy new tickets on Delta, new tickets on a competing airlines, or anything else. You are entitled to a refund in the same form of payment you used to pay for your tickets (cash, credit, or debit card), and not just a "refund" in airline scrip limited to use with Delta and within a limited time:

In the event of flight cancellation, diversion, delays of greater than 90 minutes, or delays that will cause a passenger to miss connections, Delta will (at passenger's request) cancel the remaining ticket and refund the unused portion of the ticket and unused ancillary fees in the original form of payment.

Note that to get a refund from Delta, you have to request it. It might take some time, so make your request, in writing, as soon as you are sure you want a refund rather than just airline credit ("scrip"). Keep copies of documentation of your ticket, flight cancellation, and refund claim. If the airline refuses to give you a full refund, you can sue them for it in small claims court.

The travel consumer advocacy group Travelers United as well as some members of Congress are already calling on Delta to better inform ticket holders about their right to a full cash or credit card refund, and not to pressure them into accepting restricted credits in airline scrip usable only on Delta and only for a limited time.

For more advice, see my FAQ About Changes to Flights and Tickets and my previous commentary on CRS and other airline IT outages:

Link | Posted by Edward, 10 August 2016, 12:49 (12:49 PM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 25 July 2016

Burning the U.S. flag

Edward Hasbrouck at the U.S. Capitol, gagged with a U.S. flag

[On the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, gagged with a U.S. flag, at a press conference with Joey Johnson and others on 21 June 1990, as Congress was voting on whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to outlaw the "desecration" of the U.S. flag.]

Nobody could seriously argue that Joey Johnson's right to burn a flag outside the Republican National Convention is anything other than well-established law.

But instead of respecting that right, a Cleveland prosecutor and police are trying to frame Joey Johnson for something he didn't do, in order to punish him for what he and others did in exercising their right to express themselves by burning a U.S. flag -- just as a Dallas prosecutor and police did in 1984.

Here's what happened last week, some of the back story I was involved in that you won't learn if you only read news reports and/or court records, and why Joey Johnson deserves our support now just as much as he did more than three decades ago.

Continue reading "Burning the U.S. flag"
Link | Posted by Edward, 25 July 2016, 18:40 ( 6:40 PM) | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, 7 July 2016

House votes down proposal to defund the Selective Service System

We are your childen. Support draft resistance.

This week, during consideration of the annual funding bill for the Selective Service System and miscellaneous other agencies, the U.S. House of Representatives:

  1. Yesterday, voted down (294-128) a proposed amendment to completely defund the Selective Service System; and then

  2. Today, approved (217-203)an amendment that forbids the use of any of the money appropriated for the Selective Service System for Federal Fiscal Year 2017 "to change Selective Service System registration requirements" (such as to require women as well as men to register for the draft).

The effect of these two votes is likely to be limited. But in their current context, they are not a good sign for opponents of conscription and war, and confirm the need for continued, expanded, and more visible resistance to draft registration.

Continue reading "House votes down proposal to defund the Selective Service System"
Link | Posted by Edward, 7 July 2016, 21:50 ( 9:50 PM) | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The no-fly list and the no-gun list

watchlist/blacklist flow chart
[The proposed No-Fly, No Buy law currently under debate in Congress would add the Terrorist Screening Database as a third source (yellow arrow at center right of flow chart) of entries in the "No-Gun" list, in addition to Federal and state felony convictions and certain misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. Everything else on this diagram already exists and would remain the same. Click the image above for a larger version of the flow chart, or click here for a full-page PDF with a key to the acronyms.]

Last month, some (Democratic Party) members of Congress held a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to try to pressure their (Republican Party) colleagues to agree to allow a vote on what was described as a "gun control" bill. The sit-in ended after the House adjourned for its 4th of July holiday without bringing the bill to a vote. But the bill remains pending as Congress reconvenes.

I'm a pacifist. I support gun control. Having guns around doesn't make me feel safer, no matter who has them. I've never owned or used a firearm. I don't want, and don't knowingly allow, any guns in my home, for any reason. Speaking only for myself, and not for any of the organizations with which I'm associated, I would vote to repeal the Second Amendment rather than trying to play games with its language about "a well-regulated militia".

I'm a firm believer in nonviolent direct action and a supporter of extra-legal tactics like sit-ins as a useful and often essential way to bring about political change, including revolutionary change, with or without the cooperation of the government.

So why do I think that that the Congressional sit-in was at best misguided, and that this is a dangerous bill that would set an even more dangerous precedent, regardless of the good intentions of some of its supporters?

The bill at issue in the House, like the similar bill still pending in the Senate that I wrote about last year in the Identity Project blog, has been described as "No-Fly, No-Buy". It would prohibit anyone on the U.S. no-fly list, and possibly also anyone listed in the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) as a "suspected" terrorist, terrorist supporter, or terrorist sympathizer, from buying a firearm.

To put it another way, these bills would add everyone on the no-fly list or in the government's "suspected terrorist" file to the no-gun list.

This is a people-control measure, not a gun-control measure. It is one more step away from punishment of criminal acts and toward pre-crime policing and imposition of sanctions based on predictions and blacklists. And it would do nothing to improve the "no-gun list" that we already have.

Yes, the US already has a "no-gun list". I'm on it, for all the wrong reasons, along with 25 million or more other people.

Continue reading "The no-fly list and the no-gun list"
Link | Posted by Edward, 6 July 2016, 07:11 ( 7:11 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Senate approves "Defense" bill including expansion of draft registration to women

Feminists Say: Stop The Draft
[Poster by Yolanda V. Fundora]

Today the U.S. Senate voted 85-13 to approve a version of the proposed National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (S. 2943) including a provision which, if also approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law by the President, would extend draft registration to women. (Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer were the only Senators absent from this vote. So far as I have been able to find, Sen. Sanders has made no public comment on this issue.)

As had happened in the House of Representatives, the Senate voted to approve the bill as a whole, without a separate vote on on whether to make changes to Selective Service registration. The version approved by the Senate would expand registration to women, while the version approved by the House would not.

Continue reading "Senate approves "Defense" bill including expansion of draft registration to women"
Link | Posted by Edward, 14 June 2016, 18:54 ( 6:54 PM) | Comments (42) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Op-Ed: Dump draft registration, don't extend it to women

[My "Open Forum" op-ed on Selective Service registration in the San Francisco Chronicle, online 4 June 2016, print edition 7 June 2016, page A8. Original version on the sometimes-paywalled SFChronicle.com Web site; PDF. If you agree, here's a leaflet about what you can do to help.]

Congress is now debating amendments to a pending defense bill to either extend Selective Service System registration to women or end it entirely. Congress should drop this costly and inevitably futile attempt to extend draft registration to women, and end draft registration altogether.

The debate was prompted by the change in policy that allows women in combat. If all combat assignments are open to women, then it follows that there is no longer a basis in military policy for requiring men but not women to register. If Congress does nothing, pending court cases are likely to produce a ruling that the men-only draft registration requirement is unconstitutional.

Those who believe in treating women and men equally include those who would register both men and women for the draft, and those who wouldn't require anyone to register.

Missing from this debate has been whether it will even be possible to get women to register.

President Jimmy Carter's proposal to reinstate draft registration in 1980, after a five-year hiatus, initially included men and women. Some of the strongest opposition came from women. The National Resistance Committee was founded at the Women's Building in San Francisco within weeks of Carter's announcement.

Carter's rationale for bringing back draft registration was to prepare for U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in support of the fighters who were then referred to as "mujahedeen," and who later became the Taliban and al Qaeda. (The U.S. government put me in prison in 1983-1984 for refusing to agree to fight on the side of the Taliban and al Qaeda.)

In the early 1980s, the government tried to scare young men into registering by prosecuting a handful of vocal nonregistrants. But the show trials backfired. They called attention to the resistance and made clear that there was safety in numbers. Enforcement of draft registration was suspended in 1988, and never resumed.

Young men today have to register in order to be eligible for student aid and some other government programs, but there's no attempt to verify their addresses. The only audit of Selective Service, in 1982, found that 20 to 40 percent of addresses on file already were outdated. Noncompliance has made registration unenforceable and the registration database useless as the basis for a fair or inclusive draft.

Any realistic budget for the expansion of draft registration to women would need to include the cost to track down, prosecute, and imprison those who resist.

Young women have the same reasons as young men to oppose draft registration, and will undoubtedly have other reasons of their own. A petition to end draft registration entirely, started last month by a draft-age San Francisco woman, Julie Mastrine, got more than 10,000 signatures in its first week. The petition quotes the young feminist writer Lucy Steigerwald, "You don't stop the runaway truck of U.S. foreign policy by throwing a man in front of it, and you definitely don't stop it by throwing a man and a woman, just to make things equal."

The federal government doesn't do well at acknowledging that its power is limited by the willingness of the people to carry out its orders. But draft registration has failed. The only realistic choice is to end it.

Edward Hasbrouck is a travel writer and human rights activist in San Francisco. His website about the draft, draft registration, and draft resistance is at Resisters.info.

Link | Posted by Edward, 5 June 2016, 18:49 ( 6:49 PM) | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, 30 May 2016

How can we make airlines respect our privacy?

A decision last week by a California state Court of Appeal in a case involving an airline smartphone app highlights the legal impunity enjoyed by airlines that invade their customers' and passengers' privacy.

Delta Air Lines' mobile app collects all the information travellers provide when they buy tickets, reserve seats, or check in for flights: credit card numbers, travelling companions, special meal requests that can provide a clue to their religion, special service requests that can indicate invisible medical conditions, and so forth. It also collects other information, such as real-time location and movement tracking through access by the Delta app to the GPS and other location information in your phone.

How much of this data is sent to Delta? There's no way for travellers to know, since the data transmission channel from the app on your phone to the airline is encrypted. What did Delta do with this data about its customers and passengers? We don't know that either. Airlines use as much data about travellers as they can get for marketing and operations, and have been trying to get permission from the US government to use any or all of this data, and/or information about customers obtained from third parties, to "personalize" ticket prices and fees for checked baggage and other services. But the Delta app was launched and operated for years with no privacy policy at all, leaving travellers to speculate why the airline wants a log of each app user's movements, or how it uses or shares this data.

How much of this data is made available to government agencies or other third parties? Delta doesn't say. Unlike many other online service providers, no airline has ever published any sort of transparency report about how often the government asks for information about its customers, or how the company has responded to those requests.

California's Attorney General, in her capacity as chief enforcer of the state's consumer protection laws, sued Delta in 2012 for violating the California Online Privacy Protection Act, which "requires commercial operators of websites and online services, including mobile and social apps, which collect personally identifiable information from Californians to conspicuously post a privacy policy."

It's worth noting that this law doesn't restrict companies' ability and legal "right" to spy on their customers, invade their privacy, or rat them out to their private enemies or competitors or to the police or other government agencies. All California law requires is that each company subject to the law post some sort of privacy policy saying what data they claim to collect and what they claim to do with it, and not get caught lying to customers about their practices. In the absence of audits by investigators with subpoena power, of course, companies are unlikely to get caught no matter what they do.

The lawsuit against Delta Air Lines was the first action brought by the state of California to enforce this law, which was enacted in 2003 and took effect in 2004. It was an entirely appropriate choice of an especially large, sophisticated, and egregious corporate violator of the law. It was also, I suspect, a popular choice by a politically savvy official with her sights on higher elected office. Most people want, and would expect, consumer privacy laws to be applied to airlines.

Delta initially told the California A.G.'s office that it "intended" to provide the information that was supposed to be in its privacy policy, but then decided to stonewall. Delta argued successfully both in the trial court and before the Court of Appeals that it doesn't have to have any privacy policy or reveal its personal data collection, usage, or disclosure policies to its customers. The Federal "Airline Deregulation Act of 1978" has preempted any state regulation of these practices, Delta said -- and state judges agreed. Only the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has jurisdiction over these practices, or the authority to impose sanctions against airlines that spy on their customers or lie about what they are doing with the data they collect about us.

A company that doesn't say anything about its practices can't get caught in a lie. So unless some sort of disclosure is legally required, or demanded by popular pressure, silence -- which is to say, secrecy -- is the legally safest course of corporate action.

If that's the direction in which the law has driven airlines -- and it is -- then something is wrong with both the law and the airlines.

Tracking your missing bags in real time is one thing, but tracking you in real time is another. Regardless of whether what Delta is doing is legal -- and it might be, at least in the USA -- it should go without saying that an airline or any other company that deploys an app that's constantly phoning home to report your location, and goes to court to defend its right not to tell you what it's doing with that information, is in contempt of customers and doesn't deserve your business. I'd recommend you choose a different airline, except that most airlines are just as bad, or worse. Delta didn't claim to protect app users' privacy. Most other airlines do have privacy policies for their apps, but they are typically full of blatant lies of commission and omission that are apparent to anyone familiar with airlines' privacy (invasion) practices. I'd be hard pressed to say which is the lesser evil. Delta has "voluntarily" published a privacy policy, despite winning its lawsuit against being forced to do so, but it's not clear that its policy is any more candid or truthful than the industry norm.

What Delta and other airlines are doing does violate privacy and data protection laws in Canada and the European Union. Even domestic US airlines that only operate flights within the USA all accept reservations from customers in Canada and in the EU. Most of them also have offices and/or agents who sell tickets on their behalf in Canada and the EU. But none of them bother to comply with Canadian or EU privacy law. As businesses trying to maximize profits, why would they spend money on compliance with laws that aren't being enforced? I know of no airline, for example, that has established a procedure for providing you, on request, with copies of all of your reservations and all of the data about you collected through their and their agents' Web sites and apps, which would be required to comply with the "subject access" requirements of Canadian and EU law. I've made complaints about this to local privacy and data protection authorities, against local airlines, under local laws, in Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands. None of them have taken any enforcement action, and some of them haven't even bothered to respond to my complaints. So the problem can't be blamed solely on US exceptionalism.

Airlines in the USA say that Federal preemption of consumer privacy protection avoids "a patchwork of different regulations around the country". That's true. But if Congress enacted a Federal travel privacy law (as I've been urging publicly for more than a decade), or a general consumer data privacy law applicable to airlines, or if the Department of Transportation did its job of enforcing existing Federal laws against unfair and deceptive airline practices, airlines could be held to a uniform minimal standard without having to worry about divergent or potentially incompatible state requirements.

Desire for national standardization is a reason for Federal action, not an excuse for Federal inaction, much less for Federal intervention to prevent states from trying to fill the airline consumer protection gaps left by do-nothing Federal regulators. That's the real effect of Federal aviation preemption today, and that's why state Attorneys General have called repeatedly and with bipartisan near-unanimity for its repeal or reform.

Consumers can and should push the U.S. Department of Transportation to act by filing formal complaints whenever airlines lie to them. In most cases, the DOT will try to find excuses not to act, or will impose only token penalties, even when presented with meticulously documented formal complaints like these examples from Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman. But as I pointed out 15 years ago in The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace, the DOT will do nothing at all, and will claim that it is unaware of any problem, if consumers don't complain at all or submit only "informal" letters of complaint rather than formal filings in the public DOT regulatory docket that can't be hidden or ignored. As I said in The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World, "Enough sacks of mail, dear readers, and maybe DOT will get the message and start doing its job to protect consumers."

When I testified before the DOT Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection at the first (and to date only) DOT inquiry into the privacy of airline data in 2013, the response of the DOT regulators in the room was to claim there must not be a problem because DOT doesn't get any complaints about airline privacy practices, even though, as I pointed out in my testimony, there's no way anyone could tell from DOT's Web site that DOT has jurisdiction over privacy issues or accepts complaints of privacy policy violations, much less how to submit such a complaint.

Airlines, members of Congress, and the do-nothings at DOT all need to hear from the public that this sort of airline behavior is not acceptable and should be subject to legal sanctions that are costly enough to affect airlines' profits and influence their decisions.

Link | Posted by Edward, 30 May 2016, 11:51 (11:51 AM) | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Inquiring minds want to know how to avoid the draft

If you click on a Google search result, Google passes the text you originally entered in the search box through to the search result Web site. The same is true of most other search engines. Marketers use this data to analyze what queries bring visitors to their Web sites, but educational, political, informational, and personal Web site operators can also make use of this information to understand what visitors are looking for.

I don't often see lists of search engine queries posted publicly, but I find them an interesting window into what's on people's minds.

My interests aren't easily pigeonholed. I write and have written -- many of the pages on my Web site that people most often get to from search engines were written many years ago -- about several topics that aren't obviously related. Depending on what I've been up to, or what's been in the news, I might get a lot of visitors looking for information about what to do if an airline goes bankrupt, what foreign languages are most useful for world travel, how to tell if your passport has an RFID chip (if it's a currently valid US passport, it does), the reality-TV show The Amazing Race, or self-determinationn and human rights in Kashmir.

I have pages consistently in the top search results for each of these. What varies from month to month is which questions netizens are asking.

This month, for example, I've gotten about a thousand visitors to a section of my site that normally gets only a few dozen visitors a month, because it includes some archived documentation, apparently not available anywhere else, about the obscure and abandoned "SavaJe" Java-based alternative operating system for the Psion netBook, an ahead-of-its time but also long since abandoned 1990s mobile computer with both a touchscreen and a keyboard. The SavaJe OS, and what devices it ran on, became an issue last week in the trial of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit by Oracle against Google.

Questions about Selective Service and draft registration are a perennial source of traffic to my site. This month, with Congress debating whether to extend draft registration to women or end it entirely, questions about how to avoid the draft have brought more searchers to my site than queries on all other topics put together.

Some of these queries appear to be from parents concerned about their children. Others appear to be from students looking for answers to homework questions, writing papers, or preparing for debates. But most of these queries appear to be from draft-age young people wanting to know what will happen to them if they don't register for the draft or don't go into the military if they are drafted.

Notably, very few of them are asking whether, or why, they should or shouldn't support the draft or draft registration. If someone wants to enlist, I might try to talk them out of it. But I've never seen any point to trying to convince anyone not to want to be drafted. Nobody wants to be drafted. By definition, the government only needs to draft you if you haven't chosen to enlist.

The queries that bring people to my Web site bear this out. People aren't asking about my beliefs or opinions about the draft or war, or for counseling or advice about their own beliefs. Nor are they asking for reasons why they might or might not want to register for, or submit to, the draft. It appears that most of them already know they don't want to go into the military and don't want to register. They want factual information about whether threats of prosecutions for failure to regiser are credible (no -- enforcement of draft registration was abandoned in 1988), what will happen to them if they don't register (lifetime ineligibility for some government programs if they turn 26 without ever having registered), and how they can avoid being drafted if they did register (move without telling the Selective Service System your new address, or organize to end draft registration and abolish the Selective Service System).

Although I have a page on my site that shows up on the first page of results for a search on "conscientious objection and draft registration", it gets relatively little traffic. Regardless of what choices anyone else may think young people should make, "conscientious objection" is not the option they are looking for help with. That makes sense to me: Most people who don't want to be drafted aren't what I would call conscientious objectors (I'm not one myself), don't think of themselves as conscientious objectors (I don't either), and -- most importantly -- don't fit the government's definition of eligibility for classification as a CO and assignment to yet-to-be-determined but involuntary alternative service, even if they want to and would be willing and able to jump through all the hoops to qualify (I wouldn't).

Make of it what you will, by far the most common word used in these queries about the draft is "avoid". Not "resist", "evade", or "dodge". And people see through the euphemisms: Far more queries are about "the draft" than "Selective Service".

But you can draw your own conclusions. Here are some of the search engine queries that have brought visitors to my Web site this month:

how to avoid the draft
howtoavoidamilitarydraft
how does college deferment work to avoid being drafted
does americans citizen have to be drafted
will there ever be another military draft
do you still have to sign up for the draft
draft coming back
how long will you stay in jail if you say no to the draft
does canada have war draft
hiw long you go to jail for skipping the draft
usa draft only child
why don t we draft anymore
how to avoid usa draft
refused to go to war
fear of getting drafted

Continue reading "Inquiring minds want to know how to avoid the draft"
Link | Posted by Edward, 25 May 2016, 12:25 (12:25 PM) | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

House removes authorization to order women to register for the draft from its version of pending "Defense" bill

Women marching with banner: Lesbian Anti-Draft Action

[Front ranks of the West Coast mobilization against any draft or draft registration for women or men on Market Street in San Francisco, 22 March 1980, Photo by Chris Booth for Resistance News. Click image for larger version.]

The U.S. House of Representatives voted today to remove (see page 3) a provision that would extend Presidential authority to order women as well as men to register for the draft from the House version of the pending National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017.

This doesn't mean that the threat to extend draft registration to women is over, but it does mean that Congress has probably succeeded in punting its decision of whether to extend draft registration to women or end draft registration entirely past the November election and into the next Presidential administration.

More resistance is needed now, and will be needed in the next year or more, to put an end to draft registration.

Here's what happened today, and what it means:

Continue reading "House removes authorization to order women to register for the draft from its version of pending "Defense" bill"
Link | Posted by Edward, 17 May 2016, 13:16 ( 1:16 PM) | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Amazing Race 28, Episode 12

Shenzhen (China) - Guangzhou (China) - Los Angeles, CA (USA) - Santa Barbara, CA (USA)

The final three teams on The Amazing Race 28 managed to make their way back to the USA this week, despite not being allowed to bring their smartphones or any any other Internet-connected devices with them on the "reality" television show.

This season the cast of The Amazing Race 28 was selected entirely from YouTubers and other "social media stars". In the first couple of episodes, they worried about whether they would suffer from Internet and social media withdrawal during the race, as well as how they would find their way around the world without a smartphone and GPS for guidance.

Today's reality of travel, of course, is that these concerns aren't unique to social media professionals. More and more people are coming to rely on smartphones for navigation and travel information as well as for their sense of community and connection to a stable world (or at least to Facebook) regardless of where they are.

If there's one key takeaway from this season of the race, it's that -- at least from what the TV editors allowed us to see -- the things the racers feared never became a problem. They sometimes found it inconvenient not to have their smartphones handy, but they discovered that it was possible to use paper maps or ask local people (who as often as not looked up answers on their smartphones) for directions and information. And they appeared to be too busy being where they were ("Wherever you go, there you are!") to be bothered by the fact that they weren't someplace else on the Internet. After the first few days on the road, when they talked quite a bit about their fear of Internet withdrawal, it was hardly ever mentioned again.

If these people whose professional working lives revolve around Internet "social media" can disconnect from the Internet and travel around the world without Internet-withdrawal trauma, you can too.

Even if you don't plan on going cold turkey from Facebook or your phone while you are travelling, it's worth thinking about how you will cope if you find yourself in a place whether the Web or cloud-based services you have come to rely on aren't available because the Internet is unavailable (or, more commonly, the Internet is too slow to be useful for some of your purposes), or you don't have your smartphone. If you travel enough, it's a question of when, not if, this will happen. Maybe the Internet will be so slow that trying to download maps or check your e-mail just times out. Or your phone will be lost, stolen, or broken someplace where replacing it is prohibitively expensive. Murphy's Law says this will happen in a place and at a time you weren't expecting it and hadn't made any special preparations. Before you find yourself in this situation, think about how you would cope with it.

Some apps and types of data are especially likely not to work well, or at all, or not to be accessible, if the Internet connection is too slow. There are many places, for example, where the Internet is too slow to use online maps or translation services. Even if you usually rely on these services, install offline navigation and translation apps as a backup, and/or carry a paper map and a phrase book or pocket dictionary. If you aren't sure whether an app stores its data on your phone or in the cloud, or whether it works offline, test it in "airplane mode".

I've been in quite a few places in recent years where connections were so slow that a Web browser would time out before a web-mail page finished loading. Don't count on having Web-based e-mail available on demand when you need it. Download any essential data (the address and confirmation details of the place you plan to stay, for example) to your phone, or print it out or write it down.

What would you do if suddenly you didn't have your phone at all, or it wasn't working? Smartphones are the second target of pickpockets and snatch thieves, ahead of wallets and purses and behind only tablets (which are favored because they are easier to snatch). The more you rely on your device for navigation, translation, etc. the more you will have it out and vulnerable (to theft, being dropped and run over by a car, etc.) in public. Phones are among the items most often lost or forgotten. And when they fail, they often do so catastrophically and without warning. Maybe you can get a dead phone fixed and recover your data, eventually. But what will you do in the meantime?

Separate the critical data on your phone or other device(s) that you would want right away, such as contact lists, ticket confirmations, credit and ATM card numbers and issuers and contact information to report them lost or stolen, etc. from the photos or data that can wait until you get home and restore them from the cloud on a replacement phone. That will minimize the amount of data you need to restore to a replacement phone, and maximize the chance that restoring from the cloud will be possible (if you can find a replacement phone).

There are plenty of places in the world where restoring a whole library of travel photos or the other contents of your phone memory over the Internet could take days. And you might not have or be able affordably or quickly to obtain an identical phone to which to restore your data. Keep offline backups of any information you would want to have to continue your trip in a file format (e.g. text file) and on media (e.g. a ruggedized USB flash drive) that you can access on any borrowed computer or in a cybercafe. I keep a couple of sets of backups of my e-mail, contact lists, and so forth on separate encrypted flash drives or memory cards (TrueCrypt and VeraCrypt are among the options for encryption software that works on multiple operating systems) in different places in my luggage. Think about how you would get the data you need from your backups, in a way that would enable you to go on with your trip, at a moment when you have neither your phone nor useful Internet access.

Each team on this season of The Amazing Race was, for the first time, provided with a digital camera. I think the point was to allow them to take selfies that could be used in the TV show, without giving them a device that could access the Internet.

Standalone digital cameras are losing favor to cellphone cameras, but they have some advantages in spite of their extra weight and bulk if you are already carrying a camera phone. Your phone is most vulnerable to theft or damage from dropping when you are using it to take photos, so using a separate camera can help you keep your phone safer and more secure. More importantly, while the photos you haven't yet backed up may have sentimental value, a standalone camera -- unlike a camera-phone -- isn't likely to have data that is critical for you to have to continue your trip, or that can be exploited by an identity thief, if it is snatched away while you are concentrating on composing a photo.

Whether you take photos on your phone or a separate camera, back them up regularly. Consider encrypting the backups (or backing them up to a non-obvious cloud storage service, when connectivity permits that) and deleting them from your phone or camera.

Police, soldiers, and border guards have developed a nasty habit of asking or demanding to look at what's on your phone, camera, tablet, or laptop. Less often, they may ask you to sign in and show them what's in your Web-mail account (consider having a vanilla "decoy" account you can use for this purpose) or on your Facebook page. Surprisingly many travellers have photos that could offend someone or inadvertently transgress some law or cultural norm, whether by depicting government buildings -- a no-no in many countries, sometimes including the USA, for security reasons -- or showing too much skin.

Imagine what the border guards in the most prudish country on your itinerary might thing of the most risqué of the photos on your phone or your friends' Facebook pages. You don't have to unlock your phone, but they don't have to let you into their country.

Usually snoops like this will only look in the most obvious places. They are likely to demand that you unlock your phone or device, and look through the photos on the memory card in your camera or the camera app on your phone or tablet. They might ask you to log in to Facebook and/or your Web-based e-mail account. But they are unlikely even to notice, much less to demand the password for, every individual encrypted file on any of your memory cards, especially those stashed separately in your luggage.

What would be most useful would be a version of the CHDK alternate digital camera firmware that uses the processor in your camera to encrypt photos as soon as they taken, before they are saved to a memory card. I suspect it's possible, and it's been discussed as a CHDK feature request, but it doesn't exist (yet). Any coders care to volunteer to take on this project?

Link | Posted by Edward, 13 May 2016, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)