Anonymous comes to Montclair

So, a couple of years ago we moved to Montclair, NJ, in part because of the excellent public school system. There was some excitement here last Friday, when some “assessments” were posted on the web in advance of their being administered to students.

There is some confusion (at least on my part), and some conflicting reports about what, exactly these tests are for. They are some combination of:

  1. Evaluation of pedagogical methods
  2. Evaluation of teachers
  3. Evaluation of students

In any event, these tests were supposed to be given starting this week, but 14 of the “more than 60” tests were posted online, which, of course, severely compromises the integrity of the tests. The tests were quickly taken down (although nothing ever really disappears from the internet), and the next couple of days were filled with pretty much what you would expect: outrage and conspiracy theories from parents; defensiveness and corporate double-speak from the superintendent’s office.

Then, today, an Anonymous video went up claiming responsibility for the hack . Suddenly, things get interesting. Go here to watch the video. Go here to read the commentary from Baristanet (the local online paper) — entertaining in part because of the apparent lack of familiarity with Anonymous.

Of course, the usual caveats apply. Due to its open, self-organized nature (anyone can generate an Anonymous-style video), it is difficult to know if Anonymous was actually responsible (as opposed to taking credit after the fact), or what it even means for “Anonymous” to be responsible. However, it takes something that looked a lot like run-of-the-mill bureaucratic incompetence and reframes it as a guerrilla struggle against the corporate takeover of public education.

So, what’s the story then?

Well, now that there’s an Anonymous video involved, I’m going to find out.

This Spam REALLY Doesn’t work right now

So, like you, I get a lot of spam e-mail, much of it some variant of the Nigerian 419 scam.

Here’s the one I got today:

Dear Sir
I want to invest in your country. Anyway, my name is. John Mark from Liberia presently staying in Ghana.Already, I have gone through your profile, and I considered you to be credible and competent enough to handle a big project of this nature,which is the reason why I decided to contact you.
Personally, I would like to go into business partnership with you, so that you can assist me to invest and manage my fund there in your country.
The only thing I am considering is the tax, I don’t know how much tax the Government of your country will take from the funds that I want to invest in your company and I don’t
know if there will be any other requirements from us. I intend to invest jointly with you.
The purpose of this mail is to open up communication with you to enable us know each other as regards to our plan to invest our money properly with you.
God bless you as we will be looking forward to hear from you urgently.
Yours faithfully,

John Mark

Here’s the thing. If you’re trying to scam an American right now, when the government is shut down as a result of a crazy-ass blood feud over Obamacare, and when we are just a couple of days away from defaulting on our Federal debt, when the fiscal practices that led to the 2008 crash have, if anything, intensified over the course of the recovery (which was only a recovery at all for the very richest Americans), you can’t lead with “I want to invest in your country.”

That opening pegs you as a scammer, or, worse, a moron.

Steve Lonegan on Syrian “Others”

So, as some of you may know, we’ve got a special election happening tomorrow here in New Jersey, pitting Democrat Cory Booker, the current Mayor of Newark, against Republican Steve Lonegan, the former Mayor of Bogota. The race got a lot of headlines in the past few days after Rick Shafan, a (since fired) senior staffer with the Lonegan campaign, said that Booker’s communications with a Portland stripper sounded like “what a gay guy would say.” He went on to explain in stomach-churning detail what he (as a representative of straight guys everywhere) would have said to the same stripper. If you haven’t read about it, check it out.

But back in September, we got a recorded phone call from Lonegan, urging us to come to a rally in Montclair against military intervention in Syria. Now, while I doubt that I agree with Lonegan on just about any other issue, I am glad that we found a way not to get involved in another war (even if it was going to be “just” airstrikes).

The American’s-bombing-people-in-Syria issue, is settled, at least for the moment, but there was something telling in the phrasing of the phone message. Here’s my transcript:

America is on the verge of another war, a war we can not afford. A war where we do not belong. I’m Steve Lonegan, I’m the Republican candidate for the United States Senate. Please join me this evening in Montclair at 12 Church Street for our anti-war rally.
We should not be putting our money, our troops, and our nation in harm’s way in a war in Syria that will result in the death of thousands of Syrian Christians, Jews, and Others.
We simply do not belong there. There is no excuse for this war. None. Please send our message to our elected representatives across this state and across this country: “No . . .”

That’s where our answering machine cut off. I assume the message was something along the lines of “No war!”

The interesting part of the message was “Syrian Christians, Jews, and Others.” Hmmm . . .

Here’s my read on this. I have no evidence to suggest that Steve Lonegan himself has anything against Muslims. He might, but I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

However, it does seem clear that he is unwilling to say that he is against killing Muslims.

Here’s how I picture the strategy meeting:

STAFFER 1: Okay, it looks like Obama is going to war against Syria. We’re tying Booker to Obama, so we need to come out against the war.

STAFFER 2: But we have to be careful. Killing Muslims is still polling very strong with our base.

STAFFER 1: I’ve got it! We refer to Syrian Muslims as “Others”.  That way we avoid appearing sympathetic to them, and in fact, contributes literally to the “Othering” of Muslims, sensu De Beauvior.

STAFFER 2: We’ve got a mole!

Sadly, STAFFER 1’s body was never found.

SFI MOOC on Complex Systems

So, are you looking to learn something new this fall? Do you want to understand the difference between things that are “complex” versus “complicated”? Have you always wanted to understand what the hell Jeff Goldblum’s character was talking about in Jurassic Park?

Well, you’re in luck! Check out Introduction to Complexity, a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) being offered through the Santa Fe Institute. The course is being taught by Melanie Mitchell, a long-time member of the SFI community, and a professor of computer science at Portland State University. She taught this class last year, and all of the feedback I heard was very positive. Now, second time around, I assume that any kinks that might have existed will have been worked out.

The course officially started on September 29, but you can still enroll, since all of the material is online. And, it’s FREE!!

Here’s the official course description:

In this course you’ll learn about the tools used by scientists to understand complex systems. The topics you’ll learn about include dynamics, chaos, fractals, information theory, self-organization, agent-based modeling, and networks. You’ll also get a sense of how these topics fit together to help explain how complexity arises and evolves in nature, society, and technology. There are no prerequisites. You don’t need a science or math background to take this introductory course; it simply requires an interest in the field and the willingness to participate in a hands-on approach to the subject.

And here’s Melanie describing the course:

Check it out, as well as the other courses that will offered in the future through SFI’s Complexity Explorer program: