What Scammers Know

Scammers, unfortunately, are perennial weeds – they always seem to pop up, no matter what you do to try to get rid of them. One of the newer approaches is to “prove” that they have hacked your accounts by including a snippet of real information – your phone number, or maybe an old password. They then try to blackmail you. They claim they have more information, something damaging, and will reveal it if you don’t pay up.

Don’t fall for it.

First off, you have almost certainly NOT been “hacked” – at least not in a technical sense. There is a lot more “personal” data that is actually public than most people realize.

Remember phone books? (Maybe not).  Phone books printed your name, address, and phone number. Their PURPOSE was to make that data publicly available. Today’s easily-accessed online equivalents generally add your age and names of others at, or previously at, that address; this enables legitimate users to tell the hundreds of “John Smith”s apart.

Voter rolls are also public information. You may have to physically go to the town hall to get them, so the data is not quite so easily accessible — but when I worked on a campaign, I was appalled that my name, address, phone, party membership, and voting record (not for whom, just that I did vote) was openly listed. Similarly, property tax data — including a map and description of the property — is a matter of public record, and is often available online.

So don’t be freaked out when a scammer knows information that anyone can get with a simple, legal search.

Sometimes we help the scammers. You know the security questions your bank asks? Be very cautious when using things like mother’s maiden name to verify your identify. Genealogy sites have gotten so popular, that sort of information should almost be considered public. Facebook quizzes should also be considered a voluntary data breech – it’s not hard to figure out the name of your first pet when you’ve announced it on your Facebook page. And games of the “what is your elvish name?” variety simply verify your birthdate, or whatever other information the algorithm uses. Let’s not even get into the “20 things most people don’t know about me” types of quiz games.

“But only ‘friends’ can see my Facebook page” you say. Really? Maybe. But are your ‘friends’ actually your friends? Some might be data-mining bots. Some might be imposters.  I periodically get a message from a friend saying “Help! My account has been hacked! Should I change my password”. Chances are, no one has actually broken into their account. Changing their password won’t help. They haven’t been hacked, they’ve been spoofed.

“Spoofing” is simply pretending to be who you aren’t. An email “from” address can be spoofed, so that it seems to be coming from someone else. A phone number can be spoofed; have you ever gotten a call from yourself (according to caller ID), or have called back a number and had it answered by a puzzled person saying they didn’t call you? Their number was spoofed.

On Facebook, scammers can copy your public profile; they “spoof” your account. They may then pretend to be you, and send a friend request to your friends. If YOUR friends accept the request, the scammer now has access to THEIR “friends” list (so they can daisy-chain the scam). The scammers also have access to their pages, which allows them to data-mine.

What can you do to prevent this? Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent someone from impersonating you. The best you can do is report it and get the account removed.

But you can keep from falling for it. If you get a friend request from someone – anyone – check them out. Go to their page. If you have friends in common, and the page looks legit, fine. Approve the request. But if it is from someone you are already friends with, chances are the new request is from a spoofed account. Report it to Facebook, and tell your real friend there is someone spoofing them. They should also report it to Facebook; their complaint is more likely to be acted on than yours.

If it is someone you don’t know (usually someone of the opposite sex who says they ran across your profile and want to get to know you better), be suspicious. Chances are, their page is a confusing mishmash of contradictory images. Report them, block them, or at least delete the request.

Facebook Messenger requests may also present a danger. When you answer a message, the correspondent is temporarily granted friend status (or at least, this was how it worked a few years ago; it may have changed). The best thing to do (on a computer – I’m not sure you can do this on a phone) is to use the option to “view” but not “open” a message. Go to that person’s FB page. Only if everything seems aboveboard should you actually open and reply to the message.

All this caution is simply to limit what we voluntarily share with scammers. They already know – or can find out – a lot more about us than most people think. Don’t be rattled by disclosure of easily-available public information – and try to keep information that is NOT easily available under wraps.


The Misuse of Outrage

Beware of outrage.
Beware of click-bait titles.

I like to make sure that what I post is reasonably accurate. I am unabashedly a progressive liberal, and that colors my reactions to news. But I also believe that “the other side” is doing what they believe is right. We have a difference of opinion of what that may be, and different projections on the effect of various policies. They are not bad people, and believe it or not, we often have the same end goals; we disagree on how to get there.

HOWEVER, my indulgence does not extend to those who create false information to spark outrage. Especially since the motive in most cases seems to be to monetize that outrage.

Outrage is a useful emotion. It can be a tool to mobilize us; to get us up off our asses and act for what we believe. But it can also be a con-job. This used to be the province of right-wing radio commentators or religious demagogues, who threatened dire consequences of liberal policies.

More and more, I see click-bait and outrage fostered by those on the liberal side. Now, I am outraged by a lot of what is going on – but I do not need fake news for that.

I don’t need someone extrapolating what someone DID say into something truly repulsive that he DIDN’T say. Yes, there is a part of me that WANTED him to have said it, so that my poor opinion of him would be even more justified – but he didn’t say it. And I was almost fooled into sharing that particular story.

We don’t need that. We need accurate information on which to inform our opinions and our actions, and especially our votes. At the core of the concept of democracy is the idea that we have an informed populace. Fake news – especially news designed to monetize outrage – undermines that.

We need to realize that we are all in this together. We have some pretty severe differences – hence the talk of “sides” – but this is not a game, with “winners” and “losers”. We don’t need cheerleaders whose goal is to foment outrage and “team spirit” against the “competition”.

We are more like a band. We can have a rivalry between the different instruments, and we can disagree on matters of tempo and phrasing, on improvisation, even on the basic type of music we want to play. But we all need to play together.


Donald Trump is not the usual president-elect. He was elected by those who want a drastic change in government, those who want to ‘shake up’ the status quo.

People are not pleased with the current state of government, of the economy, of life in these United States. Bernie Sanders also, popularly, promised change. A periodic shake-up is good for a democracy.

But this time we have a baby/bathwater problem.

Trump seems to be uniquely unqualified for the office. He shows no interest in learning the actual duties of being president. He does not listen to intelligence sources; he seem to distrust any established procedures or experts, and he excoriates the press. He reacts in a childish and vindictive manner to the slightest criticism. He delighted in the discovery that there is an exception in the conflict-of-interest law that applies to the President, and seems to think that means that ethics in general do not apply to him. He has been characterized as a narcissist, and he has done nothing to cast doubt on that characterization.

Half the population is terrified. Trump has shown basic ignorance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and seems to want to roll back the basic civil rights that people have fought very hard for in the last hundred years. It’s not all Trump’s fault; the Republican party seems to have been taken over by religious extremists who think Science is a matter of opinion. Economic gain by the economic elite is paramount; the environment is only important insofar as it represents a resource to be exploited.

Trump’s nominees for various cabinet positions have not be reassuring. Most either know nothing about their department, or are actively antagonistic towards their department’s mission. Virtually all have major conflicts of interest, but are being rushed through with no opportunity for examination. We are hiring foxes to guard the henhouse.

We have reason to be alarmed. But not just because of Trump himself. We can survive Trump. People wanted change, and they’re getting it. But this has happened before. Every election offers an opportunity to change course. It is part of a being a democracy.

What alarms me, far more than Trump himself, is the behavior of Congress. It is complicit in the dissolution of the checks and balances outlined in the Constitution. Congress is supposed to serve as a check on the President’s power. Instead, the Republican party, seemingly delirious in their control of both the legislative and executive branches of government, are taking this opportunity to ram through their agenda — to the detriment of the country itself and its citizens (except perhaps the richest citizens). Congress is ignoring the autocratic tendencies of Trump; even feeding his ego. Foxes are guarding the henhouse.

What is normalization? This election, this presidency, is not normal. Yet I don’t think that is the important ‘not normal’. It would be satisfying to make fun of Trump, to call him names, to refuse to listen to him. And yet, that is simply descending to his level of petty. What is important?

I believe in the Constitution, in the checks and balances that have guided this country since they were adopted. The US, as a country, often heads down an unwise path. It rarely does the best thing. But it also has the ability to correct itself. There is a pendulum swing. It rarely goes so wrong that correction is impossible. That is the strength of our Constitutional government.

And that is what I see in peril. Congress and Trump are acting in a remarkably un-American fashion.  The President is not a king, or a dictator, or even a CEO. The President is deliberately just a temp — 4 years, with an option to renew employment for a second 4 years. Congress is supposed to restrain his power (and the executive branch is supposed to restrain the power of Congress). But Congress is ignoring its duty.

That is the normalization we need to fight. Boycotting the inauguration is an easy symbolic act. Annoying Trump is emotionally satisfying.

But what we need to do is insist that Congress perform its duty. Congress must thoroughly vet each of Trump’s nominees, and hold them to the most rigorous standards. Congress must stop Trump from acting for personal gain,  or from doing anything that contravenes the Constitution. Congress must enforce the emoluments clause. Congress must insist that Trump follow the anti-nepotism rules, and that his nominees, who ARE subject to conflict of interest laws, are free of those conflicts.

Congress must uphold the Constitution, and make sure that the basic civil rights of ALL people are protected. It must hold fast to our international obligations, or far from “making America great again”, Trump will show the world that America is a lying bully and an undependable ally.

This we cannot normalize.


An Open Letter to President-Elect Trump

You ran on a platform of “drain the swamp”. You ran as an outsider, too rich to be influenced by donors, and beholden to no one.

I think you will soon find, if you have not already, that the Republican party sees it differently. Now that you have won, they are all at your side, loudly proclaiming that they have a mandate to rule. They pretend that the frustration with government was all directed at the Democrats. They forget that they are some of the largest alligators in the swamp. And they see you as a puppet who will do as they say, sign whatever legislation they put in front of you.

Prove them wrong. Show us that your supporters, who said that you didn’t mean the hateful things you said, were right. Show us that you DID mean what you said in your acceptance speech:  “Now it is time for America to bind the wounds of division… it is time for us to come together as one united people. It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans”

There are protests all over America, a reminder that, far from a mandate, the vote was a dead heat. Yes, you won, but barely. If you want to bring the country together, instead of to heel, you need to listen to those who did not vote for you. Right now, they are terrified. They are afraid of the hatred and threats of violence they see in people who enthusiastically supported you. Your supporters may feel they have found a voice and a champion in you, but the other half of the country has fought long and hard to have any voice at all, and now they fear that voice will be taken away, and they will be subjected to violence. These are Americans, and you have pledged to be their President, too.

Your job now is to heal that divide, and to calm those fears.

One way you can do that – a way you are in a unique position to do – is to start the long process of reducing the role of political parties in the government process. Political parties are not part of the system of government outlined in the Constitution. Why does one party or another determine who sits on what committee, what issues are voted on, or who gets to speak? In business terms, we have two competing unions, and they are dictating to the company how it should be run. Instead of focusing on the goals of the company, the focus is all on which internal faction “wins”. The company itself loses.

The entire situation is ripe for corruption – and that’s the swamp you have pledged to drain. If you have any mandate at all, it is that – to reduce corruption and influence-peddling.

Your Republican handlers will not like that. They want you to just fall in line and support their legislation. But I urge you to consider how their policies and your actions will affect every American. Listen to everyone, not just the glib party insiders. Be a President who champions the well-being and interests of all Americans.

Misogyny and “women only want…”

Some men think that “women only want to date rich men” or some variation on that theme. Usually it is expressed in conjunction with a complaint that “I’m a nice guy, why can’t I get a girlfriend?”, and sometimes with a bitter comment “she’d only try to take advantage of me anyway”.

To be fair, there is the female analog: “Men only want to get into your pants”, or “men only want trophies; beautiful, brainless arm-candy”.

Ads from the 50s reinforce those stereotypes. But it was a different era. Women at the time were usually financially dependent on men — it wasn’t until 1974 (Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA; 15 U.S.C. § 1691 et seq.), that women won the right to credit in their own name. Before that, it was common for banks to require a husband or father to approve or even cosign a loan or account application. In the 50s, it was considered important for a husband to be a “good provider” for his wife and children. And – a key point – it was a package deal. Ads from that era also show husbands spanking their wives, and wives being obsessive about pleasing their husbands.

Times have changed. Thank God.

If those are the roles you want to play, and you have a willing partner, go for it. But nowadays we are no longer straight-jacketed by gender roles. A woman can be a CEO. A man can be the domestic partner, cooking and cleaning and caring for kids. Or both can act in partnership, as friends. They can work out who works when, who pays what bills, and who performs what tasks. It’s no longer gender-driven.

I am flabbergasted when I hear “women only want…”. What women? Not the ones I know. But then, I don’t tend to hang around with women who just want someone to support them. And that’s the key; men who say that are looking for a particular type of woman; women who will fit the 50s stereotype of female subservience. Unfortunately, that female stereotype requires the complementary male stereotype of a man who is a good provider. So men who make these complaints have two obstacles.

The first is that the vast majority of modern women do not want that role division. They want something more egalitarian, more friendship-based. But these men have already eliminated women “like that” from consideration.  And second, when they DO find women who fit their requirements, they find those women fit the whole stereotype – and those women are not looking for someone like them. Double whammy.

So yes. If you think women only want to date rich men, and don’t care that you’re “nice”, I suggest you ask yourself what you really want. If you really want to buy into the stereotype of dominant man/subservient woman, then you are looking for someone else who is also looking for that, and yes, that means you will be the provider. That’s the role you are choosing.

For an egalitarian relationship, it’s important to be friends. Whether you become friends with someone who you are attracted to, or whether you find a growing attraction to someone who is already a friend, you are, first, FRIENDS.  You EACH have to decide if you want to work on a different, romantic relationship. Yes, this means you will probably be “friend-zoned” many times. That’s not a bad place. Most of us have friends. It’s a good thing. You may very well friend-zone her, too. Being friend-zoned just means that the question of a further relationship has come up and either or both of you decided not to go there.  It’s a clarification of the boundaries of a friendship.

If you are offended by being “friend-zoned”, then one of two things have occurred. Either you entered the friendship under false pretenses (the “he only wants to get into my pants” type of friendship), or you have already created a relationship in your fantasies, so that for you, emotionally, it’s a breakup and not a clarification of possibilities. Breakups are painful. You may need to distance yourself for awhile. But remember, the supposed ‘relationship’ was one-sided. If you are wise, you won’t burn bridges; that person is still your friend, right?

If not, go back to your stereotype. You’re looking in the wrong place.


There is a new cool trend: to celebrate being an empath. To show empathy, not sympathy. What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? You show sympathy FOR another person; you are sad that they are suffering, but you do not share their suffering. When you empathize WITH another person, you metaphorically put yourself in their shoes and share their pain.

Here is a great little video to illustrate the difference:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

If you prefer a more academic approach: http://www.grammar-monster.com/easily_confused/empathy_sympathy.htm

And some practical advice: http://facilitatoru.com/blog/facilitation/be-empathetic-not-sympathetic/

Since sympathy is a little more distant, it can come across as somewhat condescending — “oh, you poor creature”. Empathy, by contrast, says “oh, that sucks!” — probably a more therapeutic response for the afflicted person. Empathy is ultimately a caring, emotional response to another’s situation.

But the differences between sympathy and empathy is not what this blog entry is about.

Feeling and showing empathy seems to be trendy. There are numerous articles about how to tell if you are an empath such as:


There is a navel-gazing aspect to some of these posts that I find disturbing.

From that last:


Ask yourself:

  • Have I been labeled as “too emotional” or overly sensitive?
  • If a friend is distraught, do I start feeling it too?
  • Are my feelings easily hurt?
  • Am I emotionally drained by crowds, require time alone to revive?
  • Do my nerves get frayed by noise, smells, or excessive talk?
  • Do I prefer taking my own car places so that I can leave when I please?
  • Do I overeat to cope with emotional stress?
  • Am I afraid of becoming engulfed by intimate relationships?

Now, to me, these questions do not point to empathy. They more indicate sensitivity – especially, over-sensitivity. Instead of just being able to identify with what someone else is going through, it seems as if the self-identified ’empath’ co-opts someone else’s feelings, and makes it all about them.

Before we can move on to bigger things, such as helping others, we need to confront the challenge of really knowing, loving, embracing, and fully accepting ourselves as we are.

– from the EmpathConnection website

Yes, a cardinal rule for an emergency worker is to make sure that you are safe yourself; you can’t help a drowning person by diving in and allowing yourself to be pulled down and drowned yourself. But – in these descriptions, it seems that instead of tossing a line to the drowning person, the ’empath’ says “ooh that person is drowning. How horrible. I better take swim lessons”.  The person actually doing the suffering is no longer relevant.

This sort of empathy is NOT a caring, emotional response to another’s situation.

Maybe I’m just being curmudgeonly, but this does not seem to me to be a trait to celebrate.

(update: yes, I was being curmudgeonly. Celebrating empathy is a good thing, and I see fewer of the self-indulgent interpretations that I did when I originally wrote this. I still see a few, though.)

Phone with webtone

Here’s a solution I didn’t know I needed until recently.

I’ve got a pay-as-you -go cell phone. In the past, when I’ve used it to call Canada, the fee came off the card, and it was essentially as if it cost double or triple minutes. But then I changed to a monthly plan, with more minutes than I thought I would ever use in a month. And I called Canada, a good, long family call. I went online to check how many minutes it had used, and was shocked to find it hadn’t used any of my monthly minutes — Canada was out of the system, so they charged me separately. That one phone call cost two months of my economical plan.

So I looked for an alternative. Preferably free. And I found it.

I’ve had a free Google Voice number for awhile. It works with Google Hangouts. You can make calls to regular phones and Google Voice gives you a number which people can call. If you don’t answer, the call will go to voicemail, and you get it as an email attachment, with an often amusing transcription.

It’s been working so well that I now have my home phone forwarded to my Google Voice number. If I am in a wifi zone, either at home or at a friends house or a coffeehouse, my iPod rings and I answer. If I’m not in a wifi zone, it goes to voicemail. From the caller’s perspective, this is no different from what it was like to call my home phone anyway, except that since gVoice sends me a notification when I get a voicemail, so I’m more likely to get your message and return your call. (My cell phone’s behavior is unchanged).

I’ve heard a number of people complain, to a greater or lesser extent, about cell phone coverage and/or costs. With this setup, I can see how it might even be possible to give up both a landline AND a cell phone, yet still have a working phone. It makes wifi, not phone service, the essential component.

Ten years ago, when I worked at Sun Microsystems, “webtone” was a big buzzword — the idea that an internet connection could be ubiquitous and easily accessible; you could just turn on a device and it would just be there — like plugging in a phone and getting a dial tone. We tend to call it “the cloud” these days, but the concept is the same. Pity Sun was more than a decade ahead of the times.

Meanwhile, I hope the techno-geeks among us might simply be delighted, as I am, that it works.

(original article updated: change from Google Chat and the Talkatone app to Google Hangouts)



I love this word. Most dictionaries simply define it as “charity or the giving of alms”. And yes, that is what it means. It derives from the medieval Latin word eleemosynarius,  meaning “compassion, mercy”; that, in turn derives from the Greek word  eleos, “pity”.

In English, technical words are often derived from either Latin or Greek. The Grammar Police insist that you Must Not use Greek endings with Latin roots, and vice-versa. So I am tickled that eleemonsynary is both Greek AND Latin; that’s one reason I like it.

The word alms has the same root, but followed a different linguistic evolution. The Greek root eleos became the Latin eleem- , as before, but then it danced over to Old High German and sashayed into Old English as almes. From there, a simple shortening gives us the modern alms. Not that the word is used much, except perhaps in the theatre, where beggars routinely chant “alms for the poor!”


The word charity – one definition for eleemosynary – has unfortunate connotations these days. It brings up images of well-off people giving cast-offs, or perhaps bowls of gruel, to poor unfortunates. Our Puritan heritage waxes and wanes on this, but there is an implication that some moral defect or character flaw caused their misfortune. In the political arena today, the talk is of  having made “bad choices”.  In that worldview, the unfortunate are the ones to blame for their situation.

By implication, conversely, the fortunate can take credit for being in a good situation. They made good choices. Luck or circumstances had nothing to do with it. And if the fortunate deign to help out the unfortunate, well, then they can feel doubly good about being so noble and generous.

This is not what charity was originally about.

Charity derives from Latin caritatem (nom. caritas) meaning “costliness, esteem, affection”.  In the Vulgate Bible, it was the normal translation of the Greek word agape. (Agape could also be translated into Latin as amor, but as amor could also mean sexual love, it was avoided.) Agape was also translated using the word dilectio, meaning “loving esteem”; this was most often used when the context referred to particular people.  When speaking in the abstract, when “loving-kindness to all” was implied, Caritas was the preferred translation.

When the Latin Vulgate was translated into English, caritas was translated as “charity”, while dilectio was translated as “love”. However, in the original Greek, they were the same word, agape.  Later, in the Revised Version of 1881, the caritas/dilectio distinction was dropped and all occurances of agape were translated into English as “love”.

So it is fair to say the original meaning of charity  was “loving-kindness to all”, a general expression of love. You express charity to others because they are fellow human beings.  Charity is simply expressing loving-kindness as best you can. If others are in need, you help, because of that love.

To make it a matter of winners and losers, of somehow earning brownie points with God by giving something to those poor unfortunates, is a perversion of the very idea of charity. God’s love IS charity; human charity is a reflection of that love.

“For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16):  “Οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον”  could also be translated “This is how God gave charity to the world”.



Latin quid nunc = “what now”? Used in 1709 to refer to someone who wants to know all the latest gossip.

Someone who is curious about everything.

I admit, quidnunc normally has a rather negative connotation. A gossip, a busybody, a know-it-all. That’s the other side of the coin. I’m not particularly interested in gossip, or celebrities, or the latest fads, but I am passionately interested in … well, the world. Everything.

OK, almost everything.

That’s quidnuncity.