Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Letter to President Obama on Surveillance and Freedom

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Posted on August 19, 2013 by benadida

I fully agree!!!!!


Dear President Obama,

My name is Ben Adida. I am 36, married, two kids, working insnowden Silicon Valley as a software engineer with a strong background in security. I’ve worked on the security of voting systems and health systems, on web browsers and payment systems. I enthusiastically voted for you three times: in the 2008 primary and in both presidential elections. When I wrote about my support for your campaign five years ago, I said:

In his campaign, Obama has proposed opening up to the public all bill debates and negotiations with lobbyists, via TV and the Internet. Why? Because he trusts that Americans, when given the tools to see and understand what their legislators are doing, will apply pressure to keep their government honest.

I gushed about how you supported transparency as broadly as possible, to enable better decision making, to empower individuals, and to build a better nation.

Now, I’m no stubborn idealist. I know that change is hard and slow. I know you cannot steer a ship as big as the United States as quickly as some would like. I know tough compromises are the inevitable path to progress.

I also imagine that, once you’re President, the enormity of the threat from those who would attack Americans must be overwhelming. The responsibility you feel, the level of detail you understand, must make prior principles sometimes feel quaint. I cannot imagine what it’s like to be in your shoes.

I also remember that you called on us, your supporters, to stay active, to call you and Congress to task. I want to believe that you asked for this because you knew that your perspective as Commander in Chief would inevitably become skewed. So this is what I’m doing here: I’m calling you to task.

You are failing hard on transparency and oversight when it comes to NSA surveillance. This failure is not the pragmatic compromise of Obamacare, which I strongly support. It is not the sheer difficulty of closing Guantanamo, which I understand. This failure is deep. If you fail to fix it, you will be the President principally responsible for the effective death of the Fourth Amendment and worse.

mass surveillance

The specific topic of concern, to be clear, is mass surveillance. I am not concerned with targeted data requests, based on probable cause and reviewed individually by publicly accountable judges. I can even live with secret data requests, provided they’re very limited, finely targeted, and protect the free-speech rights of service providers like Google and Facebook to release appropriately sanitized data about these requests as often as they’d like.

What I’m concerned about is the broad, dragnet NSA signals intelligence recently revealed by Edward Snowden. This kind of surveillance is a different beast, comparable to routine frisking of every individual simply for walking down the street. It is repulsive to me. It should be repulsive to you, too.

wrong in practice

If you’re a hypochondriac, you might be tempted to ask your doctor for a full body MRI or CT scan to catch health issues before detectable symptoms. Unfortunately, because of two simple probabilistic principles, you’re much worse off if you get the test.

First, it is relatively unlikely that a random person with no symptoms has a serious medical problem, ie the prior probability is low. Second, it is quite possible — not likely, but possible — that a completely benign thing appears potentially dangerous on imaging, ie there is a noticeable chance of false positive. Put those two things together, and you get this mind-bending outcome: if the full-body MRI says you have something to worry about, you actually don’t have anything to worry about. But try convincing yourself of that if you get a scary MRI result.

Mass surveillance to seek out terrorism is basically the same thing: very low prior probability that any given person is a terrorist, quite possible that normal behavior appears suspicious. Mass surveillance means wasting tremendous resources on dead ends. And because we’re human and we make mistakes when given bad data, mass surveillance sometimes means badly hurting innocent people, like Jean-Charles de Menezes.

So what happens when a massively funded effort has frustratingly poor outcomes? You get scope creep: the surveillance apparatus gets redirected to other purposes. The TSA starts overseeing sporting events. The DEA and IRS dip into the NSA dataset. Anti-terrorism laws with far-reaching powers are used tointimidate journalists and their loved ones.

Where does it stop? If we forgo due process for a certain category of investigation which, by design, will see its scope broaden to just about any type of investigation, is there any due process left?

wrong on principle

I can imagine some people, maybe some of your trusted advisors, will say that what I’ve just described is simply a “poor implementation” of surveillance, that the NSA does a much better job. So it’s worth asking: assuming we can perfect a surveillance system with zero false positives, is it then okay to live in a society that implements such surveillance and detects any illegal act?

This has always felt wrong to me, but I couldn’t express a simple, principled, ethical reason for this feeling, until I spoke with a colleague recently who said it better than I ever could:

For society to progress, individuals must be able to experiment very close to the limit of the law and sometimes cross into illegality. A society which perfectly enforces its laws is one that cannot make progress.

What would have become of the civil rights movement if all of its initial transgressions had been perfectly detected and punished? What about gay rights? Women’s rights? Is there even room for civil disobedience?

Though we want our laws to reflect morality, they are, at best, a very rough and sometimes completely broken approximation of morality. Our ability as citizens to occasionally transgress the law is the force that brings our society’s laws closer to our moral ideals. We should reject mass surveillance, even the theoretically perfect kind, with all the strength and fury of a people striving to form a more perfect union.


Mr. President, you have said that you do not consider Edward Snowden a patriot, and you have not commented on whether he is a whistleblower. I ask you to consider this: if you were an ordinary citizen, living your life as a Law Professor at the University of Chicago, and you found out, through Edward Snowden’s revelations, the scope of the NSA mass surveillance program and the misuse of the accumulated data by the DEA and the IRS, what would you think? Wouldn’t you, like many of us, be thankful that Mr. Snowden risked his life to give we the people this information, so that we may judge for ourselves whether this is the society we want?

And if there is even a possibility that you would feel this way, given that many thousands do, if government insiders believe Snowden to be a traitor while outsiders believe him to be a whisteblower, is that not all the information you need to realize the critical positive role he has played, and the need for the government to change?

the time to do something is now

I still believe that you are, at your core, a unique President who values a government by and for the people. As a continuing supporter of your Presidency, I implore you to look deeply at this issue, to bring in outside experts who are notinvolved in national security. This issue is critical to our future as a free nation.

Please do what is right so that your daughters and my sons can grow up with the privacy and dignity they deserve, free from surveillance, its inevitable abuses, and its paralyzing force. Our kids, too, will have civil rights battles to fight. They, too, will need the ability to challenge unjust laws. They, too, will need the space to make our country better still.

Please do not rob them of that opportunity.


Ben Adida

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jason Becker: Rock star at 16, ALS at 19

Jason Becker cut an album with David Lee Roth. The same year, he was diagnosed with ALS and given 3-5 years to livejbecker_s640x427 Photo:
Monday, August 12, 2013 - Steps to Authentic Happiness via Positive Psychology by Paul Mountjoy

Jason Becker: Guitar phenom, writer and ALS survivor

WASHINGTON- AUGUST 11. 2013 — Jason Becker became a guitarist at the age of five. At the age of 16, he started a band called Cacaphony with lifelong friend and future guitarist for Megadeth, Marty Friedman. At age 19, Becker cut an album with David Lee Roth of Van Halen fame. Also at 19, Becker was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Becker was given three to five years to live.

ALS slowly robs every aspect of your physicality piece by piece until the only moveable parts are your eyes. For most, death happens within three to five years from diagnosis because ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that is very aggressive. ALS affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord but does not affect what is known as the involuntary body functions such as the heart and digestive system but may cause death from respiratory failure. Complete paralysis is unavoidable.

The cause of ALS in unknown and the experience with this disease varies from one person to the next and there are clinical trials that hold promise yet there are 5,600 new cases of ALS every year and can strike anyone at any time. Becker is among the five percent that lives beyond 20 years with this disease.

Today, Becker is 44 years old.  He recently released a documentary called Not Dead Yet and currently writes music with his eyes on a system developed by his Father. The Washington Times caught up with the busy Becker who took time to discuss his life with ALS:

Paul Mountjoy: You noticed your first symptom at age 19. What as it?

Jason Becker: My folks had gone away for Mother’s Day. I was sleeping with my girlfriend and a really painful cramp in my left leg woke me up. I jumped out of bed and tried to work it out. It never quite went away no matter how much I exercised it. It became a lazy feeling in my leg.

SEE RELATED: Jason Becker: Guitar phenom, writer and ALS survivor

PM: What was the progression and time frame?

JB: That’s a little tough to remember. I went on tour with Cacaphony the following summer (1989) and I was feeling a little bit tired. Yet I thought it would go away. Sometimes my left toes would drag the ground. I did not go to the hospital to check it out until I moved to LA in November to play with David Lee Roth. I was getting tired of tripping on myself. I was diagnosed with ALS that same month.

I started feeling the weakness in my left hand while recording “A Little Ain’t Enough” with Roth in Vancouver I was having trouble with an easy part. I looked at my hand and noticed the muscle between my thumb and first finger was practically gone. I was able to finish the album but I could not go on tour because I was getting too weak in my whole body.

PM: What did you think when the doctors told you of ALS and your 3-5 year prognosis?

JB: I didn’t think much. I thought “Can I go now?” I have to go play guitar and practice with Roth now. You must understand how strong I am. I will get rid of this annoying little inconvenience.

PM: Had you heard of ALS before?

JB: No, I hadn’t and I didn’t even look it up. My folks did but I told them not to tell me anything when the doctors told me I had three to five years to live, I didn’t believe them at all.

PM: Were you frightened?

JB: I don’t remember being frightened, but I’m sure I was scared somewhere inside me. I just tried to keep it out of my mind. I had music to make! Also, I didn’t want my family to worry. I wanted them to see me happy. I was very happy, but if I got sad, I hid it.

PM: How did those around you act?

JB: My parents freaked out. They tried to hide it from me but whenever I was out, they constantly cried. They helped me with everything but they were dying inside. My friends were great. They were chill (sic) yet supportive. I think my Mom cried every day for ten years. Steve Hunter (Alice Cooper guitarist) had my back in Vancouver. He would give me B-12 shots between joking around, recording and having a blast. Roth offered his Dad, who was a doctor, to do anything I needed. Everyone was awesome; even the stripper I was hanging out with offered to be ‘on the bottom’.

PM: What point are you at now and what are your expectations?

JB: I am relatively stable. Can’t move S**t except for some of my face and a couple other muscles and my sex life is fine! I try to not get sick because it could make me weaker.

I don’t have any expectations. I just want to do my best with whatever I am given. If they find a cure, awesome but if not, that is OK. I have had a great life.

Hey, when I finally do croak, I forbid anyone to be sad. Everyone should celebrate a cool life! I had a blast!

PM: Being that Steven hawking has had ALS for 50 ears, does this give you hope?

JB: Oh, I guess. I don’t think about that much. I am too busy doing other stuff.

PM: Do you sleep alright?

JB: Usually great.

PM: As many do with such when struck by such disease, do you dream of walking or running?

JB: Yes. I never dream I am sick. I am always totally healthy. All of my family, friends and ladies always dream I am healthy or at least becoming healthy. Only one woman dreamed she was having sex with me in this situation. That was really cool, actually.

PM: You are musician with unlimited potential. Do you feel more fortunate than those without such potential and do you advise folks to find a potential and work it?

JB: HMMMMM- Good question. I don’t think like that. I feel very lucky to be passionate about music but that isn’t everyone’s thing. It is definitely awesome having a passion and I wish that for everyone. I don’t feel qualified to give much advice but if I did, that would be great advice.

PM: Aside from your limitations, would you say you are happy?

JB: Mostly, definitely yes, even with my limitations. I get depressed, sad and angry sometimes, too.

PM: What would you advise others in your situation?

JB: Well, there is more to life than just moving, but it depends on how much help and love you get. I couldn’t continue if I didn’t have help form people no matter how much I wanted to. People who know someone with ALS should help them as much as they can.

PM: Any stem cell hope?

JB: Sure! Fans often send me updates of possible treatments from all over the world.

Jason Becker is a remarkable man. His personality is a primary reason he is so popular among his loved ones and fans. His parents are devoted and give Jason all they can. He is surrounded by love and appreciates every minute of it and takes nothing for granted. It seems these traits were constructs of his personality before he contracted ALS.

Any time anyone has a reason to be lazy and unproductive, just think: “I know Jason would love to able to do this chore, goal or whatever,” then get to it. He inspires and motivates us all.

For more on Jason Becker, go to

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