Monday, December 24, 2012

Don't Have a Malware Nightmare Before Christmas

This is not a Santa Clara-particular post. But it is important. There's a new e-mail phishing scam going around. And the thing about this one is that I might have gotten caught except for the fact that I have a Mac -- Windows .exe files won't run on a Mac. So even if it's downloaded, it can't install or run. 

(I'm sensitive about this because last Christmas our debit cards and passwords were stolen by a "skimmer" who sold the numbers to someone in Los Angeles. Someone who liked to shop at Juicy Couture -- a dead giveaway. If it had been Talbot's or Macy's I might not have caught on as fast.)

This latest scheme is very convincing: You get an email purportedly from the USPS or FedEx telling you that your package was undeliverable and instructing you to click on the receipt. 

Around Christmas who isn't expecting a package? 

According to

"The message is not from USPS. The claim that a package delivery has failed is untrue. The message is an attempt by online criminals to trick users into downloading and installing an information stealing trojan. The link in the scam email points to a compromised website that will automatically download the malicious payload to the victim's computer. If the victim then proceeds to run the downloaded .exe file, a trojan will be installed. Typically, once installed, these trojans can steal sensitive personal information from the infected computer, make connections with remote servers operated by online criminals and download further malware components." 

Best idea? Don't click on anything 'til, like Santa Claus, you check twice to see if it's naughty or nice. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Empire Strikes Back

At the Dec. 13 meeting the SCUSD board of trustees, the comrades of the politburo had to hear from critics. So Ina Bendis and Christine Koltermann are taking action to remedy what they are renaming a "civil rights violation" with a "process to improve access to board meetings."

(It's curious that this agenda memo was prepared on Sunday, but the special board meeting wasn't announced until Monday -- and less then 72 hours mandated by the Brown Act and without a majority of the board voting that it was an emergency. Plus, Koltermann and Bendis apparently wrote it together, which sounds like a serial meeting.)

Bendis and Koltermann also compained about the audience decorum, saying they would like to see "role models for conduct that supports [sic] decorum and affirmatively demonstrates respect for all."

Bendis should know, as has been faithfully reported at the Santa Clara Weekly. When it comes to affirmative demonstrations of respect for all, Bendis is the how-not-to-do-it exemplar.

At a July 30, 2012 meeting she remarked, "I'd be thrilled to know which of the many groups that were solicted widely was the group in which Pat Flot was the only person who decided she wanted to serve!"

At the same meeting she also told acting chair Albert Gonzalez -- the sole Latino on the board -- that "maybe the chair [Gonzalez] would like to go out and get himself a copy of Robert's Rules,"adding that reading it required no more than a tenth grade reading level.

In March 2012 Bendis accused trustee Elise DeYoung of perjury and/or stupidity - take your pick. "She unwittingly allowed herself to be manipulated by city officials," said Bendis. "Ms. DeYoung signed two letters she knew would be conveyed with false information," and further accused the board of "secretly colluding with an adversarial party" -- i.e. the City of Santa Clara.

In 2009 she was reportedly overheard at a public event telling a congressional aid that "A mentally challenged 9th grader could do your job better."

And that's not even talking about employee harassment complaints that were filed against the district because of her and the ensuing censure by her colleagues.

Still, board meetings ought to be conducted in rooms where everyone can fit. But until recently, SCUSD's board meetings rarely drew standing room-only audiences -- something that no doubt worked to Bendis' benefit. Now that she has the spotlight, she may soon be pining for the good old days.

Here's the entire memo:

TO: Dr. Bobbie Plough, Superintendent
FROM: Dr. Christine E. Koltermann, SCUSD Board President
PREPARED BY: Dr. Christine E. Koltermann, SCUSD Board President
                               Dr. Ina K. Bendis, SCUSD Trustee

SUBMITTED: December 16, 2012
MEETING DATE: December 18, 2012 (Special Meeting) 

TITLE: Approval for the SCUSD Board of Education to initiate a process
to improve access to Board Meetings by all members of the public.

The Board President has received complaints that the December 13, 2012
Regular Meeting of the SCUSD Board of Education was not equally
accessible to members of the public, including members of protected
classes. The following is a non-exhaustive list of the kinds of
complaints received.

[1] Seating in the district Board room was almost exclusively reserved
by staff for other staff members, forcing parents and other community
members to stand in the lobby and the hall.

[2] The volume and clarity of the sound system available in the lobby
and hall was insufficient to enable mew~ers of the public who could not
enter the Board room to hear the proceedings;
[3] The background noise level in the lobby and hall due to private
conversations precluded even members of the public who stood within
what normally would have been hearing distance of the speakers, to hear
the proceedings;

[4] Disabled members of the public who could not stand for long periods
of time due to their disabilities, were unable to remain long enough to
listen to the Board's discussion and exercise their right to address
the Board on matters of interest to them, because they did not have
access to the seating they required due to their disabilities;

[5] Latino members of the public who lack proficiency in English, and
whose "protected class" ethnicity comprises more than 30% of District
residents, could not understand the proceedings or contribute their
input to the Board, regardless of whether they were among the fortunate
few non-employees to achieve seating within the Board room.
[6] The repeated outbreaks of applause, hand waving and spontaneous
oral outbreaks by District employees who'd obtained preferential access
to seating in the boardroom compared to members of the public who'd
been excluded from the boardroom due to "Reserved" signs on seats,
denied the physically-excluded individuals equal access to similarly
communicate their own support for views expressed by others, outside of
the time reserved for public comment and, in addition, may have
violated Govt. Code 54957.9 and SCUSD Policy 7370. In addition to this
specific civil rights concern, the refusal of those engaging in this
conduct to cease it when requested by the Board President also
subverted the purpose of Board Policies designed to encourage parent
and community participation at Board meetings; enable the Board's
access to all points of view without minority view-holders' fear of
intimidation or embarrassment; and provide students with Employee role
models for conduct that supports decorum and affirmatively demonstrates
respect for all.

The board will take action to initiate a process through which SCUSD
will ensure equal access to all individuals who wish to attend our
Board meetings, with particular attention to ensuring the civil rights
of all Constitutionally-protected classes, to creating an atmosphere of
decorum conducive to the Board carrying out its business as efficiently
as possible; and to proactively avoid an atmosphere that would tend to
suppress expression of minority views. Unless the Board chooses an
alternative approach, the President will appoint a three-Trustee task
force charged with researching the constitutional issues in play;
inviting/receiving input from parents, community members, employees,
bargaining units, and other stakeholders; and formulating an action
plan to ensure civil rights protection, for presentation to the Board
at a later meeting.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Postcards from Beijing

After a mind-blowing effort to condense a 7-hour school board meeting into less than 1200 words, I came down with a bad case of cliche-itis. Leading to this:

Why the unseemly haste to conduct non-stop SCUSD board meetings between now and Christmas? Superintendent Bobbie Plough is leaving in six months -- not six days. Although, Plough makes the 3rd -- or is it 4th? -- Superintendent to retire since Ina Bendis was elected to the Board of Trustees in 2006. (Correlations are not causes, but they do merit attention).

The reason is, according to talk around town, several members of the SCUSD board jet off for a week in China, all-expenses-paid thanks to the Chinese Hanban Institute. They're slated to return in time to ring in the new year.

We don't know if any other county educators are going along, as the COE hasn't yet returned a call asking for more information.

The invite came from the Chinese Hanban Institute. Here's the County Office of Education agenda item from a few weeks ago:

"Hanban is sponsoring a trip to China on December 21-29, 2012 and has extended an invitation to 20 educational administrators from Santa Clara County. Hanban will be covering the cost of international travel, accommodations and meals while in China. The purpose of the trip is to share educational practices. Administration recommends approval of roundtrip airfare [for board members] from the Bay Area to LAX and VISA cost."

The Hanban Institute is an arm of China's Ministry of Education. Its stated mission is promoting and enabling the teaching of Chinese languages outside China.

Hanban is part of a larger entity, the Confucious Institute, which promotes Chinese culture and Confuscian principles and world-view through international educational activities – a similar analogy would be the way the Jesuit Order promotes Catholic principles and world-view through its international educational activities. (Jesuits were active missionaries in China since Fr. Matteo Ricci landed in Macau in 1582). In fact, Belvedere College, a Jesuit secondary school in Dublin, hosts an expanding Hanban language and culture immersion program.

James Rowen suggests that we should beware of Greeks bringing gifts, labeling the trip a Manchurian Junket.