Sunday, September 29, 2013

Maher muses . . .

Bag In — Bag Out

BILL MAHER socks it to the Goppers with a delightful post on RSN, “California: Tea Party Free Zone” where he contends that California will pull the Gopper states into the twenty-first century:
New Rule: Conservatives who love to brag about American exceptionalism must come here to California, and see it in person. And then they should be afraid -- very afraid. Because while the rest of the country is beset by stories of right-wing takeovers in places like North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, California is going in the opposite direction and creating the kind of modern, liberal nation the country as a whole can only dream about. And not only can't the rest of the country stop us -- we're going to drag you along with us.
And a good thing too, as Gopper country sure isn't a nice place to live:
I know, it sounds like some crazy science fiction story, but you see, here in California, we're not just gluten-free and soy-free and peanut-free, we're Tea Party free! Virginia could do it, too, but they're too busy forcing ultrasounds on women who want abortions. Texas could, but they don't because they're too busy putting Jesus in the science textbooks. Meanwhile their state is so broke they want to replace paved roads with gravel. I thought we had this road-paving thing licked in the 1930s, but not in Texas. But hey, in Dallas you can carry a rifle into a Chuck E. Cheese, cause that's freedom. Which is great, but it wasn't so great when that unregulated fertilizer plant in Waco blew up. In California, when things blow up, it's because we're making a Jason Statham movie.
Check out the rest of Bill's rant, and enjoy.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Something of value . . .

MONEY IS WHAT YOU BELIEVE IT IS. You believe that new plastic twenty is worth twenty dollars and so does the beer store. Properly, that twenty is termed Fiat money, its value is decreed by the issuing authority. There are lumps, but these currency systems work reasonably well world wide — for people with addresses and bank accounts. For the homeless especially and for a fair number on social assistance as well, a bank account and all the stuff that comes with it, like a debit card becomes unattainable.

Well, some of the homeless are trying to cope thanks to the appearance of cheap, used laptops and phones, free wi-fi, and Bitcoins.

Daniela Hernandez has a fascinating article in WIRED, “Homeless, Unemployed, and Surviving on Bitcoins” that shows how the creative deal with the bank account problem.
Jesse Angle is homeless, living on the streets of Pensacola, Florida. Sometimes he spends the night at a local church. Other nights, he sleeps behind a building in the heart of the city, underneath a carport that protects him from the rain.
Each morning, he wakes up, grabs some food, and makes his way to Martin Luther King Plaza, a downtown park built where the trolley tracks used to run. He likes this park because his friends hang out there too, and it’s a good place to pick up some spending money. But he doesn’t panhandle. He uses the internet.
The park offers free wireless access, and with his laptop, Angle watches YouTube videos in exchange for bitcoins, the world’s most popular digital currency
Bitcoins are the currency that these people work to acquire. They have a purely electronic existence created according to a formula created by an anonymous programmer or team of coders, nobody knows. And according to this formula, there are a finite number that can be created, but the system allows the creation of bitcoin fractions. The Bitcoins are traded through the Protocol of Bitcoin, which is the process by which value is validated. It's a new and different take on a value system, and it lives without any government fiat. Even Sandy McTire might like its frugal anti-inflationary philosophy and maybe we'll see CTC accept Bitcoins.
The bitcoin system could become an equalizer for the country’s homeless, a place where the stigma of living on the streets isn’t as pronounced. “Homeless people don’t like to raise their hands and say they’re different,” says Mark Horvath, an advocate for using the internet and social media to help end homelessness. “Nobody does.” In the bitcoin world, they don’t have to.
If you’re homeless, the great thing about bitcoin is that you can set up a wallet without an ID or a street address. And once you start filling this wallet, there are plenty of ways of converting bitcoins into cash and food and other goods, all without identification.
— Converting Bitcoins into a gift card for food —

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Time to communicate . . .

CALL YOUR MP or write or e-mail, or do all three. According to Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada who has a post on TSS, aka TAR SANDS SOLUTIONS NETWORK you should check out, then get hold of your worthy MP. “Tar Sands spills – Over 1.5 million litres and still spilling!!” shows the callous inertia of the Alberta government and the Stevie chimps, especially as the Stevie chimps are doing everything they can to pipe the poison every direction but North. It's even got an active counter on the leakage — it gets worse while you watch and they're not doing anything about it, maybe hoping that winter will freeze everything, or that it'll be so cold there'll be nobody around to check.

Right now in Alberta, tar sands bitumen is spilling into the environment at four different sites, one directly underneath a lake. All four spills have been spilling for months and the Alberta and Canadian governments know all about it, they are just powerless to stop them.

Well, maybe the light of publicity might help. Your MP is only a couple of clicks away. Help make it happen.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Think about it . . .

Toxoplasma gondii
THE ATLANTIC has a fascinating article on how parasites can change how you think and react. No foolin’, they have found that infected people have more car accidents, for example. “How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy”, by Kathleen McAuliffe looks at the research of a Czech scientist, Jaroslav Flegr whose research on a single-cell parasite called Toxoplasma gondii (T. gondii or Toxo for short) is now being validated, after years of obscurity, which is not surprising.
Starting in the early 1990s, he began to suspect that a single-celled parasite in the protozoan family was subtly manipulating his personality, causing him to behave in strange, often self-destructive ways. And if it was messing with his mind, he reasoned, it was probably doing the same to others.
Take five, and give the article an appraisal, because it's not just Toxo doin’ it:
But T. gondii is just one of an untold number of infectious agents that prey on us. And if the rest of the animal kingdom is anything to go by, says Colorado State University’s Janice Moore, plenty of them may be capable of tinkering with our minds.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The most dangerous job in the world ...

Police officer in Afghanistan ... if you're a woman.

Doesn't concern Steve. He's too busy. Not drinking alcohol. Keeping dope away from your kids. Telling us that Syria's use of poison gas is "unprecedented" ... because he's never heard of the Great War or the Nazi gas chambers of the 2nd World War.

This man is in so far over his head.

Right under Pookie's upturned nose

Jeez, Christy! Maybe you can tell us from your waitress days how a major hotel, just a few feet away from you totally unnecessary, high-end, downtown, taxpayer-funded office (that is neither in the capital of the province nor anywhere near your riding), can even think of getting away with this.

An ad seeking unpaid interns to bus tables at Vancouver's Fairmont Waterfront Hotel has sparked a debate about whether unpaid internships take advantage of students.

The corporate carpetbaggers who run the Fairmont chain, particularly in British Columbia, need to have a good read of this.

An “internship” is on-the-job training offered by an employer to provide a person with practical experience. Often internships are offered to persons who have completed a diploma or degree program and are seeking employment. Completing an internship does not itself result in an academic certificate or diploma. If the duties performed by interns fall within the definition of  “work” contained in the Act, the intern falls within the definition of “employee”, and the agency using the services of an intern falls within the definition of “employer”, internships will be considered “work” for the purposes of the Act.
An apprentice is being trained while working for an employer and as such is performing work and must be paid wages.
 I expect now we'll hear all about Christy's days as a waitress. I do not expect we'll hear her tell us that she accurately declared all her tips to Revenue Canada.

Maher muses . . .

New rule: 12 years after 9/11, and amidst yet another debate on whether to bomb yet another Muslim country, America must stop asking the question, "Why do they hate us?" Forget the debate on Syria, we need a debate on why we're always debating whether to bomb someone. Because we're starting to look not so much like the world's policeman, but more like George Zimmerman: itching to use force and then pretending it's because we had no choice.

• • •
And look, like I said, I'm no fan of Assad. And I say that openly: I don't care if it costs me jobs in Hollywood. I think he's the worst kind of sociopath - the kind who commits unspeakable acts, but who looks like a menswear salesman.
I'm just pointing out that in recent years, our foreign policy debates look like the Facebook page of a loner who shot up a McDonald's. We're the only country in the world that muses out loud about who we might bomb next.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Comin’ at ya . . .

MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW has an article by Aviva Hope Rutkin that you should read and ponder. “Report Suggests Nearly Half of U.S. Jobs Are Vulnerable to Computerization”. 45% is the estimated job loss over the next 20 years.
The authors believe this takeover will happen in two stages. First, computers will start replacing people in especially vulnerable fields like transportation/logistics, production labor, and administrative support. Jobs in services, sales, and construction may also be lost in this first stage. 
What's old is new again.
20 years? Hell, I might even still be alive. As this develops, Conservatives who go berserk at the idea of Food Stamps might want to get therapy. As well, “Liberals”, to use the US term, might want the same. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, this is scary: even the crappy jobs will be disappearing as technology develops.

Even if it's only the loss of 25%, not 45% of US jobs, there are going to be a lot of people who are under 40 when this happens who can't work if jobs don't exist, crappy or not, and if they don't starve to death, can expect to live another 30-40 years. Then there's the teenagers and twenty-somethings trying to enter the working world. And if all there is for them are crappy jobs, what will that do for future families?
Wherever he is, Karl Marx is probably laughing hysterically. How will Capitalism cope? As the robotics take over the work force, maybe we might just see a resurgence of “hand-made” items as the items of value.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

While Victoria burns, Rex looks at bright shiney objects

Dear Rex Murphy,

I, like all other Canadians who revel in your eloquance and scholarly English, want to know.

What's happening in Victoria? The place is cooking! Yesterday it broke a temperature record. It's friggin' hot!!! It's like Kamloops fer chrissakes.

Jeez Rex. Remember when you told us that a snow storm in Vancouver, IN VANCOUVER mind you, in winter, made you a global warming "skeptic"? I remember.

You don't get to forget. You, you slimy prick, have a pulpit and a hefty paycheck to go with it.

So, go ahead, mush-mouth; tell me what's going on. Provide the math if you like. I'm pretty sure I can do it ... even if you can't.

Buster doesn't walk . . .

JUSTICE FOR THE PEOPLE, and Const. “Buster” Babak Andalib-Goortani has a whole new universe of problems. According Tu Thanh Ha's article, “Toronto police officer found guilty of assaulting G20 protester Adam Nobody” in the Globe
Constable Babak Andalib-Goortani was convicted in Ontario Court of Justice Thursday in the high-profile case of protester Adam Nobody, whose arrest was captured on video while he was kicked, punched and struck in the face with a knee.
• • •
She also said it was curious that Const. Andalib-Goortani wasn't wearing his name tag or a badge number on him the day of the protests.
The last paragraph is critical, in my opinion, which is that the failure to wear identification was a violation of the Police Services Act of Ontario. Now, “Buster” wasn't the only police officer without visible identification. Maybe, just maybe these bullies didn't all decide to do this all by themselves, they were “encouraged” (nudge, nudge) by somebody? Who was it? And who gave that person the order to beat up on hundreds of Canadian citizens?

Christopher Di Armani has an interesting site with an interesting article, “What Happened to Constable Babak Andalib-Goortani?” Apparently,  “Buster” wasn't always like this. In 2008, the constable rescued a flood victim. Two years later, and we have vicious violence, with “Buster” beating up on a retreating woman, and a battalion of out-of-control stormtroopers. How did this happen? Was it roid rage? Is there a problem with the institution's “psychology”?

Now, we come to Billy the Chief. Is Billy part of the solution, or part of the problem? 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Security considerations . . .

A copper wallet insert shields your credit cards from RFID skimming.
Image: Adam Harvey

Get a Faraday wallet. Something with a lining made of copper, or steel mesh or even aluminum foil. Or add aluminum foil to the inside of the wallet you have. With one of those, “they” can “ping” you as you walk about, and the RFID’s in your credit cards and sometimes, Driver’s Licence, are shielded, and they stay silent. 

As well, street gangs and other low-lifes are getting into using ’em to identify targets to pick off, and it is alleged that they have the ability to even get through the RFID card security, get the data, and dupe an RFID card with your data.

You see, it occurs to me that the NSA could easily have all the banks' credit card data, and that means the banks' credit card RFID's chip ID’s for each account. 

So, it could be possible for “Security” to put RFID scanners all around, like TTC station exits, parking-lot doorways. Computer scan the passers-by and RFID’s belonging to “people of interest” could trip alarms. 

Similarly with your phone and its GPS, even “off” may not be off enough, and having a Faraday container will ensure that nobody can track you through your phone's GPS or by the phone's link-up with the cellular phone system. You may not be able to use your phone, but you will be a lot more “invisible” on the street, if you’re about something that you’d like to remain private.

WIRED has two reports worth checking out: Liz Stinson has an overview of security-oriented products, with an article and a Stealth Wear picture gallery, “Wanna Buy a Parka That Makes You Invisible to Drones?”, and a How-To Wiki, “Make a Faraday Cage Wallet”.

Duct Tape RULES!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Lessons for Stevie . . .

1513. FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO, Niccolo Machiavelli finished The Prince, the practical guide to political survival. Because it's practical, it's cogent today: our milieu may change, but our motivational rainbow remains the same. Boston University's BU Today blog has a fine posting by John O’Rourke, “Machiavelli’s The Prince: Still Relevant after All These Years”; check it out. The article interviews CAS associate professor of history James Johnson, who states:

Whatever its intent, one thing is clear. The book follows its declared purpose fearlessly and without hesitation: to show rulers how to survive in the world as it is and not as it should be.

Pithy and concise, that's Niccolo. Shane Parrish (do check out his own blog, Farnham Street) has an article on THE WEEK, “11 surprisingly apt lessons from Machiavelli's The Prince” that lists important must-do's for Number One. Click on the link to get the details and some observations from Michael Ignatieff, too.
1. Be present
2. Be careful who you trust
3. Learn from the best
4. Be picky about who works for you
5. Read
6. Prepare for the worst
8. Don't steal
9. Appearances matter
10. Sometimes your enemies are your friends
11. Avoid flatterers
So, how well has Stevie done? Can you say Harper Fail? Upon reflection, I believe that our country has a political disease, known as harpes . . . but folks like Owen and Mound and Dammit and the rest are working on the cure.

Winter approaches . . .

THE LEFORTOVO TUNNEL, aka “The Tunnel of Death” runs under the river, and there are leaks. During the summer, you can, as you see in the opening seconds, drive a hot Bimmer at 220 kph through it with no problems. However, winter comes, and the leaking water freezes, and as they say in the collision biz, “That's the way the Mercedes bends”.

I wanna ride at the back of the bus! Wear a helmet and buckle up, that looks like fun. So does driving those jointed beasts in that tunnel — they're long enough to keep from going sideways and the following half keeps the front half from rolling over, then straightens out the whole vehicle with a tail-slap. It's like watching a Disney or Warner Bros. car cartoon.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Suckage . . .

FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY are steadily eroding, it seems, which has prompted Alex Henderson at AlterNet to post “10 Ways America Has Come to Resemble a Banana Republic”. It's a fascist's wish-list come true.
In the post-New Deal America of the 1950s and '60s, the idea of the United States becoming a banana republic would have seemed absurd to most Americans. Problems and all, the U.S. had a lot going for it: a robust middle-class, an abundance of jobs that paid a living wage, a strong manufacturing base, a heavily unionized work force, and upward mobility for both white-collar workers with college degrees and blue-collar workers who attended trade school.
• • •
In contrast, developing countries that were considered banana republics—the Dominican Republic under the brutal Rafael Trujillo regime, Nicaragua under the Somoza dynasty—lacked upward mobility for most of the population and were plagued by blatant income equality, a corrupt alliance of government and corporate interests, rampant human rights abuses, police corruption and extensive use of torture on political dissidents.
• • •
But 50 years after King’s "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963, poverty has become much more widespread in the U.S.—and the country has seriously declined not only economically, but also in terms of civil liberties and constitutional rights.
Click on the link to ponder the list and listen to Jimmy's observations.

Warp factor . . .

SET PHASERS ON STUN: Captain Kirk watches the VMA 2013 Miley Cyrus performance. My, how time brings change. Put your coffee down, then press go. Brilliant.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Learning impairment . . .

UNIVERSITY EDUCATION IN AMERICA is turning into an expensive, futile endeavour for the consumer, the student. The rise of “academic capitalism” appears to be the cause, in the opinion of Thomas Frank who has a splendid, insightful essay on a site called The BAFFLER, “Academy Fight Song”. It's a multi-faceted problem facing people who have no choice.

The coming of “academic capitalism” has been anticipated and praised for years; today it is here. Colleges and universities clamor greedily these days for pharmaceutical patents and ownership chunks of high-tech startups; they boast of being “entrepreneurial”; they have rationalized and outsourced countless aspects of their operations in the search for cash; they fight their workers nearly as ferociously as a nineteenth-century railroad baron; and the richest among them have turned their endowments into in-house hedge funds.

Now, consider the seventeen-year-old customer against whom this predatory institution squares off. He comes loping to the bargaining table armed with about the same amount of guile that, a few years earlier, he brought to Santa’s lap in the happy holiday shopping center.

Um, can you say gut-and-fillet? How about “Would you like fries with that?”

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Inspirational . . .

MOTIVATIONAL POSTERS from an age that seemed to be more simple than ours. SLATE has an article by Rebecca Onion, “The Colorful Posters That Motivated Jazz-Age Workers To Strive” that is a delight. Do follow the link in the article to see a lot more of 'em.

But times change, and ninety years or so later, we arrive at de-motivational posters that appeal to those who are more objective about corporate realties. Apparently, DESPAIR, INC. was the first to create these, but the funny field has lots of other creators, as well, and a Google image-search can bring a smile to a cynic.