thinking about the world differently . . .
August 16th, 2017

Too good to pass up…

Andy Borowitz, who writes pretty decent comic pieces about the presidents of the USA seems busy in the past few months (can you guess why?)

Today he published 2 pieces, but the title of the second piece was so good, I decided to just publish it here for your pleasure:

Ivanka and Jared Vacationing in Moral Vacuum

Enjoy!

You can click the link above to read the funny piece.

July 16th, 2017

Ironic, isn’t it?


Indeed! Democracy dies in Darkness. Oligarchs are main producers and suppliers (and beneficiaries!) of darkness.

Of course it is rather ironic for WaPo to use that in its masthead as a motto-like. Ironic, in that WaPo is a mouthpiece for oligarchs who are the main purveyors of darkness in our society.

December 12th, 2014

Sitting on the razor’s edge

On Thursday Dec. 11, 2014, CIA Director John Brennan uncomfortably sat on the razor’s edge.

In his comments in defence of torture methods in interrogation following 9/11 (he called it “harsh interrogation techniques”) he said that it is “unknowable” if the intel could be extracted from persons being interrogated by conventional methods. (I am paraphrasing what he said, but you can read a report about his speech here, in the Washington Post.) he said this according to the report:

“The cause-and-effect relationship between the use of [harsh tactics] and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”

As I see it – and hopefully each of you who read this see it – if you have no idea which is better, Brennan feels it is ok to go immoral, inhumane and to torture because, heck, why not?

I bet it is hard on Brennan’s backside to be so firmly seated on the razor’s edge, talk about “enhanced seating” arrangement…

I also note the interesting linguistic structure that permeates the defense establishment:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.

Donald Rumsfeld

(Above quotation found here.)

January 28th, 2014

“Outing” Paul Revere with NSA Metadata (kinda…)

Finally, a bit of time and the promise I gave is fulfilled in this post.

On Jun 9, 2013 Kieran Healy wrote a blog with a story. This was just a short while after the adventures of the NSA into spying on American and non-American citizens can to light so dramatically with Mr. Edward Snowden’s taking flight after revealing some (and since then, many more!) of the unsavory details of the spying.

It is possible that Mr. Healy’s story was a response to NSA’s patently false claim that they were merely collecting metadata, data that does not and cannot personally identify any individuals.

In his story, set in the revolutionary period of America’s history, how develops step by step, along with the mathematics and logic and rationale, explaining how the British Kingdom’s “NSA” could have “outed” Paul Revere – by “merely collecting metadata, data that does not and cannot personally identify any individuals.”

The heart of the method is social network analysis. This simply means that with suffucient metadata about the social networks prevailing, the connections among the groups, through individual members in the groups, can reveal and out who is who in the groups, the dynamics of interactions, and important facts about the roles of individuals within all these networks.

Paul Revere - at the heart of the "Network"

Paul Revere – at the heart of the “Network”

In the entire analysis process, there was never use of any information about the discussions of the individuals in the groups involved, so their positions could not be gleaned from the content of their talks, writings or any other expressions. The only information used was metadata – who connects with whom, how often. Other public information was also used – such as the membership of groups – but this information took no spying to obtain, it was public information.

If you feel that metadata is innocent enough, read this article, and dive into the content – I assure you it is well worth it! Believers in the harmlessness of metadata will be have their naivete jarred beyond repair, I hope!

Of course, your naivete should have been removed instantly by asking this: If it is so harmless, how come this metadata is so vehemently sought by the NSA in pursuit of those they suspect in terrorism acts or terrorism PLANS? If it can find a terrorist’s planning in the haystack we call “world population” don’t you think it can find your own activities which the government does not approve of? (And I am not talking about illegal activity!)

This article by Mr. Healy gives a whole new flavor to “staying in touch!”, don’t you think?

August 25th, 2013

The Middle East – the Spaghetti bowl view

A bright gentleman, Mr KN Al-Sabah wrote a letter to the editors of The Financial Times and explained in one succinct, brief, brilliant piece of writing why we are all confused about the Middle East – and that includes most of the political leadership of the countries in the Middle East!!!

Here is the image of the letter published by BuzzFeed Politics on August 24, 2013 (http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/the-middle-east-explained-in-one-excellent-letter-to-the-edi) with a transcription (by me) alongside:

Sir, Iran is backing Assad. Gulf States are against Assad!

Assad is against Muslim Brotherhood. Muslim Brotherhood and Obama are against General Sisi.

But Gulf States are pro-Sisi! Which means they are against Muslim Brotherhood!

Iran is pro-Hamas, but Hamas is backing Muslim Brotherhood!

Obama is backing Muslim Brotherhood, yet Hamas is against the US!

Gulf States are pro-US. But Turkey is with Gulf States against Assad; yet Turkey is pro-Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi. And General Sisi is backed by the Gulf States!

Welcome to the Middle East and have a nice day.

K N Al-Sabah

London EC4, UK

Can Politics make peace if it cannot even walk its way out of a paper bag with confidence?

June 10th, 2013

What, Where Privacy? Who is kidding who?

The surfacing of the existence of PRISM, the US NSA program to spy on us all has brought more thought on the balance between government and citizens in the USA. (See here and here about what PRISM is.)

The Constitution clearly lays out that government exists on behalf – and by sufferance – of citizens, that citizens grant the government some rights to do some things for them.

And in the past decade or two it seems more and more that the balance has shifted. It now appears that rights are given by the government to the people. This upends the balance and subverts the meaning of the Constitution of the USA.

My GOP friends who are oh so worried about Liberty and Freedom and the upholding of the Constitution should check out the relationship, not the size of government.

When government does stuff for citizens, it carries out the role citizens gave government in the Constitution. If it takes a larger organization to accomplish the task, so be it.

But when the government takes on powers to spy on citizens without their permission, it overreaches its mission, even if it claims to be protecting the citizens.

April 8th, 2013

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today Israelis and Jews all over the world remember the victims of the Holocaust of World War II, when 6 million Jews were killed because they were Jews, along with millions of other people in Europe of Roma descent, homosexuals, and other “others”.

And one might think that the horrors of that era – just 70 years ago – might affect the thinking or values of humanity today. But it seems not have made much difference. We read fresh reports of people of all ages being killed in Syria, by their own government forces, deadly clashes between Egyptian citizens who are “other” to each other (Christian and Moslem), and arrests and incarceration of persons by Hamas in the Gaza Strip because their haircut is “different”, ostensibly offensive to someone who decided they were the authority to decide on such matters.

The intolerance that marked the atrocities during WWII have not diminished today, and perhaps have become even more extreme in their expression.

Each one of us must resolve today that we will do something – even tiny, small, seemingly inconsequential for the big picture, to remove something from that scourge of intolerance, of fear of “others”, of the arrogance we harbor thinking that we are somehow better than the “other”.

February 5th, 2013

God Loves the 1%ers

No Really! He does…

This fun article purports to explain, tongue very-very firmly stuck in cheek, how God views the 1%ers and the rest of us. Jesus, in this little tale, confirms the message.

It is fine reading but takes a wee bit more than watching Beyonce shaking her hair sexily (along with the rest of bootalicious herself! 😀 but I am sure you can do it…

December 21st, 2012

Tell us how you really fell about them…

Tonight, before the end of the world 😀 Robert Reich took some time and posted this on his blogsite. It was about the monumental failure of the GOP in Congress to counter-punch the Obama administration and DO SOMETHING!

Speaker Boehner pushed through his “Plan B” that was going to raise taxes on earners of $1m. and higher by expiring their Bush-era tax break. But Boehner could not find the votes in the House and withdrew the legislation. The plan was going to affect 0.0033 (1/3rd of one percent) of the richest people in the USA, about 400,000 in number, according to Mr. Reich’s article.

Mr. Reich wrote 2 concluding paragraphs in the article describing the Republican Party. I enjoyed reading these:

It has become a party that routinely shills for its super-wealthy patrons at a time in our nation’s history when the middle class is shrinking, the median wage is dropping, and the share of Americans in poverty is rising. 

It has become a party of spineless legislators more afraid of facing primary challenges from right-wing kooks than of standing up for what’s right for America.

Mr. Reich, can you be more open and tell us how you really feel about the Republicans in Congress? Please, don’t hold back..

[Robert Reich is a professor of Public Policy at University of California at Berkeley, and before served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. He has written thirteen books, and is a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.]
December 16th, 2012

Sandy Hook Elementary School

The grief of the death of so many innocent souls is deep and touches most people. IT also sparked anew the discussion about gun control. The gun enthusiasts and “liberty lovers” in this nation are dusting off the old arguments: Guns do not kill, it is the people who use them. If the victims were packing heat, they could have defended themselves and shoot the attacker. The ownership of guns is so ingrained in American Heritage and Culture that it is useless to try to change gun controls. If it turned out to be criminal to own guns, only criminals would own guns. There are probably many other arguments against gun control.

Clay Bennett, one of my favorite political and cultural commentators, published this yesterday:

1215_Sandy_Hook_Elementary_t618[1]

Is the NRA directly responsible for this massacre? Obviously not. Are they promoters of a culture that encourages guns, usage of guns? Yes! And yes, there are many clearly unhealthy people who believe that shooting a bunch of people is a solution to their ills. The NRA did not make them sick, but the NRA helped put guns in their hands.

In my own fairly liberal circle, I heard the other day that changing gun control and making it tighter, perhaps even removing guns from the hands of people is a no-go because gun ownership and hunting is such a deep part of the American Heritage.

Thankfully, other people were there to come back with “Really, 100-rounds a minute arms are part of the Heritage?” I also asked if the preservation of Heritage items is so important, perhaps returning slavery (a strong part of the culture and heritage of the founding Fathers!) should also be considered – why discriminate in favor of gun owners and gun enthusiasts?

No response from my friend as of yet! May I recommend to engage the brain provided to most of us just before uttering absurdities?

November 4th, 2012

US Elections

Only two more days. It’s been a tough season filled with a lot of dark predictions and thoughts about the receding values of our society as manifested in the USA.

A lot of corroboration for these dark, pessimistic thoughts come from various other millieus and societies: Greece’s rising neo-Nazi-style fascism there is Israel’s rising racism and right-wing insularity. In the USA, American neocon right wing and extremist pseudo-religious “values” proliferate. The Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood becoming the dominant, stifling, if not entirely choking, political power. And other power grabs all over the world just add to the darkness of my thoughts.

Even as I planned to vote for the Democratic ticket in the USA, I cannot shake away the trepidations that go along with observing that the power exercised by the current administration has been abusive of people’s rights, it has circumvented legal stances. And in fact made some things worse for people. Expulsions of immigrant violations have sky-rocketed, using the pretext of removing the criminal element, for example. Americans are spied on and observed by their government more than ever before – even drones are used over non-military areas, while you barbecue your picnic!

I know – and worry like everyone – about security. But measures that seem to have brought no additional security while infringing on civil rights, are not discarded and the rights impinged upon are not restored. Only NEW measures, with attendant new infringements of civil rights are proposed. The spectre of the Orwellian Nineteen Eighty-Four is slowly descending, ever so slowly, ever so steadily.

I am also struck by the degree of influence that corporations are gaining in all our lives. They are in the USA at least “people” insofar as certain rights, but not as much as civic obligations.

And the cleptocratic oligarchy of the waning days of the Soviet Union has written the playbook for so many of the modern robber barons on Wall Street, in the Halls of Power and Government, that one wonders how close their end game is and when the final chapter will begin to play.

Or perhaps it already has begun.

Sorry about this dark post, it is true and it is how I feel now.

October 26th, 2012

The Criminal Element

Yes, that is all of us! I am sure you sold an old, used, college book. Maybe a record at a garage sale. A print of a picture? Yep! Most of us have. This a time-honored tradition in “rat pack” US and maybe in many other cultures too. EBay is a huge business that hosts many such sales. There are also many sites which facilitate used book sales, used magazines, prints, music, you name it.

Well, hold on! The US law has two conflicting doctrines? Practices? One of them is the “first- sale doctrine” that holds that the copyright claims of the publisher of a new work is extinguished after the first sale took place, and the buyer is free to re-sell at will after the first sale without violating any copyright.

Another law on the books

prohibits importing works “acquired outside the United States … without the authority of the owner of copyright.” Applying that statue, the federal courts ruled against Kirtsaeng, reasoning that “the first-sale doctrine does not apply to copies manufactured outside of the United States.”

see NBC News report here

Mr. Supap Kirtsaeng, from Thailand, is a student in the USA who imported such publications of text books published in Thailand and sold for significantly less money than the equivalent books were sold in the USA. He started a business using eBay to sell used textbooks thus imported.

SCotUS (Supreme Court of the United States) will hear the case on Monday, October 29, 2012.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

August 15th, 2012

The 99% WON this one

The Australian High Court upheld a ban on cigarette companies’ logos on cigarette boxes. Instead cigarette boxes will sport lovely pictures of cancer-ridden mouths, lips, teeth, eyeballs and noses. Yumm – enough to make you want to suck in another cigarette – NOW, RIGHT NOW!

The Australian government went one step further than just require posting warning about the health risks, and opted last November to make those warnings even more starkly obvious. (Sometimes it takes a message taped to the business end of a baseball bat…)

The new look of “death by cigarettes” starting December 2012:


Merchandise of Death

Cigarette companies argued against the ban claiming that it violates their intellectual property rights. Let’s see here: thousands, maybe millions, of people, including CHILDREN!, dying from various forms of cancer on the one side of this question. On the other side – intellectual property rights masking greed and abject cruelty in the pursuit of more money and profit.

Is it too incendiary and inflammatory to call the tobacco industry “merchants of death”?

Of course the merchants of death don’t give up so easily! They are pursuing other avenues such as obtaining compensation from the Australian Government on the basis of being shut out of the market.

And another favorite tactics – fear – was brought into the game. In an AP article, reporter Rod McGuirk reports that:

British American Tobacco spokesman Scott McIntyre said the company was disappointed but would comply with the law.

“Although the (law) passed the constitutional test, it’s still a bad law that will only benefit organized crime groups which sell illegal tobacco on our streets. … The illegal cigarette black market will grow further when all packs look the same and are easier to copy,”
McIntyre said in a statement.

Imperial Tobacco echoed that argument. “Plain packaging will simply provide counterfeiters with a road map,” spokeswoman Sonia Stewart said in a statement. “The legislation will make the counterfeiters’ job both cheaper and easier by mandating exactly how a pack must look.”

The red emphasis is mine, noting the fear spreading “crime on our streets”… And those “criminals” are really not in the same class as the merchants of death, and so they are the bad people, huh?

June 5th, 2012

Free Speech is Expensive

Technnology is a strange beast. It frees us and opens vistas in our lives which were blocked entirely – in fact, not even known – just a few short years ago. Technological advances extend human life, extend the reach of our senses and abilities sometimes by thousands of miles (UAVs, airplanes piloted by remote pilots, come to mind!). We can now explore soil samples and dust specks on Mars in close to real-time.

One especially pleasing effect of technology is the abilty to connect – with nearly anyone, everywhere on the planet, nearly instantly. An email to my sister in a country in the Middle East can be read by her is a second, or less, after sending it.

A message (tweet) sent over Twitter can be seen immediately by millions of people all over the globe, creating an instant rush of information.

Much has been told about the US “covert” operation capturing and killing Osama bin Laden in his home compound in Abottabad, Pakistan, reported in almsot real time by a witness with a Twitter account.

In October of 2011 Mr. Malcom Harris participated in the Occupy Wallstreet protests. Specifically he was among the thousands who walked on the Brooklyn Bridge in NY City. He, along with 700 other protesters, was arrested by the police who claimed he was on the roadway illegally, instead of the pedestrian walkways. Mr. Harris claims the police were herding and pushing the masses of protestors onto the roadway.

To make their case, prosecution subpoenaed Twitter records pertaining to Mr. Harris’ tweets while on the bridge, and in fact from September 15 through December 31, 2011. The Prosecutor holds that Mr. Harris’ herding claim is bogus and are seeking the Twitter records to show he was on the bridge with the intent of disrupting traffic by stepping onto the roadway.

Mr. Harris requested the court to quash the subpoena, that the records of his tweets were his, not Twitter’s. Twitter claimed the same, that they do not own the material, it belongs to Mr. Harris. The court said Mr. Harris has no standing in the subpoena from the court to Twitter.

Several civil liberty organizations are now in court protesting the overreach of the Government. They claim a breach of Mr. Harris’ privacy and an abridgment of his Free Speech rights, as well as a breach of his guarantee against warrantless search and seizure by the Government.

The Court has yet to decide.

If the decision falls against Mr. Harris, US citizens, heretofore guaranteed the right to Free Speech, should be wary of opening their mouths – that right might be curtailed severely. Indeed, this very blog might become a legal liability to me instead of an exuberant expression of my freedom to think and say what I wish. I could probably continue to think, but never speak out.

This is a world in the mold of former VP Cheney and other tyrants of his ilk. Welcome to Orwell’s 1984

Is technology still beautiful, in your opinion?

May 19th, 2012

It Doesn’t End…

In 2006 Reverend Marciel Maciel was relegated to lifetime of penance and contemplation when the confirmation of his abuses of seminarians in the Legion of Christ (which Maciel founded) – whom he taught and guided – surfaced and it was impossible to sweep them under the bulging carpet any longer. I suppose the presence of three children he fathered with two women was rather a stark admission of a severe moral failing for a priest who was touted by Pope John Paul II as a model for priestly ethics and virtue.

So much for purity on one side and for careful selection of who receives fatherly blessings …

Marcial died in 2008. In 2009 the legion came out of the closet admitting his sins. Quite speedy for an immoral order of priest – just one year. (Yes, I know you think I am judging the immoral order… Read on.)

Thomas Williams has grown to be a very prominent person in the Legion and represented the Legion in the past years as a spokesperson. He was also an author and teacher. He was a moral theologian and a superior in the Legion’s general office in the Vatican.

On Tuesday last week he admitted to a relationship with a woman that resulted in the birth of a child. No further information was provided about the child’s age other that to say the child was born “a number of years ago.”

I believe that celibacy is immoral and breaking it is not a sin in my mind. What is immoral is the admission of the Legion that it had knowledge of the events for a number of years and it did nothing. It also admitted to the true sin of 7 of its priests having abused minors in their charge and having done nothing about it.

That is immoral. That the Order knew for years that Maciel was a pedophile and has done nothing for years because it was what? Respectful of Maciel? Maybe it was reverence of Maciel?

It boggles the mind to think that people who tout themselves as “moral pillars of the community”, who preach to others about morality – can justify hurting minors and hide it. They justify lying about decrepit behavior and hide it. They collude and hide behavior they would decry and condemn in the strongest terms from the pulpit – if it was practiced by non-Order members.

I rest my case – this order is corrupt, it should be disbanded, not rehabilitated as it is currently under the guidance of Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, a papal delegate since 2010.

Jesus must be suffering even worse wherever he is now that people bearing his name in vain are such heinous moral criminals.

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