Friday, November 23, 2012

Black Friday protests at Walmart

A splinter organization launched by the United Food and Commercial Workers union is launching a series of protests and walkouts at Walmarts across the country today, to protest the dire working conditions at Walmart.  All I have to say is, good luck with that.  I am deeply sympathetic with the many who object to the business practices of Walmart, but speaking as one who happens to work for a big box myself, these companies have made thwarting union movements into an art form.  This movement will almost certainly be crushed like a gnat by Walmart, and all it will do is make the lives of the workers who choose to participate in this even worse than they already are. 

Last year, Target had something similar happen in Valley Stream, a town in Nassau Country, not that far from the city.  The same union that is organizing the Black Friday Walmart protests, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, organized a union drive amongst Target employees in Valley Stream.  They did make significant progress, to the point where there was a formal vote on whether the store would be able to be unionized.  The vote failed, amongst accusations of intimidation by Target and threats that the store would close.  One employee that I know of was terminated who was instrumental in trying to get the union into Target.  Later, a judge ordered a new election due to proven corporate misconduct.  Target responded by closing the Valley Stream store for "renovations". 

I do recall reading somewhere that closing a Target store for renovations is pretty unprecedented; any remodeling that is done is usually done when the store is closed at night, while it stays open during the day.  Who knows if the store will even reopen at all?  This is just one example of the lengths that big-box corporations will go to avoid unionization in their stores.  I do not think the near-term prognosis for unions is good.  Since America's manufacturing base is pretty much dead, they are trying to find a foothold in the service sector and that is immensely difficult due to the very strong push back by the owners in that sector. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Marijuana Legalized in Two States

In a story that was probably missed by everybody (including news outlets) because of the bigger presidential election, two states (Washington and Colorado) approved measures, voted by the people, that would allow the use of marijuana, not just for medical use, but for recreational as well. 

I wonder how long it will take the federal government to crack down on this? 

Monday, November 5, 2012

You Get to See Me in the Flesh, But Do you Want To?

Hurricane Sandy ravaged my area last week.  Some people are suffering more than others.  I never lost electric, but lost cable and internet for a few days.  Some people were not so lucky.  At the moment, we are experiencing gas shortages.  Only one gas station (as of around an hour ago) was selling gas in the immediate vicinity of where I live, with a long line.  I went out to see what was going on, and recorded some impromptu footage with my Playstation Vita.  I got to see the long line that was winding around the block for gas, and got to talk to a few nice people.  One person wasn't so nice, but it was harmless.  Please pardon my scruffy face and my speech.

Update:  As of a couple of hours ago (around 4 PM), the gas station near where I recorded this did run out, according to the Gas Buddy website.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cable Down

Spoke a little too soon.  My power never went out, but my cable/internet did on Tuesday.  As luck has it, I was able to link to an open network and am able to post this.  I hope that with this new found connection, I'll be able to post until my internet is back up.  I feel we're getting a sneak preview of the long emergency.  I have seen mile-long lines for gas.  Someone I work with has not had power since Monday. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

It is Tuesday, 9:30 AM EST in my neck of the woods, and it is a somewhat overcast day, but with more than a hint of sunshine.  Of course, it's very windy, but to be expected.  I had not been keeping up-to-the-date with the hurricane, but from what I understand, today is supposed to be worse than yesterday was, but it doesn't feel like it...yet.  Last night, parts of our gutter and an awning overlooking the porch in our backyard came down, and there is a huge tree limb that is blocking passage through our street.  But, other than that, things are going as they usually have.  Our electric worked like a champ, a few slight outages (the biggest one was for a little under a minute), but otherwise an uneventful night.  I'm sure it's a different story for many others, however. 

Did read an article that was pretty interesting.  There is going to be a pending gap in our weather coverage, thanks to the aging of crucial satellites that provide critical data to our meteorologists and news sources about these hurricanes and storms.  A replacement satellite won't be set into the air until 2017, at the earliest, due to mismanagement, lack of funding and difficulty in launching the replacement.  Yet another example of how our infrastructure has been allowed to go to shit, since nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tax breaks for the rich (excuse me, the "job creators") takes much higher priority in Washington. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Foolish Consumer Spending Can Be Meaningful

This is one of those times where I'm blogging without a clear direction of where I'm going, or what point I'm trying to make, and I'm hoping that problem is able to rectify itself by the time I'm done.  I happened upon this article in which a self-sufficient blogger is talking about the foster children she has helped raise, and that in many instances, they come from very poor families.  These families are often food-insecure and regularly decide on which of their many bills they will pay for the month, and these decisions can carry heavy consequences, such as phone service being turned off, or even electricity or heat.  But at the same time, there are certain examples of opulence and luxury in these poor families that prevail even in these dire circumstances. 

For example, some of the poor families that this woman has mentioned as having come across, have state-of-the-art cellphones, or give generous gifts to loved ones or throw lavish parties.  Now, those of you who read this will probably condemn these people in the strongest possible terms, and in a lot of ways, I'd usually agree.  However, one of the points this writer makes, and I do agree with her as well, is that our culture places enormous, almost overwhelming demands on people of every class to have these things.  Just as you may condemn them for spending money on a smartphone as opposed to keeping their house stocked with enough food to get their family through the month, if they didn't have a smartphone or a flat-screen, you'd condemn them for being backward and ask, "what kind of person doesn't have a fancy television?"  Definitely a situation in which the person is damned, no matter what they do. 

She makes other good points, and I wholeheartedly recommend the article.  But I wanted to make one more point.  It kind of reminded me of my situation.  I still live at home and do not have enough money to either move out or buy a car.  Being locked out of these two options has basically fucked any chance I have of finding a better job and obtaining the things (I don't mean material by "things") that I always assumed that I would have when I was younger.  I do have a Bachelor's degree and a postsecondary certification, so working at a low-paying service-level job is not what I had in mind at the age of 33, and it has been a very bitter pill to swallow.  But I'm digressing.  The point I wanted to make is that the one thing I do perhaps spend a bit recklessly on is gaming.  I have all the latest consoles, and regularly buy games.  Now, I don't buy the latest, 50-to-60 dollar Call of Duty game, but between buying used games and downloading games off of Xbox Live or Playstation Network, I do spend a good deal. 

And I question myself all the time, "is this the best use of my money?"  I love games, but can't help but feel that I could put my money towards a better purpose, be it by saving or something else.  When I make a particularly big purchase, I will agonize over it for days on end.  But something my mom has said to me a couple of times will make me give in and buy it.  What she has said to me, when I'm agonizing, is "Jeff, why are you working?"  And from what, I understood the gist of that article and what the writer was trying to say.  Yeah, the poor should prioritize having enough food on hand and making sure all the utility bills get paid.  But what some of us would call "bad choices", those choices being things like spending money on liquor or cigarettes or the latest gadget, can be all that stands between someone and the abyss.  A person cannot live on food alone.  In a life without stability and in which you don't know what's coming at you from one day to the next, sometimes that bad choice is the only meaningful thing you have.  We all need our escape.  For me, it's games.  It opens up a world to me that I am unable to experience in any other way. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Can Our Teachers Spell?

This story comes out of Australia, but I have no doubt that this is true in a lot of the western world, including in the U.S.  Today's teachers are remarkably deficient in both spelling and grammar, according to tests performed by an Australian news program.  Three different generations were tested for spelling and grammar proficiency, and the newer the generation, the lower the average score.  To put the matter in an even starker light, the questions that teachers failed on were ones that your average 7th grader should know.

I'm troubled, but not surprised.  I find spelling and grammar mistakes all the time, that should be fairly easy to avoid, while reading articles online.  But I am by no means perfect.  An astute wordsmith can probably find at least one error with my grammar in this post alone.  But I do try my best to be coherent and to spell properly.  I do feel that today's person is a little too reliant on spell-check.  It's gotten to the point where writing something on my iPod or cell phone will be automatically corrected for me, even if I didn't solicit assistance from the AI.  But I do feel that an even bigger culprit appears to be people's reluctance to read an old-fashioned book.  In this country, people seem to be notoriously averse to reading, and I doubt that feeling changes much even if you go up the educational ladder.  The visual medium (movies, TV, games) has really taken over in a big way for the vast majority of people.  And for those who do read, it's usually some variant of pop-fiction, like Twilight, Harry Potter, or the latest James Patterson novel.  I mean, it's better than not reading at all, but I do feel that the average adult should strive for a deeper reading experience than one that a 7th grader could have no problem with reading. 

For the record, the last few books I've read were "Catcher in the Rye", and I'm about to start "The Berlin Years", a series of short stories about life in pre-WWII Germany, that was listed on the "Times 100" list of the best English-language books written in the 20th century.  But I'd also recently read the 5th installment in the Harry Potter series, so I'm not immune to a harmless, easy read. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Starbucks (and Other Companies) Not Paying Taxes in UK

There is a furor in the UK over the realization that Starbucks has not paid any taxes in the country despite profits of coffee sales in the UK of over 1 billion pound sterling since 2009.  In addition, the company has only paid 8 million pound sterling in UK tax since starting up in the country in 1998, in the process racking up 3 billion pound sterling in sales. 

Amazon and Facebook are using some of the same kinds of accounting tricks in order to avoid paying UK taxes, routing their incomes in European tax havens such as Ireland and Luxembourg.  As a result, they are also paying little or nothing in taxes to the UK, and yet generating vast sales numbers. 

I know that I'm not in the UK, but if you think that corporations aren't doing the same things here and around the world, you are sorely mistaken.  We have to stop thinking of corporations as "citizens" and "people" and begin to look at them for what they are: psychopathic entities with zero interest in the common good or for serving anyone other than themselves. 

This also puts a huge dent in the argument from some on the conservative side of the fence that bringing jobs back to this country is dependent on cutting taxes even further on these corporations, or as many politicians are calling them, the "job creators".  Corporations are already paying very low taxes around the world, both via the whim of our elected officials and by shady accounting magical tricks, and there is no huge influx of job creation pending.  It is all mere bullshit.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Post-Election Riots

On one of the forums I visit, a user posted a Twitter feed of various users who called for riots if Romney were to win the election.  I'm not trying to be an alarmist, I really think such an event would be very unlikely to happen.  But it did give me something to think about.  After the last election, my views on the meaninglessness and futility of electoral politics became starker than it's ever been.  Mainly, the reason why I gave up and will not vote anymore is for the same reason as many others who don't vote: we don't see a dime's worth of difference between the (paltry) two candidates and their positions on major issues of consequence.  But at the same time, there is a major, clear difference between the two candidates, and the same clear difference existed in the last election.  That is, one candidate is black and the other is white.  And for many people, including some of those who are non-political and usually do not vote, that one difference is all that they need to register and vote. 

While many would say that people becoming inspired enough to want to vote is a good thing, in this circumstance, I feel that it can be very negative and destructive.  While there are people out there who can articulate and voice clear reasons and motives for voting for their respective candidate, I believe that there is an alarming variety of people who stop at the race issue.  They may not say it in public, especially whites for Romney, but they hold that view just the same.  I posted a few months ago about Romney speaking to the NAACP and getting booed numerous times.  That kind of viciousness displayed on the part of the audience showed how many blacks feel about Romney or any white candidate for that matter: if you are white and run against a black candidate, no matter what views you hold, even if we share them, we will oppose you and will not give you the time of day because you do not share the same color as Obama.  Again, very inflammatory and dangerous circumstances exist. 

I found the second tweet particularly of concern. 


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Bubble Bubble

As a denizen of the blogosphere and the web universe in general, few things give me more pleasure than finding a website or blog that casts a different pair of eyes on the events and circumstances that are encircling us.  I happened to find such a site this morning, that was created by an "independent economic analyst" who had also created a website back in 2004 that forecasted a pending stock market crash, which happened a few years later. 

This website is called "The Bubble Bubble" and the analyst, whose name is Jesse Columbo, states his case, which is that our bubble troubles did not end with the housing bubble.  What happened, is that the housing bubble spawned a series of other bubbles, which are coming into their prime now and are poised to pop sooner or later.  There are eight bubbles, according to Columbo, and he gives an acronmym to make it easy to remember "CCC Aches".  "CCC" is the credit rating given to investments that basically means that you're a "junk" investment.  And as many of these bubbles pop, there will be a lot of "aches" and pains involved.  Teehee. 

"CCC Aches" stands for China, Commodities, Canada, Australia, College, Healthcare, Emerging Markets, and Social media.  There is an in-depth piece written for each bubble by Columbo, and I look forward to reading them. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gas Now Being Stolen From Pumps in California

In what seems to have been at least a somewhat elaborate heist, over $4,500 worth of gas was stolen from one gas station in California.  Due to refinery fires and pipeline problems, California has the highest gas prices in the country, by at least 50 cents.  But things aren't appearing too peachy nationwide either.  In my neck of the woods (Long Island, New York), gas prices are back in the $4 range.  I wonder how long it will be before people go from planning schemes to steal gas, to just plain sticking a gun in the clerk's face and saying "fill up on Tank 5". 

Also, I wanted to point out the last paragraph of the article:  "Analysts predict that relief is in sight and prices will bottom out near $3.50 a gallon by Thanksgiving, which is one of the busiest times for traveling."  I'm still a little awestruck at the subtle manipulation that has been taking place over the past few years.  Not too long ago, gas prices were much cheaper than they are today.  But now, if you happen to pay for gas, and it's less than $4 a gallon, then you've likely been conditioned to think that gas prices aren't that bad and that you're getting "relief".  In the meantime, still a lot more money in your wallet is being utilized to fill up your car than it used to be. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Big Brother Obama

I will keep the commentary light today, as this article from Zero Hedge goes quite into detail and you should really check that out.  I just wanted to include a few graphs that I found on Zero Hedge, which highlight the vast increase in state surveillance under the Obama administration.  In the modern age, when we think of state surveillance, many of us think of Dubya and the Patriot Act, and for good reason.  However, on this issue, Obama is even worse than Dubya could have hoped to have been, as state surveillance has skyrocketed under Obama.

But no one on the left or the moderate Democrat side will call Obama out on this.  This is why, as ultimately meaningless as it is, that I'd prefer a Republican in office.  At least then, people pay attention when things such as this, a dramatic escalation in state security, occur.

Also, Pen Register means the interception of outgoing data, and Trap and Trace is the interception of incoming data.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Worldwide Bacon Shortage? Say It Ain't So

I had previously posted something about the drought in the midwest causing higher feed prices for cattle, and farmers having to make some hard choices.  Now, it has spread to pigs as well.  Pig feed is made using maize and soya plants, which are also failing due to droughts around the world.  So, the price of pig feed is rising as well, and this could result in higher prices for pork-based products, such as bacon, if not shortages.

I have cut back on my bacon consumption, and when I make eggs, I usually use turkey bacon instead.  It's a lot easier to clean afterwards, as turkey bacon doesn't leave behind the grease that regular bacon does, and I don't mind the taste.  But there's still nothing like bacon though, and I don't think I can live without the occasional BLT sandwich.  I do think we've gotten out of hand with our passion towards bacon, so a shortage may not be such a bad thing.  People put the shit in everything nowadays, from cakes to ice cream sundaes.

Friday, September 21, 2012


As many of you probably know, there is a new television series on that deals with the ramifications and aftereffects of a fictional scenario in which the electricity goes out in the United States.  It's called Revolution and it's on Mondays at 10 on NBC.  You can get the pilot episode free off iTunes or off NBC's website.

Eh, I wasn't expecting to get my socks blown off, and they weren't.  It was okay, but then again, post-apocalyptic is one of my favorite subgenres, so the show would have to be monumentally awful for me to stop watching.  It has all the inconsistencies, plotholes and cliches you'd expect from a major production, so I won't bother to list most of them.  Although, everyone does seem well fed; there are even still fat people.  And there still seems to be plenty of Revlon and Cover Girl to go around.  On the other hand, the production values were pretty top-notch, and I thought they did a good job with the decaying buildings and structures (like Wrigley Field).  Kinda reminded me of that History Channel special from a few years back, "Life After People".

The one thing I really didn't care for, overall, is the jumping ahead 15 years into the future, after the power goes out.  The show could have been more of an exhilarating mind-fuck if it dealt with the aftereffects of the power going out, like in the excellent novel One Second After.  I'm sure there'll be flashbacks, but I imagine the tone of them will be pretty mild, it is network TV after all.  From what I've read, a lot of people think that it will be cancelled, but I really don't think so.  NBC is totally seizing the momentum of stuff like The Hunger Games, and it showed while I was watching the pilot.  The teenagers seem like they're going to be a key part of the show, and while that's a bad thing from my perspective, it will probably draw in a lot of those viewers.

Maybe it'll become another Jericho, that was another doomer-type show from a few years ago.  I remember that I had stopped watching that one four episodes in, it just didn't do anything for me, and then there was that huge effort from its fans to save the show, so I gave it another try, and I found that the show really picked up in quality after those first four or five episodes.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Now on Technorati

In order to give my blog some distinction, and to hopefully get a few more visitors, I registered my blog with the website Technorati, which is an internet search engine for blogs.  I was a little naive, and thought that by just having the blog, it'd pop up on Technorati just like it does with Google.  But no, I had to put in what is called a claim in order for the blog to register on the site.  There is a whole system under which my blog will hopefully gain what is called "authority", and will hopefully result in a higher flow of traffic to the site.  This is, first and foremost, a project for me, I like to read on things that interest me and give my insights, and whoever else reads it is just gravy.  But I always value feedback, and would really like to see a more active comments section.

Anyway, these things are for the near-future.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Assault on an American Embassy on the 9/11 Anniversary

This is really bad for a lot of reasons.  The Egyptian Islamic extremists were protesting over some film that is somewhere out there, that was supposedly produced in America, that lampoons and ridicules the Prophet Mohammed.  Any depiction of Mohammed, whether good or bad, is considered a sacriliege by Muslims.  Anyway, the timing was horrible, having taken place on the 9/11 anniversary.  I'm sure a lot of Americans are seeing the footage and are thinking that the protesters are celebating the attack and spitting in America's eye.  They even went so far as to take the American flag, which was flying at half-mast, down.

(To get off the track of what I was talking about for just a moment, something that always makes me laugh about when any religious group or "values"-based organization protests or boycotts something, usually some form of art or media, for something that they find objectionable, is that beforehand, most people did not even know the artform existed until the organization or group called attention to it.  And afterwards, people will start to seek the movie or TV show out just to see what all the fuss was about.  So, in that respect, these organizations are their own worst enemy.)

A consulate in Libya was also burned and an American diplomat was killed, also in protest of this film that I've never heard of (there are supposedly clips on Youtube).  Although nowhere near the scale of the takeover of the Iran embassy in 1979, this is still a reflection of our waning power abroad.  I thought that we had Marines guarding our embassies.  What does it say that we can't even keep an embassy secure, when we insist on maintaining a global empire?

And finally, something more to piss me off.  In light of those events, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released this statement, condemning "the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims, as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."  So you have a roving band of these fanatical nutjobs who storm an American embassy, desecrate the American flag on September 11th, and kill a diplomat, all because of a stupid movie, and it's the people making this movie, who are to blame?  Seriously, this is political correctness at its worst.  And, BTW, offending believers of religions and hurting their precious feelings is a freedom protected by our First Amendment.  Eh, gotta go work out some of this aggression at the gym.  Hurting their "religious feelings", good grief.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Saudi Arabia to Become Oil Importer by 2030

Citigroup estimates that Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of oil in the world, will become a net oil importer by the year 2030.  My simple question to Citigroup is, where does the largest oil exporter get their oil from when the time comes?  They'll probably tell us that by then, the U.S. will be back to being the prime oil exporter due to our oil shale plays in North Dakota, New York and other places.  I'm going to go out on a limb and call "bullshit", but I guess we'll see what happens.

The article also points out that Saudi Arabia's per capita oil consumption is higher than many other industrialized nations, including our own.  Part of the reason for this is that the kingdom subsidizes its domestic supplies, meaning that their population pays far less than market value.  I have pointed this out before, but read up on the export-land model, it will truly open your eyes on this facet of peak oil.

Friday, September 7, 2012


I am in the process of submitting this blog to the blog search engine, Technorati.  I am obligated to provide a claim code on this blog page, and that code is JCD5CEGEQW52.  Sorry, this is only a test. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Cost of Curing a Scorpion Bite: $83,000

When it comes to a story like this, words fail me, although they come by the bucketful.  Hopefully, the bad press will force the hospital to back off and be a bit more reasonable, but I have my doubts.  What an evil country to have to live in.  To quote something that is said from time to time in Louis CK's show, "Louie", "what about Obama?"  Indeed.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

$100/bl. Oil: The Death Knell for Industrial Societies?

I'm sure I've talked about this at least once since I started this blog, but it always bears repeating: when the price of a barrel of oil reaches a certain point, such as $100, the economy begins to stagger and loses whatever momentum it had.  The really bad news is that when the crash happened back in '08, the economy was overheating from the effects of the real estate bubble.  But this time, the economy is already in a severely weakened state and people are already hurting.  If oil keeps climbing until the economy as a whole faces a similar crisis to '08, I believe that it will dawn on more people that there will be no recovery, that the way things have been for the past 5 years will be, as they call it, the "new normal" with things only deteroiating over time.  My theory, is that the economy will weaken due to high oil prices, and so, oil prices will go down for a time.  But, as things improve and there is talk of an economic "recovery", oil will slowly shoot back up, until we find ourselves in the same situation, where we're struggling to maintain economic growth while the lifeblood of industrial society becomes more and more valuable.  In the meantime, everyday living will become more tenuous and strained.

I have discussed this with people over the years, and have met my share of naysayers, but I still believe the economic crash back in 2008 had a lot to do with the rising costs of oil.  Yes, the shenangians and the illegal activities on Wall Street played a key part as well, but the oil situation at that time does not seem to have been given its due in media or elsewhere.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Race and Politics

I am about to touch one of those third rails that civilized people aren't supposed to discuss, and it was inspired by a story I read on an incident at the Republican National Convention.  A couple of attendees threw peanuts at a black camerawoman who works at CNN, and commented, "this is how we feed animals".  The attendees were promptly ejected, and condemnation ensued from all quarters.  As it should.  It was a terrible racial attack.  But the last paragraph of the article I read got me thinking.  According to "a recent poll", Obama has 94% support among black people, and his opponent, Mitt Romney, has 0%.  That's right, zero.  Now, I know Republicans have enjoyed scant support from the black community from as far back as I can remember, but I can't remember their support for a non-Democratic candidate being this low.

Well, other than perhaps 2008, when John McCain ran against....Barack Obama.  I'm not going to go on a goose chase Googling for 2008 poll ratings, but I'd venture to say that McCain had a similar rating amongst black people.  Mitt Romney actually spoke to the NAACP last month, and was booed numerous times.  Not very respectful, especially since it was a thoughtful gesture on his part, albeit futile.  Why is that level of meanness shown towards a presidential candidate, and it isn't regarded as racist by anybody?  Whereas, if a black person has a few peanuts tossed at them, or someone criticizes Obama in a particular way people come out of the woodwork to condemn it?  I think the unblinking support shown by the black community towards Obama, just because he is black, is the epitome of racism.

Just to give an example, one of the times that Romney was booed at his NAACP speech, was when he said that he would repeal Obamacare.  I would have wanted to ask anyone in that audience, how is Obamacare supposed to be beneficial for the black community?  Far from being universal health care, it is a giveaway to the private insurance companies.  It mandates that every American has health insurance, and for anyone who does not, they will be fined by the government.  In essence, Obamacare is a law that requires all Americans to pay "tribute" to private insurance companies.  With those facts, you'd think blacks especially would be up in arms about being forced under law to obtain private insurance.  But no, Obama's black just like them, he can do no wrong.

I am pretty much indifferent to the political process, and it is unlikely that I will vote again (outside of the library budget).  But I am hoping that Romney wins.  Say what you will about Bush II, but as long as he was in office, people were watching and paying attention.  Obama is as reactionary and corporate-friendly as they come, but because he is a black Democrat, most on the left feel that he can do no wrong.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Greeks Face Crime Wave as Their Country Goes Down the Shitter

As you should know, Greece has been in a really rough patch economically over the past few years.  There have been continuous austerity measures, which basically means cutting the shit out of all kinds of government.  This has extended to police patrols of major areas, and as you can surmise, between that and less work and money for people, crime has soared.

I think about my own country's economic prospects all the time, especially when I read stories like this one.  In the worst-case scenario, what Greece is facing might not be that bad by comparison, if some of the more dire predictions from some of our economists play out.  So, while I may not always appreciate it, we should be thankful that we have the Second Amendment.  While I still scoff at the rationale from some, that gun ownership can serve as a deterrent to a tyrannical government (which is a pipe dream, I've explained this before), it can be very beneficial for those who are facing a situation in which the police cannot help them.  Greeks are being forced to take up old hunting rifles as a means of defense, since the only gun licences in that country are handed out for sport and hunting.  Until recently, Greece had one of the lowest crime rates in Europe, so this wasn't a big deal.  But, times change.

One part of this article that made me laugh, and highlights the media's bias for unlimited immigration (which plays into the hands of corporate power, since immigration drives down wages and kills any leverage that working people have, but again, look at who owns the media) was this passage:

Official statistics show that immigrants are responsible for about half of the criminal activity in the country - but many Greeks blame foreigners for the spike in crime.

The article goes on to admit that gangs from Albania and Bulgaria are entering Greece since Greek people have emptied their bank accounts and are keeping their money at home.  But the Greek people have no reason to blame those immigrants for why crime has gone up.  The media's motives are so transparent at times that it's laughable.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


There is a new film out, but as it's an indie, it will only be playing in the cities and it'll be a few months before I'm able to catch it.  But it looks very compelling, and it's based on an incident that happened nearly ten years ago, that I'd never heard about, but it highlights one of those things about humanity that we don't want to believe it's true, and that reflects on our society now more than it has in some time.

The film is called "Compliance", and it's based on an incident that happened at a McDonald's in Kentucky back in 2004; similar hoaxes took place in the preceding years at around 70 other restaurants throughout the country.  A man called the McDonald's, and told an assistant manager that he was a police officer that was investigating a theft committed by a co-worker at the restaurant.  After some gentle prodding and bullshitting (the 'officer' was held up and could not get to the restaurant right away), the assistant manager agreed to search her employee and her belongings.  When she finds nothing, the caller becomes more demanding, and events quickly escalate and spiral out of control for everybody except the caller.

This article that was published shortly after the event happened is probably the best source for the events that happened outside of the movie itself, but I feel that it serves as an example for how easy it is to control people and make someone, even who on the surface you believe is a "good" person, do some pretty monstrous things just because they are instructed to by someone who they deem as an authority figure.  Of course, there are other examples throughout history (the "I was just following orders" defense that was popular at the judgment at Nuremberg came immediately to mind for me), but this other article that I read that references the film brings more modern examples to mind.

Take some of the things that our politicians tell us, like Bush the Second telling us "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq or that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or that the planet isn't getting warmer, or that Obama's birth certificate was forged.  All of these statements are swallowed up, unremittingly, by countless people without any questioning or investigation.  I know that many who are familiar with this case will tell themselves that these managers who consented to the caller and conducted strip searches and acts of a sexual nature lacked common sense and will say, "what do you expect?  They managed a McDonald's or an Applebees franchise".  But when we speak of the political junkies, who accept the above examples as scripture because they come from the party they like, are they really that different?  In both cases, they are furthering someone's agenda because they are being told to, and in the process, seem to be exercising little common sense or independent thought.  Of course, please don't take what I'm saying as a statement that denying climate change because Newt Gingrich told you to, is the same as patting down and touching a girl's breasts because a guy on the phone playing cop told someone else to.

Anyway, a little food for thought.  I really want to stay and keep talking, but the gym beckons, have not gone in a week or so.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong

Heard over the weekend that another great man has left us, that being Neil Armstrong.  I had the pleasure of spending the past couple of hours reading up on his life, death, as well as seeing a few video clips.  I didn't really know all that much about him prior to reading these articles, other than what most people know, but I came away with even more respect for the man.  I don't know if it was him in particular, or if it was just how people carried themselves back in that time, but I was in awe reading of how he faded back into a nearly obscure life after being the first man to be on the moon.  That is a rarity in the times that I live in.  Most people, who are able to achieve fame via means much less dignified and honorable than Mr. Armstrong did, are more than eager to pimp themselves out to any corporation willing to pay for their commercial services.  Armstrong frequently denied those opportunities (with the exception of doing several commercials for Chrysler back in the late 70's, when they were experiencing financial difficulties; Armstrong said that he did it for their contributions to aeronautics and that they were an American company, and I actually do not doubt him).

Also, being modest, quiet and hard-working was actually recognized and lauded back in those days.  In one of the articles I read, one of the reasons why Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon rather than Buzz Aldrin, is that Aldrin was known for being a blowhard and very ambitious, making it known within NASA that he should be the first man on the moon.  Meanwhile, Armstrong thought that descending and landing on the moon, not walking the moon, was the most important part of the mission.  NASA went with Armstrong.  Afterwards, as I said, Armstrong quietly retired to his farm, and a professorship at a university in Ohio.  He never quite faded into obscurity; he was on several important committees, including the one formed to investigate the Challenger disaster in 1986.  But he never seemed to profit from his exploits as a test pilot or as the first man on the moon.  I read that it was impossible to obtain his autograph, out of his fear that it would be sold for profit.  Meanwhile, I've seen Aldrin plenty of times over the years, and he has written several books, while Armstrong never wrote a memoir.

Finally, I feel that his death is tragic, in light of the gutting of NASA that has been taking place for some time. It doesn't appear likely that Americans will be walking the moon again, and many would say that walking the moon was our last great achievement.  Every generation seems to have that one defining moment, that one time in history where everyone knows where they were and what they were doing.  For that generation, it was Armstrong being the first man on the moon.  For my generation, it was 9/11.  Pretty telling of where we were as a country then and where we are now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

RIP Tony Scott

Was pretty stunned on Monday morning when I read that famed film director Tony Scott took his own life by jumping off a Los Angeles bridge.  Why he did this is unknown; there were reports that he had an inoperable, terminal illness, but this has since been debunked by his family.  As a film buff, I have seen most of his movies, and inspired by a conversation that I had with my brother about him, I will list his movies and what I thought of them.

The Hunger:  Have not seen, but had heard from some that it is one of his best.

Top Gun:  His best, for sure.  What more needs to be said?  A classic.

Beverly Hills Cop II:  Underrated movie, one of the better sequels that I'd seen.  Murphy at his peak.

Revenge:  Had not seen this in many years, remember it being pretty good.  With Kevin Costner and Madeline Stowe.  Funny, Stowe is currently on a TV show with the same title.

Days of Thunder:  A lot of people ragged on this one, but I liked it a lot.  It's referred to by some as "Top Gun with Race Cars", but that isn't a bad thing, IMO.  Read that it's one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite movies.

The Last Boy Scout:  Definitely one of his better ones.  A great action movie, with plenty of funny one-liners.  Faltered at the box office, but is well-regarded today.

True Romance:  Like Last Boy Scout, was a box office flop, but gained a large following later on.  The fact that it was written by Tarantino didn't hurt either.  A fantastic movie, with one of the best scenes ever between Hopper and Walken.

Crimson Tide:  Another great one, saw this tons of times back in the day.  Hackman and Denzel at top of their respective games.  Appreciated that it was less action-driven and glossy than most of his movies.

The Fan:  One of his lesser efforts, especially for the year that it was released (1996) since this was his peak time as a filmmaker., but I still like it a lot.  No one does a sick fuck like De Niro.

Enemy of the State:  Only saw this a couple of times, remember it being a superb action-thriller.  Foreshadowed the national security state that we live in today

Spy Game:  Actually saw this for the first time not too long ago.  Was a lot better than I'd heard it was.  A solid spy thriller.

Man on Fire:  Real kick-ass action movie, with Denzel as a total bad-ass.  I did feel that his herky-jerky MTV-style direction (which is present in most of his works) did go a little overboard in this one, though.

Domino:  Liked it, but one of his lesser efforts.  Only saw it once, but felt his direction was even worse than in Man on Fire.

Deja Vu:  This one didn't work for me.  Maybe I have to see it again, but I found myself bored.  Found it was one of those films that required a serious suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy.

The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three:  Actually forgot that he did this one.  I found it kinda crappy, especially compared to the original with Walter Matthau.  That was a good caper movie.  In this, I found the violence to be overkill, there was no humor (one of the things I liked best about the original) and Robert Shaw was a much better villian than Travolta.

Unstoppable:  Ironically, another train movie.  Better than Pelham, but nothing really great.  Enjoyable enough though, and I thought the last 20 minutes or so was particularly tense.  This is officially his last movie.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Assange or Corzine?

This is a very good, short little article that highlights where our justice system stands these days.  There are two people whose ongoing cases have been widely publicized, and in which the outcomes carry high stakes. One of them is a former politician and head of Goldman Sachs, whose brokerage firm "lost" $1 billion of its customers' money.  The other is a man who runs a website that exposes what some would say is "sensitive" information and intelligence that is held by our nation's governments, and in which others would say that this is information that we have a right to know, as taxpayers and as citizens.

In the one case, there is a diplomatic standoff, and things are escalating to the point where one country may very well invade the embassy of another sovereign state where one of these men are staying.  The other case, after nearly a year of investigation, is about to end with no criminal prosecutions expected.  Care to guess which one is which?  As I hope you guessed, the man who stole up to $200 million of his own clients' money is the one who will not be prosecuted.  He is Jon Corzine, former governor of New Jersey and former head of Goldman Sachs.  The other, of course, is Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.  He is staying at the Ecuadoran embassy in London, and Britain is threatening to raid the embassy to apprehend Assange.  He will then be extradited to Sweden, where he stands trial for a rape charge that sounds at least somewhat suspect.  He will then almost certainly be turned over to the United States, and tried (or held indefinitely without trial) on esponiage charges.

To close, I want to relay something that I remember reading in a book by Jesse Ventura, one of my heroes.  In the book, he wrote that any citizen in the United States who pays taxes should be able to ask his or her government any question, and that citizen should have a right to an answer.  Assange is the keeper of the flame for those of us who look to our respective governments and think, "how dare you tell us that we don't have the right to know this or that piece of information?"

Saturday, August 11, 2012


I read about this computer game today, and while I probably won't have time to check it out, I will certainly try to.  It is called "Dayz", and it is being called by some, the "first survival simulator".  You start out in a random place on a designed world map, with little else but "bandages", and your goal is to survive as long as possible in a post-apocalpytic world.  To do this, you must explore the world, and try to scavenge as much resources as you can.  Oh, and did I mention the zombies?

But I am less impressed with the zombies (which is becoming an overused sub-genre these days, although I've been a long-time fan) than the social aspect of the game.  In this review (and I've also read this elsewhere), the writer points out that other players tend to shoot first rather than engage with the human players.  That says a lot about our nature as humans, and what we would do if an event like this became reality.

What also made it interesting for me is that Dayz is a mod of another game, "Arma 2", which did not exactly climb up the charts initially.  But once Dayz was released, "Arma 2" took a huge leap in sales, and I read that it was the top selling game on Steam for seven weeks.  Dayz will be getting a separate release, with added features.

I am not sure if Dayz will run well on my machine, or at all.  While I do enjoy the occasional computer game, I do the bulk of my gaming on consoles these days, as well as handhelds.  It's just so simpler to game, and you always have to upgrade your PC if you want to stay ahead of the curve on games, and that can be very expensive.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cows Being Slaughtered As Result of Drought

This article consists of an interview with a farmer in Missouri, which currently has the worst farmland in the country as a result of record drought.  Dead grass means no food source for cattle, which means the farmer either has to buy hay or feed stock to keep the animals alive and well-fed, or they must be slaughtered prematurely.  It's too bad that us in the Northeast can't somehow take the persistent rain we've been getting here (raining as I speak, and quite hard too) and give it to the Midwest.

What really pissed me off after reading this was the fact that buying livestock feed for animals is so damn expensive.  Wanna know why it's so expensive?  The main ingredient in livestock feed is corn.  Since the drought, the market price of corn has gone up by 63 percent.  As more corn is used for ethanol, that means less corn being used to go into livestock feed, which means that the cattle will go hungry and be slaughtered earlier.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Sky is Pink

"Gasland" is a really terrific documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox, that focuses on a technique used to extract gas from the ground, known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking".  In his interviews and travels, he meets people who have come down with illnesses and aliments as a result of the "fracking" that goes on in their communities.  In the most infamous scene in the film, a man is shown lighting a lighter below his water tap, which sets the water on fire.

Anyway, he has just released a follow-up short film called "The Sky is Pink".  It serves as an update to "Gasland", and also addresses the plans for drilling and fracking in New York State.  A full sequel to "Gasland" is in production, hopefully to be released this year.

I really liked the title and how it meshes in with the short film itself.  In an interview with a politician, the politician explains how journalism has veered from "investigative", to basically, "he said, she said".  It has gotten to where what is considered a universal fact, such as "the sky is blue", can be contradicted by an industrial claim that "the sky is pink".  The media will take a universal fact, that everyone knows is true, and position it as one that is "under debate".  This is used very much in environmental issues, particularly climate change.

Flims like this are very important, not merely for the environmental stakes of fracking, but as a reminder of how desperate and hard-up we are for utilizing new sources of energy.  This ties in very well with the issue of peak energy.  As we run up against resource limitations, more questionable and risky tactics will be carried out to ensure that our energy supply remains affordable and uninterrupted.  Fracking is one example, drilling wells underwater (Deepwater Horizon) is another.  And more disasters, both great and small, will result.

(As I was posting this video, I realized something disturbing.  The video itself, linked from Youtube, has only 2,633 views.  I would have expected a lot more, considering the pedigree of the film, which I have known a lot of people have seen.  Then I typed "the sky is pink" into the search engine.  The short came in at number 8 on the results list, behind 7 different videos of a song by a guy named Nathan Fake called "The Sky Was Pink".  It just goes to show that money talks.) 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Jordan MP Pulls Gun During Live Broadcast

I have to admit that I find this video kinda cool.  In a debate on live television, a member of Jordan's Parliament pulled a gun on a critic (whether this man was a journalist or another MP, I don't know) over heated discussion about Jordan's policy towards Syria.  Before that, he threw a shoe at the critic, and the moderator had to break them up; I have to give props to the moderator for breaking them up, even after the MP pulled out his gun.

I think a lot of people may look at a video like this, and conclude that these people are "animals" for resorting to pulling out guns or throwing punches over issues.  From videos I've seen over the years, this is much more common than you would think.  But not in the United States.  In our country, political conflict and debate has never gotten past the verbal stage.  Yes, some of the words used by some are toxic in nature, but no one's ever pulled a gun.  The worst you might see is someone yelling at the President, "YOU LIE", or something to that effect.  So, we might come off as a civilized nation.  But I think that the debate in this country comes off as sterile.  Outside of perhaps social issues (abortion, gay marriage), no politician in this country would ever feel compelled to do anywhere close to what this man in Jordan did.  That is because when you are owned by someone else, or by a collection of interests, and are basically told what to say (or more to the point, how to vote), you lack all conviction.  I believe that a lot of people sense this, albeit unconsciously, and that's one of the reasons why political participation is relatively low in this country.

When I first saw this, the first thing I thought about was the assault on the Senate floor in 1856, when Preston Brooks attacked Charles Sumner with his cane, hitting him with it until it broke.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fireworks Industry in Biggest Downturn Since Vietnam...Oh Yeah, and Happy 4th of July

To mark the commemoration of our day of independence, here is an article about how the fireworks industry is in their biggest slump since the Vietnam War.  Back then, it was due to the uncertainty of many as to what our country was and what it stood for, as Vietnam was very polarizing.  Now, their woes are more linked to the ongoing economic crisis, as well as the effects of climate change.

I was never much of a fireworks guy; if I ever were in the mood to see any, I can turn on Channel 11 and watch the Macy's Fireworks show; barring that, I can go on Youtube or fire up a screen saver app or something.  But local government's budgets are on a shoestring these days, and for many, fireworks shows are amongst the first things to go; I'm sure there's plenty of money for pork-like projects, though.

What must make it especially tough for those in that industry, is that fireworks sales are mostly limited to professional groups for these kinds of shows, either public or private (and 70 percent of those shows, according to the article, are private corporate affairs).  In many states, including New York, the public is expressly barred from buying fireworks, although some people get around it.

Speaking of which, it is 8:33 PM and I am starting to show them outside my door.  Happy 4th, all.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Iran's Oil Exports Down 20-30 %; Export Land Model, Maybe?

Iran has publicly acknowledged that its oil exports are down between 20 and 30 percent.  The article notes that it is due to the upcoming sanctions being placed upon it by the European Union.  But I immediately thought of the Export-Land Model, which is a model that shows a marked decrease in oil exports when a nation that exports oil experiences both a peak in its oil production and an increase in its domestic oil production.  In other words, a country will use more and more of its oil for domestic consumption rather than exporting it.  An official for the Iranian oil company even admits it in the article; "It was 20 to 30 percent we reduce regarding to our export; some of the reduction is shifting for the refinery internally."   

This New York Times graph from 2007 is of several countries, including Iran, whose oil consumption had shot up due to a booming economy.  Of course, this means a lesser supply of oil for importers, including Europeans and us.  

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Giant Fed Scam that Most People Don't Understand

For someone who is economically illiterate like myself, it always helps to have an article like this one that makes its case in a very simple way.  This pretty short article outlines how we are all scammed by the Federal Reserve.  Like the other factors that lie behind the conditions of this country, and indeed, the world, such as peak oil and climate change, the financial situation does not appear to be sustainable (indeed, won't be in the long term), but has a tenacious ability to ensure that "business as usual" continues on an indefinite basis.  We may think to ourselves that it will fall apart, but for the near-term anyway, it keeps on going.

Anyway, read the article and you will come away with at least two basic points on why our debt has spiraled as badly out of control as it has.  My only points of contention with the article is the assumption behind it, that somehow the government can do a better job of managing our debt and the money supply than the Fed has. Yes, our own Constitution gives the Congress the power to coin money and regulate its value, and that power has been usurped by the Federal Reserve, an unaccountable, private corporation.  But would our government have done a better job?  I'm not sure that it would.  Throughout history, you can find examples of governments debasing their own currencies for one reason or another.  And keeping the value of our currency pegged to a commodity (such as gold) results in big variations in the supply of money.  So, upon reading what I just wrote, the point of contention that I have may seem like a pretty major one, but I still agree with the article's main argument that the Fed has done a bad job with managing the money supply, or a good job (depending on who you are and where you stand).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Some Neat Widgets That I Found

Hopefully, I will be able to overhaul the blog to some extent in the near future.  I just added a couple of cool widgets that list, second-by-second, the energy consumption and the energy production of the planet.  The former is organized by sources of energy that are being extracted, and the latter is grouped by the top energy users amongst countries.  Some of my favorite links are dead or no longer useful, and some script on the page needs to be fixed.  I am hoping to sit down and do some work in the next week or so.  Some organization will also be nice too.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fuck the Children

I have no links to what I'm about to post; I'm just going on what I heard were the audible "headlines" for one of the nightly local newscasts.  The first two really irked me in a great way, and are both related to a trend that has irked me for the longest time, that I have not talked enough about.  It probably won't be at length, since this is totally off the cuff, I wasn't planning to post today, but couldn't help myself. 

The first headline was of a teenager being "bullied to death", and that charges were being filed in said case.  I'm assuming that the charges are against the supposed perpetrator of the deed.  This is not the first instance in which a kid took his or her own life due to being bullied.  Offhand, I could think of a girl who was a track star and pretty popular that I read about awhile ago (she supposedly offed herself because someone taunted her via Facebook, what a stupid way to go), a gay teen who killed himself (I remember this because the celebrity Lady Gaga eulogized the boy in concert and said there should be laws passed; ooh boy), and the Tyler Clemente case (which many considered to fall within the "bullying" realm, but which I did not, I think it was just a prank gone awry, and I'm glad they didn't hang the kid who did it totally out to dry; he got 30 days, I know people were outraged by that sentence, but I feel that he will have to live with the guilt for the rest of his life, that is satisfactory enough for me at least).  I know that I have said this before on the blog, but I will say it again, the hysteria surrounding "bullying" needs to die a quick, quiet death.  It is overblown, and is a byproduct of the need for many in the hierarchy of education (and a lot of parents out there are culpable, as well) to make kids feel good about themselves. 

This reminds me of a good documentary that I saw about the U.S. school system, called "Waiting for Superman".  One of the many points it raised is the fact that American children are, at best, in the middle of the pack amongst developed nations when it comes to mathematical and literary skills; you name it, we are mediocre at it.  But the one category that our kids excel at, that they finish first in, is "self-esteem".  Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with people feeling good about themselves; it's just that the world at large would expect you to do something, achieve something, in order for you to feel that way.  Wanting people to feel good about themselves, just for being, is empty-minded and can lead to some unforeseen consequences.  I think "bullying" is one of those consequences.  Some of our children feel so good about themselves, that they just cannot believe that there are others who just aren't that into them, and upon taking this detour to the school of hard knocks, it gets to be too much for them and they do stupid shit, like kill themselves or try to kill themselves.  I think a potential solution for this, is rather than pursue initiatives related to stopping "bullying", simply teach those kids most at risk of being picked on, the art of resilience.  Teach them to be tough.  If I were a parent, I would go one further and possibly tell my child to punch any aggressor in the nose. 

The second story that bothered me, and probably bothered me even more than the prior issue, is that an increasing number of schools in Long Island are having students take breath tests for signs of alcohol use before being admitted to their proms.  Again, this has to do with underaged kids, and I feel it's even more of a civil rights issue than the criminalization of "bullying" (AKA "kids being kids").  The reason I feel this way is because I feel these initiatives (along with this new law, you also have a law in Suffolk County that can hold parents criminally liable if they serve alcohol to their kids, in their own home, and of course, you have the ID requirements for buying alcohol and tobacco) are not just about keeping underaged kids from these forbidden pleasures, but also to craft them into obedient adults.  As a society, our civil liberties are eroding at a frightening rate, and we are turning into a "show me your papers, please" society, but without the "please".  Between the proposed criminalization of bullying, metal detectors and security guards in the schools, breathalyzers for going to the prom and all the rest of it, we are taking and punishing any signs of rebellion and questioning out of our youth, and are teaching them, at an earlier age, to respect and to not question authority. 

* I don't literally mean what I say in the headline, it's just a funny routine that was performed by George Carlin in his classic comedy special, "You are All Diseased". 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Reagan Supporters Angry that His Blood Sold at Auction

Like some Americans, and it seems that I'm in a minority, I will never understand the adulation that has been bestowed upon President Ronald Reagan.  When you delve into his track record, you will see that he was far from a "conservative"; for example, he raised taxes 11 times during his tenure in office and the overall size of the government grew as well (check out this handy article).  Anyway, some of his supporters are aghast that a vial of his blood, which was taken on the assassination attempt on his life back in 1981, has been put up on an online auction.  They are reportedly using both legal means and persuading the seller of the vial to donate it to the Reagan Foundation rather than sell it.  In a very funny response, the seller says that he's a huge supporter of Reaganomics and that Reagan would rather have seen him sell it than give it away.  After all, donations are kind of socialist, aren't they?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Latest Sign of Iran's Nuclear Program--A Drawing!!

I have not been following the Iran situation closely, but it appears to be petering out somewhat, or is at least on hold for the moment.  There was a lot of saber-rattling concerning Iran's nuclear program, with Israel threatening to strike.  However, it appears cooler heads have prevailed, and I think it's in no small part due to the fact that if war is declared on Iran, than it'll be game over for the economy.  Gas is just shy of four dollars a gallon now, and you can count on it being much more than that if Iran is invaded.  I feel that if Iran is indeed pursuing nuclear power, it's either as a defensive measure to deter the U.S., or as a stopgap measure to keep their lights on in the years to come, due to the peak of oil and natural gas.

Anyway, although they have toned it down, our powers that be are still rattling the saber, and their latest piece of evidence is a computer-rendered drawing at a supposed "nuclear facility" southeast of Tehran.  Based on the picture, this is something that I think I'd be reading in something like The Onion.  Even worse, is that the article plays it totally straight.  The article refers to an official from a country tracking Iran's nuclear program as the one who provided the rendered drawing,  with that official saying that the drawing "proves" that Iran has a nuclear program.    This brings me back to the run-up to the Iraqi invasion, and that dreadful presentation that Colin Powell made to the UN, where he showed outdated pictures and presented plagiarized material.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Viewing Child Porn Not a Crime in NY...But Wait

My first reaction upon reading the headline "Viewing Child Pornography Online Not a Crime: New York Court Ruling" was one of horror and revulsion.  On the issue of civil liberties, I am as pretty far-left as one can probably get, with the exception of enabling cyber-predators to go online and hook up with young kids. 

I remember the Dateline NBC series, "To Catch a Predator", in which Chris Hanson and an organization called Perverted Justice would set up what amounted to sting operations against men who would first meet underage children in a chat room, make lewd sexual comments and suggestions, and set up a meet with the kid.  The "kid" was actually an adult volunteer from Perverted Justice, and upon talking with the online predator, Hanson would try to delve into his head and figure out why he was attempting to inflict rape on a child.  It received a lot of criticism, and perhaps some of it was deserved, but I felt no sympathy for these monsters. 

I began to feel similarly on this matter, as I'd read that the judge who made the ruling wrote in a statement that "purposeful viewing of child pornography is now legal in the state of New York".  I felt positive that it would generate a firestorm from many, myself included.  But I kept reading.  The ruling is meant to protect those who merely "view" these images online, rather than those who download and save it to their computer.  You may be wondering, "what's the difference", but as a lifelong computer user, I began to understand. 

Most people have caching enabled on their computers.  A cache is a component within a web browser that automatically stores data and images that are previously accessed, so that when you access them again, they load faster.  Accidentally accessing a website with pornographic images is a lot easier than you'd think.  All it really takes is looking for a particular website or a file to come across one of these images.  Especially if you're looking for something like the latest movie in theaters.  Also, mis-clicking on a link, which is also very easy and happens to me all the time.  Or opening an email from someone that you don't know and clicking on the link.  In addition, what if a hacker is able to gain access to your computer and can direct your browser to a porn site, which would cache these forbidden images?

After delving into the matter a little further, my understanding was very heightened and I now feel that it was a good ruling.  Apparently, the law that was on the books prior to the ruling was being used to lock up people for up to 20 years for merely having a child porn pic on their computer, without caching being taken into consideration.  Now, a clear pattern of "intent" must be established; someone having a particular folder with pornographic pictures would still be liable for his crimes and would be sentenced, I am sure.  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Future We Choose For Us and For Our Children

Guy McPherson's blog "Nature Bats Last" has some good articles, and the one I read today is particularly good.  It raises a particularly good point concerning the parents out there who happen to know of peak oil, our faltering ecological state and everything else.  McPherson writes that he personally knows people who know all these things and yet, decide not to take action to adjust their lifestyles because they want a "better world" for their children.  There appears to be, at least in my mind, a kind of cognitive dissonance in how this "better world" is defined.  These parents want their kids to have access to the technological goodies and modern conveniences that they and their parents/grandparents have enjoyed.  This could prove to be difficult in the years ahead, both due to energy scarcity and the increased loss of capital.  In addition, their notion of "protecting" their children from the somewhat harsh realities of these predicaments, in favor of a future that may very well fail to materialize, can do much more harm than good. 

I am not a parent, and almost certainly won't be in the future, but a common-sense approach that I'd advocate for those of you who are reading this, do have children, and see the world in a similar fashion as myself and people like Guy McPherson, is to teach your kids some form of self-reliance.  Give them chores and responsibilities that have as little to do with gadgetry and modernity as possible.  If you can't fully cut them off from the allure of television and video games, give them sparingly.  And teach them about the history of the world and the circumstances that have led us to this point.  People may think that that's too much for a child to withstand, but I think that this is the best time to reach out to a child on these matters.  They are easy to reach and are not yet stuck in a certain way of doing things.  The alternative is much worse.  Don't hide them from the truth and don't let them become so deluded that a path to a middle-class lifestyle (or the life that you as a parent currently live) is possible, even as that lifestyle becomes harder and harder to achieve and maintain.  I speak from some form of experience, but my parents, like many others, simply could not see the signs.  In the present, that is not an excuse, as the signs of collapse appear to be everywhere, and the only reason one cannot see them is because they simply are not paying attention.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Walk Score

I just stumbled across a fascinating website called  Walk Score is an index that grades each town and city on "walkability", or how accessible that various amenities and necessities are if you don't happen to own a vehicle.  I had never heard of it before, but I imagine that awareness of it will only grow in the upcoming years for obvious reasons. 

I can't imagine that many towns in the U.S. rate very high, and my town is no exception.  The town of Medford, NY has a "walkability" rating of 28, and is listed as "car-dependent".  It takes me the better part of a mile, through the most detestable and unsightly suburban sprawl, to walk to the nearest Starbucks or to catch a bus.  I don't really mind the walk, I just wish it was through more desirable scenery.  As a source of comparison, I then checked out Port Jefferson, NY, a town not far from here that I've always been fond of, and it got a "walkability" rating of 75.  A full list of locations like supermarkets, bookstores and bars are included in each listing. 

My dream has been to be able to live in a place where I don't need a car, where on a Friday or Saturday night, I can actually go out and do something rather than sit in front of the television playing video games.  If that actually does come to fruition someday, I imagine that this would be a very helpful website. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Father Gets Killed Over Playstation

In one of those stories that just makes you go "WTF", but unfortunately doesn't really seem so surprising these days, a 4-year old boy killed his father for not bringing him home a Playstation 3.  The article doesn't make clear why the father was carrying a gun, but as he was undressing, the boy took the gun and shot him in the head.  I just think that technology can drive people nuts at times, and the young are very vulnerable to this.  Someone I work with told me that his son got frustrated with a video game he was playing, so he threw his DS on the ground and broke it.  Frustration with games is a sensation I'm well familiar with, but I'd always been able to restrain the urge to throw my controller through the TV. 

What I found most interesting is that this incident did not take place in the U.S. or another developed country, but in Saudi Arabia.  It appears that the worst aspects of our culture have pervaded even fundie bulwarks like that country.  And now, off to power up my Playstation 3 (yes, I'm being serious).

Friday, March 30, 2012

For Some, Gas Prices Aren't High Enough

Amongst the complaining of so-called "pain at the pump", there are some in the oil refining industry who feel that the price of gasoline isn't high enough.  This article discusses how some American refineries, particularly on the East Coast, are shutting down because the price of gasoline isn't keeping up with the rising price of crude oil.  Part of the problem is that while America is still the world's leading user of oil, our use is declining as other countries throughout the world are becoming more advanced and using more barrels per day.  Also, much of our oil production takes place in the Midwest, giving refiners easy access.  East Coast refineries are dependent on the more expensive foreign oil, which runs up to $20 a barrel higher than domestic oil. 

Something that I have read before, but have read here too and bears repeating, is that we are actually also a net exporter of petroleum.  We export more than half a million barrels a day, up 266 percent from a mere four years ago.  This is why the "drill, baby, drill" crowd drives me nuts.  Assuming that we still have plentiful resources of oil left to strike somewhere in this country, since we are in a global market, that oil won't automatically be used by us.  The fact that we export 500,000 barrels a day of oil, with the national average of gasoline close to $4 a gallon, pretty much proves my point.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Gun Company Stops Accepting Gun Orders

Ruger, the gun company, has announced that due to overwhelming demand, they have suspended Firearms Orders until the end of May.  I first thought that it was due to growing economic uncertainty (which I am sure, is a factor), but as the article points out in closing, it's probably more related to this year's election cycle.  I was speechless when I read the comments.  Many people seem to think that owning firearms will keep the federal government (Obama, in particular, for whatever odd reason) in check and the Second Amendment secure.  There will be a "coming crackdown", according to one poster. 

What a bunch of malarkey.  Out of all the amendments to the Constitution, I'd say that the Second Amendment is probably the safest (talk to the 1st and 4th Amendments, if you really want to see an erosion of rights and protections).  Both because of the overwhelming passion and vigilance of gun owners (which I do find admirable, in a sense) and also, because I don't believe that it bothers the government that much. 

Let me clarify that.  Throughout history, the ability of the populace to check the government has been fairly strong.  What the state had in discipline, force, and slightly more sophisticated weaponry, the people had in sheer numbers.  At this time and place, things are slightly different.  The U.S. has the largest military in the world, a very large domestic security apparatus (FBI, Homeland Security, NSA, CIA, etc.), and a nationwide police force.  On top of that, our government has the most powerful weaponry ever devised.  Tanks, fighter jets, assault rifles and submachine guns, "sonic busters" for breaking up protests.  One can go on and on, but you should get my point.  Which is, the gap between what the people are armed with, and what the government is armed with, is the biggest that it has been in history.  So, I think that's a reason why the government isn't too concerned with taking away people's guns.  They could just take everything else away.  Besides, even if the gun owners do wake up and decide to "take the country back", they can have fun with their peashooters and their hunting rifles against what would be the most powerful, militarized police state in history.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

More Antics in This Election

I've been paying scant attention to this election, and at the moment, it doesn't seem like this Santorum fellow is going to be the GOP nominee.  I still think that the fact he's done as well as he has (2nd in delegates behind the presumed frontrunner, Romney), however, says a lot about the state of our union and its political situation. 

Santorum is currently under fire for remarks that a fire-and-brimstone pastor said at a rally for him.  The pastor said, among other things, that "we" (by "we", he means American citizens) worship Jesus Christ and that anyone who doesn't like it, such as the gay people, the liberals or the pro-abortion people, can just "get the hell out".  Of course, Santorum immediately tried to distance himself from the comments that the pastor made, although you can see him in the video clapping along with everyone else.  This seems a lot like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright controversy back in '08, which looked like it might have sunk then-Senator Obama's chances of being President. 

But the point I wanted to make is that the success of this candidate Santorum says a lot about where our country will be headed politically in the years to come.  As our economic fortunes continue to wane and our futures become more and more uncertain, I feel that a vast amount of people who still vote, will gravitate to maniacs and those who are on the religious fringe.  Assuming that one will still be able to vote this November, or in 2014 or 2016, and so on.  In my opinion, there is a distinct possibility that there will be a real backlash (and not one limited to the far-right) against the kinds of people that the pastor was attacking in his sermon.  Joe Six-Pack, who might not have much in the way of political or social beliefs, might look at the advent in power of gay people and think, "things were okay until these people came along and started forcing their ways on us."  I know that what I'm saying might sound illogical, but hard times and suffering tend to make people hold illogical opinions. 

The Democrats hold a fair amount of blame, if this were to come to pass.  The author Chris Hedges explains this much better than I could; he even has a book about it, "The Death of the Liberal Class", but I'll try my best to explain it.  For decades, in terms of most economic issues, there is little difference between the two parties.  Both the Democrats and Republicans have advocated and passed taxation and financial policies that benefit the top 1% of Americans.  This has taken place as middle-class and working Americans have lost ground, as their jobs are shipped elsewhere and their income stagnates or declines.  Rather than the Democrats acting as an alternative to the money-worshipping GOP, they have largely emulated their allegiances to big business.  These days, the only difference between the two parties lies in the social wedge issues, like abortion and gay rights, which the Democrats usually support.  Hedges refers to this as "boutique activism".  And Democrats will say that the poor rural people "vote against their economic interests" when they vote Republican. 

I don't agree with that.  When working people are losing their jobs and seeing their incomes flatline, regardless of who is in office, they will turn to other issues in order to determine who gets their vote.  If you are a strong believer in God or if you want to own guns, you will probably vote Republican.

I'm going to include two videos from Bill Maher's show, by the director Alexandra Pelosi (daughter of Nancy Pelosi).  One is of voters in Mississippi, many of whom are very critical of Obama.  The other is of voters in New York City, who support Obama because of the stereotype that Democrats keep people on welfare (I love the one guy who refers to government handouts as "Obama bucks").  I find a lot to dislike about both camps, but I do have a slight "less evil" preference for the New York pro-Obama crowd.  At least they're honest about taking handouts, unlike the rural right-wing "get government's hands off my Medicare" types, who rail against big government while accepting any government assistance they can get. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fukushima Residents Scared of Nuclear Radiation

This is a good article from the Guardian about the ramifications of a post-meltdown Fukushima.  It's similar to what I was blogging about last week ("No Nukes in Japan").  One of the people interviewed said that she was no longer eating locally and was buying imported meat and drinking bottled water.  Which led me to wondering: what if these options weren't available?  In a post-oil economy, they very well might be.  If you were a Japanese citizen and did not want to eat food grown in that region as a result of the lingering effects of Fukushima (the nuclear half-life of the substances released into the atmosphere can last for a really long time, on the order of tens of thousands of years or even longer than that), or if some other nuclear disaster developed in some other part of the world, what if it wasn't possible to import food and water that was relatively safe to drink?  These questions make me ponder whether nuclear energy is a positive thing or not. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

65-year-old man subjected to torture and imprisonment for selling...milk

A California man was imprisoned and subjected to a week of torture and cruel & inhumane treatment for selling raw milk.  While considered a health hazard by our government, there are people who knowingly value the health benefits of raw milk and wish to purchase it.  I am not one of those (have never had it, so can't tell you one way or the other how I feel), but do feel that people should have the right to drink raw milk if they wish.  This right is available in other countries around the world, but not here in the "land of the free". 

I was reading the summary of what happened to James Stewart, the man who was subjected to this foul treatment, and thought of something.  It seems that whenever I read of really cruel treatment in our penal system, it's never from a convicted murderer or a rapist; whether this actually does happen and is just unreported, I don't know.  But when I do hear of cruel treatment, it's usually visited upon a protestor or someone like Mr. Stewart, who is circumventing the way things are traditionally done in the U.S. and offering people another option.  This threatens the power structure and if you do this, it seems an eventuality before you are taken in and made an example out of.  Just look at the bail that was set for Mr. Stewart: $1 million.  For selling raw milk. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

No Nukes in Japan

This is a good New York Times article on how the Japanese are scared of using nuclear power since last year's Fukushima Daiichi disaster, to the point where all 54 of their reactors have, or will soon, go offline.  The Japanese have avoided shortages up to this point due to a crash program, but this has left them more reliant on fossil fuels that are mostly imported from other countries.  Articles like this reinforce my opinion that in a post-oil economy, nuclear power is probably our most viable option if we want to maintain any kind of semblance to the lives that we currently live. 

The clincher comes at the end, where the mayor of a Japanese town, after demanding new guidelines and safety measures from the government before the plants should reopen, then admits that the reactors will have to be restarted anyway in the event of economic slowdown or energy shortages.  A fisherman who was also interviewed acknowledges that no one wants to go back to a world without TV's or smartphones.