Thursday, 5 December 2013

travelling matte

More documents leaked to the press by the Fugitive reveal that US intelligence has the capability and apparently the prerogative to track the whereabouts of some five billion cellular telephones, the world's human population, per day. As the Washington Post reveals, with an array of special-programmes under names like CO-TRAVLER, the National Security Agency is able not only to intercept communications but also to plot the location of the devices and their users even when the phone is not actively sending or receiving—American reporting hinging on the fact that indiscriminate surveillance, almost apologetically those unfortunate and misguided Americans abroad, has culled some native mapping and associations—inadvertently.
Making self-reflection the biggest transgression always makes me angry about this sort of coverage, which comes at the expense of the rest of the population, as if their privacy was a trifling thing. With such a universe of star-crossed paths to reference, of course, analysts can retrace steps and build quite telling profiles (or misconstructions) through the gleaned habits and contacts of individuals. Of course, we've all too willingly outfitted ourselves and our lifestyles with these homing devices and pay a handsome ransom for the shackles of convenience, presence and awareness and such clever and useful tools were not doled out like identity papers or cattle-brands for these ends alone. It does seem odd, ironic that there is so much glee over the state-of-the-art when that's all the tidier to survey, with or without industry cooperation.

Monday, 2 December 2013

relative poverty

I cannot add anything of value to this narrative regarding concerning a live in endless cycle of poverty without the luxury of planning or the sort of fancy, subsidised foresight that we imagine ourselves to enjoy from an outsiders' perspective, except that this story is a provoking and important one to read (and reflect upon and share) and apply to ones own contrived blinders.

It is very important not to dismiss apparent bad decisions that contribute to caste and culture but in order not to deflect the critique, we have to recognise the cells that we each condemn ourselves to—not matter how much more pleasantly dressed than the alternative of being poor without end and without the ostentation of daring otherwise. It is better, I think, to live without privilege, however defined or misconstrued, than to go without empathy and circumspection and the hope to be able to distinguish a tool from a decoy of convention.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

till by turning, we come around 'right

Writing for the ever surprising and peripatetic Neatorama, Miss Cellania turns our attention to the avatars of Thankgivings past. Of course, originally, the feast was a communal celebration—an aspect that continues to the orphaned. I have enjoyed quite a few good and grateful meals in the company of strangers in the mess-hall. With gentrification, however, it became a chance for being seen and ostentation, by dining among peers in the swankest, most exclusive restaurants. I like the idea of community though the idea of privilege over noblisse-oblige and flaunting of ones means not so much. Thanksgiving dinner retreated to a private affair, prepared at home and an inviting rather than insular affair, with the signals from the economic downturn that followed this gilded age.

Friday, 8 November 2013

doctor pangloss, i presume?

Though this kind of story might seem a bit belaboured—in spite and because of the very cultural isolationism of gentrification which causes the wealthy and the poor to believe their station in life exactly what it ought to be and every one else is just as fortunate featured in the article, Zero Hedge has a list of twenty-one facts and figures that add insult to injury. Such a brand of capitalism does not seem equitable at all and only designed to support the illusion of limitless opportunities and detached entitlements.





Sunday, 27 October 2013

revolving-door

Reading an insightful article from the New York Times, at the recommendation of the watchdog group Corporate Observatory Europe concerning the metastasising lobbying-culture that America has helped introduced to the European Union and while the trend is most disturbing, I paused to wonder in today's environment where hypocrisies are immediately exposed (and though sometimes buried again right away but the truth will out, always) and only muddied by spin and ideologues whose sophistry is only grounded in commissions if such pressures and duplicity actually still meant anything. Bad behaviour and half-truths once uncovered become rather indefensible, like that other American commodity of surveillance, which has rendered secrecy and respect irrelevant. Does it matter that legislation is bullied or lubricated by influence-peddlers when their roles are subject to more and more public displays and outfitted with corporate logos like NASCAR racers and other niche sports before their audiences?

We all know who the puppet-masters are, even if the free-press is not sacrosanct neither. It is rather telling, however, of the troupes of legal-eagles entrenched in Brussels, making a corridor of lobby groups around the halls of power, have introduced recruitment of former politicians, fresh out of office, to ply their know-how, whereas before this was not a common practise, representatives content to retire or harmlessly play the grey-imminence to younger generations. As voters grow wise to these culture-shift that blurs the distinction between corporate and public interests, I hope that relaxing of standards and changing of priorities become harder to hide from view. Democratic processes and due review cannot simply become something of a show, a formality to be overcome, and hopeful the combined lag of bureaucracy on a super-national level, frustrating as it can be sometimes, can work also to uncover and slow the work of lobbyists.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

rushmore syndrome

There is a name and rather long history, it seems, associated with the closure of popular and highly visible attractions and programmes in the midst of a budget crisis—whether or not the cordoning-off has anything to materially do with the financial issue at hand.
Like using teachers, soldiers, first responders or 9/11 as fodder for another volley, the so called Washington Monument or Mount Rushmore Syndrome has been invoked time and time again, by politicians of all stripes either to sugar-coat unpopular riders or to demonstrate that good civics cannot necessarily pick and choose cosier services to the exclusion of others. Such actions, however, are more than symbolic considering, despite the toolishness and visitors and caretakers affected and whose weariness and frustrations are mounting, that the cobbling together of concessions, without real compromise or earnest efforts to address the root of galloping and perennial problems, has gone on for years—absent a showdown or truce.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

enumerated powers


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

pollster or keep calm and carry on

One would think given the virtual omnipresence of America's spying-apparatus, some one in the US government—with influence—might have had an inkling at least of how unpopular and damagingly disruptive a government shutdown and the emergency furlough to follow would prove. Enough studious bureaucrats were wringing their hands over it for days, working frantically, mongering rumours and nursing disbelief to gauge public reaction and sentiment. For that matter, one would think that the intelligence agencies would have had some insider-knowledge and could have predicted the stalemate in the legislature and where the cracks are forming in each side's stance and whom will eventually give in. Though non-essential services have been curtailed, time is still of the essence and only after one full day of this new reality, panic and doom is setting in. As for the households directly impacted, dreading a pay-check even docked by a few days' pay that may never materialise because money is tight mostly already spent, the mounting inconveniences that lurk after funding is appropriated with weeks of catch-up, shuttered monuments, parks and museums, and science projects put on hold weren't already reason enough to find a quick resolution—there are attendant consequences.
Among the knock-on worries are the Federal Depositors' Insurance Commission (FDIC) being incapacitated and unable to launch any new investigations should a bank declare bankruptcy, the potential for delays in ship- and airfreight for a nation warehoused with vulnerable, interdependent just-in-time systems or that the federal courts will exhaust remaining funds in ten days or so. A few days more and business and the exchanges will begin to commiserate as well as more and more deadlines are trounced. So much for omnipotence, I guess.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

it could happen here

Dum, dum, dum—Slate Magazine introduces what promises to be a brilliant series of lampoons describing American politics in terms and with the tutting tone traditionally employed by journalists for limning the situation in distant lands, unfortunately inexhaustible as well.
The first vignette is of course on the curious case of the government shut-down, which probably seems to the rest of the world as it unfolds as some arcane, secretarial matter to be resolved directly. This spot of bother, which is in fact a manufactured crisis, does seem anomalous and dressed in peculiarities of national laws, sort of like day-light savings time being out of sync, non-residential taxation, or resistance to the metric-system, until the founding factors and very real repercussions are considered. A hand was forced, and not on principle alone, but to not make security for the least protected more of a slippery-slope—an inch for a mile, and the delayed, bemusement of the subjects' of America's customary critique speaks volumes.

Monday, 30 September 2013

speakeasy or yes, minister

For some time there has been a continual soap-opera cycling in the hallowed halls of the US government, yet it is hardly the stuff of dramaturgy without great license and a keen imagination, being that the dialogue outside of what the public is subjected to and the secretive pow-wows whose proceedings are all to easy to envision, is the sum total of the exchange. The two parties do not engage one another off-line, as big as the growing disconnect between civilian and military leaders. That is not to say that backroom, unregulated deals are preferable—enough of those end up codified without the watch-dog of checks and balances or the consent of the public that the elected legislature is supposed to represent, but at least, without too much theatre or romanticism, there was in the past the water-cooler, the break-room or social-dues that saw senators and congressmen, regardless of political ilk, spending time together at private haunts, after hours.
This club culture is undone by hasty retreats to their constituencies whenever recess is called, which no matter how short can find repre- sentatives home and back again in no time and the conscience decision not to filter one's public and private lives. Thinking of two congressmen casually finding commonalities by forgetting differences and spending a spare moment together seems unfortunately like a laughable prospect nowadays, for fear one might question their party loyalties. I couldn't say whether any great compromised was ever reached in Congress by a dining-out but it's a fact that only keeping company that's like-minded is quite sufficient for justifying one's own views—or rather the unshakable views that one is expected to have.


Friday, 27 September 2013

aca, ada, abracabra

It is the Anti-Deficiency Act of 1882, as amended, that puts the American government in the precarious situation of dismissing some one-third, deemed non-essential—which has the interesting ring of the imagination of Douglas Adams (not a statesman)—of its workforce without compensation. The government will still discharge its duty to protect, duty to warn with a skeleton crew, who themselves will not see their salary until such time as Congress has set a budget, being legally bound against the incursion of further debts that it cannot vouch for. The last time a full government shut-down happened, notwithstanding many intermediate close-calls and political staring-contests, was in the winter of 1995 and 1996 and I remember being quite frustrated that the National Galleries were closed to visitors and I came expressly to see a special Rembrandt exhibit.
I was content, however, at the time with making snow-angels on the Capitol. There were dread inconveniences (a weak word) to public services and those employees embargoed, and this time we can only project the impact of disrupting the paper-push of bureaucracy the hardship of individuals just now starting to recover from the last rounds of an administrative-, as opposed to an emergency-, furlough, though the predictions of doom and despair did not come to fruition at-large and the output of the federal government is largely invisible and looks expendable until one is personally affected by the loss of a cog or two. Though the causes reach back much further and the US government has expanded into something unwieldy and self-serving—surely to be redressed by follow-on show-downs like the looming matter of America's debt burden that will make this intransigence seem like theatre, the major bone of contention that is keeping the legislative branch staunchly divided is over another Act, the Affordable Care Act (a new idea only to America, though, with most of the rest of the world having put universal health-coverage in place long ago), and not in costs, immediate nor long-term, but rather in perception and principle. The devil's advocate seems to keep company with a business-lobby not renowned for its fair labour-practices to begin with, and considering that all of the really awful and onerous laws that the US has implemented and unleashed upon the rest of the world (lately, at least, if not always) have been done so at the beck-and-call of this same cartel, perhaps it would be wise to consider careful what these groups through inflexible fear-mongering might be trying to un-write.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

laissez-faire is everywhere

There were several stories in circulation this week, echoing from many corners of the world and many times without deference to this being the fifth anniversary of the collapse of the too-big-to-fail financial house whose downfall placed economics internationally in chaos, that proclaimed real and shadow markets to be fully recovered and no longer in danger of relapse.

Maybe some early optimists took the occasion to express a brighter outlook and the mimics missed the crux of the context and rather not let ancient history complicate an apparent slow-news day or revive unpleasant memories and fueled with the hopes of returning to simpler and more trusting times—an economic nostalgia when the labour situation in Greece had nothing to do with the price of eggs and banks were an insulating factor true to their word that tomorrow could only be bigger and better. Indeed, some the language was reminiscent of the patriotic overtures to just go shopping in the aftermath of the September 11 Attacks to restore the world economy. Never mind about confidences shaken and disintegrated, the disclosure of inflationary and unethical practices, the stark shift away from social good and board and bed lost and increasingly aggressive circling-of-wagons by the banking aristocracy and their court, their sophists—journalism being a big part of that estate, to keep the game going. Dwelling on the negative and preaching doom and gloom is only helpful as a reminder and urging precaution—not that pathological adventurers need inspiration, but I do wonder sometimes who sponsors such spin and de-programming.

Friday, 13 September 2013

austausch, b-gosh

Long had European Union Commissioner for Internal Affairs Malmstrรถm held her tongue over the on-going revelations of the breadth and depth of indiscriminate intelligence gathering on the part of the US—not, I think, out of a lack of concern or zeal but rather to not bait controversy prematurely, but digesting the reported reach of the spying, suggested that the lack of transparency could lead to the EU's withdrawal from the SWIFTBanking Treaty with the United States.

The agreement provides that the signatories hand over certain financial transactions to America, in the name of combating tax-evasion and money-laundering and rooting out all imaginable evils. Malmstrรถm, after learning how the SWIFT clearing-house for international bank transfers is apparently already subject to eavesdropping, she questions why they are now asking permission. Her statements have galvanised the parliament in Strasbourg and several factions have agreed to join together with demands that all cards be laid on the table, including back-door practices. Quitting the treaty would be a significant affront US-EU relations and mark the first time that a bilateral data-sharing (Austausch) arrangement was challenged—a few of which the Swedish commissioner herself helped orchestrate.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

naming-convention or store-brand

Who knew that pharmaceutical companies get to choose what the generic equivalent (the chemical formula for the active, essential ingredient) of their branded drugs are called—and within well-defined boundaries of pseudo-Latin and truth-in-advertising decided by a commission of grammarians?
Though free to name their patent-medicine whatever they see fit (that's not already claimed) there are restrictions imposed by the American body that governs such things are generally adhered to around the world. The rules include that prefixes that imply bigger, better, stronger, faster cannot be used nor any that name a certain part of the body nor a specific disease or handicap, and classes of drugs have their own root word, like -azepam for anti-anxiety drugs or -lukast for asthma treatments. One can find more details at the link. Though not the ones to vet new medicines, having these rules do not inspire confidence—for me, at least. Further, they can be fun names but I do wonder why companies have interest in preserving their discovery, surname, after their licenses and patents have expired.

Friday, 9 August 2013

speakeasy or mayor mac cheese

Via Slate Magazine, we find out that the kids' menu is not merely an extension of the atavism of adult palettes—to the same level of maturity for refinement, or an attempt to inculcate young and impressionable adherents but rather come from a strange mix in America of medicine, morality and marketing.

Prohibition really opened the doors to the younger crowd and created the concept of the family restaurant. Prior to America's ban on alcohol consumption, restaurants not embedded in a hotel generally did not serve children—a phrase from whence similar punchlines stem, because they tended to be in the way and interfered with the imbibing of adult-beverages, still today any restaurant's biggest profit-maker. In order to make up for lost revenues, restauranteurs looked to catering to family-units. Unaccustomed to making dining out an experience for the youngsters too, parents needed to be presented with a certain level of reassurance, a fare for children that seemed safe and balanced, given all sorts of fretful ideas swirling with nutritional and age-appropriate foods. Compared to the gourmet dishes adults were served, kids got basically bland and safe concoctions—nothing to inspire returning when they reached dining majority, the meals were dictated by the prevailing pedagogical thoughts of the times—nothing too challenging or threatening for immature tastes nor anything indulgent. I wonder how the consequent moon-shining affected the public psyche.  The industry trend has shifted these days to a denominator of guilty-pleasures, it seems.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

redux or fe-fi-furlough II

While I am very happy that the forced vacation of the majority of Defense Department workers ending some the hardships incurred on individuals and families and the discontinuity of work, faced now with the alternative, layoffs and a reduction in force seem even more unpalatable.

As for the rest of the the US government, I am not sure how the posture is affected. Part of me thinks (surely the prophet of doom part) that the department should have let it run its course, since the military is seeming less and less credible in its estimation of consequences—in some eyes right now: the warnings were most dire, grounding fleets and ships and making America vulnerable defensively and offensively, which according to outside perspectives, did not come to pass and the scope of the furlough was steadily revised downward, until all but eliminated through some tricks of accounting. Cuts in pay and hours of work were never the solution and seeing the threat through to prove a point is just as bad as the stubborn political brinksmanship that pushed the budget crisis and the follow-on effects in the first place. A temporary reprieve, however, may prove to be a cost no one can afford later down the line. I am sure real cost-savings were far in the negative range and the balance of sequestration remains. No deal on the budget is forthcoming and relations and realities have not improved. Savings—or at least the show thereof, will have to be excised from elsewhere, and politics, prone to the usual array of interests that can subvert the public-good, surely will prevail and fail.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

cri de couer or you can't handle the truth

Although I still declare that anyone truly shocked by learning that the world is the prying, groping place is a measure naรฏve or even complacent or complicit, public attention and outrage ought not be placated by life intimato Ars, the words of prophets of doom, or by practicality, commonality—offensive aspirations.

As more is revealed, everyone will have transgressions against the public trust to confess and defend. Arguing that tolerance and reciprocation do not justify the ends invite the same kind of arrogance of seeing the Big Picture, omnipresence, as does the intelligence Manifest Destiny of the US and conspirators. The disabusing quality of the former is far from palatable and probably inures one to the successive headlines—not only in bed with the telecommunication utilities, foreign intelligence agencies but also trawling from the series of tubes, upstream, that make up the internet and now there is an apparent mandate for snitching that's a free-pass for going beyond regular nosiness and jumping to conclusions and this mass-deputization is bound to go above and beyond—and may go far, in a social sense, of explaining why there is a poignant absence of rage on the perpetrating and perpetrated public—that and a convenient coalescing of economic conditions and conditional victories that deflect securities as a very—be-not-proud personal choice.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

percentile or blue-screen

The press seemingly have an obligation to announce their special-coverage with an infographic or a dramatic-photo montage and an orchestral strike. For continuing development concerning the government budget sequestration and mitigating measures, like furloughing defense department employees—with the caveat that contracted, conscripted or otherwise exempt personnel should not be utilised to make up for lost work, one publication went with, I think, a very unfortunate symbol to illustrate a cut in 20% in pay for affected workers—evocative of a time when the Pentagon was really and truly lamed. Perhaps in some ways, it is good to trim back the rhetoric with such stoppage and temporary estoppel but from the perspective of personal hardships and future knock-on effects, it quickly reveals itself as unacceptable and counterproductive.

Friday, 5 July 2013

franking privilege or going postal

It's not as if anything is sacred any longer and such snooping it certainly nothing new or nuanced but I would have thought that the snoops would be less inclined to go after data that's not digitised or clearly verifiable, but—and despite that knowing for years the US Postal Service “scanned” envelops to print a machine-readable zip code, long before optical character recognition was very advanced and long since the ability to print one's own barcodes and postage stamps developed, the so-called Mail-Cover Programme—there being no reasonable expectation of privacy between the from and to lines, has not relented and is going stronger than ever, with the ability to image and archive route of every piece of mail in the country, and perhaps beyond.
In order to steam open the envelop, a request need only be forwarded to the Post itself for approval and such a closed system of judge and juror has set precedence for prying into electronic correspondence as well. Being subject to tracing and inspection of course helps uncover networks after the fact and hopefully going forward, like any good detective work—scams, illicit trade and sympathies but such insatiate methods really only help build dossiers, accurate or otherwise, rather than keeping anyone safe and secure.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

painting the roses red or mezzoamerica

Though not necessarily enjoying the moral high-ground due to their own speculative surveillance practices, China and Russia have little reason to dignify threats from the US over harbouring a fugitive from Justice.
Ecuador's bold and unflinching withdrawal, however, from a export regime, instituted to curb cocaine production, with America in response to sabre-rattling over its willingness to grant Snowden asylum is an act of standing up to bullies and the system deserving of one of those slow claps that gallop to a round of applause. The US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee has moved to deny the South American country preferential treatment in trade—something like a Most-Favoured status which is accorded to some 130 nations. The defiance is more than symbolic, since though they will find other willing buyers for their oil and other natural resources, the vegetable and cut-flower industies will take a hit. Ecuador even does its tormentors one better—not only rejecting this framework to end the blackmail but offering to repatriate or render the equivalent millions of dollars it has realised in benefits to the US to fund institutions and programmes in support of transparency, civil liberties and protecting the right to privacy.