Thursday, 19 November 2015

fakery and fraudulence

I’ve finally received my long-awaited love letter from the Office of Personnel Management informing me that the totality of personal information has been compromised in a targeted cyber-attack, with the private details of my family and associates as well.
“Our records also indicate that your fingerprints were likely compromised during the cyber intrusion. Federal experts believe the ability to misuse fingerprint data is currently limited. However, this could change over time as technology evolves…” As recompense, the correspondence encourages me to register in a sort of identity-theft monitoring and protection programme, but I don’t know if I’ll be signing up as there’s not much there to instil a sense of confidence in their stewardship of any more individual data. When bits and pieces are stolen, it seems that something so easily lost isn’t worth protecting to begin with but it’s getting really intimate when a whole comprehensive profile is exposed.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

bouillabaisse

I remember noting how back in 2008 through declassified CIA service records that gourmand, connoisseur and television cooking show pioneer Julia Child had served in the OSS—the Office of Security Services, the agency’s precedent incarnation, and being rather surprised but also cognizant that thousands of other women who weren’t celebrities had to maintain absolute silence on their early careers as well, which was surely an insult after being let go at the factories and laboratories once the crisis ended and being condemned to being merely house-proud.
Bea Arthur and Doctor Ruth Westheimer are in the same class as Child with many others surely to be disclosed posthumously. Until recently, however, I had not appreciated what Child’s war-time contributions were: the Smith College graduate and heiress volunteered for a duty assignment in Ceylon, and despite having not yet discovered her passion for kitchen chemistry, undertook to develop an effect shark-repellent. Aside from attacking overboard sailors and ejected airmen, curious sharks were thwarting Allied efforts to blockade Axis submarines in southeast Asia by getting themselves blown up by mines. Heretofore, the only known shark-repellent was the rotting carcass of another dead shark, which was not a very palatable part of one’s kit. Though not a perfect deterant (which even for its faults might be added to the quiver of current beach life-guard crews), Child’s team did manage to isolate certain copper-compounds that approximated the aversion of having a dead shark in the vicinity. Child married a fellow OSS staff member and were stationed subsequently in post-war France but with only her husband commissioned as an intelligence official. Going back to those tradition house-wifely duties, Child was introduced to French cuisine as sort of a transfiguring experience and became resolved to share this joy of cooking—plus the consumption, pairing of wine with meals—with a wider audience and worked passionately toward this goal rather than resigning into the background. Bon appetit!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

tow the line or beyond the bumper sticker

Via Neatorama comes a cavalcade of crap to proudly show one’s party affiliation for the rather crowded class of contenders. I feel much sorrow for our American friends and what they’re about to be subjected to—no matter who pulls into the lead, and I sincerely hope that the candidates had no input whatsoever into what awful, hokey merchandise that there names are attached to. I couldn’t imagine any of this going through the paces of an official endorsement.
I suppose some of these high-ticket, collectibles could be a way of individual donors getting around campaign contribution limitations, but I do not know for sure.  Take a look at the full emporium at Gizmodo in case you find yourself in need of a Clinton beer coozie or a Bush guacamole bowl or a signed copy of the US constitution by an independent candidate. Given these dynastic struggles, I am not even sure what decade it is over there.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

mall rats

In an age of abandoned ghost malls, empty main streets and the gutted department store victim to shingles that are not brick-and-mortar, BLDGBlog turns to look at the pioneer of the original venue that offered an embarrassment of choices in architect, marketer and very much an agoraphile (not under the open skies but rather a lover of the Agora, the bustling, gossipy marketplace of Antiquity) by the name of Victor Gruen. Psychologically-speaking, Gruen lends his name to a phenomenon called the Gruen Transfer, when one’s hunter-gatherer instinct is saturated to a point where one’s original objective is, under a type of manipulation if not duress, diverted and expanded. Even though we may no longer physically congregate in the commons to be subjected to such an experience—which may not be confined to shopping but rather may extended to all of our divisive, distracted decisions—the Gruen Transfer easily translates to the online environment, of bargain-hunting, sharing and haranguing that tend to take place concurrently and with one fell-swoop.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

siss boom ba

Just in time for US Independence Day (and probably equally valid for Bastille Day), Mental Floss presents an animated field guide for identifying the various standard effects used in pyrotechnic displays. I never knew that they had specific names, other than “ohh” and “ahh.” The image used of a frozen firework in bloom is a long-exposure image captured deftly by the brilliant photographer David Johnson at a show in Australia with more examples at the link.

Monday, 8 June 2015

hobohemian

Collectors’ Weekly took a field-trip to the Hobo Museum in Britt, Iowa—an old railhead and switching station back in the days when locomotion was a form of social-safety net, and returned to share a really engrossing, in depth look at the lifestyle, code-of-conduct, origins and legacy of these itinerant workers who comprised a sizable demographic of America’s population spanning a huge historical swath from the aftermath of the US Civil War all the way through the Great Depression and the onset of World War II.
Returning, aggrieved from battle to find homesteads overrun, many men discovered themselves homeless and continued to soldier on in look of employment—this mobile workforce, not seeking hand-outs and wanting to preserve their reputation, helped to create the infrastructure, like the railways that created commerce and opened up westward expansion and became the conduits that the hobos relied on themselves. The culture of these migrant workers was a rich and nuanced one, fraught with danger and discrimination at times, and in addition to the formative force it was for America, it has also left behind some expressive fossils in American speech, like yahoo (a brute who’s proud of his wanton ignorance—possibly in deference to Gulliver’s Travels), working stiff (for those unfortunates tethered to a fixed home and job), junkie (an addict), chow (for food) and hunky dory. The article is certainly worth the read in its entirety and it always pays in spades to check out the website that celebrates curators of all sorts of stories.

libidinous or better living through chemistry

The magnanimous souls of the pharmaceutical industry have managed to create another product to fulfil a need that didn’t exist—sometimes I wonder how close marketing and rampant capitalism is to the ´pataphysical—this time, in pill-form, a drug whose litany of side-effects include stimulating a woman’s libido. It’s bad enough that we’re willing to cede our trust and confidence so lightly to institutions that deserve far more scrutiny, but what really galls me is that medical science considers the possibility of a woman not being a vamp at all times a greater “unmet need” than say a male version of the birth-control pill or something that might knock testosterone levels down a few notches.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

apple-core, baltimore

Quartz Magazine, punctuated with the hashtag #HistoryMatters, presents, I think, an important respectful overview of the dynamics behind urban decay and the general neglect and disdain of white-flight and corporate-flight that has led to the creation of this tense situation, simmering out of mind for decades. Just as onlookers find it incredulous that residents would burn and loot their only grocery outlet in their neighbourhood, no one is asking the more fundamental question why there was only an overpriced drug store and not a grocery market available to them and no one asks why the world is now captivated but hardly concerned with the long history of the city’s decline and the decisions that undermined its institutions and infrastructure.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

backmasking and beelzebub

From the Red Scare to recovered memories (with all the cringe-worthy hysteria of satanic sacrifice, subliminal song lyrics, and the general hallmarks that typify the industry of scaring the privileged classes), Alternet presents an outline that covers in brief the eruption of successive social panics in the US. Even though some of these terrors passed in the main as quickly as they came, their formative causes that appealed to the mass imagination and insecurities on a resounding level and their knock-on effects are still lingering and primed to champion the next. These assaults are not only against science, understandably fuelled by businesses outside of public-purview whose own privilege is fail-safe, but can be rallied against reason itself. This does not seem to bode well for the world at large, who's now even more closely committed to the rage
and mania of Americans.

Friday, 30 January 2015

link roundup: five-by-five

tiny bubbles: that fizzy sensation is actually the flavour of carbon-dioxide

does not stay in vegas: charter flights for employees of area 51

convoi-exceptionel: polish trucking companies blanch at new german minimum wage laws

hils and tanketorsk plus eight other nifty danish words

new york, new york: gotham perennially threatens to secede from the rest of the state

Thursday, 15 January 2015

jail-break or walled-garden

Though today’s conversation has adopted such colourfully metaphoric language, the same problems of communication dominated by a few industry giants, privacy and consumer-protection have a history, lively and just as shameful and grasping, that goes back at least to the advent of telephony and probably reaches much further back with the implements, tried and true, of blacklisting, censorship and charters. Before the United States recognised and rejected the monopoly that Bell conglomerate had on the public’s telephone lines, people and businesses did not purchase their telephones but rather rented units from Bell with a monthly subscription—pretty much the same situation we have today, being untethered physically but still locked into contracts that are bundled with gadgets and accessories tied to the service.

A pair of cases, first lodged against municipalities that used a central dispatch to communicate with police vehicles, fire truck and ambulances, and more irking to the phone company, to summon taxi cabs, via the Carterphone that allowed radio-messages to be delivered to cars by piggy-backing on existing land-lines, and then against the manufacturers of a mouth piece called the Hush-a-Phone, which actually did improve upon the standard-issue receivers’ design and made the callers’ conversation clear and made calls more private as claimed (presumably as people need not shout at one another to be heard). The courts rule that such innovations were the prerogative of end-users to purchase and enhance their calls, such as they did not interfere with the rest of the traffic. These precedential decisions eventual not only contributed to the statutory break up of Ma Bell (a move that was apparently never forgot and has reformed with a vengeance in the form of closely connected cartels and the same paucity of choice) but also other inventions that were allowed to infringe on that once tightly controlled territory, like fax machines, modems and the internet.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

narc or g-men

Confronted with a novel and underhanded stratagem in America’s other endless war, the US Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Agency is defending its actions, which amount to the apotheosis of witness-protection. The government maintains that agencies have the right to impersonate suspected drug traffickers and cadets, using the photographs and data commandeered from any and all sources, and create a phony persona in order to lure unknown associates, since if one is accused of selling illicit drugs (this one instance covered happened before the case even went to trial) one automatically has forfeited one’s humanity and any identity would revert to the state. Not only is this the height of brutality and cowardice but it also puts the libeled stool pigeons at serious risk, in case one of the contacts trapped this way decide get revenge on the supposed betrayer.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

blue light special or lender of last resort

A major American retailer has finally managed to run rings around regulators and public-interest groups and is able to additionally bundle bank-like services for its patrons, many of whom belong to the demographic where they cannot avoid this particular discounter and are not of the means to be courted by other financial institutions.

The infamously miserly business-model of this company already enjoys the reputation of the destroyer of small businesses and Main Street, USA—long before on-line commerce was accused of demolishing brick-and-mortar, patronising suppliers of questionable ilk, and well as—being the employer of a large percentage of the workforce—pays workers so poorly that they could not get by without government assistance, supplemented by tax-payers at the expense of other public-good, and really the tithe and tax on the poor that the government tried to make less painful. The tithe is in the fine-print, as the banking-outreach seems rather harmless and even magnanimous at first, but there are transaction- and maintenance-fees that ensure a steady bleeding with hardly an infusion. The powerful lobbying arm of this corporation has additionally blocked any legislation that might award the same sort of bank-like powers to a lumbering US Postal Service, despite the system's obviously good geographical spread and the fact that post offices did exactly that until its charter was not renewed in the mid 1960s. What do you think? I have to ask, as I do not have the privilege of ever shopping there.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

gentrification or the YUN ones

The Daily Beast featured recently a bitter-sweet and thought-provoking interview and profile of a blogger who is passionately documented the death-knells of a great metropolis. New York City is being summarily and quickly terraformed into a suburban-idyll, a playground acceptable to American Mid-Western standards and values and is being turned away from its eclectic identity.

The main reasons behind this lamentable, and frustratingly unstoppable, transformation is clearly exponentially high rents that price not only residents but also small shops out of the market, with only monied franchises to act as place-holders and no real anchors of the community—plus the leadership of Gotham over the last decade that helped to sanitize the landscape and insert comfortable order. It is a warning, years in the making but accelerating exponentially, that other great cities failed to heed, like London, Paris and the larger cities of Germany, too, that are quickly becoming unlivable and sacrificing their character and drive, despite the hard lessons of the property-bubble and subsequent burst, tendered by the same conditions. There is another less flattering contributor to this change that is not easy to address: inheriting the success of the Yuppies, the Young Urban Narcissists (YUNs) are pleased to have this backdrop for their curricula vitarum without dealing with the grittiness and reminders of bootstrapping and failure that do not belong in the picture. What do you think? Is a balance possibly for urban blight? The blogger, though angry and sad to see this charm slip away, has no plans to leave because he also has the chance to find those redeeming malingerers.

Friday, 4 July 2014

one percenters or singing for your supper

Although there have been recent developments in the court room that seem to favour hyper-capitalism, I suspect that litigation between the government of Argentina and a hedge-fund manager is far from over. When the South American nation's economy was down-and-out and on the verge of collapse, a band of merry angel investors bought up bonds at a few pennies on the dollar. Now that the Argentine economy is back on its feet and the bonds have matured, from being not worth the paper they were printed on to being worth billions of dollars (on paper) and the hedge-fund team is demanding payment in full. Never mind that making this payment would destroy the Argentine market all over again and the their initial predatory investment did not in anyway help the country to extract itself from the financial mess, which is ostensibly why countries expose themselves to such vultures in the first place. US judges have again ruled that the hedge-fund manager has the right to his claim—though it would be nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. Though smug and satisfied with this impossible ruling, I think that they would like nothing more than to see the proceedings drag on and only threaten to foreclose on Argentina, since that's what banks do best.  As sad as this tale is, it is not unique.
With historically low interest rates, banks are disinclined still to lend to mere mortals when or conduct the non-swash-buckling daily work of the institutions, being that the banks themselves can afford to borrow money from central banks the world over at say one percent interest and use that loan to purchase government bonds and securities, which pays dividends back to the bank of two to three percent, effectively making the government pay banks for this bit of the banksters' entertainment. Why would the bother with anything else than this safe and secure scheme? Government and the markets conspire to keep this economic theatre going, making cosmetic adjustments here and there when the system looks in danger of collapse.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

federales or blazing saddles

The first mechanised incursion of the United States of America into battle, with motor vehicles, aircraft and even the first incidence of intelligence gathering in the form of wire-tapping and radio interception—in the name of national security, occurred in 1916 with the so-called Punitive Expedition against Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa.  After the exile of the monarchy, a dictatorial government took hold of Mexico, which supported the lingering high level of gentrification among peasants and wealthy estate-holders for some thirty years.  The Villistas sought to break-up the Hacienda-System, and enjoyed the materiel support of the US government for these raids—the intent being to install a friendly and democratic government.  Once that objective was met, however, the support of the US withered and publicly backed the less radical faction of the Revolutionaries, who did not share the vision of Pancho Villa of social equality nor his violent tactics (with a lot of horse-robbery), as more politically palatable.
The casus belli that followed is of course debatable, but America mobilised some 5000 troops to hunt down Villa and his com- patriots—dead or alive, after Villa reputedly pillaged a border town in New Mexico, killing dozens of US citizens.  If Villa personally directed this attack, it was due—or exacerbated at least, to the munition supplier there either demanding payment in gold, though they had already paid thousands in US dollars and/or delivery of defective merchandise. As the chase was being prosecuted under the leadership of General John Pershing—curiously with the help of mercenaries from China that comprised more than ten percent of the fighting force at a point in US history where immigration for persons of an Asian background was banned completely, which were rewarded after the mission with citizenship, provided they work in army mess halls—several other border towns came forward, claiming to be victimised by Villistas though these other incursions into US territory were later disproven. The hunt continued for months but the wanted individual evaded capture, and the adventure was eventually called off due to the US entrance in World War I. Officially, the mission was declared a success, since no other US towns were terrorised, but privately Pershing held that it was a shameful failure and a dangerous precedent for American chest-pounding, despite the logistical baptism of modern warfare.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

amnestรญa or the children's crusade

The United States has a penchant for decades of turning a problem into an absolute disaster, although these upgrades seem to be happening at a much quicker pace lately—mass surveillance, Iraq, Afghanistan, the health care system, kleptocracy, gun control, environmental stewardship.   And now America is fomenting a grave humanitarian crisis with immigration policy with an overwhelming (if the medium is to be believed) incursion of children and youth walking great distances, unaccompanied, to cross into States.  It not as if this situation materialised overnight but tens of thousands of young people have been placed in temporary shelters or released to live with friends or family.  As attention turns to this situation, the government has responded by designating military bases as temporary homes, flying the children away from the border region, and providing legal champions to assist the young people with the naturalization process.  Politicians, from all persuasions, are afraid to say anything cross about the situation and broader repercussion it inevitably bring for fear of appearing racist or xenophobic—or simply uncaring for these refugees that have walked, alone, from Central America to Texas.  Parents apparently were willing to abandon their children to such an arduous and dangerous march lured by promises of a better life in America and what’s being interpreted as a lure, an open invitation to come to America, where no one—especially children, is being turned away.

This is unspeakably irresponsible in the short-term and in the long-term, as immigration authorities do not have the means to keep track of all these young people (as they are undocumented and unlikely to have already surrendered their identities to the internet and competent authorities) as they arrive and are sent off to destinations unknown.  There is no process in place to handle this sort of influx, or fairly apportion benefits and support promised which the US cannot or is lacking the political will to provide to its own citizens and no way to follow up on these baptisms by trafficking.  Aside from an already over-burdened delivery system for financial support (backed by script that’s of highly subjective value), what about America’s schools, hospitals and jobs-market?  Those institutions, failing by many estimations already, I think, would completely buckle under the added weight.   More immediately, the conditions under which the children are sheltered are rapidly deteriorating and there is a very serious threat of disease, not to mention the crowding and the heat.  Such a welcoming reception is dangerous and underhanded and most cruel.  America has long gone overboard with its security theatre but these measures run counter to its enshrined institutions of bullying and limitless scrutiny—undignified treatment by deputized goons at the airport, the need for vetting of clearances for any regular person to gain access to military installations (or to be a day-care provider) that’s applied universally yet lifted in this circumstance.  Governments like to poor-mouth when social programmes are mentioned yet there seems to boundless optimism in this situation.  What do you think?  How did the US come to this point and who manufactured the crisis and was the migration really in response to dire conditions in Central America or because of touts?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

the privacy act, as amended

To the patient on the other side of the counter, it must look like those at the reception desk are engaging in a quick round of Space Invaders rather than scheduling a follow-up appointment as these systems require a lot of keyboard interaction—scrolling through that eventually comes really rapidly with video-game like reflexes.  Though there is no universal operating system as yet (HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, legislation after all is not really about protecting privacy or securing medical records but about sharing that information among hospitals and physicians), there is one dominant player that’s delivered under government contract some really robust albeit technically ancient legacy software—the Space Invaders type.
Given the mandate that all practitioners in the US are required to keep electronically accessible medical records (the insurers pushed for this as well) and that the government will again claim imminent domain on individuals’ entire medical history—documented by competent authorities and from non-traditional sources, like social networks, as well—in order to better execute its mission of bio-surveillance, I am sure that the contractor formerly known as the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) will see a boon and become the industry standard.  Public health and being able to track the spread of sickness (both for oneself and for the population at large) in time to do something about it is one thing and it would be prudent and in any one’s better interest to do.  I suspect, however, that maybe benignly the government will keep tabs on everyone to ensure that they’re getting regular check-ups and remain healthy, balanced and productive members of society—or rather, nefariously, at the behest of big pharmaceutical companies, peddling their snake-oil and leech-craft for them and ensuring that employers can get more and more from the proletariat.
SAIC is already the perfect candidate to interlace all of this data, having been commissioned in the past to carry out work for the National Security Agency, including technical support for ThinThread and its successor Trailblazer Project that wire-tapped the World Wide Web.  More bizarrely, SAIC was also part of a consortium of research laboratories conducting trials for the Army’s Defense Intelligence Agency’s Stargate Project to study psychic abilities and the viability of paranormal talents for espionage.   The program supposedly was discontinued in the mid-nineties, but who can say, as it was standard protocol for the proctors never to disclose to their telepathic and clairvoyant subjects whether they were right or wrong, as it might influence native aptitudes.  Regardless of the disposition of this data and just because America has already compromised the security and private lives of every human on Earth with its prying, it does not mean that we ought to become complacent about maintaining integrity for our confidences and health and surrender.  Withholding of intent—whether by or for faith-healers, is not good bedside manner and about as off-putting as having the receptionist banging on a keyboard—repeatedly and randomly without explanation.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

placebo-effect

In one of the more heinous admissions to come of late out of the US spy community, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and other members of the Homeland pantheon have pledged never again to use medical humanitarian operations as a honey-trap—as it were.  Revealing much about its tactics and ethics—since I suppose the stalled disclosure of an already open secret has no strategic value, the agency helped set up a sham triage to vaccinate the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan against a resurging epidemic of polio (or Hepatitis B, according to some sources) in order to infiltrate the communities and gather genetic information to locate terrorists.

Already distrustful of Western doctors, suspicious tribal leaders discouraged villagers from complying, suspecting that it was a ploy to sterlise Muslims, and because of their justified fears, the population, foregoing the vaccine, and now has made the disease endemic in that part of the world—not to mention they people probably did not the full battery of the vaccines and thus rendering them ineffective and dozens of doctors and nurses killed out of reprisal.  The policy change came about last summer at the urging of medical academies, who shamed the government into changing its practice—saying that no politic or secure indemnity could be justified at the price of public health.  There is no I-told-you-so. This is too cruel to believe and wonder about the sincerity of the promise—would the standard operating procedure still be in effect if not for the initial reporting and outrage? In fact, given all the other smoke-and-mirrors and lame excuses, I am astonished that any one would own up to this and it make me wonder if it is not yet another mask.  What other secret programmes are being carried out under the cover of outreach?

Saturday, 10 May 2014

foia or plenipotentate

RT reports (ะฝะฐ ะฟะฐะฝะณะปะธะนัะบะพะผ ัะทั‹ะบะต) how new policies being instituted at the behest of America's Intelligence Czar are poised to seriously change the journalistic landscape of that country and make reduce the candor and transparency that is already lacking among officials:

it is not only grounds for dismissal with prejudice, to include imprisonment, for intelligence officers to speak to a member of the press, without out prior staffing, vetting—furthermore, under this blanket gag-order bureaucrats are prohibited (and retroactively, too, and ironically the new memo was itself leaked apparently—or at least previewed to focus audiences) to even acknowledge news items already in the public domain that have been not released via those official channels above. Nothing is so terrible to tyrants and their abettors as a free press. Even research meant not for publication but to analyze how current policies and procedures to determine whether they are either robust enough or overkill that cites leaked or cherry-picked (publicly compiled) information would be forbidden. The idea is not lend any credence to potentially damaging intelligence but will result in a chilling effect on meaningful dialogue—albeit that the last time officials (the authors of these new policies) tried to address the white elephant in the lobby, they ended up perpetuating lies to the American executive and legislature, and the rest of the world besides, concerning the scope and intrusiveness of their surveillance engines.