Category Archives: Business

Solarwinds123

The world has recently learned of the sophisticated supply-chain attack on FireEye by inserting malicious code in a software update for a tool called SolarWinds Orion. The operation may have started as early as mid-2020. The Orion system is used by the U.S. Treasury Department, Commerce Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the Navy and many others. And, even as I type this post, Tuesday evening December 15, the security firm GreyNoise Intelligence reports, “SolarWinds still has not removed the compromised Orion software updates from its distribution server.”

DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) purchased $45,000-worth of licenses for Solarwinds tools in 2019 while the U.S. Cyber Command spent over $12,000.

Solarwinds, in a legal filing yesterday, Monday, December 14, says malicious code was pushed to nearly 18,000 customers (that does not mean I am one customer and you are another. It means Microsoft Office 365, for example, is ONE customer.)

We can look to Microsoft to soon get an idea who, and how many, SolarWinds customers were really affected as Microsoft (according to a quick look at the Internet’s “Whois”) has taken control of the Domain (registered and managed by Go Daddy in Arizona) used to control the infected systems.

“Vinoth Kumar, a cybersecurity “bug hunter” who has earned cash bounties and recognition from multiple companies for reporting security flaws in their products and services, posted on Twitter that he notified SolarWinds in November 2019 that the company’s software download website was protected by a simple password that was published in the clear on SolarWinds’ code repository at Github.” – Krebson Security.

A Tweet by Vinoth Kumar to Solarwinds in November 2020 warning Solarwinds of security flaws. In this case, their password which had been published among their files at Github.
A Tweet by Vinoth Kumar to Solarwinds in November 2020 warning Solarwinds of security flaws. In this case, their password which had been published among their files at Github.

I must say that I am shocked… SCHOCKED that the (purportedly) Russian hackers were able to get through the sophisticated systems in place at Solarwinds, a company so advanced I have heard they did not even see the need for an internal chief of cybersecurity. I mean who at the Russian FSB, even tho they have some of the best cyber-hackers on the planet, would ever have thought to build code-busting software to break the heavy-duty security at Solarwinds?

Oh… wait a minute! The password was published amongst the public repository of Solarwinds files at Github. It was a masterful password most of us would have had to write on the back of our hands to remember: solarwinds123

I. could. not. make. this. s—. up.

Have You Written for Disney and Stopped Receiving Royalties?

A Contract Torn Asunder
A Contract Torn Asunder

A Letter from Mary Robinette Kowal, President of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America:

Have you written anything for Disney or its subsidiaries and stopped receiving royalties? SFWA has become aware of several members in this position.

Last year, Alan Dean Foster came to SFWA’s Grievance Committee because he had written novels and was not being paid the royalties that were specified in his contract. With his permission, we have made this dispute public because the core of it affects more than just Mr. Foster.

It has the potential to affect every writer. Disney made the argument that they had purchased the rights but not the obligations of his contract. In other words, they believe they have the right to publish work, but are not obligated to pay the writer no matter what the contract says.

If we let this stand, it could set precedent to fundamentally alter the way copyright and contracts operate in the United States. All a publisher would have to do to break a contract would be to sell it to a sibling company.

We are currently in talks with Disney about Mr. Foster’s royalties and are looking forward to a speedy resolution. They have told us that they want to talk to any writers who have a belief that they are owed money.

Disney seems to believe that he is a unique example. We know that he is not. We have heard from enough authors to see a pattern.

If you are a writer experiencing non-payment of royalties, or missing royalty statements, with Disney or its subsidiaries, please report your circumstances to us via this form. We guarantee your anonymity.

If you are not directly affected but wish to help, please use the hashtag #DisneyMustPay to discuss the value of writers and the problems with their position on contracts. You may also donate to SFWA’s legal fund, which helps authors with legal fees in situations like this.

We are committed to continuing conversations with Disney until these contractual issues are satisfactorily resolved.

Mary Robinette Kowal, President, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

[Wilbur – The National Writer’s Union]

(Anti-)Social Media Platforms & The Erosion of Democracy and Social Justice

Anti-Social Media Platforms & The Erosion of Democracy and Social Justice

(Or, why surveillance capitalism is bad for you and the world)

Part 1 of 3

“Social media, once an enabler, is now the destroyer, building division—‘us against them’ thinking— into the design of their platforms…. It’s time to end the whack-a-mole approach of the technology platforms to fix what they have broken,” – Rappler CEO Maria Ressa

“The past years have offered a wake-up call for those who needed it….Without explicit and enforceable safeguards, the technologies promised to advance democracy will prove to be the ones that undermine it. It is now vital that democracy is made more resilient,” – Marietje Schaake. former EU parliamentarian

Most people, historically, have been alarmed by intrusions of government and its spying into the lives of ordinary citizens. But, while our attentions have been fixated on this, we ‘dropped the ball’ on the far more invasive mining and use of personal data by the large companies we, all of us, have connections to, however deep and pervasive or fleeting and sporadic.

In 2014, based upon the rising amount of captured data large companies, led by  “social media” companies, were beginning to harvest and utilize, Shoshana Zubroff coined the term “surveillance capitalism” to describe this mountain of personal data accumulating in staggering quantity each year. It is a business model predicated on harvesting the online user experience and then manipulating human behavior for monetization, that is, a basic move from processing internal to mining external data, a handy and lucrative convergence of enterprise and consumer IT. Now, many of these mega-companies generate more revenue and exercise more power that all but a handful of the world’s nations.

In 2016 the World Economic Forum (the group that meets in Davos every year) reported that of the world’s top 100 global economic entities, (measuring revenue, not GDP) 69 were corporations – meaning only 31 were countries. Here, in order, were the top 10 entries:

  • USA
  • P.R. China
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • France
  • United Kingdom
  • Italy
  • Brazil
  • Canada
  • Walmart

This list might strike the sobering thought that economic powerhouses like South Korea, Russia, Switzerland and others were, in fact, further down the list. The trend continues so that by 2018 157 of the top 200 world economic entities by revenue were corporations, not countries.

Here were the top 10 companies in 2016 with their world economic ranking by revenue in parenthesis:

  • Walmart (10)
  • State Grid (14) [a Chinese company]
  • China National Petroleum (15)
  • Sinopec Group (16)
  • Royal Dutch Shell (18)
  • Exxon Mobil (221)
  • Volkswagon (22)
  • Toyota Motor (23)
  • Apple (25)
  • BP (27)

Now, for a 2020 country update, using International Monetary Fund data: USA and China are still top dogs, Japan and Germany switched positions, India made an appearance at spot #5, UK and France swapped lanes, followed by the same three, Italy, Brazil Canada, as in 2016. Rounding out the next ten countries – but not revenue generation when companies are tossed into the mix, are Russia, South Korea, Spain, Australia, Mexico, Indonesia, Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Switzerland.

Showing it is difficult to break into the top 20 countries is the fact that 17 of these top 20 were also on the list in 1980, that is, 40 years ago.

For a 2020 update on companies (from Fortune 500 data) we have:

  • Walmart
  • Sinopec Group
  • State Grid
  • China National Petroleum
  • Royal Dutch Shell
  • Saudi Aramco
  • Volkswagon
  • BP
  • Amazon.com
  • Toyota Motor

So why are these figures important? Ah… I am pleased you asked.

For one, it means that many sovereign nations cannot rein in companies engaging in bad behaviour within their borders – even if and when they have the desire. Chevron in the Peruvian Amazon comes to mind. Oil exploration is a dirty business and when little recoverable amounts are found there is still a mess to clean up – or not. In a place like the Amazon who is going to see the contamination other than indigenous locals?

But the issues I am getting to here are more about the so-called ‘social media’ giants, companies we used to think of as having a clean footprint.

In the early years of the internet revolution early adopters of the technology bought into services billed as connecting/informing us at the speed of the electron, prepping us for our lives in the 21st century. These services were, in the main, offered for free as companies, including newsrooms, tried to figure out how to monetize their products. The few ads we would see were bothersome but easy to ignore, especially as they lacked personal focus and sophisticated tracking technology. It reminds me of the early hype of the energy companies with their mascot Ready Kilowatt and the 1954 statement of Lewis Strauss, then chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, with his alluring, sloganeering promise to the National Association of Science Writers: “electrical energy too cheap to meter!” – a good example of what we now know as “overpromising & underdelivering.”

Reddy Kilowatt, © Reddy Kilowatt, Inc.
Reddy Kilowatt, © Reddy Kilowatt, Inc.

In less than twenty years internet coding wizards have made stratospheric leaps and small startups have combined, morphed and advanced into extremely sophisticated entities. At the same time we have come to recognize there is a dark underbelly bolstering the magical kingdom of all-connection, all-the-time. A 24/7 existence, like so much of life’s general intrusions, is a two-edged sword.

I think of surveillance capitalism as a natural outgrowth of a technology and life forewarned in 1956 by the brilliant, if troubled, science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. In his novella (made famous by the Spielberg movie) “The Minority Report” three mutants foresee a person’s propensity for committing a ‘future crime’. Their prescience determines the future and freedom, or lack thereof, of ordinary citizen’s based upon criminal actions before they happen. In the same way, surveillance capitalism attempts to predict our future voting, movie-going, book-reading, food shopping, sexual preference… well… all behavior and, subsequently, influence that behavior in a semi-predictable manner, that is, move us toward a specific purchase.

If not a purchase exactly, then other economic considerations come into play. A good example is the selling of ‘spit’ data from the genealogical work performed by the company 23 & Me, a noted seller of DNA info to ‘third parties’. They caused a minor tremor in 2018 when they announced the sharing of consumers’ anonymized genetic data with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. Sharing is, of course, a euphemism for ‘selling’; in this case GSK shared $300-million. While it is hopeful that people with inheritable genetic diseases may well benefit from this deal in the form of future medicines, data security is never distant from my mind, especially as data security is, it appears, never in all ways, secure all the time. Do you really want your health insurance company (who has always been a gatherer of data that could be used in health/mortality actuarial practice) rescinding your coverage because you have a 35% chance of getting motor neuron disease or some other ailment?

Two years ago I was sitting with a friend talking about his new Maserati. An hour later an ad for Maserati popped up on my mobile phone browser during a search for something totally unrelated to cars. That is when I discovered that Google has a division with a huge number of employees developing, listening in and then tweaking their speech and voice components for their algorithms. Turn off your microphones! Siri and Alexa are you listening? (Being highly open to suggestion, I inquired as to whether Google was assisting with monthly car payments but received no answer.)

So, how is all this related to Democracy and Social Justice?

Commercial connections have forever had tentacles entwined with, and embedded into, governmental components. While governments are often slow on the uptake of the new (and, to grant and uphold citizen rights) their bureaucratic nature and love of big data do eventually move the organs of governance to utilize the lessons of commerce. This learning often first makes an appearance to ‘improve’ focus on the big picture of where ‘trouble’ among the rank and file may begin, never mind the trouble may only be citizens engaging in their constitutionally guaranteed rights of assembly and protest.

But, before we go into more detail here let’s sidestep and read a little about the

Big Picture & Big Data

That big picture is assisted by ‘big data‘, a term coined in a 1997 scientific paper by NASA. ‘Big data’ is, by definition, unwieldy. It is defined by Wikipedia (even before the Oxford English Dictionary added it to their list) as “an all-encompassing term for any collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand data management tools or traditional data processing applications.”

There is a pervasive belief that it is true the more data one accumulates the more answers one has available; that is, quantity is in itself a necessary and sufficient parameter for accurate research. But AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Information, one of the leading lights in data and its management, writes that, “We want students and consumers of our research to understand that volume isn’t sufficient to getting good answers… [the] School challenges students in the online Master of Information and Data Science program to approach data with intentionality, beginning with the way they talk about data. They learn to dig deeper by asking basic questions: Where does the data come from? How was it collected and was the process ethical? What kinds of questions can this data set answer, and which can it not?… We run the risk of forgetting why we collect data in the first place: to make our world better through granular details,… The way we talk about data matters, because it shapes the way we think about data. And the ways we apply, fund, and support data today will shape the future of our society.”

The school says this process is part of ‘data science’. A more useful shorthand than big data, the words imply a rigorous approach to analytics and data mining. This view espouses that, “a data set is not so much a painting to be admired but a window to be utilized; scientists use data to see the world and our society’s problems more clearly.”

Another definition of big data, from the McKinsey Global Institute, is “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze.” This has been tackled in the past two decades by trimming big data down to size. Data scientists have created new tools for collecting, storing, and analyzing these vast amounts of information. “In some sense, the ‘big’ part has become less compelling,” according to Berkeley’s Saxenian.

A Quick Lesson in Data Volumes: The volume of data in a single file or file system can be described by a unit called a byte. However, data volumes can become very large when dealing with, say, Earth satellite data. Below is a table to explain data volume units (credit Roy Williams, Center for Advanced Computing Research at the California Institute of Technology).

  • Kilo- means 1,000; a Kilobyte is one thousand bytes.
  • Mega- means 1,000,000; a Megabyte is a million bytes.
  • Giga- means 1,000,000,000; a Gigabyte is a billion bytes.
  • Tera- means 1,000,000,000,000; a Terabyte is a trillion bytes.
  • Peta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000; a Petabyte is 1,000 Terabytes.
  • Exa- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000; an Exabyte is 1,000 Petabytes.
  • Zetta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000; a Zettabyte is 1,000 Exabytes.
  • Yotta- means 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000; a Yottabyte is 1,000 Zettabytes

We will return to this later in a discussion of social media algorithms.

Governments have always been nervous about protest of any kind. The validity of such jitters was brought home with the ability of mass movements’ non-violent action in bringing down governments of Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union itself, felling them like phantom dominoes in Southeast Asia. Similar events shook the Islamic countries with the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings.

Governments like using a scattershot approach to try and corral the proverbial needle in a haystack. Certainly we all want the authorities to catch terrorists seeking to do our country harm. But, is a record of all the telephone calls in the country, in real time, going to assist that endeavor? The ubiquitous use of cellular communications lends itself to lax control even for bad actors. So, as listening to U.S. citizen’s phone calls without a judge’s warrant is illegal, perhaps simply getting a list of all the outgoing and incoming numbers being called by people in the U.S., and the duration of the calls, might be helpful? It is that word ‘might’ that bothers me. I’ve no problem with law enforcement requesting and receiving records after an arrest, or the request for a wiretap with probable cause, but the uncontrolled amassing of the 3Vs (volume, variety, velocity – see graph, below) is troubling. A few years ago I was happy to read that when the administration wanted to monitor the mobile phone records of everyone in the United States all the big companies, except for my carrier, T-Mobile, rolled over without requiring probable cause warrants or even administrative subpoenas.

The 3Vs of Big Data. Berkeley School of Information.
The 3Vs of Big Data. Berkeley School of Information.

END of Part 1.

Part 2 tomorrow!

64 Journalists Missing in 2020

And circa 248 in prison for doing their jobs

Journalists Missing Around the World in 2020. Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists
Journalists Missing Around the World in 2020. Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Missing
Compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists

Name Organization Date Location
Acquitté Kisembo Agence France-Presse June 26, 2003 Democratic Republic of the Congo
Ahmed Al-Dulami Al-Sharqiya TV June 1, 2014 Iraq
Alfredo Jiménez Mota El Imparcial April 2, 2005 Mexico
Ali Astamirov Agence France-Presse July 4, 2003 Russia
Andrei Bazvluk Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Austin Tice Freelance August 13, 2012 Syria
Aziz Bouabdallah Al-Alam al-Siyassi April 12, 1997 Algeria
Azory Gwanda Mwanachi, The Citizen November 21, 2017 Tanzania
Bashar Fahmi Al-Hurra August 20, 2012 Syria
Belmonde Magloire Missinhoun Le Point Congo October 3, 1998 Democratic Republic of the Congo
Djamel Eddine Fahassi Alger Chaîne III May 6, 1995 Algeria
Djuro Slavuj Radio Pristina August 21, 1998 Serbia & Montenegro
Elyuddin Telaumbanua Berita Sore August 17, 2005 Indonesia
Emmanuel Munyemanzi Rwandan National Television May 2, 1998 Rwanda
Farhad Hamo Rudaw TV March 9, 2015 Syria
Feliks Titov Nevskoye Vremya February 1, 1995 Russia
Fred Nérac ITV News March 22, 2003 Iraq
Gamaliel López Candanosa TV Azteca Noreste May 10, 2007 Mexico
Gerardo Paredes Pérez TV Azteca Noreste May 10, 2007 Mexico
Guy-André Kieffer Freelance April 16, 2004 Ivory Coast
Ham Jin Woo Daily NK May 29, 2017 China
Isam al-Shumari Sudost Media August 15, 2004 Iraq
Ishzak Ould Mokhtar Sky New Arabia October 15, 2013 Syria
Jamal Sobhy Al-Mosuliya TV July 1, 2014 Iraq
Jean Bigirimana Iwacu July 22, 2016 Burundi
Jean-Pascal Couraud Les Nouvelles December 15, 1997 French Polynesia
John Cantlie Freelance November 22, 2012 Syria
José Antonio García Apac Ecos de la Cuenca en Tepalcatepec November 20, 2006 Mexico
Kamaran Najm Metrography June 12, 2014 Iraq
Kazem Akhavan IRNA July 4, 1982 Lebanon
Maisloon al-Jawady Al-Mosuliya TV June 29, 2014 Iraq
Maksim Shabalin Nevskoye Vremya February 1, 1995 Russia
Manasse Mugabo UN Assistance Mission in Rwanda Radio August 19, 1995 Rwanda
Manuel Gabriel Fonseca Hernández El Mañanero September 17, 2011 Mexico
Marco Antonio López Ortiz Novedades Acapulco June 7, 2011 Mexico
María Esther Aguilar Cansimbe El Diario de Zamora Cambio de Michoacán November 11, 2009 Mexico
Miguel Angel Domínguez Zamora El Mañana March 1, 2010 Mexico
Miguel Morales Estrada Diario de Poza Rica, Tribuna Papanteca July 19, 2012 Mexico
Mohamed al-Saeed Syrian State TV July 19, 2012 Syria
Mohamed Hassaine Alger Républicain March 1, 1994 Algeria
Mohammed Galal Okasha Al Barqa TV August 1, 2014 Libya
Muayad Saloum Orient TV November 1, 2013 Syria
Muhannad al-Okaidi Al-Mosuliya TV August 1, 2014 Iraq
Nadhir Guetari First TV September 8, 2014 Libya
Omar Younis al-Ghaafiqi Sama Mosul October 12, 2014 Iraq
Oralgaisha Omarshanova (Zhabagtaikyzy) Zakon i Pravosudiye March 30, 2007 Kazakhstan
Pedro Argüello El Mañana, La Tarde March 1, 2010 Mexico
Prageeth Eknelygoda Lanka eNews January 24, 2010 Sri Lanka
Qais Talal Sama Mosul August or October 2014 Iraq
Rafael Ortiz Martínez Zócalo, XHCCG July 8, 2006 Mexico
Ramón Ángeles Zalpa Cambio de Michoacán April 6, 2010 Mexico
Reda Helal Al-Ahram August 11, 2003 Egypt
Salvador Adame Pardo 6TV May 18, 2017 Mexico
Samir Kassab Sky News Arabia October 15, 2013 Syria
Sergei Ivanov Nevskoye Vremya June 1, 1995 Russia
Sergio Landa Rosado Diario Cardel January 23, 2013 Mexico
Sofiene Chourabi First TV September 8, 2014 Libya
Vasyl Klymentyev Novyi Stil August 11, 2010 Ukraine
Vitaly Shevchenko Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Vladjimir Legagneur Freelance March 14, 2018 Haiti
Waheed Mohammed Naji Haider (Waheed al-Sufi) al-Arabiya April 6, 2015 Yemen
Walid al-Qasim Aleppo News Network October 12, 2014 Syria
Yelena Petrova Lita-M August 11, 1996 Russia
Younis al-Mabrok al-Moghazy Al Barqa TV August 1, 2014 Libya

RIP: Baron Wolman, Photographer Extraordinary

“Mixing business with pleasure since 1965.” – Baron Wolman, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Photo © 1969 Baron Wolman. Jerry Garcia revealing to the public, for the first time, his missing finger.
Photo © 1969 Baron Wolman. Jerry Garcia revealing to the public, for the first time, his missing finger.

Small in stature and large in heart, Baron Wolman (25 June 1937 – 2 November 2020) died yesterday, 3 November 2000, at the age of 83.

Tho born years apart we both hailed from “The Great Midwest” and were born near each other. Lest you wonder if you ever saw his pictures let me write – ‘Yes! You most certainly have – even tho you may not have known it!’ He was at Woodstock with cameras in hand and was the first photographer at Rolling Stone Magazine (1967-1970) where Jan Wenner has said Baron set the look for the magazine. Photographing The Grateful Dead band was Baron’s job for the first issue of the magazine. Not too shabby!

Baron sold his first photo, the construction of the Berlin Wall, to The Columbus Dispatch Newspaper for $50, a pic from a gig not many probably knew he had: counterintelligence in Berlin for Uncle Sam as a volunteer in the U.S. Army!

His last post to Facebook in October was typically self-effacing:

“Just as the sun sets over the Pacific, so, too, is it about to set over my life. A few of you know that a year ago I was give[n] the formal diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a disease for which there is no cure. Sad to say I’m now in the final sprint to the end. I go forward with a huge amount of gratitude for the many blessings bestowed upon me (family, friends, travels and more), with no regrets and appreciation for how my photographs – my life’s work – have been received. Leave comments if you wish, but please don’t ask any questions or expect any further words from me – I am very, very weak. Because of Covid, like thousands of others, I will pass quietly and with very few people around me. It’s been a great life, with Love being my salvation always… #fotobaron#thefotobaron#vote#voteblue2020

Baron was a class act to the end and I trust he will be surrounded by the same sentiments he wrote to me in one of his books: “Peace, Love & Music!”

Vote… AS… IF… YOUR… LIFE… DEPENDED ON IT!

On this National Voter Registration Day let’s register, if we are not already, and think about the people and things we all love.

NOTE: there is audio with this incredible, zillion photos, 1 minute video from my friends at AVAAZ.

https://secure.avaaz.org/imagine1minute?emailid=17626127477

Can A Good Result Come From A Bad Platform? A Rant

Last autumn I posted a photograph on Facebook of two adult women from a Sing-Sing in Papua New Guinea. They were wearing grass skirts and necklaces. Within a couple hours it disappeared and I received a notice that the photograph “violated community standards”. Evidently, Facebook trolls their platform with algorithms looking for the breasts that half (or more) of homo sapiens sapiens possess and that many display as part of either ordinary living or reenactments and continuation of traditions dating back millennia.

Two Sing-Sing Dancers
Hmm…Hmm…Hmmm. Now That’s One I’d Go Out With! Two Women Dancers Admiring A Male Dancer

If I had, instead, posted some vitriolic, racist bullshit about exterminating people of color, starting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, all would have been hunky-dory. No problema, I would have been simply a righteous asshole expressing my First Amendment rights and espousing violence like many another red-blooded white man with below-average self-esteem; poor work skills; poorer general social skills; a skepticism of science and book-learnin’; a knack for receiving a world view from Fox ‘News’ and, if I am a teen, an inability to get laid (young girls have radar that, almost immediately with few mistakes, can spot weirdos.)

In other words, a white guy who, along with his white male ancestors has enjoyed the prosperity and unearned status that has been their lot for the last few hundred years. When such a status is jeopardized by anyone, including their ‘natural’ soul mates, white women, it is time to pull the plug on the veneer of ‘live and let live’ and fight to keep – and extend, the privilege that exists. So what I dropped out of school in the 8th grade and would love to have lived in Roman times. I could have gone to those gladiatorial contests to give the thumbs down on the barbarians from the provinces? Yeh, I would have loved to join the military to bear arms if I could have passed the rudimentary skills test. And doin’ it for the USA would have been a bonus ‘cause I love this country, especially back when it enforced racial separation. Hoo-rah!

But, carrying a semi-automatic gun… er… weapon, in public is the next best thing. Hell, better: I don’t have to follow orders from some jerk with a ‘high & tight’. (And, too, it really makes me feel like a man, you know. A whole lot. I know the chicks dig it!)

Who you callin’ deplorable!

To be more fair, there are fellow travelers who are not functionally stupid. As I have no known close acquaintances in this category I have not been able to ask whether such individuals actually believe all the clap-trap of white supremacists or whether they are just along for the ride because they stand to benefit from any extension of ole’ white boy power.

So… what this rant is really about is whether I will continue to use Facebook for posts or dump it and return to just writing on my Blog. As Facebook is 110% dollar driven I don’t think it will change much, despite Zucker-face buying time by mouthing the right code words at congressional hearings about the company having to do better.

What WILL amend Facebook’s corporate behavior is when they are sued and saddled with billions of dollars in legal claims similar to those that were faced by Big Tobacco. When a corporation knows it operates in an area that is a detriment to society it is culpable. I’m sure they will holler they are a news outlet letting their users enjoy the full extent of their First Amendments rights but we all know that, in truth, Facebook is a private business that is, in fact, in business to make money, not engage in the public good.

I have two more postings I am contemplating. One on evolutionary biology and one on Trumpism and capital. Then, I think I will bow out. It’s been a good, if uneasy, ride!

Why Not An Extension of Financial Support to Individual Citizens

(but, instead, to big companies)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The Limiting View from a Cave
Viewing life from a tunnel provides a very limited view.

There has always been Big Money in U.S. politics. It is just that, now, it is Huge Money.

You do not have to consider the needs and desires of working people if your power base is Huge Money. Especially if that worker base is composed largely of one-issue voters you can keep in the fold by spouting code words every now and then: guns, abortion, immigration, etc. Besides, the poor will just spend federal largesse on groceries, rents and mortgages, car payments, church tithes, etc. Few, if any, are giving money to political causes. And you can still tout Free Speech, even if you do not countenance it, because those one-issue voters are mostly concerned with free speech in their own lanes, those particular, narrow issues. (But do not forget, if you ever knew it, you one-issue revolutionaries: over time most revolutions tend to eat their own.)

A ton of the money given to large business for Covid-19 relief will end up in the coffers of the Republican Party as donations and funding for PACs. Why not dole out those dollars if some eventually comes back to assist your campaign? The decision is eazy-peazy, no?

A comparison one could use of the change from an individuals-based outlook to a grifting, corporatized one is the example of the National Rifle Association. The NRA was once powered by individual gun owners sending in their membership monies. Throw in the manufacturers and you had a tidy sum to use for lobbying. Now the NRA has morphed, essentially, into an extension of the manufacturers’ lobby, it’s just based in northern Virginia instead of on ‘K’ Street in DC. The NRA Board has been pliable enough that in 2018 CEO Wayne LaPierre (2015 compensation $5,110,985 and $2.15 million in 2018) was said to be involved with the NRA’s ad agency, Ackerman McQueen (they have since separated acrimoniously) in the non-profit, tax-exempt NRA (501(c)(4)) being asked to buy him and his wife a $6 million gated-community, lakefront mansion near Dallas, Texas because… if you can believe it, LaPierre – with little expressed concern over school shootings, was reportedly worried about his own security after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida! The request was not fulfilled, perhaps because then-president Oliver North and LaPierre had a tiff combined with the fact that the home-buying scheme came to light and that in 2018 the organization ended the year with a $2.7 million shortfall, a $17.8 million shortfall in 2017 and a $45.8 million one in 2016. None of this stopped LaPierre from reportedly spending $500,000 on ‘luxury clothes and travel’. This style of executive compensation when companies are running deficits or performing poorly is not a rare one these days.

Another example. People have complained about U.S. Foreign Aid but the reason it persists is because the money sent out always stipulates the work be performed by American companies with American products, the food from American farmers, the transport on America transport (even if ‘flagged’ under another nation) and so on. A whopping amount of those government dollars – or, rather, our tax dollars, ends up back in American pockets. Deep pockets. Illegal immigration is similar. Big industries like building, service (lodging and food) and manufacturing have enormous labor needs – and cheap labor, at that. Who you gonna call? Are you, dear reader, hiring low-wage, relatively ‘unskilled’ Mexicans? Where do all these folks crossing the border look for work? Are they knocking on the doors of our homes?

These examples of self-dealing are visible to anyone with an eighth grade education who will take a moment to read newspapers and think critically about their lives, the lives of their fellows and their country. Such comprehension is one, maybe, THE, essential element of a functioning democracy (along with exercising one’s franchise.) Apparently, the numbers of such citizens are getting fewer and fewer. It’s easier to get our ‘important’ news via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other Internet-only sources and to shrug off voting as ‘not making a difference”.

I think a big reason McConnell and bedfellows don’t want an extension of the $600 per week is that he and his cronies realize the only way, today, to force people to work in dicey, dangerous, unhealthy workplaces is to cut off federal support money so that many people are forced to return to work, ignoring safety issues because, oddly enough, most of us have a priority of putting food on the table.

Forcing people to work in unhealthy, dangerous jobs has always been a problem for rulers. Slavery is the obvious example. But, others have found superbly ingenious ways to make people work. Great Britain’s colonial administration in East Africa used a tax on salt. When native workers would earn enough money for their immediate needs they simply stopped showing up until they needed money again. How to force them to continue coming to work? Ah…. levy a burdensome tax on salt, a necessary ingredient for a healthy life in a climate where one sweats it out and needs to daily replenish. (Salt tax earned early Chinese civilization half its tax revenue and remember it was the righteous purpose of The Salt March that made Mohandas Gandhi famous outside his immediate circle.)

Obviously, people working is what keeps a country’s economy bumping along and accounts for whatever level of financial prosperity a nation enjoys. But, must we force people, before the proper time, to return to jobs that are very likely going to be nurseries for Covid-19?? When is the proper time?

Personal prejudice is a powerful guide to action – or inaction. We have all heard or read phrases that come from nebulous, unsubstantiated beliefs: ‘the undeserving poor’, ‘the idle rich’, etc.

When Jeffrey Epstein was arrested his story was covered extensively locally because he owned a large property here. One interesting tidbit I saw was an incident that took place at a symposium on his private island in the Caribbean. Epstein told one attendee he was voting Harvard professor Steven Pinker ‘off the island’ because Pinker openly disagreed (using fact-based science) with a comment Epstein had made. At a round-table Epstein had said he would never fund projects for the alleviation of poverty because the poor would just go out and breed, making more children. Pinker spoke up, differing with this assessment, saying this belief has been shown to be untrue: the more solid people become in their personal economies, the fewer children they have.

We all need to do our research, think creatively and not cast aside an open mind and the scientific method when acting on ‘facts’. Following a ‘party line’ is one of the surest roads toward a poverty of imagination and the narrowing of choices.

The rule of money or the rule of democracy? Like a garden, Democracy must be tended and nurtured, its soil must be tilled and overturned to keep it alive, active and strong. It is not a given that it will always prevail after only a couple hundred years of existence.

Keep the Faith

And

Act on it!

cancel the USA November 2020 elections?

a ballot box
A Ballot Box

OK, the innermost desires of the current occupant of the White House are never secret too long. He has an innate inability to contain himself in any manner whatsoever. Kind of like little boys in their ‘terrible teens’.

I recently heard someone use the word “Fascism” and it reminded me that just like the word ‘racist’, it does have a specific meaning, tho it has been prefixed to many modifiers in its historically short, modern history.

(To be a racist, by the by, is to also have the position and societal power to enact and enforce your beliefs. Otherwise you are, simply, ‘prejudiced’. I dislike pineapple on pizza is a prejudice, for example. If I wrote that I do not like folks of the Caucasian persuasion that would be a prejudice, as well: as a person of color I have no societal power over them. All I could do is on a personal level, like not hiring them, not publishing their photography, etc. As such, my actions would be prejudicial ones, not racist ones.)

So, to fascism.

The great novelist and thinker in semiotics, Umberto Eco, was born into fascist Italy. To help clarify people’s thinking on just what the word means, he published an essay in 1995 for The New York Review of Books titled “Ur-Fascism“. While I am not certain his list is the last word, he offers 14 typical features that, like a tiny speck of atmospheric ice crystal that permits the formation of hail, allows fascism to coalesce into a state we can identify.

*****

Openculture.com (via a refinment from someone named “Kottke” and then blogger Paul Bausch) published these as the following comprehensible list:

1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”

2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”

3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”

4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”

5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”

7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”

8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”

9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”

10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”

11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”

12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”

13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”

14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

Doing Well By Doing Good – Nielsen Consumer Survey 2014

Nielsen, the ratings company, published their annual world-wide survey of consumer buying decisions this summer. It has posted some revealing numbers and results. Below, a section of the report:

 

Willingness to Pay More

“More than half (55%) of global respondents in Nielsen’s corporate social responsibility survey say they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact — an increase from 50 percent in 2012 and 45 percent in 2011. Regionally, respondents in Asia-Pacific (64%), Latin America (63%) and Middle East/Africa (63%) exceed the global average and have increased 9, 13 and 10 percentage points, respectively, since 2011.”

NOTE, below, that American and European consumers lag behind those from…. well, everywhere else!

those willing to pay extra - Nielsen Survey

 
 

Causes Consumers Care About - Nielsen Survey results

 
 

Writers Lifeguard

Pay the Writer!
 

I was reading Querencia, Steve Bodio’s Blog (altho he also published a great book by that name, too), and found a video entry with a Harlan Ellison (justified) rant about paying the writer for his or her work. The original diatribe comes from the documentary about Ellison, Dreams with Sharp Teeth. I followed the link on Bodio’s page to a blog titled Writers Lifeguard. A reader wrote to the blog asking about the origin of the site’s name. The response, below, struck a chord as I hail from an Appalachian mining region; 80% of the land in my home county is owned by coal interests.

Jules Older, the blogger for Writers Lifeguard says its name is a tribute to his favorite union-organizing song,

Miner’s Lifeguard

Miner’s life is like a sailor’s.
‘Board a ship to cross the waves.
Ev’ry day his life’s in danger,
Still he ventures being brave.
Watch the rocks, they’re falling daily.
Careless miners always fail.
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eye upon the scale.

CHORUS:
Union miners stand together,
Heed no operator’s tale,
Keep your hand upon the dollar,
And your eye upon the scale.

You’ve been docked and docked, my boys,
You’ve been loading two to one;
What have you to show for working
Since this mining has begun?
Overalls and cans for rockers,
In your shanties, sleep on rails.
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eye upon the scale.

CHORUS

In conclusion, bear in memory,
Keep the password in your mind:
God provides for every nation
When in union they combine.
Stand like men and linked together,
Victory for you’ll prevail,
Keep your hand upon the dollar
And your eye upon the scale.

R.I.P. Elmore “Dutch” Leonard

To some of us, the wresting of beauty out of language is the only thing in the world that matters. – Anthony Burgess

 

I met Elmore Leonard (11 October 1925 − 20 August 2013) around 1999 and, knowing I was going to meet him, pocketed a small paperback bibliography of his works for him to sign. When I pulled it out and asked him if he would autograph it he looked at the cover, frowned and quipped, “Am I getting royalties on this?” After both of us took a close inspection of the sixty page book we determined that, no, he was not. He signed it anyway. As a reward for bringing the unknown book to his attention he also signed and gave me a sheet of his 10 Rules of Writing that he later expanded and published in 2007.

Leonard’s humorously delivered money question never bothered me, unlike that of two other writers whose books I mildly collected. Not long after meeting Leonard I went to a reading and signing of Robert Parker’s and then one with, well, a living writer best unnamed. Parker was forthright in mentioning his writing as his means of income and urged us all to buy his books. The other gent was even more forward and candid on this issue saying he could use the money and stressing that we ought to purchase his books early and often. His prominent and repeated emphasis on this aspect of the evening left a distinctly distasteful memory. It was not that I believed all writers toiled at their craft for the exalted (or unsung) glory of presenting literature before the masses, it was, rather, my perception that these authors seemed to imply they were simply slinging words that we should consume so that they might go on living in the manner to which they had become accustomed.

Fair enough, I suppose, as some folks choose to make their living as bankers, some as cowboys and some as writers. Some because they feel drawn to the work and love it, others because it’s their day job and pays the bills. Years ago I read Anthony Burgess’ You’ve Had Your Time, the second volume of his autobiography. He wrote a lot about his writing from the pressures of (forever) needing money. He churned out book after book to keep his finances afloat, not always successfully. I used to look forward, myself, to royalty checks and a good one would elevate my day while a bad one was a cause for self-criticism: why didn’t I work harder, do more, etc.?

Nowadays, I just deposit the check and move on.

Trash Talk, Literally

City of London Tracked Mobiles/Cells Via Wi-Fi Trash Bins

How can the public stay ahead of Big Brother when there are so many ways to keep tabs on citizenry? In what has to rank as one of the most creative methods, the City of London has been able to track Wi-Fi enabled devices that pass within proximity of 12 of the 100 “bomb-proof” recycle bins installed just before the 2012 Olympics. One might have guessed these bins were capable of more sophisticated uses as they sport internet-enabled displays. The 12 sleuth bins were “developed by… “Presence Aware” which markets the technology as providing ‘a cookie for the real world.’” Once again commerce and the security state intersect.

Quartz first broke this story and here, four hours ago, recounted its supposed withdrawal, complete with maps.

Pop-Up Ideas: BBC Radio 4 has a new series. 1st up: Malcolm Gladwell on listening in Vietnam

“Listening is hard because the more you listen the more unsettling the world becomes”

4 Episodes
15 minutes each
First broadcast: Tuesday 09 July 2013

Tim Harford (the Financial Times‘ ‘Undercover Economist’ and presenter of Radio 4’s More or Less) has a new live-recorded, mini-series in Pop-Up Ideas, 15 minute programs exploring how prominent thinkers use “key ideas in anthropology and the social sciences to tell fascinating stories about how we – and the world – work.”

Program 1: New Yorker ‘Staff Writer’ Malcolm Gladwell describes how the U.S. war in Vietnam might have gone differently had the military listened to one of its own researchers, Konrad Kellen (family birth name Katzenellenbogen.) Kellen’s job was to debrief captured Vietcong guerrillas and describe their mind-set vis-à-vis the war. (Kellen’s life story is fabulous and fascinating.)

In one such debriefing he asked the captured senior officer if the officer believed the North Vietnamese could win the war. “No,” was the reply. Minutes later he asked if the Americans, then, would win the war? “No.”

This was interpreted by top U.S. Army brass as the answers of a demoralized enemy. Kellen, however, believed the answers were the responses of someone who did not think in terms of winning or losing at all — an entirely different view and one much more threatening to any eventual U.S. and South Vietnamese victory.

Listen to Gladwell’s interview here starting about minute time stamp 2:20.

The other programs (from the BBC Radio 4 website):

Program 2: One of the world’s most influential counter-insurgency experts, David Killcullen, whose ideas were described by the Washington Post as ‘revolutionizing military thinking throughout the West’, talks about how future instability will emanate from rapidly-growing coastal megacities.

Program 3: The financial journalist Gillian Tett describes how her background in anthropology led her to predict the financial crisis in 2008.

Program 4: Tim Harford explores the concept of ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ – a term coined by the American ecologist Garrett Hardin in a hugely influential 1968 essay.

Clash of the A & A Titans

It was the Bezos of times, it was the …

Most folks involved in the retail and wholesale business of buying and selling books know of the head butting between Amazon and Apple in their e-book fight (via publishers as their proxy.) Could one ask for a more engaging contest?

In one corner stood a CEO whose mantra was ‘extract every last drop of financial value’, that is, always charge more for a non-open source product — customers should expect to pay extra for sleek design and better utility. In the other corner bounced a CEO whose shareholders steadfastly back him up on selling items below cost (to quote an old joke, perhaps they make it up on volume.) And the winner is……

The five publishers who were charged with colluding with Apple on e-book ‘price fixing’ settled with the U.S. Department of Justice some time ago. Apple, however, denied wrong-doing and said, “we’ll see you in court!” And so they have — and say they will again. Wednesday U.S. District Judge Denise Cote, Southern District of New York, ruled against Apple writing that they violated anti-trust law (Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, 15 U.S.C., 1 as well as various state’s laws) in a conspiracy with the five publishers. A trial for damages is now in the wings with Apple saying it will appeal the ruling.

Joining the feds in the June 3 − 20, 2013 bench trial (a non-jury proceeding) as plaintiffs were 33 U.S. states and territories. The five previously involved publishers were Hachette Book Group, Inc., HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Holtzbrinck Publishers LLC d/b/a Macmillan, Penguin Group (USA), Inc., and Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Aside from the non-disguised machinations between Apple and the publishers in working this collusion, the scheme failed from Steve Job’s hubris in thinking that readers would turn in droves toward his iBookstore and glitzy technology, all coming at an increased financial price for readers. And, indeed, prices for e-books did rise from an average of $9.99 to some as high as $14.99 — overnight. Why did Jobs believe he could succeed? He was using his music world revolution with iTunes as a model. Why did publishers join in? Because they were feeling the pressure from the 800 pound gorilla in the ring: Amazon.

Apple was attempting to institute a service where the publishers would set e-book prices (“agency pricing”) and their vendor, Apple, would take a 30% cut. In this scenario Apple would make money, always a Jobs requisite, but the publishers would actually make less money than they were making with their Amazon deal! (Amazon buys e-books wholesale from the publishers at, generally, $12 to $14 dollars and sells them at $9.99.)

How did this work and why were publishers willing to lose money they were currently earning per book? Let’s break it down.

Apple sells an e-book for $10. It keeps $3.00 and forwards $7 to the publisher (who, remember, has set the $10.00 retail price.) Amazon, using a “wholesale pricing” model, sells that same e-book for $10.00 and forwards, say, $12.00 to the publisher (who has set this as their wholesale price with the retailer selling the book for whatever price they wish.) In this real world scenario Apple has made $3.00 per book and Amazon, on that same book, has lost $2.00. Crazy, eh? Publishers made money on both sales, but more on the Amazon sale, $12 gross profit, than on the Apple sale, $7.00. Confused yet?

Publishers were willing to make less money in a deal with Apple to counter what they see as their ‘death by a thousand cuts’ from Amazon. Competition is at the heart of a healthy economic system. When it disappears quality, service, diversity — everything suffers. Although Amazon disavows the idea, everyone pretty much has figured out that the company would like to drive competition out of the arena. Imagine, as the physical book disappears one’s recourse is an e-book, sales of which have just surpassed the sales of (non-children’s) physical books for the first time. With its Kindle as king Amazon would be in a powerful position to dictate prices — and more. They already give away some public domain books for free and don’t charge for the bandwidth used by the Kindle service.

Kindle Direct is an Amazon program where authors can bypass the traditional publishers altogether. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that publishers recognize the writing on the wall: their futures are in a precarious position. Physical book publishing is an expensive operation what with paper, shipping, returns, etc. E-books are cheap by comparison. But you have to be around, in business and have a distribution network to take advantage of this new-ish technology. A buffer, that is, a competitor, who could go toe-to-toe with Amazon was a desirable thing. So desirable that publishers were willing to take a momentary loss of revenue to prop up Apple as that competitor.

See U.S. District Judge Denise Cote’s ruling here.

SIDE NOTE: Stephen King, one of the first authors to have his books come out in e-book form, is releasing his latest book, a sequel to The Shining, as a physical book only, to help a small publisher.

Weiner-Spitzer: Grilling the Candidates

Hot Dog! A Campaign Made for Jokes

I did not think the possibilities for puns and jokes could get any better when former NY Representative Anthony D. Weiner tossed his 10-gallon hat in the ring as a candidate for mayor of New York City.

But now we have former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer deciding to run for comptroller.

Politics. You just have to love a profession where there’s more forgiveness and second acts than we see in the church!

Read more at The New York Times