Thursday, February 16, 2012

Time for a Jubilee or something

Because basically every single foreclosure they looked at was invalid somehow or other. Seems almost like at this point, if you want to claim that a homeowner is supposed to be making mortgage payments to you, the burden of proof for your being entitled that should be on you. At least if the property in question changed hands since 2002 or so. You have to prove that fakery wasn't committed someplace. If nobody can prove a properly documented claim, the person living there should be presumed to have clear title. Especially if he's been paying taxes on it, claiming it as his primary residence.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Side Channel

In the analysis of communications security, a side channel is a leakage of information out of a secure channel, typically via some physical effect that was not considered by the device's designers. Sexy examples in cryptanalysis include tricks like monitoring fluctuations in the power consumption of a device as it decrypts a known message. Here is a kind of stupid but more real-world example, not limited to Android as the headline suggests.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

'Ware Shoggoths

Are we sure that this is a good idea?

There is a message in there somewhere

So, another Presidential "electronic town hall" thingie has come and gone, and again, by an overwhelming majority, the people who submitted questions were interested in talking about when we're going to do something about the totally fucked-up legal situation with cannabis. And again, as predictably as the dawn follows the nighttime, the response of Serious People (those who deigned to notice, anyway) was to point and laugh.

Look the reason this keeps happening is that there are lots of people who are made into 2nd or 3rd-class citizens by the law as it stands, really a lot of them, and they are victims of horrible injustice. And they can't get anybody to fucking listen. The cannabis laws have exactly the same moral force as would laws that tried to dictate how and when you could have sex, or how and when and where you had to pray. Which is to say, some negative amount: such laws are evil, and in a free society moral people have a duty to change them. Yet when people try to make themselves heard about this (remember how computers were going to empower people to affect big institutions, like government, that weren't paying attention?) we get shitty comments from the mouthpieces of approved opinion like

When President Barack Obama tonight takes voters’ questions submitted via YouTube, the marijuana lobby could be his toughest audience.

Look, I am not the fucking marijuana lobby. I am an American citizen who risks jail time for minding my own God-damned business, because too many of my fellow citizens can't be content to mind theirs. And anyway, the "marijuana lobby," such as it is, has got to be the most anemic, half-assed, ineffectual bit of lamery in American politics today, with the individual factions intent on claiming sole credit for every little amelioration so that they can poach membership from the others. I laugh biliously every time I hear some drug warrior talk about the "powerful, unified, well-funded" legalization effort. But I digress.

And don't you dare tell me that I don't really risk imprisonment because "nobody goes to jail for pot." Tell that to the judge, asshole, it'll be news to him. If you've got 10 grand ready cash to buy your way into an "intervention" program you can avoid a criminal record, but in the best of circumstances getting busted really, really, sucks. If you have never been busted then you are not qualified to have an opinion about this so just STFU and learn this by heart: being arrested is being oppressed. We have to save that oppression for people who need it, and that doesn't include pot smokers.

Oh, and what happened to those people, the ones who wanted to make themselves heard? They got blown off. Again.

Annals of Duh

Taliban "poised to retake Afghanistan" after NATO, says Reuters.

I'm sorry, is there supposed to be some kind of surprise here? I mean, we've spent the last 10 years basically demonstrating that we can't control events in Afghanistan, and proving that the best simulacrum of a national government that we can create requires constant infusions of cash and a military that costs several times the entire GDP of the country, so it is supposed to be illuminating when someone observes that as soon as we stop all of that, things will collapse?

Who the hell do these people think they are?

Is there any affront to decency by the State that comes close to the recent practice of making felons (warning Salon link) of people who use their phone cams to make recordings of police doing their thing in public? Is there any way to construe these laws, any interpretation at all, as anything other than a naked power grab? What possible reason could anyone have for making these laws, other than to defend police who break the law? And how are the police breaking the law? By beating up and tasing and pepper-spraying and otherwise brutalizing the citizenry, when the latter object to the criminality and incompetence of their rulers. Who coincidentally are the ones inventing this new right that police have, to do pretty much whatever they want in the expectation that they can throw into jail anyone who raises a stink. Because you can't raise a stink without evidence, and this shit is all about making it impossible for anyone to have any evidence about the police that was not issued by the police.

All of the crap in the PATRIOT and Military Commissions Acts pales in comparison to this, because these repressive powers are actually being used to, you know, repress people. Which illustrates the point people were making a few months back when Naomi Wolf published her squawk about the Feds coordinating a crackdown on OWS. In point of fact, repression in America generally isn't a top-down project where the Feds give marching orders and State and local cops carry them out. In any given county or State, the repression gets organized by the guys who own the place, and those people have no shortage of imagination when it comes to figuring out how to use the power of the law to screw people over.

This is the Owner Class at work protecting its interests, and incidentally showing its willingness to piss straight into the face of any concept of actual liberty for actual people (because, you know, the Constitution does not specifically enumerate a right to use your iPhone to make a video of a cop beating the shit out of somebody for no reason, so nobody has that right).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Because Republican Candidates Never, Ever Lie

So I see a bunch of headlines for stories where Newt Grangrene's campaign admits Newt's "having been inaccurate" when he said that he'd offered to send character witnesses to rebut his ex-wife's version of events.

Is there any way for a reasonable person to look at this and reach any conclusion other than that Newt was caught flat out in a bald-faced lie? If not, is there any reason not to call it out as such in the lede?

Or does this just prove that, no matter how outrageously obvious, no lie will ever be called by its right name by our liberal media?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ahimsa deficit

I will never understand how anyone can say things like this with a straight face:

Mr. Cook, Apple’s chief, last year received stock grants — which vest over a 10-year period — that, at today’s share price, would be worth $427 million, and his salary was raised to $1.4 million. In 2010, Mr. Cook’s compensation package was valued at $59 million, according to Apple’s security filings.

A person close to Apple argued that the compensation received by Apple’s employees was fair, in part because the company had brought so much value to the nation and world.

No, it is not "fair." Nobody "earns" an 8-figure salary. That kind of income can be achieved only through rent-seeking or thievery, and the fact that Apple is paying its executive team so lavishly instead of investing in its own infrastructure is part of the reason it can't "afford" to make iPhones in the US. They are using the money to pay people who say shit like this:

“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

No, asshole, the U.S. has not "stopped producing people with the skills" you need, you just stopped being willing to pay them enough to live on.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Would that it were so

Keith Humphreys resurrects a post from last summer, both making the point that the current Republican contest resembles nothing so much as a Democratic nomination race of the early '70s. The elites have lost control and the activists are running the show.

Not to argue that there's any comparison between the activist groups themselves or the direction in which they want to run things, just that the various flavors of True Believers are busy ripping each other up while the rest of the electorate stares in slack-jawed disbelief.

Live by the sword...

The first bit of political news I looked at today was this item in the NYT, and when I saw the line
For some veterans in the party, Mr. Gingrich’s victory increased the very possibility that some of them fear — that the combative and volatile Mr. Gingrich with whom they had worked in Washington would become the new face of the party
several thoughts occurred to me.
  • "Become?" Where have they been hiding?
  • Whose fault is that anyway?
  • And why complain?
I mean, if the GOP as an institution had been trying its damnedest to produce exactly this result, it would have done exactly what it's been doing ever since Obama was elected.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Because of the superstitions of itinerant Bronze-Age goat-herders, that's why

LA Times blogger Rene Lynch reports that many teens are unclear on the concept that having sex causes pregnancy and asks "Why?"

Because in the US of A, our public discourse is ruled by magical thinking about the desires of an imaginary ruler of the universe whose morals (if he actually existed) would be right at home in the courts of the Chalcolithic Mesopotamian despots he was modelled on. That is why.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The scientific merits of the presentation had been overwhelmed, for them, by the novel and unusual mode of demonstrating the results.

His slide-based talk consisted of a large series of photographs of his penis in various states of tumescence after injection with a variety of doses of phentolamine and papaverine.
Via.

Today's Weather: Scattered Screams of Wingnut Butthurt

... Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a global cultural ambassador.

Because "global cultural ambassadors" are the kind of dickless "soft power" nonsense you expect from blackity-black Kenyan Socialist Muslims, no good for the sort of in-your-face force projection that made America great.

Also, black, affirmative-action hire.

Today in Copywrong

Congress may take books, musical compositions and other works out of the public domain, where they can be freely used and adapted, and grant them copyright status again, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

One of the plaintiff's lawyers remarked that the decision “suggests Congress is not required to pay particularly close attention to the interests of the public when it passes copyright laws.”

Gee, ya think? Just strike out "copyright" and the description would be a fair one, sez me.

Final Proof: Iowa Caucuses Are Irrelevant

The Washington Post reports that Mitt Romney isn't the winner of the Iowa Caucuses after all. I will dispense with any hair-pulling about whether Mittens would have done as well in NH without the Iowa "win," and just note that Iowa GOP wheel Chad Olsen pretty much gives away the game with the line
Asked who actually won the primary, Olsen told the Register: “It’s a split decision.”

Except there are no "split decisions" when there's actually money on the table. Let's remember that quote the next time the contest is between a Democrat and a Republican, and the Republican is down by .005% of the vote and won't quit trying to find specious challenges to the total. There's probably a rich vein of irony to be mined here, if anyone could be bothered. I'd be happy if this turn helps convince people that what voters in Iowa (and NH) think in January doesn't really matter that much.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Feeling safer already, part MCMLXVII

In 1967, Adrian Dorst was a 24-year-old student living in a communal apartment in Ontario. The RCMP raided the apartment, and found a pipe contaminated with cannabis resin hanging on the wall, so they busted Dorst as a drug kingpin (OK, I made up the "kingpin" part). Presumably they were looking for something a little more impressive, but that was what they found. The judge couldn't just dismiss the case, but he evidently gave the Mounties a reaming for wasting his time, and Dorst a suspended sentence.

Dorst probably more or less forgot about the incident, until last week. See, he made the error of scheduling the trip of a lifetime with a connection through the Land of the Free, and when he arrived at the airport in Vancouver, the sleepless guardians of the Homeland nailed the miscreant, averting the menace that would have been posed by his 2 1/2 hour layover in Texas. And incidentally costing him the nonrefundable price of his airfare from Canada to Ecuador.

DHS are the villains here, but this kind of picayune bullsht seems pretty typical of US law enforcement in general, which is why the US needs drug law liberalization that leaves nothing to the discretion of local authorities. Because if you give our cops an excuse to bust somebody they will use it. Is this unique to the US? I dunno, but our unnamed hero at the Canadian border would have a short career in law enforcement were he, say, Dutch, because those guys are expected not to abuse their authority like this.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"His word was not his bond"

Paul Krugman points to a WaPo OpEd that claims to describe the behavior of Bain Capital negotiators, as told by someone who had dealings with them. The upshot is that Bain played dirty pool, violating the norms of Wall Street dealmaking in a way that indicates Romney and Co. learned negotiation by studying the behavior of the Soviet Union. Seriously, the approach described in the Post piece is almost a paraphrase of George Kennan's reminiscences about how the Soviets attempted to wring every possible concession from each encounter by moving the goalposts every time the deal seemed to be done.

Anyway, one wonders, if personal trust is such an important element in Wall Street wheeler-dealing, why word of this didn't get around? Or were the victims too embarrassed by being taken in this way to admit it in a way that would result in any bad consequences for Bain? Whatever the explanation, it is not flattering to the steely-eyed Masters of the Universe.

At a loss for words

The NYT's A.G. Sulzberger seems intent on proving the truth of every stereotype about New Yorkers, vegetarians, and the beneficiaries of nepotism(1) in his cri du coeur of a few days back, lamenting the dietary barbarism of Midwesterners. Seriously, I started reading the piece prepared to be entertained and maybe even educated a bit, having in recent years switched from obligate carnivore to sometime eater of vegetarian meals myself. It did not take Mr. Sulzberger long to disabuse me of those notions, with remarks like
It should be stated right up front that the Midwest, with its rich culture, stark natural beauty and superlative decency, quickly defies stereotypes. Living in the middle of the country is very different from living in the middle of nowhere.
Seriously, do rich New Yorkers send their kids to schools that have special classes to teach tone-deaf condescension? I didn't make it much further than that, because reading further would clearly have been the time-management equivalent of throwing good money after bad.

(1) Why is there no noun for this? Nepot seems to mean just "descendant," from the Latin for "nephew."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wingnuts of Yore

I have often wondered (not enough to actually do any research on the question) how far back in history do the roots of modern wingnuttery extend? Anyone who's read Rick Perlstein's Before the Storm knows that the politics of the Tea Party actually goes back to at least the immediate post-WWII era and the candidacy of Robert Taft, but where did that come from? Republican hostility to FDR is famous ("traitor to his class" and all that) but does that really make it a candidate for antecedent of the Teatards?

Erik Loomis provides us today with an example of the wingnut flower in full blossom, dated 1948:

While carping about race and creed inequality, as a theme song to bring the unthinking masses to his support, he and his wife actually did more to promote creed and race strife than was ever done before in the history of our country or will ever be in the future.
and
The Roosevelt administration is directly responsible for our government being hopelessly involved in a debt so great that if it is ever repaid, which is doubt, virtual enslavement to taxes sufficient to kill all initiative will be necessary for the next two hundred years.

I think there is common perception that wingnuttery dates from, and is a reaction to, attempts to extend first-class citizenship to brown people (alluded to e.g. here) but that only goes far enough to explain how the crazy could be made palatable for retail. The real origin is older, and is a reaction to earlier attempts constrain the power of the owner class v. their employees, to the outrage of the former.

Letter to the Public Editor of the New York Times

To the Public Editor,

Re: "Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?" and "Update to my Previous Post on Truth Vigilantes"

Both of Jan. 12, 2012

Both Web publications.

Sir:

I logged off my computer yesterday afternoon with a sense of optimism engendered by the first of your referenced posts (and, I might add, its accompanying comments thread). I thought you'd made an unfortunate choice when you cited the example of Clarence Thomas' assertions about his financial disclosures: that is a peccadillo, in greater scheme of things, and close enough to the edge of verifiability to be a poor example of the issues your readers responded to in their comments. I also thought the title infelicitous: "vigilantism" carries pretty unsavory connotations for people who care about fairness and due process, and I don't think many of your readers want you to abandon your commitment to those virtues.

I took the first of your posts yesterday as meaning something quite different than what you intended, apparently. I was deeply vexed and disappointed to read your "Update" today. I think it is particularly dismaying that you should dismiss your readers' comments as consisting of "more heat than light." I took the trouble to read all of the comments (265 at the time I'm thinking of) and fewer than 2% offered something other than the sentiment of "Hooray! The Times is waking up to the fact that people think it's a stenography service and mouthpiece for wealth and power, and they want to do something about that!" How often do you see 98% of the respondents to any question, in any forum, respond with that degree of unanimity? Even flash mobs organized to overwhelm online polls don't generally manage that.

The comments that you dismiss so blithely in your "Update" are so unanimous because the Times has a real problem of credibility, which it shares with every other nationally-distributed commercial news outlet. Namely, to some sizable fraction of your readers, you appear unwilling to challenge or even cast doubt on the statements of powerful people or institutions when doing so might expose you to criticism for "liberal bias." This unwillingness extends to such extraordinary lengths as, for example, allowing the former Vice Presidential candidate of one of the two major parties to repeatedly assert that the winners of the election she'd lost were proposing legislation which would have the effect of establishing euthanasia panels for elderly Americans, without pointing out that in the plainest possible terms that the proposed legislation contained no such provision. Indeed, the larger story with the incidents to which I refer is that one of the major political parties in the United States has utterly abandoned any pretext of interest in being truthful with the people it seeks to govern, preferring instead to mislead and obfuscate and flat out prevaricate more or less without respite. The Times apparently did not consider this newsworthy, and, given the tone of your "Update" evidently will continue not to do so.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Snarl

I don't claim that there's anything original in what follows, but I'm in a vicious mood today and this really set me off.

As I was driving today, I got cut off by an SUV with a "baby on board" sign hanging in the rear window. Ordinarily I don't even notice the damned things anymore, though they never failed to annoy me when they first appeared. What exactly is supposed to be the point of these things? Am I supposed to look at your sign and think "OMG I should be extra-careful not to take any risks that might result in my death or maiming, or the destruction of the single most valuable piece of movable property that I own, because your special little brat is on the road?"

Even having been a parent of babies myself, I still find it impossible to imagine a motivation for displaying one of these things that doesn't make the displayer a total wanker.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Somebody at NIDA is in trouble...

... because they accidentally funded a study on cannabis and health (specifically the effect of pot smoking on lung function) which concluded that, at least as far as the two principal measures of pulmonary health are concerned, pot is mostly harmless.

Actually they didn't say "mostly harmless," but I had to get that in there. What they said was

Occasional and low cumulative marijuana use was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function.

It should be noted that "occasional and low cumulative marijuana use" in this case means "a bit less than a joint per day, on average" so this is not looking only at your once-a-month tokers. Also, in pleasant contrast to every study I have ever seen that attributed horrible effects to cannabis (which are typically n=7, followed for a month or so), this study had a subject population in the thousands and tracked smoking behavior over 20 years.

As soon as I'd downloaded the PDF I looked at "Funding/Support" section, because I was curious to find out who'd paid for a cannabis health study that wasn't designed as a hatchet job. I was amused by the "Role of Sponsors," which noted

The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded this analysis but did not participate in CARDIA or review the manuscript

Monday, January 9, 2012

Obama Republicans, Ch II

Greg Sargent points to a lengthy Reuters article detailing the incompetence and crookedness of Romney's Bain Capital in managing a steel plant in Kansas City. By the time the plant closed, the pension fund was in such bad shape that it required a Federal bailout, and the workers (in addition to losing their jobs) got screwed out of severance pay and insurance. Sargent also had a chat with one of the guys in this video:

I reached Wells today, and unlike Box, he tells me he’s a conservative, who has switched back and forth from Republican to independent, and says he voted for George W. Bush for president in 2000 and 2004 and John McCain in 2008. (He has also supported Claire McCaskill for Senate.) Yet despite his leanings, he was willing to conspire with MoveOn to produce this video, which is a pretty good preview of the sort of thing you’ll be seeing in ads in struggling Rust Belt communities against Romney, should he become the GOP nominee.

Also,

“Right now, if Romney gets in, I am so disgusted that I will probably vote for Obama and I detest him,” Wells says. “Anyone who is willing to put a predatory capitalist in office deserves to get Obama.”

I'm not sure how much sense I can make of that last sentence, but that's somewhat beside the point, which is this: we have in Wells a guy who'd quaffed deeply enough of the Republican Kool-Aid that even after two terms of Bush II he still hadn't had enough reaming, who is now saying "no more please." If Wells is representative of anything, a worm is finally turning long after first being trodden upon.

Via, where Cole expresses my feelings about Romney perfectly.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Intentionally lame-ass translation as propaganda tool

The WaPo informs us today that a US carrier group has left the Persian Gulf at the same time an Iranian naval exercise was winding down, and that the top Iranian military officer took advantage of the occasion to express how the Iranians feel about US carrier groups operating in the Gulf:
“We warn this ship, which is considered a threat to us, not to come back, and we do not repeat our words twice,” Salehi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency.

Now, for all I know, this is a literally exact translation of what the guy actually said, but I'd be willing to bet it's not idiomatic. It seems to me almost like somebody carefully chose a translation to make the speaker sound kinda dumb. I've seen this a lot of times over the years without really noticing it, but now that I think of it I wonder if Yasir Arafat could really have been as inarticulate as the US news media often made him sound.