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Archive for the ‘current-events’ Category

Posted by dlandgren on 2012-01-25

Reading an article today in the New York Times regarding the end of semi-skilled jobs, I came across the following gem:

[…] Annie Lowrey of Slate wrote about a start-up called “E la Carte” that is out to shrink the need for waiters and waitresses: The company “has produced a kind of souped-up iPad that lets you order and pay right at your table. The brainchild of a bunch of M.I.T. engineers, the nifty invention, known as the Presto, might be found at a restaurant near you soon. … You select what you want to eat and add items to a cart. Depending on the restaurant’s preferences, the console could show you nutritional information, ingredients lists and photographs. You can make special requests, like ‘dressing on the side’ or ‘quintuple bacon.’ When you’re done, the order zings over to the kitchen, and the Presto tells you how long it will take for your items to come out. … Bored with your companions? Play games on the machine. When you’re through with your meal, you pay on the console, splitting the bill item by item if you wish and paying however you want. And you can have your receipt e-mailed to you. […]

That is so wrong, in so many ways. Who gives a flying fuck about nutritional information? If you had doubts, you shouldn’t have been here in the first place. And “bored with your companion”? What on earth possessed you to go to a restaurant with someone if you didn’t want to spend any time talking to them.? Being an autist playing on your console and ignoring them, I’m sure they will really appreciate your company. On the up side, I doubt you’ll dine with them ever again.

Then I went back to find out who wrote this drivel. Thomas Friedman. I might have known.

www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/opinion/friedman-average-is-over.html

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New perpetual motion breakthrough discovered!

Posted by dlandgren on 2011-03-17

In an article published on The Australian website, Roger asks “Why cant the pressure of the ocean be used too drive the salt water thru a filter and down a man made tunnel creating freash water and driving turbines too create endless power.”

Now I wonder why nobody ever thought of that before.

I’ve been trying find something to say about this, but in the face of such cluelessness I admit defeat.

source: DigitalGlobe-Imagery

Aside: I went looking for a photo to illustrate this entry on Flickr. And by a strange coincidence, The Australian used the same one. They attribute it to AFP, whom I assume paid DG-I for the privilege of using it in a commercial context?

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Breastfeeding: the good, the bad and the ugly

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-04-20

No, nothing to do with Mme Marceau today.

I just watched a 4-video interview from The Atlantic on the question of breastfeeding, where 4 women discuss their experiences in breastfeeding and what it all meant. I found it really bizarre. But then again I find modern America profoundly bizarre. I forget that the richest, most powerful country on earth can’t get its act together sufficiently to offer a woman a year off work to introduce her child to the world.

They discuss the pros and cons of breast versus bottle, which seem to boil down to what’s in it for the child, and the mother. (well duh!)

I have difficulty coming to terms with the mindset that makes people care to hypothesise over whether there is a tangible, measurable clinical health benefit that may accrue to a breastfed infant and then complain about the difficulty of drawing reliable inferences from the available statistics. Different social classes make different choices about breastfeeding (well duh! redux). And it messes up the stats! It’s hard! Not fair!

Nor should it be a problem that women could be engaging in some narcissistic feel-good behaviour at the same time. Those sneaky women! They’ve just gone through nine months of all sorts of ups and downs, and you would begrudge them that? If they draw some physical or psychological pleasure from the act, well, think of the savings in medication!

And people give you filthy looks when you say you don’t breastfeed. That’s okay, people give you filthy looks for all sorts of things. It’s in our nature. Whatever gets your child fed is fine by me.

But what really got on my wick was the futility of the exercise. Because the whole issue is moot! How long has the choice been available? By a rough calculation (based on consulting a couple of Wikipedia pages), formula in the present form only kicked off after the World War II, when complex industrial society really took off. Breastfeeding has been around for, hmmm, 300 000 000 years. So, here’s a question: which one will go away first? And even if I’m wrong in those numbers by an error of four orders of magnitude, evolution is still looking pretty good. (Sidelink: an article on how mammary glands may have evolved).

The question, if a bald, clinical question is to be posed, is:

On the one side we have an assembly line requiring formula foodstock, water, electricity and a bunch of specialist technicians to keep the thing tuned. And a largely petroleum-based delivery mechanism to bring it to you. On the other side, we have a woman, who is just hungry. And an infant.

When does it become more energetically interesting to just get some food to the mother, and let her produce the milk? When does the costs-benefits analysis go positive? I think that the fact that we can do without formula means that at some point in the foreseeable future, we probably will. So if in the meantime, formula does it for you and the water’s pure, go for it, end of story.

It’s another one of these things that we will just continue to do until we can’t, and then we won’t.

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Naomi Klein – The Shock Doctrine

Posted by dlandgren on 2009-03-07

The rise of disaster capitalism

The rise ofdisaster capitalism

Every once in a while a really good book comes along that connects the dots in a new way, and the result leads to a deeper understanding of human civilisation. This is one such book.

When some financial pundit argues that things would be so much better if only we paid heed to the likes of Milton Friedman, we now have the choice of being able to dismiss them as clueless, sold out or just plain dangerous.

Above all, this essay is a stunning indictment of the Chicago School of Economics, effortlessly deconstructing the toxic underpinnings of Friedman’s pet theories: state=evil, incompetent versus, private enterprise=good, efficient… and we are seeing just how wrong this is in 2009.

As the past few decades have shown, slavishly following these theories has resulted in a relentless transfer of wealth from the many to the few. And now, as the wheels fall off the global economy, the message contained in this book becomes even more important. It’s time to throw Friedman out onto the rubbish dump of history. Sorry. Nice try, but no thanks. I already gave at the office.

Among many other things I learnt from reading this, perhaps one of the most important things I take away from the book is a new point of view from which to understand Israel-Palestine relations.

In essence, the collapse of the Soviet Union led to widespread emigration, and according to the anywhere-but-here school of thought, people were happy to escape to Israel. This in turn disrupted the uneasy equilibrium between the Israeli and Palenstinian people, since the former suddenly needed the latter a whole lot less as a source of cheap labour. This gave the Israelis a strong negotiating position which in turn enabled them to lock down the territories.

I find this line of thought quite intriguing, in that I’ve never heard anyone else articulate it before now.

My only criticism of the book would be Klein’s use of the term “shock doctor” to describe the acolytes of Friedman who launch their brutal economic measures on country after country around the world. A doctor is someone who heals. These people inflict damage.

Other people have been writing about this subject for years. This just happens to be a very articulate and up-to-date essay. It’s a must read. Really. Go out and buy it, or borrow it from a library.

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Reflections on an Unconscious Civilization

Posted by dlandgren on 2008-11-23

As I continue my quest to find well-written articles explaining the current world situation, I came across Mike Whitney’s article This Is Not A Normal Recession: Moving on to Plan B.

It offers a pretty clear synthesis of the situation that allowed the current state of affairs to come to pass. This is complemented quite well by the Bailout and the New “Lost Generation”. Both of these articles lay the blame at the feet of the managers, the technocrats, the so-called élite.

The articles are not without their flaws. Whitney’s article trots out the tired meme, that “anyone with a pulse” could get a loan (on par with the “next shoe to drop” cliché). Also, in the first part of the article he blames the increasingly lax banking standards:

[…] the banks were merely the mortgage originators, they didn’t believe their own money was at risk, so they gradually lowered lending standards and issued millions of loans to unqualified applicants who had no job, no collateral and a bad credit history.

But now that the credit markets have seized up, he then goes on to say:

The banks are not to blame. There is a generalized contraction of credit in the non-bank financial system where structured finance has blown up and taken half of Wall Street with it.

That may be so, but you can’t have it both ways. The banks were all too happy pass off their mortgages to third parties and didn’t care to find out what became of them. They didn’t say no.

The Lost Generation story gives a good explanation of how management (of the MBA type) brought about the decline in US manufacturing, but finishes the article with a wishy-washy “Americans are worse than broke, they are discouraged.” Well, that’s all right then. For a moment I thought they might be angry. Elsewhere in the article is the following passage:

Since the advent of “Scientific Management” [from the] Harvard Business School, we have grown a generation of managers disinterested in the actual process of making products. Management and workers meet at the PERT charts and seldom anywhere else. Over time, the quality of American manufactured products began to decline. “Made in America” began to lose some of its luster as other nations began to manufacture products superior in quality.

This in particular reminded me of John Ralston Saul’s 1995 essay, The Unconscious Civilization. In 1995, just to provide a little context, Microsoft released Windows 95 (obviously), Ebay was founded, the USA abandoned the 55 mph speed limit and the Dow broke through the 4000 point mark and went on to crack the 5000 mark as well. And now 13 years later, the bets are on as to whether it will go racing past in the other direction before the end of the year.

I think that many of the problems affecting Western economies are a result of the managerial practices that came out of higher education in the United States after World War II.

I dug out my copy of The Unconscious Civilization and began to reread it last night. Saul understood the problems we faced (and continue to face), and articulated the issue as follows:

There is a general sense that our civilization is in a long-term crisis. […] It doesn’t resemble a 1929-style depression, but then depressions have always been different, one from the other. Ours has been softened and evened out thanks to the life preservers gradually put in place by society after 1929 in order to give us time to manoeuver and act should such a disaster repeat itself. It did, in 1973. Now, given our inability over the past two decades to deal with an unbreakable chain of unemployment, debt, inflation and no real growth, we have drifted farther and farther out into a cold, unfriendly, confusing sea. The new certitude of those in positions of authority — those out of the water — is that the certain answer is to cut away the life preservers.

This might be called a childlike act. Or one of unconsciousness so profound as to constitute stupidity.

He might have been talking about Wall Street bonuses when he wrote:

Many are surprised that this management elite continues to expand and prosper at a time when society as a whole is clearly blocked by a long-term economic crisis. There is no reason to be surprised. The reaction of sophisticated elites, when confronted by their own failure to lead society, is almost invariably the same. They set about building a wall between themselves and reality by creating an artificial sense of well-being on the inside.

On the decline of state investment in education:

[…] the reality is that throughout the West — not just in the United States — we are slipping away from [the] simple principle of high-quality public education. And, in doing so, we are further undermining democracy.

Why is this happening? Theoretically because of money shortages. But there is no shortage of funds for those areas of higher education which attract the corporatist elites. Indeed, as money is siphoned off from the public-school level to the favoured areas of higher education, so the quality of public education drops and more parents opt for private schools. In removing their children they also remove any real commitment to the system and accentuate the shift.

[…]

Interestingly enough, the evidence indicates that producing the best educated elite in the world doesn’t actually help a country. The two nations in the West — Britain and the United States — also have the most persistent and widespread social and economic problems.

Singling out the Chicago School of Economics, he asks:

How is it then that we have fallen into taking seriously someone like Milton Friedman who walks about equating, in a silly, indeed in an immature manner, democracy with capitalism?

and more generally

What are we to make of these managers, who have had almost absolute control of Western business for some 30 years, the last 22 of which have been marred by general crisis? Dud they play a role in bringing on the economic blockage? They certainly have failed to produce an economic recovery.

This leads to the following explanation of the great flaw in the push for privatisation at the end of the twentieth century :

The privatization theory is that the economy is being held down by too much government involvment. Sell the public companies and so invigorate the economy. However, an economy has many parts to it. There is the solid, conservative side that provides goods and services. But, by its very nature, it cannot provide much leadership towards new growth activity. Then there is the riskier, faster moving side, where new investment, new ideas, new energetic leaders combine to build the future economy.

Most of the government-owned industries belong on the conservative side, either by the very nature of what they produce — essential services like electricity or water — or because decades have already been spent fully developing the capacities of that domain. So the effect of the privatization movement is to take perfectly good private-sector risk capital and invest it in the non-risk side of the economy.

It’s somewhat depressing that in the intervening period not much has changed, and the text remains as relevant today as it did in 1995. To be honest, the narrative is a little erratic, and the lack of an index makes it difficult to find things. He has recently published a new book, which with a bit of luck will be better organised.

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McColo Corp — Less spam for me

Posted by dlandgren on 2008-11-18

via Mccolo Corp on WordPress

I get a lot of spam at work. Over the years I’ve taken lots of steps to try and cut it down. For a start, we reject any traffic that comes directly from an ADSL/cable residential address. The better ISPs have good reverse DNS that make this possible. Bogus HELO strings and other tricks jelp get rid of the worst offenders.

We also use a couple of good public blacklists and one we maintain ourselves. We used greylisting for a long time, but that party is now over. The rest of the spam that gets through is dropped (definitely spam) or quarantined (maybe spam) by SpamAssassin before being discarded.

The maybe spam is collated at night and in the morning I have an e-mail message saying that I have 130 messages that arrived for review. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but always around 100.

A few days ago, the e-mail messages began indicating that only 20-30 message had been quarantined. I asked one of the guys who looks after the mail server if he had introduced some new fancy technique that was cutting out the spam before it got to the inside server where SA runs. He looked puzzled, and then mentioned something about a US ISP being shut down.

I looked at the news links he sent me, and compared dates, and yes, the shutting down of McColo Corp corresponds quite precisely in the reduction of my spam. A factor of about 5.

The claims being made in the press do seem to be confirmed by my experience. It’s amazing that one single entity in the world should be responsible for such a large proportion of spam though. The trouble is, spammers are anything except stupid, and I fear this exercise will simply teach them the danger of having all their eggs in one basket.

So I assume it’s only a matter of time before my spam counts climb back up to their usual levels.

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