Friday, April 30, 2010

Advancing, the Creeping Enemy

What is this, you ask? It's the entire Afghan war reduced to a flow chart and put on a PowerPoint slide.

Of what use is this slide, which was presented to General McChrystal as part of a staff briefing?

Well, none. But it sure looks like it contains a vast amount of information, doesn't it? It actually looks as if it might mean something! But it's empty of actual useful information.

Up till now, our military has been intermittently stymied by an elusive enemy, dubious allies, uncertain policy, media overexposure, and politicians whose sole exposure to an "afghan" was dozing under a comforter.

But now, the military is under serious threat by a new, insidious enemy, which is slowly constricting and paralyzing our entire enterprise. I refer, of course, to PowerPoint.

The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat . . .

Last year when a military Web site, Company Command, asked an Army platoon leader in Iraq, Lt. Sam Nuxoll, how he spent most of his time, he responded, “Making PowerPoint slides.” When pressed, he said he was serious.

“I have to make a storyboard complete with digital pictures, diagrams and text summaries on just about anything that happens,” Lieutenant Nuxoll told the Web site. “Conduct a key leader engagement? Make a storyboard. Award a microgrant? Make a storyboard.”

. . . Commanders say that the slides impart less information than a five-page paper can hold, and that they relieve the briefer of the need to polish writing to convey an analytic, persuasive point. Imagine lawyers presenting arguments before the Supreme Court in slides instead of legal briefs.

Captain Burke’s essay in the Small Wars Journal also cited a widely read attack on PowerPoint in Armed Forces Journal last summer by Thomas X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, whose title, “Dumb-Dumb Bullets,” underscored criticism of fuzzy bullet points; “accelerate the introduction of new weapons,” for instance, does not actually say who should do so.

Yes, it looks as if the U.S. military has been rendered helpless by their own PowerPoint addiction, their vital institutional organs punctured by bullet points.

Can't we find some help for these poor victims before it's too late?

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Collapse-- the Musical!

And it's all true!

[via Daniel]

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dangerous Encounter

I was contemplating the moon at 2:30 this morning from the hot tub, and I looked down to see an enormous hound standing under the elm tree staring at me. It looked big enough to rip my arm off. I had a moment of frigid horror, and then the hound moo'd and wandered off, chewing its cud.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Persistence of Vision (New Mexico)

Saturday night we drove to Santa Fe to enjoy a baroque concert. It might as well have been titled "Music You've Heard a Lot," as it included Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Bach's Concerto in D for Two Violins, and a concerto grosso by Handel, the precise title of which escapes me. Whether you know it or not, you've heard the first two a lot, and I, at least, have heard the Handel more than a few times.

Still, I had never heard any of these concerti performed live before, and the violin solos were very good, so I had a very pleasing evening.

The music was not terribly enhanced by the acoustics of the St. Francis Auditorium, but my viewing experience was. The auditorium is one of the great weird architectural oddities of the state, so wonderfully strange that you have to ask yourself at every moment, What were these people thinking?

The auditorium is part of the New Mexico Museum complex, built in 1917 in the Pueblo Revival style that is in these latter days not simply recommended for Santa Fe buildings, but required. The complex features a lovely courtyard with a strange concrete monolith fountain in the center, and murals of Depression Art set in cloisters around the court.

Most Depression Art murals, financed in the 1930s by FDR's Federal Art Project, seem to consist of arrangements of noble proletarians, farmers scattering grain or steelworkers poised with sledgehammers, all prepared to march off into the brave post-New Deal future.

Except in New Mexico. Depression Art in New Mexico is unlike art found anywhere. Check, for example, the deranged interpretations of the Book of Revelations blazing away in the stairwells of one of the buildings at Eastern New Mexico University.

In the courtyard, the murals feature a strange collision of Pueblo Indians with medieval alchemy. The Pueblos, in traditional garb, are enacting symbolic visions of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. There are also a couple murals of Pueblo Indians going about their daily tasks.

But it's the St. Francis auditorium that really rattles our consensus reality. It's a measure of how long I've lived in New Mexico that it didn't sink in at first just how odd the place really is.

For one thing, it's build in imitation of a church--- specifically San Esteban del Rey, the gigantic 17th Century Spanish mission church on the Acoma Reservation, built essentially by forced labor, with its bells paid for by enslaving a dozen or so of the pueblo's children to Mexico. San Esteban is built of mud, tons and tons of it, with the enormous tree trunks that hold up the roof (vigas) having been hauled twenty miles, and then somehow got up the mesa top to the site of the church.

Like the Acoma church, the roof of the auditorium is held up by enormous carved wooden vigas. There are two bell towers out front. There's a choir loft. There's an elaborate carved wooden screen, though it's not where you'd actually put a screen in a church--- it's off to one side of the altar area. The audience sits on wooden pews--- though very comfortable ones, with leather cushions.

And the murals on the walls are as religious as the setting. There's a mural of the Conversion of St. Francis, and another of the Renunciation of St. Claire--- or, as they're known locally, San Francisco and Santa Clara. There's a large, strange mural showing a monk, backed by a line of conquistadors, holding up an enormous crucifix before an Aztec leader supported by a line of elaborately-dressed warriors. There were other murals I didn't get a chance to examine carefully.

So you have to wonder what people were thinking when they put this oddity together. Did the architects just say, "Well, I've always wanted to build a giant mud church!" Did the muralists say to themselves, "Pueblo Indians and alchemy just go together!" or "I'm going to do my own strange take on religious art on the walls of a secular building that's been totally disguised as a church!"

Whatever they were thinking, they've created something mind-crunchingly odd that you won't see anywhere else on the planet.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

90 Years and Counting . . .

Happy National Sovereignity Day to my friends in Turkey!

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dead Print, Dead Paper

I'm trying to decide whether or not I want to drop my subscription to Albuquerque's sole surviving daily paper.

I don't want to, y'know, be Part of the Problem. Newspapers are dying. Friends of mine in the newspaper business have been laid off and can't find jobs. Journalism is a (potentially) noble profession and a (potential) valued resource in a democracy. I've subscribed to a daily paper since I first moved out of my parents' home.

But when I look at the Albuquerque Journal these days, I'm inclined to think, "Where's the news?"

Monday's paper was sadly typical. The big headline read Crowds Pack In To Get Pancakes. Another read War On DWIs Far From Over. (I mean, duh . . . ) Below the fold we see Traveling Cat Comes Home. And then there's a feature story about a woman whose restraining orders against her husband don't seem to be working. I'm sorry for her, but that's not front-page news.

The whole front page is tabloid. Looking inside, the international and national news is all AP, NY Times, Washington Post. I can get all that online, and usually do. I'm rarely interested in the sports page. The local news, unsurprisingly, is mainly about Albuquerque, and I don't live in Albuquerque. The editorial pages are nearly all Republicans chanting in unison whatever issue Republican Central tells them to chant about that week. I rarely read the comics page because the pictures have shrunk to the size of postage stamps.

The Journal's decided that its audience is relentlessly trivial and interested only in tabloid news. Maybe that's true, but the strategy is still doomed--- that audience can get a lot more tabloid online than in the pages of the Journal.

"But we can't afford investigative reporters!" I hear them cry. But somehow they can afford the reporters who write the stories about the lost cats and all the sad stories about the mothers of kids who OD on heroin.

Is this worth $171 a year? I am beginning to think it is not.

I already get most of my news online. It's faster, convenient, and free. When, or if, the news finally makes the paper, the paper just reprints the wire story and so doesn't add any of the depth that you might expect from the passage of time.

For heavy-duty analysis, news, and vast amounts of economic statistics, I subscribe to the Economist. For well-written seriousness, we get the New Yorker. For science fiction, I get science fiction zines. For important stories made trivial, as well as hours and hours of live reportage about Tiger Woods' sex life, I can watch CNN. (It was a revelation watching CNN in Europe, though. It had actual news! Lots of it! Obviously CNN has decided that America is full of idiots and that the only people who deserve real news live abroad.)

Local papers haven't been so much killed as hollowed out. They look like newspapers, they just don't have newspaper-like stuff in them any more. It's the end of a tradition--- and maybe American democracy along with it. (After all, when the local papers go, who's going to keep the local politicians honest?)

Though I've been keeping my subscription up more in hope than out of any conviction that the paper will again become a useful part of my life, I still find myself saddened by the thought of dropping my Journal subscription. I seem to see long ghostly lines of people with names like Carolus and de Girardin and Franklin and Dow and de Tocqueville looking at me and shaking their heads.

Sigh. I remember when reporters and editors were heroes instead of lackeys, when they transmitted news instead of press releases. Those days are long gone.

Goodbye, my newspaper. Goodbye.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

At the Club Savoy . . .

I'm brush-whacking and sawing dead limbs off my apricot trees today, so while I'm ducking deadwood and dodging the chainsaw, please enjoy Virginia O'Brien ("Miss Deadpan") recalling a night of adventure.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Come Up the Mountain

Y'know, yesterday was one of those days when it occurred to me that I might just be a good teacher.

I got an email from my sometime student Saladin Ahmed (Taos Toolbox 2007) that he's just got an agent. This is on top of an amazing few weeks: a Nebula nomination, a Campbell nomination for best new writer, and becoming father to twins.

Not to take away from Saladin's considerable talent, but I'd like to give myself a certain amount of credit for all that (except, of course, for the twins).

Plus of course Will McIntosh (Taos Toolbox 2008) is also up for a Nebula, and Ian Tregillis (Clarion 2005) had his first novel published just this week.

So here's my pitch: if you're serious about becoming a writer of this stuff, you should come to Taos Toolbox. You've got till May 1 to get your application in, and there is currently room for you.

Cuz I really know what I'm talking about when it comes to writing and selling science fiction and fantasy, and so do my fellow instructors Nancy Kress, and Carrie Vaughn.
You're either serious about this or not. You're on the mountain or off the mountain.

Come up the mountain, and you'll kick literary butt all the way down.


Goldman Sachs Gets Theirs

Ah, lovely! The S.E.C. is finally suing those meretricious smart bastards at Goldman, Sachs for selling their customers the same bonds they were shorting in the market. And which were, furthermore, structured to fail and to make Goldman a ton of money.

The instrument in the S.E.C. case, called Abacus 2007-AC1, was one of 25 deals that Goldman created so the bank and select clients could bet against the housing market. Those deals, which were the subject of an article in
The New York Times in December, initially protected Goldman from losses when the mortgage market disintegrated and later yielded profits for the bank.

As the Abacus deals plunged in value, Goldman and certain hedge funds made money on their negative bets, while the Goldman clients who bought the $10.9 billion in investments lost billions of dollars.

And guess what? The bonds were insured through AIG! Which means the American taxpayers were left holding the bag.

When you buy a bond from an investment bank, you have to ask yourself: "Why is this bank selling this bond? If it's so good, why don't they keep it and make a big profit? After all, aren't they in business to make money?"

Which isn't to say that the bank may not, out of a spirit of perfect disinterested public spirit and good will, be denying itself scads of money in order to help your portfolio stagger into the black--- after all, they just may have hired Mr. Deeds, as played by Jimmy Stewart, as their fund manager--- I'm just saying you want to ask yourself, and your broker, this crucial question.

Because if you don't--- or if, as in this case, you ask the question and what comes back is a big fat lie--- you could end up on the short end of the stick while the bank sings all the way to the, um, bank. (Mixed metaphors come naturally to me on a Friday.)

Because, y'know, an S.E.C. lawsuit will punish the bank by fining it a smallish percentage of their ill-gotten gains, but it's not going to help you. You'll have to sue on your own, and that will cost you all the money that you've already lost.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

New This Week!

Tor Books has done an amazing job of publishing two of my friends on the same day!
First up is my former student, Ian Tregillis, who is a Los Alamos physicist, and who in his spare time wrote a trilogy that has me clenching my jaw with bilious envy.
Bitter Seeds is the first in the series, a harrowing tale of espionage, treachery, and darkest magic set in an alternate World War II. You can tell it's a cheerful tale by the fact that the chick on the cover is, like, walking on skulls while wearing a swastika armband.
Ian is a fantastic talent, and this is a brilliant book, and I deeply envy anyone who reads it for the first, or even the second, time.
(I have one complaint about this edition, however. It's about the cover. All Tor needs to do in order to sell a kazillion copies of this book is to put a big swastika on the cover! Listen guys, it's a book about World War II! A tiny little swastika on a tiny little armband on a tiny little character does not necessarily translate into mass sales! Rule Number One for a World War II book: MAKE THE SWASTIKA BIG!)
The second book is The Edge of Ruin, by my friend Melinda Snodgrass, who was story editor on Star Trek and wrote for Reasonable Doubts and The Profiler and other fine television. This is the second in her series of novels in which reason, truth, and Earth confronts an invasion of irrationality and superstition. Not like this would ever happen, of course.
(The first book in the series was The Edge of Reason, which you should also read.)
I'm particularly anxious that y'all buy this one because the first book came out a couple years ago, and Tor, umm, dawdled in getting the second book on the shelves. It's what happens with far too many series: the publisher waits for all momentum to disperse before putting out the next book. (When it's the author's fault, it's a different issue.)
I think I can safely guarantee that this is the most unique novel this year featuring Jesus Christ in a speaking part. Check it out.

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Truth . . . about Popcorn Lung

I just found out that someone I know has popcorn lung, an irreversible lung disease caused by inhaling the buttery aroma of microwave popcorn, or specifically diacetyl, the chemical used to produce the buttery taste in the absence of actual butter. Diacetyl is also found in candies and wines.

[In interests of fairness, I would like to point out that this is not April First.]

Why have you never heard of popcorn lung before? Because of the evial machinations of the Popcorn Lobby, I expect.

I imagine you can continue to safely eat candy, since normal folks generally don't snort it, but if you look at a wine label and it says "contains notes of cherry, licorice, and the enticing aroma of Jiffy Pop," you'd better put that sucker back on the shelf.


Des Imperiums

The Praxis is now available in Germany.
I advise you all to buy lots of copies for your German friends.

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Watch the Skies!

While in Portales I got to admire Steve Gould's new iPad, which I have to say is a lovely, shiny toy that for the most part does nothing that other platforms can't do better and cheaper. It's an awkward size and my cargo pants would have to be completely redesigned if I were to carry one around. (And it won't run Flash, and because it doesn't have a phone you can't call for pizza, so what's the point, really?)

There was one app, though, that nearly had me writing a check to Steve Jobs for five hundred bucks.

It's a program that will show you whatever's in the sky directly behind the iPad.

So if you hold the iPad up to Scorpius, it will show the stars of Scorpius, an outline of the constellation, the other stars within the frame, and any planets that may be rambling past the scenery. You can tap on the planets and major stars and nebulae and galaxies and get a closeup view, along with a bunch of data.

It will work in the daytime. It will show you the stars on the other side of the sun or moon. It will look down through the Earth and show you the skies of another hemisphere. If you're stargazing, you'll be able to easily identify what you're looking at, or locate an object so that you can point your telescope at it. And you can dial down the intensity of the screen so it won't ruin your night vision.

But I didn't spend the five hundred bucks, so I can't tell you anymore than this.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Political Idiocy Week, #-2

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as the Vatican's secretary of state is Number Two among the Catholic clergy, was asked yesterday about a pedophilia scandal involving a priest having sex with a large number of underage girls.

Cardinal Bertone's answer: blame the gays!

"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and pedophilia. But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and pedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."

It was the gays who caused the priest to bang all those underage hotties! Dang--- doesn't that make perfect sense, now that you think about it?

At least he's risen above the Church's previous standard response, which was to blame the victims.

Another, rather more traditional answer was given by retired Bishop Giacomo Babini, who blames the pedophilila scandal on Freemasons and Jews. “. . . Eternal enemies of Catholicism, namely the freemasons and the Jews, whose mutual entanglements are not always easy to see through. … I think that it is primarily a Zionist attack, in view of its power and refinement. They do not want the church, they are its natural enemies. Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are God-killers.”

You might think that the 81 year-old Babini had already said more than enough for one day, but once some people “pop,” they just can’t stop. “The Holocaust was a disgrace for all of humanity,” the good bishop told the world, “but now we have to look at it without rhetoric and with open eyes. Don’t believe that Hitler was merely crazy. The truth is that the Nazis’ criminal fury was provoked by the Jews’ economic embezzlement, by which they choked the German economy.”

Somehow I think that a resolution of the scandal will continue to elude us, at least as long as the Church has defenders like this.

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Political Idiocy Week, #-1

Oklahoma Tea Party types along with conservative legislators are planning to create a new, state-sponsored militia to stand in arms against the federal government, and particularly against the new health care bill.

In other words, Oklahomans are planning to give arms, ammunition, and explosives to the same sort of people that blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City just 15 years ago.

Some people in Oklahoma are apparently too stupid to remember back that far.

Or maybe, like Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, they're remembering as far back as 1861, when treason and armed rebellion against a lawfully-elected president was fashionable in certain quarters of our republic.

Plus, given their opposition to health care, what is the new militia's rallying cry going to be? You can just see them putting their heads together to decide on a slogan.

"'You can stop cramming health care down our throats when you pry it out of our . . . ' ---oh wait, that doesn't make any sense."

"'We demand that insurance companies have the right to refuse us!' ---oops, that doesn't sound quite right, either."

"'Keep the government's hands off our Medicare!' ---oh snap, I don't think that's quite right."

"'If our children get in accidents, we demand that you let them die!'"

Umm, yeah, that'll work.

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Monday, April 12, 2010


A year ago today I was in Euromos.
We were driving from Bodrum to Selcuk, and on the map, alongside the highway, there was a little star on the map indicating an ancient site.
The road wasn't well marked, but we managed to find it and bump along a rural two-rut lane until we came out of the trees and saw what was probably the best-preserved temple of our journey.
Euromos was a polis created when a number of local cities decided to move to a single site better situated for defense. They chose an appropriate name for their new city: Euromos means "Strong."
The Temple of Zeus is about the only part of the city excavated. There's a theater completely covered by trees and brush, and bits of a massive wall, and of course everywhere you go, you're walking on ancient potsherds, which is simply normal for Turkey.
But the temple is just perfect. It's survived the centuries and the earthquakes wonderfully well, and its setting is breathtaking. It's perfectly proportioned for its site, and I haven't yet seen a photograph that does it justice.
After this little detour, the ladies began to call me "Zeus." As I am not inclined to analysis when people flatter me, I will not venture to guess why.

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Launch Pad

Hey, in July I get to go to Laramie and hang out with some cool people for a week!

How nifty is this?


Political Idiocy Week, #1

Let's not assume that this week's political idiocy is committed only by politicians. John Derbyshire of the National Review, the once-respectable publication founded by noted racist William F. Buckley, has been carrying the flag of white supremacy ever onward!

Derbyshire, given the opportunity, to speak before the Black Law Students' association of the UPenn Law School, spent his time lecturing his audience about their racial inferiority, and pointing out that their genetics have condemned them to be stupid brutes who will inevitably end their days behind bars.

No doubt he thought it was damn' liberal of him to allow that Negroes are good at sports.

Different physical types, as well as differences in behavior, intelligence, and personality, are exactly what one would expect to observe when scrutinizing these divergent populations.

Now, the empirical grounds. We all notice the different physical specialties of the different races in the Olympic Games. There was a run of, I think, seven Olympics in which every one of the finalists in the men’s 100 meters sprint was of West African ancestry — 56 out of 56 finalists. You get less pronounced but similar patterns in other sports — East African distance runners, Northeast Asian divers, and so on. These differences even show up within sports, where a team sport calls for highly differentiated abilities in team members — football being the obvious example.

We see the same differences in traits that we don’t think of as directly physical, what evolutionary psychologists sometimes refer to as the “BIP” traits — behavior, intelligence, and personality. Two of the hardest-to-ignore manifestations here are the extraordinary differentials in criminality between white Americans and African Americans, and the persistent gaps in scores when tests of cognitive ability are given to large population samples.

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Political Idiocy Week, #2

With Congress on a pointless hiatus, the leadership isn't able to ride herd on its membership, which means that they're all off in the boonies, demonstrating their general stupidity and uselessness.

John McCain is faced with a right-wing challenger in the primaries, one J.D. Hayworth, and so far McCain's been running scared, claiming among other things that he was never a maverick, that he's always been an extreme right-wing party-line kinda guy, just like the dimwits who will vote for his opponent.

However ill-advised this stance may be, at least McCain has someone smart and funny working for him, and who put together this video on behalf of Mr. Hayworth, pointing out his stance on crucial issues of the day.

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Political Idiocy Week, #3

Well okay, this happened over a week ago, but it's still priceless. In this video Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) wonders whether the addition of 8000 troops will cause Guam to capsize. Not the USS Guam, which might make sense, but the island, which last I heard was anchored solidly to the planet.

The naval officer he is questioning stifles his hysterical laughter with admirable military discipline.

Congressman Johnson later said he was making a joke. His rambling delivery and his inability to recall words suggest he was heavily medicated. If it turns out he's bravely fighting cancer or something, then I will duly feel sorry for making fun of him, but until then I will continue to giggle.

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Thursday, April 08, 2010


I'm out on the Llano Estecado, in Portales, for the annual Jack Williamson lecture.

Having fun with Connie Willis, Ian Tregillis, Melinda Snodgrass, Patrice Caldwell, and all the regulars.
Tomorrow I meet with students, do panels, and--- y'know--- stuff.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Avatar Comparison Chart

There's nothing wrong with this Avatar Comparison Chart except that it leaves out A Man Called Horse, which with its sequels has exactly the same story.

[via Janice]

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Shadow Network

Another enormous online spy network, dubbed Shadow Network, has been revealed by those wonky Canadian online cowboys of the Munk School of Global Affairs. Shadow Network's targets included the Dalai Lama (who was targeted last year by another spy network, the Ghost Net), but they were interested primarily in India.

According to the report by the researchers, “Shadows in the Cloud”, the documents pilfered through the Shadow Network included sensitive and confidential embassy documents about India’s relationships with Russia and nations in West Africa and the Middle East, and “secret assessments of India’s security situation in the states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura, as well as concerning the Naxalites and Maoists,” two political opposition groups. The spies also stole documents from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

The intruders obtained reports on several Indian missile systems as well as documents related to the travel of NATO forces in Afghanistan. There is evidence that computers at Indian embassies in Kabul, Moscow and Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and at the High Commission of India in Abuja, Nigeria, had been compromised, including ones that process visa applications.

Visa applications, eh? You might just want to check those folks again.

Unlike Ghost Net, which seemed to operate from the Chinese island of Hainan, Shadow Network appears to hail from Sichuan.

Team Red rides again!

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Premium Channels

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled 3-0 that the FCC has no legal authority to enforce net neutrality on broadband providers. Providers could, for example, charge extra for larger files, or restrict access to sites that provide content they don't approve of, or--- as Comcast has already done--- sent forged packets to their own customers to terminate peer-to-peer sessions.

Comcast has said it has changed its policies in this and other regard, and now supports net neutrality . . . especially now that they need the FCC's permission to buy NBC. (My god, a more disastrous owner for NBC than GE! Just imagine!) The Court of Appeals decision, for example, would allow Comcast to give you NBC for free, while charging extra for any network they didn't happen to own.

This also means that broadband networks no longer have any reason to spend money to increase their bandwidth--- not when they can just charge you extra for putting a strain on the crappy network they're giving you now! (AT&T, I'm talkin' to YOU!)

Without network neutrality, the Internet--- which is currently my chief source of news and information--- becomes yet another conduit for the views of the billionaires that own it, just like every other damn network.

Now there's a school of thought that says that the FCC has no business regulating the Internet. I have a certain sympathy for this point of view, as I'd rather the Internet remain the Wild West cow town that it is now. But if there's only one road out of the cow town, and the mustache-twirling bad guy who owns the road is allowed to charge some people enormous fares while letting his friends ride free, then I say there needs to be a new sheriff in town.


From My Dream Life . . .

The yodeling of the Baka pygmies, which tonight will feature in my dreams.


Saturday, April 03, 2010

One Lonely Star

I am rarely delighted by my one-star Amazon reviews. Especially when I'm taken to task for making up dumb stuff, when in fact I did scrupulous research and the reviewer didn't bother to simply google the topic and find that out. (Okay, that one still rankles.)

But at least I'm in good company. Jeanette Demain over at Salon has been brooding over one-star reviews of the classics.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte:

Endless, pointless description. DESCRIPTION, DESCRIPTION, DESCRIPTION!!! The entire book is written in stupid metaphors. The few places where there is actually any dialogue bore the reader to tears. Honestly, i think that this is dubbed a classic simply because it is older than sand.

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White, Garth Williams, and Rosemary Wells:

Absolutely pointless book to read. I felt no feelings towards any of the characters. I really didn't care that Wilbur won first prize. And how in the world does a pig and a spider become friends? It's beyond me.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith:

This book is 3 words over and over again: MY LIFE IS BAD. 500 pages and that's all it says. It's exactly the same as any other book about a poor family with an irresponsible father and a child who manages to be alright (Angela's Ashes, Black Boy, Riding in Cars With Boys) the only difference is - THIS ONE IS FICTION.

1984 by George Orwell:

At first I did like the book. Then it just started to suck right around the time when Winston was getting sexually involved with his girl friend. I hated the book so much that I forgot her name. The first hundred or so pages i liked, then it just got really boring. So II highly reccomend that you DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. And please for the love of God don't read that "Brave New World" book by Hoxley. It is twice as worse as 1984. To put it bluntly, DON'T READ ANY GEORGE ORWELL. Your just waisting your time.

Diary of Anne Frank

I didn't like this book because it was boring. That's all that needs to be said. It was very very very very very very very very very very very boring. If you have to read this book shoot yourself first.

The Holy Bible:

Man, this book is boring. All this weird stuff happens and it's harder to get into than Lord of the Rings. And what's up with the red writing and the LORD says stuff. All caps = rude, peter paul and mark, whoever the heck you are. And this is just badly written. James Patterson could do better. These apostles need to get a clue and hire a ghost writer. Even Miley Cyrus's manager was smart enough to do that. Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ, indeed.

Well all right, I rather suspect that last one may just be a hoax. But the tone is somehow right--- obviously it's produced by someone who's studied his fellow reviewers closely.

Okay, I feel better now.

[via kenneth]

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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Russia Breaks IKEA

So Swedish blond furniture giant IKEA decided to open outlets in Russia. Turns out it was a bad idea.

From the start the company announced that even in Russia it would be adhering to its clearly-formulated Swedish rules, based on the Protestant work ethic and unanswerable logic. As a result, Khimki officials turned off the electricity just before the first Moscow shop opened. There was no practical reason for this. They just wanted to «give them a hard time» for their excessively strict principles. By the time they opened in Petersburg, the Swedes already knew that they had to have their own generator in each of their Russian stores – just in case. A wise decision, as subsequently emerged. From that moment the Swedes did all they could to minimise their dependence on local authority whims, when building their stores in Russia. «We are pleased with our solution to the problem. Better hire a generator than stick our head into a noose,» said Krister Tordson, a company board member . . .

A further blow was in store for Ingvar Kamprad (5th in Forbes Magazine Rich List) a couple of months later. It emerged that the company had overpaid 200 million USD for the use of their generators – IKEA's prize-winning idea – which virtually wiped out the profit from all their Eastern European stores for the last few years. The Swedes had seen themselves as Sir Lancelots cutting the head off the dragon of corruption. What they forgot was that through the looking glass the rules dictate that another head immediately grows in its place. Forensic investigation revealed that the Russian employee responsible for the hire of the generators was receiving kickbacks from the leasing company, so had been considerably inflating the service costs. The company tore up the contract with that firm and was fined 5 million euros by a Russian court for breach of contract. «We had come up against something way outside what we usually encounter,» said a puzzled Krister Tordson . . .

[After documenting rather a lot of theft, corruption, extortion, and murder, the article finally makes its point.]

It's strange, but did the ruling elite really think the law could be broken selectively? That while some representatives of the state are breaking things up, corporate raiding, racketeering and wrecking, others (like complete idiots) will be honestly fulfilling their part of the social contract? Falsehood gone mad has infiltrated the machine of state from top to bottom, poisoning the minds of the junior and middle ranks. Our police today is a huge army of bad lieutenants, capable at any moment of turning into mad majors. [This being a reference to spree killer Major Denis Yetsyukov, who happened to be a Moscow police chief.]

. . . What is most interesting is that people working in the public sector are also anti-state in their hearts. If you talk to any policeman or civil servant off the record, you will find levels of resentment, disillusionment and Jacobinism that the classical anarchists could only have dreamed of. The ruling elite, the masters of life, also think about the prosperity of the state, but it's not a high priority for them, as they hide behind patriotic rhetoric for the sake of carrying out the daily ritual of the absurd. When the time is right, they will scarper to their Antibes or Marbella. Apparently the prime minister's daughters live in Germany or Switzerland – wherever they are, they're certainly not in Russia. He is not, after all, the enemy of his own children.

It all sounds a little over-optimistic to me, but we can hope the author is right.

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