Thursday, July 05, 2012

Judicial Restraint

I want to point out a very obvious case of the judiciary exercising its power unjustly. George Zimmerman is the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in FL earlier this year. He was initially charged with manslaughter only after a huge outcry from the public, and weeks after the shooting. He was booked and then bailed out. However, when the judge learned Zimmerman and his wife had neglected to report the money they had collected from donations on the internet, his bail was revoked and he went back to jail.

Now, the judge has set bail, of one million dollars. For a million smackeroos, George can walk (for the time being). Somehow, George's relatives have to post a bond for a mil, but worse, George has to get a bail bondsman who will take the relatives' bond, but who also gets paid 10% of the bail, in cash, and non-returnable even if the malefactor shows up for court. The judicial system gets to "tax" Mr. Zimmerman, based on financial information he is legally bound to provide, as he learned so clearly, when lying meant his bail was revoked.

I don't particularly like Mr. Zimmerman, and I think he's absolutely wrong to have shot Mr. Martin. I do, however, feel it's important to point out, he's being robbed by the judge and the court system. And here is the reason I wrote this post, to point out this possibly obscure fact. The judiciary is doing this every day, in every level of the courts system. The prosecuted, the convicted, even the suspects and the accused-- everyone who comes into contact with the courts is robbed. Most people who come into contact with this rapacious and larcenous judiciary are poor to begin with. And certainly will end up poor.

This is unjust.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The wrong cure!

The US is in the midst of an unprecedented epidemic of Type 2 diabetes. This is the result of our bad, and increasingly dangerous diet and sedentary habits. It's a horrible disease, and it's getting more and more common. Well, today it was announced in the New England Journal of Medicine (that's as reputable a source as you can get in medicine) that baryatric surgery, where they cut out part of the stomach and then fix the plumbing in the digestive tract and sew it all back together, is more effective at treating (and in some cases curing) diabetes than available medications.

Hello? This is flipping ridiculous! This is saying a disease caused by our diet can be cured by just surgically altering our digestive tract, thereby allowing us to never look at our diet, or change it! The coverage I've read also under-stresses the big problems involved with undergoing, recovering from, and living with baryatric surgery. And the worst part is the way this medical news is presented as something we should consider. Oh sure, America's food industry threatening to kill us all with our tasty snacks, but we don't have to worry about that any more, because now we can cure Type 2 diabetes by surgically revising our digestive systems to accommodate the bad food. Pass me the Pringles and remote control. I'm going to celebrate.


Monday, March 26, 2012

The difference between the metric and that which is measured

I have an old bottle of milk in the refrigerator. In fact it's 12 days past its date. It's perfectly good (or was this morning), because it has been stored in the cold-- it has never been warmed above 36 degrees-- and except for short moments of pouring, it stays sealed so it isn't exposed to dust and bacteria. It was excellent on my cereal this morning. Supermarkets tend to be good at keeping the milk cold, even when it's being loaded, transported, unloaded, and stocked. Smaller stores, not so much. This particular milk came from Whole Foods. Hannaford is good too, and has good extended milk freshness.

So I thought about the woman at work who told me how she always throws out her milk on the "use by" date. I believe this is mistaking the metric, the date, for the product characteristics being measured. The store, or the dairy, compute and specify some average date at which milk will spoil, and prints that on the carton. They want to be safe, and they know milk is not always properly stored. Also, I believe the date on the milk is the "sell by" date, and the product is supposed to stay fresh for a week after that. Regardless, the date is an estimate, and milk can easily go bad sooner if allowed to warm, or be exposed to dust.

And most importantly, please don't mistake a metric for that which is being measured. Sniff your milk. It's fine, it's not impolite, it's almost foolproof, and this exercises some of our oldest natural sensory apparatus. The nose knows.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Apple Controls the Entire Life Cycle of the iPad?

OK, this is quick and easy to understand. Last Friday, Apple computer sold 3 million iPad3's, That's worth a lot of samoleans, like maybe $1.8 billion dollars... that's big bucks. They also last week announced they'll start buying back some of their stock, and begin to pay quarterly dividends to their stockholders, for the first time in the company's history. These actions will reassure some shareholders, that they're worth the investment. They own a hoard of cash approaching $90 billion stashed away here and there around the world. Their stock has grown more than five-fold since 2009.

But back to all of those iPads... There was a brief time just before the iPad3 hit last Friday, that refurbished units of the earlier model were on sale, for a mere $150 bucks (or less) off. Hmmm... I'd like one, but don't want to pay that much, how about a used one? Well, it turns out Apple is offering something like $260.00 as a trade in toward a new iPad3. Guess what that does? It sets the bottom price in the used market. Who would sell you their old iPad for $200 bucks when Apple will give them $260?

Imagine a company so rich they can control the used market for their "obsolete" products. This makes me uneasy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Avastin Still In the News

There was a big headline on Google News, referencing a MedPage Today story, about how the FDA has warned of fake Avastin in the market.

The agency notified 19 U.S. medical practices that purchased unapproved cancer drugs, including the faux bevacizumab, to stop buying through Quality Specialty Products, a foreign distributor that may also be known as Montana Health Care Solutions, the FDA said in a statement.

As you know, I've written about Avastin several times on this blog, and I hold severe mistrust for the maker (Genentech in the US, Roche internationally). This sounds the slightest bit like extortion at worst, and coercion at best. The "counterfeits" are labelled Roche and the expiration dates are in a different format than the Genentech versions. Nowhere do they say it's not the "real" Avastin (or even that it's different), just that it wasn't sold through the correct channel. This may be a case of the drug being miraculously re-priced after being shipped to another country and then back.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

More anonymous mayhem

Anonymous, in a week devoted to hassling the FBI, found a way to harass the US military as well. They hacked into the network of the lawyers who defended the Sgt. Frank Wuterich. He's the Marine accused of leading the raid in Haditha that killed 24 Iraqi civilians in their homes, including women and children, back in 2005. He recently received a serious slap on the wrist, followed by a time out, from a military courts martial [Ed: I believe that's the correct way to express the name of the court]. He was subjected to a cut in pay and rank, but no jail time. They had already given the rest of the members of the sergeant's squad immunity for testifying against him. This relatively light sentence offends anonymous (with some justification), so they hacked into, stole, and published several gigabytes of email files from the law firms servers-- after defacing their home page [Ed: I think this is an easy target-- the anons are picking the low fruit]. I'm not sure this punishment is anymore appropriate to the crime than that of Sgt. Wuterich. But make no mistake, there's some sloppy justice being laid down here on both sides.

War is madness. The US military court which basically looked the other way when judging one of their own knows this. They can't really say it, but the soldiers were not responsible for their actions when those actions were carried out, and no military court will convict. They can talk about rules of engagement, target verification, smart weapons, and other such things. At some level the system breaks down. War is madness, and those who participate and survive know this fact. Everyone else is dead.

Tossing Darts at Facebook and Apple

I noticed this weekend that my Facebook seems to be limited-- as if there's a restriction on my bandwidth. My feed this morning was only three or four screens deep. Sometimes in the recent past, it's 20 screens deep and has an "more stories" link at the bottom. This weekend it's pitifully short. [Ed: It was, I must admit, before 7:00 am on Sunday morning, but usually they just show me what happened last night.] Maybe that's why people have hundreds of friends, so their Facebook feed never ends. I hope it's not being restricted.

I have also noticed how Apple iTunes, running on my PC, will often, and so far as I can see, with no discernible pattern, delete music from my library. It does it one whole album at a time mostly, often leaving the covers. Usually they're albums I converted to MP3 from within iTunes. I've used many types of software to rip my CD's into the computer, not all of which were reliable. I still have the CDs, and will doubtless rip them again, though it's a challenge to find them, because I packed them away long ago, and since I don't know exactly which ones are missing from the computer, I'll have to check for each one.

I would be very resentful, and it would very much suck, to lose something I recorded myself-- voice clips of my children, or my band, or poetry, or videos or something. iTunes and Amazon both have offline backup of the music you purchase from them, but I have copied my whole library of purchased CD's at least twice, often three times, as music formats were standardized and my home computer equipment could do a better job converting and storing the data.

I believe the loss of music files is related to the fact I migrated much of my library, rather than created it in iTunes on this computer. My folder structure in iTunes is not "standard" (there are essentially two "roots"), and I'm using the Music "Library" feature new to Windows 7 where the "music library" folder can point to more than one disk location. This feature is not well supported by other programs, iTunes included. I may have told iTunes to look in Libraries. All I know is I lose somewhere near a dozen albums, roughly every month.

I've read a lot of posts about this problem on the internet, and they seem to point to iTunes having a bad interaction with the Windows file system. Both Microsoft and Apple have many published posts on the issue in their forums, and both companies deny having any issues they can reproduce. I believe big business would like it if we never had an actual "copy" of music or a movie except by accessing it directly from them or their proxies (iTunes store). If a user (such as myself) has a different idea of how to structure their music library, the big companies aren't going to help support that, or even admit they don't support it. I wish they would just fess up to it, because then it would be easier to fix the problem, or at least to design a workable backup strategy.

So be careful about saving your band music, or conversions from tape or vinyl LP's. iTunes on Windows 7 will occasionally eat your tracks. If you plan for that, you'll likely save yourself some sorrow. And don't expect Microsoft or St. Steve (Jobs) to help you out.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mexican General hoodwinking US officials

There's a funny-smelling story in USA Today about how the drought in Mexico is affecting the illicit marijuana crop. A recent flyover by military surveillance showed less acreage and fewer plantations dedicated to crops of marijuana or opium poppies.

This was not the only story, apparently, as there followed a separate interview with a general.

An army spokesman, Gen. Ricardo Trevilla, stressed that didn't mean a drop-off in the overall production of drug cartels.

Trevilla, who was interviewed separately, said cartels have been increasingly turning to the production of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine, because they are easier to produce and are more profitable. He said synthetic drugs can be made faster, need less storage space and are harder to detect.

Mexican authorities have been seizing increasing amounts of chemicals used in the manufacture of methamphetamine as well as finding increasingly large and sophisticated meth labs. Authorities seized 675 tons of a key precursor chemical in December alone, an amount that experts say was enough to produce an enormous amount of drugs.


So there you have it. When the marijuana crop drops off, the peasant farmers switch over to producing methamphetamine, because what else would farmers do? Errr...  I mean else what would the evil drug dealers have to sell? Errr...

It doesn't seem logical that peasant farmers would change over to meth factories-- there's nothing about raising pot that would help with manufacturing meth! Not skills, not terrain, not climate, not customers. On the other hand, I do believe General Trevilla knows for certain the funding source for his courageous fight against either the production of meth or pot is the same. He's just making a plug for his DEA grant.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Anonymous hackers trick users into helping DDoS government sites

It's reported today that the hacker group anonymous organized and executed a DDoS attack on several US government websites, including the Justice Department. DDoS attacks are described in this article as kind of "old school," inconvenient but of short duration and usually having no lasting effect. The attack is effected by sending thousands or millions of network requests to a website or to switches nearby, overwhelming the website's networking equipment. When the attack stops, the equipment quickly returns to normal. The attacks were more about getting attention than destroying anything.

One whiz kid at anonymous came up with a piece of javascript code, the same kind that's routinely loaded and processed by your web browser. They lured users to click on compressed links in Facebook pages and tweets. The code would load and immediately, while it was still loading, start firing off network packets to the government sites. One victimized journalist called foul for involving innocent bystanders, and set off a collective soul-search among the anonymi, at least some of whom disavowed and condemned this behavior.
Several anons speaking to Wired on condition of anonymity voiced dismay that a tactic they consider to be the modern-day equivalent of a sit-in (denial-of-service attacks leave no lasting damage) was ethically corrupted by the new version. [from the article]
Some white hats among the anons complained the duped users didn't contribute significantly to the overall attack, and by involving them with activities that could "land them in jail," (which sounds a bit ominous) the anonymous hackers were acting unethically. It's probably a good thing they're principled enough for a soul-search. Very few power groups in our world have that sort of ethics.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

US Still the Land of Opportunity?

I'm going to stick my neck out here. I don't know the conclusion to this post as I start writing it.

I just read an article in the Washington Post which spoke of the income differences between the US and Western Europe, specifically Germany, the Netherlands, and some Scandinavian countries. They have lower unemployment, higher wages, and generous social programs, including universal healthcare. One interesting difference the writer, Harold Meyerson points out is in Europe the average CEO makes 11 times the salary of a worker. In the US it's between 200 and 300 times ("pick your survey" recommends Mr. Meyerson).

What occurred to me is the European CEO's are most likely experienced with the products they sell. When a leader develops in an industry, they're recognized because that's what they know about-- they came up in manufacturing, or engineering, or sales. They know their products and their customers. They're also, according to the article, younger and more open to new ideas.

In the US, in contrast, the celebrated CEO's are more likely to know only how to make cash. It's one thing to make money building and selling a car, and it's another thing entirely to make money from the car company. Squeezing an industry for cash has become the sole motivation for many in management. It's easy to measure. The skills are transferable, and frankly it's the only subject in which boards of directors are now interested.

What happens to companies when they become interested only in money? Go to a home store and look at the products from GE. A company that was for decades an innovator in manufacturing and many innovative products-- appliances, tools, electrical equipment, even jet engines and nuclear plants. Have you looked at GE products lately, at Target, Home Depot, WalMart, Sears? GE resells cheap Asian electronics devices, and imported appliances and tools. They're still big in jet engines, and are still apparently bidding on building nuclear reactors (and they're out of the entertainment business, I think, having sold NBC), but the products they sell to consumers are no longer made by those consumers. They're made in China and Singapore and Indonesia, and Korea. And Mexico.

Note what's going on here-- the company is still making money, and lots of it!. But they're making that money on reselling the products of workers in another country.

Today's high-flying management is motivated only by profit. CEO's are expected to make CASH, not a great car, or a great, innovative, efficient and sustainable appliance, or any product at all besides cash. We're told this is a law of nature-- the way capitalism works. But why are our European brothers and sisters doing so much better with employment and social services in their countries. Perhaps a look back is in order, to the time business was motivated by the desire to create great products, develop and build new markets and technologies, and work in partnership with customers, employees, management, and government. We had that, not so very long ago. Back when making a lot of money was the just reward for doing a difficult job supplying a great product to a market which could afford to buy it. Let's stop thinking profits are the reason for business, and think in terms of great products and their producers. Let's stop thinking conglomerates and massive scale are good in themselves. Let's point out globalism-- as a way to make money no matter the costs for any single population-- as parasitic, inhumane, and basically ruinous of real wealth. There... problem solved.

That's it. I've mixed the most basic insights of an Econ101 student with some very current, vaguely liberal "cyber-journalism" and posted it in my blog. I wish I knew more about this. All I know is it really seems we-- the rank-and-file taxpaying middle-class Americans-- are getting hosed. And we're the best off of anyone in the 99%.