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%.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Busted: the Stir at Cafe Mom serves news that isn't news

You might laugh and say I'm the only one who hasn't noticed yet, but recently I've found some odd stuff on the internet that dresses up as news. In today's instance, even the Google News aggregation algorithm was fooled. At issue here, a story about how a (possibly) military guy punched an entertainer/former politician for expressing sentiments taken to be anti-American or anti-military or anti Bush. The thing that makes this story not news, and somewhat alarming, is the statement, almost in the middle of the article:
There's a story going around today that a group of mourners for a Navy SEAL were at a bar a number of years ago and Ventura was there.
This is the sum total of the facts in the story! It could be the setup for a joke!

This is a story published in "the Stir" on Cafe Mom which is, to my observation, a legitimate website. I'm certain they paid a writer for the story, and an editor to edit it (and check the links, provide the photo, spell check, and probably provide for some kind of indexing). But this stands out as NOT news because it contains no actual verifiable information, just a violent, militaristic message. I won't read the comments, because I'm sure they're also vicious.

My question here is, why was this story published? It's an unsubstantiated rumor from "a number of years ago," which inflames a jingoistic, pro-military enthusiasm. It's a hooray for boorish behavior. Was this published strictly for commercial purposes? There are a lot of ads at Cafe Mom, so that's possible. But ask yourself, is this the kind of story that's just published for the ad revenue, or could it be funded by someone with an agenda? I'd really like to know. It doesn't seem like a ringing endorsement of their advertisers (if you catch my drift). I acknowledge I'm a bit paranoid about this kind of thing, and I was taken aback that the story appeared on the same website that hosts so many great recipes and photos of food. Maybe they should be circumspect in launching this more journalistic endeavor. This story has all the journalistic integrity of a Bud Light ad.