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The Ends Justify The Means?

TEJTM101Was at two high school grad parties yesterday and found myself having disheartening conversations with several young people who had just graduated high school. We talked about what they’d be doing post-high school, their visions about their future lives and whether they thought what they wanted to do was achievable, and what kind of world they thought they were inheriting from those of us were close to passing it on to them.

I was not prepared to hear their sense of sadness, fear, pessimism and, especially, their true befuddlement that the BIG lesson they had been taught by those in power was that:

  1. It was OK to lie to the world to start a war and no one is held accountable
  2. If you are a huge financial institution and instrumental in facilitating a global economic meltdown, not only will you not go to jail but your company is saved and it’s back to business (and bonuses) as usual within a year or two and no one is held accountable
  3. That a “terrorism Pearl Harbor” is excuse enough to spend trillions abroad while at home our infrastructure fails and our country embarks on the largest runup in mass surveillance while trampling on our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment and no one is held accountable (at least not yet)
  4. The richest and most powerful nation on earth has the highest incarceration rate in the world, while many of the crimes (especially ironic compared to no jail time for those in #2 above) are petty in nature.

While I tried to continually steer the conversations toward a more positive note—and part of their funk might have been partially attributable to our crappy, rainy weather yesterday—they continued to be gloom-and-doomsters about the state of our country and how uncertain they felt about the future.

gordon-gekkomother-theresaThe lessons taught to (and learned by) these young people? The ends justify the means. Makes me wonder if the next several decades may make many of these young people look more like a Gordon Gekko character than a Mother Theresa, and that our country’s ethical decline is now systemic and most of the skids-are-greased to make it easier for the United States to become a totalitarian country.

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Thoughts About the Secret Police

stasi

The Ministry for State Security (German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS), commonly known as the Stasi, has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. (More here at Wikipedia)

All last evening, and over lunch today, I’ve been reading dozens and dozens of articles on the shitstorm going on with respect to the National Security Agency and their scooping up data about Verizon phone calls and how the NSA has access to major companies (see U.S. intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program) to collect our emails, photos, tweets, chat logs and more. Last night and today the aggregator Google News displayed links to over 2,000 articles (and that doesn’t count all of the blog posts) about this ongoing issue. 

But it was a post today that crystallized the FEAR about what’s going on in a way I’d not yet read from anyone or any news outlet.

Your iPhone Works for the Secret Police, from Harvard Business Review blogger James Allworth, recapped our fear about what the NSA mass data vacuuming means for all of us. As someone whose ancestry hails from Prussia and Germany — and that I’ve spent alot of time in Germany, especially just a few years after the Berlin Wall fell — I can tell you that the effects of the Stasi repression was still palpable. Allworth points to the Stasi as an example of an intelligence service run amok and what it could lead to:

The infamous East German secret police, the Stasi, managed to infiltrate every part of German life, from factories, to schools, to apartment blocks — the Stasi had eyes and ears everywhere. When East Germany collapsed in 1989, it was reported to have over 90,000 employees and over 170,000 informants. Including the part-time informants, that made for about one in every 63 East Germans collaborating to collect intelligence on their fellow citizens. You can imagine what that must have meant: people had to live with the fact that every time they said something, there was a very real chance that it was being listened to by someone other than for whom they intended. No secret police force in history has ever spied on its own people on a scale like the Stasi did in East Germany. In large part because of that, those two words — “East Germany” — are indelibly imprinted on the psyche of the West as an example of how important the principles of liberal democracy are in protecting us from such things happening again. And indeed, the idea that it would happen seems anathema to most people in the western world today — almost unthinkable.

President Obama, Congressional leaders and any others are defending the subversion of our Constitution and the 4th amendment as “legal” and “sanctioned”. But when everything is secret, how can we do what President Reagan said about our relationship with the former Soviet Union “Trust…but verify”? The answer is “we can’t” and what’s going on right now in the present-day United States would have been a Stasi leader’s wet dream back then.

If you read nothing else about this important issue, take a few minutes and read Allworth’s article here

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Geeks vs. Norms

My son and I love the I.T. Crowd (and they’re coming back for an encore show!) but this snippet always made me realize how most people are clueless. They’re not stupid, but they have yet to learn:

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Where is your OUTRAGE!?!

hulkWhile many of you are outraged over anything that might control guns in the United States—and anger over criminal behaviors like the Boston bombing, armed robberies and physical crimes—hardly anyone is getting mad over the global financial industries who are rigging the game against ALL OF US.

I know most people don’t read the newspaper, watch TV news or read more than a headline or couple of paragraphs in an article. Maybe that’s why there is no outrage. Or perhaps it’s just a bit too complex for Joe SixPack to grasp. My gut tells me that people not paying attention is why the global financial industry is getting away with rigging the financial game while the masses get all pissed off about Obama, gun control, the Boston bombing or other things that distract us from paying attention to the real crimes.

Just over one year ago the Libor scandal broke. Turns out traders were in direct communication with bankers before the rates were set, thus allowing them an advantage in predicting that day’s fixing. According to this article at Wikipedia (my emphasis), “Libor underpins approximately $350 trillion in derivatives. One trader’s messages indicated that for each basis point (0.01%) that Libor was moved, those involved could net “about a couple of million dollars”.”

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi

Now comes this article by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and still there is no outrage: “Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever The Illuminati were amateurs. The second huge financial scandal of the year reveals the real international conspiracy: There’s no price the big banks can’t fix.”

Taibbi points out how huge scandal #2 is as he describes the manipulation of interest-rate swaps (again, my emphasis), “Interest-rate swaps are a tool used by big cities, major corporations and sovereign governments to manage their debt, and the scale of their use is almost unimaginably massive. It’s about a $379 trillion market, meaning that any manipulation would affect a pile of assets about 100 times the size of the United States federal budget.” Now the banks are manipulating THAT market too. (Sigh…)

We all know the ‘players’ in the stock market have enormous advantages. In Las Vegas I don’t mind 1-2 percentage points going to the ‘house’, but when my 401K, home value and business revenue drops like a rock because the big banks, hedge funds and brokerage houses are rigging the game, you bet I’m pissed.

If you do nothing else, read Taibbi’s article and think about it. If you start to feel anger welling up inside of you, go and read a few of Taibbi’s blog posts and other articles here. He’s one of the few consistent voices who call out the financial industry’s hucksterism. Taibbi wonders out loud why, for example, NO banker has had so much as a token fine or any jail time after the biggest fraud perpetrated on the global financial system in history that caused the 2008 crash.

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What Car to Buy?

oil-drillingGlobal warming. Peak oil. America is dependent upon foreign oil, but demand is weakening here and prices might fall. So what is the right choice I should make when buying a new car?

Today I drive a 2009 Toyota Prius (see my 2008 post here) and now I’m torn about what to buy next. Another Prius that gets 50MPG? A plugin hybrid Prius that gets 99MPGe? A Chevy Volt that, like my neighbor who has driven over 12,000 miles and still has 25% of his first tank of gasoline, uses electricity for most driving?

We know climate change is happening and that total oil production by the big producers has fallen 25% since 2004 while global energy demand is expected to double by 2050 (see 2013 World Energy Issue Monitor (PDF)), so the obvious choice is to buy the most efficient vehicle I can afford (and fit in to).

But it’s not so simple. Since CAFE standards are focusing car manufacturers on ensuring the average mileage of their fleets increase fairly dramatically to 2025, if prices fall and mileage rises isn’t the net impact of a larger vehicle justifiable? 

lnavigatorI thought so until this past week when I was behind a woman driving a Lincoln Navigator at the gas pumps. She asked me what kind of mileage I got in the winter and what it cost to fill my tank. “42-44 mpg and a full tank is about $38,” I replied. “How about you?

Um…I asked because my husband and I measured it over the last few months and it’s supposed to get 14 in the city and 20 on the highway but we were getting about 8mpg driving around town and 12mpg when we drove up to Duluth to see my mother.” She went on, “…and it costs about $115 to fill the tank.”

Well, that’s what happens in the winter when we run our heaters, electric seats and it’s harder to efficiently burn fuel. What she and I DIDN’T talk about was an ugly truth I discovered later: That $115 would fill her 33.5 gallon tank and take her about 396 highway miles. My Prius (at the 44mpg highway amount) would go 462 miles for filling my 11 gallon fuel tank for only $38! A savings of $77 and for not using 22 gallons of gasoline.

I know, I know…it’s a helluva lot better to drive a Lincoln behemoth vs. a tiny little Prius. But what a waste of fuel—not to mention the extra carbon I’d be spewing in to the atmosphere—when I’m just hauling my own ass around. Do I really need something like that Lincoln Navigator? Nope. Regardless whether gas prices fall to $2/gallon since it’s just an inefficient waste of energy.

So now the questions: regular or plugin Prius or Chevy Volt? 

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Is Romney’s Tax Plan ‘Mission Impossible’?

Like me, if you have a job and a family it is likely you can only invest limited amounts of time in trying to figure out what’s the truth in this presidential election season. The arguments either way are compelling and those that believe one way or another (Obama’s a socialist; Romney’s a closet liberal but the only hope the GOP has and anything is better than Obama) are only latching on to those news articles and revelations that confirm their beliefs.

Here’s one to consider and why uncovering the truth is so damned hard:

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which did a comprehensive analysis to date of Romney’s tax plan, famously called it “mathematically impossible”. Ezra Klein, a columnist and blogger at The Washington Post and a policy analyst for MSNBC, penned this post for Bloomberg which ignited a sh*tstorm of cries: “it’s NOT mathematically impossible” and “they made ‘garbage assumptions“.

I have family, friends and acquaintances that are smack-dab-in-the-middle of the middle class who either don’t have the analytical skills, the time or the education to be able to wade in to discussion and try to figure out who is telling the truth and what to believe. These same people — some of whom have no healthcare and yet rail against “Obamacare” as well as having worked at companies who have outsourced their jobs overseas — are some of the staunchest conservative folks I know who have cheerfully leapt on to the bandwagon.

The real ‘mission impossible’ these days is determining the truth. As a guy with a German ancestry, I have studied Germanic history and tried to read everything I could about the manipulation done by the Nazi party in the 1930s to sway a nation, in order to attempt to make some sense of how the German people could allow this regime to take hold. The difference today is that it is NOT JUST THE STATE that has become masters of the lie: it’s conservatives vs. liberals; right-of-center vs. left-of-center; the certain vs. the certain. All of these aligned groups of people now have the power of personal publishing (i.e., blogging, social media, podcasting, etc.) on their side to throw their noise in to the fray.

One paragraph has stuck with me from a speech by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and is the filter through which I view the rhetoric and lack of truth discourse going on in our country right now. Think about this as you read all of these articles and watch TV:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

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General Mills Protest Goes Amusingly Wrong

This past June the Minneapolis StarTribune was one of the first to report that, “General Mills is taking a stand against a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, becoming the most prominent corporate voice making such a public declaration.

In a completely random stumble across a YouTube video (in the ‘trending’ area I sometimes visit) I came across a video of some schneeb protesting outside of General Mills…with hilarious results. Of course this is exactly the sort of person I envision when I think of someone who is against same-sex marriage: 

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We Just *Cannot* Be Alone

The more I learn about the vastness of the universe, the deeper is my belief that we simply cannot be alone in the universe. Watch this animated flight through the universe made by Miguel Aragon of Johns Hopkins University with Mark Subbarao of the Adler Planetarium and Alex Szalay of Johns Hopkins. There are close to 400,000 galaxies in the animation, with images of the actual galaxies. The images and data came from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS).

When you figure that our Milky Way galaxy contains an estimated 200-400 billion stars our own home galaxy is incredibly likely to harbor life. Astronomer Carl Sagan‘s once said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, it sure seems like an awful waste of space

Sagan also continually described the universe’s potential for life being due to the “billions and billions” of planets out there. Though I’ve been watching the Mars Curiosity landing and the first pictures that have returned from that barren planet like this amazing 360 degree panorama, I do so with the knowing (and a tinge of sadness) that it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever leave this planet and explore another world. 

Don’t even bother to do the math on 200 billion+ stars times 400,000 galaxies and the planets and the possibilities and…

…just watch the video. It’s cool:

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Internet Blocking of Entire Countries

Connecting the Dots has been around since 2004 and I have hundreds upon hundreds of posts linked to from all over the ‘net. As such this blog has always been slammed by script kiddies, crackers and hackers who have tried to login, insert malware (and once they were successful) and much worse.

But it wasn’t until I tried Wordfence on this blog (and immediately I upgraded to Pro it was so useful) did I begin to deeply and intuitively understand where these attacks were coming from, exactly which posts they were trying to infiltrate and how, and the frequency with which the attacks came. It was quite eye-opening and, I must admit, I had several “Oh shit!” moments over the last few weeks as I realized how some security measure I’d put in place had luckily barricaded my blog from a particular attack.  [Read more...]

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Is the Prius a Polluter?

Just saw a cousin’s Facebook post about her new (actually slightly used) Toyota Prius. She had talked to me earlier about my Prius, how I liked it and so forth, so I was intrigued that she and her fiancee purchased one. She looks pretty happy in the photo, doesn’t she?

Then a friend of hers commented, “Yay the “green” that is the most damaging to the environment to build.” Someone then asked what he meant and he went on with, “Prius pollutes more is based on the production and transport of nickel for the on-board rechargeable battery pack. The nickel is actually mined and smelted in Sudbury, Ontario (Canada) by Inco. The nickel is then shipped to a refinery in Europe. From there, the nickel goes to China to produce nickel foam. Then, it goes to Japan. In Japan Panasonic manufactures the battery itself, then it’s off to the Toyota plant for final vehicle assembly. Lastly the cars are shipped to the United States, completing the world tour required for a Prius battery.

That was certainly a bit of cold water thrown on her excitement! I’ve had exactly the same reaction from many who pooh-pooh driving a hybrid or electric car, think those of us who do are “greenies” or goofballs,  all while they climb in to their car or truck that, on a good day, gets 18mpg and costs them $100 a week to drive.

So I took a moment to refute and minimize what this kid had said and also thought this entire discussion would make a great post:  [Read more...]