Category - Ruminations


You have heard the expression “that’s really more than I want to know”?

A Duke University professor is suspended from his duties for having revealed in social media his notion that Black people ought to be more like Asian immigrants. He thinks Asians embrace European first-names because they want to integrate while Blacks deliberately avoid them because they really don’t want to integrate.

A professional computer security expert makes jokes in social media about the gaping holes in airline in-flight entertainment software which he can hack to take over the flight control system in real time from his seat in Coach.  The FBI picked him up during a scheduled stop-over because airline security sees the tweet. Turns out, however, the FBI interviewed him twice months before because he delivered professional remarks on the same subject to a convention of security firms. Apparently they did not believe him at the time.

An orchestra violinist –a passenger on the derailed train in Philadelphia– tweets a bitterly snarky remark addressed to the railroad company about their incompetence and requests their assistance recovering her baggage (her violin). She’s attacked on Facebook by her “friends”.

In the past several months, we have heard a great deal about how social media is levelling the playing field between journalists, activists and law enforcement.  It is said that without social media there would have been no Occupy Movement, no Arab Spring. There would have been no attention paid to Ferguson, to Tamir Rice, or Freddie Gray. There would have been no influx of ISIS recruits from Europe or America.
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The First Time

I thought it would be more painful.  It wasn’t completely painless, to be sure…, but after 63 years of absolute abstinence, there was bound to be a little discomfort, at the least.  Luckily, it didn’t last long.  It was over almost before I knew it.  I was left with some feelings of guilt…, maybe remorse.  Time will tell about that…, I guess. 

I left my name, mailing address, phone number and email address.  No physical address.  I learned that lesson many years ago.  When all I used to give out was a post office box for an address and had an unlisted phone number…, not even the IRS could track me down.  And they were trying…, family and ex-employers told me so.  Two weeks after I got a phone listed in my name for a house I was sharing with the rest of the logging crew working on an out of town job…, an IRS agent left a note on the door for me.  But I digress…, in this case I want some acknowledgement of my contribution.  Then again…, I don’t want it to turn into a constant and relentless demanding…, or begging…, for more.

Yeah…, it’s already started.  It wasn’t a demand or a beg really…, more of a thank you note via email, with a not so subtle hint that it would be ever so helpful if I could give again.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been so generous the first time…, probably should have taken it a little slower and easier.  But after all these years, I felt that if I was going to do it…, I was going to do it right and go all the way.  Or at least as far as I felt I could, without feeling some real pain.  So I clicked that $100 button…, and it was over and done with.  No turning back now.  And I am not feeling too bad about it at this time…, I guess.

Yeah…, I donated to Bernie Sanders campaign.  The first time ever, that I have contributed as much as a single penny to a politician.  I might just do it again before it’s all over…, though most of the pundits in the media say he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in this global warming climate of acing out Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. 

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Toward Absolutist Capitalism

Naked Capitalism, By Lambert Strether, April 20

There are many excellent arguments against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), two of which — local zoning over-rides, and loss of national sovereignty — I’ll briefly review as stepping stones to the main topic of the post: Absolutist Capitalism, for which I make two claims:

1) The TPP implies a form of absolute rule, a tyranny as James Madison would have understood the term, and

2) The TPP enshrines capitalization as a principle of jurisprudence.

Zoning over-rides and lost of national sovereignty may seem controversial to the political class, but these two last points may seem controversial even to NC readers. However, I hope to show both points follow easily from the arguments with which we are already familiar. Both flow from the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, of which I will now give two examples. more

MoJo Explicator: Here’s What You Need to Know About the Trade Deal Dividing the Left

Jon Stewart Should Retire More Often

The chains of restraint have been loosed just a bit since his announcement that he’ll be leaving the show soon, and the quality of the show has increased. Last night’s take-down of the former VP was both entertaining and vitriolic – but perhaps I repeat myself.

Have a look:

Bonus: The ‘Murican Awards

Speaking Truth to the Supreme Court

Linda Greenhouse- NYT Op-Ed
Next Monday, retired Justice John Paul Stevens turns 95. still speaking truth to the powerful institution on which his tenure was the third longest in history…In his final term on the court, Justice Stevens was a vigorous dissenter from the Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited corporate campaign spending

Justice Stevens offered this single sentence: “Neither the First Amendment nor any provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.”

The proposed campaign finance amendment is one of the “Six Amendments” in the book by that name that Justice Stevens published last year. Another would ban capital punishment by adding to the Eighth Amendment the five words highlighted here:

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.”
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Everybody knows

Originally published April 9

We are told that the economy is in recovery. Things are getting better. Facts and figures bolster the argument: Lower unemployment figures. Higher GDP numbers. Affordable health care for all.

I look at my personal world and it doesn’t reconcile with the narrative.

Is it just me?

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Iran. Iraq. Somebody Remind Me….

President Obama and his Administration are announcing a breakthrough in dealing with Iran on the matter of nuclear proliferation. The media is reporting the obvious condemnation from the Republicans, the Republican wanna-be presidential candidates, and the incessant one-note whining of Israel’s PM.  In contrast, Secretary of State Kerry and others in the Administration are floating hyperbolic self-congratulations over their own hard work and stellar performance.

Most of what I heard yesterday by 7:00 PM indicated the “details” of any agreement would not be worked out for 6 months or more but the “framework” was pretty good as frameworks go.  Then again, the Kyoto Protocols and the SALT II talks were frameworks of international agreement too and whether they did good or ill remains unresolved in minds of many. I suspect most frameworks are built on compromise and whatever they yield is just about as satisfying.

For the liberal world, you have to start somewhere and if a framework gets you started in the correct direction, it is better than creeping toward greater conflict.  To the conservative world, this agreement is worse than Chamberlain’s “appeasement” of the National Socialist Party and the first step along the slippery slope toward mutually assured bloodshed.

So have we staved off disaster, or have we hastened it?
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Passphrases That You Can Memorize — But That Even the NSA Can’t Guess

The Intercept, By Micah Lee, March 26

It’s getting easier to secure your digital privacy. iPhones now encrypt a great deal of personal information; hard drives on Mac and Windows 8.1 computers are now automatically locked down; even Facebook, which made a fortune on open sharing, is providing end-to-end encryption in the chat tool WhatsApp. But none of this technology offers as much protection as you may think if you don’t know how to come up with a good passphrase.

A passphrase is like a password, but longer and more secure. In essence, it’s an encryption key that you memorize. Once you start caring more deeply about your privacy and improving your computer security habits, one of the first roadblocks you’ll run into is having to create a passphrase. You can’t secure much without one.

For example, when you encrypt your hard drive, a USB stick, or a document on your computer, the disk encryption is often only as strong as your passphrase. If you use a password database, or the password-saving feature in your web browser, you’ll want to set a strong master passphrase to protect them. If you want to encrypt your email with PGP, you protect your private key with a passphrase. In his first email to Laura Poitras, Edward Snowden wrote, “Please confirm that no one has ever had a copy of your private key and that it uses a strong passphrase. Assume your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second.”

In this post, I outline a simple way to come up with easy-to-memorize but very secure passphrases. It’s the latest entry in an ongoing series of stories offering solutions — partial and imperfect but useful solutions — to the many surveillance-related problems we aggressively report about here at The Intercept.

The Ultimate Cocklebur

   When I was a teenager, I came into possession of a large amount of booze. (It’s a long story). I kept a bottle in my school locker and used to take a nip between classes – more to cock a snook at Authority than because I really wanted a drink. I used to lie in bed at night with an 8oz tumbler full of whiskey and read, listen to country radio until about 4am as I sipped my booze.
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Detroiter Philip Levine, working-class poet laureate, dies at 87

Detroit Free Press – Not all of Philip Levine’s poetry was about his hometown of Detroit, but a lot of it was. And as this son of Russian immigrants rose from the streets to win the Pulitzer Prize and even become poet laureate of the U.S., his literary voice never stopped pulsating with the sweat and soul of the blue-collar city where he was born. Levine, whose poetry sang of the triumphs and tragedies of the working class, died Saturday at his home in Fresno, Calif, less than a month after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 87.

Levine spoke about the influence of Detroit on his work in a 2011 interview with the Free Press. “You grow up in a place and it becomes the arena of your discovery,” he said. “It also became the arena of my discovery of the nature of American capitalism and the sense of how ordinary people have no choice at all in how they’re going to be formed by the society. My politics were formed by the city.”
more at the link

Preventing dissent

How Britain’s new police state will radicalise us all

Medium, By Nafeez Ahmed, February 13

In the UK, an insidious secret network of violent extremists is plotting to subvert democracy. The members of this network detest our way of life, and hate our freedoms. Walking amongst us, this dangerous fifth column is exploiting the very laws we hold dear to campaign for the establishment of an extremist, totalitarian state that would police every aspect of our lives based on a fanatical ideology that is devoid of reason.

No, the ‘Islamic State’ is not about to conquer Great Britain. But the neocons in government and industry who profit from fear might well be.

In the name of fighting terror, the UK government, hand-in-hand with the US, is leading the way to turn freedom of speech and dissent into mere formalities that, in practice, have no place in societies that will function, effectively, as full-fledged police-states.
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Invasive Internet

While I am very glad that some people in government are finally coming around to the idea of the internet as a public utility instead of private property belonging to ISP’s, I am increasingly upset by invasive monitoring. I don’t mean the NSA’s either.

Not ten minutes ago, my wife took her tablet and went to the FTD site to look at flower arrangements. I am guessing she did not know the site address and googled it first. I was in the next room on my son’s computer (a Mac) on the internet, also on wireless, and up pops the very arrangements of flowers she was looking at in the adjacent room in the ad space of Huffington Post and Raw Story. On sale. Coupons and offer codes. I have no doubt other sites will reflect this invasive scrutiny of in my family’s passing interest in flowers for sale. A week ago it was my passing interest in a music dvd—the same one whose ads now infest about six of my favorite sites.

Is there a public radio equivalent to the internet I wonder?

Peek-a-nomics: Looking Forward, Not Backward

I have said more than once that I enjoy the work and the insights of Ian Welsh even if I almost never feel uplifted by any of his forecasts. He often says he doesn’t write to make anyone feel good, just calls’m as he sees’m. Recently he posted an essay about inflation, or at least the way inflation is presented to us on the nightly news or by well-known politicians and pundits.

The article is here ( ).

The main premise seems to be: inflation is something the Masters of the Economic Order are busy fighting in word and deed, but the inflation they are keen to fight has to do with luxuries (like rare art, yachts, or currency exchange bets they made). When it comes to inflation on the stuff common folk need to get along—food, medical services—well, that can be overlooked. It’s marginal. Insignificant. About the only thing the little people have going for them now is a temporary dip in gasolene prices, and we owe that all to American frackers ( that is, if you swallowed your regular dose of media Pablum).

Then there is Part Two of this premise: from the rich’s point of view, the economy looks pretty good because it has some stability (predictability), enough so that they can live off their fat. And they get a bonus: low interest money to play games with. Their credit is impeccable (unlike yours or mine) and their ability to pay loans back goes unquestioned.

Book-ending this essay was Numerian’s here at The Agonist ( ) concerning deflation and its pernicious effects. The net effect of these two gloomy reality checks makes me want to retreat, except of course there is no place to retreat to.

If there is a common thread, it is that the world measures the “economy” incorrectly for most of us. The value of labor to society is not properly or fairly accounted for. Simultaneously, the value of wealth is over-stated and over-weighted. Nevermind how incorrect it is. It remains the official way to measure, record and report.
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