Category: politics

FBI Training – another clever use of the Cartesian coordinate system

I sometimes wonder why I poke at my Wired Magazine app almost every day…. Today brought a little reward, if one considers revelations of such nonsense as a reward.

Here is a chart from this training manualon “mainstream” Muslims:


How anyone with any level of day-to-day common sense, or rudimentary knowledge of history, any history, could believe that the followers of the Torah or Bible have been becoming less violent must be on some pretty serious drugs. I will leave it to those with a more serious understanding of the relative bellicosity of believers in the Koran to weigh in on the horizontal line…..

Mayor Scalera’s “Naive or delaying LWRP passage?”

Mayor Scalera’s commentary, “Naive or delaying LWRP passage?” in today’s Register Star requires some comment. Here are my comments posted on the Register Star website.

First, Mayor Scalera mis-characterizes the potential uses of the waterfront as “recreational boating and perhaps some limited shipping….”. In fact, from my perspective, and from all of the people I have heard talk about the waterfront, the uses included recreational boating, cruise operations, hotel, restaurants, retail shopping stores, galleries, and more. These uses fit into a larger picture that the future of jobs in Hudson is tied to the extension of the city as an arts, antiques, entertainment, and history destination. This job creation engine has a track record in the city and an obvious future for growth with the addition of the waterfront as part of the overall destination package.

The problem is that none of that is possible with a large scale industrial use cheek and jowl with the rest of the waterfront. The choice we are facing is a trade off between a limited number of seasonal jobs hauling gravel (it was reported elsewhere in today’s Register Star that Calarusso only operates during non-winter months) or developing the track the city has been on for the past 10 to 15 years, becoming a destination for those interested in arts, antiques, entertainment, food and history. I want to place my bet with that development path.

A second point might be to point out that Mayor Scalera went to lengths to point out the Open Space Institute and Scenic Hudson would not support an eminent domain taking. That is not the only way in which those organizations might be involved. A simpler path is the old-fashioned one of buying the land in question.

As someone who has only lived in Hudson for a year and half of the twenty three years of the LWRP process, it seems wise to continue to get the policies right even at the cost of a bit more time.

Mark Orton

Internet Service, the New York Times and Choice in the World of Mono-Duo-poly Capitalism

What Planet is the Times Orbiting?

Today’s New York Times editorial page included a piece titled “How Fast Is Your Broadband?“. It provides a reasonable review of the sad performance of the Internet service providers in the US. It is widely known that Internet service providers like Comcast, Time-Warner and locally Mid-Hudson Cable chronically provide significantly less than their advertising claims. Here in Hudson, NY Mid-Hudson claims “blazing speeds” of 5 MB/sec (download). Repeated measurements, now numbering over 280 in the last six months prove that they provide speeds 30% less than this mark. Service technicians from M-H have acknowledged that this is the typical service they provide.

Worse is that the latency frequently reaches 2 seconds instead of being under the 100 milliseconds that is commonly accepted as OK latency on the Internet.. This means that after your click your mouse on a link in a browser, you can literally count “1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi” before you get any response to your query. This latency disables common communications tools like VOIP telephone services and audio and video services via Skype or Google.

A New Thought on Terrorism

An article in today’s NYTimes about cyber crime, malware, etc. suggests to me that another line of attack may be through the Internet against our utilities, telecoms, or financial institutions.

There have already been massive attacks against whole countries with successful breakdowns that lasted for hours and days. Ukraine, Lithuania, and Georgia were targets over the last year. My memory is that suspicions fell to the Russian government because the attacks, in these cases massive Denial of Service assaults, appeared to originate from within Russia.

At any rate, add this to your terror worries.

Pondering at the Food Coop

November 1, 2008

So, here I am having coffee and my favorite lunch, a toasted bagel with peanut butter thinking about the approaching election. Finally this will conclude what has been an overly long campaign, but one with enormous pleasures. Assuming that Obama is not just a curiosity to all those throngs at his campaign events, we will have a President who seems bright, competent, and level-headed with an adequate level if toughness. I don’t expect the kinds of policy directions I would like to see. But, after the last eight years, really the last eleven years, just having a competent President not mired in malevolent Millennial daydreams will be a step forward.

Though I am concerned that the present problems facing us may be beyond the present political system to navigate let alone solve.

Just to mention one. Our overseas empire with almost 800 military bases (see the Base Structure Report from the Pentagon for the data) on every continent proves Eisenhower’s point about the military industrial complex, though in truth this confirms what he is said to have wanted to say, “the military-industrial-Congressional complex”. This monster that consumes almost a trillion $s every year (my calculation includes the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, Energy, and other secret intelligence/military enterprises along with the budgets for the War on Drugs and Homeland Security) continues to grow with no evidence that our security is actually improving. To the contrary, it appears that in some quarters our security may be significantly diminished.

North Korea – a visit to the "Axis of Evil"

Bruce Cumings -North KoreaRecently, in the context of some discussion of the Bush regime, my step-son Jonathan pointed me towards several books on Korea. He said that Bruce Cumings is simply the best author writing in English on Korea. So, a quick trip to the local library and I had this compact little book in my hands.

The book is organized around five topics: (1) the impact of the Korean War on North Korea, (2) the genesis of Korea’s nuclear programs, (3) the legend of Kim Il Sung, (4) daily life in North Korea, and (5) the current leader (dictator) Kim Jong Il. The text is not what one might expect of an academic from the University of Chicago. Cumings writes in an openly polemic style that is directed to providing maximum exposure to North Korea and our miserable knowledge of this country.

This book is relatively brief and a compelling introduction to North Korea and a portion of our foreign policy history that was substantially new to this reader

Enron, Trust and Malfeasance

January 23, 2002 (revised 1/29/02)

The collapse of energy giant Enron over the last six months has produced a surprising level of outrage especially for a cynic like me.

As this drama continues to unfold, I have been trying to understand how Enron structured their business and made money. Until just last night I was operating on the belief that the cleverness and sophistication of Enron’s managers simply outstripped my analytical skills. But, as I have been following the writing in the NY Times and Wall St. Journal, slowly it has come to me that they don’t understand the maze of structures and deals employed by Enron for years either.

Then, last night, on the Jim Lehrer News Hour on PBS, Paul Solman, one of the regular financial reporters, gave his analysis of what has been going on. After listening to Solman’s report, it is clear that Enron has been engaging in massive deceit, deception, and downright criminal activity for years.

Now, I must admit to some familiarity with the habits and attitudes of managers. I am used to the aggressive behavior of managers trying to stretch the accounting systems to make the most recent quarter look good. In fact, I have participated in such activities. But, Enron has engaged in a long-term shell game aided and abetted by its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, LLC. The failure of the government (the SEC) and more importantly, the audit companies, to provide oversight, transparency, basic facts, and above all the application simple commonsense ethics to a huge company’s activities is outrageous. It undermines the credibility of the economy. If Arthur Andersen, one of the oldest and most prestigious audit firms can be so blind over so many years, what are we to make of their, and other audit firms’ reliability for oversight of all the other firms so many of us hold in our 401K funds?

It will be interesting to see how the government and the financial institutions of capitalism react to this. It is a basic tenant of the capital and equity markets that timely, transparent information is essential not only to the best and highest use of our capital resources, but also to the maintenance of trust in a reasonably fair play space.

You can see the Solman report on the PBS web site (opens in a separate window)

And, from Friday January 25, 2002, here is more Solman on Enron (opens in a separate window)

Whose Opinion (Advice) Is This?

Whose Opinion (Advice) Is This?

The Problem

At a time when we are quite aware of the need for and value of transparency in the reporting of the activities of corporations (thanks most recently to the Enron affair), we could quite usefully extend this transparency metaphor to other parts of day-to-day life. The print press, TV, radio, and internet are filled with opinions and advice from all sorts of people. Many of these pass for expert status just based on affiliation with universities, institutes, and think tanks.

Increasingly we must ask ourselves, “whose opinion is this?” Who is being served by the expertise?

Although many in the academic and chic cultural world (not to mention the various right-wing types in political and religious quarters) may think that relativism is the creation of post-WWII French philosophy, most of the rest of the world knows full well that “truth” is in fact relative, that is, relative to who is paying. No surprise, the “experts” know this too, and regularly seek to hide or obscure who is paying. Now, even the pinnacle of prestige in the medical world, The New England Journal of Medicine, has had to strengthen its guidelines that seek to separate research performed at arms length from the pharmaceutical/medical industrial complex from that more directly controlled.

A Step Towards a Solution

What can we do to provide a substantial increase in the transparency of our information sources while keeping things simple?

We should begin to demand that every expert, commentator, think tank institute, or university laboratory reveal the sources of 80% of the funds supporting its research/organizational activities. In the vast majority of case the list of sources will not exceed three or four. This protocol will provide a revealing base of background information without substantial burdens.

A Caveat

Although the protocol proposed here will increase the transparency of our sources of information, it will not relieve us of the work of making sense out of the data and theories presented in any given situation. Just because a given piece of research is funded by “bad people” does not mean that the data is not meaningful and the analysis correct.