Tuesday, November 30, 2010
One example here.
Personally, I'm unconvinced, but wavering. The evidence in favor of this theory is all circumstantial. Basically the argument revolves around the fact that there is nothing damaging to Israel yet to be found in any Wikileaks data dump, and that the overall effect of the leaks would seem to work in Israel's favor.
The other point advanced in favor of this argument is that Julian Assange has allegedly dismissed all suspicion of any 9-11 cover up, and some feel his credibility is fatally wounded by that dismissal.
There are replies one could make to these arguments in favor, but they all seem a bit weak and contrived. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but generally there's some connection, and statistics be damned.
On this issue, I honestly have no idea what to think. But I will observe that it has been a while since anyone accused me of not being sufficiently cynical about the ways of the world.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
To quote from the PEGI website, "The PEGI system was developed and based on existing systems in Europe. In the drafting of the PEGI assessment form and the shaping of the system organisation, society representatives such as consumers, parents and religious groups have been largely involved."
Oh great, religious groups, isn't that a delightful kettle of fish? You can bet that no pagans were invited to sit on that panel, and I severely doubt that much input from Islamic clergy went into the final mix. Can you imagine the nightmare of trying to reconcile computer games with the sharia? (Sharia is traditional Islamic law, essentially unchanged since the time of the Prophet Mohammed, 1400 years ago). With all due respect for Islam, Islamic Women, and the Prophet of God (PBUH), can we pause for a moment to snicker at the thought of World of Warcraft, (or any other popular MMOG), with all the female characters in burqa?
As an aside, how are they going to handle this when Turkey becomes a full member of the EU?
But I digress from the main topic here. PEGI and ESRB are essentially censorship organs. No, they do not nominally have the power to openly prohibit a game from being sold, but they do have that power in fact. They have that power because, while the model is slowly changing, game publishers depend on retail sales to make a profit. And most retailers will not touch an unrated game, or one that has a rating they consider unacceptable. And the few retailers that will handle such games will not display them prominently enough to generate impulse sales.
This means that failing to get an acceptable rating from the relevant rating agency is the kiss of death to a game in most cases. There do exist exceptions. The Grand Theft Auto series became such a phenomenon that the later games in the series generated their own demand, a demand so extreme that retailers could not (or would not) refuse to carry them, in spite of grief and controversy over ratings, so-called "hidden content", etc.
So the bottom line, when we get past all the circumlocutions and look at the final net effect, is censorship. Censorship based in part on religious sensibilities, specifically Judeo-Christian religious sensibilities. Most writers would at this point tell you how you should feel about that. Being a pagan, (and a lazy bastard), I'll let you figure it out for yourselves.
The differences between the two rating agencies, European and US, are not profound, but they are notable. The ESRB, betraying the puritanical origins of our American society, is mostly concerned with sex and nudity. Never mind the fact that most of us get every meal there for the first 6 months of our lives, apparently once we have been weaned the mere sight of a woman's breasts is enough to cause grave and irreparable psychological damage, twisting the All-American Boy from the path of Eagle Scout to that of axe-murder chainsaw rapist. The scary part is that there are people who actually believe this crap, and know in their hearts that all of us who don't agree will burn in hell forever.
PEGI, in accordance with European attitudes, is quite a bit more laissez-faire about nudity or partial nudity, but more concerned with violence than ESRB. And, if the additional ratings offered by PEGI are an indicator, by other issues of political correctness which are not even rated for by ESRB.
Nor is this phenomenon anything new. An amusing example is offered by "Giants", an RTS game from over a decade ago. One race in the game were mermaids. Topless mermaids, oh my, no seashells! Now, ESRB was thoroughly scandalised by this, and threatened a "kiss-of-death" rating unless it was amended, but had no problem with the level of "violence" portrayed in the game. PEGI was upset with the amount of blood and gore, but had absolutely no problem with the topless mermaids. So the game developer patched the mermaids with a bandeau, and made the blood green instead of red. PEGI and ESRB declared young gamers saved from trauma and a life of psych counseling by their vigilance once again. And a few weeks after the game was published, most video game magazines published the tip that if you went into the game directory and renamed or deleted a certain small file, the bandeau disappeared and your cartoon mermaids had boobs again.
Which brings us neatly to the real point here, the true paradox.
Gamers want the boobs. (Male gamers, anyhow. What female gamers want, I am in no way qualified to say.) Yes, that's right. I came right out and said it. Gamers want to see flesh, and lots of it. Artfully concealed and occasionally revealed is my personal preference, but Your Mileage May Vary. Hellaciously politically incorrect to say, but there you have it. And it's true.
Which means that ESRB and PEGI are, for the most part, in the business of preventing the consumers from obtaining what they want.
Having crossed the Rubicon of political correctness with trumpets blaring, I may as well go the rest of the way with this topic. Do I want to see the average video game looking like something from Score.com? HELL NO! The vast majority of current porn is vulgar and tasteless. Not because it's porn, but because it's porn with no artistry. Such things are hellishly difficult to describe precisely, but try digging up some old 70's porn, something classic like Seka. Difficult to find anymore, but not impossible. Watch this carefully for a few minutes, looking not at the T&A but at the filmmaking. Some of the old 70's porn was just as trashy as anything today, but most did display an artistry, a sense that the people behind the cameras had some background in art.
This is a much better idea, I think, of what the results would look like if the reins were loosened a bit on artistic design in video games. Look at video games in Japan, and what they get away with. And Japanese society doesn't seem to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Then again, Japan has a whole different slant on sex and human interaction in general, (not to mention life, death, and everything else) and comparisons with western society are always tricky.
Am I suggesting that we would or should see characters making the beast with two backs in the next MMORPG? No, absolutely not, or at least not in public, PLEASE. Topless characters, as an option which can be toggled on or off in game options, and occasional full frontal nudity? Yes, why not? And while I personally have no interest in man-sausage, if you think such things cannot be or are not being depicted in graphic art, go to www.jlist.com and search on the word yaoi. Talk about something to really freak out the bible-thumpers...
Trying to predict the results of lifting or relaxing a long-standing prohibition on human behavior is never easy. Even the so-called experts do not exactly have a good track record. And the current situation is by no means intolerable. The average horndog gamer gets enough titillation (gotta love that word) to keep his interest up, so to speak.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Those of you who have been reading my scribbles here for any length of time, know by now that I do not support the Afghanistan War, not even a little bit. So, rather than offer any further commentary on this grim anniversary, I will post these comments by a Russian veteran of the nation that has been called The Graveyard of Empires.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Mark Sedwill, NATO's top civilian envoy in Afghanistan, commented publicly this week to the effect that children in Kabul were safer than children in London, Glasgow, or New York.
Afghanistan has the second-highest infant mortality rate in the world at 151 per 1000. In contrast, the UK has an infant mortality of 4.69 per 1000, and the USA is at an embarrassingly high 6.14 per 1000.
In terms of child mortality, (recorded separately from infant mortality, which is the deaths in the first year), one Afghan child in five dies before his/her 5th birthday.
So tell me, dear reader, where do assholes like Mark Sedwill get statements like that from? Are they written by speechwriters, and pre-scripted? Does the man just pull them out of his ass upon the spur of the moment? Perhaps more importantly, how stupid do they think we are? Do they not realize that we have such information at our (virtual) fingertips?
Or is it simply a case, as I increasingly suspect of late, that our governments are in the control of the criminally incompetent?
Monday, November 22, 2010
For those who haven't been following the international news, the Irish economy is in desperate straits, (sound familiar?), and has just agreed to accept a multi-billion-euro bailout from the EU and the IMF.
French President Nicholas Sarkozy said, "It's obvious that when confronted with a situation like this, there are two levers to use: spending and revenues. I cannot imagine that our Irish friends, in full sovereignty, [would not use] this because they have a greater margin for manoeuvre than others, their taxes being lower than others."
Consider, if you will, the incredible arrogance of these US corporations. They outsourced our jobs to Ireland in order to avoid paying taxes in the USA, where they sell their products. Now they are threatening to flee to China or India if the Irish do not continue to allow them to rob the public treasury by paying a pathetic pittance of an excuse for their fair share.
My friends, the only solution to corporate behavior like this is a tariff on all imports. The corporations, and the evil rich bastards who control them, have sent millions of our jobs overseas, in order to exploit cheap labor. Then, having produced their goods in some third-world country, under sweat-shop conditions, they import those cheap and shoddy goods into the USA, and sell them to us at an obscene profit.
Only by making those corporations pay a steep tariff, of 50% or more, when importing their foreign-made goods into the USA, only by this measure can we bring those career-worthy jobs back home to the USA once again.
All the empty propaganda about "Free Trade" is so much bullshit. This issue is about exploitation of the working people of this world, by the rich, for the profit of the rich. And it has to stop.
Original story in the UK Telegraph here
Saturday, November 20, 2010
The whole brouhaha started in 2005, when AIPAC was caught red-handed illegally passing classified information to Israel, information which AIPAC had obtained from Congress and/or the Pentagon. Isn't it interesting that when Wikileaks releases classified information, the Pentagon and the White House scream bloody murder, but when the Israel Lobby releases classified information, the politicians, generals, and even the media are very quiet about it?
Two top officers of AIPAC, including Steve Rosen, who was then the number two man in the organization, were charged under the Espionage Act. But AIPAC brought influence to bear behind the scenes, AIPAC's tame congressmen started breathing fire at the Justice Department, and last year the charges against both men were dropped. Back in 2005, apparently as part of some back-room deal, Rosen was fired from his position at AIPAC.
Now AIPAC is fighting back viciously, attempting to deflect criticism from itself by smearing Rosen personally. Their lawyers are going for the usual dirt, "viewing pornography on company computers", etc, (as though that were any rarity in corporate America today).
Ah, but Rosen is fighting back by claiming that "they all did it", another brilliant stroke, sir, and quite an original defense.
The clincher is that Rosen claims to have documents proving that the whole upper management team at AIPAC knew exactly what he was doing when he and Keith Weissman (the other defendant) passed classified information to Israeli intelligence.
There is, my friends, a word for this. The word is schadenfreude, the malicious enjoyment one feels when observing the misfortunes of one's rivals or enemies.
With AIPAC distracted by the dirty consequences of its own slimy misdeeds, perhaps the so-called "Peace Talks" now (sort of) underway might actually have some slim chance of success. Let us earnestly hope and pray that this is so.
Original story at Washington Post here
Original story at AJE here
Friday, November 19, 2010
Of course, the usual talking heads have the usual glib explanations for why, even going so far as to use the phrase "shock and awe", which will bring a cringe from anyone old enough to remember 2003.
According to an article in the Washington Post, this is another great idea from the right-wing loonies at the Rand Corporation, who have somehow imagined that using heavy armor in a counter-insurgency is just a wonderful idea. Somewhere in Russia, a few old former-soviet officers are laughing their asses off.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
The 99ers are the new Okies.
Like those refugees from the Oklahoma dustbowl of the late 1920's, the 99ers have become a symbol of a national economy in shambles. And at the same time, the 99ers have become that category of persons upon whom it is acceptable to heap scorn and contempt. You've all heard the things that Glenn Beck has to say about the 99ers, and the oft-quoted slams from various Republican politicians. The 99ers have been called everything from stray animals to drug addicts, and worse.
If such insults were directed at minorities, or at members of the LGBT community, the howls of outrage would be heard from here to Timbuktu. But when politicians direct such outrageous slanders at 99ers, no word of objection is to be heard, from anyone.
Who are the 99ers? They're your neighbors, the people you see at the grocery store, the lady who used to work at that business down the street before they filed Chapter 11 and laid her off. The 99ers are you and the 99ers are me, literally. The 99ers are simply Americans, like any other Americans, who happened to be employed by a business that didn't make it.
There are at least six million 99ers in the USA. Roughly three-quarters of them are 45 or older. Their credit ratings, after 2-years-plus without a job, read something like "shoot on sight". They are too young by decades for retirement. But what employer will touch them?
These are people who have worked all their lives, paid their taxes, voted their conscience, and in general done nothing wrong, done nothing to deserve this nightmare in which they find themselves.
And so, dear readers, I ask you this. What are the 99ers supposed to do? Are they supposed to simply crawl off into the bushes and become homeless? What are they supposed to live on? Where are they supposed to go? What are they supposed to do in order to put the shattered pieces of their lives back together?
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Al Jazeera English just posted an excellent short summary of who she really is.
A few minutes ago it was reported that Aung San Suu Kyi has finally been released from house arrest in Burma/Myanmar. It is worth mentioning that the woman has spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest. So, Burma, aka Myanmar. Former British colony. Blame Louie Mountbatten for leaving things in a mess, such that the nation has been ruled by a military dictatorship since 1962.
Right, the war in Afghanistan. Another former British colony.
And it spills over into Pakistan, which is another former British colony. Pakistan has perennial problems over Kashmir which it disputes with with India, another former British Colony.
The endless misery of Palestine, and the lands stolen by Israel? Both former British colonies. In all fairness, Lebanon can be blamed on the French, just for variety.
Remember the long and bloody insurgency in Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon? Another former British colony.
Strikes and nasty economic problems in South Africa? Yet another former British Colony.
Election violence in Kenya? And another former British Colony.
Ongoing misery under Evil Dictator Mugabe in Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia? Still another former British Colony.
What's my point? I don't suppose I really have one, other than the general evils of colonialism. Thank goodness "we" don't do that anymore.
Except that we do. Today the US and many European nations practice not military colonialism, but economic colonialism, the evils of which are more subtle, and far less apparent to the public eye.
According to a recent study published by USA Today, (I know, but news is news), the number of Federal employees earning over $150,000 per year has increased by a factor of 10 since 2005, and more than doubled since Obama took office. Let's see you blame that on Bush, Mr President.
And the number of Federal employees earning over $180,000 per year, is 20 times what it was 5 years ago.
Speaking as a 99er, I have to say I find that incredibly disheartening.
Change we can believe in, yeah!
Lily Allen has the right message
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
NORAD issued a joint statement with Northern Command stating that it wasn't launched by a foreign government, but saying nothing more.
The Pentagon says it "remains a mystery".
So just who the hell launched a missile from 50 km west of Los Angeles and just north of Catalina Island yesterday?
Someone launched something large, that much is apparent from the video shot by the KCBS news helicopter. This was not a Tomahawk cruise missile or anything that small.
Political cartoons can be a powerful insight into the answers to that question. Of course, it's axiomatic that humor is the most difficult thing to translate, but political cartoons are often blunt enough to need no translation.
Consider the following offerings from Al Ahram Weekly, an Egyptian publication that has been in continuous operation since 1875.
Here we have a selection of 5 cartoons, arranged vertically. Be patient, please, their server can be slow.
The top cartoon shows Osama bin Laden waiting in line to cast his vote in the US midterm elections. I really don't know what the artist is saying here, perhaps that Osama is us? Or perhaps he's ridiculing our seeming inability to catch him?
The second is Egyptian domestic politics; it's saying that the upcoming election is totally rigged.
The third one down gets interesting. That is a send-up of the flag some of the tea partiers like to use, but with the snake removed and a Klansman's hood in its place.
The 4th cartoon is again obscure. The obvious meaning is clear, but who knows about context?
The 5th cartoon, at the bottom , is the best. This is how the Middle East sees the new Republican-dominated House of Representatives. Lift the lid on Congress, and you have a crowd of grinning Ku Klux Klansmen with their pointy white hoods on. Ouch. So much for convincing the world that US Conservatives aren't really racists.
Prior to 2003, Iraqis had many problems to be sure, but tension between Sunni and Shia was minimal. Today, Iraq cannot even form a government, months after elections, because of strife between Sunni and Shia. And that divide was created by the actions of the US occupying forces under General Petraeus.
Petraeus employed these Shia troops to "combat Sunni insurgency", knowing full well that the Shia were conducting large-scale torture of Sunni "detainees", to use the dry and clinical term for some passing innocent kidnapped off the street.
And this same General Petraeus is now in change in Afghanistan.
Full story at AJE here
Friday, November 5, 2010
It would appear, from satellite data, that the Gulf Stream is dying or has already died.
I confess, I needed a refresher on how the Gulf Stream works. Essentially, a warm water current comes up the NE coast of South America, does a loop in the Gulf of Mexico, and then passes by the tip of Florida before heading diagonally across the Atlantic to pass by the British Isles and Scandinavia. Technically, the part before the tip of Florida has a different name, but it's all one continous current, or it used to be.
The dumping of a billion gallons of crude oil, and two million gallons of toxic dispersant, (brand name Corexit), into the Gulf of Mexico, however, has screwed this up royally. Instead of flowing across the Atlantic, the Gulf Stream is now breaking down in a series of whirlpools in a region that stretches from off the Carolinas to the mid-Atlantic.
Here is a graphic showing how the Gulf Stream is supposed to flow. Apologies for not embedding it, but if I reduced it to fit, you wouldn't be able to see WTF was going on.
Here is a site with weekly-updated satellite data.
Here is an archived graphic from late October of 2009, roughly a year ago, from the same site, showing the same data.
At first glance, the two appear substantially the same. But look at the top right corner. In the graphic from a year ago, the stream continues off the map, toward the UK. In the most recent graphics, nothing makes it off the map. The Gulf Stream is breaking up in mid-Atlantic.
What does this mean? Well, for starts, it's the warmth of the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe from freezing solid in the winter. And it's the Gulf Stream, continuing as the North Atlantic current, that flows over the top of the Asian landmass and determines weather across much of Russia.
Russia, which has had the hottest Summer on record, causing massive wildfires, and devastating their wheat crop to the point where all exports have been banned.
So, dear reader, it would appear that BP, with the help and collusion of our oh-so-dearly-beloved President, has screwed us at least three different ways. The Gulf seafood is not safe to eat, much of the Atlantic seafood will soon be unsafe to eat, and the weather is screwed up to the point that grain production will be curtailed severely, has already been curtailed severely.
Can you say rising food prices, boys and girls? And at the same time, we can look forward to renewed inflation, since Ben Bernanke has just decided to print another 900 billion dollars in paper money, and give it to the bankers.
Because, after all, those poor bankers really need the help...
Thursday, November 4, 2010
On October 29th, the FDA and NOAA finally issued a press release announcing the beginning of a testing program for dispersant residues in seafood. The devil, as usual, is in the details.
The allowed level of contamination has been set at 100 parts per million for fish, and 500 parts per million for shrimp, crab, and oysters. By contrast, when runoff water from your neighborhood storm drain reaches the sea, the maximum allowed level of chemical residue is 5 parts per million.
Think about this, my friends. When runoff water goes into the sea, the maximum allowed level of chemical residue, is 5 parts per million. But for seafood you are going to eat, they allow 500 parts per million? One hundred times as much, and this is supposed to be "safe"? And at that, they are only testing for the least toxic of the contaminants.
(direct quote from story in Al Jazeera English)
Hugh Kaufman is a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) office of solid waste and emergency response. Kaufman, a leading critic of the US government's decision to use Corexit, told Al Jazeera this about the press release: "They say it perfectly clear: the purpose of the test they developed is to make the public confident, not whether the seafood was safe or not."
"They selected the one compound that doesn’t bio-accumulate, as opposed to testing for the toxic ingredients that have a low safety threshold and do build up in tissue. They are not looking for those."
Kaufman, who has been the EPA's chief investigator on several contamination cases, including Love Canal and Times Beach, said: "They want to be able to tell the public the seafood is safe. But if you are going to test seafood to see if it’s safe or not, you want to test for the ingredients of Corexit that have a low safety threshold and do bio-accumulate in tissue."
(end direct quote from AJE)
And there you have it, dear reader, a direct quote from an experienced EPA specialist. The government is lying to you, coldly and deliberately, in order to cover up the results of their own incompetent failure to regulate BP. And note please, I am being generous in attributing this screw up to incompetence rather than blatant corruption.
Original story at AJE here.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Spare us the morning-after guilt trip. If you want to flagellate yourself, go for it, but don't go splattering your mea culpa on me, please.
I did my part. I voted, and I voted with a conscience. In California, the Democrats did fairly well, even if Prop 19 didn't pass. Prop 23 was hammered out of existence; voters chose NO by a 2-1 margin, which is a major "fuck you" to the big oil interests that were backing Prop 23.
Furthermore, California voters chose to suspend the 2/3 requirement for passing a state budget, going back to a simple majority, while keeping the 2/3 requirement to raise taxes.
All in all, I did my part. My fellow Californians chose wisely, in the main. And I'm not accepting any attempts to smear me, or us, with anybody's guilt trip.
Non, je ne regrette rien.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Your faithful correspondent went to the polls early this morning, and voted his conscience. Or, more accurately, a compromise therewith.
Dropping the kiplingesque 3rd-person crap, I voted Democrat (hence the compromise) for the higher offices such as Governor and US Senator. I voted Green for all the others that had a political party affiliation listed. Next, I voted carefully on the propositions, which were in truth the issues on which I had done the most careful research. And I voted No for all the judge positions, just to be contrary. After all, most judges are lawyers, and Shakespeare had the right idea about lawyers.
For the remainder of the bubbles, I left them blank or wrote in either Bozo the Clown or Saint Didacus, (the English name of San Diego de Alcala, for whom my beloved city is named).
Now for the out-on-a-limb part.
On no scientific basis whatsoever, based purely upon marsupial intuition, (and bearing firmly in mind that opossums are not exactly regarded as the geniuses of the animal kingdom), I offer the following predictions -
Our beloved Gov Moonbeam will win the governator's chair once again.
Barbara Boxer will be narrowly re-elected, mostly because Carly Fiorina is such an incredibly unappealing old hag, and Boxer herself is a slightly less unappealing old hag.
3rd-party candidates in general will do markedly better than in previous years, thus bolstering by some small increment the credibility of 3rd-party candidates in general.
Nation-wide, the Teapublicans will gain a small majority in the House of Representatives, and the Democrats will narrowly retain their majority in the Senate.
The race between Angle and Reid will be an interesting one to watch. If Sharon Angle actually wins that one, all bets are off, and anything could happen. Watch for major vote fraud in this race, and probably in the elections as a whole.
All of the above assumes, of course, that the elections are not completely rigged. After the events that took place in Florida in 2000, that's not exactly a given anymore.
In conclusion, dear readers, whatever you think, get out and vote today, if you haven't already done so. It is your duty as a citizen, and there's no getting around that.