Victimless punishment

Eric Holder, Wall Street Double Agent, Comes in From the Cold
Barack Obama’s former top cop cashes in after six years of letting banks run wild
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/eric-holder-wall-street-double-agent-comes-in-from-the-cold-20150708

Funny, you don’t hear any libertarians or Tea Partiers carping about this, just dyed in the wool progressives like Matt. Why is that? Why is it that one of the harshest critics (excepting, of course, the frothing-at-the-mouth morons that will hate any democrat, particularly a _black_ one) is a progressive liberal? Him and Glenn Greenwald, another progressive. Here we are winding up Bush’s fourth term. Cheney should be proud, his policies have been in place now for almost 16 years. If Hillary gets elected, another 4-8 years!

I plan on voting for Bernie any chance I get. I view him as the only realistic way to turn the tide, or heck, get it to stop rising!

Amazon causing literature to degrade?

More reasons to hate Amazon: Ursula Le Guin is right about their model of books as commodities “written fast, sold cheap, dumped fast”
The online bookseller does more than just shut down indie bookstores, says the venerable fantasy author
http://www.salon.com/2015/06/03/more_reasons_to_hate_amazon_ursula_le_guin_is_right_about_their_model_of_books_as_commodities_written_fast_sold_cheap_dumped_fast/

Disclaimer: I really like a lot of Le Guin’s work and respect her very much as a writer. Having done some research now on the publishing world as a writer I can see some of the things she is talking about. Since I am doing this with a profit motive (I like to write, but I don’t _need_ to write) I am trying to write something popular that sells well. Though what I write is focused on the story I want to tell, I do consider popularity elements as I make decisions on various plot points. I have gone back and rewritten sections because I feel they will market/sell better and, presuming my reviewers give me the thumb’s up and get it professionally edited, I suspect I will be making additional changes towards better marketability. Then, if I go with a traditional publisher, no doubt they will recommend more changes still. However, I am trying to tell a specific story and there is only so much I will bend before I no longer enjoy what I am doing (you have to do it for the joy in the beginning, that might be all you ever get!) and will drop the thing. I wonder if some of my favorite authors would ever get a chance in today’s publishing world. If Dune, one of the most popular Sci Fi books of all time, were Herbert’s debut novel, I doubt it would get considered today. It is too far from the mainstream and isn’t easily categorized. My attempt is firmly in the romantic thriller genera and, except for the focus being from the “bad guy’s” point of view (the title says it all: “Diary of a Contract Killer”) I believe is fairly conventional. Publishers want you to be different, yet the same, exactly like Hollywood. Everyone complains about how Hollywood never does anything new or different, Le Guin sees the exact same thing now in the publishing world and lays the blame at Amazon’s feet. I don’t see it as exclusively an Amazon issue, but they are certainly accelerating the trend (though they are also providing a platform for self publishing, which lowers the bar to the point that anyone who can finish a novel can get it published, though very few indeed will ever get paid for the time they invested). Though I am not convinced that changing Amazon’s behavior would change the trend (personally, I see this trend beginning decades ago and Amazon just riding the wave), I do think it needs to be said, heard and debated, so this is my small effort to broaden the article’s exposure.

Burn it! Burn it all down!

How to demolish the oligarchy in 3 easy steps
American democracy has been tainted by lobbying and corporate interests. How do we fix it? Blow it all up
http://www.salon.com/2015/04/24/how_to_demolish_the_oligarchy_in_3_easy_steps/

This is a nice clean summary of some of the pivotal sources of inequality in our ‘great nation’. This doesn’t require that the rich pay higher taxes (though they certainly should), it only requires that parasites on our dysfunctional system get shed for the greatest good for the greatest number…

We have six separate, major American health care programs, with different streams of revenue and based on different systems

America’s health care policies are a dog’s breakfast. America’s retirement policies are a dog’s breakfast that a dog barfed up later.

By my count, that’s four distinct major retirement systems in the U.S.

Education? We have public provision: public K-12 and public community colleges and state universities. Outside of this system of direct public educational provision, we have a separate system of federal student loans. And a third system of federal grants. And because three incompatible systems of aiding higher education are not enough—this is America!—we have yet a fourth, completely different system of tax-favored college savings accounts. America’s system of funding higher education is not quite as insanely complicated as our health care and retirement systems. But we’re getting there!

The political scientist Steven Teles calls this kind of baroque public policy “kludgeocracy.” Another way to describe it would be that Rube Goldberg gets elected and promotes various goals—health care, retirement security, educational access—by means of needlessly elaborate contraptions involving candles, levers, and gerbils running on wheels.

Who benefits from this complexity? Lobbyists, tax preparers, accountants, and rent-seeking parasites in the private sector who figure out how to game these needlessly elaborate systems to skim money from taxpayers and rate payers. Complexity is the friend of corruption. Simplicity, on the other hand, promotes democracy.

Equal rights for all, special privileges for none.

Fantasy? In the short term, sure. The well-paid parasites who profit from complexity will see to that. But there are two kinds of politics: Moving the ball and moving the goal-posts. This is about moving the goal-posts. This is about the next generation, not the next election.

Rome was not built in a day, and the antiquated, crumbling, rat-infested fire hazard that is American public policy will not be condemned, demolished and replaced by a clean, modern, solid structure overnight. But the sooner we start the demolition, the better. In the meantime, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none” would make a good campaign slogan in 2016.

Our ‘Justice’ system is even more corrupt than I thought!

Will HSBC Deal Come Back to Haunt Loretta Lynch?
Deal to save HSBC’s American office looks very bad in retrospect
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/will-hsbc-deal-come-back-to-haunt-loretta-lynch-20150209

Got to be read to be believed, but the gist of the matter is the ‘punishment’ that our so-called Justice system meted out to HSBC for laundering money for drug cartels (!), a joke at the time, is even more inexplicable given that our government already knew that HSBC was also acting as an illegal tax haven for the wealthy.

And oh, by the way, our soon-to-be new Attorney General Loretta Lynch was instrumental behind it. No question she is a perfect for for Obama, she clearly knows where all sorts of bodies are buried.

So NICE to be an American!

Wow! Email encryption relies on just ONE guy!

The World’s Email Encryption Software Relies on One Guy, Who is Going Broke
Werner Koch’s code powers the email encryption programs around the world. If only somebody would pay him for the work.
http://www.propublica.org/article/the-worlds-email-encryption-software-relies-on-one-guy-who-is-going-broke

Also interesting comments here.

It is amazing how many fundamental pieces of open source software are dependent on a handful (or just one) person. There are a few that are supported by large groups, for instance Linux, Apache, gcc, but so many are hanging by a thread. It would be nice to see some process whereby these people could be compensated, but I am not holding my breath.

Steadily chipping away…

The Most Important Trial in America
The federal government’s case against the proprietor of a ‘darknet’ website could forever alter how we all use the Internet.
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/14/the-most-important-trial-in-america.html

This is something that deserves higher visibility, so I will do my small (tiny (infinitesimal)) part to widen the scope. I agree with this statement:

I have no idea if he is innocent or guilty of all or some of the charges against him, but the manner in which his prosecution is playing out should disturb anyone who cares about justice.

When the government is allowed to break laws willy nilly and the justice department stands idly by, we are no longer a nation of laws. Of course, this has been a reality for quite a while, but sometimes it is hard to convince the sheeple that these things are important. Perhaps one day the government will finally reach a point where they take on someone who isn’t successfully demonized and the sheeple will rally. Or perhaps not…

In other words, people don’t commit crimes, corporate culture commits crimes!

The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-9-billion-witness-20141106

Matt has moved back to Rolling Stone and I am starting to catch up on his old posts, so this might be the first of a few. I have often attempted to tell people that the ‘historic’ $13 billion find that Chase agreed to was nothing more than a slap on the wrist and represented a trivial fraction of the profit they made and a teeny tiny fraction of the economic harm they caused. This post details that it is even worse; in addition to, naturally, the fine being paid by the share holders (the CEO got a raise!), the fine itself is being used as a tax deduction. Four of the supposed $13 billion isn’t even real money at all, it is just accounting trickery to inflate the $9 billion number (which, after writing off the taxes, is really much closer to $5.5 billion (this on a company that nets that much each quarter)).

Matt’s article makes it crystal clear the complicity of our supposed government watchdogs on the coverup. This is, of course, just a single instance of our government’s efforts to work with Wall Street to cover up crimes that should result in hard jail time for many executives.

Anyway, here are a couple of excerpts to attempt to get my reader(s) to take a look:

In September, at a speech at NYU, Holder defended the lack of prosecutions of top executives on the grounds that, in the corporate context, sometimes bad things just happen without actual people being responsible. “Responsibility remains so diffuse, and top executives so insulated,” Holder said, “that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution’s culture than a result of the willful actions of any single individual.”

Because after all this activity, all these court actions, all these penalties (both real and abortive), even after a fair amount of noise in the press, the target companies remain more ascendant than ever. The people who stole all those billions are still in place. And the bank is more untouchable than ever – former Debevoise & Plimpton hotshots Mary Jo White and Andrew Ceresny, who represented Chase for some of this case, have since been named to the two top jobs at the SEC. As for the bank itself, its stock price has gone up since the settlement and flirts weekly with five-year highs. They may lose the odd battle, but the markets clearly believe the banks won the war. Truth is one thing, and if the right people fight hard enough, you might get to hear it from time to time. But justice is different, and still far enough away.

Have a maximally inefficient Christmas!

Have yourself an inefficient Christmas
http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/22/have-yourself-an-inefficient-christmas/

This may not be as amusing to my reader(s) as it is to me, but what the heck, I have been rather serious on this blog for a while…

The idea is that there is this tug of war between a purposeless gift on the part of the receiver and something that stands out and becomes remembered and perhaps cherished. I am a Scrooge from way back, I stopped liking Christmas gift giving probably around 13 or perhaps a bit younger (I don’t care for birthdays either). My rationale is that every gift choice I would care for that is reasonably priced I already have, so what remains is unreasonably priced items or stuff I don’t care for. Except for children (though I largely remain a Scrooge, allowing my wife to manage that aspect), I tend to project these thoughts on others so would rather just skip the whole process. It is interesting, though, the idea the author mentions, that someone might be clever/insightful/lucky enough to conceive of a gift that you don’t realize you actually desire/need until it is presented. I have some older friends who doggedly resist any efforts to connect on-line (meaning they remain in the 20th century and lack smart phones or Internet access) and though they express interest in watching our satellite TV, they have adamantly resisted any suggestion that we get them a dish so they can watch more than the handful of channels they get over the air (and don’t get me started on their refusal to purchase a new TV to replace their gigantic tube that is probably causing the floor to sag because of its mass). I sometimes consider giving one of these ‘gifts’ despite their avowed objection in the hopes that once they have it available they might come to see the utility, but so far I have honored their rejection (it certainly ‘helps’ in that regard that we are dramatically over extended on our construction efforts).

My wife and her siblings engage in a gift exchange. Each sibling purchases a gift at a pre-set amount, then they draw lots, pick a gift, then open it. Interestingly, the earlier openers then have the option to swap gifts after they have seen what the later opener’s gift is. What is really fascinating to me is how often the gift that was purchased for the exchange winds up back in the hands of the original purchaser. It seems the current strategy is to purchase a gift you yourself would like, then if you don’t get to open that gift, swap for it later. Sort of like the stories of spouses each purchasing a gift for the other that the other then gives back to them. At least you would never be disappointed.

So, what do you think? Should gift giving be ‘efficient’ or is our current culture of swapping generally meaningless gifts the optimal path?

So sad…

When charter schools are nonprofit in name only
Many institutions are paying for-profit companies for management services, and regulators are taking notice
http://www.salon.com/2014/12/11/when_charter_schools_are_nonprofit_in_name_only_partner/

The rich get richer, the taxpayer takes it in the ass. Ain’t America Grand?

Moveon.org has decided to ‘invest’ $1 million in an effort to get Elizabeth Warren to run in ’16. I hope she does; though I am intrigued with the idea of a female President and might vote for Hillary if it comes to that, I am quite certain she (Hillary) is no different than Obama (or McCain or Romney for that matter) and her being President means business as usual. Of course, Warren might sell out (have already sold out), but it is a certainty that Hillary already has. I doubt that the GOP will put up anyone moderate enough to appeal to the swell of democratic leaning voters for the ’16 election, the Tea Party will ensure that anyone who gets nominated will have to at least act like a crazy. A friend supports the Republican Ben Carson. If he is moderate enough to appeal to moderate voters then I doubt he can make it through the nomination process; if he is wacko enough to get the Tea Party seal of approval, I doubt he will appeal to the moderate voters. It is possible, though, that he could make a good President, but I am so sure that it is the Democrats election to lose that I can’t even generate the enthusiasm to read his Wiki page.

It is looking like the laser tag idea is going to fall by the wayside. Realizing that I might wind up spending thousands to save hundreds, I started to inquire how much my ASIC detector wafers might cost. Shockingly, I can’t get anyone to give me any figure which makes me think that the price is too high. I have considered revisiting the UMD FabLab where I made some halting efforts to get my DNA chip fabricated years ago, but my wife thinks even thinking about that idea is a waste of time. She pointed out that I have many other things I should be thinking/working on and I agreed that my time is probably (likely (almost certainly)) better spent working on the ‘retro’ game. Oh well, it entertained my brain for a number of hours.

Regarding our glacially evolving construction efforts: I have been spending the last couple of weekends getting prepped for the boiler installation for heating the pool. It is amazing how expensive copper fittings are, once you get away from the 1/2 and 3/4 inch variety at the Big Box Stores. We probably spent close to $300 for a couple of dozen fittings, on top of the $350 or so for the titanium heat exchanger and of course the $3,400 for the boiler itself. Oh, we will probably also pay a bit North of $1K for the installation by the professional plumber (to preserve the warranty). Heating the pool went from less than $2K to now over $5K, but the efficiency went from 80% to 96% and since we might wind up doing the bulk of the greenhouse heating from the radiant heat of the pool, I expect that extra percentage will pay for itself in 5 years or less.

Tacloban, Philippines (where my ‘rents-in-law live) managed to avoid the worst of the nearly super typhoon Ruby (also known as Hagupit). The eye went well North of them, but they did have some wind damage and the storm surge evidently put a foot or so of water in the street in front of the house. The airport was messed up enough, though, that they will be a week late visiting us for the holidays. The word I heard was even where the eye passed over the islands (it went over the North end of Samar) the storm surge was a lot less than Yolanda and the winds a bit lower. Also, people took the warnings seriously and got the hell out of dodge.

In case I don’t get on the blog in the next couple of weeks, a very happy holidays to all my reader(s)!

When things worked as planned…

The Astonishing Story of the Federal Reserve on 9-11
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/09/10/1328813/-The-Astonishing-Story-of-the-Federal-Reserve-on-9-11

Yes, I know that the Fed really isn’t part of the govt, so this really isn’t praise for the govt, but it is an amazing read and remarkably gripping considering it is about banking and mundane things like check clearing. Give it a read, I think you will be surprised, perhaps even shocked, how James Bondian it reads.

I never really gave it much thought, but 9/11 really was a worst-case scenario for the banking system. So much banking is in NYC and in and surrounding the Trade Center that in retrospect the fact that our economy didn’t melt down is a tribute to the largely unseen people making things work. A little sad to me that the heroic work of these unsung heros is tarnished (to put it mildly) by the greedy ‘capitalists’ in Wall Street out to make a buck.

On an unrelated issue I am too lazy to make as a separate blog entry for, anyone notice that Ebola is about to become a huge deal?

Ebola outbreak: Experts warn cases could number one million by January as ‘window closes’ to stop disease becoming endemic

It becomes increasingly hard to avoid the tin-hat thinking that, given the number of companies developing an Ebola Vaccine (my dear wife works at the NIH Vaccine Research Center and is in the midst of testing one such vaccine), this is entirely coincidental. It is amazing timing that just as a couple of vaccines are ready for human testing there is an outbreak that looks like it will become an epidemic. No doubt these companies have already seen their stock skyrocket; presuming their vaccines show efficacy (the preliminaries are very encouraging) no doubt many countries will stockpile huge amounts of their vaccine even further inflating their value. I wonder, though, if any of that money will translate to vaccines given to the at-risk population, given that most of those countries have little or no hard currency and some barely have governments.

Also, with the massive increase in the number of people infected, we are performing a giant experiment to increase the transmissibility of the disease, much like that done to ferrets (for those of you who missed it, this paper was briefly censored because people were worried about terrorists using the same technique; here we are doing it ‘naturally’ instead). If you were lacking for reasons to lie awake at night, this should help fill the need.