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A History of Violence

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There was a mob outside of the Threadneedle Street branch of RBS in London.

They smashed the windows and invaded the building.

The press is referring to them as anti-capitalist protesters.

Rife with apparent contradictions, this situation, an outgrowth of the generic protests of the G20 meeting, is relatively easy to analyse.

The protesters are bored, idle and ill-informed. The police are edgy, ill-informed and have developed a siege mentality.

The outcome was never bound to be good.

I hate Apple so much right now.


I ordered two Time Capsules from Apple when I was in Mentor in January. In fact, I also ordered a keyboard and a world traveller kit.

And here's what happened:

Apple charged me for the keyboard and the world traveller kit and shipped them immediately.

Apple waited 38 days and then tried to charge me for the Time Capsules. And, of course, there wasn't any money in my American Bank account.

I found this incredibly frustrating. When I pay for something, I expect it to be the same as cash. I hand over money, then you hand over goods. For better or for worse, that's what's familiar.

Apple charged me for the keyboard and traveller kit. They shipped them and they showed up within a week. And after a month and put the Time Capsules at the back of my mind. I figured that Apple had higher than expected demand for them and they'd be diligently trying to get them to me. I was willing to be patient.

Sure, I knew I'd ordered them, sure I expected them to show up, but I thought they'd already been paid for. Why? Because I paid for them. I put my credit card details in the little online form and pressed the "Submit" button and paid. The other stuff got charged, so I assumed the Time Capsules had been charged.

Well, come today, they try to charge me and the card is declined; it's not a credit card, it's a debit card with a MasterCard logo. This is usually where someone sanctimonious says: "But surely you know how much money you have?" Of course I do. I check it every day. Before I bought the Time Capsules, I checked it. I had enough to buy Time Capsules. So I bought them. Then Apple didn't take the money. It's as if I paid by check and Apple didn't cash it for 38 days.

I know a couple of people who actually track when the money for online purchases comes off credit cards and out of accounts, but it really is only a few, and it's the same people who also use Microsoft Money to track their grocery expenditure and balance their checkbooks. I don't even have a checkbook.

What's more, in between the time that I ordered those Time Capsules and when Apple charged me for them, I sold my house, moved $140,000 through that account and paid off my mortgage. It's seen plenty of activity, enough to mask $800 worth of wireless hard drives.

So I call Apple. Really, I just want my stuff. I want those Time Capsules. This shouldn't be hard. I'll pay with another credit card and they'll ship it.


It wasn't really a mistake, because, as a customer, I have no other option. The only thing I can do is call.

And, as far as I can tell, there's no one at Apple who gives a rat's ass about the customers.

To start with, phoning Apple's help line gives you a machine. The "press 1 for <blah, blah, blah>" crap. Like everyone else, I hate automated response systems. They never, ever, ever have the options I want. I'm already more Internet savvy than 99.99% of Apple, I've had a homepage since '96 and a blog since '99. I signed the frickin' Cluetrain Manifesto. But when I call Apple, I'm forced to wade through a menu of options that cover the exact same material that they have on their website. The same material that I just spent an hour wading through online. It even includes little reminders: "Did you know that 90% of your product questions can be answered online?" which only serves to heighten my ire. Did I know? I knew before you did, you jackasses. It makes me furious to be lectured to about the value of the Internet by the same company that insisted that AppleTalk was networking and didn't ship an operating system with native ping, traceroute and netstat until OS X.

Anyway, I wade my way through the machine and get a real person.

Except that he was autistic. Or maybe this was a Turing test. Either way, there was no communication going on.

In the end, the only thing that he understood was when I said: "Cancel my order. Can you do that? Do you understand me?"

Then he was right on it. Moved like lightening and was clearly relieved to be off the phone.

Why? I have no idea. He couldn't fathom the idea that someone could have two addresses, one in America and one somewhere else. I could almost see inside his brain: "Why would anyone who could live in America not live in America? Aren't all these foreigners struggling to get in? This guy must be trying to pull some kind of fraud."

Either way, I hate Apple. What a piece of shit, second rate company.

Luckily, there's someone better.

Former CNN Producer Chez Pazienza was fired for writing a blog.

He's now loaded both barrels in his blog and pulled the trigger and it is laugh out loud funny.

I'm actually drying the tears in my eyes to be able to see enough to write this post. Please, go and read a few articles.

His description of the recent John McCain sex scandal is hysterical.

Papers, Please!


Amtrak has no business doing this.

You are less safe without this than you are with it, because you are less free.

What country is this, again?


An alert reader sent in this news item: A California court has ordered that a website be shut down for revealing documents that, if true, demonstrate that the Swiss Bank Julius Baer engaged in illegal money laundering activity.

There's more on the BBC.

If you want to see these documents, by the way, you can still see them on their Belgian site, so the ruling only serves to demonstrate that

  1. The Judge doesn't understand how the Internet works.
  2. The Judge doesn't understand how wikileaks works.
  3. The American legal system is still at risk of making grievous errors in judgement.

Here's some interesting background on Judge Jeffrey White:

  • He was appointed to his current position by George W. Bush in 2002
  • He sentenced the reporters who blew open the drugs in baseball scandal to 18 months in prison for failing to reveal their sources
  • He also fined the San Francisco Chronicle $1000/day until the names were turned over to the court
  • He ordered a company that continued to call customers who asked not to be called to pay $200 per complaint to the customers and pay $100,000 in fines
  • He ordered struck down a San Francisco ruling that would have provided universal health care for the employed in San Francisco

I like the bit about enforcing Do Not Call legislation and I don't know enough about the universal health care proposal, but I think that reporters don't have to name their sources EVER. It's up to the consumers of the news to decide whether they believe unnamed sources or not. And I think it's dangerous to our civil liberties, criminal against the reporters and illegal under the Constitution to imprison reporters who refuse to give their sources.

Wikileaks Belgian site seems difficult to understand, although their mission statement is one with which I can sympathize.

Aside from the obvious censorship angle, there's also the fact that this was a court case instigated by a foreign Bank. Are they protected the same way under US law? Do they pay US taxes?

And why was it a tort, rather than a straightforward libel case? If Julius Baer didn't break the law, then why bring a tort?

Finally, why wasn't Wikileaks asked to remove only the offending material rather than have their entire site blocked?

Update: Okay, either Judge Jeffrey White is unbelievably technologically inept or his ruling was an intentional attempt to make Bank Julius Baer think he was taking down Wikileaks while in fact doing nothing. What he ordered was that their DNS entry be removed from the DNS server and not allowed to be transferred or re-registered anywhere while the problem gets sorted out. At any rate, here's the IP address for Wikileaks in California: Thank you to Mark Frauenfelder.

Update 2: Doc Ruby on Slashdot found and posted the IP Address, and that's how it spread to BoingBoing and Daily Kos. I would have never looked at this site except for this furor. Now I'm hoping that it can hang on via IP until this afternoon so I can make a copy. I'm hoping someone else has already.

Nancy Pelosi is my hero


At least for the moment. She stood up to the Bush White House and suggested that they take more time to review the provisions of the Protect America Act.

What this bill would do is prevent legal oversight of the Executive Branch, whose overzealous actions might turn out to be illegal. It grants retroactive immunity to AT&T and Verizon from lawsuits that allege that those companies violated their rights by cooperating with a request from the White House. It's worth noting that Qwest absolutely refused to cooperate and did not forward every single phone call to the NSA, although AT&T and Verizon did.

The lawsuits are for enough in damages to force the Telcos to switch hands. If this happens, it would effectively prevent any future CEOs from wholesale illegal spying on the American public; the consequences would be disgrace, loss of job, prison time, and personal loss of great huge gobs of cash. It would make it more difficult for future presidents of any party to conduct illegal searches or violate the Constitution in the same way.

In other words, it is a good thing. Let us hope that those lawsuits succeed. In order for them to succeed, though, the first step is for this vile manipulation of and utter contempt for legal process from the White House and the Senate to be stopped. Nancy Pelosi and the House are the best chance that this could happen.

The title is five words I thought I'd never, by the way. I'm not a Democrat and usually decry them as the party of group politics.

But this issue has been an inversion of the normal conservative/liberal split. On one side stand the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, myself and most of the Democratic party, which makes for strange bedfellows. On the other side are George Bush, Ted Poe, Anne Coulter and John McCain. I think that the Republican Senators - plus the 17 Democrats who voted with them - embarrassed themselves.

Yes, we want to be safe. Yes, we think that terrorists should get spied on. But they do, so the only reason for this bill is to keep Bush's friends in control of the phone company. It would be a perfect conspiracy theory, except it's being done in plain sight, completely out in the open, without even cursory attempts to hide it or dress it up.

In the interest of fairness, I must point out that Roger Pilton has completely lost his mind supports the Protect America Act. He's a chair at the Cato Institute. His own colleagues disagree with him. The best source to unravel his argument is basic common sense and the ability to spot internal inconsistency. Failing that, try his colleagues at the Cato Institute. Compare his article with these links. To his credit, he does at least acknowledge that most of his colleagues at Cato disagree with him.

The chubby blue line


Okay, okay, this is really ridiculous.

In March, New York will put armed police onto subways. With dogs. And machine guns. Because they believe that this will make us safer.

It won't. It will make you less safe, and possibly also be intimidating.

Police are stationary bandits. It's hard to trust someone who is a demonstrable instrument of the State's monopoly on the use of coercive force. It's even harder to trust one who is making the world a worse place but believes that they are making it a better one.

This won't stop terrorists from suicide bombing the subways. The chubby blue line and his explosive sniffing pooch won't stop it. A terrorist could put his explosives on a dead man trigger and walk into the crowd.

Will they find such a terrorist? Doesn't matter. Will they shoot him? Doesn't matter. Will they kill him? It doesn't matter. They can't stop the explosion, lots will die, more will be terrified and that means that the terrorist would have achieved his or her aims.

In the mean time, war is peace, we're here to help and Big Brother is watching you.

Staking out the moral low ground


One of my alert readers - who am I kidding? My only reader sent me an article from the Washington Post.

The Senate has passed a version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, better known as FISA.

The bit that's fascinating is that the Bush administration specifically included riders to the bill that retroactively grant immunity to telecommunications companies that illegally tapped the wires of American citizens so that the U.S. government could listen in. Without a warrant, this was breaking the law. But the Bush White House argues that by retroactively making it legal, those people weren't breaking the law anymore.

This is an astonishingly bold, brassy move, for a number of reasons. First, it's bold because the White House previously pursued a policy of strategic ambiguity (see the now completely irrelevant deposition (pdf) of the already mostly irrelevant Director of National Intelligence, J. Michael McConnell). Since confirming that MCI or AT&T helped spy on Americans "would cause exceptionally grave harm to the national security," there's no chance that anyone in power in America would do that, right?

Wrong. Dana Perino says: "The telephone companies that were alleged to have helped their country after 9/11 did so because they are patriotic and they certainly helped us and they helped us save lives."

Um. How exactly did they help? Read Dana's dodging and weaving here.

Second, it's bold and brassy because it makes no bones about the legality of the issue. This bill is a frank admission that the White House and the telephone company broke the law to spy on everyone in America. If they didn't break the law, then they wouldn't need retroactive immunity granted to them.

The immunity came about because the telephone companies were being sued. They were being sued for having broken the law by cooperating with illegal activity instigated by the government. The amounts that they were being sued for were enough to have seriously threatened the bottom line of some of the companies involved. So J. Michael McConnell called for immunity in the renewal of the FISA bill.

I think that bankruptcy is a just and proper consequence for telcos who engaged in illegal wiretapping. If someone breaks the law in such a way that they violate the Constitutional rights of 300 million people - all of America - then the consequences should be severe.

The companies won't go out of business. They'll change hands, the boards and executives will end up in prison, the shareholders will get cents on the dollar and the companies will continue under new ownership. This is about protecting a handful of very rich executives at telcos who made unethical and illegal decisions that happened to assist the Bush administration.

Which segues smoothly into my final point, which looks a lot like my previous point. Namely, if someone breaks the law in such a way that they violate the Constitutional rights of 300 million people - all of America - then the consequences should be severe.

I would suggest that it's time to begin considering what type of consequence you, as citizens, would like to see imposed on President George Bush.

Tougher checks can take longer


So I flew to Mannheim this weekend to see my cousin Jamie - a routine visit, from my perspective, just a quick jaunt across to the Continent.

Both Ingrida and I had a great time (see earlier post), but coming back in from Germany was a nightmare.

It wasn't the plane journey, for once. Security was a breeze at Frankfurt Hahn, although the requisite security theatre was in place, the lines were short and the people kind.

No, the problem occurred once I landed at Prestwick. As we were walking towards passport control, we noticed some new signs, up in blue that said "Tougher checks can take longer."

I filled out a landing card and went to talk to the passport control.

She said some fairly standard bits and I travel so often that I was on autopilot with my answers: here's my address, I work for the company to which I'm contracted, etc.

Then she said something pretty out of the ordinary: "Do you have your work permit on you?"

I said, "There's one sewn into my passport."

She said, "That's an entry clearance. I have to check on something. Please go have a seat around the corner and I'll call you." She made a phone call.

So I did. And the entire plane went through the line and I sat there, waiting. When they left, I walked around the corner again only to have her say: "Go take a seat."

Another two planes worth of people disembarked and went through passport control.

Finally, after about half an hour, during which I didn't have my passport and Ingrida was on one side of the passport control and I the other - and we weren't permitted to use our mobile phones, or even look at each other - another woman came and gave the passport controller a bit of paper. She came and got me and said: "Come on through." There were a couple more routine questions, but I was pretty shaken.

I've never needed any additional paperwork before and the entry clearance is also a work permit. I'd show a picture of it but I'm feeling paranoid now.

When I asked what I could do to avoid this kind of trouble at a border crossing in the future, she said: "I just needed to check something, but it checked out, so don't worry about it."

Right. Easier said than done. There's a set of rules that I have to follow and no one will tell me what they are. The consequences for not following them are to forfeit everything I own and be forced to return to the U.S.

I still want to make my home here, but this was seriously unpleasant.

In an astonishing display of mental disability, All Headline News is reporting that if sixteen year olds don't get into cars, they aren't in cars when accidents happen.

Now we know where the superhero Captain Obvious has his day job.

I think that a large violent conflagration is on the horizon and it is most likely to involve India and China.

The reasons are thus:

1. India and China are attempting to industrialise. Both economies are growing rapidly (I've already talked a bit about China's runaway economic growth). As they make further attempts to undergo an industrial revolution, both will go through environmental upheavals that may well be unacceptable to already industrialised nations who are attempting to reduce the effects of industrial output on the environment. The kerfuffle over the Kyoto Protocol largely stemmed from the fact that the U.S. didn't want to be held to a standard that wasn't going to apply to China, India and Brazil. It's not clear how to transform a third world economy into a first world economy without a massive amount of pollution.

2. India, China and Indonesia have a coming sex gap crisis. The ratio of women to men usually holds at a natural 51% women. India is more like 47%, mostly due to the abortion of sex determined foetuses and infanticide. China is the same; Indonesia is worse. While this troubles me personally (I rather enjoy there being more women than men), the effects on the state of mind of India and China in twenty years, when there will be tens of millions of men of marrying age for whom there will be no one to marry nor with whom to make a family, are potentially catastrophic. I expect that there will be violence.

3. The expanse of irreconcilable forms of Islam continues. In these societies, again, women are treated as second class citizens. At the risk of sounding Victorian, I believe that women have a civilising influence on the men around them. When denied of a voice, they can no longer temper the vituperations of the bitter and what emerges is often unalloyed bile. Witness the words of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; it would matter less if he was just some anti-Semite spouting off, but he's a head of state, so calls to wipe Israel off the map are none to clever.

4. The U.S. will not want to quietly surrender hegemony to China. It's in a state of denial at the moment, not wanting to acknowledge the rapidly approaching economic eclipse, but once it is fully realized, America may well start pushing issues like greater Taiwanese independence. Given the States' history with international diplomacy of late, this is likely to be either cackhanded or hamfisted or both, more likely to provoke than accomplish any kind of policy goal.

A war between China and India is not unthinkable and has the potential to draw in an enormous number of nearby nations. Pakistan may very well take advantage of the distraction to seize Kashmir, for instance.

The Dragon is Stirring.

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On the 20th of December, the BBC reported that China's GDP had exceeded that of Italy and was headed for UK territory.

The official figures released from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in China revised the previous growth rate from 9% to 25.8%, a jump of 16.8%, giving them an economy with a value of $1.45 trillion. Various sources place the actual figure perhaps 15% or even 20% higher again, because the NBS frequently underreports small and medium sized enterprises.

Also, I have bought a car. Pictures below.

Global Climate Change

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Aesop told us a story about a boy and a wolf.

Last night, Chris and I outlined a similar story, except in real life.

The most recent edition of the Economist, they outline the threat to North-West Europe from changes in the ocean currents; you can find it here (might require that you view some kind of ad to get to the article, but it's worth it).

While the story itself is narrowly drawn to pertain specifically to the effects on North-West Europe of changes in the Deep Southerly Return Flow, the very fact of this effect gives impetus to the charge that, as a species, we are poor stewards of the earth.

Oh, Dear God, I'm a Mess

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So, how do you know you're a losing your mind?

Well, here are four warning signs:

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the It'll get worse category.

Islam is the previous category.

My Mother is the next category.

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