Fscking Spammers

It seems as if one of my recent posts has attracted the attention of search engines, probably because in relating how I solved a Macintosh frustration, the information has proved helpful to others.

So far, so good. The bad news is that’s attracted the attention of spammers. No, they’re not getting any spam posted: I have several lines of defense against that. But they are getting through the first line of defense: the captcha on the comments form.

They’re probably doing that with the free porn scam, in which one writes some back-end software to impersonate a browser (not hard to do; I’ve done so many times for legitimate purposes), and presents the captcha image to someone who wants to be rewarded by viewing some porn for free if they solve it. The front-end that displays the porn then passes on the solution to the back-end, which uses the information to send back a form response containing the spam.

It’s a pretty minor irritation, but an irritation nonetheless. Maybe I’ll get motivated to go through my server logs and start reporting them to those responsible for the IP addresses the requests are coming from.

iTunes Video: A Complete Ripoff

Note to all: avoid iTunes videos that you must pay for like the plague.

I had been wanting to watch some Portlandia episodes , and last night tried to with iTunes video. Big, big mistake. After charging me $2.99 and commencing the download, iTunes sneeringly informed me that I could not watch said video on my computer, and then launched into a paragraph of arcane technobabble that even I could not understand at first.

Apparently, some lame copy-protection scheme mandated by the Hollywood studios considers all but a select few Macs a piracy threat, presumably because the digital video signal going between the system unit and the monitor could be used to create a decrypted, free copy of the video.

Of course, that’s no excuse for iTunes’ bait-and-switch behavior. iTunes could obviously tell if the system it was running on was unacceptable to Hollywood (hence the message); there’s no reason whatsoever for not sending it before you pay for a video and start the download. None except pure greed on Apple’s part, that is.

While researching the issue, I came across a comment in passing that mentioned BitTorrent and pirated copies of videos. A light went on. I downloaded BitTorrent, downloaded an AVI video player, typed in a few Google keywords, and within a matter of minutes BitTorrent was merrily downloading the content Apple had previously defrauded me for. Content which actually played.

And the BitTorrent download proceeded far faster than the iTunes download had. Just for yucks, I tried it again with another episode and that one arrived promptly and without issue, too.

Way to go Apple and Hollywood: you’ve successfully made it so difficult and risky for customers to pay for content that they opt for the easier option of pirating it instead.

Britain is Backpedaling on Assange

The British are already backpedaling on their threat to storm Ecuador’s embassy. It’s not been announced publicly, but no doubt the moron who penned the threatening letter to Ecuador’s ambassador has been quietly sacked or demoted. That letter was tantamount to begging Ecuador to grant Assange asylum. Any fool could see that would be the logical tit-for-tat response to such a thuggish and undiplomatic threat.

So even if one looks at things from a purely strategic (and British) point of view, the threat was an extremely bad idea. It took a delicate situation in which Britain did not have the upper hand in the first place, and further tilted the playing field against Britain.

As to where things are going to go, a storming of the embassy is still a possibility but I’d have to rate as it not very probable, because it would extract a very high diplomatic cost for Britain. If it happened, one would expect basically all Latin American nations to cut off diplomatic relations with the UK in response. The Latin American nations have had their sovereignty repeatedly violated by English-speaking foreign powers (typically the USA), and because of this history even ones with conservative or centrist governments would find such an act absolutely intolerable. That history is a big part of the reason why the threat was so foolish, and why it so effectively prompted Ecuador to do the very last thing Britain wanted it to.

If you don’t believe me, consider the reaction to the US-aided coup attempt against Hugo Chávez. Even conservative leaders like Mexico’s Vicente Fox strongly opposed it and directed their delegates to sanction the coup government when the OAS convened in emergency session to discuss it.

So what’s the most likely outcome?

First, Ecuador is unlikely to capitulate any time soon. They’ve just been threatened in a most undiplomatic way, one that touches some very raw nerves thanks to past history. You don’t catch many flies with vinegar.

Second, the UK is unlikely to honor Ecuador’s request to grant Assange passage out of the embassy. Why would they? They’re a loyal part of the world order Assange tweaked the nose of, and their ruling elite wants to see Assange extradited and judicially murdered in the USA.

Third, it’s no picnic, for either Assange or his hosts, for Assange to be living at the Ecuadorian embassy. He’s in the way, consuming office space that Ecuador no doubt needs for normal embassy business. And it’s an office, not an apartment. And not even a very nice office (it’s apparently a windowless basement one). Being confined there is, in other words, only marginally better than being confined to prison.

So, expect Assange to try and sneak out… eventually. Not right away, of course: the British are watching too closely right now. He’ll wait, perhaps a long time, until they’re not so much on guard. Most likely he will leave in disguise, of course, and with the goal of getting onto a plane headed for Ecuador proper.

Either he’ll make it, or he won’t, and the most likely reason for “won’t” is of course “apprehended by British authorities on his way to the airport in disguise”.

Assange might also end up being ejected by Ecuador after the current left-populist regime loses power there. But that might be a long time in coming; Correa is currently quite popular.

And of course there’s also the possibility of a US-backed coup attempt to force such a change in power. This cannot be discounted, as one was fairly recently staged against a left-populist leader in Honduras who the US ruling elite did not like. The question is whether a single despised (by those in power in the US) dissident is enough to prompt such an act.

Assange, Ecuador, Double Standards, and What Should be Done

First, it’s great that Ecuador chose to grant Assange asylum from politically-motivated persecution.

And, make no mistake, that’s precisely what it is: politically-motivated persecution. Assange offered to let Swedish investigators interrogate him at the Embassy; the Swedes refused his offer. They also refused to promise not to extradite him to the USA, despite his likelihood of facing the death penalty here. (European nations have universally abolished the death penalty, and typically refuse to extradite wanted persons if that would place them in jeopardy of being judicially murdered.)

Second, yes there are indeed double standards at play here. Ecuador’s record on basic freedoms is not precisely stellar. It’s not difficult to find human-rights groups complaining about it; here’s Amnesty International’s collection of documents on Ecuador, just for openers. Really, this should not be a surprise: hypocrisy is one of the key defining characteristics of authoritarian power structures.

Third, given the recent threats the British made (see my previous post here), and given how Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa styles himself as one willing to tweak the noses of those who rule the current global imperialist order, it’s not surprising at all to hear he decided to say “yes” to Assange’s request. It’s a perfect tit-for-tat, one in which Correa cannot help but to come out the winner in the court of domestic political opinion.

Even if the British do decide to throw international law to the wind and storm the embassy, he will then very convincingly be able to portray himself as an opponent of a lawless and thuggish international order. This would only help his domestic popularity.

Fourth, the way the Establishment media continually harps on the second point, virtually never failing to mention it in any of their coverage of this story, points out somebody else’s double standards. Were stories of Soviet bloc dissidents receiving asylum in the UK or the US always mentioned complete with tales of, say, how the CIA teaches torture techniques to the secret police of US-friendly dictatorships? Of course not.

And did such misdeeds of the West disprove that those Soviet refugees were indeed fleeing persecution, and needed asylum? Again, of course not. The validity of an asylum claim is independent of any misdeeds of the claim’s grantor. We do not live in a simplistic melodrama world where all actors are either purely good or purely evil.

Fifth, this whole story illustrates that even though authoritarian power structures are universally hypocritical, there is value in their not having a monopoly on power. If nobody was willing to defy the world’s sole superpower, its power would be absolute, and it would be a much more dangerous world for those resisting such power.

Finally, what should be done? As a start, anyone in or near London who can spare the time to be there should gather in front of the embassy to make it as difficult (and costly, in terms of both domestic and international politics) as possible for Britain to storm it.

There’s ultimately nothing that can be done to stop such a storming, if the powers that be are dead-set on it. But it is possible to make it very, very costly for them.

Wow. Just wow.

Britain is threatening to mimic what Iran did in 1979 and storm an embassy?

If the governments of the West didn’t have double standards, then they’d have absolutely no standards at all.

Actually, I’m being unfair in my comparison here… unfair to Iran, that is. The decision to storm the US Embassy was made by a non-governmental group of young radicals in Iran, and then subsequently supported by their new Islamic government. If the Ecuadorian embassy is stormed by the British, it will be done directly by the British government, with its support and advocacy, from Day One.

What a Great Thing to Celebrate

Yeah, I’m more than a little slow here. So sue me. I don’t watch TV. I saw a picture in the print media showing a scene with what looked like hospital beds at the Olympics opening ceremony, thought that odd, and made a mental note to investigate. I only just now got around to investigating.

So it was only this evening that I found out what that whole scene was about. Britain is an old country, far older than the USA, so they had a lot of picking and choosing to do when it came to things about their country to celebrate in the opening ceremony. And one of those things they celebrated was making health care available to all, regardless of circumstances.

Sure, the NHS has its problems. And the corporate media in the USA never tires of reporting them. What they don’t report are the successes. Such as Britain’s remarkable accomplishment in achieving less inequality in health access than pretty much anywhere else in the world.

And mind you, they do so at first-world standards. This isn’t an equalizing downward like they have in, say, Cuba. In fact, Britain has better infant mortality and life expectancy statistics than the USA.

And how much does all of this generosity this cost? One of the lowest per-capita costs in the developed world. (Probably a little too low, in fact: if Britain spent more, it could be at the top of health statistics, instead of 10 or 15 slots down from the top like they are.)

Back to the corporate media for a moment. You hear so little of the NHS’s successes in the US media that even columnists in erstwhile left-leaning publications are left puzzling over why the British would want to celebrate the NHS. And that is part of why politics in the USA is so divorced from any sense of reality: even the Left in many cases buys into all-pervasive right-wing lies and misinformation.

But I digress. Instead of only celebrating mindless garbage like war and conquest, Britain chose to celebrate a major accomplishment in creating a more just society for all. That’s pretty remarkable.