More Security Stupidity?

Published at 09:16 on 19 September 2011

There’s been an awful lot of security stupidity since 9/11: measures instituted ostensibly to improve security, but which upon further thought (sometimes not much further thought at all) reveal themselves to be nothing but mindless exercises in petty fascism.

And when going through airport security yesterday, it struck me how the whole business of forcing airline passengers to remove their shoes so they can be X-rayed is probably one of these exercises. Consider that what shows up on an X-ray are metal objects, and that most high explosives are nonmetallic.

What tends to have metal is blasting caps; electric ones have wires, and the increasingly rare non-electric ones have brass or copper jackets. However, it is not all that hard to make your own homemade plastic-jacketed non-electric blasting caps. Once you’ve done that, all you need is some fuse (also conveniently non-metallic), and there you have it: your very own shoe bomb that will sail through the X-ray machine with nary a suspicion.

So unless I’m seriously missing something with the above analysis, the whole “take off your shoes” drill is merely a feel-good propaganda measure designed to reassure passengers that something has been done to screen out future shoe bombers. At least it has the side-benefit of enabling me to “forget” to put my shoes back on and enjoy a little barefoot time on my walk to the gate.

That’s It for Now

Published at 15:18 on 17 September 2011

And with this we conclude the flurry of “new blog” posts, as I am packing to depart Seattle for a few days and probably won’t be able to post until Wednesday or so (in the name of keeping my load light, I’m not taking my laptop computer with me).

Do as I Say, Not as I Have Done

Published at 14:09 on 17 September 2011

That’s what comes to mind when I read this story. Fresh from a conflict within his own government over how to manage the US budget, Geithner goes to Europe and tut-tuts at the Europeans for failing to act promptly and decisively about their economic problems.

Really, it looks like the post-WWII incarnation of modern capitalism is mostly done with. Those who oversee such societies are no longer willing or able to make the sort of departures from ideological orthodoxy necessary to sustain such a self-contradictory system.

The only question is whether the sort of class consciousness needed to seriously threaten (or, better yet, replace) the capitalist system exists as that system heads further into its worst crisis since the Great Depression. Particularly here in the USA (amongst the most clueless of all countries when it comes to class issues) that is, alas, highly dubious.

France Panders to Its Fascist Element

Published at 08:44 on 17 September 2011

Story here. And no, I don’t think it’s all explainable by the French doctrine of laïcité:

Proponents assert the French state secularism is based on respect for freedom of thought and freedom of religion. Thus the absence of a state religion, and the subsequent separation of the state and Church, is considered by proponents to be a prerequisite for such freedom of thought. Proponents maintain that laïcité is thus distinct from anti-clericalism, which actively opposes the influence of religion and the clergy. Laïcité relies on the division between private life, where adherents believe religion belongs, and the public sphere, in which each individual, adherents believe, should appear as a simple citizen equal to all other citizens, devoid of ethnic, religious or other particularities. According to this conception, the government must refrain from taking positions on religious doctrine and only consider religious subjects for their practical consequences on inhabitants’ lives. [emphasis added]

So while Muslims who pray in public are transgressing the part about keeping their religion private, governments who obsess over collective acts of free expression that involve prayer, while considering other such acts (e.g. street fairs, parades, political demonstrations) legal, are taking positions on religious issue instead of merely considering the practical aspects of a behavior.

Moreover, why pass such a law now, right as the National Front has made public prayer by Muslims a hot-button issue? If street prayer is such a transgression against laïcité, that transgression has been going on for decades. Am I supposed to believe it is mere coincidence that this is happening as an election is coming up, and the governing center-Right party wants to steal some votes from the far-Right one?

Safari Javascript Sucks

Published at 13:43 on 16 September 2011

I’ve known about it for some time, of course, but my recent move to WordPress has driven it home yet again. The WordPress screen to create and edit blog posts makes heavy usage of Javascript. It also hangs about 50% of the time one hits the “Publish” or “Update” buttons when using Safari. I have yet to have it hang on me when using Firefox, and of couse (after being burned by Safari during my first few attempts), I use Firefox much more often than Safari to post here.

Really, this has to be one of those “what’s their problem, anyway?” moments. Safari has had an absolutely lousy Javascript engine (by far the worst one of any major browser) for years.

It’s a pity, as it’s otherwise a very nice browser.

On Solyndra

Published at 13:16 on 16 September 2011

Yes, it does show that corporate handouts don’t stop at party lines.

And yes, it was a stupid investment. Solyndra’s business plan was fatally flawed: it depended on finding alternatives to silicon for photovoltaic cells, which they presumed was needed because the price of silicon was going up, which they presumed indicated a shortage. Anyone with a few functioning neurons in his or her brain should see the flaw here: silicon isn’t a scarce strategic material. 27% of the Earth’s crust is silicon. Quartz — the most common mineral in the crust — is high-grade silicon ore.

The shortage of silicon in its refined elemental state, therefore, was purely due to a manufacturing bottleneck, not any sort of a raw-materials scarcity. The output of silicon solar cells had gone way up, but the output of refined silicon had not, creating a shortage in the latter. Any resulting spike in prices was bound to be short-lived, however, as it would merely serve as an incentive to build more refineries and open more silica quarries. As indeed it was.

However, it’s also small potatoes as government fiascoes go. The Iraq War has wasted far, far more money. Not to mention lives (Solyndra killed nobody).

And no, it wasn’t a stupid investment because it was an alternative energy investment; it was a stupid investment because it contained a flawed premise about silicon.

Immigration Hypocrisy

Published at 10:09 on 15 September 2011

First, it bears pointing out that illegal immigration only became a big issue when Dubya’s popularity started flagging, as a result of the Iraq War going badly and the economy slipping into a slump, and that the professed concern about it was whipped up by the same crowd that advocated Dubya’s policies.

Second, it bears pointing out that about 90% of the rhetoric is about the illegal immigrants themselves (who have been rebranded simply “illegals;” presumably the extra word “immigrants” had too much danger of humanizing those the Right was trying to demonize). Only a tiny fraction is about the illegal employers who give them work, despite it being every bit as illegal to employ an illegal immigrant as it is to become one. (Why aren’t those employers being called “illegals,” too?) Remember that the next time one of the anti-immigrant crowd tries to claim they principally care about playing by the rules and obeying the law.

Finally, as Derrick Jensen has pointed out, this whole obsession with tightly regulating the human crossing of borders while ignoring all the harm from inanimate objects (i.e. finished goods, raw materials, and wastes) crossing borders shows just what a bunch of xenophobic hypocrites those who rant about “illegals” typically are. This is particularly the case when they add ecological pretenses to their ranting. Unless, that is, for some reason you find it reasonable to believe that it is mere coincidence that they only raise concerns that are inconvenient to those with the least power and privilege in society.

What Farmers Insurance is Probably Doing

Published at 11:12 on 14 September 2011

I read the text of one of their spam messages before emptying my spam folder this morning, and what they’re offering to do is let you franchise an agency with them. So it’s not all that difficult to engage in a little conjecture and figure out what’s probably going on.

Franchises come with franchise fees, of course. Such fees get at least partially collected up front, regardless of how well a franchise does. (That’s supposed to serve as an incentive for a franchisee to try hard at the job of making the franchise successful.)

In Farmers’ case, however, they don’t particularly care if your franchise does all that well or not. They earn money mainly on the up-front fees, so they’ll doubtless sell a franchise to anyone with a pulse. This ensures that the landscape is literally crawling with Farmers franchises, which in turn ensures that your franchise will have a lot of competition.

Unless you’re a natural-born salesman (and most people are not), good luck. More than likely, most franchisees end up like Amway affiliates: their business is mostly limited to friends and family, who purchase based mostly to avoid the social awkwardness of saying “no” to someone who’s close to them. Thus the commissions earned (and, being a franchise, it’s all commissions; in the eyes of the law, you’re a business, not an employee) doubtless do not come close to recovering the franchise fees paid up front.

But why would Farmers care? They’ve got your money, and they’re operating under the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

That’s my theory, at least. But I’d be surprised if it’s terribly far off the mark.


Published at 09:32 on 14 September 2011

I recently applied to a job from an employer that used Careerbuilder to manage their job applications. As part of the application process, it requested my résumé and demanded that I either enter my current Careerbuilder username and password or register for an account.

So I did the former, without thinking of the possible consequences. And sure enough, Careerbuilder saved the copy of the résumé I just uploaded, which of course didn’t have the explicit message telling insurance companies to go away at its start. Surprise, surprise: the spam from insurance companies is baaaaaack.

Of course, sleaze outfit Farmers Insurance has been uninterruptedly spamming me several times per week for over a year and counting now. They’ve long since earned a spot in my spam filter, and I recommend that anyone who hates spam should avoid doing business with them like the plague.

Update: If you Google “farmers insurance spam,” it is fairly easy to see that I am not alone, and that this firm’s sleaze extends far beyond being an unrepentant spammer.