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the column of lasting insignificance: August 24, 2013
by John Wilcock

Terrorism is a political problem, with a political solution, which is to remove the hundreds of US military bases from other people’s countries.”
—letter in the Los Angeles Times

WHITE HOUSE press briefings have become a waste of time, a custom that, according to Reid Cherlin, “has wildly outlived its utility”. The former assistant press secretary writes that the daily briefing “has become a worthless chore for reporters, an embarrassing nuisance to administration staff and the source of added friction between the two camps”. It’s time to do the humane, obvious thing, he suggests, in the New Republic, and get rid of it altogether. What reporters get in the briefing is a reply to their questions not an answer, says one critic. Along with allegations that the White House’s spokesman is duty-bound not to say anything specific or interesting, the unspoken injunction for the job being, “First, make no news”. The National Journal’s Ron Fournier recently described his fellow correspondents as “pawns in a reality show” and suggested that boycotting briefings for a week might have some effect. But that wouldn’t be enough, the mag says, to resolve what has become a weekly battle. “The White House decided a long time ago,” says the New York Time’s Peter Baker, “that it’s not about candor; it’s about deflection and survival”. “The press decided it’s about preening”.

PASSWORD NOT NEEDED! Yeah, that’ll be the day. But bringing it closer is the extensive research by a division of the Department of Defense via its Active Authentification Cybersecurity Program which the Smithsonian explains as “the science of identifying people based on physical or behavioral traits”. What the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is doing, the magazine reports, is studying the patterns we display with the characteristic rhythms when we type, the distinctive speed with which we swipe and tap our phones. Wow, and we’re worried about snooping by NSA? DARPA isn’t new—it was initiated by the Eisenhower administration back in 1958 after the Russians sent Sputnik into space leaving the US with egg on its face. DARPA was set up so we wouldn’t be surprised again. “You’re going to find yourself entering your password less and less in the future”, says Neil Costigan, head of a Swedish group working on similar research. “Most of the time the system won’t need to be told it’s you”. According to DARPA, our typing patterns are consistent, predictable and nearly impossible to imitate, they define your online identity without you even realizing it.

NO VAPING HERE is a sign that’s cropping up more and more as some establishments appear to be just as opposed to e-cigarettes as they have been towards customers burning tobacco. This may be an irrational response considering that the new battery-powered gadgets (they convert liquid nicotine into vapor) not only lack harmful carbon dioxide and tar, but don’t produce any smoke. “The Food and Drug Administration, which has the power to regulate e-cigs has yet to announce rules for the product,” says the weekly Standard: a decision is expected in October. Meanwhile, though popularity is increasing rapidly, they still compose only one per cent of total cigarettes sales. The mag explains that much of the opposition to the new device is because three decades of punitive regulations have made smokers into “a pariah class”. The fact that e-cigs have helped smokers to “quit”, says Gregory Conley, an anti-smoking advocate, is of no consequence to critics. “It looks like smoking—so it must be evil”.

BANKS WITH ADMIRERS are thin on the ground in most of the world we know of, and there is no shortage of good reasons for why they are hated so much. But in many parts of rural Africa, it’s a different story. In Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, for example, they are stabilizing the region, offering a couple of hundred thousand local farmers the kind of support that was previously lacking. A large part of the banks’ success is due to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation working with Heifer International to establish the East Africa Dairy Development project (EADD) which has set up collections points, facilities for chilling the milk, veterinary help and a guaranteed income, all of which has lifted families out of poverty and uncertainty. “Now farmers are organized, collections are consistent …and everyone can invest and build a business” says the project’s director Moses Nyabila. Village banks, officially Financial Service Associations (FSAs), offer loans to EADD members at much lower rates than their big-city counterparts.

IN A LETTER to London’s Independent, a reader took issue with a previous diatribe in the paper suggesting that pornography was responsible for the bad treatment suffered by women. But it’s the countries of the Middle East, central and sub-continental Asia, and east Africa that treat women the worst, he wrote, “porn-free lands that (thus) should be beacons of female emancipation”. Yet, in actual fact, the countries mentioned were “home to some of the most vile abuse and oppression of women (who) may not leave their homes without a male relative or chaperone, are subject to acid attacks for spurning male advances, have their genitals mutilated in childhood and are shot for attempting to get an education”. And these were all places where access to porn was very difficult. “Perhaps what these countries need is more, not less pornography”.

MOST PEOPLE HAVE run afoul of their insurance company at some point, and sometimes the fault is with what they didn’t do rather than what they did. Here’s an example:
    Backing into a parking space a few weeks ago I inadvertently grazed the adjoining car, causing a two-inch scratch in its right panel. A careless thing to do for which I apologized, offering the owner twenty bucks to rub in some of that Scratch Away so that the tiny mark would disappear from sight.
    But I could see by that greedy look in her eye that she envisioned some kind of a payoff—a reaction you might be familiar with—and sure enough, my insurance company meekly went along with the recognizable scam. At first, they told me that if the damage was less than $1,000 there would be few repercussions. But, of course, it never is less than $1,000 (I asked the Mercury insurance guy when he’d last approved a claim of less than $1,000, but he couldn’t recall a single example). So I asked to see a copy of the appraiser’s report which is summarized below:

Paint, materials $174.90
Mask for overspray $10
Hazardous waste disposal (huh?) $3
Restore corrosion protection $5
Adhesive protector $3
Labor: body $873; refinish $275.60; glass (what glass?) $78
Non-taxable labor $272.20 non taxable parts $15
Taxable costs $177.90 sales tax $13.34
Total additional costs (what were these?) $191.24
Total labor 1,227.20 (I’m guessing this is at $120 per minute)
Gross total: $1,437.20

Well, obviously this is not only a ridiculous assessment of the damage but it borders on fraud: an excuse for making a payoff for everyone concerned except the victim (me). I’m sure some readers must have had similar experiences but rarely do anything about it because there appears to be no redress. To whom could you appeal ? Do the police deal with fraud? No. The Better Business Bureau? The insurance company themselves? Well no, because now they have an excuse to increase their rates.
    As it happens, there is something you can do which is to report your experience to the California Dept. of Insurance Enforcement Branch HQ Intake Unit, 9342 Tech Center Drive, Sacramento CA. 95826) which maintains a Fraud Squad. Google “insurance fraud” first and you can find a form to fill in.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The radio and television networks were long ago granted FREE use of the airwaves in return for some unspecified public duties. What do they give in return? NOTHING. At the very least they should provide free political advertising …. Bradley Manning is “a convenient scapegoat for a decade of foreign policy disasters” says the Nation…What’s the point of Jeff Bezos’ hidden-in-a-mountain clock, built to last 10,000 years, and does anybody except him care?.... Extra reports that when activist Jeff Olson appeared in a San Diego court charged with vandalism for chalking the pavement outside a Bank of America (No thanks, big banks) he was forbidden by Judge Howard Shore from defending himself with phrases such as “free speech”. How does any judge tell a defendant what he can say?…”You’re not going to be using cash in space; there won’t be any security vehicles picking up notes and change,” says a spokesman for PayPal announcing it is setting up PayPal Galactic to handle space commerce…. With money to burn and too many citizens getting fat, Dubai has offered to pay dieters a gram of gold for every pound they shed… ….….“The US remains the world’s largest jailer: with 5 per cent of the world’s population and 25 per cent of its prisoners” said a letter in the NYTimes……. “The US jails more people than any other developed nation and its citizens work longer hours and receive far fewer benefits than their peers elsewhere.” The country might have been better off without its revolution writes Paul Pirie in the Washington Post. “We were better off under British rule”…. Because they have enough authority over other workers, Starbucks assistant store managers shouldn’t share the tip pools, ruled NY State Appeals Court… Cliff DuRand is organizing two more of his intriguing educational and agricultural tours to Cuba in late November. Details from Cuba@globaljusticecenter.org…..“This is basically a society of leeches” who long ago traded doing good for doing well, writes Mark Leibovich in his book about Washington whose title tells it all, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus Plenty of Valet Parking—in America’s Gilded Capital…… The New Yorker commissioned Robert Gottlieb, a publishing industry giant (and a former editor of the magazine for 15 years) to review the widely discussed Hothouse, a history of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, whose author Boris Kachka didn’t grasp, he suggested, “what things used to be like in publishing”….. ….“We are all born mad. Some remain so.”—Samuel Beckett (1906–89)



Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)

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