Saturday, July 20, 2019

The geography of apartheid - and its human consequences

Gang violence and bloodshed in some of the so-called Coloured (i.e. mixed-race, in South African parlance) townships on the Cape Flats, outside Cape Town, has become so bad that the army has been called in to patrol the area.  This will likely bring some short-term stability, but it won't solve the bigger, longer-term problem.

It's a particularly sad situation for me, because I was born and raised in Cape Town.  I used to travel through some of the townships there routinely, with my mother and my sisters, in the days before violence became endemic.  Many of the locations mentioned in an article in the Telegraph are part of my childhood memories . . . but those memories are no longer in touch with reality, it seems.

The Cape Flats, the sprawling area of townships including Manenberg south of Cape Town, have always been rough.

But over the past few years a drug-fueled crime wave has wrought carnage on a scale that residents, police officers, and even former gangsters liken to a war zone.

More than 2000 people have been killed in Cape Town’s poorest predominantly black and mixed race neighbourhoods over the past seven months. Almost half of those killings were gang related. There were 43 murders over the last weekend alone.

Last week, after a particularly horrific 24 hours in which 13 people were murdered, president Cyril Rhamaphosa announced he would send in the army.

. . .

South Africa’s gang culture began to form more than a century ago in colonial-era prisons.

But most locals trace the current crisis to 1966, when Apartheid authorities declared the city’s District Six a whites only area.

Over the next decade, tens of thousands of black and mixed-race families were moved into hastily built housing projects on a bleak coastal plain south of the city.

Poorly built, isolated, and with few facilities, the new townships on the Cape Flats could almost have been intentionally designed to breed unemployment and crime.

. . .

For kids born on the Flats, [a former gang leader] points out, there are few other options.

“Eighty to eighty five percent of all the people who live here are affiliated with the gangs one way or another,” he explained.

“You might not be in a gang, but if a family member is, then you’re connected. If you’ve got a kid in a gang, the mothers will hide the guns, or the drugs,” he said.

The townships are places of visible and astounding poverty.

Few adults are in full time employment, families of 20 people are crammed into one-bedroom homes, and the only play facilities for children in crumbling three-story apartment blocks of 60 households is a single rusting slide.

The threat of violence is ever present, the sound of gunfire heard on a near-nightly basis, and the overgrown playing fields are used not for football but as "battle grounds" where rag-tag teenage armies engage in deadly gunfights.

Like in a real warzone, the sides occasionally agree to "ceasefires" which inevitably break down. Unlike a conventional war zone, there are no frontlines, no rear areas, and no rules.

There's more at the link.  It's worth reading the article in full, if the subject interests you.  Their origins are different, but there are still many similarities between racially divided ghettos in many US cities, and the fruits of apartheid in South Africa.

Manenberg, Grassy Park, and many other Coloured suburbs were familiar to me, along with Black townships like Langa, Nyanga and Gugulethu.  Each suburb or township was racially segregated under apartheid, reserved for members of one racial or ethnic group alone.  That historical legacy of division persists to this day, and its poisonous fruit continues to cause ethnic strife between the suburbs and their resident gangs.  Here are two video reports, the first a year old, the second filmed just three days ago.  See for yourself.

It hurts to see the city of my youth in such desperate straits . . . but that's reality.  As Heraclitus said, you cannot step twice into the same river.  I can't bring back the Cape Town of my memories, and even if I could, it carried so much of the baggage of apartheid that it's not worth bringing back.

I still have acquaintances who live in those townships.  I hear from them from time to time, and they confirm the tragedy of what's going on there.  They're desperate to get out, at almost any cost, but there's no alternative available to them in South Africa, thanks to an economy that's tottering into ruin and a government that's corrupt, nepotistic and grossly ineffective.  Their despair is palpable.

It's a very sad world, sometimes.


That's the strangest airliner I've ever seen . . .

. . . but I'm sure Klingon passengers would be happy!  It's a conceptual aircraft in art and model form, presented by Airbus at this week's Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in England.  They've dubbed it the Airbus Bird Of Prey, although it's not armed, unlike its fictional namesake.  (In fairness, Airbus specifically links the name to birds of prey here on earth, but given the number of Trekkies out there, it's inevitable that the science fiction association will be made, too.)

According to the company's press release:

Airbus has unveiled a bird-like conceptual airliner design with the goal of motivating the next generation of aeronautical engineers, underscoring how they can make a difference by applying technologies researched at the company in hybrid-electric propulsion, active control systems and advanced composite structures.

Revealed at this week’s Royal International Air Tattoo air show in the UK, the theoretical design is a hybrid-electric, turbo-propeller aircraft for regional air transportation. Inspired by efficient mechanics of a bird, it has wing and tail structures that mimic those of a bird of prey, while featuring individually controlled feathers that provide active flight control.

. . .

While not intended to represent an actual aircraft, Airbus’ “Bird of Prey” is based on realistic ideas – providing an insight into what a future regional aircraft could look like. It includes a blended wing-to-fuselage joint that mirrors the graceful and aerodynamic arch of an eagle or falcon, representing the potential of biomimicry (the design and production of materials, structures and systems inspired by nature).

There's more at the link, including a larger version of the image if you'd like to download it.  There's also a computer-generated-image video of the concept on Twitter.

Dare I say that if Airbus were to develop that concept into a flying model, it'd be a feather in the company's cap?  However, it might cause difficulties if it suffers a bird strike while landing or taking off.  I mean, with the aircraft looking like that, it might have been a mating attempt!


Friday, July 19, 2019

A refreshing alternative to tea or coffee

Being a writer, I spend long hours in front of the computer, working on books, research, blog posts and the like.  I get rather tired of coffee and tea as refreshments.

I've used various bouillons as substitutes - meat, chicken, etc. - with good results.  Miss D. and I particularly like the "Better Than Bouillon" range, and keep it in stock.  However, I recently discovered another alternative that's really taken my fancy, to the extent that I drink at least one cup of it every day.  It's Knorr's tomato chicken bouillon, as shown on the left.  It's remarkably economical, whether at supermarkets or from;  less than $5 for over 2 pounds of the stuff, which lasts a very long time at one rounded teaspoon per mug.  It's a bit salty if you use too much, but by using less, the flavor is very perky and refreshing.

I enjoy it so much that it's now a staple in our beverage diet, along with boxes of teabags or jars of coffee.  If you're getting tired of tea or coffee all the time, you could do a lot worse than try it, and the "Better Than Bouillon" range as well.  (No, I'm not being compensated in any way for recommending them:  I just like them very much, and I think my readers will too.)


This one's for Old NFO

Every year, fellow writer, blogger, and friend in meatspace and cyberspace, Old NFO, undertakes a pilgrimage to Augusta, Georgia, to assist in the running of the US Masters Tournament.  He always seems to enjoy himself, and regales us with stories of the fun and games when he gets back.

Me, I've never played a round of golf in my life - not even a single hole.  I'm one of those who regards a golf course as an unconscionable waste of a good rifle range!  That being the case, I giggled loudly when I saw yesterday's "Pearls Before Swine" comic strip.  Click the image to be taken to a larger view at the strip's home page.

Old NFO, that one's for you!


It's as if they can't connect the dots

I'm puzzled by the lack of awareness shown by many business media and journalists in their reporting these days.  One will report on this aspect of industry, while another reports on that aspect;  but they'll seldom make the mental connection (at least in their reporting), to point out that there's a cause-and-effect relationship at work.

Case in point:  the trucking industry.  There are many reports that, after a bumper 2018, it's in the doldrums this year.  Here's one example from Business Insider, earlier this year.

Last year, retailer after retailer sounded the alarm on the rising costs of transportation — and how those costs would have to be passed onto consumers.

. . .

Retailers expected the same issues in moving goods in 2019. The truck-driver shortage — the US could have a shortage of 175,000 drivers by 2026 — hasn't lessened. Certain inefficiencies in the trucking industry, which moves 71% of the US's freight tonnage, are still being resolved. And as for the trucks themselves, there's a backlog of 300,000 that transportation companies have not received.

Despite all that, the cost to move goods has plummeted so far this year. Van trucking rates sank by 13% from January 2018 to January 2019, according to DAT Solutions. Freight rates were down last month by as much as 5.7% from December.

One reason for the sinking rates is that while transportation companies bought a record number of trucks in 2018, the amount of goods needing to be moved has decreased. Spot-market trucking capacity was up 49% in January from the year before, while the loads that needed to be moved were down 34%, according to DAT.

There's more at the link.

From the same period (first quarter of this year), here's a Bloomberg analysis of why imports from China are slowing.

Warehouses in southern California are full to bursting with Chinese goods rushed across the Pacific ahead of President Donald Trump’s tariff deadlines.

. . .

Those chock-a-block dockyards seen in mid-January are evidence of a phenomenon in global trade which economists are still struggling to capture the full extent of: “front loading.”

Customers for Chinese goods brought forward their orders in the expectation that duties would rise at the end of 2018, cushioning the blow from the trade war on China’s economy through most of 2018. Problem is, that forward buying means that fewer orders than normal are set to get booked now, depressing trade at the start of the year.

. . .

Robert Koopman, chief economist of the World Trade Organization, said recent data from China confirmed the slowdown in global trade that many expected was underway as the impact of Trump’s trade wars filters through the global economy. January trade data from China is scheduled for release on Feb. 14.

Again, more at the link.

I'm told by friends in the trucking industry that those piles of containers in US ports are still there, because some businesses simply haven't had enough space in their warehouses and distribution centers to accommodate them all.  That's hurting them, because they've got a lot of capital tied up in those goods, which aren't selling as fast as they'd hoped.  Other businesses are selling less because they're having to close outlets, or distribute the goods to customers who are closing outlets.  That means goods ordered to cater for a certain number of stores now have to be sold through a lot less of them, making for a bottleneck.  Essentially, the shipping containers are being used as additional warehouse space.  They're being moved out of the ports only as needed . . . and, in many cases, they aren't needed as quickly as before.

The crisis in retail is a prime mover in the problem.  USA Today reports:

The retail apocalypse isn't showing any signs of slowing down.

Six months into 2019, there have already been 20% more store closings announced than in all of 2018, according to a new report from global marketing research firm Coresight Research.

Based on Coresight Research's figures and retailers' earnings reports, more than 7,000 stores are slated to shutter this year with thousands of locations already gone.

. . .

The "going-out-of-business" sales and liquidation of other brands is expected to continue. Coresight estimates closures could reach 12,000 by the end of the year, the report said.

More at the link.

This retail slowdown is having a big effect on major retail vendors.  Some of them are simply laying off employees.  Others are putting a lot of money and effort into retraining their work force, because they know the supply of skilled labor isn't getting any better, and they know they're going to need many more workers in skilled fields over the next few years.  They're effectively investing in themselves, repositioning themselves for the "new economy" they see coming at them.  Amazon is a good example.

Amazon is slated to spend $700 million to retrain some 100,000 workers by 2025 in light of technology shifts, reports Chip Cutter for the Wall Street Journal.

The $7,000-per-employee initiative is voluntary for participants, Cutter adds, and the goal is to help employees move into new roles within or outside of the company, like fulfilment center workers retraining for IT support, or nontechnical corporate workers gaining technical skills.

This places Amazon as something of a first mover among large firms taking on large-scale retraining. Trendline suggests it's a theme that will be increasingly urgent. A recent report from the hiring platform ZipRecruiter estimates that nearly 50% of all workers in the US could be displaced or forced to change jobs by 2030, largely driven by artificial intelligence and automation ... It looks like Jeff Bezos and company are trying to get Amazon ahead of that curve.

More at the link.

(The corollary, of course, is that workers - you and I - need to be alert to what's happening, and actively seek out opportunities for retraining, so as to move away from industries and services that are in decline and ensure they're qualified for the more skilled jobs that will be opening up.  Anyone who isn't already doing that is behind the curve.)

So, connect the dots.  Everything's interconnected, with one problem or issue feeding off others and feeding into others in turn;  but the journalists concerned don't seem to make the connection (at least, not publicly, in their articles).  I wonder why not?  Surely their parent media organizations should be able to put two and two together, and come up with something vaguely resembling four?  Or is that too much to ask these days?


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Soldier Of Fortune, unplugged

While David Coverdale was lead vocalist of the rock band Deep Purple, he recorded several songs that have become indelibly associated with his voice.  One of them, perhaps the most iconic of all, is "Soldier Of Fortune" from the 1975 album "Stormbringer".  You can listen to that original version here.

After leaving Deep Purple, Coverdale founded the group Whitesnake, which is still active.  In 2015 the group recorded "The Purple Album", featuring songs Coverdale had performed while with Deep Purple.  It included a very good rendition of "Soldier Of Fortune", which has become my favorite version of the song.  (The entire album makes for very good listening.  I think the renditions there are arguably better, more "mature", than the Deep Purple originals.)

What I didn't know, because it's not included on my early copy of "The Purple Album", is that Whitesnake also recorded an unplugged version of "Soldier Of Fortune", using acoustic guitar only.  I came across it recently on a YouTube recording of what appears to be a 2019 re-issue of the album, and was very taken with it.  Since I'm sure I'm not the only Deep Purple and Whitesnake fan to have missed it, I thought I'd embed it here.  I've used the full album recording for the purpose, isolating start and end times to play that song alone, since I can't find a stand-alone recording of it on YouTube.



Doofus Of The Day #1,047

Today's award goes to an Australian stoner.

An allegedly stoned and unlicensed Melbourne teenager, accused of ramming a police car and breaking an officer's leg, has been granted bail.

Benjamin Saurini, 19, previously said he couldn't see the police vehicle because his car windows had fogged up from smoking cannabis after a session with friends on Friday night.

Saurini allegedly took off when he thought he was going to be "jumped" by officers on patrol, but panicked and side-swiped their car.

He is accused of pinning a senior constable against the car, breaking his leg.

Saurini allegedly read a news article about the injured police officer the following day and realised he was in trouble, dumping the car and removing its number plates.

However, the teen handed himself into police after investigators called his parents.

There's more at the link.

Son, if you're fogging up the interior of your car so much you can't see what's going on outside, you're doing it wrong.  To do a stoner any good (?), the smoke has to end up inside your lungs, not your car!

I'm tempted to give a second Doofus award to the Australian criminal justice system.  The kid's been let off without any major punishment at all, as you'll see if you read the full article.  Can't figure that out.  He breaks a police officer's leg in an attempt to get away, and gets off with a slap on the wrist?  In this country, he'd be doing hard time - and justifiably so, IMHO.


Ebola is now a global health emergency - for the second time

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2013-16 was declared a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" by the World Health Organization, one of only five such events in history that have been officially given that title.  I don't know that the declaration did much in practical terms, apart from give warm fuzzies to the bureaucrats who issued it;  but it did underline the seriousness of the outbreak, and the potential threat it posed.  The world avoided a major international health crisis by the skin of its collective teeth in that outbreak, by shutting down as much travel as possible from the affected area unless passengers had been screened.  The screening wasn't very effective (a number got through despite it), but it at least kept the numbers to manageable proportions.

Now, for the sixth time in history, another such emergency has been declared - and, for the second time, it involves Ebola;  this time, the 2018-2019 outbreak in Congo.

The deadly Ebola outbreak in Congo is now an international health emergency, the World Health Organization announced Wednesday after a case was confirmed in a city of 2 million people ... More than 1,600 people have died since August in the second-deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, which is unfolding in a region described as a war zone.

A declaration of a global health emergency often brings greater international attention and aid, along with concerns that nervous governments might overreact with border closures.

The declaration comes days after a single case was confirmed in Goma, a major regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border, with an international airport. Also, a sick Congolese fish trader traveled to Uganda and back while symptomatic — and later died of Ebola.

. . .

Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, said she hoped the emergency designation would prompt a radical reset of Ebola response efforts.

“The reality check is that a year into the epidemic, it’s still not under control, and we are not where we should be,” she said. “We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results.”

Liu said vaccination strategies should be broadened and that more efforts should be made to build trust within communities.

There's more at the link.

I'm sorry that I'm not overwhelmed by medico-religious fervor at this news;  but the WHO has been dilly-dallying over this issue for far too long.  It's probably too late for this declaration to have the desired effect.  It should have been declared months ago, when a major push to screen for new cases and vaccinate those exposed to Ebola might have made a difference.  However, due to the dangers of operating in a war zone, that wasn't done.  It would have been too difficult, too dangerous.  As a result, the virus is now poised to break out into three or four new countries.  I'm taking bets that it will do so before long.  I know that area from personal experience.  Just look at this map (courtesy of the Daily Mail) of where the epidemic has spread, most recently to Goma, a city of at least one million people (according to informal estimates, double that).  Click the image for a larger view.

Notice how the centers of the epidemic are roughly aligned with the lakes that run from north to south along the spine of Africa.  There's a reason for that.  In the old days, commerce ran along those lakes, because water transport (by canoe, or raft, or colonial steamboat) was a lot easier than hacking one's way through equatorial forest.  Nowadays there are roads, but some are awarded that title only by courtesy.  The population is still concentrated along the old trade routes, and absent some major upheaval, it'll stay that way.  What's more, traffic is still concentrated along those routes.  That's why Ebola has spread north-south in that part of the world;  it's following the traffic.

Unless we're very lucky, look for Ebola to reach Burundi next, and from there, slowly but surely, all the way down the central African lakes and their connecting rivers to Zambia and Malawi.  Look at the blue areas on the map below.  That's how informal, local trade travels, and (like many others, such as the Black Death in Europe in the 14th century) this disease follows trade.  It will not be possible to screen all travelers using such routes.  It's physically impossible to intercept them all - and given their mistrust of graft-seeking officialdom (of which more below), they'll have every incentive to avoid checkpoints.  They'll simply take to the bush and walk around them, or sail past them.

After the Rwanda massacres in 1994, hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Goma, and still live there in camps.  Traffic across the border is almost completely uncontrolled (or was when I was last there).  People cross wherever they feel like it, to visit relatives, or shop for food, or whatever.  It's a nightmare for those trying to stop Ebola spreading any further.  That's probably going to be flatly impossible in such a location.

"Isolated cases" of Ebola have now been reported from Uganda and Kenya, with the latter subject to official denials.  (If you believe them, I have a bridge in Brooklyn, NYC, to sell you.  Cash only, please, and in small bills.)  Officials in surrounding countries are terrified of admitting to Ebola cases on their territory, because they may bring with them restrictions on travel, trade, and all sorts of things that may affect their economies - and, consequently, the graft, bribery and corruption they rely on to fill their wallets.  Can't have that interrupted, can we?  This is Africa, after all!  (That's how wealthier refugees from Ebola will evade travel restrictions, even though they may be carrying the disease.  A suitable bribe, and they'll be waved through.  How do I know this?  Because I've done it myself to evade travel restrictions, in more than one country in Africa.)  That being the case, distrust any and all official statistics coming out of the affected areas.  They may or may not be correct.  I'll trust Doctors Without Borders' figures before I trust those from any health ministry (or the World Health Organization).

I've been warning about the risks of this latest outbreak for almost a year.  Aesop, over at Raconteur Report, has been doing likewise, in rather stronger terms.  I can only draw your attention to those earlier posts, and urge you to do what you can in terms of personal preparedness.  That isn't much.  If this breaks loose over here, it's not going to be good.  (That's known in the trade as an "understatement".)


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Not family friendly, but fiendishly funny!

I try to keep this blog family-friendly, without too much exposure to profanity or things that aren't child-safe.  However, sometimes something is so pertinent (and, in this case, so damn funny) that I can't help myself.  Sorry!  (Well, in this case, not really!)

Courtesy of Wirecutter:

Try to avoid the mental picture . . .


Ye Gods and little Vikings!

Finland has just hosted the world's first Heavy Metal Knitting World Championship.  Why it was hosted at all remains an open question!

Fox News reports:

The task was simple: Showcase your knitting skills while jamming out to heavy metal music.

“It's ridiculous but it's so much fun,” said Heather McLaren, an engineering Ph.D. student who traveled to Joensuu, Finland, from Scotland for the competition. “When I saw there was a combination of heavy metal and knitting, I thought ‘that's my niche.’”

The competition drew about 200 people, including heavy metal fans in a country where the musical genre is very popular.

“In Finland, it's very dark in the wintertime, so maybe it's in our roots. We're a bit melancholic, like the rhythm,” Mark Pyykkonen, one of the judges of the competition, said.

Participants in the competition came from nine countries, including the U.S., Japan, and Russia.

It was the five-person Japanese group named Giga Body Metal who won the title. The team put on a show featuring sumo wrestlers and a man dressed in a kimono.

There's more at the link.

Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .


Automatic, real-time censorship... the future of the Internet?

I might consider that headline alarmist, except that it's already happening in China, and it appears to be on the way in this country too - driven by ideologically motivated corporate executives who are also politicians.

First, China.  Technology Review reports (bold, underlined text in all quoted excerpts is my emphasis):

WeChat is a window into the future of the internet in many different ways.

Based in China and boasting over 1.1 billion global users, it’s one of the world’s most advanced and popular apps. What’s remarkable is the way it reaches into so many corners of a Chinese person’s life: it’s the way much of the country chats, pays, plays, moves, and much more. As Mark Zuckerberg contemplates the future of Facebook, it’s increasingly WeChat he’s trying to emulate.

There’s more to this so-called “super app” than messaging, food, cars, and payments. The all-encompassing ambition of WeChat includes some of the most cutting-edge, quick-acting, and far-reaching censorship technology on earth.

New research from the University of Toronto’s CitizenLab pulls the curtain back on how WeChat’s real-time, automatic censorship of text and images is used to exert control over political discussion on topics ranging from international issues like the trade war with the US to domestic scandals like the disappearance of court documents in a 2018 dispute between two multibillion-dollar Chinese mining companies. All discussion is ultimately subject to the Chinese government’s approval.

. . .

“This has really become a mega-app,” says Sarah Cook, the senior research analyst for East Asia at the pro-democracy research group Freedom House. “It’s really hard to function in modern Chinese society without using WeChat, and so the chilling effect is real.”

There's more at the link.

Think that won't happen in these "democratic" United States?  Think again.  I'm obliged to The Silicon Graybeard for mentioning a very interesting - and chilling - piece of research from Spinquark.  Regardless of your political affiliation, if this doesn't scare you, there's something wrong with you - because if one side of the political spectrum can do this, so can the other side.  It's an existential threat to freedom in the raw, not just to shades of opinion.

... what if I told you a Policy Director at Facebook was Nancy Pelosi's Chief of Staff before taking said job directing policy at Facebook? What if I told you the head of algorithm policy at Facebook worked for Hillary at The State Department? Or that the Head of Content Policy worked for the Hillary presidential campaign? What if I told you the person in charge of privacy policy at Facebook used to work for Al Franken, before he worked for Senator Bonoff, before he worked for Congressman Oberstar? Or that the Director in charge of "countering hate and extremism" at Facebook came from the Clinton Foundation? Did you know that the person at Facebook who currently "oversees programs on countering hate speech and promoting pluralism", and "develops internal third party education and drives thought leadership on hate speech and content moderation" was one of Obama's policy advisers at The White House? ... Why does Facebook have someone whose job is to show others how to use their platform as a type of privatized government and "exert influence" over the public? And what exactly does it mean for Facebook to "exert influence" over the public?

. . .

What if I told you a Policy Manager at YouTube, before becoming a Policy Manager at YouTube, was employed by Hillary for America and was a manager in Obama's campaign before that? What if I told you YouTube's Global Content Policy Lead previously worked at the DNC? Did you know the person responsible for "growing the next generation of stars" on YouTube worked in the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House under Obama? Or that the person in charge of developing the careers of YouTube creators was the Director of Video for Obama? Speaking of helping the careers of creators, did you know Vox, the company that got Steven Crowder demonetized, was one of the companies that YouTube doled out $20 million dollars to, for 'educational videos'?

Ten people, directly connected to the progressive Democrat political machine who are now controlling our conversations online. Sounds like an important alarm, no?

What if I told you there were nearly a hundred more?

. . .

Each day we wake up and see the latest way conservative voices are being censored, shadowbanned, silently deleted, hidden from view, buried in searches, algorithmed out of existence ... These aren't just Democratic voters, but former employees from the DNC, from the offices of Pelosi, Hillary, Obama, Feinstein, Giffords, Schumer, Reid, Planned Parenthood, even Rachel Maddow, who are migrating en masse to gate-keeping positions in social media companies ... They are taking up residency in the policy departments across the web; shaping the conversation, pushing agendas, picking who gets featured, deciding who gets blocked, judging who gets banned for life, dictating the parameters of the algorithms we'll never be allowed to see, and making cases for censorship - that always seem to ratchet in one direction.

They cannot stop speech at the government level, it would never get past the Constitutional review. But private companies do not need to abide by the Constitution. As our lives become digital conduits that flow through private companies, they have congregated at the helms of these companies, silencing the right starting with the fringe and working their way in as far as they possibly can.

Again, more at the link.

Spinquark says of itself, in a request for support:  "In the following months Spinquark will begin leading the charge to fight back, to equal the playing field and to apply truth to power. Please Join Us."  Based on the report quoted above, I'm certainly interested.  I'm not going to commit to supporting it yet, because I want to find out more first;  but it's a fight that needs fighting.  That's a good starting point.

Oh - and in case you think Spinquark's claims are far-fetched, and would never amount to a threat to democracy by private US companies . . . try this for size.  Despite what left-wing and progressive politicians and media would have you believe, this video is entirely factual.  Nothing's made up at all.  I think this may be one of the most important videos published online this year.  Do please watch it - if necessary, schedule time for it in your busy day.  It's that important.

Think that video is staged or somehow contrived?  Think again.  Its factual nature is demonstrated and supported, IMHO, by a recent Facebook patent for censoring online comments that Gizmodo - anything but a conservative source - decried yesterday as "Facebook Patents Shadowbanning".  That video foreshadows reality.  It's not far-fetched at all.

Do, please, investigate the sources I've linked above for yourselves, and decide for yourselves whether or not this threat is real.  I think it is - and I'm not just saying that because of my own political views.  I don't vote for a party;  I vote for an individual, and will vote for either a Republican or a Democrat, depending on whether that particular candidate is worthy of support.  I'm pretty much a centrist, albeit with a more conservative moral perspective (faith-based rather than political) that's conditioned by my age, upbringing and experiences.

The real threat is that, if one side of the political spectrum can dominate online discourse in this way, so can the other side, if they can figure out a way to reverse things.  It's not so much which side is doing it as that any side is doing it.  Our freedom is genuinely at risk when, as Dr. Robert Epstein suggests, ""Liberal tech companies ... can shift upwards of 15 million votes with no one knowing they’ve been manipulated, and without leaving a paper trail for authorities to trace”.   Would liberals be happy if conservatives could do that?  Of course they wouldn't - but then, why are they happy at the prospect that they may be able to do that?  It's very much a two-edged sword.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It's a good thing that wasn't the stinging kind . . .

I'd hate to come across a man-sized jellyfish like this.

I've been stung by what we used to call "bluebottles" in South Africa, small jellyfish that could inflict a painful wound.  The thought of a bluebottle that size is enough to make me shiver!


It pays to be a Palestinian terrorist

When I worked as a prison chaplain, I came across more than one Palestinian terrorist behind bars.  They usually received a check each month, deposited into their prison commissary accounts, from "their family in Palestine".  We all knew this was from the Palestinian government.  It was routine.

Strategy Page discusses what it calls this "pay-for-slay" terrorism, and its consequences for Palestine.

In the West bank the Palestinian Fatah government accuses Hamas of being unable to control all its Gaza factions and make it possible to form a unified Palestinian government. That is an accurate assessment but it ignores the fact the Fatah is equally self–destructive and unable to control its radical (terrorist) factions.

Case in point is Fatah threatening to cause an economic catastrophe in the West Bank by refusing partial payments from Israel and donor nations unless the donors and Israel stop deducting the money Fatah spends on supporting and encouraging terrorist activity. This has become more of an issue since 2018 when Israel passed a law to deduct from the $130 million a month it collects in taxes and fees for the Palestinians in the West Bank, the amount (over $20 million) Fatah pays out to Palestinian terrorists in prison or to the families of deceased terrorists. The U.S. had already enacted a similar law and was deducting a similar amount from the $300 million it currently gives to the West Bank Palestinians. Other foreign donors have taken similar measures. Fatah reuses to deal with this and as aid it cut Fatah maintains payments to terrorists by cutting government services it controls. That includes less money for Palestinians to receive medical care in Israel. To justify this Fatah complains that the U.S., Israel and other donors are being unfair.

. . .

Monthly payments to jailed Palestinians vary according to how long they have been in jail, how many dependents they have and so on. There are also bonuses for how many Israelis the prisoner killed or injured.

. . .

The Arab language media throughout the Middle East take for granted that these payments are just and necessary for the war against Israel. In response to the current American and Israeli efforts to penalize Fatah for what is spent to encourage terror attacks Fatah made it clear it would not halt payments to families for dead or jailed terrorists. Instead it cut pay to Palestinians who worked for the West Bank government. But by refusing money still being offered Fatah will cause widespread shortages of food and other necessities in the West bank.

There's more at the link.

As with aid to African countries, I think there's only one solution.  Stop funneling aid through the Palestinian and Gaza governments altogether.  Instead, distribute it through trustworthy aid organizations (which would automatically exclude most of the Muslim agencies and the United Nations, who are notorious for funneling aid money to terrorist groups and individuals).  If that can't be done with adequate safeguards to prevent the funds being used for terrorism, then don't give money at all.  Wait until such safeguards can be reliably implemented.

There are, of course, those who'll argue that this will impact innocent people who don't deserve to be caught in the backwash.  Sorry, but that's disingenuous.  It's those same innocent people who overwhelmingly elect extremists (including terrorists) to govern their territories, again and again.  Let them make a choice.  They can support terrorism, or they can eat.  If they choose not to eat, pretty soon they won't be able to support terrorism, ever again.  Starvation will do that.  Works for me.


So much for trust

There's a growing groundswell of opinion on the left that businesses should not do background checks on their customers - or even on their employees.  In fact, in some jurisdictions, laws have been passed making it illegal to do criminal background checks on prospective renters of property, or certain classes of employees, because this is believed to "disadvantage" people of color.  (The fact that people of color are statistically more likely to commit certain crimes is, apparently, neither here nor there.  That's not a racist statement, either - it's a factual one.  See the FBI crime statistics for details.)

Well, one company has just learned the hard way that taking customers on trust in a crime-ridden city is really not a good idea.

April 15, a Monday, should have been sleepy this year for the Chicago team at Car2Go, a car-sharing service that automaker Daimler AG introduced more than a decade ago.

. . .

There was a spike in rentals for Car2Go’s higher-end cars, Mercedes CLA sedans and GLA sport utility vehicles. And these rentals lasted much longer than Car2Go’s average 90-minute ride—in fact, many of the Benzes weren’t being returned at all. Instead, employees at Car2Go headquarters in Austin watched on a digital map as dozens of their vehicles congregated on a few blocks in West Chicago, in a neighborhood right outside the company’s coverage area.

Car2Go sent several workers to retrieve the vehicles, only to find that a group of thieves had claimed them as their own. Some blocked the vehicles in to prevent repossession; others threatened the company’s employees, according to someone with knowledge of the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

. . .

After its failed attempts to recover the cars itself, Car2Go asked the Chicago Police Department for help. By midweek the company suspended service in Chicago altogether, an acknowledgment that it couldn’t figure out how to distinguish legitimate customers from the group of thieves. Kelton says about 75 cars in total were compromised. All were eventually recovered, though some only after being stripped of doors, seats, and other parts.

. . .

The Mercedes plot owed to one strategy Car2Go’s management implemented to draw in new members: making it easier to sign up. For the past several years, Car2Go has subjected all its users to background checks conducted manually by humans. They take a day or two to complete, a lag that seemed onerous to customers used to the immediate gratification that other mobility services offer. “You see Uber or Lyft, or Airbnb, or all the scooters—they all have instant verification,” Kelton says.

The executive team in Europe, where rates of fraud are much lower, was eager to lower barriers to entry. So in April, Car2Go stopped conducting the manual background checks. The company says that on April 13 about 20 people who went on to orchestrate the Mercedes thefts set up some 80 phony accounts in Chicago, using fake or stolen credit cards as their payment methods. It’s unclear whether the timing was a direct response to Car2Go’s policy change or just an illustration of how often its systems were being probed for weaknesses.

. . .

A coordinated attack on this scale was unprecedented, but there has been a near-constant stream of smaller incidents, according to three people with knowledge of the industry who spoke on condition of anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements ... Car2Go ... quickly reverted to manually reviewing new accounts and says it hasn’t had any serious issues in the two months since then.

There's more at the link.  It's a very interesting article, worth reading in full.

The article notes that other car rental companies have experienced similar problems, leading to some services being withdrawn altogether in certain cities.  I'm afraid that's likely to get worse, not better.  You simply can't run a business based on trust (that a customer will return his or her ride in good condition, when they're supposed to) in a low- or no-trust community.  It's a veritable definition of failure.

The question is, what are businesses going to do when more and more cities are becoming low- or no-trust environments?  Solid citizens have been moving out of such areas for decades.  What they leave behind are the people with whom it's a lot more risky to do business.  That's why there are few, if any, supermarkets in such areas - they get robbed blind by their "customers".  In one town I know, there are three Walmart stores.  The first two are in "nice" areas, and have only minor problems with shoplifting.  The third is in an area that's degenerating, and it has many times more cases of shoplifting every day, to the point that I seldom pass it without seeing a police car parked outside to pick up the latest batch.  The manager at one of the other two stores confirmed to me that his regional management were seriously considering shutting down the "problem" store, and/or relocating it to a better area.  You want to know why "food deserts" exist?  There's one reason, right there - and a big one.