Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Santorum shoots self in head

Judging by its candidates, the Republican party seems determined to commit seppuku. Witness the lowly-esteemed candidate Rick Santorum. From a CBS story:

"In his remarks Monday, Santorum went beyond his usual discussion of the importance of increasing domestic energy production to deliver a blistering attack on environmental activists. He said global warming claims are based on 'phony studies,' and that climate change science is little more than 'political science.' His views are not 'anti-science' as Democrats claim, Santorum said. 'When it comes to the management of the Earth, they are the anti-science ones. We are the ones who stand for science, and technology, and using the resources we have to be able to make sure that we have a quality of life in this country and (that we) maintain a good and stable environment,' he said to applause, and cited local ordinances to reduce coal dust pollution in Pittsburgh during the heyday of coal mining."

Even such a highly-esteemed conservative writer as Garry Wills has this to say:

”Rick Santorum is a nice smiley fanatic. He does not believe in evolution or global warming or women in the workplace. He equates gay sex with bestiality (Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum). He equates contraception with the guillotine. Only a brain-dead party could think him a worthy presidential candidate. Yet he is praised by television pundits, night and day, for being “sincere” and “standing by what he believes.” He is the principled alternative to the evil Moderation of Mitt Romney and the evil Evil of Newt Gingrich. He is presented as a model Catholic. Torquemada was, in that sense, a model Catholic. Messrs. Boehner and McConnell call him a martyr to religious freedom. A young priest I saw on television, modeling himself on his hero Santorum, said, “I would rather die than give up my church’s principles.” What we are seeing is not a defense of undying principle but a stampede toward a temporarily exploitable lunacy. Acton to the rescue!”

(The reference to Acton concerns this lovely quote: When Pius IX condemned democracy and modern science in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), the Catholic historian Lord Acton said that Catholics were too sensible to go crazy every time a pope does.) 

For more of Mr. Wills's insight into the almost-certain self-destruction of the Grand Old Party, see his piece in the New York Review of Books

From this Northerly side of the 49th parallel, what seems most to be lacking in the  American political landscape is a genuinely Left party. Obama and the Democrats don't even come close. They have been so cowed that even they are afraid to be accused of liberalism. Both sides of the American landscape would seem to require what Leftist politics is all about. 

The short answer is, No Single Thing; no coherent set of proposals across nations and continents; it's shaped by context. In Canada, for example, the vast majority of voters, by province, by region, by party, by almost any measure you could name, believe in the principle that health care should be free. 

That's merely one measure of a society which I would most emphatically not describe, not even remotely, as Socialist. I'm still a stalwart NDP voter and volunteer, but only because that party is closest to what I would like to see. Not only did I vote and campaign for the late Jack Layton and his wife Olivia Chow, but I also wrote the original campaign-management software for both, way back when they were City Councillors in Toronto. My political slant is clear. I go a lot further than the party I vote for, but that's understandable: I'm a grey-radical and they are strategists. I get that. Politics is the art of compromise, in which one chooses the least of evils.

I'll write another blog soon on why I view the NDP as far to the right of what I deem Left; this one has gone long enough. For now, let it be said that I am very distant from the Marxist schools of thought, but primarily because they have strayed from the sources, Marx and Engels, whose thoughts on capitalism remain mostly cogent 150 years later. To this I might add that the current readings of Adam Smith are seriously selective, not to mention prejudicial.

I would hope that this missive finds at least a few readers on the GOP side of the equation. It would be most enlightening for me at least to read your responses.

Memo to Dominique Strauss-Khan: Time for a new lawyer?

Dominique Strauss-Khan, former managing director of the IMF and then considered the likely Socialist Party presidential candidate, until his career was shipwrecked when he was accused of attempted rape in New York, was held for questioning Tuesday morning regarding certain parties (orgies) held in New York and Paris, and embezzlement to pay for them.

His lawyer, Henri LeClerc, said in an interview on Europe 1, a French radio station, on the matter, "He could easily not have known, because as you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you're not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman."

The mind reels. I find myself imagining a quiz show. "Three of these ten nude lovelies are prostitutes. Guess which three and you win a million dollars!" Maybe we could call it "Slumdog Millionaire". No, that's taken. "By hooker crook?"

While DSK's political career may be beyond resuscitation, considering his age there might be a second career for him -- in Viagra commercials.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A Black Eye for Google

According to several sources, Google Chrome has been actively violating the privacy of its users. The following excerpt details Microsoft's investigations into this behaviour:

Google Bypassing User Privacy Settings

Microsoft Corporation

404,807 Recent Achievements 3 3 4 Blogs All-Star Blog Commentator III Blog
Commentator II View Profile Monday, February 20, 2012 10:31 AM Comments 146
When the IE team heard that Google had bypassed user privacy settings on
Safari, we asked ourselves a simple question: is Google circumventing the
privacy preferences of Internet Explorer users too? We've discovered the
answer is yes: Google is employing similar methods to get around the default
privacy protections in IE and track IE users with cookies. Below we spell
out in more detail what we've discovered, as well as recommendations to IE
users on how to protect their privacy from Google with the use of IE9's
Tracking Protection feature. We've also contacted Google and asked them to
commit to honoring P3P privacy settings for users of all browsers.

We've found that Google bypasses the P3P Privacy Protection feature in IE.
The result is similar to the recent reports of Google's circumvention of
privacy protections in Apple's Safari Web browser, even though the actual
bypass mechanism Google uses is different.

Internet Explorer 9 has an additional privacy feature called Tracking
Protection which is not susceptible to this type of bypass. Microsoft
recommends that customers who want to protect themselves from Google's
bypass of P3P Privacy Protection use Internet Explorer 9 and click here to
add a Tracking Protection List. Customers can find additional lists and
information on this page.

Background: Google Bypassing Apple's Privacy Settings
A recent front page Wall Street Journal article described how Google
"bypassed Apple browser settings for guarding privacy." The editor and CEO
of Business Insider, a business news and analysis site, summarized the

Google secretly developed a way to circumvent default privacy settings
established by a. competitor, Apple. [and] Google then used the workaround
to drop ad-tracking cookies on the Safari users, which is exactly the sort
of practice that Apple was trying to prevent.

Third-party cookies are a common mechanism used to track what people do
online.  Safari protects its users from being tracked this way by a default
user setting that blocks third-party cookies.  Here's Business Insider's

What Safari does NOT allow, by default, is for third-party . cookies on
users' computers without their permission. It is these ad-tracking cookies
that cause lots of Internet users to freak out that their privacy is being
violated, so it's understandable that Apple decided to block them by

But these default settings have created a problem for Google, at least with
respect to its goals for its advertising business.

Google's approach to third-party cookies seems to have the side effect of
Safari believing they are first-party cookies.

What Happens in IE
By default, IE blocks third-party cookies unless the site presents a P3P
Compact Policy Statement indicating how the site will use the cookie and
that the site's use does not include tracking the user. Google's P3P policy
causes Internet Explorer to accept Google's cookies even though the policy
does not state Google's intent.

P3P, an official recommendation of the W3C Web standards body, is a Web
technology that all browsers and sites can support. Sites use P3P to
describe how they intend to use cookies and user information. By supporting
P3P, browsers can block or allow cookies to honor user privacy preferences
with respect to the site's stated intentions.

It's worth noting that users cannot easily access P3P policies. Web sites
send these policies directly to Web browsers using HTTP headers. The only
people who see P3P descriptions are technically skilled and use special
tools, like the Cookie inspector in the Fiddler tool. For example, here is
the P3P Compact Policy (CP) statement from


Each token (e.g. ALL, IND) has a specific meaning for a P3P-compliant Web
browser. For example, 'SAMo' indicates that 'We [the site] share information
with Legal entities following our practices,' and 'TAI' indicates
'Information may be used to tailor or modify content or design of the site
where the information is used only for a single visit to the site and not
used for any kind of future customization.' The details of privacy are
complex, and the P3P standard is complex as well. You can read more about
P3P here.

Technically, Google utilizes a nuance in the P3P specification that has the
effect of bypassing user preferences about cookies. The P3P specification
(in an attempt to leave room for future advances in privacy policies) states
that browsers should ignore any undefined policies they encounter. Google
sends a P3P policy that fails to inform the browser about Google's use of
cookies and user information. Google's P3P policy is actually a statement
that it is not a P3P policy. It's intended for humans to read even though
P3P policies are designed for browsers to "read":

P3P: CP="This is not a P3P policy! See for
more info."

P3P-compliant browsers interpret Google's policy as indicating that the
cookie will not be used for any tracking purpose or any purpose at all. By
sending this text, Google bypasses the cookie protection and enables its
third-party cookies to be allowed rather than blocked. The P3P specification
("4.2 Compact Policy Vocabulary") calls for IE's implemented behavior when
handling unknown tokens: "If an unrecognized token appears in a compact
policy, the compact policy has the same semantics as if that token was not

Similarly, it's worth noting section "3.2 Policies" from the P3P

3.2 Policies
In cases where the P3P vocabulary is not precise enough to describe a Web
site's practices, sites should use the vocabulary terms that most closely
match their practices and provide further explanation in the CONSEQUENCE
field and/or their human-readable policy. However, policies MUST NOT make
false or misleading statements.

P3P is designed to support sites that convey their privacy intentions.
Google's use of P3P does not convey those intentions in a manner consistent
with the technology.

Because of the issues noted above, and the ongoing development of new
mechanisms to track users that do not involve cookies, our focus is on the
new Tracking Protection technology.

Next Steps
After investigating what Google sends to IE, we confirmed what we describe
above. We have made a Tracking Protection List available that IE9 users can
add by clicking here as a protection in the event that Google continues this
practice. Customers can find additional lists and information on this page.

The premise of Tracking Protection in IE9 is that tracking servers never
have the opportunity to use cookies or any other mechanism to track the user
if the user never sends anything to a tracking server. This logic underlies
why Tracking Protection blocks network requests entirely. This new
technology approach is currently undergoing the standardization process at
the W3C.

This blog post has additional information about IE's cookie controls, and
shows how you can block all cookies from a given site (e.g. *
regardless of whether they are first- or third-party. This method of
blocking cookies would not be subject to the methods Google used. We
recommend that users not yet running IE9 take steps described in this post.

Given this real-world behavior, we are investigating what additional changes
to make to our products. The P3P specification says that browsers should
ignore unknown tokens. Privacy advocates involved in the original
specification have recently suggested that IE ignore the specification and
block cookies with unrecognized tokens. We are actively investigating that
course of action.

―Dean Hachamovitch, Corporate Vice President, Internet Explorer

Friday, 17 February 2012

In the US birth control debate, Orwell lives

Canadian women watching the farcical US birth control debate must be breathing sighs of relief.

Not that there aren't Roman Catholic tyrants in Canada who'd criminalise birth control in a jiffy if they could, It's just that they can't.

What empowers these US reactionaries? Mainly, two ugly facts. First, there's a lot more poverty in the US than in Canada, and severe poverty much of it is, too, so millions of very poor women can't afford to pay doctors to prescribe birth control, or pharmacists to dispense it. So birth control opponents have a lot of leverage. Second, the religious right has a lot more political power in the US than it does in Canada. There are congressional districts where the sitting member could not expect to win re-election if he (or rarely she) were to come out in favour of unrestricted birth control.

So in the land of the free and the home of the brave, a lot of women cannot get birth control.

Yet in every US school and church and playground, and in nearly all US media, kids have it drilled into them every day that they live in the freeest society on earth.

That belief doesn't fit with bare facts like widespread poverty and severe restrictions on birth control, so covering stories have to be invented.

Now, all over the world, wherever the Catholic Church can muster the power to prevent the free dissemination of birth control, it does so. Yet what do we hear in the US debate? That permitting Cathlolic bishops to block the distribution of birth control is a matter of religious freedom! Yes, that's right! Freedom-loving US Republicans are defending the freedom of Catholic bishops to deprive others of the freedom to use birth control!

You think you might've heard this kind of doublethink before? You're right. When Soviet soldiers occupied Prague in 1968, they took pains to tell the Czechs they were dismantling the Prague Spring because they loved the Czechs so much! Yes, it was an act of love!

George Orwell lives.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

How to Fight the Deficit

No single measure will bring down the enormous Canadian deficit, but that does not mean that dramatic slices are impossible. One such measure can be stated in two words: legalize marijuana. This is not equivalent to decriminalization: far from it. Legalization means precisely that: make the cultivation, distribution and retailing of marijuana entirely legal, and subject to all the forms of taxation that apply to other forms of legitimate income.
By its very nature, the size of the market is difficult to calculate, and estimates vary widely depending upon whom you ask. According to the CBC, the market in British Columbia alone is $19-21 billion a year -- placing it ahead of the BC lumber market. Unfortunately, such numbers examine only half of the equation. In my opinion, two important factors are overlooked: the cost of all the police and their surveillance equipment, overtime hours, etc.; and the cost of incarcerating those caught in the act. The RCMP and other police forces are reluctant to admit these costs, but we can rest assured they are substantial.
In addition, there is a third immense cost, and this one is extremely difficult to measure: the profits gained in the trade almost invariably go into financing other forms of illegal activity, from prostitution to cocaine trafficking to gun trafficking. Marijuana grown in BC is considered the finest in the world, and is frequently smuggled into the USA and there traded for cocaine, guns or both. Apparently this form of bartering is more common than sales for cash.
Finally, a substantial amount of these drug profits are moved off-shore, to banks in the Caribbean Caribbean and Switzerland and China among other places beyond the reach of Canadian law.
All this is obvious -- so obvious, in fact, that that about the only sound reason for maintaining the status quo is self-interest. It is clearly in the interests of the traffickers to keep marijuana illegal. And about the only explanation for legislators to preserve the status quo is because they are getting a piece of the action, whether directly or via campaign contributions. Perhaps they would prefer to be considered idiots.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

You're either for us or for child pornographers!

Defending a sweeping new bill that would allow the police to monitor on-line accounts of virtually anyone in Canada without a warrant, Public Safety Minister Vic Tows responded to a question from a Liberal Member of Parliament, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the law will give the tools to police to adequately deal with 21st-century technology, and said anyone opposing the laws favours "the rights of child pornographers and organized crime ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens."
The egregiousness of his response typifies the ruling Conservative party's contempt for the Canadian citizenry. This same party, commonly known as the Harper government (after its leader Stephen Harper), also blew almost a billion dollars turning Toronto into a police state during the last meeting of the G20, brutalizing and jailing more than 1000 protesters, but ultimately charging only a handful.
Sadly, we Canadians have only ourselves to blame. Collectively, we voted the Conservatives into power, and despite their behaviour we did not turf them out. Instead, the Liberal party and the Bloc Quebecois imploded. The only good aspect of this is the rise of the New Democratic party to the status of the Official Opposition. Sadly, Jack Layton's triumph was followed all too soon by his untimely death. His popularity was so large all across the country that even the Harper government was forced to acknowledge it, and gave him a state funeral, I believe for the first time in history (normally, state funerals are reserved for Prime Ministers and members of the cabinet).
Not surprisingly, those who side with child pornographers and organized crime include the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, Canada's Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart, several notable law professors, and members of the Liberal, NDP and Green parties. As for the rest of the population, we shall see.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

How Democracy Can Save Europe

An excellent read is available at:

You might have to watch for Wrap on clicking that link. This is written by a very smart person. I'm going to take a new stance here, and rather than opine upon my differences with the author, I shall invite you to investigate the link above, and perhaps respond to it.

The sad thing about artificial intelligence is that it lacks artifice and therefore intelligence. 

Friday, 10 February 2012


As one addicted to database technology since dBASEII, and having used just about everything since then and seen promising companies and their tech-children come and go, and also having read E.F. Codd, Chris Date, Fabian Pascal and Michael Stonebraker, to name a few, I like to think I know my way around relational databases, and a lot about pre-relational databases (dBASE, FoxPro, etc.), and a little about post-relational databases (Cache, etc.).

I've read a few things about NoSQL (technology or movement? That is the question!). As my colleague Stuart McLachlan rephrased the question: If it's a movement, the real question is whether it's a religious or bowel movement. The piece that prompted his excellent witticism can be found at:

The author does make a few good points, among them the difficulty of bending traditional SQL systems to handle massively scalable sub-second retrieval of the sort required for huge systems such as what might be found at Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc. Even in organizations much smaller than those, the problem remains. 

What seems to be ignored in this discussion, however, is the distinction between transactional databases (OLTP) and retrieval/analysis (OLAP) databases. In the former, accuracy and timeliness are of paramount importance. In the latter, timeliness takes second place to performance, and it is generally accepted that such systems will not deliver instantaneous accuracy, but rather snapshots of how the data looked at some previous moment. The granularity of the moments of interest is decided upon or settled for by some combination of hardware costs, need for close-to-now data, and so on.

I think that the NoSQL people blur this distinction purposely. In the case of Amazon, where there is a lot of buying and selling going on, the assumption is that inventory is, by and large, unlimited. Therefore the need for sub-second retrieval trumps the need for accuracy. Amazon can always re-order. 

That is not always the case. For several years, I was the database developer/DBA and programmer for a company that sold event-travel packages, and did deals with U2, Madonna, the Rolling Stones and so on. The basic scenario went like this: we bought several hundred tickets to every event in a tour, then bundled them with travel, hotel, car rentals and pre- and post-event parties. In this type of system, inventory is fixed. There are only on average 400 tickets available for any given event, and only so many hotel rooms, and so on. It is therefore paramount for the sales people in all four offices, plus the customers booking on the web site, to know exactly how many tickets remained in inventory, at all times. The acceptable time lag is essentially zero. 

The paean to NoSQL cited above ignores another critical factor: the rapid descent of solid state disks (SSDs), which are now available in sizes up to 10 terabytes (TB). A company called Fusion-io offers systems combining up to four of these SSDs for a total of 40 TB. That's large enough for lots and lots organizations with equal needs for performance and accuracy. The performance specs are awesome:
The 10 TB ioDrive Octal offers:
  • More than 1.3 million IOPS with 6.7 GB/s bandwidth
  • Extreme capacity density and lightweight footprint delivering up to 20 TB of ioMemory in a 1U server
  • Process multiple terabytes of data in a fraction of the time
  • Optimized performance for read-heavy environments such as data warehousing, scale-out architectures, supercomputing and research applications
  • More work per unit of processing thanks to Fusion's cut-through architecture, which delivers performance increases as CPUs become more powerful
  • Consolidate data-intensive infrastructure by an order of magnitude
  • Reduce failure points and system complexity
  • Reduce power and cooling costs of expensive, data-intensive server farms

Granted, these systems are not exactly cheap, but they are within the budget of many organizations. 
In short, rumours of the death of classic relational databases are premature. And in my opinion, the intellectual validity of the arguments in favour of RDMSes remains.

For more information about these SSDs, visit Regrettably, I own no shares in this company.

I do not mean that there is no place for NoSQL databases, but rather that their purpose is retrieval rather than transactions (Insert, Update, Delete). In fact, it could well be that the best system design might be a combination of the two approaches: use an OLTP database for transactions and a NoSQL database for retrievals. The problem remains, How and When to update the NoSQL database to reflect changes in the OLTP database. The answer to that question, I think, will depend on several factors: size of the databases, frequency of transactions, permissible lag time and so on.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Income Made Outside the Country

Unless you don't read newspapers or their on-line equivalents, or tech-oriented websites (slashdot, etc.), you're probably aware of the New York Times piece and the ZDNet pieces on the subject of off-shore income.

Being a person rather than a multinational corporation, and further, being a Canadian who is neither a lawyer nor unacquainted with international law;

Being an actual person rather than a fictional person (this meaning the popular definition of corporations, which I might add conveniently places almost all the egregious behaviours of a fictional person without the realm of national laws), I must protest.

According to Canadian law, all income acquired outside Canada must be reported to our Department of Revenue. For example, a few years back I took a job in Bermuda as a DBA/SQL Developer, at a very nice rate, and Bermudian taxes on same were very low (4.5% if memory serves). But I also had to declare this income to Canada's Revenue people, since I maintained that my permanent residence was in Canada, and therefore Revenue Canada wanted their piece of the action.

Personally, I had no problem with this. It seems only reasonable to me that insofar as I maintain my permanent residence in Canada, then I am subject to the laws of Canada, regardless of where I happen to be contracting in another nation. These laws apply to my continuing status as a Canadian citizen. In the case of Bermuda, there are very strict laws about who is allowed to work there, and how long one is entitled to work there. Similar laws may apply to numerous other nations, or not. But that is not the point.

If I want to protect my Canadian nationality, then all foreign income must be reported and taxed accordingly. That's because I am an actual person, rather than a fictional person (i.e. a corporation). But if fictional persons want the status of "person", then IMO they ought obey the same rules as I.

I realize the significant consequences of this maxim to Canadian corporations: about 75% of the world's mining companies are headquartered in Canada. They make their phenomenal profits in Nigeria etc., and pay nothing to the Canadian government in the way of taxes on said income. The closer you look, the uglier it gets: the Canadian government actually co-funds housing projects and school-building projects in numerous domains, the better to serve those corporations' profits in the Third World -- at the expense of the local citizens.

I want the current Canadian law to apply equally to fictional persons as well as actual persons. And I would like USA law to reflect this policy (and not only the USA -- this is not a singular attack, but rather a plural attack, upon many corporations and nations).

The current target of attack is Apple, and justly so, IMO. But many, many other corporations are equally guilty of this egregious behaviour. To cite just one or two, look at Cisco and Intel and Nike and hundreds if not thousands of others.

According to Canadian law, if I make money off-shore, said income is subject to Canadian taxation on said income. All I am asking is that the same rule be applied to Fictional Persons, insofar as they maintain their headquarters in the USA or Canada or any member of the EU.

I'm asking more than that: the various unions involved have to grow up and realize that it's now One World, and demand that equal wages be paid to employees, regardless of the nation in which they work. I am cognizant of at least some of the effects of this policy:
  • There would be no wage-edge in shipping the jobs to another nation. That is not to dismiss the edge in taxation that might be gained, but that is another issue, to be dealt with separately.
  • The transportation costs of shipping good from China to the USA would far outweigh the advantages of shipping jobs off-shore, not to mention the temporal edge gained by local Just-In-Time shipping. Gant has proved this with its shirts.
  • We might even get to the point where "Think global, buy local" becomes an economic mantra.
  • Finally, this might cause rather abrupt upheavals in nations where the Powerful overwhelm the WeakerThans at every turn. I consider that a Good Thing.
I realize that this might cause various Canadian and USA and EU corporations to move their headquarters off-shore to escape local taxes, but that move would prove my point: these fictional persons are concerned only with profits, feeling no obligation to the nation in which they were fictionally born. The ultimate realization is that said corporations are no better than sluts, willing to go for the best best Cheap Trick their accountants can invent, and all this at the expense of locals in every nation.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "Something (serious) is wrong in the state of Denmark."

Call me naive, but I tend to think of the planet as a city, of its nations as suburbs, and our situation as "We are all in this together", that every citizen of this planet ought to receive free medical care (admittedly a Canadian and Scandinavian concept, but gradually other nations are included), that all methods of income ought to be taxed equally (including capital gains, stock-market trading, real-estate flips and escalations, blue-chip coupons, and numerous other methods of income-accrual).

There remains one vague area in this mess: inheritance. This one, I agree, is problematic.
a) One ought to be entitled to disperse to one's descendants the wealth that one has accrued. I don't agree with is one, but numerous nations, including Canada, have agreed with this principle; The problem arises when certain families in certain nations own 90% of the wealth. In those nations, said accruals might amount to 70%+ of the national wealth,  GNP and GDP (c.f. the Phillippines, the USA, Canada and numerous other nations).
c) Numerous nations have adopted the policy that "What I own now is forevermore MINE". I do not accept this maxim. I can cite numerous nations in which small families own 90% + of their nations' wealth, and this is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Under the current laws, I applaud the moves by Warren Buffet and William Gates, the former who admitted that he pays less taxes than his help, and the latter who has donated many billions of dollars toward causes such as, to name but one, the cure for malaria and AIDS medications.

These two people strike me as the models for behaviour of the massively wealthy persons in the world, and I salute them both. I stand at attention and salute them both.

I have no beef with accruing massive wealth. That is nothing more than a measure of one's influence upon the world. Steve Jobs and William Gates and the folks behind Linux and Wikipedia and WikiLeaks strike me as massive contributors toward this goal -- unlike, for example, Larry Ellison, whose massive wealth he chooses not to disperse to any of the world's people in need That is his current privilege, and according to current laws, that's perfectly OK. However I would argue that this evinces the problem with today's laws..

I wish that I were in their company, with billions to donate to worthy causes. Sadly, I am not. The best I could do is write some code and donate it to the world of database programmers, a minuscule contribution compared to theirs. But I don't have the funds to do what they do, so I do my tiny part.

What I want:
a)Fictional persons pay the same taxes as real persons do, meaning that all my off-shore income be subjected to the same taxes as if I made it in my native country. I want Apple etc. to obey the same laws.
b) "A Dollar Made is a Dollar Earned", no matter how it was made. Every stock trade, every real-estate flip, every rise in the value of one's stock-holdings, ought be taxed as if it were money made by working a job.The alternative is a society in which the worst possible thing you could do is hold a job, since you'll be caught holding the bag, every time.
That's my mantra.

Ultimately, I would argue for these positions as the true spirit of capitalism. Play by the rules or f**k off and demand your subsidies, all of which fly in the face of capitalism. And while I'm at it, To Hell with Bailing Out the Banks! None of them is too big to fail. Let them crumble just like the millions of real people whose lives crumbled under their weight. To think they are worth saving is to fall into the trap of "corporate socialism" -- socialism for the rich, and ugly unrepentant capitalism for the great unwashed.

I'm hoping that the Occupy movement is the first glimmer of a collective realization that the current arrangements demand a rethinking and even a revolution.


Adele: Rolling in the Deep

I have no idea why this woman hits me so profoundly, but she does. I'd love to marry her, but given her track record, she'd be bound to write another album about the numerous ways in which I failed her. I'm willing to trade that for a year or so with her. She has boundless talent and she's beautiful and I'd do it in a New York moment.

Since the lyrics to "Rolling in the Deep" are publicly available, I'm going to copy them into this blog. IMO, they have all the bitterness and compression of classic ballads, and I'm glad that this song is not about me.

Following are the lyrics to "Rolling in the Deep":

There's a fire, starting in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch and it's bring me out the dark
Finally I can see you crystal clear
Go ahead and sell me out and I'll lay your ship here

See how I'll leave, with every piece of you
Don't underestimate the things that I will do
There's a fire starting in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch and it's bring me out the dark

The scars of your love reminds me of us
They keep thinking that we almost had it all
The scars of your love, they leave me breathless
I can't help feeling…

We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
Your had my heart inside your hand
And you played it to the beat

Baby, I had no story to be told
But I've heard one of you and I'm gonna make your head burn
Think of me in the depths of your despair
Making a home down there as mine won't be shared

The scars of our love remind you of us
They keep me thinking that we almost had it all
The scars of your love, they leave me breathless
I can't help feeling

We could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
And you played it to the beat

Could have had it all
Rolling in the deep
You had my heart inside your hand
But you played it with a beating

Through your soul through every open door
Count your blessings to find what you look for
Turn my sorrow into pleasured gold
You pay me back in kind and treasure what you sow

(Now I'm gonna wish you had never met me)
We could have had it all
(Tears are gonna fail, rolling in the deep)
We could have had it all

(Now I'm gonna wish you had never met me)
It all, it all, it all, it all
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)

(Now I'm gonna wish you had never met me)
You had my heart and soul)
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep
And you played it to the beat

(Now I'm gonna wish you never had met me)
Could have had it all
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)
Rolling in the deep

(Now I'm gonna wish you never had met me)
You had my heart and soul in your hand
(Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)
But you played it, you played it, you played it to the beat

Adele, Love and Kisses! One day I hope to meet you, and kiss your hand. I'm running out of adjectives and superlatives to describe your impact upon me. I'm 3 times your age, but I continue to hope that one day I could say all this in person. I play this and many other of your songs daily. I'd hate to be on the bad end of your stick, but in trade for a few hours or days or even months with you, I'd accept that fate. Adele, you ROCK!

Maybe the thing I love best is how anti-cliche the YouTube "Rolling in the Deep" tracks are. Down with the era of "the only way to make it as a female musician" is by wearing scanty outfits and hiring sexually-provocative dancers. Up with sheer goddess talent!

Not to get too lofty here, but I can't resist quoting Arthur Schopenhauer: "Marry a woman for her conversational skills. After 40 years, that's all that shall remain." (Actually, I think that's a paraphrase, rather than an accurate quote, but you get the gist.)

The typical male trajectory is, (and perhaps it also applies to the female trajectory, but I daren't venture a position on that, despite a few exemplary cases, which are clearly insufficient evidence),

A maxim: "The thing that compels you to fall in love is precisely the thing you shall hate in a couple of years."

Case in point (one among many others, but shockingly frequent): she dressed provocatively when you first melted at the sight, then worked up the courage to approach her, then She said Yes, and before you knew it, She was your girlfriend. But she continued to dress provocatively, and your territorial instincts kicked in, and just like an outraged Father, you protested her going out in public dressed like that.

She: "Well, yeah, but isn't that what you loved about me in the first place?"
He: "Well, yeah, but now you're My Girl, and it's inappropriate."
She: "Oh, so now I'm supposed to be a virgin, without desires to be attractive?"
He: "I need you to be dressed 'Spoken For', else God knows who might start hitting upon you.
She: Shall I wear a burqa? Would that make you happy?"
He: "When you go out, your attire must say 'Spoken For', else I shall be insulted and ridiculed."
She: "In the 21st Century, it is men and their families who ought to pay the dowry, not the fathers of women! That is so 19th Century, and presupposes that women are required for nothing but childbirth. Welcome to the 21st Century. Men are obsolete. We can do it with test-tubes. So there!
1. We now have the vote, in at least some nations!"
2. Females outnumber males in every nation but China.

What has all this to do with Adele? Well, a lot. She strikes me as the logical consequent to Alanis Morrisette, whose "You Oughta Know" on her album "Jagged Little Pill" encapsulated all the bitterness of at least a generation of women, and at last count she sold about 5 million copies. Now it's Adele's turn, and she rocks!


Memory Wall

This is the title of a collection of stories by Anthony Doerr. Mr. Doerr has received rave reviews from many places, which I shan't summarize here. Suffice to say that Mr. Doerr has rethought what it is to be a short (or rather longish) story. At 86 pages, the title story leaves the reader gasping for air; it has the strength and depth of novels three times its length. The word that comes to mind is Indelible, in the Dostoevsky sense (OK, I confess that Dostoevsky is my favourite novelist. I know, I audited second-hand a course taught by Vladimir Nabokov, then teaching "Russian Literature" at Cornell in Syracuse. Nabokov despised Dostoevsky and unofficially nominated Tolstoy to Sainthood.

His own books reveal his preference: everything is as perfect as Mozart. That, frankly, is why I prefer Dostoevsky: it's messy and hurried (no doubt due to impending gambling debts, augmented by the deadlines of serial-publication in newspapers).

To my taste, it is the hurry to get it down on paper that I love the most. Sentences and paragraphs are not so precisely chiseled as Tolstoy or Fowles or de Lillo would have carved them, and that is precisely why I love Dostoevsky. I get the feeling from his writing that he is rushing to capture Reality, as opposed to pausing and contemplating and shaping his sentences exquisitely. The latter approach shall always be outrun by Reality.

Dostoevsky reminds me most of Courbet, the French Realist painter. His works strike me as equally hurried: so many events and situations to capture, with so little time left.

Anthony Doerr has pretty much redefined our expectations of the short story form. OK, I'm making a judgement here, or at least stating a preference. Much as I admire Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro, I can't say that anything I've read by either has left me so shaken as the stories in Memory Wall. This book is going to live with me a long time.


Monday, 6 February 2012

Massive Surveillance Project in Canada

The current issue (Feb. 2012) of small magazine published in British Columbia, Focus, contains a disturbing article by Rob Wipond, entitled Hidden Surveillance.

“This will revolutionize the way we police,” proclaimed Vancouver police in The Province, a Vancouver newspaper.

The technology is called Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR). I'm quoting Wipond's article:

The RCMP and BC government piloted ALPR in 2006 and have expanded it rapidly. BC now has 42 police cruisers equipped with the technology, including one with the Victoria Police Department (VicPD), one in Saanich, and two in our regional Integrated Road Safety Unit.  

Normally, area police manually key in plate numbers to check suspicious cars in the databases of the Canadian Police Information Centre and ICBC. With ALPR, for $27,000, a police cruiser is mounted with two cameras and software that can read licence plates on both passing and stationary cars. According to the vendors, thousands of plates can be read hourly with 95-98 percent accuracy. These plate numbers are automatically compared for “hits” against ICBC and Canadian Police Information Centre “hot lists” of stolen vehicles; prohibited, unlicensed and uninsured drivers; and missing children. When such “hits” occur, plate photos are automatically stamped with time, date, and GPS coordinates, and stored. The officer will investigate details in the above-mentioned databases directly, and may pull over suspect vehicles.
At least, that’s how the popular story goes, and it sounds wonderful. However, some news stories have quoted academics or civil rights advocates worried about what else this plate recognition technology is, or could be, used for. ALPR was developed by the British government in the 1990s to track movements of the Irish Republican Army. By 2007, the International Association of Police Chiefs was issuing a resolution calling for “all countries” to begin using ALPR and sharing population surveillance data for fighting gangs and terrorism. Today in the UK, ALPR is used for charging tolls, “risk profiling” travellers, and tracking or intercepting people using cars photographed near protests.
Mr. Wipond used the Canadian Freedom of Information Act to request some documentation pertaining to ALPR. In August, 2011 he received a 77-page document titled "Final Revision", and dated October 17, 2009. Wipond summarizes the document:
According to this document, the categories of people that generate alerts or “hits” in the ALPR system, alongside car thieves and child kidnappers, are much broader than has ever been disclosed publicly. And information on these people’s movements is being retained in a database for two or more years. For example, though you may not be stopped, your car is a “hit” and its movements are tracked and recorded if you’re on parole or probation or, in some cases, you’ve simply been accused of breaking a criminal law, federal or provincial statute, or municipal bylaw. You’re also a hit if you ever attended court to establish legal custody of your child, if you’ve ever had an incident due to a mental health problem which police attended, or if you’ve been linked to someone under investigation. The list of hit categories continues through three more pages, and a fourth page that the RCMP completely redacted.
This goes far above and beyond our expectations of "normal" police behaviour. In my opinion, this is a flat-out admission that the citizen is guilty: we just have to figure out, Guilty of What?
The article can be viewed at If you wish, you can download the complete issue as a PDF file from the same page.