Friday, February 26, 2010

If You Think U.S. Politics Are Bad…


Coming off the rather lame healthcare summit that was done for political cover, most of the coverage has dealt with the testy exchange between President Obama and Senator McCain. That was nothing compared to what goes on in other countries.  Check out this withering verbal assault on the President of the European Union.


At first it seems like a Monty Python skit, but then the tempers really begin to flare. It makes our politicians look good by comparison doesn’t it?

Back to the summit – I think that was a clear win for the Republicans as the Democrats only had pity inducing stories for ammunition.  The GOP came ready and had their A gamers at the top of their form. Obama did not help things as he gave the Democrats twice as much time to speak than the Republicans.  Then he gave himself more time that either!  If they think this will swing the public over to supporting reconciliation they are sorely mistaken.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can’t Trust Machines Thanks to Humans


We live in uncertain and what is starting to be unstable times, which makes us look for stability and something to believe in.  High reliance on technology and gadgets to make our lives easier requires quite a bit of faith in machines.  We even trust them with our money – notice all the ATM’s out there.

Well that trust is starting to be broken.  One of the latest forms of theft is putting card “skimmers” over the ones on ATM’s.  Over at Krebs on Security, a couple of posts reveal the trickery involved in stealing debit card information.  The first shows one skimmer in detail that was found on a Citibank ATM in California. Hard to tell that it wasn’t supposed to be part of the machine.

The follow up post shows a variety of devices that have been found on ATM’s.  To successfully capture the data needed to commit debit card fraud, two things are needed: first, the data on the magnetic strip which contains the card numbers, user name, and bank info; the second is some way of recording the PIN number.  Tiny pinhole camera’s and fake button pads are the key to the latter and sometimes the info is passed on by a cell phone.

It is an impressive show of old school hardware hacking and with about a billion dollars of ATM fraud a year we’ll be seeing more of it.  Check out the professional quality of this gear and think if you would spot it.  Most of us are too much in a hurry and I know I haven’t been looking for this kind of thing.

It isn’t just ATM’s that are being rigged this way; gas pumps in Utah have been tampered with as well. Anything that takes a debit card or credit card will be suspect at this rate.

Maybe it is time to go back to carrying cash.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ceding Sovereignty

AKA Joining the EU or the Greek Regret

For some time I’ve been collecting links to articles for a large post on the American economy.  Sadly, there are simply too many pieces of bad news to write a reasonably sized post. Still don’t know what to do with all those links, but in the meantime a financial crisis in Europe may be an indicator of what will happen to the USA.

Greece’s deficit percentage of their GDP has ballooned to unmanageable proportions and it has caused the money markets to be shaky.  For awhile, it looked like Germany would bail them out since that is what people in Europe expect.  That is looking highly unlikely and the economically better off EU nations have little sympathy for the Greeks despite the threat insolvency would have on the Euro.

The Greek government shows no signs of taking any real measures to deal with their debt and the Greek people have threatened strikes and riots over austerity plans.  Total paralysis of the always unstable government is where they are at. With reform opposed by people on the dole, nothing can be done. This is the sad place turning a nation into a welfare state will take you.

Thing is, they joined the European Union. That means they ceded sovereignty under certain economic conditions according to the Lisbon Treaty. So now the Greeks have been informed that they have to take drastic measures or the EU will do it for them. While I have my doubts about the ability to force the Greeks to comply; it has to be noted that there has been talk of throwing them out of the EU.

I’ll be blunt.  I have no sympathy for the Greeks as they are a socialist state that can’t keep a coherent government in place for any extended amount of time. They also foolishly voted away their ability to be an independent nation out of greed, with visions of wealth rolling in from the union.

But this crisis bears watching for it may be a predictor of what will happen in the near future for the United States.  We are currently running an insane deficit in a moronic attempt to spend ourselves out of debt. While we aren’t part of an economic union that can step in to take over our finances, we have a problem in how much of our securities are held by China, our number one creditor.

Oh wait, they sold off a huge amount of our bonds in December and Japan is now #1.   China is showing signs of getting out of our bonds. But hey, we can find plenty of buyers because of how safe our bonds are, right? Ummmmm….

Yeah, we are in trouble.  Just three years out from when the Democrats took over Congress and we are considered riskier than Kazakhstan.  At some point the debts are going to be called due, especially if economic woes get worse in China and Asia. Our creditors will be in a place to dictate to us.

Our founding fathers looked to ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration in setting up our government.  I posted earlier about Victor Davis Hanson’s argument that we have made the same economic mistakes as the Romans.  Now I have to wonder if we are also following the path of the modern Greeks. 



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

There Is No “River Serial Killer” in La Crosse

One of the things that puzzles me about humanity is the tendency to believe in ridiculous conspiracies or imaginary things such as bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster, Oswald being a patsy, and that Lady Gaga has talent.  When I was a kid, they appealed to me.  But age teaches you many things and one  was that if it was too ridiculous to be true – it probably wasn’t.

So it is with the theories that a serial killer lurks at the riverside in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  For years, drunk kids have been falling in the Mississippi and drowning.  Pretty straight forward stuff, but an urban legend has been created that states somebody must be shoving these young, healthy men into the water. Even the FBI has become involved.

Perish the thought that drunks are stupid and do stupid things in their inebriation.  No, there has to be some malicious person out there murdering the young idiots. I feel sorry for their friends and family, but come on!

Denial is a part of the grieving process, but I suspect it has more to do with justification of the bar culture than grief in La Crosse. The predominant culture of the town is college age binge drinking that economically fuels the downtown area.  Once upon a time, you could find La Crosse in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most bars on one street.  While that dubious honor was lost to Eau Claire awhile back, the culture remains.

Partying college students (and others their age) aren’t going to look at the headline about another drowning  and suddenly become introspective about their own behaviors.  The immature always blame somebody else and so they have created a bogey man out there preying on helpless drunks.  Personal responsibility must be avoided at all costs, after all.

The simple and obvious truth is that when someone gets drunk they lose the ability to think clearly.  One of the hallmarks is an inability to make good judgments. Another is being unable to walk in a straight line.  Combine the two and you have idiots falling into the river. Guess what is also impaired by alcohol?  Reflexes and motor skills.  You need those two to swim. 

There you have the perfect cocktail to accidently end one’s life. All of it is avoidable and makes these deaths senseless tragedies.  I would love to say that we’ll never see another one of these drownings, but I don’t think the bar culture in La Crosse is going to change any time soon. Young people aren’t encouraged to grow up in our society, so increased responsibility is unlikely as well.

Instead we’ll be hearing about a serial killer stalking the riverside for years to come.  The only killer out there is stupidity.



Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Fall of Roman America

Is America repeating Western history? Victor Davis Hanson has an interesting piece up comparing the Roman Empire to the United States.

It isn’t uncommon to hear people talk about how America is going the same way Rome did.  I’ve muttered about ‘bread and circuses” and have heard others make similar statements. Obviously, it is easy to make comparisons based on military, economic, and political parallels with the phrase “pax Americana” having been bandied about in the past. Rome was a republic, had the best military of its time, and were an economic powerhouse; all things that the United States was in the 20th Century.

It is the latter comparison that is the crux of Hanson’s article.  After giving an overview of how Rome succeeded economically and then was emulated by conquered provinces and neighbors who eventually outstripped them, he points out how rising countries such as China and India are doing the same to us.  Romans became rich and sedate by farming out the work to the outer provinces; losing their innovation and fire in the process.

Quote of the piece:

But as in the case of Rome, there is a price for all these sudden riches. Just as the Iberians, and Libyans, and Thracians were hungrier and more enterprising than Italians back in the bay of Naples, so too we, the beneficiaries of this wealth, lost the values that were at its heart, in a way that the Indians, Chinese, and others have not — yet.

Of late, I’ve had that horrible feeling of living history from within a failing culture.  Always wondered what it would be like to witness such a thing firsthand and I’m not too pleased at realizing I’m living it now. Like VDH, I think it is caused by psychological decisions and was preventable – maybe even reversible if we just had the will to take action.  But he puts it better than I can:

We could do this all right — but too many feel such medicine is worse than the malady, and so we probably won’t and can’t. An enjoyable slow decline is apparently  preferable to a short, but painful rethinking and rebirth.

That stubborn refusal to bite the bullet and do what is uncomfortable is normal for humans.  In our spoiled and entitled culture there is no desire to make personal sacrifices. Oh, we are good at making other people make sacrifices; usually through expanding government. Alas, being unselfish is a lost virtue.

Read the whole thing.



Thursday, February 04, 2010

Manmade Global Warming Scandal Fallout

Over at Honolulu Magazine, A. Kim Napier faces the growing evidence of corruption and fraud involving AGW scientists and writes:

I feel I’ve been had.

Right now, I think a lot of supporters of Green policies are in denial or afraid to admit they were wrong.  It is nice to see somebody come forward who had been pushing AGW and admit there is a scandal. 

Sadly, science has lost its ethics in the pursuit of grant money, with the IPCC scandal being the most obvious example.  That will be damaging for those who have invested great faith in scientists and research.  Like Napier, I feel that disappointment – though I realized the problem a long time ago.  Too often studies get big attention then within a decade are completely rebutted well after most people have accepted theory as fact.

Just another sign of the times, I suppose.

Science needs to purify itself, go back to observation leading to theory, not theory leading to falsified observation. Tags: ,,,

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Is Iowa Trying to Take Over the World? Tags: ,,,


Iowa long has had a disproportionate influence on American politics from having early primaries to hosting a giant straw poll at Ames.  Being a Minnesotan, I’ve long held suspicions about the sinister nature of our neighbors to the south, compounded by my 1st and 2nd grade experiences when we briefly lived there.  It

simply isn’t right for school buses to move with synchronized precision right down to the second at the school I attended.  It was all vaguely Stepford Wives’ish.

So when Iowahawk started wondering what was going on with Korea and the University of Iowa football team it became pretty clear what is happening.  He’s possibly stumbled on to a vast conspiracy that has global ramifications.  There is too much going on to be just a coincidence and Iowa’s political ambitions of political dominance are on record.

It is obvious the shadowy powers running the state have taken the next step toward realizing a dream of global empire not seen since the British colonial era.  The use of a Korean all girl pop group is the most insidious of weapons that can be deployed and should be stopped by international treaties.  Korea is only the start and I wouldn’t be surprised it Iowa tries to undermine New Zealand next.

But I must issue a word of caution:  Iowahawk himself might be in on Iowa’s nefarious plans.  Look at his online alias containing the words ‘Iowa’ and ‘hawk’ together, implying that he is a fanatical patriot of the state.  This could be a disinformation ploy to hid Iowa’s true agenda…