Friday, July 30, 2010

On Journolism...

The Pink Rabbit has some contact with Kiwiland, has some mates here, and I must confess trots a worthwhile line of debate on occasions; well as far as everyone agrees with him that is. One of the latest asks the question whether NZ has a "Journolist". For those who have not yet come across the term, it relates to journalists with whom the uber-right-whingers "have issues". It is just another of those convenient buzz-words... I did try to paste the following as a comment but such is the Pink Rabbits obsession with free speech it has not shown on the page. Ahh well, I will fight for his free speech just as strenuously.

If the Edwards referred to in the comments is the same one as I am thinking of then I am hardly surprised at the lack of response. It seems that to "succeed" in the world of information distribution the first qualification is the ability to ignore any truth other than that of the "masters". That same truth can be applied to the many bloggers who hold themselves out as "disseminators of the truth".

The instant reaction to a truth which does not fit with the reporters line could best be simulated by taking a swig at the aftershave bottle. When a primary income source is dependent upon people making the news (see the associated Edwards web-page if it is the one I am thinking of) then the pursed lips get even tighter still.

News and reportage here in NZ is pretty homogenous and weak-kneed. The most independent used to be Scoop ( In recent times even they seem to have become less investigative and more "populist" (the news you want to hear rather than the news you should hear). The reputation they built with the exposure of the Diebold problem has gone somewhat mouldy. Otherwise, 99% of NZ news comes from NZAP, AP Reuters and the American sources.

True investigative reporting seems to have died (globally, not just NZ) with Watergate. There seems to have been little since that has not had political interest as a primary motive rather than the public's need to know. In other words, investigate to prove a particular point of view - usually political - rather than determining an objective truth. As a result the "investigations" are monocular and slanted, presenting only those facts that lead to the desired end. IMO there is little difference on that count - other than the colour of the politics - between Fox, NBC, and Pravda or Peoples Daily.

Hence you can take your list and apply to NZ with impunity.

Personally, I filter for my news; look for a story and then filter off all AP and Reuters links... Add a good dose of salt and cogitate. The sad fact is the most people tend to select one broadcaster as"the truth" and accept that truth without question. :cry: Even if it is Rush Limbaugh.

There is a larger question here; one I have touched upon in the past. It is the news media's (particularly television's) penchant for taking "press release" video and presenting it as news. Nothing wrong with that, provided that the viewer is aware of its provenance - for the thick that means who prepared it and why. In some years past (the last eight to be precise) probably 25% to 50% of the news on some very specific subjects came from such sources. Amongst the worst of the disseminators of this "hand-massaged news" in my exoerience were TVOne, Reuters and Fox. Understand, this was news reportage prepared not by the media but by those whom the "news" was about. Understand that it was presented without any disclosure that the "report" came from an interested source.

Here in NZ the progress toward "celebrity news" - the person presenting the news is more important than the news being presented - is very near complete. At least the likes of Paul Holmes, Paul Henry, and Michael Laws have been kept from the studios of the very little editorial and analytical commentary we get dished out.

So far.

Quick update as I strolled around my "news" sources -

The New Republic has a good little article of which I will quote just the last para -
It's fashionable to draw a parallel between MSNBC and Fox News. But MSNBC's liberal commentary occupies just a couple hours of its evening lineup. It is intended as a supplement to the news, not a substitute for it. The premise of Fox News, Limbaugh etc. is that the mainstream media is totally corrupt and should be completely ignored in favor of news sources controlled by the conservative movement. That premise has no parallel on the left.

(Emphasis is mine)

As I see the world, that makes Fox's marketing premise very clear.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What a boring place the world might be...

..if it were not for people like these.

I do not know what it is about human nature but there is obviously something in the human genome that gives rise to extremists; whether they be Muslim or Christian, be white or black, sane or not.

I came across the Pink Rabbit — oh, sorry Crusader Rabbit by chance — following other people’s links is always such good fun. So too is the practice of trolling — to which I will here confess being the occasional practitioner. It has the same kind of vicarious pleasure as stirring wasp nests, or teasing pitbull terriers. It can be “dangerous”, as I found out with the neocon outfit a few years back. It can also be good bloody fun.

The best of it is that it is interesting; from the aspect of how such people — the ones I have termed “right-whingers” at times in the past — react to disagreement. But I will leave that for the moment.

These people, and I used the word “extremists” earlier for that is what they are, have a number of easily identifiable characteristics.

The first, and one of the less obvious, is that they all profess to being Christian. Some write of events (those which might add to and satisfy their confirmation bias) at their Sunday church observances giving those speeches a satisfying political twist. I am not Christian, a fact I make no secret of at all. Regrettably, that also means that I do not have the knowledge to effectively debate the relationship between their beliefs and their actions. Pity, but there it is.

The second, and most apparent, is their unbending belief that the United States of America is God’s Kingdom on Earth. Well mebbe not in so many words as one of the endless complaints from this group centres on how one kind of politics is destroying “the country” (“the country” applies whether or not they actually live there) whereas the other kind (the right ones) are God’s Representatives to mankind. Of course, when the right ones are in power, they are not always right enough for the liking of those who follow this path.

Their third attribute follows quite logically from there. God’s greatest gift to mankind is the Second Amendment. Oh, come on! You should know that the whole “raison d’etre” for God, for the country, for the Constitution, is the right to keep and bear arms. I am not going to even try to debate all of the rationalities that surround this particular belief; they range from “defending myself from my own government” to “look what Hitler did after he disarmed the Jews”. This is all, quite obviously, a very rational argument. It is based on fact; the fact that “the government” irrespective of name or colour is socialist at best if not totally communist; the fact that Islam is on an openly professed mission to rule the world; the fact that Hitler tried to wipe out all Jews (though they ignore that he did away with a lot of other people as well)...

There are a number of identifiers which fight for the next place in this list. I think that I would have to make a “very short nose” judgement in favour of “politic”. It is already apparent that the very far end of the right wing is where this starts. The non sequitur of associated colour passes them by entirely. In the US the colour identifier seems to be red. Why this should be so is a complete mystery. In Britain, the right wing takes the colour blue, whether from or giving rise to the association with “blue-blood” I do not know. The non sequitur should be eye-smackingly obvious; it is also the colour of communism. But there y’go. Perhaps while I am thinking about colours, my attribution of “galah” as nom de pied for my favourite aussie right-whinger is getting more appropriate. Quite apart from the natural associations with the bird and its habits its faded pink colour would seem to fit as well.

The short nose lead given to politic fits with the next identifier as it is brother close. If you follow the politic then there are a range of interpreters - Priests, Rabbis, or Imams if you will - that are needed to ensure the continuing purity of the religion. Oh, did I just say that their politic was a religion? Oh, sorry! That was inadvertent, if appropriate. Leader of these Priests is a Pope-like person who inhabits the airways courtesy of Fox by name of Rush Limbaugh. My personal opinion of radio/tv political commentators is no secret whether they are named Limbaugh, Hannity, Malkin or Laws. The fact is that there are people who actually believe these commentators (“common-taters” anyone?). So when Limbaugh starts preaching the Second Amendment, all of the old tired and tread-less clichés start re-appearing through the blogiverse. You know the kind of thing; from doing away with the Second Amendment, to taking our arms off us... A picture springs to mind at this point which would have this page banned in an instant were I to describe it in detail. Male readers, use your imagination on what might come from being armless and full of testosterone... Suffice to say that if Dr Billy Graham had had the approach of the current proselytisers and acolytes the world would certainly be a different place today.

It is only another short nose from there to the next attribute. I had thought that this might rank a lot higher, but I decided after reflection that it is a consequential rather than leading trait. That previous sentence has two clues — “thought” and “reflection”. In the universe of the uber-right and the associated religions there are no such ideas. This follows very logically from the need for the Intermediary Class of religious officers. I think it was Limbaugh (or Hannity?) who coined the term “sheeple”; I have neither time nor inclination to find out. The devotees of this religion miss the point entirely. “Sheeple” are those who follow mindlessly, without thought, without critical examination. How right that is! (Pune intended!)

I made reference earlier to the fact that the Second Amendment being given by God. It has to be said in fairness that He also passed other Rights on to us poor undeserving souls. So it is that (unlike those who do not believe in the right-wingers God) we have such inalienable rights as Freedom of Speech, ownership of property, and the right to pursue a life of happiness. Well, Bhutan tried that last one and the country now is totally broke. Spain and Greece as well seem to be following the same path until recently. But levity aside, the right to freedom of speech is important. It ranks higher than gun ownership in my mind, but that is just the opinion of an aging ex-socialist. What is fascinating is the importance attributed to Freedom of Speech by the right-whinger. I can agree with that. I support all of their arguments in favour of it being so. The difference lies not so much in the freedom to agree, as it does in the freedom to DISagree; to disagree with the uber-right religion is treason most foul.

The same kind of debate arises over property rights. My first contact with this in the American sense came out of the arguments over “eminent domain” and the misuse and abuse of the power in America. Again, the detail does not need to be debated but I was left with the strong feeling that “property in my hands is ok, property in anyone else’s hands is not ok”. Perhaps there is a rider needed “unless he is a mate of mine”. Do not take me the wrong way. Some of the abuses of eminent domain in the US smacked of the worst kinds of nepotism and corruption you can imagine. Our over-regulated and granny-state of NZ has rules about things like that which in theory at least tend to counter the possibilities.

I must say that some of those “right-whingers” I have met through the ‘net have been good, forthright and honest sounding people. Like so many other things, there is a continuum rather than narrow groupings. So individuals might rank themselves as “unter”, “innerhalb” or “uber” as they desire. Up to you, just for so long as you think openly, objectively and honestly. (yes there is an alliteration there — the “h” is silent).

Monday, July 26, 2010

On the political commentary of amateurs...

Me old mate Fraser Stern is trying so hard, especially now that he has his syndication writing established.

This time around it is another of his formulaic pieces; take very small idea - generally from the alternative universe that Rush Limbaugh lives in, make a hash of it with another very small idea and then try to blame it all on Obama.

This time around it is the word “apparatchik” he (or rather Limbaugh) has picked up on. I could not resist (aren’t I a terrible person? :evil: ) and left the following very cryptic comment -
Apparatchik -

Rumsfeld, Cheyney, Gonzales, Chavez, ...

Not apparatchik -

Powell, Ridge

I doubt that Fraser will have the wit to work it out. Well at the very least he has not yet replied though that might just be his way of hoping that I go away again.

The point of my examples is their application – direct application – to the first of his dictionary definitions, to wit:
1. Unquestioningly loyal subordinate: a subordinate who is unquestioningly loyal to a powerful political leader or organization

Now I don’t think that there would be any difficulty sorting the differences between my selection of “apparatchik” and “not apparatchik”.

Oh, for Fraser in case he is in any doubt…

Both Powell and Ridge resigned their positions (Secretary of State and Attorney General respectively) because their personal ethos did not allow them to comply or agree with the overall intentions of the Administration of which they were part. Powell, because he did not believe the “justifications” for invading Iraq were supportable. Ridge because he could not sign the opinion the Administration required, justifying “legal” torture and indefinite detention without trial.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

On matters of "artificial intelligence"...

Al the Old Whig's latest post is little more than a link to a rah-rahview of one of the lesser movies out of the '70's, a sci-fi non-epic "The Collossus" which I think fortunately I have never heard of before let alone bothered about. The review that Al has linked to follows the plot-line of an "artificial intelligence" threat of world domination by a computer or computer systems.

There is a matter which I have been following with some interest over the past few months.

It started, as far as I can find, in The Register - out of UK -

It surfaced again in Granny Herald and many other major syndicated news broadcasters. It has simmered on since; NZ has the Police looking into it; Australia's Privacy Commissioner has said outright that it is an invasion of privacy and illegal; in the past few weeks there has been growing rumbles coming from the legal system in the US...

From The Register -
Google has said that its world-roving Street View cars have been collecting information sent over open Wi-Fi networks, contradicting previous assurances by the company.

This means that Google may have collected emails and other private information if they traveled over Wi-Fi networks while one of the cars was in range. Previously, the company said no payload data was ever intercepted.

In a blog post [1] published on Friday afternoon, the company said that it collected the data by "mistake" and that the data has not been used in any Google products. Street View cars have now been grounded, according to the post, and the company has promised to delete the data. But before doing so, it will be asking regulators in "the relevant countries" how this should be done.

Google declined to comment on the matter, instead pointing us back to its blog post. It arrives less than three weeks after the company said that such data was not being collected. But since then, Google conducted a review of the data being collected by its Street View cars after the data protection authority (DPA) in Hamburg, Germany requested such an audit.

Ginger McCall, a staff counsel with the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public watchdog, calls the data collection a "violation of customers' trust," and she questions Google's claim that it was collecting the data by mistake. "People need to ask why was Google was collecting this information," McCall told The Reg. "It's difficult to believe that this would be done accidentally.

"This really flies in the face of their assertion that customers should just trust them."

On April 27, in response to a complaint from the German DPA, a Google blog post [2] said that in scanning open Wi-Fi networks its Street View cars were collecting only the SSIDs that identify the networks and MAC addresses that identify particular network hardware, including routers. Google uses this data in products that rely on location data, such as Google Maps.

But the company now says that when Street View cars began collecting this data, it accidentally included some additional code with the cars' software. "So how did this happen? Quite simply, it was a mistake," today's blog post reads. "In 2006, an engineer working on an experimental Wi-Fi project wrote a piece of code that sampled all categories of publicly broadcast Wi-Fi data.

"A year later, when our mobile team started a project to collect basic Wi-Fi network data like SSID information and MAC addresses using Google’s Street View cars, they included that code in their software — although the project leaders did not want, and had no intention of using, payload data."

At this early point, there were two separate "causes". The first was the fact that Google was collecting SSID's from open Wifi's. On the face of it, that might seem to be relatively innocuous and innocent. The second cause was the accusation, and partial acknowledgement by Google that they had also "accidently" collected other data at the same time; things like stray emails and the like, or Dad's porno movie that the boys were watching in the back bedroom while "the game" was on tv. This is what has really caused the blow-out in the news.

Personally, I think that Google are very happy that their somewhat tentative acknowledgement is taking all of the heat. How so? Because it is not what they were really after. Think about it for a moment. Those "street cars" were not stationary. They drive past at about 40kph. That means they would have been outside my house for about a minute or so. The chances of extracting anything more than a fleeting glimpse of the traffic on one wifi network? Virtually nil.

The scary part of this news is the actual collection of SSID's, not the remote possibility of tapping traffic from a private network. This is the far more insidious data, when you consider that SSID's are tagged against every piece of data that goes out onto the web; and given the average level of system security much of what is not (intentionally) sent out into the wider world but gets there through the universal virus and trojan horse infections.

It goes further.

Off topic, or so it might seem, for a moment. Recall the news not six months back that Google (and others) were accedeing to the RPC Government's request to censor the global access from China. The usual example was Tianenmen Square did not exist; Wiki was not available; the list goes on...

Back to topic again.

The scariest thing - when you start talking about personal rights - is what you do not know. If you do not know that your government has an unhealthy almost prurient interest in your daily doings (because you are a terrorist, or associate with criminals, or belong to Falun Gung, or are an Elder in LDS, or whatever) then your image of personal freedom is going to get a sudden and very cold shock.

If the likes of Google can do a deal with the PRC Government in the interests of commercial growth and profit then who can be sure that similar agreements do not exist with other governments, even most particularly the US.

Think about it for another moment before you dismiss the idea out of hand, or blame it on just another Obama socialism plot (it dates from 2006 - the midst of the Bush second term).

How much traffic is monitored on behalf of the US government through sites such as Waihopai? Very little, they say. Only those parts that are "of interest".

Let's not worry too much at the moment what "of interest" might imply. It might be only terrorism threats, or the Cosa Nostra, or the Triads. That is not the point.

What is important is that that traffic, every little bit of it, is tagged with SSID's.

Now, through Google, those SSID's can be tracked to a very specific address.

So, be very afraid. The 1970's B-grade sci-fi flicks might well have gotten their definition of "artificial intelligence" wrong.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One last blast on the vuvuzela...

Watched the Football World Cup in the comfort of a well heated lounge in New Plymouth Monday morning accompanied by wife, daughter, s-i-l, grandson, and a very large German Shepherd named Druss.

Spain deserved to win; for two reasons.

First they were the better team, primarily because their level of ball control both in the semi-final and final was superior to the opponents.

Second, they were less prone to the more insidious tendencies in the game. Whether this was because of their skills or not is moot (but not here).

All Blacks beat the Springboks on Saturday night. Not only unexpected, but a hearty thumping to boot; 32-12. Ahhh, the deja vu of history. NZ will not win the Rugby World Cup next year.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On the use of on-linetranslators...

Those who bother to read the comments on my posts will have seen my attempts at translating to and from Chinese, and Eugene's very helpful comments to that end.

Today's news brings a charming little tale of the dangers of using another of Google's free facilities.

The lesson - don't use Googles voice-generated subtitles unless you have an American accent. It is obvious from the Jonkey's experience that it has as much difficulty translating the Kiwi intonation into sub-titles as Babelfish has translating from written English to Chinese.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

I am going to blow a vuvuzela...

...just very briefly now that the World Cup is close to reaching its very expensive conclusion.

First, New Zealand deserved to be there. Not because we drew 1-1 with Italy, or ended with three draws in the elimination series. NZ deserved to be there simply to show the true spirit of the game, and the dedication of (comparative) amateurism. Our top players earn less than 20% of most of the players in the last 16. Our coach earns about 1/3 of his potential worth as assistant coach to a top league club.

There was a notable - a "players representative" I think - interviewed on tv who opined that the All Whites showed most of the senior teams the level of dedication and purpose expected of teams that qualify for the World Cup. There were many - England, France and Italy come to mind - who looked as though they were following strategies of complacency and "God-given rights". There were "easy-beats" in each Group. NZ dealt to Italy in their Group and only a penalty given as an Oscar award saved Italy from an ignominious defeat which would have seen NZ through to the round of 16.

Second, the later rounds of 16 and 8 showed the true nature of the sportsmanship that goes hand in hand with a competition of this nature. Leading the scoreboard for blatant and outrageously cynical sportsmanship must be Uruguay. God now has a new name; it is no longer Maradona, it has changed to Suarez. I hope that Suarez meets an appropriate "justice" in the next life for taking that name in vanity.

Third, the champs this time will be Germany. They have to be. And I hope I have not dealt them the kiss of death by backing their chances.