Monday, December 23, 2013

NSA draws criticism for Christmas Gift Awards

The US National Security Agency ("NSA") Christmas Awards responded today to the critics of their Christmas Gift Award program, defending its objectives and choices.

The NSA award for 'Best surveillance toy' was given to 'Elf on the shelf'.

An anonymous NSA spokesman explained, "This toy is really cute. Parents can put it in a location that is out of reach of their youngsters, and add surveillance as a central feature of Santa story. The idea is that the Elf is watching the child to see if they are 'naughty or nice', and flies back to the North Pole every night to report to Santa. Parents can move the doll to new locations to confirm the illusion. This constant surveillance concept is a blessing for parents, whose children become more compliant with authoritarian suggestion."

But psychologists are becoming increasingly concerned at toys which promote paranoia about minimal or non-existent threats, purely in the interest of making life easier for authority figures. They claim the "surveillance society" that the NSA is promoting, where parents are encouraged to acclimatize their children at a very young age to disciplinary surveillance, is causing lasting psychological damage. They have even suggested that the NSA may have provided secret funding for the development of the toy, and its marketing message.

Today, defending the NSA position, an anonymous NSA spokesman said, "We must prepare future generations for a constant surveillance environment. The only way we can guarantee the freedoms we have enjoyed in the past from the encroachment of terrorists is to become more vigilant than ever in the future. Getting children accustomed to being watched in every private minute at a very young age means we will be able to give them the security of knowing that, when they get older, somebody will be listening to their phone conversations, and reading their email, and using video surveillance, so they can be protected from dangerous terrorist thoughts and antisocial activities, even in their own homes."

He continued, "We have thousands of psychologists on our staff, who are working on ways to make the future "Surveillance society" easier for people to accept. There will always be some people who want to create problems for these wonderful social programs we are engineering, but we are learning a lot from using artificial intelligence to scan the billions of emails, phone conversations, and video feeds that we are capturing every day. We fully expect to have a disciplinary environment that will weed out potential terrorists, that will also be acceptable to over 85% of the American people."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is responsible for the US Senate's oversight of NSA programs, strongly approves of the 'Elf on a Shelf' NSA award.

She said today, "The potential benefits for the rest of the world are enormous. Our national surveillance programs are developing technology that will provide a huge new global market for American companies. As well, our global surveillance program will also help us in spreading representative democratic concepts, so that Governments can weed out anti-social terrorists in their midst. We all understand that secret Government is essential to freedom from terrorism. Most people want to be able to vote on things that they see as important, and do not want to know about the thousands of terrorist threats we are resolving every day, because it would only upset them."

Senator Feinstein would not comment on Senatorial oversight programs. She said, "The actual oversight programs are top secret. We are satisfied that the NSA can run these programs on their own, and elected representatives are only involved on a need-to-know basis. I have complete faith that the NSA does not need interference from elected representatives to do their job."

When questioned about NSA chief James Clapper lying to Congress, Ms. Feinstein pointed out that only a few 'wingnuts' were concerned about this. "Those of us in charge are very aware of this, which we label as inadvertent statements, and we encourage Mr. Clapper to continue to inform Congress as he sees fit, in the interests of national security. Some mistaken exaggeration about the terrorist threat ensures the $300 billion of funding needed to continue our secret surveillance programs."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Brand Name Sell-off

August 21st, 2011

There is a trend of companies breaking themselves up into their logical business groupings.

It makes sense. These companies currently have generalists as boards of directors, who are trying to make decisions in very specialized, rapidly changing markets, where they have no hope of being real experts in every area the company has technology, or does business.

As the business environmet tightens up, and demands more attention to detail in te efort to improve profitability (survivability), companies are breaking their divisions up before they are forced to by business reversals that result from their ignorance of the business they are in.

But what's the betting this is driven by the merchant bankers who organize this kind of activity, and suck their huge fees out of such activities? The bankers perception of value is based on "the best economic use of the corporations assets", and in many cases, this runs contrary to the US Government's plans.

So, if the corporate model says divest a business which is going to have to make unpopular moves to survive, so be it. For example, the companies that are going robotic, and firing a large number of workers. Or loibbying for the right to pollute.

Tyhe world revolves. In the 1960's conglomerates (businesses in many different business areas, with no common base) became popular, with generalists on their boards of directors. Recessionary pressure forced these companies to get back to their core businesses, and to fire the generalists.

Now, we have been through the same kind of loop again, except it wasn't polies on swags of brand names. diversification that encouraged the aggregation, but the desire to grab monopolies on swags of brand names.

Now the "brand name" bus is running off the road, and these companies are selling off these brand name companis in a falling market.

So who will buy them?

Seems to me the answer is the Chinese and the oil-rich countries. Sell their US Treasuries at the top of the market, and get into brands.

The difference between the two investoment groups is, the Oil Rich are looking for a safe haven for their money. The Chinese will be looking for brand names to label their exports to the US.

This is the nature of that willful child, Capitalism. Industry will go in the direction their shareholders dictate. The responsibility of corporate management is to operate within the law to enrich the shareholders, not meet Government objectives by reaching into shareholder's pockets.

As an alternative to human labor, robotics are becoming much more attractive. Moore's law seems to apply. That is, robots are doubling their capability every 18 months, and the costs are falling at the same speed for existing products.

Foxconn, the Chinese manufacturer that puts together all of Apple's products (iPhone, iPod, iPad, iMac) currently employs 1,200,000 people. To give you some idea of the scale of this company, there are fewer people in all the the US armed forces!

Foxconn has announced that it will be employing 1,000,000 robots by 2013.

With all those name brands on the auction block, and China ascendant in the manufacturing sector, and US Treasuries selling at a high price right now, this could be a very good time for the Chinese Government to start dumping their trillions of dollars worth of Treasuries, and make investments in companies that can give a direct foothold in the US marketplace to Chinese companies.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

At last! Sanity in start-up investment regulation?

The SEC is looking at fixing their past mistakes that have stifled start-up investment.

Boy, are changes ever needed! The SEC has implemented increasingly burdensome rules to try to prevent fraudsters taking advantage of the gullible over the past 15 years. The real result has been a stifling of start-up investment. Their philosophy has been that, for a start-up, the innovators should hit up family or friends, or pitch an angel venture capitalist firm. Problem is, only 1 in 500 new ideas get funded by angels, and for anybody who doesn't have wealthy family or friends, the problems are almost insurmountable.

This has stifled innovation. The backbone of the US is small business, and this is also the breeding ground for what will become big business in the future. Great ideas with huge market potential (Google, Facebook, etc) come from these small, innovative bases.

When we look at the widening US income inequality, it is driven by this inability for the little guy to contribute to the innovative infrastructure that used to exist before all these crazy new rules. The big investors in the US can pick and choose from the wealth of new inventions, but the small investor can't even get a look-in. Further, it prevents the average Joe or Joan from tossing $100 at some new idea that they think has great merit, unless they simply want to make it a gift.

The obvious problem is that innovators have to seek investment elsewhere in the world. New, creative product ideas depart US shores, and if they are successful in the world, they come back to the US as imports, a further cash drain to overseas companies. The idea of starting a new business in the US is currently a ridiculous scenario. Not only do current SEC regulations create huge barriers, but further bureaucracy at State, County, and City levels, with their attendant registration costs and micro-sales-tax approaches create bewildering administrative complexity. The State of California passes some 1,200 new laws a year, and many of them are poorly conceived, the bad ones never being repealed.

It is only a matter of time before a foreign Facebook-type success is the direct result of the current rules.

For the SEC, I applaud the change. But I would severely kick them for being 15 years late in recognizing the incredible damage their bureaucracy has done to the entire fabric of the American start-up environment.

Now, if we can get the rest of the Government bureaucracies to wake up: the State Franchise Tax Boards, the IRS, the business climate in cities and counties, maybe we can re-create the free space for new, small companies to join the Darwinian struggle for survival.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The trouble with Vegans

The issues are Belief and diet.

We are surrounded by people who are, on average, getting fatter by the day. There is a small minority who are actively concerned about their health, and work at their diet and exercise regimen to maintain or even improve their physical and mental capabilities.

Tasha was a committed Vegan. Despite insurmountable health problems caused by her diet, she persevered to the point of agony, driven by her Beliefs and the resulting disgust she had for the concept of consuming any animal products.

I am not preaching about diet here. I eat what I eat, and you are free to eat what you eat. I will discuss diet and exercise, but it not an evangelical trip. I do what works for me.

For me, Tasha's story is not about diet. It is the rocky journey that people take when changing their Beliefs, even when these Beliefs threaten their well-being, and even their life!

I have said in the past that the logic that people use to solve one problem, they apply the same "logic loops" to the way they solve other problems. Step-and-repeat.

A "coming to God" of Tasha's magnitude causes a huge dissonance. When people have a failure of a foundational, fundamental Belief, it fractures every other tower of logic and belief they have created in every other part of their life. A questioning of this scale washes through the entire rest of their Belief Systems, because their change in their thinking methodology in this has them looking at everything else where they hold strong convictions, and wondering if that thinking is wrong too.

And since their thinking methodology has been based on Belief, it is highly likely there is much wrong with the rest of their thinking.

This is a cautionary tale. At the end of the day, Tasha has traded one set of Beliefs for another. They may be radically different, but this nagging thought occurs to me.

Will she be as committed to her new Beliefs, and have as much problem with change in the future, or has she really changed the paradigm, the manner in which she solves the questions that will continue to arise in her life?

We are living in interesting times. Huge change is upon us. Can we accept the changes and adjustments we will all have to make, or will we have to go through the agony Tasha describes as we adjust?

Worth thinking about. How flexible are we, really?

Monday, September 13, 2010

The trouble with elections

Oh! Oh! Alarm bells!

It seems that American elections are upon us again, and we may even get back the Republican ship of fools that sailed us to the economic standstill in which we are apparently becalmed, despite the shouts of "Land, Ahoy!" from the White House rigging, and the certitude of the Tea Party in their refudiation of the Democrats' best efforts.

Now maybe it is time to take a leaf from the Australian political playbook.

Some background. Australia has two political parties, the Liberals (very conservative and rather gullible) and the Labour Party (rather left-leaning and naive).

The Liberals got tossed out a few years back, after their fearless leader, Little Ronnie Howard (no relation to the talented American actor/director) just pissed everybody off so much (dancing into Iraq with GWB, mission accomplished) that Labour took over. Meanwhile, management changes have taken place in the Liberal Party, and their new leader, Tony Abbott, calls climate science "crap", is very opposed to gay marriage, and has his knickers in a twist about illegal immigration by boat people. Yes, a true Republican in everything but name!

Well, if you have been following Australian politics, you would know that the elections in August 2010 resulted in a draw, so Australia doesn't have a Government. Yes, this could be a solution to the problems we have in the US, but that is not the reason I am writing this piece.

See, I am tired of elections being so incredibly boring. Yes, we all know that politicians promise the earth, and then don't do what they promise. Same story, different day, and voting only encourages them.

So why not have some fun along the way, Australian-style?

In these recent elections, the Labour Party ran a web site featuring the current leader of the Liberal party, Tony Abbott. The poster at the top of this page is one of the hundreds on the web site, and was designed by a visitor!

I am totally impressed with the idea of political web sites that encourage the electorate to use their skills to interactively design election material. And then include it in a blog!

I can't wait for the Sarah Palin web site. I am working on slogans already.

Hey, you know we won't get better politicians, but at least we can have some fun dancing on the deck. Who knew the ship of fools was called the Titanic?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Go to DVD? How about back to the theater?

There was a time when movies made it to the Big Screen, had their run, then went into the archives. If they had a big enough following, they would be resuscitated occasionally at seedy second-run movies houses that specialized in old movies.

The exception to this was Disney cartoon movies, like 'Cinderella' and 'Snow White'. They get re-released every seven years, which the smart Disney marketing people found to be a generational turnover rate. And the great thing about Disney movies in theaters has always been that the parents have to pay to get in as well!

Then, home entertainment play-back systems arrived. First videotapes, then DVD's. Movies never came back for a second run. They just went to a DVD graveyard.

But this weekend, the game changes. James Cameron is making history. His block-buster, 'Avatar', is hitting the Big Screen again, being released at over 750 3D theaters. Renamed 'Avatar: Special Edition', it has some added extra footage, and some more romance.

So why is it being re-released so soon?

When 'Avatar' was first released, there were around 3,000 3D screens, and around 40,000 2D movie theaters in the US. So most of the people who saw Avatar first time around saw it in 2D. Even in cities that had 3D theaters, the number of people who saw the movie in 2D vastly outnumbered the 3D viewers, because the 3D theaters were few, and always full.

From the date of Avatar's first release, the number of 3D movie screens has almost doubled, to around 6,000 theaters, and a lot of these installations have gone into towns which didn't have 3D theaters back then. This will give a huge new audience the opportunity to go and see the movie the way Cameron intended it to be seen, in 3D.

But the important determinant of the re-release date was the availability of the Imax 3D theaters. This schedule was decided back in March, when Imax committed their theaters for this project.

So August 27th marks the date for 3D release in both Imax 3D and regular 3D theaters.

What's the betting it finishes in the top 3 for the week end?

And, by the way, watch for the re-release of James Cameron's 'Titanic', in 2012. Yes folks. It is being refloated, but this time in 3D!

If you want a really entertaining read, here is an interview with James Cameron discussing the release, and much more besides.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Trouble with Chickens

There was a time when America had a sense of humor.

I wrote a comment on a New York Times opinion piece this morning, that they simply will not publish. Maybe it was because I expressed my self in a manner that could be taken seriously, or that hit a nerve with the 'editors' (those people at the NYTimes that sanitize everything).

So here's the goods.

Over the past few days, there has been a bit of a kerfuffle about a few eggs. Five hundred and fifty million eggs to be precise. And along with the reporting, there are comments about how the Brits have been vaccinating their chickens to fix their salmonella problems, and how well that has worked.

The fact that the FDA has not been able to be effective at implementing healthy change in the food industry (leafy vegetables, beef, eggs, etc) is leading to some comparisons with other countries that have effective solutions in place, and asking why they haven't been implemented in the US. Like this Brit chicken vaccination program.

Well, it would take me too long to list all the reasons it doesn't happen in the US. I have many suspicions. Lobbyists for the food industry? The vast criminal enterprise that is the American political system today, corrupted at every level from small town through to federal levels, unmonitored, without oversight of any kind, and no legal consequences even when misconduct is discovered?

This is not a new tale. It has been going on for years. A President can sell weapons to terrorists in Iran, and use the profits to buy weapons for other terrorists in South America, but he will not be impeached for it. But God forbid he protects an infatuated girl's honor, and his own incredibly bad taste in women, by hand-waving on whether or not he had sex with her, and he will be full-on impeached!

Now that we know where American priorities rest, and that they have nothing to do with the welfare of Americans or the law of the land, may I draw your attention to this craven lack of courage on the part of the New York Times.

You can find the New York Times article here. "Why Eggs Became a Hazard"

The author suggests that "probably" thousands of people have been sickened. Oh, now wild conjecture replaces reporting and statistics. OK, this is par for the course, particularly on Faux News. Seems to be catching on at the NYTimes as well.

OK, the article continues, pretty much as expected, a dreary history of neglect and foot-dragging that has become an American hallmark.

I like the comments. They are usually entertaining.

The very first comment caught my eye. Apologists for George W. Bush are absolutely everywhere, lying in wait for every issue that is raised, immediately jumping into a denialist position whether it makes sense or not. (This has something to do with being a Believer, and not allowing yourself to be confused by the facts.)

So the first comment, from a Mr. Gleason, said "Once again, George W. Bush is glad he is no longer President. He surely would be blamed for the salmonella outbreak."

To which I fell on the floor laughing, and wrote the response below. When I sent it to the New York Times, they wouldn't publish it. So here it is, for you to read.


"Now I saw John Gleason's comments about how George W. would be blamed for this whole fiasco, but there is no way! George W. never did anything! That's how we know he can't be blamed!

All of us Republicans are profoundly against regulations, because they push up the price of everything. We are also profoundly against the whole concept of Government health care, and that includes health care for chickens!

What we all know is, if you give chickens guns, they can regulate themselves! If they suspect something going wrong, or an unhealthy looking neighbor, they can shoot first, and ask questions later. Kinda like a Sarah-Palin-style neighborhood watch.

I am in television, and all this publicity for chickens has been setting us to thinking there is a whole new revenue angle to this chicken thing. My company is looking into several new chicken franchises, such as "Chicken Smackdown" (a wrestling show), "Who You Callin' Chicken?" (a combination quiz/reality show where the chickens get to answer questions, and the dumb ones get to beat up the winners), and several other winning ideas that I can't talk about here.

Now this is the beauty of the free-enterprise system. If we can keep the Government regulations off the chicken and egg market (what came first? LOL), then the extra money the chicken farmers make off these television shows will bring the cost of chickens and eggs down to the point where they are almost free! (And one of these shows is likely to be a chicken humor show, because everybody knows us Republicans have a great sense of humor. LOL)

Now isn't that better than pesky regulations? "


OK, now this is just me, but I thought this needs a little bit of humor and a little less frothing at the mouth.

I look forward to your comments. Tell me if you like or dislike, and if you dislike this, I really need to hear from you so I can understand why anybody would be upset by this response.