Exploding clothes and, like … Yemen!

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, War On Terror at 3:47 pm by George Smith

And what have we been going on about here for the last decade?

I demand a prize.



The purpose-driven life

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 3:26 pm by George Smith

Tech writers continue the daily charade that young vatos who discover security holes — using whatever they could buy for a few hundred dollars in town — matters. It doesn’t. It may be interesting but it’s irrelevant that guys like Brendan O’Connor, security researchers, put together a bunch of black-boxed public WiFi vacuums.

Forty eight million people on food stamps is a problem. An effective unemployment/underployment rate of 14 percent is a major national problem. The fact that the country with biggest military in world history is ungovernable is a problem.

The private information leaking out of the smartphones and Internet connections of people everywhere, the stuggling class shoppers at the Baja Ranch market, is annoying.

But, as something within the national framework, it’s trivial. Maybe you can earn a lot of money with it, but fix stuff, teach important lessons?

You gotta be kidding.

So why the Hell is it important that the security company business card, Malice Afterthought, is in a picture of a ring of electronic spying gadgets made for 600 bucks.

Six hundred bucks isn’t much to the New York Times reporter. It isn’t much to the security researcher.

“Brendan O’Connor is a security researcher … How easy would it be, he recently wondered, to monitor the movement of everyone on the street – not by a government intelligence agency, but by a private citizen with a few hundred dollars to spare?” reads the NYT.

Six hundred bucks is a lot in my neighborhood. And the difference in regard for it is just another example of the immense divide present in America.

The professional class that’s still doing well tries to keep peddling stories that have no relevance in solving what has destroyed the economy for millions in this country.

“You could keep tabs on people who gather at a certain house of worship or take part in a protest demonstration in a town square [with Malice Afterthought’s gadgets]”, writes the newspaper.

News flash! They’ve been keeping tabs on people in protest demonstrations for years. There’s a multi-billion dollar national security industry devoted to it.

So, we’ve added another few grains of irritating sand to the national matrix.

Wow, more vaguely menacing-looking spying gadgets for security tech nerds. Your data leaks everywhere! Astonishing!

Officially recognized

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Cyberterrorism at 3:00 pm by George Smith

NSA director Keith Alexander has made the big time, caricatured in the latest Tom Tomorrow comic.

The paradox is that he’s unnamed. Even though many Americans may now be aware of the Snowden affair and NSA spying on everything, everywhere, they still largely have no idea who Alexander is.

And that’s slightly amusing but not in any really good way.

A bomb made out of clothes — yeah, right

Posted in War On Terror at 12:32 am by George Smith

The same anonymous perps in the national security megaplex keep trying to convince everyone al Qaeda withstood the hiding it took from the US over the last decade. No one gets a second chance in the history of major conflict. But this weekend we got the old buzzword “chatter” again. Now it’s the revival of al Qaeda’s alleged ability to make bombs of anything — in this case, clothes.

Be skeptical. The US has much bigger problems than terrorism.

This is just shameful:

There are growing concerns that an al Qaeda affiliate could use a new generation of liquid explosive, currently undetectable, in a potential attack, according to two senior U.S. government officials briefed on the terror threat that has prompted the closing of nearly two dozen U.S. embassies.

Though the Transportation Security Administration has long been concerned about liquid explosives being used in potential devices — as it was during the failed Christmas Day bombing in 2009 — the new tactic allows terrorists to dip ordinary clothing into the liquid to make the clothes themselves into explosives once dry.

“It’s ingenious,” one of the officials said.

What’s ingenious is how easy it is for anonymous sources to plant the most ridiculous claims without any substantial explanation except their say-so.

Yes, now they’re going to make bombs out of shirts and trousers by dipping them in a magical cocktail of chemicals. The reason for this kind of horseshit passed off as intelligence is that people will say anything for job security.

File this as even worse than the underwear bomb, which only burned its wearer. And the mythology of the bombs sewn into body cavities, aka “the Joker bomb,” which somehow doesn’t painfully and totally debilitate or immediately poison the carrier.

If you read the article, al Qaeda seems to have been hurt not at all. Pushing the boundaries of nature and science from the sandy wastes of Yemen, we’re surprised they haven’t yet managed to build a stealthy nuclear-tipped ballistic missile program.


The six figure explainer

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Decline and Fall at 8:05 pm by George Smith

One of the necessary jobs in the Culture of Lickspittle is the swank public explainer. Sometimes they have interesting things to say. And often they just have position in which to write things everyone else has already lived through or now knows implicitly.

Today, the New York Times posted a bit in its blog on inequality in the US by Robert D. Putnam of Harvard. Putnam went back to his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio, using it as a personalized framing example for the destruction of the blue collar working class and disappearance of American industry in the last forty years.

What he describes in Port Clinton happened everywhere, nowhere more noticeably than in Bethlehem and Allentown in the Lehigh Valley. The destruction of the steel industry slowly wiped out the vitality of the area. Nothing could replace the middle class jobs that allowed people without college degrees to earn a good living, enough to send their kids on to school, to become home-owners and to, generally, make the place a nice one in which to live.

The disastrous American system wrecked all of it.

During the mid-Eighties the south side of Bethlehem slowly turned into a slum as did the center of Allentown.

Bethlehem recovered slightly by becoming a bedroom community for people commuting into the New Jersey/NYC metroplex.

Allentown never made it back. The good jobs were never replaced. About a decade ago an attempt was made to bring casinos to the site of the old Bethlehem Steel. I wrote about it on the old blog here.

Bethlehem was able to get Sands to open an operation there and then development foundered on the rocks of the Great Recession.

What jobs were created were no good:

Jobs in heavy manufacturing in the US used to pay $20/hour. And in Bethlehem, generations of workers could buy a house and send their kids to college, just by working at the steel mill straight from high school.

Jobs working at a casino pay much less in 2009. In the US, this is expected. It is important that you be screwed.

[A friend] informs a cage cashier’s slot at the Sands casino in Bethlehem pays 9-10 dollars/hour for work at night and on weekend. It’s a good rate if you’re enthusiastic about the economic benefits of 24/7 work in a banana republic.

As it turned out, there’s not really enough cash on hand in the middle class anymore to make a casino in Bethlehem particularly profitable. Bethlehem, obviously, is not Las Vegas. It’s not even Atlantic City.

In reading Putnam’s piece for the Times, just as in the Lehigh Valley, so it was in Port Clinton.


My hometown — Port Clinton, Ohio, population 6,050 — was in the 1950s a passable embodiment of the American dream, a place that offered decent opportunity for the children of bankers and factory workers alike.

But a half-century later, wealthy kids park BMW convertibles in the Port Clinton High School lot next to decrepit “junkers??? in which homeless classmates live. The American dream has morphed into a split-screen American nightmare. And the story of this small town, and the divergent destinies of its children, turns out to be sadly representative of America …

But the story of Port Clinton over the last half-century — like the history of America over these decades — is not simply about the collapse of the working class but also about the birth of a new upper class. In the last two decades, just as the traditional economy of Port Clinton was collapsing, wealthy professionals from major cities in the Midwest have flocked to Port Clinton, building elaborate mansions in gated communities along Lake Erie and filling lagoons with their yachts. By 2011, the child poverty rate along the shore in upscale Catawba was only 1 percent, a fraction of the 51 percent rate only a few hundred yards inland.

It’s not a bad piece. However, Putnam brings the story as a member of the privileged class of “wealthy professionals.” He knows as well as anyone else that the success some of his generation now enjoy came from the very process of enabling the cannibalization of everyone else. Some are not going to get above it, either. The national cauldron of all against all will assuredly take a number.

Maybe Robert Putnam never personally had any hand in where we are today. But he was part of the generation and middle class that put in place the system which has dismantled so many.

“Half a century later, my classmates, now mostly retired, have experienced astonishing upward mobility,” Putnam writes.

Do we need someone, the kindly scholar from Harvard to be the official explainer? You’ve experienced it, you can’t escape it.

One no longer lives in the United States, one survives the United States, and the highest inequality in the advanced nations.

I wrote a song back in ’86 that described it, “Ironwork Blues,” from my second album. There was no Internet, no sharing economy, and you could charge a small amount for it. And you could see the calamity unfolding.

So sing happy songs on the radio and watch as the world crumbles down … And it’s hard for me to stifle a yawn as the American dream hits the ground.


Share the sweat labor

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 3:23 pm by George Smith

From the Guardian, the aroma of digital sweatshop labor, the oxygen of the sharing economy, global crowd-sourcing software for grifting:

Dhaka-registered Shareyt.com, meanwhile, claims to act as a middleman to connect companies seeking to boost their profile on Facebook, Twitter, Google +1, LinkedIn and YouTube.

“We made it as simple as mouse-clicking,” the front page of the site says, claiming that it is “a crowd-sourcing platform to help you improve social media presence and search engine ranking FREE”.

It adds: “Whenever and wherever you need massive workforce to complete petty tasks, call for Shareyt and get it done like magic! You can’t imagine the potentials [sic] until you explore!” It claims to have generated 1.4m Facebook likes and to have 83,000 registered users.

The implication is that the site “crowdsources” clicks – that lots of people around the world mutually help each other to promote each others’ work.

But Sharaf al-Nomani, Shareyt’s owner, told Dispatches in an undercover meeting that “around 30% or 40% of the clicks will come from Bangladesh” – which implies about 25,000 people in Dhaka using computers laboriously and repetitively for hours on end to boost the visibility of specific products to order.

The article goes on to say it costs anywhere from fifteen to one US dollars for one thousand “likes.” Various large firms, US and British, are documented as using it to promote various things on the “social network.”

“Workers punching the keys might be on a three-shift system, and be paid as little as $120 a year,” it reads.

The Silicon Valley is deeply invested in a winner-take-all economy and the software it develops is sometimes solely generated for corporate business and expressly aimed at harnessing the cheapest global labor for purposes of outright fraud or of no actual value to society.

The winner-take-all Internet ecology absolutely guarantees relentless gaming and rigging because you only exist if you are in the top rank of results, whether it’s search, recommendations returned by algorithm, or any metrics involving counts.

Now recognized as fact: Perception of popularity generates popularity.

There’s a penalty for being total rigged crap but it’s not severe. People do not respond as enthusiastically if something with big pooched numbers is innately horrible, but many still respond in some way, anyway.

It wasn’t always like this. Internet search and rating didn’t just all boil down to who were biggest players with the most capital and whoever else could rig the game most efficiently.

“I suspect that a lot of the behavior we see in Silicon Valley is reminiscent of the behavior of the robber barons in the Gilded Age,” Frank of Pine View Farm told me and I certainly agree. “They also believed that their good fortune was the mark of destiny, rather than the mark of a few brains and a lot of luck and timing.”

You really wanna choke down a megaton of sharing economy fun?

Get a load of Sean Parker’s Big Sur wedding photos at Vanity Fair.

Parker, he of Napster, and Facebook, a fortune resting first on the optimization of the stealing of digital music, being paid ransom to acquire said technology, and continuing the spree with ownership of services like Spotify, which pay artists half a penny to for sharing a tune on the digital streaming service.

Vanity Fair blurb:

In a V.F. exclusive, social-media baron Sean Parker and singer-songwriter Alexandra Lenas traded vows amid towering redwoods. Photographed by Christian Oth and Mark Seliger, the must-be-seen-to-be-believed lush images—appearing here for the first time—show nuptials guests like Olivia Munn (holding a bunny!), Sean Lennon, Allison Williams, and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. You can see the couple’s “performance-art??? vision for their wedding come to life—Parker, 33, oversaw all details, from the leather-bound keepsake volume for guests, to the nine-foot-tall wedding cake, to the fur-pelt-strewn beds in the lounge area. Dedicated to their love of old-growth forests, the celebration—which included Tolkien-ized costumes for all 364 guests by Lord of the Rings costume designer Ngila Dickson—cost Parker $4.5 million for the wooded site alone.

Beware, a website of the infinite download.

The sharing economy — from the archives.

Rigging YouTube and Facebook.


The chiseling economy: Some “worker” statistics

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 11:59 am by George Smith

Returning to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk global “human intelligence task” job market, I point to a company blog entry here, one in which a “master worker” claims 180,000 completed jobs in a period approximating three years. That’s some statistic. Why would you believe it?

So let’s do some math.

180,000 / 1095 days in three years = 164.4 “human intelligence tasks”/per day with no holidays.

Let’s assume an eight hour day with no breaks. You can eat at your Internet connection and hold it until you break off.

164.4 / 8 = 20.5 “human intelligence tasks” per hour, every day of the year, for three years.

Or about one every three minutes.

The “master worker” talks about work from “top academic institutions.”

This would be behavioral, psychology and social science studies and questionnaires. Most of them take well over five minutes. On average, my experience has been fifteen to half an hour, not counting the time spent parsing the listings for them.

“I enjoy [the] research surveys … which are often amongst the highest paying HITs in the marketplace,” the worker writes for Amazon’s blog.

Many Mechanical Turk jobs are audio transcriptions of corporate meetings crowd-sourced through another business that uses Mechanical Turk as a front-end. None of these transcriptions are under three minutes in length.

It is not humanly possible to transcribe an audio presentation, by hand, that’s more than three minutes in less than three minutes.

Many Mechanical Turk tasks ask for workers to provide original written articles, free of mistakes, anywhere in length from 150 to 700 words at an average compensation of a tenth of a penny a work, or less.

It is not humanly possible for even the best writers in the world to work at a pace that would produce such pieces tens of thousands of time in just over three minutes/copy. Not possible, without resorting to repetition and automation used by spammers.

You can, of course, read the Amazon blog post for yourself to get a feeling for the “truthiness” of it. The blog does not update frequently, perhaps an indication that even its masters don’t have particularly high regard for anything in it.

The concept of cooked statistics comes to mind.

A recent article on Amazon hiring more warehouse workers, stimulated by the President’s speech — this week — at one of it’s sweatshop order fulfillment centers in Chatanooga:

On Tuesday, President Obama gave a great speech on why good jobs are the foundation for his middle-out economic strategy… from a huge Amazon warehouse where the workers do not have good jobs …

But as The New York Times reported, “the White House came under fire because many Amazon jobs pay only $11 an hour, and the pace of the work in these warehouses has been described as exhausting.”

Amazon is a great example of how the new economy has created a crisis in good jobs, in which most of the jobs being created are low-wage: a highly profitable information technology firm that drives local stores out of business while paying low wages to its non-union workers.

Nothing new here. Jeff Bezos’ vision is straight from beggar thy neighbor, to out Wal-Mart Wal-Mart, in everything from making work not pay to laundering profits overseas to avoid paying taxes.

(At Huffington Post. No link, malicious web design tricks including the infinite download.)

Infamous Jeff Bezos quote, via sharing economy guru Tom Friedman:

I’VE spent the last week traveling to two of America’s greatest innovation hubs — Silicon Valley and Seattle — and the trip left me feeling a combination of exhilaration and dread. The excitement comes from not only seeing the stunning amount of innovation emerging from the ground up, but from seeing the new tools coming on stream that are, as Amazon.com’s founder, Jeff Bezos, put it to me, “eliminating all the gatekeepers??? — making it easier and cheaper than ever to publish your own book, start your own company and chase your own dream. Never have individuals been more empowered, and we’re still just at the start of this trend.

“I see the elimination of gatekeepers everywhere,??? said Bezos …

Amount of money Amazon holds offshore to avoid taxation: $1500 million.

Number of Amazon tax haven subsidiaries: 2

Location of shell company/subsidiaries: Luxembourg

Source, Offshore Shell Games, PIRG

Jeff Bezos, Amazon and the chiseling economy — from the archives.

Blew the top off the outrage guage awhile back

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle, Decline and Fall at 8:37 am by George Smith

Another end of the week, another report on corporate American offshore tax evasion/money laundering. $1.2 trillion hidden, 80-90 percent of the 100 largest firms doing it — Apple, Google, Band of America, GE — only a few days after the President offers them a “bargain” reduction of the corporate tax rate in return for something called “middle class jobs.”

Don’t people know that investigative reports about US corporate tax evasion over and over with the same result every time are the definition of insanity?

No links. Why? The Congressional Research Service published a report a year ago on US corporate “profit-shifting” through shell companies in small countries which have set up their economies exclusively for money-laundering.

And this song is now two years old.

And, from across the pond in the Daily Telegraph:

In the wake of the outcry over the tax-dodging schemes of Starbucks, Google and Amazon, the House of Lords Committee on Economic Affairs will today call for penalties for aggressive tax avoiders and more expertise at HM Revenue & Customs, so that it can stand up to powerful multinationals.

The committee, which is chaired by former education secretary Lord MacGregor and includes ex-Chancellor Lord Lawson, highlights how big international companies can “manipulate the system… to reduce or avoid corporation tax by shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions???.

The upshot is that UK corporation tax has become “largely voluntary??? for multinationals …

Bomb Ireland, then.


The chiseling and thefting economy

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 1:23 pm by George Smith

In addition to running sweatshop fulfillment warehouses in the United States in a drive to out Wal-Mart Wal-Mart, Jeff Bezos — global thinker, also has the virtual sweatshop franchise perfected in Mechanical Turk.

I’ve discussed Mechanical Turk before but have looked in again to view its progress.

Mechanical Turk also acts as the front-end for other crowd-sourced chiseling services based in the US. They tend to have names with the word “Crowd” in them, their websites advertising their millions strong global labor force working from the “human cloud.”

US crowd-sourcing business relies on the permission and ability to reduce compensation for intellectual labor to virtually nothing. The lousy conditions in the US economy have made this easier.

On Mechanical Turk you can actually find “jobs” that pay 2 to eight cents for which you will not be qualified, somewhat unbelievably. Many of the crowd-sourcing firms have installed standards for even penny jobs, Mechanical Turk rating requirements which mandate the worker to have already done one hundred, two hundred, or more “human intelligence tasks.”

To put this in perspective, you can easily waste two hours on Mechanical Turk and have completed only a couple jobs worth less than or about a dollar. By scale, then, it can take continuous days of work to reach a standard whereby one is “qualified” for an eight cent job.


There is no world where it is moral to pay people for gigs at a labor rate that is only a minute sliver of the minimum wage just because technology empowers it.

Invariably, if you go the websites of the crowd-sourcing firms using Amazon’s front end, they all brag about their magnificent, expert labor forces. Much of it seems to be human automation of the production of thousands of virtually meaningless small articles for anonymous placement on the web in a form of astro-turfing that pays about a tenth-of-cent or less a word. The companies will boast of their self-correcting, intelligent workforce, or display business awards which claim the firm has been judged one of the best places to work in its region.

Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is not totally inhuman corporate American tech industry excrement. Academicians use it to recruit volunteers for behavioral, social science and psychology experiments. These always involve answering questions or being asked what one thinks of a series of statements designed to elicit some response. In contrast to crowd-sourcing industry work, they don’t take a lot of time, are never engaged in activity of a shaky or dodgy nature, and pay — on the average — much better than the “Crowd-name” businesses.

A couple weeks ago the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on the so-called concierge and sharing economy being built by the likes of TaskRabbit.

The article insinuated TaskRabbit was actually successful in Los Angeles County.

I had my doubts, just as with anything involving the new sharing economy, so I signed on to have a look.

Keep in mind now that Los Angeles County is, next to Manhattan, probably the most densely populated part of the United States at 9.9 million.

I signed up to see all the “Tasks” here that didn’t involve having to go out and buy something for someone which rely on the “job creators” paying you for actual goods, groceries or food later through the service.

Today, TaskRabbit advertised 65 jobs around Los Angeles, ranging from taking someone’s furniture from here to San Francisco to writing short articles for someone’s lousy business blog/website to making an audio presentation of someone’s terrible vanity published e-book.

Yes, that’s 65 jobs, none of the amounts of payment established, all waiting to be bid upon until the poster is satisfied, if ever.

Tom Friedman, famously, on the sharing economy last week:

[Ordinary] people … will now come clean your home, coordinate key exchanges, cook dinner for you … There is a whole generation of people that don’t want everything mass produced. They want things that are unique and personal.

There’s more. In a world where, as I’ve argued, average is over — the skills required for any good job keep rising — a lot of people who might not be able to acquire those skills can still earn a good living now by building their own branded reputations …

Jeff Bezos — from the archives.

The sharing economy.

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