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Friday: Death to All That Jazz

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

— excerpt, Dulce et Decorum Est, by Wilfred Owen

This week has been a long death march. Death to optimism, death to pre-existing notions of political parties, death to futures defined by progressive visions.

Ironically, the march led to today’s 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme — the beginning of World War I and the bloodiest day in British military history. The battle lasted five months and cost a million soldiers’ lives. The British suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day alone as they fought alongside the French against the Germans.

Among the British dead were black soldiers from Britain and British West Indies, and Indian Army Calvary who came from what is now India and Pakistan. The British recruited from South Africa, Egypt, China, and more to replace their losses as the Somme continued.

One hundred years later they have forgotten all of this shared pain and history, along with Winston Churchill’s post-WWII vision of a unified European family, a Pan-European Union which the United Kingdom, United States, and Russia supported.

On that bright and cheery note, have a little Death to Jazz — music which never dies.

Democracy elsewhere
Australians went to the polls on July 2nd for this year’s federal election. They didn’t torture themselves with a year or more of campaign crap, thank goodness. I can’t tell you much of anything about this election except that like the US and UK, there are two major parties running neck-and-neck — the Liberal/National coalition and the Labor party — while the world might hope for Greens to succeed. At least Aussies have more than two major parties to choose from even if they are more colorful than any of ours. Putting aside my flippant attitude, this election has serious consequences for the globe given the need for Australia’s climate change research in spite of its excessive reliance on sales of coal as well as its creeping authoritarian approach toward the internet and surveillance. What policies will the next Aussie government pursue?

Wheels

  • NHTSA launches investigation into fatal autopiloted Tesla crash (Tesla Motors) — OMG if you look at the Florida Highway Patrol report sketch of the accident you’ll immediately grasp what fail this was. This was a really horrific accident. Tesla’s post indicates the sensor read the gap below the semi-truck’s trailer as open space. Jalopnik picks apart the accident; they may be right that the obstruction detection sensor is too low on the vehicle. Besides the fact the driver was completely distracted and watching a movie while on autopilot, something else doesn’t sit right about this crash — like the truck failed to yield, or the car was traveling at too high a rate of speed? Truly a sad situation for the driver’s family and the truck driver.
  • Volkswagen thinks its 3.0L passenger diesel engines can be “fixed” to meet emissions standards (Reuters) — Wait, what? They used “undeclared auxiliary emissions-control devices” on this engine, and not the emissions controls defeat software used in the 2.0L engines, which somehow means they can fix the larger engines. I’ve missed something somewhere along the way because I don’t recall reading about any “auxiliary devices” before now. Color me skeptical.
  • June car sales remain on pace with May, except for Volkswagen (Business Insider) — Dieselgate has really done a number on VW brand here in the U.S.; sales are down 22% for the German automaker over last year. Other brands have picked up the slack, though; the biggest winner is Nissan.

Don’t forget about China
Fourth largest by area, second largest by GDP, and first largest by population, let’s not forget about China!

  • ICYMI: Insurance company to CIA employees bought by Chinese company (Newsweek) — You might want to read Marcy’s piece if you haven’t already. The U.S. really needs to improve the CFIUS review process given this egregious example. It only takes some big iron computing to crunch a match between Wright USA’s business database and other breached databases out there in the cyber-wilds to identify…well, you’re smart. Figure it out.
  • Taiwanese missile mistakenly fired, kills fishing boat captain (IBT) — No words for this, which could have been very ugly. Somebody kept a cool head.
  • Taylor Swift’s love life no longer the subject of Chinese bettors (Billboard) — Chinese government banned the sale of insurance instruments which paid off when celebrity singer/songwriter Swift broke off her romance. Good move, this one, because Swift changes partners like some women change purses and shoes. Don’t waste your money betting on what is surely a PR-driven romance between Swift and the flavor of the month, British film star Tom Hiddleston. (Better off betting on who will be the next James Bond — Hiddleston? Doubtful.)

Party Plans
It’s a long holiday weekend here in the U.S. If you don’t have plans, here’s a few tips.

  • The party moved, dudes; new sandbar this year (Mlive) — Court tossed the monster party held on one of Michigan’s inland lakes because it was monster. This year it’s being held at Wixom Lake instead of Torch Lake. Poor Wixomites; brace yourselves for 1000-plus partiers.
  • Non-Terrible Songs about America (BitchMedia) — This week’s BitchTapes playlist is estrogen driven, a nice even-handed, clear-eyed change of pace for a mellow Fourth of July. Kind of like a hug from your mom or sister who love you in spite of the fact they know only too well you’re a bonehead.
  • Baking cookies for holiday snacking? Don’t eat the raw dough! (Yahoo News) — We’ve always been told raw dough is risky to eat because of uncooked eggs in the batter. But unless you’ve checked yours against the FDA’s recall list, it’s the flour that’s the potential threat. E coli-tainted flour is still in the food system and could be in uncooked dough products. Cook them well, don’t eat them raw.

Holiday mode commences in three, two, one — boom! Because nothing says freedom like incendiary devices at close range!

Friday: There’s Always The Second Line

After the shock, denial, horror, anger, and grief of death, there’s always the second line. Seems fitting today in the wake of Brexit to observe the passing of an ideal — a United Kingdom, in harmony with its European neighbors and allies — that we have a second line.

You’re probably familiar with the imagery of the second line, a New Orleans tradition in which a jazz band plays for a funeral procession after the mourners have buried the dead. The history of the second line isn’t clear in no small part because it originated among the African diaspora and the creole community, whose cultural history is poorly documented because of race. The second line was the other face of death — the celebration of the departed’s arrival at better world beyond the reach of the living. Over the last hundred years, the second line became a community event not confined to funeral processions alone. Sunday afternoons revolved around street parties centered on the local Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and Benevolent Societies from which many brass jazz bands emerged as a part of the services offered through their co-op funeral insurance.

The video embedded here is more of a traditional blues dirge among second line tunes, but it might be played before or after the funeral. This video, however, shares music with true second line spirit, recorded as an observation of the passing year. And this second line following the funeral of Ernest “Doc” Watson is the definitive example.

Best jazz I can do post-Brexit referendum.

Brexit Backwash

  • What’s next after the referendum?  (EU Law Analysis) — First snappy overview of the legal steps Britain will take, by Professor of EU and Human Rights Law at the University of Essex. More emphasis here on pertinent human rights issues.
  • What’s next after the referendum, redux? (Public Law for Everyone) — Second equally snappy overview of the legal steps Britain will take, this time by Mark Elliott, Professor of Public Law at the University of Cambridge, Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution.
  • EU’s disintegration will still affect UK in spite of Brexit (The Guardian) — Cripes, did none of the UK’s Eton elites or the white nationalists think to listen to Yanis Varoufakis, former Finance Minister to Greece during Grexit? This op-ed is grim and frank — Varoufakis is plain-spoken. Reading it only makes me more certain the EU will utterly abandon comprehensive emissions controls for the region, and Volkswagen’s fraudulent passenger diesels will never leave the bloody roads.
  • Jo Cox’s death and Brexit (The New Yorker) — If aren’t already sickened by either Brexit or the murder of MP Jo Cox eight days ago, read this. Guess how her constituency voted.
  • Brexit’s future impact on British cuisine (Europa) — European cook Thom Eagle looks at the effect Brexit will have on what he does, from Spanish olive oil to French mushrooms. Hard to imagine the soft-handed elitist prats wanting to go back to Heinz canned beans on toast. Oh wait, UK doesn’t grow much of its own wheat. Beans it is…nuts, they import those from the U.S., many of them from Michigan.
  • Speaking of which, Brexit’s affect on Michigan (Detroit Free Press) — Michigan may well be one of the states Brexit affects most, given the existence of General Motors’ plants in the UK and the UK market for automobiles. UK bought more than Brazil or Germany from GM last year, but the cost to continue operations in UK…oy.

Legal and other la-la

  • SCOTUS ruling on Abigail “#BeckyWithTheBadGrades” Fisher and why it matters (The Establishment) — In SCOTUS ruling this week on Fisher v. University of Texas, UT-Austin had not only ensured true meritocracy by accepting the top 10% of students from each high school without regard for any other criteria, but they built a strong justification for selectivity of other students. Fisher, in spite of having the advantages that come from being white and adequately resourced, simply didn’t make the top 10% at her school in a year when admission was incredibly competitive, AND she brought nothing else to the school to benefit other students.
  • Split decision upholds lower court ruling reinforcing tribal sovereignty (Bitch Media) — If you commit a crime on tribal lands even if you’re not a Native American, expect an American Indian tribe to file civil suit. Simple as that. In this case, if s a child molester working for Dollar General molests a child on Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ tribal lands, the Choctaws can file against the perp and employer regardless of non-native status.
  • Marginalization of poor white Americans (Pacific Standard) — The U.S version of Brexit could be built on this segment of the population, which feels left out by efforts to increase equality for minorities. Point taken, but somebody’s going to have to write the bridge out of this pity party for people who constantly vote against their best interests, and discuss intersectionality in raising equality across the population.

Weekend long read
Governor Jerry Brown reviews a new book by former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. My Journey at the Nuclear Brink is some eyebrow-raising stuff.

That’s a wrap on a particularly grueling week. Have a nice weekend.

Friday Morning: It’s Five Somewhere

This week has been really long. Painfully dragged out. Mid-week snowstorm probably didn’t help. But here we are, survivors with another week and yet another Presidential campaign debate under our belts.

I’ll keep it short and snappy given how much ugly we’ve been through.

Your information security is only as good as the stupidest person on staff
“Hello, FBI? I’m new here and I don’t have my code. Can you help a girl out?” No joke, that’s about all it took for one unnamed hacktivist to get inside the FBI. And yet the FBI demands backdoors into all mobile devices. I can’t even…

Meet your new immortal overlord: Your self-driving car
This first graf scares the crap out of me:

The computer algorithms that pilot self-driving cars may soon be considered the functional equivalents of human drivers. That’s the early opinion of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration—and so begins our slow-burn acquiescence in the battle of man versus machine.

And not even for the reasons that PC World’s editor-in-chief Jon Phillips outlines in his editorial. If a governmental agency recognizes an algorithm as equal to a human, how long before humans are actually subordinate to artificial intelligence?  It’s bad enough corporations — legal constructs — have nearly the same rights as humans and can live forever. This needs to die on the vine right now — especially since Google is ramping up hiring for its line of self-driving cars.

Speaking of Google…

Busy week on Zika front

Media commentator Douglas Rushkoff interviewed on digital society

You left Facebook in 2013. How is that working out for you?

Professionally, I’m thinking it may be good for one’s career and business to be off social media altogether. Chris Anderson was wrong. “Free” doesn’t lead to anything but more free. Working for free isn’t leverage to do a talk for loads of money; now they even want you to talk for free. What am I supposed to do? Join YouTube and get three cents for every 100,000 views of my video? That is crap; that is insane! …

A worthwhile read, give it a whirl when the dust begins to settle.

Here’s hoping the weekend moves as slowly as this week did. Huli pau!

Wednesday Morning: Adulting is Hard

While looking for Wednesday, I discovered there’s a video short series based on a grownup version of Wednesday Addams character. Cute, though from Wednesday’s POV becoming an adult isn’t all the fun one might expect.

So much for those carefree days when one could leave all the bad news and difficult choices to parental figures. It was all an illusion there were ever any grownups in charge.

Playstation moves to U.S. as Sony melds and migrates interactive entertainment divisions
What’s this really all about? Does this consolidation of Sony Computer Entertainment with Sony Network Entertainment and their move to California as Sony Interactive Entertainment allow better collaboration with Sony Pictures? Or does this allow for easy access by U.S. government entities suspicious of Playstation Network as a potential terrorist communications platform? Or is this a means to secure a leaky business by pulling more of Sony Group inside a single network? Sony explained SIE will “retain and expand PlayStation user engagement, increase Average Revenue Per Paying Users and drive ancillary revenue” — but that sounds like fuzzy vapor to me.

Bent spear? Oh, THAT bent spear…” Air Force review omits report of damage to nuke
I hope like hell President Obama has already called someone on the carpet and asked for heads to roll. Not reporting a “bent spear” event in a review of U.S. nuclear force isn’t exactly a little boo-boo. A “bent spear” in 2007 spawned a rigorous investigation resulting in a large number of disciplinary actions including resignations and removals from duty.

Zika virus: risk to U.S. mounting
There have been more non-locally transmitted cases of Zika virus here in the U.S. as another Latin American country warns women against pregnancy. Not to worry, it’s not like Ebola, relax, we’ve been told…except that we’ve seen this playbook before, where there were casualties as a pandemic began before either federal or state agencies took effective action. In the case of Zika, we may not see mortalities; casualties may be serious birth defects following a rapid spread with mosquito season. Fortunately President Obama has now asked for more accelerated research into Zika, though we may not see results before Aedes mosquito season hits its stride this year. For more information about this virus, see the CDC’s Zika website.

EU seeks hefty fines in draft law to overhaul auto industry regulations
At fines of €30,000 (£22,600) per vehicle found in violation, the EU might get some results out of proposed regulations governing automotive emissions standards. But the problem hasn’t been the lack of EU standards — it’s the inability to validate and extract compliance when so many member states are willing to turn a blind eye to their constituent manufacturers’ failings in order to preserve employment. Can the EU make these fines stick once new regulations are passed?

By the way, Consumer Reports published a really snappy overview of the VW emissions scandal. Worth a read.

Con Edison’s creaky website leaves online customers exposed
You’d think by now after all of the successful hacks on business and government websites that companies would catch a clue. But no, not in the case of Con Edison. Read the article here so you know what to watch for at other websites; all of ConEd’s site’s links do not open fully encrypted connections. This is a really easy thing to fix, should be the very first thing every single business allowing customers to log in or pay online should check.

Heading out to act like an adult for the next eight hours. Maybe less.

Timeline: Is Volkswagen’s ‘Bug’ an EU Feature? [UPDATED]

[photo: macwagen via Flickr]

[photo: macwagen via Flickr]

Reports this last week that Volkswagen deployed “defeat devices” — software designed to cheat diesel passenger vehicle emissions controls tests — revealed more than an automobile manufacturing group run amok. One might suspect European Union’s emissions governance after looking at a timeline of events.

NOTE: This timeline is in progress and is subject to updating as new items are identified. [Update 7:00 pm EDT – note added about translation, and note added to citation [4]]

— 1970 —
February 1970 — The Council of the European Communities issued the Council Directive 70/156/EEC, which established a mutual baseline for technical specifications of vehicles sold across the member states. This included 3.2.20. Measures taken against air pollution.

— 1992 —
July 1992 — The first standard for passenger vehicle emissions, Euro 1 through 6, is implemented. Level Euro 1 for new diesel-fueled vehicles limited emissions of carbon monoxide (CO) to 2.72 grams per kilometer, with no initial limit on nitrous oxides (NOx) alone, but a combined limit of hydrocarbon+nitrous oxides (HC+NOx) at 0.97 g/km.

— 2004 – 2009 —
Dates Vary — Vehicle manufacturers phased in the remaining Euro 4 through 6 emissions standards.

19 October 2004 — European Environment Agency published a press release, Poor European test standards understate air pollution from cars, which summarized the problem:

Inadequate test standards are underestimating emissions of harmful air pollutants from new cars and evidence indicates that many diesel car owners are making things worse by modifying their engines to increase power, the European Environment Agency warned today.

No specific orders or directions were offered to resolve the problem with emissions test standards.

— 2007 —
(Month TBD) — Volkswagen subsidiary Audi launched its “Truth in Engineering” ad campaign. This tagline remains in use to present.

— 2008 —
(Month TBD) — VW announced its “Clean Diesel” (TDI model) technology, and began selling it in 4-cylinder diesel Jetta, Beetle, Audi A3, and Golf cars to the US market.

(Month TBD) — Green Car Journal named VW’s 2009 Jetta TDI “Green Car of the Year.”

— 2009 —
September 2009 — European emission standard Euro 5a for diesel passenger vehicles enacted, limiting CO to 0.50 grams per kilometer, NOx to 0.180 g/km , and HC+NOx to 0.230 g/km.

These levels are a reduction from Euro 4 standard implemented in January 2005 (CO=0.05, NOx=0.25, HC+NOx=0.30). Read more

Early Effects of NDAA Iran Sanctions Being Felt: EU Agrees on Oil Embargo, China Cuts Oil Contracts by Half

Iran's oil exports by country. (Click to enlarge) (From US Energy Information Administration; no, I don't know why China is at the bottom of the list)

Among the many controversial provisions in the NDAA which President Obama signed into law on New Years Eve are provisions aimed at disrupting Iran’s ability to export oil by punishing countries that do business with Iran’s central bank. Although the harshest sanctions on Iran’s bank don’t take full effect for another six months (and Obama says in his signing statement that he will regard the measures as nonbinding if they affect his “constitutional authority to conduct foreign relations”), Iran’s largest oil customers are planning to cut back dramatically on Iranian imports. The European Union has agreed in principal to a complete embargo on Iranian oil and China has already cut their imports from Iran for January and February to half their previous amount.

The moves by the EU and China will hit Iran very hard. As seen in the table above, China is Iran’s largest oil importer, buying 22% of Iran’s exports (but this only accounts for 11% of China’s overall imports), so cutting their order for the next two months in half will have a major impact on Iran’s overall oil revenues if replacement orders are not found quickly. The EU follows closely behind China, buying 18% of Iran’s oil exports. Note that these purchases are not spread evenly among EU nations, as Italy and Spain combine to account for over 75% of total EU imports of Iranian oil. Should the EU embargo actually take place, and even if China does not further reduce its purchasing, Iran is looking at a loss of about 30% of its oil export volume.

The Wall Street Journal describes some of the details of how the Iran oil sanctions are designed to take effect:

The bill specifically targets anyone doing business with Iran’s central bank, an attempt to force other countries to choose between buying oil from Iran or being blocked from any dealings with the U.S. economy.

Certain sanctions would begin to take effect in 60 days, including purchases not related to petroleum and the sale of petroleum products to Iran through private banks. The toughest measures won’t take effect for at least six months, including transactions from governments purchasing Iranian oil and selling petroleum products.

Reuters provides details on the status of the EU embargo:

European governments have agreed in principle to ban imports of Iranian oil, EU diplomats said on Wednesday, dealing a blow to Tehran that crowns new Western sanctions months before an Iranian election.

/snip/

Diplomats said EU envoys held talks on Iran in the last days of December, and that any objections to an oil embargo had been dropped – notably from crisis-hit Greece which gets a third of its oil from Iran, relying on Tehran’s lenient financing. Spain and Italy are also big buyers.

“A lot of progress has been made,” one EU diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The principle of an oil embargo is agreed. It is not being debated any more.”

China is cutting its orders and is driving hard bargains on payments for the oil it is purchasing: Read more