Archive for January 18th, 2010
In light of recent political events, including the fact that “we stand on the verge of passing a giant boon to health insurance companies and calling it ‘reform,'” Arianna Huffington is advocating for an empathy-driven system shattering Hope 2.0, inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960’s:
One year ago, Hope was about crossing our fingers and electing leaders that we thought would enact real change. Hope 2.0 is about using the lessons of Dr. King to create the conditions that give them no other choice.
You’ve probably heard the stories in the news. A superpower has been shamed, a totalitarian state has been outed. A tyrannical government has been spying on the private communications of its citizens, including that of activists and journalists. What they plan to do with the fruits of their techno-espionage is not well understood, but given their history they can hardly be up to any good. What is clear is that this government is fanatical about crushing any challenge to their perceived supremacy, whether those challenges are internal or external. They even demand that private companies aid them in censoring unfavorable news (with a stunning degree of success), and these private companies (mostly based in the United States) may even have helped them spy on their citizenry.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this was just another blog posting about Google and China. It’s actually a post about hypocrisy.
First, if you haven’t heard, Google is re-evaluating their decision to do business in China, ostensibly as a result of some cyber-attacks directed at the Gmail accounts of some human-rights activists. The U.S. State Department is planning to lodge a formal protest on the alleged attacks. Plenty of others have already analyzed this story. As usual, the real story is behind the headlines.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week:
The Google-China flap has already reignited the debate over global censorship, reinvigorating human rights groups drawing attention to abuses in the country and prompting U.S. politicians to take a hard look at trade relations. The Obama administration issued statements of support for Google, and members of Congress are pushing to revive a bill banning U.S. tech companies from working with governments that digitally spy on their citizens.
To prevent United States businesses from cooperating with repressive governments in transforming the Internet into a tool of censorship and surveillance, to fulfill the responsibility of the United States Government to promote freedom of expression on the Internet, to restore public confidence in the integrity of United States businesses…
So far, so good. Restoring public confidence in the integrity of U.S. businesses might be a tall order for any bill, but whatever. The rest are all noble goals: preventing repressive governments from using the internet as a tool of censorship and surveillance, promoting freedom of expression, and so on. Just one problem: none of these provisions apply to the U.S. Government.
You see, the U.S. Government is the tyrannical superpower from the first paragraph of this blog post. You might have asked yourself why it is that the Chinese people put up with having their private communications read by their government. The real question is this: Why do you put up with it?
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It’s been a wonderful weekend. No theme to it. Just a steady stream of good experiences.
The technological surprise was the Picasa’s new face-matching feature. This will blow your mind, it is so good. The newest release of Picasa (I’ve extolled the virtues of Picasa before) produces thumbnails of most every face in your photo collection. For me, this meant that Picasa came up with more than 6,000 faces. They needn’t be portraits, either. Picasa will find most any face in your collection, even group shots, and give you one or more cropped portraits from that photo.
Then comes more magic. You give Picasa a name for one of those instant portraits and Picasa will go gather all the other photos you have of that person in your collection. I labeled a few photos each of my daughters JuJu and Charlotte, and Picasa went to work, gathering almost 2,000 photos of each, getting it 99% correct. Quite often Picasa will place a “?” on the photos it gathers, meaning it is not certain it is the same person, but it was almost always correct. It picked out photos of JuJu from age 2 to 11. It picked her out even if she was standing in the shade, even if she had a unusual haircut or a hat, even if her eyes were closed, and even if her head was turned or she was looking down. The face-matching feature even did well in distinguishing between two 11-year old identical twins, who I sometimes struggle to keep straight. I’m using Picasa version 3.6.0 for Windows (a free program, BTW). It seems like magic. Maybe it’s one of those military technologies trickling down. Whatever it is, I’m in awe. If you have a big collection and you don’t want to take the time to label photos of your friends or family, this is something you should consider.
What else happened this weekend? Here’s something. There’s a new exhibit on Race at the Missouri History Museum: Race: Are We So Different? The answer, of course, is no.
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Barack Obama recently announced that the way to prevent future economic collapses is to put a new tax the big banks. For me, this was just one more in a long line of dreadful responses out of the White House. Who does he think is going to ultimately pay that tax? Further, how could a tax possibly keep big Wall Street banks from taking reckless gambles, and how is it that having a pool of tax money would mean that Washington DC wouldn’t again jump in to “save the banks” with huge doses of tax dollars during the next cataclysmic crash? As long as there are banks that are “too big to fail,” the federal government will jump in a most co-dependent of ways.
I just read an FT.com article by economist Simon Johnson, who reassured me that my instincts were on target.
This week, the US Treasury pulled its latest rabbit out of the hat: a tax on the liabilities of large banks. The Obama administration argues that, by penalising large institutions with such taxes, we can limit their future risk-taking. This logic is deeply flawed. Why would higher funding costs mean you gamble less? If you know Tim Geithner is waiting to bail you out, you may gamble more heavily in order to pay the tax. The UK “reforms” look equally unpromising.
Johnson also spells out what IS needed:
First, we must sharply raise capital requirements at leveraged institutions, so shareholders rather than regulators play the leading role in making sure their money is used sensibly. This means tripling capital requirements so banks hold at least 20-25 per cent of assets in core capital.
Second, we need to end the political need to bail out every institution that fails. This can be helped by putting strict limits on the size of institutions, and forcing our largest banks, including the likes of Goldman Sachs and Barclays, to become much smaller.
For reasons I truly don’t understand, Obama is refusing to stand up and use his magnificent eloquence to make a case for meaningful financial reform. This has been a slow-motion train wreck for the past year, and he’s about to allow the chance to create a CFPA slip away. He needs to join Elizabeth Warren in an almost constant assault on these highly monied amoral corporations (and their enablers in Congress) that it’s time for real reform. As Warren (who IS out there fighting a good fight) says, “The problem is that a strong CFPA directly threatens the banks’ ability to sell confusing, deceptive, fee-heavy financial products that generate huge profits, Warren said.”