Thoughts

Save the data!

Some of the most important technology programs that keep Washington accountable are in danger of being eliminated. Data.gov, USASpending.gov, the IT Dashboard and other federal data transparency and government accountability programs are facing a massive budget cut, despite only being a tiny fraction of the national budget.

Help save the data and make sure that Congress doesn’t leave the American people in the dark.

Standard
Reviews

The Sunlight Foundation launched a useful tool this summer called Poligraft. It’s an online search engine that lets you input the link of a web article about politics, and gives you the background information on the issue and the politicians involved, including any questionable donations that may have taken place.

Here’s what the Sunlight Foundation has to say about it: “Poligraft uncovers the hidden web of political giving in news stories on the Internet — the patterns of political contributions that aren’t always obvious.”

“Using Poligraft is simple: just type or paste the URL or text of a news article, blog post or press release into it, and Poligraft will automatically scan that text for individual donors, corporations, lobbyists and politicians. Within seconds, you’ll see how they’ve been doing business with each other.  Once Poligraft highlights the names of donors, corporations, lobbyists, or politicians, you can click on those names to learn more. You can even add a Poligraft bookmarklet to your browser toolbar and run any webpage through it.”

This is really cool. You’ll now be able to see right away when some politician is posturing for something that they’ve gotten a hefty donation from that cause. There’ll be no hiding anymore.

Keep politics honest – use Poligraft

Aside
Reviews

An interview with Robert Kenner about Food, Inc

David Brancacio from PBS’s Now program sat down with Robert Kenner, the director for a documentary about food and the food industry called, appropriately enough, “Food, Inc”, to talk about the making of this very interesting film.

You can watch the interview here, and the trailer for the documentary here. It comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray in a couple of days, on November 3rd, and can be purchased directly from the movie’s official website or from stores like Amazon. I highly encourage you to get it and watch it.

Standard
Thoughts

Three psychics exposed as frauds

I’ve always thought and said psychics were fake, along with ghost stories. Sure, it makes life (and books) more interesting if a ghost pops up here and there, but unfortunately, when people die, they’re dead as doornails. They’re gone. Out for good. Goodbye. That’s why life is so precious. Every day must be spent carefully and cherished, because when our days are over, they’re over.

That’s why it’s great to see psychics exposed as the frauds they really are, as one BBC show did, recently. The host made up a fake story about some chocolate factory manager, printed it in a leaflet about the factory, and also put it up on the factory’s website. When the psychics were invited to the factory and asked to channel any ghosts that might be around, they all “somehow” picked up on the fictitious manager’s ghost. When they were told the ghost was fake, each did their best to cover up for their slimy behavior and slinked off camera to lick their wounds. Disgusting.

BBC 3 Bullsh!t detector exposes three mediums [via Boing Boing]

As for questions about what really happens in the afterlife, or if there is one at all, see item #26 on this page. That’s what I believe, and whether it makes sense to you or not, please note the explanation includes no ghost stories.

Standard
Thoughts

Let's recap where we are economically

A video compilation of various Peter Schiff TV appearances (2002-2009) is available on YouTube. The quality isn’t that great, but the message is pure gold. He’s been saying since 2002 that the US economy would collapse, and he gave solid reasons why it would collapse every time. His messages got more pointed with each appearance, they made sense, and yet he was ridiculed over and over for his opinions by so-called pundits on various TV networks. Ben Stein once said to him: “Sub-prime is a tiny, tiny blip.” I bet he’d like to eat his words now…

In 2004, I wrote an article where I said some of the same things Peter Schiff was saying — namely, that an economy financed by debt would not go on forever, and that we might be headed for another Great Depression. Back in 2004, the real estate market hadn’t even hit its peak, so I based my observations on common sense. I have no education in finance, but I can spot a turd no matter what it’s called.

I wrote then that the slowing US economy was being falsely propped up by the war spending in Iraq, but that wouldn’t last. You see, the government operated under a false assumption. The thought that what pulled us out of the Great Depression — the ramped up spending for WWII — would do it again in modern times. They were wrong. As I also wrote then, the WWII spending paid off: the world wanted American products after the war — they were hungry for them, and the manufacturing economy, which had been making weapons, shifted into making lots of things for export, like cars and clothes and other badly needed things in war-torn countries. Back then, we had a manufacturing economy, and there was real demand for our products.

History unfortunately does not repeat itself. In 2004, things were different. The US had no American products to export (unless you count weapons of war). It had moved most of its manufacturing overseas, leaving little to make at home. It was going into massive debt to finance a war that would (among other doubtful goals) stimulate a slowing economy, yet, from the get-go, they were not building American goodwill overseas in order to stimulate demand for American products. Even if they had done that, there were no American products to export, since we did not have a manufacturing economy any more.

A quick aside: some were saying a while back that the US is in the information services business — you know, IT, expertise, analysis, consulting, research, etc. — white collar stuff. I don’t buy it. For one thing, not everyone in the US can hold a white collar job. There are a finite number of people out of the US population (percentage-wise) that can do those jobs, and there are a finite number of such jobs available. To make things worse, information products lose their market value fast in times of economic hardship: when you need money to buy bread, you aren’t going to worry about knowledge; your stomach comes first. Also in the “things get worse” department, India and China are only two of the countries that can steal a large number of our information jobs as more of their people are educated. Don’t forget how many Indians work for Microsoft and other tech companies, and how many Chinese are involved in research. Unfortunately real products that fulfill real, tangible needs are still the king, because they are always in demand if they’re quality goods.

Okay, back to the war. It took people’s minds off the economy until the real estate market ramped up, and when that bubble burst, the whole ugly truth came to life. We had no economy to speak of, it was all propped up by debt, and all that debt was crashing down on us, as some, including myself, predicted. In my article from 2004, I said the following:

… unless we get someone in the White House who is willing to address the problem of debt head-on, I think our country is headed for certain disaster.

Fast forward to 2008. At the end of September of that year, I laid down my thoughts about the impending economic crisis. I was saying pretty much the same things I said now, except I approached the problem from a different angle. You see, we hadn’t yet elected Obama. Later that year, my wife and I, along with many other people, voted for him, because he was better than the alternative, and we hoped he’d do some good.

While the jury is out on that last part, and part of me says I should just sit back and wait to see what he does with his presidency, part of me goes back to the problem of debt and wonders if he’s tackled it head-on, like it needs to be handled. Unfortunately, he’s headed in the very opposite direction. He’s going to put our country into yet more debt in order to keep stimulating the economy. All this stimulating makes me wonder what status quo the government hopes to achieve. Just what state of the economy do we want to return to? Where do we want to go after we’ve spent all of that money? These words from Jim Kunstler say it best:

“… to what state of affairs do we expect to recover? If the answer is a return to an economy based on building ever more suburban sprawl, on credit card over-spending, on routine securitized debt shenanigans in banking, and on consistently lying to ourselves about what reality demands of us, then we are a mortally deluded nation.”

So, we’ve been going into more and more debt, for years and years, propping up a sick economy that has no more manufacturing backbone to stand on its own, and we’ve never taken our medicine. The US economy is like a sick man who’s hyped up on speed and other crap to keep from crashing into a bed and going through a proper recovery from a serious bout of the flu. It can’t go on forever. It has to at some point end. It doesn’t make sense otherwise. Like I said in an article from February of this year, there will be an ugly third act, where the fat lady will sing and the curtains will come down, and believe you me, it’s going to be a doozy.

Will it have to do with the severe de-valuing of the dollar and cause it to be replaced as the world reserve currency? Possibly, since some countries out there, like China and Russia, are already calling for a new global currency. I think there will be more unrest beyond the dollar debacle. And who knows, perhaps behind the scenes, that was the plan all along: bring on a crisis where bargains are to be had for those with the money to get them, and the sort of economic unrest that would make it easier to move certain pieces of the big puzzle into their place.

Standard
Reviews

Mozy advertising versus user experience

A few months ago, I was interested in offsite backup, and thought I’d give Mozy a try. Their Home Backup plan intrigued me. It was only $4.95, and was billed as unlimited. Could it actually work as advertised?

Short answer is no, not by a long shot. Sure, it only costs $4.95/month. That much is accurate. The unlimited part is where Mozy starts to stretch the truth. The problem lies with bandwidth, and I’ll give them this much: uplink speeds on US broadband connections, particularly on DSL lines, are horribly inadequate in order to perform any sort of decent backups.

But Mozy also does something I dislike, something that isn’t readily advertised on their site when users sign up: they cap the bandwidth for Home users at 1 Mbps. Even if you should be blessed with faster uplink speeds (like a fiber connection), you won’t be able to take advantage of it with Mozy. You’ll still only upload to the Mozy servers at 1 Mbps or less (usually around 600-800 kbps from my experience).

I had around 150GB of data I wanted to back up on my laptop at the time. It would have taken me several weeks (I think up to 13 weeks) to back up that data from my home DSL connection (860 kbps uplink). I had to reduce that amount to about 96GB, took my laptop into work, where the uplink pipe was much fatter, and still, it would have taken over 12 days to get that data backed up, because they were capping the uplink speed.

I then reduced my backup set even more, down to 59 GB (see below), hoping this would speed things up. It would have still taken a ridiculous amount of time to back up my data, and I only ended up getting frustrated with Mozy’s software in general, because of its poor design. Every time I wanted to configure the backup set, I needed to wait for the software to finish calculating the aggregate size for all file types, and that could take half an hour or more every time I opened that panel. Couldn’t they have cached this data when the operation was performed the first time?

Isn’t it ironic how they say the “Account storage limit” is “None”, yet you can never really quite test that None unless you leave your computer on and connected to the Internet for a month or more, which is clearly not feasible in the case of a laptop? Let’s not even consider the possibility that your Internet connection might go down, in which case the backup job would fail, and you’d need to start over…

In the end, in order to get any sort of progress with the Mozy backups, I reduced my backup set to 1GB. That’s right, 1GB, which allowed me to back up my Address Book, iCal, and Application Preferences, plus some documents. Then, and only then, did Mozy manage to complete the backup jobs in time.

I’m sorry, but I’m not going to pay $5/month so I can back up my contacts, calendar, and a few docs. That’s not acceptable to me. I canceled the service.

I did write to them to complain about this, and that’s how I found out about the 1 Mbps cap on uplink bandwidth. They also offered to give me a free month, but what good would that have been? I’d have only ended up more frustrated.

Some might say I should have tried the Mozy Business plan, which doesn’t cap uplink speeds and offers more options. For one thing, I don’t care for those extra options. For another, it would have cost me roughly $80/month ($3.95 for the license and $75 for the storage at $0.50 per 150GB). That’s not counting what it’d have cost me to back up my photos offline, which is what I really wanted to do. I have roughly 500 GB of photos, and according to Mozy’s pricing, that would be $250/month in addition to the $80/month I’d already be paying to back up my laptop.

Clearly, at those prices, Mozy is no longer the cheap, easy to use $4.95/month service that they advertise so widely, and instead of paying $330/month to them, I’d rather pay it to buy hard drives, copy my data, and ship them to my parents once every few months. It’d cost me a lot less.

I suppose they’re not entirely to blame. For some reason, $4.95 has become the price point for online home backup plans. Carbonite offers a similar plan for the same amount and other competitors are crowding around the same amount, although with different offerings. The thing is, you can’t really give people unlimited backup for $4.95 a month. Your costs as a business are higher. So what do you do? You fudge. You get truthy. Well, I don’t like it. I’d much rather see them offer a $15/month Home plan where they don’t cap the bandwidth but cap the amount I can back up — say, up to 75GB or something like that. I’ll let them work out the numbers, but the point is, I appreciate honesty a lot more than some cheesy pricing gimmick.

Updated 7/2/09: A reader (M.J. from Denmark) wrote to say the upload bandwidth cap at Mozy has been raised from 1 Mbps to 5 Mbps. It’s an interesting move on Mozy’s part, but I still have questions about their customer service and the ability to properly restore customers’ data, as other people have indicated in the comments below.

Standard
Thoughts

Cabin John cops are the coolest

This past Thursday, I was on my way home from work, in a hurry, because my wife and I wanted to be on time to the Gipsy Kings concert that evening. Traffic on 495 was much nastier than usual, and it was pretty clear to me that I needed to take an alternative route home, and also find another way to get to Wolf Trap. After jumping on 495 from the Georgetown Pike to get over the Legion Bridge, I got off immediately on the Clara Barton Parkway and headed down to the Cabin John exit.

There’s a stop sign there as the exit ramp meets the bridge over the parkway. Usually, no one stops, but I try to, just the same. I think you know by now what I’m getting at. My mind was on the concert, on the projects at work that I’d been working on that day, on the weather, which I hoped would hold up… and I did a lame rolling stop right past the sign.

As I did that, I saw two cop cars on the side of the road ahead. They’d been looking at me, and one of them signaled me to pull over. I knew the instant I saw them that I’d get pulled over, and I knew why they were there, too.

So I pull over, and this towering cop comes up to my window and asks for my license and registration. I start fumbling around. My license was in my wallet, which was in my camera bag on the back seat. I turn around, pull it out, then try to remember where my registration is. Okay, it’s in the glove compartment… somewhere. I pull out the owner’s manual because I think it’s somewhere in there. All of my papers should be neatly placed in a little folding booklet, which I locate and start going through.

The cop is getting a little impatient. What can I do… I don’t get pulled over that often, and now I can’t remember where things are. It’s not like I rehearse what to do when I get pulled over. One doesn’t prepare for it.

Finally, I hand him what I think is my registration, but it turns out to be my insurance. He’s reaches into my booklet himself and fishes out the registration. “Has your license ever been suspended or revoked?” he asks me. I give him a “Huh?!” look as I mumble a “No”. Fine, he goes back to his car to look up my record.

Meanwhile, I start thinking what I’m going to tell him when he asks me why I didn’t stop. I’ve recently seen the “Don’t Talk to the Police” videos [part 1, part 2]. Should I try to put that advice into practice? Will it work? Would it even apply in my situation? After all, they clearly saw me not stopping at the sign. Shouldn’t I be honest and admit I screwed up? Maybe he’ll be lenient, right? Yeah, but what if he’s an ass, like the Virginia trooper that screwed up my driving record to make his ticket quota?

While I’m still thinking, he shows up at my window again, with a stern look on his face. “Do you know why I stopped you?” he asks. All my logic goes out the window and I suddenly become stupid. “Um, ah… no?” I mumble. “There’s a stop sign back there. Did you see it?” What am I going to do now? I got myself into this mess with my fancy double talk, now what? I stick my dumb head out the window and crane my neck, trying to look at the stop sign I know too well. “Um, ah… um, yeeeeeaaaah, that one,” I say, and feel like a certified dolt. He gives me a look that speaks volumes…

I finally decide to fess up and say something lame like, “I’m sorry, I was in a hurry and forgot to stop.” At least that’s true, even if it sounds really lame. He gives me the sort of look that says, “Yeah right, buster,” and goes back to his car. Oh crap, now he’s got me. I’m going to get it for sure: a ticket and some extra points just for kicks. It’s a moving violation, after all.

So I sit there, wondering just how much it’s going to hurt, and it doesn’t take long. He comes right back and sticks a piece of paper in my hand. I can’t look at it, my eyesight’s just gone fuzzy. “That’s a warning!” he says, and a very audible sigh of relief escapes my lips. “Thank you!” I say. I think my whole being effused gratitude that moment, because the corners of his lips started to crack into a smile.

He goes on, intending to give me a stern lesson, “You gotta stop, every time. No rolling stop, no California stop, you have to make a complete stop.” I look up at his face while he’s talking. A father, in his fifties, with mostly white hair with tinges of bronze blond. An honest face, with green eyes that pierce when he talks, and you can see he cares about people and about safety. A good cop. I try to allay his concern by saying, “For what it’s worth, officer, I do stop at the important stop signs,” then realize how stupid I sound, and continue, “but mostly no one stops at that one.”

“I know,” he says, “and that’s why we’re here! Drive safely!” he says as he turns away. I pack up my papers and start on my way, knowing that this would not have turned out the same way in Virginia, where the cops are out to get you no matter what.

Am I saying I deserved to get only a warning? No. I clearly ran that stop sign, the cops saw me, and I expected a ticket. I wasn’t going to argue about it. I dreaded the points though. I hate the points. It seems they get dished out more and more these days, and your insurance goes up, and they make you a liability when other cops stop you and they see you have points — it makes it more likely that you’re going to get another costly ticket. Points beget more points. It’s a vicious circle.

Thankfully, this cop decided he was going to do something really nice. Perhaps he looked at my record and saw that I’m a careful driver, or perhaps he’s just a really nice person. I don’t know why, but he only gave me a warning, and I’m truly grateful for it. Believe me, it had the same effect as a ticket. I’ve obeyed every stop sign since, and will continue to do so, because every time I approach a stop sign, I think about not getting pulled over again. If it happens again, I know I’ll get a ticket.

Thank you, Officer McDonald! You are one cool cop!

Standard
Thoughts

Pork's dirty secret: It's one of America's worst polluters

Pork’s Dirty Secret: The nation’s top hog producer is also one of America’s worst polluters : Rolling Stone.

I’m shocked beyond belief by what I read in Rolling Stone magazine today, in the article pointed about above. Let me quote a few excerpts to draw your attention to the crimes that have gone unpunished for the last couple of decades, done right here in the US, under our eyes and noses, and with the approval of smarmy politicians all too happy to oblige deep-pocketed campaign contributors.

This is how pig farms function:

“Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air and terror of confinement badly damage the pigs’ immune systems. They become susceptible to infection, and in such dense quarters microbes or parasites or fungi, once established in one pig, will rush spritelike through the whole population. Accordingly, factory pigs are infused with a huge range of antibiotics and vaccines, and are doused with insecticides. Without these compounds — oxytetracycline, draxxin, ceftiofur, tiamulin — diseases would likely kill them. Thus factory-farm pigs remain in a state of dying until they’re slaughtered. When a pig nearly ready to be slaughtered grows ill, workers sometimes shoot it up with as many drugs as necessary to get it to the slaughterhouse under its own power. As long as the pig remains ambulatory, it can be legally killed and sold as meat.

The drugs Smithfield administers to its pigs, of course, exit its hog houses in pig shit. Industrial pig waste also contains a host of other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that can cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia. Each gram of hog shit can contain as much as 100 million fecal coliform bacteria.

Smithfield’s holding ponds — the company calls them lagoons — cover as much as 120,000 square feet. The area around a single slaughterhouse can contain hundreds of lagoons, some of which run thirty feet deep. The liquid in them is not brown. The interactions between the bacteria and blood and afterbirths and stillborn piglets and urine and excrement and chemicals and drugs turn the lagoons pink.”

This is the man in charge of the largest pig producer in the US:

“The chairman of Smithfield Foods, Joseph Luter III, is a funny, jowly, canny, barbarous guy who lives in a multimillion-dollar condo on Park Avenue in Manhattan and conveys himself about the planet in a corporate jet and a private yacht. At sixty-seven, he is unrepentant in the face of criticism. He describes himself as a “tough man in a tough business” and his factories as wholly legitimate products of the American free market. He can be sardonic; he likes to mock his critics and rivals.”

This is how the journalist describes his encounter with the smell from one of the pig shit lagoons:

“Concentrated manure is my first thought, but I am fighting an impulse to vomit even as I am thinking it. I’ve probably smelled stronger odors in my life, but nothing so insidiously and instantaneously nauseating. It takes my mind a second or two to get through the odor’s first coat. The smell at its core has a frightening, uniquely enriched putridity, both deep-sweet and high-sour. I back away from it and walk back to the car but I remain sick — it’s a shivery, retchy kind of nausea — for a good five minutes. That’s apparently characteristic of industrial pig shit: It keeps making you sick for a good while after you’ve stopped smelling it. It’s an unduly invasive, adhesive smell. Your whole body reacts to it. It’s as if something has physically entered your stomach. A little later I am driving and I catch a crosswind stench — it must have been from a stirred-up lagoon — and from the moment it hit me a timer in my body started ticking: You can only function for so long in that smell. The memory of it makes you gag.”

And this is what happens to the people who live near the pig shit lagoons:

“Epidemiological studies show that those who live near hog lagoons suffer from abnormally high levels of depression, tension, anger, fatigue and confusion. “We are used to farm odors,” says one local farmer. “These are not farm odors.” Sometimes the stink literally knocks people down: They walk out of the house to get something in the yard and become so nauseous they collapse. When they retain consciousness, they crawl back into the house.”

And this is what happens when the lagoons spill their vile contents into the environment, which happens all too often:

“The biggest spill in the history of corporate hog farming happened in 1995. The dike of a 120,000-square-foot lagoon owned by a Smithfield competitor ruptured, releasing 25.8 million gallons of effluvium into the headwaters of the New River in North Carolina. It was the biggest environmental spill in United States history, more than twice as big as the Exxon Valdez oil spill six years earlier. The sludge was so toxic it burned your skin if you touched it, and so dense it took almost two months to make its way sixteen miles downstream to the ocean. From the headwaters to the sea, every creature living in the river was killed. Fish died by the millions.”

As if those sorts of unmitigated environmental disasters aren’t enough, it gets worse:

“… Corporate hog farming contributes to another form of environmental havoc: Pfiesteria piscicida, a microbe that, in its toxic form, has killed a billion fish and injured dozens of people. Nutrient-rich waste like pig shit creates the ideal environment for Pfiesteria to bloom: The microbe eats fish attracted to algae nourished by the waste. Pfiesteria is invisible and odorless — you know it by the trail of dead. The microbe degrades a fish’s skin, laying bare tissue and blood cells; it then eats its way into the fish’s body. After the 1995 spill, millions of fish developed large bleeding sores on their sides and quickly died. Fishermen found that at least one of Pfiesteria’s toxins could take flight: Breathing the air above the bloom caused severe respiratory difficulty, headaches, blurry vision and logical impairment. Some fishermen forgot how to get home; laboratory workers exposed to Pfiesteria lost the ability to solve simple math problems and dial phones; they forgot their own names. It could take weeks or months for the brain and lungs to recover.”

And now the bastard that runs Smithfield, Joseph Luter, wants to expand into Europe, particularly into Poland and Romania:

“When Joseph Luter entered Poland, he announced that he planned to turn the country into the “Iowa of Europe.” Iowa has always been America’s biggest hog producer and remains the nation’s chief icon of hog farming. Having subdued Poland, Luter announced this summer that all of Eastern Europe — “particularly Romania” — should become the “Iowa of Europe.” Seventy-five percent of Romania’s hogs currently come from household farms. Over the next five years, Smithfield plans to spend $800 million in Romania to change that.”

You want to see a real terrorist? One that’s irreversibly damaged the environment, killed millions of fish and other aquatic life, and ruined the lives of tens of thousands of people? Look no farther than Joseph Luter. The evidence is overwhelming. And yet he’s not in prison. No, he’s out, enjoying his life while ruining the lives of others. I say we put him not in jail, but in a prison which contains one of his very own pig shit lagoons, where he’s to spend the remainder of his criminal life.

Luter has made pig farming profitable, but at what expense? The environmental disasters he’s directly responsible for equal the ones perpetrated on mankind by the industrial revolution — only we outgrew those abuses, and didn’t expect to find such flagrantly illegal and morally corrupt behavior in the businesses of today.

Don’t think Luter is the only one. You look at cows, at sheep, at chicken and other farm animals, and you’ll find incredible, criminal abuses of animal life and the environment in all those industries. Seemingly everywhere, our food supply has been hijacked by companies hell-bent on making profits at the expense of health, safety, the environment and even life.

Quotes used courtesy of Rolling Stone magazine. If the magazine feels that the quotes are too extensive, please contact me and I will abbreviate them.

Standard
Reviews

Watch "The Future of Food"

If you have not yet heard of a documentary called “The Future of Food” (2004), or haven’t yet watched it, please take the time to do so. It is vital that you know what’s going into the food that you eat, and it’s vital that you know it now, before it’s too late.

What’s been happening over the past 20 years here in the States is that our food supply has been slowly taken over by biotech companies who are interested only in their bottom line. They have used tactics akin to racketeering practices in order to get farmers to use their seeds and only their seeds. They have placed their executives in key government positions, in order to ensure that their policies go through. They have done and are doing everything in their power to get us to eat their genetically modified foods, without regard for safety, common sense, decency or ethics. I’m not saying this by myself. The documentary itself will prove it to you.

All that is bad enough, but what’s really appalling is that they are patenting genes. They have patented plant genes, and now they want to patent animal genes and even human genes. They are trying to get the market in their tight snare, so they can squeeze profits out of everywhere and ensure they control our food supply completely. They have even patented one of the genes involved in breast cancer, then sued researchers who had been doing working on it, to force them to pay exorbitant licensing fees. Needless to say, research on that gene has been significantly curtailed, directly due to their malefic influence. That’s the sort of “work” they engage in.

When I call them racketeers, I have a great frame of reference in mind. It’s a short crime drama made in 1936, entitled “The Public Pays“, which won an Oscar. It depicted a protection racket that preyed on the local milk distribution in one American city, and the people’s successful fight against them. The biotech goons may not beat up people and physically destroy their milk trucks and containers, but they have legal “procedures” which wield the same sort of power and yield the same horrible results. This time, they’re working hand in hand with specially-placed government officials who make sure the biotech rules get enforced and the little guys get screwed royally — not to mention that the consumers, and the marketplace in general, are manipulated to no end as well.

Don’t believe me? Watch the documentary. And if you can find “The Public Pays”, watch that as well and compare the two to see the striking similarities. What’s more, if someone can assure me that “The Public Pays” is now in the public domain, I’ll gladly post it online, either at Google Video or somewhere else.

As you get to the end of the “Future of Food” documentary, you’ll get heartened by the organic farming efforts, which are great, but keep in mind that Whole Foods now sells mostly non-organic fruits and vegetables, and also imports supposedly organic foods from China, whose food supply is so laden with pesticides it’s not even funny. Yet Whole Foods still dares to hold the same high prices on their stuff, which means they’ve cut costs and are pocketing the difference. Lesson learned: don’t shop at Whole Foods. Go to Trader Joe’s or MOM’s, if you have them in your neighborhoods.

Seek REAL organic foods, and make sure to vote with your wallets. Where you buy your food, and what sort of food you buy, determines our food supply’s future. Write to your congressmen and demand that the proposed law (introduced by Dennis Kucinich) to label genetic foods as such be finally approved.

My wife just chimed in with some great advice. It turns that while we wait for foods to be properly labeled as GM or not, there’s an easy way to tell already. Fruits and vegetables all have little stickers on them, with numeric codes (4 or 5-digit numbers). It seems that if those numbers start with 4, they’re conventionally-grown, but not genetically modified. If they start with 8, they’re GM — stay away from them! And if they start with 9, they’re organically grown and are safe to eat. Not sure if this is officially true, but she says that’s usually been the case, at least for the organic foods that she buys.

Here’s how you can watch the documentary:

  • Google Video (free, but quality isn’t that great)
  • YouTube (free, but in multiple parts): start here
  • Netflix (instant streaming, DVD quality, but requires subscription)
  • Amazon (you can purchase the DVD)

Standard
Reviews

Why music doesn't sound great any more

Growing up, I listened to music on vinyl records. I had a huge stack of mostly classical music at home, and it was a real treat to put on a record, sit the needle on it, and hear music come out of the speakers. It was never tiring. It was always enjoyable, and I could listen to music while doing homework or reading.

As I got older and moved to CDs, and more recently, MP3s, I kept wondering why I couldn’t do the same. I kept getting headaches from listening to music for prolonged periods of time. Even while driving, too much music was stressful. I found that when I turned off the radio, it was as if I’d break down a wall of sound that would constantly barrage my ears. I put it down to changes in my personality and tastes in music, though I’d read some articles in the past that suggested music recording practices were changing.

It turns out those early grumblers were right. The Rolling Stones have a great article called “The Death of High Fidelity“, and it explains very well what’s going on. Now that I’m aware of these practices, I call them the bastardization of music as we know it, and I don’t think I’m mincing words.

It’s no wonder most music just plain stinks when we listen to it. And it’s also no wonder that certain recordings resonate with us if they’re done correctly. Norah Jones is one famous example. Another, more recent one, is Yael Naim. You may not know her name, but you’ve probably heard her song, “New Soul”, in the MacBook Air commercial.

While I’m on the subject, I’d like to ask music producers to stop putting police sirens and telephone rings in songs. They hide these sounds behind the normal tracks, but they make them stand out just enough to be noticed. Seriously, it’s very disturbing to drive on a road minding your own business and hear a muted police siren, then freak out because you don’t know where the sound is coming from. I understand the reasoning behind it: jog the listener’s short attention span, get them to listen to the music, subconsciously trigger an emotional response, etc. The way I see it, it’s disingenuous, it’s manipulative, and it cheapens the song. Stop doing it, please.

Here’s hoping things get back to normal. Or if they don’t, that at the very least, recordings using preferable sound mastering methods are labeled accordingly, as some people suggest.

Standard