Blowin’ off steam

V*agra and Penis Enlargers nearly killed my blog

If you’ve tried to access sknoblog in the last few days, you were either met with an error page, or with the blog peppered with lines of error messages…

My ISP offers free Web hosting, but they have adopted rather radical measures recently. Basically, when a database table grows too big, too fast, it triggers the following two measures:

1/ they block the site for 24h (1st warning–2nd warning is 72h and on the 3rd offense, they block the site for good!)
2/ they simply destroy the offending database table.

This happened to the Geeks recently, but it only destroyed a stats table that grew too fast after a big surge in visits to the site.

This time, they blocked sknoblog and destroyed the comments table.

Every single comment ever posted on sknoblog is gone. Forever.

Now while this might smack of the Stockholm syndrome, I don’t feel bad towards the ISP. They host scores of sites and this radical policy is an anti-spam measure. They allow me to host as many sites as I want. For free (as part as my monthly subscription).

You have to understand that when you host a blog, spammers immediately start posting fake comments to create links towards the products they are pushing. So you install anti-spam software, which holds the fake messages for moderation (so they don’t appear on the site). Part of my daily routine is making sure there aren’t legitimate comments hidden among the fake messages hawking penile enhancing miracle drugs and porn sites, then deleting the spam. I get an average of 80 spam messages per day per blog.

In the year since the Geeks went on line, 5646 spam messages have been blocked. On Frogblog, the number is 21923 blocked messages since October 4th 2006.

So I blame the spammers. Over 95% of all email exchanged over the Internet is Spam. Spam is overrunning the system. It is the product of pure greed, and breeds on the sheer idiocy of the morons who keep the spammers in business by taking the bait.

I also blame the USA’s general indifference to anything and everything. They are so used to being spammed on TV and radio that they don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s entrepreneurship. It’s business. Most Spam comes from the US where as we all know, greed is good.

America is indeed number one. The number one polluter of the planet and of the Internet. Big surprise.

Anyway, enough ranting.

I’ve managed to recreate the table (from another WP site of mine) which should take care of most of the error messages.

I’ve blocked commenting for now (I think/I hope).

I need to upgrade Sknoblog to WordPress 2.x which has better spam-prevention features (it’s still running on WP 1.5).

Have a nice day.

28. December 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Geekiness, Site News | Comments Off

Ingenuity: Dustpan with built-in vacuum (and US military expenditures)

Two seemingly unrelated tidbits of information I came across today:

One, in my ongoing Ingenuity series, is the dustpan with built-in vacuum, as seen on Boing Boing.

Two is this little thought experiment on the Boston Globe:

If the Bush administration succeeds in its latest request for funding for the war in Iraq, the total cost would rise to $611.5 billion, according to the National Priorities Project, a nonprofit research group.

The amount got us wondering: What would $611 billion buy?

For the lazy, here’s the kicker:

According to World Bank estimates, $54 billion a year would eliminate starvation and malnutrition globally by 2015, while $30 billion would provide a year of primary education for every child on earth.

At the upper range of those estimates, the $611 billion cost of the war could have fed and educated the world’s poor for seven years.

So next time you vote, or consider buying more useless crap, why not stop for a second and tap into those neurons up there?

13. November 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment

Acceptance

I’ve written and ranted at length about the decline of the U.S., like here, here, here, here, here, or here (or just click on my Blowing off steam category).

I have nearly an album’s worth of songs on the subject [Update: access the Bye Bye Murka album here]. It might include the following track list:

But something strange happened recently. It seems that I just woke up one day, with different feelings on the matter. My emotional investment, my outrage, my despair, my disgust, my anguish, which gave rise to the aforementioned ranting, raving, composing and singing, seemed to have receded.

I noticed this had happened while discussing the recent tasering incident by email with Matt Love, my partner in crime. I had written this sentence, as a lark:

[...] at this point, I’m past anger, denial, bargaining, depression and have reached the acceptance stage. I’ve accepted that the US are lost to civilisation for good.

Yep, it’s the old Kübler-Ross model which describes, in five discrete stages, the process by which people deal with grief and tragedy.

I don’t know if any particular event is responsible. Maybe seeing the media falling for the administration’s Iran war propaganda, even though it would have be an opportunity to redeem themselves after falling for the Iraq war propaganda only yesterday. Or the usual indifference of the population, more interested in Britney’s child custody woes.

The US has become a fascist theocracy, where policy is dictated by the selfish, short-term interest of its corporations, with the (at the very least tacit) blessing of its brain-dead population. The Democrats won’t rock the boat, because they know who’s signing the checks.

It is a tragedy. And a lot of people are going through the five stages of grief, at least outside of the US.

It’s not that I don’t care any more. It still registers, intellectually, but it doesn’t furiously stir my emotional pot anymore.

Maybe it won’t last. Maybe I’m in the eye of the storm, but something tells me that for better or worse, I’ve moved on to acceptance.

06. October 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam | 2 comments

Youthful naiveté

Growing up during the cold war in Europe, I, like most of the people I knew, felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. To the east was, well, the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union. Even the leftiest among us thought they had betrayed the potentially positive aspects of real socialism. We knew they were a threat to their own people, but we didn’t believe they would invade Western Europe.

To the west were the USA, with their primitive, knee-jerk anti-communism (most Americans we heard or met had no real idea what communism was. They just knew that commies didn’t believe in god, and that was reason enough to nuke them to high-heaven).

So we hated the USSR for their despotic ways, and we hated the USA with its CIA promoting their cynical, corporate-driven politics, overthrowing democratically elected officials (Allende in Chile), or supporting fascist juntas as long as they were anti-communist and good for business (United Fruit Company).

Maybe because the Russians are European, few of us believed the USSR would nuke their Western European neighbors. We weren’t so sure about the USA. Plenty of ex-nazi weapons experts working on the A & H bomb programs there, and crazy people like Edward Teller (the model for Doctor Strangelove).

Now sometimes, (bear with me, this is going somewhere), in my (bleeding) heart of hearts, I thought to myself that we were maybe too naive and too lenient towards the USSR. Maybe they did want to swallow us up.

Similarly, I remember thinking (secretly to myself) that the anti-capitalist, anti-corporation, anti-American rhetoric that was so prevalent was maybe a tad too paranoid. Sure, corporations were amoral, sometimes verging on the cynical, but maybe not out of some kind of intrinsic evil-ness. Maybe they just had their eyes on the bottom-line and lost sight of the consequences of their actions.

Years later (well, yesterday to be precise), I stumbled upon a bunch of articles about Naomi Klein’s new book, The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. You can watch a video trailer for the book (boy, I hate that idea) or read an excerpt published in the Guardian, which I urge you to do!

Her premise is truly bone-chilling. It reveals a cynicism on the part of the West far beyond anything I or anyone dared envision back in the 70′s and 80′s. Here’s the pitch:

In THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, Naomi Klein explodes the myth that the global free market triumphed democratically. Exposing the thinking, the money trail and the puppet strings behind the world-changing crises and wars of the last four decades, The Shock Doctrine is the gripping story of how America’s “free market” policies have come to dominate the world– through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.

Here are a couple of short excepts from the excerpt, about the aftermath of Katrina and the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia & Sri Lanka :

The news racing around the shelter that day was that the Republican Congressman Richard Baker had told a group of lobbyists, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.” Joseph Canizaro, one of New Orleans’ wealthiest developers, had just expressed a similar sentiment: “I think we have a clean sheet to start again. And with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities.” All that week Baton Rouge had been crawling with corporate lobbyists helping to lock in those big opportunities: lower taxes, fewer regulations, cheaper workers and a “smaller, safer city” – which in practice meant plans to level the public housing projects. Hearing all the talk of “fresh starts” and “clean sheets”, you could almost forget the toxic stew of rubble, chemical outflows and human remains just a few miles down the highway.

[...] after the devastating 2004 tsunami, [I] witnessed another version of the same manoeuvre: foreign investors and international lenders had teamed up to use the atmosphere of panic to hand the entire beautiful coastline over to entrepreneurs who quickly built large resorts, blocking hundreds of thousands of fishing people from rebuilding their villages. By the time Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was clear that this was now the preferred method of advancing corporate goals: using moments of collective trauma to engage in radical social and economic engineering. Most people who survive a disaster want the opposite of a clean slate: they want to salvage whatever they can and begin repairing what was not destroyed. “When I rebuild the city I feel like I’m rebuilding myself,” said Cassandra Andrews, a resident of New Orleans’ heavily damaged Lower Ninth Ward, as she cleared away debris after the storm. But disaster capitalists have no interest in repairing what once was. In Iraq, Sri Lanka and New Orleans, the process deceptively called “reconstruction” began with finishing the job of the original disaster by erasing what was left of the public sphere.

The man behind this fundamentalist capitalist vision is none other than Milton Friedman, often presented as the pope of laissez-faire capitalism.

His followers, mostly in the US and the UK, are more than ever in power, and their cynical-beyond-belief exploitation of recent disasters is truly nauseating.

Naomi Klein’s book doesn’t reveal anything new, but it paints events in a different, truly frightening, light.

It also reveals that my occasional qualms about anti-corporate, anti-american sentiment in my youth were truly misplaced, and that Western Europe as a whole was probably as naive.

I hope the book makes a splash, and shakes things up a little, although I’m not holding my breath.

Besides, there is just too much money to be made from the catastrophes that climate change is sure to bring. You can be sure you-know-who will never cave in to those naive idiots who actually want to try to reverse or slow down global warming before its really too late.

It’s a good thing that radioactivity fucks up the resale value of real-estate, or these insane people would probably have pushed for a preemptive nuclear strike, and raked in the dough building hotels and resorts over the rubble.

09. September 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment

Surfin’ in Santa Monica

One of the reasons I haven’t been blogging much, is that the Internet connection here, at my mother’s house in Santa Monica, California, is terrible. It’s so slow it feels like dial-up.

Of course, I’m spoiled. Back home in Paris, my connection is blazingly fast. It’s also quite fast in the family home in Normandy, even though it is in a tiny village miles away from any city.

This just reinforces my usual impression that the US is a third-world country when it comes to infrastructure. All those above-ground telephone lines, the brown outs, the black outs, the craters in the roads, the collapsing bridges and exploding steam pipes don’t do anything to dispel that impression.

But when it comes to boradband Internet, the difference between the US and Europe (or at least France) is enormous. In fact, Paul Krugman of the New York Times wrote about this a few days ago.

In Paris this is what I get from Free.fr, my ISP:

  • An ADSL modem (FreeBox), which is also a 4-port Ethernet switch, a wireless router with high-speed Wi-Fi of the MIMO variety (basically redundant Wi-Fi).
  • Download speed is unlimited, up to 28 Mbits depending on how far you are from the switch. I get about half that where I live. (Upload speed is capped at 1 Mbit)
  • No limits on the quantity of uploads or downloads.
  • You can connect a standard telephone to this box, and make totally free phone calls to all the major countries in the world.
  • A second box, the FreeBox HD, that you connect to your TV and that communicates with the first box via MIMO. It pipes a couple of hundred channels of TV and pay-per-view into your TV, including in HD.
  • It has a built-in hard disk which gives you all of the functionality of a TiVo.
  • You can even connect a camcorder to the box and broadcast your own TV station to other FreeBox owners.
  • Other goodies include the ability to pipe the TV signal to your Windows or Linux PC, or Mac, using the open-source VLC program, and the ability to pipe multimedia content from your PC or Mac to your TV.

Most of these features were added over time.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the price: 29,99 Euros a month (about US$40 at today’s miserable exchange rate).

You only pay extra for some premium TV channels, and of course, for pay-per-view.

Free.fr is starting to deploy fiber to the home, and they don’t intend to change the price for that either.

Contrast all that with my mother’s miserable Verizon Internet connection, which only and barely allows you to surf, for $78 a month!

11. August 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Geekiness, Surfin' | Leave a comment

Playground, revisited

Pamela just posted a great little piece on frogblog about the Playground of the Baby Giants, where we are staying for another two weeks.

Interestingly, I came up with the Baby Giants metaphor because I was struck by how L.A. looks so fake and architecturally simplistic, as if kids had made a town out of shoe boxes in a sandbox, to push their toy cars around in. (Think of the backdrops in the Thunderbirds TV show. That’s what L.A. looks like to me).

But the infant metaphor was more apt than I intended.

Because the general level of competency, of discourse, in everything and everywhere, is falling at an alarming rate. So much so that it sometimes seems like the whole society is being run by children. They can handle simple and mundane tasks, as long as they’ve been precisely scripted and rehearsed. Throw a wrench in the works (like showing a foreign I.D. in a bike rental shop) and you can see the anguish and the fear overwhelm the poor children.

(And of course, when they are off work, all the baby giants do is play: beach-volley, surfing, flying kites, which is obviously fine, but completely incongruous to my eyes).

Even hallmarks of american grown-up culture and sophistication, like the New York Times and National Public Radio are succumbing to this disheartening fate.

I like to read the NYT’s Arts section when I’m here. I was struck by the latest, “Arts, briefly” column which mentioned a TV talk-show host’s breast cancer, Britney, Nicole, and of course Paris (the bimbo heiress (ooh, my blog stats should go up now!)).

I like to listen to NPR when I’m driving here. Yesterday, on the venerable All Things Considered news program, an interview with a structural engineer, following the collapse of that bridge in Minnesota, went like this:

- Why do things like this happen? Because things get old?
- Yes
- Could it be avoided and if so, how?
- By maintaining and fixing things.
- Would it cost money?
- Yes

I’m not making this up, but it’ll cost you $3.95 to read the transcript.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media is all over Oscar, the psychic cat and Hillary’s hint of a cleavage.

The bell-curve that usually applies to everything (incompetent to mediocre to not bad to great) doesn’t seem to apply to anything here anymore. It’s more like a straight line stuck at the incompetency level with the far right extremity dipping slightly towards the mediocre.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable letting my 13 year old drive a car alone (even an automatic, even on streets as wide as runways). Now imagine letting him fly an airplane, run a corporation, a city (bridges collapsing, steam pipes exploding), the military (half of the military expenditures in the world / the mess in Iraq) and you’ll get an idea of just how I feel when I’m here:

Fucking terrified.

04. August 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Making Music, Surfin' | Leave a comment

Majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution

According to this Gallup poll, a “majority of Republicans Doubt Theory of Evolution.”

That’s how Gallup presents its findings.

But before you start mocking those cretinous, obscurantist Republicans, consider this: Yes, 68% of Republicans doubt evolution, but so do 40% of Democrats and 37% of Independents.

Gallup should therefore have said that a majority of Americans doubt the theory of evolution.

There is a strong correlation with religiosity of course.

When I think about religious fanaticism and obscurantism, I find it increasingly hard to find any significant differences between the US and say, Pakistan or Iran.

With one major difference though. In the case of Iran for instance, the craziness is mostly a top down phenomenon (by and large, the Iranian people are a sophisticated, well-educated bunch). In the US however, it’s a grassroots phenomenon. It didn’t start with Bush Junior. He’s a symptom, not a cause.

20. June 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment

France, RIP

07. May 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam | Leave a comment

Elections for Dummies (élections, piège à cons ?), Round Two

Following my previous installment on the elections, and especially following Wednesday’s debate, all the polls are showing a widening gap in favor of Sarkozy, who is poised to win by a large margin.

His greatest accomplishment, is to somehow have managed to be seen as a candidate of change, even though he was the “number two” of the outgoing government for 5 years. One way he accomplished this feat, is by breaking every taboo on the right, defending France’s colonial past and colonialism itself, blaming May 68 for every ill in the world, and by shamelessly making his own some unsavory ideas of the Front National extreme-right party.

Ségolène has had to battle against everyone from day one, including the media and her own camp, who have systematically questioned her ability and legitimacy to be the next présidente.

But the bottom line is glaringly obvious, any which way you cut it. The one and only reason that she very probably won’t win, is because she’s a woman.

Every other reason is secondary.

She’s been criticized in ways and for things that no male politician would have ever had to deal with. She basically was never taken seriously by the mostly male-dominated parties and media.

So what she proposed, and how she proposed to govern, was never really an issue. The fact that she dominated Sarkozy during the debate was probably the final nail in her coffin.

And if she does lose, and loses by a wide margin, I’m quite certain that she’ll be pummeled to death by her own party (figuratively speaking of course), who will do everything to make sure she’s out of the picture for good. And guys, if you do that, the remnants of your party will never have my vote again, even if it means the right has to reign in France forever.

And if Sarkozy wins, well, he probably won’t be able to do to France what Thatcher or Reagan or Berlusconi did to their respective countries. If he tries, then France will blow up in his face. In fact, his entire life has been about becoming president. I’m not even sure he’ll know where to go from there.

If what seems nearly inevitable comes to pass, I will be sooooooooo, disappointed. What an incredible wasted opportunity.

04. May 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam | Leave a comment

NO QUARTER: Fox News Gallery

NO QUARTER: FOX NEWS, Crazy Right Wing Propaganda contains dozens of screenshots that truly boggle the mind.

The one pictured above made me laugh. Most of the others definitely didn’t.

Who needs reality, especially when it contradicts your point of view?

13. March 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment

A Few Pearls of Wisdom from Kurt Vonnegut

Let’s take a break from the crazy, fundamentalist Jesus-fascists and those who shamefully tolerate them (out of indifference or some strange reluctance to challenge anything having to do with religion, even in the case of religion gone wild).

There are (or used to be) illustrious American artists and original thinkers around. For instance, Kurt Vonnegut spoke publicly recently in Ohio. Read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Stardust Memory” for the highlights…

It’s sad to think that this type of clairvoyance is going underground, if not extinct…

09. March 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam, Surfin' | Leave a comment

Elections for Dummies (élections, piège à cons ?)

So, the election campaign is in full swing. No, not in the US, in France.

The first round is on April 22, of this year, and the second round is two weeks after that (yes, we always vote on Sundays. Further evidence that the French are godless, satan worshippers?)

France’s politicians distinguish themselves by their incredible longevity. Once in power, they tend to stay there, for decades.

This time, no matter what (assuming the fascist and ancient Le Pen can’t win the second round, even if he makes it past the first), this year’s elections will propel a new generation to power.

In all of the recent elections, the French have systematically voted against the grain (think the No vote to the proposed EU constitutional treaty that was backed by pretty much every party).

Yes, true to their reputation, the French are a rebellious and demanding bunch who say they crave real change, and they have rarely passed up an opportunity to express their revolutionary leanings.

So you would think the French would be excited and grateful to have a “new generation” of politicians to choose from:

  • Nicolas Sarkozy, of the mainstream right, a highly ambitious and driven candidate who survived Chirac’s repeated attempts to derail his candidacy (even though they are both in the same party). Polls show him at 25 to 30% in the first round.
  • Ségolène Royal, of the mainstream left, who created a sensation when she won her party’s nomination, by bypassing traditional party dogma and taking her message directly to the people, dashing the dreams of a whole line-up of “natural” socialist candidates. Polls show her at 25 to 30% in the first round.

But this is where the paradox raises it’s ironic head.

You see, Sarkozy’s policies in the outgoing government have been very criticized, and one can reasonably argue that his words helped spark the riots that rocked the “banlieues” in November 2005. Many feel he is too pro-American, and that he might have joined other European right-wing governments in the coalition of the willing had he been president at the time. He’s to the right of his predecessors on many issues. Basically, he scares the shit out of many voters. In other words, he is very divisive.

And Royal, well, she’s a woman. A lot of voters are worried about her ability to govern, in large part because of that undeniable fact. The intelligentsia (the media, many intellectuals, the parties, including her own) also resent her “populism”. Indeed, she built her platform after organizing over 5000 “participative debates” to hear what ordinary citizens had to say. This is a crime of “lèse-majesté”, in a country that is used to being governed from the top-down by authoritative, paternal figures who know what’s best for the people (like in the old days of the monarchy).

So what the polls are showing, is that the rebellious, revolutionary-minded French, who’ve been clamoring for a changing of the guard for years and years, are worried, because the new guard, is, well, new.

Both candidates are “anxiogène” is how it is often stated (anxiety-inducing).

Which is certainly one of the reasons that François Bayrou, of a small centrist party, is climbing in the polls. He got about 7% of the vote in the last presidential election, but he’s at 18 to 20% in the polls today. Even though he’s nearly always voted with the right (in parliament), he’s getting support from the left by saying that the old left-right split is passé and counter-productive, and that he’ll govern with willing right-wingers and socialists if he’s elected. He promises an imaginary future where left and right work together in harmony for the good of the country (not gonna happen in France, where arguing is the national pastime). He has modest origins. He used to be a stutterer. He has a reassuring personality.

You might say he represents a kinder, gentler protest vote (compared to Le Pen).

So maybe there is no paradox. Voting for Bayrou would certainly be going against the grain. Yet by siphoning off votes from Sarkozy and Royal, he might set the stage for another scary election in which Le Pen would once again make it to the second round.

Because if things stay the way they are now, there will be four candidates in the 20% range: Sarkozy, Royal, Bayrou, Le Pen. And it could be close, so who knows who the 2 front-runners might be. If Bayrou weren’t so high in the polls, there is little doubt that we would have a Sarkozy-Royal duel in the second round.

There’s still some suspense, because Bayrou’s electorate is very volatile. And as usual, Le Pen claims that he is the subject of an evil plot to stop him from obtaining the 500 signatures of elected officials, needed to be candidate. It is true that this time, the signatures are public, so it’s a little tricker, because not everyone wants to be seen supporting a racist pig. If he didn’t get his signatures, that would change everything, and who knows who would make it to the 2nd round. But while some disagree, I believe Le Pen will get his signatures (the deadline is March 16th).

There you have it. A little tour of the French presidential elections as of today. There are many other potential candidates, but they are not doing so well this time around.

I’d be hard pressed to make a prediction. Le Pen can’t win in the second round, even if he is facing Sarkozy. Bayrou will surely win if he makes it to the second round, no matter who his oppenent might be: if he’s running against Sarkozy, the left will vote for him, and if he’s going against Royal, Sarkozy’s voters will vote for him. If it’s Ségo vs. Sarko, it could go either way, although the polls give Sarko the edge. So there’s a real possibility that the left will vote for Bayrou in the first round, just because it increases the odds of beating Sarkozy…

Personally, I’m rooting for Ségolène Royal. And not only because I don’t want Le Pen to make it to the second round again. And not only because I don’t like or trust Sarkozy, the corporate stooge candidate, the incumbent who pretends he wasn’t an important minister of the current government these last few years. And not only because I think the Bayrou vote is a wimpy cop-out and a de facto vote for the right. And not only because I would love to have a hot-looking woman Présidente representing me, and gracing my TV screen every day.

07. March 2007 by sknob
Destination: Blowin' off steam | Leave a comment

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