A reflection on the times

Years ago, I read London Fields by Martin Amis, and I recall being struck by how every transaction in the novel was corrupted- the street market was full of hustlers, the taxi driver ripped the main female character off I think, and the plumber was totally on the take. All of the manufactured goods in the novel were falling to pieces and everything ran late. I don’t remember much else about the novel, but I remember coming away with the impression that what it was essentially about was England, more specifically London, in the rubble of the empire.

The theme seemed to be that it was impossible to have an honest transaction, pound for pound, to get what one paid for in the London of that time.

I can’t help thinking about that now. 

I know Amis’ father was Kingsley Amis, an early anti-Stalinist and one of the first classically defined “Neo-Conservatives,” (former Communist turned conservative) and that Martin volubly defends his father’s life and work in “Korba the Dread,” so I suspect that London Fields was never meant as a criticism of capitalism, but interestingly, to me it reads that way.

We learn from capitalism that we must hack out our own well-being, even if its out of the flesh of our neighbors. Now we have the lesson, but the rewards elude us like water rushing out to sea after the tide shifts. All we have left now is the hacking. 

I find this moderately disturbing

I played a small role in helping to break this story. I used a screen capturing utility for OS X called iShowU to grab the video from the Christian Embassy site.

Lambert emailed me via SteveAudio looking for a way to capture video from the Flash Movie on their site, since Flash Movies are embedded and impossible to download (as far as they know, anyway). Most interestingly, however, during the course of my poking and prodding of this little piece of Flash media, I was sincerely alarmed to see the phrase “Allow www.christianembassy.com to access your camera and microphone?” pop up when I checked the settings. There was no “FUCK NO!!!!1!1!” button, unfortunately.

When I searched for the phrase “Allow [blank] to access your camera and microphone,” google took me straight to Adobe/Macromedia’s site, under the heading “Can others use my webcam to spy on me?

There’s a helpful paragraph there that says-

With the current Macromedia Flash Player, any site you visit can show you their own video, audio or other content. Ads and other applications that use the Flash Player cannot access your webcam without your explicit permission to do so. A privacy dialog window will appear whenever you encounter a Flash site that can make use of video and audio from your webcam. The Macromedia Flash Player Settings dialog window allows you to either deny or allow the application access to your camera and microphone.

That’s not a strong enough “No” for me. It just isn’t. My first question was “Is there any way to permanently disable this feature in Flash?” Current versions of the Flash Player for OS X have a check box that says “Remember,” but having had some experience as a Windows support technician and seeing DirectX and ActiveX controls exploited freely and cheerfully by malware authors, I am extremely wary of any program that allows remote eyes and ears to be opened in my home.

I am not the first person to notice this, naturally. Om Malik was just as creeped out as I am. He blogged about it and the someone named John Dowdell from Macromedia Support piped up in the comments to say “Now, now, girls… don’t get your panties in a wad. We’ve been doing this for a long time.”

I fail to find this at all reassuring. As an earlier commenter said:

Macromedia should put it in big, bold words during the install process that websites have the ability to remotely acess your A/V hardware and GIVE YOU THE OPTION TO PERMANENTLY SHUT THAT DOWN.

Some people may have a need for this, and power to them – but the vast majority of people don’t, and Macrodobe should really be upfront on this one, IMHO.

Alternately, make a version available with that functionality stripped out. I now have to go to a very high profile client of mine, someone who is EXTREMELY concerned about privacy (and justifiably so, btw, and that’s all you need to know about who and why) and say “I have some doubts about Flash Player and Adobe/Macromedia’s commitment to your privacy.”

There is no current Open Source alternative for Flash Player with a binary installer that runs on OS X. I am tempted to empty my PayPal account into Gnash‘s coffers in the hopes that an OS X binary will pop out soon.

I have to say, I can think of few creepier phrases than “Allow www.christianembassy.com to access your camera and microphone?”

In addition to what I hope will be a lively and informative debate in the comments, I would also be interested in your thoughts on similarly creepy phrases…

They should charge Bill Frist as an accessory

I love living in a healthcare-free society. When are people going to start treating the shit healthcare afforded most Americans as a CRISIS?

WAUKEGAN, Illinois (AP) — A coroner’s jury has declared the death of a heart attack victim who spent almost two hours in a hospital waiting room to be a homicide.

Beatrice Vance, 49, died of a heart attack, but the jury at a coroner’s inquest ruled Thursday that her death also was “a result of gross deviations from the standard of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in this situation.”

Maybe throwing people in jail will help, but it’s not the overburdened staff of the Emergency Room that need to “Take a Rumsfeld” to protect the healthcare profiteers and the higher-ups who run the hospitals.

There’s no excuse for this.

Further thoughts on the Deadest Guy in the Room

Let’s just say, for a moment, that, y’know, maybe he’s NOT dead. Or maybe that’s he’s totally dead, after all, but it wasn’t a steady diet of prime rib and stress that did him in. Let your mind roam free from the Lies of the Liberal Media. (ahem)

This is, I realize, full on tin-foil hat territory.

But let’s consider: The guy is awaiting sentencing for the Enron fraud. He’s also sitting on a large cache of information that the Vice President’s office wants to be kept secret. At all costs.

Am I the only one who can imagine a conversation that goes like this?

“Tell ya what, Kennyboy. You play dead, we whisk you out of the country, ba-da-bing, it all goes away. Enjoy Jamaica…”

Or how about a conversation that goes like this?

“You put this in his Diet Dr. Pepper and bammo- massive coronary, no evidence.”

You are encouraged to speculate further in the comments.

Is it irresponsible to speculate? I think it’s irresponsible NOT to.

Several other theories that have come flying at me via email and IM-
1. Last big 4th of July ecstasy and viagra blowout before going into the Joint.
2. Suicide? Meet coverup. Coverup, Suicide…. get to know each other.

Somebody say something funny.

Or otherwise enlightening.

I dunno. I am sort of skimming paragraphs that read like this:

Busby lost by 4.5%, but it took the Republicans a lot of money to get it done. The good omen in the race seems to suggest that Busby had a shift of 18% her way from the last time she ran. As Bowers states, if that happens across the country in November, we’ll have a rout. Independents are falling heavily for Democrats, but as others who follow these things for a living have said, turn out was abysmal.

Apologies to Taylor Marsh for what’s about to come (because I respect your work and your optimism… I REALLY DO…) but fucking shit this sort of thing depresses me.

We’re spending an inordinate amount of time and resources rampaging towards the middle in our elections in this country. There’s some magic percentage of “undecided” voters that “centrist” candidates are chasing, and frankly all I can say is “Fuck those people.” Who, in the brave year of 2006 can look at a television news program for longer than an hour and think “Oh, ho-hum, who shall I vote for? I am undecided!”??

I know that Markos wants to form coalitions and work the local races and Crash the Gates through the ballot box, but when I read stories like this in the local paper:

Athens Regional Medical Center can charge uninsured patients higher rates than patients who do have health insurance, a state appeals court has ruled.

In a decision handed down May 26, the Georgia Court of Appeals said the practice violates no state laws.

The court’s ruling upheld a July 21 decision by Clarke County Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens, who dismissed a 2004 lawsuit brought by five former ARMC patients.

“The Court of Appeals says Athens Regional does completely what they’re supposed to do under Georgia law,” said Ed Allen, a lawyer for Athens Regional Medical Center.

Lawyers for the five former ARMC patients said the dual-pricing system is unfair and fraudulent and should be declared illegal, partly because the burden of the higher charges falls disproportionately on poor people and minorities, those least able to pay.

Among the plaintiffs were Mercer Cox, charged $941.60 for ointment and a bandage in ARMC’s emergency room for a minor burn; Keith Hambrick, charged about $8,500 for a two-hour outpatient hernia operation – not counting what the surgeon charged; and John Wilson, charged $10,650.26 for a one-day hospitalization for a cardiac catheterization.

The hospital did not dispute that it charges more to uninsured patients, but maintained that the law doesn’t prohibit the price structure.

I just despair that we’re ever going to see candidates who are going to be able to get past the corporate media’s distortions and slavering obeisance to power and the status quo. I just don’t know how real fundamental change is possible if we have to squeak by on margins of “undecideds” when there are clearly so MANY COMPLETELY FUCKED UP THINGS GOING ON, and anyone with half a brain could see that.

Shorter US Healthcare System: Fuck the poor. Those insurance companies have mean lawyers and they won’t pay for stuff. Poor people? FUCK YOU.

I am having a little trouble getting enthused about electoral returns right now, unless there’s a headline that says “Angry mob of 100,000 moves on Washington.”

I just don’t know how this country got this fucked up, but I don’t think that the DNC has any plan to fix it.

Well, I think I will have a cigar in their dishonour.

Skilling and Lay, or as they will soon be known, Trixie and Layla, found guilty on multiple counts.

The Enron jury just came back with its verdict. Ken Lay has been found guilty of all six of his jury trial counts, as well as having been found guilty of banking fraud charges in a bench trial portion of the charges. Jeffrey Skilling was found guilty of 19 of his 28 charges.

Now, if you were Ken Lay, and you were in on those Cheney Energy Task Force talks where they divvied up Iraq in August of 2001, wouldn’t you be thinking about getting Someone (ANYONE!) on the phone right about now?

Long-time readers (both of you) will remember my Grand Unified Filed Theory of the Iraq war, Plamegate and the foot-dragging on the Lay/Skilling trial….

With any luck, it will all come unraveled with one or two phone calls made by a man who REALLY wants to stay out of jail.

More trouble in Harlan County

What’s up with all the mine explosions and cave-ins lately? There’s more trouble in Harlan County

Saturday’s explosion was the deadliest mining incident in the state since 1989, when 10 miners died in a western Kentucky mine blast, state officials said.

The national death toll from coal mining accidents is now 31 this year, with 10 of them in Kentucky.

Y’know, this isn’t some sort of odd coincidence

Sago Mine was cited for repeated safety violations over the past two years, including multiple citations for inadequate ventilation and failure to fully secure the mine against a roof collapse. The Mine Safety and Health Administration issued a total of 208 citations for alleged violations at the site last year, up from 68 in 2004.
Most of the citations were issued before the current owners took over the mine in November, but International Coal Group Inc. was cited by the federal government three times in five days in December for allowing flammable coal dust to collect in a work area. Those citations were among 17 issued last year at the mine for ”accumulation of combustible materials.” Anker West Virginia was the former owner.
The violations last year have drawn total fines of $24,000, with scores of penalties for the minimum of $60. Some citations issued late in the year have not been assessed fines yet, but the amount of the fines has led Democrats to raise questions about Bush administration oversight of industry.
”One might expect massive penalty assessments under federal law for such a dismal record,” Representative George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House committee that oversees labor issues, wrote yesterday to the committee chairman, John A. Boehner, and formally requested an investigation.
”These penalties included assessments for noncompliance with requirements related to mine ventilation plans, accumulation of combustible materials, and roof support,” the letter continued. ”Most of the fines ranged from $60 to $440, despite what would appear to be repeat violations.”
The White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, defended the Bush administration’s record of mine enforcement. He called it a top priority for the first five years President Bush has been in office.

Oh, well, if Scott McClellan said it… then, uh… something….

Under Bush, the Mine Safety and Health Administration has worked more closely with mine owners than under previous presidents, according to union officials. The government has formed formal ”partnerships” between companies and agency officials and is shying away from imposing heavy fines and sanctions, said Phil Smith, a spokesman for United Mine Workers of America.

Isn’t that special? Domestic partnerships for coal corporations…

Shorter Bush Administration:
Dear Working People: Fuck You.

Hayden tarred with the same brush as Goss?

General Michael V. Hayden may have some connections to the same scandal that (probably) brought down his predecessor.

Hayden, shown here in an undated photo:

according to TPM Muckraker:

contracted the services of a top executive at the company at the center of the Cunningham bribery scandal, according to two former employees of the company.

Hayden, President Bush’s pick to replace Porter Goss as head of the CIA, contracted with MZM Inc. for the services of Lt. Gen. James C. King, then a senior vice president of the company, the sources say. MZM was owned and operated by Mitchell Wade, who has admitted to bribing former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham with $1.4 million in money and gifts. Wade has also reportedly told investigators he helped arrange for prostitutes to entertain the disgraced lawmaker, and he continues to cooperate with a federal inquiry into the matter.

Small world, huh?