Sunday, January 31, 2016

Friday Cat Blogging On Sunday

This pic of Lily is clipped from one of the first photos at home using the new phone:

The original is better, but huge... I had to reduce the file size a lot by reducing the pic size and cutting the jpeg quality a bit. Sometimes Stella wishes she could reduce Lily a bit, but dieting is not Lily's forte.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Walmart Deserves Its Losses — America's Small Towns Do Not

As long ago as the early 1990s, when my father was still alive and living a few miles outside Livingston, TX, Walmart was moving into small towns, engaging in predatory pricing and driving competing mom-and-pop stores out of business. Now, 20 years later, Walmart is closing 154 stores in America, many in those same small towns, in some cases forcing residents to drive to other towns to buy their bread and butter. Will the small grocer now re-emerge? Who knows. Folks gotta eat and clothe themselves...

Between predatory pricing and mistreatment of employees... e.g., at one point Walmart was taking out "dead janitor" insurance policies on rank-and-file employees; such policies do not benefit the employees at all... Walmart is just about my least favorite retail chain. I haven't shopped there in at least 20 years. Indeed, I could truthfully say, in the words of singer/songwriter Dave Lippman, "I Hate Walmart." (That link autoplays an audio recording; lyrics alone are here, including several newer verses not in the recording.)

Regarding Walmart's announcement of store closures (including another 115 stores not in the US), I can only say, they had it coming. If they failed to profit from their deplorable act of driving local stores out of business, the invisible hand should indeed raise its middle finger at them.

I do feel for the Walmart employees who lost their jobs. Walmart did offer them a job in another Walmart... if they were willing to relocate to another town. What part of "home" do the executives fail to understand?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Smartphone Hears Voices - And Transcribes Them

It is said that idiots are easily amused. By that criterion I am one. I am easily amused by the degree to which speech recognition software has improved from my college days 47 years ago to the present. It still has a few problems even today, but I am managing to write this post using the Google speech to text software built-in to this phone.

And that pleases me more than you can imagine, or at least more than words can express. I am having fun with a technology for the first time in years!

ANNOTATION from the desktop's keyboard: my dictation was halting, as you might expect of someone who is not by training or nature a dictator. But there were only two errors I could not easily correct by speaking rather than typing: one was the sentence "I am one"; the s/w was absolutely determined to change the "one" to the digit "1" no matter what I did. One time it even visibly transcribed it as "one" and then visibly changed it to "1". (sigh!) The other had to do with inserting explicit newlines. The s/w recognizes some punctuation and a few formatting characters when their names are spoken, and "newline" is one of them, but something about my Texas accent must have thrown off the recognition algorithm: sometimes it inserted a Unicode/ASCII newline character; sometimes it rendered it "Near line" or something even more unrecognizable. Even so, there were no more transcription errors than I learned to expect from the cheeky and uncooperative keypunch operator in my first job right out of college. (sigh again!)

Lester Young, The Most Relaxed Sax Player Ever

The POTUS is never relaxed (it's not the nature of the job) but the Prez (Lester Young, tenor sax) certainly was, in 1951 at least. Enjoy a laid-back hour of Prez sitting in with the Nat King Cole Trio, featuring
  • (tracks 1-10) Cole on piano (we forget that the guy did more than sing!), unknown on bass, Buddy Rich on drums; and
  • (tracks 11-14) Cole on piano, Harry Edison on trumpet, Dexter Gordon on tenor sax, Red Callender or Johnny Miller (?) on bass, and again Buddy Rich on drums.
Mmmmm, it's like eating homemade ice cream!
We are fortunate that despite Young's short life (yes, he died Young, at age 49), he influenced many of the great players of the following generation.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Things That Make You Look Over Your Shoulder

Two articles well worth your time to read:
  • It turns out Donald Trump's father was the racist landlord Woody Guthrie hated
    I admit I am a fan of Woody Guthrie (I wish I could truthfully say "This Keyboard Kills Fascists," as Guthrie often labeled his "machine" [guitar]), and not so much a fan of Donald Trump or landlords in general, but based on this article, Fred Trump was worse than the lot regarding racial discrimination. Like father, like son? I wouldn't go that far, but things one learns in youth about interaction with other people tend to last a lifetime, and a racist parent makes me nervous about the child.
  • U.S. will use facial recognition at airports
    I no longer fly because I do not like undergoing invasive searches without a warrant, but these machines, however well they appear to work, make me very uncomfortable. What happens if you're a close match (as the device reckons) with a terrorist? Are your happy urban life, your career, your relationships personal and business, etc. immediately over? I wouldn't bet against it. It's the no-fly list writ large. ("No-live list"?)

    And then there's the fact that these machines work, um, badly. Here's the ACLU on the subject:
    A study by the government's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), for example, found false-negative rates for face-recognition verification of 43 percent using photos of subjects taken just 18 months earlier, for example. And those photos were taken in perfect conditions, significant because facial recognition software is terrible at handling changes in lighting or camera angle or images with busy backgrounds. The NIST study also found that a change of 45 degrees in the camera angle rendered the software useless. The technology works best under tightly controlled conditions, when the subject is starting directly into the camera under bright lights - although another study by the Department of Defense found high error rates even in those ideal conditions. Grainy, dated video surveillance photographs of the type likely to be on file for suspected terrorists would be of very little use.
    Does that give you a lot of confidence?
(I'm afraid I didn't log the sources of these links. If you published one or both, and you are on my blogroll, please accept my thanks.)

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Is SCOTUS Preparing A Third Strike Against The Executive?

Arguably, Citizens United was the first strike, using the First Amendment free-speech clause to remove virtually all limits on political campaign contributions by corporations. It seems a strange ruling to me, in that it grants free-speech rights to virtual persons that can live forever and often have and can spend more money than any living human individual.

The second strike was Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, another odd bird that effectively grants First Amendment freedom of religion to corporations, allowing them to impose the corporate owner's religious constraints on medical insurance benefits offered to employees, e.g., refusing to cover the cost of abortion.

And now the apparent third strike: the Court appears to be taking direct aim at the constitutionally listed powers of the Executive branch. As Tierney Sneed at TPM states the matter:
It was not unexpected that the Supreme Court took up a case Tuesday challenging the Obama administration's executive actions on immigration. But it was somewhat of a surprise that in doing so, the court asked to be briefed on whether the memo outlining the administration's policy “violates the Take Care Clause of the Constitution” -- a question which was not addressed directly in lower court decisions and not among those the U.S. government included in its petition.


The surprise is not that the Supreme Court is a political entity; that was true of the very first Supreme Court seated. If there is a surprise, it is that today's Court (possibly influenced by Chief Justice John Roberts) is requesting from trial courts (or other lower courts whose cases SCOTUS ultimately hears on appeal) information on issues not introduced by either side at trial or on appeal, issues to allow archconservative Roberts & Co. to set particular precedents they desire on issues never raised in trial or earlier appeals.

Our nation's founders framed the Judiciary as the weakest branch among the three. The Judiciary, starting immediately with John Marshall, set about rectifying that disparity. Today the Roberts Court, by applying all kinds of powers assumed over the centuries, as well as a few tricks the founders never imagined, can be, when it wishes, vastly more powerful than the Congress or the President. I am quite certain that if a Republican takes the presidency this year, the Roberts Court will find and hear some case that allows them to remove the hobbles they have been placing and continue to place on Executive branch power while Obama is president.

Do these rulings serve the cause of justice? C'mon, gimme a break...

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

PoliticusUSA Features Excellent Article On Inequality, Anti‑Union Activity, Driving Down Wages

Tim Libretti at PoliticusUSA offers "Trickle-Down to Keep-the-Worker-Down: It’s Not the 'Skills Gap' Driving Down Wages," a worthy post on exactly what its title suggests.

For most of my life, certainly all of the working part of it, there has been an ongoing and effective attempt to sabotage unions and the kind of contracts they negotiate on behalf of workers. Most of the sabotage is either by outright oligarchs who own huge corporations... or by Republicans on behalf of those fat cats. (Recently a few Democrats have gotten aboard that train; keep your eyes open!)

(Admittedly, not that last one yet...)

Take it from a lifelong worker recently retired: we don't appreciate what the bastards have done.

(H/T Avedon.)

Whose Party Is It?

Josh Marshall, the estimable if too-moderate-for-my-taste editor and publisher of Talking Points Memo, expresses outright in an editorial a thought that's been troubling my mind in the past few days. Here's his conclusion:

Let's put it starkly. Whose Republican party is this? McCain's? Romney's? Bush's? Boehner's? Ryan's? There's little question that the 2016 GOP is the party of Sarah Palin. Donald Trump is simply the successor who is bringing what she started to fruition - the Joshua to her Moses, the Umar to her Muhammad. This is not simply a commentary on the colorful, antic quality of this political cycle. It's rooted in the same basic themes and beliefs: a mix of grievance and aggression, sharp tongued impatience with cosmopolitan thinking and 'political correctness', paeans to the righteous resentment of hard-working white folk, and all packaged in a media savvy gift for gab. It is no accident that the two on stage today are both reality TV stars. Perhaps he has talents to bring things to fruition which she could not. But it's her brand and her message.

This may all sound like a snark. But that's only the outer layer at most. Look back over the last eight years with the jostling factions of the GOP, establishment wings, Tea Partiers, post-2012 post-mortemers, House backbenchers, Palin and Joe the Plumber. What has it all arrived at? Whose party does it end up being? For right now, there's just no debating it: Palin comes out on top. It's her party.

The good Dog help us all, Marshall is very probably right. The GOP is defunct; long live the (new) GOP?

I don't know. America has reached a point of decision: do we retain a flawed two-party system, or do our wide assortment of crazies throw out both major parties and forcibly replace them with their vision of a one-party system? Given the temperament of those crazies, you can bet that a one-party system will more resemble today's GOP... yes, Sarah Palin prominent among them... than the Democratic Party of any era, even in its current sad state.

What do we see when we look down the road a dozen years? Is it His Most Excellent Supreme Ruler Trump, with his Lord High Executioner Palin, who clearly would love to dispatch more than turkeys? You thought we were done with her, and suspected we would be done with him after this primary season. I'm not betting against either one: in its current collectively fractured frame of mind, the diminishing White American majority, in a last rash act, could thrust the baton into their hands.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Fourteen Years Of Shameful (In)Action On Guantanamo

January 11 was the fourteenth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo as the home of US prisons, prisons at which people are effectively permanently detained on grounds not even remotely legal under US law or international law. Erin Corbett of BORDC/DDF quotes Hina Shamsi of ACLU:
... Since its opening in 2002, only eight of the original 780 detainees at the prison have been convicted of a crime by a military commission, and of the 103 detainees that remain at the camp, 59 have been classified as ineligible for release or transfer.

“The national shame of Guantanamo’s existence continues 14 years later. And this is a shame that threatens, more than ever, I think, to mar President Obama’s legacy as he leaves office, and the potential that he leaves office without closing Guantánamo,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. And many are talking today about the importance of Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo – a promise he made in 2008 during his first election campaign.

The end of Obama's presidency is approaching rapidly, and it is clearer than ever that he has no intention of fulfilling his campaign promise... both times he was elected... to close the prisons at Guantanamo. It isn't going to happen on his watch; that's not something he wants listed in his oh-so-precious legacy.

If a Republican succeeds him, you know Gitmo will stay in business, You know none of the prisoners... including the ones for whom it has been established that they committed no crime... will ever be released or relocated. It's a de facto life sentence for... what? what precisely is their crime? when were they tried for it, if ever? Such a trial, if it happened, was not public, and it damned surely wasn't speedy... but more likely it never happened.

And if a Democrat succeeds him, well... Hillary will go along to get along, and let's face it, Bernie is never going to sit in the Oval Office. I'm not saying you shouldn't vote for the Democratic candidate, only that among her... or his... virtues, do not expect to find a passion for civil liberties in international matters.

Shame! Shame! Shame!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Ted Cruz For Child Abuse! Ted Cruz For Child Abuse! Ted Cruz...

I have known parents who spank their children; most of those parents use corporal punishment sparingly and with regret even as they consider it necessary. (Personally, I consider it anti-effective in several ways. Don't get me started.)

These with his right hand...
... this one in his wildest dreams.
But not Ted Cruz. He spanks his 5-year-old daughter and he's proud of it, and he says voters should "spank" Hillary Clinton. What a metaphor! As a society, we've been that route in schools, though mostly with boys; the primary results have been a) boys who hold contests to see who can provoke the most swats, and b) a rising juvenile crime rate.

To me, this statement is just more evidence (if anyone needs more) that Ted Cruz is temperamentally unsuited to be president. Not to mention misogynistic...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

SCOTUS: Florida Death Penalty Decision System Is Unconstitutional

Here is the SCOTUSblog page on Hurst v. Florida. Linked from there is Lyle Denniston's opinion analysis. Here is an excerpt:
Striking down the last state law that denies the jury in a murder case the final choice on a death sentence, the Supreme Court on Tuesday nullified Florida’s capital-sentencing regime because it gives the final decision to the trial judge. By a vote of eight to one in Hurst v. Florida, the Court also overruled two of its prior decisions that had upheld Florida’s law.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s fairly brief majority opinion relied primarily upon a 2002 decision, Ring v. Arizona, which the Court interpreted to have made clear that if there is ever to be a death sentence in a murder case tried by a jury, the jurors must hold the final decision, not subject to being second-guessed by the judge.

The ruling, however, did not immediately spare the life of Timothy Lee Hurst of Pensacola for murdering a co-worker at a fast-food restaurant more than seventeen years ago. ...
The case involved a worker at Popeye's who murdered his manager, so I believe everyone has to agree this is a chicken decision. But the reasoning makes some sense; please read the article. The opinion for the Court was written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote
We hold this sentencing scheme unconstitutional. The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.

The entire minority in the 8-1 decision was Justice Samuel Alito, who understandably has difficulty with the Sixth Amendment, which reads
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
Note that the trial is decided by "... an impartial jury..." not by the whims of a judge. This may be scant comfort to the accused in this case, if SCOTUS decides to send the case back to Florida.

When will the USA join the large majority of nations in the world in abolishing the death penalty? Hint: from the pics I saw on the news last night, the Northeast is on its way to freezing over, and Hell can't be far behind...

Moto E: A Genuine Time Sink

The Motorola Moto E has absorbed unbelievable amounts of time, as well as believable amounts of money. In return, it is training me in a field in which I had no prior experience. It appears to be a joint effort of AT&T, Google, Motorola, and Android: to my surprise, as long as I am willing to invest the time, the thing is not such a hodgepodge as one might expect. I'll write occasional single-topic posts in the coming days.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Test post, please ignore

Testing from smartphone...

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy 2016!

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