Thursday, December 09, 2010

Do NOT Donate to the Salvation Army

If their being a right-wing evangelical Christian organisation isn't enough for you right off the top (and it damn well should be), they are

pro-forced birth, even in cases of genetic abnormality
pro-execution, if in a somewhat wishy-washy way
anti-assisted suicide, which they frame as a "dignity" issue, as if dying slowly from a horrible disease is ever dignified
anti-same-sex-marriage, as well as pro-patriarchal family structure
of the opinion that LGB people should remain chaste unless they are willing to marry someone of the opposite sex, and seem to advocate that it's possible to "pray away the gay". They claim in Canada not to discriminate against LGB people in the provision of services (although I'm skeptical), but they openly do in the US.
anti-divorce, and pro-patriarchal marriage
anti-porn, and consider using porn to be an "injurious lifestyle" (This position statement also seems to take a fairly hardline stance against doing anything specifically for the purpose of obtaining sexual pleasure, yeesh.)
anti-stem-cell research, as well as for circumscribing scientific research based on their interpretation of Biblical morality; they also seem to be for the idea of forcing people to raise handicapped children they don't want (which, as a handicapped person, I am totally against)
in favour of even non-believers observing a/the sabbath
anti-drinking, and really seem to be taking the line that "use is abuse" for pretty well any drugs (don't look to the Slave Nation Army to help with decriminalisation, legalisation, or harm reduction programmes!)

Not only that, but their Calgary branch is throwing away Harry Potter and Twilight toys on the grounds that they're unsuitable because they promote "witchcraft and vampire themes"...but they think toy guns are perfectly okay to give away.

They've also had to make public apologies for child abuse, including rape, in Australia and New Zealand.

Rustin also worked at a SA relief depot in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, and his major complaints about them were that they were far more interested in doing things that would look good to the media and outside observers than actually providing concrete help. He relayed an anecdote about an incident where, after he had essentially taken over the station and gotten it running efficiently, the burning question of the hour among the SA members was which uniform they should be wearing the next day...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Unbearable Bigness of Streetcars

Rustin and I were just talking about corporate malfeasance and how damn bloody difficult it is to get the average person to grok just exactly how huge the problem really is. The problem is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think political corruption, war, and poverty are big problems, but that's just peanuts to corporate malfeasance.

I mean, take Rustin and I. We're a couple of pretty smart folks. He's managed to drop out of both Carnegie Mellon and Reed College, has a patent, and is generally a know-some-of-it about a hell of a lot. I got an undergraduate degree from Canada's answer to Yale and a Master's from Canada's answer to MIT. Both of us have been scaring teachers (and other ordinary unfortunates) for most of our lives. (I once handed in an assignment which was returned with the note “100% This was the first one of these I've ever given – and it hurt.”)

In other words, what I'm saying is that we're a couple of badass brainiacs, and this shit has us constantly sanity-checking each other because of the scope of it. Honestly. Every couple of months, Rustin and I find ourselves on the phone kind of making Scooby-Doo noises at each other and asking ourselves, “Are we nuts? Are we seeing things?”

But this really isn't about us. We're not even the baddest of badasses this problem has devoured. Let me introduce you to the man who started it all, Bradford J. Snell. At the time, he had everything. He was young, good-looking, charismatic, at the top of his game, from a wealthy family (I get the distinct impression that he might have introduced himself as “Brad Snell of the [Somewhere] Snells,” you know?), and working in government antitrust actions in the swinging 1970s.

In 1974, Brad Snell was a 26 year old hotshot Congressional antitrust lawyer tasked with investigating corporate corruption in the American ground transportation industry. His explosive testimony before a United States Senate inquiry, and the landmark report American Ground Transportation, unearthed disturbing facts about how a handful of powerful corporations, including General Motors, Standard Oil, and Greyhound, had more or less literally remade the world in their own images. The facts in the case had been lying dormant since the late 1940s when the antitrust cases had occurred, except for a minor publication in a policy journal in 1970. It was a scoop and a coup. If there is such a thing as a rock star lawyer, Brad Snell used to be it.


Brad Snell has been going to publish a book on the subject – for about 25 years now. Rustin and I understand why he has never gone to press; the sheer crushing weight of the huge web of information is enough to paralyse even a hotshot lawyer who can crank out a 200 page report with 50 pages of footnotes in a year. Since 1974 – that's before I was born – he's been enmeshed in streetcars. Granted, it has given him a fairly lucrative sideline in helping Holocaust survivors track down and reclaim assets and property from Nazi-allied corporate profiteering. But that in itself is an indication of how staggeringly big this is: You start out writing about streetcars and robber barons and wind up as Simon Wiesenthal's forensic accountant.

Which also means you have a hell of a time writing a book on the subject. How do you keep your information straight? I mean, you know you have a citation somewhere for a particular fact, but if you have to dig through a couple of rooms' worth of documentation (the related papers for one antitrust case, US v. National City Lines, literally take up an entire room) to find something, you're, well, fucked. Even if you're an elite prep school-educated rock star lawyer. And where do you start? The tangled mess of facts is huge, and most of them are interrelated, and picking a specific thread apart to start on it might just cause the whole thing to unravel in front of your eyes. So you wind up doing more research, and more research, hoping to find the one thing, that smokingest of smoking guns, that you can hold up in front of people and say “This is it,” rather than having to subject them to a backtrail of facts that would put ole Brad's Con Law prof down for his afternoon nap.

So that's what he's been doing for the last almost four decades. And oh god, do I ever feel his pain. (I keep saying to Rustin, "The poor guy.") You start out writing about streetcars and robber barons and wind up as Simon Wiesenthal's forensic accountant...and then, somewhere in there...

The project eats your life. And keep in mind, that's only one tiny piece of the problem of corporate crime, which is only one tiny piece of the problems with corporations in general.

It's too big to see well without getting a bad case of vertigo of the mind. If you're not nauseated by the thought of trillion-dollar ad campaigns and worldwide social engineering experiments, you're not understanding it yet. I'm not saying that everyone has to let it consume them to the same extent it has happened to Brad Snell, but if you don't get that this problem is so big that just trying to understand even part of it can sweep you away like a woodchip in a spring flood, you cannot possibly do much about it. Yes, it looks impossibly big, but it's not (merely improbably big, and it didn't start that way).

Want to do something about corporate crime? Think big. Really big. And hang on to your barf bag.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Score One for the Good Folk

Seed Media is not going to allow PepsiCo to have a blog on ScienceBlogs after all. This is a minor victory in the war against complete corporate dominance, but an important one at least for that little corner of the internet.

This SCIENCE® Brought To You By PepsiCo, Purveyors of Fine Foods Everywhere!

So apparently PepsiCo, in an apparent attempt to leech reputation and gain blog traffic by proxy, has bought its way into ScienceBlogs, where I spend a fair amount of time hanging out. I think this stinks for several reasons:

a) It seems like an attempt at greenwashing, like by blogging about food science and nutrition, PepsiCo is trying to make out that they're a "good corporate citizen"1 in that they care about nutrition and stopping the so-called obesity epidemic and so on and so forth. This strikes me as akin to Wal-Mart's CF lightbulb initiative and their subsequent trumpeting of their environmental friendliness, 100 000 s.f. mega-box rainflow-distorting, hectares-of-land-buried-under-concrete, air-conditioned big box grotesqueries notwithstanding.

b) It seems as though PepsiCo is trying to grab reputation and traffic by proxy. ScienceBlogs itself is the biggest, most well-trafficked science blogging site on the whole Internet. It's the place to be to read interesting writing on science, as well as a variety of other topics including religion or the lack of it, medicine, current events, and politics. It's a great place to be, and I can understand PepsiCo's PR department wanting to grab a piece of that shine for themselves. On the other hand, in terms of getting traffic for themselves, what, do they really think that the Pharynguloid Hordes or the Respectfully Insolent are going to storm their blog en masse to do anything other than give them the Sadly, No! snark and awe treatment? Either corporate drones are really stupid, or they just don't really get this internet thingy, despite its being in its second decade of wide popular currency...

c) That said, what the fuck is PepsiCo doing trying to buy its way into ScienceBlogs, anyway?! PepsiCo is a giant transnational corporation with more money than Croesus, King Midas, and Scrooge McDuck put together, so to speak. It can afford to put a blog on its own corporate site (or one of them), and apparently has already done so, but wants to "syndicate" the blog onto ScienceBlogs. Or it could create its very own "experiential marketing" site, at trivial expense to a corporation of that size, to put the blog and whatever other suit-approved content it wants to put there, without making the ScienceBloggers look like a bunch of shills for swill.

d) It's a huge conflict of interest. I don't want to read a blog on nutrition put out by PepsiCo (or Coca-Cola, or Archer-Daniels-Midland, or Monsanto, or McDonalds, or or or) any more than I want to read a blog on mass transit put out by General Motors, Ford, or Chrysler, or a blog on sustainable energy put out by BP or Shell or even Petro-Canada. They have no credibility on the subject at all because they're a corporation, which exists strictly to make money, and these particular corporations make their money by selling people products and/or services that are antithetical to those topics. If you don't get why this could be a problem, picture a blog about steak written by PETA.

e) There's no delicate way to say this: Corporations lie. They lie and they lie and they lie and they lie some more. Whether it's tobacco industry denialism and stonewalling, Wal-Mart lying about the origins of its products and projecting a wholesome folksy image while squeezing its suppliers to death and mistreating its workers in a variety of ways, or the industry-funded bullshit and propaganda that has been put out regarding biofuels, or the assisted demise of the rail transit system in North America, or the various propaganda-fests documented in Fast Food Nation, or the egregious abuses documented by J. Patrick Wright from John De Lorean's notes in On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors, or the outright denials of any wrongdoing or liability by Curragh Resources2 in the Westray mine disaster, or even the existence of birthstones, which seems to have been made up out of the whole cloth so that Tiffany's could sell more jewellery to credulous dupes; it's wise to assume that since corporations exist for no other purpose than to make money, if a corporation can make money by lying, it will. Therefore it's really only justified to assume, prima facie that a corporation is lying. Or, as your mother used to say, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Also, given a) through e), yeah, let's just give a billion-dollar corporation another platform on which to put its corporate message. It's not as though there aren't practically already billboards on the backs of people's eyelids, for fuck's sake.3

So I think this is a dumb move by Seed Media, and will ultimately either corrode ScienceBlogs' credibility, or it will backfire on them when the blog sinks like a stone and the revenue goes away.

1 I refer you to Murray Dobbin's book The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen.

2 Note the line "the explosion was a terrible tragedy which could not have been foreseen"; this about an explosion in a notoriously gassy and deadly coal seam, in a mine where stonedusting was done intermittently if at all (the extent to which this is true is documented in the Westray Inquiry transcripts), but hoocuddanode?! Gassy, coal-dusty mines tend to blow up! I dunno about you, but I'm damn tired of flacks using "Nobody could have foreseen..." as their all-purpose Get-Out-Of-Jail/Stupid/Trouble-Free Card, especially when the thing they're feigning ignorance of is so transparently obvious the chorus of "WE DID, YOU FUCKING IDIOT!" should be deafening.

3 But, thanks to NAFTA et al, corporations now have more rights than natural persons, so we're not actually allowed to have ad-free public or personal space anymore, in our brave new world of dutifully, humbly, and gratefully serving our corporate overlords.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Who is Zaki Bucharest?

People in the Portland area have been rightly concerned about an interesting case that happened at Portland State University:

A professor claims that Associated Students of Portland State University Chief of Staff Zachry (Zaki) Bucharest is an "FBI informant and agent provocateur," who is trying to incite students to violence.

A commenter on the Willamette Week Online site claims that Bucharest is "member on [sic] nearly all the Muslim student groups at PSU."

Another commenter in the same thread provides this link to a YouTube profile she claims is his. There's no way of linking the two, other than circumstantially, however. (A little discourse analytics suggests it may in fact be the same person.) I note that the name on the YouTube profile transliterates roughly to "Itzhak Perez."

The same commenter provides a link to his MySpace page, where he uses the handle "Born Zacharias...Ramon." The picture makes it pretty clear that "Zacharias...Ramon" is almost certainly the same person as in the pictures on the Daily Vanguard article and the ASPSU profile page. (I'm personally not convinced that "Bucharest" is anybody's actual family name.)

Things get a little murky from here. You see, whoever Zachry Bucharest/Zacharias Ramon is, he has no digital backtrail whatsoever. In the linked articles, there are a few people who vouch for having known him for a couple of years, but a little investigation turns up almost precisely nothing, except for a bunch of rabid right-wing and/or anti-semitic websites ranting about Zionist scum or whatever.

If you Google "Zachry/Zachary/Zaki Bucharest," you find pretty much nothing other than his ASPSU page, the linked articles, and the aforementioned foaming websites.

If you Google the e-mail given on Bucharest's ASPSU page, you find basically the same thing. Same with the phone number.

If you look at his MySpace page, you'll find he has no blog posts, one friend (and seven deleted friends), and basically no activity. (I can't cop to having the world's most active MySpace, either, since I've basically forgotten about it for over a year now, I think, but my profile doesn't exactly look quite so phoned-in.)

Even Googling under all the variations of any of his names/aliases I could think of (and all the spellings I could think of) in Hebrew -- which would possibly turn up any Israel-based online presence -- turns up precisely nothing.

He has no blog comments, no YouTube comments (that I can see, anyway), no visible e-mails, no web page, no nothing. Even looking for him strictly under PSU-sanctioned stuff doesn't find you much.

My thoughts on this are that either he's the most successful case of internet anonymity ever, or the guy doesn't actually exist. In either case, I think that raises more questions than it answers...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Malaria, Revisited

Today on Science-Based Medicine, there is an article talking about the effects of climate change on infectious disease. Mark Crislip writes,
Diseases that may increase in the US or become endemic again include malaria, dengue, and Leishmaniasis. A 4 degree rise in temperature could allow dengue to exist as far north as Winnipeg and malaria to be in all of Europe. Seems to be a good trade off to me: more dengue and malaria, less RSV [respiratory syncytial virus].

Good times for an infectious disease doctor.

Not so good times for the rest of us.

Just for the record, I was saying this three years ago. On Tuesday, 16 January 2007, I wrote:
I've been watching what has been happening with insect-borne and emerging diseases in this area. Due to climate change, the ranges of various insects are moving northward. Species that once couldn't survive the cold winters here are now thriving. Combine that with ubiquitous and fast overseas travel from around the world, and is it really so farfetched to think that we could begin to see malaria in this area somewhere soon? Already there has been a localised outbreak in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Yes, it could happen here, probably in much the same manner as SARS. I am not a doctor (nor do I play one on tv), and I'm not an epidemiologist (even a barefoot one), but I think it's probably safe to assume that the native strain of malaria is eradicated, and I wouldn't want to speculate on the chances of reintroducing or re-evolving a plasmodium parasite that can live in our native mosquitoes ... but I also don't think it's completely unrealistic to think we might see a reappearance of malaria in North American temperate zones in our lifetimes, either.

Sometimes I hate being right...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Great Canadian Flyer-In

Or: Interrobang Writes Letters

I got so fed up today with the CRAP MP from one riding over spamming my house with his junk mail perpetual-campaign propaganda flyers (and a very explicit Christmas card, just in case anyone forgets that all real Canadians are supposed to be celebrating Christmas -- bet that plays well in Peoria the big Muslim neighbourhood just down the way in that riding...), I wrote him an angry e-mail demanding that he stop sending us his crap since we don't even live in his riding and can't, therefore, vote for him.

Then I found out that the Harperoids do this a lot, and they've been spending outrageous amounts of taxpayer dollars doing it, too.

If you're tired of these twerps mailing you stuff when you don't even live in their riding (or even if you do; they sure do seem to send a lot of it), save up a few weeks' worth of your (non-identifiable) junk mail -- all those grocery flyers, solicitation letters, bulk circulars, and all that other crap -- and maybe a few weeks' worth of your friends' and neighbours', and then truck it all down to the offending MP's office and drop it there.

You could stick it through the mail slot with a note to the effect of "You've been spamming us with your junk mail; now it's our turn...", or just walk into the office, say you're protesting the CRAP policy of doing this, and dump the shit on the floor, and then turn around and walk out. I'd suggest packing it all up and mailing it to them postage-free, except that'd just be spending more tax money exacerbating the problem.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

A minor favour?

Would it be too much to ask bloggers, when posting on their own sites, to not use URL-shortening services like TinyURL or (That's what that anchor tag stuff is about; to make the link nice and short like so, you see?)

I absolutely guarantee you'll also increase your click-through rate, because a lot of people won't click on an obscured URL. Who knows whether that link goes to some Russian virus farm or to (the late and unlamented)