Archive for November, 2011

What to do with the USPS?

So, I understand the need to close certain offices, and am continually perplexed by those who claim to hate government waste and condemn spending on public transportation but who argue for keeping open small post offices in mostly unpopulated areas, but despite that, the post office has some pretty kick-ass ways to deliver mail (from Time):

Even today, the USPS’s methods to deliver our mail are just as remarkable. Want to send a letter to the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? The postal service will take it there by mule. Need to mail a package to the Alaskan wilderness? The USPS can get it there by parachute or snowmobile. (It used sled dogs until 1963.) Have to mail something along Alabama’s Magnolia River? The USPS has boats that travel from dock to dock. It has even sent mail via pneumatic tubes, missiles and hovercraft. And somehow, it’s still just 44 cents to get a letter anywhere (well, 45 cents starting Jan. 22).

The article is good reminder of the central importance the post office played as the US expanded.  While it’s current iteration may have outlived its usefulness, it’s importance in helping develop the US was undeniable.


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James Fallows, writing in the Atlantic (which now having a Kindle Fire, will probably resubscribe as I’ve really enjoyed some recent articles) describes how his wife’s gmail account was likely hacked, the problems with restoring it, and the general weakness of most people’s passwords.  A frequent cited companion piece to the Fallows’ article is this XKCD comic, and Fallows adopts some of the recommendations when providing advice for choosing a password.  However, I’m reminded of this Farhad Manjoo column from 2.5 yrs ago about developing a hard-to-crack password, and wondered whether it was as strong as the approach recommended by XKCD:

Turn your phrase into an acronym. Be sure to use some numbers and symbols and capital letters, too. I like to eat bagels at the airport becomesIlteb@ta, and My first Cadillac was a real lemon so I bought a Toyota is M1stCwarlsIbaT

From Fallows’ article, it appears like it’s, at the very least, a reliable substitute, especially for those websites that will not allow spaces between words.

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Immigration and jobs

I’ve never understood the belief that allowing immigrants in displaces American workers, at least en masse as I’m sure some here and there do lose jobs.  First off, what can be produced/consumed is not finite.  Having more workers creates more money to be spent, thereby creating more jobs.  Second, Americans don’t want some jobs.  It’s super difficult to find Americans to pick fruit all day long.  Stephen Colbert used his celebrity this summer to make this point.

The recent Business Week has an extended article on this very topic, focusing on Alabama.  Alabama recently enacted HB56, or the Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.  Section2 of the Act opens up by stating “[T]he State of Alabama finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state and that illegal immigration is encouraged when public agencies within this state provide public benefits without verifying immigration status.”  Economic hardship is not defined, but can be interpreted to mean a loss of jobs for “natural” Alabamians.  From the article, Randy Rhodes, who works at a processing plant, states ““Somebody has to figure this out. The immigrants aren’t coming back to Alabama—they’re gone . . .  I have 158 jobs, and I need to give them to somebody.”

Now, the plant will be producing less, and despite Alabama having an exceedingly high unemployment rate, these jobs are not being filled.  An argument can be made, and the article does address it, that its not the work that Alabamians object to, but the paltry pay.  And the pay is lousy.  But that’s a different argument.  The pay is lousy because the product can only be sold profitably at a certain price.  The pay is not lousy because immigrants were doing the work.


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Touched: The Jerry Sandusky Story.


And, the Grand Jury report, for those interested. (not for the faint of heart)

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From this allAfrica.com article, in Uganda, it appears that most men do not want women they are married to/involved with to engage in family planning.  While I agree with the article’s general premise that men should be more supportive of family planning, I’m very unsure how to actually go about achieving this.  Policies dictated by Western countries usually don’t succeed.  Furthermore, recent history does demonstrate that white South Africa was actively working on materials to inhibit black Africans from reproducing, so any skepticism regarding family planning coming from Africans appears justified.

For now, it appears the best way to continue advocating for family planning in Africa (and elsewhere where women are marginalized) is to focus on the women, not the men.  Create greater opportunities for women, which will allow to assert my independence in their own lives.  From this article:

“For those women who come, most of their husbands are not aware, I do not think any man in the village wants those things,” Namanya says.

So, women are already seeking out family planning, and the men mostly don’t know.  What hinders women most appears to be transportation issues:

Indeed transport was a challenge to most of the women that sought family planning at this hospital and they said that many of their fellow women remained home for lack of money for transport money to come to the health facility.

So, by investing in better infrastructure and by investing in women themselves, it appears that significantly more women would be able to engage in family planning.  So, while I agree that men should be more involved, that doesn’t appear likely until women are accorded greater equality in the society itself.  Therefore, the focus should be fostering the climate to allow that to happen.  Much easier said than done, obviously.

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Iran and the bomb

So, the IAEA will release its report later this week, and its expected to detail what Iran has done.  So far, early reports (this from the NYT) indicate it may reveal the following:

IF the leaks are an accurate predictor of the final product, the report will describe in detail the evidence the I.A.E.A. has amassed suggesting that Iran has conducted tests on nuclear trigger devices, wrestled with designs that can miniaturize a nuclear device into the small confines of a warhead, and conducted abstruse experiments to spark a nuclear reaction. Most likely, the agency will stop short of accusing Iran of running a bomb program; instead, it will use the evidence to demand answers that it has long been refused about what it delicately calls “possible military dimensions” of the nuclear program.

The big question is what will happen: Does some country bomb Iran prior to Iran developing an nuclear bomb (not guaranteed, btw) or does the Israel and everyone else allow Iran to acquire the bomb (again, not guaranteed Iran will ever develop a working nuclear bomb)? Many appear to be concluding that it’s “do or die” now, and to forestall further would lead to a 21st century holocaust.  From David Remnick:

The country’s most influential columnist, Nahum Barnea, wrote a front-page commentary in Yediot Ahronoth recently called “Atomic Pressure,” slamming Netanyahu and Barak for acting dangerously and without a thorough public discussion. Barnea, who is as connected a journalist as I have ever met, tried to describe Netanyahu’s thinking: “Ahmadinejad is Hitler; if he isn’t stopped in time, there will be another Holocaust.” He continued, “There are those who describe Netanyahu’s attitude on the matter as an obsession: All his life he dreamed of being Churchill; Iran gives him the opportunity.”

Others, however, advocate caution.  Jeffrey Lewis, at ACW, writes that “Whatever sort of game it is, it’s one of inches and half-inches, of years and perhaps decades to come.”

The dangers from a direct attack are numerous.  Again, from Remnick: “At the same time, the potential dangers of a strike are clear: a prolonged and bloody regional war; attacks on Israel from Gaza and Lebanon; the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, a main world oil transport lane; a sharp rise in energy prices with disastrous effects on the world economy.”

So far, it appears that at least two tactics that have become public have been tried to retard Iran’s progress on the bomb: (1) the assassination (or buttbuttination for those website filters that don’t like the word “ass”) of one Iranian scientist and the attempted assassination of another, 20 minutes apart, in Tehran, and (2) stuxnet. Blame for (1) mostly centers on Israel, with (2) being credited either the U.S., Israel, or both.   It is estimated that these delayed Iranian ambitions by maybe 1-2 years, at most.

This in turn may be the inspiration for Iranian counterattacks in the form of political assassinations.  It is alleged that Iran attempted to assassinate a Saudi ambassador in DC.

I’m reminded of a book “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States”  In it, Trita Parsi chronicles the historical relationship between Israel and Iran and notes how strong it was for the majority of Israel’s existence.  Both countries were outsiders in the middle east (Israel because it is Jewish, Iran because it is Persian).  While this “friendship” was not always in the open, it remained strong through many trying times (there’s still an active, though small, Jewish population in Iran).  To that extent, I hope that this current antagonistic period will revert back to the more friendly terms that previously existed.  However, that does not appear likely to happen anytime soon.  Instead, it appears that the next alliance for Israel may be with Arab nations now over the mutual threat posed by Iran.

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When the US zombie craze was in its infancy a few years ago (or at least I believe it was then, maybe I was just a late comer??), I remember hearing about Haitian zombies and how the zombie concept may have originated there.  The current issue of Harper’s appears to have a very interesting article on the concept (full article is available to subscribers; so I’ve only read the excerpt, though will certainly buy this on the newsstand).  Below is my favorite excerpt:

The politicians and the rich want to abandon the traditional ways, but zombies are real. They work like a slave or a maid. They work on the computers as well, making accounts.”

“What kind of accounts?” I ask.

“Eh, like spreadsheets, they make Excel.”

I almost choke, and feel compelled to unbutton my collar and ask for clarification, “You say they work on computers making Excel spreadsheets?” Alex’s face is straight. “Yes, they use the computer, they make the spread-sheets.”

I now also want to read The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist’s Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic

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