Thursday, October 29, 2015

Republican Congressmen to Science: “Lalalala I can’t hear you. Shut up! I don't want to know.”

Is this Congressman Lamar Smith of
Texas? The ape is acting like him. Or
maybe it's vice-versa.
Up in Greenland, some scientists are risking their lives to measure the rate at which the Greenland ice sheet  is melting. Read about it here.

Why do the young scientists take such life-threatening risks? Because it will give the world better information about how high and how fast the melting ice will raise the tides, inundating coastal cities, or at least big chunks of them, around the world. What the scientists learn may save thousands —or millions — of lives. And you know what?

Republican Congressman are furious that people are finding this stuff out. The New York Times reports in the same story:
But the research is under increasing fire by some Republican leaders in Congress, who deny or question the scientific consensus that human activities contribute to climate change. 
Leading the Republican charge on Capitol Hill is Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the chairman of the House science committee, who has sought to cut $300 million from NASA’s budget for earth science and has started an inquiry into some 50 National Science Foundation grants. On Oct. 13, the committee subpoenaed scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, seeking more than six years of internal deliberations, including “all documents and communications” related to the agency’s measurement of climate change.
The know-nothing Republicans remind me of the little kid who closed his eyes when he ran into speeding traffic across a busy thoroughfare. I guess he figured, if he didn’t see the cars, they couldn’t hit him.

As for Texas? Well, maybe after they kiss Galveston goodbye, they can swim after Congressman Smith and hold his head underwater.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Calling all class action lawyers. Here’s a possible golden opportunity for a double-header.


Recently, Mac computer users were pestered by Apple to upgrade their operating systems to something called “El Capitan.” I’m one of them.

I should have known better. Every time I upgrade at Apple’s behest, I get screwed. Last time, neither my old Microsoft Word program nor my old Quark graphics program would work with the new operating system. Apple failed to tell me this before I upgraded. 

Result: I had to buy a new Microsoft Word Program. I passed on Quark, since Quark now only rents access to its software. It’s so expensive that only a graphic designer with a steady cash flow from his operations could afford it. I’m not a graphic designer. It was just nice, sometimes, to lay out postcards with it. Goodbye Quark.

But neither of these is the big Class Action Opportunity I'm talking aboutHere it is:

Now Apple has done it again. This time they pestered me, and kept pestering me via little interruptive onscreen message to “improve” my “experience” with them by upgrading to El Capitan. So I did.

And now my Magic Jack telephone, which runs through my computer, won’t work. 

So I contacted Magic Jack’s online customer service. I’m not sure whether whether I chatted with an automaton or an idiot, but Magic Jack had bad news for me.

The automaton told me that they haven’t yet figured out how to fix the problem. And that they have no idea when they’ll be able to fix the problem — at least no idea that they’ll admit to. And that although I’m renting the phone service and separately a "vanity" telephone number from Magic Jack, they won’t give me a credit for the unknown number of months I won’t be able to use it.

That’s right. They took my money for a service they can’t provide. And if I don’t like it, their solution is not to give me a credit but to make me  buy more Magic Jack services from them. (You can’t make this stuff up. Wait until you read down and see the transcript.)

What’s more, since I conduct a business using my Magic Jack phone, I’ll have to go reprint my business cards, and maybe pay somebody to fix my business website. Both list my Magic Jack phone number. Obviously I can’t advertise a business with a non-working number.

There must be thousands of people like me. So  first Apple has screwed us  again by not warning us that their “improved experience” would screw up our Magic Jack telephone experience. And then Magic Jack is screwing us by outrageously demanding that they have a right to take our money without giving us the service we paid for.

Class action lawyers, do your stuff!

Below, a transcript of my “chat” with something or somebody at Magic Jack customer service named “Sally.”

    rn:widget path="chat/ChatOffTheRecordButton"/   Disconnect
Status: Connected

  Sally (Listening)
  Sally: Hi, my name is Sally. How may I help you? 
  New York Crank: Hi Sally. Last night, I upgraded the Mac to which my Magic Jack is attached to their new El Capitan operating system. Since then, magic jack hasn't worked. Since last night I've been getting a screen that begins "magickJack was unable to contact our registration server. Please check your Internet connection. Obviously, my Internet connection is working fine. How can I fix this? 
  Sally: Okay, 
  Sally: Thank you for addressing your concern. Let me assist you on that. 
  Sally: Please wait while I check that for you 
  New York Crank: Happy to wait. 
  Sally: Please be informed that the magicJack software is not yet compatible with the newly released OS X El Capitan MAC Operating System, Crank 
  Sally: Our engineers are still currently working out on the fixes in order for the compatibility issue between the magiCJack and this new OS to be fixed as soon as possible. For the mean time, you can use the magicJack device on lower version of the OS X El Capitan. 
  New York Crank: I don't have a lower version. I'm out a telephone. 
  Sally: I see, 
  Sally: For the mean time, please use the magicJack device on a computer that is not running on a OS X EL Capitan Operating system Crank.. 
  Sally: Our engineers will fix this compatibility issue as soon as possible 
  New York Crank: This is highly impractical for me most of the time. I'd like a credit until such time as service is available. 
  Sally: Unfortunately we cannot do that, Crank 
  Sally: Please extend you patience regarding on this matter, this will be fixed as soon as possible as more customers are now using the new OS X El Capitan MAC Operating System. 
  New York Crank: Well, don't you think that's a kind of a ripoff? Magic Jack sells me a system that's supposed to be compatible with my computer. It doesn't keep up with the changes so my Magic Jack become unusable. But then Magic Jack tells me, tough luck, pal. We're charging you anyway,. 
  New York Crank: This is a consumer fraud issue. 
  Sally: I understand your frustration on this Crank, we will fix this compatibility issue as soon as possible. 
  Sally: The old magiCJack device was created long ago and it cannot keep up right away with the latest technology. 
  New York Crank: And how long is "As soon as possible" in estimated hours? Or is it days? Or is it months? 
  Sally: You can choose to buy our advanced magicjack devices which can be used without a computer Crank 
  New York Crank: I can choose to pay you more, in other words. When do you estimate the system will be fixed. 
  Sally: I cannot provide your with an exact time frame regarding on this matter since this is being worked out on a different department from us.. 
  Sally: All our valued customers will know it once the feature to use the magicjack device on the new OS X EL Capitan is already available. 
  New York Crank: Thank you for a completely unsatisfactory answer. I'll limp along as best I can, borrowing a laptop from a friend to check my messages now and then. If this goes on too long, I plan to cancel my service and let people know why. Essentially Magic Jack's answer is, "We can't keep up with technology and we want our customers to pay for our inability." 

  New York Crank: I have nothing more to say about this matter. Let me know when Magic Jack is restored — or I'll let you know, eventually, if I want my service cancelled. Goodbye. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Pope, the clerk, the neurosurgeon, and the Congressmen

I’m not Catholic and I usually feel uncomfortable commenting on the Vatican. It somehow feels like spying on next door neighbors and then gratuitously denouncing(or praising) their family behavior.

But underhanded events at the Vatican have spun so far into the realm of the Borgias  that it’s a wonder if there isn't somebody tasting the Pope’s food before each meal.

First there was the visit, evidently arranged by some malevolent Vatican politician, to embarrass the Pope by throwing him together with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Now it’s even more sinister than that. Somebody in the Vatican is putting out a rumor — already refuted but still persistent — that the Pope has a brain tumor.

The reports have all the earmarks of a bile-fueled fantasy of some conspirator or conspirators, people who have lots of time on their hands and not much of a life. The stories involve a mysterious yellow-bannered helicopter, a doctored photograph purporting to show a private handshake between the Pope and a Japanese neurosurgeon, and even a “description” of the fantasy tumor. All refuted.

What it boils down to is, the hardest of hard line conservatives don’t like change. The present Pope is spearheading change, however mild, of what kind of morality the church chooses to emphasize.

Like conservative everywhere, the Vatican conspirators seem more anxious to intrude into other peoples’ bedrooms than they are to alleviate human misery. The Pope chooses to overlook or downplay same sex marriages? Out come the stilettos. The Pope talks about the poor, the malnourished, the miserable? Who cares?

You’re not alone if you notice a parallel between the Vatican’s conservatives and the Congressional conservatives — say those who keep holding and re-holding the same Benghazi hearings to smear Hillary Clinton while governmental services go down the toilet.

I don’t know what else to say about it — except that perhaps the Conservative wing of Congress ought to start dressing in long robes and red hats.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trump to CNBC: Negotiate THIS!

Was it the art of the deal? Or the artlessness of CNBC? I dunno, but it appears to me that the CNBC folks have all the spine of a gummy bear on their latest televised debate arrangements.

It started out with CNBC offering to host a 3-hour debate among the Republican candidates.

No dice, said Trump. That would be too long. He blamed CNBC’s offer on capitalism. They were just asking for a three-hour debate to bring in commercials and make money, claimed Trump. Not that a guy who claims he's so rich it would amaze you — how many billion dollars does he say he’s worth these days? — not that has a right to complain about somebody else making money.

Ben Carson joined in the fracas. He wasn’t participating in any debate longer than two hours, either.

What’s the real reason? The only one that occurs to me is that the longer the debate, the longer Carson and Trump have to get both feet wedged firmly into their mouths. 

Keep it short, with a softball question at the beginning and a canned answer at the end and commercials in-between, allowing the candidates to get off little more than a few sound bites, and little time for followup questions.

CNBC could have said, “Sorry but this isn't just the Donny and Ben Show. It’s our TV station and we’re holding a three hour debate. We can do it with you. Or we can do it without you. In fact, we’ll have chairs for you, but they’ll look mighty empty if you don’t show up. 

“Oh, and betcha your rivals make some comments about why your chairs are empty. You know. ‘Afraid of the truth.’ ‘Couldn’t stand the heat and so he didn’t come to the kitchen.’ ‘If Donald Trump can’t stand up for a three hour debate, how’s he gonna stand up to Putin?’ That kind of stuff.”

Instead, CNBC caved. Why? I suspect a bunch of sweaty-palmed suits calculated the audience draw of The Donald and were afraid that if their audience numbers were potentially lower, their ad sales would be, too.

I think that if they had calculated further, they would have concluded that The Donald abhors no audience more than nature abhors a vacuum. And he would have come. After which, Carson would have followed.

Instead, there was this, as reported in the trade paper Adweek. (Hey, New York Times, Washington Post, etcetera. Wake the hell up! Why are the trades like Hollywood Reporter and Adweek beating you to the punch?)
The two candidates signed a letter to CNBC Washington bureau chief Matthew Cuddy, agreeing only to participate in a debate that runs two hours and includes opening and closing statements from all candidates.
In a statement Thursday, CNBC said “Our goal is to host the most substantive debate possible. Our practice in the past has been to forego opening statements to allow more time to address the critical issues that matter most to the American people. We started a dialogue yesterday with all of the campaigns involved and we will certainly take the candidates’ views on the format into consideration as we finalize the debate structure.”
Oh well. I guess that they don’t make most network officials any smarter than they make most Republicans.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Who won the first Democratic debate?

An "oracle" who sliced this pigeon open and read
its entrails would be able to tell you who "won" the
first Democratic debate as accurately as most of
the talking heads.
Oi, the pundits are at it tooth and nail. 

On CNN the morning after the debate, they had a "body language expert" who was reading the  shrugs and facial expressions of the candidates. In ancient Greece, they used to have oracles who read pigeon entrails. Personally, I think both are equally valid. Or equally ridiculous.

I'll let the polls tell me what Democratic viewers and the American people as a whole thought of the candidates. Frankly my dears, I don't give a flying fetlock what the talking heads think.

For whatever it's worth, my own opinion is that the real winners were the American people. We saw a debate in which the leading contenders and the not-so-leading contenders kept to focus on facts and on the needs of the American people.

That was a pretty stark contrast to Republican bushwah, magical thinking about the economy, and displays of outrageous narcissism among the I-can't-count-how-many Republican clown candidates for Commander-In-Chief. 

As a Democrat, I'm proud of last night's debate, whomever the commentators decide was the "winner."

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

The American military must have its scapegoat. The search is on! Who’s gonna take a bullet for the generals?

"I say he did it.
So by now it’s old news that an American gunship bombed and strafed a hospital in Afghanistan.

The hospital was run by an organization called Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French name, M├ędcins Sans Frontiers (MSF). It’s a Nobel Prize-winning group of brave and public spirited medical professionals, whose “political” objective is to save lives in numerous locations around the world.

Good job, military! You killed 22 MSF staff members and patients, evidently all of them civilians. Three were children. I’m not sure how many others were wounded. One report had, just for openers, six intensive care patients burned alive in their beds. MSF has called it a war crime.

Number of Taliban shot up? Zero. Why? Simply because there wasn’t a Tabiban soldier or official there.

It gets worse. MSF is pulling it’s people out of Afghanistan. There’s nothing to take its place. The hearts and minds of the people, as well as the hearts and minds of an international organization devoted to saving lives are down the toilet so far as their view of the the United States is concerned.

So whodunnit? MSF sent its coordinates to the U.S. Military, warning them please not to strike there. During the bombardments, they got on the pipe and pleaded with the military to stop, because doctors and nurses and patients were getting killed. All to no avail.

Now General John F. Campbell is trying to explain what happened, but his story seems to change as often as a $20 hooker changes johns.

First it was “collateral damage.” As  in “Hey, you know, stuff happens.” You can’t blame anybody when stuff happens, can you? Oh, you can? And innocent people aren't mere "collateral?"

Well, then, it an, umm, error, which led to the statement that the hospital “was mistakenly struck.” By whom? How come? No coherent answer.

Then it was a mistake from those wonderful Afghan fighters who seem to have, umm, called in the wrong coordinates. But as of this writing that hasn’t held up very well either, and certainly doesn’t explain how pleas from the doctors to stop were completely ignored regardless of whether the Afghans called in the hospital's coordinates or a pizza order.

The object of most blame games is to pick on the lowest-level poor schnook who came anywhere near a disastrous event and put all the blame on him. And then punish him as severely as possibly. My guess is that if they can’t find an Afghan to blame, that's what they'll do. They'll find a junior officer who was flying an airplane. Or an NCO radio operator. Maybe even a hapless private.

It’s as old as the ancient custom of putting all of humanity’s sins on a goat, and pushing the poor critter off a cliff. Or as sophisticated as this banking scheme, which took all of the sleazy financial misadventures in the American acquisitions market committed by the President of Bank Lyonnais in France, and put it squarely in the lap of a low - level executive who had been told by his boss to sign off on the deal.

Guaranteed, General Campbell, who “took responsibility” for the bombardment, according to the New York Times, will shuck off that responsibility on some low level grunt. If it’s not an Afghan, the army will find some unfortunate American radio operator, or a junior officer, and send him to Leavenworth for life. The worst that'll happen to General Campbell is that he'll start taking his pension a bit early, and lose his shot at becoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Although don't count on it.

I think it was a WWI prime minister, Georges Clemenceu, who said war is too important to be left to the generals.

Case in point.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Chris Christie promises to kill your Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and disability benefits. And Trevor Noah lets him get away with it.

Kiss it goodbye: If Chris Christie (or
any Republican) becomes the next 
President, this is what you can do to
your Social Security and Medicare
Oh Jon Stewart, I miss you already. 

On Wednesday night of this week Christie, he of George Washington Bridge traffic jam fame, appeared on Trevor Noah’s version of the Daily Show for what turned out to be a softball interview. No, make that a powder puff interview.

It was the kind of interview that would have caused Stewart to wade into Christie’s traffic- jammed George Washington Bridge and jump off, had he turned in Noah's performance.

Early on, Noah applauded Christie on camera. Which may have been why Christie felt at home enough to declare….

“My plan is to increase the retirement age for a couple of years….and then also for people who make a lot of money in retiremet. People who make $2000,000 or more a year in retirement, they don’t need Social Security check. They’re fine.”

Except for one small thing that Trevor Noah failed to point out. Social Security isn’t a gift. It’s an insurance policy that every working American bought and paid for, whether they get zero dollars a week or a million dollars a week from other sources in retirement.

If you bought an insurance annuity from, say Met Life, and when you came to collect they said, “Nope, you’re fine, so we’re not paying what we owe you,” you’d have a right to be plenty irate. You’d have an equal right to rage if the company that insures your car refused to pay up after a crash because you can afford a new car on your own. You'd call the insurance company a bunch of crooks, for doing the same crooked think Chris Christie says he'll do.

And since Medicare and disability insurance were also on Christie’s list, it’s a pretty sure bet that if your surgery and hospital stay cost $250,000, Christie would tell you, “You’re fine. Just sell your house.” 

Americans would find themselves in the situation that happens now when elderly people need to go to nursing homes. They have to spend down the assets they and their spouses are living on first, and then go on Medicaid. That’s a process that sometimes leaves a surviving spouse penniless as well. 

Christie wants to “reform” Medicaid too, God help the poor.

Anticipating what might be the next question from an alert interviewer, Christie added, 

“The other alternative if course is to bring more money into the government. But here’s the thing. Why would we trust the government? They’ve already lied to us and stolen the trust fund for Social Security. That’s why we’ve got a problem….”

Noah finally seemed to regain partial consciousness. “Who is the government? Are you?” he asked.

“No no no,” Christie shot back. As if, as governor of New Jersey, he had nothing to do with government. And as if, as President of the United States, he’d also have nothing to do with government. (Speak of lying to us!)  He’d just, uh, cut taxes for the rich so they wouldn’t have to pay more into Social Security.

And who knows? Christie might “adjust” his numbers. Maybe, if you make only $25,000 in retirement, Christie might eventually decide you’re “fine,” especially if that would further help him cut taxes for the rich. Maybe if you have fifty grand in the bank Christie would tell you you’re fine, and come back when you’re broke and we’ll give you Social Security.

The whole disgusting performance — by both Christie and Noah — is viewable here. (Note: to make it even more disgusting, you’ll have to sit through a TV commercial first.)

As for me, it took only three of Trevor Noah’s appearances for me to decide I’m going back to the evening news during The Daily Show time slot. 

Mr. Noah, I watched Jon Stewart regularly. And you’re no Jon Stewart.