Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The 1.5 Million Dollar Mark...

Animals, using various means, mark their surroundings in an attempt to repel any competitors from encroaching on their self-proclaimed territories. Humans, especially those of religious/tribal tendencies do exactly the same albeit at a slightly heftier price; in this case, the price tag was 1.5 Million Dollars. 

Yes, a full 1.5 Million Dollars was squandered erecting a Gigantic fully illuminated Cross in the town of Qanat Bekish to serve as nothing more than a Christian territorial mark.

But let me not get into the religious control imperatives that justify such investments in non-materially productive assets. At the end of the day, what matters is not of this earth; or is it? 

Anyway, can someone please explain to me the fascination Christians have with the contraption that - according to their accounts - killed their God? I mean, seriously, what is it with them using the Cross in their art, architecture, territorial marks, ornaments, stickers, and what not. For me, it is comparable to Jews adorning themselves with the Nazi Swastika or Future Movement supporters embedding a Mitsubishi Logo in all their party paraphernalia.  

But hey, what do I know? 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jones Backs Down… Bummer!!

Apparently the Florida religious crank, Pastor Terry Jones, caved in to the International uproar and decided to back down. Bummer, that would have made for an interesting show. I mean seriously, this latest episode of the stupid saga makes me even more pissed off.

  1. First AFP, Fox News, and other news outlets decided to exercise self-censorship in their coverage of the planned book burning event. Those same outlets that cover every single moronic rant by any unheard of insignificant Muslim extremist are now sensitive towards Islam! I mean seriously!?
  2. US Politicos clueless as always argued that the book burning event jeopardizes their occupation troops abroad. As if a ridiculous book burning event is going to cause more uproar against the US than its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, its destruction of the fabric of those societies, its funding of  religious wars on their lands, its plundering of their resources, and its systematic destruction and global impoverishment of their people.
  3. Muslims, as expected, are still wallowing in their insecurities, helplessness, and overall irrelevancy. It pisses me off that the only things that seem to wake them out of their slumber are stupid idiotic acts committed by irrelevant attention-seeking dimwits. Cartoons and book burning events are worthy causes that enrage the Muslim masses while the systematic eradication of Palestinians is only worthy of a few rhetorical rants. It’s about time you re-looked at your priorities peoples.

But the question nobody’s asking is what is this really about? Why did the independent news outlets – or the tools of imperialism whichever way you see it - decide to self-censor? Why did the whole US Political class – that has been spewing anti-Islamic verbiage for a few months now – suddenly backtracked and condemned the planned event in unison? Is this about respecting Islamic sensitivities? Is this about protecting occupation forces?

In my opinion the only thing at risk here is the untenable position of the US client states. The subservient rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Turkey, Iraq, Oman, UAE, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc…would have found themselves in quite a predicament had the event been carried out. This is not a caricature by an unknown Danish artist this is a sacrilegious act committed in the heart of the US by one of its homegrown bible fanatics. The initial uproar directed at the US would have quickly turned against their local tools; and endangering the status quo is a risk the US is not willing to take. Hence the heavy handed approach in quelling Terry Jones and denying him any further coverage. My take is that this is the last we will hear of this famous for a day religious kook and his ‘Islam is of the devil’ slogan.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Google Voice...

I just love all Google products. I love their minimalistic interfaces, their simplicity, and their functionality. I'm a consistent user of Google Search, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Translate, Google Maps, Google Reader, Google Talk, Google Transliterate, Google Checkout, and Google News. I'm also a big Android fan and bought a Nexus One 3 days after launch. And that is how I discovered Google Voice. Google Voice is a native application on Android - it's a web tool as well (ever since it was banned from the iPhone Store) - that is very similar to Skype. You can make unlimited free calls in the US and Canada and extremely cheap international calls to practically anywhere in the world directly from your cell phone (or your computer). The rate to Lebanon was just reduced today from 19 cents a minute to 10 cents a minute. That is even cheaper than making a national call in Lebanon. One can also direct all incoming calls to a Google Voice number and setup a Voicemail account where voicemails are sent to you by sms or email after being transcribed by Google's speech recognition algorithms. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to McAfee call centers located in the heart of the Indian Subcontinent the transcribed results turn out to be hilarious. Below is the transcribed voicemail I received today from a McAfee technician. 

Hi, xxx, this is calling from axiom Systems 410 this a call regarding the keys which has been escalated the reference number 551818229. Since it's in the office. So if you don't have it, but I'll be sending out a pool being mailed you replied to convenient time. As for the state and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you for choosing not complex. Have a great day. Bye bye.

Yes "Axiom Systems Employee 410", please email me a "pool" at your own convenience and I'm sure that will definitely help resolve my "Keys". 

ps: For those interested, my McAfee "keys" or case has now been escalated to the "Research Team" after I lost it today talking to the 7th or 8th support technician from the "Tiers 2" escalation team who again called having not even the slightest idea of what the "keys" is all about.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Burn the Koran Day and other news…

Terry Jones, the Pastor from the Dove World Outreach Center is preparing to burn Korans on September 11 as part of his “Burn the Koran Day” campaign. I just love religious crackpots of all faiths. On the website is an entry that lists 10 Reasons to Burn a Koran paraphrased below:

  1. Jesus is not God and was not resurrected
  2. The Koran is unholy and does not have an eternal origin
  3. The Koran teaches Arabian idolatry, paganism, rites and rituals
  4. Islamic writings are confused, contradictory, and inconsistent
  5. Mohamed was corrupted by power and worldly ambitions
  6. Islamic law is totalitarian in nature
  7. Islam is not compatible with democracy and human rights
  8. Muslims cannot leave Islam
  9. Islam teaches hate to the West
  10. Islam is a weapon of Arab imperialism and Islamic colonialism

I’ve always held that there is nothing more hilarious than listening to religious cranks attack other religions. I mean, can’t they feel any dissonance? Can’t they sense the irony? Don’t they have the capacity to perceive that any accusations they level against other faiths are equally applicable to their own?


On another note, it seems the Hariri prodigal son has decided to absolve Syria of any responsibility in his father’s murder. Thank you dimwits for stopping the clock and wasting our times for a full 5 years; now, can we fucking move on?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lebanese Racism, Activism, and Crappy Journalism…

IPS carried an article by Mona Alami a few weeks entitled "Lebanon: Racism Legitimized by Law (I believe it was also featured in the Daily Star). I had starred the article to comment on it but got distracted and never did. From the flashy title one would expect reading that Lebanon enacted new laws intended to institutionalize the already rampant racism existing in Lebanese society or at least to provide a better understanding of the existing laws legitimizing racism. But no; Mona has other designs. She starts by making a general statement:

Lebanon has a reputation for openness because of the relative freedom enjoyed by women in comparison to other Middle Eastern countries. But many women face rampant discrimination.

I’m not entirely sure who she is referring to when she says “many women” – she probably means “women of color” or “domestic workers”; I’m not sure as both references are about “women” in general while the article is supposedly about “Legitimized racism”. The confusion does not dissipate when one reads further where the subject turns to “women of color”. Mona declares in the opening paragraph:

“Women driving luxury vehicles with an Asian or African woman relegated to the back seat is a common sight around Beirut. Most domestic workers come from places like the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia”.

Now, Mona, why the classist distinction? Asian or African women relegated to the back seat is a common sight in Beirut be it in luxury and/or non-luxury vehicles. It is also a normal sight in cars driven by women, men, or teenagers. Racism in Lebanon is not specific to a certain class of Beiruti women driving luxury vehicles now is it?

Then the subject is further generalized and now it is “People of color”. Just a reminder, we started with women, moved to women of color, and now to people of color and there is no logical link or explanation; only successive statements totally dissociated from each other.

“People of colour are not only mistreated by employers -- who take away their passports and force them to work seven days a week -- they also face discrimination outside the workplace. At beaches around town, nannies are seen sitting fully clothed by the pool in the scorching heat, while their charges happily play in the water.”

I like the semantics. Is “Nanny” now the new politically correct term for abject slavery? Nanny sounds cute, doesn’t it? Are we still talking about domestic workers? women of color? or now everything is clubbed under “People of Colour”? Anyway, the beach argument is the most unimportant, minor, and stupid aspect of the whole enslavement process to focus on. A couple of activists shot a movie of a domestic worker being denied entry to a posh beach and now everybody is screaming foul totally skirting the real issue. The real issue is the enslavement industry not the beach resorts. The real issue is that most of these workers can’t go out of their employers’ houses let alone go to beaches. Why are people surprised by the resorts’ denial of entry? Show me one Lebanese who would have no objection to swimming in the same waters as a Sri Lanki or Ethiopian?

Then, Mona informs us of the plight of the Nanny of Nayla’s daughter.

"I booked a room for my daughter's nanny last year at one of the beach resorts in northern Lebanon. In spite of the fact that I paid full price for her room, I was outraged when I discovered she was not allowed to swim with us," says Nayla Saab, who employs a Filipino domestic worker.”

Oh, poor Nayla was outraged? Let’s ask Nayla again, how much does she pay her daughter’s nanny? How many hours does her daughter’s nanny work a day? Where is her daughter’s nanny’s passport? Is the nanny allowed out? Does she lock her in the house? Is she beaten if she slacks off on the job? Does she take out her marital frustrations on the nanny? Is she allowed to have a boyfriend? Nayla is the real culprit, not the beach resorts. Nayla, and those like her are the enablers of this practice. They keep the enslavement industry afloat and flourishing and perpetuate the racist prejudices these women are subjected to. Of course, not all employers are alike and not all women are subjected to the same hardships in the homes they work at; but most are. Also, people like Nayla probably believe that they are treating their ‘nanny’ well by treating her slightly better than her counterparts in other homes. Yes, but we give her 1 hour of rest a day. Yes, but we do not lock her in when we leave the house. Yes, but we would give her her passport if she decides to leave. Yes, but we give her money and gifts every now and a while so she can call her parents and feel good. Yes, but she takes Sunday off and goes out with her friends. Really, how nice and considerate of you.

Mona sites a statistic by IndyAct whose activists must have had quite a blast visiting beach resorts. All of the 20 beaches surveyed discriminate against people of color. Wow, what a revelation? I’m impressed. Of course they do, duh! Beach resorts just reflect the prevalent culture and the fact of the matter is the Lebanese are a racist people point blank.

Mona continues with her stories citing a group of Asian businessmen who were only allowed in the country to attend a conference after signing papers declaring that they will not work illegally in Lebanon. Then there is a story of an African American denied entry to a night club. Then another story of crackdown by Internal Security Forces on Sudanese illegal aliens mistreating them in the process. Also, in the midst of all the confusion, Mona introduces the concept of what she calls “Class oriented and sectarian” racism citing a veiled woman denied entry to a music concert because of her attire. In summary the article is a mishmash of stories with different subjects and totally devoid of any references to the legal structural framework that supports racism as the title suggests. The only reference to an actual law supporting discriminatory practices is the land ownership law that caps the amount of land foreigners can own and discriminates against Palestinians for sectarian/religious/geopolitical reasons rather than racist ones.

So where does this leave us? Well, we have IndyAct wasting its time documenting beach resort policies while domestic workers are throwing themselves off of balconies at a rate of 1 per week. That’s what I call focused and efficient – read stupid – activism.

Alright, for the sake of fairness I visited IndyAct’s website just to ensure my criticisms were well placed. The organization has a press release from the 13th of July titled “IndyAct launches “Anti Racism Movement” in Lebanon”. I clicked on the pompous title expecting a detailed framework on how to eliminate the structural racism existent in Lebanese society and better the conditions of migrant workers; the least one would expected is a project plan, a proposal for a legal framework, a draft law, or some shit that activists are supposed to do. Guess what? The launch of the “Anti Racism Movement” in Lebanon consisted of monitoring more than 15 beach resorts and visiting the ones identified with the most racist policies accompanied by a Madagascar national.

Okay, if that ain’t activism at its best I don’t know what is.  

This only highlights the point I made in the previous post about Zeitgeist’s alternative vision; Man’s social evolution is still light years away from breaking off with established institutions; family, tribe, sect, religion, ethnicity, race, and nation-state are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Zeitgeist and its Addendum…

Zeitgeist was recommended to me by a friend a few months back but I never got around to actually watching it. Yesterday, while surfing the internet, I stumbled on a site that had a link to the movie. Bored as I was, I decided to watch it. I actually started by watching Zeitgeist II Addendum before going back and watching the first installment.

I recommend everyone interested in sociology, politics, religion, economics, history, and ideas to actually watch both parts as they contain a wealth of information condensed in an easy to follow narrative. The value of the documentary is not in its factuality but rather in its purpose. The intention is to stimulate the mind to look at established truisms from a different perspective – or so was my reading of it.

The first installment mainly tackles the myths of the Christian faith focusing on the parallels that exist between Christianity and its pagan precursors. The major claim is that not only did Christianity borrow most of its symbolisms from its polytheistic pagan precursors but that all those symbolisms stem from ancient Astrology. It also goes over the subject of politics and economic interests and how governments manipulate public opinion to wage wars – one of the most lucrative endeavors to ruling elites in the Monetary based system. It draws a parallel between 9/11 and its consequences with previous US engagements in foreign wars (WW1, WW2, and Vietnam) and offers a conspiracy based reading of the terrorist attack on the twin towers.

The addendum was by far the most interesting to watch with its treatment of the world economy, globalization, the monetary system, global capitalism, and the role of US elites and banking interests in perpetuating the profit based system. There is nothing new or revolutionary in the material presented except that it is not common knowledge and a majority of people are ignorant of the underlying purpose of the control mechanisms directing their lives. The treatment of the subjects of emergence, scarcity, abundance, labor, and technology is stimulating and offers many insights into why things are the way they are. The main line of argument is that we have reached a level of technological advancement that can resolve the problem of scarcity and can usher us into a new paradigm of abundance where a money based profit economy is no longer a requirement let alone a necessity. The establishment – the body of institutions that are inherently predisposed towards self-preservation and upholding the status quo such as religious institutions, government institutions, and corporations – are the major stumbling block preventing such a change and obstructing the dissemination of the knowledge of its possibility through various mechanisms for a world of abundance is in direct conflict with their own existence.

Zeitgeist and Zeitgeist II Addendum are a must see for anyone who wishes to broaden his horizons in furthering his understanding of the current social constructs and delving deeper into the possibilities that exist. I personally do not see such a world of abundance emerging given my cynical view of man, society, and their evolution but I have to admit that contemplating such fantasies can be somewhat refreshing.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Customer Support: Bangalore Style...

A few months ago, I bought a top of the line Sony Vaio. It's a slick, light, and elegant piece of equipment with some serious power under the hood. I have spent most of my teenage and adult life in the company of computers - starting with my dad's Commodore 64 - and never have I suffered any security breaches or virus infiltrations. This is attributable mostly to good prevention ethics using open source, freeware, and sometimes pirated proprietary software. Anyway, my new Vaio came pre-loaded with McAfee Total Protection Suite free for 30 days with an option to buy. After a lifetime evading actually having to pay for software, I thought what the hell, with the price tag of this computer the least I could do is invest in some real protection. And so I did. I bought a two year license for a couple hundred bucks. The software contains the regular stuff: anti-virus, firewall, parental controls, and the like. Most importantly the software came with a pretty neat feature: a Password Vault. The idea of password vaults is simple. It's a data storage database for sensitive information encrypted in 128 bit encryption and protected by a single master password. And so, I loaded the password vault with the most sensitive of my data - internet banking passwords, credit card passwords, and debit card passwords. That was stupid considering that I am a routine user of TrueCrypt which is an open source encryption software that creates adhoc storage vaults for files and folders and KeePass which is another open source software for storing passwords and both are highly efficient.But hey, I spent a couple hundred bucks on McAfee and I was going to own it for the next 2 years so I'd better make use of it. 

It all worked fine until a few weeks ago when McAfee rolled out an update for its Total Protection Suite. Mine auto-updated. Suddenly it had a completely overhauled interface that I thought was pretty cool. But the problems started when I received my telephone bill and started looking for the Vault in order to send out an electronic transfer. Lo and behold, the Password Vault was nowhere to be found. I quickly Googled the topic and found out that McAfee had just decided to drop the functionality from its package. I agonized for a few minutes thinking all my passwords were lost until I stumbled upon an official support page with instruction on how to retrieve passwords stored in the now scrapped password vault. The instructions were pretty straight forward. Download a small application, run in the command prompt, and the outcome should be a text file with all the stored information. Straightforward it was, but it did not work. 

Back to the McAfee support site. Two options: Paid support or free online assistance. I chose the latter. After waiting for a few minutes I get greeted by a technical support fellow at the other end. I explained my problems and the steps I took and went over the error I was getting (the error has to do with my password that contains an "&" in the middle of it; for some reason the part after the "&" was being interpreted as a command resulting in an error and preventing the program from creating the expected Txt file). And so, Dinesh requests a remote assistance connection which I gladly granted. He goes through the same steps and declares defeat. Dinesh assures me that he will escalate the matter to his Tiers 2 technical support level - which I assumed were the big programming gurus - and will arrange a call back the next morning. True to his word, the next morning I receive a call from one of the big guns; or so I thought. An ignorant moron by the name of Bineh wastes a full hour of my time going through the exact steps albeit this time with my support. Again, he at the end apologizes and explains that the passwords cannot be retrieved. Losing my patience I asked Bineh-dumbass for a local US number to call. He respectfully declines. I ask to talk to his supervisor. His supervisor is unavailable. I insist. He then agrees to have his supervisor call me the next day. 

A new day, a new phone call. No, it's not a supervisor, but another Indian Techie. He starts blabbering about wanting to go over the same steps. I cut him short and ask for his supervisor. His supervisor is unavailable but will definitely call me back in 2 hours. I wait. No call. Three hours and a half later, Mr. Supervisor calls. 

"I'm sorry Sir - I hate being called Sir - I'm calling with regards to your support request No. blablabla... We have escalated the matter to our US headquarters and expect an answer after the weekend. Would you mind if we call you back on Monday morning?"

I reluctantly accepted. 

Monday morning, another techie calls - at this point I stopped keeping tally of the Indian names. Again, the same robotic introduction, a few stupid questions that I have answered 5 times over, and another apology for his total ignorance and incompetence. I request the supervisor who by this time I know is unavailable and receive another call-back promise.

Tuesday morning, yes, you guessed it, another ignorant techie calls. Same story, same answer. "There is no other way to retrieve the passwords, we have gone through all the troubleshooting steps". I am fuming at this point. 

"Where is your supervisor" I shout into my handset.
"He is unavailable at the moment Sir - I hate being called Sir - would you like me to arrange a call-back?"
"What for? I want to talk to someone who can offer solutions not apologize for knowing nothing except follow the instructions written on a support page"
"Can I download the previous version of the program?" I asked. The idea is simple enough; if I roll back to the previous version I would be able to retrieve my passwords and update back to the new version.
"I"m sorry Sir, McAfee updated their servers and it is impossible to download the previous version" Another ignorant and stupid answer. 
"Okay, get me your supervisor"
"I'm sorry Sir, my supervisor is unavailable at this moment but I can arrange for him to call you back. Would you like him to call you back in three hours?"
"Yes, have him call me back in three hours".

And the day passes; no supervisor calls. 

I wonder why these companies even bother having support centers when all they do is populate them with ignorant techies who just have no clue.

Anyway, now I'm gonna have to find a pirated older version, install it and hope it doesn't automatically searche for updates prior to finalizing the installation, and hopefully retrieve my passwords.

Morale: This is the last time I pay for crappy software and even crappier support.