Archive for May, 2011

May 28 2011

Disney, bah

Published by under General

From a recent WSJ article:

Walt Disney Co. said Wednesday that it would pull an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in which the entertainment giant sought the exclusive right to use the term “SEAL Team 6” on items ranging from toys and games to snow globes and Christmas stockings.

Disney seems willing to rip off anything for a buck; as if a Seal Team snow glove is just what a kid needs. Guess Disney is not satisfied with their success in paying congresspeople to provide a nearly endless copyright on a borrowed mouse called Mickey.

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May 20 2011

Spirit and Flesh – Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church

Published by under Books

by James M Ault Jr.

A fascinating, readable, and worth reading study of the community that coalesced around a Fundamentalist Christian Church in Worcester Ma. during the mid 1980’s. This book is even handed and goes a long way toward making such fundamentalist Christian groups understandable to outsiders by describing the ways it is beneficial to its members. The field work behind this book is now pretty old and may be out of date but I’d guess the insights are still relevant.
The author gets involved with the church as part of a post-doctoral sociology study. At the time, He was a non-religious former Christian who begins to attend and eventually participates, to an extent, in the church’s activities. From the beginning, he makes it clear to the pastor and church members that he studying the group and despite their fears of being misrepresented he achieved an exceptional degree of trust with them to the extent that he is allowed to make a reality based documentary that was shown as a ‘special’ (“Born Again”) on PBS.
In many ways, this congregation resembles a clan or very extended family group in earlier or less modern and cosmopolitan societies. A group with close, family like emotional ties that tries to provide mutual help, guidance and internal discipline. While it contains several significant family groupings, this group is self constituted and treats the King James version of the bible as the sole basis for its structure and rules. That bible is the source of “all” advice and guidance. However, it is essentially an oral society without written rules, regulations or agreements. Written documents, other than the bible, are generally not important. The King James version of the bible is considered to be the true ‘word of God’ despite the fact that it was put together from various authors over centuries since “The holy spirit guided the writing process so the result is true”.
Being an oral society, history is forgotten quickly. Current beliefs and interpretations of the bible are absolutely true, but those beliefs do evolve and change based on implicit consensus. While the King James bible is the only source of evidence and guidance, that book contains enough sometimes contradictory passages that the selection of passages to focus on provides for flexibility and the evolution (if that word is allowed!) of opinions and behavior. You pick your bible verses to make your point. Differing references are somehow sorted out and contradicting texts ignored as the group reaches a consensus.
Officially, both the church and families are organized hierarchically with males as the designated leaders. However, it both the church and in families the power of the leader is far from absolute. The pastor can be fired or members can demonstrate dissatisfaction by withholding contributions or by splitting the group to form another church if consensus building doesn’t get their desired result. Despite the official male dominance, women were often the real power brokers in the church and others in the group recognized their unofficial roles.
This book describes a snapshot of what the fundamental groups are all about. It goes a long way toward explicating the attraction of independent fundamentalist churches in the US; community and mutual support in an individualistic society. It does not address or explain the glitzy and often fraudulent TV empire variety of Christian churches. Compared to the group described, the “TV ministries” seem to be a cancerous aberration.
Worth reading.

PS. Many longer reviews and essays related to this book can be found on the web.

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May 14 2011

Snowdrops

Published by under Books

by A. D. Miller

This small novel is a well written but demoralizing tale of life in post communist Russia. It is in the form of a confessional diary being written for his fiancee by a British lawyer who had worked for several years in Moscow during one of the recent periods of western “investment” in Russia. He worked on arrangements for large commercial loans and became a victim of both personal and professional disasters. The disasters involve scams that he half knows are occurring, but he still willingly goes along with them since he is ‘enjoying’ his life. Russian society is portrayed as brutal, corrupted and corrupting.
The author was formerly a journalist for the Economist magazine in Moscow, and the story is presumably an accurate portrayal of the aspects of life in Moscow which he observed. The picture drawn of Russia and the Russians is not a pretty one as it focuses on the con artists, pervasive graft, easy murder, and a general feeling of oppression accepted with the ‘stronger’ preying on the weaker.

Crime, business, politics, spookery – the usual Russian merry-go-round.

A well told story, but not fun to read.

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May 06 2011

Kingpin

Published by under Books

by Kevin Poulsen

This is a non-fiction story of serious Internet oriented crime. Necessarily a little out of date, but very informative about the nature of the criminals using the Internet and the techniques they use to steal information that results in ‘real world’ thefts. The story was written by Wired magazine’s cyber security editor and is centered around one now convicted credit card information thief named Max Butler.
The book started a little slow, but once it got into the characters involved in the ‘carder’ subculture and the techniques they use, my interest picked up. Carders include a complete supply chain from thieves who steal credit card details through middlemen who sell that information to others who make fake cards which are used to purchase generally expensive merchandise which is then turned into cash. There are many variations on how to steal information and how to turn fake cards into cash, but getting and transferring the hard cash is often the hard point at which criminals can be identified and, sometimes, caught. Both the criminal and law enforcement sides of the story are told.
Worth reading is you want to get a sense for what goes on under the surface in internet and store front retail commerce. Contrary to what you might expect, most of the card information that is stolen is stolen from retail merchants doing business out of store fronts rather than via internet transactions though the internet enables the theft of that information from the merchants.

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May 03 2011

Calories!?

Published by under Books

We had a dinner at the Black Bear Diner in Paradise California a few days ago. The desert menu included a “Bear Claw” pastry which proudly claimed to contain 2,430 calories!

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