Wednesday, August 31, 2011

CNN's WikiWars is shoddy journalism

I used to think CNN was pretty good at news coverage. Unfortunately now it is just a broadcaster, rather than a news organisation. It hasn't stooped quite as low as Fox News, but it's definitely heading in that direction.
CNN Presents is supposed to be one of their premier documentary shows, where they show "serious" documentaries. This piece falls far short, with inaccuracies and misleading information galore. What's worse is that it is obviously pro-Military and pro-America and borders on being a hatchet job on Julian Assange. The entire show playlist is available here, and the full transcript is available on the CNN web site.

The sad thing about this "documentary" is that the parts it leaves out are quite serious. And the whole "Collateral Murder" segment tries to justify the gunning down of civilians in a civilian neighbourhood by claiming that it was a "combat situation".
The video shows yet another US Military f*** up: they do it all the time. Of course the "general" and the "marine" won't admit that on TV: I think they have lost the plot. Here is another report, this time by AlJazeera English:

Compare the poor quality of the CNN program with this one, which is about the same length but contains far more detail and useful insights:

If you want to know more about Wikileaks, Iraq and Afghanistan, read "Obama's Wars" by Bob Woodward; "WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy" by David Leigh et al; "The Longest War: America and Al-Qaeda Since 9/11" by Peter Bergen; and "Bradley Manning - Truth and Consequences" by Greg Mitchell. Only the last book is not available in audiobook format.

Update: Unfortunately WikiLeaks used a previously disclosed password when they released their "insurance" file. So now anyone can read all those cables in unredacted form. That is monumentally stupid, and was obviously a serious security error. Assange cannot blame it on the Guardian because the data file was released to the public by WikiLeaks, not the Guardian. Relying on journalists to understand computer security or keep a secret is never a clever move.
Update 2 Sept: WikiLeaks has now posted all the unredacted cables. This is an act of monumental stupidity, endangering the lives of activists around the world, not to mention making the case against Bradley Manning much worse. I think its a desperate act, but it is totally irresponsible.

SARS is making me sick

Take the Eish out of Tax{eish}ion
I woke up suddenly at 2.10am feeling sick, and I've spent the last 2 hours or so on the toilet, sharing my dinner with the plumbing system. Yes, it could be a bad pie, but I doubt it. It's just nerves, brought on by the glorious monstrosity bureaucracy called the South African Revenue Service.
I'm told with great earnestness by friends that one should never criticise SARS in public, or complain to the media about them. They could get really nasty and make my life a misery with tax audits and stuff. But no one can explain to me what to do about the trifling amount of R246,231.46 that they claim I owe them.
To put that into perspective, it's 118% of my taxable income for 2011, or 55% of my gross annual turnover. R113,344.31 of this amount is interest, and it is growing by R1,168.39 per month. At one stage the interest rate of 15% meant the amount grew at R2,316.87 per month. Any way you look at it, it's a daunting amount of money. My body reacts to this stress by making me sick. It's kept me awake for the last 2 hours.
The sad thing about this whole deal is that it should have been sorted out in 2008 when I was granted amnesty by the "Small Business Tax Amnesty" legislation. This was supposed to write off all the taxes payable for the 2003-2005 tax years. However they failed to inform me of the decision, and then on top of that decided that these tax years were not covered by the amnesty because the tax forms had not been filled in, or some such nonsense. Ever since then I have been getting "Final Demands" (I've had several) from the tax collection section of SARS. Each time I get one it makes me sick for a few days.
Yesterday I went to see them because (surprise, surprise) they had lost an objection I filed in May 2010 and now that they were looking at the copy I resubmitted they decided that I should have signed it and not the accountants that did it on my behalf. This little delay has cost me R16,000 in interest, not to mention time wasted with the accountants, plus the accountants' fees. In order to pay this amount I have to earn R22,900 so that I can pay 30% tax on that to be left with R16,030 in order to pay this tax. And I'm still no closer to paying off the capital that generated the interest in the first place. I feel like a hamster in a wheel.

South African Revenue Service

Friday, August 12, 2011

Zero Day novel is scary and an exciting read

Mark Russinovich probably knows more about rootkits than most people on the planet, since he found some and wrote the first major tool to detect them. Now he has written a novel about viruses, computer security and government incompetence. And it is scary.
I thought my laptop was secure, but it isn't. The BIOS can be reprogrammed, the hard drive can we wiped out and any software running on it can be attacked and disabled, all by some cleverly written code. I called my antivirus company and asked them if they'd read the book. One of the guys had "heard about it".
So, my question is one that computer users hate to hear: when was the last time you checked your computer for security updates of ALL installed programs? When was the last time you made a backup? How about an off-line backup? Or an off-site backup? Will it be enough? Probably not.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nissan buyers warned by angry Nissan customer

You have to be a seriously annoyed Nissan customer to go to the lengths this guy went to. Firstly, he had to pay around R2000 to place this ad in Noseweek, and he had to arrange the wording and so on. He is clearly fed up with the way that CMH Nissan in Midrand treated him. I had my Daewoo serviced by them, before and (only once) after the cylinder head gasket blew.
It boggles the mind why Nissan South Africa hasn't just intervened and paid for the damages. I guess their "cavalier attitude" has something to do with it. The advert further mentions an article in Noseweek:
Ivan Visée was very happy with his Nissan Pathfinder until the day came when he wanted to drive it to Cape Town. In preparation for the trip, he went to CMH Nissan in Midrand and asked them to give the vehicle its 120,000km service.
In the course of the service they phoned him to say there was water in the gearbox oil. Had he driven through any rivers lately?
No. Consequently, they merely changed the oil - at quite a considerable price: far higher than the oil available elsewhere - so CMH Nissan was putting a high premium on it.
Visée took delivery of his vehicle and headed for Cape Town, only to have the motor blow up on him 60km short of the Mother City - just as he was about to enter the Du Toit's Kloof tunnel.
The SUV was then towed to Droomers Nissan in Paarl, which offered Visée the unappealing choice of either waiting three months-or-so to have his engine and gearbox reconditioned, or to have a new engine put in at a staggering cost. Visee realised that the differential cost between a new and a reconditioned engine was not that much, so he opted for the new engine. At this stage he was unaware of what had caused the disaster.
Only after Droomers had taken the engine out to replace it with a new one did he realise that the damage to the gearbox and engine had resulted from a leak in the gearbox oil cooler.
Surely, once CMH Nissan realised that he had not gone through a puddle, a pond or a river, they should have looked a little further and done a pressure test on the only other possible source of water in the oil, namely the cooler, which runs into the radiator and circulates the oil through the cooled water of the radiator. Their failure to do the check and pick up the leak was cardinal in causing the subsequent blow-up.
Visée employed forensic scientist and negotiator Dr David Klatzow to engage with Nissan SA on the matter. Klatzow met Nissan's representative and their attorney in Durban. He described their attitude as "cavalier" and "couldn't care a damn". The best they were prepared to offer Visée was a derisory R20,000 refund on a bill which came closer to R200,000. They blamed Visee for not having picked up the fault earlier - while, of course, excusing their own supposedly professional dealership for not having detected it.

The mind boggles. I showed the ad to the guys who do my car servicing and they scratched their heads in amazement. You would think that the motor industry would have learnt its lesson by now, but no, they think they can ignore their customers indefinitely. Nissan just needs to lose a few sales as a result of this saga to kiss that R235000 tax-deductible "loss" goodbye. Not very bright. Their ratings on HelloPeter are not very good when it comes to servicing either.

British Intelligence and Morality on Display

Don't you just love this public displays of British "civilisation" and "culture"? I doubt if parliament will fix this problem either. They are too busy sucking up to the bankers and media owners. Pictures from the BBC web site: UK riots: Before-and-after images of the devastation. Of course when the bankers gouge the economy of millions there isn't the same kind of outrage by the politicians. These riots are political, but the politicians don't want to face up to their responsibility: they created the conditions of hopelessness and defeat in the first place.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Richard Dawkins: Prophet of God

I have been having an interesting discussion about Richard Dawkins with the cartoonist Jerm Nell. Personally I find Dawkins a little too simplistic and insulting to be taken seriously. But then it occurred to me that perhaps he is actually a prophet, sent by God to wake up His church to the fact that it is intellectually fast asleep. How's that for irony?
He seems to enjoy the limelight and controversy he creates through the media.
In The God Delusion, Dawkins contends that a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that belief in a personal god qualifies as a delusion, which he defines as a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence. He is sympathetic to Robert Pirsig's statement in "Lila" that "when one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion."
If this is true, then I suffer from a massive delusion. So does Desmond Tutu, the man who stood up to PW Botha in the dark days of Apartheid. He was also the man who led me to become a Christian. This would mean that my refusal to serve in the SADF was delusional, and therefore I must have been acting purely out of self-interest and cowardice. More irony: Desmond and I were wrong, and PW and Magnus Malan were right. Or deluded as well. Or something. But I digress.
In Dallas Willard's book, "Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge" he states
.. is it possible to know the things you believe as a Chritian? To what extent? And does it really matter whether you do or not? Doesn't Christian faith automatically relegate you to an intellectual slum? Many - religious or not - deeply feel that it does. Some even think you should be proud if the slum. That is the status history has managed to hang upon faith.
I think that Dawkins has become the public face of that attitude, and that challenge. Hence, he is a prophet of God, sent to challenge the church to wake up from its complacency and compromise, and speak of its knowledge of the truth.
Update: I think that bus slogan should be changed to read "Now stop worrying and enjoy your miserable existence on social welfare"
Update 7-Sep-2011: I have begun listening to Dawkins' audio book "The God Delusion" and I must say I am disappointed after the first chapter, which talks about Einstein, and tries to get his beliefs to promote Dawkins' atheism. But anyone who has read "Einstein: His Life and Universe" by Walter Isaacson will know that Einstein was not an atheist at all. Dawkins sidesteps this omission by stating (correctly) that Einstein did not believe in a personal God, and then (incorrectly) conflates this with Dawkins' own avowedly atheist viewpoint. It's a cheap trick and quite sad, especially after he accuses others of doing exactly the same thing. I guess I couldn't expect him to provide the full quote:
"Then there are the fanatical atheists whose intolerance is of the same kind as the intolerance of the religious fanatics and comes from the same source. They are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who -- in their grudge against the traditional "opium of the people" -- cannot bear the music of the spheres. The Wonder of nature does not become smaller because one cannot measure it by the standards of human moral and human aims."

Update 14 May 2012: I have learnt that Dallas Willard has weighed in on the subject with a review of "The Blind Watchmaker". His comments are very interesting.