Monthly Archives: February 2007

Celebrity Meltdowns as News

For the past couple of weeks it would seem that our media has been focused on two story lines that are critical to the survival of Life As We Know It:  This would be Anna Nicole Smith and Britney Spears.

Since both stories are tawdry and sad, we have to start somewhere.  I’m going to use bosoms as a tie breaker.  Hey, it’s just as valid as any other metric the media seems to use these days. 

Let us start with the one with bigger tits:  Anna Nicole Smith.

Minor celeb marries 900 year old rich guy.  Rich guy dies, leaving disputed will and a gazillion dollars to trophy wife.  Trophy wife fights in court against other family members for share of huge estate.  Has daughter.  Her son dies in unusual circumstances.  She dies in slightly odd circumstances.  Infant daughter might inherit somewhere around $400 million.  Lawyers fight like furies over who gets what and who is the father of the infant daughter.

Now, on to the one with the more modest sweater puffs:  Britney Spears.  Pop-tart marries greasy dweeb and breeds.  Breaks up marriage after finding out grease dweeb would boff a garden snake, if he could get it to hold its’ mouth open long enough.  Pop-tart loses underwear in evening with Paris Hilton.  Pop-tart finds revolving door at rehab.  Pop-tart shaves head and gets a tattoo while beating up a soccer-mom van with an umbrella and finds rehab again for an hour and a half. 

According to a CNN story fragment I saw, these two stories have garnered more lines and minutes of coverage than just about anything in the past month.  We should be asking why this is, but we both know the answer.  Humans are vicious little animals and we love to watch crash and burn acts. 

The Anna Nicole Smith ‘story’ is nothing more than a bunch of greed-heads looking to be made guardian of an infant that might inherit $400 million dollars.  Based on the number of penises that are lawyered up, I might as well get into it. 

So, I’ll claim paternity too.  I’m the father, after all we share the same last name.  As long as I can find a lawyer willing to work with a dick, who lives next to two nuts, around the corner from an asshole.  Any takers in that most-noble legal profession?  If we win, you get nothing, as you’re going to be working for the "good of the infant child".  Fully pro-bono.  Any takers at all?  I thought not. 

As for the Pop-Tart, Britney Spears, well, we’ll start with the particular hell she has lived in since the age of 11.  Mouseketeer.  Manufactured talent and media-made image.  Grew up in a celebrity bubble.  Found out that the price for fame is loss of your entire identity as a human being.  Does not actually exist, unless media is paying attention.  With any luck will be worth more after she dies, just like Buddy Holly and Elvis. 

Waiting for lawyers to claim that K-FedEx is not the father of her kids but some obscure blogger in Canada is really the daddy, therefore he should be granted custody and oh, $12 million a year in support. 

Truly, both ‘stories’ are very sad.  I dislike watching anyone have a meltdown, but even more so, when the media covers what should be a very private trip through hell with no guarantee you’ll make it.  The Anna Nicole Smith thing is nothing more than greed trampling over graves.  

At the end of the day, in the fullness of time, to quote Sir Humphrey Appleby, we’ll see that we are getting the media we deserve.  Shallow, sensationalistic, voyeuristic and brain-dead. 

The next time we wake up, we’ll find that China owns half the world, India owns the other half and North America has ceased to exist as anything except a theme park cum reality-series broadcast to the rest of the world.  How about "Survivor – Baltimore" as a name?

A suggestion?  If your local news outlet has coverage of Anna Nicole Smith or Britney Spears, merely treat it the same way as you would in-depth coverage of economic policy in the Czech Republic:  A jaw-cracking yawn and a quick dash for the remote.  Media understand audience numbers:  Don’t be a number. 



Semi-Fake News VIII

There is always something tasty in Friday’s inbox.

(DAILY MAIL)   The Qantas stewardess who claimed she rejected an amorous Ralph Fiennes on a flight to India has admitted having sex with him in an aircraft lavatory. Lisa Robertson told friends she was a big fan of the British actor and found herself luring him to the cubicle.

But they apparently shared more than a 15-minute fling at 35,000ft. Miss Robertson claims they went on to share a passionate night in a Mumbai hotel – at the star’s invitation.

The Australian stewardess has told friends she recognised Fiennes, 44, as he soon as he settled into his business class seat, 2K, for the nine-hour flight from Darwin.  "I’ve always fancied him and to see him on my flight was a real thrill," she told them.

I’m just happy that Anne Coulter isn’t a flight attendant.  Otherwise we’d have the searing mental image of Dick Cheney getting some on a flight to Wyoming.  This would haunt us for the next dozen or so therapy sessions. 

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) – U.S. agents on Thursday raided the home and offices of boy-band impresario Lou Pearlman, known for launching ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys, as part of a criminal investigation, officials said.

Pearlman has already been sued by the state of Florida for alleged securities fraud involving an employee investment program.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI were investigating "various allegations leveled against Mr. Pearlman and his entities," U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Steve Cole said. 

Finally, the ones responsible are being charged.  Society must take its revenge for ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys.  The last entry on the N’ Sync Official Website is October 2005. 

RIO RANCHO, New Mexico (AP) – New Mexico is hoping to keep drunks off the road by lecturing them at the last place they usually stop before getting behind the wheel: the urinal.

The state recently paid US$21 each for about 500 talking urinal-deodorizer cakes and put them in men’s rooms in bars and restaurants. When a man steps up, the motion-sensitive plastic device says, in a woman’s voice that is flirty, then stern: "Hey, big guy. Having a few drinks? Think you had one too many? Then it’s time to call a cab or call a sobre (sic) friend for a ride home." The recorded message ends: "Remember, your future is in your hand."

The talking urinal is the latest effort to fight drunken driving in New Mexico, which has long had one of the highest rates of alcohol-related traffic deaths in the United States. (Men account for 78 per cent of all drunk-driving-related convictions in the state.)

"It startled me the first time I heard it, but it sure got my attention," said Ben Miller, a patron at the Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. bar and restaurant. "It’s a fantastic idea."

Perhaps Qantas should consider talking toilets on their longer flights. Conversely, public facilities in London should have one that tells George Michael to give up and go home for a sleep.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Environmental activists led by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore announced plans on Thursday for a worldwide string of pop concerts in July featuring Sheryl Crow, Red Hot Chili Peppers and scores of others to mobilize action to stop global warming.

The Live Earth concerts on July 7 will take place in Shanghai, Sydney, Johannesburg, London and cities to be decided in Brazil, Japan and the United States.

The shows will feature more than 100 of the world’s top musical acts, organizers said. In addition to Crow and the Chili Peppers, U.S. artists who have signed up include Black Eyed Peas, Bon Jovi, Kelly Clarkson, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw and rapper Snoop Dogg.

Unfortunately ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys won’t be appearing.  As long as Tipper Gore doesn’t change her name to "The (H)Edge", Al Gore can channel Bono all he wants.

(AFP) The world can expect a roller-coaster ride of conflict and unrest, natural disasters and a plunge in global stock markets once the Year of the Pig begins, Chinese soothsayers say.

As the world farewells the Year of the Dog on Sunday, believers in Chinese superstitions have been busy consulting fortune tellers, feng shui geomancers and a wealth of new books for the year’s fortunes. 

Feng shui expert Raymond Lo said that according to ancient Chinese belief, the Year of the Pig is symbolised by two elements — fire sitting on top of water.

Israeli Feng Shui practitioners are calling it the Year of the Treyf.  Muslim Feng Shui practitioners are calling it Year of the Israeli.  North Carolina is calling it the Year of the Pulled Lunch.

(NYTimes) In a rebuke of a surveillance practice greatly expanded by the New York Police Department after the Sept. 11 attacks, a federal judge ruled today that the police must stop the routine videotaping of people at public gatherings unless there was an indication that unlawful activity may occur.

In today’s ruling, however, Judge Haight of Federal District Court in Manhattan found that by videotaping people who were exercising their right to free speech and breaking no laws, the Police Department had ignored the milder limits he had imposed on it in 2003.

Jethro Eisenstein, one of the lawyers who challenged the videotaping practices, said Judge Haight’s ruling would make it possible to contest other surveillance tactics, including the use of undercover officers at political gatherings.

I had to put that story in, if only for the last ‘graph.  A lawyer named Jethro Eisenstein?  It has to be true, because the NY Times can’t make that kind of stuff up.  I’m picturing a Bar Mitzvah featuring a moonshine still and Jethro gets a ’71 Trans-Am up on cinder blocks as a gift.  Is possum kosher?


Bernanke, Chrysler and Weather

In an interesting note from US Fed Chairman Ben "I’m not Greenspan" Bernanke, he has testified that  "Overall, the U.S. economy seems likely to expand at a moderate pace this year and next, with growth strengthening somewhat as the drag from housing diminishes," the Fed chief said in prepared remarks to the Senate Banking Committee. (Source: AP)  

Translation:  We’re holding our breath until the last of the bank foreclosures come down. 

Right next to that story was an economic nut-kick.  DaimlerChrysler AG announced 13,000 job cuts.  By cutting shifts at various plants, like St. Louis South and Warren, as well as gassing about 2,000 Canadian jobs in Windsor and Brampton, DaimlerChrysler hopes to get somewhere near grotesquely obese profitability, rather than nicely rotund profitability.

Last year DaimlerChrysler had to suffer through making only $7.28 Billion US in profit on sales of $62.2 Billion US.  Some financial-analyst said that the cuts were part of it, but you have to improve you product mix.  I suspect that most financial jagoffs wouldn’t know which end of a car has the engine but judge the company on how shiny the cars are. 

Nobody asked if any of the 13,000 people being cut will buy another DaimlerChrysler product.  After all, that is a question about little people who actually make things, not important people who have to consult a balance sheet and two lawyers before they take their morning poop.

The US Midwest and a piece of Ontario have been whacked by a winter storm that has dumped many inches of snow, sleet, ice and freezing rain all over the place.  The Anti-global warming people say that this is just further evidence that climate change is bogus. 

The rest of us, who actually have our wits about us, look at the calendar and say:  "Hmmm.  February:  Anything is Possible.  As long as frozen frogs are not falling from the sky, then we’ll go to work."

By the way, to answer the breathless question:  Yes, Anna Nicole Smith is still dead.



Science Pimps and Climate Change

The American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank funded by ExxonMobil and with close ties to President Jo Jo The Idiot Boy’s Administration has been busted.  They’ve been offering researchers and scientists funding in the neighborhood of $10,000 for articles in learned journals that slag, pardon me, "emphasize shortcomings" in a report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC.

The American Enterprise Institute is the arm of the right-wing that is vitally concerned with making as much money as is humanly possible.  Members and scholars of the AEI include such luminaries as David Frum, the Bush speechwriter, Fred Thompson the ex-US Senator/Actor, Newt Gingrich, the punchline of jokes, John Bolton the ex UN ambassador from the US and Lynn Cheney.  Yes, Shotgun Dick’s partner is in there.  Also hiding in plain sight is Nixon’s Watergate-era fartcatcher, Herb Klein. 

To put a fine point on it, the American Enterprise Institute is a pimp for big business.  The Board contains members from ExxonMobil, International Paper, Merck & Co, Amex, Kohberg Kravis Roberts, TD Ameritrade, Dell, State Farm, Dow Chemical and CIGNA Insurance.

Which explains why the AEI tried to sway the output of the UN Panel on Climate Change:  The results were, understandably, not ones that said nice things about big business.  The AEI said that the UN panel was "resistant to reasonable criticism and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work".  They figured they could buy some science, so they did. 

If you are shocked that a big business think thank would try to spin scientific results to their own ends, then you need to get out more. 

OK kids, this is complex.  Science is never exact.  There are only two constants in the universe: Hydrogen and Stupidity.  And I’m not convinced about Hydrogen. 

Even the head-injured can understand that something is wonky about the climate on this planet.  In some areas it is global warming, in other areas the weather patterns have become unreliable, or more extreme.  As soon as you call it global warming, the nay-sayers point to every chilly morning and say "See!  It’s not warming up, the science is bogus, dude!" I’m using climate change as the term, as that is a more accurate description of what seems to be going on.

The Earth is a very complex climate system that we don’t understand as well as we think we do.  However, in looking at the science and using that spacer between your ears to remember things, you can figure out that it isn’t an extended El Nino/La Nina/atmospheric wobble/statistical anomaly.  

The big change in the past 400 years, give or take, has been the industrialization of Earth. 

Global Climate Change is not caused solely by cow farts, ozone holes, deforestation, or aerosol cheese products.  It has been caused by humans and our unrestrained technological and environmental rapacity over every vector you care to mention.  We did this.  You, me, your neighbors and some guy in a yurt in Ulan Bator, we’re all to blame. 

Even if all the scientists are completely and utterly wrong, the constant is still there:  The climate on our planet is changing in ways that we don’t understand and has very serious consequences.  About all we can do is look at what has changed and make educated guesses as to how to undo, or fix or patch what we’ve botched.  So, what has changed? 

People:  There are more humans on this rock than 400 years ago.  The estimates from 1600 range from 545 million to 579 million people:  A tick over a half-billion people.  Today, Earth is home to over 6.5 Billion of us.  This is something we cannot fix without a global nuclear war.  There is a bit of a downside to that method of population control, so let’s just accept that there are more people now. 

Hydrocarbons:  In 1600 we had coal tar and pitch that was dug out of holes in the ground by hand.  Some places used whale oil for lighting.  Today, you name it and it is or was, or needs some kind of hydrocarbon somewhere in its’ production, use or disposal. 

About the only thing that doesn’t use oil are the human souls that Shotgun Dick and Karl Rove dine on.  Strike that, it comes in by truck to the Undisclosed Location.   

Urbanization:  We are not an agrarian, hunter-gatherer planet any more.  We can produce more food than there are mouths, but we have people going to bed hungry even in our wealthiest cities.  Our priorities are power, money and more money with a side of power and an order of extra power over other people.  I’m not seeing that change any time soon. 

Velocity:  Your personal world and reality used to be things that were within walking or riding distance circa 1600.  Everything, everyone and everywhere else was either conceptual, or so distant as to be inaccessible to the average person.

This morning, if I wanted to, I have the ability to be at Ping’s Shark Fin Restaurant at Sukhumvit 21 Road in Bangkok in about 17 hours.  Mr. Saetia Hung Ping could be cooking for me shortly after I arrive from Mississauga.  All I have to do is apply a few thousand dollars and hop a plane.  I would have to actually like shark fin soup, but I don’t, so I’ve canceled my reservation.  Plus, I have to do laundry. 

I suspect that even a goat herder in the hills of Elbonia knows that Anna Nicole Smith died last week.  We’re all jacked into a global media reality that tells us everything, but informs us of nothing.  The velocity of our lives is so fast we’re getting red-shift.

Adaptability:  We can’t and won’t.  If the lights went off for more than a couple of hours, most of our cities would degenerate into rioting and despair.  We have lost the drive as a species to adapt to changing conditions that might involve the shattering discomfort of having to do without the electric garlic press or the big screen TV.

Turning back the clock to 1600 isn’t going to fix anything, despite how noble it might seem to be One with Nature, sustainable agriculture, zero-emission footprint and so on.  We can’t uninvent all the things that we have invented.  Many of the things humans have created have been good for our species, but do have trade-offs we have to understand.  

As an example, a horse-drawn, wood and iron milk delivery wagon in an urban area uses no oil.  It is, potentially a good thing, but horse-drawn means manure we have to dispose of safely as it could pollute ground water and needs ice to keep the milk cold.  The horse-drawn milk wagon also needs food for the horse, which means farm land, harvesting equipment and transport to get the food to the horse in the city. Plus farriers, wheelwrights, harness makers, veterinarians and animal health officers to support and manage the horse-drawn milk wagon.   

Perhaps an electric milk delivery tr
uck would be more practical, as we have the infrastructure in place and understand the technology of delivery trucks.   An electric power retrofit to an existing refrigerated truck is probably safer, from the standpoint of health risk, but you still have to generate the electricity in the first place. 

It isn’t quite as simple as doing without oil.  A much longer calculation is needed to get to the decision point regarding trade-offs.

However, we can use things better, as we’re smarter than the average bear when we have to be.

For instance, we don’t need our steaks wrapped in single use Styrofoam and swathed in low-density poly:  That’s a very stupid single use that we throw out and bury in a landfill, without trying to find another use or two for the ergs of energy that still exist in the products. 

Why not chop it up, burn some to extract the energy to make heat for houses, then use the ashes, and extra chopped foam as an additive into a light, self-insulating concrete for building purposes?  I don’t know if it would work, but at least we’re getting one or two more uses out of that Styrofoam steak tray. 

You can buy carpet underpadding that is made from recycled PET plastic bottles.  You get another use out of the hydrocarbon and some underfoot comfort from garbage.  This is a better use of the hydrocarbon, but it takes energy to remanufacture the PET.  One program takes PET bottles and fills them with concrete to make rudimentary building blocks for housing in the less developed world, but it takes energy to get the empties to the site.  It might be a good trade-off.  I don’t know.

Disposable IV bags?  That’s an acceptable use of a hydrocarbon, sort of.  Glass IV bottles have existed before and seemed to work fine, as long as they were sterilized between uses and the needles and lines are not recycled from patient to patient. 

Single-use glass that is recycled and remelted into new glass might be better, but it takes energy to remelt glass and I’m not sure if the heat of melting is enough to sterilize things perfectly.  Do the temperatures in a glass furnace kill the prions that cause Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy?  We need more information here.     

Global Climate Change is a hydrocarbon deal.  Even the stupid can see that hydrocarbons have been the biggest, most impacting change we’ve had as a planet.  We’ve fought wars over it, more than once. 

If we use less hydrocarbons we will probably have cleaner air.  Cleaner air might mean we won’t have as drastic a climate change.  We might even reverse some of the effects of climate change.  Drastic reductions globally in the use of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) seems to have worked a bit for the ozone hole over Antarctica. 

If we try to reuse and reuse again our hydrocarbons, then we’re going to get the most use out of a limited resource that will disappear.  

The scientists, even the ones bought and paid for by the American Enterprise Institute are clear on that one:  There is a limited amount of oil. 





Bremer's Cash Shovel

Before the US and the Coalition Provisional Authority turned the keys to Iraq back over to an elected government in 2004, the Coalition of the Willing went nuts with the cash.  Five Billion dollars and six weeks later, Paul Bremer handed over the pink slip to Iraq.

In a thirteen-month period, Paul Bremer’s term as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the US government shipped 360 tonnes of cash to Iraq.  That is tonnes, as in 2200 pounds of weight.  That would be 792,000 pounds of money. 

The Max Take Off Weight (MTOW) of a Boeing 747-400 is 800,000 pounds.  MTOW includes the weight of the aircraft, full of gas, groceries, (sorry, no meal service) passengers and luggage.

These figures came to light in Washington yesterday in a House oversight committee, as Paul Bremer got carved a spare by Rep. Henry Waxman.  One official from the provisional authority said that a contractor received a two million dollar payment in a duffel bag stuffed with shrinkwrapped bundles of currency.  (source

Yes, I know there were no real government or financial mechanisms in place in Iraq in 2003 or 2004, but this is the kind of thing even the head-injured can understand as dumb beyond redemption. Even a Yale graduate could grasp that.

Not, apparently, Yale-grad Paul Bremer.  An ex-US Foreign Service wank, he worked for Alexander Haig and eventually became Ronnie Regan’s ambassador to the Netherlands.  There was the stint at Kissinger and Associates.  Yes that Kissinger.  After 9/11 Bremer came back to the government tit along with Regan-era sack of suck, Ed Meese, to lay the groundwork for the Department of Homeland Paranoia, with the Heritage Foundation’s Homeland Security Task Force. 

Then The Terror Trust tapped Bremer to run the Coalition Provision Authority in Iraq.

Perhaps the most telling of Bremer’s actions was the repair and re-opening of the pipelines and well-heads to move Iraqi oil.  He got it done right smartly, with one teensy little exception.  The meters on the well-heads and pipelines never seemed to get fixed. 

According to the UN International Advisory and Monitoring Board, it took forever to get a contractor to fix those pesky meters.  I guess Paul couldn’t find anyone from Haliburton with a few hours to spare and an adjustable wrench.  Either that, or he had run out of duffel bags full of cash.

There were other advances under Paul Bremer’s rule.  Like CPA Order #39 which privatized 200 Iraq state-owned enterprises, allowed 100% foreign ownership of Iraq businesses, and granted 40-year ownership licenses.  Then there was CPA Order #17 that granted foreign contractors, including private security firms, full immunity from all Iraqi laws. 

We have to mention CPA Order #49, which dropped the tax on corporations from 40% to a maximum of 15%.  CPA Order #12 that suspended all tariffs, customs duties, import taxes, licensing fees and all other trade restrictions on goods entering or leaving Iraq. 

Or the CPA Order #81 that prohibits Iraqi farmers from saving heirloom seeds from one season to the next if the seeds are transgenic or patented seeds.  Funny that it only took him 27 pages to set up full patent and intellectual property rights in a country that was just gutted in a war.

No wonder Paul Bremer got the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Jo Jo The Idiot Boy on December 14th, 2004. 

Aside from having a 747’s weight worth of cash to pull from, he set up just about every structure that has allowed big business to bend Iraq over a a taxi hood and yell "Please Sir May I Have Another!"  Pardon me, not a reaming, just the Free Market working to defeat the Evildoers of the Axis of Evildoers Axis of Evil. 

Let freedom ring, baby.



Pickton Coverage

For those of you who are south of the border, or who live in a bubble, you probably don’t know about Robert Pickton.  I’ll give you the short version right now.  He’s charged with several murders in Port Coquitlam, outside of Vancouver.  Over several years it is rumoured that he killed 49 women. 

Now, one would think that 47 missing women might cause a bit of attention from the police, right?  Well, not if the women are all economically marginalized, sex trade workers.  That, naturally, is one aspect of the trial, after all nothing sells like sensationalist coverage of serial prostitute murder. 

There are other aspects to the trial.  Pickton was a pig farmer and owned a hog rendering operation.  As to where the bodies of 40 or so victims went, I will leave it up to your imagination.  The media started playing up the horrific and grisly while the farm was under police control as a crime scene.  The cops used all of the white disposable coveralls in Canada as they obtained the evidence of the crimes, over a four-month forensic investigation.

Now, is Pickton guilty?  That’s what is going on in trial.  The prosecution is presenting their very meticulously gathered evidence.  I’ll go along with the "innocent until proven guilty" as that is how the system works, but it does not look too good for Robert Pickton.  If half of what the Crown is presenting is vaguely true, then Pickton is not well-adjusted and should be made to pay for his crimes, if found guilty.   

Every evening the television meat puppets give us the stern voiced "some details may be disturbing to some viewers".  No kidding.  In a particular corner of Hell, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy are watching FOXNews, swapping high-fives and going "Daymm.  He’s goood."

I’m a firm believer in the rights of the press to report the trial, as it is an open trial and it is newsworthy from a judicial and sociological point of view.  Even from the standpoint of justice being seen to be done, I can accept the coverage of trial.

The question that is not being asked in all the coverage is why wasn’t he wasn’t captured sooner?  If one woman were to disappear from a "nice" Vancouver suburb, the police would be crawling everywhere to find out what happened.  Except that Pickton’s alleged victims were almost all street prostitutes and junkies.  The lost people of our society.  They weren’t women from a nice Vancouver suburb.

Why didn’t the cops get involved earlier, say, after the first suspicious disappearance?  Or was the reaction "Well, its just some whores gone missing, who cares?"  Apparently the street workers told the police that something wasn’t right.  Rumours existed amongst those in the sex industry that the pig farm and the guy associated with it were bad news.  These warnings were unheeded by the police as best I can tell.  That’s not right.

The list of questions gets longer.  Why were the victims doing what they were doing?  How did we, meaning you and me, fail them?  Nobody chooses being a street whore as an avocation.  Nobody chooses mental illness or being a crack head as a career path.  Supposedly our society has ways and means to help, to provide choices or a hand up.  Or did we decide to throw these women away?  Is it because they were women?

I’m not going to wonder why Robert Pickon though his actions were acceptable.  Monsters have lived amongst us since the day after our species climbed out of the water: They simply are.  We just have better methods of communications these days.  This mean more people know of the existence of the darkest side of humankind in minute detail, meticulously covered by our media in every ghastly aspect.

But the other questions still stand. Nobody in the media is asking the difficult questions.




TiVo Data Mining

In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle today, the company that owns TiVo has revealed that they offer TV networks and Ad agencies a chance to review second-by-second data about the viewing habits of the 4.5 million TiVo subscribers.

The data is correlated to what you are watching, seeing what commercials you fast-forward over, or scenes of a show you rewind to watch again.  Of course this is extraordinarily valuable information to an Ad agency, as it tells them exactly how much people hate those hideous Lillydale ads, or the execrable Head-On Apply an Axe to My Forehead campaign. 

I don’t own a TiVo, or any other Personal Video Recorder that is tied into a cable company or subscription service.  I don’t watch enough TV to make it worth my while.  I know that Grey’s Anatomy exists, but I’ve never seen it and my sports fix is more than capably satisfied by SpeedTV.

My question:  What controls are built into protecting your data?  Is there something in the End User Agreement, or the Subscription Agreement that allows the cable company to collect all kinds of data about your viewing habits?  Remember TiVo is selling your data for money, so why shouldn’t you make a buck off it too?  It is your data and unless you have allowed them to resell your viewing habit data, it is still yours.  Isn’t it?  No it isn’t.  The TiVo Agreement specifically allows them to collect Anonymous Viewing Information and share it with "affiliates and partners".

We’ve talked about data mining before, the ability to cross-tabulate broad statistical data with location data, income data and Credit Bureau data to develop a very accurate picture of your personality.  It is an inexact science, but is close enough to make privacy advocates a bit jittery. 

Consider this, cross tabulate the Credit Bureau reports for everyone in the L5A 4A1 thru 9 postal code, with the Ministry of Transport data on who owns what kind of car.  Overlay the Bell Canada data on phone use, again for a broad geographic area of L5A 4A1 thru 9.  Add in viewer data from Rogers Video on Demand or Pay Per View with Stats Canada Census data.  You now have a fairly comprehensive data construct of who lives in L5A 4A1 thru 9.  I happen to live in the area called L5A 4A3.  I would be the datapoint anomaly, waaay over there.

The tinfoil hat brigade is concerned that the Department of Homeland Paranoia, under the Patriot Act, can demand that data from any business.  Then Homeland Paranoia will cross tab viewing habits with security databases, like the No-Fly List and commercial employment screening databases like ChoicePoint. 

Will this find the Evildoers of Axis of Evil?  Not likely, as I would suspect that Osama Bin Laden probably has his TiVo subscription under a name like Raoul Duke or G. Walker Shrub, if he has a sense of humor. 

What it can do, however, is allow the government to collect more and more data.  They already monitor your banking, email and online behaviors, not to mention phone and cell phone calls. In the UK the number of video surveillance cameras in London and other large cities is approaching 10,000, most of which pan, tilt and zoom to watch suspicious people.  

Naturally the old FBI Carnivore email trap system would catch everything and anything.  It’s now called DCS-1000 but it does the same things.  Under the FCC’s CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act) any ISP, VoIP provider or telco has to collect data if a Law Enforcement Agency says they have to.  

Echelon is a little more discriminating, or at least that’s what we’re told and there are significant controls on the data.  Why not walk up to CFS Leitrim (an Echelon site in the suburbs of Ottawa) and ask to see anything they might have on your email, or telex, fax or phone calls?  It will be an interesting conversation right up to the point that the RCMP puts the cuffs on your wrists. 

The danger of collecting all this data is the lack of control over who gets to use it and how they get to use it.  There is no mechanism to dispute contents, control access or to remove erroneous entries. 

Just for giggles, try to get something removed from your Credit Bureau file.  The Credit Bureau is interested in more data, not necessarily good data, so expect to see every letter and phone call to them documented in your file.  The mere fact that you dispute an entry from such an august and honourable organization as the Credit Bureau flags your file as a shit-disturber, which means someone who might want to hire you will see those entries too. 

To quote from the SF Chronicle article:  "I promise with my hand on a Bible that your data is not being archived and sold," said Todd Juenger, TiVo’s vice president and general manager of audience research and measurement. 

There was a quote from an article in the Guardian, regarding the UK police turning their surveillance cameras into various homes which went approximately "We wouldn’t do that."  As for the Department of Homeland Paranoia, well, they won’t talk about it, because of "National Security".

All of which comes back to the government asking us to trust them.  Let’s see.  Hmmn.  Is the phrase "Eff Off!" one of my choices?