Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Magic of Chroma Key

Don't believe what you see on TV, though they are meant to be believable.

My thoughts about New Year

Not much is going on today. Still going to work, and just taking things easy. Being a person who is not 'date'-sensitive, New Year eve to me is just another day. I don't know why or recall when I started thinking this way. I just don't see how today is different than tomorrow or yesterday. Many people will use today to think about what have happened this year and make some wishes for the next, etc. Yes, we should cherish the time that we have, the things that we possess, and work hard for the future. This thought can be applied EVERYDAY. So, what make New Year eve SO special?

Being in the minority for having this kind of thought would usually deemed by the majority as being weird. I do believe that there are many out there think the same way as I am. Some of them think this way because they are living under heavy 'burden' which suppress their mood for celebration, like those in service industry that still have to work today throughout the evening, and may even working tomorrow. For them, they work hard for minimum wages and can't see what to celebrate for. Fortunately, I'm not like that, I’m just different…. My wife doesn’t share my view on New Year; probably my son won't be in few years neither. Being a family man, I will try to arrange something for them, just to make them happy which will make me happy. However, I just personally don't think I need any EXCUSE to feel one way or the other depending on the numbers on the calendar!

Come to think of the big ‘fuss’ of New Year, I guess, as a society, most people are working very hard, they may need some occasions to relax or looking forwards to. For business, occasions or festivities mean money. Philosophically speaking, on the life path of individual, besides birth and death, live continues. Having artificial breaks of some sorts would help people to take perspective of what they have done and to plan for the future. Usually, those kinds of breaks or 'brakes' are graduations, marriage(s)/divorce(s), births/deaths of love ones, residence changes, etc. On a macro level, infrequent breaks would come in the form of natural disasters, civil uprising (or celebration), and change of leadership. However, those occasions could be too much or shocking for many people. Meanwhile, we do have other forms of breaks, like festivals, i.e. Christmas, National Day, or other religious holidays, etc, or seasonal changes recorded in lunar calendar which were used by our ancestors living by agriculture. So, there are actually many such ‘breaks’ for different people to celebrate for. Come to think of this, I can see the value of New Year being celebrated because of neutrality comparing with most other festivities, and this inclusiveness make it worldly accepted all across.

Anyway, I can say that I think I can rationalize the celebration of New Year, but I guess I just don't feel as strong about this as most people. Lastly, just playing a devil’s advocate against what I’ve just babbling about…….Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

PC replacement thought

Lately, I’ve been thinking about buying a new PC. Well, my existing Dell PC was bought in 2004. It is still running largely trouble free. I didn’t really do any upgrade to it except adding an extra 320GB hard disk and an extra 256MB RAM to it in 2007 I believe. However, as it is really getting a bit old and I think it would be nice to get a replacement. I’ve not made up my mind yet. Cos, looking at the whole tech inventory at home, beside the Dell PC, we have a Fujitsu Laptop that was 4 years old which was used by my wife before we got married and it has not been used since God know when (it is a completely waste as it cost a fortune – almost 2 grand USD when it was bought), also we have a first generation ASUS netbook which has merely 12GB of hard disk (laughable right now considering most netbook out there has 10 times if not more of capacity). We still use the netbook once in a while, mostly for web-browsing and slight document editing. Whether to get rid of these 2 pieces of gear is also on my mind. About other gears, I don’t wanna even mention the ipods and iphones which are in different category.

Getting a new PC is neither a must nor urgent, that’s why I’m still thinking. Actually, there are few options that I’m pondering.
1. Get a new PC either from Dell or HP.
2. Get a Mac.
3. Wait for the iTablet (iSlate) from Apple, then decide….

Laptop is portable, but it doesn’t have large storage space unless I hook up with external hard drive. Also, I don’t wanna waste my current 20” LCD monitor for a smaller screen. Yes, dual screen is possible, but it costs more to get a laptop than a desktop PC with equivalent specifications anyway. So, neither laptop or those so-called desktop replacement laptop are not being considered.

A Mac is attractive but it is way too expensive in the first place, it will be more expensive to make my wife happy using it as I would need Bootcamp with Window to be installed for her convenience if I buy a Mac. But, man! Owning a Mac is just temptative!

Apple’s rumor tablet would be more intriguing. However, as a frugal practical guy, I am usually not a trail brazer or pioneer to new product and would let it to refine a bit before really getting into it if I’ll ever be. That’s why I’m actually thinking about buying a new PC after Win7 SR1 is released. Also, this new Apple product may be more for entertainment. Rumoring it to be come with iPhone OS rather than MacOS, that may make it even less attractive to match our needs. Surely, I’m still very interested in this product itself.

Considering the current usage of our PC, we mostly use it for web-browsing, office tasks, and a bit of simple media works on photos and music. We need large storage and fast access as well. We don’t use it to watch TV, playing games or watching movie. Therefore, it actually doesn’t require killer specification. However, I would still like to get a better one. Cos, once there is capability there, it will give me reason to explore widen usage to it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I went to see Avatar yesterday. It is certainly the best movie I’ve seen this year, period! Before I saw it. I did have extreme high expectation on the visual part of this movie after reading many articles about the technology side of the movie. On the other hand, I did have a bit concern about the story of the movie, I was worried that I would be fully distracted by the visual part and would find the story itself to be difficult to understand and follow. Well, my concern was totally invalid. This movie didn’t disappoint me a bit.

Visuals: This is the best 3D movies that I’ve ever seen. First of all, the whole movie is 3D, not part of it. The CGs is simply mesmerizing. The interaction between human and CG characters are simply stunningly smooth. The planet of Pandora is amazing; Jim Cameron is ambitious enough to create a complete ecosystem for the movie. Though, they are basically mountains, sea, and forest. But, to create something that’s so familiar to us, but completely new and good enough to fool our eyes is not easy. Also, the environment fit the story like a glove.

In terms of creatures on the planet, the animals were moving swiftly. I’m sure there are many more animals found in the movies than I can remember, but there are few that had given me greater impression than the others like the ‘rhinos’ with hammer head, the giant black hair-less ‘panther’, the six-legs ‘horses’ and the flying dragons. They must be inspired by other movies or comic books, but they certainly did a good job that serves the story.
Na vi’, the 12 feet tall, blue skin natives on Pandora with tails are the main characters of the movie. Well, after visually see them in motion; I would agree with what Jim Cameron had reportedly expected in this movie that these characters are believable to be alive and able to wear emotion on their faces to portrait the characters that they are playing. I would say this is certain a big leap forward in terms of CGs in movie making. Cos, CG characters are difficult to make believable. After this movie, I would say that the last and final ultimate goal for the CG technology is to create CG human character that is good enough to fool our eyes to believe them to be real human. Anyway, that’s my side track thought.

This is a sci-fi movie with actions. The action part is very fluid. The aircraft looks fine and the robots are….well…remind me as an improved version of those from Matrix Revolution. However, the final 20 minutes or so of the movie with the epic battle are just very cool and they look so real! I’m not sure how they do it, but the visual fit with the story real well.

Story: Jim Cameron is just a good story teller. I think it is very important. Cos he used to write scripts for other people’s movies before he became a great director. In fact, Jim Cameron also wrote the scripts (or at least originate the story) of his own movies. The great thing about Jim Cameron is that his stories are not complicated, and are actually old fashion tales. In Titanic, it is a basically about a poor boy fall in love with a rich girl, wrapped around in the premise of a sinking ship. In Avatar, it is basically the story of David against Goliath, wrapped around in interstellar conflict on resource exploration and preservation with a touch of love. Well, the stories are simple, but they work! Cos, if he tries to make the story too complicated, it may still works but it may also lose some mass appeal for audience who are simply seeking entertainment, not philosophical lesson. In fact, if audiences are losing track of what’s going on in a complicated story, it would be difficult for them to care about the characters. This is the most critical point to distinguish between a great sci-fi action movie and mediocre/bad ones.

Hollywood has top notch technology and the best resource to make great action movies. In fact, you can find many memorable scenes and pieces in many mediocre sci-fi or action movies. However, for most audiences, they would say...yeah the car chase scene, the fight scene about certain movies, this and that are great. But….the overall movies were not good. Cos, the audience doesn’t care about what the characters are fighting for, they see explosions, this and that, but those scenes might not serve the story well. I think Avatar is able to avoid falling in such trap. To be honest, I buy the story and was able to even ‘feel’ the Na vi’ characters and on their side while they are fighting the main villains of the movies who are happened to be…..human! As a person who has seen hundreds of movies, I’m indeed surprise by such feeling, and because of this, I can’t praise enough how amazing Jim Cameron is able to pull this movie off. What an achievement!
Another great thing about the story of this movie is that it can be improvised in many ongoing conflicts among the powerful and the weak in the world these days. I’ve read many people put the movie in the context of current conflicts between two sides in the war on terror, in the global warming fallout among developed and developing nations, and even smaller scale conflicts between government and local natives on land/culture preservation. As such conflicts are not only ongoing, similar conflicts did happen all through history and will surely happen in future. This makes such David vs. Goliath type of stories be able to test against time, and meanwhile create universal appeal to different peoples all over the world. Cos, every little guy can see him/herself as Na vi’. With the inspiring ending of the movies, I’ll be really surprise if this movie can’t be popular all over the world.

One thing that I’ve not mentioned much about this movie is the human actors. I would say that they are doing decent jobs and Jim Cameron is about to give them enough ‘meat’ to portrait what kind of characters they are, with enough room to act under the premise of the script, but without causing any threat to the performance of the CG characters. It itself is another amazing achievement of Jim Cameron. Well, to be honest, I don’t really have much to criticize this movie, cos the image and the whole movie experience is still overwhelming my senses. I may have deeper thoughts and am able to come up with few criticisms on here and there in future. However, right at this moment, I just haven’t any bad things to say about this movie which ‘must’ be seen on big screen. No download or small screen will do justification on this masterpiece!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Spirit

It is the time of the year again. Christmas has always been a major holiday for various reasons. However, with years going by, the more and more that I feel this festival is being commercialized to a point that many regular people almost don’t remember what this festival is all about. To me, the religious and official theme of Christmas is for celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. For people who are not into Christianity, Christmas should be regarded as an occasion to remind us the spirit of ‘giving’ our love and care to the unfortunates. However, most people that I see on the street and in the media, simply treat it as an occasion to have fun, to party and to shop. The spirit of Christmas has been hijacked by extreme commercialism that money instead of love becomes the measurement of anything related to Christmas.

Why would there be a lavish Christmas dinner that cost hundreds of dollars?
Why would hampers and gifts for Christmas cost so much with environmental-unfriendly packaging?
Why Santa becomes more prominent in Christmas than Jesus?

I’m not a very religious person. I believe in God and Jesus though I’m neither baptized nor a church-goer. I think that people entitle the freedom to do whatever they want (given they are legal) in Christmas, like taking vacation trip overseas, or having family gathering. However, please don’t ‘hijack’ Christmas to do things that have nothing to do with the spirit of Christmas, and tell people that they do them in the name of Christmas!

All through these years, I’ve been going through all kinds of Christmas, doing different things, like going to parties, being invited to family gatherings, by myself for a lonely Christmas, etc. However, the most memorable one was visiting a children hospital ward and singing Christmas hymns for them many years ago on one Christmas Eve evening. I think that was the most heartwarming Christmas experience that I’ve ever had, and that matched closely to the truth Christmas spirit.

Well, people might say that if that is so memorable, why don’t I do that every year? Well, there are reasons and conditions that cause certain things happen, those conditions have just not been there for various reasons since then….anyway, sometimes, like many things in life, I’ve learned that I should cherish the chance to be able to ‘taste’ certain things, but don’t drill on the reason why I can’t taste it all the times….

Going back to the theme of Christmas, as my wife is not religious, neither our family life in general, and my son is still too young to understand what the Christmas spirit is all about, I think I’m just gonna take it easy with him for now in this occasion. I hope I can relax a bit in this holiday, and hope to find moments to really think about things and do some planning for the future. Cos, New Year is just right at the corner….

Merry Christmas to everyone! Wish you all to have warm and wonderful time in this holiday!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My view on...Foods

An second article of "My View..." series.

I believe that the ‘Food Pyramid’ is a good guidance for food consumption in terms of health concern and economic sustainability.

Foods should not be wasted. Don’t order more than we can eat, and take leftover home if possible. If the taste of the foods is not very good, but still acceptable, don’t waste them.

Don’t be too picky on foods. Organic foods are good, but they are not must. Certainly, fresh foods are preferable.

Try not to eat ‘processed’ foods if possible, pick the natural one. E.g. drink water rather than soda, eat meat rather than ham or sausages, and eat fresh veggie rather than canned food. Don’t buy many candies, or things look very unnatural with fancy colors.

Don’t put too many seasonings in dishes. Try to taste the tastes of foods. Chicken should taste like chicken. Fish should taste like fish. If you put too many seasonings, most likely you will only end up tasting salt and need to drink a lot of water.

Try to learn cooking. Don’t need to be a great chef, but we should all learn the basic skills in cooking. Namely, how to select foods in the market, how to wash, cut, and basic seasoning, how to cook them as well. How to steam, stir fry, or roost. It should be considered as a basic skill for survival. It is difficult to be a great cook, but it is not difficult to cook.

Eat less meat but more veggie. Going to extreme as vegan is great, but be a part-time vegetarian is good. Though I like meat, veggie is healthier. Should treat meat as guilty pleasure than must-have dishes. Also, watch out the portion. There are a lot of sites and books about the benefit of veggies and problem of too much meat consumption. Just Google them.

Quality of food is important, but quantity matters as well. Don’t eat too much. If you want to have a healthy weight, don’t indulge till you get your stomach full. Instead, you should eat just enough to make you not hungry. We actually don’t need that much food to stay healthy. Gluttony is actually one of the seven deadly sins.

Don’t do drugs unless your doctor told you so. Health supplements should only be used if you can’t get from natural foods in your few courses of meal everyday. Basically, we shouldn’t take any pills if we can eat healthily.

Besides drugs, other ‘sinful’ products like coffee and alcohols should only be taken modestly. Both coffee and alcohols do have health benefits in certain circumstances. We should only eat or drink things that are good to our body. Therefore, tobacco is no-no. It is a waste of money and bad to our health. Teas are ok, especially green teas.

If you study science, particularly biology and chemistry, you will understand what foods can be broken down into what chemicals as well as how those chemicals benefit our health. Therefore, it will help you to look beyond the fancy stuff about cooking and ingredients to understand that, at the end of the day (in your stomach and going through your intestines), what they will end up to be. It can give you a more fundamental perspective of the function and value of foods. So, you will be less likely fooled by the advertisers and companies on promoting things to make money off you.

Be careful of false advertisements of foods/drugs/health supplements. Many of them are deceptive.

Don’t over spend on foods. In a normal society, foods shouldn’t be cost too much. Live with basic should be good enough. Therefore, try to avoid consumption of exotic foods. That’s neither good to our earth nor our wallet. They serve basically no additional health benefit to us as well if you know the biology and chemistry stuff. There are always equally good equivalent foods in terms of nutrients out there that are more abundant and cheaper.

Only eat modestly. Foods are for their nutrient value, good tasting is a plus, but not the other way around. Not feeling hungry is a virtue. Feeling too full is not necessary a blessing.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Inner Strength

What I realized yesterday....

"Even if you are helplessly witnessing the world crumbling around you, you should not let your own inner world going down with it."

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Paul Samuelson and Success of Jews

For any one who can read Chinese, I found two great articles that I would like to share with. The first one is about Paul Samuelson, one of the great economist in the last century. Amid of his recent death, the author of the article paid tribute to this great man and cite how his influence and success that tower other Nobel Prize winners in economics. The second article is further elaboration by the author about the overwhelming success of Jewish people in terms of the disproportional share of awards, power and contributions they have to the world in terms of their population.

時事評論 - 信報財經新聞 練乙錚2009-12-15 香島論叢



其實,筆者認真學習經濟理論,亦始自自學森穆遜的那套經濟學入門書。一九八○年,筆者「半途出家」,考取了美國西北大學研究院經濟學博士班的入學資格,但因為本科修的是數學,說老實話,當時掌握的經濟學知識接近零,除了讀過馬克思的《資本論》!朋友知道筆者乃「有限公司」,送筆者一本森穆遜打底,入學前一個月才讀畢,竟也管用,頭一個學期與其他多半是經濟科班出身的同學比拼,亦未見輸蝕,可見森書確有分量。不過,對經濟學界人士來說,森氏更重要影響來自他另外一本書《經濟分析基礎》(1947);此書本是森穆遜的博士論文,大器早成,就算森氏其後再沒有任何研究成果,單憑此書內容,也足以取得經濟學諾獎有餘。事實上,森氏後來的學術論文三百多篇,在經濟學多個領域都做出奠基性的貢獻,包括宏觀、微觀理論、福利經濟學、貿易理論、公共財務學等方面,但一九七 ○年他得到經濟學諾獎,頒獎委員會稱許他的貢獻,正正是以《基礎》一書的內容為主。八十年代起,美國大學研究院微觀經濟學基礎課的標準教科書是Hal Varian的《微觀經濟理論》,書中材料兩大來源,一是Kenneth Arrow的一般均衡理論,另一便是森穆遜《基礎》一書中的精華,而二者當中,尤以森氏的更為根本。

《基礎》的貢獻,主要是方法學。此前,經濟理論分析工具主要是文字和圖表,重直觀而欠嚴謹;森穆遜改變了「行規」,在理論分析引入數學作為語言和工具。舉例說,經濟學常常談到個體經濟行為中存在「精打細算」、「睇Å食飯」等現象,但這些行為如何準確論述,有什麼引伸意義,如何量度,量度的結果如何應用在預測,等等,沒有數學便很難解答。森穆遜認為,解決這類問題,可用數學中的一門分支——受制優化法(constrained optimization)。例如,最簡單地說,企業面對技術條件、運作資金和成本價格等制約,如何選擇生產的量和質,以求取最大利潤?消費者面對消費品價格和自身用度上限等制約,如何選擇消費品的種類和數量,達致一己之最大滿足?政府面對有限公帑資源制約,如何安排各種開支,以求社會最大利益?所有這些問題的抽象形式都一樣,可以用同一種數學工具精確處理。這便是《基礎》一書頭一個貢獻。


諾獎得主無疑都可稱「大師」,但大師之間,也有段數之分。一些經濟學諾獎得主,貢獻比較單薄,如九七年的Scholes,○ 一年的Akerlof和Spence等,各以創設一個巧妙好用的概念、公式或模型便得獎,和森氏相比,貢獻往往只及他一本書中的一章。森穆遜是大師中的大師!

時事評論 - 信報財經新聞 練乙錚2009-12-16 香島論叢


昨天談到的現代經濟學泰斗森穆遜和佛利民,前者是凱恩斯學派,後者是自由經濟論者,學理南轅北轍,但共同點也有,便都是猶太人。二老仙遊之後,兩個學派暫時都是「集體領導」。凱恩斯學派當中,要舉兩個最有名氣的,當舉史蒂格力茲(J. Stiglitz)和克魯明(P. Krugman);自由經濟論那一派,群星燦爛,若論實力,當推貝卡(G. Becker)和巴若(R. Barro)。查一下此四人背境,可知也都是猶太人。此非特別巧合。環視去年環球金融風暴中的風雲人物和當今奧巴馬麾下財金戰將如格林斯平、貝南奇、蓋特納、森默斯等,都是猶太人。其實,隨便上網搜尋「猶太裔經濟學家」,登入其中一頁看看,你當以為過去所學的經濟學,簡直就是猶太學。經濟學諾獎共頒發三十九次,其中猶太人得二十七個,佔總數百分之四十二。看走勢,似乎每近愈況,○五年至今的九位得主,六位是猶太人,而○七年出了三胞胎,猶太人抱個滿堂紅。今年二位得獎者當中的E. Ostrom,也是猶太人① 。經濟學簡直變了猶太人的遊戲!


醫學及生理學:自一九○一年第一屆醫學諾獎頒發至今,猶太人取得此獎共五十三次,佔總數百分之二十七。物理學:猶太人共得此學諾獎四十七次,佔總數百分之二十五。物理學大師中的大師愛恩斯坦是猶太人,一九二一年獲獎,在行內地位至今無人能及。物理學界稱一九○五年為annus mirabilis(奇蹟年),因為那年愛氏發表了四篇論文,每篇都是現代物理學的基礎和高峰;該四篇文章,學界統稱annus mirabilis papers(奇蹟年論文)。現代物理學應用在武器中,猶太人也一馬當先;「原子彈之父」奧本海默(J. R. Oppenheimer)、「氫彈之父」泰勒(Edward Teller)、美國「導彈之父」馮卡門(T. Von Karman,錢學森的老師),都是猶太人。此外,猶太人取得化學獎諾三十一次,佔總數百分之二十;取得文學獎十三次,佔總數百分之十二。


在其他不設諾獎的科教文化藝術和各行各業,猶太人的實力亦屬驚人。電腦和資訊科技方面,史上第一部現代電腦的設計人馮紐曼(J. von Neumann),電腦語言理論開山祖喬姆斯基(N. Chomsky),人工智能的三位始創人明斯基、西蒙和麥卡錫(M. Minsky, H. Simon, J. McCarthy),互聯網技術六個最主要始創人中的三個,Dell電腦公司的Michael Dell, Oracle的Larry Ellison,谷歌的Sergey Brin和Larry Page等,都是猶太人。


音樂方面,現代最著名指揮家Ashkenazy, Barenboim, Bernstein, Doráti, Klemperer, Levi, Levine, Maazel, Ormandy, Previn, Reiner, Slatkin, Solti, Szell,都是猶太人;鋼琴和其他樂器一流表演家,猶太人更不可勝數。建築設計大師當中,是猶太人的有Maier, Gehry, Kahn, Eisenman, Safdie, Liebeskind…。

商界過去有很強的反猶太勢力,遲至一九七三年,美國始出現第一位猶太裔「財富500」企業行政總裁(杜邦化工的Irving Shapiro)。今天,短短三十六年之後,「財富500」當中,猶太人當行政總裁的佔了百分之十至十五。要羅列更多猶太人在各領域裏的頂尖成就和影響,還可說個不停。②然而,猶太是個弱少民族,六十年前連國家也沒有。過去六千年當中,猶太人只有三次合共在九百二十八年裏,有自己的家園;此外的五千年中,流離失所,過非人生活,受歧視、虐待、屠殺者,不知幾許,一個希特拉便把當時歐洲猶太人殺了六成(一千多萬)。由此可見,一個民族的延續、崛興、成就和在世人眼中的聲譽,與本身政治和國力無一定關係;不少學者試圖從宗教、文化、基因、歷史、經濟等觀點解釋猶太人的成就,結果都是一家之言,不成確切公認的說法。

和中華民族比,猶太民族目前無疑更優越。別的不說,就看離鄉別井歷史處境和猶太人差不多的海外華人,目前總數四千萬,是全球猶太人的三倍,幾百年至今在各方面的成就和猶太人比,也差很遠。看來,國人講「民族復興」、「大國崛起」,路途還遠。努力! 註︰①Ostrom的父親是猶太人,母親不是;按猶太傳統,猶太身份由母傳,故嚴格來說,Ostrom不是「猶太人」而是「猶太裔」,但本文不作此分辨;②政治方面沒有說,但單就對中國的影響而言,馬克思和恩格斯都是猶太人;蘇共早期領導當中,列寧的外祖父是猶太人,托洛茨基是猶太人,史太林一說是猶太人,他本人矢口否認,但其兩個子女配偶都是猶太人,史太林名Joseph,是猶太名,本姓Jughashvilli,一說意為「猶太人之子」,Jugha即他老鄉話「猶太人」(Jew)之意。

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Facial Expression and Emotion

I've just done reading Malcolm Gladwell's 'Blink'. It is a very good book. To me, it is a continuation of reading of his last book 'Tipping Point'. I enjoy Blink as well. There are many good things about the content of this book, but one thing that stick on my mind upon reading it is about the relationship between facial expression and emotion. I've always thought that the relationship of those two is one way. Namely, when I'm happy, I will smile. However, what this book strikes me upon reading it is that according to a research described in the book, it actually go both ways. So, if I want to be happy when I'm not, I can try to make myself smile, and it would work! I will try to prove that myself to see if it works on me as well next time when I'm a bit down. It is better to cheer myself up than asking external help.

Come to think of it, it could be true! Cos, when we go to department stores, we usually can see some salesgirls who would say something nice with a happy voice to us regardless. I don't pay much attention to them or look at them much, but simply give a nod. Next time, I may look at them when they speak, to see if they are really happy and glad to see us. I'm not an expert of telling if something is lying or not. However, according to the book, if we are trained, or really look, we can tell a lot about a person's emotional stage based on their facial expression which is supposed to be very complex with hundreds of different varieties.

I enjoy my recent surge of reading mood very much and realize once again that reading a book is different from reading articles, as I would be more engaged in reading a book, and to have a better feel of what the author is trying to say. Articles are just too short to convey any of that. I will keep reading as long as the mood is here. Hopefully, it is here to stay. Cos, reading about 10-15 pages a day takes weeks to finish a book. Therefore, I do need to have patience and need to pick the right books. I'm about to start Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers', which suppose to be even least it is according to an earlier interview transcript of Bill Clinton that I read on the net last week. Let's see what I learn or find interesting and may share here next time.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A day in your future

I had lunch with an old friend the other day to catch up what’s going on in our lives respectively and the people that we both know. Just something that I like to do every now and then, I learned that one of our friends is going through a lengthy therapy on a serious sickness. I hope he will recover soon. Related to that, we talked about similar incidents that we learned before in our lives about people had serious sickness and what had happened to them. One thing led to another, one interesting thing that my friend asked me....was that:
“Have you ever thought about one particular day in your life that you had wanted to see when you were young?”
I said “no”.
I’ve never thought of such scenario. He said that when he was young, he would want to see his wedding day. Well, such an answer coming out from a guy’s mouth was bit unexpected. However, after he told me the reasons, I thought that kinda make sense. He said that if he could see how his wedding day would lay out, He could tell how well off himself financially would be, based on how big the wedding would be. Also, he could tell if he still had a lot of friends based on the attendance. He could tell who would be his wife, whether she is good looking or not. Well, he is fine in that area. So, just based on that day, he could tell a lot about his future.

Then, he continued to say that right now, at this stage of his life, what date that he would like to see in future. His current choice would be the day after his death. He said that he could then tell where he will be, whether the heaven that he always believes does exist or not.

I had never thought about this scenario in spite of my active imagination before and current. Actually, come to think of it, I think any day in future, I mean like 10 years from now or longer would be good enough to know. No particular event would be necessary, cos, any bit of future would be fascinated enough. Just imagine the ‘me’ 10 or 20 years ago could see my current life. That would be shocking and I just couldn’t imagine what kind of impact and changes would that make to my ‘younger me’ if he could see the 'current me'. Certainly, it also depends on which part and how long of the 'current me' is shown to my 'younger me'. Forget about those greedy stuff like I show the stock prices or lottery results to my younger me, just let him know that I’m married to whom and I had a son, and working in what company, living in what kind of place, etc. Just typical everyday stuff could be enough to make my younger me lost sleep for weeks!...for either how good or bad that he would perceive the current me is!

I guess same thing would be happening to me if I know the ‘future me’ in 10 or 20 years. I would be equally shocked by what I will see. Provided that I would still live in 10 or 20 years, cos we are at the mercy of destiny. We just better cherish what we have, enjoy it, try to make the best of it and thankful for what we have. Cos, we are not entitled to anything! Many things that we take for granted can be gone unexpectedly. It is not being pessimistic, but realistic. I think if I’ve not seen enough, certainly know enough about that based on what have been happening in the world everyday.

Not sure if what I’ve just said will provoke your thought or not, anyway….

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My Views on…Clothes

One of the reasons why I blog is because I would like my son to have chance to know how his dad thinks. I’ve no intention to try to force my beliefs on him, cos he will have his own mind to make judgments on what to believe. I just wanna share with him my view on things. If my blogs can get him thinking, that has already served the propose. I will write a series of ‘My views on…’ in coming weeks or months to express my views on different aspects of life. This is the first one.

There are few keys about clothes that I always believe in.

The first key is ‘clean’. I don’t know what occasion would require dirty clothes to be worn. Yes, some occasions have higher tolerance to clothes’ cleanness and tidiness, such as wearing casual clothes at home, i.e. it is where we can pretty much wear whatever we feel like. As long as I’m comfortable to be in it, it is none of other’s business of criticizing me. Of course, certain level of acceptable personal hygenie is important. Otherwise, wearing clean clothes is something important, it is to respect the occasion and to the presence of others.

The second key is ‘fit’. Namely, clothes have to fit the body and the occasion. Clothes that don’t fit the body will never look good or serve the occasion regardless anything else. For certain clothes, like piece of suit, it is just not right to force yourself to wear one that doesn’t fit. If your arms and legs are short, tailor them. Don’t buy stuff off the rack and be too lazy to make sure they fit. If your body changes and can’t tailor the old clothes accordingly, buy new clothes. Also, don’t buy clothes impulsively just to think that you will look good in them after you lose a few pounds. It is a big NO NO! When you lose feel pounds, THEN you go to shop for clothes that fit. Otherwise, you will fill up with a closet of regret and sorrow for not just the clothes that you have never wear, but for ever-staying ‘love handle’ that you have.

The third key is ‘cost effective’, particularly for the tangible side of clothes. To make my point, just use T-shirt as an example. Some T-shirts are sold for $50, and some are sold for over $1000. Logically, I do believe that the expensive one would most likely use better fabric. However, do they use fabric that’s 20 times better? I don’t think so! They are sold for more because of other reasons. The $50 T-shirt not only includes the cost of manufacturing, but also includes profit for wholesalers/retailer. The more expensive T-shirt may be justified to cost twice or 3 times more, but not 10 or 20 times. So, the excessive money you pay are going to the brand and for the retailer’s rent.

Does the brand worth that much? I think brands in general are just puffs! For a piece of tech gadget, I buy more of the brand than those for clothes. When you buy an Apple product, you can see the design, enjoy the quality, see the high QC, and most importantly the enormous amount of R&D and testing after years of enhancement of the products. I don’t see how a T-shirt with a logo has gone through the same kind of process that worth that much money. For crying out loud, going to the billion dollar factory that making those chips in tech gadgets would require you to dress as if you going to a surgery! You don’t see those female workers in Guangdong factories dress like that to make those brand name clothes!

So, those fashion brands image that those handful of people created in Milan, Paris, NYC, and London are just creating mirage to make millions for their own. For a piece of gadget, every new function or appls is really real. They serve real purpose and do help to improve our life by making things easier and providing convenience. For a T-shirt with a chain here, or a piece of leather there doesn’t make a T-shirt into anything else but a T-shirt. I don’t doubt different clothes have their own function. However, when the portions of brand name and fashion seems to charge a lion share in the retail price. A wise consumer should smell the ‘rat’ and make smart choice. I know someone would said that fashion is like a piece of ‘art’, what about some Picasso paintings that were sold for millions? Well, art is fine, fashion as a piece of art is fine too. However, when you put a price tag on a piece of art, that’s when things are getting started. I don’t think art should be expensive, unless you are talking about things with historical value because of it rarity. For a piece of pottery that was for daily usage hundred years ago, the maker of which was aimed to make a piece of workable tool for people to use. Some effort was put on it to decorate it, may be for distinguishing the maker and for some expression of art and beauty. They don’t know that piece of pottery will worth thousands or millions nowadays. On the contrary, the fashion designers know what they are doing and what they will charge for consumers. Yes, it has sense of art in their products, but the price tag speaks louder than anything else. That’s how I see the difference.

Regarding the rental cost part that I mentioned above, that’s not dumb by the retailer to charge us, but it’s dumb for us to pay! We get no value for paying that on a piece of product.

The fourth key is ‘function’. Clothes do perform their functions. Forget about the fancy design of making a jacket into a backpack or else, the key of function ties to the ‘occasion’ that I mentioned above. It is like you wear a raincoat on rainy days., but Pyjama should be wore in bedroom (or some parties if they apply). The rule is to find out what kinds of clothes are required / expected for the occasion if it is not known or clear before you attend it. If answer is not available, it is better to overdressed than underdressed. You can always take off your tie or untug your shirt, but you can’t make a appropriate jacket out of a T-shirt.

I’ve never been an expert in clothing, and I think most folks, unless they are in certain industries or professions, aren’t neither. It is out of my concern in terms of cost and time for maintenance. I can’t speak for the others, especially the other half of human population. I believe that clothes consumption should be on ‘need’ basis rather than on ‘want’ basis. Certainly, that’s a lot of room up for interpretation. Practically, I neither have nor want to allocate my limited physical space to store large amount of clothes. Clothes should be functional and easier for mix and match in order to fit the needs. Winters are getting warmer and shorter. Howe many jackets do we really need? For God sake, our earth is dying because of over-consumption. To be fair, I used previous example again. For many tech-related products, in spite of my love of them, I always believe that we don’t need that make style of mobile phones. That’s why I don’t buy the approach off product release of companies like Nokia, Samsung, etc which release dozens different mobile phones each year. They do create a great problem of recycling those products. For clothes, I’m just appalled by the fashion industry’s non-stop drive of trends to make unnecessary and excessive changes in clothes quarters by quarters, years by years, which is wasting our natural resources and polluting our environment for making those clothes. In addition, I don’t see how those crazy fashions that were not bought by anyone are being recycled anywhere!

Yes, I do understand that millions of people are being supported by the fashion industry. However, I think most of them in the lower ranks are being taking advantage of and I don’t see how they are prospering by being in this industry. I believe that the extra workers in fashion industry would be able to find job to make a living elsewhere.

There is no doubt that wearing something ‘nice’ would make many people feel ‘good’ about themselves. Wearing brand name stuff did boost the self-confidence of some people. My belief is that what really matter is ‘inside’ your body than a piece of fabric. Spending more time and money on your brain and with your heart rather, that would do oneself more long term good than being a slave to stuff behind the mall windows. In short, I don’t and won’t support overspend on clothes, and only believe that we should just buy and maintain what we need.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Two interesting articles on Afghanistan war to share

Just came across two articles about the war soon to be in its nineth year. It is always great to see some alternative perspectives of the mainstream media on world events. It is just the beauty of free flow of information on internet. Check them out:

December 2, 2009

The World's Least Powerful Man
The Obama Puppet

It didn’t take the Israel Lobby very long to bring President Obama to heel regarding his prohibition against further illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Obama discovered that a mere American president is powerless when confronted by the Israel Lobby and that the United States simply is not allowed a Middle East policy separate from Israel’s.

Obama also found out that he cannot change anything else either, if he ever intended to do so.

The military/security lobby has war and a domestic police state on its agenda, and a mere American president can’t do anything about it.

President Obama can order the Guantanamo torture chamber closed and kidnapping and rendition and torture to be halted, but no one carries out the order.

Essentially, Obama is irrelevant.

President Obama can promise that he is going to bring the troops home, and the military lobby says, “No, you are going to send them to Afghanistan, and in the meantime start a war in Pakistan and maneuver Iran into a position that will provide an excuse for a war there, too. Wars are too profitable for us to let you stop them.”
And the mere president has to say, “Yes, Sir!”

Obama can promise health care to 50 million uninsured Americans, but he can’t override the veto of the war lobby and the insurance lobby. The war lobby says its war profits are more important than health care and that the country can’t afford both the “war on terror” and “socialized medicine.”

The insurance lobby says health care has to be provided by private health insurance; otherwise, we can’t afford it.

The war and insurance lobbies rattled their campaign contribution pocketbooks and quickly convinced Congress and the White House that the real purpose of the health care bill is to save money by cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits, thereby “getting entitlements under control.”

Entitlements is a right-wing word used to cast aspersion on the few things that the government did, in the distant past, for citizens. Social Security and Medicare, for example, are denigrated as “entitlements.” The right-wing goes on endlessly about Social Security and Medicare as if they were welfare give-aways to shiftless people who refuse to look after themselves, whereas in actual fact citizens are vastly overcharged for the meager benefits with a 15% tax on their wages and salaries.
Indeed, for decades now the federal government has been funding its wars and military budgets with the surplus revenues collected by the Social Security tax on labor.

To claim, as the right-wing does, that we can’t afford the only thing in the entire budget that has consistently produced a revenue surplus indicates that the real agenda is to drive the mere citizen into the ground.

The real entitlements are never mentioned. The “defense” budget is an entitlement for the military/security complex about which President Eisenhower warned us 50 years ago. A person has to be crazy to believe that the United States, “the world’s only superpower,” protected by oceans on its East and West and by puppet states on its North and South, needs a “defense” budget larger than the military spending of the rest of the world combined.

The military budget is nothing but an entitlement for the military/security complex. To hide this fact, the entitlement is disguised as protection against “enemies” and passed through the Pentagon.

I say cut out the middleman and simply allocate a percentage of the federal budget to the military/security complex. This way we won’t have to concoct reasons for invading other countries and go to war in order for the military/security complex to get its entitlement. It would be a lot cheaper just to give them the money outright, and it would save a lot of lives and grief at home and abroad.

The US invasion of Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with American national interests. It had to do with armaments profits and with eliminating an obstacle to Israeli territorial expansion. The cost of the war, aside from the $3 trillion, was over 4,000 dead Americans, over 30,000 wounded and maimed Americans, tens of thousands of broken American marriages and lost careers, one million dead Iraqis, four million displaced Iraqis, and a destroyed country.

All of this was done for the profits of the military/security complex and to make paranoid Israel, armed with 200 nuclear weapons, feel “secure.”

My proposal would make the military/security complex even more wealthy as the companies would get the money without having to produce the weapons. Instead, all the money could go for multi-million dollar bonuses and dividend payouts to shareholders. No one, at home or abroad, would have to be killed, and the taxpayer would be better off.

No American national interest is served by the war in Afghanistan. As the former UK Ambassador Craig Murray disclosed, the purpose of the war is to protect Unocal’s interest in the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline. The cost of the war is many times greater than Unocal’s investment in the pipeline. The obvious solution is to buy out Unocal and give the pipeline to the Afghans as partial compensation for the destruction we have inflicted on that country and its population, and bring the troops home.

The reason my sensible solutions cannot be effected is that the lobbies think that their entitlements would not survive if they were made obvious. They think that if the American people knew that the wars were being fought to enrich the armaments and oil industries, the people would put a halt to the wars.

In actual fact, the American people have no say about what “their” government does. Polls of the public show that half or more of the American people do not support the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan and do not support President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Yet, the occupations and wars continue. According to General Stanley McChrystal, the additional 40,000 troops are enough to stalemate the war, that is, to keep it going forever, the ideal situation for the armaments lobby.
The people want health care, but the government does not listen.

The people want jobs, but Wall Street wants higher priced stocks and forces American firms to offshore the jobs to countries where labor is cheaper.

The American people have no effect on anything. They can affect nothing. They have become irrelevant like Obama. And they will remain irrelevant as long as organized interest groups can purchase the US government.

The inability of the American democracy to produce any results that the voters want is a demonstrated fact. The total unresponsiveness of government to the people is conservatism’s contribution to American democracy. Some years ago there was an effort to put government back into the hands of the people by constraining the ability of organized interest groups to pour enormous amounts of money into political campaigns and, thus, obligate the elected official to those whose money elected him. Conservatives said that any restraints would be a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.

The same “protectors” of “free speech” had no objection to the Israel Lobby’s passage of the “hate speech” bill, which has criminalized criticism of Israel’s genocidal treatment of the Palestinians and continuing theft of their lands.
In less than one year, President Obama has betrayed all of his supporters and broken all of his promises. He is the total captive of the oligarchy of the ruling interest groups.

Obama seems destined to be a one-term president. Indeed, the collapsing economy will doom him.

The Republicans are grooming Palin. Our first female president, following our first black president, will complete the transition to an American police state by arresting critics and protesters of Washington’s immoral foreign and domestic policies, and she will complete the destruction of America’s reputation abroad.
Russia’s Putin has already compared the US to Nazi Germany, and the Chinese premier has likened the US to an irresponsible, profligate debtor.

Increasingly the rest of the world sees the US as the sole source of all of its problems. Germany has lost the chief of its armed forces and its defense minister, because the US convinced or pressured, by hook or crook, the German government to violate its Constitution and to send troops to fight for Unocal’s interest in Afghanistan. The Germans had pretended that their troops were not really fighting, but were were engaged in a “peace-keeping operation.” This more or less worked until the Germans called in an air strike that murdered 100 women and children lined up for a fuel allotment.

The British are investigating their leading criminal, former prime minister Tony Blair, and his deception of his own cabinet in order to do Bush’s bidding and provide some cover for Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq. The UK investigators have been denied the ability to bring criminal charges, but the issue of war based entirely on orchestrated deception and lies is getting a hearing. It will reverberate throughout the world, and the world will note that there is no corresponding investigation in the US, the country that originated the False War.
Meanwhile, the US investment banks, which have wrecked the financial stability of many governments, including that of the US, continue to control, as they have done since the Clinton administration, US economic and financial policy. The world has suffered terribly from the Wall Street gangsters, and now looks upon America with a
critical eye.

The United States no longer commands the respect it enjoyed under President Ronald Reagan or President George Herbert Walker Bush. World polls show that the US and its puppet master are regarded as the two greatest threats to peace. Washington and Israel outrank on the most dangerous list the crazy regime in North Korea.
The world is beginning to see America as a country that needs to go away. When the dollar is over-inflated by a Washington unable to pay its bills, will the world be motivated by greed and try to save us in order to save its investments, or will it say, thank God, good riddance.

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. His new book, How the Economy was Lost, will be published in January by AK Press / CounterPunch. He can be reached at:

Second article:

Obama's War: Why is the Largest Military Machine on the Planet Unable to Defeat the Resistance in Afghanistan

by Sara Flounders

Global Research, December 2, 2009

Just how powerful is the U.S. military today?

Why is the largest military machine on the planet unable to defeat the resistance in Afghanistan , in a war that has lasted longer than World War II or Vietnam ?

Afghanistan ranks among the poorest and most underdeveloped countries in the world today. It has one of the shortest life expectancy rates, highest infant mortality rates and lowest rates of literacy.

The total U.S. military budget has more than doubled from the beginning of this war in 2001 to the $680 billion budget signed by President Barack Obama Oct. 28. The U.S. military budget today is larger than the military budgets of the rest of the world combined. The U.S. arsenal has the most advanced high-tech weapons.

The funds and troop commitment to Afghanistan have grown with every year of occupation. Last January another 20,000 troops were sent; now there is intense pressure on President Obama to add an additional 40,000 troops. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. More than three times as many forces are currently in Afghanistan when NATO forces and military contractors are counted.

Eight years ago, after an initial massive air bombardment and a quick, brutal invasion, every voice in the media was effusive with assurances that Afghanistan would be quickly transformed and modernized, and the women of Afghanistan liberated. There were assurances of schools, roads, potable water, health care, thriving industry and Western-style “democracy.” A new Marshall Plan was in store.

Was it only due to racist and callous disregard that none of this happened?

In Iraq , how could conditions be worse than during the 13 years of starvation sanctions the U.S. imposed after the 1991 war? Today more than a third of the population has died, is disabled, internally displaced and/or refugees. Fear, violence against women and sectarian divisions have shredded the fabric of society.

Previously a broad current in Pakistan looked to the West for development funds and modernization. Now they are embittered and outraged at U.S. arrogance after whole provinces were forcibly evacuated and bombarded in the hunt for Al Qaeda.

U.S. occupation forces are actually incapable of carrying out a modernization program. They are capable only of massive destruction, daily insults and atrocities. That is why the U.S. is unable to win “hearts and minds” in Afghanistan or Iraq . That is what fuels the resistance.

Today every effort meant to demonstrate the power and strength of U.S. imperialism instead confirms its growing weakness and its systemic inability to be a force for human progress on any level.

Collaborators and warlords

Part of U.S. imperialism’s problem is that its occupation forces are required to rely on the most corrupt, venal and discredited warlords. The only interest these competing military thugs have is in pocketing funds for reconstruction and development. Entire government ministries, their payrolls and their projects have been found to be total fiction. Billions allocated for schools, water and road construction have gone directly into the warlords’ pockets. Hundreds of news articles, congressional inquiries and U.N. reports have exposed just how all-pervasive corruption is.

In Iraq the U.S. occupation depends on the same type of corrupt collaborators. For example, a BBC investigation reported that $23 billion had been lost, stolen or “not properly accounted for” in Iraq . A U.S. gag order prevented discussion of the allegations. (June 10, 2008)

Part of the BBC search for the missing billions focused on Hazem Shalaan, who lived in London until he was appointed minister of defense in 2004. He and his associates siphoned an estimated $1.2 billion out of the Iraqi defense ministry.

But the deeper and more intractable problem is not the local corrupt collaborators. It is the very structure of the Pentagon and the U.S. government. It is a problem that Stanley McChrystal, the commanding general in Afghanistan , or President Obama cannot change or solve.

It is the problem of an imperialist military built solely to serve the profit system.

Contractor industrial complex

All U.S. aid, both military and what is labeled “civilian,” is funneled through thousands and thousands of contractors, subcontractors and sub-subcontractors. None of these U.S. corporate middlemen are even slightly interested in the development of Afghanistan or Iraq . Their only immediate aim is to turn a hefty superprofit as quickly as possible, with as much skim and double billing as possible. For a fee they will provide everything from hired guns, such as Blackwater mercenaries, to food service workers, mechanics, maintenance workers and long-distance truck drivers.

These hired hands also do jobs not connected to servicing the occupation. All reconstruction and infrastructure projects of water purification, sewage treatment, electrical generation, health clinics and road clearance are parceled out piecemeal. Whether these projects ever open or function properly is of little interest or concern. Billing is all that counts.

In past wars, most of these jobs were carried out by the U.S. military. The ratio of contractors to active-duty troops is now more than 1-to-1 in both Iraq and Afghanistan . During the Vietnam War it was 1-to-6.

In 2007 the Associated Press put the number in Iraq alone at 180,000: “The United States has assembled an imposing industrial army in Iraq that’s larger than its uniformed fighting force and is responsible for such a broad swath of responsibilities that the military might not be able to operate without its private-sector partners.” (Sept. 20, 2007)

The total was 190,000 by August 2008. (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 18, 2008)

Some corporations have become synonymous with war profiteering, such as Halliburton, Bechtel and Blackwater in Iraq , and Louis Berger Group, BearingPoint and DynCorp International in Afghanistan .

Every part of the U.S. occupation has been contracted out at the highest rate of profit, with no coordination, no oversight, almost no public bids. Few of the desperately needed supplies reach the dislocated population traumatized by the occupation.

There are now so many pigs at the trough that U.S. forces are no longer able to carry out the broader policy objectives of the U.S. ruling class. The U.S military has even lost count, by tens of thousands, of the numbers of contractors, where they are or what they are doing—except being paid.

Losing count of the mercenaries

The danger of an empire becoming dependent on mercenary forces to fight unpopular wars has been understood since the days of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago.

A bipartisan Congressional Commission on Wartime Contracting was created last year to examine government contracting for reconstruction, logistics and security operations and to recommend reforms. However, Michael Thibault, co-chair of the commission, explained at a Nov. 2 hearing that “there is no single source for a clear, complete and accurate picture of contractor numbers, locations, contracts and cost.” (AFP, Nov. 2)

“[Thibault said] the Pentagon in April counted about 160,000 contractors mainly in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, but Central Command recorded more than 242,000 contractors a month earlier.” The stunning difference of 82,000 contractors was based on very different counts in Afghanistan . The difference alone is far greater than the 60,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan .

Thibault continued: “How can contractors be properly managed if we aren’t sure how many there are, where they are and what are they doing?” The lack of an accurate count “invites waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money and undermines the achievement of U.S. mission objectives.” The Nov. 2 Federal Times reported that Tibault also asked: “How can we assure taxpayers that they aren’t paying for ‘ghost’ employees?”

This has become an unsolvable contradiction in imperialist wars for profit, markets and imperialist domination. Bourgeois academics, think tanks and policy analysts are becoming increasingly concerned.

Thomas Friedman, syndicated columnist and multimillionaire who is deeply committed to the long-term interests of U.S. imperialism, describes the dangers of a “contractor-industrial-complex in Washington that has an economic interest in foreign expeditions.” (New York Times, Nov. 3)

Outsourcing war

Friedman hastens to explain that he is not against outsourcing. His concern is the pattern of outsourcing key tasks, with money and instructions changing hands multiple times in a foreign country. That only invites abuse and corruption. Friedman quoted Allison Stanger, author of “One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of Foreign Policy,” who told him: “Contractors provide security for key personnel and sites, including our embassies; feed, clothe and house our troops; train army and police units; and even oversee other contractors. Without a multinational contractor force to fill the gap, we would need a draft to execute these twin interventions.”

That is the real reason for the contracted military forces. The Pentagon does not have enough soldiers, and they don’t have enough collaborators or “allies” to fight their wars.

According to the Congressional Research Service, contractors in 2009 account for 48 percent of the Department of Defense workforce in Iraq and 57 percent in Afghanistan . Thousands of other contractors work for corporate-funded “charities” and numerous government agencies. The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development make even more extensive use of them; 80 percent of the State Department budget is for contractors and grants.

Contractors are supposedly not combat troops, although almost 1,800 U.S. contractors have been killed since 9/11. (U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 30) Of course there are no records on the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis killed working for U.S. corporate contractors, or the many thousands of peoples from other oppressed nations who are shipped in to handle the most dangerous jobs.

Contracting is a way of hiding not only the casualties, but also the actual size of the U.S. occupation force. Fearful of domestic opposition, the government intentionally lists the figures for the total number of forces in Afghanistan and Iraq as far less than the real numbers.

A system run on cost overruns

Cost overruns and war profiteering are hardly limited to Iraq , Afghanistan or active theaters of war. They are the very fabric of the U.S. war machine and the underpinning of the U.S. economy.

When President Obama signed the largest military budget in history Oct. 28 he stated: “The Government Accountability Office, the GAO, has looked into 96 major defense projects from the last year, and found cost overruns that totaled $296 billion.” This was on a total 2009 military budget of $651 billion. So almost half of the billions of dollars handed over to military corporations are cost overruns!

This is at a time when millions of workers face long-term systemic unemployment and massive foreclosures.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have now cost more than $1 trillion. The feeble health care reform bill that squeaked through the House, and might not survive Senate revisions next year, is scheduled to cost $1.1 trillion over a 10-year period.

The bloated, increasingly dysfunctional, for-profit U.S. military machine is unable to solve the problems or rebuild the infrastructure in Afghanistan or Iraq , and it is unable to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure in the U.S. It is unable to meet the needs of people anywhere.

It is absorbing the greatest share of the planet’s resources and a majority of the U.S. national budget. This unsustainable combination will sooner or later give rise to new resistance here and around the world.

Global Research Articles by Sara Flounders

Friday, December 4, 2009

My thoughts on 2 recent news stories on Obama and Tiger

Obama authorized additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan
He also said that he plans to start pulling out troops from there in 2 years. Well, wars can make or break a presidency. I think that his latest move is a pick of less evil among all bad choices that are available to him on the table. Yes, the U.S. president is officially the most powerful person in the country. However, he is not a dictator and many interest groups are pulling strings behind to make him do and not do things that are best for the mass. Based on all the current circumstances on this issue, I don’t think there is much he can do. It is easy to start the fire (i.e.Bush), when something has been burnt for 8-9 years, damages have been done. As there is a saying that “you break it, you fix it!”, the ‘you’ in this case is the U.S., and unfortunately Obama was put in this position because of the mess created by previous administration. He just has to suck it up and may even take the blame partially for failure. Now, I boldly predict that he won’t be re-elected in 2012 because of his war policies.

Tiger Wood’s extra-marital affair
Well, in not too far future, he will be confirmed as the greatest golf player in history. Whatever happened in his private life is not gonna change that. He has a ‘wonderful media-created” image, but he is also a young and very rich man. He is kinda dumb to be involved in such affairs when he has a good family with mom, wife and kids. Women with money and fame in mind had flocked and will continue to do so to approach him for selfish reasons. I think he should resist those temptations and I suspect that he failed to do so is because he is being the ‘man’ of his own empire. Nobody else in his empire dare to question or challenge his decisions for the sake of keeping their own self-interest. He doesn’t have a mentor to cross check his judgments or remind him on things that only people who really love him and dare to say. He used to have one, that’s his dad. Since his dad passed away few years back, and with Tiger’s career continues to soar, there is just no such ‘life-reflecting mirror’ person in his life to remind him to be good and stay on course. Similarly, it happened to Mike Air Jordan before after Mike’s dad was killed. Tiger just somehow fall into the similar trap. I wouldn’t doubt that his mom or wife can somehow serve his dad’s role. Certainly, they can’t replace him. I’m not defending on his poor judgment, just that I think a powerful, rich, and young man particularly the one with big ego does need some personal psychological support and guidance. Otherwise, he would be more prone to fall for traps due to his own success.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Future living among 4 screens

I’m no futurologist and have no crystal ball to see what will happen in future. However, as a person who like to pay attention to home-tech news, and thought about my own ‘lifestyle’ lately, I recently somehow find time guessing what kind of info-tech lifestyle that we may live in future. Light bulbs just go ‘brink-brink’ in the back of my mind that I would like to share my thought with you all. I predict that we (urban folks) will maneuver most of our needs in our daily life among 4 screens in not too far away future (a decade?!)

Before I go into details, I’ve to emphasize that it is all coming from my head. If any of my ideas are similar to whatever have been raised by others, it is purely by coincident. What I come up with is just my logical guess of developments that are currently going on around us. And I would say that some of the things that I’m going to say below are already happening. I’m just going along with the trends and guess what the next steps will be and summarize them for my own record.

Screen 1 – Smartphone
Well, it is nothing new. Some of us are already living it now, and I believe that we are still at the early stage of adoption. Majority of current mobile phone users are still using ‘non’ smartphones, I would say that their transition or migration to smartphone will continue and will accelerate in next 5 years when the technology became matured, standards and platforms will be consolidated. As many folks have already predicted, and I agree as well that IPhone, Blackberry, and Android will be winners. Palm Pre, Window Mobile, Symbian (e.g. Nokia) will be losers. The market just can’t support that many platforms. As IPhone has already shown that smartphone are not necessary difficult to use. I’m sure most people would have no problem adopting such multi-purpose device as an essential tool in their daily life. There are also other losers with the ongoing rapid development of smartphones. Namely, other single-purpose device makers that make GPS navigators, MP3 players, etc, as smartphones can perform those functions that make those single purpose devices obsolete. It doesn’t mean that they will all die out; some of them will survive and even prosper in niche markets. The key is be able to produce their products in such a customized, specialized and professional way that smartphones find it not cost effective to match in quality. For example, cameras, i.e. DSLR will still prosper, we still will buy good camera if we really wanna take great pictures.

Smartphones, in terms of their size will pretty much stay the same as what they are currently. Yes, technically, they can be even lighter and thinner. However, would you want your phone to be as light and thin as a credit card? I’m sure that they can be made, like integrated with a watch or something. Nevertheless, it is just not comfortable to be used. Therefore, I would predict that most of the enhancements will come from the software, the appl markets, data transmission capacity and storage. There are only so much hardware things that are made sense to be twitted on the smartphones. At the end of the day, I don’t think smartphone will work as a can-opener. It will only be a Swiss Army knife of data-services, not being part of a real Swiss Army knife. In term of usage, the smartphones are mostly used on the road, and fitted in our pocket. Besides using for communication (audio, video, text on web), entertainment (video, music, games), netvigation (GPS, maps), and various reference (dictionaries, etc), it can replace our wallet, scan our fingerprint or iris to verify our identity, and use as a remote control for ‘things’ (such as garage door, air-conditioner, etc)

Screen 2 – Tablet
This is built on the recent popular adoption and development of multi-touch technology. Yes, Apple is building one and many PC makers are jumping on this bandwagon. I think the size of the Tablet will be most likely having screen size of 8’’ by 11’’ or less. It will be light and thin, probably go down to the thickness of 5 credit cards ultimately. It will most likely be similar to the rumored Apple tablet. There shouldn’t be a physical keyboard, but with a virtual keyboard. It will come with built-in speakers, microphone, sensors and camera. It will similar to smartphone that is relatively durable to sustain drops. Also, it will have great battery life. It will be used both on the road and homebound.

On the road, it will have many overlapped functions as the smartphones. However, the difference is the physical size. Yes, it can be made really small, but being large in A4 size is to its advantage. It will be used as note & drawer pad, presentation device, ebook reader and document manager. Through this device, we will get access to books, magazines, video, music, our own data mart, and document libraries, etc. I think business and education will make use of this device as well.

On the home front, this device will be additionally performing the function of remote control to manage our home, electronic devices (e.g. remote controls, CCTV monitor), and as e-photo album or alarm clock with a stand on the table. We will use it to manage our home-finance, grocery lists, and all sort of domestic services.

Screen 3 – Large LED Screen
I would say that it will be the huge thing of around 37” to 50” or above right in the middle of our living room. I don’t wanna call it a TV, because it is definitely more than that, it is not a monitor neither. I would picture it as the huge iMac that can do all in one. It will be the central of entertainment and data processing in each home. We would use it to watch TV, movies, listen to music, using internet, and play games. It will be a further development from today’s most advanced TV. It will have most PC functions built in. It will have camera for video conferencing, and have built-in sensor to detect movements. Keyboard as an input tool would be optional. The control device won’t be like the current remote control with 100 buttons. It can be controlled by the tablet that I mentioned above as everything at home will be interconnected. Also, I would say, besides a keyboard which is for some serious typing, the most common control would be something like a Wiimote! You swing and wave it with a button or two to netivgate most functions: to watch TV, or using it as a mouse. This large screen device will have hard disk to do recording of hi-depth materials, or simply making use of Cloud to stream stuff as video on demand (VOD).

There will be some other accessories for this large screen device. As I would think that game console will no longer exist in future. Cos, technically, what a game console can do that a PC can’t do? So, to some points in future, for environment reason or else, consumers would voice out the objection of excessive hardware. The bottom-line is that gamers want to play games, would happy to do that without the big ass cube next to the monitor. So, if Apple’s AppStore is any clue, content is king! Therefore, what the big screen would need are game-complimentary devices, like remote game control devices. I.e. just refer to anything that Nintendo’s Wii has now. People will be playing games with sensor on the large screen device and their remotes. That’s it. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo will sell games services. I’m not sure how that will work out with game publishing companies and ISP. Cos, without the game console, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo can actually be bypassed!

Screen 4 – PC
I did think about whether this screen #4 is needed, as I’m not sure if PC would still be as vital to us in future as today. Cos, tablet would be able to handle most of daily needs, gamers would enjoy playing games on big screen. PC here is anything with size between tablet and large screen device. However, come to think about certain privacy needs, sometimes students or professional would like to do something on their own in a corner at home for tasks involve serious data editing. Then, a laptop/PC/iMac or whatever would still have a place at home. What it will serve is probably any leftover data/information needs that won’t be primarily served by the 3 screens that I mentioned above.

At the end of the day, I would say that besides those 4 screens and their accessories, the only thing that is needed on the home front is a router for routing data among those 4 screens. Of course, everything will be wireless.

Therefore, I can foresee that future homes will be more spacious than current’s. At least, I can see that bookshelves, CD/DVD racks, machine racks will all be gone. Unless, you want to keep some old antique data media for sentimental reason, otherwise, the 4 screens would serve the purposes to provide contents on demand. I believe that the new generation who are born in post-iPhone release time (i.e. 2007) would easily adapt the lifestyles with the 4 screens that I mentioned above. For them, physical books, CDs/DVDs, books/magazine in paper form are for old people.

For a society wise, library services will still exist in cyberspace. Libraries will become ‘museums for books’. Newsstands, CD/DVD stores and most bookstores will be gone. Cinema will still exist for the irreplaceable reason of being with a large group of people to enjoy a movie experience, though the large screen at home will have perfect Dolby/THX and 3D displays. The entertainment industry would have to find way to adapt the change of technology in order to make money. But don’t worry that ball games and live concerts will still prosper. They won’t be replaced, cos I don’t care how good 3D or 4D technology would be, human beings can still tell the difference of being with other real human beings to enjoy certain events than with a bunch of avatars.

Let’s see how much my predictions is gonna be right in future.