Monday, May 22, 2017

John Oliver sums up the week....

You've got to give the comedian commentator credit for balls...

Honest to God, trying to keep up is precisely as frazzling as Oliver looks frazzled. But different from other commentators, at least he offers an occasional, outraged laugh.

why am I supposed to distrust/hate Iran?

With Donald Trump sashaying around the Middle East, a question I have yet to hear a clear answer to crops up in my mind: Why am I, or my country, supposed to hate Iran? Seriously, I don't know. Is it because Israel needs a scape goat as Hitler needed the Jews? I really don't know but even a quick Google query yields paragraphs (admittedly biased, but how biased?) like
...Iran is by no stretch of the imagination a serious threat to the United States, Europe, its Arab neighbors, or Israel. At best, it is a third-rate military power with a dysfunctional economy who’s entire GDP is only a little over 60 percent of the US military budget. The supposedly terrified Israel has somewhere between 80 and 200 missiles with nuclear warheads that could send Iran back to the Stone Age in minutes. There is no evidence to suggest that even the most fanatical elements in the Iranian government are suicidal.
If it's the nuclear weapons capability, why is the United States equally wary of Israel?

Seriously, is there some reasoning in the middle of all this or is it all agitprop?

dissolve the corpse

For decades, most people arranging a funeral have faced a simple choice - burial or cremation?

But in parts of the US and Canada a third option is now available - dissolving bodies in an alkaline solution.
It will arrive in the UK soon.

Its technical name is alkaline hydrolysis, but it is being marketed as “green cremation”.

newspaper column

Printed today in the local paper under the newspaper headline, "Searching Honesty in a land of distrust" (My headline, "Which democracy are you talking about?":

When I was a kid, there were moms who would use soap to wash out the mouths of offspring who were daring enough or foolish enough to use a cuss word around the house. My mom wasn't one of them, but I experimented and can report that soap really tasted like ... well, I don't want my mouth washed out with soap.

I thought of this home-schooling the other day when, not for the first time, I wondered whatever had happened to the once-praised virtue of moderated language. And that made me realize that since I am in no position to moderate the blabber-mouth tactics of the president of the United States combined with the feeling that national events have simply gotten too messy for me to keep up with, the best I can expect, perhaps, is to pay closer attention to my own posturings.

Aside from anything else, if I could rein in my own tendency to fling virtues and philosophies around without a second thought, I might be able to claim to have learned a good lesson from a man whose every pronouncement seems to require an explanation from pundits and apologists that begins, "Well, that's not exactly what he meant...." That sort of lifestyle may be OK for a real estate blowhard, but it is not OK with me. So....

As a small beginning in my desire to be a more thoughtful broker, I have decided to steer clear of using or listening too carefully to the use of the word "democracy." As far as I can gather from the outraged and the delighted, "democracy" means whatever the current user wants it to mean. Until "democracy" is clearly defined in a discussion, well, it is just a goodie-two-shoes lash that means I get to say what I want and you have to listen. Or vice-versa. When the word "democracy" passes its gas, somehow everyone is expected to genuflect. But what exactly is being praised and who benefits?

For example, what does "democracy" mean when the flying of the Confederate  battle flag is the issue? What does it mean when a commencement speaker does not meet with the expectations of the prospective audience? What does "democracy" mean in a country where healthcare is widely regarded as a right and making money is simultaneously an ingrown imperative? Specifically -- which democracy are we talking about?

And "democracy" is not the only political football I have decided to put aside ... or anyway try to. Remember Bernie Sanders and the edgy sniggers that surrounded his "socialist" agenda? How many have looked up "socialism" and considered the practical and metaphorical meanings that can go into that word? From one standpoint, for example, both Christianity and Communism might be labeled "socialist." But it's so much easier to wink-wink-nod-nod and let the word go, whether as an insult or a bit of sanity.

It's all too much like Donald Trump for my liking. It's all too much like the idiotic traveler in a foreign land who is so convinced by his or her own beliefs that s/he imagines speaking louder will convey the one true meaning. Yes, it's earnest. But volume and a couple of bucks will get you a bus ride.

Anyway, the current state of confusion and the current lack of trust across the land has left this aging onlooker exhausted. I need someone who's honest -- or actually, someone I can credit as honest -- and I honestly no longer know where to look. At 77, I'm crabby: Why should I have to look? Why should a leader be so palpably thin on facts and thinner still on the nation and its needs? As promise after promise is followed by "well, that's not exactly what he meant," my sense of terra firma is weakened. I don't like the feeling, but it is time I made some lemonade out of the lemons that have been delivered. 
As a dwindling news junkie -- someone who reads four or five news wires a day and watches the evening TV news -- I have found some recent relief in the recognition that I don't really need to credit those who cannot define their terms. I will do what I can to be sure of my own terms.

Adam Fisher lives in Northampton and can be reached at genkakukigen@aol.com

Sunday, May 21, 2017

AI and the juicy bits

As a matter of principle, I don't want to fix it. Neither do I want to mitigate its toxic fallout. Nevertheless, I do reserve the right to think about it ... to noodle a bit even as my own ignorance hangs out like a teen-aged shirt tail.

And, yes, well, occasionally wish I could fix it... bright-eyed and bushy-tailed -- another TED talk in the making. Bleah.

This morning I woke wondering what so-called artificial intelligence might, in the end, do for or to religion. My shirt-tail understanding ot artificial intelligence is that its apex and perfection lies somewhere in the future when artificial intelligence becomes self-aware and hence self-corrective. We ain't there yet, as I get it, but that doesn't mean there aren't some very smart people doing their damnedest to discover what will happen when they finally find out what it is like to stick a knife in a light socket.

Religion was my jumping off point, but quickly enough, my noodling segued into all of the juicy bits of human experience. Artificial intelligence might make a better Volkswagen (even without cheating), wipe out the need for Wall Street brokers, shake up and perhaps eradicate the political landscape in Washington, put dishwashers and babysitters out of work, and, who knows, either promote or demote the deliciousness of war.

Artificial intelligence may eventually fix everything, improve everything until even the meaning of "fix" and "improve" might lose their meaning. In a world where history was perfectly remembered and acted upon, so much stupidity and error might be avoided. Everything would be, in a word, "right."

But where everything is "right," men and women are extraneous. Humanity might claim to want to get things right, but what would it be like if things actually were right? What would happen to what I choose to call the juicy bits -- the small and large mistakes, the small and large human landscapes that are just plain juicy. What about love? Religion? Kindness? Music? Cruelty?

If everything were ordered and right and balanced, what function could human beings possibly fulfill? Certainly they could no longer rule -- and let's face it, the artificial intelligence discussion carries with it the implicit notion that I will remain in charge, that I will be benefited, that the laurels are still mind to wave and impose.

And as second bananas, what use will human beings be? Artificial intelligence could and can foresee the pitfalls of these juicy, but not necessarily wise, cohorts. Let's get it right ... one and done ... no more fuck-ups.

No more juicy bits. Let's just manufacture the juiciness for those who refuse to submit. Getting things "right" is more important than whatever the second bananas call "true" or "juicy."

Like the "replicants" in "Blade Runner," perhaps we are all destined (ha-ha! I'll be dead!) for a smooth and unwrinkleable, even-tempered whore house.

The future of the juicy bits.
Replicant


chess checks booze, foments peace....

You couldn't make this shit up... adults, children, everyone plays....:
“In other Indian villages perhaps the maximum number of people that know chess is less than 50,” said Baby John, president of the Chess Association of Marottichal. “Here 4,000 of the 6,000 population are playing chess, almost daily.”

Saturday, May 20, 2017

seeking Trump impeachment

In a political season marked by livid constituents railing at their representatives during town hall meetings, an event on Saturday in Houston was positively mellow by comparison. But then, the topic was not a divisive issue such as healthcare. It was the impeachment of Donald Trump.

The meeting was held by Al Green, a 69-year-old Democratic Houston congressman who took office in 2005 and is typically softly-spoken and understated. Not on Wednesday, though, when he became the first member of Congress to take to the floor and ask for the president’s impeachment....
Green denied he is grandstanding: “It surely wasn’t because I expected a big parade, it was simply because I understand the constitution, I understand that this is an injustice and I firmly believe that this is about democracy not Democrats, it’s about the republic not Republicans, I firmly believe that you cannot allow anyone to be above the law.”

wild life, big city

"Rome has a problem with wild boar; wolves mingle with surburban Germans; mountain lions frequent LA. All around the world, city life seems increasingly conducive to wildlife"

odds on Trump ouster

[G]ambling odds aren’t exactly reliable predictive science — they’re pretty far from it in a lot of cases — but they’ve nonetheless skyrocketed....
As of May 11, Trump’s odds of being impeached during his first term were sitting at a whopping 60 percent.
The odds are part of a host of “Donald Trump Specials” offered by the Irish betting house Paddy Power. (Vegas doesn’t let you bet on anything but sports.) It includes bets that Trump will be impeached for treason (6/1 odds) and on who his next FBI Director will be (Trey Gowdy leads with 4/7 odds). On the more soothing side, Paddy Power has 13/8 odds — 38 percent — that Steve Bannon will be the next one fired from the White House.
Somehow, the whole clusterfuck that is Donald Trump and his presidency have shifte marginally  from infuriating to deeply sad in my mind. Here's the Reuters story.

the mutant pig circuit

And, at Cannes, there is the romping tale of a mutant pig. It sounds seriously funny.

rape/castration in India

A 23-year-old Indian woman has cut off the genitals of a Hindu religious teacher in the southern state of Kerala, claiming he raped her for years.
Police said the suspect, named as Gangeshananda Theerthapada, would come to the woman's house to perform prayer rituals for her father's health.
Her mother had hoped the self-styled holy man would ease the family's woes.
Instead, her daughter claims he assaulted her at every opportunity.
Rape is not a sexual act. It is assault and the target has every right, as far as I can see, to defend her- or himself. If I hear one mention of long-standing cultural tradition, I will go out to the kitchen and see what the knife drawer has to offer... another tradition and one of much longer standing.

idolators of artificial intelligence

Glued, somehow, as a gawker at a bloody traffic accident, the kind from which it is impossible to avert the eyes, I got caught up in a TV show about artificial intelligence last night. I can't claim to have any sort of overview handle on the topic, but there were bits and pieces and questions and suppositions.....

The crowning event of artificial intelligence, as I get it, is the capacity for machines to become self-aware. Once that happens, the human race is sunk because the machines will be able to do everything human beings can ... but better. Wall Street slick willies will be out of a job; bankers can pack it in; Congress will be unnecessary; medicine will flounder; novels will be a novelty; and when it comes to love-making, everyone will become a perfectly scripted whore. Education? For what? Artificial intelligence knows all that and, what's more, remembers and acts on it.

Looming and hopping about with a perfected joy, artificial intelligence holds out so much promise ... everything will be better and the artificial intelligence will have a belly as full as a blessed vulture.

Good, better, best and all of it threatens to leave what is currently called humanity sucking hind tit, if, indeed, any tit at all. When everything is at last a success, there is no space for failure, no meaning for failure ... no meaning for humanity. If everything is perfect, perfection somehow goes begging.

So what capacity does artificial intelligence have to truly co-opt humanity -- a humanity whose central characteristic might be called failure? Artificial intelligence is premised on success, success and more success. But success has no meaning without failure, has it? But if failure is programmed in, that is antithetical to what artificial idolators expect of their gods.

Human beings may be reluctant to become second-class adjuncts to artificial intelligence, but with the rise of artificial intelligence, is there any room really for "second class?" Or "first class" either, for that matter.

Try benefiting from the very scenario that will eat your liver. And we snigger at mothers fluttering around a flame?

Friday, May 19, 2017

tickling ... it's got a serious side

flammable ice

China has for the first time extracted gas from an ice-like substance under the South China Sea considered key to future global energy supply.
Chinese authorities have described the success as a major breakthrough.
Methane hydrates, also called "flammable ice", hold vast reserves of natural gas....
The potential threat is that methane can escape, which would have serious consequences for global warming. It is a gas that has a much higher potential to impact climate change than carbon dioxide.

Assange noose loosened


STOCKHOLM (AP) -- Sweden's top prosecutor said Friday she's dropping an investigation into a rape claim against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange after almost seven years because there's no possibility of arresting him "in the foreseeable future."
The announcement means the outspoken WikiLeaks leader no longer faces sex crime allegations in Sweden, although British police say he is still wanted for jumping bail in Britain in 2012.
Perhaps Donald Trump might take a detour on his current trip abroad and consult with a man who had similar problems.

a win-win for the Tea Party

Strange to think:

If Donald Trump is somehow dislodged from office in the midst of the current self-imposed difficulties he has manufactured, the Tea Party can always fall back on the accusation that "it's all a conspiracy and a witch hunt."

If, on the other hand, Trump is not dislodged, the Tea Party can rest easy in the certainty that, "See -- we toldja so."

It's all a bit like Islamic State's claiming a victory for all the martyrs who manage to blow themselves up in a fit of righteousness. Martyrs and saints no matter how you look at them.

Trump wins.

Such a deal!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

peace demonstration


Trump's sharing of intelligence

Ronen Bergman
I cannot for a moment pretend to have a handle on the latest Trump-induced shit-storm in Washington, but if I had to guess, my guess is that Israel's displeasure may prove to be a cornerstone in the investigation yet to be. Israel, whatever else it may be, is a U.S. ally with some very savvy intelligence in the middle of an oil-rich part of the world. Playing fast and loose with its hard-won intelligence (its operatives kill and are killed in turn) is not something Israel is likely to sit still for ... and the United States cannot do without those intelligence efforts. The following is an excerpt from a public broadcast interview with an Israeli intelligence correspondent and sounds suspiciously like something of more importance than all the American talking heads on TV combined. Trading Israeli hard work for an American sociopath's posturing is going too far. Someplace in the interview, the correspondent suggests that Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is "afraid" of Trump. Imagine that -- one sociopath afraid of another.
WILLIAM BRANGHAM (PBS): It was The New York Times that first reported yesterday that Israel was the source of that classified intelligence about ISIS that President Trump allegedly divulged to Russian diplomats.
If true, what are the ramifications, not only for the political relationship between the U.S. and Israel, but the close ties between the nations’ intelligence services?
For that, we turn to Ronen Bergman. He’s the intelligence correspondent for Israel’s largest daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth. His forthcoming book is called “Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations.”
And he joins me now from Tel Aviv.
Ronen, may I first ask you, were you able to confirm that this intelligence that the president allegedly divulged was in fact from Israel, and, if so, what the reaction among Israeli intelligence has been?
RONEN BERGMAN, Yedioth Ahronoth: This is not yet finally confirmed.
There’s an investigation going on in Israel, trying to check which of the many, many items of intelligence that was delivered to the United States during the last three or four months regarding Syria, the activity of ISIS, Russia, Hezbollah, Iran, all closely guarded by Israel, which of these items were given by President Trump to Foreign Minister Lavrov.
As per the emotions or the reactions inside Israeli intelligence community, I would say they are ballistic. (emphasis added).
In a suspicious age and viewing an ornately organized intelligence system, what a wonderful disinformation officer/mole for Netanyahu Bergman might make.

selling air

Farming the air
It may do little or nothing for you, but bottled air and newly-designed pollution masks seem to be wrapping up some big profits in China, India and other pollution-choked -- but wealthy, dontcha know -- nations.

Dehydrated water, anyone?

circus prepares to leave town

Ladies and gentlemen, children
of all ages, say goodbye to the
Greatest Show on Earth’.

A 14-year-old girl named Zazel was the first to be shot out of a cannon, in 1877 London. In the 140 years since, the act’s safety has been vastly improved but never perfected. One circus historian estimated that 30 human cannonballs have died in performance accidents. The most recent death occurred in 2011.

 The oohs and ahs and wonderment and elephants and tigers and clowns getting out of Volkswagens... well, this generation 'has an app for that.'

snorkeling in the Red Sea

To the best of my knowledge, I have never known anyone who went snorkeling in the Red Sea. Not that it is a signal achievement, perhaps, but it strikes me as a nice thing to have on a personal resume, even if it is never mentioned.

Yesterday I got a note from my younger son, who deployed to Sinai a couple of weeks back and is still, if I get it right, getting his feet under him. And one of the things that cropped up in the dull spaces that military life is so adept at handing out was snorkeling in the Red Sea. There were some astounding fish, he wrote. And I was jealous in the way I suspect all parents may be jealous of the new and wider adventures their kids encounter. My son has done something I have never done and never will. His life, in some very small way, is better than mine was, from where I sit.

Snorkeling in the Red Sea! Eeeeee-haw!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump impeachment odds


Speculators are throwing money into the betting pot, but I keep remembering all those who just knew Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election.

Monday, May 15, 2017

une first-class hoot

Guilty pleasure, but pleasure nonetheless -- this column about Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron, the newly-anointed first couple of France, had me laughing out loud. And it's not that she's 24 years older than her husband. I may be cussed out for some politically-incorrect gaff, but I am prepared to suffer ... this is too good to pass up:
No one should mind that the French president is 24 years younger than his wife, Brigitte. But the story of their romance? That is a bit weird.

nesting

This is a Google image and not quite right. One of my neighbors has a reddish throat. Maybe it's not a sparrow, though the size is right.                                                                                    
Bit by tendril by browned bit of grass by twig, a boy and girl sparrow are building a nest under the front eave. Others have done the same in the same place in the past. Are they descendants of the ones I first saw there years ago? Are they the same duet? I have no clue how long sparrows live, but I feel charmed by their efforts.

terrorism -- made in the USA

The next time any 'terrorism' expert starts wringing his or her hands about the threat to 'this great democracy of ours' and suggesting we really do need a bigger and better military budget that will eat up things like schools and infrastructure and medical coverage and other relatively peaceful pastimes, at least consider the possibility that the terrorists do not live, were not born in and did not take their cues from the Middle East:
Daryl Johnson and other terrorism experts worry that a generation of people who came of age in the shadow of 9/11 may not understand that historically, most terror attacks in the US have been domestic in origin.
In fact, a 2016 report by the US Government Accountability Office noted that “of the 85 violent extremist incidents that resulted in death since September 12, 2001, far-rightwing violent extremist groups were responsible for 62 (73%) while radical Islamist violent extremists were responsible for 23 (27%).” (The report counts the 15 Beltway sniper shootings in 2002 as radical Islamist attacks, though the perpetrators’ motivations are debated.)

Marine Corps leads with a lady

A Marine Corps recruiting clip features a woman in a combat role. Different bits of spin can be put on the clip, but the one wafting around in my mind is that such women, despite their obvious grit ... are really showing some grit. Women in combat is one small way in which Donald Trump can goose his military-dependent administration ... and can also bring out the blindness of war. Everyone gets killed where the bullets fly and the bombs go off ... no preferences. But the mind makes preferences. Heroic men? Maybe that's OK for people who don't think through their "heroes." But heroic and shredded women (ours, not theirs)? Well, ummmmm.

"G.I. Jane" is a pretty good movie.

In my groundless bias, it is men, by nature of their wonderful imaginations, who wonder what it might be like to stick a fork in a light socket.  Women are by nature fiercier and say, "Don't be an asshole." Men can be ethical, but women -- leaving aside philosophical prattle -- are ethics ... by nature. Can women fight? You bet your ass they can fight. But they, I suspect, have a deep gene that is willing to review and reflect. Men, have the "Mother of All Bombs."

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Pollock"

Today, I watched part of the movie called "Pollock," a film about the abstract artist. Ed Harris, an actor
whose silences are often credible on screen, starred. I like Ed Harris. The movie was -- you guessed it -- all about Jackson Pollock.

I like people who are willing to lay down their chips for creativity. When it comes to the art work, this doesn't mean I like the outcome. It's the willingness to throw down.

The movie, after a while, presumed a bit too much for me. I kept wondering why I should care about this guy. It was the same feeling I would get when reading books about Pablo Picasso -- why should I like this man I don't much care for. With Pollock I was vaguely interested. With Picasso, the ego had miles too much volume and I disliked his distaste for women.

Why should I care about artists? I do care to look at the art. I'm not especially interested and do not like being arm-wrestled into pretending there is something important at hand. Does the art love me? Do I love the art?

Nuff said. You want your cock stroked, go somewhere else.

China takes on global posture

The latest U.S. budget allocates 54% of a $1.1 trillion kitty to the military. Even the Jesuits might have a hard time suggesting the military spending would create peaceful pastimes.
Meanwhile,
Chinese president Xi Jinping has kicked off a two-day showcase of what some call the most ambitious development project ever by comparing his country to a peace-loving explorer set on transforming the world with treasure-laden galleys not warships, guns or swords.
Speaking at the start of a high-profile summit about China’s “Belt and Road initiative”, Xi hailed his multi-billion dollar infrastructure crusade as a means of building a modern-day version of the ancient Silk Road and a new “golden age” of globalisation.
Even supposing that Xi Jinping is doing little more than a semi-camouflaged capitalist two-step, at least his bling has the look of something positive and creative and not just the U.S. posing once more for the most-like-North-Korea military posters.

China has been in a number of places (too lazy to look up) when the spotlight was not there. Africa comes to mind and the goal seemed to be to set up trading partners for the future. Will they gouge the customers? I imagine so -- that's money. But will they gouge the customer worse than its current masters? I sort of imagine not -- the Chinese want income and stability, not a bunch of raped girls and machetes flashing in the sunlight as arms fall away.

When, of late, did the United States initiate even the most egregious capitalist construction project or bit of international cooperation?

Donald Trump doesn't seem capable of creating anything. The only thing he can do is make a deal on someone else's back.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Israel's latest weekend scalp


Another example, I suppose, of a guy with a rock taking on guys with loaded weapons.

Smells vaguely like:  
A Jordanian citizen stabbed and wounded an Israeli police officer who then shot him dead in Jerusalem's Old City on Saturday, Israeli police said, the latest in a string of street attacks....
Police spokeswoman Luba Simri said the officer was walking down a street when he was attacked by a 57-year-old Jordanian who had arrived in Israel for a visit a few days earlier.
"The terrorist rushed toward him, whipped out a knife that he had in his possession, stormed him and began stabbing him. The police officer responded with determination and in a professional manner, managed to activate his weapon and neutralized him," Simri said.
Let that line sink in: "The police officer responded with determination and in a professional manner, managed to activate his weapon and neutralized him," I thought only George Orwell talked like that ... or maybe Joseph Goebbels.

Beleaguered and pummeled little Israel ... oh, and did anyone say "nuclear armed?" Am I wrong or is the weekend the preferred time for Israel to kill off yet another knife-wielding ... ummm.... "terrrorist" who is waving a knife in the face of loaded weapons? I honestly don't think anyone's blameless in this Israeli  apartheid campaign, but the arrogance  and the willingness of allies to lie down and spread their legs so that the stronger adversary can wreak his or her righteous havoc.....
The batting average of late:
Thirty-seven Israelis, two American tourists and a British student have been killed in the street attacks which have slowed in recent months, though not stopped.
At least 244 Palestinians have been killed since the violence began. Israel says at least 164 of them were carrying out stabbings, shootings or car ramming attacks. Others died during clashes and protests.
Whenever I read about another of Israel's venomous (but badly armed) foes dealt with in mortal fashion, and then read the batting average, I tend to think that for every one of Israel's soldiers or civilians under attack (sometimes, but rarely fatally) I automatically figure that for every Israeli or Israeli ally, three of Israel's under-armed opponents are likely to be dead.

Michelle Obama kicks some ass

Former first lady attacks president’s reversal of regulations to help improve school lunches: ‘Think about why someone is OK with your kids eating crap’
She may be making a packet of money like all the rest of them, but anyone would sound good next to Donald Trump's fork-tongued, parsimony in which every statement has to be interpreted either by staff members or by members of the press pretending to know what he actually said..