Saturday, March 25, 2017

the road to immortality ... well, sort of

Here's an article to try to get your mind around ... or into ... or something...

I can't pretend to write a synopsis.
 ‘Your animal life is over. Machine life has begun.’ The road to immortality. In California, radical scientists and billionaire backers think the technology to extend life – by uploading minds to exist separately from the body – is only a few years away

Because there was something, in the end, paradoxically and definitively human in this desire for liberation from human form.

"terrorism" in London?

Two people arrested in connection with the attack in Westminster have been released and will not face further action, leaving just one of the 11 originally detained by police in the aftermath of the incident in custody.
The Metropolitan police said on Saturday that one man, a 58-year-old arrested in Birmingham the morning after the attack, was still being held while further enquiries were being carried out....
Earlier on Saturday, officers released seven people with no further action and a 32-year-old woman who had been arrested in Manchester was placed on police bail pending further enquiries to a date later this month.
A 35-year-old man arrested in Manchester, a 21-year-old woman and a 23-year-old man arrested at the same address in Birmingham, as well as a 26-year-old woman and three men, aged 28, 27 and 26, arrested at separate addresses in Birmingham, were the others released on Saturday.
I wish my country were as forthright about who, precisely, was either freed or faced reduced charges in the wake of "terrorist" activity.

your date of death

Get the answer according to this spiffy calculator
My date is Tuesday, May 16, 2023.
My question is, now that I know it, what do I know? If I jump off a bridge in an effort to spite the prediction, will I get any satisfaction?
Does it have any links to this illustration that turned up in email today?

don't upend my expectations

 Passed along in email and with some interesting snippets:

What's killing white American males?

Friday, March 24, 2017

no best friends, if you please

Prince George is to attend a private primary school where the first rule is to “be kind” and pupils are discouraged from having best friends.
Thomas’s Battersea is a few miles from the family residence in Kensington Palace and charges parents £6,110 a term.
A message on the Kensington Palace Twitter site announced that he would join the school in September 2017.
George’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, said in a statement: “Their Royal Highnesses are delighted to have found a school where they are confident George will have a happy and successful start to his education.”
The school guide encourages its students in a number of ways, including ...
"Pupils are also discouraged from having best friends because it could leave other children feeling ostracised and hurt."

Maybe I've got this wrong, but it sounds to me as if the school aims to deconstruct what the institution of royalty has so lovingly constructed.

approaches to oil wealth

-- WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Trump administration issued a permit Friday to build the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the Obama administration and clearing the way for the $8 billion project to finally be completed.
The decision caps a years-long fight between environmental groups and energy industry advocates over the pipeline's fate that became a proxy battle over global warming. It marks one of the biggest steps taken to date by the Trump administration to prioritize economic development over environmental concerns.

-- JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Royal Dutch Shell's Nigeria subsidiary "fiercely opposed" environmental testing and is concealing data showing thousands of Nigerians are exposed to health hazards from a stalled cleanup of the worst oil spills in the West African nation's history, according to a German geologist contracted by the Dutch-British multinational.
An environmental study found "astonishingly high" pollution levels with soil "literally soaked with hydrocarbons," geologist Kay Holtzmann wrote in a letter to the Bodo Mediation Initiative.
The people of Bodo in the oil-producing southern Niger Delta should get urgent medical tests, Holtzmann wrote in the letter dated Jan. 26 and seen by The Associated Press.
Shell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ives heads to Sinai

There was a nice gathering of family at a local restaurant which is not quite as good as it thinks it is ... but the company was fine -- everyone gathered for a farewell supper for Ives, who left for Worcester ten minutes ago. His battalion will fly to Texas tomorrow.

Ives and Brianna, Olivia and her husband Rich, Elizabeth and I, and Angus to round things out ... all seated and gabbing around a table ... eating and laughing and ....

Well, today, les jeux sont fait. It feels as if it ought to feel like something, but for the moment, it's just a sort of dull blank, despite the various tears shed. Ives has left home for a year and his leaving means I feel the pangs of leaving home ... of the galumphing feet I will not hear in times to come, the over-application of male perfume Ives is wont to apply after a shave ... lingering in the bathroom ... smothering... gawd!

Bonne chance! Bon courage!

a million insects ... and love

In two rooms of Charles and Lois O’Briens’ modest home in Tucson, Arizona, more than a million insects – a collection worth an estimated $10m – rest in tombs of glass and homemade shelving. They come from every continent and corner of the world, gathered over almost six decades; a bug story that began as a love story.
With guys like Donald Trump in ascendancy, it is nice to read about someone who loves what they do and are capable when doing it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

level-headed questions

It was a matter of curiosity on the one hand, but it also cast salt into some tender and potentially-wounded place ....

Today I asked my son if he had successfully kept an appointment and filled out the last-will-and-testament paperwork that the army National Guard requires him to before he takes off tomorrow ... first for a month in Texas and later for deployment in the Sinai.  "How much did you sign up for. When I was in, it was something like $10,000." He said he had signed on for $250,000 and he had OK'd a 30-day hiatus if he were to fall into a coma and need someone (his mother) to pull the plug.

Of course, none of us is going to die, so it's all hypothetical, right?

Wrong, but let's pretend immortality is true, just as we have in youth, just as we have in church, just as we have in all the times when the alternative is just too out of reach and perhaps spooky.

Our voices are level and serious and no one is weeping just now... thank god.

Tonight, the family goes out for dinner to say farewell ....

extremist claptrap

BERLIN (AP) -- German state officials say they've banned an Islamic cultural association that ran a mosque in the central German town of Kassel due to extremist comments.
Hesse state Interior Minister Peter Beuth said Thursday that the Almadinah Islamic Culture Association was banned because the group's leading imam had, among other things, repeatedly called for the killing of infidels in his sermons.
Extremist comments....

I think I'll put the question the other way around and not ask how many religiously-affiliated organizations do encourage the killing of infidels but rather how many DON'T. Everyone wants to be the cat's whiskers and religion is no different. One of the ways of asserting ascendancy is to stick a knife in the other guy's heart or back.

So ... seriously ... what religion (and/or perhaps self-important cultural organization) is it that does not partake, implicitly or explicitly, in this sort of extremism? It may require some serious research, but I seriously doubt that anyone reading these words can credibly name such an organization.

Pure as the driven snow?

Go fuck yourself!

Better to concede the killer within and work to keep it in check.

Shy from extremist claptrap!

Trump seems to be pussy-prone, so....

Email coughed up this mildly-satisfying way of getting back at Donald Trump ... via scratching kittens. If only these imaginative but juvenile creations had some actual effect:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

American clothing label in French, maybe

It's probably apocryphal, but so many things are phony these days that I like to get my smiles from the ones that at least have a sense of humor.

Henry Ford hospital

Dr. Gerald Martin
Henry Ford hospital is one of the busiest in Michigan, and with many patients on Medicare and Medicaid it stands to be impacted greatly by an Obamacare repeal. As the debate rages, one doctor remains the calm at the center of the storm.
Where the rubber hits the medical road, it's nice to think someone actually does something while Washington bickers....

tax the robots which take jobs?

The idea of a tax on robots was raised last May in a draft report to the European parliament prepared by MEP Mady Delvaux from the committee on legal affairs. Emphasising how robots could boost inequality, the report proposed that there might be a “need to introduce corporate reporting requirements on the extent and proportion of the contribution of robotics and AI to the economic results of a company for the purpose of taxation and social security contributions”. The public reaction to Delvaux’s proposal has been overwhelmingly negative, with the notable exception of Bill Gates, who endorsed it. But we should not dismiss the idea out of hand.

small men, large dreams

Every time I think I ought to be joking, something comes along to show me it's no joke imagining all the wannabe dictators who deserve a space (perhaps Wyoming or the Gobi Desert) in which to cavort and connive and preen.

This morning, the email coughed up what in saner times might have been a chuckle, but instead does nothing so much as offer added resonance to the symphonic bullshit lapping at the shores of a quasi-peaceful lifestyle:
The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved Tuesday a controversial bill that would revise the organized crime law so authorities can crack down on individuals and organizations who conspire to engage in serious criminal activity.
The conspiracy charges apply to groups of two or more people, where at least one person procures funds, supplies or surveys a location in preparation for committing a crime. Efforts to maintain or expand organized crime groups would also be punished, while reduced penalties would be considered for those who turn themselves in before a crime is carried out.
Sometimes I think the Japanese are nothing but a national version of the U.S. Marine Corps -- all of them disproportionately little and belligerent as a means of making up for small size. This way, gents -- pick up your katanas and tickets to the Gobi Desert... no reason to subjugate those uninterested in your diminished peckers and oversized egos. But when I think of the Japanese in this bigoted way, I have to remember the country within which I am speaking ... yes, Donald Trump restores my reason.

Not even pygmies are so minimally equipped.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

it's scary, but is it true?

A few years after the millennium, the world was at its most peaceable in recorded history. Nonetheless, a 2006 Gallup poll revealed that 76% of Americans believed that the world was, in that year, more dangerous than it had been any time in the recent past. What might explain this? Some reasons lie in the psychology of threat perception.

And, cherry-picking some of the text of the Guardian article by the author of the book:

-- ... [Y]ou are more likely as a US citizen to drown in your bathtub (a one in 800,000 chance) than die from terrorism (a one in 3.8 million chance).
--  Toddlers, using weapons found in their own homes, have killed more Americans than terrorists in recent years.
--  [I]t is crucial to consider that the “war on terror” might have been a horrendous error. Such an argument runs like this: the attempt to impose a military solution on complicated political problems was simplified thinking with a false promise of total national safety. In turn, the militarisation of the response – as seen in the massive expansion of military deployments, arms spending, and the license to do anything in pursuit of national security – has in reality worsened the problem of armed violence in the world.
--  [C]ounter-terror policies of the 1980s and 1990s, aimed at pressuring governments to end state sponsorship of terrorist organisations, was actually working, and 9/11 was an exceptional and tragic outlier.
--  A 2011 Gallup poll found that 68%of Americans think crime is on the rise. In fact, between 1993 and 2012, the violent crime rate (homicide, robbery, rape and aggravated assault) in the United States dropped by just under 50%.
-- In 1959, US intelligence estimates suggested that the USSR would be in possession of between 1,000 and 1,500 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) compared to America’s paltry 100. In reality, by September 1961, the USSR had only four ICBMs at its disposal, “less than one half of one percent of the missiles expected by US intelligence”, as Stephen Van Evera points out. More recently, Saddam Hussein turned out not to possess weapons of mass destruction after all.
The  Guardian article is a longish one which is chock-a-block with the distinctions between perceived and actual danger -- the very stuff that might be worth consideration as President Donald Trump declares the need for a budget that will bulk up military spending and defend against a terrorism that is often manufactured at the expense of the electorate. I am sorry I haven't got the energy to be a more thorough cherry-picker, but I do think the Guardian article and perhaps the book are well worth reading. This, assuming it were ingested, is an important assessment.

evocative photos

Evocative photo array on Guardian web site today ... by Toshio Shibata:

Water flowing down a hillside in Itsuki village, Kumamoto prefecture, 2015

Monday, March 20, 2017

family and the governor

At last Saturday's National Guard farewell at UMass/Amherst gym:

L-R: Ives Fisher, Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker, Angus Fisher, Elizabeth Fisher

L-R: Richard Destefani, Olivia (Fisher) Destefani, Brianna Cooley,

Ives Fisher, Elizabeth Fisher, Angus Fisher

world view adjusted

The Gall-Peters projection [green], which shows land masses in their correct proportions by area, puts the relative sizes of Africa and North America in perspective. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
When Boston public schools introduced a new standard map of the world this week, some young students’ felt their jaws drop. In an instant, their view of the world had changed.
The USA was small. Europe too had suddenly shrunk. Africa and South America appeared narrower but also much larger than usual. And what had happened to Alaska?
In an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, city authorities are confident their new map offers something closer to the geographical truth than that of traditional school maps, and hope it can serve an example to schools across the nation and even the world.

U.S. 'happiness' in decline

"We're becoming more and more mean spirited. And our government is becoming more and more corrupt. And inequality is rising," [Jeffrey] Sachs said, citing research and analysis he conducted on America's declining happiness for the report. "It's a long-term trend and conditions are getting worse."
Norway gets top billing in this year's happiness study. Denmark, previously number one, is now number two. As far as I can figure out, the conclusions are pretty much the same as they have been in the past ... community and connection are what count ... screwing the other guy doesn't pan out.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

out of thin air .... lace

The BBC photo by Alessandra Distefano does not say where or when the picture was taken, but still, the minutiae of life seem to stand tall in a world full of grand adventures held up for praise. This is lace ... a painstaking and very particular business that, perhaps, only the old and slow and wise can attempt:

Jimmy Breslin dead at 88

Columnist Jimmy Breslin, RIP
Today's reporters "are the best educated there ever was, and they go home at night and they go to the health club and have a glass of wine at home, with their wives and families. Which is the worst thing they could do all day. And as a result they're going to live long, and they're the most boring (expletive) people who've ever worked in the news business."

There is something fitting, perhaps, that his death at 88 should come a day after that of rock 'n' roll king Chuck Berry: I don't suppose either man was especially easy, but by God they put their shit on the table. 

Couple of quotes among many I like: 

-- "I ain't gonna get nowhere if I'm with everybody else," he says. "They'll drown me. I better go out on my own. If I'm all alone in a place I feel safe."

--  "Football is a game designed to keep coal miners off the streets."

Trump touts the company called the "United States"

Read more here:

Israel spurs yet another diplomatic award

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president has awarded his people's highest honor to a former U.N. official who was forced to resign last week after authoring a report that accused Israel of establishing an "apartheid regime."
The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said Sunday that President Mahmoud Abbas informed Rima Khalaf by phone that she would receive the Palestine Medal of the Highest Honor in recognition of her "courage and support" for the Palestinian people.

saffron on a new silk road?

Saffron -- "the world's most valuable spice" -- has advantages as "a crop harvested in the late fall, when other crops have died off, that tolerates extreme climates and yields an average of $19 per gram." 
"UVM [University of Vermont] researchers said the yields amounted to $4.03 a square foot, compared to $3.51 a square foot for tomatoes, and $1.81 a square foot for winter leafy greens. They estimate an acre of saffron grown in high tunnelscould bring in $100,000 a season."

Saffron fields in Iran,
 which produces more 
than 80 percent of 
the 250 tons produced
 worldwide each year.
  Credit Courtesy of David Thiercelin
New York Times

Saturday, March 18, 2017

farewell speeches for son's unit

A going-away gathering (a salute?) to Ives' National Guard Unit is being held today at UMass/Amherst. The governor, some other politically-powerful person, and the unit commander are scheduled to speak. I thought I wouldn't go -- I find such things exhausting -- then changed my mind and thought I would, then re-changed it. I wish I were more courageous, but I don't want to listen to others lauding my son's departure on a mission I find confusing at best and corrupt at worst.

Sins of omission are more galling than sins of commission in general and no doubt I will regret my sloth that is mixed with a simmering anger and sadness. Yes, dragging an oxygen container in my wake is one facet of wanting not to go. But I will say my farewells to my son and bear the consequences without being forced to listen to the words of others. Ives will take off on the 24th for New Jersey and then a month or so in Texas and then be shipped elsewhere before heading to South base in Sinai and temperatures that average 90+ in summer months. He will return, gods be willing, in 2018. It is 5720+ miles from Northampton Mass, USA to Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

Orwell's elephant

"George Orwell" 1920's passport photo
"George Orwell wrote a shocking account of a colonial policeman who kills an elephant and is filled with self-loathing. But was this fiction – or a confession? An Orwell expert introduces the original story."

comme il faut ... with a twist?

Sketch of Mary Clarke Mohl's salon by Hilary Bonham Carter
I suppose it marks some aspect of my inner catacombs, but there is occasionally something rousing and peppy about the era of the salon and its often-feisty population .... men, women... snappy, witty, and threatened with opprobrium if they grew boring or too obviously manipulative. I assume they were all wealthy to one degree or another -- gatherings like salons and Gstaad do not materialize without some muted tinkling of treasure behind a politely closed door.

I guess I would be out of breath in an instant these days -- all these wits and wags and well-versed, fine-calfed wig-wearers... and yet, there is some small portion of me that likes to hear the excitements of the well-informed mind that is willing to stretch its arms and yawn ... and sing.
In much of the 19th Century, one of the most influential of the salons was held at 120 Rue du Bac in the Saint-Germain district. Here gathered writers and thinkers like Victor Hugo and Alexis de Toqueville, politicians like the Adolphe Thiers, the future president, painters like Eugene Delacroix, historians, orientalists, economists.
And presiding over them all was an Englishwoman.
Clarkey was her nickname. Madame de Mohl became her formal title. Mary Clarke was how she was born in 1793 in London.
Arrogance, whether subtle or gross, is not an attractive trait and I suppose I must be found in some measure guilty. But also I sort of wonder if the foul-but-prancing odor is reduced depending on what, precisely, anyone might be arrogant about. Patriotism, intellect, religion, history .... it's sort of exciting when placed cheek-by-jowl with big-box specials... or is it?

And French does seem to lend a shiver of disgust and/or delight.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Israel branded the report "despicable"

Rima Khalaf
A UN official has resigned after saying the UN had pressured her to withdraw a report accusing Israel of apartheid over its treatment of Palestinians.
The report was published by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), led by Under Secretary General Rima Khalaf....
Speaking in the Lebanese capital Beirut, Ms Khalaf, a Jordanian, said she had submitted her resignation to Mr Guterres after he insisted on the report's withdrawal....
The report itself said it had established on the "basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid".
It is hard for me to read this story -- which I imagine has a hundred tendrils of lies and truth -- and not think of the American actor Denzel Washington in a movie called "Man on Fire." In it, Washington follows the trail of those who have kidnapped a little girl he has been hired to protect and comes to love. Washington is not kind as he meets up with those involved. He cuts one man's fingers off without a blink. And in the following scene below (the entire scene is not available as far as I can determine, but the clip below gives some pre-boom flavor), he corners a corrupt police official, shoves a C-4 bomb up his ass and asks what the man knows about the kidnapping. As the timer clicks down, the man finally gives up the evidence Washington wants ... at which point Washington, rather than releasing the man, simply walks away while the man explodes. How tiring the self-serving excuses of those willing to excuse themselves from the harm they are willing to visit on others ... while all the time expecting that they should be excused because of some proclaimed virtue. It is hard not to think someone might boom such wheedlers.

Despicable ... yes indeed. But it's not easy to sort out who or what is supposed to don the "despicable" label. How nice it might be if I were a nicer person. But I doubt it would do much good.

deluxe Trump sensitivity

Passed along in email ... a bit dated, but still:

NEW YORK — U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump held a press conference this morning to announce the manufacture of Trump Condoms, his latest namesake business venture, which will feature a gold foil-wrapped contraceptive touted as having the thinnest skin ever to hit the market.
“These condoms are really something, really terrific,” the incoming 45th President told reporters. “The slightest touch, be it real or imagined, will create a sensation that goes way beyond what mainstream condom companies would call ‘appropriate,’ folks, and I mean that — big league.”