Friday, March 31, 2017

publishing politicians' browsing history

The presentation may be a bit sketchy, but the substance is worth the wading ...

U.S. president's fraud adjudicated

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- A judge on Friday approved an agreement for President Donald Trump to pay $25 million to settle lawsuits over his now-defunct Trump University, ending nearly seven years of legal battles with customers who claimed they were misled by failed promises to teach success in real estate....
The Democratic New York attorney general said the ruling "will provide relief - and hopefully much-needed closure - to the victims of Donald Trump's fraudulent university."

Israel ... consistent if nothing else

Oh thank goodness .... for a while there (you know, a day or two), I thought perhaps Israel might lay back on its building and other activities that would ignore the Palestinians. But trust Israel not to disappoint:
Israel has indicated it will pursue a unilateral policy of largely unconstrained settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories, as it announced the first new settlement in two decades....
Naturally, the Palestinians were not pleased:
Responding to the announcement of the new settlement on Thursday night, senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said the move showed the government was pushing ahead with “their systematic policies of settler colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, showing a total and blatant disregard for Palestinian human rights”.
And the U.N. piled on to peace-loving Israel:
“The secretary general has consistently stressed that there is no plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security. He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution,” Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
Government by narcissism is hardly foreign to the U.S.

Norway trains crack women soldiers

Norway, the country that just got finished being rated the happiest country on earth, is also home to the Jegertroppen, or Hunter Troop, the highly trained, all-women combat-ready unit that sounds a lot like the SEALs.

Sometimes I think it is a good idea not to forget that it is the female lion who does the hunting for the pride.

Uighurs' plight hints at perilous reality in the West

If you want some clue as to where the various 'democracies' of the world are headed, I have a hunch that a good place to look is in China's oh-so-concerned regulations among its minority Uighur population. One very small shard in the patchwork of 'security:'
Hotan authorities offer 2,000 yuan ($290) rewards for those who report "face coverings and robes, youth with long beards, or other popular religious customs that have been radicalised", as part of a wider incentive system that rewards actionable intelligence on imminent attacks.
Safety from terrorists is of course the mantram. But, as usual, the question whispers behind every regulation that guarantees a greater safety: Who is the terrorist and who is safer ... and from what?

The West may snigger at China's somewhat ham-handed application of restrictions, but I would suggest that the West look closely in its own mirrors ... its Fisa court, its militarization of police departments, its increase (in the case of the U.S.) in military spending, etc.

Ah, the compliant niggers, each with an American-flag lapel pin ....

Thursday, March 30, 2017

even Australian sharks can't catch a break

An Australian journalist covering flooding from Cyclone Debbie was shocked to come across a dead bull shark that was apparently swept up in the deluge.

the wealth we create and give to the wealthy

OK, it's an opinion and a longish one by Twitter standards, but the Guardian essay strikes me as reasoned. Yes, it's another one of those who's-getting-financially-fucked-and-how pieces, but it lacks both the somber solemnity of other pieces; it's written in plain English; and the whining sense that can accompany the feel-the-Bern apologies is pretty much left out.
The biggest tragedy of all, however, is that the rentier economy is gobbling up society’s best and brightest. Where once upon a time Ivy League graduates chose careers in science, public service or education, these days they are more likely to opt for banks, law firms, or trumped up ad agencies like Google and Facebook. When you think about it, it’s insane. We are forking over billions in taxes to help our brightest minds on and up the corporate ladder so they can learn how to score ever more outrageous handouts.
 How tiring the well-camouflaged indecencies become.

democracy's unintended future

“A lot of focus gets put on places like Russia, the Middle East or China,” says Joan Hoey at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London. “But the problem is here, in the heart of the most mature democracies in the West.”
Hoey's stark assessment is shared by many others.... Many deep thinkers about politics have worried about the vulnerability of pure democracy to the tyranny of the majority.
I guess "democracy" is getting to be a little like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's observation about pornography [I may not know what it is] "but I know it when I see it." Everyone has a heart-wrenching take on "democracy," but a pure and agreed-to definition is dripping away ... which nourishes a more convinced conviction that only war is going to wear out all the incivility.

Or, for the insistent ones, the trend certainly makers war a possibility that is less-plausibly deniable.

 On the other hand, the will of the minority has a tattered track record.

sacred dumpling defiled

Woe to the uncouth, unkool, and uncultured West! Xiao Long Bao or soup dumplings do emphatically not belong in the hands of shallow millennials looking for the next cool trend.

Asian food lovers are fuming over a video they say "manhandles" traditional soup dumplings.
The video published by Time Out London on Facebook shows diners attempting to burst their Xiao Long Bao (little basket buns), and throw out the soup.
You can almost feel the outrage from those who have long held something sacred.

On the other hand, if no one had ever pronounced anything "sacred," would there be any frictions between those who claim to know the sacred and those knuckleheads who 'clearly' don't?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Israelis shoot knife-wielding Palestinian dead ... again

Here's today's version of Israeli security forces shooting dead a Palestinian with a knife.

I wonder if there is anyone who has collected the number of incidents in which a Palestinian or someone else deemed inimical to Israel has attacked Israeli soldiers or police with a knife and been shot dead. "Don't bring a knife to a gunfight" is a useful tool. Are Palestinians really that stupid ... or poorly armed.

But for all the times this seems to happen, no one asks how and why Israeli security forces cannot disarm a person with a knife? Is their training somehow lacking? Is their ability to Mace or otherwise neutralize a person diminished? Is it possible to aim for a leg? How many metropolitan police in the United States, for all its faults, who are capable of disarming a knife-wielding person? Of course there is the drugged-up, crazy aspect ... but if so and if deadly force is necessary, why do the news reporters/editors fail to report that aspect of the story they feel they can report with impunity?

Why does Israel get a pass on such things?

Alternatively, perhaps Palestinian security forces are equally skittish and shoot down Israelis with knives? If so, where are those stories?

python swallows whole man, it's reported

[Body most visible towards end of video]

And if dreaming about running naked down a high school hallway because you are late for a test you didn't study for, comes this.

paralysis ameliorated with thought

A man who was paralysed from below the neck after crashing his bike into a truck can once again drink a cup of coffee and eat mashed potato with a fork, after a world-first procedure to allow him to control his hand with the power of thought....
For now, the process is relatively slow, but the scientists behind the breakthrough say this is proof of concept and that they hope to streamline the technology until it becomes a routine treatment for people with paralysis. In the future, they say, it will also be wireless and the electrical arrays and sensors will all be implanted under the skin and invisible.
I wonder if anyone is working on a similar break-through for paralyzed brains? If so, who is most likely to benefit -- Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, David Duke, Gautama the Buddha, the world of toreadors, Jesus Christ, me, you ....

Let's hear it for paralysis!

Monday, March 27, 2017

who knows what symbols can inspire?

NEW YORK (AP) -- The globally popular statue of a young girl will keep staring down Wall Street's famed "Charging Bull" through February 2018 instead of being removed this coming Sunday, the mayor said.
She's "standing up to fear, standing up to power, being able to find in yourself the strength to do what's right," said Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, who appeared with the "Fearless Girl" statue Monday on the lower Manhattan traffic island where the two bronze figures face each other.
When all you've got is the little stuff, the meaningless stuff, and the fluff stuff, then I guess it's the right moment to stick with the little stuff, the meaningless stuff and the fluff stuff.

Kiwis balk at the siphoning off of water

A plan to extract millions of litres of water out of a Unesco world heritage site, send it by pipe to the coast and ship it to foreign markets for bottling has ignited a campaign over water resources in New Zealand.
An export company is proposing to collect 800m litres a month of the “untapped” glacial waters of Lake Greaney and Lake Minim Mere, mountainous dams that are fed by rainfall on the Southern Alps....
Without selling what otherwise might be free-ish, the water industry has done its good deed for the millennium and produced countless more plastic bottles with which to pollute. It never has been clear to me why, if pure water is a requisite for a pure and upscale life, the public water system cannot be improved. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

earliest Australian oil paintings found?

Kangaroo pictures found at RCS may be Australia's earliest oil paintings

John Lewin canvases from about 1800 pre-date his still-life of fish hanging in Adelaide gallery

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.”

the end of the icons as we know them

Everywhere, the steady icons of the past seem to shudder on their mounts.

In Japan -- Japan, mind you -- the parliament is being urged to consider a one-time bill that would give Emperor Akihito the right to abdicate. The bill will not take up the more substantive issues that include the possibility of a female -- in Japan, mind you -- emperor. The issue takes some force from the fact that Akihito's lineage is not exactly rife with male contenders for the Chrysanthemum Throne.  A girl emperor in Japan ... even suggesting it sends cracks into the smooth, decorous and limiting structures of Japan, I imagine. But what do I know? I'm just another unfortunate, undereducated and unrefined gaijin.
PS. A Japan court has ruled that the government is to some degree liable for the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant that succumbed to a tsunami in 2011. Japan is devoted to nuclear power but not so much to its outfall ... residents forced from their homes were recently urged to return to their dwellings. C'mon home, grow another toe, catch some cancer ... see how responsible we are.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have struck on a solution that might suit the Japanese emperor: Erdogan, who is currently pissed at Europe has "called on Turks living in Europe to have at least five children, saying it would be the best response to Europe's "injustices."" Making a lot of babies ... that'll show 'em. Erdogan is pissed -- especially at the Netherlands -- for a series of diplomatic snubs in Europe. The emperor may be a bit long in the tooth, but still, the idea -- assisted by a bit of no-girl DNA maneuvering -- may have merit in the land of the Rising Sun.

And finally -- oh lord! -- the unkindest cut of all:
Monopoly is making changes: The boot has been booted, the wheelbarrow has been wheeled out, and the thimble got the thumbs down in the latest version of the board game.
In their place this fall will be a Tyrannosaurus rex, a penguin and a rubber ducky.
It's like tinkering with the seven wonders of the world. On the other hand, I suppose, some new and improved gadgetry is required for all those Turks running around in Europe.

evolution, I guess

Passed along in email:

Thursday, March 16, 2017

"when did you choose to be heterosexual?"

The 1901 Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defined heterosexuality as an “abnormal or perverted appetite toward the opposite sex.” More than two decades later, in 1923, Merriam Webster’s dictionary similarly defined it as “morbid sexual passion for one of the opposite sex.” It wasn’t until 1934 that heterosexuality was graced with the meaning we’re familiar with today: “manifestation of sexual passion for one of the opposite sex; normal sexuality.”
Longish but interesting challenge to a lot of smug and/or lazy credulities.

Obama, Trump focus on Muslims

In the apparently-unremitting attempt to extract an assured future from a multi-faceted past and present ....
Internal US law enforcement documents describe a highly controversial community initiative aimed at identifying potential terrorists before they “radicalize” as being intimately related to intelligence gathering.
Despite years of official denials, American Muslim civil rights groups have claimed that Barack Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative was a euphemistic approach that targeted Muslims for surveillance.
The FBI described the CVE program as designed to “strengthen our investigative, intelligence gathering and collaborative abilities to be proactive in countering violent extremism”....
Under Donald Trump’s administration, the Department of Homeland Security is reviewing the effort with a mind to rebrand it “Countering Radical Islam” or “Countering Violent Jihad”

I suppose that somewhere there may be a religion that has no ties whatsoever to the injunction to smite, kill and otherwise obliterate those who do not concur. Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims ... all have passages in sometimes well-secreted texts ... bomb the bastards. We are the bestest with the mostest and if you do not agree, you'd better run, 'cause you can't hide.

How much easier things might be if religion(s) were forced to admit up-front that such clauses and invocations existed within its/their ranks. Even where a religion has no obvious invocation, still, there is enough suggestive stuff so that a suggestible human being -- with all the best intentions, of course -- could go on a blood-curdling rampage.

If this were simply admitted up front, maybe we could save some money now being spent on electronic surveillance, fear-mongering and all the rest.

copy editors for slovenly news wires

Chuang granted a preliminary injunction nationwide basis. (AP)
It's just a small sentence, but it has companions across the news wires that I read each morning and did again today. News organizations seem unwilling to hire copy editors or, failing that, hire copy editors who know how to do their job and pick up the mistakes made by their news writers.

I had a couple of examples in hand, but passed them by this morning as a means of ingesting the news itself. Now, naturally, I can't re-find them. Bleah ... but I know they're out there. That seems to be the arrogance of the burly and surly news agencies that probably excuse themselves for working so hard that a couple of errors won't hurt anything. The number of errors mounts incrementally ... but mounts, leaving excuses in its wake.

Get off your ass, ASSOCIATED PRESS!
Get off your ass, BBC.
Get off your ass, everyone!
[I won't even take aim at the likes of The New York Times or the Boston Globe whose sniffy arrogance in copy and presentation I have long doubted after short experiences with each.]

If you're not going to do a good job, why bother doing it at all? I know, your old grey men want to return to the times when a 20% annual profit was par for the course. To a time when hard-hitting news was something to aspire to instead of getting along so well with the power politicians who help to fill up the increasingly vacuous 24-hour news cycle. To a time when failure was acceptable because failure is part of any successful life.


war for the asking

The soldiers were going through training at the first jungle school the Army has established in decades. The course is part of a program to train soldiers for exercises and potential combat on terrain that looks more like islands and nations in the Pacific than arid Afghanistan and the deserts of the Middle East.
Brig. Gen. Stephen Michael, deputy commander of the 25th Infantry Division, said the Army set up the school as its footprint was shrinking in Iraq and Afghanistan after more than a decade of war in those countries.
Just as U.S. health-care spending looks to be headed for a financial haircut and there is a presidential promise that military spending will rise [slicing], comes a the above-quoted indicator that the medical world will not go begging for work to do. Is there any doubt that some swampy nation or splinter group will oblige a country rich in resources and headed by a sociopath?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

pussy hacking

A Canadian sex-toy maker has been accused of tracking data on the intimate habits of thousands of its customers.
The Ottawa-based company, Standard Innovation, has agreed a collective payout up to a total of C$4m (£2.4m) for users in the US, where the lawsuit was filed....
This week, the company agreed its payout for US customers who bought the product before 26 September last year.
Under the deal, those who used the We-Connect app will be paid up to C$10,000 each.
Customers who bought the toy, but did not activate the accompanying app, will receive up to US$199 each.
As far as I can understand, women are the sole beneficiaries of this insidious plot. None of the objects depicted seem to be directed at heterosexual males, though this may just be my ignorance showing. It also makes you wonder at the male population and the accusations laid their randiness doorstep.

Of course, there was the blow-up doll fished out of the Pacific last year by tribal members who initially worshiped it, if I am not mistaken, as a godess and/or angel.
Ahhh, it's a classic fairytale. The good villagers discover a holy angel. The good villagers worship the holy angel.
The good villagers realise the holy angel is actually a life-size not-so-holy sex toy.
I don't know about other males, but I wouldn't turn away $10,000 for a slight bruise to my dwindling ego.

people get broken

People get broken. [Here, apparently, is a partial video taping of one such event.]
True, people can also lie like rugs and be self-centered, devious scum bags of the first order.
But people get broken and the ones who laid the groundwork for the breaking are too infrequently called to account.
Is it any wonder that there are conspiracy theories and wide-net rages labeled liberal bullshit and fascist and unpatriotic?

People get broken, but the houses in Scarsdale, Conn., Howard, Md., and Fairfax Va., are well-kept by owners who seldom have "whitewall" haircuts. The lawns are well-kept and people get broken. In Belgravia -- the terrain oh-so-close to Buckingham Palace in London -- there are English accents to boot. My, how cultured ... but people get broken.
Alexander Blackman became the first member of the UK armed forces in recent history to be convicted of murder while on an overseas tour and has been serving a life sentence in a civilian prison since 2013.
Blackman, who was not at the Royal Courts of Justice to hear the decision [Wednesday], remains in prison for the moment but will be re-sentenced within the next couple of weeks and at that point could be released.
Broken. Who, in what state of mind, walks into his own house and then trashes it ... breaks everything within reach and then walks away with less than s/he came in with? Hell, even a bull in a china shop isn't that stupid.

“There is no such thing as a Rambo type, an Arnold Schwarzenegger soldier, who can face all sorts of stresses and appear to be invulnerable,” he said. “That sort of person only exists in the cinema,”  [Neil Greenberg, a psychiatrist, told the court.]
An MoD spokesperson said: “We have fully cooperated with each stage of Sgt Blackman’s case, which has now involved a criminal investigation, a court martial and the appeal process, and will continue to provide personal support to the family, as we have done since charges were first brought. We respect the court’s decision and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further on it.”
Inappropriate to comment in England.
Inappropriate for the public to view the bodies of service members arriving home in Dover, Del.,  from war zones ... it's a matter of appropriateness ... NOT. Both are instances of the political and moral fallout from commenting further, from slipping from the patriotic heights to the dubious depths of the places in which people are broken.

How could the lawns be so neat or the real estate prices so rosy if suddenly speaking of the dead and how they got that way were somehow "appropriate?"

Am I whining?

You bet your ass I am!

the karez is not the Great Wall, but ....

At its peak in 1784, the karez spanned 5,272km, with 1,237km running through the basin. The water flowed directly to the farms and vineyards, while residents drew cool, crisp drinking water from one of 172,367 wells....
Although not as widely known as the Great Wall, the karez is one of China’s most recognized ancient engineering feats. Constructed by the Uyghur people who long ago settled this remote part of northwest China, the system once carried water throughout all of what is now the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
Powered only by gravity, the irrigation method carries glacial groundwater to the Turpan Basin from the eastern base of the Tianshan Mountains. To avoid evaporation in the burning summer sun, the water streams through a maze of underground tunnels that connect more than one thousand wells across the area. Each individual tunnel stretches anywhere from three to 30km.
The Persians may have served as the engineering font for this man-made marvel, but in my mind, a marvel is a marvel, especially when it nourishes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

automated Wall Street

Brokerage Charles Schwab Corp (SCHW.N) on Tuesday launched a service that combines its automated investment management technology with human advisors, as financial institutions race to offer digital financial advice.
The service, called Schwab Intelligent Advisory, provides clients with a financial and investment plan, unlimited access to a human advisor via phone or video conference, and an investment portfolio of exchange-traded funds managed by computer algorithms.
The service, for clients with at least $25,000 to invest, includes an online platform that keeps track of financial goals and retirement plans, the San Francisco-based company said in a statement. It will charge a 0.28 percent fee on assets, with a quarterly maximum of $900.
The service comes less than two months after Betterment LLC, one of the first and largest online wealth managers known as robo-advisers, said it would offer two similar hybrid plans, with minimum investments of $100,000 and $250,000.
"Wealth management" is one of those terms like "hand-crafted" that makes me wonder who is buying the snake oil this morning. Do the algorithms have a function that allows people to yell at them ... after which the algorithms hang their heads and take responsibility?

Monday, March 13, 2017

"ice house" gets a new meaning

Cold weather in New York state left one house completely encased in ice.
The home, on the shore of Lake Ontario, was captured by a local photographer after being battered by water whipped up from the lake by freezing winds.
The photographer said many people on social media refused to believe the images were genuine.
John Kucko said he was "amazed at how many people think I sprayed foam on the place" and posted video footage as proof.

Donald Trump Song

Another one passed along in email:

regulating male masturbation

Finally! Someone worth voting for!
HOUSTON — Texas State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, filed a bill Friday that would penalize men for "unregulated masturbatory emissions." 
The satirical House Bill 4260 would encourage men to remain "fully abstinent" and only allow the "occasional masturbatory emissions inside health care and medical facilities," which are described in the legislation as the best way to ensure men's health.
Farrar said she created the bill after feeling fed up with the various legislative bills introduced by men addressing women's healthcare.
"A lot of people find the bill funny," Farrar said in a phone interview. "What's not funny are the obstacles that Texas women face every day, that were placed there by legislatures making it very difficult for them to access healthcare."
A man would face a $100 penalty for each emission made outside of a vagina or medical facility. Such an emission would be considered "an act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life," according to the legislation.