Wednesday, May 31, 2017

sayonara New York Times

Sic transit gloria New York Times.

The New York Times Co (NYT.N) said on Wednesday it was offering buyouts to its newsroom employees to streamline production systems and reduce the number of editors.
The newspaper said it would eliminate the in-house watchdog position of public editor as it shifts focus to reader comments.
"Today, our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be," publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr said in a memo, which was reviewed by Reuters. The Times is opening up the majority if its articles to comments from readers, up from 10 percent currently, according to the memo.
Another Fox News in the making.

"The one thing an ombud or public editor can almost always do is hold feet to the fire, and get a real answer out of management," Margaret Sullivan, former public editor at the New York Times, said in a Twitter post in response to the news.
"The role, by definition, is a burr under the saddle for the powers that be," she said.
The followers of the American way spoke their will and look who we got for president.

In fairness,  "'If we do not get enough takers to fund our ambitious plans to reduce the editing staff and hire more reporters, we will unfortunately have to turn to layoffs,'" Baquet and Kahn said."

It all comes down to money ... or, more rightly, profit. But it will be hard to remember this the next time the NYT iterates its logo "All the News That's Fit to Print."

It was Adolph Simon Ochs, original owner of the NYT who coined the phrase to distinguish the Times from yellow [sensational] journalism. ... He emphasized comprehensive and trustworthy news gathering."

The NYTimes did many good things. Sometimes it was a little too quick to pat itself on its lily-white back. I remember a former Times reporter saying on a TV interview that if you wanted to be a New York Times reporter, all you had to do was mention Alexis de Tocqueville in the third paragraph.

Well ... it's bitter-sweet whenever the ideal hits the inevitable brick wall.

PS. At a time when the U.S.S.R. had 13 time zones, it used to marvel me that an edition of the all-the-news-that's-fit-'to'-print newspaper might lack even a single story out of that vast land.

corpse eludes admirers

The corpse/skeleton of the Brazilian soccer legend Garrincha (Little Wren) appears to be missing. Considered by some the greatest winger of all time, Garrincha "played 50 times for Brazil between 1955 and 1966, helping his nation to World Cup victory in 1958 and 1962, when he shared the golden boot."
His daughter Rosangela Santos said: "My father did not deserve this. It's very upsetting not knowing where he is."
She added: "The mayor has promised him a mausoleum but they need to find him first."

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

crossing the lines

Cross the line from heaven and you will be in hell.

Cross the line from hell and you will be in heaven.

The hard part is that there are no lines.

after the combat ... attacking PTSD

"US army veterans find peace in protecting rhinos from poaching
In northern South Africa, former soldiers are fighting both the illegal wildlife trade and the twin scourges of unemployment and PTSD

“This is textbook counterinsurgency here. It’s unconventional warfare,” says Kevin, a British-born veteran who quit US elite special forces last year after a decade and a half largely on active duty, frequently in close quarter combat. “Shooting and killing is easy. The hardest thing is not shooting but figuring stuff out ...

robotic blessings

Five hundred years after revolutionary printing presses spread news of Martin Luther’s radical call for church reform across Europe, technology is again challenging religious tradition in the small German town of Wittenberg.
A robot priest that delivers blessings in five languages and beams light from its hands has been unveiled as part of an exhibition to mark the anniversary of the start of the Reformation, a Europe-wide religious, political and cultural upheaval sparked when Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in the town.
Half a millennium later, the robot, called BlessU-2, is intended to trigger debate about the future of the church and the potential of artificial intelligence.
“We wanted people to consider if it is possible to be blessed by a machine, or if a human being is needed,” Stephan Krebs of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau, which is behind the initiative, told the Guardian.

bumper crop in S. Africa

Finally, on a continent ravaged by starvation, S. Africa reports a 50% rise in maize production.
South Africa is expecting to harvest its biggest maize crop in four decades, a year after drought devastated output of the country's staple food.
Farmers are set to produce over 15 million tonnes which means the country will have a 50% surplus for the year, according to government figures.
The bumper harvest is a result of good rains in January and February.
It can't solve everything, but it's a step.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The River of Blood ... not

I had wanted to make some mention of Memorial Day, which is today in the United States. All sorts of things, many of them imaginatively, ragingly sad, whizzed around in my mind. And then a friend passed along the perfect apostasy for an apostasy-strewn day and year....


[From Wikipedia] The River of Blood monument is a monument located on a golf course on Lowes Island, Virginia owned by US President Donald Trump. A plaque signed with Trump's name states that the monument marks the site of numerous deaths in the American Civil War, but no battle or other event with mass casualties took place there.
Maybe, as the 'president' might say, it's nothing but fake news ... another disinformation campaign (the last Wikipedia update is dated today), but, well some disinformation rings.... and there are plenty of articles calling out the allegations before Trump became 'president.'

photoshop before photoshop

And you thought Photoshop was original. Click to enlarge.

great white shark visit

There he was, a 73-year-old Australian, fishing peaceably for snapper when a great white shark almost 9 feet long jumped into his boat. Terry Selwood, who was mildly injured, described it as "just a mundane thing."

Sunday, May 28, 2017

fashion ick

As one blog put it succinctly when it comes to men's 'fashion:'
Who the HELL decided fashionably-dressed men should look like PeeWee Herman? And if that isn’t bad enough, who decided men should all buy clothing two sizes too small, like The Grinch’s heart? The male models I see everywhere today are wearing clothing that would probably (barely) “fit” a Ken doll. I mean, what is this?
 And, as if men's flit fashion weren't enough, there's always something ludicrous for women:
These are both products, from where I sit, of the the sadistic and the unimaginative.

The world of cute queers (their word, not mine) and underendowed hookers... there, I've said my piece. I like fun as much as the next person, but I also like beauty and this stuff is self-indulgent at best. A kind of Donald Trump imperialism among a group of people who can't do better than pat each other on the back.

the other end of the spiritual telescope

Winking and twinkling and nagging gently at the edges of my mental chatter lately is the question of what happens to spiritual life at the other end of the telescope.

Starting out, it all seems so distant and delicious and how-the-hell-could-I-ever-attain that? But what happens when it is not quite so distant. The flavor may still be there, but it's less insistent and wowsers and imperative. Not that anyone has or hasn't "attained enlightenment," but more like, OK, I did quite a lot of that so ... now what? The energy to chase after things has diminished or gotten vaguely boring or something. What do you do with it now?

Since, unless you have worked up a pretty good story line (or scam, depending on the point of view), the tide that comes in must likewise go out, where does it go? Can you make a living off it? Do you want to?

If I were to give some sort of talk, I think today, I would begin like this:

By a show of hands, how many people here can sneeze? And with a near-unanimous show of hands, it may be fair to say, "OK we're all on the same page." Spiritual life and sneezing are blood kin. No one "knows" how to sneeze. No one parses it. No one creates sects or belief systems or seeks out popular agreement or hosannas. It's just a sneeze, for Christ's sake, and when it is time, everyone just does it without a backward glance.

This is the spiritual life of practice.

But then there is the spiritual life of belief and hope and goodness and a hundred other post-it notes.

... I'll think about this some more ... and, I suspect, make as little progress. Just leave it alone and things will be fine. Do something useful and relax.

1st Australian ship in Japan?

I love stories like this one from The Guardian.


Australian convict pirates in Japan: evidence of 1830 voyage unearthed
Exclusive: Fresh translations of samurai accounts of ‘barbarian’ ship arriving at the height of Japan’s feudal isolation corroborate a story long dismissed as fantasy

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Memorial Day

Monday is Memorial Day and today is part of "the Memorial Day weekend." A time to remember those who died while in military service to the U.S. that has not been without some sort of war in ... in ... forever.

On the TV, there was a Vietnam documentary to pass by. And then there was a snippet of "Apocalypse Now," which I count as perhaps the best war movie ever. Why is it the best? Because, in my mind, it is closest to a real, live nightmare and what is war if not a nightmare?

The movie may be a best in my lexicon, but watching the snippet, I knew I could no longer watch it. First, I have seen it so many times. But second, deliberately immersing myself in a nightmare is beyond me now. It's like watching a horror movie: Why should I heap a celluloid horror on top of the horrors that are plainly in the making even as I type?

I have turned into a wuss ... to such a degree that I don't mind being called a "wuss" any longer. Anyone who wants to stop war -- which history proves very few do -- has an option: "If you want to stop praising veterans for their heroism and their 'greatest sacrifice,' then stop making them." In extolling the dead, the living excuse the fact that they did the sacrificing of young men and women whose deaths are then portrayed as their own choice and determination.

I'm a wuss and I dislike lies.

Perhaps the dead will forgive me for seeking out some light comedy or frothy love story or sassy cartoon ... creations they might well have lived to create.

animals are so much easier than people...

A brown bear sits among pilings at Taku Harbor, Alaska.

well-planned death

Yesterday, my friend Frank in New York passed along a long and delicate New York Times article about a fellow who plotted and then executed his own demise. I did what I could to read it, since death interests me as the last refuge of aging scoundrels like me who feel their control slip-sliding away in the face of increasing medical 'care' and its adjuncts.

John Shields
Based on the lonnnng article, John Shields had all the historical markings of a man who liked helping people (haven't got what it takes to reprise it all). Why not in a well-plotted death as well?

And so he planned it and so he died. There were, of course, a couple of hiccups in the well-planned plan, but the facts co-related, give or take a little, with his plot. Death bends no knee, even to the well-intentioned. But, well, close enough.

The newspaper filled space with the growing acceptance of what never could have been rejected: The capability, even among the increasingly incapacitated, to die. See ... I have the capacity to be in control one last time ... that sort of idea.

And the newspaper kept itself au courant as the acceptance of assisted suicide -- or perhaps just suicide in general -- gains social traction. Which is not to say that in reality any traction were ever missing.

As I say, I skimmed the article. I wouldn't fault it for a nanosecond. Ritual and helpfulness are lovely traits in their time. Death is a last refuge of sorts. To deny through some TED talk a (wo)man's structure and expressiveness ... well, count me out.

But I realized as I skimmed -- and as I noticed the small matters that went awry -- that it wasn't my taste.

There are people who are nicer and kinder than I am, but I am stuck with my farm as they are stuck with theirs. I am more interested in the implications and actualities of what my internet friend Charlie expressed about death when he said, approximately, "I'd like to die with a smile on my face, but I guess I'll take what I get."

I'd like to think I might embrace what I get instead of wrestling it to the altruistic ground, but who's got time for that when the bus runs them down in the crosswalk?

And as much as I know I cannot and will not emulate John Shields, so I also know that no one should/would/or can emulate me.

I think I would like to die like a dandelion, but that's just wishful thinking.

Bon voyage.

puppy uppers and doggie downers

It's old, but it popped up this morning in my mind and got the day off on the right foot, so to speak.

Puppy Uppers and Doggie Downers ... from the days when the American comedy show, Saturday Night Live, was imaginative and funny. Takes a minute to load.

Friday, May 26, 2017

sorrow ... and again, sorrow

Sometimes sorrow is just so incredibly wearing. And it is always men who credit themselves with good hearts who dodge responsibility.

incivility ascendant

A friend sent the following Washington Post piece along and, although I don't like assessments that never seem to completely assess anything much, still, I thought it was pretty good:

The angry forces that propelled President Trump’s rise are beginning to frame and define the rest of the Republican Party.

When GOP House candidate Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter who had attempted to ask him a question Wednesday night in Montana, many saw not an isolated outburst by an individual, but the obvious, violent result of Trump’s charge that journalists are “the enemy of the people.” Nonetheless, Gianforte won Thursday’s special election to fill a safe Republican seat.

“Respectfully, I’d submit that the president has unearthed some demons,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said. “I’ve talked to a number of people about it back home. They say, ‘Well, look, if the president can say whatever, why can’t I say whatever?’ He’s given them license.”

Trump — and specifically, his character and his conduct — now thoroughly dominate the national political conversation.

Traditional policy arguments over whether entitlement programs should be overhauled, or taxes cut, are regularly upstaged by a new burst of pyrotechnics.

The dynamic is shaping the contours of this year’s smattering of special congressional elections and contests for governor, as well as the jockeying ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
“It’s an entirely different atmosphere,” Michael Steele, a former Republican National Committee chairman, said. “The president isn’t ideological and ideology is no longer the anchor. So when reporters put microphones in candidates’ faces, they’re asking about the president, tweets, character, your moral outlook and not about a particular policy.”

Few Republicans expect party leaders to do anything to lessen the toxicity.
Charlie Sykes, a conservative former talk-show host in Wisconsin and author of the forthcoming “How the Right Lost Its Mind,” said “every time something like Montana happens, Republicans adjust their standards and put an emphasis on team loyalty. They normalize and accept previously unacceptable behavior.”

Those who still navigate by the old maps are having trouble staying on course.

Karen Handel, a conventional Republican running in next month’s special House election in Georgia, has railed against Obamacare, and campaigned alongside House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), who called her “tested and true.” But she has been scorched endlessly on television for her support of the president her Democratic opponent has claimed “embarrasses our country” and “acts recklessly.”

Other GOP candidates, emboldened by Trump’s success at shattering norms, have ventured further to test the limits of what the electorate can stomach.

Corey Stewart, a former state chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign, has embraced Confederate symbols as his gubernatorial bid has flailed in Virginia, horrifying party leaders ahead of the June 13 primary and forcing the GOP front-runner to respond.

His primary opponent, former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie, has seen his steady, well-funded campaign for governor all but drowned out recently by Stewart’s rage over the effort to remove Confederate statues from public spaces, which Stewart has said is proof that “ISIS has won.” Their primary clashes have been more over style and political correctness than any issue.

Gillespie has kept the edge. “Corey has labeled himself as Trump’s Mini-Me, but the mojo ain’t there,” Shaun Kenney, the former executive director of Virginia’s Republican Party, said earlier this year. But it remains to be seen whether Stewart has damaged the GOP brand for the general election.
Other polished exemplars of the establishment have struggled to set themselves apart.

Handel, a fixture of state politics, has seen suburban voters in her district, which has been in Republican hands since 1979, grow so uneasy about Trump that her once unknown Democratic challenger, Jon Ossoff, has taken the lead in polls.

Appealing to voters weary over Trump’s comportment, Ossoff has seized on Trump’s decision to fire James B. Comey as the FBI director investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.
But for some Republican contenders, Trump has been a model — nowhere more so than in deeply red Montana. Gianforte, a wealthy businessman, touted his full-throated support for the president and pledged to “drain the swamp” in his campaign against Rob Quist, a country music artist.

Gianforte’s election-eve eruption capped weeks of frothing frustration within the ranks in Montana and elsewhere about scrutiny of Trump and Republicans in the media, with the Trump-friendly candidate fuming and reacting physically to a question from Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs.

Ryan, who has labored to swing the spotlight away from GOP missteps and toward his agenda, criticized Gianforte’s actions and said, “There is no time a physical altercation should occur.” But he did not rescind his endorsement and, along with other Republicans, plodded forward Thursday reluctant to delve into a character debate. “I’m going to let the people of Montana decide,” he said.

The Republican lurch away from running highly disciplined, by-the-book campaigns on curbing spending and stoking economic growth is, in part, the evidence of how fully Trump has upended the party. Republicans haven’t abandoned the views and positions they have cultivated since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, but instead appear unable to focus on them.

Trump’s barrage of news-making and controversy drives the GOP even at its lowest levels, with his raucous populism and blustering behavior reshaping its identity. Candidates often are either adopting aspects of his persona or finding themselves having to fitfully explain why they back him. Coupled with a national conservative media complex that sears the press as much as it does Democrats, they are navigating a highly charged and volatile environment.

Fox News, the network beloved by Republicans, has also found itself dealing with the right’s disruptive fury and questions of conduct, even among its high-profile hosts. Sean Hannity has been criticized and lost advertisers for promoting a conspiratorial account of the slaying of a former Democratic National Committee staffer. Hannity has reacted by charging that “liberal fascists” were conspiring to cripple his career.

Some advocates for the press say that the culture Trump has created within his party is responsible and has had a cascading effect on the way 2017 campaigns have unfolded.

“Before the 2016 campaign, we could at least expect civility from candidates and their staffs,” Lucy A. Dalglish, the dean of Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said. “Trump has declared open season on journalists, and politicians and members of his Cabinet have joined the hunt.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, added: “By casting the press as the enemy of the American people, Donald Trump has contributed to a climate of discourse consistent with assaulting a reporter for asking an inconvenient question.”

For Democrats, the GOP disarray presents perhaps the ripest opportunity for a blue political wave in over a decade, especially if the Republicans are alienating suburban professionals and independents.
In Georgia, for instance, Democrat Ossoff is running not as a vocal young progressive but a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road and careful Democrat. Republicans Gillespie and Handel are shying away from Trump-style theatrics.

Democrats, who are in the midst of their own political tug-of-war between progressives and centrists, have not yet been able to translate the Republican scandals and Trump tiffs into convincing wins.
Ossoff nearly captured the Georgia seat last month, but did not garner enough votes and the race went to a runoff.

Yet there have been flashes of opportunity: Democrats won two special state legislative elections this week in New York, with one of the pickups coming in a district that Trump won.
In early April, Republicans fended off a strong Democratic challenger in ruby-red Kansas in this year’s first special House election, following last-minute support from Trump and Vice President Pence. Republican Ron Estes won by eight percentage points; two years earlier a Republican had won the seat by 31 percentage points.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey’s gubernatorial campaign, the two leading Republicans running ahead of a June 6 primary — Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli — are dealing with the cloud not only of Trump but of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), whose tumultuous leadership and bridge-closing scandal has left the state GOP fractured and been a burden on the Republican hopefuls.

Longtime watchers of Trump do not expect him to speak out against Gianforte or to urge his party against the politics of bellicosity.

They recalled that he fiercely defended his then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, when he was accused last year of grabbing a female reporter’s arm. Trump himself once said of a protester at one of his campaign rallies: “I’d like to punch him in the face.”

In Sicily at a G-7 summit on Friday, Trump praised Gianforte for a “great win in Montana.”
In the Trump era, it is far from clear what is over the line — or even if a line exists any more.

“There is a total weirdness out there,” Sanford said. “People feel like, if the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time, then I guess I can too. And that is a very dangerous phenomenon.”

Mike DeBonis and Paul Schwartzman contributed to this report.

bullshit alert at World Bank

Paul Romer
Even the well-confined and mighty have their limits:
The chief economist at the World Bank has stepped down from its research arm after staff were vexed by demands to write succinctly, including cutting superfluous uses of the word “and” in reports or emails.
Paul Romer, 61, will leave the Development Economics Group (DEC), according to a staff announcement reported by Bloomberg. He had asked for shorter emails, while also cutting staff off if they talked for too long during presentations, it said....
A 2015 study by Stanford University’s Literary Lab found World Bank publications seemed almost to be “another language”. The study coined the term “Bankspeak” to describe report styles becoming “more codified, self-referential, and detached from everyday language.”
Mr. Romer concedes he suffers from dyslexia, but strongly implied that that was no reason for others to convolute and complicate.

Not that it will have any effect, but bless his heart. There are simply too many people who see straightforwardness and simplicity as a sign of weakness. If I'm abstruse, I must be smart and worthy of veneration... oh yeah, and a pay raise.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

spiritual enthusiasm? shut up!

Enthusiasm in spiritual life is a bitch. Consider this small example (scroll down one letter) in the American advice column, "Dear Abby:"
DEAR ABBY >> One of my longtime friends has become extremely religious. I have nothing against religion, but I am non-practicing, although I do believe in something greater. My problem is, now whenever we talk, text, Facebook page and Skype (with our children), everything is about God, religion, how He has a plan for us, etc.
And I am not just referencing Christianity here. How well, and with what embarrassment, I remember my own delight and desire to talk about and 'share' and woo-hoo about Hinduism or Buddhism. Man, I loved it and if I loved it, my friends should love it too!

Bottom line is to follow the admonition of Will Rogers when it comes to spiritual life and enthusiasm: "Never miss a good opportunity to shut up." Aside from anything else, enthusiasm betokens doubt and a grounded spiritual understanding is not a doubtful one.

Yes, I can hear the enthusiasts sputtering, "But....but....but...."

But nothing.

Just shut up and actualize what you claim to know.

PS. I herewith apologize for all my praises and smiles and other dribblings. What a pain in the ass I can be given half a chance!

There I go again!

an issue of balance

speaking in whistles

In "Whistled Languages: A Worldwide Inquiry on Human Whistled Speech" By Julien Meyer, there appears the following:
"... Whistled Spanish was used during Franco's dictatorship to avoid being understood by the Guardia Civil (i.e., the Spanish federal police).... Wam whistlers were even recruited by the Australian army during the Second World War to successfully evade Japanese radio spying, translating military messages into their language and then passing them through thrrough the radio using whistles (Nekitel 1992)."
I had been aware of the use of "code talkers" (those who spoke, I believe, Navajo) by the allies during World War II as a means of flummoxing the Japanese, but I was not aware of a whistling counterparts.

infuriating music in Venezuela

Venezuelans have rallied online to help a violist who had his instrument broken during a protest.
Wuilly Arteaga has become a regular fixture at the country's street demonstrations, calmly playing classical tunes amid the chaos.
But on Wednesday evening, a video went viral, showing him in tears with a scuffed violin, its strings all broken, allegedly by police.
Sometimes it is hard to remember just how infuriating peace can be.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

hide-out masks

Bank robbers wear 'em.
Police officers wear 'em.
Terrorists near and far wear 'em.
Swat teams wear 'em.
Special ops teams wear 'em....

Maybe it would be nice if there were a rule: If you carry a gun, you don't get to wear a mask. Naturally there are a thousand virtuous and villainous reasons why masks are necessary, but wouldn't it be nice if the person who might blow you to bits at least extended the courtesy and courage to show his or her face?

artificial intelligence ... again

Once AI is smarter even than the human elite, all humanity could become redundant.
What would happen after that? We have absolutely no idea – we literally can’t imagine it. How could we? A super-intelligent computer will by definition have a far more fertile and creative imagination than that which we possess.
I dislike being magnetized by woulda-coulda-shoulda tales about the advance of artificial intelligence and the disruptions it MAY imply. My problem is that the problems that are imagined (lawsy! lawsy! ... "useless people") are nowhere balanced by a harmonious or happy outcome as far as I can see.

My inabilities reflect my own supposition -- shared by many I think -- that there is something worthwhile and ascendant about the mankind that is dying to advance the cause of what may guarantee its demise.

Cutting away the smoothly thought-out analyses, the best I can come up with is... "you're fucked." The delight of an AI orgasm simply has no staying power.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Guernica: May 23, 1937

The Guardian archive:

The Spanish Civil War -- the one the Germans used to test out armaments soon to be employed in World War II. And the reports like the one at left are eternal in their simplicity and their horror and their inability to convince those who initiated the environment that cruelty, while fun for some, is needlessly stupid on the wide screen. Beyond vile ... it is stupid.

Read it. Six inches of type and it's all there.

"so" chic

So, can anyone tell me why and how the sometimes-adverb "so" has come into popularity? It seems to have replaced "uhhh" as an acceptable way to begin a sentence ... any sentence ... damn near every sentence. So everyone, from dope to sage seems to have fallen prey.


So, I really don't know, but it strikes me as dumber than a box of rocks. Are we all somehow welded more closely together? Are we shown as harmless? Are linguistic fads just so cozy? Is silence really that frightening? Does it make anyone sound smarter, less abrasive, more caring, more thoughtful ... more ... so ... je ne sais quoi?

In a world reeling with dumb, it just seems a pity to add to another snippet.

So ... so ... so I'd better get my act together.

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

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.

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!