Thursday, August 31, 2017

no English-speakers need apply

There are several things that set my hair on fire about a BBC article that details various companies' banning certain words on their premises.
Apply for a job at Davio’s, a small chain of Italian-style steakhouses in the US, and you’ll never hear one extremely common workplace term: employee. That’s because CEO Steve DiFillippo has banned its use.
“I think ‘employee’ is an awful word,” he says. “Who wants to be an employee? It just isn’t something you strive toward.” Instead, those who work for DiFillippo are known as ‘inner guests.’
The obvious Orwellian "newspeak" is part of it, I suppose. But worse than that, from where I sit, is 1. the fact that there are idiots who actually buy into this upbeat pablum and 2. the fact that the reporting agency (the BBC in this case) makes no mention of the fact that the sole beneficiary of this linguistic corruption are the owners of the businesses that apply the thumb screws. If you use nice words, lower wages are less noticeable.
Company-wide bans have usually dealt with words or phrases that could bring negative associations to a brand. Documents released in 2014 as part of a General Motors' settlement with the US government revealed that the company had coached engineers to avoid 69 incendiary words and phrases, including ‘defect,’ ‘flawed’ and ‘death trap.’
I guess the signs will soon go up: "No English-speakers Need Apply." Everything will be one big Oriental group hug and translators will be in high demand ... though the word "translator" may be a bit too strong. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

OK, so now what?

Rattling around in my mind like a pinball is the query, "What happens to spiritual endeavor when the upside is OK, but no longer as inspiring, and the other side of the adventure, the slow side that slips away, tiptoes closer with the nearing of death....?"

Just thinking....

At my age, I am willing to say that spiritual life is a peculiar duck. It may walk like a duck and quack like a duck, but anyone claiming to know what that duck is, precisely, has become a captive to logorrhoea. After 50 years of sometimes intensive spiritual training, I really have gotten tired of people with answers, my own front and center. Imagine -- if there really were answers, why would we keep talking about the topic?

Specifically, as far as I can figure out, spiritual life, in whatever raiment, is delicious and inviting and perhaps consoling in its initial phases. But what about the further climes, where teeth get long, body slows down, pills multiply and the need to rely on answers dwindles? What is anyone supposed to do with spiritual life as death beckons? Beckons and, I suspect, chuckles gently.

At birth, no one is freighted with spiritual life, whether pro or con. Babies, if I get it right, are born with one life-affirming capacity: They know how to suck. Only later do Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Jain, Buddhist or other persuasions come into play. Babies know how to suck and there is no doubt about it. Spiritual life is all about doubt. What happens after death; how does anyone transcend a tragedy, what shape or emanation does a god take, etc.

In the beginning, the good news is scraped together like autumn leaves on the lawn. Rituals, texts, disciplines, singing, incense, penance ... all of it heaped together in a whisper and a promise: there is good news to be collated and assimilated. It is reassuring for the one who has outgrown diapers.

But then what? No one issued forth from the womb freighted with good news or bad and on the far side of what can be a steep and perilous and sometimes joyful climb, there is ... what, precisely? Answers have long since lost their credibility. Or rather, perhaps their credibility has shape-shifted. Answers are nice, but there is far too much evidence that answers are for the unwary and, perhaps, those who are merely terribly frightened.

I don't mind so much any more. Being scared is something I have done before and no doubt will do again, but time has passed and the "answer" to being scared is, as far as I can figure out, being scared. At 77, I don't feel comfortable burdening another person or entity with my lack of answers. Not having answers seems entirely sane, if not quite so consoling. Put another way, the only way to love god is to leave god out of it. Why? Because god seems to have done OK before I came along and seems destined to do OK once I am gone. Why ruin a nicely balanced balance?

Believers and atheists have the same problem: They have found or need an answer. But what's wrong with having a question that lacks an answer? My 50 years of spiritual adventure sits neatly next to the fact that I owned a lot of cap guns when I was a kid. I don't begrudge myself the cap guns and I don't begrudge myself the delicacies of spiritual life. It's a fact. Not an answer.

Imagine if your most heart-felt question had no answer. It might be galling at the outset, but in the end, isn't it a relief? And more than a relief, it has the advantage of being a fact.

"Gravy Wrestling"

You heard it right: "Gravy Wrestling." Leave it to the Brits.

climate change barb

Here is a Guardian column about media-sponsored silences on the issue of climate change. I am too ignorant to know whether its premises are apt or inept, but it feels like something worth paying serious attention to.

Capitalism in the cross-hairs.

The nicest thing thing anyone can say for Hurricane Harvey, which is currently battering Texas, is that it washes away the unbridled attention paid to an unbridled president Donald Trump.

children not for sale...

Dear Mr. President:

We love our children.

We prefer not to sell them.

You would be well-advised to do likewise.

Oh well ... never mind.

Adam Fisher
Northampton, Mass.

Monday, August 28, 2017

cops get a military boost

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Local police departments will soon have access to grenade launchers, high-caliber weapons and other surplus U.S. military gear after President Donald Trump signed an order Monday reviving a Pentagon program that civil rights groups say inflames tensions between officers and their communities.
President Barack Obama had sharply curtailed the program in 2015 amid an outcry over the heavily-armed police response to protesters after several police killings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities. The Trump administration maintains the program is needed to protect public safety and says that in restoring it, officials are demonstrating confidence in local and state police.
The only phrase that tickles my mind is, "come the revolution...."
Can the U.S. catch up with North Korea?

America -- a nation of merchants?

In one of his novels, pseudonymous-author Trevanian takes off on at least one acid-laced riff about Americans. Americans are, the author insists through his central, fictional character, ("Shibumi" maybe?) "a nation of merchants." The prose oozes with low-growl vitriol.

When I first read this riff years ago, I figured an author, because it was his book, was entitled to write what he pleased. I thought the riff was a bit snarkier than it needed to be, but it wasn't my book and the opinions fit the character to whom they were attributed.

Now, so many years after a first reading, and with Donald Trump playing Merchandiser-In-Chief with the United States, I feel less critical of Trevanian. A merchant mentality is apparent and spreading from 'leaders' to 'followers.' A thing's value lies in its financial price: Just ask Donald. If he has used the presidency to increase his properties' values, well, isn't that what any of us might do?

But it's more than Oscar Wilde's observation about a cynic that "he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." It is a creeping crud that deflates all sense of honor and all sense that a man's word is his bond. It's a slime bath in which those slimed can and do delight and crow. "See -- I've got money. What have you got to show for your efforts?"

It all comes down to money.

And too frequently, perhaps it does.

And like a cold, it's catching.

But I suppose the price increasingly appended to so many things is a personal issue. We've all done it in the past and will probably do it again -- boost our prospects by over-praising or craftily reconfiguring our accomplishments. How many are ready to own what they would prefer not to own?

A nation of merchants.

More third-world living.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

gone before it comes

Saturday, August 26, 2017

psychedelic drug aimed at PTSD

For Jon Lubecky, the scars on his wrists are a reminder of the years he spent in mental purgatory.
He returned from an Army deployment in Iraq a broken man. He heard mortar shells and helicopters where there were none. He couldn’t sleep and drank until he passed out. He got every treatment offered by Veterans Affairs for post-traumatic stress disorder. But they didn’t stop him from trying to kill himself — five times.
Finally, he signed up for an experimental therapy and was given a little green capsule. The anguish stopped.
Inside that pill was a compound named MDMA, better known by dealers and rave partygoers as ecstasy. That street drug is emerging as the most promising tool to come along in years for the military’s escalating PTSD epidemic.
If this stuff gets approval, you kind of wonder if, because the PTSD blowback has been ameliorated, those who favor and promote war will feel emboldened and enabled.

impossible war cost comparisons

In the martial arts, students are often taught to use the force of an opponent to attain victory. Just go with the prevalent flow.

The prevalent flow in the United States is merchandising: Everything has a dollar-amount value. And who better to oversee such operations than the Merchandiser-in-Chief, Donald Trump, a man whose supportive hounds yap with delight as he dispenses bits and scraps of optimism if not money.

So if dollar amounts might count, I wondered today how much a single air sortie might cost in the much-bombed Syria or other places where American hardware does its best and civilians often pay the price. The answer is that there is no answer. Or, if there is an answer, it is so complicated by factors attending on an air strike that it is almost meaningless. What sorts of planes, what sorts of armaments, what aircraft carriers employed, how much it costs to train pilots, etc. etc.

What I wanted to do was lay that figure next to what it cost to build a school or a hospital ... which is another realm that ended me up in the weeds of particulars -- how big, how many beds or desks, what staffing, what supplies, etc. Weeds heaped on weeds.

Planes and war missions seem to run into the millions. Schools and hospitals do the same. But the war missions seem to exceed the schools and hospitals by quite a lot.

Politicians and defense contractors and other war-minded officials will say it's a ridiculous comparison -- apples and oranges. But a price tag is a price tag in our merchandising era. And so, without the numbers to back myself up, I still wonder how many schools or hospitals might be underwritten if a couple of air sorties simply did not occur. Yes, I'm one of those liberal wimps, but maybe it's something to think about.

Back before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there were analyses that suggested that if America had no clearly-stated end game -- no goal in mind -- then the result would be tribal infighting that knew no end.

Dead Americans. Dead children. Dead civilians. And a lot of tribal infighting.

Friday, August 25, 2017

artists/satirists try to keep up

As presented in The Guardian ... among others:

first the priests, now the generals

The U.S. Army will do something this weekend it has done only four other times since the Truman administration: drag a general into a military courtroom to face criminal charges.
James J. Grazioplene, 68, a retired major general from Gainesville, Va., is being court-martialed on charges that he raped a child over a six-year period while he was on active duty in the 1980s, according to Army officials and court documents.
It is extremely rare for senior military officers to face court-martial proceedings.
Unless they were ring knockers (West Point grads), I thought they sent guys like this to Alaska to count snow flakes ... a quiet, chilly demise.

Guardian photos, small stories

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Lithuania uses wall to meet Russian pressure

For those approaching the border crossing from the Lithuanian side, the Russian guards and military personnel are obscured by a bend in the road and the trees of the Ramoniškiai forest. Only a towering communication pole, watching and listening, shows how close they are.
Barely 50 vehicles a day pass through here making their way between Lithuania, once part of the Soviet Union, and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea. Wedged between Lithuania to its north and east, and Poland to its south, Kaliningrad is about 800 miles (1,300km) from Moscow. ... This doesn’t look or feel much like a modern-day version of Berlin’s Checkpoint Charlie. Yet the 45km of land border on which the Ramoni┼íkiai crossing sits ... has become a worry for the government in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, a swift tank ride away.
The U.S. has wall-worries of its own. At least the Lithuanian hole-digger in the photo looks less expensive than the barriers envisioned by the U.S.

Russians plow through Arctic

A Russian tanker has travelled through the northern sea route in record speed and without an icebreaker escort for the first time, highlighting how climate change is opening up the high Arctic.
The $300m Christophe de Margerie carried a cargo of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Hammerfest in Norway to Boryeong in South Korea in 19 days, about 30% quicker than the conventional southern shipping route through the Suez Canal.
Thank goodness global warming is a myth ... I guess.

surge pricing tested

What if a cold drink cost more on a hot day?
Customers in the UK will soon find out. Recent reports suggest that three of the country’s largest supermarket chains are rolling out surge pricing in select stores. This means that prices will rise and fall over the course of the day in response to demand. Buying lunch at lunchtime will be like ordering an Uber at rush hour.
This may sound pretty drastic, but far more radical changes are on the horizon. About a week before that report, Amazon announced its $13.7bn purchase of Whole Foods. A company that has spent its whole life killing physical retailers now owns more than 460 stores in three countries....
Together, Facebook and Google receive a staggering 76% of online advertising revenue in the United States.
Mining internet data does not mean it is all mined ... yet.

Atlantic salmon on the lam

Thousands of Atlantic salmon may have escaped into Pacific waters after a net pen holding 305,000 of the fish was damaged at a farm in Washington state, leading wildlife officials to call for anglers to catch as many of the fish as possible. ...
Despite being listed in Washington State as an invasive species capable of preying on native populations of fish and spreading disease, Atlantic salmon are a major aquaculture species in Washington state as well as in British Columbia. 

Trump depresses gun sales

Barack Obama was called the ‘best gun salesman on the planet’. But with Trump in the White House, gun companies’ sales are down, and profits are falling

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

burial by robot

In Japan robots can serve as companions, helpers for the elderly, entertainment bots and even sexual partners, but now SoftBank’s humanoid robot Pepper has put itself up for hire as a Buddhist priest for funerals....
The robot was on display on Wednesday at a funeral industry fair, the Life Ending Industry Expo, in Tokyo, shown off by plastic molding maker Nissei Eco.
With the average cost of a funeral in Japan reaching in excess of £20,000, according to data from Japan’s Consumer Association in 2008, and human priests costing £1,700, Nissei Eco is looking to undercut the market with Pepper available for just £350 per funeral.
Given the glowing devotion that the Japanese can cast over death -- and the income derived therefrom by religious institutions -- this funereal 'advance' is awkward at a minimum and culturally tumultuous at worse.

PS. A Japanese movie I really liked was "Departures," the tale of a young man who learns the art of preparing the dead. Whatever its flaws, the movie was touching as no robot can ever be.

autumn into fall




The clutches of brown sparrows swirl and land and swirl anew along the block. It is as if they were mimicking the autumn leaves that have yet to fall. Their small chirps mingle with the staid mourning doves and occasional -- very occasional as yet -- calling of an early blue jay.

It's summer still. August. But the time approaches when mourning doves will mosey on and jays will multiply and claim the sound-spaces built for them -- they are such a cheeky lot. Autumn is soon but not yet.

Someone's got to be first in line.

earlier porn art

They were an explosion of graphic design, cheating audiences with promises of raunchy scenes that never materialised. Collector Tony Nourmand reveals the real sordid truth about X-rated movie posters.
Was there more imagination/art in the 1970's and 1980's titillation than there is today? I think maybe so, but I have to factor in my age.

PS: Wonderful quote from film critic Roger Ebert when assessing the popularly-whispered-about "Deep Throat" and its nom de plume star Linda Lovelace: ‘It is all very well and good for Linda Lovelace, the star of the movie, to advocate sexual freedom; but the energy she brings to her role is less awesome than discouraging. If you have to work this hard at sexual freedom, maybe it isn’t worth the effort.’

Monday, August 21, 2017

a small epiphany

Sluicing gently upwards out of the realm of sleep today came a small epiphany: Things do not need to be important.

"Epiphany" is a five-dollar word that suggests joy or sorrow, but there was none of that. It was just a realization of sorts. Importance was simply not necessary.

Do something or do nothing, but importance is just not that important.

It felt, for a couple of moments, like a rock had been lifted from a weighty backpack.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

against killer robots ... lol

No artificial intelligence weapons? Don't hold your breath.
Some of the world’s leading robotics and artificial intelligence pioneers are calling on the United Nations to ban the development and use of killer robots.
Tesla’s Elon Musk and Google’s Mustafa Suleyman are leading a group of 116 specialists from across 26 countries who are calling for the ban on autonomous weapons....
In their letter, the founders warn the review conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons that this arms race threatens to usher in the “third revolution in warfare” after gunpowder and nuclear arms.
The founders wrote: “Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.
Too late, guys.

strong man contest

Well, the Strong Man competition in Vaasa, Finland, appears to be over and Rich, my daughter Olivia's husband, came in sixth ... out of 14 as I understand it. Hooooot Shit!

Rich is enormous... as in fills-up-a-doorway ... until you create a context ... as for example, below (Rich is second from left)

third world America

In these grausame, dwindling times in my country, there are two quick descriptions that strike me as summing things up without too much head-scratching:

1. There was a Somali intelligence office who once observed in a TV interview that the piracy practiced off his country's shores amounted to, "If you do not share your wealth with us, we will share our poverty with you."

2. In the 17th century, the Baron LaRochefoucauld observed that "the intelligence of the group is inversely proportionate to its number." [Just because a lot of people agree does not mean what they agree on is necessarily true.] 

It is between these two observations that everyone needs to seek out a balance. Not a perfection, but a balance for which individuals -- and specifically, this individual -- might take responsibility. 

PS. LaRochefoucauld also wrote, "We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others that in the end we become disguised to ourselves."

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Aussie women take up the reins

There is a shake-up going on in the North Australian cattle industry, with the masculine image of cowboys and stockmen fast being replaced by young ambitious and talented women.
Both of Australia's largest cattle companies, Australian Agricultural Company and Consolidated Pastoral Company, have seen women applying for more than half of the stock camp positions in the last two years.
Emily Bryant is in charge of about a dozen staff and 27,000 head of cattle on Auvergne Station in the Northern Territory.
At just 29, she is paving new ground as the first ever female station manager for a corporate company in Australia.
I guess I like this because it seems to be not so much what anyone says ... it's what the DO.

ghostwriter predicts Trump will quit

Passed along in email:
The ghostwriter of Donald Trump's famous memoir The Art of the Deal doubled down on his prediction that Trump will resign the presidency before the end of the year."The snowball is beginning to gather momentum as it comes down the mountain," Tony Schwartz told Anderson Cooper on CNN Thursday. "It reminds me a lot of Watergate and the last days of Nixon... He's put himself in an isolated, no-win position. The level of his destructiveness is staggering."
However self-serving and ill-researched the statement may be, still the sense of relief I felt when reading this was whelming, at a minimum. What a nightmare the country has been living through. It goes on and on and on and on as the president deflects all cautions and turns the spotlight unerringly back on himself, his world, his thoughts, his conclusions.

And then, as quickly as the sense of relief descended, opiod-like in its wonder, the questions popped up no less insistently in my mind: If Trump did bow out, what would it be like to try to clean up all the detritus in his wake? A 16-year-war, jobless people still jobless, medical care in the balance, a balanced budget on the firing line, fat cats who are not really as fat as they wanted to be, no wall on the Mexican border as promised, education officials hoping to tear down education, coal miners still without the jobs Trump promised them, racism ... it goes on and on and on and in six months, with Congress in the Republican back pocket (a majority), not a single piece of legislation has been passed and there is no stated policy on anything.

It's probably just a wet dream -- that Trump will leave -- but, but, but .... enough with the nightmare, already!

Friday, August 18, 2017

stone-skipper extraordinaire

Charlotte Greenway does not necessarily look like a top sportswoman as she limbers up by Windermere in her distinctive Jackie O sunglasses. But the 32-year-old is a rising star in the traditionally male-dominated pursuit of stone skimming.
The winner of the British women’s stone skimming championships in Shropshire is preparing for another competition – the all-England stone skimming championships at Fell Foot on Windermere’s southern tip.
The champ wannabe who was diffidently praised by one male as "not throwing like a girl," is still a bit miffed that she is forced to compete with the boys.

Trump's promises, Trump's delivery

America, when viewed through the bars on Blodgett's windows, looks a lot less great than it used to be. So she answered Donald Trump's call to the country's forgotten corners. Thousands of her neighbors did, too, and her county, once among the most reliably Democratic in the nation, swung Republican in a presidential election for the first time in 90 years.
"People were like, 'This guy's going to be it. He's going to change everything, make it better again,'" she says....
[These days] His administration's failed plans to remake the health care system may or may not cost millions their coverage, and there's a lack of clarity over how exactly he intends to eradicate a spiraling drug crisis that now claims 142 American lives each day - a growing number of them here, in Grays Harbor County.

"Has he done anything good yet?" she asks. "Has he?"
It's just so damned sad.

between piss and shit

Between piss and shit,
As the Bible says,
The Lord God Almighty,
Mightiest among the mighty,
Emerged me into this world.

He emerged me,
Do you hear,
Between piss and shit,
With neither blessing
Nor blasphemy attending.

And since the mightiest
Among the mighty,
Saw fit to emerge me
In his wisdom, so
I found little fit to add.

Belief or disbelief
Did not issue between
Shit and piss but only
This blooded blob, in all its well-planned
Glory ... it was enough.

What impudence or arrogance
I learned and broadcast
Came later -- only after
I had left the folds
Between piss and shit.

Who would I be to
Forsake the mightiest of the mighty?
To forswear by praise or blame
The wisdom already bestowed
Where I was so gloriously emerged?

Guardian photos

teen hits TWO holes in one...

An Armagh teenager has scored an amazing two holes-in-one in the same round of golf.
Joe Rooney, 16, managed the exceptionally rare feat at a tournament at County Armagh Golf Club on Tuesday.
The odds of an amateur golfer hitting two holes-in-one in the same round are a staggering 67 million to one.

in memoriam Charlottesville, Va.

In the wake of the rioting in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend, all sorts of head-scratchers have sounded off on racism and the role Confederate statues (Robert E. Lee in this case) have played. A friend sent along this Saturday Night Live commentary by Tina Fey:

Strange how the comedians hold more sway in my mind than the more oratorious (if that's a word).

On the other hand, I hope no one will forget to bitchslap the next demi-tasse intellect who quotes George Santayana's "those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it" when all of history teaches that "those who do learn from the past repeat it anyway."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

wars past and future

-- Returning a flag:

-- Passed along in email: Soldiers resort to rocks instead of bullets in Kashmir.

-- Vietnam vet reassured that his duty is done.

-- Also passed along in email, this suggestion about what to do with Donald Trump.

-- The HMS Queen Elizabeth, newest and largest of Great Britain's warships and costing over 3 billion pounds, inspires awe and perhaps the question of whose flags might be returned as time passes.

off to foreign realms

At the risk of being pistol-whipped by the Sexist Police, I have to admit I felt what I can only describe as a sense of girlish giddiness this morning when, at 7:30, I got a call from my daughter who was in ... wait for it ... Stockholm, Sweden. Woo-hoo! Stockholm! Woo-hoo -- another country! One of my lifelong senses of coming up short as a parent has been a longing to see all of my children visit foreign countries ... any foreign country. I simply didn't have the money to send them. And here was my daughter Olivia calling from Stockholm. Hot damn!

I can hear my globe-trotting buddy Barney ho-humming that "all people are pretty much the same..." but... well ... color me giddy anyway!

My daughter was first in offspring line to make me remember, "Be careful what you pray for, you may just get it." First she visited a friend in Australia. Then she got married in Fiji. And now she was in Stockholm en route to Finland where her husband, Rich, will compete in a Strong Man contest -- one of those events where enormous men carry enormous weights from here to there. Why? Well, why not?

But the weekend just past had other whispers of travel and education and loss. My older son, Angus, flew south to Georgia to check out a job at a track camp. Track enthusiasts, I learn in the midst of this, tend to train in the south because the weather is warm ... or rather HOT, I should say. Temperatures while my son visited were in the 90's (90 F = 32+ C).

The South is another realm -- yes I can hear the Geography Police. It is a place where people often judge each other by which church they attend. I warned my son to take this seriously. And then it occurred to me that if anyone pressed him, he might say that when, by God's grace, he was born, God did not see fit to bless him with beliefs or convictions of any sort and that the notion of improving on what God provided struck him as impudent and possibly arrogant ... and that therefore he did not yet attend any church.

Angus is back now, looking a bit frazzled after his whirlwind weekend and viewing the job potential (bottom line) as, "will I ever be able to forgive myself if I don't take it?" It pays poorly thanks to the student debt the United States has seen fit to impose. The camp does things like train people for the Olympics and the boss said he might consider taking Angus with him to Tokyo in 2020. I keep forgetting that there is a homesickness quotient to be tallied for him at 26 as I tallied it in the fourth grade. And I forget that if he leaves, I will miss him, as will his mother ... and still I want him to spread his wings in a foreign land.

And all this time, Ives, my younger son, is stationed with the National Guard in Sinai where, like Georgia, it's hot and he hates it (is there anyone in uniform who feels differently?) and wishes, perhaps, he were somewhere that the bullets flew -- which is the precise opposite of what the old man wishes. Instead, he is on a United Nations guard detail which sounds about as interesting as watching paint dry.

So .... my children, in foreign climes, and the world is wide and round and my children are getting to see some of it ... and get their leashes yanked a little .... time passes.

I wish them all bon voyage and can't help wishing they were home.

Go figure.

where your job went in a 'perfect' world

MORIYA, Japan (AP) -- Thousands upon thousands of cans are filled with beer, capped and washed, wrapped into six-packs, and boxed at dizzying speeds - 1,500 a minute, to be exact - on humming conveyor belts that zip and wind in a sprawling factory near Tokyo.
Nary a soul is in sight in this picture-perfect image of Japanese automation.
The machines do all the heavy lifting at this plant run by Asahi Breweries, Japan's top brewer. The human job is to make sure the machines do the work right, and to check on the quality the sensors are monitoring.
"Basically, nothing goes wrong. The lines are up and running 96 percent," said Shinichi Uno, a manager at the plant. "Although machines make things, human beings oversee the machines."
The debate over machines snatching jobs from people is muted in Japan....

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

variations in Charlottesville, Va., rally

Christian Yingling
The men in charge of the 32 militia members who came to Charlottesville from six states to form a unit with the mission of “defending free speech” were Christian Yingling, the commanding officer of the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, and his “second in command” on the day, George Curbelo, the commanding officer of the New York Light Foot Militia.
“We spoke to the Charlottesville police department beforehand and offered to come down there and help with security,” Yingling told the Guardian.
Donald Trump has been roundly criticized for his slow-on-the-uptake failure to criticize the far-right constituency of last weekend's Virginia rally. It is interesting to see a news organization that parses the crowd and reports on motives for being there.

jokes in The Guardian

A couple of them that hooked me:

-- Paul Savage: Oregon leads America in both marital infidelity and clinical depression. What a sad state of affairs.

--  Olaf Falafel: If you’re being chased by a pack of taxidermists, do not play dead.

American debt level climbs

It's hard to imagine that those seeking "tax relief" (banks, brokerages, credit card lenders etc.) could be more happy than they are at present, but of course there's no reason not to hope for a dime when you're only getting a nickel:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Americans' debt level notched another record high in the second quarter, after having earlier in the year surpassed its pre-crisis peak, on the back of modest rises in mortgage, auto and credit card debt, where delinquencies jumped.
Total U.S. household debt was $12.84 trillion in the three months to June, up $552 billion from a year ago, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York report published on Tuesday.
The proportion of overall debt that was delinquent, at 4.8 percent, was on par with the previous quarter. However a red flag was raised over the transitions of credit card balances into delinquency, which the New York Fed said "ticked up notably."
Loosening lending standards have allowed borrowers with lower credit scores to access credit cards, Andrew Haughwout, an in-house economist, said in the report.

ha-ha-ha-ha-ha in the Netherlands

Wholesalers in the Netherlands say that in the past two years there has been a 400% rise in sales of nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas.
New companies selling the small bullet-shaped canisters are popping up online, but there are concerns about the risks in taking the increasingly popular legal high. The BBC's Anna Holligan investigates.

Monday, August 14, 2017

the unending war on chewing gum

Each night dozens of trucks carrying 15 people depart from Mexico City’s downtown to Francisco I Madero Avenue, the most famous pedestrian street in the capital. Armed with 90C vapour guns called Terminators, the group begins the laborious task of combing the street looking for small, black circles fastened to the ground.
It takes them three days, working in eight-hour shifts, to go through the 9,000 sq metre avenue. By the end, they have removed a total of 11,000 pieces of chewing gum....
The war on gum is waged in cities worldwide. The Wall Street Journal denounced gum as a “black plague” on New York City almost a decade ago, and cities from Seattle to Singapore have made eradicating it a central part of their urban philosophy.
Imagine what it would be like to extract the thoughts and plans and sorrows and laughter from each colorful bit of chew. What an advertisement for silence, perhaps.

Trump looses campaign ad

He has been in office for seven months, but today the re-election of Donald Trump came to the fore in the shape of a political ad aimed (maybe) at the next presidential season... a first.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's reelection campaign released its first television advertisement on Sunday, a 30-second spot that attacks Democrats and touts the accomplishments of his first seven months in office.....
Trump filed for reelection the day he took office, an unusual move that has allowed him to begin campaigning long before the November 2020 election. Historically, incumbent presidents have waited two years, until after the midterm elections, to file formally....
The ad says Trump has created jobs and helped the stock market since taking office. ...
"This new campaign ad speaks directly to the American people and sets the record straight, reminding them that President Donald Trump will not stop fighting for them and will not allow anyone to stand in his way to deliver success for them,” campaign manager Michael Glassner said in a statement announcing the ad.  

women communists had more sexual fun

Passed along in email by a friend, came this NYTimes Magazine piece suggesting:
When Americans think of Communism in Eastern Europe, they imagine travel restrictions, bleak landscapes of gray concrete, miserable men and women languishing in long lines to shop in empty markets and security services snooping on the private lives of citizens. While much of this was true, our collective stereotype of Communist life does not tell the whole story.
Some might remember that Eastern bloc women enjoyed many rights and privileges unknown in liberal democracies at the time, including major state investments in their education and training, their full incorporation into the labor force, generous maternity leave allowances and guaranteed free child care. But there’s one advantage that has received little attention: Women under Communism enjoyed more sexual pleasure.
How logically woven the piece is, I don't know ... but it's fun

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Donald Trump clone

I can't figure out how to make the sound work, but the idea is irresistible in my juvenile little mind.

Of course, the obscene little man (and I don't mean Urkel/Jaleel White) would never have the courage to ask....

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Moscow feasts on Venezuelan carcass

CARACAS/HOUSTON (Reuters) - Venezuela’s unraveling socialist government is increasingly turning to ally Russia for the cash and credit it needs to survive – and offering prized state-owned oil assets in return, sources familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.
As Caracas struggles to contain an economic meltdown and violent street protests, Moscow is using its position as Venezuela’s lender of last resort to gain more control over the OPEC nation’s crude reserves, the largest in the world.
Can I keep it all straight? Nope. But it sounds about right ... follow the money and marvel at U.S. ...err... diplomacy.

the apple of my eye

Last night, I got somehow lassoed by the TV into watching a romantic comedy called "Love is All You Need." I suppose it could be called a chick flick -- touching but with smiles. I am increasingly drawn to such gentle fantasies and this one had a complexity to family connections that kept me watching, kept drawing me in. If it was sappy, I am increasingly a sap and was touched in some deep ways.

A kind of meandering sorrow overtook me even as I knew the movie would end on a happy note. "Knowing is not the same as knowing," the sorrow whispered. And what did I wish for so silently and know that I did not know? I wished that I might, in my lifetime, have been the apple of someone's eye and lived in that sweetness, trusting and safe. But I was not brought up to believe it was possible I might be the apple of someone's eye -- I was not worthy of such affection and so, even if I had been the apple of someone's eye, I had not grown up being capable of accepting such a designation. It was a conundrum whose meandering sorrow extended from root to branch.

My parents were not raised up to be the apple of anyone's eye, I was not raised up to be the apple of anyone's eye and, being trained as I was, I was not capable of making anyone the apple of my eye. How I must have short-changed my family and friends and .... it was a meandering sorrow. I am sorry, but at this late date it is a bit like being sorry I did not have a sixth finger or a third eye: Done is done and the best I can do is pray that too much harm was not done ... to wife, to children, to kith and kin.

The movie sucked me in and warmed me to the extent that I could be sad.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

two birds with one stone?

                         D. TRUMP-UN!

upscale hovel

No cooking in the kitchen....
Responses in Amsterdam, where property prices have been rocketing due to a crippling housing shortage, have ranged from astonished indignation to wry resignation.
An estate agent has been caught offering for rent a 35 sq metre apartment, boasting its own “private kitchen”, for €1,100 (£995) a month (or €1,000 not including bills).
Just a couple of catches, however: cooking is strictly prohibited and no more than two people are allowed into the flat at any one time.

sonic attack?

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Canadian government said Thursday that at least one Canadian diplomat in Cuba also has been treated for hearing loss following disclosures that a group of American diplomats in Havana suffered severe hearing loss that U.S. officials believe was caused by anadvanced sonic device....
In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of President Barack Obama's reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Some of the U.S. diplomats' symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been attacked with an advanced sonic weapon that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

a nation of cowards

Reading the newswires as I do each morning, I realize that I am sick of being ruled by cowards. By cowards, I do not mean simply the politicians who long for another term and seek out the most expedient way to excite one voter base or another -- who use, for example, "terrorism" as a means of frightening the many while diverting attention from policies that might enrich and lift up others.

A coward is not the one who can espouse a position considered credible and creditable and then stand by that position....


Admits forthrightly that s/he has had a change of heart and admits that change of heart and shoulders the responsibility.

I am sick of being led by those who squirm and seek out a good name for themselves at all costs while others are left dangling or sick or hungry in their wake. If there was something "I did not mean..." then the one who is not a coward steps up and says more clearly what s/he did mean.

This goes as much for those who object to neighbors flying the Confederate battle flag as it does for the Republicans who had seven years to construct a health care plan that would outshine the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and failed to do it even as the current president promised that the first order of business, when he was elected president, would be to get ride of Obamacare ... and build a wall along the Mexican border, and deliver tax reform and do something about the need for infrastructure repairs that would benefit all Americans.

That policies and principles should fail is not the mark of a coward. The cowards are marked by their unwillingness to concede the loss. It used to be called "character." Character means a willingness to reflect and reconsider the policies espoused.

Is rattling sabers or yet another war an answer to healthcare or poverty or jobs or infrastructure or tax reform?

Donald Trump's disenfranchised voting base is bit by bit becoming the rest of us ... a nation led by and becoming cowards.

Just a little ranting.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

pink rainbow

A rare "pink rainbow" was spotted in the west of England on Monday evening.
The phenomenon, seen in areas including Bristol, Taunton and Yate, has been described as an "optical illusion" by experts.
People photographing it described the view as "amazing" and "so pretty".
PS. Associatively:

1% suffer unexpected bite

Residents of an illustrious San Francisco private street where homes sell for millions have had the street itself bought from under them.
Presidio Terrace is now owned by two investors, Tina Lam and Michael Cheng, who snapped up the private road for about $90,000 (£69,039, €76,203).
The street - parking, pathways and all - was sold by the city over a $14-a-year tax which went unpaid for decades.
Wealthy residents say they knew nothing about the sale until it was done.
And here you were busy thinking San Francisco was financially out of reach.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Abdul Abulbul Amir

Long, longer, longest gone ... I learned the following song as a youngster when the Russo-Turkish War was already an aging memory that hardly concerned safe Americans such as myself. There's always a war somewhere and someone is always on hand to sing up its heroes and sing down its villains or, as in this tuneful case, rain death on both their houses.

One of the functions of my aging is that I lose my callouses. Literally and metaphorically, what was once an inconvenience rubbing up against hardened experience and knowledge is now a painful goad, something unprotected and painful. I become what I once viewed as a wuss. I cannot watch violence with the savoir kool of an 'adult' past. The idea of singing the glory and valor of conflict is like being hit by a blast of rock salt. It hurts and I can feel myself wanting to cry. Isn't it enough that life can deal out tragedy without contributing to -- let alone singing about -- it?

Before bed these days, I am reading a well-written novella called, "The Hessian" by Howard Fast. It's about 150 pages long but was published in a time when brevity did not absolve the author of character development or human complexity. Two-thirds of the way through the book, I know what is going to happen and yet wish that that knowing would mitigate the sense of loss I feel as I turn the well-written pages.

Funny how knowing can console in one moment and fall to ashes in the next.

the axis of atheist 'evil'

Atheists are more easily suspected of evil deeds than Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists – even by fellow atheists, according to the authors of a new study....

The results of the study “show that across the world, religious belief is intuitively viewed as a necessary safeguard against the temptations of grossly immoral conduct,” an international team wrote in the journal Nature Human Behaviour. It revealed that “atheists are broadly perceived as potentially morally depraved and dangerous”.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Joe Bageant essays

Via email, a friend introduced me to the written works of Joe Bageant (1946-2011) and, although I skimmed but one of his essays, the frisky style may appeal to others as well.

 Here's a link to some essays.

And a small taste:

After all, dumb people choose dumb stuff. That's why they are called dumb.

virtuous muddle

As a tweak to the zealous, I used to like the observation that "all the good people go to heaven; all the interesting people go to hell." Even today, it has a certain well-deserved zest. Lord, how confounded are those who bend a knee to virtue and yet without genuflecting, how is anyone to find out that knees have better uses?

Virtue these days, just gives me a small shiver and a wish for some superstitious remedy -- perhaps a garland of garlic to ward off the vampires or something similar. And yet how I too have thought one person or another, one action or another, one verse or another was imbued with a virtue I damned well wished I could imbibe. "Now thatsa spicey-virtuous meatball!"

Seldom if ever did it occur to me who laid on this cloak. Seldom if ever did I stop to think how the person exuding what I called virtue thought about his or her activities: If they too thought it was virtuous, could virtue really survive? These days, those hawking virtue instill in me a feeling of "worse than snake oil" together with a recognition that even snake oil is a good lubricant and can help things run smoothly.

If the Dalai Lama or the pope or the venerable what's-his-or-her-name is virtuous in my mind, well ... what does s/he say of the qualities I admire and aspire to? Like as not it's just "normal" unless making money is the object. And the fact is that virtuous people in my mind are interesting, which makes them destined for hell, which is where I'm destined from the get-go... but am I really that interesting? I doubt it ... which may make me virtuous ... and, since I mention it, put me on the path to hell....

Oh, it's all so confusing. But generally, when it comes to "virtue," all I can think is, "get thee behind me, satan!"

Saturday, August 5, 2017

uptick in British food prices

Britannia, and its (wait-for-it!) withdrawal from the European Union means that a shortage of often-European harvesters will take a bite out of the Queen's behind in the form of higher food prices. Or anyway, that's how one columnist sees it.
Farms in the UK rely on fruit and vegetable pickers from the European Union. But this summer they’re staying away, and the harvest will be hi....
In a recent survey, 30% of agencies who supply workers to British food businesses said they don’t expect to be able to source sufficient workers for the remainder of this summer’s peak picking period.’ 

unionizing effort flops

The United Auto Workers lost its bid to unionize a Mississippi auto plant yesterday. The vote was near 2-1 against unionizing.
CINCINNATI (Reuters) - Workers at Nissan Motor Co Ltd's (7201.T) plant in Canton, Mississippi, voted nearly two to one against union representation, the company and the United Auto Workers (UAW) said late on Friday.
The vote at the end of a bitterly contested campaign extended a decades-long record of failure by the union to organize a major automaker's plant in the U.S. South.
The vote at the Canton plant could leave the UAW weakened ahead of contract negotiations with the Detroit Three automakers in 2019, when many analysts are predicting a cyclical slump for U.S. auto sales.
Workers at the plant may sign in relief that their jobs are safe for the moment (there were allegations that workers were threatened with dismissal if they voted for the union) and that the dues payments will not be extracted from their paychecks. No one complained too much that the company had switched a tradition retirement plan to a 401(k) arrangement....

Everything is groovy until, one by one, people start to get fucked.

The union-averse South apparently caved in to a company that said approving a union might hamper its flexibility in doing business. That statement seems to mean they can give and take away jobs as the company sees fit and worker protections are unnecessary. The 401(k) gambit is now so ingrained in the business world that calling it out for the scam it is (more for the company, less for the worker) hardly finds a foot to stand on.

The South -- where Donald Trump (you remember -- the guy who stiffed the workers on his own real estate projects), aroused support and those supporters no doubt saw value in their master's approach. Yes, let us screw ourselves before the master does it for us.

It's a scary thing having your job threatened. I can't fault those who voted against the union ... except when I consider that living in fear is an awful bequest and pitting workers against workers is one of the handiest of management tools.

Look out 1920's and 1930's -- here we come.