Wednesday, January 31, 2018

gun smuggling at the library

Want to smuggle some guns into Canada? A good venue for the exchange might be this multi-cultured library on the U.S.-Canada border. Library officials got suspicious when a fellow showed up dressed like a GQ model in the midst of trudging book readers.

the birds of Afghanistan

For some Afghans weighed down by decades of war and struggle, a little comfort and distraction can be found in the company of birds.
The war seems a long way off in the Ka Faroshi bird market in the heart of Kabul's old city, a narrow lane with a few alleys off it, packed with small, mud-walled shops festooned with bird cages.

24-hour internet Trump ban sought

OK, it may be foolish, it may be illegal and it may be undemocratic, but I have posted a petition that invites hackers worldwide to band together and bar Donald J. Trump from the internet for 24 hours on some specific (Aug. 16, say) day in the future.

Be the first in your neighborhood to sign on and sigh. :)

old friends, old news

Spent a pleasant half hour on the phone with an old friend, Stuart Lachs, last night. It has been a while. Stuart was good enough, at one time, to take me along to a maximum security prison where some of the inmates were interested in Zen meditation and he was encouraging them. That barred and barbed-wire environment may have been the best temple I ever visited and I have always been grateful to Stuart.

In the past, Stuart has been one of the bad boys of Buddhism, a serious student with SERIOUS questions about knee-jerk hagiography in Zen and other Buddhist slants. Many have wriggled and squirmed under his search-light questioning of such well-springs as "lineage."

But as we chatted on the phone, I realized that time has passed and those people and propositions that once inspired rip-roaring dissection and muck-raking ... well, we're old now and so is the research. Stuart and I were both born in 1940. We and our arguments, while true enough in their time and investigation, are brand new to a brand new crop of people who may become interested in Buddhism. It does not matter what Stuart or Brian Victoria or Kobutsu Malone or other researchers may adduce by way of pointing to falsehood and fabrication. The fact is that newcomers have not felt the personal lash that inspired the original research. As a result, they are inclined to overlook corruption and lies ... it's probably just sour grapes, right? ... Buddhism is wonderful and wonderfully-crafted and magical in its ranging wisdoms.

It's no good whining about the fact that new-comers cannot be adequately forewarned. It is the nature of the beast, I think. It used to be said that "forewarned is forearmed." I think it is probably better to relax -- "forewarned is still largely UN-armed."

Three guys are brought up short in front of a pile of dog shit on the sidewalk. One bends over and looks: "Sure does look like dog shit," he opines. The next man takes a sniff: "Sure does smell like dog shit." The third man uses and index finger to pick up a little and pop it in his mouth: "Sure does taste like dog shit ... damned glad we didn't step in it."

AI enters the courtroom

CLEVELAND (AP) — The centuries-old process of releasing defendants on bail, long the province of judicial discretion, is getting a major assist ... courtesy of artificial intelligence....
Experts say the use of these risk assessments may be the biggest shift in courtroom decision-making since American judges began accepting social science and other expert evidence more than a century ago. Christopher Griffin, a research director at Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab, calls the new digital tools “the next step in that revolution.”
Critics, however, worry that such algorithms might end up supplanting judges’ own judgment, and possibly even perpetuate biases in ostensibly neutral form.
AI gets a lot of attention for the jobs it eradicates. That’s not happening to judges, at least not yet. But as in many other white-collar careers that require advanced degrees or other specialized education, AI is reshaping, if not eliminating, some of judges’ most basic tasks — many of which can still have enormous consequences for the people involved.
See the upside. See the downside. Pick a side.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

a magnetic caveat for the oxygen-starved

An Indian man died after being sucked into an MRI machine while visiting a relative at a hospital in Mumbai, police said Monday.
Rajesh Maru, 32, was yanked towards the machine by its magnetic force after he entered the room carrying an oxygen cylinder, the city’s police said in a statement....
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, machines use a powerful magnetic field to produce images of the body’s organs. Objects containing ferrous metals are pulled towards it and must not be carried into the room. -- Agence France-Presse

sanitizing the bullets

Arguably, one of the contributing factors to the American loss of the Vietnam War (police action) was the parade of body bags containing American soldiers that made the nightly news in the U.S.A. Inside those black bags were Americans that Americans got a chance to (sort of) see them from their sofa-foxholes. (Strange that I cannot find the photos on Google images that are seared in my brain... bags lined up on the tarmac outside the open maw of an American transport plane. Maybe they don't exist and it's all my over-active imagination. NOT!)

By the time the U.S. war in Afghanistan came along, the purveyors of war had learned and flag-draped coffins were not allowed to be photographed out of 'respect' to the bereaved and, coincidentally, to sanitize the positions of the purveyors. Now they could speak of "heroism" and get away with it. No searing, burning, aching, screaming sense of loss to no purpose. No more chance of anyone saying, "Guess what! If you send young men to a place where killing is the norm, they will -- one guess! -- get killed." Sons, daughters, husbands, friends ... killed. No need to display the facts. No endgame enunciated, no endgame in sight ... killing is the name of the arena and those who built the arena do not want to be questioned or demeaned.

And now, today, the information noose has been tightened:
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon has ordered an independent federal auditor to stop providing the public with key information about U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan, accelerating a clampdown on data, such as the size of the Afghan military and police forces, that indicate how the 16-year-old stalemated war is going....
Over the years, the SIGAR auditing effort has revealed many dubious practices by the U.S., including instances of contractor fraud. Since January 2016 it had published data on the number of governing districts controlled by Kabul, the number controlled by the Taliban, and the number that are contested.
John F. Sopko, head of the auditing organization, expressed disappointment that the Pentagon had forbidden release of the data on relative control of the governing districts.
“This development is troubling for a number of reasons, not least of which is that this is the first time SIGAR has been specifically instructed not to release information marked ‘unclassified’ [emphasis added] to the American taxpayer,” Sopko wrote.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump was in Davos, Switzerland, hobnobbing with the rich and powerful. He declared America 'open for business.' Is there anything business loves more than a perception that its hands are clean and its motives unimpeachable ... just like politicians and other purveyors of war?

Someone's son is dead? Oh, and by the way, how is Boeing doing on Wall Street?

Dead? Killed? It's all "fake news" as long as it's not your kith and kin.

Monday, January 29, 2018

"spruik" -- just a word to save

From a couple of posts back, a word I had never heard, "spruik" [sprook]:
verb (used without object), Australian Slang.
to make or give a speech, especially extensively or elaborately; spiel; orate.
No one seems to know where it came from, though it sounds a little Dutch to me. Whatever -- bullshit, of which "spruik" seems to partake, has no ancestral land of origin.

samurai sass ... not

The other night, because there was no other soporific reading material on the night stand, I picked up "Hagakure,"a book that "grapples with the dilemma of maintaining a warrior class in the absence of war and reflects the author's nostalgia for a world that had disappeared before he was born," according to Wikipedia. It's a kind of Marcus Aurelius minus Marcus Aurelius. It is more etched and starchy and wrapped in the robes of the samurai.

The world has rules, the book asserts and there are greater and lesser fulfillers of the demands the purity quotient. "Don't be a slob" might be one short-hand. Or "get over yourself" another. Discipline is required and the author seems convinced that he is an adequate purveyor of what is requisite and pure.

In various forms, there are hundreds of books that do similar work from differing perspectives. "Don't be an asshole" echoes and re-echoes in the human spirit, I guess. But with advancing age, the willingness or capacity to accede to such advice tends to wane. Life has a way of gob-smacking all and sundry with or without the assistance of vaunted tomes. And when, perhaps, the gob-smacking is somehow absent, there is always the gob-smacking reality of "being right." Who in his right mind would want to live with that cangue.

Given the flab and lassitude of age, I am no longer a fan of the very rules I have followed. The best I can manage is to hope that whatever good such rules instilled will somehow stick and be exercised ... without exercising any goodness. And if the glue doesn't work, there is always the gob-smacking that life can and will administer.

I belong among the lesser mortals whose ranks I imagined I could outstrip ... most notably, me.

There was once a tale of a samurai warrior who had not eaten for several days but nonetheless ambled down the street picking his teeth as if he had just finished a fine meal. The story was told as a means of instilling a spirit of unwavering assurance. Death is a small matter. But I always wondered, when I heard that tale, why a man of determination and clarity would show off by picking his teeth.

These days I agree with my question.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

singin' her heart out

My daughter claims to have sung her heart out at Music City in Nashville, Tenn., where she and some friends visited and partied in anticipation of one's upcoming wedding. She has not yet responded to my question of how big a hangover followed her oral flights. Who cares ... it looks like fun:

Australia bellies up to an alluring trough

As drug cartels cannot ignore the immense profits available to them, so those who in other times might speak out against illicit drugs exercise an addiction of their own:
The [Australian] prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has unveiled a new “defence export strategy” setting out the policy and strategy to make Australia one of the world’s top 10 weapons exporters within the next decade.
Hailing it a job-creating plan for local manufacturers, the Coalition says Australia only sells around $1.5bn to $2.5bn in “defence exports” a year and it wants the value of those exports to increase significantly.
It has identified a number of “priority markets”: the Middle East, the Indo-Pacific region, Europe, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand....
“It is an ambitious, positive plan to boost Australian industry, increase investment, and create more jobs for Australian businesses,” Turnbull said in a statement....
... Tim Costello, the World Vision Australia chief advocate, attacked the plan, saying the government had cut humanitarian aid which saved lives while simultaneously discussing the merits of becoming a major weapons manufacturer and exporter. “The government says this is an export and investment opportunity, but we would be exporting death and profiting from bloodshed,” Costello said last year. “There is only one purpose in making a weapon and that is to kill someone with it. Do we really want that to be what people think of when they see the brand ‘made in Australia’?”
Costello said [in the past] that the contemporary Syrian war – now in its eighth year – could not have lasted for more than a year without armaments profiteering. As a result, there had been more than 300,000 people killed, including thousands of children, 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, 6.3 million people internally displaced and five million people turned into refugees....
Between 2012 and 2016, the 10 largest arms exporters were, in order: the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Ukraine and Israel.
Australia was the 20th largest arms exporter during that period....

Saturday, January 27, 2018

grandma's ready wisdoms

I remember libraries as places where row upon row of colorful or faded spines sat next-by-next and offered extended information, both whimsical and wholesome. Today I wonder what libraries might look like if their wisdoms were as distilled and sufficient as the perhaps-real, perhaps-concocted grandmother everyone has rock and knitting in a quiet nook ... and who every now and then suggests a thing or two.

"A stitch in time saves nine," she might say while Ph.D.'s snickered at anything so trite. Trite, but true, but the emphasis might be on triteness when the matter is set next to a colorful or faded spine that had required so many man-hours of labor.

"Measure twice, cut once." What price tag had that eighteen-volume disquisition once boasted?

"Stand up. Speak up. And shut up."

"Don't do the crime if you can't do the time."

"Be prepared."

"Don't believe everything you think."

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Like mini-mouse traps, the wisdom lies dormant in the mind, ready in an instant to snap down and settle egregiously delicate and complex data. Is there a situation without such a grandmother, such a mouse trap, such an answer before the question's last syllable has left those ponderous and care-so-much lips?

But of course I hate simple corks for the complex bottles I find scattered along my beach. Please tell me it is as complicated as it feels here within or as it seems along the library shelf. I already know (sort of) that I am a fool: Please don't make me more foolish. Give me some trenchant, award-winning, multi-volumed homework. I worked, I found out ... what a whiz-meister!

Why didn't I listen to the grandmother within? Think how much time I might have saved by not reading and questioning and delving and diving and ah-ha-ing. I coulda learned how to knit.

"Never point a gun at anyone" and "Don't point the gun if you can't pull the trigger."

Little mouse traps.

Big grandmother.

"Next time," I promise, "I'll listen."

But of course there is no next time.

repeating "Homage to My Father"

Not for the first time, "Homage to my Father," by Seido Ray Ronci, comes to mind ... rollicking, honest and somehow soothing. There is something to be said for not vexing others with the firmament within whose palm they already rest. And yet likewise there is something to be said for lounging in the poker hand that has been dealt: Relax -- in 100 years, who'll know or care? Stand up, speak up and shut up ... shut up even when you can't shut up.

Anyway, I'm old enough to repeat myself and find excuses for the repetitions:


My father said:
Fuck Father Farrell,
what does he know, that old bastard!

Study all the religions. Learn Italian.
See Venizia, Firenze, talk
to all kinds of people
and never, never think you know more
than someone else! Unless,
unless they're full of shit.

And if they are, tell them;
and if they still don't get it, fuck it,
there's nothing you can do about it.

Learn how to bake bread.
If you can make pasta and bake bread
you can always feed your family,
you can always get a job.

Keep your house clean
and don't worry what anyone else does.
Cut your grass,
prune your fruit trees
or they'll die on you.

Don't drink too much
but don't always be sober --
it makes you nervous.

A couple glasses of wine,
some anisette now and then,
a cigar never hurt nobody.

Nervous people always got an ache here,
an ache there, they get sick,
they die --

Look at Father Farrell:
he'll be dead in a year.

Fuck him!

Friday, January 26, 2018

French go nuts for Nutella

France has seen nothing like it: supermarket aisles of brawling customers throwing punches, pulling hair and shoving the elderly out of the way.
A decision by the Intermarché store chain to offer a hefty discount on jars of Nutella – France’s favourite chocolate spread – caused near riots in shops around the country.

warring with the computer

Spent the morning fighting with the computer, which had erased ... what it pleased.

Needless to say, the computer won.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

photo smile du jour

A young [Congolese] boy swims and plays in the Ubangi River near Impfondo. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

paying for the 'economic summit'

As U.S. President Donald Trump descended today on the "Economic Summit" (read "trade show"), among the world's oligarchs and gazillionaires in Davos, Switzerland, well, there is time to reflect, perhaps: Someone's got to pay the price for all this price-y salesmanship. Trump sells off bits of America, not least whatever good name it once had. What the hell, everything's got a price tag, right? He's a merchant with a megaphone. Someone's got to pay and it's all OK as long as that someone is not "me."

Meet Deng Guilian, a 36-year-old woman with two kids. She "hadn’t planned on going back to work. That changed after her husband was arrested while investigating labor abuses at Chinese suppliers for Ivanka Trump’s brand."
Trump’s brand and spokesman declined to comment for this story, but in her 2017 best-seller, “Women Who Work,” Trump spoke about her commitment to improving “the lives of countless women and girls” and acknowledged that her father’s presidential campaign gave her “an unprecedented opportunity to advocate for change.”
Lord, the capitalist circle-jerk is tiring.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

camel-tampering alleged

Twelve camels have been disqualified from Saudi Arabia’s annual camel beauty contest after receiving botulinum toxin injections to make their pouts look more alluring.
Saudi authorities have raised the profile of the King Abdulaziz camel festival by relocating it from the desert to the outskirts of the capital, Riyadh.
This year’s event has been been mired in scandal after the lure of 20m Saudi riyals (£3.7m) in prize money for each category tempted some owners to cheat.
And you thought Lance Armstrong, the Kardashian seraglio and other selfies-in-action had a lock on chemical improvements.

cross-cultural music

A little cross-cultural music passed along in email:

Ursula K. LeGuin dead at 88

I am not sure that I want to live in a world without Ursula K. LeGuin, the sci-fi and fantasy writer who died Monday in Portland, Ore., at 88.

I was privileged never to have met her. "Privileged" perhaps because, as former poet laureate Billy Collins once suggested,  "Meeting your favorite author is one of life's most reliable disappointments." But I gorged on and wallowed in her works, most notably The Earthsea Trilogy. I was not disappointed.

Someone once said there are two sorts of science fiction -- the one full of whiz-bang gadgetry and the other addressing the question, "What would it be like if a Martian landed in your backyard?" LeGuin was of the latter sort and had the thoughtfulness and critical thinking capable of weaving credible tableaux that drew this reader in. "Fantasy is the hardest sort of writing," my mother once said. "You have to be able to get the reader to step across the line between incredulity and credulity." LeGuin could do that. What other writer had the balls and capacity to construct a world in which men morphed into women and women morphed into men every six months or so? She was not a coward.

I suppose I might weep at LeGuin's death, but that provokes the question of why I do not rather take joy that such a writer actually did exist? Yes, she won awards, but so what? Ursula K. LeGuin tripped me and I am very grateful for it.

couch potatoes organize

Sick of being harassed by the fit and nimble and wise? Perhaps this reality check is in order:
Fed up with colleagues who kept pressuring him to join workout sessions during his lunch break, the 39-year-old Berliner founded Germany’s first couch potato club.
Bertram says his Sofa Sports Association is proudly geared toward the non-vegan, non-overachieving, non-career-obsessed masses.
“I just didn’t like this constant pressure to improve myself,” Bertram said, adding that he is the antithesis of many young people in Berlin: Skinny, well-groomed but stressed.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"nucular," "axsed," "jagwires"

"Nucular" (used in place of "nuclear"), "axsed" (to replace "asked") and "jagwires" (instead of "jaguars") are three malapropisms that leave me unable to see how anyone ever got from the actual word to its popular, limping cousin. "More importantly" I can sort of comprehend as sounding cooler (and more adverbial dontcha know?) than "more important."

When I was a kid, advertisements on the backs of comic books -- besides being for Charles Atlas muscle-building and Red Ryder B-B guns -- included a book that would improve your vocabulary: "Use a word ten times in a day and it is yours," the ad suggested ... which in turn suggested that an improved vocabulary might contribute to a more august lifestyle.

In ninth-grade high school, one guy in the clan I hung out with, took a test and was found to have the vocabulary of a 35-year-old business man. We in the clan were all pretty wowed, but nonetheless felt a lingering sympathy for Tony, whose sole, burning, and almost single-minded desire was to get laid. Getting laid was an uphill chore since we all attended an all-male high school and Tony was not gay. (Yes, he eventually managed it.)

Mideast drones in Kansas

Combat has its particulars. A view. A target. A pulling of the trigger. It is nice, every once in a while, to slow down a bit and consider those real-time particulars. Some of those particulars, as in the middle of Kansas, require that the participating unit have a chaplain to ease the long-distance dis-ease felt by a unit paid to run the U.S. drones in the Middle East.

Who is the enemy and who thought this stuff up? And, once having thought it up, who presses forward into action that will take human lives. Is there a war without "collateral damage?" Is there really a reason or reasoning? If everyone is cheering, who will find the man or woman in tears? Seriously.

Anyway, this Guardian article, while a bit thin, is a story about particulars. The intoxicating marvel of machines is that they are perfect. The intoxicating marvel of human beings is that they are not.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

sex and the married chef

With politicians and other celebrity power players falling left and right in the United States in the wake of alleged abusive sexual behavior in the past, it is interesting to see how the Associated Press greeted the demise of Paul Bocuse, 91, "the pope of French cuisine."

American media's sexual feeding frenzy is, of late, palpable in its outrage and anguish. Hell, even the pope is in hot water. Evidence is credible, no matter how old. These are guys who deserve to have their feet held to the fire, although why Washington and Hollywood and sports venues and cathedrals cannot simply open a couple of upscale brothels (for men and women?) beats the socks off me: Monogamy has some good points, but failure to reconsider it is a bridge too far.

Anyway, here is the AP in its obituarial tiptoe through the tulips:
While Bocuse’s kitchens were meticulously in order, his personal life was on the unorthodox side. He acknowledged in a 2005 biography that he had been quietly sharing his life with three women — simultaneously — each with a pivotal role in his life.
“I think cuisine and sex have lots of common points,” Bocuse said before publication of “Paul Bocuse: The Sacred Fire.” “Even if it seems a bit macho, I love women.”
Was he lying or simply excusing his faults? Did he love women or simply love himself? Were his faults out of line with life? Was he mean and manipulative with his conquests? I don't know, but I do know that I think AP skirted an issue about which it might have been in full cry on this side of the pond.

I have to admit that I like this guy because his favorite ingredient -- contrary to my sincere and well-meaning doctors -- was said to be butter. When he was alive, my father once told me that his idea of a gastronomical treat was eating a stick of butter. Is there anything more inviting than something with the potential to kill you?

silly du jour

A silly received in email ... may lighten your load as it lightened mine:
I do not understand why prescription medicine is allowed to advertise on TV or why anyone would think of trying one of the medicines after listening to the laundry list of warnings of possible side effects.

But this is definitely an exception!
Do you have feelings of inadequacy?
Do you suffer from shyness?
Do you sometimes wish you were more assertive?
Do you sometimes feel stressed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, ask your doctor or pharmacist about Cabernet Sauvignon.

Cabernet Sauvignon is the safe, natural way to feel better and more confident. It can help ease you out of your shyness and let you tell the world that you are ready and willing to do just about anything.

You will notice the benefits of Cabernet Sauvignon almost immediately, and, with a regimen of regular doses, you will overcome obstacles that prevent you from living the life you want.

Shyness and awkwardness will be a thing of the past. You will discover talents you never knew you had..

Cabernet Sauvignon may not be right for everyone. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use it but women who would not mind nursing or becoming pregnant are encouraged to try it.

Side effects may include:
dizziness, nausea, vomiting, incarceration, loss of motor control, loss of clothing, loss of money, delusions of grandeur, table dancing, headache, dehydration, dry mouth and a desire to sing Karaoke and play all-night Strip Poker, Truth Or Dare and Naked Twister.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may make you think you are whispering when you are not.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to tell  your friends over and over again that you love them.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may cause you to think  you can sing.

The consumption of Cabernet Sauvignon may create  the illusion that you are tougher, smarter, faster and better looking than most people.

Please feel free to share this important medical information!


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Greeks tamp down smoking habit

Oh lord, another reason to feel 'left behind!'

In Greece, the rate of nicotine consumption -- smokers, in other words -- has plummeted. Addiction, like misery, loves company, and I am not exempt!
In [Greek] hospitals nationwide doctors think nothing of lighting up, in parliament MPs unabashedly puff away while police stations, invariably, are manned by officers with cigarette in hand. An attempt to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces has been merrily flouted from the day it was announced at the start of Greece’s economic crisis in late 2009. Such was the innate anti-authoritarianism of their customers, bar and restaurant owners declared they were simply putting ashtrays back on tables.
But if role models are in short supply in a country where even the health minister is prone to light up, recent studies have also shown a dramatic shift in attitudes towards tobacco. This month, Behrakis announced, the number of smokers had dropped 9.6 percentage points over the past five years. In 2012, his last survey, 36.7% of Greeks said they were either regular or casual smokers. In 2017 the figure had fallen to 27.1%.
Sometimes I do wish others would stamp out the desire to improve things. On the other hand, it is exceptions that burnish all rules.

pundits of yore?

For some reason, the ponderous pundits of the past rise up in my mind this morning. It is hard to remember the pre-internet days when the likes of Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, William F. Buckley Jr., or Eric Sevareid might deliver, with self-assured languor, not only the tableau of one national or world story, but also add a distinct sense that since these men believed in themselves, the viewer would be profoundly remiss if s/he failed to agree with that belief. Their deliveries all had a bit of Mount Rushmore about them. Mind you, this was in a day when television was just getting its majority footing around the country. It was a time when there were social and cultural connectives and starry-eyed kids were still told they could "grow up to be president."

Those seeking a taste of those earlier days can sample George Will in the Washington Post or elsewhere. How that man keeps from strangling on his own profundity beats the socks off of me.

Anyway, I always had the feeling that such men in the old days did not really care about the facts as much as they cared about their own ornate digestion -- rather than the viewer's -- of those facts. Yes, they were commentators, but there was always a soupçon of something extra, some egotistical little cowlick. Of course it was all sotto voce -- just a comfortable (or was it comforting?) presumption and assumption of power that should be allowed to spearhead a clear and uncluttered understanding of a situation. Upscale education, upscale intellect, upscale credibility ... and you were an idiot if you did not see it that way. Issues were not so much the issue. Or maybe I am just looking in the mirror.

I kind of miss what I always thought of somehow as arrogant assholes. Nowadays, the posturing has got the best of us and nothing is any longer educated. Everyone wants to be on Mount Rushmore. Demonstrable credentials need not apply. Facts, of course, are still given a seat in the nose-bleed section. And you have to ask now, as then, can thinkers actually think? True, there is showing off and showing off, but the veneer between clap-trap and well-dressed is thinner.

God bless the fucking internet: Not only are the facts not enough or worth digging into, now the deliverers beg for attention and beg and beg and beg until ... Wait! What were we talking about? Something about mountains, wasn't it? Mount Rushmore here I come. Have you noticed -- see pic above -- that they saved a place for me?

Friday, January 19, 2018

where the obscenely rich frolic

Last weekend the vicar of Freie Evangelische Gemeinde, the “English church” in the centre of the Swiss town of Davos was handing out the sacrament.
This Sunday holy communion is cancelled, because the church is one of more than a dozen Davos buildings that have been rented out to multinational companies for hundreds of thousands of Swiss francs during the World Economic Forum, the annual business “festival” which starts next week.
As more than 70 world leaders – including President Donald Trump, Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron – prepare to fly to Davos, the locals are packing up and leaving town

influenza echo

A hundred years after the Spanish Flu infected an estimated 500 million worldwide and killed between 50 and 100 million, the latest yearly bout of flu appears to be picking up steam.
NEW YORK (AP) — The flu season in the U.S. is getting worse.
Health officials last week said flu was blanketing the country but they thought there was a good chance the season was already peaking. But the newest numbers out Friday show it grew even more intense.
“This is a season that has a lot more steam than we thought,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One measure of the season is how many doctor or hospital visits are because of a high fever, cough and other flu symptoms. Thirty-two states reported high patient traffic last week, up from 26 the previous week. Overall, it was the busiest week for flu symptoms in nine years.
The 1918 flu epidemic killed my mother's mother. It also posed a conundrum for the U.S. government which was sending soldiers to fight in World War I by the only means they had ... closely-packed troop ships in which the chances of contracting the disease rose. For this reason, I think I remember reading, news about the pandemic was kept on the public down-low. The internet was not yet a twinkle in its daddy's eye.

LATimes newsroom unionized

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Los Angeles Times journalists have voted to unionize for the first time in the paper’s 136-year history.
The National Labor Relations Board on Friday announced results of a Jan. 4 newsroom vote.
Reporters, copy editors and other workers voted 248 to 44 for representation by NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America....
The Times vote followed rising discontent with working conditions as the paper slashed jobs and struggled with declining advertising revenues and falling circulation in the face of online competition.The Times vote followed rising discontent with working conditions as the paper slashed jobs and struggled with declining advertising revenues and falling circulation in the face of online competition.
Did I hear someone saying something about shutting the barn door after the livestock ran off?

the slavery of freedom?

Of all the things to fear in this life, I sometimes wonder if freedom doesn't top the list. Here is a Guardian article (yes, it takes time to read) that tickles and teases around the notion of a world without jobs.

Even if the lefties say so, still, there is something redolent and accurate about imagining a world more infused with freedom to do what you want with your 'free' time.

playing the game

And in the world of staking-out-a-position ... sort-of:

Donald Trump may love pissing on Pakistan as a safe-haven for 'terrorists.' He may cut off aid. And then, too, he may learn to genuflect to the nuclear-tipped neighbor of Afghanistan, the home of America's longest war.
-- WASHINGTON (AP) — As bad as President Donald Trump describes U.S.-Pakistani ties today, they can get far worse.
Over 16 years that included hundreds of deadly U.S. drone strikes, Osama bin Laden’s killing on Pakistani soil and accusations Pakistan helps insurgents that kill Americans, the reluctant allies never reached one point of no return: Pakistan closing the air routes to Afghanistan.
It’s an action that could all but cripple the U.S.-backed military fight against the Taliban. It could also be tantamount to Pakistan going to war with the United States.
Even if such a step is seen as unlikely by most officials and observers, Pakistan’s ability to shape the destiny of America’s longest war is a reminder of how much leverage the country maintains at a time Trump is suspending hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance.
In Thailand, a million-dollar collection of expensive watches has (in the public eye) put the lie to the ruling generals' promise five years ago to root out corruption.
-- BANGKOK (AP) — Entering their fifth year in power, Thailand’s ruling generals may be running out of time and it’s not for a lack of watches.
A growing uproar over the deputy prime minister’s mind-boggling array of luxury timepieces is damaging the military government’s image so badly that some observers believe it could eventually pave the way for its downfall.
Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan — a career military man who receives only a modest salary — has so far been spotted wearing a total of 25 opulent time pieces, none of which appears on his last declaration of assets. His belated explanation — that he borrowed them from friends — has been met with ridicule.
In Chile, the Roman Catholic Pope Francis hit a serious speed bump Thursday in his efforts to heal if not quell public outrage about the priestly pedophile scandal. Speaking as he left the South American country, the pope said that short of concrete evidence, he would view accusations against priestly offenders as "calumny."
-- SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Pope Francis accused victims of Chile’s most notorious pedophile of slander Thursday, an astonishing end to a visit meant to help heal the wounds of a sex abuse scandal that has cost the Catholic Church its credibility in the country.
Francis said that until he sees proof that Bishop Juan Barros was complicit in covering up the sex crimes of the Rev. Fernando Karadima, such accusations against Barros are “all calumny.”
The pope’s remarks drew shock from Chileans and immediate rebuke from victims and their advocates. They noted the accusers were deemed credible enough by the Vatican that it sentenced Karadima to a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes in 2011. A Chilean judge also found the victims to be credible, saying that while she had to drop criminal charges against Karadima because too much time had passed, proof of his crimes wasn’t lacking.
In doing this, the pope touched on one of the core difficulties of sexual abuse as it occurred in the past: The testimony is credible, but the case boils down to he-said-s/he-said. There are competing desires to punish the guilty and to adhere to a policy of innocent-until-proven-guilty. In this arena, volume is wont to replace facts. On the other hand, facts -- even circumstantial or uncorroborated ones -- be damned... sexual blackmail is a calumny that should not be brooked. Everyone takes a stand, frequently without folding in the fact that that stand is a choice for which the chooser is willing to take responsibility.

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest corporation in the world. You might think it could afford a little humility. But that's just my stand. Laying claim to a good name while indulging in bad acts -- it's a great game, but it won't wash forever.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reuters photos ...learning from Gandhi?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spins cotton on a wheel as his wife Sara looks on during their visit to Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, India. REUTERS/Amit Dave
A Palestinian girl looks through a plastic sheet as raindrops are seen, outside her family's house in Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
A crocodile that has had a motorcycle tyre arouund its neck for at least 2 years, sunbaths on a beach in Palu City, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Antara Foto/Mohamad Hamzah/ via REUTERS    
A murmuration of migrating starlings is seen across the sky near the village of Beit Kama in southern Israel. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

calling all hackers!

Hacking into and disrupting various internet data bases may give hackers a wonderful buzz, but it makes the rest of us nervous. It's a "privacy" issue, we whine as we proceed to reveal even more about ourselves on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like.

But here is a modest proposal to those fleet-fingered hackers:

Pick a day in the future -- sometime in the summer, perhaps -- hack into Twitter and Facebook et al. and shut down every or any reference to U.S. President Donald Trump. For just ONE DAY, block all transmissions as one might block transmissions from Islamic State or other so-called terrorist organizations.

All praise, all criticism, all parsing, all offense and defense, all news and fake news, all senders and receivers, assertions and counter-assertions ... anything that references Trump ... just...



Patriotism is not just for the patriotic.

Yes, I can hear the First-Amendment yowls, but that doesn't mean I can't dream.

Trump mental acuity test

Passed along in email was this -- what I am assuming was the actual mental acuity test that U.S. President Donald Trump passed with flying colors.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

and, in the fake "fake news" ...

News -- maybe it ought to be dubbed "fake" but it seems to be true... maybe it should be dubbed fake fake news ... hell, I dunno:
-- President Donald Trump asked that a cognitive test be included as part of his first physical exam.
Trump’s physician — Navy doctor Ronny Jackson — says the president achieved a perfect score on the test, which was included in last Friday’s medical checkup....
The doctor says he’s found “no reason whatsoever” to think the president has any issues with his thought process.
Have I misremembered or is Donald Trump Dr. Jackson's boss?

And, in the fuck-the-poor department:
-- WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday cut tens of millions of dollars in money for Palestinian refugees, demanding that the U.N. agency responsible for the programs undertake a “fundamental re-examination,” the State Department said.
In a letter, the State Department notified the U.N. Relief and Works Agency that the U.S. is withholding $65 million of a planned $125 million funding installment. The letter also makes clear that additional U.S. donations will be contingent on major changes by UNRWA, which has been heavily criticized by Israel.
-- NEW YORK (AP) — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has decided to reconsider a key set of rules enacted last year that would have protected consumers against harmful payday lenders.
The bureau, which came under control of the Trump administration late last year, said in a statement Tuesday that it plans to take a second look at the payday lending rules. While the bureau did not submit a proposal to repeal the rules outright, the statement opens the door for the bureau to start the process of revising or even repealing the regulations. The bureau also said it would grant waivers to companies as the first sets of regulations going into effect later this year.
The cornerstone of the rules enacted last year would have been that lenders must determine, before giving a loan, whether a borrower can afford to repay it in full with interest within 30 days. The rules would have also capped the number of loans a person could take out in a certain period of time.
If allowed to go into effect, the rule would have had a substantial negative impact on the payday lending industry, where annual interest rates on loans can exceed 300 percent.
-- Is Donald Trump the most corrupt president in American history? We may not be able to give him that title quite yet — after all, he’s only been president for a year. But he sure is working hard at it.

another nuclear oops

Japan’s public broadcaster mistakenly sent an alert warning citizens about a North Korean missile launch and urging them to seek immediate shelter, then retracted it minutes later – days after a similar error occurred in Hawaii.
NHK television issued the message on Tuesday on its news websites as well as on Twitter, saying North Korea appeared to have fired a missile at Japan. It said the government was telling people to take shelter.
Wasn't there once a song that included "killing me softly with his song?" Or, more relevant perhaps, another song titled "boom, boom ain't it great to be crazy?"

Trump's health sort of

WASHINGTON (AP) — A fuller readout of President Donald Trump’s health following his first medical check-up is expected later Tuesday.
Trump’s White House physician - Navy doctor Ronny Jackson - declared Trump to be in “excellent health” following last Friday’s exam at the Walter Reed military hospital in Maryland.
While waiting for a report that is unlikely to suggest anything negative, there were the following satirical observations (passed along in email) from the president's sister:
Trump’s older sister is not happy about the behavior of her little brother, the President of the United States.
Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s older sister and a United States Circuit Judge, told reporters over the weekend, “Donnie’s not acting right. ”
The 80-year-old also says she believes that President Trump might be forgetting to take his pills.
“I don’t recognize the Donnie who’s in the White House right now,” added Judge Trump Barry, who friends describe as very loyal to her younger brother.
“Donnie was never a smart boy, no matter what he tells you. In fact, the neighborhood kids used to call him ‘Donnie Dimwit.’ But recently he seems to be operating at an even lower IQ, and that’s not good for the country.... He acts like a hooligan, but it’s a cover-up — he’s really insecure and very tender underneath that stern facade. Frankly, I always thought he was gay."
Interesting that so much well-crafted imagination has to substitute for nail-'em-to-the-journalistic-wall reporting. Increasingly, the wet dreams that anti-Trump advocates harbor are the best anyone can seem to muster. Ho-hum, he's a liar -- so what else is new? Line after presidential line is crossed, but, well, the upshot is that there are no lines anyone is willing to or capable of drawing.

Monday, January 15, 2018

preserve the "gormless"

Hangin' around wondering if some connection might be made between a woman who is pregnant-out-to-here and is sometimes said to be "expecting" and the arguably youthful person who "died unexpectedly" the other day. Both have expected for whatever reasons. Both, in most cases, get fooled. So much for "expectations" great and small.

For whatever reasons as well, that thought thread led me to the word "gormless," a word I admire for no particular reason ... except, perhaps, if I were angry at someone and wanted to hurl an epithet, "gormless" has a great, insulting ring to it. A veritable pillar of a sound ... sort of like, "shit!"

But I wanted to check my footing and so offered "gormless" to Google for clarification and clarity purposes: Was it really a good epithet? Ahhhh, yes. It was. How nice to reestablish a friendly link!

But, wait....

There, spliced into Google's offerings was this comment: "According to, "gormless" does indeed mean "lacking in gorm", which was originally the middle-English word "gaum" or "gome", meaning "understanding, or attention". I would have to say that "gorm" as its own word has fallen out of the modern lexicon, though, and is not at all likely to be understood. Dec 30, 2010."(emphasis added)

What?! Not at all likely to be understood? Is everyone out there as gormless as I? This simply will not do and I implore all self-respecting readers to use this word at least ten times a day in the upcoming month.

You think I'm kidding?

Gormless twit!

some journalistic warp and weft

I'm not sure that "consoling" is exactly the right word to apply to the Russian military drills announced Monday. But the rocket exercises seem to "fit" with this morning's and other recent news.
-- MOSCOW (AP) -- The Russian military is conducting massive drills involving truck-mounted intercontinental ballistic missile launchers.
The Defense Ministry said maneuvers involving Topol-M and Yars missile launchers began Monday.... 
The maneuvers are the latest in a steady series of Russian military drills. Russia's armed forces have intensified their combat training amid tensions with NATO over Ukraine.
-- ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) - Pope Francis said on Monday he was really afraid about the danger of nuclear war and that the world now stood at “the very limit”.
His comment, made as he flew off for a visit to Chile and Peru, came after Hawaii issued a false missile alert that provoked panic in the U.S. state and highlighted the risk of possible unintended nuclear war with North Korea.
Asked if he was worried about the possibility of nuclear war, Pope Francis said: “I think we are at the very limit. I am really afraid of this. One accident is enough to precipitate things."
 -- BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) -- Japan's prime minister says his country is seeking to strengthen relations with Serbia and other Balkan countries....
Abe also said North Korea is "a great danger" and noted that its missiles have the capacity to reach Belgrade. 

-- JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli leaders slammed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Monday for a fiery, invective-filled speech against President Donald Trump, in which he proclaimed the U.S. role as arbiter of the Mideast conflict over, attacked the administration's envoys and described Israel as a colonial conspiracy.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Abbas had "lost his senses" and had given up on the prospect of peace negotiations in favor of open confrontation with both Israel and the United States. Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the pro-settler Jewish Home Party, said the speech represented Abbas' swan song.
-- Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has accused the US of forming a “terror army”, after Washington announced plans for a 30,000-strong force inside Syria to protect territory held by its mainly Kurdish allies.
On Sunday, the US-led coalition said it was working with its Syrian militia allies, the mainly Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), to set up the new border force.
 -- Ending one of the fiercest jetliner-order competitions in recent memory, British budget carrier easyJet will buy jetliners from Europe's Airbus instead of adding to a fleet that now consists entirely of planes made by U.S.'s Boeing Co. [a military hardware provider]
-- WASHINGTON, January 8  - The Trump administration is nearing completion of a new "Buy American" plan that calls for US military attaches and diplomats to help drum up billions of dollars more in business overseas for the American weapons industry, going beyond the assistance they currently provide, US officials said.
President Donald Trump as early as February is expected to announce a "whole of government" effort to ease export rules on purchases by foreign countries of US-made military equipment, from fighter jets and drones to warships and artillery, according to people familiar with the plan.
If you can't convince 'em, then scare 'em: The "terrorism" is not within: It's out there, waiting to pounce. And Bernie Sanders shouts into the wind ...   yes, I know that at least he's shouting:
If we stand together against powerful special interests we can eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and tackle climate change.
Right, and if pigs had wings, I'd be able to find my American flag lapel pin. I'm so sick of being sick of stuff. Maybe I've just turned into the arch-typical Trump enthusiast.

newest Trump acquisition?

Am I wrong to imagine that the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai might provide Donald Trump with a perfect addition to his branded properties?
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Ritz Carlton in Saudi Arabia’s capital may be reopening its doors in time for Valentine’s Day, after serving for several months as a prison for the country’s elite caught up in what the government has described as a crackdown on corruption.
The Ritz Carlton’s website on Monday showed bookings available beginning Feb. 14.
The motto "Lock 'em Up in Style" comes to mind. Or "Hooker International?" Or maybe there could be a naming contest.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

joy and perfection

Is there a difference between joy and perfection? I think perhaps there is.

Joy subsumes and includes failure.

Perfection cannot match that success.


Passed along in email:

1. "The word “shithole” was projected onto President Trump’s D.C. hotel Saturday."

(CNN) President Donald Trump is "in excellent health," White House physician, Dr. Ronny Jackson, said following his physical Friday. But it's not clear whether any mental health tests were conducted, despite urging from mental health professionals.
Jackson received an urgent letter from dozens of doctors and health professionals Thursday urging him to perform basic mental health tests on the President.

nuclear tactics

The scare-'em-to-death tactics of those who have no policy for peace was ratcheted up in Hawaii Saturday when, for about 40 minutes, thousands were advised that there was a nuclear missile bound from North Korea to their land of milk and honey and hula skirts.
For nearly 40 minutes people waited. Then came the second mobile alert: someone hit the wrong button, there was no missile.
Some people abandoned cars on the highway and others gathered in the interiors of their homes to wait for what seemed like the inevitable, a blast that would cause widespread death and destruction.
The message sent statewide just after 8 a.m. Saturday read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s administrator, Vern Miyagi, said he took responsibility for the mistake. He said officials would study the error to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Obviously, it was enough to scare the pee down the pope's leg. Panic was understandable: Where could anyone hide and be safe and save the children and save themselves and ... well ... survive? Strangely, as in the past, no one seemed to care about the results awaiting anyone who actually did survive. Is survival actually something someone might wish for? Seriously, is it?

John Hershey's "Hiroshima," which was published in 1946, makes it clear that those who survived the nuclear bomb dropped there in 1945 were consigned to a world of ravaged anguish. Flesh slipped from bones; radiation's fallout was gruesome ... the list of awful consequences made it clear that a quick incineration might have been preferable. But no one mentions that stuff -- the hell of the heaven of survival. Wishing to survive may be a natural human instinct, but that doesn't mean survival is the best possible outcome.

The U.S. capitalized on the Cold War fears of nuclear attack:
Beginning in 1954, the entire nation took part in an annual defense drill called “Operation Alert.” For the first exercise, on June 14, 1954, the FCDA pretended that nuclear bombs had hit about 100 American cities....
During the drill, everyone was supposed to get off the street and find shelter while government officials and volunteers practiced what their duties would be in an actual attack scenario.
I remember participating in one such defense drill (late 1950's or early 1960's?) in New York. While everyone headed for his or her designated shelter during the drill, I sat outside on the steps at Columbia University and considered what it might be like if a bomb actually hit New York, if it decimated the skyscrapers that were everywhere, if the resulting rubble might not entomb those who had fled to safety in subway tunnels or other below-ground shelters. And if they did survive and did manage to dig themselves out, what world might await them? Instant incineration, however frightening, struck me as the only sane alternative. But no one seemed or seems to want to consider the fallout from the fallout... no food, no water, no medicine, no help that could possibly help enough. Which is worse, dying or waiting to die?

The flashback takes on a new rainbow of color with the likes of Donald Trump as president. Bellicosity is one of his trademarks. Bad-mouthing the North Koreans and setting up other straw men to replace an earlier day's Cold War villains ... it's all a wonderful diversion from the needed jobs, improved health care, infrastructure repair and other peaceful pursuits that take time and patience and tenacity and responsibility. If we're at war -- and Kim Jong Un seems a less deranged adversary than some -- then thinking things through can be set aside: We need a bigger and better military establishment; we need a better-heeled bevy of industrial giants bellying up to the federal trough; we need to wave the flag and rattle the sabre and ... what better way to accomplish all that than to scare the pants off the people who pay the bills?