Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"The Vietnam War"

Is anyone else watching "TheVietnam War," the 10-part, 18-hour reprise from documentarians Ken Burns and Lynn Novick? I watched the first two segments and probably will see it through, though I am not entirely sure why.

It is like twice-shed tears ... horror in the first instance, horror in the second, but not exactly the same. I paid good money so your children could be raped within and without. I am so sorry and yet sorry doesn't cut it.

It isn't going to change and Jack Kennedy said it all when, in the second episode, he admitted to being trapped between a rock and a politician's hard place ... he could not do the right thing and expect to be re-elected, which is what every politician who ever started or prolonged a war longs for.

The sorrow mushing around inside as I watch is so grinding that I find myself fleeing into the humor of Monty Python and the old Catholic stand-by, self-abnegation.

Only of course it's fucking-A not funny at all.

I am so sorry.

To kill or maim your children. Where do I get off imaging, let alone implementing, that shit? I was in the pencil-pushing army during the early part of Vietnam. I was never put in a position where I would (and I know I would) kill someone. If that was a bit of luck, the luck ran out for 58,000 Americans ... and I helped.

In Buddhism, I read somewhere that Gautama (the one referred to as "the Buddha") once looked into the future and wept. If only once-cried tears could wash away what so desperately wants to be washed away.

I can't cleanse it, but I reserve the right to shudder and whine.

how nuts is Donald Trump

A long piece by Matt Taibbi was passed along and reads well, if anyone has the time. Basically it examines precisely how nuts Donald Trump is and can anyone nail his hide to the barn door.

Taibbi is good.

knock-out boobs

Passed along in email was what is probably a bid for attention, but I think it deserves credit for a certain originality:
“It was a beautiful morning and the sun was rising. I was going full pelt, leaping over the waves on the shore when suddenly I felt something heavy smack against my chin.”
“It felt like I’d been sucker-punched and it knocked me off balance and I fell over. No one else was around and when I looked down I saw my right boob had come out.”
“It was like someone had thrown an uppercut at the exact moment I jumped a wave. It could have knocked me out.”

not-becoming an 'adult'

[A] new study show[s] that teenagers are increasingly delaying activities that had long been seen as rites of passage into adulthood. The study, published Tuesday [today] in the journal Child Development, found that the percentage of adolescents in the U.S. who have a driver’s license, who have tried alcohol, who date, and who work for pay has plummeted since 1976, with the most precipitous decreases in the past decade.
The declines appeared across race, geographic, and socioeconomic lines, and in rural, urban, and suburban areas.
I feel mildly -- but only mildly -- reassured that a study supports my anecdotal feelings.

Onward into the new, increasingly-insipid, feudalism.

Monday, September 18, 2017

sayonara "Rolling Stone"

As a boy child, being discreetly told "your fly is open" was like an electric cattle prod: Quick, find a corner in which to secretly (sort of) zip up! It was e-m-b-a-r-r-a-s-s-i-n-g.

With age advancing, having an unzipped fly is pretty ho-hum: What did you expect to see, after all, and how embarrassing could it be? A pecker-peek or two never hurt anyone. With female genitalia on frequent view on television these days, I'm inclined to start a lottery as to when full-frontal males will make their television debut.

I'm not sure why it did, but a passed-along article about the potential sale of "Rolling Stone" set this train of thought off in my head. I never was a reader, but I was aware of the clout the tabloid wielded in its heyday. Liberal, counter-culture, with insistent doses of the likes of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Barack Obama and other heavy-hitters from politics and entertainment. Those days seemed to be filled with people of stature and imagination. These days, the stars seem to be pip squeaks by comparison ... but of course that is just my aging mind: Actors and actresses are like latter-day cars: They all look the same to me. The naked-er they get, the more hidden they become.

Your fly's open? Once that sent shivers down the spine. Now ... who gives a damn about your pecker and why should they? There are no more secrets and what secrets there are are so banal and are crafted by such mediocre magicians that ...

Well, you tell me: Is there a reason to zip up? Or even un-zip for that matter?

Is there a raison d'ĂȘtre for "Rolling Stone?"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

manacles for the masses

The brazenness of authoritarianism gains traction:
Government bodies are increasingly turning the tables on citizens who seek public records that might be embarrassing or legally sensitive. Instead of granting or denying their requests, a growing number of school districts, municipalities and state agencies have filed lawsuits against people making the requests - taxpayers, government watchdogs and journalists who must then pursue the records in court at their own expense.
Is Kim Jong-un running for president in 2020? If the Democrats shoot themselves in the foot again, he can run as a liberal against Texas or whatever. :)

my scaredy-cat

One of the things I notice about getting older is that as various other capacities (muscle, mind, etc.)  recede, the capacity to be afraid seems to add to its own bounty. Perhaps it is the increasing distance at which age stands from the flow of daily, work-a-day life. Or perhaps it is just my innate scaredy-cat.

Whatever ... One of the things that honestly scares me is the tendency of a younger crowd to rely on smart phones and other electronic gadgets as a way of feeling connected and assured.

A couple of months back, I stopped perusing BBC news because too many of the stories that popped up seemed to reflect other stories I had previously read. I read four or five news wires per day. And then I read about Amazon, Google and other 'smart' sales giants that had ways of tracking and associating and providing a reader with things s/he had shown an interest in in the past.

This tactic may make sense when it comes to selling the widgets of life, but when it comes to news, I want to know things that range afield from what I know already and what I am persuaded by. I want to make the choice of mental fodder and as often as not, it is what does not suit the cut of my preferential jib that brings me the most information and depth and meaning. OK, my taste is my taste.

But then I think of today's work-a-day world and its addiction to smart phones et al. If news is absorbed solely on devices that know the preferences of its users, how well-informed are they likely to be? Everyone agrees with me -- my smart phone tells me so. This is the real news, so my leanings must be correct.

This scares the shit out of me not because I have some halo-ed understanding that exceeds yours but rather because a universe that agrees with me is likely to be fake news in spades ... and my kids among others are likely to believe it and premise their lives on it and promote ever more ingrown views by means of it. Racism, for example, gets a boost. Misogyny gets a hand up. Dictatorship. Democracy as one big hoo-rah applause section. War. .... the list goes on and on.

It's bad enough trying to sort out my own biases without having them reinforced.

And the same goes for others.

Yes, I can probably keep a low enough profile so that this dumb-as-a-bent-spoon universe will largely pass me by. I'll be dead. But my kids?

Margrethe Vestager, one woo-hoo woman

Margrethe Vestager
She’s the woman who took on Google and Apple and Starbucks… The European competition commissioner – and inspiration for the Borgen TV series – discusses her fight for fairness against powerful corporate interests. 
Some people make me happy to be alive.

They also suggest to me that investing in flak jackets might not be a bad idea.

alone, so to speak

An interesting reflection on solitude/loneliness. 
The pursuit of loneliness: how I chose a life of solitude

Saturday, September 16, 2017

the Cuba mystery redux

WASHINGTON (AP) -- There must be an answer.
Whatever is harming U.S. diplomats in Havana, it's eluded the doctors, scientists and intelligence analysts scouring for answers. Investigators have chased many theories, including a sonic attack, electromagnetic weapon or flawed spying device.
The line I particularly like is: "Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the investigation." They are not allowed to talk about it although they haven't got a clue. Ignorance (instead of intelligence) is now subjected to blackout.

We can't talk about what we don't know although we don't know what we can't talk about.

honoring veterans

A lot of preliminary advertising has gone into touting documentarian Ken Burns' 10-year take on "The Vietnam War." The 10-part serial begins Sunday/tomorror night at 8 EST. The Public Broadcasting System, which can preen about its refusal to advertise, has advertised the hell out of it.

And I guess all that nudging and advertising has gotten to me in the sense that I woke up this morning wanting to make a banner or button campaign for the Twitters of this world. Literally -- have buttons made up and give them away. Something short and sweet and on target, like my internet friend Olcharlie's (approximate),
"If you really want to honor veterans, then stop making them."
Even if my fixed-income bank account would allow it, the energy required to stand on the street and give buttons away for free would probably lose steam fast. Another wet dream. I need a magic lantern and a willing genie. Strange how, the older I get, the more confused I am about why my thoughts do not automatically convert into an accomplishment ... a reality. Talk about trailing off into la-la land.

War is so self-serving and obscene. Self-, self-, self-, self-serving. Screaming doesn't help, but, like Trump supporters, sometimes I want to scream.

Friday, September 15, 2017

pollution writ small ... or is that "large?"

Passed along in email:
“Eventually more and more trash and debris started to move through,” he said, adding that the critter lost its grip, then latched onto a white, wispy piece of a plastic bag. “The next thing it grabbed was a Q-Tip.”
Hofman said he wishes the picture “didn’t exist” — but it does; and now, he said, he feels responsible “to make sure it gets to as many eyes as possible.” He entered the photo and was a finalist in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition from the Natural History Museum in London.
“I want everybody to see it,” he added. “I want everybody to have a reaction to it.”

British aristocracy runs burnished con

Anyone -- and I suppose I mean the uncalloused, well-educated, mostly-white Americans -- who can watch TV's "Downton Abbey" with a revering eye after reading this article passed along in email ... anyone who can bend a knee and admire the decorousness of it all ... is in need of an attitude adjustment or a pre-frontal lobotomy.

The British aristocracy has put in place a con job that rivals, if not outruns, the Roman Catholic Church for brazen bullshit. The cultured and well-clipped realms have a price and the aristocracy is not the group paying it.

But GAWD how nice they talk.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

unsolved sonic mystery in Cuba

More than 20 Americans and several Canadians have been affected. But "affected" by what remains a mystery.
“None of this has a reasonable explanation,” said Fulton Armstrong, a former CIA official who served in Havana long before America re-opened an embassy there. “It’s just mystery after mystery after mystery.”
Suspicion initially focused on a sonic weapon, and on the Cubans. Yet the diagnosis of mild brain injury, considered unlikely to result from sound, has confounded the FBI, the state department and US intelligence agencies involved in the investigation.
Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, several officials said, the latest signs of more serious damage than the US government initially realized. The United States first acknowledged the attacks in August – nine months after symptoms were first reported....
[A]lmost nothing about what went down in Havana is clear. Investigators have tested several theories about an intentional attack: by Cuba’s government, a rogue faction of its security forces, a third country like Russia or some combination thereof. Yet they’ve left open the possibility an advanced espionage operation went horribly awry, or that some other, less nefarious explanation is to blame.
In the world of weird shit, this has got to rank near the front of the queue.

blessings on all stories

Blessings on all stories.

This is not to say that all stories are equal. That would be fake news. Some stories are boring as hell. But the fact is that someone blesses them, fake or otherwise and therefore, in some overarching sense, "blessings on all stories."

I grew up with stories in various forms. I loved them. And still do. One format was music.

When I was a kid, songs had stories embedded within them, as for example "The Golden Vanity," (scroll down -- last song) which was far from the touchy-feely happy-ending songs that followed in its wake. Songs were not afraid, in that time, to be sorrow-filled. Kids were allowed to face death and sorrow. It was part of growing up.

Or Pete Seeger's "Talking Union." A shit-kicker that was also in-bounds for even a kid.

Or, somehow without words for this kid, Strauss' "Blue Danube" waltz. Waltzes have always told stories, yummy stories, in my mind.

But allowing these shards of music to float up this morning, I realized it was another marker of age. I never really moved on. I stayed with the stories I thought were blessings and others probably find hopelessly out of synch. Rap music, for example, never entered my consciousness as music any more than sandpaper did. It was coarse and without art and immersed in a self I had no interest in or love for. True, there was Beethoven et al to soar me or tear-stain a cheek, but I took that as a natural progression from the blessings I had already chosen.

My blessings are still hung up in the backyard -- clipped to a loopy cord by clothes pins now long out of fashion.

Old man toe-tapper. Old man Romantic. I guess it will have to be enough.

when zero was 'invented'

[S]cientists have traced the origins of this conceptual leap to an ancient Indian text, known as the Bakhshali manuscript – a text which has been housed in the UK since 1902.
Radiocarbon dating reveals the fragmentary text, which is inscribed on 70 pieces of birch bark and contains hundreds of zeroes, dates to as early as the 3rd or 4th century – about 500 years older than scholars previously believed. This makes it the world’s oldest recorded origin of the zero symbol that we use today.
Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford, said: “Today we take it for granted that the concept of zero is used across the globe and our whole digital world is based on nothing or something. But there was a moment when there wasn’t this number.”
The article linked above finds it understandable that zero should occur in a country that was culturally at peace with the void. Europe hadn't quite got there.

Why do I have this nagging feeling that this "discovery" is far from being the last word on the subject? Why -- if so -- was zero out of the equation earlier ... in other places?

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ACLU sues Dept. of Homeland Security

And, in the latest depredation passing for legal legitimacy:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has engaged in an unconstitutional practice of searching without a warrant the phones and laptops of Americans who are stopped at the border, a lawsuit filed on Wednesday alleged.
Ten U.S. citizens and one lawful permanent resident sued the Department of Homeland Security in federal court, saying the searches and prolonged confiscation of their electronic devices violate privacy and free speech protections of the U.S. Constitution.
DHS could not be immediately reached for comment.
The lawsuit comes as the number of searches of electronic devices has surged in recent years, alarming civil rights advocates.
Here's the complaint.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

where the shit hits the London streets

Learn a new word: "Fatberg."
A fatberg weighing the same as 11 double decker buses and stretching the length of two football pitches is blocking a section of London’s ageing sewage network.
The congealed mass of fat, wet wipes and nappies is one of the biggest ever found and would have risked raw sewage flooding on to the streets in Whitechapel, east London, had it not been discovered during a routine inspection earlier this month....
Thames Water must break up congealed mass of fat, wet wipes and nappies in Whitechapel sewer to prevent raw sewage flooding streets

N.Korea/U.S. kabuki ... aka bullshit

In light of the undeniable reality of mutual deterrence, the North Korean "crisis" of 2017 can most accurately be seen as a media puppet show put on by Chairman Kim and President Trump for their own public relations purposes.
If you had to choose between North Korea's leader and America's, it seems to me that Kim Jong Un is the less unstable, primarily because he is less ignorant. Dancing with Donald Trump may be stimulating and/or diverting, but this is basically two self-important power players flonging their dongs.

nudging into open water

Nosegays and goiters ...
Why not?

Since getting old is largely a matter of shrinking, language and mental acuity, like physical size, diminish. A word or two will do where once woven lattices prevailed.

Once I was 6'2". Now, I imagine, I am roughly 6' or a little shorter. I don't measure. I don't want to know. I don't want it rubbed in. But it's not only physical size.

The mind, like the Arctic ice, breaks into islands and the polar bears of yore find no regal realm or footing. There is a place to walk, yes, but it's slippery and the child inside these somehow new skates slips without grace from here to there. Much of the time, he feels as if he were somehow on his ass with...

Nosegays and goiters.
Short dips into what once was a long, smooth oneness.
Perhaps with another small island marked "pulchritude."

Things that once fit and performed a wholeness are laughing, I imagine ... laughing with the narwhals.

But not me. Shrinking is "most discommoding," as the butler might say.

Butlers never laugh....

Oh yes, "feuerzeug" can come too, together with "nosegays" and "goiters." In the army, when learning German from the get-go, I fell in love with the word "feuerzeug" or "lighter." The word made me laugh. Delight. Why? I haven't got a clue, but even today I can smile like the dancing flames it produces.

Monday, September 11, 2017

J.D. Salinger wrecks my nap

J.D. Salinger
My nap schedule was interrupted today when I got hooked on a television biography of J.D. Salinger, the quasi-reclusive author of "Catcher in the Rye" among other works. What was it that dragged me to just-five-more minutes and then five minutes more?

Salinger was born in 1919 and died in 2010. He participated in World War II and came away what he was throughout the war -- a writer. He was very particular about his works. Changing even a comma in a manuscript was grounds for fury. He loved his works, his creations, his world. And he was blessed and cursed with frequently-cheering people who agreed with his outlook: There was something sublime and elevated about the world in which he lived ... the world in which they lived. Do we call it "culture?"

And it was this, I think, that sucked me in -- the holiness of creating and culture and elevation. It was a world I grew up in and never really understood as a child. A very god among the gods. But what does a kid know about gods except ... the anguish of distance.

It's slipping away now, I suspect -- that pervasive agreement about what is good and cultured and widely agreed to. Good writing. Good art. Good music. A cloud of wonder high, high in the sky. If we all agree, then it must be so.

Strange to think that so many of those who disdained God nevertheless enthroned their own god. Perhaps it is just a human need -- to hook up with the high and mighty and proclaim a belonging and warmth and blessing within that fold.

Watching the TV, I could see a bit more clearly the insanity I sensed as a child -- the reason I might be set aside in favor of god.

But I am not pointing the finger solely at the arts. I really do sense that it's an adult pastime ... the selection of a very god of very gods .... the one that is big, bigger, biggest ... the Vatican among lesser churches.

My mother had such a church. She had friends like Carson McCullers and Truman Capote who had similar churches. My father longed to join a similar church... and thought he might join when emulating the icy realms of James Joyce.  But there's no faking it in the world or a demanding god.

Later in life, I would read a lot of books, partially as a means of making peace with the god whose lash I grew up with. Salinger seemed unutterably lonely and yet lonely with only one escape route before him -- the route still deeper into loneliness and demand and very god of very gods.

I watched the show and missed my nap and am forced to admit I have been tarred by the brush with which I tar others ... not the greatness part, but the glory and the magic and the music of it all. No doubt it was responsible for the few times I came close to killing some helpful art expert who offered to 'explain' a work of art.

Sept. 11, 2001 re-embedded

It's Sept. 11 again -- the day in 2001 on which the demolition of the world trade towers in New York took place. Approximately three thousand died at four sites on that day. Again and again the "terrorists" have been named and blamed.

I wonder if the terrorists will ever be named.

Yes, I am one of the few who feel more trust in the science adduced or demanded and the insurance payments made. [Interesting how many links have been disabled since I last tried to look up a really good documentary that came out shortly after the tragedy. I believe copyright is the most frequent excuse.]

I do not generally leap on any conspiracy bandwagon that comes along. In this case ... well, the evidence I recommend anyone with energy to look up (engineers, chemists, demolition experts ...) makes this case different.

Asbestos abatement ain't cheap. An eight billion insurance payoff might be nice.

Neatly snipped steel I-beams....
A mesh embedded specifically to ward off errant projectiles ... like planes.

One (but not the one I wanted) documentary.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

rarest and most secret silk

Chiara Vigo at her 200-year-old loom.
For 24 generations, the secret has always lain with the women.  Royalty and pontiffs have been recipients of sea silk. It is mentioned in holy texts. But it has never been sold -- that would defy the magic. Now the tradition hangs, as it seems, by a thread. Why is it that a good secret cannot simply be protected and left to rest?

“If you want to enter my world, I’ll show it to you,” [Chiara Vigo] smiled. “But you’d have to stay here for a lifetime to understand it.”
Byssus, or sea silk, is one of the most coveted materials in the world – but after more than 1,000 years in the same matrilineal family tree, this ancient thread may soon unravel.
Vigo has been offered enormous prices. Of course she turned them down.


erase the blackboard

I suppose it's an old-fart's plaint, this image that came to mind this morning ... of the grade-school days when, at the end of all those academic throes, some child would be assigned to erase the huge blackboard at the front of the room. Math, English, science, geography ... all the hard work that had filled the space, been erased, been written over, been improved ... during the day would be eradicated.

The eradication might be half-baked and accomplished with erasers, which would leave behind a sheen of not-quite-clean dust ... OR ... a wet cloth might be applied and eradicate figures, letters, outlines, dust and whatever all else and take the blackboard back to a black tabula rasa. Black, black, black. Clean and new, as if it had never been used.

These days -- specifically today -- I wonder if someone might not just eradicate everything and begin again. No more Donald Trump and his ill-educated tap-dancing; no more North Korean playtime threat; no more multiple hurricanes swirling in and around the Caribbean; no more additional troops to Afghanistan; no more military equipment for police departments around the country; no more hard-luck stories of coal miners or others trying to get by; no more Democrats or Republicans; no more TED talks ...

Erase it all and begin again ... assuming I'm around and have not been likewise erased.

Silicon Valley welcomes right wing

The leaders of the world’s biggest technology companies are liberal on social issues and trade, but anti-union and anti-regulation.
... [M]any online services now prize “personalisation” above all else. And the last thing the entrepreneurs of the gig economy want is trade unions enforcing collective bargaining, bringing legal pressure to protect workers’ rights and generally putting sand in the gears of disruptive innovation.
The Silicon Valley moguls will doubtless eventually have their way with the Democrats, just as the Koch brothers have theirs with the Republicans. That kind of money always talks, especially in American politics. But for anyone interested in workers’ rights and labour solidarity the prospects don’t look good. In Silicon Valley, it seems, trade unionists are yesterday’s men and women.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

the handwriting is not on the wall

The increasing illegibility of students’ handwriting has prompted Cambridge University to consider ending 800 years of tradition by allowing laptops to replace pen and paper for exams.
Academics say that students are losing the ability to write by hand en masse because of their reliance on laptops in lectures and elsewhere.
Sarah Pearsall, a senior lecturer at Cambridge’s history faculty, said: “Fifteen or 20 years ago, students routinely wrote by hand several hours a day, but now they write virtually nothing by hand except exams.
This feels to me like a trend of the future and makes me wonder what happens when the electricity goes out.

Friday, September 8, 2017

gunmaker adopts 'most ethical sales policy'

Heckler & Koch, the German weapons manufacturer whose guns are estimated to have killed more than 2 million people since the company was founded in 1949, has quietly adopted the most ethical sales policy of any gunmaker in the world.
The company has pledged no longer to sell arms into warzones or to countries that violate corruption and democracy standards, including Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, or any African countries.
Though never officially announced, the new strategy was included in Heckler & Koch’s latest yearly financial report, and confirmed at an annual general meeting in August.
Let me get this straight: There are "corruption and democracy standards" out there somewhere? On the other hand, if you go around shooting everyone, pretty soon there won't be anyone left to shoot.

platics invade salt

Sea salt around the world has been contaminated by plastic pollution, adding to experts’ fears that microplastics are becoming ubiquitous in the environment and finding their way into the food chain via the salt in our diets.
Following this week’s revelations in the Guardian about levels of plastic contamination in tap water, new studies have shown that tiny particles have been found in sea salt in the UK, France and Spain, as well as China and now the US.
Am I wrong or have all sorts of foods begun telling me on their packages that they contain (a good thing, I assume, since it's being advertised) "sea salt?"

reintroducing tigers

Leave it to Kazakhstan to lead the way!
Wild tigers are to be reintroduced to Kazakhstan 70 years after they became extinct in the country....
Poaching and habitat loss has decimated the wildlife on which wild tigers once fed, including the kulkan, or wild donkey, and bactrian deer, both native to central Asia. The animals will be reintroduced to the nature reserve to provide enough food for the tigers when they are relocated from elsewhere in Asia.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

LGBTQ and free speech

Giving a TV platform to a ‘gay cure’ quack highlights a trend. The idea that free speech guarantees the right to incite hatred of minorities must be resisted
A well-argued column in The Guardian. It ranges well beyond the "gay cure" clap trap.