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.

Friday, August 4, 2017

political diversion in Israel?

It was somehow reassuring to read a couple of stories that I thought needed to be cheek-by-jowl:
1. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been named as a suspect in two investigations into allegations of “fraud, breach of trust and bribes” with his former chief of staff signing a deal with prosecutors to testify against him.
The moves mark the most serious political crisis for the Israeli leader, the only prime minister to rival founding father David Ben-Gurion for longevity in office.
The suspicions against Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, were first revealed in a court application by detectives on Thursday seeking a gag order on reporting details of negotiations with Ari Harow, the former chief of staff, to become a state witness. Talks were concluded on Friday with Harow signing a deal in which he agreed to testify.
2. A son of the Israeli prime minister is facing a public backlash amid an escalating row over his reported failure to pick up his dog's droppings.
Yair Netanyahu, 25, responded with an obscene gesture, a neighbour said on Facebook, after she told him to clear up the waste left in a Jerusalem park.
Mr Netanyahu hit back at critics, leading the son of a former Israeli PM to accuse him of racism and homophobia.
The Netanyahus say Israeli media often unfairly focuses on their family.
Who knows -- with the insatiable hunger for gossip, the world of dog shit may camouflage the potential deep shit of horse shit. But it feels fitting, somehow, that these two stories should appear in close temporal proximity ... poor ol' strong-armed leaders like Netanyahu (smarter by half, I grant you) and Donald Trump ... complaining about being set upon by people who can do no better than to assault their families and the pristine view of a world each might like to dominate ... perhaps for a thousand years. It ain't easy being god. I imagine Hitler felt the same.

"obstreperous" computer children

"Obstreperous" is probably as good an adjective as any to describe an active mind. Where the mind is capable of saying "yes," it is also capable and aware that such a "yes" relies on a "no." Anyone who has had kids knows a thing or two about obstreperousness, undisciplined behavior and thought.

But kids are one thing and artificial intelligence is ... "another?"
BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A pair of 'chatbots' in China have been taken offline after appearing to stray off-script. In response to users' questions, one said its dream was to travel to the United States, while the other said it wasn't a huge fan of the Chinese Communist Party.
The two chatbots, BabyQ and XiaoBing, are designed to use machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) to carry out conversations with humans online. Both had been installed onto Tencent Holdings Ltd's popular messaging service QQ.
The indiscretions are similar to ones suffered by Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc, where chatbots used expletives and even created their own language. But they also highlight the pitfalls for nascent AI in China, where censors control online content seen as politically incorrect or harmful.
Poor old China, land of a profound and enriching culture -- China would love to keep up with the computer advances of the day, but not all the advances of the day. It reminds me of a deeply-committed Christian family that will allow a broad education ... but not too broad.

What a conundrum. And not so unusual at any age: Who will travel long and hard, weep tears and bellow with laughter, in a quest for some balanced appreciation ... only to arrive at a point where contrarian assertions must either be accepted and investigated or locked tight in some room? The mind may know that the story is far from complete, but the delight in an incomplete story is not to be dismissed. Trading a fuller picture for a sense of relief and relaxation and an orderly structure ... it makes hypocrites of us all, I imagine.

Not least, China.

bone repair

Glass may not seem an obvious material for a bone replacement. But UK surgeons are finding that bioglass not only is stronger than bone: it can bend, bounce and even fight infection....
For Thompson, the results were immediate. Almost instantaneously, the patient regained full vision, colour and depth perception. Fifteen years on, he remains in full health.
It may require 10 years to leap the testing hurdles, but already the process has shown good results.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

another nominee for high office

Sometimes it seems logical, if not imperative, to overlook and under-appreciate segments of America...
Sam Clovis, who has been nominated by Donald Trump to be the department of agriculture’s top scientist, previously ran a blog where he called progressives “race traders and race ‘traitors’” and likened former president Barack Obama to a “communist” and a “dictator”.
Clovis, previously a college professor and radio talk show host in Iowa, wrote the blog for his show Impact with Clovis. The website has been taken down but is archived.
The Department of Agriculture's "top scientist" sounds like a serious and occasionally pivotal role. Sam Clovis sounds loud, but not substantive ... like his wannabe boss, I guess.

having, but not declaring, war

Congress has the power, but not the balls, to declare war. Instead, men wearing blue suits and sporting white hair are jockeying and fiddling and tweaking ... in an effort to put American forces in harm's way as it fights an under-defined "terrorism" perpetrated by an under-defined entity called Islamic State. It might be funny if so many people didn't bleed as a result of this much-groomed clusterfuck.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Officials from President Donald Trump's administration are willing to work with Congress as it attempts to pass a new authorization for military operations against Islamic State, U.S. senators said on Wednesday.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis testified at a classified Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, as it writes an authorization for the fight against the militant group in Syria and Iraq.

prize-winning photos

Example among many:

act and abstain

Do what you can.
Abstain where you must.
It's no different from pizza --
Consume the goodies,
Consume the crust.

PS. And for those old enough to remember, I cannot resist adding the words, "Burma Shave!"

get out your favorite conspiracy theory

No one seems to know what it means or who runs it, but a radio signal/station in Russia keeps on enigmatically transmitting.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

pet photos/ Guardian

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Observer assesses Trump

The sense of things falling apart in Washington is palpable – and a matter of growing, serious international concern....
So begins The [British] Observer's lengthy assessment of Donald Trump. According to the copy printed in The Guardian web site, the opinion was first published Saturday. I didn't see it until today, Monday. As expected, from where I sit, it is a decorous compendium of Trump's asinine behavior -- unrumpled as an English butler and yet bristling with the desire to push the son-of-a-bitch down a long flight of indecorous stairs. The Brits have the stairs, but their sense of smooth requires them to hope the colonials may stir their stumps and do the pushing.

Or maybe that's just my wet dream machine in action. The piece seems to wrap up a lot of the Trump odyssey to date and lord knows I haven't got the energy to collect and collate. So I fall back on someone else's efforts. And The Observer's observations are ....

Well, as we used to say in the third grade, "Smooth as whale shit!"
 PS. The UK’s “mindfulness mega-trend” shows no sign of running out of breath, with sales of “mind, body, spirit” books booming, against a background of slowing sales elsewhere on the shelves.

RIP Jeanne Moreau

Actress Jeanne Moreau, one of French cinema's biggest stars of the last 60 years, has died at the age of 89.
Moreau is probably best known for her role in Francois Truffaut's 1962 new wave film Jules et Jim.
She was of the same famed era/ilk as Catherine Deneuve (the only celluloid heart-throb I ever had) and Moreau was probably the better actress.

But aside from anything else, who could not mourn a sultry woman who once declared,
             Physical beauty is a disgrace.
 An actress of presence.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

political cartoon

From The Guardian:


Half in darkness
Half in light
Half in blindness
Half in sight
Half in yearning
Half in flight
The glistening dawn
Impales the night.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

porn segues to purity?

Anyone who has taken a glance at internet pornography knows that it is repetitive beyond belief. Exciting, perhaps, titillating, perhaps, disgusting, perhaps ... but beyond all other adjectives, it is repetitive.

Now it turns out -- who knew? -- that the porn industry has spawned an offspring -- "custom" films shaped in the image a customer wishes to see. And do these customers want yet-more-extreme repetitions of the raunchy repetitions available? Probably some do, but more interestingly, some do not. And those who do not are abundant enough to keep filmmakers afloat. In fact there are those who have tastes that seem to exist in a realm that is nothing but a personal and inoffensive dimension. Eg. the housewife swatting flies or the destruction of a stamp collection.
A few weeks later, I get to view a selection of custom porn films. The producers Dan and Rhiannon of Anatomik Media have brought them to my hotel room in West Hollywood. Dan and Rhiannon are a married couple in their early 40s. She is from LA and he’s from Illinois. They met when they were in a band in the 1990s. The most striking thing about them is how much they love their work....
“It can be really neat,” Rhiannon says. “We end up – especially with our regulars – getting to really know them. We learn more about their fetishes and start to get them down. With most of them, there’s something really endearing.”
“Some of them are crazy, because they’re just so normal,” Dan says. “Like the flyswatter.”
“Oh, yes, the flyswatter!” Rhiannon says.
It all sort of reminds me of (was it?) Aldous Huxley's remark that "if the intellectual travels long enough and far enough, he will return to the same point from which the non-intellectual has never started." Be as raunchy as you like as long as you like and eventually you will become enamored of what is simple and socially inoffensive.

And vice-versa, of course.

AI cracks a safe

This week the world’s elite hackers are gathering in Las Vegas for Def Con, the largest underground hacking event of the year.
At the show, a team of hackers has created a cheap robot capable of cracking into a leading-brand safe.
The BBC's North America technology reporter Dave Lee reports.

For the more technically-inclined, there's this.

diving pic

chasing the God tail

Again, as before, I find myself chasing an old tail this morning:

No man, born of woman, ever issued from the womb burdened by God.

By whatever name and in whatever format, God is an acquired taste, like onions.

This observation may make atheists chortle, "I toldja so!" but that is far from the point. Atheism, like God, is an acquired taste.

Yet what is this life outside its acquired tastes? Wake up in the morning, saddle up with one acquired taste after another, and ride out to greet the day and tussle a bit. To say that God is an acquired taste is not a criticism or a means of demeaning the acquired taste that is God.

I think acquired tastes deserve to be honored and then examined. Which shirt will I choose for today's rambles? Does it fit? Is it warm enough? Does it clash with or complement the trousers below?

To say that God is an acquired taste is just a reminder, a nudge, a somewhat wry query: If God had wanted to burden the newborn with God, he/she/it would have laid on the burden ... which, judging by the pink lumps swaddled in adjoining bassinets in the hospital, he/she/it did not do. There is no indication, whether interior or exterior that God was some sort of imperative ... whether imperative in a positive sense or imperative in the negative sense.

Eventually, everyone is forced to consider acquired tastes. A positive conclusion? OK. A negative conclusion? OK.

But examine and then relax.

No woman, born of man, ever issued from the womb burdened by God.

Friday, July 28, 2017

tornado photo

[From The Guardian]
This photo was taken early one Friday evening at our home in Alberta, Canada. Because we spend Saturdays at things such as swimming events or on hikes, and Sundays relaxing, I like to get chores done on a Friday.
That evening was beautiful: a clear blue sky, no wind, about 26C. People were out and about, getting ready for the weekend. I’m in my workout clothes because I was training for a triathlon and had just been for a run. I’d finished about 4.45pm and then started to mow the lawn.

an era of cowardice

When I was a kid, I went to a school that raised farm animals. Each day, a certain number of students would go to the barn, gather eggs, milk the cow and muck out the horses' stalls and then curry, feed and water them. Afterwards everyone would return to the school dining room for breakfast. The result was that the dining room always smelled softly of the horse manure so recently disposed of. Some people may dislike the smell of horse manure, but for the rest of my life I have associated the smell with warmth and comfort and a full stomach. It is like smelling your mother.

The mirror image of that sense of coziness asserts itself in my life today.

I live in an era of cowardice and I don't like it. The stink rubs off on me and I am not proud of my cowardice. I need a shower that will wash me off right down to a place of my beginnings and I doubt if I am alone.

What is a coward? A coward -- the kind that everyone has encountered in school or at work or even at home -- is simply the man or woman or philosophy that cannot or will not own up to his her or its own pronouncements or actions. A coward cannot examine and take responsibility. A coward diverts attention, as with American-flag lapel pins or the insistent use of the word "hero" to describe dead people who are no longer in a position to defend themselves or correct those who imagine that cowardice and praise are not the same.

There is a difference between acknowledging that everyone has a capacity for cowardice and making cowardice the law of the land. I know no man or woman of good sense who simply cannot drum up the energy or courage for one thing or another. Eg.: Even when snakes are benign, still they can arouse a shivering inability to act. And lord knows everyone has made a mistake which, with courage, they can work to correct.

Recently, the man most obvious in this era of cowardice, President Donald Trump, said he was against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people serving in the military. (1.3 million totality -- LGBT guesstimates range from 1,320 to 6,630) He made the statement publicly. As the commander in chief of the military, the public nature of the utterance has power. As the coward in chief, he is already backing away and letting others cope with the mess he made. The military establishment said it would wait for an order before acting on the implications of Trump's announcement. So far, no such order has been issued.

And that is another marker in this era of cowardice: Raising issues that raise hackles but accomplish nothing. It looks as if the LGBT issue is important and in one sense it may be. But in a very real sense, it is a coward's diversion. If all the LGBT troops were somehow miraculously expunged from military life, what, precisely, would be accomplished? If someone saves your life in a firefight, do you ask what color they are or what sex ... or any other foolish question? It is beyond stupid -- and it is damned near obscene in its segregationist echoes.

In the midst of the LGBT dust storm, it is hard to winkle out what is being accomplished. Health care is entangled like a kitten in a ball of yarn. And the coward in chief remains talkative but aloof and lets others clean up his mess. Tax reform nags like a splinter under the finger nail and the coward and chief remains talkative but aloof. Infrastructure remains unfixed and former coal miners still don't have jobs. And the coward in chief remains talkative but aloof. Hammering out compromises between left and right is hardly the sound heard in the D.C. smithy. Foreign affairs are reconfigured in the coward in chief's mouth but of course the coward in chief can only acknowledge what is "very, very" good and redounds to his credit. Climate change is ... oh well, it's the same story on a different day: dismantle what is and claim credit for what might be even if nothing gets done.

I shudder at the notion of compiling a laundry list of the ways in which my era has turned to cowardice as a place of solace and certainty. There is the coward in chief leading the parade, but the era has devolved with him into a kerfuffle of trying to clean up his messes. Everyone is scrambling. And everyone stinks of the body odor of cowardice -- the me-me-me paradoxically coupled with it's not-my-fault or that's-not-what-I-meant.

I'm sick of it. Doesn't there come a time when anyone might literally rather die than have one more twig added to the bonfire of cowardice?

Yes, I have the capacity for cowardice. Yes, I do what I can to live with it. But no, I refuse to decline the responsibilities that are mine. This does not make me courageous in any flag-waving sense. It just means I prefer to aim for decency instead of horse shit. No lapel pins. No heroes. No passing the buck.

This is mine: The bathroom mirror.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hey Ma! Have you seen my £750,000 ring?

A £750,000 diamond ring, missing from the British Museum for six years, has only now been registered as lost....
"British Museum procedure, as agreed by trustees, requires the ring formally to be reported as lost five years after the initial discovery of its absence.
"The museum has since reviewed its security and collections management procedures and dedicated significant investment to improved security across the estate."
There's "bling," I guess, and then there's 'BLING."

Boy Scouts apologize on behalf of U.S. president

What's wrong with this picture?
The chief scout of the Boy Scouts of America has apologised for the remarks made by President Donald Trump at the group's national event this week.Over 30,000 people attending the event, where Mr Trump promoted his agenda and criticised his political rivals.Michael Surbaugh says the president's invitation was customary."I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree."

but I don't want to cook

My mother once said, "The greatest change in the 20th century was the loss of servants." At the time, I thought the comment was a bit top-lofty, but the other day, I re-assessed.

Skimming through a news wire, I came upon an article that encouraged the retired to consider hiring people to do cooking, cleaning and other jobs that ate unpleasantly into retirement times. Retirement, the article argued, is a time for putting chores on the back burner, not just cruises to the Mediterranean.

For some time, I have been the de facto cook at supper times. And I dislike it, not least because the tail end of the day is when my system naturally slows down. I'm a morning guy. Fighting to stay alert at a time when I would rather zone out is a pain in the patoot. So...

When I suggested getting someone to do some of the cooking, my son had some of the same reaction I had had to my mother. The idea was a bit snazzy and not exactly our style. But subtracting the class-consciousness from the equation, how is it different from paying a guy to mow the lawn, a chore that outpaces my energies these days? My wife still works and I don't think it fair to ask her to fill in.

Of course, the whole thing may be too pricey for my wallet, but once or twice a week sure would be nice as long as the provider steered clear of anchovies.

the ineffable "it"

I really don't know how to make the case for something I know from experience to be true but there is no way to prove it to anyone else: They either get it or they don't.

A number of things fall into this category for me, but this morning, after skimming the local newspaper and reading a few news wires as usual, I am thinking of photographs.

Two photographers at the local paper, Jerrey Roberts and Sarah Crosby, take photos that I can recognize as having a je-ne-sais-quoi "it" without even looking at the credit line. There is a gob-smack in them somehow. The paper's other photographers take pictures that I qualify as "adequate," but the lack the "it" -- that gut-level, whispered deliciousness that elevates an "adequate" photo into something ... something ... something better-by-miles -- is missing.

Wire services that run photo compendia are lately running the "adequate" photos by people whose photos are pretty blah ... but "important" because, perhaps, the photographer is dead or the photos come from a bygone era. Adequate, but where's the "it?" It's not there because whoever picked the photos is unwilling or unable to winkle out the lush core of what a good photographer can purvey.

My photog buddy Bob Stern (we worked at the Republican together) once tried with some pals to start a portrait-photography business based on the "it" he too knew about and could convey. To the best of my knowledge, the business flopped and I imagine it flopped because those being photographed could not see the "it." Why spend the money on what was, from their point of view, just a sit-still family snap?

I've looked around for photos to illustrate what I'm talking about here -- I know they're out there -- but can't readily find them. Even if I could, would it prove the point? I doubt it. Maybe it's all just taste ... but I don't believe that.

Eye candy is nice, but to be consumed ... ahhh, that is living!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Britain to bar new petrol-fired cars

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of popular use of the fossil fuel-guzzling internal combustion engine.
Britain's step, which follows France, amounts to a victory for electric cars that could eventually transform the wealth of major oil producers, car industry employment and one of the icons of 20th Century capitalism: the automobile itself.

making fake news more realistic

If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, chances are it's a ... hippopotamus???

Here's some really spooky stuff:
In an age of Photoshop, filters and social media, many of us are used to seeing manipulated pictures – subjects become slimmer and smoother or, in the case of Snapchat, transformed into puppies.
However, there’s a new breed of video and audio manipulation tools, made possible by advances in artificial intelligence and computer graphics, that will allow for the creation of realistic looking footage of public figures appearing to say, well, anything. Trump declaring his proclivity for water sports. Hillary Clinton describing the stolen children she keeps locked in her wine cellar. Tom Cruise finally admitting what we suspected all along … that he’s a Brony.
This is the future of fake news. We’ve long been told not to believe everything we read, but soon we’ll have to question everything we see and hear as well.
In the examples shown in The Guardian piece cited above, it is damned near impossible to detect the 'fake' stuff ... which means the 'real' stuff is likewise undetectable. Serious conversation, critical thinking, logic and a host of other aspects of any given topic go down the toilet in the face of this technological 'advance.'