Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Erik Prince of darkness and his sister

The videos of Betsy De Vos equivocating and avoiding questions in her confirmation hearing are certainly worth watching if you care at all about public education. 

Meanwhile, her brother Erik Prince - a mercenary - is allegedly bombing Libya. It's like reading a fucking SF novel.

Motor Scooters of the Bad Kind

Found this album - Montrose, by Montrose - on my Zune. I can't remember buying it or even putting it on the machine, but since it was there...

It takes me back. I remember listening to Bad Motor Scooter in 1974. Quite a guilty pleasure as I was a total rock snob and Montrose were very much low-rent. Listening again, it's interesting how much they resemble the equally second-side-of-the-Monopoly board Guns 'n' Roses. Rock Candy in particular sounded like it could be on Spaghetti Incident. Maybe it was?
For everyone who thinks Michael Jackson invented bad-meaning-good and those who know better and think it was invented the previous year, in 1987, take a listen to Bad Motor Scooter. No idea why bad meant good in 1974, but it apparently did. Unfortunately for me, as a Brit, and innocent of slang, it really did conjure up getting on a spavined Vespa and trying to ride across the prairies with the ol' parka flapping in the breeze (or lack of breeze as you putter across the continental divide).
The first line is "If you get lonely on your daddy's farm just remember I don't live too far" (which he characterizes as less than a day away). Do rock bands still cater to people who get lonely on their daddy's farm? I don't think so. Maybe all those coffeehaus mandolin-plunkers failing to remember the people on their daddy's farm is the cause of all this Heartland Angst we've heard so much about during this election cycle?
Rock Candy's first line is "You're rock candy baby, you're hot sweet and sticky," one of rock's premier dental caries tracks. Like Bad Motor Scooter, it conjures up a vivid image, but in my case it's not of a horny woman dripping honey, but more like finding a lump in my school blazer pocket and drawing it out to find a clipped bus ticket stuck to a hard candy covered in lint. (Unlike Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar On Me, which takes me away to a dream place where I've staked the whole band spreadeagled on top of an anthill.)
Very much an American Bad Company, all in all, I think.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

My State of the Onion Address

So, where are we today, then?

The American media has totally tripped over its feet on the ‘fake news’ thing, as I (and many others) predicted. It’s currently completely unable to tell fact from fiction from disinformation and all anyone has to do to send them to a corner sobbing is to point at an article and say ‘fake news!’. It works every time and they have no defense against it. They could try solidarity, but that’s like saying the left should try solidarity. It never happens.

Of course, the media is all over Trump’s tweets, or “Look, a squirrel!” as he could well call them. This weekend, Martin Luther King Day weekend, Trump tweeted something marginally ignorant about a Black lawmaker and former Civil Rights leader. The press yapped after it like hunt dogs after a red herring, while Rex Tillerson, the architect of a $500bn Exxon deal with Russia (currently in limbo, under Obama’s sanctions) was being questioned about his ability to act neutrally towards Russia as US Secretary of State. No time for probing articles on this dilemma – we have a tweet here belittling a nice person that requires dissecting at incredible length!

One piece of news we know isn’t fake is Christopher Steele’s “piss party” dossier. The European news sources know Steele, know his integrity and believe his story, or at least believe that Steele believes it. (And, remember, the bombshell inside is not that Trump may have been filmed with micturating prostitutes – there are another 34 ½ pages in the report and many of them document Trump’s ties with Putin.) The BBC reported that there is another source for this information – and other sex tapes. It’s possible that the Russians do not mind one of their kompromat tapes being disclosed to Trump as it alerts him they may have more. It still works as blackmail. Dismissing it in the press seems to have worked as the media is currently hopeless, but that’s not who this release of information was for.

One good thing about this all is that Trump is less likely to start WWIII with Russia. Obama was gearing up to do so – did you know the US just sent troops to Poland? – and Clinton would have followed suit. Unfortunately, Trump seems to want to start a war with China instead. Putin may reel him in – Russia has been trying to friend China recently – but if not, the US is in for at least a trade war with China.

Trump’s picks for major positions in goverment all seem to be based on picking a campaign donor who has the least experience and the greatest hatred for the system he (or in one case she) will be running. This is, I assume, designed to gut the various government offices. I’m not too sure that’ll happen as governments do not shrink in size and the minions will have plenty of stalling maneuvers ready to save their own jobs. All it’s likely to accomplish is each agency having an expensive, injurious inner struggle.

In most cases a PEOTUS would pick a Pharma lawyer to head FDA, and the Pharma lawyer would automatically run the administration to the benefit of his old colleagues, both because it’s what they know and because it raises huge barriers to entry by newcomers, reducing competition. (Which is why, for instance, pharma startups are bought out by Big Pharma as soon as they have a successful drug nearing market.) Trump is apparently favoring a man who cannot stand FDA, Balaji Srinivasan, and who appears to think that getting drugs from lab bench to market quickly so that the patients can trial the drug themselves is a better way of approving drugs than the traditional (8-12 year long, $1bn-costing) New Drug Application procedure. As a fellow lab testing person, I tend to agree with his assessment of FDA but I’m not convinced that Yelp et al is the best way to trial drugs. To give one reason out of a whole basket: the people who die are not going to be leaving reviews, a well-known statistical problem literally called Survivorship Bias. As for his ability to run FDA or run it into the ground, he’s a lab guy, I already mentioned that. Oh, and he appears from his now-deleted tweets, to be a Bitcoin bro and a pro-posthuman/singularitarian bro. (I didn’t see any fedoras or MRA stuff in his tweet… otherwise, definitely a bro.)

I think it’s quite likely that the GOP know they’ve unleashed a monster and are planning to impeach Trump soon after the inauguration. I’m sure they love Pence, a joy deficient religious extremist who feels healthcare and welfare are frills, while the ‘religious freedom’ to discriminate against LGBT people is a must-have. (He also consistently votes against environmental protection bills, believes that “smoking does not kill”, that the planet is “cooling”, and is a creationist.) They'll be much happier with him in charge. On the other hand, they seem genuinely afraid of Trump - authoritarians gotta authoritate, I guess. He's the alpha and they're all currently doing a great job of cringing and baring their necks. What a world.

It's going to be an interesting four years. (If we survive that long.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Read the room, lady.

The photo is from a Twitter account called Tomsauced.

It reminded me of a time, long ago, when a friend of mine at college attempted suicide - twice. After the second attempt, the hospital asked her to go to group therapy sessions. She went to the first session and was back way early. 

"What happened? Didn't talking it out help?"

"We all sat around on wooden chairs in a circle and the group leader asked to us to think about what we really most wanted in our hearts."

"Go on."

"We thought about it for a minute, and he pointed at the first woman and she said, 'I could really do with a nice cup of tea.'"

Mind you, I've no idea what I would have said if a group leader asked me that question. I can't imagine answering it honestly, or even actually knowing what it was before deciding whether to answer honestly.  "Read the room" sounds like the best policy. 

Ethics in the 21st Century

Since I've been living in the US - almost 30 years now - and certainly since I successfully applied for citizenship ten years ago, people (and institutions) have been stuffing my head with pro-Founding Fathers propaganda.
They were unutterably brilliant, foresightful, and crafted a Constitution that was a shining beacon for all humanity, so clever and succinct and yet encompassing answers to all the little foibles and great schisms that can wrack man's attempts to craft a perfect union.
Then you read something like this where half a dozen fuckers squabble like 9 year old D&D players miffed over a poor DM decision and there isn't really a way to tell them to cut it out.
I remember seeing a little youth riot in my home town in the seventies (feat. 6 youth) and a policeman caught two of them by their collars and banged their heads together. The Founding Fathers should have thought to have that rozzer's ancestor transferred to the US so he could do it to these fucktrumpets.

Sodium Bicarbonate

Funny I saw this meme today because yesterday I realized I knew the answer. I was making scones and got the baking powder out of the pantry and reminisced that up until I was 34, I never knew there was a difference between baking powder and baking soda. 

And then I realized that was it - like most people I'd always wondered how you knew you were a 'grown up' and like most, I didn't feel grown up in my 20s, but by the time I was in my 40s I'd stopped thinking about it. And that must have been the tipping point. 

When you first realize there's a difference between baking powder and baking soda is when you become an adult.

Since I've decided bicarbonate of soda is the secret of life, here's Ivor Cutler singing about his Holy Grail, Bicarbonate of Chicken.

I couldn't find one about the Zen journey and baking powder, so this old chestnut will have to do instead.
At first I thought the wording I remembered

When studying Zen, there is a mountain
While studying Zen, the mountain disappears
After studying Zen, there is a mountain

was a quote from Alan Watts, then realized it must have been D T Suzuki, but when searches on their quotes failed I went with good ol' Donovan's wording for a pinnable meme.

Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly is 40 years old

I have always loved this book. The extended comic riffs - like the discussion about the microdot factory and the argument over the bicycle gears - are positively cackle-inducing, and yet the inevitable slow disintegration of the main character is as dark and bleak as all hell. And at the end, perhaps, a faint glimmer of hope, but not for anybody we've seen in the book. To underline that point, it ends with a factual list of the drug-damaged friends of the author, and the book is dedicated to them.
It's also one of the few books where I can recommend the movie version, by Richard Linklater, which is artistically crazy (but it works) and features Robert Downey Jr. in excellent form as the sinister narcissist Barris.

The Quietus reports on the 40th anniversary of A Scanner Darkly : Collapsed Horizon: Philip K Dick's A Scanner Darkly, 40 Years On  by Eli Lee , January 15th

Sunday, January 15, 2017

QMS Voldemort

Oh no ominous email received:

It turned out to be a boring article on 'dark data' such as audit trails. that's probably more ominous than thinking Lord QMS Voldemort was on to me

Wall of meat

Anything Trump does is my fault.

Oh look, a new tactic. 

1. Everything the Dems did is the Dems' fault. 
2. Everything bad about Clinton was going to be the Dems' fault if she'd been president.
3. Since she was bad, she couldn't win, so Trump is the Dems' fault. 
4. Everything bad about a Trump presidency is therefore the Dems' fault. 

It's always the Dems' fault. Thanks, Obama!

Since I first posted that a couple hours ago, I saw yet another one on twitter. 

Insurance for everybody, says Trump

I suspect it's only available from Big Rock Candy Mountain, Inc.'s insurance plans.
Washington Post: President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama’s signature health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody,” while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid.
Note it's "access" for everybody.  Not "available" to everybody. I personally have access to Davos and the VIP areas of SXSW - if I pay tens of thousands of dollars I don't have.  But it's hard to charge The Donald with sophistry, if only because you feel he doesn't know any three syllable words.

Post Modernism and Surkov

This is an interesting article from Jacobin but I'd quibble with the following statement: 

"The effect of the fake-news narrative was the opposite of what was intended: now the president-elect can stand behind the podium and throw the accusation right back at none other than CNN, the international symbol of American cromulence. It was an empty concept, just waiting to be recuperated by the far right."

As far as I can tell, it was invented by the far right, with exactly that outcome in mind. Here's a portion of an Adam Curtis documentary discussing Vladislav Surkov, the Russian who invented - or at least weaponized - this postmodernist confusion. 

Posting frequency update

These days I post mostly on Facebook. This is where 'They' (heh heh heh) WANT you to post, but it's inescapable as that's where everybody *is* and that's where you get the reactions.

But Facebook belongs to Whatsisface, and is carefully tailored to ensure there are walls around the product -the writer- to keep readers within Facebook itself. A few break out. I read exactly one person (out of a billion or so FBers) who can encourage me to read his blog, and one more where I'll click the 'read more' button to get the whole post because it's vaguely interesting.

But you can't find those posts again. They belong to Facebook and disappear in the swirl in a few hours. The web, where Google at least gets to index text, is a much better medium if you have something to say that is meaningful for longer than a wedding anniversary, or a birthday.

Accordingly, I'm going to try to put some of those posts here as well. Some will be pretty trivial, but at least I (and you) will be able to find them here in a week, or a month, if it suddenly becomes relevant, or a historical footnote.

Some few of you may then have to suffer through them twice. I hope this will not be too damaging.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What's your country's second language?

Fascinating glimpse into the undercurrents of the world - a map of each country's 'second language'. Mexico's is Nahuatl - no surprise there, but Australia's is Mandarin. And Mandarin China's is Cantonese (Hong Kong Chinese). Saudi Arabia's is Filipinx Tagalog, and England's is Polish.
(You have to click on it to get the smaller details.)

From the Indy. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Turtle goes green

I'm still fuming over being told that alligators have moss growing on their backs, and we know that it isn't pondweed because 'pondweed is not hairy, moss is hairy' (full story here).

So I am pleased to present a turtle with HAIRY PONDWEED growing on its back courtesy of a tweet by Chris Van Wyk.


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