Monday, September 30, 2013

Hope kitty makes it, but what about me?

I live in a disfunctional world where "Government Shuts Down as Congress Misses Deadline"  is on the same page as "Trapped kitten rescued from storm drain".

 photo shut_zpsb2ce1f6d.jpg

I just fucking give up. None of these people deserve my votes. My usual strategy, which is "vote for the one who is likely to kill the fewest people" is still in effect, but jeesus h, I  wish I had a better choice.

Happy Birthday Marc Bolan

He would have been 66 today. I won't rewrite what I wrote last year -it's still up, here.

1page 1 by accidentatstercolinem


Here's the Disco 45 magazine displayed as a slideshow.



Created with flickr slideshow.


If you want to read each page in detail,  it's in my Flickr set here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Slightly late review of Crawdaddy magazine, 1966-1968

I was recently pointed at this ad-hoc archive of Crawdaddy magazine from 1966 to 1968.

Crawdaddy was the first magazine of critical rock'n'roll writing in the US. Founded in 1966 by a zine maker, it went on to become professionally published and highly-regarded. Critics Jon Landau, Richard Meltzer and Sandy Pearlman began writing there; a later issue included the famous interview of Jimmy Page by William Burroughs.

Trawling my way through the downloaded wordage this morning, I eventually discovered that I can't really follow it. American rock criticism has always been largely incomprehensible to me. As an avid NME, Sounds and Melody Maker reader in the seventies, I would read thousands of words of British rock criticism a week, and never had a problem understanding what the writers were getting at, even if I didn't know the music in question. I'm sure some allusions and puns went over my head, of course, but I would read an article and come away enlightened on the subject and often entertained and amused by the writer. I could count on Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray and Mick Farren to provide readable prose on a consistent basis. Even when I branched out into the rare British monthlies, such as Dave Laing's short-lived Let It Rock, I discerned no appreciable difference from the weeklies writers in readability terms.

But American critics? Once, early on, I made the mistake of buying a Greil Marcus book, because it sounded totally cool. Mystery Train, Images of America in Rock'n'Roll. With a bit on Robert Johnson. Doesn't that sound cool? It has a Mystery Train in it, and it's about images of America. Always loved music, always loved folklore, and that Mystery Train...always loved ghost trains!

It turned out to mostly be about Elvis, the Band and Randy Newman - my god, what?! - and did not have any cool images of America or actual mysterious trains in it whatsoever, just page upon page of  earnest prose whose entirely unmysterious train started nowhere and went nowhere while visiting Nowheresville Not-Station on the way. It's a long stream of consciousness ramble. I can't describe it without rambling myself, but there's a read-inside-this-book on it here.

A couple of years ago, I bought Marcus' The Old Weird America, because it sounded cool. It's about Old America, and where it's weird! Everyone wants to meet the old weird America, right? Chautaquas in Chappaqua, Snake Oil in the Dust Bowl and probably even mysterious trains! The back cover blurb says, "This is Greil Marcus's acclaimed book on the secret music made by Bob Dylan and the Band in 1967, which introduced a phrase that has become part of the culture: "the old, weird America." It is this country that the book maps - the "playground of of God, Satan, tricksters, Puritans, confidence men, Illuminati, braggarts, preachers, anonymous poets of all stripes"." Doesn't that sound cool? Fooled again. Apart from the fact that it's about the Band, again, which I kind of glossed over when I read the description, it's yet another long hike through the sulci and gyri of Marcus' brain which is suspiciously short on ghost trains. I didn't manage to finish it.

 photo aebaed48-1a00-4fb8-a813-e0157aa450a8_zps184442d7.jpg

However, given the chance to trawl through the well-known-to-me late sixties music and political scene with a bunch of the best budding rock critics the world has ever known (according to their Wikipedia articles) I went ahead and browsed through Crawdaddy to see how Richard Meltzer, Samuel R Delany (yes, that one) and Paul Williams (not that one) stacked up - would they be Greil Marcuses or would they be Charles Shaar Murrays?

Well, Paul Williams got off to a good start with me. He was a science fiction fan, and wrote the definitive book (IMO) on Philip K Dick, Only Apparently Real, which I enjoyed no end. As an SF fan, he was familiar with APAs and publishing Zines, and transferred that knowledge to rock music, producing Crawdaddy as a hand-typed, mimeographed zine. He mailed copies to the labels and manufacturers, which eventually got him enough advertising revenue to begin professional publishing. The first issue of Crawdaddy is the plainest thing imaginable, but the fire and passion for music comes through. Williams appears to write the majority of the first few issues.

Unfortunately, as other writers join in, most of what else comes through is wordcount. Some of these things are about as long as a mystery train. The Samuel R Delany pieces are as convoluted and incomprehensible as his books and I had to close my eyes while I read the piece in October 1968 on Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company that praises the men's bodies and completely blasts Joplin's. I'd read that people called her ugly, but I hadn't realized they'd put quite so much of it into print. The article reads like a YouTube comment written by a professor of literary post modernism.

Paul Williams, an engaging and practical writer, was definitely not the norm at Crawdaddy. The standard is the up-your-own-bum writing of the Greil Marcus variety. There's the article called Richard Meltzer Interviewed, for instance, in March/April 1968. It's mostly about a tongue (which sucks pumice in summer and is imperceptibly tiny).
The basic unknown tongue is, if you care, you know you can sort of fit it out through all four levels of Plato's divided line, you know, all those levels. It's increment of change, increment of mere awe, parenthetical awe, objectified awe or any of that, and lastly, increment of taxonomic urgency you know, like you just gotta label it tongue. You know; there's a tongue or there was a tongue right there. Oh it's a musical transition jargon thing.  [...]
Oh, aardvark tits! I guess I'm like an arab in a bernoose standing almost near a telephone pole watching a swarm of red efts go by...

Neil Louison in the February 1968 issue:
And even the Stones predictated greatness doesn't get in the way of our jocular communion. For all the time we have been in awe of our condition and no one could deny that we have also been singing. For the consciousness of the request does not have to be shackled by a life context and therefore the character of the action toward the black and the mystical, toward the forest of satyrlike formal whoredom, toward the land of rigor-mortal idylls. And this is precisely where the Stones lead us. it is no wonder that much of the album adds up to unmitigated rhythmical passage.  
No life/cognition duplex is around to convolute the direction of our jog in the country. The spiritual whisking of Their Satanic Majesties Request is roughly comparable to the post detergent rejuvenation which Jack Cassidy brings to us with his mandolin-picked bass. The difference lies in that Airplane trip with satyr-Jack and the boys and girls is implemented and derived merely from technique and therefore leads us only to formal appreciation and so only to limbo. In contrast, the Stones are quite consciously being historically cosmic--directed toward a primally erotic cornucopia. 
Thirty years on from reading the NME and for that matter, tony Brit critic Tony Palmer's book Born Under a Bad Sign, vocabulary no doubt much larger, experience of new weird America infinitely richer, since I've lived here twenty years, and I still can't understand this stuff. But it must be just me as everybody agrees it's great.

Edited for clarity 09:25 am; added italics to title 10.06 pm




Friday, September 27, 2013

Men on Page 3

No, not men actually printed on Page 3, that would be unthinkable. Men commenting on Page 3.

The Graun prints a piece from "the presenter of Radio 5's Men's Hour" who thinks the time has come for the sun to set on the Sun's Page 3 titstravaganza:
I used to love Page 3 – but the time has come to banish breasts from the Sun
The presenter of Radio 5's Men's Hour on how he finally came to the conclusion that nipples in our newspapers have had their day – and why other men should do the same 
But why? Is it because it demeans women, as women have been saying since its inception?
The long-standing arguments about female objectification are, I'm sure, perfectly valid. But what resonated with me was what Page 3 says about men. Sure, we are visual creatures; and I love getting a sext as much as the next man. But having a daily pair of breasts at the front of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper just sends the message that we're simple – that we're more likely to part with our 40p for a smidgen of areola.
Why no, it's because it demeans men. What else would the presenter of "Men's Hour" think?

 (Actually I didn't even know there was a "Men's Hour". The radio used to have a "Women's Hour" with the implication that the other hundred or so hours were generally speaking de facto men's hours. Kind of like you have a Black History Month in the US but not a White History Month, because whites get a lot of press for their history the other eleven months, without any hoopla, or indeed much attention to the fact, and kind of like the way that a man talking about his husband is still sometimes seen as "shoving homosexuality in your face" while everyone else earnestly discussing their relationships is just, well, normal chatter.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cheese sell-by dates

Easy. I'll finish this delicious cheese long before 16/14/13.

 photo DSC_0086_zpse5a2140e.jpg Wait.

Dragonfly

This girl dropped in on us yesterday.

 photo DSC_0080_zpsc9e95678.jpg

Shame she thought the (chlorinated) pool was a better place to lay her eggs than the actual 3' by 2.5' pond, though.

I can well believe in the days when these things were two feet long.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Slightly behind on Doctor Who

We've been rewatching season 5 and season 6  of Doctor Who. So far so good - but how do we watch season 7? There must be a legal option but we've failed to figure it out so far.

 photo tardisearlscourt_zps0e26aa50.jpg

That's the Tardis, the real deal, on Google at this coordinate.

History of twerking part 94

Just watched Beetlejuice again.

I feel I need to point out the twerking scene.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Village Green Preservation Society, San Juan style

There was a nice article yesterday in the LA Times on my home town, San Juan Capistrano.

SJC, as it's colloquially known, is near the edge of the vast expansion of southern Orange County, CA, towns. The first town I lived in when I came to the US, Laguna Hills, grew 14% in the 1990s. Next door town, Laguna Niguel, an unimaginable 37%. SJC itself grew 28% in the 1990s. (Growth has since tapered off.)

But Laguna Hills and Laguna Niguel are little more than what the British call New Towns - purpose built bedroom communities designed for growth, with great wide roads and vast landscaped hillsides leading to sprawling developments. In contrast, San Juan Capistrano is a very old town, complete with the only Spanish Mission in Orange County. It has masses of wild land and tens of adobes (original Spanish buildings). I hadn't realized until very recently that the tiny roads and great undeveloped hills were actively being preserved, but I had realized that the Mission, the adobes, the Old Town and many other landmarks were being fought for by historians and preservationists.

 photo ridgeline_zpsadbdac65.jpg
View from the end of town. The ridgeline is the border with Laguna Niguel, a high-density community.
The open space is deliberate.

The LA Times article is about Ilse Byrnes, 86 year old wife of one of our town councillors, long term resident and a leading preservationist. I knew that she had worked towards preserving adobes, but had not realized she was the leading campaigner against the town's 40 foot dinosaur, which was recently removed from the petting zoo. I liked the dinosaur. I hadn't realized she was leading the fight against SDG&E's proposed three-storey electricity substation and major monstrosity. I hate that thing - it would destroy the atmosphere in that area of town, which is already quite marred enough with the current pylon farm, its chainmail fence and its sinister buzzing.

From the article:
When Carolyn Franks, who owns a petting zoo on Los Rios Street, bought the dinosaur statue, thinking it would help children get excited about learning, Byrnes was indignant. She wrote to a local news site, calling the statue a "monster" — a word she's fond of. She wrote that Franks showed no respect for history and that she was trying to turn the beloved historical district into Jurassic Park.
"I've tried talking to her many times about just being a little more open-minded," Franks said. "Things just aren't how they used to be. Kids want now. They don't want then."
Well, as it happens, dinosaurs are quite historical. Older than the Montanez Adobe (1794), anyway.

But it's gone now, and anyway we can all get behind the fight against San Diego Gas & Electric's plan.

Mind you, we already have the type of thing below. The city built these amazingly complex gates to try to convince the train engineers to stop leaning on their horns all the way through town at all hours of the day and night. It worked. They may be ugly but at least we can sleep now.
 photo railroad_zpsc89f1e45.jpg


09/18 Edited to correct the length of the dinosaur in the petting zoo, and also to point out it wasn't an actual living dinosaur that you could pet. Here's a news item on the dinosaur. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Twerking - my part in its history

This is the first record I ever bought with my own money. It's Dave and Ansell ("Ansil") Collins' Double Barrel.



Notice that vocal interjection of "twerk it" (starting at 27 seconds)?  That's what "work it, work it" sounds like on vinyl.

I was browsing Language Log and they gave "work it" as a fairly plausible etymology of "twerk".
When considered lexicographically, a word like twerk can tell an interesting story. As mentioned, it started out in New Orleans c. 1993, when bounce-music anthems like DJ Jubilee's "Do the Jubilee All" exhorted listeners to twerk. The ODO entry sensibly suggests that twerk is an alteration of work, as in "work it," and Oxford etymologist Anatoly Liberman has further suggested that the tw- form is influenced by twitch or twist. That seems more likely than a straight-up blend of twist and jerk, as some have conjectured, and certainly more plausible than the theory that it is a clipped form of footwork.
I still love Double Barrel, which has the grace to be a sub-2:30 record and is pretty funking funky as well. Also I win for being into twerking in 1971, after a fashion.

As some in the YouTube comments also say, this was more heard on the Waltzer at the traveling Fairground than pretty much anywhere else. It's inextricably linked with the smell of candy floss and the deep, exhilarating rumble of Fairground rides. I always wanted to run off with someone from the Feast, as fairs were called in Yorkshire, maybe to the delight of the workers who I'm sure were happier to be Feasties than Fairies. As it happened my dad knew some of them in real life, and it turned out that Feasties were not as magical as I'd thought, and not nearly as awful as society occasionally claimed.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Milk rock operas series, day 35

Actually I lied. There's only one rock opera about milk, and it's this one. And I think you'll agree that it is the only rock opera about milk that is actually needed.



Battle for Milquarious.

Edit: Okay, I don't know how to stop that from starting at 17 minutes in. It makes it even more confusing. Please to be manually moving the cursor to zero...

Sadly for Milquarious, it is actually an ad for the California Milk Processor Board, made by ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners of San Francisco, but I did hear Electric Six was involved somewhere.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Doves and battery hens

Given yesterday's post, for those who wondered why someone may wish for the wings of a battery hen, here's the cultural background.  Hawkwind and I grew up to the background sound of O For The Wings Of A Dove.

O For The Wings Of A Dove,  in this case by Andrew Hopkins, Choirboy of the year for 1981. Apparently you can't embed at a given time, so be aware the song starts at 0:50.

Oh for the wings of any bird other than a battery hen

One of Bob Calvert's finest: Hawkwind's Spirit of the Age.



I've always loved the words, which work as a great SF story, or as a poem, so here goes.

I would've liked you to have been deep frozen too
And waiting still as fresh in your flesh for my
return to earth
But your father refused to sign the forms to freeze you
Let's see you'd be about 60 now, and long dead
by the time I return to earth
My time held dreams were full of you as you were
when I left, still underage
Your android replica is playing up again
it's no joke
When she comes she moans another's name
But that's the spirit of the age, that's the
spirit of the age
I am a clone, I am not alone
Every fibre of my flesh and bone is identical to
the others
Everything I say is in the same tone as my test
tube brother's voice
And there's no choice between us, if you had ever
seen us you'd rejoice in your uniqueness
And consider every weakness something special of
your own
Being a clone I have no flaws to identify
Even this doggerel that pours from my pen
Has just been written by another twenty
telepathic men
Word for word it says
"Oh, for the wings of any bird other than a
battery hen".

Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew encounter Miley Cyrus

Captain Kirk hails the VMAs and gets more than he bargained for.



Kirk seems strangely attracted to her, but I guess she's not green-skinned enough for the Good Captain.

(Uploader Aries Head Films)

Hitler rants about Miley Cyrus (video)

It's a bit slut-shamey, but what else do you expect Hitler to say? (At least in public.)



(Uploader Soalric.)

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Solipsism

Sometimes, particularly now I've left the laboratory and spend a lot of time on my own, I get the feeling that the rest of the world doesn't exist. There's only me, and everything that appears to be the rest of the universe is in fact something I'm dreaming or creating for some reason I've forgotten.

Now obviously if this is true, I'm heading for a failing grade. When I get back to being Buddha or Brahman or whomever, I'll tell myself that it ought to be a good long while before I'm incarnated again. I seem to be getting failing grades. I mean, I'm heading for another war in the Middle East – and if I avoid that, it'll be by not punishing someone who gasses little kids. Twitter has turned into an engine that produces more written rape threats against women per second than any other technology. Britain's turned into Nineteen Eighty-Four and Russia is giving Americans asylum.

But today a phildickian hole appeared in the solipsism.  I slipped into something more comfortable so that I could have a good, thorough laundry session including today's street clothes and to do so I unhooked my bra. Half way through that I thought, "Wait, I'm unhooking my bra. I have never done this before in my life." See, about a year ago, I got a frozen left shoulder and had to take a bunch of physiotherapy. The shoulder would hardly rotate at all, and I had to practice stretching my arm in various directions. One of the moves involved bending my left arm as far up my back as possible, which wasn't very far and hurt like hell. The physiotherapist said several times, "Haha, we have to do this one for women because we have to get you able to fasten your bra normally as soon as possible." And I thought, "No, the last laugh's on you, matey, because ever since I was teenage, I fasten my bra in front, then wriggle it around and put up the shoulder straps. I don't need to be able to put my arm up my back."

And now, I find that I UNhook my bra at the back, by putting my left hand high up my back and unhooking. Now, you might think I could have just forgotten that fact…BUT then clearly it would seem logical I was doing this all during the time I was on physio, when he was counting the vertebrae I could reach and saying, "You're not quite there yet."  Unhooking during that time period would have hurt.  So I must have never actually unhooked my bra before and only did it today for the first time.


So there's a hole in this weird world – a thing I've never thought about before has never happened before. Still, it possibly means I have a chance to avoid another war in the Middle East. I'll let me know how that turns out.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Bombing Syria - still a bad idea

My Senator, Dianne Feinstein, today:

A supporter of the resolution, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), acknowledged that constituent sentiment was "overwhelmingly negative. "They haven't heard what I heard. And I like to believe now, after 20 years, that I have some skill in separating the wheat from the chaff," she said.
She knows where I stand on it - I sent her an email stating my opposition to military action earlier this week. But I didn't say why. Here's why.

1. It's a civil war. It's against international law to attack a country which is not threatening us. Syria obviously isn't.
2. Syria is not a signatory to any chemical weapons treaties and has not broken any international agreements, meaning that their use can't be an excuse to use force.
3. There's considerable doubt as to whether the Assad government (what is this "regime" business anyway? He was elected, if you can call it that, like George W Bush) did authorize a chemical weapons attack, or whether it's a false flag operation by the rebels, who are losing.
4. The rebels have used chemical weapons before. They've also beheaded people, eaten a dead soldier's heart, and terrorized women and secular civilians.
5. The rebels are foreign, not Syrian, so Assad is not "attacking his own people". He's putting down a terrorist attack.
6. The rebels are largely Al Qaeda associated and Islamist. These people are not America's friends.
7. Qatar has spent billions arming the rebels.
8. Qatar's energy push is blocked by Saudi, and so Qatar needs to put in a natural gas pipeline to the coast, but Assad is blocking it.
9. Russia supplies most of Europe with energy through Gazprom's pipeline. It would incensed to lose Gazprom's monopoly to a Qatari pipeline. It obviously supports Assad.
10. Russia has warships in the area and their fingers are on the triggers. It's not impossible that this will spark WW3.
11. Israel would do anything to knock down Hezbollah (Assad's major fighting partners) even if it meant partnering with Al Qaeda, who after all, can't get into Israel, only into the US.
12. Israel have a deal with Russia and Gazprom; but they'd be happier with a pipeline through Syria.
13. General Wesley Clark said years ago that the US had a plan to destabilize the countries of the Mid-East and North Africa, in order to leave Iran without allies and finally take Iran. Yay and all that, but why not, as they say, get more flies with sugar than with vinegar?
14. And the so-called sectarian splits in Islam are crazy. Why would any sane person with only the welfare of the common man in mind do something that appears to be going to war on one party's behalf? (Ans: They wouldn't.)

Is "I know how to separate the wheat from the chaff" a mis-spelling of "I know what Israel wants"? If not, what is the fucking wheat? Let me know and maybe I'll be all over your war. Keeping it a sekrit isn't going to convince me. "I know better than you." Really? The US govt.? Pull the other one.

Maybe 20 years is enough and it's time for another senator.


Zerohedge

Telegraph

Qatari involvement

BBC

Guardian

Spiegel - Foreign involvement

More BBC

Reuters

More Reuters

RT

Independent

Paul Craig Roberts on the subject (video)

Wesley Clark on the Middle East plan leading to Iran (video)

Israel National News - Rebels can use gas

Edited to create links. Not very good ones, but links. 09/06/2013

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Not satisfactorily under control


Since about that time, war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war. For several months during his childhood there had been confused street fighting in London itself, some of which he remembered vividly. But to trace out the history of the whole period, to say who was fighting whom at any given moment, would have been utterly impossible, since no written record, and no spoken word, ever made mention of any other alignment than the existing one. At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge, which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible. ---From Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

I'm watching in growing disbelief as the US moves closer to war, with John McCain - McCain! - announcing that he won't support a war that's too small. He wants a big war in support of Al Qaeda.
McCain, who has long favored stepped-up U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war, said he opposes the resolution crafted by fellow Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Bob Corker of Tennessee. The resolution puts a 90-day limit on action and says no American troops can be sent to Syria. The draft language also calls on the administration to submit to Congress its strategy for "achieving a political settlement" in Syria.
McCain reportedly wants more than cruise missile strikes and "limited" action; he wants to tilt the direction of the civil war.
I'm continually astonished at the American public as well, who by all appearances have the memory capacity of a dented Tandy TRS 80. In 2001, there was an attack on the US that was blamed on a CIA-created group called Al Qaeda. For twelve years, we have bombed, invaded and/or otherwise interfered with Iraq, which had nothing to do with it, Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda supposedly dwelled, Libya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Pakistan. As opposition coalesced, more fighters joined under the banner of 'Al Qaeda' and it became a real enemy.  There are now more dead US soldiers in Iraq than people killed in the 9/11 attacks, and another 2,229 soldiers dead in Afghanistan.

Today everybody is gung ho to attack Syria - on behalf of Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters.

When I first read Nineteen Eighty-Four I had a bit of a tough time swallowing the central concept - that a few party members employed in disinformation services like throwing old newspaper articles down the memory hole and printing new ones could really keep the Proles in the dark about whether or not we'd always been at war with Eastasia, or what the chocolate ration was last month. But Orwell was clearly more perspicacious than I was. Even with all the information still here in front of everyone, it's perfectly possible to convince people instead that we've always been at war with Eurasia.

 photo goatsdrunk_zpsa66e37cb.jpg
This is a bit wall-of-texty, so here's an amusing picture, courtesy of the interwebs, to break things up a bit.

All the logical fallacies have come into play, and I can't see many mainstream media outlets calling the administration on any of them.

More than 355 people were gassed! Wait, I mean 1,429 people were gassed! That sounds much worse!
We must do something!
Bombing the living hell out of Syria is something!
Therefore that's what we're going to do!

I'm not going to rehearse all the objections to that, but in brief:  A hundred thousand people are dead in the civil war from non-chemical weapons. Where was the outrage then?  Syria's not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, so they haven't broken an international agreement.  Why Syria, why now? Out of all the shitholes that rise up and get knocked down again, why is the focus pinpointed on Syria? Why are we not allowed to take our eyes off it and see the bigger picture?

Why must we do something? If we must do something, shouldn't we 'do something' about everything else heinous in the world, like vehicular deaths, cigarettes, about a hundred other countries with shitty human rights records, and apprehending and sentencing the war criminal strongman of the regime who sent the depleted uranium shells to Fallujah, rained white phosphorous upon it and caused so much grief there (George W Bush)?

And if we 'have to' do something, why a bombardment? Why not, for instance, send every Syrian civilian $20,000 to buy a better life? Cruise missiles are a million and a half each, so it's unlikely to be more expensive and it sounds better than killing them. Or resettle the refugees. Or send them chemical warfare antidote kits (NAAKs).

And the "we must do something; this is something; therefore this is what we're going to do" line used to be a joke, but now it's foreign policy.

We've been here before, of course. In 1979, the US started funding the anti-Soviet groups in Afghanistan, despite warnings that this would provoke a Russian response.  That was how Bin Laden's organization Al Qaeda was created, and why the Russians invaded Afghanistan - and now we are about to attack Russia's ally Syria, on behalf of Al Qaeda, and provoke the Russians again. I guess that's who we've always been at war with....

Now, from the sublime to the ridiculous, or at least in an attack of bathos, let me say that America is a low-information density zone in many ways. I'm always struck by the way prices are displayed in supermarkets, for instance. They are on little tickets stuck either above or below the item on sale, and are changed often. Although there are many labeling laws (state and federal), such as a requirement to put the price-per-ounce on the little ticket, so you're not fooled by larger packages with smaller contents, there doesn't seem to be any law as to what 'on sale' or 'special' means. Goods go 'on sale' every three weeks, and the little ticket is changed to say so, and quotes a 'regular' price that the sale price beats out. But since the little ticket doesn't actually have a list of historical prices, there's no way to check if it was actually offered at that price before. And there most certainly is no requirement for the good itself to have a price affixed, so there's no historical data at home. Was a can of beans $1.25 last week? Or $1.50 or $0.85? Who knows? Unless you download some sort of app to read, interpret and store the receipt, there's really no way to know, except for my memory, which like Orwell's Winston Smith's, but in the opposite direction, is not satisfactorily under control.

The receipt itself, like American bank statements, electricity bills and pretty much any other financial statement, is messy, confusing and unnecessarily complex. The price that flashes on the overhead monitor as the good is scanned is not the price that is ultimately paid, as the software calculates discounts afterwards, once it's learned whether you really did buy five for a dollar or only got four at 25c each. Deciphering the receipt means working out the abbreviations, mentally adding and subtracting the various levels of discounts and calculating the tax. The bloody tax! Unlike any civilized country I can think of, except for gasoline (why?) prices are displayed before tax is added, so you have to know which items are taxable and be prepared to calculate 7.5% or 8% of each one in your head.

In middle of an information explosion, I feel like someone with tribal knowledge, having figured out which supermarket on which week will be offering Ajax Lemon Liquid for less than $1.55

As well as not protesting phone bills that require a degree in accounting to figure out, Americans seem happy to get less and less information as time goes by.  Happy to buy eBooks, where the content is licensed, not sold, so it can be revoked by the publisher - as, ironically enough, Nineteen Eighty-Four was erased from Kindles, or indeed updated without your consent - a perfect memory hole, and all our own doing. We'd rather stream from Spotify than own a track, and never mind if it disappears one day. Our Photoshop is leased by the month, not owned on disk. Our data is in the cloud (I always want to say that in a hippy accent - It's in the cloud, man!) and most of what I use is governed by user agreements that I haven't read, and weren't printed out for me after I clicked "I agree", so I wouldn't know if it was changed after the fact. The agreements could have a clause that I will sacrifice my firstborn to Baal for all I know.  Or will have a clause stating that I will now sacrifice my firstborn to Baal, whatever.

We troll happily in the flowers, heads unencumbered by any static, immutable facts, such as whether man landed on the moon, whether 9/11 was an act of terrorism, the price of beans, or why a war on Syria is a good idea. Obama says it is. Kerry says it is. Maybe by this time next year, they won't have said that. And I can edit this blog to keep up.


Edited 11:57
Follow up article on supermarket pricing from the Guardian discussed here.  10/01/2013

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Towering Inferno

The twitterverse today is full of the news about 20 Fenchurch Street, a skyscraper more commonly known as the Walkie-Talkie, that has fried a car (a Jag, no less) and the shopfronts opposite it, due to its curvature reflecting  and focussing the August sun's rays on the ground below.

 photo media_xl_1830332_zps2ba9fdec.jpg

It's that shape, apparently, because upper floors rent for more than lower floors, so it makes sense to have them bigger. The slight stoop to its form does not represent the building towering over the non-city buildings and attempting to intimidate all non-bankers therein; it is in fact said to signal the building bowing to the River Thames. The real deal joins a group of oddly-shaped buildings which are making London's graceful and ancient streets look like a Photoshopped joke city. Here's some examples, including the gherkin, the helter skelter and the cheese grater.

According to Business Insider, the car owner was compensated and the developers asked the city to suspend the parking spaces temporarily.

The BBC's picture of the melted (or at least partly softened) car

Or, as the owners put it, the sun melted the car. The skyscraper is not implicated. According to a write up in IB Times,
An investigation has been launched by co-developers Canary Wharf and Land Securities into what they have branded a "phenomenon." They blamed the sun for the freakish conditions, not the new £200m building or its design. 'The phenomenon is caused by the current elevation of the sun in the sky," a spokesman said.
IB Times also have pictures showing that the beam is capable of frying an egg in a pan.

More interestingly, though, the Walkie Talkie isn't the first Death Ray building erected by this architect. Rafael Viñoly also designed the Vdara Hotel in Las Vegas. This building is a lens which made headlines two years ago when it singed bathers at its swimming pool.
Local media, as well as some hotel staff and guests, have come to refer to the reflection as the "death ray," but MGM Resorts officials prefer to call it a "solar convergence phenomenon." "The refraction moves across the pool deck over a period 90 minutes," company spokesman Gordon Absher told Reuters. 
"It's never in the same place from day to day or week to week because the sun its changing its elevation in the sky." MGM Resorts, which owns the property, has sought to correct the problem by installing a high-tech solar film over each of the 3,000 glass panes covering the south facade of the Vdara to scatter the rays.
(Reuters)

Ah, it's another solar phenomenon. It's not a building with a death ray either.

 photo Vdara1_zpsbbdc6ce3.jpg

William Guidry here attempts to explain the optics of the Vdara.


Edited picture: 6:22 2013/09/04


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