Sunday, February 26, 2017

Richard Avedon in the West

Guardian photo series

new terror chief, improved terror threat

Britain is facing a level of threat from Islamic State militants not seen since the IRA bombings of the 1970s, according to Britain’s new terror chief.
Max Hill, one of the country’s leading terrorism prosecutors, warned that Islamist extremists were planning “indiscriminate attacks on innocent civilians” on a scale similar to those staged more than 40 years ago by the IRA.
Will someone do me the favor of reading the article from which the above quote is extracted and point out a scintilla of concrete evidence supporting the dire warning? I'm not saying it is not true, but I am sick of having my intelligence insulted by bureaucrats anxious to do -- and more important hold onto -- their jobs by foreseeing a future no one can see.

I see in this framework, which is so tantalizing in many countries, a willingness to spurn the defense of the country by asserting a patriotic defense of that same country. Britain, in this instance, is somehow defended because someone can point out the threats it faces .... without pointing out the threats themselves ... but rather relying on the trustworthiness of people in nice clothes.

Where is the seriousness in all of this. Solemnity abounds as diminishing democracy oozes in beneath the front door, but, to repeat, no one can see the future, no matter how much money and how many swat teams and how much militarization of police forces and how much frisking of people who don't think like me goes on.

It is easy to see how so-called militants (who really do some heart-rending stuff) can gain converts as the handcuffs of 'democracy' tighten.

OK ... so maybe we need a war ....


Trump ducks press dinner

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump, who has been criticizing the news media and is famously thin-skinned, says he won't be attending the White House Correspondents' Association dinner - sparing himself the dubious honor of being an in-the-house target of jokes.
The annual fundraiser for college scholarships and venue for reporting awards mixes politicians, journalists and celebrities and is typically attended by the president and first lady. Remarks by a comedian, often roasting the president, and a humorous address by the president himself, often roasting the press and political opponents, have highlighted the event, which C-SPAN has carried live.
Can a man who can't laugh at himself be called a man? To me, this single evasion tells more about Donald Trump than many of the other public criticisms combined.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

freedom: the good news is ....?

Passed along in email came "The Illusion of Freedom..." from which the following was extracted and thr rest is equally, if not more, depressing:
America’s expanding military empire continues to bleed the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour). The Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

media under assault

The media is sputtering over the selective denial of access to gatherings in Donald Trump's name. Trump calls out media which appear to have failed to fawn adequately. They're liars. Every thing they do -- except when they agree with Trump's take -- is egregiously wrong and Trump won't stand for it ... so he excludes from get-togethers the most egregious 'offenders.'

And the media sputters. They don't dare call him an asshole because that would play into his agenda. But there is something else the media overlooks: Trump is right. The media are liars and if they simply admitted it and then called on Trump to make a similar admission, they might be on firmer, less-sputtering ground.

Anyone who studies reporting seriously knows that the choice and placement of words and photos is, ipso facto, a bias. This is not a criticism -- it is merely the best that language can do. Stories are lineal, life is not. The thing that counts is the degree to which relevant facts or fictions are spun and positioned. From local coverage to national outrage ... yes, there is a leaning. Let's get over ourselves and admit it. Whether it's charter schools or an unwillingness to declare war in a Middle East where the United States is already at war, media descriptions -- even on their best days -- cannot  report the "truth." Words cannot replicate what actually happens. Get used to it.

Were the media to 'fess up -- yes, we are biased -- it seems to me that two things would happen: 1. The bully and narcissist Donald Trump would say, "See! I told you so! I win ... again!" and 2. the media would be in a better position to challenge Donald Trump's critical vision: How is his presentation of the 'facts' any more pristine and who says so and why should we trust him?

In the long-ago and faraway of news-gathering, I seem to remember that American newspapers gained traction in the 19th century not so much as a means of promoting democratic ideas, but rather as a means of enhancing the views of the publisher.  As Albert Camus would later observe approximately, "Most men climb onto the cross in order to be seen from a greater distance."

OK ... news gathering is a crap shoot. It claims to sort chaff from wheat and vice versa, and adduces evidence... but what evidence or evidence of what? Its virtues stand cheek-by-jowl with its sins. Donald Trump's assault on the media was presented on the media being assaulted

Bottom line, readers/viewers decide ... just like the media and just like Donald Trump. Perhaps every news program should be over-written with the caveat: "Warning, this program may require some thinking. Viewer discretion is advised."

Friday, February 24, 2017

hard day at the office, dear?

This cat is a regular visitor to our garden in Surrey. Photograph: Lewis Harper/GuardianWitness

press says no to Trump ... for the moment

News organizations including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, CNN and Politico were blocked from joining an informal, on the record White House press briefing on Friday.
The Associated Press chose not to participate in the gaggle following the move by White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
Let's see who hollers "uncle" first ... or surrenders some portion of ground under a haze of virtuous posturing. The phrase that echoes in my head is, "an inch is as good as a mile." For the press to give up even the slightest ground ... well hell, they might as well climb into bed with the man called president.

But based on the willingness of all the other 'principled ' players who have decided Trump is not really that bad -- and besides they see which side the bread of the future is buttered on -- don't be surprised if there is a good deal of giving ground under a banner of common-sensical governing or some similar bullshitting.

And speaking of Joseph Goebbels ... PS.
Israel is refusing to issue visas to the international staff of one of the most prominent international human rights NGOs - Human Rights Watch – accusing the group of an “extreme, hostile and anti-Israel agenda.”
The Israeli accusations against the organisation, which documents human rights abuses around the globe, follows a growth in official hostility to local human rights activists under the right wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

zeitgeist of angst ... a-g-a-i-n

Today, as every now and then, I was one among 37 recipients targeted by a well-intentioned emailer who seems to presume that I will be interested in yet another fucking analysis of the current zeitgeist of angst. This article, from the ever-so-straight-seamed Boston Globe is entitled "How the Baby Boomers Destroyed Everything." I guess what I really resent is that in fact I do wish there would be some easing of the economic and social and moral strangle hold ... but hope just makes the war more likely, I think, and the futility is galling.

I am sick of people explaining. Does explanation mitigate facts or is it just some Sally Five-Fingers way of masturbating into another thought dimension. Yes, I am turning into some tea party idjit. Stop explaining and make some attempt (I really don't care if it fails) to shape a course of action. The droning analyses are so fucking cogent that they make me want to ... go out an buy one of those combat-ready rifles that leave the anti-gun lobby frothing on the floor. Up with large magazines!

Well, I've done my frothing. There's nothing saying I have to read the well-intentioned emails that come my way, but I resent the implication that I might suspect some scintilla of hope or usefulness resides in such essays.

People are getting hurt. If Donald Trump can get used to it, so can I, I guess.

Scumbags unite!

mead from the Parisian catacombs

Audric de Campeau's bees might be Paris's luckiest inhabitants. Buzzing across the city's rooftops, they watch over some of the French capital's most famous sights.
"My bees live 20m above Paris, while my mead lives 20m underneath," quipped de Campeau as we climbed a ladder up to the roof of the 18th-Century French Military Academy, where a row of beehives and a sweeping vista of the Eiffel Tower awaited.
It seems that however drab and drudge-littered life may become, there is always someone somewhere who is doing something ... uhhh ... "different" is such a facile word.

jazz origins

"Early jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton, whose own name was a euphemism for sex, first developed his own style playing piano in these ‘sporting houses’ and to get extra tips he’d peek at a prostitute and her client through a peephole and time his playing with the pace of their revels."I  
I'm not much of a jazz fan, but I love attempts to suss out the origins of human interest and passion and seriousness.

siesta con brio

"It's just three little letters," said Per-Erik Muskos jovially, brushing off a suggestion that he is interfering in people's private lives. "S-e-x."
Mr Muskos, a councillor in a small Swedish town, hit the headlines this week after proposing that municipal employees should be allowed a break from their working day to have sex....
Mr Muskos's lively idea is only the latest example of officials pushing procreation, as countries around the world find their birth rates in the doldrums.
Municipal exigencies, I guess.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Christianity, the app

Christianity, the app;
For many, it’s no longer necessary to set foot in a church. In the US, one in five people who identify as Catholics and one in four Protestants seldom or never attend organised services, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre.
The loneliness sprouting from the media that lay claim to "connection" just grows and grows.

Everything can be explained. Everything is all right. No effort is required. For some reason, it reminds me of the old joke advertising for "dehydrated water:"

"Just add water."

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

the North Korean murder mystery

Alive ......................................Dead
I don't know that anyone else might be interested, but I find myself following the assassination of North Korean President Kim Jong-un's half-brother, Kim Jong-Nam, as if it were some ladies' romance page-turner. Now someone has broken into the morgue in Malaysia where Kim Jong-Nam's body is held ... and previous stories of young women 'duped' into spraying the deceased as part of prank are debunked. Kim Jong-Un's previous propensities for eradicating those who might pose a challenge to his presidential post whisper in the background like some Greek chorus.

Put this stuff on television and it would probably flop.

a man Trump might learn from

Icelandic president admits he does not have the legal authority to ban pineapple on pizza

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

jaguar vs. anteater

If you're looking for good odds as to whether a jaguar or an anteater would win a to-the-death dust-up, tread lightly. Jaguars may be fast and viscious, but anteaters have nails that would leave Wolverine in the shade. "Cuddly" may be the last thing anyone might want to call an anteater.

[youtube taken from internet, not story]

big art

A steady stream of onlookers has gathered since the first brushstroke touched the towering grain silos.
The paint is barely dry on the portrait of the schoolgirl gazing down from the top of the 30m (100ft) structure and already it is the talk of the town.
The artist is Guido van Helten who has made a name for himself making large-scale public artworks in cities across Europe and the US.
He has now become the centre of attention in Coonalpyn, a farming town in South Australia with a population of about 200 and a giant sense of community.

'justice' in Israel

Sometimes keeping up with Israel's legerdemain is harder than keeping up with Donald Trump.
An Israeli military medic who was captured on camera killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker last year has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.
If Israel feels picked-on by its various detractors when it comes to Palestinians, I suspect it has something to do with how much better armed and willing to use those better arms against the Palestinians the Israelis are. No one's blameless in the Israel-Palestinian clusterfuck, but Israel is more serenely egregious from where I sit. And U.S. complicity is hard to sidestep.

 Apartheid anyone?

protest screening of "1984"

Passed along in email:
On April 4, 2017, almost 90 art house movie theatres across the country in 79 cities and in 34 states, plus one location in Canada, will be participating collectively in a National Event Day screening of the 80's movie "1984" starring John Hurt, who sadly died last month....A full list of theaters screening “1984” on April 4 can be found here.
almost 90 art house movie theatres across the country in 79 cities and in 34 states, plus one location in Canada, will be participating collectively in a NATIONAL EVENT DAY screening of the 80's movie 1984 starring John Hurt, who sadly died last month.

Monday, February 20, 2017

where philosophy counts

Now this is something -- minus the punning high-schoolers' sniggers -- you can really sink your teeth into. Jesuits and French smokers of Gauloises move over! Existence and emptiness, truth and falsehood -- pick your favorite late-night dialogue and then consider the shoals and depths of the Jaffa Cake ... what is it precisely (cake or biscuit?), what should be its tax burden, and when/how should it be consumed?

Do not enter this discussion lightly. This is the stuff that sucks the unwary under like South American quick sand. There is no mercy in this marmalade.
The manufacturer, McVities, had always categorised them as cakes and to boost their revenue the tax authorities wanted them recategorised as biscuits. A legal case was fought in front of a brilliant adjudicator, Mr D C Potter.
Well, I had never even heard of Jaffa Cake until this moment and all I can say is blub-blub-blub. Perhaps you can save me ... and yourself as well.

times passing

Yesterday, my younger son's main squeeze through him a small birthday get-together at a refurbished train station here in Northampton -- the same station to which my father took me as a kid ... and we would stand on the platform and I would wave to the engineer of a steam-belching engine.

My son is 23 today and it was a pleasant party yesterday ... one that came close to a farewell for him before he heads out to the Middle East for a military-deployment cycle early next month. There was booze and cake and the party was held in the bar (train station) where my son works weekends as a bouncer. I went, though I knew it would wear me out ... and it did. But I liked it.

Only afterwards did I hear that my son's boss had OD'ed on heroin that very day ... at home ... dead ... and my son was sad even as the humming noise of military life buzzed in the back of my mind. My son was sad for his friend/boss. I was sad for ... Well, being sad for death is so hard because death doesn't give a shit for sadness. It just goes on and on and leaves speechlessness in its wake.

Coincidentally, a friend in New York emailed me how hard it was for him to get his mind around the fact that his younger sone had turned 20. How does that work? What does that imply? I guess it's like death: There is a truth and that truth has what might be called a wake but neither the truth nor the wake gives a shit. Both just go on and on in ever-dimished purring.

My wife says she will miss my son. And so will I, but I am to weak to let that blazing light in. Don't go!, says one voice. Go! and stand tall in whatever height you turn out to be ... Leave me! ... oh please don't leave! Stand, stand, stand....

Don't fall....

I pray...

Take me if falling is a priority.

oh God!

When I check the news wire indices for what a particular outlet is offering by way of daily fare, each, it seems to me, provides at least five or six stories that feature the U.S. president's name ... Trump-this or Trump-that and then the reactions to Trump-this or Trump that. Left or right, a lot of it is pretty impassioned and depressing: If you're paying attention to one thing, how many things do you miss and what is the price that's paid? It all leaves the thinking mind -- left, right or center --  bereft and benumbed. There is no decency for the whole of the country. Nothing is getting done besides cheers and jeers.

From where I sit, those cheers and jeers and the outcome were frighteningly expressed in a Washington Post description of a Trump campaign rally (he has become president, so campaigning seems redundant at best) in Florida over the weekend.

Am I wrong or is it heart-breaking how correct the last couple of paragraphs of the story ring:
Can this nation ever be united?
“I hope so,” Mussler said with a shake of her head. “I don’t know. I don’t know. It would be nice, and I think if — I don’t know, I don’t know. I think the only thing that’s going to reunite us is maybe the Lord coming back.”
I am sorry, but when anyone falls back on religious touchstones, I think it is fair to say that the topic in question is well and truly fucked ... and people will go on dying and starving on behalf of those who neither are nor will be starving and dying. Carried to its obvious ends, belief (religious or otherwise) really is a horrific way of moving things forward.

Oh God.

But of course there is always relief when it comes to Sweden

odds and ends

Odds and ends...
New Zealand startup offers unlimited holiday and profit share to attract workers Gaming company Rocketwerkz claims staff focus better when not stressed by issues that need attention outside the workplace.
It (the above) sounds zany and counterproductive, but if someone is throwing money at it -- if someone is actually taking the trouble to trust its workers on a par with its cuff-linked classes ... I like it, even if it confuses a mind like mine that was brought up on the feudal template, however subtle.

And then there's ....

If you ask Jeff Shea where he’s going or where he’s been, you better grab a drink, sit back in your favourite chair and brace yourself for a long story....Shea’s passion for travel, however, isn’t about numbers, goals or risks. For him, travel is akin to a sacred experience, one that expands the mind and one’s horizons....Walking across New Guinea changed my concept about what’s important. They believe that a person’s wealth is determined by how much money he’s given away rather than what he’s earned. That’s a pretty remarkable concept to me. I viewed everything through that new filter. I came from the US thinking we knew what was important and that primitive people needed to learn from us. But when you walk with these naturalists in the forest, you realize that these guys are brilliant. It imbued me with a tremendous respect. Instead of thinking that we are the advanced people, I realized we are losing a lot.
This guy is 60 years old. What I want to know -- as I used to want to know with spiritual-life adventurers -- is, "How much does it cost and where is/did the money come from?" Nobody mentions the high-probability aspect that Jesus, for example, far from being a pauper shuffling around in tattered sandals, was actually a middle-class guy who spoke three languages (the carpentry business demanded it) and was better-heeled than many of his contemporaries. Spiritual life requires comfort within which to reflect. Well, who pays? How? And how much? For myself, I used to be embarrassed to ask such mundane questions in the face of so ethereal and wondrous a story as religion painted. These days I think that if you can't ask and answer the mundane questions, religion can go piss up a rope

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Brahms balm

A little Prozac for a grey season.

appears, seems, may be ... media in retreat

If I had to guess, I think I'd say U.S. President Donald Trump is scoring a big, fat W -- a winning hand in his attacks on the media. The media are wussing out and caving in and might aptly be accused by those with less polite minds than my own if being the very lackluster pussies Trump accuses them of being.

Consider The Guardian (my more-often-than-not-favorite news source) and it's lede on a story today:
Donald Trump appeared to invent a terrorist attack in Sweden during a campaign-style rally in Florida on Saturday, inviting questions that he may have confused the nation with a city in Pakistan. (emphasis/color added).
At the beginning of every day, I scan several news wires. The Guardian, BBC, Associated Press (who edits their stuff any more???), Reuters, and occasionally the Washington Post. The journalistic arrogance of the New York Times/Boston Globe, in parallel with Fox and family,  is outside what I can tolerate early in the day. As expected, the major outlets huddle together like impoverished masses, covering the same story ... sometimes, but not often, with varying facts. But what I think I am seeing is an increasing willingness of a particular outlet to doubt its assessment ("appeared to invent" instead of the more factual "invented." It doesn't matter if invention were the intent. What matters is whether the fabrication were true.)

This is minor stuff, some may say. All language is only approximate, some may say. But something can be labeled wrong when it is wrong and the apologies can be reserved, if necessary, for later. I sense an increase in Ph.D. pseudo-courtesies like "it appears," "it seems," and other nieceties that doff a media cap in Trump's direction... an exercise he seldom acknowledges and, as far as I know, never mimics. Check it out yourself in the news stories you read. Maybe I'm all wet.

I'm not doing much of an analysis, here ... I just sense that the media are caving in and Trump is as much responsible as dwindling advertising revenues. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

the power of chicken yodeling ... who knew?

Passed along in email:

California rainin'

Ryan Maue, a meteorologist for WeatherBell Analytics, told the LA Times 10 trillion gallons of rain would fall on California in the next week, enough to fill 15 million Olympic-sized swimming pools or to power Niagara Falls for 154 days.
Several stories about the torrential rain in California make it sound serious and spooky from afar. One story noted that all of the diminished reservoirs had been refilled. "After five years of drought, a series of storms have filled state reservoirs. California's Sierra Nevada mountain range is also loaded with snow. Runoff from its snowpack normally supplies about a third of the state's water."

Apocalyptically abundant fire and water -- often the journalistic menu for Calif. -- and I keep waiting for the oy-veh Christians who prophesied meteorological calamity due to Roe v. Wade or other blasphemical adventures ... how come they're not out there saying "See??? We told you so! And YOU'RE going to be left behind...!!!"

Maybe they all got washed out to sea, but that hardly seems fair after all their dutiful, hymniferous caterwauling.

Perhaps their updated warning looks like this?

Friday, February 17, 2017

and the winner is....

A golden eagle grabs a flying drone during a military training exercise at Mont-de-Marsan French Air Force base, Southwestern France, February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

"why should Americans trust you?"

Finally, the news media starts to do its job: At an impromptu news conference (if it can be called that), President Donald Trump was asked face to face yesterday:
"Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they've received of being fake when you're providing information that's not accurate?" the TV correspondent asked.
Trump seemed to blame his staff. “I was given that information,” he replied. “Actually, I’ve seen that information around.” Trump then called on another reporter.
There were enough trusting -- or perhaps 'skeptical' is a better word -- Americans to elect Donald Trump president. Many of these people were described as feeling left out of the American process ... jobs, health care, education ... they were described as feeling neglected. And many of them spoke of the trust they felt for Donald Trump. Politicians and media fell in line.

But why? On what basis? I suppose you can buy fealty and sycophancy, but you can't buy trust. I do hope someone will repeat that question in future.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

being who you were, I guess

It has been a long time since the word "camp" or "campy" crossed my mind in the particular context, but the following story about a Peruvian man brought back the usage....
From the Partridge Dictionary of Slang: 
campy, adjective, melodramatically and blatantly homosexual US, 1965
Besides being slightly crazed, there is something frou-frou and devoted in the tale -- just off-the-wall enough to be utterly true and credible and human in the activity depicted. Homosexuality doesn't interest me in this instance.
Peruvian artist and photographer Christian Fuchs is obsessed with his illustrious ancestors and spends months painstakingly recreating portraits of them, posing for them himself whether the ancestors were men or women.
It's an unusual way to get close to your forefathers, but it works for Christian Fuchs.
The walls of his elegant apartment overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Lima's bohemian Barranco district are covered with paintings of his aristocratic European and Latin American ancestors.

court favors burger queen

A Canadian court has awarded a former Burger King cook $46,000 ($35,000 USD, £28,000) in damages after she was fired for taking home a fish sandwich, fries and beverage....
At the time of her dismissal, in January 2014, she was earning $21,000 a year and working full-time. Her husband is physically disabled and she also supports an adult daughter with a mental disability. She is the sole earner in her household....
When Ms Ram walked out with a fish sandwich, medium fries and orange soda without paying, Ms Salman reported her to Mr Mohammed. After applying the employee discount, the value of the fries and drink taken by Ms Ram was about 50¢. 
PS. Today was also the day when "Immigrants around the U.S. stayed home from work and school Thursday to demonstrate how important they are to America's economy and way of life, and many businesses closed in solidarity, in a nationwide protest called A Day Without Immigrants."