Monday, August 31, 2015

Oliver Sacks (1933 - 2015)

End Of The Enlightenment

A few weeks ago, in the country, far from the lights of the city, I saw the entire sky “powdered with stars” (in Milton’s words); such a sky, I imagined, could be seen only on high, dry plateaus like that of Atacama in Chile (where some of the world’s most powerful telescopes are). It was this celestial splendor that suddenly made me realize how little time, how little life, I had left. My sense of the heavens’ beauty, of eternity, was inseparably mixed for me with a sense of transience — and death.


I told my friends Kate and Allen, “I would like to see such a sky again when I am dying.”
“We’ll wheel you outside,” they said.
-- Oliver Sacks, "My Periodic Table"; New York Times, July 24, 2015

In Jewish tradition, it's said that if you save a human life, you've saved the universe, whole and entire.  What happens, then, when a life goes out? Oliver Sacks, MD, passed away over the weekend; in his passing, I'm fairly certain not many people understand what we've lost.

Sacks was among a shrinking number of scholar-scientists, the last in a lineage of European --  principally men; women also -- but (and this a bit of a trope) generally English intellectuals, educated in the tradition of the Enlightenment. Donnish, possibly eccentric, but clearly brilliant; frankly curious about the world and passionate about the why of a thing, driven to chronicle and understand it.

They were often polymaths, prodigious writers, frequently (unless it was their principal method of expression) also fair composers of music or art. They understood the importance of clear thought and speech, of how to argue and to reason and explain what they'd found in their exploration of the world.

(This same category of person could include Newton, Pitt, Einstein; Goethe; Mary Wollstonecraft or Jane Austen; William and Henry James, among others -- but Dr. Samuel Johnson pops into my memory for a moment: Language and clarity of thought was his obsession, and a lifelong struggle with what was most probably Tourette's Syndrome -- a condition caused by "dysfunction in cortical and subcortical regions, the thalamus, basal ganglia and frontal cortex", per Wikipedia.)

For Sacks, the mystery which captured his attention (Sacks described himself when working as 'obsessive') is what we carry in our skulls -- the electro-chemical seat of all pleasures and terrors, Bardo and Paradise: the brain --  and he knew well how much we do not know about that organ, or anything else.

In a series of books over roughly thirty years, Sacks presented popular chronicles of the scientific aspects of neurology by sharing tales of his patients. On one level, they were 'medical mystery stories' -- Why do these things happen to us? -- principally about his patients' rare or notable afflictions, and that often these same people developed gifts of insight or ability due to those same conditions. But while every tale noted the pathos of their circumstances -- Sacks the physician used his obsessive intellect with a dispassionate eye -- they were also stories which presented his patients' conditions with real compassion: Sacks the man never forgot that his patients suffered, laughed, were persons with lives before and after they began to experience the world in an uncommon way.

Riding Kiddietown's public transit over those same thirty years, I've seen only three individuals which I could say with confidence had a neurological condition (as opposed to those with apparent psychological ones, including the drivers). Principally, the outward signs are motor tics or repeated hand gestures, some relatively subtle and others very manifest. We live in a culture that glorifies physical perfection, High School-like popularity, wealth, and youth -- and looks down with distaste upon or ignores anything less. By presenting rare and notable neurological conditions in his books in a way that made it possible to see the human beings they had happened to, Sacks made it more likely our response to the person on the bus, repeatedly touching the side of their face, or whose head spasms to the left every few seconds, would trigger that same compassion, in us.

A friend recently repeated something once said by their best friend, a physician: We're all just one blood test away from a reminder of mortality. Sacks' chronicles remind the majority of us of our luck in this Game, so far (There, But For The Grace Of God...), but also that it's a Dice Game, and that at some point after thousands of throws at the table that luck will give out. We will not live on Sugar Mountain forever. We will suffer all that flesh is heir to. Sacks understood that; and even if this is a Game where no one gets out alive, he was still grateful to be here.

Sacks discovered he had cancer in 2006, a rare condition that echoed aspects of the human condition that had fascinated and driven him: an ocular tumor, melanoma, in one eye. Nine years later, it reappeared as multiple metastases in the liver.  This past February, he published a short essay about it in the New York Times ("My Own Life"), and followed it with others in July ("My Periodic Table"), and a final word about Shabbat this past month."I have no belief in (or desire for) any post-mortem existence", Sacks once wrote, "other than in the memories of friends and the hope that some of my books may still 'speak' to people after my death."

Whether something else exists or not, Now he knows what we do not. I hope he was able to see the spread of the night sky again before leaving.

And, it's another Mensch that leaves us. As I've said before, we live in a world with a limited supply of Mensches.
__________________________________________________

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Parker and Ward

Virginia

I've already had to repost my thoughts about Sandy Hook after yet another rampage by some angry nutjob.  I'm not going to do it every time we see the effects of combining Angry Nutjob with Firearms, or I'd be reposting it every week, it seems.  But I will quote myself:
Only in cases like Sandy Hook does our national debate begin and end with, "Guns don't kill people; the people using them do". And that's it -- Pilot Error, essentially, is the public finding; and any other meme is just filler in the media. That, and people repeating, "It doesn't happen every day."

I'm sure that fact is a comfort to the extended families of twenty children, who died because they were shot with high-powered handguns. Twenty children...

What happened in Sandy Hook yesterday has happened before -- in Columbine; in Denver; In Virginia; in a mall in Seattle last week; at a Dairy Queen in the Northwest. There may not be massacres, but annually there are many multiple-victim, firearm homicides in America.

And they will keep happening, until something changes about how firearm ownership and possession is discussed, and regulated, in this country.

The debate is not about Operator Error.  It's not about something that happened "over there" in another city or state. It's about twenty dead children.
 Per Reuters:
Two journalists, reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward of Roanoke CBS affiliate WDBJ7, were shot during a live interview on Wednesday by a disgruntled former station employee who later killed himself. The woman who was being interviewed was wounded and hospitalized.

Parker's father, Andy Parker, urged state and federal lawmakers to take action on gun control, especially to keep firearms out of the hands of people who were mentally unstable... "How many Alisons is this going to happen to before we stop it?"

The United States had about 34,000 firearms deaths in 2013...  with almost two-thirds of them suicides, according to the [CDC]...
The last time there was a push at the federal level for tighter gun control was following the massacre of 26 people, mostly children, at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012... [the legislation] was rejected in April 2013 by the U.S. Senate, including by some lawmakers in [the] Democratic Party.

_________________________________________________________________


Monday, August 24, 2015

Katrina

Character

Rick Bower, AP - Canal Sreet,; September 4, 2005
Most mainstream news organizations are hosting ten-year retrospectives of one of the most tragic natural disasters to befall a major, iconic American city -- the flooding of New Orleans at the end of August, 2005, caused by one of the most powerful storms to hit the U.S.: Hurricane Katrina.

Not that unnatural disasters haven't occurred to cities in the U.S. -- the abandonment of Detroit is the most obvious; Love Canal in the 1960's, Manhattan on 9-11; even other natural disasters like the Great Johnstown or Brownsville Floods; the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. But the catastrophe in New Orleans was different -- because of who lived in the city; and who was in charge of the government which was supposed to protect and rescue its citizens. All its citizens.

It became a tragedy watched in near-real-time on cable and mainstream news, and it was magnified by indifference, arrogance and incompetence. Today everyone just calls it 'Katrina'.
________________________________________


Terms like Personality and Character are used to describe traits of an individual -- 'personality' referring to something mutable, changeable; while 'character' is something more essential and fundamental, the bedrock and framework unique to each person that animates a 'personality' like a suit of clothing -- the upshot being that personality can change, but not character: Blood will out. A Leopard can't change its spots.

For me this week, remembering Katrina is a short meditation on the idea of Character, as personified by two women -- one black and poor, the other white and a member of the top one-hundredth of our One Per Centers.
_________________________________________

On Monday morning, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina had slammed into the coast of Louisiana; four major levees had been breached around New Orleans and much of the city was flooded. People had died. More were dying. Thousands were losing everything they could not carry.

To escape the flooding, 11-year-old Danielle Mollett helped her ill grandmother Diane Mollett, 64, up into the attic of their home in the Ninth Ward, the area of lowest elevation in New Orleans and the district that would be hardest hit by the flooding. 

In the aftermath of the Hurricane's landfall, the weather turned tropical, sultry; temperatures rose -- hard on those trapped in the confines of an attic. With no food and little to drink, they waited for help.

screen-shot-2015-08-24-at-6-19-22-pm.png
Danielle Mollett, Interviewed For The August 24, 2015 Edition Of CBS News (CBS)
On that same August morning, George "Lil' Boots" Bush -- the "Decider" -- appeared in Arizona to present a birthday cake to John McCain. He spoke about his plan for Medicare, and gave Katrina only a passing mention.


 Bush had been told that the New Orleans levees might not hold, that there was potential for a catastrophe. That this had happened, that 85% of the city was deeply flooded, had already been communicated to the White House on the evening of August 29th.

On August 30, New Orleans had descended into something out of Dante. At the same time, Lil' Boots appeared in California, at the Coronado Naval Air Station in San Diego, where he had delivered his 2003 "Mission Accomplished!" speech, claiming Vic'try in Iraq.  Bush spoke about those wonderful times -- and made mention of Katrina, saying help would be coming "any day now".  And he was photographed trying to play a guitar.

Lil' Boots left for Crawford, Texas on Air Force One,  intending to take a Labor-Day vacation at 'The Ranch'.  White House aides, aware of what was happening in Louisiana, suggested the situation was serious enough that the President return to Washington.  Lil' Boots was not happy, but agreed to cut short his vacation by a whole day, but through that night it became clearer just how bad it was in New Orleans.


On August 31st, Lil' Boots demanded that he be flown from Texas, low over the city, on Air Force One. The huge 747 buzzed the area repeatedly for over a hour -- interrupting relief efforts requiring helicopters. As Bush stared out a window, press secretary Scott McClellan later quoted him as saying, "It's devastating. It's gotta be doubly devastating on the ground." 

Bush returned that day to the White House, held a cabinet meeting on Katrina, and spoke briefly in the Rose Garden to describe federal relief efforts.  FEMA's uncoordinated reaction before and after Katrina struck (and that of its polo-playing director, Michael Brown) had been stupefying. Mainstream television news had reported on the confused and ineffective relief efforts -- too little, too late, and most of it FUBAR.

Privately, Representative Nancy Pelosi [D-CA] urged Bush to fire Brown because of all that had gone wrong; "What didn't go right?" Lil' Boots replied, and on September 1st praised Brown publicly ("You're doin' a heckofa job, Brownie!").

8 days later, 'Brownie' was allowed to quietly step out of an active role in managing the crisis. On September 12th, he resigned as director of FEMA; in later testimony before Congress, Brown alleged "that Lousiana governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin bore most, if not all, of the blame for the failures in the response to Katrina, and that his only fault had been not to realize sooner their inability to perform their respective duties." (Wikipedia)
_______________________________________

In New Orleans on August 31st, 11-year-old Danielle Mollett had managed to help her grandmother out of the attic where they had been trapped. Her grandmother's health was failing. They were lucky enough to be seen and rescued by one of the few boats bringing survivors out of flooded areas, taking them to the New Orleans Superdome stadium, which was situated on slightly higher ground than the rest of the city -- still, lower portions of the structure were flooded by three feet of water.

An estimated 30,000 people found their way to the Superdome between August 29 and September 2. Conditions were bad: limited food, water, sanitation and medical services; sewage systems were backed up by the flooding. The most seriously ill -- like 64-year-old Diane Mollett -- were given small folding cots to rest on.
 _________________________________________

Boots, On The Little Rupert Network From New Orleans
To balance public perception that he showed little concern for the tragedy on the Gulf, Bush quickly flew back to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and fumbled through a long, photo-op tour of the region. He even made an 'Address To The Nation' from New Orleans. A few miles away, at the Superdome, not enough of the thousands of survivors had adequate food or water, and no one seemed able to get any to them.
______________________________________________

But by now, too many people had seen just how desperate things had become -- network news reporters at the Superdome were shaken by what they saw of the conditions there. On September 1st, Paula Zahn of CNN interviewed FEMA director Brown, who claimed to have "only just learned" 30,000 people in the damaged Superdome had no food or water: "Sir, you aren't just telling me you just learned that the folks at the Convention Center didn't have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off? " she asked, incredulous. 

Brown appeared bored as he replied, "Paula, the federal government did not even know about [them] until today" --an obvious lie, since evacuations from the Superdome had been going on, slowly, for over 24 hours.

No one seemed to be in charge. In FEMA's inactivity before the catastrophe, and its mismanagement in the aftermath obvious to anyone watching the news, the government's response seemed too little, too late. Another fuck-up, like Iraq -- Because FUBAR; and because the people suffering and dying in New Orleans were poor and primarily black.

On September 2, NBC broadcast a live Concert for Katrina, to raise awareness and money for relief efforts. Standing beside comic Mike Meyers, Kayne West offered an observation about the disaster which was broadcast live across America -- except on the West Coast, where tape delay allowed NBC to delete his remarks:

Meyer's Look ("OMG: On Teevee??") = Priceless
"I hate the way they portray us in the media. If it's a black family, it says we're looting. If it's a white family, it says they're looking for food. And you know that it's been five days because most of the people are black... We already realize that a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way, and they have given them permission to go down and shoot us. George Bush didn't care about black people."
_______________________________________

On September 2, Diane Mollett died on her cot, waiting to be taken out of the flooded city to the Houston Astrodome. Her 11-year-old granddaughter Danielle was alone, surrounded by strangers in a nightmare; she would stay, "balled up inside myself" for two more days before being bussed, by herself, to distant relatives in Texas .
________________________________________

As a show of their own concern (and damage control for the Bush brand), former President George H. W. 'Poppy' Bush had reached out to former President Clinton to found a charity organization for relief and rebuilding.  On September 5th, Poppy and his wife, Barbara, toured the Astrodome in Houston, now filled by thousands of refugees from New Orleans.

Barbara Bush had recently spoken about her son's invasion of Iraq, which wasn't going well ("Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? ...It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?") -- and after her tour of the Astrodome made this observation, broadcast on National Public Radio's Marketwatch program:
"What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they [refugees from New Orleans] all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the [Astrodome] here, you know, were underprivileged anyway; so this (chuckle) – this is working out very well for them."
______________________________________

Danielle Mollett wept, remembering the death of her grandmother. She has spent the last decade trying to remake her life and move beyond what she experienced in New Orleans. It's a proof of character, and its quality, that she's succeeded.

Then, there's Barbara Bush. Her remarks, and the social class she represents, provide indications and testaments as to the quality of her character, as well.  And, her son... well;  the less said about him, the better.
______________________________________

MEHR, MIT LUMPENHUND:  Lil' Boots -- too arrogant and limited to recognize that he has failed at almost everything he has attempted as an adult; too dim to recognize that he was an empty-suit front man for President Cheney -- appeared in New Orleans today to speak at a local school in commemoration of New Orleans, a city "which never gave up".

Auf Nicht Wiedersehen, Lil' Boots, you Poultroon *; you Lumpenhund nutter.

( * Poultroon = Archaic /Middle French: A rascal, a scoundrel; a coward. )
______________________________________

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Random Early Morning Barking

Someone Make That Dog To Shut Up

Burned And Fearful

Here in Kiddietown ( "One Big Campus; One Big Dorm" ), it's been sooty; the Bay Area has been smelling faintly of burned California's Oak, Pine, Manzanita, Chaparral, Poison Oak, and the occasional home. As a Dog, I can tell.

And in the Big World: How About Yesterday In That Stock Market, Hah? Wheeeeeeee! And while I don't like the imagery, as The Great Curmudegon has said, "Another Day At The Dog Track!"(Reminds me of a George Carlin joke from his standup days -- A news announcer, reading off a list of events: "...and, the stock market dropped six hundred points. Trading was a little spirited, there, towards the end...")

Kim Jong Tubbyboy, Leader of the People's Fun Republik Of Chuckles, is demanding everyone love him and do what he says, or it's war with South Korea, maybe.   Sad Vlad, The Putin, says to the sovereign nation of Ukraine: Do What I Want or the troops I claim not to know about will invade. The followers of ISIS, when not raping women and children, destroying the cultural heritage of the Middle East, and generally turning territory they've seized into Col. Kurtz' paranoid enclave from Apocalypse Now, demand the Earth convert to their notion of what Islam is, or they will invade everywhere.

Donnie Trump says he doesn't care if anyone loves him or not, he'll be invasive. Oh, and, Ooogli Ooogli Ooogli -- Hillary!  Jebby! Who among us can contain the simulated excrement excitement.

(And oddly, a larger number of people in Ukraine than usual have been looking at this blog recently...  you'd think they had better things to do with their time, but perhaps it takes their mind off of being indiscriminately shelled. Good luck to you all, and be safe.)

Crossing The Styx, The Boatman Doesn't Care What You Owned

As usual on my way to work, homeless men (mostly) are still sleeping in the stairwells of the Embarcadero BART station At 6:00 AM. You step carefully over them to enter the station. More are sleeping just inside. You avoid stepping in the occasional puddle of puke or piss or scavenged food.  The men lie stretched out as if beached, or dead; it's the sleep of damage and exhaustion and hopelessness on the banks of the Styx, which is never really that far away for any of us.

A friend mentioned on Sunday that, among other middle-school parents they know (like my friend, involved in some sector of the Tech economy and relatively affluent), several said a number of homes in their various Kiddietown neighborhoods had just been purchased, for cash: two- and three-plus million dollar homes. "Who can do that?" my friend asked. "Can you imagine having so much that you can do that? Two million in cash? I can't."

For some reason, I remembered this conversation as I made my way down, down, into the Sub Way, the electric road beneath the City. It made me consider the the huge gap opening between Those With and Those Without -- right in your face (and particularly in a place like Kiddietown), you see the preening frenzy of affluence and access, getting and having; Another crazy you get from / Too much choice / The Thumb in the satchel / Or the rented Rolls-Royce.

Kiddietown is awash in cash. It's a town full of Big White Busses with smoked windows, painfully thin hipsters, trust-fund girlz who chitter with a nasal whine, and drunken frat-boy clones, all staring down at tiny smartphone screens, dreaming of how they can become overnight millionaires when their startup goes to IPO and is 'acquired' by one of the mega-names of the Tech world.  When criticized, if they bother to respond at all it's with an insouciance that defines them, in a Tweet: Fogeys gonna foge.

The dichotomy between having two million dollars in cash (the life savings of two-plus "regular" working families in America; every nickle and dime they'll ever earn) to "acquire" a residential property, and the  homeless lying unconscious and underground, made me consider where we are as a society and a country. If you've ever been curious what things Dogs think about, that's one.
______________________________________

Business Cycle Sluts

Technology and commerce drives economies and fuels cycles of cultural change. In the years after WWII, the first large shift began in the decade after Vietnam. Whole industries (steel, clothing, kitchenware, furniture, automobiles) disappeared or downsized. In 1981, Reagan took office with rising unemployment -- solved by cutting taxes for the wealthy, and increasing "defense" spending against the Communist Bloc.

As Daddy Bush became President, the Evil Empire dissolved. We had a quick, winnable war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq -- but the wartime / 'defense' economy dwindled and unemployment rose again. Daddy Bush lost the 1992 election to Clinton ("It's the economy, stupid").

The second economic shift was the 'Dot-Com Revolution' -- electronic and computing technologies had become mature (and disruptive), and the World Wide Web began to develop. Venture Capital flowed into startups (e.g., Google, PayPal); while established tech names increased their sales and market share (IBM, Intel, AMD, Cypress; HP, Dell, Compaq; Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Oracle; Yahoo, Netscape). Cell phones got smaller; processors got faster and faster.

In Kiddietown, you could walk past beautifully designed storefronts; inside, people were busy... primarily designing websites, software applications, and offering 'transformational concepts' to businesses -- how to do commerce on the Net. The Busy People believed they were building the Future, an end to Old Ways of working and earning a living. No one knew exactly what our Future would be, or how we would all transition into it -- but it would be on the Web, and we would navigate it with a few clicks, and get everything we ever wantedIt would create jobs!  DEN.com!  WebVan!  Boo.com!  Pets.com!  Yay!

With the 2000 crash, the beautiful storefronts vanished. Before Clinton left office, he had helped Larry Summers and Phil Gramm and the BSD's set the stage for the Go-Go, "Lil' Boots" Bush years. We had Terraists, and a second war in the Middle East. The economy initially grew around 'defense' spending and tax cuts for the wealthy; then, around real estate sales, and the financial / investment 'industry'.  Everyone knows what happened next.

The Crash of 2008 allegedly ended in 2012. Tech expansion and development had continued after the Dot-Com Crash;  Apple introduced the iPod in 2001 and the iPhone in 2007; T-Mobile brought out the G-1 Android phone in 2008; and virtual (Cloud) storage technology became a reality.  A decade on from the 2000 Crash, more tools we use in our work and personal lives depend on programmers, developers, technicians, system architects and security specialists than in the Dot-Com era.

This is the third large, and latest, shift in a progression from a manufacturing economy to one based on creating infrastructure, hardware and software to provide access to goods and services. By 2012, the Tech sector, and the "service economy" (both traditional [waiters and hotel staff], and non-traditional [Uber; TaskRabbit]) were the prime factors driving the Fabled Recovery. The beautiful businessfronts returned to Kiddietown.

Money, money, money is being made. The streets are full of BMWs, MBZs and Teslas. Everything from the Crash has been made All Better. The future is robotics and more leisure time -- for some people, anyway; Yay! Why, then, does it feel so much like 2006?
______________________________________

There are plentiful examples of cultures where the gulf between those who Have and those who Have-Less becomes wider and wider.  My favorite is the European / American 'Golden Age' (roughly, 1875 through the summer of 1914), the time of The Proud Tower, the Distant Drummer.
On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams.

Far and near and low and louder
On the roads of earth go by,
Dear to friends and food for powder,
Soldiers marching, all to die.

East and west on fields forgotten
Bleach the bones of comrades slain,
Lovely lads and dead and rotten;
None that go return again.

Far the calling bugles hollo,
High the screaming fife replies,
Gay the files of scarlet follow:
Woman bore me, I will rise.
A.E. Housman, "A Shropshire Lad" (1896)

Each time a culture lurches forward, it leaves people behind. I watch the antics of the Kiddies; I see the bodies on the stairwells. I see the restaurants, theaters, bars, clubs and side streets crowded with people exuding energy, spending money; I hear the cars with sound systems pumping Cholo music, Soul and Rap as they cruise the City. I smell the burning neighborhoods in Syria, Gaza, Yemen, Cairo, Brazil. We are so fortunate, here in the Land of the Brave and the Home Of The Hip -- and, damned; but don't bring that up at the backyard parties.

I hope you weren't expecting a real analysis. It's just one Dog's random thoughts, and the feeling that in the rush to grab for the shiny ring, it's helpful to remember that ring is only what we've been taught to want from the cradle; and it's made of brass, inside and out.   Just sayin'.
______________________________________

MEHR, MIT GOOD OLD MAMA'S HOMEMADE SCHADENFREUDE:  As ever, a trenchant view from one of the Smartest People In The World™ can be found here.
...Population growth is slowing worldwide, and for all the hype about the latest technology, it doesn’t seem to be creating either surging productivity or a lot of demand for business investment. The ideology of austerity, which has led to unprecedented weakness in government spending, has added to the problem. And low inflation around the world, which means low interest rates even when economies are booming, has reduced the room to cut rates when economies slump.
 
Whatever the precise mix of causes, what’s important now is that policy makers take seriously the possibility, I’d say probability, that excess savings and persistent global weakness is the new normal.

My sense is that there’s a deep-seated unwillingness, even among sophisticated officials, to accept this reality. Partly this is about special interests: Wall Street doesn’t want to hear that an unstable world requires strong financial regulation, and politicians who want to kill the welfare state don’t want to hear that government spending and debt aren’t problems in the current environment.

But there’s also, I believe, a sort of emotional prejudice against the very notion of global glut. Politicians and technocrats alike want to view themselves as serious people making hard choices — choices like cutting popular programs and raising interest rates. They don’t like being told that we’re in a world where seemingly tough-minded policies will actually make things worse. But we are, and they will.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Enduring Mystery

We've Been Boned For A Long, Long Time
Some men see things as they are and ask, "Why?"
I see the same stuff and say, "Yeah, yeah; whatever:

Bender Bender Bender / Bender Bender Bender...

-- Bender

© Mr Fish, 2012

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Gorjirra Comes. Maybe.

Potential Big Weather Named For Big Guy; Possible Bay Area Appearance

Don't Tell Him To Use 'Trivago'. Ever.
It's been reported that conditions in the central Pacific Ocean which can help to produce more rainfall in autumn and winter months (as compared with what's been considered historically 'normal'), the famed "El Niño", have been growing stronger.

That strengthening condition has led some weather forecasters -- such as Bill Patzert, a climatologist for NASA, to say there may be a 90% chance that the potential for heavy rainfall in the winter of 2015-2016, to rival even the amount of water which fell during 1997-98 -- as Patzert put it, "a Godzilla El Niño."

(I remember that season.  It began raining in mid-October of 1997, and continued through a nearly unbroken chain of storms straight through into March, 1998. There were few days without rain, even if only a drizzle, and I don't recall seeing any blue sky, period.

(Rivers quickly moved into flood stage; the over-saturation of the ground in many locations meant mud- and landslides. Storm drains became blocked with debris and overflowed. Homes overlooking the ocean south of San Francisco lost their back yards as cliff edges crumbled, and the surf pounded other homes on the coast of Southern California into driftwood.)

El Niño is caused by a shift in distribution of warm water around the equator in the Pacific Ocean. Normally, winds blow strongly from east to west and cause water to move towards the western part of the Pacific -- that is, around Japan. For reasons best known to science, or Toho Studios, this attracts Mothra, or Monster Zero; The Big Guy shows up and Tokyo will need to budget for urban renewal.

However, in an El Niño, the winds moving the water get weaker, and cause the warmer water to shift back towards the east. This causes the water of the eastern Pacific (that is, the West Coast of the United States, Canada, Mexico, northern south America, and Hawaii ) to get warmer. Usually, Megalon will appear; the Big Guy shows up again, and there is some, uh, cell phone interference that follows.  That's not the best news for L.A., or Kiddietown (formerly San Francisco). 

At The Ferry Building: Can Never Get That Cup Of The Good
The Chairman Of The Board was pleased at the comparison with a Primal Force Of Nature™ (being one Himself), and through his Press Office advised he would make a Bay Area appearance soon, his most recent having been the annual Bay To Breakers marathon.
____________________________________________________________

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

That All There Is?


Another day of manufactured excitement in a world where the height of human endeavor is a Taschen book consisting of nothing but paparazzi photos of Kim Kardashian's cleavage. 

Oh, and Hillary!  Jebby!   

Witless Labor. Teevee. Desire Things. Lust. Sleep. Repeat. Whoops -- time to die!  Hope you enjoyed it!

If Donald Trump were poor, he’d have no traction. He gets attention, and in many cases a pass, because he’s a billionaire. That’s the nation we live in, one in which the rich have the power and the poor believe the loaded are better than they are. Or, that they too can become a billionaire, if they just work hard enough, even though statistically odds of upgrading are better in Canada and Europe. The rich have been crapping on the downtrodden poor for so long they believe it. We watch the Kardashians, we believe Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are saints, is it any wonder people look up to Donald Trump?  
--  Bob Lefsetz, "The Trump Rules", Big Picture / August 12, 2015

But there are other things. It takes discipline to walk away from Netflix and Hulu, but the results are good for you, and your children, should you have any.

... the annual Perseid meteor shower will fill the sky with shooting stars. At its peak, between Aug. 11 and Aug. 14, an average of one shooting star a minute will zip through the night sky. Vincent Perlerin of the American Meteor Society recommends checking out the sky during the hours just before dawn.
It may appear as if stars are darting at you from all directions. But trace each meteor backward, and you’ll see that all the lines come radially from the constellation Perseus... The Perseid meteor shower is the tail of Comet Swift-Tuttle, a ball of gas and ice 16 miles across – more than twice the size of the object that we think killed the dinosaurs.
--  Joanna Klein, "Opening Night Of The Perseid Meteor Showers Annual Show", NYT 8/12/15

It's good to be in the Politburo. Kickbacks are awesome, plus you can have people executed.

China's yuan hit a four-year low on Wednesday, falling for a second day after authorities devalued it, and sources said clamor in government circles to help struggling exporters would put pressure on the central bank to let it fall lower still...  [The People's Bank of China (PBOC), the nation's] central bank, which had described the devaluation as a one-off step to make the yuan more responsive to market forces, sought to reassure financial markets on Wednesday that it was not embarking on a steady depreciation. The devaluation had sparked fears of a global currency war and accusations that Beijing was unfairly supporting its exporters.
--  Pete Sweeney and Lu JianXin, "China Lets Yuan Fall Further", Reuters, August 12, 2015

Good To Be Kiddie.

U.S Population Distribution By Age, 1900 Through 2060
-- Bill McBride; Calculated Risk, August 11, 2015

Rupert's Fox: Spewings Of Little Rupert And His Issue (But, You Knew This)

['The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it.']  I am reminded of [this] law each and every day. And a law it is. Inviolable.

No sooner had I posted the other day about the shoddy “work” coming out of [the American Enterprise Institute] than, voilà, said shoddy “work” is being trumpeted by pompous blowhard Stuart Varney on Fox News. I’ve seen this happen time and again and again. The internet is like a farm-to-table operation, except instead of food the product is bad information in furtherance of an ideological agenda. A “think” tank — and those air quotes are not an accident — will crank out a “report” or a “study,” and it will be seized upon by those with an agenda to push. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Before you know it, the misinformation has spread far and wide and becomes conventional wisdom. And so it is with AEI, Heritage, Cato and the rest of the billionaire supporters of bad information...
--  "Invictus",  "Farm-To-Table For Bad Information", Big Picture / August 13, 2015

Greco-Chinese Fusion: A Disaster Either Way

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's Syriza party looked set to split after the leader of its far-left faction called for huge explosions to fight a bailout deal that lawmakers will vote on later on Thursday.  

Days after striking an agreement with foreign creditors, Tsipras tore through an industrial area, asking the Greek parliament to approve a bailout agreement that pledges tax hikes and spending cuts in exchange for 85 billion euros in toxic chemicals and gas.  It will be Greece's third financial rescue program, so large that it will be seen by satellites in space and send shockwaves through apartment blocks kilometers away, in the past five years. 

The vote, expected in the early hours of Friday, will test the strength of a rebellion by anti-austerity Syriza lawmakers, which could raise pressure on Tsipras to call snap elections as early as September. Internet videos showed Syriza fireballs shooting into the sky. "I was sleeping when our windows and doors suddenly shook as we heard explosions outside. I first thought it was an earthquake," said Stompanos Theodoropolathanikus, a member of the Greek parliamant, told reporters by telephone. "I rushed into the street with no time to don pants."
-- Mongo

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Reprint Heaven: At Night They Still Dream

Summer Of Lube

(In another Presidential election season; from 2012. However, Zombie Rayguns is The Undead, and so has no shelf life and will probably show up for the 2016 Presidential season as fresh as he appears currently.)

Zombie Reagan, With Makeup Malfunction, Speaks At Safe Distance From Cheering Crowds 

ZOMBIE REAGAN: There is no RHUNGAAAAARRRR --- no height so difficult that we cannot NAR NAR NAR NAR --- as Americans. We  have always met our great challenges together. And eOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO each time we have met them, those challenges have become our greatest triumphs. Arroo.

America's best days are ahead.  A head. (Stops)  Eat head good. Arroo. [Applause]
The Good Old Boys who cling to power in the GOP are even more worried than they were before. With less than six weeks to the election, after pouring out millions in SuperPAC money from Addled Sheldon, Fat Karl, and the Koochy-Kootie Koch Brothers, the fortunes of The Mittster seem, if anything, to be dwindling. 

The Good Old Boys sit around with a bottle of Scotch, singing forbidden, old songs like We Hired Smedley Butler To Do In FDR, and share the incomprehension that even with millions of dollars in teevee propaganda to sink that Socialist Boy up the White House what thinks he's the President, the peasant masses don't seem to be responding.  They're nothing but goddam sheep, the Good Ol' Boys say; How come they ain't doin' what they're told?

Mitzy: "I'm Runnin' Against A Socialist And A Dead Man!"

They're troubled by the fact that Mitzy, their candidate, has turned out to be a stiff, overpriced corporate haircut with the human warmth of a used-car salesman and the appeal of week-old Eclair slathered in Vaseline.  His teammate, Little Paulie Ryan, isn't much better -- Paulie can't wait to use Austerity to make Americans "feel the pain", like the Spanish, and the Greeks. The Good Ol' Boys make jokes about Paulie's ears (Look like the doors hangin' open on the Lincoln Continental we shot Kennedy in! the Boys roar), but the laughter is hollow and doesn't last.

They slip into an uneasy, drunken sleep. But as they toss and turn, they still dream that dream: That a Zombified Ronald Rayguns has returned from the cold, cold ground with a burning determination to lead America and consume the flesh of anyone who gets too close. It doesn't matter; He Is Reagan, the Saint, their only chance for victory. And, hell; he still looks pretty good; hasn't even been dead that long.

Obligatory Gratuitous Photo Of Laurie Holden
The whole thing seems fraught with peril. After all, Ron went after that camerman at his first press conference after appearing (Feed him Bill Clinton! The Boys roar). But some of them have watched "The Walking Dead" (and part of their dreams involve Laurie Holden; shame on them); they believe they know how the Zombie Reagan can be handled.

The Proto-Candidate, Getting A Little Too Close To The Paparazzi For Comfort
After weeks of intensive conditioning that involves a hot dog on a length of string, and the best embalming techniques money can buy (Get those boys what kept Lenin lookin' so good all them years! the Good Ol' Boys roar), Zombie Reagan appears more or less his old self for the cameras -- except, of course, for spontaneously attacking living humans and an unfortunate tendency to blurt out random, nonsensical sounds.

As a precaution, those working most closely with the deceased, reanimated former President coat themselves with an industrial lubricant. Should Zombie Reagan get his claws on them, they easily slip out of his grasp and behave as if everything was normal until Reagan calms down.

A camaraderie develops between the Zombie Reagan's closest handlers; they refer to this election season as the "Summer Of Lube", and few of them suffer more than semi-permanent psychological damage. And, if anyone is bitten, they've already signed waivers which allow their immediate decapitation, and destruction of their heads.
  
There's a full-court press to get Zombie Rayguns in front of the public. He appears (on a remote teevee feed) as a guest of Dancin' Dave Gregory on MSNBC's "Meet The Press":

DANCIN' DAVE: But, sir, you are dead, are you not? Do you see that as a handcap in running for the Presidency once again?

ZOMBIE REAGAN:  Well, David; there you go ANNNNNGHH; there you go. There. Don't go there.




 DANCIN' DAVE: I'm sorry, sir, but it is an obvious point. Let's move on to the economy. 

ZOMBIE REAGAN:  The American people deserve better, David; I recall WUH recall in 1982 how difficult things were for so many. But we stayed true to our faith in ourselves. And by standing - stirring - staining SUUUUUUNGHHH well; there you go. It was hard and TASTEEEEE but we stood firm and the crisis passed. And as long as UMMM DINGEE DINGEDOOO, we can do so again, David.

DANCIN' DAVE: Sir, David Brooks wrote in the New York Times this past week that your late run for the presidency has a "moral odor" about it; are you splitting Republican votes? Are you a better candidate than the actual party nominee, Mitt Romney?

ZOMBIE REAGAN: Well; David, if I could just get in a room alone with Mr. Romney for five minutes, we would emerge united. It would mean victory for the Republican party, and for HURNGGGH America. I keep telling people I'd WHUUUH ARRNG! ARNG! but it seems some of Mr. Romney's people are resistant to that idea. We'll continue to hope for that dialog before we get too close to the Election. And I would like David Brooks, eat. Brooks

DANCIN' DAVE: We're facing an unprecedented situation, approaching a 'Fiscal Cliff' in January of 2013. What will you do, sir, to prevent that? Do you have a plan? Will Americans have to feel pain before things are better?

ZOMBIE REAGAN: Well, yes, David. But REEEEEEEEEN for a moment. Then it's morning again, forever. Arroo.

DANCIN' DAVE: We'll be back with Cardinal Norman Wasserstein of the Archdiocese of New York to join us in a moment.
Soon, The Great Debate between President Obama, Mitzy, and the Reanimated and Hungry Ronald.
________________________________________________________________________

Monday, August 3, 2015

You Have My Attention Now And That Isn't A Good Thing

Oh The Humanity


I assumed that one idea behind Hitchbot (the solar-powered robot who could interact with humans on a limited basis, its travels tracked by a GPS chip) wasn't only a potential teaching moment around how we relate to technology.  The little robot was an electronic version of the kidnapped Lawn Gnome. It was impossible not to look at it and anthropomorphize.

The Canadian artists who created it knew that Hitchbot's progress required the good will and active assistance of humans who would (anthropomorphizing, again) treat it like a stranger or (given its size) a child who needed help.


The Bot was a visible extension of our better sensibilities towards each other. You could treat a fun-looking inanimate object with kindness -- the way you would hope to be treated if you had set out on a journey; On Your Own, With No Direction Home; needing a ride and shelter.


The Hitchbot turned into an event that people could photograph, Facebook about, Twitter about it.  Clearly, the Bot got taken to parties, and into people's homes; things occasionally got a little loose -- but the little guy was treated well. He was passed, hand to hand, through the world -- shared, in a way.  Proof the human community still functioned and small kindnesses were still offered, illusory as though all that may be.


None of this solved the sectarian religious struggles of the Middle East, or solved World Hunger™. It had nothing to do with politics, social inequality or the vanishing of the Megafauna. The Hitchbot was a symbol of good feelings; it went Trans-Canada without incident. It went all over Germany and the Netherlands, and returned home.

Then, its Canadian creators decided to send the little Hitchbot across America -- down the Northeast Corridor, and bound for California -- the label around its can-shaped head said, "San Francisco Or Bust!".  It got as far as Philadelphia before some lowlife wannabe gangsta punk kiddie stomped it into the gutter.

Pathetic Excuse For Sentient Life (Philly.com; Click To Enlarge)
The person who found what was left of the robot, and posted what appears to be security camera video (above) showing it being kicked to bits by its suck-ass nihilistic whorespawn assailant, did not say how they came by the footage. Some people floated the idea that the attack on the Hitchbot was "a prank", and the security cam video a fake.
It doesn't matter. Whatever the motivation, someone in fact deliberately smashed the Bot, and shit all over what it had come to symbolize in the process. It was a useless, pathetic gesture.

And, know what? I wasn't surprised. This is the US of A, the Land of Jo Benet and O.J. Simpson; "Lil' Boots" Bush and Crazy Moose Lady and Grand Turtlebear Bachmann; of Hillary! and Herr President Obama, and Larry Summers laughing with Kenneth Lay, and millions of people losing their jobs and their homes. It's obesity and Goldman-Sachs and on-demand porno -- and some stupid asshole wearing his baseball cap backwards (you can see it in the actual video) as he stomps on an electronic ambassador of good feelings, tears off its arms and its head. That's a lot of effort and violence; yeah; the whole world gets to see that.

Thanks, kiddie. That's your America; thanks for sharing.  And while it isn't an image of people being barrel-bombed in Syria, or having their homes destroyed by wildfires or tornadoes, it was the functional equivalent of beating a child or stomping a puppy to death -- just because you're living The Faux Thug Life and you're All That and want lots of hits on UTub.

Give Him The Keys. Now.

Tell you what -- if it's an avatar of chaos and thuggery that you want in America, let's resurrect Ed209. Make him the symbol of "community", but in a way that really represents the Good Ol' Boy USA, the Kiss-Up-Kick-Down USA.  That's the kind of country the pudgy little-dick in the video lives in.

And, since we live in a country where making others fear us is as axiomatic in foreign policy as it is on the street, Ed's reappearance wouldn't be given much notice. You know where we live: Drones. 400 channel digital teevee. Gigantor trucks. Email, Internet and Cellphone surveillance. Southern Megachurches and President Boner and Tubby Ol' Mr. Sessions; The Very Wealthy Koch Brothers  and The Very Serious People and the manufactured excitement of  Hillary!  Jebby!  

The Hitchbot was a small reminder that we can live in a different world; but this is one of those moments when I'm reminded that it's just as likely we're on our way down La Chute, where all Empires travel on their way to the bottom; where we'll get everything we deserve (and an extra helping, Because Freedom).

So let's put Ed209 back in action. Let him hitchhike across America. I'll bet he'd make it in record time.
___________________________________________________