Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Armed Guards Protecting Last Male Alive

Last week while wrangling with a dicey alternator in an older model pickup truck, I encountered a couple of folks from Cosby who went far beyond being helpful. These folks went out of their way to provide aid and assistance to strangers - so much so that we had to marvel at such vivid proof of how good people can be.

It was one of those small events that makes one feel so upbeat about humanity.

And today I read of a male white rhino - one of only five alive and the last male - that's being guarded around the clock in Kenya in an effort to keep a 50 million year old species alive.

How good, on the one hand, an effort is being made to keep the critter alive. 

How sad it has come down to such action. It sounds like a short story, a rarest of the rare animals being guarded by gun-toting watchmen.The rhino horn is basically hair - wiping out a species for a hunk of hair likewise seems a made-up story, but it is not. So much for feeling hopeful about my fellow humans.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring - Time 2015

Yes, it does seem that as the intermingling social interactions via the Internet are moving faster (tweets, tags vines, InstaBabble) I might appear to be blogging slower. Time is relative you know.

This is for your benefit, dear reader. What you read here has actually been pondered and constructed to be worth a bit more than the Time it takes to read it. Such posts are certainly created by others, probably quicker too. These posts are but good things among good things. 

You, dear reader, I thank for your Time, and proffer a few Timely items below:

Spring is getting shorter, Summer is getting longer.

" ... for thousands of years, spring has been losing time in the Northern Hemisphere. This year, summer is the longest season, with 93.65 days ... As the years go on, spring will lose time to summer, and winter will lose time to autumn ..."

I am ok with this.  

This next article has some dubious sections, but a curious theory on Time could be intimated by experimentation with the Large Hadron Collider -

"The detection of miniature black holes by the Large Hadron Collider could prove the existence of parallel universes and show that the Big Bang did not happen, scientists believe."

I am far more concerned about miniature black holes than the big bang proof. And of course there are parallel universes ... aren't there?

And here, a Spring/Time movie recommendation. It's based quite closely to Robert Heinlein's "All You Zombies" and is now on DVD titled "Predestination". Very good science fiction film, without all the typical trappings. But when the Time paradoxes start to kick in, the story takes off. It begins as an almost detective story, but grows into something far more vast. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Heading Into A Digital Dark Age

One of the million or so pieces of cuneiform writing awaiting someone to decipher it.

Google V.P. Vint Cerf - often tagged as one of the Internet's founders - warned of a coming lost century since digitized information fades fast as technology and software change.

"Ancient civilizations suffered no such problems, because histories written in cuneiform on baked clay tablets, or rolled papyrus scrolls, needed only eyes to read them. To study today’s culture, future scholars would be faced with PDFs, Word documents, and hundreds of other file types that can only be interpreted with dedicated software and sometimes hardware too.

"The problem is already here. In the 1980s, it was routine to save documents on floppy disks, upload Jet Set Willy from cassette to the ZX spectrum, slaughter aliens with a Quickfire II joystick, and have Atari games cartridges in the attic. Even if the disks and cassettes are in good condition, the equipment needed to run them is mostly found only in museums.

"The rise of gaming has its own place in the story of digital culture, but Cerf warns that important political and historical documents will also be lost to bit rot. In 2005, American historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote Team of Rivals: the Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, describing how Lincoln hired those who ran against him for presidency. She went to libraries around the US, found the physical letters of the people involved, and reconstructed their conversations. “In today’s world those letters would be emails and the chances of finding them will be vanishingly small 100 years from now,” said Cerf."

Full article is here.

Meanwhile, some folks are thinking and working on the structure of a 10,000 year memory structure. Meet the Long Now Foundation.

History no longer belongs to those who write of it - it belongs to those who know how to archive and access it across thousands of years.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Jon Stewart - The Importance of Accountability

The clearest and most sane response to the loopy, hypocritical and dangerous trends in politics and media for this century has come from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show (echoed and amplified by The Colbert Report).

I can barely imagine what our world might have become without it. The awesome weight and power of the satire provided via Stewart's company of comedians and writers was inescapable and palpable. In the stormiest of times, the calm of laughter and the presence of wisdom somehow made such storms endurable.

America has a rich history of sharp and straight shooters who called "bullshit" when it needed to be called - Mark Twain, Will Rogers, Kurt Vonnegut. 

While I hate to see Stewart step away, I know that 16 years of televising the ridiculing of the Abyss must be deeply exhausting and trying. I hope he realizes how incredibly valuable and necessary his show has been. It isn't just a job well done, it's been a vital voice on a global scale. And it's a voice that was a collaboration of writers and producers most of us will never even know.

His first Daily Show broadcast tackled the ongoing lunacy of a President Clinton impeachment hearing, and perhaps, as the Obama presidency winds down, the nation may be entering a new cycle, We all hope for less lunacy, but really, a satirist can only point the way in which we should proceed.

I salute you, sir. I thank you. I hope we remember the importance of accountability.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In Tennessee, You Can't Discuss Health Care Reforms

It seems the first rule of the Tennessee Legislature on Health Care Reform is You Cant' Talk About Health Care Reform.

Senator and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, aka The Trickster, created a brand new temporary committee to make sure all debate, discussion, exploration, investigation and open communication on Health Care Reform died on the table before the Legislature could even consider talking about it.

"In short, Lt. Gov. Ramsey stacked the deck.  How he did it is now well known.  He created an ad hoc Health and Welfare Committee specifically for the special session that bears little resemblance to the actual Health and Welfare Committee that will meet this week and for the remainder of the legislative session.  Ramsey purposefully stacked this “extraordinary” Senate Health and Welfare Committee with six state senators who openly opposed Insure Tennessee but do not actually serve on the standing committee.  To make room for these “no” votes, Lt. Gov. Ramsey removed three healthcare professionals, as well as the bill’s Senate sponsor, from the standing committee.  Ultimately, all six of the temporary committee members voted “no” and killed the Governor’s proposal, effectively ending the special session."

The move was a parliamentary legal dodge, perhaps. The result was vividly clear: no discussion of the issue, no discussion of solutions, no open debate. 

Governor Bill 'Gee Whiz Kid' Haslam, who said he had a reform plan to consider, was quoted afterwards as saying "Gee whiz, that didn't work". (NOTE: I made that up, it's a joke, like the "vote" just held.)

6 of the 7 members on the New Committee all have state-run, subsidized health care. But talking about how the state could expand coverage for state residents - that's not allowed:

"Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, who clashed with a Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville Wednesday when Yarbro pointed out "that virtually every member of the Tennessee General Assembly receives some form of tax-subsidized health care."

"Retorted Gardenhire: "I have a very nice health care [plan] provided to me through my private employer."

"Following Wednesday's meeting, Gardenhire said in an interview he was on the state employee health plan. But he said he has never used it and relies instead on his private insurance.

"According to records provided at the request of the Times Free Press and other news organizations by the Department of Finance and Administration, other Republicans voting against Haslam's Insure Tennessee who are on the state health plan, which funds 80 percent of employee premiums, are: Sen. Mike Bell of Riceville, Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown, Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield and Health Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe of Johnson City.

The issue first surfaced in a Times Free Press article on Monday that pointed out 116 of 132 senators and representatives had state-government subsidized coverage..."

Friday, January 30, 2015

People Who Eat Food Are At Risk

In this week's New Yorker, a fascinating and slightly disgusting story of one man who encountered a nasty little thing called Salmonella Heidelberg - the writer also details the confusing and often self-defeating maze of food safety oversight ... some excerpts are below ...

"In September of 2013, Rick Schiller awoke in bed with his right leg throbbing. Schiller, who is in his fifties, lives in San Jose, California. He had been feeling ill all week, and, as he reached under the covers, he found his leg hot to the touch. He struggled to sit upright, then turned on a light and pulled back the sheet. “My leg was about twice the normal size, maybe even three times,” he told me. “And it was hard as a rock, and bright purple.”

"When a doctor examined his leg, she warned him that it was so swollen there was a chance it might burst. She tried to remove fluid with a needle, but nothing came out. “So she goes in with a bigger needle—nothing comes out,” Schiller said. “Then she goes in with a huge needle, like the size of a pencil lead—nothing comes out.” When the doctor tugged on the plunger, the syringe filled with a chunky, meatlike substance. “And then she gasped,” Schiller said.

"In the U.S., responsibility for food safety is divided among fifteen federal agencies. The most important, in addition to the F.S.I.S., is the Food and Drug Administration, in the Department of Health and Human Services. In theory, the line between these two should be simple: the F.S.I.S. inspects meat and poultry; the F.D.A. covers everything else. In practice, that line is hopelessly blurred. Fish are the province of the F.D.A.—except catfish, which falls under the F.S.I.S. Frozen cheese pizza is regulated by the F.D.A., but frozen pizza with slices of pepperoni is monitored by the F.S.I.S. Bagel dogs are F.D.A.; corn dogs, F.S.I.S. The skin of a link sausage is F.D.A., but the meat inside is F.S.I.S."

Who's up for some lunch?

SIDE NOTE - a never identified Tennessee correctional facility was hit with this problem in 2014, Tyson issued a recall, 15 states involved, details here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Heading For Doomsday Say Clock-Keepers

Historians could likely determine when and where humans began to ponder on The End of The World As We Know It – when folks felt some inexorable urge to hang over the heads of humanity the demise of all existence. Today, perhaps, one could sit at a keyboard and monitor and search the Internet to explore that mystery.

Fortunately, or not, for the last 70 years, Western Civilization has had a metaphorical clock to measure the approach of extinction – the dire-named Doomsday Clock.  Thursday, clock-keepers alerted us that we are now at 11:57, three minutes til midnight, aka Doomsday. It’s a two-minute leap since the last move of the clock’s hands in 2012.

I’m not sure what purpose the metaphorical timepiece serves – to insure we all accept the inevitability of our collective demise despite our actions to prolong Life? Is it to signal us, like a football game’s 2-minute warning, that the Terminal Last Call approaches so that we can … what? Hunker down? Hug loved ones close? Launch some Kal-El into the vast depths of space?

Maybe it’s akin to that school teacher warning the class that everyone will get detention unless “you straighten up and fly right, Buster?”

It is discomfiting to realize humans may actually possess both the weapons and the will to demolish humanity.

Perhaps it’s akin to those dreamy notions of Nostalgia – everything was better in Times long past, only despair and death are ahead, and the Now is merely longing and regret and dread.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Cartoons of War and Murder

via cartoonist Rob Tornoe
How odd is it that we live in a time when terror threats against a low-brow fart-joke movie ("The Interview") and the massacre of cartoonists with Charlie Hebdo in France make worldwide headlines?

Kudos to Pith In The Wind for reprinting a selection of cover cartoons from Charlie Hebdo.

Here is a link to cartoonists responding to the massacre. 

The murders in France will in fact make sure more people will see the works of Charlie Hebdo so despised by delusional extremists. Perhaps that is a victory of sorts.

(NOTE: I;m aware of the irony of this post after my previous post)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Is America's Longest War Really Over?

A ceremony in a secret location (secret due to fears of attack) has been held to declare an end to America's longest war, in Afghanistan. Well, really it was a declaration from NATO. Over 10,000 American troops remain until the end of 2016.

Despite the cartoon above in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, this opera is sadly far from over. The "fat lady" isn't onstage yet, much less singing a finale.

"If only it were possible to end a war unilaterally. But it's not. As the military likes to say, the enemy gets a vote. And there is no sign that the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups have any intention of ending their armed struggle to seize power in Kabul. Indeed, 2014 was the deadliest year of the war so far, with nearly 10,000 civilian casualties and some 5,000 deaths among the Afghan security forces — far more than the 2,224 Americans killed in Afghanistan in more than 13 years of combat since October 2001." (via)

Still, I'm all for NATO and the US getting out sooner rather than later. The future depends of so much on Afghanistan and what they want ... determining what they want and need is impossible to determine after their 3 decades of constant warfare. Perhaps reducing combat is truly the first step. But no fat ladies are singing a finale. 

Sadly, short-sighted and angry folks waging a political battle in Washington and in Kabul don't want this show to ever end.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sony, Korea and Millions of Shoes

Movies can be dangerous things. Comedy and satire too mingle with danger, tyrants and dictators aren't powerful due to their great sense of wit.

Yesterday, fearful of a promise of violent attack on movie theaters showing "The Interview", Sony Pictures pulled the movie from release. The movie's comic misadventures in a silly CIA plot to assassinate an actual, living human dictator in North Korea catapulted it from obscurity to infamy and history in record time.

Immediately too, cries that removal of the movie from distribution was giving terrorists control followed Sony's decision.

Sadly, caving in to demands of supposed terrorists seems more a rule than an exception.

Millions upon millions of shoes being removed at airports seems proof of that. Nation after nation has embraced a grim surveillance society since 2001. Haven't we already caved?

As for the movie -- did North Korean hackers acting on behalf of the state attack Sony? Some say no way:

"It's not possible. It would have taken months, maybe even years, to exfiltrate something like 100 terabytes of data without anyone noticing. ... Look at the bandwidth going into North Korea. I mean, the pipelines, the pipes going in, handling data, they only have one major ISP across their entire nation. That kind of information flowing at one time would have shut down North Korean Internet completely."

"Monsegur thinks it's also possible this was an inside job, that an employee or consultant downloaded all the information from Sony's servers and then sold it to someone else."

The potential of lawsuits against distributors and theater owners seems large, given they had been "warned" ahead of time of an attack on theaters.

The screenwriter of "The Interview" is beyond amazed by all this.