Susan's Musings

This section of my web site is for unstructured self-expression. Sort of a blog. Your comments are appreciated. In any case, I get to vent. Essays, monographs, poems, book reviews, and comments.

Please visit my separate economics blog.

Prior years: 2107 2106 2105 2104 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001
Is asylum still available to Europeans?
Nadia Comaneci is a Romanian gymnast who, during the 1976 Olympics at Montreal, won a perfect 10.0 score for her performance on the uneven bars. She was the first gymnast to receive a perfect score in any Olympics. She mesmerized the world, and won six additional tens.

The government of Romania kept her from leaving the country, aside from the 1984 Olympics. In 1989 she defected with a group of other Romanians. First she went to Hungary. Three days later she contacted a U.S. embassy in Europe to request refugee status. The next day she arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport, New York from Vienna.

She became a US citizen in 2001.

Would she be able to get asylum in America today? (8-20-2018)

Atheism and theism, Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedges debate in 2007
I enjoy driving, and I enjoy listening to provocative conversations on the radio while I drive. Yesterday I heard part of a debate between Christopher Hitchens and Chris Hedges which fascinated me, that debate was titled "Is God Great". I learned today that it had been recorded in 2007. You can listen here. (8-16-2018)
Catholic Church Molestation Cover Up
The Roman Catholic Church is above the law, at least in America. Catholic priests have been known to rape children and participate in sex trafficking, but with legal impunity. Listen to an audio recording of July 15's Flashponts on KPFA. (8-16-2018)
The power of the consumer
We are often told that ours is a "consumer society." What rubbish! No authentic society can be based on shopping. What is really meant is that ours is a "consumer economy." This may be true, or not. I must have written about it some time ago; personally, I find it a revolting idea.

What stirs me today is an essay in The Guardian wherein the author claims that recreational consumers of cocaine are responsible for narco-trafficker violence. And that if such consumers quit using cocaine, the narco-trafficker violence would stop. Complete balderdash!

This argument seeks to blame consumers for production problems. I regularly encounter claims that if I as a consumer avoid a particular product, then that product will eventually cease to be made. This is complete fantasy.

Let's consider the inclusion of genetically-modified organisms in food, which I will call "GM food" for linguistic convenience. I think this is a vile practice, and one that renders the original "food" as "non-food." I choose to not eat GM food. Because the producers have successfully resisted all labeling requirements (another example of the fallacy of consumer responsibility), the only way I can avoid GM food is to buy only organic food.

Not buying food at all in order to protest its production methods is impossible. So there is no way that consumers can, at least in the marketplace, stop GM food production. Alas, ridiculing food producers for resisting labeling of GMOs as being anti-consumer is pointless. This is a great example of the way in which our economy and government ignore and override the wishes of the holy consumer.

Consumers of GM food are not responsible for the horrors of GMOs and their inclusion in our food supply. Similarly, recreational consumers of cocaine are not responsible for narco-trafficker violence. (8-2-2018)

Refuting science
Man-made climate change is a concept developed by scientists and supported by many scientists, by most scientists, but not by all scientists.

What sense can be made of its refutation by non-scientists? This is commonly done by politicians and citizens, even residents of cities that have been burned out by abnormally strong wildfires in the wake of extended drying heat.

So much of our daily lives is based on science. Certainly all the technology that we consume around the clock, like smart phones and the internet. Tap water, electric lights, air conditioners, automobiles, elevators — they are all based on science.

Much of our understanding of the distant past is based on science: ice ages, dinosaurs, the evolution of homo sapiens.

Do we get to pick and choose which science we agree with and which we do not?

I think not.

What passes for scientific thought is more properly described as scientific theories that have been subject to formal and rigorous validation and accepted by trained scientists. Non-scientists can observe this validation, but may not participate in it.

You are free to hold your opinions on whether ice is simply solid water or something else, whether there is a man in the moon, and whether human activity is affecting climate. Your belief in these possibilities may be satisfying to you, but is of no significance to scientists. Your belief in these possibilities is not the same thing as your agreement or disagreement with scientific theories.

You have no basis for choosing to refute scientific theories. You have no basis for questioning the scientific theory of man-made climate change. (8-1-2018)

Another day, another horror
The fires in Greece, not even mentioned on the front page of The Guardian until today (July 24).

The US government determined to extract every dollar from the environment, as if people, the food sources we rely on, and wildlife do not need the environment. (This comment is prompted by an article on searching for oil in the Arctic.)

The endless saber rattling. It's not just the military-industrial complex, as recognized by Eisenhower, it is the corporate 1% intent on more. And to get that more, the rest of the world must be converted into client states, with resources to mine free of limitations. If such conversion can be accomplished by trade agreements, fine, it not, let's bomb the fuckers. The only good Russian is a dead Russian — while I have not found this sentiment (yet), it seems to be lurking silently in the wings.

And so capitalism proves itself to be a ravening beast. (7-24-2018)

Sacramento delta and ocean fisheries
For some time California has experienced problems in its ocean fisheries. One example is Dungeness crab which, for the past few years, has been contaminated with domoic acid, a "fatal toxin." Ah, the explanations for why this is present in the crab populations include El Niño, which is accused of raising the water temperature. The Delta Smelt are almost extinct. The Sacramento Salmon numbers are in decline.

Recent water news in California has to do with finding a new balance between supply and demand, a huge challenge given that domestic and agricultural demand has been allowed to expand to the greatest supply levels. And supply these days is significantly less than it used to be, and even expected to continue to decrease.

What if the problems with the Sacramento delta and ocean fisheries are caused by decreased outflows of fresh water from the Sacramento River into the Pacific Ocean? Will we be forced to choose between domestic uses of water and wildlife? Of course! (7-23-2018)

"Russia did it" has become quite the talking point
All major news outlets have adopted it. Many politicians have adopted it. It flavors many conversations. Is a "back channel" evidence of a crime? Is "networking" evidence of a crime?

The media falls all over itself decrying Russian intervention in American elections. The media constantly refer to "the indictments."

The facts are hard to find, but they are there: There is only one indictment. An indictment is a story, it is not proof, nor is it legal judgment. There is no evidence that anybody, Russian or otherwise, interfered in American elections; the DOJ admits this.

Wake up America! We are being played by the saber rattlers. Just because the message is repeated so often and with such seriousness, doesn't make it even the tiniest bit true. (What that reflects is corporate ownership of news.) We have solutions to the possibility of unauthorized access to election documents: take them offline and paper backup. Why aren't these solutions being discussed and implemented? Do we prefer the "woe is me" attitude so prevalent today?

A second story has somehow gotten intertwined: that the American president was treasonous in his speech at the July 2018 news conference in Helsinki. I suggest this story has been sold because it plays into the "Russia did it" story. Is the media so short of real news that they deliberately confuse the poor public speaking skills of a man prancing on the public stage with intentional insults? The media have been quiet about these poor public speaking skills all along. What has changed? (7-23-2018)

Formerly known as food
I've spent years considering which foods are best to eat and which are best avoided. I study nutrition, farming, industrial agriculture. And then I go to the grocery store and am instantly surrounded by packages claiming to contain "food," almost all of which also contain a plethora of industrial chemicals. If I am determined to avoid eating genetically modified plants and animals, then I choose "organic" products — because America does not require producers to label GM products.

Kristin Lawless has recently published a book Formerly Known As Food: How the Industrial Food System is Changing Our Minds, Bodies and Culture. One of her themes is that focusing eating advice on the individual is ineffective, the better approach is to focus on the corporate producers.

Russell Mokhiber has written a review in CounterPunch titled "Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen". Highly recommended. (7-21-2018)

Whatever happened to the USS Liberty in 1967?
In June 1967 the USS Liberty was attacked by the Israeli air force in an unprovoked action. The Liberty was a lightly armed surveillance ship. At the time of the attack it was in international waters about 13 miles from the shore at El Arish (the largest city on the Sinai); it had been sent there by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to monitor the Six Day War, Israel's attack on the Arab states. The Liberty was attacked for two hours by rockets and machine gun fire, napalm bomblets, and eventually torpedoes. When the Liberty was finally able to contact US military command, no help arrived until 16 hours later. By that time, 34 US sailors were dead and 174 injured, many seriously. Within three weeks, the Navy put out a 700-page report, exonerating the Israelis, claiming the attack had been accidental.

It's hard to avoid conclusions like (1) the Liberty was set up, (2) US military covered up Israeli aggression, and (3) the US government covered up the story. It also suggests the continuing ties between the Israeli government and the US government are hiding, and that the cover up was in support of increasing sales of American arms to Israel. Was Israel testing America's commitment to an arms customer? Or America's willingness to look the other way?

There is an interesting account on CounterPunch.

This story is worth a review because at this time we are experiencing (1) doubt in the honesty of our government and military officials and (2) Israel is increasing its aggression with its neighbors, aggression that is ignored by the American press.

Trump might be better served asking about the Liberty than Hillary's emails.

This behavior is unlikely based on his continued smiling support of Israel, and disinterest in the Palestinians. (7-21-2018)

The 7-13-2018 indictment decoded
The text of the indictment is online for your reading pleasure as well as the DOJ Press Release Number: 18-923

There is one indictment, it lists 12 men and cites 6 chapters of the crimes and criminal procedures section of the U.S. Code that apply to the allegations. This indictment is an action of the DOJ, the press release acknowledges "the help of the FBI's cyber teams." There is no indication that the indictment has the support of any national security agency, as has been wafted around the news.

The primary crime is the theft of emails and other documents from servers belonging to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential election campaign (Clinton Campaign). The twelve are accused of money laundering solely on the basis of using Bitcoin to pay for the infrastructure they used to commit these crimes — as if Bitcoin is automatically evidence of money laundering!

My tentative conclusions:

In summary, "Russia interfered with the 2016 election" remains unproven. (7-19-2018)

We take oaths seriously
Mr. President, you took an oath of office in which you promised to protect and defend this nation. Your performance in Europe this past week (July), in particular your meeting with Putin, violated that oath. I humbly request that you shape up or ship out. (7-17-2018)
Fake News
Now, after the July 2018 Helsinki meeting between T and P, it is clear that when T says "fake news," he is referring to news he does not want to admit to. Let me extend this a bit, "fake news" is "fake" because T does not want to hear it, does not want others hearing it. He uses title case — "Fake News" — to refer to newspapers who print fake news. (7-17-2018)
Oh no
We are being shown evidence that Trump's loyalty lies with the American 1% and the Russian president and oligarchs. Both of these contradict what I thought was possible 4 years ago. This will never make America great. It will make America subservient and the American working class even poorer than it already is. (7-15-2018)
Trump-Putin conference in Helsinki
Senator John McCain spoke about the recent conference between Trump and Putin. I copy it here for future reference.

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naiveté, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.

“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world.

“It is tempting to describe the press conference as a pathetic rout – as an illustration of the perils of under-preparation and inexperience. But these were not the errant tweets of a novice politician. These were the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule, his violent disregard for the sovereignty of his neighbors, his complicity in the slaughter of the Syrian people, his violation of international treaties, and his assault on democratic institutions throughout the world.

“Coming close on the heels of President Trump’s bombastic and erratic conduct towards our closest friends and allies in Brussels and Britain, today’s press conference marks a recent low point in the history of the American Presidency. That the president was attended in Helsinki by a team of competent and patriotic advisors makes his blunders and capitulations all the more painful and inexplicable.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.” (7-15-2018)

Development and preservation
Read my essay! (7-8-2018)
What if
What if the government raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour, raised Social Security benefits, converted the ACA into Medicare-For-All, and raised corporate taxes?

What if the government fully staffed embassies, withdrew all military forces from off-shore, cut the military budget to a third, and raised VA (veterans) benefits?

How do we want immigration and immigrants treated? (6-24-2018)

Multicultural
Multicultural is an adjective describing a society comprised of many different cultures. America has been multicultural for much of its life, but that quality has been difficult to recognize in this time. Why? Today's Americans are the descendants of immigrants, people who came to America speaking only their native language and adhering to their native customs. Their children and grandchildren adapted to America by using English and adopting American customs. When the Irish looked, sounded, and acted no different than the early English immigrants, they had "melted" into the American society.

Some Americans today fear strangers. They fear people speaking their own language, following their own native customs. This fear prompts sharp anger towards the possibility of "multiculturism," a situation they perceive as a threat.

Just wait awhile. All immigrants assimilate over time.

And about that fear of strangers. Have you heard the expression "don't be a stranger"? I've had friends and family say that to me, they meant keep in touch, keep in contact, if you cannot meet me face to face, then phone or write. So you can try to meet your neighbors who are strangers to you. Think of it as wading into the shallow end, eventually you may be willing and able to wade in a bit more. But it you are not, don't worry about it. (6-24-2018)

Net neutrality
IMHO the time has come and passed to convert internet access by private providers to public providers. The path from twisted-pair telephone service and coax cable provided by telephone industry firms is still visible. It is time to shift gears, and make internet access a service provided by local, public organizations. Let AT&T keep its telephone services, let Comcast keep its cable television services. But please, let public community organizations be the ones to provide internet access to me and my neighbors.

And shift ownership and administration of the internet backbone to public players, including government-sponsored network access organizations. Yes, the internet backbone is a currently a conglomeration of multiple, redundant networks owned by numerous companies. It may be that the redundancy will be sufficient to maintain net neutrality. If not, change it.

Public access can be subject to local and state regulation. Those regulations can include net neutrality. I would like to see end-user access available at a very low cost, even at no cost. Since government agencies have largely converted their public access from telephone and paper to the internet, the public should not have to pay for this access. (6-14-2018)

Trump and Korea
Geography has a strong influence. Over the centuries, Korea, Japan, and China have partnered with and warred on each other. Korea has shared borders with Russia and China. Japan is separated from Korea by 122 miles of the Sea of Japan. Japan is separated from China by 200 miles of the East China Sea.

Korea was split in two in 1948 as a result of a cold war between the USA and USSR, each of the two pieces claimed to be the legitimate government of all Korea.

The Korean War is still alive and well. It began in 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea. Both countries quickly acquired allies: The United Nations, with the United States as the principal force, came to the aid of South Korea shortly after its invasion by North Korea. China came to the aid of North Korea, with some assistance by the Soviet Union.

The fighting ended in 1953, an armistice was begun in July 1953 and signed in 1954.

Since then, sanctions have been enacted against North Korea. The UN Security Council enacted sanctions beginning in 2006, inspired by North Korea's nuclear testing. The US enacted sanctions in 2016. South Korea enacted sanctions in 2010. Japan enacted sanctions in 2016. The European Union enacted sanctions in 2006.

About 29,000 US soldiers are almost permanently quartered in South Korea; they have been there since 1953. There are an additional 49,000 in Japan. Military exercises are held jointly by the US and South Korea, aka war games. There are also joint US-Japanese drills each year.

The Korean people live with a divided country, in constrained economics, housing foreign soldiers, tormented by war games. With a Supreme Leader intent on developing nuclear weapons which can only be used aggressively.

Given this history, what sense does it make for the US to encourage North Korea to destroy its nuclear weapons during conversations that do not include the leadership of South Korea? Are we not giving South Korea the finger by ignoring them? Do we not endanger our legitimacy by ignoring South Korea? (6-14-2018)

Philanthropy
This is rich people donating some of their wealth to the needy in a conspicuous way. What is completely overlooked is how they "made" their wealth. Carnegie made a lot of his wealth by underpaying his employees and stiffing his partners of retained earnings. The tech rich made their wealth by underpaying their employees and denying them the benefits of official employment; in so doing, they created a large underclass of temporary tech workers. A philanthropic "gift" cannot right these wrongs. (6-13-2018)
North Korea wins the day
Early in his presidency Trump refused to go to England to visit the CEO of the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May. How he must have savored the insult to the woman and to the nation. Contrast that with Spring 2018 when Trump quickly accepted Kim's invitation to meet in Singapore.

North Korea's economy is inconsequential. Kim is a strongarm dictator. All he has to tease the world with is his possession of nuclear weapons.

And how did North Korea acquire nuclear weapons? Apparently NK studied with USSR scientists after the Korean War illustrated the value of nuclear weapons. Then they consulted with neighbors like China and Pakistan and attended conferences of European scientists. They acquired European parts through illegal channels. In other words, they applied themselves and improvised.

Trump left the G7 meeting early so he could be on time for Kim. You would think Kim was calling the shots. Trump demonstrated obsequiousness throughout the visit. Hunh? Clearly Trump reacted from personal issues — and not his position as leader of the free world. WTF? Did America pick up the tab for a third rate actor (Trump)? (6-12-2018)

Depression
I'm beginning to think that depression is not an event but an ongoing aspect of our mental/emotional state that varies in intensity over time. Thus we are all depressed to different degrees all of the time. Maybe we could have a scale to measure it, like zero to ten. This concept might allow us to see that depression is "normal" and to develop techniques for coping. Suicide is so final. (And yes, I've been a bit depressed by the recent death of Anthony Bourdain.) (6-11-2018)
Where to?
Now that I am able to ignore Trump's blather, I am starting to wonder if his braganza (an extravagance of bragging) might have served the purpose of encouraging us to consider what the country really needs and how that might be accomplished. For all of my life, citizens have limited their involvement in their so-called democratic government to occasional voting. In-between they alternately ignore what is happening, or not happening, and complain about single issues.

Has anyone actually addressed what the country needs and how it can be accomplished, either individually or in groups? I do realize that "think tanks" do this, from time to time; aren't they usually funded and organized by groups with an agenda? As such, they are not an impromptu meeting of free minds, but an employment of captive minds.

If you find yourself tired of His Orangeness' blather, consider writing a manifesto with emphasis on a vision of the future, not a list of complaints. Let's use our negativity to help us realize now is the time for envisioning our future. (6-10-2018)

Governmental leadership
The G7 is an organization of the political leaders of the 7 most significant countries in the world, primarily Europe and North America; they think of themselves as the major industrialized democracies. The group exists as a forum for discussion of mutual problems and development of policies.

American president Trump attended the Quebec meeting in early June 2018, then walked out early complaining about the behavior of some of the members. He refused to discuss issues, key among them being global trade and the tariffs imposed by Trump. He demonstrated his concept of negotiation as take-it-or-leave-it. And he was eager to demonstrate disdain by stalking away.

Oh great. Americans so love giving other nations the finger. We went out of our way to elect a president to do just that.

Odd the disconnect between "we don't need your stinking help" to "I'll bomb your country until you do what I tell you." (6-10-2018)

The demise of public college education
I feel incredibly lucky to have attended a state university when I did (graduated in 1972). I recall college catalogs offering interesting courses on the humanities (does anyone even know what this is any more?) and similar liberal arts subjects. As a mathematics student, I primarily took science and math classes, while electives were classes I could manage working full-time (so I never took humanities, which I now regret). And it was affordable to a young single woman with a starter job.

Now college is not affordable, there are more administrators than professors, and professors are extremely underpaid. With the public discourse that has surfaced since 45's election, it seems clear that many people have an inadequate education, in particular in the areas of history and civics. Apparently that is no accident.

This model seems to be reflected in public grade schools, with the emphasis on school administration and the underpayment of actual teachers (a long-standing practice).

Alternet has an explanation for the deliberate destruction of publc education. Here's How Higher Education Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps.

Have we been conned? (6-1-2018)

Who is playing whom?
A few weeks ago the news was about an expected US-North Korea meeting and the NKs giving up their nuclear weapons in exchange for economic aid; there were claims that NK was deconstructing its test missile site (claims with no reference to earlier stories that those same test sites had collapsed on their own). The two leaders would meet and smile and agree on paper. Trump thought he had overcome NK's guy. Two days ago the news is that NK has refused to abandon its nuclear weapons. And then . . . suggestions that NK had played Trump.

Yes, I imagine that NK has played Trump.

He undoubtedly thought he was playing them. But his lack of impulse control and his bombastic lies make it hard to believe him. What I now see is that Trump played the American voters, and is still doing so. (5-17-2018)

Fake news decoded
Trump was correct in calling out the media as purveyors of fake news. They gave him endless free and uncritical coverage during his campaign. A campaign that was full of lies. On that basis alone the media was guilty of fake news. They traded income from sales of articles about candidate Trump for journalistic integrity. I have some (only a little) sympathy for Trump now deriding the media. A media that has yet to find its bearings for honest, investigative journalism. Are they unable to right their boat? (5-17-2018)
How many Gazans have to die before America gets over its love affair with Israel?
The new US embassy was opened in Jerusalem. Gazans protested along the border between their land and Israel. Israeli soldiers shot and killed 52 and wounded at least 1,200. No Israelis died.

The Intercept wrote: "Israel has killed more Palestinians at the Gaza border in the past six weeks than East Germany killed crossing the Berlin Wall from 1961—1989."

Israel continues to prove it is the neighbor from hell. Since pushing its way onto land in 1947 that had been owned and occupied by Palestinians for centuries, Israel has fought its neighbors at every turn. And America has bestowed billions of dollars on Israel: Between 2001 and 2018, the US has given Israel $3.1 billion.

American politicians blame the Gazans for their own deaths, in clear support of Israeli themes. The United Nations and Amnesty International deplore the Israeli violence, and continue to demonstrate their ineffectiveness and lack of influence. (5-16-2018)

Post script. In spite of the ineffectiveness of the UN, the US pulled out of the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 19. I theorize that the US is too fearful of UN criticism of Israel to remain on the Council where they might be pressured to join that criticism. Ambassador Nikki Haley criticized the UN for “its chronic bias against Israel.”

Interference in the 2016 national election
The possibility of this has been in play since 2016. Some claim the Russians interfered in a "cyber attack," by which I think they mean from a distance and with electronic software.

I have been keeping my distance from this "story," as I suspect it may turn out to be just another misdirection by some politicians, including Trump. As a software professional, I believe it is possible to use software to change the vote counts. (Which is why I advocate for a return to paper ballots.)

America has a number of means to mis-count ballots. Including the Crosscheck program (the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program) that simply keeps people from voting in the first place. We don't need help from Russia misrepresenting our election results.

"The Russians did it" has become quite the rallying cry. Frankly, these people protest too much. Apparently America needs to fault Russia more than it needs truth and honesty in its own elections and politicians. Good luck with that. (5-8-2018)

Slips — women's underwear
When I was a teenage girl, I wore slips — full slips and half slips. These were "underwear" worn under dresses, blouses, and skirts. Does any woman wear slips anymore?

It seems that public acceptance of nudity and semi-nudity (think transparent clothes), as well as revealing bras, has made the slip irrelevant. What a loss! Yes, a slip can add a layer of opacity that can override the transparency of the outer clothes. But it has more to offer. It can prevent or minimize wrinkling. It can absorb perspiration. It can smooth out bodily bumpiness. It can keep delicate dress fabrics from snagging on other underwear (remember girdles and corsets?) including bras. It can cover up panty lines. It can provide a barrier between your skin and scratchy wool clothes. It can add a layer of warmth. And, lastly, slips can extend the lifespan of your outer clothes.

And then there is the petticoat, often with tiers and ruffles, which is strictly not a half slip. It was, and may be again, used to provide some puffy support under a full outer skirt. As full skirts have fallen from popularity, so too pettitcoats. (5-5-2018)

Typography: two spaces or one after that period?
When I learned to use a typewriter at age 16, I learned to type two spaces after a period that ends a sentence. When word processors took over, I was told "no we don't use two spaces anymore, only one space after a period." And I've been trying to follow this rule ever since, with varying results.

Now here's an intriguing article about spaces which make it seem not so absolute. "One space between each sentence, they said. Science just proved them wrong." (5-4-2018)

Does the federal government intend to gut Amtrak?
Or, what is the future of passenger rail in the US?
The evidence suggests the federal government is determined to kill Amtrak's passenger rail, especially the long distance trains. There is a wealth of such evidence.

So, what to do? If the feds will not support passenger rail, then it falls to states and multi-state coalitions to establish and maintain inter-city passenger rail, especially long distance rail, through local and regional efforts. As an example, the Coast Starlight runs between Seattle, WA and Los Angeles, CA. If Amtrak dumps this, then WA, OR, and CA can jointly pick it up.

The dissolution of Amtrak is likely to be piecemeal and extended — and painful. So the states can begin to establish their own passenger rail administrative function, and the sooner the better. By "administrative" I mean a mix of strategy, planning, technology, budgeting that addresses routes, schedules, equipment, employees, training.

As it turns out, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which seems to be a partner of Amtrak, specifies state planning in their overview of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PRIIA). (4-18-2018)

The search for other worlds
Continues this week with the launch of the satellite TESS by NASA and Space X.

Why do we as a nation spend money on such a project while we continue to trash our environment? We cannot find money to fund federal clean-up projects nor enforce environmental protection laws. This is truly a bizarre behavior. It seems clear to me that sending satellites into space is really just a subsidy to aerospace corporations. We've got the money, but our values are skewed. (4-18-2018)

Syrian air strikes labeled a success less than 24 hours later
We've been down this road before. Premature judgment. In 2003 it was Bush who declared success one month after deploying troops in Iraq, an action whose repercussions are still in play. In the UK, the vote for Brexit was declared a failure before the votes were all counted, the actual efforts to accomplish Brexit (which passed its vote) are still in progress.

How long did Trump practice his announcement? Was he modeling himself on the North Korean leader? Look Ma, complete sentences!

American actions abroad are usually based on incomplete, inadequate, and misunderstood information. That does not deter us. Membership in the UN does not deter us. No, we boldly go where no sane person would.

What if some foreign nation were to judge America as behaving in a dangerous way against its own people? (4-14-2018)

Ride the train!
I returned late last night from a train trip through 7 states in the southwest. Here is the advice of the Amtrak employees:
Friends don't let friends fly.
(4-13-2018)
Restaurant tips
I understand these to be a monetary reward by a customer to a restaurant employee for exceptional service. Pooling tips converts a reward to an individual into a bonus for many. This is dishonest! Restaurant workers should be paid a living wage! If you are still supportive of pooling tips, then allow it to be voluntary by the customer — and tell the customer how many employees compose the pool. (4-13-2018)
National Parks entrance fee increase: Zinke proves he is a marketer, not a steward
National Parks entrance fee increases are planned to be limited to $5 in response to public outcry. Secretary Zinke's speech announcing this increase is peppered with marketing references, and is revolting and alarming.
Zinke said ". . . we are carrying out our commitment to ensure national parks remain world class destinations that provide an excellent value for families from all income levels."
Gag!
Entrance fees for citizens are a "value"? We citizens already own the parks! Their value cannot be measured in dollars. And as for "world class destinations", that too is a marketing expression that has no place in America's parks. Zinke should go to work for Disney. (4-13-2018)
What is the role of a president in a democracy?
Americans ask themselves this these days, surprised to find themselves at this point. During the swearing-in ceremony the president-elect promises to uphold the Constitution. And yet, at many points, Mr. Trump seems to snub the Constitution and the democratic process that got him to the presidency.

A read of the Constitution finds no mention of attitude and the ever-so-illusive leadership. Mr. Trump is clearly going his own way on this. Of the many things that disappoint me, the one that worries me most is his continued disregard of democracy. He acts as if he is the sole person in the government, that all government actions must originate in him. He is NOT a team member, which is how I thought the Presidency should be. He is equally not inclined to philosophy, hence no tiresome discussion of the unitary executive, with which a previous president plagued us.

So, I long for a president who exhibits benevolent leadership, team spirit, speaks well, and inspires us. That will never be Trump. (4-1-2018)

Facebook explained (partially)
Ethan Zuckerman's March 23rd article in The Atlantic, "This Is So Much Bigger Than Facebook" explains the difference between bad actors and known bugs. As in the misuse of customer data by Cambridge Analytica (the bad actor) is really not the basic problem, it is that the availability of the data is a "known bug."

Mr. Zuckerman has missed the real problem: the availability of the data is a "feature." It is baked into the whole of the Facebook app. It could be argued (by a brave soul) that it is the raison d'être of Facebook. (3-25-2018)

Confederate monuments
I read with interest an article by Mitch Landrieu, mayor of New Orleans, "What I learned from my fight to remove Confederate monuments" in The Guardian. He observes that "The statues were not honoring history, or heroes. They were created as political weapons, part of an effort to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of not just of history, but of humanity." He came to view the monuments as a form of institutionalized racism. He describes his efforts to find a crane to remove the monuments, an effort blocked at every turn. He did prevail.

But the question remains: just because the monuments refer to an historical event that is now politically and socially incorrect, is it really appropriate to remove the statues? How denuded our knowledge of history would be if the statues of the ancient world, likely honoring people and events no longer in vogue, had been removed! Can we not find a way to acknowledge: that was then, this is now, we've moved on? Or, at least, some of us are trying to move on? Like the turtle with its shell, how can we move on with our history intact?

Might we, instead of removing Confederate statues, place a plaque in front of them: "This man heroically served the Confederate States of America during its war with the United States of America. His nation went to war to preserve its right to enslave human beings, Africans in particular. Eight months after the end of that war, the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, was ratified." (3-24-2018)

Trump still in the media — so boring
The media noise about Trump has shifted from ridiculing his speech patterns to referring to "minders" to, once again, impeachment. Trump continues to refuse to be a traditional president, in step with established DC insiders and playing his role. This is what he promised voters to do, why is it surprising? Well, those same DC insiders do not enjoy having their established processes ignored.

Meanwhile the media do not ask the truly relevant questions: What is the Constitutional basis for Trump being able to declare war? Why does Congress approve his appointments that the media then disparage so endlessly? What are the constraints on political appointees?

With major "liberal" media so devoted to complaints about Trump, they fail to report on the many things that are happening in DC, the country, and the world. We could be using this moment to better understand the workings of our government. But we are not.

After nearly 14 months of bitching about Trump, I am tired of it all and ready for something else. (3-24-2018)

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
Allow me to remind you of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA is intended to amend the Constitution by adding: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."

Constitutional amendments must be (1) passed by a 2/3rds majority in both the House and Senate and (2) ratified by 3/4ths of the states.

History: The ERA was introduced in 1923, three years after women won the right to vote. It was passed by Congress in 1972. Only 35 states ratified the amendment, three short of the number needed to add it to the Constitution. It has been ignored ever since.

Don't you think the ERA is needed more than ever? (3-21-2018)

Insecure voting systems
The Los Angeles Times today carried an article titled "U.S. election systems need stronger defenses against cyberattacks, senators warn." Isn't it 2018? Where have these senators been hiding? How have they missed the statements by computer security experts that it is impossible to completely prevent "cyberattacks"? There is a solution: replace electronic voting with paper-based voting. Good for jobs. Really good for data security. (3-20-2018)
The problem is
The Guardian published an essay "Southern Californians know: climate change is real, it is deadly and it is here" by Nora Gallagher. You can read that essay here.

The comments following the account of the fires and mudslides in Santa Barbara, California became a predictable mix of:
a) the people who doubt climate change being attacked for their beliefs
b) criticism of the government and Donald Trump in particular
c) development has been in areas that have been traditionally subject to fire and flood, which is why they still are
d) forest fire mitigation techniques are wrong or insufficient
e) Humpty Dumpty woes — irreparably broken
f) Chicken Little — the sky is falling in
g) hand wringing

None of the suggested causes include population growth.

Readers are either overwhelmed by predictions or focusing on small details with which they want to tinker.

We still have a shoot-the-messenger attitude. Climate change is taken as a given, doubters are abused.

None of this is helpful. Few are willing to change their way of life, and those that are willing are sanctimonious about it. Many want someone else to do something.

What we are being treated to is a front row seat at a show of interdependence. So many things in Nature are interdependent. And so many things in the lives of modern Californians are interdependent. For example: as the climate is getting warmer, our heating bills may go down. As less rain falls over a year, less water will be available for consumption by humans, animals, and plants. As fires increase, so too will the toxicity of the air we breathe. At some point we may be faced by the option of spending our drinking water supplies on firefighting.

Why now? Because the demands of an increasing human population have exceeded the capacity of the land we occupy.

The engineering efforts of the last century were focused on preventing or controlling floods and impounding water for human needs behind dams. As a result, much less rain is able to sink through the soil and into the water table. Our lifestyles evolved to take advantage of relatively inexpensive resources like tap water, electricity, natural gas, gasoline. As the supply of these resources has dwindled, and the costs risen, we have resisted a new vision of how to live within our means. We feel entitled. If something has to change, let it be someone else.

Have you studied the findings and conclusions of Drawdown? (3-3-2018)

Neanderthals in Spain
Recently it was reported that scientists have dated three cave paintings in Spain to 65,000 years ago. And that meant they were created by . . . Homo neanderthalensis.
What a shock wave that has sent, disturbing myths of human (Homo sapien) supremacy on the basis of our mental capacity and pushing back the time that the Neanderthals occupied Europe. Raising the possibility that we and they did co-exist and interbreed for more than a few years (although the discovery of Neanderthal DNA in modern humans has been interpreted as proof that there was some co-existence).

Might we interpret the absence of Neanderthals today as evidence that they were killed off by Homo sapiens? Maybe our school shootings are a reliving of the old myths.

This also renews the question: were Neanderthals their own species or a subspecies of modern humans? A project led by SUNY decided in 2014 that Neanderthals were their own species within the genus Homo. (2-25-2018)

Dear Parkland, Florida students,
I am so sorry for your loss. You have experienced a terrific jolt to your expectations and life path. An opportunity to accomplish significant good has opened to you. I salute your strength and determination that — this time — things must change to protect other students from similar fates.

I have a few words of caution. It's good to present an emotional face to the nation, but that will not be enough. Americans are used to tears, and can easily turn away. What you need most now is strategy and understanding the forces that oppose you. Things are rarely simple. The young people of the 1960s (my generation) thought sit ins and marches would do the job, but they failed. A Christian minister and a president were assassinated by the FBI. I admit this is an unproven and likely unprovable explanation, I offer it as an example of hidden agendas.

Read your Machiavelli. Read Howard Zinn's history of America, if only that from 1940 on. Watch what Congress actually does every day. Read the NRAs history of itself on its website, understand why they use the threat of gun confiscation to alarm their membership and arouse it to act in the NRA's favor. Talk with your state politicians and officials to learn their values and agendas.

This will likely (unless miracles happen) be a long project for you. Find ways to sustain yourself. Be good members of your families and of your community, and good friends with each other. Start college if that was your intent last month. Ask for prayers.

My prayers are with you. (2-25-2018)

Non-profit lobbyists threaten democracy
The NRA is a legal non-profit organization, and has been since its incorporation in 1944. It has additionally a tax-exempt status with the IRS. The NRA is required to submit a Form 990 every year to the IRS; these can be viewed online.

NRA has a tremendous influence over Congress. While they do pay Congress people, it is their 5 million members who can be directed to vote uncooperative politicians out of office that carries the most influence. In this case the NRA is a non-Constitutional arm of the legislature. Their presence in this position is a direct and present danger to our democracy.

Perhaps we need to rethink lobbying and the non-profit/tax-exempt status of corporations. Perhaps there should be a limit to membership numbers.

Say we limit lobbying organizations to 1000 members. What's to stop multiple such organizations from partnering with each other? The effect could be the same as if there was only one organization with millions of members. So, that's no solution.

Cancelling their tax-exempt status will just cause them to reduce their expenses, by lowering executive compensation and conducting fewer public programs. The NRA will continue its lobbying.

I feel the only alternative that can truly preserve our democracy is to disallow all lobbying. And to make the acceptance of money and other valuable gifts from wannabe lobbyists illegal. Payola was always corrupt. Admittedly, this leads to Public Financing of Campaigns, but is that really a bad thing?

Our Congress should take steps to prove they are not vulnerable to outside influence (outside their own constituency). Certainly, they can solicit background information from experts, but this information should be submitted in writing and made available to all Congress folk and citizens alike. (2-23-2018)

Gun control
I offer my own proposal for gun control that reflects the basic issues of individual rights and public safety.

It is clear that the worship of violence in our culture has influenced mass shooters, and will continue to inspire some men to appoint themselves as executioners. We cannot wait for cultural changes to stop these mass shootings that so plague us today. We are unable to effect the mind control needed to prevent anyone from shooting another except in self defense. So we are left with limiting the guns in private ownership. (2-21-2018)

Food poisoning returns, and now you know why
Once upon a time public outcry resulted in government regulations about food safety at meat plants. Recently a man campaigned for the presidency on promises to shrink the government and reduce unnecessary and costly regulations. Voila! Foodborne illness returned. What a surprise!

The Guardian reports today on "Shocking hygiene failings discovered in US pig and chicken plants." (2-21-2018)

Vaccination in the news
There's an article in today's The Guardian reporting Robert F. Kennedy's announcement that the Trump administration has had no further contact with him after authorizing him over a year ago to investigate connections between vaccines and autism.

Kennedy's announcement is news, and I was glad to learn about it. I was also put off by some Guardian attitude in the opening paragraphs. I drafted the next three paragraphs hoping to put them in a comment, but The Guardian is not accepting comments on this article. So I will share with you.

"Spurious theories"? In the caption of the lead photo?
Please keep your skepticism to yourself. We love to point fingers at people with whom we disagree, and then we label them conspiracy theorists to deepen the insult. I am beginning to realize that your "newspaper" relies on this behavior for much of your articles — I'm having difficulty recalling true neutrality in your reporting. I am a bit tired of your judgment. I can make my own judgments, but I do need straight facts.

The problem you, or any other "news" organization, face with regards to "news" related to vaccination, is that the subject is fraught with justified fears, industry pressure, legal rights, health dangers, etc. Best to avoid that swamp. People have written worthy books about the dangers of vaccination, you cannot address that in a few paragraphs. And to dismiss or ignore the wider discussion is not good of you.

And on a slightly different note, have you noticed the great number of photos in newspapers, yours and others, that show a needle pressed to skin? Why is it okay when addressing infectious disease but not "recreational" drugs? (2-21-2018)

Are mass shootings inevitable in America?
Oh God, I hope not. Matt Taibbi has an interesting take in his column at the Rolling Stone: If We Want Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop, Too". (2-18-2018)
Selling public assets
This never ends well. Some public entity decides the way to save money by avoiding paying for maintenance, administration, and/or management of some public-owned asset (like a hospital or airport) is to sell it. The buyers suck out all the cash and provide substandard maintenance, administration, and/or management (so much so that the quality of the asset deteriorates). How is that an improvement? Oddly, public contracts with the private companies that take over public assets fail to include legal clauses for oversight and performance standards. One consequence of this is that employees lose benefits and protections, and occasionally their income. (2-12-2018)
Gerber kitchen knives
I have three kitchen knives made by Gerber Legendary Blades of Portland, Oregon. Recently I wanted to learn more about them and how to sharpen them. That proved to be an unexpected project. My report is "Gerber — A Knife and a Family". (2-11-2018)
How much is enough?
We ask each other this question, a bit rhetorically when few of us are truly rich. But here's how the richest man and first ever American billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, replied: "Just a little bit more."

I am sure American society has classes. I am also sure that it is divided by wealth into the haves and have nots. The haves are now known as the 1%. They have different values and interests than the 99%. There is no point in our applying our values and arguments to them. Better to look for ways to make common cause. (2-11-2018)

Develop wild land?
Should public lands be developed? Do you value wilderness for its own sake? Do you think whatever money developers earn from public lands that is actually paid to the federal government make it worthwhile? Do you think it better that the owners of the developers make a profit? Do you see such a profit as wealth being tugged from your pocket? If not, why not? Might you see the existence of public lands as an artifact of paying it forward? If so, then what makes it worthwhile to cash in? Today's Guardian has an article whose title prompted these remarks: "War on the wildest places: US bill may open pristine lands to development". (2-9-2018)
Where to and how?
The two forces that continue to ravage our society are politics and capitalism. What we need is a marriage of authentic democracy and an economic system that are together capable of producing a society benefitting the majority. (1-26-2018)
Protectionist tariffs
This week President Trump announced the imposition of protectionist tariffs on Chinese solar panels and Korean washing machines citing that America would not tolerate "massive intellectual property theft, industrial subsidies, and pervasive, state-led economic planning." We know Trump can hold mutually exclusive ideas at once, but . . . if America is in such great economic shape that Trump brags to the attendees at Davos, how is it that our growing economy cannot withstand foreign subsidies and state-led economic planning? (1-26-2018)
The Everly Brothers, Don and Phil
Two brothers born in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and Chicago, Illinois to a coal-mining-turned-singing family who grew up learning to sing close harmony and play steel-stringed acoustic guitar. Throughout their lives they contended they were hillbillies and that Kentucky was their emotional home. In 1956, at ages 21 and 19, they signed a recording contract as a duo with Cadence Records in Nashville, Tennessee. In early 1957 they released a recording "Bye Bye Love" that quickly became a million-seller and reached No. 2 on the U.S. pop charts, No. 1 on the country, and No. 5 on the R&B charts. It was the first in a long series of internationally popular hits.

The brothers set many records that have yet to be surpassed; their music occupied the top of the charts for decades. Their musical style combined rhythm-and-blues and country, and forged an early and enduring strain of rock and roll. "Everything we call country rock comes from the Everlys." [Bill Flanagan] Their voices were beautiful and their harmonies remain unmatched. Neil Young inducted them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, with an introduction in which he described his efforts to reproduce the brothers' harmonies — with no success.

They never claimed to be singer songwriters, and while most of their recorded material was written by others, they wrote a considerable repertoire.

Phil Everly, the younger brother, died in January 2014. Don continues singing, at a slower pace. The Brothers are recognized as having significantly influenced music groups, especially English groups like the Beatles (whom Dick Clark once dismissed as being "Everly Brothers imitators"), and the endless groups that attempted vocal harmonies, perhaps foremost being Simon & Garfunkel.

In 2013 Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) and Alison Krauss (a solo bluegrass-country singer) released a cover of the Everly's "Gone Gone Gone" Here is an Everly recording from 1964.

Perfect Harmony, a UK radio program about the Everly Brothers from March 23, 2014 (after Phil's death), is a wonderful compilation of their music!

I think the Everlys exhibited two significant skills:
First, at a young age they had developed their own musical voice. It was composed of the sounds they made with their guitars, their individual voices, and their harmonies. It was also composed of phrasing and tempo. They could make a song their own by transforming it with their musical voice. (A good example of this is "Claudette", a song written by Ray Orbison. Once I heard the Everly's version, I found Orbison's recording to be lackluster and boring. The Everly's version is vibrant.)
Second, they had a refined sense of timing and progression. Near the beginning of their career, they had a highly successful sequence of songs that was followed by a dirth of suitable material for the next song. Instead of taking what was offered and making the best of it, they stood back and wrote their own song. Their recording of that song, "Cathy's Clown", went to the top of the charts, with no complaints about how long music lovers had to wait for it.

Why did I write about the Everly Brothers? And why now? Late yesterday afternoon I ate breakfast in a local café that caters to retired people with simple, affordable food and oldies music — music from the 50s and 60s. I listened to Buddy Holly sing "Rave On" with pleasure, glad to remember his name and the lyrics. And then a faint memory assailed me, the Everly Brothers. I came home and typed their name into Google and spent the rest of the evening reading and listening and falling in love with their music all over again. I hadn't known anything of their lives and work since about 1970, if not 1963. I wrote this ode to remind me. If this is your introduction to the Everlys, I am glad to have been of service. (1-10-2018)

Oprah for President?
She gave a stirring speech at the Golden Globes. Now the news folk are suggesting she might be a candidate for president. Why? Because she is an authentic billionaire and a TV star.

Have we learned nothing?

We cannot articulate how an ideal president behaves. What political goals they advocate and pursue.

We are easily conned. We do not demand political experience, nor evidence of sincerity in a candidate's stated goals and values.

We like, perhaps a bit desperately, a knight on a white horse to ride in, take over, and make America right again — all without our having to do anything, even vote.

More of this attitude is going to destroy our personal lives and our democracy. And yet we seem addicted to it. (1-9-2018)

Beware food additives
A new study finds: A sugar additive called Trehalose, commonly added to a wide range of food products, could have allowed certain strains of Clostridium difficile to become far more virulent than they were before. That bacterium is infamous for causing severe diarrhea and death. It is one of the most prevalent hospital-acquired infections. (1-4-2018)
Rising sea levels
It's no theory that sea levels are rising, at least in some places — it's fact. And we are constantly told this is a phenomenon of "global warming," that ugly stepchild of industrial pollution. What catches my attention is that when archeologists discover the underwater ruins of ancient Greek or Roman buildings, buildings that must have been built on dry land, rising sea level is never mentioned. (1-4-2018)
Legalizing pot
California makes the headlines on New Year's Day because this is the day that pot became legal. Well, sort of. The limitations are endless. In reality, legalized pot is a jobs program for folks who want to get in on the ground floor of a new industry. At best it might keep us from ingesting herbicides in our smoke, remember paraquat? (1-1-2018)

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Revision: 1-1-2018.