April 30, 2017

James Gunn, Guardian of the ‘Guardians’ Franchise

Dave Itzkoff - The New York Times:

On the original film, Mr. Pratt said, “we benefited from people’s lowered expectations. We could sneak in and be this movie that they didn’t see coming. Now they’re waiting in line for this.

Indeed.

I had to stop reading after this paragraph, as there are no spoiler horns in The Times and I detected the start of give-it-away reporting. The first two-thirds of the article, though, inspired confidence that Mr. Gunn will not squander the good will his last effort engendered.

No film has moved so quickly for me from “no-fucking-way” (that’s a quote because I uttered those exact words after I saw the original cinematic trailer years ago), through this-is-fun, to Saturday-night-with-a-cocktail comfort entertainment as Guardians of the Galaxy. Hell, I bought the soundtrack album on iTunes, which come to think of it is one of the main reasons the film gelled so well with me.

I have such high hopes for Volume 2, but also trepidation that this fun, tiny corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to join the Ironman-Avengers megalith. I like most of the films of the megalith, yet I do not like the idea or feeling of inevitability of the megalith.

(It is, in a way, why I love Rogue One. The characters are not of the Star Wars pantheon, not really, can’t be, and don’t need to be. They are real and absorbing and enchanting all on their own, for as long as it lasted.)

Example: I enjoyed Ant-man. I didn’t want Ant-man to join the Avengers. I wanted Ant-man to do his own thing, on his own. Another example: I didn’t like Spider-man. I don’t want Spider-man to join wth the Avengers, anyway. A third example: I so dig Black Widow. I want to watch a Black Widow film. I want to see Black Widow, devoid of Bruce Banner and bereft of her loss, to depart for solo films. Scarlett can carry a film (see: Lucy). Final example, gratuitous as it may be: I so despised Deadpool that for the coming sequel I want nothing more than a very heavy object to fall, with finality, upon Deadpool and end the abomination that is this character’s existence. I am, apparently, in the minority.

I don’t want Guardians to become part of that. In a few days we’ll find out how it went.

#Marvel #Cinematic #Universe #Guardians #Galaxy

America, From Exceptionalism to Nihilism

Pankaj Mishra - The New York Times:

Generalizing about the world at large on the basis of personal success, or proclaiming that life has never been so wonderful, can be politically disastrous, it turns out, especially when loss, decay and fear sum up the experiences of many other people. We will have learned nothing from Mr. Trump’s victory if we do not examine today how and why American elites came to indulge in ressentiment-generating boosterism just as economic and cultural inequality was becoming intolerable to so many, and how their loss of intellectual credibility and moral authority brought about the post-truth era.

A long, thoughtful essay on what amounts to the rise and fall of “the American Century,” and how the United States has lost its moral and intellectual authority. It’s not pleasant news for Americans, but rather a hard truth about where and what we are. Raise your intellect by giving it a read and some thought.

#American #Century #post #fact #era #intellectual #political #elite

April 29, 2017

Climate of Complete Certainty

Bret Stephens - The New York Times:

As Andrew Revkin wrote last year about his storied career as an environmental reporter at The Times, “I saw a widening gap between what scientists had been learning about global warming and what advocates were claiming as they pushed ever harder to pass climate legislation.” The science was generally scrupulous. The boosters who claimed its authority weren’t.

I read this column, Stephens’ first for the Times, while wearing a “Science doesn’t care what you believe” t-shirt. The only point worth considering about climate science is the science itself. What you think, what you believe, what you desire to be true does not matter a whit.

We can see the polar ice melting, we can measure the sea ice extent annually. Two-thirds of Americans care not at their own peril.

If you live near a coast, you’ve been warned. Move.

If you live in Tornado Alley, you’ve been warned. Move.

If you deplore high temperatures, humidity, and wildfires in the forests, well, you’re pretty well SOL. Ask your Republican Congressmen what to do.

Hillary Clinton’s hubris and failure is not linked in any way to the “debate” over global warming. Repeat that to yourself if you don’t believe it, while the world warms until you can no longer deny the obvious.

#climate #science #politics

∴ Fans Feel Robbed of Bill O’Reilly, but Stick With Fox

Sydney Ember - The New York Times:

[Alyce Bradley] delivered her verdict. “I think the left is just out to get him — they won,” she said. “He’s never been convicted, and I feel like he has been shut down.”

Her husband was more circumspect. “I like him, but I don’t like what he did, all the sexual harassment,” Bill Bradley, 57, said. “He could be innocent,” he added, “but why did he resign or whatever?”

Two paragraphs that say much about the phenomenon that was Bill O’Reilly. His fan base was largely uncritical of him. And I admit, I’ve agreed with a few opinions he’s espoused. Not everyone buys the non-thinking righty “I’ve been robbed” meme, though.

Alyce gives voice to the less thoughtful “conservative” crowd’s hobby horse. I put conservative in quotes, because the less-thoughtful brand of righty politics is largely driven not by economic or foreign policy ideas, but rather by fear of the other - xenophobia - verging on racism. Her theme is “the left won.”

What Alyce fails to say, fails to understand, probably doesn’t know is that the Republican party holds most of the statehouses, most of the governor’s mansions, both houses of Congress and the White House. How, Alyce, did the left “win?” Your guy, O’Reilly, is a hired stooge. He holds no sway in our politics.

Alyce is an example of what the rest of us charitably refer to as not too bright. Her husband does better, though.

Bill Bradley doesn’t have a fine bead on the O’Reilly transgressions. “Why did he resign or whatever?” At least he doesn’t like “all the sexual harassment.”

Let’s focus: O’Reilly was fired, Bill. Fired. He went on “vacation,” because he was white hot bad news for Fox and they needed to pull his shit out of the news cycle, and once he was out of circulation it was adios, amigo. Well, more adios, less amigo.

O’Reilly’s fans may feel robbed. He didn’t get to bid them farewell, and although I don’t give a shit, I do understand the emotional loss of a big player in the daily soap opera that is Fox “News.”

For Alyce and everyone else who misses O’Reilly, I offer this: adjust your perspective and view the long-running Fox “News” product as a soap opera. How many soap actors have “died,” only to rise again? Bill may rise again. Your intellect, eventually, will rise again. Not until you stop your thoughtless, unintelligent, intellectually bankrupt mode of thinking, but one day, before you die. Maybe.

Consider this a bracing warm-up. Your suffering, as you discover what you’ve done and where your mode of non-thinking has lead us, will increase. Or you’ll continue the “I’ve been robbed” meme and, eventually, rise up. That will be a bad show. Do not do that. You will not be pleased with the result. The sneaky people with the technology and the boys and girls with the guns swore an oath not to you, your clown president, or your favorite boob tube star. The Constitution prevails. You will not. Suck it.

#Fox #News #Bill #OReilly #adios #dont #let #the #door #hit #you #on #the #ass #on #the #way #out

Fact vs. Fiction

“The first one-hundred days of my administration have been just about the most successful in history.” - Donald Trump

Factcheck.org crowned Trump “King of the Whoppers” in 2015. He’s held to that practice through the first fraction of his presidency:

In 2015 when we dubbed Trump the “King of Whoppers,” we said: “He stands out not only for the sheer number of his factually false claims, but also for his brazen refusals to admit error when proven wrong.” So far, Trump is no different as president.

It’s rarely a bad bet to immediately doubt anything coming out of Mr. Trump’s mouth. He lies as easily as he breathes, usually more-so in relation to himself and his presidency.

#Trump #fraud #GOP

April 28, 2017

Trump: ‘We may terminate’ U.S.-South Korea Trade Agreement

Philip Rucker - The Washington Post:

President Trump threatened to terminate the U.S. trade agreement with South Korea in an interview Thursday night, declaring that the five-year-old accord with a key ally was “a horrible deal” that has left America “destroyed.”

During an Oval Office interview about trade policy in North America, Trump served notice that he is looking to disrupt an important partnership in the tumultuous Asia-Pacific region as well — even with Seoul on edge because of North Korea’s escalating military provocations.

Donald Trump is an unwise man. Let’s count the ways …

He threatens to terminate an important trade agreement with a close ally at the same time he dares the loose cannon government along that ally’s northern border to start a nuclear war, giving the appearance that the United States is willing to abrogate treaties with that ally. The loose cannon government may feel free to move on into the ally’s territory as a result of this seeming weakness in our relationship.

He describes the United States, whose military he leads and whose people he must rally to support his efforts, as “destroyed.” Two birds go down with this stone: a “destroyed” America is a weaker adversary, and its people are likely demoralized and either unwilling to support the president’s actions, or willing to go along with anything. Either way, we appear weak and helpless.

Hang your head in shame if you voted for this blockhead.

#Trump #fraud #disgrace #sellout

∴ WiFi of the Seas, and How to Escape the Cruise Hoards

We spent a week sailing the western Caribbean last week. It was a great escape for both Kelly and me, kicked off with a two-day drive south to the Galveston cruise port. While I don’t recommend book-ending a cruise with a pair of twenty-four hour drives, I do recommend spending a week afloat.

There are a couple of practices we’ve come to enjoy while cruising. One is finding a largely unused pool and bar to lounge at. The trick is modifying how we think of the cruise as a vacation.

Four of the five cruises we’ve taken have been working vacations for Kelly, where she’s paired with our friend and quilt pattern and fabric designer Susan Emory of Swirly Girls Design, hosting quilt retreats at sea. Kelly’s three at-sea days are spent in the ship’s conference room assisting the quilters as they work through making Susan’s custom-designed quilt, providing give-aways, and running a small pop-up version of Kelly Ann’s Quilting.

It’s on these days that, aside from a handful of shipboard activities, the only thing to do is relax around the ship’s pools and populate the bars along with everyone else. In a word, they’re crowded. Our last three ships sailed with a passenger capacity in excess of 3000, and everyone is cooped up on fourteen decks of a thousand-foot-long ship. I’ve never seen longer stretches of occupied lounge chairs in my life.

The secret to enjoying the pools and outdoor bars is to wait until port-call days arrive. Spend the at-sea days on lounge chairs away from the pool, or in an upper deck lounge devoid of people. There’s a great view from up there. Cabins with a balcony provide a respite from crowds, too, with a front row view of the ocean.

Here’s the key: when the ship arrives in a port of call, roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of the passengers get off. They’re gone from roughly 8am until one or two pm, longer if the port requires the ship to drop anchor and use tender boats for ferrying people ashore. What a great opportunity to sleep late, grab a late breakfast at the buffet, and hit the pool while there’s still only a handful of people staking out lounge chairs. Hours of quiet relaxation, reading, taking a cooling dip in the pool and sipping a drink or two follow.

It’s about time to head in for a shower before dinner just as people hit the pools after returning from shore excursions.

The trick is making the ship the destination, rather than the ports of call. Think of it as a moving resort. There are three, sometimes four ports of call during a week-long cruise. Spend one of them ashore on an excursion, or take a walk around the port area and re-board. A largely empty ship is your oyster.

The handful of hours spent on an excursion rarely exposes much local color, anyway.

The other practice we’ve enjoyed is the advent of affordable high speed internet access throughout the cruise. Rough seas can render it patchy at times, but it works. Royal Caribbean offers two tiers - a non-streaming option for roughly $15 per day, and a higher-priced streaming-capable level. Discounts are available by signing up on their web site prior to departure.

One thing to consider when opting for the lower-priced tier: although it’s fine for email, texting with Apple’s Messages app, and casual web browsing, contemporary social media sites are often image-heavy and load slowly at this tier’s capped speed. Scroll quickly through a Facebook wall or a Pinterest board and there are noticeable delays.

One last thought about internet-at-sea. The goal of a vacation is to get away from the everyday. We’ve enjoyed the cut-off nature of cruising since our first trip, when we noticed that in the absence of the internet people actually look at and talk with one another. There’s not much more satisfying than setting my phone to airplane mode as the shoreline recedes.

Kelly signed up for the non-streaming internet plan before our most recent cruise with the idea of posting photos of our adventures each evening, but found she used it less than expected. I opted to borrow her login code on the last day for uploading my photographs, but found the upstream speed far less than the downstream. I’ll wait until we hit the first and second Starbucks on the way home for uploading my photos next time.

The more we cruise, the more little hide-aways and practices we find that enhance the experience. My next post will cover the mixology seminars and card room we found this time.

#vacation #cruising #royal #caribbean #excursions #pool #bars #passengers #escape

∴ Republicans’ Fiscal Discipline Wilts in Face of Trump’s Tax Plan

Binyamin Applebaum, Alan Rappeport, and Nicholas Fandoms - The New York Times:

when Republicans take charge, their fiscal rectitude sometimes starts to waver. The broad Republican support this week for President Trump’s plan to sharply reduce taxes suggests that those who hang on to austere concerns about debt will now be facing former allies who want to chase economic growth.

Funny how reducing the deficit is always priority one when there’s a GOP majority in Congress, but a Democrat in the White House. “Tax-and-spend liberals,” they say. "Deficits will kill growth,” they say.

A major brou-ha-ha erupted over whether the federal government should do more deficit spending to stimulate the economy during the Great Recession. Loud, angry, Republican Congressmen waived around and quoted a since-discredited economics paper purporting to show that economic growth is cut roughly in half in countries whose deficit exceeds 90% of GDP. They’ll endorse just about anything to discredit the other party’s policies, even a paper based on a math error that, when corrected, completely nullified the paper’s impact.

We’ve come full circle, now. A nominal Republican is sitting in the White House, talking up tax cuts and spending increases that will balloon the federal deficit through the end of the decade, increasing the federal debt. From the article:

Some Republicans are rallying around the idea that less taxation is more important than less debt, just as they did during the Republican presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. That shift is a break with the die-hard hawks of the anti-deficit industrial complex, who have long warned of calamitous consequences to the American economy.

Reduce taxes, increase spending. Then magic happens, revenues increase and we all live happily ever after. This, from the party that took the country to the brink of default by refusing to raise the federal debt ceiling more than once during the Obama administration.

There’s a word for this. Hypocrisy.

Today’s American Republican party is intellectually bankrupt. Its party leader, the president, has accomplished largely nothing beyond alienating citizens and allies alike during his first one hundred days in office. The opposition party is on fire, with grass roots candidates lining up to run for Congress next year.

It may be true that Donald Trump was the best thing to happen to the Democratic party. Bernie Sanders’ candidacy was evidence of the need for core change in the party’s candidates and platform. A stunning, perhaps temporary setback in 2016 may indeed turn to a rout of the GOP in the coming two election cycles if the incompetence and hypocrisy of the current administration and its Congressional enablers continues.

#GOP #fraud #Trump #grass #roots #politics #economics

April 12, 2017

Paul Manafort Registering With The US As A Foreign Agent

The AP, reprinted by TPM:

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is registering as a foreign agent. Paul Manafort’s spokesman says he was in talks with the government about registering before the 2016 election and is now “taking appropriate steps” in response to “formal guidance” from the government.

Oh, hey, how about that. Is that a retroactive registration? Was he a foreign agent during his time with Mr. Trump?

The news is slowly getting worse for so many in the Trump inner circle, and we’ve not yet heard from the FBI or either of the Congressional Intelligence committees. It’s going to get much, much worse.

You’ll know the wheels are coming off the clown car that is the Trump administration when Steve Bannon gets the boot. Keep watching. It’s not often a US administration falls apart so publicly.

And to re-affirm: no, I do not want this president to succeed. I want him to fail spectacularly. I want his entire arc, from his ride down the escalator to his meagerly-attended inauguration to the present day to serve as a warning to the not-too-bright; a signpost along the road of life saying dimwits fail at difficult tasks, no matter how much money and influence they throw around. Mr. Trump is checking the boxes, one by one. May the “filth,” as AG Jeff Sessions phrased it on another subject Tuesday, be washed out with him when Trump’s deeds are exposed. 

#Trump #fraud #Manafort #foreign #agent #GOP

Inmates Built Computers Hidden in Ceiling, Connected Them to Prison Network

David Kravets - Ars Technica:

Inmates at a medium-security Ohio prison secretly assembled two functioning computers, hid them in the ceiling, and connected them to the Marion Correctional Institution’s network. The hard drives were loaded with pornography, a Windows proxy server, VPN, VOIP and anti-virus software, the Tor browser, password hacking and e-mail spamming tools, and the open source packet analyzer Wireshark.

...

The inspector general's report found that inmates "took two computers that should have been disassembled, placed hard drives into the computers, installed a network card, transported the computers across the institution for approximately 1,100 feet, through the security check point without being searched or challenged by staff, accessed an elevator to the third floor and placed the two computers in the ceiling of the P3 training room."

What a long way prisoners have come from shanks and bedsheet ropes over the wall.

#Ohio #Correctional #Marion #computers #prisoners #Hogans #Heroes

Congressman Who Shouted ‘You Lie’ at Obama Hears the Same From Constituents

Jonah Engel Bromwich - The New York Times:

Representative Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who gained a measure of infamy after shouting “you lie” at President Barack Obama during a joint session of Congress in 2009, had that memorable catchphrase hurled back at him by a group of his constituents at a town hall event on Monday.

...

After he said the law was delaying and denying health services to its intended recipients, the rest of his comments were drowned out, as the crowd began to chant “you lie” in unison.

Joe Wilson disgraced himself and his party by shouting at the newly-elected president during Barack Obama’s first Congressional address. He apologized that evening and was later officially admonished by the House.

A measure of justice came due eight years later, in a town hall meeting in the middle of nowhere. Better late than never.

#GOP #fraud #Barack #Obama #Joe #Wilson

Trump Changes Course Again - I'm Getting Dizzy

Damian Palettea - The Washington Post:

President Trump and a top adviser on Wednesday pushed back plans to overhaul the tax code, saying they wanted to prioritize first a renewed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

The comments from Trump and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney mark a sharp reversal from the administration’s approach just a few weeks ago. After they were dealt a stinging defeat when conservative Republicans refused to vote for a GOP health-care plan, Trump angrily said he was pivoting to tax reform and has been peppering his top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, for details of their tax timeline ever since.

Say it with me … “they don’t know what they’re doing."

Kidding aside, Mr. Trump has been lashed by opposition to “repeal and replacement” of the Affordable Care Act, some by his own base who voted for him not realizing that they 1. have an ACA health insurance policy, and 2. that the Affordable Care Act, the ACA, and Obamacare are all the same thing and they stood to L-O-S-E; lashed by tax scolds who wanted taxes cut despite ours being the lowest income tax rate among western nations; and lashed again by his true base, the very wealthy whose taxes were raised significantly to pay for - you know it - the Affordable Care Act.

At least we know who Trump’s masters are. Now, about those Russians ...

#Trump #fraud #ACA #health #insurance #taxes #GOP #more #fraud #youre #a #fool #is #you #voted #for #this

April 11, 2017

Trump Tops Obama, Bush and Clinton in Golfing

Karen Yourish and K. K. Rebecca Lai - The New York Times:

After years of criticizing former President Barack Obama for playing golf and going on private getaways, President Trump has already done more of both in his first 81 days than Mr. Obama, as well as former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Mr. Trump played golf again this past weekend, on Saturday and Sunday.

At least Mr. Trump excels at something.

#Trump #fraud #golf #not #governance

April 9, 2017

Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland to Leave National Security Council Post

Abby Phillip - The Washington Post:

Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland is expected to leave her National Security Council post and is expected to be named U.S. ambassador to Singapore, an administration official said.

McFarland, who was named to her post by the previous national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was initially told that she could remain at the White House when Flynn was replaced by H.R. McMaster.

Her departure, which was first reported by Bloomberg News, comes amid a broader shake-up at the security council under McMaster’s leadership.

McMaster is cleaning house, re-making the NSC to his liking as he should. The original top stooges, Flynn and McFarland, are gone. Good thing, too. One was covertly dallying with the Russians, the other claimed she was followed by Hillary Clinton’s helicopters.

I wonder how she’ll get past Senate confirmation with that claim on the record.

#Trump #fraud #NSC #Flynn #McMaster #McFarland

April 8, 2017

∴ Is It Last Call for Craft Beer? (No.)

Jim Koch - The New York Times:

The growth and the excitement in the beer business is in craft, and its potential is threatened by a beer landscape that is heavily tilted toward gigantic foreign-owned conglomerates and against the independent, innovative entrants.

It matters because independent American breweries create beers for their local regions. They invest in their communities. They employ local workers. And they pay taxes — local, state and federal. American craft brewing is American manufacturing that doesn’t outsource these well-paying American jobs.

Get some craft brewers really talking, and they’ll tell you we are headed for a time when independent breweries can’t afford to compete, can’t afford the best ingredients, can’t get wholesalers to support them, and can’t get shelf space and draft lines. The result: Beer lovers won’t have the broad range of choices they have today.

We’ve enjoyed a golden age of craft brewing for a decade or more. Explosive growth in local craft breweries means there are often a dozen places for drinkers to enjoy new beers within range of an easy drive. I’ve wondered, though, when this expansion will end, whether we’ll face a contraction, and how far that’ll go.

No business grows forever. Mature businesses find a steady-state size if they’re well run. Over-expanded industries contract until the market can support them at a reduced size.

That’s what Jim Koch sees coming, but he claims the cause won’t be over-extension. It’ll be pressure from monopolist macro-brewers reducing space in the distribution chain and shelf space.

Keep in mind Jim started his business, Boston Brewing, with one beer, Sam Adams Boston Lager, but left behind the “micro” designation long ago. Boston Brewing makes dozens of beers, both all-year and seasonal, and distributes around the world. Comparing craft brewers to a company his size is an apples-to-oranges exercise.

He’s well-regarded in the craft industry, though, for giving back to the little guys. He personally intervened during a recent hops shortage by using his company’s purchasing power to buy more hops than they needed at a lower price, then re-distribute among smaller producers at that same reasonable price.

I’m not certain, then, that his issues apply to many local micro-brewers. Most don’t run a bottling line, don’t distribute beyond nearby towns (and only in kegs, at that), and don’t appear on store shelves. Crowding out in the distribution chain will limit how many small brewers can grow larger, but the more pressing danger for small breweries - the producers you find in a local industrial park, for example - is one of over-saturation of the local market for good beer. We haven’t reached that tipping point, yet.

The breweries I visit are consistently crowded every weekend, even in the dead of winter. The crowds grow as the temperature rises. New micro-brewers are opening all the time.

Now, I may be in a fortunate minority living in northern central Virginia. Our state has seen explosive growth in brewing and distilling, and there are a LOT of beer and spirits drinkers here. What I’m seeing may not be representative of the larger craft brew industry.

At some point the craft market will peak. It may shrink. I doubt it’ll disappear. I have yet to see or hear of a craft brewery disappearing for reasons other than being bought by another micro-brewer - because their beer was so popular it made sense to sell and made sense to acquire.

Give people a taste of something better and they’ll pay you for the pleasure. Witness Apple and their computing products. The same will hold true for the craft brewing industry. It may do so with a lower number of producers, though. Time will tell.

#craft #beer #Jim #Koch #Boston #Brewing #conglomerates #supply #chain

April 7, 2017

Washington State’s New 8 Megawatt-hour Flow Battery is the Largest of Its Kind

Megan Geuss - Ars Technica:

A company called UniEnergy Technologies (UET) has installed a new large flow battery on the grid in Snohomish County in Washington state. The 2MW, 8MWh battery system may seem like a small installation compared to recent projects in Southern California and Hawaii, but it's quite a step for the nascent flow battery industry. In fact, this installation is currently the largest capacity containerized flow battery system in the world. It's housed in 20 connected shipping containers and will be used by the Snohomish Public Utility District (otherwise known as SnoPUD), which has also invested in lithium-ion battery installations.

A modest installation would provide overnight and calm wind backup for solar- and wind turbine-generated electricity. Smart.

#flow #battery #solar #wind #alternative #fuels

President Trump’s Real-World Syria Lesson

Thomas Friedman - The New York Times:

So, last week, someone named “Rex Tillerson” (who, I am told, is the U.S. secretary of state) declared that the “longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people” — as if the Syrian people will be having an Iowa-like primary on that subject soon. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley made the same point even more cravenly, telling reporters that the United States’ “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Is there any wonder that Assad felt no compunction about perpetrating what this paper described as “one of the deadliest chemical weapons attacks in years in Syria,” killing dozens of people in Idlib Province, the last major holdout for Syrian rebels.

Mind you, Donald Trump did not cause this Syria problem, and he is right to complain that it was left in his lap by the Obama team, which had its own futile strategy for dealing with Syria — trying to negotiate with Russia and Iran, the key players there, without creating any leverage on the ground.

But if you’re looking for a culprit for why America has refused to intervene in Syria, you have to look both to your left and to your right.

It won’t be pretty or easy. But in the Cold War we put 400,000 troops in Europe to keep the sectarian peace there and to keep Europe on a democracy track. Having NATO and the Arab League establish a safe zone in Syria for the same purpose is worth a try. And then if Putin and Iran want to keep the butcher Assad in Damascus, they can have him.

(Emphasis mine.)

An astute observation among a succinct explainer on how ISIS evolved, who’s allied with whom, and what the future holds in Syria. Gets you right up to speed.

Action-reaction: it’s basic physics. Let the despot know his position is safe and he’ll lash out at his weakest opposition. Photos of dead children were the result.

The US needs to do better. A cruise missile attack probably isn’t going to do it - that only shows we have no skin in the game.

#Thomas #Friedman #Syria #Iran #Russia #foreign #policy #war #chemical #weapons #attack

Turns Out ... Trump's Tomahawk Raid Was Pointless

Tweet by AFP reporting Syrian airfield back in operation next day

The message sent doesn’t have anyone thinking twice. Not Assad. Not Putin. Not Xi Jinping. Not Kim Jong-un. Not the bum taking a leak on the Trump Tower loading dock.

Nice try, Donald. You’re still under investigation by the FBI, the House Intelligence Committee, and the Senate Intelligence committee.

Shaking up the White House staff won’t help. It will make for good political theater, though, so go right ahead. Bannon first, please.

#Trump #FRAUD #Syria #Russia #China #North #Korea #bumOnLoadingDock 

Rising Waters Threaten China’s Rising Cities

Michael Kimmelman - The New York Times:

The rising South China Sea and the overstressed Pearl River network lie just a meter or so below much of this new multitrillion-dollar development — and they are poised to drown decades of progress, scrambling global supply chains and raising prices on a world of goods like smartphones, T-shirts, biopharmaceuticals and even the tiny springs inside your ballpoint pens.

Fascinating read about China’s burgeoning, colliding urban centers. Click through and scroll down for a time-lapse graphic of the region’s disparate population centers merging into a sprawl as climate change inundates these riverine communities.

These places possess some of the most beautifully articulated architecture, which becomes another world painted in light after dark.

Residents and manufacturers are being flooded out with increasing frequency each year.

#climate #change #China #Guangzhou #Pearl #River #flooding

April 6, 2017

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes Recuses Himself From Russia Probe

Karoun Demirjian - The Washington Post:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) temporarily recused himself Thursday from all matters related to the committee’s ongoing probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, as House investigators look into ethics allegations against him.

So - keeping track - Flynn, fired; AG Sessions, forced to recuse himself from all Russia/Trump campaign investigations; Bannon, removed from the National Security Council by the adults in the room; Representative Nunes, forced to step aside and recuse himself from Russia/Trump campaign investigation after charges were leveled that his intelligence disclosures were unauthorized.

Fell on his sword for a jackass, he did.

1-2-3-4. The dominos, they keep a’fallin’. Gonna be some bigger ones, soon. I can feel it.

#Trump #GOP #fraud #Russia #campaign #intelligence

April 5, 2017

Civil Rights Act Protects Gay Workers, Court Rules

Matthew Haag and Niraj Chokshi - The New York Times:

In a significant victory for gay rights, a federal appeals court in Chicago ruled Tuesday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay workers from job discrimination, expanding workplace protections in the landmark law to include sexual orientation.

The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the highest federal court yet to grant such employment protections, raises the chances that the politically charged issue may ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court. While an appeal is not expected in this case, another appellate court, in Georgia, last month reached the opposite conclusion, saying that the law does not prohibit discrimination at work for gay employees.

That’s rather a huge and consequential decision. Given the degree of public interest and a contradictory ruling by another appellate court, this one is all but certainly headed for the Supreme Court.

Sure wish we had an odd number of justices, there.

#civiil #rights #gay #workers

Advertisers Flee Fox's Bill O'Reilly Show

Ben Popken - NBC News:

Fox News is in a jam this week as major automakers and smaller outfits pull their ads from the network’s popular “O’Reilly Factor” show, following a series of sexual harassment claims against host Bill O’Reilly.

BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi all yanked their ads after a New York Times investigation that surfaced five sexual harassment cases against the political pundit.

They were joined Tuesday by pharmaceutical makers GlaxoSmithKline and Bayer, Sanofi Consumer Care, insurer Allstate, asset management firm T. Rowe Price, and personal finance company Credit Karma.

Orkin, a pest control company; Untuckit, a men’s clothing line; Ancestry.com, a family history service; Constant Contact, an email marketer; and Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, the parent company of the Rachel Ray-endorsed dog food brand Nutrish, also announced they were pulling ads.

In total, at least 16 advertisers have so far withdrawn support.

(Emphasis mine.)

That escalated quickly. The number was eight yesterday afternoon.

Update (ABC affiliate WMAR):

At least 20 companies are pulling advertising from "The O'Reilly Factor" after allegations that Bill O'Reilly sexually harassed women.

(Emphasis mine, again.)

#Bill #OReilly #sexual #harassment #scandal #advertisers

April 4, 2017

Fox Losing More Advertisers After Sexual Harassment Claims Against O’Reilly

Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt - The New York Times:

Fox News was facing a major advertising revolt on Tuesday as companies wary of the sexual harassment accusations against Bill O’Reilly continued to pull their ads from his prime-time cable news show.

Six more marketers said they were withdrawing ads from “The O’Reilly Factor,’’ making a total of eight that have suspended sponsorship in the last 24 hours.

I wonder if we’ve reached a tipping point in O’Reilly’s career. He’s been largely bullet-proof despite years of sexual harassment allegations and lawsuits. Now that Roger Ailes isn’t around to run interference for him, the tempo of complaints and advertiser defection has increased.

Maybe this did it:

The decisions come after The New York Times published an investigation last weekend that found that five women who had accused Mr. O’Reilly of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior received settlements totaling about $13 million.

$13 million in settlements to make nothing go away? The burden of proof in these claims was on the women who brought them. Fox’s attorneys likely wouldn’t advocate shelling out that much money unless there was jury-convincing evidence.

How many more lost advertisers will Fox tolerate? They’re running a business, and apparently employing Bill isn’t good for it.

#Bill #OReilly #Fox #News #sexual #harassment #claims #settlements #advertisers

Gas Attack Is Said to Kill Dozens in Syria

Anne Barnard - The New York Times:

The deadliest chemical weapons attack in years in Syria killed dozens of people in northern Idlib province on Tuesday morning, including women and children, and sickened scores more, according to medics, rescuers and witnesses in the rebel-held province, who said the gas had been delivered by a government airstrike.

Here’s a moment that rarely arrives in politics: an opportunity to clearly and decisively do what the opposition was accused of failing to do. Your move, Mr. Trump. Are you going to draw a bright red line at chemical attack and so “no farther?”

Guess not (CNN.com):

Sen. John McCain said Tuesday the Trump administration's decision to no longer prioritize ending the Syrian civil war is "another disgraceful chapter in American history."

...

"I'm sure they took note of what our Secretary of State (Rex Tillerson) said just the other day that the Syrian people would be determining their own future themselves -- one of the more incredible statements I've ever heard."

#Trump #GOP #fraud #politics #chemical #attack #Syria

Why Do Walmart and Target Have Their Own Digital Forensics Labs?

Kaveh Waddell - The Atlantic:

Walmart is one of six companies in the United States that run digital-forensics laboratories accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. American Express has an accredited lab; Target has two of them.

Those companies—and many others that operate labs without formal accreditation—have built up digital-forensics capabilities once limited to law enforcement. They have the tools and the know-how to investigate corporate theft and online fraud, or track a data breach to its source. That might involve extracting information from a locked, encrypted smartphone, or a damaged computer hard drive. Or it could entail analyzing network activity to figure out which employee, for example, is siphoning off sensitive data to sell on the black market.

Fascinating article about private enterprise developing its own digital forensic capabilities to thwart crime in their businesses.

Perhaps the most surprising detail comes in the final paragraph: Target revealed that a quarter of the digital forensic work they do was unrelated to the company itself in 2008.

Seems a golden business opportunity. Train up and gain accreditation, then contract digital forensics services to smaller companies that have a need, but cannot afford the infrastructure.

#digital #forensics #crime

April 3, 2017

Blackwater Founder Held Secret Seychelles Meeting to Establish Trump-Putin Back Channel

Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff, and Karen DeYoung - The Washington Post:

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said.

...

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

This article is a who’s who of holy shit. Erik Prince, founder and owner of Blackwater, whose sister is the controversial secretary of education, brokered a meeting to establish foreign policy ties between the not-yet-president and Vlad Putin.

This is going to make one hell of a non-fiction read when the book comes out.

#Trump #GOP #criminal #fraud #Erik #Prince #Betsy #DeVos #Stephen #Bannon #Rebekah #Mercer #Logan #Act #smoke #getting #thick #must #be #fire #here #somewhere

April 2, 2017

US Energy Production Dropped in 2016 For the First Time in 6 years

Megan Geuss - Ars Technica:

On Friday, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that US energy production in 2016 fell by 4 percent, with fossil fuel production contributing to most of that decline.

Peak carbon?

#energy #production #carbon #emissions

At Last, a New Movie That’s as Beautiful and Insane as The Fifth Element

Annalee Newitz - Ars Technica:

Thanks to the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, blockbuster sci-fi adventures can be trippy again. Bulbous monsters, sparkly outfits, zero-G hairstyles, starscapes that look like 1970s prog rock album covers—it’s all cool now. And that means, strangely, that the world is finally ready for a movie based on the 1960s comic book that started the psychedelic sci-fi craze in the first place.

That’s what you’ll see in this first full-length trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the tale of Valerian and Laureline, two spacio-temporal agents hired to guard the universe’s only intergalactic library in the insanely colorful cosmopolis Alpha. The film is directed by The Fifth Element mastermind Luc Besson, whose most recent movie was the transhumanist hit Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson. As for Valerian’s plot, there’s some kind of vague menace threatening not just the future of knowledge, but all of space-time.

The Fifth Element is one of our favorite sci-fi films, and Guardians of the Galaxy has become a go-to comfort film in our home, as well. Although it hews to the simplistic end of the scale, Besson’s Lucy bears ideas that make it a worthy sci-fi story, too.

All of which has me looking forward to this summer’s Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. In the mean time, there’s apparently a forty-year comic saga in Valerian and Lauraline that I had no idea existed. I’ll bet I can find the TPBs on Amazon/Comixcology …

#fifth #element #guardians #of #the #galaxy #lucy #valerian #and #lauraline #comics

A Judge Rules Trump May Have Incited Violence

Aaron Blake - The Washington Post:

A federal judge in Kentucky is the latest to take Trump at his word when he says something controversial. Judge David J. Hale ruled against efforts by Trump’s attorneys to throw out a lawsuit accusing him of inciting violence against protesters at a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville.

At the rally, Trump repeatedly said “get ‘em out of here” before, according to the protesters, they were shoved and punched by his supporters. Trump’s attorneys sought to have the case dismissed on free speech grounds, arguing that he didn’t intend for his supporters to use force. But Hale noted that speech inciting violence is not protected by the First Amendment and ruled that there is plenty of evidence that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s words.

“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ‘em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” Hale wrote. “It was an order, an instruction, a command.”

I recall this event, the reporting on it, and wondering if there would be repercussions from it. Mr. Trump’s words made him appear a would-be strongman, a thug unworthy of the office he sought.

If I were speaking among a group of friends and said the same about an interloper, I’d be liable for any injury done at my advocacy. I don’t know what liability Trump will suffer in the near term, as he’s president of the United States and (I think) covered by sovereign immunity. After he leaves office, though, this could come back to haunt him.

#Trump #fraud #thug #violence #criminal #liability

The Parking Lot Lobby Will Be Heard From Shortly ...

@debaggin:

A Fotomat hut in a parking lot

#Trump #fraud

Legalized Marijuana Could Help Curb the Opioid Epidemic, Study Finds

Reuters, re-published on NBC News:

Hospitalization rates for opioid painkiller dependence and abuse dropped on average 23 percent in states after marijuana was permitted for medicinal purposes, the analysis found. Hospitalization rates for opioid overdoses dropped 13 percent on average.

At the same time, fears that legalization of medical marijuana would lead to an uptick in cannabis-related hospitalizations proved unfounded, according to the report in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Ten years from now marijuana dispensaries will be as common as state-owned ABC stores and privately-owned liquor stores are today.

Consider the facts:

  • marijuana is no more addictive than alcohol.
  • marijuana is no more debilitating than alcohol.
  • there is no legal, moral, or logical argument against legalizing marijuana that doesn’t also apply to alcohol.
  • alcohol is legally sold in all fifty states, and in most counties there-in.

#marijuana #legalization #alcohol #addiction #impairment

April 1, 2017

∴ My Apple Care Experience

I own an iPhone SE. It’s one of the last iPhone models incorporating a mechanical home button. iPhone 7 and newer designs include a fixed button-like circle, with haptic feedback simulating a button click, and without the mechanical bits and non-watertight gaps inherent in a movable part.

I also do a fair amount of double-clicking on the home button, moving between, say, Waze for GPS navigation and traffic alerts, Overcast for podcast playback, the occasional text message in Messages, and, when I’m out for a walk, Pedometer++ for step counting. That’s my daily use. Add to that weather apps, a calculator app, Tweetbot, and occasional use apps and my home button gets a lot of presses, much of it double-clicking among recently launched apps rather than hunting down an icon.

I used an almost identical iPhone 5 for three years without any trouble from the home button. Maybe I’m using the double-click feature more now. Perhaps I got a lemon with a home button that would have survived longer with a less avid user. Whatever the reason, my SE’s home button went almost “flat” about two months ago. Its normally sharp *click* became a faint *tick*, like passing a detent turning a knob. I’d accidentally triple-click, putting the display into high-contrast mode (try it! Triple-click again to revert to normal.), or single-click out to the home screen.

It occurred to me after a few weeks of this that my AppleCare warranty was effective for a full year after purchase. I’d bought this phone last May, after drowning my iPhone 6S. If I got on it I had another month-plus of free repair available.

Trouble is, the closest Apple Store is almost an hour away in moderate traffic. There is rarely anything less that moderate traffic on I-66, so I put it off for a few more weeks.

The clock ticked down on my warranty while I dithered. I checked on the Apple Support web site - some devices can be shipped to Apple for repair or replacement and shipped back to the customer - but apparently not iPhones, or perhaps not for people who live within “reasonable” distance of an Apple retail outlet. I’d have to make the drive.

The Apple Support app, available free on the iTunes App Store, lets you find the closest Stores, troubleshoot your device, and make an appointment for service. I went through the motions with it and within a minute secured an appointment time on my next day off. Kelly and I would make an afternoon of it.

We arrived at the Apple Store a half-hour early, and so spent a while perusing the products. It was my first visit to an Apple Store.

I’m up for a replacement for my six-year old MacBook Pro when Apple introduces its next iteration of laptops, so I spent time handling and debating between the current 15-inch Pro and the 13-inch, the model I currently use. Kelly admired the (PRODUCT) Red iPhone, as she’s due for a phone replacement this fall. They’ve got a crop of interesting accessories lining the walls, too.

The place was teeming with blue-shirted Apple employees, each sporting an iPad mini loaded with Apple’s proprietary service software. I approached one when my appointment time drew near and explained why I was there. The employee scrolled through the appointment list, selected my name, and checked me in. A few minutes later a blue-shirted young woman emerged from the back of the Store to ask what she could do to help.

I handed her my phone and said, “try the home button.” One or two clicks and she replied, “oh, the home button. Or lack of it.” After ensuring I had a backup of the device’s data, she disappeared into the back of the Store with my phone.

A few minutes later she emerged with the button almost fully working. A technician had opened the display and passed a pry tool under the button, freeing it. He’d explained it would likely work correctly, but since the phone was still under warranty it’d be wise to replace the display unit, which includes a new home button. This way there’d be no return visit if and when the original button went flat again, after the warranty expired.

I was given a time for pickup forty five-minutes in the future and asked to disable the passcode securing the phone.

Apple is one of the very few companies I trust with my data. Had I known they’d ask for the passcode removal, I might have wiped the phone before traveling to the Store, then re-wipe and restore my backup after repair. Without hesitation, though, I disabled the passcode feature and handed her the phone.

We walked out for a stroll around the mall and a coffee.

Forty five-minutes later I walked back into the Store and explained to the first employee I encountered what I was there for. He checked on his iPad, communicated with the other employees over a wireless headset that I was there for a pickup, and asked me to wait a few minutes for someone to bring out my phone. Five minutes later I was showing a picture ID and taking back my phone, new display and home button intact.

The technician did an exemplary job, leaving not a trace of anything having been replaced. The button was fully clicky. I re-enabled the passcode feature and headed out the door.

My experience was seamless from beginning to end. Apple’s customer service, tops in the business, was prompt, friendly, and professional. Though I’d have preferred to simply drop my phone in a box and send it off for repair, I did receive additional benefit from visiting a Store in person. I heartily recommend the company not only for its software and devices, but for its customer service when something goes wrong, as well.

All-in-all, that’s what I’ve come to expect from Apple. I wasn’t disappointed.

#Apple #Care #customer #service #iPhone #Store

Tom Price Intervened on Rule That Would Hurt Drug Profits, the Same Day He Acquired Drug Stock

Robert Faturechi - ProPublica:

On the same day the stockbroker for then-Georgia Congressman Tom Price bought him up to $90,000 of stock in six pharmaceutical companies last year, Price arranged to call a top U.S. health official, seeking to scuttle a controversial rule that could have hurt the firms’ profits and driven down their share prices, records obtained by ProPublica show.

Stock trades made by Price while he served in Congress came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearings to become President Trump’s secretary of health and human services. The lawmaker, a physician, traded hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of shares in health-related companies while he voted on and sponsored legislation affecting the industry, but Price has said his broker acted on his behalf without his involvement or knowledge.

Congressman Price is now Secretary of Health and Human Services Price. Move along, nothing to see here.

Tom Price’s broker could have traded these shares in without direction if Price’s account is an actively managed “wealth management” type. Those accounts are handled and charged fees for professional investment advice and management.

The trouble is, Price knew he already had pharma shares in his account, so his personal intervention in the rule making process was conflicted to begin with. The $90,000 in trades is only icing on his tasty wealth-laden cake.

I’m not opposed to wealth; we all invest for retirement, or should. I’m opposed to using the levers of government tilting the playing field in favor of legislators. Good thing then:

ProPublica previously reported that his trading is said to have been under investigation by federal prosecutors.

#GOP #fraud #pharmaceuticals #stock #investment