Sunday, October 19, 2014

'US-led' strikes on ISIL

As everyone knows, a coalition of at least 10 nations are conducting air strikes against ISIL in Syria and northern Iraq. I've noticed something at the BBC News website: the term "US-led" is used so frequently it seems odd. It really stands out, like the BBC has an agenda. Were they told to keep that piece of info at the forefront of viewers' minds? British government? It's used so much, to the point where it's unnecessary, that it can't be standard journalist writing.

I'm sure it's true to say US-led, but why is it being pushed to the point of absurdity? We're the world's policemen, like it or not, but our president went out of his way to get other nations involved, such as the UK and many Arab countries, like this recent BBC story says, "Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates." That's an unprecedented coalition. Is the BBC trying to assure the UK people that the UK is not leading a deadly military campaign? Are they trying to emphasize the warlike nature of the USA, which is something they love doing? It's all weird.

CNN

I quit watching CNN during the Iraq War because they sided against my country during a war. For that, there is no forgiveness. I don't mind seeing the "enemy" side of things, and I don't mind alternate points of view, but when a socialist media company openly hates America and hopes it loses a war, that's the end, permanently.

Now, I'm getting spammed by CNN. It's possible somebody other than CNN put one of my email addresses on a list to receive breaking news. But, if I learn that CNN is slamming, I'm going to sue the MOTHERFUCKING SHIT OUT OF that fetid socialist company. If that happens, I won't accept a settlement if it means a non-disclosure agreement. Those fucks.

Excuse my language. And, as I said, I don't know if CNN is slamming, or if some DB is messing with me. But oh boy would I love to take a swing at a garbage media company pushing an anti-American message. That would be raison d'etre.

Kindle Unlimited from Amazon

This is a blatant plug, for which I'm not ashamed. I'm on month two with the $9.99 service (1st month was a free trial), and I recommend it for anyone who reads a lot. I've been reading almost 3 books per week since I got it. In fact, I just found another good book in the 600,000 title collection: The Second Ship by Richard Phillips.

Here are a couple of others I plowed through on Kindle Unlimited, but there are many more I'm forgetting: The Atlantis Gene and the two sequels by Riddle, and all Michael Lewis books (yes, all of them). His Flash Boys blew me away. Fantastic.

The program offers unlimited reading of the titles on the list. Most current best-sellers are not included, but there are still tons of great books available. As a reader, it was an easy thing to do. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet, except I'm not getting fat.

Unbroken, the movie

After I finished Unbroken a couple of years ago, I couldn't believe it wasn't already a blockbuster movie. Turns out, it's being made now. It was one of the best books I've read, and I read a minimum of two books per week, and have done so for many years. What really shocked me: the Cohen brothers are making it. Didn't seem like their kind of story.

Unbroken at IMDB

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Elon Musk thinking beyond Earth

It's funny, I've been saying this for a long time, longer than Elon Musk has, but nobody listens. I guess when you're a dumbass blogger -- nobody from nowhere -- nobody listens. Don't get me wrong, I rarely say these things to anybody. I'm not a soiled homeless guy who stands on a vegetable crate on the corner and screams at passersby. I simply learned long ago that if humanity doesn't venture beyond earth, the species will cease to exist at some unknown time in the future. All those sci-fi novels dealing with this topic aren't sci-fi at all, they're futurism.

When you are Elon Musk, a billionaire with an electric car company and a space company, people listen. It's not at all like being Nobody F. Nowhere. The basic idea is this: if we stay here, we all die. That's a fact, based on current knowledge, which is subject to change. It may not be for 50 billion years, so there's no need to panic, but it's true according to all valid sources. Eventually a catastrophe will happen to Earth, and then it's curtains. An x-flare from the sun, or the sun aging and expanding, which will incinerate the planet. A dozen other things can, and statistically will, occur, and each of these things will end humanity. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when.

Here's Musk in a new Aeon interview:
    ‘I think there is a strong humanitarian argument for making life multi-planetary,’ he told me, ‘in order to safeguard the existence of humanity in the event that something catastrophic were to happen, in which case being poor or having a disease would be irrelevant, because humanity would be extinct. It would be like, “Good news, the problems of poverty and disease have been solved, but the bad news is there aren’t any humans left.”’
Aeon is a great online magazine, btb, but be wary of the political stories. From what I've seen, they're buying stories from hard-core socialists. If you don't like stories extolling the virtues of weak, emasculated men, you may not like their politics. The other stuff is fine.

The last time I said to a friend we're doomed if we stay on Earth, I said we need to develop substantial colonies off-planet (not Mars specifically), and I admitted the looming castrophe(s) may not happen for a billion years or more. He looked at his watch-less wrist and said, "That's right around the corner." That friend is a bright guy, and he's right that we don't need to become paranoid. Still, we know it's coming at some point.

Musk's answer is to colonize Mars, mine is to live in space. My idea is better, by the way. If we have groups on Earth and Mars, we have doubled our chances of survival, but that's not nearly enough for the distant future. We need to be in space, in multiple places. Space cities can be turned away from x-flares, Mars cannot. Space cities can be moved out of the path of a giant asteroid, Mars cannot. I admit that Mars is the next logical step, and since we probably have hundreds of millions of years or more to develop escape plans from Earth, I'm not criticizing Musk. On the contrary, I'm glad somebody people are willing to listen to (not me) is talking about this. On the other hand, the catastrophe could happen tomorrow, and Mars will not suffice.

More from Musk:
    Musk has a more sinister theory. ‘The absence of any noticeable life may be an argument in favour of us being in a simulation,’ he told me. ‘Like when you’re playing an adventure game, and you can see the stars in the background, but you can’t ever get there. If it’s not a simulation, then maybe we’re in a lab and there’s some advanced alien civilisation that’s just watching how we develop, out of curiosity, like mould in a petri dish.’ Musk flipped through a few more possibilities, each packing a deeper existential chill than the last, until finally he came around to the import of it all. ‘If you look at our current technology level, something strange has to happen to civilisations, and I mean strange in a bad way,’ he said. ‘And it could be that there are a whole lot of dead, one-planet civilisations.’
He's probably right, except there's no way to be sure. It's entirely possible that only one planet in the universe has life, and that's ours. Either way, all life on this planet will come to an end one day, and we can prevent that only by leaving. That's why all this talk of preventing climate change is moot. It may have meaning in the short term, but in the long run we're only "saving" a planet that is utterly doomed.

Pleasant dreams.

One source of comfort, I suppose, is that we don't actually know anything. "Know" is a tricky word. It's slippery like an eel. If you read the Aeon article, you'll see the author discuss what will happen to the Earth as the sun begins its expansion in 5-10 billion years. Well, we don't know for sure that the sun will ever expand as it ages. This has not been observed directly in other stars. We haven't had telescopes long enough for certainty. The author is taking theory -- albeit the latest theories of the universe, sourced from well-respected scientists, same place I got my own "the planet is doomed" ideas from -- and discussing everything as fact. The truth is, we don't know for sure. Every time a learned scientist gets traction with a new theory, which almost approaches scientific law, 10-15 years later that theory is overturned, and we all follow, cult-like, a new set of "facts". We've seen this with astrophysics, and most areas of science, and astronomy and ideas about stars are no different. It does seem certain, though, so Musk is right to talk about the distant future and the things we must do for survival.

Here's another bit from Musk (and there's still a lot more in the article). Here he's defending human space exploration instead of relying exclusively on probes:
    ‘Well, we are sending probes,’ Musk told me. ‘And they are very expensive probes, by the way. They aren’t exactly bargain-basement. The last RC car we sent to Mars cost more than $3 billion. That’s a hell of a droid. For that kind of money, we should be able to send a lot of people to Mars.’
It's obvious he's thought about space exploration. I'm sure he also thought about India's recent Mars success. India last week became the first nation to send a probe to Mars successfully the first time. Their budget was only $74 million. Both of those things -- success on first try and for only $74m -- are astounding. India did something so fantastic it's almost absurd. Those facts undoubtedly got Musk's wheels turning. SpaceX, after all, is a private American company that is way ahead of India in terms of budget and technology (and capability).

There is one giant flaw in Musk's dream of a large colony on Mars, in my view. He can't do it on his own. One company, SpaceX, with on visionary, Musk himself, won't succeed. Many titans, and I mean tech titans, need to come together. Mars One is already way ahead, it seems, in planning. Can't Musk sit down with them, and also Gates and Ellison and Allen and Zuckerberg and Branson, to make a joint project? All of them together, with many I didn't name, could easily pool a trillion dollars (or 3T) and do a Mars colony properly, and without waiting 50 years. NASA is a victim of failed U.S. leadership, which values getting people on welfare more than space exploration, but there are plenty of billionaires around who could unite if they chose to make things happen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Robin Hood of Greece

The BBC has produced a fine piece about a notorious criminal in Greece. By all accounts, he lives frugally and gives stolen money to the poor, hence the comparison to Robin Hood. He has been captured and imprisoned twice, and each time he escaped by helicopter. Today he is free and on the run, or in hiding.

Story here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

MIT ranked No. 1 university on Earth for 3rd time in row

MIT is ranked No. 1 and has been in the top spot for three years running. The U.S. claimed 11 out of the 20 top spots. BBC story here. I always see these kinds of rankings, and when you couple that with some of the achievements here -- 1st silicon chip, internet, man on the moon, etc. -- you immediately see the disconnect between reality and the western media, which never misses an opportunity to mention how fat and stupid we are.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

YOLO SWAG 420 BLAZE IT

Liberty is a big deal to me, but it's bigger for some people in Keene, New Hampshire. If you haven't heard of this, check it out. There's something of a Battle for Liberty taking place in a small city in NH, with Free Keene on one side, and Stop Free Keene on the other. A candidate for state rep in NH named Cleaveland is associated with the Free Keene movement. His campaign motto is YOLO SWAG 420 BLAZE IT. The opposition movement, Stop Free Keene, said this about Cleaveland: "I’m sure the people of Keene want their representative to enable college kids to spend four years perpetually drunk, stoned, and pissing in their neighbor’s garden."

The Free Keene folks are Libertarians, but far more radical than I am. Their videos and activism are entertaining. Watch them at their website freekeene.com.

Here's a taste:



I believe in liberty, but I don't think I could do this to a parking enforcement worker.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Obama v. ISIL

The official term for the new terrorist group is ISIL, formerly IS or ISIS. They're the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, sometimes called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and sometimes just the Islamic State. Their goals and methods are the same as al Qaeda, basically -- to kill or convert all non-Muslims while recreating the ancient Caliphate, a Muslim empire that existed a thousand years ago.

I just watched Obama's speech, all 14 minutes, at whitehouse.gov, and agreed with it. After six years, our president finally said something I agree with. There were a few details I could criticize, but I won't do that. This is no longer a political blog, and the general message from Obama is something I agree with: Force, with allies, limited to airstrikes and a few other limited activities, and nothing more. Massive invasions with ground forces and nation building is a lost cause with Muslim countries. We learned that the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their culture is 1000 years behind the mindset of having a modern, peaceful democracy, so we shouldn't be in the business of pushing them. Anybody who thinks that's bigoted or "xenophobic" can fuck off. People who routinely hang people for being gay, behead people who follow a different religion or even a different faction, sentence female rape victims to whipping, and cut off the clits of 95% of teenage girls, are worth less than my morning constitutional.

When they're ready to evolve, they'll walk that path on their own. In the meantime, bring in the supercarriers and give our F18 aviators some real-world training. And give us some great video of American firepower. There's nothing so satisfying as infrared video footage showing stone-age creeps with Iranian-funded weapons getting blown into the afterlife.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Solution to the California water shortage

I believe this is a solution to water problems for the entire Southwest region of the United States. Build pipelines from the Great Lakes to the Southwest. If anybody knows why this wouldn't work, speak up. I don't know much about pipelines, but I know that we already have a lot of them, and we're really good at making and maintaining them. People have been good at this since Roman times.

Is there enough water in the Great Lakes region? I don't know. All I know is that in addition to the lakes, anywhere in that region you can sink a well 15-feet into the ground and have unlimited fresh drinking water. Nothing is truly unlimited, but I believe that region is as close to unlimited as we can hope. Minnesota license plates say 10,000 lakes, but the USGS says they have 23,000. I checked. The place is drowning in fresh water. Now throw in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and the rest. Towing massive icebergs from Antarctica to Los Angeles may not be feasible, nor desalination plants, but I think pipelines from a waterlogged Upper Midwest is doable.

For starters, here's proof that the general concept of pipelines is sound, even over long distances. The pic below shows current pipelines running across the USA.


Most of the pipelines in the image are for fossil fuels, and a few convey water. Living in California, I'm very aware of the Mulholland Aquaduct, built in the 1930s, if my memory is correct. It is a pipeline that runs from the Hoover Dam in Nevada to Los Angeles, then branches off to San Diego. At the end of the line, San Diego gets 1/3 of their fresh water from this pipeline. I believe this proves that water pipelines work.

To my limited knowledge of pipelines, the only problem is funding. If this is true, I think the cost of building a few pipelines from the Great Lakes to the Southwest would be relatively low, considering that several Southwest States, plus contributing money from the federal government, would be pooled. Also, tech companies lately, especially Google, have been doing public works for a long time, like hyperfast internet. I realize they're looking at things from a profit standpoint, but from a PR standpoint, I'm guessing it would be good business for a consortium to arise: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Intel, Apple, and a few others could fund half of the pipeline, and reap the PR rewards. If they made the offer, I think the affected states and the fed would respond and get the project done.

If corporations, plus maybe a few individual fatcats like Buffet and Gates and Ellison, came onboard, they could offer their financial contributions in terms of an unenforcable social contract: "We'll supply half of the money in exchange for you, the people of the Southwest, to be good citizens and learn about how to conserve water, every day, and apply that knowledge immediately." The corporations involved could even be inspired to develop new technology to conserve water -- better low-flow toilets, water reclamation systems designed for household use, etc.

On the topic of individual fatcats, here you go:

Bill Gates net worth: $79 billion
Larry Ellison: $45 billion
Paul Allen: $16 billion
George Soros: $26 billion
Warren Buffet: $65 billion

With that list in mind, and the wealth, how big are the problems we need to solve, and how much will they cost? I understand that, from a global standpoint, malaria is a much bigger problem than allowing Los Angeles people to continue hand-washing their $104,000 Teslas and over-watering a postage stamp-sized parcel of green grass. On the other hand, do we wait until nothing happens when the tap is turned on? I like a morning shower, and if these fatcats, plus corporations and government, get together to keep that happening, I'll show my appreciation in my portfolio of stocks and government bonds. I may even omit a legal tax deduction or two. (Not likely because government is a disease.)

I bring all this up because I see this as a viable solution, until I'm shown otherwise, to a problem that is, by all accounts, grave. If global warming is real, and if it's going to make problems like the Southwest water shortage even worse over time, then I believe the time is now to consider unconventional partnerships for solving the problem. It could be used as a model elsewhere, around the world, too. If nothing else, public-private partnerships are already common. In other words, I'm not presenting something born of genius, and it's not even unprecedented. Since I'm rambling now, I believe that non-tech companies who have bought into the hoo-haw of "social responsibility" would be willing to join the consortium: Starbucks comes to mind. As much as I criticize Starbucks, they offer most of their employees health insurance and tuition reimbursement at Arizona State University. They did that in part because of altruism and social responsibility, but also because it pushes up the stock price. What could possibly push up stock prices more than joining a consortium that can, and will, forever solve water problems in the United States?

What are we waiting for? Instead of discussing this, people in Southern California are getting tickets for washing cars in their own driveways, and for watering lawns. Not discussing pipelines connecting places with unlimited fresh water to states that are dangerously low makes me think there's some great flaw with the pipeline idea, but I can't see what that flaw might be. Who knows about this stuff? Who can tell me I'm an idiot and should just shut up about it? I will, but first I need to know why.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kevin Poulsen

Video below is a talk by Kevin Poulsen, the best hacker in the history of the world -- who got caught. Period. Details start at 3:05, and pay particular attention to 15:21. Spend 50-odd minutes to learn about one of the most inventive criminals in U.S. history. If you want context and more information, read the stuff I provide below. If you're not interested, no problem.

Most criminals, when hunted by multi-jurisdictional experts (FBI, Secret Service, and phone company security personnel), flee. They go on the run. Not Poulsen. No reason to. He had the upper hand, and stayed put in his home town of Los Angeles. He was better than them, right up until he got caught, of course.

Poulsen was featured on Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. Mysteriously, when the show broadcast the toll free phone number for the public to call in tips, the phone system failed. Surprise, surprise. Part of his deal with the government was certain aspects of his case can be revisited, and that's why I believe he doesn't cop to all he's done, such as mysterious large-scale phone outages. I wonder if the deal he made explain why he hasn't written his memoirs? Too bad, because it would be great reading.

Lots of our best drama is crime drama: Heat, a cinematic masterpiece, was loosely based on a real criminal. Escape From Alcatraz, likewise, and Scorsese's masterpiece The Departed, loosely based on real criminal Whitey Bulger. Goodfellas, based on a real criminal. Also there was Catch Me If You Can, based on the true story of Frank Abagnale. All of these audacious criminals, even fictional crime stories like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction fall short of Poulsen's real exploits.

Poulsen has gone straight as a journalist for Wired, and he wrote one of the best books on hackers, called Kingpin. Well written and researched, it's a must read for anyone interested in technology and entertaining true crime. For Poulsen's full story, see Jonathan Littman's book, The Watchman. Judging by the current prices, I'm glad I bought my copy long ago. Watchman is probably the best book about hacking, detailing the best hacker in history who got caught -- Poulsen. It's fitting that the best hacker, Poulsen, wrote the best book about hacking. There can be no doubt that Poulsen's criminal past allowed access to Max Vision aka Kingpin.

This video below shows some of what Poulsen did, and he also discusses Kingpin, which is almost as interesting as Poulsen's activities. Until I found out about Poulsen, I thought Frank Abagnale was the most audacious criminal. Because of Poulsen's past as a hacker, and present as a great tech-security writer, I was disappointed that Snowden didn't choose Poulsen as one of three sources for the recent NSA leaks. He would have been the best candidate of all. Mostly, I'm disappointed that a great writer who understands technology hasn't written his own memoir. The legal ramifications are the only explanation for the lack of this great memoir. I think he should pull an Assange, or Snowden, and travel somewhere for asylum, and tell us his version of events.




Monday, August 18, 2014

Death of Aramaic

The language of Jesus may be dying after thousands of years, thanks to ISIS. I'm not invested in religion, but I do find languages to be interesting. For instance, I watched The Passion of the Christ not for its story or religious importance, but because I wanted to hear Aramaic spoken. According to a Foreign Policy article, ISIS may be crushing Aramaic out of existence. From the FP article:
    Beyond the urgent humanitarian crisis lies a cultural and linguistic emergency of historic proportions. The extinction of a language in its homeland is rarely a natural process, but almost always reflects the pressures, persecutions, and discriminations endured by its speakers. Linguist Ken Hale famously compared the destruction of a language to "dropping a bomb on the Louvre" -- whole patterns of thought, ways of being, and entire systems of knowledge are among what is lost. If the last Aramaic speaker finally passes away two generations from now, the language will not have died of natural causes.
As much as I like language, I find most of the article to be sensationalized in the typical media fashion. Languages come and go, and it is most certainly not like "dropping a bomb on the Louvre". Things change, some things die and fade away, to be replaced by other things. No reason to go into hysterics.

Writing the emperor

A poet named Florus wrote a letter to Hadrian, emperor of Rome from 117-138 (source), and Hadrian replied. An ordinary citizen wrote an emperor, and got a written reply. An emperor's power and responsibilities make an American president seem feeble, btw.

Florus to Hadrian:
    I don't want to be a Caesar,
    Stroll about among the Britons,
    Lurk about among the...
    And endure the Scythian winters
Hadrian's reply:
    I don't want to be a Florus,
    Stroll about among the taverns,
    Lurk about among the cook-shops
    And endure the round fat insects
A couple of statues of Hadrian are below, and I'd like to mention something interesting about Roman statuary, and also explain my interest in this ancient culture. Rome is known to us, among other things, by its white marble statues, things that now stand in museums around the world. Despite the iconic white marble of the statues, they were never white. The base material, marble, was white, but the statues were always painted in a lifelike manner, with many realistic colors. The sculptors were famous and wealthy, as is well known, but the painters were famous as well. Our perception of Rome has been diminished, or at least suffers an inaccuracy, by looking at white-marble statues, when, in fact, they looked realistic at the time of creation. Even the columns were painted. Time eroded the paint, but not the base material. We need to be careful with our inferences.

As for Roman culture, and the people who populated it... they were 1700 years ahead of the rest of human development. That alone makes them worth studying. They are worth emulating, too, minus the obvious mistakes. None of that is exaggerated. The Romans had ships in the 1st century that carried 700 tons of cargo, and 300+ people, and routinely made passages of 1200 miles non-stop. That's roughly the distance from northwest Africa to the horn of South America. That wasn't a trade route, but two Roman ships did, in fact, arrive in South America in the 1st century AD, intact. One was discovered off the coast of Venezuela, and another off Brazil.

Most aspects of the culture, down to the anchors of those great ships, were not duplicated until just a couple of hundred years ago. A lot of historians have recently disputed the moniker Dark Ages, which generally refers to when the Romans disappeared (Western Empire), but don't believe it. The Dark Ages were far brighter than we've been taught, perhaps, but the the light of Rome really did shine on the Western world, and by comparison everything went dark for at least 1700 years after that light ceased to shine. Any westerner who doubts this can look to language. These people are still with us: July refers to Julius Caesar's favorite time of year, so he renamed a month after himself. July is for Julius, plain and simple, and true. His adopted son Octavian, who attained the title Augustus, claimed a month for himself, which we call August. We're in August. Think about that. Will there be a Reagan month 2000 years from now? Not a chance.

The rest of our months are misnamed because of these two Roman people. September means seventh month, but it's the ninth month. October means eight, but it's our 10th month. November comes from nones, which means nine in Latin, but it's our 11th month. December is obvious, meaning 10, yet it's our 12th month. This is because two real Roman people had the power and influence to insert two months into an existing calendar, which is our calendar, and  let the rest of the months ride (Rome had 10 months until Julius, July, and his adopted son Augustus, August). Who since then has had such influence, or power? Such impact on the world? Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, Gandhi, George Washington? Nope. Nobody has marked the world like these people, at least the Western world, and it was more than power and influence -- it was impact.. Also of note, the Romans only respected one culture, and that was the Greeks, another culture worth studying. Personally, I believe the ancient Chinese are worth studying for their independent advancements in many areas.

Ships and anchors, calendars, architecture, engineering, statuary, military, a democratic system of government, and no less than 1000 other things, are only the tips of gigantic Roman icebergs. To sound arrogant, although provable, the United Sates is many decades ahead of the rest of the world, and we're nothing compared to Rome. Iran sent a monkey into space three years ago, something the Soviet Union and the USA did decades ago. The Soviet Union, the first in space, has failed in 7 of 10 attempts to Mars, where the USA has been successful 9 of 10. The Ruskies are our closest competitors in space, and they're not even close, despite Sputnik. Arrogant or not, facts are stubborn things (heh), and reality cannot be denied. Statistics don't lie -- the USA is great by every measure conceived by man, but this only has meaning compared to other cultures. As much as I can discuss -- and prove -- American greatness, we are nothing next to Rome, if "greatness" is defined by comparison to others. That's a big "if", but there it is.

One of countless examples: our GPS constellation is mature, and the ESA Gallileo constellation is only now halfway deployed. Good for them, but remember who preceded that by a few decades. America preceded the Europeans by a long ways. This is especially meaningful because the Europeans are a great people by every measure except one: comparison to us. Now think about who preceded everyone by almost 2000 years. By my own metrics, the USA is the greatest country now in existence, present leadership excepted, but by my own metrics, we are very small and unimportant compared to the Romans. Now, 2000 years after the most important events of Rome, I wonder who will remember us in 2000 years. Nobody, probably. Hopefully, we'll be mentioned in history books, but I think that's all we can hope for -- first nation founded on personal, guaranteed liberty (1776), development of the first integrated circuit (Texas Instruments, 1958), the Moon landing (NASA, July 1969), and the microcomputer revolution and Internet (1970s). What else has the USA done that will be remembered in 2000 years? Our achievements are 50 years, or at least 20 years, ahead of our closest competitors, but that is nothing compared to Rome's 1700-year advancement. That is many things -- stunning, shocking, unprecedented, unduplicated, and well worth studying.

Hadrian, the emperor who hand-wrote a sarcastic letter to a poet, in marble, minus the paint:



A little bit about Hadrian: Most famous for Hadrian's Wall in the north of England, he was considered one of the Five Good Emperors, along with Nerva, Trajan, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. I never liked this list. I believe two good emperors are missing -- Augustus, the first emperor, and Vespasian. That last one, full name Titus Flavius Vespasianus, is my personal favorite for several reasons:

1. According to the lore at the time, Vespasian was a general who followed orders of the emperor, not part of an imperial family, and never wanted to become emperor himself. During a time of upheaval and instability and civil war, others begged him to declare himself. We won't ever know if this is true, because many leaders throughout history have found it advantageous to portray themself as a reluctant hero, even though they privately lusted after power. Then as now, the anti-hero is even more popular than the hero. There's little doubt that Vespasian believed he would be a better emperor than the three upstarts who declared themself emperor in 69 AD, and Nero, who was emperor until 68. Then again, the average Roman citizen probably thought themselves more qualified than those men. They probably thought their dogs would be better emperors than Nero. (National Geographic recently examined Nero, wondering if he is unfairly portrayed by history.)


2. While proconsul in Africa (Roman province in North Central Africa, between Egypt and Mauritania), Vespasian didn't do what most proconsuls were infamous for -- he didn't pillage the locals. This will be a sizable digression... By law, a proconsul (Provincial Consul, person the Senate appoints to govern a province) must collect taxes for Rome, at the rate decided by the Senate. If you think the U.S. tax code is detailed, investigate the Romans. We are an indirect extension of that culture -- and I won't detail all of that because I'm not in the business of writing a 20-volume set of books.

Importantly, an additional tax could be levied on the local population, and this additional amount was kept, personally, by the proconsul. A license to steal, as most proconsuls did. It was legal and expected, with some limits and excesses. Wealthy provincials commonly sued former proconsuls, in Rome, because of what they did in the provinces. There was a common joke at the time about a proconsul needing to make the extra tax massive because it must do two things -- it was used to make him rich and defend himself from corruption charges on his return to Rome. In other words, the wealth must be great enough to pay the necessary bribes to defeat charges of corruption, and still leave the newly returned proconsul immensely wealthy. Many of the names famous today from Rome are known specifically because of the wealth gained by the massive personal taxes placed on the shoulders of the helpless populations of the provinces, and what they did with the wealth skimmed from those people. For an interesting picture of proconsuls dealing with provincials, read the correspondence of Cicero. The senate ordered him to a province, something he hated. In private letters to friends and relatives, he details the arduous task of governing a province, right down to the intricate details of travel in the ancient world.

Tacitus, writing just after the death of Vespasian, sheds light on provincial rule by relaying the events of his father-in-law, Agricola, a general in the conquest of Britain (not a proconsul). Some details about the early days of provincial rule, per Tacitus:
    His object (Agricola) was to accustom them to a life of peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. He therefore gave official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and good houses. He educated the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts, and expressed a preference for British ability as compared to the trained skills of the Gauls. The result was that instead of loathing the Latin language they became eager to speak it effectively. In the same way, our national dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. And so the population was gradually led into the demoralizing temptation of arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. The unsuspecting Britons spoke of such novelties as 'civilization', when in fact they were only a feature of their enslavement.
The game of provinces is one of the more interesting elements of ancient Rome. The rise of Cicero, a novus homo of all things, to the position of Father of the Senate, came in part because of his orations on the merits and pitfalls of provincial consuls. Even when Cicero lost in open court, his arguments were so good, and his presentation so memorable, he rose above his social status -- a feat nearly impossible in Roman culture. His political writings, and advice given him by his brother Quintus during one of his campaigns, are studied by politicians worldwide today, and for good reason. Karl Rove gave a copy of Quintus' campaign advice to George Bush when he first ran for president, saying it's good advice. My favorite part:
    Make sure that your election campaign is one long parade, magnificent and splendid, appealing to popular taste, presenting a grand and dignified spectacle. If at all possible, you should also arrange for some scandal to be stirred up against your competitors, involving either criminal behavior or sex or bribery, depending on their character.
How much has really changed? We may have electricity now, and nuclear submarines and spaceships and electronic computers, but little else has changed. The Romans were the first modern human beings, nearly 2000 years ahead of everybody else.

Later, Quintus was appointed proconsul. Cicero wrote him a letter chastising him about reported abuses of power. In the typical eloquent style of Cicero, he admonished and cautioned his brother while flattering him. It's a ridiculously long letter, and one must read between the lines, as Quintus undoubtedly did.

Vespasian, like Cicero before him, was fair and generous with the people in his province, which made an extremely rare figure. In the Rome series on HBO this was glossed over when Cicero contemplated going to his country villa and giving up on his allegiance to Pompey Magnus. He said something to the effect that he did not have a name old and glorious like Brutus, so he would stay with the opposition party. This was partly true, especially about the old name. Reality was that Cicero was a moderate in the Senate, and didn't side with either party, the Caesarians or Pompeiins. He went to the country from the beginning, feigning illness. Some, even at the time, thought this was cowardice, but time showed the wisdom of his hesitancy. When he finally took sides, during the war between Caesar's adopted son Octavian and the forces of Brutus and Cassius, he chose the latter -- and during the proscriptions following Octavian's victory, he was murdered, with his hands cut off and nailed to the door of the Senate building in Rome. Picking sides in a civil war is a dangerous business, and he held off as long as possible. Wisdom and dying for a cause are not necessarily the same thing.

The people of Vespasian's African province loved and respected him because they knew well all of this history. Rome had libraries, and between 10% and 25% of people were literate -- not matched until the middle 18th century. To learn about history, all one had to do was venture to the library. Most, however, learned history from common conversations, corner theater productions, and readings sponsored by the wealthy elites (readers were paid to read propaganda and news items on street corners by torchlight in large cities of the empire). People like Cicreo and Caesar and Octavian were famous and often discussed by the latter half of the 1st century AD, and for all time to this day. The people of the African province were lucky to have Vespasian as a proconsul, and they knew it well. Fortuna, the god of good luck, smiled on them. Most proconsuls were corrupt and greedy, where Vespasian allowed the locals to keep their productivity and wealth. To me this sounds like Lucius Cincinnatus or George Washington or Gandhi. Not surprisingly, Vespasian had a lot of support from his former province when he later declared himself emperor. Then as now, popular support was the primary requirement for power, and Vespasian had earned their support by being fair, when he could have raped them, and was even expected to do so. By all contemporary accounts, he thought the people were entitled to the fruits of their labor, even though, by Roman law, Vespasian could have taken much of the wealth.

3. Vespasian was down to Earth, by all accounts. Some say this is because he was a simple soldier, lacking the sophistication and education of most other emperors. I'm not so sure. Two anecdotes illustrate Vespasian's character and, perhaps, simplicity.

The first is his response to a negative reaction to a new tax he imposed on the city of Rome. He put a tax on public toilets, the ones where the urine would be used for tanning. When an official complained about this, Vespasian held up a coin that had been collected from the tax and smelled it, declaring something to the effect, "It smells fine to me." Because of his association to public toilets, one of the French words today for public toilet is Vespasienne.

The second were his final words. Some of his contemporaries claimed he said this, and some thought it was folklore. Just before he died, Vespasian said, "I think I'm becoming a god." He was mocking the tradition of deifying emperors after their death. An emperor who mocks the ostentatious traditions of imperial families was destined to be loved by the people.


4. The Colosseum, which everyone knows about, was officially called the Flavian Amphitheatre, named after the man who approved the funding and pushed the project through -- Vespasian. Unfortunately, he died before the project was completed. The building was the first modern sports arena, and the only one of its kind for a couple of thousand years. Humanity would not catch up to ancient Rome, and Vespasian's creation, for more than 1900 years.

5. Stability and financial reforms. Nero committed suicide in the year 68, and in the following year four different people declared themself emperor.

From Tacitus:
    Welcome as the death of Nero had been in the first burst of joy, yet it had not only roused various emotions in Rome, among the Senators, the people, or the soldiery of the capital, it had also excited all the legions and their generals; for now had been divulged that secret of the empire, that emperors could be made elsewhere than at Rome.
Those words were written approximately 25 years after Vespasian became emperor, and 15 years after the death of Vespasian. Tacitus, himself a high-ranking statesman, admits that his rise was greatly aided by Vespasian's liking of him. That's another interesting facet of studying ancient Rome -- what is real history, and what was written to gain favor with the current person in power? Josephus' book, War of the Jews (available free at Amazon), included glowing passages about Vespasian, and was written after Vespasian granted him amnesty for his role in the Judean revolt against Rome. How much was true, and how much was aimed at showering goodwill on his benefactor?

Back to Vespasian, the results of the warring factions in the year 69 were the first civil wars in Rome in a hundred years or so (Marc Antony fought Augustus in the 1st century BCE, where Augustus prevailed). Vespasian was one of the four to declare himself emperor in 69, and he was victorious. After one of the worst periods of their history, Vespasian marked the beginning of a new trend -- stability and sanity. He may not have been an Augustus or Aurelius, but compared to previous emperors like Nero, and the bloody civil war that followed him, Vespasian was exactly what Rome needed.

A few links pertaining to this post are below, for anyone who wants to know more. Most of the info I included is from memory, but memory is a fleeting and biased thing, so don't trust mine. If you have an interest, begin with popular productions like the movie Gladiator and the Rome TV series, and read (not watch) I, Claudius. These are the most realistic productions. Then graduate to source material, like Caesar's two books that remain to us. Caesar wrote seven books, which we're aware of because many ancient Roman writers referenced them. Five are lost to time, but we still have two -- Commentary on the Gallic War, and Commentary on the Civil War, which detail, respectively, Caesar's conquering of Gaul (France), and defeating Pompeii and his senatorial allies in the civil war. Each shows the greatness of Caesar on the battlefield, when most of what's discussed about him is his dictatorial and administrative control of Rome (and his murder in the Senate house). This was a revalation to me when I discovered the books. It is this other side of him, his abilities as a general -- the reason he gained the popularity and wealth to challenge the other powerful men of Rome -- that makes him great. It's the reason we still know his name. I've read about Alexander, and I've read about Caesar, and I have no doubt that if the two lived in the same time, and met on the field of battle, Caesar would utterly annihilate Alexander. Alesia and the other battles have convinced me of that. Several times Caesar was outnumbered and destined to perish utterly, as predicted at the time by the senators and people of rome. Instead of perishing, he crushed his enemies decisively. In the Rome series on HBO, his greatness in battle was glossed by Marc Antony: "The man is a prodigy."

If you look for books written by Alexander the Great, going into great detail about how he accomplished his many military victories, you won't find anything. The same is true of every great ancient general, with the exception of Caesar. I was blown away, years ago, when I discovered that I could read an account of major ancient wars, written first person, by the commanding general. What is that? Stunning is the only word that comes to mind. I can buy two books today explaining battles, complete with local politics and details like logistics and fortifications, penned by an actual battlefield commander who fought before the time of Jesus. I can only shake my head. Why doesn't everyone know this? Everyone needs to read Caesar's books. I keep hoping we'll discover the other five books under an old cellar in some modern Italian city.

Next, read Ceasar by Adrian Goldworthy, and his Augustus, and other historians like Grant. Also read Cicero's correspondence and other writings that have survived, and Tacitus and Pliny and other Roman writings that are still available -- Marcus Aurellius, Martial, Juevenal, etc. There's even a cookbook. Not surprisingly, a menu painted on the wall of a Pompeii restaurant shows hamburgers -- roasted beef slabs sandwiched in bread, with a vegetable topping and mustard. As different as they were to us, they were surprisingly similar. You could drop by a pub and order a drink and a hamburger, then visit a brothel and play a game of Dogs & Robbers on your way home.

Also read Robert Harris' Imperium series about Cicero, which details three important phases of Cicero's life. Imperium isn't quite what people today think it was. Imperator, rendered in modernity as emperor, didn't mean "emperor" back then. Imperium was a right granted to a Roman citizen by the Senate, and it meant the right to raise and employ troops in battle. It was a mark of great respect and trust because the Romans were acutely aware of the dangers of a popular general becoming king with the support of military troops. Then as now, a coup is the greatest fear of a democracy. Because of the right's power, it morphed into the modern concept of emperor -- leader of an empire. Augustus, the first emperor, had around 10 different titles, including princeps, meaning first among equals, and augustus, which means the same thing today, and also imperator. Because Imperator implied the most power, and Augustus was the most powerful person in the Western world, an association was created between the leader of Rome and the title Imperator -- giving us the modern concept of emperor. His first and foremost title was not emperor at the time, but princeps.

The Imperium series by Harris is fairly simplistic, despite what the LA Times says (liberal journalists are fucking idiots), but it's a good look at life in ancient Rome and one of its greatest statesmen. It's amazing how much we know about a culture that flourished 2000 years ago, and earlier, and Cicero was one of the greatest people that culture produced. I keep waiting for Adrian Goldsworthy to write a biography of him. As much as I like Caesar, I believe Cicero was the greatest of the Romans. Caesar, though born relatively poor, was of the Patrician class, where Cicero was an Equestrian. Moving from a lower class to become Father of the Senate based on merit was extraordinary.

I better stop there because I could talk forever on the topic of ancient Rome. Greatness is worth studying. I believe America is the greatest now, and demonstrably so, but we're second fiddle in the history of humankind (because of bad leadership).

More on the Five Good Emperors at Encyclopedia Britannica
Hadrian
Vespasian


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Edward Snowden talks to Bamford

REQUIRED READING FOR ALL AMERICANS: The new Wired article by Bamford as he interviews Snowden.

It's the best and most interesting thing I've seen so far on Snowden -- the material he's leaking and his reasons for becoming a whistle-blower. "Whistle-blower" is the label used by his supporters in the press. His critics, like John Kerry, our SECSTATE, call him a traitor. Hard to know what he really is. Each of us will have to decide independently. My mind is unclear. I believe he damaged my country, but was the damage necessary to force positive change? I may never decide.

Snowden's choice of Bamford for the article makes sense. He's James Bamford, the first NSA whistle-blower from the early 1970s (as far as I know he was the first). Since then he's become an accomplished writer. I have a copy of his Puzzle Palace on a shelf in front of me. That's the first book detailing the NSA -- why it was created, when, and by whom. It also covers how it operates and what it's mission is (SIGINT). I imagine the list of people Snowden is willing to talk to is very short, and Bamford would certainly be on that list.

The new Wired article reveals a lot of new information -- new information from the treasure chest he took from the NSA, and also information about himself. Snowden explains a little bit about who he is and exactly what motivated him to do what he has done.

On the human side of things, Bamford revealed some of Snowden's life in Russia:
    Russians on the street occasionally recognize him. "Shh," Snowden tells them, smiling, putting a finger to his lips.
Of particular interest to me was the timing of the leak. Snowden said he had become disillusioned under Bush and all the worldwide surveillance happening post-911. He held off becoming a whistle-blower when it seemed like Obama was going to win his first try at president. Obama's rhetoric on the campaign trail indicated that some of the problems would be fixed, so there may be no need to flee with the thumb drives.

After Obama became president, Snowden saw (front row seat with top secret clearance at the NSA) that Obama greatly expanded all of the unconstitutional programs, and that's what made him do what he did and when.

All of this echoes what Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and confidant of Snowden, said a few months ago:
    "When I first began writing in 2005, I was focused primarily on the Bush NSA program, and I was able to build a large readership quickly because so many Democrats, progressives, liberal bloggers, etc, were so supportive of the work I was doing. That continued to be true through 2008.
    Now, a mere four [years] later, Democrats have become the most vehement defenders of the NSA and the most vicious attackers of my work on the NSA - often, some of the very same people cheering so loudly in 2006 and 2007 are the ones protesting most loudly and viciously now.
    Gee, I wonder what changed? In the answer lies all you need to know about the Democratic Party."
I've heard Nancy Pelosi, Democrat and House Minority Leader, pin the lawless and unconstitutional behavior on Bush as recently as three weeks ago. Pure, unadulterated lies to the American people. Worse than the lie, the general public is so uninformed that they will believe her pathetic lies. It's a two-man con. Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats were in on the surveillance programs under Bush and they voted their approval. Two-man con. Patriot Act? Bi-partisan support. Two-man con. When we have a Republican president again, I expect that person to continue and even increase the power of federal government, which automatically reduces individual liberty. When that happens, Democrats will pretend to be angry again. Two-man con.

Here's what a pathetic, bumbling liar looks like -- Nancy Pelosi on the NSA:



As you watch her attempt to distance herself from the problem, blaming "the Bush administration" for the NSA surveillance problems, remember that she and her party supported it in speeches and by their voting record. Bush had bi-partisan support. It's reminiscent of the Iraq War. During the 21 days it took to arrive in Baghdad, marking the end of major hostilities, the American public was in favor of the war by 69%. As the mop-op operation dragged on and public support waned, Democrats began to lie, claiming they were against the war. Kerry, Pelosi, Reid, Hillary Clinton, all voted for the war and voiced support publicly until the opinion polls indicated the public was losing interest, and then they said Bush was an awful human being for getting us into the mess.

These lies and shameless pandering passes for leadership in the United States of America. It also makes me think of Obama saying Bush is unpatriotic for adding so much to our debt. Bush increased our debt from $8 trillion to $12 trillion in eight years, which makes him, on balance, a failure. Obama has increased our debt from $12 trillion to just over $17 trillion in six years. These people are, and there's no nice way to state this simple truth, worthless fucking liars who are not working for us even though they were hired to do so.

Back to Snowden: Also cementing his decision to come forward were the lies told by then NSA director Clapper to congress, presumably under oath. Things were bad under Bush, but they had become much worse under Obama. This is why I no longer vote Democrat or Republican. They are two sides of the same coin -- a two-man con. That's not the paranoid ramblings of an anonymous blogger -- it's all real, it's happening. We're not losing our liberty all at once; it's happening slowly, with each "leader" we elect. We were warned about this by some wise folks long ago -- the ones who created this country.

Well, some time ago this stopped being a political blog. Old habits...

2nd amendment

I was surprised that the following is one of my most popular comments on Reddit. I expected the dumb children of America who are indoctrinated into socialism K-12 to downvote the H out of it, but that was not the case. The comment is a response to somebody who mentioned a couple of reasons gun-owners want to own those guns.

This may be the best comment I've ever read about the gun debate. All of your points are accurate, in my view. Gun culture is not limited to committing murder. The BBC disagrees, which is why I sometimes get frustrated by the left-wing portrayal of gun ownership. Some of the right-wing coverage is problematic too. I'm not Democrat or Republican. The BBC, which is left-wing, said a few years ago that owning a Glock could not have any other purpose than to commit murder. Obscene journalism. The right-wing, which I'm not aligned with much, is far more moderate. They advocate long-guns and handguns, but not mortars and tanks and nuclear weapons. They advocate defense of family and hunting, and not much else.

Another point to consider, which I realize sounds extreme in 2014, is that the framers of our Constitution were very clear about one essential point: The citizenry of America has the absolute right to overthrow the government by force if we believe it has become tyrannical. In other words, we can repeat the American Revolution if we (the people) believe that becomes necessary. Think the 2nd Revolution can't happen? I hope not, but the right is reserved, in writing, for just such an occasion. The concept was included as a warning to government that, while we recognize the authority of government, that authority is subservient to the people. Again, that sounds archaic, but it was, and remains, necessary to remind governments who is the ultimate authority in the land -- it's the people who install and remove governments. An unarmed nation cannot mount a revolution, so the people who just lived through the colonial days under King George, the framers, didn't want future generations to be unarmed for that very purpose.

From the pre-amble to the Declaration of Independence:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

2.1 We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

2.2 That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

2.3 Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

Half of the Constitution is literal, meaning that it lays out what our government is, what it does, and how it's constituted. The other half, roughly, is meant to protect the people from government. That's because governments, all of them, everyone, throughout time, have one thing in common -- increasing power and control, sometimes (but not always) to the detriment of the liberty of the people. Jefferson said it best: "The beauty of the 2nd Amendment is that it will not be needed until somebody tries to take it away." We were not the originators of the concepts of freedom, but we were the first to put it into practice, from the ground up -- to build a country from scratch on the foundations of liberty, and to guarantee that liberty, we are armed as individuals. If that sounds extreme, I would ask that you consider which political ideology is feeding you news and information.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

It Might Get Loud

At approximately 55:45 in the documentary It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page straps on a guitar and starts Whole Lotta Love. The faces of Jack White and The Edge say what needs to be said. Children sitting before their father; Hercules entertained by Zeus. Whole Lotta Love was probably the first hard rock song ever produced. Fans of Van Halen, AC/DC and a lot of metal bands owe their thanks to LZ and WLL.








Another interesting thing about the documentary, The Edge indirectly ridicules Jimmy Page, and Jack White indirectly ridicules The Edge. The Edge says something about the arrogance of 15-minute guitar solos, something Jimmy Page was famous for, and Jack White says something about the wrongness of too much technology used in guitar playing, which The Edge is known for. This shows how rock guitar changed from generation to generation.

Below is my favorite part of It Might Get Loud. As much as I love Jimmy Page and respect The Edge, I wanted to hear more of Jack White.

Good reads: George Carlin in 1980 and more

Longform.org, a precious gemstone, has linked to a 1980 Playboy magazine interview with George Carlin. It's fantastic, as you might expect. Carlin had just taken a few years off while he kicked cocaine and alcohol, and examines his life and career and the state of comedy and entertainment. Something I found interesting, Carlin mentioned Jaynes' book about the origin of consciousness, a book I read a few years ago. Most psychologists have discarded the theory presented in the book, but it's a staggering achievement nonetheless. Check the reviews on Amazon, even among the people who acknowledge the theory has been largely discredited.

Another fascinating read is about Gary Kasparov, Russian chess champion, running for the president of organized chess (FIDE organization, which organizes tournaments and rankings and other chess stuff). The twist is that it's similar to a le Carre novel. Kasparov renounced his citizenship of Russia, and Putin is supporting his rival to head FIDE. The campaign to lead FIDE has become political and downright dirty.

Rosetta pick

ESA just posted a new, detailed pic of the comet the Rosetta probe is now orbiting after a 10-year flight. I only have a few comments. CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE



1. Great image. Hats off to ESA for nearing completion of a difficult mission.

2. I sort of believe in a global village, but not on Earth -- in space. ISS is a good example of sharing risks and costs. I think that all capable nations should band together more, and in bigger ways, to do some really exotic stuff in space. Colonizing Mars and the Moon, for example. As an American... let's rephrase that, as a non-leftist American, I prefer seeing NASA in the headlines and the U.S. flag on the Moon and Mars, but I don't mind at all when ESA is in the limelight. I always wish others well. Not always, I guess: here, here, and here.

Many nations have space programs now and many others are heavily involved, so a few massive, joint projects are in order. I'm not talking about the ISS or ISSv2 because that would be just another satellite around Earth, which is something we've been doing since the 1950s. I'm thinking new and amazing. Only one nation can do anything big on its own, and that's mine, but we lack the leadership to get anything done. The current president of USA believes the No. 1 mission of NASA is "outreach to the Muslim world." That's not a joke, though it should be. Even though the USA can move independently, why? The more people involved, the bigger and better the projects can become.

Space Programs (from memory), in order of experience and capability:

USA
Russia
EU/ESA
Japan
China
Brazil
India
Iran (nominally)
etc.

Involved but without individual launch capability (from memory):

South Korea
South Africa
Australia
New Zealand
Canada
etc.

3. When are the nutjob conspiracy theorists going to notice an anomaly on the new Rosetta pic? There's a spot on the image, near the center and towards the upper-left, that looks like a hole was drilled BY AN ADVANCED ALIEN RACE (heh).

Monday, August 04, 2014

First Hellcat road review

I believe this is the first Hellcat review. Hellcat is the new Dodge Challenger SRT with 707hp -- the most powerful production car in U.S. history.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Better than MP3

Some people are ahead of me, and some are way behind. If you haven't moved beyond MP3s, listen up. MP3s were patented in 1985 by a German university, which still holds that patent. They don't collect royalties -- thank you very much! The format became popular in the late 1990s because internet speeds were fast enough to actually move them around. Now, we don't need such compressed (ie low quality) digital music. There are many superior formats, and they're usable now because of fast speeds and an abundance of cheap storage. I got a 2TB external for $59 recently. No excuse to listen to highly compressed digital music.

There are several options for better music, and I finally -- laughably in 2014, I know -- downloaded my first track of better music. I grabbed Please Read the Letter, by Plant / Krause. I use the GOM audio player, which I consider the best available, which plays FLACs and WAVs. I got the WAV from HDtracks.com. It's stunning. I use a low-end laptop for music, which is kind of a joke, along with good headphones and a headphone amp. It's stunning. It's stunning. Did I say that already? Robert Plant, btw, can't hit the high notes anymore, but he still has the chops. He won a Grammy for the album the song was included with. The song was written, of course, with Jimmy Page. I admit that part of the reason I like the song is because long ago I sent a letter to a girlfriend, just as we were breaking up, and she returned it unopened with "I'm not reading this" written on the outside. Never forgot that. It was a last ditch effort to save things, and it failed. If only she had read that letter! It was as if the song were written for me. Ever feel that?

To give you a comparison, the MP3 version of the song is about 6MB, and the WAV is 199MB. With cheap audio equipment an MP3 is fine. In fact, 256k and up is fairly good. I have a lot of that, and I don't mind listening to that stuff. But, we're way beyond that level of quality. MP3s date to 1985, and it's 2014 now. Think about it.

The only problem I'm seeing at HDtracks is that most music is available only in album format. I went through the plastic record scene, and I'm unwilling to return to buying an entire album so I can listen to two songs. That's a deal killer. Some are available per track, though.

After listening to the lossless Please Read the Letter, I listened to the MP3 versions of Embryonic Journey by Jefferson Airplane and Medley by Leo Kottke (which is an astounding example of mastery). They sound fantastic. MP3s aren't bad. Still, we can do better.

On a totally unrelated subject (because this is no longer a political endeavor), I just finished the first draft of my new novel. It's only the second time I've done that, and the first one was not good. I never showed it to anyone, let alone try to find an agent or publisher. This one is different. It's fantastic -- although I'm biased, of course. It's about a guy who discovers he has a triple helix, instead of double. It's how he makes the discovery, and what it means for him, and against him, and the effect the discovery has on humanity. Sci-Fi, technically, although it's character driven. Not much science until the halfway mark. Wish me luck. My odds of publishing a fiction novel just went from 20,000,000:1 to 15,000,000:1!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Adrian Peterson Q&A

Peterson did another Reddit AMA. My favorite:

Q: If I get the first overall pick in my fantasy league this year, tell me why I should pick AP?

AP: Do you want to win?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Web Wisdom

Here are a few gems I've found. They come from Reddit posts and comments, plus YT comments, news media comments, etc. I'm not giving credit, except in a few instances, because it's too much work and, well, dis be da web.

If our ass was split horizontally, it would clap when we run down the stairs.

"What the hell are we drug testing a janitor for? What's the worst he gonna do? Drop the mop? If you're thirty-nine years old and a janitor you should get to smoke a joint." -- D.L. Hughley

"I'll be speaking with my lawyer" is the adult version of "I'm telling mom".

Teach a man with Alzheimer's to fish, and he'll eat for a day.

Bras are actual booby traps.

American football is like a turn-based strategy game while soccer is like a real-time strategy game.

Tortillas are the rolling papers of food.

Chimpanzees must think we're aliens. We have vastly superior technology, and sometimes we abduct them for medical experiments.

I wonder if our sun is part of some other planet's constellation. Yeah, the Dumbass Idiotus Majoris -- me

What's as bad as people say it is? Stepping on Legos. And depression.



Sunday, July 06, 2014

The Rain Song

I have to find something to post since my political complainings are in the past... Here are several covers of Led Zeppelin's Rain Song, which I consider to be one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever created. All of the musicians in these videos are extremely talented -- there are many hamfisted covers out there, and these are not those. As good as these people are, however, consider the talent of the person who first created the song -- Jimmy Page. Staggering, really. It's not classical guitar, sure, but it's nearly surreal talent on display.

As for JP, some of his individual talent is lost in LZ. That's blasphemy for true believers (Led Heads), but I think it's true. The band works well together, as all 4 members are (were) considered virtuosos. JP created 95% of the music, though, and his guitar playing shines through while simultaneously losing something with the other band members doing their thing. That's why I like covers. These artists fall short of JP, but JP's brilliance and talent are evident here in a way that isn't accessible in the full LZ version.