09 July 2017

Heavy Reading: Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder

I finished Bloodlands a while back and have been processing, or, more accurately, attempting to process, the content ever since. Snyder paints a vivid account of the scale of the civilian and non-combatant slaughter in the territories between Germany and Russia that occurred between 1933 and 1945.

Is it the heaviest book ever written in English? Given the scope and scale of the material I think it might be. We have the benefit of contemporary firsthand accounts, and the numbers are overwhelming beyond human comprehension.

When you read that Stalin killed over 750,000 people in his great purges of 1937 and 1938, how do you wrap your head around that? If you read that Stalin starved over three million (!!) Ukrainians to death as part of his collectivization strategy in 1932/33 then what does that mean? Do you get caught up in the details of death by starvation, which are so harrowing I do not even want to reproduce them here? Or do you imagine what it would be like if all of San Jose (1.0 million), Dallas (1.3 million) and San Diego (1.4 million) were starved to death? What would that look like?

Once you get past Stalin's successful mass murders - if you can - then you come to Hitler, whose army and their compatriots killed even more civilians and POWs in a shorter span of time. The accounts of Hitler's/Germany's victims are every bit as horrible as anything that Stalin and his teams could design.

Though a difficult read, this is essential history, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

26 June 2017

Good Books from Masha Gessen and Timothy Snyder

Finished a couple excellent books over the weekend. Neither work is very long, and both are essential.

The first is Masha Gessen's illuminating account of the origins of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin - The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. The author does a good job summarizing his origins, and a less good job summarizing how he initially made his money (by defrauding the city of St. Petersburg in contracted food purchases totaling more than $100 million). I am much more interested in the latter than the former, so I could have used a lot more detail there but overall it is quite good. Gessen does a better job detailing the many, many ways in which the state (Putin, and his surrogates) manages to coerce, manipulate, intimidate, steal, and kill the competition. Russia is a very fucked up place, and Putin is a brutal dictator. It is more than a little disturbing that our current president admires Putin very much, and seems to endorse his extractive, exploitative economic policies as well as his control of the media. (Putin regularly kills people that he considers his enemies, and was also instrumental in a domestic terror bombing campaign in Russian apartment blocks that consolidated his power.) I rate this book 4 out of 5 Putin Centaurs.

The second book is short enough to read in a single sitting, although it is very a book I plan to revisit periodically. On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder is superb, and it summarizes very well why 'leaders' like Trump are dangerous for democracy. (Inciting violence against a free press, lying constantly and aggressively, subverting democratic principles such as voting rights for all, etc.) Buy two copies, and give one to a friend. (Trigger warning: if you want to bask in the ignorance and willful stupidity characterized by the Republic of Trumpistan then browse the one star reviews. Remember that when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you is full of fuckwits and morons.)

19 June 2017

Coal is Not Coming Back



John Oliver outlines why coal is not coming back, and even if it does, it will not do much to help the economy. Put simply: not enough people work in the coal industry. What would help the working class people that used to have viable careers in the coal mines is a social safety net. That would cost money, but the executives can spare it since they are making more money than they can spend. The problem is that the dumb fucks voted for the one person who will absolutely not, under any circumstances, help create a social safety net. They voted for a person that wants to cut taxes for rich people. Sad!

10 June 2017

Lies, Walls, and Hypocrisy



How's that wall coming along, Mr. Trump?

Long time no talk, as usual. The past couple weeks have been very... interesting. Consider this: The embattled leader of the nation retreated to give a speech to religious fanatics while his former head of domestic security testified before the legislative branch about the leader's efforts to derail an investigation into corruption and collusion with foreign powers. Where could such a thing happen? Some pathetic banana republic or similar third world shithole? Yes! But also in the richest, most powerful nation on earth.

This week, while James Comey was testifying before Congress about how his boss had insisted on 'loyalty', Trump was giving a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian group. It was pretty great! Trump talks a big game about (hashtag)religion, and the fact that this is what is helping prop him up as he fails from one topic to another says a lot about how unbelievably hypocritical some people are.

Trump is not religious! Trump is not a Christian! He just mouths the words because they get a positive reaction from people that think they are 'under siege'. Which: if you want to create a theocracy of any type in America then you are not under siege, you are an anti-Constitutionalist fucktard. I want to live under evangelical Christian law exactly as much as I want to live under Sharia law, but only one of those things is being actively promoted by organizations around the country. Hint: it's not sharia.

Trump, the standard bearer for that special subset of devout christians who have repeatedly cheated on their wives and have no interest in paying their bills, will stay in office as long as he pushes their pro-business agenda. Donald Trump is a clown. He has no long-term plan. The vague initiatives his office has suggested so far are remarkable only in how they will line the pockets of himself and his associates, and how little they do to help the egregiously stupid lower-middle class and lower class citizens that voted him into office.

Trump is a mouthpiece and agent for a group of people who hate the working class, who want to keep every last red cent for themselves, and tough shit if you are poor or do not have health insurance or both. Consider again that Donald Trump, serial adulterer, a man that bragged on tape about being a sexual predator, is a champion of conservative Christian groups. Donald Trump, a man that serious business people famously do not take seriously, in large part because he does not pay his bills, is the champion of Big Business.

There is nothing these people will not do in order to push their agenda. They do not care if Russia helped swing the election. They do not care if the environment gets trashed. They do not care if national parks get bulldozed. They do not care if poor people die because they cannot get health care. They do not care if poor people go hungry. They do not care that jails are overflowing with non-violent drug offenders. They do not care that black people are being gunned down in record numbers. They only care about the holy dollar, and Donald Trump is truly their lord and savior.

Jesus wept.

29 May 2017

Routine Update On Why There Are So Few Updates / Chris Cornell



I don't hit the blogspace much because I do not have much positive to contribute. Donald Trump is an overgrown piss baby and remains a joke amongst his 'peers' - stretching the definition of the word there as Trump is surely peerless among the Western world leaders in his ignorance and ineptitude. Still: he is an elected 'leader', and he interacts with other leaders. I could write ten thousand words on the inadequacy of his leadership but you can read better accounts from people that are getting paid to provide it.

In other news my back hurts a lot and it has a severely negative impact on my mental health. Not ideal. Not much inclined write about that, because who the fuck wants to read it? Not me. 

Big Cheese pointed out that Chris Cornell died, and that was a bummer. Indeed it is. His death hit a lot of people right in the feels because Soundgarden was their soundtrack to the 90's. However, it wasn't my soundtrack, because while you literally could not escape Soundgarden on tv or the radio back in the day I always thought their music was wildly overrated. Spoonman? Really? Black Hole Sun was maybe not terrible, but after the 800th time it starts to wear on you. Check out their list of hits (and there are some monster hits here) and tell me if anything has held up very well. I don't think so. Plus I was always more of a Pearl Jam guy anyway. YMMV

Even so, Chris Cornell was a great vocalist, and when steered towards a pop song like Hunger Strike (linked above) he shows off his immense talents. Guy was amazing, and this song remains a good singalong, if you're into that. I have it on good authority you can pound a natty light during the execrable bridge. It's a testament to how good Cornell is that you even want to stick around through that bridge. This song succeeds in spite of itself, in large part because Cornell was a legit outstanding vocalist. He was 52. 

15 May 2017

You're Good For Me




Old-school Trance classic right here.

There's a lot of hot air about how the new 'trance' music isn't as good as the old trance music. Styles change, tastes change, etc. Some of the new music is actually pretty good, but some of it, well, it's shit. But plenty of the records back in the day were shit too. So whatever. Enjoy this one because it's an all-timer.

I can confirm that the current music coming from Above and Beyond is most definitely NOT as good as this. 

Also, happy belated mother's day to all the mom's out there. I made my mom a roast leg of lamb, and also some banana bread. She doesn't much care for either item, and she's a thousand miles away. More for me! She appreciated the gesture. 

11 May 2017

Congratulations



Hey what's new?
No news here. Work is work and also there's that other stuff. Who wants to talk about that? Not me! This is a remix of a song that was quite a hit earlier this year. I like this one better. YMMV.

30 April 2017

Firsts

Over the weekend my friend's kid and I shared a joke for the first time. Or as much as you can expect in a joke from a child that is 3.5 years old.

We often do a high five for hellos and successes and also snacks, because it's good and fun to high five with the youths. So when I tucked Jr. into her car seat over the weekend we did a high five to celebrate (as you do). After that she immediately smiled and stuck her foot out and said, "high foot?" I laughed a lot, and said yes, absolutely, and tapped her foot with my hand. She was well pleased with her witticism, and so too was I.

Maybe you kind of had to be there. But that's true for most things, isn't it?
See you out there.

27 April 2017

'The Chronic' Doesn't Mean What It Used to Mean

Hi! If you were/are a frequent visitor to the blog you probably noticed that posts have really fallen off lately.

The reason is that I have been having some problems with my back, and I am in a lot of pain, all the time. Chronic pain is a bummer. Like, a real bummer.

You learn a lot when you are in pain. For instance, I learned in one of my psychology books that humans can become desensitized to almost everything. The only exceptions are very loud noises and chronic pain. : /  (This was in Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman).

More fun facts: did you know that one of the few things besides crushing poverty that will reliably make you unhappy is chronic pain? I didn't know either! (LOL actually I did because I've been living it, but it was fun to read in a book, in this instance it was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.)

So things are not good. They might get better. They might not. Life is uncertain. If you want some excellent books to read I highly recommend both Thinking Fast and Slow and Sapiens. In between you should take a nap.

More later as I am able. Thanks for dropping by.

09 April 2017

Put Some World in Your World




This is very well executed. Found it here.

08 April 2017

So I Guess We're at War Now?

LOL J/K - America is not at war. A small subset of the armed forces are at war; America is at the mall.

Turns out the President can unilaterally bomb a sovereign nation (and spend over $100 million) without checking with Congress first. Related: Donald Trump is a goddamn moron.

Over 400,000 people (so far - this number is sure to increase) have been killed in the Syrian civil war since it kicked off several years ago. They have been killed with 'conventional' weapons: guns, bombs, bricks, etc. The United States stood idly by, and with good reason. There is very little strategic advantage to getting involved in that mess besides to help Europe prevent more refugees from washing up on their (and our) shores.

A few days ago around 100 people were killed with 'chemical' weapons, and Trump opted to spend over $100 million by launching missiles at an airfield that was fixed in less than 8 hours. (A million dollars a person! Imagine how far that money would go if you spent it on, I dunno, the American taxpayer? You can buy a lot of books for $100 million, if you gave a damn about that sort of thing.) Strategically, this is a failure, even by the generous standards of low-exposure warfare. Publicly Trump has enjoyed the endorsement of a great many clowns and fuckwits possessed of a very limited understanding of armed conflict in general and the Syrian civil war in particular.

Trump has no plan. He has no strategy. He has no solution. All he has is the most powerful military in world history and a TV stuck on Fox news. The man is a gross incompetent, and he has surrounded himself with gross incompetents. Setting aside the home for misfit toys that his cabinet has become, consider this most recent effort in Syria. It is vintage Trump: expensive, ineffective, and grossly ill considered. It is a gesture every bit as empty as the man himself.

I spoke with a person that loathed Trump before this action. She recently watched a documentary on Syria, and she was very emotional about the fact that the United States needed to do 'something' to stop 'that man'. The documentary seems very compelling - the trailer alone tugs at the heartstrings, with swelling music and emotional appeals (notice the obligatory little girl at the end for peak empathy). None of this is news as such, because reports of brutality have been coming out of Syria since before the rebellion even started.

Here's the thing: My friend is an otherwise rational person, but she let her emotions get the best of her. It is very definitely not the United States' responsibility to do anything that is not materially in the best interest of the United States. Starting a war with no exit strategy and no clear path to victory is not in the best of the United States. The challenge is further complicated by the fact that religious factions are almost certainly going to fill the power vacuum left when Assad gets what he deserves. That prospect reminds me of something but I can't quite put my finger on it. Hmm.. maybe I'll think of it later.

29 March 2017

Here We Are



Long time no talk.
What I've been doing is not interesting. I am working on doing other stuff that is more interesting, but until then here's my favorite James song. The only James song most anyone can remember hearing, if we're honest. Still: a simple, catchy song with a fun singing part.

Also: 1993? 1993.

16 March 2017

Are You Having a Meeting? I LOVE MEETINGS

:: SWAG SWAG SWAG SWAG ::
This is floating around the intertubes, and it's good.

If you need to get current on the source/origin then visit the Guardian and watch the short video of the interruption.

Hat tip to my man Scott for the GIF.

14 March 2017

Darling, Indeed



This is my new crush, Kate Darling, who is even smarter than she is lovely.

If you want to enjoy her euphonious voice without being otherwise distracted then you can enjoy this podcast she did with Sam Harris.

A good friend of mine is a high-level executive at Viacom. We got to talking about how looks can get you in the door, but they will not help you do the job. He works in entertainment in LA, and almost all the women in his office are very good looking, and some of them are extremely smart. I asked what it was like dealing with that (otherwise rare) combination, and he said, "lethal".

I laughed, but he's not wrong.

28 February 2017

The Uaries Are Almost Over



The Uaries are a drag. Bad weather, belt tightening from spending money on Christmas gifts, lots of cutting and reductions and healthy eating and Hallmark Holidays and my birthday and ugh it's a load of rubbish. This trailer though, it's pretty good. I'm ready for this movie. It looks like a lot of fun. Bring on Spring already.