20 May 2024

Threat, not vibes

I have a friend who is justifiably upset about what you might call the "late night comedy" aspect of the Trump/MAGA phenomenon. His point is that making of light of what is actually a serious and deadly threat to the very institution of our form of government is actually harmful. It helps the would-be insurrectionists. 

So I'll get serious. Biden needs to give a speech entirely devoted to the domestic threats, including but not limited to MAGA, which threaten to derail the economic recovery he has gotten underway, and the restoration of norms of small-r republican government that Trumpism seems so anxious to utterly annihilate. He, and the Democrats in Congress, in open preparation for taking control of both Houses, need to announce Voting Rights and anti-Gerrymandering legislation. He needs to call out the Supreme Court for its failure to adhere to the law, in showing not only an ideological agenda with no basis other than politics, and in showing outright favoritism to the insurrection faction. You can have disagreements. You can have swings from "conservative" to "liberal" interpretations of the Constitution and legal framework. But you cannot have justices who overtly support insurrection and the overturning of fair elections. 

If we cannot take seriously that the continuity of our form of government is under threat, then we may very well lose it. "Vibes" aren't what should be determining this election. A serious consideration of the gravest risk to our republic since the Civil War is what should be determining it. 

Roberts/Alito

If Roberts had a single minim of integrity, and the slightest phantom of scrotal fortitude (pardon the expression), he would inform Alito as follows:  Look, Sam, you've screwed the pooch. I'll give it to you straight. Recuse from everything to do with the Orange One, and announce you're doing so. Or I will publicly announce I've asked you to and do not a thing to prevent you being impeached next time the Dems have both houses... which could be 2025. It's actually a pretty damn good case. 

Much the same, but for an already thoroughly discussed but different reason, can be said about Thomas. 

I know, I know. In my dreams. But the "verdict of history"? Right there in front of you. Trouble is the more empirical and rational society that writes the real "history" of our time may be a good while off, and might even be the successors.... you know... after the Fall. 

12 May 2024

Trump dementia

It's really remarkable to watch clips of the Orange Menace even from just 4 years ago, when he was spouting incoherent bullshit about "people dying of all kinds of things" and how "you know what Obama is guilty of, just read the papers (except yours)" (What about absolute presidential immunity, Donnie?). It was incoherent, unfocused, and malignant. But compare it to today. Just this weekend, Trump thought a useful thing to say at a rally in New Jersey was to congratulate the "late, great Hannibal Lecter" in a completely incoherent vomiting of utter nonsense that went on and on. It was too much even for most of the rally goers, a good percentage of whom left while he was still speaking. 

Seriously, one of the things that makes me optimistic about this election is that it is increasingly obvious that DJT is gradually sinking into honest to God dementia. Several prominent neuropsychiatrists (Gartner, Segal, Bandy Lee, Zoffman, others) have said that he is clearly displaying alarming symptoms of accelerating dementia. Gartner went so far as to say he appears near the catastrophic meltdown point, where he will be unable to even "pass". The phonemic aphasia and complete inability to focus on a topic and speak coherently about it are growing worse and worse. I think it likely that enough people will see through this that, even if they formerly were receptive to his weird kind of charisma, they will say to themselves, hell, this guy is losing it... we can't elect somebody this bad to the presidency!

11 May 2024

The essence of small-d democracy

"I've presented my case to the American people and I hope and have confidence I will win the election fair and square. But if I don't, then, of course, I will congratulate the winner. That is how it works in a republic governed by democratic principles."

See? That's not so hard. But the Fascist party and its malignant narcissist cult leader can't or won't say it. And that disqualifies them completely. If you don't see that, you don't really care about democracy yourself. Please think about it. 

29 April 2024

Unions coming back

I regard the UAW unionization victory at VW in Tennessee (probably soon to be followed by a similar victory at Mercedes in Alabama)... as a watershed. Tesla, Amazon, Starbucks, tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Meta, Apple ... you're next. 

As a longtime white collar (thus nonunion) employee, I have always known that the only reason we even had benefits, fair work rules, reasonable hours (such as weekends off), overtime, etc. is because of the blood, sweat and tears of union organizers and workers in the past. 
 

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27 April 2024

Data from exoplanet research points to a "rare earth" conclusion

I know I harp on this a lot, but it amuses me and I honestly believe this kind of "cosmic view" of our planetary predicament is not only a good thing, it is vital to our ability to understand our problems and devise strategies to actually solve them sustainably. If it doesn't interest you, the delete button is on the upper right and no need to belabor the point.  

I asked ChatGPT this: 

User
You
Would it be accurate to say that exoplanet data has led to the conclusion that planets, and planetary systems, are more variable, and thus less like the Solar System, in general and on average, than had previously been thought? And, therefore, that planets closely resembling Earth, with large liquid water oceans, plate tectonics, and at least the potential for the continued existence of carbon based life over very long periods of time, need to be considered quite rare in the population of disk stars, many of which in other respects may closely resemble the Sun?
And ChatGPT answered thus:

Yes, it would be accurate to make such a statement. Observations of exoplanets have indeed shown that planetary systems exhibit a remarkable diversity, much greater than what was anticipated based on our Solar System alone. Many exoplanets discovered do not fit into the neat categories previously envisaged from our Solar System's structure. For instance, the discovery of "hot Jupiters" (gas giants that orbit very close to their stars) and "super Earths" (rocky planets larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune) challenged our conventional understanding of planetary system formation.

These findings imply that systems similar to our Solar System might be less common than once thought. When it comes to Earth-like planets, while many have been found in the habitable zone (where conditions could potentially allow liquid water to exist), the additional conditions necessary for Earth-like life—such as significant liquid water oceans, plate tectonics, and a stable climate system—are not easily inferred from distance observations alone. These factors contribute to the complex environments needed for life as we know it, suggesting that truly Earth-like planets could indeed be rare among the vast array of planetary systems.

Thus, the growing catalog of exoplanet characteristics has indeed led to a broader understanding that while star-like our Sun may be common, planets with conditions similar to Earth might be much rarer in the universe. This adds an important perspective to our search for extraterrestrial life and the study of planetary habitability.

 
Caveat: ChatGPT is, I've observed, somewhat susceptible to "leading questions," of which this might be considered an ultimate example.  ChatGPT lacks consciousness, which, unfortunately, means that to a considerable extent it lacks what you might call judgment, or discretion. Still, I think the answer is pretty consistent with the published information. It really is true that up until around 2000 it was generally thought that the Solar System, with its four inner "rocky" and four outer "gas" planets, was typical, but, well, it just isn't, as we now know, from well over 1500 fairly well defined example systems. And planets even within these categories (plus the entirely missing here category of "Super Earth") -- vary enormously, and, usually, not in a way conducive to the abiogenetic origin and persistence of carbon based life for long time periods. A lot of things have to go right, in a universe where "going wrong" is the norm (2d Law of Thermodynamics). 

I regard as a wake-up call the likelihood that life, and especially complex life, and even more especially intelligent life (whatever that loaded term may mean in the real world)... all are somewhere in the range of rare to exceedingly rare. The Copernican worldview, also known as the Principle of Mediocrity, while useful to science in many regards, cannot be taken too literally. In truth, the Sun is an unusually large and bright star (~90+ percentile). And the Earth is an extraordinarily rare and precious instance of a "bio-available" planet. My best guess is that fewer than 1 in 100,000 star systems have a planet that could be said to "closely" resemble Earth, even limiting consideration to merely physical and chemical similarities, without including the actual existence of complex life. Which may and probably will turn out to be another stringent limiting factor. I think it likely that fewer than 1 in a million or even 10 million star systems harbors a planet that could be considered closely comparable to Earth, and far fewer even than that that actually harbor intelligent living beings comparable to ourselves at the present epoch. Indeed, there are reasons to suppose it is unlikely that there is even one other such "currently inhabited by an intelligent species" world in this Galaxy. 

I feel we need to remind ourselves: We toy with the potential collapse of Earth's biosphere systems at our gravest peril. Literally everything we care about or have ever cared about is at stake, and science is telling us that we cannot take it for granted. Because for all intents and purposes there is only one Earth, and we will not find any solution to our problems of learning to live sustainably by expecting to find other worlds to just move to at some distant future date. That may eventually even happen, but not until and unless we figure out how to maintain our civilization with only the one world.  

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24 April 2024

David Wallace Wells on Ozempic and its relatives ...miracle drug?

I don't really know how much credence to give this, but it's interesting regardless. Not everyone can read behind the NYT payw=all. 

Ketamine and Kava... not so benign?

I'm not one to get all preachy about recreational, stimulant, anxiolytic, or mood-therapeutic use of drugs, but it really does seem that "they all have a catch." The only seemingly genuinely benign mood/stimulant drug is coffee (or tea or maté)(containing caffeine, plus there are a few other xanthines, such as theobromine, found in chocolate, and theophylline, which is also found in tea, along with caffeine, but in tiny quantities). But even those have their detractors. Anyway, the latest fad drug that even in pretty main line circles has gained a lot of acceptance, ketamine, turns out to have some pretty serious side effects, affecting the lining of the bladder: 


It's only one article, but I would think long and hard before using this drug. 

Another one is kava, which is legal and sold in "kava bars." (Native to the "South Seas," and in use for centuries there, it contains at least 18 different related alkaloid kavalactones as the active ingredients, including kavain, methysticin, yangonin, and their molecular variants). I read (sorry don't have a citation) that it is associated with rather severe liver damage in some moderate to heavy users. You say "liver damage," and I tend to say, "no, thanks."
 

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23 April 2024

Cheapest form of new power sources?

Here's a pure-and-simple fact that is changing the world but most people, thanks to misleading media coverage, do not know:

The two cheapest forms of new grid-available electric power as of 2024 are  solar and wind, in that order (both combined with advanced storage technology).  

We will begin to make rapid progress towards a carbon neutral sustainable energy economy now that renewable energy is cheaper

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21 April 2024

Simon Rosenberg on pro-democracy messaging and the state of the election

If you care about preserving democracy, I strongly recommend you follow Simon Rosenberg's podcasts, YouTube channel, and/or substack. 




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20 April 2024

Vote on Ukraine aid

May have to stop calling Mike Johnson "MAGA Mike." I have to admit I never thought he'd say something like this... and in the process of acting on it, to boot: 

"I am going to allow an opportunity for every single member of the House to vote their conscience and their will. I'm willing to take a personal risk for that, because we have to do the right thing. And history will judge us."

Don't worry, I'm not totally taken in. This is literally the bare minimum of foreign policy bipartisanship that one would expect from any Republican. Before Trump, that is. But one thing seems pretty clear to me: Johnson would not be doing this if it weren't for the fact that Trump's legal troubles and obvious and worsening mental incapacity are beginning to spell waning influence and control over all but the Cult members themselves. I am not complacent, but I think we may be seeing the beginnings of a collapse for Old Poopypants. And I must say, if it happens, it couldn't happen to a bigger, fatter, more disgusting POS. 

19 April 2024

ChatGPT lists some supplements to stay away from

I take a regimen of dietary supplements, including coQ10, D3, nicotinamide riboside, pterostilbene, PQQ, berberine, a blend of saw palmetto and other things supposedly promoting prostate health, and a few others. I try to make sure that at minimum they're not harming me. Anyway, I asked Chat GPT if there were supplements that doctors generally advise their patients NOT to take in most circumstances. You have to ask these questions right or CGPT will refuse to answer (it won't give medical advice (or legal advice) per se, for obvious reasons). This was its answer:

There are several dietary supplements that many doctors generally disapprove of and may recommend against in most circumstances due to concerns about their safety, effectiveness, or potential interactions with other medications. Some of these include:
  1. Kava: Often used for stress and anxiety relief, Kava has been linked to serious liver damage, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure in some cases. Due to these risks, it is banned or restricted in several countries.
  2. Colloidal Silver: Touted for its supposed immune-boosting properties, colloidal silver can cause serious side effects, such as argyria (a permanent bluish-gray discoloration of the skin) and potential kidney damage. It provides no known benefits in the body when taken orally.
  3. Aristolochic Acids: Found in some traditional herbal remedies, aristolochic acids have been linked to kidney failure and urinary tract cancers. They are considered carcinogenic and have been banned in many countries, but they might still be found in some supplements.
  4. DMAA (1,3-dimethylamylamine): Often included in weight loss and bodybuilding supplements, DMAA has been linked to serious health issues such as cardiac arrest, headaches, and tremors. The FDA has warned against its use due to safety concerns.
  5. Yohimbe: Used as a treatment for erectile dysfunction and also in weight loss supplements, Yohimbe can cause erratic blood pressure, rapid heart rate, headaches, seizures, and kidney failure. It has significant potential for serious side effects, particularly in people with heart disease or hypertension.
  6. Comfrey: While traditionally used to heal wounds, bruises, and for joint inflammation, comfrey has substances called pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and are also carcinogenic. It is unsafe for ingestion and advised against even in topical use over large areas or on broken skin.
  7. Bitter Orange (Synephrine): Commonly marketed as an alternative to the now-banned stimulant ephedra for weight loss, bitter orange can cause increased heart rate and blood pressure, leading to cardiovascular problems.
Doctors typically advise that supplements should not replace whole foods and a balanced diet. Before starting any supplement, especially for those with pre-existing conditions or who are taking other medications, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional to assess potential risks and benefits.

Fortunately, I don't take any of these. I did try Kava (which I consider a drug, not a supplement) once, but didn't like it and wouldn't take something like that on a regular basis anyway. (Portland actually has at least one "kava bar," which seems to me to be a very questionable business venture, especially without prominent health warnings, of which, I gather, there are none). Yohimbe is pretty well known to be dodgy, and all the ephedrine-adjacents are pretty obvious stay aways.

The list is hardly exhaustive, especially if you include "traditional herbal remedies," which is sort of a euphemism for "raw plant material drugs." Quite a few of these, such as Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis spp., often mixed with Psychotria viridis), are as dangerous as cocaine or opium, just not as well known. I'd say the jury is out on kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), which some doctors think of as just another addictive opioid-adjacent, but which remains legal and pretty widely used in many parts of the US. As a friend of mine wisely pointed out, just because plant alkaloids have been used in some traditional societies for a long time doesn't mean they're safe; different people, often with particular genetic profiles common in a regional population, may have very different tolerances and variations in liver function, such that what is a benign drug to some people may be toxic and quite dangerous to other people. This is even more true across species lines, interestingly: I read where the commonly used topical NSAID diclofenac is so toxic to cattle that a normal human dose can actually kill them. Just something to think about. Unfortunately, supplements and "herbals" aren't really regulated for safety. If you use them, it's caveat procuator.



18 April 2024

Time to jail Trump for contempt?

Trump is even more out of control than I thought. His most recent thinly disguised attempt at jury intimidation is so obviously a violation of the gag order that Justice Merchan is going to have no real choice but to impose a pretty strict sanction. He's already fined him, so it would seem that some kind of custodial sanction (house arrest? No access to the internet during course of trial? Not sure what's possible). If he does nothing, he is basically admitting his orders are feckless.

Interesting. I'm not following this trial minute by minute, but this is crazy. 

16 April 2024

Interesting analysis by ChatGPT of the phenomenon of increased "analytic" language prevalence over time

I got to thinking about the prevalence of Chinese and English, both fairly described as "analytic" rather than "synthetic" languages (like Sanskrit or Latin, or even moreso, like certain "polysynthetic" languages like certain Native American languages). There was at one time a theory than languages might go through a cycle, where they gradually simplify and become more word-order dependent (more analytic), and then some of the periphrastic conventions and "helper words" become more like grammatical endings, and a more synthetic language develops. But it seems, maybe widespread multilingualism, and advanced technology may be favoring more analytic grammar in languages. The tendency of writing, then printing, and now digital encoding, to "fix" languages so they do not evolve as rapidly as when they were only spoken, is also an interesting factor. So I asked Chat GPT about it: 

My question: Is there a discernible trend in modern languages actually spoken by tens of millions or more, for the languages to be more analytic and less likely to by synthetic, or even polysynthetic, and/or agglutinating?

ChatGPT's answer:
«
Yes, there is a discernible trend towards analytic languages among those spoken by tens of millions or more. Analytic languages typically rely more on word order, particles, and auxiliary words to convey grammatical relationships, rather than inflections or affixes attached to words. This trend can be observed due to various factors:

1. **Language Contact and Globalization**: With increased globalization and language contact, languages tend to simplify grammatical structures to facilitate communication between speakers of different linguistic backgrounds. Analytic languages often emerge as a result of this simplification process.

2. **Technological Advancements**: In today's digital age, where communication happens rapidly across various platforms, concise and straightforward languages are often favored. Analytic languages, which tend to have simpler grammar and morphology, are more conducive to digital communication.

3. **Education and Literacy**: As education becomes more widespread, there's a greater emphasis on literacy and education in many parts of the world. Analytic languages can be easier to learn and teach, especially for those who are not native speakers, compared to synthetic or polysynthetic languages with complex morphological systems.

4. **Urbanization**: Urbanization often leads to language simplification as diverse populations come together in cities, necessitating a lingua franca that is easy to learn and use. Analytic languages may be more suited to serve as this lingua franca due to their simplicity.

5. **Language Standardization**: Standardized forms of languages often tend to simplify grammatical structures for easier comprehension and learning. This trend can lead to the adoption of more analytic features in widely spoken languages.

However, it's essential to note that while analytic languages are becoming more prevalent due to these factors, there are still many synthetic and polysynthetic languages spoken by millions of people worldwide, particularly in indigenous communities and regions with strong cultural identities. Language evolution is a complex process influenced by a multitude of factors, and while there is a trend towards analytic languages, linguistic diversity remains rich and varied.

»

Another reason I remain optimistic

One reason I remain pretty optimistic about the election is exemplified by Orange Douchebag bitching about how unfair it is he can't attend Barron's graduation. Because he's a defendant in a felony criminal trial for crying out loud. The fact that he seems to be expected to be treated specially, when every other defendant if they behaved like him would be locked up in pretrial detention, is not lost on most of the public. 

David Frum, whom I disagree with about many things but share a determination to make sure Trump is not elected, noted that if you're running against an incumbent (Carter v. Ford, Reagan v. Carter, Clinton v. Bush I)... you make the election about dissatisfaction with them. You don't whine about how unfair they're being to you, and make the whole election a grievance fest about yourself. That's a recipe to lose and lose badly. Things could change, but right now, Trump's utterly selfish behavior is causing him to hemorrhage voters. Nobody likes a whining sore loser, and that's what Trump presents. 

08 April 2024

Anthony Davis interviews Simon Rosenberg; worth a listen

Longish (and very good) interview; Anthony Davis ("The Weekend Show") with Democratic operative Simon Rosenberg. 

05 April 2024

Why I remain relatively optimistic about this election

I remain fairly optimistic that Joe Biden will defeat Donald Trump, the Democrats will retake the House, and possibly even keep the Senate despite the worst Senate map for Democrats in literally decades. If you're receiving this e mail and don't like political pitches, sorry, but for me this is so important that I don't shy away from offending a few people. I honestly believe our democracy is at stake. If you disagree, feel free to tell me off or tell me why, but I don't apologize for making my views known, as I regard it as an integral part of the democratic process. (There's a delete button in the upper right, too). 

Here's why I remain optimistic about a "blue wave," in no particular order: 

1.  Trump is increasingly incoherent but also messianic, playing up the "chosen by God" meme and heavily playing on saving America from Satanic Democrats. The bad news... for MAGA... is that this just doesn't play well with the great majority of Americans. Literal biblical Christians are a distinct minority in this country, and the fact is that even at least some of them can't quite swallow the obvious grift and amorality of this, pardon the vulgarity, fucking liar. 

2. Dobbs. The fact is that many non-college educated women, who previously in many cases didn't even vote, or just voted the way their husbands told them to, feel an almost visceral sense of betrayal. They ... and their daughters... have enjoyed the rights over their bodies that their grandmothers had to fight for... their whole lives. And now, suddenly, they fear getting pregnant with the right to abortion, which really means the right to health care that focuses on them and not just the fetus they're carrying, is ... gone. Many of these women will vote for the first time. And they won't be voting for the Orange menace. 

3. Trump has never, ever, done a single thing to widen his base. Right now, many people when polled have a negative view of Biden due to a lot of distorted "both sides" media coverage and some real issues (Gaza, for example, where Biden has painted himself into a corner and is associated in many peoples' minds with Netanyahu's policies). Then there are the misperceptions (inflation, the economy, both much better than under Trump). And he is old. There's no way around it, he doesn't radiate vitality. But Trump is actually mentally worse, by several professional assessments, so the perception of disqualification based on lack of mental acuity should... and just may... work against Trump more than Biden. But it's true that when so far disengaged voters hear "Trump" or "Robert F Kennedy Jr" they align with those names, having developed a negative reflex about Biden. But as the actual facts of how grifty and narcissistic, as well as incoherent, Trump has become, many will drift home to Democrats, because, quite simply, there are no sane and honest Republicans left; the entire party has become MAGA. I think as the election heats up and people actually see the choice, more will end up in the Biden column than the Trump column. 

4. Trump picks many of the down-ballot candidates of the MAGA party, and he's terrible at it. Most of his "picks" lose, because their principal qualification is ass-kissing the Narcissist in Chief. This is now a well-established pattern. 

I do worry about Robert F Kennedy Jr., who is a conspiracy theory nutcase first and foremost. (Not only anti-vax. He's a 9-11 truther, and believes a whole host of ridiculous, non-evidence based conspiracy theories). But as the election season progresses, I believe his singular lack of Kennedy family charisma, and the really nutty elements of what he says, will begin to penetrate. As things stand, he draws some votes from Trump, but probably hurts Biden more so it's vital to not ignore him... Democrats must expose how virulently anti-democratic and just plain whacko he actually is. 

There are other factors, of course, and America is very polarized. Trump may well be a convicted felon by election day, which can't help, although I don't actually think that's a top tier factor. But the reality is that Biden and Democrats come across as sane, stable, reasonable, focused on the needs of ordinary people, etc., while MAGA is all about the fake victimhood and grift. (Keep up those lavish parties at Mr. & Mrs. MAGA's expense, Alina Habba... see how that works out for you and your mob boss). People can be swayed, to a point, and Trump, for all his repulsiveness and shocking ignorance, does have some sort of charisma with a lot of people. But in the end, you can't fool enough people to overcome the deficit. At this point, I believe exposure to more of Trump is costing him votes, not gaining them. I would go so far as to say, I think truthfully, unlike Trump who was grifting (and projecting) when he said it (and still is): the only way they can win is if they cheat. And they will try. We have to be vigilant and ready. 

In recent elections, it seems, every one is "the most important of our lifetime." But this one really is different. It's not about issues, not about policy, not about a vision of America's future. It's about whether we continue to be an at least more or less democratic country, or not. And you know which side is which; everyone does. We don't like to admit it to ourselves, but there is a significant cohort in America that doesn't care about or even believe in democracy. But we are the majority. We're right. They're wrong. And we have to remember that every minute between now and November 5, and act like it. 

Winning this election is only a first step to reclaiming democracy, which is assailed in the judiciary, in campaign finance, in other ways money controls politics... you name it. But winning this election is the sine qua non. We will have no opportunities to move forward with democratic reforms if we lose this one. So everyone needs to give till it hurts, do what they can on the ground till it hurts, have uncomfortable conversations, appeal to friends and family members' sense of loyalty to the bedrock principles of American republican democracy. It has never been so critical. 

Thank you. And, on to victory in November!

31 March 2024

This is NOT normal.

Whatever one may think of Joe Biden and his policies, there's no denying that Trump's posting of a photo of Biden bound and gagged in the back of a pick up truck comes perilously close to a direct threat on the life of the president of the United States. Of course you can always equivocate, but in the context of all the other Fascist memes and threats coming from MAGA, there's no denying that this is far, far from American norms and probably comes pretty close to the kind of threat the Secret Service and FBI will need to investigate. 

26 March 2024

George VI exceeds his constitutional authority on behalf of his German relatives in WW2.

This is interesting. And it is reflective of why I despise royalty, full stop. Were I British (or a citizen of any other country clinging to this hideous anachronism), I would be a Republican, in its British/Australian meaning. Nothing that has happened since 1945 convinces me that there is any value in maintaining this shameful tradition. 


I suppose with our own country at risk of descending into Fascism, one should be more circumspect, but two wrongs don't make right. 

25 March 2024

Schutz at 25

I asked ChatGPT to create an image, based on the famous Christoph Spetner portrait of Heinrich Schütz at age 80, of what he might've looked like as a young man in Venice, studying with Gabrieli, at about age 25. This is what it came up with. Spooky, almost. There is only one decent likeness of him; others from his lifetime are rather crude. This is plausible, from the image we do have. It's not 100% scientific "de-aging," but it is approximate. 


For reference, the Spetner portrait, with the Electoral Medal. 



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The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George

Tolkien Reading Day

Today is "Tolkien Reading Day," we're told, mainly by businesses trying to sell books. I was a big fan in my youth, and did re-read the entire series (not the many patch-up prequel material, apart from the Silmarillion, which is very nearly unreadable). Three times, over the years. But, nah, not gonna read it again. ChatGPT gives the following, but the fact (actual fact) that March 25 is the traditional old-style New Year in Anglo Saxon culture has more to do with it, I suspect. 

«Tolkien Reading Day is celebrated annually on March 25th to honor the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien. This date was chosen because it marks the fall of Sauron and Barad-dûr in Tolkien's Middle-earth lore, specifically in "The Return of the King", which is a significant event in his mythology. The day encourages fans of Tolkien's work to read, discuss, and celebrate his contributions to literature, fantasy, and the creation of rich, detailed worlds and languages. It's also an opportunity to explore themes central to his work, such as friendship, courage, and the struggle against darkness, which resonate with many readers around the world. The Tolkien Society initiated Tolkien Reading Day in 2003 to promote the reading of Tolkien's works and to spread awareness of his stories and characters.»

There's something rather anodyne about ChatGPT. I suspect they build in banality to avoid offending people, but, well, it's annoying.

22 March 2024

Giaches de Wert

I absolutely love, even after all these years of exploring music before 1750, to "discover" new composers from the past who have been neglected, by the music "establishment," and by me. My latest discovery is Giaches de Wert, a Flemish composer whose life spanned most of the 16th century (died 1596), and who spent most of his adult life in Italy. He was a tremendous influence on the great Monteverdi, but his music is just wonderful entirely on its own. Less famous than Gesualdo or even Vecchio, and certainly than the "greats" of the century, Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria, etc., I would take his music to a desert island over all of them.... except Monteverdi of course. But I count Monteverdi as primarily a 17th century composer (d. 1643), and the greatest of that century; rivaled only by the greatest German composer before Bach,  Heinrich Schütz (d. 1672, at the age of 87). De Wert was definitely one of if not the bes of the nearly forgotten geniuses of the "high renaissance of music" in the Italian courts of Ferrara and Mantua in the 16th century. Gesualdo was more daring, no doubt, but de Wert has this lovely graciousness and even humor, as well as a profoundly emotional musical language without resorting to what could, even then, be considered gimmicks of chromaticism. 

21 March 2024

Hope for relief from 2023's hottest recorded year? Don't count on it.

I read where 2023 was the hottest year, planetwide, in recorded history, so I decided to ask Gemini (ChatGPT doesn't have access to records up to the current month, one of Gemini's clear advantages)-- about it. Sure enough, 2024 already looks potentially worse. In fact, if you forget the calendar year and look at running 12-month periods, the period from Feb. 2024 thru Jan. 2023 was the hottest 12 month period ever, beating out calendar 2023 by a statistically significant margin. 

Folks, this is bad. If people express skepticism about climate change, don't let it pass. Tell them, excuse me, I don't mean to offend, but you are wrong, and acting from ignorance on this overriding issue is reckless and dangerous. The reality is that climate change is accelerating, and is already progressing at a significantly worse level of change than was anticipated even just a few years ago. 

______________________________
COMMIT TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY 
______________________________

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George

Trump appeals to his low information followers to pay his massive debts

How it is that Trump's appeal to small donors to help him pay off the judgment against him, for massive financial fraud, is able to raise one thin dime, is beyond me. 

20 March 2024

Slight variant on the most basic everyday dish

Question for foodies out there. I am not a foodie, but I like to cook a little. I've been experimenting with cooking the pasta for linguini or spaghetti to about 3/4 done, then draining and transferring it to the pan with the sauce in it to finish cooking in the sauce. Wonder how common this practice is and what you think of it? (For aglutenists, you can use chickpea or brown rice pasta). 

For 2
1/3 lb. ground beef
1 piece broken up cooked bacon
1 tbs. basil dried or use fresh 
1 tsp. thyme likewise 
6 cloves of garlic, minced
oil, pref. EVOO
2 tbs. powdered mushrooms
Pint of marinara sauce (1/2 jar)
1/3 pckg. spaghetti or other pasta
1 bell pepper, chopped, pref. red, yellow or orange; green has a "taste"
parmesan to taste

Start the garlic in a few tbs. of oil till fragrant, add meat, bacon, and cook awhile, add herbs, mushrooms, etc. then simmer covered for 30 min. or so. Add water as may be needed. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a big pot till about 3/4 done, drain, then add to the meat, turn heat to med. and cook the pasta in the sauce till done. Serve with parmesan if desired. 

Simple as pie. 

____________________________
COMMIT TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY 
______________________________

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George

Creating a font from your own hand lettering

See attachment
Obviously not for everyone, but I find it intriguing. 

______________________________
COMMIT TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY 
______________________________

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George

Nerd Alert: ChatGPT explains the Siletzia terrane to you

I asked ChatGPT4 to comment on the debate over whether the Siletzia terrane (where I live, coastal OR and WA), which collided with North America about 50-40 million years ago, may show indications of having passed over the Yellowstone Hotspot, then located offshore to the W of N America, before being accreted into North America. I mentioned Nick Zentner, of Cen. WA. S.U., who talked about this in one of his many videos on the formation of the Western margin of NAmer.

This is its answer:

«

The relationship between the Yellowstone hotspot and the Siletzia terrane, as well as their respective roles in the geological evolution of the Pacific Northwest, is a subject of ongoing research and some debate among geologists. The idea that the Yellowstone hotspot could have played a role in the volcanic activity associated with Siletzia during its formation is a hypothesis that has gained attention and is being actively explored.

Nick Zentner, a well-known geology educator from Central Washington University, has contributed significantly to public understanding of complex geological concepts through his lectures and colloquiums. His discussions often highlight the latest research and theories in the field, including those that are still being debated or refined.

The Yellowstone Hotspot and Siletzia Connection

  • Timing and Location: The timing of Siletzia's formation and accretion (approximately 50 to 40 million years ago) does coincide with the speculated position of the Yellowstone hotspot in the Pacific Ocean, according to some geological models. These models suggest that the hotspot could have been involved in the formation of volcanic features that are now part of the Siletzia terrane.
  • Volcanic Evidence: Some of the volcanic rocks in Siletzia show characteristics that could be consistent with hotspot volcanism, including high volumes of basaltic flows that could have been produced by a mantle plume (the source of hotspot volcanism).
  • Geodynamic Models: Recent geodynamic models and geological evidence have led to hypotheses that the Yellowstone hotspot may have had an influence on volcanic activity in the Pacific Northwest, including the formation of features that were later accreted to the continent as part of terranes like Siletzia.

Ongoing Debate and Research

  • Complex Subduction Dynamics: The Pacific Northwest's geological history is complicated by the simultaneous occurrence of subduction-related processes, terrane accretion, and potentially hotspot-related volcanism. Disentangling the effects of these processes and identifying the precise contributions of the Yellowstone hotspot to the region's geology are active areas of research.
  • Advancements in Technology: Improvements in geochronological dating techniques, geochemical analysis, and geophysical imaging are providing new insights into the timing, processes, and impacts of hotspot volcanism in relation to terrane formation and accretion.
  • Interpretation and Models: As with many aspects of Earth science, interpreting the geological record requires piecing together evidence that can sometimes be sparse or ambiguous. Different models and hypotheses are developed to explain the available evidence, and these can be the subject of scientific debate and revision as new information becomes available.

In summary, the hypothesis that the Yellowstone hotspot might have been involved in the formation of the Siletzia terrane is an intriguing and actively researched topic. While there is evidence that supports this hypothesis, it remains a subject of scientific investigation and debate. The geological history of regions like the Pacific Northwest is complex, and our understanding continues to evolve with ongoing research and technological advances.

»

16 March 2024

Foods we take for granted are "unnatural" hybrids.

I find it interesting that we tend to assume that the foods we eat come from naturally occurring plants. And of course, that's true in the broadest sense, but if you read Michael Pollan's books you know that naturally occurring apples are almost entirely inedible. Oranges and grapefruits are both hybrids of Citrus reticulata (mandarins) with other Citrus species that would never have occurred naturally. And now I learn that our sacred plant, which we worship daily, coffee (Coffea arabica, eschewing the more productive but inferior C. robusta), is itself a highly unlikely hybrid of two of the 125 or so Coffea species that occur naturally in the highlands of Eastern Africa: C. canephora and C. eugenioides. I'm reading where active research is ongoing to develop other, fruitier "coffees" from the hybridization of other species in this genus. Presumably they're also thinking in terms of the effects of climate change, which are likely to make it more difficult to meet the enormous worldwide demand for coffee through growing existing strains. Will wonders never cease?

Extremes of this phenomenon include navel oranges, Cara Cara oranges, and bananas, all of which are single-individual sterile clones reproduced commercially through grafting and vegetative reproduction. None of these artificial strains would survive a single generation without constant human attention, as they are sterile "sports." And yet major economic activities depend on these "unnatural" varieties.

13 March 2024

Critical issues separating Right from Left, and not what most people think about

Yesterday I heard some very insightful discussions, the first coming mostly from Senator and Constitutional Scholar Sheldon Whitehouse, and the second from Journalist and financial/legal expert David Cay Johnston. Both illustrated how it's not just or even primarily policy that separates the now cultlike Right Wing party from the "real American" party. Democrats are far from a "left center" party... we are the only party that seeks to preserve the essence of American small-r republican government.

Whitehouse talked about how even in the worst times of Supreme Court jurisprudence, the Anglo Saxon common law principle that appellate review, and particularly constitutional review (dating back to Marbury v. Madison) is to be based on adjudicated facts originating in the lower courts. Constitutional and legal principles are to be applied to the facts, but if a court of review finds a deficiency in the factual record, they return the case to the lower court to redetermine the facts. What the ultimate court of review is not to do, and did not do, even in Plessy v. Ferguson and other horrible decisions of the past, such as Santa Clara Co. v. So. Pac. R. R.

Whitehouse has been vocal about his critique of recent Supreme Court decisions, notably Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Shelby County v. Holder, for what he perceives as the Court's reliance on false facts rather than established factual records from lower courts or legislative findings. In these cases, he argues that the Court engaged in inappropriate appellate fact-finding, deviating from its role of relying on trial courts for factual records and on legislatures for the factual bases of laws. This, according to Whitehouse, undermines the legitimacy of the decisions. For instance, the majority opinion in Shelby County, which invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, was criticized for relying on an outdated set of facts about voting discrimination, facts which Congress had not used when it almost unanimously extended the Voting Rights Act in 2006 The court chose to improperly substitute falsehoods of its own divining, which is just not the way it's supposed to work. Continuation of this process has become the norm, and has resulted in the Roberts Court being the worst court in history from the point of view of separation of powers and proper constraint of the arbitrary power of the Supreme Court.

Whitehouse's concerns extend beyond these cases to a broader critique of the Supreme Court's engagement with "phony front groups" and the impact of dark money in the legal process, which he discusses in his podcast "Making the Case." He and his guests examine how these factors have contributed to what they view as a "captured Court" that favors corporate interests and undermines democratic protections.

Whitehouse also connects these issues to a broader historical context, tracing the influence of corporate interests on the Court back to decisions and actions taken as far back as the Nixon administration. He emphasizes a continuous effort to establish corporate personhood and the equivalence of money to speech, culminating in decisions like Citizens United. This history showcases an ongoing struggle over the role of money in politics and the influence of corporate and dark money on the judiciary.

These developments, in my opinion, are one of the principal threats to the continuity of small-d democracy in our country.

Another is the fast and loose trashing of financial restrictions on Federal officials practiced by Trump and his administration, as discussed in detail by the brilliant David Cay Johnston. He points out that the founders of the Second American Republic (ours), after the failure of the Articles of Confederation, were particularly concerned about the effect of bribery and monetary influence. The emoluments clause, and provisions in the Constitution prohibiting the administration or Congress from taking money from states, foreign interests, or private companies or individuals due to the inherently corrosive effect of money on democratic processes. Trump immediately discarded any remnant of such principles, refusing to insulate his governance from the influence of money, or even disclose the improper financial arrangements. One could go on and on about this, but the point is the precedent is set, and without reversing Citizens United and significantly toughening the rules for financial incentives, the Founders' attempts to provide the nation with a government free of undue influence will have well and truly, and finally, failed.

It is our job as citizens to make sure this situation is fixed, and it's just as important as economic or foreign policy; probably moreso as it will determine whether the country founded in 1789 really still persists, or does so only in name.


______________________________
COMMIT TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY 
______________________________

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George

10 March 2024

Ashamed for Chubb

As a retiree of over 20 years' employment with over 150-year old insurer Chubb & Son, now taken over by a Swiss company and with right wing ogre Evan Greenberg as CEO, I am deeply ashamed that they saw fit to hand Trump a gift in the form of an undercollateralized bond on the E. Jean Carroll verdict. Chubb was originally a very good and reputable company, that promoted from within, understood that its most important asset was its people, and maintained a sterling reputation for service. These crooks have ruined the company, and this fiasco is just a further black mark on an already besmirched reputation.

08 March 2024

Lincoln Project "Last Election" ad

Reminds me of the shown-only-once on TV nuclear armageddon/little girl with daisy ad from 1964. 


These guys do know how to do effective video communication. 

______________________________
COMMIT TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY 
______________________________

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George

Great Line from Biden's speech

Joe Biden is an old guy with a speech impediment. But regardless, I believe his State of the Union was pretty darn great, and will help to dispel a lot of the nonsense about him. I especially liked this line, which clearly differentiates him and our party from Republicans, namely that he actually believes in the essential idea of America, and by and large they do not, especially not their cult leader.

« Our North Star. The very idea of America, that we are all created equal and deserve to be treated equally throughout our lives. We've never fully lived up to that ideal, but we've never walked away from it either. »
Because, friends, the Republicans, a party controlled by that cult leader, has already walked away, and will never, ever come back. Their way leads to perdition and the end of the American ideal forever. If you don't get that, you are either delusional or just not paying enough attention to what is happening in our country.

07 March 2024

Katie Porter in contrast to Andy Kim .... keeping a Democratic Senate is vital

I have admired, and continue to admire, Katie Porter, progressive Congresswoman from Orange County, California, who was a candidate in California's senate primary. But, she should immediately accept the fact that she lost the primary. With California's jungle primary, the put-up job Republican candidate Steve Garvey came in second, and thus it will be Schiff, Democrat, vs. Garvey, Republican, in November. I might've preferred Porter to Schiff, but Schiff won, and it is absolutely vital that we Democrats keep this seat. So, Katie, accept that this is not your time, endorse Schiff, and get on with helping to unify the party.

Now, the upcoming primary in New Jersey in June is another story. The "first lady" of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy, is being pushed on the people when a better, more experienced Democrat, Andy Kim, is leading in polls. There, the party should get behind the more qualified and popular candidate-- not the more connected. Unity and victory, indeed, but that doesn't mean forcing machine politics down our throats.

Stay tuned. And by the way, if better qualified Kim is shoved aside by less-qualified but better machine-connected Murphy, I would still support Murphy, although I think that would make it much more likely that we will lose the Senate. So the unity candidate is Kim at this point.

______________________________
COMMIT TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY 
______________________________

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George

06 March 2024

Corrupt Menendez must resign

Robert Menendez must resign soonest. Schumer, and if necessary, Biden himself, must call for this. We cannot afford this stink of actual corruption in our party, when so much is at stake this year. 

Community Music Workshop • Thursday March 7, 1o:30 AM • PROGRAM ATTACHED

Again, reminding everyone of the Community Music Workshop, this Thursday at 10:30 AM at the Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St., Portland. All are welcome; admission is free. Donations accepted to defray costs, most funds are donated to the Community Music Center.

We have a terrific program this month. Program attached, subject to minor corrections (hopefully not more than that!)

If you are interested in playing or have already reserved for April, please send details and/or contact me. David Studhalter at ds@gyromantic.com or 971 328-1750, text preferred.

Thanks everyone for making this work. 

05 March 2024

Phil Mandel concert link

Phil Mandel has asked me to let everyone know about the live link to his 70th birthday concert at the Reser Auditorium last September.

False Equivalency

I despise the false equivalencies of political culture in our country. Democrats confront Republican obstructionism and the media, perhaps best represented by NPR, reports that "neither side could come to agreement." Biden shows what respected clinical psychiatrists describe as normal signs of ageing, whereas Trump displays cascading and accelerating phonemic aphasia, in a syndrome which can only be caused by neurological cognitive dementia that will certainly... and pretty rapidly... get worse over time, and the media reports that the public has a choice between two old guys who sometimes slur their words. Democrats mostly, and to a fault, play by the institutional rules, whereas the MAGA movement, which has now completely taken over the Republican party, is, as a matter of objective fact, embarked on a program to completly undermine the checks and balances of representative government outlined in our Constitution, in a brazen attempt to destroy that system and replace it with the kind of authoritarianism that marked most of human history. Turning the clock back. We used to say to "before  the New Deal" but it's now to "before the 18th century Enlightenment." And what does the media report? The horserace, as if the two parties were facets of an essentially unified whole, as they perhaps were for a time during the 20th century. 

I'm not having it. Wake up, folks. We are in an existential fight for the survival of democratic governance. It has never lived up to its ideals, of course. But if we lose, and it is gone, gone, gone, we will rue the day. Believe me. I am not exaggerating, even a little. 

______________________________
COMMIT TO PRESERVING DEMOCRACY 
______________________________

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be in this world, and others no right.
—Henry George